Et Cetera

First a word from our sponsor. Well, I guess that’s me. I have been quite busy over the last week on matters other than writing for the Studio. I wrote some guest blog posts that were published on other sites. I had much money-making work to do. And I have been trying to tweak and tighten my information gathering, organizing and sharing system to an even greater degree than it already was wrapped and wound. More on this latter effort in future posts – I want to get as much information as possible on these new systems before passing the information on to you.

I am expecting a call this week from the fine people at SkyGrid. They identified me as a feedback-oriented user and have asked for a little bit more of my time to pick my brain further on what I like and what I don’t like about the service.  Once again, I find myself impressed with SkyGrid – they are clearly more than casually interested in what their users think, to the point that they actively solicit feedback above and beyond the normal “suggestion box” black hole that you find in most venues.

Finally, a cool iPhone app alert: Good Reader is a PDF storage and viewing application for the iPhone. While large PDFs are its specialty, it also can hold and show MS Office, text, audio and video files. The app allows you to search and scan the documents for information. iPhone Alley reviews the application favorably here. There are some limitations, as would be expected in a .99 cent application, but for storing, viewing and searching on your phone, the price is well worth it.

I'm Not Private. I'm Virtual.

An example of various cloud colors
Image via Wikipedia

Reasonable. Expectation. Of. Privacy.

This morning, my RSS feed reader is chock-full of posts about privacy. Because my interests, as reflected in my reader content, are law and technology, you can bet that the discussions center around law and legal matters on the internet. From questions regarding whether the use of Gmail for your law practice constitutes violation of ethical rules governing client confidentiality, to lawsuits by Facebook users against Facebook for violating their privacy, to new federal regulations requiring health care providers to notify individuals when their health information is breached, questions abound regarding the degree to which you can lock down or expect to lock down your information.

The gifts the internet has to offer are compelling and the price nearly unbeatable. It is difficult for any business, particularly a solo or small business, to ignore the allure of cloud computing with free, highly developed services and applicatinos like Gmail, Open Office, on-line storage sites and web-syncronized clipping services like Evernote. These tools make it simple to move, store, organize, send and manipulate information.

What is cloud computing, you ask? Apparently this is a valid question – many engage in it on a daily basis without even realizing it. John Foley at InformationWeek has come up with a seven-part definition of the term:

Off-site. A basic principle of cloud computing is that you’re accessing IT resources that are in a data center that’s not your own. That means you don’t buy the servers and storage, someone else does. So-called private clouds are the exception, but forget them for this discussion.

Virtual. IT resources in the cloud can be assembled with drag-and-drop ease. Employing virtualization, cloud service providers let you assemble software stacks of databases, Web servers, operating systems, storage, and networking, then manage them as virtual servers.

On demand. In the cloud, you can add and subtract resources, including number and type of processors, amount of memory, network bandwidth, gigabytes of storage, and 32-bit or 64-bit architectures. You can dial up when you need more, and dial down when you need less.

Subscription style. These tend to be month-to-month deals, often payable by credit card, rather than annual contacts. Amazon charges in intervals of 10 cents per hour for EC2.

Shared. For economies of scale (that’s what cloud computing is all about), many service providers use a multitenant architecture to squeeze workloads from multiple customers onto the same physical machines. It’s just one of the things that distinguish cloud computing from outsourcing and from hosted data centers.

Simple. Many of the cloud services providers — whether they specialize in application hosting, storage, or compute cycles — let you sign up and configure resources in a few minutes, using an interface that you don’t have to be a system administrator to understand.

Web based. Others might make this characteristic #1, but I put it last to make the point that there’s more to cloud computing than the Web. That said, it does involve browser access to hosted data and resources.

In other words, says Foley, cloud computing is on-demand access to virtualized IT resources that are housed outside of your own data center, shared by others, simple to use, paid for via subscription, and accessed over the Web.

So, with all of the benefits an on-line practice has to offer, why not look to the skies? It’s not as if the average citizen has the know-how and means to develop a social network with the reach of a Facebook by setting up their own servers, building applications and then inviting 300 million of their closest friends to connect, share and discuss.  It is easy to see the benefits and even easier to don blinders with respect to the drawbacks.

There are drawbacks, of course, and privacy is a big player among them. Many points along the chain can expose or “leak.” First, your information may not necessarily be your own once it enters the cloud. Read the terms of service (“TOS”) carefully to see just who can get to it and what can be done with it by persons other than you. Next, the location of your information may not be all that easy to identify. David Navetta at InfoSec Compliance advises that “in a cloud environment, geography can lose all meaning.” Not only can your data be spread across services, it can be copied and stored in several locations. Data can even cross physical boundaries the original user never intended to cross. Because it is difficult to pinpoint where the data goes once it leaves the terminal, you realistically can have no concept of how secure that data may be. Thus, heightened obligations may be imposed on a business or practice using the cloud to ensure the security of cloud service providers based on a reasonable awareness of the risks.

On the flip side, security risks are not new and businesses are not completely unfamiliar with the concept. In many ways, humans have been breaking down privacy barriers for years on a societal level.  One already can see a breakdown in traditional concepts of privacy in the manner in which people connect and share on the internet. And, like all areas of the law, privacy and security issues will morph as our lives become more virtual and our concepts of privacy change.

Do the benefits outweight the risks? First the risks must be quantified. The process of risk quantification is alive and well among tech experts, as well as in the courts and legislatures, as groups take up the cause and lawmakers grapple with the boundaries of protection. When in doubt, an attorney can always seek the advice of state ethics committees, but be prepared for answers that may not completely address the questions. With rapidly emerging technologies, any answer can become outdated before the ink has dried.

Then consider the benefits and efficiencies for your clients. Avoid misunderstandings by fully informing yourself and your clients of your process. Many clients may appreciate your considered approach to a modern practice and welcome the service improvements. Many clients also are cloud denizens and already well aware of the concerns. If not, then you can provide an additional service by advising them in this regard.

Bottom line? Don’t take privacy for granted on the internet, but don’t allow a fear of privacy breach to preclude consideration of on-line tools. Educate yourself fully on the global risks of the cloud and the particular limitations of your preferred services. Take all reasonable steps to disclose only what you intend to disclose. Read the TOS and, by all means, keep those drunken cocktail party pictures off your professional networking sites and Flickr.

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I’m Not Private. I’m Virtual.

An example of various cloud colors
Image via Wikipedia

Reasonable. Expectation. Of. Privacy.

This morning, my RSS feed reader is chock-full of posts about privacy. Because my interests, as reflected in my reader content, are law and technology, you can bet that the discussions center around law and legal matters on the internet. From questions regarding whether the use of Gmail for your law practice constitutes violation of ethical rules governing client confidentiality, to lawsuits by Facebook users against Facebook for violating their privacy, to new federal regulations requiring health care providers to notify individuals when their health information is breached, questions abound regarding the degree to which you can lock down or expect to lock down your information.

The gifts the internet has to offer are compelling and the price nearly unbeatable. It is difficult for any business, particularly a solo or small business, to ignore the allure of cloud computing with free, highly developed services and applicatinos like Gmail, Open Office, on-line storage sites and web-syncronized clipping services like Evernote. These tools make it simple to move, store, organize, send and manipulate information.

What is cloud computing, you ask? Apparently this is a valid question – many engage in it on a daily basis without even realizing it. John Foley at InformationWeek has come up with a seven-part definition of the term:

Off-site. A basic principle of cloud computing is that you’re accessing IT resources that are in a data center that’s not your own. That means you don’t buy the servers and storage, someone else does. So-called private clouds are the exception, but forget them for this discussion.

Virtual. IT resources in the cloud can be assembled with drag-and-drop ease. Employing virtualization, cloud service providers let you assemble software stacks of databases, Web servers, operating systems, storage, and networking, then manage them as virtual servers.

On demand. In the cloud, you can add and subtract resources, including number and type of processors, amount of memory, network bandwidth, gigabytes of storage, and 32-bit or 64-bit architectures. You can dial up when you need more, and dial down when you need less.

Subscription style. These tend to be month-to-month deals, often payable by credit card, rather than annual contacts. Amazon charges in intervals of 10 cents per hour for EC2.

Shared. For economies of scale (that’s what cloud computing is all about), many service providers use a multitenant architecture to squeeze workloads from multiple customers onto the same physical machines. It’s just one of the things that distinguish cloud computing from outsourcing and from hosted data centers.

Simple. Many of the cloud services providers — whether they specialize in application hosting, storage, or compute cycles — let you sign up and configure resources in a few minutes, using an interface that you don’t have to be a system administrator to understand.

Web based. Others might make this characteristic #1, but I put it last to make the point that there’s more to cloud computing than the Web. That said, it does involve browser access to hosted data and resources.

In other words, says Foley, cloud computing is on-demand access to virtualized IT resources that are housed outside of your own data center, shared by others, simple to use, paid for via subscription, and accessed over the Web.

So, with all of the benefits an on-line practice has to offer, why not look to the skies? It’s not as if the average citizen has the know-how and means to develop a social network with the reach of a Facebook by setting up their own servers, building applications and then inviting 300 million of their closest friends to connect, share and discuss.  It is easy to see the benefits and even easier to don blinders with respect to the drawbacks.

There are drawbacks, of course, and privacy is a big player among them. Many points along the chain can expose or “leak.” First, your information may not necessarily be your own once it enters the cloud. Read the terms of service (“TOS”) carefully to see just who can get to it and what can be done with it by persons other than you. Next, the location of your information may not be all that easy to identify. David Navetta at InfoSec Compliance advises that “in a cloud environment, geography can lose all meaning.” Not only can your data be spread across services, it can be copied and stored in several locations. Data can even cross physical boundaries the original user never intended to cross. Because it is difficult to pinpoint where the data goes once it leaves the terminal, you realistically can have no concept of how secure that data may be. Thus, heightened obligations may be imposed on a business or practice using the cloud to ensure the security of cloud service providers based on a reasonable awareness of the risks.

On the flip side, security risks are not new and businesses are not completely unfamiliar with the concept. In many ways, humans have been breaking down privacy barriers for years on a societal level.  One already can see a breakdown in traditional concepts of privacy in the manner in which people connect and share on the internet. And, like all areas of the law, privacy and security issues will morph as our lives become more virtual and our concepts of privacy change.

Do the benefits outweight the risks? First the risks must be quantified. The process of risk quantification is alive and well among tech experts, as well as in the courts and legislatures, as groups take up the cause and lawmakers grapple with the boundaries of protection. When in doubt, an attorney can always seek the advice of state ethics committees, but be prepared for answers that may not completely address the questions. With rapidly emerging technologies, any answer can become outdated before the ink has dried.

Then consider the benefits and efficiencies for your clients. Avoid misunderstandings by fully informing yourself and your clients of your process. Many clients may appreciate your considered approach to a modern practice and welcome the service improvements. Many clients also are cloud denizens and already well aware of the concerns. If not, then you can provide an additional service by advising them in this regard.

Bottom line? Don’t take privacy for granted on the internet, but don’t allow a fear of privacy breach to preclude consideration of on-line tools. Educate yourself fully on the global risks of the cloud and the particular limitations of your preferred services. Take all reasonable steps to disclose only what you intend to disclose. Read the TOS and, by all means, keep those drunken cocktail party pictures off your professional networking sites and Flickr.

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Why Make a Federal Case of It? The Google Book Settlement Revisited

The Google book settlement: either you love it or you hate it. An interesting opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday returned the debate to my waking attention. I found the piece interesting due in large part to the insertion of comments made by Professor Larry Lessig regarding inefficiencies in the existing U.S. system of copyrights.

The piece identifies Google’s goal as restoring access to 60% of books under copyright but out of print and unavailable in any format or medium. Let’s put aside the possibility that Google might have other unspoken, more sinister goals in mind and consider the foregoing as a real possibility. The opinion author laments that, in order for Google to succeed in this arguably laudable pursuit, it must come to terms with existing copyright laws that have put Google in the position of having to chase down interests that really may not even be interested.

The problem is the concept of “orphan works” – books for which there is outstanding copyright protection but for which there is no longer any publishing interest. Out of print, out of sight and out of mind in the non-digital context. Google’s efforts would bring these orphan works out of the murky slime and back into the light of a new day in the electronic world. All other concerns being equal, I think most would agree that having easy access to information where there previously had been little or no access is a positive step.

The countervailing interest is the preservation of the existing system of copyright protection, which locks down rights to works well past the point where such rights have any meaningful value. Professor Lessig questions why there should even be a concept of an orphan work: copyright protection according to Lessig is “intended to make markets function more efficiently” while the current system’s embrace of “orphan works” that are locked down under copyright protection long past the point where ownership can be identified brings the markets to a screeching halt.

 One would think that the original authors might be interested in keeping their works in front of the public eye. One would also think that librarians and reference professionals might applaud a system that would offer easier access to these hard to find pieces. Not so – authors are complaining about their share from the Google book settlement and librarians fear a Google dictatorship over the rights to out-of-print books. Why the interest in maintaining the leaky plumbing?

Professor Lessig notes that our modern system of content creation screams for an update, one that will offer clearer rules of ownership. As an on-line content creator, I tend to agree – I would rather have my material shared and discussed than locked down and protected. I get a thrill from finding arcane information previously unavailable or difficult to locate that far exceeds my pecuniary interest in a blog post. But then again, I am not a famous writer. Not yet anyway.

"Wikilawyering" & the Demise of Wikipedia

PARC (company)
Image via Wikipedia

Sorry for my relentless potshots at Wikipedia, but I can’t resist. It paints a large target.

The Palo Alto Research Center has been examining Wikipedia and has concluded that it may be headed for a tumble. New article growth has flattened and declined and the community appears less welcoming to new contributors. Researchers believe these factors ultimately will compromise the quality of the on-line encyclopedic juggernaut in the long-haul.

The latter condition, in particular, is believed to represent a harmful trend away from broad contribution and toward a more limited, active and established group of editors. There is a significant increase in “reversions” of the changes made by casual editors on existing articles. The researchers opine that the trend signals community resistence to new content that may strengthen or tighten articles. Community resistence likely will result in new editors turning away from the community, thereby reducing the number of “eyes” available to spot article vandalism.

Furthermore, when it comes to weighing new versus existing edits, advantage goes to the more established Wikipedia editors who have a greater understanding of Wikipedia’s guidelines and “angles” than that possessed by new editors. Established editors can leverage their knowledge of the “rules” to engage in “wikilawyering” and beat down the changes from a procedural perspective.

Wikipedia’s own review team is attributing the greater number of edit reverts to spam.

Whatever the reason for the reverts, the net result on the integrity of Wikipedia as a solid reference guide is not a positive yield. Neither spam nor Wiki-administrative law-experts have the overall well-being of the end user in mind. File these concerns along with the many other chinks in the armor of the Number-One-Stop-For-Reference-Librarians-And-Other-Computer-Connected-Researchers in your virtual filing cabinet for easy reference.

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“Wikilawyering” & the Demise of Wikipedia

PARC (company)
Image via Wikipedia

Sorry for my relentless potshots at Wikipedia, but I can’t resist. It paints a large target.

The Palo Alto Research Center has been examining Wikipedia and has concluded that it may be headed for a tumble. New article growth has flattened and declined and the community appears less welcoming to new contributors. Researchers believe these factors ultimately will compromise the quality of the on-line encyclopedic juggernaut in the long-haul.

The latter condition, in particular, is believed to represent a harmful trend away from broad contribution and toward a more limited, active and established group of editors. There is a significant increase in “reversions” of the changes made by casual editors on existing articles. The researchers opine that the trend signals community resistence to new content that may strengthen or tighten articles. Community resistence likely will result in new editors turning away from the community, thereby reducing the number of “eyes” available to spot article vandalism.

Furthermore, when it comes to weighing new versus existing edits, advantage goes to the more established Wikipedia editors who have a greater understanding of Wikipedia’s guidelines and “angles” than that possessed by new editors. Established editors can leverage their knowledge of the “rules” to engage in “wikilawyering” and beat down the changes from a procedural perspective.

Wikipedia’s own review team is attributing the greater number of edit reverts to spam.

Whatever the reason for the reverts, the net result on the integrity of Wikipedia as a solid reference guide is not a positive yield. Neither spam nor Wiki-administrative law-experts have the overall well-being of the end user in mind. File these concerns along with the many other chinks in the armor of the Number-One-Stop-For-Reference-Librarians-And-Other-Computer-Connected-Researchers in your virtual filing cabinet for easy reference.

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Where Have All The Good Books Gone?

100-1116 Huey P Long Bridge Baton Rouge northwest
Image by Chris[topher] Lin via Flickr

Studio readers know that I love the internet. I adore it as a source of information and enlightenment, engagement and development. I truly appreciate what the internet offers to researchers and data gatherers and content junkies.

But I really must relate the experience that I had earlier today. It speaks to our growing reliance on the internet / Wikipedia as not just A source of information, but THE source of information. I am not sure this is the correct position for all applications and it certainly shouldn’t be the “be all and end all” of the researchers tool-kit.

Today, as my children and I were traveling by car, we passed over a bridge. My eldest son, a 9 year-old, relayed to me that a boy he met on the beach had told my son that he had traveled over the world’s longest bridge: a span running from New York City into the ocean and terminating on an island in the Atlantic. I replied that I did not think that the world’s longest bridge was in New York, explaining that I had traveled on a seven-mile-long bridge in the Florida keys.

I asked him where we could find information on the world’s longest bridge (“WLB”) and he answered that the 2007 (?) version of the Guinness World Book of Records would have the answer. I then suggested that we would be passing right by an honest-to-goodness library filled with reference books and that perhaps we should stop there for our answer.

So we did. A nice local library positively filled to the ceiling with real paper, ink and board books! We walked straight to the spacious desk bearing the grand sign – REFERENCE. The youngish, maybe-early-20’s gentleman behind the counter asked if he could help us. I explained to him that we were in the car talking about the WLB and decided to stop at the library to get an answer as to how long it is and where it might be located. He gave me this knowing wink and grin and immediately turned to his computer, located right in front of massive stacks of reference books. In under 20 seconds, he had found HIS answer to the question, and spent about four or five minutes printing several pages. I stared at him during this printing process and asked him “gee, if you were going to look in a reference book to find the answer, which one would you use?” He thought for a moment and answered “The Guinness Book of World Records. Or, maybe, an encyclopedia.” He glanced at his printed pages, explained the WLB was in Japan and proudly handed the sheets to me.

Along the upper right hand corner was printed the Wikipedia URL. The title of the entry was longest suspension bridges.

A few thoughts:

  • why wouldn’t the reference librarian leap at the opportunity to teach children about the value of book research, an asset unique to libraries – institutions desperately seeking to maintain relevance in an increasingly on-line society?
  • why wouldn’t the reference librarian either ask the customer a few questions about what kind of information he or she was looking for before assuming that he or she is interested in the subset of suspension bridges, a decidedly shorter construction method than other bridge-building techniques?
  • if the reference librarian must use the internet, why wouldn’t he or she use Wolfram Alpha, rather than the sketchy likes of Wikipedia?

A good researcher is both an able detective and a willing educator. A good researcher is not content with the quick answer, although efficiency certainly is a desired trait. A good researcher takes advantage of the best tools available and prides himself or herself on keeping up to speed with the latest and greatest techniques, be they on-line or in the real world. A good researcher should never “come up short” and should seek to “bridge” the gaps between the question and the answer with the strongest, most comprehensive structure to be crafted with the tools at hand. And a good researcher should never forget the research “roots” – honest-to-goodness reference books!

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You're a Writer? Then Use The Internet!

Rusty Writer
Image by Steve Wampler via Flickr

Nice post by author Mary Warner at the WooWooTeaCup Journal listing many of the ways in which writers can use the internet to support their writing habit. While these suggestions apply generically to writers of all persuasions, there are jewels for business and legal writers to be found in her list. From getting reference help to clipping research information, from finding quotes to communing with other writers and even learning a bit about copyright, Mary has quite a few bases covered. Hit the jump and learn how other writers employ the vast array of tools the internet has to offer!

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You’re a Writer? Then Use The Internet!

Rusty Writer
Image by Steve Wampler via Flickr

Nice post by author Mary Warner at the WooWooTeaCup Journal listing many of the ways in which writers can use the internet to support their writing habit. While these suggestions apply generically to writers of all persuasions, there are jewels for business and legal writers to be found in her list. From getting reference help to clipping research information, from finding quotes to communing with other writers and even learning a bit about copyright, Mary has quite a few bases covered. Hit the jump and learn how other writers employ the vast array of tools the internet has to offer!

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Too Many Phones? Not Enough Time? Try Google Voice

Google Voice muy pronto!
Image by marcopako  via Flickr

Immersed as I am in web applications and research, I tend to take for granted that news that might seem “old” might not in fact be “old” for the vast majority. Take Google Voice, for example. I have known about Google Voice for months now and have gotten into the fray with it, played with it, coddled it and cooed to it. But that doesn’t mean that you have. And maybe you have heard about it, but don’t really know what it is all about and would like to hear more.

Google Voice used to be a service known as GrandCentral before it was eaten Jonah-like by the Google whale in 2007. Check out the official Google blog and related links here. It is a free service, like other Google apps, and employs VoIP (voice over internet) to permit you to group your phone numbers together and manage them from one location – Google.

It is currently only available in the United States. You can select one of several numbers in various area codes across the country (there were pages and pages of available numbers in my area code). Once you select that number, you authenticate your existing home, work, cell and other phone numbers via your GV number and can then stream your calls from these disparate sources into your GV number. You can then route calls based on the original number source, contact group and time of day.

Routing isn’t the only cool feature. You can get voicemail with transcription that can be accessed either by your computer or your phone. You can also mark callers as spam and NEVER HEAR FROM THEM AGAIN (can you tell I like this feature?). You can assign voice mail greetings based on the caller and switch phone lines during a call. You can forward SMS and you can record calls.

Access your settings and information via the website. I copied this list of features from the Google Voice Wikipedia entry:

  • A single Google number for all user’s phones.
  • Free calls and SMS in the contiguous US.
  • Calling International phone numbers for as low as 0.01 USD per minute.
  • Call screening. Announce callers based on their number or by an automated identification request for blocked numbers.
  • Listen in on someone recording a voicemail before taking a call.
  • Block calls.
  • Send, receive, and store SMS online.
  • Answer an incoming call on any of your phones.
  • Phone routing. Choose which phones should ring based on who calls.
  • Forwarding phones.
  • Voicemail transcripts. Read voicemails online.
  • Listen to voicemail online or from a phone.
  • Receive notifications of voicemails via email or SMS.
  • Personalized greeting that vary greetings by caller.
  • The ability to forward or download voicemails.
  • Conference calling.
  • Record calls and store them online.
  • Switch phones during a call.
  • View the web inbox from a mobile device/phone.
  • Set preferences for contacts by group.
  • Ability to change your number for a fee.

Undoubtedly, Google Voice is a new visualization and implementation of conventional phone technology. I haven’t fully incorporated it into my daily routine, but I am working towards centralizing my telephonic life and reaping the benefits of GV’s maximum control and organization.

Readers may be aware of the recent brouhaha about Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application from the App Store, sparking an inquiry by the FCC into Apple’s and ATT’s actions and intentions. While this posturing plays out, I understand that a “work around” has been achieved via the mobile web. I am looking forward to it, as I am hoping to drop my business line in favor of an iPhone-powered GV line.

How do you get Google Voice? Well, if you are a grandfathered GrandCentral customer, you have it already. If you aren’t, as I wasn’t, you can request an invite here. If you do check it out, I would love to hear what you think of it, your experiences with it and how you are utilizing it in your communications practices.

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