Dropbox Tips

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Despite all the concerns and discussion out there over cloud usage by legal professionals, Dropbox still remains one of the most popular applications among lawyers. I am not going to discourse on whether or not that should be the case – the internet is rife with the opinions of very capable commenters on the subject – just remember that there are Bar rules out there about lawyers employing reasonable measures to ensure security when using the cloud. My personal use, however, takes into account the potential risks as well as rewards of using this free and cheap multi-user, cross-device sync app that a majority of cloud users have embraced. That means I enable security features whenever possible and store documents I have no fear of others potentially having access to.  While that may limit others’ use of the service, I still find plenty of utility in Dropbox when I need to collaborate or share with someone else – and I have chosen not to use my other favorite sharing / storage service, Google Drive.

First, as with any other online service, make sure you have a very secure password – please, no 1234567! Did you know that is one of the most popular passwords out there? No duh! Make it hard to crack with letters, numbers, symbols and mixed caps. Also, disable automatic user log in on your computer and log out on your devices when not using the service. And, now that they offer it, enable two-factor verification – I have it on all services that allow for it, like Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. Dropbox has it too – all this means is that when you (or anyone) attempts to log into your account on Dropbox, you will get a text message on your phone with a verification code that you will also need to enter to get into your folders. Dropbox also encrypts files on its side of the fence and you can too – check out Boxcrypter, which I wrote about here in the Studio, for an extra level of encryption on YOUR side of the fence. Some content creations applications, like Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat, let you password protect at the document level. You also can set Dropbox to selectively sync only certain files, thus limiting unwanted access where syncing isn’t really necessary.  No guarantees that these steps will prevent any and all security breaches, but it certainly improves your odds in keeping your data intact.

Besides syncing, sharing and backup, there are some pretty cool uses for Dropbox. Automatically upload your photos from your devices to Dropbox by enabling the auto upload feature in the app. Set up remote printing by creating a print queue folder, and setting up a script that will look to the folder and print locally at home anything you add to it while on the road (thanks Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspiration Blog). If you use 1Password for your secure password storage, you can use Dropbox as a password backup application. Backup your WordPress blog to Dropbox using plug ins such as  WordPress Backup to DropboxWP Time Machine andBackupBox. Use Wappwolf to automatically share, convert files, sync, zip, unzip, encrypt, decrypt  and employ actions in other applications such as  Evernote, Facebook, Flickr using Dropbox. There is little doubt that Dropbox’s popularity is one of its benefits – there are plenty of very smart users out there who create applications to extend the reach and utility of Dropbox because they use it too.

One last little gift to you: MakeUseOf has a cool chart showing off some of Dropbox’s tips, tricks, keyboard shortcuts, and tools and plug ins. Check it out – this really only scratches the surface of what you can do with the service. And remember, always sync responsibly!

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Six Tips for Creating Web-Friendly Content

You want readers for your on-line content. And you want them to stick around for more. But, do you read the Internet the same way you read the  latest New York Times bestseller? Of course not! Unlike the book, which forces your attention toward a single story line, the Web is a crazy-quilt cornucopia of news, varying widely in content, quality and length. As a content creator, how do you frame your offerings so that they pull the attention of the reader your way?

Web readers read on-line material differently. Judging from my own experience, I tend to scan headlines and the first few sentences (or blurb) to see if the content catches my eye. Sometimes, I am pulled by an interesting picture. More often than not, my attention is directed toward an interesting hook.

While qualitative style and substance rule the offline reading world (and do play a part in online world as well), readability might be the most important attribute of online content. How easy is it for your reader to scan and latch onto your material? What do you find easiest to read? Here are some tips to consider:

  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Wolfing down huge bites of your lunch leaves your stomach feeling cramped. Wolfing down smaller bites is far more comfortable. Like food, small bits of information are easier to digest than larger ones. Craft smaller sentences and smaller paragraphs. Don’t try to cram too many ideas into one unit of writing / reading measure.
  • Use organizers to structure the information. Use headings in an outline-like structure to reinforce the stream of your argument. If your post is long, you can use links to various sections at the top of your post so your reader is not left to hunt and peck for the valuable nuggets.
  • Bullet points get points. There is a reason that posts titled or structured “Seven Best …” or “Fifteen Pitfalls to Avoid …” get more love – bullet points hit us with the organization our minds crave. Make sure your lists make sense – include an introductory phrase to explain in a few words what follows. And keep it simple.
  • Open up with your best hook. Write your posts like you would write an argument to the Court. Put the best argument up front, phrased in as simple and compelling a manner possible. Reinforce that argument throughout the writing. End with the argument, highlighting the best information introduced in your article that supports the point.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Don’t overlook media, but don’t let the media overwhelm your post. Use images, videos, audio when they enhance and not simply because “they are cool.” I like to use a uniform-sized image at the start of all my posts to help the entire blog layout look organized. You can also use images throughout to underline points – screen shots are particularly helpful on this blog, which highlights technology and web tools.
  • Pay attention to physical layout of the piece. Keep typography in mind. Proper font size, line height, letter and paragraph spacing, white space, a simple color scheme, consistent layout, italics, bold and graphic elements like boxes for important concepts are great aids. When using these devices, always keep the overall look and readability in mind.

If your goal is to gain readers and increase their attention to your Web writing, consider these tips to help attract and retain. A little extra Web-friendly attention to detail goes a long way in increasing your content’s traction.

Research Tips From A Canadian Lawyer

Nada Khirdaji, a partner in the Research Department of Osler’s Toronto office, focuses her practice on legal research.  Sounds familiar to me. Ms. Khirdaji shares some of her suggestions for effective legal research in this article (link here) included in CCH’s January, 2010 Law Student Monthly column. She covers many excellent points – all focused on providing the researcher plumbing a new area of law with the world-view first and the finer points second. Her suggestions include: avoiding the case law databases as a first step and turning instead to general resources and texts; reading all cases cited in the notes; assuming application of a statute until proven otherwise, and performing a thorough review of the statute’s structure, location, table of contents and index; reviewing predecessor sections of statutes, related statutes from other jurisdictions and similar provisions in other statutes; avoiding journal articles for practical legal research; and, using firm-specific resources and consult ing colleagues.

Really, all very good advice. However, the suggestions seemed penned by an attorney from the 20th Century. Here in the 21st Century, there is another, important means for achieving a broad, world-view that Ms. Khirdaji omits. Consider looking at all available on-line resources as well, including the newly-fortified Google search, book searches, semantic search engines, and other curated legal databases and resources. Consider crafting your own custom search engines of pertinent governmental agency websites using Google Custom Search. Use the deep web search engines to find unconventional web documents. You never know what you may find.

Microsoft Bing Master Class – Still Feels Like Recreational Search

Computerworld has compiled an article it calls Microsoft Bing Master Class – Top Tips & Tricks. With a title like that, who could resist?

So, I hurriedly made my way over to the Master Class to grab up hot information on manipulating Bing to do my bidding.  And this is what I found.

Bing, as many are aware, does not rely on keywords, but instead applies its own internal processes to guess at what you are looking for based on the terms entered into the search box. This is still my big beef with Bing.  I want a more objective criteria in securing my results. Perhaps this is a relic-like by-product of my Boolean upbringing.

Much is made of its “colorful design” and splashy background with links to more information on the pictures displayed. Bing automatically displays certain links that it “thinks” you might find interesting. Seems these characteristics appeal to the Web surfer who is looking to be entertained rather than informed. By default, Bing will offer suggestions for your search as you type (this feature can be turned off, as Computerworld points out).

Results are shown based on popularity, although I am not sure how that is defined. There are advanced search settings, and here is what Computerworld says about those:

You can further refine your search using the Advanced Search button located to the right of the main window. This lets you search for results that include a specific phrase, web pages that are listed at a particular site, domain or country, or those written in a particular language. Alternatively, you can display UK-only results by typing loc:UK in the search bar.

The Related Searches box on the lefthand side of the search results window can be used for refining searches with other popular phrases. Click the Images category and a list of related people will be displayed on the lefthand side of the window.

These advanced parameters feel a bit thin to me. If you search intitle: and add a word, Bing will pull sites that only include that word in the site title. Typing maps in the title with a search term will display a tiny map of the area, with link to a bigger Bing  Map. Hovering over a blue arrow to the right of the search result will show a preview of the identified page. I do like the preview feature.

Depending on the terms you employ, Bing can serve as a calculator, a dictionary, a weather forecaster or a currency converter. Combined with Microsoft’s new Silverlight program, you can access enhanced map data with local weather, street view, and a compass. Finally, Photosynth allows you to view stitched digital images that combine to create a 3D effect of your location of interest. There are features that overlay local twitter activity and local blogs in certain specified areas.

While all of this is indeed interesting, none of this has convinced me that Bing is a viable competitor to Google when it comes to more academic web research. Bing’s bells and whistles appear designed to attract the web surfer seeking entertainment or simply passing the time.

To be fair, on my iPhone, I am alternating my searching between the Google Mobile and Bing apps. Of course, these search tasks are more of the recreational variety. In my own informal analysis, Google still appears superior to Bing in delivering the result I am looking for. In my most recent example, Google identified a restaurant I was looking for at the top of the results list, while the restaurant was nowhere to be found in Bing. While  Bing has managed to outshine Google a couple of times by a slight margin, overall Google still feels more reliable to me.

Hat tip to Resource Shelf on the Computerworld article.

Now That I Have Wave, What Do I Do With It?

I have been having a “deja vue all over again” experience. It is the experience of hearing people say “gee, now that I am on Google Wave, what do I do with it?” The hype has been focused on Wave’s deployment as a killer collaborative tool. But how exactly do you get-to-done with it?

I haven’t yet been able to scare up a real project on Wave affording an opportunity to really put its collaborative forces into play. But I swear by its potential. And now I can point Studio readers to an excellent “how to” guide by a true Google Guru, Gina Trapani of Lifehacker, discussing how to manage a group project in Wave.

Gina’s post focuses on her ongoing project – writing a book aptly named “The Complete Guide to Google Wave.” While the book isn’t being written in Wave, it is being managed in Wave. She lists various tricks and tools she and her co-author employed, including shared tags and saved searches, how to reply to a blip below or in-line with it, or how to edit the blip, how to mark a reply private, how to playback a wave, and a list of helpful gadgets and bots (those crazy add-ons that make Waves exciting with multi-media goodness).

Gina also points out that adding Google Gears to your set-up isn’t necessary but helpful for securing more complete functinality. Installing Gears and a developers’ version of Chrome were the first tasks I undertook following my invitation to Wave and I do recommend it for new (and existing) Wavers. 

If you are like me and haven’t yet been able to put Wave through its paces for a real, honest-to-goodness task, check out the Lifehacker post to cull some tips and tricks secondhand. And if you are on Wave already, feel free to add me to your conversations – I would love to chat – I’m startoestudio@googlewave.com.

Decompress. And De-Stress

The work is coming in fast and furious. So are the telephone calls and conferences. Your Blackberry (or iPhone) is permanently fixed to your midsection, like some sort of “office”-arrest ankle bracelet. You are trying to keep up with your real world and on-line social obligations and networking efforts. Blogs to write, documents to draft, files to read, offices to manage, hearings to attend. How can one human being juggle all of this? I didn’t even add family and personal obligations into the mix, and it STILL sounds overwhelming!

Aside from responding with the slightly flippant answer of “you need a vacation”, I point you to this excellent article by Julie Fleming at Life at the Bar called “Top Ten Tips to Overcome Overwhelm.”  Based on her own experience and feedback she has collected, Julie publishes a useful list of suggestions for placing short-term patches on your leaky ship. Thanks, Julie, for the great insights!

Typing Class – iPhone Edition

Mechanical desktop typewriters, such as this U...
Image via Wikipedia

I learned how to type on a manual typewriter. You had to press those suckers to make an impression. It wasn’t haptic feedback, it was more like haptic bludgeoning.  Studio readers probably have an inkling or two about my feelings regarding typing on the iPhone. It’s like the anti-Smith Corona.

Enter this truly useful post from Art of the iPhone with some great typing tips for working your way around that sheet of glass that passes for a keyboard. Learn the ins and outs of quick edits with cut, copy and paste, typing in landscape (o.k., that’s a duh tip), sliding fingers for quick punctuation and numbers, typing accents, dashes and other special characters, quick-contractions, using auto-correction as an efficiency aid, avoiding auto-correction when you don’t want it, dropping the .com, changing keyboard settings, and shaking to undo your last action and enabling emoji (those cute little icons and smileys in messages).

And if you really get frustrated with the keyboard, just give it up and check out Art of the iPhone’s helpful tips on voice control commands.

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