The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Month: January, 2009

Typewriters III

I am now the owner of a 1972 Olympia Sg3. This is a gigantic, desk bound typewriter hailing from West Germany. It’s good for sitting at and looking at the words you have typed after the fact but feels exactly like typing in the way that anyone would today associate with a computer, with one notable exception. The backspace key exists on my typewriter but it is not the same as a backspace key on a computer – the carriage moves back one space but the letter does. NOT go away. The general way that I correct my text on this (I’m using the typewriter)is backspacing through the mistake and replacing them with hard typed x’s which serve to delete the mark and then to take a half line gap upwards and retype the particular word.

It produces text which, although completely legible, is also immutable, your notes are written exactly as typed them. My particular model won’t exceed 10pt but that is more than enough for my purposes. The real power of the typewriter, as I’m finding it, is genuinely being able to take the typed page out of the typewriter and to edit it and, then once you start to redraft to actually type the entire page out again, thereby exposing yourself to the words and arguments you’re put¬ting across without being able to cheat (as I often do) and reusing the typing of earlier versions. The fact that each draft is completely new is a useful step to forcing me to actually think about what I’m trying to submit.

It’s possibly a little hopeful to see this as a panacea as far as producing quality work but it is a tool which a) I’m going to want to use and b) one which by nature of its very construction a device that will require each draft to be thoughtfully produced, instead of simply recycled. I hope that will produce a better finished product than simply copy and pasting into different shapes.

Advertisements

Typewriters II

My search for a reasonably priced typewriter continues apace . It’s absolutely incredible seeing the online market for typewriters – anyone who has ever tried to sell a computer they bought brand new for thousands of pounds a few years later will have discovered that computers are not an investment piece. As it happens there is still a huge amount of interest in the humble typewriter (I’m a case in point) and the prices these machines, generally considered to have been made obsolete by the personal computer, can still command is genuinely surprising in the days of the EEE PC netbook. The days of a typewriter costing a week’s wages are admittedly nearly entirely behind us but they can still command a not insubstantial price.

While I’m only looking at the low end of the manual market I’m still trying to buy something that will stand up to me punching away on it for a fair few years to come and some of the models that appear to be quality typing machines that I’m looking at on Ebay have taken a surprising leap past the £50 mark. An astonishing figure considering that a lot of the sellers suggest the typewriter would merely make a “good talking point or ornament” as opposed to a production machine used for typing. I’m particularly interested in machines which come with a reasonable stack of consumables because the global trade in typewriter ribbons is not as rosy as it used to be and I’m not certain of my ability to track down a replacement with nothing more than the spindles on the typewriter as a clue, not to mention the fact that being able to lug the typewriter onto my desk and begin using it immediately is worth a lot to me.

Additionally the courier fees on these huge pieces of cast iron and steel are also high, with the large desktop machines (that I’m admittedly very interested in owning), especially those designed for larger paper sizes, tipping the scales at nearly 20kg and being primarily solid metal. Savings can be made by buying one of the smaller portable models, which still aren’t hugely portable compared to a 638 gram Sony P but remain a portable possibility when moving around the house or on extended trips, which I hear are less able to keep up with fast typists and are somewhat less solid than their big office bound cousins but are perfectly usable.

Since I’m actively moving to a typewriter to slow myself down and force me to take more time with my work this is not necessarily a bad thing but I think I’d still appreciate the bulk of a desktop typewriter as a visual statement. This is simply to appeal to the Cro-Magnon male in me which whole heartedly believes something can’t be serious until it makes your desk creak.

Happy Inauguration Barack Obama

Normally I would say that American politics is out with the remit of this blog but I have been watching the ceremony on BBC News 24 (hurrying home to get to see it happen) and it is nothing short of awe inspiring to see the crowds who travelled from as far afield as Africa and Europe to see him sworn in. He’s an amazing speaker and whether you agree or disagree with his words they demand to be heard. This day will change the world in a way that does not usually happen with these, strictly speaking, procedural ceremonies.

However, as a comment on the press, I find the media coverage to be faintly one sided – from Obama’s message of diversity and equality the press have turned to commenting nearly exclusively on the African American community. I personally dislike the concept of racial communities being collectively described in anything, I’m technically a member of the “white community” along with the Neds who throw used chewing gum on the bus and members of the BNP but it would be a cold day in hell before I feel kinship with either of those groups. I suspect it’s the same for people of other races and the oft repeated comments that the “black community” is happy that Obama is president don’t ring true to me; groups of completely different people can’t be spoken for like that. For example, the prayer given by the black civil rights leader that he hopes there comes a time when “white can do right” is probably a fairly heartfelt statement for that particular man who undeniably suffered but cannot possibly cover every single white person in the world.

Russell Howard tells an anecdote in his act about his mother joining a “5 foot club” and discovering that the only thing the members had in common was their height and this did not mean that they had common ground or even got on as people. The same point stands for people grouped together by age or religion or nationality or race – the members might share this characteristic but they are still individuals and no one should ever forget that and pigeonhole anyone.

I would much rather consider Barack Obama as an exceptionally talented, intelligent and sensitive man, human being even, than a half black, half white Hawaii-born American. To say any less is to diminish him as a person.

Joel replies to RIAA’s motion to appeal broadcast

I’ve already talked about Joel’s court case before but there’s been an update from his side regarding the RIAA’s appeal.

“If the RIAA’s campaign is about educating people, how could they possibly oppose this?”

Joel Tenenbaum

The RIAA have lodged an appeal for the video stream which Joel’s legal team requested. Apparently it has been diluted down to a narrowcast which raises the awkward suggestion that, perhaps, I won’t be able to see it after all.

Wikipedia defines a narrowcast as:

“the transmission of data to a specific list of recipients”

I do not honestly think I will be on that particular guest list but I hope it will be a more general form of narrowcast – if there’s a place to give my email to get a link sent to me consider it sent already. I also wonder who will appear on this list, I am currently spending my reading time pouring through my textbooks but it is almost certainly in the extensive list of documents on joelfightsback.com which will make an interesting afternoon’s reading. At the least I hope the narrowcast recipients are allowed to then broadcast the video to the rest of the interested people who want to watch.

The RIAA’s appeal is interesting – they do not want the video sent to sites which are not favourable to them. However, since it’s hard to have a neutral position if you want to say anything at all in this kind of diametrically opposed situation, I’m not sure that either side will ever be able to agree on neutral ground.

Perhaps this is even the RIAA’s motive behind the grounds of appeal in the first place.

The press release can be found on Joel’s site at the link below:

HARVARD LEGAL TEAM COMMENTS ON RIAA’s EFFORTS TO BAR INTERNET IN COURTROOM”

Typewriters I

Few older technologies get quite as much notice and affection as the humble typewriter and it’s become my latest Ebay browsing fascination, that is if I can see an opportunity to pick up a cheap model I think I’m going to dip my toe in these retro waters.

Believe it or not I have thought this through, my work needs to be submitted online and if I could not use the typewriter for this I’m basically looking for a roughly 10kg desk ornament but I have a quick, effective scanner with a copy of speedy and accurate OCR software installed. Therefore, if I feed my scanner typewritten notes I can extract the text from them with no problem whatsoever and great speed. OCR would immediately choke if I made it try to read my handwriting (I’d offer to be a CAPTCHA but I’d be too effective) but if I try to make it read evenly spaced lines of typescript it will run through the documents with aplomb. This means that I get to benefit from the alleged (I have never tried it for myself) advantages of the typewriter – the distraction free writing environment – I’m really interested in this on because I’m very, very easily distracted by computers, frankly because they are my favourite toy, so I often sit down to work on real work and end up on a highly informative but irrelevant quest on Google or by a new email that’s come in – and the increased ability to draft without editing as I go along. I’ve always found it very hard to redraft my work, to be honest and I suspect that any incentive to change this would be fantastic because it’s a recognised beneficial process for writers and the extra coordination that it requires is a positive step in writing carefully and better.  I also think it might come in handy as a quick and easy way to set a typed address onto an envelop for posting.

And if all else fails? Well, maybe I am in the market for a 10kg desk ornament. I’ll keep it with me as long as I can because it’ll make me look very arty and boho and alternative and I’ll just have to learn to live with that. At the very least it’s something I can bring on holiday and use to scare the bejeezus out of the baggage scale.

Joel Fights Back

A file sharing notice is about the most serious letter that can come “from the Internet” for anyone. This can range between a polite “stop and delete all the songs you downloaded and don’t do it again” to a flat out demand for money. There have been a vast number of allegedly speculative letters sent out asking for a cash payment for the lawyers to go away with threats, and I think in context it is legally accurate to use the word, that the situation will escalate to court action (and faced with the option of having to prove a negative in front of a court an unknown number of people have simply paid up.

It is not all bad for the general public, since the vast majority of “law firms” who will mass mail requests for money are from England these can often be turned off by pointing out that you live in Scotland and there is a jurisdictional difference. A polite response asking for “clarification” on this “confusing point” can be all that an individual needs to do to make some of the less scrupulous firms give up and head for an easier target.

There can be no doubt that some of the letters do honestly arrive to people who illegally share files but the stories of university printers being threatened with legal action only serve to create an unfavourable blacklash in the press against the heavy handed tactics that have defined the public opinion of the industry. One of the biggest issues is the lack of actual, before a judge, court cases in this area because the vast majority of people settle before it goes that far. In the US there have been two main cases – Jammie Thomas which is now declared to be a mistrial and Joel Tenenbaum. In the first case the judge commented that the damages sought were probably 1000 times too much and has now been decided to be a miscarriage of justice but the second case is going much better for Joel. Jammie Thomas’s lawyer was inexperienced in this new area of law and the defence was not perhaps as persuasive as it could be. Joel instead is being defended by Professor Charles Nesson and a sizeable group of his students from Harvard Law School who is rather more experienced in this field and has brought a surprising amount of media attention to the case and has worked hard to capture the goodwill that surrounds people defending themselves against the RIAA.

The professor is clearly a canny lawyer and the Joel Fights Back campaign is a which uses nearly as much online content as Vote Obama ‘08 and has a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, an online petition and a Paypal fund raiser (the link’s to Joel’s own, I promise) along with some fantastic features – “Think like a Lawyer (Contribute to Joel’s Defence)”, “Legal Documents” and “Share your stories”. These are designed to get the general public interested in the case and to raise awareness of the issues involved. The move to make it quite interactive is a masterstroke – the suggestion that Joe Public can suggest questions to give to the big names in file sharing litigation under oath during cross examination is a unique opportunity and one which a lot of people have already expressed interest in.

The latest move Professor Nesson attempted was to have the court action broadcast online. I would highly recommend the opportunity to watch a civil case from a foreign jurisdiction, the US isn’t too different from our adversarial selves but that doesn’t mean that watching it’s not an opportunity that few Scottish students would be able to normally have. Broaden your legal experience when this is broadcast. Or will it, because the RIAA has immediately filed an appeal to have this case heard in camera. This is interesting because it gives a strong public impression that the RIAA don’t want their litigation procedure to be aired in public.

Joel himself is quite impressive – after receiving the initial demand for $3500 he rang the number on the letter and attempted to negotiate a settlement $500 instead, he even sent them a money order for that amount. A few years later he was sent summons and the scenario I have just mentioned began.

This case bears watching because it has ramifications on nearly all Internet users and is the first time the big law teams representing the anti file sharing lobby have really been answered by any party with at all similar resources. While there have been cases of the wicker man of file sharing used as a revenue gathering tactic by the unscrupulous there are issues, such as the punitive penalties the RIAA would like to see file sharers forced to pay, which need to be finally decided in open court.

Joe’s campaign site is at http://joelfightsback.com/

“Never plead guilty!”

John Mortimer, author of the deeply loved Rumpole of the Bailey, has died today at the age of 85. It’s an event that can’t really be missed on a law student’s blog because it was a very good legal drama and it’s a shame to see Mortimer bow out along with Leo McKern, the face of Rumpole.

Mortimer, as well as a prolific author, was also a practicing family and later criminal barrister. He experienced the two very different fields and later remarked:

“Matrimonial clients hate each other so much and use their children to hurt each other in beastly ways. Murderers have usually killed the one person in the world that was bugging them and they’re usually quite peaceful and agreeable.”

This is a wise word for anyone who’s looking at fields to enter from law school.

Although his health was failing in his later years it did not stop Mortimer from writing and he was in the process of dictating (his eyesight became too poor to continue writing in longhand himself) a book when he died, he only had “three or four chapters written”. This is a great loss of a talented barrister and a talented comedy writer, of which there can never be too many, whose works are probably some of the earliest popular entertainment which concentrated on humanising the legal process and providing a very necessary accessible insight into the profession.

Mortimer was also a strong advocate of free speech and civil liberties while at the same time, to quote his autobiography, he was “the best playwright ever to have defended a murderer at the Central Criminal Court.”  His like is always needed in the profession.

5 Backup Strategies for students

Ever since the student was invented centuries ago the worst thing that could happen to him was he could lose his notes and this is just as true if the student is using parchment and quills or solid state drives and the latest ultra portable laptop. He needs a way to keep track of the files he has and a good way to back them up. This used to be a massive undertaking in the days of hand writing notes (and I still look at my overflowing lever arch files and decide that I’m never going to copy them out again) which became only slightly easier when the photocopier was invented. The computer, however, revolutionised copying in a way which can (and has) give a music exec the cold shakes and it’s now so easy to keep multiple copies of every file you use that it’s no one’s fault but your own if you don’t use the same logic on your work as your music collection. The only problem for someone wanting to protect their files is picking which method you want to use*.

The best method

This is your humble author’s best bet for simple file protection while you’re at university:

Wikipedia

[A USB drive ready to be plugged into a computer, source: Wikipedia]

There’s a lot of sense in using these small, inexpensive devices to store your data while you’re studying. They are extremely portable, not only between locations but also between computers. I could plug my USB stick into a university lab computer, hand it to a print shop or plug it into my own laptop and the files on it can be read off with no problems or issues whatsoever. I often copy files that I wanted printed copies of to my USB stick so that I can print them off on the much cheaper bulk laser printers in libraries than on my inkjet at home.

It depends on your requirements, obviously, what you need but generally I would go for a stick with a capacity of a few gigabytes. There’s really no reason not to do this now because costs have dropped so much. Fancier models are nice but speed and security are often overpriced in the eyes of users who just want a plug and play flash drive. I picked my 8GB stick off Amazon.co.uk for about ten pounds. An 8GB stick will be effectively limitless as far as your homework is concerned. I keep a great deal of information on my USB drive, case reports, journal articles, coursework, etc but try to ensure that there is no personal data on the stick, just in case I leave it lying in the library or have it stolen from me and 8GB goes a very long way when you are using it to store text.

I use a [Windows briefcase (remember those?) on my flash drive which will sync with my home computers with a single click. The Briefcase is an ancient feature in Windows since Windows 95 but one which proves very useful to me nearly every day.

For other people simply dragging the folder over will be more than enough to keep a copy of your work but it lacks the synchronization features that using a Briefcase (or another sync program) will give you.

The online method

Online storage is a relatively old phenomenon but one which has only recently taken off. While people have had the opportunity to store their files remotely for many years the tipping point has come when it became easy and fast to do so. While people who still have dial up connections will gladly tell you how slow it is to browse web sites this is nothing compared to the ~3kb/s effort of sending a substantial amount of data the other way.

The most common domestic Internet connection is the Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) which divides a phone line up into various bands for upstream, downstream and voice. This allows the connection to do all three operations at once. That’s great for being able to answer the phone at the same time as use the internet but the way that the phone line divides up the data frequencies does not divide it equally – it’s asymmetric. Generally people will have hugely quick download speeds and considerably slower upload speeds, maybe as little as 10% of the download speed. This provides a massive barrier to anyone who wants to send a lot of data across their connection because it simply takes a lot of time.  For smaller amounts of data, though, it’s very convenient.

There are many options for online storage:

The handiest application I’ve found for my online storage has to be the Gmail Drive. This shell extension for Windows allows you to mount your googlemail account as a drive in Windows and copy files to, save to it from programs and generally use it as you would any other drive. The only difference is that the files are saved in your Gmail account as attachments in emails which you can access from anywhere you have Internet access. The storage limit is about 8GB and no single file can be more than 10MB but if you only use it to back up your text file homework and notes this is more than enough. You may have to reduce the length and complexity of file names to get it working just right but that’s a rare issue for most users.

You could do this manually by emailing yourself files as attachments which will let you access them from wherever you have Internet access but the drag and drop of Gmail Drive is particularly convenient for me.

A slightly more involved method is simply to use an online storage provider; these can be free but often charge monthly fees for their services and provide gigabytes of easy to access storage which you control through an often very colourful and polished downloadable application. I find these to be too much for my requirements which are served by not much more than an email account but they are a good, easy to use option for people who don’t want to get too involved in the technical background.

The network method

If you have more than one computer in your house, for example I have my work laptop and I have a more powerful desktop computer that I use for games and other entertainment tasks, you can use them to store your data in more than one place and improve the redundancy. I personally use a simple Windows SMB based network to create network shares that I can mount and use as regular drives and that does everything that I need the network to do, backup wise.

Even if you don’t have another computer you can still use a network to back up your data. Most people on broadband connections use a router to connect their computer(s) to the Internet and the router is a device which is naturally good at connecting lots of devices to networks. The standalone option is a NAS device:

One example of a consumer NAS

[One example of a consumer NAS, source: Amazon.co.uk]

Network Attached Storage is a previously only business technology which suddenly became considerably cheaper and suddenly a lot more economical for the home user. These devices are roughly speaking specialized, low cost computers that have enough power to control a hard disc and a network connection and some have features like automatic Bittorrent downloads, which allows the device to run all day and night and not tie up a “real” computer. They come in two main varieties – prebuilt and barebones. Barebones units tend to be a cheaper purchase (but there can be a premium once you factor hard drives into that price too) than complete versions but you have to provide your own hard drives but that gives you flexibility as to your capacity. Prebuilt versions already have drives installed and generally arrive at the user ready to be plugged in the wall and used.

The sneakernet method

Sneakernet [sic] is a term that describes when instead of electronically connecting two computers you save the file you want to share to a disc and physically take it to the other computer. This is useful in situations where you want to save a copy of your work for future reference and want it to be safe from hard drive failure or being stolen from you while you’re out. It is not a bad plan to burn coursework and other essential pieces of your own work to a CD so you can store it at home if the worst should happen. Given the size of coursework files you could get a sizeable portion of your entire written handiwork stored on an old school floppy disc, I certainly remember family members finishing their entire university career with a small stack of floppy discs tucked into their notes. Those discs will still faithfully hold the files that were put on them in years past and that’s all that can possibly be asked of a backup.

No matter what method you use, remember to do it often!

Backups are of no use to you whatsoever if you haven’t got a recent copy of a file that’s suddenly disappeared. If you leave your backups for too long you risk running into a situation where the copy you have is not one which can really help you. I personally keep my USB drive nearly perfectly up to date because I keep the USB drive plugged in a lot of the time and it’s a moment’s work to click “Update All” in My Computer when I’m finished working.

Try to get yourself into a habit of backing your files up regularly when you’re working so you’re not left with outdated copies when disaster strikes.

Hopefully habits picked up in university with stay with you throughout your professional life and in an era where data losses seem to occur on a weekly basis you will be the professional who knows to keep a redundant copy of your client records locked up in a safe place and to use encryption (more on this later) on data that goes out of the office.

*If you’re particularly fervent in your quest for data protection you can bear in mind that the protection that backups give you is redundancy and the only thing that using more than one of these systems can do is improve your security. I personally have copies stored on both my computers as well as on flash drives.

Eugh

I’ve made a rather major mistake. This is what I write an anonymous blog for – it’s not anonymous for my successes, I’d much rather my successes were projected onto the moon but it’s the mistakes and the “non-successes” and controversial news that anonymity’s good for. I’m about to give the reader an object lesson in keeping on top of your uni work.

I was 2 days late with my holiday assignment. That’s not the end of the world but it’s a big thing at uni, that’s a 10% deduction right off the bat. I took a very relaxing and unproductive Christmas break assuming that my one piece of imminent written work was straight forward and short and could be dealt with quickly and I would be able to pretend that my break was more intellectual and less lazy and fattening than it happened to be.

It was not. I came home from a lovely weekend away the morning before it was due and looked over it. It was gargantuan and meandered across three vastly different areas of law. I swore, loudly, because there was nothing else I could really do.

I then gritted my teeth and sat up until it was done, as it happens that was two days of solid 4 hours sleep one night, none the next toil, and grabbing food to eat at my desk. The room I’m sitting in currently is a bomb site with plates and cups strewn around sitting on top of open books and a sleeping bag in the corner and I’m only just calmed down enough to start tidying it up.

The desk’s surface is inexplicably covered in a detailed pencil study of a tree I can see from my window that was drawn at a particularly bleak point around dawn this morning that saw me hit a wall. It’s actually rather beautiful and I’m much prouder of it than I am the assignment.

It’s very grim. I have read enough to produce a treatise on three areas of law and then boiled it down to produce an essay far short of the word limit (read: word suggestion), that and the long hours staring at a computer screen have left my eyes bloodshot and weepy and I’ve never appreciated being able to sleep more in a long time. I can’t sleep though, I’m still feeling far too flush with adrenaline from trying to make it to the deadline (or at least before I ended up 3 days late) and that’s why I handed in such a small effort. I checked the delivery status of my assignment with my heart in my mouth and then I immediately got up to stand under the shower for 40 minutes.

I’m concerned because this is one of my feared “professional subjects” – the ones that decide your application to the post graduate Diploma in Legal Practice that’s pretty much a required step for the wannabe lawyer and the assignment was for a great deal more of the total mark than my other subjects and not only do these grades affect your entry to the diploma, they also affect the quality of the scholarships you may or may not qualify for. It’s a very expensive couple of months and a scholarship’s not to be sniffed at. As it happens I get my undergraduate degree fees paid for by Mr Salmond, if I’m honest I’d much rather he paid for my post graduate studies because I can much easier meet the subsidised fees I get written off by the SAAS each year.

Flunking an assignment for a professional subject isn’t the end of the world but it’s stressful and a needless headache if you had weeks with not much in the way of university obligations and it’s a task to make up the difference in the written exam later on if, really, you could have avoided it by just working through the new Jonathan Creek (although it was quite good) and Wallace and Gromit (which was its quirky, nostalgic, British golden self) . There’s a few subjects that you want to make sure you actually pass – your big credit earning ones, your professional subject and anything you took because a professional regulatory body told you to. This class here happened to be all three.

And when I say “you” what I mean is “me.”

My advice to any and all students is:

  1. Read your assignments over, not just the question but also the other bits of helpful paper you’re given.
    I thought I was dealing with a cute problem solving scenario to tear through using the textbook, Westlaw and the 4 part structure right until I discovered I was supposed to make it  the length of a small book the day I was supposed to send it to be marked.
  2. Have a diary or calendar that you use every day.
    I personally use my mobile phone’s calendar which lets me plug in all the dates that I’d possibly need (I’m not that busy a person 😉 ) and I’ve set it up to remind me either the week before or the day before before every appointment. It’s crazy and it’s over kill but it means that I know when I need to drag the sleeping bag under the computer desk. This particular assignment was left out in a memory full bug that was cured a good bit after the homework had slipped my mind and I thought it wasn’t due in until next week.
  3. Have a backup diary that won’t run out of memory at the worst possible time.
    I know, it’s incredibly tedious keeping a handwritten diary up to date but if I did it better I’d be sitting here thinking how generally smug I was that I got my coursework in on time.
  4. Be honest that you (meaning I) have the impulse control of a crack addict when it comes to doing anything that isn’t schoolwork.
    Sometimes, even if you’re even the most ardent law fan (as I like to think I am) you’ll realise that the holidays with all the friends who moved away to other towns coming home and seeing family and all the other parts of holidays is just much better than sitting reading the works of the institutional writers in an all-too empty library until your eyes start to puff up. Bite the bullet and get any work you need done, done. Then sit back and think how smug you get to be about it. One of my friends gets her assignments done at least 2 weeks before the due date and I’ve known her two years now and I still think she must have the discipline needed to only take one After 8 mint and I admire her in the same way I admire astronauts. That’s a bad sign. I’m great at reading but not so good at sitting down and doing the written work, try and get a balance in your own studies.