The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Month: October, 2011

Soulver T&Cs

I am a big fan of a program called Soulver for Mac (I’ve never used it but Lifehacker says that OpalCalc is a good copy for Windows).

Soulver is basically a notepad application that lets you write out what calculations you’re doing and then does the computation next to it. I like it because my fundamental failing in maths is keeping track of what I’ve done, what I’m doing now and where I go from there. Soulver lets you type out a document, with variables and dependent answers if you want, that neatly sets out your working. It means that you don’t feed numbers into a calculator and, on going back, wonder “where did that 50p come from?”. It’s also great used as a more regular text editor to take notes where numbers are involved.

Calculating a company's dividend, line by line

For example, the above is a question I worked out in a tax tutorial (by the way, if you rely on my figures here to calculate the dividend in your own company you’re literally crazy). I typed out the numbers again but I could also have dragged and dropped from the right hand side into the text window on the left. That has the advantage of putting in pointers which can change as the calculations they rely on change, just like a spreadsheet formula.

Soulver costs $24.95 (about £15) and, as standard for a piece of software in this is price range, tries to back away from as much liability as possible. I think this is only sensible — I found Soulver as a Mac Switcher through a recommendation from David Sparks (MacSparky), a California trial attorney who, as far as I understand, uses it at work. The Terms of Use put a $2 limit on total company liability.

Two provisions from the Terms of Use say:

The developer makes no claims for Soulver’s accuracy, reliability or correctness. You should always check the accuracy of the results, and not rely on them being correct.

Soulver should not be used in cases where errors or inaccuracies in a result would lead to death, personal injury, financial and economic losses, losses, damage to property, or any other form of damage.

I suspect that whoever wrote that had the Mars Climate Orbiter in mind when doing so. The MCO crashed because of a communication error between multiple teams — one team did their work in metric units, another team used imperial ones. The resulting disparity meant that the spacecraft crashed. Similarly, my own example of using Soulver to calculate company tax creates opportunities for some crazy liabilities. Soulver’s killer feature here, every calculation is neatly written down and stored line by line, means that there is a paper trial built up for exactly where the error happened; that’s not the same as blaming Casio when your tax return gets audited.

I think this makes a dramatic contrast to the “use at your own risk” EULA found by Michael @ Law Actually.



On catgate and outrageousness

The Guardian is making very ominous sounds about Ken Clarke’s future career in the wake of “catgate” which, if true, is possibly the saddest political coup in history.

I suspect most people have heard about Catgate by now — one of Theresa May’s researchers has found a immigration case in which a cat was mentioned and has either cynically misrepresented it or catastrophically misunderstood it to the extent it was headlined in a Party conference speech as an outrageous “yuman rites” story.

Ken Clarke, echoing many of us in all walks of life who are a bit sick of our area of expertise being done very badly in public, pulled a face when May said that the central legal issue in the case was immigrants having a cat. That sounds like a ridiculous reason to let someone stay in Britain, right?

Spoiler: it totally is.


The notable thing about outrageous stories is that they’re unexpected — that makes it stand out. You see it regularly in health reporting to the extent that if a new study reveals unexpected results it’s probably wrong. There’s a lot science doesn’t know yet but it wasn’t born yesterday either.

Your gut has a reasonable sense of how the world should (and nearly always does) work. If you see a car rolling uphill that stands out as not expected. This is why gravity hills are interesting:

If you gut says “that doesn’t sound right” it’s worth checking if it is. That’s what Ken Clarke did with Catgate, and it so happens that he was perfectly right. It turned out that the cat was mentioned in passing by a witness as an example of how he had cemented a family relationship with other humans.

Unexpected anecdotes are also an extremely poor way to make policy. We should not abolish the Human Rights Act because an aide at the Home Office found a story about a cat.

Frankly, it’s outrageous to think otherwise.


Kindle update

I have waxed lyrical about my love for the Amazon Kindle before so I’m naturally interested in Amazon’s revamp.

Regular readers will remember that my only complaints about the Kindle were its annotation features (particularly export) and the keyboard. Therefore, I’m quite happy to see what they’ve done now:

Kindle Touch

Kindle Touch

  • faster hardware
  • slightly smaller
  • lower price
  • eInk display
  • touch screen
  • that awful keyboard is gone

I’m focusing on the eInk device still because I think it suits my purposes better. I just want to read a large number of documents on the bus without having to kill someone’s printer.

The Kindle Touch is not available in the UK yet but it’s surely a matter of time. I think the new touch screen should make the annotation feature more friendly than it used to be. The iPad’s great advantage for marking up documents is that you can swipe your finger across the text you want to highlight. This is a bit of a half way solution as it’s still necessary to get your highlights off the Kindle unless you want to type it out manually and I haven’t heard anything about that. I’m not sure that I’ll ever justify an upgrade to a touch screen device just for easier highlighting.

I also think I’d some how miss having a button to press to change pages when reading. I’m not convinced about swiping between pages.

Kindle Fire

Kindle Touch
The Kindle Fire seems like an interesting device but it’s very different from the Kindle Touch. It’s an Android based device with an LCD touch display. I suspect it’s going to be fantastic for media use. It’s fundamentally a Kindle with a colour screen but I don’t think it’ll be as good at living in your bag overnight. The Kindle Fire will need charged much more often than an eInk Kindle.

However, if you need more power and any sort of colour graphics in your Kindle this is the only option.


Kindle Touch

My recommendation though, based on what I know of the Kindle 3 and what I don’t like about it, is the Kindle. It’s essentially a slightly smaller, faster, cheaper Wifi Kindle 3 without the rubbish keyboard (it has a probably much, much worse virtual keyboard instead).

The new low end model, the Kindle, is now keyboard-less and operated by a small 5-way control and 4 buttons (I assume Home, Menu, Back, and Text) with a virtual keyboard available. is selling it for £89 and that’s a tempting price. The photocopy metric on that is “only” 1780 pages. I think that’s the the one to go for if you’re buying a new Kindle today.


Campaign for Real Ale to not support lager?

In a remarkable sign of how big it now is the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a group intended to support the once endangered breed of cask ales in Britain, is being pressured to support other kinds of beer. There was a Camden based brewer on Channel 4 news tonight rhetorically asking why they don’t support all brewers of all kinds of beer, in fact, he asks, “why not lager?” (Cynically, I suspect he doesn’t really want CAMRA to support all brewers, because CAMRA approval would then be worth less, but he does want them to support his beer in particular).

It seems reasonable that CAMRA, given its name, shouldn’t have to plug someone’s drink if it’s not ale — you might as well expect them to endorse your brand of orange juice — but they should be proud to see how significant they have become for a group based on reviving a dying type of old-man beer.

I suspect it’s time for a Campaign for Microbreweries to take up the role that the Camden brewer clearly expects CAMRA to perform but there’s a definite irony in expecting CAMRA to change what it does based on what is now fashionable in the British beer scene. This is a group of people trying to sell ale to a nation of lager drinkers, after all.