The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Category: University

Kindle for law students

I got a Kindle for my birthday this year and I think it’s a great thing. The interesting thing is that I think it’s deeply flawed in a few ways (the annotation features and the keyboard for two) but regardless think it’s amazing.

In particular the current model begins to puts a dent into the logic of using photocopiers. I’m a huge fan of photocopying, of course, because it’s the best thing ever and all law students love doing it.

Interestingly, it’s suggested that students are actually doing more reading than they used to because of the increased use of computer resources. There isn’t the same need for students to spend time buried in the stacks fighting over the one copy of a set text and that leaves more time for them to read the set text. Whether or not students pouring over endless piles of PDFs is a good thing is, of course, something humans are not allowed to agree on.

2011 EWHC 1578 (Admin) is R v Hookway

The photocopy metric

I’ve written about paperless law students before and, although it’s getting better, the economics still don’t quite stack up. My university does 5p/sheet photocopying and this is relatively high as photocopying costs go. Nonetheless, at £111 for a Wifi-only Kindle you break even when you read the equivalent of 2220 A4 pages on your Kindle and I’m aware that’s a big number. I’m not sure exactly how many pages I read at uni but my impression is you are going to manage that at some point during your degree (it’s not all that many 20-30 page cases and journal articles spread over the years). That said four and a half reams is a big chunk of pages and it won’t pay for itself quickly compared to a photocopier. You’re still paying a fair bit for convenience.

You can’t completely replace photocopying with a Kindle because you may still need it for copying books and paper only periodicals as well as printing out submissions, bundles and so on but you’ll not need to spend quite so long printing out case reports and journal articles and it’s easier to read a kindle on the bus than a thick stack of A4. Bear in mind that, as you go through your degree, you start reading fewer and fewer textbooks and more and more journal articles so it becomes increasingly handy. In terms of reading it should be perfectly fine for law students. I can understand that certain disciplines are unsuited to a device which is designed to display text but law is not one of them.

The "flip through" problem continues for ebook readers and I still don’t see any practical way to fix it. I don’t think this is such a concern for journal articles as it is for textbooks. I think that you consume journal articles from beginning to end and flipping to the middle of an article doesn’t make sense in the same way that flipping to the middle of a textbook does.

Display

The Kindle’s stand out feature is its display. E-ink is effectively an electromagnetic printer which applies and removes ink onto a surface on demand. The screen is incredibly paper like and I’ve experienced no eye strain (to be fair I don’t really get eye strain looking at a backlit display either) when using it. It’s like using paper which changes which you press a button.

The black and white flicker effect when you change pages is a bit annoying but it lasts for a fraction of a second and it’s the very definition of a first world problem. The display works extremely well (perhaps better) in strong light which means that it can be used by windows or outside but there is a slight sheen on the display which can cause some reflections. As someone who has sat inside on nice days reading case reports on my laptop that is worth the price of admission alone.

Annotation

The markup features on the Kindle are just alright. They’re not brilliant by any stretch of the imagination. The lack of a touch interface means that highlighting is fiddly and there doesn’t seem to be a way to get your highlighted documents onto your computer. You can copy your highlighted text over a USB cable but you can’t display highlighted case reports on your computer. I prefer to write notes rather than highlight the text so this wasn’t a huge concern for me but depending on your style it could be substantial. I think Amazon should really make it easier to use your annotated "personal documents" (ie. documents on your Kindle not purchased from Amazon) with the desktop software.

Keyboard

The keyboard on the Kindle is frankly not designed to be used. It’s a waste of space in its current form. The only things on the Kindle that require typing are 1) the browser and 2) notes but the keyboard really hamstrings them. Amazon has to fix that.

iPad

There are some rather more substantial PDF based tools available on, for example, the iPad (which really blows the photocopy metric out of the water: the break even point on a 16GB iPad is 7980 pages) which I’m not going to recommend for a student. I think a student has much more pressing financial concerns than owning two computers, especially if one is just there to annotate PDFs. If you can afford it and you want one you should go ahead. My view on the iPad is that it’s a good device but it’s pretty expensive for a student.

Calibre

My main use of the Kindle in practice, mostly due to getting it in the latter part of my honours year, has been newspapers. There is a fantastic program called Calibre which lets you email the paper to your kindle every day and I find that convenient for the bus in the mornings as well as being cheaper than buying a paper.

Calibre also handles converting most document types into a format that the Kindle can understand (and Amazon can also directly convert documents themselves). The device itself has a relatively narrow range of supported formats but conversion programs exist to allow a wide range of documents to work.

I think all Kindle owners should install Calibre pretty much as a matter of course because it is such a useful piece of software.

Conclusion

As you can see I think the Kindle is a flawed device in many ways but it does something, for a very reasonable price, which is pretty hard to complain about. The e-ink display is fantastic and really makes the device, with the battery life and easy over-the-air sync being why you should it love it.

The Kindle won’t be your one-thing-to-get-you-through-law-school computing device but there is no such thing anyway. If you’re looking for a good, reasonably priced device for reading case reports in the park or on the bus I think you have to consider the Kindle.

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On editing

“Editing is just like writing, except hateful, and in reverse. Instead of birthing words and ideas out of nothing, you’re murdering them in cold blood, culling them like sickly sheep weakening the flock.”

Robert Brockway, Cracked.com

One of the most shocking tips I ever got for producing decent written work for uni was to spend half as long again on editing as I did on writing. Thankfully that doesn’t include research time.

Half as long again. Yup.

There are three big stages in written work: research, writing, editing. In larger pieces of work these steps are even iterative.

Editing is one of the stages that I feel has the most potential for grabbing marks from so it’s worth your time. I often found that I’d leave assignments to the last minute and, looking at deadlines and editing seems temptingly optional at that point. In my experience it’s rarely a good idea. Beyond feeling like a luxury intended for more organised people it also hurts to delete words that don’t fit. I compromise by having a clippings file where I keep bits of what I’ve written that didn’t make it in the final submission. It’s a depressingly large file.

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Universities to change degree results?

This is a fairly dramatic proposal.

Currently, as I suspect every single reader of this blog knows all too well, three or four year honours degrees are effectively summarised into a final year mark of first, upper/lower second and third class honours. This leaves you with an easily conveyed measure of academic achievement to give to potential employers. The problem tends to be in the margins where the difference between scoring 59.9% and 60% can end up being what job you do for the rest of your life and even policies of rounding up can’t completely eliminate the boundary.

Unfortunately it’s getting to a point where larger graduate employers using automated job application searches are simply not looking at anything below a 2:1 and it’s leaving a large chunk of graduates invisible. There are proposals to change this to a portfolio based scheme called the “higher education achievement report” (HEAR), where an employer gets a summary of what you’ve done over your whole university career which, depending on your class:union ratio is either a great idea or a bit terrifying.

The LLB is quite good for bringing in more than just final year results (which just adds to the pressure I found) for further law qualifications but it seems to be less keen on extra-cirrcular material which the HEAR would bring in.

H/T: The Guardian

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Academic Appeals

There is, nominally, an appeals process at my university. I’ve never used it and I’ve never heard of anyone else using it. No matter, this post is not about that kind of appeal.

A Queen’s University Belfast graduate has taken his 2:2 to judicial review, arguing that if he had better supervision he would have left with a 2:1.

Judicial review is a fascinating action, even in its monstrously expensive and slightly anaemic British version, which has implications up and down legal theory, public policy and life in general. Is it right, for example, that a decision to put a child in care can be reviewed by a court instead of childcare experts? Can courts justify intervention into counter terrorism policy? What can a court say about a decision that the people making it couldn’t say?

The classic judicial review is the writ of habeus corpus – you bring the guy into court and you have to adequately explain why you’ve got him. If you’ve not got any good reason to detain him you have to let him go. It’s a beautifully simple example of the rule of law in action – it puts judicial oversight into the process without requiring you to give up executive autonomy. The courts themselves take judicial review extremely seriously, with the extremely high bar before they can step in — generally no less than so irrational that no reasonable body would have made that decision — and that the process rarely turns on what the decision was (something the court is not all that qualified to discuss) but how well it was made. Even after the high standards required for intervention are met generally all that happens is the body in question is sent homeward to think again. There’s no particular block against them turning around, crossing every t and dotting every i, and making pretty much the same decision again.

It seems to me that straight out challenging teaching quality in terms of a judicial review is a bit tenuous. I’d have thought it would be more workable to question their marking quality but even then I’d be waiting for cases where someone who was predicted to get a first gets graded with a fail. In legal terms that’s because it’s irrational that a first class student would be graded so poorly all of a sudden. Saying that if you’d had better teaching you’d have scored better is probably true (just as saying you’d have done better if you’d had a better library) but it’s unclear if there’s a legal remedy unless it’s absolutely obviously not fit for standard, if the university had stocked their library with nothing but Bob The Builder books, for example. On the other hand, arguing that you would have scored marginally better with marginally better teaching is tricky in light of the standards required in judicial review.

The reason that he is using the court, despite it being quite possibly better handled internally at the university, is that they have allegedly refused to review his results because he’s already graduated. Given the vast cost of judicial review actions in Anglo-American jurisdictions I can’t imagine this was his first choice of action.

The case is still in preliminaries with the judge currently taking time to determine if a court is the appropriate forum for it at all.

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Book review – Writing for Law (Dave Powell and Emma Teare)

I went for a browse through my local Waterstones this evening and spotted a new release in the law section – Writing for Law (Palgrave Study Skills) by Dave Powell and Emma Teare (ISBN: 978-0-230-23644-8). It has a section on dissertation technique so I naturally snapped it up like the terrified fourth year I now am. I took it home and read the first section on the bus.

Impressions so far

Long and the short of it: I think it’s a great book. I read it with my heart in my mouth looking at all the obvious but elusive things I had not quite been doing all these years. It’s a book that all law students should read, either to teach you something or to reassure you that you’re doing it right afterall.

It covers things including

  • how to cite,
  • what sources count as authoritative,
  • study and skill guides,
  • paper and electronic references,
  • plaigraism,
  • structure,
  • planning,
  • editing
  • research,
  • how to present,
  • how to moot,
  • how to study,
  • how to sit an exam,
  • examples of marking outcomes,
  • learning outcomes (including for your entire degree),
  • identifying dissertation topics,
  • writing dissertations and extended essays.

It’s all really handy stuff and it’s the sort of thing that you really need to know to be able to be really confident about what you’re handing in. It is written from an English perspective (the authors are Senior Lecturers in Law at Teeside University) but the basic skills are immediately transferrable – you have to answer the question no matter where you are.

On the other hand this is another reason to have done a degree before doing law.

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Logical fallacies

Logic is very important to law. Depending on who you ask it’s all there is to law. A problem that lawyers have is that they have somewhat given up the advantage of surprise the moment they say they’re a lawyer – I don’t know how effective emotive pleas are if they come from someone you know is being paid to say it regardless of their personal feelings. I think it takes the shine off it slightly. That leaves you with logical argument to persuade people with.

There are a lot of other areas where logic is also extremely important. Causation in science is probably the biggest example in normal life. Homoeopathy is getting a lot of attention lately as the low-hanging fruit of implausible alternative therapies and a lot is being made of the niggling issue that bruises which go away may not go away because of the infinitesimally small amount of water in which arsenic was dissolved but then diluted away you drank. The sceptic community is very vocal about people who use this sort of thing as proof that homoeopathy can cure everything.

“I feel it worked for me, therefore it works for everyone” is not good logic, it’s technically called “inductive logic” which is generally fine as long as you question your presumptions (eg, that it actually did work for you) and don’t rely on it too much. Of course, if your entire argument is extrapolating a major premise from a minor premise, stop and get a new argument. It probably won’t stand up very well. You can get away with it if no one challenges it but the problem with legal disputes is that someone generally does.

Theskepticguide.org have compiled a list of 20 of the most common logical fallacies that they experience. It’s really worth using them as cautionary tales so that you don’t end up getting stuck with an argument that cannot withstand scrutiny.

Ad hominem

An ad hominem argument is any that attempts to counter anothers claims or conclusions by attacking the person, rather than addressing the argument itself. True believers will often commit this fallacy by countering the arguments of skeptics by stating that skeptics are closed minded. Skeptics, on the other hand, may fall into the trap of dismissing the claims of UFO believers, for example, by stating that people who believe in UFO’s are crazy or stupid.

This is very common in normal life and I’ve fallen for this one myself – it’s very tempting to spend your time as a respondent proving that a claimant is a bad person who deserved what happens to them when actually what you need to do is look at what you’re required to prove under applicable law.

Slippery Slope

This logical fallacy is the argument that a position is not consistent or tenable because accepting the position means that the extreme of the position must also be accepted. But moderate positions do not necessarily lead down the slippery slope to the extreme.

Although this is a logical fallacy it is a perfectly acceptable policy argument. It is often within a court’s discretion to consider policy arguments, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable actually relying on it to any great extent just because it’s so vulnerable to questions like “yeah, but what if we don’t immediately go out and kill all the children?”. There’s a lot you can say in an essay that a court might do that a court might never actually do.

Tautology

tautology is an argument that utilizes circular reasoning, which means that the conclusion is also its own premise. The structure of such arguments is A=B therefore A=B, although the premise and conclusion might be formulated differently so it is not immediately apparent as such. For example, saying that therapeutic touch works because it manipulates the life force is a tautology because the definition of therapeutic touch is the alleged manipulation (without touching) of the life force.

I actually really disagree with this one, I think what they mean to say here is just “circular argument”. If you really can base your argument on a tautology you’re actually on excellent logical ground. A tautology is something that is necessarily true. A circular argument is terrible, unhelpful to you and should always be avoided but if you rely on something that logically has to be true (or the universe doesn’t work) you’re not going to be wrong about it. For example “an armed robber is a robber who has a weapon” is a tautology, which means that if you can prove (to the standard of proof) the two points of 1) he was a robber and 2) he had a weapon he must be an armed robber, if you’re prosecuting him for armed robbery this is exactly what you’re there to prove. I find it really helps me to work out what legal issues are at question if I actively try, as much as possible, to reduce all logical questions to tautologies.

Tu quoque

Literally, you too. This is an attempt to justify wrong action because someone else also does it. “My evidence may be invalid, but so is yours.”

As far as I’m concerned as a bright eyed, idealistic LLB student who sees the world in strictly black and white this is the worst thing ever. It turns out, surprisingly, that bad things can happen to bad people. There’s simply no good reason why someone who did something wrong shouldn’t be able to get legal remedy for wrongs done to them.

This is why, for example, Napier v Scottish Ministers was right to grant Article 3 relief to a prisoner who was held in inhuman conditions even though he was in jail (if I recall correctly he was even awaiting trial at that point – merely accused). There’s no good reason to breach the human rights of people held in jail. It doesn’t work to say “well, they’re bad so you can be bad to them.” That just doesn’t follow – it’s a tu quoque fallacy.

Unstated Major Premise

This fallacy occurs when one makes an argument which assumes a premise which is not explicitly stated. For example, arguing that we should label food products with their cholesterol content because Americans have high cholesterol assumes that: 1) cholesterol in food causes high serum cholesterol; 2) labeling will reduce consumption of cholesterol; and 3) that having a high serum cholesterol is unhealthy. This fallacy is also sometimes called begging the question.

This is an important one – it’s so important to challenge your own presumptions when you’re looking at any legal problem. I think the best example I ever had was a time I was (too) casually reading a hypothetical scenario and I assumed the guy did it and actually he hadn’t. As you might guess this had an effect on what my answer ended up being. Law school essays get around this, through IRAC, by very much encouraging you to spell everything out.

They have a much longer list at the above link that’s worth checking out.

But, on a personal note, the big one that annoys me more for reading comprehension reasons than any logical issues is:

Begging the question

(So annoying I’ve mentioned it twice)

This does not mean you need to immediately state the question that you think needs asked. When it says “beg” it doesn’t actually ask for the question, it just means someone is assuming a principle. It means that the other person hasn’t asked a question they should have asked, not that you need to suggest one.

“That begs the question – what colour is my bike?” is a pet peeve of mine. It just means that someone assumes your bike is yellow when they should investigate their foundational principles. It doesn’t mean you should tell them they should ask you what colour your bike is. Just say either “you’re begging the question there” or “you need to ask [x]” but avoid saying both.

H/T to Crispian Jago.

You might also want to check out the gripping blog of Diane Levin who every month, like clockwork, debunks a logical fallacy. I’ve covered it on the blog before and it’s excellent.

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The workflow

University is pretty much an industrialised way to exchange essays for potentially higher earnings in the future. There’s really not much more critical to the orthodox university experience than handing your essays in.

I imagine the general way people do this is they open a new document in Microsoft Word before alternately staring at it, typing words into it and checking the word count. They then sort their footnotes and bibliography, run it through TurnItIn or similar and then either print it out or submit it electronically. That way works but there’s so many other ways to do it.

I think Word is an amazing program, it gets a hard time but it basically does everything to text that you, and pretty much anyone else, could ever want to do to text. It’s such a substantial program there are many, many courses and books purely on the various intricacies of it. I do encourage everyone to do these, it helps to know how Word works. It’s so much more than it seems at first glance.

If you want to go beyond just writing all your stuff in Word the workflow you’ll come up with is one of the most individual decisions you’ll make. You’ll probably use a collection of various things.

My favourite tools for writing are:

  1. Plain text
  2. Text expansion,
  3. Templates,
  4. Backup and,
  5. Word

Plain text

I don’t think I really need Word to write my essays. I type just about everything I write into Mousepad, (even things on blogs in case my browser crashes). It’s a lightweight plain text editor – just like Notepad. You type your words into it and nothing else. The biggest change is that I’ve started to use the Harvard citing model because Mousepad doesn’t support footnotes. I check my spelling with Aspell and check word counts with wc.

Text expansion

Is a surprising feature I never thought I needed. I first came across the concept through Low End Mac, where one of the principal writers has serious joint problems which make typing uncomfortable. He uses text expansion to let him minimise the amount of typing he needs to on health grounds. I use it for various things, I have some commonly typed terms arranged to expand – for example “pomo” becomes “postmodernism”- but the big thing I use it for is dynamic scripts. One of the big ones is that it will change $date into the current date and time which makes it a lot easier to type the date for record keeping purposes. I use Autokey for this. It’s Linux only but it’s the spirtual successor of AutoHotKey which runs on Windows.

Templates

One of the better features of many operating systems is that you can create new documents of various types by right clicking in the file browser. Ubuntu takes this as far as I’ve seen and lets you create a new copy of anything in your ~/Templates/ directory. For example I use a template for blog posts that looks a lot like this:

Start:
Title:
Word count:
Tags:
Category:
Posted:
Link:

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This gives me all the details I need for a blog post in one file and the fingerprint I use to track when/where my posts get scraped because I keep forgetting to put it in. Having it there gives me a checklist to work through. I just do “right click > create document > blog post” and fill in the fields so they’re there for WordPress when I come to post it. I also have another for essays which includes things like the deadline, the question, the word limit and so on. The idea is to make a checklist for things I need to remember.

Backup

Backup is utterly essential, you just can’t afford to lose your work at any point and it’s really easily done. I’ve found that Flashbake is good for both backup and versioning. The creator explains it is,

seamless source control tool for ordinary people. Automated backup is nice unless you have files for which you want to view an incremental history. Source control is great for that history but most tools expect the author to manually commit their changes along the way. A seamless source control solution combines the convenience of automated back up with the power of source version control.

I’ve set it to save the changes I’ve made to my files every 15 minutes and these backups are copied to my Dropbox account. It’s a bit like the Time Machine backup system in new editions of Mac OS X in that it’s both backup and versioning, and it’s smart enough to check if the file actually has changed before it backs it up. You probably don’t need versioning but it’s the sort of feature that you are not going to regret having if you later find out you need it.

Word

I have a copy of Word 2007 installed on this computer which I run using WINE. I’ve never really got it to work brilliantly well but I don’t need to do very much in Word. After I’ve written the text in Mousepad I copy and paste it into a Word document and convert the Harvard citations into footnotes. I can then submit it like everyone else.

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The paperless law student – part 2

Earlier, in the back to school period, I discussed the benefits and costs of going paperless as a student. I think it’s a really worthwhile choice which has a lot of benefits down the line. My main concern is simply the high initial cost of converting from paper to paperless which means that it is a better option for people who are making money from doing it as a job because it will severely cut into your beer money.

I think it’s hard to talk about people going paperless in 2009 without mentioning the eBook reader, the new group of devices which are being marketed as a way to replace the printed book.

The science bit

The market has pretty much expanded from very little into the next big thing based almost entirely on the invention of a small (but growing) American company that worked out how to make very small magnetic objects reliably rise and fall in a grid pattern. Unlike the great majority of modern technology this relies on moving part because once you’ve moved the parts to where you want them you can leave them there with no extra energy use. This means that the ereader expends energy “printing” the page – putting the eInk particles where they’re supposed to be – but then doesn’t need any more to keep the text on the page.

This differs from a traditional display because earlier technologies do not create a fixed image – a CRT monitor draws images onto the screen with a scanning electron beam on a phosphor screen and an LCD monitor uses an arrangement of gates which produces a coloured filter for a backlight to shine through. That electron beam and that backlight both require continuous power to operate. The main benefit of a fleeting, dynamic way of generating images is that it can be very good for conveying moving images, whereas eInk is limited by the physical speed of the particles. That’s bad for movies but text has never moved in its life and that means the technology is good for dedicated book readers.

This is really all by to the by, because how the underlying technology works rarely affects how good it is for users.

Ebook readers

The message to take away is simply that because it’s not a continuously operating device means that you don’t measure the battery life by how long it can be on for (because the device is only on for short spurts) but by how many times the display changes. That’s why the Sony Pocket Edition is rated as having enough “battery life for nearly 6,800 page turns.” The amount of time that is depends on how quickly you can read that number of pages.

Ebook readers have the option of, generally, being used to display books licensed from the sponsoring bookseller’s shop which is great if that’s how you buy books (it isn’t personally). I think it has great potential for updateable textbooks which apply their own errata and apply the differences between editions if that’s the way publishers want to play it. Right now I think the potential lies in the ability of these devices to display your own documents. I think the ability to load up an ereader with a load of case reports and then read that on the bus is paradigm shifting.

This has additional benefits in that because the image is static it doesn’t cause headaches from forcing people to squint at flickering displays and because there’s no backlight you aren’t forced to stare at a light.

The competition

Just because the underlying technology is well suited to displaying text this doesn’t mean that you should buy every product which uses it and displaying text on its own is something that computers have been able to do for a very long time. Ebooks readers are not the only option available here.

Your laptop

The obvious alternative is just a laptop – it will read any format you should care to name, runs off a battery, is portable, does more than just text and you probably already have one. It’s not ideal for reading on the bus, the LCD screen is backlit and the battery won’t last particularly long. But it does so many other things as well and it is likely to be a product that many people will already own, and that makes it practically free to use as an ebook reader.

The mobile phone

An unexpected new contender is the mobile phone, people have been using PDAs to read text for many years and the phone is converging on the same areas. These are good because they’re so much smaller and more portable and have long battery lives. On the other hand, this all depends on the quality of the screen. One of the most often recommended devices for reading books is the iPhone, which has an undeniably pretty screen, on the other hand it is an excruciatingly expensive way to read on the bus. It’s a good product and if you use it as a phoning, mobile emailing, mobile webbing, app running device then it’s really good. If you’re only using it to read Westlaw PDFs on the bus, though, the initial cost and monthly fees make it a difficult purchase.

The photocopier

A good photocopier costs many thousand pounds and weighs an unbelievable amount. It is beyond the dreams of any student to own. However, many facilities give you access to such a photocopier for around 3-5p a sheet. That means that you can have a 5 page report to read on the bus in black and white for about 25p, and the truly frugal student will take steps to get that price down further – by printing on both sides of page or by fitting more than one page onto each physical page. I think the photocopier is the main enemy of the ebook reader because you need to print between 3600 and 6000 pages before you would have saved money by buying Sony’s cheapest ebook reader (the Pocket PRS-300). That’s a really long term investment to save a bit of paper. I think you’d need to really need the extra advantages of the ebook reader to make it a more convincing option.

Reasons to buy right now

This is the hard thing, I don’t see a reason to buy just right now. I think the technology is extremely impressive and I think the datapad from Star Trek is nigh but at present buying one is a huge expense, particularly because you know it will get better and cheaper as time goes on. It’s hard to justify the expense when centralised photocopying exists. Once prices come down I think we’ll really reach a point where it’ll be hard to tell why you’d ever print a document out but we’re really not there yet.

The main reason to buy now is simply if you want one, it’s not long til Christmas, but I imagine this will rapidly change as prices come down (and they will).

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Economy Gastronomy

Economy Gastronomy is a recessionary BBC food programme which basically has the central principle of “avoid throwing food away.” This is frankly not a bad thing. I think a person really should be looking to avoid wasting all that much food in their life, both to save money and just for ethical living. The case studies they use in their programme are really quite over the top though – with groups of people who really show quite galling wastage of food. I’m not talking about them not going as far as using brains and connective tissue in their food, I’m talking about throwing a quarter of it away. You really do get the sense that they end up saving the people on the show money would be more down to giving the people a right good slap than teaching revolutionary food preparation techniques. I was speechless when one child threw away a three egg omlette because he’d folded it unevenly — that was his dinner

Regardless of what I or anyone else thinks of the particular people involved the principles being taught are extremely worth while. It relies on having access to long term food storage and being able to cook large amounts so it may not be suitable for all students but for people sharing flats with groups of people it might be a sensible way of splitting the expense of food. It’s cheaper to live off shared, home cooked dishes than to keep separate shelves in the fridge and fight over crumbs. It’s not going to be suitable for everyone’s situation and awkward flatmates can ruin this but its advice of planning out meals, using what’s left after a meal to make a new meal instead of throwing it away, processing past prime fruit into smoothies and spritsers and so on is all sound advice

The BBC Food site is available here

Taking a laptop to school or college

Mac Observer has published an article on the tips and details for students wanting to deal with the hassle and benefits of bringing a laptop to university. I think he makes some good points, although the advice certainly doesn’t depend on the brand of the laptop.

Transport

Transport is the biggest concern for students who stay at home and commute to university. Those living in dorms get away with, generally, less travel but with the concerns of possible theft.

I think the best way to transport a laptop at uni is a lot like how you’d do it with a bike. You want to immobilise it to stop it swinging about as you move and stressing the components.

Another good tip is to get a case which you can slide the laptop straight into – so a top opening, padded, laptop compartment in your bag is pretty brilliant. I use a padded neoprene slip case which fits in my backpack like a document wallet. It works and it protects my computer for less than a new bag but at the cost of being slower to unpack and pack when I want to use it, for example in lectures and tutorials. This needs to be added to the time needed for the laptop to be ready for you to use – starting up and loading programs. In this regard good and reliable sleep/suspend modes are a great asset.

Weight

Weight is an important issue but I think it can be overstated. Even for those who will never play prop on the university rugby team it is unlikely that any laptop you decide to pack in your bag will be cripplingly heavy. Today’s laptops are considerably lighter an d smaller than those of yesteryear. At the very worst you may find your bag works as weight training and you build some muscle. Obviously avoid a huge laptop because besides being weighty it will also be unwieldy. Most laptops are still portable enough for university without spending more for an ultraportable model. I think Mac Observer’s suggested MacBook Air is a lot of money to spent avoiding 680g of extra weight and the difference between that and a regular MacBook could probably be spent better elsewhere. Obviously if, on reading this, you realise that your MacBook Air is unsuitable for your university backpack please get in touch with the Scots Law Student MacBook Air Re-homing project because I haven’t got one. You will most likely find the extra weight pretty unnoticeable, especially when you add a single textbook or bottle of water (always an idea to have in your bag) and neutralise that hard bought weight saving.

Security

The security tips are a good move – if you have a couple of thousand. pounds (potentially) worth of computer equipment in a desirable and inherently portable product it is necessary to consider the risk that someone might take it.

This is particularly important for students living in dorms and halls because losing a computer is both a loss of corporeal movable property but also a significant loss of information, work and time.

Think Geek sells, for a lot of money, a wall mounted laptop safe which lets you bolt the laptop, secure inside a metal case, to the firmament of the building itself. I have no doubt this would be an pretty effective anti theft measure.

For people less worried about the threat of theft a cable lock is probably all you’ll need. These bike chain like devices attach to the rectangular slot on most laptops and then loop around a sturdy piece of furniture. This will protect you from people up to the point of lifting furniture / cutting the chain. If these methods both fail you could follow the example of an American law student who simply fought off his robber with a warcry of “not my case outlines!”

I think their encryption tips – encrypted disc images in particular – are worth noting but personally don’t use it myself. I don’t feel I have all that much in the way of files that need protection, I have an encrypted password database and that does me instead.

Insurance

If your laptop is still stolen the best option is to make sure your computer has been insured – you may lose your computer but you report it as stolen (as it may well be), and then replace it on, ideally, your parent’s home contents insurance and you offer to pay the excess. I wouldn’t be a law student if I didn’t point the need to check that your belongings are indeed protected under the policy while you are away at university.

Backup

If your computer is stolen you’ll probably lose a lot of your work. I keep a lot of notebooks, files and boxes of notes but I still have a considerable amount of work on my computer that I would desperately not want to lose. This differs from trying to keep possession of your computer, but is just as important.

Backup doesn’t need to be difficult. Mac Observer points its readers to the Time Machine feature on recent versions this provides versioning backup for all of your files with very little configuration. All that needs is a suitable Mac and a big external hard drive. Apple offer their own Time Machine wireless wireless hubs which are obviously wireless and convenient but any external hard drive will work and with Misco.co.uk offering a 1 terrabyte one for £67.8 – or under 7p a gigabyte (I have used just about 2 GB in my entire university career) so they are becoming very reasonably priced.

Backups don’t need ts be particularly fancy, just as as long as they are regular. Copying your home directory (Mac/Linux) or My Documents folder (Windows) onto a portable hard drive, assuming it’s done regularly, can be just as effective as buying a professional, automated product to do it for you.

A good backup protects your data from accidents that destroy your computer like battery fires etc and even robbery assuming if it isn’t taken along with the computer.

These tips apply to the lowliest netbook to the shiniest boutique gaming laptop, from the sveltest ultraportable to the chunkiest mediacentre. Get a good bag so you can carry it healthily. Get a security setup, make sure losing it isn’t irretrievable and be able to continue with your studies without, it even temporarily. This is particularly important around assessment time.