Articles from the Web

the (legal) future of collaborative documents

Fascinating post about the US v. Lawson case over at the blog run by Eric Goldman (a professor here at SCU Law).  It’s actually a guest post by Venkat Balasubramani.

I’m not a lawyer, do not have a JD, and am generally often only about 95% informed on things which makes me very dangerous and likely to make myself look foolish.  To make things worse, the blog belongs to a professor at the law school where I work.  I don’t know the guest author, but this is still a pretty dicey situation.  But I’m going through with this post anyway.

Basically, the ruling in US v. Lawson, which was essentially about cockfighting (or “gamefowl derbies”) but involved issues of “sponsorship” of the events, was overturned because a juror printed up the definition of the word “sponsor” off of Wikipedia and brought it into deliberations.  That, unto itself, apparently would not necessarily warrant overturning the decision – the original court ruled that it did not prejudice the jury.  The Fourth Circuit, on appeal, ruled that it did prejudice the jury, however, and issued an opinion (but not a decision on the appeal?  this is where my understanding of the various rulings a court can have gets really muddy) on the matter.  The opinion is fundamentally arguing that the inherent effect of bringing an outside source into the jury deliberation room.  It also, however, makes a lot of comments about wikipedia specifically, and suggests certain things about other collaborative editing situations.

One way the court discusses the possible validity of the document brought into the jury room is whether the definition procured from Wikipedia was the legally correct one.  But since Wikipedia is always changing, someone would need to prove that the definition on wikipedia the day that the juror printed it out was accurate, not just the one that is on the site “today.”  The government didn’t bother to do that, which is weird but that isn’t want struck me.

What really intrigues and disturbs me is this quote from the ruling:

the court notes that even if historical edits were presented by the government, it could not consider these, absent some indication that Wikipedia archives of historical changes are “accurate and trustworthy.

So…while I think it’s awfully strange that the government didn’t even try to retrace the versions of the wikipedia page, the court would need an “indication” that the archives would even be accurate.  The court wouldn’t even consider the evidence presented unless it could be “proven” that Wikipedia archives were accurate.

What would be sufficient indication?  What would be enough to make one court feel that the archives of Wikipedia (or…revision history in Google Docs?  on Dropbox?) are accurate and reliable?  Wikipedia is based on the MediaWiki platform but what about other ones (like…Wordpress, which is the one that powers this blog?)  Would that “indication” for the Fourth Circuit be enough for the next court if there is an appeal?  What about a court in one state vs. the next?

Considering how many different collaborative editing tools we use these days, this is, to me, a frightening question.  Almost all of these tools – whether a productivity tool like Google Docs or a file storage/sharing system like Dropbox or Box – have some kind of version history system.  If for some reason a document that has been edited collaboratively becomes important in a legal case, what if the court decides that Box’s version history system is not sufficiently accurate?  That it is possible to somehow “break into” the history and alter it, such that it is no longer a reliable part of an e-discovery effort?  Or what if one person collaborating on the document – a “low-level” team member – went through the revision history and restored the document to some earlier point?  Then there is more editing.  If you go from version 1 to version 3, then back to version 2, then edit to version 4…I have no idea.

Do we now have to start vetting archiving and versioning systems to meet exposure, e-discover and other legal needs in addition to just general security of information?  And should we just be paranoid in general?

Economics: Presidential candidates slip on Econ 101 – Nov. 9, 2011

Economics: Presidential candidates slip on Econ 101 – Nov. 9, 2011.

This is one of the things that has driven me (and lots and lots of other people) insane over the past few years.  In almost literally econ 101 (my intro macro and micro classes in my MBA program), supply and demand and Keynesian principles – and rules – were clear and easy to understand.  I’m not saying that everyone out there should be a Keynsian economist, but the ideas behind it are clear.

Yet we can start with the very beginning of the economic crisis, with the bail-outs of Merril and Bear and the government and Fed “buying” into all of these entities that it has never touched before.  It’s one thing for the government to put money into circulation for stimulus.  It’s another to start owning companies.

But two things that are key to basic economics were ignored amid all the yelling.  First, that the government is the only entity big enough to make such massive economic moves – short of JP Morgan (the person) back in the day, no one person could pump that much money into the economy as the ARRA did.  And yes, the budget that first year was MASSIVE.  But from day 1 Geithner and Obama said that this was temporary, that the government must pull back at some point.  Bernanke said that he had a plan already in place for “unraveling” the Fed’s involvement in these companies.  So the government had to do this stimulus spending (Keynsian) but it also had to stop at some point and address deficit concerns, etc.

Second, that claims made about how dangerous these spending policies were and about the “fixes” failed to address supply and demand (the $2/gallon promise) or the fascination/obsession over a balanced budget.  Remember the last time we tried a balanced budget during a recession?  Yeah, that led to the Great Depression.

Unfortunately, the majority of Americans just aren’t that bright.  Sorry, that’s not fair.

The majority of Americans do not want to listen.  They want to hear that gas prices will go down.  They want to hear that a deficit (isn’t that inherently bad??) will go away.  They want to hear that it is possible to balance a budget (and nothing will go wrong, right??).

I want to hear those things, too.  But 99% of my brain knows that such things are pipe dreams.

And there is a deep-rooted fear that this appeal to the masses, if you will, will unseat many truly smart people, doing good things, just to put others into the White House and Congress who will either do the same things anyway (because, after all, when the $2/gallon promise falls through, it’s still just supple and demand) or, even worse, hold our government hostage while sound policies are derided in the name of some ridiculous ideal.

Monterey College of Law Pilots iPad Programs for Students and Faculty — Campus Technology

Monterey College of Law Pilots iPad Programs for Students and Faculty — Campus Technology.

A professor here at the Law School forwarded this to me recently.  He didn’t say anything in his message.  He just sent the link.  I guess I would have appreciated an attempt at something other than saying “I want an iPad too” but I’ve learned to manage my expectations these days.

There are a few interesting aspects to this post, some more meaningful than others.

  • It is tied to BARBRI, the Bar Exam prep program.  Programmatic backing is always a critical component to any initiative.  If there is no clear purpose, tied into a practical activity in which the end-users are interested, then it’s likely to be dead in the water.  So that’s good.
  • The main point cited for providing iPads is because students learn and faculty…do scholarship outside of the classroom.  Well, they have done that outside of the classroom for quite some time now.  On the student side, I can see where a new interface to this content can be meaningful.  That is good.  But faculty clearly aren’t teaching via the iPad (at least, not likely).  They are not likely creating content via the iPad (possible, but if you’ve met law faculty you’d know from where my skepticism comes).  And the iPad is not the device for doing scholarship.  That’s not so good.

Interesting idea.  Poor reasons cited in the article for the effort.  Sounds like more hype than content.

BBC News – Cisco shuts down Flip video camera business

BBC News – Cisco shuts down Flip video camera business.

This is quite saddening.  The Flip was a great idea and a great design.  Yes, other cameras with similar form factor surpassed it fairly early on in terms of features, but everyone still had the Flip.  We even use it for check out at work, since it’s just so darn easy to use.

That Cisco bought it as part of losing its way and then has to shut it down is upsetting.

Energy Drinks, Even Without Alcohol, May Pose Risks For Youngsters : Shots – Health Blog : NPR

Energy Drinks, Even Without Alcohol, May Pose Risks For Youngsters : Shots – Health Blog : NPR.

I was just wondering about this today.  I used some energy drinks when I was dealing with serious fatigue with my night MBA classes, but only then.  And I have constantly wondered about the long-term effects of that much B vitamin consumption.

The impact on children can only be more significant.  Good or bad, whichever side is right – that’s a lot of caffeine, B vitamins and, in many cases, just plain sugar being consumed.

The “Update” at the end is refreshing, by the way.  That the author has always intended this to be a “call for…communication” is more meaningful than the many diatribes out there.  The sides on this issue will argue emotionally, many times, but if this is a way of starting a dialogue, then I’m all for it.

Jerry Brown’s budget cuts deep, looks to extend tax hikes, reshapes government| PolitiCal | Los Angeles Times

Jerry Brown’s budget cuts deep, looks to extend tax hikes, reshapes government| PolitiCal | Los Angeles Times.

My first reaction to this is “what!  cuts again!  this is wrong, this cannot be tolerated this…etc.”

And fundamentally that is my reaction.  These budget cuts tend to hit education particularly hard (lobbyists just aren’t as strong, let’s face it), and it’s easy to say “well, if we increase ratio to 25 students to each teacher, that ripples through savings of X.”

But the state’s budget is a mess.  I honestly don’t know how any governor can do anything to improve the situation without screwing over just about everyone.  So many expensive budget items are not only in the budget, but are so entrenched that it’s impossible to get things changed.

And when it boils down to it, lobbyists come into play.

What was interesting was watching the nursing community put up such a huge fight when Whitman was running for governor against Brown.  My wife is a nurse and to see such a strong response makes me realize how weak of a position education really has.