Can’t be Contained

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?

black Friday and beyond

My weekend (and the future):

  • Wednesday: good news:  got to leave work early with permission from Dean.  bad news:  still got dragged into work-related brouhaha a few hours late.  Almost made me miss The Muppets.  Which was so awesome, it would have been a TRAGEDY.
  • Thanksgiving Thursday: Ate a lot of food.
  • Black Friday:  Did almost nothing to help major retailers start to make a profit for the year.*
  • Small Business Saturday: Did just a tiny bit to help small businesses with their cash flows.  Still scared of overall crowds.
  • Sunday:  Did battle with yard.  Yard won.
  • Cyber Monday:  Contacted Cybertron, informed Autobots and Decepticons that it was time to start buying online (hey, we all need to look out for Gold Box Deals on Amazon)
  • Techie Tuesday: – Called all engineering friends and told them to take over the world.  Oh, wait.  They all work at FB or Google.  They have already taken over the world.
  • Wacky Wednesday: What happens on wacky Wednesday, stays with Wacky Wednesday
Not sure what the future beyond Wednesday will bring.  I’m sure that somehow there will be Black Friday deals running for many weeks beyond…Black Friday.  All for items that were good last year but aren’t worth it this year (60Hz LCD TV?  Pffffffft!).
*Occupy protestors in San Francisco (and I’m sure elsewhere) affected Black Friday shopping.  Isn’t it contrary to the “movement” that they would negatively affect GDP (whether to large or small companies)?  A movement without a rallying cry…or much logic, it seems, these days.  Onto SOPA I guess.


throwing a cement mixer

[Since I don’t get to the definition very quickly…cement mixer curveball defined.  I can’t find video for it…]

I’m a baseball fan. I would not say I’m a “hardcore” fan if only because I don’t have enough time to remember individual OBPS or WHIP for hitters or pitchers, respectively.  I do know enough to know what those stats are, though…

What I do know is that a lot of analysts and color commentators get the technical stuff wrong during games. This always drives me crazy because, of your job is to help enlighten viewers and listeners about why that was a poor fielding decision or that bad mechanics les to the pitch that led to that home run, then do it right – don’t be lazy and take the easy way out.

A great example has to do with curveballs and, in some cases, breaking balls in general.  These are funny beasts.  The best of them can be devastating pitches that can easily be a number 1 pitch (see:  Barry Zito when he was good).  A mediocre one can be a third pitch that keeps a batter guessing just enough to make the first two pitches even better.  The worst of them…well, they’re bad.  But the point is that a breaking pitch is something almost every pitcher throws, but to varying degrees of effectiveness.

They’re also odd pitches, plain and simple.  They rely entirely on the spin on the ball, letting all 108 laces and friction with the air coupled with incredibly fast rotation to make the ball drop anywhere from 6″ to 2-3′ (yes, feet).  To achieve the right rotation, you basically let the ball slip out of your hand.  Rather than putting your fingers behind the ball to impart velocity, you actually release the ball over fingers that are facing the hitter.  Depending on how much pressure you put on the ball, where the grip is tighter or looser and even how much you extend your arm at release, you get different kinds of spin and end up with big looping curves to hard, “power” curves to sliders that come in at one side of the plate and dive towards the other (anyone that’s seen Randy Johnson and his power slider in his hey day can attest to just how much movement a pitch like that can have).

The mechanics behind a good curve are just as critical as the grip and finger pressure.  It’s hard enough making sure that your arm slot is always in the right place or that your weight shift is right.  Now you have to make sure to stay “on top” of the ball.  Since a curve goes up before it goes down, you have to use the fact that you’re on a raised mound to throw a curve downward, essentially.  But this isn’t easy – as someone that had a big looping curve in high school, it’s more just “doing it” than feeling it.  I shortened my stride a few inches and, for a curve, kept my arm in a bit (a slider, which is thrown with more velocity and breaks more sideways, is thrown with more extension) but otherwise just let it fly and let the spin do its thing.  Making sure to always bring that stride in just a little bit, and to stay focused on every curve to stay on top of it is hard, and requires excellent mechanics from the beginning.

As a result, you get all kinds of terms.  If you release the ball with your entire hand facing the batter, you get a “cement mixer” where the axis about which the ball rotates faces the hitter.  It just spins sideways.  This won’t break much because the friction is on the wrong sides of the ball.  If you don’t stay on top, the ball will end up higher than you want.  If you put the wrong amount of pressure on one finger or the other, or don’t quite get as good of a grip on the seems as you’d like, the break isn’t as much as you want or perhaps, if you’ve got a pretty good curve, it might not break in the right direction (I could vary my slider from about 5″ at the last minute thrown quite hard, to about 1.5′ starting earlier on thrown with a bit less velocity with more pressure on my index finger).

A curve is not easy to throw, in other words.

If one watches even a moderate amount of baseball, one will invariably see a hitter launch a long homerun off of a breaking ball.  Often because of the reduced velocity of these pitches (even a slider, which is thrown pretty hard, is going to be a good 4-5mph slower than a fastball), it will look almost like the pitcher lobbed the ball in there and the hitter just nailed it.  Almost always, the commentator says that it was a “hanging” breaking ball – one that just didn’t break as far as it should have, and the hitter could anticipate and time the movement.’

But saying that every curve that is hit hard is a “hanger” is simply unfair.  There are in fact many reasons why a curve might get hit.  And this is where my analogy begins…


digital immigrants and natives – 2 way street

Over the past…7 years, there has been much talk of “digital natives.”  Also known as Gen Y or the NetGen and broadly defined as those born after 1980 (though I like to think there are a few from, say, 1978 that, based on how that person was raised and interacted with technology, is more native than not), this generation has some pretty defined and different characteristics from previous ones.  Specifically, digital natives interact with technology not as tools, but as organic components of their daily lives.  24/7 access to data and media, constant connectivity, multitasking (a loaded term, I know), etc.  Completely different.

Gen Y would have entered college around 1998.  That’s a pretty big lag from around 2004 when I first heard the term coined at an Apple Executive Briefing on higher education, but there is always a gap between the arrival of a new “type” of student and shifts in pedagogy, curriculum, strategy, and perhaps even personnel in response.

I am purposely using quotes here and there because there is so much attention paid to how different digital natives are from their predecessors- Gen X or digital immigrants.  There is even sometimes fear about how to deal with such students, with terminology seemingly better suited to a safari trip than a web team meeting.

While at a dinner with friends of a friend the other night, all of whom were about 45 years of age, it occurred to me that the reverse is equally true – digital natives need to be considerate of their interactions and communications with digital immigrants.  If they are not, they will remain ignorant of some significant issues and may miscommunicate due to basic presumptions that can be easily dispelled.


really, I do want to know more about you

Last weekend was my 10 year college reunion.  I have to admit – I was really nervous leading up to the weekend.  A little, utterly irrational part of me kept thinking something along the lines of:

  • I’ve never left the bay area
  • I don’t work at a start up or one of the “flashy” name companies (Apple, Google, etc)
  • I still work in higher ed (nothing wrong with that unto itself, but it’s what I’ve always done)

Along with these admittedly illogical concerns, reunions are always stressful events.  You always feel like you’re being judged and compare yourself with what others have done.  Who has advanced degrees, what kinds, who is doing what kind of work, and how I stack up under a variety of rubrics.  It’s almost like college football rankings – one poll has me ranked “85th,” another says I’m “193rd” and somehow I’m not even on the board on a third.

Now that I’ve gotten that self-esteem stuff out of the way, what was perhaps the most surprising aspect of reconnecting with classmates was that almost everyone was surprised that I honestly, truly wanted to know how and what they were doing.  If someone was a lawyer, I was curious about what kind of law he or she was practicing.  If working at a financial firm (Fidelity, etc), I was curious if he or she was managing a fund to some extent, doing analysis, or something in between.  I don’t know much about financial companies such as that and I want to know more.

People were truly surprised that I wanted to know things to that level of detail.  That I truly, honestly wanted to know, and enjoyed discovering that I went to school with someone that is now with the US District Attorney’s Office in New York, or that one of my freshman dorm mates is now working as a writer on his second television show.  I feel enriched having had a conversation with someone that graduated from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and has gone onto work in the health care industry and had a different take on the whole debate (sidebar:  quick shout out to another friend that went to Booth, who should already know that I value that friendship).

What was interesting was that, after I poked a hole through that superficial layer of small talk and made it clear that I was truly interested, the person on the other end became interested in what I did, too.  And it felt good when I was asked about what kind of technology I was trying to implement at the law school (especially since it seemed about half of my entire class are now lawyers).  Or about how I really felt that business processes were important to academia – these were fellow former students, after all, reunited at the campus where we shared classrooms and listened to professors.

Maybe I’m not so boring after all.  I know for sure that I have some truly fascinating former classmates and dorm mates from college.

the conundrum of the blogger

I have been a very frustrated blogger lately.

First, I haven’t been blogging lately at all, so that title might be in jeopardy.  Since one becomes a blogger by blogging, it is a title that one bestows upon one’s self by fiat, and…is therefore not much of a title.  So I am in jeopardy of losing a title which I give to myself by doing the act which is the basis of that title.

No wonder I don’t blog more.  I barely make sense and spend most of my time in my head…

The inspiration for this post is that I just caught up on about 7 posts by a friend of mine who is a GREAT blogger (she keeps it private and I respect her choice to control who accesses it.  Otherwise I’d link to it because it truly should be shared).  In fact, she is married to another GREAT blogger who is a great writer in general.  They are both funny, witty, and able to capture all of their personality and humor and everything else in their posts.

Meanwhile, I find myself overly serious in my posts, and fear that the few people that read this blog think I’m morose, obsessive, and taking myself way too seriously.  I’m all about complaining about the lack of strategic planning in academia, about how we need to fix things…in academia, or how co-workers and/or my work environment are challenging my professional mental stability via chaos, disorganization, and frustration.

To top things off, I don’t blog enough – even about these serious topics – to get anyone to really notice.  I’ve got a draft about the next steps of “edupunking” my law school that has been sitting there for weeks.  If I can’t be funny, at least I can write things of substance.  But if I only write such things every 3-4 weeks, then who is going to notice?

So…the conundrum is that I’m a blogger that rarely blogs.  I’m a (hopefully) funny guy that is always serious when writing.  And one of the ways I want to set myself apart from others in my field is by way of my great, sagacious and insightful writing about academia…but I don’t do much writing.



Some things have bad timing.  A critical decision, an important meeting, a message that must be sent, a mission that must be clarified.  Rarely is there a good time for such things.

But we do not get to choose the timing of when we must do that which is our responsibility.  That which is the right thing, at that moment.  We do not get to choose when we need to be firm or decisive.  We do not get to choose when we need to be that person, that messenger, that leader.

What we can choose is whether to actually rise to meet that need and be that person.  Or whether we choose to slide down the slippery slope to mediocrity and ineffectiveness.

This rather grandiose start springs forth from recent thoughts I’ve had about being a manager and, I hope, a leader.  It is indeed a very steep and well-greased slope that a manager faces every day, every week, and certainly from month to month when the easy way is so close, so present, and so, so tantalizing.  That meeting can wait.  We should do this or that only when all the right indicators (and one always chooses one too many indicators) are in alignment.  So many excuses.  But being a good manager means, among many, many other things, riding the edge of that slippery slope, seeing it for what it is, being able to measure its grade…and steering clear of it.

A manager is always a manager.  A leader – and managers are not the same as leaders, and while I am in fact a manager, I can only claim to be a leader if I also claim to have motivated followers, and I’m not sure I’m there yet – must always be visible and sending that message that is clear, concise, and stirs others to attention.  They are very different roles, but management and leadership are both needed.  And once taken, cannot be relinquished, taken for granted, or handled lightly.

I am a manager.  And timing is not my friend lately.  But timing is irrelevant.   I do not get to choose when to deal with HR issues vs. spend time innovating vs. having weekly staff meetings vs. making presentations to hundreds of people on ground-breaking ideas.  I do not get to choose when to be visionary, and when to simply keep my goals in sight and my team in play.  The practical and the idealistic must always be within my domain, yet I do not always have the luxury to choose when I the former will overwhelm the latter.

This balancing act, and avoiding the slippery slope, is perhaps the hardest part of any manager that has broad ambitions of moving up and perhaps attaining leadership roles.  If you are on the slope, then you will always be losing some followers.  At some level, you just decide which followers you are willing to lose, because the reality is that there are multiple slopes, and any decision one makes is going to at least put one’s foot onto that decline.  But until that point, the slope is all danger, and no gain.

Right now, I’m lucky because the slope is obvious.  But it is steep, and even the path around it is indeed very slick and littered with poor decisions, many of which do not in fact lead from each other.  One can get onto that slope via 10 small bad decisions or a single moment of cowardice.

And so timing is irrelevant.  Management and commitment are not.  Management doesn’t listen to the clock.

how do I title this?

I just came back from a concert.  Where someone committed suicide.  He leapt from the building that serves as the backdrop to the stage, landing just feet away from the lead of The Swell Season.

I thought i should spend time thinking about this before posting.  Before writing.  But this post is about my reactions, my thoughts, what I saw.  It’s about the here and right now (which is about 2 hours after the actual suicide, as we were instructed to stay in the venue for a while to let the ambulance through, then got stuck in parking lot traffic, then got a flat tire).

I found myself laughing and singing along with Glen Hansard as he made fun of one of his bandmates just when a quick flutter of darkness slammed into the stage.

I listened to the gasp, then the slight screams.  I could almost feel the sense of general terrified confusion.

I watched people crying, hugged by their significant others.  I watched others just sit and smoke.  I watched yet others chit chat on the side.  I listened to an usher gather random theories from people that weren’t any closer to the stage than I was (and I wasn’t close) and turn them into “the facts as she knew them.”

I watched them do CPR on a man that just fell about 40 feet down and at least 20 feet out (meaning it was a jump, not a fall).  I knew that he was nearly if not definitely dead.  I saw the body seconds after they had stopped and pulled a blanket over.

I noticed that I didn’t really feel anything in particular.

I don’t know.

litl :: webbook – great product, stupid return policy

litl :: webbook.

This seems like a great alternative to a netbook, laptop, and the iPad.  Bigger screen than a netbook or iPad, smaller footprint than a laptop, and it does crazy flip-over-backwards action, with HDMI out for a TV, and runs on linux.  For less than the basic iPad (but no, it does not have touch-based interaction).

However…it has a really stupid return policy.  “Full refund” within 21 days “less applicable restocking fees.”  And by applicable, they mean if it’s not defective, we’re gonna charge you 15%.

Just lost yourself at least 1 customer until you change that policy.  And I was seriously considering recommending this to the school in general, too…

the GroupWise to Google Experiment (Part 1)

So the university at which I work uses Novell’s suite of applications for e-mail, calendaring, systems management, and storage.  For a while now, I have been contemplating how to stop using the GroupWise (e-mail and calendar) client, which is terrible on a Mac, and move to a different set of tools.  At the same time, I have been seeking a bit more freedom with my choice of phones…

GroupWise is not very integration friendly.  Yes, I can IMAP into the mail server, but that’s just mail.  If I want calendars, the ability to propose meetings, etc, then the best solution on campus is to use a blackberry connected via the Blackberry Enterprise Server IT has hooked into GroupWise.  This is a very nice integration – e-mails come very fast, calendar changes are pretty smooth (though sometimes I run into problems with recurring meetings) and the address book synchronization is great.

However, I won’t lie and say that I wouldn’t mind a phone that gave me a big touch screen rather than the traditional thumb-punching keyboard (and no, I am not interested in a Storm).  So I have been looking at Android smart phones (ATT coverage is very bad here, so I have not seriously considered the iPhone).

So, how do I get GroupWise e-mail, calendar, tasks, and contacts all into an Android phone?  Well, that’s why this is called the “GroupWise to Google Experiment.”