Category: Technology

ABA TechShow – Ready and Waiting

The American Bar Association’s TechShow is THE place to be if you want to get up to speed on the latest gizmos,  trends and technologies deployed by law firms.  I look forward to it each year.

I arose early this morning after a scant 1.5 hours of sleep — trying to clean up client work before departure — to make my way to Philly airport to catch a flight to Chicago. My suitcase came in at 48.5 lbs out of an allowable 50 lbs before a hefty $$ penalty applies.  So much for my usual practice of grabbing all the vendor “swag” I can fit into my suitcase.

 The windy city has not disappointed thus far.  Sunny, crisp breeze, moderate temperature, and a lovely room at the Hilton on Michigan Avenue.  Enroute from airport to  hotel, I had a delightful cab ride with a Nigerian driver who spoke beautiful English.  The accent is surprisingly similar to Jamaican.  Turns out he has his Masters in Psychology from St. Joseph’s in my neck of the woods, but couldn’t get the job he wanted, and wasn’t earning a decent wage with what he could get.  So he decided to drive cabs instead, and relocated to where he could earn the best money doing it.  He is working hard to earn enough to bring over his wife and baby daughter,  He couldn’t wait to show me pictures.  Maybe it was a ploy to increase his tip, who knows, but it was a great chat nonetheless.

So I’m unpacked, and awaiting the start of my annual update on everything related to law firm technology.  I’m especially looking forward to sessions on mobile apps, courtroom technology, Windows 8, security,  and more.    Some people come to the show to get a break from the office.  They spend as much or more time with local entertainment as they do in class.  Not me.  I take my educational opportunities very seriously.  There won’t be a timeslot that doesn’t have me in a class.  Class-free  breaks will have me going from booth to booth in the extensive exhibit hall, to see first-hand what’s new, and familiarize myself with vendors new to the marketplace.

This year my stay is much more comfortable thanks all my personal tech.  Let’s start with my high quality and very small pop-up  portable stereo speaker, all the great tunes I put on my iPhone, the multi-plug electrical cord I brought which makes it possible to plug everything in conveniently right on the night table.  No more taking turns in charging iPhone and iPad.  No more running across the room when the phone rings while being charged.    And I can leave my laptop in the room, and just carry my itty-bitty iPad around, using the convenient app to review handouts, make notes in sessions using the portable Bluetooth keyboard, keep track of which sessions I intend to attend, and even locate the next classroom on the map.

Stay tuned.  It’s going to be an exciting week.

BlackBerry Z10

In the past, I only used and recommended BlackBerry mobile phones for business use, because of the better security and business apps.  That was until I threw my 3rd BB out of the window of a moving car!  There has been just one too many frustrations with synchronizations gone awry and corrupting my dataset, an inability to respond to “dial by name” menu choices on telephone systems, and all too frequent inexplicable freeze-ups.  One day it froze up and frayed that final nerve.  I rolled down the window, and took great satisfaction in throwing it out.  My husband was astounded.  “You didn’t really do that, did you?”  By then my blood pressure was immeasurably lowered, my reptile brain gave way to rational thought, and I responded, “Yep, can you pull over?  I need to retrieve it and wipe the confidential data.”  After the data was wiped I put on glasses, took out my mallet, and gave it a sound and very satisfying whack.  It feels good just remembering it.

A lot of time has passed since then.  I became an iPhone user.  Now, let me assure you that I’m not one of those MAC-head fanatics.  In fact, I don’t even own an Apple computer.  But I DO have an iPad which I adore.  Here’s the thing about the iPhone.  It works.  Simply, intuitively (for the most part) it just works.  I’ve never had a synching issue.  I have had to reboot about 3 times in 5+ years, which has included 2 different models.

Using the touch screen for typing took some time to get used to.  Mostly that’s because of my beautiful long fingernails.  Great for hard keys, but impossible for soft keys which require heat from a fingertip.  It’s like trying to walk on stilts — my actual fingers are about 1/2″ away from the screen at all times.  I had to learn to use a stylus or the side of my fingers.  But aside from that, I have to say my experience has been great.  I even catch an occasional episode of my beloved HGTV on it when I am having lunch alone on the road.

The apps are all-inclusive in terms of what is available; virtually anything you can ask for.  Most are high quality, at least of the ones I have used.  So my long-term relationship with Apple has been very productive and pleasant thus far.  Yet . . .

There’s the new BlackBerry Z10.  Thus far it is disappointing analysts in numbers.  That’s because the market now has another major player in the form of Android, which makes a lot of other phones more desirable.  I predict that Android will eventually dominate the market in terms of operating system.  Windows has also started to take a bite out of the marketplace.  So the BlackBerry has lost a lot of momentum, and faces stiffer competition than before.  Yet . . .

BlackBerry Z10 is now marketing itself not as a business tool, which was always their niche.  They are marketing the BB-Z10 as “Fun re-invented.”  Huh?  BB was never known for being fun.  The Z10 features stuff like Time Shift for photograph improvement, and Video calls with Screen Share for on-the-fly face-to-face communications with sharing of documents and photos.  These are some seriously Apple-like innovations.  So UN-businesslike, and it looks easy.  (Look being the operative word!)  Who knows what the future holds?  It’s worth a look, and maybe more thought.  Wish I could take a test drive.

Technology Inches into the Sixth Circuit

The Sixth Circuit issued a new policy on the use of electronic devices by counsel during oral argument.  Prior to the policy, the Sixth Circuit generally prohibited the use of any electronic devices at oral argument.  A recent Squire Sanders blog post by Pierre Bergeron entitled “Sixth Circuit Issues Policy on the Use of Electronic Devices During Oral Argument” provides details and a link to the new policy.

I recall presenting “High Tech Courtroom Presentation Tools” for the first time at a Bench Bar Conference, about 10 years ago.  The entire front row of the audience was occupied by the judicial members of the county.  One of their hands went up in the first five minutes, with a comment “I would never allow any of this stuff you’re going to talk about to be used in my courtroom!”  I was a little shocked, but managed to ask that the opinion be restated at the conclusion of the presentation.  I guess I did a good job satisfying concerns regarding Rules of Evidence, because at the end, most of the judicial members said they would consider allowing use of electronic exhibits.

Lawyers have always been slow to embrace technology.  I never realized the courts were even further behind.

Computer Security Alert: Protect Your PC From a Data Dump

A data what?  Yep, you  heard it right.  There’s a new computer security threat afoot which can fill your hard drive in seconds.

This new threat was just reported in BBC News : Technology.  According to the report, the vulnerability has been created by a loophole in the programming of HTML5.  While most websites are currently built using version 4 of the Hyper Text Markup
Language (HTML).  However,  that code is gradually being upgraded by the newer version 5.

One big change brought in with HTML5 lets websites store more data locally on visitors’ PCs.  Based on one’s browser, there is a limit of how much data can be placed on  your PC.  However, the loophole is enabled by a software routine which endlessly creates new, linked websites, enabling each  to dump huge amounts of data onto a target PC.  Oh, and did I mention that the actual creation of the linked websites, and data dumping takes place literally in seconds?

What data will it dump?  Well, it could be pictures of cartoon cats, as done in the demo created by Developer Feross Aboukhadijeh, the discoverer of the loophole. According to the news report, In one demo, Mr Aboukhadijeh managed to dump one gigabyte of data every 16 seconds onto a vulnerable Macbook.

Most major browsers, including Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari, were found to be vulnerable to the bug.  Only Mozilla’s Firefox capped storage at 5MB and was not vulnerable.

What can / should you do?  Well, this has been reported, and is being worked on.  Your number one defense is to have a back-up emergency boot disk, so that if your hard drive is crammed with cr*p, you can still boot your computer.  You also need to have a good solid back-up, so that you can restore your software and documents after you reboot.

If you use one of the impacted browsers on either MAC or PC platform, you may want to make sure that your anti-virus software is set to scan sites for malicious code before you actually connect.  There is no mention in the report as to whether this is detectable, so I can’t say for sure it will protect you.  But it’s worth a try, and it’s always a good idea anyway, since malicious code can be placed on just about any web site.  Last, stay away from web sites which are known to harbor nasty stuff, like file and music sharing and game sites.  At least until you’ve heard this problem is resolved.

Review of Changes in Latest Apple iOS

One of my favorite blogs is iPhone J.D.  It’s the place to turn to for all things Apple, related to the use of the iPhone and iPad by lawyers.  Their recent blog post, “Apple Releases iOS 6.1” covers every change in the update, with clear screen shots and explanations.  It’s everything you want to know, and more, clearly written.

VoIP — Call Quality is Key

Not all VoIP telephone systems deliver the same sound quality.  That’s OK if you’re using it to talk to family members and friends around the country or across the globe.  Choppy connections with dropped words, noise on the line, echoing, and outright disconnections can be common with a low-quality system.  But heck, when you’re paying a low monthly fee for all-you-can-eat calling, you simply endure, or hang up and redial.  No big deal. 

On the other hand, when you’re using your VoIP telephone system to connect with clients, prospects, peers and referral sources, poor quality is decidedly not fine!  Put another way, if a client asks if you’re calling from a submarine, that’s a clue that sound quality is an issue.

Back in August, I announced that I had won a new telephone system in a post uncreatively titled “We Won a New VoIP Telephone System!!!”  I promised to report regularly once cutover happened.  There were some delays before that actually happened.  The telephones which were to be deployed were a new model.  It took  much longer than anticipated for them to get shipped.  But the wait seemed worth it, based on some of the anticipated features available.  But when they finally arrived, the provider could not get them properly configured and working reliably, and refused to send them to me knowing they were imperfect. 

What a welcome change from the experience most consumers have today.  Admit it, you know you’ve been the beta site for more than one device or software package.  Sure, the vendor knows it won’t work right,  But that doesn’t stop them from delivering it to you, in exchange for your hard-earned dollars, and then trying to work through it on your dime.  Meanwhile, you endure the hiccups.  So while it was annoying to wait so long, I was actually relieved to hear that a different manufacturer and model was going to be deployed, because it’s track record was that it worked reliably.  And in fact it did.

The first thing which was clear upon installation — crystal clear, in fact — was the sound quality of each call.  The previous system suffered from choppy calls, dropped calls, and bathyspherish sound and echoing.  But those were “distinct” experiences, meaning not on every call.  I thought the calls which did not have any of these issues were decent.  I heard the person on the other end, and they heard me.  However, when I compare the sound quality of the former system with that of the current system, there is just no comparison at all.  It’s like comparing the sound from a Bose headset to a cheap <$20 headset from the local big box store.  They’re not in the same class. 

The clarity of sound on virtually every call is startling.  I never thought that there could be such a significant, noticeable difference.  I was wrong.

First, it’s a full-duplex conversation, meaning that sound can go in both directions simultaneously.  Most telephones operate in half-duplex mode.  That means that sound can only travel in one direction at a time.  If you’ve ever found yourself screaming into the phone because the other person keeps talking on and on and you’re trying to comment, but they can’t seem to hear you, you’ve experienced the joy of half-duplex.  And even if you have a full-duplex conversation through your handset, in all likelihood when you use the telephone’s speaker, you are in half-duplex mode.  (Most firms buy a Polycom or similar equipment for conference rooms in order to get a full-duplex conversation. )  Imagine having full-duplex all the time.

But the clarity isn’t just about full versus half duplex.  It’s about the elimination of noise on the line, echo-cancellation, and so forth.  This vendor is using a router which enables them to constantly monitor the quality of the connection, and make adjustments automatically.  I’m convinced that this higher quality router is a key to consistent quality.

I’m not sure that I mentioned yet who my new telephony provider is.  So let me introduce you to Alteva.  I’ll have a lot more to say in the coming weeks and months.

We Won a New VoIP Telephone System!!!

I I have friends who are lucky. They win prizes at Expos, buy lucky lottery tickets, purchase the winning raffle ticket. Me?  Nadda. Zip.  Zero. Bupkas.  I never win a thing.   Well, let me rephrase that to past tense: never won a thing . . . until now! I submitted an entry on a whim, and actually won a shiny new telephone system.  Unbelievable but true.  You can read about it here

Ironically, I was informed about the contest on a day which so happened had me at odds with my current telephony provider.  They haven’t been awful by any means.  But there have been issues.  Well, not just issues, but rather defining issues which have separated the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.  For example, when a storm knocked out the server which powered our telephones, there was no automatic cutover to another co-location, even though they had one.  We had no telephones for several days, and I didn’t know it because I was on the road giving seminars. 

I was pretty upset, as you can imagine.  The thought of even one missed prospective client call was unacceptable.  My vendor was pretty cavalier in response.  Seems it was our problem for not having given them specific instructions to automatically switch us over.  Um, excuse me?  Isn’t that one of the questions that should have been asked during set-up of service?  Shouldn’t you apologize for the oversight, rather than blame the customer?

I’m not sure which of several issues occurred the day I heard about the contest, but that is of no consequence.  What mattered is that I cogently stated why my telephone system is mission critical, and why I did not feel I was getting everything I wanted and needed.  Next thing I knew, months after my submission was long forgotten, I was informed that I had won.

Winning isn’t everything.  I was not about to jump from a frying pan into a fire.  I wanted to know everything about what I had won before deciding to accept it.  I was probably the most wary winner they could have picked!  I asked about everything you can imagine, and more, to ensure that we would move to a system and vendor which offered richer features and greater reliability. 

Our cutover is imminent, and I will be reporting regularly on how it goes.  Stay tuned!

Say It Ain’t So: The End of iGoogle

My friend and colleague, David Bilinsky, just enlightened me about the upcoming end to iGoogle in his recent Thoughtful Legal Management blog post entitled “iGoogle *Disappearing* Soon!! 🙁”   Yes, folks, what has become the best home page, and the one relied upon by hundreds of attorneys to organize their RSS blog feeds, will be disappearing soon.  According to Google, “iGoogle will be retired in 16 months, on November 1, 2013. The mobile version will be retired on July 31, 2012.”

The angst many of us feel about the impending loss of iGoogle is evident.  Read this blog post entitled “Don’t Take My IGoogle Away!”  in ZDNet by tech writer Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.  He says “Some people have even set up a petition to keep iGoogle alive.. I’m number 2,088 on the petition.”  Thanks for the inspiration, Steve, I’m signature 4,440.  Not that I think Google will reconsider, mind you, but at least I’ve added my name to those who agree.  (And I wish I were a gambler because I’d kind of like to play that number!)

As Dave writes, Google gives the impression that there are lots of replacements ready and waiting.  We’re all hoping they’ll clue us in as to what they are.  I have used separate RSS feed readers.  Several in fact.  But they require that you remember to go to their site to see what’s new, or endure endless emails telling you how many unread posts there are waiting for you.  Hated that. 

Well, how about Chrome?  How about it?  It’s not compatible with all my programs yet, like QuickBooks, so I’m not going there.  Besides, what’s to stop them from pulling the plug on that in the not-too-distant future?

You can also subscribe to have blog posts delivered to your inbox in most instances.  But I don’t have to tell you that this can quickly clog your inbox so badly, it’s difficult to find the urgent stuff.  You might be thinking that you can just make Rules in Outlook to route the emails to a folder.  Yep, that works for just a few.  But when you have as much going on as I do, with dozens of client folders that require Rules, you quickly hit the ridiculously low limit that Microsoft arbitrarily puts on their rulesYou can read my previous blog postAre You Having a Problem With Your Microsoft Outlook Rulesto find out more about that.

So what’s left?  I don’t know, but I can assure you I will be searching for a suitable replacement which offers the same level of convenience and organization.  I will sorely miss having my favorite gadgets such as the “dog of the day” picture, and the daily Sudoku, along with all my RSS feeds organized in the order I want them.  And to have them on my desktop, and laptops, appearing exactly the same, with no extra effort.  Frankly, I could care less about the tools for my iPhone or iPad.  They’re not the tools I’m using when I’m reviewing my feeds.

I stumbled upon a post entitled “Two More Alternatives to Your iGoogle Home Page” written by tech writer Rick Broida on PCWorld.  He suggests All My Faves, which I find visually undesirable for these old eyes, and Protopage.  I will have to give this a more thorough review before coming to any conclusions.  In a previous blog post he recommended MSN or Yahoo.  But these are tools mostly for news monitoring.   I monitor legal industry and related technology blogs.  Plus they too seem way too busy for these weary eyes.  His last recommendation, Netvibes, looks promising.  I’ll be exploring that further, along with Protopage.  If you have experience using either, I’d love to hear from you. 

Stay tuned for feedback as my replacement search continues, along with the countdown to the sad end of iGoogle.

Are You Ready for Windows 8?

I’m not suggesting you run out and get Windows 8 as soon as it’s available.  I never allow my clients to venture out onto the bleeding edge unless they have no choice.  That’s a risk better undertaken by large firms with ample IT staff, who are accustomed to the bumps and burps of new software.  And it isn’t even time yet, since the Developer Preview was just released a couple of months ago. 

If you’re still using Vista, you shouldn’t even wait to upgrade if your system is capable of running Windows 7 and you can afford to migrate, as Windows 7 has been great from day one, and is so superior to Vista they’re not even in the same league.  Good old reliable XPsp3 is also ready for retirement in favor of Windows 7.  Windows 7 is more stable.  And that’s a much easier upgrade than from Vista.  

When will it be time to upgrade to Windows 8?  I’ll let you know.  Right now the feedback is very limited.  Stay tuned.

Nonetheless, eventually you will be upgrading your operating system to Windows 8.  It’s inevitable.  So you might as well check now to determine whether upgrades or replacements will be required to become Windows 8 compatible.  A quick visit to the Microsoft Compatibility Center will help you check all your devices and software.  That way you can spend your near-term dollars more wisely, by making sure they will work well for the next generation of software as well.  And that’s really the whole point of this post.  You don’t want to spend money now on software or hardware which will ultimately require replacement or further upgrade to run on Windows 8.  That would be foolish.

According to a WorkYourOffice blog post, the official minimum system requirements by Microsoft for computers to run Windows 8 are:

  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
  • Taking advantage of touch input requires a screen that supports multi-touch.

The post has a downloadable link for an executable program which purportedly checks your computer automatically for Windows 8 compatibility.  But since I am not familiar with this blog, I am reluctant to run it.  Despite the fact that it is a post which has been sited by one of my favorite blogs:  Gizmo’s Freeware.  Instead, I have chosen to visit the official Microsoft site, even though it’s a little more involved to check items by category.  And that is the link I have provided at the top of this post.  I couldn’t find a link on the Microsoft site to the program mentioned in the WorkYourOffice post.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, especially since the Microsoft site is so complex, but one can’t be too careful.

Are Your Apple Apps Crashing?

I have been having a lot of difficulty downloading and updating my iPhone software and apps.  I thought it was just me until I came upon a recent article in CNET Daily News pointing a finger at the App store.  If you’re having a problem, you may want to report it to Apple, instead of just assuming you’re the only one with the problem, or it’s just a temporary glitch.

Recently I received a survey from Apple to complete.  They may regret requesting my feedback, because it was far from positive.  Let me say that I unequivocally love my iPhone and iPad.  I never thought I’d say that, at least not publicly.  But I know a good tool when I use it.  I have never regretted that my “last straw” frustration with my Blackberry caused me to throw it out the car window.  My husband was astonished, to say the least.  I had been a loyal, but increasingly frustrated, Crackberry addict through three models in a row.  It was a mostly-reliable but frustratingly limiting business tool.  Everything beyond the usual was such a hassle to accomplish.  I felt like the phone was purposely interfering with my ability to be more productive.

My reticence to use the iPhone was mostly based on security concerns.  But I made the leap regardless.  From day one, without so much as a helpful guide to follow, I was more productive than all those years using a Blackberry.  Everything was faster, more intuitive, and more fun.  That being said, my frustration with the App store has been ongoing since purchase.  S L O W W W W W  That about says it all.  It is the slowest darned app to load, connect, navigate, download, update, and whatever else I need to do. 

If Apple is smart, it will take heed of the customer dissatisfaction in this area, and make some improvements.  Since there seem to be some quality issues, it’s time for an overhaul of it’s worst single point of failure.  Want to hasten the process?  Make sure you let Apple know if you’re experiencing similar problems.

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