Thursday, September 30, 2004

United States v. Microsoft

For those of you who don't follow Slashdot or Groklaw, here is a short yet sweet piece on the U.S. v Microsoft case.

Prof. Chin has an article on this subject with greater depth that will hopefully appear online soon (if not at this instant) in The Harvard Journal of Law and Technology. If you don't see it, you might want to browse some of the other topics that are currently available online.

Very Cool Gadget: - Linksys/Cisco NSLU2 Thingamajig

Here in Michigan I don't have access to the same setup I have back home in Arizona (an office full of computers with lots of Linux-based goodness). I've got my laptop (with crap POS Windows XP Home on it - uhg - must.fix.with.this.soon) and drag around with me as needed. One of things I miss is being able to backup to a central Linux server running Samba.

I've been paranoid about my lack of a decent backup system... until now!

If you think you might be interested in what is probably the world's cheapest Linux box - check out the NSLU2.

I guess it's been on the market for at least six months, but somehow I missed it. This little gadget thingy runs Linux and lets you attach two external USB drives to it and ta da - a baby fileserver. The NSLU2 is a Linux box running Samba and all kinds of other Linux-loving goodness (I guess it even has undocumented support for NFS along with SMB - Hot Dang!).

A greate source of info on hacking this cool product is here.

I'm surprised the suits at Cisco Systems haven't closed this box up yet (even the latest firmware remains cool and geek-friendly), sued the coders who are exploiting the potential of this device under provisions of the DMCA, and then ground sales to a halt and punishing all who come near. Very odd behavior for suits, and this leads me to suspect that someone within Linksys is either an engineer running the product management for the NSLU2 or ... gosh. I'm stumped.

Now, I am happy. I can backup - even remotely if I want by using the built-in web server of the NSLU2. What a cool product. This also does a nice job illustrating how open source MAKES MONEY. It's the next paradigm of software development and Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer needs to think about making the company... normal.... and less scary.

Extraordinary Rendition

The fun never ends.

Republicans (my party - and if Zell Miller can be a Democrat, by God I can remain a Republican), the party of family values, the party that always tries to make clear which one is with Jesus - is preparing legislation to legalize torture. It's called "extraordinary rendition" and the phrase sounds almost cool, but it is really just a glimpse of the fun yet to come...

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Truth About Law School

I am having a hard time coming to terms with something that is, frankly, a known “truth” in law school. Some refuse to accept this truth, while others go along with it by seeing it as the key to their potential success.

Law school is not about “The Law”, it is about learning how to pass law school exams and ultimately the bar exam. That’s it. That’s all it’s about. Everything else is just incidental. No doubt somewhere along the way actual black letter law is learned, but what is really driven into our heads is to think like a lawyer. In other words – law school is a head-trip, and even more than that – it is an Iron Man marathon that is designed to weed out the weak and leave the strong (barely) standing. To make it through law school one must FORCE their minds to change in ways they never thought possible. Above and beyond all of this, is something else that is tested to the limit... RESOLVE. One must have RESOLVE to finish law school. Without it - forget it. If or when that evaporates, it probably means a different career might be in the cards.

I love learning. I enjoy the casebooks, and I dig another student's perspectives on Whaley’s textbook. It’s so good - it's THAT good – it’s unfair to my other courses. In fact, the drawback to this textbook is that I am starting to read way, way too far ahead. It’s THAT good.

And you know what?

The "joy" of learning law doesn’t mean squat as far as I’m concerned. The fact that I find the subject matter downright intoxicating (much to my astonishment) is simply a side effect of law school, and has nothing to do with the actual purpose of this place.

The most important class I am taking now is the one I like the least… Intro to Law.

This class simply does not compare to any normal law class. An exceptionally smart, zany, frightening, inspiring, law professor who is one-half motivational-speaker and one-half crack appellate lawyer heads it up. If a law course can be trip on methamphetamines – this is the one.

The purpose of this course is to teach us how to do well on our exams. It also attempts to teach us how to study, brief cases (a little late guys), locate the issue, the rule, and so on, using a method known as IRAC. I can’t say I’m crazy about it, but I am forcing myself to use and learn it. I started out thinking it was pure bullshit, but now I’m starting to come around to seeing it as just another mental tool to use as needed.

This class is a total let down. Why? Because it jettisons the myth I held about law school i.e. that I was going to be immersed in the law, become one with it, marry it, make love to it day and night, and sire children by it. I had, foolishly, thought my experience in law school would be an orgy of hot, passionate, sweaty learning on a 24/7 basis. Turns out it’s more like ordering soup from the Soup Nazi. "No Soup For You! Back of Line!!"

I am, yet again, switching gears. The strange transformation my brain was already going through has now been thrown in to Turbo-Mode complete with multi-threading capabilities and true parallel processing coming on line soon (once I finish recompiling my mental kernel). Change can be painful. Adding these new features won’t be easy, but if I want to avoid hitting the wall… so be it.

Principled Profits (and a problem with Microsoft)

Check out this indepth article about tech and ethics in this country (wrapped in a story in a Seattle paper written by an ex-Microsoft employee). It starts out slow, but gets going toward the middle-end. What makes the story interesting, in my mind, has less to do with the actors in it and more to do with the notion of "Principled Profits" - an idea I happen to like.

A few choice comments:

"According to Mitch Kapor, [Microsoft has]... turned a generation of technologists against it. "They have an enormous deferred liability, which is not on their financial balance sheet but on their social balance sheet.... "Right now, people don't see alternatives, or they don't know exactly what to do, but if that ever changes, Microsoft will be shown no sympathy. None. Zero."

Being a "Linux" guy myself, and I can attest to the fact that the only reason I even touch Windows or Microsoft is out of requirement or mandate. In terms of pure preference or choice - I obviously am not crazy about Microsoft or it's Chairman, who articulated his business strategy for Asia...

"As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted, and then we'll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade."

Then, some poor soul dared to accuse the company of using drug-dealer tactics in his country and was promptly sued by Microsoft for such a daring comment. This is just one of the many ways Microsoft builds love and support for its products in the developing world.

In our world, closer to home, Microsoft is a bit kinder...

"In May, Microsoft announced $80 million in cuts to employee benefits. When employees asked why the company couldn't dip into huge cash reserves instead, Ballmer, in a July memo, brushed them off: "The cash is shareholders' money, so we need to either invest in new opportunities or return it to them."

In another blow to employees and the Seattle economy, Microsoft is investing in a new technology center in Hyderabad, India...

Compare the Microsoft approach with the Google approach:

Google gets it. In the prospectus for its recent stock offering, Google's founders wrote, "Don't be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains." Google is trying to codify socially responsible business behavior—to place that above fiduciary duty to shareholders.

Which ethical perspective do you prefer? Which company would you like to see come out on top in the search-engine wars?

Why Bush Winning Will Be a Good Thing ™

For those of you who know me – the caption to this entry is without a doubt confusing. Despite being a lifelong registered Republican (that will also come as a surprise to many of my friends) - I am no fan of George Bush. With that being said, I will explain why George Bush winning this November might end up being the best thing that ever happened to the Democrats in nearly 60 years.

While I despise the Democratic Party, I absolutely hate the Republican Party - but they have my respect. They are focused, disciplined and they know how to fight. It is a bizarre spectacle to watch Kerry attack Bush not from the left – but from his right flank. Kerry would send in more troops, more money, more resources, and I presume somehow get more allies to sign on board, because – well – he’s John Kerry and world leaders will like him better. While the latter is in fact probably true, I think the rest is wishful thinking.

Our allies (I use the term loosely) are not idiots, and unless we’re going to bribe them with huge amounts of cash or something they deeply want, they’re not about to rush off and stick their heads in this vice just because we ended up picking Kerry over Bush. It’s a weak argument and I don’t buy it.

The party that once represented the closest thing to “labor” in this country has devolved into an amalgam that the people it once represented have a hard time relating too. When I think of “Democrat” or “liberal”, I am sorry to say – I think of a guy wearing a dress demanding a sex change operation paid for by taxpayers. That’s the image out there these days - and it is a bad one. The Democrats need to fix this image – and quick, because as a practical matter it’s not really accurate or even true, but in America “image” means more than substance.

I’ve heard it said that the Democrats should avoid building a new house while the current one is on fire; a good point, and one that I once agreed with. Not anymore. Not only do I think the house needs to burn down, I think it needs to be bull dozed, it's remains hauled to the dump (and covered over), it’s foundation double-checked and maybe replaced, and an entirely new house built – without the pink coat of paint, plaid window dressings, black window trim and purple-glow porch light. No matter how appealing this may look to some – this kind of house just isn’t going to sell in the current market.

The new house of Democrats needs to look like the people it once represented: the working class, and this is a pretty big class in America. Republicans hold this mantel while, in truth, are doing more to consistently screw the majority in the name of the majority while benefiting a teeny tiny minority. This is why I admire (yet hate) the Republicans. I marvel at how they’ve managed to take an entire group of people and force them to pick up the tab for their own demise while at the same time convince them that everything taking place is for their own good. I must concede, any group that sharp prevailing over a group this dumb just about deserves full-unbridled power!

Or do they? And is the average-Joe in America really this stupid?

No. He’s not.

He might not be the sharpest tack in the box, but he is not stupid. He is worried. He is concerned, and I think – he is confused, and this is the fulcrum of failure on the part of the Democratic leadership of today to fully grasp and understand and work with. Joe would like a choice and what the Democrats are offering in the form of Republican-Lite is just not compelling.

The good part about the (in some ways I admit unfortunate) defeat of Kerry in November will be that maybe, at last, the Democrats will clean house and purge itself of its demons and get back to representing progressive causes (affordable healthcare, decent wages, roads, bridges, public transportation, infrastructure, affordable education, etc…), work toward restoring civil liberties in our society, drop the sissy attitude, and start to stand for something Joe-Average can finally sign up for.

One can only hope, and I admit, like oil it seems to be in short supply.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Thomas M. Cooley Rankings and What It's Really Like

Given the much maligned Thomas M. Cooley School of Law ranking in USNWR combined with the disdain many in legal academia allegedly have toward this school - the place is not what I expected.

I envisioned such a lowly ranked (whatever that means) law school would have leaky plumbing, facilities that would at best prove marginal, and barely meet the ABA standards. I think I envisioned something akin to that fictional university in The Waterboy with Adam Shandler and Henry Winkler. What I found was a law school with excellent facilities, exceptionally bright and talented professors, and a student body that thus far has struck me as very level-headed and practical.

Because most of my classes are on weekends, the students I attend class with tend to be a bit older than the overall Cooley average. This is subject to color my perspective on the school overall as most, if not all, if my fellow students are fairly laid back and tend to ask (almost always) relevant questions during class. I have yet to encounter anyone asking anything really zany ("What if a kitten from Mars landed on the property...") or absurd, and the few times we have veered slightly off into goofy subject material - we tend to come back pretty quick. I think this is due to the people in my class being pretty cool, and the prof's knowing how to avoid going places we need-not-go.

I enjoy all of my classes and each of the professors has thus far been, at least in my opinion, exceptional in way or another. Property is probably the roughest to get through, but the prof is new and I think looking to find his stride. He's looking for the right balance or mix of lecture and Socratic methods, and I think in time and with some practice he'll get there. He certainly has a solid background and understanding of the subject matter, but his delivery seems to be going through some transformations. I tend to think in another couple of weeks he'll have that worked out and the class will "pick up" a bit.

While all of my professors are exceptional, some stand out more than others -but for different reasons. My Criminal Law professor is a sitting circuit judge and very practical, realistic, funny, and frankly his class is just a pure joy. If only every law class could be like Judge Tahvonen's it would be border-line bliss (well... maybe not bliss, but definitely pure enjoyment). His Socratic method is about as gentle as it gets and his lectures are never boring. This is bad and good. The good part is the class is awesome - rape, murder and incest have never been so much fun! The downside, well, it's same as the upside. I don't take as many notes as I should due in part to my enjoyment of the class.