12 August 2009

Cyberspace August 2009

Learn it or lose it

The USA (land of the free, home of the armed) has a lot of case law in relation to electronic discovery. A large proportion of that relates to costs, and the recent case of Chen v Dougherty (USDC No. C04-987 MJP http://www.ediscoverylaw.com/uploads/file/Westlaw_Document_Chen.doc) is interesting because a lawyer had her costs reduced to USD$200/hour "for certain time spent on discovery... (as her) inhibited ability to participate meaningfully in electronic discovery tells the Court she has novice skills in this area and cannot command the rate of experienced counsel." On one level that is a fairly obvious conclusion - a junior lawyer or someone operating outside his area of expertise can't claim high rates, but "inhibited ability to participate meaningfully" suggests that the modern lawyer needs to engage in understanding technology just as much as the law.

Portability

Netbooks are very popular at the moment, and for good reason. This column is being written on my original Asus eeePC 701 (7" screen) which provided sterling performance around Asia and Europe last year. A member of the senior bar also contacted me and recently took his around Greece and Bulgaria. We both used Skype (http://www.skype.com) over Wi-Fi to make phone calls on it cheaply and easily. I'm convinced that these netbook computers have a long term place in computing history, due to the portability of the device (under 1kg) together with cheap 3G within Australia and wireless when overseas. Not only was it a very cheap phone using Skype, it also offered storage for our camera cards, listening to ABC streamed radio, Google maps, ticket purchasing, tourist attraction research, hotel bookings and more. Many of the more recent netbooks have a 10.1" screen together with more storage, power and battery life making them easier to use. However, I think that they won't be as useful unless they can remain comparable in size and weight. The 3G data option, using a dedicated card or USB device, is a good one as you can buy 1GB of data per month for under $14 if you look around. Sitting up the back of a lengthy Registrar's list might become a lot more productive.

An even more portable device I have come to appreciate is the iPod Touch (http://www.apple.com/au/ipodtouch/). With a headset or clip on microphone (http://www.macally.com/EN/Product/ArticleShow.asp?ArticleID=171) it becomes a VoIP phone using Fring or provider-specific applications such as Skype or Pennytel. It offers very good phone call quality on a wi-fi connection. If your computing needs are light, you could just travel with the Touch as it offers email, calendar, contacts, Google Maps, web browsing and entertainment whenever you have a Wi-Fi connection. I'll be in NZ shortly, and I suspect the Touch will be enough rather than my eeePC.

Maintaining lists

Managing lists of things is often a problem, because doing it in Microsoft Excel or Word is cumbersome and inherently single-user. Microsoft SharePoint (an add-on to Windows Server - http://sharepoint.microsoft.com) might be a solution for you. Although I recently wrote a blog post about why I don't think SharePoint is a viable document management system, I do think that SharePoint is great at maintaining lists. My company maintains a number of lists such as those for document executions, bank guarantees, and safe custody. SharePoint has improved the way we do that, and we are gradually moving more data over to it. Benefits over Excel include multi-user, drop down menus for data consistency, avoidance of accidental changes, sorting and filtering. Since it's web-based you don't need to have any extra applications on the PC, including Microsoft Office.