On the Nature of Things

And so, after a long break, I resume my writing.  At the moment, we are reassessing our entire web presence, figuring out what form and format best suits our mission.  Since I am spending a great amount of time rewriting much of the website, there is little “technological” inspiration for this blog.  And so, I turn to in the other direction.

Read more

Summer Musings

Yes … Summer has arrived.  Summer is at once the slowest time and the busiest time.  Many people leave on vacation.  Staff counts in most law firms are reduced.  The 6-day workweek becomes 4-days.  Friday is often a “write-off”.  For us, we take the month of August and travel.  We exchange our house outside of New York City for a similar home in a foreign country.  This year, we are off to Tel Aviv.

Read more

The Problem with Thumper

It’s early summer.  The garden has been planted.  The young “bean sprouts” and “pea sprouts” are pushing up out of the fertile soil.  In a few short weeks we will have fresh pea pods to pop.  Our organic garden launched; free of pesticides.  And then along comes “thumper”.  Such a cute little bunny rabbit.  And those little sprouts ever so tasty.  One morning, we see the rabbits jumping about and a few dozen bean and pea seedlings climbing the walls to reach the sun.  And then, they are ALL GONE.  The culprit is Thumper (at left, no my photo).  So tasty, so succulent.  So gone.  And now, we are set back several weeks, perhaps, never to recover.  In the virtual world, I would likely accellerate the growth by buying “virtual currency”.  But here, I am stuck with the realities of fast approaching summer.  New seeds went into the ground; will it be a repeat.  Am I feeding the wildlife.  Welcome to life in suburbia.

The Unimportance of Being Ernest

As part of the high school curriculum, my son chose to read the Oscar Wilde play, the “Importance of Being Ernest”.  To assist in his analysis, we saw the movie version (pictured above), and went to the Broadway version done at the Roundabout Theatre.  Aside from the innumerable puns, it is the central pun of the play that strikes me.  It is the importance of “being earnest” … as opposed to “Being Ernest”.

Read more

This Work Is BENEATH ME!!!

Just the other day I was making the case for practice management and workflow automation (aka Document Assembly), and I was given a novel reason for investing in such solutions.  Novel, of course, is a matter of perspective.  The reason offered was that practice management and automation would counter the issue of “this work is beneath me” proffered in a law firm.

Read more

Legal Technology Portal is Live

Our new Legal Technology portal is live.  To try it out, please bookmark http://legaltechnology.bashasys.net/.  If you have a “RSS feed” or a “twitter” that relates to “Case Management Software”, “Document Assembly Software” that you want included, please go to the website and suggest a link.

There is a wealth of information coming from Vendors in these areas.  Rather than “surfing”, use our website to do your research or to keep up on developments.  You will find my “Time Matters Tips” blog there.  At the moment, there is no feed from LexisNexis on Time Matters, PCLaw or Billing Matters, but that should change with time.

News on the Verzion iPhone – Some Limitations

It’s been a while since I had something of note to write.  Since I am in the process of consolidating all my communications, phone, email, fax, cell phone, wifi, data etc. I have been following the Verizon iPhone release.  In this light, I recently got sent information from Basex , some research via their weekly TechWatch.  I am including it below, with attribution.

BASEX:COMMENTARY-OF-THE-WEEK BY CODY BURKE
THE IPHONE COMETH

It would be understandable if you were under the impression that nothing at all happened this week except for the unveiling of the long-rumored Verizon iPhone.  The launch has been hyped and anticipated for several years, in part because it would be the moment when AT&T would lose its exclusivity death grip on what has become perhaps the most iconic mobile phone ever.

So what did actually happen?  Well, for those hoping for a slew of new features, or an LTE-powered world phone, not much.  The iPhone 4 that Verizon Wireless will be offering is similar to the iPhone 4 that AT&T offers with a few exceptions.  The phone and its antenna have been redesigned to work with Verizon’s CDMA network, and there is hope that this will result in a solution to the “antenna-gate” problem, whereby users of the AT&T iPhone 4 lost calls when holding the phone in a certain way.  In addition, the Verizon version of the iPhone will be able to serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices.

So now that iPhone customers have a choice in terms of a mobile operator, which network should they choose?  While the accepted wisdom is that AT&T’s 3G network is actually faster than Verizon’s, its coverage is not nearly as broad.  If you spend most of your time in a major city and currently do not have many problems with your connection, then leaving AT&T for Verizon might be a bit hasty.  If you travel around the country, and find yourself on rural back roads, away from major metropolitan areas, Verizon will be the more attractive operator.

Verizon released the iPhone on its 3G CDMA network instead of on its new 4G LTE network.  According to Apple COO Tim Cook the official reason for this is that Verizon customers “wanted the iPhone now” and that the LTE technology would have forced design compromises that Apple was not willing to make.

While the Verizon iPhone gains a feature (Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities) compared to AT&T’s it also loses some capabilities, namely support for GSM and the ability to work in most countries around the world.  While other Verizon smartphones including almost all those from Research in Motion support CDMA for Verizon Wireless’s network and GSM for roaming, the iPhone does not.  This may be a deal killer for users who travel frequently.

Because of limitations on CDMA networks the iPhone loses one additional feature, the ability of to be on a phone call and maintain a data connection at the same time.  Verizon may address this in the future, but for now, users will have to choose if they want to look up locations on Google maps or talk on the phone.

The new enhancements and limitations on the Verizon iPhone may make choosing a mobile operator for your iPhone easier than originally thought.
For current AT&T iPhone customers, moving to Verizon will require the purchase of a new iPhone (one that runs on Verizon’s CDMA network) and a possible cancellation fee (AT&T raised its cancellation fees in 2010 in anticipation of Verizon’s announcement).  But iPhone fans will have to choose between simultaneous voice and data and Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities not to mention the ability to roam internationally.

This Analyst Opinion is also available online at http://www.basexblog.com/2011/01/13/the-iphone-cometh/

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.  He can be reached at cburke@basex.com

Ease of Use—Not a Good Thing?

John Heckman in his recent blog post, When Is Ease of Use Counterproductive? raised an interesting issue and one I have struggled with in designing advanced interview systems for document automation.  He posits that making something too easy encourages foolish and stupid behavior.  There is a balance between “constraints on behavior” and making something too simple.

John was likely thinking of practice management systems that strive to use wizards to paper over the complexity of their systems.  As a person who routinely turns off the wizard, I can see his point.  If you don’t ever confront the data entry form, you will not know enough about the structure of the system to be able to properly work with the data you have entered.  I can appreciate a well designed wizard, but too often the wizard makers make assumptions that simply don’t apply to you.  And unless the user is exposed to the non-wizard approach, they will often be unable to get the result they desire from the software.  Extensive wizards can in fact cripple good software.  It is not that they break the software.  Rather, it is that they obscure the functionality of the software.

In building document assembly interviews, I am constrained to balance simplicity of design with the complexity of reality.  Make an estate planning system TOO SIMPLE, and the templates it produces will only be functional 80% of the time, requiring constant vigilance and tweaks of the final Word document.  Make it too complex and the user will not know how to answer particular questions that appear unfamiliar out of the context of the documents they used to edit manually. The solution that I have come up with is a balancing act.  Rather than push the complexity under the rug with a wizard, I script the dialogs with an “advanced” option that allows you to expose more complex questions in a particular area.  Questions are carefully grouped under headers.  There is help text both associated with the variables and on the dialog.  With document assembly tools I can also add constraints that prevent bad data from being enter, such as an “division of assets” that might exceed 100%.

There are many purported “simple systems”.  The iPOD app store is an example of “simple systems”.  DISCLAIMER: I have 2 iPOD Touch devises and a Blackberry Storm.  In their advertisements, Apple toots:  “There’s an APP for that”.  And yet, the sum of the parts is often less than the whole. And that is because each APP is an Island, requiring you often to dual enter data and maintain the same data in multiple places.  I find the approach by Salesforce.com and Mozilla Firefox to be quite different.  The “APPS” in these cases are plugins that extend the core functionality of the system and allow you to do more with forcing you to separate your data in different Island.  Yes, there are thousands of apps for Salesforce.com; but each APP assumes a core set of shared data (Contacts, Accounts, Opportunities) and so these apps together are MORE than the sum of their parts.

And so, when you think of “Ease of Use” bear it in mind with a grain of salt.