High Speed Internet Access is Not a Basic Right

A re-post of my article at the ABA’s Law Technology Today

http://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2016/07/high-speed-internet-access-not-basic-right-2/

But I added the photo on this page.

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In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classified broadband internet service access as a public utility.

The move was focused around the concept of net neutrality. The FCC’s Open Internet Rules claim to protect consumers by prohibiting things like throttling data speeds or giving prioritization to higher payers of internet services. 

I laughed reading these “bright line rules” because the cellular plan I’m on unabashedly states that they will throttle my data content when I reach a monthly limit. I’ve experienced this throttling; it makes viewing almost every web page impossible.

And the prohibition of speed prioritization? This same service “allows” me the option of paying more money to get a faster Internet connection.

So is the FCC’s move lip-service only? And what does this have to do with lawyers? This article is a realistic perspective on the future of high speed internet access in rural U.S. areas. It will dispel the hype that we hear about broadband being a basic right and suggest practical solutions to the realities of internet connectivity and web page designs in an unequal-access world.

But back to the FCC and its broadband-is-now-a-utility declaration. Here are some preliminary questions:

  1. What is a public utility? Generally speaking, utilities include things like electricity, telecommunications, water, and sewage service.
  1. Are public utilities basic rights? That’s debatable. Some would say they are not; providers can shut off service for things like non-payment of electrical bills. On the flip side, many have argued there is a basic human right to water and sanitation, something that is being challenged in the Flint, Michigan water crisis, for example.
  1. Should we lump broadband Internet access in with this group? Is it a basic right? The reality is, high speed Internet access is not a basic right for all Americans. And it never will be.

I live in a town in Michigan in a county that is classified as rural. Technically I am about one mile beyond the town’s limit. And from here, I cannot get cable nor can I receive any type of wired-broadband Internet connectivity. And fiber optic internet connectivity (which has the fastest internet speeds)? Only in my dreams.

Country living perks include privacy, space with the drawbacks of limited internet connectivity.

Country living perks include privacy and space but with the drawback of limited internet connectivity.

My options for internet access at home are satellite-connectivity for any home computers or cellular-connectivity through my smart phone. Both are nowhere near as fast or maintain as consistent a connection as a cabled or fiber optic Internet connections.

Now before you question if my house has running water and electricity (yes to both), I would like to also point out that I live about one mile from one of the largest universities in Michigan. I live one mile from 27,000 broadband-connected young folk! Yet I strongly believe that this Broadband-Internet-High-Speed-Is-A-Basic-Right idea is completely achievable.

Here’s why:

  1. When it comes to cable or fiber optic lines connecting to our homes, not everyone has them and not everyone will be able to get them.

We are a large nation in terms of geographic size. Rolling out cables or fiber optics to every U.S. home location is not going to happen. (See a comparison of cable to fiber optic connectivity here.) To connect to a private home, cables and lines must either be below ground or above. So that means either digging a ditch or connecting to utility poles. Digging new ditches to everyone’s home is expensive compared to the overhead alternative. The infrastructure is already in place regarding utility poles, however, not everyone can access them.

And for those who can access the utility poles, there is a lot of fighting both amongst them and to prohibit others from accessing these passageways.

To summarize: there is too much ground to cover to install underground cable or fiber optic lines to every U.S. home, it would be too expensive to install all of those underground lines to all rural dwellings, and there are too many players in the overhead line market who can’t, or won’t, form high speed internet agreements to serve the rural population.

Well, if we can’t be corded in rural areas, what else can we do?

Cut the cord!

But, this, too, is not an optimal solution…

  1. When it comes to cellular coverage and smart phone use, the data usage amount is routinely limited and the speed is not fast.

As mentioned above, living in a rural area and having a smart phone is not the same as living in an urban area. First, not every telecom company has service in rural areas. We still experience the “Can you hear me now?” phenomenon.

And of the smart-phone service we can get, there are issues like limited data amounts, or data plans that throttle users on so-called “unlimited” access plans.  Where this is felt the most is when we try to watch video on our smart phones. It’s a sure-fire way to hit our data cap in record time!

But that is assuming we can even see the videos. Often, and despite what the marketing may say, the speed of internet access when using a smart phone is just plain painful. I explained the comparison of cable internet connection versus smart phone internet connection to my mother like this: cable is like a roaring river with rapids—you get a lot of water, but it doesn’t last too long. Smart phone access is like a long and winding stream that goes on and on—it’s a smaller amount of water, but it goes further. We, in rural areas, are most likely limited to a stream-type connection for our Internet access with our smart phones.

Well, then, what about satellite?

  1. When it comes to satellite subscriptions, the price is too high and the service is not consistent.

Satellite connections are also not as fast as wired speeds and the fees are really expensive. Plus, signals routinely drop. They drop. They drop. And then they drop. This makes Cloud-connectivity software something we try to stay clear of.

The Takeaways for Lawyers

The solution to all of this is not to force all rural inhabitants to move but to keep in mind the following… do not forget about we, the-non-broadband group, when you design websites and digital solutions.

  • Start with mobile-optimized web pages and then do your desktop designs. One in five Americans do not have broadband access at home and also have relatively few options for getting online other than their cell phone. It’s not just we in rural America that are smart-phone dependent, though, and Pew Research has a great study on who else falls into this group. Again, remember that 20% of Americans are smart-phone dependent, so web pages should increasingly be designed, or at least responsive, for mobile viewing.
  • Assume we will connect to your site with our smart phones (which, like a stream, are the furthest reaching but can be the slowest in terms of speed).
  • Make it clear on your mobile-optimized sites that there may be more features on your desktop designs and provide us with a hyperlink to that site if we want to jump to it. This is an increasingly understood notion… that desktop websites have more features than mobile-optimized sites.
  • Remember that our screen sizes are smaller so be efficient with your designs. Do not put in content that is not necessary or redundant on your mobile-optimized websites. Do not put in too many images; do not put in images that are too large in size. Law Practice Today provides an explanation on resolution, resizing, and re-sampling images. And although it loads quickly, try to limit your words, dear lawyers.
  • Drop the auto-play of video content. Even animated .gifs are potentially problematic (and highly annoying). If you want to attract rural clients, drop video content altogether!

Remember, too, that high speed internet speeds vary depending upon what type of connection you use or have the ability to use (smart phone, satellite, cable, fiber optic). The gold star of universal broadband access is just not foreseeable given the problems noted above. It’s not a basic right; it’s not about being fair or unfair.

So let’s be realistic about what can, will, and should not be considered a basic right for the various ways to connect to the Internet in this very large country of ours. And on that note, because I wrote this article on my home computer, I must now drive into work to e-mail it.

Photographs as Evidence: How to Work with Print and Digital Images

A re-post of my article at the ABA’s Law Practice Today

http://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/photographs-as-evidence-how-to-work-with-print-and-digital-images/

It seems like photographs are everywhere, doesn’t it? The advent of digital photography, mobile phones, and social media sites means people are taking exponentially more photographs. Experts predict that within this year, more than 1 trillion photos will be taken.

We are living in a technological time when capturing and sharing images is easy and ubiquitous. People take pictures with digital cameras, smart phones, and tablets. Copiers often double as scanners that allow the rapid duplication of printouts, with an additional conversion of a page of text into an image format.

Not only has the number of photographs increased, so, too has the use of them in litigation for both digital and physical evidence. One reason may be because jurors, being drawn from the general public, are visual learners, so they mainly want to see evidence rather than hear it. People also more easily forget what they hear. With the amount of information that jurors must process, using photographs can help strengthen an argument or issue presented.

Litigators may choose to digitally project photographs depending upon whether the courtroom is capable of displaying the images. Or, as in the case of a federal suit, lawyers may be forced to use digital files. However, when the jurors deliberate, lawyers must consider what happens when they try to print a digital photograph.

What are Photographs, Really?

When a photograph is captured by a digital camera, it becomes a digital file called a “raster file.”  Raster images are resolution-dependent. Basically, resolution is the amount of dots per inch (dpi) when a raster image is printed, or pixels per inch (ppi) when a raster image is displayed on a screen.

Resolution dependency means that the resolution varies depending upon where that raster image ends up. Terms like “lo res” refer to digital images with a resolution of 72 ppi – suitable for website usage. “Hi res” images have a resolution setting ranging from 300-600 dpi or higher – suitable for print use.

Because of these resolution differences, lawyers often experience photos that are in-focus when viewed on a screen, but blurry/out-of-focus when printed out.

The Blurry Printed Photographs Problem

There are two main reasons why an in-focus digital photo becomes blurry when printed:

1. Web images have lo res settings while printed images need hi res settings.

When you print a lo res image that has 72 ppi, there’s not enough data to print a clear and crisp image. Although software, like Adobe Photoshop, allows you to upsample (and simply increase the resolution), do not do it. The resulting image will now be blurry in both digital and printed applications.

2. Web images that are stretched or scaled to fit a page will also result in blurry printouts.

Facebook and Twitter photos are not only lo res, they are also small in physical size, like postal-stamp sizes when printed out. This is not an effective way to present them as evidence.

Many a savvy lawyer will take a downloaded Facebook photo and stretch it to fit a printout size. Or, they will look in the print dialog box and click “Scale to Fit Page”. Both are also problematic because the result is a blurry printout.

So what can you do?

Solutions

Here are two possible solutions to achieving an in-focus printout from a digital photograph.

1. If possible, you may be able to resize an image.

Resizing an image is different than resampling it. Resampling changes the resolution. Resizing allows for a swapping of size and resolution settings.

If you have a large photograph in terms of width and height, but it is lo res (72 ppi), you can resize it to be smaller in width and height, while increasing its resolution.

Where do you get digital photographs that can be resized?

They are photographs taken with a camera or smart phone and sent directly to an attorney – not  photos that are right-clicked and saved off of someone’s social media profile and then sent to an attorney.

After you have the resizeable digital photo, you will need software to resize it. Two good options are GIMP and Adobe Photoshop. GIMP is free and offers many of the capabilities of Adobe Photoshop.

Here is a step-by-step tutorial to resize an image using GIMP

  1. Open GIMP
  2. <File <Open and find your digital image
  3. <Image <Scale Image
  4. Increase both your X and Y resolution (and they are probably linked by default) and GIMP will automatically decrease your width and height. You may want to change the dropdown button next to the width and height values to inches so you see the size of the image when it is printed out.*
  5. Hit “Scale
  6. <File <Print to print your file
  7. Now be sure to Re-save your new, resized image as a JPG by
  8. <File <Export As
  9. In the Name box at the top, rename your file something like “hi_res.jpg”. Unless you make other changes, be sure to add/keep the .jpg or else your file won’t save as a JPG. Also, pay attention to where you are saving your file!
  10. Hit the “Export” button
  11. You can now close out of GIMP because you have already saved your new file.

*When you are changing the resolution in step 4, you may wonder what number to change the setting too. Remember, printed images normally need a resolution between 300-600 dpi. So try 300, then 600. Whatever prints out in focus and is the width and height you want is the winner.

Resizing is a powerful solution for most, but not all, digital photographs. Some digital photographs are too small in resolution and size to be resized. These are the digital files that mainly appear in a person’s Facebook or Twitter profile.

Social media sites optimize photos to be displayed digitally and to fit on Facebook’s or Twitter’s servers. The photos are not intended to be printed out. So these companies automatically downsample all photographs that are uploaded to their sites.

What can you do if a client sends you an image they downloaded off of a social media site? If you want to print it out, not much. However, you may be able to get a better digital image if you get a screen capture of it.

2. Take a screen capture of a digital photograph.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter display user-generated photographs in many ways. Sometimes images are embedded into a tweet; sometimes you can click and see the image by itself. Try to find a way to view the photo as large as possible on your computer screen. Get it as large as you can on the screen, and then take a screen capture of it by doing the following…

Taking a screen capture with a Mac:

  1. Press Command and Shift and 4 together
  2. Move the crosshair pointer to where you want to start the screenshot
  3. Drag to select an area
  4. When you’ve selected the area you want, release your mouse or trackpad button
  5. Find the screenshot as a .png file on your desktop
  6. Open the file in GIMP
  7. <Image <Scale Image
  8. Try to see if you can resize this lo-res image into a hi res one. If your image is larger in width and height than what you need, increase the x and y resolution (see step 4 from the above section about resizing).

Taking a screen capture with a PC:

  1. Press the Print Scrn button
  2. Open Gimp
  3. <File <Create from Clipboard
  4. Crop down the image to the photograph you want by going to <Tools <Transform Tools and selecting theCrop tool
  5. Drag to select the photograph only
  6. Hit the Enter button on your keyboard
  7. <Image <Scale Image
  8. Try to see if you can resize this lo-res image into a hi res one. If your image is larger in width and height than what you need, increase the x and y resolution (see step 4 from the above section about resizing).

Conclusion

Whether printed or projected, lawyers will probably use photographs in litigation. It’s crucial for lawyers to understand how to use them correctly and effectively.

Understand that resolution varies depending upon where these photographs will be used. Print photographs require a higher resolution setting than digitally displayed photos. But sometimes, if a lo res digital image is large in width and height, it can be resized to be a hi res image.

Resizing a photo allows for an increase in the resolution while decreasing the overall width and height of the photo. So litigators can have both an in-focus digital image and an in-focus (albeit smaller in width and height) printed image.

But if you can’t resize a digital image, try to view it as large as possible on your screen and take a screen capture of it.

These are some solutions to address working with lo res digital images. Sometimes, though, no workaround helps. In that case, hope for a courtroom that is wired so you can present the digital images to the jurors or judge on a screen.

Jurors and the Seriousness of Googling or Facebooking During Trial

A re-post of my article originally posted at

http://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2015/10/jurors-and-the-seriousness-of-googling-or-facebooking-during-trial/

Thank you ABA for this wonderful opportunity to publish with you!

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Many articles (e.g. William Bell, Daniel. “Juror Misconduct and the Internet,” American Journal of Criminal Law, 2010) and opinions (e.g. U.S. v. Fumo, 655 F.3d 288 [2011] opinion by Judge Richard Lowell Nygaard) have been written about the potential for juror misconduct when a juror posts information to their social media account or uses the Internet to “research” information about a trial.

Why does this topic seem to be increasing in frequency? And what role does technology play within these actions of misconduct?

Juror misconduct can take many forms, including:

Communication by the juror with those outside of the trial.

Gone are the days of communicating to others without the use of technology. Be it chatting on the phone, texting, posting to social media sites, using mobile apps… the channels of communication have undoubtedly changed. The majority of teenagers, who are early adopters of communication technologies, have made new friends online. Social media sites are the most common way to connect with these friends. So it not unrealistic to think that a juror’s preferred method of communicating to his (600 Facebook) friends is to post a message on his or her private Facebook page.

When the jury member brings outside evidence into the trial that they have found themselves, and this evidence had not been allowed into the trial by the judge or lawyers.

There are many legal ways to suppress information (motions in limine, motions to suppress, the prejudice/probative balancing test, objections, etc.). If a juror does “research” by way of Googling information, these suppression methods potentially become boondoggles.

For example, a juror may Google a defendant’s name in a criminal trial and find evidence of past crimes that might not have come into the current trial. Maybe the defendant was not going to testify or the judge would have barred the prosecutor of using evidence of a prior conviction to prove a defendant’s guilt or tendency to commit crimes. Either way, the juror, not the judge, has determined the admissibility of the evidence and may use this to presume that the defendant of a current trial is guilty.

On another note, we are living in an age where potentially any person can have an electronic platform to not only express their viewpoints but also solicit praise for them. Most news websites allow readers to vote for comments. Reddit allows users to vote up or down a story, and the most popular stories then get listed on the site’s homepage. This is a modern way to win a popularity contest that thrives on drama. If a story is dramatic or shocking in some way, it becomes more visible with the up votes, links, and shares.

So when a juror posts his or her news about a trial, they could be seeking praise and attention from their 600 Facebook friends. And, in what has been shown already, either the juror will ask for the friends’ advice or the friends will voluntarily advise the juror how to proceed in the trial.

In many ways, the trial process of barring jurors from posting trial information online or Googling information now runs counter to how jurors live.

Jurors may be not be able to stop themselves from going online.

Although the United States has not formally recognized internet addiction as a mental illness, there is a growing concern that Internet usage can be a more than a social problem. Currently, 85% of Americans go online. A study that was conducted in 2004 by Pew also found that 64% of Internet users say their daily routines and activities would be affected if they could no longer use the Internet, and older people are more likely than younger Internet users to go online to interact socially.

Although this data is a bit dated, it suggests that breaking jurors of the daily habit of going online and refraining from posting or searching may be akin to putting them through digital detox.  It is an upwards battle.

There now exists a constant flow of information that is easily available.

In fact, people pride themselves when they find something out online. The word “Google” has become a verb, and it seems expected that people Google each other as a first-resort, not last-resort. Additionally, new movements (aka medical-patient-to-medical-patient forums) center on the discovering of on-line information and the digital connectivity between people.

So jurors may bring to a trial their existing mindset that Googling is only a good thing.

The gatekeepers of information have changed.

Compared to the past, the number of gatekeepers (individuals who controlled the flow of news stories) who provided information to others has exploded. Social media sites are increasingly being used to view content that is considered “news”, but without the traditional news anchors as the sole disseminators of the content. And distrust for the talking heads (ala Brian Williams) has further eroded the confidence of collecting news from only one source.

Judges and attorneys may be telling the jurors that their current method of news intake is not what is accepted in a court of law. It’s back to the single gatekeeper days, where the judge and the lawyers are the only disseminators of information. So jurors may not understand why this seemingly antiquated method is so important in the trial environment.

What should be done about this?

In 2011, Judge Nygaard wrote an opinion suggesting possible ways to stop juror misconduct. These included fining jurors, holding them in contempt, increasing the frequency of jury instructions, and screening out potential jurors during the voir dire process based upon their social media habits.

In 2012, the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee updated their model jury instructions (posted as a downloadable pdf hyperlink within this page) to try to deter juror use of social media during a trial.

We suggest revising these instructions again and clearly, succinctly, explain why jurors are being ordered to refrain from activities in which they might normally engage.

For example:

I order you to decide the case only on the evidence presented at this trial.

The reason is because the information from outside sources, both online and offline, might be wrong, incomplete, or inaccurate.

I order you not to talk with anyone, other than your fellow jurors during deliberations, about this trial.

The reason is because other people, whether they are talking to you in person or are an online friend, could bias your thinking.

As academics, we suggest an educational approach. Lawyers and judges can learn more about the ways jurors routinely communicate and the reasons for doing so. Jury instructions could then be written in a way to address these underlying practices and subsequently explain to the jurors the importance of adhering to the established system used in trials.

 

Facing a divorce or child custody battle? There’s a forum for that!

A friend of mine told me she’s going through a hostile custody battle. Actually, she e-mailed this to a group of friends and family in a veryyyy long email.

Given my experiences of having gone through a lengthy custody battle, the quick reply I sent her was, “Go on-line and find a support group. Look for a forum so you can ask questions and get answers from others who have experienced what you may soon face.”

On the NEGATIVE side…

Divorce and custody battles/resolutions/terminations/lawsuits …whatever you want to call it… can be one of the scariest experiences people face. It can lead to depression. Anger. It can be the lowest point in your life.

And just we you thought things couldn’t get any worse, they probably do.

On the POSITIVE side…

You are not alone. Whether you are divorcing and have kids, or have never married and have kids, there are a whole lot of people who have probably gone through what you are going to go through.

So what this means is… you have already a support network. Hurrah!

Forums

Forums can connect similarly situated people.

BUT, it may not be the people who are in your immediate circle or those who you already lean on for support.

Why? Because everyone experiences different things on their legal journey. Your current close friends may start to resent your communications. Perhaps they think you are whining. Others may give you advice like, “Just get over this, already. I did.” (Whether or not that is true is a different story.)

My point is, you are not limited to the physical people around you or your current on-line friends. You are entering a new world, and therefore you can develop/join/create a new circle of supporters.

Google “divorce forums”, “custody support groups”, “single mom forums”, “single dad forums”, etc. Whatever you are looking for, there probably is a forum for it. Forums are sites where similarly-situated people can connect online.

There are various ways to learn things on forums. You can post a question and receive responses. Or, you can simply read other people’s postings.

Sometimes you can message or e-mail other forum members directly. Sometimes forum members use their real names. Often times they are nonsensical names. It really does not matter. What you are looking for is the relevant content. You are looking for answers.

Forums connect people in other serious situations too. Medical patient-to-medical patient forums tend to pick up where the doctor left off and have spawned a movement to let patients help! Caregiver forums provide support for those who support others. Technical forums from people using a product often replace company service manuals. The hard part is finding the forum that works for you.

If you do not know how to use forums, ask someone for help. Have someone sitting next to you who can walk you through a forum site is extremely helpful if you’ve never experienced these sites before.

Try to find an active forum. How often do people respond to posts? What is the overall tone of the posts and replies? These can range from positive-focused through venting-type outlets.  What, exactly are you looking for? Chances are, you’ll find it in an online forum!

The beauty of forums is that you can connect to people who will support you when you need it the most. And now is the time to reach out because, ultimately, divorce and custody battles involve you AND your children. You don’t have the option of NOT involving them.

Re-stated without the double negatives = your children are involved in this matter, too.

Being a parent is the hardest job in the world.

Being a parent who is undergoing family law battles is… well… it’s something you now have to do.

So find your new support network by using an online forum to help you through these times.

 

Are lawyers the only true experts on family law matters?

Like many Americans, I have gone through both a divorce and having to litigate family law issues in a court of law. I have spent enormous amounts of money hiring lawyers to represent me, and have often represented myself.

Unlike most Americans, while I was going through the litigation, I decided to enter law school. So my approach to family law is also intersected with my academic life of being a PhD in Technology. Yes, I like to learn. That is obvious. And it is upon this nexus of real-world experiences/law student/academic that I’ve started blogging.

Recently, I pitched an idea to a legal website about the potential use by family law attorneys of the Ashley Madison data dump. My idea was quickly rejected; I was told that I could not write about substantive law because I was too junior of a lawyer. I found this humorous because I’m not yet a lawyer at all! However, this dismissal was telling.

Do lawyers really believe that only other senior lawyers are qualified as experts in family law?

Are lawyers the only experts of family law?

Are lawyers the only experts of family law?

I beg to differ. First and foremost, a JD or bar-passage does not make anyone an automatic and well-rounded expert in every legal sense. Many lawyers I know believe the degree means you’re ready to start practicing law. It’s the same thing in many colleges… students learn the most after they receive the degree.

Secondly, being dragged through litigation almost forces a party to compile and acquire legal knowledge.  My knees were skinned with the “real world” applications and twists of the family law courts. And I was able to see the disconnection between what I was experiencing within the courts as compared to the beautiful theory of the law. Law school taught me the law and what the ideal process should be. My experiences as a defendant taught me the applications and realities. Additionally, most of my law professors would answer my questions with, “Family law has its own rules”, which gave me the impression that this area of law truly needs people who have practical experiences gained in more ways than by being the attorney of record.

On that same note, the fact is that many people are litigating without the assistance or representation of legal counsel. It’s incredibly expensive to be involved in a lawsuit. A surprising fact is that 2/3rds of California family law cases are filed by a self-represented litigant! So whether it is by choice or by default, people going through the system are learning in a way that is experiential.

Additionally, the State of Washington has started a program where, surely, these non-lawyers will claim expertise in family law matters!

Some lawyers are taking note of these changes and reacting in a flexible way. They may be offering non-traditional services like limited scope representation (ala Julie Tolek) or teaching people how to represent themselves without an attorney (ala Jason Levoy)

Based upon my experiences, the changing fee structures offered by flexible attorneys, and the emerging programs to license non-lawyers in the area of family law, I think that the belief that senior attorneys are the only family law experts is, well, antiquated. We become experts in various ways.

How might family law attorneys use the Ashley Madison data?

If you’ve been following the coverage of the Ashley Madison data dump, you may have read the stories about the expected surge of traffic to a divorce attorney’s office. It is anticipated that prospective clients who find that their spouse’s e-mail or name is within the database may contact a divorce attorney. Of course we would hope that it is not this simple trigger that would lead a client to contact attorney… that there are additional facts/evidence/suspicion of marital problems.

However IF that is the case, the next question is, how might a family law attorney use the information found on the Ashley Madison data dump?

Ashley Madison data

How might the Ashley Madison data be used in a family law dispute?

1. Attorneys should verify that the information is indeed connected to the person of interest.

One big disclaimer to all of the reporting of the Ashley Madison breach and database posting is that the e-mails in the database may have been hijacked, in a way. The site does not validate e-mails when accounts are created. So, in theory, anyone can create an account with another person’s email.

The other information posted in the dump includes full names, addresses, telephone, partial credit card numbers and physical descriptions including height and weight. It also includes the profile write-ups. All of these could be reviewed by the client to see if (most likely) she sees a similarity to what her spouse would post, or where they live, or if he has a telephone number that matches, etc.

2. Attorneys will want to search for additional evidence of the affair by reviewing other dating sites. The Ashley Madison data dump includes names. Of course, if a user used his true name, this is a relevant find. However, users who created false names could also be informative.

Although Ashley Madison is (by now, most certainly) the most famous salacious website, there are other websites a person could use to arrange an affair. Adult FriendFinder, who had their own database hacked into in March, 2015, is direct: Sign-up now and start hooking up tonight, they post on their home page. Okcupid lets a member search by “Covert Affairs”, and Craigslist allows posters to set their posting category to a “Casual Encounter”.

A family law attorney might find that the husband has additional postings on these other sites under the same handle/user name or with the same written description.

If an attorney can find additional profiles on other sites, the validity of the user being the one who posted on the Ashley Madison site becomes stronger.

3. Allegations or proof of an extramarital affair could be used to argue for sole custody of a child.

Like many other states, Michigan is a ‘no fault’ divorce state. This means that residents can establish a divorce without having to establish that the other party did something wrong. So although an affair is one reason a party may ask for a divorce, this reason will not be considered by the courts for granting a divorce.

However, proof of an extramarital affair could be used in determining the custodial arrangements of the divorcing parties.  In Michigan, we have what are called the “Best Interest Factors”. These are used to help make determinations of custodial arrangements between divorcing parents and their children. Factor F is the moral fitness of the parties involved. A family law attorney could most certainly use evidence of an extra-marital affair to argue against the cheating spouse receiving joint custody.

4. Allegations or proof of an extramarital affair could be used to argue for an increased amount of alimony and the division of the marital estate.

Similar to the Best Interest Factors, courts have factors to consider when dividing marital property and awarding spousal support. When dividing the marital property, one factor is the cause for the divorce, including fault in the breakdown of the marriage. When awarding spousal support, two factors are past relations and conduct of the parties and a spouse’s fault in causing the divorce.

In conclusion, evidence of an e-mail being listed in a database that contained information from the past seven years is probably not enough to completely sway a judge in a family law matter. But if the family law attorney leverages this information and builds additional evidence against the opposing party, this could be something included when arguing the big-ticket items within divorce matters.

Are appellate court rulings helping most of the people in family law matters?

As Joshua Lenon, Go Clio’s lawyer-in-residence tweeted recently, 2/3 of California family law cases are filed by a self-represented litigant.

With that in mind, I wonder how many of the 1/3 who can afford representation at the trial level can also afford to file an appeal to their suits!

As a law student, I have learned that we only read appellate cases because they have written legal opinions.

As someone who has been a defendant in a multi-year family law dispute, I know the thousands of dollars it costs to being a defendant in trial. And that is just for trying a case at the lowest level without continual representation by a lawyer.

The majority of all civil litigation happens at the trial level, yet these rulings are minimally studied by law students. We focus on the reasoning made by the higher-level courts.

With this in mind, I’ve often wondered, how representative are the appellate level cases of the trial level suits? Is the issue being appealed a common one? Or is it a problem that only wealthy people face? (This is assuming that those 2/3rds of self-represented folks are not the one filing appeals, of course.)

As an academic, I’ve used the term “generalizability”. It’s a made-up term and certainly sounds impressive, right? A good definition is here, which is “the extension of research findings and conclusions from a study conducted on a sample population to the population at large”.

Simply stated- how relevant is your research to everyday people?

Now if we apply that concept to my questions from above… one could ask, “How generalizable are the corrections made by the appellate courts to the larger population who litigates family law cases at the trial level only and who most commonly litigates without the help of legal counsel?”

Let’s “plain language” that question…

How generalizable are the opinions of the appellate courts?

How generalizable are the opinions of the appellate courts?

Are appellate court rulings really helping most of the people who are suing over family law matters?

If an appellate court is a corrective court, then they are there to correct the mistakes made by the lower courts. My concern is not with this process (and I’m thankful for it!), but with the generalizability of the their correcting rulings and if they predominantly apply to issues that most people may face within the world of family law litigation.

What do the best lawyers and professors have in common?

What do the best lawyers and professors have in common? They’re expert communicators.

My education and degrees include a Doctorate of Philosophy in Technology (a PhD in Technology) and an expected Doctor of Jurisprudence in the law (a JD) next year.

The profession that has recently shown me the most enthusiasm regarding this combination is the legal profession.

But I am drawing upon my experiences as a professor when I have written for legal outlets about spotting manipulation of digital photographs, audio recording by patients of their medical visits, and the overall need for workshops aimed at advancing lawyers’ software skills.

What I have also realized is that the common thread between what the best litigators do and what the best teachers do is efficiently and effectively communicate to their audience. The lawyers communicate to the jury (or judge, in the case of a bench trial). Professors communicate/teach to their students.

And I teach my students about visual communication. I communicate about communication! My students learn how to make logos, manipulate images, create newsletters.. basic graphic design. I have even begun to teach about 3d printing! Simply put, I teach how to create visual things because we communicate with visual symbols.

Now lawyers are undoubtedly trained in the art of written communication. But they need to be able to communicate to a jury, which is comprised of the general public. And, unlike lawyers, the general public prefers to learn visually, so they mainly want to see evidence rather than hear it.

This has led to the surge in the use of trial evidence of photographs, videos, audio recordings, etc. Given the abundance of visual images posted online, or captured by smart phones, lawyers need to become tech-savvy if they are not using communication technologies already. But I am not throwing shade or pointing fingers at anyone… heck, two years ago, it was revealed that the SCOTUS judges are not that technologically sophisticated. But technological competence is really a skill set that needs to be developed and can be through simple use of the devices and websites. (And if you don’t know how to work a device, give it to a toddler. Seriously, my 2-year old daughter can work my iPhone. And that kind-of terrifies me.)

Lawyers also need to learn how to capture digital evidence, optimize it for presentation in either a printout or a digital projection in front of jurors, or they need to hire people that have these skills (Lawyers, I’d like you to meet graphic designers. Graphic designers, I’d like you to meet lawyers).

Other than the fact that jurors are visual learners, why is using a photograph, or audio recording, or video, so powerful? Because it is hard evidence. It is not someone telling you something; the lawyer is not just telling the jurors, “This is how I think you should rule,” and arguing their side. The lawyer is presenting an audio recording on top of this “I-think-you-should-rule-this-way” method, which allows the jurors to better make up their own minds.

For example, audio recordings have not only the spoken words, but the speed at which the words are said, the tone/volume/pitch, etc. that are communication signals to better convey the true intention of the speaker.

Photos and videos are so powerful at present… Just look at the reactions that happen when they are posted online. The numerous postings of police/public confrontations, like posting a video online, has led to serious offline actions.

So back to the juror, a member of the general public…they will be empowered to draw their own conclusions at trial based on what they see or hear when they see a photograph, when they hear a recording, or when they see and hear content presented in a video. Wouldn’t that make their decision much stronger?

That’s the intersection of law and technology that excites me. Because it is about communication. And I teach about one very powerful type of communication.

Frustrations when Entering the 3d Printing Market

It has taken me a while to jump into the 3d printing process, although I’m doing so with both feet. However, I am a bit amazed at the frustrations that I’ve encountered thus far:

1. MakerGeeks sent me the wrong 3d printer. Twice! Although they claimed it was an unusual error- it happened to me. TWICE. I wanted to support a smaller company but eventually just bought the Flashforge Creator Pro off of Amazon. Shipping was wicked fast (a few days) although the price was slightly higher. Sorry MakerGeeks, but I’m not endorsing you to others.

3d printer

The Flashforge Creator Pro 3d printer.

2. Setting up the Flashforge Creator Pro has been challenging. The Creator Pro is a much cheaper 3d printer than its more well-known competitor, Makerbot’s Replicator 2. But after reading this incredibly helpful Amazon customer review, I decided that the Creator Pro was the way to go. (Plus, the university I work at was having problems with their 3 Makerbots’ extruder heads…something that seems to be quite common, based upon what I’ve read online.)

One of the major advantages to Makerbot is the customer service and large user base. Flashforge does not have as large a customer base, and when I unpacked the printer (which was truly packed well, as many have commented upon), there was no instruction manual. Call me old fashion, but I’d like to have a printout of this.

So I had to go online and do some searching to find forums, videos, posts, etc. to help me along. There were many, and I will post the ones I found most helpful at a later date. But this was definitely something that has slowed my 3d printing process down.

3. One of the advantages of the Creator Pro is that I, supposedly, can purchase and use any filaments. In contrast, with Makerbots, if you don’t use their proprietory filament (which is, naturally, higher priced), you void their printer’s warranty. So I’ve been searching for all of the delicious filaments I could find. I wanted to start with the basic plastic (ABS and PLA- see my Dictionary page for definitions of these), so I, again, went with MakerGeeks because they extrude their own filament. Problem #2, or shall I say, #3, with them.

The filament spool from MakerGeeks is sized wrong for my Flashforge Creator Pro  printer.

The filament spool from MakerGeeks is sized wrong for my Flashforge Creator Pro printer.

The filament spool I received from MakerGeeks does not fit the Flashforge Creator Pro’s filament spool holder! UGH!!!! The photo I posted of it shows the filament spool holder that I jammed into the spool, which was not a smart thing to do on my part because the spool is supposed to move freely. (Like a spool of thread on a sewing machine does… and no, I did not take home ec in high school. I took shop class. Does this surprise anyone?)

Thankfully, I have two filaments and their original holders that Flashforge sent me when I purchased the Creator Pro. But man, oh man, this is yet another bump in the road.

With these problems behind me, I am now set to 3d print this weekend. My kids (2 and 5 years old) have been nagging me to print things for them. Isn’t that wonderful? They have accepted this microwave-sized, new technological device as normal already.

Wish me luck!

Rural living means slower Internet connection speeds

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, about 20% of the population lives in rural areas. While that does not seem like a lot in terms of percentages, it’s about 59 million people.

I am one of those 59 million people.

Rural home

While this may be an example of an extreme rural homestead, 20% of the U.S. population lives in rural environments.

I am writing this post because I am also a person who does not have a fast Internet connection speed at home because of where I live.

So what does this mean?

Answer # 1: CLOUD-BASED SOFTWARE IS NOT FOR PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN RURAL AREAS.

Yes, I did mean to shout that because all to often, many people forget that what works well in an urban, or even suburban environment is impossible to do in a rural location.

In the case of cloud-based software, we probably can’t do it because we don’t have a fast connection. Personally, I’m avoiding upgrading my Adobe Photoshop 6 (and that’s 6, not CS 6) to anything that is a newer version because they are cloud-based.

I want the software that I have to install on my computer.

I do NOT want the software or services that make me connect to the Internet to use them.

Speaking of connecting to the Internet…

Answer #2: WE WHO LIVE IN RURAL AREAS WILL NOT WATCH LARGE VIDEOS OR USE STREAMING VIDEO SERVICES LIKE HULU.

Either we can’t get fast Internet connections or we can’t afford the ones that may be offered to us because they are so high-priced. If we rural folk have smart phones (and we do), why can’t we just use our smart phones to connect to the Internet or tether our computers to our phones and use this as a way to connect to the Internet?

Well we can, but now we are using our precious data minutes so we avoid anything that will cause us to go over our monthly limits.

So contrary to what is being advertised on TV by the cellular carriers, we are probably not watching TV on our phones. And this is assuming that we are even able to watch a video without the circle-of-death loading experience that assaults use when we try to even load the videos.

How long do you stay on a page when this happens?

How long do you stay on a page when this happens?

But isn’t the U.S. one of the top countries where we citizens have high speed Internet access? No. Shocking to some, but no.

Not only does the U.S. not have the fastest Internet connection speeds, but we also do not have the most people using high speed internet (on this link, look at the excel spreadsheets you can download under “Time Series by Country”).

Answer #3:

IT’S NOT NECESSARILY OUR FAULT THAT WE WHO LIVE IN RURAL AREAS DO NOT HAVE FAST INTERNET CONNECTION SPEED

In 2010, Finland law made it a legal right to have high speed internet for it’s entire populate. That was just amazing, I thought. And then I read that Finland had a population of 5.2 million and is about the size of Michigan (with our upper and lower peninsulas, of course).

Compare that to the U.S. and realize the facts are that:

1. The U.S. is physically large in size

2. 57 million of us live in rural locations

3. And of those that live in rural locations, many of us do not have high speed Internet access.

So please, when you read about all of the news of cloud-based this, or video that, or even the Internet of Things, understand that we rural inhabitants are excited by these developments, but they may just not be possible for us to use.

And now I must end this post because that animated gif I included above has enraged me fully.