Legal Research Blog


Windows 8 at a Glance

Photo Credit: Gene Hunt

Wait, did you say Tiles? Yep, Microsoft unveiled a working prototype of its next generation Windows 8 operating system that comes complete with—tiles. The new operating system out of Redmond changes what consumers have come to expect in the traditional desktop computing environment. Instead, Microsoft has borrowed heavily from elements found in their mobile applications line, specifically, from their much maligned Zune Mp3 players and freshly minted Windows Phone 7 operating system. The interface breaks up multiple applications into the so-called tiles that are then displayed in a format that is optimized for touch-sensitive displays. All is not forever changed though, there is an option for technophobes to remain with a marginally updated version of the Windows desktop that you may or may not be reading this blog on right now. All in all the initial reaction seems to be a rather intrigued one from members of the tech community, but the ultimate conclusion seems a few months away as a launch date has yet to appear.

Somebody Doesn’t Know What They’re Talking About

Your smart phone is awesome, we know. It seems like everyday day there’s a new app that lets you keep your eyes glued to that screen in your pocket no bigger than an index card.  But what if your smart phone has been deceiving you? An article by David Segal of the NY Times notes the increasing number of businesses that are falsely reported as closed on Google Maps. When you consider how easy it is for a hungry smartphone user to browse between the vast assortment of food and service options listed in a Google search any small inconvenience threatening to push a customer away, such as the possibility of being closed, is serious business.  As of now, the problem is limited to small businesses that are the target of, presumably, other competing small businesses. However, one does wonder how quickly the problem could get out of control. While services such as Google Maps and Yelp have become an increasingly popular way of picking a restaurant or hotel the problem must be reined in now before the reputation of these services crumble.  If the situation doesn’t improve soon people may begin to look for good places to eat the old fashioned way—trial and error.

My Great Web page

Online Privacy Takes Another Hit

Photo Credit Alan Cleaver

“The cultural changes wrought by the Internet are not yet done, because our understanding as a society of exactly what information is on the Internet is not complete” says Kevin Gold of Slate magazine. What if all the Facebook privacy settings in the world couldn’t stop someone from prying into the details of your life which aren’t even written down, never mind posted on Facebook for the world to see?  Kevin Gold’s recent article explores how simple statistical analysis can reveal more than a typical Facebook user would care to actively share in their own profile. While you may not feel comfortable sharing sensitive aspects of your personal life some of your friends might not mind, if only indirectly. A study out of Northeastern University, “has shown that it takes only a 20 percent participation rate among college students in filling out profile information to deduce facts—such as major, year, and dorm—about the nonresponders who simply friended others.” When you consider the similarities between those who you associate with it’s not surprising that researchers can deduce an uncomfortable amount of information about one person simply by learning about their digital peers.  This fact has even made some give up on the notion of privacy all together.  The choice seems reasonable especially when we consider the alternative of living with the headaches or dropping the digital social lifestyle all together.

Don’t relax just yet, with our increased visual presence online there exists another opportunity to unknowingly pass along private information. Research by Ming-Zher Poh, Daniel J. Mcdug, and Rosalind Picard found that pulse information can be taken from a basic webcam.  This technology would theoretically allow a savvy individual to deduce one’s mental and/or emotional state by simply analyzing a grainy headshot. Well, I guess it’s time to start working on that poker face.

Emergency Preparedness Goes Viral

Forget about the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC), the U.S. Geological Survey, and for that matter, the animals at the Smithsonian National Zoo. In the wake of the East Coast earthquake and as we wait for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, we have turned to social media for answers and to share our personal experiences with the world. The value of social media has been rising for some time with even the naysayers starting to get on board. This summer we have seen the true value of social media, Twitter in particular, come to life with communication about natural disasters. While cell phones refused to send messages or make calls for many following the rare quake in Virginia on Tuesday, there seemed to be little issue connecting to Twitter, Facebook, and the like. Reuters reported that in the minute following the earthquake, 40,000 tweets were released in relation to the occurrence. If you’re anything like me, it took you a few minutes longer to tweet yourself as you first checked your local meteorologist’s account to see if that strange rumbling was indeed an earthquake.

Of even greater value is the ability to receive apt warning for anticipated natural disasters. With Hurricane Irene threatening the Eastern Seaboard over the next several days, meterologists, politicians, and government agencies are all turning to their social media accounts, more aware now than ever that this is perhaps the most effective way to reach the masses. In an effort to make foresight as close to 20/20 as possible, FEMA has created a public list on Twitter that allows you to simultaneously follow a variety of resources from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the American Red Cross.  So maybe don’t “forget” about the anyone in the future but instead, find, follow, and get prepared.

Algorithms: The New “Terminator”?

Our friends at Rocket Matter brought our attention to an interesting story about the future of algorithms. Ah yes, the algorithm.  Defined by Merriam-Webster quite simply as “a procedure for solving a mathematical problem…in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation”, algorithms are purportedly the very phenomenon that may lead to that often repeated Sci-Fi movie scene when humans realize they are no longer in control of their surroundings. The BBC reported this week that algorithms have taken over a tremendous amount of work that humans used to do on their own, and we don’t even know it. From search engines of all kinds (yes, even Fastcase uses algorithms) to social networking capabilities, stock market transactions to daily household chores, algorithms determine a great deal of our day to day functionality.

photo credit to Bsivad

Seeing as the average person has probably never given algorithms a second thought, experts in the field are concerned that this lack of awareness can and already has led to some problems. While many speculate over the possibilities of more major catastrophes, stock market crashes, hackers obtaining access to personal data, etc., perhaps even more disturbing is the shift in human reliance.

Psychologists have launched studies showing that our brains have stopped remembering things because they know we can get access to the information easily elsewhere. Whether it’s a quick definition that you Google (guilty, see definition above), or directions to dinner, humans are relying less on their own knowledge and more on the artificial knowledge handed to them. It seems unlikely that “Revenge of the Algorithms” will hit theaters anytime soon – although they could easily predict box office success – but it’s an interesting thought.