31 posts categorized "March 2011"

Bye Bye iPad

My buddy Joe showed me a sweet little notebook computer he bought for like two hundred bucks.

So I went out and got one for myself, in anticipation of the trip I'm now on. I'm writing this from 35,000 feet, at the location indicated on the map, using a spunky little HP Notebook that is all about having everything in the cloud. Even the Microsoft office software.

In flight mapThank God I gave up the traveling-with-an-iPad experiment. That requires too many workarounds, and in the end the iPad just won't do what you need it to do.

Writing this post is as stress-less as writing from a desktop computer. The iPad will let me into TypePad, but won't let me attach photos, won't let me into the html composer.

Chrome is making the dream of the netbook, connected to the cloud, actually work. That's because it's letting me leverage what I've set up on Chrome at work, plus home, plus everywhere else. So I can get into everywhere-I-go-from-anyplace, without the struggle of remembering user names and passwords.

My fingers are dancing! I think I must have been taken in with the iPad's form factor and gorgeous rendering of pictures. But it's a consumption device, it's not an engagement device. It's the new television.

I still need a PC to drive, and it's a joy to have one so small, so well connected.

Blog Design

The blog design that's standing out for me lately is Chris Dixon's.

Picture 38It's simple, which signals right away that it's about the content. There's no sizzle, the links are sotto voce, but the design supports the product Chris delivers.

I wouldn't call Chris a prose stylist, but he is a good expository writer. It's evident he does the hard thinking off-site, out of view. The blog presents his considered report on a given topic. It's as if he's come prepared, not presuming you want to watch him in the process of building his conclusions.

Picture 41I love the ragged text at both vertical borders of the frame, justified along a vertical rule. The layout reminds me of legal pads with the "down line" a good inch and a quarter in from the left edge of the paper. Of course you're going to scribble phrases in that margin, even as you fill the main field of the pad with the argument.

The color scheme is basically two tones against against a white page. And the links to other pages, or elsewhere, stack in cascading boxes as you move the cursor down the left margin.

But when you hover over the name of a post, a link declares itself in red. I like that alert. That's one way to enter the comment thread (Chris is blessed with good discussions; but then again, the topics he picks and the calls he makes invite and deserve comment). The design invites you to spend time with a post as a "thing," an event for deliberation, a space in which to gather your own thoughts.

Picture 40

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

In separate tweets recently, Evgeney Morozov and Tim Karr have posted links to a WSJ piece about how repressive regimes in the Mideast are using technology from US-based companies to block the Internet freedom of their populations.

Tim karr tweetIn Karr's tweet, especially, the implication seems to be, "look, this is a problem, corporations shouldn't be selling filtering software to governments."

I think we have to get way past the idea that corporations have moral obligations to anyone. Corporations simply need to obey the law.

Part of my reasoning is practical and out of a concern for the integrity of our democracy. To the extent corporations are encouraged to become political actors, it becomes harder to resist the coopting of US government by corporate interests. We have our own threats to democracy at home, and they include the (absurd) notions that corporation have First Amendment speech rights, and a legitimate right to participate in elections.

Furthermore, if corporations are saddled with the responsibility to vouch for the morality of the web filtering undertaken by their customers, they risk losing sales to competitors, and thereby arguably breaching duties to their shareholders. If the State Department truly wants sales to certain governments restricted, they need to lobby Congress to pass a law, so that the web filtering software firm has both (a) an obligation with which it can comply, and (b) cover for not pursuing sales where sales can be had.

Morozov tweet wsjThe truly morally culpable parties in all of this are the repressive regimes. That a government would use filtering software to suppress dissent is a strong indication that that government should be overthrown.

Notice that the WSJ piece points the way to the right solution. Once the Tunisian regime fell, it says, the Internet filtering that the government had been doing, stopped:

"Until recently, Tunisia had some of the most pervasive Internet filtering in the world, according to OpenNet. Then, a January popular revolt forced the resignation of the country's president—triggering the wave of protests that have spread across the Middle East."

"Tunisia has since pulled the plug on its Web-blocking gear."

The Patent Problem

On the GeekWire podcast a couple days back, Todd Bishop described the conflict between schools of thought on patents as a "religious war."

That's a good way to describe it.

Mousetrap patents

If bigger, operating companies with patent portfolios start to behave like patent trolls, the entrepreneur- and innovation-friendly position is going to swing decisively toward limiting the scope of patent rights, by raising the bar for getting one, by making infringement defenses easier, and/or by further standardizing compulsory royalty schemes.

On the other hand, the lone inventor in the garage is empowered by having a ready market for her patents, too.

One thing to be very suspicious of: extensions of patent protection that are lobbied for and paid by corporate interests. It is a travesty of democracy that copyright law was so easily perverted by large corporate interests. Patent law reform should look to go the other direction, and err on the side of the rebel.

"Early mouse patents. [Left to right;] Opposing track wheels by Englebart, 11/70, 3541541. Ball and wheel by Rider, 9/74, 3835464. Ball and two rollers with spring by Opocentsky, 10/76, 3987685".

Smartphones & Criminal Procedure

This post appeared first on GeekWire, under the title "Tech Law: When a phone is actually more like a footlocker." Reposted here with permission.

Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court decided it was OK for police to search the text messages on a cell phone taken from a person after his arrest.

Although the arresting officer did not have a warrant to search the contents of the cell phone, the Court said the search was "incident to a lawful custodial arrest" and therefore was allowed under the US Constitution.

The case is called The People v. Gregory Diaz, and part of what makes it important is that it was decided strictly on the grounds of US Supreme Court precedents interpreting the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of "unreasonable searches and seizures."

The court did us the favor of putting California law aside, but understanding even just the federal law here can be pretty tricky. Suffice to say that the basic framework is this: searches conducted without a warrant, issued by a judge, are prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, unless an exception established by Supreme Court cases applies. One of the exceptions is for searches "incident to a lawful arrest."

387px-Fotothek_df_pk_0000274_001As you might imagine, even within the world of this exception, additional cases turn on what may or may not count as "incidental" to a lawful arrest. The California court delves into that. Its Diaz decision discusses why, for example, other cases held that a cigarette pack and the clothes on an arrestee's back are "incidental," while a 200-pound, secured footlocker, placed in the trunk of a car at the scene of an arrest, is not.

The California high court decided that Diaz's cellphone was "incidental" because, like a cigarette pack or the clothes on his back, it was "immediately associated with his person." Had the court instead found the phone to be more like a footlocker, a piece of personal property that may have been handled at the scene of the arrest, then the search would have been legally defective. For it to be constitutional under US Supreme Court precedents, the warrantless search had to be "of the person," and not simply of a possession "within an arrestee's immediate control."

Different people will feel differently about the Diaz case, no doubt based on personal attitudes about criminal procedure and the proper scope for civil liberties. But there's one thing about this case that any gadget geek reading the opinion will spot immediately as a flaw in the court's reasoning: the whole time, the court assumes that the data being searched is saved to the memory of the phone. Even the dissenting Justice assumes, in a separate opinion, that the data in question is "stored" on the phone.

I put my iPhone into airplane mode after reading the opinion, to try to emulate what would, and wouldn't, be on my phone, should it be taken from me (and remain disconnected following!) that particular moment. My tweetstream stopped, of course. My text messages were still there. My mail inbox remained as it was when the phone was cut off; mail folders not replenished recently were empty. Maps were disabled. A lot of personal, confidential data remained in my phone's memory. But access to confidential documents, and real time updates to everything, were disabled.

Some educated guesswork here, but a lower court opinion states that Diaz was arrested in April of 2007. Wikipedia says the first iPhone was not released until June of that year. So Diaz didn't have an iPhone. I'll bet Diaz had a phone that let him make calls and send SMS text messages. Put it this way: even if four years ago Diaz had a phone with a web browser, the officer didn't need to look any farther than the text message folder to find the incriminating evidence he needed.

The really tough cell phone privacy case is going to come when someone is arrested and has his iPhone, Android phone, Blackberry, or WinPhone 7 seized and searched.

Will the savvy California police officer, taking the captured phone in hand to search, think of the Diaz case? If so, will she find it prudent to put the phone in airplane mode, shutting off the arrestee's window to the rest of his private world? Or will the officer go ahead and query the suspect's employer's mail servers, search FourSquare for recent checkins or friends nearby, open up Google Docs on a Google server somewhere and parse them for incriminating information?

When you think about the phone less as a storage device and more as a key or portal to all aspects of your life, barreling along without you and, for a moment at least, unaware that you may have been arrested (unless you can get that tweet in before the phone is taken from you!), then the full text of the Fourth Amendment reads somewhat differently:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Today's phone remains an extension of your person, to be sure, but it also virtualizes your "houses, papers, and effects."

The idea that personal data would be stored in the cloud, that the phone would be a real time means of connecting with all ongoing aspects of your life, and not simply a selective record of your tracks, floats past the court in the Diaz case. To my mind, the smartphone looks less like a cigarette pack and more like the magical footlocker (dropbox!) for one's multiple but personally-identifiable worlds.

Image: Deutsche Fotothek. Used under the Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.

Coda to the $5,000 Startup Lawyer Challenge: Don't DIY

Lawyers need to figure out what "standard" (in name) docs to actually make mandatory (in practice) for seed financings -- be they priced rounds or notes.

Ship_wreckMeantime, do-it-yourself casualties are sober reminders of what's at stake in the cause of keeping seed round fees in check.

Here's a mini-rant on DIY lawyering, part of my contribution to the comment thread in Fred Wilson's challenge post earlier this week:

I've never seen this work, not in 20 years of practicing law. Not once. In fact, the very best lawyers are likely to walk away from a company that has done too much "do it yourself" lawyering in an tech venture space because she knows it will cost way too much, no one will be happy in the process of fixing it. It can be done when the heat around the company merits it but in most cases you are casting yourself away to a desert island, I think, if you act as your own amateur lawyer. Some IP issues may never get fixed, not without going back and paying people who left the company months or years prior.

"Ship wreck" by Clipper via Wikimedia.

Dangerous Sex

Today's the day the "Dangerous Sex" question posts on the iPhone app, Angel Trivia Daily.

Angel-trivia-sexThe content of the question totally belongs to Dave McClure. I was happy to see he was a good sport about the Seattle Dudes' use of it, judging from his comment ("that Charlie Sheen[!]") on Erick Schonfeld's TechCrunch review.

My fellow Dude, Joe Wallin, and I are trying to strike an entertaining balance in the question topics. Some are hard core -- 409A was yesterday's -- and some are just trivia.

Joe and I have other interests, and our guru and general, Jason Thane of GeneralUI, has much bigger fish to fry (he never makes us feel that way, but I happen to know what else he's up to). So we're not out there marketing the app all day long as we might.

If you've got ideas, or know of an intern who would be good at managing @angeltrivia on Twitter or the Angel Trivia Daily page on Facebook, please let Joe or me know.

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