opinions, everybody's got one...
Saturday, April 06, 2002
the story behind the National Cancer Institute's usability web site
A few short months ago, I remember being pointed in the direction of usability.gov. If you design web sites, and haven't seen this site from the National Cancer Institute, you owe yourself a visit to their pages. It's an excellent resource on making web sites more usable for their visitors.
How does such a web site fall into the mandate of an organization that is geared towards fighting cancer?
Some of the explanation for that question lies in looking more fully at their mandate, and origin. Part of their mission is making certain that communication between government and private medical facilities happens.
Given these questions, we began testing the site, an experience that furthered the need to develop a formal way to collect and share our knowledge for future reference. We conducted user tests with doctors, medical librarians, cancer patients, researchers, and others who we expected would be regular visitors. What we learned from testing was as surprising as what we learned from our questionnaire and interviews: some icons were not clearly clickable, many links were confusing, our terminology did not match our users?, and core information appeared to be buried or lost within the site. These were not mere glitches, but conceptual and foundational challenges that needed to be addressed.Sharing the information that they learned by testing and research helped other web sites which focus on fighting cancer.
Their site received such positive responses that it was made accessible to the public.
the jukebox cabal
1962 was a very different time. People didn't have the concerns we do today about copyright, and licensing, and technology. Or did they? The Atlantic Monthy is running some blast-from-the-past stories on their pages, including one about jukeboxes, and copyright:
This year, those who are supporting the change in the law have reason to be optimistic. Representative Emanuel Celler of New York has introduced a bill "to stop the legalized piracy of copyrighted music by the jukebox syndicate," and a vote will be taken at the current session of Congress. As for the Senate, its Judiciary Committee has already recommended a similar bill in a previous session. Supported both by the Sandburg group and by the public's growing awareness of underworld domination of the jukebox business, the current bill has an excellent chance of passing. If it does, the usually unsung songwriter will finally be able to give less thought to the nation's laws and more to its musical needs. Who knows? With added financial security, he may even write better songs.The evil of the jukebox sounds suspiciously like the evils of streaming radio and peer-to-peer filing sharing.
I'm firmly convinced that the music industry is missing out on a tremendous opportunity. Sales of cds can be triggered by wide spread distribution of songs over internet radio and file sharing. Just as a jukebox gave people a chance to hear new music, and the inspiration to buy a copy for their own personal enjoyment.
the power of the cell phone
Global positioning chips in each cell phone? Data harvesting regarding personal usage? Displays acting as mini-billboards? I've been holding off on getting a cell phone, but I know a lot of people who use them as if they were an extension of their bodies. An Alternet article asks, "Is your cell phone watching you?" Here's one quote from the article that had me thinking a little:
Pango sets up zones called "hot spots" within businesses or shopping malls. Hidden sensors can detect your phone or Palm Pilot, upon which the system hums into life, sending ads for merchandise you might be standing near and compiling data about your shopping habits: What stores have you visited? Did you linger near the wrinkle-free khakis or by the animatronic Hello Kitty display? Boxers or briefs?I think I'll hold off longer on getting a cell phone.
HP - Compaq joinder challenged
Walter Hewlett has squared off in Delaware Chancery Court to stop the proposed meger/acquisition. Delaware is frequently the arena for disputes involving major corporations.
Delaware's Chancery Court has developed a particular expertise in handling such matters in a predictable and efficient manner. Efficiency and predictability being key factors sought by business decision makers.
Friday, April 05, 2002
hotel for sale
It overlooks a junkyard, and swamp land, and has 40,000 square feet that possibly can't be used. It was ready to open in August of 2000, but wasn't allowed to be occupied because it was built with an extra floor, which wasn't included in the building permit application.
Questions surround how the hotel could have been built with the wrong blueprints. The developers claim that the county's refusal to allow it to open, or to allow them to somehow ameliorate the problem has caused the loss of millions of dollars. They've filed a lawsuit to attempt to regain some of their losses.
On Tuesday, the hotel had new owners. The developers tried a last attempt sale, which failed, and defaulted on a bankruptcy agreement. A Florida bank took over ownership as a result of the default.
For now, the hotel sits empty. With a new owner, the county might allow it to open.
Thursday, April 04, 2002
art and bravery
I was visiting Denise Howell's Blawg Bag and Baggage and a picture of a tiger captured my attention. Moving my cursor over it, I realized it was a link, which I followed.
It brought me to the web site of the artist, Thomas Pacheco. Thomas is seven, an artist, and has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
The web site's aim is to sell some of Thomas' art so that they can raise money for medical and related costs (most of which aren't covered by insurance), and to allow his family to spend some time with him as he fights this disease.
Thomas is a brave young man. Please, visit his site, and tell some friends about it.
Wednesday, April 03, 2002
A series of articles from Matt Labash of the Daily Standard looks at red light cameras, longer yellow lights, and speed limits, with some startling conclusions. If he is right, it's possible that everything we think we know about roadway safety is wrong. (via instapundit)
One of the classic pieces of scholarship on the second amendment is The Embarrassing Second Amendment, by Sanford Levinson, originally published in the Yale Law Review. It does a great job of weighing carefully whether the amendment allows either an individual's rights to gun ownership or a state's right to have a militia.
But, what really stands about the article is the methodology that Sanford Levinson uses to explore possible arguments under a constitutional provision:
My colleague Philip Bobbitt has, in his book Constitutional Fate,  spelled out six approaches -- or "modalities," as he terms them -- of constitutional argument. These approaches, he argues, comprise what might be termed our legal grammar. They are the rhetorical structures within which "law-talk" as a recognizable form of conversation is carried on. The six are as follows:The presentation that Sanford makes while showing how these arguments can be used provides a very helpful example for anyone wishing to debate an issue on constitutional grounds.
proportionality vs. voter rights---running debate
[The subject of the debate: two cases, dealing with the three strikes laws in California. The Supreme Court has decided to rule upon them. How will they rule? Why? How should they rule?]
The first thing the U.S. Supreme Court will have to tackle, when deciding the California cases (Lockyer v. Andrade, 01-1127, and Ewing v. California, 01-6978) is whether they will continue to follow Solem v. Helm (463 U.S. 277).
Under Solem, the Court stated that although the state legislatures [and presumably state voters] are afforded substantial deference, there is no state mandated sentence that is per se, constitutional. The Solem court ruled that the sentence for the triggering crime must be proportionate to that crime.
I anticipate that the first part of Bill's argument, and probably the meat of it, is that the Court should now follow Solem, and find that the California sentences are disproportionate and thus unconstitutional. I will go out on a limb and predict that this Court will decline to follow (overturn) Solem.
I think instead that the Court will uphold the California sentences and reiterate the language of Harmelin v. Michigan..." We conclude from this examination that Solem was simply wrong; the Eighth Amendment contains no pro-portionality guarantee."
If I am wrong, I doubt very seriously that the Court will declare California's statute unconstitutional, they would more likely just reverse those particular sentences.
If I am doubly wrong I will be picking crow feathers from my mustache for quite a while.
Tuesday, April 02, 2002
weight loss tax deductible?
The Internal Revenue Service will now allow participation in medically approved weight loss programs to qualify as medical expenses, eligible for tax deductions.
The deduction is retroactive to 1998, and amended tax returns from previous years can be filed to take advantage of this decision. There are limitations to what can be deducted. Medical expenses seem to be what the IRS is including as the costs covered under this interpretation of obesity as a disease.
Taxpayers have been able to deduct the costs of weight loss programs as a medical expense since 2000 only if they were recommended by a doctor to treat a specific disease. Obesity itself was not recognized by the IRS as an ailment that qualified for the weight loss expense deduction.Note that special dietary foods aren't deductible.
And if you haven't filed your taxes yet this year, you might want to take a peek at the IRS document on tax scams that they call: The ?Dirty Dozen', (pdf) which includes some good advice on how not to get taken.
The days to file are getting shorter. I have some forms to download....
international spam fighters
On the heels of an article in yesterday's LA Times entitled State Spam Laws Rarely Enforced comes news of a new initiative from the FTC, and a multistate task force.
The Times article pointed at Delaware's spam law as one of the toughest in the states, and noted that it had never been used in a criminal prosecution.
The federal government seems to be looking to address the difficulties that the states have been having locating spammers. Working with a number of states, and four Canadian agencies, this international netforce has started a serious effort to stem the rising tide of unsolicited commercial emails.
Partners in the International Netforce include the Alaska Attorney General, the Alaska State Troopers, the Alberta Government Services, the British Columbia Securities Commission, the British Columbia Solicitor General, Canada's Competition Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, the Idaho Attorney General, the Montana Department of Administration, the Oregon Department of Justice, the Washington Attorney General, the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, and the Wyoming Attorney General.It's good to see an international group working together on a problem that will probably only grow in magnitude.
Wired gives a good explaination of why the group has choosen now to take action:
Since the beginning of 1998, the FTC said people have forwarded 10 million spam messages to email@example.com, the address for the agency's junk e-mail database.While the ultimate solution to spam may require legislation, or some way of changing the way that the internet actually works, without an enforcement effort of some type, any legislation is doomed to fail.
If you've one of the regular readers of this blog, you may have noticed that there is more than one person contributing entries. I made an entry last night about a news article appearing in the LA Times which discussed habitual offender statutes (three strikes laws).
I didn't realize until this morning that Larry had made a response to my post, and had sent me an email with the subject line "Your Turn." I guess he took offense to my remark about opening season, and baseball. I didn't expand upon the baseball metaphor I pointed out. If I had, I would have said that criminal law is not a game, and using a baseball metaphor to sell a three strikes law to the public is a sham.
I sent an email to Larry telling him that his post was too long. Nobody wanted to read all of those statutes. If you haven't read the meat of his initial argument, skip past the statutes. It's there, or at least the beginning of an argument is there.
But, what I want to know is how is Delaware's law different from the California law, which seems to result in some pretty stiff sentences for some fairly harmless crimes? Shouldn't there be some level of proportionality between an offense and a sentence? Isn't there a means of receiving a similar result from a less expensive means of supervision? Wouldn't a lengthy term of probation for the third offense achieve the same result at a fraction of the cost? Can't the failure to rehabilitate be partially blamed upon the state?
So Larry, rather than present my arguments, how about if you anticipate them? Tell me what I might argue, and why it might be wrong. That's the gauntlet I'm laying down.
Monday, April 01, 2002
cumulative bonus territory
The "three strikes" statutes are commonly referred to by that phrase because of the frequency of the use of three offenses, but they also occur at various times as "two, three, four, or even ten strikes" in Delaware statutes. The enhanced penalties are not properly to be construed as the penalty for the second, third, fourth or tenth offense, but rather as a bonus sentence for the cumulative criminal efforts of the defendants. Or are they?
We see the two strike rule when juveniles commit their second felony level delinquent act within a year of their last one. This carries a minimum mandatory 6 month period of incarceration.
10 Del. C. § 1009. Adjudication; dispositionThe three and four strike rules can be seen in the adult criminal arena, and can result in life sentences or at least the maximum sentence available for the most recent crime.
11 Del. C. § 4214. Habitual criminal; life sentence.Take note that the drafters of the adult criminal laws took great care to make sure that the habitual offender statute would not interfere with one's opportunity to be executed for a crime, if appropriate. It is also interesting that all of these crimes need not have been committed within the State of Delaware. The defendant could have committed crimes number one and two in Nevada, for example, and then the triggering final crime in Delaware.
And driving related offenses can be seen to trigger their own civil, not criminal, three and ten strike events. Although most of the habitual bad driver statutes result in a lengthy revocation of a driver's license, and not life imprisonment.
On one hand, it can be seen that the bonus punishment under these statutes are relating back to the cumulative pattern of behavior.
But the dilemma becomes apparent in the logic when (or if) one considers that after a defendant has completed her sentence for crime number one, she has fully discharged her debt to society for that crime. When she completely serves out her time out for number two, she similarly has fully paid her dues.
But when she commits her third offense, even if minor in comparison, can the government retroactively go back and say that we are now adding a penalty for crimes number one and two? If not, then isn't a life sentence for stealing a postage stamp so outrageously disproportionate as to be unconstitutional? Does the fact that the defendant has had notice of the existence of these "three strike" rules all through her criminal career ease our concerns in that regard sufficiently?
For me it does. But that does not mean that I still don't have difficulty in the legal analysis of the problem. It just means that I don't feel sorry for career criminals. I live here too.
On opening day in the baseball season, the Supreme Court made an announcement that it will review an aspect of sentencing that takes its name from baseball.
The court agreed to hear appeals involving two California thieves sentenced to terms ranging from 25 years to life for small-time crimes that might otherwise have meant just a few months in jail.The three strikes laws, or habitual offender statutes, refer to the imposition of greater sentences for people who have been previously convicted of two felony charges, and who have had a chance to be "rehabilitated" by having time pass between each of the offenses and the punishments imposed for the prior convictions. While California's application of the three strikes laws are harsher than in other states, the Supreme Court's ruling could have an effect on a number of other states which have three strike laws, including Delaware.
If the Delaware Department of Transportation is serious about getting rid of many of the illegal signs that make their appearance along roadways in Delaware, maybe they should read about the investigative work performed by Rob at www.cockeyed.com.
It seems like 97% of the illegal signs in Sacramento, advertising "Work from Home" plans were put in place by people working for Herbal Life. Maybe a nice letter from the Secretary of Transportation to Herbal Life, asking them to remind their "independent distributors" not to post signs in places they aren't allowed would have some effect.