Monday, March 31, 2014

iPad Tips from the ABA Techshow

I just returned from the ABA Techshow in Chicago, where I got a brief look at the future of legal technology (as the vendors see it). I also saw a lot of cool technology and learned ways to use it in legal practice at the Techshow programs and workshops. One of the programs I attended focused on how to get the most out of your iPad. Here are a few of my favorite iPad tips from the program.

Split the iPad Keyboard to Thumb Type

Normally, the iPad keyboard fills the entire bottom of the screen. But it doesn't have to. If you press two fingers on the G and H keys and slide your fingers apart, the keyboard will split in two.


Hold the iPad with two hands in portrait mode, and the split keyboard is ideal for typing with your thumbs.


When you're ready to back to the regular keyboard, just reverse the process. Press two fingers on the G and H keys and pinch them together.

Enter a Number with One Motion

Entering a number with the iPad keyboard requires switching to the number and symbol keyboard. So typing a 5 (or any other number) requires three key presses. First the Number and Symbol key, then the 5 key, then the Letter key. The iPad lets you bypass all that pressing and perform the same three actions with a single motion.

Instead of pressing the Number and Symbol key and then pressing a number key, press the Number and Symbol key and slide your finger to your desired number. When you lift up your finger, the iPad will enter the number and automatically switch back to the letter keyboard.

Search Your Email with Siri

Anyone who has used Siri on an iPad or iPhone knows that it will search the Internet. But did you know that it will also search your email?

The process is simple. Press and hold the home button to access Siri, and then say "search emails for" and your search terms. Siri will bring up a list of all the emails on your device that contain your search terms. If you’d like to see a video of how to search for email using Siri, here is a good one from iOS Advice:



Save Google Maps Offline

If you want to view maps on your iPad while you are not connected to the Internet, you can save maps in the Google Maps app using its preload feature. While your iPad is connected to the Internet, go to the area you want to view offline in Google Maps. Once you're there, go to the search box and type "okay maps". The app will download the onscreen map to your iPad so you can view it offline. Google Maps downloads the complete map you're viewing--you can zoom in with as much detail as you would have if you were connected to the Internet. But you won't be able to view maps of the surrounding area. If you scroll outside of area that was onscreen when you preloaded the map, you'll see only a few details and won't see more by zooming in.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ask Dag!



International Law research questions can send those of us who do not handle them often into a tizzy. So my post for today highlights a website that may prove useful to you.

Ask Dag,” sponsored by the Librarians at the Dag Hammarskjold Library at the United Nations (UN), has been up and answering questions since December, 2012.  The UN Librarians will respond to any question as long as it is related to the thematic issues handled by the UN, historically or currently, such as Human Rights, Peace and Security Development, Humanitarian Affairs and International Law. Perusal of the site’s drop down menu that says “view all topics” gives you a taste of the broad range of issues that may be addressed.

But before presenting your question, check out the database of those previously asked – they range from the simple (what is the address of the UN) to the esoteric (where can I find the 1946 Gentleman’s Agreement regarding the equitable geographic representation in the Security Council). The turnaround time for a response is amazing – I was told that the Librarians respond to questions within the hour but of course, as you can see from the example above, some will require deeper digging and may “take a day or two.” That is admirably prompt.

I was curious about the volume of inquiries received by Ask Dag and was told that while the numbers fluctuate, they average about 100 a month. This number does not reflect the inquiries that the Librarians receive through more traditional e-mail channels. And if you have an inquiry that you would prefer not to appear in the “previously asked” section, the Librarians also handle “private questions.” As of the date of this posting, the Librarians have fielded at least 809 private questions.

Once you are on the Dag Hammarskjold Library website, take a minute to look at the research guides also available. There are guides on human rights, statistics, and women and gender equality to name just a few. And for those of you too young to remember, the Library is named after Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary-General of the UN from 1953 to 1961. He died in a plane crash in 1961 while on a UN peace-keeping mission and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace posthumously that same year. Curiously, investigation and controversy concerning the cause of the plane crash continue to this day.

Thanks to Lyonette Louis-Jacques for the pointer to this site, and Elizabeth Mwarage from the Dag Hammarskjold Library for her assistance with background information.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #15: Bloomberg Law

Bloomberg Law has released a new app (iOS and Android) to accompany its research platform (the app requires a Bloomberg Law account). As with the app's predecessor, Bloomberg Law Reports, Bloomberg chose to make a reader to supplement bloomberglaw.com, rather than a mobile version of the search platform. But this app takes advantage of Bloomberg Law's full catalog of resources, not just the Law Reports.

The Bloomberg Law app went with function over form compared to Bloomberg Law Reports. The sleek lines and judicious use of white space are gone, replaced by a love for gray and black backgrounds--the app's homepage is gray on black.



Some people might find the design attractive, but I do not. The app does deliver immediately on content. The home page features headlines and links that let you jump straight into Bloomberg's content. This app will start keeping you up-to-date on legal news from the moment you open it.


The app divides its content into four groups: News, Watchlist, Alerts, and the Queue.

News
The app has a built in feed of the top legal news from Bloomberg News. You can also view results for legal news searches you set up in bloomberglaw.com. This feature is nice, but is redundant since the app also pulls content from search alerts created in bloomberglaw.com (more on alerts later).

News is also the place where Bloomberg Law put its Law Reports content. The app allows you to view the list of available reports and subscribe to them in-app.



This is a huge improvement over the Bloomberg Law Reports App. Unfortunately, subscribing to a report still signs you up for the email newsletter, so be prepared to be spammed if you want to read many Law Reports on your iPhone.


In addition to its Law Reports, Bloomberg Law has created news topics. You can subscribe to topics in the app and get regular updates of articles on the topics. News topics don't come with email newsletters, so you can sign up for as many as interest you without fear for your inbox.

Once you access a news article, the app lets you email it or add it to your queue.



The queue is how you make articles available for offline reading. It also syncs with the queue on bloomberglaw.com, so you can easily pull up the article on bloomberglaw.com and download or print it.

Watchlist
The Watchlist contains the apps company information. The watchlist provides reports on public companies: company profile, stock tracking, and company-related news. A company's watchlist also lists federal cases where the company was named as a party. The cases are divided by the topic of the litigation, and the app provides links to the dockets if they are available. Adding companies is easy--just tap the plus sign in the corner of the watchlist page and search for a company.



Removing them is even easier. When you access a company on the watchlist, the app features a prominent Remove from Watchlist button at the top of the report.




Alerts
The Alerts feature lets you access the results of any search or docket alert you create on bloomberg.com. You cannot alert the alerts from the app, but you can view any content found by the alert. This is one of the ways that the app gives you access to Bloomberg Law content beyond news.

Queue
The Queue is a mirror of your queue on bloomberglaw.com. The idea beyond the queue in the app is that is serves as the mechanism for offline reading. The app does not download content by default. If you want to view articles, you have to be connected to the Internet. But if you turn on offline reading in the settings (offline reading is the only setting, so it's easy to find), the app will download everything in your queue.

The queue is also a way to bring any content from bloomberglaw.com into the app. The app's queue syncs with your bloomberglaw.com queue, so anything you add to your queue on bloomberglaw.com can be viewed in the app. Every document on bloomberglaw.com can be added to your queue, so the queue allows you to read anything from Bloomberg Law in the app. Just remember that you can only have 50 documents in your bloomberglaw.com queue at one time--you can't use the queue to create a portable version of Bloomberg Law on your iPad.

The new Bloomberg Law app is not the prettiest app I have seen, but it is a must have for current awareness. Bloomberg Law generates reams of news content daily. To be able to quickly bring that content up on your mobile device is worth a little black space.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Researching Geography with Google Maps Gallery

Looking for the collision rate at a particular intersection? Want to know the unemployment rate in a state by county? Or view climate trends for a region of the United States? This type of information is available, but it often takes a long time and extensive digging through government, nonprofit, or business records to find it.

Google is trying to make such geospatial information easier to find Online. In February, Google introduced Google Maps Gallery, a service that expands Google Maps to include current and historical public map data from partnering companies and government entities. Google Maps Gallery brings public map data that exists in diverse locations into one interactive, searchable atlas.

Google Maps Gallery already contains a variety of maps. I was able to find:
  • An affordable housing heat map for Springfield, MA;
 
  • A map of Florida emergency evacuation routes and hurricane evacuation zones;

  • Maps of North America at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The information on these maps would have taken me at least half an hour to find on my own. I spent less than five minutes finding the information on Google Maps Gallery, and the information is an easy to use and understand format. If I want, I can even save the maps and important them into Google Earth.


Google Maps Gallery is just starting out, and its database of maps is still small. The Gallery currently includes maps from National Geographic Society, World Bank Group, United States Geological Survey, Florida Emergency Management and the City of Edmonton. But Google is confident that more organizations will be adding their maps over time.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #14: ShalePlay

Today's review looks at ShalePlay, a news app from the Texas law firm Bracewell & Guilianni LLP. The app consists of news and information on hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), a process for extracting gas and oil from shale.

When the app was first released, it generated a lot of buzz (showing up on news sites such as Legal Technology News and Yahoo! Finance and on many blogs). The app's popularity may be because it addresses a hot topic surrounded by controversy, or because it is one of the few apps by a law firm that does more than market the firm. Whatever the other reasons, one reason is that the app delivers useful content on fracking. Anyone interested in fracking or the US energy industry more generally should take a look at ShalePlay.



ShalePlay offers fracking news feeds, an interactive map of major shale basins and shale plays (a play is an area targeted for drilling), a glossary of terms, a fracking timeline, and a list of other sources for commentary.

The news section of the app is broken into multiple feeds. The "In the News" feed lists news stories having anything to do with fracking. The "Legislation/Regulation" feed focuses on news stories discussing fracking laws, fracking politics, and government oversight of fracking. The "Shale Studies & Reports" feed pulls together stories relating to scientific investigation of fracking issues.



The stories in these three feeds are pulled together from a wide range of news sources, national, regional, and local. The app tends toward pro-fracking news, but there are plenty of other viewpoints as well. Overall, the app appears to try for comprehensive news coverage.

ShalePlay's last three feeds consist of content generated by Bracewell & Guilianni. One feed is just the firm's energy law blog, one is it's Twitter feed, and the last is marketing material. The information in these feeds presents the viewpoint of Bracewell and its clients. The feeds are not much use for research purposes unless your interest is in the Bracewell perspective. The feeds are a reminder that the app may be more than just marketing, but it is still marketing.




ShalePlay's news feeds show only headlines. For more information, you tap the headline to open a new window with the full article. ShalePlay pulls in the entire website with the article rather than taking the text and formatting it in the app, so you get the article exactly as it would appear in you browser.

 

The window with the article sits over rest of the ShalePlay, leaving part of the app visible behind. This creates the feeling that displaying the article is an afterthought, a peripheral feature added at the last minute. This is an odd design choice for an app advertised mainly as a news reader, and significant point against the app.


The most promising feature of the app is the interactive map. It shows at a glance where in the US shale exists and where fracking is taking place (generally; it doesn't show actual wells).



Tap on a play, and ShalePlay will tell you the name of the shale basin where the play is located and the basin's age (era). Tap and hold on any point on the map, and the app displays a list of news articles for the state you're touching.

This is the app's only attempt at a search feature. The idea is a good one: use the map to identify shale plays and pull up news specific to that region. But the feature doesn't work. Taping and holding on most of the states brings up the same list of news articles. Not only do many of the articles not deal with the state you select, some of the articles the app showed me weren't even about events in the United States.




The state news feature is misleading, redundant (compared to both itself and the app's news feeds), and incomplete (compared to the app's news feeds). You are much better served getting news from the apps news feeds despite the lack of any attempt at search.


ShalePlay supplements its news content with a glossary of common and important terms related to fracking, including the definition of hydraulic.



The glossary is small, but it is a useful resource for those of us who want to read up on fracking news but don't know the vocabulary. The glossary could stand to be a little larger, though. For one, it doesn't contain the definition of shale play.

In addition to the glossary, ShalePlay has a list of eight Online resources for further resources (all pro-fracking) and a historical timeline.



The timeline is a nice visual distraction (it simulates a shale gas well), and gives a decent brief overview of fracking history. But don't expect much substance.

ShalePlay is worth at least a cursory look by those researching fracking. With a few changes (better reading interface, search feature), it could become a go-to resources for fracking news and information.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #13: The White House App

The White House App is the official mobile app of the White House, home to the President of the United States. The federal government is embracing mobile technology and has released a variety of apps, such as the Library of Congress's Constitution Annotated and the NSA's CryptoChallenge. Many of these apps are surprisingly good. The White House App is no exception.

The White House App is available for both iOS and Android devices. I reviewed the app on an iPad. Not everything in my review will apply to the Android version of the app.

The White House App is designed for current awareness. It is a bit like a magazine for your mobile device. Through the app, you can access the latest news, pictures, and videos coming from President Obama and the White House. But there are no past issues with this app. News that isn't recent isn't available. If you want to dig into news about the president from more than 2 or three weeks ago, you'll need to look elsewhere.

Once I understood the purpose of the app, I liked it. In the app, you can access the latest posts on the White House blog, read through more official news from the briefing room, flip through publicity photos, and watch videos.



The content is not limited to the President. The White House press office covers the First Lady as well, so the app contains many stories, pictures, and videos featuring Michelle Obama.



If you want to stay abreast of the absolute latest information on the President, you can watch live streaming of White House events through the app. The app does not include a schedule of events, but it will notify you whenever an event starts.

As you read through news in the app, you can share the articles via email, Twitter, or Facebook. Or you can save them to your favorites list for easy return access.



Everything in the White House App is also available on whitehouse.gov, which you can easily access on your mobile device through your browser. But the app's content feels like it belongs on the mobile device, and whitehouse.gov doesn't. The app may not offer me more or different content, but it brings it to me better. When I open the app, I want to keep using it. The app captures the essence of the mobile experience in a way I can't explain, other than to say this app delivers the combination of simple and beautiful that is supposed to define the iPad.


While I like the White House App a lot, it isn't perfect. It offers a search, but the search redirects you to whitehouse.gov. Though you're still "within" the app, you leave the app's interface and go to the web interface.
Article accessed using search in the White House App


The same article viewed on whitehouse.gov in the browser



The app's search would be much more attractive if it let you view the articles you find in the native interface. As is, the search is close to no search at all.

Overall, I highly recommend the White House App. Whether you're a political junky whose day isn't complete until you've read all the news out of Washington, or you just want to see the occasional picture of the President shaking hands and kissing babies, or you fall somewhere in between, you'll find the White House App worth downloading.