Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Designer Swine Flu Surgical Masks for Jazzfest?

People in Mexico in the thick of the swine flu scare are making the best of the half-baked preventative measure of wearing surgical masks in public by decorating them:
Image Hosted by

Here in New Orleans, the second weekend of Jazzfest starts tomorrow, and by then the first case in Louisiana may have been identified (and identified a mere six or seven blocks from the law school), so in keeping with the spirit of dressing up for the festival, there may be plenty of decorative mask in evidence. Or not - its going to be pretty hot...

But I worked up some quick and sloppy "proof of concept" images for decorative surgical mask built around some obvious ideas, most of which violate copyright to one extent or another. The original is from some Sims mod site:

So the first obvious thing to do is replace the radiation symbol with the biohazard symbol:

And then its time to get creative. For example,
The Smiley Face Flu Mask ("Don't worry, be happy"):

The Rocky Horror Flu Mask (And God said "let there be hog lips"):

The Alf Flu Mask ("Whoa. Has the hunter angered the gods? Okay, I won't eat pork."):

The Rolling Stone Logo Flu Mask ("I'll give you a job for to feed my swine", Prodigal Son, from Beggars Banquet):

and finally, the Groucho Marx Nose-and-Glasses Flu Mask ("I would never be part of a pandemic that would have me as a victim"):

Full blog post...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Twitter, Public Crises, Breaking News, and Hurricane Evacuations

A few weeks ago I read this article:

Chris Bennett, Twitter, the Most Important Website Since Google?

I've played with twitter some and its fun to use the search feature that he describes and see what is being "tweeted" about different subjects, but I really thought this guy Bennett was overstating his case, which is pretty much summarized in this excerpt:
Anything I need to know about something that is happening right now or has happened in the last 12 hours I use Twitter search for. I used to search through Google Blogsearch, Digg, Delicious, Youtube to get breaking news but now I am alerted to it so quick through someones update, and I can go to Twitter search and get hundreds if not thousands of snippets of info and links seconds/minutes after it is happening.
(He used to search YouTube for breaking news?)

One of the examples he gives is the use of Twitter during the bombings and attacks on the Taj Mahal hotel and other locations in Mubai, India last November. The link in his article leads to the image here:

Image Hosted by

which is a screen capture of, apparently, five typical tweets during the attacks. But three are comments about the use of Twitter during the attacks, one is an update relayed from a TV broadcast, and one is a question about specific politicians' reactions to the attack. Perhaps some people who were actually in Mumbai were tweeting during the attacks and bypassed the more traditional media but the other screen captures of Twittering during the Mumbai attacks that I found are also people tweeting about what they saw on the latest TV news report. People do that about American Idol, right, so where's the "citizen journalist" aspect of Twitter?

This article:

UPDATED: Terror Attacks in Mumbai: Mobiles and Twitter play Key Role in 24/7 Reporting

goes into better detail about the use of Twitter and cellphones during the Mumbai attacks by people who were actually IN Mumbai, but it seems the more important updates were from people who - no surprise, really - used their cell phones to actually call and talk to people rather than tweeting out 140-character messages. (I don't think even your typical twelve-year old can text faster than he can talk, right?)

What Twitter doesn't have - at least as far as I can tell - is some review/evaluation function - so how is Twitter keeping spammers out? Or the fakers? Or the trolls? Apparently, the better posts are "re-tweeted" and that can lend some weight and help the important tweets "rise" to the top. But you really need to use other tools and sites to help shuffle and sort through whats being tweeted about the latest hot topic unless you just want to read the raw feed and catch whatever stories are at the top of the screen when you refresh your search.

(On of the best tools I found is TwitterFall, which lets you search and sort tweets and watch them live without having to refresh the screen.)

Back to this guy's belief that Twitter is "the most important website" since Google (and that's a weird phrasing - I would say both are tools residing on websites and not JUST a websites themselves and, yes, maybe that's a weak distinction, but isn't Twitter essentially making your web browser a sort of news aggregator? I guess people stopped talking about "killer apps" long ago, but that, I think, is what this guy thinks Twitter might be). With the swine flu scare now dominating the news, it seems we have a big enough news story to test out the writer's ideas.

So I've been searching/monitoring Twitter for

"swine flu"

and/or the hash tag


as well as the "Trending Topic" of Swine Flu which is just a pre-configured search for

"Swine Flu" OR Flu

You have to refresh your browser screen after you search Twitter to see new tweets that match your search, but it does tell you how many new results match your query since your search or since your last re-fresh. There's been about 120-130 new results per minute all day today for the Trending Topic query above, by my roughing timing at a few points. This chart from whatever Trendrr is tracks this more precisely, showing hour-by-hour tweets about swine flu:

Image Hosted by

As the short article accompanying this graph says, this snowballing effect is apparently typical of any hot topic on Twitter and is completely separate from any actual development in a news story: tweets about tweets about the story contribute to the increase in total tweets on any given subject. (Now I DID find that chart from a tweet in my "swine flu" search; it was one of 700+ since I had last refreshed my twitter search results, and if it hadn't been in the top five I wouldn't have seen it. And it is, of course, a story about the Twittering over the swine flu story, and not actually about the swine flu threat itself.)

I would estimate that 85-90% of the swine flu tweets I saw today are just zero-content comments ("this swine flu is scary") or jokes; about 90% of the rest are links to the same handful of stories or web resources that people are more or less simultaneously discovering on news web sites or other places. At least a couple of dozens times I saw tweets leading to the same "live" google map tracking suspected and confirmed swine flu cases.

This cartoon was linked to multiple times (that I saw - so it was probably posted hundreds, or thousands of times today), as was this joke picture which typically had some TinyUrl or other shortcut link and was described as a serious news story about the origin of swine flu.

Yes, hahaha. As far as Twitter being the brilliant "live news" resource this article suggests, it falls way short. There are twenty-eight kids in some New York school who all have swine flu - why isn't one of them tweeting about their symptoms? Or one of their siblings?

Overall today, one of my favorites was this tweet:

Image Hosted by

(I don't know if that person was joking or seriously asking about this, but I intend to test his suggested cure at my first sniffle or hint of fever.)

Arguably, the repetition of news stories and resources does perform in a way as a filtering tool that helps get the most useful information - like the google map - get out to more people, but it also results in a lot of duplicate crap, like the cartoon and the picture.

As far as "authoritative" tweets, you can subscribe to Twitter accounts of official agencies and organizations, like the CDC, which has several Twitter accounts, including @CDCemergency. They've only had four tweets today, but one is a link to some official recommendations about drugs for treatment and/or prevention. They also have a tweet that leads to an audio recording of the conference call, in case anyone wants to listen to it later.

They're followed by a couple of dozen local Red Cross agencies and FEMA regional offices, and while this surely isn't the main means of communicating, I guess its good to have it as a backup.

I guess one way to frame the benefits of Twitter is that in lieu of watching a dozen news broadcasts and monitoring hundreds of web sites yourself, Twitter can aggregate what people are learning from all these resources into one place. But that's much different from what the author of that article said Twitter could do.

And that's NOT how the Mississippi Department of Transportation ("MSDOT") is set up to use Twitter for hurricane evacuations. This was reported a few weeks ago in several places.

One of the routines of evacuating for a hurricane (and returning after a near-miss) is listening to the local news broadcasts to find out where traffic is backed up and what alternate routes are available. That seems ready-made for Twitter, as its nearly impossible to get through to the radio stations if you've found an open two-lane back-road highway or if you want to notify other evacuees that the state troopers have closed a particular drawbridge. Tweeting this sort of information would be ideal, but MSDOT is just going to use Twitter like any other old-fashioned, one-way, top-down media: you can monitor one of the six MSDOT Twitter accounts, an account for all the main highways leading away from the coast, and get updates on how the traffic is flowing. BORING. They could just as easily use text message "blasts" or whatever for this. And the radio stations will be getting the information directly from MSDOT so I don't see an advantage to using your cell phones instead of your radio.

Now what would be REALLY useful is for Mississippi or Louisiana to set up twitter hash tags for the major routes and let evacuees tweet about what they've found on the road. Or just forget about the state DOTs - WWL and the other radio stations should be ready to promote this and encourage people to tweet about traffic conditions when they evacuate and then the on-air folks can monitor Twitter and broadcast what they're seeing people relay about traffic conditions. THAT's a killer app.

Full blog post...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More Misspelled Geographic Terms

Having found those misc typos in both Wikipedia and the Library of Congress catalog, I googled some of these same mis-spellings and found this query at Answers.Com:
What help does new orlaens need?

To which, of course, I supplied the appropriate answer:
Image Hosted by

These questions don’t have dates, so I presume this has been there since Katrina. We appreciate that you were so concerned that you went to Answers.Com to see what you could do.

Full blog post...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

More Bluebook Follies and Lazy Law Review Authors

Yes, yes, its not hard to find these things, but it’s a slow Saturday afternoon. The same student who I worked on with problems in citing the re-codified Jones Act last fall stumbled upon this somewhat egregious error from an article draft that one of our law reviews is working on.

The mistake is right there in one of the first footnotes, which cites to:
Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, April 29, 1958, 15 U.S.T. 471, T.I.A.S. No. 5578, 449 U.N.T.S. 311
The student had pulled this up on Westlaw using the UST cite and was puzzled because a subsequent footnote referenced section 3 of article 7 of this treaty but article 7 of the treaty found at 15 UST 471 is only a single sentence with no subsections. Plus, certain terms and quotes the author references attributes to this treaty are not in the document found at this citation. Oh, and the TITLE of the treaty at that citation is NOT the title given in the footnote.

I took the student over to the UNTS set and pulled the treaty there and was further perplexed, as the document at this cite- 449 UNTS 311 was in the middle of a treaty about air services between Germany and Ireland.

I’m no expert on researching treaties, but after a little poking around I found the Treaties in Force (“TIF”) index and looked up the date given in the citation in the TIF’s chronological listing. While I was doing this, I told the student to look up the name of this treaty in Westlaw’s JLR database (he was carrying his laptop along with him as we toured the stacks) to see if anyone else had a different citation for it. And at about the same time we both came upon the correct citation.

The listing in the TIF index for that date has several similarly-titled and easily confused (if you’re not really paying attention) treaties:
Image Hosted by

(From Igor I. Kavass (ed.), A Guide to the United States Treaties in Force, Book 1 at 229 and 231 and Book 3 at 21 (2007 ed.)).

These include the one that was mis-copied/mis-cited by this article’s author:
TIAS 5639 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone
15 UST 1606, 516 UNTS 205
and this one
TIAS 5578 Convention on the Continental Shelf
15 UST 471, 499 UNTS 311
So the author of the article had 1) copied the citation for the Continental Shelf treaty instead of the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone treaty and 2) mis-copied the UNTS volume for the Continental Shelf treaty as 449 UNTS 311 instead of 499 UNTS 311. A double f-up.

I can’t really imagine that the author would have a copy of the treaty, write about it in detail, and still have all these numbers mis-cited from this different - but similar and, apparently, related - treaty. Another possibility is that the author didn’t bother looking at the thing recently but just copied the cite from other sources. I found one article where these two treaties are cited in the same footnote:
George V. Galdorisi and Alan G. Kaufman, Military Activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone: Preventing Uncertainty and Defusing Conflict, 32 Cal. W. Int'l L.J. 253 (2002)

[FN40] Casteneda, supra, note 2, at 605 (citing Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, Apr. 29, 1958, 516 U.N.T.S. 205; Convention on the High Seas, Apr. 29, 1958, 459 U.N.T.S. 11; Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas, Apr. 29, 1958, 559 U.N.T.S. 285; Convention on the Continental Shelf, Apr. 29, 1958, 449 U.N.T.S. 311).
So that is a possibility. Note that this footnote also has the wrong volume for the UNTS citation to the Convention on the Continental Shelf - 449 instead of 499. This was perplexing so, just out of curiosity, I searched JLR for that incorrect UNTS cite:
"449 U.N.T.S. 311"
and found eight articles that, while giving the correct parallel UTS and TIAS citations, give this same incorrect UNTS volume for this treaty.

So someone way back when mis-cited the thing, and a whole bunch of other people probably just cribbed the citation from whatever article they read it in and never bothered to look up the actual treaty themselves in the UNTS set to verify the parallel citation.

I even checked Hein-Online - and I don’t search it much but was pleased at the accuracy of these results - and I found 19 additional mis-citations for this treaty, the first culprit being in 1967:
Image Hosted by

(from David Phillip Stand, Wet Land: The Unavailable Resource of the Outer Continental Shelf, 2 Stud. L. & Econ. Dev. 156 (1967-1968)).

So this mistake has been bouncing around for a long time, at least forty-plus years. "I shot an error into the air; its still going, everywhere”.

Full blog post...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cartoon on Receiving Tenure

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt like this upon receiving tenure (NOTICE: this cartoon has been modified from its original format to make it more law library-specific):
Image Hosted by

Full blog post...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More 1960s CALR Resources

Its really no great feat to find old articles with half-baked predictions about the future use of technology, but cleaning out some old notes for an old project I’ve since abandoned, I found this article and quote that, with an upcoming birthday, stands out since its roughly as old as I am:
“On the horizon is the direct translation of voice into digital form for machine manipulation. The lawyer of the future may be able to make an inquiry into his phone to a computer located far away and secure an immediate response to his query. The response may be verbal, or in the form of a display on a TV monitor in his office, or even in the form of a high-speed print-out from an electrostatic printer in his office.” James S. Winston, The Law and Legal Education in the Computer Age, 20 J. Legal Ed 159, 161 (1967).

(I had to google “electrostatic printer” to find out what that meant.)

Two minor interesting points are that this article anticipates that “[o]n the horizon” the lawyer would still have to use a computer “located far away” and that the lawyer would most likely still be male (“his phone”).

I only scanned this article, and I’ve come across several others like it, but all the materials it cites are well after the 1960 reference to CALR I wrote about last month. Still need to do a thorough literature search and possibly try to find some IBM corporate history to see if they were the first to make a workable CALR system.

Full blog post...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

200 198/199? Law Schools Redux

Two weeks ago I wrote about how I was surprised at the latest Annual Report of the ABA Consultant on Legal Education (you can only buy it at that link - they do NOT have it on-line!) and their trumpeting of “Marking a Milestone: 200 Accredited Law Schools”. My own count that I do for a on-going law librarian survey only had 198 law schools: the ABA counts the JAG school and I didn’t, but the bigger difference is that for the first time the ABA counted Widener as two law schools, not just one school with two campuses. The previous annual report counted Widener as one law school, as, presumedly, it had been counted since its second campus was approved by the ABA back in 1988. (Thomas Cooley is still counted as one law school with three campuses.)

I swapped e-mail with the relevant people - the Dean at Widener and the ABA Consultant himself. Since neither explicitly said I could - or could not - quote their responses (even though I asked them both about that), I’ll just summarize what they said.

The Dean at Widener said it was one law school with two campuses, and that she was the Dean of both. The Consultant said that because the two had different curricula, different clinical opportunities, and, according to him - though the Dean didn’t confirm this - different faculty tenure processes, it was really two schools.

I specifically asked why this change was made this year, and asked both the consultant and the Dean whether some radical change was made that warranted counting Widener as two law schools for the first time, and neither indicated that some recent change in Widener’s administration, or in anything, had occurred. The consultant said that listing Widener as one school with two branches was not acceptable to the administration, but he didn’t indicate when I asked whether he was referring to the administration of the law school(s) or of Widener University.

As I mentioned in the e-mail to the consultant, of course the ABA gets to have the final word in this, and he said a decision had to be made and that for their purposes they decided to list Widener as two schools. To me it seems that the only purpose for making the change now at this point in the history of the ABA Legal Education Section was so that they could create this Milestone and Mark it now instead of in another year or two when the next round of new law schools are provisionally accredited.

The question of whether the JAG school should be counted as one of the 200 law schools when its not a J.D. - granting institution is something I’ll leave for another day. Would it take a FOIA request to get their self-study report?

Full blog post...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Follow-Up: LOC & Wikipedia Misspellings

This time, the LOC did send me a quick e-mail noting that they had changed the misspelled “Great Britian” in the record I found last Wednesday. I submitted the mistake form late that evening, and the e-mail I got was sent early Thursday morning, so that was pretty fast.

“Great Britian” and “Untied States” are common mis-typings/mis-spellings that were the sort of thing that a certain class of Wikipedia lurkers scour that site for and correct. But now Wikipedia has a “category” of entries called “Redirects from Misspellings”, so that if you search for “Great Britian” is sends you to the article on “Great Britain”. Of course, now this prevents folks from both finding instances where this mis-spelling is intentional, as in albums names, or in finding these mistaken spellings so that they can be corrected. Thinking about this for a bit, I realized a Google advance search limiting the domain to Wikipedia will still look for these misspellings, of which there are 103 instances of "Great Britian" and 78 instances of “Untied States” as of today (Some of these are in discussions and comments and not in the text of articles, as well as in at least one book with “Untied States” in the title and the above-referenced article to an album.)

Later I stumbled on the Wikipedia “Typo Team” that has volunteers who do this sort of thing regularly, and which also suggests using the Google advance search and other search techniques to find these types of errors.

The example above are, of course, more numerous than the misspellings you find in the Library of Congress Catalog, but those exists and aren’t hard to find. I turned up that one instance last week by browsing for subject headings starting with “Great Britian” but if you do a subject heading keyword searches for this and the other one, you get five and six mis-spellings:

"Untied States"Image Hosted by

"Great Britian"Image Hosted by

Might as well try some other possibilities - here’s one for:

“Soveit Union”:Image Hosted by

Looking at some of the records from the above three searches, I saw that these were recent titles - all but one of them were published in either 2008 or this year. I asked the LOC guy who e-mailed me the acknowledgment and asked if they comb the recent records for such common mis-spellings and just hadn’t picked these up yet. He got back to me pretty quickly and confirmed this - they do check their records for stuff like this, and they get plenty of error reports from the catalogs, but he was nice and said they still appreciate the effort. I told him that this one would be my last and that I would stop after it:

“New Orlaens”Image Hosted by

Full blog post...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Correcting Errors: LOC Wins

No surprise, I guess, but that was pretty fast. I didn't get an e-mail yet, but the catalog record at the Library of Congress I found yesterday has been corrected. No response yet about the contradictory Wikipedia articles.

So what other typos might be in the Library of Congress? In our catalog I used to occasionally find a few mis-spellings, like "Lousiana", so I tried a few terms in the subject headings at the LOC catalog. The second one I tried turned one up, and this time I made a screen capture of the LCCN permalink record (
Image Hosted by

I submitted another error report at the LOC. If I wasn't taking a four-day weekend, I would check back regularly to see exactly how long this takes. Can I do a Google alert on the LCCN permalink? How often does Google check for those? Oh, yeah, I haven't verified that Google alerts will actually do this: notify me when a page has changed. I tested it with something earlier today, and the page changed but i haven't received a notice. Will have to investigate further.
Full blog post...