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May 29, 2006

Happy Day

As part of my bar exam preparation/post-graduation computer cleanup, I uninstalled Examsoft for the last time today.

May 25, 2006

Not Quite Technically Competent Enough To Know If They're Lying To Me

As I've mentioned, I won't have internet access in my apartment here in Arlington until Sunday at the very best. In the meantime, I'm making daily use of T-Mobile wireless access in Starbucks. My consistently lousy connection drops about every three minutes, so it's hardly suitable for streaming audio. Nevertheless, BarBri would like me to listen to a "Testing Drill Audio Lecture" on Criminal Law.

No problem, I thought, I'll download it and listen at home.

Silly me, that would make it easy. BarBri has made sure that my only option is an audio stream. So I could either stay in an overcooled Starbucks for another hour fighting dropped packets in hopes of hearing whatever's in this lecture, or I could go home and be with the girlfriend in my apartment.

Before choosing the latter, I flicked over to their frequently-asked questions to see if maybe there was a download function. The answer was somewhat illuminating:

I want to download the lectures but I cannot. Why?

The audio files are large and cannot be downloaded.

Now, I can understand BarBri wanting to stream audio files in order to keep them from being copied. But if the files can't be downloaded, how am I listening to them? Does it really take up less storage space and bandwidth to stream media files than it does to download them and decompress them at the other end?

Perhaps my more technically-minded friends can help, but this sounds a bit...curious to me.

I'll Be Back

A combination of a broken notebook computer, a lack of internet connectivity and the start of BarBri season has kept me offline. Not only haven't I blogged, but my mailbox is clogged with about 2,000 spam emails. But come Sunday, our new apartment in DC should finally be wired for internet, and you'll be hearing a lot more from me.

Review of Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman

When the thick manila envelope containing a pre-release copy of Jeremy Blachman's Anonymous Lawyer arrived at my apartment the day before graduation, I have to admit to both excitement and nervousness. On the one hand, no one had ever asked me for a review before, certainly not a pre-release one, so I felt a bit puffed-up in the chest. On the other hand, unlike some of my friends, I never really got into Anonymous Lawyer the Blog.

I'd wander over to the website every so often whenever a classmate would chirp, "You should see what AL is saying." And yet the blog never made my sidebar and I was never a daily reader. Sure, AL was a villain, and I like villains, but to enjoy reading about one I have to have some way of feeling sympathy for the character. I never found that hook with Anonymous Lawyer. The writing was funny more than occasionally, but the online persona seemed unrelievedly grim: a fifty-something sadist with the maturity of a pampered eight-year-old recounting either his sorrows or how he would take them out on those less powerful than he. [1] After reading a few entries, any form of empathy became impossible.

There was also the anonymity thing. As my readers know, I distrust anonymity in bloggers. Yet when Anonymous Lawyer was the hot thing online, the mystery surrounding the author's identity attracted as much attention as anything he said. Was he really a partner at a firm? A frustrated associate? As everyone now knows it was in fact law student Jeremy Blachman, and as his name is right on the cover in big grey letters, the novel doesn't exactly make that a secret.

Having now read Anonymous Lawyer as a novel, I'm happy to say that it made a fantastic transition to the page. My concerns about writing a good review had re-emerged after the first fifteen pages or so, as the opening blog entries were pretty much what pushed me away from the online version: nasty little scrawls about how the tax partner is anti-social, the Anonymous Wife only spends money, or the Anonymous Children remain destined for failure. But Jeremy made the excellent decision to scatter emails between AL and several other characters in between the blog entries. At first, he's talking to his niece about her upcoming graduation and entry into Yale Law School, and then the setup of the blog itself. As the novel progresses, a few more people discover just who is behind the blog--while a lot of other emails reveal mistaken identity--and the cast of characters widens.

These emails nicely humanize Anonymous Lawyer. His character blossoms in the spaces between the impersonal blog entries and the private correspondence. Occasional missives provide the backstory for a later post. Sometimes he berates a poor associate, while other times he smooth-talks his niece. These little glimpses of his "personal" life make the reader care about the jackass buying $180 meals for his family or throwing a tantrum when the Chairman only shows for fifteen minutes at his backyard barbeque. The forces that drive him are only really revealed when he half-seduces/half-justifies his lifestyle to his niece.

Once you can care for him, and even cheer for him a little, the trials and tribulations of the Anonymous Lawyer are fantastic fun. He and his rival ("the Jerk") spend most of the novel competing for the last brass ring they can ever hope to have: the chairmanship of the firm. Vile as AL is, the Jerk comes across worse: a Harvard snob willing to turn everything into a competition with his Michigan rival. Of course, it's impossible to tell if the Jerk really deserves such scorn, or if he's a hobgoblin of the Anonymous Imagination.

Anonymous Lawyer is a fun book, a clever book and a book worth reading even if you've already followed the blog. My fears about writing this review completely evaporated when I reached around page fifty, and by the end I was skipping forward to read the email exchanges and find out what was happening in the "real" world. Better yet, I'm enthusiastically awaiting whatever Jeremy's next project might be. To be honest, the best parts of Anonymous Lawyer are the parts that aren't blogged. I can't wait to see what he does without those shackles.

[1]: A slight digression. Several centuries before its time, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon stands out as a kind of prototypical blog: a diary kept by a lady in waiting, the book was obviously meant for a public audience and reveals the character of the author as she sets down little vignettes. Sei Shonagon at times comes across as a conniving, brooding, paranoid and oversensitive bitch, and in this sense she and AL have a lot in common. But unlike the AL blog, every so often she scribbles down something that twists your perceptions and lets you see the flesh underneath the robes. I doubt I would have liked her, though I think AL might have.

At one point in the novel, one of AL' correspondents remarks that what he writes seems more honest. It never seemed that way to me. Rather, AL's blog never gets much beyond being one more mask--albeit probably a thinner than his office face--that he uses to address the world. As a character, AL abuses his readers no less than he does his associates. When I would follow the website, there was a definite sense that the readers were there for his pleasure, rather than the other way around.

In any event, I frequently take my copy of Sei Shonagon of the shelf, while as I said, I only wander to the AL blog.

May 17, 2006

And So It Ends

Tomorrow (or actually later this morning) begins the first of two days of graduation. One is commencement, one is graduation, and I'll admit to being somewhat unclear as to what the significance is. The alchemy of law school is strange, and all that I know is that sometime after Wednesday morning and before Thursday afternoon the letters "J.D."--for better or worse--attach permanently to my name.

After the typical tribulation that comes with modern air travel, my family converged on New York today. Luggage was lost, gypsy cabs stumbled into, available relatives helped with packing my room, and yet we all managed to meet in a fantastic hotel bar just before it closed shop. (Through the normal combination of luck and prudence that blesses my family, we had just enough points from the right hotel chain to get good rooms.)

Leave it to my brother to make clear to me the wonder of it. As readers of my blog know, I meander across the globe with the air of someone never too certain of where he should be. Today he's in London! Tomorrow Osaka! The day after tomorrow . . . who knows? Living far from kith and kin is just my way of life. And yet every so often my closest family make a point to trek out to wherever I am. Long ago they joined me for winter in Kyoto, where in an out-of-the-way hotel in Arashiyama we were blessed with a blanket of crisp white snow on Christmas morning. I can't imagine what strings they had to pull to all come to England for my undergraduate graduation, but there they were. And today, despite lost luggage, missed flights, changed plans and the worst that air travel could accost them with, we managed to gather in the hotel bar and toast the coming few days of celebration.

I'll keep blogging through the bar exam, of course, because until then it isn't really over. But in the next two days, the current phase draws to an end. As it does so, I'd like to leave you with the signposts that mark my four corners of heaven:

  • A dirty Grey Goose vodka martini decorated with olives
  • A crisp Ketel One martini with a lemon twist
  • A Jack Daniels and water (old habits die hard)
  • A gimlet as Raymond Chandler liked it

Place these on the table and garnish with background to taste: bright billboards of Times Square, starlight reflected from the Kamogawa River or muggy autumn air from a back porch in Nowheresville, Michigan. Think what you will of the drinks themselves, but for me they mean paradise simply because I know who is seated behind them.

Also, thank you to those of you who've stuck with me throughout these three years, and for readers who joined along the way. I've loved listening to your comments, and I've enjoyed knowing you were there more than I can possibly say.

May 09, 2006

A Shameless Political Hack Grows in Nassau, or How Not to Write a Brief, Kids

On the 4th of May, Nassau County Legislator Jeffery Toback proved that nothing--not even flagrant misuse of judicial resources or his own self-respect--would get in the way of protecting his constituents from child pornography. Oh, wait a second, I'm sorry: make that Child Pornography.

The two are not the same thing.

This shining example of legislative acumen, who has now been honored as Dork of the Month by one blogger, and doubtless even more appropriate names by others, decided that he would file a lawsuit against Google because the company profits from child pornography. Oh, I'm sorry, I got that wrong again. Google profits from Child Pornography.

The complaint--sixteen pages suitable for future scrap paper or maybe as a condign example of how to mask a political diatribe as a legal argument--is available online thanks to Eric Goldman of Marquette University. News reports have included such headlines as "Google Sued Over Kiddie Porn." Yet if we look at the brief, it's interesting to note that Mr. Toback really gets in a tizzy over Child Pornography:

...Defendant continues to put its economic gains ahead fo the interests and well-being of America's children and their care givers who are being bombarded with child pornography and other repulsive material that is illegal to distribute to children (collectively, "Child Pornography").

and then a bit later,
Simply put, Defendant is the largest and most efficient facilitator and distributor of Child Pornography in the world. Defendant has the technological and operational resources to curtail, if not eradicate, Child Pornography. However, Defendant has no desire to do so not because it is a defender of "free speech" and "privacy rights" on the Internet but, rather, because Child Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry that has become an obscenely profitable and integral part of the Defendant's business model.

Ignore the fact that the plaintiff has gotten to Page Three of his complaint without leaving full-on campaign stump-speech mode. Note the sleight of hand: the accusation isn't that Google trades in child pornography as you or I would know it, but Child Pornography, defined as "repulsive material" that would be illegal to distribute to children. That could conceivable include everything more erotically-involved than Maxim. In other words, the "multi-billion dollar" industry that is an "integral part" of Google's business model is legitimate porn that might fall into the hands of children, which is to say, virtually all of it.

Child Pornography, it seems, does not imply merely child pornography.

Of course, it's a bit difficult to tell what Mr. Toback is actually talking about. Later in his brief, he states:

The subject matter of this lawsuit--Child Pornography--has been ruled illegal and banned by the federal government and all fifty states by statute. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has long ago ruled that the Constitution does not protect an individual's revolting desire to view children engaged in sex acts, nor does the Bill of Rights provide any insulation for any other form of Child Pornography.

So maybe he does mean mere child pornography, and his complaint-writers have a capitalization fetish. But then how does one square that with his other claim:
Defendant is knowingly generating billions of dollars from the pornography trade and Child Pornography profiteers, in intentional and reckless disregard of its legal duties and the well-being of our nation's children.

According to Google's most recent 10-K, its total revenues were $6.1 billion last year. If the company is making "billions" off of Child Pornography profiteers, then fully one-third of the value of its AdWords would seem to be bought by kiddie-porn operators. That's a pretty ballsy statement. Indeed, I'd be impressed to find that one-third of all AdWords revenues come from pornography.

I don't know how easy it is to find child-pornography through Google, and frankly I don't fancy finding out. (I suspect Columbia records all my search engine requests, for one thing.) But I did try to find the one particular ad mentioned in the plaintiff's brief, which reads "Free trailers! www.seventeen____.com." Toback calls this an "obscene and illegal" website, but the only thing I found through Google that approached that address is . . . well, distasteful, but states that despite the name of the site, all "actors" were 18 at time of filming.

Suspicious advertisements can appear, especially when advertisers use dynamic keyword insertion. (Note, however, that in the advertisement mentioned in the linked post, the ad wasn't actually for child pornography but for singles-only vacations: the ad just looked dodgy because it had inserted dodgy search terms.)

Of course, I'm just being unreasonable and horribly unfair. According to Mr. Toback's complaint:

. . . [N]o reasonable or fair-minded person can defend Defendant's policies and practices of facilitating, aiding and abetting pornographers in distributing Child Pornography.

Guess Google must be hoping for an unfair and unreasonable judge, as well?

In any event, the biggest falsehood in the complaint is this:

. . . [T]his action is brought by concerned community members . . .

No. It's brought by a local government official striving for publicity. I hope this kind of mockery is just what he was looking for.

May 08, 2006

Spam Sleuthing

Around noonish today, I check my email and find a couple dozen copies of the same spam email. Normally I'd just throw it out, but since I'd been doing some research on the relationship between spam and trespass to chattels, I thought I'd conduct a little experiment: how difficult would it be to actually figure out who this spammer is and get him on the phone? After all, the tough part about prosecuting spammers is usually finding out where one can serve process. Shockingly enough, I actually managed to get the culprit on the phone.

Normally I'd not waste my time, but this opportunity seemed fairly unique. For one thing, the spammer seems to be local, a New York citizen, instead of some far-flung type I'd never manage to contact. For another, I'd already tried to remove one of my other domain names from this spammer's address book two months ago, when he'd sent me half a dozen copies of the same email. (He is as persistent in his nagging as he is incompetent in his emails: today's missives had the same address in the TO field have a dozen times each.)

As you can see from the link above (where another blogger has recreated the spam in its entirety), Mr. Spamalot is hawking his bulk-emailing services. The link in the email takes you to http://p7.hostingprod.com/@boostingyourtraffic.com/cher, which then pops up a nifty javascript warning stating "Your IP Address [number], date and time have been captured only as proof of your request for more information. Click OK to continue." I have no idea what that's supposed to accomplish, but the page then forwards you to Planet-Target.com. Based upon the email I'd received, they may be the least competent spammers ever, but boy do they make it hard work to find them.

Sure, you can enter your email address in their contact form, but I'd tried that and it hadn't worked. According to their website, their address is 35 Rawson Street, Boston MA 02125 USA. But a quick look at Google Maps suggests that the company's building isn't the same as the one they present to users, and besides, there's no phone number.

So let's try WHOIS. According to Register.com, the domain name hostingprod.com was registered by MarkMonitor.com (which seems odd, since that's an anti-phishing and marketing site) and the Administrative contact is Yahoo.com. That seemed . . . well, less than believable, so I looked at planet-target.com. Their WHOIS lookup was even better:

Whois Privacy Protection Service, Inc.
Whois Agent
PO Box 841
Yarmouth, NS B5A 4K5
Phone: +1.9027492060
Fax: +1.9027495405
email: nksmxtsygt@whoisprivacyprotect.com

Well, that certainly didn't look promising. Have you ever seen a bigger "don't try to contact us" red flag? I tried the phone number. Needless to say, it went straight to voice mail.

So electronic tracks had pretty much been covered. How might I find this guy? My next instinct said follow the money. I tried contacting Yahoo--they're listed as the hosts for all these sites--but was told that they couldn't give me any contact information. I could, of course, write to their anti-spoofing department (which I did, even though I wasn't asking about spoofing), but I've not heard anything back, and to be honest I doubt I will.

And yet there's more to the money trail. Planet Target is a business, after all. So I did a little prospective spamming. I went through their process for ordering a campaign right until the point that I'd have to pay. They use Paypal, and one very nice feature of Paypal is the Member Information page that pops up whenever you try to pay something. And here things got interesting.

It seems that if I want to spam the world multiple times through Planet Target, I need to pay OnlyPCTools.com. This vendor offers programs to do keyboard tracking, avoid phishing schemes, remove spyware... everything except avoid spam, it seems. The company is located at 2566 Bronxwood Ave, Bronx, New York 10469. That sounds somewhat local to the address in my original spam email: 250 W. 46th Street, New York, NY 10018. And if you look them up through Paypal, they have a phone number right there.

Having finally found a phone number, I hoped against hope, punched in the numbers. . . . and once again went straight to voicemail. This time, however, I left a message: just my phone number and a request to call me. Maybe he'd think I was a customer.

At 7:11 this evening, I got the call. The voice on the other end of the line wouldn't give me a name, but confirmed that he was the agent of both OnlyPCTools and Planet-Target. I gave him my email domains, and he's claimed he'll remove it. But even better, a reverse directory lookup of the number he used to call me confirms that the number is registered to one of the addresses above.

That's enough for me. I proved that I could find him--although now I'm probably going to receive even more spam. But in the meantime, I've found the spammer and left this information on this webpage. Maybe it will prove useful to some other spamming victim.

Alienware Off, Dell Back

So the Alienware is now winging (actually crawling via Fedex Ground) back to Florida to receive its "onsite" service. In the meantime, I've just renewed the warranty on the old Dell 8500 for a year. After all, I need to make sure I have one machine working when I need it.

For the Real Law Addicts Out There

Dear Wormwood:

Do you have a friend studying for the Bar Exam? Do you think that friend is insufficiently motivated to knuckle down and learn the law? Or have you found that since starting law school, your long-time drinking buddy can only mutter incomprehensible phrases like "conflict of law" and "rule of perpetuity," and you want to find some experience you can use to rebond?

Well, I may just have the passtime for you: Disorderly Conduct. Imagine a game of Trivial Pursuit with all your favorite categories: torts, contracts and propery, oh my!

To be honest, my parents got me a copy of this for Christmas last year, and it's surprisingly fun, especially if you're playing with people who aren't lawyers or law students. First of all, non-legal people are handicapped, and only have to get four of six categories to win. But more importantly, they get a real kick out of beating supposed "experts" in the law.

I think in revenge I'm going to get my engineer father a Deflextion set next Christmas. I've not had a chance to play it, but reports suggest that it crosses chess (or maybe checkers) with mirrors and lasers.

May 06, 2006

Finally finished...

I just realized that Thursday and Friday passed without me updating to say I'm finished. Suffice it to say, I've been recuperating.

Just a few more days until graduation, and then it's the bar exam. I promise to give you some updates between now and then. I've spent the last two days mostly sitting in the sun and reading fiction, and with my notebook on the blink outdoor updates are a bit tough.

May 02, 2006

Alienated: Alienware Monitor Fails, Tony Fails to Read Fine Print

I wake up early this morning, ready for the final stretch of review before the Fed Courts exam tomorrow. I get ready, go to the library, meet my study partner. And then my Alienware doesn't wake up. The screen shows nothing but white.

Just what I need the day before my last exam.

I spend two hours on technical support hoping for a quick fix. It doesn't happen. So I think, "Fine, we'll do what we did with Dell: we'll schedule a tech to come out and replace whatever cheapo part they put in this box." After all, Alienware's customer service is supposed to be better than Dell's right?

Queue the second lousy shock of the day. It appears that for Alienware, the word "onsite" has strange meanings. Spend the extra cash for the "onsite" warranty, and here's what it gets you:

[W]e will first attempt to diagnose and resolve the problem over the telephone. If we determine that the problem is with a defective component covered by your warranty, then we will, at our option, either: (a) have you send your product to our repair facilities for repair or replacement; (b) send a technician to your home or place of business to replace the defective component; or (c) send you a component part to replace the defective component. Option (b) will apply only if you purchased the Alienware Onsite Service along with your warranty.

(emphasis mine) In other words, pay Alienware extra for their premium technical support to give them another option. That's an interesting definition of "onsite."

I suppose I shouldn't find it surprising, but it is disappointing. Talk about a brand loyalty killer. And it seems I'm not alone.

Anyway, the data has burned from my non-functional notebook--it still works using an external monitor--so it's time to wrap this up. I've borrowed a new notebook for the exam tomorrow, and if I'm lucky I can still cram every obscure Fed Courts decision into my head so that I can pass. I'll delay my anger and frustration--and the mailing of the unit back to Florida--until tomorrow. Various forms of protest flit in my mind, of course, but more than likely I'll do nothing: the frustration isn't worth it. Other than, of course, not purchasing one of their machines again.

Lousy timing, though.

UPDATE: It's only fair that I should give some thanks at this point, especially as "this point" is around 2AM on the morning of the exam. Thanks to my study partner for picking up some of the outlining slack while I sat on the phone talking to tech support, and to a good friend who has graciously loaned me her laptop for a day and a half.

Giving The Devil His Due

Happy Day (1)
vabartaker wrote: hi there - 1. i just started a bl... [more]

Not Quite Technically Competent Enough To Know If They're Lying To Me (3)
A. Rickey wrote: Luis: I think the word you may be ... [more]

I'll Be Back (0)
Review of Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman (1)
Synonymous Lawyer wrote: A fair and balanced review. Nice. ... [more]

And So It Ends (7)
Dawn wrote: Congratulations!... [more]

A Shameless Political Hack Grows in Nassau, or How Not to Write a Brief, Kids (1)
Gavin Whenman wrote: What an arsehole (him, not you).... [more]

Spam Sleuthing (2)
Ken wrote: Amazing how life works, I too am fe... [more]

Alienware Off, Dell Back (0)
For the Real Law Addicts Out There (0)
Finally finished... (6)
brian wrote: You wouldn't happen have a copy of ... [more]

Alienated: Alienware Monitor Fails, Tony Fails to Read Fine Print (1)
Martin Lloyd wrote: Good luck with the last exam, and c... [more]

Choose Stylesheet

What I'm Reading

D.C. Noir

My city. But darker.
A Clockwork Orange

About time I read this...


Projects I've Been Involved With

A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care (A new round-the-world travel blog, co-written with my wife)
Parents for Inclusive Education (From my Clinic)

Syndicated from other sites

The Columbia Continuum
Other Blogs by CLS students

De Novo
Theory and Practice
Liberal Federalism?
Good News, No Foolin'

Nancy Pelosi covers her head and visits the head of John the Baptist.
Vlogging in from Austin.
Omikase/"American Idol"

Jeremy Blachman's Weblog: 2007
Happy Passover
Looking for Advice re: LA
Google Books

Stay of Execution
What I've Learned From This Blog, or My Yellow Underpants
The End
Mid Thirties

Legal Theory Blog
Program Announcement: Summer Programs on the Constitution at George Washington
Book Announement: Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy by Whittington
Entry Level Hiring Report

The Volokh Conspiracy
Making the Daily Show:
Civil unions pass New Hampshire House:
Profile of Yale Law Dean Harold Koh:

Crescat Sententia
Hillary II
Politics and Principal/Agents

Law Dork
Election Approaches
Following Lewis
New Jersey High Court: 'Same Rights and Benefits'

Surveying the revival
Birds of paradise

Half the Sins of Mankind
Cheney Has Spoken Religious conservatives who may ...
Does Ahmadinejad Know Christianity Better Than MSN...
Borders as Genocide In discussions of climate chan...

For lovers of garden gnomes...and any China-freaks out there
We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Does SOX explain the flight from NY?
More Litvak on SOX effect on cross-listed firms
What did the market learn from internal controls reporting?

The Yin Blog
Iowa City = Riyadh
Jeffrey Rosen's "The Supreme Court"
Geek alert -- who would win between Battlestar Galactica and the U.S.S. Enterprise?

Letters of Marque
And there we are

Signing Off

Dark Bilious Vapors
Jim (The Waco Kid): Where you headed, cowboy?
Bart: Nowhere special.
Jim: Nowhere special. I always wanted to go there.
Bart: Come on.
--"Blazing Saddles"

Technical Difficulties... please stand by....
The Onion should have gotten a patent first....

Legal Ethics Forum
Interesting new Expert DQ case
Decency, Due Care, and The Yoo-Delahunty Memorandum
Thinking About the Fired U.S. Attorneys

Ex Post
Student Symposium- Chicago!
More Hmong - Now at Law School
Good Samaritan Laws: Good For America?

Appellate Law & Practice
Those turned over documents
CA1: courts can’t help people acquitted of crimes purge the taint of acquitted conduct
CA1: restrictions on chain liquor stores in Rhode Island are STILL okay

the imbroglio
High schoolers turn in plagiarism screeners for copyright infringement
Paris to offer 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations to rent by the end of the year

The Republic of T.
The Secret of the Snack Attack
links for 2007-04-04
Where You Link is What You Get

Distractions for stressed law students

The Other Side: Twisted AnimationsSomething Positive, a truly good webcomic

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