« July 2006 | Main

August 25, 2006

And like that... he is gone

So that's it. RIP Three Years of Hell, June 2, 2003 to August 25, 2006. After all these words, there are only a few things left to say.

Two sites, the Imbroglio and the Volokh Conspiracy, have given me a slightly premature sendoff, and their words are very kind. (The site has received its final Kerr Package.) In answer to Ambimb's question as to why the site is closing, the answer is simply that the project is done. I don't know what my next big task will be. I've got two articles in process (much more difficult now I don't have free Lexis access). There's a few chapters written of a novel, a thought made more exciting by three friends who have already written books. The more I look at law and technology, the more I think that an open-source, XML-based framework for writing judicial opinions would bring caselaw closer to the public (as well as weaken the WEXIS duopoly). Perhaps that's a project worth looking into. Whatever the case, I'm sure I'll have no problem coming up with other tasks to occupy my (soon to dwindle rapidly) free time. This story was always meant to have an ending, and after all these months, it is finally here.

Thank you to the professors and students at Columbia Law School who made this journey such a rich experience. The same goes to the bloggers across the 'sphere who've linked, commented and otherwise spread the word. (A special note should go to Martin, who started me on this path.) My family, although asked not to comment on the blog itself, never failed to give me encouragement (and fodder for quite a few posts) throughout my years here.

And finally, of course, thank you to all of you who've read this site over the last three years and a bit. Journeys are made better with travelling companions, and I couldn't have asked for a finer bunch.

Best regards,

A.R.

And for those without blogs...

Dear Wormwood:

Our correspondence over these last few years, put together, may be the single longest thing I've ever written. For old time's sake, however, I hope you'll allow me to give you one last list, a few things I hope you'll take with you in your own purgatorial journeys.

At long last, Wormwood, our conversation is at an end. Please take with you my best wishes, and may your time in law school bring you every joy possible.

1L Year

  1. Relax. Take deep breaths: You're going to be under a lot of pressure, especially in December, to consider what you're doing right now the most important thing you ever have, or will, do. It's not. It's barely even the real world. Nothing here should determine your self worth. Go out into the city of New York, watch the world go by in wonder, and every so often just put it all aside.
  2. Learn the game: Law school isn't really that difficult, it's just different. There are rules, patterns and strategies to be discovered. You want to maximize the amount of learning--where "learning" means "what you'll need for the exam"--with the minimum amount of effort. The learning you get joy from may coincide with this, but if it doesn't, just make it a free-time activity.
  3. Ask your elders: 2Ls have gone through this already. Befriend a couple you trust and ask their advice.
  4. Everyone else is jumping off a bridge. Don't join them: Start thinking right now about what you want from the law. Then ask your counselors, your professors and your compatriots how to get there. Don't sign up, join up, compete for or get ulcers over things that aren't imperative to your goals. This, by the way, is excellent advice well beyond your 1L year.

2L Year

  1. Don't Be Smug: If you did well, be proud of yourself, but don't let it go to your head. Law school is a very limited game in a very limited world. You've now got a few extra chips to carry into the next hand, but the rules are going to change.
  2. Law Review: If you're offered a position, think long and hard before taking it. Is the Review something you really want to do? Do you think you'll learn from it? Is it necessary for your goals? A law review is probably the single biggest time commitment you'll make in law school, and I'm going to admit: joining the Columbia Law Review was probably my greatest regret. Don't just say "yes" by default. (For more advice, see here.)
  3. Getting a job: The Vault doesn't hold the secrets of life. You're choosing your future colleagues, and they're choosing you, so the first and foremost thing you want to know is, "Do I want to be up at 2AM eating bad takeout Chinese with these people?" It's a trite observation, but the best advice I can give.
  4. Help a 1L: Remember that 1L advice about getting a mentor? Be one.
  5. Plan your schedule: I didn't do this very well, particularly in the area of tax. I should have planned my schedule so that I'd have more time to take tax courses in my third year.
  6. Take a clinic: Clinics don't get the respect they deserve in law schools. Clinical professors sometimes aren't treated as "real" professors, and there are academics who sneer at them. Guess what? They're also a chance to stop learning about "The Law" and see how law and people interact. I started law school as an originalist. My clinic drove me into the arms of legal realism. Find me one other experience in law school that evokes that deep a change. (You can do this your third year as well.)

3L Year:

  1. Enjoy your classes: Take a course or two that will never be useful at all. 3L year gives you at least a bit of breathing space.
  2. Start some projects: You're going to be really good at the law school thing now, which means you'll have free time. Use it wisely.
  3. Apply for clerkships: If you can afford it--there is a significant impact in lost wages--then look at clerking. The process is far more difficult than it should be, time consuming and may cost you some airline tickets. It's still worth a try.

    Certainly there is more, but I've mentioned it to you over the years, Wormwood. With any luck, this will serve as a brief reminder.

Advice for 1Ls Starting a Blog: A Much Shorter Part II

Dear Wormwood:

I promised you two letters that might help your friend Scrimgouge in starting a 1L blog. The first letter focused mostly upon matters that any blogger, legal or otherwise, might find useful, be they technical or stylistic. But both you and Scrimgouge are now law student, which makes your efforts (and yes, dear Wormwood, I really am hoping that you too might start blogging) a bit different. So with the basics out of the way, I'd like to make a few quick notes and observations on what I've learned from law school blogging.

  1. Eschew anonymity: I've covered the reasons for this in one of my most oft-read posts. I know I bang on upon this, but anonymity certainly isn't as safe as you'd suspect. Besides, it's only polite that when you violate Godwin's Law, your opponent knows where to send the summons and complaint.
  2. Don't be surprised if your first year makes for the most interesting blogging: First year blogs are great, indeed positively addicting. Most 1Ls find themselves thrust into this bizarro land where Socratic Method suddenly makes sense as a pedagogical technique and everything--and I mean everything--starts being seen through the lense of law. On the other hand, 1L bloggers know that most of their readers aren't other law students, but their friends, family and associates from back in the "real world." The need to explain the pressure-cooker anxiety, and the urge to translate the experience to outsiders, makes for excellent writing.

    1L year is all about learning the game. 2L year, you merely refine it. By 3L, you're looking for another game to play because you know exactly how much class you can snooze through with minimal effect on your grades. Why do you think Scott Turow didn't write a sequel?

  3. Give your fellow students (and professors) some space: TYoH followed two pretty simple rules. First, don't mention a non-blogging professor by name. Refer to them instead as "Prof. Contracts" or "Prof. CivPro." It's not much, but it does mean that your blog entries won't end up as Google hits for their name. Secondly, if you have a story to tell about a fellow student, even if you're not mentioning them by name, shoot them a quick email with a draft of the post before you publish. They may not want their lives appearing online. Most of the time, no one will care, but it's a good habit that saves trouble later on.
  4. Blog about what fascinates you: Your text really comes alive when you have an interesting story to tell, or when you're passionate about an issue. All law student bloggers eventually create their own niche. I've posted quite a lot on gay marriage, for instance, but also on the appropriateness of professional status for legal practitioners (much more obscure) and strange tax issues. The Ambivalent Imbroglio should be one of the first reads for any law student thinking of becoming a public defender (or a prosecutor, for that matter). You don't have to comment fully on everything. If you find something interesting but don't have anything to say on it, an entry with a quick link is perfectly fine. Write in depth on those issues you care about.
  5. Engage others: Yesterday I wrote about connecting to other bloggers, but focused mostly on law professors or major players. Yet the real and lasting relationships in blogging will come from your own cohorts, your peers out there on the great wide internet. I've copied fair amounts of code from Heidi's effort. I've made fast friends with Chris. I've pimped Jeremy's book. These are the things I smile about when I remember TYoH, and I'll bet I do so a decade from now. Your cohort will be a source of support when things go wrong, both scholastically and technically. They'll also be something you'll carry away from law school.
  6. Keep a sense of humor: All too often, you'll be inspired to shout. When you do, put the post in "draft" and leave it to the next day. Remember that at the right moment and you'll thank me later.
  7. Keep in touch: Perhaps not advice, so much, but if there's a 1L out there starting a blog and they need a bit of help, don't hesitate to ask. I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun reading your work in the years to come.

And that, dearest Wormwood, is that. I hope that Scrimgouge finds the next three years as exciting as I did.

Welcome to the Continuum! or Passing the Torch

Say hello to Luis Villa, a 1L at Columbia law school. He's another coder turned lawyer, and his musings on code and law strike a cord.

If there's any other Columbia Law School bloggers who would like to tie their blogs into the Columbia Continuum, feel free to email me. (I will be keeping that site working, and maybe even improved, after this site goes quiet.)

UPDATE: Welcome also to Legal Economics, another Columbia 1L. This guy will have no trouble in Reg State. Too bad it's not a required class anymore, eh?

(Please note that the Continuum requires an RSS feed, so if you're on Blogger or Blogspot, you should get a Feedburner account.)

Down to the Wire

Right... self-imposed deadline of tonight to finish this thing off, and still four or five posts that I need to complete. Right now all that quick typing in exams is coming in handy!

August 24, 2006

Advice for 1Ls Considering a Blog: A Very Long Part One

Dear Wormwood:

Who is this Scrimgouge whose email address you've forwarded me? It's certainly very flattering that he's asking you to ask me for advice on starting a law school blog. Nevertheless, there's no good reason for him to ask me at one remove. [1] You know full well I'd speak at the opening of a Doritos bag, and give away advice just as profligately.

Since your friend has asked, I'm happy to oblige. This particular project has run for over three years, and I'd like to think that in that time I've learned a few things that might help out a beginner. Of course, with the start of the fall semester, there is currently no shortage of advice for new law students, and I'm sure that similar wisdom about blogs is a dime a dozen. Hopefully your friend Scrimgouge will find one or two chestnuts here that he hasn't managed to gather elsewhere. Sadly for him, however, whatever angels generally look over my shoulder and force me to be brief have taken a tea break. What follows is quite lengthy indeed.

To help out a bit, I've divided the post into five sections that continue after the cut:
First, the commonplace.
Second, decide what you want to do.
Third, learn a bit about the technology.
Fourth, connect, connect, connect (to the Web).
Fifth, connect, connect, connect (to other bloggers).
Finally, have fun.

I hope it helps.

First, the commonplace
A few pieces of advice are so hoary that they're hardly worth mentioning. For instance, be yourself. But take that that idea a bit deeper. "Being yourself" doesn't mean flinging one's soul upon the internet. (Indeed, when you meet a blogger in real life, he or she usually isn't much like the blog.) Every blogger is an exhibitionist to some extent, but even the most skillful wordsmith will get only a facet of himself down in his entries. It helps if you have some idea, at the beginning, what part of yourself you want to put on display. The pundit? The explorer? The wide-eyed but uncertain neophyte? The sarcastic party guy? Knowing this will help you focus your entries (and come up with topics on days that you're feeling dry).

Another piece of common, and mostly useless, advice: write well. If you don't do that, you're unlikely to attract (or keep) readers. Yet how much does that help young Scrimgouge? If his writing isn't up to snuff, there's nothing that you or I can say that will help him. His blog will serve as an online diary and memoir for him and his closest friends, of course, but if what he wants is a broader readership, then I would think that decent writing is the sine qua non. [2]

Here's the good news: Scrimgouge doesn't have to write that well to attract a broad readership. Throughout the legal blogosphere, there's quite a few "buried gems," brilliantly written blogs that no one ever sees. Similarly, there are underserving sites like this one that get far greater than their share of traffic. So presuming first that Scrimgouge wants his site to "get noticed," and second that he can write passably well, I think the advice that follows the cut might be more the kind of thing he's looking for. You've not told me how experienced Scrimgouge is, however. This post paints broadly and covers the basics, and a later one will deal with more law school-specific advice.

Second, decide what you want to do
Hundreds of writers, most of them lazy, have started sentences with the words, "Blogs are." "Blogs are beginning to challenge the mainstream media's monopoly on truth." "Blogs are journalism, art and editorial rolled in one." "Blogs (like DailyKos) are crashing the gate, kissing the big jock's girlfriend and drinking enough to be the first to get the lampshade on their head." Sounds majestic, doesn't it?

It's also crap. At the heart of them, blogs are diaries with hyperlinks. As an "art form," blogging's precursors go back the The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, and that esteemed lady's been dead for over a thousand years. An astute blogger can use the medium to do any of the things mentioned above (well, maybe not the lampshade), but you don't get there just by starting a blog. So before you start, think a bit about your goals and readers:

Why are you doing this?
Assuming you want to blog all the way through law school, it's going to take some time. Not a lot of time, and you'll enjoy it, but writing something each day will devour one of your most precious commodities. So are you trying to make a name for yourself a pundit? Do you want to polish your debate skills? Meet people you otherwise wouldn't? A little of each? Do you want to make money? (Strangely, it can be done.)

In my case, I started the blog for three main reasons. First, I wanted a memoir that would still be here in ten years, to remind me who I was. (I suspect I'll cringe every now and then, looking back on this a decade from now.) Second, I wanted to keep my marketing and technical skills--things one doesn't use much in law school--in some kind of shape. And finally, I wanted to use the blog to extend my network. Much of the design of TYoH reflects these goal: the overly-complicated (and currently broken) blog roll, for instance, or the catchy features like ExamWatch or Sins Of The Week. I probably make no more than fifteen dollars a quarter from my Amazon partnership, but it let me play about with XML.

Who are your readers?
Your readers will determine a lot of your content. Do you want an audience of fellow students and friends? (That was always the goal of TYoH.) If so, matters less formal will take up a great deal of your time. If you're hoping to join in on the discussion between the Bainbridges, Althouses or Volokhs on a regular basis, you'll probably want to avoid talking about things like the state of the law school cafeteria.

Who are you?
I've always advised against anonymity, and I've never changed my opinion. Writing with a pseudonym may seem romantic, mythic or historically appropriate, but it provides a false sense of security. It seems "safer" to blog without telling anyone who you are, but there is nothing more illusory than anonymity on the internet. Let your shield against offensive writing be the fear of opprobrium of those who you respect. Don't be one of these people afraid of your own name.

Third, learn a bit about the technology
Once the goals are determined, it's time to worry about tools.

If your friend Scrimgouge wants, he can start up a blog in less time than it took him to email me.
Livejournal, Typepad, MSN Spaces, political sites like DailyKos, or the ubiquitous Blogger are quite happy to pave the way for you. Some of these sites, like Althouse, will attract a lot of readers. However, these mass market sites are very limited in what they can do. For the free package, you generally get little or no image hosting, you'll have to customize their particular set of templates and add-ons, and if you want to do something a little different, odds are it won't be in the standard toolset.

On the other hand, hosting your own blog, installing all the software and keeping it up to date can be quite a pain in itself. There's no magic to it: if you have a lot of patience, can read simple instructions and are not afraid of a bit of guesswork, most people who can write simple HTML can buy a domain, find a host, set up the software and then start tweaking the templates to fit them. Yet as a 1L, time is precious. If you're not already skilled, you may soon feel like your 1L course schedule is Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure and Moveabletype.

(Or Wordpress, Textism, Drupal, etc. etc.)

If I had it to do over again, I might choose another path: something like Blawgcoop. You see, most blogging software will let you set up multiple blogs, and many web hosts will host multiple domain names on the same account. A team of bloggers can thus install a piece of software once and split the cost of hosting and the administrative tasks. If any blogger adds new features to the software, it's available for all. Better yet, membership in something like Blawgcoop immediately provides you with some associates, and possibly a few initial readers. It's such a brilliant idea, I wish I'd gotten there first.

I don't know if Blawgcoop is still accepting new members. If they aren't, someone else should start something like this for the coming "generation."

Fourth, connect, connect, connect (with the Web)
Remember my comment that Sei Shonagon was the prototypical blogger? Well, that's true, but she didn't have access to the little blue magic that makes blogging more powerful than online diaries: hyperlinks. Those "buried gems" of blogs that languish unread? More often than not they live in a self-imposed hyperlinkless exile. I assume that Scrimgouge wishes his writing to avoid such a fate: here are two technologies that will help him out.

1. RSS/ATOM
Believe it or not, many of your readers may never visit your blog as such. The most voracious blog-readers may keep tabs on dozens or hundreds of websites a day, and the sheer act of clicking through to them takes up too much time. Instead, they use feed readers (something like Google Reader) to aggregate blog posts from innumerable sites, making them all readable on the same page.

Scrimgouge surely doesn't want to exclude these blog-happy readers, so he needs to make sure that his blog produces feeds that work with the two most common technologies, RSS and ATOM. Most blogging software will provide this for him automatically. If not, he can see my instructions for setting up third-party services like Feedburner.

Subscription feeds should impress upon your friend one very important rule of blogging: catchy and well-planned titles. Feed readers skip through hundreds of blog posts a day. Are they more likely to be stopped by "My Critique of Roper" or "Why We Should Whack The Young'uns: Kennedy's Misstep in Roper." [3]

2. Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization isn't a "technology" as such, but if you blog, it's one of your most important skills. Better news for Scrimgouge, it's a skill that most law school bloggers aren't that good at, so it's easy to be competitive.

Most legal blogs will get much, if not most, of their traffic from search engines, especially when they're starting out. It's a great way to get noticed, and the better placed your blog is, the more traffic it will attract. Bad news: search engine optimization is complex enough that some web developers make a living advising clients on it. (Many of those would disagree with my advice below.) Good news: the basics are very, very easy. Here's Tony's Five Step Painless Plan For Quick Search Engine Quasi-Optimization.

  1. Figure out the terms you want to "own": You can't do this before you've decided what your blog is about, but once you know that, figure out what words someone would use to stumble across your site. For instance, TYoH is targetted mostly at law students, specifically at students going to Columbia. So since its inception, I've wanted to be at least on Google's front page for the terms Columbia Law Student Blog, law student blog, and to a lesser degree student blog. There were other terms I wanted to own at one point or another, but those have been key since near the beginning of the site. Each month, I get plenty of hits from people searching for what I want to provide.
  2. TITLE tags are your friend: Whatever system you're using, learn how to alter the TITLE tags for your site. The terms that you want to own should be near the beginning of the title of every page. This site, for instance, is titled "A Columbia Law Student Blog - Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil."
  3. META tags: A good start on what you need to know is here.
  4. Catchy Titles, Part II: As with your site title, so with your post titles. Search engines give more weight to terms in post titles than terms in the body of your post. Make sure that your stylesheet uses one of the heading tags (in my case H3) for your post titles. And when you write your titles, keep in mind terms that might bring you readers. (I get quite a few hits, even now, for the term kritarchy, for instance.)
  5. Experiment and modify: If your host doesn't provide a way of tracking your visitors, it's very easy to set up a service like Sitemeter. These programs will tell you who's searching for you (which can lead to amusing blog posts in and of themselves) and foster some thoughts on how to improve your search engine standing. Remember: the best way to get noticed is to get people to link to you, but that only comes with time and good writing. An SEO strategy will get the ball rolling.

You can do a lot more to optimize your site. On the other hand, take a look around at the various law student blogs. Very few do any of these things, so five painless steps should help you out a lot.

3. Design is Inseperable from Technology
Think carefully when you're designing your site. If you know Flash, remember that not everyone's browser uses Flash gracefully. Ditto with Javascript. (TYoH's menus, for the longest time, broke in just about every non-IE browser.) And one hint: three-column designs are a real pain for mobile devices like the Motorola Q, because you have to scroll down through an entire column of static junk before you get to the content you want to read. Best practice is to come up with a separate, stripped-down template for mobile bloggers (like Instapundit does), but that's a fair amount of work.

Fifth, connect, connect, connect (with other bloggers)
Connecting to the Web is all about making it as easy as possible for your readers to get to you. It's a start: you want it to be as easy as possible to get to your site. After that, you want to cement your place in the blogosphere by connecting to other people. A few ways to do this:

Link
Links form the circulatory system of the blogosphere. The best piece of advice I ever received from a blogfather (and one which, you might notice dear Wormwood, I did not follow), was this: "For every entry, you want to link to at least two sites, and preferably two other blogs." Especially when starting out, this is the best piece of self-promotion possible.

As I said above, you can't be a blogger without a bit of exhibitionism. We like to be linked, and we keep track of who's talking about us. We check our web statistics, our Sitemeters, or Technorati to make sure that we're not just speaking to ether. Someone who links to us is an instant friend. Now, if you're Instapundit, you've got more friends than you can name already. And just being added to a blogroll--especially for a blogger bigger than yours truly, dear Wormwood--isn't such a thrill. But to see that we've got a reader: now that's interesting.

So if you come across something online that piques your fancy, link it with a compliment. [4] If you think someone's stating a case badly, post a critique. Write about other people, and they--and their readers--become interested in you. (Needless to say, it helps to do all of this well.)

Comment and Trackback
All the best writers are also voracious readers. The real cost in running a blog isn't really the time spent penning your latest thoughts. It's the time you'll spend reading other people. (Fortunately, after 1L year you'll have some truly dull courses, and you'll have learned that not every second needs to be spent paying attention.) Comments and Trackback pings are how you cement your writing to other authors on topics that interest you.

For instance, I write a great deal here about my opinions on (for want of a better term) judicial activists, and particularly how that is playing out in the context of homosexual rights and gay marriage. For that reason, I read blogs like Chris Geidners or the Republic of T, both because they keep me informed of the latest events in those areas and because they're interesting (read: non-vitriolic) commentators. Every so often, I leave a comment. While you might not expect it, a good comment drives quite a lot of traffic from their sites to mine. Similarly, if I write a post on one of their topics, a trackback ping makes sure that their interested readers have the chance to see what I've said. One or two out of a hundred then become my interested readers. Every little bit helps.

Two key points on both trackbacks and comments: (a) be fairly polite and (b) have something to say. You're a guest in someone else's community, so (a) is not only good manners but good politics. And (b) ensures that someone will want to click through the link to go to your site. "Me too!" or "That's a good point!" won't get you very far.

Of course, you knew that.

Real, personal connections
Finally, remember one other thing: bloggers are by definition people with a bit of free time on their hands and people who like to chat. Most of them include an email address on their site. If you have reason, use it.

Note the caveat: if you have reason. Don't send emails saying, "I love your blog, link me please." But don't be afraid to send an email if you have something to say that goes beyond a comment. You may not get a response, but sometimes you will. When you do, it's a positive boon.

If TYoH has done anything for me, dear Wormwood, it's been allowing my reach to exceed my grasp. I know a handful of professors at Columbia well enough to ask for a recommendation. But while I was starting this blog, Prof. Solum was trying to get RSS feeds to work on his site, and I got to play a hand in that. Through mutual affinity with H.P. Lovecraft, I've gotten to chat with one of the best minds in corporate scholarship. If I ever want to know about sailing and bankruptcy, I know where to go. I can claim a good friendship with a soon-to-be mover and shaker in the Ohio gay rights movement, and thanks to the help of Heidi Bond and Professor Yin, I have the tools and the topic for a funny piece of academic legal writing.

"Blogs are" may be a lazy way of starting a sentence, but what is Three Years of Hell about if not the occasional urge to succumb to sin? So slothfully, let me say: Blogs are conversation. Blogs are communication. And blogs are a 24/7 worldwide party, koffeeklatch bitchfest that will let you meet some of the strangest, most interesting and simply fun people ever. The first part of this missive, Wormwood, was all about technical interaction, but at heart blogs are about human relationships.

Finally, have fun
Which brings me to my last point: tell your friend Scrimgouge that when it comes to human relationships, don't forget his own. Sure, there may be days when he doesn't want to blog: he's feeling down, everything in his life is too private, or he just doesn't have the time. If that's the case, simply don't.

But more importantly, don't be afraid to put the blog down. For almost all law students, the blog will be a project or a hobby (or maybe a way to vent). It's nothing more. If you're looking at your significant other saying, "Hey, can we see the show an hour later? I'd like to finish this blog post," well, you may be obsessive (and in risk of needing a new SO), but the blog itself is healthy. If you ever catch yourself sincerely saying, "I'm sorry, honey. I'd like to go out with you this evening, but I have to finish this post," then either your relationship or your blogging has gone sour. Quit one or the other.

That's as good a place as any to end. As one of my favorite professors used to say--repeatedly--and with that and a dollar, you can get a cup of coffee. In a separate post, I'll cover a few details on the writing of legal blogs, things that might not be so obvious. I apologize for the length of my response. Given the fact that I won't be able to add anything to it after tomorrow, I felt it was best to be encyclopedic. Please tell your friend Scrimgouge that I wish him well as he embarks upon his own three years.

Yours,

A.R.

[1]: [Ed. Note: As my frequent readers will know, Letters to Wormwood is the advice column for students here at TYoH, and is modelled off of C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters. There is no Scrimgouge, though I've received the odd email asking advice.]

[2]: Indeed, I would guess that I'm the drop dead last student blawger of my "generation" to whom one would turn for writing. Wings and Vodka makes himself into more of a character. Heidi gets more emotion into two paragraphs than I get into a post. If would stress to young Scrimgouge that he should probably avoid my overdone and vaudevillian style: it doesn't pull in the readers.

[3]: Sometimes this works better than you'd expect. For instance, put the name of a case going up for appeal in a post title and you may end up cited in a federal court opinion. OK, you'll probably be cited by mistake, but titles can have unexpected consequences.

[4]: The really tech savvy are figuring out how to multiply the effectiveness of my advice. You now know, from my earlier writing, that my blog is trying to own the terms "Columbia law student blog." Now imagine you're sending me a link. Am I going to be happier if you link to me using "Anthony Rickey," "a Columbia law student" or "writing about Goodridge" as the anchor text? If you notice that a blogger is trying to own certain words (and you don't want them for yourself), use them in your link text. Your target blog will appreciate it.

Could Be Worse

A friend of mine just gave me a "post bar exam gift": a copy of Ichisada Miyazaki's China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China. From the first page:

Competition for a chance to take the civil service examinations began, if we may be allowed to exaggerate only a little, even before birth. . . . Prenatal care began as soon as a woman was known to be pregnant. . . .

Legal education system take note: you have something to aspire towards.

Grumpy Old Man Alert: "In My Day, We Didn't Have the 'SONI' System Like You Youngsters. We Read Two Hundred Spam Emails From Every Society Imaginable, And We LIKED It."

Forwarded from a current Columbia Law Student, from one of Student Services' fantastic new staff members:

We have put in place a new system, the Student Organization News and Information (SONI) System, which allows student organizations and journals to email students directly and allows you to select to which student organization and journal email lists you wish to subscribe or unsubscribe.
We hope that you find this system a helpful way to receive information from student organizations, and a good way to cut down on your email traffic.

The SONI system works as follows. All students in the Law School are initially subscribed to each student organization's email list. You may choose to unsubscribe from any list, at which point you will no longer receive email from that particular organization or journal. If you wish, you can later choose to resubscribe.


What a fantastic idea! I'm sure this entry will attract a lot of groans from the Class of 2006 and older, though. They can take heart: scuttlebutt is that you still can't avoid the daily deluge of emails from the public interest folks.

August 23, 2006

New York Pungent

Strange circumstances conspire to bring me back to New York just before the blog ends. I drove through Jersey late last night. A blind man could smell his way up the Jersey Turnpike. My memory of New York will be forever mixed with the smell of garbage. Tokyo has its sweating salarymen with natto-breath crowding the subway. Summer winds blow stinging road dust into your eyes in London. But the smell of rotting dinners sets New York apart, simply because it's always there, and especially strong in the summer. No part of Manhattan escapes it. Walk up from a Times Square subway exit, the cleaned-up area for tourists, and spoilt meat assaults your nose. Walk down Broadway for a romantic meal and you're certain to pass at least three corners reeking of fish. Take a badly air-conditioned cab through slow traffic to a job interview on 54th street and you have a choice: roll up the windows and sweat or arrive with your suit smelling as if you cleaned a drainage ditch in it. Maybe as the years go by I'll grow nostalgic and I'll forget. But for the present, summer in New York is remembered with my nose.

August 18, 2006

The Beginning of the End

Dear Wormwood:

The bar exam is over. I've moved away from D.C. to Another State. [1] And today the last signs of law-student living left me: my free Lexis account no longer works.

I feel I shall soon have withdrawal symptoms.

In any event, it's about time for this project to end. After all, Wormwood, while your journey through law school is beginning, it's time for me to go on about my life. There's still a little left I have to say, mostly about blogging, school, and a few observations to send you on your way. But even of that, there's not much. I'm going home to visit my parents this weekend, but I should be back to writing on Monday.

So by way of forewarning, Wormwood, you can expect the final entry of TYoH to appear one week from today, on Friday, August 25th. Now I just have to get everything in order. There is, of course, a project plan.

[1]: Incidentally, if I hadn't believed it before, this move would have convinced me that the Scion xB is great value for money. Over 30 miles to the gallon and I can fit massive amounts of cargo in the back.

An Interesting Paradox

Over at the Republic of T, Terrance has been chronicling battles in Wisconsin and Virginia over the interpretation of either Defense of Marriage amendments or alterations thereto. The argument is wearily familiar: that the text of the legislation is overbroad, and that it risks not only banning same-sex marriage and civil unions, but also private contractual arrangements regarding visitation, inheritance, etc. between same-sex couples.

The language in the Wisconsin amendment is typical:

Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.

Prof. Althouse commented here, and while she doesn't fully address the ambiguity, she explains in enough detail for my purposes the processes in which a court might interpret the text.

And yet the legal realist finds myself unable to fathom the argument. Opponents of these Defense of Marriage Amendments (or whatever the latest Virginia iteration is calling itself) claim that there is a significant risk that, should the measures be passed, a radical conservative judiciary is going to expansively read the provisions to enforce them to the utmost bounds of their meaning, knocking out not only privately-contracted civil unions (plausible) or state-sanctioned domestic partner benefits (possible), but also private contracts between homosexuals on the ownership of corporations. Why? If those states have judiciaries that will twist the text beyond the bounds of reason to restrict gay rights (so much so that they'd abrogate many contracts entered into by non-married heterosexuals), why did the voters of these states feel they needed DOMAs in the first place? Who are these justices just about to give progeny to Goodridge that yet would overenforce a ban on civil unions?

I wonder how effective these arguments will be in campaigning against DOMAs. Certainly there is a risk that moderate voters will see opponents bewailing the coming conservative judiciary to be at least partially crying wolf, isn't there?

August 14, 2006

It's a sad day when you find a lawyer asking why evidence of bias is important

Another "oops" in Lebanese photography, this time from the AP. Fact-checking seems to have gone out of style these days.

Worse than journalists, credibility seems on shaky ground with lefty law professors. The ever-dependable for the lunatic fringe view Brian Leiter takes Jim Lindgren to task for talking about these scandals:

Jim Lindgren (Law, Northwestern) here protests lack of attention being paid in the US media to the fact that Israel is killing large numbers of civilians in Lebanon, one-third of them children.

Whoops, sorry, I misread that:  his moral outrage is reserved for the fact that US media won't give sufficient attention to the fact that in at least one case a survivor of an Israeli airstrike went out of his way to make sure the media carried pictures of the children killed.  Shocking, just shocking.


Leiter's position is silly for at least three reasons.

First, he's playing the "But the Real Story is" game, something he's wont to do. The rules are simple: when Person A decides to talk about X, Person B (lacking much of any real value to say on X, often because it would require specialist knowledge) insists that the real story is Y, and that any talk at all about X is trivial. [1]

"But the Real Story Is" stands as the last refuge of the scoundrel with nothing to add. As with the underlying story in Rathergate, the evidence offered after the fact (in that case faked letters, in this case faked and staged photos) makes no particularly new observation, nor adds or detracts to the case made for Israel's offensive or Lebanese resistance. Prof. Leiter seems to have felt Israel's offensive unconscionable before the pictures, and Prof. Lindgren felt them justified, and the photos themselves offer no new information to change any minds. After all, we knew that children are dying, although the death counts go up and down depending on who does them and the time of day. The story of media manipulation--and media's willingness to be manipulated--yet has life in it as a controversy. [2]

Second, and most depressingly, why is a man who once told me he "expect[s] better of students who are planning on joining my profession" so disrespectful of the actual tools of law? I know that Prof. Leiter is a Law & Philosophy guy and the many jokes among students as to what "Law &" normally means. [3] Nevertheless, attacking bias in evidence presented by an opposing party is a critical litigation skill and a common tool of the legal trade. It's part of your regularly-balanced legal breakfast. Most if not all rules of evidence (and evidence courses) spend a great deal of time arguing about what "authenticates" a document, and what information can be used to show the bias of a witness.

These legal tools clash with what seems to be an informal norm increasingly common within the journalistic world: evidence that fits with a narrative is acceptable even if one can't confirm the facts. It's no bad thing that lawyers take the same methods of attack used to discredit a witness in court and apply them to journalists. Pace Leiter's suggestion that this is non-important, the staging of photographs violates a duty reporters have to their readers to present facts clearly and honestly. If the "candid" photograph of Green Helmet holding up a baby is no less posed than the image of Posh and Becks sitting upon thrones (in this week's Economist), then news services should not present these to readers as spontaneous events, even if they are symbolically representative of something "true." Leiter suggests that the "real story" is elsewhere, but to legal readers the falsification of evidence should be a story in and of itself.

Finally, the stories of photoshopping and staging retain their power because the malfeasance all seems to go in one direction: against Israel. Certainly there have been children in Haifa brought into hospitals wounded or dying, but no AP photographer has misidentified such a child as a victim of Hezbollah violence. No Israeli stringers have been found photoshopping additional missiles into the skies. There are some more or less flimsy excuses for this imbalance that don't involve intentional bias, mostly revolving around the difficulty of using employees (rather than stringers) in Lebanon. Yet this doesn't explain why, if the AP or Reuters knows that they are forced to use less reliable sources in Lebanon, their editorial controls are not strengthened to reflect this. Reuters may not be able to prevent their source from sending them photoshopped pictures, but there is no force in the world that compels them to print photographs that will embarass them later.

Even supposing the bias is unintentional, it remains a bias in favor of one side of an armed conflict. That bias goes to the credibility of the narrative presented by organizations like AP, Reuters or services that use their photography. It is reasonable, scholarly, and yes lawyerly to recognize that the credibility of a narrative of disproportionality may be called into question when presented by a party who makes frequent preventable errors, hides relevant information and insists in the face of contrary evidence upon its own objectivity. To say that the story is elsewhere, that evidence of bias is trivial, flies in the face of what we're taught--or at least should be taught--as lawyers.

[1]:It helps if, as Leiter does, you mischaracterize X and make up facts. First, Leiter is the only person, left or right, suggesting that "Green Helmet" (about whom much silliness has, admittedly, been written) is a survivor of any Israeli airstrike (not quite true), much less the one the airstrike shot in the video Lindgren presents. The most charitable view is that he's merely a civil defense worker, the least that he's a more or less official propaganda agent for Hezbollah. Secondly the accusation is of course much broader: that far from being an outlier ("in at least one case"), this kind of staging is business as usual for the stringers used by national media.

[2]: Of course, Leiter's accusation suggests that Lindgren is also playing "But the Real Story Is" with the mainstream media by "protesting" a "lack of attention." That's at best a mischaracterization. Lindgren's not really protesting, and I doubt he'd expect a response to his "protest." He's making an evidentiary point.

At the end of a post accusing the media of intentional or unintentional bias, the lack of reporting on the scandal is mentioned to further support the idea of bias. Journalism relentlessly insists that no mark of bias casts a shadow on their souls. The argument is not that "the real story is" the bias rather than the bombings, as the bombings are indeed the story. Rather, the hypothesis being advanced is that the storyteller cannot be trusted.

[3]: The kindest of jokes I have heard would be that "Law &" folks don't care much for anything that comes before the ampersand. One of the least kind was a classmate who joked that in his last year he took no "real law," and instead focused on "Law &" and "The Law of" courses.

August 11, 2006

Photoshopping Nonscandal

I guess the guys at DailyKos are a bit giddy after their victory over Kiss Me Joe, because they're hawking the story of a photoshopping scandal. According to the Kossacks, the GOP decided to paint a Hitler moustache on Howard Dean in an advertisement ridiculing the "Defeat-ocracts." When I first saw mention of it, I thought, "Well, maybe. I mean, Fascist Dean seems like a tough meme to propogate, and photoshopping to do it virtually guarantees a backlash, but hey, I've never claimed that Republicans used the web effectively. So who knows?"

Click through to the first link above and prepare to be underwhelmed. The "moustache" doesn't seem to be the result of intentional malice, but rather of having used this photograph, pulled off another blog. Don't get me wrong: the picture looks awful (so do the other four victims), but you have to really squint to look at Dean and think "mysterious Naziesque facial hair" rather than "wow... fire the photo editor." (Take another look at that picture. The injudicious use of the lasso tool leaves Dean's finger looking frighteningly skeletal, and if I were to make any complaint, it would be the fact that Rep. Murtha resembles a large, fleshy growth developing out of Michael Moore's left shoulder blade.) There's certainly nothing to suggest that someone sat down and painted a moustache onto Dean.

In other words, the story is the same as always when it comes to Republican web work. Don't assume malice where simple incompetence will suffice.

Nevertheless, the GOP has issued a new image (which seems to use a better picture of Dean as the source). Fair enough, although no one has corrected the whole Murtha-Moore-tumor problem. In the meantime, if this is supposed to be the left-wing version of Reuters photoshopping, there's just no comparison.

Why the New York Times Can't Prepare You For the Bar Exam (or your CrimLaw Final)

Compare and contrast this New York Times editorial on "castle doctrine" laws with this fisking. As those who just took the New York bar will recall, New York requires someone in fear of their life to make reasonable efforts to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense, while maintaining a "castle doctrine," wherein there's no requirement to retreat if the defendant can prove they were in reasonable fear of their life or great bodily harm. However, the requirement to retreat is a minority rule.

The primary change in Florida (and some other state's) "stand your ground" laws is a mere presumption. (Though apparently one report to a Florida committee suggests that this presumption is "conclusive," this seems more a counsel against the use of legislative history, if it's not out and out scaremongering.) [1]) The castle doctrine generally required a defendant to prove that they were in fear of their lives. The stand your ground laws grant a (almost certainly rebuttable) presumption to homeowners that, if a burglar or other intruder breaks into their house, they were probably in fear of their lives, and that someone breaking into a home is willing to use violence. For most of us living in homes, particularly those of us who have lived in bad neighborhoods, this isn't much of an intuitive stretch.

Liptak deals with this change wholly unpersuasively: "[Homeowners] no longer need to prove that they feared for their safety, only that the person they killed intruded unlawfully and forcefully." What he leaves out, of course, is the fact that a homeowner who did not fear for their safety can still be convicted: the state merely has to prove this as part of its case.

Once you get out of the castle doctrine business, Liptak glosses over the fact that retreat statutes were a minority jurisdiction rule in any event. In other words, Florida (and similar states) are becoming a bit more like everywhere else where the sky hasn't fallen. So far as the presumption goes, it's really not all that frightening. Is it really so worrisome that a homeowner who will almost certainly be found to be neither guilty or liable is spared the expense of preparing a defense?

UPDATE: Some of the cases used as sob stories for why this law is so horrible don't really push my buttons. Take, for instance, the case of 23-year-old prostitute Jacqueline Galas, who won't be facing a murder charge. Even according to the St. Petersburg Times (in an article not at all sympathetic to Ms. Galas) describes the situation as follows:

Galas, a 23-year-old with a known history of prostitution, said Labiento was a frequent client. She told authorities that on June 11, at his home on Christina Lane, he pointed a .357 at her and threatened to kill her.

She managed to calm him down, and he put the gun on the kitchen table. When the phone rang, he walked to pick it up.

Galas picked up the gun.

When Labiento approached her, she fired the fatal shot.

"She didn't know if he had another gun," Halkitis said, "because she always saw him with two guns."


If the new law creates an additional zone of risk for Johns who invite hookers into their home and threaten them with handguns, well, so what? I think it's safe to say that this risk is easily avoided by the common sense advice that pointing a gun at someone is generally not good for one's health.

From Ms. Galas's point of view, she had a decision to make: risk running from the home, knowing that a suicidal man might take pot shots at her as she escaped to the car, or kill a man advancing on her as she's holding a gun. A law requiring her to take the risk seems a bit harsh.

When I lived in England, I remember being surprised by the requirements to retreat in British law. On the other hand, I also recall that at my college's introductory public safety lecture (given by a female member of the Thames Valley Police), the response given to a gentleman who asked whether he would be liable for injuries to a mugger if (the questioner being a rather big guy well trained in judo, and hence not a likely victim anyway) the villain was injured. She replied, "The law says you probably should run if you think you can do so. On the other hand, I'd remind you of the old saying that 'It's better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.' So don't give that requirement too much weight."

[1]: The concern by Anthony Sebok that the statutory presumption might be conclusive flies in the face of a lot of good Florida constitutional law, at least in civil cases. See, e.g. Public Health Trust v. Valcin, 507 So. 2d 596, 599 (Fla. 1987) ("[A conclusive presumption] violates due process in its failure to provide the adverse party any opportunity to rebut the presumption of negligence"); Straughn v. K & K Land Management, Inc., 326 So. 2d 421, 424 (Fla. 1976) ("The test for the constitutionality of statutory presumptions is twofold. First, there must be a rational connection between the fact proved and the ultimate fact presumed. . . . Second, there must be a right to rebut in a fair manner.") So while the report to which Sebok refers (here) does describe the presumption as "conclusive," it gives no reason for assuming this to be the case, the Florida courts don't make presumptions conclusive by default, and such a presumption seems to be on shaky due process ground.

Once you abandon the idea of a conclusive presumption, Sebok's fears become a bit sillier:

So let's go back to Lisa and Bob. Under the old law, Lisa would have had to prove not only that Bob was in her home, but also that she was afraid for her life (or the lives of others in the house). In reality, that was often easy to do -- usually juries would take the word of a living homeowner over a dead burglar (even if the burglar was unarmed). But now Lisa, in theory, has a free hand to shoot even a plainly unarmed burglar as to whom he or she, in fact, felt no fear at all.

No. Presuming we weigh actual Florida caselaw over some random legislative report, Lisa doesn't have a free hand to shoot anybody. However, the state will have to prove that the burglar was plainly unarmed and that Lisa had no reasonable fear for her life. (Or at the very least, a civil plaintiff will have to do so.) This is difficult to do, and as Sebok notes, juries give homeowners a wide latitude anyway. Hence, the actual effect of the law may be too spare homeowners the expense of a trial, rather than to alter anyone's rights.

August 07, 2006

Blood in the Water

After forcing Reuters to pull a third rate forgery from its video archives, bloggers are having a field day finding more suspicious photos from the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict. My guess is that many will turn out to be perfectly valid images, but a few will turn up as very embarassing errors that will take a large toll on media credibility. While I'm not qualified to judge most of the scandals, this one certainly seems suspicious. In two photos dated two weeks apart, what seems to be the same woman is bewailing the destruction of her apartment. I suppose there are explanations: she owns two apartments, the second picture is her evil twin, etc. But the idea that the major news agencies aren't paying enough attention to the activities of their men on the street is becoming hard to shake.

August 06, 2006

Caution for Incoming CLS 1Ls

Dear Wormwood:

I hope you are finding your law school preparations none too taxing and your final summer outside the law enjoyable. I see in your latest letter that you're wondering about the living arrangements at the University Discordia Law School. I'm sure you're already tired of my own travails with a dorm room. Nevertheless, I'd advise that a choice of housing is something into which you should put a great deal of care.

I say this because at least at Columbia, price is no guarantee of quality. Yes, I ended up in a dormitory room, and I suffered from unsanitary kitchens and unwanted visitors therein. But heck, I was paying about $600 per month for 196 square feet of living space in a quasi-nice area of Manhattan, so I couldn't complain too much.

On the other hand, one of my best friends at Columbia lives in the elite law student housing at Lionsgate Apartments with a rent of around $1100 per month. Over the last two years, his eighth floor apartment flooded to the depth of two inches and an area of the floor becomes an artesian spring any time there's a hard rain. One window shows obvious water damage, and the superintendent took two months to replace some broken blinds[1]. Now I learn that her subletter has also complained about mice. This in a building described by the school as a "luxury high rise."

You're quite clever, Wormwood, so you can see the connection: same problems (well, OK, I never had flooding), but for twice the price. And once you're in to these buildings, it's made very difficult to get out. (Whereas trading for a more expensive room from a dormitory is not particularly difficult.)

So my advice to you before heading off to University Discordia is to find some friends among your soon-to-be-classmates and ask for their advice. Nothing substitutes for local knowledge. Then choose carefully.

[1]: In case you're thinking that non-functional blinds are no big thing, it's worth remembering that in New York City, anyone on your floor or above will be able to see straight into your bedroom at night if you have the courage to turn a light on.

Not Confidence Inspiring

For a while now, there's been a bit of a storm in the more feverish bits of the right wing blogosphere over possible fakery in photographs of the Israeli attack on Qana. For the most part, I've not bought the allegation that these images were "staged." The evidence is mostly circumstantial, and while I'll freely admit that staging such a thing isn't beyond what I'd believe of Hezbollah, I also think those making such an allegation have a higher burden of proof. After all, allowing such staging would require at least the gross negligence, if not the connivance, of quite a few major media outlets.

The trouble is today Reuters admitted to publishing a doctored photo of another bombing. And much like the Rathergate memos, the photo is not even a third-rate forgery. Anyone who's ever used the "clone" tool in Photoshop can see that the image has been badly faked. (Further, as someone who once watched an entire Scientology banner be photoshopped out of a publicity photo for a company we represented, I can tell you that a reasonably competent college graduate with little training could do a better job.) There is literally no excuse for letting a picture like this go out. It's laughable.

Therein lies my difficulty. I still don't think the Qana photographs are faked, and that most of the tempest over them in the right wing blogs is misplaced. But if the photographer who filed the Reuters photo is also willing to hack out a lousy Photoshop, who says he's not willing to look aside while some (relatively more competent) Hezbollah fakers set up on stage left? If the reason we should trust those photographs is the integrity of Reuter's editorial process, where was it when these latest photographs showed up? I'm willing to put the burden of proof on the bloggers, but for pity's sake, it would help if the media majors would make some attempt at retaining their credibility.

August 03, 2006

Tunnel Vision on Israel

Probably my least favorite of the Volokh Conspirators is Professor Bernstein. To give him his due, he's often surprisingly lucid any time except when he's speaking about Israel. At that point, he often spouts out the most outrageous junk without really giving it any thought or decent research. And I say this not as some pro-Hezbollah crank, but as someone who is generally very pro-Israeli.

Today, for instance, the Professor asks, "Does Japan Have the Right To Exist As A Japanese State?" In relevant part, he continues:

My correspondent was unaware of any other countries that have an overt ethnic identity, but, judging by immigration laws, there are quite a few, and with a few exceptions (Armenia and Germany), their discriminatory immigration policies exist, unlike Israel's, without any justification resulting from persecution of that group.

For example, according to Wikipedia: "Japanese citizenship is conferred jus sanguinis, and monolingual Japanese-speaking minorities often reside in Japan for generations under permanent residency status without acquiring citizenship in their country of birth." Why does Japan have the right to exist as a Japanese state? Has this question ever been asked?


Why, yes, Professor, it has been asked! The problem of ethnic Koreans living in Japan features prominently in just about any human rights discussion of the area, whether among students of Japan, expatriates living in Japan or just about anyone with a passing knowledge of Japanese history. Indeed, if Professor Bernstein had been a bit more persistent even in consulting Wikipedia, he'd have stumbled upon their own entry on the zainichi-chosenjin, which provides some pretty good background. And most of the commentary on the issue is not spectacularly favorable to Japan.

My direct personal knowledge of the issue is fairly limited, but enough to make Prof. Bernstein's question slide straight from silly to repulsive. During my first short stay in Japan (way back in my undergraduate days), my class was taken to visit a Korean village in Takatsuki, near Osaka. I still vividly remember the little hamlet, both because it seemed so different from the small part of the Kansai region with which I was then familiar, and because it was the first time I ever got a taste of kimchi. Most of the folks in the surrounding houses came out to talk to us, many telling stories of how difficult it was to deal with the government when one doesn't have any Japanese identity and yet has no other country to which one can turn.

I also remember what my host mother--an otherwise kind woman--said when I returned home from the trip. Roughly translated: "Goodness. Why would you want to visit those people?"

While the discrimination faced by ethnic Koreans in Japan is gradually declining, suffice it to say that most human rights organizations (as well as scholars of Japan) have not considered the treatment of the zaikoku to be a gold star on Japan's human rights record. If I were to guess at the external concensus, I'd have to think most scholars find the official refusal to recognize ethnic Koreans as full citizens in the latter part of the last century to be a disgrace. If Professor Bernstein is trying to legitimize Israel's actions by comparing them to Japanese policy with regards to foreigners, he's putting himself in uncomfortable company.

August 02, 2006

Avoid HostingMatters.com: Recommendation for 1L-to-be-bloggers

There's a few entries I intend to write before shutting down TYoH, and one will be advice for 1L bloggers. This evening, however, I'd like to get ahead of myself by making one recommendation for any 1L-to-be out there that might be considering keeping a website diary of his or her law school experience: don't use HostingMatters.com as the web host.

Some of you may have noticed that De Novo is non-functional right now, despite the fact that they're hosting their annual "Survivor" competition to pick new authors. My regular readers might (a) recall that for various reasons I do a lot of support work for De Novo and (b) consider a major system failure in the middle of an annual competition to be a less than stellar sign of my competence.

Well, they'd be right on both counts, but only because I should have moved De Novo from Hosting Matters months ago. Yesterday at 1:55 PM, Hosting Matters sent an email to the site owner telling them that they'd be moving the site (from "Minerva" to "Niobe," for those that might have similar problems) in order to balance the servers. It's the single least competent site move I've ever seen. (And for reference, I used to work at a company that hosted commercial sites professionally.)

For over three hours today, you couldn't see De Novo at all. For the remainder of the time, the back end has been shafted beyond comprehension. Given Hosting Matters' limited set of site tools, I can't tell if the problem is that they've moved the site but not pointed it at the new database, or if they've somehow lost data during the site move. What I do know is that, as the site is now, I'm not sure I could move it to a new host in a functioning manner.

The response from Hosting Matters (which closed the ticket):

Your .htaccess had a typo in it:

deny rfom .idrc.org.sg

You would need to be more careful of your syntax. Removed.


Now, let's consider this from a techie perspective. Site working fine before moving servers, and then broken after. Is it an .htaccess problem? Well, maybe. Perhaps the new server interprets .htaccess files differently from the old one, I don't know (and Hosting Matters sure isn't interested in telling me). But then, if one is going to close the ticket, one might check to see that the site works. And sure enough, if you try to post a comment, you get:
You must define a Comment Listing template in order to display dynamic comments.

Does that look like a "my site can't find its templates after you moved servers" error? Why, yes, it does. (The site can't seem to find anything on the back end, either.) Does that seem to have much to do with an .htaccess file involving the Republic of Singapore? Well, let's put it this way: I just deleted the entire .htaccess file, and you still can't post to De Novo.

I'll admit, I'm not a programming genius, but it doesn't look like their "solution" had anything to do with the problem. Now, it would have been nice if they'd given more than nine hours of notice before the site move, as I could have run a backup, but that seems not to have occurred to them.

I've been hosting with Gradwell.com for three years, and while they might have a few downtime issues here and there, I've never experienced this level of absolute contempt from customer service. Ambimb seems to host the Blawgcoop at Dreamhost and hasn't given any complaints despite hosting multiple blogs on multiple platforms. On the other hand, I've dealt with a number of Hosting Matters clients over my time at Columbia, and it's inevitably been because they've made some alteration without allowing their customers time to react.

So dear Wormwood, the lesson to this is twofold. First, always backup information stored online in the same way one would backup your harddrive. Second, avoid Hosting Matters with the same degree of effort one would give to avoid being the subject of gunner bingo.

UPDATE: The "customer service" technician that De Novo is working with
seems to have a history. I have to say, this is singular in my experience. When a CS representative gets a reputation this poor online, a firm doesn't necessarily have to fire her (although that's advisable), but one might at least change the logon name.

UPDATE II: Things are working again. It appears that, contrary to their initial "assessment" of the problem, they failed to copy over all of the database tables from the new server to the old one. ( There may also have been an .htaccess issue (I can't be sure), but if so it arose with the server move as well.)

I have to say, the level of customer service with regards to this problem has been singular. The emails back and forth on this matter are . . . well, suffice it to say that if I'd ever behaved that way while working on tech support, I'd've been canned faster than spam.

Giving The Devil His Due

And like that... he is gone (8)
maggie wrote: I've throughly enjoyed reading you ... [more]

And for those without blogs... (0)
Advice for 1Ls Starting a Blog: A Much Shorter Part II (0)
Welcome to the Continuum! or Passing the Torch (3)
James wrote: The latest version of rawdog suppor... [more]

Down to the Wire (0)
Advice for 1Ls Considering a Blog: A Very Long Part One (1)
Martin Lloyd wrote: Congratulations. This is about to b... [more]

Could Be Worse (0)
Grumpy Old Man Alert: "In My Day, We Didn't Have the 'SONI' System Like You Youngsters. We Read Two Hundred Spam Emails From Every Society Imaginable, And We LIKED It." (0)
New York Pungent (0)
The Beginning of the End (1)
Dawn wrote: I hope you leave a forwarding addre... [more]

An Interesting Paradox (0)
It's a sad day when you find a lawyer asking why evidence of bias is important (0)
Photoshopping Nonscandal (1)
Martin wrote: I find it bizarre that the decision... [more]

Why the New York Times Can't Prepare You For the Bar Exam (or your CrimLaw Final) (3)
Anthony wrote: Sean: Your example will be relevan... [more]

Blood in the Water (1)
Jeff wrote: Kristin and I took a few minutes to... [more]

Caution for Incoming CLS 1Ls (1)
Luis Villa wrote: Of course, in most of Lionsgate you... [more]

Not Confidence Inspiring (0)
Tunnel Vision on Israel (1)
Cardinalsin wrote: Thanks, Tony - that was very intere... [more]

Avoid HostingMatters.com: Recommendation for 1L-to-be-bloggers (1)
Luis Villa wrote: Still waiting for the rest of the b... [more]

Choose Stylesheet

What I'm Reading

cover
D.C. Noir

My city. But darker.
cover
A Clockwork Orange

About time I read this...


Shopping

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'


Althouse
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
Hillary
Politics and Principal/Agents


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


IrishLaw
Homecoming
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...


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


Ideoblog
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
Graduation
And there we are
Oil!


BuffaloWings&Vodka
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
talisman
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

Syndicate This Site

Sitemeter

Technologies


Stop Spam Harvesters, Join Project Honey Pot