Feb 6, 2010

Last July, while traveling home from the AALL Annual Meeting, I had a layover in St. Louis. During this travel break I checked Twitter from my phone to see if anything conference-related had happened while I was in the air. Well, the best I could find was a vendor who had used a hashtag that some of my friends and I had used to identify our clique that week. In response, someone used the anonymous @aallsecrets account to criticize the vendor for co-opting "our" identifier, and I quickly fired off a couple tweets of my own belittling the vendor, even calling him a not-so-nice name. By then it was time to board my flight to Los Angeles, so I turned off my phone and forgot all about it.

While waiting for my luggage at LAX a few hours later, I checked Twitter again. My name-calling hadn't gone over so well. Someone called me out for rudeness from the @aallsecrets account, while the vendor in question explained that he used the hashtag as a way of inviting all of us to a party that evening, something I might have realized had I bothered to pay much attention to the content of his tweet. Nevertheless, I was angry at being called out. While crafting what I thought was a witty 140-character evisceration of anyone who disagreed with me, my phone battery died, leaving me unable to crush all opposition.

Before I could publish this brief manifesto, I discovered the airport police had towed my car from the long-term lot. By the time I made it home several hours later, my self-imagined feud with this vendor felt absurd, and I was ashamed of what I'd said. So when I did finally power up my laptop and return the internet, the first thing I did was email an apology to the vendor.

That episode of name-calling wasn't the first time I'd used the web to express self-righteous anger. By then it had become something of an art form for me. Any time I disagreed with someone, it was easier to tweet something inflammatory (and passive aggressive) than to communicate directly with the person I imagined I was feuding with. In the best of possible worlds, I'd raise an issue in the most condescending tone I could muster and start a revolution of re-tweets and replies that carried my message well beyond my own meager reach.

In the days following the namecalling incident, I decided I had some growing up to do and promised myself I'd stop making everything so personal in my communication with colleagues and vendors. Anger would not be my defining emotion and hyperbole would not be my preferred writing style.

My record since then has been spotty, but improved. I've only made a handful of passive aggressive tweets about AALL (one of my biggest targets in those heady pre-AALL 2009 days) in the months since, and I believe my blog writing since last summer has become more measured and logical than it was in the past.

But I'm troubled by the overall tone of our profession's communication of late. Now, flame wars are nothing new. The law-lib listserv has seen more than a few blow ups between librarians with differing opinions over the years, and Twitter might be unrecognizable without its piles of overreaction. (Just ask Scott Baio.) Nevertheless, I don't always understand the motivations of librarians who attack one another on a personal level and generalize vendors as evil empires with illegal intent. (Yes, any statement that a vendor is trying to bribe a state employee is an accusation of criminal behavior.)

The last week has seen some intense debate regarding vendor swag and librarian ethics. One need look no farther than the comments to any of Sarah Glassmeyer's posts on the subject (here, here, here and here) to see that there is a wide array of opinions on the matter and that we have no hesitation in challenging the moral integrity of one another in the process. Those that disagree with us are labeled "biased" and "trolls" rather than just a person with a different opinion. Exaggerated conflagrations become the norm on Twitter, with educated and influential legal information professionals questioning the character of our entire profession while providing no concrete evidence of our moral decay. And when an alleged employee of Thomson Reuters Legal (TRL), the grand villain in the eyes of so many librarians, posts a comment defending the company's marketing strategy without identifying herself as a TRL employee, there is an automatic assumption of so-called "sock-puppetry," with no consideration that the alleged employee might like her place of work and decide on her own to defend it. Instead, we feel compelled to unmask her treacherous ways in the most humiliating manner possible with no concern that we might put her job in jeopardy. (Never mind that IP addresses can be spoofed.)

There is, of course, the possibility that the commenter was a sock-puppet, and that's a troubling possibility that deserves investigation. As do many of the ethical questions raised in the last week.

But within the social media wing of our profession, vendor hatred has become a badge of honor. On the announcement of new products, sight unseen, we state publicly our suspicions that vendors designed such products to increase profits at the expense of effective research, never considering for a moment that maybe those two ends aren't always in conflict.

The inflammatory rhetoric lobbed at TRL, LexisNexis and others is sometimes well-grounded, but we've reached a tipping point where any opinion short of "West sucks!" is dismissed by many. We become outraged when a vendor attempts to bypass us in their marketing, as West did with a promotional email last year. Yet if vendors talked about librarians the way librarians talk about vendors, we would be up in arms.

I understand a great deal of the anger. I find myself regularly frustrated by the decisions made by many vendors, be they marketing, pricing or design decisions. But at the end of the day, we still have to work with these vendors. We have contracts to negotiate, products to vet and dollars to allocate. Sometimes the products are good, sometimes they aren't. (More accurately, sometimes parts of a single product are good while other parts of the very same product are bad.) Sometimes we are charged too much, sometimes we aren't. Sometimes we buy the product, sometimes we don't.

But we also have choices in how we respond to our anger, even the most justifiable anger. What law librarian interest is served in publicly shaming a vendor over a disagreement?

Society loves its villains. Tiger Woods can vouch for that. So can NBC. But what did Conan O'Brien accomplish by announcing via press release his rejection of NBC's time slot change other than winning public opinion? As much as I support Conan's decision to walk away from "The Tonight Show," I can't help but notice that even after the press release, he still lost his job and the jobs of his staffers and faced a contentious negotiation with the executives at NBC. Maybe if he had called Jeff Zucker and privately said, "No thanks, Jeff," instead of speaking to the "People of Earth" he might have obtained better severance packages for his staff, a larger payout for himself, a shorter non-compete period and the rights to some of his show's recurring characters. Perhaps not.

Intelligent people can disagree on just about anything, yet they can do so in a civilized manner. That's the kind of career I signed on for seven years ago when I decided to become a librarian. Since then I've been something less than perfect in that regard, but I'm trying. And when I arrive in Denver this July for the AALL Annual Meeting, one of the first things I'll do is buy a beer for the vendor I insulted last year.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Feb 2, 2010

Early this morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this year's Oscar® nominations. Leading the pack were "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker," with nine nominations each. I think it's already safe to say the Best Picture winner will be one of those two films. You can read more about the nominations here and see a complete list of nominees here.

Yesterday, I made my predictions for the "big six" categories, and I'm happy to say I did fairly well, correctly predicting 32 of 35 nominees, only making mistakes in the Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress categories. By comparison, I only got 23 of 30 correct last year. Here's a list of nominees in those categories.

BEST PICTURE (8 of 10 correct)
"Avatar"
"The Blind Side"
"District 9"
"An Education"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
"A Serious Man"
"Up"
"Up in the Air"

BEST ACTOR (5 of 5 correct)
Jeff Bridges - "Crazy Heart"
George Clooney - "Up in the Air"
Colin Firth - "A Single Man"
Morgan Freeman - "Invictus"
Jeremy Renner - "The Hurt Locker"

BEST ACTRESS (5 of 5 correct)
Sandra Bullock - "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren - "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan - "An Education"
Gabourey Sidibe - "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Meryl Streep - "Julie & Julia"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (5 of 5 correct)
Matt Damon - "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson - "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer - "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci - "The Lovely Bones"
Christoph Waltz - "Inglourious Basterds"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (4 of 5 correct)
Penelope Cruz - "Nine"
Vera Farmiga - "Up in the Air"
Maggie Gyllenhaal - "Crazy Heart"
Anna Kendrick - "Up in the Air"
Mo'Nique - "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

BEST DIRECTOR (5 of 5 correct)
Kathryn Bigelow - "The Hurt Locker"
James Cameron - "Avatar"
Lee Daniels - "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Jason Reitman - "Up in the Air"
Quentin Tarantino - "Inglourious Basterds"

So who are the favorites out of the gate? My early picks are "The Hurt Locker" (Best Picture), Jeff Bridges (Best Actor), Sandra Bullock (Best Actress), Christoph Waltz (Best Supporting Actor), Mo'Nique (Best Supporting Actress) and James Cameron (Best Director). Over at Intrade, a provider of "trading, information and prediction market services," the site's users disagree with me in two categories: "Avatar" is their Best Picture front-runner by a small margin, while Kathryn Bigelow has the edge for Best Director. By this evening there should be plenty of updated gambling odds available to provide more prognostications.

The Academy Awards will be handed out March 7 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.


Feb 1, 2010

Yep, it's that time of year. Tomorrow morning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce this year's Oscar nominees. The biggest news this year is the expansion of the Best Picture category to ten nominees, presumably to pull more box office hits into the mix, leading to bigger ratings for the ceremony's TV broadcast. Some of the early favorites, like "The Lovely Bones" and "Nine" have seen their stars fall upon release. In contrast, 2009 could easily be called the year of science fiction, with the possibility of no less than three sci-fi contenders making the cut, led by a little movie called "Avatar."

And so to drop the title of one of my favorite movies of 2009 that won't be nominated for a damn thing, away we go...

BEST PICTURE
The Academy's decision to expand the Best Picture category to ten nominees for this particular year is rather humorous given that there are exactly five films with any realistic chance of winning: "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" and "Up in the Air." So to fill out the category, there will be another 5 nominees who are there just for show. The shoo-ins are: "Up" and "An Education." I think two of the final three slots will go to the year's other sci-fi hits, "District 9" and "Star Trek." That leaves one last spot for either "The Blind Side," "Crazy Heart," "Invictus," "The Messenger," "Nine," "A Serious Man" and, yes, "The Hangover." Since "Nine" fell short of critical expectations; "The Blind Side," "Crazy Heart" and "The Messenger" are all performance pictures with guaranteed acting nods, and "A Serious Man" divided audiences to violent extremes, I'm left choosing between "The Hangover" and "Invictus." As much as I'd like to see the best mainstream comedy in years get the attention, I'm betting on Clint Eastwood's luck with the Academy to continue, making "Invictus" the final nominee.

"Avatar"
"District 9"
"An Education"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Invictus"
"Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire"
"Star Trek"
"Up"
"Up in the Air"

BEST ACTOR
Usually the Best Actress category is the one with no surprises, but this it's the Best Actor nods can be easily predicted based upon buzz and critics' awards. Jeff Bridges is already the easy favorite to win his first Oscar for "Crazy Heart." George Clooney's stash of critics' awards for "Up in the Air" make him a lock, too. Jeremy Renner's intense performance in "The Hurt Locker" looks like a certainty here, as does Morgan Freeman's turn as Nelson Mandela in "Invictus." Matt Damon turned in the best performance of his career in "The Informant!" as did Sam Rockwell in "Moon," but neither actor is getting any buzz or promotion, making them unlikely nominees. Tobey Maguire saw some early hype for "Brothers," but his chances have faded since. Instead, the last man standing here seems certain to be Colin Firth for "A Single Man."

Jeff Bridges - "Crazy Heart"
George Clooney - "Up in the Air"
Colin Firth - "A Single Man"
Morgan Freeman - "Invictus"
Jeremy Renner - "The Hurt Locker"

BEST ACTRESS
Sandra Bullock looks sure to cap a tremendous 2009 comeback with a nomination for "The Blind Side," while the nearly annual Meryl Streep slot will go to her performance in "Julie and Julia." The two breakthrough nods this year will go to Carey Mulligan for "An Education" and Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire." A lot of early attention was paid to Abbie Cornish for "Bright Star," but that film seems to have disappeared from the Oscar zeitgeist. Ditto for Emily Blunt in "Young Victoria" and Saoirse Ronan in "The Lovely Bones." Personally, I'd like to see Maya Rudolph get some notice for her great performance in "Away We Go," but a veteran in the category (and previous winner) seems a safer bet: Helen Mirren for "The Last Station."

Sandra Bullock - "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren - "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan - "An Education"
Gabourey Sidibe - "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire"
Meryl Streep - "Julie and Julia"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
There's no question at this point that Christoph Waltz will not only get a nomination for "Inglourious Basterds" but will stand at the podium to accept the award on Oscar night for one of the great performances of the last decade. As a result, Woody Harrelson will have to settle for a nomination this year for his lauded turn in "The Messenger." Stanley Tucci should see some recognition here as well as the one actor consistently singled out for his performance in "The Lovely Bones." While Matt Damon could get a nomination in the Best Actor category for "The Informant!" a supporting nomination for "Invictus" looks more likely. There's not been a lot of buzz for other contenders in this category, with Alfred Molina and Christian McKay generating a small amount of interest for "An Education" and "Me and Orson Welles," respectively, leaving the door wide open for Christopher Plummer to snag the final nod for his portrayal of Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station."

Matt Damon - "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson - "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer - "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci - "The Lovely Bones"
Christoph Waltz - "Inglourious Basterds"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
When "Precious" first started generating Oscar attention, there was speculation that Mo'Nique's disinterest in awards and refusal to participate in promotion for the film would hurt her Oscar chances. Since then, however, she's swept the critics' awards and made some gracious acceptance speeches, so she now comes in as the front-runner by a large margin. Two actresses from "Up in the Air," Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, should also see well deserved nominations. The only Oscar buzz generated by the disappointing "Nine" seems to be for Penelope Cruz, so she looks certain to grab a nomination. The last spot seems to be a battle between Diane Kruger for "Inglourious Basterds" and Julianne Moore for "An Education." Moore is more well-known to Oscar voters, but I suspect most people don't even realize she was in that movie. Unless there's a vote split with "Basterd's" Melanie Laurent (who was submitted in the Best Actress category for the SAG Awards), I expect SAG nominee Diane Kruger to get that last nomination.

Penélope Cruz - "Nine"
Vera Farmiga - "Up in the Air"
Anna Kendrick - "Up in the Air"
Diane Kruger - "Inglourious Basterds"
Mo'Nique - "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire"

BEST DIRECTOR
I suppose I could go out on a limb here and pick an underdog like Neill Blomkamp ("District 9") or Clint Eastwood ("Invictus") to get a Best Director nod, but I'm going to stick with the same five movies I named above as the locks for Best Picture.

Kathryn Bigelow - "The Hurt Locker"
James Cameron - "Avatar"
Lee Daniels - "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire"
Jason Reitman - "Up in the Air"
Quentin Tarantino - "Inglourious Basterds"


Jan 29, 2010

As I mentioned in my previous post, I traveled to Eagan, Minnesota (on Thomson Reuters' dime) earlier this week along with several other writers to get a sneak peek at Thomson Reuters' new legal research product, WestlawNext. I've already participated in a video roundtable discussion on the system, but I wanted to go into a little more detail in writing. Several others have provided comprehensive reviews of the product already, so I don't want to duplicate too much of their information. I do, however, want to look at things from the perspective of legal research instruction, since that's a big part of what I do in my job each fall, and because I've written in the past about Lexis and Westlaw's usability from that perspective over at VoxPopuLII.

The simplest assessment is this: Once law students gain access to WestlawNext (and "New Lexis," launching later this year), legal research instructors will have some 'splaining (or at least some adapting) to do.

Research instruction is marginalized and splintered at most law schools as it is. If law librarians -- the most qualified research instructors within any law school -- are part of a required 1L research curriculum, the length of that instruction is often brief. At Loyola Law School, for example, we have five weeks in the fall semester to cover the basics. At other schools, librarians might play no role. Instead, a legal writing program might rely on second-year students to teach the material. At the far end of the spectrum, some schools have no required research curriculum, offering only advanced research electives. Regardless of these requirements, electronic research instruction is often farmed out to vendor representatives, with Westlaw reps teaching Westlaw and Lexis reps teaching Lexis. The reliability of rep training varies, and a common complaint among librarians is that these reps emphasize full-text searching of primary law at the expense of secondary sources and other analytical materials. This leads to a somewhat disjointed program of instruction, even without the ground shifting beneath us.

When using the current versions of Westlaw and Lexis, a researcher needs to know exactly where relevant information is located before running a search. Therefore, when searching for primary law, she has to already know if she's looking for cases or statutes or regulations or some other type of document. In a familiar area of law, that's not a big hurdle, but when researching a new topic, the first task in research is often figuring out what type of law governs. Only then can the researcher move on to primary materials.

Using WestlawNext, however, a researcher no longer needs to select a source database before running a search. Instead, searches are most often limited only by jurisdiction, using a pop-up page overlay (NOT a pop-up browser window/tab) that allows precise selection of both state and federal jurisdictions. Then, upon running a search, the system provides results from all types of sources -- primary and secondary -- in that jurisdiction: cases, statutes, regulations, secondary sources, briefs, etc. The overview page shows just the first one or two results in each category, but the left sidebar of the page lists all the types of documents available with a count of the number of results in each of these facets. To see complete results for a particular type of resource, a researcher need only click the link for that category. When viewing these faceted results, more limiting options appear in the sidebar, such as jurisdiction, date, topic, and publication name depending on the type of materials being viewed.

Generally speaking, WestlawNext eliminates the need for researchers to know where to look for legal documents before running their searches. Don't know whether your clients' issue involves statutory or regulatory law? Just run the search and find out from the results.

To be fair, the current version of Westlaw already allows researchers to search multiple databases simultaneously, but the implementation is poor. Selecting the databases you want is a tedious process, the results display in one lump-sum list of results with no limiting facets, and basic functionality like tables of contents are nowhere to be found when viewing documents from your results. These problems are all dealbreakers, and they are corrected in WestlawNext.

While the relevant sources of law can be gleaned more easily from search results, it presents a challenge to legal research instructors. As legal professionals who have used the old systems (and print resources) for years, we already understand what the various sources of law are and how they work together. To even use Westlaw and Lexis, law students needed to learn this foundation. With WestlawNext (and most likely "New Lexis") providing Google-esque search with faceted results, students can and will run searches without an understanding of legal sources and yet not feel confused by the results. Well, not at first.

Given this likelihood, research instructors will have to provide a solid overview of the sources of law to their students. Hopefully, we already do this. But until now we could rely on Westlaw's database selection requirement to force students into learning at least a little bit about these sources before running a search that provided meaningful results. Not anymore. A student need not understand anything about sources in order to retrieve a wide swath of relevant material, and many will have the illusory feeling that the research process has been simplified enough to eliminate any need for foundational training. After all, if the fact pattern mentions "unlawful sexual intercourse" and "California" (yes, I used a Roman Polanski hypothetical in my class), a student can search those terms and retrieve a California case that seems to be on point and perhaps believe they've performed due diligence. Of course, the governing law might actually be statutory. Or there might be an split among appellate courts in California on the specific issue. Or a higher court may have decided an issue a little closer to the one in the fact pattern, making the case in hand irrelevant.

This isn't a criticism of WestlawNext. Assuming one understands sources of law, the search experience in WLN is more efficient and more likely to provide relevant materials in results. From a single search a researcher can pull in a wide array of materials and browse them easily using the provided facets. A lawyer unfamiliar with California real estate law need not know of the existence of "Miller & Starr California Real Estate" ahead of time in order to easily find that source's information in WestlawNext.

Foundational source issues are already covered in legal research instruction. The problem isn't that we don't teach them. The problem is that students might be less likely to listen once research begins to seem deceptively easy. This makes it all the more important for us to spend substantial time on instruction and assignments that cover the sources of law, independent of the specific research tools and mechanics. The good news is that if the WestlawNext interface is the future of legal research, we'll be able to spend less time in the classroom teaching Westlaw and Lexis navigation, providing extra time for foundational information.

Just because one can search an entire jurisdiction's worth of material doesn't mean that Thomson-Reuters Legal has eliminated the ability to browse and search more specific information. The currently buried Westlaw Directory once again moves front and center in WestlawNext (albeit in a redesigned form). Rather than running a search from the front page, a researcher can browse via simplified tabs on the front page (which thankfully contain no search boxes or checkboxes). From the "State Materials" tab, if a researcher selects California, a clean list of California materials displays, and the search box at the top of the page now limits itself to just a search of California materials. Clicking "All California Secondary Sources" displays a list of state-specific secondary sources and a search box that now searches only these resources. Selecting a specific source, say "California Jurisprudence," displays the table of contents for that source and allows searching of only that title.

It's been said elsewhere, but it bears repeating: Boolean search still functions. Given that many doubters have yet to acknowledge any of my colleagues' statements on this topic, let me repeat that: Boolean search still functions. There may still be some glitches here and there in that functionality, but Thomson-Reuters Legal has made it clear they intend for those operators to work as expected in WestlawNext.

WestlawNext is not without its problems, however, and the biggest concern I have is a big one for legal research instruction: secondary sources. No matter how many times instructors tell students to begin research with a secondary source, many students will still insist on running full-text searches of cases and statutory codes. (I was one of them.) Part of the blame lies at the feet of database reps who consistently overemphasize full-text searching of primary law in their training sessions, but anytime you ask students to find a case, the logical inclination is to, well, search cases.

I won't quibble with the order of the search facets in WestlawNext. Cases, statutes and other primary materials do belong at the top of the food chain because that's what lawyers and law students should be citing as precedent. The problem is how the results within the secondary sources facet display. In these results, very little specific information about each source displays. Most of the time what a researcher sees is the title of the specific section, the title of the source, and a couple of text snippets in which the search terms are highlighted. Little to no information about where within that source the section appears shows in these results. For example, when a section of Witkin and Epstein's California Criminal Law title simply "Generally" appears, that's the extent of the citation information displayed. The precise article within Witkin & Epstein in which this section appears is nowhere to be found, so researchers won't know until viewing the document itself whether it's from an article about sex crimes, robbery or murder. The threaded information available in search results for statutory sections (Title, Chapter, Subpart, etc.) needs to be included in secondary sources as well, or else the results are confusing at best and unusable at worst.

The search algorithms for secondary sources are also problematic. When I select California as my jurisdiction, if there are California-specific resources available on my topic, those need to show up first in my results. Period. When I ran a search for the term "rape," the first 12 results were from "National" sources such as Am.Jur. Trials, Am.Jur. Proof of Facts, and several law reviews. More alarming, none of these were general overviews of rape law, but instead provided information on specific aspects of rape law in various jurisdictions. I discussed this problem with Mike Dahn, vice president of new product development at Thomson Reuters Legal, he assured me that this was not by design and that they were working to make sure jurisdiction-specific resources for a user's selected jurisdiction float to the top of search results, but as of now this isn't working correctly.

Apart from these concerns, I'm still excited by the overall direction of WestlawNext. This really is a significant step forward in electronic research. I hesitate to call WestlawNext a "game-changer" because I think the game changed for all online search providers awhile back. Westlaw and Lexis are simply catching up, finally pushing legal search into the 21st century.

One final thing to note about the progress made here by Thomson Reuters (and presumably by LexisNexis later this year) is that it furthers the gap between the haves and have-nots in legal information. Once these new products are pushed out to law students, the more comfortable they become searching jurisdictions instead of sources, the harder it will be for them to use source-oriented tools (especially print materials). Again, this presents a challenge for those of us who teach legal research to make sure we provide them the foundation necessary to perform research on any platform.

I'm hardly the only person writing about WestlawNext this week. Here's a list of the reviews already in circulation:
Robert Ambrogi, A First Look at WestlawNext
David Bilinski, Dave’s Top 10 List about WestlawNext
Laura Bergus, WestlawNext: It’s About Time
Simon Chester, The Future of WestLaw – A First Glimpse
Jason Eiseman, 5 random thoughts about WestlawNext
Carolyn Elefant, My Trip Out [to] West: A Preview of WestlawNext
Greg Lambert, WestlawNext - A Study in Applying Knowledge Management & Crowdsourcing
Betsy McKenzie, Westlaw Next
Lisa Solomon, WestlawNext Preview: Product and Pricing
Jason Wilson, WestlawNext Review: Ending the tyranny of the keyword?

And of course, be sure to check out Jason Eiseman's video roundtable with Greg Lambert, Jason Wilson and me:
Video: discussion of WestlawNext


Jan 27, 2010

Thomson Reuters invited a group of legal information professionals, writers and thinkers to Eagan, Minnesota on Monday and Tuesday for a preview of its new product, WestlawNext. I was among those who made the trip. (Full disclosure: Thomson Reuters paid my travel expenses.) On Tuesday afternoon, I sat down at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport with Jason Eiseman, Greg Lambert and Jason Wilson to discuss what we'd seen and heard. Jason Eiseman recorded our conversation and posted it to his website. Here's the 40-minute video:


Jan 6, 2010

As I said back in November, I've been compiling a list of my choices as the ten best films of the last decade. I've barely scratched the surface of my to-see list, but with 2009 in the books, I thought I'd go ahead and rank what I've seen so far. I may go back and revise this list in a few months, or I may just let it stand as the official record based on what I'd seen and liked by the end of the decade. Since the latter is what I did for the 1990s, I'm inclined to do the same again, letting the inevitable disagreements with myself be part of the fun.

So here goes...

1. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)

2. The Lives of Others (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry)

4. Let the Right One In (2008, Tomas Alfredson)

5. Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)

6. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)

7. Gosford Park (2001, Robert Altman)

8. Shattered Glass (2003, Billy Ray)

9. Almost Famous (2000, Cameron Crowe)

10. Before Sunset (2004, Richard Linklater)


Dec 31, 2009

Ten years can bring plenty of change.

On December 31, 1999, I was in my second year of law school. I only had one degree to my name, and I'd never lived more than 30 minutes from the house in which I'd grown up. Since then, I finished law school, passed the bar exam, worked briefly as a public defender, and earned a Masters degree in library science. I lived in Las Vegas for three years, Connecticut for 15 months and moved to Los Angeles a little over a year ago.

Then, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer in Louisville. Now, I'm a librarian in Los Angeles.

In 1999, the only way you could call me was on the land line in my apartment. I've had 4 different cell phones since then. I use my current phone for texting, gaming, reading, email, guitar tuning, calorie counting and waking me up in the morning.

Ten years ago I'd lost contact with everyone from my high school class. I'm now Facebook friends with 56 of those classmates.

Before the year 2000 I had never flown on an airplane and had only been to 10 U.S. states. During a one week stretch in 2008, I drove through 13 states, and I've now been to 32 overall. I'm a Silver Preferred frequent flyer on U.S. Airways.

This barely skims the surface of what's changed for me in the last decade, but it's proof that a life can be changed drastically in a short period of time if you aren't satisfied with its direction.

Happy New Year!


Dec 29, 2009

Late last night while riding home from Nashville, I finished reading Dan Chaon's excellent book, "Await Your Reply." This was the 26th book I'd finished reading in 2009, which was exactly the number I'd vowed to read at the beginning of the year. In truth, 26 is a modest number. By comparison, several of my friends exceeded this total, and I know author Stephen King read about 100 books this year. So I'm not doing anything exceptional here. But for my own life, 26 books is good news.

Until last year, my reading had declined with each year of my 30s. While having a full-time career after years pursuing various degrees could take part of the blame, I was simply spending too much time in front of the TV or the computer — or both. My attention span was shrinking. I rarely even finished reading a blog post or a newspaper article before I'd get restless and move on to something else. I could almost feel my brain atrophying,

So last year I set an ambitious goal for myself: read one book each week, for a total of 52 by the end of the year. This turned out to be too ambitious, and I finished 2008 having read only 17 books. I was disappointed, but that was certainly a big step up from 2007, a year in which I completed less than 10 books. Having made some progress last year, I decided to lower my expectations while still upping my total for 2009, cutting the goal down to one book every two weeks. This made my goal for the year 26 books.

In reality, this didn't result in my reading one book every two weeks. I didn't finish my first book until February, and by the end of May I'd only read four books. After reading 4 books in June alone, I didn't finish another until September 11th. At this point I picked up the pace considerably, reading five books in September, six in October, two in November (a lower total due to my teaching duties at work) and six in December.

Next year, I hope to increase my total once again. My goal for 2010 will be 39 books. In effect, that's three books for every four weeks, or as someone calculated on Facebook, one book every 9.3 days.

Here's how my reading for 2009 looked:

1. "The Associate" - John Grisham
February 12th

Simply awful. Grisham was never a great writer, but his gripping suspense used to make up for what he lacked as a craftsmen. No more. Nothing happens in this book. Having worked at Yale Law School, I'd looked forward to this book because part of it takes place there. Unfortunately, there's nothing in this book to suggest that Grisham ever did one bit of research about his location. He could have swapped out the Yale name with any other school in the country and it wouldn't have affected the story at all.

2. "Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Rise and Fall of the Record Industry in the Digital Age" - Steve Knopper
April 10th

Excellent history of the record industry's last 25 to 30 years, covering the CD boom, the teen pop fad, illegal downloading and the rise of iTunes. Knopper systematically piles on the evidence of how the music labels stubbornly ignored consumer demands, allowing outside forces to steal control of the business.

3. "High Rise" - JG Ballard
April 28th

Essentially "Lord of the Flies" in a condo. Enjoyable tale of the systemic breakdown of societal and moral rules in a high rise building as essential services break down.

4. "The Bonfire of the Vanities" - Tom Wolfe
May 27th

Wolfe's tale of 1980s excess on Wall Street is an enriching observation of the class splits within New York City. As with most of Wolfe's fiction, however, he hasn't the foggiest idea how to end his story, slapping on a unsatisfying non-resolution.

5. "The Gunslinger" - Stephen King
June 2nd

Slow-moving but somewhat interesting beginning to King's long-form fantasy series. If I was judging the series by this book alone, I wouldn't move on to book two, but I've heard enough glowing reviews of the later chapters that I suspect I'll plow ahead sometime in 2010.

6. "Generation Kill" - Evan Wright
June 11th

Wright, a "Rolling Stone" correspondent, writes about being embedded with a company of Recon Marines during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As events unfold, the book provides a good ground level view of the unconventional invasion strategy employed by military commanders that would have negative repercussions for years to come. While the conflicted statements and actions of the Marines themselves would suffice to communicate their frustration, Wright often goes too far with his unfounded speculations of what's going on in their heads. Nonetheless, and enjoyable and educating read.

7. "The Black Echo" - Michael Connelly
June 22nd

Connelly's first entry in his long running Harry Bosch mystery series. Much like contemporaries such as Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos, Connelly is a reality-based suspense novelist with a knack for making his home city an enriching part of his stories. For Connelly. that home is LA, which is why I wanted to read his work. A strong debut, and I expect to read more of his work in 2010.

8. "Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen" - Mark Rudd
September 11th

As an unapologetic liberal, I expected to find some sliver of common ground with Rudd through his memoir and the documentary "The Weather Underground." No such luck. The Weathermen were delusional children of privilege whose lack of regard for anyone other than themselves and their status as revolutionaries made even the Black Panthers want nothing to do with them. Rudd's book is eye-opening and informative, providing insight into a world most of us will never see, but when I closed this book for the last time, I was glad to be leaving that world behind.

9. "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" - Michael Lewis
September 13th

Don't let ads for the Sandra Bullock movie adaptation fool you. This is a football book. Lewis tells how the Tuohy family took in troubled teen Michael Oher, providing him the opportunity to develop into an All-American football star. Along the way, readers learn the ins and outs of football recruiting and strategy. By the end, you'll know why left tackles are paid so much in the NFL, how the San Francisco 49ers became the dominant team of the 1980s, and why passing has become so much more important than rushing in today's game. I blame this book for getting me interested in sports again after several years of disinterest.

10. "On Writing" - Stephen King
September 17th

Half autobiography, half writing manual, this book explains King's process and methods as a writer. I recommend this for anyone who does any writing in their life, no matter how minimal, as it puts into words and action the simplicity of great writing.

11. "The Lost Symbol" - Dan Brown
September 20th

Perhaps the worst book one could read immediately following "On Writing." At any rate, Brown's aimless, preachy tome is the worst book I read this year. Dan Brown has never been a master of the written word (see redundant phrases like "soggy marsh"), but he's always had a knack for finding great subject matter on which to base his skeleton plots. That talent eludes him here. Perhaps he just needed to get the obligatory Freemason book out of the way so he could get back to finding subject matter he can get excited about.

12. "Duma Key" - Stephen King
September 28th

Of the recent King work I've read, this comes the closest to matching the style of his 1970s and 80s greatness. Still, as strong a work as this is, it still lacks a certain oomph in its action, with most of the horror occurring "offscreen," so to speak. While containing plenty of moments of creepiness, at times it just feels as if King is pulling his punches.

13. "Flashforward" - Robert J. Sawyer
October 3rd

Far superior to the TV show it inspired, Sawyer's novel focuses more on the science and the impact of knowing the future than does the disappointing, poorly-acted police procedural on ABC. Sawyer is not exactly a master of prose, causing the book to fall short of what it might have been, but his story and ideas make this into a solid piece of science fiction.

14. "Heart-Shaped Box" - Joe Hill
October 4th

Hill tells an entertaining enough story about a macabre rock star who purchases a haunted suit, but he never fulfills the challenge faced by any horror author of establishing a believable world that has its own rules. Instead, at any given moment, Hill allows his ghost to be capable of things that were deemed impossible earlier in the book. When the ghost inhabits a character's body late in the book, one can't help but wonder why this hadn't happened about 200 pages sooner. A great premise lazily executed.

15. "The Road" - Cormac McCarthy
October 6th

One of the best books I have ever read. Devastating and beautiful. I don't know what else to say except, "Read this book!"

16. "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer" - James L. Swanson
October 17th

A strong account of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy and aftermath, but I have little patience for history writers who repetitively make claims as to what some long-dead person was thinking at certain moments, unless there is some sort of record on which to base such claims. Swanson mars his otherwise solid history tale with way too many "what Booth must have been thinking" moments.

17. "Revolutionary Road" - Richard Yates
October 25th

It's never easy to like a story with no likable characters. Both protagonists of Yates's tale of suburban life in the 1950s are self-absorbed and somewhat delusional, but the story that the author builds around them is hypnotic and heartbreaking. Skip the movie, read the book.

18. "Juliet, Naked" - Nick Hornby
October 31st

Hornby is usually at his best when writing about music, and for the first half of this novel this remains true. Sadly, the legend of Tucker Crowe, the musician at the center of the story, and the obsessed fans who discuss him online make for better reading than what Hornby provides when the real Tucker enters the book.

19. "The Lost Painting" - Jonathan Harr
November 7th

As a librarian, it should be no surprise that I found myself riveted by Harr's account of an Italian grad student searching through archival records to trace the whereabouts of a lost Caravaggio painting. The world of art scholarship and provenance tracing was so fascinating to me that I found it difficult for awhile to get through books on other topics after finishing this one.

20. "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" - Mary Roach
November 26th

If you can get past the morbid subject matter, this is an informative and often hilarious tour through the world of corpse science. Roach, a former travel writer, applies her travelogue methodology to a very different kind of topic with fantastic results, providing chapters on medical school gross anatomy labs, automotive crash testing, human composting, and other subjects.

21. "Carter Beats the Devil" - Glen David Gold
December 5th

This was probably the most enjoyable read I had this year. Carter tells the fictionalized life story of magician Charles Carter, featuring numerous cameos from luminaries like President Warren Harding, magician Harry Houdini, and electronic television inventor Philo Farnsworth. Gold uses the apt theme of illusion to full effect throughout his story, demonstrating the many ways that our perceptions differ from reality depending upon the information we have available to us.

22. "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" - Mark Haddon
December 7th

Narrated by an autistic teenage boy, this book puts the reader inside a mind that operates on a literal level unlike our own. This book did more to educate me about autism than any non-fiction work has done to date. But this is more than an education, telling a gripping story about the narrator's attempt to solve a dog's murder that results in his own reality unravelling.

23. "Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing 'Hoax'" - Philip Plait
December 14th

More than simply a book debunking pseudo-science, Plait is able to weave in on overarching story of our universe through astronomy. Highly recommended to anyone looking for an easy starting point for learning about astronomy and cosmology.

24. "The Lovely Bones" - Alice Sebold
December 18th

A teenage girl watches the aftermath of her unsolved rape and murder from heaven, going through her own coming-of-age there as her friends and family do the same on Earth. There's plenty of suspense to be had as her father and sister try to prove their neighbor's guilt, but this action is secondary to the emotional developments of everyone involved, with many lives sent into unexpected directions following the murder. I won't be seeing this movie anytime soon, because I see no need to ruin the experience I had reading it.

25. "The Day We Found the Universe" - Marcia Bartusiak
December 25th

Edwin Hubble always gets sole credit for discovering that there are galaxies beyond the Milky Way and that the universe is expanding, and while he was a great astronomer worthy of acclaim, the other astronomers whose work contributed to these discoveries have been all but forgotten. Bartusiak traces the full story of how the mysterious spiral nebulae were observed and theorized about by several brilliant scientists for 25 years prior to Hubble's 1925 announcement. Easily the best work of non-fiction I read this year, and not just because this was the first book that made Einstein's general theory of relativity actually make some sense to me.

26. "Await Your Reply" - Dan Chaon
December 29th

I ended the year on a high note with Chaon's 2009 novel about three strangers taking seemingly unconnected journeys. The three stories are engrossing enough on their own, but as Chaon skillfully pieces them together as the book progresses, the book becomes nearly impossible to put down. "Await Your Reply" probably warrants a second read given that it becomes a different story by its end.


Dec 9, 2009

Twenty-nine years ago today, John Lennon died. I was 7 years old. A first grader. I didn't learn of his death until the following evening while my parents were watching "ABC World News Tonight." Too young to be a real fan of rock music (my favorite band at that time was KISS, because they scared the crap out of me), the event was a small blip on my radar. We had a stack of 45s in the basement that included the "Hey Jude"/"Revolution" and "Get Back"/"Don't Let Me Down" singles, but those got far less play than Ohio Express's "Yummy Yummy Yummy," The Archies' "Sugar Sugar," The Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville," The Osmonds' "Yo-Yo" and Harlow Wilcox & the Oakies' "Groovy Grubworm."

That doesn't mean The Beatles weren't on my radar. I was vaguely aware of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You" and many high points of Beatlemania, but these were just historical items. I even knew who John, Paul, George, and Ringo were, but they had no context in my life. At that point my biggest contact with the Fab Four was probably their appearance on the cover of a 1978 issue of "Dynamite" that my older sister, Becky, ordered from the Scholastic Book Club. But in all fairness, my attention was always drawn to the strange eyeball on George Harrison's hand, not the band members themselves. I was a kid, after all.

Sometime in 1983, not long after Michael Jackson released his "Thriller" album, I became a popular music fan. But still The Beatles eluded me. Instead, I listened to Huey Lewis, Van Halen, John Cougar, The Romantics and The Police. Every Friday Becky and I stayed up until 2 a.m. watching "Friday Night Videos," and these weekly viewing parties got me just a little closer to Beatles fandom, thanks to the music video for John Lennon's "Nobody Told Me." I was barely 9 years old when the video first appeared, and it felt strange to hear a "new" song by a man who'd been dead for three years. The man in the video bore little resemblance to the mop-topped Beatle I'd seen in film clips, but the song was catchy as hell. And it had a great line I liked to imitate: "most peculiar, mama."

About the time I entered junior high in 1986, the following events occurred:

  1. Becky started dating a boy who was a Beatles fan.
  2. Becky became a Beatles fan.
  3. I became a Beatles fan.

I can't speak to the causality of event 1 to event 2, but I know damn well that event 2 caused event 3. Well, event 1 caused event 3 also, because Greg was the coolest person I'd ever met. After all, he wore Ray-Ban Wayfarers and had a beard -- in high school! Greg also had an older brother, who was an even bigger Beatles fan and a collector. He played the drums, as did I, so I basically worshiped him.

Everything Beatles-related happened in fast-forward from that point on. I dubbed cassette copies of "Meet the Beatles!," the "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" soundtracks, and "Rubber Soul" from my dad's four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder. I bought a vinyl copy of something called "Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles" at the record store in the mall (a reissue of "Introducing... the Beatles," the reworked U.S. release of "Please Please Me"). At my grandparents house I discovered an original vinyl copy of the "Help!" soundtrack that they let me have. Greg's brother even invited me over to watch a double feature of "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!"

Then something strange happened. Each year for Easter, in addition to a basketful of candy, my parents always bought each of us one gift. In 1987, I asked for the White Album. I knew nothing about that record except that it had a plain white cover with "The Beatles" typed (a little crookedly) across the front. There were no photos and no track listing. The packaging had such a mysterious allure to it that I knew the music inside had to be spectacular. I imagined it would have all the popular songs I'd yet to find on the albums I'd accumulated, especially "She Loves You," which always seemed to elude my search. We spent Easter weekend at my grandparents house that year, and on Sunday morning I found that big white album cover sitting atop my basket. I ripped off the shrink wrap and opened the gatefold to find... a list of 30 songs I'd mostly never heard of accompanied by black and white photos of each member of the band in which they had long hair and, in some cases, mustaches. It was not what I expected. At all.

That afternoon, I went into my grandparents' living room and put side one of the album on the stereo then sat down on the carpet, closing my eyes. I didn't like what I heard. On some songs the guitars were distorted. On others there were no guitars at all, replaced by piano or horns or strings. Time signatures changed with no warning. And why in the bloody hell was Paul singing about having sex in the middle of the road?

Throughout that first listen, there was one song I kept waiting for: "Revolution 9." I'd spotted it in the track listing right away. I knew the song "Revolution" from the record in our basement, so I expected "Revolution 9" to be an eight minute expanded version of that song. I got a small taste at the beginning of side four with "Revolution 1," a slower, more acoustic version, so I assumed "9" would be the rocked up electric take. Throughout all eight minutes and 22 seconds of "9," I waited for that crunchy opening riff to kick in, but all I got was random noise with some bloke repeating "number nine, number nine, number nine..." over and over. I had a last flash of hope when someone said, "Take this brother, may it serve you well," and thought, "Will the song start now?" But by that point the song was nearly over. I wanted to strangle John Lennon.

Shortly after Easter, the 20th anniversary tributes to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" began. Despite my disappointment, I hadn't given up on the White Album, and its weirdness compared to the band's early material prepped me for my first listen of "Sgt. Pepper." This came when a local radio station aired the album in its entirety at midnight one night that spring. As soon as the DJ introduced it, I pressed record on my cassette player so I'd have my own copy. I wasn't sure I loved what I heard, but I knew it was important. That summer I listened to "Sgt. Pepper" and the White Album many times, and I eventually came to love those complex recordings more than the earlier albums.

PBS played a role in my Beatles addiction that year, too. I recorded two programs from their broadcasts: "It Was Twenty Years Ago Today," a new documentary about the making and impact of "Sgt. Pepper," and "The Compleat Beatles," a documentary telling the band's story from beginning to end. "Compleat" became a Saturday afternoon staple for me. Almost every week, while dad was outside mowing the grass, I'd slip the tape in the VCR and rewatch the film. Narrated by Malcolm McDowell, the movie begins:

Liverpool. 200 miles to the northwest of London. Nothing much ever came from Liverpool but soccer teams and British comedians. The city droned on wearily in post-war Britain, a nation nostalgic for its triumphant past, threadbare and tired in its present. For a boy growing up in Liverpool, the future was no brighter than that which his father faced, or his father's father. In 1956, in fact, there was little to suggest that out of this provincial seaport would come four young men and a musical revolution that would captivate and change the world.

As the year wore on, I searched for more and more Beatles music. On vinyl I bought "Beatles for Sale," "Sgt. Pepper," "The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl," and "20 Greatest Hits." On cassette I added both volumes of "Rock 'n' Roll Music." I went to flea markets looking for old vinyl copies of the albums, where I bought "Abbey Road" and "Introducing... the Beatles," as well as an original 45 of "Eight Days a Week"/"I Don't Want to Spoil the Party." I found weird rarities, too, like a 1962 live recording of the band in a Hamburg nightclub and an album of 1961 recordings by Tony Sheridan on which the Fab Four served as his backing band.

By late 1987, the White Album was my favorite Beatles recording. At night, I'd put the record on, turn out all the lights in my bedroom and sing along with the entire album. Well, not "Revolution 9." It was while listening to the White Album that I realized some of the songs were sung by George and Ringo. Up to that point I'd always mistaken both George and Ringo's voices for John's.

As a 13-year-old boy, I got a silly charge out of "Why Don't We Do It in the Road," feeling as if I was somehow misbehaving by listening to it. Perhaps Paul McCartney anticipated my titilation 20 years earlier, because he makes a faint grunt late in the song that sounds oddly like my father shouting "Tom!" from the top of the stairs outside my room. I can't tell you the number of times I shot out of my chair to turn down the stereo, fearing my father was going to hear the filthy song I was listening to at that moment.

Eventually I'd committed most of "The Compleat Beatles" to memory, so I turned to books, reading "Lennon" by Ray Coleman, "The Love You Make" by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines, and "Shout" by Philip Norman. As a result, I've long said that if I'm ever a contestant on "Jeopardy," my six dream categories would be The Beatles, The Beatles, The Beatles, The Beatles, The Beatles, and The Beatles.

During my frequent visits to the local mall's record store that year, I noticed a Beatles songbook that included sheet music for about 70 songs. Even though I didn't play any instruments other than drums, I asked for the book for Christmas. It was of value to me mostly because of the inclusion of lyrics. (I was, after all, a kid who bought "Song Hits" magazine from the grocery newsstand every month.) For a few years, all I could do was page through the songs, clarifying lyrical questions. During my sophomore year of high school, however, I started to pay attention to the chord diagrams above the staff. I figured out that the diagram was an illustration of how to play the chord on a guitar. Years before I'd beg my parents to buy me a tiny, warped guitar at a neighbor's yard sale. Given the $6 price tag, they'd agreed to the purchase, even buying a book for me to teach myself how to play. I never learned, though, and the guitar sat untouched in my bedroom for years. Now I realized that I could simply imitate the fingering in those chord diagrams. Since I knew the melody, rhythm and words of almost every song in the book, it would be easy enough to know when I was playing correctly. It took many stressful months of practice, but in the end, The Beatles taught me to play guitar.

In the years since that initial burst of enthusiasm, my Beatles fandom has remained a constant. I've built up an even more complete collection of music on my iPod than I had on vinyl and cassette. In college I sang and played guitar in a rock band, and we added three different Beatles songs ("I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Day Tripper" and "Come Together") to our repetoire. I got "Live at the BBC" for Christmas in 1994. I watched all six parts of "The Beatles Anthology" on ABC-TV in 1995 and bought each volume of the accompanying CDs the day they were released. I have the expanded documentary release on DVD. In 2000 I visited New York City for the first time, and made sure to include visits to the Dakota (where John Lennon lived) and Strawberry Fields in my itinerary. That same year, I found a copy of the Black Album, a bootleg of outtakes from the "Get Back" sessions (the sessions that produced the "Let It Be" album) and gave a copy to each of my sisters for Christmas. (Yes, my younger sister became a Beatles fan, too.) I watched VH1's "Behind the Music: John Lennon - The Last Years" and cried so much while watching it that I still haven't watched it again. I cried when George Harrison died in 2001, too.

On June 26, 2007, while living in Las Vegas, my then-girlfriend and I watched Larry King interview Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison at The Mirage casino where they attended a performance of Cirque du Soleil's "The Beatles LOVE." At the end of the CNN broadcast, the camera followed the foursome as they entered the theater and took their seats.

Less than a month later, I was scheduled to leave Las Vegas for a new job and life in Connecticut. My girlfriend and I had a farewell dinner that weekend at Mario Batali's restaurant in The Venetian casino. She told me she hoped to have a surprise for me, but she needed to run an errand during dinner to arrange it. When she got back, she had two standby tickets for "LOVE." Our seats weren't guaranteed, though, so we had to hoof it across the street to The Mirage to get in the standby queue, which was depressingly long. By showtime, we still hadn't been seated and were starting to lose hope. About five minutes after showtime, however, the usher gestured for us and the couple behind us to step up to the ticket counter to pay for our seats. She then escorted the four of us in to the last empty seats in the theater -- the same seats Paul, Ringo, Yoko and Olivia sat in a month before.

Sitting in front of the television in December 1980, I had no idea that the man whose death I'd just learn about would play such a pivotal role in my life. Tonight I'll fall asleep listening to John Lennon's music, reminding myself that we all shine on, everyone.


Dec 8, 2009

In January I set goals for what I wanted to achieve in 2009. With the year coming to an end, it's only fair that I address my progress.

Debt Elimination: I will pay off every debt I currently owe. This includes my car loan, my credit cards, and anything else I have outstanding. The one exception is my student loan debt from law school and grad school. As ambitious as I might be, I somehow doubt I'll be able to scrape together over $100,000 by 2010.

I've made some serious progress, however, paying off one credit card and bringing the other well under control. I also took care of a couple smaller bills and one huge one, but I do have a couple more lingering. I didn't pay off every debt I currently owe, but I'm happy with what I accomplished.

Weight Loss: I need to lose about 100 pounds total, but I'll settle for 50 in the next year. That will go a long way toward getting me back into a healthy lifestyle once and for all.

No two ways about it, this is a bust. I've actually gained weight. There is a glimmer of hope from which I'm now working. I rejoined Weight Watchers online and bought a bathroom scale a week ago. Since then, I've lost 10 pounds.

Publishing: I will write and submit for publication at least one article on a law library topic. I haven't written a thing since I left my tenure track job in mid-2007. If I really want to be a library director some day, I need to start publishing articles again, regardless of whether my current job actually requires it.

Check. Last month the Legal Information Institute's VoxPopuLII published my article, "Duopolies, web usability, and legal research instruction." In addition, during the second half of the year I posted several short articles about law librarianship on my personal website (and by extension, Henderson Valley Eggs). No, these aren't scholarly works, and no faculty would likely consider them to be significant work towards tenure status, but that kind of writing has little appeal to me as an author at this point in my career.

I'm now pondering a long-term writing project unrelated to law or librarianship that could become a full-length book.

Hollywood Tom: I will start a movie blog & review website with a handful of friends. I've wanted to do this for several years but always found excuses to postpone it. No more. If someone wants to call me Hollywood Tom, I need to live up to the nickname.

Didn't happen. I did no work at all on this project in 2009. I'm not concerned about it, thanks to 3 other website projects I completed this year: ScheduAALL, the CS-SIS Web 2.0 Challenge, and Henderson Valley Eggs. I do hope to make some progress on this idea in 2010.

Reading: I will read 26 books in 2009. In 2008 I set a goal of 52 books in 52 weeks. I'll likely end the year having actually read 16. I need to improve on that total, but I also need a more realistic goal. So I'm cutting it in half for this year. Oh, and I'm getting a public library card. This book buying addiction of mine is getting expensive.

So far I've read 22 books and expect to reach my goal by the end of the month. I did not, however, get a public library card. A big reason for this is my switch to ebooks. Except for the first book in January, I've read everything this year on my iPhone, using either the Kindle or Stanza app. Thanks to that convenience, I now read everywhere: the couch, the train, in bed, waiting in line at the dining hall. The books are a bit cheaper, so my book buying addiction is a little easier to maintain.

I'm not sure what my resolutions will be for 2010. I suspect several will carry over from 2009, with some alterations, but I need to think of some new challenges to add to the mix. Suggestions?


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