Friday, April 30, 2004

News aggravators

August 18, 2003: Aggregators attack information overload (Wired).

April 20, 2004: News aggregators overload web servers (Wired).

Imagine if your hands were fast enough to hit 1000 internet news sites and weblogs every day. With a news aggregator, your computer does it for you. Sites (like this one) that offer RSS feeds allow web surfers to include their RSS page in a news aggregator. The aggregator can download the headlines of new stories or posts and even the full content of stories or posts, if it is set up that way. Aggregators can be set to check RSS feeds for new content every fifteen minutes if you like. Aggregators are incredibly convenient for keeping abreast of the latest news, but once they become mainstream, they might overload popular news sites and weblogs with constant hits.

As it stands now, users need to download a news aggregator from a third party source. (I use NewzCrawler.) But I am sure a future version of Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape will have an integrated news aggregator. Once that happens, a lot of sites might run out of bandwidth fast.

But if someone's got to be overloaded, I would rather it be the machines.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Gmail is cool

So I signed onto Blogger a few days ago and got an invitation to sign up for a Gmail account being offered by Google. (Google now owns Blogger, as most of you know). I've been trying it out and I really like it.

GMail offers an appallingly large 1,000 MB of space for your e-mails. The idea is that you will never need to delete another message. Instead of saving e-mails in folders, you use Google's search technology to find anything you want in your inbox. Back and forth messages are grouped together as "conversations" instead of as separate e-mails. Because some e-mail "conversations" have 6 or 7 back and forth messages, this is a convenient organizational method that avoids a cluttered appearance.

The big flap about Gmail right now is that your messages are electronically scanned so that targeted Google ads and links to relevant web sites appear in a sidebar as you read your e-mails. Just for fun I wrote a message to myself (at one of my other accounts) and mentioned the Toshiba e330 Pocket PC (which is the PDA I use). Sure enough, Toshiba ads popped up alongside the message when I read the reply in Gmail. But who cares? It's much less annoying than having some one-liner advertisement tacked on to the bottom of every e-mail you send. I agree with this article in that the flap is much ado about nothing. E-mails are routinely scanned by computers for viruses and spam control. I don't see any difference here.

The other thing I like about Gmail is that it is much more interactive than Hotmail. For instance, you can turn on keyboard shortcuts to make basic tasks easier. For instance, when logged in to my account, I can hit the letter C on my keyboard and a new blank message will appear (C for "compose," that is). When I start typing an address for someone I have sent a message to before, a drop-down menu with the address appears to complete the address. Neat.

For those of us who keep an orderly inbox, I must say it is a little disconcerting to have an inbox full of old messages. Those neat freaks among us can still delete mail in Gmail, but they lose the advantage of being able to search it 3 or 4 years from now.

Gmail is still being beta tested, but it looks like it's really going to take off.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Free cellphone plan for Marshall University students gets nationwide attention

Just a few years ago (okay, 10) when I lived on campus at WVU, no one I knew had a cellphone. Now, everybody does. But at Marshall University here in Wild Wonderful, the service is free.

This report airing on TechTV spotlights the Marshall campus as a model for wireless infrastructure on college campuses. Under the school's plan, students receive free nationwide long-distance in the contiguous 48 states, no roaming charges, and even unlimited minutes.

The program was made possible by a partnership with West Virginia Wireless. I'll bet MIT doesn't even have this kind of service. What a great idea.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Justice McGraw incorporates anti-gay marriage stance into new campaign slogan

This bizarre article in the Daily Mail unveils Justice McGraw's new campaign motto:

"I'm a person that believes in one God, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all," McGraw said. "In fact, that's really my campaign slogan. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, and I'm against gay marriage."

While the anti-gay marriage position is likely popular in this state, is it proper for a sitting supreme court justice to make a comment like this? McGraw claims he "voted against gay marriage" by voting to deny the petition in State ex Rel. Link, et al. v. King, a case in which gay couples sought an order compelling a county clerk to issue them marriage licenses. That is a fact, but saying "I'm against gay marriage," is something different than saying, "I voted not to hear the petition in State ex Rel. Link and that's all I am going to say." His challenger, Jim Rowe, has refused to comment on gay marriage, citing the judicial code of ethics.

Having now declared his unequivocal position against gay marriage, when the issue does finally reach the State Supreme Court (and assuming he is still on the bench), won't Justice McGraw have to recuse himself? This just doesn't make any sense to me.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Supreme Court gives drug user a second chance at a big payday

In a per curiam opinion, our State Supreme Court has given a drug user a second chance at winning seven years of salary from his employer. In Benson v. AJR, Inc., No. 31542 (Apr. 16, 2004), an employer fired one of its supervisors who tested positive for cocaine use during a random drug screening. The employee had an eight-year contract with the company that guaranteed payment of his salary for the entire eight year term unless he quit or was discharged for "dishonesty" or conviction of a felony. His written termination form, issued less than seven months into his contract, stated as the reasons for his termination "controlled substance testing" and "tested positive for cocaine." However, the employee admitted he was dishonest in connection with his failure to truthfully respond to the owner's question regarding whether the employee was aware of drug use by any AJR employees. Salary payments under the contract were discontinued, and the employee sued for breach.

The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, but our State Supreme Court reversed. The circuit court, applying dictionary definitions of "dishonesty," concluded that the employee's "actions in failing a drug test and arriving at work with drugs in his system demonstrates a lack of integrity, probity, or adherence to a code of moral values," and was therefore "dishonest."

On appeal, the Supreme Court found that while the employee was certainly dishonest, "the record in this case is unclear as to whether AJR dismissed Mr. Benson from its employ for drug use or for dishonesty." This question, in the Supreme Court's opinion, must be resolved by a jury. "If the jury determines that drug use, rather than dishonesty, was the basis for the dismissal, then the provisions of the employment contract with regard to continued payment of Appellant's salary for the duration of the contractual term are applicable. If, however, the jury determines that Mr. Benson was in fact terminated for being dishonest, then AJR is not required to pay his salary under the terms of the employment contract."

This opinion is simply amazing to me. A drug-using employee gets fired for flunking his drug test, lies to his employer about his knowledge of illegal drug use, but is still given a chance to collect seven years of salary from his former employer simply because the employer failed to list his lie as among the reasons for his termination? How can this be? The fact is, this man signed an agreement saying he would not be paid if he was fired for dishonesty, and he admits that he was, in fact, dishonest in conjunction with the very issue for which he was fired. How was it reversible error for the circuit judge to conclude that no reasonable juror could find in this guy's favor? This is the type of case I would expect the Court to decline in the first place. Justice was clearly accomplished by the circuit court, and unfortunately, it has been undone by the appellate court in this case. I certainly hope the jury will get this one right on remand.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Stranger than fiction

There are so many lousy reality-based TV shows airing right now that it's hard to keep track. Most of the stuff is staged because, let's face it, reality isn't interesting. Unless, of course, you are Jack Whittaker, Powerball "Winner." Pay a few guys to follow Jack around with some cameras, and you have yourself a show. His life has all the key qualities of your standard reality TV show--sex, drugs, money, lawyers--who could ask for anything more.

Last night, someone tried to break into Jack's house while he was away on vacation. Lucky for Jack, they didn't make off with any loot. (Don't they know Jack keeps all of his money in his Lincoln Navigator?) Actually, losing all of his money could be the best thing that ever happened to him.

This article in the Daily Mail has the rundown on Jack's life since winning the lottery. In other words, here's what the producers of Jack Whittaker, Powerball "Winner" have missed so far:

Christmas Day 2002. Sole winner of a $314.9 million Powerball jackpot.

August 2003. Drugged while visiting a Cross Lanes strip club. Two club employees conspire to drug Whittaker's drink, break into his Lincoln Navigator and steal a briefcase containing about $545,000. "Lucky" for Jack, the money is found.

January 2004. Jack is arrested and charged with threatening to kill the manager of a St. Albans bar.

January 2004. Jack is arrested again near the Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center in Nitro and charged with drunken driving.

January 2004. Lincoln Navigator broken into again and $100,000 stolen.

March 2004. Jack is robbed -- twice.

March 2004. Three employees of the Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center sued him, claiming he assaulted them in March 2003.

and now in April 2004, his house is broken into while he's away.

I think the reality TV producers are really missing some low hanging fruit here.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Everybody has an opinion

Chief Justice Maynard has filed a dissenting opinion of his own in State of West Virginia v. Arbaugh, Jr., No. 31326, bringing the total number of opinions to five. Justice Maynard had previously joined Justice Davis' dissent, but now writes to express a few thoughts of his own.

The latest dissent seeks to clarify the state of the law regarding probation following sentencing under the Youthful Offender Act. It's interesting to have this many opinions in a case that was issued per curiam, which supposedly means that no new law is being created.

I'm not sure how many cases in the past have yielded five separate opinions, but I don't think there are many.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Recent opinions reveal deep divisions in state supreme court

In reading Justice Starcher's concurring opinion in State of WV v. Arbaugh, Jr., No. 31326, it is clear that our supreme court is deeply divided. Concurring and dissenting opinions have been used lately as platform to editorialize and "blast" the opposition for distorting the law or the facts, ignoring precedent, and personally attacking other justices. This particular opinion blasts the dissenters for blasting the majority. As a legal practitioner, it is interesting reading because the opinions provide a window into the minds of the justices. Unlike majority opinions which are mostly sanitized and free from personal comments, concurring and dissenting opinions are sometimes pure stream of consciousness.

I must say, though, that Justice Starcher's Arbaugh concurrence is troubling to me not because it is a continuation of a feud between factions of the court, but because of the judicial philosopy it reveals. Justice Starcher writes,
During oral argument of this case, in subsequent discussions, and prior to any opinion being written (or at least being circulated), there was a search by this Court for some way within the bounds of existing law to prevent a less-than-twenty-year-old person from facing an up-to-thirty-five-year sentence - for behavior that last occurred prior to his fifteenth birthday, and for more recent misbehavior, consisting of not complying with conditions of probation: smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, not attending counseling sessions, not accepting authority, etc. (emphasis added)
I recall a story from about a year ago in which an attorney was suspended in Indiana for suggesting in a footnote that a particular court opinion was "results-oriented." (The suspension was later reduced to a reprimand). If you read Justice Starcher's concurrence the way I do, our Court is unapologetically results-oriented. Many folks have been suggesting this for years, but I have never seen such an open endorsement of results orientation in an opinion. It just goes to show you that a judicial philosophy that is an anathema to one court is a badge of honor for another.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

W.Va. Supreme Court declines gay marriage petition

By a 3-2 vote, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has refused a petition for writ of mandamus in State ex Rel. Link, et al. v. King, the case in which gay couples sought an order compelling a county clerk to issue them marriage licenses. According to Rory's post, Justices Starcher and Davis would have accepted the petition.

Too bad. This would have been an interesting case for our court to handle. I can honestly say I have no idea how that one would have turned out.