General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

A service of the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

Technology eReport

American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

JUN 2009

Vol. 8, No. 2

Columns

 

ProductNotes

Amazon’s Kindle 2


Picture courtesy of Amazon.com/blogkindle.com

I enjoyed my original Kindle. Despite some design flaws, particularly the almost impossible job of holding it without triggering the page advance contact on its right side,  I especially liked its standalone ability to purchase and download books from the Kindle Store without the need to sync to a computer as I had to do with my Sony eReader.

When Amazon released the Kindle 2, I immediately looked into it to see whether or not Amazon had solved the issues I had with its original offering. To my delight, Amazon fixed the worst of the Kindle’s shortcomings. They changed the configuration of the navigation buttons to make it possible to hold the Kindle reader comfortably and read it without inadvertently triggering a page advance.

Amazon also added a metal plate to the back of the device. That gives it a bit more solid feel, even though the case remains primarily plastic. Amazon did increase the memory of the Kindle in its second-generation device, but it still chose not to include the ability to supplement the internal memory with a flash memory card. The Kindle comes with 2GB of onboard RAM and no ability to upgrade to more RAM. You can use approximately 1.4 GB of the onboard RAM for book storage. One of the things I particularly like about the Sony eReader in comparison is that it holds both a Memory Stick and an SD card, allowing you to store more reading material on drives and to easily add your own content to the device by plugging the flash media into your computer and moving it to the card. I can’t help wishing that the Kindle had the same capability.

Like its predecessor, the Kindle 2 retained the ability to access the Kindle Store and acquire new reading material on the fly using Amazon’s free (to Kindle users) WhisperNet CDMA Internet access. Amazon has advertised that its system will download a book to your computer within 60 seconds. I have found that representation completely true. When I have a solid Whispernet signal, the download works quickly and smoothly. I have downloaded several books in well under a minute. Amazon’s WhisperNet network works at 3G speeds and covers you in most major metropolitan areas in the continental United States. The Kindle Store has more than 285,000 books for you to choose from. Prices of most new releases and best sellers are $9.99.

The new Kindle boasts a 25 percent increase in battery life. I didn’t get quite that much over my original Kindle, but I definitely noticed an improvement of at least 15 percent. You can prolong battery life by turning off the wireless connection and turning it on to download magazine, paper, or other subscriptions once a day.

The new Kindle turns and refreshes pages faster than its predecessor. Amazon claims a 20 percent speed increase. The 6” diagonally measured display also shows some improvement in readability. The Kindle has no backlight, but you can get a clip on battery-powered light as an accessory, if you want to read in relatively dark environments. Generally, if the environment you find yourself in has sufficient light for you to read a book, you can read the Kindle2 without a supplemental light. If you don’t want to get extra lighting, you can always have your Kindle2 read to you, as it does have the ability to convert text to speech.

The Kindle 2 has exterior dimensions of 8” x 5.3” x .36” and weighs 10.2 ounces.

The Kindle 2 does not have native PDF capabilities, but it can read converted PDF files. Although you can do your own conversions, it makes better sense in many cases to let Amazon do them for you. They charge $.10 per pdf file. You email the file to yourself at your Kindle email address, and, when it arrives on your Kindle, the Kindle can read it just fine. I recently had about 200 pages of PDF files I wanted to move to the Kindle, so I used Acrobat to consolidate the files into a single document and emailed it to my Kindle. Ten cents and 20 minutes later, I found it on my Kindle menu. If you use the conversion feature, be careful, as I did note some irregularities in the converted document. Nothing terribly serious in the case of the documents I used, but still, not a perfect conversion.

I like the improvements. I think at $359 it comes a bit dear, but I am still glad I have one. If you like the idea of the Kindle, but think you would prefer a larger (and heavier) version, hold off buying one. Amazon has already announced the next iteration of the Kindle, the Kindle DX, a 10.4” x 7.2” x 0.38” device with a 9.7”diagonally measured screen, storage space for up to 3,500 books, a built–in PDF reader, and a $489 price tag. Amazon has not yet announced the release date, but has announced that it will accept preorders

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the law firm of Graves & Allen with a general practice that, since 1973, has emphasized negotiation, structuring, and documentation of real estate acquisitions, loans and other business transactions, receiverships, related litigation, and bankruptcy. Graves & Allen is a small firm in Oakland, California. Mr. Allen also works extensively as an arbitrator and a mediator. He serves as the editor of the Technology eReport and the Technology & Practice Guide issues of GPSOLO Magazine. He regularly presents at substantive law and technology-oriented programs for lawyers and writes for several legal trade magazines. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, Jeffrey has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. You can contact Jeffrey via email at jallenlawtek@aol.com. Mr. Allen blogs on technology and the law at www.jallenlawtekblog.com.

My Law Practice and Bento 2

IThe most difficult thing about moving from Windows to Mac was leaving behind two programs: WordPerfect and Amicus Attorney. WordPerfect is the finest word processor ever for attorneys, and Amicus Attorney comes very close in the case management arena.

Despite much looking, I found nothing to replace either. So I decided to “roll my own” case management application. I have designed some databases over the years, though I am not a professional. I checked out Bento 1, but concluded it did not have the power I needed. I switched to FileMaker and undertook the substantial learning curve involved. I did okay, and in a couple of months designed a working database. But it was hard work.

Along came Bento 2, with its promise of integration with Apple’s AddressBook, iCal Tasks and Events, Apple Mail, and documents. I was sufficiently tempted to plunk down $99 for the family pack (single user version is $49).

In the course of one afternoon I was able to create a Bento database that enabled me to track my cases. The application is just that easy to use.

My case management needs are pretty simple. I have a pure solo criminal appellate practice, and I do only court-appointed cases. I don’t do conventional billing, though of course I have to track my time and expenses. My solution uses two “libraries” (Bento’s term), one that gathers together all the information about a case, and a related one for time and expenses.

The main Clients library has fields for the client’s name, the court numbers, the county of conviction, and similar items. Related records from iCal Events (for due dates), iCal Tasks (to-dos), Address Book (names and addresses of parties), email, and documents are simply dragged onto the main library. The second library, Billing, tracks time and expenses. The solution is so simple because of Bento’s integration of the existing Mac applications. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Bento 2 is the little sister of Filemaker, and the developers appear to have worked very hard to make database creation, not one of the easiest things to do in computing, as easy as creating a word processing program or a spreadsheet.

If at this point you are having a hard time visualizing what a database does, I suggest you look at Bento’s website www.filemaker.com/bento. The site has some videos and explanations that will bring you up to speed quickly. You may even want to download the free trial and just start playing with it. Bento comes with a bunch of predesigned libraries that only need your information.

I use the merging capability to create form letters using the data from the Bento case management library. I export information from each client’s form to Numbers, the Apple spreadsheet program (part of iWork ‘09), and then merge it with a Pages (the Apple word processor, also in iWork ‘09) document.

I also used Bento to create a personal law library. I create case summaries of recent published cases, export the records the same way, and the resulting document is sent out as an email to a list of subscribers and posted to my website www.gracesuarez.com. My site also has a few blogs about using Bento.

Pretty soon everything starts to look like grist for my Bento mill. I’ve created a daily journal with an image field for the “photo of the day,” usually a shot taken through the back window of my house, a notes field, and related records from iCal Tasks, iCal Events, Address Book, documents, and email. The whole day at a glance on one page.

I have also created a library called “Stuff” where I enter information about . . . well, my stuff. In addition to fields for serial numbers, phone numbers, and so forth, I have an image field with a photo of the item, and a documents field with a link to manuals, receipts, and other material. A simple one-form library tracks odd computing tips I pick up here and there.

The Mac Address Book, iCal, and Tasks show up in Bento automatically as Libraries, and I have tweaked them by adding fields and rearranging the information. None of that additional information goes back to the original applications, but changes made to existing fields in the apps from Bento are reflected.

One of the fun parts of Bento are the themes. They are very nicely designed, and can be changed “on the fly.” For example, once spring arrives, I can change the theme of my Journal, right now a sort of wintry blue, into something more cheery. The theme changer kinds of melts into the form. You have to see it. I can’t describe it, but it’s really cool.

There are some serious limitations that may prevent many people from implementing Bento in their businesses. The most important is that it is a single-user database. Even with the family pack, only one person can access one library. The other problem is that Bento creates one file, no matter how many libraries you create. That means it only takes one corruption, and all your data’s gone. Fortunately, Bento makes it easy to create backups.

Another limitation is that if I decide down the line to move the data to another application, the information now contained in the Mac applications (Address Book and iCal) may not port over.

Bento only works on Macs, and only with the latest operating system, Leopard. Windows users and folks clinging to Tiger are out of luck.

I took a few classes from VTC Online University to learn the ins and outs of Bento, which were quite helpful, and FileMaker has a bunch of videos on its website. Frankly, the application is so easy to use that you might just want to dive in and play with it, using the supplied templates, until you’re ready to create one from scratch.

Grace Lidia Suarez is an attorney in San Francisco, California, who specializes in criminal appeals. She can be reached at gracesuarez@mac.com.

© Copyright 2009, American Bar Association.