SITE-ATIONS: From the Way Back to the Far Out

Vol. 31 No. 4

By

William L. Wilson practices civil litigation with Anderson • Agostino & Keller, P.C., in South Bend, Indiana. He also teaches entertainment law at the University of Notre Dame. He blogs about the intersection of law and technology at thirdapple.com.

One billion, seven hundred thirty million pages on the World Wide Web. That’s the latest estimate as of early February 2014. That’s an awful lot of pages to sort through. Out of all those, I’ve curated a few that may be of interest to lawyers.

If the thought of 1.73 billion web pages frightens you, then skip this first recommendation. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine (archive.org/web) has saved 388 billion web pages that have existed throughout the life of the web. This site can be quite useful to anyone who needs to see what a website contained in the past. Because web pages can be updated in almost no time at all, some people give in to the temptation to scrub away incriminating statements on a page. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine helps pull some of those old sites out of the memory hole. It isn’t perfect, and images are often missing (because images can take up more space on a server). Still, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine can be a terrific resource for helping lawyers find evidence that impeaches an opposing witness.

If you deal with real estate matters, or if you sometimes need to find a person’s address, you may want to see if your local government has a GIS website available. GIS stands for geographic information system (or science). Many local GIS sites will let you search by property address or a person’s name. The results will often include details about the property, such as the owner, a legal description of the property, assessed values, and more. Frequently, the GIS site uses aerial photo surveys to help provide information as well. There is one point of caution to remember, however: GIS sites are frequently unfamiliar resources for most laypeople, but they can be a treasure trove for stalkers and others with less-than-honorable intentions. Be wary about the people you share the GIS site with.

Lawyers who help clients caught up in the mortgage foreclosure crisis or other financial matters may find this next site of interest. The FICO Banking Analytics Blog (bankinganalyticsblog.fico.com) features discussion of various financial issues from the perspective of the banking industry. Within the blog are some real gems, such as a look at how late mortgage payments or foreclosure proceedings affect the consumer’s FICO scores—and the time needed for the scores to recover (tinyurl.com/3eze2a5).

One of the great things about the web is that it can serve as a portal to some very useful services, one of which may be the best thing since sliced bread. SaneBox (sanebox.com) is a paid service that tames your e-mail in-box. If you are like most people, you probably have an e-mail address you use for work and another one you use for personal matters. The odds are you get hammered every day with more e-mail than you can possibly manage—and I’m talking about only the non-spam messages. SaneBox works with your e-mail service to separate your e-mail into four different categories, each with its own in-box: important messages that should go right to your in-box; newsletters; bulk messages (like the latest items on sale at your favorite Internet retailer); and messages you’ll probably want to review later (such as the latest quarterly statement from your bank). SaneBox also lets you train the service so that specific senders always arrive in your in-box. It also lets you train the service so other senders always get directed to the Black Hole. With a little twist of irony, SaneBox sends you a daily e-mail message that lists the different e-mails it has categorized for you. This lets you quickly identify a message that should go to your primary in-box. SaneBox has three tiers of service, with higher annual pricing offering more e-mail accounts run through the service and other features. At first, the idea of spending about a hundred bucks a year to parse two e-mail accounts seemed a bit much to me. Having used the service for about a year now, however, I think it was money very well spent. I have no affiliation with SaneBox, and I highly recommend it. The service offers a 14-day free trial, so you have nothing to lose.

At times, we lawyers have to figure out weird stuff. Often, it’s simply calculating a deadline (“30 days plus three days for service by mail means we need to start panicking on . . .”) or how many days have passed since a given date. Rather than counting boxes on a calendar, consider using Wolfram Alpha (wolframalpha.com). The site describes itself as a “computational knowledge engine,” and I can’t think of any better description. Need to know what time it is in Beijing? No problem. Need to convert kilograms to pounds? Piece of cake. Need to know what warp factor six is in relation to the speed of light? Wolfram Alpha has you covered. (It’s 216 times the speed of light, by the way.) Wolfram Alpha has made a large number of apps for smartphones and tablets aimed at specific users (including one for lawyers), but this site gives you free access to the full power of this engine.

This next site may resonate with many people. How many of us have sat through horrible CLE programs or other presentations where the presenter used PowerPoint slides as a teleprompter? How many of us have done the same thing in our own presentations? It’s time to stop. The Internet has a good number of sites and people that try to stop PowerPoint abuse. One of the best resources for understanding how to make persuasive PowerPoint presentations is Presentation Zen (presentationzen.com). The site’s author (who has also written a terrific book by the same title) offers up plenty of examples of “deadly PowerPoint” and how presentations could be improved. Lawyers who give presentations such as closing arguments or pitches to potential clients need to consider whether their audience is there to hear from them or read their slides. If you think the audience is really there to read your slides, then you are superfluous. Get some Presentation Zen onboard and master your competition.

Like many other people, we lawyers often like to get the best “stuff” when we need something, whether it’s a blender or a pair of earbuds for our smartphone. Navigating the wide range of available products is a pain; fortunately, The Wirecutter (thewirecutter.com) is here to help. The good folks at The Wirecutter do extensive testing and comparison of technology products. Then they share their findings and conclusions with us. The site is legit (no paid promotions here), and the content is well written and detailed. Forget the reviews on Amazon. Use The Wirecutter to understand the options and why a particular product deserves your consideration.

Finally, a site that offers much to ponder. In 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was ready to leave our solar system. NASA engineers had the craft turn back to look in the direction of Earth and take a photo from 3.7 billion miles away. In the photo, the Earth appears as a very pale dot, almost impossible to see in the vast amount of space. The image has become known as the Pale Blue Dot (tinyurl.com/2htgzp). After seeing the image, astronomer Carl Sagan offered some powerful words. Here is a small sample.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives . . . every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there. . . .

Sagan’s complete remarks can be found at the site noted above, and I commend them to you for frequent re-reading.

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