SCOTUS Servo tracks and announces changes to Supreme Court opinions

SCOTUS Servo tracks and announces changes to Supreme Court opinions

GitHub is where most software developers maintain their projects. It provides version control, issue tracking and much more to its users. I even have a few repositories of my own.

SCOTUS Servo is developed by V. David Zvenyach, a self-described “lawyer and web tinkerer.” His list of projects is impressive, but SCOTUS Servo is so simple it’s beautiful.

Zvenyach’s software watches Supreme Court PDFs for changes to the file and then posts notifications via Twitter user @SCOTUS_servo.

It’s legal geekery at it’s best and most civic-minded.

Anita Sarkeesian asserts her right not to be in danger of being shot

Anita Sarkeesian asserts her right not to be in danger of being shot

Tim Vitale, spokesman for Utah State University, on Anita Sarkeesian’s cancellation of a planned lecture in the wake of emailed threats:

She was worried about Utah law preventing police from keeping people with legal, conceal-carry permits from entering the event. But our police were prepared and had in place extra security measures. It was her decision to cancel.

Vitale’s tone suggests Sarkeesian overreacted, that the University could somehow guarantee her safety. That, of course, is an absurd implication, particularly because the email, which Bob Mims of the Salt Lake Tribune described as “threatening bloody mayhem,” apparently came from a USU student.

Sarkeesian’s cancellation was the most responsible course of action, and the school should be ashamed of its failure to cancel, not bragging about it.

Utah citizens with permits have the right to carry concealed guns. And Anita Sarkeesian has the right to avoid the danger created by the juxtaposition of that freedom with threats on her life and the lives of her audience members.

HBO without cable coming in 2015

HBO without cable coming in 2015

Peter Kafka reports at Recode:

[HBO CEO Richard] Plepler said the company will go “beyond the wall” and launch a “stand alone, over the top” version of HBO in the US next year, and would work with “current partners,” and may work with others as well. But he wouldn’t provide any other detail.

Plepler has been pondering this possibility for a while, and a couple of years ago I did some back-of-the-napkin math which suggested there is a lot of money to be had in a web-only subscription.

I’m not known for my math skills, but it looks like I was on to something.

Correction: This post has been updated because I originally stated the year HBO plans to launch its web-only offering as 2014 in the link at the top, instead of 2015, which is the correct year. Sorry folks.

A sense that it wasn’t design

A sense that it wasn’t design

Robert Sullivan has such a good interview with Jony Ive over at Vogue:

In other words, the secret weapon of the most sought-after personal-electronics company in the world is a very nice guy from Northeast London who has a soft spot for woodworking and the sense that designers ought to keep their design talents backstage where they can do the most good. “There’s an odd irony here,” he observes. “I think our goal is that you would have a sense that it wasn’t design.”

I’m not sure the Apple Watch is for me because I haven’t had the chance to hold one yet. But the passion and sincerity Ive exudes for his work compels me to at least check it out.

Philly will consider adding LGBTQ protections to hate crimes ordinance

Philly will consider adding LGBTQ protections to hate crimes ordinance

Randy Lobasso, writing at Philly Weekly‘s PhillyNow blog:

Last week, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a proposal along with Councilman Jim Kenney to add disability, sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s ordinance. The proposal would add up to 90 days of jail time and a $2,000 fine if someone is convicted of hate crimes in addition to whatever other specific crime they’ve committed. It’s not much — but it’s something.

Lobasso’s piece is a great primer on the politics of bill passage, and he explains eloquently and with just the right amount of indignation why Pennsylvania has so far failed to address hate crimes, housing and other venues of discrimination with respect to the Commonwealth’s LGBTQ citizens. Go read it.

Subprime auto lenders use technology to compel payment

Subprime auto lenders use technology to compel payment

Michael Corkery And Jessica Silver-Greenberg, reporting at the New York Times DealBook blog:

Ms. Bolender was three days behind on her monthly car payment. Her lender, C.A.G. Acceptance of Mesa, Ariz., remotely activated a device in her car’s dashboard that prevented her car from starting. Before she could get back on the road, she had to pay more than $389, money she did not have that morning in March.

This is as stark an illustration of the intersection of law and technology as I’ve linked to in a while. While the tech can be a blunt instrument in a world of nuance (some borrowers are doing their best, others are surely not), I don’t oppose it. Assuming everyone was aware of the terms of the loan, it’s a valid contract, etc.

But this sentence gave me pause:

Using the GPS technology on the devices, the lenders can also track the cars’ location and movements.

Again, there probably isn’t anything illegal about it, assuming a valid contract. But in a world of automated license plate scanning and associated geo-behavioral profiling, is a GPS device overkill?

I suppose the business model itself is unnerving. After all, if you need to use a GPS device to manage risk, maybe you shouldn’t be making the loan in the first place. Borrowers using subprime auto loans probably just can’t afford to get a car.

Some drivers volunteer for activity-tracking devices as a way of qualifying for reduced car insurance premiums. Such people can already afford insurance though, and allow their provider to track their behavior as an added savings.

Maybe it’s less the tech involved and more the word “subprime,” which to me invariably suggests a corporation taking advantage of someone who can’t actually afford what they’re getting, and will inevitably default.

Designing around a high bounce rate at news sites

Designing around a high bounce rate at news sites

Bounce rate is the measure of what percentage of visitors to a website only view one page before leaving the site. It’s a number you want to keep low. One way to do that is to present visitors with options for further reading relevant to the interests that brought them to your site in the first place.

Dan Gardner and Mike Treff of design firm Code and Theory addressed that challenge in a recent article at Fast Company:

To address this, most publishing sites throw in a comments section or put a static, poorly designed “recommended content” module at the bottom of the page. What they should be doing is reusing more dynamic designs and responding to users to create an ideal path for them to follow.

That “poorly designed” module is exactly what I did, manually, when I worked on the digital side of a business journal. The developer on staff at the parent company is talented and a hard worker, but he simply had too many greater priorities to drop everything and build the dynamic recommended-reading module I suggested.

I was in good company in making that recommendation, though. Gardner and Treff continue:

When we redesigned the Los Angeles Times, we collaborated with the Times on an algorithm that automatically decides the best thing to serve each user, based on all the information we know about them. Crucially, the system still allows editors to override those choices when they need to respond to major events.

That’s the ideal solution for redirecting would-be one-article visitors to more stuff they’re likely to enjoy reading: automation and dynamism without a loss of editorial control. I’d also recommend a prominent opt-in because such a tool will either need to make creative use of cookies or have readers create a profile on the site as a way to mark topics they like.

Go read the rest of the article, it’s well worth your time whether you’re a front-end web designer, a digital editor or just an avid reader of news online.

FBI Director dislikes encryption on Apple and Google devices

FBI Director dislikes encryption on Apple and Google devices

Encryption of data on mobile devices is a big selling point in our post-Snowden world. But FBI Director James Comes isn’t happy about it:

What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.

David Kravets of Ars Technica reports Comey has “reached out” to the companies about the issue. Absent new or amended legislation, though, there is little he can do about it, precisely because there is such a sales incentive to marketing encryption these days.

Anonymous Instagram users role-play with stolen baby photos

Anonymous Instagram users role-play with stolen baby photos

Blake Miller of Fast Company has this chilling article:

Jenny had become a victim of a growing–and to many, alarming–new community that exists primarily on Instagram: baby role-players. Instagram users like Nikki steal images of babies and children off the Internet, give them a new name, and claim them as their own. Sometimes they create entire fake families.

The sad thing is there is relatively little protection to be had from the law in situations like this. You may be able to sue someone using your likeness in a commercial venture without your permission, but non-commercial use of the nature described above is rarely protected in the same way.

Instagram users should review their privacy settings by reading the company’s help pages about controlling your visibility and setting photos and video as viewable only to approved followers.

Keep this in mind, though: even if you set your content as private, sharing a link to a photo or video on a social network like Twitter or Facebook will allow anyone with that link to view it.

People who do steal your photos and pretend they’re your child or your child’s parent are violating Instagram’s Terms of Service, which prohibits impersonation, among other things (emphasis mine):

You must not defame, stalk, bully, abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate people or entities [...]

The Fast Company article to which I link above includes a statement from Instagram that the company does remove the stolen images when users report such activity.

This story is another lesson to be mindful of not only what you share online, but how you share it. After all, a private company like Instagram could simply choose to ignore concerns like these, and users would have no recourse. Social networks can be a rich and vibrant way to stay in touch, but we are all responsible for what and how we share.