The McDonald’s Coffee Lawsuit Myths

The legal system is broken. Just look at that crazy McDonald’s case where that woman got millions because she spilled hot coffee on her own lap.

If I had a nickel for every client who has said that to me, I’d have, well, about 25 cents. But along with the OJ Simpson case, it is often cited as an example of the “crazy” legal system we operate under.

I’m glad to see that the YouTube channel College Humor has posted a video that debunks much of the misinformation about the McDonald’s coffee case. The next time a client offers the McDonald’s coffee case as evidence against our legal system, send them to this video.

Be Brilliant With a Kindle Fire HD

The Biggest Advantage of the Kindle Fire Tablet

You already have, no doubt, made your decision about which tablet to own and carry (or whether to own one at all). Amazon dominates the e-book world, and the primary reason to favor a Kindle over any other tablet is for the easy access to e-books. With a Kindle, buying an e-book from the Amazon bookstore is a true one-click experience. But even without a Kindle, you can read Amazon e-books on just about any other tablet or computer using the Kindle Reader app or program. For example, even though I own a Kindle, I often read e-books on my iPad because it has a larger screen than my 7-inch Kindle (although overall I greatly prefer the smaller form factor of the Kindle).

Nonetheless, even if you already own another tablet, there is a huge reason to own a Kindle. That reason is text-to-speech (“TTS”).

Kindle Fire Text-to-Speech

TTS does not work with any of Amazon’s Kindle reading apps. The only way to use text-to-speech with Kindle books is to use a Fire tablet or Fire Phone (if you’re one of the six people who bought one of those). If you have one of the older model E Ink Kindles that Amazon doesn’t make anymore, such as the Kindle Touch, Kindle 2, or Kindle DX, TTS works on those as well.

I am always looking for ways to be at the bleeding edge of technology. We are in a wonderful time of readily available and very inexpensive e-books on every conceivable topic. Now there are 99 cent e-books that would have easily cost $10 just a few years ago as a softcover, assuming a short book like that would ever have been published. With the addition of the Kindle Unlimited subscription program, I now have access to a virtually unlimited library of free e-books (except the price of the subscription).

But who has the time to sit and read all these great e-books? That is where text-to-speech comes in. I have a very short commute to work, but even with that limited amount of time, I go through an average of three e-books per week that I would not otherwise be able to consume without text-to-speech. All by just listening during my commute and other usually wasted time. Audio books are great as well, but they are expensive and are limited to what the publishers perceive will have mass appeal. The sort of focused nonfiction books that I absorb are seldom offered as audio books. (Although this is changing. Since it offers an additional income source, more and more indie authors are also creating an audio version of their books.)

When using text-to-speech, the Kindle moves through the book and keeps you at the current page. If you arrive home and want to continue reading the book, you just turn off the text-to-speech and pick up reading right where you stopped the audio. And that is true across devices. If you stop text-to-speech on your Kindle, the book will open at that precise point on your iPad or whatever. If your only experience with text-to-speech is the computer-like voice that used to be the norm, you are in for a real surprise with the Kindle. The reading is far more natural sounding, and you can even choose whether that voice is male or female.

Years ago, I used to listen to books on tape. Even then, as much as I enjoyed listening to these books, I felt the information could be imparted much faster. I found a cassette player sold at Radio Shack that permitted the user to increase the speed of the playback, while at the same time equalizing the narrator’s voice so that it didn’t sound like a chipmunk. As evidenced by the fact that we read much faster than the speed at which people speak, we can absorb information at a much higher rate. With my Radio Shack cassette player, I not only used commute time to read books, but I went through twice as many books.

That same technology is built into every Kindle with text-to-speech. In any book that you are reading, you simply touch the play button and the speech begins. In the lower right-hand corner of the screen there is a button marked 1x, and touching that button increases the speed to 1.5x, 2.0x, 3.0x, or 4.0x, again all while keeping the voice normal. I generally listen at double speed.

For copyright reasons, Kindle allows e-book authors to elect whether text-to-speech will work with their books, but with the exception of books that might someday become audio books, they almost always do. I don’t recall the last time I wasn’t able to use the feature with a book I was reading.

Which Kindle to buy is a personal choice, dependent on your intended use. I primarily use a Kindle Fire HDX, which has the highest resolution of any Kindle to date (323 ppi / 1920 x 1200) and a built-in “Mayday” feature. With a tap of a button, a technical support person appears on my screen, and can take control of the Kindle to fix whatever problem I have.

Sadly, Amazon no longer offers the HDX, but the newer models have features not offered on the HDX, which I will discuss in a moment. As to the Mayday feature, none of the current Kindles offer that feature, but it is largely a distinction without a difference. Now, technical support still has the ability to take over your Kindle, but you need to navigate through a menu instead of having a dedicated button. Big woop.

Alexa on your Kindle Fire

The much more important feature now available on most new Kindle Fires is the artificial intelligence Alexa feature. Alexa is becoming omnipresent on Kindle devices, beginning with the Amazon Echo, Dot and Tap, spreading to the Fire TV, and now the Kindle Tablets. As you incorporate Alexa more and more into your life (asking for information, ordering an Uber, ordering food, getting recipes, ordering anything on Amazon, checking traffic conditions, checking scores, listening to music, setting timers, reading ebooks, creating a to-do list, checking your calendar, creating a shopping list, controlling your thermostats, controlling your lights, listening to Chuck Norris jokes, doing a 7-minute workout), it soon becomes frustrating when you are not within shouting distance of an Echo or Dot. That’s why Amazon came out with the Tap, which is really just a portable Echo. But that is still an imperfect solution, because who wants to be carrying around a speaker all the time?

The addition of Alexa to Kindle Fires is a far better solution. You can now take Alexa with you (so long as you have WiFi available).

“But can’t I do all of this on iPhone’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana or Google’s, well, Google?”, you ask. Good question (and thank you for engaging). There is definitely some overlap between the various AI systems, but from my experience, Alexa takes everything to a more proficient and usable level. Here is a video comparing Siri to Alexa:

Google recently released its AI device, and there will no doubt be some great competition, but for now Alexa is dominating the technology. Several car manufactures will soon offer an Alexa interface in their cars, and the Alexa interface was commonplace in may new products introduced at this year's CES. And if you are still not convinced that Alexa would be useful in your life, here is a fun video showing 50 things you can do with Alexa:

Basically, any new Kindle Fire you buy now will work with Alexa, other than the Kindle Fire 6. Specifically, Alexa will work on the Fire (5th Generation), Fire HD 8 (5th Generation), Fire HD 10 (5th Generation), and Fire HD 8 (6th Generation). Alexa is not available on Fire HD 6 (4th Generation), Fire HD 7 (4th Generation), Fire HDX 8.9 (4th Generation), or previous generation tablets. Hopefully the next generation of the Kindle Fire 6 will work with Alexa, because that is what I usually carry with me.

That just leaves you to decide size of the Kindle you want, and the amount of memory. As to memory, I don’t keep much on mine, and all the books are stored in the cloud, so 16 GB was sufficient. Thankfully, the latest Kindle Fires all come with a memory card slot (expandable to 200 GB), so the amount of native memory is less important.

Which is the best size Kindle Fire?

Here are my thoughts on the various sizes:

Kindle Fire HD 6

At the time I am writing this, the Amazon site shows that the Kindle Fire 6 is not available, but it can be purchased from other sellers on the site for an incredible $38. It has the same resolution as the Kindle HD 8 and 10, meaning that the pixel density is much finer (252 ppi / 1280 x 800).

If you want a Kindle that you can toss into a pocket or purse, this is the one you want. This was a wildly popular Kindle, so I suspect that Amazon will soon introduce a new model in this size that incorporates Alexa and a memory expansion slot.

Kindle Fire 7

I really like the form factor of the 7 inch screen, but at the time I am writing this, Amazon is not offering a High Def (HD) version of the 7 inch Fire. You are thus stuck with a resolution of 1024 x 600 (171 ppi) and a shorter life battery (about 7 hours). At $49.99, the Fire 7 is an amazing bargain (as are all the Kindles, really), but I would give it a pass due to the resolution. The other models are just a little more.

Kindle Fire HD 8

At the time I am writing this, the Kindle Fire HD 8 is the sweet spot for all Kindles. It lists at $89.99, but Amazon will no doubt occasionally run specials. Compared to non-HD Kindles, it has a far superior resolution of 1280 x 800 (189 ppi), which you will appreciate if you watch any videos. Plus, Amazon bumped up the RAM in this model by 50% for faster performance.

Be careful! When I was buying Kindles as Christmas presents, I almost opted for the "Fire Tablet Variety Pack" that Amazon offers, consisting of two 8-inch Kindles, for just $99. But those are not HD tablets, come with just 8GB of memory, and have just 7 hours of battery life (compared to 12 hours with the HD model).

Kindle Fire HD 10

I have a 10-inch iPad and a 7-inch Kindle, and I find myself usually opting for the smaller Kindle (or for my 6-inch Kindle if I want to listen to a book). But if I need more screen real estate, such as when I am reading magazines, the 10-inch screen of the iPad is much better. Obviously the same would be true of the 10-inch Fire, with its 1280 x 800 high definition display (149 ppi).

But that extra two inches of screen size come at a cost. The price of the Fire HD 10 jumps to $229.99.

There is one more configuration decision to make. you can buy a Kindle “with special offers” or “without special offers”. All that means is if you opt for the slightly less expensive model that comes with “special offers”, you will be greeted with an advertisement each time you turn on your Kindle. Save the few dollars and get the Kindle WITH special offers. I actually like the ads, because often they are something that interests me. They never appear while you are using your Kindle, only when you first sign on. In any event, if you decide I was wrong because you hate the ads, you can just pay the difference and upgrade and Amazon turns them off.

Crucial tips regarding Kindles (and probably any other tablet).

One final word about the Amazon Kindle. When I got my first Kindle Fire, I was disappointed by the battery life. Not the battery life while you are using the Kindle — it seemingly lasts for days — but rather the battery life when it is sitting in your briefcase. It seemed that every time I pulled out my Kindle, if I hadn’t used it for a couple of days, it was dead. Amazon suggests that you turn off the wi-fi to the extend the battery life, so I would dutifully go into settings and turn off the wi-fi every time I was done using my Kindle. But it was a hassle, and it didn’t seem to help much.

Eventually I figured out that turning off the wi-fi was still leaving on the Bluetooth, so the much easier way to turn off both was to just put the Kindle in airplane mode. I just swipe down from the top of the screen, and touch the airplane icon. But to really extend the battery life, you also need to make sure you don’t have any programs running that are using power even when the screen is locked. Ironically, because I was experiencing battery life problems, I had downloaded a battery app in order to see which apps were using the most power, and since that app was always running, it was a constant drain.

Now that I am good about using airplane mode and have eliminated any battery draining apps I added, battery life just isn’t an issue. By way of example, I just pulled out my Kindle HDX, which hasn’t seen a charger for a week, and even though I’ve used it a few times this week (my Kindle 6 is my latest toy and is getting the most use), it still has an 82% charge.

I provide affiliate links in this website that pay me a few shekels if you click through and buy the product. However, in all cases these were products that I was using and recommending before I became an affiliate. If you do purchase through my affiliate link, thank you so much for your support!

Law Office Software of the Month – Microsoft’s Mouse Without Borders

matrix-podsThere are times, usually when I encounter some amazing software or incredible piece of technology, that I think The Matrix got it right. We are all suspended in goo somewhere, and what we perceive as reality is merely a computer construct.

Okay, perhaps I’m overstating the case, but when I first used Microsoft’s Mouse Without Borders (“MWB”), which is a FREE program, it seemed too magical to be true. I will say up front that there is a very narrow set of circumstances that would make this software useful to anyone, but it is truly awesome if you fall within that group. Here are two potential uses:

Use a laptop as an extra screen

In this article I have already explained the leap in efficiency you enjoy when using multiple monitors. I also explain that I don’t think a laptop is the best choice for your primary office computer, one reason being that while you can run multiple monitors off of a laptop, it’s a kludgy system to have to set that up every time you start your day.

But if you have an old laptop, MWB let’s you use that laptop as an extra screen. You simply install the free software on both computers, and then your same mouse and keyboard control both.

It’s not an extra monitor in the literal sense because you can’t drag a running window from your desktop computer to the laptop. But that is kind of a distinction without a difference because you can just run whatever program you want on the laptop. Let me give you a typical example of how I use MWB that will illustrate the point.

I use an all-in-one computer in my home office. I love the form factor of an all-in-one because there is no tower to deal with and minimal cords. I can add a second monitor using the HDMI output, but then that defeats the clean look of the single monitor sitting on my desk.

But there are times when I am preparing brief at home that I want three windows open. Let’s say I’m preparing a motion for summary judgment. I want one window for Westlaw, another for the motion I am creating, and a third with a declaration I have prepared, so I can weave references from the declaration into the motion. My all-in-one has a nice big 24 inch monitor, so I can open Westlaw and WordPerfect on that monitor, but what about the declaration?

For that, I just set my laptop beside my monitor, open the declaration, turn on MWB, and I’m off to the races. The keyboard and mouse that I use for my all-in-one now also control the laptop; just like it was a extra monitor. I can copy and paste text to and from the desktop and laptop. MWB even allows you to set the relative positions of the screens, so if my laptop is to the right of my desktop monitor, that’s the way the mouse moves.

Use MWB as a virtual KVM switch

On occasion I have the need to access two computers at the same time. One such instance is when I buy a new computer, and I’m making the transition of software and data from my old computer. During the transition, I like to have both computers running so that if I have a need for a program I haven’t transferred yet, it is available to me. I could use the program list from the old computer as a checklist to make sure that every program has been transferred, but I find this two computer system to be less taxing. I can remain productive while I wean myself off the old computer.

This has always been possible using a KVM switch, which stands for keyboard, video, mouse. With a KVM switch, you can switch between two computers, but MWB is much better suited, because both are visible at the same time. I use four monitors at the office. For the transition, I plug one into the old computer, and the three remaining monitors into the new computer. Since I am using the same keyboard and mouse, the fact that I am using two computers becomes almost transparent. When I tried to call up some information from my catch-all program Notescraps, and realized that I hadn’t installed it on the new computer, I just moved my mouse to the screen of the old computer, did the same search, and up it popped.

Speaking of Notescraps, I arranged for all my readers to get this great program for FREE. Just go to my review of Notescraps for the information.

Quick Tips: Replacing a Computer with Almost No Downtime

At least for me, when a computer dies, the biggest pain in the keister is not the cost of a new unit, but the much greater expense in terms of time spent installing all the necessary programs and drivers to get it back on par with the computer it is replacing. Inevitably I pull out my the installation CD to install, say, Outlook, and I find that the license code card is missing. Then, since I use four different monitors with either landscape or portrait orientation, I have to set all those up within Windows settings. There are dozens of these tweaks. Sometimes months after I have installed a new computer, I’ll go to call up some program that I seldom use, only to find that it never got installed on the new system.

So when the inevitable happens and your computer finally dies, here are two systems I have come up with to minimize the pain of having to replace a computer:

Keep all your software and license codes in one place (or two).

At least when it comes to reinstalling my software, I’ve taken a lot of pain out of that process by keeping all of the software and license codes in my dropbox. I almost never receive a physical copy of the installation disc for any software I purchase. If I purchase software on Amazon, I receive only an electronic download version, and Amazon maintains a download library and all the license codes for all the software I’ve ever purchased.

In the case of other software that I buy directly from the publisher, such as the Dragon software I bought from Nuance which I’m using to create this article, that too comes only as a downloaded electronic version. In those instances, the publishers will attempt to make extra money by charging a fee to maintain that download for you on their server. I skip the fee and instead immediately transfer a copy of the software to my dropbox. At the same time, I create a PDF document with the license code and place that in the dropbox as well. In the (now) rare cases that the software came on an installation disc, I cut and paste the license code onto a label and stick it on the disc.

Now when it comes time to configure a new computer, I first go to my Amazon account and download all the software I purchased there, and next visit my dropbox for the same purpose. I finish up with the physical discs.

Very rarely I’ll run into an error message, stating that I’ve already reached my license limit, but a call to technical support to explain that this is not an additional installation, but rather is an installation on a new computer, has always solved the problem.

Buy the identical computer and swap the hard drive.

I had this brilliant rainstorm recently, and it permitted me to avoid all of the above and replace a broken computer with almost no downtime.

One might think you can avoid software and driver installation issues by simply pulling out your old hard drive and slapping it into a new computer, but that really doesn’t work. The new computer will have different hardware (video cards, sound card, etc.), so you’ll still be faced with having to update many drivers. Worse, Windows keeps people from installing its operating system on multiple computers by tying the installation to the hardware. When your registered copy of Windows wakes up in a new computer with different internal hardware, it assumes you are trying to pull a fast one and at a minimum makes you reactivate Windows.

But I beat the system. I had an uber powerful HP computer that I really liked, and way before its time the mother board crapped out. I could probably replace the mother board (and still may do so), but what a costly hassle. HP doesn’t offer that particular model anymore, but I went on Craigslist and found the exact same model. I paid about $1,800 for the computer new, but this replacement was listed for just $400, and I negotiated him down to $300. I put the old hard drive from my computer into the “new” one, and fired it up. Windows woke up, looked around, saw all the old familiar hardware, and loaded without complaint. All my programs were ready to go.

It turned out that the computer has an easy pop-out system for the hard drive, which made it even less painless. In about five minutes (plus the five minutes it took me to do a search on Craigslist and negotiate with the seller), I was up and running. (If interested, write to me and I’ll tell you how I’ll actually end up turning a profit on the deal.)

Bottom line: Start your computer break-down insurance policy now by putting all your software installation files and license codes in one place. And in the event of a breakdown, assuming you were using a decent computer in the first place and that the problem is not your hard drive, see if you can find the exact model and just swap the hard drive.

Just for Fun – How to Use WordPerfect DOS

I happened across this WordPerfect DOS video from 1985, and wanted to share. It occurred to me that some may not even have experienced working with a DOS word processing program, and others might enjoy the trip down memory lane. I admit to saying, “oh yeah, now I remember, THAT’S how we created documents.” The computer with floppies, the keyboard overlays, and the dot-matrix printer (complete with tractor-feed paper) were all amusing memories.

Below the video, I tell you more than you’ll ever want to know about the history of Windows and WordPerfect. But first a word about our instructor. Sharlene Wells was Miss Utah, and won the Miss America pageant in 1985, and two years later starred in this WordPerfect video. Proof positive that winning the Miss America Pageant  really does open doors of opportunity. Interestingly, she was the first foreign-born, bilingual Miss America, as she was born in Asunción, Paraguay.

The first version of Microsoft Windows was released in late 1985, and really didn’t catch on. At that point, home “computers” that were based on game systems – Atari, Amiga, Apple – were already using graphical interfaces, so it wasn’t a new concept, but Windows 1.0 wasn’t taken seriously in the business world. I remember penning articles for computer magazines at the time discussing whether the graphical interface concept would ever catch on (I’m happy to say that I felt it was inevitable).

Windows finally gained commercial success with version 3.0, but the first really viable version in my opinion was 3.1, released in 1992. Windows for Workgroups was released the following year (as version 3.11), and included the amazing new ability of peer-to-peer networking.

Microsoft was for a long time caught between the DOS and Windows worlds, and all the way through Windows ME (Millennium Edition), released in 2000, Windows was still DOS-based.

So, although this WordPerfect video was released in 1985, the same year that Windows was released, it would be another six years until the first Windows version of WordPerfect (5.1) was released. This first version was very unstable, but the following year (1992) a more stable version 5.2 was released. At that point, Microsoft Word for Windows version 2 had been on the market for over a year and had received its third interim release, v2.0c.

WordPerfect had relied on a function-key centric interface. Some will remember the keyboard overlays that showed all the function key combinations. These overlays can bee seen in the video. But that presented a problem with the introduction of Windows, because it did not work well with the new paradigm of mouse and pull-down menus, especially with many of WordPerfect's standard key combinations pre-empted by incompatible keyboard shortcuts that Windows itself used; for example, Alt-F4 became Exit Program, as opposed to WordPerfect's Block Text.

Why WordPerfect lost out to Word

Compounding WordPerfect's troubles were issues associated with the release of the first 32-bit version, WordPerfect 7, intended for use on Windows 95. In the lawsuit Novell v. Microsoft, Novell argued that these problems were due to anti-competitive acts by Microsoft.

While WordPerfect 7 contained notable improvements over the 16-bit WordPerfect for Windows 3.1, it was released in May 1996, nine months after the introduction of Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 95 (including Word 95). The initial release suffered from notable stability problems. WordPerfect 7 also did not have a Microsoft "Designed for Windows 95" logo. This was important to Windows 95 software purchasers as Microsoft set standards for application design, behavior, and interaction with the operating system. To make matters worse, the original release of WordPerfect 7 was incompatible with Windows NT, hindering its adoption in many professional environments. The "NT Enabled" version of WordPerfect 7, which Corel considered to be Service Pack 2, was not available until the first quarter of 1997, over six months after the introduction of Windows NT 4.0, a year and a half after the introduction of Office 95 (which supported Windows NT out of the box), and shortly after the introduction of Office 97.

While WordPerfect dominated the DOS market, Microsoft shifted its attention toward a Windows version of Word; after Windows 3.0 was introduced, Word's market share began to grow at an extraordinary rate. A Windows version of WordPerfect was not introduced until nearly two years after Windows 3.0, and was met with poor reviews. Word also benefited from being included in an integrated office suite package much sooner than WordPerfect.

Why WordPerfect is still alive and in use

Among the remaining avid users of WordPerfect are many law firms and academics, who favor WordPerfect features such as macros, reveal codes, and the ability to access a large range of formatting options such as left-right block indent directly with key combinations rather than having to click through several layers of sub-menus as Microsoft Word often requires, the fact that the user interface has stayed almost identical from WPWin 6 through WP X8 and that file formats have not changed, as incompatible new formats would require keeping both obsolete software versions and obsolete hardware around just to access a few old documents. Corel now caters to these markets, with, for example, a major sale to the United States Department of Justice in 2005. A related factor is that WordPerfect Corporation was particularly responsive to feature requests from the legal profession, incorporating many features particularly useful to that niche market and those features have been continued in subsequent versions usually directly accessible with key combinations.

My office still uses WordPerfect, although we have to do so concurrently with Word, since it is often necessary to collaborate on documents with clients and attorneys who use Word. WordPerfect claims to be compatible with Word documents, and with most documents that is entirely true, but compatibility problems with pleadings arise often enough that I can't depend on it, and just use Word when necessary.

Sometimes contract attorneys who work for us have no prior experience with WordPerfect, but that has never been a problem. I have an admitted bias toward WordPerfect, but I will note that when I am forced to use Word, I occasionally run into problems that require me to find an instructional article or video, whereas my contract attorneys have never needed assistance figuring out something on WordPerfect.

As stated in the previous paragraph, one huge benefit of WordPerfect is that it is compatible all the way back to the documents I created in 1991. (Admittedly, I can't recall ever needing to go back that far, but I could!)  WordPerfect's ability to work natively with PDF docs is also a big draw for me. Indeed, WordPerfect can open and save in 87 different file formats, so your old MultiMate, WordStar, and XyWrite documents are good to go.

The most recent feature that keeps me on the WordPerfect hook is its ability to publish in mobi and epub formats, making ebook publishing far simpler than with Word, which requires third party conversion programs.

An Amazing Way to Proofread your Legal Documents

Proofreading red pencilIt’s probably a leftover from my days on law review and later as a magazine editor, but I cannot stand to see typos, whether I created the document or not. Especially bad is when I call up a document I have used previously to, say, draft a demurrer, and I find a typo, meaning that the first document was filed with that mistake.

When I receive a brief from opposing counsel, replete with spelling errors, I immediately think less of the attorney for being so sloppy. Especially in the case of spelling errors, it just screams laziness because it means the attorney ignored the red underlining when drafting the brief, and then didn’t take the 30 seconds necessary for a final spell check. No doubt opposing counsel could not care less about my assessment, but what if the judge shares my sanctimonious nature?

I once heard a judge, at a continuing education seminar, explain that he looks for a basis to deny a motion if the attorney used the passive voice. Another judge wrote in a ruling I had happened to see while at court, that he had greatly reduced the amount requested in a fee application because the attorney did not use proper Bluebook citations. He reasoned that if the attorney is that lazy about citing cases, he is probably not very efficient when preparing a motion. If there are judges out there with that sort of mentality, do you really want to submit a brief with grammatical and spelling errors?

The best way to proofread your legal documents.

During my editing days, I learned that the best way to do the final check of a document for errors is to read it out loud. Without exception, every attorney and paralegal who has come to work for me has responded to this suggestion with, “No, I’ve learned to edit by reading the document on the monitor.” In every case, when they’ve submitted their first work product, I find errors in the document, and read the marked up document to them, asking after each error, “were you able to hear that error when I read it to you?” Sometimes this process has to repeat itself two or three more times before they become a believer (or just to avoid the damned visits from me), and soon I hear the lilted voices of all my attorneys and paralegals, echoing through the halls, as they proofread their documents.

This weekend I was reading** a book called Write in Steps, and the author, Ian Stables, went me one better. He agrees that reading aloud is the best way to proofread a document, but he says that it should not be you who reads it.

As I have experienced, when you read your own document, your mind knows what you meant, and it will mentally fill in words and correct errors, keeping you from hearing them. When finalizing a really important document, such as a Supreme Court brief (don’t be too impressed, I’m talking state court; I’ve never had the opportunity to submit a brief to THE Supreme Court), I do my read out loud thing, and then turn it over to my partner to do the same thing. I am amazed that she will sometimes find things I missed, and I know it is because my brain pulled a fast one on me.

Does this mean every document has to read by two people? No. Stables came up with a much better method.

You have your COMPUTER read the document aloud.

A computer can’t be fooled. It will read exactly what is on the page. If your computer reads the document aloud as you follow along, it will force you to hear the mistakes. If a word is misspelled, it will be pronounced in a strange way. If a comma or period is missing, you’ll hear the missing pause.

In my first test of this method, I took an article I had just written, and proofread it following my normal read it aloud method. Then I opened the document in a program called Natural Reader, and followed along as it read to me. One mistake had slipped through. I had meant to type “them”, but instead typed “the”. When I read the article aloud, my mind filled in the missing “m” and I read it as “them”. Even as I was reading along with Natural Reader, I saw the word as “them” until the computer said “the”, making the mistake glaringly obvious.

The Natural Reader program is absolutely free. (It’s actually called NaturalReader, with no space, because apparently spaces are evil when it comes to naming software, but I refuse to participate.) If you use Word, you just open the file in Natural Reader, hit the play button, and off you go. It highlights the text as it reads it to help you follow along. If you use Word Perfect (actually, WordPerfect), then you have to first save the document in PDF, and load the PDF into Natural Reader.

I was concerned that Natural Reader would hiccup over the pleading page numbers, but it ignores them. Also, I thought the citations might come out strange, but it handles them with no problem, the exception being that it reads the citation Cal.App.3d as “Cal App three D”, but that makes sense. Who would abbreviate third as 3d other than the legal citation guides? By the way, having the computer read the citations is a good thing, because we tend to just jump over those, assuming they are correct. Now you will be forced to look at them.

The only thing that drives me crazy are the signature lines, which Natural Reader reads as “underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore”. Annoying, huh?

When you first use Natural Reader, you will curse my name, because the voice is set far too slow by default. Fear not, you can adjust the speed at which Natural Reader reads. A “2” setting works best for me, and makes the voice sound more natural as a bonus.

You can upgrade Natural Reader to add some very cool features (like saving documents in mp3 format to listen to them later), but none of them are necessary for the proofreading purpose I am promoting.

** By “read”, I actually mean that I was listening to the book on my Kindle as I ran some weekend errands. If you haven’t read my article on how to read three books per week without even trying, go to my Kindle Unlimited Review.

Why this Lawyer Loves His Apple Watch — Top 9 Favorite Benefits

seiko message watch

I seem to have this need to date myself, but I will confess that my love affair with smart watches actually started back in the 1990s, with my Seiko Message Watch. It was basically a pager, but it could show text messages from my office and family, along with stock prices, sports scores, and weather forecasts – all right on my wrist. The thing that made it far more functional to me than a standard pager was the subtlety factor. Looking at a belt pager for a message was a pretty blatant act, but with a watch, I was never out of contact with my office or family, even during a trial, because a quick glance at a watch is socially acceptable (and fully expected during a trial since you must be ever aware of the clock). When Seiko cancelled the service, I was crestfallen.

Now, some 20 years later, technology has finally returned me to this former glory.

Apple-WatchFor those of you unfamiliar with the very nature of an Apple Watch (which was me until I got one), it is primarily an adjunct to your iPhone. There are a few things the Watch will do standing alone (see the complete list at the end of this article), but for the most part it is simply an interface to your phone. But that alone makes it worth the purchase price.

In my opinion, the single most important feature of the Apple Watch is its location. Almost everything I do on the Watch could be done with my iPhone, but I can do it without pulling out my phone (or even necessarily knowing where it is).

An example just presented itself while I was typing that prior paragraph. I have set up a news service to send me important news updates. My Watch just tapped my wrist to let me know there was in incoming message. Without even pausing from my typing, I looked at my wrist and saw that there are big doings in the presidential race. Interesting, but not worth stopping what I’m doing in order to pull out my iPhone, hit the button, wait for it to recognize my fingerprint, and then try to figure out which app caused my iPhone to ding. I just saved myself 8 seconds.

It’s dozens of little incidents such as that that add up to some significant time and annoyance savings throughout the day.

“But you should wait and check your phone only once or twice a day, and in that way you would not be having to pull out your phone multiple times,” say the naysaying efficiency experts. To that I respond that earlier today I saw (on my wrist) a call coming in from my wife, who was in a bit of a panic because her (friggin’ new) car had just broken down on the freeway. While she was dealing with calling AAA, she needed me to help deal with a couple of emergencies the break down had created. Would you naysayers have preferred that I left my wife stressed and stranded on the freeway in the name of “only check your phone twice a day” efficiency? Well, would you?! If your answer is no (as it better be), then I am back to pulling out my phone (or finding it on my desk) multiple times a day to see if that is the sort of call that is coming in.

Apple is kind of famous for creating a product, and then letting the public find a use for it. There were many critics when the iPad was released, stating it was just an “over-sized iPhone”, but history has shown the utility of that little gadget.

So it is with the Apple Watch. I read many articles questioning why you would need a smart watch when you can accomplish the same tasks simply by pulling out your smart phone. The simple answer is that I don’t want to always be pulling out and/or holding my iPhone. While wearing the Apple Watch, I can confidently leave my iPhone in my briefcase or pocket, without fear of missing a time sensitive call or text.

So therein are the most important features for lawyers – communication, convenience and time saving. If you are looking for an article on how the Apple Watch prepares jury instructions or offers complete case management on your wrist, I can’t offer you that (yet). But here are the top 9 reasons this lawyer loves his Apple Watch, all of which make my days a little more pleasant and efficient:

1. Being able to make and answer phone calls without pulling out my iPhone (or even knowing where it is).

Totally Dick Tracy. My Watch vibrates and/or rings, and displays the name of the person calling. I can dismiss or answer the call right on my wrist. Whether this is something you will use is of course dependent on your circumstances, especially since it is a speaker phone sort of interaction. I hope we don’t devolve into a society where everyone on the elevator is having a public two-way conversation with their wrists.

But where I really appreciate this feature is when I want my hands free. I’m kind of a monosyllabic guy, so for me most personal phone calls are listening experiences. If I’m doing something around the house, I can take a call and keep on doing what I’m doing. With a cell phone, I either have to stick a Bluetooth thingy in my ear or hold the phone with one hand if I’m moving around (I can’t stand wired earbuds).

Making calls is equally impressive. While working at my computer, I got a hankering to go to a Lazy Dog restaurant that night, so I searched for the closest one and looked up the number. Without taking my eyes from the screen, I just lifted my wrist and said, “Hey Siri, call 7147319700”, and a few seconds later I was talking to the hostess on my wrist (a tiiiiiny little hostess). I then realized that for a known business, looking up the number is a wasted step. Now I know to just say, “Hey Siri, call the closest Lazy Dog,” and it shows up on my Watch, ready to dial.

No one on the other end of a call has ever noticed or complained about my wrist calls, but the volume from the Watch is pretty low, so you can only take calls in quiet locations.

2. Being able to receive and respond to text messages.

Responding to texts is soooo much faster with the Watch than with the iPhone. “But how can you type a message on that little screen?”, you may ask. The answer is, you don’t.

When you receive a text, you can respond with one of several canned responses (yes, no, thanks, I’ll call you back, kiss my ass, etc.) or, and here’s the fun part, you can respond verbally, and then elect to either send that response as text or a voice response.

[UPDATE:] The latest version of the Apple Watch operating system added the ability to write on the screen in response to messages. Everything old is new again, because I remember using this feature on my Treo (aka Palm Pilot). In situations where I can’t verbally dictate a response, and none of the canned responses really work, I can write a response with my finger, and the Watch translates it to text. A very cool option.

It doesn’t rate a “top 9″, but I also like being able to see emails as they come in. Technically, I could read the email and dictate a response, but it’s a little too kludgy for me. I don’t even like responding to emails on my iPhone. But just seeing the subject line appear on your Watch can give you added warning of any crucial emails that require attention. Don’t worry; you won’t see every dang spam email that comes to your inbox. You can set your Watch to only show emails from the people you have deemed to be important.

3. Being able to find my iPhone.

Come on, be honest, how often do you have to look around for your cell phone? If never, then you’re a better person than me. With the Watch, you push an icon on the screen and your iPhone begins to ding. I use that feature A LOT.

4. The ability to control podcasts, music or audiobooks.

I absorb many podcasts and audiobooks. In this case, I do stick a Bluetooth thingy in my ear so that I can listen to whatever I want while shopping, working around the house, or jogging (like that’s gonna happen). The Watch has a “now playing” screen that controls whatever you are listing to. You can pause, skip and adjust the volume.

Again, this screen controls WHATEVER is playing, but you can also access specific audio apps through the Watch. If I’m listening to Pandora, I can switch between stations — even create a new station — and give Stairway to Heaven a thumbs up, all on my Watch.

Speaking of podcasts, I use an app called Overcast as my podcast player, and it is fully functional on the Watch. The advantage of Overcast is that it has what it calls “effects” that you can apply to any podcast, including the abilities to speed up the playback (while still maintaining a perfectly normal sounding voice) and to eliminate long pauses. However, I think this effects may be taking a toll. After using Overcast for a couple of years now, I feel like everyone I talk to is talking waaaay tooooo slooooow.

If you’re interested, at the end of this article I explain the setup I use that allows me to listen to podcasts, audiobooks, sports or whatever, anytime I find myself killing time; even while waiting in court.

5. So much information on my watch face.

I touched on this already. For each of your apps, you can decide which ones will display information on your Watch (assuming the app has been made Watch compatible, which is more and more the case). So, in addition to texts and phone calls, I can see updates to sport scores, weather, Amazon package deliveries, or whatever.

I especially like the Watch’s integration with the Maps app. I use my iPhone as a navigation unit in my car (which has a nav unit, but it doesn’t do real-time traffic). When I enter a location, the iPhone automatically makes my Watch a part of the process. When it comes time to make a turn, the Watch taps my wrist and makes a turn signal sound, with the sound differing depending on whether it is a left or right turn. This tactile (also called Haptic) feedback has kept me from missing many a turn.

6. Instant access to Siri.

Because of battery concerns, you can’t just say “Hey Siri” to your iPhone and get a response, unless it is plugged in (although I think they may have added that ability on the iPhone 6s). With the Apple Watch, Siri is ready at your beck and call.

Billy BobBilly Bob Thorton comes on TV, and I notice he’s really aged. I lift my Watch and say, “Hey Siri, how old is Billy Bob Thorton?” She responds that he’s only about six months older than me, and I get really depressed. I couldn’t have gotten depressed nearly that fast if I had to pull out my iPhone.

Siri is also great for reminders and appointments. I sometimes prefer location reminders over reminders based on time. Siri knows where I live and work, so if I remember a task while I’m getting ready in the morning, I just lift my wrist and say, “remind me when I get to work that I need to call Joe Dokes” and it will do just that.

7. Being able to pay for purchases.

This really happened to me; like something out of a commercial. I have Apple Pay set up on my iPhone and Watch. I thought the Watch feature was just for convenience, allowing me to pay for a purchase without taking out my iPhone, but still dependent on having the iPhone nearby.

I was checking out at a store, and realized I’d left my iPhone in the car. I gave my Watch a try anyway, and it worked just fine. You need to set up Apple Pay in the Apple Watch app, but once done, service will continue to work even when your iPhone is absent. A unique token that acts as your card number is stored on Apple Watch, allowing you use Apple Pay with just your Watch. Just hold your watch near the terminal.

The Passbook feature is also available on the Watch, so anything you have stored in it, such as electronic tickets, Starbucks cards, boarding passes, gift cards, and anything else that is scannable, should work with just your Watch.

8. The health benefits.

Here is one example where the iPhone cannot do what the Watch does. With its ability to monitor my heart rate, it can go far beyond all the fitness apps that rely only on the accelerometer of the iPhone, which can only track steps in order to offer a very rough estimate of activity.

I use the MyFitnessPal app to track my caloric intake and exercise. It pulls activity information from the Watch and uses it to calculate the calories I burn. The calories I’ve burned show up in the calculation, so I know if I’m entitled to an extra lettuce wrap.

9. Adjusting my thermostats.

This little feature has more than paid for the Watch.

I have ecobee thermostats in my home, which permit me to communicate with them from anywhere in the world. From my watch, I can set different temperatures upstairs and downstairs, or turn off the heating/cooling altogether. Again, like most everything on this list, I can also do this from my iPhone, but perhaps because of the gadget factor or just the increased convenience, I find myself using this feature far more often with my Watch, and thereby saving money on utilities. More than once, I’ve pulled out of the garage, realized that I was the last one to leave, and with a flip of my wrist I can turn up the temp to minimize the AC. Ecobee thermostats actually have sensors that will eventually figure out that no one is home, and raise the temp, but the Watch makes the process instantaneous. When I head home, I use my Watch to turn the temp back down, so it’s cool when I arrive.

You can control any number of smart home features with your Watch, such as lights and even shades.

Things you can do with your Watch without your iPhone.

Although you need your iPhone nearby to do many things with Apple Watch, there are things you can do when you don’t have your iPhone with you or when it’s turned off:

  • Play music from a synced playlist on Apple Watch
  • Use the watch , alarms , timers , and the stopwatch
  • Track your activity with the Activity app
  • Track workouts using the Workout app
  • Display photos from synced photo albums in the Photos app

Apple Watch uses Bluetooth® wireless technology to connect to its paired iPhone and uses the iPhone for many wireless functions. Apple Watch can’t configure Wi-Fi networks on its own, but it can connect to Wi-Fi networks you’ve set up or connected to using the paired iPhone.

If your Apple Watch is in range of a Wi-Fi network that iPhone has connected to before, you can still do the following (even if iPhone is turned off):

  • Use Siri
  • Send and receive Digital Touch messages
  • Send and receive messages using iMessage
  • Make and receive phone calls (if you have Wi-Fi calling enabled and you’re within range of a Wi-Fi network that your iPhone has connected to before).

One final note about the Watch. I received mine as a gift from my wife, who, bless her little penny-pinching heart, bought the basic Apple Watch Sport. Every model of the Watch is by necessity a little nerdy looking, since it is a tiny computer monitor on your wrist. Any style, such as it is, comes from the watch band. The bands sold by Apple are ridiculously priced, but thankfully the aftermarket has stepped up. The photo shows the band I purchased for about $20, which is far more stylish than the original sport band, and far easier to put on and take off with its magnetic clasp. It’s the most comfortable watch band I’ve ever owned, because it is infinitely adjustable, as opposed to being a set size or limited to a given number of holes. No more feeling like my watch is slipping off my wrist or is too tight.


The Information Junkie’s Secret Setup

As I promised, here is the setup I use to enable me to use my otherwise wasted time to listen to podcasts, audiobooks and sportscasts.

It involves an iPhone, Apple Watch, and a Bluetooth earbud. Nothing revolutionary there, but with the Apple Watch and a particular earbud, it all becomes very incognito and much more efficient.

As stated, when I’m walking, running, shopping, or waiting in line, I use that time to absorb information. I find any kind of wired connection to my cell phone to be annoying, so I just wanted a small Bluetooth earbud I could stick in my ear. After testing a number of different models, I came across one called the Tronfy, which fits the bill perfectly, and is actually better than anything I had envisioned.

The Tronfy earbud paired flawlessly with my iPhone, and I really like that it uses verbal prompts. It tells you when it powers on, when it links, and when it powers off; no need to look at lights or remember what “beep bop boop” means. An unexpected surprise was the “VoiceDial” feature. I’ve had this on other Bluetooth headsets, but this one activates Siri. The entire face of the earbud is a button. Press the button once, and it pauses whatever I am listening to. Hold down the button for a second or two, and it switches to VoiceDial mode (and tells you that it has done so). Yes, you can then ask Siri to make a call, but you can also use any of Siri’s features. Thus, without the iPhone ever leaving my back pocket, I can send text messages, have my text messages read to me, check the weather, etc. I’m sure most Bluetooth headsets now have this ability, but somehow it is cooler that I can do it all with just this little thing in my ear.

Again it’s probably standard technology and I just missed the memo, but this works amazingly with my car’s Bluetooth. If I’m listening to a podcast on my cell phone with the earbud, and start my car, the podcast switches to the car’s Bluetooth. When I arrive at where I’m going and leave the car, the podcast starts playing in my ear again. I don’t recall such a seamless hand-off experience with other Bluetooth headsets I’ve used.

It comes with ear hooks, and an assortment of sizes of the rubber part that goes in your ear, including one that that is twice as long as the others to really hold on. I must have the perfect sized ear canal or something because the pre-installed one fits me. I don’t use the hook and the earbud stays put with no problem.

The Tronfy is small and most people don’t notice I’m wearing it. The Apple Watch then completes the incognito equation because I can control whatever I’m listening to without ever looking at my iPhone. If you want to listen in both ears, it comes with a strap that connects to an even smaller earbud in your other ear.

OK, now I’m really going to let my nerd flag fly. Because I belong to Kindle Unlimited, I have about 800,000 books that I want to read, and they are all available to me for free (well, for the price of the subscription). The Kindle Fire models have a text-to-speech feature that can be used to “read” most ebooks. Trouble is, the text-to-speech feature works only on Kindles. Even though you can read an ebook on your iPhone or computer, you can’t use the text-to-speech feature on those devices.

So that I could listen to Kindle ebooks while going about my life, I bought the smallest Kindle available, which is the Kindle HD 6 (about $69). I toss the Kindle 6 in my back pocket, fire up my Tronfy, and I’m good to go.

That however presented its own problem. If I use the same Tronfy for my Kindle and iPhone, then when I turn on the Tronfy, intending to listen to something on my Kindle, the Tronfy links to the iPhone. I was having to set my iPhone to airplane mode temporarily while I linked to my Kindle. Too much of a hassle.

The solution was to buy another Tronfy, and pair it only with the Kindle. I just carry two of the small earbuds, and pull out the one I need, depending on what I am listening to. I know; pretty nerdy. But I wear an Apple Watch, so what did you expect?

Law Office Software of the Month — BatteryBar Pro (and it’s FREE!)

image of batterybar proHere is a great little laptop battery utility I have been testing. I found it so essential, that it’s now on all my laptops.

Windows offers an icon that can show you the percentage of charge left in your laptop battery. I feel like it will also give an estimate of the time remaining on your battery, but in preparing this article I couldn’t get that information to display.

In any event, BatteryBar Pro displays in your taskbar at the bottom of your screen, and provides far more information than does the Windows battery icon.

To start, it shows the remaining charge in your laptop battery, and if your computer is plugged in, shows the time remaining until it reaches a full charge. I would have never thought I needed this latter feature, but when I’m headed out to a few hours of writing at an ocean side coffee shop (for some reason the roar of the ocean and the hubbub of the coffee shop is the perfect backdrop for writing), it’s nice to see how much longer I have until the battery is fully charged. BatterBar gives the specific time the battery will be fully charged. If only a few minutes are left, I may have a cup of coffee and wait for a full charge. (I often have a coffee before heading out for coffee. It’s a sickness, I know.) That’s far better that seeing only that the battery is 97% charged, with no indication how long the remaining 3% will take.

An awareness of battery life is a good thing. I don’t like worrying about the availability of an AC outlet. At one particular Barnes & Noble I frequent, getting a seat near an AC outlet in the café is about as likely as spotting a Yeti in the romance aisle (they prefer to hang out near the magazines). I have an ultrabook that will get me through an entire depo without charging, but I also have a beautiful 17-inch HP laptop that I prefer to use for writing, but it’s charge only lasts about 3.5 hours. The intended task and the battery life dictates which one I take.

Based on my experience, BatteryBar offers a much more accurate reading than the Windows utility. It maintains historical information on how long it takes your battery to charge and discharge, which apparently enables it to be far more accurate.

BatteryBar also displays the capacity of your battery in milliwatt-hours (mWh). This can be useful if you have multiple batteries with no obvious indication of their relative sizes.

But the final feature is what I find really killer. It is able to determine what it calls the “battery wear” of your battery. You have probably experienced the reality that your laptop just doesn’t go as long as it used to. That’s because rechargeable batteries only last so long, and soon they can no longer hold a full charge (or at least don’t hold a charge as long). BatteryBar shows how much of your battery’s storage power has been lost. For example, in the picture, you can see that the battery has a stated size of 86,580 mWh, but 31.7% of that has been lost. This information let’s you know it might be time to get a new battery (or to start taking two).

BatteryBar Pro offers a free version that is really all you need, but if you are a power user (get it?), there is an upgraded version that contains additional features, including customizable icons, low battery warnings and easy access to the Windows power schemes. This upgrade supposedly costs $8 for a lifetime license, but there appears to be a perpetual 50% off offer. Go here (not an affiliate link) to download BatteryBar Pro for free, to see if you like it as much as I do.

Law Office Software of the Month — NoteScraps

Attorney Software -- NoteScraps

[NOTE: This article that began as a simple software review turned into quite the saga. I’ve left the entire piecemeal story here for entertainment value, but the bottom line is that this software is now available for FREE (at least for now). Ignore the part that says the software is $20, and read to the end to see how to get if for FREE.]

I can’t believe that I first reviewed the program about two years ago, but as I just found myself using it, I decided it deserved an updated review for the benefit of anyone who may not have seen the prior review. When I first published the article, I received a number of emails, mostly from former Tornado Notes users such as myself, thanking me for helping them to find a new, old favorite, as it were.

Right now, are there any sticky notes attached to your computer monitor(s)? Any notes scribbled on legal pads on your desk? If so, you might be a perfect candidate for a simple program called NoteScraps.

Many years ago (geez, I think it might have been in the days of DOS), I used and loved a program called Tornado Notes. The program was like using electronic sticky notes, but with the ability to search them instantly. It was the perfect program for catching information that I might put on a sticky note or, worse, just try to remember. What made Tornado Notes perfect was that it required no effort. Hit the hot-key combination, and up pops a blank note ready for input. Then, when I needed to recall that information, another hot-key combination would pull up all my notes. I would start typing the information I was looking for, and all the notes that did not contain that information would disappear, leaving only the note I was looking for.

Tornado Notes was “upgraded” to a new program that contained far more features, and that was its downfall. The beauty of the program was its total simplicity.

I found a replacement for the old familiar program that I loved so much, called NoteScraps. Continue reading