Monthly Archives: February 2009

A better bookmarklet for bit.ly

There are lots of online tools for shortening URLs, but one of the best is bit.ly. Not only does it shorten URLs, it keeps track of the URLs you have shortened and shows stats on them. Best of all, bit.ly lets you pick your own keyword to act as the short URL.

Unfortunately, the bookmarklet bit.ly provides does not take advantage of this keyword feature. I’ve cooked up this unofficial bookmarklet that will prompt you for a keyword before creating the short URL. Just make a link in your bookmarks with the following code and use it when you’re on a page you want to shorten!

javascript:keyword=prompt('Keyword:');location.href='http://bit.ly/?url='+encodeURIComponent(location.href)+'&keyword='+keyword

(btw, I wish I could make a bookmarklet link that you could drag to your bookmarks, but posterous.com won’t embed javascript links — no doubt for safety reasons)

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uOttawa wins awards at Harold Fox IP Moot

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I had the honour ofcoaching the team that the University of Ottawa sent to the Harold G. Fox Intellectual Property Moot.Today, they come home with both the Gordon F.Henderson Award for the best factum writers and the Donald F. SimAward for the best oral advocate.

Four University of Ottawa students participated: Adrian Howard andSherif Foda argued for the appellant, and Matthew Paik and TavengwaRunyowa argued for the respondent. After two preliminary rounds, Adrianand Sherif advanced to the semi-finals along with only 3 other pairsout of the 16 pairs participating. They argued their case valiantlybefore Justices Sharlow (FCA), Sharpe (Ont CA) and Blair (Ont CA) andreceived excellent feedback on their mastery of the material and theirpresentation.

For their efforts, Tavengwa and Matt won the Gordon F. Henderson Awardfor the best factum writers, and Adrian won the Donald F. Sim Award forthe best oral advocate. Adrian acknowledged the efforts andaccomplishments of the rest of team, noting in his acceptance speech,”This is an individual award for a group effort”. The final round wasMcGill (Pierre-EmmanuelMoyse coaching) and Western (MargaretAnn Wilkinson coaching), and Western’s team won the cup.

 The University of Ottawa team did very well with a complex problem(PDF) on copyright and trade-marks. As their coach, I am very proudof the team. I am extremely impressed with their research and writingskills and their ability to internalize the case law in order toconstruct new arguments in each round of the moot as they encounterednew teams with novel approaches to the problem.

 Adrian Howard is the VP of the Law &Technology Student Society, a third year law student, and a futurearticling student at Gowlingsin Ottawa. Sherif Foda is a second year droit civil student.Tavengwa Runyowa is a second year common law student who istaking online WIPO IP coursesin his spare time. Matthew Paik is a third year droit civil student inthe LL.L/DVM(international development and globalization) program. Congratulationsto each and all!

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Astronomy, inspired by Astrometry

Provide a powerful platform and people will do amazing things with it. The latest example: The “Blind Astrometry Server“, a piece of internet software that pulls imagesfrom the Astrometry group on Flickr.com, analyzes those images against the Astrometry.net project‘s database,and automagically figures out what parts of the sky are in the photos.It then adds that information in a comment on Flickr and adds Flickr tags to the image indicating the more interesting objects in the photo. Not only do users get their sky photos analyzed this way, but the Astrometry project gets new images to add to its database against which to compare later images.

 

In effect, the Blind Astrometry Server crowdsources the work of cataloguing and photographing the night sky (a public benefit), and makes it valuable to the crowd by providing a service in return, the identification and tagging of each image (an individual benefit).

 

I have a very high definition photograph of part of the night sky (the Milky Way including and above Sagittarius) taken by my friend Bryan Delodder on an extremely slow exposure. Most slowexposures of the night sky show the rotation of the Earth in theapparent movement of the stars, but when Bryan took this photo he attached his camera to a tracking telescope, not looking through the telescope but simply moving along with the apparent movement of the stars. The result is a long exposure (40 minutes!) in which each star comes through as a perfect point. Far more stars are visible in the long exposure than would otherwise be visible, because so much time was allowed for the camera to collect the light. I’m going to ask Bryan if an image of this is online somewhere, because I’d love it if we could contribute it to the Astrometry.net project (and get an automated analysis of it too).

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Medpedia launches! Now, let’s hope it can be objective

Medpedia is a new collaborative website that launched today, aiming to become a comprehensive resource of medical knowledge. The site is designed for medical professionals, students and the public to access information about medical information, providing information in both “Plain English” and “Clinical” versions. And it seems to have the firepower to become at least a widely known and influential resource: its founding Advisory Board includes Mitch Kapor and former deans and professors at leading American medical schools, and associated institutions include Harvard, Stanford, University of Michigan and UC Berkeley, to name a few.

As for how they intend to keep the information on the site reliable, it would appear that the site’s administrators are seeking a balance where the site can grow collaboratively but not at the expense of inaccurate information. Anybody can get an account and suggest changes, but only approved, verified health professionals and PhDs in biomedical fields can make changes directly and act as lead editors on articles. They even appear to recognize the valuable knowledge of other health workers and expert patients and the site will continue to struggle with how to recognize trustworthy sources of information.

I think a public resource of medical and health information is extremely valuable, and Wikipedia with its myriad ephemeral tangents cannot fill this need. And until now, although there are resources available for health professionals both free and behind pay walls, there was no single go-to resource that the public could consult. I am impressed that Medpedia takes conflicts of interest seriously, (as does the Canadian Open Medicine Journal) although it remains to be seen whether conflicts are in fact detectable with the same ease as the rest of the information on the site. I am especially impressed with how open the site is, in terms of contributions, comments, and copyright licensing.

I remain sceptical, but not pessimistic, about how objective the information on the site can be, especially if it were to achieve the level of ubiquity of Wikipedia. At that point, the audience accessing the information would be extremely valuable, and it would become extremely difficult in that particular arena to maintain distance from vested interests. But if systems are put in place early and an expectation becomes entrenched on the part of contributors and readers that the information is free of conflicts of interest and written with a broad conceptualization of the constructed idea of health itself, then perhaps it can resist those pressures.

In which case, Medpedia will become an incredibly useful and valuable resource for us all. Best of luck to site administrator Andrea Spillmann and the whole Medpedia team.

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Supreme Court of Canada – Notices to the Profession – February 2009 ??? Policy Governing Access to Supreme Court of Canada Court Records

A Notice to the Profession on the Supreme Court of Canada’s website today indicates progress in electronic access to Court filings.

Pursuant to this policy, the Supreme Court of Canada will be posting on its website the electronic version of factums on appeals filed on or after February 9, 2009.

Parties will be required to provide an electronic version of a factum that omits personal information about an individual, information that is subject to a publication ban or any other information that is not part of the public record.

Read the rest here

That’s terrific progress for the SCC. We now have streaming video of Court proceedings and electronic access to facta. Just a few months ago when we started preparations for the Harold G. Fox Intellectual Property Moot, the students on the University of Ottawa team requested video tapes and facta from the Court’s library.

Killer Sudoku

If you’re into Sudoku, I can recommend a great variant of the game. In “Killer Sudoku“, all theusual rules apply but there are also other arbitrary regions blockedoff that need to add up to various numbers that are given. It adds anew dimension to the game — not only something else to work out, but anew set of clues. Turns out they’re online and you can print them outor play online.

Another variant on the same site is the “Greater Than“Sudoku, in which the relationship between every square is also given.I’ll try that one next!

Canadian internet traffic growth slowing — so why are ISPs throttling?

Canadians have an extra week to submit comments to the CRTC about internet traffic shaping and network neutrality, after ISPs turned over traffic statistics that show declining rates of growth of internet traffic.

The CRTC had ordered Canada’s ISPs, including Bell Canada Inc., Rogers Communications Inc., and Shaw Communications Inc. to provide traffic information to consumer groups. They only provided that information on Wednesday.

These numbers will provide a window into the ISP argument that they need to manage the network in order to prevent congestion.

So far the data is significantly undermining the arguments of the ISPs. Ten ISPs were asked what percentage of total traffic could be attributed to the top five per cent heaviest users on a month-by-month basis. The responses ranged from 34 per cent for one ISP during one month to 63 per cent for another ISP in another month.

And the CBC reports that, “The figures from seven ISPs also reveal that annual growth in total traffic volume declined for two consecutive years from 2005-06 to 2007-08 for five of the seven ISPs, in one case dropping from 66 per cent growth in 2005-06 to 21 per cent growth in 2007-08.”

 

 

YouTube – Explore the Ocean in Google Earth 5.0

This looks beautiful: Google has added views of the ocean floor to Google Earth 5.0. Download it here.

The increasing importance of electronic health information

The issue of electronic health records has been getting increasing amounts of attention, but with President Obama calling the creation of a nationwide system of electronic medical records fundamental to health-care reform, the privacy and health issues are set to become much more prominent.

 

At the heart of the debate is how to strike a balance between protecting patient privacy and expanding the health industry’s access to vast and growing databases of information on the health status and medical care of every American. Insurers and providers say the House’s proposed protections would hobble efforts to improve the quality and efficiency of health care, but privacy advocates fear that the industry would use the personal data to discriminate against patients in employment and health care as well as to market the information, often through third parties, to generate profits.

 

With Google Health and Microsoft’s Health Vault, individuals have the means to begin to keep a digital record of their own health information. Doctors and hospitals are encouraged to adopt their own EMR systems, such as Practice Solutions. There are also open source EMR solutions available, with obvious benefits for developing communities, and even for family doctors who have lower incomes and higher overhead expenses than you may realize.

This is an area that is set to take off, with technological innovations aiming to reassure people that their privacy health information is secure. The potential benefits are enormous, but the privacy risks are very real. The field must be regulated carefully, but I believe recent experience with social networking indicates that younger people will be much more liberal with how much private information they will be willing to store on systems beyond their own control. If they can move their own health information to the cloud on end user EMR systems like Google Health, young people will not wait for government and the medical community to build the perfect system before they start uploading their medical information.

That is both exciting and scary. But any way you look at it, we need regulation and clarity in this area, and quickly. 

YouTube – History of the Internet

This is a very well made, short history of the Internet… at least, its history so far.

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