The Laboratorium
June 2009

First Things First


From Tim Arango and Ben Sisario, Jackson Estate Has Piles of Assets but Loads of Debt, N.Y. Times, June 26, 2009, at A1:

I’m of the view that Michael’s passing, as untimely as it is, is the one opportunity his family and his children have to preserve his asset legacy.

Charles Koppelman

The Onion: King of Pop Dead at 12


That makes the Onion the only major media outlet I’ve seen to recognize that Jackson died of complications from his lifelong addiction to childhood. Note that six of the top ten Google hits for “died a long time ago” are posts about Michael Jackson.

Laziness Is Not an Excuse for Plagiarism


Lisa Gold, Research Maven, takes apart Chris Anderson’s shoddy editorial work lifting passages from Wikipedia and his shoddier excuses for why he did it.

It is ridiculous for Anderson to claim that he removed his footnotes because he was “unable to find a good citation format for web sources.” As I mentioned in my previous post, there are many authoritative citation standards which can easily be found in style manuals and websites. Even Wikipedia itself gives you nine different citation formats (including Chicago and MLA) for each entry. Anderson says his publisher insisted on a timestamp for each URL, which Anderson found “clumsy and archaic,” so he cut out the footnotes. WRONG! And don’t even get me started on the whole “write-through” thing.


These “amazing” photos aren’t.

Saving Face


Saving Face is a good, thoughtful contribution to the literature on social network site privacy. It builds on danah boyd, Alessandro Acquisti, Clay Shirky, Lorrie Cranor, and yours truly in thinking about privacy on Facebook as a difficult problem of social norms and interface design, rather than as a contradiction in terms. It makes a set of small but reasonable suggestions that could help Facebook incrementally improve its users’ ability to predict the privacy contributions of their actions:

  • “A more powerful version of the Friends List feature could allow users to construct very different identities or “personas” for each list.” (55) … “It could, for instance, perform basic network analysis on a user’s Friends network to inform them of what clusters may already exist, and perhaps to create default Friends Lists for them automatically to help them along.” (59) … “It could push the Friends List feature as a way to manage privacy and inspire users to utilize it to preserve social contexts.” (60)
  • “Another option would be to help users visualize actual disclosures. That is, Facebook could be designed such that users were informed whenever Friends actually accessed their photos, videos, or Wall.” (63)
  • “Instead, defaults should be modeled after the norms of distribution. Contextual integrity is violated when information does not flow through the network as users expect it should. The obvious solution is to design the network such that information flows consistent with user expectations and norms.” (66)

These ideas are not deeply original, but they all move the ball forward in the way that scholarship ought to. Saving Face is also a pleasure to read: it opens with a true story about a college student and her grandmother, and it finishes with a spot-on Seinfeld reference.

What makes all of this noteworthy is that the author, Chris Peterson, wrote Saving Face as his college senior thesis. (It was prepared nder the supervision of Ethan Katsh at UMass Amherst.) It’s a remarkably mature paper for one so young.

Dell Selling a 24-Inch Monitor for $209


Two years ago, the best deal I could get on a 24-inch monitor was $480. Four years ago, they cost over $1,000. That’s quite a price drop.

(Yes, you could save another $10 buying the non-Energy Star version, but why would you go and do a silly thing like that?)

History of the Common Law: The Development of Anglo-American Legal Institutions I give it 5 stars


Coming this fall from Aspen, it’s History of the Common Law: The Development of Anglo-American Legal Institutions, by John Langbein, Renée Lerner, and Bruce Smith:

This introductory text explores the historical origins of the main legal institutions that came to characterize the Anglo-American legal tradition, and to distinguish it from European legal systems. The book contains both text and extracts from historical sources and literature. …

Two great themes dominate the book: (1) the origins, development, and pervasive influence of the jury system and judge/jury relations across eight centuries of Anglo-American civil and criminal justice; and (2) the law/equity division, from the emergence of the Court of Chancery in the fourteenth century down through equity’s conquest of common law in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The chapters on criminal justice explore the history of pretrial investigation, policing, trial, and sentencing, as well as the movement in modern times to nonjury resolution through plea bargaining. Considerable attention is devoted to distinctively American developments, such as the elective bench, and the influence of race relations on the law of criminal procedure.

I took Professor Langbein’s course of the same name in law school; our course materials consisted of a sequence of photocopied packets that had clearly been assembled with the aid of scissors and glue. It was one of the best courses I’ve ever taken, and the materials—an eclectic mixture of monograph excerpts, primary source documents, and modern variations on older themes—were a true labor of love. Langbein wove the disparate materials into a compellingly complex narrative. Readers of the book will have to do without his inimitable lecturing style, but fortunately the published version comes with extensive notes that provide the necessary explanatory context. I expect that this volume will quickly become the standard law-school text on Anglo-American legal history.

The only unfortunate thing is the price: a stunning $159. Yes, it comes with “over 200 illustrations, many in color, including medieval illuminated manuscripts, paintings, books and manuscripts, caricatures, and photographs,” but that price is insane. With some casebooks, I can almost understand why they’re so expensive: obviously, no one would read them voluntarily, so sales will be low. But this beauty of a text ought to be a quarter of the price and out on display at the front table of every good bookstore.

The Most Hilariously Brazen Phishing Attempt of All Time


From my inbox today:

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We Have Moved


Please invalidate the cache line containing our address.

Relatedly, I’m sorry about the, ahem, infrequent updates here of late. This will change.

(UPDATE: The blog has not moved; I have moved. Physically. Interstate. http://laboratorium.net will still work for all your Laboratorium needs.)