14 December 2012

Friday Rants

* Internet Security.  There are too many usernames and passwords and account numbers to remember in life.  My main list, which is incomplete, fills all of the space on a single sheet of paper, typed.  If it was complete, it would take at least another half of a typed page or more.  Moreover, so called security protocols make it impermissible to use passwords that you could actually remember.  Humans do just fine in generating very large number of character passwords that would be hard to crack, but do very poorly at remembering irregular capitalization, punctuation codes and numbers.  We want passwords that are human friendly and unfriendly to computerized systems that use automated means to hack passwords.

* Colorado's E-Filing System.  While there are wonders associated with mandatory electronic filing of documents in the court system in Colorado, there are also many annoyances.

Multiple Systems.  At the moment there are two parallel systems in federal court, and two parallel systems in state court, one of which recently changed ownership. 

Legally Allowed Or Required Filings That Are Impossible To Do.  Moreover, even though e-filing is mandatory, there are many things (e.g. intervening on behalf of a new party in an existing action, or giving notice by mail to a non-party in probate action) which are required but not possible to do in the system. 

Probate Cases.  The flaws in the e-filing system in probate cases are particularly problematic.  The system doesn't acknowledge that a case exists, unless you are currently counsel of record for an existing party in a probate case, despite the fact that a great many people who are beneficiaries of an estate or creditors or contestants to a will or have interests in a guardianship are supposed to participate in probate proceedings which are a matter of public record.  The mandatory e-filing system also has no means of accepting jury demands in probate cases despite the fact that there are certain types of probate cases where there is a right to a jury trial.  A number of probate filings can't be e-filed (e.g. wills and trust registration statements), but the list of what can and cannot be filed is less than clear.

Other annoyances are minor, but irritating. 

Filing Exhibits.  For example, probably something like 50%-70% of all court filings include exhibits, and in many case there are several exhibits that support a single affidavit, motion, complaint or petition.  Yet, rather than having a filing category for "Exhibits", they are classified as "Filing Other" as if it was something that no one in the Court system had ever heard of before.

Warnings About Failing To Serve Parties That Haven't Appeared.  As another example, Rule 5 of the rules of civil procedure requires that court filings be served upon parties who have entered appearances in a case, but no a parties who have not made any filings in a case, subject to very rare exceptions.  Yet, the e-filing system sends grave warning messages every time a filing is not served on a party that has not yet entered an appearance in an action, which a filer must click to override.

Bugs In Noting Which Attorneys Have Appeared.  As a third, under the Rules of Civil Procedure, every attorney listed on any pleading filed in the case is an attorney of record in the case, but the e-filing system only includes attorneys who have actually personally filed something in the case and then when an attorney withdraws from representing people in a case often continues to send that attorney filings.

Failure To Indicate When Certain Court Actions Are Taken.  More seriously, attorneys who are of record in cases are not automatically notified of entries made by the clerk of the court in a case, such as docketing notes, and sometimes even actual court orders, even though these are public records that are part of the record on appeal in a case.
Research Fees.  The fees in the file and serve system in the state courts for research court filings that are a matter of public record, which is a zero added cost service from the provider's perspective, are almost 100 times as expensive as they are in the federal court system's PACER system.

Colorado's Outdated Pleading Format Rules.  In a related rant, every single court pleading in Colorado must have several formalities that are outdated in the era of mandatory e-filing.

Court Address and Contact Information For The Filing Party.  Each pleading must be accompanied by a full recitation of contact information for the filing party and the address of the court with which the case is filed.  Yet, in the e-filing system, the full contact information of the filing party is retained in the system and a click away in general case information, and you aren't allowed to mail anything to the Court in any case. 

Certificates of Service.  Every Court filing must have a certificate of service establishing that copies have been provided to all parties appearing in the action.  But, a transaction receipt retained by the third party e-fililng system in the cloud provides an authoritative, automatically generated, and almost always more accurate in the event of a dispute record of who was and was not served with a e-filing document.

Proposed Orders.  Every motion that is filed in a Colorado court must be accompanied by a proposed order, no matter how straight forward the request (e.g. a request for an extension of time).  Often, a single word order: "Granted" or "Denied" is appropriate.  And, something like 90% of the time, judges use a feature of the e-filing system that allows a judge to enter his order directly on the computer from a template that is a modified version of the motion being ruled upon, rather than using the proposed orders that are submitted by the parties which would have to be printed out, manually signed and then scanned back into the system. 

Dispensing with these requirements would reduce the length of almost every court filing by a page, significantly reduce the need for paralegal support in law offices, and eliminate several meaningless formalities that exist merely as as opportunities for people drafting court documents to make minor clerical errors that lead to confusion, for example, by inadvertently including an inaccuracy in a certificate of service.

* Currency.  Nobody takes pennies!  Also, coin and currency designs seem to be changed faster than teen fashions these days.  It is hard to know if your money is even real any more.  While I'm at it, I will go on record urging the abolition of the $2, $10 and $50 dollar bills that no one ever uses.

* Parking Meters.  Parking meters in Denver no longer accept my old meter key that was preloaded with funds to pay parking meters.  The amount of residual money that I have on mine is miniscule, but it is still a pain.

* Downtown Parking.  I buy monthly parking in a local surface lot downtown that also allows for per day parking purchases at a kiosk on the lot. About 95% of the time this works perfectly, I don't have to worry about getting a ticket if I stay at work past 6:00 p.m. if I only bought parking until then like I did when I paid by the day, and I get the perk of free parking for events like the Parade of Lights downtown. But, about once or twice a month, without any warning whatsoever, everybody decides to show up for work downtown, nobody takes sick days or vacations, everybody schedules meeting with people downtown, and all of the travelling salesmen show up to the office. On those rare days, every spot in my lot, and for that matter every other lot in a three or four block radius and all street parking is completely full. This sucks.

As pleased as I am that the Denver Public Schools are selling their headquarters at 900 Grant Street and moving to a thirteen story building that is half a block from my office at 1860 Lincoln Street, and will also be home to a new (long overdue) downtown elementary school and a relocated vocational school (Emily Griffith), I fear that the parking situation will only get worse once they make their move.

* Notarizations.  In New York State, at least in some towns, requests for death certificates must be notarized.  For that matter, bloody everything you do in New York State must be notarized.  WTF!

Utah, in contrast, allows the vast majority of matters that have to be notarized even in less draconian Colorado, to be signed outside the presence of a notary on a document that says that it is signed under penalties of perjury.  Given the context that makes confirmation of the identity of the signing party less problematic in court cases than in real estate transactions, dispensing with most notarizations in Court filings would make all sorts of sense, particularly in an era where more communications are conducted electronically from places where notaries are difficult to locate, rather than in person in law offices where notaries are omnipresent.

* Loan Servicer Seterus.  At loan serving company Seterus, you aren't allowed to speak on the telephone with anyone in the department that processes the handling of processing of deceased borrowers accounts, because "they aren't trained in customer service." 

In one dealing I had with them, it took about two months and multiple attempts to get them to send mail to me as attorney for the estate of a decedent, and two and a half more months after that for them to acknowledge that the decedent was dead - which happened only after multiple communications including one that contained almost every single thesaurus equivalent to the word "dead". 

Seterus has a practice of forcing the loans of deceased borrowers into foreclosure by refusing to accept payments from anyone else, even the new owner of the property.  Yet another proof of the Dilbert principle: businesses aren't any more rational than government.

Seterus also has the annoying practice of sending you letters that say nothing exept that they received your letter and will reply to it later (which they don't always do), and of sending the same mail over and over again, apparently without realizing it.  More paper does not mean better communication.

* The Denver Post.  I still greatly dislike the fact that the Denver Post has banished national and world news to a dramatically slimmed down scope of coverage in a second part of the news section.  The quality of the product just gets worse and worse and worse even though the price continues to increase.  I haven't readed the point of dropping my subscription yet, but I'm getting close.

* Twinkies.  I miss Twinkies and other Hostess deserts.  I didn't have them often, but every once and I while, I do crave one.  I understand that the formulas, trademarks and production plants have many bidders.  With any luck, the new owner will adopt one of my pet ideas: Caffinated Twinkies.  Wouldn't that be glorious?

* E-Book Page Numbering.  Probably one in every three or four books that I read, I read in the form of downloaded e-books, either from the library or from a commercial source.  E-books have page numbers, just like the hard copy originals.  But, the page numbers aren't the same.  For example, I recently read an e-book that had about 250 pages in E-Book form.  But, exactly the same book in hard copy form had about 400 pages.  Why?

It costs nothing to have consistent page numbering practice, which is what is done in the downloadable versions of reported court decisions, of academic papers in law and physics and anthropology, and in a variety of other contexts.  The discrepency makes citations to e-books by page number inconsistent and differing numbers of pages offer no important added value to the e-book.

* Discover Magazine had a number of excellent blogs on science topics, including Gene Expression and Cosmic Variance each of which had vibrant communities of readers who commented on and discussed the posts made there.  Recently, an overhaul of the formats of this group of blogs destroyed almost entirely the online community of readers and commenters and contributed to the departure of the lead author of the Cosmic Variance blog.  Why did they have to mess with a good thing that was working well?

* The Fiscal Cliff Process.  The fiscal cliff presents one of the most important decision points in recent U.S. history on federal taxing and spending policy.  It is a discussion that is welcome and needs to be conducted.  But, why is it that Congress, in its wisdom, decided that the best way to have that discussion was to play chicken a couple of days before the effective dates of the fiscal cliff tax and spending provisions in the Christmas and New Year's sessions of a lame duck Congress? 

The expiration date of many of these tax provisions have been on the book for almost a decade.  The people who will cast the votes have been in office for more than twenty-three months already.  The deal that provides for automatic cuts in federal spending if no agreement is reached has been on the books for many, many months.  This is not being done at the last minute because it was a surprise, or because the decision has been reserved for incoming members of Congress.

Is it so impossible for members of Congress to have the courtesy to set a deadline for themselves at some more convenient time, perhaps one or two business days before Thanksgiving, so that the underappreciated bureaucrats who have to write tax forms and prepare agency budgets based upon their decisions could have several weeks to digest whatever decision was made and impliment it, and so that everyone in the political process involved in making the decision could enjoy the holiday season instead of focusing on an entirely foreseeable chore?

Better yet, why not require all legislation to be completed before Halloween, and then swear in their successors by late November?

Also, couldn't we design a legislative process that doesn't routine rely on games of chicken between people who have absolute vetos over each other's decisions to make policy?  What ever happened to unhurried deliberation and resolution of issues through votes cast by elected officials according to a consensus set of rules of parliamentary procedure.  I want a government where it at least looks like decisions are being made by civilized grown ups.  Is that really too much to ask?

* Construction.  Road construction is a never ending process.  It bogs up traffic.  But, would it be so much to ask to at least be told, as we sit in gridlock for yet another day as cars merge into one or two fewer lane as we have for months on end in some particular spot, when we can reasonably hope to see the project completed?

* TV News "Expert" Discussions.  Somebody who produces TV news discussion spots on policy issues and current affairs thinks that having grown men and women with all sorts of advanced credentials talk over each other and yell and interrupt each other makes good dramatic television.  I hate it.  I work hard not to have that kind of discussion climate in my home and workplace and really don't appreciate some television news show putting that kind of atmosphere back in my living room. 

I don't like watching people with PhD's act like toddlers on television any more than I like it when politicians act like toddlers on television.

Call me old fashioned, but I honestly believe that it is possible to have an informative and persuasive conservation about an emotional policy issue in a civilized manner.  The hormone fueled trashy conflict adds nothing to the discussion and makes me want to turn off the discussion even if the people involved really did have something worthwhile to say.

 * Charity Junk Calls.  The "no call list" has done an admirable job of shutting down telephone solicitations for goods and services that I don't want.  But, it doesn't apply to charity calls, and those are relentless.  Caller ID allows you to screen them, but I am still sick and tired of the never ending calls from the Fraternal Order of Police and three or four different organizations that my discarded clothes and household goods.  Add cold call charitable solicitations to the "no call list" now.

* Voice Mail.  It may be a necessary evil, but I absolutely hate voice mail.  It takes a long time to retrieve and listen to, while you can quickly scan and assess texts and e-mails, and don't have to decipher sometimes difficult to hear accents when writing down numbers and names left on voice mails.  A world without voice mail would be a better world.

Notably, one study by a telephone company concluded that people responded to texts about ten or twenty times as quickly as they do to voice mails.  So, while others may not be as vocal as I am, many people, deep down, share the sentiment.

* Microsoft Word Outlining and Autonumbering Functions.  Most of the time, I manage to disable the outlining and autonumbering functions of Microsoft Word, but when I don't, these features are among the most vexing things I encounter in a day.  What you type should be what you get.  But, it is quite tricky to disable the feature in a document that has it.

* Other Unwanted Microsoft Word Features.  As a matter of personal and office style, there are only three or four fonts and only about six different font sizes that I use when I word process documents.  There are also only three colors that I ever use (black, red and blue), and there are a whole host of formatting options that I never use.  Yet, there is no easy way to suppress the formatting options that I never use to simplify the interface.  It might be possible, but it is very time consuming and difficult and threatens to screw up compatability with other documents.

On the other hand, there are a number of legal and scientific words that don't appear in the spell checking dictionary that are correctly spelled but are flagged as misspelled that it is annoying to have flagged, but it is a pain to train the dictionary otherwise.

I use this computer program for many hours a day every work day and for many hours a week outside of work responsibilities.  I would happily pay something like $100-$150 to get an "upgrade" to Microsoft Word that would suppress all of the features that I don't use and add the words that I do use to its dictionary.  I have to think that there are millions of people who share my sentiment.  Why hasn't the market responded to our needs?  It would seem like a very simple think to do technologically and implement well and generate new revenue.  What do all the thousands of geeks at Microsoft do instead?  Create new inferior versions of Windows?

* Blogger HTML mode page breaks.  In the blogger software, you can write posts either in "Compose Mode" which is more WYSIWYG, with lots of hidden and awkward complexities in the code, or in "HTML" mode where you put in all the formatting yourself.  The one bad thing about HTML mode, however, is that the paragraph breaks that show on the display don't show up when you post it unless you add a code in the form <br /> to it (twice if you want a space between paragraphs).  If this were automatically entered every time you pressed return in that part of the editor, it would be much better.


Unknown said...

You might try 1Password - syncs with iPhone and iPad as well as Windows and Mac.

Anonymous said...

I use LastPass. I think it also runs on IOS but is installed on the two Windows computers I use the most, and my windows phone.

I used to use it just as a password vault, but now I let it generate secure passwords for websites. I don't know the passwords but I can always have LastPass log in for me -- my frustration with passwords has decreased significantly.

Kelly Miller said...

The exodus from the Discover blogs has been even more extensive than you suggest. Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy), Ed Yong (Not Exactly Rocket Science), and Carl Zimmer (The Loom) have all left, too -- Phil is now at Slate, while Ed and Carl are going to a new group of blogs at National Geographic. The Discover site redesign is horrible.

Repeating the previous comments, try a password manager - it makes a huge difference. (I am a very happy 1Password customer.)

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Thanks all for the suggestions and also to those who have sent private e-mails with suggestions.

andrew said...

Seterus has had 501 BBB complaints lodged with it despite its brief life.

andrew said...

A media account of the misdeeds of Seterus can be found here.

andrew said...

More complaint at complaint sites here and here. A TV news report here from Feb 2012 stated that "16,000 people across the country who have contacted the Better Business Bureau about Seterus, earning the company an "F" rating." Rebranding the company in 2011 didn't change the quality of its services. A media report from December 2011 is likewise consistent. As of April 2012, according to a media report, there had been 17,000 BBB complaints since 2010. A broker calls them the "worst shortsale bank ever".