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mohammedThe Semantic Technology and Business Conference showcases business applications from the leading semantic web companies and researchers: RPI, Stanford, MIT, and PARC, as well as Hoffmann-La Roche, Walmart, Yahoo, and Google. At the conference, the LII's semantic web engineer, Mohammad AL-Asswad, Ph.D., presented approaches to improving access to import/export regulations in agriculture. We had observed that off the shelf, a search engine doesn't know how to establish the context of a section of the CFR. Mohammad showed the results of his work combining a set of natural language processing techniques with a government-supplied subject vocabulary and our own metadata in order to improve search results.

In July, the International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists brought together 125 delegates from 28 countries for its World Congress, hosted this year by Cornell University's Mann Library. Agriculture librarians presented the results of research on subjects ranging from innovation proliferation among small scale pineapple farmers in Ghana to digital librarianship in Indian agricultural libraries to open access in institutional repositories. Mohammad presented at the poster session, showing the connections between agricultural regulations and scientific literature.

Why? Regulators need to know about the science related to the regulations they are making and enforcing. Scientists need to know about regulations that affect their research; they often also want the opportunity to know about new rulemakings that affect areas in which they have expertise. Using natural language processing techniques, Mohammad was able to find topics in the regulations that map to keywords in the agricultural ontology AGRIS. You can see preliminary results of this feature using the "Find the Science" feature here.

Nov 062013

Shutdown_government_graphic_20131001182006_320_240The morning of October 2, the United States Government shut down for the first time in nearly 18 years, as a congressional stalemate froze funding and furloughed some government workers.

Aside from more overt casualties -- closed federal offices, and shuttered national monuments and parks -- some of the government’s websites were not updated or taken completely offline. Behind the scenes, some large data sets were made unavailable, as in the case of the the Library of Congress whose machine-readable schemas became unavailable to applciations around the world that depend on them. Our engineering team made copies of the MODS, MADS and PREMIS schemas available on LII servers to help other applications survive the shutdown.

On the front end, many affected sites posted notices on their home page or on splash screens that attributed the outages to “a lapse in federal government funding,” and those that remained open, like the National Weather Service, continued to point blame at funding while stating that they were remaining available in the “interest of public safety and security.” But who exactly decides what’s in the public interest? It seems to us that the laws of the United States are pretty important, but if the government were to suddenly take them offline completely (as they did with other public sites like the United States Census and NASA) we would still be expected to know and to follow government laws and regulations, wouldn’t we?

Of course, we see this as yet another reason why LII is so important-- making the laws available without cost and protecting our right to know and understand these laws without being subjected to the whims of political in-fighting. But this shutdown also produced out some interesting traffic data, which demonstrates just how vital the LII remains to those working in the government sector.

In the two weeks of the shutdown, the LII saw a modest, overall three percent increase in traffic to our site, but when we looked at the locations people were accessing from, those statistics told a different story. Visits from several large cities were up significantly, 14% in New York, San Francisco and San Diego, for example. But traffic from cities with a high degree of federal offices fell drastically-- 22% in Boston and 20% in Washington DC. Conversely, the state of Maryland, home to many Washington DC workers, demonstrated a 25% increase in traffic during the same time period.

These numbers might suggest that people who needed access to law continued to receive it at the official government websites, or that they came to the LII thinking that the government sites would be shut down. But it also suggests that a significant number of government workers on furlough from their jobs in DC and Boston visit the LII each day. And that says something even more important. It suggests that thousands of federal workers prefer the LII to the official government primary legal collections, which would confirm anecdotal evidence we hear from government employees all the time. So even though the official sites remained open, the LII is the site of choice for many who rely on accurate current legal information to perform the government’s work. And that’s a recommendation we’re proud to have.

Feb 282013

pulling hairLII Associate Director Sara Frug is having a bad day. It’s twelve in the afternoon, East Coast time, and the LII web site has slowed to a crawl. It’s taking 16 seconds to get a page of legal information that you could normally get in 6. The LII’s West Coast audience is just getting to the office. Between now and 5 o’clock both East and West Coast people will make heavy use of the site. Things are going from bad to worse, and they will get even worse than that before they get better.

How bad is bad? The typical load average on the LII’s production server is supposed to hover somewhere around 4; that’s what you see on a fully-utilized machine that isn’t straining. Dan Nagy, the LII’s systems administrator, is seeing 39. Dan is not eager to tell you how he knows, but a bad decision made in the course of a tune-up could take it to 300 in about 45 seconds. If that happens, the LII is about as useful as a wet brick. And the LII crew knows: the slow get slower. Anybody who has ever driven on the Boston freeways during the morning rush can see how that works. I-93’s running at capacity, some bozo drops a soda can out the window, and hey-presto, traffic jams solid all the way south to New Bedford.

Sara runs the LII’s crew of engineers. Right now, she is talking to Dan and to Wayne Weibel, the LII’s Drupal developer. They’re looking at the output from WebPageTest.org, a free service that gives a lot of web-performance diagnostics (see below). A couple of things are obvious. The server isn’t clearing connections fast enough. They try a couple of quick alterations to the server configuration. The first shoots the load numbers through the roof, and locks up the server. Oops. Definitely not an improvement. A second is successful. Now the server’s clearing connections fast enough to not bog down completely, so the site’s visitors are getting what they want. But it’s still slow. Time to go under the hood.

A single web page at the LII is made up of a lot of pieces. The home page has 65 separate components. Around 20 of them come from the LII, and the remainder are things like that little Facebook logo with the number of “likes” on the page, which has to be fetched from Facebook every time a visitor shows up. Each LII component can involve multiple database queries that look up text, provide additional links to related information, and so on. Every component comes with a “set-up charge” -- the cost in time of setting up a connection from the user’s browser so that the component can be retrieved. There are a lot of moving parts. The LII uses a variety of strategies that reduce the need to regenerate pages, either holding preassembled pages in a cache to be served up directly, or telling the user’s browser that it’s OK to hang on to pieces that get used repetitively and not reload them. Either approach cuts down on the work the server has to do. Right now, it’s not enough.

Over the next three days, Sara, Wayne, and Dan will spend a lot of time staring at complex “waterfall” diagrams that give a timeline for the loading of each component that goes into the page. The waterfall also shows them what’s waiting for what; some components need others before they can load. They’ll identify bottlenecks and either eliminate them or find a way to make the component smaller so it takes less time to load. The server will be tweaked so that it doesn’t clog up as quickly. Components will be combined so that they can be loaded from a single file, reducing the number of data connections needed and the setup time involved. They’ll get the average page loading time from 7 seconds down to under 4, even during the afternoon rush. Three seconds doesn’t sound like much, but for users, it’s an eternity. During the rush, it’s critical. An average load time of 7 seconds quickly ramps up to 16 seconds or more, because, well, the slow get slower. An average load time of 4 seconds is stable at 4 seconds. The crew think they can get it down to 3. The Director wants 2. The LII audience wants something instantaneous, or even better, telepathy. Sara and the crew will turn this crisis into an opportunity. Suddenly, everybody’s got a lot of good ideas about how to make things even faster and they’re starting to compete with the clock. The team is drag-racing now.

There’s more to all this than speed. Because the server is now on the right side of the loading curve, it can serve around 150 more simultaneous users during rush hour, when there are typically around 1350 simultaneous visitors on the site. That’s an 11% increase. There are also implications for our donors. Throwing hardware at a problem like this can be expensive. None of the changes they’ve made involved upgrading hardware or buying more computing cycles. That’s a good thing; the next biggest server ( a “double extra large”, in cloud-computing-speak) would cost about twice what we’re paying now.

So, more people in the LII audience getting more legal information twice as fast at no increase in cost. What’s not to like about that?

 

Picture 25

 

 

Introduction to Basic Legal Citation eBook CoverOur friends at CALI / eLangdell have just released "Introduction to Basic Legal Citation," a free eBook version of Peter W. Martin's popular online resource.

The new version was recently revised in the fall of 2012 to take account of changes in the citation rules of a small number of U.S. jurisdictions and the format of currency information furnished for statutes by LexisNexis and Westlaw. It is indexed to the fourth edition of the ALWD Citation Manual and the nineteenth edition of The Bluebook, both published in 2010.

Professor Martin requests that you donate to the Legal Information Institute if you would like to show your support for this free work. We happen to think that's a fine idea.

SCOTUS hears six cases this week involving trademark, securities litigation, antitrust, attorney's fees, criminal law, directed verdict and double jeopardy (I'll take Legal Information for 100, Alex).

Here's the schedule with links to the LII Bulletin Previews. Subscribe to get the LII Supreme Court Bulletin delivered straight to your email.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

 

This week, the court hears six cases on topics ranging from firearms, deportation, and surveillance, to copyright and drug-detecting dog sniffs (!). Here's the oral argument schedule with links to the LII Bulletin Previews. Subscribe to get the LII Supreme Court Bulletin delivered straight to your email.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

 

It’s a short week for the Supremes this week — Monday is a legal holiday — but they’ll be hearing 4 new cases on Tuesday and Wednesday:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Today is the first day of the new Supreme Court term.  This week the Court hears cases on topics ranging from affirmative Action, immigration, and habeas corpus and competence  Here’s the calendar; you can read our LII Supreme Court Bulletin case analyses by clicking on the name of the case:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Title 17 eBook CoverWe're happy to announce that we've just released our first title in eBook form: United States Code -Title 17 - Copyrights. It is now available for download from the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook stores for $5.99.

The LII plans to offer the most full-featured primary legal materials available in two popular eBook formats. All LII titles feature live cross-references with fully-functional navigation between references within each title. Out-of-title cross-references and references to supporting notes and documents link directly to the LII web site. Each eBook title is updated annually, but links to the LII web site put the most recent official version and an array of updating and research tools at your disposal. The text of LII eBook editions is beautifully formatted and indented, making it far easier to read than other e-book editions.

One of the great advantages of eBooks over apps or websites is that regular users can bookmark frequent passages, highlight important text, and even annotate sections of the text with their own notes...just like scribbling or using sticky notes in the bulky desk copy! Depending on the e-reader you choose, relevant passages can also be sent to colleagues or shared online. The Amazon version will work on all Kindle devices and within the Kindle application on your PC, smartphone, or tablet. The Barnes & Noble version will work on all Nook devices and within the Nook application on your PC, smartphone, or tablet. Plus, the Barnes & Noble version will also work on all e-readers that support the open epub format, including Apple products. (We're still working on placing our eBooks in Apple's iBookstore.)

Other publishers have already made available free eBook versions of several titles of the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations. We hope you'll find that ours are the best and well worth the modest cost, the royalties from which will help support free, online access to law for over 13 million people each year. If you enjoy our versions, please leave a positive review on the site where you purchased your copy

Title 17 was selected as the first eBook to be published for a number of practical reasons, not least of which was that Title 17 was the first piece of legal information published on the World Wide Web, 20 years ago, by the LII. We're selecting the next title by a popular vote. Visit the LII Facebook page to cast your vote for Title 5, 11, 18 or 51.

We are pleased to announce the full slate of speakers and presentations for the 2012 Law via the Internet Conference, to be held October 7-9, 2012, at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, New York. The quality of the proposals we received was very high, and our Track Chairs had a difficult time narrowing down the limited number of presentations we were able to accept. We think you’ll agree that this year’s program is among the most comprehensive we have ever assembled and reflects the true diversity of disciplines and subjects that keeps the open access movement thriving after 20 years.

This year, we’ve invited several special guests, who have inspired us with their work in this new age of information and interaction. We’re excited to welcome legal technology innovator Richard Susskind and social media visionary Clay Shirky as our keynote speakers. We’ve also announced our featured headiners for each Conference Track, including GovLoop.com founder Steve Ressler, legal information analyst David Curle, head of the United Nations DESA in Rome Gherardo Casini, GovTrack.us founder Joshua Tauberer, and Google Scholar founding engineer Anurag Acharya.

We remember when social networking meant more than just Facebook, so we’ve created several special opportunities to mingle and celebrate our 20th Anniversary, including opening and closing receptions and our spectacular 20th Anniversary Gala. We also hope you’ll consider extending your trip to discover all that the beautiful Finger Lakes region has to offer. If you’re bringing guests who will not be attending the conference sessions, we’ve arranged special day trips for them and a reduced conference fee so that they can join you at the receptions and gala.

Now is the time to make your plans! Reserve your space before June 15 to enjoy significant savings on the conference registration fees. We also suggest you make travel and lodging reservations as soon as you can; flights to Ithaca and hotel rooms for this event will fill up quickly.

Follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest news and information, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to write to us as info@lvi2012.org. We look forward to seeing you in October.