Jan 11 2018

Spectre/Meltdown bugs in Intel and AMD chips – welcome to 2018 everyone!!

Jason

Happy new year! And we thought 2018 would be different, in a nightmare that could be straight out Blofeld’s playbook IT departments around the world come back from a Christmas break to the same old same old, another set of security flaws to tackle!

I’m sure we’re all well aware of the new vulnerabilities found in the processors inside pretty much every device from the iPhone in your pocket, through the PC on your desk to the server in your data centre. Meltdown (specific to Intel) and Spectre (affecting Intel and AMD chips) are the latest bugs we need to race to mitigate before a wave of malware exploiting them appears. However this time it’s not that easy as the issue is in the hardware and not so it’s not just software that can be simply patched. So although it’s looking like a combination of BIOS/microcode updates, OS patches and software patches will mitigate the issues, the underlying hardware flaw will undoubtedly be with us for some time!

If you want to read about the ins and outs of the bugs then this page is a great place to start.

However in this post I wanted to pull out some specific articles and pointers on the likely impact on the desktop PC’s. Pretty much every article on the fixes indicate there will be a performance impact, whether negligible or not from a users perspective there will still be degradation. If you read the technical articles on what the patches are having to do to address the flaw there clearly has to be an affect.

First off let’s cover off the Intel chipset names, indicative years and example PC’s (I’m using Dell business models purely as an example). Just so there’s a reference for the subsequent articles.

Intel generation Intel name Indicative year Example Dell device
1st Nehalem 2008/09
2nd Sandy bridge 2011 Latitude 6220
3rd Ivy bridge 2012/13
4th Haswell 2013 Latitude 6240
5th Broadwell 2014/15
6th Skylake 2015/16
7th Kaby Lake 2016/17 Latitude 7270
8th Kaby Lake R, Coffee Lake, Cannon Lake 2018

There are a couple of articles that have been released by Microsoft and Intel giving an indication on the likely impact you’ll see.

The Microsoft article indicates if you’re running Skylake, Kabylake (ie end 2015 on) processors in your PCs and running Windows 10, then the impact should be pretty much unnoticeable to your users. BUT in reality I suspect a lot of law firms (and other large firms) unless they have recently refreshed will still be running some older kit, possibly 3rd to 5th generation and to be fair as far back as Sandy bridge will probably be still performing OKish. In the words of Microsoft “With Windows 8 and Windows 7 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), we expect most users to notice a decrease in system performance.”

The article from Intel plays out a similar story for 6th, 7th and 8th gen processors, in that users should not see an impact.

“Today we are sharing data on several 6th, 7th and 8th Generation Intel® Core™ processor platforms using Windows 10. We previously said that we expected our performance impact should not be significant for average computer users, and the data we are sharing today support that expectation on these platforms.”

They also have some tests on Windows 7 that show a similar result. Intel have not published details on the affect on pre-6th gen processors in the article.

Interestingly all the tests I’ve see seem to show that SSD’s are impacted much more than traditional mechanical HDD’s. Kind of ironic given we all moved to SSD’s to improve performance!

Some independent technology sites have produced more comprehensive tests for many different scenarios and broadly the results are similar to the above, on new processors there is a negligible impact on perceived performance. And that SSD’s seem to be affected more, but there is hope in this article that further updates could tune this performance.

It’ll be interesting over the coming days to see some real benchmarks against 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th generation processors. The additional challenge here of course here is that although you can patch meltdown with an OS patch, spectre requires some bios level mitigation, which therefore relies on the manufacturer releasing these for the older models (for example Dell has fixes back to some Ivy bridge models but none that I can see for Sandy bridge yet).

There is of course no choice really. We can’t not patch this issue, but in this case there is a risk of performance impact that we need to balance.

I won’t go into servers at the moment, but this tweet shows the challenges we may have here for some systems!

So, if any legal supplier or legal IT team has bench-marked kit that has 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th generation processors in, it would be great if you could post results in the comments? After all the whole industry is in this one together and the sooner we can all get patched the better!!

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Oct 30 2017

A few thoughts on artificial intelligence for both the sceptic and evangelist!

Jason

I find myself having more and more conversations about AI (artificial intelligence), whether it’s in Legal IT circles such as the recent panel I chaired at LawExpo 2017 in London or just a discussion with my brother on the ethics of the impact of this “next revolution” on the job market. My stand point has a mix of scepticism about how quickly this will happen and a dose of optimism that we will find a way to navigate this shift without mass unemployment.

I sometimes think though I am alone on both counts though. An example is this long but well written article on how we’re all going to lose our jobs to robots, for those in their twenties this article basically says you’ll all be out of a job before you retire! But then there are other more tempered articles that suggest not all jobs will expire but that we’ll adjust to use the tools in our jobs rather than the tools replace them. Or other more positive views of a future business world with AI.

My sceptical side can’t help but pull out articles like this one from 1992 which talked about the future of speech and pen recognition. “If I were a researcher, I’d feel I had a better return from studying speech recognition” [as oppose to handwriting recognition] and comment about how great a stylus would be for painting and drawing. Some 25 years later with Alexa and the Surface pen/Apple pencil we just about have the tech to achieve each to a reasonably successful degree!

But we will undoubtedly see a revolution that eclipses the industrial revolution and transforms the world of business, whether it’s in 5 or 50 years. And I look to the tech leaders like Bill Gates and Elon Musk who are sounding a warning that pretty much every politician is ignoring.

“I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. I mean with artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon.” – Elon Musk

Bill Gates has proposed possible solutions to managing the problem with taxes on robots and the long article linked to first in this post has other options for tackling the transition. We do need to start looking at what this revolution might mean for business and more importantly society, in a very barbell shaped economy more technology will only erode the middle even more and probably also erase the low end job market entirely!

However I think we have time, AI will form a huge part of technology solutions in the next 10 years I am sure, but in very specific applications and the majority of these I think will be in assisting humans rather than eradicating them. After all there will be plenty of companies that follow the Dilbert principle in this cartoon!

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Nov 22 2016

OneNote and Office Lens – hidden gem or does everyone know?

Jason

This is one of those blog posts that I’ve thought about for a while, but worried that I was stating the bleeding obvious and so have put it off. I’ve used Office Lens and OneNote for so long now that I figure others must know about it and be using it? But if not then there are folks missing out on a really useful tool for anyone who needs to collate information from various sources (whiteboard write ups, projector screens, hand written notes on paper, printed documents, business cards etc). Given that law firms are mainly users of Microsoft Office and are now generally on smartphone platforms it’s a great combination for the lawyers.

So here we go.

Office Lens: This is a smartphone app for iPhone, Android and Windows 10 Mobile. Its purpose is to allow you to quickly take notes using the phones camera.

The app allows simple selection of some defaults (whiteboard, document etc) to set things up and then attempts to auto crop the content (and does a good job for most things). You can then fine tune this before accepting the photo, where the app then flattens and straightens up the image (so if you’ve taken the photo at an angle what you end up with is a nice flat image).

officelens

You can then email the document or import quickly into one of the key Microsoft Office apps, the most useful I have found being One Note. It’s a really quick way to collate notes together in a OneNote notebook. For scanned images where the text is machine readable OneNote then OCR’s the content and makes it searchable in the notebook. For business cards you can of course simply photo the card and immediately add the information directly as digital contact to mobile address books – there’s an article here on how to do this.

Best of all it’s totally free.

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Sep 28 2016

RIP Project Managers

Jason

OK the title is a bit “click bait” as this isn’t quite the case, but I’ve just been on a Scrum training course for a couple of days and realised the traditional project manager (PM) isn’t part of the team anymore! Product Owners and Scrum Masters are the new roles for Agile project management. Kind of ironic when legal has just embraced project managers, always behind the curve eh! [edit]: I am not saying the PM isn’t required, more that to work in the scrum framework their role changes, see below for more on why trad PM skills are still needed.

It’s impossible to distill a two day course into one blog post, let alone a whole framework. And after two days I don’t profess to be any kind of expert! But with a background in project management, I thought a post that explains some of key takeaways would be worthwhile.

  • First off it’s not a replacement project management methodology, it won’t work for everything and is most suited to “projects” where a product is being developed (the product can be a software development or a “hardware” product).
  • The aim is to deliver to the customer a minimum viable product as soon as possible, thus introducing value as soon as possible. Addressing one of the key issues of the traditional waterfall, that of something tangible for the customer not being available until right at the end of the project in the release or implementation phase. This allows for early feedback.
  • The key aspects are the small teams; the product owner, the scrum master and the dev team.
  • The team has a product backlog that covers everything that might be needed (features, requirements, enhancements etc) is an ordered and estimated list.
  • The sprints (typically of a couple of weeks in length) go through a sprint planning to determine the product backlog items to tackle, then create a sprint backlog of the tasks to deliver a potentially releasable product increment.
  • After each sprint a review and retrospective allows immediate feedback into the process for the next sprint. Improving planning, product and the development as a whole.

 

There were some key points that were raised to watch for.

  • As we covered the Agile Manifesto. In particular the need to keep teams together as much as possible, as the successful team relationship with all the required skills is key. As is the need to face-to-face conversation, it’s not impossible to run across disparate sites but productivity decreases dramatically.
  • The PM isn’t finished, some key aspects of traditional project management isn’t catered for in Scrum. For example, stakeholder management, ROI, governance, marketing, feasibility etc. Scrum caters for the “How we build stuff” phase.
  • Also keeping the “noise” from the team is crucial, avoiding constant interruptions. This could prove difficult where teams are traditionally balancing projects and support demands.
  • Overall it was clear that moving to a Agile framework isn’t an easy task, it’s not just a case of deciding to do it and renaming all your project managers. There needs to be thought on how things are set up, the office, the people and the institutions.

It’s not a solution to all project failures and without a lot of effort I suspect could cause more. But I can see areas where agile would work really well, much better than traditional waterfall methods and would recommend anyone with a stake in delivering projects to find out more.

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Jan 12 2015

Explaining things in 140 characters is impossible!

Jason

I remember a time when you were wary of trying to explain things in email, would you be able convey exactly what you wanted to say in a way the recipient would understand? That now seems child’s play compared to making a point on twitter, a simple “I think A” statement creates a raft of responses “Why not B???” “Hey what the hell is wrong with C???” **

The benefits of having a blog is I have the space to write more than 140 characters to try and explain what I was trying to say in such a tweet this week:

I tend to judge how successful companies will be on their social media abilities nowadays. #LegalIT

This tweet was based on two IT companies who I have dealt with recently, both with good and very similar products. My attitude to them has been shaped by their social media abilities, well OK my perception of their abilities based on their attitude to social media. Both companies have new products or features on the horizon.

One company went out of their way to let me have advanced information about their product in the hope that I would blog about it, they know about this blog and therefore for them it’s a channel to get word out. It’s a risk, as I wouldn’t necessarily give the product a positive spin, but they’re confident enough in their product.

The other company insisted that the information they had told me remained confidential and shouldn’t be blogged about or posted online. I’d actually love to write about this firms new product, I think it’s a great direction and one that would interest the market they’re in.

This scenario was the point of my twitter post. To me the former shows confidence in their product, a real understanding of the modern IT environment, a willingness to engage customers and potential customers and to receive negative as well as positive feedback. The latter, well the opposite. I understand that in certain scenarios there may be a need to stop others getting to market before you release a killer new product, but this isn’t the case here. These attributes for the first company though for me are attributes of a firm more likely to be successful going forward (most other things, product etc being equal).

As an aside the status actually generated a conversation that took a different direction, even though that wasn’t the original intention of the point. So be careful when you tweet, either be prepared to converse on twitter or get a blog to explain yourself!

 

** thanks to a colleague for the first paragraph, that’s how he explained this twitter phenomenon

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Sep 30 2014

Windows 10 in the law firm

Jason

Back in June I did a talk at a conference on mobility. There was a bit of future gazing from me on where I thought law firms would go next with their desktop PC’s. It was a conference sponsored by the UK magazine Computing, unfortunately one of their journalists then reported what I’d said as the current strategy for our firm!

Windows 10

Today’s launch of the next version of Windows by Microsoft, Windows 10, made me more sure that the future of legal desktops is from the Redmond company rather than from Cupertino. The following are the highlights I picked out, things that iron out those kinks in Windows 8 to make Windows 10 more of a certainty in law firms.

  • Continuum” – this is a new feature that adapts the OS to the device, got a keyboard and mouse and the new modern UI apps will open in windows and the device acts like a Windows 7 desktop machine. Snap off the keyboard and use like a tablet and things revert to a full screen more touch friendly interface. You could do it in Windows 8.1 but this now works as it should, automatically.
  •  The Start Menu is back. This wasn’t a big deal for me, but for lots of folks it was. So can only be a good thing it’s back, allows that desktop or modern UI split in a seamless rather than jarring way.
  • Desktops for different purposes. You can use one for personal and one for business. I’m not sure whether this is more than Windows 8.1’s ability to have a desktop on one monitor and a modern app on the other, it sounds like it but information is light at the moment.

I’m sure there’ll be much more over the coming weeks, but I’m convinced Windows 10 and the hybrid desktop/modern UI works for legal. Allowing old legacy apps to continue in a desktop mode as now, but then brings the flexibility to pick up the screen and access data in a modern touch friendly way on the move. Also this will be one version of Windows for phone, tablet and desktop with one Windows Store. This one platform and the develop once platform Microsoft are pushing should be great news for legal vendors. In fact it’s the one thing I liked about their Matter Centre product they demoed at ILTA (more about that in a post I promised early in September but have yet to write!)

But to pinch a headline after seeing the launch today, I do believe Windows 10 could be the catalyst for law firms next PC refreshes!

Update:

Just read some more on Windows 10 and the new security features really stood out. Whereas bitlocker in Windows 7 protected the data on the device, Windows 10 will have an additional layer of protection using containers and data separation at the app and file level to protect the data wherever it goes – on tablet, PC, USB drive, cloud etc. Very interesting from a law firms point of view in protecting client data.

 

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Jun 25 2014

“Mobility First” – our move to the “third platform”

Jason

I attended an IDC conference recently entitled “Mobility First“, they have coined a term “Third Platform“. According to IDC we’ve had the first platform (the mainframe), we’re in the second (client/server/Internet technology) and next up is the third platform. They define the third platform as the next-generation IT software foundation comprising of Cloud Computing, Mobile, Big data and Social. Clearly in the consumer space we’re already on this third platform and use mobile, cloud and social in our daily lives. Big data is emerging but I think as a concept it’s still a little difficult to grasp and many confuse it with BI and data warehouses.

This all reminded me though of a few notes I’d made in OneNote a year or so ago for a blog post on the current transition in IT, though I hadn’t coined a nice snappy term to sum it up. What I had written were a couple of bullets to remind me:

  •  IT in the 90’s – the transition from control of mainframe to the chaos of client server
  • IT now and the transition from client server to consumerisation of IT in businesses

I also jotted down a quote that I saw on twitter that I was going to use:

I still think it’s cute when IT leadership tries to pretend that there is no change, & tries to run IT on cruise control using 90’s methods

Which was the same criticism laid at the door of IT directors when I first started in corporate IT as a placement student. Back then the issue was trying to run the new client/server model with the iron fist we did mainframes.

I also had an article on “shadow IT” that I’d saved and my point from this was that it also wasn’t anything new. Working for a utilities company in the mid-nineties we saw depts. create their own “mini IT depts.” as the central IT team struggled to keep up with the new technology and deliver them the solutions they wanted.

My point of the post was going to be how I thought there is the same criticism being levelled at legal IT now that there was at other corporate IT depts. twenty years ago, more agile consumer focussed companies leap ahead and look back at the corporate IT sector as luddites. But there are so many lessons from the move from the first to second platform (to pinch IDC’s term) that can be played forward to now. Look how we went full circle from the control we had on the mainframe through some uncontrolled chaos back to control again, the experience of this and how we could minimise the chaos can surely be reused?

I’m not buying the story that Legal IT depts. are luddites that won’t move, they will move towards the third platform I’m sure. The fact that I got a bit of criticism on my last couple of posts because some lawyers thought I was being too critical of lawyers and their ability to use/exploit the new technology shows there is an appetite for technology. I wasn’t intending to suggest lawyers were anti-technology, no my point in those posts was that this kind of technology shift will just develop the current business model and not revolutionise law firm business process. I actually think lawyers will embrace this third platform much faster than they did the second, I mean look how fast blackberry use (mobility) took off in your firm compared to say the use of the desktop CRM system!

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Jan 28 2014

Smartphones in law firms – which way’s the wind blowing?

Jason

Back in September I finished a poll on my site that asked which platform people thought was going to become the leader in law firms. iOS topped that poll which was not surprising from a consumer perspective, but from a costs perspective it was rather surprising given the high device costs AND the higher tariff costs for non-consumer tariffs (particularly in the UK where 50%+ of the traffic for this site comes from).

So since then I’ve been running a poll asking a slightly more specific question, focussing much more on the costs aspect to see if the results matched.

Are you considering as a firm to remain with BlackBerry 7 to control your costs? 

The results were interesting, 20% indicated they were going to stick with BlackBerry 7 devices (either keeping the same handsets or upgrading to the latest/last BB7 device). Only 12% said they were going to go BlackBerry 10, this roughly tallied with the 16% in the previous “Which mobile platform do you think will become the leading platform in law firms?” poll.

Still though I was surprised that 68% said they would go with a different OS, meaning one of iOS, Android or Windows Phone.

I still struggle to grasp how in such a cost sensitive industry like Legal there can be a cost-benefit analysis that justifies iPhones for all, smartphones yes but high end smartphones? It’s an interesting landscape that is going to change dramatically in 2014 I’m sure, but I still think that Windows Phone has a big part to play here. I know of a few large international businesses (outside Legal) that have gone the MS way, will further integration into products like Systems Centre for management of mobiles make this easier for firms? Or will a more consumer own device with business providing SaaS (Software as a Service) facilities be the norm? Time will tell.

 

p.s. I’m running another poll at the moment looking at what people use for news (rss) feeds since the demise of Google Reader. Why not take a vote? It’s at the top right of the home page of my site.

 

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Jan 16 2014

Looking back on 5 years of blogging part 5 – My favourites

Jason

To finish up this look back on 5 years of blogging I’ve pulled out some of my favourite posts from the first few years.

Back in May 2009 I covered a topic that was and still is a hot topic across Legal. That of the “billable hour”. I’m sure there will be a blend of billing options for clients going forward, but I still like my example at the end of this post as to why for many clients fixed price may not be the nirvana to low costs. – The billable hour isn’t going anywhere!

I think there must of been something stuck at that “good enough to go” stage back in August 2009. The post I wrote was on the 80/20 rule. Looking at the extra effort that last 20% can take, when it’s the first 80% that will get you the majority of benefits. – Following the Pareto principle (aka the 80/20 rule)

The control and management of email has been a recurring topic over the last 5 years, topics on top tips, products to help etc. But this one I’ve pulled out with a title that sums it up nicely! It was less a help guide and more a rant at email that I’m sure will chime with many. – email, hate the stuff!

I alluded the other day to it taking a generation for law firms to change, well it could be Generation Y that starts that ball rolling. This post from April 2010 was an insight into the experience of a young lawyer just starting in BigLaw. – Generation Y trainees about to shake up Legal and Legal IT

Also from April 2010 I took a look at CRM systems in Legal and wondered whether LinkedIn could be a valid replacement? LinkedIn does seem to have gone a different direction since 2010 and is more focussed on business social with its groups and posts, but recruitment agencies certainly use it as their “InterAction” I’m sure! – LinkedIn to replace InterAction?

Finally a post from May 2011. It was looking at the challenges, both externally and internally, we’re going to have when communicating. Since this post I’ve experienced similar frustrations with firms that have twitter streams but don’t use them to communicate with customers. – What happens when a Baby Boomer lawyer meets a Generation Y client?

On a slight related note I could this great TED talk the other day that is worth watching on the challenges of working with introverts v extroverts.

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Jan 13 2014

Looking back on 5 years of blogging part 4 – Simplicity

Jason

Continuing to look back at old posts I noticed one of the themes that has come up a few times is my wish that Legal IT suppliers would keep their software simple.

In fact it’s not just an issue with Legal IT, the product that has highlighted this to me more this year than any other is actually Google+. Google continues to push this product and in doing so bloats all their other products. It’s now in search results, in YouTube comments. Yuk, I long for when Google was just search and a great RSS reader**!

So here are three posts I’ve picked from 2009 and 2010 that distil some of my thoughts on simple design:

First up from September 2009 was a rant at Microsoft for creating IE8 bloatware, thanks goodness they saw sense with IE9 onwards which stripped Internet Explorer right back to basics. Shame Firefox didn’t learn from this as that once great browser is now more bloated than IE ever was! – No, no, no! Who asked for that?

Then in December 2009 was a look at another place where simplicity is useful, policies! I still love the social media policy from ABC in Australia. – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – social media policies

Last up from May 2010 which re-iterates the first two posts a bit, this time the ire was aimed at Spotify (who’s basic product has gotten worse with all the addins!) – Simplicity rules

** have you voted yet on my poll in the top right? I'm looking to identify what people now use as a replacement for Google Reader.
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