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Journal: Of Telephones And Copy Machines . .

Journal by ir0b0t
This is a brief note that small professional offices here in my neck of the woods typically overspend by ridiculous amounts when buying phone systems and copiers.

In my experience, its not uncommon for professionals here to spend $3,000 or more on a telephone system that delivers no more service than $300 worth of off-the-shelf AT&T Speakerphones.

The other area of excess capitalization is copy machines. One attorney I know spent $14,000.00 to purchase a copy machine for an office that was crowded with two attorneys practicing there.

The added irony of purchasing (as opposed to leasing) an overpowered copy machine is that the service contract costs the office even more unless someone on the staff happens to be an expert on the features of such a powerful machine.

And if there was an expert on staff, that person would point out the futility of purchasing such a powerful copier to serve such a small office.

The answer to the copy machine problem is to spend closer to $600 on a smaller machine that fits a smaller office. Its plenty powerful and needs no service contract.
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Journal: headless

Journal by ir0b0t
The server running egroupware had been doubling as a workstation. Nothing ran quickly anymore.

We decided not to start gnome on that machine in the future and devote all available ram and processor cycles to serving the network. The monitor, keyboard and mouse were removed.

I'm using the Emperor Linux laptop (Lenovo & Ubuntu Breezy) for all work now.

The egroupware clients are running much more quickly now. No swap memory is needed. I had underestimated how much ram is used on a busy workstation.
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Journal: freenx & egroupware

Journal by ir0b0t
We've added freenx clients secure remote logins to our network. Excellent.

We've also added egroupware for shared calendar and contacts lists over our samba network. Also excellent. Egroupware appears to have potential for coordinating and centralizing other shared data (e.g. time records).

Our network is surpassing proprietary networks in comparably sized and larger professional offices in our town by any measure of efficiency. There is no way I can see an advantage to returning to the limits of the proprietary network, dueling vendors and no command line.
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Journal: Secure Shell 2

Journal by ir0b0t
Secure shell is up and running today.

Port forwarding is set up from the dsl modem that acts as a router for the office.

The ssh service also had to be set up through the firewall too. We're using Firestarter 1.0.3.
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Journal: Open Source Law Office: 2005 Recap 1

Journal by ir0b0t
As the year closes, the open source code successfully used in our office includes the following:

Ubuntu 5.10 with Linux kernel 2.6.12-10-386.

Gnome 2.12.1

Open Office 2.0

Evolution 2.4.1

Firefox 1.0.7

Nvu 1.0

Gimp 2.2.8

Samba

Ubuntu is installed on my desktop and though XP Pro is installed on another partition, I do not need to boot it and have not booted it for most of the last quarter of 05.

The other machine in our office does run XP Pro and is networked to my machine with Samba.

Our calendar is managed by Evolution which we print out and review together at staff meetings. Open Office handles all legal and client drafting, bookkeeping of trust, client billing, receivables and payables and converting text and spreadsheeting from MS format. WordPerfect is still a problem.

Firefox obviously handles browsing which means legal, fact and background reference research. Nvu and Gimp are used to update content on the website.

Ubuntu is the best distro for my purposes that I've road tested. Over the past five years, I've also tested Mandriva, Red Hat and Slackware.

Technical support has been better for the reason that we find answers faster, the answers cost less money and there is no artificial shelf life on what we learn as existed with proprietary vendors who wipe out pieces of your learning with new upgrades, formats, tweaks, etc. I rely primarily on Ubuntu Forums for our technical support since installing Ubuntu.

Challenges which remain include the following:

Our accountant uses Quickbooks Pro, and I think it saves us money to accommodate them by keeping at least one version of our books in that format. My technical skill (and that of my staff) is not to the level that we've been able to find an open source solution to easily replace Quickbooks Pro. The problem is not so much a lack of candidates or other problem with the available code so much as my technical knowledge.

There is one piece of legacy code which is special for our jurisdiction that won't run with Linux. I have not tried it out with WINE and for the time being, we use the app with XP Pro when we need it which is not often.

There is no integrated client management package like Amicus Attorney or Kemp's, but I miss this far less than I expected. The spreadsheets I've made are easier to use and do actually do more. Learning to use the spreadsheet was a better investment of time than learning to use Amicus or Kemp's.

The printers are still working slowly. My suspicion currently is the driver. The attached printer is an hp laserjet 1200 and the printer across the network is an hp laserjet 4.

There is the added problem with the network printer that my smb.conf file is still pretty primitive. (I can post it if anyone is interested in trying to duplicate and improve this setup in their office.)

There is more to do in 2006. On my list is ssh, pgp and command line sytax for installation and configuration of new code. I have 50 books (and also links) to this information, but I simply haven't mastered the skills yet.
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Journal: Firefox page loading fix

Journal by ir0b0t


Firefox was inexplicably failing to load pages when used with Linux. It was a problem under both Mandriva and Ubuntu but not a problem under XP Pro. It did work fine with Ubuntu Linux on my home machine but not my office machine. The two machines use different ISPs but are otherwise substantially identical.

The problem was ridiculous but driving me nuts. Some kind souls on Ubuntu forum posted the fix which was distressingly simple. Now all is well in my Firefox world.

Here is the fix I used for Firefox loading pages slowly or not at all when used with Linux:

type about:config into address field

scroll to network.dns.disableIPv6

set to "true"

browse happily ever after
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Journal: Open Source Law Office: Considering Calendars

Journal by ir0b0t
Evolution does not appear to share calendars the same way that Amicus Attorney shares a calendar. Amicus Attorney has one calendar that can be read and written to over a local area network. Since everyone on the network is required to use a Micro$oft operating system, there's no compatibility issues.

Our goal is to banish M$ from our office forever and ever. We want to be liberated from M$. We need a kludge for this calendar sharing problem to do it.

Here's the problem:

Evolution shares its calendar by publishing it on a server. This approach won't do the trick. The calendar we end up using can be served, but it also needs to be shared.

That way if the lawyer's assistant needs to schedule the lawyer for an appointment, the lawyer's calendar can be altered to reflect that s/he is no longer available during that time period, for example, to attend a court hearing.

This is a crucial feature of all law office calendars --- even calendars made out of paper. At least two sets of eyes need to be triple-checking the dates. The left hand must know what the right hand is doing, or disaster will result.

I'm wondering now about an even more low-tech solution. What about using something like emacs to create a shared calendar file that can be read and written to over a Samba network by a Windows XP machine?

Hmmmm . . .
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Journal: Open Source Law Office: Samba Redux

Journal by ir0b0t


The linux desktop in my office is now networked so that our office machines interact basically the same way they used to under the peer-to-peer Windows XP setup.

I used the simplest smb.conf setup I could find and set my directory permissions with this command:



chmod -R +rwx home/



That directory contains all of our forms and matter files and can be browsed by the Windows XP machine that my secretary uses.

Its so excellent.
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Journal: Open Source Law Office: Triage

Journal by ir0b0t
This is a short note to say that between a firewall, ssh and samba, the correct first thing to work on (in my world) is a firewall.

Why? Because its impossible to relax enough to leave my office computer powered up when I go home unless I feel reasonably good about the firewall. If the machine is not powered up, then I have to stop working on all three projects after I leave the office.

By completing the firewall to a reasonable degree of, er, completion, I can go on attempting the ssh connection after I leave. Eventually that connection will work the way I need it to work (i.e. it will work). Then I can log-in remotely and work on samba --- work on whatever.

Setting up the firewall will let me leave the machine on from time to time without having to worry. When the machine is on, there's at least a possibility that I will be able to work on ssh should I have enough energy left at night to do so. After ssh is done, the door is open to work on everything else.
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Journal: Open Source Law Office: WYSWYG v. command line redux

Journal by ir0b0t
In the ongoing adventure that running my office with open source code has become, I've set aside Samba, SSH and PGP questions for the time being to consider a more philosophical question.

The question is whether its better to use wyswyg word processing or to consider using only raw text.

I was raised on the MacIntosh and the GUI and was allergic to the command line until very recently. It never occurred to me to use a text editor for the high volume of heavily formatted documents I produced each day. I didn't even know why anyone would use a text editor because I only conceived of writing in the context of writing research papers or letters.

I don't know how to write scripts, but if scripts can edit lines and lines of code with programs like grep, sed and awk, then why not a court document? I could start emacs, type what I wanted and then format it in TeX mode.

Surprisingly I've found no scripts for legal documents. There are scripts for academic formatting and some business formatting. Scripts for legal formatting are nowhere to be found.

It would be tough to evaluate whether the scripted approach would really improve on the wyswyg approach. I'm intrigued though. I end up using plain text to move documents files between different flavors and versions of word processor. It takes a lot of time.

It might be a lot easier to just stick to the raw text suitable for any word processor until its clear what formatting is needed and which program is going to be doing the formatting.
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Journal: My Open Source Law Office

Journal by ir0b0t
A little over five years ago, I became interested in open source while managing a Legal Services Corporation-funded office that primarily served low-income survivors of partner violence across eight rural counties in Montana.

I saw that the money in my scant budget expended for software licenses and technical support of products offered by companies that refused to share source code could be used instead to serve clients.

Five years later, my law practice pays its bills by serving private clients. My law office runs on open source code.

Here's how:

Hardware:

Two i586 machines and two HP printers. A dsl connection through an Actiontec modem. ISP through a local provider.

Software:

On my desktop, Mandriva Ltd. Ed. 05, Gnome 2.8 desktop, OpenOffice, Evolution, Konqueror, Tight VNC and Samba.

Uses:

OpenOffice is used for all legal forms, correspondence and spreadsheets for accounts receivable, payable, trust account management and timekeeping.

Evolution: Email, contacts and docket.

Konqueror: checking federal docket, finding caselaw and statutes, ordering supplies, etc.)

Tight VNC: accessing office network from home machine.

Samba: sharing files and printing with Windows machine in reception area (used by staff).

* * *

Though I no longer work for a nonprofit firm, I'm looking forward to expanding my use of open source to pro bono projects and nonprofit partners.

I'm writing this journal entry to celebrate this milestone in my life because --- to tell the truth --- no one here except my brother and my girlfriend knows how much work its been to overcome my tech phobias and begin learning open source basics.

My brother knows because it would have been completely impossible to do without his encouragement, guidance and patience.

My girlfriend knows because I have a hard time shutting up about it though I try. Really.

This is part of my happy celebration on the plateau before resuming the climb.
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Journal: Notes on Unix Power Tools 3d Ed.

Journal by ir0b0t
This book by Shelley Powers, Jerry Peek, Tim O'Reilly and Mike Loukides is a well written balance of historically grounded concept articles and straight forward how-to information.

I'm using the book to assist me in my ongoing (started as a hobby) project of migrating my small law office to full open source code. Now that I no longer boot Windows on my office desktop, my need for and interest in command-line syntax has sharply increased.

This book not only teaches unix-style syntax but clarifies along the way the reasons for differences in syntax between BSD, System V or Linux style versions. That clarification puts the focus on the purpose and context of the command in question which makes the overall subject easier to understand and remember.

There are so very many, many books out there purporting to do the same for coders and non-coders alike, but this one is a standout success. It is well written enough that it reminds me of books on non-technical subjects like Steven Levy's Hackers, Petzold's Code or Freiberger and Swaine, Fire in the Valley.

I hope to find more code books written in this style of historical concept first with cookbook-style augmentation by practical examples second. Its usually the latter with none of the former.

It would be terrific to find one about the history of machine and control code level coding in personal computers over the past 20 years, particularly as related to the various unix philosophies and their differences against the backdrop of the growth of consumer-focused proprietary systems.

In the meantime, I will watch for what else the authors have done. I wish I could give them a prize.

Its too rare to find such gifted writers on subject matter as potentially inaccessible to lay readers as code. This book evokes the wonder, mystery, excitement and promise of the personal computer.
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Journal: law office notes

Journal by ir0b0t
It turns out that its easier and more effective to use the spreadsheet from Open Office to handle office finances. Gnucash is not ready.

I created one spreadsheet each for accounts payable, accounts receivable, trust balances and timekeeping.

The timekeeping spreadsheet tracks my time and expenses on one sheet and describes my activities on another sheet. The sheets are grouped by financial quarter.

My staff use the information on the spreadsheets to create invoices. I use the information to doublecheck the bookkeeping and reconcile the bank accounts.

I open all of the mail and enter bills into my a/p spreadsheet before passing them along to the bookkeeper. I do the same with payments and deposits in the a/r and trust spreadsheets.

This approach has given me a much finer grained control than I ever had with Timeslips or Quickbooks Pro.
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Journal: Linux Law Office: Next Steps

Journal by ir0b0t
Linux is working out well on my desktop machine in my law office. I haven't had to boot my XP partition for about two weeks now. The system does everything my former XP system used to do except run Quickbooks. Gnucash imports from Quickbooks so that problem ends this week.

Next steps? I'm going to add features to the office and then figure out a way to share the info with other interested lawyers and other professionals working on social justice issues. I'm leaning toward a website so that when I attend the next NLADA conference, I can show lawyers at the OSI cybercafe what the system will do.

Before the year is out, I expect to add intra-office text messaging, remote login, automated backups and envelope addressing. That last one is particularly galling right now. My secretary has to address all envelopes on her machine with MS Word because Open Office won't address envelopes correctly.

The sharing forum will likely be a website with user accounts and lots of disclaimers.

"Be *excellent* to each other." -- Bill, or Ted, in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

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