November 5, 2014

Anger Erupts over Starbucks’ Revised Dress Code

Starbucks employees have been told that engagement rings and other precious gems need to stay at home in the jewelry box — and out of the workplace.

On the other hand, according to the new dress code, tattoos and nose studs are acceptable.

According to the new guidelines: “At Starbucks, we aim high to create a warm and inviting third place environment . . . As a partner, your appearance is a reflection of the Starbucks brand and how we show up collectively is important to our customers. At the same time, we want to build a company where self-expression, empowerment and inclusion are nurtured.”


October 31, 2014

Can police force you to unlock your smartphone with your fingerprint?§

A Circuit Court judge has ruled that a criminal defendant can be compelled to give up his fingerprint, but not his pass code, to allow police to open and search his cellphone.

Judge Steven C. Frucci ruled this week that giving police a fingerprint is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample or an actual key, which the law permits.

A pass code, though, requires the defendant to divulge knowledge, which the law protects against, according to Frucci’s written opinion.


October 24, 2014

Major League Baseball’s Growing Strike Zone§

The pitch from Sergio Romo of the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the ninth inning crossed just below Bryce Harper’s knee, and the umpire barked, “Strike,” to Harper’s obvious frustration.

As important as [this call] was in the Giants-Nationals series, Harper’s at-bat also had a larger significance. It was typical of a subtle change in Major League Baseball’s strike zone that has had a profound impact on baseball in the last several seasons.

The strike zone is bigger than it used to be, especially around batters’ knees.

The change appears to stem from the league’s growing use of video technology to evaluate umpires, which has led umpires to stick more closely to the official strike zone.

According to the rule book, the strike zone extends down to “the hollow beneath the kneecap.”

The enlarged strike zone, in turn, seems to be a major reason that strikeouts have risen and scoring has dropped sharply.

strike zone

Defacing Currency

The defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code.

According to this provision:

“Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”



October 23, 2014

Restrictions on Riding in Cargo Areas of Pickup Trucks

Several states, including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming have no state laws prohibiting people from riding unrestricted in cargo areas, such as the backs of pickup trucks.

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See an interactive map from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

September 18, 2014

Your Data is Safe with iOS 8§

Apple said Wednesday night that it is making it impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads to police — even when they have a search warrant.

The move, announced with the publication of a new privacy policy tied to the release of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, amounts to an engineering solution to a legal quandary.

Rather than comply with binding court orders, Apple has reworked its latest encryption in a way that prevents the company — or anyone but the device’s owner — from gaining access to the vast troves of user data typically stored on smartphones or tablet computers.

August 27, 2014

Can You Own Likes?§

Collect all the “likes” you want on Facebook. They’re not really yours.

So says a district court judge in Florida, cutting down a woman’s attempt to wrestle several million Facebook “likes” away from BET’s official fan page for its comedy-drama The Game.

James Cohn, the judge in Mattocks’s case, dismissed the idea of owning someone else’s approval.

“’Liking’ a Facebook Page simply means that the user is expressing his or her enjoyment or approval of the content.”

“So if anyone can be deemed to own the ‘likes’ on a Page, it is the individual user responsible for them.”

See Mattocks v. Black Entertainment Television.

August 26, 2014

The $22 Gadget Creating Turbulence in the Skies§

An argument over legroom on a weekend flight led United Airlines to divert a plane to Chicago and call authorities, the airline said Tuesday.

According to Chicago police, a 47-year-old man and a 48-year-old woman sitting in front of him got into an altercation after the female passenger realized she could not recline her seat.

The Associated Press reported that the man was using the Knee Defender, a plastic device that clips onto the tray table and prevents the seat ahead from reclining back.

According to the Associated Press, while the Knee Defender does not violate any FFA regulations, United Airlines and all other major U.S. airlines prohibit the device on their flights.

August 25, 2014

Employers: Watch Your Employees’ Posts§

In the last few years, we’ve seen how the private social media activity of employees can get employers in trouble for violating a variety of laws.

Now you can add the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to the list.

In Shoun v. Best Formed Plastics, Inc., 2014 WL 2815483 (N.D. Ind. June 23, 2014), a federal judge held that an employer may be liable under the ADA for an employee’s Facebook comments about the medical condition of a co-worker.

According to the plaintiff, the snarky message posted by his co-worker was visible to the business community, resulting in a “loss of employment, impairment of his earning capacity, emotional distress, humiliation, and mental pain and suffering.”

See Shoun v. Best Formed Plastics, Inc.

Google’s Self-Driving Car Meets Roadblock§

Google’s goal of an autonomous car is bumping up against new testing rules from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

The rules, which take effect on Sept. 16, require a driver to be able to take “immediate physical control” of a vehicle on public roads if needed. That means the car must have a steering wheel and brake and accelerator pedals . . .

[Google] said it plans to comply with the California rule by building a small, temporary steering wheel and pedal system that drivers can use during testing.

August 20, 2014

(Online) Life after Death?§

In a move that could augur changes on the national level, Delaware last week passed a law that will . . . grant family members, executors and heirs total control over a person’s digital accounts after his death, the same way it grants those rights over physical documents.

It’s . . . the first state to conclusively answer what has become, in recent years, a particularly troubling question: When so much of our lives play out online … what happens to our online lives when we die?

Under current law . . . most states classify digital and physical property differently, and most social networks and tech companies prohibit the sharing of passwords.

August 19, 2014

Google Accounts for Kids§

Google plans to offer accounts to children under 13 years old for the first time, a move that will take the world’s largest Internet search provider into a controversial and operationally complex new market.

Google and most other Internet companies tread carefully because of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. The law imposes strict limits on how information about children under 13 is collected; it requires parents’ consent and tightly controls how that data can be used for advertising. (Companies are not liable if customers lie to them about user ages).

August 14, 2014

$6,500 Tickets?§

New high-tech ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber say they are cheaper than a taxi, quicker and friendlier. But Salt Lake City contends they essentially are unlicensed taxi services and is cracking down by issuing expensive tickets to drivers.

The city uses “secret shopper” tactics to ride on Lyft or Uber, then later sends a ticket by registered letter to drivers.

“Current regulations surrounding taxis and limos were created long before anything like Lyft’s peer-to-peer model was imagined,” the company’s Dally said.

Salt Lake City still plans to require individual Lyft or Uber drivers to be licensed by the city.

The city wants the new companies to succeed, but live by the rules.

August 13, 2014

FDA: Regulating Social Media Accounts Since 2012§

Over the last two years . . . companies have found themselves in the sights of the FDA after the regulator warned them for violating federal advertising regulations by “liking” unapproved claims on the social networking website Facebook.

In February 2012, FDA sent a letter to supplement marketer AMARC Enterprises after FDA investigators found that the company had “liked” claims made by customers that AMARC’s products had cured their cancer.

FDA has issued 11 Warning Letters regarding the improper use of Twitter to promote products, [but] none have mentioned the use of a Twitter feature similar to Facebook’s “Like” button: The “Favorite.”

If FDA can chide a company for “liking” a post . . . it can surely do so for “favoriting” a post as well, and even more easily now thanks to the change in which favorite tweets are prominently displayed on a user’s profile.

August 12, 2014

Banned Public Sector Jargon in the U.K.

According to the U.K. Government’s Style Guide, the following buzzwords and jargon should not be used in government publications:

  • agenda (unless it’s for a meeting)
  • advancing
  • collaborate (use ‘working with’)
  • combating
  • commit/pledge (we need to be more specific – we’re either doing something or we’re not)
  • countering
  • deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’)
  • deploy (unless it’s military or software)
  • dialogue (we speak to people)
  • disincentivise (and incentivise)
  • empower
  • facilitate (instead, say something specific about how you are helping)
  • focusing
  • foster (unless it’s children)
  • impact (as a verb)
  • initiate
  • key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’)
  • land (as a verb. Only use if you are talking about aircraft)
  • leverage (unless in the financial sense)
  • liaise
  • overarching
  • progress (as a verb – what are you actually doing?)
  • promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or some other marketing promotion)
  • robust
  • slimming down (processes don’t diet – we are probably removing x amount of paperwork etc)
  • streamline
  • strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)
  • tackling (unless it’s rugby, football or some other sport)
  • transforming (what are you actually doing to change it?)
  • utilise

See the style guide in its entirety.

A Lesson on Limiting Sentence Length from Gov.UK§

If you have sentences longer than 25 words, try to break them up or condense them. If you can’t, make sure they’re in plain English.

Writing guru Ann Wylie describes research showing that when average sentence length is 14 words, readers understand more than 90% of what they’re reading. At 43 words, comprehension drops to less than 10%.

See Ann Wylie’s conclusion.

Studies also show that sentences of 11 words are considered easy to read, while those of 21 words are fairly difficult. At 25 words, sentences become difficult, and 29 words or longer, very difficult.

SeeLonger the Sentence, Greater the Strain.’

This is partly because people tend to scan, not read. In fact, most people only read around 25% of what’s on a page. This means it’s important to get information across quickly.

It’s easy to assume this isn’t the case for highly literate readers or people considered experts. Yet the more educated a person is, and the more specialist their knowledge, the more they want it in plain English.

August 11, 2014

‘Clinical Definitions’ Control Meaning of ‘Intellectual Disability’§

The Supreme Court’s decision in Hall v. Florida holds that “clinical definitions” control the meaning of intellectual disability in the death penalty context. In other words, the Court “scientized” the definition of intellectual disability.

This article discusses the implications of this unprecedented move. It also introduces the idea of scientific stare decisis — a requirement that groups that are scientifically alike be treated similarly for culpability purposes — as a means of implementing the scientization process.

See the paper, available from the Social Science Research Network.

The Better Life Index: Connecting Policy to Happiness§

Gross Domestic Product alone cannot measure quality of life.

The Better Life Index is beginning to paint a better picture of what people are looking for.

“This is a potentially enormously powerful policy instrument going beyond GDP, to inform governments of what people want and what keeps them awake at night.”

The Better Life Index could even improve democracy by connecting policies to people’s lives.

See the OECD’s Better Life Index, and hear the full story below.

August 8, 2014

Study: Americans Don’t Know When to Seek Legal Help§

Despite the common thinking that people don’t hire lawyers due to concerns about the cost of legal services, the study findings suggest that “Americans do not take most of their justice situations to lawyers or courts for another very important reason: they do not understand these situations to be legal.”

The study found that the most common method for dealing with civil justice situations is self-help, which was used by 46 percent of the survey participants.

Only 15 percent said they seek help from a third-party advisor or representative, which might include clergy members, elected officials, social workers and government agencies as well as lawyers and courts.

See the newly-released findings.

Monkey Takes a Selfie§

In the recently-released transparency report issued by the Wikimedia Foundation, it appears that David Slater, the owner of the ill-fated camera, has asked Wikipedia to take down the photograph from its site on the grounds that it infringes his rights in the photo.

See the request in Wikimedia’s transparency report.

Wikipedia apparently declined – not (as some have reported) because it has decided that the monkey owns the copyright, but because it has decided that nobody owns the copyright in the photo.

If the monkey took the photo . . . nobody owns the copyright; nonhumans cannot own copyright. Slater has no copyright claim, because the photo was not his original work – it was the monkey’s.

But monkeys can’t own copyright.