Thursday, January 28, 2010

More on Cell Phones

As long term readers know, I've long been in search of a better pocket computer/web browser/cell phone. Recent developments:

1. I spent some time with a Droid at a Verizon store and found that, although the physical keyboard is very poor, the on screen keyboard is considerably better than I expected—in part because it provides good visual feedback as you type.

2. While the Android OS does not provide support for bluetooth keyboards in its bluetooth stack, there is now third party software that permits some, but not all, bluetooth keyboards to work with an Android phone. It supports SPP keyboards but not HID ones. Unfortunately, the folding bluetooth keyboard I already own is HID, so I have not yet had a chance to try out the KeyPro software.

Combining these two, I'm wondering if my insistance on a phone with a physical keyboard is a mistake. I might be better off getting a phone with a large screen and no keyboard, plus a suitable bluetooth keyboard to use when I want to enter substantial amounts of text—posting to this blog or Usenet, or editing a book manuscript. That would give me a pretty good laptop substitute. It wouldn't run the same software as my desktop but it would handle the same word processing documents, and I could manage email by a combination of gmail and web access to the server that holds my Eudora mail. It's tempting.

One obvious candidate is the Google phone. One limitation of that is that it doesn't yet run on Verizon, which seems to be generally agreed to have the best 3G network. One problem with most Verizon phones is that Verizon uses a different system from everyone else, with the result that its phones mostly won't work abroad and can not be shifted to another carrier. The one exception I know of is the Touch Pro 2. The Verizon version works both on Verizon and abroad, and I gather it is physically capable of working on (at least) the AT&T and T-Mobile networks, although set up not to. It also has a big screen and a better keyboard than the Droid. Unfortunately, it runs Windows Mobile, and I'm inclined to stick with Android if possible.

Another possibility is the HTC Supersonic, which is apparently an Android version of the HD2, currently available in Europe. It has an even bigger screen than the others and a faster processor. On the other hand, if rumors are correct, it's headed for the Sprint network.

If HTC would produce a Verizon/worldphone version of the Supersonic, or Google produce the equivalent for their phone ... . And while I'm dreaming, perhaps the next upgrade to Android will include HID support in the bluetooth stack.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Jewish and Irish Law

I've been trying to make sense of two different legal systems in order to include them in my seminar this spring. Part of the fun is noticing connections.

One of the striking features of ancient Irish law is that it was privately enforced. If the judge rules that Shawn owes Ian the value of 15 cows as compensation for an injury but Shawn declines to pay, Ian's response is not to ask some authority to enforce the verdict—there is no authority responsible for enforcing court verdicts. It isn't even, as in the corresponding Icelandic situation, to go back to the court and have Shawn outlawed.

The Irish solution is distraint. The first step is for Ian to formally give notice to Shawn that he intends to seize fifteen of his cows. Shawn then has a period of from one to five days—the exact length depends on the details of the case—in which to pay up. If he doesn't, Ian is entitled to enter Shawn's land early the next morning, accompanied by a professional law agent, seize fifteen cattle, and drive them to a private pound, a field on his own property or, with permission, on someone else's.

There is then another period of days during which Shawn can pay up and get his cattle back. Once that has expired, the final stage of the process begins. Each day, cattle to a specified value forfeit to Ian, until eventually all fifteen have forfeited and the debt has thus been paid.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one interesting feature of Jewish law is the way in which it deals with ambiguous cases. If it is unclear whether Joseph does or does not owe a certain amount to Simeon, the usual rule is that the court will not compel Joseph to pay but, if Simeon has seized property of Joseph's corresponding to the amount Joseph might owe him, the court won't compel Simeon to give it back. The underlying principle is that the court can only make you pay money if there is reasonable proof that you owe it. There is no proof Joseph owes the money, so the court won't make him pay it. There is no proof Joseph doesn't owe the money, so if Simeon has seized it the court won't make him give it back.

Comparing the two systems, the obvious suspicion is that Jewish law is built on the remnants of something like Irish law, a system where plaintiffs executed their own judgments by seizing property. In the version of the law that we encounter in Maimonides, the Talmud, and the Mishnah it is assumed that by the time the court gets involved in the case, the plaintiff may already have taken action on his own behalf. Doing so creates a new status quo, and the court requires adequate proof—that the money was not owed—to change it.