Can I create a syllabus with Node-RED?

Node-RED is a programming tool for wiring together hardware devices, APIs and online services in new and interesting ways. It provides a browser-based editor that makes it easy to wire together flows using the wide range of nodes in the palette that can be deployed to its runtime in a single-click.

Here’s an idea: use the low code browser based flow design tools of Node-RED to create a syllabus of online resources. Since Node-RED can work with APIs and I have an API for CALI resources, I should be able to use Node-RED tools to design a syllabus as a flowchart through a series of resources.

I suspect there are a few missing pieces here like a program or routine to step through the flow created by Node-RED and a system from tracking results that talks to Node-RED. The pieces are likely buildable one identified. The result would be a programmed learning environment using Node-RED as a primary component.

Some love for Slack, our favorite group communication tool

VentureBeat: 10 things I love about Slack.

CALI has been using Slack for about a year and we love it. It has replaced our group mailing list as the primary way we communicate. We use it not just to talk to one another but we have it wired into things like Github and Nagios to help us keep track of things we’re doing and to alert ids to trouble with our systems. Very soon we’re going to invite more folks we talk to regularly to join us on Slack as a way to increase our communication with our members.

All in all I’d recommend Slack for any group as a great way to get folks telling till each other.

Managing The Transition From Print Books to Digital Resources

Introductory Note»


Overtime the CALI eLangdell Project has morphed and evolved starting starting as a radical attempt to revolutionize course materials in legal education and leading to the founding of a more traditional ebook imprint that today provides free, CC licensed casebooks and supplementary materials to legal education. One constant has remained over this transition: how to manage the transition from print to digital formats. This transition, required of both authors and readers, is a difficult one and more complex in the education space than in the leisure reading space. I will tell you now that I don’t have  definitive answer to this problem, but I have some ideas.

Much of the focus with eLangdell is on the authoring of material and that will be my focus for the balance of this piece. The creation of digital legal education materials, like any another form of creation, is hard work. Making it more difficult are the habits and assumptions of our author pool. Like textbook authors everywhere, authors of legal casebooks come to the table with a career full of assumptions about being an author. They are writing for print. They expect long lead times with only occasional updates. They want a physical artifact, a book, that memorializes their effort. None of this really applies in the digital world. The material may never be printed. It needs to produced with a sense of immediacy and the ability to quickly and frequently update. There will not be a physical artifact to put on a shelf.

To successfully manage the transition from print books to digital resources these three points need to be dealt with to change the way authors create. And it isn’t going to be easy.

Producing real digital resources, forgetting about print

Authors, and most everyone else, still write for print. The tools we use are often intended to produce beautiful printed pages. Printed on paper. With all the limitations and structure that comes with the printed page. Word processors are designed to first mimic typewriters. Typewriters strike an image of type to a paper page. When an author sits down and opens Microsoft Word all the metaphors of the print world are brought to bear. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if that’s what you want to do.

Creating digital resources requires a different approach. A key feature of the digital realm is the ability to separate content and presentation. Separate the words from the page. Producing content for this environment is fundamentally different than producing content for print where content and presentation are typically tightly linked. Word processors conflate content and presentation in such a way that the two are difficult to separate. This leads to great difficulty in moving word processor documents into the truly digital realm.

The solution is to scrap word processors as we know them today and use a more basic text editor with a limited amount of readable markup to create the digital resources that will replace print books. Text markup languages such as AsciiDoctor and  Markdown and more sophisticated XML schemes like HTML and DocBook provide the sort of markup that allows the author to create reusable content that still conveys information about what the author intends to emphasize. That is to say, you can still use bold and italics and notes to get your point across.

Once word processors are scrapped the exact tool and even the markup language used become less important than the actual content produced. There are many very capable text editors, some, like the one I’m using now, are on the web and run in your browser from anywhere. Others are desktop programs that run locally like your old word processor. All produce marked up text that is not just content but data that be reused and reformatted.

By making the switch from writing for print to writing for digital, the author brings the focus back to the content being created. And that should be of primary importance, especially to legal educators.

Digital content is live, now and forever

Writing for print brings with it the long lead times and occasional updates of the printed book. Writing for digital is more immediate, and allows for frequent updates and revisions. Creating a digital resource means releasing a work that will be forever live on the network. That may sound a little scary, but it isn’t meant to be. Authors creating digital content just need to be aware that once the content is released it will be out there, somewhere, for a very long time.

The best tools for creating digital resource allow for the frequent updating and revising of the work. This is one of the great things about writing digital. In the legal education realm this means being able to revise your materials to include the latest changes in the law as the changes occur. No more waiting 2 years for a pocket part that includes changes that are already a year old. Updating and revising become a more regular part of the authoring process.

Writing digital provides for easier collaboration, making those updates and a revisions a kind of community exercise. Gone are the days of sending word processor files around and the endless effort to make sure that work is incorporated properly. Again we can use readily available tools to manage digital resource creation in such a way that multiple authors can work in harmony without spending valuable time tripping over each other.

Not a physical artifact, but a web site

Writing for print implies that you are writing for the grandest of print prizes, a book. A book is a physical artifact that contains the printed writing of the author. The things that the author does in the word processor are with an eye toward what is going to come out on a printed page, and ultimately a book. Writing for digital is a whole other animal. Since creating digital resources is more about content than presentation that means that writing digital can result in a web site, a wiki, a blog, a podcast, series of tweets, a slide show, a PDF, even a physical book. It really doesn’t matter about the final container of the content so long as the content is free to be loaded into the container. And creating that content is what writing digital is all about.

The movement away from the print book as the final end game of authorship is something that will take a lot of getting used to, but it is going to happen. And it will liberate authors from constraints they didn’t even realize they had. In legal education it means creating learning resources that are interactive, collaborative, and current in a format that allows for the free flow of the content in the format appropriate for the teacher and student.

Like this post the road from print to digital is long, unclear, and confusing, but it is a road we need to travel.


I talk to a lot of people and read a lot of material about ideas and concepts surrounding ebooks especially as related to the CALI eLangdell project. Some of the things discussed below will undoubtedly sound familiar to John Mayer, Deb Quentel, Sarah Glassmeyer, and others. I just want to acknowledge upfront that some of their ideas are included below.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5

And Who Says Law Students Wouldn’t Benefit From More Tech Training?

Frustrated by ridiculous bills for routine “commodity” matters, Flaherty decided to strike back, and recently launched his technology audit program, where firms bidding for Kia’s business must bring a top associate for a live test of their skills using basic, generic business tech tools such as Microsoft Word and Excel, for simple, rudimentary tasks.

So far, the track record is zero. Nine firms have taken the test, and all failed. One firm flunked twice.

“The audit should take one hour,” said Flaherty, “but the average pace is five hours.” In real life, that adds up to a whole lot of wasted money, he said. Flaherty uses the test to help him decide winners of the beauty contests, and to set rates and set performance goals. “I take 5 percent off every bill until they pass the test.”

via Big Law Whipped for Poor Tech Training.

This article is full of fun facts including things like less than 30% of associates know how to use the save to PDF function of Word with the rest printing then scanning documents to PDF. The reality here is that just because someone knows how to turn on computer and start typing does not mean they have any idea how to use the machine or the applications needed to function in the profession. Seriously, buying stuff on eBay should not be considered an advanced computer skill.

This presents a huge opportunity for the legal ed tech community (let’s call them Teknoids) to step up and provide the sort of instruction and training that is needed to turn smart law students into techno-capable lawyers. The practice of law is becoming more and more technical every day. Innovations in practice technology are requiring an increasing level of sophistication that isn’t going to get picked up on the street. Law students need training in the use of technical tools of their chosen profession. It is that simple.

I think this calls for something well beyond the LPM seminar or other small classes that reach only a fraction of the students. This sort of training needs to be required of each and every law student. Some of it can be added to the required research and writing programs as sessions that look at the features, basic and advanced, of standard software tools like word processors and spreadsheets. Make those programs paperless. Require students to use available tools to create PDFs and submit their work electronically. Require faculty to review and comment on the work in the same electronic format. Simply being able to master these tasks would probably get most law students through the audit described in the article.

Perhaps law schools should develop their own tech audit, a sort of technical bar exam. Students who complete the exercises would receive a certificate that indicates they’ve achieved a certain level of technical competency in a set of software tools. Wouldn’t it be great if law schools had access to some sort of platform to create these sorts of exercises, distribute them to students, track student results, and issue certifications? You with me here? This is something that could be done with the CALI platform. CALI Author for creating and authoring the exercises, Classcaster for Lesson distribution, the CALI Lesson system for student tracking. It’s all there, just waiting for someone to pick it up and run with it.

How about it Teknoids? Care to step up and get a piece of the change coming to legal education?


Flipping The Legal Classroom Featured At #CALIcon13

The flipped classroom concept has been seeing a lot more attention in law schools of late. The idea is that students learn basic concepts outside of the classroom, typically through reading or the use of recorded lectures or lessons, and then come to the classroom to learn how to apply their new knowledge, discuss key concepts in depth, and demonstrate mastery of the material. in many ways this not so different from the traditional Socratic method employed in many law school lecture halls.

This year’s CALI Conference for Law School Computing, June 13 – 15, 2013, at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law features a number of sessions devoted to the flipped classroom. Three sessions will explore the real world application of the concept in different law schools around the United States and Canada. Other sessions will explore topics related to changes in the way the law is being taught including developing and using electronic course materials, building distance education components for courses, the use of gaming theory in teaching law, and the use of collaborative tools.

The sessions the deal directly with the flipped classroom model are:

Other sessions that touch on changing how law is taught include:

If you are interested in changes happening in legal education today and in interacting with the folks putting those changes into practice in law schools around the country, you should be in Chicago for the 23rd Annual CALI Conference for Law School Computing, June 13 -15 2013 at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Did you know you can video archives of past CALIcons on the CALI Youtube channel?


**Disclaimer: I’m CALI’s Internet guy and am responsible for organizing the CALIcon agenda.

CALI’s Looking For a Sys Admin, Here’s A Brief History

Usually I might not be too keen to lose some of my job responsibilities, but in this case I couldn’t be happier. CALI is adding a systems administrator to wrangle all our servers, more than 20 at last count, on a full time basis. Since I started working at CALI 9 years ago my time has been split between web/database/cool project development and administering CALI’s servers and systems.

Back in 2003 that meant riding herd on an aging Windows NT server, a Win2K server handling some video streaming, and a couple of dark servers whose futures where not yet set. Of course the servers where in Chicago and I was in Atlanta. Things changed rapidly. The dark servers where brought online running Linux and our production web and storage systems where built out on the LAMP stack. Within a couple of years I added 3 servers at Emory in Atlanta to handle the increased demand for CALI services and resources online.

It wasn’t very long before we were struggling with large spikes in demand that were taxing our servers and we needed a better solution. Simply increasing the amount of hardware we owned wasn’t really an option since we were borrowing space and bandwidth from the law schools at Kent and Emory. At just the right time, Amazon Web Services came along and CALI jumped into the cloud.

Moving our web infrastructure to the AWS cloud gave us tremendous flexibility at a reasonable cost. After some trial and error I was able to configure a load-balanced web cluster that could be scaled up and down as demand for CALI resources and services flowed over the course of an academic year. Using the cloud meant that I could provision some services on their own servers so that things like Apache Solr and Asterisk could stand alone. As a result of the move to the cloud, by the beginning of 2011 I found myself administering 15 to 20 servers in the cloud alone (exact numbers depended on the time of year) plus another half dozen physical servers in 2 geographically dispersed locations.

All that sounds like a full time job itself, but that was only half the job. While all that infrastructure was being built out I was also developing 3 different versions of the CALI website, the Classcaster phone-to-blog system, a couple of iterations of eLangdell, the Free Law Reporter, and dealing with various other projects. Working on these development projects is what I really enjoy, but they often get pushed aside since I need to keep the servers running as a priority.

Now CALI is hiring a systems administrator to take over (or clean up) the running of our infrastructure. I’m looking forward to handing the keys of the cloud over to someone else so I can focus on all of the great projects that are in the pipeline. When can you start?

Details on the CALI sys admin job, which is located in our Chicago office, are at

Free Law Reporter – My Roadmap

Now that the Free Law Reporter (FLR) has had a few weeks to settle processing Public.Resource.Org’s Report of Current Opinions (RECOP) XML feeds into valid HTML and making sure .epub ebooks is working (I even released the code on github), I thought it might be time to lay out where I see FLR heading in the coming months. Right now (5/17/11) you can visit FLR, search through slip opinions from over 60 state and federal jurisdictions, view the documents in HTML, download complete FLR volumes by jurisdiction as ebooks, and download all documents in a search result as an ebook.

Using this as a foundation, I will be adding several additional features to FLR over the coming months:

  • Advanced search and analysis features to tap the power of Solr
  • Create a library to provide a single point of access to the FLR volumes
  • Select specific documents from search results or browsing to add to custom ebooks
  • Increase the size of the corpus that makes up the Free Law Reporter
  • Edit selected documents from search results or browsing to create truly custom ebooks
  • Provide tools for the community to add value to the Free Law Reporter
  • Citations

The milestones that follow will occur in roughly the order they are listed, but there is no set time table for implementing these features. This is due primarily to the other development projects I have on my plate including the main CALI website, Classcaster, eLangdell, Legal Education Commons, and the CALIcon website.

As you will note a number of the features I have in mind for the FLR will require significant community involvement to really materialize. In this context, I see the community as law librarians, law faculty, and law school technologists with an interest in seeing open and unencumbered access to legal resources for everyone.


Advanced search and analysis features to tap the power of Solr – The index, analysis, and search features of the FLR are powered by Apache Solr. Right now I am exposing only a minimum of its potential to provide very basic searching of FLR documents. An advanced search option will provide Boolean operators, phrase and term proximity queries, sub queries, and date range queries. The facet search and “More like this” features of Solr will be exposed to provide drill-down capabilities and access to related documents. All of these will provide a much richer and more robust search environment for locating documents.

All of this development will be done in the open with the hope that the community will get involved in shaping how documents are indexed and analyzed, search is done, and results are displayed. Because Solr is an open source project, we have access to the complete inner workings of the engine. Imagine being able to tune Google specifically for legal resources or adjust WestLawNext to work better for law students and faculty. Those are the sorts of things that can be done with FLR because we have control over the system.

Create a library to provide a single point of access to the FLR volumes – With dozens of volumes being added to the FLR every week finding things becomes an issue. Right now search of the corpus returns links to volumes of the FLR that contain specific opinions allowing for the download of ebooks. That isn’t really helpful if all you want is to download the latest Iowa volume to your ereader. I will add a central library mechanism to track all of those volumes as they are created weekly. This work will be done using the Open Publication Distribution System (OPDS) Catalog specification which will generate feeds that can be consumed by various ereaders and will help locate and track FLR volumes. This OPDS feed will act as an interface that will allow community access to the FLR library. Using the OPDS feed, law libraries could add the Free Law Reporter to their local collections.

Select specific documents from search results or browsing to add to custom ebooks – Right now you can save the complete results from an FLR search as an ebook. While useful, this approach has drawbacks including the fact that all of the documents returned by your search may not ultimately be relevant to your search. I will add the ability to review documents returned in a search and select which documents get included in the ebook. That means that the custom FLR volumes you create will be more relevant to your needs. These custom volumes will be assigned a URL and saved in the FLR library so that they can be shared and downloaded again in the future.

This custom ebook feature will provide a way for  faculty and law librarians to assemble custom volumes of FLR documents that can be shared with students or added to a law library’s local collection. With a some work the community can create custom law reporters that are focused on a single topic.

Increase the size of the corpus that makes up the Free Law Reporter – Right now the FLR contains just the slip opinions from Carl Malamud’s RECOP feeds. That means it covers documents issued by over 60 state and federal jurisdictions since about January 1, 2011. This is a very limited scope for a project with this much potential. To expand the scope of the corpus, I plan on adding the approximately 1,000,000 other federal court opinions available on the Public.Resource.Org website. This will push the depth of the FLR collection to include many of the opinions in the Federal Reporter series. I will also add various other sets of documents that are available as HTML (or in XML that can be transformed) such as the U.S. Code to the collection. The addition of these documents will provide greater context for results found through the FLR search interface and more material that can be used to create custom ebooks.

While U.S. Federal material is relatively easy to obtain and incorporate into the FLR, state level material is more difficult to locate and add to the FLR. Certainly the RECOP feeds provide good access to state appellate court material from January 1, 2011 forward, but the backfile of state court opinions is harder to come by. Likewise state codes and statutes are often difficult to locate and are usually not available in a downloadable format. Community involvement will be the key to building out the state collections in the FLR. Law librarians are an excellent resource for locating state legal materials and I would encourage them to work with state courts and governments to  obtain access to downloadable opinions and codes that can be incorporated into the FLR.

Edit selected documents from search results or browsing to create truly custom ebooks – It follows that once you can select specific documents for inclusion in custom FLR volumes, you will want to be able edit those documents to highlight specific points and/or add commentary. Because the source documents for FLR volumes are HTML, I will be able to provide this feature as part of a process that will allow you to search or browse for documents, select those documents for inclusion in a custom ebook, edit those documents as you see fit, and add your own chapters to the ebook. Once the selection and editing is complete you will be able to save the volume and you will be provided with URL for the volume that you can share or use to download the ebook.

As with the simple selection and publishing features, this feature will provide a way for faculty and law librarians to assemble custom volumes of FLR documents that can be shared with students or added to a law library’s local collection. With a some work, the community can create things like annotated law reporters and statute books. Law faculty can create customized course materials for their students.

Provide tools for the community to add value to the Free Law Reporter – One of the major feature sets I plan to add to the FLR are tools that will allow the community to add value to the collections. For example, tools for adding head notes to a document, tagging a document, and adding commentary to a document. These will provide the community with the capability to enhance and extend the value of the FLR. We all need to get involved in making the Free Law Reporter into a resource that is of great value to students, researchers, and the public, a resource that provides free and unencumbered access to legal materials to those who need to learn about the law.

Citations – I have already been asked several times about how one would cite to the Free Law Reporter. My answer has been that right now I would not cite to the Free Law Reporter. The FLR currently only contains slip opinions that are available more easily elsewhere and any citation should be to the more easily available and recognizable source. I do realize that this is not a satisfactory answer. As the FLR grows it will need to be citable and that is very complicated problem. I have included unique identifiers and lots of metadata in the documents added to the FLR so far. What I would like to see happen is that we talk about this and take the opportunity presented by a new law reporter published in a new medium to figure out the best way to create citations for the FLR. I would suggest using the FLR discussion forum for this.


This is where I see the Free Law Reporter headed over the coming months. The FLR project is important because it is intended to create  a resource that provides free and unencumbered access to legal materials to those who need to learn about the law. It is important because it will provide a way for a community of law librarians and faculty to come together to create this valuable resource.

Disclaimer – The Free Law Reporter is a CALI project. This roadmap is where I would like to see the  FLR go and it is not intended to commit CALI to any particular direction on the project.


Update on the National Inventory of Legal Materials

Now there are 195 volunteers across the country working on federal and state level inventory projects, as it is now a full-fledged activity of the American Association of Law Libraries.  This project marries very nicely with AALL’s continued leadership and advocacy on  topics ranging from permanent public access to authentication to official status of online legal materials.   Much of this work draws and builds upon the fine work of the AALL Electronic Legal Information Access and Citation Committee.

National Inventory of Legal Materials – Bits and Pieces « Legal Research Plus.

Article provides updates on what is going on with the NILM. There is a round table discussion of NILM scheduled for 6/25/10 at CALIcon.

Hewlett Foundation Awards $1.5 Million Grant for Open Textbooks

The third and last of Monday’s news developments also comes in the digital textbook arena — but from the free, rather than for-profit, perspective. The Community College Collaborative for Open Educational Resources said the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation had given it $1.5 million in new funds to expand its work, which focuses on increasing the number of free, online textbooks and training community college instructors on how best to use such books. Its main resource, the Community College Open Textbook Project, has dozens of college members and seeks to significantly expand the number of freely available digital textbooks it makes available.

via News: Textbook Bonanza – Inside Higher Ed.

Would be really nice if CALI could come up with some grant money to fund development of our open education resources projects including eLangdell and the Legal Education Commons.