Saturday, May 31, 2008

Spelling Bee ...

Ok, this is going to show just how lame I am. Friday night, instead of going out and having fun I sat home and watched the National Spelling Bee. Since English is my second language, I have always struggled with spelling. Last night the winner of the bee won by spelling "guerdon"- something that one has earned or gained.

It was actually really exciting watching all the kids go up against each other and be taken down one by one. Some of them cried. You can't ask for more drama. I am glad I took the time to watch this.

I learned something. I always wondered how kids were able to compete when english is such a retarded language ("ph" should NOT make an 'F" sound!). When the kids are asked a question they can ask its definition and for it to be used in a sentence (this I knew), but they can also ask about different pronunciations and the entomology. If you encounter a word that you don't know, you can make a really good guess about it's spelling from the history of the word. For example, english words that come from french words might have that silent "e" at the end. I guess language does make sense.

P.S. I played along with the kids trying to spell the words and only got about 20% of them right, and that's being generous because sometimes I accidentally cheated by looking up at the TV screen.

Friday, May 30, 2008


From a techer friend doing a stint with the Peace Corps in South America, taken from Caltech dorm alley bathroom stall.

"The plural of anecdote is not data"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to Cheat and Bypass Examsoft....

This guide will show you how to start Microsoft Word to view notes during a live Examsoft test.



UPDATE 2: Yeah, I'm really not going to update this. I reiterate again, THIS METHOD DOES NOT WORK. Examsoft has addressed this issue. Pictures below do not work.

Sadly my days at Caltech are gone, and I no longer have the luxury of taking finals in bed or at the beach. Caltech has an honor code which makes all finals take home (or if in-class, unproctored). Instructions on which materials could or could not be used and time limits are written on the front of the final, and we were trusted to not cheat.

The thing that I hate the most about law school is the lack of trust. Proctors are hired every term to watch over us like hawks (sometimes making silly demands, but that's another post). No trust in law school. Not only is there a lack of trust, but we are forced to use a horrible piece of software called Examsoft (technically Softest is the client program that is used on student's computer, but most call the program by the name of the software publisher). The California bar also requires the use of Examsoft.

Examsoft is program that reboots your computer into a secure simple word processor. The goal of the software is to prevent the user from accessing any notes or the web in violation of testing regulations. I have seen the software fail many times, forcing classmates to handwrite their finals when they were planning to type. We all hold our breath when rebooting into Examsoft, hoping that it doesn't fail.

Last term (December 2007) I found a way to bypass the security in the program. I promptly reported this to the IT department at my school and nothing was done. This past month I reported this to Examsoft, and I did not get responses beyond a generic reply that they would look into the issue. I am writing this in hopes that by publishing this I am able to force Examsoft to address the security hole and to let them know how unsatisfied students are with their software. This "bypass", really takes no real hacking skills, or security expertise.

DISCLAIMER: I do not condone cheating. I am in no way encouraging anyone to actually use this walkthrough in a real live testing situation. The following is for informational purposes only. Attempting to actually use this guide in a real live situation may result in a report to your state bar examiner's office, which could in turn reject your moral character application. In other words, if you want to be a lawyer, don't do this.

Technical Information

Computer: Macbook Pro 15" (Using Bootcamp)

Operating System: Windows Vista Business (SP1 not installed), with two user accounts created.

Examsoft Version: 8.5

Note: I have not had a chance to duplicate this on a non-Mac computer. It is quite possible that this will only work on a mac. I also would like to apologize for the screenshots, they were taken with a camera since I could not run screenshot taking software while doing this. I tried to minimize glare as much as possible.


Boot into Examsoft in the usual way. This is the typical window you will see. We should all be familiar with this.

Type "begin" and access the word processor.


Press "Ctrl-Alt-Del," the Windows security dialog screen comes up as shown below.


Click in "Switch User", to get the screen below. In my case I have two accounts "Franklin" which is the account I used to run the exam and the "Guest" account which is currently not logged in.


Click on "Guest" (or any other account on the computer) to log in that account. Logging in shown below.


Vista tries to run Examsoft, but since it is already running in the background it will fail and you will get the following error message below ("There was a problem starting Softest. If this continues to occur, please contact Examsoft Support"). This is expected, just click OK.


No programs will be allowed to start, and all you will see is a blank screen like below.


At this point press ctrl-alt-del again to get the security dialog screen again (see previous picture). This time instead of clicking on switch user, click on "Start Task Manager." The task manager should pop-up as shown below.


Click on File>New Task to get the following dialog below.


Here is the tricky part. Click on browse and find a Word document containing your outline/notes. Press OK. Word opens below as shown.


You can now read all your notes and refer to them. Now start the process to go back to the exam. Press ctrl-alt-del to see the security dialog screen again and this time click on "Switch User."


You should see this screen showing two accounts logged on. Click the original account, in my example "Franklin."


You should now be back at Examsoft, ready to type your answers with a refreshed memory from your notes.


End of walkthrough.

Final notes

There are some limitations to this method. You cannot copy and paste when switching between accounts. This may be possible with 3rd party software. Also, on my computer it takes between 4-7 seconds to switch between accounts, not an ideal setup with proctors walking around. It will be slower with older computers.

An easier way to cheat would also be to replace the background image of the security dialog screen. This is just an image file in a system folder that can be replaced with an image filled with text/notes. This means that ctrl-alt-del will now show you your notes, no need to switch between accounts.

You could also open up your default browser and access the internet by opening an HTML file instead of a Word file.

The fix to this cheat is easy. Disable the ability to bring up the security dialog screen with ctrl-alt-del.

Again, this is for informational purposes only. Don't be stupid and actually try this during a test. I'm curious to know if this will work on non-mac computers. Feel free to leave comment with your findings or any issues you encounter following this guide.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Gay Marriage in CA...

Even since the California Supreme Court decided to allow gay marriage in the State of California I wanted to write something analyzing the opinion. It must be noted that the opinion is very long (172 pages, available here) and thus I for the sake of brevity I will only be writing about a few limited points. It is my hope that this entry will be understood even by those who do not have a legal background so I will begin with a few basics needed to understand the opinion.


First some basics. The basis for any legal system is the constitution of that jurisdiction. Any laws passed by the legislature draws its power from the constitution. Because of this, laws may be challenged as unconstitutional even if properly passed by the legislature. In other words, somebody can challenge a law by claiming that the law is invalid because it is contrary to the legal documents that allows laws to be be passed in the first place.

Courts have setup a general framework in deciding the constitutionality of laws, this is called the "standard of review." The standard of review will decide how closely the law will be scrutinized. This approach assumes that certain rights under a constitution are more important than others (or in more danger to be violated), so a law dealing these rights must be looked at more carefully. The government will be allowed more power to regulate less important rights. A court will begin its constitutional analysis by placing a law into one of three categories: strict, intermediary, or rational.

For each category the court ask which level of state interest is required, and the how much the law is related to this state interest. The more important the right, the more important the reason the state must have in regulating that right. Also, the more important the right, the more a court will require the law to relate to its stated goal (this is call a "fit"). Rational basis is the lowest category of scrutiny, it only requires a "legitimate" state interest, and that the law in question be rationally related to this interest. This is easy to show and most laws will pass the rational basis test. Intermediate scrutiny requires a "substantial" state interest, and that the law be substantially related to this interest. Last, strict scrutiny requires a "compelling" state interest, and that the law be "necessary" to serve that interest. Most laws fail strict scrutiny.

As a lawyer who wants to invalidate a law, you will argue that strict scrutiny applies. This will place a higher burden on the state, which it will likely not meet. Courts have usually applied strict scrutiny to laws dealing with race, and fundamental rights like voting. Intermediate is rarely used, but has been applied to cases dealing gender. Most widely used, (to the benefit of the state) courts apply rational basis (for example laws regulating commerce).

OK all done with basics.

---California Decision ---

In the California case (In re Marriage Cases, S147999 (2008) 08 C.D.O.S. 5820), dealt with the constitutionality of the California Defense of Marriage Act, which banned same-sex marriage. The court was careful in framing the question about gay marriage. It refused to look at the right to marriage alone, but rather in the context of the liberal California domestic partnership laws which give same-sex couple virtually all of the same rights and responsibilities as married couples, without the label of "marriage." Here is what the court said:

[T]he legal issue we must resolve is not whether it would be constitutionally permissible under the California Constitution for the state to limit marriage only to opposite-sex couples while denying same-sex couples any opportunity to enter into an official relationship with all or virtually all of the same substantive attributes, but rather whether our state Constitution prohibits the state from establishing a statutory scheme in which both opposite-sex and same-sex couples are granted the right to enter into an officially recognized family relationship that affords all of the significant legal rights and obligations traditionally associated under state law with the institution of marriage, but under which the union of an opposite-sex couple is officially designated a “marriage” whereas theunion of a same-sex couple is officially designated a “domestic partnership.”

This seems to focus the question away from a the right to "gay marriage," to the label of "marriage" being withheld from same-sex couples. The court found issues dealing with equal protection and the fundamental right to marriage.

First, it decided that strict scrutiny applies because homosexuals are a "suspect class" (a group of people that tend to be discriminated against and and therefore need additional protection) and that the law impinged on the "fundamental interest in having their family relationship accorded the same respect and dignity enjoyed by an opposite-sex couple."

The law failed strict scrutiny because the "interest in retaining the traditional and well-established definition of marriage cannot properly be viewed as a compelling state interest for purposes of the equal protection clause, or as necessary to serve such an interest." Therefore, the law was invalid.

The court also rejected that argument that no fundamental rights are being violated since same-sex couples are not being really discriminated because they are allowed to form domestic partnerships which are functionally marriages with virtually the same rights and privileges, but only lack the label. Nonetheless the court found the distinction as potentially impinging upon a same-sex couple’s constitutional right to marry under the California Constitution because if fails to secure "the same dignity, respect, and stature as that accorded to all other officially recognized family relationships."

---Limitations of the Decision---

While this is a groundbreaking decision in California, its scope might be limited by several factors.

The court does not seem to say that California must allow "gay marriage," but rather that they can't call it something else in light of the legislative scheme which gives same-sex domestic partnerships almost all of the same rights. The opinion seems to imply that a different court, in a different state which does not have a history of progressive legislation that gives same-sex couples rights similar to marriage might come to different decision. I can also see people trying attack the laws which give same-sex couples similar right to marriage. The decision would allow this, specially if the amendment below passes.

The ruling was 4-3 in favor of striking down the law. A single change in the court could reverse this decision. Even some of the four in the majority had reservations.

The ruling might become moot in light of a proposed amendment to the California Constitution which would prohibit same sex marriage (Limit on Marriage Act). In fact, the court has been asked to stay the decision until this amendment is voted upon.

Last, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) allows other states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. This means that a gay marriage in California might not be valid elsewhere.


Personally, I am a strong supporter of gay marriage. I do not believe that my heterosexual marriage is at all threaten by having same-sex couples share the label. Moral arguments have no place in this discussion since marriage is just a civil contract as far as government is concerned. I personally believe that marriage is a holy union under God, an acceptance of another under the eyes of God. Homosexuality might be a sin, who knows, but I have no right to pass judgment on my fellow man. Or turn this judgment into a harmful restriction in the secular world. Each church should be free discriminate against same-sex marriage, but not the government. Let God deal with each soul, and government deal with each person.