Month: March 2009

Spring Semester: March Madness

I have ten minutes to write this. Go, me!

On Court: My bracket is holding up well with all four final four teams intact. The first weekend of the tournament really is one of the best weekends of sports all year. I’d put it up there with the Majors in golf and Tennis.

Off Court: This entire month has been a whirlwind of activity. I’m running in circles trying to keep up with my tasks that seem to be swept further ahead with each passing day. I have two major assignments in the immediate future.

1. A Business Entities Taxation midterm, which is falling very late in the semester. It will cover exclusively partnership law. The good thing is that the final will not be aggregate, so we’ll be able to “forget” partnership tax to the extent that it does not apply to corporations. I have a feeling we’re not going to be allowed to forget enough.

2. A presentation on Justice Benjamin Cardozo for Judicial Opinion Drafting. I will be discussing the persuasiveness of six of his opinions that I’ve carefully selected. While this isn’t exactly public speaking, it still involves speaking in front of people – something of which I’m not a huge fan. In preparation, I’ve Googled “presentation advice” and perused some tips on what makes Steve Jobs an effective presenter. I’ll let you know in a week if the advice translates to my classroom discussion.

My ten minutes is up. Say hi if you want. There’s a woefully underused Contact page in the top right of your screen. Have a good day!

Follow Up on Friending vs Following

The first time I joined Twitter I followed way too many people that I didn’t know and businesses that I wasn’t interested in. This led to me being overwhelmed with five to ten tweets every minute! This made Twitter too unidirectional for me. I couldn’t keep up nor did I care to keep up.

In my previous post I mentioned that one of Twitter’s advantages is that a user can follow another user without first having to be accepted. That is one of the advantages of Twitter that gives it such potential.

On three occasions this weekend I’ve heard celebrities profess how great Twitter is for them because it allows them to speak directly to their fans. These are the celebs that have hundreds of thousands of followers. They tweet and we receive. No PR interference. No media misquoting. No interference. Thus we see the usefulness of Twitter on the large scale.

What about the rest of us? What I have to say is rarely (if ever) funny, informative or interesting beyond my close circle of friends. I tweet simply because I can. Because I like to create little things, and Twitter allows me, as a busy person, to feel like I’m adding to the web. It’s that simple. I don’t care if I’m followed. It’s just me, and maybe you. But mostly me. That is why I have made a point to, with a few exceptions, follow only those people who I have met in “real life.” At least their uninteresting tweets may fall within my universe from time-to-time.

What does that say of the difference between me following someone and me friending them? My following people on Twitter who I know would accept my friend request on Facebook lessens the difference. And thus, we see both a further similarity and another difference between twitter and Facebook. As a non-celebrity I live a small life, both offline and online. I don’t need to be followed by non-friends. I don’t need to follow them. Thus my Twitter universe is roughly equal to my Facebook universe. They’re both at a place where I can be invested without feeling overwhelmed. They are both a two-way conversation between me and my followers/friends.

The celebrity Twitter experience is far different. It’s simply a megaphone for them. They have headphones to hear what others are tweeting, but hundreds of thousands of followers create too much static to be heard. It’s like I experienced with my first Twitter account. It made me give up because I was looking at it wrong.

There’s a lot to think about here. Pretty interesting. A big future for both companies.

What is Quality of Life?

A post by Julia Allison prompted me to think about what “quality of life” means to me. My take is as follows.

My initial thoughts: Quality of life is the perception that everything in “my universe” is okay. This perception is often fleeting, as each day holds a new challenge. The economist in me quantifies the quality of my life in terms of security – financial, health, trust. Those seem to be the fundamentals from which to begin my assessment. Beyond the measurables, I’ve found that I get the most quality out of my life in either of two situations: 1) I’m pursuing something I believe in; 2) my life feels balanced. The former negates the second, and vice versa. But I can get away with it because, like business cycles, quality of life ebbs and flows from hyper focus to balance and back again.

Follow up: Converse to my initial response, I believe quality of life could just as easily be measured by my level of freedom. The freer I am do as I wish and be who I may, the happier I will be. With fewer restrictions on my life the quality increases.

Friending vs Following

Facebook and Twitter have received a lot of online and offline press in the past two weeks.

Twitter is blowing up. It’s more pervasive than a Top 20 pop song. Local news papers, churches, late-night TV, law firms, your neighbor, my imaginary friend – nearly everyone is twittering, whether they want to or not. The concept of posting a public text message about what you are doing is about as narcissistic an activity as you can find. But it’s the new new thing and is tremendously informative in ways I never would have expected. I’m mentioned, before, the prospective value of Twitter as a search engine.

With that said, can you blame Facebook for recently redesigning their homepage to look and act more like Twitter? The new homepage features a more “status” oriented appearance with live streaming updates.

Even with Facebook’s recent repositioning of a key area of their website to better compete with Twitter, I don’t believe the two sites are perfect substitutes for one another. This is less obvious than it first appears, and it’s not necessarily because Facebook has more features. Instead, where I see the fundamental divide between the two services is in how you connect with people on the websites.

Facebook has two primary methods of connecting. One way is to friend people and wait for them to accept you as a friend. If they choose to ignore you, then you’re out of luck and cannot gain full access to their information. Another way is to become a fan of a page. This is more of a unilateral process, depending on the page settings.

Twitter has one method of connecting. You follow people, yet they don’t have to follow you back. They don’t even have to approve your access to their tweets, unless, of course, they protect their tweets.

Each service has its own strengths and weaknesses, and most who want to be connected would claim to need both. But if it came down to it, I could more easily do without Twitter. After all, if Twitter didn’t exist, Facebook would take up the space.

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

I like the new Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show. As with anything, I was wary of the switch from Conan to Jimmy, but from what I’ve seen from the first eight episode, I think I’m going to like Fallon even better. There is more variety to the show than I’ve seen in other shows of this type. It’s rough around edges, and I hope it stays that way. I especially like that many of the interviews are not stationary/static. Fallon has had a dance-off with Cameron Diaz, done a green screen with Amanda Peet and hosted a mock episode of Diggnation with Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht. It’s all fun stuff that gets more from the feature guest than the usual stories about their (often) lackluster lives. Plus he’s made a point to incorporate technology and interview more tech geek type guests.

Here’s the late night show switch schedule:

  • Late Night with Conan O’Brien went off the air February 20, 2009.
  • Late Night with Jimmy Fallon come on air March 2nd, 2009.

——

  • The Tonight Show with Jay Leno will go off the air on May 29, 2009.
  • The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien will come on the air on June 1, 2009.

——

  • The Jay Leno Show will premier in September 2009.

Catching On

In looking at the PGA Tour website and familiarizing myself with the field, tee times and television broadcast times of the tournament that started yesterday it occurred to me that golf is boring to a non-golf fan because they haven’t caught on yet. They don’t have a favorite player. They don’t know whether the tournament is stroke play or match play. They may not even know if the tournament is a Major, one of the four most important tournaments to occur each year.

Almost anything can be interesting if you know the subtext and are aware of the details. You’re enthusiasm can lack, but an intriguing side-story about golfers can be as exciting as one about basketball players, space, or whatever you are interested in. Further, taking the time to become aware of such a side-story is the critical thing I’m driving at. It’s only then, when you become aware enough of the universe surrounding the thing on which you are currently focusing, that you have a chance at overcoming your bias / lack of interest.

You can write off golf as being boring or say that you can’t learn how to do math, but it’s not your interest or ability that is lacking. It’s your willingness to catch on.

High Pointe Is Closing

Geoff Shackelford alerted me to this Traverse City Record-Eagle story about one of my favorite Traverse City-area golf courses, High Pointe Golf Club, is closing due to the poor economy. I grew up on that course playing tournaments while participating in the Traverse City Junior Golf Association. I had high school tryouts and tournaments there, and I played my first round of 2008 there with my dad.

Big bummer to hear about.

Getting into Character

I just read an interesting post on Kottke.org titled, “Getting into Character.” It talks about how actors, athletes, and business people wear two different hats – a private one and a job one.

Many of us see our parents do this to a degree when we are growing up. There is an added awareness, more than anything, of where they are and what has to be done.

I think back to my time at Ruckus and K12 knowing that I could have cultivated and displayed a more consistent work persona. I worked hard and was attentive, creative and efficient, but these things varied from week to week. (This ties in with the concept of having a defined approach to work.) What I’m trying to say is that I was not always able to get into character and stay there all day.

As a lawyer-to-be, I’ve been thinking about interacting with clients. Regardless of what area of law I end up practicing, one of the most important aspects of both being successful (garnering clients) and being effective (doing good word for my clients) will be getting into a consistently professional, knowledgeable, and compassionate character while working.

Spring Semester: Week 9

I’m doing these “Spring Semester Reviews” more for me than you. Years from now, when I’ve long since outgrown my blogging britches, I hope to be able to revisit these autobiographical entries for a brief chuckle. “Oh, the glory days of FPLC,” I’ll say to anyone who will listen. “Those were the days.”

Classes: Classes are going well, although for the first time I’m finding myself envious, from time to time, of my classmates who have externships. Maybe it’s the “gotta get a job” cloud that’s suddenly set in fast and low. Or maybe it’s the fact that the word “externship” does not exist in most dictionaries. Either way, I’m looking forward to working when the day comes.

  • Business Entities Taxation: Going well, but slow. We started with partnership taxation and are still in the “middle” of the life of partnerships. Our midterm will fall in early April, unusually late. As with most code classes, the weekly struggle here has been to learn how to best navigate the code and recognize when exceptions apply. Once I get a semi-working knowledge of a topic, it’s far more enjoyable.
  • Environmental Law: I don’t know what to think of this class. The material is very dry, and I didn’t see that coming when I registered. We deal mostly with massive federal statutory schemes – National Environmental Police Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act. What I enjoy most about the class are the historical, geographic, and scientific aspects of the cases.
  • Copyright Licensing: This class is nuanced and very hands on. I like it. We are given a hypo going into each class, must review select clauses from a license, and then negotiate with the opposite party (licensor and licensee). I will leave a more capable contract drafter and a more skilled negotiator.
  • Estate Planning: This class was largely review up until last week. We’re finally getting further into taxation issues and more detained trusts. I like this area of law, so I look forward to the three-hour Estate Planing-a-thons.
  • Judicial Opinion Drafting: Drafting orders is a unique writing experience. I’ve quickly learned to be very careful in how I frame the arguments. I’m liking legal writing more and more with each passing day.

Getting to Done: Week nine is coming to a close. Spring Break (week seven) felt like every other week of this semester, except I attended fewer classes. My grand plans – I always have grand plans via lists, emails, and other web applications – were not fulfilled. I failed to apply to hundreds of jobs, read weeks ahead, and start a new business as a side project. The result of this was that I sought and found a more structured way to accomplish tasks. I found a very simple solution: at the beginning of the week, make a list of three things to accomplish each day. This has gone pretty well with one blaring exception – applying to jobs daily. Here’s a sample-list for one day:

Monday P G
1) Read Environmental Law
2) Work on JOD Order
3) Apply to 3 jobs

P = newspaper and G = gym. The three tasks vary daily. I’ve found this is a good way to keep things in check. The downside is that the system is meant for someone who works and has eight solid hours to accomplish their tasks. I’ve excused my failures in accomplishing all three daily tasks each day, yet hope to be more successful in the future.

Donating Blood: I donated blood today at school. The beds were set up in the Jury Box (cafeteria), which seems like an odd place to be performing medical procedures. The woman assured me that lunch was loud and hectic and people were not deterred from eating.

Sleep: I got two hours of sleep on Monday night and it has messed up my entire week. I’ve had to nap, I’ve overslept, and I’ve been living in a fog. This never happened in college, or I didn’t care. I could play poker all night, go to an 8:30am class, sleep during the afternoon and start over without the next four days being a disaster. Now, and this aligns with my “Getting to Done” above, I’m finding consistent sleep invaluable.

The Core Remains

I’ve been reading the Concord Monitor recently. Much of the local news coverage has been about education budget cuts around the state. It’s common knowledge that the arts – art, music, etc. – are often the first classes to be eliminated. But once those are gone, what classes come next? Which teachers, subjects and skills are considered to be the next-most expendable?

I have not hard data, nor do I claim to be an expert. But today I’m reading about foreign language classes being dropped and the blocking of programs for troubled teens. Both of these cuts, however locally limited, trouble me.

It seems that we know now more than ever how to better address learning difficulties. Whether this means specific attention in the form of additional programs or different curriculum in the same classroom, it seems that such a careful approach requires greater resources and more teachers.

Cutting foreign language classes is a slippery slope for a country already of limited international exposure. My impression of aliens is that they are far more likely to be multilingual than a fellow American. Go to France, Mexico, or even China and most likely they’ll say hello before you can say bon jour, buenos dias, or ni hao.

I realize I’m highlighting, not solving, problems here. It’s just disappointing to see the core remains so nakedly exposed as the more expendable classes are dropped left and right. Of course reading, writing, and arithmetic are critical to a well rounded education. And perhaps there are enough artistic stimuli available to students of all ages beyond the walls of their elementary, junior high, or high school. But, I don’t think so.

I just can’t help thinking about how fortunate I was to be afforded the opportunity to learn my numbers and fruits in French from first grade on, to play the recorder in third grade and to mold clay as a ten-year old. Like compound interest that is more beneficial the earlier you start investing, early exposure to the arts, a foreign language or additional help at an early age can significantly realign a student’s life for the better from an early age onward.

BarBri Early Start

I’m about to start the BarBri Early Start program. For some reason the name makes me think of a sober house or clean living – preparing for the bar is quite sobering, albeit less of a health risk.

This is the beginning of my formal bar training. It seems far too early, but there’s a few of us here – the few who have paid at least $1500 out of $3000 due to be re-taught what we’ve learned during the past three years of law school.

These Early Start sessions take place on each of the next five weekends, take about five to six hours each, provide general test-taking advice, and cover broad legal topics often tested on the bar exam such as Torts, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Contracts, Property, Evidence and Constitutional Law.

I arrived early enough to get my seat at the top/back of the tiered classroom and donuts were provided – I got my butternut. Cheers to a fun Sunday of bar prep followed by more work! At least it’s sunny out.

OneWord: Vow, Spaces, Classic, Vulture, Keypad

OneWord.com gives you a random word and 60 seconds to write. Following are my submissions for the past week.

Vow: Dressed in his tux, looking at his beautiful bride, he vowed to love her for the rest of his life – for the rest of her life. Were they now one?

Spaces: The spaces in his teeth made me laugh. I remarked, “Who don’t he get braces for those spaces?” Then I laughed harder. Maybe spaces are endearing. So I’ve been told.

Classic: There’s a classic car in his garage. I couldn’t give you any more detail, except that it was red and well kept. I never got a better look than from my tip toes through the high filthy window. He’d chase me away before…

Vulture: The vulture circled above, waiting to swoop down to the man marooned on the island the instant his life expired. The man eyed the vulture above knowingly.

Keypad: There is no keypad on my cellular! It’s just a flat glass screen. Like looking through a window at a digital world that changes when I want it to.

Book & Movie: Watchmen

My first book & movie review in one post. I finished reading Watchmen on Thursday and saw the movie on Friday. Both were excellent for different reasons.

The book is actually a collection of a twelve-comic series released by DC Comics in 1986 and 1987. Alan Moore was the author, Dave Gibbons was the artist and John Higgins was the colorist.

The story is this: The U.S. has a superhero, Dr. Manhattan, by way of a lab accident. He allowed them to win the Vietnam War and has kept the Russians at bay since. However, the possibility of a nuclear holocaust looms larger with each passing day. Preventing this is what the ultimate arc of the comic is about. On less of a superhero and more of an action hero level, the characters of the comic are seeking the mask killer – an unknown person who, in the first scene, killed the Comedian. Eventually, the two stories come together, though I will spare you the spoilers.

The story is nuanced, insightful and intriguing. It takes a hard look at society as it existed in the 1980s and saw that there was a lot wrong with the way we were living our lives. In one poignant scene on the gang infested filthy streets of New York City:

Dan Dreiberg: What’s happened to the American dream?.

The Comedian: It came true. You’re lookin’ at it.

Watchmen reminds me of Alan Sorkin’s writing for the West Wing. One of the many reasons I like the West Wing is because of the supporting facts, stories, and links between those facts and stories brought into the fiction of the show from reality. Doing so adds a great deal of credibility to the performance. The same is done in Watchmen to an equally effective degree.

The movie is very true to the book, excepting a debatable minor change to the ending. It is long, though entertaining. I would recommend that anyone wanting to see the movie first read the book. The movie will better keep your interest that way and you’ll have a better appreciation for the depth of the comic and the faithful adaptation of the movie.

Go read! Go see!

The Empathy of Critical Thinking

Marissa Mayer, the V.P. of Search Product and User Experience at Google made an interesting point during the last ten minutes of her interview on the Charlie Rose show. (link)

Charlie Rose: Why did you choose computer science at the beginning?

Marissa Mayer: I grew up thinking I was going to be a doctor. And I started off as a biochem double major at Stanford. And at the end of my freshman year, I realized I loved chemistry, was very good at it, but it’s a lot of memorization, right? It’s a lot of memorize this chemical equation. And when I went home, I realized that all my friends who were at other schools studying biology and chemistry were learning the exact same material. In the exact same way. And I thought, well what could I do that would be unique to Stanford, that Stanford does really well and also would teach me not just facts but how to think better, how to be a better critical thinker, how to be a better problem solver. And that’s when computer science came in because in computer science, they have one of the best programs in the country, and you get to working on a new problem every day. So it’s not so of what you know or what you’ve memorized, but it’s more how do you think about problems.

Marissa’s comment regarding wanting to challenge her thoughts struck a nerve with me and made me realize that most of my post-secondary education has been the type that encourages rigorous and critical thinking.

In undergrad, I studied economics – what we do with what we have. That simple summary leaves open many variables and a lot to think about. Beyond understanding the language necessary to be fluent in any field, the study of economics provides a student with a unique method of viewing each and every daily interaction. One of the basic assumptions is that we are rational beings. Moving from that assumption to the next, and trying to solve a problem takes on a step-by-step process. A chain is setup as the student realizes that shifting one variable may have an effect on many others. Once he’s thought long enough like this, it becomes difficult to make decisions because he realizes that everything can be rationalized. It’s just that some outcomes are better than others.

I studied creative writing as well, which was, and still is, to this day, the most challenging task I’ll ever undertake. Nothing is more intimidating than a blank page because it is completely on the writer to fill it. He can draw from his life, the news, stories friends tell, or nothing at all. But when it comes down to it, making something up for others to read is an incredibly frightening thing to do. It’s a narcissistic and selfish thing to do. To think that what he has to say is worth someone else’s time. Yet, writing is the single most freeing thing I do on any given day because it challenges and renews me. It is a way to order my thoughts, my perception of the world, and my understanding of my relationships.

And perhaps now, more than ever, critical thinking is a matter of my daily routine. The appeal of a law degree upon applying to law school was that the degree would have a wide application – law, business, entrepreneurship, teaching, etc. What I underestimated was what exactly would compose that degree. Now that I’m nearly finished with law school, I’ve come to group the value of my expected degree as follows. Primarily, I have learned a critical and logical method of thinking. This is a vague and fleeting tool, but significant nonetheless. Ancillary to the method of thinking is the day to day knowledge and experience – basically, how to find what I’m looking for – that comes with having attended law school for three years. While there is value in each of these things, only from critical thinking do I derive any personal satisfaction.

It’s only now, as I review my education, that I realize why I have pursued my chosen fields of study. Each one has challenged my thinking and opened my eyes to new things. Economics, writing and law have each allowed me to better make sense of the world around me. Not only can I attempt to answer life’s questions, but I can give answers with support and argue for my position. I can understand where others are coming from and empathize with their viewpoint. I can challenge them and be challenged, knowing full well that there may not be a definite answer.

Embrace the Internet Already!

Dear Newspapers and Television Networks, the fact that I can’t get everything you offer for free on the internet at the same time, or earlier, than when you print or broadcast it is unfortunate in this day and age.

Newspapers, most of you are starting to get it. But you’ve been slow on the uptake. The pay walls were not smart (Come on WSJ!). I understand you’ve yet to figure out how to make enough money from your websites to cover costs. That, coupled with declining print subscription rates is doubly bad.

My suggestion is this: stop paying reporters to write content for you. Cut that part of your staff. It’s got to be a significant portion. Instead, make the people your media. Tap the collective mind, and hire a smaller herd of editors to refine submissions. I’d be surprised if the contributions were not overwhelming. Exposure would be compensation.

It is here that we can take a page from Twitter’s book. At the rate the world turns today, printed news is old news. In fact, CNN is often old news. During an event nearly anywhere on the globe, search for relevant keywords on Twitter’s search and I assure you that you’ll be more in the know than anyone reading a newspaper or watching cable news.

Broadcasters, you, too, need to accept the web. I can deal with the commercials you splice into your online offerings. I get that your linear brains see that as the obvious way to do things. There were commercials on TV, so there should be commercials on the internet, right? Wrong, but I forgive you for the time being.

There can’t be a delay and the content needs to be high definition. Further, you need to flip your current stance and make the Internet your primary focus and television your secondary focus. New goes online because online is where we find new things now. That’s where it will be shared on Facebook, talked about on Twitter, and recut for YouTube.

Stop showing kids toys they can’t play with. Instead, give them the toys early and let them play and share them. Embrace that the kids may find new uses for the toys you didn’t think of instead of being scared of such an outcome. The worst case scenario is that the toy sucks. Best case scenario – the kids love the toy and do your marketing for you. Do yourself a favor and loosen up a little!