Friday, April 30, 2010

Algebraic facts about humanity

Warning! Rough language ahead. But I only use it when I really, really mean it....

Yes, it's fun with algebra time.

If x equals the number of people in the world, how many human arms are there in the world?

That's right! 2x is the correct answer, although a 'fudge factor' of n must be subtracted from the total to account for some people who were born without arms and others who have had their arms amputated because of war or industrial accident.

OK. Now, if there are x people in the world, how many human toes are there in the world?

Very good! 10x is the correct answer -- although, again, a fudge factor of n1 must be deducted for birth defects, injuries from war or accidents. Some people, for example, are careless with their lawnmowers. (Kids: Don't ever mow the lawn in flip-flops, OK?)

And sometimes, algebra is very easy to figure out: If there are x people in the world, there are also x hearts and x brains. Not everyone uses their hearts or their brains, but that's a different story.

But, sadly, the algebraic symmetry between numbers of persons and numbers of body parts breaks down in one important area: If there are x people in the world, you'd expect there to be x assholes as well -- but, sadly, this is not the case. There are y assholes in the world... and y > x.

Apparently y exceeds x by an enormous amount. Some recent examples:
  • The drug-craving animal who attacked two petite young women on Chicago's North Side this week, caving their skulls with a baseball bat in order to steal their purses. (One of the victims, Natasha McShane, a native of Northern Ireland, is still in a coma and doctors are making no promises for her ultimate recovery. A prayer service for McShane and the other victim, Stacy Jurich, was held last night at Old St. Pat's in Chicago.)

  • The idiot who hit and seriously injured a construction worker on I-94 in Porter County, Indiana in the wee small hours of this morning. (Construction worker "Roger Sadler was filling cracks in a well-marked westbound construction zone facing west when an eastbound car made an illegal U-turn in a crossover about two-tenths of a mile east of where Sadler was working, police said. The car then hit Sadler, who was standing on a striped line between the left and middle lane, carrying him for about 35 feet before he was thrown off.")

  • And then there's the SEC. When America's financial system was crumbling, senior bureaucrats charged with monitoring the financial system weren't watching. They were watching porn instead. An AP story on April 23 said that 33 employees were being investigated including 17 "senior-level" employees, "earning salaries of up to $222,418." One was a "senior attorney" at the SEC's Washington headquarters who "spent up to eight hours a day looking at and downloading pornography. When he ran out of hard drive space, he burned the files to CDs or DVDs, which he kept in boxes around his office." And the punch line? According to Ed O'Keefe's April 27 post on the "Federal Eye" blog on the Washington Post website, no one got fired for this. I'll stop typing for a minute while you digest that one. Now, I must repeat: No one got fired. As Jay Leno said last night, they all got off... again. At least some of those caught with their pants down -- so to speak -- had the good grace to resign (including the lawyer with the boxes of discs), but others were given 'suspensions' lasting from one to 14 days. According to O'Keefe, "Five [others] were issued formal reprimands, six were issued informal counseling or warning letters, and three are currently facing disciplinary action."
Youngest Son asked me recently why I always watch the news. It's so depressing, he said. And it is. And sometimes, it just makes me furious.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unsticking the mental clutch

Did you ever drive a car with a manual transmission?

With practice, going from first to third (or fourth) becomes almost an unconscious process.


One must still remember to put in the clutch before moving the gear shift. There is an awful, audible reminder when one fails to remember. Too many such failures and the clutch will burn out.

Over the years I have come to realize that our mental gears also require shifting. Different skills are needed for chatting up clients than relaxing with friends -- even if the talk, on the surface, is in both cases about last night's ballgame. It takes one skill set to stand up in court and argue; it is quite a different set of skills that one uses to write the brief that serves as the basis for that argument. There is a completely different skill set required to write an entertaining blog post than an appellate brief. A tremendous focus and concentration -- an immersion into the record -- is required for the latter. And, in my personal opinion, it's not nearly as much fun -- so it takes me a while to reach that level of mental intensity.

In other words, I have trouble shifting gears.

As a solo practitioner, I have to cover sales and production and administration alike. Different mental gears are, I believe, required for each. And my clutch is sticking: I have a heck of a time going from one mental state to the next.

I have to write an appeal this week -- I've stalled long enough on this project and I've cleared the decks as best I can -- and I'm starting to achieve that nervous, edgy, cranky state that precedes the requisite level of concentration. If I can just focus for three or four... or seven or eight... days, I'll get it done.

I feel myself slowing down, digging deeper, entrenching, in order to get this project started. I think this is what professional athletes are referring to when they say the 'game slows down for them' as they reach the highest levels of achievement. On the surface, this seems absurd: At the highest level, any sport moves faster by far than at any lower level. Balls are hit harder, runners run faster, collisions are more violent. But what may happen with an elite athlete is that he or she re-gears mentally to become entirely 'in tune' with the game. All outside distractions are banished and total focus is achieved. The process of mentally dispelling those outside distractions, whether the cheers of the fans or the day-to-day business of running an office, may seem to the person achieving focus like a true slowing down.

The hardest part, for me, is getting started. It's hard to achieve this focus, and there are so many other distractions. There are bills to be gotten out. And clients can't always cooperate and not call while one tries to focus in on writing an appeal. Call it inertia; call it clearing the decks. Either way, it is real and must be done.

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu (Laozi) is credited with saying that "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I saw an alternative translation of this statement this morning, though, on The Quotations Page: "[A] more correct translation from the original Chinese would be 'The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet.' Rather than emphasizing the first step, [Lao-tzu] regarded action as something that arises naturally from stillness."

Purposeful action that can only begin when one has slowed down.

I should be back later in the week. If I can keep slowing down sufficiently.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Controversy over 'Take Your Child to Work Day' does not add up

Yesterday was Take-Your-Daughter-and/or-Son-to-Work-on-Earth-Day' or something like that. It's tough when so many holidays converge.

I wasn't in court yesterday so I didn't notice whether there were a lot of short, uncomfortable young people in attendance. I did get out to run errands yesterday in the early afternoon and, as I walked through the alley past the big picture windows in the Thai restaurant across the street (no, I don't know who'd purposely design a space with picture windows facing an alley either), I couldn't help but notice there were a lot of kids inside.

Parents: Unless you are Thai, is taking your kid to a Thai restaurant really a good idea? When my kids were little, I couldn't get Oldest Son to eat even plain hamburgers in a restaurant. He hadn't seen The Blues Brothers at that tender age -- but all he'd eat in public was dry white toast. (And, for that matter, precious little else at home.)

But gustatory adventures aside, I was surprised to read that teachers were lining up around the country in opposition to Take Your Child to Work Day. Somehow, they claim, missing a day of class would jeopardize the academic progress of America's youth (two days, maybe, depending on whether their parents took them to the Thai restaurant... and how they responded to same...).

Is Take Your Child to Work Day really the reason why America is falling behind educationally? If we banned the observance, would every 8th grader finish grammar school having mastered at least the first year course in Algebra?

I didn't think so.

Long Suffering Spouse, you may recall, is a teacher. At her school, "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" became "Take Your Child to Work Day" fairly early on. And my wife's school didn't just let boys take the day off, too, it actually embraced the idea: Eighth graders were allowed to go and kids in 7th grade were pretty much required to go -- and writing about the experience became an assignment. That strikes me as a good idea. And the teachers didn't mind having a couple of holes in their schedule for one day either.

I think it for this last reason that, in 2006, I was shot down so quickly when I suggested Youngest Son accompany his mother to school and watch her teach. He did that every day, she said.

I ended that 2006 post with a plea for suggestions about what to do with Youngest Son. But in early 2006 I had even fewer readers than I do now (yes, that's mathematically possible) and I got no suggestions. I also wasn't posting as frequently as I do now -- so I did not report what I did with the kid.

As I recall now, I gave him a tour of the different courthouses so he could see where I did work... when I had work to do... and I know I took him to lunch with my friend Steve because I did that with all the kids on Take Your Child to Work Day. We left as soon as possible for baseball practice... but the kid had seen stuff that he would otherwise never see -- ever -- unless he were foolish enough to follow me into the law.

I don't think that's a bad thing. But, parents, grandparents, teachers, if you can think that Take Your Child to Work Day is all that is standing between us and recapturing our educational primacy, well, that's what the comments are for, right?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Obama seems determined to "out" Curmudgeon?

About a bajillion possible replacements have been suggested for retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens so far. Most of these, like Stevens, are from Chicago -- or at least have a strong Chicago connection.

In no particular order, this ever-growing list includes, but is by no means limited to:
  • Seventh Circuit Judge Diane P. Wood;
  • Solicitor General Elena Kagan (who used to teach at the University of Chicago Law School);
  • D.C. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland (raised in suburban Lincolnwood);
  • Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow (a 1972 New Trier High School graduate and the daughter of former FCC Chaimrman Newton "Television is a Vast Wasteland" Minow);
  • Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; and
  • Judge Reuben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois.
This morning another Seventh Circuit Judge, Ann C. Williams, was reportedly added to the mix.

I can see what's happening here.

Granted, there are a few thousand... OK, a few tens of thousands... more qualified in between those named and myself. But, if present trends continue, it looks like every lawyer in Chicago will soon be named as a possibility except me. And then, by process of elimination, I will have been "outed" by President Obama.

Of course, maybe I'm being paranoid. Again.

I have been getting calls at home now for about a week from a Washington, D.C. number. I've assumed it was a sales call, so I haven't picked up. And, so far, the caller hasn't left a message.

Anyway, Mr. President, if it's you that's calling, please leave a message. I'll call right back. I promise.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's Secretaries, er, Administrative Professionals Day!

That's what my CBA Diary says, anyway.

Wikipedia says that Administrative Professionals' Day -- f/k/a Secretaries' Day -- has been around since 1952. It was promulgated by the National Secretaries Association smack dab in the middle of the first "National Secretaries Week," which in turn had been proclaimed by U.S. Commerce Secretary Charles Sawyer.

You've always wondered what a Secretary of Commerce does, haven't you?

Anyway, the first Secretaries Day and Week were held in June, but the observance was moved to the last week of April in 1955. The name was changed to "Professional Secretaries Week" in 1981, according to Wikipedia, and then to the current "Administrative Professionals Week" in 2000.

Why is it that job titles evolve to obscure the actual job being done?

From a language standpoint, a CEO is an administrator and a professional -- but CEO's aren't Administrative Professionals.

I'd never heard of Secretaries Day or Week before I began practicing law in 1980. I'm not sure I heard of it during the first few years of my practice either.

Eventually, though, in my office, Secretaries Day became a day on which the partners took the secretaries to lunch. I think I was always allowed to go along.

After all, I was a secretary, too. I could type. When one of the other guys (all the lawyers at that firm were male in those days) needed something done quickly after hours, they'd come to me.

The guys I worked for figured secretaries were fungible units. The managing partners did not prey on their secretaries, but they never placed any particular value on them either. They hired young kids right out of high school for nothing, or as near as possible thereto. If a kid was smart, and many of them were, as soon as she acquired some basic skills, she would seek another position and double her pay. Any time a secretary came to work dressed more nicely than usual, it was obvious she was interviewing. At one point I suggested we open a secretarial school: We could charge kids for the privilege of learning the trade and actually make a profit from what we were already teaching them.

This suggestion was met with scorn.

The end result was that we had a revolving door staff and our secretaries were generally awful. Anyone showing flashes of competence was assigned to work for the managing partners. This was usually when a secretary would start interviewing. Not that the managing partner was particularly difficult to work for -- but it enhanced her status on an interview to be able to truthfully say that she'd been promoted to work for the firm's founding partners. This meant that the younger guys got a continuing succession of the greenest secretaries.

When PCs came along in the mid-80s, I dived into the technology as a way to keep my work moving: I started doing my typing at home. The daisy wheel printers of the day didn't produce output that looked particularly professional, but I didn't have to send out one-page letters with two stamps because of the weight of all that Wite-Out or Liquid Paper.

Eventually, I was able to bypass the secretaries pretty much altogether. The managing partners got mad at me for that, too. I seemed too happy. Misery is meant to be shared, I guess. Anyway, this was around the time that they bought PCs for all the secretaries and, for a couple of years anyway, until the advent of Windows, I became the firm computer guru.

I don't have a secretary now. It's not that I have anything against secretaries. It's just that employees have an annoying habit of wanting to get paid every two weeks whether I have the money to pay them or not.

Thus, I'm still my own best secretary. Which sounds a little like I'm my own best friend. Which sounds like the start of a rude joke I'll thank you to avoid.

I won't be taking myself to lunch today. But I think I'll get over it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Poland's sorrows deeply felt in Chicago, too

Among the dignitaries who perished with Polish President Lech Kaczynski in the plane crash earlier this month was Chicago artist Wojciech Seweryn.

Seweryn created a monument to the victims of the Katyn Massacre at St. Adalbert Cemetery in Niles, Illinois, just northwest of Chicago. (Seweryn's own father was among the roughly 22,000 victims of the Soviet purge, in 1940, of Poland's best and brightest.) That monument became a focal point for the real outpouring of grief by Chicago's Polish community.

You will sometimes hear it said that Chicago is the second largest Polish city in the world -- only Warsaw may have more Poles than Chicago -- but what does that mean?

In the past 10 days I've seen more Polish flags -- flags flying from houses and cars alike. One day last week, driving home, I do believe there were more cars with Polish flags than without. Many of the flags, like this one pictured at right, had mourning ribbons tied to the top. Then again, I live on Chicago's Northwest Side, where many Poles put down roots.

I rather doubt that this tremendous display of sympathy and, yes, solidarity with the Polish nation in this latest moment of tragedy was repeated in other parts of the country. Or am I mistaken?


Historical footnote: The Russians have more or less acknowledged, finally, responsibility for the Katyn Massacre. In fact, President Kaczynski and the others on the doomed plane were en route to a service commemorating the 70th anniversary of the murders and there had been other ceremonies this year in which both Polish and Russian leaders participated.

The massacre was first called to the world's attention by the Nazis, in 1943. The Soviets insisted that the Nazis themselves were responsible and, inasmuch as "Uncle Joe" Stalin was our glorious ally during World War II, the American government accepted the Soviet explanation -- despite reports from our own military which showed the Soviets were responsible. Those reports were suppressed.

During the 1950s, although relations with the Soviet Union had soured, the American government was still not at all eager to admit that it had lied to save Soviet face -- particularly when so many of those in government were being attacked for 'delivering' Poland and other Eastern European countries to Soviet clutches at the end of the war. The Wikipedia article, linked above, talks about how a 1951-52 Congressional inquiry finally fixed official blame on the Soviet regime. Tom Roeser explains how this inquiry came about in his post yesterday, "Personal Aside: How a Chicago Irishman Pinned Blame for Katyn on the Soviets—Where it Belonged."

The first two photos in this post were obtained from the Niles Herald Spectator, a Pioneer (Sun-Times) paper.

Note to Illinois lawyers with surnames from A-L: CLE compliance coming due June 30

"Real Life Adventures" comic by Gary Wise and Lance Aldrich
obtained from gocomics, but I saw it yesterday in the Chicago

As is so often the case with bloggers, the illustration is totally unrelated to the alleged subject of the blog post. Got it?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Curmudgeon reaches the "usher" stage of life

Long Suffering Spouse and I went to our nephew's Confirmation on Saturday morning.

The sacrament was administered at a small parish church up in Lake County; you'll pardon my being vague about the location. The point is, it's not my home church. I don't go there. I don't know anyone there other than my wife's sister and my wife and her sister are not always on the best of terms. I haven't been in that building since a one of my nieces received her First Communion; that was three years ago.

It's probably just a Catholic thing, but I've been at lots of First Communions, weddings or confirmations where the celebrant will look out over the packed church and make some remark about how the pastor was really kicking himself for not passing the [collection] basket. The line always gets a good laugh, particularly if the pastor is up on the altar concelebrating and especially if he blushes.

Non-Catholics may be scratching their heads a little on this. But there is something about putting a man in a dress that makes his jokes funnier.

This is not just a religious thing: Jokes told by judges in court are always funnier than the same jokes told anywhere else. At least if one measures the hearty guffaws that follow the joke told in court vis a vis the same joke told at a restaurant, for example, or on the train going home.

And look what wearing a dress did for the career of Milton Berle!

Anyway, at my sister-in-law's parish, if you followed the link, you saw that they actually did pass the basket at my niece's First Communion. I'd never seen that done anywhere else at a special Mass held for the purpose of conferring a Sacrament.

I was not surprised, then, Saturday morning that a collection would be taken up at my nephew's Confirmation Mass. I was, however, surprised, when I got tapped on the shoulder to help.

I helped out of course. I've been called upon fairly frequently in my own parish to help out with the ushering chores, particularly at the last Sunday morning Mass.

I didn't realize, though, until we were going home and Long Suffering Spouse put it into focus for me: I've crossed a threshold here. I look like an usher now, she told me, as gently as she could. And it isn't just among us Catholics that ushers are the old duffers....


Friday, April 16, 2010

Trying to find routine in a busy time

I've said it many times, I'm sure: Men -- and here "men" means the male members of the species and not "men" as a generic for males and females both (as in "All men are created equal" or "Who for us men and our salvation") -- English can be confusing that way -- crave routine.

One of my many ex-law partners said that a man chooses a haircut, a type of shoe and a type of shirt by 25 and stays with these until he dies. I'm 3 for 3 so far. My late father sat in the same train car in the same seat every night. If I wanted to find him, I knew just where to look. Without GPS or anything.

A lot of what we do becomes semi-automatic: My wallet, keys and bus pass must be put in the same places every night or I'll forget to take them in the morning. I loved it when my wife was home for Spring Break last week but my routine -- and my productivity -- suffered. She's back to work this week... and so am I.

But work is disordered now.

I have one PI case that was supposed to go to trial next week. It won't -- because the learned trial judge can not be bothered to hold court that week. I found this out last week when I went to that courtroom on a motion -- and the learned trial judge was not in court on that day either. In fact, I have been in that courtroom four or five times now... and never seen the judge. I'm beginning to wonder if the judge really exists. (What kind of a name is Remington Steele for a judge anyway?)

This case sticks out as a particular rough spot in my well-ordered routine because it is in the Municipal Court -- a place where I seldom go.

Last week's court order resulted in a doctor's evidence deposition this past Wednesday -- at which the other side failed to appear. That is certain to cause a problem later on. I also had a training session to attend Wednesday night for the clergy abuse review boards in which I participate. I got so wrapped up in Wednesday's events that I didn't bother to check if my motion was going ahead in Federal Court Thursday morning -- yesterday.

I try and stay out of Federal Court -- and am not always successful. Federal cases disrupt my routine as well.

But I was so certain that the motion scheduled for yesterday at 8:30 would be granted without hearing that I didn't even bother to check until 9:30.

You've already guessed what happened, haven't you?

I ran over to the courthouse and -- since the morning call was already completed -- apologized profusely to the judge's minute clerk. He promised to convey my apology to the District Judge. And I got lucky -- the court granted my motion even though I failed to show up.

But I don't like dancing so close to the edge. I'm getting an anxiety attack just telling you about this here.

There are additional disruptions to my routine still to come. I have an appellate brief coming due later this month that I have yet to really start. This is the kind of disruption that I'm supposed to have -- at least I seek this kind of disruption because it allegedly pays the bills (if only my appellate clients paid theirs!).

And Oldest Son is getting married in just five weeks. Long Suffering Spouse is fretting over a dress. I've booked our tickets to Texas (where the nuptials are to take place) and our hotel rooms. I have to get hold of the restaurant where the rehearsal dinner is to take place and set up a menu. I don't know how I'm going to pay for any of this, mind you, but I've got to do it.

It's baseball season for Youngest Son. He's on the varsity and he's lined up a summer team and a pitching coach -- but he's yet to clue me in on just what any of this is going to cost.

And I have to go to the doctor this morning. This is just phase one of a 50,000 mile checkup -- the messy part will merely be scheduled today. Two visits are entirely unnecessary except to satisfy the insurance company. I'd be perfectly willing to have the stupid procedure performed as soon as possible, get my expected clean bill of health, and move on.

And the best part on this doctor's appointment?

We had to call the scheduler to schedule an appointment to schedule an appointment with the doctor. No, I didn't stutter.

Most patients in this practice are older than I am -- they are mostly retired, Medicare patients. My doctor's appointment was therefore set for 11:15. When I protested that this will cost me a day's work, they said I could show up at 10:00 and they might -- might -- be able to take me early. So I'll just waste most of the day on a needless appointment that will last about 90 seconds at which time the doctor will tell me I need a procedure to verify that I remain cancer free... and will send me back to the scheduler.

There's just too much going on now. I could tell you more... but I want to try and get some work done before I head out to the doctor's office.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Working from home with the Curmudgeon

I wasn't at the Undisclosed Location yesterday because I had a doctor's deposition on the far North Side of the City at noon. By the time I got into the office, I'd have to be thinking about leaving -- so I didn't come in at all.

Working from home should be possible for a disciplined, organized person. Tens of thousands of people 'telecommute' in the Chicago area alone and I've worked for many years with people who used their home as the home base of their business.

But discipline and organization, while not total strangers, are but nodding acquaintances to me. Still, yesterday, I tried to tend to business at home and did not play computer games or watch TV. I couldn't get a productive rhythm going, though, because I was checking messages on my office phone every 10 or 15 minutes.

However, I did succeed in getting so much 'into' working that, when I heard nature calling, I got up from my chair and reached for my office keys... as if to unlock the bathroom door. That's necessary for the necessary at the Undisclosed Location; I'd forgotten I was at home....

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where to put stuff -- blogging edition

My house is somewhat cluttered. There are magazines and books and newspapers and mail I've meant to look at but haven't yet and these do tend to accumulate over time. Like the checking account statements from the last 12 years. One of these days we really should try and balance that account....

Long Suffering Spouse fights a never-ending battle to keep me from turning the house into one of those awful houses you see on that cable show about hoarders. (No, I've never seen the show -- but Younger Daughter has and she says it's truly frightening.) My office, the Undisclosed Location where Long Suffering Spouse never goes, teeters even closer to the brink. Mostly, I think, it's because I'm behind in my filing. And the aluminum cans and plastic bottles that the cleaning people bring me for the recycling. And there's all these cases I print out and never read. (Other writers have notebooks; I have piles.) Sometimes I'm planning an article; occasionally, I'll even write one.

And in that last sentence lies the problem.

(Only in that last sentence? you ask, arching eyebrows.)

(As Durante said -- "Everybody wants to get into the act!")

I'm running two or three blogs these days, depending on how you want to count it. There's this one and the one that I write in my own name. That one has two pages. And then there's my Facebook page, which also requires attention. This blog gets updated far more regularly than any of my other pages. It's much safer to write anonymously. Of course, sometimes I have a great idea for a post and then I dither about where to put it -- here or on my other blogs -- or maybe on Facebook? By the time I'm done dithering, the idea is stale and the post is abandoned.

I used to write for publication -- meaning real publication, in someone else's newspaper, for example -- but, since I've gotten caught up in the blogging craze I think I've had exactly one article published. The return on blogging is too immediate -- no delayed gratification, no waiting for an editor to pass on one's work (though regular readers will no doubt agree that I could use some serious editing -- starting with all these parenthetical asides). At least the return would be immediate if I got more comments. And, with blogging, no one rewrites my lede but me.

A morning blog post is like a stretching exercise, I've decided, and heaven knows I could use the exercise....

Of course, I won't lose any weight typing.

I need to get some work published again, just to make sure that I still can. And that's my New Year's resolution.

(Hey! The calendar used to start in April... so in a historical sense, my resolution is not that late....)

Friday, April 09, 2010

Why the iPad so terrifies Curmudgeon

(Image grabbed from Thermal, though Chris and I had
both seen this elsewhere previously.)

The iPad went on sale last weekend in Chicago and TV news crews were out to show the Apple fans lusting after this new technology. I started trembling uncontrollably while watching, shaking and shivering. Allow me to explain why.

My ever-dwindling cadre of regular readers think of me as a hardcore Luddite, a technophobe, a quill-pen sort of man, set down uncomfortably in the age of mouse and keyboard.

But it was not ever thus.

In younger years I was no better than the drooling hordes camped in front of the Apple stores last weekend: I didn't just allow myself to be seduced by new technology, I actively courted it, embraced it, threw myself at it.

The device that cured me of this techno-fever is all too similar, at least in concept, to the iPad now let loose among us.

I refer to my first notebook computer, a machine purchased some 15 years ago. Ah! you say -- the notebook is entirely different in concept from the iPad.

But not this one.

This one had the CPU behind the screen and a detachable keyboard. Because the keyboard was only to be a supplemental mode of data entry. This machine came with a pen. It was a tablet. One was supposed to write on it.

The operating system was Microsoft Windows for Pen Computing 1.0. I'll repeat that, lest you think I've made a typo: Yes, I bought a Microsoft operating system version 1.0. As in 1-point-OMG, are you out of your freepin' mind?

And, yes, I was. I was in lust.

I should have realized this would all end badly when, with trembling fingers, I unwrapped the machine and tried to initialize it. In those days, machines were sold with quite a bit of software already semi-installed: The machine had to be initialized and the software unbundled.

The bundle got tangled somewhere along the way. The machine would not initialize. Hours of frustration ensued -- but, finally, I gave up and headed back to the store. I swapped my defective beauty for another just like it.

(How much just like it, I did not then know. But I would find out. This is called foreshadowing....)

I was no longer in lust, exactly, but I was still in love. I desperately wanted things to work out between us -- but the machine hung in almost the exact same spot in the unbundling process. The air in our den became blue with my cursing and Long Suffering Spouse quickly sent the children on errands as far away from their lunatic father as possible.

I couldn't bring myself to take the machine back to the store. I was afraid I might kill someone.

Long Suffering Spouse had to take it back the next day.

She kept the kids far away this time as I tried to boot up the latest replacement. I was no longer in love. But I wanted, really, to like this new technology. I saw myself taking notes on it during depositions, converting the notes to text and editing the text with the keyboard, ready to send on to the client, thereby dramatically shortening one of my least favorite tasks -- summarizing depositions. I had hopes. I had dreams.

But first, I had to "train" the system to recognize my handwriting.

The system had a different idea.

The system thought it should "train" me. (This was a Bill Gates product, after all.)

I would write a test phrase and it would tell me how I was supposed to write it in order to make it work properly.

We went round and round like this for some time before my dream was completely crushed and all my hopes died. I used the machine for awhile as a standard notebook, but the stand that had to hold up the heavy screen/CPU cracked and broke under the strain.

Some years later I found that Oldest Son was using the carcass of this once-lusted-after piece of hardware to keep a pile of comic books flat.

And I'd moved on, too. I was cured -- permanently -- of my early-adapting ways. I was hardened by the experience, and maybe just a little embittered. (Does it show?) And then this iPad business comes along... and these old memories come unbidden to the fore...

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Everything I need to know I get from the comics, part 4,788

Things are really, really busy 'round here at the moment, so I haven't time to write anything non-work-related. But... while checking my work email and waiting for attachments to download I have had time (too darned much time... my computer is sooooooooo slow) to do a little browsing around the web. In one of these tours around the Ether, I came across this entry on Abstruse Goose (click image to enlarge).

That's a Poindexter-type, not a Harry Potter-type, communing with a Gandalf- or Merlin-type wizard in the cartoon above. If you didn't enlarge the illustration, despite my suggestion that you do so, you may not be able to read the little postscript:
Dear Book Stores,
Please stop putting fantasy and science fiction books into the same category.
I've often wondered why bookstores do that... they don't mix romance books with horror just because there may be heaving bosoms in both.... Why should fantasy and science fiction be shelved together just because you need an imagination to read either genre?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Today's the "deadline" for census responses?

I heard it on the radio this morning: Today is supposed to be the "deadline" for returning census forms. I hadn't filled mine in yet -- hadn't even looked at it, really, since it arrived a couple of weeks ago -- and for a very simple reason, too: Every single question is geared to who is living at my house on April 1.

That would be today.

How could I fill it in before now?

You may say that's an overly legalistic view, and I suppose it might be seen that way. But I wasn't thinking legalities; I was thinking reality: Is tomorrow promised to any of us?

Of course, I used it as a threat, too. Seventeen year-old Youngest Son gave me some lip recently and I said in response, we'll see if you're listed on the census form come April 1. I may throw you out before then.... Of course, I was only kidding.


Almost certainly.

Today being April 1, however, I have filled in the form accurately and I will post it promptly.

But, in the meantime, can I express my disdain for the racial politics of the census?

I know the census is supposed to tell us -- and our progeny -- about what America looked like in 2010 but I very greatly fear that it tells us far more about the race-obsessed bureaucrats who rule over us at this troubled time in history.

A "note" following Question 7 (for person 1) and Question 4 (for everyone else) tells us that, "For this census, Hispanic origins are not races." (This will come as a shock to the various La Raza folks.) The questions which follow establish that almost everything else is a race. (Except, of course, for those of boring whitebread European ancestries. They are merely "white.")

Thus, a respondent can't be "Hispanic" but can be White, Black (including "African Am., or Negro" -- Negro? Really? Has anyone used that term since the late 1960s?), American Indian or Alaska Native (but you have to supply the name of your tribe), Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan or -- if you print it in the boxes provided -- Hmong, Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, Cambodian, Fijian, Tongan "and so on."

At least they used the term "American Indian" instead of "Native American." Because I would have checked the latter category in an eyeblink: I am an American, born and raised in the good ol' U.S.A. and therefore, under any definition I understand, a "native American."

Just in case these weren't enough racial categories, there was an opportunity to check a box marked "some other race" and a line that could be filled in with the name of that race. I suppose the geniuses who thought this form up were thinking that this could be used by recent African immigrants who might want to note their ethnic origins. But, I have to tell you, I was sorely tempted to simply check that box and fill in the boxes below with these letters:


Because that is the only race of persons living on this planet (even if you subscribe to the wackiest conspiracy theories involving Area 51, the human race is by far the race to which the overwhelming majority of this planet's residents belong). Anyway, the sooner we as a species figure out that there is only one race, the human race, the better off we all will be. For one thing, future censuses would cost less money....

Anyway, I was tempted... but I wimped out. The census form also asks for my home phone number and warns ominously, "We may call if we don't understand an answer." Answering the race question that way would almost certainly result in a phone call... and I just don't want to deal with that.