Death Centipedes: Identified!

It turns out that animal I refer to as “Rare African Death Centipede” has actually been scientifically identified as a House Centepede (warning: the link contains a picture of horrible creature). Apparently they’re not (a) rare, (b) African, (c) harmful, or (d) oh no wait, they are still centipedes. Nevertheless, the title stays. Native Americans are not Indian’s by any stretch of the imagination, but did that stop Congress from legally defining them as such? Nope. So I carry on with the inaccurate name, mostly because “house centipede” sounds all cute like an inch worm or something. These beasts of nature come straight from the depths of bug hell.
Thanks to Doyle for pointing this out.

Return of the Bat

For the third year in a row, an unwelcome bat has entered my abode. I’m getting calmer about the situation, but it’s still rather annoying to have a bat flying in a figure-8 around the room when you’re trying to, you know, sit around and stuff.
Currently the bat is atop a high bookshelf. See Figure 8 at left. Please excuse the poor quality of this photo. It was taken in the field under intense conditions. Though the bat is not actually visible, I assure you that he is hiding behind the little wooden man. Funny that the man is making a “toro toro” motion (a “murciélago murciélago” motion?).

No Exam for Me Today

I just dropped off a carload of people at the World Trade Center (Boston) for the event of the year: The Massachusetts Bar Exam. Early reports indicate that some New York test takers sat in the middle of an arena football field while taking the test (on turf no less).
It’s a grand and appropriate legal tradition to welcome new lawyers to the profession with a giant two or three day mega-exam, but those of us who will not be taking the Bar this year shouldn’t feel left out of this extraordinary event. Rather, we should celebrate our good fortune. It’s time to truly appreciate those bad sitcoms and reality TV. Bar takers – we salute you, and we’re glad it’s not us.

Job Search Begins (again)

It’s time once again to begin another job search. Hopefully this one will go a little smoother than my last search, which only ended a couple months ago. It’s amazing how long it takes to do simple things like update resumes and write cover letters. Part of the problem is that the legal profession requires things so far in advance that one has to predict what they will be doing in addition to what they have done. For example, my resume includes projects that I’m doing this week (starting tomorrow), and entering 2Ls are already talking about how to put moot court on their resumes before the first job fair (which takes place on the fourth day of class).
The upshot of all this is that one might actually get a job well before they finish school, but for those who don’t find a job in the fall, the job search is a year-round endeavor. Wish me luck.


I’ve seen a lot of new music devices in the last couple years that use creative interfaces to make music. Korg’s touch pad was first, followed by Alesis’ Air FX. Audiopad is an experimental (the I’ve mentioned are fully developed and released) interface that I find especially innovative. It’s not that the means of control are especially amazing (moving objects on a flat surface), but I’m really impressed by the way it represents music visually and allows multidimensional control over various sonic elements. Innovative representation of concepts – this is what I was getting at the other day. The site picture doesn’t do it justice, you should check out the video. Very cool. (via mefi)
P.S. As long as I’m linking to various innovative music products, I shouldn’t neglect Final Scratch. Freeeshhh.

More on Friendster: Chewbacca is My Friend

After reading Alice W’s note that the Star Wars Kid is in her personal network, I found that he was in mine as well. I know him though about four different people, and Chewbacca knows him directly.
Chewbacca has over a thousand friends. Clearly he’s not a serious user of the system. This is a flaw of friendster: friend inflation. I’ve been using friendster purely for the purpose of entertainment – a purpose well served by Chewbacca. Friend inflation would be a liability to anyone using friendster for its ostensible purpose: dating and friend finding. Chewbacca creates friendly spam. He adds hundreds of friends to a personal network, but no real connection (“oh, I see we both have the same imaginary friend, want to have dinner with me tonight?”). Again, friendster is limited by its adherence to absolutes. There are no good friends or mere acquaintances, only friends and “not-friends”. (How about enemies? Someone has already registered, but there’s no site.)
Friendster data is a marketers dream. Imagine plotting out a chart of how consumers are connected. Give free products to people like Chewbacca (if he was real) and watch your message spread. A graphical representation would also reveal who the most connected people were, not just in popularity, but in influence (connections to popular people, or connections to connectors to popular people).

Friendster is Actually Kinda Cool

Friendster is a lot more fun and interesting than I thought it would be. Someone invited me to join and I was really surprised to see a lot of my friends already enrolled. If you haven’t signed up yet, I’d suggest taking a look. My only critique is that you can’t make adjustments for how well you know people. I have lots of friends, but there are some I talk to daily and others I only see annually. I have some really good friends that I hardly ever see, and I have others that I see often but still don’t really know that well. These differences should be accounted for on the system.
Okay – just one more critique. When you’re looking for people that might already be on the system, it’s very hard to determine whether they’re actually the person you think they are. I understand the privacy issue, but the system should allow some information whereby one could determine if John Smith is really the John Smith who lives next door, and not the psycho killer John Smith that lives across the country.
The system is kind of funny: “Please only add this person if they are really your friend.” “So-and-so is your friend.”
If anyone is looking for me on the system, I’m using my address. So that’s my first name at

Symbolic Legal Standards

Yesterday I stated a theory that poor legal writing (in transactions) is the result of negotiation rather than tradition. What if contracts weren’t written with words, but rather, with symbols?
At the bottom of this page is the Creative Commons license for this work. It has all sorts of tiny print, but it can be summed up in three symbols. Isn’t that much easier to read than all the small print? Wouldn’t it be easier to negotiate to just ask for different concepts instead of different words? The words represent the concepts anyway, but changing them requires conformity to the rules of grammar. This makes it difficult to express a substantive change because the negotiator is constrained by the context. He has to make his proposed phrase fit with as few word changes as possible (or risk loosing cooperative ground with the opposing side).
Legal concepts are more like symbols than words. There are all sorts of “magic words” that have come to possess established legal meaning. They are “magic” because the can invoke a particular concept without interpretation. Courts have already decided what they mean. Laypersons don’t know which phrases to use to convey the legal concept they have in mind. Symbols, in this context, increase clarity, make it easier to suggest change (the focus moves from wording to concepts), and are even machine readable. Think of a legal symbolic language as a technology standard. Everyone could communicate with perfect clarity because we’d all be using the same building blocks. Ambiguity and confusion are the result of expression of ideas, but the ideas can be expressed in a standard form that would allow no room for alternative interpretation: legal symbols.
A system of legal symbols could dramatically increase efficiency. I could feed two contracts into a computer and quickly determine which concepts are different – not just which words are different. As an added bonus, it would be easier to see what legal concepts are left out of an agreement. A standard error message could read, “Contract contains no governing law clause.” Lengthy “boilerplate” language could be condensed to a few standard symbols.

An Alternative Theory of Poor Legal Writing

During my first year of law school I was told of a new movement in legal writing. Apparently legal writing contained all sorts of legal jargon, redundancy, and a general lack of clarity. The movement is to fix this by writing things in ordinary English.
Writing instructors and the books they assigned cited tradition and access blocking (making things incomprehensible to non-lawyers) as the reasons for the poor writing, and they noted that these are things that futures lawyers can change. I entered my first summer job ready to simplify, clarify, and use ordinary English.
Before the summer was over, I had introduced legal documents to the world that certainly had words like “hereby” in them. This summer, rarely a day goes by that I don’t advocate for documents that use words like “hereinafter” or use sentences that are at the edge of grammatically correct (and in some cases beyond). Where did I go wrong?
I’d like to put forth a new theory on why legal writing is so bad. I think it has little to do with tradition or access blocking, but everything to do with negotiation. The tradition comes into play when the “standard form” document is drafted. Often, the form is based on an old form that was based on an even older form. That document comes to the lawyer for the other side. Is that lawyer going to send it back with new language correcting things that aren’t technically wrong? Of course not. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. I’ve found that I actually make things more wrong in effort to minimize changes while still asking for a substantive change. My goal is to make it legally say what I want it to while making as few changes as possible. Asking for tons of changes is rarely a good negotiation strategy, and I think that the desire to keep changes to a minimum perpetuates the poor writing.
Legal memoranda and court opinions don’t suffer from the same negotiation restraint, but I haven’t found these to be a problem. New cases read quite smoothly. It’s the transactional writing (contracts) that is bad, and it’s this that can’t change as long as documents are being negotiated by the word (rather than by the idea).

Every Law Firm Should Have a Foosball Table

I honestly believe that foosball increases productivity. Who, stereotypically, has foosball tables in their offices? That’s right: programmers. And what do programmers do all day? They stare at computer screens and write arguments. The lawyer’s mind might work slightly differently, but both groups have one huge thing in common: they both pretty much just sit there in silence all day long.
Sitting and thinking / reading / writing can really make you tired around 3pm. What one needs is something to get the blood flowing again, and get some different parts of the brain working: foosball. It’s fun, physical (not enough to tire anyone out), and social.
The problem is that foosball is thought of as a game (hmm – for good reason I suppose). The table makes an office look like a rec-room. Not anymore my friends.