Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Guitar Hero Rules

I'm not a huge gamer. I have a Playstation 2, but it has spent most of its life serving as a second DVD player. I enjoy high quality driving games like Gran Turismo 4, but am utterly pathetic at first person shooter games.

In real life, I'm a bit of a musician. I sing in an organized choir every week, and every other week or so I sing with a group of about six people, on microphones with a full band. I play some guitar, and a little piano (more lately, since I figured out how to play songs according to the chords rather than worry about all those annoying notes that a splattered all over the page).

Can these worlds co-exist, especially for someone who no longer fits the flannel-wearing, hair-in-the-eyes moody-mumbler demographic? With Guitar Hero, the answer is a resounding yes.

Andy posted an excellent review a while back. It is all true. Moreover, as someone who is involved in music regularly and plays guitar, unlike Andy, I have to admit that it is possible to feel the rush of accomplishment when jamming through a tough solo, when the music crescendos suddenly as the crowd roars, or when finishing a song with a flourish. It's goofy, because you are not really playing music, but the game does an excellent job of drawing the player into the musical experience. It helps to have a basic sense of rhythm and good hand-eye coordination, but the game comes with some effective tutorials, and a little practice is all it takes to get through the songs on the easiest level. Proof: Kelly is about halfway through the easy level in career mode.

As a musician, I have felt the high that comes from those moments when a band is really connecting within itself and with the audience; Guitar Hero does a laudable job of helping non-musicians tap into that feeling. Plus, the game is still great fun for sort-of musicians like me because the song selections are so good.

And sight of Kelly, the sweet little 9-year-old honors student, grimacing her way (successfully) through Black Sabbath's Iron Man is, well, without parallel in this world or, likely, any other.

Friday, May 26, 2006

He Shoots, He Scores!

A little professional update: I won a case this week. Well, that's "I" in the sense that I did most of the work within the firm on the case, and "this week" in the sense that the ruling on a motion filed in December and argued in February was finally made two days ago. But I digress.

Without going into too much detail because the judgment has not yet been filed and the time for appeal has not run, I had had primary responsibility for what we call a "coverage case" for the last couple of years. A claim was made against the company our client insured. For various reasons, we (I) determined that our policy provided no coverage. Another insurance company that was involved in the action eventually sued our client, looking to get the money they spent back from our client. Ultimately, we (I) filed a motion for summary judgment, which basically says that the facts and law require that judgment be granted in our favor, prior to trial. It is a drastic motion, and not often granted, although routinely filed.

There were some rather amusing procedural missteps by our (my) opposing counsel, but ultimately she filed her own motion. The Court heard argument on the two motions in February (my managing partner handled that part). We've been cooling our heels ever since waiting for the result. On Wednesday, the e-mail from the court clerk arrived. It was one of those that you are afraid to open -- which way will it go? Thankfully, considering the large dollars potentially involved if it went against us, the Court ruled in our favor. That means game over -- we win the case outright.

So much of what we do involves mediation and settlement that it is extremely rare to have a definitive, scoreboard-worthy result. To achieve such closure, favorably, on a motion that was based, in structure and content, on my own reasoning and expression, is very gratifying. This profession permits precious few of these mountaintop occasions; I am glad I had one.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Check Will Be In The Mail

We, in our post-modern, sophisticated society, scoff with gentle scorn at antiquated laws that remain on the books in various jurisdictions across this great land. We have all heard of various ordinances that strike us now as silly in this enlighted age. Prohibitions against wearing cowboy boots unless you own two cows (Blythe, CA), riding an ugly horse (Hartsville, IL) or pushing a moose out of a moving airplane (AK) are amusing but, in all liklihood, apocryphal. I tried to track down some of these old laws, and found that most website sources simply point to other websites, a victim of the giant echo chamber that is the interweb. In particular, the municipal codes of at least a couple of the communities that purportedly have these laws on the books appear to have excised those ordinances.

There is an old law, however, that has been on the books for a very long time, that long ago outlived its usefulness, and has effected all of us all of our lives. Even more interesting, it is a federal law, and the government has now decided to stop enforcing it. You probably know, if you examine your phone bills closely, that the government has been imposing a 3% tax on long distance telephone calls. What you may not realize is that the IRS code under which the tax was imposed was enacted in 1898, during the Spanish-American War. According to the TaxProf Blog, the law was enacted as a "luxury" tax on those few rich Americans who owned telephone (thank you for that progressive policy, Mr. McKinley). The IRS has recently lost a series of cases in Federal Court challenging the law, leading the IRS to formally abandon collection of the tax.

Here's the fun part: all taxpayers will receive a reimbursement of some as-yet-undetermined amount as part of our 2007 tax return, since the IRS is sitting on $15 billion of improperly assessed tax moneys. The reimbursement will be limited to a three year window due to the applicable statute of limitations. The IRS says that it will design a process that will be "simple and fair" that will not require all of us to dig through three years of phone records.

Sure, that seems reasonable. I trust that the IRS will be open, generous and fair. I can't wait to compare the resulting refund with my actual outlay of taxes, since I do keep my phone bills.

Never say the Bush administration didn't give you something.

Monday, May 22, 2006


As we in SoCal lie gasping under the deluge of almost half an inch of rain (!), I feel a need to apologize to my sun-loving Southland brethren.

Yes, it's true: after more than a month, I washed both of our cars this weekend. Clearly, the cosmic effects of a dual washing was too much for the local climate to bear.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Lawyer and the Deputy

A funny for Friday:

A lawyer runs a stop sign and gets pulled over by a sheriff's deputy. He thinks that he is smarter than the deputy because he is a lawyer and is certain that he has a better education. He decides to prove this to himself and have some fun at the deputy's expense.

Deputy says,"License and registration, please."
Lawyer says, "What for?"
Deputy says, "You didn't come to a complete stop at the stop sign."
Lawyer says, "I slowed down, and no one was coming."
Deputy says, "You still didn't come to a complete stop. License and registration, please."
Lawyer says, "What's the difference?"
Deputy says, "The difference is, you have to come to complete stop, that's the law. License and registration, please!"

Lawyer says, "If you can show me the legal difference between slow down and stop, I'll give you my license and registration; and you give me the ticket. If not, you let me go and don't give me the ticket."

Deputy says, "Sounds fair. Please exit your vehicle, sir."

At this point, the deputy takes out his nightstick and starts beating the tar out of the lawyer and says, "Do you want me to stop or just slow down?"

Thursday, May 11, 2006

An Amusment Park Just For Me

Now this is an amusement park for which I would gladly buy a season pass and even pay extra for the silly 64-oz. soda container. Not only can you tour a museum where you can be introduced to the "history of automobility," but the kids get an area where they get to drive little cars, much like at Legoland (but with cute VWs, not boxy Volvos):

There is also a car design lab where visitors are encouraged to create their own designs, other learning labs, and, best of all, a driver training course:

The capper for the whole thing is the new car delivery system. The park abuts Volkswagen's factory system, enabling the automaker to whisk new cars directly to the park for pickup. It is no ordinary delivery system, however. Here is how the cars are stored:

In the immortal word of Neo, "whoa." Yet, it is neither the Matrix nor a Hotwheels carrying case. It is a set of two 20-story buildings with an automated lift and storage cubby system, directly linked to the factory.

If only Audi (a VW company) allowed for European delivery.

Pushing Tin

Ever wonder why air traffic controllers suffer from hypertension and high blood pressure? You probably would, too, if you had to manage dozens of approaches and departures per hour, especially if you have to work around weather. Particularly if your work found you in Memphis, the distribution hub for FedEx. Enjoy this little snippet of an ATC's life, a time-lapse radar track of FedEx jets landing in Memphis in the midst of a major thunderstorm.

Try not to think about this the next time you land somewhere in heavy weather.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Why GM Still [Stinks], Reason No. 483

On our recent vacation, we had to rent a car to get ourselves around Florida. Oh, the adventures we had (the subject of a forthcoming post). The car itself was one of GM's "full size" sedans, a Pontiac Grand Prix. Ours looked just like this, minus the blingy wheels:

It was large enough for four people and their luggage, with cupholders front and back. It had adequate power, and most of the controls were decipherable to a new driver in the dark within at least a few minutes of needing to use them (such as headlights and the remote trunk release).

We picked up the car after dark, however, which concealed an unbelievably stupid design flaw that only revealed itself, painfully, in the bright light of a Florida day. As soon as we hit the road the next morning, I was startled by a bright and persistent glare from the dashboard. A few more glances at the instrument panel as we drove down unfamiliar roads in an unfamiliar car confirmed the most ludicrous discovery. In their zeal for a swoopiness quotient that some focus group presumably told Pontiac's middle management was necessary to fight back 'ginst them furriners, Pontiac's dashboard designer came up with an instrument panel that actively reflects sunlight from the windshield into the driver's eyes. NASA wishes that the Hubble Space Telescope's optics were as finely tuned as the shapely piece of clear plastic that covers the instrument panel in the Grand Prix. Not only does the instrument binnacle fail to shade the instruments, but the clear cover is curved in such a way as to gather light that otherwise might have been harmlessly deflected elsewhere and aim it straight at the driver.

Here is a picture (taken at a stoplight in traffic at about midday) of the dashboard:

Those two bright areas of light on either side of the instruments are Pontiac's driver-blinding contribution to GM's ever-growing dishonor roll of horrible human factor design elements (wouldn't you agree, Chris?). The picture does not do the intensity of the glare justice, since it tries to stop down the shutter to prevent the glare from washing out the picture. The human eye, though, must engage in the same effort in order to read the instruments. It is a very, very poor product that forces users of a dangerous machine to make radical and constant adjustments to their vision in order to operate it effectively. Don't they test these cars in the daylight before they release them on an unsuspecting public? Truly embarassing. Any enterprising product development engineer with a heat gun could have reshaped the instrument plastic at the prototype stage to solve the problem. It's such a small thing, yet so incredibly annoying.

And GM wonders why it is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Yes, a century of unionization is a spear-sized thorn in the corporate side, but garbage design over the last 35 years is the root cause. This is not the Field of Dreams, boys: just because you build them does not mean the buyers will come. If market share is any indication, it has been that way for a long time.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Apple(tm) v. Apple Update

Apple Computer has successfully defended itself in a British court against Apple Corps, the Beatles' music label. The trial judge found that the computer company's iTunes service, and the use of its logo in association with iTunes, did not violate a prior agreement between the two entities that prohibited Apple Computer from being involved in the recording industry. The judge found that iTunes was an "electronic shop" rather than a music publisher, and that the use of the logo did not lead to consumer confusion that the computer maker was involved in the creative process of music creation as well. Apple Corps is expected to appeal the ruling.

Notwithstanding the possibility of appeal, Steve Jobs immediately seized the opportunity to invite the Beatles to join the iTunes community. However, from a professional point of view, I wonder whether the 1991 agreement had an attorneys' fees provision that would award fees to the prevailing party. That sort of contractual provision often has a profound effect on the post-trial outcome of litigation. Of course, Apple Corps is undoubtedly well equipped to handle the millions of dollars in fees Apple Computer likely tallied up, but it would not surprise me if the two litigants came to a further agreement that resulted in the dismissal of the appeal. It would never be said publicly, but I would guess that the waiver of a right to fees under the Agreement in exchange for the dismissal would be part of the deal. All you need is love ... and some good leverage.

Monday, May 08, 2006

And Then There Was Disney World

After time spent in the Bahamas and Ocala, the deep gravitational force that is Disney World drew us back to Orlando. We only had two days, which we knew would allow only enough time for a sample of what the Mouse Colossus had to offer. We began with Epcot, which had always been a bit of a mystery to me. Having now been there, though, I highly recommend it. Around the world in 80 minutes; here we are in England:

Now we're in Italy:

Now back to Futureworld, complete with a truly useful Monorail:

We plunked down the funds for the absurdly expensive Park Hopper pass, which allows ticketholders to attend any of the Disney parks for the duration of time allowed by the tickts. Determined to make use of this capability, we Monorailed over the Magic Kingdom, which is the equivalent of Disneyland, minus the Matterhorn. This kids wanted to do a couple of the rides, so we did exactly that:

The next day, we went to Animal Kingdom. Part zoo, part amusement park, it is a surprisingly large property, but because it is so lush, it feels very crowded. In addition to a safari, we spent a lot of time doing things that were essentially free play for the kids. A resource center/petting zoo:

Meeting Mickey and Goofy:

A huge playground in the Dinosaur area:

Then, in keeping with our we-paid-for-it-we'd-better-use-it philosophy, we Monorailed back to Epcot, where we could grab a variety of food a la carte for dinner. Also, we had no choice but to leave Animal Kingdom, since it closed at five. We were there for nearly all of its open hours and saw maybe thirty percent of the park.

Back at Epcot, the light was getting low, so we decided to take some pictures with the clever topiary. Kelly took this one:

Michael decided he wanted to use the camera, so he took this one:

Before we could wrest the camera away, he snapped this one, too:

While Cheryl and Kelly picked up some yummy delicacies in Norway, Michael went shopping for clothing that fits his personality:

The long day closes:

Friday, May 05, 2006

Random Jack Bauer Facts

Okay, it's Friday evening, I'm exhausted and have three more exhausting days ahead of me. It's time for silly, made up facts about a TV character! In the mold of the Random Chuck Norris Facts, I bring you a few select (and clean) Random Jack Bauer Facts. Trust me: if you watch "24," this will be hi-larious.

Jack Bauer's calender goes from March 31st to April 2nd; no one fools Jack Bauer.

If Jack Bauer were in a room with Hitler, Stalin, and Nina Meyers, and he had a gun with 2 bullets, he'd shoot Nina twice.

Jack Bauer once forgot where he put his keys. He then spent the next half-hour torturing himself until he gave up the location of the keys.

Once, someone tried to tell Jack Bauer a "knock knock" joke. Jack Bauer found out who was there, who they worked for, and where the bomb was.

Jack Bauer sleeps with a pillow under his gun.

On a high school math test, Jack Bauer put down "violence" as every one of the answers. He got an A+ on the test because Jack Bauer solves all his problems with violence.

Jack Bauer could strangle you with a cordless phone.

When Google can't find something, it asks Jack Bauer for help.

In high school Jack Bauer was voted "Most Likely to Kill the Foreign Kid"... and "Best Eyes."

Don't ever ask Jack Bauer what is going on. He'll explain in the car.

When someone asks him how his day is going, Jack replies, "Previously, on 24..."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Next Stop: Florida

The next portion of our trip was dedicated to spending time with more friends. Ross, Margaret and their four daughters were friends from church who figured out that their charming little Burbank home could be turned into a nice big house with real acreage back in Margaret's hometown of Ocala, Florida. They were kind enough to put us up for a few days of rest and relaxation. The kids had great fun together, as they always do, whether they were at the local Paso Fino ranch:

At Chick-Fil-A:

Picking blueberries:

At home making paper dolls:

Or having a backyard cookout:

The weather was very comfortable, even for Californians accustomed to low humidity. We rode horses, swam in a lake, roasted hotdogs and marshmallows, fed goats, chased chickens, and generally had a great time. We also had the chance to do nothing, which no vacation should be without. I think that a great sign of friendship is the ability to be lazy in each others' presence; we shared that time in abundance. it was sorely needed.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Islands, Mon

Not surprisingly, the Bahamas were beautiful, and we had a great time. Given that a picture is worth a larger number of words than I am inclined to write at this point, let's go to the images.

Our first glimpses of New Providence Island, snapped quickly as the airplane cruised in on final approach:

At lunch at the British Colonial Hotel after arrival, we saw an America's Cup yacht that is available for short cruises. Note the brave fellow high up the mast.

Dipping toes in the water for the first time:

Bay Street, the main street through Nassau, and the Straw Market, where the world's finest ersatz Prada handbags and Bahamian products (made in Hong Kong) can be found:

On day two, we went to the beach down the street from Greg and Kate's place:

Later, we spent some time at the spectacular Atlantis resort, enjoying the immense indoor/outdoor aquarium:

The next day, we took a sailboat to nearby, unihabited Rose Island for beach fun and snorkeling:

On the last day, we followed an exploration of tidepools with an English breakfast at the local cricket club:

Finally, after 3 1/2 days of sun, sand, snorkeling, and great times with Greg, Kate and Conor, we bid the islands adieu, on our way to further adventures in Florida: