Thursday, August 30, 2007

All Your Paycheck Are Belong To Us

As if public school teachers in Los Angeles don't have a hard enough job as it is, now many of them are being underpaid or not paid at all due to a massive computer glitch. A friend of ours, a school administrator, has fallen victim to this. In order to get paid, he had to appear personally before payroll personnel, who then issued him a handwritten check. Of course, that check never made it into the system, further exacerbating his troubles. An employer can mess with a lot of things and still retain its employees, but don't screw around with the paychecks.

Let me just say, I can relate.

The End Of Time

It's true: time has nearly run out in California. As of September 19, 2007, Californians will no longer be able to pick up the phone, call a number (the venerable POPCORN in Northern California) and receive, at the tone, the most current time. AT&T has decided to discontinue this service, which has been in effect for more than half a century. The advent of cell phones and other electronic devices that keep current time, as well as the need to have access to more telephone numbers (dropping the "time" number prefixes in the two halves of the state will open up 300,000 new numbers), have led to the demise of the time service.

It is truly the end of an era. Dialing "time" was one of the few numbers I could call as a little kid, so it is tinged with the thrill of big-kid-ness in my memory. Plus, there was always a strange sense of comfort knowing that, whatever else was going on in the world, we could all be united behind the kind woman on the other end of the phone who always knew exactly what time it was. At the tone.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

For The Win!

If you want to see a little bit of what I do for a living, feel free to check out this opinion of California First Circuit Court of Appeal that was filed earlier today. [Please note that the subject matter is a bit unpleasant, and the ultimate conclusion is that our client, an insurance company, did not have an obligation to defend or indemnify the company that employed the perpetrator of the crime described. If this causes you distress, I would be happy to explain to you sometime how in fact I do sleep at night.]

This is the happy culmination of the effort I undertook in June, and many months before that. It gives me more than a little satisfaction to see the Court's analysis tracking so closely with my own.

The most interesting aspect of this result for me personally is that the opinion has been "certified for publication." This means that the decision will be published in the official reports of the Court of Appeal of the State of California. The basic import of that status is that the opinion can now be relied upon as precedent by other parties in future litigation. Selfishly, I now know that, so long as the American legal system endures, my name will be shown in perpetuity in connection with this case. I may have no other effect on the world at large in my days, but I do know that, should a descendant of mine enter into a law library some years or decades in the future, he or she can point to this case and say "my [dad/grandpa/great grandpa/ancient ancestor] did that."

Not a bad way to close out my tenure in this office.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Today's Brainless Entertainment

It is only by working diligently, scouring the internet, that I am able to bring you gems like this. Shoot the bloons!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

On Departures

I have worked in a few high-tech companies in my time. Whenever an employee quit, unless it was an end-of-summer thing as was always the case with me, that employee was ushered out the door that same day. I have always assumed that concerns over theft of intellectual property, either actively or passively, was the driving force been such summary treatment.

The law world has been somewhat more conventional. Associates typically give two-weeks notice of their impending departure, and within that time their caseloads are redistributed to other attorneys, while the departing attorney prepares transitional memos to tell the next person where all the bodies are buried. I did that once myself, and it was relatively painless. Some people are sorry to see you go, and some write you off. It is as if you had been engaged in conversation with some folks on a train, but as soon as you announce that you are getting off at the next stop, the conversation stops since their stories will take longer than that to finish. Having seen many associates leave since I've been a partner at my current firm, I have developed the necessary skill of detatching easily from departing associates. It is a part of the business, and it is easier for all concerned to simply move on as swiftly as possible.

All of this makes my own departure, as a partner required to give 30 days notice, an awkward event. I understand the need taking enough time for smooth transition, but I have known plenty of partners who, once they announced their intention to withdraw from a partnership, were shown the door immediately. My circumstances are such that the reasons for taking such action (protecting the firm's clients) is unneccessary in my case. Intially, I also felt that it would be a detriment to all, especially young associates, to see the "disloyal" partner hanging around the office for a month. More recently, I've come to realize that another side effect of a long goodbye is the dwindling work and, frankly, motivation of the person leaving. By design, my work has tapered off. By circumstance, my head is also several places at once now. I'm working, and getting work done, but it is almost down to a charade now.

The benefits that I bring to the firm at large are diminishing rapidly ... but again, by design. I just don't think this dying on the vine business is healthy for anyone.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Carnegie In Sneakers

It looks like Phil Knight has recovered from his angst over his alma mater's joining a group that promotes the rights of overseas workers. Then, Knight withdrew a $30 Million donation to the university. Now, Knight, who co-founded Nike, and his wife have pledged $100 Million to the University of Oregon. Or, more precisely, the University of Oregon athletic department. A computer in every dorm room? No, more likely a widescreen TV in every locker. (U of O has gone down this road before; its $100 Million football facility features lockers wired for video games and internet access among other amenities.)

Carping about Knight's focus on atletics is easy and cheap. The fact that he has contributed vast sums of money toward an educational institution (and has perhaps freed up spending for academics by essentially single-handedly funding sports) is, in a broader sense, laudable. If only other modern industrialists were so inclined. If, for instance, one of my high school's graduates were similarly committed, Homestead High School might be the technological envy of the educational world, to the benefit of its students and their future.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Bourne Hyperactivity

I like the "Bourne" set of movies. The first one, "The Bourne Identity," is one of my go-to favorites, hands down. Good suspense, thrilling action, a little romance thrown in, set in exotic locales across the world ... I'm an unabashed fan. I liked the second movie, "The Bourne Supremacy," but slightly less. The reserve I have is not from the story, but in how it was shot. The final car chase, in particular, is exciting, but shot is such a jumpy, jangling manner that the action is actually a little hard to follow.

It turns out that the director of that movie, who also directed the recent "Bourne Ultimatum," is a big fan of handing his stuntmen cameras so that action sequences can be shot from "inside the action," as it were. He gave full rein to his impulses in "Ultimatum," to the detriment of the movie, in my estimation. The script is fine: it has the now-usual governmental machinations (a little overplayed this time), the incredible escapes by our hero, and cool action sequences. Unfortunately, there is not a single moment in the film in which the camera is not moving. And by moving, I don't mean a smooth dolly shot or crane swoop. Everything seems to have been shot by a caffeine-addled teen weilding the family Handi-cam, even during slow moments of dialog when two characters are sitting facing each other. My feeling is that, rather than adding energy to the scenes, the jolting camera work actually detracts from the intensity of the action because the viewer has to work so hard to figure out what is actually happening. In one particularly exciting hand-to-hand set piece, clever use was made of such things as hard-bound books and towels, but I only knew that because I had seen photographs of the scene. Unfortunely, all the visceral punch (no pun intended) of the scene is lost because you can't really grasp what is happening until it is all over.

It's still a good movie, but I'd hold out for the Steadycam version.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rejoice, Fans of Quirky British Car Shows

At long last, Top Gear is returning to the US. After a short run on Discovery, BBC America has picked up the show. Not at all a bland, Consumer Reports-type of review show, Top Gear is a genuinely entertaining program that just happens to revolve around cars. The three main presenters pick on each other, engage in weird competitions and activites, and generally have a really good time. Set your Tivos!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Thomas Wolfe, Gertrude Stein and Me

Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, and Gertrude Stein famously said of Oakland, “there is no there there.” To the extent that Wolfe’s dictum stands for the entire Bay Area, I can now say I have proven him wrong. As for Ms. Stein, there may be no “there” in Oakland, but there will soon be a “me.”

I have decided to switch firms (hence the distractions lately), and will be starting next month at a firm in Oakland. There are many complications arising from trying to move a well-established household, and deep emotional ties in SoCal that will make the leaving very hard, but we’re all excited about the future and the new opportunities we will find up north. Thankfully, we will still be close to Cheryl’s family (although certainly not as close as here), we’ll be significantly closer to my family in Oregon, and I may get a chance to spend more time with friends from “back home.” Plus, the schools in the suburbs east of Oakland where we will likely live are substantially better than the ones Kelly would be headed to here. Of course, there are countless unknowns: where to live, what church to go to, what schools the kids will attend, what friends we will make, etc. Still, the move is a good one for me professionally, and Cheryl and the kids have been incredibly supportive. I could not have begun to contemplate something like this without Cheryl’s support and approval, which she gave willingly.

There will be much to say in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’ll have to start burying all the Dodgers paraphernalia we have around the house – don’t want to make a bad first impression with the new neighbors.