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On the left side of the less-than-antiseptic folding table in the basement laundry room, there’s a space where residents seem to leave unwanted stuff. Usually it’s boring junk: magazines, a pet carrier. Once I nabbed a DVD player, which it turns out I have not used. Oh well.

Today someone left a big stack of books, including The Broom of the System and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which indicated to me that this was a person of excellent taste in books. They also left House of Leaves, which I didn’t know anything about. I judged it by association and took it home. Ditto the sequel.

Also I took a huge (but almost worryingly light) shiny stew pot and a cooking thermometer. We’ll see if they get more use than the DVD player.

NYU Law Revue

Four years ago, I went to the Harvard Medical School second-year show, which was phenomenal. Now, I may have finally found its match: the NYU Law Revue.

Like the Second Year Show, the Law Revue is a musical comedy with a cast of students in an intensive, elite graduate program, and songs with familiar melodies but new, subject-appropriate lyrics. They’re both hilarious … but the Law Revue takes it up another notch.

Most obviously, the Law Revue has an incredible amount of dancing, with detailed choreography. On several occasions, the entire cast was on stage at once, singing and dancing, each time in a totally different costume. There are close to a dozen major soloists, most of whom have to sing while dancing, which is basically impossible.

The musical numbers are all backed by a live band … not an orchestra. The Second Year Show had an orchestra with a ton of violinists, which makes perfect sense for a talent pool of ex-premeds. Law Revue has a full brass band, with, if anything, an excess of saxophones. They passed time between scenes by covering pop songs that weren’t in the show, well enough to play any lounge in the city that’s big enough to hold them.

Every ticket holder receives a booklet that includes not just the basics, but also hilarious fictional biographies for every cast member, a detailed description of the cast and characters in every scene, and complete lyrics to every song in the show. Then, for audience members who aren’t lawyers, they also provided a “gLAWsarry” explaining the background on every inside joke, with even more humor written into the explanations themselves.

The amount of love this must have required is mind-boggling, and the amount of time (from some of the world’s busiest people) even moreso.

By the end of show, this all began to make sense to me. Practicing law is the art of writing within the constraints. Litigation is improv drama. Of course they have tons of people who want to write scripts and alternate lyrics, perform for an audience, and provide obsessively perfect documentation. Even the saxophones kind of fit: law is jazz!

Oh, by the way, this year’s comic plot: an evil corporation is about to produce an artificially intelligent document review engine, leading to totally computational law and 100% law student unemployment. I felt like a representative of the “enemy”.

P.S. My favorite reference was to this case


I got my first filling today. I opted for no anesthesia, mostly so I could get back to the office and not be half-paralyzed. Oddly, the only painful bit was the air jet that they use to dry out the working area. The drills and such … I hardly felt a thing.

Anyway, now a big chunk of one of my teeth is made of some kind of photo-cured resin. This is the first time that a part of my body has been replaced by a non-biological component. It’s hard to guess what the next one will be.

Olive Garden

I went with some friends for a post-Passover meal at the Olive Garden in Times Square. We stuffed ourselves with pasta and breadsticks, and remarked on the endless roiling LED twilight of Times Square. Also, I somehow wound up with a dozen Olive Garden-branded Andes chocolate mints. What are the odds that I’d be the only chocolate mint lover at a table of seven people?

Constitutional attitude

Section 8 of the US Constitution, written in 1789, specifically says “The Congress shall have Power … To establish Post Offices and post Roads”. This was uncontroversial; Benjamin Franklin had been the postmaster general of the United States since 1775 … before the United States existed. One of George Washington’s first acts as President was to sign the Postal Service act, which officially established the Post Office Department.

It seems to me that if we governed with the same spirit today, Congress would be empowered “to establish local and long-distance Internet services”, and we would have a cabinet-level Network Administrator General who was charged with keeping the lights on.

Budget Suites

In 1987, Robert Bigelow founded Budget Suites of America. Their minimal website proudly proclaims rates starting at $189.

In the 1990s, NASA started researching a space station construction concept called TransHab. It was ultimately killed by Congress in 2000, after substantial R&D but no launches.

Budget Suites of America, and Bigelow’s other investments, wound up being pretty darn profitable, and it turns out that Bigelow is a big space fan. He hired the TransHab team from NASA and bankrolled a little company for them, Bigelow Aerospace. For years, they posted pretty pictures of mockups, and even launched some empty test hardware … expensive, but hardly proof of much. After years of waiting for space launch prices to come down so that they could put real space stations in orbit, they admitted defeat in 2011 and laid off most of their staff. It looked like the end of an odd little adventure.

There was one ray of hope, though. In 2012 they signed a small contract with NASA to take their TransHab-derived space station module and bolt it onto the ISS, just as a proof of concept. Now it’s 2015, and that proof of concept is on schedule for this year. If it works, it will be Robert Bigelow’s first real estate investment in space … and probably not his last.

Science fiction is full of space hotels, but I don’t think anyone predicted that the first one would be built by the Budget Suites guy.


Caught my second cockroach this morning.  I trapped it under an heirloom Bakelite soap dish and flushed it with some help from some junk mail.

There’s never just two…

Book: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I’ve been flying a lot, and decided I should get a dose of Literature, so I went to my neighborhood library and scanned the shelves for anything recognizable. The selection was sparse, to say the least, but I managed to spot a few familiar titles and nabbed them. This was one.

The book starts out as an exercise in unreliable narration, with a narrator whose mental illness prevents him from distinguishing between metaphor and reality. In my mind’s eye, I saw scenes from Big Fish, which uses special effects to tell tall tales. As the story progresses, the narrator becomes more coherent, reflecting his personal progress toward wellness, which is also convenient because the later plot is thick enough that the book might otherwise be incomprehensible.

The unreliable narrator is a caricature of mental illness, but the author gets away with it by being sympathetic, even partisan, and never judgmental of the patients. This is a neat trick, because the author proceeds to get away with misogyny (by the ton), racism, and stereotyping of every kind, by putting those words in the mouth of a narrator, who is supposed to be insane anyway.

Ultimately, the story is a heartbreaking critique of over-treatment in insane asylums, which at the time of the novels were institutionalizing 0.4% of the US adult population. Today, that number has indeed fallen closer to 0.02% … and incarceration has more than made up the difference.

Be careful what you wish for.

The Taste Fork

I spent this week in Dallas at the Internet Engineering Task Force. It was my first time going.

Participating in the IETF has long been a dream of mine. Maybe something beyond a dream; it was only a few years ago that I realized this history-making council of knights was something that I might actually be able to join myself. It was an odd epiphany, like opening one’s mailbox and finding an invitation to apply for a professional masters degree program at Hogwarts.

For me, the IETF process, where any person can join, but no companies are allowed, and the most official decisions are called a “request for comments”, inspires a feeling somewhere between patriotism and religious fervor. I’m liable to interrupt family dinners to explain the IETF’s hum-based method of gauging consensus, or to repeat by heart Dave Clark’s famous quote

We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code.

So, naturally, actually going to IETF would have to be a disillusioning experience, and in some sense it was. The meetings seem to be 40% bickering about minutiae and 60% talking to dead air. Obstinacy, pedantry, and obstructionism are in long supply. There’s essentially no educational component; no energy is expended to help attendees to learn about areas outside of their own bubble. I learned an important lesson there: review the agenda ahead of time, and study up on anything that piques your interest, or you will simply be lost!

The vast majority of people in each meeting are simply silent, and it’s impossible for me to know whether they are bewildered newcomers (like me) or some kind of passive expert observer. I spent the whole week in Dallas just to give two 10-minute presentations. And oh, by the way, proportionally, the men’s swim team at my high school had more women in it than the IETF.

On the other hand, it was also a fascinating, inspiring, and massively informative week. I met personal heroes and long-time collaborators by the dozen. I had lunch and dinner with a different group of grizzled experts every day, with plenty of time to hear old engineering war stories and ask all the unanswered questions from all of the day’s working groups. I might even have managed to drum up support for my very first internet standard proposal.

Most IETF attendees seem to be regulars who go to most of the meetings. Some people have been to practically all of them, since the beginning. I’m not sure I’m likely to become one of them … but I also get the feeling this won’t be my last.