self, camphone, eye

Minor League

After several months as an agency temp, the time of my deliverance is at hand: the law firm I'm working for has decided to buy me from the temp agency and take me on board.

This is only a qualified success, though. I've been taken on as...a temporary staff attorney. The firm doesn't think hiring a rookie lawyer is worth the risk. A junior partner told it to me straight: they need more experienced attorneys, guys with five years in practice and probably government service.

Still, that means I'm on board for at least another month. I get more money. I get more chances to impress more attorneys. And the people I've worked with thus far can continue to lobby the partners to hire me permanently.

Here's how I see it: It's like being invited to Spring Training. I tried hard, I made it through the first cut, I impressed a few people. There's no room for me in the big-league clubhouse, so instead they sent me down to the minors. If I keep hacking, I'm sure I'll get to the Show.
self, camphone, eye

Just give me the bad news.

O employers! Hear my plea and prayer: If you don't think I'm good enough to do the job for you, go ahead and tell me so. I'm a big boy; I can take the bad news. Besides, I might need to know for other reasons.

Before I sat the bar exam, I applied for a job with a very small firm downtown that will remain nameless. I did everything needed to apply, sent everything I needed to send in plenty of time, and then heard--nothing.

OK, no big deal, I thought. It's been a while, and I'd been busy studying for and taking the bar exam. Months rolled past, and I thought I should follow-up. So, in November, four months after the July bar exam, I sent another e-mail to the partner to whom I had sent my application. This was a friendly note to let him know that I'd passed the bar and expected to be sworn in very soon. "Congratulations," he said. "you'll hear from us soon."

I never did.

In January, I heard that this particular partner was once again looking to fill substantially the same position. I re-sent all my materials, with copies of the correspondence of the past few months. This time, the partner invited me in for an interview. The interview was about as good as these things ought to be; I was genuinely interested in the work, and he described, with great earnestness and obvious pride the practice he had built up.

The same afternoon, he sent me a message asking for my references and a writing sample. I obliged him immediately. That was at the end of January. There has been no reply.

I had to find out that the position had been filled by asking a friend of mine at the same firm, who told me that the partner in question simply hadn't been sending out messages lately.

While I'd been waiting for the man who never wrote back, I took a temporary gig at a much bigger firm downtown as a non-attorney proofreader/paralegal. Tough, but hey, we've all got bills to pay, right? Well, I've been working that job since around December, and I've given it my dead-level best to show them that I've got at least some attorney skills in me. The attorneys seem to like me. The Of Counsel took me aside and told me he wanted to hire me as a regular attorney. "We hire attorneys here after an interview of what, a few minutes? You've been here a few months. We know what we're getting. I think you're a much better hire because of that."

Naturally, there's a hitch. Since I came in as an agency temp, the firm can't hire me without paying the agency a hefty fee.

Well, Of Counsel promised he'd do his best, but he never got back to me, either. This project's almost over, and there's not much left for me to do. But he hasn't said anything about whether or not the firm had decided to take me on as a proper attorney. I suspect that he might--shockingly--be a bit unwilling to deliver me bad news.

Neither of these eminences grises wanted to tell me, man to man, that I didn't get the job. Of Counsel probably isn't telling me because he's too full of the milk of human kindness; the small-firm gent may have forgotten what human kindness was. Either way, I would have appreciated a bit of candor, out of professional courtesy if nothing else.

Besides, I can take being rejected. Lately, I've had an awful lot of practice.
self, camphone, eye

Gardel: "Volver"

As they say in Argentina: Carlos Gardel sings better with every passing day.

Lately I've been relying on to serve me old tango records over the Intertubes. They drown out my cubemates' yammering. I've been listening to the lyrics more carefully, as well.

Anyway, here's one of my favorites--"Volver," composed & performed by Carlos Gardel, with lyrics by his collaborator Alfredo Le Pera.

The lyrics, translated:

I see the flicker
From the lights which, at a distance
Mark my return--
They are the same which illuminated
With their pale reflections
Deep hours of pain.

And though I didn't want to return,
One always comes back to his first love--

The old street where the echo said:
"Yours is her life--yours is her love!"
Under the mocking glare of the stars
That with indifference, see me come back today--

Come back--with a withered face,
The snows of time have frosted my temples

To feel--that life is no more than a breath,
That twenty years is nothing,
That the feverish gaze, searching in the shadows
Seeks you out and calls you by name

To live, with my soul clutched tight
To a sweet memory which I cry once again.

I fear the meeting
With the past with now returns
To confront my life--

I fear the nights,
Which, populated by memories,
Shackle my dreams--
But the traveler who flees
Sooner or later must stop running away

And although Oblivion, which destroys all
has killed my old dream
I guard, hidden, a humble hope
Which is all the treasure of my heart.
self, camphone, eye

I'm still here

I am, honest.

Something is going to happen soon--I can just feel it. I don't want to say what, just yet, though--I wouldn't want to jinx it. Suffice it to say that I expect an important decision in the immediate future.

It's close enough that it's got me unusally agitated--enough to jar me out of my usual doldrums. But more news when things get more solid.
self, camphone, eye

Cheer up, Biglaw Associate

I didn't get a bonus, either.

Propriety prevents me from discussing my life these days. I'm slumming it in the nether-world of white-collar temporary work, waiting for something else to break.

I know a few things, though:

  • Big Law is just like Small Law, except that everybody gets paid. Lots. I don't feel professionally inferior to my present Big Law masters

  • Temp work, whether doc review or otherwise, is a racket. Standard temp agency contracts come with restrictive covenants: you covenant neither to seek nor accept permanent employment with any firm to which you're posted for up to one year after the end of your posting. The silver lining? If you do wish to have the big boys hire you on, you agree to have the agency act as your exclusive agent in the negotiations, and they'll charge the firm hiring you with a hefty fee. (Probably their liquidated damages for losing your services). Fortunately, no one will hire you because no one will pay the fee. It makes sense, after all; temps must be damaged goods--else someone would have hired them by now. Who pays premiums for damaged goods?

  • No matter how crappy my compensation, I still have my professional pride. I'm being pimped out, but I'm no common whore. Whatever they thought they'd get, when they hired me, they got a proper lawyer. I can't bear to do shitty work.

self, camphone, eye

Close the book on the Deadskins

This post is going to ramble a bit. You have been warned.

Well, the Deadskins go 6-10 for 2010. Along the way, we've seen a new coach, a new coach's son/offensive coordinator, two new quarterbacks, and, well, not much else.

Looking back at all the hype that surrounded the Shannahans' arrival in DC, I have to wonder why we even care about football head coaches. Most of the hype--and most of the criticism--has centered on aspects of the Shannahan "system."

Relatively little ink has been spilled on the fact that the Shannahan "system," if such a system ever existed, depended largely on the people Mike Shannahan had at his disposal back at Mile High in Denver. Now, I may be a bit naive as a football fan, but surely the measure of a good coach, let alone a great one, is not whatever "system" he carries with him, but the degree to which he is able to craft a system that suits his present situation.

Now, I must be an idiot, because nobody seems to evaluate football coaches on that basis. A number of NFL teams and more than a few college football programs will be shopping for new coaches this off-season, but everywhere the buzz will be about the merits of one "system" against another. What really matters is something we can't evaluate from the outside: the ability of a coach to organize the assets at his disposal to deliver. I appreciate that football can be a complicated game, but it's not as if football coaches have some sort of gnosis--some private revelation from the divine--that supplies them with a "system." These things are learned, taught, copied and adapted.

By that measure, I would give the Shannahans mixed reviews for their first year with the Redskins. They spent the first half of the season in what turned out to be a futile attempt to turn Donovan McNabb into John Elway. That didn't work. In the past month, we've seen the dawn of the Rex Grossman era, with equally mixed results: better offensive production coupled with crippling offensive mistakes.

On defense, we've seen a team that had been stingy in yards allowed to give up lots of yards--enough that they now rank, dead last in terms of yards allowed among NFL defenses. Redskins fans have watched too many opposing drives chew up precious seconds of game time as the defense has, again and again, conceded yard after yard to opposing rushers.

Things might have been better, I guess, if at least the Redskins could look forward to a rebuilding year in the draft. But the front office has shut down that path to improvement: they have consistently traded away draft picks for big-money free agents. This has been, and will continue to be, costly. It's hard to build a "system" if you don't have enough chances to get players to fill roles.

I don't know about you, but I keep imagining an alternate universe: a universe where we didn't care so much about a "system" or the off-season free-agent signing. I imagine a universe where the dozens of traded draft picks...weren't. I imagine a Redskins team coached by a reasonably-competent journeyman. I imagine that there were three or four terrible rebuilding years.

But I imagine, too, that a few of those draft picks had worked out; the oldest would be a veteran player now. I imagine organizational stability. I imagine timing-based passes that were in sync. I imagine fewer missed tackles and fewer blown coverage situations because, well, players would have had a chance to get comfortable in their roles. I imagine a Redskins team that might not have gone to the playoffs, but might have at least won half of their games.

I might even dare to imagine that in all of that, the Redskins front office and coaching staff would never have had to resort to humiliating NFL veterans by disparaging their "conditioning." We would never have had to worry about some overpaid Achilles sulking in his training-camp tent. We might have never witnessed the spectacle of a starting quarterback learning that he had been benched through media reports. We might imagine an organization so respected as to attract the attention of--dare I say it--ambitious free agents.

Instead, we Redskins fans can look forward to the off-season: the only time of the football year the Redskins can imagine themselves as real competitors.
self, camphone, eye


boingboing is carrying a story about the reissue of some Fela Kuti recording. Best part: Fela's TRIUMPHANT Afrobeat anthem, "Zombie" CAN BE DOWNLOADED FOR FREE

This is quite possibly the best protest song against militarism EVER written. If you listen to this and are not immediately up and dancing, you should have yourself checked out by a doctor.
self, camphone, eye

Mythbuntu Box Build (and Analog Copy Protection Blues)

With a bit of time on my hands lately, I've embarked on a project that I've always wanted to try--I've built a MythTV box, using the excellent Mythbuntu distribution.

The Plan, of course, was to build a DVR box for analog cable because I don't feel like paying for the cable company's HD-DVR box. The recordings would be nice in HD, but theyr'e fine in standard-def, too, especially if I want to keep them around for when the HD set is in use--say, when the rest of the house wants to watch a football game I don't want to watch.

The house already receives HD cable via Cox Cable, but we have a bunch of cable drops still using analog cable with our older equipment. The HD box has put most of the analog equipment out of regular use, which is a pity, since it's pretty handy.

Back when I had money and time, I also bought an ancient Hauppauge WinTV Radio tuner card for just such a project. This uses a Conexant tuner chip, which is well-supported in Linux and a PCI interface. We had a bunch of old hardware kicking around the house, too, so old computers were cannibalized for parts.

Originally, I had meant to use an old HP desktop we had lying around, but its motherboard turned out to be cooked. So off I went to my local computer parts emporium where they had a sale on--buy an AMD processor, get the motherboard free--or, in my case for ten extra bucks.

In the end, I was only able to salvage the tuner card, a hard drive and a DVD drive. The rest--case, mobo, processor, graphics card, power supply--was new.

The build process was pretty standard: build it up, then, install the Ubuntu derivative of your choice. No drama.

The tuner card helpfully comes with a remote control, and it does work--sort of. I haven't yet been able to get all of the buttons working (although I seem to be onto something with this thread).

The biggest bug, though, is something I can't do. Certain programs can't be viewed or recorded at all--they show up as static. There is no signal-level problem as far as the CATV signal is concerned--otherwise the noise would be visible on all channels. This must be the dreaded broadcast flag in our midst.

For the record--I stumbled onto the programs by accident. I was flipping channels and found MTV turned into static. Apparently, they take a dim view of my watching or attempting to record Jersey Shore, which is fine by me, since I didn't intend to. But when I programmed the mythbuntu box to record Frontline on PBS, it came up as total static.

Anyway, initially, I thought this might be a problem with Cox setting the Copy Control Information (CCI) byte to "NEVER COPY." This shouldn't be the case--none of the channels were premium or pay-per-view. FCC regulations forbid cable operators from setting the byte to "never copy" for anything but premium services. [47 C.F.R. § 76.1904]

I called Cox to ask what was up. Was escalated to second-tier tech support and had a friendly conversation with with them. Apparently, Cox doesn't set any of the copy-protection themselves. I was directed to ask the originating stations about copy-protection problems.

After a bit more study, I concluded it couldn't be the CCI byte--that's for digital transmissions, and I'm only using an analog tuner. It must have been something else: analog copy protection. Like a vampire rising from its coffin, Macrovision's accursed copy-protection scheme has survived the transition to digital.

The copy-protection works by subtly varying the vertical-blanking interval of the NTSC analog signal. In the old days, this type of monkey business led to weird lighting and sometimes color bands on signals played back from videotapes. These days, it prevents my DVR from recording the program at all.

Now, even if I don't particularly like this, I can understand why certain programs are copy-protected in this way. I can't record The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, for instance. But what really baffles me is why so many public-TV programs seem to be burdened by this restriction:

I mean, come on. I can understand dramas and the rest of it, but why on earth burden news an information progams like Frontline and NewsHour--especially when the programs are already available to view online? Indeed, why is it OK for Frontline World to distribute their show by video podcast, and then NOT OK for Frontline to allow viewers to record the show off their cable providers?
self, camphone, eye

I live. For now.

I live. I have been keeping to myself since the bar exam. Not being as fortunate as some of my colleagues, who have been able to indulge in post-exam travels, I have instead stayed home and shunned most company.

The examination itself was an ordeal. I could write pages and pages, but I will sum up quickly. The first day--the Virginia essays--seemed fair. I had prepared reasonably well. I feel that I did about as well as I could, given my preparation, and given the stresses of the day. I know for a fact that I bungled a few questions; I am reasonably confident that I gained a few points on others.

The second day--the MBE--was a nightmare. It was, literally, ill-augured: I arrived at the examination site to see a falcon being harassed by six crows. The morning session was three or five times more difficult than any practice examination I had attempted during my preparation. I finished early, if for no other reason than I simply guessed on a number of questions. The final afternoon session was somewhat less impossible, but no less distressing.

When it was over, I felt no joy, no relief, no satisfaction. I felt empty and numb--drained.

There is no way of knowing how well or poorly I did. The scores will be published in October. Until the Examiners inform me that I passed, at least some small corner of my mind will be devoted to preparing to run this particular gauntlet once more in Norfolk this coming February.