Category Archives: I am a total nerd, out and proud!

Photo Essay

I know you’ve all been on the edges of your seats to see my photo essay, the final assignment for Digital Photography 201 at Illuminate Workshops.  The wait is over!  Of course, just in time for the final class, I had all sorts of legal adventures — trial prep! settlement! appeal! — and a major head cold.  So I didn’t actually attend the final class.  Or the make-up final class.  Or the make-up of the make-up of the final class.  What can I say – lawyers suck at non-law things.

The assignment read:

Decide on a subject whose story needs to be told.  … A story that is close and personal to you.

Shoot everything you can about your subject.

Make us see the subject from your perspective.

We were to edit down the photos first to 30, then to 12, print them on 11×14 paper, and present them at the last class.  But I missed the last class (twice) and I’m not good at following instructions anyway, so my photo essay has 20 photos, and is blogged, not printed.  It also reflects the fact that I ran out of time — even with an effective two-month extension — and had a cold.  Did I mention the cold?  So some of the photos reflect long walks around Denver thinking about my subject, while others reflect a bit of casting about my office last night for meaningful props.  But I think they show both my subject and some of the composition and developing skills we’re learning at (did I mention?) Illuminate Workshops.*

And the outtake … because nothing happens here without full canine supervision:


* How’s that for apple-polishing?  And I’m not even getting a grade!

Legal Reasoning: Multi-Use Technology

Because Carrie and I figured the rest of you were curious to know what happens when two high-powered civil rights attorneys use their finely-tuned analytical powers on important non-legal questions:*

Carrie:       where do children learn to put catsup on their eggs

Amy:         um, by osmosis by hanging around uncle tim?

Amy:         it’s disgusting, but it’s one of those great marital compromises . . .

Carrie:       lol

Amy:         for me it violates a sacred boundary:  between Breakfast Food and Not Breakfast Food

Amy:         now, you can eat Breakfast Food any time of the day

Carrie:       snort

Carrie:       i do put salsa on hashbrowns

Amy:         but you cannot mix Breakfast Food with Not Breakfast Food

Carrie:       so having leftover chinese food for breakfast is fine

Carrie:       just not if you add a bowl of cereal?

Amy:         yes

Amy:         for example, steak and eggs: wrong

Carrie:       i agree

Amy:         and scrambled eggs for dinner, also ok

Amy:         but scrambled eggs on pizza:  no

Carrie:       i agree

Amy:         ketchup is a Not Breakfast Food item

Amy:         putting it on eggs:  wrong

Carrie:       although we sometimes do have leftover donuts as dessert

Amy:         hmmm

Carrie:       but the dinner food is finished

Amy:         right!

Amy:         i think perhaps i need to refine the rule to say:  within any one course

Carrie:       plates cleared etc

Amy:         exactly

Amy:         you would not have, say, donuts covered with enchilada sauce

Carrie:       lol

Carrie:       because sometimes leftover donuts are not stale for dessert, but leaving for breakfast….

Amy:         excellent point!

Amy:         and i have no problem with cold leftovers for breakfast:  pizza; chinese; etc

Carrie:       right

Amy:         i bet people wonder how high-powered civil rights lawyers use their finely-tuned analytical powers on important non-legal questions…

Amy:         IOW, can I blog this?

Carrie:       snort

Carrie:       yes

Carrie:       non-leftover, non breakfast foods not acceptable for breakfast

Carrie:       unless it is a breakfast burrito

Carrie:       which has bacon or sausage

Amy:         wow – the breakfast burrito is right on the line

Amy:         yes you have to police it, though, to be sure it doesn’t have Not Breakfast Foods in it, like taco sauce

Carrie:       if bacon or sausage, it is breakfast

Amy:         yes

Carrie:       or chorizo

Amy:         if taco sauce + eggs:  wrong

Carrie:       hence, mcdonalds breakie burrito, wrong on many levels

Amy:         what does it have?

Carrie:       im not sure, but it comes with taco sauce

Amy:         blech

Amy:         wrong

Carrie:       plus from mcdonalds, wrong

Amy:         indeed

Amy:         but notice that we’ve isolated the actual tortilla itself as something that adeptly spans Breakfast Food and Not Breakfast Food

Amy:         hmmm

Amy:         further research may be required.

Carrie:       i think many bread items can be multipurpose

Carrie:       e.g. must be because I don’t go to the bread store often enough

Amy:         that’s true

Amy:         and rice porridge for breakie

Carrie:       true

Amy:         another starch that crosses boundaries

Carrie:       but eggs with rice, wrong

Amy:         agreed

* Lightly edited for order because, as I’m sure it will shock you to learn, Carrie and I constantly text over each other.

Nerd gear: dogs and photography

I’ve been trying to figure out how to combine photography practice with dog walks.  Before today, it has consisted of:



Seriously.. come.  Here.  No, over here.



Good dogs!

[Put leashes on ground.]



No!  Sit.  Staaaaaaay.

Good dogs!

[Compose.  Focus.]


[Pick up leashes.]

Let’s go!

Rinse. Repeat.

Until now!  I solved the problem with some gen-u-ine nerd gear:  a web belt and a large clip.

Now that is some seriously crappy photographic composition.  But you can see my nerd-gear dog-walking photo-practice hack.  And my ca. 1972 tennis racket.   Both the belt and the clip were available on, with the interesting side effect that ordering the belt — which has oddly knife-shaped pouches that will be perfect for dog treats — put me in interesting company.

Guess the pouches weren’t specifically designed for dog treats.  Anyway, all in the service of my continuing efforts to learn how to use my Nifty Fifty.


Absurdity Slider

No, it’s not a small, tasty, metaphysical snack.  It’s a review of a review — big time-saver! — and a digression into the meaning of life.  The slider is explained below.  (Look!  A teaser!)

I minored in philosophy.  At Swarthmore.  You’d think this would have trained me to overthink almost anything.  And honestly, I can overthink important things like the font in my email or whether to get the 90 Shilling or the 1554.  But I recently* read a review in the New Yorker of a book that I think may represent the gold standard in overthinking: David Benatar’s “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.”  The thesis: since it’s worse to suffer pain than to forego pleasure and since — in the words of the reviewer, “[e]ven the best of all possible lives consists of a mixture of pleasure and pain” — it is better never to have been born.

Yes, you read that correctly.  As the review notes:

The volume is dedicated to his parents, “even though they brought me into existence,” and to his brothers, “each of whose existence, although a harm to him, is a great benefit to the rest of us.”  (It’s fun to imagine what family reunions with the Benatars are like.)

But I think I’ve found the Rosetta Stone of disability discrimination.  As the reviewer explains it:

Benatar’s case rests on a critical but, in his view, unappreciated asymmetry. Consider two couples, the A’s and the B’s .  The A’s are young, healthy, and rich. If they had children, they could give them the best of everything — schools, clothes, electronic gaming devices. Even so, we would not say that the A’s have a moral obligation to reproduce.

The B’s are just as young and rich. But both have a genetic disease, and, were they to have a child together, that child would suffer terribly. We would say, using Benatar’s logic, that the B ‘s have an ethical obligation not to procreate.

They have a WHAT?

The case of the A’s and the B’s shows that we regard pleasure and pain differently. Pleasure missed out on by the nonexistent doesn’t count as a harm. Yet suffering avoided counts as a good, even when the recipient is a nonexistent one.

And what holds for the A’s and the B’s is basically true for everyone. Even the best of all possible lives consists of a mixture of pleasure and pain. Had the pleasure been forgone — that is, had the life never been created — no one would have been the worse for it. But the world is worse off because of the suffering brought needlessly into it.

Is this guy an android?  Everyone suffers at some point.  In fact, how does life have any meaning without suffering?  Hell, without pain, how do you learn basic things like not to touch a hot stove and not to listen to the Beach Boys?  I suppose if you never existed, you wouldn’t have to go through any bothersome learning processes.  But then, what’s the point?  I guess that is his point.

“One of the implications of my argument is that a life filled with good and containing only the most minute quantity of bad — a life of utter bliss adulterated only by the pain of a single pin-prick — is worse than no life at all,” Benatar writes.

He acknowledges that many readers will have difficulty accepting such a “deeply unsettling claim.” They will say that they consider their own existence to be a blessing, and that the same goes for their children’s. But they’re only kidding themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not The Onion and as near as I can tell, this dude expects his theory to be taken seriously.  On one level, it merits only derision.  Or this year’s Hitchhiker’s Guide Philosophy Award, an award I just started for philosophical arguments that measure up to my favorite ever, from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, explaining the existence of the Babel Fish:

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindboggingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this:

`I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’

`But,’ says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’

`Oh dear,’ says God, `I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.

`Oh, that was easy,’ says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

But on another level, the concept that it is better to avoid all pain than to experience any pleasure explains disabiliphobia.  It explains why the non-disabled world regularly projects on to people with disabilities a far lower quality of life than the latter actually experience.  This, in turn, leads non-disabled windbags like Peter Singer to opine that it is better for infants with disabilities not to be born or to be killed in infancy.  Benatar’s theory is simply the apotheosis of Singer’s: If it’s better not to be born than to be born with quadriplegia, where do we draw the line?  Better not to be born than to be born and later in life get the sniffles.  Perhaps it’s helpful to imagine this scale as a slider of the type I’m just now learning to use in Lightroom.  We’ll call it the Absurdity Slider:

The Absurdity Slider

Benatar took the Absurdity Slider and dragged it all the way to the right — up to 11 — where not only is it best to euthanize disabled infants, but it’s best that none of us ever have been born.

Given the highly accurate “that’s bullshit!” response most people will have to Benatar’s theory, I think he’s done us a service in placing Singer’s arguments along this all-important scale.  If only I had control of the actual slider.  Any coders out there want to help me develop a working Absurdity Slider, one that could tone down the absurdity in an argument the way you adjust the contrast in a digital photo?


* Yes it was in the April 9 New Yorker, but it is true that I only recently read it, as I have just now reached that archeological layer in the New Yorker pile next to my comfy chair.

Does this make me an Illuminati?

As will soon be tediously clear, I have started taking photography classes.  Not for the first time, either.  I got a serious 35mm camera* for high school graduation, took a class at the local rec center, and somehow convinced myself I knew what I was doing.  There ensued some deeply meaningful but thoroughly awful photographs, including a few that got published in the Swarthmore college newspaper after I beat out a highly competitive field of approximately zero other people for the title of Assistant Photo Editor.  So not kidding.

Herewith an example of my deeply artistic but pathetically incompetent college photography and dark room skills:

I carried the camera around campus for four non-contiguous years and then around Taiwan and other parts of Asia for the next three non-contiguous years, taking the occasional brilliant photograph, and boatloads of expensive-to-develop 35mm crap.  Actually, one of my funniest sets of travel photos was from a cross-country drive I took somewhere in the middle of law school, in which I guess I discovered real mountains for the first time, because I have close to an entire roll of slides devoted to distance shots of fields, lakes or — most commonly — the road with mountains in the background.  I now call that “the view from my morning commute.”

A few years ago, Tim gave me a seriously good DSLR camera and after spending too long using it on “auto” while trying to remember what the eff an f-stop was, I decided earlier this year to take a class.  I’m having a blast!  The first round of classes — Digital 101 at Illuminate Workshops — reacquainted me with f-stops, shutter speeds, and ISO, introduced me for the first time to the majority of the buttons and data on my camera, and then moved on to a long-overdue introduction to composition.

We had homework, which like a good little student nerd, I did.  For the first class, the instructor asked us to experiment with shutter speed and aperture:

For the second class, we were supposed to take a portrait and a “macro.”  Oh, and I forgot to mention, the instructor displays and critiques our photos.  My classmate Gabriela went first. Her macro was a stunning photo of a jade bracelet on a mirror.  Her portraits looked like this:

The reason her portraits looked like this is because SHE TOOK THIS PORTRAIT!  Why, might you ask, is Gabriela in Digital Photography 101?  No clue, but she is hilarious and asks great questions, so I’m glad she’s there.  For example, had we not reviewed Gabriela’s boudoir photo of a shapely — mostly naked — woman photographed from behind, I would not have learned that to get good photos of a naked tuchis, you have to request the owner of the tuchis to, um, clench.  The class discussed this in a professional manner, while I exerted superhuman effort not to snicker.

But then it was my turn.  Here is my macro homework .

Seriously.  We went from jade bracelets and naked tuchii to, um, a rock. Luckily my portrait homework was of my mother-in-law, so I held my own in that division!  (Though, for the record, she was fully clothed.)  The instructor was very kind to my rock, but did use it to start to teach us how Photoshop can be used to make photos more interesting.

So I’m planning to use the blog to post my photography practice from time to time, and I’m putting all of what I think of as my more interesting practice photos on Flickr, so if you’re really bored, you can hop over there and take a look.  I’m partial to architecture and abstract and averse to portraits, so there will be lots of stuff that looks like this:

Which likely only I find interesting.  Still, the occasional “ooh” or “ahh” in the comments would make me smile!


* My photography instructor – and most of the world, I gather – would now call it a “film camera,” because of course in 1978, we didn’t have digital cameras.  If I recall correctly, this is called – in the linguistics biz – a “back formation.”  I love back formations.  Think about it: acoustic guitar; snail mail; chicken fried chicken.  I’m not sure about the last, but I love it just the same.

Legal Research Graph

The pattern will continue — bouncing between 2 and 10 — up to the moment the brief is filed.  Indeed, I have been known to stop for a game of tennis ball fetch just before typing in the boilerplate “Conclusion” section.

Happy Mothers’ Day

And a tribute to the awesome mothers in my life.  Thanks for all you’ve taught me.

Mom Ruth Blau and mother-in-law Nora Fox at our wedding in 1993.

Grandmother Edith Blau sometime in the 1980s.

Grandmother Helen Farr Smith (Robertson) Love sometime in the 1950s.

And my sister-in-law Terri Robertson with my niece & nephew and their Aunt Amy — my favorite title!   Photo ca. 2000.  The kids are graduating from middle school & high school, respectively, next month; I have waaaay more gray in my hair; and somehow Terri still looks the same!

Late comment:  What does it say about my obvious genetic heritage as a nerd that both of my *grandmothers* are wearing suits?  Between that and the fact that I was partially gestated at a law school, my inevitable nerdiness was predestined.

My mother is lucky I wasn’t born with a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary in my hands!

Bangs gone bad

Got a haircut with bangs.  Trying for this:

Thinking I ended up with this:



Why Google + is not working

Since I’m a gmail & Google Docs user, I signed up for Google +, immediately connected with six people, and am never motivated to check it once I’ve caught up with my peeps on Facebook.  Apparently neither is anyone else.  So Google dug deep into its vaunted stockpile of information about me — law nerd browsing habits, clothing orders from LL Bean and Lands End, Lifehacker addiction — and sent the following email designed to lure me back to Google +:

Uh, no.  Thanks. Really, I’ll pass on another time sink, this one devoted to Victoria Justice’s new favorite hat, Britney Spears, and some random dude I’ve never heard of.

Checklist for being a plaintiffs’ lawyer

The site “Stuff Journalists Like” posted a (so-far) 20-point “Checklist for being a ‘real’ journalist.”  It’s hilarious in and of itself, but some of the items are really part of a longer “checklist for being a word nerd,” for example:

2.  Corrected a loved one’s grammar in a greeting card.

My mother (love ya mom!) really did this once!  My word-nerdiness is clearly genetic and I was doomed from the start, because both of my parents have/had this gene.   Also

8. Can no longer read a newspaper without scanning for typos and errors.

Hell, I can’t read typos and grammatical errors in anything without being deeply disturbed. And I have, within the past week (1) had a serious discussion about whether a comma following a case name was improperly italicized (you know who you are!), (2) pondered the conditions under which the word “id.” at the end of a sentence is preceded by a period and capitalized or preceded by a comma and in lower case; and (3) laughed derisively at the obvious line-spacing errors in my opponent’s brief (before, of course, realizing that the judge would not give a rat’s ass).

Italicized Comma vs. Not Italicized Comma

Here are a couple more that I think apply almost equally to plaintiffs’ lawyers:

3.  Replaced one of the major food groups with coffee.

I never did like fruit, and coffee occupies more of my diet than any food group but pasta and cheese.

5.  Eat in your car more often than you do at a table.

Replace “car” with “desk” and I’ll cop to that.

9.  Learned that being told to “fuck off” and “go to hell” is part of the job.

13.  Found that fine line between harassment and persistence.

Completely applicable to plaintiffs’ lawyers.  Like journalists, we often find ourselves needing to talk to people who don’t really want to talk to us.

10.  Woke in a cold sweat thinking you forgot to change the date on A1.

Just last night I woke up in the middle of the night — Tim can vouch for this — thinking that I never did review the final table of authorities in the brief we submitted on Thursday.  Luckily, our superhuman paralegal was in charge of it, so I slipped right back into a peaceful slumber.

17.  Have conducted a phone interview while completely naked.

Close:  I have often conducted legal research clothed only in a towel.  When you have good ideas in the shower, they really shouldn’t wait until you’re fully dressed to research them.  I have also edited a brief telephonically with co-counsel while walking the dogs and scooping up after them.

I had also previously suggested two “you might be a plaintiffs’ lawyer” conditions:  that your car is older then your paralegal; and when the skirts on the tables supporting the courtroom technology of your opposing counsel are nicer than the skirt you’re wearing.  What else, plaintiffs’ lawyers, should we add to our checklist?