PAgent’s Progress

Words Are My Favorite Toys

March 20th, 2006

“She wore an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny….”

As a general rule, I don’t like people who call me asking for money. Even charitable organizations irk me when they call me at home. If I want to support your cause, I will seek you out and write you a check. If you bother me during dinner, I will be that much less likely to give you any of my very own personal money.

I’m very attached to my money, you see. I always have been.

Nevertheless, I make one major exception, in the case of my undergraduate alma mater. Unlike my graduate school, I remain quite fond of Reed College. I believe my experience there shaped the person I became, and some of my fondest memories come from my time there. I had never before been, and will probably never again be, among people that were so awesomely bright, and so enthused about learning.

Like many colleges, Reed employs students to call up alumni and beg for money. I don’t mind, though, because I feel a strong sense of fraternity with Reedies. They seem to enjoy talking to alumni, and I get a little kick out of talking to current students, for whom I now represent “Old Reed”.

Unfortunately, when I got a call last week for the Alumni Fund, I was suffering from laryngitis resulting from a cold I was suffering. As it happened, the young lady who called me (in addition to asking for my money) was very interested in a career in intellectual property, and was hoping I could give her some pointers to getting some real-world experience in a firm before going to graduate school. She mentioned having met some folks from my firm, and in fact went on our firm rafting trip last summer.

I croaked out my willingness to help her out, and indicated that if she sent me her resume, I’d be happy to get it in front of the appropriate person. I apologized for being nearly inaudible, and told her that if she wanted to get together for lunch sometime, I’d be happy to discuss patent practice with her. She seemed really very enthusiastic about the possibility (hey, some people LIKE patent law) and promised she would send me an email.

I received her email this morning, with two photos attached from the rafting trip. She indicated that she was in the second photo — “I’m the one with the yellow lifejacket and the red paddle”. So I opened the photo.

Holy Crap. “The one with the yellow lifejacket and red paddle” was, as the cool kids say, HAWT. In fact, she was a shapely little blonde with a pixie grin, and a teeny-tiny scrap of a black bikini.

Well, I am male, and so my brain spun for a few seconds like a hard drive looking for a deleted file. It was only when the spinning stopped that I noticed a few other things. Like, I didn’t recognize anyone in the picture. So I opened the other picture. And I didn’t recognize anyone in that picture either. Then I realized that our firm has NEVER gone rafting on the Deschutes.

My little Reedie believes that I am employed at another IP firm entirely. Which is pretty funny. And a bit awkward, at least for her.

When I reply to her email, I will explain the situation, and encourage her to send me her resume and meet me for lunch anyway. If she is worth anything at all, she won’t let this initial misstep trip her up. She should certainly have the ability to recover from it, and she ought to see the value in talking to someone else in the business.

But she has provided me with a significant tactical advantage. Instead of being a fat middle-aged married man, acutely self-conscious in the presence of Some Pretty Young Thing, I get to start from the metaphorical high ground. She screwed up, and screwed up pretty big. I know it, and she knows it. I can afford to be gracious.

And it validates something else. I am in fact both older and wiser than she is. By the time she finishes both graduate school AND law school, by the time she has the work experience I have accumulated, she certainly won’t look that good in a black bikini anymore.

It’s good to have perspective.

March 16th, 2006

The Land of Do-As-You-Please

I’m a little excited about ‘V for Vendetta’ coming out. I’m a fan of Hugo Weaving, and I think Natalie Portman is a better actress than she is typically given credit for. I also get a little excited (despite myself) when a classic graphic novel gets adapted for film. Although I have seen many, many of my favorite novels turned into ghastly films, every now and then they really get it mostly right. Lord of the Rings, for example.

I have mixed feelings, though. Although ‘V for Vendetta’ is a classic graphic novel, and its warning against an authoritarian totalitarian regime is perhaps unfortunately timely, I’m kind of troubled about one of the major themes of the graphic novel.

I don’t wish to ruin the movie for anyone, but the main character V is trying to replace the crushing Norsefire regime with….anarchy. And he’s implementing this regime change by violent means. Anarchy is not described as chaos, instead it is rather sweetly referred to as “The Land of Do-As-You-Please”. But anarchy it remains.

Anarchism is a political philosophy, or maybe a political goal. Anarchists believe that any sort of authority, and most especially monarchs, oligarchs, representative democracies, and every other form of government, is unnecessary and should be abolished. Most anarchists go further than this, and suggest that every form of government is evil, and only dumb cattle would consent to being ruled.

Well, you might ask, if we abolish all government, who makes the rules? And who enforces them? The anarchists say “no one”. Anarchy would result in a peaceful and harmonious society that is based on individual self-determination and personal involvement. Anarchists believe that our social needs would be met by voluntary associations of individuals, rendering mutual aid, and governing themselves.

Which sounds like a marvelous idea. Just like communism sounds like a wonderful idea. If you had a group of saints and pacifists living together, it might work out just fine. But I doubt it.

This may be my own personal bias, but it seems to me that most anarchists don’t have a lot of stuff. People that have stuff tend to worry about people who would like to take away their stuff. And anarchy sounds like nothing more than a way to grease the skids toward a situation where people are taking the stuff they want away from the people that already have it. Now you might argue that Americans have too much stuff already, and we ought to lose some of it anyway. In which case, I suggest you send me an email with your home address, and I’ll come over to your house and decide how much of your stuff you should get rid of. I’ll even rent the U-Haul.

But I have another personal bias. I was a nerd in grade school. I got abused on a regular basis, by folks who enjoyed abusing me for no other reason than that they could. If you were an All-Star quarterback, you might not fear anarchy. If you wore glasses, had braces, and played clarinet in band, you have every reason to think that anarchy is a bad idea.

A friend of mine is an advocate of anarcho-capitalism. He is earnest in his explanation that in the absence of centralized government, various private insurance companies and private security forces would arise, each competing for our business, each enforcing a semblance of order for only as long as the citizenry tolerates it, driven by the free market. To which I reply, you want to replace a largely inefficient Federal Government with a profit-driven infrastructure? And you think this will be an improvement? Have you never heard of Enron? For-profit organizations are notoriously poor at self-regulation. Of any type.

Does this mean I don’t think our government could be reformed? Absolutely not. I think our government is fundamentally broken, primarily due to the fossilized structure of the two-party system. I would love to see the population rise up, and start voting for independent candidates. Or actually start voting on issues, rather than platforms. It’s possible that the efforts of the Bush administration to dismantle existing Federal safeguards to our lives and liberties might trigger such a response, but I doubt it. It will probably just result in a swing to Democratic control of the same fossilized system for a few terms.

But anarchy? No thank you. I’d like to hang onto my lunch money. Even if the spokesman is Hugo Weaving.

March 15th, 2006

We are made of Starstuff

“Cosmos” was a 13-hour mini-series that originally aired on Public Broadcasting Stations in 1980. I was fifteen years old, possibly the perfect age to watch it. I remember thoroughly enjoying it, and thinking that finally, there was a show for people like me, who wanted to think, who enjoyed science and were interested in how the Universe worked.

So, when I heard that the Science Channel was going to show the series again, I was pretty excited. But I was unprepared for the depth of emotion I felt at hearing the first few notes of the main theme. I felt a potent mixture of nostalgia and wonderment, of happy recollection.

I’ve watched a couple of the episodes now, and I’m beginning to realize a couple of things. For one thing, after years of hearing bad imitations of Carl Sagan, I am confronted with the fact that he DID sound pretty goofy. Sort of like James T. Kirk on Quaaludes. But he was also a brilliant communicator, able to put complex concepts in terms anyone could understand. And he was passionate about his work, about the nature of the universe, about how we find out what is true and what is false. He was truly a treasure of the twentieth century.

And I am beginning to realize just how much of an impact “Cosmos” made on me, personally. How it gave me a sense of my place in the Universe, that I was part of a reality so vast I could barely comprehend it. And it taught me to be proud of the accomplishments of mankind, not just ashamed of our barbarism.

Through watching Cosmos, I learned that every atom of matter heavier than hydrogen and helium was the result of stellar fusion. That everything around us, including ourselves, was made of atoms forged in a sun. Dr. Sagan waxed poetic (as he often did), saying “we are all of us, made of starstuff”. But that beautiful turn of phrase could hardly represent the impact this concept had on me, personally. The very atoms that made up my body were once in the heart of a sun! How could anyone ask for a more intimate connection to the universe than that?

I have been accused, more than once, of adopting Science as my religion. I believe the people that have accused me of this have a flawed understanding of science. Science is merely a process, although I suppose faith in that process could be taken to an unhealthy extreme. I don’t advocate replacing Faith with Reason, but I also don’t advocate discarding Reason in pursuit of Faith. Everyone has to find their own path in this reality.

I feel awe and wonder when I contemplate the inner workings of a tree, or the astonishing scale of the Universe, or yes, the elegant economy of evolution. But most of all, I am amazed that you and I, buckets of complicated and delicate chemicals tied together by weak electrical impulses, can contemplate such miracles. That we have invented a system of mathematical notation that permits us to jot down numbers larger than the number of particles in the Universe. That we can build a robot that can travel to another world, and explore it for us. That we can image structures that are made of individual atoms. These are miracles, indeed, and I fear that as I grow older I am in danger of taking them for granted. So I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to once again hear the impassioned voice of Dr. Carl Sagan, and be reminded of exactly how miraculous I am.

March 12th, 2006



March 12th, 2006


Oh. if life were made of moments,
Even now and then a bad one!
But if life were only moments,
Then you’d never know you had one.

–Stephen Sondheim “Moments in the Woods”

I think I’m like most people. I keep my head down, and do what needs to be done. Most of my life is broken into chunks, chunks that get repeated mostly in the same order: the commute in to work, the commute home, eating lunch, getting ready for bed, reading the paper. But every now and then, amid the trudging and plodding routine, life tosses you a Moment.

I had lunch with my buddy SF SJ on Friday. We met at Steamers Asian Street Bistro, at the Pacwest Center. It’s one of my favorite spots for lunch. It was an enjoyable lunch, because the food was tasty, and the conversation was the kind of blessed exchange that occurs between people who have known each other for so long that bullshit is unnecessary. After our meal, we stepped outside, made our goodbyes and parted company.

The air was cold, very cold for March. And as I pulled my cap out of my jacket pocket, specks of ice began to patter down upon my head and shoulders. I decided to get a mocha to warm myself up.

And that was a Moment. A perfect and crystalline moment in time. Full of inner warmth from lunch with a good friend, looking forward to a hot coffee, the statue of Portlandia looming over my right shoulder. While specks of ice sprinkled down on me, I was suddenly buoyed by a feeling of peace and goodwill that is generally absent from my heart. I had the weekend ahead of me, I had good friends, and there was hot coffee in my near future to offset the bracingly cold air. Everything was right with the world.

I would love to tell you that I rode that swell of happiness and warmth for the rest of the day. Alas, by the time I came out of Seattle’s Best, the precipitation was liquid again, and that bubble of clarity was shrinking rapidly.

Oh, but while it lasted, even though it lasted only moments, life was sweet.

March 8th, 2006

A Few of My Favorites

People hate patents. Mostly because the media loves to portray patents as a tool of our evil corporate overlords. And if the bad guy isn’t the big company trying to use a patent to crush the little guy, it’s the patent office that issues a patent on something that is so ridiculous, so well-known, that the patent should never have been granted.

The truth is, most of the time the folks that get and use patents are just trying to protect their innovation, or their investment in research and development. And patents are pretty good at doing what they were intended to do: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. That’s from the Constitution. From Article 1, Section 8, to be precise.

But don’t think that I never met a patent I didn’t like. Trust me, I see an endless parade of highly questionable patents. For your edification and enjoyment, here are a few of my favorites:

U.S. Patent No. 5,443,036 — Method of exercising a cat

Claim 1. A method of inducing aerobic exercise in an unrestrained cat comprising the steps of:

(a) directing an intense coherent beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus to produce a bright highly-focused pattern of light at the intersection of the beam and an opaque surface, said pattern being of visual interest to a cat; and

(b) selectively redirecting said beam out of the cat’s immediate reach to induce said cat to run and chase said beam and pattern of light around an exercise area.

Yup. A patent on getting your cat to chase a laser pointer.

U.S. Patent No. 5,616,089 — Method of Putting

Claim 1. A method of gripping a putter comprising the steps:

gripping a putter grip with a dominant hand;

placing a non-dominant hand over an interior wrist portion of the dominant hand behind a thumb of the dominant hand;

resting a middle finger of the non-dominant hand on the styloid process of the dominant hand;

pressing a ring finger and a little finger of the non-dominant hand against the back of the dominant hand;

pressing the palm of the non-dominant hand against a forward surface of the putter grip as the non-dominant hand squeezes the dominant hand.

Uhhhh…and exactly HOW are you going to enforce this?

U.S. Patent No. 6,025,810 — Hyper-light-speed antenna

Claim 1. A method to transmit and receive electromagnetic waves comprising:

generating opposing magnetic fields each having a plane of maximum force running perpendicular to a longitudinal axis of the respective magnetic field;

generating heat from a heat source along an axis parallel to the longitudinal axis of the magnetic field;

generating an accelerator parallel to and in close proximity to the heat source, thereby creating an electromagnetic injection point; and

generating a communication signal into the electromagnetic injection point, thereby sending and receiving the communication signal at a speed faster than a known speed of light.

Faster than light communication! So, why aren’t we talking to Alpha Centauri?

U.S. Patent No. 6,039,951 — Method for attaining erection of the human sexual organs

Claim 1. A method for attaining an erection of a human sexual organ comprising applying a composition comprising an effective amount of a chili pepper extract and a carrier selected from the group consisting of lubricants, oils and creams and mixtures thereof topically to the sexual organ.

Oh, HELL no.

U.S. Patent No. 6,368,227 — Method of swinging on a swing

Claim 1. A method of swinging on a swing, the method comprising the steps of:

a) suspending a seat for supporting a user between only two chains that are hung from a tree branch;

b) positioning a user on the seat so that the user is facing a direction perpendicular to the tree branch;

c) having the user pull alternately on one chain to induce movement of the user and the swing toward one side, and then on the other chain to induce movement of the user and the swing toward the other side; and

d) repeating step c) to create side-to-side swinging motion, relative to the user, that is parallel to the tree branch.

Wait, I’m pretty sure that’s been done before….by every kid that ever sat in a swing.

U.S. Patent No. 6,805,663 — Method of shared erotic experience and facilities for same

1. A method of sharing erotic experiences comprising the steps of:

providing a building with a plurality of compartments and entertainment viewable from inside the compartments;

admitting participants to the building and the compartments;

starting the entertainment viewable from inside the compartments at a prescribed time;

starting a stimulation device for sexual pleasure in each of the compartments at a prescribed time; and,

transferring sounds from the participants between the compartments.

No comment.

U.S. Patent No. 6,960,975 — Space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state

Abstract: A space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state is provided comprising a hollow superconductive shield, an inner shield, a power source, a support structure, upper and lower means for generating an electromagnetic field, and a flux modulation controller. A cooled hollow superconductive shield is energized by an electromagnetic field resulting in the quantized vortices of lattice ions projecting a gravitomagnetic field that forms a spacetime curvature anomaly outside the space vehicle. The spacetime curvature imbalance, the spacetime curvature being the same as gravity, provides for the space vehicle’s propulsion. The space vehicle, surrounded by the spacetime anomaly, may move at a speed approaching the light-speed characteristic for the modified locale.

Someone has watched WAY too much Star Trek.

March 6th, 2006

Falling on Deaf Ears

I watched very little of the Oscars. The program has less and less relevance for me as time goes by. Typically the movies that I enjoy and feel are worthwhile don’t get the recognition they deserve, while movies that I can’t stand are adopted as the critic’s darlings. Why should I watch people gushing over something I haven’t even seen?

But even in the relatively short periods I was paying attention last night, the old Academy seemed to be staying on message pretty well, that message being “go see movies in theaters, because the DVD experience isn’t really watching a movie”.

To which I would like to reply with a suitably pungent response, not even fit for the entries of this blog.

Frankly, such a significant portion of total revenue comes from DVD sales and overseas audiences that a movie can come and go here in the States with miserable box office, and still eventually earn a profit.

But more importantly, if you really want me to come back to the theater, I have some ideas on how to woo me back:

Lower the damn prices. Or at least provide a price break on matinees, or something.The cost of seeing a movie has become a significant investment in and of itself. Particularly if you’re taking the whole family.

Adopt some realistic cost structure for concessions. As expensive as the actual tickets are, the cost of even a modest popcorn and soda are absolute highway robbery at most franchise theaters.

I hit my limit a few years ago, when I took my preschool son to see The Tigger Movie. It was just the two of us, attending a matinee, and we got a small popcorn and something to drink. It cost me twenty-seven dollars to take my son out to a movie. Frankly, the experience I had was not worth twenty-seven dollars.

For another thing, the theater sound system is typically turned up so loud I get a headache. My son actually has to bring hearing protectors to watch a movie, or sit with his fingers in his ears. I realize that most of the population is going deaf before they’re forty, (thank you headphones and ultra-bass car speakers) but some of us still have, and would like to KEEP, our hearing.

But even if the theaters and studios came to an agreement on a price structure, even if they turned down the damn sound, it still wouldn’t address the biggest complaints I have with going out to a movie: The other people in the audience.

My favorite hates include, but are not limited to, the young couple that brings their four-year-old to the R-rated monster movie, and then yell at it for getting scared; the people that take cell phone calls during the movie; the people that put their feet on the back of my seat; the people that let their kid kick the back of my seat throughout the entire movie; and generally the people that TALK and OPEN CANDY and ARGUE and GIGGLE throughout the entire show.

My wife and I now have a ginormous television. It has theater sound. I can get pretty much any movie I want via Netflix, and now I have access to Video On Demand. I can stop the movie to go to the bathroom. I can turn the subtitles on. I can watch it again the next day. The cost of the infrastructure (the television) was substantial, but the incremental cost of each viewing is trivial. And if I want to eat crap while I’m watching the movie, at least I can purchase it at non-loanshark rates.

So, MPAA, you can plead all you want. You’re going to see a lot less of me in the theater for the foreseeable future.

March 3rd, 2006

That which does not kill you…

I finally did it. I girded my loins, layered my clothing, and rode my bike in to work today. The forecast was for 38 degrees in the morning. Well, unless the freezing point of water has miraculously elevated recently, it was a lot colder than that. We had crispy crunchy grass and ice on the windshields.

Started riding and it was cold. It was damn cold. It was so cold I kept waiting to hear the crunch of my frozen testicles hitting the road after they dropped off. But, just as I entered Garden Home, a warm breeze caressed my face. Portland is rife with microclimates, and I guess I rode into a warm zone. The (relatively) warm air made the ride much more bearable. Even though I rode back into the freezer when I came down the hill into downtown, by then I was warmed up and I could tolerate it much better. Except for my toes.

So, how was the commute? Pathetic. I was wheezing like an ancient radiator and felt weak as a kitten. But this was just the first commute of 2006, and I know it will get better.

If, that is, I survive the ride home.

March 2nd, 2006

Man About Town

I had a lunch appointment a few blocks from work, at the Veritable Quandary. I took advantage of the walk to take a few photos. I love the streets and sidewalks downtown. Not the people on them, but the sidewalks themselves. There’s a lot of brickwork, laid out in beautiful patterns. And they are kept surprisingly clean.

I also love the little green things here and there. Portland has beautiful trees, but there are also patches of growing things in the nooks and crannies. No one likes the mildew, but the moss is nice.

March 1st, 2006

Zack Kim - Super Mario Theme