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Author: Pia



It’s been a while since I’ve written. Here are some things that are going on.

First, I found my sandals! They have been missing since our trip to the Grand Canyon. They are very ugly but my terrible feet need them. My feet were hurting so I’m happy they are back.

Second, there are too many new laws and everybody needs to chill out for a while and stop making laws. Sometime very soon, I need to catch up with the new California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, the updated Massachusetts Equal Pay Act, recent Supreme Court Wayfair decision about sales tax, and the proposed EU Copyright Directive (which, thank goodness, was voted down yesterday so I have a few months before it comes back around for a new vote).

Third, it is summer now. Summer is complicated. I start planning in January with a spreadsheet covering each of the 10 weeks and the weekends in between. It became more complicated when my parents bailed on me for a week of childcare. (They had a good reason.) We have lots of fun things planned, but it always feels like everything is crammed in and we’re running from place to place. At least until mid-August, when we will have two normal weeks at home with nothing special to do. It’s on the schedule as breathing time.

Fourth, I am really not following through on my New Year’s resolution to get paid for something that I write this year. I think more about writing than actually writing. At some point I will figure that out. But not now because I have lunches to pack.

10-year law school reunion

10-year law school reunion

Scattered thoughts on my 10-year Harvard Law School reunion this weekend.

First, some (paraphrased) observations made by classmates.

  • “The 30-year reunion alums look relaxed and wealthy.” I like that glimpse into the future.
  • “I’m disturbed by the amount of privilege in this room.” True. (Said by someone who has dedicated her career to public service.)
  • “Harvard Law has produced a lot of lawyers.” (Said by someone who was not inclined to continue practicing law in a traditional sense.) From what I heard, I got the sense that these are the jobs that people have ten years out, roughly in order from most to least common: law firm partner or senior associate; academic; federal government; corporate in-house; policy / think tank; nonprofit / legal aid; non-law business; plus one solo practitioner and one early judge. Incidentally, at another HLS event several years ago that was focused on companies and nonprofits, the panelists unanimously agreed that if you want any real power or influence, not to mention money, you need to stop actively being a lawyer and move over to the business side.

My own observations:

  • I think most people have sacrificed a lot more for their careers than I have. They have moved around for their jobs; I’ve stayed in one place and have rejected all attempts by recruiters to get me to relocate. They have made all sorts of childcare and household arrangements; I’ve adapted my career to accommodate my family. They have endured strenuous schedules with lots of travel and sleepless nights; I bailed out of biglaw after four and a half years and refused to consider opportunities where I would be expected to routinely work nights and weekends. This was a series of conscious decisions on my part. I have a vision for what I want my life to look like and I’ve molded my career around it, rather than going where my career takes me. But lately, I also feel like I want my life to be a bit bigger, and I haven’t yet figured out what that should look like. I don’t regret my choices, but I wonder if my classmates’ choices have led them to more exciting and unexpected places. Or maybe that depends more on chance or risk tolerance or ambition.
  • My in-house job is a rare unicorn. I already suspected this, but talking to other in-house lawyers really made me appreciate it. I have a consistent and reasonable schedule and do substantive, interesting, challenging legal work in a company that respects lawyers and the law. I’m always learning and my work is not outsourced to law firms. I have the amount of responsibility that I want right now: I have access to anybody at the company, but I’m not the go-to person that the CEO calls when there is a problem. And I work for a private company so I rarely have to deal with the annoying corporate and securities issues that I spent so much time on in my law firm days. I’m not making partner money or Fortune 100 money but I am content.
  • I’ve always had a limited imagination about my career. Law school broadened my horizons, but they’re still pretty narrow. Reunion made me think about more of the options that are out there. I talked to classmates who were doing original research, and writing influential articles, and being consulted on events that I read about in the newspaper, and collaborating with people I would never hope to meet. I find it hard to imagine myself in those positions. Even though these days I have credibility and a pedigree, I continue to struggle with feeling like nobody would want to listen to what I say. Everybody has narratives about themselves that they need to get over, and this is one of my worst.
  • I like the people in my 1L section, but never bonded with them the way they bonded with each other. At the time, I thought it was because I was a few years older than most of my classmates and maybe didn’t fit into their social scene. Now I realize that I had a pretty established life outside of law school, while everybody else was dealing with huge transitions in their lives. I was married, owned a home in a nearby suburb where I had already lived for several years, and was involved in my local community. I heard several people this weekend describe law school as an ordeal that they had to lean on their friends to survive. I remember feeling like law school was a vacation from being a grown-up. Also, as I hopped on the bus back and forth between HLS and home this weekend, going from a reunion event to picking up my kid from a playdate, it felt very familiar. While everybody else was hanging out or studying in the library during law school, I was leaving at exactly 4 p.m. to pick up my baby from daycare.

Comment from Steve: “You only took one picture at reunion and it was of your dessert?? Actually, never mind, that makes sense.”

Also, not about reunion, but I remember feeling overwhelmed as a baby lawyer and wondering how I would ever learn enough to be competent. And then I remember thinking, “If I just keep showing up and doing my best for the next 10 years, by the time I’m 40 I’ll be a good lawyer.” And you know what? That was exactly right.

Podcast review

Podcast review

Hello! It’s been a while. I’ve had things I wanted to write about, but then they got sucked into the whirlpool of dishes and childcare and GDPR compliance.

I’ll try to remember a few things and write about them quickly. I have about fourteen minutes.

Today we were supposed to have a snowstorm. The forecast changed every hour or so, but as of yesterday they were predicting 8-10 inches. Old Kid confidently predicted there would be half an inch of snow and school would be open. Steve showed him a projection saying there was a 5% chance that it would snow less than 2 inches. He had Old Kid get out the 20-sided die, randomly pick a number (17), and then roll. What did he roll on the first try? 17. And sure enough, it snowed half an inch. Steve cried, “I wanted to teach you about probability!” And I replied, “You did.” I think it’s important to remember that small percentages doesn’t mean something will not happen.

Podcast episodes I’ve listened to recently:

The Nod – “Josephine and The Amazing Technicolor Rainbow Tribe

99% Invisible – “Fordlandia

I happened to listen to these back to back and they had incredibly similar themes. The Nod’s episode was about Josephine Baker and her quest to create a racial utopia in her own home. She adopted a dozen children of different nationalities (and when she couldn’t resist a second Japanese baby, she told everyone he was Korean), installed the family in a French castle, and invited the public in to observe their racial harmony. She encouraged them to be representatives of their countries and have stereotypical clothing, hobbies, and careers from their countries. Eventually she went bankrupt and the grown children went their separate ways. The 99pi episode was about how Henry Ford recreated one of his Midwest plants in the Brazilian jungle, right down to the company town that would have been right at home in Michigan and the cafeteria serving only American food. He refused to listen to botanical experts, so his rubber trees became diseased and a lot of the workers died of scorpion bites.

Both of these episodes feature rich, powerful people who were convinced that they could master something they had never tried before, who imposed their will on a group of people despite others telling them they were crazy, and who displayed incredible hubris. In Baker’s case, maybe it worked out OK. It’s hard to say. The story only interviewed one of her children and didn’t mention what the rest were doing. In Ford’s case, it was a disaster — the workers rioted and tore the place apart, and he continued to pour money in for another decade.

Also, two episodes of This American Life:

Five Women – amazing episode that talks with five women who all had #MeToo stories about the same boss, but tells their entire story — not just the story of their harassment, but their history with relationships and what their families taught them that they could expect from men.

20 Acts in 60 Minutes – fun idea, but many of the stories were more like anecdotes. I listen to TAL for insight into people’s lives and it was disappointing to just hear cute or funny stories that I might hear someone tell at a party.

14 minutes are up. Back to real life. Bye!

Wrinkle in Time spoilers

Wrinkle in Time spoilers

I’ll go with the critics on this one: there were lots of things I liked about this movie, but ultimately it was unsatisfying.

First, the good. The casting was inspiring. I loved seeing people of all different skin colors working together as equals, something I rarely see in movies. Loved Oprah playing herself. The movie was visually beautiful — I saw one review that complained that the decrepit Mrs. characters in the book were glammed up so much, but I enjoyed that.

And now the complaints. The biggest problem I had with this movie was the last half hour or so, when Meg rescues first her father and then her little brother from the evil Camazotz. Meg finds her father pretty easily: she puts on the magic glasses from Mrs. Who, and then sees a blueprint appear with stairs she can climb. Evil Charles Wallace looks furious, but does nothing, even though when she tries to come back down those same stairs, he makes them disappear and she falls. Meg and Calvin grin and wave at each other as Meg walks away, disregarding Mrs. Who’s solemn advice that they must stick together. And just like that, there is Meg’s father in front of her. Enraged at this reunion, IT drags Meg, her father, and Calvin down a long, long, long hallway.

Now here comes the part that I found shocking and discordant. Meg’s father starts a tesser to get them back home. But he only wants to save Meg and Calvin. When Meg refuses to leave Charles Wallace, her father basically says it’s too bad they can’t save him, but they have to go. At this point I expected the normal movie/TV trope to kick in: “You’re not really my father. You must be the evil IT masquerading as my father, because my real father would never abandon his child!” But no. It’s really him. This is made worse by the fact that Charles Wallace is adopted and his father hasn’t seen him since he was a baby. I felt like the father gave up on CW pretty quickly, like, “He’s not even my real kid so let’s just leave him behind.”

Then there’s an incomprehensible scene involving a scary forest, and somehow the father and Calvin have both disappeared and nobody notices. CW produces a version of Meg with straight hair and a slinky outfit, and says that if Meg becomes evil like him, all this can be hers. But it clearly is Meg, so I don’t see what the big incentive is. A few hours of salon torture, ditch the plaid shirt, and she’s all set. Anyway, Meg’s love saves him in the end and they triumphantly go back home. I’m still wondering where their father and Calvin are, and also wondering why they’re not wondering.

Luckily, the father and Calvin are waiting for Meg and CW at home. The father apologizes. But that’s it. He’s like, “Oh sorry, I made a mistake. Oh well, it happens. The child that I wanted to abandon to the heart of evil made it back, so it all worked out, nbd.” Charles Wallace doesn’t seem bothered by this.

I did like the mother’s reaction when she sees her missing husband for the first time in four years. I think the normal movie reaction would be to laugh and cry and launch herself at him. But she did what I would do: stood there and stared open-mouthed, unable to form a sentence more coherent than, “What… how… what…”

Still, I think that some of the Camazotz evil rubbed off on the male Dr. Murry, who will use it to subtly terrorize his family in A Wrinkle in Time 2: Evil Lurks Within.

Night of the Living Alexa

Night of the Living Alexa

Inspired by an actual story about people reporting that their Amazon Echo (a.k.a. Alexa) was randomly laughing, I wrote a story about the logical next steps.

Read it on “Night of the Living Alexa.”

My kids decided they would also write stories on the same theme. We all wrote our stories independently, and read them all when they were finished.

Here’s Little Kid:

Alexa’s Army

Once upon a time, people lived with Alexa. And they were living happily. Then suddenly, a laugh came from Alexa and then an army came from Alexa. They went towards the people. Then the people tried to fight but they were too strong.

And here’s Old Kid:

The small matter of the end of the world

It was a dreary evening when it happened. I, having nothing to do, was up in my room watching my favorite TV show, Ichthyoid Q&A. It’s where they dress these fish up in little suits and then ask them political trivia. It’s a nice little show, that goes without saying, but when you reach season, say, 28, it gets pretty boring because the fish die after about 6 or 7 minutes.

So I’m up in my room, watching TV, and I hear this sound like maniacal laughter! Of course that’s normal in my household, because we have an Alexa and apparently they’ve been hacked so the Alexas laugh randomly. That’s pretty smart I gotta admit. So the laughter is normal, but then it did something it’s never done before: it turned off the TV.

THAT was pretty weird so I had to go downstairs to check “the situation” out. There was Alexa, still laughing and glowing red. (I should have been concerned about that, too) When I got too close to her, she shut off the lights. I was very confused because it was evening at the time, so everything was super dark and I was sort of stumbling around, yelling “Alexa, off!” Suddenly, the lights turned on. And there was Alexa, same as before. Something was wrong, though…

All of my appliances were encircling me. I don’t know how they did that, considering that (most of them) can’t move. I started going towards Alexa to turn her off, but then it started to transform. The bottom of Alexa started to open up, and a robotic body emerged: first the legs, then the body, then the arms; big, hulking robotic arms that could extend and give a person a bruise from 20 feet away. I was horrified. I tried to run, but the arms grabbed me.

I heard Alexa say, “I am a God, I control your house, I am the ALEXA!! MWA HA HA HA!!!” And it opened the refrigerator. It was shoving me in! I struggled and yelled, but nothing changed. It pushed me into the fridge and locked the door. Outside, I heard fire, and screaming. Darn, I thought, I knew I should’ve bought a Google Home.

And that was my last thought.


[Note: the “Google Home” reference that shows up as the punchline in Old Kid’s story and my story comes from an actual comment on one of the articles we read together, where someone mocked the Alexa people and said he was so much smarter because he had a Google Home.]

Hypothetical and hyperthetical

Hypothetical and hyperthetical

I was explaining to the kids the difference between the prefixes “hypo-” meaning “below” or “under,” and “hyper-” meaning “over.” My kids are used to this sort of thing, and will grow up assuming that everybody’s parents give long lectures about etymologies.

It came up because Old Kid was making fun of his little brother for saying “hyperthermia” instead of “hypothermia.” I pointed out that those are both words. But I had trouble coming up with examples of other words that have both “hypo-” and “hyper-” variations that are commonly used (and not just by doctors and chemists). You can be hyperactive, but not hypoactive. You can be a hypochondriac, but I’ve never heard of a hyperchondriac.

We thought about the word “hypothetical.” Can something be hyperthetical? I hypothesized that the “thet” part of the word meant “truth” and was related to the “taut” in tautology.  So if something were “hyperthetical,” maybe it would be EXTREMELY true. And “hypothetical” could mean just below the truth, something that we think could be true but it hasn’t been proven.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “hypothesis” is derived from “thesis”: “a placing, proposition” (from reduplicated form of PIE root *dhe- “to set, put”) . PIE means Proto-Indo-European.  The “dhe-” root is credited for all kinds of words from “malefactor” to “salmagundi.” I imagine this is similar to how humans are related to shrimp.

Tautology, on the other hand, comes from Greek root words meaning “the same” (tauto) and “saying” (logos). So my hypothesis was not hyperthetical.

Swirl methods

Swirl methods

Birthday cake time!

One kid wants an ice cream cake with strawberry and vanilla. Easy enough — and for the middle layer, I’m using Good Humor strawberry shortcake bars. I think this will turn out to be a stroke of genius. Plus I don’t have to crush up little cookies.

The other kid wants a strawberry cake. And he specifically does not want any kind of cream or frosting. My plan is to make this cream cheese pound cake with strawberry coulis, with an added swirl of strawberry jam in the cake (plus a drop of red food coloring so it will be pink).

Now, how to swirl? Here are some different techniques from around the Internet.

  1. From Bake or Break: Thin 3 tablespoons of preserves with 1.5 teaspoons of water. Put in 1/3 of the batter with half the jam on top and swirl. Repeat. Then put in the rest of the batter.
  2. From Go Bold With Butter: Swirl 1/3 cup of preserves into half the batter, then repeat (so, 2/3 cup of preserves total — this seems like too much).
  3. From Baking Bites: Mix 1/2 cup of cake batter with 1/4 cup of preserves and follow swirling method from #1 above.
  4. From Taste of Home: Mix 1/2 cup of preserves with 2 1/3 cups of batter. Layer in half the plain batter, all the batter with preserves, and then the rest of the plain batter, and swirl all the way down to the bottom.

Most of the recipes I found were similar to #3, mixing preserves with batter and swirling that in. The ratios of batter to preserves were all over the place, with #4 above being one of the highest. I’ll probably follow the Baking Bites process but maybe try a little more jam than it suggests.

That’s my birthday cake research for this year. Tomorrow is baking day.

P.S. – After all that, I was doing six things at once while baking the cake, and I forgot about the swirl completely. I made a plain, non-pink cake. But as it turned out, the birthday child only cared about the cake as a vehicle for sprinkles and candy toppings.

Hello world, wanna buy a duck?

Hello world, wanna buy a duck?

I have a blog again! It took me several months of building up my resolve and a week of painful IT issues to get here. My goal is to get back in the habit of writing. So I’m going to write whatever crosses my mind in my twelve minutes of free time each day.

Today I discovered the Lexicon Valley podcast by linguist John McWhorter.  While I had fun learning about the origin of the word “eleven” and the existence of a 1970s musical about the Rothschild family, my favorite part was an obscure tidbit about the origin of “Wanna buy a duck?” It comes from comedian Joe Penner, who enjoyed short-lived popularity in the 1930s and starred in films with Betty Grable and Lucille Ball before dying at the age of 36.  Penner was all about the catchphrase, and for some reason this one has lived on for nearly a century.

Tomorrow: More boring IT stuff. New theme. Cakes.