I Feel A Rant Coming On…

Yeah, it’s time. This one’s been building for a while. Strap in, kiddies.

I’ll admit this is an old man rant. You know, a “Back in my day” kind of thing. Hey, I’ve had an AARP card since 1996. I’m entitled.

That’s a word I hear a lot of today. Entitled. I also hear about how smart the kids are today. Oh, they’re so ‘woke’, and they’re so smart, and they’re so together. TIME magazine says so, so it must be true.

Maybe not so much.

When I was in high school, I started dating the same time I got a driver’s license. That was the key. Otherwise you had to have your parents drive you to go pick up your girl, which was déclassé, to say the least.

When you picked up your girl in the late 1960s — to go to a movie, or out for a pizza, or to a party — if it was summer, she was probably wearing stretchy super-short-shorts and a tube top. Yes, in 1969, that was street wear, not a swimsuit. She probably didn’t tie those laces with a knot, though. She tied them in a bow. because it’s prettier, or something. All I know is, Damn things never stayed tied.

shortshorts

You’d pick her up, and you’d open and hold the door for her. The driver’s door. You see, we had bench seats in almost every car at the time, and she’d pile in to the driver’s side and make enough room for you to get in alongside her, but she’d still be left of the centerline of the car. Yes, there’s plenty of room for my 143-pound stringbean sixteen-year-old self to get in between her and that far car door.

benchseat

Of course, you’d have to teach her how to shift. First, there’s no way you can reach the shifter with her plastered up against you and your arm around her shoulders. You’d take her head off. Second, you have to teach her how to shift because she’s maybe fourteen or fifteen years old, and doesn’t know how to drive yet. So you gotta teach her three-on-the-tree, and coach her in which gear you want as you go until she gets the hang of it.

Seat belts? Oh, yeah, we had ’em, and we used ’em. Of course, the seat belts in a car are big enough to get around my current fat-ass sixty-five year old self, and I outmass my sixteen-year-old self and my high school girlfriend taken together, so we’d just use the driver’s belt around us both. There was one for the middle seat on a bench seat, too, but that was way to the right of where she was sitting, so we both used the driver’s belt. You wouldn’t want her to be un-seatbelted, after all. That’d be dangerous.

So where would you go on a date? Pizza maybe. And a movie. A drive-in movie. What’s a drive-in movie? Well, they put a really big movie screen outdoors, and you sit in your car in the parking lot and watch the screen. The parking spots have sort of a hump for the front wheels, so the car is tipped up in the front so you can see the screen, even if you’re in the back seat, and there’s a little speaker you hang in the window. So you’d sit with your girl, dressed in her short-shorts and tube top, on a bench seat the size of a single bed, and watch the movie. More or less. You might even get into the back seat, or at least slide over to the passenger side of the car, because then the steering wheel isn’t in your way.

Of course, they would turn out the parking lot lights when the movie started. You have to be able to see the screen after all.

Drive-in movies were often double-features — two movies, four hours — because there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing.

drive-in

What do we have now?

Well, the drive-ins are, for the most part, gone, for lack of business. People go to the cineplex now, and sit in a room full of strangers. Bench seats are gone, too. Where the hot car to have in 1969 was a big Chrysler with huge bench seats, the hot car to have now is apparently a tiny little drifter car with bucket seats and a (automatic) shifter between. And the short-shorts and tube tops have been replaced with I-don’t-know-what. Something less, um, fun.

Not that it matters much, I guess. We went out to eat last night, and the couple at the next table were sitting there working their cell phones. I don’t know. When they get excited, maybe they text moans to each other.

So let’s review. They traded away drive-in movies for watching movies in a big room with a thousand other people, they traded away a big comfy bench seat for isolated tiny bucket seats and a cup holder, and they traded away short-shorts and tube tops for whatever.

Oh, and they apparently have a hard time telling boys from girls. Not that it matters much, I guess, given everything else they lost.

Smart? Don’t sound smart to me. Sound like a bunch of morons.

And I’m supposed to respect their opinion on civil rights? My civil rights, including my rights under the Second Amendment?

Figure out sex first, kids, then you can take up something complicated.

Like public policy.

 

Weird Thoughts About Stress

Stressed out? I have a stupid simple stress reliever for you. First, let’s talk about the most likely source of your stress.

The human animal is pretty simple, and for millennia had little stress of the mental sort. What do I do next? Eat? Sleep? Eliminate? Procreate?  (You may supply the Anglo-Saxon terms if you wish.) That was about it. Yes, food might be scarce, and, for much of human existence, it was, but that’s not where modern man’s mental stress comes from.

Modern man’s mental stress, I maintain, comes from all the things we have to do. What do I do next? Eat? Sleep? Pay bills? Check emails? Write that paper that’s due next week? Go to that meeting that’s scheduled? When do I need to be there? What’s the travel time? How much time do I leave at the airport? What do I need to pack? And on and on an on.

The result is that we spend much of our time spinning our mental wheels. “Don’t forget this. Don’t forget that. Don’t forget this other. Don’t forget that other.” in an endless mental loop. The result is that our muscles tense up. At the end of the day, we can be physically exhausted even though we didn’t actually do anything physical.

My stupid simple stress reliever is in two parts.

Make A List. Make a list of all the things you have to do. That list is probably in two parts. One is a calendar, where you note down anything you have scheduled at a particular day and time. Doctor’s appointment, conference call, card game, the day the taxes are due, your vacation, the need to call the furnace guy in April and set up the annual cleaning and system check, and , once you do, that appointment as well. I even put in to get gas on the 28th of the month, and roll that over month to month, so I can use up my Kroger points at the pump before they expire at the end of the month.

All of it goes in a calendar. I like the free app WinReminders, which I run on my desktop computer, but you can use your smartphone calendar as well. Then you don’t have to remember all that stuff. Just check what’s up for the next day before you go to bed.

The second part of ‘make a list’ is the stuff on your plate right now. Take out the garbage. Clean the litter box. Write that paper for next week. Put out the bird feeders for the season. Pick up more bird food. Get Jimmy some new shoes. Get light bulbs, and change the burnt out light in the closet. Put all that stuff on a paper list you drag around with you, in your pocket or purse. Add things as they come up, cross items off as you finish them.

You should also make a list of things to take when you pack for a trip. Once you make that list the first time, save it in a file on your computer. Every time you take a trip, print it out. Cross out the things you don’t need for this trip, and add the things you do. Anything you add should also be saved to the file, so the next time you print it out, for your next trip, you won’t forget it.

Once everything is on a list, you can forget about it. you don’t need the “Don’t forget this. Don’t forget that. Don’t forget this other. Don’t forget that other.” endless mental loop running any more. Just shut it down. You will actually forget fewer things by making lists than you will trying to remember everything.

Set Your Alarm. Cell phones used to have a couple of alarms you could set. They were like the alarms on clocks, and went off every day. Smartphones, though, can have as many alarms as you want, and you can set them for a one-time alarm or for specific days of the week or to alarm every week at the same time on the same day of the week. They also allow you to put a name or note on every alarm, and even change what the alarm tone is.

This is very powerful. Do you have to take pills every day, or multiple times per day? Set an alarm to remind you. Name it “Meds” or something like that. Maybe even set a special alarm tone for that one. Then forget about it. Doctor’s appointment Tuesday at 2:00? Set an alarm for 1:00, to go off one time only, on Tuesday, and name it “Doc appt at 2:00.” Then forget about it. Have to have supper ready at 6:00, so you can go out to the movie tonight? Set an alarm for 5:00, and name it “make supper – movie tonight.” Then forget about it.

I have a dozen alarms set on my phone right now, some daily, some repeating on the same day every week, some one-time-only.

Between these two things — making a list and setting your alarm — you can clear all that crap out of your head and finally relax. You’re not going to forget anything. It’s on your list, and the alarm will go off to tell you when to do it.

And, when you finally mentally relax, your muscles will relax, and you won’t finish the day exhausted from spinning your wheels all day.

Weird Thoughts About Employment

I’m not quite sure how to approach this one, so I’m just going to jump right in. I’m not writing about employment from the point of view of the employee, but from the point of view of the employer. This has the chance of going off the rails, but here goes.

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion lately about the nature of employment. I have seen this several times myself in just the last couple years. So I would like to clear up the confusion a bit.

As an employer, I have a job that needs to get done, which I am either unable or unwilling to do myself. I may simply not have the time, or the inclination, or it may be something for which I do not have the skills or, any longer, the health. I am willing to pay good money for someone to do it.

This is where the employee comes in. They agree to do the job for some amount of money, the amount of which is agreed upon from the start. When all goes well, they get the money, I get the job done, and everyone is happy.

But there seems to be a growing confusion on the part of some employees about one little aspect of this arrangement. If I hire someone to do a job, I get to define what the job is and how it gets done. The employee does not get to say, simply, I’m going to do this other thing instead, or I’m going to do the job this other way, without my approval.

You see, what that means is that I am not getting the job done that I wanted. I am therefore no longer willing to pay the money. The breakdown in the arrangement that results, from the employee’s point of view, is usually called getting sacked.

From my point of view, it’s simpler. The employee decided they didn’t want to do the job I had. It’s not personal, or vindictive, or mean. It’s business. I’m willing to pay the money to get the job done. Paying the money and not having the job done is not acceptable.

The question is simple: Do you want to do the job or not?

If the answer is ‘No,’ then don’t be surprised when I tell you that your services are no longer required.

 

Weird Thoughts About Writing

You need a little background first, before I get to my point.

It turns out that I, not an attorney, have changed the law.

Trade secrets are an intellectual property, like copyrights, patents, and trademarks. For copyrights, patents, and trademarks, you only need to prove Use and Damages in court. Not so with trade secrets. Proving up a trade secret misappropriation case in court involves a lot more, and has always been something of an art form.

Twelve years ago, I formalized the proofs needed to prove up a trade secret misappropriation case in court in a restatement of the case law. In addition to Use and Damages, you need to prove Existence, Ownership, Notice, and Access, which I called the EONA Proofs. This was published in the first edition of Trade Secret Asset Management, a book I co-authored, in 2006.

The EONA Proofs are now being taught in law seminars, which surprised the hell out of my co-author the first time he saw the EONA Proofs come up in a legal conference several years back.

OK, so that’s weird enough. But I may have done it again. I wrote a little piece called “The Five Elements of Automated Trade Secret Asset Management.” It was incorporated in the 2018 edition of Trade Secret Asset Management. Those five elements are Taxonomy, Scoring, Metadata, History, and Proof. And they’re starting to gain traction.

Which brings me to the point of today’s essay. Maybe a dozen years back, a friend and I were talking to a young woman who had gone back to school to get a degree in System Administration, the business of deploying and running large computer systems. She wanted to know if we, who had both been in the computer field for decades, had any advice on extra courses she might take to make her stand out, either in getting a job or being successful at doing it. Our answer surprised her.

We both gave the same answer: Business Writing.

In just about any field you go into, sooner or later your upward career path is into management, and perhaps, after that, consulting. In management and consulting, you need to be able to write. Whether a proposal, or a plan, or a report, whether an email, or a paper, or a book, you have to be able to write. No matter how good your subject matter expertise, you can only affect the things you yourself do, the people you yourself talk to. To make your expertise most useful to others, you have to be able to communicate it effectively. In writing.

And that’s how people I have never met, in places I have never been, are teaching the EONA Proofs.

Weird Thoughts About Happiness

What is that particular perversity of human beings that makes many of us so damned miserable most of the time?

You don’t see it in most cats. They curl up, and go to sleep, and they actually purr while sleeping. Most dogs, too, seem so happy to see you, and just curl up on the couch while you’re in the room. You often see a dog curl up and give a huge sigh, as if to say, I’m so happy I could just shit.

Humans? Not so much.

Part of it is probably due to what Sarah Hoyt in her blog today called the sanctification of envy. Everybody is encouraged to be a victim, to blame any pitfalls or shortcomings in their lives on others, to envy those richer, or more beautiful, or more successful.

I hope it goes without saying that this is not the path to happiness.

Many of us seem to think we would be happy if only this happened, or that happened. If we won the lottery. If we got that promotion. If we owned that thing. If we dated/married that boy or that girl. Advertising runs on this idea, the idea that we can’t be happy unless we own this thing. By God, I need to go buy that now. Then I’ll be happy.

In a word, no.

The issue with all of those is that they externalize happiness. Let me demonstrate.

I  urge you to perform a little exercise. Take inventory of your own situation. Think of all those things you have, all the gifts you have, all the benefits you have. To help you get started, I’ll give you the start of a checklist.

If you are reading this, you are most likely living in one of the English-speaking countries, most likely the United States. How great is that? (If you were ‘educated’ to think the United States is a terrible country, you might want to get out more.) The standard of living, the level of personal freedom, and the level of charity of one human being for another is greater in the English-speaking countries, and particularly the United States, than any other major country.

If you are reading this, you are literate, you don’t have advanced Alzheimer’s, you have at least enough curiosity and wits to click the link that got you here.

If you are reading this, you have access to the Internet, which gives you access to most of the wisdom and knowledge the human race has amassed over the eight thousand or so years we’ve been writing things down. Oh, sure, there’s a lot of crap, too, but sifting through it all is part of the game.

Figure in your health, too. I’ll be sixty-five in July, my back has been a problem for over thirty years, I had a heart attack two years ago, necessitating some re-piping of the innards, and I have to wear compression socks so my legs don’t turn into balloons. And I have my share of the aches and pains of increasing age. But, and it’s a big but, I got up this morning — always a plus — I can see pretty well, my hearing is good, I still have all my wits about me. I have lost dear friends too soon, and others are wrestling with far greater problems than mine. All in all, I’m doing pretty well. How are you doing, healthwise? When taking inventory, don’t add up the negatives. Add up the positives.

Did you have a warm place to sleep last night? Do you have enough food to eat? Are you sheltered from the wind and rain? That puts you ahead of the vast bulk of the human race throughout its history, and much of the world even now. The poorest people in the United States live in luxury compared to the royalty of only a hundred and fifty years ago. Don’t believe me? Well, grab a cold pop out of the fridge, or warm up a snack in the microwave, and think it over.

Do you have a few good friends? I mean, really good friends? The kind that you can call at three in the morning to bail you out of jail or help you change a flat, and they don’t even think twice about coming to your aid? Ponder that.

Is there another human being who loves you? Just one — let’s not be greedy. Is there someone who cares about you so deeply that your happiness and well-being is essential to their own? If so, how truly rich you are.

Having taken such an inventory, do you feel any better? Happier? More content? You should consider that this inventory and the little checklist I proposed had two important qualities: 1) it concentrated on you, not your neighbor, was not a comparison, or an exercise in envy; and 2) it concentrated on things that were important.

I will part with a saying that has become something of a cliche:

Happiness comes from within.

And it begins with gratitude for what you have.

A Rant on Rights

This one’s been coming on for a while, so make sure your seat belts are fastened and your seat backs and tray tables are in their upright and locked positions, ladies and gentleman, as the captain has warned of turbulence ahead.

I want to talk about rights. Human rights, if you will. Not civil rights, as I don’t intend to be civil. I intend to be honest.

Human rights are the rights you have because you’re human. They’re yours. They’ve always been yours, and that is without regard to location or circumstance, time or place. In particular, they are not specific to this time or place.

Consider, then, a primitive man, minding his own business. An animal sneaks up and attacks him. We are all generally agreed he has a right to fend off the animal, to defend himself against death or injury.

Similarly, if he is sitting there minding his own business, and another human sneaks up and attacks him, we are all generally agreed he has a right to fend off the other human, to defend himself against death or injury.

This is the basic formulation of a right to life and, as a corollary, the right to self defense. We can make similar arguments about liberty (were another human to sneak up on him and take him captive) and property (were another human to sneak up on him and take something which is his, which he gathered or fashioned with his own hands). Life, liberty, and property are things we all, generally speaking, acknowledge as things that a human being has the right to defend, with force, against those who would take them away.

Note that healthcare is not a right in this formulation, as our primitive man has no healthcare. Similarly with other so-called rights to modern conveniences, like transportation and cell phones.

You can make a similar argument on a religious basis, that such rights are bestowed on Man by God, as the founders of the United States often did, but we need not invoke the Deity to come to our current formulation. You are free to rely on the divine origin if you wish.

There is an important distinction to be made between rights and privileges. A privilege is something one is granted by someone else. In our discussion, that will be the government, whether federal, state, or local. Driving is such a privilege. One is not born with it. One must pass a test, receive a certificate, fulfill other obligations while exercising it, such as having insurance, remaining free of the influence of alcohol and drugs, and so on. Taking one’s driving privileges away for failure to observe these rules is not the denial of a right.

Back to rights. The U.S. Constitution, and particularly the eponymous Bill of Rights, recognizes several rights: the free exercise of religion, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right of the people to peaceably assemble, the right to petition the government; the right to keep and bear arms; the right to be secure in one’s person, houses, papers, and effects; life, liberty and property; the right to a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the accusation, to be confronted with witnesses, to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses, and to have counsel; and the right of trial by jury.

All of these are defined as rights in the Constitution, they are not granted by the Constitution. The wording of the Constitution makes this clear, as it always talks about rights in terms of not abridging them, not infringing them, not violating them, not depriving someone of them, preserving them. That is, there is no language of granting them, only language of protecting and not violating them.

From this we see that the people, in the U.S. Constitution, are presumed to have these rights already. One cannot preserve something that is not already there. One cannot refrain from abridging, infringing, violating, or depriving someone of something that is not already there.

There is a clause in the Bill of Rights that does address violating rights, that gives the government permission to violate one’s rights, under specific circumstances. The Fifth Amendment reads, in part: “No person shall  . . .  be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. . . . ”

Liberty here has been defined by the Courts: “Liberty under law extends to the full range of conduct which the individual is free to pursue, and it cannot be restricted except for a proper governmental objective.”

In particular, the due process of law does not mean whatever Congress wants. Simply passing a law is not due process of law: “The due process article is a restraint on the legislative as well as on the executive and judicial powers of the government, and cannot be so construed as to leave Congress free to make any process ‘due process of law’ by its mere will.”

Whether the government objective is proper or not depends on whether the right is considered a fundamental right, deeply rooted in American history and traditions. If so, strict scrutiny is applied, to determine whether there is a compelling state interest being furthered by the violation of the right, and whether the law in question is narrowly tailored to address the state interest.

Further, a specific individual’s rights can be taken away by due process of law. In this case, the specific individual must be brought up before a court, and the case to deny him one or more of his rights must proceed by the fair application of judicial process.

Thus the government can deny the right to vote and the right to keep and bear arms to felons, who have had their guilt of a felony determined in court by due process of law. The government can deprive someone of physical liberty, incarcerating them as the sentence for their guilt of a crime, which guilt has been determined in court by due process of law. The government can even deprive someone of life, executing them for their guilt of a crime, which guilt has been determined in court by due process of law.

When we put this all together, we find that what the government cannot do is abridge, infringe, violate, or deprive, for large numbers of people, any right deeply rooted in American history and tradition, in a way that is not narrowly tailored to address a compelling state interest.

In particular, Mr. Hogg, Ms. Feinstein, Mr. Bloomberg, et.al., what you cannot do is to ban sweeping categories of common firearms to large numbers of Americans because the occasional asshole shoots up one of your gun-free zones.

Go fuck yourselves.

 

P.S. Just for the record, drivers from 16 to 20 years old who text while driving are responsible for one thousand deaths and one hundred thousand injuries in car accidents every year. It took all U.S. mass shootings fifty years to total one thousand deaths, and teenagers texting while driving match that every year.

A teenager with a gun killed seventeen kids in Parkland, FL, on February 14, and this is a Big Deal. Since that day, in less than seven weeks, teenagers texting while driving have killed over a hundred and twenty people nationwide, and — crickets.

So when Mr. Hogg starts lobbying for banning the sale of cell phones to anyone under 21, I’ll consider that he’s a serious policy guy and not the latest pea-brained sock puppet for fascist gun-banners.

Physics, Machining, and Luck

I lucked out. Through no fault or credit of my own, I learned physics and machining, both at a pretty high level. They have been marvelous tools, though I didn’t earn a living doing either.

Going into physics was stupid luck. I did well in science in grade school, and I liked it. I also read a ton of science fiction, the entire science fiction section of the local library, which was pretty good, as the librarian saw science fiction as a way of getting boys to read. Pretty enlightened, huh?

OK, so I’ll go into science. Easy, right?

Not so fast. There are a lot of sciences. Why physics? Why not genetics, or astrophysics, or oceanography, or whatever? Well, when I went to a small college-prep high school, they only had three sciences: Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.

Biology? No, thanks. I may be one of the few people to graduate high school and college and grad school without any biology instruction at all. Nada. Zip. Carving up dead frogs and stuff? Nope.

What about Chemistry? I learned something really important in high school Chemistry, and that is carrying units in equations. If the units worked out, you probably did the equation right. If the units didn’t work out, you had definitely screwed up somewhere. But Chemistry includes smelly things, things that can burn you without even being hot, and glassware. And glassware meant doing dishes. My parents believed children should have chores to do, and I already had experience doing dishes. Not interested.

So Physics. Call it a lack of imagination, but, since Physics was my favorite of those three available high school classes, I went into physics. Besides, physics was the cool science through the 1950s and 1960s.

Machining was also just dumb luck. A family friend owned a machine shop, and my dad was a Master Tool & Die Maker. I had a job whenever I wanted. It sure beat bagging groceries, or stocking shelves in the middle of the night, or slinging burgers at McDonalds. I started by taking things apart, replacing worn parts, and putting them back together. No manuals or instructions or anything like that. Just do it. I haven’t been afraid to take anything apart since, and it has resulted in calling in the professionals to put it back together less frequently than you might think.

I moved up into piece-part machining. Someone would come in with the driveshaft of a truck that had been twisted like taffy and broken, for instance. Usually this would happen when the driver’s wet shoe slipped off the clutch pedal when the engine was run up and he had a load on. We had to fix it. To do that, you have to save the end pieces, the pieces that have the weird shapes on them that hold the U-joints. So you cut the ends off, and then you machine the remnants of the tubing part off the end pieces. You rough-cut a new piece of tubing to a bit over the length you need, machine the ends square to the exact length you need, and hand-fit the end caps. Then you call the boss and he welds the end caps on. Voila! New driveshaft.

Ultimately I got into production machining, riding herd on one of the big automated machines that turned out part after part after part on their own. You need to keep the parts in spec, keep an eye on your cutters, replacing them as needed, and anticipate when to replace cutters based on the sound and amperage of the machine and the way the part size was drifting within the spec.

So I ended up leaving grad school with an excellent academic background in physics and a lot of practical machining experience. And, after the first year or so, never made a living doing either.

But they were such marvelous tools.

Physics taught me the basics of how things work on the micro level. Electricity and mechanics and optics, propulsion and luminance and structure — the very underpinnings of reality. Machining taught me the basics of how things work on the macro level. Machinery and hydraulics and materials, tools and methods and tolerances.

Each subject teaches you a certain way to think about things, its own way to think about things, and together these two ways of thinking are very powerful.

I’ve been talking with a friend about this recently, and I think the best way I can sum up the difference having a machining background makes is this: When someone without a machining background has a problem to solve, he may think, “Is there a tool I can use to solve this?” whereas a person with a machining background will think, “Is there a tool I can make to solve this?” The ability to think in terms of tools — not just existing tools, but tools one can make — to solve a problem has been of great use throughout my career.

And the methods of machining — resolving a large problem into a series of small steps, some of which may simply be preparations for a later step, or building a tool needed for a later step — have been applicable to everything I’ve done in my career.

Physics, too, has been a big help. Physics at its core is a search, through experimentation, for basic principles. Once known, those basic principles can be applied over and over, to many different kinds of problems. Learning physics teaches you to think in terms of basic principles, in terms of rules, and how those rules can be used to solve problems. Approaching a problem for me always brings up those questions. What are the basic principles in play here? How can those basic principles be used, combined, and applied to find a solution?

So I got into both physics and machining through sheer dumb luck. Each taught me its own way of thinking. I have used both ways of thinking throughout a forty-year career that has ranged widely across technology, business, and law. And both have served me well, though, after my first year out of college, I didn’t make a living in either occupation.

I can highly recommend both.

And luck doesn’t hurt, either.