The Laboratorium
May 2006

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Two Convertible Vignettes


Rest area gas station. They pull up next to the pump. Then, after a brief consultation with each other, they back up and make a K turn to put the car’s other side next to the pump. The driver opens his door and gets out, then gets back in and makes another K turn. They had it right the first time.


Roadside. The driver leans against his rear bumper, holding up an 8.5” by 11” piece of paper that reads “911.”

Primates and Tools

On my way into the grocery store the other day, I saw a woman locked out of her car, trying to unlock the door of her car from the inside by snaking a stethoscope through the window. On my way back out of the grocery store, I saw a fire truck pulled up behind her while the firefighters got the door open.

Are Coequal and Equal Equal? Are They Coequal?

Orin Kerr quotes Alberto Gonzales as saying:

We have a great deal of respect for the Congress as a coequal branch of government.

Which raises, of course, the eternal question: Equal or coequal?

Brian Garner has a nice discussion of “coequal” (or “co-equal”) as a substitute for “equal.” He concludes that they are almost always equivalent and that the only additional nuance that “co-equal” adds is that it can imply the other things with which the described thing is equal. If he is right, then here may be one of the cases in which it’s useful — the Congress is equal to the other two branches of government, but as the sentence doesn’t mention them, “equal” would be odd.

Put another way, I think the following are most nearly correct, according to Garner’s distinction:

The Constitution establishes three equal [not coequal] branches of government.

Congress is a coequal [not equal] branch of government.

Garner also points to the following “mini-tirade” (Garner’s phrase) from Robert C. Cumbow, The Subverting of the Goeduck, 14 U. Puget Sound L. Rev. 755, 779 (1991).

Does the legalistic neologism “coequal” add anything to the meaning of the time-honored word “equal?” It seems only to suggest a kind of superequality: Not only does A equal B and B equal A, but A and B equal each other! Imagine! They’re both equal together! the word seems to proclaim. But equality being absolute, it is of no consequence whether A and B are equal together or separately. They are equal, and that’s that.

(Garner’s version of the quotation italicizes the exclamation points after italicized words. The original does not. The proper italicization of punctuation of quoted text is not a matter on which I have been able to find an authoritative statement, although the alteration strikes me as incorrect.)

Cumbow’s article is not about the Goeduck; it’s about the “Goeduck.” That is, he hazards a guess at how G-O-E-D-U-C-K (pronounced roughly “gooey-duck”) became G-E-O-D-U-C-K (pronounced roughly “gooey-duck”). His theory is that some reviser of the Washington State Code made the flip, and thereafter it radiated outwards due to the “control that law exercises over language.” Id. at 756. In an interesting coda to Cumbow’s claims, the University of Puget Sound Law Review is now the Seattle University Law Review, in keeping with the name change of the school itself. (The law school changed universities in 1994 and physically moved from Tacoma to Seattle in 1999.)

Bad Highbrow Video Game Mash-Up Puns

  • Super Mario Brothers Karamazov
  • The Dance Dance Revolution Will Not Be Televised
  • Shadow of the Colossus of New York
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization IV and its Discontents
  • The Barbarian Space Invasions
  • Metal Gear Solid State Physics
  • The Legend of Zelda Fitzgerald
  • Contra Positive

(Some of these may not be original, but I didn’t knowingly borrow any of them from anywhere else.)

UPDATE: Steven adds the following:

  • Star Tropics of Cancer
  • Brave New World of Warcraft
  • The Sound and the Fists of Fury
  • The Heart Is a Lonely Wumpus Hunter
  • The Goldeneye Bowl
  • The Ikari Warrior Woman
  • Silent Hill Spring
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter

A Packet of Biscuits

Last night, on my way out of ICLE, I got into a bit of a tussle in the parking lot. I’d just pulled out of my space and gotten in the painfully long conga line of cars heading for the exit, two turns of the screw below. I was just about to make sure I had enough cash to ransom my way out when it happened.

Someone tried to pull around me to cut in line.

She looked friendly enough; her car was a lot less ostentatious than many of the lawyer-mobiles in the line. She didn’t seem to be particularly frantic, the way someone in a hurry would be.

It was just that she’d pulled up behind me, then swerved out to my left and scooted two places ahead. I didn’t know whether she planned to pull back in as soon as space opened up, or whether she meant to roll all the way down to the booth at the bottom and only then force her way in. I just knew that I’d be damned if I’d let some arrogant young hotshot pull rank on me without a mighty good reason.

So I pulled up on the ass of the car in front of me and determined to stay right there. No safety margin, no cautious gentle garage-style maneuvers. No, I was going to make sure there wasn’t a spare inch of space for anyone to sneak in.

We proceeded on down like that; the car in front of me didn’t seem any more inclined to let her in. With cars pulling out of spaces and whatnot, she kept roughly on station down an entire level. Then, near the middle of the ramp, the available space narrowed to accomodate the elevator bank. You could just squeeze two cars by, but the line heading for the exit was squarely in the middle.

As the ramp constricted, we pulled closer and closer. I drive an old car; I have no fear of scratches. By the time we got to the choke point, we were more or less side-by-side. I’d moved enough to the right that she could squeak through in parallel (which she did) but I had about eighteen inches on her in front. If she wanted to get in front of me, she was going to have to merge into my side. If she pulled out ahead to jump in front once things opened up, I was prepared to pull off into a parking space, run out, and physically block her from leaving until she explained exactly what kind of a rush she was in that justified cutting in line.

I braced myself for possible impact; I set my jaw with steely resolve. I prepared for close confrontation and determined not to back down. When we got to the end of the constriction, the next move would be hers. Would she fold now that I’d called her bluff? Would she be crazy enough to ram me? Or would she pull along side the line of cars and watch mournfully as we refused to let her back in? Just a few more inches …

… and then she pulled ahead, zipped past the entire line, drove up to the lane for people with parking passes, flipped her keytag at the reader, and drove off into the night while the rest of us dopes waited patiently for our turn to pay our eight dollars.

Boy, did I feel like an almost completely and utterly foolish person.

Eyes Wanted

I’m working on revising a draft book chapter on virtual worlds at the moment. It’s a book of legal and business advice for game developers; my chapter is the one specific to virtual worlds. It takes the form of a clause-by-clause analysis of the software licenses you have to “agree” to in order to play. (I picked this structure because the license makes for a nice index to the legal issues involved in running a world.) The goal is to give developers and lawyers alike a useful guide to virtual world law. Pure candy, if you ask me.

If any of you out there in Laboratorium-land feel like giving it a read over, I’d be grateful for any comments and suggestions. It’s meant for game developers, so little or no legal background should be necessary. The whole thing is a rather daunting length, but I’d be quite happy with feedback on even a portion of it. Send me an email if this sounds interesting.


For the past four weeks, I’ve been dealing with New Jersey’s idosyncratic form of continuing legal education. It’s definitely “legal,” and it’s probably “education,” but “continuing” I’m not as sure about. Many states make you keep coming back to the well a little every year but sweeten the experience by giving you a broad choice of accredited programs. (Much the same philosophy applies to pro bono requirements: States expect you to do it but let you choose freely how and for whom.)

New Jersey, on the other hand, front-loads the entire program. You have to take five six-hour classes in your first year. Not five classes you-choose-which-five. No, five classes they-choose-which-five, and you’re warned at the start not to leave your seat. It’s two classes a year for the second and third years, and then that’s it. Finito. No more, ever again. Think of us fondly now and then, maybe send a card at the holidays?

Thus, for the last month, I’ve been spending two nights a week sitting in lectures and many of the remaining nights working on the homework exercises. It really mucks up one’s routine to have something like this dropped in. Between my day job, my scholarship, planning a wedding, and running the errands my medical-student intended’s school doesn’t give her the time to run, I had a fairly full life before ICLE came along. Now, my evenings start three hours later — or more, if you figure in the horrible traffic jam leaving the parking lot.

I recognize that I have little right to complain. Certainly, the work involved is negligible compared with the feats of memorization expected of my fiancee and her fellow medical initiates. Any complaints I might have about the teaching style or subject matter are also piddling when compared with the stories I hear from anyone who’s ever been to medical school. And as for the loss of time, well, at least I’m not at a major law firm. If I were, I’d be heading back to the office after the CLE classes, to make up the work I’d missed by having to be in them in the first place.

Yes, compared with those around me in these classes, I count myself lucky. There’s a 9:13 train from Newark back into New York City, and a little before 9:00 the crowd starts getting restless. As the lecturer rolls on, I can see the growing look of despearation in dozens of pairs of eyes. If he doesn’t wrap this up soon, that’s another twenty minutes gone before the next one.

Have I learned much? It varies. The accounting component of the professional responsibility lecture was essential. The basics of managing an attorney trust account aren’t difficult, but botching them means disbarment. Yeah. Good to know. Besides, accounting is fun. For similar reasons, I actually kind of liked the real estate closing class. A closing is a thing of beauty, like an astral conjunction—for one perfect instant, dozens of moving parts are lined up perfectly. It helped that the lecturer told some fine stories, including one gruesome little tale that serves as a reminder of why you should never ever ever let sellers stay over in the place after the closing.

Other classes, though, not so much. The professional responsibility classes were more exhortation than instruction; pretty much any wills and estates lecturer was going to suffer by comparison with the curmudgeonly genius who taught my trusts and estates class in law school. Also, the registration fee for the classes included a set of reference volumes that include quite a lot of specific information, and the instruction is just a little bit redundant with the volumes.

(The “books,” I should not, are some of the cheapest objects ever to bear that name. They’re “bound” in a rough, mottled grey paper, only slighly thicker than the paper on which the contents are printed. I have to appreciate the desire to keep the costs down, but at the same time, the results are hide-this-from-your-clients ugly.)

In any event, this is all just a digressive explanation of why I’ve been a bit behind the eight-ball for the last month. Things should clear up after this week. If I owe you a reply, or thoughts on something, or another form of attention, it might be best to drop me a line to refresh your claim.

From the Simple Pleasures File

A justified midday change of clothes is always a treat. Exercising, being in court, traveling in the rain—there are plenty of perfectly enjoyable activities that leave you (where by “you” I mean “me”) eager to get out of the clothes involved. The set of clothes that take their place are consistently especially pleasant. Soft cottons are softer, crisp creases crisper, familiar fleeces fleecier.

I’d apologize for the lameness of this sentiment, but my apologies wouldn’t make it any the less true.

Math Nostalgia

For slightly unclear reasons, I’ve had a serious case of math (and CS) nostalgia in the last few weeks. On a few occasions when I’ve had thumb-twiddling duties, I’ve found myself doodling equations. I remember more than I’d have expected, though it’s now clearer to me than it was how little that “more” is in absolute terms. I don’t have the time at the moment to pick up the study of such things in any depth, but I’ve recently had warm and fuzzy thoughts about:

  • Fourier analysis
  • Denotational semantics
  • Continuations
  • Homology theory
  • Generating functions
  • Model checking
  • Combinatory logic
  • Galois theory
  • Parallel algorithms
  • Automata theory
  • Category theory
  • Cryptographic primitives

Perhaps it’s seven-year itch.