dal niente

Month: July, 2011

Catching Up

It’s been a really busy week– a busy month, in effect.

It’s always nice to sit down and really just take the time to kind of… sweep everything else off the desktop, and just take the time to sit down and catch up with people. I don’t necessarily mean talking in person, or chatting by IM… I mean, correspondence. It’s nice to get a long message and really catch up on things.

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Hogwart’s

I’ve got some pretty strange teachers, and they all specialize in some part of Law. Contracts. Foundations of Law. Public Law. We have these classes that are called things like “Defenses to Intentional Torts” which, well, I guess it’s not as cool as “Defenses against the Dark Arts,” but…

I’m falling in with a group of fellow Juris Doctors candidates, and in a cool sort of way, it’s like college all over again: we’re the protagonists, and everyone else is uncool.

Process

Adven

The professor looked us very seriously: “And when you’re at home, in your bedrooms, studying, I want to be there, with you.”

Creepy? A tad. And he’s trying, but despite it, he seems like a really nice guy. He’s the most interesting professor yet, and perhaps a bit of context would make him sound like less of a creep. As our Contract Law professor, he’s going to teach us the techniques of interpreting all the mumbo jumbo to hack away at the insane amounts of reading. He will do so until we can read cases in our sleep, and indeed, even when he is not there, he will always be with us.

There’s something distinctly different about the education I’m getting this time around– I’m actually enjoying it. There isn’t a single subject so far that I’m snoozing off at, which makes me seriously wonder what I was thinking when I did my undergrad. I mean, sure, I enjoyed some of the materials back then– but I think that like a lot of people, my undergraduate degree was just about finishing something, perhaps anything. It really took a few spins of the globe to figure out more of who I am and what I want out of the world I think.

-=-=-=-

Today in our Foundations class, we performed a mini-moot. I’d never heard of a mini-moot before a week ago. Never done this stuff in class back home. A moot, apparently, is like a mock debate/trial. My team and I were preparing for this for about a week, and it paid off. We won the jury of all our classmates over by unanimous decision.

I think that I’m kinda on a roll here in Australia… I’m not sure what it is. A number of things maybe?

Maybe it’s that I’m finally in Sydney with [CM]. That makes life a hell of a lot easier I think– a long distance relationship with someone you’re in love with is as much a relief when you get the video feed working as it is a desparate self-inflicted torture. Being in person is a chance to live the life– the normal life of a normal couple who gets to see each other in person.

For those of you in relationships, or who want to be– consider how you look at relationships and cherish the things about them. Do you? Do you know how important it is to make time to have dinner together, and by that, I don’t just mean forking out a day’s salary to go to an expensive restaurant (although that’s important too). I mean, appreciating that the person you’re with will look at the tomatoes before buying those ones, and will chose this brand of soup over this one because it will make that home cooked dinner taste better. Things like taking the turns for the dishes– is that, really, a chore, or a privlege?

I think also that a fair amount of steam comes from the backing I have from family, which, throughout my undergrad, i either refused to ackknowledge or refused to earn. It’s a combination of those two things really. This time around, it seems that I’ve demonstrated my seriousness about taking charge of my life, so my family has been really good about backing me up on it.

I’ve grumbled in the past abotu how back in high school I had to give up music, specifically, playing in various bands, because my parents didn’t think it would work out. I used to think it was that they didn’t believe in me, or that I wasn’t good enough in their eyes to make it happen. It could have been a bit of those things– but it’s a two way street. At the age of 16 or so, would you really have enough credibility in the world of adults to convince adults that you were making smart, informed decisions?

The truth is, I’ve not been an easy son. I’ve always made it hard, rebelling and lashing out. I’ve commited some pretty big wrongs against my family throughout the years of my youth and so it’s no wonder that they thought I was a wishy washy guy.

But over time I think that as I started to work on myself, I mean, to stop making excuses and stop blaming other people for holding me back, I just naturally started to respect myself and follow through. And you know what? Family fell in behind me.

It’s not to say that their love was conditional– but I can feel the difference in their support, now that I’m finally acting like an adult.

I think maybe that’s second source of motivation for me to do well here in Australia.

Law school isn’t cheap for an international student, and even after years of savings from work at the hospitals, and even a particularly good year of saving from South Korea, well, it frankly doesn’t cover it. I’m using student loans, and my parents have taken out a loan to pay for my education.

So there’s a lot on the line. I’m cutting corners in many ways, especially from a budget point of view, but I’m doing so in a way where developing the discipline feels good to me. On some days it gets annoying… as [Zanshin] points out, budgeting oneself is pretty important when in debt but there’s something to be said about quality of life. I think I’ve got the balance right, for not at least though. Working under subutopian conditions, it makes me feel stronger, and on good days, it makes me feel badass.

I try not to sound like such a pauper, but sometimes, I do feel like it compared to my classmates. I asked a classmate how much the books for Contract Law cost– he said he wasn’t sure, he didn’t really think about it. Something like 200$ Australian (roughly equivalent to USD and CAD). To me… well, that’s a lot of money for someone not to think about, but I digress.

For the next three yeats, I’m going to be borrowing as many of my textbooks from the library and maintaining a constant cycle of reservations so that I can borrow my way for the majority of classes. So far, I’ve managed to use library books for 4 out of the 5 classes that I’ve got this semester… that saves me between 450 and 600 dollars actually for this half year. It takes a bit of extra organizational skills to make sure that I have the textbooks when I need them, but as I said– the process of it all gives me something to focus on and game.

Yesterday, it was pouring rain. Before I came to Australia, I decided that I would save money on transporatation by investing in a medium-range bike instead of paying the transportation fees here (which are pretty high compared to back home). So, this morning I biked to school with my backpack and saddle bag full: my library-borrowed textbooks, wrapped in plastic bags, and a separate bag held an ironed white shirt, a necktie and a pair of dress pants to deliver my mini-moot presentation at school.

And you know, they say that the psychology of a person who needs to kick others down to feel better about themselves is someone who is overconfident and sociopathic. Well, maybe I am a bit of a sociopath, when i really think about it– I keep telling CM that, in reality, I’m not a very nice person, I can actually be quite mean. It’s just that I take care of those I love very seriously, and I can deal with everyone else very professionally– but most people don’t understand that there’s a lot of burning anger in me, which, probably, is what drives me to search for change.

It’s not the sort of anger that is poisonous in itself, mind you. I think it’s the sort that won’t suffer to be in proximity with that which is wrong– so it’s the fiery sort, the good sort, or so I hope.

No, I don’t really need to kick people down to feel better about myself. I just find, that, with the discipline, I can have good days and better days. And almost always better days than anyone who complains about anything. Someone today was complaining about how they got all wet missing a bus, and got to school late on account of the rain.

Oh really?

I just biked through 9km of rain, in heavy traffic, on hilly terrain. Some of the puddles were so deep that my feet were an inch below water when I pedaled. I got to school on time, I dressed up dry and clean, and when I did my presentation, I pwned the mini-moot. I mooted the shit out of that audience. Do you hear me complaining about getting a bit wet?

I guess I’m pumping my own tires a bit here but I guess what I’m getting at is that I don’t need to kick people down to feel better about myself, because I have a pretty good understand of my limitations and what I’m made of. And in the areas that count to me, i’m scoring pretty well, and where I’m not, I’m learning along the way.

-=-=-=-

Regarding the mini-moot: I didn’t read my presentation– I glanced at little cues from my notes here and there, but I was one out of two people in that room of maybe 20something Juris Doctor students who knew my material well enough to not read my whole presentation.

I have teaching in SK for doing a good number on my fear of public speaking. I still feel the fear coming up my belly when i stand in front of a class though– and there’s something distinctly more terrifying about being in front of peers who speak as much (if not more) English as you (as opposed to Korean children, who are not only younger than you, but are more scared of you than you are of them).

I’m grateful for the things going on in my life.

It’s not a cakewalk, and sometimes it feels like I’ll either burn out or get hypothermia, but I’m enjoying the process of living.

Perception of Lawyers in Society

It is true that there are several negative perceptions of lawyers. This occurs for a number of reasons:
-There is a disparity between acessibility to legal advice. The rich can afford the best legal teams, while the poor pay exhorbitant fees for modest representation.
-Lawyers often appear in peoples’ lives when bad things happen: bankruptcy, divorce, child custody hearings, funerals, etc.
-Media tends to focus on when infamous public figures get off the hook
-Lawyers aren’t cheap
-Not all lawyers act ethically
-Lawyers are the functional representatives of a legal system which individuals might not like

In a survey of first year law students from 6 countries, it was found that lawyers are considered ranking socially less trustworthy than educators, medical professionals, clergy, politicians and other professions, and indeed, only manages to oust health maintenance, advertisers, and car salesmen.

People have asked me several times now… why am I in law?

Filter Bubbles

This isn’t the most impressive Ted talk I’ve seen, and it’s a bit underwhelming, but I think that it gets the main issues across, and I think that it is more likely for people to click a link and listen than to click a link and read, so here it is:

http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

Dungeon Crawl

William the Conqueror is partly famous for this thing known as the Domesday Book. It was basically one of the first European censuses ever made– it documents all sorts of details about people, such as the size of their land owning, the amount of animals they own (and which type), the number of workers under their employ, etc. It’s basically a pretty forward thinking way of figuring out a kingdom-wide government strategy based on demographic data.

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of information– not just as a resource, but as a volatile catalyst. I remember when I was in College, “high speed” internet was first becoming readily available and that mean that the times were changing. I didn’t need to scour hobby or community specific BBSes (dial-up bulletin board services), earn download credits, and then download a piece of data that turned out to maybe be what I wanted. I didn’t need to scan line after line of usenet or IRC channels just to find the one group that might have what I was looking for.

No; I could use Netscape Navigator, load up Yahoo!, and then search: “Gran Turismo Vechicle Modding FAQ,” and maybe ten minutes later, I’d be on my way to printing a 90 page physics manual explaining how changing the cam angle on my GTO unstable on certain turn gradients, due to the exaggerated weight distribution. True story: I borked the configuration of my GTO with that manual.

My point is that the quantity and speed at which information can be accessed has become so much easier over the years, and I think that’s a good thing.

However, from my experience, there are a number of bottlenecks that we may not always be perceptive of that shape the way that our practices grow to manipulate this information. One of the easiest examples that comes to mind is the gradual move towards digital archives, requests and querries in the Quebec medical system. It’s not easy, since we still work on a strong tradition of pen and paper. It’s not that digital is any less secure than pen and paper– but there’s a learning curver attached to that kind of advance that introduces a significant amount of human error which makes things insecure.

I’m taking a Foundations of Law class at the moment. For the past week, I’ve spent 16 hours in this class and maybe almost as much time reading up on cases and methodology. It’s exciting to have this much raw information coming through my eyes and ears– aside from the union law class I took for my previous masters, I don’t think I’ve been this excited about learning things in a long time. But there’s so much information out there, it’s hard to figure out sometimes just what is relevant. Especially in Australia (and Canada, as well as the US) where Common Law is the system in use, we have a method of dealing out law based on precedent. That means an enormous reliance on our ability to know the past cases, and determine the reasoning behind them. We cannot just make a judgement out of nowhere– we need to base it upon a judgements of the past in order that a standard of law can be established.

Needless to say, the amount of law back there is in the past is, well, enormous.

Right now it feels like I’m in an age of Javascript and Python, but because of the principles of precedent, I’m being told that I need to learn Assembly. Which, in a way is cool. Every now and then I’ll run into a case that I feel has a totally badass ratio decidendi and I’ll feel like I just found this really rare materia in a back room chest after hours of dungeon crawling.

Accelerating out of the Curve

At the very start of my Juris Doctor (the name of the title I’m working towards by going through law school), I had hoped to start writing in some special way. I’m not sure what I had in mind. Maybe I’d start a new blog, or just declare something out of the ordinary was about to begin. Something, I don’t know– dramatic.

The truth is, law school started on Monday, and it started much more quietly than I expected it to. So quietly, in fact, that I missed the first class.

Rewind: the thing is, apparently the Foundations of Law class starts one week before regular classes and runs for a week of intensives even before anything else starts. I was actually mucking around on campus on Monday morning– I went to the on campus clinic to get my throat checked out (I’ve got some sorta virus that’s giving me pains to swallow and talk) and spent a few hours in the aforementioned SDI orientation workshops. When I got through some of that by about 1pm, I went to the library to use a computer and check my registration status, to see if I could see the total tuition bill and things.

It was then that I realized I had one new message from Sunday night. “See you in class tomorrow!” was pretty much the part that stood out; worse, it was from a professor. I headed over to the Faculty of Law and asked the secretary what it was all about– turns out I missed the 9am class. I was more disappointed than angry, to be honest. Not that it was even my fault: I later found out that I was one among 6 people in Section A (another 5 or so in Section B) who was invited by SDI to attend those good-for-nothing workshops during week pre-semester. SDI kept telling us that school started on the 18th, and, not being from around here, we made the mistake of taking SDI’s word on it, when I suppose we should have realized that SDI has nothing to do with the Faculty of Law’s business whatsoever, and that we should have been asking the office of Law when school starts.

I was disappointed in myself because during both my college and ungergrad degree, I had a notorious habit of missing/skipping classes. It reflected how much I valued my education and how responsible I was as a person. It’s been almost 5 years since I was last in school, and now that I know what I want to aim for, I thought that getting off on such a bad start was a bad omen. Not being particularly superstitious doesn’t change the fact that I know I’m a creature of habit more easily than a creature of change. Top that off with me feeling pretty small because I’d never really been “at home” in the classroom setting, and back in the day before I got some real world work experience, I often felt intimidated by my peers.

Thankfully, I managed, in a typical finals-mode undergrad fashion, make a quick save. At about 1:55pm, I dug up on the internet that Section B was having the same lecture that I had missed the same morning– at 2pm on the opposite side of campus. Despite that I didn’t have a textbook and hadn’t done the readings, I hoofed the kilometer sprint to the Law building and after going up and down the same flight of stairs twice, finally found my class. The proff was pretty understanding, and so I got my attendance marks.

-=-=-=-=-=-

On top of that, I did pretty well that class. I lucked out in some sense because there were another handful of classmates missing in action, and several didn’t have the book. Having planned for that, the prof had made photocopies of R. vs Wedge, the first case we would be reading to learn the ropes of briefing. We had a few minutes during the break to read up on it, and, straining everything I’d learned from my life experiences so far, as tapping into my memories of Matlock, Law & Order (up to 1997, the new stuff annoys me), Ally McBeal (squee!) and, more recently, Shark, I did, frankly, a pretty bang up job of participating actively in class.

The next morning (tuesday) was still a bit on the off foot, because I was lining up for the 9am opening of the bookstore to buy a textbook for the same class that was starting at… well… 9am. But it all worked out.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I was talking to [CM] about it and I think that what I expected out of Law was that somehow, everyone around me would be smarter than I am and that I’d be at a disadvantage. I’ve only been to two classes so far, but I feel that they’ve done a lot to really give me confidence that despite not having studied in a classroom setting for half a decade now, I’m going to be alright. They’re not going to flay me or eat me alive.

“They’re still human,” CM pointed out of my classmates, and professors. “They’re not automatically ten times smarter than you.”

And if they’re human, that means I can make them bleed.

Let the Games Begin

I’m sure orientation is useful for someone. But I haven’t found anything useful to come out of the Student Development International [SDI] workshops that I’ve attended so far. They all kind of assume that A) I don’t speak English B) I don’t know how to make friends C) I’m afraid to speak up in class. Meanwhile, everyone else at those workshops assumes that they’re there for A) visa problems (um… how did you get into this country?) B) how do I enroll plz? (for Gods sakes, how are you in this school without having enrolled yet??) C) what is the school policy on plagarism and attendance? (… you are here to study, right…?)

The answer from most of the workshops speakers, who were there to teach us about note taking skills, time-management, social connections, etc, was “You’ll have to speak to the appropriate department. That’s not why we’re here, exactly…” And it must’ve gotten tiresome that so many questions had nothing to do with the actual workshop. I don’t begrudge the workshop hosts, because they’re offering a valuable service. I did sign up to check it out, after all, and they delivered what they said they would. So maybe I just shouldn’t have signed up if I’m such a smartass and know everything anyways.

But you know all those jokes you tell about foreigners/immigrants are annoying because they have no clue about what’s going on? Oh man– perfect reason why I shouldn’t attend any more SDI orientation events.

Villany

I think that a lot of these original comic serieses were originally developed without the idea of a Justice League or Avengers group in mind. They all just seem to make more sense if the worlds of superheroes don’t overlap, because then their mythos don’t need to be explained in anyone else’s terms. You also wouldn’t have to nerf this person, or make this other one seem one dimensional (uh, Batman as a manipulative smartass? Wonder Woman as the scary femminist bitch? Superman as the moral measure with the big stick? Booooring.)

When I used to watch Smallville a lot, as well as some specific books of Superman, Lex Luthor brings up a really good point– the presence of superheroes may not be a really good thing. Superheroes pick and choose the fights that they want to do. Sure, they might risk their lives for some really big galactic battle that they don’t really want to be involved in, but on the whole, who is to say that that is nobler than the everyday man who has to go to work at the job he doesn’t like? That normal person doesn’t have the option of choice, nevermind praise, because he’s just ordinary. He might get mugged on the way home, he might even stop a mugger from mugging someone else, but even if either of these situations might reveal that ordinary person to be a hero, the general population will still choose to put their faith in aliens and superhumans rather than take responsibility for themselves. Luthor is in my opinion a humanist of the highest order, who refuses to be coddled by the tablescraps of superhumans (or metahumans, as they’re called in the DC universe). In fact, to that end, in several story arcs of comics, he becomes the president of the United States, in order be in the best position possible to promote humanity. (Yes, there are some bad things that happen as a result of this, but, he thinks he’s doing the right thing.)

I hear that Lex Luthor dies in Smallville at some point, but then again, a lot of things happen in Smallville, so enough said about that. I always thought he was a very interesting character with very interesting motivations– a TVtrope anti-hero actually.

Luthor hasn’t always been portrayed that way though– I think that this might actually be some sort of cultural revlution being reflected in the changing of the times. I used to read comics from as early as the late 60s, for example, and you never really had much doubt as to who the enemy was– it was clearly this alien or that psycho or this greedy bastard. It was a very distinct pro-american postwar attitude. Nowadays, probably in large part to increasing public awareness of international relations, there’s this move to show both sides of the story. Nowadays, if you ask me, comics aren’t made by superheroes– they’re made by the villains. Maybe this is because the same heroes have been around forever, so we know everything we want to about them already. But what/who are they up against? Is this villain actually a genius, performing a civil disobedience?

At least, good comics are made by good villains. There are still a lot of comics out there who are wasting their time with episodal cops and robbers shit. But maybe I’m not their target demographic anymore– I’m not a teen reading past my bedtime with a flashlight anymore.

Mastery

[This post was written about a week ago but is only now being published]

I’m sitting in the law library of University of Sydney. This isn’t my school, (I’ll be starting at University of New South Wales in a couple of weeks) it’s [CM]’s, but I’m using their internet to get some work done while she takes care of some schoolwork elsewhere on campus.

Yesterday I went to visit UNSW and it was pretty different from what I’d expected, in a good way. The campus is way more modern than I expected. I’m so used to the style of McGill and Concordia back in Montreal. McGill has that decrepit historic (or simply outdated) look feel to most of it’s buildings, while with the exception of the rennovations and new buildings, Concordia always felt like it was a dirty city pretending to be a university. The new EV building is a nice touch I guess, but I can’t help but stand by my original impression: what a waste of so much public space for so much bravado. Students in the middle of a central commercial district need escalators, not marble staircases forever. Rent and land tax is extremely pricey– why not invest that money in student facilities instead of more large, cold, drafty and noisy public spaces? Concordia is surrounded by cafes anyway, and there are already tons of niche meeting places that are way more comfortable throughout the facilities: why pretend that having a huge ground level space is necessary? Do we really need a two story tall glass wall that illuminates, essentially, a giant floor sized hallway? Meanwhile, while all this ‘communal space for students’ was being built, some of the classes I attended while doing my undergrad were so accoustically terrible you felt you like you were trying to hear the professor in a cafeteria sized bathroom. And speaking of cafeterias, another class was in the Faubourg mall, before it was officially annexed by the university, and my class was right next to the food court, so you could actually hear and smell meat grilling down the hall if the windows or door were open.

UNSW in contrast is ultra-modern. I don’t know the facilities’ history, but I’d wager that there isn’t a brick there that is older than 25 years, so maybe they’ve got some advantage there. I haven’t seen the insides yet, I just took the superficial campus tour which went around the outsides, but so far, I’m liking what I see. I’m pretty glad that this second time around in university won’t be feeling like my first time around– it simply feels like such a new experience, so different from my undergrad.

I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that it’s physically a different school (not to mention, a different country), but I think I just like how even the libraries look more modern and seem to have upgraded with the times.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Speaking of the times, I recently got an iPod Touch, 4th generation. As you may know, I’m not much of a fan of Mac related discussion, but I never said that I didn’t respect what they could do. Apple’s done a lot to standardize and reach out to new generations by removing a lot of the blockades between new user and technology.

The reason why I got the iPod is because I can’t afford a smartphone anymore. Back in Montreal, when I was working full time, I didn’t think twice about paying over 80$ per month for my smartphone’s dataplan. By the time I left Montreal, I was on my 5th smartphone– I’d been using them almost since WiFi first became available on a phone. But now? Now that I’m borrowing money from the Quebec government and my parents to pay for law school, and I’m no longer working full time, it’s time to trim the fat a bit.

So, I’m using a very, very basic cellphone package with no frills. I’ve got 50$ to use this SIM card for 365 days, which I think is a pretty amazing deal– but I basically intend to use this thing as a pager to receive text messages and maybe voicemail. I’m actually using my old Sony Ericsson P1i, one of my earliest smartphones dug up from my past.

The iPod touch, well, it took some tweaking, but I can use it anywhere with WiFi as an instant messaging device as well as an outbound Skype / GoogleVoice phone. I’ve tried it already, and the call quality is surprisingly good. So that cuts my costs to about 240$ for the iPod, as a one time payment, instead of monthly payments on a smartphone bill. I think that between the WiFi at home, the WiFi at UofSyd (which I just got working a few minutes ago), and the WiFi at UNSW, I should be sufficiently ‘connected.’

-=-=-=-=-=-

On that note, I just got the iPod to work at on the UofSyd WiFi. UofSyd was a bit of work to configure, because it requires the use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) authentication, but that’s okay– I appreciate that a public hotspot like this is actually trying to make my connection a bit more secure. Not that VPNs aren’t hackable, but at least it looks like someone is doing something to put some basic safeguards across the board and make it mandatory. Hats off.

This is as compared to network at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, or the entire MUHC for that matter, as well as the Concordia University network.

About using an iPod…

I’ve found that many people were surprised that I bought an iPod. I guess that’s a resonable reaction.

My response to that is that I’m not someone who cares about brand names– what I want is something that does the job the right way. For the price, there isn’t an equivalent device out there serving Android that does what the iPod Touch 4th gen does.

That isn’t to say that the iPod is an amazing device. It works well at what it does, but, to be honest, compared to Android 2.2 (which is the last Android OS I’ve used) there’s a lot of stuff missing.

Lets just forget about phone abilities for a momment. Actually, lets forget about hardware altogether.

iOS in general looks pretty, and feels smooth. I don’t think I’ve ever tried a system before that tried so hard to be so fluid, and it’s an attention to detail that I much appreciate. It’s not that I need fluidity– but on any Android device I’ve tried so far, there are the occasional jerks and lags here and there that destroy the illusion. iOS is matched so well in the hardware that it feels like a constant environment.

However, the reason why Android does jerk and lag here I think is because it has so much more going on. I feel that Android gives you way more control over the basic environment, and that for any application, you get more options easily available. I find that the way that an iPod tries to oversimplify (or hide away and group what few settings it gives you access to) is kinda insulting. But that’s me. To be honest, I’ve not worked extensively with an iPad– but I imagine it’s something that would really fit the bill for my parents, who just want something basic that works simply. The technological advance of the “iStuff” in general is that it’s easy to use– but frankly, for all the iPhoners out there who won’t shut up about how much better their phones are than the Androids, they should probably just pipe down. That’s pretty much the equivalent of shouting at the top of your lungs that you’d rather sit down at a toy electronic piano when a grand piano is right next to you.