Thursday, May 31, 2007

Secret Video: Choral Arts Society Audition, 2007

Every year, we have to reaudition to get into the Choral Arts Society of Washington. Each year brings a new kind of audition -- two years ago it was individual auditions, last year sectionals, and this year quartets. I LOVE this method! After running through scales, we read through a couple pieces we performed this season. Here we are singing a snippet of Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen. I love singing with small groups, and I also love the Lux -- I'd go so far as to say it is my favorite piece of music, from any genre or time period. So, yeah. Stress-free audition.

(For personal friends of who are not yet personal friends of Yours Truly, I am the one who starts the song.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gliding in Washington, DC

Ladies and Gentlemen, after several days of anticipation and one sleepless night of editing, I present to you: Gliding in Washington, DC. Join our hero, Matt, as he meets up with the DC Segway User's Group for his first time on a Segway Human Transporter! For the first time in the history of the World Wide Web,* you will get a first-person view of what it's like to ride (or "glide") through our Nation's Capital on a Segway. Excitement! Humor! Speed! Adventure! Heckling Hillary Clinton!

Highly recommended.**

* Well, at least on my World Wide Web.
** Must be 16 or older. No one over 250 pounds, please. (Segway's limitation, not mine. I am a friend to all, including fatties!)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Cool Segway Man

Cool Segway Man, originally uploaded by CaseWriter21.

After two hours touring about town on a Segway i2 today, I was an old pro. SO MUCH FUN!!! Lots of video coming soon...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Lauriol Plaza 2007: The Video!

As promised, here for All to Enjoy is the video of last week's Lauriol Plaza adventure starring Ben, Lee, Dave, Elizabeth and me. It's a nice 27 minute video, and I encourage you to sit down and enjoy your lunch or dinner as you watch it. That way, you can pretend you were at Lauriol with us!

Topics of conversation include:
  • What we're up to! (Boring job stuff!)
  • One- and ten-year predictions! (Lee will have six children!)
  • Who's BlackBerry is better! (Mine!)
  • Whether it is possible to perform a passable karaoke version of Hotel California without any real-time musical accompaniment at all! (Indeed it is! But only if the person who starts the song has an impeccable memory of the proper starting pitch. Which she does!)
  • And so on!
Enjoy, but keep your expectations low for the best experience. And if you're interested, here are some links to products mentioned in the video. Highly recommended:
Enjoy! And if you're curious, here's last year's video:

Don't forget to comment!

Friday, May 25, 2007

I'm thinking of buying a Segway

Wait! Hear me out before you start rolling your eyes and laughing.

A Segway, as you probably know, is that nifty personal scooter thing that was released with major fanfare six years ago. It still carries a retail price of several thousand dollars, but with financing (or, as the Segway marketing department groan-inducingly phrases it, FUNancing), you can get one for less than $200/month! Believe it or not, this may be more affordable than my current transportation costs:

Right now I spend approximately $3/day, average, on public transportation. Right off the bat, that's $90 a month that could be mostly eliminated. I also spend maybe $100-200/month on gas, depending on how much I drive. Assuming that averages out to 150, and assuming I could cut my car usage in half with a Segway, that's another 75 in monthly savings. Even taking into account the electricity cost to powering a Segway, it's still about 15 times cheaper than gas so the net energy savings would still be substantial.

So not taking anything else into account, I would save about 165 a month by using the Segway, which would actually balance out the cost of ownership.

(And not to give anything to Algore, but I'd also be doing my part to reign in my Pollution Footprint, or whatever the hippies and flower people call it.)
  • Pros: Net cost savings. Fun to ride. Very convenient for city living where everything is within a few miles.
  • Cons: Very high dork factor, possibly even too high for Yours Truly. Everyone would stare. Not practical in harsh elements (snow, rain, etc). Potential of theft.
  • Response: Then again, nothing is too dorky for Yours Truly. I'd get used to people staring and maybe even use it to pick up chicks. I can leave it at home when bad weather is expected and probably still save money.
Thoughts? Anyone ever ridden one?

Let the insults, ad hominem attacks and questions about my sanity and extreme technolust begin!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Then & Now

Lauriol Plaza 2006

Lauriol Plaza 2007

Friends Lee, Ben and Dave (Gweepay) and I met up a couple nights ago, as part of Ben's annual "Last of the Petty Cash Tour." Per usual, we went to Lauriol Plaza, one of the most hopping, fun and trendy gathering places in allll of the Dupont Circle area. Also per usual, their delicious margaritas weren't nearly strong enough. After three margaritas, there was still not a buzz to be seen -- despite the fact that I had eaten very little that day. Alas.

But all in all, it was great fun, and The Artist Formerly Known as Sweetie even made it down for a visit. Stay tuned -- there will be video!

EDIT, May 27, 2007: Video is up!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I am Officially* an Attorney!

A long journey has finally come to a close.

"Or is it just the beginning?"
Who the hell is that?
"This is your Narrator."
We're not in Stranger than Fiction, I am not Will Ferrell, and I can narrate for myself just fine, thank you.

Sorry. Anyway, what I mean is that my long formal educational journey -- which began with my first day of kindergarten and continued all the way through college and law school -- is finally done. On Thursday I went to my Swearing-In, which is the surest sign yet that my passing the bar was NOT a mistake, my successful character and fitness evaluation was NOT mistaken, my actually doing okay at Georgetown was NOT just a dream, etc. The swearing-in is kind of like high school graduation. Your family is there, and people give speeches and talk about how much Good you can do in the world.

There are some differences though:
1. I didn't have to take an oath to graduate from high school, and
2. I didn't have to wear a green cape and silly tassels this time. (Picture forthcoming.)

The oath was actually pretty neat. It was the first set of vows (professional or otherwise) I have ever taken in my life. It was actually somewhat uplifting, in that the words reminded me that lawyers are *supposed* to only do good for society, represent people in need for free, not mislead the court, etc. (Nevermind that these standards are rarely lived up to; it was a nice sentiment.) The only bad part about having to take an oath is that I had to hold my right hand up for two minutes! And, Star Trek Nerd that I am, it took all my willpower to not break out into the V-shaped Vulcan salute. I seriously wanted to (doing the Vulcan salute is far more natural to me than just holding my hand up straight). However, in the name of justice and looking professional and not wanting to be laughed at, I didn't. Plus, I wasn't sure if the Vulcan salute would invalidate the oath, or something. Don't want to take any chances when I'm so close to the finish line!

One of the best parts of the day is that my dad got to motion the court to admit me to the bar. It's a ceremonial thing, just a formality, and if you don't have a family member in the Michigan bar, someone will make a mass-motion for you. But it was still very neat, and my dad did a wonderul job making a short speech with only about three minutes' notice. Go dad! (Video included here.)

After the ceremony, we all went to the casino, where everyone (me, dad, mom, liz) left ahead! My vehicle for lucre was the blackjack tables; everyone else used the slots (which I refuse to use because a monkey can do it, and I am better than a monkey). After the casino, we had an amazing steak dinner at the Coach Insignia, which is the fancy-schmancy restaurant at the top of the RenCen in Detroit.

All in all, it was a great day. And now, I am officially* able to represent YOU when you slip and fall!** Hooray!

* Well, not officially. I still have to pay my bar membership dues. THEN I can represent you.
** As long as the accident occurred in Michigan.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I passed the bar exam!!!

By now, most of the three people who read my blog know that I, Matthew S. [Last Name Removed for Google Reasons], passed the February 2007 Michigan Bar Exam! I was one of the lucky ones who passed it on my Very First Try, and I am, frankly, quite shocked about that. You see, the bar exam was hard as hell. It was literally The Most Difficult Test I have ever taken, in my entire life. It was harder than law school exams, by far, because with exams you have the opportunity to study for one particular topic all semester, cram, take the test, and promptly forget what you learned to make room for the next topic. Oh, plus you generally get to use your notes. (Yeah, law school exams are mostly open book.) More importantly, in most instances, you actually took the course you are studying for. NONE of this necessarily applies to the bar exam.

You have to study for everything at once. You start studying two months beforehand. There are so many topics, you have just a few days to focus on each. Everything might be fresh in your mind while you're actually studying it, and maybe even while you're studying the next topic, but several weeks later? You have to review just to keep things fresh -- and by the time you review, you have already forgotten several of details. Everything has to be memorized -- mnemonic devices become your best friend. And, oh yeah by the way, you're going to have to learn several important topics (sales, wills and trusts, worker's compensation and no-fault law, etc.) that you never actually studied in law school. You see, law students mostly take courses that appeal to them. I took several courses in communications law, because that is the kind of law I want to practice. Communications law is NOT tested on the bar. Yet law students forego courses on tested bar subjects, with the throwaway line, "I'll learn it for the bar." It is extremely difficult to learn a new topic, from scratch, in the span of just a few days -- and that is really all the time you have to focus on any given topic.

You have to do everything -- review, relearn and memorize everything you studied several years ago in law school; as well as learn the fundamentals and crucial details and exceptions of topics which you have never studied before -- in the span of approximately two months.

Oh, another thing: No one knows exactly how to study. What is the best way to learn things? Should you read the BarBri outline? Make your own? Make flashcards? How about practice problems? Should you spend your time on multiple-choiced Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) questions, or on state-specific essay questions? How long will you spend on each? Which topics should you focus on? There are NO right answers to this. You just devise a plan of action, and stick to it, and hope that it pays off.

It is a singular task, one unlike any other (except, possibly, the analogous test in other professions -- passing the medical boards, for instance). No one is fully prepared for the amount of studying that awaits them, and no one is fully prepared upon walking into the cavernous testing room. It is impossible to know everything. You just hope that you know enough. You don't know how much is enough. You study 12 hours a day as the exam approaches. And when the Big Day comes, you just try to do the best you can.

The test is designed to make you feel as stupid as possible. The MBE consists of 200 questions, the kind of question that might be known as a "story problem" to elementary schoolers. They give you a scenario -- a few sentences or paragraphs describing a recent encounter someone had with the police, a bit of evidence that an attorney wants to get in at trial, a property transfer gone awry -- and they ask you a question about it. Was the impromptu police investigation constitutional? Can the evidence legally be admitted? Who owns the property? You have three hours to do 100 questions. Break for lunch. Repeat. That's 1.8 minutes per question, on average. Some people finish an hour early, and walk out with a smug look on their face while the rest of us are sweating. Some of us take every last second to re-read and consider the problems. It's usually pretty easy to narrow it down to two possible answers, but choosing between those is usually a coin toss. That's why you only need to get 135 correct out of 200 to pass the MBE -- the examiners know it's hard, and they don't require anywhere near perfection. A "D" will do.

The essay questions are even worse. You have to remember every rule, every test, every crime, every element, and every exception -- whether or not you ever took the course. Of course, you don't have to remember everything, and it is truly impossible. But you have to study everything, and hope that you can remember enough to score 100 points out of a possible 150. Every state does it differently, but in Michigan, there are 15 questions, each worth 10 points. You can handwrite them or you can type them. On a typewriter. I chose to type, and was relegated to a room with 17 other intrepid typers, some of them trying to figure out how to put in their correct tape. (Maybe Michigan will one day join the ranks of states that actually offer their essays on computer.)

The point is, this was a hard goddamn test, and I was positive I had failed. After the first day -- essays -- a friend asked what I plan to do after the bar exam. My response? "Start studying for the July bar." All I could remember from the day were the three essays I completely bombed. I knew I had done okay on the other essays, but I also knew that in order to make up for the three below-average essays, I would have to have at least three above-average essays too -- maybe even get a perfect score on one. Ha! That was impossible! Confident that I had failed the essays, I knew I had to score a 150 on the MBE, which in Michigan means you "multistate out," and the examiners won't even score your essays. The MBE score is scaled (to correct for questions that are unreasonably hard and most people get wrong), so I could conceivably get, say, a 130 raw and maybe have it scaled up to 150. But I knew the odds of my doing that well on the MBE were abysmal, considering I had never scored that highly in practice tests.

So you can imagine my surprise when I learned, early this week, that I had passed! The scores were sent to my uncle's house, which was the address I had registered with the state bar (mail sent to my home in Michigan would almost certainly get lost). He read me the letter over the phone. "Are you kidding me?" I asked when he told me I passed. "You're serious?? I passed???!" I then had him fax me the letter right away, so I could see the scores. I couldn't believe my eyes: I had scored a 146 scaled on the MBE, and a 106 on the essays -- including two perfect essay scores! √úbernerd that I am, I arranged the essay topics in a chart, highest to lowest score, and included the grade I received in that class to see if there was any correlation. I present the results below:


As you can see, there was no correlation between how I did on the essays, and how I did in the law school class -- or whether I even took the class. I got perfect scores in CivPro and Worker's Comp, despite my only scraping by with a B+ on an open-book CivPro exam, and never even taking Worker's Comp. Looking back on it, I'm not surprised I scored 8s and 9s in Crim and ConLaw, considering I took several related courses dealing with those topics, and details must have seeped in over the years. But an 8 in Sales? 7 and 8 in Wills and Trusts? I never took those courses! And I never thought I'd do better in those courses than in Corporations and Contracts, courses I actually took and did okay in.

So then it is clear that BarBri works. For the uninitiated, BarBri is the bar prep course that 9 out of 10 law students sign up for. It costs over $2,000 and entails sitting in front of a videotaped lecture for three to four hours a day for about six weeks. Yes, videotape. Apparently one class in the state gets live professors, and the rest of us have to make due with their virtual counterpart. Some of the professors were energetic and hilarious, some were just very good teachers, and some were so God-awfully boring. Truth be told, my BarBri class attendance and study habits were very similar to my law school habits: I generally skipped the last hour of the videotapes ("Enough is enough!"), and I didn't even go to the last week of classes. Instead, I stayed in the library and focused on the topics I thought needed the most reviewing.

And BarBri publishes their suggested study schedule -- a certain number of questions and essays and outline reading per day -- but I never stuck to that. There were long topic outlines (sometimes 80 pages single spaced), and short outlines (less than half that length). I usually did far less homework than was suggested, did very few essay problems, and I don't think I ever read any of the long outlines.

Here's another questionable thing I did -- err, didn't do: I never actually sat down and did a full practice bar exam. I never did 200 MBE questions in one day; the most I could ever manage to do was 100 in three hours, and then I spent the rest of the day going over the answers. I even skipped the BarBri class day where we were supposed to sit there for 6 hours and take a simulated 200-question test. (I was exhausted because I hadn't gotten any sleep, and I rationalized that this diagnostic test would serve absolutely no purpose because I would do far worse than during the actual exam day, when I would be well-rested.) I knew that I should take a full practice test, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I figured I'd get more out of reading outlines and trying to understand general concepts than I would out of playing a few six-hour games of "Let's Stump Matt."

Most of my friends and family weren't concerned about my passing, and considered it more of a given than anything else. But they didn't know about my sordid BarBri experience, and so you can see why I was already planning new study strategies for the next go-around, and why I was extremely surprised that I passed on the first try. (In case you're interested, my new plan was to do 100 MBE questions a day, every day, as opposed to the 10-20 questions per day I did the first time.) I was so convinced I had failed, that it wasn't even a huge load-off when I found out I passed. Had I been banking on passing, and hoping with all my might that I passed, then hearing the results of that letter would have been SO AWESOME! But, as it was, the results were only a very pleasant surprise. Don't get me wrong; I'm very glad I passed. But my hopes weren't riding on it. Mentally, I had been very prepared to start studying again.

That said, I'm glad I don't have to! I will return to Michigan this week, and on Thursday be sworn in. Then the DC bar waiver process can commence. Next stop: Finding a job.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Who doesn't like to frolic in flowers?

Flowers on Surrey Lane, originally uploaded by CaseWriter21.

When I was apartment hunting, Surrey Lane (about a mile from the Georgetown strip) had a glorious canopy of cherry blossoms and flowering dogwood trees overhead. It was beautiful.

A few days ago, I awoke to find that the canopy was now an amazing carpet of pink petals. There is little I enjoy more than the beauty of nature, and how it can be so great as to almost overwhelm at times. A crystal clear night sky, a sunset that looks like it was painted on, and now a carpet of petals. Amazing.

PS - If you think the picture is pretty now, try viewing it full screen.