Another Frustration

Speaking of student work, how can it be that college students do not know how to write a research paper?  I’m grading research projects from various courses that proceed for 1,500-2,000 words of factual assertions, quotations, and concepts and insights drawn from the reading without one footnote or endnote.  There is a bibliography but it is impossible to verify sources, check the context of facts, or understand the slant of particular arguments without reading every work in the bibliography.  How can one become a college sophomore, let alone a college senior, without at least passing familiarity with research paper requirements?  Do elementary, middle, and high schools not teach them anymore?  Where did the students who display these skills learn them?

Lurn to Right Good

Typos happen.  Writing mistakes happen.  (From time to time I lapse into Modern Students Apostrophic Style, which inserts apostrophe’s in plural noun’s but never in the students possessive’s.)  I cringe at every error in my Casebook.  Writing errors detract from the content.  Legal writing takes many deserved knocks, but the lawyers I know generally write better than other professionals, and they certainly write better than most of the businesspeople I’ve encountered.  The quality of student writing is better today than it was ten years ago, but the average written work is still no more than serviceable.

For students interested in law serviceable writing is not good enough.  No matter the type of law a lawyer practices he must know his way around an English sentence.  Writing quality affects grades, class rank, employment prospects, and professional success, as Don’t Let This Be You: The Cost of Carelessly Written Pleadings and Court Papers illustrates.  This post deals with a court order that halved the plaintiff’s counsel’s fee request because of the sloppiness of his written work.  (Sample line:  “If these mistakes were purposeful, they would be brilliant. However, based on the history of the case and Mr. P’s filings, we know otherwise.”  Not the professional reputation one wants to achieve.

Rudeness 2.0, Now 30% Larger!

From a NY Times article titled  Keep Your Thumbs Still While I’m Talking to You:

Add one more achievement to the digital revolution: It has made it fashionable to be rude.  [At South by Southwest Interactive] once the badge-decorated horde spilled into the halls or went to the hundreds of parties that mark the ritual, almost everyone walked or talked with one eye, or both, on a little screen. We were adjacent but essentially alone, texting and talking our way through what should have been a great chance to engage flesh-and-blood human beings. The wait in line for panels, badges or food became one more chance to check in digitally instead of an opportunity to meet someone you didn’t know.

Hot and Cranky

“The School of Management’s air conditioning system is broken and will not be fixed until May 15, 2.5 weeks away, after final exams end.”  How would you like to be the Building and Grounds head who had to report these facts to the Dean and President Brown?

Like most modern buildings the School of Management relies exclusively on its HVAC system climate control.  Its windows do not open.  A few doors on higher floors open on to terraces or balconies, but whatever air circulation they allow is woefully inadequate.  When the a/c goes down the building quickly becomes hot and stuffy.  The a/c went down yesterday.  In the classrooms, halls, and offices it was insufferable today. I worked out before my first class so my metabolism was revved up when I entered the building.  By the time I opened my office door I had soaked through my shirt, front and back.  I couldn’t stay in my office and went back outside to stand in the wind and try to dry off.  It helped little.  Sweat trickled down my sides throughout the first class.  My clothing mostly dried by my second class but I felt sticky and clammy.  My office was not as bad this afternoon as it had been in the morning, but it offered no relief.  By the end of my third class I was again drenched, sticky, clammy, disgusting, and very unhappy. It was hands down the most physically uncomfortable day of teaching I’ve experienced.

It wasn’t even that hot outside–very humid, but in the high 60s and cloudy.  A few days of 70-80 degree sunshine could make the building uninhabitable.  To help us cope the school is providing complimentary bottled water.  “I’d be so happy if you drank me!  You are looking good!  Have you lost weight?”

OJ Mystery Solved

Credit to my sister for solving the mystery of the missing orange.  As reported in As food costs rise, supermarket products shrink “[l]ast year, Tropicana announced it was effectively raising prices by shrinking its trademark orange juice carton to 59 ounces, from 64 ounces, citing a winter freeze that damaged crops.”  Accompanying the story is an image of the old and new Tropicana cartons.  Before I took the picture in the prior post I compared the two cartons in every way–except, obviously, their volume, because they appeared to be the same size.

Well done, sis.  You win a lifetime subscription to A Foolish Consistency.

Bad First Impression

Recently I agreed to allow a high school senior who is coming to SMG next fall to sit in on a class.  The visit was arranged through our Undergraduate Program Office as part of our recruitment of admitted students. I’ve hosted many such students eager, or mildly curious, to experience a college class.  This student asked if his friend, visiting CAS on a similar trip, could attend as well.  I said of course.  I greeted him by name before class, introduced myself to her, and directed them to seats in the back row.  They sat, and then they cuddled.  Inappropriate, but not serious, and they separated as class began.  Five minutes later I looked in their direction.  She was bent over her phone, thumbs flying on the keyboard.  I directed to the boy what I intended to be a meaningful look–it’s meaning was “tell your girlfriend to put down the damn phone!”–but my message didn’t register. I continued with class, asking questions to generate discussion, shooting more looks his way.  No response.  A few minutes later I again looked their way.  Now he was bent over his phone, thumbs flying on the keyboard.  I stopped talking.  I stared at them.  Silence.  I said “the two of you–stop playing  with your phones!”  All eyes turned in their direction.  They looked up, stored their phones, but did not apologize.  They say woodenly for another 15 minutes, then got up and left.

Breathtakingly rude.  If only I had the power to revoke admission.

U.S. Online Gamblers Can Access Their Accounts

Ars Technica reports that federal government is allowing U.S. poker players to withdraw their accounts with the gambling websites targeted in last week’s indictment:

The government today announced an agreement with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker under which it will return their domain names temporarily—so long as they agree not to allow US-based IP addresses to gamble for real money, and so long as they don’t allow any further US-based deposits.

Last night I had dinner with a friend who plays poker online.  He wondered how easy it would be to use a non-U.S. IP address to access poker sites–the indictments target the companies’ U.S. gambling operations, not their legitimate operations in other countries.  Ars Technica describes one U.S. player’s plan to evade the law by establishing a non-U.S. bank account and routing gambling access through non-U.S. channels. It’s not easy, and requires serious commitment to online poker.

Don’t Be Stupid II

BU Today’s report that yesterday police were ticketing Comm Ave bicyclists for riding without helmets induced A Foolish Consistency deja vu :  last September’s Don’t Be Stupid, about police ticketing Comm Ave bicyclists for riding without helmets and January’s Sober Reminder, about experienced cyclist and Boston Globe writer Bella English’s crash and serious head injuries.  Personal experience, mine and my friends’ compels me to agree with English’s message:  “sooner or later most cyclists crash. You just hope it’s a soft landing.”  Helmets aren’t foolproof, but it’s foolish to ride without one.

Wear a helmet.

Another Facebook Lawsuit

Hours after reports of last week’s 9th Circuit decision rejecting Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss’s lawsuit against Facebook came news of another legal challenge to Mark Zuckerberg’s stake in the social network site. The suit had been under the radar–it earned little credibility when it was filed last summer–but last week an amended federal court complaint put Paul Ceglia’s claim in a new light.  This story from the New York Times reports that Ceglia claims to have entered a programming-services contract with Zuckerberg a year before Facebook was formed that gives Ceglia 50% ownership in the company.  At first I yawned over this suit as just one more delusional claim following a wildly successful book/movie/company (“Harry Potter was my idea!  I wrote the first draft of Rent!”).  Ceglia’s legal problems, including fraud charges brought by the N.Y. attorney general, supported my conclusion that this suit must be without merit.  Then I saw the firm representing Ceglia.  It’s not, as I expected, some solo practitioner desperately seeking headline but DLA Piper, one of the bluest of blue-chip international corporate law firms.  Firms like DLA Piper do not typically take cases like this without scrutiny (or without a deep client pocket, which I doubt Ceglia possesses.

So, who knows what to make of it.  Is this suit mere bug splatter on Facebook’s windshield or does Ceglia’s paper trail actually prove his claims?