Surfing 101

Today at Higgins Beach in Scarborough, on a foggy cool Maine morning, I received an introductory surfing lesson from my friend Mike.  Mike opened the lesson with sand diagrams showing proper foot placement on the board and a demonstration of how to pop up from prone–think of a brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tart leaping from the toaster–to what Mike called the “stupid surfer stance” (legs bent, body low, arms outstretched)  once one catches a wave.  Then we strapped the board leash to my ankle and entered the surf.  The first 30 minutes were spent repeating these steps:

  • I lie on the board
  • I paddle the board around to face the beach
  • Mike holds the board from behind and waits for a catchable wave
  • After a short wait Mike says “start paddling!”
  • I start paddling towards shore
  • The wave catches the board, which accelerates
  • Mike gives the board a mighty push to reach critical speed
  • I pop from prone to “standing” (loosely defined, it covers any position other than prone)
  • I fall into the ocean
  • I cover my head to prevent a board-beaning
  • I retrieve the board and paddle out to Mike
  • Mike patiently offers suggestions
  • I lie on the board, etc.

It’s the same technique used to teach kids to ride two-wheeled bikes.   The waves were entry-level, about 1.5 feet.  1.5 foot waves are bigger than I thought they would be (but still small) because wave height is measured from level surface to wave crest, not from the base to the crest of the breaking wave.  Because the waves were small we were the only ones in the water.  I haven’t fallen so often since I learned to downhill ski.  It was a pleasure to learn that I can still have lots of fun falling down.  Take that, age.

Mike took a few runs while I watched how to do it, and then he surfed with a borrowed board while I tried surfing without his guiding hands.  I managed to catch a few waves, and actually stood on the board for two of them in what you could call the “really stupid surfer stance.”   After another hour my pop drooped, I fell back on what I think of as the “leaving the confessional “stance–one knee on the board, the other leg bent, preparing to rise and walk to the alter to say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys–and I thoroughly lavaged my nasal passages with brine.  I called it a day when I could paddle no more.  Mike surfed for a while longer, catching wave after wave.  He moved to Santa Monica last year and clearly has used his time well.  We topped off the morning with coffee and a great diner breakfast.  When I returned to the house I collapsed in a reclining deck chair, read two pages of my book, and fell into a deep sleep for an hour.

I’m hooked

Do Laptops Impede Classroom Learning?

I just posted a comment on a discussion thread titled Laptops in the Classroom on the blog of law professor Michael Dorf. Dorf’s post discusses his ban this semester on the use of laptops in his first-year civil procedure course, a ban inspired in part by the article Taking Notes Without a Computer: How Laptops Distract from Classroom Learning by Sherry Colb posted on FindLaw. In large part the anti-laptop stance is an anti-surfing-the-web-during-class-discussion stance, but not entirely. Colb states “[w]hen you take notes by hand, you are forced to digest what has been said and write down only a fraction of it. You are forced, in other words, to think while the class is in progress.” Dorf states “[g]enerations of students (including mine) succeeded in law school without laptop computers, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they were better able to give their undivided attention to class.”

Colb’s statement assumes that laptop users take notes in a qualitatively different way than those who take handwritten notes, that they transcribe verbatim like speech-recognition drones. Dorf posits written notes as a superior vehicle for holding one’s attention. My personal anecdotal experience supports neither view — I am both eminently distractable armed only with pen and paper and a thoughtful note-taker on a laptop. I am curious what others think.

The Cup Runneth Over

The problem in teaching Internet law is choosing what to cover. There is no such thing as “Internet Law,” not in the sense of an integrated body of legal principles such as contract law, tort law, or constitutional law. “Internet Law” might better be described as “The Legal System’s Response to Problems Arising from Use of the Internet and Digital Technology for Commercial and Other Transactions.” That’s a title certain to scare away prospective students, and still probably incomplete.

When Internet Law, or Cyber Law, entered the legal consciousness about eight years ago textbook publishers rushed a number of Internet law texts to market. I looked at all of them, tried out a few, and now don’t use any. One problem they shared was the lack of clear vision as to what they should cover. They spent time on topics like non-disclosure agreements for employees of tech companies or forms of business organization for Internet start-ups. These are interesting topics in an employment law or entrepreneurship course, but pose no issues unique to the Internet. Teaching this course requires guidelines to determine what topics are in and what are out. Two Internet law professors might use different guidelines and disagree about whether to include a particular topic. For instance, I don’t discuss patent law in my Internet law course. Patent law raises vitally important issues these days, such as the patentability of methods of doing business and the Patent Office’s need to vet prior art thoroughly, but in my view these cutting-edge issues do not turn on unique Internet characteristics.

Fortunately the news abounds with issues of Internet law. These are some of the stories that came across my desktop yesterday:

Darren Waters, Warnings over ‘broken up” Internet, BBC News, Oct-11-06 (reporting on concerns that countries such as China will tailor Internet architecture to their specific needs, resulting in “island of connectivity that have no inter-connectivity between them”)

Jonathan Bick, E-Communications Policy: Getting It Right, E-Commerce Law & Strategy (, Oct-12-06 (recommendations about employer policies governing employee use of “Internet, computer, and electronic assets” that recognize the ubiquity inherent insecurity of current methods of electronic communication)

Jack M. Germain, The False Promise of Browser Security, E-Commerce Times, Oct-11-06 (“Vulnerabilities are so embedded in any browser that surfing the Web is no safer than driving a tank through a mine field while blindfolded.”)

Does YouTube Make Google a Big Target for Copyright Suits?, The Wall Street Journal, Oct-11-06 (Discussion between John Palfrey, Harvard law professor and Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Stan Liebovitz, University of Texas economics professor and Director of the Center for Analysis of Property Rights and Innovation)

Susanna Hamer, Google’s big bet,, Oct-12-06 (Advertisers will use databases of personally-identifable information, tracking cookies, geo-location software, and other devices to deliver personally-customized video ads to Internet users)

Like I said, the problem in teaching Internet law is choosing what to cover. There is too much.