Thursday, October 30, 2008

Don't Always Assume You Can't Do It Yourself

Case in point. I've been living in my house for almost four years now. The house was approximately a year and a half old when I bought it. So, between the age of the house and the sometimes harsh Texas weather (which has ranged between 15 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the years I have lived here), the finish on my doors was pretty much gone.

Every contractor I spoke to told me that the only way to fix the problem was to sand the doors down to the wood, and then re-stain and refinish them. Estimated cost for this work? Between $3,000 and $5,000 dollars. Ouch. And, it would need to be redone every 4 years or so .... double ouch!!

The other day I decided to tackle this problem myself and see if there wasn't some way to give my doors a good protective finish without starting from bare wood. And there was!! I can honestly say that I highly recommend Homer Formby's Furniture Refinisher and Homer Formby's Tung Oil Finish. They have saved my doors -- which now look as good as new -- and saved me thousands of dollars.

I started with the furniture refinisher in "Golden Oak." One coat of that took my horribly worn doors and brought the finish up to a depth and brightness that matched the original (which was especially evident in those doors that had partial protection from the elements and were only faded and worn on the lower halves). I have a lot of doors (14 exterior doors alone), but two containers of the furniture refinisher was enough to single coat all of them.

Then, I put six coats of tung oil on each door, letting each coat dry for 24 hours before applying the next. Total time to put a coat of either the refinisher or the tung oil on one of the double doors was about 10 minutes. Just rubbed it on with a shop cloth ... it was easy.

A $8.00 container of the tung oil was enough to do six coats on one door or on one half of a double door. The furniture refinisher was also about $8.00. So, total cost:

Two containers of furniture refinisher: $16.00
Fourteen containers of tung oil: $112.00

I spread the work time out over several days. Whenever I had ten or twenty minutes to spare, I'd pop outside and do a door or two. No fuss no muss, and the materials were only $128.00. That is one heck of a lot better than $3,000 - $5,000 plus whatever the stain and finish would have cost me.

This is the sort of job that I can stick on my "do it every other year" list and keep my doors looking great for the long term. So, while I was working on the assumption that refinishing all the doors in this house would be way too much work for me to accomplish on my own, it turns out that it's actually very manageable ... as long as you are working with the right tools and materials.

Thank you, Homer Formby!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sarah Palin's Qualifications as an Astronaut

Sometimes I simply have to wander over to see what's new at LOLcats. Oh, I might as well admit it, I go slavishly every day. Most of the time I stick with the seriously funny cat and dog ("kitteh and goggie") photos.

However, today I saw a photo of Sarah Palin with a caption that made me laugh so hard, my Welch's grape soda shot out of my nose.

Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures
see Sarah Palin pictures

I might have voted for McCain, had he chosen anyone even remotely qualified as his running mate. I cannot in good conscience vote for someone who thinks that Sarah Palin would make a viable Vice President, and (perish the thought) President.

So, I will be voting the Obama/Biden ticket this year. I've thought of myself as a Republican since I was in elementary school, but as the Republican Party has alligned itself, more and more strongly, with the religious right, they have pushed non-Christians such as myself farther and farther away. This will be the third election that I will have voted Democrat. I'm starting to wonder if, during my lifetime, the Republicans will ever field a team that isn't politically to the far right of Adoph Hitler and with all the religious sensitivity of the Spanish Inquisition.

It's probably too much to ask.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Windows Vista

I fought upgrading to Vista from XP, because, frankly, I believed all the bad news. However, there came the day that I had to get a laptop with a larger hard drive, and nothing was available except for Vista SP1.

Well, either there weren't any real problems to begin with, or they've all been fixed in SP1. I LOVE VISTA!! No ... really, I love the stability of the OS, and I love the look of it. So, I am one very happy camper.

My motherboard chose to die the other day. Maybe "chose" is the wrong word, but it's certainly deader than your average doornail. Since I am going to need to replace it, I will also likely spring for a new boot drive for that computer as well. That's a good excuse to put Vista on that machine as well.

Now, as I watch the current spate of Windows bashing Apple ads, I still find them sort of funny, but I no longer believe any of them are based on anything except wishful thinking on the part of the Apple marketing team. Which is a lesson that I need to relearn every once in a while ... don't believe everything you (1) read, (2) see, or (3) hear, especially not when the goal of the person behind what you are reading, seeing, or hearing is to SELL you something.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Cat Porch

I have cats. Lots of cats. Mostly handicapped or elderly; so they don't go outside. Still, I wanted them to have lots of fresh air, so I had a screened in porch built some time ago, connected to the house via a tunnel and a cat door.

I used a great product made by a company called "2x4 Basics" in order to build platforms that even the most crippled of the cats could easily jump up onto, and continue to climb in steps until they are up fairly high. They love it out there.

Today, I got an email from the company telling me that they had added a photo of my idea to their customer ideas gallery. I'm rather proud of that. It was my first large building project, and it turned out well. At least the cats haven't complained, or if they have, it hasn't been to me.

Since then I have built several other cat friendly projects (some of which are more "cat proofing" than they are cat friendly), and will post photos of them as time permits. Having pets has its challenges, especially when you are up in the double digits, but I find it is one of the most worthwhile activities in my life.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Getting Organized

I have been working on finding the perfect way to get everything, all of my information and all of the things I need to do, organized. Not just organized, but available and easy to find whenever I need them. It's no small task, but I think I've finally got a handle on it.

The last time I was this on top of things was back when I was in law school, and all I had to deal with was school and a full time job. Actually having my own law practice is ever so much more involved.

I started with some of the free Google apps that are available. Gmail, Google Calendar, iGoogle, and Google Contacts Manager. None of these apps require that I place any confidential information out in the cloud, but they do allow me to keep all of my computers and my smart phone synced, and additionally make it possible for me to access information (if necessary) from any computer with internet access.

The next step was to find the perfect internet based to-do list. I looked into Remember the Milk, which was nice, and I may return to that eventually, but I finally settled on Toodledo, which has a very nice task and subtask set up that allows me to organize and prioritize larger projects easily. Both have free versions to try out (the free version of Toodledo does not allow for subtasks), and the Pro Plus version of Toodledo is only about $30.00 a year.

Step three was the purchase of a ScanSnap document scanner. Every scrap of paper in my office is being converted to PDF and filed where it can be easily found. Easily found, you say?? Oh yes, in a soon to be written review of the ScanSnap and the software which comes bundled with the scanner, I will be writing about this in some detail.

Getting back on top (and staying on top) of everything that needs to be done is partly a matter of sorting out exactly what that "everything" is (because thinking of it as "everthing" is certain to make a person not want to do anything at all), and then sorting out what must be done first, and what items are dependent on earlier steps or input from others.

I also read a great short item by Guy Kawasaki today about procrastination. I highly recommend it as a bit of inspiration to get you started with your own organization project. If you are in law school or headed in that direction, this is absolutely necessary reading, because ... even if you follow my system to the letter ... if you are disorganized in your life and/or your thinking, no system in the world will work for you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Livescribe Pulse Pen

Every once in a while, I happen on something that makes a major impact on how I do my work. While wandering through Target recently, I saw a display for the Livescribe Pulse SmartPen, and it was love at first sight.

The Pulse SmartPen is a pretty amazing bit of technology. The pen, when used with the special micro-dot paper, is capable of recording every key stroke made. Pretty nice, but wait ... there's more. The pen also contains a sensitive audio recorder. When connected to the computer, both the digital image of the notes and the audio connected to those notes are uploaded to the computer and synced.

As if that weren't enough, if you touch text that you wrote while recording audio, the pen will replay exactly that audio. Seriously, just touch the pen to the paper, or if you've uploaded it, click on that spot on the uploaded page. That's all it takes.

I took my Pulse SmartPen with me to the California Bar Association Meeting in Monterey, California, last month, and it performed like a champ. I recorded every minute of the 20 hours of seminars I attended (the 2G pen will hold about 200 hours of notes and audio), and found that, relieved of the necessity to concentrate on my notes, I was able to concentrate on what the speakers were saying. Oh, how I wish I had had the Pulse SmartPen in law school.

I have also started using the pen extensively in my law practice. Of course, I do ask for my clients' permission before recording, but I have yet to have a client who was adverse to having either the meeting or the teleconference recorded. Again, because I don't have to worry about getting every word of the conversation down on paper, or missing a digit in a phone number or address, I can spend more time really listening to what my client is saying.

The pen also contains a built-in calculator, which has come in handy more times than I can count, and additional programs (such as language translators) are in the works. But, even without additional functionality, I simply love my Pulse SmartPen!!

Now, before you complain about the need to use "special paper" in order to use the Pulse SmartPen, let me note that replacement notebooks (each standard notebook is 200 pages) are only about $5.00 each, which is what you would expect to pay for a plain paper notebook at most stores. There are also lined and unlined hardback journals available.

The cost of this marvel?? The 2G version is just about $200, the 1G version is about $150. It is available through Target,, or directly from In my personal opinion, it is well worth the additional $50 to get double the memory.

Do I have any complaints about my new toy?? Well, yes, one: if there is a way to turn off the introductory "music" that plays when first starting up the Livescribe Desktop software, I have yet to find it. But otherwise, this is the best piece of tech to come along since someone decided to slice the bread before they sold it. My Adesso Cyberpad is now history.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What are they trying to teach me??

I wasn't planning to post tonight, however, as I walked out my front door (to take out the trash), I had a clear sky overhead, an amazing thunder and lightning storm building to the Northwest, when very suddenly a meteor streaked overhead and broke up right before my eyes.

I took all of this as a sign that I should post something. Hey, it's my sign, if that's what I want it to mean, that's what it's going to mean.

So, let's take a look at the educational process with special emphasis on law school. Throughout most of a student's schooling, they have some inkling of what it is that they will be expected to know. If you are studying the American Civil War, you can be fairly certain that you will need to memorize names and dates from American History from the early to mid-1860s. If the course is called "Algebra" it will probably involve algebraic equations.

Is it the same when you attend law school?? Take, for example, a typical law school course, Contracts. Would you assume that the idea would be to teach the student all about current laws regarding contracts? If you did, you'd be wrong. And that can be a big problem for an incoming law student, they expect one thing when they are really getting another.

The law is constantly changing, everywhere, and all the time. In the United States, a particular law could be a bit different in every one of the (currently) 50 states. And, why is it that the professors have the students readings laws from 17th century England?? Especially when it's a case that states laws or ideas that have long since fallen out of use? But, if the point of the law school courses is not to teach the student "the law" then what exactly is the point?

The point, simply stated, is to teach the student the skill of "legal analysis." They seldom come right out and tell you that legal analysis is what they are trying to teach you, but that's the truth of it. No matter what they call the course, the skill being taught is the same ... only the elements you need to use in your analysis change.

Why read ancient case law? First, because the professors want you to see something of how courts (old and modern) applied legal analysis. Sometimes the court does a horrible job. Sometimes the court doesn't even bother to do any analysis at all, which is what brings me to the second reason. Second, because the professors want you to understand the legal process; the how and sometimes the why of how the common law evolves. Third, they want you to learn the elements of each type of matter.

The elements themselves are not that difficult to learn, memorize, and retain. However, just being able to rattle off a list of bullet points is not going to make you a stellar student or a great attorney. It is learning how to do the analysis that will make all the difference. I will be writing on this topic in some detail in later posts, so please keep tuned.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

An Introduction

The idea behind my starting a blog is that I may be fairly termed an expert in several areas of the general living experience, and, short of writing a book (which I may do someday ... just not today), a blog seems a great way to get my expertise out to a good portion of the general public (who can then decide for themselves if anything I have to say is worth a further price of admission).

For the most part, however, I will be writing on the following topics:

1. Surviving law school (and rising to the top 5% of your class) without driving yourself and others around you completely crazy;

2. Incorporating technology effectively into your law practice; and

3. Creating and maintaining a more or less "cat proof" home.

I'm not joking in the least about this last point. I am horribly allergic to cats, love them dearly, and live with 20 of them (as well as two beautiful dogs to which I am also allergic).

As for the first point, I graduated from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, in 1988 in the top 5% of my class. During law school I worked full time at American Red Cross in charge of "Reagent Production." I was on the Dean's List every quarter, won some prestigious scholastic awards, and was an editor on one of the school's law reviews. During that time I created a learning system which worked extremely well for me and which I hope I will be able to pass on to the readers of this blog.

In addition, during law school I became proficient at building computers, and after law school at implementing technological solutions to common problems facing law practices of all sizes. In 1992, having decided that big firm practice was not what I wanted, I started a solo practice in San Diego, California. In 2005, I moved my home to Texas, although my practice is still based in California. In that setting, it is imperitive to have technology work efficiently for me, so that I can best serve my clients while retaining a personal life.

So, there you have it. I won't be posting on just those three topics, because none of them exists in a vacuum. There will be technological tips in the posts about law school, and upholstry ideas in with the cat care. That's why I call it what it is: "Life: A Practical Survival Guide."