Monday, January 31, 2011


 I'm thinking that perhaps Samsung doesn't QUITE understand why I don't feel so welcomed.

A happy customer service story.

I bought the Samsung-From-Hell printer from an Amazon "storefront" company, "" The service at this store is one of the very best I've ever seen.

One of the customer service representatives has sent me some possibilities for getting the darn printer to work wirelessly, and I'm going to try those instructions later today.  Thanks, FastFriendlyService!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

And a lovely op-ed from Danny Tarkanian.

See here.  And this suggestion dovetails nicely with the Van Niel mortgage proposal.

A story that will break your heart.

See here.

One of the reasons that I love Scott Adams's work.

See here.

Four takes on the financial crisis, and why I agree with Joe Nocera and Frank Partnoy.

Here are three different takes:  one in the WSJ from Bill Thomas, Keith Hennessey, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin (here), one in the WSJ from Holman Jenkins, Jr. (here), one from Joe Nocera in yesterday's NYT (here), and one from Frank Partnoy in today's NYT (here).

Look, everyone's right in pointing out that the crisis had nuanced causes.  That's not rocket science.  (I have ways of proving that statement--we have a friend who is an actual rocket scientist, and I can always ask him.)

But here's Nocera's bottom line, written in his inimitable style:
In pushing the idea that the crisis was avoidable, Mr. Angelides is also trying to make an additional point: if we just do it better next time, we will avoid the next crisis. I’m all for holding the bad actors accountable, and to the extent the F.C.I.C. has done that, I tip my hat. But mass delusions, alas, are part of the human condition, and no report, no matter how scathing, is going to change that.
And thus the question really isn’t whether it will happen again. It’s when. 
That's exactly the point we made in our second Enron book (available here).  Until we all recognize that humans are hard-wired to make certain cognitive mistakes, we will keep looking for nuanced causes that, ultimately, are irrelevant.  That's why I liked Jenkins's point that, unless we figure out incentives that will keep people from doing what humans do best (those darn cognitive errors), we'll see the problem repeat itself.  And why do I like Frank Partnoy's point?  Because he's seen the Wall Street world from the inside and knows whereof he writes.  When Frank points out how partisan politics skewed the Financial Crisis report, I listen.

Dear Samsung: So far, you owe me $1200, and the computer person isn't even here yet.

I bought a Samsung CLP-310w this week because my last attempt at a wireless printer resulted in paper jams whenever more than 2 sheets were loaded (the HP LaserJet Pro P1102w).

Samsung reps--yes, that would be over 2 hours of conversations with Samsung reps to date--agree that there's a problem with the Samsung software and Mac OS 10.6.6.  But they don't seem to have a way to fix it.  I hope that HotLink Data does.  Typically, the folks at HotLink Data can fix anything.

Samsung did, however, suggest that I hook it up directly to my router and computer.

Apparently, Samsung and I disagree about what "wireless" means.

UPDATE:  I sent this blog post to Samsung, and here's what Samsung said this morning:
Thank you for contacting Samsung Electronics.

We understand that you need drivers for Mac OS 10.6.6. for the printer.

We are sorry to inform you that as of now we do not have drivers ready for Mac OS 10.6.6. however, our
developers are designing the drivers for Mac OS 10.6.6. As of now the drivers available are for Mac OS 10.3 ~
We are providing you with the link for the print drivers for Mac OS 10.3 ~ 10.6.
Yep, you figured it out before Samsung did.  That's the very same software that Samsung's Customer Service has already asked me to download three times. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

My life this week.

See here and here.  And, mind you, I like my dentist a lot.  He and his staff are all wonderful:  friendly, talented, and professional.  I just wish I had perfect teeth and that I was not a wuss about dentistry.

Best line my dentist used this week:

Me:  "I'm going to need Mr. Nose [laughing gas, a/k/a nitrous oxide."
Dentist:  "OK."
Me:  "I can't get addicted to this stuff, right?"
Dentist:  "Do you have a scuba tank at home?"
Me:  "Nope."
Dentist:  "Then you should be just fine."

Now you know one of the reasons I like him.

A tale of two customer service approaches, part 2.

So I'm picking up friends at the airport, and I must have written the time of arrival down incorrectly.  The airline had a flight coming in from the appropriate place at the time I'd written down, but my friends weren't on that flight.  The flight number I'd written down was coming from a place nowhere near my friends' location, and it showed an arrival time of about 90 minutes later.

I went to the lost luggage office of the airline, explained my predicament, and asked the person behind the desk to help me locate my friends.  She told me that she could neither confirm whether my friends were on the earlier flight nor could she confirm whether they were on the later flight.  So I called the airline and finally reached a human, who was nice enough to confirm that my friends were on the later flight, even though the location associated with that flight seemed off to me.

Guess which route (no pun intended) I'll take in the future to find out this type of information?

A tale of two customer service approaches, part 1.

So earlier this week, I needed two large FedEx boxes to ship some dresses to a reseller (  I went to FedEx store #A--no large boxes, although the counter serviceperson offered to sell me two boxes to ship the dresses.  I suggested that, perhaps, because his FedEx store was out of boxes, he might want to find some for me rather than charge me for other materials.

He did, and he sent me to FedEx store #B.  This store bent over backwards to be helpful:  found me the boxes, helped me ship them, gave me additional supplies, and--throughout it all--everyone behind the counter was professional, with lovely senses of humor.

Guess which store I'll use from now on?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Another voice talking about the Las Vegas mortgage mess.

At breakfast this morning, I read Scott Dickensheets's column (here), and I really liked his take on the moral issues inherent in considering whether to walk away on an underwater mortgage.  His points add to the reasons why I like the Van Niel mortgage proposal (see here). 

Jon Macey had a great op-ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

See here.  I've been a Jon Macey fan for years, so when he writes about the SEC's bloopers, I read what he has to say.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bravo to John Jay Douglass!

My former colleague, John Jay Douglass (here), passed along the news that he's retiring from law teaching.  I have mixed feelings--happy that he and his wife, Papoose, can spend more time together, and sad that his career in academia's ending.  As you can tell from even the brief description on the University of Houston Law Center's page above, he's educated not only law students but also district attorneys and other already-graduated professionals.

Here's to you, JJD!  I think the world of you!

A salute to Deana, the Yosemite Ranger.

Jeff and I went to Yosemite recently, and we went up to Badger Pass to go cross-country skiing.  On the first day that we were up at Badger Pass, we were lucky enough to get a lesson with Deana, a Yosemite Park Ranger.  Not only did Deana give us an incredibly fun lesson, she taught us a variety of moves, many of which came in quite handy on our second trip to Badger Pass.

Day 1:  fresh powder, very little ice on the trails.
Day 2:  ice, ice, ice.

Thank you, Deana, for reminding both of us that we love this sport, even though we're still rank beginners!

And, if you love Yosemite as much as we do, you might consider joining the Yosemite Conservancy (here).

On today's holiday, an inspirational story about a lawyer who worked with Dr. King.

Thanks to NPR for the story (here).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A shout-out thank you to Joseph McDaniel!

Thanks for saying such nice things about me (here) on your blog (here)!  And Jeff (my hubby) and I are doing a second book in the Survival Manual series:  Law Firm Survival Guide.  Would love people's suggestions--and be on the lookout this spring for a survey from us....

Friday, January 14, 2011

A reminder about the requirement that fees must be reasonable before a bankruptcy court will authorize their payment.

Blaire Cahn has done a lovely write-up at Weil's Bankruptcy Blog (here) of the Ninth Circuit's recent opinion in Montana Department of Revenue  v. Duncan, No. 09-36062, 2010 WL 4903952 (9th Cir. Dec. 2, 2010).

Having done my fair share of fee reviews--and I enjoy fee examining work!--I think that the main issue for attorneys seeking payment from estate funds is a question of judgment.  It's hard, when someone is in the middle of a case, to take the time to ask, "Should I be doing this work?," especially when clients want 100% top-notch work at all times.  But that judgment--at the time someone has to make the go/no-go decision on billing for something--is crucial.

I think that the most rewarding part of fee examining work is having the luxury to call up a professional, if I have a question about the bill, and talk through whether the work (or the expense) was reasonable.  Sometimes, the professional explains why some hinky looking number was actually reasonable, and then I don't have a problem with it and can forward it on, quite happily, to the court for a final decision.  Sometimes, though, the work or expense really can't be considered reasonable.  (My favorite example:  billing the cost of a man's shirt to the estate, on the theory that there was an unexpected overnight visit.)  The job of a fee examiner is to help the court determine reasonableness, because the court makes that ultimate call.

The tough part about reasonableness is the danger of hindsight bias.  I look for "reasonable at the time that the decision to bill/expense something is made"--not for "unreasonable several months later, in retrospect." Hindsight bias really shouldn't complicate the review.

In the end, it's all about using judgment (and then hoping that the court agrees with you).  For more of my take on fees, see here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Best speech using behavioral economics that you've never heard.

My buddy Steve Sather, the author of A Texas Bankruptcy Lawyer's Blog, sent me this link to a speech at the Ass'n of American Law Schools that Annelise Riles was going to give, had she been able to make it to the meeting.  Her speech is posted on the Credit Slips blog (here).  Her talk would have addressed how we might actually use regulation to change behavior, rather than (my editorial comment here) pretending that we know how to do that.  Great stuff!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

A hat-tip to Lowering the Bar for this classic Canadian legal opinion.

I love reading Lowering the Bar (here), and this article (here) -- about the divorce of a couple from hell -- is a good example of why this blog is a must-read for me.  Two other good examples are here and here.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Details on how the Van Niel mortgage proposal would work.

Here's how the Van Niel mortgage proposal would work.

Banks with borrowers who are underwater but current on their loans should offer the following deal to those borrowers:

(1)  The bank reduces the interest rate on the mortgage to a lower rate (at a rate at least equal to what the folks who have defaulted are being offered, thanks to the bailout). 

(2)  The bank agrees that, for every "X" years that the borrowers remain current on their loans and live in the house (no "spec" properties--just actual homestead-type homes), the bank will reduce the outstanding principal amount of the loan by "Y" dollars. 

(3)  The borrowers, in exchange for the principal reduction and reduced interest rate mortgage agree that if, they sell the house within "Z" years, they will give any profits made on that sale to the bank.  (The potential profit gives the bank an incentive to "deal"-- if house prices improve, it might recoup at least a portion of its lost interest on the reduced interest mortgage and principal reduction.)

Example:  House is bought for $300,000; it has a $210,000 mortgage @ 6% for 30 years; borrowers put 30% down on the house.  House is now worth $125,000, and the balance due on the mortgage is $200,000.  (Welcome to Las Vegas.)

Bank agrees to reduce the interest rate by 1% (revised rate is 5%) AND to reduce the principal on the note by $5,000 per year for 5 years.  At closing,  the house is valued at $125,000 and the mortgage is $195,000 @ 5% for 30 years.

After year 1, mortgage is paid down to $192,123.04 (less $5,000 = $187,123.04).

After year 2, mortgage is paid down to $184,177.59 (less $5,000 = $179,177.59).

After year 3, mortgage is paid down to $176,165.50 (less $5,000 = $171,165.50).

After year 4, mortgage is paid down to $168,089.17 (less $5,000 = $163,089.17).

If the borrower sells the house in the first five years for any reason, the bank gets any profit made by the sale.  At end of a 5-year period, the house may still be worth $125,000 (maybe the value increases--or maybe the borrower is in Las Vegas, so the "floor" on house prices keeps falling--sigh), but the principal on the mortgage has been reduced to a much more manageable  $163,089.17.   

The homeowner is significantly closer to breaking even, and has much less incentive to hand the keys back to the bank and simply walk away. 

One more advantage:  the bank doesn't have to write down the value of the home in one big lump--unlike a foreclosure or short sale. 

Using future bailout money, if any, to buy down the mortgages of underwater homeowners who are current on their mortgages is as least as productive a use of the money as is giving the bailout money to delinquent NINJA homeowners who have no chance of keeping their houses in the long run.

Over time, everyone wins: the banks won't own the underwater houses because the homeowners will have an incentive to stay in the houses (without feeling like dummies for honoring their obligations) and housing prices won't continue to plummet because there will be fewer neighborhoods with massive foreclosures.

And now you know that part of the reason that I married Jeff Van Niel is that he's very, very smart.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Two great mortgage op-eds in today's New York Times

Read Bethany McLean's perspective on 30-year mortgages here, and Alex Perriello's solution to our current crisis in underwater mortgage's here.  Alex's solution is eerily similar to the Van Niel mortgage solution (here), which I've been touting for over a year now, and not just because I'm married to the Van Niel in question.

Update (1/7/11):  see here for how that proposal might work in practice.