Friday, December 04, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

What a $20 self-parking charge cost the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel.

I used to like the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel.  It was a great place for business breakfasts and lunches, and it was where the Law School Admissions Council held one of its conferences this year.  But I won't go back there.  As I pulled in this morning, the cost to park was $20--not just for valet service but also for self-parking.

For those who are not Las Vegans, $20 for self-parking is pretty much unheard of.  The point of free (or near-free) parking here is that we want patrons to enjoy the premises and spend their dollars elsewhere.  So $20 for parking goes against the Las Vegas culture.

But the story gets worse.  I asked to see the manager.  No luck.  I asked to have the manager drop by while I was having breakfast.  No luck.

If I had more free time, I would do a powerpoint on the order of this classic one (here).

Goodbye, Renaissance.  Let's see how the Las Vegas market treats your new changes.

A cool article about luck.

Forwarded to me by the wonderful Tom Piechota, who read it in Southwest Airlines's monthly magazine (here).

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The 17-month wait (!) is over: our Virtuous Billing essay is finally out.

Randy Gordon, my co-author, and I turned in this essay, Virtuous Billing, in July 2014.  The Nevada Law Journal has now published it as part of a symposium issue that my amazing colleague, Jean Sternlight, put together.

At some point in the not-too-distant future,* the whole symposium will be out.  I enjoyed each and every paper presentation that I saw, and it's lovely to be able to tout a lot of people's very hard work.

* Based on my own experiences with last year's editorial board, I can make no promises as to timing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The power of a great teacher.

This lovely WSJ essay about a great teacher (here) triggered a couple of thoughts:

(1) I still believe that it's possible (and more common than people might think) to be a strong scholar and a strong teacher, but I'm glad that people who have particular strengths can get rewarded for doing what they love.  The essay reminded me about one of my favorite teachers at Rice, Dennis Huston, who took my breath away when I was a student.  First, he intimidated me; then he challenged me; then he encouraged me.  So many students loved him, in fact, that when he needed blood transfusions, several alumni lined up for the privilege of helping.  Want to get a glimpse of this marvelous professor?  See here.

(2) We need to remember that great teaching can have the same ripple effects as great scholarship.  Yes, great scholarship can live on long after the author has died; but great teaching gets carried on, person to person, as well.  (The opposite is also true:  weak scholarship doesn't even make a ripple, and weak teaching does nothing to enrich students' lives after the course is over.)

What a great opportunity for us to thank the great teachers in our lives!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hooray for Judge Phyllis Frye!

Front page of the New York Times (here)!  I've known Judge Frye for around 15 years, and she and her wife Trish are lovely, warm, wicked-smart people. 

I wish that her time at the University of Houston Law Center had been more welcoming.  The story captures some of what she went through:
The self-defense, combined with a charm offensive, began in law school itself, at the University of Houston. During her first semester, she felt shunned. Determined to break out of her isolation, she requested the seating charts for her classes, memorized her classmates’ names and approached them one by one. She tussled with the administration to gain access to the women’s restroom, the kind of fight that continues to this day.
 I'm so proud of her that I could burst, and I know that her story will inspire others.

Tale of a customer service fail (GrubHub)

Last night, we decided to order in and catch up on some shows, so I did what I often do when I'm out of town--order from GrubHub.  I ordered nice and early (yes, we're early risers, so we're early diners, too), on the theory that the food might take more than an hour to arrive.  I got a confirmation number with my "yes, you've made an order" notice (below).  After more than an hour had passed without getting the food, I called the restaurant, which told me that I had no such order on file.  I started to order directly from the restaurant, because we like the food there a lot, and then decided that I'd order elsewhere instead (which we did).  I told the restaurant that we didn't want to order, after all.  I tried to contact GrubHub, but the website was down, the phone was busy, etc.  So I tweeted my problem to +GrubHub Seamless.  Radio silence.

Three hours later, the restaurant's delivery person showed up w/our order.  Apparently, GrubHub put the order through once its website was back up.  We told the delivery person that we'd canceled the order three hours earlier. 

I got back on Twitter and on Facebook.  The Facebook site indicates that the same thing was happening to more people.  I posted another tweet, and once I finally got the GrubHub email that "my order was in the works" (three hours too late), I replied and explained my problem--and asked that I not be charged.

STILL radio silence.  Let's see how long it takes for GrubHub to get back to me and others affected by yesterday's webfail.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Banality of hate (repost, with a comment).

Professor LeRoy makes an important point about failing to realize the precursors to evil (here).  By staying silent when evil occurs, we are making our world less safe and diminishing our civilization.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Proudest moment of my time at UHLC.

I had so many good times at UHLC, including (surprisingly enough) the post-Tropical Storm Allison time, when everyone at the law school -- including those inside the school and our alumni and other supporters -- pulled together to rebuild just under $50 million in damage.  But probably the high point was working with UH's then-president Art Smith, with Sondra Tennessee, and with Seth Chandler on the decision to move Loyola-New Orleans's law school INTO UHLC after Katrina.  Loyola's community became wonderful neighbors and friends.  As we remember Hurricane Katrina, it's a chance for me to thank again all those who made that temporary arrangement seamless.

So proud of UNLV's Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering!

If you ever want to see the value of research in action, watch this clip.  Thanks to Professors Brendan O'Toole and Mohamed Trabia and their team, Hailey Dawson now has her "special hand."

Friday, August 07, 2015

I'm not a ConLaw person, but ...

I'm really not a ConLaw person--you can tell that from my law school transcript--but I think that there is a difference between saying something where people can walk away from the speaker and saying a lot of things where people are stuck listening to that person.  It's a hard issue, though.  I get that.

The tough issue that the Salaita case raises is that no one knows if what he says outside of class (hateful, but entirely his right, and I'd be first in line to defend him--and then first in line to meet his speech w/different speech) would also affect how he'd treat students inside class (where he would have to create a learning environment in which students would be treated fairly).  I'm glad that Prof. LeRoy is part of this debate.  I'm glad that others are, too.  What I hope is that everyone understands the complexity of the issue.

Too often, unfortunately, people say that there's only one side of a particular issue and that anyone on the other side is wrong-headed, or discriminatory, or dumb.  And that's no way to debate a peer.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The world lost a mensch.

My old friend, Seymour Serebnick, just passed away.  I loved his boundless curiosity and his deep generosity of spirit.  He knew of my love of Disney and was always finding me rare surprises.  And he and I loved to talk about the law.  He's in my heart, and his family is in my thoughts.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Just a couple of thoughts on ASARCO.

I think that the dissent was closer to being right than the majority opinion was (of course I think so:  I was one of four folks on this amicus brief), and that Congress should fix the problem by adopting the test that we proposed in our brief (fees for substantially prevailing).  The majority opinion will tempt parties who like objecting to fees for strategic reasons to do more of these types of objections; professionals may respond by increasing their base rates (or increasing them more rapidly) to take the possibility of objections (and unreimbursed defenses) into account; and a court's only likely response is to consider whether really obviously strategic-only objections were actually frivolous.  On the other hand, there's still the "you don't object to mine, and I won't object to yours" behavior, so maybe the opinion won't have as drastic an effect as I fear.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Taken directly from our announcement--couldn't have written it better myself:
On behalf of Dean Rama Venkat, the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering is proud to announce that our team DRC-Hubo @UNLV finished in eighth place among the world’s best robotics teams competing in the 2015 U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Challenge Finals, just a few points below universities such as Carnegie Melon and MIT.
Launched in response to a humanitarian need that became glaringly clear during the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, the DARPA Robotics Challenge consisted of three increasingly demanding competitions over two years. The goal was to accelerate progress in robotics and hasten the day when robots can enter areas too dangerous for humans and mitigate the impacts of natural or man-made disasters.

UNLV’s team, led by Lincy Professor of Unmanned Autonomous Systems, Paul Oh, performed six of eight tasks in 57 minutes and 41 seconds, giving the team the eighth place spot. The team performed better than competitors from Lockheed Martin, Virginia Tech, University of California, Los Angeles, Seoul National University and more. Joining UNLV on the team are students and one professor from Kookmin University in Seoul, Korea, as well as professionals from robotics company Praxis Aerospace.

Driving was arguably the most challenging task in the completion, but Oh hoped that UNLV would emerge as a leader in that area.  Metal Robot drove in less than 60 seconds, ranking among the top teams in the competition.

In case you missed it, please check out this UNLV slideshow, highlighting some of the most exciting aspects of the competition.  

During the competition, Oh and members of the team were featured in Computer World, U.S. News & World Report, Armed with Science(the U.S. Department of Defense science blog) and Popular Science.

You can see a play by play of the event on the COE Facebook and Twitter feeds.

We also worked with several other media outlets on larger projects that will be aired in the near future. Outlets include NOVA on PBS, The Economist, GQ Magazine, Daily Planet/Discovery Channel Canada,  Inside Unmanned Aerial Systems Magazine,  RAI Italian National TV, Robo Nation TV, Tech Biz Geeks blog and more.

Oh and team members also will be featured in several documentaries including “My Life with a Robot,” by French company Belotta films, a project by screenwriter Michael Bacall and a move production by To the Stars media.

Thousands of spectators visited the two-day competition, which also featured a large technology exposition. UNLV’s College of Engineering had a booth in this expo, attracting hundreds of people to follow us on social media, as well as hundreds of prospective students who filled out cards seeking additional information on our robotics programs.

Overall, it’s an epic success for our Engineering Program to be featured with the likes of Carnegie Melon, MIT, Lockheed Martin and more. We couldn’t be more proud of our team.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wishing Professor Paul Oh and his team the best of luck in the DARPA Robotics Challenge!

Not that very long ago, UNLV was lucky enough to persuade Professor Paul Oh to join our faculty.  He and his team are about to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, and I'm rooting for Hubo (now the "Metal Rebel") to win.

I've been fascinated by Hubo ever since Jinger Zeng of Skyworks Aerial Systems told me about how amazing Professor Oh was and how well he mentors his students.

Here's an excerpt from UNLV's official announcement about the finals:
The Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering robotics team is just a week away from the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) June 5-6 at the Fairplex in Pomona, California.  UNLV will compete against 24 of the world’s top universities and research agencies in an attempt to show how robots could assist first responders in disaster relief – with millions in prize money on the line.  

UNLV’s “Metal Rebel” – a 5 ft. 5 in., 175-pound humanoid robot - will test its mettle against the likes of MIT, NASA and Lockheed Martin in simulated disaster courses where it may have to:
·       Drive a vehicle
·       Climb stairs
·       Traverse rocky and/or debris-filled terrain
·       Turn valves and use power tools

Our student/faculty team is led by Dr. Paul Oh, Lincy Professor for Unmanned Aerial Systems and a renowned expert in robotics and autonomous systems. Oh is a former program director for robotics at the National Science Foundation and is helping UNLV and Nevada become a national leader in the booming autonomous systems industry.

We'd love to see you in Pomona cheering for our team in the grandstands and representing UNLV in scarlet and gray, but if you can't make it out to Pomona, we'd still appreciate your support.

Teams will compete both Friday (6/5) and Saturday (6/6), and the competition will stream live at The competition schedule will be finalized just before the competition, and we’ll follow with details next Thursday afternoon on when to you can see Team UNLV in action.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Dave Goldbergs of the world may be rare, but they're out there.

Everything I've read about Dave Goldberg, including this New York Times obituary, indicates that he was an extraordinary person, and my heart goes out to his family.  Equal relationships should be the norm, but I hear that they're not.  The marriages and partnerships of my friends sure seem equal, and maybe that's an artifact of the fact that many of us "partnered up" later in life, after we knew who we were and what we wanted in a mate.  But Victor and Jeff, Whitney and Beth, Cathy and Laura, Nettie and Luc, Ted and Amy, and many of my other friends evince a love and a respect that leaves both people in the couple feeling supported and nurtured.

And I sure lucked out with my Jeff:  he's spurred me on, moved (three times!) for me (and taken two extra bar exams in the process), given me useful criticism and, as much as anyone can with me, tried to keep my ego within normal limits--all with good humor and wise advice.  I can't imagine my life without him, which is why I feel for Sheryl Sandberg and their children.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Best managerial advice ever (UPDATED).

There's a great article by Paula Krebs in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education's Vitae section (here).  In it, she talks about the importance of working on difficult issues by first imagining why the person sitting across the table from you has formed her views.  The idea of assuming that the other party to a negotiation has principled reasons for her position is a good way to see any difficult issue as an issue to be solved collaboratively.

Here's my favorite quote from her essay:
Since transitioning out of the faculty and into administration, I've had to work hard to learn how to shut up and listen.  My job, I've discovered, isn't to solve the problems.  It's to understand them and then work with the people affected to come up with ways to solve the problems.
Every time I have tried to solve a problem when it's presented to me, I've created more problems.  So I'm learning to talk to more people, to ask more questions, to listen to the answers.
That's darn good advice for us all.

UPDATE (5/4/15):  This post also gives good advice, as does this article.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Want to change a student's life?

One way to do it is to fund awards like this one, this one, or this one.

Most of us know people who have or had struggled with cancer.

And this book is one such journey (with a very happy ending):  all of us who know Geoff and Autumn Berman were pulling for them as Geoff beat cancer.  (And yes, I'm one of the people mentioned in the book, but that's not why you should get it.  It's a good read and will give you a feel for what this type of experience is like.)

Geoff:  We're glad the sun is up and you're vertical.  It is a good day!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Man, I wish I could go to this conference....

The 15th annual workshop on Conducting Empirical Legal Scholarship, co-taught by Lee Epstein and Andrew D. Martin, will run from June 15-June 17 at Washington University in St. Louis. The workshop is for law school faculty, lawyers, political science faculty, and graduate students interested in learning about empirical research and how to evaluate empirical work. It provides the formal training necessary to design, conduct, and assess empirical studies, and to use statistical software (Stata) to analyze and manage data.

Participants need no background or knowledge of statistics to enroll in the workshop. Registration is here. For more information, please contact Lee Epstein.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Aha! A new problem w/Congressional politics--or is it? (UPDATE)

I like what Congressman Crescent Hardy is saying about Yucca Mountain ("let's explore if there's any scenario in which having Yucca Mountain be the nuclear waste repository might make sense for Nevada"), but I can't reach him via email because I don't live in his district.  His email bounces back with a "ask your own Congressperson" response.  I get the point that Congresspeople should pay attention to their own constituents first, but it seems to me that blocking communication from outside the district leaves each representative a little too insular.  Why not just sort the emails by "in district" and "out of district"?

Oh, and Congressman Mark Amodei: This post is for you, too.  Do Congressional rules not let you hear from other Nevadans?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

One of the best days of my life--my trip to Bogotá.

Two days ago, I had the great honor of giving two talks on behalf of the Superintendencia de Sociedades in Bogotá (more info about the talks here) at the request of the wonderful* Superintendent Francisco Reyes.  Superintendent Reyes hosted a seminar in the morning (organized by the talented Diana Silva), and he also hosted a talk in the afternoon.  I was able to visit with members of the bench and bar and heads of companies after the morning's presentations, and the questions that they asked after my talk made the experience even better.

The trip had its funny moments:  I was a little tired that day, having missed my connection to Bogotá by five minutes (United did a lot of maintenance on the plane that was picking us up in Las Vegas--a lot of maintenance), so I hung out in Houston for nine extra hours and arrived in Bogota at 5 a.m. on the day of the presentations.  Maybe the sleep deprivation is a good excuse for what happened in the afternoon:  when I was giving the second presentation, I didn't notice the earthquake** that everyone else in the room noticed quite readily.  When the audience got up and walked out of the room after about 2/3 of my presentation, I thought:  "Wow--this talk is not going well...."  (Years of living in San Francisco, and I didn't feel an earthquake???)  The building evacuation was orderly, with everyone knowing where to go and everyone quickly accounted for by floor.***  After the "all clear," I gave an abbreviated rest of the talk.  The classic part?  I'd asked, earlier that day, if Bogotá had earthquakes.  Bravo for life's little ironies.

Bogotá has some wonderful museums, and I was able to see the Gold Museum, which was flat-out amazing, and tour Plaza de Bolívar.  So with the experience of meeting great people, being able to visit again with Superintendent Reyes, having a chance to tour a bit of Bogotá, eating two memorable meals, and enjoying everyone's friendliness (and their ability to talk in fluent English, given that I have yet to learn Spanish),**** I can say that my trip was one of the best I've ever had.  I'm still floating on air (as you can probably tell from this post).

* And multi-talented:  he is also a very gifted musician.
** Yes, it was a 6.6 quake, but its center wasn't in Bogota, so the news media wasn't quite, um, accurate in its reporting of the earthquake experience in town.  Some buildings were affected, though, but not ours.  Ours was built to withstand a quake, and it did.
*** We could learn something from their emergency procedure training.  Ours is typically not as well organized.
**** And a chance to hear Superintendent Reyes play keyboards and drums.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Jim Thomson and Jesse Sussell have done an interesting new study on Congress's increasing polarization.

I'm lucky enough to be able to claim Jim as a colleague here at UNLV--and he's marvelous.  Check out his bio, which only scratches the surface of why he's so cool.

You can read the summary here, and here's the paper (Are Changing Constituencies Driving Rising Polarization in the U.S. House of Representatives?). 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Best line in today's NYT op-ed about the value of college.

The op-ed is here.  And my favorite bit?
That brought [Professor] Hall to her own answer about college’s mission: “It is for developing the muscle of thoughtfulness, the use of which will be the greatest pleasure in life and will also show what it means to be fully human.”

Monday, February 16, 2015

R.I.P, Marvin Chirelstein.

Just heard the sad news.  Marvin Chirelstein made Federal Income Tax comprehensible for me when I was a lost law student, trying to figure out how "philosophy of tax" (interesting, and the bulk of the course that I took) meshed with "actual Federal Income Tax" (which is what I knew would be on the exam).  I read his Federal Income Tax paperback (now in its 12th edition) and made a vow to myself that if I made it through the course with a decent grade, I'd name a child after him. (That little factoid probably explains part of the reason that Jeff and I don't have kids:  Marvin Rapoport Van Niel?  Chirelstein Rapoport Van Niel?  See--that's quite a burden to put on a little tyke.)  Lighthearted remembrance aside, I just wanted to go on record to say that Professor Chirelstein was one of the greats, and I know he'll be missed.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

More Enron-ization of rankings.

As TaxProf Blog reports (here), UMKC has had an outside audit (here) to uncover rankings shenanigans.  What should we learn from examples like this one?  The same thing we should've learned decades ago: people respond to incentives.  For the best examples of perverse incentives, see this Freakonomics post.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why I switched from Fitbit to Vivofit--a customer service story (UPDATED YET AGAIN)

I like fitness trackers.  I like measuring things, and I don't expect the trackers to have pinpoint accuracy.  They exist as motivational devices and to show trends, and--generally speaking--they're good at those two things.

I said "generally speaking" because the Fitbit Charge did not serve those purposes well.  The first Charge I had lost battery life at an alarming rate.  After extensive back-and-forths with Fitbit, I finally got a replacement.  The charge worked well, but the sleep portion had two modes (normal and sensitive), neither of which captured my sleep accurately.  I know that my average sleep isn't 8+ hours (unfortunately), and I know that it's not 4 hours (thank goodness).  So, after a spate during which Fitbit wouldn't even sync my (over- or under-estimated) sleep, I gave up, ordered a Vivofit from Garmin, and asked for a refund.*

The refund process has been awful.  Obviously, each "team" (person?) at Fitbit doesn't keep a running customer log.  I got steadfast refusals to refund, one "yes, we'll refund, and here's where you send the old one" email," several "oops--we didn't mean to send it" emails, another "we acknowledge that we've sent you a refund authorization" email, and finally a "we don't care that we sent you a refund authorization--we're still not going to refund you the price, but, hey, thanks for returning it" one.  So Fitbit has my old tracker, and I'm out the money for the Fitbit.

I told Fitbit that my response to this frustration would be to blog about my experience, to tweet about it, and to post reviews, and that's what I intend to do.

Lesson to anyone dealing with the public, part 1:  keep a customer's file in one place, so that you don't whipsaw the customer with contradictory emails.

Lesson to anyone dealing with the public, part 2:  the Internet has a broad reach, and anyone with a keyboard can weigh in (for better or worse) on the company's service.

Fitbit?  Given your decision not to play fair, I'm going to spend some time this morning before work making sure I circulate this blog post as widely as possible. 

UPDATE:  my Amazon review of Fitbit went live this afternoon.

Just as a contrast, one of my Amazon packages was late in getting to me, and Amazon not only credited my account to make up for the late shipping, it also extended my Amazon Prime membership for a month--all because of a one-day-late shipment.  In case you're keeping score, that'd be:

Amazon Customer Service--an infinite number to indicate its truly superior customer service.
Fitbit Customer Service--an infinite negative number to indicate just how bad its customer service actually is.

UPDATE on 1/31/15:  I've been informed that Fitbit has mailed my refund check, but that's after--I kid you not--no fewer than 10 emails from Customer Service refusing to do so, then saying that the refund was coming, then saying it wasn't, etc., etc.  It's a bit like that scene from Noises Off:
Lloyd: [Barging in from the house] What the *...* is going on?
Belinda: Lloyd!
Frederick: Holy cow!
Poppy: I didn't know you were here.
Lloyd: I'm not. I'm in New York. But I can't sit out there and listen to two minutes, three minutes, one minute, two minutes!
Belinda: Lloyd! We're having big dramas back here!
Lloyd: We're having big dramas out *there!* This is a matinee, Love! There are senior citizens out there! "The curtain will rise in three minutes," we all start for the gents! "The curtain will rise in one minute," we all start running out again! We don't know which way we're going!
Fitbit emailed me to let me know that it was my fault for the miscommunication:  I had had the temerity to email Fitbit from two different email addresses, and Fitbit was incapable of realizing that one customer could have two addresses.  Res ipsa.
* I even actually revoked my acceptance, but Fitbit didn't want to bounce THAT sentence to its lawyers.

Monday, January 05, 2015

I'm pretty sure that's not the correct use of the word.

Now that I'm back from the AALS Annual Meeting, I remember what I liked about going in years past (seeing old friends; making new ones) and what I didn't (a lot of puffery and jockeying for status).*  But the topper this year was the indiscriminate use of the word "scholar," as in "I'm a scholar of ______."

I'm comfortable with people self-identifying as professors (after all, that's our title), or saying that their area of study is X, or suggesting that they're focusing on X.  I love hearing what someone's researching, just as much as I love hearing about what that person's doing in terms of teaching (or, for that matter, his or her hobbies).  And I love batting around ideas just as much as the next person.  I got some great suggestions about some of my projects from friends at the conference. 

But saying "I'm a scholar"?  Um, that's something that the person reading the scholarship gets to decide.  

Why is it that I think that we can call what we do "producing scholarship," but that referring to ourselves as scholars is a bad idea?

Answer #1:  It's pretentious.

Answer #2:  Just as you can't make something "interesting" by declaring it thus, you can't be a scholar just because you're writing something in a particular area.  Trust me:  the best scholars don't toot their own horns that way.  Some of the most amazing folks in academia are jaw-droppingly modest.  Let your readers decide how good your work is--not you.

Just sayin.'

*  I seriously went through Faculty Recruitment Conference flashbacks when I checked into the hotel this year--and my own FRC experience was way back in 1991.