October 2007 Archives

Interviews Are Not Fun

One of the interesting things I've learned over the course of interviewing with various employers is that there are certain qualities of a job that you, as a job applicant, are not allowed to talk about in a job interview.

For some subjects, this is pretty obvious. If you're interviewing with, for instance, a firm that has a reputation of working its junior associates to death, to the point where 90% of them leave within 2 years, you should probably not mention this fact to the interviewer. Not even in the form of a question about the job at the end of the interview. On wrapping up the interview, the foremost thought in your mind might well be "I have a question. If I take this job, will it significantly increase my chances of killing myself within the next 18 months? Because if so, I'd like to know now so that I can buy more life insurance and maybe take some home repair classes. You know, to make the fire look like an electrical thing." Nonetheless, it is considered impolite to ask, even if phrased very delicately.

It's also, for whatever reason, considered a little gauche to ask firms about money, or to mention money as the reason you want to work for them. This leads to a lot of polite fiction. When the interviewee says something to the effect of "I want to work at Simmian, Clarke, and Feldstein because I love document review. The thought of paying very, very careful attention to the details of boxes upon boxes containing ten thousand corporate documents in search of the few dozen that are responsive to the opposing counsel's document requests fills me with excitement," what she actually means is "I want to work at Simmian, Clarke, and Feldstein becaues I love money, and am willing to put up with tedious, brain-numbing boredom in order that I might spend the few free hours of my life rolling around in it."

Then there are the things that the interviewer is allowed to talk about, but the interviewee is not. This includes all things related to the work-life balance or culture of the law firm. The nut of the problem is that if you say you want to work at a place because of how fun you've heard it is, you are sending a signal to the interviwer that you want to work there because you think it's a fun place to work. It's this whole sort of reverse-Groucho Marx thing, they don't want anyone joining their club who would want to be a member.

Two examples will perhaps prove illustrative. First, a work-life balance discussion that redounds to the interviewee's benefit:

Interviewee: "I want to work at McFarland, Ross, and Miller because I love document review, and can't wait to do a lot of it!"
Interviewer: "Well, one of the great things about McFarland, Ross, and Miller is that we occasionally allow junior associates out of their gilded Document Review Comfort Cages for fifteen-minute water-breaks, an industry record, plus we put free apples in the break room!"
Interviewee: "Well, that sounds very generous of you, though I can't imagine needing more than five minutes for that water break and I certainly wouldn't want to waste time eating apples on the firm's dime."
Interviewer: "I see you'll fit in well around here!"

And here's an example of an interviewee botching the whole thing:

Interviewee: "I want to work at Deering, Gibson, and Fender because I've heard you give free apples during water breaks, and I love apples."
Interviewer: "Oh, so you're just after us for our apples, are you? Well, just so you know, we fired a summer associate last year for taking too many apples. Sometimes as many as three in a day! So don't think we're all apples and sunshine. We work hard and the apples are just a happy bonus. Unless the apple budget gets cut next year."
Interviewee: "Have I mentioned how much I love documents, and the reviewing of same?"
Interviewer: "Looks like our time is up. We'll get back to you in two to six weeks, depending on how long the post office takes with the rejection letter."

Hopefully this will prove helpful in your future legal interviewing endeavors.

Those Lousy Less Fortunate Get All the Breaks!

I would like to bring some fairness and balance to my practice of pointing and shaking my head at groups of which I'm slightly ashamed to be a member. In that spirit, witness a slew of current-and-future big corporate lawyers whining and moaning about the possibility that they might have to pay an additional 4% of their income above $150,000 ($200,000 for couples filing jointly) as a surtax if a bill introduced by Charlie Rangel (my congressman!) passes. Never mind that the surtax comes in exchange for an elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which means that most of these learned barristers will probably be paying less under the new scheme.

Still, any chance to explain why, as true Ayn Randian Ubermenschen and Uberfrauen, they are being held back from their true, full potential by the socialist redistributive policies of the mediocre minds in government, motivated as they are by misplaced sympathies for the weak, lazy, undeserving underclasses. Truly, if the government were to disappear tomorrow these supermen and superwomen would reach untold heights of accomplishment, no longer constrained in their ability to earn money by arguing over and enforcing . . . the laws of . . . the government that doesn't exist anymore.


It probably isn't prudent for me to say anything substantive on this point, but I will say that there are an awful lot of very harsh retributivists in the comments to this post on Kotaku. Consider that the crime, as reported earlier here occurred roughly as follows:

At 6 PM in the evening, the manager of a Gamestop franchise and one of his employees were closing up the shop. One of the customers lingered as the others made their purchases and left. Once he was alone with the manager and the employee, the customer took out a gun. He threatened the two and demanded the store's cash and merchandise. At some point, the employee's father entered the store to pick up the employee. The robber tied up all three and gagged them with duct tape. The robber spent about an hour and a half in the store, which may include the time he was there waiting for the store to close. He stole some video games and DVDs. He also stole the manager's car, which he drove off in. Sometime afterwards, and we don't yet know the time of death, the manager of the store died of asphyxiation, likely because of the duct tape.

The suspect has just been apprehended. He has several prior convictions for forgery, obstructing a law enforcement officer, possession of cocaine, and selling cocaine. He has been charged with murder, three counts of kidnapping, three counts of false imprisonment, three counts of armed robbery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

By my judgment, the median Kotaku commenter is calling for the perpetrator's death. The most extreme commenters want him to be publicly tortured to death to set an example for others.

Without wishing to offer my opinion on the matter, I don't believe any prosecutor outside the state of Texas, and probably most Texan prosecutors as well, would consider this a death penalty case.

Quick Gender and Video Gaming Post

I am constantly annoyed by the fact that you can't have a female video character who is not conventionally attractive, often in a goofy over-exagerated way. When such concerns over the sexualization of female characters are expressed in internet fora, the common rejoinder is something to the effect of "Well, men are objectified too, with all the muscles and such!" To which the feminist reply is that "the muscles and such" are generally some criteria relevant to the game character's role in the game's universe, whereas the female character's sexual qualities are entirely tertiary. Male characters are attractive (if they are attractive; you'll see a lot more not-conventionally-attractive male characters than you will female characters) because it's instrumentally useful; female characters are sexy for sexy's sake. And in general it's annoying because it reinforces the notion that women are to be judge by their sexual attractiveness first and by their other qualities only as an afterthought.

For example: Kotaku can't post about game designer Jade Raymond without making the post about how hot she is. Never mind that she's the head designer on one of the year's most anticipated triple-A console titles, that she has a computer science degree from McGill, one of Canada's top universities, or her work on The Sims Online. She's a woman so the main point of any article on her focuses on her looks. When was the last time you read an article about a male game designer that addressed appearance in any but the most superficial way (e.g. "He looks disheveled and unkempt," or "he looks exhausted" or what not)? It doesn't happen.

This is part of the problem, and it's a broad cultural thing. Part of the solution is encouraging media that doesn't reinforce the worst aspects of the collective psyche.

I haven't posted pictures of what I've been cooking for myself lately, so I figured I would indulge my urge to share my creations. Last night I threw together a dish that I will call, for lack of a better term, Something Carribo-South Americanianish.

2 cups rice
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
Several drops Louisiana hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 small yellow onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
2 chayotes, cut into cubes
2 ripe plantains, sliced
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce
Coarse salt to taste

Please note that none of the above measurements are precise; they are merely post-hoc estimates of how much I used. Adjust any of the proportions to suit your taste.

This meal originated because I had some plantains. I haven't worked much with plantains and unfortunately most of the recipes I found online involved deep frying them. Deep frying is sort of an ordeal, so I found a recipe for sauteed plantains and used that as a guide to make my own recipe. I also had some chayotes in the fridge, which are a Central and South American vegetable that look sort of like a pear with a butt. They taste not unlike zucchini or summer squash when cooked, but are a bit tougher so you don't have to worry as much about overcooking and getting a soggy zucchini mess. I decided to make something vaguely Cuban and South American. Fusion, if you will.

I started by making rice. I'm lazy, so I just threw two cups of rice and a cup of water into the rice cooker, along with some salt, a dash of chili powder and a few drops of hot sauce. Then I sliced up an onion, heated some peanut oil over medium heat, and commenced sauteeing. After a couple of minutes I added the garlic, and a minute later the cubed chayote. I let that cook, stirring, for about five minutes before adding the plantains. After a further ten minutes sauteeing, around when the plantains started to get golden-brown, I sprinkled on some brown sugar, a little cinnamon, some chili powder, some cayenne, a dash of white pepper, and some coarse salt. Finally, I poured in about a tablespoon of hot sauce, which deglazed the pan nicely. I cooked a minute more, turned off the heat, and voila! Something Carribo-South Americanianish! Serve over the rice.

Note that this is an easily substitutable dish. You can easily use squash in place of chayote, regular salt in place of coarse salt, black pepper in place of white, whatever. I can also think of some interesting additions to the dish; it might taste good with some chopped spicy peppers, maybe a little habanero. Some allspice powder or raisins might also give it a nice Jamaican flavor.

Also, note that I don't want to pretend that this is in any way an authentic Cuban, South American, or any other cuisine's dish. It's just something I threw together from ingredients from those regions and flavored with spices I'm familiar with from the area.

I got burned the last time I attacked video game blogs for shoddy journalism, but this time Kotaku (and others) have hit on something that's been annoying me for a while.

According to Kotaku, THQ has entered into an exclusive, confidential agreement with Nintendo to produce software using Nintendo's IP. There follows in the comments a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth. "Oh Noes! It'll be just like those crappy Zelda games for the CD-i! We're doooooomed!"

This is one of the many situations where I wish that video game journalists would keep someone with legal training around so that they could make sure that they're not making asses of themselves before publishing things like this. In this case, they're reading a legal document and applying to the words in it the stupid video game journalism jargon meaning of the abbreviation IP, rather than its legal definition.

IP stands for Intellectual Property. It is a legal fiction that allows us to conceptualize ownership of an intangible idea. The three principle forms of intellectual property are patents, copyrights, and trademarks. A patent conveys ownership of a particular invention or process and allows the inventor to receive royalty payments from others who would use the patented device. They tend to last only a short time. Copyrights are similar, granting the owner a monopoly over her creative works. Trademarks are somewhat different. They exist both for the good of the public and for the benefit of the trademark owner. They allow consumers to quickly distinguish one brand of product or service from another. They also allow trademark holders to build a reputation for their own products that won't be sullied by the actions of similarly-named competitors.

Video game journalists, in their never-ending quest to appear grown-up, have started using the term IP. When video game journalists use the term IP, they use it to mean a game or series of games that exists in its own universe distinct from a company's other games or series's. Used in a sentence: "Nintendo has a lot of valuable IPs, like Mario and Zelda, but they've been slack in bringing new IPs to the public in recent years." The video game journalism version of IP is sort of like the legal version, but not quite. A video game journalist IP likely includes some legal IP (the copyright to whatever games are part of the seriers, the trademarks in the titles of the games and in the likenesses of the game's characters, that sort of thing) but it is not "an IP" in the legal sense of the word.

So we come to this passage, which makes complete sense if you understand IP in its legal sense:

"...the right to use certain of Nintendo's intellectual property to develop, have developed, have manufactured, advertise, market and sell video game software for play on Wii until October 13, 2009 in all countries within the Western Hemisphere."

What this almost certainly means is that Nintendo grants THQ the right to use various Nintendo trademarks, copyrights, and patents in the development and marketing of games for the Wii. For example, Nintendo is granting THQ the license to use Nintendo's Standard Development Environments (which Nintendo would have a copyright on) to develop Wii software. Nintendo is also licensing some of its trademarks to THQ. Nintendo's name, its logo, and the logo for the Wii are all trademarks. THQ needs to officially license the right to use those marks in order to put them on the packaging for its games. This clause in what is undoubtedly a big, complicated licensing agreement encompases all of those pieces of intellectual property that THQ would need to develop games for Nintendo's platform.

But if you're a video game journalist, and don't understand that not everyone uses Intellectual Property to mean the same thing that you use it to mean, you read that out-of-context passage and say "Wow! Nintendo is granting THQ the right to use its IPs(like Zelda or Mario or Kid Icarus)! What a scoop!" And, if you're Kotaku, you publish a story about it and make an ass of yourself.

In fairness, the story was originally reported at gamesindustry.biz, which really ought to know better. It was also picked up by 1up.com. Both gamesindustry.biz and 1up.com have published updates retracting the story. Kotaku has left it to fester uncorrected as of this writing. Joystiq hasn't touched the story, and Chris Kohler at Game|Life has published a scathing debunking.

So the scoreboard:
Good Journalists: Game|Life
Might Be Good Journalists, Might Be Asleep at the Wheel: Joystiq
Barely Meet the Minimum Standards of Journalistic Integrity: 1up.com, gamesindustry.biz
Still Finding New Ways to Sink Below My Lowest Expectations: Kotaku

Well, I'll Be Jiggered

Microsoft and Bungie ARE splitting. Sort of. According to the press release, it looks like Bungie's going private and independent. Microsoft will maintain a minority stake as well as ownership of the Halo franchise. The split also appears to have been contingent on a long-term development contract between Microsoft and Bungie. The terms of that deal haven't been disclosed.

Presumably, this means that a bunch of Bungie executives got together and bought back at least 51% of the company from Microsoft. They haven't said how large of a minority stake Microsoft maintains, but it can't be more than 49%. In a way, this makes sense; the deal seems to have been designed to keep Bungie, as much as possible, an XBox-exclusive developer. Between the minority interest of unknown size and the binding long-term contract, it's unlikely that Bungie will be rushing to develop for the PS3 or the Wii any time soon. Also, the rumblings heard from Bungie have all been to the effect of the workers disliking the Halo-focus of the company and Microsoft's deadlines. This deal seems like it allows Bungie to become somewhat independent in terms of its management while still maintaining Microsoft's interest in Bungie's creative output.

Uh Oh

Today I have interviews with attorneys from the SEC and the IRS.

I might be in a little trouble. . .

There have been rumors lately that Bungie will be splitting off from Microsoft. I know all the video game writers out there are excited to be playing Junior Journalist and following the clues to the Big Scoop, but, despite Luke Smith's words of wisdom, sometimes "No Comment" really just means "No Comment." Or, more specifically, it means that the company itself has a blanket we-don't-talk-to-journalists, talk-to-our-PR-company rule and the PR company has never heard the insane rumor that a journalist just asked them about so they don't know what the company line is.

Allow me to disabuse you of any possible inclination that this rumor could be true. Microsoft owns Bungie. Bungie is owned by Microsoft. Bungie, as a corporate entity, is a wholely-owned subsidiary of the Microsoft corporation. The Bungie trademark belongs to Microsoft, Bungie's assets belong to Microsoft, all of Bungie's intellectual property and public goodwill belong to Microsoft. Bungie is a part of Microsoft.

Bungie is a profitable part of Microsoft. Bungie just had the biggest software launch in history with Halo 3. Microsoft is making scads of money off of Bungie. The only reason Microsoft would want to get rid of Bungie is if Microsoft was getting out of video games entirely, and even then they'd probably want to keep it around, developing for some other company's hardware.

The rumors of a split are all centered around the idea that Bungie is discontent making Halo. They're tired of Halo, they want to do something else. Microsoft wants them to keep making Halo forever. So the rumor at least meets the minimum requirement of making sense from a human drama perspective.

But it makes no sense from a corporate perspective. We've heard all kinds of reasons why Bungie wants to leave, but no reasons why Microsoft wants to let them go. Considering that, as mentioned above, Microsoft owns Bungie, if Bungie wants to leave and Microsoft wants it to stay, Bungie stays. Bungie doesn't even get a vote in the matter.

There's an essentially element missing in this rumor: What does Microsoft get, and where are they getting it from? Once I hear that Bungie employees have scraped together the billion dollars Microsoft would demand as a sales price for Bungie, I'll start believing the rumor. Once I hear that some outside company has expressed an interest in purchasing Bungie and has approached Microsoft about it, I'll start believing the rumor.

I won't even get into the dubious provenance of the rumor's origin (some guy on a newspaper reader's blog has a friend who knows someone who works at Bungie and told him all about the split? Please). Now, I wouldn't be surprised if the rumor turns out to be a mistranslation of "some employees at Bungie are discontent with the prospect of making Halo forever and are thinking about leaving for another studio/forming their own studio." But Bungie leaving Microsoft? No.

To its credit, Joystiq has called this rumor for the nonsense that it is. Joystiq was also out in front on the rumors about the Chinese MMO banning trans-gender character creation. Joystiq is rapidly gaining points with me for having the minimum level of skepticism required to call what they do journalism.

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