To celebrate my 40th birthday, I went down a belt buckle and joined a gym for the first time in my life. Not bad. Then I started jotting down some thoughts about the hard-won wisdom I have earned (<– that’s too short to be plagiarism … I think) but it got really long. I’m a patent attorney. I turn one sentence ideas into about 30 pages. It’s just what I do for a living.

Here we go . . .

Part 1: The World Gets More Complex

The number of items near the bathroom sink grow in proportion to the complexity of life.

Want to simplify things? Don’t do it by combining stuff in your bathroom. I call such people “clients” and no, you’re not the one who is going to combine a toothbrush with toothpaste and make a profit. Frozen actually drives home this point quite well … some things aren’t meant to be mixed unless you can have magic flurries but by the time you’re wise enough for that there’s something near your sink to keep them in your hair.

After the stuff to keep you looking and smelling alright is in order, your insides start to break. Physical therapy is okay but hip thrusts are cheaper, quicker, and work so much better.

Never do hip thrusts in public.

When someone screams at you … or uses the word “you” followed by any sort of complaint, they’re just grossly misusing the English language. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Just ignore the stuff about “you” and figure out what’s bothering them.

By “someone” that’s typically “a woman.” By “misusing” that might be “using like a woman.” Your guess is as good as mine as to how they use the same words to mean two opposite things. The advice still applies.

Part 2: Proper Use of English and Emotion

People who fix grammar which otherwise best conveys the feeling you’re trying to evoke are English teachers you hate … or just men trying to figure out what in the world a woman means when using the same sentence on two different days to mean three different things.

When someone asks you a question your most common answer should be, “I’m not sure” followed by “Maybe it’s this”, each followed with “but I’ll look it up and find out.” Unless the person is paying you for a service – then you answer with “The answer is X and I can do that” which you follow up by frantically figuring out how on earth you’re going to do that. Otherwise, you’ll never learn a new skill.

There’s no rule you can’t end a sentence with a preposition. No, I’m not going to do that here to show you. That’d be corny. Instead I’ll just

Everyone has shortcomings. Your parents, your mentors, everyone. Idealize no one. Question their advice. Forgive everyone.

Without emotion, people can’t make choices. Logical therefore dictates that choices aren’t logical. This advice is based on emotion.

Use your judgment but know when to defer to others. Logic dictates that this is trial and error. Emotion says, “stop, take a deep breath, close your eyes and see if it feels right.” Make sure you’re being true to yourself and true to what’s right – is that what a higher power wants from you?

If you don’t have a higher power to call upon, G_d help you.

Part 3: Weight Loss

The secret to weight loss is to eat less calories than you take in. An app taught me that – it’s just like any other set of data now … I like to use my willpower to make the line on the graph go down. That’s what a patent attorney does for fun.

Only true nerds can listen to an app over their stomach when deciding whether or not to eat the next chip.

When you’re quantifying everything you eat a balanced diet kind of happens. Eating cake just makes it harder to move the graph down tomorrow … but not that hard… eat the cake. Unless it’s bad cake. Don’t eat bad cake. A negative slope tastes better than bad cake.

A handful of Brazil nuts are often more calories than a piece of cake. Brazil is home to the only sumo club outside of Japan. Coincidence?

Part 4: Humor and Self-Improvement

It drives be Brazil nuts when someone just repeats what I said. Apparently, for other people it makes them feel heard. In the end, that’s all any of us want – We’re like antelopes that make honey – we like bee herd.

My not-yet teenage children still laugh at puns like that. My teenagers tell them to stop encouraging me. I’m with the teenagers on this one.

You can laugh on the inside when you make a person feel stupid by being nice after they’re angry and insulting you. Oh, and where possible, avoid them. I think this is why Canadians avoid Americans.

Sometimes it is actually about you. After you’ve made someone feel heard and all – decide if they have a point. If they do, do something about it. They’ll appreciate it and so will you. – after you get over your desire to squeeze them like a soda until you realize at 40 soda is not something you drink.

The worst people to deal with, by far, are narcissists and borderlines. Both will suck the life out of you for personal gain while giving you nothing of long term value. Manics and bipolar are cool though. They give and give and give to you and disappear on their own before they hurt you – they’re like inverse narcissists and borderlines that hurt themselves instead of others. It’s the perfect harmonic balance of nature.

If you can’t say what you have to say without being angry, it’s your problem.

I get angry. So do you.

Yeah, I get it – someone you were close to hurt you. I’m still close to them. That’s not an excuse to avoid me. That’s sad.

The most profound off the cuff thing my wife every said (to the recollection of my 40 year old brain) happened after a small child asked her why her friend’s parents weren’t together anymore. She said, “because they didn’t know how to say they were sorry.”

Part 5: Business and Purchases

If it’s not sold at Costco or Amazon, you don’t need it.

Good products don’t need salespeople. Costco tests products. Amazon has ratings.

Sort by ratings before buying anything on Amazon. Don’t trust products full of ratings which all have perfect or terrible grammar and 5 stars. The great firewall of China has an exception which allows those through.

The 80/20 rule also applies to people in any profession. 80% of them are mediocre at best.

The 80/20 rule doesn’t apply to salespeople. The only good salesperson (including a real estate agent) is one who doesn’t talk. If they’re doing more than answering a direct question, tell a dad joke to put them in their place. Bring a not-yet teenage child so someone laughs at your joke and the salesperson looks silly when he doesn’t laugh. Otherwise you’ll be the silly looking one.

The rule is – avoid people who complain about the last guy they hired before they hired you. It’s not the “last guy”, it’s them.

There are exceptions to every rule.

People don’t buy houses very often because they have to deal with real estate agents and high transaction costs. Yet people lease cars!? That’s like dealing with a real estate agent every three years while ensuring you get a bad deal. My oldest car lasted 18 years. That’s like … 12 years of nearly free car and no one trying to sell me anything except dent repair.

It’s impossible to know ahead of time if an exception to a rule should have been applied.

Part 6: When to Say Sorry

My version of the Coase theorem: Given enough time together, any two people in any sort of relationship will piss each other off. You will do it to them and they will do it to you. Only the frequency and intensity will vary.

Say you’re sorry even if you don’t mean it and even if the other person knows it. People still want to hear it and it changes them whether they want it to or not. It also changes you. In Canada saying you are sorry can’t even be used against you in court (lousy polite Canadians … ugh … they make me feel so bad for being angry at them).

Saying ‘sorry’ is a paradox – Wait a few minutes and it’s an easy lie. Wait a few years it’s a hard truth to swallow.

I once almost lied. I told a person who walked out without paying that I had the whole thing on video. It’s not a lie unless time travel never gets invented and I don’t retroactively install cameras. Fine, maybe I won’t be able to do that but I’ll at least be able to look back on them from the future. No? Look, all you need to know is that she paid.

Never listen to a cartographer turned zip line guide who says it’s perfectly safe to come at him and he’ll catch you. I know this is a rather specific life lesson but it’s a great story. I socked him right in the chest with both legs and apparently contour maps don’t include trees because it was one bungee which kept him from falling off the 50 foot high platform in the tree. I wish I had that on video so you know I’m not lying (check out that double reference – wow).

Did you hear about the cartographer who told the mountain climber not to go up to the top? He said it wasn’t to scale.

Part 7: Improving English

Did you ever look around in a large room full of people and realize you’re taller than all of them? I remember when I was a kid looking around and I couldn’t see much of anything in such rooms. Is that how y’all live your whole life?

The lack of a “you” in plural form is really a crying shame for us northerners. A get that “y’all” makes you sound like you have a lower IQ and all but that’s just how lines of latitude work. Go further south and we think Mexicans have even lower IQs and don’t get us started on central and south America. Most of us can’t find Suriname on a map, but … well, we must be smarter because we use the same “you” for two different things which works about as well as a toothbrush that dispenses toothpaste.

“Do the needful” is even better than “y’all”. It cuts entire wordy sentences down to three words that get straight to the point and actual says what it is. Thank you India for … well, this phrase. Now please stop calling me. I’m not the person in charge of the energy bill, alright?

Part 8: Time and Money

I can remember events like they were yesterday … from 20+ years ago. I could tell the passage of time by what grade I was in. Now, my new car is 8 years old and I can’t differentiate between things that happened since I bought a house. That’s actually pretty cool – who wants to be anxious about a test or where you’ll buy a house? I highly recommend getting paid for your work instead of paying professors for it.

When you’re 20, prepare for the life you want when you’re 40 so that when you’re 40 can you live life like a 20 year old. Except alcohol – alcohol has so many calories. Drink that when you’re 20.

The stock market goes up on average 7 to 9% a year. There are only two ways it can go on any given day and you have no idea which. Even if you do, your emotions will screw it up.

Now is always a good time to invest. Now is always a bad time to sell.

Anyone who uses the verb “play” in the same sentence as “stock market” is one or more of: a) frustratingly stuck where they are; b) living from paycheck to paycheck and will be in five years too; c) thinks they’re poor.

Poor is a mindset not a dollar sign. I know rich people who earn far less than poor people. That’s not a contradiction.

Life is amazing or hell dependent upon whom you’re spending it with. I loved skiing, wondered why I liked it, and then loved it again. Do the math.

Part 9: Marriage

That and … when you’ve never done something before – listen to what people who know you best and have done it before tell you.

By the above I’m actually talking about getting married and listening to your parents. Despite any of their shortcomings (which everyone has), they know your needs better than you do. You haven’t a clue about marriage until you’re in one. Good or bad, parents know what one is like and also know your emotional needs because they’ve seen you and taken care of you while you’ve been stuck in your head the whole time.

Marriages suggested by parents and marriages which involve a lifetime commitment before moving in together (for one night or forever) are statistically more likely to succeed.

“Understanding” and “agreeing” are two different things. Sometimes the former leads to the latter but you can still keep them separate.

Marriage is the hardest and best thing a person can do. It exposes all your shortcomings and selfishness while causing you to work really hard if you’re going to enjoy life to its fullest. It’s also probably the reason most fail.

There’s always someone better than you at something and someone worse than you at something. I played golf once. The hit the ball on the tee but it went through my legs and hit my friend standing behind me. There was still someone worse than me.

Safety speeches are boring. You know who listens to them less than you do? The person giving the speech.

Part 10: Children (Especially Teens)

It’s bad when you have to teach one of your children, “I’m just playing with your words to amuse myself. I do actually understand what you mean by, ‘ate the pear’. All you have to do now is roll your eyes and say, ‘oh daddy…’” She’ll get there.

Said above child hits me back though. She taunts me with, “I can’t wait until I’m a teenager so I can torment you!” I’m seriously worried. I mean it.

“Daddy, how come I can’t eat now but he can?”
“He’s a teenager – I can’t control anything he does but you still have to listen.”
“Oh. Makes sense.”

I figured out how to be invisible. Start a sentence with “Can you …” and direct it to a teenager.

My teenager wanted money one day. Another day he wanted a ride somewhere. I confused ‘love’ with ‘dang, what’s wrong with my invisibility cloak today?’

If you do it, no matter what it is, it’s not cool. I said that to one of my teenagers and I get the feeling that he never felt more heard and understood in all his life.

Teenagers do get better with age … though it was all fun and games until the oldest started showing signs of becoming a teenager. I stopped having kids after that.

The best age for kids is 5 to 11. They can dress themselves, laugh at your jokes, and aren’t too old that they don’t still think you’re cool and fun.

After about age 11, kids not only start to see your shortcomings but start thinking “whoa, confusing world this is” and start recalibrating their emotions while beating you over the head. There’s a very effective way to deal with this – act pre-emptively. When you see it coming strike hard and often: “Yes son/daughter, I suck for this and this reason … feel free to talk about it any time.” It works wonders. Repeat as necessary and their anger turns into feeling understood. It’s kind of like being married except it’s a teenager who will probably remain selfish until married.

Don’t forget to add “you may rebel only in ways which are reversible and don’t screw up your life long term” to keep them out of too much trouble.

Giving teeneragers some sort of responsibility for their younger siblings is also helpful to keep the older ones in line because people are often like, “I don’t care if I screw myself up, but that poor child doesn’t deserve it!”

You trust the neighbor’s older kid with your baby but not with open internet. Teenagers are kind of the same.

The Talmud says that you can assume eggs are fertilized if a rooster could have traveled a long distance, crossed a plank over a river to get to the henhouse, and probably gone back to where you first saw him. Do you have males in your house and an internet connection? Roosters are male too.

If you’re alive, there’s more you can do to change yourself and the world – in that order. Don’t think so? You’re already dead.


I grew up in the age of BBSes … bulletin board systems. Back in my day, it took about 20 minutes on a 2400 baud modem to download a single 640×480 pixel image in 256 colors. I remember the first time I did it – it was a vivid picture of a parrot and it was amazing to see it on the computer screen. Back then, some BBSes had adult sections and most required age verification to grant access. Sure, we figured it out but it was usually akin to having an adult by alcohol or cigarettes for you. Today, it’s ubiquitous, easily available just by clicking on something by mistake … let’s just get past the “no censorship for anyone – how could you?” drama and acknowledge that lots of this stuff isn’t good for anyone to see, ever for a whole host of reasons that is beyond the scope of this post and get down to it.

True story – when one of my kids was 10 years old, an Amazon Kindle before I set filters on it was used to access illicit content within five minutes. The child was curious and I didn’t set it up fast enough. There’s a story in The Gemora, mesecta Beitzah, about how a rooster on the other side of a river will find a board to cross the river and you can presume ever hen is … you get the idea. In another story, a Tanna was protecting women on a second floor and said had they not pulled up the ladder … yeah, you get the idea too. It’s male nature.

What Doesn’t Work

Free software that is supposed to block devices doesn’t work. I tried a bunch of them and either I or one of my kids could find a way around them. If you want good internet filtering, you have to pay for it. Prove me wrong. I challenge my kids to get around blocks so I can learn and they’ve always found ways … even the blocks on school Chromebooks aren’t foolproof. Something as simple as Google Translate works as a proxy to open almost any website (hence, I block it at home…)

Device by device blocking is weak. A new device gets in the house … a friend’s phone and they want access to your WiFi, etc, and all bets are off. You may know what devices your kids have, but your kid’s friends parents probably don’t. Think you have a device locked down? Don’t bet on it. Access logs are also only so good because not everything gets logged. Networks are complicated with many, many protocols and ways to get around things. Any computer has vulnerabilities and when you have eight different devices, a kid will find the weak point on the one device like a velociraptor will find the weak point in the security fence and chase down Jeff Goldbloom. One thing I’ve learned – kids are really, really resourceful (at least my kids and it’s probably my fault but I’m okay with that). If I can find a way to get around something, they usually can too.

Computers are not locked down and the internet is designed to be open. That’s the reality. Apple is a bit better in this area. I run Linux – parental control just stinks. Google devices are the worst – Android is open. The Play store is filled with apps that, designed for it or not, can be used to get around any blocks you have. Chromebooks used to have a parental supervision mode but they discontinued it one day with no replacement – it’s just anti-Google to have “controls” on the internet I suppose.

You have to monitor what your kids are doing – look at their phone or give their phone regularly to someone who knows what they’re looking at. Keep computers out in the open where you can see the screens, etc.

My Solution for Home WiFi / Internet

Centralize the filtering in one place. Solution: Disney Circle. I’m sure there are other options, but with my research and my use for a while now, I can recommend this to you. Disney bought the “Circle” company and now it’s $100 for a Netgear router with it built in and it filters every device on your network but it’s NOT full proof and NOT idiot proof. You have to kind of know what you’re doing or it’s not going to work and may not be the solution for you.

First – here’s how it works:

  1. Create a profile for every user or group of users. For example, I have one for “parents”, one for “kids”, and one for “devices” (e.g. the printer and the internet radio).
  2. Each device connected to your internet router is assigned to one of the profiles. You do this using your phone (no web interface available, but this is kind of good because if your kids can’t access your phone, you’re good).
  3. When a new device is plugged in, you get a notification on your phone. It goes to whatever default group you set and then you can rename the device (e.g. “kid’s friend’s iPhone”) and assign it to a group.

On the surface, that works great. It usually does … but it’s not perfect. Once a computer was connected via a wired cable and WiFi and when the wired cable got disconnected the WiFi took over and the router didn’t even see the computer but it had full unfiltered access to everything! My kid was honest with me (we’ll get to that) and it was fixed. I wouldn’t have known for a while.

The up side is any device that comes into my house has filtering (excepting for the above). It’s a great system – costs ~$100 for the router and $5/mo for the filtering. You can set by category to filter with some presets for “teen” and “young child” and it works with cellular phones too (I’ll get to that too).

The down side is: the logging stinks. It’s not very helpful and shows a whole bunch of extraneous IP addresses (if you don’t know what that is, that’s the point) and random things that websites access. It’s hard to tell what your kid was actually doing by reviewing it. Also, you have to add each website to allow manually on a phone with no way of importing or copying lists between users, etc. It’s not so convenient but is a worthy trade off.

My Cellular Phone Philosophy for Kids

This will depend on your needs and what you want you children to be able to access. There are flip phones and kosher phones with basically nothing but phone features and sometimes texting. Depending on your kid, they’re peers are on Whasapp quite a lot. This stuff can be abused and kids something write stupid things,, but were AOL chat rooms any better and won’t they just say stupid things in person just the same? Teenagers do that.

So my comfort level here, after much thinking, etc, is like this: the phone is a great communication device. Do I want my kids using it for games? Using it for web browsing? Maybe … but no … let’s use it for communication. You want to use group texts to know when the bus is coming? That’s a great idea. You want to play a game? Use the home computer and use it where you can be seen. … because guess what … these games aren’t so innocent either. They also have chat, people also say stupid things, and I know of kids who are using the in-game chat to evade their parents’ monitoring. Nothing it fool proof (giving them no device isn’t either, but I totally get parents who do that – I’m talking about once you decide to give your kid a device).

Parental Controls for Cellular Phones

I started with Disney Circle on a cellular phone – the pro is that it integrates into the same interface and parental controls for the device as you’ve set for home internet. The con is that it does not log or block per app. I find that a huge lack. With unfettered access to an app store, you might as well have no controls. It’s worthless and maybe worse because it’s a feeling of security which just encourages a child to go underground.

Next problem is that it’s almost impossible to prevent an app from being uninstalled. Any app I tried, including Disney Circle and others … I could figure out a way to remove it. It’s how the phones are designed – they don’t want rogue software taking over the phone. You can get Tag to root your phone and install software that can’t be removed by basically rewriting their own operating system, but the software choice they have isn’t my taste. I was unimpressed – basically, you select which apps you want and call them whenever you want to change it but it doesn’t actually filter content.

After playing with a bunch of apps, some simultaneously, the one I’ve stuck with for a while is called ScreenTime. If you’re giving your child access to the internet, use it with Disney Circle. If you’re not, ScreenTime is sufficient – I’ve plain old blocked usage of the web browser entirely, blocked YouTube, blocked … well anything that isn’t a communication tool. Access is granted to Hangouts, messaging, WhatsApp, photos, the camera, his music, email, and educational apps (e.g. learn Hebrew, learn music, learn exercises, learn math) … all the “good” things about a phone. Basically, what people should be using their phones for in my humble opinion. (My five minute a day Hebrew lesson with Drops is great, for example.)

Are My Kids Happy and Having Trust with Your Child

Now here’s the fun part – a little bit of disclosure here … some of this was trial and error. Some of this involved “oh shoot, a kid broke through” followed by “no device for you.” Some of this was being a parent and saying, “I don’t really care if you’re not happy. You’ll live without your beloved Clash of Clans until we figure out what to do.”

Then we reset. I still have one kid who complains about “Daddy, this website is blocked! I can’t do my Gemora studying without it!” etc, etc, and okay, so it’s annoying and I have to manually override a website and allow it. He’ll live.

The other problem is, as mentioned above, there’s really no way to prevent an app from being uninstalled. So … I stole an idea from those people who say “have a contract with your kids before you give them the keys to the car.” I don’t think I’ll do such a ridiculous thing when my kids drive, but ask me again when my oldest is 17. So … I gave my kids a contract. You want a phone? Great. You want to try and break my blocks? You win. I give up. You can. The state of internet filtering stinks. Billions are put into just the opposite with a tiny fraction of a percent, barely noticeable, in protecting us from ourselves.

The contract basically says this:

  1. We’re trusting you. We know the internet can be good and bad. Use it for the good.
  2. Your phone is a great communication and education tool. Use it for that. Don’t use it for other stuff.
  3. You have parental controls on it – it monitors what apps you use, shares a daily report of your usage with us and gives a notification if it receives no data for a day (e.g. it’s been uninstalled).
  4. I know you can uninstall the app and I know there are ways around it. I’ve found them and you could probably find more. However, we’re trusting you with this responsibility. Oh, and by the way – if you ever remove the parental controls or get around them, you lose your phone for a year.
  5. Your parents, especially the tech saavy one, have a right to inspect your phone whenever we want and you hand it over on the spot, no questions asked. Our fingerprints can access your phone and keep it that way.
  6. Location monitoring is on too. Keep it that way so we can see where you are or … see end of rule 4. It’s not to stalk you, but rather it’s a great safety feature and you can see our location too at any time.

It’s been almost a year with the above policy, and frankly, it’s the one that’s worked the best so far. ScreenTime gives us daily emails about usage and we don’t ordinarily look at individual conversations so there’s still privacy.

ScreenTime also can block new apps by default and you, as the parent, can approve them or deny access one at a time, set usage hours, etc. At bedtime many apps are disabled but you can set for your preferences. In this manner, new software can be installed but we only approve them if they meet our guidelines.

Final Takeaway

Modern communication is amazing and a part of life for most people and kids. It’s impossible to filter without trust and communication the old fashioned way – between parents and children. We’ve found the above solution to work the best so far, but it’s not fool proof but it’s at least a) centralized with less points of potential failure, and b) lets the child have a good balance of freedom vs. control.

I leave you with this: a few days ago I decided to try a new web browser called Brave. It’s based on Google’s open source browser but seems to be faster. I was just kind of playing around and noticed an option: “New Private Window with Tor.” Tor is something I last played with maybe 10 years ago – it makes your internet anonymous by bouncing through other computers on the Tor network. It was slow, difficult to setup, and impossible to use even for a tech guy. Totally not worth it. Well, not anymore! It’s built into this web browser and flawlessly got around even the most stringent filters I’ve tried! I looked up how to block it and it’s nearly impossible. Logging usage is even more impossible. Instead, the suggestions are to not let people install new software on your computers!

On a Chromebook and Android phone there’s the App Store. You can download the Android version even there and get around all blocks. Disable your App Store with Disney Circle and open it up only when you’re with your kid to see what they install. The Apple store appears to have it too.

I welcome your comments and (polite) critique and discussion below. Oh, and please don’t tell my teenagers about this web browser!

Google Books has a plethora of old photographs, books, and magazines available for free viewing.  This makes it a whole lot easier than looking through microfilm at a library, and you don’t even have to be looking for anything in specific.  One day I was perusing through old issues of Popular Science and found some quite interesting things.

Popular Science May 1872 – A lot of talk about G_d!

popsci1First, since this is a blog largely about the intersection of Jewish belief probably more so than patents and science, I found in interesting that in the May 1872 issue, one can find a rather lengthy article on the immortality of the soul as it pertains to scientific inquiry by a Reverend T.W. Fowle.  It seems the debate still hasn’t changed.  Among the things, the author says are:

Rationalism will approach mankind rather on the side of the virtues of the intellect.  It will uphold the need of caution in our assent, the duty of absolute conviction, the self-sufficiency of men, the beauty of law, the glory of working for posterity, and the true humility of being content to be ignorant where knowledge is impossible.  Religion will appeal to man’s hopes and wishes recorded in Nature and in history, to his yearnings for affection, to his sense of sin, to his passion for life and duty, which death cuts short.  And that one of the two which is truest to humanity, which lays down the best code of duty, and creates the strongest capacity for accomplishing it, will, in the long-run, prevail; a conclusion which science, so far as it believes in man, and religion, so far as it believes in God, must adopt.  Here, once more, it is well nigh impossible to discern the immediate direction of the conflict, whatever may be our views as to its ultimate decision.  Science is almost creating a new class of virtues; it is laying its finger with unerring accuracy upon the faults of the old morality; it is calling into existence a passion for intellectual truth.

Ironically, after the pessimism permeating how far reason can talk humanity after the devastating worldwide upheavals of the first half the 20th century, society would largely flip Reverend Fowle’s position on it’s head.  Namely, while I would argue that religion and science should ultimately have entirely resolvable conflicts (or one of them is incorrect), Fowle puts “absolute conviction, self-sufficiency of men, the beauty of law, the glory of working for posterity, and the true humility of being content to be ignorant where knowledge is impossible” in the “rationalism” column.  I’d put them more in the “religion” column.

“Then, down on page 122, “Sir W.M.W. ull, Bart., M.D., F.R.S.” discusses “The Nature of Disease” and discusses “God’s will”.

Popular Science October, 1872 – Climate Change

In turns out discussions of climate change are nothing new.  In an article entitled “Has Our Climate Changed?” the author tells us, “In Western Europe there is a belief that a great amelioration has taken place in all the Baltic countries since the time of the Roman domination.”  The author discusses the facts behind or lacking in such claims, but take a look at this chart, where he tries to find modern evidence:

hudson(click to enlarge)

The conclusion, based on temperature and river data (does the Hudson river even freeze over anymore?) is that there wasn’t climate change in the 1700s and 1800s.

Popular Science March 1936 – Communications Developments

By 1936, after the age of “reason” has taken over, worldwide discontent over WWI and a population in a state of depression, Popular Science is rather upbeat.  It’s hard to see negative signs of society in this science paper, and strikingly, many of the topics under discussion continue to be just the same today!

Take a look at this (click on any image in this article to enlarge):

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That is an advertisement for an “automatic secretary” which which delivers messages in “the speaker’s own voice!”  It would take until 2003 for the government to start looking at ways of banning robocalls.

Then we’ve got short hand code for telegraphs:

It seems, back in 1936, i was considered an improvement to write “KUBOR” for “we are shipping to your agent in your care in Shanghai” over a telegraph line.  Little did they know that by 1990, their grand-children would be using short codes on America Online to ask a stranger for his age, sex, and location or to tell a person that they’re laughing. LOL!

Popular Science March 1936 – Vehicle Developments

Take a look at the Lincoln Tunnel.  I love this article:

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The article touts how the tunnel was “built in record time” with a hydraulic wrench.  I want to say . . . we certainly have not progressed in this area!  New Jersey Governor Christie rightly canceled a project for a new rail tunnel which would have cost somewhere around $14 billion, connect to no where people want to go in New York City (requiring a further transfer to Penn Station), and had to be designed to absurd depths underground to avoid red tape.  Still, we can marvel at the Lincoln Tunnel which was scheduled to open in 1938 with “a real novelty in tunnel design – a roof of glass.  Eight thousand panes of cream-colored glass will line the top of the tube.”  This way, the article tells us, they don’t have to clean it!  I was in the Lincoln tunnel yesterday . . . I can confirm. LOL.  KUBOR!

Then the article tells us,

Eventually, an underground highway may link the Midtown Tunnel with a projected tube under the East River . . . giving motorists a through route between Long Island points and New Jersey mainland.

That is actually a quite interesting story, and the plan was only officially cancelled by Mayor Rockefeller in 1971.  One of the plans involved running the highway right through the middle of the Empire State Building.  In the end, it just proved far too expensive to buy up land in midtown Manhattan.

Well, here’s one downer – the German development of a vehicle that can travel on both land and water:

popsci12 popsci18

The vehicle travels at “1.5 miles per minute” . . . 90 miles per hour.  Not bad.  Today, similar vehicles are used for “Duck Tours” in Boston:



Back to automobiles.  Take a look at the Plymouth (later bought by Chrysler) ad for a new engine:

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“No premium fuel is required and owners report 18 to 24 miles a gallon.”  Let’s see . . . that was in 1936.  My 1988 Oldsmobile got about 16 miles a gallon on a good day, my 1988 Caprice about the same, my mom’s Mercury Topaz circa. 1994 got about 20 miles a gallon, and our minivan gets about 20, maybe 21.  Okay, my Kia gets about 25 or 26, but aside from the fact that we’re still using miles per gallon instead of a much more useful inverse, gallons per mile . . . seriously?  Our fuel efficiency is of the same caliber as when Charlie Chaplin was in theaters?

Here’s some more car innovations which haven’t changed . . .

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This one is dear to me for a simple reason – in 2013, automakers have returned to putting two seats in the front, taking out the middle seat.  If your family or carpool is larger than the car, well, this 1936 innovation is hard to come by today, but in the world of Torah observant Jews in the United States where mass transportation is largely non-existent as is busing to private schools, there are those who install these things today.  You can take a 7-seat minivan all the way up to 9 seats this way.

. . . and finally, the scams remain the same!

I have an article over on my Patent Law Firm website about my meeting with an invention promoter.  These are people who promise you riches if you just pay them $10,000 or so.  They tend to be scam artists who start off with “call for your free brochure.”  The ads in the back of Popular Science in 1936 have almost word for word text compared to companies like Davison today.  Click the image to enlarge:



Since 1999, however, such companies get sued by the Federal Trade Commission and have to disclose the number of clients they have and number that have made money.  Davison buries the following required disclosure on it’s website:

The total number of customers who have contracted with Davison in the past five years is fifty eight thousand eight hundred sixty five (58,865). The number of customers who received a net financial profit as a direct result of the company’s services over the company’s history, since 1989, is twenty eight (28).

To translate, they have been paid by 58,865 suckers, all of whom lost money except for 28.  That’s a 0.0048% success rate!  Yet, people are still fooled by the same old ads even with these disclosures . . . take a look at some of those ads from 1936: “unpatented ideas can be sold”, “patent your ideas – send for free book”, “inventions promoted”, “take out your own patents”.

The more things change, the more things remain the same.

The following is a highly opinionated synopsis about law school and entering the legal profession.  It’s meant to read something like Life’s Little Instruction Book and reflects the current state of industry and my objective thoughts based on my subjective experience.  I’m writing this in 2013, after having graduated law school in 2007 and working for myself since that time.

Types of Law

Criminal law is civil.  Civil law is criminal.  

Family law is especially disgusting. Criminal law is almost mathematical, but most of the available clientele doesn’t have money.  Public defender work is almost rigged, it’s so formulaic.

Being in court usually means lots of sitting and waiting and delays.  If you like to read a lot, it may be for you.  On the other hand, I never see others with books while waiting their turn.

The other kind of law involves sitting at a computer all day.  The lucky ones get to talk to non-lawyers during their work day.

Law School Years

law-booksNext to nothing you are taught in law school will apply on the job.  The exception to this rule is if you spend your career arguing in the half hour increments they allow in the Supreme Court.  Unless you are John Roberts, that’s not you.

Most of your professors will use a quasi sort of form of the Socratic method of teaching.  While it can make for interesting class discussions, the firs time you will hear what you need to learn for your law school exams is after law school … when you take a bar review course.

In the first year of law school, if your parent was a lawyer, you knew what to listen for in law school and how to take the exams.  Most of the rest of us got a nice shock later.

Law school tests are just large fact patterns.  You need to memorize the rules which typically have 3 or 4 requirements to meet a legal standard.  The tests are all about applying these rules.Talk about the 3 or 4 requirements as to whether they or met or not, and repeat with the next fact.   If you haven’t memorized each rule, you’re in trouble no matter how eloquent your answer.

You do not need to read the cases unless it helps you remember the rule associated with that case . . . which you will probably not get by reading the case.

You need to find the rules on your own.  Most professors rarely tell you the rules during lecture.  Find an outline from a student who had the teacher last year and got an A.  Now, most cases you read in law school are outlined in Wikipedia for you already.

After law school, at least if you’re in NY or NJ, you will take the BarBri review course.  They have a virtual monopoly, charge an arm and a leg, have their tentacles deeply embedded in the law schools, and there really is no other way to properly prepare for the bar exam.  The lectures, however, are excellent.

If I could do it over again, I would have taken the bar review course before entering law school.  It is the most clear explanation of the rules that the professors, with few exceptions, would not lay out for your during your three years in school.

Keep Your Eye on the Goal: To Get a Decent Job

Many classes in law school are very intellectually stimulating and interesting.

If you are in law school to get an education, you need not read this section.

Unless you go to Yale or Harvard Law School, your focus should be on getting the right work experience.  Even being at the top of your class and taking part in every law school activity no longer assures you of a job.

No one told me until my third year that many law firms only hire you if you intern with them after your second year.  Intern for a firm that hires and expands.

Tons of people have law degrees, but a small percentage of them can fill out a case information statement. I never saw one in law school, but work experience allowed me to work at decent jobs after I graduated.

The best time to get that work experience is while going to law school and especially during summer and winter break.

Even in my specialty (Patents) it is no longer a given that you can find work.  This for a specialty limited to those who have both a science and law degree and whom have passed an extra bar exam.  Judging from the steady trickle of unsolicited resumes and former interns without jobs, it’s brutal out there.

Getting a Job Out of Law School

If you take a different path other than undergrad –> law school and are over about 27 when you graduate, a big law firm will almost certainly not give you a job.

The exception to the above seems to be if you have something really out there that makes you interesting.  I heard a former blackjack dealer had no problem getting job offers.

You must find a niche. You must focus on it and pursue it.  The earlier you find your niche, the better.

My niche – I could fix a computer, code a database, and type really fast.  This got me my first job in patents.  I was a secretary – but I learned the profession because I typed everything for a highly experienced patent attorney.  This turned out to be more worth it than my colleagues who landed much higher paying summer internships where they took them to Broadway musicals and baseball games.

Read some profiles and look at the pictures of lawyers at large firms.  If you don’t fit into the houtie-taughty cookie-cutter mold, don’t bother trying.  You’re better off with the alternative route.

If you’re not a blackjack dealer, have some skill that helps differentiate yourself from the other cookie-cutter crowd – unemployed law school graduates.

Slaving Yourself Out to a Large Firm – The Unfortunate 10%

You must be in the top 10% of your class and go to a decent law school or top 50% of your class and go to Yale law school.  If you go to a middle or bottom range law school (meaning, previous graduates haven’t landed good jobs), don’t bother.

Still, you must also make the right connections during law school, and really want it to get a ‘good’ job.

If you are hired by a major firm, chances are you now slave labor for seven years until you make partner.  Most people drop out before making partner.  Partners are now slaves to the senior partners, their work, and have to manage the lower class slaves beneath them.

While the top 10% of income earning lawyers do earn a lot of money, given the amount of hours they work, it’s not that good of a deal and there isn’t much time to enjoy that money.  I believe the story about the father who called home and his son didn’t know who it was.  That’s sad and missing the point of life.

Even small and mid-size firms usually want 2000 billable hours a year.  The real “prestigious” firms may want 3000 billable hours a year.  That translates into 40 or 60 billable hours a week, or more like 65 or 95 working hours a week.  There’s a huge incentive to lie and overbill.  Some clients are well aware and accept it because they like the results.

If you work for someone else, 2/3 of your salary goes to them – well, 1/3 to the overhead and 1/3 to someone else’s second or third home.  Don’t worry – he doesn’t have much time to enjoy those extra homes anyway.

The common theme between lawyers at large firms and unemployed lawyers seems to be misery.

If You Can’t Find A Job

More than half of law school graduates don’t have a job.  Law school job statistics are published by the law schools.  These statistics are a rigged bunch of lies written by lawyers using the skills that lawyers are best known for -saying something that is technically kind of sort of true but entirely misleading.  They count working at McDonalds or the temporary job reviewing law school applications that they give, coincidentally, when gathering the job statistics as “employed out of law school.”

Most who do find a job in the legal profession out of law school will earn what a unionized blue collar laborer works . . . which is just fine because these are hard-working people, but they usually aren’t $200,000 in debt and 27 when they just start to earn an income.  Plumbers can do quite well and it should be considered.  It’s hands on, you get to work with people, and … I digress.

Temporarily labor is a big thing in this profession.  You will sit in a dark basement reviewing boxes of documents and make $40 – $60/hr, which does add up with the long hours . . . but the law firm will bill the client $300 – $500/hr for your work.

You will lose your temporary job in about six weeks and have to find another.

Given your chances of this, having $200,000 in debt is a bad idea.  A reasonable investor doesn’t buy a stock with a Price/Earnings ratio about about 20.  If law school costs $40,000 a year or more before other expenses like eating, and your income will be $40,000 a year . . . you do the math.

Most lawyers can’t do math.

There is a good reason loan terms are much more generous for medical students.  The actuaries have done the math.

Work for Yourself

The hardest thing about working for yourself is not the work – it is finding clients.

Find overflow work from other lawyers to help you out in the beginning.  You can even make a profession out of this in some cases.  Not only do you get free mentoring from someone more experienced than you, but it gives you some decent income while generating your own client base.

The earlier you work for yourself, the better.  When you’re in your 20s and have no expenses, earning $25,000 in your first year is not so bad.  Try doing that when you’re used to a $250,000/yr salary, have a mortgage to pay, and have less stamina.

There are usually people you can ask for help. Find mentors who know more than you.  People like to share their expertise.  E-mail lists geared towards your specialty are a great resource.

To the best of my intellectual pondering, every skill that I have every learned helped me in my law career.  Web page design and search engine marketing turned out to be some of the most useful.

Know what you’re doing – get some work experience.  The earlier the better.

Maybe it works in court, but when talking to a client, don’t act like a lawyer  – I repeat: don’t act like a lawyer.  I mean – don’t be the stereotype that everyone hates.  Don’t be an arrogant prick.  Don’t obfuscate words that are technically true but will lead people to believe something that is false.  This is just a fancy way of lying.  A lawyer who is honest has more business in the long run and sleeps at night.

Answer your phone.  It’s amazing how many potential clients say, “Wow, I called 10 lawyers and you’re the first one I actually reached.”  It’s really not that competitive out there when your competition insists on being chased down if you want to hire them.

Be self-assured when you answer the phone.  You’re in sales and marketing now.

Types of Inquiries to Your Law Firm

You will receive the following types of phone calls: 1) Serious potential client, 2) Serious client with no money, 3) Guy who wants free information, 4) Telemarketer.

Charge an initial consultation fee.  If you don’t you will waste far too much time on person type 2 and 3 and feel like a used dishrag.  I know.  I tried it.  I credit initial consultation fees towards further work and if that’s still not good enough, the client is only going to be problematic later.  I know.  I’ve been there.  Don’t waive your consult fee unless it’s a referral from a good client.

Telemarketers can be fun.  Listening to crazy people who call you off the internet for legal advice can be fun.  I’ve gotten calls from prisons, mental hospitals, and telemarketers with funny numbers that wanted to sell me the service of having a local phone number.  None of this is fun when you’re way too busy.

People trying to sell you something almost always sound much more self-assured than you do.  Potential clients sound, or should sound, less self-assured than you do.

Telemarketers want to know how you’re doing before they tell you who they are or why they’re calling.

A person who’s first question is, “How much do you charge for . . .” is probably calling 10 attorneys and wasting your time.

Unless it’s a telemarketer, treat all callers with respect and talk to them.  This goes with answering your own phone.

None of the above rules apply 100%.  A “How much do you charge for . . .” first call turned out to be one of my larger clients.  Someone I was sure was just looking for free information turned out to be another.  I’ve never gotten a telemarketer wrong.

Go home at 5pm.  Consider it a perk of working for yourself.

No one you hire will be as invested in your work as you are.


My First Business – Selling Gum and Candy on the Bus

sell-gumInc. Magazine spurred me to write an article I’ve been thinking about writing for a while.  I’m sure there are also books on why you should work for yourself, but I’ve never read them.  I simply started with work experience, my first ‘business’ selling candy on the bus in 5th grade . . . until a jealous kid told on me and my business went underground (it didn’t go under – it went underground … key difference).  I used to walk to the local pharmacy, buy discount candy for something like $1 for a 6-pack of gum and then sell the packs for $1 each on the bus.  In some cases, I got much more than that.

Imagine Getting Paid a Salary to Sell on the Bus – What Would you Make?

Now imagine if you’re working for someone paying you a salary to do that.  The total profit is $5 and you’re being paid hourly to work.  We’ll leave out taxes for the moment, because 5th graders usually don’t file tax returns, but if you’re being paid a salary for your work your boss certainly isn’t going to lose money on you.  More than that, he’s not even going to give you half of his profit . . . because he could make much more without you.  Look at it from his perspective: if he hires an employee, his income would be cut in half.  Further, what if he’s paying you your salary regardless of number of sales.  Now he may not sell out all his inventory even with your expert sales skills.  So he has to leave some slack in the system to ensure he doesn’t lose money by hiring you.  The best you can expect in real world scenarios is probably about 1/3 of the net profit.  Here, assuming no advertising expenses, as a worker you can maybe take in about $1.75 while your boss keeps $3.25.  Thus, we have different classes of people.

Now, maybe you’re fine with that.  You’re happy with a nice steady job and a salary.  There is much less risk in that and you are much more insulated against the natural rise and fall of business.  You get your $1.75/day salary, for example, whether your company sells $0 of gum or $20 of gum that day.  That works well for many, but a) instead of earning $0 one day, you may lose your job and earn $0 for a very long time until you find a new job, and b) you could be making a lot more . . . if you can find business.

Risk versus Reward

risk-rewardThat “if” is a big “if”.  The hardest part about working for yourself, in my opinion, is not making and selling a good product.  If you want to make a quality shoe or be a quality teacher, it can be done.  Problem is that it may take a whole lot of marketing dollars to get your shoe out there, and you’ll have to deal with supply chains, inventories, and so forth.  For my clients that move in that direction, unless they’re experienced, I usually gear them towards trying to license to a bigger company.  This is less risk, but it is still, at the end of the day, less reward.  If you can really follow through and take a product to market, you will have 100% of the risk, but will also have 100% of the reward.  Balance that with say, a 6% license agreement but 0% of the risk . . . and if the licensee doesn’t make sales, you could still have a 0% reward.  An actuary might make better use of this data, but the bottoms of “doing it yourself” versus “working for another” are both 0 or close to it.  The top of the range for “doing it yourself” will be about 3x higher (versus salaried employee, at low end) or 16x higher (versus a standard license agreement).

In my profession, law, the way it works at many large law firms is you can expect that if your salary is $100k a year, you need to bill clients $300k a year.  Where’s the other 200k going?  Typically, about 100k is going towards expenses and another 100k towards partners and their second houses and so forth.  2/3 of your hard earned work is being skimmed off the top while you give up your control of vacation days, hours, and in many cases, real human interaction.

Get All the Work Experience You Can

work-experienceThat being said, the work experience is usually vital.  Personally, I stuffed law school into three days a week and work into the other two days a week.  (My last year in law school was interesting – I also had an unpaid externship for credit and was actually working for two different law firms.)  Once I learned the trade, taking the advice of a law school professor mentor, I found those around me who knew more from whom I could seek advice and information from and with that, started my own firm out of law school.  My wife, after gaining her experience, is doing the same thing these days – .  Compare what a therapist makes at an agency ($20 – $30/hr, and agencies are always bleeding money / the 1/3 rule doesn’t even apply) compared to what they can make in private practice (sometimes $100, $200, or even $300/hr!).  If you were busy 40 hours a week at your job, and now you’re only busy 20 hours a week working for yourself (and leaving in some leeway for your advertising costs), you’re well ahead of the game.

Focus on Work Experience Early On – Not Your Salary


My first jobs at law firms were as glorified administrative assistants.  My first employer simply couldn’t type and wasn’t much for computers, so I typed almost all his work and thereby, started to learn the trade.  After that, I found a better place to work with even better experience doing more legal work.  From there, I could have potentially kept going to bigger and better, but you’re always just a cog in something larger.  It’s just a bigger cog with typically longer hours and less control over yourself.  The point of working for yourself is to largely exit from this system (at least in the working world) and be the machine, not the cog.  That’s the goal . . . get the work experience to be the machine and ignore the details such as “prestige”.

What Money Looks like to an Employee vs. Employer

If you’re planning on going out on your own in business, don’t worry so much about the salary you’re making.  I’ve been on both sides of the desk – first, only the “looking for work” side, and now on the “hiring” side.  I’m going to use my own profession for this example, as I know it best.  With minor edits, I think it applies across the board.  A mistake I once made was hearing something like, “Lawyers make starting salaries of $x/yr.”  So at an interview with a New York City law firm, when they pressed me for what salary I wanted, refusing to name a number first, I said “$(2/3)x.”  Now, I knew only a small fraction of lawyers made $x as a starting salary, but I thought I was worth at least 2/3 of that.  I still think I was worth it.  Later on, I ran into one of the lawyers interviewing me who told me it was down to me and one other.  It came down to money.  I lost out on the “big” job for the large Manhattan firm, but actually, I won because now I’m making more than x and that ‘loss’ spurred me on to start my own law firm rather than delay and possibly get too old and have too many expenses to take the risk.

Now, on the other side, I’ve had people insinuate that they deserve $(2/3)x and that’s quite a scary proposition to pay someone that much of my income!  I have to be steadily making 2.5x for even to be worth it.  Why do I want to give you anywhere near half of my hard earned money when I’ve done all the work and taken all the risk to get there?  Further, who says my income won’t go down and then I’ll be paying you more than I keep for myself?

On the other hand, I’ve had people write or call me looking for a job who will say, “I’m just looking for experience.  Whatever you can pay me is great.”  One of those people works for me now, while another who I tried early on, demanding this and that to work for me but unable to produce is still not working in my field years later.

When your expenses/income are $1500/month, it’s much easier to start your own firm than when your income/expenses are $3000/month, $5000/month, and so forth.  You have to temporarily drop to $0 income while you start-up.  Even better, work for someone part-time while starting up and leave when your own business is paying you better.  Get the best of everything and mitigate your risk.

Critique of Inc. Magazine’s 9 Reasons to Work for Yourself

Inc. Magazine lays out some of this – some of it is also silly.  Here’s their list:

1) Develop a product they wanted but couldn’t find – You need to find a market and a niche.  True.  When i sought per diem public defender work, having experience with this in law school, they wanted to make sure I wouldn’t leave when I found a niche doing something that paid better.  They were right.  I stopped doing public defender work (which is a story by itself and the money is far from the only reason I stopped doing it).

2) Make a name or yourself – Who cares?  You can get your name on a huge law firm to make a name for yourself.  You can be more “prestigious” by being the head of a huge organization.  If you’re life is about working, sure, go for it.  I prefer to have direct client interactions, not interactions with a boss throwing work at me and a computer screen (though I get plenty of the latter).  I prefer to own my own work and aside from some of those who have sold their souls to law firms, or whatever other company, on your own, you can do better than 90% of their employees . . . and go home at 5pm if you so choose.  I know I so choose.

3) To build a better company – This one I strongly agree with.  Ever call a law firm and try to get an Attorney on the phone?  At smaller firms, often the best you’ll get is voicemail.  At larger firms, you might get the lawyer’s secretary’s secretary.  Bob Parsons, founder of, will tell you never answer your own phone.  I disagree.  Always answer your own phone.  I’ve gotten so many clients who have said something like, “Wait, you’re the lawyer?  I’ve called so many firms and have been unable to reach anyone!  When can I make an appointment?”  At my firm, only lawyers answer the phone . . . and our website has real information that people want to know when they look for a Patent or Trademark Attorney.  Many other legal websites are sort of like, “Here’s my picture and why I’m so great.”  I suppose there’s a client base for that, but my niche is, “Here’s all the info you want to know about patents and here’s the work product.  Call me and I’ll answer my phone so we can talk more.”

4) To be part of a great team – This one seems counter-intuitive to me.  No one knows you better than you.  No one will work as hard on your baby, or care about your baby, as much as you do.  No employee of yours will ever care about your business the way you do.  As an employee, you’ll never care about your company as much as if it were your own.  I’m all for “team me”.

5) Come up with a breakthrough – See 3.

6) To prove a vision – See 3 again.

7) Out of necessity or desperation – This one is a great motivator.  Works wonders.  If you ask in sincerity, it may very well come.  If you desire it, you can make it happen.  People work hardest when they’re hungry.

8) They were young and could afford to take risks – My law school professor / mentor told me that if I were going to go out on my own, do it early before I had real expenses to worry about.  Great advice.  (See above discussion under, “Focus on Work Experience…”)

9) They saw a huge opportunity – For me, this was search engine marketing.  Lawyers, as a whole, seem to tend to be pretty lousy at entrepreneurship and search engine marketing.  Thanks in part to this blog and the content of my website, I found my niche for getting my firm out there to potential clients.  Find yours.

What is Now Acceptable

yarmulkeRav Samson Roephel Hirsch wrote in the 1800s in Germany that, if necessary, a Jew could shake the hands of the person of the opposite sex in a business setting.  He reasoned that this is not a type of affectionate touch, which is prohibited in Judaism, unless it’s a close relative or your spouse.  (See the article on resetting desires, for more on this.)  The ruling tells you something of the times, a time when no Jew could expect to wear a yarmulke in public in professional business, and worse, had little chance of observing Shabbos.  This continued, often unchanged, in the United States until fairly recently.

Today, in first meetings with female clients, many already know not to reach out their hands to me, an outwardly looking Jew.  While sometimes if a woman reaches her hand out to me and I’m not yet ready with a business card in hand or it’s going to be really awkward to explain why I’m not shaking her hand, I just do it.  When given the opportunity to explain that I don’t touch women out of religious practice, it’s never been a problem.  I don’t expect every person to know every nuance of different cultural norms, but that being said, I always wear a yarmulke.  Work is no exception.

The previous generation didn’t or couldn’t do this.  So much so that I once went to a law school professor after the first class and said, “Oh, you work at company X doing patents.  Do you know person Y, in that department?”  I was stunned when the response was, “Yes, he gives lots of shiurim,” as he used the Hebrew word for a class on Torah.  He recognized, by my yarmulke, that I’d know what he was saying, but I had no idea that this professor actually had a much greater knowledge of Torah than me, and every one of his children learned Torah full time.  He was apparently used to not showing his Jewishness in the workplace, whereas I resolved to wear a yarmulke on my head, wherever I am, to remind myself of fear of heaven wherever I go.

This practice turns out to actually be beneficial in the workplace today.

True Stories

I looked at about 10 Attorney websites, and then when I saw your picture, I invited my wife over, and she confirmed that’s a capa on your head.  It’s hard to find someone in America in business who fears G_d, so I decided to hire you.  I’m a Muslim, but I respect your prophets and your religion, so here I am. – A client at an initial consultation.

The above quote is as accurate as I remember it to be.  This sort of thing always strikes me as odd because I was raised not to outwardly show your beliefs.  In fact, I have heard in many places, such as England, to this day, few working people show any outward signs of their religious beliefs.  Even more so, it’s pretty clear if you look at my yarmulke that I’m an observant Jew.  Yet, despite what one reads in the media about Jewish / Muslim relations these days, I have, at least a handful of Muslim clients, including those from or in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Turkey.

In the above case, the deal was sealed when the client told me about his friend who let an idea get away from him, because he didn’t have the money.  Being in one of those blue states, I doubt I would have responded to this in a “religious” way to just anyone, but I responded that perhaps his friend wasn’t meant to be rich and that it was G_d who decided who was rich and who was poor.  He repeated it, seemingly half in astonishment, and said, “This is what you believe?”  I said yes, and then I was hired.

The same has held true of my Catholic clients, whom it turned out really didn’t go to church or do anything of that sort so much.  Still, on his way out one day, he said, “You know, I really don’t know anything about Judaism, but I’m happy to work with a religious person.  If you don’t believe in G_d, then you can do anything!”  He meant this in the negative, of course, that an atheist has no moral dilemma with coming to believe anything and carrying it out, whether right or wrong.

The Downside

Whenever you go out there and let people know you believe something, they may be less inclined to hire you.  Once, I had some lesbian club in Manhattan call me about a trademark, and truth be told, I doubt they would have called be back anyway, but I’m not so sure I’d be their first pick to hire, if they knew my views.  Similarly, I’m pretty sure an Arab client who I had spoken with on the phone decided not to hire me after our first meeting, based on my obvious religious beliefs.  Everyone believes their way of life is right or okay, or rationalizes it until they believe so, or they would be doing something different.

That being said, while Americans still often choose to hire and associate with people just like them, commerce tends to trump personal belief, and people seem to more respect those who believe in G_d and believe in consequence, as they will more likely be honest in business.  I’ve found this sentiment from both religious and non-religious clients, though perhaps my sample is not objective, being that I am more likely to attract those who want to do business with a person such as myself.

Still, it’s a lot to live up to.  The separation between religious observance and business dealings can make for a larger desecration of G_d’s name.  All too often, those dishonest in business are in the news, and when they have a yarmulke on their head, I cringe.  It’s too painful.  I know I was in for a shock the first time a religious Jew treated me very badly in business, and it’s no guarantee that the person will be honest.

Finding the Right Balance In Society

What’s worse than an individual who is corrupt, is a collective which is corrupt.  Those seeking power, in any setting, generally want the power for themselves.  The founders of the United States geniusly setup a system whereby the natural inclination to be selfish is spread out over lots of people who rise and fall in elections.  The patent system is an even better example where, unlike the rest of the world, patents are always granted to individuals, not companies, and secure a limited duration monopoly for any person who wants one, until it goes out to the public.  The government uses it’s power to enforce, and then the government makes it a free for all.  Where intellectual property is not enforced, which is much of the world, it becomes so corrupt that even major brands are knocked off all over, and quality suffers for everyone.  On the flip side, where there is tight government control, it’s also pretty dismal.  North Korea and Iran aren’t known for their variety of goods available to consumers, and note that one is anti-religious while the other is theocratic.  Whether basing ideology in extreme atheism or extreme religiousism, the individual gets lost for the ideological collective and  torture and murder is be found everywhere.

Being a person who believes in G_d and a Torah from G_d, I very much want man to live up to the ideals we were created to do, and there is a promise that we’ll get there.  In the interim, history seems to demonstrate that the key for a society, seems to be in maintaining and encouraging the expression of the individual and being somewhere between religion-based and atheism based.  (Actually, many totalitarian regimes lasted much longer – look at the ancient Egyptians who were fairly unchanged for 3,000 years!)  Finding the right balance of the two is problematic, because there must be some underlying framework of which we can all agree, but this seems to be a moving target because whatever rule anyone sets up, there will always be someone who will say it’s not fair to them, and work to break it down.

Working Towards the Ideal

The ideal, in Jewish belief, would be for the world to accept the seven basic categories of laws given to all of man.  This includes not only “religious” laws, but also setting up a court system to punish offenders.  It’s a guide for how to live, but does not require specific ritual, going to a certain place once a week, or anything of that nature.  The more I look at society, the more I see the logic of this, within the system that is humanity.  Be tolerant of others, don’t steal, don’t murder, fear a consequence for improper actions, and setup courts to deal with those who would violate the precepts.  This lives wide leeway for the function of society, and in the meanwhile, i’ll continue to try the best I can to show the world this through my own actions and will continue to wear the yarmulke proudly on my head while I work.  In my ideal, there’s no separation between personal belief and conduct at work.

The role of the Rebbe

rebbeThis is one of those anecdotal stories which intersects between Judaism and Patents.  Torah observant Jews believe that there was one and only mass revelation where the creator spoke to every one of the Jewish people.  At Mt. Sinai, we received direction from the creator on how to live, so we generally revere our elders who we view as one step closer to the chain of transmission from Mt. Sinai, and seek their advice.  Chassidim take this especially seriously, each group having a Rebbe that devotes his days and nights solely to Torah study, whom they not only ask questions of religious significance (which, may very well incorporate everything in your life), but also business questions.

Where my Clients Could Use a Rebbe

Oftentimes, I get clients who come in for consultations for the silliest ideas, or for things which have been out there in some form for years and years.  People tend to see their ideas as great and wonderful, and often have lines line, “there’s nothing else out there like it!” and “I know I could become rich if I market this idea!”  I tend to try and convince them otherwise and bring them down to earth as to just how much work is involved in bringing the best of ideas to market.

More often than not, if we’ve gotten this far, they’ll at least want to proceed with obtaining a formal patentability opinion, regardless of what I say.  In most cases, once I issue a patentability opinion, it ends there, but once I even had a man who came in for a consultation that I told point blank, “it would be extremly difficult to get a patent on this, I don’t recommend you go forward.”  He shook my hand and said, “I want to hire you.  Every other patent attorney I called told me it was a great idea and wanted my money, but I know you’re honest.”  He hired me, and as it turned out, I was wrong – we got a patent on his concept fairly easily. 🙂

The Woman Who Asked Her Rebbe

A Chassidish lady once asked came in for a consultation, and had a simple idea which was more-or-less done a long time ago, even though not actively on the market.  She ended up being one of those who paid me to do some searching, but a few days a later she called me and told me she spoke to her Rebbe.  It seems her Rebbe told her not to go forward!  He said it wasn’t a good idea.  She listened to him, and that’s the last I’ve heard from her.

If only everyone had a Rebbe – not necessarily a man who attempts to follow in the way of the Baal Shem Tov, but someone who is wise and honest and who will be able to guide you life in a way suited for you and based on what is good and right to do.  In Torah learning, we often learn with a “chavrusa”, in pairs, to bounce our ideas of another to ensure that the way we’re understanding something makes sense and to speak it out.  Through the back and forth give and take, we arrive, hopefully, at the truth, or at least, are much more likely to find what makes sense versus just following ideas in our own mind, which can lead us in any direction.  Put another way, it’s much easier to see the flaws in another, than it is in yourself.  By bouncing everything off someone else you trust in an area, or if you’re a Chassid with a Rebbe, in all areas, you’re in a much better position to make good choices, even if sometimes you disagree with the choice.

Always listen to your Rebbe.

It is often hard to get caught up in the physicality that surrounds us.  People tend to think that their hard work will make them rich.  But it is not so.  My salesman example illustrates this quite well, and while we have to put in the effort, the amount of effort we put in depends on our relationship and trust in a creator who provides for us at every moment, having no reason to give to us, other than to create us to have choice.  Without man, there is no choice – their is autonomy.  We can choose to become close to the creator, which we are separated from, and a part of, at the same time, or we can choose the opposite.

So why are some rich and some poor?

“[King Dovid said] make the world even, so that all are equally rich or poor. . . . He [G_d] said to him . . . If everyone were rich or poor, who would do acts of giving?” – Midrash Tanchuma, Parsha Mishpatim referring to Tehillim 61:8.

The answer is quite simple.  There will always be poor people.  Without poor people, there could be no one to give to.  Where would the hero’s be?  Iyov [Job] chapter 40 and 41 further explain: if we are to complain that there is “evil” in the world, as Iyov did, well, where would you start destroying?  If we had the power of G_d, would we do away with evil by leaving nothing but weak creatures like worms that don’t hurt anything?  What sort of creation to rule over is that?  Where is the glory?


But don’t the rich have it easier?  Is that fair?

“The Holy One, Blessed Is He, tests everyone. The wealthy, if they are giving to the poor, they will enjoy their possessions [in this world]. And as for the charity they do, the principal remains in the World to Come.” – Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Mishpatim

Think only the poor or tested by having to find food to live for the next day?  On the contrary, everyone is tested.  Life is a test.  How will we do?  The poor are tested with thanking G_d and doing mitzvos even though they are lacking in physical needs (sometimes) and must cry out to G_d to get what is needed.  The rich are tested with their wealth.  Will a rich person be like a snake who has every physical desire met, and never needs to look up to G_d and see G_d, or will a rich person recognize that it all comes from the creator, and just as the creator gives to him, he must give to others.  If he does, he’ll be assured of a reward.  It all works out, not only in this world, but the next.


So how do I become rich and keep it that way?

“One may not test G_d [by demanding a reward for a mitzvah], other than in the matter of tzedakah. . . . give a tenth [of your income to tzedakah] so that you will become wealthy” – Talmud Bavli, Mesechta Taanis 9a

“Bring all of the tithes to the storage house, and test Me, please, with this: See if I do not open up the windows of the heavens and pour out upon you endless blessings!” – Malachi 3:10

Although it is normally prohibited to test G_d, the Tur (Yoreh Deah 247) says it is permitted to test G_d to see if Hashem will reward him for it.  It’s just that simple.

I have often run across people who complain about money.  It happens in work all the time.  If they’re a religious person and I think they might hear me, I ask them, “Do you give enough tzedekah?”  Not once have a run into a person complaining about money who gives enough tzedekah.  Some will say, “My rabbi says really it doesn’t apply today . . . I don’t have to give 10% . . .” or “Yeah, I guess, but I really need the money I have” or some other variant.  Of the about 12 or so people I have quoted Malacha 3:10 to, none have actually taken me up on it and decided they’d start giving away 10% or more of their money to tzedekah.  It’s true, there are those who say all sorts of things about whether one must, should, or could choose to give this money tzedekah, but those who say anything other than “go and do it” are selling others short.  Go and do it!

We can find a logical proof of G_d’s existence

The only catch is that this proof of G_d’s existence only works if you’re willing to take the steps towards a relationship with your creator:

If you will give $100,000 to charity, I promise you will be a millionaire. And what if you tell me you don’t have $100,000 to give? So I’ll tell you to go out and get other people to give, too!” – Bernard Hochstein, multi-millionare donor.

Bernard Hochstein has his name on a lot of yeshivas.  There’s a great write-up of him over here: .  Looking for a place to see G_d’s hand in your every day activities – here it is.  If you’re the first one who heard this from me that actually follows up by making a consistent and concerted effort to give your money to tzedekah, I’d love to hear from you.




In a diversion from building my patent portfolio and usual articles about Supreme Court decisions on business method patentsNew York Times videos of me talking about patent and copyright infringement, and even talks on dealing with the U.S. Patent Office . . . now for something completely different.

I am a huge fan of the ABC show, Shark Tank.  In fact, I don’t even own a TV and it’s the only show I watch.  I heard about it from one of the producers who called me before the show aired.  How did they find me?  More on that later, but you see, they were having a hard time finding entrepreneurs to come on the show.  (Please don’t sue me Entrepreneur Magazine, it’s a permissible use of the plain english language word.)

The addition of Mark Cuban to Shark Tank made it so much better.  Okay, so the 24 second shot clock thing . . . not my favorite, but he’s entertaining, usually right on, and makes some nice deals.  The most surprising, of couse, was for IWTDACFY (I want to draw a cat for you) … and by the look of Steve Gadlin’s face when mark Cuban offered him $25,000 for a stake in his business selling cat drawings for $9.95, Steve was just as shocked as I was.

Anyway, I asked Mark to draw me a happy client receiving his patent for an RFID lottery system, my latest issued patent at the time, as he is, well, not the biggest fan of the patent system . . . here’s what he drew for me . . .

(scroll down, past the drawing for my artistique critique and further comments)



Okay, first off, this is the most I’ve ever paid for a piece of artwork.  No, I don’t know what I was thinking ..  I mean … how could I not check out Mark’s portfolio before commissioning artwork from him for my website?  That was silly of me.  Other than that, whoa . . . a guy worth 2.3 BIILLION DOLLARS just took the time to . . . be reduced to drawing  a stick figure cat for me.  How leveling is that?  I was hoping to get a cat from Warren Buffett or Sheldon Adelson, who are worth two figures in the billions column, but this will have to do for now!  Maybe celebrity cat drawings will be a path of expansion for IWTDACFY. (If they are interested in making some donations, I have some ideas!)

The internet has made the world a sillier, but more leveling place.

In this changing economy, secretaries, support staff, and traditional advertising are much less needed.  Today, even your physical location matters much less.  When I started out in 2004, I typed patents for a patent attorney using a dictaphone machine (transcribing his audio recoridngs).  To save money, when I started my firm in 2007, I skipped the secretary.  After almost five years without one, I decided to try one – it didn’t go so well.  I rarely use envelopes or stamps, my invoices and payments are almost all done electronically, and clients prefer to have me pick up the phone.  Plus, since business is usually in person only at the beginning stage, but otherwise by email, phone, and Skype (one of my clients is in Hong Kong, others in Australia, the U.K., Turkey, Israel, India, Pakistan, it goes on . . . ), it’s simply faster for me to do it myself than it is to hire someone.

If you’ve read this far, here’s why I really paid for this – well, other than that it amuses me . . . I thought, hey, if Mark Cuban can turn a $25,000 investment into IWTDACFY into a profit, I can turn Mark Cuban drawing a cat for me into a profit. I’m published or quoted in quite a few places, from intellectual property magazines, to CNN Money, to the New York Post, to The New York Times.  Why?  There are large patent law firms around for 50 years who hire hundreds of lawyers.  I’m some guy (who happens to write excellent patent applications) who started from scratch on his own out of law school (after drafting patent applications for a rather large telecom company that my former boss prefers I not mention here) because I wanted to work for myself.  I tried all sorts of newspaper ads, networking meetings, and so forth.  What worked best – SEO.  It attracts media, and more importantly, clients.  I’d speak at an event to find out that the bump in search engine placement due to the inlink from their website got me many more clients than the talk got me!  So you see, my business comes mostly from the internet, and referrals from clients whom I acquired via the internet.

My search engine rankings for “patent lawyer“, “NY patent lawyer“, and “NJ pattent lawyer” are consistently in the top three positions, and I want to keep it that way.  So I bought a cat drawing from Mark Cuban.  Does it make sense now?

For my next article . . . comments on Mark Cuban’s take on the patent system and the higher education bubble.  He’s got some good points on both, but let’s just say I’m a much bigger fan of his higher educaiton bubble opinion!  My law school would now cost you $150k, not including living expenses for three years, while there are 45k new lawyers each year for 21k job openings a year . . .