The Cyberlexical Blog is on temporary hiatus, as I am working on my MBA and have little time to write about my favorite subject, cyberlaw.  I will return soon enough, however, as the MBA program is but 24 “short” months of finance, accounting, supply chain management, and marketing.

Watch this space, Cyberlexical will return!


I Want to Quit the Gym — Err, the Facebook.

If you watched the TV show “Friends,” you might remember the episode in which Chandler tries unsuccessfully to terminate his costly membership at the local gym, but his resolve weakens with each successively less-convincing utterance of “I wanna quit the gym,” until he eventually gives into peer pressure and remains a member.  Facebook is a little like that: I want to quit the Facebook, but I can’t.

Make no mistake, I love social media.  Social media keeps us in touch with one another in a fashion unimaginable a scant decade or two ago and it has the effect of making the world a smaller place — a kind of global village, to use a popular phrase. One of my first forays into making something creative with the Internet was the creation of a kind of social media web page of my own back in 1996, which ultimately lead to rebuilding some of my old friendships and, most importantly, to marrying my wife  (you can read about how that happened here).  If only I had scaled that idea the way Mark Zuckerberg did, I would be writing this on my yacht —  I mean on one of my yacht’s.  Hindsight.

Digital technology has generated a kind of Renaissance in communication.  If you have read some of this blog, you already know that I am fascinated with the Internet and its impact upon the law and upon society.  Through the rapid exchange of information, the Internet has been a touchstone that has ignited the development of a myriad of new technologies that rely upon that simple yet immeasurable quality: the ability to facilitate the exchange of information at the speed of light.

As much as I am captivated by those revolutionary technological developments, I am just as enamored with the little things that have emerged as well: video chat, smart phone Scrabble, and of course, social media. As a tool for creating ways to bring remote people closer together, the Internet is unmatched, and Facebook certainly contributes to that effect.

So how has Facebook been so successful and why do I want to quit? A gross oversimplification of Facebook’s corporate strategy probably looks something like this:

1. Cultivate the free exchange of information between users who are already connected to one another and between users who are not connected;

2. through said exchange, generate new connections and strengthen existing ones, thereby increasing the relevance of and the reliance upon Facebook;

3. market Facebook’s user base to third parties; and

4. profit!

Nothing about that plan sounds inherently inappropriate, but if you look more closely at how Facebook achieves each of those prongs, you might feel some apprehension.  It is almost certainly no mistake that a user’s default Facebook account settings encourage the free dissemination of information — Facebook’s privacy settings are geared that way and those settings encourage users to disseminate information and connect with one another.  Moreover, the user account settings that control the amount of information that appears in one’s Facebook feed tend to be set to “show me everything,” but are more difficult to adjust to “I don’t want to see anything except relevant posts by people known to me.”

Such dissemination of content achieves prong #2 of my overly-simplified version of Facebook’s corporate strategy: it encourages users to discover and create new connections with one another and the more users do so, the more likely they are to use Facebook.  Correspondingly, Facebook becomes more integrated into our culture.  If you have a Facebook account and you have ever thought about abandoning it for any number of reasons (data privacy, time consumption, messages from acquaintances you’d much sooner forget, etc.), but you chose not to, why did you make that decision?  Chances are you kept your account active at least in part because of your close connections — that subset of people among your Facebook “friends” with whom you do not want to stop exchanging content.  Otherwise stated: peer pressure.

Zuckerberg et al recognize that peer pressure is a powerful tool and the more peers you have within a network (whether real or virtual), the less likely you are to leave that network.  One of the simplest ways to generate more peers among users is to disseminate  content, and Facebook’s settings are almost certainly designed to discourage you from streamlining your news feed to limit the content that you view.

I like to view posts written by my friends, but I have little desire to see my friends’ comments upon content posted by others.  For example, I’m happy to read a post by a friend in my feed that says “we closed on our new house today,” but I don’t want to see that same friend’s comments regarding a photo of a third party’s new dog.  However, by default, as soon as my friend makes a comment about a photo of someone’s dog, the photo becomes part of my feed.  Am I able to set my Facebook settings so that I see only posts, but not “likes” and “comments” generated by a particular friend on Facebook? Yes. Am I able to do this for all of my 239 friends simultaneously?  No.  Facebook requires me to adjust that setting for each friend individually, which is entirely too time-consuming.  Alternately, I can retroactively classify every one of those friends as “close friends,” or something other than “close friends,” and then choose what degree of content I  will be fed from each group.  This approach is not only time-consuming, it is also uncertain, as it isn’t clear what content I will actually receive from my “close friends” and what I will receive from those who are not “close.”

This approach is good for Facebook, because users will often simply choose (by not choosing) the default, which leads to a predictably broader dissemination of information.  Other users like me will search in vain for a shortcut to filter content and eventually throw their hands up in surrender (or write a blog post to rant about their frustration) and simply deal with the extraneous content.

But when does the determined push for the free flow of information transition from being simply over-inclusive to genuinely inappropriate? Facebook can always tweak the amount of content that users view: I suspect that no small amount of research has been performed by Zuckerberg’s team to determine the right balance between content that increases connectivity while minimizing extraneous information that overburdens users.  But what about the nature of content?

The latter hit home for me recently when a photo posted by a friend of a friend appeared in my Facebook news feed.  Although I am not “friends” with the poster, the photo appeared in my feed because my friend commented on it.  Only one degree of separation set me apart from the poster of the photo, which seems a small divide.  However, the photo in this case was a very personal one: a teenage boy lay in a hospital bed, connected to an intracranial pressure monitor, and apparently in a coma.  The image was followed by a multitude of very personal comments written by the young man’s family, expressing concern at the likelihood of the teenager’s survival.  I read through several of the comments before realizing that I don’t know the family or the young man in the photo, and I felt immediately intrusive, having inadvertently invaded the privacy of someone with respect to something incredibly personal.

Yes, it is reasonable to argue that the family member who posted the photo should have been more attentive to the manner in which that incredibly sensitive image was shared.  It is even reasonable to suggest that anything shared on the Internet with a limited group has the potential to be distributed to others (intentionally or unintentionally), as the Internet is an extraordinarily efficient vehicle.  However, many users don’t understand Facebook’s somewhat convoluted privacy settings, and as such, content often appears that was never intended for public consumption.  Further, Facebook engenders a sense of security through its design and promotion of its privacy settings.  What is most troublesome to me, however, is the fact that users (like me) who would prevent such content from appearing in their news feeds will find the task cumbersome.

Facebook wants content to be as free as possible, but I think that it can be done better.  Over-inclusion may ultimately be the downfall of Facebook’s platform, as users are exposed to content that eventually leads them to pause and consider more carefully what they are sharing and with whom.  At some point, user discomfort with the nature of Facebook’s model may gain momentum sufficient to overcome peer pressure and that may result in a happy evolution for social media, which is always at risk for being replaced by something better.

In the meantime, I will continue to protest weakly that I want to quit the Facebook.

My Fifteen Milliseconds of Fame

Previously I wrote about some intellectual property advice that I had the opportunity to give to actor/writer/director Corbin Bernsen, regarding a trademark matter connected to the film 25 Hill, which was made here in Ohio.  The film, which features a fictional story line, was conceived and created to support a very real cause: saving the All American Soap Box Derby, a longstanding tradition which has fallen on difficult times in recent years.  A little over a year has passed and I’m pleased to report that Corbin and his team have successfully raised a great deal of money for the Derby and, perhaps more importantly, substantial public awareness within our community and beyond.  The big news is that the world premier was held right here in Akron, Ohio, last night.

My wife served as associate producer of the film and master of ceremonies for the premier, which drew over 2,000 people on its opening night.  Celebrities walked the red carpet, friends of the film dined on fancy hors d’ oeuvres provided by local caterers, and after a short introduction by Corbin, we all enjoyed the film at the gorgeous Akron Civic Theater.  The film was excellent and I confess that I enjoyed a little thrill every time I saw the main character’s soap box car up on the big screen, bearing the moniker that was the product of my conversation with Corbin and his production staff.  It is a rare privilege to see a little contribution manifested so dramatically.  My part, of course, was utterly insignificant compared to the many hours that the production staff (including my wife) dedicated to making this special film. It was really something to Kelleigh’s name up on the big screen in giant letters during the opening credits.  Kudos to her and the rest of the team!

Photo courtesy of Rick Groves | Todd Biss Photography

My own credit may have been slightly less noticeable.

Thank You, Professors!

I’d like to thank the academy.  The legal academy, that is.

Yesterday, I completed the last final exam required by my LL.M. (Master of Laws) program, which may very well be the last final exam that I will ever take — or so I keep telling myself every few years.

The LL.M. program has been a great experience and all that remains is to put the finishing touches on my thesis, which I hope to iron out in the approaching months.  Arriving at the end of another phase of my academic career has left me feeling a little introspective and a bit nostalgic, hence the compulsion to dedicate some lines to writing about what a long, fun, challenging ride it has been and where I hope that it will take me.

As a preliminary matter, I should probably offer a little perspective about my journey by providing a brief recap of my academic history.  I almost hesitate to include this for fear that it will be read as a self-gratifying compendium of my academic achievements, which is not my intent — that’s what curricula vitæ are for, and I don’t even have one of those posted on this site.  I think that it is fair to say that my years in academia have been as much the product of vocational wandering as the result of intellectual curiosity, so please hold onto your chapeau for the time being.  Here’s the tally:

  • 4 years – undergraduate
  • 4 years – dental school
  • 3 years – dental/surgical hospital residencies
  • 4 years – law school1
  • 2 years – LL.M. program

All told, that adds up to 17 years of higher education and a long string of confusing letters after my name.  I don’t pride myself on my math skills, but when I tally the academic semesters contained within those years (including the mandatory summer sessions required by some of the programs) I arrive at a total of around forty semesters, plus three very intensive years of residency training.  I wish I could tell you how many times during those years I sat down to “you will have three hours to complete this exam,” but — actually, no; I don’t think I really want to figure that out.  Mentally consolidating all of those hours of nail-biting, scribbling, and furtive clock-watching into one patch of neurons would probably require therapy.

But I digress.

My love affair with academia began soon after I finished dental school, when I felt a profound sense of trepidation at the prospect that my full-time pursuit of learning was at its end and life held only the promise of applying what I had managed to absorb by the age of twenty-eight.  I suspect that for many people, eight years of post-high school education could be filed under “more than enough,” but I didn’t view it that way.  As students, we invest an incredible amount of energy into acquiring knowledge and to expanding the breadth of that knowledge into new realms, but then most of us move on to applying only a little slice of that knowledge to the very narrow framework of our chosen careers. And it is hard to find fault with that approach: to master something and successfully make a career of it is unquestionably admirable.

But I felt a little cheated when I finished dental school, recognizing that much of what I had learned over the years would be slowly relegated to forgotten corners of my brain before being erased forever.  Part of my regret also stemmed from the fact that I pursued dual majors in biology and English as an undergraduate.  I loved science, but I also loved to write, and dentistry provided little outlet for the latter.

I confess that following a linear path from school to work to retirement never made much sense to me either.  Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with first writing that “life is a journey, not a destination,” and perhaps in the same frame of mind, Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I have just found one thousand ways that won’t work.”  Edison seems to have believed that success is built as much on failure as on the ultimate realization of a goal, while Emerson suggested that success is less important than the pursuit of one’s ambitions.  Both Emerson and Edison seem to have shared the belief that the path to enlightenment is at best a winding one, while success is the reward of those who persist in navigating that path.

Along my own winding path, I enjoyed several unexpected opportunities to serve as a teacher, first to dental students and later to law students.  Those experiences opened my eyes to the possibility of a career direction that I hadn’t considered.  Teaching gave me the chance to interact with people who made a career of gathering knowledge and it allowed me to continue to learn in an environment that transcended my role as a student.  It also permitted me to guide others down paths that had once challenged me, and the reward that I felt from making those paths less arduous to others was substantial.

I have practiced law with some of the largest, most prestigious firms in the world and I have practiced dentistry in some of the humblest dental practices imaginable. Those experiences have shaped my views of the world, offered me perspective, and helped me to grow as a person. Along the way, I have learned to view life as an experiment and I have repeatedly felt the call to return to learning.  Academia has provided a doorway for me to heed that call and my professors have been the key to that doorway.  I genuinely respect the guidance that my law professors have offered and I understand why they have chosen to pursue careers in legal education.

The law presents a dynamic subject that is constantly evolving in response to changes in technology, societal norms, and nature itself.  There are an infinite number of topics to write about and no shortage of students willing to learn. The law provides the opportunity to  pursue new ideas and to share them with colleagues, while offering students the opportunity to discover the law in the same way that I did: through curiosity nurtured by educators who genuinely love to teach.

To all of my professors: thank you.


1. I practiced dentistry full-time while attending law school.

My Brush with Soapbox Derby Stardom

My wife Kelleigh is currently associate producing a film called 25 Hill  that is being made right here in Northeast Ohio.  The film, written and directed by Corbin Bernsen, tells the story of a boy who wants to compete in the All American Soap Box Derby, an event which has been held in Akron, Ohio since 1935.  In both the film and in the real world, the Derby may be forced to shut down due to waning interest and financial troubles.  I won’t spoil the story, but suffice to say that it delivers a good message that I think is appropriate for these troubled times.

In the soap box derby world, competitors paint their cars, often with a name or logo on the side.  Shortly before the filming of 25 Hill began last month, my wife mentioned that the protagonist’s car was to be adorned with the patriotic phrase “Spirit of America” on the side.  The title was familiar, so naturally I began to wonder about IP issues.  While the name is obviously reminiscent of the “Spirit of St. Louis,” the single engine plane that Charles Lindberg flew nonstop from New York to Paris, it seemed to ring some other bells as well.  I dug around on the Internet and found some more examples.  Goodyear (also located here in Akron) has a blimp named the Spirit of America, which didn’t really trouble me, but I found another reference that did:  Craig Breedlove, who has spent more than forty years setting land speed records in the Bonneville Salt Flats, has named all of his jet cars Spirit of America.

One of Breedlove’s Spirit of America jet cars

The Wikipedia article (read: dubious) that describes Breedlove’s cars suggests that “Spirit of America” is “the trademarked name used by Craig Breedlove for his land speed record-setting vehicles.”  I performed a quick federal trademark search for the phrase, but I could not locate any particularly relevant federal trademark registrations for SPIRIT OF AMERICA or the like which overlap with 25 Hill’s intended use of the term for a soap box car in a motion picture.

In the big picture, SPIRIT OF AMERICA might be regarded as a descriptive mark of sorts for anything patriotically American, especially in the vein of technologically superior vehicles like planes, airships, and cars, and one could make the argument that anyone who uses the mark in this context does so in a crowded field and is thus entitled to weak protection at best.  Nevertheless, it just seemed like a bad idea to contaminate the film with a potential trademark issue, so I talked it over with my wife, who in turn mentioned it to Corbin.  To my surprise, Corbin asked if I would come down to the production office to offer my thoughts.  After explaining my views and relaying a story about a similar case that my former firm handled successfully on behalf of a trademark owner-client a few years ago, everyone agreed that it was in the best interest of the film to choose a new name.  Some brainstorming followed, a new name was chosen, and I watched with fascination as Corbin and Kelleigh hand-edited the script so that the new name would fit the existing storyline.  Since the soap box car in question will be featured prominently in the film, I will be able to see my small contribution to film history on the big screen, which, I have to say, is pretty great!

Kelleigh and the newly dubbed “Faith and Courage” on the set of the film 25 Hill. Photo courtesy of Jim Biss

Remembering Flight 427

Recently I was asked to recount the “single most interesting thing that ever happened to me.” Even if I included all of the things that would qualify as too obscene to print (ha!), one event made a greater impression on me than all of the others combined, though it is now some thirteen years in the past. Since it’s not the sort of thing that typically makes for good cocktail party conversation, I figured I might as well memorialize it here.

In September 1994, I was a third year dental student at the University of Pittsburgh when USAir Flight 427 dropped inexplicably out of the evening sky and crashed into a wooded region a few miles outside of Pittsburgh, killing all 132 passengers and crew. The Pennsylvania Dental Association’s Dental Identification Team (PADIT) was called to take part in the massive effort to identify the remains of those who lost their lives in the crash. A few days after the recovery efforts began, PADIT put out a call to dental students to assist in the daunting task.

I cancelled my afternoon patients and along with two friends/classmates, reported to the U.S. Air Force hanger which had been established as a disaster recovery center. We joined Pittsburgh’s chief forensic odontologist in examining crash victim remains as part of a highly-organized team of pathologists, forensic anthropologists, FBI officials, and others. My friends and I were all grateful and a little awestruck to be included and even treated as respected members of such a highly-qualified team.

Ultimately, the substantial majority of those who lost their lives in the tragedy were identified through dental records. It was a rare and unforgettable experience for my friends and for me. All three of us would later train to become maxillofacial surgeons, although after some years I left that calling to pursue a career in the law.

Even now, I am frequently reminded of the experience, though I have since moved away from Pittsburgh and I haven’t seen those friends in many years. I think that we all looked at it as a rare opportunity, though a tragically sad one at that. I cannot express the profound impact that the experience had upon me.

Comets: Marking Time for All of Us

The Holmes Comet recently appeared in the night sky, surprising astronomers with its unusual and unexpected intensity. That got me thinking about comets for the first time in a while. One of the most well-known comets is Halley’s Comet. It’s cyclical 76-year appearance has been recorded at least as far back as 240 BC. It last appeared in 1986 and will next appear in 2061. When it appeared in 1986, it was the least favorable viewing for earth observers in recorded history — it was barely visible to the naked eye.

I was in boarding school in 1986 and a member of my school’s proudly geeky “Astronomical Army.” We observed Halley’s Comet through the telescope in our permanent observatory atop the cross country hill. Even with our powerful scope and reasonably light pollution-free surroundings, the comet looked like little more than a blurry streak.

If I make it to 2061, I will be 92 years old when Halley’s next appears. I realized today just how old I’m getting when I thought to myself “Halley’s will appear in less than 54 years. That’s not that long.” Then I remembered that I’m now 38, not 16, and another 58 years will account for most if not all of my remaining days on earth. That’s something.

Still, when Halley’s comes round again, I hope to see it in the sky with my blurry, teary, cataracted 92-year old eyes and I hope that this time it will be brilliant.

A Cyberspace Love Story

I first met Kelleigh in 1991.  I was a college senior and she was a local high school senior.  Kelleigh’s 17-year old best friend Sunny was dating one of my classmates and Kelleigh accompanied her to a mixer on my campus that fall.  We met, we clicked, and we discovered that we had the same birthday, exactly five years apart.  She was adorable and full of a sort of mischief that made me laugh and want to get to know her.  We flirted, I loaned her my denim jacket, and we took walks around a campus decorated in autumn’s palette.  It was collegiate puppy love at its very best and its innocence is one of my fondest memories of that time.  Alas, Kelleigh was barely seventeen, I was twenty-two, and at that age, everything seems ephemeral.  We both graduated from our respective schools, moved away, and said we would stay in touch.

I didn’t really expect to hear from Kelleigh again, knowing that she was off to college herself and had some amazing experiences ahead of her. However, the summer following my first year of graduate school in Pittsburgh, my phone rang and I was happy and surprised to hear her voice on the other end of the line.  She had tracked me down through the only reasonable means available in those days: the phone book.  She was also in Pittsburgh, attending college and majoring in dance on a full scholarship, and she was now, ahem, of a consenting age.  We spent an amazing day together and felt that click again, but she was busy enjoying college and not ready to commit to anything serious and I was of a different mind.  We kept it innocent and we promised to stay in touch again.

I heard from Kelleigh once more in the 1990’s.  She had recently returned from a whirlwind tour of the world, performing aboard cruise ships and visiting exotic locations, and I was preparing to graduate and move to Philadelphia.  We spoke on the phone for some time and felt the pull once more, but this time I was in a committed relationship and the unavailable party. We agreed again to stay in touch.

That could very well have been the last time we spoke.  I finished school, began some very busy years in hospital residencies, and pursued other relationships along the way that often seemed to be leading to something more.  Kelleigh and I lost track of one another, but I never forgot the mischievous sparkle in her eyes.

Throughout the 1990’s, the World Wide Web was exploding and I became enamored with cyber-technology.  Browser technology had become widely available with the dissemination of Mosaic and Netscape, and full text crawler-based web search engines began to crop up.  I became interested in HTML and search engine algorithms and I created my first website in 1996.  I began experimenting with the keyword meta tag element, and I decided to use it to create a kind of spider web for lost friends. In those days — the pre-Google days — search engine algorithms were far more simple and they relied upon the good faith of webmasters to include keywords in their HTML code that were relevant guides to the content on their sites.  This was, of course, soon manipulated by savvy web marketing pioneers who included popular (but irrelevant) keywords like “sex” and “Britney Spears” in their HTML code to attract web surfers.  I realized that this technology could be put to better use and I created a simple web page that listed everyone with whom I regretted losing touch over the years, which I dubbed the Planet’s Edge (I know, I know).  I included their names in the content of the site itself, as well as in the keywords meta tag element of my HTML.

I was frankly astounded at how well it worked.  I was soon receiving emails from people on my list and from their friends and relatives. In those days everyone was using search engines to find one another, as social media had not yet been born, and the World Wide Web was a wonderland of possibilities for anyone with a 28.8 modem and a PC.  Over the course of several years, I located something like 85% of the people in my list, with one notable exception: Kelleigh Miller.  Although prominently placed in the list, Kelleigh did not reach out, and I assumed that she had either gained a new surname, or lost interest, or both.  After a good run, I eventually retired my Planet’s Edge page as part of a larger overhaul of my long-standing website.

In 2005, I found myself living in Pittsburgh again, attending law school, and feeling nostalgic about life.  I sifted through some of the HTML that I had written in the 1990’s and I laughed at my animated gif files and gaudy website colors, but I paused when I came across my Planet’s Edge page and I marveled at how many of the people on the list were part of my life again.  I spotted Kelleigh’s name and I felt a ping of disappointment that my little experiment had never succeeded in finding her.  For kicks, I re-hosted the original page, this time on my own server and with a disclaimer stating that it was a tribute to the “old days” of the Internet.  By then, Google had become the prominent search engine, having captured nearly 50% of the market, while Yahoo! Search and Microsoft’s MSN Search services comprised the bulk of the remaining market share.  I knew that Google’s algorithm was no longer susceptible to unscrupulous webmasters and their keyword element manipulation, and hence my Planet’s Edge page was unlikely to uncover anyone new.  The MSN and Yahoo! algorithms were less complex and might still be susceptible to such tricks, but who was really using those dated search engines anymore?

Kelleigh was living in New York City and carving out a career as an actress and a model.  She was acting in an off-Broadway production and was receiving accolades for her performance.  Critics began posting reviews of her production and fortunately for me, she was also one of the last people on earth still using MSN’s quirky search engine.  A quick search of her own name lead her to my Planet’s Edge page and to my contact information.  She sent an email to the address that I had provided on the page, an address that I was using primarily for spam-management by that time.  Her email appeared in my inbox, from “k miller,” subject “hi.”  I promptly deleted what I assumed was a piece of spam without ever reading it and that, too, was nearly the end before the beginning.

But Kelleigh persisted and sent a second email.  This time I read it.  It began “I am writing just this one last time in case you didn’t get my first message…”  It was short and revealed little, but I was instantly mesmerized.  It had been over nine years since our last contact and fourteen years since she had first donned my denim jacket.  As I tripped over the keys to cobble a hasty reply, I wondered to myself at the likelihood that she might still be single like me.  I was 35, which would make her 30. How many 30-year old women did I know who were still single?  A perilously small number.  Statistically, she was likely married, divorced, and raising kids. I was almost certainly ten years too late — I had to be.  I felt something in the pit of my stomach that seemed to say that it wasn’t to be.  But I wrote to her anyway and paced about waiting for a reply.

A reply came almost immediately.  We exchanged several short emails and then agreed to speak on the telephone.  Elation!  She was single, never married, had traveled the world and lived in Japan and Sweden, and she would soon be appearing on a TV show.  We spoke for hours.  We text messaged.  We instant messaged.  We text-instant messaged.  She was a savvy cyber-geek like me and I loved it.  A romance was blossoming.  Soon we were communicating constantly and I was watching her on television weekly.  I was doing some of my best writing in school and receiving awards for it; her performing career was taking off.  It was an amazing time and it was all we could do to keep our focus on our careers while we spent every moment getting to know each other.

But one wrinkle remained. I was in my last semester of law school, nearing graduation, and I had applied for positions at law firms all over the country. Most firms seemed to have a hard time figuring out what to do with a dentist who wanted to practice intellectual property law, despite my claims of technical proficiency and success in passing the patent bar exam before even attending law school.  My techy side was regularly overlooked by hiring committees, who regarded my dental background with some confusion.  But one solid firm in Pittsburgh recognized my value and an offer was forthcoming, so it appeared that I would spend at least the first few years of my legal career in southwestern Pennsylvania, which would have been wonderful, but for Kelleigh.  In a difficult conversation, Kelleigh confessed that her career was booming and that she was not ready to leave New York City and I admitted that I would probably never get a job offer in New York, home to some of the most prestigious law firms in the world, which regularly extended offers to Ivy League graduates (read: not me).  Another near miss seemed imminent.

And then a funny thing happened.  One of my law professors had recently worked on a patent infringement case in New York City with Kenyon & Kenyon, a prominent intellectual property boutique law firm located at One Broadway in Manhattan.  He was a graduate of my law school and, like me, he had a science background and had come to the law as a second career.  He mentioned me to an attorney at Kenyon and suggested that I would be a good match for the firm and then he urged me to contact them.  I sent my resume, expecting a polite “thank you, we have heard nice things about you, but we’re all filled up,” but was instead invited to interview with them in New York.

I scheduled the interview for a Monday morning and immediately called Kelleigh to ask if I could stay with her the weekend prior to my interview.  She was traveling in Europe, but planned to return to the Big Apple just in time to have me as her guest.

Our weekend together was nothing short of magical.  On Saturday, we attended an art exhibition, explored the city, dined in restaurants that were uniquely New York, and rounded out the evening at a comedy improv show.  It was springtime in New York, and in true movie fashion, we got caught in the rain in Manhattan and ran for shelter.  I wiped out on a slippery sidewalk grate and landed on my backside, both of us laughing as the rain soaked through my jeans.  Later, back at her apartment, Kelleigh patched me up.  On Sunday, we drove up to the Shawangunk Mountains and spent an amazing day rock climbing some of the best routes on the east coast.  It was April and we were practically alone on the cliffs, surrounded by peregrine falcons and all of the magnificence of springtime in the mountains.  I arrived at Kenyon Monday morning with bandages on three fingers and a grin permanently affixed to my face and I had the the best interviews of my life.

I returned to Pittsburgh more than a little reluctantly.  Two days later, Kenyon & Kenyon called to offer me the job.  The rest, as they say, is history, although I would be remiss in not mentioning the gratitude that I have expressed over the years to my law professor, who was kind enough to speak up and open a door that lead to more than just a job.  Kelleigh and I moved in together in New York, I immersed myself in law firm life, and a year and a half later we were married on the edge of a New Zealand cliff as the sun rose from the sea.  We eventually relocated to Ohio, where we bought our first house, put down roots, and lived happily ever after.  Lucky me.

The Curious Lives of Pittsburgers

The June 2006 list of new words added to the Oxford English Dictionary officially includes the term (drum roll, please…) “Pittsburgher.” You know what? It’s about time. Pittsburghers love their city, and they share a unique identity with it. I’m amazed that this has been overlooked for so long by the Oxford folks, who are clearly a bunch of stuffy, mustached Englishmen sitting around in rich, leather drawing room chairs, puffing on pipes filled with Prince Albert, and debating whether such terms should make the cut. OK, I can’t actually validate any of that.

I recently visited Pittsburgh to run the IKEA half-marathon and catch up with some friends. During the race, I had a brief conversation with another runner that made me laugh and reflect upon the unity that comes from being a sizable city with a familiar, small-town mentality.

Somewhere near the fourth mile, I noticed that the young woman running beside me was wearing the same racing shoes that I was. I race in yellow/black/white Brooks T-Racers, which are lightweight racing flats with good medial support for pronators like me. Seeing someone in the same shoes was not really a surprise; the T-Racer is a popular flat and not a few have been sold. However, there was also an element of déjà vu in this case. Almost exactly two years ago, while running a half-marathon in Erie, PA, the very same thing happened: somewhere near the fourth mile I noticed that the woman running next to me was wearing the same shoes. On that occasion, I remarked “nice shoes,” and struck up a conversation with her. The two of us ultimately paced one another to personal best times.

This time around, I was once again aiming for a new personal best time, so I remarked to the girl next to me, “nice shoes,” hoping that good luck would strike twice. She glanced at my feet and replied with a perceptible grin, “You can’t go wrong…” and then she paused to take a breath. Mentally, I finished the thought for her: “You can’t go wrong with the Brooks T-Racer!” But I was wrong. She caught me completely off-guard when she continued a moment later, “with the Black and Gold!”

Touché, Pittsburgher.