Hourly rate billing is one of the truly unpleasant aspects of the lawyer-client relationship, for both the client and the lawyer. Personally, I’m trying to shift to mostly flat rate billing, but that isn’t a perfect solution either.

Clients hate hourly rate billing because it’s unpredictable. Lawyers hate it because clients always way underestimate how much time it takes to do things. That’s natural, because clients only see the end product. The client is thinking (and sometimes saying) “why am I getting billed six hours for a five page filing — I could write 5 pages in an hour on a cell phone keypad with one thumb!.” The client doesn’t see all the behind-the-scenes work that went into those five pages — the research, thinking, looking things up, going down false trails, reading 20 pages of fine print to find the relevant passage, etc. So clients always feel as though they’re being overcharged, and lawyers always feel under pressure to cut corners to keep the bill down.

I’ve found that one thing that helps a lot is not charging for client phone calls. Why? Several reasons: More »

Often when reading a patent the focus is not so much on what the patent says, it’s on being sure about what it doesn’t say. If an examiner has cited a patent as prior art, and you want to argue that it’s different from the claimed invention because the claimed invention includes some feature that the cited reference doesn’t disclose, you need to satisfy yourself that the feature is not in the cited reference anywhere.

That can be a very tedious undertaking. The particular reference that finally overcame my inertia and got me to scribble up the python script that is the subject of this post is a patent application, cited as a prior art reference in an office action in one of my cases, that is 76 pages of two-column fine print.  No way does the client want to pay me for the hours it would take to read it in detail. More »

In a probably futile effort to stave off Alzheimers by torturing my brain, I have been trying for a while now to learn to read Chinese. Chinese is crazy difficult, for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here. I don’t have the time to devote to it that it would take to become actually fluent, which as best I can tell would require dying and being reincarnated as a Chinese person plus about 20 years of full time study. So my goal is more modest, just reasonable reading comprehension, mainly for reading patents and doing patent-related text mining. I try to spend half hour or so a day reviewing vocabulary and reading things, to reassure myself that I’m still dumber than a Chinese ten year old.

Trying to learn to read Chinese might seem like a waste of time — why not just use Google translate? It turns out that for most anything of adult reading level and complexity, the output of Google translate for Chinese to English is essentially incomprensible gibberish. Machine translation between Chinese and English is a seriously non-trivial undertaking because the two languages are so different on so many dimensions. Personally, I’m skeptical that the current statistically based approach to machine translation can be made to work here; More »

I just watched a quite excellent video interview, Elon Musk at MIT, talking mainly about SpaceX, and also about Tesla (nothing about Solar City).

My first reaction to this is, why are so many of these kinds of presentations presented in a format (adobe flash) where there is no practical way to listen to them offline? Yes, I know, I could record it on Camtasia or whatever, but that kind of defeats the purpose — too much time and hassle. There are a lot of these presentations that I’d like to be able to listen to as podcasts while walking or exercising. I don’t have time to sit in front of a screen to listen to interviews. I already spend enough time tethered to a screen, working.

(In this case, someone has subsequently put the interview up on youtube, so it’s possible to convert to mp3 and download fairly painlessly using the very useful syncfile.co youtube downloader/converter. I had already watched it by then, guess I should have waited. But there are a great many video interviews that people put up on their own sites in adobe flash or vimeo that never make it onto youtube.) More »

One of the kids’ android tablets mysteriously developed a vexing problem that turned out to be ridiculously hard to fix. The problem: suddenly the tablet has no touchpad keyboard (also the tablet decided to display everything in German). The missing keyboard problem took me over an hour to figure out how to fix, and it seems to be the subject of considerable flailing and gnashing of teeth on the message boards. This episode definitely served to reinforce my growing perception of Android as an abortion on the scale of Windows Vista. You’d think the Google folks would have cleaned up this kind of glitch by now. I’m pretty sure if the iPad OS had a problem that basically bricks the machine in a way that even a factory reset won’t fix, Apple would have fixed it long before version 4.1. More »

21. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Writing · Tags:

One of my ongoing projects is trying to write a book about patent strategy. It’s useful to have a general idea what one is aiming for, and I was curious about the “mechanical” characteristics of typical successful non-fiction books in the same general category — word count, page count, etc. So I chose 16 books, more or less at random, mostly from the Amazon best sellers in the business category, and compiled some data, as shown in the table below.

All of the books chosen had Amazon sales ranks at or below approximately 10,000 at the time that I gathered my data. Obviously, Amazon sales rank is a mysterious and constantly changing quantity, and subject to endless gaming, but the overall list is arguably a reasonable (albeit small) sample of generally successful books. More »

It’s now possible to download from Google the full text of all issued U.S. patents back to 1976 (here) and all published U.S. patent applications back to 2001 (here). Getting anything useful out of them is not a task for the faint of heart — they use a fairly complicated XML schema, which has changed several times, and it’s a lot of downloading (about 70G, zipped, for 2007 to the present).

To put all that data into a form convenient for searching and extracting statistics, I wrote a Python utility that reads the XML, parses it into a standard set of fields, cleans up most of the unicode weirdnesses, and outputs everything into a single large text file, one field per line, each line beginning with a four letter identifier indicating what part of the document it is. I have posted the latest version on github here, with detailed instructions/description. More »

I finally bit the bullet and set up a WordPress blog, having been reluctantly convinced that the ease of posting more than compensates for the disadvantages, which in my opinion are many, but I won’t go into them here, except to the extent that some of them are apparent from what follows.

I figured that I would start by moving a few older posts from my old blog.

Back when I was still teaching Java, I wrote a simple applet demo program that computed and displayed the evolution of one-dimensional cellular automata, using the 8-bit rule scheme described by Stephen Wolfram in A New Kind Of ScienceI described it in a blog post at the time, with a link to the Java source code and the applet running embedded at the end of the post.

Java applets were never a very satisfactory way of embedding functionality into a web page. There were always just too many ways for them to not work in a particular browser running a particular version of Java.

Now, however, it seems Oracle has raised its game — now applets don’t work in any browser. I discovered this when I went back to the original post and found that instead of the applet, what appears is a message that “Your security settings have blocked an untrusted application from running.” More »