Monday, December 31, 2012

The Venus Butterfly of Cruising

New Bern, North Carolina

We are back in New Bern after nearly two weeks away with Dave and Cathy.  Jen and Marilyn have safely flown back home.  Dave and Cathy are back at work.  Libby and I are back on the boat contemplating the project list.  However, the cold weather is damping our will to work.

The other day I was discussing with Cathy a subject that I deliberately never wrote about on this blog.   Today, Libby and I chuckled over another subject; something about the cruising life that we don't discuss on the blog either.   Actually there are several other subjects I never write about.  

Did you think that this blog is a tell-all?  How na├»ve of you.   If you print the entire history of this blog, you will need more than 10,000 pages.  Even if you do, there are several cruising life topics you'll never see mentioned.

Ha ha; on this last day of 2012 I play this little joke on my readers.  After dangling the bait, I leave you hanging with a burning desire to know what things I left out.   I'll never tell.  It is like the joke on the viewers of the 1980's TV show LA Law.  The joke was called "The Venus Butterfly."  If you saw it, I'm sure you'll never ever forget it.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

You Can Keep The Real World

Zebulon, NC

Whew, what a day!  It was almost more than a poor old sea captain like me could take.   Libby and I are used to life annoyances such as a bridge opening delayed or the gossip about someone who used profanity on the VHF.   Today we got a dose of the land lubber's real world.  They can keep it.

It was time to return my sister Marilyn to Albany, NY after the Christmas holiday.  We had a great family vacation but now it's over.  I set the alarm for 0600 so that we could get up early enough for the 3.5 hour drive to Charlotte, NC to meet Marilyn's plane.   My day started at 0500 when my phone woke us.  It was US Airways calling to tell us that her plane might be delayed by 50 minutes.

We left at 0700 for the long drive.  It was a miserable morning, with cold driving rain.  Just a few hundred miles north of here the rain turned to snow and blizzard warnings. The traffic was miserable, and I was stressed out.  We were forced to move too fast on the interstate boxed in with cars ahead, behind and on either side of us.  I tried driving slow in the right lane but that was worse.  North Carolina's road designers added right lanes that turn into Exit Only lanes just before each exit, thus forcing us to merge into an already full left lane.  Worse, North Carolina drivers entering from the right seem to think they have the right of way.  A couple of times we had close calls as a merging car on our right just cut us off.

Two hours into the journey things got abruptly worse.   First we discovered that Marilyn had no ID.  The case worker who escorted her to the gate at the Albany Airport last Monday apparently pocketed Marilyn's ID.   Then, a few minutes after that I got a message from US Airways -- the flight was cancelled.   We turned around.  At 1130 we got back to Dave's house and I was really tired from 4.5 hours of stressful driving.  We saw six fresh wrecks on the highway, several of which seemed to be cars spinning out even though there was no ice.

Now we are working on getting Marilyn's ID sent here by FEDEX and on getting her a new flight booking for Friday.

The cruising life really is a dream life!!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Wind Storm

New Bern, NC

 

We brought Jen back to New Bern to see where we are hanging out for the winter. Libby cleaned and rearranged to make a nice spot for Jen to sleep in the v-berth. Unfortunately, she didn't get much sleep last night. Why not? Because of a wind storm.

Last night it blew like the dickens. I don't know the official numbers but I believe that it blew 50-60 in at least one of the bursts. This morning I heard from some of the other boat owners whose bikinis and other canvas works were substantially damaged.

OnTarwathie there was no damage. Libby and I slept soundly because we were securely tied to a dock and because we were substantially sheltered from wind and waves. For poor Jen however it was not nice. The noises got to her. Wind howling in the rigging, haylyards slapping, and most of all, the fenders getting squashed between the hull and the dock. She said that around 0300 she finally thought to put in ear plugs, and after that she slept OK.

I looked at the marine weather forecast also. It would be a nasty time to be offshore in the next few days. Welcome to winter weather.




Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Backup Plans

Zebulon, NC

I got this message today. "I don't like the new blog format. Has anyone else commented? Merry Christmas, Terri" I haven't changed anything, and neither has blogger.com, but either Google or Apple changed the default for iPads. iPads used to view the web version of this blog meant for PCs, but now they show the mobile version of the blog meant for phones. Could it be the iPad Mini that is the reason for the change?

If you have the problem on your iPad, there is a link at the bottom of the page called "View Web Version"

Anyhow, Terri's message reminds me of something that has worried me for a long time -- the fragility of free services like Blogger and even Google. They could disappear overnight without warning. If that happened, how would you readers and I reconnect on a new hosting site?

I've written before about backup plans while cruising. Well, for this cruiser blogging is an essential part of my cruising. I need to worry about the security of blogging too.

Over the years, I've carefully kept the address and the format of this blog invariant so as to maintain continuity with long term users. I also carefully make a backup copy of this blog's entire archive every month or so. If needed, I could make a new blog somewhere, and migrate the archives to that place, but I could not hold the address constant. How therefore, could you find the address of the new blog?

One way would be to send me an email to dickandlibbymills at gmail dot com. But that begs the question. If Google vanished, both blogger.com and gmail.com would vanish also. It is probably not prudent to post my phone number here, but foolishly or not, it is already there in the blog archive. 5182560889

I toyed with the idea of registering my own domain, then using it to redirect to wherever my blog is posted. I didn't do that because many of you already bookmarked dickandlibby.blogspot.com

I could get a second email account with some other provider, then publish that email address here on the blog. But to be effective, that would force you to bookmark that email address in a third place. Ditto for my phone number. Neither is a really good backup solution.

Here is my best try at a foolproof method to reconnect. If this blog, and gmail and my phone number vanish, I promise to try to start a new blog someplace. On your part, just remember dickandlibby. After a month or two, use dickandlibby as a search term in your favorite search engine or in twitter . It should locate wherever we are on the web.

I'll welcome any suggestions for better ways.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The sails

New Bern, NC

Modern sails last much longer than the canvas of Joshua Slocumb's day. He spent much of every day, sewing and mending his scraps of canvas. We don't do that, but we do have to mend sometimes. In the modern world, we have modern materials(Dacron) and modern sewing machines.

Usually, we have to take the sails to a sailmaker to do that work, but this year we were lucky enough that George and Carol offered to help. They are part owners of a heavy duty sewing machine and they have the expertise to know what to do.

With something as big as a sail, it must be sewn outdoors or in a very large room. Below you see George working on our main sail in the club room of the Blackbeard sailing club.

Unfortunately, before we finished the job, their sewing machine broke down. We will have to finish the job next spring.

Today, Saturday, we drove to pick up Nick at Fort Bragg. Then we are heading to Dave and Cathy's house for the holiday. Next Monday, Jennifer flys in from Burlington. The Monday after that my sister Marilyn flys in from Albany. It should be a great family Christmas. :-)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Libby's Egg

New Bern, NC

I'm very pleased with myself.  I found the perfect present for Libby's birthday today.

As you might expect, it is difficult to buy things for Libby.  She wants so few material things.  I'm almost as hard.  I like techno-geek gadgets but I need to pick out which ones myself.   So, when Libby's birthday comes around, I'm usually at a loss for what to get her.   This year is an exception.

A month ago, we were walking around New Bern with our friends Bob and Sandra.  We came upon an art store that had a wonderful display of 1000 ceramic eggs (by a local artist,  Michaele Rose Watson) arranged in a cornucopia display.   Well, the next day Libby sneaked up there and bought one of those eggs as a present for Sandra.   Aha!  Now I know something that Libby thinks is precious.  So I sneaked up there myself and bought one of those eggs for Libby, and I gave it to her for her birthday.  She was thrilled.

1000 eggs by  Michaele Rose Watson

Now, Libby has a new project.  She needs to make a pine needle nest for the egg.

Libby's Egg

By the way, in normal circumstances a sailboat is a poor place for artwork, especially fragile things.  When we get out to sea things get very violent at times.  But some things are so nice that they're worth the risk.  Besides, the egg is not big.  We should be able to find a secure place to store it while the boat is in motion.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Excedrin Headache #99

New Bern, NC

I just read a very discouraging article, Researchers find crippling flaws in global GPS.   We boaters depend heavily on GPS and our chart plotters.  I'm afraid that the honeymoon may soon be over and we could have as much trouble with GPS spoofing, and remote hacking as we do with our PCs.

I've been afraid that this might happen for several years.   You see, the GPS satellites and the GPS receivers on our boats, in our phones, and in our cars, are nothing more than computers exchanging digital information.  The closest analogy is the Internet.   The short and simple is that GPS computers are just as vulnerable to hackers as Internet connected computers.  

The good news is that, aside from cyber war, the financial incentives for hacking GPS receivers are not as obvious as incentives for hacking people's PCs.  That probably explains why so many years have passed already without serious GPS hacking.  

The bad news is that so far, there are not firewalls  no antivirus, no security industry developed to help us secure our GPS'.  It is also bad news that GPS hacking is still in its infancy, and that much more sophisticated ways of GPS hacking are yet to be invented.

From the beginning, the military encrypted portions of the GPS signal.  The encrypted part hid the least significant digits in the lat/lon data that allows US missiles and bombs to find targets with one meter accuracy.   The less accurate parts of GPS were deliberately left unencrypted so as to be friendly to civilian industry.  If they made the public portions of GPS secure from the start, early GPS units would have been much more expensive, and many of today's GPS applications might never have gotten off the ground.

So, what does it mean to us ordinary boaters, phone owners, car drivers?  Be prepared for repeated expensive replacements/upgrades to your GPS equipment in years to come.  Virtually all the civilian GPS gadgets we own today are not set up to install software updates.  It is only reasonable to expect that the entire GPS system, satellites and receivers alike, will be junked and replaced with a brand new positioning system designed from the ground up to be secure.  Even with infinite money, that can't happen overnight, so be prepared for unexpected and prolonged blackouts of GPS functions.

Personally, I'm going to start thinking about a seminar for next year's SSCA Gam, entitled  "What to do if all your GPS units suddenly die."   

I am also going to dust off my sextant and my books on celestial navigation.  I've been carrying them around on the boat for several years, but I never studied or practiced enough to become proficient at it.










Monday, December 10, 2012

Envy

New Bern, NC

Our friends Bob & Sandra on board Carpe Diem have now arrived in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon.


Our friends Pat & Walt on board Waves of Grace have now arrived in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon.

Our friends Darrick & Sharron on board Y-Knot will be there soon.

Our friends Dick and Kathy on board Endeavor will be there soon.

We have good reasons for choosing to stay here for the winter, but I must say we miss Boot Key Harbor, and all our friends there, and the culture, and the weather.

Have a happy holiday all of you.

Keys envy aside, we win great benefits by staying. Jenny flies in next Monday for a 10 day holiday stay.  My sister Marilyn will arrive on Christmas Eve.   We'll all gather at Dave & Cathy's for a grand Christmas day surrounded by family.   Holidays don't get better than that.




Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Other Boating Life Style

New Bern, NC

Readers of this blog know that Libby and I are devotees of cruising as a life style.  We're hardly along.  In the 1970's Westsail Inc. conducted a wildly successful marketing strategy that sold people on the cruising life style, and only incidentally mentioned that they happened to sell boats.  I don't remember if I posted that video before, so here it is below.  It is an absolutely charming video, so if you haven't seen it before, I recommend it. It comes in two parts, about 10 minutes overall.







This week the hotel behind the marina is hosting a salesman seminar for Grady White boats.   The hotel is full of Grady White people, and Grady White advertisements and literature.  The slips in the marina are filled with Grady White demo boats including the one below with 1050 horsepower of outboards on the back (OMG!!!)




Their theme is "The Grady White Life"  Then the link became apparent.  Grady White is doing the same thing that Westsail did in th 70s.  They are selling a life style first, and boats incidentally.

But the contrasts between these life styles could hardly be bigger.  The cruiser's life style emphasizes frugality and self-sufficiency.  It produces people like Libby who once did not want to leave a restaurant because she hadn't yet drunk all the water in her water glass.   The Grady White life style is -- I don't know.  1050 HP!!! Words escape me.   The two life styles could hardly be more different; yet they are linked with a common base - boating life styles.


Friday, December 07, 2012

There's Always a Bigger (Smaller) Boat

New Bern, NC

Rich owners of megayachts are familiar with the problem.  No matter how rich you are,and no matter how much you spend on your yacht to outdo the Jones, there will always be someone else who builds a bigger boat.

Now, for cruisers (like us) who like to brag about how frugal we are and how much we simplified our life style, there's a new story to outdo us all.  It is the story of a man who lives on a 14 foot canoe in Boston Harbor.   He even patches holes in his hull with duct tape.  Man, he's got us beat.

I call on all fellow cruisers to tip their hats to Mister Smith.



Read the delightful story here.  A couple of quotes follow.
With his possessions packed in a 14-foot canoe, the wiry, mustachioed man paddles to small offshore docks after dark to pitch his tent and sleep. He wears his brown locks long and tucks a pink silk rose into the brim of his canvas explorer hat. 
The 49-year-old's salty lifestyle is a means of survival, but Smith detests the word "homeless" and describes himself as just another "fellow citizen." 
When necessary, the Maine native uses duct tape to patch his 40-year-old aluminum canoe. Smith said he feels most secure when he sleeps in the harbor and lists his biggest worries as the wakes of fast ferries and drunken boaters.

Smith plans to sleep out in Boston Harbor all winter and prefers to concentrate on the beauty of his surroundings rather than the bareness of his accommodations.Before sunup Tuesday, Smith saw a shooting star skitter across the New England sky and said later he made a wish meant for all people, no matter where they bed down at night.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Color of Sentiments

New Bern, NC

Reader brigantine posted a charming comment to yesterday's blog, Heirlooms On Board.   His experience was amazingly similar to mine.   The engineer in me wants to think that an artifact like a toolbox or a thermos is functional; a left brain activity.  But emotional attachment is a right brain activity, so that factors like color play a vital role.  See below.
Brigantine comments: I have a toolbox that my dad had when I was growing up. When I was 18 I bought a set of tools and it came with a massive four drawer toolbox that was much too big for carrying in my Pinto. So, I traded it to my dad for his toolbox.
It was red and a few yrs ago, it was starting to show its age and rusting a bit, so I painted it with some black Rustoleum I had. That was much too dark, so I spritzed some White on it in random over-spray type spurts. It's okay now and I preserved the box before it got too far gone. But, when I look at it, I still see the bright red toolbox of my childhood.

Imagine my chidren's confusion when I tell them to get something out of the red toolbox and they go to the big craftsman four drawer unit that I now have back from Dad and I say, "No, not that red one, the other one" as I point to the black and white box...

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Heirlooms On Board

New Bern, NC

I've written a lot about the appeal of simplifying your life as an essential part to living the cruising life.   Not owning a lot of stuff gives you back a huge degree of freedom.   However, we are only human and we are allowed to have emotional attachments to a few things that seem to have been part of our lives forever.

I wrote about our never bag, where we store stuff we may never use, but are unwilling to throw away.   (Our friend Mari commented on that never bag post. She said, "Never bag; my husband has never barns!")  I'm not talking about that stuff.

Libby, very wisely, distributed our family heirlooms among our children.   Therefore when we go to visit them we find objects that make us feel very much at home.   No, I'm talking about heirlooms that we carry on the boat.

I still have and use a few of Libby's father's tools.  They are great, but they hark back to his lifetime, not mine.  As for my lifetime, I have only two heirlooms.  One is my thermos.  I blogged about it before.  The second is my green tool box.  See the picture below.




I don't know when I first acquired that green tool box. It feels like I've had it forever. I distinctly remember carrying it on board every previous boat we ever owned before Tarwathie. I use it every day. (Yes every day. While living on a boat hardly a day ever goes by when something doesn't need fixing.)   You can tell it's well used because all the paint is gone from the top.  That is not something I did, it just resulted from normal wear and tear.

 The latch on my tool box broke long ago. I use a bent nail to fix it. I've had to replace the axle pins on several of the hinges. But now the stamped steel body is rusting through in many places. I fear that my tool box is reaching its end of life.   I am not going to paint it with Rustoleum.  I did that to my thermos and I immediately regretted doing that.  The familiar appearance has much to do witht he emotional value of an heirloom.

Yesterday I almost bought a new tool box, but then it hit me.  If I do that, I will discard 50% of the heirloom objects that link me to my past.  It would be an unforgivable sin.   So this morning, I got out my tubes of J. B. Weld and attempted so repair the weakest spots.   The stronger rusty parts of the box I keep soaked in WD-40.  If I'm lucky, I'll be able to keep that tool box going for the rest of my natural life.

If this was O Henry's blog, it would end someday with a final blog post saying that one day Dick tried to pick up his tool box and the bottom felt out.  Or that one day Dick's loving family and friends secretly bought Dick a new tool box as a surprise and discarded the old box.  Either way, that was the day Dick died.

p.s.   What about Libby's on board heirlooms?  Well, she's got me :-)   She also has a photo album with a few non-digital photos from our past.  She may have more but, I can't think of them.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Boat Parade

New Bern, NC

This time last year, I sat in my dinghy in Boot Key Harbor to watch the boats in the Christmas Boat parade go by. The year before that I watched the parade in Vero Beach. I can now vouch for the fact that New Bern's parade is bigger and better than either of those two.

Anyhow, we watched in comfort from the cockpit of Traumeri as our friends George and Carol treated us to dinner. It was great. Thanks, George and Carol.

Libby made a very cute little wreath for Tarwathie. See below.

Sorry I didn't get more photos to post. My camera is still not up to night photography. George's camera can take a dozen or more night shots of the same s end, then combine them all, adjusting registration for focus and clarity. It makes beautiful night shots.

 

Saturday, December 01, 2012

A Day In Court

New Bern, NC

I’ve never been forced to appear in court before; never served on a jury. Here in New Bern there are District Courts, Supreme Courts, and Federal Courts all within two blocks. Therefore I plan to witness some trials just out of curiosity. Today (11/29), I visited the District Criminal Court; lowest of the three.

I got there at the appointed time, 0900. There weren’t many people there at first. As I waited, I tried to figure out who was who and what their roles were. At first there were only three sheriff’s bailiffs and a very young, very green looking lawyer sitting stiffly on the side. Behind the bar were about 70 people. The people in appearance and dress looked perfectly typical, neither rich nor poor.

Two men dressed casually, sitting at a side table with tall stacks of manila folders in front of them. I decided that they must be the police. Later they were joined by a state trooper, so that confirmed that they were police.

The first thing to happen was that a bailiff called for those requesting a court appointed attorney. About 6 people came forward. Next, the bailiff called for all those requesting a continuance should form a line on the right. About half the people (i.e. 35) got in line. It took two bailiffs 20 minutes to locate their names in the docket and to write a list of case numbers requesting continuances. During that 20 minutes new people continued to enter the court room. Almost all of them got in the line. Unless they were experienced in this courtroom, they had no way to know this was the continuance line. I wonder how many of them got continuances that didn’t want it.

People continued to stream into the court until 09:45. I was shocked. How could people dare to be late for their own trials? Maybe they were experienced enough to know that it didn’t matter.

Around 9:30 an attractive girl came out from the “Private” door. She made sure that the proper heaps of paper were in the proper places. Later another attractive girl came out. She must have been the clerk. She sat beside the Judge. I think her job was to record everything that transpired and to keep the paperwork straight. A third girl appeared; also very nice. I figured out that the court’s staff was populated by young attractive, well built women.

A lady appeared and stood at the prosecutor’s table. I could tell, because on that table were three big files, with I presume, the case files for 100% of the cases on today’s docket.
A few lawyers appeared. I could tell because they had suits and ties. Some hung around the court room, but most of them headed directly for the “Private” door. I think they went back there to review the cases with the judge in advance.

It was laughably easy to rank the lawyers according to the quality of their suits, ties and grooming. They ranged from baronial to scruffy. I’m almost certain that I could rank the 20 or so lawyers I saw that day by appearance only, and achieve 90% accuracy.

The best looking lawyer turned out to be the best. Let me call him Esquire. Before the judge came out, Esquire emerged from the “Private” door and plunked down a stack of about 20 folders on the prosecutor’s table. Then he called the 20 defendants, one by one, whispered something to each, handed a sheet of paper to the prosecutor, and then sent the defendants out of the room. I figure those were the ones whose cases were dismissed. Later when the judge came in, Esquire’s remaining cases where disposed of quickly and painlessly for the defendants. If I ever get in trouble in New Bern, I’m going to hire Esquire as my lawyer.
Then it came time to rise as the judge came in. The judge was surprisingly young and handsome. I almost laughed out loud as the bailiff said, “here’s Judge Pauuuuuuuuuuuuuuul xxx. He did it like Ed McMahon used to say heeeeeeeeeeeeer’s Johnny [Carson]. I don’t think you’re allowed to laugh out loud in court.

Finally things started to happen. It was about 10:10 by now.
  1. First we had all those requesting a court appointed attorney. The judge named appointments and the clerk gave them new court dates.
  2. Next came continuances. The prosecutor called them forward one by one. I was bewildered to see that some of them came forward, and then walked out the back door with hardly a pause. Others had to stop at the clerk’s desk, put their hand on a book on the shelf, raise their right hand and swear to something. Then they were allowed to go. I have no idea what distinguished those two groups.
  3. Next came defendants represented by lawyers; Mr. Esquire’s first. These cases, about 30 of them, were disposed of rapidly. Most had to pay court costs (about $200), restitution if applicable, and were given suspended sentences of 30 days plus 3 years unsupervised probation. It was amazing how quickly those judgments were rendered. So fast, that the judge did not have the time to read even a single sentence on the papers in front of him. Still, his remarks seemed to be spot on each time. I concluded that the judge and the lawyers had done all their homework before entering the court. The judge was well familiar with each case and had an outcome in mind. Therefore, rattling off the sentence in open court was a mere formality.
  4. Next the prosecutor called for “those not represented by attorney and pleading guilty.” There formed a line of about 30 more people. These cases also went quickly, but slightly slower than those with lawyers. Despite the speed, the judge seemed to be right on top of each case. Either he had studied them in advance, or he had crib notes in front of him, or he was simply handing out sentences based on the charge and the appearance of the defendants. In most of the cases, the defendant hardly got to speak a single word.
About this time, I figured out the special nature of today’s sessions. Those two men that I thought were police were actually from Walmart security. From time to time, the judge asked a question about the facts of the case and these men responded. They had photographic and/or video evidence in front of them for each case. I heard no cases from Target, or any other store, so I figure that today’s session was specially arranged to dispose of all the pending Walmart cases. If they didn’t do it that way, the Walmart security men would need to be in court every day. Also from time to time, the judge asked the prosecutor about prior offenses. The prosecutor had an answer about 50% of the time, and didn’t know the other 50%. In those cases, the judge asked the defendant.

Most of these people got off with court costs, plus restitution. However, there were two doors for them to exit the court. The door on the left was for those who could pay up immediately and leave. The door on the right was for those who couldn’t pay or who were sentenced to jail or probation. The one exception came in a woman’s case. The Walmart man said that she stole things like hair trimmers, and that this was the 5th time she had been caught. “45 days” was her sentence, handed down by the judge without hesitation.

All this time, there was almost zero accusations, nor protests of innocence heard. No prosecution, no defense. It seemed that any case that could not be disposed of in a few seconds was continued. I heard the judge say several times that there were so many cases on today’s docket that anything of substance would have to wait for another day. I guess that if I returned some other day it may be very different wish a smaller number of more substantial cases, where I could hear the actual accusations and the actual defense. Not today.

Now it was around 1110 and the courtroom was mostly empty of defendants. A whole bunch more lawyers began to appear. I don’t know of those lawyers just knew which time to appear, or whether someone gave them a signal.

The door to the side opened and prisoners dressed in orange jumpsuits filed in. There were about three batches of 7 inmates each. All these cases were boring. They simply arranged for counsel for these people whose trails were scheduled for later dates.

The course broke for lunch around 1300. I didn’t return. I think I understand how that process works. Now for some more general observations:

The acoustics of the court room were excellent. A dozen or more subdued conversations could (and did) be held simultaneously without the voices carrying very far. That’s perfect, because everywhere there were lawyers, and defendants, and clerks and bailiffs all doing business at the same time. On the down side, I had great difficulty hearing what the judge, and lawyers said to each other when cases were actually heard. Next time, I’ll be sure to bring two hearing aids and to turn them up full blast.

As citizens, we know how little it takes to get appointed or elected judge in this country. I was a bit taken aback at this judge’s youthful appearance (and by the fact that he seemed to be chewing something). But at the end, I am very impressed at how he was master of that courtroom, in substance as well as style. He appeared to be well briefed on everything before him, he handed out sentences without hesitation, yet he never appeared to be rushing anyone. In those few cases where the facts seemed obscure or evidence lacking, he deferred judgment to another day. I was very impressed. By whatever combination of long experience or hard work I don’t know, but this man was expert at his job. I don’t think any defendant or lawyer, or other party left that room today feeling slighted.




The amount of paper shuffling was appalling. The only computer screen visible belonged to the clerk, but I don’t think it was turned on because she never looked at it. Every lawyer, when he was not talking was sitting there furiously writing and writing. Some things they write on the manila folder, some are annotations on the printed documents, and some are jottings on those famous yellow pads. Each case had an envelope. Both prosecutors and attorneys pawed those envelopes and took things out and stuffed things in. Most amazing was the clerk. Everybody else in the room kept laying piles of papers on her counter. She just made them disappear, with hardly ever a question to anyone.

As a guess, I expect that 95% of the time, papers are handled correctly. Even so, on a day with 200 cases, that means 10 or more are mishandled with unknown consequences. It must cost a fortune for all the skilled handling of this paperwork, but more important I do not believe that the quality control achievable by these methods could be acceptable in the 21st century. Having said that, I tip my hat to the expeditious and skilful way all those papers were handled in court today. It appeared that everyone involved (except that green young lawyer by the wall) knew very well how the papers should be handled and they just did it.

If a court like this was to be automated to 21st century standards it would work much better. However, that type of software takes a long time to debug and refine. Digitization would cause one or two decades of worse performance before it got better. Also, it would be wasteful and inefficient to do it at a local court, or even a state level. We need a national, or even a global, approach to workflow handling of justice cases so that everyone gains from the refinements. But huge software projects on a national scale also have a dismal track record. Very often they fail, and are cancelled. I sympathize with the judges and lawyers who fear automation and want to hold it back as long as possible. Their fears are well founded. On the other hand, I don’t believe their costs and their quality levels are sustainable in the 21st century. They have a genuine dilemma on their hands.

Later in the year, I’ll make visits to other kinds of court and write them up.

p.s. The young green stiff lawyer disappeared sometime before the judge came in. I didn't see him speak with anyone.