Sunday, April 11, 2021

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #49: April 11, 2021

 Hi all,

I am officially a suburbanite now.  We've been in the house for about 7 weeks, and each day I look around and feel so grateful that all these pieces are finally clicking into place!  In the past few weeks, I've leased a Subaru, put together rocking chairs for the front porch, planted tomato seedlings, and declared war on the woodpecker that has identified the chimney in our bedroom as the best "singing-post" to drum on to attract a mate (at 6am).  Instead of sirens and neighbors' bass beats, the sounds that interrupt my meetings are cranky birds, the Chicken Dance blasting from the elementary school soccer field nearby, and (only once, thankfully) a squirrel that climbed down my office chimney mid-day and began screaming (it made it out ok).  My weekends are spent making trips to Home Depot or the grocery store, picking out towel bars, or raking up leaves in the yard.  We even piled into the car yesterday and had our first real in-person visit, playing games and running relay races in the yard with two of our closest friends and their kids - I cried when we hugged good-bye at the end because I'd been missing hugs (and friends) so much!

And then, today, I discovered Costco.  Ok, so I've been there before, but I think I can count the number of times on my fingers.  I remember my first trip with Petra in high school, when I (naturally) wandered into the chocolate aisle and then walked around the rest of the store clutching my finds in my arms as though someone would try to steal them from me, while wondering who was ever able to get those items from the top shelves (answer: no one).  Then there were the times in college that Mary drove me there to get chips and sodas for our full-dorm parties, and one or two trips more recently with Jess and Anthony to get supplies for backyard barbecues (obviously including the two-pack of jumbo Nutella jars to take home with me).  But I've never shopped there for my own home before.  And it's intimidating!  I'll be honest: I feel a little guilty - do I really need that box of Cornflakes that's fully the size of my entire torso?  Unlikely.  Will I really eat the entire Dutch oven's worth of shrimp scampi before it goes bad?  TBD.  But mostly, I found the entire experience to be magical.  Being able to plan ahead in a way I've never had space for before is so satisfying!  And capping off the experience with a gigantic $1.50 hot dog combo in a front-seat picnic was such a treat!

I don't have any deep life lessons to share from my trip to Costco today - I'm just plain happy.  Perhaps the lesson is to keep your eyes on the prize - know what you want, and keep working toward that until your dreams come true.  I've wanted this day so desperately for so long, and it feels like every single struggle has been worth it to reach this moment, in this exact position in life, as exactly who I've become along the way.

As always, previous digests can be found on my blog at  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know.


Fun & Games
  • In March 2021, 28-year-old Linjie Deng, a Chinese conceptual artist, was attacked in the NYC subway while being referred to as "yellow."  He decided right then and there to reclaim that Asian slur and started working on three pieces featuring yellow as the main color.  This art exhibit intended to combat Asian hate, titled Asian Art SPA, features those works and some of his others; you can see it at Carlton Fine Arts Ltd. at 543 Madison Avenue through May 24.
  • Iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has taken over the New York Botanical Garden with her whimsical pumpkins and flower sculptures, plus one of her popular infinity rooms.  I'm not sure what will be the most startling aspect - going to a public place, being surrounded by so much beauty after being confined to the four walls of our homes for the past year, or the sculptures themselves, which you'll stumble upon as you walk through the gardens, just as you would a beautiful, attention-grabbing flower.
  • Coney Island reopened this weekend, including six new kids' rides!
  • Works & Process is a street dance project filmed at Lincoln Center as part of The Black Dancing Bodies Project, an ongoing documentary effort to represent Black women in street and club dance culture (including street and club dance, hip-hop, house dance, Waacking, and Lite Feet) through a series of sessions that include photography and interviews. Check it out here and catch the third premiere of the series next Sunday at 7:30pm.
  • Although it likely won't be ready for the summer rush, the Brooklyn Bridge will be getting a two-way bike lane this year!
  • Miss comedy clubsThis one in Brooklyn is now offering outdoor shows daily.
  • Not sure if his dream will come true, but one of NYC's mayoral candidates has proposed a series of pop-up pools across the city (and its waterways).
  • If you haven't seen it already, this video has been circulating lately, showing the New York City waterfront in the 1930s.  The film came from the Prelinger Archive, but it was enhanced and colorized with the help of AI.
  • The Brooklyn Public Library is offering outdoor "whispering libraries" at 10 locations across Brooklyn this spring and summer.  Each branch will hide speakers outside and play music, poetry, oral histories, podcast excerpts, and spoken literature up to five times each day, and each will feature customized playlists reflecting the neighborhoods they serve.

Recipe of the Week: Everything Bagel Cookies
  • NOTE: This is an experiment.  You will be putting garlic and onions in a cookie.  If that makes you say "ew," a) be more open to trying new things, but b) this probably isn't the right recipe for you.  It is time-intensive and legitimately hard work.  But I think it's delicious.  Also, Rosie and Caitlin, I dedicate this to you.
  • Add 1.5 cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1/4 tsp salt to a bowl; whisk gently to mix.  Beat 1/2 cup softened butter on high speed until creamy, about 1 minute.  On medium speed, mix in 3/4 cup light brown sugar and 1/4 cup granulated sugar until combined.  Beat in 1 egg (room temp), 1 tbsp milk, and 1.5 tsp vanilla extract.  Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients; stir on low until a soft, sticky dough forms, then stir in 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (chips are optional).  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the freezer.
  • While dough is chilling, combine 4 oz cream cheese (softened), 2 tbsp butter (softened or even slightly melted), 1 tsp vanilla, and 1-2 cups powdered sugar and mix until thick and creamy (it should spread a little in the bowl, but it shouldn't be liquidy - if it is, add more powdered sugar; if it's too thick, add a few drops of milk or vanilla at a time).  Freeze for a couple of hours.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Pour some everything bagel seasoning into a small bowl.  Scoop 1 heaping tbsp dough into your palm and flatten it out.  Use a teaspoon or small melon baller to scoop a small ball of cream cheese filling (maybe 1/2 tsp, or the size of a hazelnut), or maybe a macadamia nut for a bigger scoop of dough.  Seal up the dough around it, and roll lightly in your hands until smooth and round.  Roll each ball in the everything bagel seasoning; press gently into the seasoning if it doesn't stick right away.  Place two inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Repeat with remaining dough.  Bake for 10-11 minutes, until just set (and not shiny) - the tops may not brown, but the bottom should.  If they don't spread and stay very dome-shaped, press them down lightly with the bottom of a glass right when they come out of the oven.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #48: April 5, 2021

 Hi all,

Last night, I was sad that I was sending out the Digest late this week, but this morning, I found out that it was fate.  Today, the Supreme Court finally ruled on Google v. Oracle, the landmark copyright case that I mentioned back in October, and now I get to talk about it.  This case and I started at Google around the same time back in 2010, right when I was starting my legal career.  It sparked a decade of learning and helped me discover my passion for copyright law.  And today, after 10+ years of waiting and uncertainty and multiple illogical rulings by the Federal Circuit, the Supreme Court finally got it right and probably saved the Internet as we know it!  (Ok, so I feel pretty strongly about this one!).  I'm going to try to provide a high-level (yet still unavoidably lengthy) explanation of the issues in this case.

First, a little background: Google v. Oracle is rooted in the creation of the Android operating system and Google's use of "declaring code" from Java.  Java was, at the time, the coding language for this type of software - it completely dominated the desktop coding market.  Declaring code is essentially just the names used to identify certain functions of a software program - for example, if you want to add two things together, you could call that function "addition," or you could call it "banana" or "gazebo" or anything else you'd like.  Coders everywhere had already learned the names that Java had assigned to the various functions of its software.  When Android's coders decided to create their mobile platform, they faced a quandary: use the same names that nearly every developer was already familiar with, given Java's market dominance, or hope that those same developers would decide to give some unknown new start-up (Android) a chance and willingly invest hours of their own time learning a new language in order to do so - in other words, hope that programmers would learn that "gazebo" in Android means the same function as "banana" in Java.  (This example is 100% made up; any resemblance to real names is unintentional).  Google (or rather, Android, which was at the time an independent start-up) chose the former; however, they only used the declaring code (the names of the functions), and they wrote the "implementing code" (the code that actually implements, or carries out, the function) from scratch.  During the oral arguments in October, Breyer was especially swayed by the notion that Java's declaring code was like the QWERTY layout of a keyboard - there were plenty of other ways to design a keyboard at the beginning, but once every computer user on the planet had learned to type, it would have been nearly impossible for a newcomer to try to enter the market with a different layout, because no one would ever bother to learn it and everyone would continue to buy the QWERTY ones.  It's a pretty good analogy...)

From a legal standpoint, this case was about two things: 1) whether APIs (or specifically, here, the bits of declaring code that were copied) are copyrightable, and 2) whether using declaring code in order to make other software programs interoperable is a sufficient basis for fair use.  In other words, IF Oracle (Java) should be granted a copyright monopoly over the declaring code (question #1), should Google (Android) have been obligated to pay Oracle for the convenience of using "banana" over "gazebo" and taking advantage of coders' familiarity with those names (question #2)?  SCOTUS declined to answer the first question (this is normal and expected, and likely because the justices in the majority didn't agree on that point), but they decided in Google's favor on the second.  And in the process, Justice Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion here, a) took a pretty novel approach to the fair use analysis and each of its four factors (intriguing); b) referred to a hypothetical software engineer as "she" (woo-hoo!); and c) directly contradicted one of the most famous and oft-cited lines in legal history (boo; see below for details).*

So what does this mean for us?  If you're a software engineer, or if you work at a tech company, or if you ever use the Internet, the answer is probably "not much."  However, this is a good thing - this is a little like me telling you that a meteor almost hit the Earth and destroyed it, but that the governments of the world secretly banded together and blew it up before the moment of impact (yes, I'm citing Armageddon).  You can just go on with your normal life, but you should probably take a second to thank your lucky stars that such a devastating crisis was averted.  And that's sorta what happened here, IMHO - the Internet and the entire software and start-up industries almost died this year, but the crisis was averted.  Yes, I'm being a bit dramatic, but trust me - this decision is a BFD.

If you're a fellow IP or tech lawyer, this means even more for us.  I think we'll spend years reading different interpretations of the reasoning used in this opinion, and of Breyer's approach to each of the four fair use factors (the fourth factor analysis was bonkers, but also kind of awesome, amirite?).  I think we'll see future opinions that apply fair use in new and novel ways, and I think we'll see an expansion of the doctrine.  In many ways, I'm in favor of that.  I also think we'll see more judges focusing on incentivist arguments (if you actually read my AI paper, you'll know that I'm a big fan of those) and deciding, first and foremost, if the decision being made in a case at bar aligns with the main purposes of copyright law - not only to incentivize the creation of a particular work by allowing the creator to profit from it and recoup the costs of creating it, but also to increase the overall number of works being created by allowing others to create new works.  We'll be forced to actually decide, little by little, how to thread the needle between the necessary act of granting monopoly rights over a work to its author and allowing other potential creators to continue to create.  And last but not least, I think we'll finally displace the infamous SCOTUS shovel with references to "el dinosaurio," and we'll hear more about QWERTY keyboards than we ever imagined possible.

Regardless, this is a tremendous, watershed moment for copyright law, for start-ups, and for the Internet (and, clearly, for me).  As someone who not only spent the formative years of my legal life at Google, but has also been steeped in copyright academia for several years and went on to work in the start-up world, this victory is unbelievably sweet for me.  I want to take a moment to congratulate the entire Google team (both those who are still there, and those of us who are part of the diaspora of alumni) - this has been a tremendous effort over a very long time, and the people who have been leading the charge are my heroes and mentors and have truly shaped copyright law forevermore.  I also want to thank my teammates at Google who first taught me what any of this meant, my professors and classmates who spent hours discussing (and arguing about) this case during law school, and everyone along the way who has let me prattle at them for hours at a time about fair use and declaring code and why the Federal Circuit is bonkers (Luke and Mom, I'm especially looking at you here).  I, for one, will sleep a little easier tonight knowing that justice was served!

As always, previous digests can be found on my blog at  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know.


*The quote referenced above is from Judge Learned Hand (an extremely well-respected judge from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in the early 1900s): "[N]o plagiarist can excuse the wrong by showing how much of his work he did not pirate." Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, 81 F.2d 49 (2d Cir. 1936).  Breyer at a few points said precisely the opposite, highlighting the many lines of implementing code that Google did not copy, as though that explained everything.  I respectfully disagree with him on that point, but he reached the right result nonetheless!

Fun & Games
  • A college friend of mine, Kyle Nasser, is a brilliant jazz musician, and he just shared a project that he's been working on during the quarantine, called Triple Blind.  Without live performances, jazz music, too, had to adapt to a virtual world, and this wonderful album is the result!  All sales go to Project Corazon, so you can listen to amazing music and help change the world all in one go.
  • I don't usually wade into the waters of TV recommendations, but I just binge-watched an entire season of Ginny & Georgia on Netflix today, and it was fantastic!  If you liked Little Fires Everywhere or Pretty Little Liars, this is your next favorite show.
  • Kyle Abraham, an unbelievable, up-and-coming choreographer (and dancer) for the NYCB, has a new piece premiering on April 8th.  His first piece for the NYCB, The Runaway, is one of my favorite pieces ever, featuring not only exciting choreography and inspired and unique costumes, but also music by James Blake, Jay-Z, and Kanye West.  This latest piece, When We Fell, is his third for NYCB and was created with 8 NYCB dancers during a 3-week Covid residency bubble that was subsequently filmed at Lincoln Center.
  • Have you ever considered training to become a ballet teacher?  The ABT offers teacher training, and their next round kicks off this summer (virtually).  Check out the details here.
  • Ok, I realize that the boat is no longer stuck.  But I forgot to include this link last week, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I like that the boat [was] stuck, and this article absolutely accurately summed up why.
  • Mind Body Social is offering a number of free streaming workouts and wellness videos in celebration of Miami Beach Pride, from yoga to a "firefighter workout."  Pick the one that fits your interests best, and get moving!
  • So this is weird (and spot-on).  Never thought that the biggest riddle of 2021 just might be figuring out how to dress myself again.
  • Need a new virtual escape?  How about taking a tour of the White House?
  • The 21st Annual Mercy College International Film Festival (virtual, of course) starts tomorrow and runs through Friday.  Tune in at 6:30pm each night on Filmocracy for speaker introductions and feature films from across the globe.
Cooking Classes and Other Yummy News
  • Jew-ish Cook-Along: This cook-along, hosted by Billy Harris, will take place on May 1.  I participated in a fried chicken cook-along with Tyler Florence last May that is still one of the highlights of the quarantine for me (and the impetus to create an Instagram account), so I'm excited for this one!
  • Vaccinated?  You're eligible for a free Krispy Kreme donut every single day this year!  Be sure to laminate your vaccination card, since you'll be wanting to flash it daily!
  • 92Y has an incredible slate of cooking classes coming up this spring, spanning many regions and cuisines, all with amazing instructors.