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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Friday, May 13, 2005

I'm (Not Quite) Done With Finals

I'm thisclose to being done with my first year of law school. I have one more final remaining, which I like to think of as one-eighth of a final, because unlike all my other finals, this one doesn't count for my entire grade in the course. Probably not the best attitude for doing well on that final, though.

Finals are an interesting time. Part of me likes it, part of me hates it. I like the unstructured nature of finals week - the only time I ever have to be anywhere is the final itself. As a result, my circadian rhythms became completely screwed up and I found myself sleeping from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. most of the last two weeks.

I find that being able to stay up until dawn makes me much more productive. During the daytime, there are far too many distractions - things on TV, sporting events to watch, people to talk to online, breaking news to follow, etc. Between 12 and 6 a.m., none of that is an issue. Nothing's open, so I'm not tempted to go anywhere. Nothing's on TV. Nothing newsworthy is happening in the world. (Sadly, the headline on My Yahoo! before I go to bed at 5 or 6 a.m. every day the last couple of weeks is always another suicide bombing or troop ambush or something like that from Iraq. At that hour, it's always the only thing that's happened so far in the day. All the reports have blurred together to the point where they make no individual impression on me.) Without distractions, I can be so much more productive than I normally am. I was the same way over spring break when I was doing the write-on for law review (except even more so - I was up from about 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. then). On the other hand, I get ridiculous ideas at 3 a.m. like calling my Property professor at home, waking him up, and saying, "Is your statute of limitations running? It is? Then you better go catch it!"

Speaking of productivity, during finals, I'm spending much more time working than I did at any other point during the semester (except for maybe the write-on). During the year, there's just no way I could sit down for six straight hours and apply myself to work. Now, I don't have much choice (well, I could just wing my finals, but that's probably not a good idea). Fortunately, as I've been reviewing a semester's worth of notes, nothing jumps out at me as something totally foreign. This was something of a relief to me - in a way, I'd expected to come across some legal concept that I just totally missed during the semester, but somehow I'd paid enough attention between games of spider solitaire to make reviewing for finals exactly that - reviewing, not learning new things.

However, I think the amount of time before each final is going to be directly related to how I did. I felt pretty good about Contracts, my first final, for which I had plenty of time between the end of class and the exam to study. I also felt alright about Con Law, which was five days after Contracts. But Property, only three days after Contracts, was harder - I don't know if it was the test itself, or the fact that I couldn't focus on Property for very long before the test.

Who knows what grades I'll actually get, though. The mandatory curve for 1Ls at UCLA (which is changing next year and will benefit next year's 1Ls, not us) is 20% As, 60% Bs, and 20% Cs and below. When you take 15 weeks of instruction, then base an entire grade on testing knowledge of those 15 weeks in a four-hour span, there's going to be an aspect of unreliability. The best student in the class could be fighting a cold the day of the exam and not do as well as he might otherwise do. The worst student in the class might luck out and find that the test focuses on the three issues he knows best. It reminds me of speed skater Dan Jansen, who was at one point the world record holder in the 500m. At the 1988 Calgary Olympics, he fell after learning that his sister had died earlier that day. At the 1992 Albertville Olympics he failed to medal despite finishing 0.32 seconds behind the gold medalist. At the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics he stumbled again, lost ground, and finished eighth. Jansen was probably the best skater in the world at the 500m; he just happened to have the worst luck on the sport's biggest stage. Anyway, that's kind of how the testing process at law school works out.

Then there's just the randomness of the grading. I haven't gone to see how my exams from the fall semester were graded, but there's a naturally subjective aspect to grading these exams. I find it hard to believe that there's an unbelievably wide range in the quality of the exam answers, which means that there might not be much of a difference between an A exam and a C+ exam. It just depends how many exams happened to fall right in between those two. With subjective grading, chance plays a significant role in where your exam falls in the spectrum of the class as a whole.

***

One of the good things about this past week was the release of the new Dave Matthews Band album on Tuesday. Being the tremendous DMB nerd that I am; I preordered it with express shipping so it would be delivered to my door on the day of its release, along with a five-song bonus CD as a thank-you for preordering, plus three extra tracks on the bonus CD because I'm in the fan club. Yep, big nerd. Anyway, I was really looking forward to this CD, since there hasn't been any truly new studio material coming out of DMB since 2001's Everyday.

For me, a new DMB CD is always an odd experience, because I'm so used to hearing all of the songs that they already have. I listen to their live CDs and their old albums and I'm so familiar with the songs that to hear new songs is a huge variation from my typical DMB listening experience. So on Tuesday, when Stand Up came to my door, I got in my car and drove to Santa Monica to get lunch instead of walking into Westwood so I could listen to the new disc.

I'll need a few spins to really get into it the way I have with all of the other CDs, but on the whole, it's an excellent work. "Old Dirt Hill (Bring That Beat Back)," the second track, is a catchy melody, but the early returns say that the best song on the CD in "Lousiana Bayou," an upbeat song that reminds me a bit of "Stay (Wasting Time)" despite the fact that the two songs don't sound anything alike - instead, they kind of invoke similar feelings. "American Baby," the first single off the disc, is also a song that I'm getting into. "Hello Again," with its heavy beat, is a catchy song with a darker edge to it.

I was a little disappointed that they left "Joyride" off the CD. On their last tour, they played a few songs that they had written for this album; "Joyride" was one of them. They included the version of "Joyride" that they had recorded for Stand Up on the bonus CD, but it's not part of the album, which I was surprised about. It's got a beat that's easy to like, and I was surprised that it didn't make the cut, since it seemed to be one of the crowd favorites on the last tour. Guess that's why I'm not a producer.

Anyway, Stand Up only makes me look forward to this summer's tour with even more anticipation. One of the things I like about DMB's music is that each song has its own evolution - there's a clear difference in some of the songs from their earlier concerts and the way they're played now. I'm curious to see how the studio versions of the new songs translate live.

***

I've had a few suggestions thrown my way, based on my last post, about whom I should have a crush on. I'm pretty sure none of the following women was the one who left a drunk voice mail on my phone around 6 p.m. today, but whoever was calling didn't identify herself. She only said, "Dude, I'm so drunk. Good luck on your final. I'll talk to you later. I'm sure this phone call was ill-advised. Bye." Anyway, here's the short list of women who probably did not make that call.

Emily VanCamp - Pros: She's Canadian and likes hockey (huge plus there). It's also not cliched to like her. She doesn't look like the typical celebrity. Cons: I have no idea who she is. She's on Everwood, on the WB, and I don't think I, um, ever would watch that show. She's still a teenager (turned 19 yesterday).

Keira Knightley - Pros: Really ridiculously good looking. Likes soccer, so maybe she could learn to like hockey. Cons: Dropped out of school at age 16. Doesn't like parties. Looked better with long hair.

Natalie Portman - Pros: Ivy League-educated Jewish girl. Natural good looks. Speaks five languages fluently. Aspires to be something other than an actress (we'll see how that turns out). Plus, I'm a lot cooler than the Star Wars nerds who like her. Cons: She's vegan and doesn't drink. She went to Harvard. And everybody likes her.

Salma Hayek - Pros: Smoking hot. Fluent in four languages. Cons: She's 38, a little too old for me. She's been quoted as saying, "I keep waiting to meet a man who has more balls than I do." That's mildly frightening.

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