Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Tech Crash of 2020?

The bankruptcy of Tesla will be merely a part of the tech crash of 2020.

Tech is going to crash in a few years.  Why do I say that?  Well, it crashes every decade or so, and we are about due.  It takes a long time for companies to fail.  I was blogging about Sears closing its doors back in 2010.  Well, seven years later, they still teeter on the bring of bankruptcy.  Maybe this year.... But you know it will come, eventually.

It took a long time for GM to fall, and in retrospect, we all saw the signs.   We knew that schemes like the Elio 3-wheeler wouldn't make it, but enough people bought the stock, loaned them money, and put down "deposits" that they are technically still in business today, although insolvent.   Radio Shack took forever to topple, was bought out in bankruptcy by private equity, and toppled yet again.  These things take time, be patient.

The problem for Elon Musk is that he is a visionary and visonaries, as I noted before, are often failures in their own lives even if they inspire us to greatness.  Mark Zuckerberg, in contrast, is a schmuck, and schmucks always make a lot of money, at least for themselves.   

Yes, Tesla turned a small profit in the last quarter of 2016, but that wasn't due to the sales of cars, but to the sales of emissions credits to the State of California.  Now, don't get me wrong, as an Automotive and Electrical Engineer, I want to see the electric car succeed on its own merits - and it will, eventually.   But it is likely that it will succeed under a GM, Ford, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, or VW nameplate.

The problem for Tesla, is that he is literally re-inventing the wheel here, starting a car company from the ground up, a visionary idea that has bankrupted many people in the past - if they weren't just scams from the get-go.   Tesla is demonstrating there is a demand for electric cars, and other manufacturers are rushing in to join the party - nearly every manufacturer in the world has some sort of electric car for sale in showrooms right now.   Granted, not many are as nice as the Tesla or have the range, but many are also a lot cheaper, and range is really not as much of an issue as people think.   It is nice to be able to go 300 miles in  Tesla between charges.   But no, that isn't enough to make it a practical car to take a long trip in, as you will likely go more than 300 miles when you drive to Disney World.

The big problem for Tesla is Trump.   Trump will drop EPA CAFE requirements from the staggering 50 mpg slated for as soon as 2021 (which is not far away!).  Electric cars allowed manufactures to reach this goal, as they had an "equivalent" MPG in the hundreds.   Take away the CAFE requirement and you take away the need for electric cars.

The one-two punch will be low oil prices.  With new pipelines going in (and don't believe the press about "protests" stopping them - look at standing rock, it accomplished nothing) and the oil sands from Canada and Bakken reserves from America, we are poised to be awash in a sea of cheap oil.   Venezuela will keep exporting oil to prop up its sagging economy.  And our friends in the middle-east are desperate to pump, not to mention Russia.   Short of a major war in the region, an oil shortage does not look likely.

It is hard to sell electric cars in an era of $2 gas - particularly a stable era of $2 gas.

Now look, I'm not saying this is right, just the way it is.  I would prefer to see a world with electric cars being recharged at home stations from solar panels and wind energy.   That would be nice.  It will happen, and maybe if Hillary were President it would have happened soon.  But Trump is now President, and a lot of subsidies for electric, solar, and wind power will go by the wayside in favor of subsidies for the oil and gas industries.
The other problem for Musk is that like any good visionary, he has his hands in a lot of pies - a lot of money-losing pies.  Hyperloop sounds like a great idea, but the amount of money to build it would be staggering - in the trillions.   Whether private capital could even afford to do this is questionable.  It is hard to see how Musk can make a profit at it.   Or his space exploration dreams.   Again, visionary.  Profitable?  Only so long as NASA pays for launches.   If the ISS is decommissioned as scheduled in the 2020's, well, there maybe a big drop in launch demand.

But enough about Musk.  What about the rest of the tech sector?   What about it?  The big problem for tech is there is no compelling new product coming out.   Smart phone saturation is near 100% - there are no new customers left and that leaves only replacement and conquest sales.   I'd buy a new smartphone tomorrow, but my Galaxy S4 does everything I need it to.  Why risk hundreds of dollars on a new phone?   Like the PC market, it has matured, and sales will plateau from now on.

Pundits posited that wearables or 3-D VR would be the "next big thing" that everyone would have to have.  But while "everyone" needs a smart phone today (it has gotten so you have to have one to interact in society anymore) you don't really need a fitbit or a Oculus headset to get along.   And VR, like 3-D before it, will turn out to be less than what people expect.   Zuckerberg envisions a society where everyone will interact in 3-D VR (read:  VR porn) and thus will have to have this technology.

Two problems:  First of all, this VR crap is basically already included in most new phones.  You snap the phone into a headband and you're there.  So companies like Oculus will have a hard time selling a standalone VR headset that is just a headset and not also your phone.   The second problem is that not everyone will want to live in a VR world, just as a lot of people found 3-D movies and television (remember that?) to be a hassle and disorienting.  It simply isn't as compelling as basic tech like the smart phone.

And we've seen this before in tech, many times.  When Windows 95 came out, the industry geared up for everyone to dump their old PCs for new Windows-compatible units.   Problem was, a lot of people were still happy with their old Windows 3.1 machines, and some even running on DOS just fine, thank you.  The big market hit turned out to be nothing - there was no compelling need to upgrade, when old technology worked just fine.   People do make rational economic choices with technology sometimes.

But what about social media?  Won't that continue to be profitable?  Well, to begin with, it really isn't very profitable.   And people are starting to discover how odious it can be.  Twitter is admitting that millions of its users are fake accounts set up to "follow" people and make their comments seem more popular than they are.  Facebook is grappling with the same issue and admitting their platform is being used by Russian trolls to influence public opinion.

Again, we saw this all before.   In the DOS era, we would access "news groups" (the source of the "alt." nomenclature used by the alt.right) to go online and interact with other people.  So long as it was just computer nerds, it was just the usual sort of time-wasting on the computer.   But I recall vividly seeing the first SPAM on a usenet newsgroup.  It was like a shell-shock, as I realized there was really nothing anyone could do to prevent spam on these open forums.   And within a year or so, the SPAM and trolls outnumbered real postings by 2:1, then 10:1 then 100:1 as more and more people fled these groups and went to privately run websites to discuss various topics - websites that were moderated or charged a fee to join.   Newsgroups were dead.  Oh, they're still there, just as Second Life and MySpace still exist.  Just no one goes to Newsgroups anymore and they are just full of SPAM.

Many online forums became ghost towns the same way.  People migrated to new forums, leaving old ones behind, as flame-wars and troll-wars erupted.   AOL "Newsgroups" were once wildly popular, but fell by the wayside.  This is not ancient history, either, but things that happened only a decade or two ago, and continue to happen today.
So Zuckerberg has to figure this out and fast.  The problem is, to moderate all of Facebook will require some really clever bots, or a lot of human beings working in real-time.  We are already seeing that it takes them nearly a day to take down suicide or murder videos - the most outrageous of content.  How can they hope to stop Fake News?   They can't, without moderators, and that costs money.  Bots don't cut it, as trolls learn what the bots are looking for and then spoof around them, sort of the same way con-artists on Craigslist get around their bots and list the same trailer for sale in all 50 states

I got off Facebook when I saw the potential for evil in it.  Even regular postings by regular people turned into an exercise in narcissism.   I didn't like who I became on Facebook - and no one is like their profile on Facebook.   Similarly, I stopped reading Reddit when it became a toxic mix of alt.right, Trump supporters, Russian trolls, and "red pill" idiots.   Reddit just left me depressed, no matter how much they tried to cheer me up with cute cat pictures.   And Twitter?  Two words: Donald Trump.   That, and the fact that only the media uses Twitter.  I've never been on Twitter, but read the tweets all the time in "the News" - how does this business model make sense?  I mean, it is losing money like mad.

So it is possible we could even see "social media" become a thing whose time has come and gone - maybe replaced with something else.  Or at least, maybe a few players go by the wayside.  Maybe it will even replaced with - dare I say it? - reality.   But regardless of popularity, profitability will remain the big problem for many of these social media platforms.  Even Facebook, with a 2016 P/E ratio of 40, is overpriced, even if it is profitable.  Projections of future P/E ratios are, of course, speculation.  Facebook might see a huge drop in stock price, if the P/E predictions turn out to be premature.

Then there is Toshiba.   I sold my Southern Company stock, even though utility stocks are generally seen as safe, boring, investments.   Southern Company owns Georgia Power, which is building two new nuclear plants here in Georgia.   Toshiba bought Westinghouse, which was contracted to build these plants,  (along with one in China and two in South Carolina).   Like so many nuclear projects (e..g, Niagara Mohawk Nine Mile 2), the plants end up way over budget and behind schedule.  At this point, Westinghouse is bankrupt, and Georgia Power is trying to figure out what to do - take over construction on its own, convert the plants to cheap natural gas?  Or go bankrupt itself?

Meanwhile, Toshiba, once the powerhouse Japanese tech company, is facing bankruptcy itself, trying to sell off the jewel in the crown - its memory business - to pay for the disaster.   Good thing seppuku is no longer in fashion in Japan!  While nuclear power is really not "tech" related, it ends up taking down a tech company.  A big tech company.

When these plants were designed and construction started, electrical costs were high and these nuclear plants appeared to be profitable ventures.  Cheap natural gas ended up undercutting nuclear power, and cost overruns sealed the deal.   While this may appear to be limited to something as minor and esoteric as the nuclear industry, think about how this will also impact solar and wind power.    Again, will Musk be able to sell us on solar panels and storage batteries for our homes, when cheap electric power from natural gas floods the market?  Stay tuned.

Of course, things will turn around eventually.   Bankrupt Tesla might be bought up by one of the smaller car companies that can't afford the R&D to develop their own electric car.   Oil prices will eventually go back up (they always do) which might send us back to the electric car drawing board (these things seem to go in cycles!).  Crashes are always followed by recoveries.

But I am not sure that the euphoria about today's stock market is entirely justified.  I mean, I made $20,000 last weekend, just sitting in my camper in Florida.   I'll take the money, thanks.  But I realize that volatility, particularly base on projected future growth and earnings is often a dangerous thing.  What goes up, must come down.   And it may be we see some down in the near future.

Doing the Math on Guaranteed Minimum (Basic) Income

If you crank the numbers on this scam, you see it is just a redistribution of wealth.

This "Guaranteed Basic Income" thing is great for the media - it generates a lot of clicks.  And some politicians are getting out in front of the "movement" as well.   Some argue that it must be a good idea, as people from across the political spectrum - including some famous people - are in favor of it.  The problem with that "argument" is that it is merely a credentialist argument.   Mr. Smart Guy says it is a good idea, so it must be, as he is Mr. Smart guy!   But history has shown that smart people do dumb things.   Chelsea Clinton's Father-In-Law went to jail for stealing from his clients to send money to Nigeria when he was conned by some 21-year-old in a Nigerian Internet Cafe.   Millions of dollars and jail time - and he was a "smart guy".

So that is not an argument - the fact a cockamamie idea is endorsed by a particular person or people.  And in fact like all credentialist arguments, it is not an argument at all, but a way of shutting down argument and discussion, because you can't respond to a credentialist augment other than to say the "smart guy" making the argument is, in fact, an idiot.   Never confuse getting lucky with being brilliant.   We hang on the every word of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or that Zuckerberg kid, as if they have some great insight to the future of technology, when in reality, these were people mostly in the right place at the right time - smart enough to take advantage of opportunities dumped in their laps (unlike most of us) but hardly brilliant innovators who had a vision of the future.

A better approach than to say an idea is endorsed by celebrities is to examine the underlying idea itself.  And if you "do the math" you quickly realize that doubling the national budget and giving away money in a wealth redistribution scheme are really not ideas that hold water or add up in a mathematical sense.
Suppose, for example, we could enact "guaranteed basic income" or "guaranteed minimum income" or whatever you want to call it.   And let's say we give everyone $10,000 a year - an amount bandied about by proponents of this plan.  How would this play out?

As I noted before, this comes to a whopping $3.15 trillion a year, which might be reduced to "only" $2 Trillion if we cancel social security and other entitlement programs (which would be a huge pay cut for those already on Social Security who would riot in The Villages if you tried to enact this- but let's take that aside for the moment).

Unless we want to borrow nearly 2/3 of the national budget every year, on top of what we already borrow, we'd have to raise taxes by $2 trillion dollars.   Actually, since we would be abolishing the social security tax, we'd have to raise taxes by $3.15 trillion (not counting administrative costs for the plan!) after cutting the 16% self-employment tax and the 8% SS tax and 8% employer contribution.  So we are basically doubling the annual budget which is today, about $3.8 trillion dollars or $12,000 per person as it is.

In order to do this, we would have to double the marginal rates to double tax revenue.   Bear in mind we've dumped the social security tax (which only applied to the first $110,000 or so of income).   So the 15% bracket becomes the 30% bracket, and the 25% bracket becomes the 50% bracket.  And the 35% bracket becomes the 70% bracket.   You see how this pans out - a huge tax increase for everyone.

But of course, the guy who was in the 15% bracket gets his $10,000,  which is going to be about equal to his taxes, even at the 30% level.  Say he and the wife are making $50,000 a year, which after deductions is $40,000 in taxable income.  He pays roughly  $10,000 in taxes, gets back $10,000 and has a net tax bill of ZERO.  This is better than his previous bill of $6,000 to be sure - plus the social security and medicare taxes!  So his net income after taxes is $40,000 a year.  Since he no longer pays social security taxes, he comes out ahead by over $10,000.  Who pays for this?

The guy who was in the 25% bracket, making $90,000 a year (married, filing jointly) maybe has a taxable income $80,000 after deductions.   He pays at the marginal rate of  50% under the new plan, or roughly about $30,000.  He gets $10,000 from the Federal government as his "guaranteed basic income" which means he nets $60,000 a year in income, or not much more than the guy making about half as much as he did.  Consider under the current brackets, he would pay only $15,000 in taxes, and take home $65,000, and you can see he comes out about $5,000 behind.  You are robbing the middle class to pay the lower classes.  Do you think people will actually vote for this?

Now take the 35% bracket - now doubled to 70%.  Say some "rich guy" (not really) is making $450,000 a year which is $400,000 after deductions.   He now pays close to a whopping $250,000 a year in taxes, leaving him with $160,000 in income with his $10,000 "guaranteed minimum income."  He is basically making little over twice what our friend in the 25% (now 50%) bracket was making, even though he was making over four times as much money.  Do you think he will stand by and just take this?

The 25% bracket guy is subsidizing the 15% bracket guy, no matter how you slice it.  Our high-earner in the old 35% bracket is now paying for ten people to receive their $10,000 check from Uncle Sugar, which really is a check from your fellow citizens.    This makes a lot of "sense" if you work as a burger flipper at a fast-food restaurant, less sense if you own the restaurant. 

Now I rounded the numbers here for convenience.  You can crank the numbers anyway you want.   The bottom line is, you have to do the math on this, and no, you can't merely double the national budget and expect the money to just appear out of nowhere.

The big problem is that American's would not stand for doubling the tax rates.  And history has shown that if you raise tax rates high enough, you stifle the economy, which means you'd have to raise rates even higher or cut benefits or borrow even more.  As you tax the economy to death, the economy will suffer, meaning less tax revenue.  It becomes a vicious circle, raising rates to 70% even 90% (and even 100% in some countries)

The other huge problem with high tax rates is that when they get high enough, people spend more time avoiding taxes than actually working.  When taxes get wacky, people go to great lengths to avoid paying them - legally - and thus spend useful work doing nothing of consequence.   And usually, only the very rich can do this.  They can afford to move to countries where taxes are lower, or register their boats and cars in places where there are no taxes.

Think I'm lying?  When we lived in Alexandria, Virginia, which had an annual 4.5% property tax on cars, the rich folks living in houses with garages all had new Mercedes with District of Columbia tags on them.  They registered their cars at their office address, and avoided paying thousands of dollars a year in car taxes.  Meanwhile, the county would send cars through the low-income apartments to ticket people who didn't register their cars in Virginia and pay the taxes (yes, I got caught!).   It became a poverty tax - enforced only against the poor and middle-class.  The very rich just played games and avoided paying it.

Or like California's yacht tax.   You have a big yacht, you register it in Mexico and leave it there for more than six months a year.  The fishing is better in Baja anyway, right?   Life is good.  Meanwhile, the guy with the 26-foot family boat has to pay.  He can't hire people to keep his boat in a foreign country.   The poor pay, the rich get away.   And this happens when you try to raise taxes in an uneven manner.

Or consider the staggering VAT or Value Added Tax they have in Europe.   I had a friend who bought old Sea Ray boats, converted them to diesel power, and had them shipped to Europe on container ships.  A SAS pilot ran the whole operation and sold the boats for a tidy profit in Sweden.  Why?  The VAT tax on a used boat was pretty low, but on a new boat, it was murder.  What did this do to the Swedish boat building industry?   It exported jobs to Fort Lauderdale, is what it did.

You can "tax the rich" all you want, they can afford to figure out ways not to pay - by incorporating, moving overseas, moving assets, registering in foreign countries, or whatever.   All perfectly legal, too, and they can afford the overhead of accountants and lawyers.

Now some folks think we can raise this money by increasing the corporate income tax, or enacting trade tariff taxes, or a national sales tax, or whatever.   Go ahead and figure out some sort of scheme, just remember you are doubling the national budget overnight with this idea, and you may have heard some inkling that balancing the existing budget has been very, very hard to do.

Bear in mind also that while $10,000 may seem like a "lot of money" (it isn't) today, it will quickly evaporate its earning power as inflation - which will rise as a result of this scheme - eats away at the earning power.  So you quickly have to raise the "guaranteed basic income" to $12,000 then $15,000 and $20,000 and so on.   You'll be carrying money to the bank in wheelbarrows before long, as inflation skyrockets - wiping out most of the country financially.

Sorry, but this idea is just plain insane.   Giving away money sounds great if you are living in your parents' basement and smoking pot all day long.   A lot of things sound great in that scenario, including ordering a pizza right about now.  With chicken wings.

It is sad to me that people actually believe in this nonsense, and not just stoners in their parents' basements, but some silicon valley "visionaries" (hint: good time to sell their stock!) and people on both sides of the political spectrum.

Democracy fails when the plebes realize they can all vote themselves a raise - I think Heinlein said that.   Once that happens, all bets are off.   Fewer and fewer people will want to work or work hard, as the "reward" for working will only be to pay taxes to pay your fellow citizens.

Think of it this way, suppose you won the lottery and they took 90% of your winnings and gave it to everyone else who played the lottery that day?   Would that be "fair"?  Some would argue yes, as it evens out the outcome and redistributes the wealth and provides better income inequality.

But if the winning from playing $1 in the lottery, on millions-to-one odds, is, well, a dollar, than few people will bother playing anymore.   Why bother when the best case scenario is you get your dollar back or worse case scenario is you get a few pennies?

Life is not the lottery, of course.  It is less about "getting lucky" and more about "applying yourself".  And when you apply yourself, you can become successful, and you might have a crazy idea at that point that decades of hard work that have paid off for you should not be spent on paying someone else.

If we remove the incentive to work, fewer people will work.  And few people will find any incentive to start or run a business, invent, or create, if all the profits from their efforts are taken away in taxes and given to other people.

Our system already does this to a limited extent.  But we triage who receives the money and make sure that the least possible is paid out.  We limit what people can buy with food stamps, because quite frankly, they need that kind of guidance.

Whatever you perceive the "problems" in the world to be, throwing money at any problem is rarely, and in fact never, the correct answer.   We spend more per capita on education in the District of Columbia than any other jurisdiction in the country - and still have some of the lowest test scores.   What is needed isn't more money, but a better application of what money we are spending - plus new rules and regulations that allow teachers to teach and force students to learn, or leave.

These posited "nightmares" of massive unemployment and layoffs and "make-work" jobs have yet to materialize.  In fact, we have record low unemployment at the present time, and millions of jobs going unfilled for lack of qualified candidates.   The problem is already that we have too many incentives not to work and not enough incentives to work.   Piling on a huge non-work incentive will just make things far worse.

This is an insane idea.   And even more insane that "guaranteed basic income" is the idea that I would ever support this concept or be persuaded of it, after posting over 3,000 blog entries emphasizing personal responsibility in the world.   Sorry, but no sale, just as I am not about to get all weepy about some asshole who refused to leave his seat on a plane (I see he got his payout - mission accomplished!).

What our country needs isn't more victim-mentality, but less of it.  We have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and for other people who put themselves in harms way and then claim to be "victims."  It never works out very well for anyone involved.

Self-actualization is a far better path.   Put down the bong and get back to work!

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Professional Approach

Note:  Most science fiction stories do not very accurately portray the Patent system and how it works.  This story, from 1955, was apparently written by a Patent Attorney, as it cites proper Rules and Law (for its era) and even relevant case law.   Enjoy.

The Professional Approach

The trials of a patent lawyer are usually highly technical tribulations— and among the greatest is the fact that Inventors are only slightly less predictable than their Inventions!

by Leonard Lockhard

"Sometimes," said Helix Spardleton, Esquire, "a patent case gets away from you. As the attorney in the case, you never quite see it the same as everybody else. You stand isolated and alone, unable to persuade the Patent Examiners, the Board, the courts, possibly even the inventor, to accept your view of the case. Nothing you do or say matches anyone else's thinking, and you begin to wonder what's the matter with everyone."

I nodded. This was my favorite time of day. It was early evening in Washington, D.C., and my boss, Helix Spardleton, patent attorney extraordinary, was relaxing. His feet were up on one corner of his desk, his cigar was in the Contemplation Position, and the smoke curled slowly toward the ceiling. His office was a good room in which to relax. It was filled with fine, old well-scratched furniture, and the walls were lined with books, and there was the comfortable picture of Justice Holmes on the wall looking down with rare approval on what he saw. Susan, our secretary, had made the last coffee of the day, and had kicked off her shoes the better to enjoy it. The three of us just sat in the deepening dusk, and talked. We didn't even turn on a light. It was a shame I wasn't paying close attention to Mr. Spardleton.

I said, "Yes, I know what you mean about other people's not seeing things the same way you do. I've seen something like it at work with some of my friends just before they get married. They think their brides are just about the most beautiful women in the world, when they are really quite homely—wouldn't even hold a candle to our Susan here."

Mr. Spardleton looked at me and then at Susan, and Susan looked at him and then at me in that sober wide-eyed way she has, and then they looked at each other and smiled. I guess they realized that I had said something pretty funny.

Mr. Spardleton said, "I understand why you think of the situation in terms of brides, but I always think of it in terms of a proud father who sees nothing but perfection in his newborn son."

"Yes," I said, "that's a good way to put it, too."

"There are," he continued through a cloud of gentle smoke, "two different ways in which a patent case can get away from the attorney. The first doesn't happen very often, but when it does it has a tendency to set the world on fire. That's the case that has true merit to it—high invention, if you will—but the invention is so subtle that nobody can see its importance. Only the attorney who wraps the case around his heart can appreciate its vast potential. He goes through the prosecution before the Patent Office and possibly before the courts shouting high praises of the invention, but all the tribunals turn a deaf ear. Sometimes the attorney finally reaches Nirvana; the invention comes into its own. It shakes the world, just as the attorney had always known it would."

I nodded and said, "Elias Howe and his sewing machine, McCormick and his reaper, Colt and his pistol." Mr. Spardleton had taught me well.

"The other way is more common," he continued. "There the attorney never sees the case in its true light. He is blinded by something in it and thinks it is greater than it is. He wastes a lot of time trying to persuade everybody that this very ordinary invention is the wonder of the decade. He thinks of the invention the way a father does of a wayward son—he sees none of its faults, only its virtues, and he magnifies those."

I shifted into a more comfortable position in my deep chair. Mr. Spardleton must have thought I was going to say something. He looked at me and added hastily, "Or rather, as you'd have it, the way a bridegroom looks at his prospective bride. That better?"

"Oh yes. Those fellows are really blinded. They just can't see anything the way it really is."

Mr. Spardleton said, "Most patent attorneys are unable to tell the difference between the two ways a case can get away from them, once they get caught in it. They always think that nobody else agrees with them because nobody else understands the case. It is quite a blow when it turns out that they are the one who has been wrong all along. Yes, sometimes an understanding of the facts is as difficult as an understanding of the law."

"Yes," I said sleepily. "Sure must be."

If I had known better that evening, I would never have allowed myself to get so sleepy. I should have listened for the meaning in Mr. Spardleton's words instead of merely listening to the words themselves. I have seen Patent Examiners act that way—they hear the words, but the meaning does not come through. We locked the doors and went home, then. How I wish I had listened!

Dr. Nathaniel Marchare is unquestionably the greatest organic chemist the world has seen since Emil Fischer. His laboratories in Alexandria, Virginia, constantly pour out a host of exceedingly important inventions. The chemists, physicists, physical chemists, and biologists who work under him are all dedicated men and women, gifted with that scientific insight that so often produces simple solutions to great problems. Dr. Marchare and his people are the principal clients of the firm of Helix Spardleton, Patent Attorney, and as such they are very important to me. Nevertheless, I always get a queasy feeling in my stomach when Dr. Marchare excitedly calls up Mr. Spardleton, and Mr. Spardleton turns him over to me.

Dr. Marchare is a very nice person, not at all mad as people are prone to say. He is tall and gaunt and slightly wall-eyed, and he seems to live in a great, flopping laboratory smock, and his hair is always wild, and he seems to look around you rather than at you, but he is a very nice person and not at all mad. His main trouble is he does not understand the workings of the United States Patent System. After I have explained to him the operation of the Patent Law on some particular situation, Dr. Marchare frequently begins to mutter to himself as if I were no longer in the same room with him, and I find this most discouraging. As if this were not bad enough, many of Dr. Marchare's scientists have acquired the same habit.

It was a bright fall morning when this particular call came through. I hadn't heard the phone ring, nor did I hear Mr. Spardleton answer it in response to Susan's buzz. But some sixth sense brought me upright in my chair when I heard Mr. Spardleton say, "Well, how are things out in the Washington suburbs this morning?"

I felt the hairs tingle at the base of my neck, and I knew that Mr. Spardleton was talking to Dr. Marchare. I heard, "Certainly, why don't I send Mr. Saddle out. He's worked with Callahan before—on that Pigeon Scarer Case, as I recall—and the two of them can decide what to do. That sound all right?"
I am afraid it sounded all right, because there was some chitchat and then the sound of the phone's banging into its cradle, and Mr. Spardleton's booming voice, "Oh, Mr. Saddle. Will you come in here a moment, please?"

I took a quick swallow of milk of magnesia, an excellent antacid, and went in. Mr. Spardleton was busy so he came right to the point. "They've got some kind of problem out at the Marchare Laboratory—don't know whether to file a patent application right now, or wait until the invention is more fully developed. Will you hop out there and get them straightened out? Callahan is the chemist, and you know him pretty well."

I certainly did. Callahan's name always reminded me of the time I took testimony in Sing Sing Prison on a Callahan application in Interference. But I nodded numbly and went back to my office and finished the bottle of milk of magnesia and caught a cab to the Marchare Laboratory.

It was cool in the lab and the air smelled faintly of solvents. I liked the smell, and I sniffed it deeply and tried to distinguish one from the other. My chemistry professor had often told me that I had the best nose he had run across in twenty-five years of teaching. I picked out the pungent, aromatic odor of toluene and the hospital smell of diethyl ether, and I thought I could detect the heavy odor of lauryl alcohol. Underneath them all was a rich, sweet smell that I had smelled before, but I couldn't tell what it was. I decided it was a lactone, and let it go at that. I nodded as I went past the receptionist, and her smile made me feel uncomfortable again, just as it always did; there was too much of a leer in it. I never stopped to tell her where I was going; I just went in unannounced.

I went up the stairs and down the hall to Callahan's lab, next to Dr. Marchare's. I went in. Henry Callahan stood at a bench pouring a colorless liquid down a chromatographic column. He looked over at me and said, "Well, Carl Saddle. How are you, man? Nice to see you."

Callahan was a big man, heavy-set, with bright blue eyes, and a shock of light-brown hair. For all his bulk he moved lightly as befitted a former stroke on the Penn crew. I was fond of Callahan, even with all the trouble his inventions caused me; I knew he couldn't help it. I said, "Hello Henry. How have you been?" And we exchanged some more amenities.

Finally he said, "Carl, we have quite a problem here, and we don't know what to do about it. Here's the situation."

I swallowed, and took out my notebook and pencil, and laid my pocket slide rule in front of me. I always put the slide rule out where the inventor can see it to remind him that he is talking to another technical man, not just a lawyer. This helps make him stick to the facts. I didn't need the rule with Callahan, but habit is hard to break.

Callahan said, "Some time ago I made a polyester, used adipic acid and an amino alcohol. On a hunch I dropped in an aluminum alkyl, and then pushed the polymerization along with both ultraviolet and heat. Got a stiff gel out of the pot and drew it into a quarter of a pound of fibers. I only had time to determine that the fibers were amorphous—no time to draw them further to see if they would develop crystallinity. I put them in an open-mouth jar which I later found had been used to store mercury. One evening I took them out and found they had developed crystallinity on standing. Furthermore, the fibrous ends had split, and the split ends seemed to be tacky—seemed a natural to me to make a sheet of paper out of it."

I nodded as I worked furiously on my notes. All of Marchare's people talked that way. They did the most fantastic things sometimes, and then talked about them as if anyone would have done the same thing. I had complained about this oddity to Mr. Spardleton when I first came to work for him; I was used to inventions that were made in understandable ways. He had smiled and asked me to quote the last sentence of 35 U.S.C. 103, the statute that set forth the conditions for patentability. It was a good thing I had memorized the statute. I recited the last sentence, "Patentability shall not be negatived by the manner in which the invention is made." Well, here it was again.

I asked Callahan, "Did you make a sheet of paper out of it?"

"Sure did. Made a hand sheet in a twelve-by-twelve inch mold. Pressed it out, dried it, then got busy again so I couldn't test it for a week. When I did I started working nights to see if I could duplicate my results. Just finished this morning. Here's the hand sheet, the second one."

He handed me a sheet of paper, snow-white in color. I put aside my pencil and notebook to examine it. As I took it in my hand it was obvious that it was something unusual. It was softer than a cleansing tissue, and probably even more flexible. I rubbed it between my fingers, and it had the most remarkable feel of any paper I had ever felt—soft and clinging and cool, and exceedingly pleasant. I knew the paper chemists called this property "hand." Callahan's paper had the most remarkable hand I had ever seen.

"Tear it in half," Callahan said.

I took the sheet between my thumbs and forefingers and gingerly pulled, expecting the light and soft sheet to part easily. Nothing happened. I pulled harder, and still nothing. I smiled at Callahan, got a better grip, and gave it a yank. Then I twisted opposite corners around my fingers and frankly pulled at it. The absurd sheet refused to tear, and I realized how ridiculous I must look to Callahan to be unable to tear a flimsy sheet of paper. I suppose I lost my temper a little. I gathered as much of the paper as I could in each hand, bent over to put my hands on the inside of my knees, and pulled until I heard my back muscles crack. I let out my breath explosively and looked helplessly at Callahan.

He said, "Don't feel bad, Carl. Nobody has been able to tear it."

"You mean it?" I asked. I found myself puffing; I had not realized I was straining so hard.

"Yup. That paper has a tensile of 2,800 pounds per square inch, and a tear strength equally unbelievable."

I looked at the little sheet and great possibilities began to occur to me. "Clothing," I said. "Great heavens, think what this will do for the clothing industry. No more weaving. Just run this stuff off on a paper machine at five hundred feet per minute." I stopped and looked at Callahan and said, "You will be able to make it on a paper-making machine, won't you?"

"As far as I know."

"Good," I said. "When can we try it in the pilot plant."

"Well, that's where the problem comes in, Carl. I have to leave for the West Coast tomorrow, and I'll be gone for six months. There's nobody else around here to take it through the pilot plant. What's worse, one of my technicians left this morning to take a job with Lafe Rude Consultants, Inc., up in Boston. The technician is an ethical man, and all that, but I'm afraid the word will be out on this paper now."

My heart sank. Callahan said, "I've already started another of my technicians, John Bostick, on the process to make certain he can repeat my work. But that's all we can do for a few months around here. The laboratories have never been so busy. What do you think we ought to do?"

The answer was obvious. "We've got to file a patent application right away. It isn't ready to file, but we've got to do it anyway."

Callahan said, "Oh, we're in good shape. We know it works."

I nodded and said, "What acids other than adipic will work?"

"Oh, azoleic, sebacic, a few others, I suppose."

"What else other than amino alcohols? What other catalysts? Do you really need mercury vapor? Will some other metallic vapor do? What about temperature variations in making the polyester? How long a cure time? How much ultraviolet? Will the fibers be better if you draw them more? Can you get those tacky fiber ends in any other way? Can you improve them? What about the sheet-making conditions? Does oxygen in the air catalyze...?"

Callahan held up his hands and said, "O.K., O.K., we don't know anything about it. But we're not going to find out these things until we open a research program, and we can't open a program for at least six months. In the meantime that technician may ..."

I held up my hands this time, and he fell quiet. We stood silently until I asked, "All the information in your notebooks, Henry?"

He nodded, and I continued, "Well, I'll be back tomorrow to talk to you and Bostick. We'll just have to file a patent application on what we have."

We chatted a while about his work on the West Coast, and then we shook hands and I left. I had a few moments to think in the cab before I talked with Mr. Spardleton. Here I was in that situation that a patent attorney dreads. I had an incomplete invention, one that required a great deal of work before it could be filed, yet I had to file now in the incomplete condition. With it all, here was a most significant invention, one that would make the world take notice. This was one of the rare ones, I could feel it in my bones. It was obviously an industry-founder, a landmark invention on a par with the greatest, even in its incomplete condition. By golly, I was going to do a job on this one.

Mr. Spardleton was in a bad mood when I entered his office. I didn't have a chance to say a thing before he bellowed at me, "Mr. Saddle, do you know what a plasticizer is?"

"Why, ah, yes. It is a material, generally a solvent, that softens and renders another material more flexible."

"That's right." His fist banged on the desk. "Yet here," he waved an Office Action at me, "is an Examiner who says that the term 'plasticizer' is indefinite, and I must give a list of suitable plasticizers when he knows that Rule 118 forbids me to put in such a list. Can you imagine? He is saying in effect that a chemist who works with synthetic resins does not know what a plasticizer is, and I must take him by the hand and teach him something he learned in freshman chemistry. It has nothing to do with the invention, either. I am claiming a new kind of lens holder, and I point out that the interior of the holder may be coated if desired with a plasticized synthetic resin coating. My, I don't know what the Office is coming to. The Patent Office is the only institution in the world that does not know the meaning of the phrase 'room temperature'. Some day.... What's the matter, Mr. Saddle?"

I had pulled up a chair and hunched down in it. Mr. Spardleton recognized the symptoms. He put down the offending Office Action and settled back and waited for me to tell him my troubles.

I said, "I've got a hot invention. It is a paper that will replace cloth, strong, flexible, cheap too. We've only made one version of it, though, and I have to file an application right away because one of Callahan's technicians left, and we can't risk waiting."

He nodded, and I went on, describing to him all the details of the invention and the situation. When I finished I stared morosely at the floor. Mr. Spardleton said, "What's the problem? File a quick application now, and later on when you have more information, abandon it and file a good, full-scale application."

I looked at him in surprise and said, "But somebody else has just as much information as we have, and he may start to experiment right away. That technician knows as much as we do. In another six months they could file a complete application and beat us out on dates; they'd be first with the complete application."

"Well, what do you propose to do about it?"

I shrugged. "I'll have to make up as good an application as I can right now. We'll make some guesses at how the research would go, and put it in."

"Oh now, look. You don't know"—he began ticking off the points on his fingers—"if you really need the trialkyl aluminum, or the mercury-treated glass surface, or the heat, or the radiation, or any combination of them. You don't have any idea of the conditions that are necessary to produce this paper."

"I know."

"All you've got is a single example that works. If you make your claims broader than that one example, the Examiner will reject you for lack of disclosure. This is basic in patent law. Ex parte Cameron, Rule 71, and 35 U.S.C. 112 will do for a starter."

But I hadn't worked with Mr. Spardleton for nine years for nothing, and he had taught me how to play this game pretty well. I sat up straighter in my chair and said, "Yes, but in Ex parte Dicke and Moncrieff the disclosure of nitric acid as a shrinking agent for yarns was enough to support a claim for shrinking agents broadly; the claim did not have to be limited to nitric acid."

"Only because nitric acid was already known to be a shrinking agent for yarns."

I said, "Well, adipic acid is a known polyester ingredient."

"And all the other ingredients?"

I did then what he had carefully taught me to do when I was losing an argument: I quickly shifted to another point. "In Ex parte Tabb the applicant merely disclosed raisins and raisin oil, but that was enough to support claims to 'dried fruit' and 'edible oil'."

"But in that case the Board of Appeals said they allowed such terminology only because the equivalency of the substances could be foreseen by those skilled in the art, foreseen with certainty, too. Can you say that about your substances?"

I hesitated before I answered, and that was all he needed to take over. "A large number of ingredients was recited in In re Ellis, and since there was no evidence to show that they all would not work, the applicant was allowed broad claims. But you'd have trouble making your guessed-at ingredients stick. In the case of Corona Cord Tire Company v. Dovan, the court said the patentee was entitled to his broader claims because he proved he had tested a reasonable number of the members of a chemical class. Have you?"

I started to answer, but Mr. Spardleton was in full swing now, and he said to me, "No, sir, you haven't. You are not ready to put in broad claims on a half-baked invention."

It was the "half-baked" that did it. Controlling my temper I rose to my feet and said in a purposeful, quiet voice, "I think I see clearly how this case should be handled in this situation. I shall prepare it in that manner, and file it, and prosecute it, and obtain a strong patent on a pathfinder invention. I'll keep you posted." I turned and walked out. Just as I passed through the door I thought I heard him say softly, "Attaboy, Carl," but I must have been mistaken. Mr. Spardleton never calls me Carl.

I got right at it the very next morning. I opened the office myself and began studying my notes to see how broad a claim I could write for the Tearproof Paper Case. I listed all the ingredients in one column, and then filled up the adjacent columns with all the possible substitutes I could think of. I didn't even know it when Susan arrived at the office, stood in my doorway for a moment, and then tip-toed away. Later on Mr. Spardleton looked in on me, and I wasn't aware of that, either. It was ten o'clock before I finally came up for air, and then I dashed out to the Marchare Laboratory for another talk with Callahan. I explained how I was going to handle the case to make sure we got a good, broad patent application into the Patent Office.

"Can you do that?" he asked.

"Oh, yes. We can put in all the things we think will work, but if we are wrong we are in some degree of trouble. But I feel that with both of us working on this we ought to be able to turn out a good sound job. I'll keep sending you drafts out in San Francisco until we finally get one we think good enough to file. But we can't waste time. This is a hot one, and we want to get it in as soon as possible."

He shrugged his shoulders, and we sat down to work on my lists. Neither one of us realized it when lunch time came and went. But that's the way it is with world-beater inventions; they sweep you along. Early that afternoon I dictated my first draft to Susan. Callahan and I went over the draft, and then he left for San Francisco. The next time around we had to use air mail. With each new draft we added more to the basic information we had, rounding out the invention in ever greater detail. I added example after example, being careful to state them in the present tense; I did not want to give the impression that the examples had actually been run.

In a month's time I checked with John Bostick. Bostick had been able to duplicate Callahan's work, and we had three more, flimsy, diaphanous sheets that could not be torn by human hands. That was all I needed. Now I knew that anyone could duplicate the Tearproof Paper, and I had at least one, good, substantial working example for my patent application. The knowledge gave me greater confidence in the alternate materials and procedures that Callahan and I had dreamed up. I prepared a final draft containing twenty-three pages of detailed specification and eleven examples and topped it all off with forty-six claims. It was a magnificent application, considering what I had to start with. I handed it to Mr. Spardleton and sat down to hear what he had to say about it.

I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he read it, and I had the pleasure of seeing his cigar slowly swing outward until the glowing end was almost beneath one of his ears. This, I knew, was his Amazed Position, and it was rare indeed that I or anyone else ever saw it. Mr. Spardleton was a man who does not amaze easily.

He finished and looked up at me and said, "I assume this is the same invention you told me about last month?" When I nodded he continued, "And I further assume that you have no experimental data in addition to that you described last month?" Again I nodded, and he said, "All of this is paperwork with the exception of Example I?" I nodded again, and he put the draft down in front of him and stared at it.

I began to grow uncomfortable in the silence. Then he said, so softly that I could hardly hear him, "I remember, many, many years ago, answering the phone, Cliff Norbright—great chemist—telling me he had smelled phenol when he heated ethylene chlorohydrin in the presence of holmium-treated silica gel in a test tube. I wrote the greatest patent application of the age based on that evidence. Just like this one." He laid a hand on it, and shook his head, and smiled.

"There is no crude guesswork on this product," I said. "The work has been duplicated, and I've seen many specimens of this paper. I tell you, sir, there never has been anything like it. Why, even Callahan ..."

"Yes, tell me about Dr. Callahan. He is usually a pretty conservative fellow. How does he feel about this completely untried product?"

I sat up straighter. "This is not an untried product, Mr. Spardleton. It has been made and duplicated. It has all the properties that the application says it has. And Dr. Callahan has just as much faith in it as I have."

Mr. Spardleton looked at me, and smiled, and slowly handed over the draft. "Mr. Saddle, I wish you all the best in your prosecution of this case. Please call on me if there is anything I can do to help. In any way, don't hesitate to call on me."

I stood up and took the draft and turned to go, but Mr. Spardleton thrust his hand out. I shook it and said, "Is anything wrong with it?"

"Not that I am able to see, Mr. Saddle. It is a most remarkable job, and bespeaks of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and skill. You have come a long way to be able to write such an application."

I didn't know what to say, so I smiled and bobbed my head and walked out still looking at him and smiling, which made it necessary for me to walk sideways, and thus made me look, I suppose, somewhat like a crab.

Susan put the case in final form. We sent the papers to California for Callahan's signature, then we filed the case, and things got back to normal with me. It was a great relief not to have the strain on me night and day. That's the trouble with an important case. You live with it too much.

It was seven months before I got the first Office Action in the Case. I read the first few paragraphs and they were quite normal. They rejected the Case in the usual manner by citing prior patents that had nothing to do with my application. This kind of thing was just part of the game of prosecution in which the Patent Examiner makes rejections because that is what he is supposed to do no matter what the invention; they don't have to make much sense. But then came a paragraph that went way beyond good sense and proper rejection technique. It said: 

The specification is objected to as containing large portions that are merely laudatory. See Ex parte Grieg, 181 OG 266, and Ex parte Wellington 113 OG 2218. These portions are superfluous and should be deleted, Ex parte Ball, 1902 CD 326. The specification is unnecessarily prolix throughout and contains an unduly large number of embodiments, Ex parte Blakemen, 98 OG 791. Shortening is required. 

I didn't wait. I grabbed the file of the Case and almost ran over to the Patent Office to straighten out the Examiner on a few things. As usual, Herbert Krome was the Examiner, so I charged up to his desk and immediately began explaining to him the importance of the Tearproof Paper Case. He seemed to pay no attention to me, but I knew him; he was listening. When I finally paused to let him say something, he looked at me quizzically and said, "Mr. Saddle, aren't you aware of the Notice of October 11, 1955?"
I looked at him blankly and said, "What's that?"

"It says that interviews with Examiners are not to be held on Fridays except in exceptional circumstances."

I gulped and said, "Is today Friday?"

He pushed his desk calendar toward me. It was Friday all right, and the thirteenth at that. I was too embarrassed to speak, and I got up and began to walk out. Mr. Krome called after me. "This must be an important case, Mr. Saddle. I'll expect to see you the first thing Monday." I nodded, and left.

By Monday, my embarrassment had not diminished. I had really done an unheard-of thing in patent prosecution. In patent prosecution, the patent attorney has six months to respond to an Office Action. Since attorneys carry a docket of cases adapted to fill all their time, an attorney in most instances requires the full six months to respond to an outstanding Office Action. Industrious attorneys with relatively light dockets might respond in five months' time. This may also happen when the attorney is trying to get a little ahead so he can go on a vacation. There are rare instances of record when an attorney had taken some action in three or four months. But here, in the Tearproof Paper Case, I had actually gone for an interview on the very first day. I couldn't possibly go back on the following Monday; my pride would not allow me. I waited until Tuesday.

By that time I had gone over the entire rejection and planned my complete response to the Examiner. I sat down with Mr. Krome on Tuesday morning and talked steadily for fifteen minutes before I realized he was watching me instead of paying attention to the case. I said, "What's the matter."

He said wonderingly, "I've never seen you like this before. You are acting almost as unreasonably as an inventor. You don't even want to hear what I have to say about this case. You should relax, Mr. Saddle. You are here as an advocate, not as a midwife."

"I don't think that's very funny, Mr. Krome," I proceeded to explain the high merit of the case, and he seemed to listen then. Before I left he promised to give the case careful consideration. This was all he ever promised, so I thanked him and went back to my office. I filed my amendment in the case the next day. It was eight months before I got the next Office Action.

Callahan returned in six months and immediately opened a project on the Tearproof Paper. The two of us sat down together to determine the best way to handle the research.

I said, "Henry, we have already drawn up a complete research program. All we have to do is follow it."

"We have?" Callahan was surprised.

"Sure." And I laid out in front of him a copy of our patent application, and riffled through its pages. "All we have to do is go through all the examples here to make certain they all work. If they do, the program will be complete, except for the product itself and commercial production. Our patent application will make the best research guide we could get."

"Why certainly," said Callahan. "We have already spent a great deal of time working out all kinds of substitute and equivalent reactions. It's all here. Good. I'll set it up."

Callahan began distributing the work to various groups, and I went back to my office. Every Friday afternoon thereafter I went out to the laboratories to see how things were coming along. They came along well. From the beginning the actual results reached by the research teams matched the predictions we had made in our patent application. At the Friday afternoon meetings Callahan and I got into the habit of tossing pleased and knowing glances at each other as the streams of data continued to confirm our work. Several months rolled happily by. Then came a letter from the Lafe Rude Consultants, Inc., up in Boston. The letter said that their people understood that the Marchare Laboratories had under development a remarkably strong paper, and they would be very much interested in discussing licensing possibilities with us. I grabbed the letter and stormed into Mr. Spardleton's office.

"Just read this," I almost yelled as I handed him the letter. "This is the outfit that hired Callahan's technician. Now they know all about the Tearproof Paper. That technician has told them everything. I think we ought to sue them—inducing disclosure of trade secrets, or something." I added a great deal more as Mr. Spardleton finished the letter and sat holding it looking up at me as I paced back and forth in front of his desk. As I walked and talked, I finally became conscious of the fact that Mr. Spardleton was waiting for me to finish; I could tell by the expression on his face. I pulled up in front of him and fell quiet.

He said, "Don't you feel it is significant that this letter was sent to us, lawyers for Marchare Laboratories, rather than direct to the Laboratories?"

I thought about it, and he continued, "Furthermore, as I understand it, the Lafe Rude people have a good reputation."

That was right, too, and I saw what he was driving at. People of good reputation don't try to pull a fast one by immediately alerting the lawyers for the other side. In fact, when I stopped to think about it, I could see that they were bending over backwards to be careful in this situation.

Mr. Spardleton said, as he handed back the letter, "I suggest you clear with Dr. Marchare, and then make arrangements to talk to these people and see if you can negotiate some kind of profitable license. Marchare is pretty fully committed right now, and I don't think he has time to exploit this paper, even if it turns out to amount to something."

I looked at him, aghast that he should still be doubtful of the paper at this late stage of the game. He saw my look and said, "Oops, I mean this milestone in paper technology once it is announced to the world."

That seemed better, more to the point. I called Dr. Marchare and found that Mr. Spardleton was right, as usual. Dr. Marchare would welcome a beneficial licensing arrangement. I then called the Rude Associates on the phone; it seemed more expeditious than writing. I set up a meeting date as soon as possible, one week away.

The day before I left for Boston I checked in with Callahan to make certain all of our data were correct. We went over every aspect of the Tearproof Paper Case. I picked out a dozen good samples of the paper of varying composition and thickness and put them in my briefcase along with a copy of the patent application. I had decided that I might even show them a copy of the application if it might help show what a marvelous discovery we had made. Callahan and I shook hands solemnly, and he wished me the best of luck. I went back to my office for a final quick check, got interested in Zabell's book, and went home without my briefcase. There was no harm done. My plane did not leave until ten in the morning and I had planned to go back to the office anyway. I said good-by to Susan and Mr. Spardleton, retrieved my briefcase from over by the radiator where Susan had put it the night before, and caught the plane.

It was a cold damp day, and the threat of rain was in the air. In Boston I caught a cab for the Massachusetts Avenue laboratories of Rude Associates. Dr. Rude himself was at the meeting, along with half a dozen of his associates. Dr. Rude was a small man, dapper, totally unlike a research chemist, and his speech and manner were as impeccable as his dress. Only his hands were a giveaway; they were stained with yellow and black stains that looked completely out of place on the man. Dr. Rude opened the meeting with an explanation concerning the technician he had hired from the Marchare Laboratories two years earlier. "Just a week ago," said Dr. Rude, "we put him on a problem of paper chemistry. He told us that the properties we sought—and more—had already been found by your laboratory. He said no more, and we would not have allowed him to say any more, except that you were the patent lawyer who was working on the case. That is all we know about it. We hope you have something of mutual interest, but we don't know any more than what I have told you."

I said, "Thank you, Dr. Rude. I understand how it was. I assure you it never crossed our minds down in Washington that anything could have been out of line in any manner whatsoever."

The assembled group smiled, and I smiled back, and we all felt friendly with one another. Dr. Rude cleared his throat and said, "Well, is there anything you can tell us about this tearpr ... about a paper having some of these very interesting properties?"

I said, "There is a great deal I can tell you about the paper we have, but suppose I let you see some specimens before I say anything. There's nothing like the actual goods themselves to do most of the talking."

We all laughed as I took half a dozen twelve-by-twelve hand sheets out of my briefcase and passed them around the table. I watched the chemists finger the sheets, savoring their soft coolness, and I heard the whispered comments, "good hand," "excellent softness," "fine color," and a few others. Dr. Rude said, "Are these 'breaking samples', Mr. Saddle? Do you mind if we tear them?"

Well, you can see that this was the question I was waiting for. I sat back and allowed a slight smile to play over my face. I said, "Oh no, gentlemen. Go ahead and tear them."

I saw several of the people take the sheets between their thumbs and forefingers, and gently pull. I saw the sheets tighten momentarily, and then—as if the sheets were no more than ordinary cleansing tissue—I saw the fibers pull apart as each man easily tore the sheet in half.

I felt the blood drain from my face, and it seemed to me that my pounding heart must have been visible right through my clothes. I swallowed and tried to say something, although I had no clear idea of what I was going to say. Words would not come. I leaned over and took another sheet from my briefcase and tugged at it. It tore in half with practically no effort. I took another, same results, and still another. I dimly realized that all the people at the meeting were staring at me, but I wasn't concerned. I knew something must be wrong with all the specimens; possibly I had placed regular cleaning tissues in my briefcase, or maybe Susan ... but even as I thought it I knew such a mistake was impossible.

I reached over and tried tearing one of the sheets I had passed out to the others. It tore into quarters as easily as it had torn into halves. That finished me. I leaned back and looked around at the silent group and wondered what Mr. Spardleton would have said at a time like that. I started to smile and discovered that my original smile was still frozen on my face. I stood up and began retrieving the torn papers; they passed them back to me without saying anything. I replaced them in my briefcase, closed it, said, "Gentlemen, Christmas falls on Friday this year," and walked out.

It was raining outside, but I scarcely noticed. I hailed a cab to the Logan Airport, changed my reservations to an earlier plane, and returned to Washington. It was a slow trip. The planes were stacked up in the rain at the Washington International Airport, but I did not notice the passage of time. I was too stunned to think clearly, but I kept trying. I got quite wet in Washington, but I was in a hurry to see Mr. Spardleton and I did not bother to change my clothes.

I burst into his office. He looked up and said, "Well, I didn't expect to see you until tomorrow. How did...?" He saw my face.

I plopped my briefcase on his desk and pulled out all the specimens and dumped them in front of him. I said, "Just look at these. This 'Tearproof Paper' has deteriorated. These specimens are useless. Right in front of all the Rude chemists, they go bad. Most of them are new ones, too. How can this be possible? Just look at them."

Mr. Spardleton picked up one of the sheets, rubbed it, and then tugged at it gently to tear it. It did not tear. He pulled harder, and then harder, and it did not tear. I stared at him in disbelief and said, "Oh, Mr. Spardleton, this is no time to play games with me."

I took one of the sheets and yanked it, and almost cut my fingers. I bent over and put my hands on my knees to get better leverage just as I had the very first time, but the sheet would not tear. I threw it on the desk and tried another with the same results. One after another I ran through them all while Mr. Spardleton sat back and watched me. I was wild-eyed when I finished.

Mr. Spardleton said, "Mr. Saddle, would you mind telling me what has happened?"

I pulled up a chair, groped for my voice, and finally got the story out. He looked at me strangely, tried to tear another of those miserable little sheets, and said, "Mr. Saddle, do you feel all right?"

In Boston I had been completely deflated and bewildered, but now I was mad. I grabbed up the phone and called Callahan. I had barely started to pour out the story when he said, "I'm glad you called, Carl. We seem to have run into something on this paper thing. Looks bad. Can you come out?"

"Be right there." I hung up.

Mr. Spardleton went out with me; he didn't want me to go anywhere alone. Callahan was holding two sheets up to the light when we went into his lab. He said, "Two identical sheets, except for the moisture content. Moisture is the devil. One of these is dry, the other contains three per cent moisture. Here's the dry one." He tore it in half effortlessly. "Here's the moist one." And he strained at it, but it would not tear. "We just ran across this effect last night, and finished checking it out an hour ago. Have you been to Rude Associates yet?"

I nodded.

"Too bad. We'll have to show them what can happen."

Mr. Spardleton said, "They already know."

Callahan said, "This kicks the whole thing in the head. The paper can never be more than a laboratory curiosity, as far as we can see. The sun, a dry climate, heat, any of these things will drive off the moisture, and the paper will lose its strength. There's no way we can market a product like that when it might lose its strength at any time. I'm afraid the 'Tearproof Paper' must join the huge list of fine products that can't be sold because of one small flaw."

It was Mr. Spardleton who steered me out of the labs. He slipped an arm through mine and said, "You can refile the patent application and add this information about the moisture content. You ought to get the patent without too much trouble even if the product is of no commercial value."

I nodded as we stood in the rain waiting for a cab.

He said, "I never told you what happened in that Phenol Case of mine many years ago. It turned out that the man at the next bench had spilled a little phenol on the bench top. That's what my inventor smelled; there never was any phenol in the test tube. We all fall over the facts of a case now and then." He squeezed my arm, and the rain did not seem to fall quite as hard.

* * * 

 Thomas, Theodore, L

(1920-2005) US author and lawyer, prolific in the magazines under his own name, which he sometimes rendered as Ted Thomas, and as Leonard Lockhard, the pseudonym he used for his Patent Attorney spoof series (eight stories 1952-1964 in Astounding/Analog), some of which were with Charles L Harness, including The Professional Approach (September 1962 Analog; 2007 ebook). He had begun publishing work of genre interest with two simultaneous stories, "The Revisitor" for Space Science Fiction in September 1952, and "Improbable Profession" for Astounding in September 1952 as by Leonard Lockard with Charles L Harness, and appeared frequently in the magazines until 1981 with tales competently designed for their markets, the most effective perhaps being those, like "The Weather Man" (June 1962 Analog), set on a future Earth dominated by a Weather Control Board (see Weather Control). With Kate Wilhelm he wrote two novels, The Clone (December 1959 Fantastic as by Thomas alone; much exp 1965) and The Year of the Cloud (1970), both featuring unnatural Disasters. The eponymous menace in the first novel represents a rare use in sf of what is a Clone in the strict biological sense; the interstellar cloud into which the Earth plunges in the second turns water to gelatin.

To Thine Own Self Be True?

"This above all: to thine own self be true" - what does this mean?

In a previous posting about Lying to Your Doctor, I mentioned in passing:
The point is, Shelia lies to her doctor, often by not telling him the whole story - a lie by omission.  Or if she does tell the story, it is only a half-story, slanted in a particular way.   It is hard to be honest with ourselves, much less honest about ourselves to others, even in the confessional-like atmosphere like a doctor's office.
It struck me re-reading this that I had been misunderstanding perhaps one of the most famous quotes in Shakespeare:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!
Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.
Hamlet Act1, scene 3, 78–82

The website I scraped this from has an interesting analysis of what Polonius actually means by this quote:
Polonius has in mind something much more Elizabethan than the New Age self-knowledge that the phrase now suggests.  As Polonius sees it, borrowing money, loaning money, carousing with women ofdubious character, and other intemperate pursuits are "false" to the self.  By "false" Polonius seems to mean "disadvantageous" or "detrimental to your image"; by "true" he means "loyal to your own best interests." Take care of yourself first, he counsels, and thatway you'll be in a position to take care of others.  There is wisdom in the old man's warnings, of course; but he repeats orthodoxplatitudes with unwonted self-satisfaction.  Polonius, who is deeply impressed with his wordliness, has perfected the arts of protecting his interests and of projecting seeming virtues, his method of being "true" to others.  Never mind that this includes spying on Hamlet for King Claudius. Never mind, as well, that many of Polonius's haughty, if not trite, kernels of wisdom are now taken as Shakespeare's own wise pronouncements on living a proper life.
That's another take that makes more sense.   I think many others, including myself at one time, took the "new age self-knowledge" aspect of it, as it was bandied about and appears on plaques and t-shirts in recent years.  I used to think this meant being "true" to your beliefs, ideals, and principles.  But the other alternative, of taking care of yourself as part of the unwritten social contract, is something I see today.

But in terms of being "true" to yourself, perhaps the meaning is deeper than Polonius or the website above considers.   It literally means not lying to yourself.   If you tell yourself lies ("I'm not that fat", "It's not that expensive", "I can afford to lease a new SUV") you will end up acting to your own detriment.   Most of the world's problems today are caused not by people lying to each other, but by people lying to themselves.

Or put more succinctly, to lie to someone else, you have to first lie to yourself.
This goes back to externalizing, which I harp on a lot here.   People love to lie to themselves and the first lie they tell themselves is that their situation in life is the fault of other people, preferably unseen or anonymous forces beyond their control.   I'm not fat because I eat too much, it's the high-fructose corn syrup they put in the food!   I'm not broke because I spent all my money - someone took it all away from me!   And so on and so forth down the line.   If your "life plan" requires major overhauls to society, government, human nature, or our economic system, the problem isn't them, it's you.

When we say that our situation in life wasn't based at least in part on our life choices, we are indeed lying to ourselves.  This lie, even a trivial one, is dangerous in that it excuses us from making better life choices down the road.  To thine own self, be true!

Practical Problems With Robotic Cars

Will robot taxis take away jobs?   Are they as close as we think?

Several people have written me saying that "guaranteed minimum income" will be necessary in the future as robots and "AI" take over all of our jobs.   I think this is a little over-stated to say the least.  Jobs have disappeared when technology made them obsolete, and this has been going on for decades now - centuries even.  Somehow we all manage to find something to do.

Of course, it may not be at the pay level you'd like, but then again, no one is ever satisfied with how much money they make, no matter what the pay level.   And that is no excuse to take money from other people, which is all "guaranteed minimum income" is all about.   In order for "everyone" to get $10,000 each, some folks are going to have to pay $40,000 more in taxes, maybe hundreds of thousands more.  But I digress.

The "threat" of robotics and "AI" is  overstated in the press, which is staffed by a bunch of liberal-arts know-nothings, well, at least know-nothings with regard to technology.   All this talk about "AI" crap is a case in point.   Computers are not anywhere near from becoming sentient beings.   Our most sophisticated computer in the world - or even all of them put together, doesn't have the computing power of a grasshopper, much less a mouse.

It is like the colonization of space argument - people with no technical background think you can just go to Mars and start farming potatoes and everything will work out OK - hey we all saw the movie, right?   But the reality of trying to build every damn thing you need without the huge resources in air, water, and not to mention oil, is staggering.

The "AI" of today is really just primitive programs designed to use keywords to  search for data online, not actually "think" about your question and formulate an answer.  And yes, some such programs might pass a "Turing test" and appear to be sentient, but of course, they are not.  Not just yet, anyway.  Not for a good long time.

But alarmist headlines sell newspapers or more precisely generate ratings and click-though revenue.  So the media, staffed by said aforementioned clueless "communications" or liberal arts majors, who think their smart phone is smarter than they are (and half the time is) spout these "robots are taking over the world and we'll all be out of a job!" headlines.   Well, we can only hope they'll be out of a job, anyway, given the drivel that passes for "journalism" these days.

But what about robotic cars?  Trucks?  Airplanes?   Won't these things throw millions out of work?  Where will convicted felons go for work if they can't drive a truck?  If taxicabs have no drivers, what will immigrants with no language skills or sense of direction do for a living?  And who will stall the airplane if we don't have pilots?

All kidding aside, there are a number of technical hurdles - and social ones - before autonomous vehicles take to the highways.  The latter is more of the problem.   One of the first Patents I wrote as a law clerk (nearly 30 years ago) was on autonomous vehicles.  That Patent, for a research division related to Toyota (IMRA) used lidar to detect the presence of retro-reflectors on the highway to determine whether the vehicle was in its lane or not.

As part of this case, I had to research all the activity on autonomous vehicles, and I was surprised that it went back as far as the 1970's, funded by the highway administration.   The University of Pittsburgh, as I recall, was an early experimenter, using a box truck loaded with computers to slowly drive across campus.  On a good day, they hit only two or three students.   I'm just kidding of course, but the idea is not new, and the government has been pushing this technology for decades.

And the reason why is not hard to fathom.   About 40,000 people are killed on the highways every year - about the same number as die of breast cancer.  We all have "awareness" about breast cancer, and telethons and fund raisers, and pink ribbons.   But there is little awareness of the carnage on the highways, other than MADD which wants to put an end to about half of these deaths, which are caused by drunk drivers.

Some Luddites posit that if we go to autonomous vehicles, computer glitches or hardware errors could lead to spectacular accidents - where dozens of cars are involved in high-speed pileups on the freeway, killing large numbers of people.   And I suspect this will happen, just as airliners routinely fall out of the sky (often due to pilot error) and kill hundreds at a time.   But the overall carnage rate will be far less with autonomous vehicles than with human-driven ones, if you can call what humans do these days (eating, drinking, texting, having sex) "driving" in the normal sense.   And since such accidents will have "deep pockets" in the form of the technology companies that make the hardware and software that failed, it will be a lot easier to recover damages, as opposed to going after individual insurance companies.

The problem, of course, is what happens in an environment where there is a mixture of autonomous vehicles and human-driven ones?   We are seeing already that humans can cause autonomous vehicles to get into a wreck, as they behave in irrational and unpredictable ways.   Suppose people intentionally act in irrational ways?

For example, you've seen these videos on YouTube no doubt, where kids on their "crotch rocket" motorcycles gather together on the highway and do wheelies at 70 miles and hour, or go over 150 miles an hour, weaving in and out of traffic - usually with dire consequences.   How does an autonomous vehicle deal with that?

Or suppose some kid decides to cut off a line of autonomous vehicles and then slam on his brakes, just for "fun" to see the robot cars all pile into each other?   You might think this is farfetched, but I've seen this happen on YouTube - motorcyclists cutting off trucks and slamming on their brakes in some sort of road-rage incident.   It even happened to me, once, when some dweeb in a BMW bike rode my blind spot for ten miles (smart move) and when I waved him on to pass (with less than all five fingers) he pulled in front of me and slammed on his brakes - a totally dumb move that could have left him dead and me buffing a small scratch off my bumper. 

 People do idiotic things, we should assume that.  And the problem for autonomous vehicles won't be the technical ones, but the social ones - just as the colonization of space will present enormous technical hurdles, but even worse social hurdles.   How would an autonomous Uber taxi work out?  You call the car, it drives itself to you, and you find out the previous user threw up in the back seat - or left all his McDonald's wrappers in there.   It already has happened in New York City with "Zipcar" (remember that?  It was supposed to be the wave of the future as well!).   People show up to rent their Zipcar and find the interior trashed by the previous user.  It then comes down to a he-said, she-said argument as to who left the trash in the car, usually with the trashy person winning in the end.

And of course, there will be people who will stage accidents with robotic cars, claiming injury, perhaps with the aid of a friend who cuts off the robotic car and zooms away.   That much is predictable.

And the cost of such vehicles isn't going to be cheap.   And I think about half the actual cost will be insurance, just as half the cost of a new general aviation aircraft these days is liability insurance for the manufacturer.  Owning a car may indeed become rarer in the future as few can afford to buy one.   And whether non-autonomous vehicles will be allowed on future expressways is up for debate - if they are indeed allowed on public streets at all, after a certain point.   At that point, the public will be at the mercy of the autonomous taxi companies.   Having all your eggs in the Uber basket could be a risky move, given how aggressive and underhanded that company has been.

But are these things "just around the corner" as journalists like to say they are?  I am not quite convinced.   It sells eyeballs to say these things, but I suspect there will be significant delays to the introduction of the autonomous car.  Like Elio's three-wheeler (what ever happened to that?) it will be introduced "next year" for years to come.  And "flying cars"?   Again, that is part of a government-sponsored research program, but so far, it looks as though most flying cars will be a novelty, not a reality for most Americans.   And autonomous helicopter Uber taxis, well, that may take some doing.  There is a reason they closed the heliport on the Pan Am building years ago.

Maybe I am jaded, but the future has been late in arriving for several decades now.   We're still waiting for our clean and cheap atomic energy, our undersea tunnel to London, the rotating space station with the Hilton Hotel aboard - and of course our Moon and Mars colonies.   It seems the only real advances in technology in the last few decades have been more inward-looking.  We have better computers, better data collections, better ways of cataloging and monitoring our behaviors (while at the same time, they become more and more irrational).

But even if these technological wonders come to pass, I am not worried about legions of unemployed people being created as a result.  At one time, every phone company had legions of telephone "operators" who connected virtually every phone call.   Every major corporation had an office building in Manhattan with legions of accountants using ledgers and adding machines - and later on, primitive punch cards.  At one time, every attorney had their own secretary who typed all his (and it was a his) letters by hand.   At one time, even middle-class families had a "maid's quarters" or a live-in cook, in an era before dishwashers and microwaves.  At one time, a typical farm had dozens, if not hundreds of employees, which today have been replaced by a handful.

All those jobs went away - or most of them did.   But somehow, we managed to find new jobs, new things to do, new vocations.   Unemployment is at all-time record lows, even as we still import huge amounts of goods from overseas.  The "threat" of robotics to jobs is about the same as the "threat" of imports.   For some reason, it seems to have taken a long time to put us all on the breadline.

So what's the point of all of this?   Well, maybe that for starters, we need to take the media with a grain of salt and realize they are not informing us, but selling us to advertisers, and thus want us to click on stuff we think is cool.  So they sell the idea that robots are going to take over or whatever.   But it ain't about to happen just yet.   And when it does happen, it will be a gradual thing that will take decades if not a century or longer - and in fact is a process that started decades ago.  Yet people are still working.

So the idea that we have to "redistribute the wealth" to compensate for a robotic "AI" future that has yet to come to pass is sort of idiotic.   It is just another gambit on the part of the Left to take money that doesn't belong to them on the premise that they have so little and others have so much - the argument the slackers and layabouts and communists have been making since time began.

Might I suggest that they just get a job instead?