The regrettable events surrounding the discussion of Rodd v. Rodd Electrotype

Piling through appellate opinions is generally a dry and plodding business, and corps (law student slang for Corporations class) was no exception, so it didn’t take much out of the ordinary to liven things up. Corps was held in a 90 seat amphitheater type classroom. The day we reviewed Rodd Electrotype, I was sitting on the right hand side of the room. Well, we get into the facts of a case involving the Rodd family, shareholders in a family business, and the student presenting the case notes that the plaintiff’s name is Harry Rodd. So I lean over to the guy next to me and say “Gotta love this guy’s name.” He did a quick laugh-snort and we left it at that.

Then I see over on the left side of the room a classmate (A very successful real estate lawyer in Florida today) whispering to the guy next to him, probably something along the same lines. But they don’t leave it at that. In fact, they appeared to have gotten themselves giggling and could not stop. It was contagious, and pretty soon the whole left wing of the room is laughing, and the Professor is looking up asking what was so funny–he wants in on the joke. Nobody enlightened him, and the class calmed down and returned their attention to the tawdry affairs of the Rodd family.

[The case was in a casebook and I can’t find it today in the appellate reports, though I do note a related case, Donoghue v. Rodd Electrotype at 328 N.E.2d (1975), with Harry among the litigants.]

Professor Olson’s kindest act of mercy

I don’t know if it was grandiosity or naiveté, but I just can’t imagine what came into my mind when I registered for Corporate Income Tax I. Because congress acts at the behest of special interests and does so by committee, the code of internal revenue is a prolix and illogical beast. I felt I was more or less following the material during class, and in that I was entirely mistaken. Like all law school classes, the grade was entirely determined by a single essay final exam where we write in blue books (blank notebooks supplied by the exam proctor). I would guess it was a two or three hour exam. The question would state a single corporate financial series of financial activities, and we were to fully discuss all the tax implications thereof.

During the exam, I thought things were maybe a bit shaky, but I thought I was doing ok until I got to some capital gains issues that I recognized were governed by an IRS statute or regulation nicknamed the “section 1231 hotchpot” where various transactions were grouped together for tax purposes. A couple of minutes into that I realized I was completely at sea. For perhaps the only time in law school, I had no idea what to put down in the blue books. My mind has blanked out the traumatic memory of what happened next, but I must have scribbled something out and turned in the bluebooks.

Now Hamline law school had a first floor area leading to some offices and classrooms and a large stairway going to the second floor with the law library and professor’s offices. I was walking on the first floor a few days later when I heard a voice from above bellow out “KNUTSON!” I looked back and up and saw Professor Olson from the second floor railing. He shouted down ranting “Your handwriting is horrible! I could barely read your [tax] exam! Good God, its unreadable!”, and so on. Well, my handwriting is indeed bad, and when I didn’t know what I was doing I imagine it got much worse. When the grades went up, I found I received a C+. This was an act of infinite mercy as I worried I had written an F exam (Well, perhaps there was partial credit for identifying the Hotchpot issue). This wasn’t the main reason Professor Olson was one of my favorite professors, but it didn’t hurt. I will also note that I did earn a four credit A, fair and square, from him in Corporations, and chose not to take Corporate Income Tax II. 😉

The Steadfast Patrolman

I recall having lunch with a retired police officer a few years ago. He recounted this story from his early days as a patrolman and husband.

He was on routine patrol late one night when he noticed some sort of disturbance at a motel. A woman in a fur coat was standing outside the door of a motel room yelling. Then she hopped in her car and sped off. I think she was driving a cadillac convertible, but that may be my embelleshment. He pulled her over for speeding and when he got to her car, a stunningly beautiful young woman tearfully recounted how she had a big argument with her husband on her wedding night. She then asked if she could get out of the speeding ticket, and opened her fur coat, revealing she was completely nude underneath. He took it in for a second and said “Please leave, right now!” I got the sense he was worried about how long his conscience could restrain his passions if she stuck around.

After a long and wonderful marriage, his wife died, and he never married again. A modest and faithful man, I am proud to count this patrolman among my friends.

************* Let’s put some Nathan Hales here *****************

As a young programmer, I was reviewing some assembler code and I noted something like this:

  • LA   R6,STDHD
  • BALR R4,R6
  • BAS13     SR   R4,R4
  • ******* LETS PUT SOME NATHAN HALES HERE SO WE CAN FIND THIS AGAIN ****

I was used to seeing asterisks as a means of setting out comments, but I asked Sherm what the Nathan Hale part meant. He explained that Nathan Hale, an early American Revolutionary War patriot, prior to his execution by the British, was famously heard to exclaim “I regret that I have but one as-te-risk for my country!” 😉

My mother remembers her father’s death, April 10.

My grandpa, Adolph Bachman, was much beloved, and is much missed by me. I remember t00-26 years ago I was in my second year of law school, back at the apartment, when I heard the message my mom left informing me of his death. Here is what mom had to say today:

Today, April 10, brought a special memory back to me.  26 years ago, my Dad died.  You may remember that he LOVED Martins and made houses for them.  He often donated them to nursing homes and others.  When my mom, my sister and I were in the funeral home arranging for his funeral, the Administrator of the Lennox nursing home came in to tell us a special story.  He said that when Daddy gave him the Martin house, he instructed him to have it cleaned and ready to put up on April 10 as that’s the day the Martins will return.  He looked out and sure enough, the Martins were coming back.  Then he heard on the radio that our Dad died that same day and he saw that we were at the funeral home and he came to tell us that story.  We were so thrilled.  It made the day happier.  When the funeral director asked us what kind of flowers we wanted for his coffin, we looked at each other and said  “He wasn’t a flower person. What shall we do?”  The director said another choice could be wheat.  Our hearts were again happy.  He was definitely a wheat person. So his coffin and his grave had wheat for the birds to enjoy.
    Thanks for sharing this love memory with me.
            Mom

 

Th Old Coders, Sherman Larson

As a very young programmer, at my second job at the Soo Line railroad, it was my privilege to cross paths with The Old Coders. These men were giants who walked the earth in the infancy of the Computer Age. The railroad, and thousands of other companies, ran on the code they wrote using early computers of extremely low capacity–by today’s standards–making up for the hardware shortcomings through encyclopedic knowledge of the IBM System/370 architecture and tight, efficient, code.

After writing a bit of COBOL at the railroad, I was promoted to a position as a systems programmer, supporting the computer terminal management software, CICS. I wrote programs in assembly language (formally known as IBM Basic Assembly Language–BAL), and loved it so much that after I, perhaps foolishly, left the Soo Line, it would be 20 years or more before I found a job nearly as enjoyable.

The manager of systems programming at the Soo Line was Sherman Larson. A modest man who’s unassuming manner concealed his true nature as one of those giants. His other notable quality was that on the chalkboard in his office was always written the date of his next scheduled vacation to Las Vegas with his lovely wife, Naomi. I will let one anecdote suffice for now:

I was writing an assembler program, and was perhaps asking Sherm a question about some other matter. He must have noticed I had a loop where I was subtracting one from a counter on each iteration. He commented “If you use a BCTR with zero as a parameter, it takes less machine cycles.”  BCTR was the name of the Branch on CounT, Register instruction. I stood in awe as I realized that he knew the number of machine clocks each assembler instruction took. He also had wonderful quality that whenever I exclaimed that some programming task simply could not be done, he would patiently show me how it could be done.

When I install the latest 20 gigabyte version of Microsoft Windows, needing ever faster hardware to lumber along at the same speed as the previous release did on lesser hardware, I think of the Old Coders and how they are a race almost extinct. And I think with pride how, 30 years later, I am perhaps a lesser version of Old Coder myself.