Washington, D.C., part 3: Second psot!

(Just started reading? See part 1 and part 2.)

The Supreme Court
02:33: The Supreme Court, from the west, just opposite the Capitol

I executed my plans and arrived at the Court at approximately 02:45. There was no obvious line, so I wandered around the Court plaza to look for a sign indicating where the line would form. (I knew it wouldn’t simply be on the front steps, alas.) I found none, and I hadn’t yet wandered up to a nearby guard to ask when the first person in line wandered up to confirm my intentions. (Note to anyone wondering exactly where the line forms: it forms on the sidewalk at the south end of the arc of waist-high columns in front of the Court, then trails south along 1st Street NE toward the corner.) Will, a patent attorney from North Carolina, flew up Sunday and arrived at the Court on the last Metro bus shortly before midnight. He too had been uncertain about timing and was playing it safe by arriving early.

The early crowd, at the point when it could first be called a crowd
04:15: The line begins to form in earnest; my gray backpack and water bottle are in the center

Will and I talked off and on until 04:00 when the line truly began to form. (This is recommended both to pass time and to gain friends who can hold your spot in line should you need to leave to use a bathroom or get some food.) At that time a cadre of patent examiners from the Alexandria office arrived on an informal field trip. More visitors followed shortly after, and by 04:15 the line was at 15-20 people.

I’d been warned it could get cold outside, and while it wasn’t cold, later in the night it wasn’t really warm. When I pulled on a Mozilla jacket to fend off the slight chill I quickly discovered:

  • Patent examiners hate IE. (And not just IE6, or IE7, or something similarly old: any version of IE. Amy, the patent examiner who told me this, was very emphatic on this point.)
  • Patent examiners love Firefox.
  • Patent examiners love Firefox extensions.
  • Patent examiners are probably the most legitimate tab over-users I’ve encountered. (It makes sense if they’re reference-checking and researching patent applications, considering many sources of information at a time.) One examiner told me he has around 300 tabs open.
  • Patent examiners are particularly interested in 64-bit Windows Firefox builds, because when you open 300 tabs you start hitting 32-bit memory limits. One had somehow found a 64-bit Windows build of “Namoroka” (Firefox 3.6) and had been using that for quite some time. I told him that there are unsupported 64-bit Windows builds of Firefox 4, and I mentioned that 64-bit Windows Firefox should happen soon.
05:17: The crowd reaches perhaps thirty
05:17: The crowd reaches perhaps thirty

The line grew in fits and spurts from there on. By 05:15 the line was up to perhaps thirty; by 05:40 the line had roughly passed the 50-person lower bound on nigh-guaranteed public seating. Subsequent arrivals frequently expressed disbelief at the length of the line, which made me quite glad I’d arrived as early as I did. Shortly before 06:00 a couple groups of us near the front tag-teamed watching our spots and heading to a nearby Starbucks for a bite to eat. I hadn’t planned on doing so, but I took the chance (and the caffeine) when I could. During the walk to and from it I further discovered that patent examiners have a sense of humor about the applications they see and about what they do. :-)

05:37: The line approaches the fifty-person threshold
05:37: The line of hoboes in suits approaches the fifty-person threshold
The line at 07:00 stretches all the way down the block
07:01: Surely past fifty now, but fifty's not an exact, consistent limit, so they wait

Just after 07:00 the unofficial line moved into position on the plaza, and we settled down again to wait. Shortly after we received numeric cards indicating our place in line, and once that happened we had somewhat more flexibility about what we could do: use the Court restrooms (immaculate gray marble, hands-free toilets and sinks, all imbued with considerable gravitas) and snack area (after passing through security), go elsewhere, and so on, so long as we returned in time to enter the Court.

Admission card #2 for entry to Supreme Court oral argument
The fruits of an early arrival
The long line of people extends straight back from the center of the plaza, passes down the steps, then turns left heading south along the sidewalk
07:05: In position on the plaza

After a Mountain Dew (more caffeine!) from that snack area and a bit more waiting, we finally began to pass through security. After ascent up stairs to the level of the courtroom, we deposited our things at the coin locker and coat-check area. After one last security screening (the second set of metal detectors to be passed), we were finally in the courtroom.

At 7:25, the Supreme Court bar line for admission to the argument is only 20-30 people deep
07:26: Looking for the short line? Just go to law school for three years, get admitted to practice for three years before the highest court of D.C. or a state/territory and don't get in trouble, get two (unrelated) Supreme Court bar members as vouchers, and pay the $200 admission fee (quoth another line member: "it's a bar, there's always a fee"), and then you can get in the short line. It's easy!

It wasn’t obvious which seats were reserved for the public and which were reserved for other use. The first ten people in line including me were seated at audience left on movable wooden chairs between two marble columns, just past the area where the Supreme Court press corps sit. The columns partially obscured the view of people behind me (which would seem to indicate that there’s no position in line guaranteeing a good view, unless you attend as a member of the Supreme Court bar), but fortunately I had a good view of all the justices.

At 10:00 the Court was called to order as the audience stood while the justices entered the Court. The first order of business before argument was to process admissions to the Court bar, a briskly formal process except for the brief moment after George Martinez moved that his three sons be admitted, in response to which Chief Justice Roberts, after granting his motion, further wished him congratulations. Sometimes opinions in previous cases are announced before argument, and occasionally a dissenting justice will give a stemwinder from his opinion if he felt strongly enough that the result was wrong, but unfortunately neither happened today. This business complete, the Court proceeded to arguments.

But before I reach the arguments, a deeper look at the cases themselves: next time.


Washington, D.C., part 2: Choosing the SCOTUS arguments and when to arrive

(Just started reading? See part 1.)

If I was to combine a trip with a visit to family for Easter, I was limited to arguments in April. One sitting stood out as particularly interesting: the April 18 sitting in which Tapia v. United States and Microsoft v. i4i Limited Partnership would be argued. Tapia concerned the permissibility of considering in-prison rehabilitative programs during sentencing — not an issue of particular interest to me. But Microsoft concerned patents, which are certainly relevant to anyone in the software industry. It made a good fit: my weekend was chosen.

The US Capitol at night from Constitution Avenue, northeast of Capitol Hill
02:17: The Capitol as seen on the walk to the Court

Supreme Court oral arguments are open to anyone who arrives “early enough”, which depends on the interest level of the cases being argued. Tapia, as a sentencing case not touching a contentious issue like the death penalty, was low-interest. But “the showcase intellectual property case of the year” might well draw a moderate crowd. And I knew from a Mozillian who’d attended Bilski v. Kappos, the last major patent case before the Court, that arriving at 22:00 the day before a patent case could be good for a spot near the end of public seating. (Huge caveat: the other arguments that day concerned juvenile life imprisonment without possibility of parole.)

The Capitol dome
02:18: The Capitol dome

Based on one suggestion of 05:00 for “mid-major” cases (which I suspected Microsoft to be) and the effort I was making just to get to D.C., I decided to err heavily on the side of caution by waking up at 1:00. I would take a shower, get dressed in a suit purchased Friday (Visa flagged it as a fraudulent transaction, and I think they were on to something), and walk forty minutes to the Supreme Court. Better to get less sleep but be guaranteed to see the argument than to gamble and lose after making such an effort to even have a chance to see it.

The Capitol dome and the south wing of the Capitol building
02:34: The Capitol from the east, between it and the Supreme Court

Next time: sitting in line for the arguments.


Washington, D.C., part 1: Bobbleheads!

Among my various eccentricities, I subscribe to the Green Bag, an entertaining journal of law (I read about equally for entertainment and for interesting knowledge) which occasionally produces extra gifts, such as Supreme Court justice bobbleheads, for its subscribers. If the Green Bag sends you a certificate, you might (they qualify to the hilt any possibility you might get anything other than the subscription) be able to go to George Mason University just outside Washington, D.C. and exchange it for some number of bobbleheads. (Or have a proxy do it, but that has its own problems.)

A few months ago the Green Bag sent me a certificate potentially good for bobbleheads. I live on the west coast, so how was I to redeem it? I’m not crazy enough to fly across the country just for bobbleheads (even Supreme Court bobbleheads!). But if I planned it right, I could combine a trip with one to visit family for Easter, economizing the number of long-distance flights I’d take doing both trips. It was enough justification for me to visit D.C. from April 15 to April 19.

John Jay, John Rutledge, William Cushing, James Wilson bobbleheads
John Jay, John Rutledge, William Cushing, James Wilson: the four senior members of the first Supreme Court

I’m not much of a tourist, so I didn’t visit museums or do much traditional exploration in D.C. (I also planned to work most of Friday and Monday while visiting, a plan mostly-successfully executed from a couple Starbucks.) I caught up with a couple friends (Mozillians may remember Joey Minta of calendar, Thunderbird, and kill-rdf fame, now working at a D.C. law firm) and attempted to catch a game of ultimate on the National Mall that got foreclosed by rain. I also tried to sample area cuisine: Five Guys (NB: they’re in Sunnyvale now!), Founding Farmers, Potbellys (not especially local to D.C., but I’d never seen them before), and Momiji Restaurant (the Asian pear martini was quite tasty).

But most specially, I went to a sitting of the Supreme Court and watched two oral arguments. More on that over the next several days, starting with which cases to attend and when to arrive.


JavaScript change for Firefox 5 (not 4): class, enum, export, extends, import, and super are once again reserved words per ECMAScript 5

Most programming languages have keywords or reserved words: names which can’t be used to name variables. Keywords have special meaning, so using them as variable names would conflict with such use. Reserved words are keywords of the future: names which might eventually be given special meaning, so they can’t be used now to ease future adoption.

JavaScript and the ECMAScript standard that underlie it historically have had an excessively large set of keywords and reserved words “inherited” from Java. ES5 partially loosened ES3‘s past keyword restrictions. For example, byte, char, and int were reserved in ES3 but aren’t in ES5.

Many years ago, before work started on ECMAScript after ES3, a few browsers stopped reserving all of ES3’s reserved words. In response browsers generally started to un-reserve many of these names. As it turned out this un-reservation went too far: ES5 un-reserved many of these words, but it didn’t un-reserve all of them. In particular, while some implementations un-reserved the names class, enum, export, extends, import, and super, ES5 did not.

Firefox un-reserved these names then along with some other browsers. But as ES5 corrects the over-reservation of ES3 without un-reserving these names, we are moving to align with ES5 by re-reserving class, enum, export, extends, import, and super in all code. (Firefox 4 reserves these names only in strict mode code.)

You can experiment with a version of Firefox with these changes by downloading a TraceMonkey nightly build. Trunk’s still locked down for Firefox 4, so it hasn’t picked up these changes just yet. (Don’t forget to use the profile manager if you want to keep the settings you use with your primary Firefox installation pristine.)


Considering a new keyword for Bugzilla

Bug databases track issues at several levels.

There’s the level of the specific problem. For example: this sequences of graphics calls causes a crash.

Then there’s the level of the meta-bug: a bug tracking a number of different issues in some genre. For example, there might be a bug tracking, say, crashes involving some particular feature: graphics drawing functionality, for example. In Bugzilla this is known as a “meta-bug”, because it isn’t really a bug but rather a bug about bugs. In b.m.o such bugs are given the meta keyword.

Last, there’s the level consisting of bugs which track meta-bugs. For example, you might have a bug tracking a bug for crashes involving graphics drawing functionality, a bug for rendering glitches involving graphics drawing functionality, a bug for unimplemented functionality in the specification, a bug for performance problems involving graphics drawing functionality, and a bug tracking progress at investigating the relative stability of graphics functionality run on hardware with various graphics cards and driver versions. The logical progression is to call this a “meta-meta-bug”.

Therefore, shouldn’t Bugzilla have a meta-meta keyword to associate with such bugs? But let’s not be over-hasty: let’s have a fair discussion first. Perhaps people should comment or blog about this idea a bit. What do readers think?

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