Sunday, January 25, 2015

Solitary Confinement

I recently read an article on solitary confinement here on Mother Jones. The article, in part, discussed movements to ban solitary confinement for juveniles.

Here are my thoughts:

Solitary confinement is incongruous with the notion of prison as rehabilitation. Prison is punishment enough without this exercise in stripping people of their humanity. This needs to stop, not just for juveniles, but for all people. It is a hazard for prisons and it is a hazard to normal society when these individuals are ultimately released.

One potential solution would be to have the equivalent of solitary, but in a place where prisoners can see and communicate with one another. I guess it wouldn't be solitary if people can see and communicate with others - but what is needed is a way for prisoners to be incarcerated in a way that balances the need for the safety of prison officials and the general prison population and the need for us as a society to respect the dignity and mental health of disruptive and/or disobedient prisoners.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

I'm gonna be a coder

after much trial and error and heartache -i finally got django installed on my machine.

things are weird with django installation when you're running windows - and no one tells you that. After running into a wall every day for the past 4 days when trying to install it on my PC, I finally asked myself 
"what if it has something to do with the fact that i'm using windows?" 
...and sure enough, there are special install instructions for windows users on the djangoproject website - and those special install instructions are nowhere to be found on the main install page.

I'm probably going to sign up for code academy/treehouse or something similar after I work my way through the introductory "welcome to django" projects they've set up for new users to learn the ropes.
this whole "learning to code" thing is my new year's resolution.

I don't "do" resolutions, but because the new year represents a new season in my life, i'm going to make my goals into "resolutions" for 2015.
Why coding? Why not?
I've missed lots of opportunities in life to develop my coding skills (not the least of which was being a student at MIT) - but i'm not going to let missed opportunities get me down. Here's to a new year, a new season and to new goals.

Check out a blog I wrote on resolutions over here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

DiBlasio's Vision Zero and 25mph in NYC

The New York State legislature recently passed a measure that gave to New York City the right to enact a citywide 25mph speed limit (it is currently 30mph).

This law is a product of Mayor DiBlasio's Vision Zero, a plan to reduce to zero the number of pedestrian traffic deaths in New York City.

At a recent press conference the DiBlasio administration released the following statement as justification for lowering the speed limit:

"70% of accidents involving pedestrians are the result of speed or the failure to yield" 

This statement is disingenuous as it conflates two concepts. If the speeding statistics were so jarring so as to merit a speed limit reduction, they would stand on their own without needing be paired with "failure to yield" numbers. 

It also strikes me as outrageous that this legislation is considered an appropriate response when the current speed limit of 30mph is largely unenforced in the city.

Not enforcing the speed limit is tacit approval of the speed limit and occasional departures from it. Seeing cars pulled over for speeding with some degree of regularity gives drivers incentive to obey they law rather than to flout it.

Having spent time in traffic court (the NYC traffic violations bureau) studying cases, I can confidently state that police officers, when they enforce traffic rules, give the most citations for failure to yield and for various minor moving violations like failure to use a turn signal. 

To me, common sense says that the primary problems that drive pedestrian traffic fatalities are aggression and distractedness on the part of both the driver and the pedestrian, not driver speed. I will concede that the speed at which a pedestrian is hit will largely determine their prognosis, but under no circumstances will I ever agree that speed (that isnt reckless) alone is the cause of accidents. 

The people who speed in the city are the exception, not the rule. An NYC DOT traffic study that I read recently declared this to be the case on a major avenue in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. This avenue could be an anomaly, but my observations as a pedestrian, cyclist and driver confirm that this conclusion is the case across the city.

On another note, I think that NYC drivers need to unite to ensure that transportation policy reflects our interests. It is far too easy to get support for anti-car legislation in a city where so few residents drive. Maybe I need to be the person to start it.
Photo Credit: NY Daily News

Friday, April 4, 2014

Brendan Eich forced to resign as Mozilla CEO over 2008 Prop 8 donation

Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla donated $1000 in support of Proposition 8 in 2008.

He was CTO when he made the donation. Two weeks after being appointed CEO by the Mozilla board, he was forced to resign amid controversy surrounding his donation. This controversy was started by online dating site OKCupid who blocked firefox users from accessing their site. You can read New York Times coverage on the issue here.

Here are my thoughts on this issue: At the end of the day, I just don't think it is right for someone to lose their job for a personal conviction that in no way affects their ability to perform their job.

Especially when the open, inclusive and supportive environment at Mozilla is one that he helped to create. The only reason why we know he made the contribution is b/c California requires that a name and an employer be attached to all political donations.

Should people fear donating money to candidates or causes for fear of future retribution? In the world where CEOs can be forced to resign, it looks like the answer is "yes". This sets a terrible precedent.

I think this is a case of zeal gone awry. It is a partisan redefinition of the word tolerance. I'm a christian and I believe that gays should be afforded equal rights and protection under the law as quickly as is possible in every state in the union. But I also believe that as a citizen, I should have the right to freely believe and practice my religion without fear of losing my job. I would not have donated in support of prop 8, but I do agree with what the bible says is "sin". Religious groups are protected classes under the law. All citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs - no matter how subjectively weird/backward/repulsive they may be - deserve equal protection under the law.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What's wrong with Obamacare?

A friend of mine recently shared an article from viral nova about the $55k bill a 20 year old reddit user received after he went to the hospital with appendicitis. The first thing that came to mind for me when i read this article wasn't "why doesn't he have insurance?" rather - it was "WHY IS A SIMPLE PROCEDURE SO EXPENSIVE?!?!?

The Affordable Care Act does a good job of guaranteeing insurance for those who want it. However, where the ACA fails is in addressing the root issue - and the root issue is cost.

There's no good reason for health care to be as expensive as what it is. On a per capita basis, America is a world leader in health insurance cost ($8,608, which equates to $2.7T or 17.2% of GDP). America also ranked 46 out of 48 countries in a recent Bloomberg study on health care efficiency (life expectancy vs absolute and relative per capita cost of healthcare). Suffice it to say that in America, medical care smells of rent seeking behavior.

Expensive health care means expensive insurance. Just because I get someone else to pay for something that is very expensive for me does not make it any less expensive. Insurance companies are not charities - they will pass their high costs onto their consumers.

I browsed bronze-level insurance options in NY: The most affordable option for me had a $4k annual premium and a $6k deductible before 50% coverage with no out-of-pocket maximum kicked in. Essentially, I would have to pay $10k out of pocket before getting 50% coverage. Presented with choosing between this "affordable" option and a 1% penalty for 2014, I would choose the 1% penalty every time.

But why is health care so expensive? Here is a partial list:

  1. Insurance (for doctors): One of the (many) reasons why health care is expensive is because insurance for medical providers (malpractice etc) is expensive. Median ob/gyn salary is around $200k, however, ob/gyn malpractice insurance premiums can run anywhere between $85k and $200k - and let's not forget the fact that with malpractice lawsuits come legal fees. All these things *must* be factored into the price doctors charge for their services
  2. Tort Reform: One of the reasons malpractice insurance is so high is the lack of effective tort reform in this country (I don't know what effective tort reform will look like, but i know that it can help). Tort reform efforts in Texas have not had much of an impact, but that is a reflection of ineffective legislation. Patients may need to bear a larger portion of the risk inherent in receiving medical care. I'm not 100% sure here.
  3. Price Transparency: Another reason why care is expensive is because of the lack of price transparency. Price transparency would place downward pressure on prices as consumers would shop around to get the best value (and no one would go to hospitals that charge $2000 for anti-nausea pills and an overnight stay when they know another hospital located 2 miles away charges $500). In no other sphere of life do we make purchases without having some idea of what said purchase will cost...and there is a societal "cost" associated with this behavior. Especially when you consider the fact that a high cost option for you is ALSO a high cost option for your insurer who is covering between 50 and 100% of your costs. High costs for your insurer means high costs for all the other people they insure.
  4. Corruption: One reason (of many) why there hasn't been significant change in policy that affects the cost of service (contrasted with Obamacare, which addresses coverage for the cost of the service) is corruption. The medical lobby is strong and many of our politicians have been bought. I'm convinced that in the same way that corruption is the largest driver of instability and inequality all over the world, corruption is the largest driver of high medical cost in this country. It is easier to legislate change that affirms our current medical cost structure than it is to expose the medical industry's ridiculous pricing and impose regulations that make the US healthcare system one that is more fair for all American citizens.
edit (1/4/2014): here's a video that i stumbled across on facebook concerning corruption 

I don't know how to fix everything, but i know that there is no good reason for our costs to be as high as they are.

just thinking aloud. I welcome your disagreement/agreement/augmentation

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Google drops Active Sync Coverage

So it turns out that Google dropped Active Sync coverage for unpaid and a few other types of Gmail accounts effective January 30th, 2013.

In an announcement made here in December of 2012 they had the following to say:

Google Sync was designed to allow access to Gmail, Google Calendar, and Contacts via the Microsoft® Exchange ActiveSync® protocol. With the recent launch of CardDAV, Google now offers similar access via IMAP, CalDAV, and CardDAV, making it possible to build a seamless sync experience using open protocols. Starting January 30, 2013, consumers won't be able to set up new devices using Google Sync, however, existing Google Sync connections will continue to function. Google Sync will continue to be fully supported for Google Apps for Business, Government and Education users who are unaffected by this announcement.

I found out about this announcement 10 months after it was made because I got a new phone (a GS to me) this week and I could not understand why I wasn't able to set up my Gmail account using Microsoft Exchange on my new phone.

Most people couldn't care less about this announcement. Most people are saying to themselves "whatevs, i use the Gmail skin off my back"

I am not one of those people. Why am I not one of those people? Because...let me say this clearly:


Why does it suck?

1. No offline search
2. No push scheduling

Offline search matters when you want to find an email from 8, 9 or 10 days ago when you're without a mobile network connection on the train and you don't have the time nor the patience to sort through hundreds of emails to find that ONE email...that was probably sent to you 12 days ago.

Push scheduling matters because battery life matters. Microsoft Exchange allowed me to get all power user with my email download scheduling. My personal preference is for every 5mins during between 7a and 7p, hourly between 7p and 11p and on weekends and Not at all between 11p and 7a. Only giving me a binary ("push on" "push off") option in the Gmail app is completely unacceptable.

I have found a suitable solution in Aqua Mail. Although it doesn't have the email sync scheduling of exchange, it does have a helpful and battery saving "nights and weekends" feature. I have been using the free version for the past 5 days and tonight, my friends, I will purchase the full version of the app for $5 (this will be my first ever app purchase). I'm purchasing the full version because I'm a fan of the functionality (customization and the gmail integration), but I really don't like the email signature that gets appended to my emails - and the full version lets you delete the signature.

Big Ups to Aqua Mail for making an awesome app.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Kimani "Kiki" Grey Shot by Police - pictures and video

This is an undated picture of Kimani Grey, the 16 year old boy that was shot by two plainclothes officers from Brooklyn's 67th precinct this past weekend.

The plainclothes officers said that Kimani left a group of teens as the officers approached them in their unmarked car. The officers went on to state that Kimani aroused their suspicion as he awkwardly adjusted his waistband while leaving the group of boys. The officers said they approached Kimani, told him to show them his hands after which Kimani turned around and pointed a revolver at them. The officers then said that they opened fire on the boy.

A witness in the neighborhood said that he was shot while running away and screaming "stop".

Kimani's sister said that her brother wasn't stupid enough to do what the officers described him as doing.

I have serious doubts that Kimani pointed a gun at the cops. My guess is that they caught him when he had the gun in his hands and he didn't know how to respond. He probably figured his best bet was to follow instructions.

I think the best thing to do in such a situation is to state something to the effect of "I have a gun. I am surrendering. What should i do with it?".

When he turned around with the gun in his hands - the cops didn't see a stupid kid, they saw a hardened criminal, felt as thought their lives were in danger and they responded in kind.

The problem is that most people know him as a harmless kid who wasn't really a big threat to anyone...and that is what will fuel this and all other community outrage over how minority communities are policed.

what i wrote in the paragraph above begs the question "If someone carrying a gun isn't a 'big threat', what then is actually a big threat?". I don't think anyone that knew Kimani believes that he was the kind of person who would have actually pointed a gun at the police. Holding and pointing are two very different things.

I feel like this will all end as so many other cases have - the police will not be called on to admit that their plainclothes guys exercised poor judgment...because doing so would put the NYPD up for civil liability. I feel like the police will present Kimani in a manner that justifies the force they used...they will probably present him as "Shapow", a heartless and violent criminal/gangbanger.

We will probably see this video (see Kimani in the red adidas hoodie as he slaps a newly "turned" (minted) crip after taunting him)

...and we will probably see more of this picture (these particular beads indicate that he is a blood)

He's got his beads on in this picture and he's slapping crips in the video...i's only a matter of time before he kills someone or he gets himself killed, right?

The flip side of this story is "what do we expect police officers to do when they feel like their lives are in danger?". The last thing we want to hear about it a police officer getting shot or killed in the line of duty. Another thing to consider is the fact that police aren't trained to shoot to disarm or to immobilize - they are trained to shoot to kill. If their guns are drawn, they fear for their lives. You don't want to do anything that would cause a police officer to fear for his or her life - no matter how profiled you matter how wrong their judgment is...inspiring fear in the heart of a police officer is the last thing that anyone would want to do.'s just a shame that it all worked out this way.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A letter to Chiquita

Found a typo on the Chiquita website, here’s what I sent them:

Dear Chiquita,

Your nutrition facts for plantains are incorrect. You've got "89mg" of potassium listed as being "26%" of my daily value. Either you meant to write "890mg" or a smaller percentage.

If you would like to thank me, a free lifetime supply of plantains and bananas would be an appropriate gesture. I use bananas in my protein shakes and i microwave plantains with dinner almost every day.

Also - plantains are sooooo sweet naturally - after looking at some of your recipes, i do not understand why you guys encourage ppl to add sugar to unnecessary, but i digress - back on topic: LIFETIME SUPPLY! My mailing address is xxxxxxxx, Brooklyn, NY :o)


Here was their response to me:

Dear Jason,

Thank you for your email and for giving us the opportunity to reply.

Thank you for bringing that information to our attention. It appears to be a typo and we are in the process of having that corrected at this time. Even though we are grateful for your attention to detail, we will not be able to provide you with a lifetime supply of plantains for this correction. 

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. 

Customer Response Center

Good Times :o)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Decided to go through with a HARP refinance on my former primary residence turned investment property. Essentially, I will be able to take advantage of historically low interest rates without worrying about the fact that my house has lost 63% of its value (i took a look at comparable sales in the area to arrive at this number).

This opportunity is a blessing as it will allow me to transition out of an interest-only ARM (my plan was to sell the property after i finished my masters - that is not the plan anymore) that is scheduled to reset in 9 months into a traditional fully amortizing 30 year mortgage. My monthly payments will actually decrease by about $50.


Can't bring myself to feel good about this at all. I view this house purchase as the absolute worst decision that i've ever made in my life...and what's worse is the fact that i'm seriously considering buying the mortgage down so that my cashflows will improve. Way to throw good money after bad, J. Nice job.

63% growth will not undo my losses. I would need 165% growth - the equivalent of a 5% compounded annual growth rate over the next 20 years to break even (not accounting for inflation and my opportunity costs). But 5% still seems somewhat reasonable. I don't expect the market for 2bd 2ba apartments in the suburbs of Baltimore and DC to experience such growth, but stranger things have happened.

yeah - i'm in it for the long haul. Not by choice - but i'm certainly in it.

I don't feel like a fool for not seeing that the housing market growth from 2003-2008 was unsustainable. One doesn't really study finance and such things in engineering school. However, I do feel like a fool for not walking away like so many of my neighbors (obviously) did. I would have a poor credit rating - but living on cash for 7 years wouldn't have been so bad.

Psalm 37:21 has been an encouragement to me in this time. Lord help me to be content. Help me to be generous.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Nabisco's new cracker

If, like me, you're a fan of nabisco's premium unsalted tops, you probably looked at the new box that you saw on shelf with skepticism.

The trained eye will notice that the box doesn't say "new shape: same great taste" but rather it says "new shape: great premium taste". This means that the taste is different! >:O

WHY?!?!?!? Why would anyone do such a thing? Whatever happened to "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"?

Well after trying them, I must say that the taste certainly IS different - not better, not worse...just different. I must note that the taste is still GREAT! Before the change, there were few things that i enjoyed more than natural peanut butter on a premium and post change the same can still be said :o) (although, i have also grown an affection for natural pb on shredded wheat - don't knock it til you try it)

Another thing i noticed is the updated nutrition facts panel. Whereas one serving of the old crackers was 5 crackers @ 70 calories, this new box is 6 (A WHOLE EXTRA CRACKER!!) at 60 calories (!!!). So far so good.

But here's the biggest benefit - there is no longer any partially hydrogenated oil!! I did a double take and then a triple take and it still wasn't there. All of my phone calls and letter writing was NOT for naught! Granted, it took 3 years since i wrote my first of several letters (and my my first of several phone calls) to kraft (nabisco's parent company) for there to be a change, :o) but i'll take what i can get!

see? no partially hydrogenated anything :o)

I never gave the old formula much thought until i saw a news story a few years back on NBC's the today show where a nutritionist labeled my premium unsalted tops as a "not that" (as opposed to an "eat this") food because of the trans fat in each serving (because there were fewer than 0.5g, they didn't have to put it on the old panel, but they still had to list the partially hydrogenated oil used in the mixture on the ingredients list. When i saw the story, i felt betrayed. I felt especially betrayed since i had been eating the crackers for SO LONG! Why include an ingredient that my body cannot break down?

My final assessment is that people should buy this cracker and eat it to their heart's content. Businesses don't make decisions like this unless there is revenue support to back it up. Purchasing these crackers (and stocking up on them too) will only benefit you because it tells a huge player in the multi-billion dollar food industry that you like healthy options and it also tells your arteries that you like them with a little less placque :o)

buy these crackers!*

also! kraft!! if you're listening, i'd still really like to see some whole grain crackers with unsalted tops. Trader joe's has a corner on the good tasting/reasonably priced whole grain cracker market right now #srsly

*Nabisco did not pay me to write this, but if they would like to, I will take payment in crackers, cash and check form (let's keep it real, i like to eat crackers...but i gotta eat too, you know?)