Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why Sandy Isn't Shocking

So I've been watching the news and following Twitter about the storm, and the stories are incredible.  The 6-alarm blaze that claimed over 50 houses in Breezy Point was particularly poignant because the photos didn't show water, but ash.  And the story of the hundreds of hospital employees and first responders who helped evacuate NYU Langone Medical Center by carrying adults and children down stairs and breathing for them using bag-valve masks, otherwise known as "bagging".

And there's tons of You Tube videos of people in Lower Manhattan astonished at the water flowing by their apartments.  I understand that it's not normal to see water pushing cars down 2nd Avenue, but its possible.  I looked up the SLOSH maps for part of NYC.  Slosh stands for Sea, Lake, Overland Surge due to Hurricanes and happens along all borders with lakes and other bodies of water. 

So the  yellow on the map is the surge from a Cat 1 storm, which is essentially what Sandy was.  Basically the storm is pushing the water onto land, but as the seafloor rises to meet the coast, that water has no place to go and gets pushed up into a larger wall of water.  This is why you can see surge heights of 3-5 feet easily.  Here's a great animation from the National Weather Service. 

Also, people seem to be shocked that the subway might stay closed for a week.  The subway is underground and runs on electricity.  These are two things that don't respond well to flooding.  There are currently 7 tunnels under the East River that are flooded, which will take time to pump out.  Even once all of the tracks are pumped out, they still need to determine what the state of the wiring is.  Juction boxes and track signals aren't meant to be underwater.  So give it some time.  Join the old people and get reacquainted with the joys of busing. 

New York City will bounce back from this, because it is a vibrant and resilient place that imparts its citizens with an attitude that doesn't take crap and makes the best of bad situations.  The message here is that this is nature and science and it doesn't care that you're not prepared or that your apartment is on the 28th floor.  If you have a heart attack, because you eat fatty foods, the EMTs will need to walk up 28 flights to get you.  And you'll be dead.  

As a born and raised New Yorker, my heart aches to see the city in harm.  But I also know that in this time of need, there are amazing acts of selflessness and heroism, like I saw during 9/11. Be safe, but more importantly, be aware.  I'm sure though that this storm has brought plenty of awareness for everyone. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chicago Seminars

This past weekend I flew out to Chicago to attend a conference on frequent flying.  Yeah, it sounds crazy.  Most of you know my hobby and interest in transportation, from train travel to air travel.  I however am a young Luke Skywalker to other's Yoda.  Let's look at who else was there.

Steve Belkin, @Beaubo, the guy who hired unemployed and disabled Thai rice farmers to fly back and forth between two cities in Thailand because the fare was only $5, and he collected their miles.  Collected 5,000,000 miles.

Joshua Pickles, @TheMrPickles, a flier who bought over $800,000 in dollar coins from the US Mint with free shipping on a miles-earning credit card.  He then deposited them back in his account.  Which earned him miles for free.  You may have heard the story on NPR about how successful the Mint thought the program was until they realized that almost none of the coins were in circulation. 

And finally, David Phillips, also known as the Pudding Guy.  He bought $3,000 worth of pudding and then turned in the UPCs as part of a promotion for over 1,000,000 American miles.  He also donated the pudding and got a tax deduction.

So yeah.  I'm like an ant fart compared to these guys.  However one of the best things about this group of people is that they're almost all nice and willing to part with any information or tips they have.  As a whole, the group is a little nervous about the world knowing about these deals, only because with airlines cutting capacities everywhere, there are less of them out there.  

So a couple of things from the Seminars that people should be doing. 

  1. Get a credit card that gets you something.  When you're around people who travel a lot, using cash is like saying "Macbeth" in a theater. Its verboten.  Everything needs to go on a card.  And a card that gets points.  My friend just found that a Delta credit card allowed her to get into the plane quicker, meaning she actually found space for her bag in the overhead.  There's a great blogger named Lucky who has a list of all the best cards.
  2. Don't redeem your miles for domestic trips. Ever.  Please.  You make the Baby Jesus cry when you do that.  Unless of course its an emergency, like a funeral you have to get to and the fare is over $1000 for coach.  Then its acceptable.  But seriously.  Never otherwise.  Promise me.  
  3. Follow bloggers.  Most of the "tricks" and "secrets" can easily be found on the Google.  So here's a list of bloggers I enjoy and follow. 
    • View From The Wing: Written by Gary Leff, a legend among the bloggers.  He was the past President of Flyertalk, which is a huge bulletin board for frequent fliers.
    • Mommy Points, Summer started blogging about a year ago and she writes about traveling specifically with a little one. She's super nice.  
    • Frequent Miler, Greg writes about earning gobs of points through gift cards.  Really interesting and easy for those who don't fly.  
    • One Mile At A Time, Ben, or Lucky, as he's known is a nice guy just out of college who has already redeemed 250,000,000 miles in his lifetime.  Yes, you read that right.  a quarter of a billion miles.  
 More to come on travel.  I might be getting a few hours doing some travel assistance work with a concierge service. So that's good stuff, more soon. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stop, Question, and Frisk

So I was in my Car2Go on the way home and heard a piece on NPR's Tell Me More on New York City's Stop, Question and Frisk problem.  The host kept referring to this as an NYPD policy.  Let me be very clear about this.  This is not a policy.  It's policework and paperwork.

People getting stopped on the corners and patted down for weapons has been happening probably since humans carried anything sharp.  New York teaches a fair amount of restraint in their Academy.  For example, 911 call of a guy in a Chicken costume with a gun at 2AM.  You roll up and the only person there is in a chicken costume.  The caller is anonymous, which means you can't toss the guy.  That's the way you're taught.  I won't always say that's what happens.

But in LA, they frequently pull everyone out of cars on a traffic stop and search their pockets and car, which rarely happens in NYC.  At least we rarely did it in Harlem when I worked there.  Let me also explain the difference between a frisk, or "toss" in the vernacular, and a search.  A frisk is when you quickly check the person's waist, legs and groin area from outside the clothing, without going in the pockets.  If you feel something that could be considered a weapon, like a hard eyeglasses case, then you can check the pockets.  If you find drugs, then you're fine, because you were checking for a weapon.  If however you find drugs and all they had was tissues in their pocket, then your frisk won't  hold up.

But let's get back to this policy.  Looking for suspicious characters doing suspicious things is what police do.  They then get out of the car and toss the guys.  Nothing found, they send them on their way.  Maybe the guy runs and ends up tossing a weapon or drugs.  All good.  The technical term of Stop, Question and Frisk didn't come around until 2002 or so, with the introduction of a form called the UF-250. It's funny.  If you do a Google Image Search for this form or S,Q,F, you'll find photos of angry community members, marches and rallies and photos of people who have been stopped.  But they have no photos of this yellow rectangular form, which is the reason for this whole brouhaha.

So the job decides that it wants to know how many people they're stopping and the reason and the race of the people stopped.  Not sure whether this is for their own database or because they were required to share this information.  So what happens, cops go about their business as usual and begin to fill out these forms. Again, this is not a policy.  Just a piece of additional paperwork to document existing actions.  I'm not going to get into the issue of profiling in this post, because it's a large issue.

But if you've read my previous posts about CompStat, then you will understand, that soon these forms become a metric that is tracked, much like parking tickets or summonses for bad brakelights.  And this is where the story changes to what makes it look like a policy.  So crime is down and it starts going back up, because that's what crime does.  It's a cycle.  So one of the things that a Precinct C.O. can do to show that they're trying to combat this rise is to increase 250s.  You have armed robberies up by 15% from last year, and it looks good to say, "Yes Commissioner, but we stopped an additional 300 people over last year in looking for these suspects."

But let's explain what's going on.  The Precinct C.O., usually a Deputy Inspector or Captain is feeling the heat, and because we aren't in Minority Report, he can't predict where the next crime will happen.  So he leans on his Lieutenants who oversee each Platoon (12X8, 7X3,4X12) and they in turn lean on their three squad Sergeants.  And those bosses lean on their cops. 
So what happens is that, the Sgt ends up telling his cops that each car needs to get 5 250s for the shift.  And so if you have 5 sector cars working, that 25 people are going to get stopped in the next 8 hours.  Some would have gotten stopped anyway, because they are criminals and not good at hiding it.  But some are just people who are walking on the street and who have a good chance of not having warrants.

Oh yeah, you need to be careful when you do this, if you're just getting numbers, that one of these guys doesn't "pop" which means he has an active warrant.  Because that can be a pain in the ass, so you don't look for the mentally ill or homeless because they totally have warrants.  So you generally find people who look clean, which sounds like it defeats the purpose right?

So this issue of Stop, Question and Frisk being a systemic cancer of racial profiling is a falsehood.  It sounds good for the cameras.  But the reality is that its a numbers game and the only people who can stop it are the Commissioner and the Mayor, when they accept that crime does go down and up.

Comments or thoughts appreciated below...

Allow me to add that most of the places where these precinct commanders are feeling this heat are in precincts where the suspects in most of the crimes spiking are African-American and Latino.  But rest assured if there was a robbery pattern on the Upper East Side by guys in suits, all kinds of I-Bankers would be getting some groin massages by New York's Finest.  Numbers are numbers.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Job Applications

So it's been a little while since I applied to jobs the old fashioned way.  Most jobs I get at this point in my career are jobs that I'm guessing I have a 50% chance or better of getting.  Also it usually involves a resume emailed around and that's it. 

So imagine my surprise when submitting my resume to these companies and encountering the same process.  All of them want me to attach my resume.  Some of them also want me to copy and paste it.  You know what?  No problem.  But then it wants me to enter all of that information again, in text boxes.  And this takes forever. 

My beautiful recruiter girlfriend explains that it's all due to the backend of the recruiting software the companies are using.  So maybe its Taleo or ApplicantStack or Jobvite, or any of them.  All of them I'm sure display this information slightly differently.  However, I have a plea.  Can we adopt a standard platform?  Like the Common App for jobs?  Of course, now you fill out college applications online, but before there were literally checkboxes on the paper Common App that you would check to show what colleges you wanted to apply for. 

I want to be able to fill out this information in one place and then send it to all of these employers.  And yes, there's a security risk with having all of your info in one place, but it hackers really want to know my job duties and supervisor from my volunteer fire company, then they can go one with their bad selves. 

Personally, I think the data should be kept on Google or something, much like the current Google Wallet, where you could one click on an application and have all of it filled out.  I already trust them with too much of my life anyway.  Hear that Google, get on this shit. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

I am the 47%

So I'm currently sitting in Busboys and Poets, which is a really cool restaurant/cafe/bookstore, etc.  And I am unemployed, though I have a Macbook Pro, which makes me feel like i fit in over here.


This really isn't that exciting.  Basically due to some internal politics, I lost my hours on a project and not given any heads up, which caused me to go from 60-0.  I used my 4 weeks of overhead, which the company was quite gracious enough to give me.  And now I'm officially on Leave Without Pay.  LWOP.  I'm using vacation time, as I have a little over two weeks before I end eating out of the garbage.


I'm kidding of course.  I'm fine.  Well, as fine as one can be I suppose.  My girlfriend has a job she likes that allows her to help pay more of the rent than before.  And I've got some funds that I can tap into if I need to.  This is the first time I've been unemployed and I have to say that it's quite something.  I realize that this sounds quite naive, given that we have just been through a terrible recession.  But I've learned that I need to get up in the morning and get coffee, and then I've started coming here to work because there are less distractions.  And by work, I mean look for work.

I think I'll have a job soon, but I'm sure a lot of people thought they would have a job soon.  Losing your job does make you think about the value of work though.  At my last job, I made $105,000 as a consultant.  I'm not sure I deserved to make that much.  I didn't teach children in the inner city.  I didn't tar roofs in the summer or work construction in the winter.  I have soft skills, which is a nice way to say I'm good with people and can bullshit well but will be screwed during a zombie apocalypse.  Unless, they need consulting assistance.  And then I can bill the shit out of them.

I applied for unemployment insurance last night online through the great Commonwealth of Virginia, which was quite easy. I also enjoyed the fact that the fake check needed for direct deposit of benefits belonged to one Marty McFly.  Someone was very clever about 21 years ago when they needed a name for the check.  My weekly benefits which I assume will be the max come out to $378.  I hear about people not wanting to go back to work if they're going to clear less than they would in unemployment.  The last time I made this little, I carried a firearm and was right out of the Academy.  Kind of funny that I make the same on the dole that I did as a cop.

But that made me realize just how lucky I am to wonder how to make ends meet on $378 a week, when there are doubtless many people, some with children, who figure this out for even less.  It makes you really consider how fortunate you can be in the midst of your misfortune.  I'll find another job.  I'll get back on my feet.  But losing my job, especially in this incredibly partisan time, when people collecting benefits they paid for are labeled "mooches," makes me much more cognizant of what I have and what I'm given.

Oh, and if anyone is looking to pay someone to work in a climate-controlled office in a job that requires terms like "synergy" and "resilliancy" then I'm totally your man.  I'll even lower my rate by a few bucks an hour to help you out.