Love what Amazon is doing here. Basically if you don’t really want to be at the company, just quit. Keeping people on staff who aren’t excited about what the company is doing is a major drag on the organization. People who aren’t fulfilled at their jobs are far less productive than those who are. 

This doesn’t just apply to for-profit companies. I think this also applies to non-profit and volunteer organizations such as churches, charities, academic institutions, etc. It’s challenging for a volunteer organization to turn away much needed help but I think it’s better to just scale down your operations to a level where you can staff it with people who are genuinely excited about the mission and values of your organization.

When I hear other parents talk about their preferences for their children’s education, it mostly seems to focus on education. That’s perfectly reasonable since it seems clear that doing well in school, leading to admission to a top-tier undergraduate program which do a better job in preparing students for top-tier graduate and professional programs, will lead to careers with high salaries. And who doesn’t want their children to be successful and financially secure?

What I hear parents talking about less is giving their children an experience of having classmates who are of a different ethnicity, come from a different cultural background, or have different financial means. If you ask parents directly about this, most of them will probably say that this is a “nice to have” but in the end, isn’t going to make a significant difference in shaping their children’s character development. When it comes down to it, since we live in such a hyper-competitive world, we feel like not focusing purely on academics is taking too big of a risk in short-changing our children of potential future happiness (which in most cases means earning lots of money). 

The reason why I am such a strong proponent of sending my children to public schools, and specifically urban public schools, is that our society has become so stratified — racially, socially, economically — that there are very few institutions remaining where there are opportunities for people of different backgrounds to interact. It’s sad that even religious institutions, especially Christian churches, are mostly stratified along racial and economic lines — there’s that saying about how Sunday mornings are the most segregated time of the week in America. Schools, especially, urban public schools, are one of the few institutions in which we have the opportunity to engage with people who are different from us and for that engagement to not just enrich our own life experiences but also be life-changing for those we interact with.

This article in Christianity Today about a family sending their kids to the poorest public school in their city continues to inspire me and challenge me. It encapsulates my own reasons for why I believe in sending our children to our local public school.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/thisisourcity/7thcity/why-we-send-our-kids-to-poorest-public-school.html?paging=off

This quote sums up the attitude that I wish all parents had when thinking about their children’s school decision:

I began to make decisions about my children’s lives in a different way. What if I didn’t only think about the fabulous life I could make for my three? What if I stood up for not only what was good for mine, but was good for all?”

To be fair, my situation is nowhere near as dire as that of this author’s. I live in Hoboken, New Jersey where the median household income is over $100,000 and almost 90% of the city’s population is white or Asian. However, the demographics of the Hoboken Public Schools are very different. There is a very high percentage of students who are eligible for free lunch and whites are the minority in every school in the district. Greatschools.com ratings are low for most of the schools primarily because test scores are low. 

A parent can look at the situation and make one of three decisions: 1) enroll their children in private school where their children will presumably be challenged more, 2) move to the suburbs where the schools are more socio-economically homogenous (predominantly skewing towards wealthier backgrounds) or 3) choose to engage in the public school system. Many parents choose option 1 or 2 because they don’t believe public schools can be improved to an acceptable level. And I would agree that as an individual parent/family, you probably cannot change public schools for the better on your own. However, what if some critical mass of families decided that they were going to commit to sending their children to public schools and become heavily involved in improving the schools? 

I believe if a sizable population of the upper-middle class families of Hoboken start to choose to send their children to public school instead of sending them to private school or leave Hoboken all-together, you will start seeing changes in the public schools: better test scores, more active parental involvement, more accountability on teachers and administrators to provide a first-class education, more AP classes, more extra-curricular activities, etc. And this change would not just benefit the kids coming from upper-middle class backgrounds — this change would improve the quality of education for kids of *all* economic backgrounds.

I sincerely believe we have an opportunity to improve the public school system simply by choosing to enroll our children there and become actively involved in the community life of the school. I believe, as parents, we have a responsibility not just to our own children but to all the children of Hoboken. Choosing to opt out of the public education system is in the end, a selfish choice, which has no possibility of helping other children in the community. Is it wrong to be selfish? Perhaps not. And I’m fully aware that I make plenty of selfish choices to the detriment of others around me. The schooling issue is tough for a lot of people, whereas for me, it’s not as difficult because I grew up attending urban public schools. I just believe we have an enormous opportunity to make a significant impact in one of our most important social institutions and in the lives of all the children in our community.

[(‘paul’, ‘joe’), (‘paul’, ‘al’), (‘paul’, ‘peter’), (‘paul’, ‘chris’), (‘frank’, ‘joe’), (‘frank’, ‘al’), (‘frank’, ‘peter’), (‘frank’, ‘chris’)]

Maybe it’s just the particular news sources I read but I feel like every other article these days has to do with housing in some way. The “affordable housing problem”, gentrification, mortgages, real estate, etc. I think being a second-generation immigrant gives me a particular perspective on the idea of “home” that I don’t think a lot of Americans’ whose families have been here (and especially, in a particular town) for 3, 4, 5+ generations have. 

My parents emigrated from South Korea to the United States in 1977. They were recently married, had blue collar jobs but wanted more opportunity than they saw in their future if they stayed in Korea. It wasn’t as difficult for my father because his brothers and sisters were emigrating at the same time, but for my mother, she was leaving everything and everyone she knew. Neither of them spoke English very well and they didn’t have much money. They’ve been in the US for almost forty years now and while they’ve been here longer than they lived in Korea, do they consider America to be their home? My father still has not returned to Korea to visit since he left in 1977; there’s no way he would consider Korea to be “home” either. 

I lived in Chicago from the time I was born until I went to college in Cleveland, Ohio. Since college, I’ve lived in Boston, Northern Virginia, and New York (with a couple of short stints in London). Do I consider Chicago to be home? I haven’t lived there since I was 18 and don’t plan on moving back there. Do I consider New York to be my home? Maybe but not in the same way that many “locals” do. 

A lot of people have an expectation of “home” to have some degree of permanence, but maybe that’s unrealistic or even unhealthy. I certainly believe housing affordability is a very real problem but to some extent, it implies that these people who are priced out of their “home” have a right to call that particular neighborhood/city/state “home”. Is that fair?

I consider myself extremely blessed to be able to live in close proximity to what I believe is the greatest city in America, New York. I am also very proud to live in the great little town of Hoboken, New Jersey, which in many ways is an urbanist’s ideal city. But if I ever have to leave this area because rents or property taxes get too high, would I respond angrily about being forced out of my “home”? 

One thing I’ve learned from being a child of an immigrant is to not be afraid to relocate to pursue opportunity and happiness. Instead of tying myself down to a physical “home” and all the comforts of staying put, I’ve learned to create a state of “home” regardless of where I am physically by leaning on faith, friends and family. 

About a week ago, one of the halogen bulbs in the recessed lighting in my living room died. The easy decision at this point would have been to just get a new halogen light bulb to replace the dead one. $8 expense and I’m done. 

However, if you know me, no decision comes that easy. I certainly consider myself to be pragmatic but I’d also like to believe that I comprehensively weigh all my options before even making the smallest decision because as with a decision like changing a light bulb, it often has medium to short term consequences. In this case, if I was hoping to go all LED in the future anyways, I should consider at least starting now. Even though the upfront costs would obviously be higher with going LED, maybe it would be cheaper in the long run. 

Instead of thinking about changing out all my recessed lighting (I only have 6 total), I moved one of the good bulbs from my kitchen to replace the dead one in the living room, then decided to put LEDs in the 2 kitchen recessed lighting cans.

First decision: color temperature. The convention is to use “soft white” 2700K lights in living spaces such as the living room, bedrooms, etc. Kitchens are sometimes included in that recommendation; if not, 3000K lights are recommended for the kitchen. I personally don’t like the yellowish tone of the 2700K and 3000K lights, so I decided to go against convention and get 5000K lights.

Second decision: shape/size. Part of the problem with the decision to go 5000K is that light bulb companies don’t seem to sell them in the BR40 size/shape, so I had to go with some PAR38 bulbs from Philips, which are about the same size but don’t have the same dispersion qualities that the BR40 does. I considered some 5000K LEDs from Ecosmart but their warranty was only 3 years compared to Philips’ 6 year warranty.

Next problem: LED-compatible dimmer switch. My old dimmer switch would not have worked with the LEDs, so I had to get a new dimmer switch. And since the dimmer switch is in a 2-gang box with another switch and I’m in the process of changing out all my conventional light switches with more modern ones, it made sense to upgrade that other switch too.

In the end, total cost of changing my kitchen lighting was $132 compared to $8 if I just changed the bulb. However, if you compare costs over a 6 year time horizon, they end up being about the same and the LEDs start becoming cheaper if they last longer then 6 years.

Trying to be “eco-conscious” isn’t always easy and does cost more upfront. But at this point, even if costs are the same over the long term, I’d rather suck it up and invest in eco-friendly technology since I’d rather spend the money on the switches/bulbs than paying more to the power company. 

Wish list: can Philips, Ecosmart, Cree, etc. please start selling some BR40 5000K LED light bulbs?

IMG_20140318_193714905 on Flickr.

Put in a LED bulb in my fridge. The previous owner had a CFL in there. That’s probably a bad idea because 1) CFLs contain mercury and if it breaks, well, you don’t want mercury exposure, 2) the CFL is relatively fragile compared to other bulbs specifically made for the cold temperatures of a refrigerator and 3) you don’t get a lot of energy savings anyways since CFL efficiencies come into play when leaving it on for a while, which doesn’t happen for a fridge light. I got a LED instead of an incandescent because it was only a few bucks more and it emits less heat than the incandescent. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00317BENG/


Paint swatching at our new home

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. I’ve been so busy with starting a new job last November and closing on a home purchase in January, that I haven’t had time to write.

I’ve written a lot in the past about how home ownership is overrated, so it may seem as though I’m being hypocritical when writing about how people shouldn’t buy homes and then I go off and buy a home myself. 

I am obviously not anti-homeownership since I did recently choose to buy a home. My criticism of home ownership in the past has been targeted towards 1) American tax policy to promote home ownership over renting and 2) consideration of broader social and economic implications to a less mobile society. Now that I am a home owner, it’s hard for me to continue to oppose our country’s pro-homeownership tax policy, but I’ll do my best to stay true to my ideals instead of being purely self-interested. :)

The mortgage interest tax deduction is of greatest benefit to those in the middle and upper middle class (primarily the latter). A lot of poorer folks rent and do not benefit from the tax advantages to owning a home. Is that fair? Also, one can argue that the primary beneficiaries of the mortgage interest tax deduction are not home owners or home buyers but real estate agents who benefit from higher commissions from the inflated home prices that result from the tax policy. If the mortgage interest tax deduction didn’t exist, it would reduce demand for homes and naturally reduce home prices thus making it a wash in terms of affordability for the home buyer but reducing commissions for real estate agents. I still hope our political leaders can find a way to phase out the mortgage interest tax deduction.

My other major critique of home ownership is that it reduces labor mobility. We saw this during the recent recession where even if people were able to find a job or a better job in another city, they weren’t able to move due to their mortgages being underwater and not being able to sell their homes without taking a huge loss. As the child of a recent immigrant, I think this idea that we should be willing to relocate in order to pursue a better life (whatever that means to you) is important. There is a huge difference in our current economic reality compared to the past. Our ancestors (at least in America) were quite lucky in that America was blessed with many economic and political advantages that made life fairly stable and secure. Recent generations of workers were able to work for a single employer from the time they graduated high school to retirement and those employers often provided generous pensions to support retirement. This made it a trivial decision to buy a home and forgo labor mobility. This is not the reality of today’s economy. America is no longer as dominant of a force relative to other nations, we are primarily a service-oriented economy and the fastest growing jobs require higher levels of education. People actually need lower barriers to relocate to pursue better career opportunities. That’s tough when our tax policy incentivizes people to reduce labor mobility.

So why did I personally decide to buy? I love New York City and am very bullish on the NYC metro area. I was heart-broken by having to leave Astoria. We tried so hard to find a living situation that would work for us but in the end, we were priced out. The only way to avoid being priced out of a neighborhood is to buy since our mortgage payments would stay static with a fixed rate mortgage (only potential variability being in property taxes). We’ve come to love Hoboken and decided to take the plunge in settling down here (for now). And if we did have to move for work, I am confident that I’ll be able to rent it out without a problem. Hoboken is more walkable/bikeable, is closer to Manhattan and feels more sane than most outer borough NYC neighborhoods. There’s also the benefit of not having to pay the ~3.5% NYC income tax. It’s a bit lacking in ethnic food options (especially compared to Queens) but the Italian food here is second to none and there are enough yuppie coffee shops to make me happy. We’ve moved 4 times in the past 2 years and we’re excited to stay put for a little bit. 

I noticed this book on sale at Amazon:

Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005VHBQSM/

I almost bought it since it was only $2.99 but then I decided to do some research. Unfortunately, it sounds like he’s a typical complimentarian who believes that men should be leading the church. To be fair, I haven’t read any of his books and this statement is based on some very quick Googling, so please forgive me if my representation of Mr. Murrow and his opinions are incorrect.

It’s unfortunate, because most of the churches I’ve attended recently just don’t have a lot of men and I’d like to figure out how to make church more attractive to men. Is there really something fundamentally wrong with most American churches that make them boring to most men? I don’t want to believe that the way to draw more men to the church is by giving into cultural stereotypes about men and their interests. I don’t think hosting cigar smoking, poker playing, and motorcycle riding events addresses the core issue with why men aren’t going to church.

Also, I consider myself an egalitarian. Is it possible to be both egalitarian and yet want to find ways to make the church more interesting to men? Most of the “pro-man” pastors seem to promote a hyper-masculine version of Christianity that I don’t necessarily agree with. I believe the church can be a place where both men and women can lead and serve equally. It’s unfortunate that some men feel like a church can only be “pro-man” at the expense of giving leadership opportunities to women.

Today I received an email from Macy’s that was an e-receipt for a purchase of $640 diamond jewelry from a Macy’s store in Homestead, PA by someone with the same name. I think the response from an average person would be of concern that a fraudulent transaction just occurred, so I don’t think I’m overreacting here. 

image

The first thing I did was to call the Macy’s store. The first time I called, I was transferred to someone who didn’t pick up, so I left a message explaining the situation. After a few minutes of thinking about it, I thought if this really was fraud or even worse, identity theft, I should really figure out what’s going on. I called the Macy’s store a second time and demanded I speak with someone who could help me. I was transferred to a very helpful woman who took the receipt number and went to the register to try to track down the transaction. After about an hour, she called back to inform me that there was a possibility that this was a fraudulent transaction and I should check my credit card account, credit reports, etc. to look for suspicious activity.

At this point, I’m extremely concerned. Normally, it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to just request credit reports to make sure someone hasn’t opened a credit account with my information — fortunately, it’s easy to get these immediately online. However, I’m in the process of purchasing a home and my mortgage lender just told me a couple days ago that I should do my best to refrain from having my credit checked. 

I thought about waiting until tomorrow to get some advice from my mortgage lender since it was already 9:30pm but then I thought if someone is using my social security number to open credit card accounts, I need to take care of this ASAP. I decided to go ahead and request credit reports from all three agencies. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t look like there’s any suspicious activity which is the good news. However, I am still appalled that Macy’s e-receipt system would allow this to happen. I haven’t talked to my mortgage lender yet (will do so tomorrow morning) but I really hope this doesn’t screw up my mortgage application. Macy’s — if this fiasco messes up my mortgage application, you owe me a home. And I’m not kidding. 

When I searched on Google for ‘macy’s e-receipt’, it looks like this isn’t the first time this has occured:

https://twitter.com/fairjuno/status/287773138920550402

https://twitter.com/dlandmom/status/294925019224629248

This is absolutely ridiculous. I am never going to shop at Macy’s again. 

I’m a bit ashamed to admit that even after being a MarkLogic developer for a year and a half, I still make mistakes like this:

This query will always return “NO” because any updates made in a transaction will not be visible until after the updating statement is completed.

For a query like the short example above, it will be executed as a single-statement transaction so the update (in this case, the result of the xdmp:document-insert() function) isn’t visible until the transaction is committed. In multi-statement transactions, the update will be visible in subsequent statements in the same transaction.

More information can be found in the MarkLogic documentation: http://docs.marklogic.com/guide/app-dev/transactions#id_85012