Versova Beach in Mumbai is hospitable to Turtles again

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I grew up right next to this beach in Mumbai, on the Arabian Sea. Between slums, sewage, and littering, the beach had turned into an eyesore and the pollutants had made the water inhabitable. I last visited this beach 5yrs ago and can’t believe how much it seems to have changed today. The beach has been cleaned up and is actually hospitable to marine life again. The significance of this may be hard to notice for some, but I never in my wildest imagination could have ever expected this to happen in a city that’s bursting on its seams and barely keeping it together. This shows how people *can* make a difference if they work hard and don’t give up.

Check out this news story for the full rundown.

Kīlauea: spending the night next to a lava flow!

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🌋 Kīlauea is a currently active shield volcano in the Hawaiian Islands, and the most active of the five volcanoes that together form the island of Hawaiʻi, also called the Big Island. Located along the southern shore, the volcano is between 300,000 and 600,000 years old and emerged above sea level about 100,000 years ago. The currently active lava flow is called the 61g flow. Until October 2017, it was flowing all the way to the ocean. Now the flow ends higher uphill on the slopes.

We started the hike at night, near the ocean, walking uphill on the recently solidified lava. It was a surreal terrain: shiny, silver and brittle with fabric-like textures and folds – but this was solid rock! We made it to the flow and decided to spend the night there. We settled for a spot right under the lava flow as it was close enough without being scorching hot.

We slept under the stars on the clear moonless night, with fresh lava crackling and turning a mere 20 ft from us. About 7hrs in, we heard a loud sound as the lava cracked out of a spot much closer to us. Then we noticed steam bursting out from the rock we were sleeping on! I placed my hand on the rock and could feel a strong rumbling vibration underneath.

Within seconds we collected our sleeping bags and gear and were off that rock and onto safer ground. That’s when I took this picture!

It was a very humbling experience to spend this time with Tūtū Pele, the Fire Goddess, and the creator of the Hawaiian Islands.

Disclaimer: we had done a lot of research, knew what we were doing, and made sure we were safe at all times.

Hiking up Mission Peak in Fremont, CA

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I was hiking up early morning on Mission Peak, in Fremont, when the Sun began to break through. It started casting very long shadows on the grassy plains, accentuating their waviness. After I took this picture I noticed that solitary, red post at the bottom, valiantly contrasting itself against the otherwise green terrain. It was an ephemeral, magical moment, when everything seemed super quiet and in harmony. In the summer, this entire terrain turns yellow and brown.

Super Moon Lunar Eclipse in San Francisco

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We just experienced a once in a lifetime super-moon eclipse here in California. I was trying to capture the maximum dynamic range in a single frame and this is what I got. At the brightest, on the left, we can see the sliver of the moon that has begun to emerge from the Earth’s shadow. Moving to the right we can see how the rest of the Moon continues to fade into the darkness of Earth’s shadow. The “red” comes from the light that leaks around the Earth’s atmosphere to mildly illuminate the moon. And finally, in the background we can see the faint stars, making this such a celestial view. This was all in a single capture, using RAW. I had tried exposure bracketing but ended up with too many artifacts so chose this simple, clean image instead.

The problem with the Burger King video about Net Neutrality

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This is a great example of a video trying to claim something but actually proving the opposite. The video starts by claiming that “burger neutrality” has been eliminated and now a Whopper will cost $20 if you want it right away or you have to wait 20min to have it at it’s usual price. Then it shows people being upset by this and then makes the connection that this is why we should care about Net Neutrality.

There is no legislation preventing Burger King from actually doing what they are joking about in this video. Yet they don’t do it. And that is because there’s fair competition in the fast food industry and consumers get to vote with their feet and their dollars.

So, if anything, this video shows that creating a free market, with fair competition and consumer choice is an effective strategy for ensuring Whopper neutrality. And that it would be quite ineffective to try and guarantee this by passing a Whopper neutrality law instead.

The video is trying to prove that we need net neutrality to protect consumers from unfair pricing, but instead, it’s proof that fixing the free market is a much better strategy to achieve that goal.

First of all, as you probably know, what we are actually talking about is a Title II classification for ISPs, making them utilities rather than Information Service Providers. This classification was achieved by passing an Open Internet Order in 2015 and the marketing name of that Order was “Net Neutrality”. It’s not really a net neutrality law – if we had to actually pass a law for actual net neutrality, it would have to involve many more provisions and the consequences would be quite more drastic and pretty far reaching.

There are two main problems with ISPs and it’s worth teasing them apart.

1) The monopoly problem: There isn’t enough competition between ISPs in the US which results in a lack of choice for consumers, less affordability, and slower innovation.

2) The anti-competitive practice problem: An ISP can use their unchallenged competitive advantage to distort and suppress the internet, biasing access and services towards their special interests.

Problem no 1 is fairly validated in practice. We can do a lot better here.

Problem 2 is mainly hypothetical. Prior to 2015, for the *entire* history of the internet, there was *no* real net neutrality law in place. If an ISP tried to engage in any anti-competitive practices – like blocking services or traffic shaping – then the FTC stepped in and set things right. What we are mainly arguing on both sides of the Title II classification now is whether we should empower the FCC instead to police the internet, or whether the FTC is still capable of doing this job. There’s no real “repeal of net neutrality”, it’s the switch between the two gatekeepers. Each gatekeeper comes with its own pros and cons, for sure.

Coming back to the Burger King video. It claims that without neutrality, we will have to wait longer for a burger unless we are willing to pay more for faster service. And yet the way it stands, for as long as we can all remember, whenever we get an internet plan, we can choose our download speeds (and/or sometimes bandwidth) and pay different prices depending on our needs. If we pay more, we can download files faster, our voice calls are clearer, and we can stream music and videos at higher quality. But if we just want to occasionally browse the internet – then we can choose to pay less. We are all very familiar with this differential pricing, it’s literally the first decision we have to make when we get a new internet connection. This has absolutely nothing to do with net neutrality – definitely not the Open Internet Order 2015 that Burger King is claiming to be talking about. Passing that order doesn’t have any direct effect on this type of pricing at all.

If we wanted to use an actual Burger King analogy for what the world could be if we had real Net Neutrality, here’s what it could entail:

“BK is now a utility that can’t discriminate between the services it provides”

[Price list at your local Burger King]

– Whopper $3.49

– Whopper Combo $3.49

– Just a side of fries $3.49

– Want to use the bathroom $3.49

– A soda $3.49

And if we wanted to use an actual Burger King analogy for what the Open Internet Order 2015 achieves, here’s what it would entail:

“BK is now a utility that can’t limit access to any other food services”

[Price list at your local Burger King]

– BK Whopper $3.49

– McDonald Big Mac $3.49

– Wendy’s Hot ‘n Juicy $3.49

– Soylent $3.49

The pros and cons of each are a separate, almost philosophical, discussion but the BK video doesn’t get there.

Here are a couple of related things to consider:

When I’m on a flight, there’s an ‘N’ MBPS connection being split between 200 passengers. My airline blocks all streaming and media-heavy applications so that everyone can have unlimited access to their webmail, documents etc without any risk of running out of bandwidth. They don’t do this for anti-competitive reasons, they do this to help me, the consumer.

I used to have a radio when I was younger. As long as my radio had power, I could hear music 24×7. Now I use Spotify for all my music. And instead of FM radio signals from the terrestrial towers in my city, I use data streaming over cellular networks that are hooked up to the internet. I want the same 24×7 music that I was used to with FM. But I keep running out of data. I don’t want to have to think about my bandwidth limits. I just want a guarantee that when I turn it on, I hear a sound, just like my FM radio. My ISP tells me, if I pay $X/mo, I will get unlimited music streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and many other similar services and I never have to run out of data for those services. My regular internet, however, like browsing, hot-spotting etc is still subject to bandwidth limits. This is called “zero-rating”. They are not offering me this plan for anti-competitive reasons. They are doing this to help me, the customer.

Does the Open Internet Order 2015 keep zero-rating or does it prohibit it? Can you guess how many people with strong views on Net Neutrality seem to know the correct answer to this question? Most people can’t even agree on whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Net Neutrality and the Open Internet Order of 2015 are not as simple as I first thought they were. Until recently I donated a lot to fight *for* net neutrality. I have signed countless petitions and called my representatives several times to help ensure net neutrality. Then 3 months ago I started to actually look beyond the marketing name and all the hypothetical arguments that I had used to convince myself. And that led me to change my mind. I realized that bias is actually in the very fabric of the internet. TCP packets are treated differently from UDP. QoS is a thing. We all laughed when someone revealed their ignorance and called the internet a “bunch of connected tubes” and yet the Title II classification we all seem to be now arguing for is literally starting with that assumption. Not all bias in the internet is anti-competitive. Some bias is pro-consumer. The only way to distinguish between them is to review them on a case-by-case basis.

I think neutrality should definitely be our intent, but the true way to enforce it right now seems to be on such a case-by-case basis – with our rules and principles guiding us to make sure no anti-competitive practices are allowed and innovation is protected. This is for Problem 2.

The Open Internet Order of 2015 does nothing to address problem 1. We should do whatever is necessary to increase the competitiveness of the ISP marketplace. The same system and market forces that actually keep Whopper pricing neutral are what we need for our ISPs. This would further our goals more efficiently and more effectively than a misinformed order that achieves little and creates new risks.

19th Amendment: Women’s Right to Vote Scarf

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Jenna designed these bandannas/scarves that have the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution printed on them. It’s important to remember that it was only 99yrs ago that women earned the right to vote in the US!You can order one here on Amazon.

10% of all profits are donated to the League of Women Voters.

When Teachers in Ohio gentrified my neighborhood in Seattle

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When I lived in Seattle, there was a neighborhood grocery store that I liked. One fine day I found it closed. And it stayed closed for many days. Then word came out that the landlord had jacked up their rent to something they felt was unreasonable. For months the store stayed closed, as they tried to negotiate or find someone else. The grocery store never re-opened, it was eventually replaced by a new business.

This displacement of local businesses is quite a common phenomenon. But the thing that was quite interesting about this case to me was who the landlord was. It was a Teacher’s Pension Fund! Teachers in the Midwest, working hard to educate their students with the limited resources and support they get, with the assurance that they will have a pension to draw from when they retire. So from each paycheck, a small amount went into this fund, and fund managers were investing on behalf of the teachers, buying up stocks, mutual funds, real estate etc.

The goal of the pension fund was to maximize its return for their teachers to guarantee they have enough for their retirement. In a weird, ugly way, these teachers in the Midwest were gentrifying my neighborhood in Seattle, probably without even realizing it 🙂

This is when I first came to understand how closely we are *all* tied to the “market”. The largest investors in businesses, stocks are often pension funds. At some point in the last 5yrs, the largest 300 pension funds held $3trillion in assets (I don’t have more recent numbers). When the stock market rallies – pension funds and other retirement accounts grow. When companies chose to forgo increasing wages and instead give out dividends to their investors, they still end up helping pension funds and retirement accounts grow and helping retirees have larger safety nets. Public marketplaces are the ultimate tool to align incentives across people of all income levels, as long as all income levels are enabled to have a seat at the table, can make the same bets and are treated fairly.

Lemonade: innovative insurance done right

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I recently started using Lemonade as my insurance company for renter’s insurance. It seemed quite interesting and innovative and I was impressed by the whole process of signing up. It’s a hassle-free insurance company with a very transparent business model.

They have an innovative way of structuring the pool. They cap their upside by charging a flat overhead rate on each policy. And any money left behind in the risk pool gets 100% donated. They have no incentive to deny claims as leftover funds in the pool is not a source of income for them. You also get to pick your pool’s cause. My pool is Code to Inspire. If the amount claimed by insured folks in my risk pool is less than the total premiums we all paid into the pool, then the difference will get donated and will be used to teach Afghan girls how to code.

But you never really know how good an insurance company is until you have a claim. Of course, I was never hoping to have to find this out. But some misfortune struck and I had to go through a claim.

The claim process was painless. It’s all done through a chatbot interface, but it was nuanced and human enough that I didn’t mind it at all. It really felt like having a conversation with a friend, as one by one I added the items I was claiming, taking pictures of receipts etc. I didn’t speak to anyone. Instead of a phone call, I was asked to record myself on video describing what happened. Now, I am not sure if a human just saw that video, or if they did a neural network based analysis of my micro-expressions to decide if I was speaking the truth.

Whatever they did, it took a total of 17 absolute hrs from the time I submitted the claim to the time it was approved. I woke up this morning with an email in my inbox that my claim was approved and the funds were already on their way. Here’s the approval email I got, with animated gifs and everything!

I doubt insurance could be made any better!