30 September 2015

A few thoughts on the law school's absurd and bizarre reaction to an offensive word

Recently, a law student from the University of Maryland made a Facebook post that included an allegedly offensive word. At some point the student realized the post might be offensive. She took it down and apologized.

At some point (whether before or after the apology is unclear), the administration of the law school became aware of the post and the Dean sent the following email:
Dear Members of the Community: 
It has come to my attention that a racially offensive term appeared on one of our student’s Facebook page. Among the features that most attracted me to this law school was the community’s longstanding commitment to diversity and to the highest levels of professionalism as part of its core values. https://www.umaryland.edu/about-umb/strategic-plan/about/core-values/.  Racially offensive remarks have no place in the discourse of those who aspire to become guardians of the legal profession. This student is now aware of the offending nature of the post, and is appropriately contrite. In consultation with members of the administration, the student is taking appropriate affirmative steps to convey apologies, and the student has recognized the gravity of the offense. 
Being a part of the profession of law is a great privilege, and it carries with it considerable responsibility. This includes sensitivity to the manner in which each of us comports himself or herself privately and in public. In addition, posts on social media remain there indefinitely and can continue to harm others. I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of giving great thought to anything you intend to post, e-mail, or tweet. In the era of social media, this is part of professional responsibility. 
Donald B. Tobin
Dean and Professor of Law
The exact text of the post has not been made public, but the student apologized to the law school community in a mass email:
...I posted about my new access to Wi-Fi, flippantly mentioning an old neighbor and their inappropriate choice for a network name. I later realized how offensive it was, so I deleted it and posted an apology....
The offensive word this student used in her Facebook post was the WiFi network name of an old neighbor. According to this student, the context of her post was to point out that the network name was inappropriate. Maybe it wasn't smart for this student to use an offensive word in her Facebook post. In that case, the student's apology to her Facebook friends certainly seems like enough. A lecture by the Dean and a school-wide apology seems a bit much, no? Context matters here, doesn't it?!

Nonetheless, the Student Bar Association sent a follow-up email strongly condemning any use of "certain words, phrases, and symbols carry with them an abhorrent history of a violence, discrimination, and oppression...These words are INHERENTLY wrong, in and of themselves...." More: "these words...directly represent a system of unfathomable injustice whose dregs continue to linger in the lives of every single American." The SBA explains how we should be offended: "Terms categorically saturated with racial animus should offend each and every one of us." I suppose it's not appropriate for me to determine what's offensive to me.

We are in the age of the Offending of America, where every week comes a new thing to be outraged about. Even so, this situation is absurd and the reactions by the Dean and the Student Bar Association are bizarre. This reaction ignores the reality and context of the situation to push a heavy-handed message that, in my opinion, chills the discussion of anything that might be considered offensive. Steer clear of any words that might be offensive because your career depends on it. Got it.

22 September 2015

Martin Shkreli might be an asshole, but he's just the symptom of a larger problem

Last month, a company called Turing Pharmaceuticals purchased the marketing rights to a drug named Daraprim from Impax Laboratories. According to Wikipedia, Daraprim (Pyrimethamine) "is a medication used for protozoal infections. It is commonly used as an antimalarial drug (for both treatment and prevention of malaria), and to treat Toxoplasma gondii infections, particularly when combined with the sulfonamide antibiotic sulfadiazine when treating HIV-positive individuals."

Turing promptly raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per tablet, and general outraged ensued.  Twitter-happy CEO Martin Shkreli became the asshole of the week. "Big Pharma CEO as a capitalist asshole" may make for good headlines, but in my view it's a simplistic approach that focuses on the symptom and not the root cause of the problem.

I'm not yet a lawyer, and I'm not an intellectual property expert or economist either. But I think I can explain this situation in a way that most reporting has generally missed the mark. Of course, I'm open to correction or clarification.

First, let's be clear what happened here. Turing bought the exclusive marketing rights to the name Daraprim. Turing does not have an exclusive right to manufacture the drug and the drug's patents has 
long expired. Any other company could manufacture and market a generic version of Pyrimethamine. A generic version is the same drug--identical (bio-equivalent) to the brand name drug.

The catch here is that no other manufacturer has done so. It's impossible to know precisely why someone does not enter a market, but a few ideas seem clear. The market for Pyrimethamine is very small. Other companies probably believe that the barrier to entry (costly research and development and lengthy FDA approval process) into this small market is higher than the expected return they would receive for their efforts. This may have been the case when the tablets were $13.50 each. By raising the cost to $750, Turing has made the market more enticing for a generic manufacturer to step in. Still, they may avoid to do so if the barrier to entry is prohibitive.

It's also simplistic to treat Turing's price hike as  "free market" exploitation. To be sure, the market and its participants can be ruthless. But the pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated with (as previously noted) high barriers to entry. This process makes it more difficult for generic alternative to Daraprim to hit the shelves in a timely manner.

Whether this is a problem that needs to be "solved" is another matter altogether. But even if both sides agree it's a problem, the approaches are likely to be significantly apart. For example, an interventionist approach would seek to set price controls or attempts to limit exclusivity periods. On the other hand, a different approach might be to continue to relax the regulatory burden on manufacturers so that generic alternatives are easier to bring to the market. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, but we haven't really had that debate yet in the scope of these types of price hikes. For the most part, we're stuck on the "asshole CEO" and we haven't yet gotten past that.

Martin Shkreli might be an asshole, but he's just the symptom of a larger problem. Understanding the roots of that problem will help us move on to a more important debate about how to approach that problem.

06 September 2015

Product Review: Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell

We purchased the Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell about six months ago, which seems like enough time to provide a brief product review:

  • Installation: Installation was easy enough; the kit provided the necessary drill bits, wood screws and concrete screws or anchors, depending upon where you want to install it. The doorbell connects to your wifi network and you interact with it from Ring's app (both iOS or Android; we have alerts going to both phones).
  • Battery: I chose to use the internal battery. Battery life is advertised as one year; but this almost certainly is only possible if you have motion-detection and notification alerts turned off. In practice, the battery lasts about two months which means you have to recharge it more often.
  • Alerts: The alert notifications that are sent to my phone have a little bit of lag, but it's manageable. What's more frustrating is that the motion detection itself takes too long; so that you get video of a person walking away from your door and not when they walk up to it. Most of the video clips I have are just that. A number of Amazon reviews have pointed out this problem so it's definitely something that happens a lot and needs to be addressed.
  • On-demand video: Currently there is no ability to simply turn on the doorbell from your phone to view a live stream of what's going on outside. It seems like this would be a simple firmware fix. And it would really increase the utility of the product.
  • Cloud storage: What's not included in the upfront price is the cloud storage capability (you only get a 30-day trial). It's $3/month, which isn't the end of the world. But it's not immediately obvious that you need this capability to view older videos.
  • USB cord: The USB cord to charge the doorbell is only about 21 inches in length, which is pretty short to plug in and sit the device somewhere to charge.
  • Overall: I'd be willing to give the Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell 4+ stars with the on-demand video capability. Between that and the motion detection problems, it's worth a bit less.

Questions: If you have questions about this product, don't hesitate to ask and I'll be happy to try to answer them for you.

05 September 2015

2015 Philadelphia Eagles 53-man roster (FINAL)

On Thursday evening, I made my final predictions for this year's roster. I was hoping to improve on last year's 49/53 performance. Here are predictions from Thursday, edited to match the final, 53-man roster...which actually stands at 52 now; it appears the Eagles are looking for a third QB. Players who made the team despite not being on my list are in italics. I correctly picked 49/52.

QB (3): Bradford, Sanchez, Tebow
RB (4): Murray, Mathews, Sproles, Barner
WR (6): Matthews, Huff, Agholor, Cooper, Austin, Ajirotutu
TE (3): Celek, Ertz, Burton
C (2): Kelce, Molk
G (3): Barbre, Gardner, Tobin
T (4): Peters, Johnson, Andrews, Kelly

DL (7): Cox, Logan, Thornton, Bair, Allen, Curry, Hart
ILB (4): Kendricks, Alonso, Ryans, Hicks
OLB (5): Barwin, Graham, Braman, Jones, Smith
CB (5): Maxwell, Carroll, Rowe, Biggers, Watkins, Rice
S: (4) Jenkins, Thurmond, Maragos, Prosinski, Couplin

P: Jones
PK: Parkey
LS: Dorenbos

I predicted five players on the bubble who would make the team (QB Tebow, RB Barner, LB Smith, CB Watkins, S Prosinski). Of those, Tebow, Watkins and Prosinski didn't make it. A slight surprise that both Tebow and Barkley are gone, but not shocking. Only Prosinski is a real surprise to me. Although I had him on the bubble, I thought his special teams performance since he was picked up last year would help him hold down the last safety spot. Obviously it did not. Watkins was a true bubble player so while I had him making it, it does not surprise me at all that he was cut.

I predicted five players who would be the first  five out, or essentially my five toughest cuts. These are the players on the other side of the bubble who wouldn't make it (QB Barkley, TE Tomlinson, OLB Goode, S Reynolds, S Couplin). Barkley was traded to the Cardinals and presumably would have been cut; the coaches seem to have preferred Couplin to Prosinski and Reynolds so Couplin will end up being the only "toughest cut" who made the team.

04 September 2015

We're all human: How I got scammed and how you can avoid it

It's not just naive grandparents getting scammed. It happened to me, and it can happen to you. It's embarrassing to me, but not too embarrassing to share it with you.

After I complained to PayPal on Twitter about an issue with my account, a PayPal representative (or, someone I thought to be a PayPal representative; more on this later) contacted me to help resolve the problem. Many companies are very conscious of their online brand and will take to social media to resolve problems. I've done this dozens of times with other companies so it wasn't at all surprising to me for them to contact me (in fact, just hours after this occurred, the legitimate PayPal help account contacted me for the same reason).

As you can already anticipate, the Twitter user who contacted me was not legitimate. Here's how it went down.

1. The "PayPal" representative asked for the email address associated with my account.

2. The "PayPal" representative "verified" my account by sending a code to my cell phone (you can already see how this is going down, can't you?!). It came from the same number that previous PayPal text messages have come so it must be legit, right? Of course it was legit...

3. I confirmed the code back to him. (Oh, wait. No I didn't. He has my email, he clicked a link to reset my password, and now he has my password reset code!)

Of course, I was suspicious about what happened, especially because he stopped communicating with me, but I hadn't thought the process through entirely. I'm not stupid enough to give someone my password, but I willingly gave away the password reset code because (without realizing it was a password reset code at the time) I felt assured that I was being verified with the code to my phone. So I asked my wife to keep an eye on the account just in case. In hindsight, though, it seems so obvious.

In fact, today we found an unauthorized transaction (fortunately, only one; which is being investigated and will hopefully be reversed). Account details and password have been reset. PayPal is aware of the scammer; his Twitter account has been suspended. 

But many more people will continue to fall victim to these scams. I know some of you are reading this and thinking "I'm smart! That could never happen to me!" If I was reading it, I'd probably think that too. But it can happen to you. It's hard to be vigilant 24/7. We're all human and sometimes we do stupid things. I didn't take the simple step of verifying the "PayPal" account (in hindsight, even I have a difficult time imagining how I simply took this for granted). The best I can do is own up to it so someone else can learn from my mistake.

03 September 2015

2015 Philadelphia Eagles projected 53-man roster (FINAL)

NFL rosters have to be down to 53 by Saturday, but the Eagles may do the cuts tomorrow to give players a better chance of being picked up by another team. Last year I was 49/53. Let's see how it goes this year.

QB (3): Bradford, Sanchez, Tebow
RB (4): Murray, Mathews, Sproles, Barner
WR (6): Matthews, Huff, Agholor, Cooper, Austin, Ajirotutu
TE (3): Celek, Ertz, Burton
C (2): Kelce, Molk
G (3): Barbre, Gardner, Tobin
T (4): Peters, Johnson, Andrews, Kelly

DL (7): Cox, Logan, Thornton, Bair, Allen, Curry, Hart
ILB (4): Kendricks, Alonso, Ryans, Hicks
OLB (5): Barwin, Graham, Braman, Jones, Smith
CB (5): Maxwell, Carroll, Rowe, Biggers, Watkins
S: (4) Jenkins, Thurmond, Maragos, Prosinski

P: Jones
PK: Parkey
LS: Dorenbos

Five bubble players who should make the team: QB Tebow, RB Barner, LB Smith, CB Watkins, S Prosinski

First five out/toughest cuts: QB Barkley, TE Tomlinson, OLB Goode, S Reynolds, S Couplin

The big decisions will come down to these questions:

  • Who will be the third QB?
  • Will the team keep 4 RB/TE?
  • Who will provide depth at the offensive line and in the secondary?
Some NFL dreams will continue or end tomorrow...

17 August 2015

2015 Eagles Preseason Week 1 Review

A quick review of the 2015 Eagles Preseason Week 1, with a focus on bubble players.

Upvotes ↑
QB Barkley: Consistent and on-target; I'm still not a fan but he's playing better than Tebow so far
RB Barner: So far, he's making a tough choice for the coaches on whether to go with 4 RBs
TE Tomlinson: Will the team keep 4 TEs like last year? If so, he has a shot
OLB Braman: Already a solid+ special teamer; but played well at OLB too
CB Biggers: Made a few key plays and will keep his name in the conversation for the last CB spot
S: Reynolds: Two picks and nearly a third may help force his way onto the roster; Watkins look out!

Downvotes ↓
QB Tebow: First series impressive; disappointing after that
T Graf: Got beat badly on several plays against inferior competition
CB/S Watkins: Looked unimpressive; beaten on several plays

Need More Info
G Bunche
G Moffitt
CB Evans

Roster Movement
With JaCorey Shepherd's ACL tear, I moved Jaylen Watkins into his roster spot. However, he didn't look very impressive on Sunday so he's definitely on the bubble. Ed Reynolds and EJ Biggers both played well and have every opportunity to move into that spot.