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I'm moving to Washington D.C.

In just a few weeks, I’m moving to Washington DC.

I’m uprooting 20+ years of living in NY for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a new community from scratch. After visiting Colorado and New Mexico for an Islamic spiritual journey in August, I realized my true purpose in life is to answer the question: what are you building for God?

In New York, I’ve been organizing and working on community efforts for more than a decade. LiftUp Basketball is a great example of that hard work. I see those kids improve, bond with each other, and find community, and find purpose. It energizes my being, keeps me striving, hungry to see good community come alive.

Going to DC, I have a chance to build it on a bigger scale, with intelligent, loving people who have good intentions. This is where life is taking me next.It’s rare to find new friends and family that you want to hold on to so dearly. I knew I could not let go of them. DC is also a time for me to discover myself. I’ll be living on my own, starting a new job with an incredible team, buying my first car, and taking even more responsibility. And that’s all exciting!

Most importantly, I see this move as fi sabillilah, for the sake of Allah. I am building for community because I believe that’s my purpose. I believe with my skillset, with my vision, and my intention, I can work with an awesome team and bring it to life.

That doesn’t mean I won’t come back to NY. Because some homes never change. And I see great things for the NY community, with me playing an important role. But I need to move away to build myself, to learn what I can, to grow, and then come back strong and empowered, ready to take on the challenge.

I need your duas so I stay on the right path. I need your guidance so that I make the right moves. I need your help because I can’t do this on my own. I need your love so that I feel comforted in the lonely nights. I need your patience as I adjust to a new change in my life. I need you to believe in me that with this awesome team, we can build and promote good.

Most importantly, I need you to answer these questions for yourself: What are you doing to build? For your family? For community? For God?

If you find the answer, you may just find yourself. I know I did.

Ashraf Ali
Putting money where my mouth is

My father had Parkinson's disease, a debilitating motor disability. He also had Schizophrenia and Advanced Dementia, a product of the drugs and disease state. For more than 20 years, his brain and his limbs were slowly chewed out by these illnesses.

His disease didn't stop him. I can attest to his can-do, "no one is stopping me" attitude. It reigned supreme in all of his business and family affairs. It's that attitude that helped him immigrate from Bangladesh to the US, to bring us here, to help us foster a beautiful life. I'm deeply thankful for all of this.

Disease shouldn't ever get in the way of a person's drive to live. And I take personal responsibility to help raise awareness and end this disease. That's why I'm donating $500 to support the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

I don't have a crazy Kickstarter fund or anything like that. I'm not asking you to donate (though, that would be cool). I just want to put my money where my mouth is and help end this disease.

I have a distinct fear in the future, that I may also have this disease. While genetic links and environmental links have been brought up as reasons, I don't really know what my future holds. However, if I have even half the spirit of my father, I will be able to get through this as well, inshallah.

I also want to request a special dua for my mother, for having the strength and the endurance to be his caretaker for much of his life. My mother went above and beyond, and she still does to this day. As my soldier, guarding me in life's toughest challenges, I always stay at a sense of ease.

Alhamdullilah.

Ashraf Ali
​Today was the 2nd anniversary of my father's death

I went to visit my father's grave and pay my respects with a kind friend of mine. As the birds chirped and the wind blew, I reflected on my feelings and my state of mind.

There was a sense of calm.

The chaos of two years condensed into one moment. I wasn't sad. I didn't cry. I kind of just stood there, at his grave, and smiled.

Today was a milestone of good. That I felt comfort from his peaceful death. I resonated with his essence, a quiet in his burial grounds as he awaited judgement. When I raised my hands to Allah, my prayer was simple: give him ease in the grave, forgive him, and help him reach a better place.

In turn, I also learned, that prayer was for myself. I felt ease, forgiveness, and thankfulness towards Allah that I am the reflection of my dad's sacrifices in this life. And I seek the reward of the next.

On the drive home, I had a light nap in the passenger seat. I felt his legacy surge through me like a lightning bolt: a small village, a big city, great change, still alive.

Indeed, his death reminds me that I'm alive, awake with change, 2 years forward, going strong.

All praises due to Allah.

(If you read this post, take 5 seconds and say "may Allah forgive him." Even if you whisper it, it's okay. That small statement can make the biggest difference. Thank you.)

Ashraf Ali
Replacing headphones on a Sena SMH10-11 Bluetooth Communicator

I purchased a Sena SMH10-11 Motorcycle Bluetooth Headset and Intercom for my HJC CL-MAX II Modular Helmet (FYI: while the helmet is advertised with bluetooth support, you don’t actually need the cavity for installation. I kept the cover on and installed the Sena using the included clamp).

The Sena comms are pretty awesome. The controls are dead simple to use and can be used with gloves. There is Siri functionality (just press the phone button and presto!). And I paired it with another helmet and Sena's SMH5-02, a cheaper model and was able to talk to my rider buddy with at least half a mile between us. 

The built-in speakers have a crackling quality that works fine for talking. However, when you listen to music, the mids and the weak bass are a shame. This specific Sena has a hard wired headset so no 3.5mm adapter for me.

I really wanted to bump up the sound quality, so I purchased a relatively cheap (but better-than-average sounding) clip-ons from Koss. The KSC21 Sport Clips were the perfect size to replace the existing headset.

I turned on the bluetooth and had a song play on repeat so that I could ensure the connectivity was functional. Then I got to work. I stripped the cables from both ends. Then, I got my soldering iron out and tinned the tip. I twisted the cable ends for the ground ends (white) and to the earpiece (red).

I had some issues with my first run of the application, so I used an x-acto knife to try and strip the cable on the Sena end. It wasn’t easy. I realized that I could use the heat from the soldering iron to melt through the cable, tin the tip, and then connect it to the clip-ons. For the final touch, I added some velcro to the ear piece so that it would sit in the existing velcro housing. 

I used some electrical tape to tape down each cable, to prevent it from shifting or breaking. They are quite fragile strands of wire. I stuffed everything back into the helmet and powered it up again. Once I donned the helmet, I could hear the music loud and clear. Being able to listen to awesome tunes while riding is such a blast.

Now with the higher quality buds, I’m just glad I’m not subjected to disappear mids and bass. Ride on!

Ashraf Ali
Hotkeys not triggering with Finder folders in Alfred workflows?

I created an Alfred workflow to create the same default folders for a project. The workflow is bound a hotkey which I believed triggered the Bash script. In the script, I created a series of folders and then pushed a notification after the folders were created to notify me the workflow’s success.

However, whenever I had a folder opened, I kept running into a problem: why won’t my workflow run? The hotkey was being pressed properly, I had the folder open, it should work as intended, right?

Turns out, I didn’t realize the hotkey was dependent on an argument being passed to it: what value do you want to pass to the bash script? So the way to solve it? Select/highlight the folder in Finder and invoke the hotkey. The bash script runs fine now and my productivity game is back on target.

I’m still trying to figure out how to get the workflow to pass the current open, most focused Finder window, but that’s a challenge for another day.

 

Ashraf Ali
I'm a budding motorcycle mechanic hitting my limits

One of the things I love about being a designer is instant feedback. If I click on the text tool and type in some text, it appears instantly. As a young designer, this has made me spoiled. Older designers used metal cast type and set it into plates. It would be weeks of round tripping with a foundry in order to get the type set just right. And all I have to do is futs with a few dialog boxes to get it just the way I want.

Being a young designer, I have it easy. As a budding motorcycle mechanic, I do not.

Fixing a motorcycle has no instant gratification. You have to read the Owner's Manual. Then read the Service Manual. Read some online forums. Read through a couple of debates on what bike you should have bought. Tweak your keywords and hammer the search button until you get the right part numbers. Then you have to go to the altar of eBay and pray there is a part for your bike lingering on the interwebs. You have to take a bet whether or not it's shipping from China or the US, especially if the part is scarce. You might need to send a question or two to your seller, just to make sure it's right.

Waiting commences for bike parts. Time keeps on ticking and your bike sits there, howling as the wind passes by, echoing a call to come enjoy the freedom.

Wait 5 days, 7 days, or 9 days and be sure to linger by the door between the gaping 4-9pm window. When the USPS/UPS/FedEx/Carrier Pigeon driver shows up, you give them the biggest smile you can, and take the package gleefully, scurrying to open it in the confines of your room.

Once you have the part, you either wrench it yourself or get your mechanic to help you out.

My mechanic came by to fixing the wiring for my tail lights, license plate, and turn signals. The tire pressures were set. The fuses were fixed. 1.5 hrs of work but everything was put back together. I got to ride the bike a little. It was a frustrating tease. I'd have to wait until this morning to try it again.

I donned my helmet and set everything up. As I hit the electric start, the bike wouldn't come to life. I push started the bike with the help of a neighbor, engaging in second gear, holding in the clutch, and being pushed forward to start that engine. And it roared. Oh, it roared.

Crack. Snap. Pop. Skirt. Turn 'round the block. First gear, second gear, third gear. It's loud, it's conscious, it's ready.

It stalled.

I tried to pull in the clutch, to get it to switch to fourth gear. But the clutch turned stiff. Literally, the clutch didn't want to budge past a certain position. With no one behind me to help me push start and no electric start in my favor, I switched the bike to neutral and walked the bike home. I parked it on the street corner.

Turns out, my clutch is probably burned out. And the cable is probably acting funky (possibly from my attempt at lubricating the cable months before). Or maybe these are the lingering effects of the crash my friend had. Any way I slice it, I want this bike back up.

Why? Because it’s teaching me a sense of responsibility (don’t lend bikes out, period). It’s teaching me ownership. It’s teaching me how to care for something, not to just dispose of it. It’s teaching me to appreciate my bike. And it will be that much more rewarding to ride it, knowing that I cared, that I had hope it would ride again.

So I’ll get the clutch fixed. And I’ll start the process all over again.

So close. So far. So soon. Not soon enough.

Ashraf Ali
Motorcycle wipeout by a friend

I've been traveling extensively for the last month and change. During the first leg of my travel, I lent my motorcycle to a friend of mine who’s a beginner rider, as a way to let him learn how to ride it. Turns out, that was poor smarts on my part. He crashed it riding on the not-so-beginner-friendly Jackie Robinson Parkway in Queens. With all the quick turns and swooping curves, it can be quite dangerous for a beginner (even as a car driver).

Alas, he wiped out and landed on his right side. Thank god he was fine, but when I came back home, I heard the entire saga. He was unable to shift the gears to neutral so he was stuck carrying it with a friend using a cardboard under the rear wheel (and much gusto). 

The motorcycle was not so happy to run. It blew through a fuse. The rear turn signals were stripped and broken, hanging by a thread. I noticed the cracked engine guard dangling from the front end. There were bolts missing. My helmet had tons of scratches on it.

It's been more than a month since I've been able to use my bike. I tried to do some of the repairs myself and honestly, I got pretty far. But I hit my own wall of experience. Lacking the right tools and the confidence to move forward, I got a guy from Craigslist to check the bike out. He helped take off the engine guard, refresh my brake fluid, and replace the license plate harness. But the wiring was burnt due to the rotation of the tires getting in contact with dangling wires. I'd need a new sub wiring harness.

Another delay, another purchase, another bit of patience.

In these moments, I feel disheartened because I'm so attached to a material thing. I shouldn't feel such a sense of loss. In another sense, I feel frustrated because I really shouldn't have been so trusting to lend out my vehicles. My scooter ended splat for the same reason. (and my Zipcar membership...a different story, different friend).

All good people. All terrible drivers with poor judgement and lots to learn. So do I apparently.

At the end, good things do come with patience. So I'll be click that Buy button on eBay. I'll call the mechanic in again. And I'll ask God, please, get me back on the road, to stop lusting after other bikes. 'Cause that freedom baby, that freedom of my own sweet ride, my own adventure.

Damn it, it just had to be Fall, didn't it? Riding season is almost over!

Ashraf Ali
Mounting an EZ-Pass toll reader on my Honda Rebel 250

Recently, I found out that motorcycles get discounted tolls with an ez-pass. Huzzah!

EZ-pass was really frustrating via snail mail so I headed over to their NY office in Whitestone, Queens. It’s a traffic jam. I waited over an hour to get my EZ-pass. After a sweaty morning, I finally got a discounted tolling solution.

Some people forgo mounting and use plastic holders or clamps on the handle bar. Other riders just keep it in their jacket pocket to activate when appropriate. And some just let the license plate read since it bills all the same. I wanted to avoid any bureaucratic headaches with license plate reading or forgetting to take my EZ-pass on a trip (which defeats the purpose).

Onward to mounting it on the bike: I wasn’t too confident with the 3M tape mounts that they provided. Having a piece of plastic roll under my front tire at 70 mph isn’t also my idea of fun...so hello zip ties!

Finding the right position to place the EZ-pass can be a bit annoying. I wanted somewhere secure, still readable by sensors, and not staring at me in the face. The top right area over the Honda plastic black box engraving on the front fork worked best for me. I get extra long zip ties and wrapped them around to secure it. I’ve tested it at highway speeds without any movement or wiggling. In addition, the sensor read great at the Whitestone bridge.

Finally, long distance trips here I come!

Ashraf Ali
Installing an aftermarket driver back rest on a Honda Rebel 250

If you are looking for more comfort out of your Honda Rebel, I recommend purchasing one of these back rests. Okay, I admit it, I was jealous of my passengers! How come they can get a nice backrest/sissy for their journeys and I’m stuck with straining my lower back?

I did some research on eBay and came across a small company named Grasshopper that makes aftermarket driver back rests for various motorcycles. In addition to an easy installation, the back rest is removable with just a tug on the rest.

The instructions were terse and included a grainy photo for installation. I thought I’d also document the install on my end along with some notes on quirks along the way.

To begin, remove the back seat by removing the small two bolts in the rear. It will require some handy work if you’ve installed a sissy bar like me. Once you wiggle it out of the housing, remove the bolts holding down the front seat. Take the metal housing piece from the driver seat and align it accordingly on the bolts. The shape should be extruding with the piece rest against the driver seat.

When installing it, make sure you install it tight and snug. Otherwise, it will be difficult installing the back seat again. Work progressively, slowly tightening the bolts in and adjusting the position of the bracket flush with the driver seat. Once you tighten in, reinstall the back street. It will require a little bit of pressure, don’t be shy!

Now, take your driver back rest and check the angle of the metal insert. Remember, don’t jam it in the housing. Just slip it in straight down with the angle of the driver seat leaning back. With a nice snap, it should sit their snuggly.

I love the removable aspect of the driver back rest, just in case you want to snuggle close with a passenger :) One thing that people don’t note is the vibrations you initially feel. It’s kind of like a mini massage for your lower back. Once the housing settles into place though, the effect is less pronounced and you get used to it.

The build quality of the Grasshopper back rest is excellent. Excellent stitching, comfortable padding, and a strong power coated black gloss metal housing bracket and insert. Highly recommended.

Ashraf Ali
Replacing the rear lights is a wiring nightmare on my Honda Rebel

I know, I know, I’m new to motorcycle maintenance. I thought I could do all the fixes myself. But triaging wiring harnesses to install new lights was NOT on the top of my list.

I bought some cheap aftermarket rear lights on Amazon, thinking, “Oh, this should be just plug in play, like installing a bolt.” I was dead wrong.

First, I disassembled the existing housing of the lights. This required some ambidextrous moves with the rear fender, a flat wrench for the nut, and a socket wrench for the bolt. After a good 5 minutes, I was able to disassemble the light cluster.

I don’t know what the engineers at Honda were thinking when they designed such floppy, failure inducing rear lights. The rubber stem doesn’t provide enough support for the heavy lights. As a result, duct tape has become my friend.

The wiring is where the real nightmare begins. There is a tail light wiring harness located under the rear fender, housed in a dusty rubber pouch. I detangled the cables and disconnected the bullet connectors. With no labeling and limited lighting, you have to rely on trial and error to determine the light.

Another issue, I connected my aftermarket light, only for the blinking action to not work. Looks like I also need a relay to enable the blinking switching. Sigh.

Coming from the world of plug and play, macgyvering solutions on a motorcycle requires a lot more patience and ingenuity. Still, keep on marching.

Ashraf Ali
Installing a passenger back rest/sissy bar with a luggage rack for Honda Rebel 250

I love the unique experience of carrying a passenger on my motorcycle. I feel like I'm taking them on a journey that is so involved with all of the senses. Man and nature are fused into one...

But with the Honda Rebel 250, the passenger experience can be a little bit uncomfortable. It can put a serious strain on your back. In addition, I wanted to be able to carry some items. I really was missing my scooters little driver trunk space.

So I did a little search on eBay for some aftermarket sissy bars. I came across this awesome, well built three piece set. It includes a backrest for your passenger with a (relatively cheap) foam and faux leather backing, a luggage rack, and the bracket to install it on the side struts on the rear fender.

Even though the instructions were not included from the package, it was easy to figure out.

First, I recommend that you assemble the pieces all together before you put it on the bike. Trust me, it makes it much easier. You’ll need a hex screwdriver to fit the pieces and a phillips screwdriver for the back rest. Tighten them with a snug fit, leaving no gap between the metals. I layered the pieces with the back rest inside and the luggage rack outside, placing the rear fender mount in between. For the back rest, I had to drill holes in the plastic housing. Align it first, measure twice, cut once, etc. 

To install on the rear fender, use your existing bolts or purchase a M8 x 40mm screw with washer and nut as well as an M8 x 16mm screw, with washer but no nut needed, a set for each side. Then, it's a matter of tightening the bolts. The service manual does not indicate the torque value so use your best judgement. It may feel a bit tight screwing the bolt in but take your time. Don’t over tighten the bolt!

Once you’ve got it on, it should be rock solid. I was able to carry 30 pounds of items using ROK straps (never use bungee cords with luggage racks unless you want a stressed and snapped wire at 80mph…).

And the verdict from my passengers? They LOVE IT! They feel a lot more secure and comfortable riding on the back. I recommend it if you want to take your passengers out for journeys longer than 20 minutes.

Ashraf Ali
Replacing the clutch perch on my 2009 Honda Rebel 250

More than a month ago, the metal mirror housing on my 2009 Honda Rebel broke off due to an accident. I was biking with just the right mirror (it’s legal in NY State). Honestly, it wasn’t so bad. However, when merging left or switch to the left lane, I felt like a pigeon, constantly pivoting left to look behind me.

I was complaining about it to my friend Serge, on the verge of ordering this $30 piece (also known as a clutch perch) when he chimed in, “You still have the piece right? Use JB Weld.”

I ordered some JB Weld, did some quick YouTubing and went to work. I dabbed the epoxy mixture onto the edges of the piece. Then, I pieced together the parts and held it in place with my thumb. I allowed it to cure, came back, and installed my new aftermarket mirrors.

When I inserted the mirror, the pressure caused it to snap the mirror mount right off. For some reason, the JB Weld epoxy was not adhering/curing. I tried to repeat the experiment the next but to no avail.

I went back to eBay to hunt for a replacement piece. It turns out, the Honda Shadow 600 VT750 has a similar clutch perch piece on their bikes (thank God for Honda reusing similar parts). For $10+, I could have the exact functionality back for my Honda Rebel. Not too bad!

When I purchased it, it took about two weeks to come to my house. Once it arrived, I got to work on installing it. I disassembled the clutch lever, cable, and connectors and took pictures to keep track of everything.

As I assembled after back together, I realized that it was for a 1-inch bar even though I have a 7/8 inch bar. With a little macgyvering of a shim, I was able to still use it.

I first added a sliver of duct tape on the handlebar. This allowed me to ensure the grippiness of my can. Next, I emptied out a Diet Coke can, and cut out a long continuous strip of metal use masking tape as a guide. After removing all the tape, I wrapped around the aluminum strip on the bar as a shim. I trimmed it to fit and clamped on the perch.

fter screwing it in evenly, I was able to thread the clutch cable through the clutch grip. This was a bit tricky but I took my time with it so that the cable remained intact. I recommending introducing cable slack to make it easier to install. Don’t forget to readjust it back!

At the end, I was really happy with the end result. It’s snug and functional, just the way I like it.

Ashraf Ali