Rant 01

Hello my internet slacktivist friends. Where are you? Are you growing increasingly concerned about the fact that nothing majorly terrible is happening in the world recently? Remember Kony 2012? Remember your anti-rape black dot profile picture?

Where are they now? What, child soldiers don’t do it for you any more? Are you okay with rape now? Are you waiting with bated breath and an empty syringe for a new disaster so you can get your next fix of human calamity?

Something you can click like on and disrespectfully plaster across the web like cheap flyers for adult magazines? So you can stroke your little ego and feel good about having made no difference?

You despicable cretins disgust me.

A Beginner’s Guide to Using Quora

Step 1. Read answers that interest you. Follow topics that interest you. Write some answers.

Step 2. Acquire horse, the higher the better. Pay attention to this step. The height of your horse will determine you Quora experience. Here is what a very tall horse looks like-
http://www.quora.com/Marcus-Geduld/Posts-Old-Stuff-From-Before-Quora-Had-Boards/Marcuss-Rules-Of-Order-For-Himself-Which-He-Invites-You-To-Follow
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Step 3. If you have managed to acquire a sufficiently high horse in the previous step, comment on people’s posts, even when you are not a part of the conversation. No, I am not talking about two people are discussing science and you know some more science and you go in sciencing into that conversation; that is for people with horses below 10ft. I am talking about telling people what to think, what to say-
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Step 4: Feel validated. Repeat.

Response to Nixie Pixel video

In Nov 2012, Nixie Pixel posted this video

It is quite touching and I fully sympathize with you, Nixie. And I can offer an explanation of why this happened. This is because I can relate to the guy. Though I’d never be say it out loud (because I am not an asshole) i know exactly what was going on in his mind and what his beef with you was about.

In the following, when I use 1st person, it’s figurative. I speak as many of the geeks out there. (of course, I don’t represent everyone, maybe not even a majority)

You see the main problem in this equation is that being a geek is very precious to me. After a day of rejection and unfair odds, that is is the only thing that I come back to every night. It is the only thing I find solace in. When I see beautiful people being happy, the only thing that I take away from it is that their lives will most likely amount to nothing; that I am superior to them. My geekdom began as a necessity to be better. So when an attractive individual such as yourself tries to trespass on my domain, My sense of cosmic justice gets shaky. My worldview starts to crumble. You can’t have everything. You can’t be attractive and also take what is mine.

Every time I switch on my machine, and hear the fans whirring, i am empowered. You see, in this world, I am better than those attractive people. In this world, Michio Kaku replied to my email, Jimmy Wales upvoted my answer and Joshua Engel replied to my comment on Quora. In this world, I can pull off a quick-zoom headshot through the double-doors into T-spawn. In this realm, I can 0phcrack your Windows password, and I can cat a file, grep a regex from it, pipe it to a script that processes it and writes the output to another file and scp that to my remote machine so instinctively and unnoticably that I have to run “history” to check if I really did it.
That is power. That is my compensation for having been dealt a shitty hand. And you walk in and you wanna take that away from me. I can’t let you do that Nixie.

The only reason anyone would be mean to you is insecurity. Everyone feels it. The fine line that separates that guy from people like us is that we just accept our situation. We deal with it. We understand that you are doing something good and often something important. We appreciate the furtherance of the cause more than the petty injustices of the world. And therefore we are better geeks than him. Keep up the good work, Nixie. I’ll live.

The Evolution of an Apple user

With the launch of the new iPhone 5, some things I’ve always felt have resurfaced. I never actually put this to words before this. First off, my stance- I like Apple product-design. If I have money to waste, I’d buy some. But I am no fanboy. Given a choice, I prefer Android (but that’s coming from a developer’s perspective. It’s easier to write code for Android apps. It’s basically Java. For developing apps on iOS, one needs to have Xcode, and for Xcode, one needs a Mac). Though at the end of the article the user described is comparable to myself, I’m not in that category simply because I have been that way from the beginning. I didn’t go through preceding stages. I was in the last stage all along.

But this post is not about Apple vs Android or Microsoft or anyone. This is about trends I have observed in a specific breed of Apple users. The average Apple user has evolved over the decade. The keyword here is “average”. There have been and will be extremities in all the stages- fanboys and haters; but this is not focused on them. This post also answers who exactly are the people going crazy over the iPhone 5.

I’ll start this observation from 2001. Granted, Apple had some different kinds of customers prior to that, but this story starts in the beginning of the iEra. October 23, 2001- Apple launches the revolutionary iPod. Shit hits the fan.

Stage 1-

In the early years of the decade, owning an Apple made you “cool” and unique. Apple offered a break away from the traditional rut the tech-world had seemingly fallen into. Apple made technology shift from being just functional to being beautiful. A very hipster concept, by a hipster for hipsters. People were excited, and correctly so. And all the sheep who wanted to stand out, rushed to pour their money into Apple’s pockets. Apple happily painted them black, and they turned into black sheep.

Whenever anyone saw you walking down the street with those white earphones, they knew you were different. The Apple user started to be a symbol of non-conformity in a cool way. It actually meant something, it was a statement.

Stage 2-

As the years rolled by, and Apple kept growing, the fizz started to die down. Competitors entered the market. Obviously, none of these rivals could do any observable harm. Apple had a dedicated following, a ruthlessly effective marketing strategy and obviously, patents for rounded rectangles. There was a shift in the user-mentality too. Owning an Apple product no longer made you V from “V for Vendetta”. Apple was just a company making good products and beautiful user experiences. But it still had public sympathy of being an underdog to the evil corporate machinery the other companies were.

In this stage the typical Apple user was no more a hippie. Everyday people who go to work, have families, and no private jets were Apple users. The public opinion was relatively neutral. The effects from Stage 1 were still lingering though. The users were still smug and still tended to look down upon the white sheep.

Stage 3-

The last quarter of the decade- Apple was falling victim to its own propaganda. Once you paint too many sheep black, they start noticing that there are actually more black sheep than white ones. They realize that they are no longer unique. The problem with being a rebel, just for the sake of being one is that the nature of your views don’t matter as long as they are different from the crowd’s view. You want people to agree with you, but if they start agreeing the entire charade becomes self defeating.

Another problem was knocking on the door- the competition was finally starting to catch up.

Now the tables had turned, the average Apple users started doing what they did best- rebel. The hate towards Apple products started rising. Being an Apple user made you a rich, smug, fool who spent too much money on fancy looking products. The Apple user community was splitting into 2 groups.

Stage 4-

2010-2012… The hipster who originally lapped up the iPod like it was chocolate milk, was now a hater. The other group was the second generation adopters of Stage 2 who saw that getting excited at new Apple product launches was the “in” thing to do.  In fact they are the ones who are getting off on the new iPhone now. Most of the first generation has moved on. Since this second group is always the slow one, they still think going insane over a new product launch is what the “cool kids” do. Soon they will realize that those kids have left the concert long ago. The second group might stay back and decide not to follow the first away from Apple. They might say “They have moved on. So what? We are in the cool-zone now and we’re here to stay.”
What they don’t realize is that there is no “cool-zone”, there never was! The first generation was equally retarded and they were here not because it was a good concert, but simply because no one else was.

From an outsiders point of view, it still seems like the same fanboys going bananas over the new iPhone, but in reality it’s actually a different set of morons. It is a cycle. A sad cycle. Wannabe rebels moving to new grounds, the crowd following them there thinking that’s where the “cool kids” are. When that gets too crowded, the original idiots move away again. And that is the evolution of an Apple user.

Cloud Computing is Overrated

People around the world are getting awed by this magical “new” technology. Companies are minting money selling it.

Cloud Computing

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Cloud computing is the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a community of end-recipients. [...] Cloud computing entrusts services with a user’s data, software and computation over a network.

The enitre tech world seems to be drooling over this buzzword- “Cloud Computing”. Apple is selling iCloud, Microsoft is selling Azure, Google is coming in with Drive (and Chrome OS) and not to mention countless smaller companies that provide cloud services in various capacities. And people are buying it. Yeah, a few of the services may be free and while people are not actually paying money directly for that service, one way or the other the companies ARE making money from it.

But these people are not really buying new technology, they are buying a buzzword. I don’t mean to say that these services are bad or unnecessary; no, they are very useful and I use several myself. What I mean is- these kind of services have existed long before uttering the word “cloud” made you look tech-savvy. In my opinion, Cloud Computing is more a marketing device than a technological innovation.

There maybe more to this that someone will one day explain to me and I’ll change my mind, but as of now this is how I break it down. The so-called cloud services exist on 3 different levels-

  •  Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)

I’m over-simplifying things here, but basically IaaS is more storage space. But people have been storing data online for a long time. 4shared has been around since 2005; and tons of other services like that, some even older. And if that’s not old enough, people have been attaching files to emails and saving them as drafts since the beginning of time. It may not have been pretty, but it was online storage nevertheless. Even syncing between multiple devices is not new. Think Nokia PC Suite.

  • Platform as a service (PaaS)

Again oversimplifying, PaaS is an online Operating System at max (it can be far less than a full fledged OS, and still qualify). Long before Chrome OS, even 2 years before Chrome browser, in 2006 there was a web service named G.ho.st (Global Hosted Operating System, URL used to be http://g.ho.st). It was a fully functional operating system complete with installed apps and even a web-browser (yeah, browserception). They closed down around March 2010 due to lack of funding and competition. There may have been others I am not aware of. I’m not saying G.ho.st wasn’t a cloud service, it was. But the point is this stuff has existed long before this Cloud babble started.

  • Software as a service (SaaS)

I don’t even need to make a point here. It’s just blatant rebranding of existing web services. If you notice nowadays, the Google Chrome new tab home page has app icons- GMail, Youtube, Search, etc. These are not some super special cloud software, but merely products that have been around forever, rebranded as “apps”. And since they are online, they are supposed to be apps on the cloud. Real smooth, huh? And where do we draw the line? Are flash games at miniclip.com cloud applications as well? I don’t know.

In conclusion, the initiative is certainly in the right direction, and I appreciate that. There are several very useful cloud services around, some maybe even indispensible. But the concept is not new. I believe Cloud Computing is an overrated marketing buzzword that companies are using to sell their old liquor in new bottles.

US Student Visa Procedure in Extreme Detail (Step-by-Step guide)

The process of obtaining a US Student Visa (F-1) is fairly simple, but it can be confusing to some (as it was to me) because the instructions to each individual task is explained on the respective websites and documents, but the overall procedure is nowhere comprehensively described. So I’m writing this post to describe in excruciating detail how the entire procedure takes place from the start to finish after having successfully obtained the same visa. This was what I experienced (appointment at India – Kolkata). The procedure might be slightly different for you, but the basic outline is the same.

The flowchart below describes the steps you can follow right after receiving the I-20 form from your college.

The visa application fee (HDFC one, mentioned in the second level of tasks) can be paid without obtaining the I-20 too (maybe when the I-20 is in transit). Only a photocopy of a valid passport is required. Just waltz into the bank and say “I want to pay for visa application”. The receipt you’ll get is called the MRV receipt. It’ll be 2 flimsy pieces of paper stapled together. One will be blue and the other red (pink, actually). Both of them will have barcode stickers; one of them may have two stickers and the other only one.

You can start filling the DS-160 before the I-20 arrives and go on saving it online or downloading offline (instructions on website) but you’ll eventually need the I-20 to complete some information towards a later section. The DS-160 is a very long form, so start filling that early. https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/
You’ll need a photograph that meets their standards. That can be taken easily at home in good lighting conditions (daylight), predominantly white background and a little Photoshop / GIMP (or even MsPaint) knowledge (only how to use Fuzzy Select Tool and/or meticulously use the eraser). Save as jpeg. Going to professional studios is a waste of money and they won’t do any better job than you can do at home either. Use it to erase any doors, cracks, etc in the background but do not modify your appearance in anyway. Upload the large uncropped photo using their website’s photo-tool and  crop it using that. Only go to the shop to print out the pics. Specifically ask those idiots not to edit / crop the picture any further.
The barcode and the alphanumeric code you receive while starting the DS-160 will also be printed on the confirmation page once you finish it. And don’t get confused- it may also be referred to as “CEAC code” or “CEAC barcode” or something like that.

The SEVIS I-901 fee is paid online (through credit card, etc) at http://www.fmjfee.com/. Do not get confused by the terms SEVIS (Student Exchange and Visitor Information System), SEVP (Student Exchange and Visitor Program), DHS (Department of Homeland Security), US Immigrations and Customs, National Security Investigations Division, DoS (Department of State). In this context, all of them are inter-related government agencies and their programs for which you only have to pay one fee only once at the above website. The I-901 form is nothing but the receipt that you print out. There is no such “form to be filled up”. Actually it’ll be called the “I-901 receipt” everywhere. The “form” part is only the few details you fill in just before paying the fee.

Now you can schedule your interview at https://www.vfs-usa.co.in/ApplnForms/SchduleMenu.aspx. This is known as the VFS website (it is important to know because your interview appointment letter that you’ll have to print when you complete this form will also be known as your “VFS letter” or similar name). Pick a convenient date. Print / Save the appointment letter that will come up.  You will now print a Guidance Sheet as well.

Now, the interview:

On the day of the interview, you’ll be asked not to arrive more than 15 minutes earlier than the time assigned. Arrive 30 minutes early anyway. Wait outside, if necessary. Below is a crude, general map of what the consulate might look like. The shapes and layout will not be the same, but the procedure approximately should be.

The entrance is shown at the bottom. Before entering that, you’ll undergo a security check and be given a serial number (not same as the number on your appointment letter). Once you enter, you’ll be directed to a waiting area (shown in yellow). In my case, it was outdoors (therefore, not air-conditioned), seated, and had a TV. A person will ask for your documents, maybe re-arrange them, segregate the absolutely ESSENTIAL documents (all passports – current and previous, I-20 form,  MRV receipt, SEVIS I-901 receipt), hand them to you in a separate pile and ask you to carry all your other supporting documents- financial, marksheets, etc with you separately. The additional ones may or may not be asked for later (weren’t asked for in my case).

From there, you will be called (in my case it was about 10 applicants at a time) into the main area. It will have separate windows (shown in red and green) with officials at each of them much like a bank. One set of windows should have officials from your country (shown in Green).  From the queue, you’ll be ushered into one of these windows first. They’ll do the preliminary verification of the ESSENTIAL documents you just carried in separately inside. They will NOT interview you. Now you will have to wait in a second waiting area, also seated (shown in blue).

After your documents are verified, they’ll be returned to you as you progress along the blue area seated queue. Then, you go to one of the other windows (shown in Red) where an American official will interview you. Your fingerprints maybe taken (digital scanner, no ink involved). Any additional documents if needed, will be asked for now. If asked, convince the interviewer that you plan to return to your country after completion of your course. The more reputed your college is, the fewer questions you’ll be asked.

Then they keep your passport and you exit the building and the consulate. They should give you a paper containing instructions for retrieving your passport thereafter. The next working day, verify if your passport is ready by any one of the methods mentioned (calling the helpline, website, email or SMS). Go and bring the passport with the visa attached! That’s it.

Heels

I didn’t know much about women’s shoe-heels and didn’t really notice it that much either. I mean I could see them wearing elevated footwear, but hadn’t really paid much attention to detail until my little sister started wearing them recently. And there is some really funny stuff that goes on about that abomination of footwear people call heels. I’m no fashion guru. I’ll never understand why they insert metal projections into their hair in those Milan shows. I’m simply saying what I see with my eyes.

At this point I would like to make it perfectly clear that I don’t mean to be sexist in any way. There are a lot of women who who concur with the views I present here. Moreover, these are opinions, not scripture. And most importantly, this is supposed to be one of the more light-hearted posts. Also, when I say “they”, I refer to heel-wearers, not the whole of womankind. That includes effeminate male fashion designers. I am unbiased. Also notice that nowhere do I mention that this trend should be discontinued, so don’t come barging in saying “It’s their democratic right to choice”. So, there.

Firstly they believe that heels make them look taller. Maybe. By a few inches. So does that mean taller is better? I don’t know. I don’t really think this is very attractive-

I appreciate their skill, but it’s just that I don’t think it’s very sexy.

Secondly, it’s supposed to accentuate their features. The question is- does it require any accentuating? I don’t speak for everyone, but I personally don’t like silicone at all. And honestly, women walking in heels somehow subconciously remind me of waddling penguins. And I’m not talking about those who can’t pull it off. Even the top tier actors and models who do, remind me of penguins. They don’t resemble penguins, but it’s just one of those unrelated things your mind associates with.

Thirdly, there are some serious judgement issues going on. Rational humans make decisions based on a very basic strategy called risk-reward calculation. Travis Pastrana jumped off a plane without a parachute because he knew he’d have a lot of fun, get paid by Red Bull, become even more famous and would also help his stunt career. The reward justifies the risk.

Heels on the other hand, will give you arthritis in the long run, extreme pain and discomfort in the short, not to mention ocassional cutting and bruising for a mega reward of… wait for it… looking a little better for a few hours.

So, do these shoes have any advantage at all? See, had there been any advantage at all (and that includes looking good), the evolutionary process of natural selection would have made the human foot look like this picture below. The reason it doesn’t look like this is because it serves no practical or aesthetic purpose or advantage. The foot evolved over millions of years to be good at one thing- being a foot.

Honestly the only people who derive any benefit from these shoes do so in the very literal sense of the word- benefit. They manufacture and sell them for profit. I’ve heard they cost a bomb. I can’t really imagine why anyone would actually pay money to hurt themselves, except for… well lets not go there.

Maybe it is beyond my domain of understanding. Maybe they do fulfill some ulterior destiny of humankind. Maybe it’s pre-ordained by forces beyond my conceptual sphere. Maybe I do have too much free time in my hands to be writing this. But I remain a non-believer; so I let barking dogs lie, theist believers pray, and heel-lovers wear.