# (1) 28 Aug 2009, 09:24AM: Summer Hiatus (Unscheduled):
Hey, my blog's back up. Quick summary: I'm one of the bloggers at the new Geek Feminism blog, I got a work visa for the United Kingdom in case Leonard & I move there late this year, the Nokia N900 smartphone launched complete with a bunch of software Collabora's written, I'm denting, and basically I'm fine. Thanks Open Computing Facility staffers for your work and achievements.
# (1) 28 Aug 2009, 09:10PM: Vis-a-Vis a Visa:
As I was applying for the Points Based System Tier 1, General Migrant visa to the United Kingdom, I had a number of questions that the UK Border Agency website and UK visa application site (a.k.a. Visa4UK) did not clearly answer. The UK Consulate in New York City does not allow personal visits from visa applicants and will not take phone calls with questions about visas; they delegate this sort of stuff to the private firm Worldbridge, a division of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). Worldbridge charges money to answer questions via phone and does not offer in-person advice.
If the consulate thinks you're missing a document, or have something else wrong with your application, they usually just reject the application rather than phone you to get it cleared up. So I wanted to get everything right the first time. I ponied up to get a person on the phone to answer some of these questions, so I wanted to put the answers up where anyone could read them for free. All this information is courtesy Carolina of Worldbridge.
- Can I submit my documents in person at the British Consulate in Manhattan? No, they only accept visa applications from applicants via mail. But the Consulate does accept overnight packages, and accepts packages via DHL, FedEx, and UPS in addition to US Postal Service.
- Is there any way to expedite the process? Yes. You can pay commercial expediting agencies such as A Briggs. They, unlike regular applicants, are allowed to submit applications in person, and often promise same-day processing. The Consulate doesn't guarantee anything about these agencies, except that Worldbridge can provide a list of expediters who have "registered" with the Consulate. Carolina wasn't really clear on what that meant, or how one registers with the Consulate and what the criteria for registration are, or why I couldn't become an expediting agency myself, register with the Consulate, and thus walk in for same-day service.
- The Consulate is closed for Labor Day, 7 September 2009.
- Should I use paperclips or staple the documentation together? Use a paper clip.
- Should I include a table of contents, listing what documents I've enclosed? There's no need to do that, but it's fine if you do.
- The visa application instructions say I should include a copy of each supporting document; does it need to be a color photocopy, or is black and white okay? Black and white is fine.
- Should I include a copy of relevant pages of my passport? No, you don't need to do that.
- If you are applying from the US, you applied via a web-based form. When you competed the application, you got a printable webpage. Include one copy of that printout of your application. This is instead of printing the VAF9 "Personal Details" PDF and filling it out by hand. But you do have to print out that Self-Assessment Appendix PDF and fill it out by hand and include one copy of that with the application.
- What kind of information does the officer want to see in response to "Is there any other information you wish to give in support of your application?" Worldbridge won't advise you on how to fill out your application and that includes explaining what the officer might like to see here, or find relevant. My job history, my family here in the States, my job in the UK, my travel plans? No advice.
- The self-assessment appendix includes a space for you to detail your earnings: source, dates, amount, applicable exchange rate, and so on. There's barely any space there, so it's okay to note in that space that you're doing it on a separate sheet, and then attach a separate spreadsheet or letter with all those details.
- As documentation of your earnings, or of your maintenance funds, personal printouts from the online-banking website of a brick-and-mortar bank aren't good enough, even if they have the bank logo on them. You need official bank statements, either originally printed by the bank (with color logos and so on), or signed & stamped by a bank employee. You are not required to circle or highlight the relevant deposits or balance numbers, but you aren't prohibited from doing so, either.
- It is okay to attach a separate letter with additional information you want the officer to consider, but there's no guarantee it'll be looked at.
In Sumana's opinion, your safest bet is to think hard while you're filling out the online application so that you can put as much as you need to into the Is there any other information you wish to give in support of your application? space near the end of the form. Maybe that's the best place to put the "please post-date the visa by 2 months" note; I don't know.
- How many passport-sized photos do you need, and how should I attach them? Include two passport-sized photos, and paperclip them on. They might get damaged if I paperclip them directly; how about in a little envelope? Yeah, sure, that's fine.
Worldbridge also takes questions by web form and returns answers via email, but I'm glad I spent the $12 to get half an hour of live chat. Sample dialogue in the phone call included:
"How should I attach the passport photos?"
"All photos should measure 45mm by 35mm; and be in colour; and be taken against a grey or cream background..." [basically reading from the rather frightening photo guidelines PDF]
"I know that. I'm asking how you want me to attach them. Is it okay to put them in an envelope and paperclip it on?"
"You can just paperclip the photos directly to the application."
"But that seems like it'll damage the photos. Is it okay to put them in a little envelope and paperclip the envelope to the application?"
"Yes, that's okay."
I can only imagine how maddening it would be to ask all these questions via email and then battle a response-bot that spouted vaguely-related boilerplate off websites I'd already found inadequate. As it was, Carolina was astonished when I suggested I might highlight or circle relevant bits of my bank statements to make the important numbers easier to find. Yeah, Worldbridge, I can see how thinking ahead to make the user's experience easier wouldn't come naturally to you.
Obviously I'm not a lawyer or expert, all the tips above are my paraphrasing of advice I got on one occasion from one Worldbridge employee in late August 2009, and I can only wish future applicants luck. Hope this helps.
# (1) 29 Aug 2009, 09:22PM: Blog Move And Thunderbird Tip:
I've now moved from my old webspace at the Open Computing Facility (at the University of California at Berkeley) to space on a server that Leonard controls. So this is a test post to mark the divergence of those old archives and this now-canonical space for the blog at harihareswara.net (redirecting from brainwane.net once the DNS propagates, etc.).
Let's have some useful content to keep it interesting: let's say you're using Mozilla Thunderbird as an email client, perhaps on Ubuntu Linux, and let's say you want your email replies to include the date of the email you're replying to. I found this tip helpful:
- use the Edit: Preferences dialog box
- go to Advanced
- click the advanced configuration editor
- type 'reply' into the filter box to search for configuration entries that include the string 'reply'
- click on the reply header type line
- double click that
- change 1 to 2
- close/OK all the windows, you should be set
# 30 Aug 2009, 02:33PM: Look!:
Every so often, Leonard and I watch several Colbert Report clips from his recurring segment Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A. Leonard loves the props, the silliness, and the variety of jokes within a very tight formula. I adore that Colbert cannot make it through a Cheating Death segment without breaking character. And we both cherish the lists of fake side effects of the drugs Colbert hawks. Our favorites are re-appropriations of existing phrases:
- Foghorn Leghorns
- joint custody
- mock turtleneck
- speaking in tongues
- Jimmy crack corns
- Nine Inch Nails
- Jack Russell Derriere [technically a pun but an awesome one]
- Mind of Mencia [Leonard's all-time favorite]
# (1) 30 Aug 2009, 09:59PM: Game:
I got Leonard & Martin to read Michael Lewis's Moneyball recently. (By the way, Brendan, I think you'd like Martin's blog, if you're not already reading it.) I'll read anything by Lewis. In Liar's Poker, Moneyball, The Ballad of Big Mike, In Nature's Casino, Serfs of the Turf, and other works, he explores social histories of arbitrage. What kind of person perceives new opportunities in established systems? What kind of person embodies a new opportunity? Where do their values, histories, aims, and rules differ from or align with the establishment's?
I especially appreciate the light touch Lewis brings to these questions. In his stories, those questions are implications, excursions from the narrative. Malcolm Gladwell foregrounds those questions and uses his characters and anecdotes as props; he seems to overreach because he's going for the universal. Lewis stays in the particular, telling one story well and rarely addressing his larger themes explicitly.
But there is one passage in Moneyball, one Lewis marks with "there will be a lesson in that", that fills me with expanding religious fervor each time I read it:
As the thirty-fifth pick approaches, Eric once again leans into the speaker phone. If he leaned in just a bit more closely he might hear phones around the league clicking off, so that people could laugh without being heard. For they do laugh. They will make fun of what the A's are about to do; and there will be a lesson in that. The inability to envision a certain kind of person doing a certain kind of thing because you've never seen someone who looks like him do it before is not just a vice. It's a luxury. What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job.
Another resonant quote from the next page (116):
"You know what gets me excited about a guy? I get excited about a guy when he has something about him that causes everyone else to overlook him and I know that it is something that just doesn't matter." - Paul DePodesta
And from Martin:
Obviously that's fun to read just from a "nerd power!" perspective, but it's also fascinating to think of all the other industries still out there, plagued by chronic inefficiencies (i.e. opportunities) and just begging for the right nerd to come along and revolutionize them.
# 31 Aug 2009, 12:29AM: Nostalgia And Consistent Pleasures:
In my Epistemology and impostor syndrome post at Geek Feminism, I spoke a little about systematically dissecting praise to check for sincerity. There's a mess of connections here among my memories, hopes, and worldview; lemme do some exploring.
Mary Anne, Ben, and Jed gave me the four-question Myers-Briggs quiz at WisCon (the way I write that makes it sound like the Are You A Libertarian (Yes) Quiz) and reminded me that I like to make sense of the world. I like to create hypotheses to explain behavior I observe, and I like to fit my behavior to consistent principles. (Incidentally, reading this profile of Atul Gawande caused me to remember how frightening I found the TV show ER as a teen -- the hospital seemed chaotic, without discernable systems keeping track of people -- and wonder whether that perception helped stop me from going into medicine.)
My Grand Unified Theory of Everything impulse applies not only to observations but predictions and hopes. Trying to systematically understand reality, discarding the impossible or unproven, means valuing the statistically improbable, making it hard to disprove the null hypothesis, and paying far more attention to expensive & hard-to-fake signals. But it also means that the scientific mind won't let its owner fantasize about scenarios contrary to character, ethics, and the other constraints she knows intimately. The virtual machine that runs my hypotheses is science fictional, not fantastic.
Unfulfilled wishes can't reach forward into fantasy, so I reach backwards into history. But the memories of having a desire fulfilled -- desire for approval, or sex, or technical competence -- they lose their savor.
I do have memories, though, that give me abundant pleasure. A sprint near a lake in Russia, as a storm started. A conversation with two children while waiting for takeout. A moment, walking downhill from Soda Hall for the first time and seeing the Campanile and Doe Library in shining summer light.
These don't slip away.
My systematic side asks: why? And how can I get more?
They are memories of wonder, not desire. They aren't attached to maws of need that suck all the pleasure into the endless abyss. They float, free from hope and desire and expectation, moments of unearned, unexpected grace.
Garrison Keillor (although it isn't complete without his half-incredulous delivery):
Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.
Cogito, Ergo Sumana by Sumana Harihareswara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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