Archive for the 'immigration' Category

Firsts

I alluded to it in my previous posts, and it’s true. These past few weeks I have done many a new thing. A lot of them were small, mundane things. Some, a little bigger. I’ll just go ahead and make a list of the ones that made an impact, shall I?

Sea Lions! Picture by me, from our trip to find whales.

– Checks. Before coming to the United States I’d never so much as touched a check before.  I received (and cashed) my first one a few months ago, but now I’ve even progressed to writing them (albeit with a fair bit of anxiety). It did take Beloved a good fifteen minutes of exasperated explaining that – yes, yes, emphatically yes – it is totally safe to send checks in the mail. I still think it’s weird and uncanny, but with 10 dollars in wire fees (those things are free where I’m from) I guess I better get used to carrying my check book.

– Writing under my own name on the internet. Funny that that’s such a big deal to me, somehow. I mean, I’ve made my print debut a few years ago (which a lot of people find a much bigger deal, I think). But to me, these recent little articles with my own, actual  name on them have a much bigger (possible) audience. Perhaps all the ‘media literacy’  training has worked a little too well, to have me be so awed and impressed by  a few bytes on some anonymous webserver.

– Self-branding. Not the one with hot irons. but the one with business cards and a domain name and a portfolio. Under my real name. With links to the aforementioned blog posts. It’s an interesting change from always worrying about remaining anonymous, to suddenly worry about being ‘known’. To really present myself as a professional. Someone you hire to come and consult on your language matters. And I know, I know. At some point someone will find the nickname – real name connection and then my personal musings will be tied into my professional persona. It is likely inevitable, but then again, maybe it won’t be a bad thing. In line with the branding thing, I may have to have some portraits taken. People have been requesting pictures of me to put next to things and I don’t have any. Eek! This whole ‘self employed’ thing is going pretty well.

– Ocean. I talked about it in my previous post, and somehow it was just such a powerful thing to go and see the Pacific. I’ve always lived relatively close to sea and I’ve been in the North Sea, the Mediterranean and the very edge of the Atlantic, but the Pacific is just a wholly different critter. I need to go and hang out with her more – she’s good for the soul.

– Whales. I went and saw whales! I went on a boat onto the Pacific Ocean and I saw grey whales and even a hump back, as well as a whole pod of dolphins with their babies (for real, I saw baby dolphins and I still have a hard time believing that I did). Also: sea otters, sea lions and sea elephants. In a single 24 hour period I think I saw more wild life than I’d seen in the 30 years before. I brought a camera, but was too enchanted to really take pictures. It was such a wondrous thing. Also: it was great to be out of suburbia, even if only for 24 hours. The best part about this country is its nature, I swear.

– American Christmas. And wow, it’s quite the event. Beloved and I kicked off the holiday season with an invitation to go to the opening night of A Christmas Carol in a fancy theatre with plush purple (!) chairs. Our host then took us to the opening night after party which had an open bar full of Scotch (and Scotch is my Favourite Booze).  On Christmas Day, my in-laws (whom we visited) let me watch The Christmas Story as part of my introduction to Proper American Christmas.  I also got around to eating a Real American Turkey Dinner With Stuffing and All the Trimmings  (y’all, how could I have gone without stuffing for so long, It is the food of the gods). Last, but not least, people sure do know how to string up lights around these parts. Can I just say that lit up palm trees are a special shade of ridiculous, though?

– Halloween. Okay, I admit, its an oldie 🙂 All other items on this list date from the last few weeks and October is long since past. But for realsies – I carved a pumpkin! Carving pumpkins is fun! I had no idea! And we decorated the front door (a little) and bought candy (waaaayyyy too much) and gave it to (surprisingly few) kids. We also invited over our very first New Friends and played Cards Against Humanity with them.

– Pendleton blanket. Not something I _did_, so much as something we were given. But ever since first sleeping under a Pendleton blanket I determined that this was an item I really, really hoped to have for our new home. It was my one big New Country  & New Home Wish. And so when the in-laws asked for a suggestion for a big present to give to us, we told them about the blanket. And so they picked one and now we own one and it is a glorious thing. In keeping with the rest of our *ahem*  “Interior Design Philosophy”, we asked for a bright and multicoloured one. The one our in-laws picked for us features a Native American motif. They didn’t know, but the same motif  is currently spray painted on many of the streets in our town as well, in what I think is a reminder by the present Native community that – hey, you know – , it’s their land we live on. I’ve not been able to find a definitive source on the intent behind the medicine wheels on the sidewalks, but that’s what it reminds me of whenever I see one. A little heads-up: Hey! History present under asphalt!

Receiving that blanket and seeing the symbol lead me deep down the rabbit hole of pondering cultural appropriation of designs and Pendleton’s relationship with Native communities and the tradition of blankets as significant gifts to mark special occasions, and… Well. I think it’s fair to say that the blanket and its design teach me another valuable lesson about being a newcomer in America: this place has a history fraught with tension and horrible events and you – newbe – are out of your depth and likely to mess up. Proceed with caution. Probably not at all in line with the original significance, but perhaps also not the worst message to take away from the entire matter.  I look forward to many more decades spent with its warm and comforting presence as a symbol of the founding of a new household.

This is what I’ve been up to. More than six months in and things here still manage to blow my mind at least once a week. It’s a special country, for sure 🙂

Some endlessness

Man, I’m tired of writing. This blog has been suffering for it, as you can probably tell (or not, because you probably have way more interesting things to do). I write to get paid, I write for volunteer efforts (I’ve signed up for a few and they’re panning out quite nicely) and I write ‘home’ to all the wonderful people left behind. So many letters on so many screens…

I’m also tired of introducing myself. I think that’s one thing I’m taking away from this whole move: living in a place where you do not know _a single person_ (other than Beloved, without whom I think I would have crawled under the bed and starved from sheer anxiety,) is exhausting. If social work-outs would lead to muscle growth, I’d be the hulk by now. So many new people in so many new places…

Still, I’m pleased to report that efforts made are paying off. I’ve met the first (of what I hope will be more) wonderful people. The kind that you just sort of naturally ‘fit’  with. It is a luxury to have those people (that’s lesson #2 of The Big Move, I think: Value the good folks) and I treasure them.

As to other opportunities to meet and to cooperate and to act and to make things happen: I wonder how much of it is the side effect of living in a high turnover place. People come and go here all the time and so holes fall into existing networks and this creates a space to move in and move with. Maybe. Or maybe things are working out because they are, with no discernable reason. Lucky me!

I keep thinking that maybe by now I’ve been ‘here’ long enough to develop a more or less qualified opinion of ‘the better and worse’  of this place, but perhaps rule #1 of The Big Move should be ‘ It’s (not better, it’s not worse, its) different.’ Which it is. One of the most ‘different’ things is that I really need to stop showing up precisely on time, That’s just ‘not done’  around here: I’ve not been to a single event that started as announced. I’ll give it my best try, but I am terrible at being late, so I don’t know if I’ll succeed.

 

Guest Post by Beloved: The Tech of Talking to Loved Ones (II)

 
Here is the second half of  Beloved's guest post on how to videocall your loved ones without 
compromising your privacy. This is the practical part. If you would like to read some of the 
considerations behind his choice of software, visit part 1. 

Getting Down to Business
I did all my talking in the previous half of this post, now let's set something up.  There are 
two steps to setting yourself up for private phone calls.  The first is getting a free SIP account 
and the second is installing Jitsi and logging in.

Getting a Free SIP Account
SIP users have addresses that look like email addresses.  Your SIP account is independent 
of the software you use to talk SIP, in much the same way your phone is independent from 
your phone number.  I like the free service offered by iptel.org so we'll be using that one.
1)  Visit www.iptel.org with your favorite web browser.
2)  Click on the "Subscribe!" button in the top right of the page.
3)  Fill in your relevant information and be sure to lie for the 'first name', 'last name, and 
'phone' fields.  They don't need to know your name or your phone number - it's none of 
their business!  You'll need to tell the truth for the rest of the fields including email.  
Pick a username, password, and click 'I accept' on their nonsense terms of service like you 
actually read it and care.  Don't use a password you use anywhere else since they're going 
to mail it to you in unencrypted text for some stupid reason. Just write it down next to your 
computer if you don't want to remember it.(a)
4)  When you're done click 'Register'.
5)  Check your email for a message from iptel.org.  Click on the link to activate your account 
and you're done.

Installing and Setting up Jitsi
1)  Visit www.jitsi.org with your favorite web browser.
2)  Click on "Download Jitsi".
3)  Pick the right Jitsi download for your operating system from the stable category.
4)  Download and install the thing.  For more help see the additional resources near 
the end of this post.
5)  Start Jitsi.  Windows users may get a warning from a firewall program at this time.  
If you do, please allow Jitsi access to the network.
6) After starting for the first time you should see a screen for adding accounts.  Add your 
SIP user information into the SIP section of the add account screen.  If the username you 
chose on iptel.org was "bob" you would enter "bob@iptel.org" as your username in Jitsi.  
Your password is the same password you wrote down from iptel.org.(b)
7) Click "Sign In".

Communications software is pretty boring if you have no one to talk to.  So you'll want to 
add a contact after adding an account.
1)  Find someone you want to talk with.  Preferably this person will also want to talk with 
you, however this is not required.
2)  Show said person this blogpost for proper SIP/ZRTP/Jitsi indoctrination and ask them 
for their account name.
3)  Under "File" click on "Add contact…"
4)  In the "ID or Number Field" enter their contact information.  If they registered at iptel.org 
with "jane" you would input "jane@iptel.org".
5) Click on "Add".
6)  They're now in your friends list and when you click on them you can choose to 
communicate with them via text, voice SIP call or video SIP call.  When they're online and 
available for a call the circle next to their name will turn green.
7)  Click on their name and then click on the icon below their name to make a secure 
video call.  If you see a green lock icon the call is secure.
8)  After a secure call connects, you might see some text and numbers below the video 
window.  If, for some reason, you and the person you're calling do not see the same text 
and numbers below your screens then there is a high chance someone is messing 
with your call.  Speak the text and numbers to the person you're calling and have them 
verify that they see the same numbers.
8) If you have no friends, or if your friends are slow and you really want to see this thing 
work, you can add the test user "music@iptel.org".  Calling this user causes plays music 
back to you.  You can't call this user securely so don't worry if you don't get the green lock 
icon.

Additional resources:
Installing Jitsi on Windows(guide)
https://jitsi.org/Documentation/InstallAndSetupOnWindows

Installing Jitsi on Windows(Video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhmOg0G-Frw

Placing a ZRTP call with Jitsi(Video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udBBDHT-_UA

ZRTP and SRTP FAQ
https://jitsi.org/Documentation/ZrtpFAQ

(a) I am not advocating that you always write down passwords next to your computer for 
every service you use online, just this one.  Proper operational password security is 
outside the scope of this post.

(b) If for some reason you don't get prompted to create an account the first time you start 
Jitsi, you can add your account by clicking on the "Add new account…" option under the 
"File" dropdown.  "File -->  Add new account…

A guest post by Beloved: The Tech of Talking to Loved Ones

Let’s take a break from our irregularly scheduled programming to spend some time talking about technology. Specifically, let’s talk about calling your friends and family if you’re half a world away and what software you can use for this purpose. You see, the first thing people think of, when they love you and you move far way is: “Can we Skype?” And you’d like to say yes, of course. But you’re married to someone who has forgotten more about communication technology than your entire family together knows, so there is no quick answer. 

Here is Beloved, with part 1 of The Tech of Talking to Loved Ones

The purpose of this post is to explain how to communicate securely over the internet with voice and video for a non-technical audience. This post has been in the planning since well before the name Edward Snowden became famous, but it is even more poignant today. The original impetus that set me down to write was requests from family members and friends who were hoping to talk to SmittenImmigrant and me over Skype after we moved to the Unites States. Now I am someone who has been involved with VoIP(Voice over Internet Protocol) since 1999 and I’m not going to use Skype. I remember when Skype came out and I remember disliking them for not choosing an open protocol like SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) for their communications. The fact that we now know that Microsoft spies on Skype IMs just strengthened my resolve to find an alternative. [Note from Smitten Immigrant: there may or may not have been veiled threats from Beloved’s father-in-law  as well].

You , reader, may have a variety of reasons for wanting to communicate securely over the internet. Maybe you’re worried about the NSA or maybe you don’t like your personal information being used for marketing. For me, as a life long initiate in the geek faring religion of openness, I simply do not want to use a closed proprietary technology when an open alternative exists. As a bonus, I also like the idea of the NSA having to store every VoIP call I make (which they do, since it’s encrypted and they save encrypted data). I want to make their job more difficult, so I promote encryption at every opportunity.

Choosing VoIP Software

I’m going to leave out much of the technical mumbo-jumbo in this article since I don’t want to bore you. But I do want to mention why I chose Jitsi as my VoIP client. There are dozens of VoIP clients that support SIP these days. So why did I choose Jitsi?

I started by listing my requirements.

– The software had to be easy to use. Most of the people who would be calling us are not geeks like me or even power users like SmittenImmigrant.

– The software had to be open. I wanted code that had been peer reviewed and that anyone could look at. Anything short of that in encryption software is essentially useless.

– The software also had to be free as in beer and free as in freedom. I didn’t want to pay for it and I wanted changes made to it contributed back to public domain.

– The software had to run on multiple platforms. I use Apple computers as well as Linux, but most of the people who want to talk with us use Microsoft Windows.

– The software had to be actively maintained and could not be abandonware. A large problem with open source projects is that, since the developers are all volunteers, projects have a tendency to languish unfinished or broken for extended periods. I wanted software that was being updated regularly by a core group of people.

– The software had to support SIP and ZRTP for encryption. I’m going to leave out the reasons why I believe SIP has a much better future for internet based VoIP calls compared to H.323 because I promised no technical mumbo-jumbo. So you’ll just have to trust me. I will get into ZRTP in the next section.

Jitsi meets all the above requirements and then some. It’s also rather old (Jitsi started in 2003) which in the world of software is almost always a good thing. New software is always buggier than old software.

An extremely short introduction to Encryption

Encryption is the stuff of hidden messages. It’s been around longer than Christianity and we have records of the Romans and Chinese using to secret codes to communicate. Since the development of digital computers encryption has increasingly become about creating ever more difficult math problems for computers to solve. Luckily we don’t have to care about math or solve and math problems. That’s all been figured out for us by people much smarter than we are. We only need to know one acronym and understand what it does for us. This acronym is ZRTP (Zimmerman Real-Time Transport Protocol).

ZRTP is a key agreement protocol developed and championed by Phil Zimmerman (an excellent example of a super smart human who figures out stuff so we don’t have to) to be used with real time streaming applications, such as VoIP calls. A key agreement protocol allows the calling parties to exchange encryption keys in a secure manner so that no one other than the communicating parties can listen to the conversation. Encryption keys are what the software uses to encrypt and decrypt our call data. Without the key you cannot open the lock, so to speak, and ZRTP is responsible for making sure that only the people who are calling each other have the key. With regards to Jitsi it means that Jitsi running on computer A will generate a key and use ZRTP to exchange that key with computer B which also generated its own key. Once computer A and B have each other’s keys the conversation can begin securely and no one but computer A and computer B can listen to the conversation.

To be continued…

Pictures of home!

Yup, I went and took a few pictures of our apartment again. This time with furniture in it. Because, you know.. what’s an apartment without beds and couches?

We’re still waiting for the books, although the shipping company told us that they’ve been cleared by customs this week. We should expect their arrival within the month. That’s why the bookshelves are still empty. Hope you enjoy seeing where I spend my time now:

Click the picture to click through to a little gallery. Ps. Pictures all by me.

The Smitten Immigrant works!

That is: I found myself a first little freelance gig. It’s just for a few days, but hey, no complaints here. My first dollars in actually self-earned money in the US of A. Bring me a white picket fence – I’ve got to keep dreaming 😛

I’ve got plenty of other applications outstanding, but since it seems to be the local custom to only contact people that are being considered for employment, I’m not remotely sure how many of those are even being looked at. I’ll just keep sending out an application a day and see what comes back.

Photo by ste3ve, under a Creative Commons License

 

mumble, mumble, flying, mumble

Photo by Jason Maggini under a Creative Commons License

In which to say: has it really only been eleven days since my last post?

I owe you a post on quite a few things, but considering the circumstances I may leave them be and make this post a summary of all te things I’d write more about if only… mumble, mumble, flying, mumble.

There was, for instance, the goodbye party, for which many different folks showed up. Two colleagues from the pet shelter – puppy in tow. A random assortment of aunts and uncles. Some former colleagues from the publishing house. Some friends of mine, some friends of Beloved. It was one of those lovely chaotic moments with too many people to really talk to anyone. It was a worthy farewell. And people were lovely. We’d requested no presents and people really worked well with that. We received some small packets of flower seeds, a basket of lovely edible specialties from our home country (which was presented to us by the ever-thoughtful Amanda) and my pet shelter colleagues gave me a small key chain with a picture of one of my favourite dogs. I admit it. I cried.

Another story, certainly post-worthy, is that of the actual departure and journey. In which there were check-in troubles, delayed flights and trying to clear a transfer desk, security, customs and immigration on a less-than-one-hour layover. In the end, we arrived in San Francisco with a 90 minute delay and crashed in an Oakland hotel to lay our jetlagged heads. It’s funny to realize that I changed my legal status to ‘permanent resident of the USA’  in an Irish airport while frantically fidgeting and hoping not to miss our connecting flight and didn’t even realize it until the next morning.

On a related note: I’ve not been refused entrance, am now a green card holder and am allowed to live here despite my political leanings. Great 😀

Perhaps I should also mention that somewhere between Rotterdam and New York, sails a ship called the Destiny (how fitting) that holds well over a thousand books, some clothes and all my baby pictures. I hope she’ll come in safely. Nothing but good about our moving company, by the way. They’re not cheap, and I think we’re not their usual kind of customer, but they’re efficient, quick and well-organized. Once our little library hits the New York harbour, I hope to hear when and how we can expect our stuff on the west coast.

Seeing as that time flies when you have fun, but flies even more when you’re jetlagged and intensely busy, I’ll continue blogging about what we’ve been up to post-July 10, leaving the rest of the previous eleven days to my befuddled, time-warped mental morasses.