Archive Page 2

This new place

Photo by Salim Virji under a Creative Commons License

Two months into living in this new place… As time plays its tricks on us, it seems forever. New experiences always make time slow down, and so if everything is new, time creeps. The first days here were endless, because every minute had a new sight and a new smell.

Now routines are slowly returning. Beloved has his classes, and his homework. He leaves the house five days a week and comes back. My routines are different. Unless a freelance  assignment (I got another one!) takes me elsewhere, I retreat to my work space (read: the bed) for the daily scheduled task of applying for a job. We figure out how often we need to do laundry, how much detergent to use, when no one else uses the dryers, small things like that.

We’ve found a brand of bagels that we enjoy and have discovered a type of bake-it-yourself bread that serves us well for sandwiches… Some of the hundreds of little habits that anchor humans to a place are beginning to form again.

Not all adjustments go so smoothly, unfortunately. My skin has been more or less problematic ever since I came out of puberty, and it has not yet gotten used to .. well.. whatever it is that skin gets used to when you move elsewhere. I think it’s the water, but it could be something else entirely. Maybe it’s the dryness, or the sun, or the effect of being exposed to a different population of bacteria, viruses or pollutants, or maybe the stress of moving combined with the effect of low doses of corticosteroids that does a little jig on my immune system.. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. All I know is that the little membrane that holds my innards to my bones is ANGRY. And so I’m itchy. Everything gets infected at the drop of a hat, small wounds take well over a month to heal, my hair falls out, you name it.

I’m trying to not let it prevent me from socialising, but it does nibble away at my self esteem. And I’d prefer to not have to subject myself to another three-month course of antibiotics to get stuff back in line. Especially not since I’m not currently ensured and I’m more than a bit intimidated by the possible financial consequences of going to see a medical professional. I’m hoping to wait it out.

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.

Midnight Munchies Bakery:

or: The Internet Is Finally Good For Something

Picture by me! Yay!

These last ones being the words of my husband after a box of carefully packaged, individually wrapped cookies was delivered to us a few days back. Now, I personally think the internet has another use or two (cat pictures, to say the least, and endlessly perusing websites for local shelters to see if they have The Dog That I’d Adopt If I Could), but hey, cookie delivery is one of the internet’s better uses.

How we got these cookies? It all started with a comment on a site called reddit in which the owner of the website www.midnightmunchiesbakery.com announced that he does late night cookie delivery. Beloved checked out the site and discovered that something wasn’t quite working properly. He summarily informed the owner who then came back with an offer of some free cookies as a thank you for the heads-up.

Now Beloved doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, but he knows me and so he wisely accepted the offer. Soon, deliverance! A pile of cookies were received, all whole and packaged with the kind of foam packaging that dissolves when it comes in contact with water (handy!). They came in a box of Ghirardelli choclate chips, which – or so I infer – speaks for the quality of ingredients used For some reason I decided that the internet needed to know more about these cookies. I promise – I wasn’t paid. It’s just.. You send me free cookies, then I may feel spontaneously inspired to do things like this. Never promised I’d make sense, eh? Anyway, after a little sleuthing on the website I figured out what cookies were sent to us. So, here’s the Midnight Munchies Cookie Review:

The Annoying Orange

Logically, this is a citrusy cookie. Fresh, with a texture right between the more gooey, traditional chocolate chip cookies and the drier, crunchy cookies I’m used to from ‘home’. Also, remarkably low on crumbs, which is a plus (seriously, I can do without crumb cleavage).

No idea why the Orange is supposed to be annoying, because even though I’m not usually a fan of mixing fruit and sweets, this is a well-done mixture and I enjoyed it. These cookies were unglazed, but I’m wiling to bet they’re tasty when glazed as well.

Any suggested improvements? I’d love to see an option for a dark chocolate glaze (but I’m a glutton).

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

These are peanut butter cookies, which can also come as ‘sandwiches’ with jelly in the middle. I had no idea this was their intended use and so I just ate the cookies like this. Eating peanut butter as a sweet, is one of those cultural things that you just have to give in to. Back in the ‘Old Country’ we’d combine peanut butter with cheese, cucumber or ‘sambal’, but here in America it’s pb&j all the way.

These cookies come in a pack of two and are nice and thin. They’re a little a sticky on the bottom (yay! Fingerlicking afterwards!) and they have a little ‘give’. The flavour is good. Not overly sugary, which means there is really room for the nutty flavour to come out.

Cinnamon Challenges

They’re Cinnamon Rolls except cookies. It’s a nice surprise to get the homey cinnamon sugar flavour in a crisper do-over. We got them without glazing, but I’d try them with glaze if you’d like a slightly more traditional ‘feel’.

Boom Goes The Dynamite

A spiced snickerdoodle with a lovely consistency. Sweet, but with enough spice to make the cookie interesting. The outside is just a bit brittle, but the inside has a crumble that’s a bit more moist – just enough to ‘give’ a little. Gives the cookie a very dessert-like feel. Personally, I’d try to get these hot and serve them with a scoop of melty vanilla ice. Or crumble them and make a crust for pear pie.

Double Rainbow

This is a cookie with major content. It’s got candy coated chocolates, chocolate chips and pieces of potato chip. The flavor is nice. I mean.. chocolate, right? And when you eat a bite, the flavor morphs a bit. From all sweet to creamy and slightly saltier. It is, in that sense, a very interesting cookie. I think that the potato chip gets a little chewy, though, which leaves you with random harder bits in your mouth after you’ve actually swallowed a bite. Thats my only point of commentary, though. Otherwise there is some major nom-tential. 

Chocolate Rain

The gooeyest cookie of the bunch, and the most chocolatey. Although not that chocolatey, because: hey! mint-flavour. Quite a surprise, because it looks like your average (hence: delectable) double or triple choc cookie, but then suddenly it’s not.  I like they gooeyness and especially the combination of chocolate and goo, and would certainly recommend this cookie to fellow lovers of the cocoa.

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

 

Oh bread, where art thou?

A comment that gets made relatively often when uninformed acquaintances hear that I’ve been to (or was planning to go to, or have gone to) the US, is ” but the food is terrible!”. I never really understood where this came from and I disagree.

I still disagree. I disagreed the first time someone handed me a pulled pork sandwich, the first time I ate a buttermilk biscuit and the first time I ate chili, philly cheesesteak , grits, a veggie burrito.. I’ll probably keep defending American cuisine ’til the day I die (although I reserve the right to condemn certain things such as kimchi burritos, which sound absolutely terrifying). At the same time, while I am a fan of much American food, I have to concede one point to critics of American cooking and eating:

There is a fair amount of stuff for sale here that you can eat, but that isn’t actually food. This applies in particular to bread.

So far I’ve visited Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Lucky several times and have opted to obtain something resembling bread every time. And every time I end up sad. It has a two-month shelf life, even though not freeze-dried or even sealed. When you eat it, you taste salt and / or sugar. It doesn’t get stale. It doesn’t mold. It has bubbles like a sponge. It doesn’t have crumb. It has a crust, but it has no crunch. It’s supposed to look sort of bread-like, but based on the ingredients it is mostly added-back-vitamins, HFCS, vegetable oil, sugar, salt and preservatives.

So, off to a fancy bakery we went. We paid four dollars for something slightly larger than a paperback. Which was blackened on top and was covered in coarse, brown flour. This bread  had no crunch and a level of chewyness that to me, indicates that the bread is very stale. While I tasted no sugar or salt (yay!), I didn’t taste much else either. Then, elsewhere, we paid another two-and-a-half dollars for a’ baguette’. No crunch, no soft, doughy inside. Just chewy, poorly leavened bread, covered in anise seeds (so I can’t comment on the taste, because ANISE, ANISE EVERYWHERE).

The plan is to buy a bread making machine for making bona fide fresh bread. Simple tastes-of-dough bread with crunchy crust and soft insides. Once I get it, hit me up if you want a sandwich, because I found some lovely avocado and tasty tomatoes (and turkey breast so cheap the the guv’ment  must be subsidizing it).

A roof

Some walls, a handful of windows and a smattering of doors.

A counter top, a bath tub and a thermostat.

A fridge, screen doors and carpet.

Blinds.

It’s where we live now. It is, for all intents and purposes, ‘home’. It’s a sweet place. Nothing special (other than that it’s an apartment in a safe area in the East Bay that is priced well below market rates and hence affordable, which is Pretty Bloody Rare), perhaps, but certainly not as bad as Craigslist and Padmapper and Better in Real Life’s Lauren’s posts about finding a new place had made me fear.

Frankly? I really like it. I like that we’ve effectively lost 45% of the square feet we previously inhabited. I like that its sort of blank and bland and that painting is not allowed. I like that I don’t have to worry about window dressing and floors.

I also really like that we only slept on the floor for one night before arranging for a bed. Because jet lag is bad enough when you do get sleep at night.

On to the meat of the matter: let’s have some pictures!

Click the photo to go to the gallery of pictures.