Things you shouldn’t tell me when I interview you for an Ivy League University

Hello Blog-world. I was about to title this post “This girl shouldn’t be allowed to have a blog especially since she’s abandoned it forever”, but then I thought I could be done with apologizing for my absence and make my presence known again.

Lately, as a part of my extracurricular activities, I’ve been involved in the Admissions Committee interviewing process. I started this task hoping that I would meet many great, interesting, versatile, eager and nervous candidates. I was not disappointed. Out of the minimum 10, I had to interview, I managed 9. So let me start with that kid.

0. What not to say before your interview:

Self: *finally calls up the candidate’s listed phone number after having been ignored in his inbox for two weeks* “Hi, this is the Admissions Committee from Columbia University, we would like to offer you the opportunity to interview.”

Kid: “Nah, I got into Oxford. Bye”

Self: *staring at hung-up phone*

Now that you have a preview of what is to follow, let me begin by posting the questions that I asked during the interviews and the range of fabulous responses I received.

1. Why have you selected your particular choice of academic interests?

Most candidates indicate their top three academic preferences before the interview begins and that’s where the first question begins. Basically, the point is to gauge how genuine they are in what they say they’re interested in. If they list Computer Science and Engineering (which is my major, I ask them a few follow-up questions).

-> Biomedical Engineering (which is one of our hardest engineering majors, mind you): “I like bio-related things”

“Bio-related things” could be anything from watching House to interning with a surgeon. Full points for specificity.

-> Philosophy: “I want to know more about why people give me advice on how to live life“.

Maybe people want to give you advice because you’re choosing an undergraduate major which doesn’t exactly offer too many promising employment opportunities and college education is not exactly cheap. Please respect it as a discipline that you want to make your life or don’t apply to it.

-> Statistics: “I’m good at math”

Statistics is more about working with probabilities, models and distributions than it is with number-crunching. Less Calculus and more things named after people like Bayes, Gauss, Bernoulli, Poisson, etc. Why can’t you apply to our Math department?

-> Mathematics: “I’m good at statistics”

Somewhat similar to the one above. More things like algebra, geometry, vector calculus, etc. What I’m trying to say is, “THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING”. Why can’t you apply to our Statistics department?

-> Computer Science: “I like video-games”/ “I believe in the potential of technology”/ “I was one of those children who could click before I could speak”

Please be aware that a lot many more people play computer games than the ones who can write code. Everyone knows technology is important, I’m asking why it’s important to you. Your clicking abilities as a child should not determine your career choices as an almost-adult.

-> Electrical Engineering: “I like Physics”

Electromagnetic physics and circuit theories meet at only one small/tangential intersection. See response to Math vs. Stats.

-> Physics: “I was born to do Physics”

Okay, kid. If you end up changing your major once you arrive here (which you can before before your sophomore year), then I will assume that you have not been born.

I may do another post on this later on Bad reasons to select any major.

2. Why did you apply to Columbia? Where does Columbia fit into your grand scheme of life?

Usually, the common responses are because it’s Ivy League, it’s in New York City and because we have a strong liberal arts component to even our most technical majors.

-> “I selected Columbia because it appeared in the drop-down list on CommonApp”

For those of you who don’t know, CommonApp is an online portfolio system that saves your transcripts, certificates, essays and sends them as a packet to the many Universities who are listed on it.  It was designed as a tool to prevent too much paperwork. And apparently, one can stumble upon prestigious colleges while uploading documents and casually decide that’s where they were going to apply.

-> ” I selected Columbia because I like New York weather”

Lies. Nobody likes New York weather, not even the locals. Google the following: Hurricane Sandy, Snowstorm Juno, The Polar Vortex and New York Summer.

-> “I want to gain knowledge

Admirably specific. Don’t we all? Why else do you think we need to have an application process if we could let everyone who wanted to gain knowledge study here?

-> “I want to be successful. I want to be successful. I want to be successful.

Quote presented verbatim. We want to see you successful too. I’m not sure how repeating it thrice explains how Columbia University in particular satisfies those “wants”.

3. What do you do for fun?

This question is to get an idea of who the candidate is as a person. “Oh, the kinds of people you’ll meet” comes to mind here.

-> “I like reading and watching movies. My favorite book is Fifty Shades of Grey and my favorite movie is The Wolf of Wall Street. I’m so sad that Fifty Shades of Grey is releasing during my exams”

This response is the only time I have visibly cringed during an interview. My opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey is that it is terrible and awful and honestly, if you want to read it just to know how bad it is, you’d be better off reading Jenny Armintrout’s summary, which I daresay is much better written and a lot more intellectually expansive than E.L. James’ work.  The Wolf of Wall Street is her favorite movie because she “admires Leonardo DiCaprio’s character”.

I asked her why she liked it, hoping that there would be some sort of sarcastic response/diatribe against the work, or she’d take it back or provide an intellectual feminism-domestic-violence-sexual-identity commentary. What happened brought her closer to the edge of insanity.

-> “I like Fifty Shades of Grey because I think it is a good romantic novel

I have just heard/witnessed the single handed-murder of the entire genre of romance. Also, you’re a seventeen year old kid. What do you even know about romance? You don’t even represent the demographic of popular readers of Fifty Shades of Grey.

-> (Same candidate as above) “My second most favorite book is a Thousand Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

No. Just no. How this is book second? Also, the book is titled “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, not a thousand. I could understand if you made this mistake while translating from Spanish, but your linguistic capabilities rest at English, let alone attempt to take on Spanish. I actually called up my father after this distressing interview wondering in what possible way could I redeem this candidate while writing her report and my father gently suggested “Maybe she read the book ten times”. That’s a lot of solitude.

-> “My interests are in music and photography. I like listening to music and sometimes, when the lyrics of a song leave me with a thought, I look through my old photographs, find something that connects with the thought and then write a verse on it.”

That’s a lot of feelings, bro. But I think it’s cute how the candidate was earnest about his efforts. He even submits those verses to people/journals he thinks will “enjoy an intellectual discussion on it“. If you couldn’t guess, this is also the candidate interested in Philosophy. Could be viewed as somewhat pretentious, but rendered cute with earnestness I suppose.

-> “I like reading really violent manga and playing Pokemon.”

This is one of the prospective Computer Science majors. He is 18. You are an adult now, surely you are aware of what is within the bounds of appropriate discussion in an interview. *silent/not-so-silent judgement*

4. What do you think you will add to the Columbia community?

-> “I bring myself to the Columbia Community”/ “I offer myself to Columbia Community. I know that’s a really vague response but I’m sure you understand human beings cannot truly be defined until they die”

Signed, sealed and delivered by the prospective Philosophy major. He brings himself. I, for one, am really glad to know that he is going to accept the admission offer (if he receives one) on his behalf. I’m also not sure what to make of that very half-baked chain of thought which followed it. What do you mean by vague? Which school of philosophy do you subscribe to? What are you, an amorphous blob?

-> “I definitely know that I will be an asset to the community. I will add to classes. I will definitely be a valid addition to the community”

Substantiate, don’t state. At this point, I’m just embodying the “I can’t even” syndrome.

Interviewees forget how difficult it is for interviewers, particularly those who are students and are aware of how stressful the process is, to mark a candidate down. Because really, we want you to succeed as much as you do, but you’re not making it easy for us.

I should also include a shout-out to the candidates who did brilliantly well in their interview, making me feel like I did nothing when I was their age or that I have accomplished nothing yet. One candidate is (at the age of 17/18) lead Greenpeace activist in the area, founder of his own catering start-up, chef at his own start-up, intern at Schneider Electric product management and mixed martial arts enthusiast. Another candidate has grown up in four different countries, raised almost $10,000 on her own to support an NGO which provides vocational training to marginalized women and has interned at three different hospitals. I don’t mean to mock anyone’s efforts here, but you have to understand that interviewing is just as difficult (as we are officially people reading) as preparing for one.

Ah, I must end this to be in time for my morning class which is densely populated with graduate students again. I promise to be more regular. If you or anyone you know is applying to colleges and have interviews, know that you should not be saying any of the things I mentioned up there. Cheers and best!

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Apologies and updates about what’s going on

My regular readers may have noticed that my posting pattern is getting rather erratic. I wouldn’t want to simply brush off all this under the carpet called life. So here I am explaining what I’ve been up to and why my life is notching up another throttle.

Let me save myself from the very unfair (and possibly judgmental stare) that my readership is liberally eyeing me with,by explaining what I’ve been up to.

  1. I have signed up for two graduate-level classes in my third year. I really really really really REALLY wanted to study Artificial Intelligence since forever and so when I discovered that they were allowing a limited number of undergraduates to take the class I lunged headlong into it. Also, this semester a visiting professor from University of Michigan is here to teach it and he’s doing a fantastic job of it. However, this also means that I, a young blundering fool, must now keep up to the academic level established by graduate students (read: adults who [possibly] have their life together). It has not been easy, mind you. But I would rather have it hard than not have it at all.
  2. The second class is Natural Language Processing, which is being taught in a reverse classroom method this year. Which means that it not only has oodles of experienced grad students who are absorbing everything on the fly, but that my actual face-to-face interaction time with the professor is seriously limited. I’m a bit worried about this class actually because I wanted to make this my career, and I feel like I am floundering at the very basic introductory level class (which is still primarily for grad students, but how will I show my interest in the subject on my transcript if I haven’t taken the plunge?) It’s also on coursera, by Professor Michael Collins.
  3. Hackathons. If you’re an insider of the coding/geek/start-up/tech-start-up community, you might be all wise smiles and sage-like head nodding. If you’re not, let me explain. Hackathons are derived from the word “hacking” and “marathons”. They are literally between 16-18 hours of continuous code-writing in order to build an app or create software or make fancy tools. These are the estuarine waters where novice to experienced student coders meet company representatives of sponsors of the event. Sponsors are usually companies whose technology/code you would like to borrow or integrate into your code. Often, they will award a series of prizes based on creative usage of the data or technology they’ve provided.
    1. There are some major league hackathons that happen this time of the year in the region that I’m in. MHacks (hosted by Michigan), PennApps (hosted by UPenn), HackGT (hosted by GeorgiaTech) and HackMIT (hosted by MIT) are some of the very popular ones. They award apps with nearly $4000 dollars for their work. Although some offer even more $50,000 was offered this year by HackGT.
    2. Since Major League Hacks like those posted above invite every institution across the country, it’s a great meeting place to meet cool new people.
    3. Fun fact: I was privileged to attend HackMIT this year, where I built my first hardware hack. Basically, my team constructed a prosthetic arm using cardboard and motors and then we used a Myo armband to record human hand-motion and transmit it to the prosthetic in almost real time. There’s a video I would have loved to post, but I’m not quite sure I have the time to make it happen.
  1. Another fun-fact, I’m going to about two more hackathons this year: YHacks (hosted by Yale) and HackPrinceton (hosted by….come on, you should know by now).
  2. Searching for internships: I am literally scouring the web (and the websites of companies that I would LOVE to work with) for what they are offering and seeking from people like me.
  3. Lastly, getting health and everything back on track. I lose sleep a lot due to the aforementioned reasons, which just makes exams and tests and life incredibly hard.

Thus I must be off noble readers. I hope you’ll forgive me if the next post isn’t crisply lying in your reader feed (or whatever other mechanism you use to access my content). The month of October is crazy for me, but I promise things get better next month.

Cheers and love and prosperity and longevity!

Jane Austen’s Emma/ Sonam Kapoor’s Aisha: In which I discover that happy endings can disgust me too.

On the rare weekend nights when the moon is already halfway across the sky and the Harlem skyline is still dotted with the lights of nocturnal overtime, I decided to lull myself to sleep with Jane Austen’s Emma.

To those who haven’t yet read it, don’t. It is tediously long and easily my least favorite of all of Austen’s works. As an Austen novel, I understand that there’s a special emphasis on dinners, manners, other people’s problems and gossipy village life. There’s also a focus on the marriage potential of every single lady of age in town and often it is inversely proportional to the number of young interested men in said town. I respected the book as well I could, given that these events must have been worth constructing a plot about in the late eighteenth century, when women really did not enjoy as much freedom in choice of employment.

Even with this wide margin, the book was getting tedious on several dimensions and I saw no reason why it had to be stretched out over three volumes. I was about to abandon it (and it would have been the first ever book I will have picked up and not read), when a friend recommended a different method of absorbing the story: The Bollywood movie Aisha. Based on Austen’s Emma, the lovely Sonam Kapoor proceeded to play a character that I intensely hated for the entire first half and then completely pitied for the rest.

Let me clarify. This is not a movie review or even a book review. Personally, I have nothing against Sonam Kapoor, as I rather admire her for being an expressive lady. But I am seriously displeased with several aspects that the movie highlighted and expected us to take for granted.

I could excuse Austen’s Emma for literally not having a life and therefore desperately seeking some form of amusement. But the Aisha Kapoor, the fancy rich girl who is too prone to pity anything that is mildly middle-class and views her amusement as “social service” was incredibly hard to swallow. Let me not even get into questioning her philosophy about love and life. She doesn’t have a job, lives almost completely off an extremely doting father’s money and spends the most of her days in malls and boutiques, when she could be making so much more of herself. The sort of idleness that makes my skin crawl.

There is literally a segment in the movie when she takes offense at Arjun Burman (The Mr. Knightley equivalent of the novel) calling her “shallow”. Please explain to me how she is not. Her cousin is declared pathetic because she is traditional and conservative. Dhruv Singh (Mr. Frank Churchill of the novel) is labeled boring and nerdy when he was trying to work hard, but now is declared “hot” because he opens the door for women semi-nude. She is jealous of the girl who is Mr. Knightley’s companion (Aarti Menon/Jane Fairfax) because her legs are long, she works with Arjun and she has a New York accent. She gets annoyed with everyone for not obeying her rules. She is selfish, self-centered and gets away with things that are downright objectionable.

Despite this, Mr. Knightley/Arjun Burman is miraculously in love with her.

A bold, brave, honorable and accomplished “true gentleman” in Austen’s words rendered well by Abhay Deol is constantly by her side, making sure she is always extricated out of trouble. All he gets for his friendship are her snarky comments at his female friends. All he gets for his love is the perpetual bickering that is not even cute enough for children, let alone full-grown adults.He has a life, hobbies, talents, manners and a job. It is boggling my mind to understand why a guy like him would settle for someone like Aisha.

There is another part of the movie when Aisha is stinging from some well-meant (and well-deserved) criticism from Arjun and she snorts into her pillow saying, “He’s just a Wharton graduate who makes money. What does he know about love and life?” Because this movie shows that obviously, Wharton alumni clearly have no idea what making good decisions are about. In the spirit of a world-class management education, explain to me why, after having an education that is so expansive and coming across people who are no doubt equally accomplished in an international environment, why would you settle for a spoilt child like Aisha?

Dude, seriously. get out of the screen and explain this to me. I study at an Ivy League university, I know what I’m talking about. What makes you think that all of the experiences that I’ve had here about growing up as a person will be nullified once I graduate?

The answer as the movie elaborately throws into my face is that they are childhood friends. They have known each other since forever, and she has been the one to “teach him how to laugh at life”. Now, I’m not denying that relationships do blossom out of well-maintained childhood friendships. I would have tried to be less caustic about the movie if they had just started dating. But no. THEY MARRIED. He literally made the best management decision of his life and decided to spend the rest of his life pandering to the amusement of the Aisha.

This is not something casual because of a physical attraction or whatever. Do you really think that marriage will make her more mature? Less self-centered? Less obsessed with the pathetic, shallow and materialistic things about life? Do you, Mr. Knightley, feel that your well-meant advice will be heard and do you really want to take on the additional responsibility of such a fragile temperament when life gets tough?  Also, how do you determine whom you marry as a child? The reason such instances are statistically rare is because people grow up and grow into wiser adults. Arjun/Mr. Knightley just lost all my respect by choosing her among the milieu.

The movie and the book talk a lot about class. About how to find people in your own tier. The Harriet Smith/Shefali Thakur character is made an example of. A simple-minded “lower-class” girl is taught how to live the rich life and forced to believe that she will find someone who is the son of a millionaire to marry her. Now, I don’t take much stock in these social stratifications. Because my “class distinctions” are based more on what comes out of your mouth and what you have to say and think than what you wear or the paycheck of your parents. The intellectual wavelengths of Arjun and Aisha are too disparate to be reconciled with love. I, for one, would hate to be trapped into marriage with someone who is incapable of deciding what to do with her life beside spending her father’s money.What of the class distinctions here? Why not marry the accomplished New York expatriate instead of this bumbling shopaholic?

I will finish up this rant with another about happy endings. To be honest, one of the reasons why I enjoy Austen is because I’m certain that there’s a happy ending. This has to be the first Austen book where I have despised the protagonist so much that I wished Mr. Knightley didn’t step in and “save her” from being single. On the other hand, maybe Mr. Knightley did us all a favor and stopped her from setting up other people’s marriages and not giving a fig for their feelings because she knows what’s best, don’t you know? Basically, this happy ending says that if you’re doing nothing with your life, try to get snarky, jealous and childish around your now-rich childhood friend and they shall marry you because of your astounding earth-shattering beauty and your supposed good-will fueled out of pity and not the genuine wish to see others do better.

Ugh. It’s too late for me now to deal with this. Emma/Aisha has ruined my night. I might as well sleep it off. Goodnight.

The One Who Stole Beauty

“What are you doing?” asked the menacing voice of the little Aditya, cornering the poor girl under the slide. Mihika pulled her knees closer to herself, trying to instinctively protect the most precious thing she had from this bully, which was a story book that now quivered against the stretched material of her frock. She whimpered a little as he stalked closer, certain that he was going to brutally pull at her hair in an amusement and bracing herself for the pain to come. Aditya, an intimidatingly large 6 year old, repeated the question, certain of an unsatisfactory answer and certain of the outcome that was to follow.

“Nothing! Go away!” she claimed, rather helplessly, hoping that he would leave her alone. His muddy paws crept closer and Mihika sincerely hoped that she was protecting the book well enough. As a first strike, he pulled her braid so hard that her eyes watered and in the painful squeal that followed, swiftly captured the book with colorful pictures and beautiful words.

“Oooh. Look. The ninny brought her stupid book with her!” he declared to his allies, now forming a circle around the silently sobbing victim. “Please give it back to me,” she cried softly, knowing that she would rather submit to further physical injuries than watch her beloved companion be mangled under his grubby rough paws. Her skin or her hair would grow back, but the beauty of her stories would be lost forever if he claimed possession of it.

“Did you see how she squealed?!” continued the bully, garnering the necessary admiration from the group of other little boys who were confused with their loyalties but none so brave to step up for her cause. “Little Miss Ninny and her stupid paper friends and stories. Look how she’s crying now!”

Mihika knew then that her tears were an open sign of her weakness and she hastily gulped them down, following his every movement with her panic-stricken eyes and sincerely hoping that some intervention would get the book out of his hands.

“Oh, and what have we here?” Aditya jeered, thumbing through the richly adorned pages of the book with his brutal fingers, straining the fragile binding and leaving dog-eared pages in his wake.

“Give it back to me!” Mihika shouted, finding the sudden strength in her voice and launching herself onto him. His eyes narrowed as he found her real vulnerability. He was too strong for her and she was thrown back into the mud, her face landing among the flowers and her limbs aching from the impact. The book soon followed on her head, and again she had to close her eyes to hide the tears. Three pages which had been disembodied from the book floated beside her, leaving her story forever violated.

Mercifully, he had decided that he had done enough to her for the day and he was bored with her already so he rushed off to find fresh victims on the play ground while she wondered if she should report the matter to the adults. Altogether too often, they dismissed her horrific tales of the afternoons, claiming that it was normal for children to bully each other, that it was normal for boys to be somewhat abusive to girls, that perhaps his vested in her meant that he liked her. Aditya’s mother especially could brook no complaint that her angelic son would be capable of something so heinous and the little 6 year old hypocrite knew exactly how to clear his own name.

Mihika tried to reach out to a few of the girls on the playground, but they shied away from her, knowing that that her mere presence was an invitation for trouble. She went home lonely and miserable, blaming her bruises on herself and devastated that her lovely book of words and stories and eternal companionship had suffered a wrath that she didn’t know how she had deserved.

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

I’m simultaneously honored and humbled to let you all know that I’ve been nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award by bdhesse who writes great stuff at http://bdhesse.wordpress.com/ and has successfully confused me into choosing (only) 15 other bloggers who inspiring.

These especially are my favorites at bdhesse’s: Who Needs To Know? and The Nightmare

Here are the rules:

  • The nominee shall display the Very Inspiring Blogger Award logo on her/his blog, and link to the blog they got nominated from.
  • The nominee shall nominate fifteen (15) bloggers she/he admires, by linking to their blogs and informing them about it.

*Cracks knuckles*. I’m splitting the blogs I read frequently into categories of similar types. I’m writing a one-liner in the hope that their About pages will obviously do a much more spectacular job than me, but I couldn’t resist.

Category 1: Articulate fiction, non-fiction and  mellifluous poetry.

  1. http://themirrorobscura.wordpress.com/ : Fabulous poetry with mesmerizing graphics.
  2. http://justbadtiming.wordpress.com/ : Delicate prose.
  3. http://4thaluv.com/: Well-written reviews, fictional content and a collection of bookmark-worthy quotes.
  4. http://florencecrayewooster.wordpress.com/: Exquisite phrases combined with a love of storytelling and as you can obviously tell, P.G. Wodehouse.
  5. http://robertokaji.com/ : Translations of oriental poetry combined with poems that often capture something fragile.

Category 2: Culturally-influenced authors who often pour their nostalgia and creativity into their work. I started my blog with the similar idea, so I’m reaching out to some other literal contemporaries out there.

  1. http://abitjuakali.wordpress.com/: Poetry, writing and often the cultural longing of home (which is Uganda) and the contrast of New York.
  2. http://juliealexandraa.wordpress.com/about/ : I love how the works on this site represent the Spanish language and its myriad cultural associations.
  3. http://verseherder.wordpress.com/: Hilarious, natural in the literal sense and very well-spoken/written.

Category 3: Different perspectives from people who have lived and experienced the often misunderstood side of life.

  1. http://takingthemaskoff.com/: Addiction, stigma, ignorance and how they form identities
  2. http://playingyourhandright.wordpress.com/ : Crime, life, mistakes and everything else that makes us human
  3. http://autismthoughts.wordpress.com/ : The struggles and achievements of living with autism
  4. http://suzjones.wordpress.com/about/ : Understanding depression and how writing can serve as an effective way to coping mechanism.

In my humble/inexperienced opinion, a lot of the problems that people have about sex and it’s interconnection with emotional relationships is simply because there aren’t enough sources of sexual enlightenment, let alone, general awareness out there which leads to a whole host of misunderstood, poorly communicated and emotionally-unsatisfying relationships. It’s only if you find out what you want and how to help you get to that, which will help you find what you need to make yourself happy.

Anyway. Here’s to the blogs that celebrate sensuality/sexuality/ gender and all other miscellaneous constructs that stem from the fundamental human need to love and be loved.

Category 4: Content Warning: Sexual, possibly Feminist

  1.  http://kateharding.net/: This blog may be moving to a new domain. Enlightening discussions of women, sexuality, rape and rape culture.
  2. http://captainawkward.com/: Genuine love advice which I may or may not seek because I fit the title description
  3. http://sexpectations89.wordpress.com/ : Casual sex and the misconceptions or self-delusions that people have about it

Category 5: Miscellaneous. Fiction. Opinions. I know I’m exceeding 15 but I really really wanted to mention these great people.

  1. http://aopinionatedman.com/ :The only blogger I know who is singularly and consistently unafraid of voicing their opinion, no matter what.
  2. http://illustriouspeacock.wordpress.com/: Really interesting photographs of random people, places and things.
  3. http://allmostrelevant.com/:   I like this blog. It’s random. Funny. Interesting.

It is way beyond my bed-time now and I’m just going to thank everyone and tell them to keep writing the awesome stuff they do. I’m also going to cut brutally short my speech about just how great WordPress is as a community and how much I love it because it makes me feel like I belong somewhere. The previous sentence is my speech. Thank you all!

Pseudo-intellectual Social Media Conversations

Facebook is the bane of my existence and I’m so annoyed that I’m writing about this. Literally anything is a better way to be “social” than coming across one more pseudo-psychological poetry, instagram selfie and articles about everything that seem to come up on my feed because people (and I) have no self-control over the like button. I came across someone who complained in a series of posts on Facebook that Google was violating her privacy for having used her location history because she used Google-based apps at these locations. Accompanied by a screenshot of the said location history. This person then proceeded to bemoan how large organizations are using data without asking us and “what a surprising breach of privacy it is. This is shocking! I’m so scared. #noprivacy”  

This blog post is addressed to her, and forgive my frustration, to people as naive as her. 

It took me a great deal of self-control to not make the humble Facebook comment box the digital voice of my opinion. Having “intellectual” discussions on Facebook, while admirable is simply inconvenient. Rather like trying to prove a theorem with your friend when you’re parked in different toilet cubicles. It’s admirable that you care about larger issues when you’re in a toilet. Discussing the matter anywhere else could prove to be more fruitful that trying to be heard over the sound of flushes. 

So you want to know why apps use your data? I’m not going to use a listicle because most human beings have forgotten how to parse and process content written in paragraphs. Using bullet points lets me hide my poor grammatical education. 

Most of Google’s services are provided to you for free and most of them are without ads. However, Google still has to sustain the careers of almost a million engineers all over the world who have put in blood, sweat, tears and profound work in making that little app on your phone capable of being the powerhouse it is. As an app developer myself, I know how much effort it takes to create something functional, let alone robust enough to be released into the market. While I would love to philosophize and occasionally be charitable enough to render some services free, I eventually have to support myself and my family.

Statistics and psychology have proven that people are more likely to download free apps over paid services, even though paid services are obviously more reliable. Paid services ask for your money up front instead of stealing data behind your backs (which may still happen, but perhaps at a less ostentatious rate than if the service were free), but at least you’ll be guaranteed the best service of whatever the app is offering. Therefore, your location is easily the most accessible information that you can provide to them. They will sell the data that you were at a certain store, so that the next time you’re around that store can send you an ad when you Google search for something. 

Lastly, your location data is nothing compared to your back account or financial data and perhaps we should be grateful that the supposed ” Big Bad Companies” don’t sneak that from us. But to be “fair” to them, they do have this listed in the dense verbiage in the terms and conditions page which first opens when you download the app, and which you happily ignore because you’re too keen to share nail-pictures and selfies with your friends rather than care about how your location is being used. Also, even if you skip that, when you use your app on your device, it will still ask for location services in a blatant list of maybe 3 or 4 other phone services (such as camera, contacts, call history, etc). You could have stopped it then. 

I find it ironic that you want to complain about this on Facebook, of all places, which is far far worse than Google.If you really don’t want to use Google maps, don’t. But asking for that perfect app which does everything, for free, without stealing any of your information and magically fetching data from everywhere is clearly stretching it. Online privacy is a problem. But please explain to me how your Facebook spam is changing the scene in any way. 

The Meaning of Names

I have a propensity for weird names. I’ve been labeled with a fairly exotic name, and so I find that naming things and situations aptly is a skill worth having because I hope that my offspring wouldn’t have to suffer the repeated mispronunciations, misspellings or worse complete transformations of their name into something that is more globally palatable.
To answer Juliet’s question and disagree with her reasoning, there is a lot to a name. I have found names charming and powerful, how one word instantly engages the attention of another human being. In many works of fantasy, true names have been assumed to have some sort of power over the speaker and hence they are labeled with aliases. Some of our names carry the stories of our origin. Surnames especially are common among clans of people who have shared common ancestors. Names also tell of whose offspring we are. Not unlike the Russian “-vitch” suffix, where Ivanovitch means “son of Ivan”, or the Anglo-Saxon “Peterson” which means “son of Peter”. Names in many cultures are borrowed from the religion themselves, as is common to Indian, Latin American and Islamic cultures. It appears that a name is a preview of a person’s identity.
You may wonder why this information is not on my about page. Or why it has featured on my blog way after I have been writing in it. I don’t know why. I tend to overshare my life with everyone, and I was simply too shy to come forward and declared myself with enough credentials so that I could be found in the real world as the author of this work. It was the same with the college I go to. Painstakingly hiding the name and my affiliation with it, so that I could not be found to be a source of all these opinions and feelings and literature that I have created.  But it is time to offer you a humble preview of who I am.
My name is Piyali.
If you Google what my name means, it apparently shows up as a Bengali-Sanskrit word for “wood”. My grandmother had (before the advent of Google in my life)  informed me that I was named after a river. But I was face with a rather odd problem of explaining how my family could have named me after wood, especially since statistical evidence lists that wood is somehow a “more accurate” meaning than the name of a river. Everybody thought it was odd that I should be named after something so plain. But I have secretly learned to rejoice in it. I am yet to learn of anyone who denies how fundamental wood is and was to our lifestyle as human beings. The ability to create tools and shelter began with wood, and if I may be so immodest, wood remains the sole sustenance for 2.5 billion people in this day and age.
I have often been complimented that I have a pretty name. It is easy on the mouth, gentle on the syllables and can be morphed into many nicknames by which people may claim their very own special identity of me. A name is not something I chose for myself. It is something that happened to me. It is a beautiful blessing that happened to me.
If I haven’t bored you already, please read this very thought-provoking  and well-written piece by Tasbeeh Herwees.

Red Lipstick

I had this very uncharacteristic epiphany as I passed by the Sephora near Times Square, on a bone-drenching Tuesday afternoon where I was trying to navigate past the stampede of DSLR-bearing tourists without an umbrella. I don’t know why, and I perhaps can’t explain this is in any other way except for a sudden uprising of my feminine side, but I really wanted to wear a red lipstick. Call it a flashback of Marilyn Monroe, Gwen Stefani and every other woman in the world who has wielded the red lipstick, but it doesn’t just ooze color, it oozes confidence.

I hope this post doesn’t make me appear superficial because I seriously am investing my words and time into describing red lipstick and what I feel about it. But honestly, I had never experienced such a strong, inexplicable feeling from owning, wearing or even using a tube of red pigment.

There’s a milieu of research and articles and information about how red lipstick has been known to boost self-esteem because many women deem themselves worthy of self-care when they apply it. There has been research that shows that in times of economic hardship, red lipstick is the most frequent and common impulse acquisition. Corroborate this with the fact that red lipstick brings attention to our mouth and what comes out of it. Lastly, red lipstick serves as a marker of sexual arousal. Therefore, women who wear red lipstick are perceived as sexually confident, attractive, dominant, assertive and feminine.

And I, a straggling, awkward, wet, somewhat lost, umbrella-deprived just-barely-post-adolescent decided, right after finishing a $5 pad thai and battling the screeching wind, that I wanted to wear red lipstick.

As I’m a poor non-financially independent college kid, I decided that making my virgin purchase from Sephora from New York City (8.875% retail tax, thank you very much) was pushing the financial freedom I had been bestowed a little too much. So I splurged on an affordable stick of Revlon. To be honest, I was overwhelmed with the shades and colors and variants. After all, what is the difference between lipstick, lip-butter, lip-tint, lip-stain and basically every other item that is prefixed with a “lip”?

The next few seconds found me frantically asking Google which generic red would serve my purpose. I say generic because there apparently exists a whole other science in color-matching with skin-tones, which seemed to require another college education to master completely. Honestly, I just wanted a red lipstick and I wasn’t having any of the baggage or expertise or qualification that came with acquiring one humble tube of the stuff.

I almost felt shameless in ripping off the packaging as soon as I had swiped my credit card for it, but I did. I was so scared of being judged for putting on red lipstick in public, that I sneaked into a cubicle at a public restroom and used my phone-camera as a mirror. I don’t understand why I should feel safer putting it on inside a cubicle, when I very well could have used a public mirror outside the stalls, But I eased myself into it gently.

One swipe. Deep gasp. Too much color. Look at that, you look like a vampire after a lunch buffet. Blot. Blot. Blot. Blot. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Then blot some more until the tissue paper is wearing the entirety of the one swipe and my lips look reassuringly normal. In an instant I felt as though all my stupid, naive and momentary dreams of sporting red lipstick had faded. For that one crushing moment, I remembered how I had been labeled “not pretty enough” and instead of a noble quest to discover the feminine, I felt as though I was part of a cheap charade. That somehow my awkwardness had made me unworthy of desiring to be confident, let alone desired.

But I didn’t give in to the cowardice. Everybody has to start somewhere. The only person judging me is myself. If I don’t experiment at this age, then I will never experiment at all. Fostering what could perhaps be called a scientific curiosity at the outcome of the experiment, I tried again. Half a swipe. Blend with finger. It took me a while, but I added on layer after layer until my lips had reached what I deemed as a very appropriate shade of red. Not vampire drool but just red.

And I wore it home. I promised myself that once it was on, I wouldn’t fidget with it. Leave it alone. You can’t see what’s on your face anymore, so it’s not your problem. I didn’t think it would last for more than an hour, but once I verified my reflection in the waning daylight, I actually felt happy with myself. I actually felt as though I wanted people to see and validate my red lips. It’s stupid and I know it sounds very silly, but as a few heads turned, I wanted to smile and tell them, “Look, I’m growing into a woman now.”

But I didn’t. For making baby steps, I surpassed my expectations and maybe someday, I won’t even need to tell people aloud. Even if I might look like another girl with make-up on, at least the mirror smiles back knowingly to me.

Reference Links (all the historical lipstick knowledge didn’t dawn on me from nowhere):

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/psychological-benefits-of-lipstick_n_4722612.html

https://psychologies.co.uk/body/the-power-of-red-lipstick.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipstick

Real research here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278431912000497

And another one: http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ijps/article/viewFile/15080/11738

 

Your Identity and Sexual Abuse

Trigger warning: Abuse
As someone who has worked with survivors of abuse of many forms, I find this intimate and very well-expressed piece inspirational. The author has my complete support and best wishes. The message is all the more thought-provoking: You are not your past. You are more than that.

Sexpectations89

Dear Abbie,
               When you were 9 something horrible happened to you. There was nothing I could do but watch because I was only a child back then too. Because I was helpless at protecting you I carried you around out of guilt for years thinking that not forgetting about that horrible day would make it up to you, make it up to myself. You were burdensome. You shaped who I was, you shaped the person I became and all the while I was growing up and going through life making the decisions of an abused 9 year old girl. I used your pain to fuel my existence, you were the reason for going on and when I wanted to die you were my excuse. I blamed you for all the bad things I had done and for all the things I could never…

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