USCIS Efficiency

It took a month to happen for Amber. That was two years ago. I had to wait 2 years and 2 months for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to do what was just a printing job. During those two years, I had to visit the INS/USCIS 5 times, instead of the one visit it should have required. I had to get up really early in the morning and wait in line all day long. Add all the stress and worry and the phone calls I had to make to the USCIS and it becomes quite a lot.

The most frustrating part is that this was not about adjudication of an immigration petition. It was a simple printing job. At first, I thought I was special, that I was the only one in this situation. But then everywhere I looked, in internet forums and at USCIS offices, I saw people in the same predicament as me.

USCIS officers knew for 1.5 years that there was a problem on their end. But no one fixed it until one officer decided to do something 2 months ago. Their customer service is so bad that it always seemed like they were blaming me for the blunder. They never seemed to believe me until I showed them all the paperwork. Not once did anyone say “I am sorry, our department messed up.”

My Surprise Baby Shower

I was really surprised to have one.

Baby shower seems like a big pregnancy thing in the US. When we started our baby registry at Babies R Us, the lady asked Zack if he needed shower invitation cards and hesitently he said No…Yes…may be… So she gave us 50 free cards which are useless for us. Actually some people even asked me why we set up the registry since no one would be buying us anything from there but we had it for our own record.

We have practically no family in the US, so unlike the norm around us we were not expecting any family member to throw us a shower. We did, however, get a lot of gifts from our family back in Pakistan. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law sent us 7 hand-knit sets, my brother sent me two baby dresses and one bedding set. My mom, who had not touched the needles for last 20+ years, knit three baby sweater sets for our baby and also she sent us 12 baby dresses.

I also recently changed my job from one software system to another within the same parent company and almost all of my friends of 5 years and colleagues were either force-adjusted or spread out in various software business units, so I wasn’t expecting any gifts/shower from the folks at work.

Every now and then people will ask me “So did you have baby shower yet?” Or like “it’s good to have registry as most of the small stuff others will buy for you.” And even though I will brag about the gifts our family sent, they will give me a look of pity.

This friday, life was going as usual. These days I have way too much work. Practically I am working more than 10 hours a day. Since my manager is on vacation, I am also acting on his behalf which makes me practically on call for 24 hours and I have conflicting management meetings and technical meetings all the time.

So like I said life was going on as usual. I had a meeting scheduled with one developer to go over some design and architectural details for some feature at 1:30pm and then I was meeting our product managers for some upcoming demo opportunities at 3:00pm. So I went to the developer’s office at 1:30pm and she seemed a bit out of it. I tried to go over the technical details but she did not seem to be following.

Meanwhile, another senior architect walked in and told me that our CEO had some questions for an upcoming demo and he would appreciate it if I could help them out with some technical information. I was a little upset with the unexpected additional work but I said ok let’s go. We walked to our main conference room. The door was closed. When he opened the door, I can’t describe how much overwhelmed I was. The room was fully decorated and there were 50+ people from at least 10 different software business units including most managers and our VP. Yes, the friends who were all scattered in different orgs, the people I worked with on various projects for the last 5 years and friends who were force-adjusted from this company were all gathered to share the excitement of the most wonderful experience of my life. They had arranged a surprise baby shower for me. There was plenty of food and gifts but what mattered the most was the thought.

I could not speak for may be 5 minutes. I was almost in tears and to embarrass me later, they took a lot of pictures.

All I can say is that I was touched and there is no better feeling than the feeling of sharing joy, happiness and special moments with your friends.

Spider-Man 2, Fahrenheit 9/11 and More

Spider-Man 2 is the absolute greatest superhero movie. Spiderman was my favorite superhero as a kid and the two Spiderman movies capture the idea very well. I recommend it highly.

Unqualified Offerings has quite a few posts about the movie, with his thoughts as well as links to other blogger reviews. I must warn you that there are lots of spoilers in his blog posts as well as in his review for the American Spectator.

The Stepford Wives was an almost OK movie. Most of the movie was not bad but the ending was very bizarre and made no sense.

The Terminal was a decent movie, though it did drag on a little. Tom Hanks acted very well and could get Oscar as Kianoush says. The immigration enforcement supervisor seemed quite like in real life.

The Notebook is a typical tear-jerker, sappy romance. What else could it be since it’s based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. The movie was quite predictable. AMber liked it better than I did. So I guess the purpose of the movie was served.

We had no plans of seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 this weekend. But Before Sunrise was out at the local video store and we decided to wait for that before watching its sequel Before Sunset. Instead we saw Fahrenheit 9/11. According to Amber, it is a biased documentary and could have been better if it was not so overtly biased. We both recognized some major flaws of the movie. The first half detailing Bush’s links with Bin Laden is quite tendentious and not up to par. The latter part of the movie is not as heavy-handed as Michael Moore mostly moves into the background and lets the Iraq war story tell itself.

Ethical Philosophy Selector

Here are my results for the quiz.

  1. John Stuart Mill (100%)
  2. Kant (100%)
  3. Prescriptivism (87%)
  4. Stoics (87%)
  5. Ayn Rand (80%)
  6. Aquinas (77%)
  7. Aristotle (75%)
  8. Spinoza (75%)
  9. Jean-Paul Sartre (72%)
  10. Jeremy Bentham (67%)
  11. Epicureans (64%)
  12. Ockham (48%)
  13. Nietzsche (46%)
  14. David Hume (43%)
  15. Thomas Hobbes (40%)
  16. Cynics (35%)
  17. Plato (33%)
  18. Nel Noddings (29%)
  19. St. Augustine (20%)

Via Gene Expression.

Pikes Peak

Here are some photographs from my drive up to the summit of Pikes Peak.

At 14,110 ft
On the way up to the summit Tree-line at 12,000 ft That's the highway on the bottom right!
A train also takes you to the summit Looking down into the clouds A reservoir down below

The weather at the summit was quite cold and windy (for June at least) and there was a definite lack of oxygen. I think next time I am going to try to hike instead of driving up.

There is also a webcam showing images of the peak from about 15 miles away.

Buying Baby Stuff

What better way to start shopping for our baby than to buy new bedroom furniture for ourselves? It makes the expense of the baby’s things trivial by comparison and postpones the day when you can buy stuff for the baby by throwing a wrench in your finances.

Looking at a Babies R Us list of stuff a baby needs, it seems like a million things. And a lot of them will be useful for only a few months before the baby outgrows them.

The biggest ticket item we have bought is a crib. Since all of our furniture has cherry finish, the crib has to be the same. However, we have got quite a few shades of cherry in our apartment now. Among other requirements, the crib had to have an easy, one-hand rail-release mechanism. The crib we finally bought was expensive but we like it.

A so-called Travel system is, in fact, a stroller plus an infant car seat. Most of the models were quite heavy and big, useful only if you have an SUV or a minivan, I guess. We bought the lightest travel system we could find.

When I put the infant car seat in our car, it barely fit. I had to move the front seat all the way forward to get enough space for the rear-facing infant seat in the back seat. That means that the infant seat can’t be behind the driver’s seat since I drive with the driver’s seat pushed all the way back. Also, when Amber will be driving, I’ll have to sit with the baby in the back seat.

I thought it was only our Corolla that was almost too small for an infant. But looking at the leg room data for midsize cars, they don’t seem much better either. And here I was, thinking of buying a car even smaller than the Corolla for myself.

My definite favorite among the stuff we have bought is the baby carrier. We didn’t particularly like the slings, so we bought the Baby Bjorn Active Carrier. I liked the back support in this particular model which was much better than the others. I think I am going to carry my daughter around all the time in this carrier.

Since we are still living in a one-bedroom apartment, this buying spree has resulted in every corner being filled.

POSTSCRIPT: Our Baby Registry

Pattern Recognition

Being a DSP nerd, when I first heard of William Gibson’s science fiction novel Pattern Recognition, I thought of Pattern Classification by Duda, Hart and Stork.

William Gibson has a peculiar writing style. I liked it a lot in Neuromancer and it made me read Pattern Recognition in a couple of sessions as well. What I find amazing is that his novels are such a gripping read despite the fact that most characters are not properly developed at all.

Unlike Gibson’s previous books, Pattern Recognition takes place in the present (or the recent past by now). To make it science fiction, Gibson gives the main character, Cayce, a superpower. That is what the title refers to.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly with the caveat that near the end, the story went a bit downhill.

Bruised Pakistanis

I was just minding my own business and making plans to go home to Jersey for the long weekend when I heard Pakistanis were under suspicion.

The US Department of Homeland Security has alerted six major airports in the United States to carefully monitor all travellers of Pakistani origin, including US citizens.

How exactly can one find out whether a US citizen is of Pakistani descent? Can you differentiate a Pakistani from an Indian, Iranian, or Afghan? I can’t and I am a Pakistani myself.

The order was circulated through a DHS memo, warning airports in Washington, New York, New Jersey, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles to look for Pakistani travellers with suspected links to terrorists.

The action memo sent to US Customs and Border Protection officials says the suspects may be planning terrorist attacks in the United States between now and the presidential election in November. The memo asks customs officials to look for signs that indicate paramilitary training such as unusual rope-burns, scars and bruises.

Since I was coming to Newark airport on the 2nd, I looked at my bathroom mirror carefully looking for any scars or bruises before going to the airport. Fortunately, I had none.

The June 17 memo mentions recent Pakistani raids near the Afghan border and Pakistani official sources told Dawn that the initial information about these individuals was collected in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The DHS memo indicates that the suspects were “travelling to train at terrorist camps in Pakistan,” said an official familiar with the warning.

Damn the day Pakistan became such a terrorist hotspot. Damn you, Ziaul Haq and Reagan and Brezhnev and the terrorist groups as well.

Needing more details, I googled and found the CNN version.

A two-page “action” bulletin, dated June 17, says recent intelligence from Pakistan and elsewhere indicates that people of Pakistani descent “are increasingly being identified with” extremist activities, “including supporting [and] protecting the operations of terrorist training camps in Pakistan.”

Wow, that’s news to me! (Yes, I am being sarcastic.)

In the bulletin, airport inspectors are advised to closely look at people of Pakistani descent who have taken short trips to Pakistan that were not related to family or business reasons and examine them for injuries like “rope burns … unusual bruises … [and] scars,” — injuries that may have come from training in terror camps.

Ah, at least I am safe until I visit Pakistan. Domestic travel hasn’t been a problem at all for me and I hope it won’t become one now. What nationality would you guess I belong to if you didn’t know I was Pakistani?

Obviously, the Pakistanis can’t be expected to take this well.

Pakistan Thursday decried as unwarranted a US order requiring inspectors at the major American airports to closely examine all the passengers of Pakistani descent for any terrorist links.

“We have taken up the matter with the US authorities,” Deputy Chief of Mission at the Pakistan embassy in Washington, Mohammad Sadiq, told this scribe.

He said the move could undermine the close relationship between Pakistan and the United States in the fight against terrorism. “It is not only unfortunate, but based on ignorance,” said Mr Sadiq. “Warnings like these … harm a lot to us, Pakistani Americans and the Pakistani citizens visiting United States.”

The Pakistan-specific move comes less than a month after the Bush administration declared Pakistan as a major Non-NATO ally of the United States. It is also unwarranted as the United States calls President Pervez Musharraf as a ‘key ally in the war on terrorism’.

Sarcasm aside, I have no idea how to react to this Homeland Security memo. It all depends on how it’s implemented. It could be very narrowly focussed and thus not affect any (innocent) Pakistanis or Pakistani-Americans. Or it could turn into full-scale ethnic profiling. My guess is some airport inspectors will be obnoxious (just like they were even before this memo) and others will be careful.

One thing I don’t understand is why the memo even needs to specifically mention Pakistani descent when what it seems to be on the lookout for is people coming from Pakistan with terrorist training. Is there any specific information on Pakistani terrorists, as distinct from non-Pakistanis trained in Pakistan, that this memo is based on?

Doctor or Midwife?

We had been seeing a doctor but the question came up some time ago whether we would like to see a midwife, associated with the doctor’s office, instead and have the baby delivered by the midwife. So, we scheduled our next appointment with the midwife. Talking to the midwife and some friends, it seems that people often go for a midwife for the following reasons:

  1. A midwife can give more time to you during your regular appointments.
  2. A midwife will be with you from the time you arrive at the hospital till after delivery.
  3. People who want a natural birth are also one reason.

We discussed these issues with our doctor as well as the midwife and observed that:

  1. Both the doctor and the midwife give you about equal attention as a patient.
  2. Since our doctor practises with a group of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, there is always someone at the hospital delivering babies. We were assured that the doctor will be there the whole time and not just arrive at the last minute.
  3. We don’t really care about natural birth. Any medical technology that helps in pain relief or makes delivery easier would be most welcome.

There was also a sub-issue of the place of delivery. Both our doctor and the midwife deliver at the St Peters University Hospital. But the midwife also delivers at the Somerset Medical Center. The problem with going with a midwife at Somerset Medical Center was that in case a doctor was needed during labor/delivery, the local doctor there would be called instead of our doctor. Therefore, we decided to have our baby at St Peters.

Because of the enumerated list above as well as the fact that we were just more comfortable going with the doctor (especially if something goes wrong), we stuck with our gynecologist.