Google it?

I came across and interesting tweet today, which I promptly retweeted:

Google before you tweet is the new think before you speak.

Further thought on this later in the day forced me to conclude that the dazzling simplicity of this tweet is due to its use of certain words as interchangeable, or rather as natural “new age” replacements for the classics. In this case, the substitution of Google as a verb for “think” and Tweet as a verb in place of speak.

It seems a natural path to go along in an age where google may as well be god in that it knows everything:

If I can operate Google, I can find anything. And with wireless, it means I will be able to find anything, anywhere, anytime. Which is why I say that Google, combined with Wi-Fi, is a little bit like God. God is wireless, God is everywhere and God sees and knows everything. Throughout history, people connected to God without wires. Now, for many questions in the world, you ask Google, and increasingly, you can do it without wires, too.
Alan Cohen, V.P. of Airespace
To refer to the central repository of knowledge is the natural instinct of an appendage to make sense of what it has sensed. This is the rule by which our bodies naturally operate, i.e. the hand touches liquid, reports the sensation to the brain, which classifies this sensation as that of touching a liquid. To identify the liquid, the eyes observe the color and general appearance and potentially our nose smells it and our taste buds taste it to provide meta-data and further classify the liquid. All this data travels from our various body parts to the brain, our central repository for information. Without it, we are but sensory equipment with no way to process or make sense of the information.

Taking this one step further to apply to the current discussion, does this meant that we are. by extension, becoming the appendages attached to the brain that is Google? I wish to purchase a motorcycle and visit a store to see what is on offer. Noting a model name and number, I turn to my interconnected “brain”, Google to help me identify it and sort through its accumulated “experiences” via customer reviews, professional reviews, comparisons, and so on to help me determine whether or not to purchase the item. It does not matter that I do not personally know the people who have provided these other “experiences” for my “brain”, Google’s database. The hand does not have the capacity to “recognize” the eyes, yet they provide individual feedback and the brain sorts through the data to come to a logical conclusion. Therefore, while my customer review or opinion about a product, experience, idea, etc. might be as foreign as the eye to a hand, it is also completely valid input for the overall “brain”, Google, just as my own brain would collect data indiscriminately from both my eye and hand and sort them to form a classification larger than the individual units of information provided earlier.

In such a scenario, my own localized brain becomes a node in a very large network of nodes, all with one searchable interface. What, then, of things in my brain that are not yet Google searchable, you may ask? I may then point you towards a vast array of applications and websites on the internet, each acting as a silo for a certain type of data about you. What did you divulge today? Your favorite colors, your bank information, your personal conversations and chats, your relationships on a social networking website, what you have been watching, where you visited? Slowly but surely, a vast chunk of my thoughts, locations, memories, relationships, personality even are being “uploaded” to the remote brain that is the internet, interfaces and searchable by Google.

Returning to the primary point, it seems reasonable now to expect an exchange of the term “think” and the verb “Google” since it simply means we refer to our remote server for information from a much wider range of nodes than our mere five senses.

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Anime Roundup: The Big Three

So in this long overdue anime roundup post, I’ll start off with what I consider the Big Three series, simply due to their long episode lists and long standing popularity. Chances are, if you’re an anime fan, you’ve seen or at least heard of all of these, or at some time been subject to an impassioned proposition to watch them.

BLEACH

Welcome to the first of the “Big Three”, as I like to call them. Most anime fans have at least heard of Bleach, if not ardently in possession of a burning desire to watch every new episode that comes out. The premise is simple enough and not exactly hard to swallow for anyone familiar with standard Hollywood fare: Ichigo, our carrot-topped protagonist is a loner, and he has a bit of a savior complex. See that expression he’s got in the picture, that “I’m complicated but angry” frown? Yeah, that’s pretty much what his face will look like throughout the series, so get used to it. Little does he suspect, but as with all epic tales, his life will soon be turned upside down, mostly because of the hot little number behind him: Rukia. Rukia is a Death God, a non human with special powers that allow her to see and combat evil spirits that did not go peacefully into the light (surprising how many that happens to, maybe clearer directions to the light are required?).

Ichigo, through a chain of extraordinary events, “borrows” Rukia’s Death God powers and gets a big sword of his own (pictured above) to fight them bad spirits with, and a badass black kimono to do it in, also pictured above. Now Rukia is injured and recuperating in the human world as Ichigo battles her share of evil demons but there is a twist: the other Death Gods will not like a mere human, albeit with a huge sword, having said powers. Did I mention Ichigo has a huge sword? Because we are hit on the head with the “Ichigo’s equipment is really effing huge” metaphor for the first many episodes. Size is not everything, folks, but clearly there is some penis envy at work here because the size of your sword indicated the power within.

So the action really begins when Ichigo is spanked and told to know his place as a human and Rukia is dragged off back to the Death God world for punishment, and Ichigo, being Ichigo, must go rescue her and show off his huge penis, er sword, in another realm. The fights that I saw were decent, the storyline was engaging, at least in the main arc, in the fillers, I completely lost interest, as in the case with another of our Big Three series, Naruto, where fillers begin to border on the ludicrous.

So, to be honest I only got through the first of the major arcs for this anime, and that too the second time around due to the incessant hyping of every Bleach fan I come into contact with and is also in possession of the strangest name for an anime of this type that I can think of. Maybe fans who have gotten into more episodes can explain the connection between any sort of “bleach” and the storyline, but it’s beyond me.

What makes it one of the “Big Three”?

Bleach’s sheer length (it hasn’t ended yet, 302 episodes and counting, according to this Wikipedia article). It’s also one of the more famous series you’ll come across, and a good conversation started with any anime fan, since most would have at least heard of it. Why should you watch it? Because tons of people have and enjoyed it, although my personal taste prevented me from venturing further than the end of the Soul Society arc. Will Ichigo be a frowning and broody hero as he rescues multiple people from certain death? Yes. Will he seem to magically acquire powers that seem above and beyond that of people with normal sized swords for no apparent reason? Yes. Will you enjoy watching it all unfold? Probably, yes.

Personal rating

Story: 8/10

Action: 8/10

Animation: 7/10

NARUTO

Time to meet the second of our Big Three. Meet Naruto, the one in bright orange in the middle there. Guess what he does for a living (put aside the fact that he’s supposed to be around eleven years old here)? Given the brightly colored outfit, he must be in a circus or used as live bait for colorblind animals, surely? Nope, he’s a ninja. Yes, let it sink in for a second that a ninja, master of ninjitsu and stealth, is dressed in a bright orange jumper.

Aside from the fashion statement, the story goes thus: Naruto is an orphan who is mostly ignored and often despised in his home village of Konoha, for some odd reason. Parents give him venomous sidelong glances and kids pick up their derisory attitude from their parents and Naruto’s own clownish ineptitude in ninja school. Naruto, however, is no brooding hero, he’s a cheerful and loud kid who insists that one day he will become a ninja and a Hokage, the most powerful ninja in Konoha and the leader of the community and gain acknowledgement in the eyes of the community that mysteriously detests a kid that grew up with no parents. In the early episodes, we discover that sealed inside Naruto is a nine tailed demon fox (the number of tails indicate the strength of the demon) that attacked his village when he was born and the previous Hokage, a beloved figure who died young, gave his life to seal the fox in a newborn child and save the village. The current Hokage forbids anyone to tell him why everyone hates him and also forbid mentioning the demon fox inside the boy, although it would have been a better idea to forbid kids growing up with no adult guardian altogether, but I digress.

So, our colorblind friend makes it to ninja school (how cool would it have been to get to go to ninja school?) and is teamed up with the dark haired and super broody sole survivor of a genius clan, Sasuke and the annoying pink haired cheerleader type love interest, Sakura. Naruto likes Sakura, who of course, likes unsociable broody men named Sasuke-kuuuuuun. The trio come together under the genius copy ninja (you’ll find a lot of early bloomers and geniuses in the ninja world, clearly killing makes children in this village blossom), Kakashi.

So, enough with the storyline, the series itself is quite interesting and emotional for a few arcs, then you come across the filler episodes, and boy are they bad! I cite examples from this show to tell people just how bad fillers can possibly be. In one instance, Naruto uses his hard earned new uber-cool technique to slice ramen on a mission to feed hungry soldiers. In another, he very ostensibly tails a courier ninja (what next, Chef Ninjas, Janitor Ninjas and Librarian Ninjas?) to prevent spoilers reaching their destination? Yes, W-T-F.

What makes it one of the Big Three?

The Naruto series itself is about 220 episodes, with it’s follow up, set two years after the end of the first series, while it’s successor series (Naruto Shippudden) has 196 to date and shows no signs of ending. This series, due to its exporting to the west, is one of the anime series that is very widely known even in English speaking countries. The idea of ninjas and a ninja academy and a boy containing almost unlimited power within without knowing it has its charms, but this thoroughly wore off for me around the end of the Chuunin exam arc. Out of the three main characters, Sasuke is a whiny little brooder and Sakura is a high pitched cheerleader for every obnoxious thing he does, while Naruto remains the blustery immature brat at age 14 that he was at age 11. Admittedly, this was beginning to wear me down, till the Chuunin Exam arc, where many other ninjas are introduced (admittedly some quite interesting ones).

Sasuke cannot stop obsession over his past and the wiping out of his clan, save him, Sakura can’t get over her crush on him even when she’s well into her teens, after he abandons the village, turns rogue and attacks his old comrades when he sees them after years of learning dark ninjitsu, and Naruto finally becomes aware of his inner (literal) demon and starts channeling its power, while obsessed with a one track mission to save the whiny brat, Sasuke, save the world. Are the ninja battles fun? Definitely, most so where we initially see Naruto being extremely resourceful and planning his attack (this does not last long and is very erratic, giving the impression of someone who sometimes shows the skill and IQ of a 6 year old, and at some odd moments, that of a seasoned 20 year old). If you skip all the fillers, you may continue on to watch Shippudden as well and enjoy that too.

Personal Rating

Story: 8.5/10

Action: 9/10

Animation: 7.5/10

ONE PIECE

Look at that face. See the pure, unadulterated joy? The empty headed smile of a man who knows he’s on a wanted poster and hunted by the world government and every bounty hunter in the world, and does not give a rat’s ass. Yes, welcome to Monkey D. Luffy’s world. Luffy is a boy who ate a Devil’s Fruit, a magical fruit that gives one magical powers, except it’s a bit of a gamble because you could get a really cool power (Flame ON!) or a really stupid one (Nost Fancy, i.e. being able to generate and toss exploding boogers from your nose). Luffy’s random power is that he becomes a rubberman, with powers like Mr. Fantastic, only he uses them much more imaginatively, by becoming a balloon, a canopy to harmlessly reflect cannonballs back at origin, stretching arms and legs for maximum force when they crash down on an enemy’s skull, rapid fire rubber punches, stretching out an arm to catapult the rest of his body towards a destination).

The sheer recklessness of Luffy seems a bit jarring at first, and one could mistake the kid for a moron. After all, along with the rubberman ability, the Devils Fruit makes him a hammer (someone who cannot possibly swim or float in water and would immediately drown in the sea), and he wants to be a pirate and spend his life on the one thing that could kill him in seconds. At first, his simple minded declarations of being the man who will become the next Pirate King, the most powerful and rich pirate in the world, after discovering a legendary treasure, One Piece, seems ridiculous. His future crewmates, with interesting talents and powers of their own, think so as well. Slowly, as are we, they are won over by his heart, his unwillingness to see innocents bear their problems alone, and his sheer power and force of will.

If ever you were a kid dreaming of being on a pirate ship with your best mates and sailing through uncharted waters and reaching a new island with new problems that you can help solve and pick up new friends along the way, this series is pure wish fulfillment for you. Luffy and his ever expanding crew (who I have not added in the picture at all to preserve the surprise) are a unique bunch, with powers ranging from being a swordsman who wants to be the best swordsman on earth, to a cowardly liar who wants to explore the world and justify his lies. It’s a crew and series that, if you give it a chance, you will grow to love for its powerfully emotional themes of friendship, loyalty and determination. Luffy is nothing but an embodiment of an uncompromising mix of those traits.

Look at that face, look at that grin. Watch this series now and you will find yourself with the same grin as you watch the crew struggle and triumph over insurmountable odds and visit wondrous places such as the island on the clouds. If I sound biased, it’s because I am and One Piece is one of my favorite shows ever.

What makes it one of the Big Three?

Well, really it’s nowhere near as popular as Naruto or Bleach, but its episode list is in the four hundreds as well and people are still wrapped up tightly in the storyline. To know why, brave through the distinctive and jarring style initially and press on, you may just find a series you will love for a lifetime.

Personal Rating

Story: 9/10

Action: 8/10

Animation: 8/10

 

Wake me up when September ends?

Iḿ currently going through a phase of extreme sleep deprivation. In-laws are visiting for two weeks and itś bloody hectic. Iḿ not usually one who minds travelling long distances in a car but when you travel fifty kilometres to get to a beach on which it is raining, I reach my limits. Especially when I have my first day at work ever the next day and Iḿ exhausted and under slept. This, too, shall pass, however. I have a kickass new workplace and am enjoying the learning experience. More soon.

Friendliest people on earth?

Admittedly, I have not been to many foreign countries. My travels are limited (those that I can actually recall) to the UAE and Malaysia and Australia and of course, my own country, Pakistan. In my short travelling span, I have come to the conclusion that Australia people are the friendliest you could possibly encounter.

Example 1: When you’re crossing the street, people in cars will randomly stop to let a whole bunch of pedestrians just cross. And not even on a shared zone where they have to, but on a regular street, 9 out of 10 people will stop their cars to let you cross first if you are a random pedestrian. For someone used to being nearly run over every time I cross a street in Pakistan, this is a jarring, but refreshing change.

Example 2: For my first big job interview, we took the public transport system in Brisbane for the first time. Having left, several hours earlier than required (better safe than late), we were trying to navigate the complex bus system and arrive at our destination. This consisted of asking every second bus driver is his was the bus we should go and an apologetic prelude of “We’re new to this city, so we’re not really familiar with the bus system here yet”. When we found the right bus, the driver waves us on, and told us he would break our large currency note later with the appropriate fare when we would get off. After a long drive to the city (Fare AU$ 5 for each of us), we finally recognized the name of our stop and stepped forward to pay and exit the bus. The bus driver ignored our attempts to give him our money and instead gave us a smile and waved us out, saying “Don’t worry about it, have a good day!”. Stunned (in a good way), we profusely thanked him for his guidance and general niceness and got off.

Example 3: We were making a long, grueling journey by train from Sydney to Brisbane. Lugging around nearly 80 kilos of luggage and staying up all night because the train motion wouldn’t allow us to sleep comfortably was taking its toll. In the seat across from us, a New Zealander man was chatting with random people seated around him about where they were from and general things about their lives. He finally got around to us and struck up a conversation. Pleased to find someone interested in Pakistan, we told him a great deal about life in Pakistan and what the place is like, a good deal of which greatly surprised him, being so different to what he was used to in Australia. After three hours or so of chatting, we finally stopped and said goodbye and good luck to each other as our station neared. When the train stopped, my husband ran forward to secure our luggage stored at the back of the carriage, while I accumulated our bags and hand-held items at our seats. A presumably Australian lady seated just behind us, who we had not noticed through the 14 hours journey smiled at me when I stood up and said “I wish you the best of luck for your new life here in Australia!” and exited just ahead of us, giving us a goodbye wave as we parted ways outside the train.

Example 4: You know when you’re at a supermarket, or any store, and you are having your items checked out and preparing to pay for them? My typical experience in shops or all sizes was sullen silence from the cashier and only a brisk statement of the total amount and handing me the change without further comment. Turns out in Australia, they consider that sort of behavior highly rude. every single customer receives a warm and cheery “Good morning/Afternoon/evening, how are you today?” or a “Hullow there, how are you doing today?” sort of greeting. The checkout session ends with a cheery “You have a great day, dear” or “Have a lovely evening!” sort of farewell. Every single time. And when you ask someone stacking boxes or otherwise busy with some task in a gigantic supermarket for help, they’ll drop what they’re doing, and tell you which aisle you should find your item in and always ask you if you need them to help you find it. If you should say yes, they’ll promptly escort you to the exact item places on said aisle and make sure you don’t need anything else before they tell you to have a great day.

Just a few examples of the random coolness of Australian people. And bear in mind that we were armed with stories of hostility and racism against brown people in general and Muslims in particular, but nobody here seems to care about the color of your skin, just the warm friendliness they can offer you.

Australian Immigration

Okay, so it turns out I’ve recently been advising a lot of friends, relatives and even random acquaintances about requirements and their chances for Australian immigration. Since we have, so far, been one of the extremely lucky ones, having two people both with chances at applying for a Permanent Residency, and getting it, and landing a job that not only pays quite well, but has the exact annual pay that meets the requirements for company sponsorship.

So, for starters, for anyone interested in Australian immigration, let me advise you that it’s tough. The first thing you need to know about is PR. PR stands for Permanent Residency and it basically means that you are now authorized to permanently reside within Australia without having any sponsored job or a study visa. This is the golden ticket which you will be aspiring to reach if you should stat this arduous process.

The next keyword is the SOL (Skilled Occupations List). This list can be your best friend and your worst enemy. The occupations on this list mean that if you should be one of them, you get an automatic number of points in the Aussie point system for PR. You can imagine that if you are, say a Taxation Accountant (60 points), it’s great news for you, because you only need forty more points to qualify. If you’re not on the list, long term there’s  not going to be much in it for you to come here and work or study, you won’t be able to quality very easily for PR.

Apart from this, let’s talk options for getting you onshore. Say your profession is actually on the list, which is great, but it may not be for long, so you’ll have to take action fast. The quicker you can apply for PR, the better your chances of your occupation still being on the SOL.

The first route to getting onshore is obviously the job route. Ideal situation would indicate that one could, sitting in their own country, apply for a job and get someone interested and get a work sponsorship visa based on this interest. The reality is that jobs are not easy to come by, not even the really low paying ones, and if you’re a well educated person, (bachelors or above) you’re probably overqualified for lower paying jobs anyway. What you need is essentially:

  • A job offer
  • The company should be willing to sponsor you for a work visa
  • The company should be offering you a package of AU$ 47,000 a year minimum.

The chances of getting that offshore is not good at all, so you need to be onshore. Now one, risky, way is to get a vacation, collect your savings and get a visit visa and go camp out in Australia and apply as hard as you can for a good job before the time limit is up. However, you need some stability and some time to find a good job. The chances that you can find a job in a month or so are not too great. In addition, the chances that this employer will pay you enough to make you eligible for sponsorship work visas is limited. Additionally, further decreasing your chances, employers will rarely bother to get into your case if they know you are here on a limited visa (as they would have to file sponsorship proceedings and wait a few months for them to get through to actually start using you). Unless you’re someone in a technical position and some specialist skills or 10 years of higher management experience, the chances that a company will risk it all for you and wait for you is pretty low.

The second option, the one I used, was studies. If you have a decent four year bachelors, you can apply for a one to two year masters program that will assist you in getting PR. It’s the more costly route as your visa depends on your payment of your fees and enrollment so you need to continue paying a good 15,000 dollars a year (or more) just in buying your reason to be in Australia. Pricey, yes, and on a student visa, an additional caveat is that you can only legally work 20 hours a week, no more. The best way to do it is to get a well qualified spouse on board. One spouse can get the study visa, while the other spouse (on a spouse visa) can work unrestrictedly and earn a full time income. This offsets the costs of tuition and living expenses by a steady income. However, initially to find a job, you may need to use up a large part of your savings, so this is still a bit of a risk and very pricey as an option but if you’re on the SOL, it may be your best shot.

So anyway, that’s the basics thus far. For detailed checking into the situation and what you can make for yourselves out of it, I would recommend visiting a good consultant. We used Auspak for our educational needs. For professional based services, you’ll have to find your own as I don’t know any to recommend. Also, check out and keep an eye on the Australian Immigration site for changes and updates on the PR policies and requirements.

Good luck and G’day!

Foreigners

Don’t you just hate it when you make courteous and friendly overtures to someone just to have them rebuffed by aloof and cold responses, most of them borderline rude?

A little context: we moved into a shared housing arrangement a few months ago. Our biggest worry was, in fact, what kind of housemates would be we get? There are traditionally four rooms in an apartment, two of which can be used by a couple, which meant that at full capacity, we would have 3-4 others living with us in different rooms and sharing the facilities.

Now once we moved in, our fears were alleviated. We met a young man, studious and athletic, originally from South Africa. He was the friendly type that gets along with everyone and mostly spent his time out playing sports or at home quietly studying or taking in a movie on weekends.

We then met a bubbly young girl from a nearby town, who was extremely excited at having another girl in the place, surrounded as she was by two boys at the moment. Turns out, she was extremely chatty, had late shifts and enjoyed quiet times watching some TV shows on her laptop and cooking or cleaning on the side as a diversion. So far, so good.

The last flatmate was another young man, coincidentally at the same university as my husband. He was also Egyptian, and of the same religion, hence in theory much closer in relatablity to a Pakistani couple. However, as it turned out, the guy is an ass. He tends to hang out with his noisy friends all the time, not take his studies seriously, share his passkey to our flat with random friends, allowing them to enter our housing unit at random times of the night and goes away on vacation to his home country a good bit, allowing random friends to use his room while he is away. While we enjoy thoroughly the periods in which he is away (the place is so much quieter and less filled with random people milling about or coming in at will for no apparent reason) but when he finally came back, we decided to thaw out and give him another chance. Surely a fellow brown brother couldn’t be all bad? And if we can get along with a South African and an Australian, how could we not relate to an Egyptian guy? Turns out he’s still the same. And he’s back.

To summarize, we can’t wait till our lease is up at the end of the year and we can go back to living alone.