“Black students are about half as likely as white students to be put on a ‘gifted’ track — even when they have comparable test scores.” And then they tell the black people to try harder.

Mac App Deals for Students

"If you are a student, then this page is for you!! Many developers offer their apps at a discount to current students. Unless indicated, these discounts are ongoing and don’t expire. Most require some type of proof that you are in fact a student."

Aside from the student discount you get for Apple products during the back to school sale, several app developers also offer either ongoing or time-limited discounts for students. So as long as you have an .edu email ID, you can avail of these discounts which can be quite significant.

[Link to Mac App Deals for Students]

Away and Not Alone

Tehelka’s special issue on Youth & the Internet – Adventures in netistan has published a short article written by yours truly after much prodding from Shivam. I am quoted by my real name and this blog is not mentioned in the credits (DesiPundit is). I’m glad that the article is largely unedited although the title and excerpt is Shivams’ (or the editor). I see articles by other noted bloggers like Dina Mehta, Neha Viswanathan, Rashmi Bansal, etc.

The article is quoted in full below:

Pankaj Udhas is a disappointed man today. His evergreen hit, Chithhi Aaye Hai Watan Se, doesn’t evoke the same response in the diaspora audience as it did a few years ago. Long before Thomas Friedman discovered that the world was flat, it was already shrinking rapidly — so much so that you can be an Indian in every sense of the word even when miles away from the homeland. More than 65,000 students leave Indian shores every year to pursue higher education in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. In slang, they are often referred to as ‘FOBs’ (Fresh Off the Boat) — a term reminiscent of an era when people left their homes and loved ones only to see them again after years of disconnect and pent-up nostalgia. A reading of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri will give you precious insights into an era untouched by the magic of the Internet. Yes, I call it magic because not too long ago it was almost unconceivable to even think of the many things that it manages to achieve today.

As Peter DeVries once delightfully said, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” It all started in the late 1980s and early 90s, when the price of an international telephone call dropped from tens of dollars to mere cents. Sons, whose doting mothers had reluctantly sent them away, could finally dutifully write down favourite recipes and make their own mess in the kitchen. If you can afford it, you might fly down almost every year to join your family at the dinner table, but most ‘PIGS’ (Poor Indian Graduate Students) like me rely on the limitless opportunities the Internet affords us to keep in touch with our roots — apart from home-cooked food, of course.

E-mail made letter writing obsolete, but we wanted more speed. Apart from calling home every week using a pin number you buy off the many international calling websites, the other favourite is the chat window. Visit any university computer lab, and you’ll see plenty of desi students hunched over the keyboard typing furiously, often to three or more people at the same time. Humble chat applications like MSN or Yahoo have evolved dramatically from being mere text windows to now being platforms for voice and video. Skypecast lets you indulge in random online conversations as you would at your college canteen via Skype, a VOIP-enabled chat service. Some folks in India set up a ‘livecast’, offering audio commentary for the Indian matches in this year’s World Cup and were joined by Indians from across the world, participating in online banter that you would only hear in living rooms. It was a much better alternative to refreshing your browser window every couple of minutes to check the latest score.

For the nostalgia addict, there is no better destination than YouTube, the online video sharing site. Within its extensive reserves, YouTube has something for everyone; from NFDC animated shorts (remember Ek Chidiya Anek Chidiya?) to the latest remix videos that get the moral police all riled up, to the now-seemingly-distant (I know, it hurts) clips of Sachin blasting Warne all over the park.

Youth outside India can be just as connected to daily happenings in the country as their peers back home. Every non-resident Indian has a favourite news portal that they read with their morning coffee and, what’s more, they even have regional language options. If they wish to rant about certain events in the country or wish to share hopeful news of the booming economy, they post their thoughts on their personal blogs.

Blogging has proven to be a far superior ‘connector’ than any national integration public service advertisement. Mile Sur Mera Tumhara has been replaced with Mile Opinions Hamare Tumhare; sometimes, they don’t, leading to what bloggers call flame-wars. But the explosion of the blog phenomenon has exposed today’s otherwise cloistered youth to a multitude of opinions. They can read and discuss topics of social, economic, and political importance or simply talk about their favourite movies and music.

For the fans of quick communication and Post-It notes, we have an Orkut generation which believes in ‘scrapping’ away to glory. Although sms-ese can be incomprehensible at times, Orkut is a virtual 24/7 school or college hangout where you run into and reconnect with long-lost friends and classmates. I know of many non-resident students who use Orkut to catch up on the latest happenings in the lives of their friends and to interact with them through its virtual communities.

As with all things, even the moon, there is a dark side too. The Internet has made staying in touch with your family, friends, and events in your country so much easier that you’re reluctant to step out and experience the new world that you live in. If you live and work on Devon Avenue (otherwise known as Gandhi or Jinnah Marg depending on the nationality of your neighbours) in Chicago, you can easily go for days without seeing a non-South Asian. Indians sometimes are just as reluctant as any other ghettoised immigrant group to step outside their comfort zone of familiar faces. This often leads to a sequestering of values and feeling trapped in a time warp unchanged from the day they stepped onto the new shores.

The Internet is a wonderful place and offers endless opportunities for individuals to connect with the rest of the world. So why restrict yourself to the boundaries of your geographic region? Step out and explore. You might just experience something that you might want to write about on your blog.

Can H1-B and F1 visa holders earn money online?

There are plenty of students and working professionals who are in the United States on an H1-B or F1 visa respectively. As in our recently concluded survey on DesiPundit, we noticed that many such individuals follows blogs closely and are also bloggers themselves. Chances are that they have chosen to monetize their blog either through Adsense or other advertising channels. The question, asked by Confused early Saturday morning was whether such income earned through blogs was legitimate and allowed under our visa status.

He sent me this link that explored the question of earning money via Adsense while being on a H1-B visa. The post cited well-known immigration attorney Shiela Murthy in the context of the 1099 tax form that you get for your Adsense or other online earnings:

A person on an H1B is not allowed to work on a 1099 at all. One who is on an EAD is allowed to work as an independent contractor if s/he is the I-485 dependent on the EAD and not the principal applicant for the Green Card, to be on the safe side. If the total time working was less than 180 days, there is possible hope to obtain the I-485 in the U.S. Otherwise, it adds complications and will not generally allow the person to obtain an approval of the I-485 from within the U.S. You should consult an immigration attorney to discuss this issue since it could have serious consequences.

So basically, if you are on a H1-B visa, you are authorized to work for only one those employers that sponsor your visa. You cannot be self-employed and earn additional income and doing so will render you out-of-status. Note that the I-485 mentioned above is a preliminary step in your Green Card processing. So what about F1 students? I did some digging around since that would directly affect a lot of students that blog and monetize their blogs. One respondent on an immigration visa forum said the following in response to 1099-related question for F1 visa holders:

An F1 visa does not allow you to take off campus employment anywhere or anytime you want. You can only take employment under specific circumstances, such as through OPT or CPT and there are hardship provisions too. But generally, an F1 student cannot simply go out and find employment. This is illegal. I would encourage you not to do this because it is a violation of your status.

That a student cannot work off-campus [during semesters] is common knowledge but is your blog earnings also off-campus? Well, technically it is since you are getting paid as a consultant by another company e.g. Google, Text Link Ads, Yahoo, etc. You can only earn money outside of your on-campus employment if you earn interest off your investments (movable and/or immovable) or savings. Visible Blog recommends another (risky) way by which you can register a company and hire someone at minimum wages to ‘run’ your blog. Your ‘company’ would earn money and you get a ‘passive’ income. However, as the blog rightly mentions, it is a risk. And you definitely don’t want to do that unless you are earning thousands everyday.

So what do you do? Should you yank off your monetizing avenues off your blog? If you hate any kind of risk then probably that is the best thing to do. However, the bureaucratic mess that the BCIS and IRS are, chances are that they never share information. Better still, if you earn less than $600 [per advertising program], you still have to report it. I’m sure most of us don’t earn that much. But if you do, you might want to either remove that option which I understand can be akin to killing the golden goose.

Finally, if you are earning $600 or less per advertising program, you might slip under the radar but understand that it is a risk and it might only be a problem if you are planning on applying for a Green Card later on. This is not legal advice and I don’t profess any deep knowledge on immigration law so if you know better, please feel free to discuss in the comments.

Facebook adds blogging features

I signed on to my Facebook profile [yup! I have one, like millions of other college students in the US] earlier today to see a new feature – Notes. Essentially, Notes are nothing but blogs on Facebook where you can share your thoughts with your ‘campus friends’ although they refuse to call them blogs “because then you’d be a blogger.” That weirdness aside, they allow you to import your existing blogs and syndicate the contents on your Facebook profile.

One nifty feature is that you can tag your friends if you talk about them in a post. That will send them a notification that they have been tagged in a “note”. Similarly, you can search for notes that have tagged you. Like other Facebook features, the privacy level is maintained. Marshall Kirkpatrick at Techcrunch was disappointed that they couldn’t embed a YouTube video or even a Javascript code. But I guess, I can live with that.

Right now, I may not syndicate this blog which is anonymous at least on the face of it and the link to my other “academic” blog is posted on my profile. I don’t use Facebook as much as some of my other friends do so any added features aren’t really helpful to me. But I am glad that Facebook is incorporating such interactive features. I prefer Facebook any day to the largely fake world of MySpace.

Walk English, Talk English, Teach English

As an urban legend goes, an American posted a question on an Australian/Sri Lankan tourism website if English was understood on the island. Pat came the reply, “Yup, but you will have to learn it first“. English is the most bastardized language with several dialects and accents. Even the originators of the language, the English, speak it differently in various parts of that little island north off Europe. NY Times recently reported on the presence of graduate teaching assistants whose command over English is left much to be desired leading to teeth-gnashing and muttered frustrations by exasperated undergraduates.

“Valerie Serrin still remembers vividly her anger and the feeling of helplessness. After getting a C on a lab report in an introductory chemistry course, she went to her teaching assistant to ask what she should have done for a better grade. The teaching assistant, a graduate student from China, possessed a finely honed mind. But he also had a heavy accent and a limited grasp of spoken English, so he could not explain to Ms. Serrin, a freshman at the time, what her report had lacked.

“He would just say, ‘It’s easy, it’s easy,’ ” said Ms. Serrin, who recently completed her junior year at the University of California, Berkeley. “But it wasn’t easy. He was brilliant, absolutely brilliant, but he couldn’t communicate in English.”

“Chances are that Valerie deserved a C since students from India and China tend to grade papers a bit on the tougher side and do not understand the concept of a grading curve in their first few months” (originally echoed by Abhi at Sepia Mutiny). Although I haven’t yet taught a class, plenty of my friends here teach undergraduate classes and labs. They make it clear in their first class that if anyone has a problem with their accent, they should inform them so that they can be more careful. Indians at least have a stronger grasp of the language than the Chinese and the problem is usually the accent or the rate of speech (we tend to speak faster). Most of the universities, however take adequate care that their teaching assistants are equipped with decent spoken English skills and recommend intensive ESL courses, if they are found lacking. Learning English isn’t all that hard. I have seen couple of my Chinese friends who didn’t speak English at all to speaking it almost fluently in couple of years. The secret is that graduate students who come to the US are hardworking people and generally brilliant people. They are conscious of their limitation and tend to work harder than people give them credit for.

If we can train our average youth in nuances of American-accented language for BPO purposes, I bet universities can do a better job. If Americans understand their computer helpdesk needs, they definitely will understand their biology lectures. I feel that everything lies in the attitude of the undergraduate students, if they are considerate enough to give credit that English is not widely spoken all over the world and willing to work even half as hard as their poor struggling graduate teaching assistant, then classes will not be that hard.

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