Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Seppia » Mon May 28, 2018 4:07 pm

I did an H1b visa twice and both times it was exactly as Jacob described.

With American LEOs in general:

- don’t make jokes/play smartass
- make sure you don’t make jokes / play smartass
- really, don’t make jokes nor be a smartass
- look at them in the eyes
- give short, to the point answers

You’re good to go.

This is really the same approach you need to have when at CBP (a process which I’ve gone through around 100 times for work) when entering the states.
Example of a successful interview

you Hello Sir
Leo Hello, what is the purpose of your trip?
You I’m here to do business
Leo What kind of business?
You I work for an Italian company selling foodstuff to American importers and retail chains
Leo What kind of food?
You Pasta
Leo What’s the name of the pasta you sell
You De Cecco
Leo Oh, De Cecco pasta, I know that
You It’s a great pasta
Leo Where are you staying?
You Hyatt Grand Central
Leo How many days are you staying in the country?
You I’m flying back in around two weeks, on June 10th.
Leo Four fingers right hand on the scanner
Leo right thumb on the scanner
Leo please stand closed for a picture
Leo Have a good day
You You too sir thanks a lot


Don’t divert from the questions, don’t speak too long, be simple, clear and to the point

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Thu May 31, 2018 9:03 am

Thank you guys for calming my nerves on the whole interview thing - I'll prepare to put up a boring and trustworthy appearance and hopefully get all my stamps! Still waiting for some forms to arrive by my Host Uni, this is taking way longer than anticipated, and I fear with all the visa application procedure I might not make my intended starting date of July 1st. It's not dramatic if I miss it, just another delay due to inefficient paper pushing, when I'd rather be doing experiments. And I'd really like to experience July 4th in America ;)

Scientifically, preparations are going well. I'm assembling a large sample library that will serve as raw material to set up the method and as samples for the actual measurements. Important to secure all documentation and have plenty of raw material - already thinking about the publication here. I have some other, unrelated projects, which I'll either hand off to (hopefully) capable colleagues or hibernate for my time in the US. Time will tell which projects I can finish till my dissertation in summer 2019. One thing is for sure: I have no shortage of ideas to pursue, just not enough hours in the day to work through everything on the bench!

In other news, my grant application was officially accepted on a full budget, meaning I get some research funding plus 23k $ / 6 months in "living expenses" - should prove more than enough to survive in America. My goal is to spend less than half of that and pocket the rest (I don't need to show what I spent on living, as they assume "normal" expense levels).
jacob wrote:
Mon May 28, 2018 1:11 pm
More importantly than watching the natives will be to gain a new perspective on your own country/culture from the outside looking in.
Indeed. While backpacking all over Europe and Southeast Asia, I never experienced culture shock per se; perhaps this is me being generally open and non-judgemental and also excited to discover new mentalities. However, upon returning home, I could not help being overwhelmed by the utter "Germaness" of the Germans (or the "Swissness" of the Swiss). All the annoying habits and unwritten scripts are called into question by contrasting with a different culture.

@Seppia: Bringing De Cecco pasta to the people and staying in the Hyatt Grand Central. You are living the dream ;)
@Jacob: Let's agree to disagree about the best design for a can opener

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Fri Jun 08, 2018 9:48 am

Scored a cheap flight from Europe to Cincinnati (388$). However, it takes 23h in total, with a long layover in Reykjavik, and it's executed by discounter airline Easyjet, so I'm prepared for pain! Ideal opportunity for an exercise in suffering! (Hella stoic!) No, I'm actually fine with long transits as long as I have a good book and don't need to buy airport food...

Preliminary packing List
I’ve been thinking what to bring on my 6-month exchange to the USA, keeping in mind that I am there for summer, fall and winter in a seasonal climate in the Midwest and I am making zero trips back home to exchange inventory. The goal here is to not take too much, yet I also avoid having to re-buy things that I would have at home (waste!). Due to airline restrictions, I am limited to 15 kg in the check-in baggage – but I can move some to the carry-on, or wear some of the heavier items for the flight. I am staying in a shared house with a furnished room and equipped kitchen (remains to be seen what exactly that means in the States).

Check-in (suitcase, 15kg max)
• Underwear and socks (two week’s worth, plus 3 pairs of woolen ski socks)
• Gym/cozy clothes, thermal underwear, tights
• Undershirts/Long sleeves (wear under T-shirts in winter)
• Short sleeve shirts
• Blouse/Flannel shirts
• Hoodie, warm sweater, blazer
• Pants + Shorts, two belts (hip, waist)
• Dresses
• Swimsuit
• Winter Longcoat, Softshell, Rainjacket
• 2 outfits for formal occasions
• Sandals/Sneakers/ dress shoes/ hiking boots (winter)
• Winter gloves, hat, scarf
• Shampoo bar, hairbrush
• For travel: toothbrush/toothpaste, deodorant, makeup
• Mooncup, safety razor (take razorblade out?)
• Prescription medicine (bring doctors note!)
• First aid kit
• Utility knife, REX potato peeler
• Travel towel
• Cotton shopping bag
• Indoor sleeping bag (?)
• Lab coat + shoes, badge lanyard
• External hard drive with data and libraries, scans of all paperwork
• Some jewelry, photographs
• Chocolate to bribe everyone into liking me

Carry-on (in day backpack, 10 kg max)
• Wallet, $300 in cash (ask for small bills), credit and debit cards
• Document folder (passport, visa documents, travel itinerary, plane tickets, student card, address list, Uni paperwork…)
• Sunglasses/extra eye glasses
• Cellphone with charger, powerbank, mp3 player, headphones
• 1 book (which one will it be?)
• 1 change of clothes if they lose my suitcase
• Science notebook, personal journal
• Pen, graphic pencil, marker
• World Outlet adapter
• Drinking bottle, snacks (dry fruit, crackers, nut mix)

Things to possibly get/swap there: bicycle?, clothes line, shoewax/shoestrings, soap, loofa sponge, more towels?, scissors, glue, tape, coffee mug, lunch box/containers, laundry detergent, laptop, books (swap/library)

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Kriegsspiel » Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:42 pm

I like Cincinnati, a lot of that area is very European (especially right across the river in Kentucky).

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by jacob » Fri Jun 08, 2018 1:29 pm ... itcas.html --- is exactly what I brought for what was initially going to be a 3 year stay in the US. I think I had a higher weight limit than 15kg .. in fact I'm sure of it. I don't even think my vastly oversized suitcase is within the cargo limits anymore.

I was quite set on not buying much of anything beyond that. I had recently spent half a year moving a book collection from Switzerland to Denmark one backpack full at a time, so I swore not to repeat that mistake. That vow lasted almost a year. When DW and I moved together (after 6 months), all I brought was my suitcase and a small box of new acquisition. After that, I stupidly began to buy books.

Don't buy books!

Don't buy books!!

Don't buy books!!!

PS: Bring more cash if you can. When I arrived, I only brought about $150 or so (I forget, but it wasn't much). For my rental, I needed a $600 deposit, so I withdrew $500 from my old Swiss account and used my cash for the rest. Unbeknownst to me, there was a $500 monthly limit on my Swiss visa card for foreign transactions. I did not know that! This basically meant that I ran out of money completely about a week before my first pay day and thus had to eat rice and only rice for the final few days.

PPS: If you come to the meetup, we can probably donate some cups, plates, ..., dish towel, and other annoying "essentials" to you. You could also try to see if the in your destination city is any good. Most households have way more of this stuff than they want and are generally happy to give some away.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Seppia » Fri Jun 08, 2018 2:35 pm

Kriegsspiel wrote:
Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:42 pm
I like Cincinnati, a lot of that area is very European (especially right across the river in Kentucky).
Funny you say that, my experience has been the opposite.

The only two good things I can say about Cincinnati are:
1- it's very close to the bourbon trail.
2- I met Kerry King in a bar there (I may still have the pic somewhere).

I had to go there many times (Kroger is headquartered there) and always found it to be one of the least interesting large cities in the USA.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Kriegsspiel » Fri Jun 08, 2018 3:26 pm

It's really just pockets of architecture in that area. Areas of Covington, Over-The-Rhine, Mt. Adams, some of East Walnut Hills all made me think of Germany. Most of Cincinnati was built by German immigrants (they have a really big Oktoberfest there too), and has one of the largest historic districts in America.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Seppia » Fri Jun 08, 2018 4:02 pm

See why I love this place? Learn something new every day.
Thanks bud for the info, I'll look for those areas next time I'm there.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Kriegsspiel » Fri Jun 08, 2018 6:46 pm

On a tour of the Rhinegeist brewery, I found out that when they started up, they got all the brewing equipment second hand from Germany. They bought two warehouses in OTR and knocked out the wall separating them to put in their brewery. Granola Shotgun has a post with pictures of it here.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Chris » Fri Jun 08, 2018 11:17 pm

Haha, no, you won't find a REX potato peeler in your furnished US kitchen, unless the furnisher paid a visit to the best salesmen in the world.

You might consider also backing up your data in the cloud before leaving, in case your bag is lost.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Sun Jun 10, 2018 3:10 pm

Thank y'all for your input!

My packing list was in fact loosely based on the Blog's suitcase list - I conciously decided to ditch the pressure cooker. My duromatic is ancient, and has both the constitution and weight of a small tank. It still works great, I just change the rubber ring every 5-7 years. I found this nostalgic ad from the 80ies (the ad says "For a cute couple, that wants to get married" Because, as the holy matrimony, Kuhn-Rikon is for life!). However, judging from the design of the spring-loaded pressure valve and classic bayonet lock mechanism, my model is even older, as it looks like the original design of the Duromatic from the 50ties. What a great invention!

I'm serious about breaking my book-buying habit too. Getting rid of much of my collection over the last few months has been really eye-opening. I've moved many times within my city over the past years; every time the pile of book-boxes has gotten bigger. I used to have an organizing system, but I stopped when I went over ~1200 books. Mind you, I did not buy all of these, I had some given to me or picked them up on streetcorners. I just can't see a good book getting thrown out. There is also something very interllectually narcissistic about having a home library: look at me, I'm so well-read, I have smart books and thoughtfull books, so I must be an interesting person. Perhaps coming from a poor, low-educated background really made me want to apperar clever via my book collection. With my PhD defense nearing, I realized that a big move is in the future for my postdoc, there is no way I'm renting a container to move hundres of books over the Atlantic! I've now come to accept my posession of books as temporary - I read them, enjoy for a time and then pass them on. Also I have that romantic ideal of having few posessions - not in a Internet-Minimalist "look I only have 101 things"-sort of way, but in the spirit of letting go of material symbols. If I'm not going to re-read in the next few months, keeping a book around is really just for showing off. If I really absorbed the knowledge, and can discuss it intelligently, I don't need to have it displayed on my shelf for impression's sake. Incidentally, the last book I bought with money was the ERE book last November. I might gift it to a co-worker who might be open to the topic.

I read good things about Cincinnati and it's cultural heritage, history of parks and German anchestry. It seems pretty nice, but then again every city is showing it's best side on the internet ;) Importantly, all seems pretty walkable to me (I've heard some horror stories about other cities). My room is a 10 min stroll trough a park away from the lab, and it's a 30 min jog to famous Over-the-Rhine area and the riverside walk. Pretty pumped to visit Spring Grove cemetery (it's a landmark project in the history of park architecture and a major inspiration for NY Central Park). Let's see how the German architecture, beer and Oktoberfest withstand my critical inspection... :D

The REX peeler really is the best! I grew up with it and was horrified to learn other countries use inferior peelers or *shock* a knife to cut away globs of potato along with the skin. Seeing that it's light and handy, I will take mine along then. As the greatest salesman said: "They are made in Switzerland, they are not made in China!" Apart from that, I'm sure I can pick up some more kitchen supplies if the need arises - it's not like there's any scarcity of that stuff!

Data Backup: Good point Chris, I wouldn't want some underpaid airport help loosing the labor of my last 5 years ;) My data is also backed up on our lab server (which I can access via VPN), a mirror in a separate locaton and an additional harddrive at home (should any place burn down or become inaccessible). I'm somewhat sceptical of free cloud services like Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud, and only use them for "unimportant" stuff, certainly not sensitive data or personal documents. Although there would only be like 5 people in the world interested in stealing my scientific data anyway, and without the (paper) lab journals it's hard to make any sense of it.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:15 am

I recently read How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life (2012) by Robert and Edward Skidelsky and was surprised to not find it mentioned anywhere on the forums. So here’s a brief summary and some thoughts:

In this book, economic historian Robert Skidelsky and his son, philosopher Edward Skidelsky team up in an effort of reconsolidating economics and humanist philosophy. Robert Skidelsky is known for his lavish work on economist John Maynard Keynes (who is pretty well known around this forum). Keynes postulated in 1930 that based on growing output, industrialization and efficiency, people in 100 years’ time would only have to work 10h/week or less, and would finally find the free time to answer their true creative callings (Essay: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren). Capitalism is seen as the temporary means to an end of providing for all our needs. Edward Skidelsky’s previous work revolves around the question what the good life is and what circumstances and means are required for it.

Looking at today’s work week in developed countries, it is obvious that Keynes’ prediction has not come true. Despite technology making us more efficient than ever, we work almost similar hours as 80 years ago, people with high education even more so. We lead stressed lives that revolve around money, consumption and financial decisions. While the authors still see capitalism as the key to the good life, they assert we (and politics) have not made it a priority over the last years. Growth for growth’s sake both on the societal and political level is not only pointless but also harms our long-term happiness and the environment.
While dealing with similar themes as JLF, the Skidelskys take a more macro view and carry certain philosophical threads farther. If you think of the ERE book as “why and how can YOU do this”, How much is enough? is more about “why and how can the whole economy do this”. The book is written in clear and accessible language, lays out the macroeconomic data in easy-to-understand graphs and surveys the central problem from multiple angles, including societal, individual, political, economic and ecological. There are chapters dealing with the historical questions how we got this way, with what to do with all that potential free time and examining what the good life and being happy actually entails. Many ideas run in parallel to the ERE book: utilizing social capital and resources instead of money, letting go of “keeping up with the Jones’”, free time doesn’t mean you’re doing nothing, but following your passions, problems with the education system, consumer culture and insatiability, the satisfaction of doing things yourself, the growing wage/wealth gap, and they discuss having a 5h work week vs working 100% for a few years to retire early. Our economy that endlessly produces gadgets and fuels desires has led us to forget about our basic human needs. Politics focus is shifted from providing a good life to all citizens to increase the BIP. People have become proud workaholics, and don’t even know what to do with themselves in their time off. Will this change in the future, or will we consume ourselves out of our own insatiability? As a solution, the authors offer that society has to curb its insatiability for more and that politics should introduce a form of basic income.

I enjoyed learning about Keynesian economics (which I was previously not familiar with) and the philosophy of the good life. I think How much is enough? will be of interest to anyone thinking about the bigger picture of FI and compliments the ERE book well. If you worry about what would happen to the economy if everyone ERE’d, read this book – this future may not look as gloomy as you think!

EDIT: Here's an RSA interview with the authors summarizing the main points.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by ira_kart » Wed Jun 13, 2018 3:49 am

Astra wrote:
Mon May 28, 2018 4:21 am
Interview techniques
Is this backed up by experimentation? ... ing_deceit

Hope you get convinced after reading this small entry in Wiki. Please do not try to be making jokes/clever/sarcastic. You know most authorities like their "power" and want to feel that way when dealing with commoners like us. If they feel they/something they represent are made fun of, it will not make a good impression. Having said that, all these Visa officers show their "make someone feel good" of their American roots (more like the peach Vs coconut - American Vs European comparison) on first contact but you know due to some pressure either at their home on that morning/on the way to office/at office, we may turn out to be their vent.

Whatever Seppia shared in bullet points about these interviews are to be sculpted on stone :). Make visual eye contact, respond to the point (nothing less and nothing more -important stuff to follow) and smile and voila you will make it in no time. Good luck and share your experience. I used to include "Sir/Madam" while addressing them during the interview as a mark of respect to their authority, not sure about others, but I do the same when dealing with any authority in general, may be due to my Indian-ness and following the Old school tradition.

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