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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

So You've Decided To Die...

Per IBM Social Computing Guidelines: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions."

What happens when an IBM employee takes disability leave? Although there is some information regarding the process (which is accessible via the IBM intranet, i.e. the "w3") first-hand experience reveals that some subtleties of the process (and the way in which it unfolds) are not documented; one might suppose the reason for the discrepancy is a matter of exposure to the same (i.e. not that many IBM employees wind up on disability leave), though cost and evolution of business processes are probably also a factor.

Some things to note:
  • During the period of wage-replacement by IBM (typically the first six months and also referred to as the "elimination period") the company issues checks just as when an employee is on the payroll full-time (i.e. taxes are deducted and statements are sent)
  • Reimbursement is given for any "time-off" which has accrued when the employee's status changes to long-term disabled
  • If a delay occurs between the time when an employee's short-term disability period ends and an LTD benefit date is specified the health insurance in effect is the plan which would be applicable were the employee to return to work when short-term disability is exhausted; said plan is the plan under which claims are processed until an insurance option which applies to retirees and disabled employees is elected (a grace period of thirty days is afforded for an employee to make an election choice for long-term disability coverage; the period is counted from the time short-term disability ends)
  • The default health insurance option for long-term disabled employees was (as of January 2009) the IBM High Deductible PPO; other choices are available but must be elected
  • Any deductible and out-of-pocket totals which have accumulated before a change in status occurs (e.g. short-term disability to long-term disability) can be carried forward but an explicit request must be made (carry-forward does not occur by default)
  • Discounts and charitable deductions can still be accessed by disabled employees
  • Twelve months after the elimination period ends the definition of disabled is considered to be different (i.e. the definition changes from "one cannot perform the important duties of one's regular job with IBM because of a sickness or injury" to "one cannot perform the important duties of any other gainful occupation for which one is fit by education, training, or experience")
  • Requests for information from IBM HR, MetLife, and the Social Security Administration may require self-reported information for which no instructions are provided by IBM; such requests seem to only occur after the elimination period
Also, what happens when a manager initiates a separation action?
  • One's badge is relinquished (a badge is required for DHL shipping discounts)
  • Remote access (i.e. VPN access) to the w3 is restricted
  • Voluntary separation can occur under the auspices of an Individual Separation Allowance Plan whereby some period of severance and health-insurance continuity is offered
  • At Almaden Research Center the small conference room just astride the entrance (which is furnished with tables, chairs, and a phone) can serve as a forum in which one's manager and a representative from IBM HR attempt to execute IBM's involuntary separation process; attempting to call IBM HR to clarify process (e.g. with respect to pending disability paperwork) can result in security being called for assistance and the call not being completed
What happens when a separation action is attempted while short-term disability paperwork is pending?
  • IBM HR may be unable to answer any questions which specifically pertain to the circumstances
  • Items stored on Global Storage Architecture (GSA) space are subject to deletion and GSA's TSM retention policies (six months as of February 2008)
  • One's Bluepages record may become inaccessible
  • Requests for replacement badges (required for DHL shipping discounts) can be subjected to manager approval
  • Requests regarding restoration of GSA-based materials can be subjected to manager approval
  • ISAP agreement signatures may expire before a disability "return-to-work" date is established

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lawless Border Region or Federally-Administered Tribal Area? The World of "Enemy Combatants", "Militant Extremists", and "Terrorist Threats"...

Once upon a time it was fashionable to be a samurai on the internet: bushido was the only code one had to live by.  Honor was everything and corporations were held to the same standard as individuals.

Somewhere along the line things changed; the internet became ubiquitous and little more corporate.  Gone were the days of feeling like the internet was a well-worn sweatshirt or a portly uncle.  Although there are now billions of people online and zillions of profit motives there seems to be little attention paid to business "basics": no account "passports", no account security, no particular mindfulness of standards, no promise of satisfaction.  How it's possible that anyone could get away with suggesting that changing one's password regularly might yield some measure of security is beyond reason; how so many otherwise "technology-savvy" individuals could believe such a thing is beyond comprehension.

An introductory survey of fascism leads one to understand how rapid industrialization takes place.  Observing the growth of the internet from the late 90's until today offers a real-world lesson in a fascism of sorts and it's legacy can still be seen today: why are so many sites/start-ups/companies focused on growth at the expense of the experience offered?  Perhaps the fascism has given way to a kleptocracy: once upon a time being at the center of internet power was a function of being literate in code and knowledgeable of engineering arts; these days it seems that being part of the 1% is good enough.

Truth be told: were it not for getting the short end of a security stick over the last two years I would still assume that one can stay high and dry despite the existence of a cesspool.  My experience with a small set of companies (beginning in Fall 2010) is telling...


Amazon.com

As a customer since 1999 I had made a few purchases here and there (no more than 5-10 in any given year) and was always pleased with Amazon.com's customer service and vast catalog of products.  At one point I even had an Amazon.com credit card (which I closed for the sake of my credit score) and was able to get a pair of accounts merged as a courtesy.  When Amazon.com got into the MP3 business I used some Pepsi Rewards Points to download a Metallica album (take that Napster!); when cloud computing services became available I installed the command-line tools and created some machine images.  Although I never signed up for Amazon.com's "Prime" service (I don't make enough purchases to make such a decision cost-effective) I had always considered myself to be a model customer.

My Amazon.com account was closed in late September 2010.  As I would later learn such closure is not unheard of and has been known to occur when customers are suspected (though not necessarily proven) to have abused Amazon.com's returns policy.  In my particular case the basis for my account being closed was the account's security having been compromised: a Sony Playstation 3 was somehow ordered and shipped to my home.  Further review of the account history shows a number of gift cards being purchased (more on that under "Paypal") by one "johndavidbusiness@live.com".  I have since learned that such purchases are made for something known as "dropshipping" (using Amazon.com to engage in shipping fee arbitrage).

All of the same wouldn't necessarily be remarkable but the manner in which the events were brought to my attention and they way in which they were resolved is worth noting.  Although it may be hard to believe the actual account closure email message was somehow not delivered.  When the Playstation arrived it became clear that something was wrong but only later would I find out that $1560 worth of charges had been processed (I was not held responsible); discussions with Amazon.com Customer Service (via the listed customer service phone number) regarding the errant shipment resulted in my account being closed but it was only after a dozen or so email messages (to 'account-assist@amazon.com' and 'amazon-ecr@amazon.com', which is the only way to request assistance with security-related account issues) and a final direct plea to Jeff Bezos' office that my account was returned.  While I did my best to point out some of the issues which the incident broached (i.e. no notification of any change to Amazon.com account policies which would allow account seizure, a typo in Amazon.com's Conditions of Use help page, and no established account reinstatement process) I was lucky enough not to require use of my account for the year it took for the matter to be resolved.  The most curious aspect of the situation was that Amazon.com representatives stated that there was no way to transfer a community profile (i.e. reviews, Listmania Lists, etc.) or item ratings to a new account; even the $75 gift card which was sent was to me was not enough incentive to just forget the old account (I had my mom open her own account to make use of the card).  While Amazon.com customer service was able to offer me a copy of my order history and a transfer of my Wish List items and Amazon EC2 support was ready to provide directions for moving over my AMIs it turns out that there was (and possibly is) no way to recover the MP3 files which one has purchased when one's account is closed.

To me it's strange to think that these type of things (i.e. customers having their accounts closed for suspected drop-shipping activity) have been covered by the local news in Seattle or that an email to Jeff Bezos would be needed for resolution; after all, Amazon.com claims to be "the world's most customer-centric company" and (in my experience anyway) has always had a very friendly veneer.

eBay

Apparently I really like Playstation 3 because two of them were bought under my account in late September 2010; also, my name is Mohammed and I live in Ohio (according to the shipping details anyway).  Nevertheless, a 10-minute online chat with eBay resolved the issue with no out-of-pocket cost; there was no effect to my eBay profile (i.e. feedback) either, which was fortunate since I've garnered a positive score of more than 100 as a result of small transactions over the last ten years.

The thought occurred to me that, at this rate of Playstation accumulation, my weapons program will be ahead of Sadam's in no time...

PayPal

For the longest time my biggest gripe about PayPal was not that it wasn't GNUCash but rather that one had to upgrade one's account to "Premier"/"Business" in order to accept credit card payments; such a policy is understandable if one is processing many transactions... but is it reasonable for someone who gets the occasional payment funded via credit card by a new user/clueless friend/etc.?  A few years ago PayPal changed its policies so my decade-old gripe (which I not only had mentioned to company representatives on multiple occasions but even had a cousin submit in person when he interviewed for a job) became irrelevant.  Nothing more to consider, yeah?

As it turns out one's PayPal account can become a subject of one's consideration counter to one's will; discovering that a number of transactions have occurred (in the form of payments being sent to parties which are not known) means that one has officially descended into the seventh layer of hell.  OK, calling PayPal and getting the transactions marked as fraudulent was actually not that bad; getting a two-factor authorization key and then having to mark more (subsequent) transactions as fraudulent... still not *that* bad (in practice anyway - such an event sort of dispels any illusion one might have that, in theory, two-factor authentication is a panacea for all woes security-related).  Finding out that the PayPal Resolution Center web form doesn't play nice with Safari... annoying, but not catastrophic.  Realizing that PayPal can decide a dispute in some way other than in your favor and not provide you with a bit of information aside from an address where you can send a subpoena... irritating, but not a physical harm.  Taken together?  Perhaps Dante's Inferno is not altogether an inappropriate analogy for where I found myself in September 2010.

Looking into how one might handle such a situation I discovered that there are websites that advocate something like full-scale media war in order to get PayPal's attention; one such website ('F*ckPaypal.com', etc.) has a picture of George W. Bush flipping the reader the bird and lists a number of organizations (media outlets, Congressional representatives, etc.) that can be contacted on your behalf.

Rather than taking what I thought to be a drastic approach I decided to wait.  Ultimately my funds were returned (about six months after the initial transactions) and I sent a letter to PayPal detailing the situation which had occurred such that the algorithms used to identify unauthorized transactions can be reviewed to confirm that transactions are properly correlated (e.g. identifying that multiple large-sum payments to a single party in an account with sparse low-sum activity to varied parties might be suspect) and hopefully improved.  It seems odd that the funds were used to purchase Amazon.com gift cards (more on that under "Amazon.com") and later hosting, files ("Hotfiles" and "Rapidshare"), and small-denomination private-party transactions; why would anyone want to buy any of these things, let alone feel the need to steal the money for them?

Antecedent to the incident which occurred the only security problem I had ever had with PayPal was when my PayPal Plus MasterCard was blocked from making an exhaust purchase in 2007 "for my protection"; when I called to explain that (a) I had never agreed to such terms of service, (b) such terms were not explicitly part of the membership agreement in place when I signed up for an account, and (c) my preference is to opt-out of any such "protection" (as any freedom-loving American would) I was informed of the fact that this is PayPal's world, not mine (i.e. that one cannot opt-out of such "protection" and that accountability regarding changes to membership agreements is not something to which I can hold PayPal to account).  One later incident in which a payment for a flight lesson was similarly rejected has led me to rely on another credit card for purchases but I'm pretty sure PayPal is an eBay company and, as such, is headquartered (and governed) by American law; maybe one of my elected officials will ultimately become aware of the problem and help PayPal out.

Skype

Having lived in The United States of America for most of my life (sans the occasional holiday travel abroad) it takes quite a bit for me to think of a customer service experience as having set a new low in customer relations; somehow Skype lowered the bar.

The five or so chats with Skype customer service which took place before I could even get to the point where someone understood what I was asking was like talking to Luna Lovegood (from the Harry Potter movies)... only with her having suffered a full-frontal lobotomy and with a severe case of amnesia.  When I got stuck I tried posting to 'getSatisfaction.com' as I had read that others had gotten results by way of Skype employees who were monitoring the forum... though I had no such luck (the site has since been closed).  Getting my account back was a relief in some sense as one's ID is linked to an account and can't be re-used under a new account.

A few additional chats resulted in the payments which had been made being reversed but it's not clear why someone would need to use my Skype account to make unauthorized calls to Egypt in October 2010 (fomenting revolution perhaps?); as John Chambers said over ten years ago "bandwidth is free" (long-distance phone calls are correspondingly cheap and have been so for quite some time)... apparently whoever used my account didn't get the memo.  While it's annoying that there was no offer to clean the call history as a result of the unauthorized activity it was nice to not ultimately have to quit using Skype (though at this point Google Voice seems more compelling on a cost basis).


...It's foreboding (and scary) to think that an organization like TRUSTe (with whom I interviewed in late 2010) has become a for-profit business.  What hope do we have of seeing sites/start-ups/companies become compliant with a more well-reasoned set of standards, practices, policies, and procedures?

Although there are some aspects of internet security which have been a joke for as long as can be remembered (e.g. arbitrary session timeouts, junk email, CAPTCHA, etc.) I've always found that such things can be safely ignored: some researchers can't get past security pork and the public is always an object of abuse... but we still go on living.  It's too bad that things get more complicated when there's money involved and it seems pretty obvious that culture has a large part to play in what becomes of that which has captivated and charmed so many: the internet experience.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

What's In A Name?

Why might someone want to change their Google ID (or even create a second ID)? In my case the answer was "vanity": I realized that as other service providers, such as Meebo, connect to Google services that my ID would be exposed as 'rishi.chopra' rather than as 'idfubar' (which is the ID that I specify whenever I sign-up for services which require specification of nickname).

What's a legitimate reason for wanting to change one's ID?  One of my colleagues at IBM a number of years ago decided to change her ID due to a change in last name (as a result of divorce); I recall that her effort was successful but that it took a bit of effort (Tivoli Access Manager was not in use by our group at the time and wasn't yet available via the Technology Adoption Program).

How does one go about making sure that one's data isn't lost in the process of changing one's ID?  Many Google Services offer a means of exporting data by way of a "Settings" menu; some applications, however, require a little more effort.  A list of applications & things to think about (as of the date of this blog post) are as follows; items with a '?' are ones for which I haven't explored the import/export capacity (and, in most cases, the service itself):

AdWords: Data Liberation Blog
Alerts: export is built-in (import doesn't seem to be available)
App Engine: ?
Apps For Business: ?
Analytics: ?
Base: ?
Blogger: blog posts & comments can be imported/exported; blogs themselves should have their ownership shared and authority granted/revoked appropriately
Bookmarks: import/export is built-in (lists should be re-shared with the new ID)
Books: bookshelves and books should be re-created manually
Calendar: import/export is built-in (shared calendars should be re-shared with the new ID)
Checkout: purchase history can be saved manually (import doesn't seem to be available)
Code: favorites list should be re-starred
Contacts: import/export is built-in
Chrome Bookmarks: ?
Docs: import/export is built-in (docs should be re-shared with the new ID)
Finance: import/export is built-in
Gmail: mail can be imported via POP3
Google Friend Connect: script code should be re-generated and copied
Google Storage for Developers:
Groups: new ID should be added to groups for which one is a member and given authority for groups for which one is an owner/co-owner
Health: records should be shared and/or re-imported from linked sources
iGoogle: import/export is built-in
Lattitude: service (and associated services, e.g. Google Location History, Google Location Alerts, Public Location Badge, and Google Talk Location Status) should be re-enabled
Knol: ?
Maps: ?
Mobile: ? (NOTE: HTC G1 reset will result in a prompt for an ID)
News: personalizations should be re-applied
Notebook: export (to Google Docs & HTML) is built-in (no import is available, i.e. copy/paste is required)
Orkut: export (to CSV) is built-in (no import is available, i.e. contacts must be re-added)
Page Creator: pages were migrated to Google Sites automatically
Picasa Web Albums: import/export is built-in to Picasa
Places: ?
Profiles: items should be re-specified
Project Hosting: ?
Reader: import/export (to OPML) is built-in
Scholar: preferences should be re-specified
Sites: no import/export is available (copy/paste is required)
Sketch-up: ?
Squared: export (to CSV or Google Spreadsheets) is built-in; links can also be saved via the "Share" button
Subscribed Links: import/export (to XML) is built-in; buttons and published links should be revised
Talk: chat status should be re-specified
Voice: no import/export is available
Videos: ?
Wave: Google Wave Blog
Web History: history can be accessed via RSS (http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=54464)
Webmaster Tools: sites should be re-specified
YouTube: ? (YouTube and Google accounts can be linked)

When should one think twice about changing one's ID?  If the following bugs/problems haven't yet been addressed or are of particular concern then one should hesitate before making a change:

Gmail: chats transcripts must be forwarded separately using a filter
Calendar: exporting calendars results in events which are set to 'private' if 'default' was the initial setting; also, creating calendars with the same name and then importing can result in strange behavior
Profiles: an alternate email address can only be associated with one given Google account (help forum profiles also seem to be linked to a given account)

Where might an extra Google account come in handy?  It's conceivable that an extra account might be useful for storing shared calendars, group documents, contacts of a less personal nature, mock-up sites, published links, & a vanity profile.

Who might conceivably have successfully "migrated" an account?  I was able to do the same with little lost; the only issue (as of the time of this post) is that Web History doesn't cleanly transfer and Help Forum profiles can't be preserved (or even created with a duplicate username).  Also, another Rishi Chopra expressed his dissatisfaction that I had taken the ID 'rishi.chopra' and receiving mail intended for 'rishi.chopras' didn't seem to be the Google experience that I had come to expect.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What's The Worst That Can Happen?

Most people understand that irrespective of how bad things get they can still be thankful for being healthy and happy; "At least you have your health!" as the expression goes. Perhaps it seems odd, then, to suggest that it may actually be worse to be without one's insurance than to be without health.

As a child I rarely (if ever) had concerns with respect to my own health. I was typically happy and had most of my needs and (reasonable) desires met as our family was upper-middle class and my parents were fairly even-handed in their approach to parenting (i.e. fair in accommodating my sister and I so long as we took care of our responsibilities and behaved well). Playing soccer during the fall & baseball in spring and swimming during the summer ultimately meant that physical activity was part of my regular life. Aside from being diagnosed with an ear infection twice and gastroenteritis once I was able to avoid illness and even more serious misfortune (such as the all-too-common broken limb). As a child I was (of course) covered by my dad's health insurance and I only became conscious of the difference between an HMO and a PPO when my dad's employer decided to switch away from Kaiser in the mid-1990's.

Although it seemed somewhat odd to me that I would start having problems after turning 21 such was exactly what I experienced. The first incident occurred while playing basketball during a game of one-on-one with a friend in August of 2001: I found myself to have great difficulty breathing after an asphyxiation sensation and was unable to understand why such a thing would happen (the game was friendly enough and physical coordination, especially the type one would attribute to one's medulla, had never been an issue). Stranger still would be the diagnosis of "exercised-induced asthma" which was written into my chart after a visit to the doctor at the behest of my dad (who viewed the excess saliva production which I was exhibiting to be less a sign of a macho Texan and more indicative of the absence of health).

Over the course of two years I was prescribed Rhinocort, Singulair, Clarinex, Astelin, Albuterol, Flonase, and Advair. I was diagnosed with nose-boggy turbinates, a septal deviation, pediatric allergies to grass and cat dander, a nasal spur, anxiety, depression, gastroesophogal reflux disease (aka GERD), allergic rhinitis, and dyspnea w/exertion (aka exercise-induced asthma). During the course of those two years I visited various doctors offices over 20 times, and underwent an endoscopy, a barium swallow, a head CT scan, a body CT scan, a chest X-ray, a fiber-optic examination of my vocal cords, and had a needle stuck in my arm more times than Iggy Pop.

Perhaps its a philosophical question to ask whether a cancer diagnosis is to be expected after experiencing the same; nevertheless, it was without any particular expectation that on November 20, 2003 (my mom's birthday and two days before my own) I received the news that the previously-taken biopsy of a thyroid nodule on the base of my neck had come back positive and that I had papillary thyroid cancer.

How is it possible that it may actually be worse to be without one's insurance than to be without health? When I graduated from college (in August of 2003) I was forced to find health insurance of my own: the law at the time afforded coverage for individuals who were over 21 under a parent's plan only if the individual was not older than a certain age (23?) and was enrolled as a full-time student. Due the series of (mis?) diagnosis between August 2001 and August 2003 BlueCross/BlueShield (the provider of my father's coverage) rejected my application for individual coverage and my application to Kaiser Permanente contained no self-disclosure of any of the visits which had previously occurred. Although I was covered by Kaiser Permanente when I received my cancer diagnosis (and was thus spared what would most likely have been financial ruin as a result of the subsequent care which was required) my health has been challenged by what is typically a very treatable illness. In some sense the worst part is knowing that the entire ordeal can be attributed to an impetus to re-examine the rules which regulate health insurance coverage for recent graduates rather than taken for what it is (a transgression of human dignity and a failure of humanity).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's A World Gone Mad (With MBA's)

I recall that my dad once told me that engineering is the only profession where one works to put one's self out of business; a quick scan of the numbers at the Bureau of Labor & Statistics' website as well as 'census.gov' confirms the general vector of what he was saying.

To frame the numbers in the right context one should note that (of a population of approximately 300 million Americans) approximately 13% (i.e. 40 million people) are between the ages of 25 and 34; of those, 22.8% have a bachelors degree and 8.3% have an advanced degree. What's the breakdown of those degrees? Of the 600,000 graduate degrees conferred in 2006 ~150,000 were business degrees, ~170,000 were education degrees, and ~33,000 were engineering degrees.

The number of students enrolled in engineering programs are obviously higher with proportions for engineering students in B.S./M.S./Ph.D. programs reported as 475,000/120,000/29,000; of the students enrolled in engineering majors in 2006 only 115,00 were enrolled at doctorate-granting colleges. In 2006 there were 2,000 electrical engineering Ph.D.'s.; in contrast, there were ~15,500 M.D.'s and ~43,000 J.D.'s that same year.

The Institute for Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which is the international professional association for "EE-types" like myself boasts 395,000 members and more than 90,000 student members. In the U.S., "IEEE-types" constitute only 0.25% of the workforce (~370,000 people) in almost equal proportions of electrical and electronics engineers (i.e. 153,00 electrical, 138,000 electronics, and 79,000 computer hardware engineers).

How has the picture for electrical engineers changed over time? In 1971 an electrical engineer could expect to earn ~$11,000/yr. and growth in the number of engineers over the last ten years has been ~6% (the lowest for any of the major engineering disciplines). According to The Economist, the growth in MBA's between '69-'70 and '06-'07 was 600% (21,561 to 150,211).

For additional perspective one should note that there are ~11 million cancer survivors in the U.S. with ~325,000 of those diagnosed at age 15 or younger.

Electrical engineers are a rare breed!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How To Stumble Out Of The Gate In The Greatest Race Of Your Life

Do a 1510/1600 SAT I, 760/800 Math IIC 750/800 Writing & 690/800 Chemistry SAT II, a GPA which is greater than 4.0 and a litany of extracurricular activities (J.V. swimming freshman & sophomore year, Model U.N. all four years with co-presidency status senior year, and marching/symphonic band all four years with junior drum major status junior year and drum major status senior year) have anything in common for a college applicant in 1997/1998? Maybe, but they still didn't merit electrical engineering admissions to M.I.T., Rice, & Stanford! Although the courses which I took were as challenging as our high school had to offer (i.e. honors courses in math, science, government, & english senior year and an honors science & honors foreign language course junior year) and my applications noted the courses which I took to supplement the education I received at our local public high school (i.e. the courses at the local community college during summers as well as the class at U.C. Berkeley senior year) the case which I made for admission was apparently not compelling enough: Stanford offered outright rejection (another academic who applied for an engineering admission during the early admission period was accepted), M.I.T. offered a spot on the wait-list which became a rejection a few months later, and Rice offered a spot on the wait-list which would require waiting until at least Spring '99 to confirm.

Although things looked bleak at the time (and for a few years thereafter) the "High School Honors Program (HSHP)" admission which I had received to U.C. Berkeley's L&S College late in my junior year provided some measure of security: my application for transfer to the College of Engineering (COE) was approved and I was able to enroll for the Fall '98 semester. The admission to the E.E.C.S. program was quite an honor as U.C. Berkeley's COE had done away with index scores the year before (when E.E.C.S. admission was rumored to have required a 7700/8000 index, the most of any major in the U.C. system) and had a reputation for being one of the best engineering programs in the nation (if not the world). While being a part of my class's freshman experience was a unique experience and valuable (from the perspective of affording an opportunity at social development which tends to be quite significant in American culture) the position in which I began my U.C. Berkeley experience was by no means ideal.

How can one say that having an HSHP admission (which afforded early, i.e. junior year, confirmation of admission) was not ideal? Well, it's not that the HSHP admission itself was not ideal but rather that the circumstances which were concomitant with the honor weren't consistent with what my qualifications had merited; as such, the HSHP admission (arguably) created additional complications with respect to admissions processes. Given my GPA and standardized tests scores the notion that I would not receive a Regents' & Chancellor's Scholarship was unfathomable; nevertheless, such was my fate both before and after appeal of the decision (a staff member in Sproul Hall hinted that preference for female candidates had been shown but my parents chose not to sue when I was told of the same). Also, one would not necessarily assume that involvement with the HSHP would somehow increase one's risk (or even certainty) for suffering a mistake such as AP credits (in my case a semester's worth) not being transferred to the COE but so also was my fate.

Why would such mistakes matter? As it turns out being a Regents' & Chancellor's Scholar entitled one to a few privileges which made the freshman experience just a little bit more livable, namely housing preference (which in my case would have meant not being housed in the dorm complex furthest from campus) as well as class enrollment preference (which wasn't so bad since the AP credit went missing for four semesters thus forcing the disorientation which came with enrolling in the 8AM offering of more than one required course). The course exam database which Regents' & Chancellor's Scholars are able to access might also have come in handy but given the fact that much of my first two years were spent struggling due to not having matching math and physics courses (e.g. Math 53 and Physics 7B) it's not clear what type of a difference such material could have made; after all, struggling with discomfort due to a distaste for dorm food and a schedule which doesn't quite suit one's preference doesn't make for the best precursor to success for the fifteen weeks which typically account for 1/2 of one's grade in a given course.

What type of difference do such experiences make? Ultimately not much, which is to say they don't make a positive impact in any regard. When one's graduation comes against the backdrop of a $1T loss of market capitalization in one's intended sector of employment (i.e. telecom) as well as implosion of a "bubble" in associated sectors (i.e. dot-com's) employability matters and it's very difficult to distinguish one's self to one's professors in upper-division courses when one is struggling to solidify one's foundation & footing.

When did some of these small perturbations in initial conditions finally come to a head? After doing a co-op in Spring '02 (in the hopes of compensating for an abysmal job market and struggling economy), resuming my coursework in Fall '02 and completing my last requirement (E190, technical communications) in the Summer of 2003 I was informed by the dean (after my having sent a letter of appeal) that I would be unable to use the Campus Career Center's On-Campus Recruiting (OCR) facility to find a job. Although fall semester use of OCR had been extended to spring & summer graduates in previous years the dean informed me that a decision had been made to not extend the same courtesy in 2002 due to improvement in the economy. Having to ask the dean to ensure that I received credit for my third attempt at course credit for Math 55 (after a failure to receive a response to the correspondence sent to my advisor before my enrollment posing a question with respect to the same) was simply icing on the U.C. Berkeley cake at that point. The milk (a denied request for a ninth semester) would only turn to sour cream six years later when I audited two upper-division E.E.C.S. courses and realized that success was indeed possible given a measure of circumstance which was amenable.

Where did the experience leave me? Hmmm... probably not at a point which one would call the best stochastic realization of what could have been a very simple process. Being unemployed for 14 months after graduation, getting diagnosed with thyroid cancer three months after being conferred with my degree, and having a transcript stained with letters which looked very different from the ones I had received on my high school transcript just a few years before was not what I had intended for myself. Ultimately finding work with IBM was pretty good... but realizing that I was on the wrong side of a Chinese wall at the research facility which stretched back in time all the way back to when I was barely ineligible to participate in the eXtreme Blue program was not. Getting a chance to attend graduate school at UH Manoa was also pretty good... but having the transcript of the academic experience reflect a regression of my previous experience is not.

Incidentally, since the time I graduated a number of changes have been wrought to the obstacles which I encountered in my experience at U.C. Berkeley:
  • Food at Unit 3 has improved significantly and is now considering premier as far as college dining goes
  • Math 55 is no longer the only discrete mathematics course which can fulfill graduation requirements (a new course, EECS 70, has been created)
  • The COE offers a five-year combined B.S./M.S. E.E.C.S. degree program
  • OCR eligibility has been extended to alumni who enroll in Alumni Advantage
  • My advisor (Linda Segars) retired
Who else should be so lucky?


Edits:

20100916@2205PST - Corrected "How can one say that having an HSHP admission (which afforded early, i.e. junior year confirmation, of admission) was not ideal?" to "How can one say that having an HSHP admission (which afforded early, i.e. junior year, confirmation of admission) was not ideal?
20100916@2205PST - Corrected "Ultimately finding work with IBM was pretty good... but realizing that I was on the wrong side of a Chinese wall at the research facility which stretched all the way back to when I was barely ineligible to participate in the eXtreme Blue program was not." to "Ultimately finding work with IBM was pretty good... but realizing that I was on the wrong side of a Chinese wall at the research facility which stretched back in time all the way to when I was barely ineligible to participate in the eXtreme Blue program was not.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Foo Bar Baz

http://rishichopra.blogspot.com

20090819@03:56PDT - Corrected URL from 'http://rishichopra.blogger.com' to 'http://rishichopra.blogspot.com'