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Latest Posts
The YouTube Celebrity Taking the H-1B Visa Fight Public
November 22, 2017 12:04 pm|Comments (0)

When he uploaded his first YouTube video, there was no way Kumar could have expected that he’d become a public face of H-1B visas: an advocate—and a whistleblower—for a way of life he can barely tolerate.

On his channel, Kumar Exclusive, Kumar serves as an everyman narrator of the experience of recipients of the coveted H-1B skilled worker visa, which allows foreign workers to fill technical jobs in America. His dispatches offer both user-friendly how-tos (how to find a job, how to avoid scams, how to win at an American-style interview) and warnings (tales of abusive bosses, short-term contracts, employees faking resumes to win visas, and companies that use lies to tempt foreign workers to the West). On YouTube, he’s amassed a small group following, whose members regularly watch his dispatches to gain practical advice for securing their spots as technical workers abroad.

Kumar’s first video was an afterthought—something he made on his lunch break. He’d left the low-slung office building where he worked processing data, sat in his car, and filmed with his cell phone on the dashboard. Quickly, he learned two things: There was an audience for his videos; he loved making them. It was also a distraction from his life on said visa, where he spends his time circling the country in search of short-term jobs that pay crap wages. His wife doesn’t like his hobby; she worries it’ll hurt his visa renewal. His friends have pointed out the people that threaten him, regularly, in the comments section.

None of this has stopped Kumar from filming thousands of videos. After all, he tells me, what else is he supposed to do?

“I don’t sleep, Alexis,” he says.

In a way, Kumar’s life is one big, messy juxtaposition. Our interview is yet another example of this. He’s eager to talk to me about the crappiest parts of the H-1B visa. Then again, our calls are frequently interrupted, because Kumar is looking for his next gig and needs to pick up call waiting in case it’s a recruiter.

By the time he got his H-1B visa, Kumar had been trying to enter the program for almost a decade. H-1B visas—which are granted each year to just 85,000 recipients, who hail predominantly from India and China—are tough to get; demand far outweighs supply. Though his bachelor’s degree was in literature, Kumar went back to school to earn a technical degree that would make him eligible for the program. Back in India, he’d been laid off from his government job when he received the news: His visa application had been approved.

The visa was tied to a job in New Jersey. The company would sponsor him and pay him a starting salary of $ 55,000 a year. In the summer of 2008, Kumar’s employer sent a plane ticket and he boarded a flight to Newark, leaving his wife and young son with his mother-in-law.

It felt like a fresh beginning. But quickly, he realized, he’d been unaware of the fine print. That job in New Jersey wasn’t quite a job—it was a project that would last for an uncertain amount of time. On paper, H-1Bs are tied to a specific company, making changing jobs or advancement difficult. (That’s one of the reasons the more flexible Optional Practical Training visa, or OPT, has become more popular.) But in practice, H-1B recipients are responsible for ensuring their continued employment, with jobs that could end at any moment.

Reading Kumar’s resume from his time in the United States, it would seem like he was working as a spy, or running from the law. In the 10 years he’s lived in America, he’s held jobs in over a dozen different cities. In 2010 alone he worked in North Carolina, Montana, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. (The project in Massachusetts lasted just 36 hours.) Eventually, he developed a system: He’d roll into town and stay in a motel while he looked for a more permanent place to live.

Kumar’s first job lasted just a few months. He picked up another project, this time in Maryland. He stayed in a motel for a week while he looked for housing, eventually decamping to the home of an Indian acquaintance, where he paid $ 700 a month for a room in the basement. When that job ended, he found another in Pennsylvania. He found himself criss-crossing through a strange country, whose small towns were proving trying.

The next year, he returned to India for surgery. But his visa required that he return to America within a few weeks, before he’d fully recovered. He was on bed rest, staying with a friend in Michigan, when he picked up his next contract—this time in North Carolina. He packed up his van and drove. Kumar was lonely; he was in pain. He cried for most of the trip.

By 2011, he’d saved up enough money for his wife and sons to join him. (That’s right: He now had two sons; his second son was born during the years he was working abroad.) Eventually, Kumar settled on the environs of Rochester, which is when he started commuting. He was hesitant to uproot his family for his erratic schedule, so he found himself driving wherever he got a project.

On Sunday evenings he’d drive 375-miles to a small Rhode Island city from Rochester. During the week he’d stay in a motel, and then dart off on Friday evenings for the trip back home. Another commute, this time to Ohio, was grueling enough that he thought about uprooting his family. But his manager was elusive on how long the job would last. His family stayed put.

Kumar says that the videos were a natural progression from his daily life. Despite his problems, Indian acquaintances often asked him for dispatches on his life in America. Once he started filming the videos, Kumar found that he had lots to say. His earliest videos are filled with practical advice. In one, titled “[sic] How to Get First Job,” he gives basic advice. (“Your resume is not your autobiography, if you put everything in the resume then what do you speak of in the interview?”) In another, called “Work Culture in America,” Kumar advises on how to get along with colleagues who might be annoyed by being around a foreigner. Over the years, his videos have become more controversial. He warns prospective visa recipients on what to avoid: fake job postings, lawyers who run away with H-1B money, and vendors who try to convince immigrants that fees should come out of their own pocket. He considers himself, in many ways, a truth teller.

Over the course of more than a thousand videos, Kumar’s production quality has improved a bit. Instead of speaking from memory, he now types up his points and reviews them off of a sheet of paper. He still films in his car or office, while pointing the camera at himself, selfie-style. Sometimes he films videos solely intended to delight. Last month, a Kumar video titled “[sic] The Beauty of America in fall season, NY,” showed a lake surrounded by trees with brilliant orange and red leaves.

In his YouTube bio, Kumar writes that the “highest ambition for any Indian” is coming to America, learning from the West, and returning back to India to change the system. And, as Kumar is the first to point out, without the H-1B program, he never would’ve gotten the chance to come. But that experience has been grueling. His kids, however, are thriving in American school. He’s not like other Indian parents, he tells me. He doesn’t force his kids to study; he doesn’t care if they become doctors. His oldest son, who is in seventh grade, likes basketball and dreams of going pro. He thinks adjusting to life back in India would be hard for them.

At one point, when his wife’s visa expired, Kumar suggested that she fake her resume and apply for an H-1B. Unlike her husband, she decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Tech

Posted in: Cloud Computing|Tags: , , , , ,
Uber CEO says company failed to disclose massive breach in 2016
November 22, 2017 12:03 am|Comments (0)

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] failed to disclose a massive breach last year that exposed the data of some 57 million users of the ride-sharing service, the company’s new chief executive officer said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speaks to students during an interaction at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Mumbai, India, January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Discovery of the company’s handling of the incident led to the departure of two employees who led Uber’s response to the incident, said Dara Khosrowshahi, who was named CEO in August following the departure of founder Travis Kalanick.

Khosrowshahi said he had only recently learned of the matter himself.

The company’s admission that it failed to disclose the breach comes as Uber is seeking to recover from a series of crises that culminated in the Kalanick’s ouster in June.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Uber is seen on an iPad, during a news conference to announce Uber resumes ride-hailing service, in Taipei, Taiwan April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo –

According to the company’s account, two individuals downloaded data from a third-party cloud server used by Uber, which contained names, email addresses and mobile phone numbers of some 57 million Uber users around the world. They also downloaded names and driver’s license numbers of some 600,000 of the company’s U.S. drivers, Khosrowshahi said in a blog post.

He said he had hired Matt Olsen, former general counsel of the U.S. National Security Agency, to help him figure out how to best guide and structure the company’s security teams and processes.

The chief executive of Uber Technologies Inc, Dara Khosrowshahi attends a meeting with Brazilian Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles (not pictured) in Brasilia, Brazil October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Khosrowshahi said in the blog post.

“While I can’t erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes,” he said. “We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers.”

(Corrects paragraph 1 to data instead of date)

Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by Tom Brown

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tech

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Jaron Lanier Q&A: VR Visionary and Author of 'Dawn of the New Everything'
November 21, 2017 6:42 pm|Comments (0)

Jaron Lanier may not have sired the term virtual reality—that honor generally goes to French playwright Antonin Artaud in 1938—but he’s one hell of a father figure. As the founder of legendary VR company VPL Research, he both popularized the term and helped create most of the enduring icons of early VR, from The Lawnmower Man’s snazzy headset and gear to the ill-fated Nintendo Power Glove. Now, 25 years after stepping away from the VR field, Lanier has re­­entered the alternate universe he so famously evangelized. His new book, Dawn of the New Everything, is part ­coming-of-age chronicle (he lived with his father in a DIY geodesic dome), part swinging Silicon Valley memoir (rich anecdotes from his time at VPL), and it’s stuffed with enough fantastical soothsaying to fill a Holodeck. Or at least an expansive, occasionally vaporous conversation in avatar-free meatspace.

WIRED: You thread the book with more than 50 definitions of virtual reality: “magic tricks, as applied to digital devices,” “a training simulator for Information Age warfare.” Which is your favorite?

Lanier: It’s this notion—and this is very hard to express in words and I don’t claim that I’ve ever succeeded in capturing it—that virtual reality is a future trajectory where people get better and better at communicating more and more things in more fantastic and aesthetic ways that becomes this infinite adventure without end that’s more interesting than seeking power and destroying everything. [Laughs.]

Seems easy enough! Are the kinds of VR experiences being created today enough to unlock that potential?

If you want to look for hope, it’s with the independent artists. Chris Milk, the founder of VR studio Within, has a piece called Life of Us, where your body becomes different creatures in the history of life and evolution. It involves so much self-exploration.

Reminds me of a line from your book: “The visceral realness of human presence within an avatar is the most dramatic sensation I’ve felt in VR.”

The canvas of VR cannot be the external world—it has to be your body. An example of this is when you create out-of-body sensations of touch and feel. When you’re really changing yourself, that’s so much more interesting than watching something in the external world—and it really improves your sensation of reality.

Ever since the current age of VR began—Oculus, Vive, Google—reporters would reach out to you for comment. And it always felt like you were taking a very wait-and-see approach.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship to technology in that I thought the dangers were very real. I always have loved technology, but I was really uncomfortable with a lot of tech idealism from the very start. I was part of the start of WIRED, and at that time the idealism was “encryption for everybody” and anonymity, and I always felt like that could create a society in which the biggest assholes win. And now it feels like I was right and I don’t want to be right. I really want to be wrong about that stuff.

One of the more puzzling to me but also interesting definitions was you simply call virtual reality “the inverse of AI”—which makes it sound like it’s kind of inconvertibly human.

AI is a fake thing. You take in a bunch of data from people and then you replay that data in various forms of interpolation later on. Whereas in VR, the people are there but they’re being transformed in space into—so it’s a space versus time thing. It didn’t even occur to me that anybody would think AI is a real thing.

A lot of companies would be unhappy to hear you say that.

Ironically, virtual reality—which is sold as an illusion—is real for what it is. Good magicians are the ones who will tell you the truth because they’ll tell you, “hey, this is all an illusion, I’m faking you out.” As compared to con artists. So in the same way, VR is the real thing and AI is the fake thing.

Now you work at Microsoft, which is invested in mixed reality experiences like HoloLens. Do you see virtual reality and augmented reality as separate?

I think the relationship between them is similar to the relationship between film and television: They come through the same streams to the same devices, yet they’re still distinct. They have distinct cultures, they’re made in different ways, we have different expectations of them.

How so?

Classical VR is ultimately more about you, it’s more about the human body, human identity, human interaction. Mixed reality is about exploring the world. What was interesting about Pokémon Go was people were going out to places. Which maybe got a little out of hand and silly, but they were still appreciating the world. That’s why HoloLens had to be wireless. To this day the coolest thing to do with the HoloLens for me is to take it into the wilderness. Some people might be horrified—Oh my God, how could you take a HoloLens into wilderness?—but if you augment a forest and then take off the display, you actually see the forest better. It pops into reality. It’s an amazing palate cleanser.

Does the potential for ethical misuse of VR worry you?

Hell yeah. We’re historically fortunate that we’re experiencing things like fake news on social media now, instead of in fully realized VR or mixed reality. We’re getting to know these problems in a way that’s hopefully going to force us to deal with them before they become heavy-duty versions.

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What innovations should we be focusing on now?

The single most important technology that doesn’t exist yet is a way to improvise while you’re in VR. Almost like a musical instrument, but you’re playing reality—that would be the most important thing for the future of expression. It’s a hard thing to do. It might turn out that it’s never done. But I think people will figure it out.

And if they don’t?

We can definitely make better interaction devices than we have. And there are lots of displays and sensors yet to be built. There’s so much to improve. But I love that.

So you’re feeling optimistic?

We don’t have any guarantees here. I think we might all die. [Laughs.] We’re in a perilous time. But I really believe in the human capacity for increased creativity and intelligence and wisdom, and I think if we present the tech in such a way that people have an ability to really see it and master it, they’ll rise to the occasion.

What’s a definition of virtual reality that you hope we ultimately end up with?

[Long pause] A cross between music and perception.


Platforms editor Peter Rubin (@provenself) writes frequently about virtual reality for WIRED. His own book about VR, Future Presence, will be released in March.

This article appears in the December issue. Subscribe now.

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