BaloneyGeek's Place

BaloneyGeek's Place

Operator! Give me the number for 911!

My Days in Munich Are Numbered

I moved to Munich in January 2017, fresh out of university. Actually, I was still in university when I moved - I did my final semester abroad, a 6-month internship at eGym GmbH, where I made software running on smart fitness equipment. It's been a year and nine months since, and as I write this, this chapter of my life will come to a close in another fifteen days.

I'm leaving Munich, and I can't wait.

It was a cold, snowy night in January - I actually remember the exact date and time; 23:27 on the 14th of January, 2017 - when I stepped off the TGV from Paris at München Hbf, and immediately felt a chill wrap around my heart. A very different chill from the negative temperatures. A chill that I now know is of a city that doesn't care. Extremely prosperous, terrifyingly efficient, but the furthest away from a warm, caring place I could call home.

I tried really hard though. I ignored this feeling for the better part of a year, chalking it down to loneliness, culture shock, and telling myself I'll be able to survive here once I've adjusted to this, and as the days went by, my ability to shut it out and deal with it did get better. But did I want this? I'm 23, young, free and armed with a degree and specialised knowledge that I can (I hope) make world-changing developments with. I really didn't want to waste my 20s changing myself into the cynical, uncaring monster I'd need to become to be able to live in this city. I came here an optimist, an aggressive dreamer who could do anything he set his sights on, and above all, a passionate carer who put people above all else, and I was well on my way to changing and becoming the complete opposite. Once I'd come to that realisation, however, I decided this was enough. I'd be damned if I was going to let where I live change the very person I am.

Munich doesn't deserve me. There are better places in this world where I can put myself to good use.

So once I could look past the false attraction of city that only worsened my own identity crisis, and muster the courage to write off the sunk investment, I started looking for a new job outside this city. And I found one, in the best place I could hope for: Heidelberg.

When I visited Heidelberg for my interview, the city spoke to me. It's about as big as the town in India where my university is located, and is home to just 150,000 people, just enough to feel like I'm part of a close-knit community. A quarter of the city's populace are students; indeed the city houses Germany's oldest and one of its best universities, one that has produced no less than 56 Nobel laureates since its founding during the Roman Empire. And just under half of the populace have an immigration background.

The city is also drop-dead gorgeous. Heidelberg is a long town, situated on both banks of the Neckar, which in turn is surrounded by hills. The Baroque architecture in the old town gives the city a distinct character, and oh, there's a giant castle, right in the city center.

But what really makes this city stand out is the people. It too was a cold, snowy day when I came to the city to interview for my job. But the smile and the curiosity of the shopkeeper at the bakery where I bought my breakfast wasn't the standard fake hospitality industry expression. The friend who took it upon himself to give me a car ride from the station and make sure I was calm and in the best state of mind for the upcoming interview, and for that matter the prospective landlord who actually picked me up from Mannhiem and drove me to Heidelberg to show me the apartment, and then drove me around the city to show me around afterwards, simply taking pleasure in helping someone out - this is the kind of person I strive to be, and these are the kinds of people I want to be surrounded by. And in Munich, neither could I be this person, nor could I find someone like this to hang out with - in fact, I was actively discouraged from being this person.

A big reason for the move to Germany was because of specific experiences with German people that I personally had. People in KDE who first helped me hone my technical skills and then my social skills. People who came up to me in San Francisco - where I was at a developer conference - and said "Hey, you're Indian right? Happy Diwali!" People who knew nothing about me whatsoever, heard that I was moving to Germany, took me aside for two whole hours and told me about life in their country, things I should be careful about, things I should do and things I should not. After all of that, the experience I had in Munich was nothing short of shocking. I often wondered, where the people who made me want to move here were. Because they definitely weren't where I was.

I've finally found out.

And in fifteen days, I'm finally going to be in the Germany that I came here for.

Ramen

Like every other person who lives in India, eating Maggi was a constant in my life. Maggi is a brand of instant noodles that didn't come from India - it came from Switzerland and the brand was acquired by Nestlé in 1947 - but Maggi might as well be India's national food. They say India is a collection of 36 different and very diverse groups of people, united by one foreign language. I submit to you that they're also united by one foreign brand of instant noodles.

In India, Maggi is not just food, is an emotion. It is an established part of our culture, even the national identity. In a country that doesn't have a lot of rich people, it feeds a lot of hungry kids after they get home from an exhausting session of football or cricket or what have you with their neighbourhood gang in the evening, and it is the staple diet in every single university dorm in the country - in fact, universities which do not allow cooking equipment inside the residence buildings for students for safety reasons will still have a few microwaves here and there, so that the students can make Maggi when they can't cook anything else. Even street food vendors sell Maggi in some form or another.

At its core, Maggi is just instant noodles and a sachet of seasonings (the Tastemaker, as it's called). Back in my childhood days you'd only have two varieties of Maggi, Chicken and Masala (the vegan variety), and at some point they added a third one (Tomato). Now there's more varieties of Maggi than years I've existed on this planet, but there's not much basic difference - boil noodles in water, add the seasonings, and you have a bowl of noodle soup. So you soon learn to add toppings, spices, and even change the way you prepare the noodles, and there is a very real prestige of being the mom who makes the best Maggi in the neighbourhood, measured by whose house the whole gang heads to for their food after their evening playtime.

In India, there's Maggi. In the rest of the world, there's Ramen.

You might know of Ramen as a Japanese noodle soup, but the Ramen is the noodle itself. Ramen is springy and bouncy, and it turns out that way because the noodle is made by making the dough with something called kansui - lye water, or alkaline salts. As long as you use Ramen noodles to make your soup, and stick to some very basic rules, you can call almost any soup you make out of it Ramen. And so just like Indian moms have their own Maggi recipe, within a few standard classes of Ramen soups, every Japanese person has their own Ramen recipe.

I love a good bowl of Ramen. For when you're hungry and don't have a lot of money to eat, a moderately good bowl of Ramen will set you back 3-4 Euros (here in Germany; in India that cost is probably closer to 50 Euro cents) in ingredients and leave you with a very full tummy. And Ramen is the ultimate soul food. You can make it as elaborate as you want to, throw in almost anything you wish as long the flavours go together, and after a hard day at work and not much energy left to cook, I just love slurping on a bowl of Ramen watching clips from my favourite late night talk show (mostly Conan and Colbert) on TV.

Here's what I've learnt from eating and making Ramen so far:

  • Noodles: This is what makes it a bowl of Ramen, not just some other noodle soup. I start with instant noodles (not Maggi, that's not Ramen). You can try Top Ramen - or whatever Nissin sells in your local market - and I hear Maruchan is pretty good in the US. Heat up some water with the seasonings, and just as it starts to boil, add in the noodles. The moment the big block of noodle disintegrates into strands, count 20 seconds and then take it off the heat and throw away the water. Undercooked is good, cooked fully is still okay but not great, and even a little bit overcooked is bad. That's because now we're going to re-fry the noodles in sesame oil, with a generous helping of sriracha sauce and soy sauce. I learnt this trick from a video on YouTube and this is the best trick that I've managed to collect in my bag of instant noodle innovations.
  • Broth: The broth doesn't need to be fancier than chicken stock that you buy from your local supermarket. Here in Germany, Lidl sells glass jars of chicken broth powder from Knorr, and that stuff is amazing. I start by chopping up some ginger (finely) and garlic (into big slices), frying them along with chilli flakes in sesame oil, and then I add in the water and the broth powder, and let it boil.
  • Chicken: This one isn't hard, but it actually takes a bit of time to make. You need tiny strips of boneless chicken, and you need to marinade it with generous helpings of sesame oil, soy sauce, egg and flour for 45 mins to an hour. Fry it on low heat in a frying pan, again in sesame oil - frying on low heat makes it soft and juicy, although it takes longer to cook. When it looks like its almost done, add in a little bit of sweet chilli sauce and give it all a good toss.
  • Eggs: Ramen is usually topped with a boiled egg split in two, the egg being boiled just long enough for the white to have become solid but the yolk still being runny, but I actually like to make my egg sunny side up.
  • Fresh Vegetables: Honestly, you don't need much more than some freshly chopped scallions. You can of course add more stuff, but at some point you'll need special ingredients from an Asian store - what you find at your local supermarket usually won't do. I don't think more vegetables add much to the soup, anyway.

The soup does have to be assembled in the right order. Here's how you do it:

  1. First, put equal amounts of sesame oil and soy sauce at the bottom of the bowl. 2-3 tablespoons of each should suffice.
  2. Now put the noodles in the bowl.
  3. Fill up the bowl with the broth.
  4. Divide the bowl into radial thirds, and put the chicken in one of the thirds, the egg in another and finally the chopped scallions into the last third.

And that's it, a big hearty bowl of Ramen.

Guten Appetit!

Bitte Zurückbleiben

All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favourite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.

-- Conan O'Brien, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, 22 January 2010

Conan O'Brien was, for lack of a better term, screwed over by NBC. The Tonight Show, the pinnacle of late-night television and the one show that every television personality wants to host, was Conan's for just under a year. He took over from Jay Leno, the man who had hosted it since May of 1992, on June 1st, 2009. His last episode was aired on the 22nd of January the next year.

Conan was a writer for The Simpsons before he became a television personality hosting his very own show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Conan and Jay were both ratings leaders for their respective time slots. Conan had been promised that he would take over from Jay Leno for almost 10 years, and Jay had been told during his renewal in 2004 that this would be his last 5 years hosting the show.

It all went horribly wrong1.

Conan's viewer demographic was vastly different from Jay Leno's, and crucially, somewhat smaller. Faced with reducing viewership, NBC gave Jay Leno his own show just before the Tonight Show. This backfired, crashing ratings for both the Tonight Show and The Jay Leno Show.

NBC's solution to this problem was to move The Jay Leno Show to the Tonight Show's timeslot, moving the Tonight Show further back into the Late Show's timeslot. This would bring the status-quo back to the Tonight Show with Jay Leno era, and Conan would be left hosting the Tonight Show just in name.

Conan decided to not play along with NBC. In a statement issued during the height of the crisis, he said he "would not participate in the destruction of the Tonight Show." Just over 7 months after starting any television host's dream job, he left the show. And in his final closing monologue, he said this.

Halfway around the world, on a small television screen in Kolkata, I watched it live. I was 15, and was I just beginning to go enter some very difficult times. This monologue would end up being burned into my brain forever, and all my values I would hence develop would now be based around these words.

The Overreaction

I've had a privileged life so far, and there's no doubt about it. That is not to say, however, that it was a happy life.

Some of the sadness was chemical. Taking after my family's history, I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety and Major Depressive Disorder, and prescribed Paroxetine, a strong antidepressant in my first year of college. I bought the medicine and took it to college with me. I didn't get to take any, however, because I found a couple of friends in the nick of time who counselled me through my darkest times.

In my first year of college I had no sleep cycle. I would sleep for an hour a night for a week, and then I would sleep nearly twenty hours a day for the next. I couldn't think straight, I couldn't be productive. I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't study, and I wasn't scoring the way I wanted to in my courses. I had less than no self-esteem. And for a time, I was impulsively suicidal.

This year put a fear of failure into me. This wasn't an unfounded fear, like the rest of my fears that my anxiety had convinced me were worth attending to. I had seen some very hard financial times in my family and I had to make sure I didn't end up in the same boat. What the anxiety did to me was turn that from one of the factors I would take into account my planning my life ahead, into the only thing that mattered: I could not fail.

In school, I would study only the minimum amount required to pass my exams, but the way my parents would scold me for spending all my time in front of a computer and not studying would play at the back of my mind for a long time. I never dated while in school or in college, because it had been driven into me that a girlfriend would simply be a distraction and would take away the minimum amount of concentration that I still had for my studies.

I tried all throughout my first year and the next half to improve myself academically. I just couldn't do it. I sincerely believed I was at fault, that I was being distracted by the Internet, by social media, and my other hobbies. It took me until the end of 2014 to realise that I just didn't have the mental make-up to be an academic, but that wasn't the end of the world; I could still be successful. It helped that I gave success a definition: I wanted a certain kind of life, and if I could have it, I would call myself successful. Success would be different things at different times, but I promised myself that as long as I could meet the milestones I had set for myself for that particular time, I would not beat myself up.

But I was still depressed and mentally fogged, and I needed a kick of inspiration to actually make me follow through on my plans. That came from a man whom I would only get to meet more than a year and a half later, but whom I would see as an idol, as someone who set the standard for the kind of engineer I would like to be. He was almost four thousand miles away from me, in Germany, and he had a blog. His name was Martin Gräßlin2.

KDE

Martin was, and as of writing this, still is, the maintainer of KWin, the Window Manager used by Plasma Desktop. Plasma, KWin and a lot of other software is developed by volunteers worldwide, who organise themselves into a community and a support group, called KDE. KDE used to stand for Kool Desktop Environment, the product these volunteers created, but eventually KDE just became KDE and denoted the community of people, not the product.

I had been a Linux user since I was 13, and used to write from time to time for a local magazine called Linux for You (now called Open Source for You). I used to subscribe to a few people from various open source software projects, and Martin was one of the people I was following on Google Plus.

At that time, KWin was undergoing major overhauls, to accommodate the shift from X11, the decades-old standard that was used to implement graphical user interfaces in Linux, to Wayland, the newer, faster, leaner and more secure way of producing nice images on the screen. Martin was doing some groundbreaking work during that time - he basically had to re-invent bits and pieces of X11's functionality and put them into KWin. All this while, he used to blog about his approach to solving problems, his thought processes, and the actions he took as a result of his analyses. I was studying to be a computer engineer, and what he wrote gave me an unique insight into how an actual computer engineer functioned.

It was a kind of glamour I instantly craved. But because of my self-esteem levels, for a long time I thought this was something I would only watch from a distance, never participate in, because I just wasn't good enough and never could be.

This changed in the February of 2015. A Dengue Fever scare (I didn't actually contract it) forced me to stay home with a high fever for three weeks. I was pretty good at C++ by then, and also had built a small tool to proxy DNS requests over HTTP ports and basically blow right past every single firewall that our university had in place to prevent us from accessing certain content, using Qt5. During this fever-induced downtime, I contemplated looking at some KDE code, but was always limited by my own lack of confidence - I knew I just wouldn't be able to contribute at all.

Then there was one astute moment of clarity, which I distinctly remember, when I woke one day, very late, and thought, "I am a computer engineer. If I'm not able to actually do this, I don't have a career."

In the next 4 months, I re-built KDE's screenshooting utility from scratch. Called KSnapshot-Next, then KScreenGenie, then Kapture, and then Spectacle by the time of its first KDE Applications release by the end of the year, the amount of things I learnt by the time I finished building the core feature set was more than I had learned in the past decade about computer science and coding. I was brimming with confidence and took on new roles within KDE without a second thought to my abilities. Writing some of the backend code from Spectacle finally gave me a chance to work with my idol - I would constantly have to bug Martin to figure out low-level details about X11 and the xcb library.

The secret sauce? The KDE Community. Some of the friendships that were forged in the IRC channels during my Spectacle days were the difference between life and death for me. Little did I know I was just about to enter a crisis period that would last me almost until the end of college, and my friends in KDE were like a second family to me at a time when I seriously expected to no longer have my first one.

And the fact that I now live in München is a direct consequence of my abandoning my academic ambitions and spending all my later university years with KDE.

Ausländer in München

Being a part of KDE would not only rescue me from clinical depression, it would also give me a career. But before that, it would give me my first and second foreign travel opportunities.

The first time I ever went outside India was to Berlin for Akademy, KDE's annual world conference in Europe, in the last week of August. I was operating out of a friend's house in Gurgaon at that time, and when I left the house for the airport that night, I still hadn't thought of a life beyond the next week. What was to happen at the airport would change that.

There would be a person whom I would meet at the airport that night, whom I would end up spending every waking moment in Germany with when I wasn't at the conference, and who would change the way I used to think, used to reason, and the things I believed forever.

And apart from that person, meeting all those people whom I had only interacted with online, and who had held my hand and travelled with me through my journey in KDE so far, while attending the conference the entire day, attending parties and dinners in the evening and exploring the city at night would leave me mentally and physically exhausted for nearly two months.

During those two months, my major depression diagnosis was reconfirmed, but I again decided to ride this episode out without medicines. It took me another trip, this time to San Francisco to meet more KDE friends at Google's offices in Silicon Valley to end this episode. But this time I hadn't lost one of my powers - mental clarity. While during this episode I cried after almost a decade of never shedding a tear, after that day I could still think without despairing. And I knew one thing: I had to go back to Germany.

So I started job hunting, but it was another friend from KDE who scored me an interview at his company. It was the first video interview of my life, me sitting at my friend's house in Gurgaon and my future boss interviewing me from the office at Munich. At the end of that interview I got up feeling a genuine inner happiness that I hadn't felt for years. I wasn't a complete idiot.

As it turned out, I had applied to another German company for a work-from-home job, and the morning that I was supposed to leave for San Francisco, the folks from eGym called to confirm that I had indeed got the job and that they would be coming back to me with an offer soon. That same afternoon, the other company also confirmed that they would offer me a job, this time with a salary offer in place.

It wasn't until I had passed through security at the airport that night and was waiting for the flight to Amsterdam to board that I had the time and mental faculties to think about what had transpired over the last twelve hours. It took me half an hour to decide that I would be taking the eGym job, even if I were to get paid less than half the salary I would be paid at the other one, for the simple reason that I would be able to realise my dream, one that was nearly 3 years in the making, of living in Germany.

After returning from San Francisco, I spent the next two months getting all the paperwork and the money together in order to be able to make the move to Munich. And finally, on the 9th of January, I left India, allowing myself a small week-long holiday in Paris to recover from the last three and a half years, before finally moving to Munich to start my new life.

It has been more than a decade since my adolescence brought along my inner turmoils, which perfectly coincided with a shift in dynamics in the family that would end up leaving me with adult responsibilities during a time I were to experience my teenage years. I don't regret any of it -- if anything, what I learnt during that time has helped me almost instantly find a balance in my life here in Munich.

But I'm finally happy. Happy to be living life on my own terms, happy to be living amongst some very good friends, and incredibly, happy to be living in a country where I don't feel like an outsider. It is true, I did feel like an outsider in India, being just simply unable to connect with the country's sentiments and ways of life. I finally feel at home.

And work is awesome. I actually wake up early in the morning every day and look forward to going to office. And what's more, my boss is also ex-KDE!

Here's to the next six months of my life, after which I still have to figure out where I'm going to go, if anywhere, next.

Looking Forward to 2017: Life After College

On December 16th, 2016, at 4:45 PM, I stepped outside the gates of my university for the last time. I was delighted beyond measure, but I was still somewhat apprehensive since a few aspects of life after university - including my six-month mandatory internship - was still up in the air. Today, I'm finally able to have some clarity on the upcoming year and make some plans and resolutions.

Plans for KDE: The eV, Sysadmin and the Community Working Groups

In December last year, I started working on Propagator, a daemon to automatically sync all our Anongit and GitHub mirrors with out master Git server. It's already in use handling syncs to the GitHub mirror. In 2017, I will finally finish up the Anongit bits and introduce another layer of abstraction that will enable the service to be able to sync repositories hosted by Phabricator.

This year I've also started working on a replacement for KDE Identity. The ageing service should sometime over the year be replaced by a newer, faster and less buggy service that has built in protection to prevent spammers from signing up. This will be powered by fancy statistics and even a bit of machine learning.

I joined the Community Working Group this November but haven't had much time to look at things yet. I will finally devote some time to the Community WG this year, see what there is to be done and hopefully finish them.

And finally, I plan to attend the next KDE e.V. AGM in 2017, even if I don't attend the rest of Akademy. What I may have to contribute to the proceedings will be seen over the year leading up to the event.

Life as an Ausländer

My university requires me to complete a six-month mandatory internship to qualify for my Bachelor of Technology degree. While placement season had started in college as early as the middle of August, I wanted a very specific location and a very specific profile. None of the profiles on offer in the campus placements were to my satisfaction at all.

I decided to go job hunting of my own. During my visit to Berlin this September, I spoke to a few people. A contract from one company was obtained right after I returned from the GSoC Mentor Summit in November. AIESEC arranged for a work permit by the first week of December. And today, I went to the Botschaft der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in New Delhi to collect my visa.

So I'm happy to be able to announce that I'm going to be moving to Munich and start working at eGym GmbH on the 15th of January 2017, as a mandatory intern working on backend infrastructure for their platform of smart gym devices.

I plan to use this time to see as much of Europe as I can afford to, and hopefully return with memories that will last me a lifetime.

Until next year, tschau!

My 2016 - A Year in Numbers

All over the world, the state of affairs in 2016 was universally bad. More people than ever died from terrorist attacks, and the world rewound hundreds of years in socio-economic spheres. But while the world crashed and burned, my year started well and ended up being the most memorable one in my 22 years of existence yet.

I cannot write all the stories that made this year so memorable. Some of them are long and boring, some are only meaningful to me, and some just cannot be told. But what I can try to do is use numbers. Numbers cannot be misinterpreted, and they tell a story.

So here goes.

1. Travel

I love travelling more than anything else in the world, and 2016 was the year when my travelling life really took off.

In January, I ended up making two round-trips between home and my university to attend the weddings of two of my cousins.

In March, I went to my first ever KDE conference - conf.kde.in 2016, at the Lakshmi Narayan Mittal Institute of Information Technology in Jaipur. There I fell sick and had to trudge back home, again.

Ever since becoming a member of the KDE Community I wanted to attend an Akademy, and in May I finally applied for and obtained my first ever passport to go and attend this year's event in Berlin. I went.

And finally in October, I went to the United States of America to attend the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit at Google's offices in Sunnyvale.

The numbers for my travels this year are impressive:

  • 52,188 kilometres flown
  • 9,047 kilometres travelled by train, in 2 countries.
  • 10 different kinds of aircraft flown.
  • 9 airports visited, in 6 countries.
  • 7 passport stamps obtained from 3 countries.
  • 4 classes of travel experienced in Indian trains.
  • 3 foreign countries transited through.
  • 2 foreign countries visited.
  • 2 visas obtained.
  • 2 North Atlantic crossings made.
  • 1 passport obtained.
  • 1 aeroplane cockpit visited.

2. Academic and Professional Life

This year, my academic life was a roller-coaster of successes and failures. I failed my first ever course in college and had to repeat it, but I had incredibly good grades in the subjects I did manage to complete.

My professional life saw nothing but success this year, however, as I worked as an intern over the summer while simultaneously mentoring a student through Google Summer of Code. I also managed to obtain multiple job offers, and signed a contract which would see me start working straight after the end of university this year.

The numbers are:

  • ₹50,000 made in salaries from working 2 months.
  • 155 active members of KDE e.V. decided on me as their 156th member.
  • 15 courses completed in college.
  • 8 talks given or unconference sessions chaired.
  • 3 job offers obtained.
  • 3 conferences attended.
  • 2 job contracts signed.
  • 1 job resigned from.

3. Personal Life

For me, 2016 was an year of major changes in my value system, thought processes, and personal and familial circumstances. The two months that I spent in Gurgaon working, the 2 weeks that I spent abroad, and some meaningful interactions with so many people spread throughout the year made measurable changes in who I am today from who I was a year ago.

As usual, the numbers:

  • €220 saved up from my earnings to spend in Germany.
  • 2 very expensive birthday treats given.
  • 2 incredible sunsets witnessed while flying over Baku.
  • 1 drink at a 5-star hotel's bar.
  • 1 episode of major depressive disorder endured.
  • 1 piece of designer clothing bought with my first ever salary.
  • 1 incredible friendship formed under once-in-a-lifetime circumstances.

In the year that was, the highs where higher than ever and the lows were lower than ever. I learnt a thing or two about living life to the best of my abilities, not being sorry for things that I wanted to happen but which didn't, and handling everyday life when my mind just didn't want to co-operate. I learnt to not run away from my emotions, but to embrace them, feel them, and harness them.

And most of all, I formed some very meaningful bonds with new people. For all of you who are part of the many stories behind the numbers above, you have my undying gratitude, and lots of love.

I can only hope that 2017 will be as good a year for me as 2016 was.

Till next time, tschau!