Jul 292014

Three years ago I applied for US L1 visa. After getting all company paperwork in order, I had to fill DS-160 form before I could even come to the embassy.

Application process threw me down the memory lane since it required annoying precision when it came to education and previous work engagements. I usually know a year when most of important events in my life took place, for quite a few I even know a month. But this was probably first time in my life that anybody asked me about exact start date of my high school and college.

Then questionare took a stupid turn. I am sure that other country’s questionnaires are probably as dumb but I was surprised that anyone would include “Do you seek to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations, or any other illegal activity while in the United States?” as a question on their form. Maybe you could catch world’s-most-stupid-criminal this way but even that is probably farfetched idea. I would enjoy seeing statistics on this question. How many people ever answered yes?

Questions following that one were no better. I had to read most of them twice just to be sure I was not hallucinating and it took a super-human strength to answer them “no”. For example, one that asked about my involvement in genocide just begged for a description of my crimes toward pig population (hams, sausages, bacon; you name it, I did it). But alas I was a coward.

One explanation that I’ve heard about the purpose of these questions was that they allow legal system to stick Visa Application Fraud in addition to other convictions if you do naughty things you promised not to do. While this has a ring of truth to it, I personally find it silly at best.

After filling that again for my wife and for my kids I was ready for an interview process in the embassy…

This post is intended to be a light read and hopefully draw a few smiles here or there. Don’t take anything you read too seriously. It is intentionally overly generalized, takes into account only my personal experience, information might be stale, and I won’t be above lying for the comedy effect. Be warned!

Jul 222014

I am a fairly new to States, just counting my third year as a resident. I have only ever lived in the Virginia and the Washington state and traveled through another fifteen or so. My experience is not only incomplete but heavily skewed toward north. Even worse, it is limited only to small towns with big IT companies around.

Historically I come from quite a small town within even a smaller country (Osijek, Croatia). I have traveled decent amount but almost always within Europe. In other words I have really limited experience of other countries and their customs.

Maybe it is all those factors together or maybe it is my confused person, but I found living in the USA full of interesting peculiarities and customs. Since most of my wonder happened at the very beginning of my life in USA I caught myself forgetting some details and even outright understanding a thing or two.

Since I will be on blog hiatus for a next few weeks as far as technical content goes, I might as well write some overly generalized easy going opinions. I plan to keep it light and hopefully readable.

Jul 092014

MapPoint 2013 boxAfter a long time Microsoft is discontinuing its MapPoint and Streets and Trips offerings. On one side I didn’t expect this move – I even recommended using MapPoint to a friend just a few weeks ago. But I cannot say it was really a surprise. Considering its overlap with the Bing maps it probably had a good stretch.

I cannot say anything about Streets and Trips since I really haven’t used them although I know few people who swear by it. MapPoint is completely different story and a program I will miss a lot. Well, not really the program – I will miss its API.

MapPoint as a mapping program was quite humble. Not too bad albeit not really any better than all other offerings. I must confess that I rarely used it to search anything – for that web-based maps are God-given. But I did adore option of using MapPoint as cheap local Bing/Google maps alternative. It had it all: search for coordinates, conversion from coordinates to address, map image… It was a perfect tool for quick one-time mapping work. You buy it and do whatever you want to it on your local computer (or server) and, unless you need newer maps, there is no additional expense.

Its replacement, Bing maps, might be better but it does come at the cost. Licensing for Bing maps is ridiculously difficult and costly. For just a basic mapping application you are looking at steady monthly expense that can easily get into thousands of dollars. Compared to one-time cost of $400 for MapPoint, price hike is definitely noticeable.

Yes, Bing maps has a free offering for small project doing under 125,000 transactions but only if you are not using GPS functionality and you plan to create a Windows Store App. As soon as you utter Desktop usage, you are looking at the death by a thousand cuts.

Big business will probably live with this change just fine. They haven’t used MapPoint to start with and cost of Bing maps license is cheap enough for them. Small independent software developers will be affected the most with this change and there is no full replacement for MapPoint.

While there are some alternatives on the web, MapPoint was an unique flower that worked just fine without an internet connection. It will be missed.

Jun 262014

At home I use Linux exclusively in virtual machines under Windows. Call me spoiled but I still use Windows as my main OS.

Since I have multiple machines quite often I use dynamic disks (Microsoft VHD format) so I can fit them all on my notebook. With usage some of them simply grow to large and a compact is needed.

In order for compact to work, we need to zero-out all free disk space. While dd is a popular choice, I personally prefer zerofree. As always, first step is to install it:

$ sudo apt-get install zerofree

Again, there are ways to do it on-line but I prefer to play it safe. Upon system reboot, just press <Shift> and you’ll be greeted by Grub’s menu. Go to Recovery and select root. Once single user prompt is shown, everything is ready for zerofree:

$ zerofree /dev/sda1

Once command has completed (and it’ll take a while) shut machine down.

As Linux virtual machine is powered off we are ready for Windows part. Everything here is done in the diskpart:

DISKPART> select vdisk file "C:\VMs\Mint\Mint.vhd"
DiskPart successfully selected the virtual disk file.

DISKPART> attach vdisk readonly
DiskPart successfully attached the virtual disk file.

DISKPART> compact vdisk
DiskPart successfully compacted the virtual disk file.

After this is done, your virtual disk should be much smaller than before.