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Conversation with an Ola Driver and his Jaffna connection

Two days ago, I visited Pune Institute of Computer Technology for something called a FOSSMosis-17 festival. It was organised by the Free Software Movement of Maharashtra. I will write more about it in some other post, this one is about a conversation I had early in the morning with a Ola cab driver.

To reach quicker, I booked a cab and got into it. He asked me if I travel to the institute everyday and we got talking about Pune and cities we came from. As it turned out he lived back in 1985 in a Mumbai suburb of Kadivali. That was sort of near where I grew up as a kid (Goregaon, Mumbai). 

He revealed that he was very young back then and joined the army. He then ended up spending much of the late 80s in Sri Lanka.

I knew what he was refering to instantly. He had been a soldier in the IPKF. Their mandate was the end the Sri Lankan civil war.

I asked him about his time in IPKF. He perked up a bit and was surprised I even knew about India’s role in Sri Lanka. I asked him about where he was posted.

He has served in Jaffna. A city held for years by Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka, and often heard and read about it in newspapers as a teenager, for terrible crimes.

He opened up about his time in Jaffna. The terrible things he saw there. He lamented if ever there will be peace in the world. He saw the role of the Indian army in Sri Lanka favourably.

He spoke of the roadside bombings and guerilla warfare they faced.

He also revealed that he was thankful to VP Singh as he was not entangled in looking strong and managed to recall the soldiers back.

He was happy to have retired.

We spoke about civilians who were around where he was posted. He simply said

“Civilains were the worst off, I have seen too many of them lose everything”

I asked him about the recent nationalism and jingoism on television and media in general. He shrugged his shoulders dismissively.

“They do not know what they are talking about. Such peope do not care for lives of young boys in the army who will die.”

There was pain, supressed pain at what he saw through a 28 year old career in in Jaffna, Sikkim and Srinagar. Suppressed pain at what he was probably forced to do, forced to see.

We had reached our destination but we chatted more, about family and life. He was happy to have retired. I thanked him for his time and for opening up with his life to me.

He thanked me back with a wide smile.

“I am an old man, nobody listens to me or asks me about my life. You made my day.”

That hit hard. Twenty eight years in the army, travelled all over India and a couple of years in Sri Lanka. He was still driving a cab to make ends meet and thanking strangers for listening to his story.

But why was’nt anyone listening to his story?

*The coversation was held in Marathi, I have translated some of his quotes.

References:

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House of Cards: Season 5 is horrible on our favourite characters

Spoilers Alert! Do not read ahead if you have not seen Season 5 

House of Cards Season 5 was already looking far fetched. Season 1 and 2 established that we had to understand that anything was possible and the Underwoods were terrible, horrible people.

The audience who the main character Frank Underwood, breaks through the fourth wall to lecture, hector and sometimes reminisces about his worldview – found itself amused, seduced and plain intrigued.

The intrigue being how longer can we root for a character who is ruthless, a murderer, self-serving and completely corrupt.

The characters on House of Cards always had depth. They were three dimensional. Frank Underwood the elected representative and then the unelected Vice President and President is has depth in his character. He was unpredictable with his wit, charm and schemes.

His wife, Claire Underwood is even more interesting as a charachter. Someone who navigates sexism, completely ruthless and professional but has some sort of ethical core that could be salvaged.

The other charachters like Doug Stamper who is Underwood’s fixer, Remy Danton the lobbyist, Peter Russo a Representative who is an addict and flawed but still quite likable, Zoe Barnes, the young journalist and Freddie, the man whose joint is often frequented by Underwood.

These charachters are complex and all add to a rich story telling experiance, even if it is a highly unlikely story.

Trouble with the series started with the portrayal of the Petrov, the Russian President. The character is at times hilariously two-dimensional. He probably fits into a Jame Bond movie from the 60s or 70s.

The problem with Season 5 is that every character gets the Petrov treatment. Everyone is flattened and ironed into two-dimensional cardboard pieces. The entire season is terribly predictable too.

We all know that Underwood will struggle to keep his Presidency, we already know he might have to step-down, because he is breaking a million laws.

His wife is already the Vice President and we know that she will end up with the Presidency.

We know they will blackmail their opponents to survive.

All of the above happens. So a full season of no surprises, no twists or turns and nothing really to look forward to.

Maybe Netflix should just cancel the series and not drag this out longer than required.

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Tips for making Slack work for you

slack-tips

Slack is truly a wonderful tool. I find it a lot more engaging in building a community than say Facebook Groups or other web tools. One reason is the ability to add and have other apps interact with it.

I won’t go into the technical aspects of how Slack is built, why it works out great and if alternatives like Mattermost are better?

Slack is increasingly used by companies and open source communities. I discovered Slack thanks to the WordPress.org project using it.

Reference: List of some impressive Slack customers

I have worked using Slack at both companies I have worked at in the past couple of years.

I conducted a very unscientific poll of Slack users, on how they used Slack.

  • There were 9 respondents (so not really a big number).
  • 2 are developers, 2 write for a living, 1 in human resources, 2 from marketing background.
  • Almost all of them were and have been involved with the local WordPress community.

The Interesting Patterns*

How do you use Slack?

  • 8 out of 9 used Slack for work and also for non-profit work.
  • So not surprisingly 8 out of 9 use Slack on a Desktop app.

Fun: Only 1 out of 9 used Slack as part of a fan club.

How is Slack a distraction?

  • Slack was considered a distraction for 6 out of 9 when working in a physical office.
  • By comparison only 3 responded that it distracted them while working from home.
  • All 9 respondents have had the option of doing both.

The Slack Admins

  • 4 responded that the Slack channels in their teams were created by managers and bosses.
  • The other 4 responded there was no discussion before new channels were created.
  • Only one responded suggested there was some deliberations done before a new channel was created.

Again, 9 is not exactly a great way to find patterns.

Slack’s apparent anarchy

I have worked in a remote team for work using Slack and also worked in an office where Slack was used. I found that at a physical office, Slack is often used in the most irritating and distracting ways.

Managers use it to call people to their desks, people prioritize tasks based on their who is assigning them and chatting with them and worst offender is a simple message saying “Hello” with no further context.

Chat is realtime and decisions are taken often in realtime and often people feel left out. Sometimes people feel obliged to follow discussions incessantly which can lead to loads of distractions.

Slack advice for teams

  • Create a code of conduct for Slack. Yes, it applies to companies too.
  • Create specific channels with agendas and encourage people to discuss certain topics only in their related channels.
  • Don’t have bots update messages in channels where discussions are taking place. It happens a lot. And its irritating for people involved.
  • Create a channel preferably open to all – where everyone can discuss creating a new channel and it’s purpose. This means there is some though put to creating new channels and also is means people cannot simply create new or multiple channels doing more or less the same things.
  • At a physical office, use Slack only for meetings or for important messages so others who missed out can catch up. If you want to say hello, go upto the person physically. 😛
  • As a general rule – never give feedback or criticism in public, use DM. Especially when it is work related. Also always congratulate, thank and give credit in public.
  • Always speak out and point out bad behaviour and do that publicly.

The last two points are extremely important. It should discourage people from bossing around and projecting power and allow more transparent, valuable and ultimately productive communication.

Do you have some more advice or tips you want to share, I would love to hear from you.

Email me at aditya@bombaypirate.com or drop in a comment.

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Mother’s Day & remembering her the right way

Growing up, I cannot remember being aware of  there being a Mother’s day until the late 90s when Archies Gallery shops started selling greeting cards for this particular day. Americana had arrived in urban India.

It is probably an invented holiday and has now ended up as a day – my email, SMS and push notifications, all get inundated with various discounts offers.

But today is different. It is the first one I am observing without my mother being around.

Coping with loss has been incredibly hard. The last six months remain the most difficult months in my life.

She was discharged from the hospital – and on the way back home I was with her in the ambulance. I held her hand and we joked about something I cannot recollect now. She was in great spirits looking forward to get back home and we were talking about random things. There was nothing to be alarmed about. She only had a leg infection that needed treatment.

She suddenly complained about feeling a bit giddy on the way home.

And she passed out in the next few seconds. We frantically took her to a nearby hospital within the next few minutes. She was gone by then. Decades of memories, her voice, humour, laughter all coming to a halt suddenly in those 10-odd minutes in an ambulance. All ended by an embolism.

I was consoled by being told that she had me right next to her in her last moments. My face was what she saw last. It really did not matter to me. It did not feel like a consolation at all. It still does not.

Several weeks passed before I would actually manage to get any reasonable sleep. Most times I would sleep out of sheer fatigue. I cried to myself a lot, but it took a good three months before I felt any better after a good cry.

I still drift off, lose sleep, feel a sense of horror, desperation, fear, anger and so much more when I think of her last moments.

I have hardly spoken much about this, I write today because it important for me to be okay with. I want to remember ‘Aai’ better and not through the prism of my grief or her last moments.

That started happening when I was walking in a nearby mall and the speakers were blaring out a popular song from the 80s “Wake me up, before you go go”.

I remember her playing that particular song, on her red cassette player. I broke down in the middle of strangers hearing that song. But this time it felt good. It felt liked she was around. I was remembering her differently. I had for a few months stopped watching movies, listening to music she enjoyed because it was just too difficult.

Through songs she enjoyed and introduced me to, through movies we watched together, through books we exchanged notes about, through documentaries we watched, through discussing some creative writing done by one of her students, I started thinking about her life more from her perspective, her actions and choices rather than my grief.

Grief is difficult, it is also selfish and it takes time.

Today, on Mother’s Day – I wanted to think about how she shaped me as a person.

There are many stories but this one stands out from my childhood.

I was six years old. I had a fight with my childhood friend (we are still good friends). We had a major falling out, as major a falling out 6 years olds can have. But words were exchanged. Even though he said something nasty, I remember I was not exactly the innocent party.

I don’t remember what we fought over. What I do remember is going home and telling my mom sheepishly about it. I was feeling a bit guilty about my behaviour.

She told me to go over to my friend and apologise to him. I refused. It was a bit shocking, I expected my mother to support me. She always encouraged me to speak up, to fight for something you felt strongly about. She was always in my corner.

But she insisted I apologise. We lived on the fourth floor and my friend on the ground floor of the apartment building. The apartment building had no elevator. I told her I will do it the next day, his dad was home that day and I did not want his parents to laugh at me. That I was not willing to climb down 4 stories and back up home.

She opened the door and literally showed me out and stood at the door. Told me to get moving downstairs and come back home only after I had said “Sorry” to my friend.

I went down and rang the bell. The worst thing happened – my friend’s dad opened the door. I asked for my friend and he called out for him.

There father and son stood in front of me. I gathered some courage and said “Sorry” to my friend. I saw my friend’s eyes showed confusion, his father thought looked on with a smile I can still remember vividly. My friend barely said its okay and I ran up back home. I felt incredibly light hearted.

Sure enough mom was still at the door. She asked what happened and as I told her how I apologised, she conjured up magically some treat for me to eat. It was reward for learning to say “Sorry” she told me.

Yes, I did. I learned it feels good to admit mistakes and correct them. It taught me to think with empathy, even though I doubt I could have spelled that word correctly at that point of time.

My mother taught me and my sister loads through such words, actions and her own example.

A week after she was gone, a student of hers contacted me. This fifteen or sixteen year old was telling me he was thankful that she was his teacher. He learned a lot about from her about life and character apart from his studies. His words now give me some perspective of how others remember her.

It wouldn’t be fair to remember her through only the prism of my grief or through those last moments I was with her. I have to remember her as a person, with her imperfections, with her incredible laughter and joy. I have to remember her well. It will take some more time, but I will get there.

Happy mother’s day to all of you.

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Day at the Kelkar Museum in Pune

Yesterday, I visited the popular Kelkar Museum in Pune.

Kelkar Museum is located in the old Pune city. A part of the city, I spent a lot of time as a child during summer holidays with my maternal grandparents.

The collection on display is pretty much sourced from the elite and well heeled. Much of it is from the 18th and 19th century.

The collection is primarily from Southern India – mainly from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu.

There are some statues that do date back to a 13th century.

Loved these chess pieces. Some of the pawns carry muskets and some sword and shield.

Some of the pawns carry muskets while others carry swords and shields

And Mastani Mahal was ghostly peek into the past, in a good way.

Mastani Mahal at Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum

You can check out the entire album.

Museum – Tips

They do not except electronic payments. Carry a lot of cash if you are looking to buy something there – like postcards, CDs, badges and mugs.

There are some nice historical places to see near the museum, like the Shaniwar Wada.

Drop in your ideas and suggestions in comments.

Or you can email me aditya @ this domain.

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Some books in my reading list for this year [2017]

Over the last year, I have sort of stopped reading books. I read a lot online. But there is something interesting about reading a book.

The stillness of reading a book is deliberate. The past year has been difficult personally and professionally. So stillness would be a good thing to find in everyday life.

So a few weeks ago I started putting away titles and collecting them for reading, partly inspired by this post.

I borrowed a book from an uncle yesterday – Demanding the Impossible – A history of Anarchism by Peter Marshall. It promises to explore key anarchist ideas and values throughout human history.

The other one I plan to read is Mao – The Unknown story – by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday. The book was recommended by my girlfriend. I know very little of China’s history over the last 100 years, and this could be useful place to begin.

Then there is the The Code Book by Simon Singh on the history of codes and encryption.

There is also P. Sainath’s Everybody loves a good drought. It is an important read to know about the systemic propagation of poverty and debt in India’s agrarian society.

I want to re-read Foundation and the Second Foundation by Asimov. Both of these books made me think about things and life differently. I want to see what happens this time round.

I have bookmarked Critical Theory since Plato edited by Hazard Adams, Leroy Searle. It is pretty heavy reading and expensive to buy outright. So if you know of a place in Pune or Mumbai I can borrow it from, let me know!

I should probably read more than just these books in 2017. But I am looking for suggestions right now.

Bonus

I was also recommended Homo Deus – Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuva Noah Hariri.

Feature image

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Finally meeting Detective Byomkesh Bakshy

Anyways, I happened to come across “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy”. I have had wanted to watch this one for a long time but for some reason, this detective movie eluded me. That was until last night when I came across it on Amazon Prime Video.

A click and I got to finally meet Bakshy Babu.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy
Source: Bollywood Mantra

Byomkesh Babu

The movie is based on charachters invented by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay and mainly taken from the novel Satyanweshi. In many ways Byomkesh Bakshy is inspired by Sherlock Holmes.

The movie is set in the 1940s in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkatta). India was still under British rule and was hence by extension part of the war effort on the Allied side.

As Calcutta was an important port for shipping supplies to the war against Japanese forces in Burma, Japan had tried it’s hand by bombing Calcutta. Many of the bombings did not cause much damage. That said, Calcutta as a city, lived in fear of falling to the invading Japanese forces. This historical backdrop of Japanese threat and Chinese migrant population is beautifully weaved into the movie plot that is mainly a murder mystery.

The music varies from rock to heavy metal and for some reason it fits into the movie almost perfectly. The movie also takes a loving, caring look at the city of Calcutta of old. The characters are all odd, interesting and cannot be taken very seriously.

Sushant Singh, as Byomkesh Bakshy does not disappoint. The cast is talented and work well. Their costumes, their look are impeccable. The sets are wonderful and a lot of detailing is near perfection.

There is also a healthy dose of dark comedy in the film. The story has it’s moments of mystery, twists and turns but honestly at the end of it, I sat up researching more material to read on Calcutta during the second world war.

This is probably the first movie I have seen in Hindi which I really hope to see become a franchise.

I won’t give much of the plot away, watch it for yourself.

PS: I don’t like rating movies. I suspect, I will only write about movies that I personally recommend you watch.

Recommended:

Trailer

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The Future of WordPress in India

A few days ago I watched through Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word address at WordCamp US. In it he mentioned about the WordPress growth council. The idea is interesting and got me thinking about the growth of WordPress or open-source CMS in India.

While the increasing number of meetups and WordCamps are great, the average person from lower income groups has no idea of WordPress.

It is not to say, they have no idea about the internet. They do, but they are extensively using apps, services by Google or Whatsapp (owned by Facebook). Most technology that is helping them work, give them an online identity or a gateway to the internet are walled gardens. The open web is increasingly becoming something people do not know about and as a result care about.

This lack of awareness is acute in India’s poor and lower income groups.

I was starting to write down a rant on Twitter with the following tweets.

I did have a lot more to write about but remembered that I own a blog and came across some nice advice by Mike Little (co-founder of WordPress).

Since I live in India and I am active in the local WordPress communities as a volunteer, I have some views on our community in India. Note this is not a critique of the community, it is not a critique of WordPress either. I am not qualified to do that. I am writing this as way to write down what I comprehend about the future of WordPress in India for myself.

Some tough questions?

  1. Why will the local cab driver, rickshaw driver, small sandwich shop owner, self-employed carpenter, electrician ever use WordPress?
  2. How will WordPress serve people who are not looking to publish anything or blog about anything?
  3. How could several thousands of local newspapers and journals in local languages use WordPress to go online?
  4. Is the current WordPress community in India doing anything to be make WordPress relevant to lower income population of India that is discovering internet services?

Future of WordPress

WordPress is probably moving away from PHP focus to a JavaScript focus. It will be a slow and sure process. WordPress it seems is a bit ahead of the curve in moving ahead to become more of an app like software and than remain a CMS.

This is a big change and it is a change that is going to be more inclusive and hence ultimately good for its sustained future.

But the other big reason for the success of WordPress so far is the community around it.

I love WordPress!

Who are we? Are we growing in depth? Do we really even matter as a community in India when it comes to technology?

Much of the community that meets at WordCamps and meetups, reside in an echo chamber. They take part in meetups, organise WordCamps and feel happy about themselves. Why do I get involved in open-source, in WordCamps, in meetups – the common and most popular answer is “I love WordPress!”

Love is a strong word but we must wait and listen to our answer to why we love WordPress.

I love WordPress – because I make money from it?

I love WordPress – because it’s easy?

I love WordPress – because it opens avenues to me?

I love WordPress – because I love Freedom.

The problems start not with loving something but why you love something.

Love involves hard work, pain, effort, patience, respect and a level of altruism. Love is a powerful emotion and it should stand for an higher ideal or a higher purpose.

The higher ideals of freedom, choice and inclusion. While freedom and choice are protected because of its open-source nature and the GPL licence, inclusion is often neglected or less thought about.

Call for inclusion and dialogue

We all have meetups, workshops and WordCamps where we discuss various WordPress related topics. Can we take some time out and have one or two outreach programs in our local communities?

Where we speak to people from lower income groups or school students from lower income groups. Can we explain to them the benefits of open-web?

Where we can talk to them and their unions and associations to negotiate and carry out dialogues with tech giants from a place of awareness rather than darkness. Can we try to atleast talk about such things in our community?

The WordPress community as a result will become more inclusive, more broader and those are good signs for the future.

Let me know in your comments what we could do as a community about inclusion, about trying to promote the open-web ideals to lower income groups, to people who do not earn their living from the internet.

Our favourite software WordPress might not benefit directly but the open-web might end up winning!

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Remembering …

My mum, Pratima Kane passed away on Friday night. She had been in hospital for the past few weeks recovering well from cellulitis, a foot infection). The end came abruptly but she did not suffer, she did not spend time in pain. I write this only to process it. I write, because that is one thing she always encouraged me to do.

It hurts that we won’t be able to talk into the night ever again, discuss politics, philosophy, religion, current afairs or even football matches. It hurts intensely that I won’t see her infectious smile again or hear her loud hearty laugh.

She was a homemaker and in my twenties she once told me how she found life conventional and boring. She wanted to do more and she did.

She started to teach students over time. Mainly giving tuitions in English. Over the past decade and more, she worked hard, was busier than ever and taught well over a hundred students, some kids as young as ten or eleven and some well into their forties. Their calls and messages remembering mom fondly, will remind me of how many students respect her and remember her fondly. It is part of her legacy.

She never judged people, and could be the most open minded person in the world. She encouraged both her children to take unconventional decisions in our personal lives and careers.

She inspired me to read, and kept telling me to write more, she would follow this blog religiously, reading every single word on every single post. And like a good teacher, she would often point out the commas and spelling mistakes I tend to make when I write.

She was happy. A happy person who laughed, made others laugh. She was my sister’s emotional rock, her best friend and so much more. For me she was happiness personified.

This is going to be very hard. But I have to find solace that she was happy with her life, with her students, her eyes always lit up when she talked about some ex-student of hers calling her up or sending her a whatsapp message. She was happy right upto the last minute of her life. And I was able to be with her in the end.

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How NOT to network at a WordCamp (or anywhere for that matter)

I recently visited WordCamp Nashik. Since I was on a panel discussion, I got a ID card with “SPEAKER” written on it. All this is fancy nonsense but that’s how it is at most conferences I guess.

On reaching the venue, I ran into Kapil Gonge, an old friend from where I previously worked. He was one of the co-founders of rtCamp, a place where I was introduced to WordPress. He moved along  a few years ago and started his own design and branding agency called PugMarker. I too moved along and joined some friends doing WordPress stuff.

We had planned to meet in Pune a few times but that never materialised and strangely, the both of us, who are now residents of Pune ended up meeting in Nashik.

In the morning, I was feeling a bit under the weather and Kapil had some fruits in his parked scooter. We walked along talking about life, open-source and in general everything that makes a conversation fun but usually very hard to remember after they end.

Watching us was someone who I think was drinking a beverage. He walked upto us and introduced himself. He looked up my ID badge that read “Speaker” and I suspect, that led him to start a conversation with us, because he opened with “Oh, so you are speaking here!”

Now, wait – until this moment, this is exactly how you should introduce yourself at a WordCamp to strangers. Say “Hi”, shake their hands, introduce yourself with your name and ask about the other person. I have had hundreds of such conversations and many people I met in this fashion at WordCamps are now very good friends.

But the man with the beverage did not stop introducing himself. He dropped few names, he dropped hints about how much money he makes, probably desperate for us to think of him in some reverential manner. The problem was my friend Kapil and I, love open-source for it’s irreverent nature. So this one sided conversation was not going anywhere.

But the man with the beverage never stopped. He continued talking about his businesses, trying to impress two guys who were quickly regretting they had chosen to take a break in the parking area.

Kapil and I exchanged knowing glances and tried to interject into this monologue of self promotion unsuccessfully a couple of times. Then I started to just counter him for the sake of it and made some sarcastic joke or two, thinking maybe he will find us not worthy of his time and leave.

No, luck! :-/

But finally, his attention moved to Kapil. He asked him what he did and as Kapil answered, he interrupted. Kapil then added about his work, that he helps people out with marketing, branding and design but speaks a lot less. I think Kapil was LOLing inside a lot while saying that.

Beverage guy refused to take the hint and suggested Kapil would never make money! Okay, that was enough – Kapil and I just walked away, not really bothering to continue the conversation or even wishing to keep up the pretence of coming across as polite.

Both of us were chuckling about the character we had just ran into.

All day we spent avoiding him and watching with a smile when others interacted with him and walked away dazed. Most of them with that look that say “What did I get myself into?”

I am not sure who this person was or what he was trying to do! Maybe he got bad advice, maybe he was having a bad day.

But it was a classic case of how NOT to introduce yourself at a WordCamp.

Talking involves listening

A lot of self-marketing literature will focus on things like elevator pitch and selling yourself. Honestly, if you want to pitch yourself, ideally do not come to WordCamps. Such conferences have other developers and designers around not venture capitalists or angel investors. Save your pitch for people who have money to invest, not who are making money as freelancers or run small businesses around web development.

So what works at WordCamps?

Talking works. But talking also means listening or letting the other person talk. Most open-source enthusiasts I have met usually feel more confident talking about their work than about themselves.

So ask about their work.

Some Do’s

  1. Introduce yourself in a single sentence – a more than one sentence introduction is usually a pitch. Something simple as “Hi, I am <yourname>, I design websites, what do you do?” is perfectly fine.
  2. Ask about their work. If someone replies I design websites or I code plugins, ask them about their products or their favourite themes.
  3. If you are new to WordPress and talking to someone who has worked on it for many years, do ask “How do I go about being an expert at WordPress?” – trust me, you will get a lot more helpful advice and many fruitful discussions by simple asking how to go about things rather than second guessing or dropping hints.

Finally

What ever you do, never tell someone how much money you make or that you make more money than the person you are speaking with. You are almost always are going to come across as an absolute jerk!

See you around at a WordCamp soon! (hint 🙂 )

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