This is getting annoying

This is getting annoying. Lulu enters the field as yet another site that refuses point blank to let you buy anything unless you create yet another account with yet another username and yet another password which they call "FREE Membership". Even worse you cannot contact support until after you have done that. Email to bounces. You can purchase from without creating an account so no one else has an excuse.

Even worse you cannot find out if they charge California sales tax. I only purchase from online places that do so that I don't have to go through the whole use tax thing and how vindictive California's Franchise Tax Board is to the self employed.

Doctor Who

I've been catching up on Doctor Who recently. Saw "Blink" with the weeping angels yesterday which is a spectacularly good episode and shows just how well scary stuff can be done without the clichés.

Also been on a KLF kick, so this remix of them and Muse fits in nicely.

A rant about Gimp

With the exception of cropping, any time I try to do anything with this program I cannot figure out how to do it. So like everyone else I google for answers. And I'll find lots of them because I'm not the first person trying to do whatever it is. Then begins the long march as instructions will differ in the various web pages from each other, corresponding items in my menus will be randomly non-existent or grayed out, and there will be lots of alternate ways of doing the same thing. (My guesses on how to do things don't even intersect with what the various pages say.) I rarely actually manage to achieve what I was trying to do.

Experts seem to love Gimp and the pages indicate that all the functionality is actually there. This is a classic case of a user interface design for experts and completely ignoring the perpetual intermediates.

Gimp is free software (as in freedom and cost) and they don't owe me anything, and you can easily argue the onus is on me to learn. But it is so frustrating knowing that they have all the pieces there - a dash of interaction design will go a long way. "Make the normal things easy and the hard things possible" as the saying goes, but Gimp seem to have done it the other way around.

My age

Today I found out how old I am. The number of years since your birth isn't particularly accurate since most of your cells are considerably younger, and our life experiences don't help that much since we are all unique snowflakes. We all know people who want the kids off their lawn, to turn down that racket and stop seeking out new things and challenges because they are comfortable. Google have been closely studying my online habits and have concluded I am 25-34. Sounds about right. What about you?

Hearts and freedom

A wonderful talk from someone with a big heart (literally). Karen shows why openness and transparency is so important starting with her own story.

Renewing a green card

I'm in the process of renewing my green card, and as with all dealings with the US Government as a foreigner (ie non-voter) it is very amusing. The card itself only has a tiny bit of green on the back. English speakers would call it a "Permanent Resident Card", the government likes to call it a "Resident Alien Card" while the actual department handling it (USCIS) calls it "I-90" which is the form identifier for it.

Of course "permanent" is misleading. They are only good for ten years at which point you have to renew, six months before expiry. It costs $450 for the renewal which amounts to roughly $1 per week it is useful. If you make any mistakes they keep the $450 and you have to pay again and start the process again. You can be denied the renewal, they don't have to explain the denial, and there is no appeal.

As part of the process they have to collect your fingerprints and take a photo. Form I-797C tells you when and where. The fingerprints are identical to the ones they took ten years ago, and identical to the ones that exact same USCIS takes every time I come though immigration at SFO (where they also take a retina scan).

The office where it is done has a set of chairs on the left and another on the right with some desks in the middle. You go to the desks, get given a clipboard and form to fill out, and do so (all the fields on the form ask for the exact same information that is already on your application). Then you go back to the desk, get given numbers or letters, stamps on papers, sit on chairs on eiither side, rinse and repeat. I sat on one side 3 times and the other once, with a total of 4 visits to the centre, two visits to the same desk jockey and one to a person taking the actual fingerprints using a machine significantly less efficient than the ones used at the airport. The USCIS is taking so long to renew green cards that they also put a sticker on your card extending its validity for several more months.

Fortunately it took a total of 30 minutes. There is some method to the madness as it means that a single officer can't screw things up (or be bribed) but it did seem a little over the top. (Incidentally this is the reason why Costco also has checkers at the door - a corrupt cashier can't do things alone.)

Needless to say there was an error in my application. My existing card only uses my middle initial while my application uses my full middle name. The officer pointed out this will delay things and probably require extra evidence like a copy of my birth certificate (from a non US country made with a typewriter on 40 year old paper and that there is no way to validate). She said to call customer service and get them to amend the application to just my middle initial. Customer service takes extreme skill to actually get to on the phone due to phone menus going out of their way to avoid you talking to a person (btw mashing 0, 9, * etc on an Android phone in a call can require you to reboot the phone to unwedge it!) The reps are indeed in America - I got one with a thck Texan accent I could barely understand. They of course insist that my application cannot be changed back to just the middle initial and I'd have to go back to the office, where the officier insisted she could do nothing and only customer service could.

Now the waiting game begins. Do they have enough copies of my fingerprints, will they be able to deal with the card having a middle initial and my full name having a full name? Will some bureacrat somewhere decide that I will be denied knowing they won't have to defend the decision? What happens if they take so long the extended validity itself expires? Is there some sort of bingo card that I can collect form numbers on?



SENNA (more)

I finally watched the Senna movie/documentary, and highly recommend it. They did an excellent job, even avoiding having a narrator. It was also quite emotional as I remember exactly where I was when he died and just how much fun he was driving the red & white McLaren Hondas. Hearing James Hunt commentating, seeing Gerhard Berger and other personalities brought back so much. If only someone made a 100 hour film that focussed on the racing ...

The most memorable moment was his reaction on radio to winning the Brazilian grand prix for the first time.