Thursday, January 7, 2010


I noticed that my passport expires on February 1 so I thought I'd renew it. I never know when I might need to go to France real quick, right?

First problem, the website is a disaster in Safari. The sidebar boxes are half covering each other and just a mess. Once you click through all the rigamarole, form DS-82 won't even load in Safari. So I ran Firefox and got the form in front of me.

At first it's pretty straightforward. Then they start asking really hard questions. "Your Occupation:" and "Your Employer:" And there's a circle with a ? in it. So I click that. A box pops up with a yellow triangle with a ! in it and the following message:

The page at says: Occupation is a mandatory item and must be completed as descriptively as possible if a title alone will not make it clear.  If you are not employed, state so in the occupation field and leave the employer field blank.  If you are self-employed, the type of work you perform should be completed in occupation and "self-employed" in employer.  Children should enter "student" or "child" in the occupation field.

The type of work I perform? Well I do type a lot. Maybe I should put that. My accountant always puts  my occupation as "engineer" on my tax returns. But why do they really want to know? It sounds like that  Rick Reynolds bit about fame. He says he doesn't want to die an unknown comedian. He speculates that if he was stabbed to death that night there would be a headline in the paper the next day, Comedian Found in Pool of Blood. And he goes on, "If people don't know you, you are the job you do... You never see Snappy Dresser Found in Pool of Blood. You are your job with one exception -- if you are famous.... Of course at this point in my career they'd probably just print Man Stains Carpet."

So this is what I'm thinking. The State Department wants to know my occupation for a headline. And if the terrorist that kidnapped me reads this headline, will they think, "JACKPOT!"? I had a friend who came back to graduate school after working for Schlumberger Wireline Services logging oil wells in the Middle East. He told me that he got kidnapped one time in Egypt. When the kidnappers contacted Schlumberger to collect ransom for him Schlumberger refused to pay the price they were asking because my friend wasn't even American, he was British. They got a discount.

What occupation says "let 'em go"? Engineer is out because that sounds like somebody handy to have around the terrorist camp to fix the generator. Photographer sounds like somebody who might have valuable equipment to steal and incriminating evidence. What about blogger? Well that sounds quite worthless, indeed. But maybe I'm a little bit like Rick Reynolds after all. Blogger Vaporized by Explosive Underpants just doesn't appeal to me.

I settled on an occupation (writer) and finished the form. The web page generates a PDF file that downloads to your computer, then you print it and sign it and mail it in. The web version generates a bar code with all this information in it so they just scan it when it comes in, so it's not utterly retarded.

But when I look at the completed form in Acrobat I'm pretty disappointed. It was bad enough that the website wouldn't even work with my browser of choice. But the information in the spaces on the form aren't even centered in the little boxes. This is a travesty. What kind of image is this for our country? We're technologically incompetent? Check it out. They can't even line up all three sections of your social security number.

After I finished printing my form and cursing the sloppiness of it I set about making my passport photos. I shot a picture on my front porch. I Photoshopped the shadow lines out of the siding and sized it to come out 2x2 if I printed 3x5 prints at the drug store. I put it on an SD memory card thinking that was what the machine would take, then I went up to Walgreen's. Turns out 4x5 is their standard $0.15 print and nothing I can do about it. They do have a setting in the machine for passport photos though. You can line up marks with your photo and enlarge or reduce it just right, then it prints two on one of those 4x5 pieces of paper. But it wants to charge you $7.99 for the luxury of making your photo the right size! Fortunately the guy at Walgreen's realized that was pretty ridiculous, so he only charged me $1.50.

Now it's simply a matter of enclosing a check to the Department of State for $95 and in 6 weeks I'll be just another self-employed writer with a new passport! They have the RFID tags in them now, so I'm excited about that.


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