The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

Archives for Slices of life

First Gigwalk 100


Finally broke $100 with Gigwalk. So I’m celebrating this milestone with a post. It took me 22 gigs to reach this amount. Thirteen of these gigs were panos (short for Photosynth panoramic photographs), and 7 were for closed businesses that were only worth $2.

I focused on closed business for the first few gigs till I figured out my pano techniques. Like quite a few Gigwalkers, I learned the trade by watching an instructional video prepared by one of the early Gigwalkers (meaning he was in on the whole Gig-thing when it started in the middle of year. In the computer age, it’s interesting how one can become an “old-timer” in mere months). Many thanks Marc T!!!


I’m a casual Gigwalker; nowhere near as aggressive as some Gigwalkers, some of whom claim to go for as many 20 gigs in a day. So I wasn’t able to maximize the “Lucky 7” promo where all gigs were worth $7 for a few days, before they want back to the default $4. I recently picked up the pace when prices went back to $8, but many of the places I frequent have been picked clean. When my wife and I went to Castro St. in Mountain View for lunch yesterday, I found that the place had been pretty much picked clean. I may have to plan my day to include gigs. This is starting to become a really interesting hobby.

Now . . . I wonder how this is going to be reflected in my taxes.

Filed under US, California
Oct 16, 2011

Gigwalk: First paid gig



A couple of weeks ago, friends brought up how they had signed up for Gigwalk ( My wife chimed in and mentioned how the company behind this had actually been on the news recently since it was slowly picking up steam. Here is CNN’s report on this concept.

I’m a veteran, honest, Foursquarer, so I’m familiar with the treasure-hunt appeal of these sorts of applications. But unlike Foursquare, this platform actually paid you to visit establishments. So I figured that I’d give it a try and signed up to be a “Gigwalker” via their iPhone application.

Unlike FourSquare, where you simply signed to a specific location, and you were done, Gigwalking is quite involved. You really will earn whatever they pay you.

I tried out my first task, called a “gig”, while I was waiting in the parking lot for Sunday mass. We arrived at church early so we had time to kill. I played around with the gig finder on the Gigwalk application, and discovered that there was a gig literally within walking distance. So I figured I’d zip in and zip out of the gig . . . and just learn how to use the application on the fly. Apparently not the wisest of ideas.

Gigs follow a template that the Gigwalk application lays out for you. When you start a Gig, you follow step-by-step procedures that you have to accomplish before you submit to Gigwalk for evaluation. The steps, however, are optimized for individuals who take the time to read through the whole procedure . . . and not rush into things the way I did.

For one thing, the Gigwalk application isn’t the only thing you will need to accomplish the Gig. You need the Microsoft Photosynth application, which you have to download separately, to take the 360 degree views within the establishment that the gigs require. Because I rushed in, I didn’t realize until halfway through the gig instructions that I had to download Photosynth. With only minutes till mass started . . . it felt like was one of the longest downloads ever.

Once I had Photosynth installed, I had to figure out how it worked. It’s pretty simple to operate really. But as with all things under time pressure, it felt harder than it actually was. I eventually figured the app out, sorted out my Photosynth account settings, took what I thought were acceptable (which they weren’t, more on that in a later post) photographs of the establishment both inside and outside, then made mad dash for the pew.

Sadly after all that . . . that gig eventually got rejected. As I would later learn, there was a lot more to the panos than I originally thought, so this effort was doomed from the start. A rejection looks like this, and arrives a little less than a week after submission. You will get notified both on the Gigwalk app, as well as via email.

I had better luck with my second gig — hence this celebratory blog entry. It was for an establishment that no longer existed and had been replaced by another. This paid less than for regular gig, $2 instead of the usual $4.75 to $7, but it still made for good practice so I went ahead with it. The pano I took in the first gig were actually better than for this one. So when my first gig got rejected, I figured that the second gig would be rejected as well. But it turns out that acceptance criteria for closed businesses was less stringent and panos were not required. The acceptance notice appears below.

I still need practice. But with a paid-for gig under my belt . . . less Paypal’s $0.36 transaction fee . . . am now ready for more.

Aug 31, 2011

Tu Mero Mole @ Sunnyvale


One of the great disappointments of my trip to Mexico City last year was that I was never able to taste authentic Mole. The first time I tasted Mole was in California, and it tasted like pureed rust with vinegar. It was awful. The meals that my Mexican co-workers had me try during my stay blew me away, so I figured that I would give this infamously complicated dish another go. Sadly, I ran out of time.

Enter Tu Mero Mole in Sunnyvale CA. I can’t say definitively that their Mole Poblano tastes just the way the originals down south of the border do. But I would consider lining up for it.

Their branch at this location just opened this month, and am hoping it lasts longer than all the other establishments that have occupied this spot over the past few years.

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Filed under Mexican, US, California
Aug 25, 2011

Phones as boarding passes


My wife and I flew to my nephew’s wedding in New Jersey last month. While processing our online check-in, she noticed the mobile boarding pass option. Keen to try new things, she signed us up for it. I was new to this pass, and hadn’t read up on them by the time we got to the airport. So I walked up to the security line cold . . . not a particularly good idea.

I knew my wife emailed it to me, and that it involved a Quick Response (QR) code of some sort. So when the pre-screening attendant at the security line asked to see my pass I whipped out my iPhone  confidently . . . opened my email and looked for the code . . . and kept looking. I had to step out of the line to figure out what was going on.

Turns out the mail simply contained a link to the code. The image below on the left shows the email. Tapping on the the “Get mobile boarding document” opened a browser and voila . . . the boarding pass QR code appears. See image on the right.

At the San Francisco airport, I showed the code at three points: to the pre-screening attendant at the security line, to the TSA officer at the security line, and then finally at the departure gate. The latter two locations had code readers like this:

I usually switch my phone over to flight mode before boarding the plane. So as a precaution, I took a screen capture of my boarding pass before getting onboard. These are the images is used for this post.

The boarding pass is very convenient, and I intend to use it for my flights moving forward. But as with all things new, if you don’t take the time to figure out how it works before you use it . . . you will initially lose more time than you save.

Aug 12, 2011

Times Square 225 degrees


After watching Phantom of the Opera  at the Majestic theater in Manhattan last Tuesday, my wife and I made our way to the Port Authority bus station through Time Square. Half way through the square, we just had to take this video. The pan didn’t go all the way around, and stopped short at 225 degrees.

This place just doesn’t get old.

Jul 30, 2011

The day the “Visa bulletin” no longer mattered


For the past few years, visits to the  US Department of State Visa Bulletin Website were a monthly ritual:

Through this site, the US government announced the cut-off dates for the visa and residency applications that would be processed the following month. These bulletins were posted on either the 7th or 15th, so on those days the first thing I did when I woke up was pickup my smartphone, and visit these sites. There were many disappointing mornings.

What you hoped to see was a “C”, short for “current”, beside your application category. That meant that there was no delay in processing and you could gauge your wait based on established timelines for your type of application. For the past four years, however, instead of a letter, I saw a date. The date represents the last application that would be handled. If the date was earlier than yours, that meant that your papers were still in a folder or shelf or somewhere . . . untouched. Better luck next month.

There was no discernible pattern for advancement of that date. I had a friend at work who was a math major, who was also waiting on his own papers, and actually tried to work out the trends, but to no avail. Months would go by with no change. On other times, the site visit felt like a bad Twilight Zone episode because the processing date would actually move backwards . . . sometimes several years backwards. Officially, the practice was called “retrogression”, and was supposedly part of how the US government managed immigration quotas. I just called it an out-of-body-experience.

All that changed on the 19th of June,  2011 when this came in the mail. Total wait time: 2,100 days . . . 5.75 years . . . over half a decade.

The package actually arrived on the 18th, but we were camping that day so didn’t see the package till we came back the day after.

To those still in visa bulletin hell, hang in there.

Jul 15, 2011

Seven seasons and counting


Last Monday, 2nd of May, I celebrated my seventh year in the US. Over half a decade ago, I flew from Taiwan — which had been my home for 3.5 years — to LAX in Los Angeles (an experience that triggered my distaste for that airport and its hassles), and then took a domestic flight to the San Jose airport. Back then it had only been my second trip to the US.

It was a lightning-fast move. The interval between the initial hint that I would be transferred to the US office, and receipt of the actual travel order to move was measured in days. My wife and I couldn’t believe it, and it rapidly became a lesson against procrastination. We had been putting off going around Taiwan, and visiting neighboring countries because we figured they’d always be around. Alas, easy access to all these places was history.

However, we can’t really complain about what we received in exchange for that loss of access:

Amusement parks in SoCal . . . crab-fishing in San Francisco bay . . . a GreyHound bus ride from Huntsville, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia . . . a stroll in Central Park and in Brooklyn neighborhoods reminiscent of what you’d see on Sesame Street . . . crossing paths with a wild Bear in Juneau, Alaska . . . a submarine and helicopter ride in Maui, Hawaii . . . first DUKW tour in Boston harbor . . . a white-knuckle drive to a world-renowned observatory on top of Mt. Hamilton . . . cheap buffets off the Las Vegas strip . . . to-die-for Cioppino in Moss Landing, CA . . . first snowball . . . discovery of dry-aged steak . . . handpicking Cherries and Strawberries in the central California valley . . .

Can’t complain at all.

Looking forward to the coming seasons.

May 4, 2011

BattleLA: “Blackhawk Down” meets “Independence Day”


After a particularly tedious day at the office, I decided to blow off some steam at a theater in a half-dead mall that was close to the office. The movie was Battle: Los Angeles, an alien invasion movie set in Los Angeles, California.

I’d summarize the movie as “Blackhawk Down” meets “Independence Day”. It sure wasn’t frakk’n Skyline.

Like War of the Worlds, film makers brought the story down to the level of the individual by focusing on the struggle of a single squad of Marines assigned to a rescue mission. The invasion, therefore, was not seen from a objectifying strategic level, but from the jarhead’s perspective.

Whereas Jaws thrilled their audiences with a hidden fear beneath the surface of the water, the aliens of Battle LA were cloaked in fog. But visual impairment was the least our hapless heroes’ worries. The bipedal villains were inexplicably resilient to their weapons. If those challenges weren’t enough, drop in the detail of having the unit led by a 2nd Lieutenant that was fresh out of training, and backed up with a replacement Staff Sergeant that was rumored to have caused the deaths of the men in his previous unit.

The inexperienced-lieutenant scenario had been used in many movies before. Within the SciFi genre for example, we have the likes of Lieutenant Gorman from Aliens whose gaff not only caused the near total loss of his unit, it created the situation around which the movie centers. While the mental lock-up-under-fire is a predictable story element when a character like this is introduced, the way it was done in BattleLA left the character room for redemption. Whereas Gorman simply become a pathetically despicable character that could only atone for his error through a heroic death, BattleLA’s lieutenant character’s error was couched within the classic war movie officer-sergeant dynamic. This turned it into a tragic, but sympathy-inspiring, growth pain moment. All human characters in the movie remain likable throughout. Which is just as well since the movie arguably makes for a good Marine recruitment film.

Without a doubt, the movie benefited from assistance by the US Armed service’s film offices. The sheer number of non-computer generated equipment definitely gave the movie that feel. Whereas Saving Private Ryan was a virtual video catalogue of US small arms available during the period, BattleLA is its equivalent for present-day US Marine hardware. Whatever effort the military extended, they definitely got their effort’s worth back because the military comes across very positively in this movie. The image of a lone, immobilized M-1 Abrams tank under fire from directed energy weapons, protesting each incoming hit with retaliatory roars from its cannon encapsulated the movie’s underlying message about the military’s fortitude and devotion to mission.

Movies about the end of the world seem to beg for big-speech scenes, and BattleLA complies. It has its own equivalent to the “Today is our Independence Day” speech from Independence Day; now regarded by some critics as one of the cheesiest movie scenes in film history. At least this movie’s speech-moment was for a much more smaller audience, and was more tightly integrated into the inter-character conflict that developed throughout the story. Not so much cheese here.

I’d always been fascinated with SciFi combat that pitted present-day weaponry with off-world arsenals, which is actually a difficult balance to maintain. The makers of Independence Day and War of the Worlds simplified their task by simply making the aliens overwhelmingly superior. Add deflector shields to the invader’s arsenal, and that pretty much sets the tone for the movie.

To make the movie’s characters relevant, infantry-level combat still had to be viable. So even though the alien’s superiority was still unmistakable, it was not devastatingly insurmountable. This made for a fair number of Blackhawk Down-type combat scenes.

BattleLA delivers. For me, it fulfilled the promise that Skyline implied . . . but fell horribly short. I still regret watching the latter movie. For those who made the same mistake, this movie will make up for it.

This movie was a sufficiently satisfying distraction . . . I was able to return to the office after the movie to continue the work that had turned tedious.

Apr 7, 2011

Taiwanese honesty


A good friend in Taiwan, a former co-worker and fellow Filipino, posted this on his Facebook status today:

I left my son’s national ID card and insurance card in a cab on the way to the hospital. An hour later at home, the doorbell rang and when I opened the door, it was the cab driver returning the cards. He said he couldn’t find us at the hospital so he decided to try finding us at home. I am among very honest and considerate people. Thank you, Taiwan

My wife and I both also have generally positive experiences with Taipei taxi drivers. Drivers giving discounts for getting confused with directions because of our foreign accents, and thus getting lost, are not uncommon.

I’m not saying that the place gives you license to be careless. But it is indeed more forgiving than many other places.

Stories like this make me miss what had been our first home as a couple.

Filed under Slices of life, Taiwan
Mar 24, 2011

Visiting the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation museum


How often do you get an opportunity to park beside a T-55 Main Battle Tank?

For folks who visit the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation in Portola Valley, CA, that is mere routine.

A friend with a passion for all-things military visited me in February. So I put together a sightseeing tour that would prioritize military exhibits. This Jacques Littlefield creation was simply something that couldn’t be missed: the largest private collection of armored vehicles in the world.

This museum is situated within the founder’s “Pony Tracks Ranch” at 499 Old Spanish Trail, Portola Valley. GPS directions to the property are notoriously unreliable, so drivers are advised to pay special attention to the directions to the property that are given in response to a request for a visit. I didn’t, and ended up trying to enter someone else’s private property, as per my beloved Garmin’s instructions. It was apparently a common occurrence.

Visits are by appointment through the museum Website: Tours are typically scheduled on weekends, with one tour held in the morning and another in the afternoon. Special tours, however, could be arranged during the week. As of the visit, the admission fee was at a reasonable $20.

Our morning group was handled by Phil Hatcher, the second gentleman in the video above. It was an excellent tour, filled with bits of trivia about the vehicles in the display in general, and on the specific pieces in particular.

The vehicles on display are a scale modelers dream. My friend, who had made more than his share of Sherman tank models, paid special attention to the number of Sherman versions in the collection, and reveled in the differences between US Army and US Marine Corps color schemes. Such is the attention to detail that modelers focus upon their subjects. It was only fitting, therefore, that the employees and volunteers at the museum, and even the founder himself, had an affinity for assembling replicas. The collection was actually an off-shoot of this hobby.

On my part, the following vehicle, a Sturmgeshutz III, brought back memories as it was the very first tank model I ever made.

The sheer number of vehicles and equipment, from Scud missile launchers to Main Battle Tanks, were simply too much to take in on a single visit. I will definitely come back to this place sooner than later.

If there was a take-away from that visit that was a tad disconcerting, it was about the future of the collection. The founder had died in 2009, so the millions that had been poured into the collection in years past was no more. A foundation was now in place to preserve what was already in the collection. But the various vehicles that were still in different stages of restoration would, in all likelihood, would no longer be completed.

A return visit, therefore, is not merely an indulgence, but a show of support for a unique vision.

Mar 13, 2011