The Visa Collector

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

Bike pump: Topeak Road Morph


My wife and I were supposed to go out for a bike ride today. But as I retrieved the bikes from our rack, it became apparent that our tires needed re-inflation. We didn’t have a tire pump ever since our car got broken into (more on that story on another post) and our air compressor got stolen, and I had procrastinated on getting a replacement. So we put off the ride, and I was off to the local sports store.

The Topeak Road Morph called to me. It was a reasonably priced, appeared well designed, and had a sensible mounting configuration. So made a zorro with the credit card, and I was the proud owner of one.

The pump didn’t come with documentation, and assumed that anyone that bought it knew the difference between a Presta and Schrader valve. There was a diagram on the box that, on hindsight, did explain how to reconfigure the pump for either valve (my mountain bike apparently used the later). But if you didn’t know what you were looking at . . . things would get interesting. It actually crossed my mind that I had bought a pump that had parts missing.

Happily the following videos were available, and saved me the trouble of going back to the store.

How to use the pump

How to reconfigure the valve

US green card holders and Canadian visas


While processing my visa for a business trip to our Canadian office, I was directed to the following interesting factoid:

Visas and Immigration

Q. I am a US permanent resident and I hold another country’s valid passport. Do I need a visa to go to Canada?

A. As a US permanent resident (green card holder) you will not need a visa to go to Canada as a tourist. Your green card acts in lieu of a visa but only in conjunction with a valid passport from your country of citizenship.

Looks like that trip to Niagara Falls that we were planning next year won’t be as complicated as I originally thought.

It also means that’s one less visa for me to collect (I’m almost tempted to say bummer).

Filed under Canada, US, Visa collection

Green to brown: New passport arrived


Finally got my replacement passport last Friday. I’m all set till 2016.

Unlike the good old days of the plain green passport, which you turned in for renewal in the morning and then picked up in the afternoon after lunch, the new brown passport with embedded electronics takes weeks. The standard timetable, as per the embassy claim stub, is set at “approximately” six weeks. In my case, it took 54 working days (August 3 to October 14). So if you know you have a trip planned, best to process your passport renewal well in advance.

Emergency extensions of passports, however, are possible. When my wife had to fly to the Philippines for a medical emergency early this year, and her passport was set to expire while she was out of the US, the embassy stamped a temporary extension on her passport so that she could travel while the renewal was being processed. This apparently isn’t a privilege that is given automatically. When I tried applying for a similar extension in the middle of this year, because I suspected that I would have to travel for business before my new passport could arrive, I was turned down. Reportedly, to qualify for an emergency I had to already have a flight scheduled. They also required me to have an affidavit explaining the nature of my travel.

The embassy staff didn’t really say so, but from the looks of it, there may have been people who were abusing the extension process. So now they have to clamp down on everyone. Bummer.

The new passport is great!!! The identity page isn’t protected by a brittle piece of lamination that seemed vulnerable to cracking if some immigration officer decided to twist it the wrong way (which happened to a friend . . . twice). Now it’s flexible, with a number of attractive-looking security features. Hold it against the light at different angles and you’ll see a variety of not-so-obvious marks.

At the back, it had the usual next-of-kin information in case something happens to you while travelling. It still asks for name, address, and telephone number. I would have thought that a 21st century passport would ask for an email address, but it didn’t. I put my wife’s email address anyway since it is arguably the most portable of our communication options.

Other than that trivial detail, I really like this passport. This 44-page booklet so beautiful, its almost a shame to use it. It’s a silly sentiment really given that’s what this $60 travel instrument is for, to filled with stamps and stickers. I guess it’s just the collector in me.

Happily, the first visa I’ll be working to put on it is also one of the nicer ones out there: a Canadian visa. A colorfully fitting start to an all-new visa collection.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

2011 crop: Petals drop


The petals have fallen, and the fruits are now visible. Still too early to celebrate, but things are looking good for this year’s barbecue.