Older blog entries for hypatia (starting at number 389)

Australian passport lifehacks, the unpaid version

If Alex Kidman can get a Lifehacker article out of a last minute passport application, I can get a blog entry.

I’ve had cause to apply for too many Australian passports in the last couple of years (mine and both of my children), and lo, I come to share my wisdom.

The online form

The passport office has an online version of the application form you can fill in. My advice: unless you are eligible for an renewal, do not bother with the online passport form.

All the online form does is generate a document you need to print out and take to a post office and it’s almost impossible to get the printer settings right to the point where I’m yet to meet anyone who actually has done so (apparently the passport office is very picky about it being printed in exactly the right size, in a way that printer drivers just don’t support). Plus, as Ruth Ellison noted in 2008 (and it looks like the website has not been redone since), the user experience is dreadful. Instead, go to the post office, pick up a paper application form, take it away and fill it out. And this is coming from someone who hand-writes so seldom she can’t reliably replicate her own signature any more, so you know I’m serious.

Actually, grab two forms, because they’re also fussy about any mistakes you make on it and it might be better to just complete a second form if you make one. (When I say “they”, it’s actually not clear if the passport office is incredibly fussy or if the post offices are overcautious on their behalf. But it doesn’t matter to you, normally. Someone is fussy.)

If you are renewing, it generates a single page form for you to sign. This is more reasonable to print. Make sure when you print it that no part of the form has been cut off at the edges of the paper and this seems to suffice. The alternative is calling the passport office and they will print this form for you and mail it to you.

Passport timelines

The Australian Passport Office is pretty good about its timelines (10 working days for a normal application, 2 if you pay an additional priority fee of roughly 50% of the cost of a normal application), but the trick is they do not include Australia Post’s part of the process. That is, they do not include the time taken for the application to be transported to them, nor the time Australia Post takes to deliver it back to you. The delivery is especially tricky because they mail it to you registered post at your residential address. Registered post is delivered to people, not mailboxes, so unless you tend to be home all day, you will miss the delivery and need to pick up from a post office, probably the next day.

So, you can read their processing time something like this:

Normal application They say 10 working days or less. However, apply at least three weeks and ideally more before you need the document if you want to receive it in the post. If it’s a near thing, pay the priority fee or, if you live near a passport office, ask the post office to mark it as for collection at the passport office, and they ring you and you go and pick it up there the day it is ready rather than having it take multiple days in the post. (Source: my husband did a normal application with passport office pickup in March 2013.)

Priority application They say 2 days. But the post office’s part takes at least that long again. I can tell you from hard-won personal experience this week that the post office did not consider 5 business days enough time for me to get one through applying through them, and that’s in Sydney where it’s only one day to deliver it to the passport office. So this is really more “dammit, just missed the 10 days cutoff” option than the “I’m travelling within the week!” option.

“But I am travelling within the week!” You need to book a passport interview at a capital city passport office, where they will take your documents and start your 2 working day countdown that second. Ring the passport office, eventually if you are patient with their phone tree you get through to an operator who will make you an appointment. You will get a passport 2 working days after that appointment. (The Passport Office is quite strict with themselves about working days. I did a passport interview Thursday, I have a receipt saying my passport is due for completion at 11:44am Monday!) I was told if your appointment is within those 2 working days to spare you may get promised one faster at the discretion of the passport officer who interviews you, but no promises at the time of booking.

However, again from hard-won personal experience, they could have a two or three day wait for an appointment, which puts you pretty much back at the post office’s timeline. Call them back daily to see if a slot has opened up: I originally had an appointment on Friday afternoon having been assured that Wednesday and Thursday were booked solid, but when I rang on Thursday morning they had an appointment available within two hours.

“But I’m travelling within the day!” Read Alex Kidman’s article. It sounds like the process is to turn up sans appointment and have at least one of a very pressing need or a very apologetic approach to them, and they may give you a slot freed by a no-show and can produce a passport within the day in some cases. Whirlpool, which you can usually rely upon to contain a gloomy bunch of know-it-alls looking forward to explaining how you’ve stuffed it all up, also has largely positive stories.

Proving citizenship

There are no hacks, this is a total pain in the butt and seems capable of holding up passport applications for years or forever.

I luckily have the most clear-cut claim: I was born in Australia before 20 August 1986, I have citizenship by right of birth alone. But even one of my children, who has the super-normal case of citizenship by right of Australian birth combined with two citizen parents at the time of his birth, had one set of documents rejected (incorrectly, in my opinion, but I don’t award passports). Ruth Ellison, a naturalised citizen, writes that she needed to add time to get documentation that was in her parents’ possession. Chally Kacelnik, after digging up evidence of her mother’s permanent residency at the time of her birth, still faced pushback as to its status. A Whirlpool poster, estranged from their parents and therefore unable to get them to provide documents proving their citizenship, seemed unable to prove citizenship by descent as of the end of their thread despite living in Australia their whole life.

I have the very limited consolation of a slight acquaintance with other country’s processes fairly recently and can report that they are often just as reliant on hoping that someone in the family is the type of person who flees countries with a complete set of personal identity documents and someone else who keeps a stash of passports belonging to people who’ve since died, and so on. That is, no consolation.

Syndicated 2014-06-12 22:03:13 from puzzling.org

Saturday 9 June 2014

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

— Douglas Adams

I’ve decided the same applies more generally to life experiences. Anything that happens before you are 10 (20?) is the natural order of things and you should take it as read that it will probably happen practically every day.

Thus it was with today’s visit to the Australian Museum’s Tyrannosaurus exhibition. This isn’t New York; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more-or-less complete fossilised skeleton of a dinosaur before. (I was living in Orange when most of the Canowindra fish fossils were found, but… fish. I feel a bit bad for Canowindra: your teeny town gets a world-leading fossil discovery, except, it’s fish. Sure, now I’m interested. But now I’m not a kid.) But V is four, and so I guess he presumes he’s going to see a T. rex most months of his life from now on. It’s a good exhibit, I feel like Andrew and I should take a day off work and go and see it by ourselves, without a world-weary four year old in attendance.

The weather of the last few days has been very un-Sydney-like. Sydney weather likes to set in. It’s not just “mostly sunny”, it’s unrelenting non-stop ultraviolet being shot into your brain. It’s not just “showers”, it’s flash floods. But these last few days have been truly showers; about every thirty minutes a sudden dump of rain gets spat in from the ocean. Difficult to plan around.

We’ve continued with the trend of V’s social life eclipsing ours. This weekend we went to the pool in order to try and teach him to jump in the big pool (no), Tumbalong Park where he ran in the fountains despite it being the first weekend that feels like winter and it being just as cold as the big pool, Georgie’s second birthday party, the dinosaur exhibit and the bike playground.

This feels like, and is, way too much stuff, but V continues in his pattern of some years now of being very difficult to entertain when we’re inside our house. There’s a wide world out there, and he’d camp in it if he could. Hrm, now I have a horrible feeling camping is in our future. So a never ending series of expeditions is currently the lesser of two evils.

Meanwhile, in the future looms The Great and Terrible Business Trip of 2014, namely, me taking A to the US for business for a fortnight, leaving a week from tomorrow. Every time I think about it I realise there’s a new complication. I need to take 100% nursing compatible clothes (which overlap not at all with my preferred conference wear). I will need to be back in my hotel room every evening at 6pm-ish when she turns into a pumpkin, which will be a significant dent in conference socialising. I can’t use taxis for airport transfers because she would need a US-approved rear facing car seat for every one. I am not taking a stroller either, so I’ll be babywearing her non-stop.

Val asked me whether people had been giving me negative feedback about this trip; I replied that they have, but in a resigned “well, this is exactly the kind of thing we expect of you, Mary” way.

Syndicated 2014-06-09 12:40:57 from puzzling.org

Robot cars: why I’m both excited and worried

Maybe this is selection bias, but most people I know seem very underwhelmed by self-driving cars. I am whelmed! I hope it works out.

I should clarify, because I discovered when talking to my parents about this that the term “self-driving car” isn’t self-explanatory to everyone. To them, it meant something like “slightly better cruise control”, and seemed very unexciting. It may be clearer to say “robot car” or “robot taxi”. A self driving car is a car that does every driving task by itself. It decides on the route. It looks where it is going. It turns corners. It brakes. You could, at the end point of the development, lie on a bed asleep inside a car while it drives you where it’s going. It’s still not entirely clear (to me) that this is all feasible with likely technology, or that it will be legally acceptable, but it’s seeming more likely. After years of driving modified cars with added self-driving about, Google is making prototype cars for further development.

Incidentally, “robot car” is a lot easier to type than “self-driving cars”, so I’m going to adopt it for the rest of this entry.

Upsides of robot cars (why I’m excited)

Here’s what I envisage:

Less driving by humans (specifically, me). Most people who comment on cars love driving, which is why I suspect self-driving car discussions often spiral into “but driving is fun! no one will cede control over their favourite activity!” Well, I’m queuing up. It’s not that driving is never fun, but for me, but it’s frequently unfun, especially since it’s so often city driving. Most of the fun bits of driving could be replicated for me in dedicated arenas.

Time reclamation. I drove to Canberra on the Easter long weekend, got stuck in the worst traffic I’ve ever been in, and commented to my husband that my brain is somewhat over-powered to be spent deciding when to slightly and briefly depress an accelerator pedal. Less human time spent driving is more time spent reading, talking, composing, sleeping. Plus all kinds of hedonism.

Increased independence for ‘dependents’. Google’s publicity already talks about elderly people who have stopped driving. But I know other people who can’t drive. I live with two of them. They’re 4 months old, and 4 years old, respectively. The degree to which it is safe or healthy for children of those ages to be left to supervise themselves in robot cars is debatable, but by the time they’re say, 7? Sure, the car could drive them somewhere for fifteen minutes or half an hour. At 14 or 15? They can tell it where to go. (15 year olds can’t drive in NSW, but when I was 15, I was independently mobile on foot and on bike, and occasionally in planes, trains and taxis.)

Two other people I’ve personally known who can’t drive had a seizure disorder and limited vision respectively, and there are lots of medical and psychological reasons that limit or prohibit driving, many of which would be compatible with being sole passenger in a car.

Speaking of psychological reasons, while I believe I am a driver of roughly average ability now and I now don’t seem to find it more stressful than others do, I hated learning how to drive, was petrified, and was a frustrating and frightening student. If I had equal mobility without ever having gone through that, I would not have. (And I think neither would my husband, who didn’t learn to drive until I taught him.) I know quite a few people in this category, including some unable to use cars to this day.

More comfortable trips. The possibility of being driven around while lying down or in a comfortable chair or, for that matter, while standing or exercising or drinking with friends. (Although see ‘Humans as cargo’ below.)

Fewer cars. Cars that can come and pick you up should increase utilisation of cars, as in, there will be less cars total, and less empty cars at any given time. This diminishes the use of mined resources, and has a carbon impact (the manufacture of cars has a substantial carbon footprint).

Lighter cars. With a vastly improved safety profile (which I am taking as read, otherwise I think the whole project is null and void) the weight required for modern safety features in cars can be ditched.

Safer cars. This is an assumption, but really, they’re not going to launch at all if they aren’t significantly safer. So if it happens at all, deaths and injuries in road travel should fall to near zero if robot cars become ubiquitous.

Land reclamation. Fewer cars means being able to reclaim some of the very significant amount of private and public land use currently devoted to parking cars.

Potential significant fuel savings. Inefficient human driving presumably has some direct fuel cost. In addition, robot cars can spread their usage more evenly over different routes, further saving time and fuel. Diminished vehicle weight saves fuel.

Lifting of speed restrictions. Robot cars can’t overcome some physical difficulties here (non-linear increases in power consumption with speed, increased braking distances with speed) but they can overcome the human error that makes high speed driving dangerous. Trips should become somewhat faster with a high density of robot cars on the road.

Downsides of robot cars (or why I second-guess myself)

Here’s the tweet that inspired this entry:

The good news is, we're only about five years away from Exxon & GM trying to out-lobby Google. And that will be a brutal battle.

— Anil Dash (@anildash) May 28, 2014

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