GrandCentral Notes

GrandCentral appears to be hitting the big time with the recent news that Google will be acquiring the start up for approximately 50 to 75 million dollars.  I am a recent convert and would welcome the news (if true).  There are so many companies that could leverage GrandCentral that I’m surprised there isn’t more competition evident.  Google with it’s deep pockets would provide the time for the company to really polish the product.

I’ve started setting myself up with true and have identified a few ‘tips’ on its use.

  1. Personal greetings are cool and all but make certain you don’t assume that shared phones will be used by a single individual.  For instance, I have my wife in my contacts folder with our home phone.  Recording a personalized greeting for her contact would have meant that not only when calling from her cell phone, but also our home phone, would result in the personalized ‘wife’ greeting being used.  My kids wouldn’t mind I’m sure but it’s something to keep in mind.  I decided to remove the home phone from the contact so that only my wife’s cell phone would get the personalized greeting.
  2. The web call button is cool but you if you are concerned at all with maintaining some privacy, it’s important you don’t use a greeting which includes your Grand Central phone number or any other personal information.  You otherwise will be giving a lot of information to a large audience.
  3. One of the nice features about the web site is the ability to set different ring tones people hear while waiting for you to pick up the call.  Grand Central comes with several alternatives to the traditional “ring”.  If you are a hack like myself you want to try to set up different tones then the defaults.  The Freesound Project is a great source of different tones available.

Things I would like to see:

  1. The contacts would benefit from some Ajax goodness.  The quantity of fields available for each contact are great of course but the current user interface can be a little cumbersome and confusing.  I would like to see some effort invested in cleaning up this interface.
  2. Custom groups!
  3. Skype support…

Passport Ordeal

I received a call from a local resident asking about my ordeal getting a passport for Matt.  Apparently, my wife has shared how we were able to work through the process to get the passport with a several people.  Word has gotten out and now I’m a ‘resource’.

The biggest problem is that the bureaucracy is under extreme pressure.  Too few people are attempting to deal with too many requests.  No one is left to tell everyone what they are supposed to be doing.  (I’ll illustrate that point better below.)

Whether you apply in person, or you apply at your local post office – you need the following items:

  1. Two passport photos (although we only needed one)
  2. Evidence of citizenship.  For us, this was a birth certificate.
  3. Your social security number.
  4. Photo Id such as a driver’s license
  5. The application itself.
  6. Money

We applied for Matt’s passport on April 3rd of 2007.  With the current crush of requests, you can not inquire about a passport issue until 14 days before you depart.  So for us, that meant we could not ask until May 4th.  And we did.  Becky tried for several days and was unable to reach a human.  We went through the standard escalation process including calling our congressman.  Despite others telling us that they had been provided with back door phone numbers – the aide to Boehner told us that we were mistaken, and the congressman had no influence over the situation.  So be it.

We talked with others who had experience getting passports, and we were presented with a variety of approaches – some contradictory to each other.  We were told we would ‘walk through’ the process.  We were told we should expedite the passport.   We were told expediting a passport shortly before the passport was needed could create confusion and ultimately a lost passport.  We were told you needed to make an appointment for the walk through.  We were told you could just show up for the walk through.

On Monday evening, May 11th I sat down with my cell phone and got comfortable with the redial button.  (By the way – for English speaking applicants looking for status the key combination is 1-3-1).  What became apparent is that the government’s phone system is stressed.  On many attempts, the recorded voice came on and told me “Due to the high call volume we are not able to accept your call now” and would hang up on me.  On other occasions, it accepted me into a call queue.

On Monday evening I finally talked to a person.  She asked for Matt’s name and the last four digits of his social security number.  She also wanted to know when he planned to travel.  Despite my trials getting to talk to a person – she was helpful (more then I knew immediately).  She indicated that she had made a note on his file that he needed his passport by the 16th of May.

The next day I grew anxious again and decided that I needed to have a backup plan.  I decided I needed to call back in and confirm that I was not being patronized.  I woke up Tuesday morning (they open up for calls at 6:45 AM). After about 30 minutes I reached a human again.  She confirmed that the note had been attached to Matt’s file and also confirmed that our worthless state representative had also had a staffer leave two notes on the file (so I’ll not pick on him too much).  I asked the last day I could walk through the process myself and she said I could not walk the process less than 48 hours before the trip (Thursday).  I told her I had been unable to make an appointment (the automated system is down as far as I’m concerned) and she indicated that no appointments were necessary.  I could simply walk into the facility.  Because I was by now a skeptical person I asked her to confirm that last piece of information with her supervisor.  That person confirmed that we could walk through the process without an appointment.

Following that conversation, I decided that I could not in good conscious sit around and hope that the passport would show up.  I decided I would go to Chicago and walk through the process for the passport.  My employer was gracious and allowed me to take the day off on short notice.  We secured the necessary paperwork (see list) and set our plans for Wednesday (since I didn’t trust I would not encounter problems – I moved the trip back from Thursday to Wednesday in case there were issues).

We woke up at 3:00 AM eastern and took off at 4:00 AM.  We arrived at the Federal building at 8:10.  The building doesn’t open until 9:00 AM and we were queued up half way around the building.  We made it into the building by 9:00.  Each of us was given a slip of paper with a number on it.  We passed through a metal detector and sent to the second floor of the building.

On the second floor, we waited in a line for 30 minutes before being allowed into a larger waiting room.  We were pretty lucky – because after we were allowed in things slowed down.  They put people who had already applied in one set of seats and those who were there for some other purpose.

On this particular day, they processed your paperwork and (I believe) submitted the request to have the passport produced.  Matt received a slip of paper with a control number and a time to reappear later in the day to receive his completed passport.  That time it turns out is very precise.  You are expected to leave the building after submitting your request and are not allowed back in the building until after your appointed time.  The lobby guards just won’t let you in earlier than your slip of paper indicates.

So to bring this ugly story to a close – the passport was available at 3:30 and were on the road back to Troy by 4:30 (just in time for Chicago rush hour traffic).

Oh – and I almost forgot.  After spending 10 hours driving to and from Chicago and waiting in various lines for 8 hours, I was drained.  The interesting twist was that a passport was Fedex’d to our house and arrived Saturday morning – the original customer service person had been successful getting the passport processed.  I don’t regret having spent my time walking through the process because I’m pretty sure I would not have slept between Thursday and Saturday morning.

Matt to Italy

Becky just called me with the news that Matt had boarded the flight to Milan.  The Loerke clan had some passport issues but those apparently were resolved since everyone was able to board the flight.


Becky also passed along that the flight had been delayed 30 minutes.  Apparently, the airport in Milan – Linate – is struggling with a horde of breeding rabbits.  The hares are a hazard to landing and departing planes.

This quote from BBC article indicates the extent of the issue:

Things have become so serious that officials have taken the unusual step of closing Linate for three hours – from first light on Sunday – while a team of local wildlife experts try to catch the 80 or so hares that have been causing the problem.


Originally posted on

Irrelevant Jyte

I’ve enjoyed Jyte for several a while now – maybe two months. It’s gone from mostly entertaining and somewhat thought provoking to a sad place in that period. At its best it has generated some good discussion and some pithy (and I use that word with some reservation) commentaries.

A handful of people have started posting inane or pointless posts, so obscure or meaningless that they defy understanding. Like listening to a patient in a psych ward or two twins sharing a secret language or worse yet the longest knock knock joke in existance – it has become incredibly hard to find meaningful claims.

So yet again, another little interesting corner of the internet has been overgrown by the idiots. I’ll check back in a month. I am guessing we will have seen either the closure of the site or the idiots will have moved on.


I have not tried the service, so unlike some of my other links here, I can not provide any assurance regarding the service.  That being said, I really like the idea of the Numbr service.  The idea is a simple one, you sign up for a temporary phone number.  If you do nothing the number expires one month after you sign up.  You also have the option of expiring the phone number.  They guarantee that numbers will not  be reused (I don’t know how that could be true).  It’s an outgrowth of Craigslist so there’s a real business behind this.  I’m just not sure how they make money.

Originally posted on

QotD: Senseless Saying

What’s a saying or phrase that’s never made sense to you?

“It is what it is” – not only does it not make sense, I can’t stop myself from saying it.  It is a meaningless expression when you want to acknowledge that you have no way of influencing the way things are – so I guess the expression has meaning – but not much.

Originally posted on