Government Bureacracy, FAIL

I had to fill out 50+ pages of personal information so that some unnamed government agency can investigate my life. Oh, if you're even reading this then there's probably a good possibility that you'll be getting a personal visit from an agent from said agency within the next 6 months or so. So if some agent comes knocking on your door asking questions about me, try not to be too annoyed.

Anyway, back to my crankiness of the moment. I was filling in the information about my spouse and I had to provide place of birth. Well, that seemed pretty straight-forward, so I filled it in like so:
Place of Birth FormAfter submitting everything I got an email with "things to fix". One is that I need to come up with contact information for the supervisors I had during my summer internships at Aetna like 5+ years ago. Yah, that was fun. After, like, forever, I managed to find a generic HR phone number. After forcing my way through to an operator (No! I'm neither a current employee nor retiree!), I was told I can send a fax to the Payroll Department (and I have a phone number!).

Sorry, got sidetracked there. The thing I need to fix which is pertinent to this post is:
InstructionsIn case you can't read it, that says "Was your Spouse born in Puerto Rico? If so, please delete PR from the State and enter Puerto Rico in the Country field."

So, despite the form having an option for "Puerto Rico" as a state, and saying not to put a country unless born outside the United States. I'm supposed to ignore that and instead list Puerto Rico as a country.

Well, I tried that. Now the System is yelling at me because if she wasn't born in the "United States" then I must provide a Document Type and Document ID Number that proves she is a US Citizen. NewsFlash! Puerto Rico is part of the United States, that's why it's in the friggin' drop-down box! GAH!

Ok, Fine. At least Jess' birth certificate has some kind of ID Number on it. Oh wait! It has 5. An "Area Number", a "Register Number", a "Certificate Number", in big huge bold font a "Birth Number", and some unidentified 6-digit number stamped on the back in red ink. Well, they're getting the "Certificate Number" so they better be happy with that, though I'll bet that in 3 months I get a call asking about why they can't find Jess' proof of citizenship.

We're not done with the idiocy yet though. In another section I'm supposed to: "List three people who know you well... whose combined association with you covers at least the last 7 years." Ok, I can do that. APPARENTLY NOT! I was told that in order to fix that I need to "List 2 verifiers that have known you at least 7 years to present, with up to date information." Completely conflicting information. Oh, and it can't be anyone related to me in anyway, and I can't have listed them anywhere else in this form already (my roommates, professors, landlords, etc). There is NOBODY that fulfills this requirement. Friends from high school won't count because we haven't been close friends in the past 6 years. No one from college will count since that tops out at 6 years, and I've already listed anyone of note as roommates. GAH!

If they're so good at their jobs of investigating backgrounds, why am I doing all the work!

California State Fair

We went to the California State Fair on Saturday. It's in Sacramento, so it was about a 1.5 hour drive away. But we had nothing else going on and somehow Jess has managed to never go to a state fair like thing ever. So we had to remedy that.

We went up in the evening once it was starting to cool down for the day. We're still learning how the weather out here works and so far have concluded that we're no good at predicting how it will go. Sometimes the sun sets and the temperature drops 20 degrees instantly (like when we went to the play last month), and sometimes the sun sets and the temperature barely changes (like at the fair). We had changed into pants and I carried around our jackets the whole time thinking it would get chilly. It didn't.

Sadly we forgot to bring a camera and by the time I remembered that we needed pictures we were already half-way done. So all I have are a handful of cell-phone pictures.

First thing we did was buy cotton candy, a requirement for Jess anytime such a possibility presents itself. Then we wandered through some of the buildings to learn about all the fabulous crap that we never knew we needed (the life-blood of any state fair). Upon leaving one of the buildings we ended up on "the farm". We went into the Insect Experience where we saw all sorts of gross things like gimongous moths and butterflies, hissing cockroaches, crazy stick bugs, and other such wonders. After seeing enough of that we went and visited the Kiwi vines (Kiwis grow on vines, who knew?). Then we rested our feet and watched them show off some of the horses.

By this time we were starting to get hungry and began questing for further fair-food. A funnel cake was a must, as always. It wasn't great, but I think that just keeps up the carny-tradition of low quality food for five times the price anyone would reasonably pay. Not wanting to leave without the full experience of this motto we got some low quality French fries. With a large helping of ketchup we were able to finish those off.

Being filled with grease we were ready to head in to the Garden of MAGnificent Proportions (their capitalization). Here's were I took some pictures:
Whose life is complete without a giant snail, giant frog, and giant radish and shovel?

Giant Snail Giant Frog Giant Shovel

We then wandered through the art exhibits and then my feet were ready to fall off. So we went and took a ride of the giant swings before heading home:
Jess on the swingsI was going to try to take a picture while we were actually swinging, but they got us going at a pretty good speed and I didn't want to watch my phone shatter into a million pieces.

That ends our trip to the California State Fair. It is gigantic. It seems vastly larger than the Utah State Fair and even the Big-E, and I hear that this year's was smaller due to the financial problems, so normally it must be huge.

New Phones

Jess and I have switched to our own family plan for our cell phones. So we now have new phone numbers. If you need our new phone numbers, email one of us and we'll get it to you. Or I suppose you could comment on this post and we'll find a way to get it to you as well.

We ended up going with T-Mobile for several reasons. The main reason that they offer more minutes for the same price as all the other family plans that were available. The other reason is that they let you tack on unlimited data (internet access) for $10/month. Whereas the closest competitor is $30/month and if you want to use a device other than your phone they'll charge you $60/month. So, having my little Nokia n810 I thought that might be handy. Since they were also offering a 30-day trial of the data access I've been having fun trying it out. I've decided it's great if you're traveling a lot and want to stay connected. But rather unnecessary otherwise. So I'll probably cancel it and add it back on for $10/month when I do lots of traveling for the month (assuming I'll be able to actually do this).

So far I'm happy overall with the switch. It didn't go off without a hitch, but that's, sadly, to be expected. The first problem was that we wanted to keep our old numbers, but you're only allowed to do this if your name is on all the accounts. Since my name wasn't on my old account (being part of the family plan) I couldn't keep my number. And since we were putting the new plan in my name, Jess couldn't keep her number. But, that's probably for the best anyways, this way people who live here can call us from landlines without paying long distance.

The second problem was that they gave us phone numbers that weren't local to Livermore. Which was really stupid. So I had to call them up on this one. After getting sent in circles on their stupid menu system I got a hold of someone (thankfully their call centers are actually in the US and the workers speak intelligible English). They changed the numbers for us, but I was still annoyed when they acted like they were doing us a big favor by not charging $15 each line to change the number.

The phones themselves are good and pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I searched for weeks before doing this to find phones that were good at being phones. We don't want phones that try to be a camera, music player, fish scaler, gourmet chef, and, oh, and maybe make calls too. We want phones that are phones first. I finally found the Motorola w490:
MOTOROLA-W490-BLACK-RB-2T

The review I found gave it 3 out of 5 stars and said something along the lines of, "It is good at making calls and has incredible battery life (8+ hours talk-time tested), but the music player isn't very good and the camera isn't very good." That sold me. I'm happily using my phone as a phone.

Another aspect of our plan that has made me happy is that T-Mobile isn't going out of their way to be obnoxious. The phone comes completely unlocked. You can add a microSD card for extra space. It charges through a standard miniUSB connector which you can charge from a socket or your computer (if you happen to have the proper connector), and you can transfer files over the connection or even use the phone as a modem. They don't stop you from loading your own songs to use as ringtones, they don't stop you from tethering your device via Bluetooth and transferring files or using the data connection. You've paid for the hardware and they let you do what you want with it. Very refreshing considering most companies (I'm looking at you, Verizon) still screw you over in this respect pretty badly.

Unfortunately, T-Mobile is still following all the other American companies and screwing you on text messages. I'd be perfectly happy to sign up for a 100 text a month plan to be split across our phones for $1/month (heck I'd even pay $1/month for 50 or even 25, it's still better than $.20 per message), but I'm not going to pay $5/month/phone for some ridiculous number of messages that neither of us is possibly going to use. So we'll live without text messages. Hopefully the FTC or DOJ or whoever it is will finish their investigation and rain down fines and penalties until this collusive practice ends.

Ways In Which My Mother Has Lied to Me #457: My Name

I've had two items at the top of my to-do list for some time now: change my name with Social Security and get my CA driver license. Well, it took a while to get the official marriage certificate, and then I had to make sure I had a valid ID while we were flying to UT, so they got put off for a while, but I started on them last week.

So last Wednesday, I went down to the DMV. I was somewhat nervous about the written test I was going to have to take (yes, I know how to drive, but I struggle with remembering numbers and such, so I'm concerned about my ability to regurgitate things like following distances), but I needn't have worried. After waiting for over an hour, I was informed that I couldn't get a license in my new name until after I'd changed it at Social Security, even though I had my marriage certificate with me. Of course, I'd not been told this on my previous trips, but whatevs. As Kyle pointed out later, is was only my third visit, so I shouldn't have reasonably expected to get my license.

Anyway, the lady offered to start on my temporary license, in my maiden name. There'd be no charge to get it finalized in my married name, and I figured sure, why not? In case you were wondering, this is where this post transforms from mildly annoyed venting to mind-blowing craziness. She's typing away on her computer and pauses to look down at my application. "Are you sure this is your social security number?" "Ye-e-es." She gives me a weird look, so I reach into my wallet and pull out my social security card and show it to her. She looks down at my birth certificate, declares, "Oh, that's the problem," and starts scribbling things out on my DL application. A little exasperated, I say, "What's my problem?"

Apparently, my problem is that I was born in Puerto Rico. And now DMV Lady is rewriting my name as follows:

First Name: Jessica Holly
Middle Name: Olsen
Last Name: Johnson

For those who don't know, my actual name is Jessica Holly Johnson. Olsen is my mother's maiden name. Which has never been part of my name. Evar. And even on my crazy Puerto Rican birth certificate, it's labeled as such: Mother's Maiden Name. So I'm not sure why DMV Lady was so convinced that it needed to be part of my name. Well, except that she kept saying that she couldn't find me in The System unless she put in Olsen. I don't know which system this was. When I finally got to Social Security (more on that later), they didn't show Olsen as part of my name, which makes perfect sense because the card I pulled out of my wallet to show her my number shows my name as Jessica Holly Johnson. But in The System, my name is Jessica Holly Olsen Johnson. So that's what she wanted to put on my license. I tried explaining to her that that was not my name, and that that's not what the birth certificate said, but that didn't matter because that's what The System said. [sigh] But she said it didn't matter anyway, because I was going to change my name in any case. So I left, not getting a silly temporary license with not my name on it. Stupidstupidstupid.

My favorite part is that when I went home and called my mom to harass her (just in fun, y'know?) about how she'd lied to me all my life about my name and now I was having an identity crisis because my name was actually Olsen, she said and I quote: "I know. But only in Puerto Rico!" There may have been yelling at this point. Apparently, she had to fill out all sorts of paperwork with both her maiden and married names there. Go figure. Of course, none of this makes any sense at all, given that this is the third driver license I've applied for, and this has never been an issue. I'm almost 29 years old, for goodness' sake. Kyle's theory is that this is some Homeland Security database that got put together since the last time I applied for a license, and some flunky put the data in screwy. It's a possibility, I guess. I certainly don't have a better explanation.

The next task, then, was to get to Social Security and change my name. With a print-out of Google directions to a closer office in hand (my last attempt sent me into an apparent black hole, which caused obvious problems when I tried to re-cross the event horizon and come back home), I set out on Thursday, full of confidence that now that I had an official marriage certificate, this would be simple. Wrong! Though the lady helping me was very nice and she was able to confirm that Olsen was not part of my name according to Social Security (which actually makes me nervous; if theirs is not The System, how am I to get Olsen out of my name and off my driver license?), she couldn't change my name. See, though my marriage certificate does have official seals and signatures, it doesn't have a certificate number. Not, like, it's blank; there's isn't even a place for one. Of course, it was 3 pm in CA, so it's not like we could call anyone in Massachusetts and figure anything out. She asked if I had the marriage license, though, and I said yes. She said to come back on Monday (she wouldn't be in on Friday), and she could use that number to process it.

I got home and told Kyle all about it, and he called me a liarface. Not about what had happened, but about having the marriage license. And he was absolutely right; we'd turned that in at the temple. Silly me. So I called the Belmont town clerk on Friday morning to ask them for advice; it was their marriage certificate, right? Surely they could help me out. Not so much; that was the only kind of certificate they issued, and they'd never had this problem before. Of course not. He did say that the social security office could call and talk to the actual town clerk on Monday, though, and gave me her contact info. Lovely.

So today I set out again for the SS office. SS Lady didn't end up calling the town clerk, but she did call a SS office out near Boston. (The three-hour time difference between the two coasts really doesn't make arranging things any more convenient!) That worker basically snorted at the "quirks" of small towns (I hadn't realized Belmont was tiny or that they would be such a hassle; we just picked the town closest to the Boston temple!) and told her what she would have to do. So what's happening now is that she's submitted a request to have the certificate/marriage verified; somebody out there will have to go out to Belmont and make sure everything's legit, then get back to her, so we can change my name. No idea how long this will take, either. All because Belmont doesn't put numbers on their marriage certificates! Even Puerto Rico puts numbers on their birth certificates! Come on, people!!!

I wouldn't mind the wait, except that my current driver license actually expires on my birthday. In less than a month. So I'll give this a couple of weeks, but then I'll have to go get that temporary license. With crazy not my name on it.

Graduation!

My official graduation date was August 2009. So I used the one vacation day I'd accrued and Jess and I went back to Provo so I could walk in the convocation ceremony.
GraduatingAfter the ceremony we walked over to the Talmage building for food. This was vitally important because an 8:00 ceremony after flying in late at night, getting 4 hours of sleep, and not having time to eat breakfast means that by 9:15 we were starving. So that food was good. In the lobby there they scroll through the names of people graduating, so we took the obligatory picture of me in front of my name:
IMG_4622Graduation itself was fun, I got to wear a silly looking robe with a Master's hood. Somehow we managed to not get any really good pictures of the hood. But we wouldn't be done without a picture to show how silly the whole getup looks:
IMG_4628We stayed in Provo until Sunday evening. It was good to visit our friends and such. On Sunday evening we hopped back on the plane and flew home to California. Anyone using the Oakland airport should note that the airport economy parking lot calculates the charge as far in favor of the airport as possible. Something I was annoyed to discover when the $16/day parking charge resulted in a $60 charge for 3 nights.