Support From The Internet

I’m currently in Lisbon for YAPC Europe. I very nearly didn’t make it. I flew out on Friday and on Friday morning, about three hours before I was supposed to leave the house, I discovered that my passport was missing.

I realise, of course, that looking for your passport on the day that you are planning to travel is a rather stupid way to organise your life. But that’s not what I did. I made sure that I knew where my passport was two weeks before that. Except it turns out that wasn’t my current passport. That was an old expired passport which, for reasons too boring to go into, hasn’t had the corner cut off in the way that expired passports are supposed to.

Just before 9am, I twittered my predicament.

Hmmm… I appear to be having some slight difficulty tracking down my passport *FX: Mild panic*

An hour and a half later, I still sound calm (almost joking), but internally the panic was rising.

If I was a passport, where would I be hiding?

At that point I think that some of my Twitter followers realised that I was serious and started to send helpful suggestions.

@davorg in the cupboard where the cereals are [@davecampbell]

@davorg Old suit or jacket pockets? Maybe in a suitcase? [@OvidPerl]

@davorg Even reading that has me moving to check that mine is where I think it is. Hope it doesn’t stay hidden for long! [@keiosu]

@davorg I found mine hiding under a stack of dirty dishes. [@__Abigail__]

@davorg sock drawer at ours usually [@gellyfish]

Every time I went back to Twitter, there were three or four new encouraging messages.

@davorg odds are you’ve packed it already [@SeanClarke]

@davorg My passport is in my dressing-gown pocket, but I suppose that’s unlikely to help you. [@robinhouston]

@davorg sock drawer? bedside table? [@davehodg]

@davorg I remember a Perlmonks user finding his passport in a slipper [@larsen]

@davorg When did you last use your passport? Is it tucked in the carry-on bag you were using? Filing cabinet? Safe? [@rozallin]

@davorg buried in the middle of a pile of filing/paperwork .. or is that just my wifey that does that? [@chiselwright]

@davorg The trousers you were wearing when you last entered the country? [@theorbtwo]

A lot of the suggestions weren’t particularly helpful, but by about 11am the support I was getting from Twitter was about the only thing that was keeping me sane. My stress is starting to show in typos.

Thanks for all
the advice. The passport remains elusive, but I’m sure I@m getting
closer. And I don’t need to leave for an hour or so :-/

The advice kept on coming.

@davorg Drawer. Bedside table? [@antoniojl]

@davorg If I was a passport I would hide in a suitcase, ready to go. [@anniemaggiemay]

And then it started to take a different tack.

@davorg if we had id cards, you wouldn’t need a passport :> [@pfig]

@davorg You’re an EU citizen. Showing your ID isn’t enough? My girlfriend says she can travel to Portugal on her French ID. [@OvidPerl]

@davorg you don’t need passport to come to Portugal! I believe you are EU citizen :) [@braceta]

Unfortunately, I’d already eliminated that option.

Phoned Passport Agency and BA to see if there is any chance of travelling without it. Of course not.

Then, at 12:33:

Found it. It was in the scanner!!!

One day perhaps I’ll find time to explain exactly why it was in the scanner. But for now I’ll just say that I only found it because I was looking in random places that I knew it couldn’t possibly be.

My Twitter followers were as happy as I was.

@davorg Hooray! [@mrvaidya]

@davorg heh and yay! [@chiselwright]

@davorg Of course! Bloody identity thieves! [@antoniojl]

Of course, the drama wasn’t completely over. I still had to get to the airport in time for my plane. At 12:59, I wrote:

Inna taxi to LHR. Hurrah! Excitment not over yet. Might not get there in time.

Still more encouragement from Twitter.

@davorg i fel the sonic boom as you whizzed past :) [@rjw1]

I was too busy to tweet for a while, but finally at 14:35 I found time to write:

Made it. Sitting in departure lounge waiting to board. Thanks for all your help. Hope you all enjoyed the drama.

And I think everyone was as relieved as I was.

@davorg – just happy you’re on the way safely. [@unixdaemon]

@davorg woo hoo – well done :) [@davecampbell]

@davorg Awesome! See you in Portugal on Sunday :) [@OvidPerl]

@davorg The HP techies here in the Bracknell office have been enthralled by yr mini soap opera. Glad you made it :-) [@edwenn]

@davorg Yay! Well done! [@antoniojl]

glad that @davorg found his passport in time. [@maokt]

@davorg Well done, and thanks for the entertainment! [@robinhouston]

@davorg w00t! U made it. Should have started a sweepstake in the office :) [@cyberdees]

My Twitter statuses are also fed through to my Facebook page. So friends were commenting there too. And I’m really grateful for all of the comments that I got from both places. It would have been really easy to have given up and cancelled the trip, but knowing that there were all these people out there rooting for me gave me the incentive to keep going.

I can categorically state that in this instance both Twitter and Facebook were wonderful systems.

Thanks to everyone who commented.


Credit Where Credit Is Due

I spend a lot of time here complaining about broken web sites, so it’s nice to be able to praise something that worked better than expected. And I’m slightly surprised to be able to report an impressive experience with a UK government web site.

One thing that I found whilst sorting through my study over the the weekend was my driving licence. It’s a provisional licence. I’ve never passed a driving test. I got a provisional licence when I was seventeen and over the next year I took many lessons and failed three tests. Back then (this was the late 70s) provisional licences were only valid for a year so once I gave up learning to drive I let my licence lapse and thought nothing more about it.

But then in 1996 I thought perhaps I would have another go so I applied for another provisional licence. By the time the licence arrived I’d lost any enthusiasm that I had and the new licence was just filed away and forgotten about. One thing had, however, changed in the intervening period. Provisional licences were no longer valid for just one year. This one was valid until (I think) my 70th birthday.

So on Saturday I found this long-forgotten, but still valid licence. The first thing I noticed about it was that it was still registered to my last address (it’s been ten years since we moved). The second thing that I noticed was a threat of a £1000 fine for failing to inform them of a change of address. Of course that really means that you’ll be fined if you get caught driving with a licence that has an out of date address, so there’s not much chance of me ever being fined. But I decided that it was worth getting it updated and put it aside in a small but growing pile of things to be addressed later.

Late on Sunday I was going through that pile and came to the licence. The instructions were to fill in your new address on the back of the licence and to send it back to the DVLA who would then issue a corrected replacement. Before doing that I decided to check if I could do this online.

I found the DVLA web site which quickly lead me to the Driving Licensing Online site where I found the link that I was looking for. As I was going through the process I realised that there might be a problem. My licence was of a pretty ancient vintage and new licences have a photo on them. I could see disaster looming. I was sure that I was going to end up with a form to print off and send in along with a photo. But that’s not what happened. What happened was a lot cleverer than that.

The system realised that I was a registered driver (albeit a provisional driver) and that it didn’t have a photo of me. It then asked if I had a passport and when I said yes, it offered to use the photo from my passport on my new licence. Not only does this demonstrate a level of technical ability and standardisation that is rarely seen in organisations of this size, but (far more importantly in my opinion) by asking for my permission before doing this, it shows an awareness of privacy issues that is, in my experience, even rarer.

I assume that had I said no, then I would have still ended up with a form to print off and instructions to send it in with a photo. But because I was happy for them to link these two records, I was able to do it all online. And it was free too. I half expected them to try and charge me fifteen of twenty quid.

So I’m now expecting my new driving licence to arrive in the next few days. I don’t know whether or not I’ll actually use it to start learning to drive again, but it’ll be a useful piece of ID to carry around. All in all, I was very happy with the way it all worked out.