I-Visa photos

Finding somewhere that could take a 2“ by 2” photo for my i-visa is turning out to be harder than I thought. The specs for how the photo looks are quite precise and you’re not allowed to tinker with an existing photo to make it.

Anyway, I’ve just found a place on Oxford Street that takes them: Passport Photo Service, which is a couple of minutes from the Embassy. I’ll let you know how it works out when I get back from them tomorrow.

The ring fenced fund progresses?

Just spoken to Chris Coles of BDO about payouts from the Highbury ring-fenced fund. He’s just had an updated application and he’s busy chasing down one of the larger creditors to get some documents changed. But he hopes soon to have some paperwork put together for the lawyers. They’ll take it to a court hearing and after that, things should move smoothly. Hopefully.

Gmail servers as a cure for overzealous anti-spam systems

Ever have the feeling your emails are falling into a black hole? I’ve been getting that since last Friday, when people – in particular editors – have stopped answering my messages. Some, it turned out, were just very busy or away at 3GSM. Others, I’m not so sure about.

My root paranoia stems from my ISP, Be, which has taken the slightly unusual step of blocking all outgoing email traffic unless it goes through its own server. I’ve had to set all my email accounts to send via smtp1.bethere.co.uk and set up various doohickeys to automatically change my mail settings on my laptop whenever I’m out and about.

This wouldn’t be too bad if it weren’t for the fact that Be’s server is slow and it keeps getting blacklisted for sending spam. Of course, it’s always some zombie or other that’s done it, not someone running a spam business, but that doesn’t stop the blacklisting.

Be always does its best (it claims) to get itself unlisted, but with companies using various anti-spam systems and updating them at ‘interesting’ intervals on occasion, that still means that Be’s being blacklisted by random organisations at random times.

So after a week of silence and chasing, I decided enough was enough and reconfigured my Google Mail account to accept emails sent from work and home accounts. Google Mail uses a different port for its SMTP servers, one that Be doesn’t block. It’s also unlikely to end up in anyone’s blacklist and it uses all the lovely domain authentication systems you’d expect of a giant like Google. You still need to authenticate using your Google Mail details and if you don’t let the system know about your other email accounts, it’ll change the “From” header so it uses your Google Mail account’s address. But once you’ve done that, you’re ready to use it as if it were your own server.

Tried resending a few messages that I’d had no reply to. Got answers within two minutes.

Bloody Be. And more precisely, blood spam mailers, ruining it for the rest of us.

SMD dead?

Just got this from one of SMD’s freelances:

I just received a form creditor/insolvency letter re SMD Publishing. Talk about Deja Vu. (Luckily, I got paid).

Certainly, Attitude magazine’s been having problems, according to reports. Now it looks like the whole thing’s come crashing down. Anyone else heard from SMD or can confirm?

Getting an i-visa

Nearly five years ago, I had to get an i-visa so that I could travel to New York to cover a one-day Dell press conference. It was an exciting tale of couriers, last minute dashes to the airport and the fear of a lost passport. I was sitting on a park bench in the middle of London, waiting for a call to let me know I’d been granted a visa and it and my passport were on the way to Heathrow to meet me for a flight a mere five hours later.

That time round most of the work was done for me by an agency. Now, I’m doing it by myself. It’s a right old pain in the arse, isn’t it?

First, there’s the fact that as a member of the media, I need the i-visa in the first place. What’s going on there? Everyone else goes in on a visa waiver, but journalists need to be vetted. How is that equitable?

Second, as a freelance, I’m in an interesting position. If I’m just going to the US on speculative work, I only need a B-grade visa. But if I cover something on behalf of a magazine, then I need an i-visa. But to do that, I need to have a contract and a letter from the magazine testifying to the fact. But if I have a contract, am I actually a freelance? And if I’m not, do I really need an i-visa instead of a b-visa?

Then there are the forms. Apparently, not only do I need to fill out the standard i-visa application form, as a male aged 18-not dead yet, I need to fill out a supplemental form listing every country I’ve ever visited, current employer, previous two employers, etc. No possible opportunity for error there then.

Then there’s the appointment for an interview at the US embassy that I need to set up.

Then there’s the $100 charge.

And lastly, there’s the 50mm x 50mm photo of myself that I need to provide. Is there anywhere that takes photos with these dimensions? I’m going to have to scan an existing photo, crop it, shrink it, and have it printed. How is that necessary?

If there are any problems I have with the process, I can always call the premium rate 09 phone number the US embassy has set up for the purpose.

And it’s all so I can go to the US every once in a while to cover US companies, out of which they’ll almost certainly get loads of free publicity for the stuff they’re trying to sell to us.

The odd thing is that I’ve been on numerous press trips with fellow journos who can’t be bothered with the i-visa rigmarole and go in under a visa waiver, despite saying their journos on business. Am I putting myself through all this for nothing?

Better safe than sorry anyway.