Welcome to Thoughts on Richmond.
These thoughts reflect life in Richmond, Virginia. Any comments may be sent to lifeinrichmond@swissbignose.net.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Becoming someone in the US
The land of the free and of opportunity can sometimes make it hard to integrate oneself into society.

I have been in-country for a little under 6 weeks (save for the 62 hours I spent in Australia and the 50 hours I spent getting there and back). To properly functioning in this country one really needs to have a clear residential presence, a form of identification issued by an American institution, and a credit card with a US billing address.

Let's examine each of these over the next couple of posts.

Clear Residential Address

There must be a culture of suspicion when a local encounters one who's "not from these parts". An Australian passport or Drivers License is always met with intrigue and fascination, but it doesn't necessarily help when trying to procure services provided by American organisations.

It all started with a visit to a local telecommunications provider. After a couple of weeks of incurring horrific international roaming charges, I tried to get myself onto a plan that would allow me to use my BlackBerry locally without having to take a second mortgage. The helpful sales assistant required a Drivers License for identification. I proferred my Australian license and a frown appeared on the helpful sales assistant's face.

Seems the computer really want to have a U.S. Drivers License instead. "No matter!", she said. "I'll just have to force it through. It will mean that I'll have to charge you slightly more as a deposit."

Slightly more meant US$500 more which I'd get back "in a year or so".

Thanks but no thanks.

So - I needed to work out what it would take to get a U.S. Drivers License.

It would be no problem if I was an American Citizen. As an alien, it's a little more complicated. A Drivers License requires two forms of ID, a Social Security Number and proof of residence. Hmmmmm... I think I have two forms of ID and I have proof of residence. Social Security Number, however...

Okay... let's get a Social Security Number. As I am in the U.S. with a work visa, it should be relatively straight forward. Right? Well... In order to get a Social Security Number, one must visit the Social Security Office in person. Fortunately, there's one not too far from where I work. During lunch, I trot on down there, wait in line with 40 other people (fortunately, most of these people want to actually get social security, rather than just a number) and I progress quickly.

I encounter a lovely government official who follows a set script. "You have identification. Good. You have proof of residence. Good. Where's your authorization to work?", she says. "What do you mean?", I ask? "You need an Employment Authorization Document.", she says. "Is that right?", I question.

So - I go away, confused, and do some research. Turns out, the visa that I have entered the U.S. on, doesn't require an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

So - a week later, I head back to the Social Security Office. The lady that served me earlier recognised me, and wondered what was different. I explained that I didn't need an EAD. She was dubious. She was dismissive. She entered my application anyway. Before I left, she advised me that it was unlikely that I would be successful. The process required an EAD. The computer system required an EAD. I could only hope that someone reviewing the application will look favourably.

Two weeks later, I received my Social Secuirty Number.

Fantastic. Next - the drivers license.

I rock up to a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles office, take a ticket, and sit. And sit. And sit.

Finally, after 90 minutes, it's my turn to be interviewed.

Turns out that I still don't have enough documentation on me. A passport with a visa and a foreign-issued drivers license and Social Security Number isn't enough. To get a drivers license, I need to have one of the following:

Military discharge papers
A marriage license
Military ID
Pilot's license
Gun permit
Authorization for parole
Probation information form

I'm thinking of applying for a gun permit. It sounds like it'll be easier to obtain a Virginian drivers license.

I'll keep you informed.
posted by @ 11:41 AM AEST [more..] [5626 Comments]

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The wonders of technology...

I write this post at 33,000 feet at a speed of 455 knots about 30 minutes outside of Dallas Fort Worth. The unique aspect of this blog entry is that it is being written with a live internet connection.

American Airlines, Delta and Virgin America have started rolling out Wi-fi, internet capable connections throughout their fleet. This is being done in conjunction with a service provider GogoInflight. Once at cruising altitude, connections can be made from any wi-fi capable device.

Download speeds are quite healthy (for what it is) at 1.5 Mbps (although latency is, understandably, high). All in all, this is a productive way to continue working, although the seat pitch prevents real efficiency.

The American carriers are trying to out-do each other in trying to attract/retain/retrieve customers, and particularly business customers. This is key for the airlines to improve their financial position.

Incorporating features such as Wi-Fi and internet might do the trick nicely.

posted @ 11:18 AM AEST

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Getting to Richmond

Getting to Richmond from the East Coast of Australia is not an easy task. There is no direct flight, naturally. There are a number of ways to get to the United States from the East Coast of Australia. Excluding the flights that require transit through a third country, there are four airlines that serve what is commonly referred to as the Pacific route: Qantas, United, V Australia and Delta. Qantas fly from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane; V Australia from Sydney and Brisbane; Delta from Sydney and United from Sydney and Melbourne. Depending on the city of departure, it's a 13 or 14 hour flight.

Flying from these cities will get you to either Los Angeles or San Fransisco. From there, there are no direct flights to Richmond either. One is spoilt with choice in flying from the West Coast into Richmond, but one is still looking at least a further 7 hours flight time depending on the connecting city, and this doesn't include time spent in the connecting city awaiting the next flight. A traveller from Australia to Richmond will easily spend 24 hours at airports or in the air, door to door.

Flying from Australia to the United States does not provide much in the way of scenery. Occasionally, one will fly over a Pacific island, but one will get to see water, water and more water. Flying from the West Coast to Richmond takes one over desert, pastureland and cities. During the evening, the landscape is dotted with lights and one can see the flashing lights of other aircraft.

Regular travellers who have to travel from the East Coast of the United States to (more or less) the East Coast of the U.S. find ways to keep amused, distracted or occupied. Some resort to sleep, to alcohol, to a good book or other entertainment vices or a combination of all three.

No matter how one does it, what you look forward to is a shower and a bed at the other end.

posted @ 08:49 PM AEST

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Contract signed

News came through today that the contract was signed.

By way of background, the company I work for has successfully won an opportunity to implement a system in Richmond, Virginia. Part of the deal is that at least two resources to be in Richmond full-time to assist a U.S. based company implement the project. In just under six months, the process has gone from a tender response to an initial all-day presentation in April, through to a two-week presentation in May, to negotiations in June.

When considering the prospect of transferring the family to Richmond, you go through different phases of thought. Moving to a city on the other side of the world, that you've never been to, can be a new experience, positive or negative

In January, it's easy. "Can you go?" - "Sure!". At that point, there's a very remote chance that something will happen.

In April, I travelled to Richmond for a full-day demonstration. As my mind was focussed on the presentation, I didn't really get a feel for what the city is like. One arrives, spends 8 hours presenting in a room, and then leave. The chances of having to move are better than remote, but still slim.

In May, I was able to spend two weeks in Richmond, as part of an in-depth presentation of the solution. During that time, which included a weekend, I got a feel for downtown Richmond, which incidentally has no real life after 6:00 p.m. and on weekends. Two weeks allows you to have conversations with the locals - to establish where to go and what to do.

Two months later, it's confirmed. At least 18 months in the City of Richmond.

Over the coming months, I seek to bring thoughts about life in Richmond.

posted @ 03:25 PM AEST
September 2009
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