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I like to go places. The world is too big to stay in one place. Been there? Done that.

IDstation and London Drugs passport photos

IDstation logo.

IDstation logo

I have had passport photos taken at London Drugs for years, but no more.

Turns out they are an agent of IDstation, to whom I was referred by the passport agency of one of the countries of which I am a citizen, who are advanced enough (unlike Canada) to take passport applications online. Great! So off I go to the nearest London Drugs to get my picture taken.

After waiting in line for a while I was finally served. I stated my reason for being there and confirmed that they used the IDstation service/system. They did, and then there was a lot of faffing around while they — three of them! — consulted the passport-photo requirements for my country … because, you know, they’re all so different! (According to the blurb at digitalphotosystems.nl, “Photomatic software is being used on many systems all over the world for passport photos …. Photomatic software automatically processes any image into a perfect passport photo. … The passport photo is checked on all official requirements for passport photos, as specified by the ICAO …. The ICAO check is a very important part of the Photomatic software because it will make sure the passport photo will not be rejected when used in offical [sic] applications for a passport, driving license of Visa. [sic]”) They eventually determined that the passport authorities for a number of countries (including mine) had recently been rejecting their passport photos, so they only agreed to taking my picture if I agreed to waive their guarantee, about which you can read on their website. (No surprise there, considering how bad the photo was!) Being the idiot I am, and with no other reasonable choice given my time constraints that day, I agreed. I mean, how hard can it be to fuck up a passport photo?! The people who had their photos rejected probably did something wrong that I won’t do.

London Drugs passport photo receipt.

London Drugs passport photo receipt

But since they were refusing to give me their guarantee (see scan of London Drugs receipt, across the top of which is handwritten, “Xxxx passport online Not gaurenteed [sic]”), and since they were presumably more adept at taking photos for Canadian passports, I decided to get photos for my Canadian passport taken as well, since it also expires in the near future. Looking back at the two pictures now, they’re like night and day! The Canadian passport photos would almost certainly have been accepted by the other country, but said country doesn’t accept scanned pictures, only the original JPEGs.

Anyway, when I submitted the JPEG to the other country’s passport office they rejected it because the “camera was too close”. With the benefit of hindsight I can now see that, as the requirement on their website is, “The photo must capture your image from head to mid torso.” (The Canadian one does.) The photo that London Drugs took barely took in my neck! If someone who takes passport photos all day can’t detect that error immediately they should be fired!

On the IDstation website they have a “File a complaint” option. I suppose they must get a lot of complaints! The problem is that the free-text field where you are supposed to describe your complaint severely limits how much text you can type (I can assure you that this blog post is far longer than my complaint!), but it doesn’t tell you how many characters you are allowed to submit. So this was what I ended up submitting:

My passport picture was rejected by the Xxxx government because they claimed the camera was too close.

I have more information, but your system says my “description is too long”, so you’ll have to reply by email to get the full description.

How do I have the $25.46 I wasted returned? Hmm, I paid using my credit card, so I suppose charging it back is one option.

They replied thusly:

From: IDstation Online <idstationmail@digitalphotosystems.nl>
Subject: You have a new response to the Complaint number 12906
Date: Wed, 06 Mar 2024 21:28:27 +0000 (UTC)

Request number 12906

Dear customer,

You have a new response to your request from IDstation.Online. The response is as below:

I Suggest going back in store with the rejection letter. London Drugs will retake the photo and work with you on the issue.
Please do not reply to this email, it may not be tracked efficiently. To add any comments/response to your query, please click on the link below:

The above link will be valid for 72 hrs.

Navigate to FAQs (Sendgrid tracking link removed)

(I love the “Please do not reply to this email, it may not be tracked efficiently.” A complete load of bullshit. Either it will be received [and likely ignored] or it won’t be! Don’t give me this “may” crap.)

So I copied and pasted the link (because it was not a clickable link, as opposed to the tracked “Navigate to FAQs” link in their signature) but their system informed me, “An error occurred while processing your request.” I tried twice, both within about 24 hours. So I filed a new complaint as follows:

I received a response yesterday, but the response link provided failed. So I’m back here with your ridiculously short length limit. This is not going well for you in the public-relations department.

In that vein, I have decided not to bother returning to London Drugs to fight for my money. I will just focus my efforts on publicly discrediting both IDstation and London Drugs.

That’s all the space I have to explain my position! So long! See you in the court of public opinion!

That was 476 characters. My original attempt at this message was rejected as too long again because I had included the text of the error message (48 characters) their website gave me, so it seems their limit must be about 500 characters. Not sure how much useful information you can communicate in fewer than 500 characters, unless you’re just calling for “Help!” (4 characters, not including the exclamation point).

Ironically, in the Third World country where I’ll be travelling to, every bureaucrat wants a passport-style picture of you to attach to paperwork (the locals carry them around with their wads of cash), so I’ll use the four hard copies of my “digital” photo when I’m asked for one.

London Drugs logo.

London Drugs logo

Lesson learned: Take a list of the photo requirements and carefully inspect the photo against those requirements before you accept the photo. Don’t trust a gaggle of poorly trained amateurs/idiots to have a clue about what they are doing.

The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, Review

Welcome to Shitty Las Vegas, Nevada

Welcome to Shitty Las Vegas, Nevada. (Picture courtesy of Joao Carlos Medau. CC BY 2.0 Deed. Modified.)

OMG! Where do I start?!

TL;DR: Don’t stay at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas! NEVER EVER stay at The Cosmopolitan! That’s what we’ve been telling everyone we know.

Our troubles with our Christmas getaway started before we even checked in, with their wifi. It wouldn’t work, despite the fact that my phone connected to all other wifi hotspots with no problems. At the check-in desk the agent suggested I try other of their multiple networks from our room. I did … of course. I also rebooted my phone and reset wifi settings back to their defaults. I managed to connect another phone (not mine, and my laptop) by using the web browser and bypassing all of the SSL errors with which I was presented. Cool, so I try that on my phone. No go. Call “guest services”. Their position is that the wifi is working, so it’s my phone that’s the problem … or my phone company! (WTF?!) I should call them instead. They also helpfully suggest I should reboot my phone, but my suggestion that they reboot their network doesn’t fly, despite the fact that the problem is obviously not that their wifi isn’t working, it’s that their own connection and authentication process is broken.

Keep in mind that I’m not trying to get online to play Wordle; I’m trying to get online because my business requires I be connected 24/7 (or as near as possible) to monitor systems and be available if there are problems. My ability to do that is what allows me the ability to go on holidays and patronise hotels!

So after a sleepless night worrying that things could be going wrong and I’m incommunicado, I try again in the morning. This time I managed to connect with my browser by bypassing and dismissing all of the SSL errors (caused by the configuration of their systems!) in my web browser. Wifi worked for the remaining four days we were at the hotel.

Back to the check-in: We were early. We knew that, and we politely asked (not demanded) if it would be all right if we checked in early and got our room, since we had taken a very early-morning flight and hadn’t slept much the night before. After appearing to hammer out “War and Peace” on his keyboard, the agent very kindly informed us that the type of room we had booked wasn’t currently available but, for an extra $75(!) per night (which he made sure to point out that he had reduced to $50 a night!) we could upgrade and move in right away. (At other of the many times we were at the front desk we heard other guests being “helpfully” upgraded. Not that I’m suggesting it’s an ongoing scam at all!) Anyway, we reluctantly accepted the “upgrade”, as we were exhausted. We went straight to our room and passed out for three hours.

The next day we returned to our room and our key cards wouldn’t work. Great! Back down to the front desk — not a short walk! — for at least the fourth time in two days. The agent (who seemed reasonably competent and on-the-ball) immediately identifies the problem as being the battery in the door lock, and says that someone will be right up to fix it, in five minutes. So we dash up to make sure we’re there. We could have left the hotel and gone and spent our time doing more touristy things instead of waiting at the hotel, but we were told it would only be five minutes! After mentioning the problem to the cleaning staff member on the floor after waiting for some time (way longer than five minutes), she calls security (the only party she can apparently contact) and asks them to relay to the facilities department that we’re waiting, and that at least one of us needs to go to the toilet … having just availed ourselves of the most expensive buffet I’ve ever seen in my life! After another while a security guard shows up but he cannot get in either, and he also identifies the problem as being the battery! (Congratulations, Einstein!) We pointed out that the problem had already been identified. He then suggests I’d better go and find a public toilet to use.

So off I go to find the toilet to which he directed me. It’s closed! I eventually find another. I sit down and immediately my body relieves itself; I was that desperate. As my back end does its business, my front end realises that there’s no toilet paper! No effing toilet paper when it’s too late for me to find another stall with any dignity! After having a few minutes to contemplate my problem I decide to use the disposable seat covers to wipe my ass. Have you ever done that? Well, they kinda work, but they’re smooth, so there’s no real friction to do the job properly. When I’d used a few of those to my relative satisfaction I pulled up my pants and made the third trip to the front desk to enquire whether or not we’d ever be able to get back into our room. As I was dealing with the agent my partner texted me to tell me that the technician had finally arrived. I told the agent how disgusted we were — about waiting an hour and forty minutes, and having no toilet paper with which to wipe my ass — and she said they would refund us “a couple of nights of the resort fee“. (That is a direct quote.) My partner’s response to that via text was, “I’ll take $100 off!” (The “resort fee” was about $50 per night!) So we were relatively happy with that — even though you’d think this significant extra fee (on top of their published room rate advertised with Expedia!) would be an incentive to the hotel to provide decent service, but the story continues when we check out.

Besides the check-out process, here’s a bullet list of several other issues:

  • Plumbing noises!: Apparently this is a new building, but the all-night plumbing noises were crazy!
  • Creaking toilet door: Can’t use the toilet in the middle of the night without waking up your partner. I suppose we could have had this fixed, but we’d had enough of dealing with guest non-services by then.
  • Regular TV seemed to be continuously interrupted by in-house adverts, in the same way that Youtube videos are interrupted by ads.
  • Slow Internet: I noticed when my laptop was doing an operating system update that the download speed seemed to be slower than molasses in January.
  • Smoke: Whether we were in the lobby or on our balcony, we were surrounded by smoke. On the balcony it was marijuana smoke, and in the lobby The Cosmopolitan must have paid a bargain-basement price for their HVAC system.

If that list was all of the issues we had, they’d be no worse than any other hotel. But The Cosmopolitan went the extra mile to ensure that we were well and truly dissatisfied, pissed off, and angered.

Finally, on our last night there we phoned guest services to enquire about a late check-out the next day, as our flight was not until late at night. Again, we realised that we were asking for a courtesy, but considering how much trouble The Cosmopolitan had already put us through we didn’t think it was a huge ask. We were told that it would likely not be a problem because they were not fully booked, but that we should check in the morning. Cool. So in the morning we checked as instructed, but suddenly in fewer than twelve hours they were now fully booked, and a late check-out was not possible. So we scrambled to shower and pack. We tried to check out on the TV, but it didn’t work. At the desk we were told that the “couple of nights of resort fees” we were to be refunded was actually only one night! Despite our pointing out the lie, the agent wasn’t budging.

So from start to finish — literally! — The Cosmopolitan fucked us over and lied to us. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell we’ll ever patronise this establishment again, and we’ve been telling everyone we know this story in great detail!

YVR has more snowploughs! Just as the climate is warming!

I noted, in a recent news report to which I don’t have a link, that Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has learned from their mistakes last year at this time and now has more snow ploughs than they can handle. If “snowmaggedon” happens again, they’ll be ploughing their little hearts out to save the day!

Except, Tamara Vrooman, CEO of YVR, apparently didn’t get the memo that the climate is warming! Talk about the former CEO of a bank (err, sorry, credit union) making misplaced investments! One wonders if she actually hired drivers for all of the snowploughs!

Listen, I’m probably no better a climate scientist than Vrooman, but winter does happen in Vancouver. I know the statistics all point to a warming climate, but I suspect that Vancouver hasn’t yet seen its last snowflake.

In other YVR news (YVR and Canadian airports rank in bottom third of global airports list), YVR sucks! I find this surprising, actually. Despite the fact that the local Mounted thugs murdered a passenger there in 2007, YVR has significantly improved the international arrivals area (where Robert Dziekański was killed) and, really, the place is quite nice. Canadian airlines, though, are probably dragging down people’s perceptions of the airport; considering all the stories in the news these days about handicapped passengers being forced to drag themselves (literally in one case!) off of their planes, some of them at YVR, it’s not surprising that perhaps those experiences have sullied the ratings of YVR in particular. Of course, the airlines will point their fingers at the airports and the airports will point their fingers at the airlines, but that doesn’t help anyone when their disability means they can’t disembark an aircraft like all of the able-bodied passengers.

Of all people, Vrooman, former CEO of the “we love people more than you do” credit union Vancity should know that. But she has seemingly gained all of her kudos over the years by suckling the public tit, or (as in the case of YVR) working at a private organisation that is essentially a privatised arm of Transport Canada. I have very little respect for her considering her legacy that I deal with at Vancity.

Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt!

In the process of moving content from my old website to this, I’ve updated my travel maps. Have a look! 🙂