Avoid the iMessage Trap!

Apple’s iMessages work fine in normal circumstances, when everyone has data coverage. They are delivered promptly, and avoid charges for sending or receiving SMS text messages. They can create a communications black hole, however, when the intended recipient doesn’t have data coverage, as is often the case for overseas travelers.

The problem is not simply that iMessages fail. This would be annoying, but the sender would notice and use some other means of communications, such as a text message or even a phone call. The problem is that when the sender has data coverage but the recipient doesn’t, iMessages look like they have been sent, but do not get delivered until the recipient returns to data coverage.

There is an additional nuance that makes this issue even more confusing. In IOS Settings/Messages, when iMessage is turned on, there is an option for Send as SMS, described as, “Send as SMS when iMessage is unavailable…” It would be reasonable to interpret this to mean that when either the sender or recipient cannot use iMessages the message will be resent as a text message. This works when the recipient doesn’t have an iPhone at all. But if the recipient had an iPhone the conversion to a text message only occurs or the iMessage server is down or otherwise inaccessible to the sender. If the iMessage reaches the server there is no conversion to a text message, even when the intended recipient cannot receive it due to lack of data coverage.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that IOS automatically converts text messages to iMessages whenever the sender has selected Settings/Messages/iMessage. Consequently, when the recipient has no data coverage the message goes into a black hole even if the sender has carefully sent it as a text rather than as an iMessage. The fact that IOS converted it to an iMessage does not imply that the recipient is able to receive iMesssages. Earlier IOS versions allowed you to force a message to be sent as a text, but I have not been able to get this to work in IOS 10. The only solution I have found, when you are trying to communicate with someone who can receive text messages but not iMessages, is to turn off the Settings/Messages/iMessage option. In that case, only texts are sent.


Two Modes of Washing Dishes

Over the years I’ve noticed that Americans on the one hand, and Brits (including Aussies and Kiwis) on the other, have different modes of washing dishes. 

Americans wash, then rinse. Sometimes they will dry the dishes with a dish towel but more often they let them air dry them in a drying rack. This generally entails a second step of putting the dry dishes away, but no tedious drying step.

Those in the British orbit wash the dishes, then dry them with a dish towel, without rinsing. Dishes can then be put away as they are dried. Brits don’t use drying racks, since then there would be a soapy residue. And they go through a lot of “tea towels”!

I first encountered this dissonence on an Earthwatch trip to Scotland, where the Americans had to learn the British system. Since then I’ve run across the issue on many trips to Australia and New Zealand. One adjusts of course, but there’s still often an odd moment when an American can’t find the drying rack or a Brit asks why the Americans insist on rinsing perfectly clean dishes. 

I’d be curious to know whether others have run across this, and particularly whether the simple dichotomy I’m proposing is an oversimplification.

24-Hour Passport

The State Department’s passport web page gives the time frames for getting a new passport:

    6-8 Weeks
    Expedited 2-3 Weeks
    Expedited at Agency 8 Business Days

But what if you have only two business days before your departure? I was afraid we might need to pay $400 to a sketchy passport expediting service! I think I was justified in being concerned, but in fact — at the Boston office anyway — it was no problem.

We had to show proof of travel within the next two weeks (or need for a visa within the next four weeks), and pay the $60 expedited fee in addition to the base fee of $135. But otherwise the process was extremely smooth. We filled out and printed the application using an online tool, then called for an appointment to submit the application at the Boston regional office. After building security and a preliminary review we waited in a short line. The completeness of our application got a thorough check by a second clerk, then we got a number. Along with dozens of other last-minute travelers we waited in rows of seats for our number to be called. We then went to one of five or six windows, where a third clerk closely reviewed our paperwork, took payment, and told us that the passport would be available between 4 and 4:30 pm the following day, or any time during business hours on the last day before our departure. Pickup was just as efficent: pretty much the same few dozen people stood in line, got numbers, then received their brand new passports. Government working exactly as it should!

In our case the passport in question had expired, so obviously needed to be replaced. Seasoned travelers will know about another “gotcha” issue: even if your passport is valid many countries will not admit you unless the expiration date is at least six months after the arrival date. This is to minimize the risk that your passport will expire while you are visiting, leaving you stranded.  

What’s This About?


Blue Marble Traveler is a place for me to post photos and comments concerning my various trips around this lovely and remarkable planet. Most of the posts will be retrospective, but I may sometimes use this for current travel as well as reconsidering past experiences.

If you’re interested in Paris and surrounding areas you might also enjoy my other blog, Spring in Paris. I’ll continue to post there every day or two during my sojourns there.

I hope you enjoy this window into my own experiences, and that it will inspire you to travel yourself.