Friday, 17 August 2012

Dogs off leash

It's illegal in California to let your dog off the leash. Seriously. I guess this explains why there are no dogs here just ... wandering about. They get picked up by the dog catcher.

In Dublin and Belfast, it seems to be fine to let your dog off the leash. As long as it doesn't bother anybody. It's kinda bad form to let your dog just ... wander, but I don't think it's illegal.

The only caveat is that if your dog worries sheep (i.e. out in the countryside), a farmer might shoot it. So don't let your dog worry sheep. It'll get shot. (Folk don't let their dogs run wild in the country, just in the city and suburbs.)

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Keyboards in the UK have a slightly different layout to those in the US.

I think I prefer US keyboards, but obviously I have a soft spot for UK keyboards.

US keybaords usually a double-wide enter key. Backslash is above it. UK keyboards have a tall, narrow enter key. Backslash is either beside it or beside Z. (UK keyboards often have a narrower shift key as a result.)

Hash ('#') can be more awkard to type on a UK keyboard: shift-3 is usually the pound sign.
The number two usually has the double quote symbol above it (except for apple keyboards) in the UK, so @ is near the enter key. This is just wrong: the apple way is the right way.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Applying for passports

Applying for US passports is much easier than applying for Irish/British passports.

If you want a US passport. you can just go to a post office (having made an appointment first), pay them some money, have them take your photo, swear you are entitled to a passport, show them a birth certificate or other suitable documentation, and wait a week or three for the passport to arrive.

To get an Irish passport, you have to get your photos and form signed by one of a tiny subset of the population who must have known you personally for at least two years. It's really tedious. Especially if you've only recently moved to the USA. British passports are less strict, but still a royal pain.

Also, you can't pay for an Irish passport with a personal check or credit card. Money order only.

Also, kids over seven have to sign their Irish passport application forms themselves. (I kid you not.)

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Clutch Interlock in manual cars

In the US ... here in California at least ... cars with manual transmission have an interlock where to start the car, you have to press the clutch.

In the UK ... and, I'll bet, the rest of the world ... they don't.

Very occasionally, you'll try to start the car, it'll be in gear, it'll lurch, you'll feel stupid, nearby people will mock you, and you'll get on with your life.

In the US, this doesn't happen. At least not so much.

In countries where automatic transmission is weird and unnatural and only for old and sick people (i.e not the USA), you just learn from the start to only ever start the car in neutral. You press the clutch, and wiggle the gear lever from side to side before you start the car. It's reflex.

It means that folk from the UK going to the US have literally no idea how to start a car until someone tells them.

It means that folk from the US going to the UK occasionally get unpleasantly surprised.

A little difference.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Undocumented immigrants and driving licenses

To get a driving license in California ... and, I believe, most if not all states ... you have to have a social security number (or swear that you're not entitled to one, perhaps because you're here on a non-working visa, like H-4), and show your passport with a valid I-94.

That's a proper I-94 - the white one - not the green visa waiver one.

And they set the expiry of your driving license to the expiry of your I-94. (Which means I must extend my driving license one of these days, since I've recently got a new, extended I-94.)

Anyway, this means that all those folks from Mexico and further south who technically are breaking the law just by being here ... can't get driving licenses.

So, some percentage of drivers on the road don't have driving licenses. So it goes.

This has a couple of implications. One is that insurance companies don't seem to require that you have a valid US driving license to drive here. Which is interesting. I'm sure if you want money from them, it might be a different story, but at least you can prove you have insurance.

Another thing I read recently is that the LAPD announced they will no longer impound the cars of people who don't have driving licenses but who can't get driving licenses.

That is, if you don't have a driving license when you're stopped, they'll maybe impound your car until you can get one. But if the bureaucracy is such that you can't get one, they'll make an exception, maybe fine you, and let you carry on.

This really gladdened my heart. It's a fantastic example of federalism in action. The federal government has this crazy, insane, dumb, fucking evil law that says "no paperwork, no driving license". Yet local governments can choose to Do The Right Thing. I love it.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Buying a second hand car ... with no license plates

When I bought this Passat, the seller wanted to keep her license plates. They were vanity plates, with her initials.

So she unscrewed them from the car and kept them. She very kindly gave me the screws too.

So I drove the car home with no plates. It's not such a big deal: maybe 1% of cars on the road at any given time have no plates. But they usually have an ad for a dealer there, and a piece of paper in the windscreen saying that they have actually recently bought the car, and the plates have been applied for.

But I didn't have that - this was a private sale. But I drove it anyway. It's very law-abiding here, but also pretty forgiving. (For example, illegal^Wundocumented immigrants can't get driving licences, so it's illegal for folks in that category to drive ... but in practice, you have to drive, so it's not the big deal it would be in the UK. More on this later.)

Anyway, the seller has to fill in a form if she wants to actually keep ownership of the registration number. (But that's not my problem.)

I went to the DMV. In Los Gatos, since you ask. Queued up for a bit. Probably should have made an appointment - might have saved half an hour.

Anyway, I filled in a form, wrote them a check (sic) for four hundred and something dollars (tax gets paid pretty much whenever a car changes hands, based on the sale price...), and went to another window, where they gave me plates and stickers ("tags"). I had a screwdriver in the car, so I screwed them on and stuck on the stickers when I went outside.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Health Insurance

When you change jobs (I"ve recently started working for Google), you have to worry about health insurance.

In practice, it's not a big hassle. If you know nothing about it, you might think it'll be scary, but actually it usually works out just fine.

One worry is "pre-existing conditions". But most health "insurance" companies aren't allowed to - or just don't - block pre-existing conditions. At least, the new ones here don't.

Also, your old "insurance" company ... and your old employer ... typically have an arrangement whereby your health insurance doesn't end on, like, your last day of employment. (Things like life insurance might, but not health insurance.)

Rather, it ends on the last day of the month. So don't finish a job on the last day of the month, eh!?

(I write "insurance" in quotes because only a small part of it is actual "insurance" against catastrophic health situations. Most of it pays for routine maintenance, checkups and bureaucracy. So it goes.)