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.)

Saturday, 9 July 2011


Before we moved to California, we had a Seat Alhambra. Which is basically a Volkswagon MPV. (It's a crying shame we can't buy them here in California - they're a fantastic minivan. There's one that lives near me, that I see from time to time; it's got a Mexican reg.)

Anyway, the instruments all look the same in my fancy new eight-year-old passat as in the Alhambra. But since this blog is about the little differences...

1) The temperature gauge is, of course, in fahrenheit. Of course. I can't actually remember the three celsius numbers on the Alhambra's temperature gauge, but I looked at them so often, I really notice that the one in the US Passat is different. I think it's just that the number on the right (Too Hot! Too Hot!) begins with a "2".

Also, there seems to be no concept of sidelights. The wee dial for headlights (yeah, it's a dial), on the Alhambra turned from zero to sidelights to proper headlights. And you pull it for foglights or something. (It gets foggy enough to justify them about once every two years in Co Down, and basically never in and around San Jose. But that's another story.)

It's the same thing on this Passat ... but there's no sidelights. Weird.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Clutch interlock

I've recently bought a second car here in California. It's a manual VW Passat 2003 1.8 petrol saloon. It's very nice.

Apart from the obvious difference of the steering wheel being on the left, its manual transmission has one important difference from the UK: to start the car, you must press the clutch.

The car can be in gear; you just can't start it with a gear engaged.

In the UK, one often accidentally starts one's car in gear. The car typically lurches and you stop trying to start the car. Sorted.

I imagine this thing in the US is for safety reasons. Purported or real. Maybe it's 'cos engines are bigger here. Maybe batteries are more tender. Who knows.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Public & Private information

In the UK, house prices are private, but accounts of private companies (and partnerships) with limited liability are public.

In the US, house prices are public, but accounts of of private companies are private.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Cute California License Plates

I saw two neat (California) license plates this morning:

On a Mercedes E350: SMBGURU

On a Nissan Pathfinder: OTTSUV

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Buying glasses in the USA...

I think I've found something that the UK does better than the US. I probably haven't, I probably just haven't figure it out yet, but... it's glasses!

My employer here in California provides something called "vision insurance". A free pair of glasses every year or so (up to some low, low limit), with a co-pay, and a free eye exam every year, with a co-pay.

I was, I'm ashamed to say, naive enough to think that this was a good thing when I first moved here. What I *should* have realised when I saw the word "insurance" was 'Oh oh! This is going to be complicated and expensive!".

Here in California, they like to take things that are medical related, and wrap them in layers of insurance. Because, hey, you need *insurance* against having your eyes tested and having to buy new glasses. And there are medical people involved ... they're *bound* to be expensive.

In the UK, when you want to buy glasses, you go to an opticians, you get an eye exam done, it's usually free, it *might* cost UKP10 or even UKP20, and you pick glasses. And they make them up for you, you wander around for an hour, you come back and get them.

They also give you your "prescription" so you can order glasses online.

Here in the USA, there don't seem to be any competent big glasses superstores. The ones that *look* like they might be those sorts of stores don't - in practice - have opticians available to do eye tests.

I went into a few and said I wanted to buy glasses, and they asked me when I'd like to make an appointment... WTF? An appointment? Yeah, they said, when suits you? We might have some slots this week. WTF? Slots? I'm here *now*! This is a *shop*, right? This is *America*, right? What's the problem? Ah, you have to make an appointment. Who's your insurance with by the way? OK, thanks, I get it.

I eventually rang round a few wee small boutique opticians near where I work to see if they could see me "now" ... this was on, like, a Monday afternoon. I had to ring five before one said they could see me now. The glasses were expensive (even after the "insurance"), and I still haven't received them. Hopefully next week! (I mean, the optician is very nice and all, but it's like the UK way, only dearer and more complicated!)

I like the UK way of getting glasses better. It's capitalism done right. The American way is ... I don't know, but it's downright UnAmerican.

(Just in case you thing I'm some sort of whinging foreigner in California, I flippin' *love* it here. Almost everything is better. It's great. But some things could do with some improvement...)

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Corned Beef

In the US, it's kind of a tradition to eat stuff called "corned beef" and cabbage on St Patrick's day.

To me, corned beef is, like, the beef equivalent of spam. It comes in tins. Nobody eats it. [0] Ever. Certainly not on Paddy's day.

I imagine corned beef in the US is much more palatable. Must try it sometime.

(Cabbage, on the other hand, is common in Ireland. My favourite is savoy cabbage chopped up small and sweated in butter with bacon for multiple hours and lots of pepper. Mmmmm.)

A little difference, to be sure.

[0] Obviously *somebody* must, otherwise you wouldn't be able to buy it in e.g. Tescos.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

HFCS - what's the big deal?

I've decided that HFCS isn't evil. It isn't the work of the devil. It isn't the end of civilisation as we know it. It's just a cheap form of sugar. My body can't tell the difference between HFCS and sugar.

(There's a corporate "movement" underway to rename HFCS to "corn sugar". I see no problem with this.)

The thing I don't like about HFCS is that it's in *everything* in the USA. I *guess* that's because it's so cheap.

I wouldn't mind, but it's hard to buy plain corn syrup (which is almost totally glucose) here cheaply. You'd think that you'd be able to buy five gallon buckets of the stuff for next to nothing but you can't. Shame.

Watch this video on [the evils of] fructose:

Saturday, 5 February 2011

High Fructose Corn Syrup ... in milk???

There's a thing here in California called "half and half" - a kind of milk.

The first time I met it years ago, I thought it was the same as "half fat milk". So I put it in a cup of tea.

It is *not* the same as "half fat milk". It is *not* suitable for tea.

It's supposedly half cream, half milk. One part of me is delighted and amazed that such a concoction is so available, widespread and liked. Another part of me is horrified that such a thing exists.

(I'm totally used to this mental dichotomy now: revulsion and delight in equal measures. I try to encourage the delight and suppress the revulsion. The revulsion is mostly going away now.)

(I have a notion that half-and-half is, like, a "healthy" alternative to putting "cream" in your coffee. I hope this isn't true.)

Oh, yeah, the point of this post: apparently my wife was going to get some half and half for something the other day, checked the ingredients, and found High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in it. In milk, ffs!!!

Anyway, in the end she bought cream instead.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Sorry vs Excuse Me

In California, people say "Excuse Me!" for the usual reasons. In NI, people say "Sorry!".

(In France, I've noticed folk say "Pardon" or "Excusez-moi", never "Desole(e)" (imagine an acute accent in there, would you!))

Also, of course, people say "Sorry" with all sorts of interesting intonations. I've never noticed that with "Excuse me".

But I'm sure it reveals something interesting about psyche and self-esteem.

I must start saying "Excuse me!" instead of "Sorry!"...