Saturday, June 9, 2018

Pack Rat vs. Hoarder

(I am being slightly cheeky in the post below - "your results may vary".)

Some people use the terms "pack rat" and "hoarder" interchangeably: they shouldn't. There's a clear-cut difference between the two, and we can succinctly illustrate that difference with the aid of two items:
(1) a user manual for a Mr. Coffee coffeemaker and
(2) a used (but potentially reusable) Burger King cup.
How will a pack rat, a hoarder, and a neither-a-pack-rat-nor-a-hoarder 'normal' person deal with these items?

A normal person will understand that the coffeemaker user manual has greater value than the Burger King cup, but will nonetheless throw out both items.

A pack rat will also understand that the coffeemaker user manual has greater value than the Burger King cup.
He may hold onto the Burger King cup for the short term if it's plastic and easily cleanable, but probably won't.
He'll definitely hold onto the coffeemaker user manual and will do so indefinitely (even if the coffeemaker to which it applies breaks down and is replaced with a different type of coffeemaker); he'll read it at least once from start to finish and then put it in a dedicated location from which it can be fetched at a moment's notice.

A hoarder will not really understand that the coffeemaker user manual has greater value than the Burger King cup.
He'll hold onto both items as long as he can: he'll leave the Burger King cup lying around the kitchen; he may or may not put the coffeemaker user manual in a memorable location. If space constraints ever require him to throw out one of the items, he'll think, "Well, I've never read the coffeemaker user manual but I still might use that Burger King cup," and he'll throw out the coffeemaker user manual (assuming he can find it).

Friday, June 1, 2018

My Life as a Motorist, Part 2

More on my 'written' test

My 2015-2016 journey from passenger to motorist necessarily started from scratch. I first downloaded the California Driver Handbook and (excepting the Minors material) read it twice from start to finish. Subsequently, I took all five of the California DMV's Regular Driver (Class C License) sample knowledge tests (this was very helpful, I encourage other would-be motorists to take them as well) and watched most of its How to Videos and Driver Education Videos.

I needed an official, from-the-DMV California Driver License Application (DL 44) form; my motorist brother drove to the DMV office in Oceanside and got me one during a visit back home in July 2015. I filled out the DL 44 form and lined up my passport (and perhaps also a bank statement as proof of residence, I can't remember) and then secured a 29 December 2015 appointment at the DMV office at 1706 Descanso Avenue in San Marcos via the California DMV's Online Appointment System.
N.B. There are a handful of places on the Web at which you can download a blank DL 44 form (e.g., here); the DMV won't accept that form although you can legitimately use it to make a personal copy of what you would give to the DMV.

I took the 305 Bus to my appointment.
I forked over a $33 fee (it's $35 now),
took and passed a vision test,
took and passed a knowledge test (this was a computer touchscreen thing versus a paper process),
was photographed and thumbprinted,
and was finally handed some paperwork that
permitted me to drive if I was accompanied by a licensed driver and
gave me a one-year deadline to complete my application by passing a behind-the-wheel test.

So far, so good. But now I had some car issues to sort out...

Registration blues

Car-wise my father had a 1988 Honda Civic DX sedan ("the Honda") at the time I returned to California; at the time of my 29 December 2015 DMV appointment the Honda's registration, smog certification, and insurance were all 'in arrears'.

The problems began in early 2015. My father had to smog-check the Honda as part of its 2015 registration renewal, and he didn't - this is something I learned well after the fact via the California Bureau of Automotive Repair's Find Vehicle Smog Check History tool. As far as I know, he did pay on time the registration/license/county/district fees that were due on 28 January 2015, but of course, just paying the fees isn't enough to register a vehicle if a smog check is also due, and the Honda went from registered to unregistered after the renewal deadline. I should note that the Honda's check engine warning light came on semi-regularly when we were out riding around and it's possible that my father put off a smog check for fear that a failed test would necessitate a costly repair, but that's not really like him, I think it just slipped his mind.

My father last drove on 20 March 2015 - I still have my Albertsons receipt from our shopping trip that day - meaning that he was driving illegally for the last two months of his driving history.

I intimated in my "Nontechnical Intermission" post that my father suffers from dementia. In October 2015 it became apparent that he was no longer able to keep on top of household bills; I've handled them since then. Not quite two months later he received a "Notice of Intent to Suspend" letter from the California DMV that in part read:
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) currently does not have a record of insurance coverage for [the Honda]. Unless acceptable evidence of liability insurance is provided by [01/08/2016], the Department will suspend registration pursuant to California Vehicle Code Section 4000.38.
The letter should have indicated that the Honda wasn't really registered and needed a smog check, but it didn't. Anyway, the insurance policy for the Honda had in fact been canceled on 27 September 2015 due to non-payment of premium. My father is not exactly an organized record keeper and I was unable to find the original insurance bill although I did find a subsequent expiration notice from the insurer. It would have been fair enough if my father himself had canceled the policy as he had stopped driving, but that's not what happened.

I called up Bill Ehrhart, our car insurance agent, to
discuss the situation and
see about reinstating the policy;
Bill was pretty understanding about the whole thing
and worked out a payment amount for a new, slightly downsized policy.
I didn't have the money for the new bill and was somewhat hesitant to ask my father for it because
I and not he
would be doing the driving from then on;
my brother stepped up to the plate and got him to write out a check for what we owed,
which I walked over to Bill's office as soon as I could.

The reinstated insurance went into effect on 7 January 2016. However, this wasn't enough to stave off a "Notice of Suspension" letter from the DMV informing us that
Your registration has been suspended ... you may not operate the [Honda] until this matter is resolved and that
in addition to providing evidence of liability insurance
we needed to pay a $14 fee
in order to reinstate the registration;
adding insult to injury, the letter was dated and postmarked before the 8 January 2016 deadline.

Although I had the paper trail to prove that we had met the suspension deadline, I went ahead and paid the reinstatement fee anyway. About a week later we received a "Notice of Reinstatement" letter from the DMV that in part read:
If your vehicle registration renewal was incomplete only because the registration was suspended, the Department will process the transaction and your registration and sticker will be mailed to you.
If your vehicle registration renewal was incomplete for another reason, such as smog certification, you must complete the requirements and submit any documents using one of the following options:
• Mail the required documents to [the] DMV at P.O. Box 942869 Sacramento, CA. 94269-0001, or
• Visit your local DMV office; please make an appointment at
Well, that sure cleared things up...not. I was still unaware that the Honda needed a smog check and I assumed (ouch) that the DMV would next send us a standard registration renewal bill. I waited several weeks for that bill only to receive...nothing. In lieu of going to a DMV office (ouch again) I then sent a letter of inquiry about the Honda's registration status to the DMV's Vehicle Registration Operations address (see the General Vehicle Registration Address, for USPS section on this page), but got no reply.

Bro to the rescue, once again

During a visit back home in July 2016, my brother
liaised with the DMV to see where we stood
and paid the Honda's outstanding registration fees
via a local AAA office (he's a member)
and then he smog-checked the Honda at Blue Sky Cielo Azul Test Only -
it passed, the check engine warning light business (vide supra) notwithstanding -
bringing us and the Honda into the good graces of the DMV at long last.

I'll continue my motorist saga in a following post.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Ambivalent Motorist

In the spring semester of my sophomore year at Vista High School I took a Driver Education class,
which was run by Mr. Dennis Williams
and was highlighted by a series of after-school behind-the-wheel driving lessons
that in my case were chaperoned by Mr. Henry Landis,
per a California state requirement for getting an instruction permit to drive a car.
FYI: Vista High School has not offered Driver Education classes for at least the last several years.

I got a driver's license shortly after my 16th birthday. I failed my first behind-the-wheel driving test - I made a critical error in the course of making a left turn, if I recall correctly - but passed on a second attempt.

Car-wise my family had
(1) a Volkswagen Squareback and
(2) a Kombi-type Volkswagen Bus
in the late 1970s. Almost all of my teenage driving experience was with the Bus as the Squareback was my father's 'baby' and he was touchy about letting me or anyone else in the family drive it, although I wasn't too upset about that as the Bus handled beautifully and was a pleasure to drive.

Motorist to nonmotorist

I left home for college shortly before my 18th birthday, and for the next ~33 years (excepting the summer of 1981) I lived in large cities - Cambridge/Boston, Philadelphia, London, and New Orleans - in which I didn't do any driving at all. As a practical matter, it just wasn't necessary for me to drive in those cities, and being a nonmotorist was the easy thing to do - gas, traffic, parking, maintenance, insurance, registration, smog certification, who wants to deal with any of that? - if you don't have to drive, then don't.

Be that as it may, I renewed my driver's license every four years through the mail until 1994, at which point the California DMV sent me a letter that in part read:
It will be necessary for you to apply in person at any office of this Department for renewal of your driver license. A $12.00 fee and all necessary tests will be required.
Doing this wasn't feasible as I was in England at the time, and my license expired.

Fast-forward to late 2013 and my return to Vista, a suburban-in-character city in which a walk from my home to the nearest grocery store takes a lot longer than it formerly did. (I was going to say that the mass transit here leaves a lot of room for improvement, but that's true pretty much everywhere, isn't it?) Still without a license, I relied for a while on my elderly father to drive me around but, as recounted in the Perambulatorily yours section of my "Sods and Odds" post, this came to an abrupt halt in March 2015. Now what?

Nonmotorist to driver's license 2.0

Well, I have finally gotten my act together and gotten a new driver's license. I had been a nonmotorist for so long that the California DMV no longer had my original driver's license number in its database and had me take both a written test and a behind-the-wheel test.
(w) I took/passed my written test at a temporary, now-closed DMV office in San Marcos on 29 December 2015. (It's too bad that the 1706 Descanso office wasn't kept open as it was the one closest to my home and was easy to get to via the 305 Bus.)
(btw) I took/passed my behind-the-wheel test at the DMV office in Oceanside on 4 November 2016; my nerves got rattled a couple of times during the test and I didn't do as well as I would have liked, but I did squeak through.

"What's with the time gaps?" I was afraid you would ask that. Inertia and procrastination on my part deserve a healthy share of the blame although the situation was exacerbated by the fact that the registration, smog certification, and insurance for my father's car all lapsed in 2015 - more details to come in the following entry.

Monday, May 7, 2018

English 10-

Today's post will conclude my retrospective tour of the English classes I took in high school.

10th grade

For the September-to-January ("fall") semester I took an English Composition 10A course
and for the February-to-June ("spring") semester I took a Literature Appreciation 10A course,
both of which were run by Mr. Jeffrey Paul Jones.

Mr. Jones made a serious effort in the fall semester to teach us the basic mechanics of writing - how to construct various types of sentences and how to put those sentences together so as to create a coherent unit of content - and I'd say he did a pretty good job of it.
(I've saved a number of sentence tests from this period as they display my maladjusted teenage self in all its glory. A 1 December 1977 test asked for three sentences having an introductory present participial phrase so I wrote:
1. Running down the street, Billy got hit by a car and his guts were splattered on the Jones' driveway.
2. Blowing his nose, Tom broke his Kleenex and a large glob of snot fell on his homework.
3. Coughing very loudly, the class thoroughly shattered the teacher's concentration.

Ah, those were the days...)

We read one class novel in the fall semester and one in the spring semester -
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, respectively -
excellent choices if I do say myself.

Twice during the fall semester we played a game in class that I'll call "N-Dimensional Story Creation". Here's how it went:
Mr. Jones handed blank sheets of paper out separately to several random students, each of whom
wrote down a sentence that started a story and
then passed the sheet to an adjacent student, who
wrote a sentence that continued the story in some way and
then passed the sheet to a third student, who wrote another sentence for the story and passed the sheet to a fourth student, etc.
Toward the end of class Mr. Jones collected our stories-in-progress and read them back to us. This was great fun, and I encourage all English teachers everywhere to try it in their own classes.

Two more points:
• I wrote a report and gave an oral presentation on Rosy Is My Relative by Gerald Durrell (a choice stemming from a Durrell short story that I read in the 8th grade) in the fall semester.
À la Mr. Hunter and The Propaganda Game, Mr. Jones had us play Diplomacy in the spring semester. Wikipedia notes that Diplomacy is Henry Kissinger's favorite game - we don't need to say any more about this, do we?

Lagniappe: 9th grade

Back in the 1970s Vista High School encompassed grades 10-12. For grades 7-9 I attended a Lincoln Junior High School that in 2006 moved to a new location and is now called Rancho Minerva Middle School. Meanwhile, a Vista Magnet Middle School has opened at the previous Lincoln Junior High School site.

At Vista High School it was up to us to work out a schoolday schedule; at Lincoln Junior High School our schedules were determined for us. For the 9th grade I was assigned to an English 9G course that was run by Mrs. Barbara Ross. I still have for this class a written notebook (content-wise, it was very light on grammar and heavy on dreams and imagery, I'll spare you the details) that grew into a traditional, long-form journal, of which both of my blogs are outgrowths. We read one class novel during the year, that being The Pearl by John Steinbeck.

Not related to coursework:
Mrs. Ross was a Neil Young fan. One day she brought in her copy of Harvest and played some of its songs for us and gave us her take on their lyrics.

Loose ends

• The "G" of English 9G refers to a "gifted" program in which I had been placed several years earlier by the Vista Unified School District's 'powers that be'. I don't have anything nice to say about that program so I won't say anything at all.

• Barbara Ross was Barbara Christiansen when I was a 7th-grader; she was my English teacher that year too.

• My 8th-grade English teacher was Miss Martha Lindey. Miss Lindey moved from Lincoln Junior High School to Vista High School in 1979; I could have and perhaps should have taken a journalism course from her when I was a senior.

We'll get behind the wheel in our next episode.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

English 11

In today's entry I'll say a few things about the 11th-grade English classes that I took at Vista High School in the 1978-1979 academic year, per the More English to come section at the beginning of my "Sods and Odds" post.


For the September-to-January semester I took an Advanced Composition 11A course that was initially run by Mr. James Hunter. At some point in the latter half of the semester (shortly after Thanksgiving, if memory serves) Mr. Hunter announced to the class that he would be leaving Vista High School for a position "in the computer field". He declined to specify exactly why he was leaving: "It's not you," he assured us. A Mr. Johnston* ran the remainder of the course.

*Per the Edward Johnston obituary at this page, I think Mr. Johnston's first name was Warren - he was the husband of my History 7 teacher at Lincoln Junior High School and took over for her shortly into the year as she was ill - but he wasn't in the La Revista 1979 yearbook and I don't know for certain.

I wrote my first five-paragraph essays and first term paper for Mr. Hunter's class.
• Regarding the former, Mr. Hunter handed out a photocopy of a five-paragraph essay that a previous-year student had written on Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land as a model for us to follow. I read it over and thought, "Man, this is really contrived, does anyone actually write like this in the real world?" With 20/20 hindsight and from my current vantage point as a technical writer, I now recognize that such essays, and term papers, are meant to serve as introductory prototypes for formal reports that one may create in, say, the business world or a STEM-related profession.
• My term paper was on electronic keyboard instruments.

Literature-wise my 11th-grade English classes kept to an American authors theme, and for Mr. Hunter's class I and my fellow classmates accordingly read the following class novels:
Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life by Sherwood Anderson,
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, and
A Separate Peace by John Knowles.
I relatedly wrote separate book reports on
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck and
R Is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury
but bucking the theme I also wrote reports on
Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne and
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Antonia Fraser.
(Yes, I was listening to this guy at the time.)

One last point in the name of completeness before moving on:
For a while at the beginning of the semester Mr. Hunter had us play The Propaganda Game in class; perhaps this was meant to be a sort of critical thinking exercise but I thought it was a waste of time.


For the February-to-June semester I took an English Literature 11A course that from start to finish was run by Mrs. Laurene Tweed.

Mrs. Tweed's class was highlighted by a vocabulary-building unit that was designed to prepare us for the verbal section of the SAT, which we were to take the following year. (I confess I am 'not a fan' of standardized tests: they are useful to some extent but IMO they and their scores are taken much more seriously than should be the case.)

We read one class novel for Mrs. Tweed's class: The Scarlet Letter: A Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
I relatedly wrote separate book reports on
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway and
Dandelion Wine and
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

Toward the end of the semester each student also presented an oral book report in front of the class: my presentation was on The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand as I was going through a (thankfully brief, hey, it happens to the best of us) Objectivist phase at the time.

Our coursework culminated in a term paper on an American author. I appropriately wrote my paper on Ray Bradbury: it discussed Bradbury's literary influences, his approach to the craft of writing, his advice for would-be authors, and his view of the future.

I'll cover my 10th-grade English classes in the following entry.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Listening to Songs at Random, or Not

At the beginning of my "I'd Like to Make a Request" post I briefly discussed the music site and lamented what had become vis-à-vis its salad days in the early 2000s. I continue to check in with from time to time, in part out of curiosity, in part out of nostalgia, in part out of a hope that the site has improved.

New stuff had been dormant since April 2015 but there's been a flurry of activity there in the last couple of months.

(1) A new /2018/ directory features 20+ new articles, including a "Welcome Back to! This Is Going to Be Big" announcement and a "Can You Name Every One of These '80s Hair Bands?" article/quiz that at present also takes up most of the home page.

(2) A new navigation menu at the top of the site points to '80s, '90s, '00s, and DOWNLOADS sections that at the time of writing are highlighted by a common "12 Great Songs You Totally Forgot Were From 1993"* article.

*1993? That was 25 years ago. And excepting "Soul to Squeeze" and "I Got You Babe" (OK, maybe not the Cher with Beavis and Butt-Head version), you probably were never familiar with these songs in the first place if you don't listen to urban contemporary radio. Where's U2's "Lemon"? Where's the Smashing Pumpkins' "Today"? But I digress.

2011-2017 last underwent a major overhaul in June 2011. The heart of the 2011-2017 was its /top-downloads/ Free Music collection of songs to stream or download, which is now gone. The current still has a /top-downloads/ directory but it now contains a "How Old Was This '90s Pop Star When They Made It Big?" article/quiz and some links to external resources and some advertising content and that would be it. Some of the /2018/ articles do feature videos but you know what I think about music videos.

Actually, all of the other 2011-2017 directories and all of the textual content of those directories are still present at the current site; for example, if you go to and scroll past the "12 Great Songs ... From 1993" article (all the way to the bottom of the page) you'll find links to the 2011-2017 site's Free MP3 of the Day articles although the .mp3 file downloads originally offered by those articles are no longer available.

The 2011-2017 was a venue for underground artists, whereas the new material focuses on hitmakers. If you prefer the former to the latter, however, all is not lost...

Back to the bars

The External links section of Wikipedia's entry helpfully includes a link to the Internet Archive's collection of past and present pages. I go to the 12 May 2014 capture (the one closest to the "I'd Like to Make a Request" 14 May 2014 publish date) to check out its Free Music songs. To my amazement and delight, I discover that the Internet Archive has also saved a great many of the original .mp3 files for those songs - just click the buttons and you've got 'em. (Clicking the buttons doesn't do anything.)

I note in "I'd Like to Make a Request" that I prefer to stream songs rather than download them. I go over to YouTube and run searches on several of the 12 May 2014 Free Music songs: every one of them shows up. And what you get at YouTube is in most cases better sounding than an .mp3 file anyway.

The Internet Archive's captures stretch back to the site's late-1990s origin. It is unlikely that you will find anything to stream or download in the charts sections of captures that predate the 2011 overhaul, but at least you will have artist name and song title information to work with.

In sum, a respectable chunk of the 'database' is still there and waiting for you to explore it - you don't have to settle for "Can You Name Every One of These ’90s Boy Bands?".

We'll go back to high school English class in the next entry.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Nontechnical Intermission

Profiles in PC Poisoning, Part 10

At the end of the previous entry I said I would be moving on from my CTB-Locker ordeal but given the lengthy length of time between that post and this one I have a last few comments to make:

• As of this writing and to the best of my knowledge (I'll admit that I haven't searched to the ends of the Earth for this), no one has cracked the CTB-Locker encryption scheme.

• Re the end of Part 8's Deep 2 section, I was able to rescue six more .wps documents via a painstaking reinspection of those "clearly toast" D:\???\*.wps files.

• Re Part 9's As for the C:\ volume... section, I did finally go through all 3,244 of those C:\???\*.wps files and can report that there were five new .wps documents in the lot - how's that for a(n) ROI? - two of them were damaged, specifically, they were text-image hybrids and some of the image data was lost.

• Vexingly, something else has stricken my father's computer in the interim. I suspect its system was corrupted somewhat by a power outage, or maybe it's just on the way out: upon booting, it often stalls at the BIOS screen, sometimes it stalls at the Windows XP logo/progress bar stage, sometimes it gets to the desktop but then the mouse cursor freezes. (It's just like my Daddy used to say, "It's always something, if it's not one thing it's another," eh? ;-)) All I can say is, "I'm working on it."

More posts about music and food

The Reptile7 Metablog has been dormant for almost two-and-a-half years, a state of affairs that is simply out of order! It's time I spent a bit of time here, yes?

The "Profiles in PC Poisoning" series was more technical than I would like this blog to be, and I'll be writing about more 'normal' things in going forward. Ransomware is an important topic and I felt it was important to discuss my experience therewith in some detail but I probably should have done so at my other blog.

I hope to write posts on my becoming a motorist, playing the piano, my father and his dementia, coffee, and television in due course; in the following entry, however, we'll touch base with the familiar with a revisit to