Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Drivers Under 25, Tickets, and Car Insurance

I've always been a bit paranoid when it comes to the possibility of getting a traffic ticket or worse situation. And when I got my driver's license and was added to my parents' car insurance policy, I was aware of how expensive insurance can be for young drivers.

Now, I'm not sure when and where I first got this notion, but somewhere along the line, I got the impression that if a teen driver (or more specifically, a driver under the age of 25) gets any kind of traffic citation (even just one), his or her rates will skyrocket to the point of being not affordable (not that teen insurance was that affordable anyway). One of the places that strengthened this notion was on the Teen Auto Insurance Rate Explorer. What I saw on that calculator was pretty frightening. Get just one ticket, and rates can go up by 265% from $484/6 months to $1,287/6 months! I know younger drivers are high risk, but still, talk about ridiculous. Keep in mind, that's with no accidents, no DUIs, a good student discount, old car, high deductible, and low insurance limit. Even with all those factors, a car insurance rate for a young driver can still more than double according to that calculator for just ONE ticket!

I realize insurance companies have different ways of figuring out rate increases, so that calculator might not be entirely accurate, though I have seen some posts online by people who claim the same thing - that getting just one ticket will ruin you if you're under 25. Funny thing is, I've heard of a number of young drivers getting tickets, and their lives don't seem "ruined" by it. Who knows?

Nonetheless, I've always tried to be a careful driver. Not just because of insurance reasons but simply because it's the right thing to do. Still, there have been situations where I've feared I might get a ticket. One of my biggest fears was red-light cameras. Sometimes, those cameras have had a tendency to be triggered unnecessarily, so I wouldn't want to get an unjust ticket. For a while, I avoided red-light intersections altogether whenever possible. These days, I just avoid making right-hand turns at such intersections.

The issue of tickets and car insurance came up with me again in a big way earlier this year when I got a ticket (the only one I've gotten so far in my three years of driving with a license and five years total if you count my learner's permit). I had (and still do to some extent) all these ideas that insurance rates for drivers under 25 would definitely skyrocket beyond control and out of sight - even if it's just one minor ticket. A number of times, I've talked with one of my friends, whose dad works in insurance. One time, I mentioned to him the kind of rates my family has, and his dad thought we were being charged a lot, all things considered.

The company we've had for a number of years now is ANPAC (American National Property and Casualty). When my parents only were on the policy, the rate was somewhere in the neighborhood of about $600/6 months (approximately, I don't really know). When I got on the policy, it went up to $1,070/6 months (which included the good student discount). Then, when I graduated from high school, it went to $1,200/6 months. Then, when I got my 1989 Camry added to the policy last year, the insurance went up to approximately $1,600/6 months. Yes. $1,600 - not a year...but for every 6 MONTHS! And keep in mind, that most of our vehicles are liability-only, we have two older, experienced drivers with clean records, and two of the vehicles are ancient as it is (a 1987 Ford Ranger, a 1989 Toyota Camry, and a 2006 Dodge Stratus). Additionally, my rates have never really gone down, despite turning 21 last year. I know turning 21 isn't as big of a milestone as turning 25, but my friend said that rates usually go down a little by then. Mine didn't go down one single bit. Actually, a few months ago, we did lower the price by lowering the coverage for property damage or whatever. It went from $1,600/6 months to $1,330/6 months. In my opinion, that's still quite a lot. So, if we're being charged this much for old, liability-only cars, and drivers that have had clean records, I'd hate to think how such a company would respond to an under-25 driver getting a ticket. Honestly, I'm quite concerned.

Since I got the ticket when I was 21 (as opposed to a 16-year-old that just recently got a license) and had been driving incident-free for three years, I'd hope that the insurance company might grant me some slight forgiveness - rather than doubling or tripling the insurance rate like I've heard so many stories about just for one ticket. In any event, since I got my ticket, we've renewed our insurance policy once. At that point, the company didn't seem to know about the ticket, as the premium was the same as before, and they didn't show any incidents recorded. However, it was around the same time that my points were actually applied. The next renewal will be in a few months. As I said, I'm quite concerned.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Story of My First Packard Bell Computer

A few times in this blog, I've referenced my original Packard Bell (a Packard Bell Platinum 2240). However, I'm not sure if I've told the full story of it on here. I've talked about my TeleVideo TS-1605 and the digital DECpc LPx 560, so I think the old Packard Bell deserves some recognition.

Note: the above computer is NOT the same model as my first one. It is just a very similar-looking one (though its specs are a little lower and has a different model number). I am just using this picture to give an idea as to what the computer looked like.

Anyway, my very first Packard Bell was a Packard Bell Platinum 2240, made in early 1997. It had a 200 MHz MMX Pentium processor, 32 MB of EDO RAM (we later upgraded it to 64 MB), 3.2 GB Quantum hard drive (later replaced with a 40 GB Maxtor hard drive, though I still have the original 3.2 GB hard drive), 3.5" floppy drive, and a GoldStar 16x CD-ROM drive. It also had 2 MB of video memory and a SND3-336 card (which also had a built-in modem). The computer originally ran Windows 95 but was upgraded to Windows 98 SE for a while (right after the computer started going downhill). Although I've moved on from this particular computer, I still feel some nostalgia for it - especially for the time during 2003 and 2004 when I formed a love for Packard Bell computers and software and really wanted to get that old thing running again.

So - my dad had been using the old DOS TeleVideo TS-1605 for about 13-14 years. It served its purpose, but I guess it got to a point where he felt it was time to upgrade (even a few years before then, the TeleVideo might still be considered quite obsolete). Once, while he was on a business trip in April 1997, he apparently bought a Packard Bell Platinum 2240 in North Carolina - and later brought it home with him. A few days after he got it, I saw it for myself and was just amazed at how it looked. It had all sorts of controls and looked so modern and futuristic compared to the simple, plain, bland box computer that was the TeleVideo. I'd never seen anything like it before and was so impressed that I even mentioned it to a kid or two in my first grade class.

I didn't start using the computer until a year or two later, though. I started out by playing computer games like Math Blaster: Ages 6-9, Reading Blaster: Ages 9-12, Casper: The Interactive Adventure, POD (or Planet of Death - a racing game), and Ecco. I had tons of fun playing these games, and I would later have new favorites, like The 7th Guest, SimCity Classic, Rodent's Revenge, Rattler Race, Comix Zone, Sonic CD, and many others.

And let's not forget Packard Bell Navigator. In early 1999, I discovered Navigator (or my dad showed it to me - I can't remember). And I discovered many "new" programs like WordPad, Paint, Calculator, and the Windows Entertainment Pack games - along with a few other interactive "games" in the Myspace room. I started writing stories about the Energizer Bunny in WordPad while in the Kidspace room - as well as making "Color World" bitmap images in Paint (which consisted of a bunch of multicolor ovals overlapping each other).

With time, I became more and more creative on the computer. When we got Microsoft Office 2000, I started using PowerPoint to make crude pictures, "games," and movies. I also used Word to write more, longer stories. We also first got the internet on that computer in 2000, though in the early 2000s, I didn't use it nearly as much as I do now. I didn't get into it that much until about 2002-2003 when I started chatting with AIM and posting messages on the Staufmansion-Line Forum (most of which I didn't even do on the Packard Bell). Fun times, fun times. Quite a few examples I could give of all the fun I had with that computer.

In April 2002, my dad started working for a computer company and bought a new computer to help him with the work. It was a Dell Dimension 4400, which cost over $2,000, I think. I still own and use that same computer to this day. I was rather impressed by it when I used it, as there were many things that computer could do that the Packard Bell couldn't. Nonetheless, I was still happy when my dad gave me the Packard Bell on my birthday a few weeks later. I was glad to have a computer of my very own to use. Unfortunately, this would only be short-lived.

About a week into September, the computer started making a clicking and whining sound. At first, I didn't take much notice, though a week later, things became very bad. I went to the CD Player in the taskbar to change the song I was playing, when the computer made the same noise again. Only this time, the computer froze, and I had to restart it. But things got considerably worse. I restarted the computer multiple times but got error messages after error messages. I had no idea what was going on. My mom said that maybe the computer was "tired." It sure seemed that way!

My early attempts at solving the problem were to run ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter (interestingly enough, only a few hours before the computer first crashed, I was running Disk Defragmenter, and I wondered if that had anything to do with the problem). At first, I thought running those problems fixed the issue, but shortly after, I kept having the same problems. My dad thought the problem was that the computer was looking for a missing file, so he formatted the hard drive and installed Windows 98 SE. At first, things looked okay, but not for long. The computer was acting just as weird as it did before.

After a while, we basically gave up on the computer, and that's when its replacement came in - a PACE Technologies (a no-name brand computer) with a 300 MHz Pentium II MMX processor, 64 MB of RAM, 5-6 GB hard drive, 3.5" floppy drive, and CD-ROM drive - and ran Windows 2000. Though this computer was slightly more modern than the Packard Bell, I didn't like it very much. Its case looked dirty and old, and it seemed more cold and metallic than the "friendly," bright white plastic case of the Packard Bell. It also ran rather slowly, and the sound card didn't even work (at least not with Windows 2000). Also, a lot of my favorite computer games wouldn't run on the computer. However, I didn't have much choice, so for most of my computing needs, I used the PACE. Even though I didn't like it at first, I ended up having some nostalgia for it years later, as I liked the Snow Trees desktop wallpaper.

In 2003, I started doing most of my computer work on the Dell, and I was glad, as it was much more modern, could run more games, and allow me to do creative things with sound clips, artwork, etc. Also, it was a good thing my dad let me do so, as around mid-2003, the PACE quit working as it should have. It sounded like it would run, but there was no image on the screen (I later fixed this problem a year later by reinserting the video card).

In any event, it was around this time that I formed a big love for Packard Bell computers and Packard Bell software. The office interface in Navigator 3.9 looked so modern and neat, and I just hated some of the 3D graphics in Windows 98. And the new installation of Windows didn't have all my old favorite games (Rodent's Revenge, SimCity Classic, etc.). While I realized later I could have installed and run most of those games on just about any version of Windows, it wasn't quite the same as doing it with good old Windows 95. So, right around mid-2003, it was official - I wanted to restore my old computer with Windows 95 and Packard Bell Navigator!

Even though there wasn't much I could do for the Packard Bell at the time, the next best thing was to try to get as close to the old setup as possible. I tried installing Navigator on the Dell by copying all the old NAV files from the Master CD, but I kept getting error messages relating to ODBC.DLL, ODBC.INI, ODBCINST.DLL, ODBCINST.INI, and being unable to load the resource database. The last particular error message was very troubling to me because it was just so vague. It didn't give me any files to look for and barely indicated what the problem was (how was I supposed to know what the resource database was - that seemed like such a general term). Still, for years, I tried and tried again to get Navigator to work. In July 2009, I finally figured out the trick to get Navigator to work, but that's another story. Even though I couldn't get Navigator itself to run, I enjoyed looking through the screenshots and listening to the audio clips - hoping that maybe someday, I could interact with Navigator directly.

In late 2003, I went crazy trying to get Windows 95 back on the Packard Bell. I found the old, original 3.2 GB hard drive and tried to install it, thinking that Windows 95, Navigator, and all my other old, favorite programs were on there. Well, even if they were, I couldn't use them. For whatever reason (I think maybe it had to do with the Maxtor EZ-BIOS settings), the drive wasn't recognized. So, after that didn't work, I researched information on how to restore Windows 95. I was at a bit of a disadvantage since I didn't have a regular Windows 95 CD (and only had a Master CD, which back then, I had no idea I could reinstall Windows with it), so I didn't really know what to do. So finally, I made the stupid mistake of deleting all the files on the hard drive while in Windows.

And for several months after that, I was never able to use Windows again. I couldn't read from the CD-ROM drive when booting from the hard drive, and I couldn't read the hard drive when booting from the floppy and CD-ROM drive. I was in a real mess. Once I realized I could have installed Windows from the Master CD - and now couldn't due to the problem with the hard drive and CD-ROM drive, I knew I was stuck. If only I had a version of Windows I could install via floppy disk back then.

Eventually, my mom and I ordered a Windows 95 install CD, and I hoped that might be of help. It would have been better if it had floppies to install the OS, but oh well. I used another computer to transfer the Windows 95 files from the CD to a floppy disk. Slowly but surely, I copied the files onto the computer. Unfortunately, it didn't do much good, and I was at a standstill.

My dad, knowing how much I liked the old Packard Bell, took it to a repair center in December 2003 to see if the technicians could fix it. I was really happy but nervous at the same time. What if they couldn't fix it? To my horror, there was some bad news more than a week later. They called and said that they were having problems with it and that they thought the motherboard was the issue. A new one would increase the repair bill to about $500. My dad didn't think it was worth it to spend that much money on an old computer, so he suggested getting a new computer for me. I was open to the idea but still wanted the Packard Bell, as it meant a lot to me. A few days later, we went to look at some new computers, but I wasn't particularly interested at the time, so I passed (though I wish I had gotten one of those computers while I had the chance).

A day or so later, the technicians called back, confirming that the problem was the motherboard. However, they said that a new board would actually up the cost to $250 instead of $500 like they originally said. My dad reluctantly agreed to the motherboard replacement, and that made my day.

About a month later (January 2004), the computer was ready for pick-up. Apparently, it was now working and running Windows 95 for the first time since September 2002! We went to the repair place to get it, and a technician commented that the computer was quite hard to deal with. Once we got home, I set up the computer and turned it on and was excited to see Windows 95 running once again! Sadly, it didn't have Navigator or any of the other programs on it, but that was a problem for another day.

I installed a few programs on the computer, and everything seemed fine at first - until after the third program was installed. I got an error message, saying, "Sector not found reading drive C: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail." I was very crestfallen to see this. The computer was having problems again (though different ones, this time). I hoped this was just a one-time thing, but unfortunately, the problem grew more and more persistent. At first, I could just ignore it, but with time, I couldn't get past it. Eventually, I couldn't read from the hard drive or CD-ROM drive anymore. At least things were a little more stable with the other motherboard.

My dad found out that the computer was having problems again and reluctantly took it back for more work. But things wouldn't turn out well for the Packard Bell. More than a month passed, and we didn't hear from the technicians, so one day, in March 2004, we called them. Apparently, they had given up on the computer and couldn't fix it. Unless I'm mistaken, my mom said that they said they had never seen a computer that was so hard to fix.

A few days later, my parents picked up the computer, and it was waiting for me in my room when I got home from school. I was glad to see it again, despite the problems it had, and was eager to try an experiment on it. I put in the spare 5.25" drive from the TeleVideo, and to my delight, it worked! Now, I could transfer files from more modern computers to the old TeleVideo! Sure enough, I was playing Castle Adventure on that computer in no time! Unfortunately, about two months later, the Packard Bell even failed to recognize the floppy drives, and it had been rendered almost completely unusable.

At that point, I started to turn my attention to the old PACE computer. It had been about a year since I last used it, and I wanted to get all my personal files off it in case that computer never worked again. I started tinkering with it, looking inside it, and so on. Several months earlier, I cut off one of the PSU plugs when taking out the CD-ROM drive, as I had trouble unplugging it. I feared that something bad would happen if I turned the computer on, so I was reluctant to do so. I later put electrical tape around the cut ends and turned the computer on. Fortunately, it ran fine, and I was also glad to see that the video card was working again.

I then considered using the parts from the PACE computer to repair the Packard Bell. At the time, I was learning about motherboard form factors and knew that the PACE's motherboard wouldn't properly fit in the Packard Bell, but I could try to crudely position it in there (assuming I could take the crossbar out). So, I asked my dad to drill some of the rivets out of the computer case, and once he did, I removed the crossbar and put the motherboard tray from the PACE horizontally across the bottom of the Packard Bell. I then put the other components inside, and it worked. Well, yes, it did work, but I couldn't fit the cover over the case, and the ports weren't sticking out where they should have. Still, that was the best repair I could make with that Packard Bell. I later installed Windows 95 and tried (once again) to get Navigator to work but failed. I did, however, get many other programs to work (like SimCity Classic), and I found drivers for the sound card (they would work on Windows 95 and 98 but sadly still not on Windows 2000).

In early 2005, I was going through a phase where I wanted to make major improvements on myself. I tried to take a look at what I was doing and where I was going. And I started to feel that I shouldn't try to force a repair on the Packard Bell that wasn't appropriate for it. At the time, I had the computer in a small cabinet under my desk, and it was a real pain to deal with whenever I had to plug or unplug something. I finally decided to put the computer parts back in the PACE and use that as my computer. I then took the Packard Bell and put it on a shelf in my closet. And there it sat, sadly spending its final moments in my house useless and with a dark, empty space in the top drive bay where the CD-ROM drive once was. The same computer that was once full of life, playing all the old games I loved. Now useless and could barely do anything.

For a while, I decided to keep the Packard Bell, as I was still a computer nerd and wanted to keep it around for nostalgia and access to parts. However, I eventually decided to get rid of it. I felt it would be healthy for me to let go of it and move on, and it would also save space in my closet. So, in April 2005, I got rid of the Packard Bell Platinum 2240 - the very first Packard Bell I used and that gave me some of my first computing memories and inspirations - the computer that had been with us for almost eight long years. I put it out for the garbage and checked on it the very next day. The computer was gone, but surprisingly, the garbage hadn't even come yet. Someone must have taken it. Who knows what the final fate of that computer was/is?

Even though initially, I was glad to get rid of the Packard Bell, I still felt nostalgia for the Packard Bell computers and software and wished I hadn't gotten rid of it. From time to time, I would see computers on eBay that I wanted to get and considered buying them. But everything changed earlier this year when I learned that a YouTube user named Roadgeek got a vast majority of his Packard Bells from a thrift store called Value Village. I was glad to see there was a Value Village in my area (several actually), so one day, I went to the closest one, hoping that I'd find one. Very shockingly, the very first time I looked, I found a Packard Bell! And not just any Packard Bell, either. It was in the same style (though different model, same one in the picture at the beginning of this blog post) as my Platinum 2240! Best of all, it only cost $3.00! What a bargain! A lot better than paying hundreds of dollars on eBay! Needless to say, I bought it right on the spot. I also went to America's Thrift Store next door and found a Packard Bell monitor and keyboard! At home, I learned that the computer did indeed work and was glad to have another one almost just like my old one.

So, that wraps up my quite long story of my first Packard Bell. Since getting the replacement for the Platinum 2240 (the Platinum Supreme 1665), I've purchased three more Packard Bells. All of these have been fun to use, though my interest in Packard Bells never would have existed if it weren't for my very first one. Hopefully, I'll remember the fun I had with that computer for a long time.

digital DECpc LPx 560

Happy Veteran's Day!

This year, I've been interested in old computers again. I started looking in thrift stores for Packard Bells and other machines. In 2009, I found a somewhat "old" computer (probably made around 1997), but it wasn't exactly what I was looking for. However, when I went to a Value Village store this April, I found a computer that was pretty much exactly what I've been looking for as far as a vintage PC is concerned (though I would like to find an even older PC - like the TeleVideo).

The computer I found was a digital DECpc LPx 560. I haven't found a whole lot of information on it on the internet, though there are a few online ads for it. Considering that this computer came out in the early-to-mid '90s, it's not too surprising that this machine cost over $2,000! Anyway, the computer appears to have been built in August 1994 and has a 60 MHz Socket 4 Pentium processor - along with approximately 8 MB of RAM and a 516 MB hard drive. It also has a 5.25" floppy drive (one of the reasons I wanted this computer - it's really the mark of a true vintage machine), a 3.5" floppy drive, and a CD-ROM drive. So, it has a mix of old and "new" technology - another thing I like about this machine. Makes a good all-in-one computer.

I haven't used this computer a lot, as I don't want to wear it out, and plus, I don't have any real "need" for it (other than for collection's sake). However, the few times I have used it, it seems to work and runs MS-DOS 6.2 and Windows 3.1. There are even some programs left over from the previous owner - I think little kids' games.

I haven't fully tested this computer, so I don't know if everything works. For instance, I haven't tested the CD-ROM or 5.25" floppy drive. The 3.5" drive I have used a little, though, and it appears to work. I don't really know much more to say about this computer for now, other than I'm glad I found this one when I did. It really has a vintage feel to it.