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Welcome to the personal website of Andrew Turnbull. This outpost features tons of stupefying and trivial things pertaining to various and diverse interests of mine. Chances are, if there's something I know about or like that doesn't much other representation on the 'net...there's a bit of it here.

January-March 2023 Archive

17 February 2023

I envy people who had the privilege of growing up secular, without religion.

Who never had to undergo the stress and social fallout of deconversion.

Who never worried that they'd burn in hell.

Who never had to hide their queerness from their school, family, or neighbours.

Who were free to choose what organizations they belonged to, instead of being baptised without consent.

Who lived in large, diverse communities where social events happened in inclusive museums, libraries, parks, concert venues, and union halls instead of small towns where no interaction happened outside of church.

Whose reaction to evolutionary biology and climate science is a sense of curiosity or urgency, instead of stress that a screed of anti-intellectual and ecocidal denialism is sure to follow.

Who never had to worry that their family and neighbours would write them out of their state's constitution, vote en masse for sadistic charlatans like Trump, or force themselves to procreate against their will.

Who can discuss Christian scripture and doctrine objectively, instead of through a fog of emotional baggage, anger, and personal trauma.

15 January 2023

When licence plates run out of numbers, part 2.

Last June, I wrote a piece called "When licence plates run out of numbers," casting a predictive look at eleven states and provinces whose motor vehicle agencies were nearing the end of available combinations of letters and numbers.

In the time since, Quebec has turned over to a new format. New Jersey and British Columbia are only days away from doing the same. Nebraska debuted a new baseplate, continuing the "Y" series directly where the previous base left off...delaying the state's end-of-alphabet rollover by a few months at most. Every other place has continued to inch along, suspense sky-high, closer and closer to some combination of Zs and 9s spelling the end.

But June's feature told only part of the story. Here are five more states (and one previously-covered province) where sequencing changes and format depletion will happen in the months and years ahead:

Ontario farm and motorcycle

[licence plate] Given that Canada's largest province has somewhere north of thirty registration types on the books, it should come as no surprise that several of their non-passenger series are skirting close to the end.

Farm Truck is typical of the lot. Since 1980, the type has functioned as a subset of the commercial truck type, following the same colours and alphanumeric formats...with the catch that the key letter is always "F." The initial series ran from FA1001 to FZ9999, followed in 2003 by 1001FA to 9999FZ. As of 2023, farm plates have reached the high "FX" series. Ontario tears through roughly one letter series per year, so the current format will probably run out mid-decade.

What will happen next? Following the precedent of regular and PRP commercial plates, Ontario will undoubtedly flip the letters back to the prefix position, cram another digit in, and create a series starting at FA10001. This isn't a good idea: Any seven-figure plate with a vertical legend will be crowded to the point of illegibility, and this format offers more capacity than a hundred years of farmers could ever hope to fill. But I wouldn't expect anything else from the MTO.

[licence plate] Motorcycles are issued small 10x18 centimetre plates, so "cramming another digit in" is off the table for this type. Since the last reissue in 1980, the only constant of these plates besides the colours has been constant change. Eight distinct alphanumeric formats have been used, with combinations of up to two letters with a five-character limit.

The current series began at 0A0A1 in spring 2013. Do you think they could have chosen anything more jumbled if they tried? Since the sequence is up to nVnLn and is tearing through two or three leading letter series a year...we may soon find that the answer is "yes." (A0A1A?)


[licence plate]Will Delaware ever run out of licence plate numbers?

Hold your horses: Delaware has long had a habit of doing things differently, and it's a place where precedents from the other 49 states need not apply. Delaware is the state that established a staggered registration system before any other. It's the state that issued porcelain enamel baseplates twenty years after the manufacturing technique had been abandoned elsewhere. It's the state that issued silk-screened flat plates to motorists in 1968, decades before digital technology made them widespread. It's the state that's eschewed the notion of general reissues longer and more firmly than any other: A vehicle continually registered since 1942 will still be wearing the same plate that it had in 1942! It's the state where plates are transferred with vehicles...unless they're resold on the open market, which you can do. And it's the state that has issued fully-numeric combinations to every passenger vehicle in its borders for over 115 years, coping with modern-day format exhaustion by periodically reissuing inactive combinations.

Delaware's all-numeric plates allow for up to 999,999 combinations without duplication. In 2020, there were 414,460 automobiles registered a little less than half of the combinations are in use at once.

But how long can the state sustain its practice of number recycling? The similarly-sized state of Rhode Island stopped reusing licence plate combinations in 2021 to quell an epidemic of innocent motorists being dinged for tolls and tickets issued to previous uses of the same plate numbers. And Delaware itself was forced to expand its series for commercial vehicles beyond C99999 with the advent of a new "CL" prefix in 1984, and six-digit plates in the 2000s.

For 29 years, Delaware collectors have been expecting seven-digit combinations starting at 1000000 to be issued as soon as the pool of six-digit numbers becomes untenable. Maybe this will actually happen sometime this decade. But this is Delaware, the state that always defies don't hold your breath!


[licence plate] Massachusetts is populous. It's a state where licence plate numbers are limited to six digits, and no general reissue has occurred in four decades. And its passenger plate series actually consists of ten series that progress in parallel, since the last numeric digit is a month code keyed to expiration. All of this makes it a challenge for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to choose alphanumeric formats and avoid duplication...but try they will.

What licence plate numbers is Massachusetts issuing now? Truth is, no one really knows. The state's Highs page on is an unreadable, unmaintained mess. Word through the grapevine is that most months are slowly toiling away in the 1AAA 10 format, which began with October plates back in 2011. October tore through the entire 1AAA 10 - 9ZZZ 90 sequence in the New '10s, then swept through two stopgap formats (10A 000 - 99Z 990 and 100 A00 - 999 Z90) before passing into unknown territory. Depending on who I ask, Massachusetts may either be lingering in the 100 A00 configuration, reissuing inactive combinations in the 10AA 00 format of the early '00s...or is suspending issuance of October plates altogether, pro-rating end-of-year registrations to the other nine months until quantities are equalized. No official take this with a grain of salt as you may.

Which format might be next? Given past precedent (namely the state's habit of floating clusters of letters around to various positions), 10 AAA0 seems the most plausible.

Surprisingly, Massachusetts has never used AAA-100 through ZZZ-999 on a widespread basis...even though it's run through the reverse 100-AAA series more than once. Could a straightforward alphanumeric format be in the Bay State's future? Stranger things have happened...

Michigan motorcycle

[licence plate] Michigan's passenger series is a seven-digit monstrosity that advances at a glacial pace...roughly one leading letter series every five years. Motorcycle plates are another matter, though. As in Ontario, their smaller size has meant that the state has been constrained to five-figure formats. Over the years, Michigan has worked through several of these in succession.

The state's current motorcycle format started at AA000 in 2012. Currently it is up to the "VC" series, and will probably reach ZZ in the next two years. When that happens, the state will probably follow past precedent and reverse the format to 000AA. This configuration was last used on the blue base of the 1980s, so the state may have to tread around numbers used on year-of-manufacture plates if it follows this path.


[licence plate] Missouri licence plates are...bizarre.

Validation stickers don't go in the corner; they go in the centre of the plate. The state uses serial month coding, much like Massachusetts and West Virginia. And the alphanumeric configurations they use are so jumbled that they're out of this world: AA0 A1A on cars; 0AA 001, 0AA A01, 00A 1AA, and 00A A1A on trucks!

Each month series is assigned two key letters: A and B for January, doled out in sequence through Y and Z for December. So far, so good. But February throws a monkey wrench into the plan. For reasons that elude me, the second month of the year is assigned only one key letter: C. Which means that February expirations in Missouri will run out of plate numbers faster than any other series.

The present February series began at CA0 A1A in 2009. The "Bluebird" baseplate left off at CP; the current Bicentennial baseplate picked up at CR. As of 2022, this progression has reached CY. And with February upon us, the end of the series is just days away.

What could happen next? There are several possibilities to ponder. There's a chance Missouri will pull out a previously-skipped out-of-sequence letter like Q, and use it as an overflow code. February plates could switch to a new alphanumeric format different from the one used for the other eleven months. A third, less likely possibility is that the state will roll from CZ9 Z9Z back to CA0 A1A and reissue combinations used on the now-defunct Bluebird plates of the early 2010s.

New Mexico

[licence plate] New Mexico's general issue started at 001-AAA in 1991. 32 years (!) later, the progression has crossed into the X series. Given the state's rapid population growth, you might think that the end of the alphabet is just a stone's throw away.

Except...and this is a big "except"...the New Mexico general issue isn't really that general. When a motorist moves to the state or registers a new vehicle, they're presented with a choice of three baseplates at equal cost: The standard yellow design, an alternate turquoise design originally devised to commemmorate the state's centennial, or a distinctive black design touting the "Chile Capital of the World." Never mind that the black and turquoise plates are illegible at night: They're desirable, and dwarf the "standard" design in popularity. All three have unique numbering configurations.

Which means that the progression of New Mexico's 001-AAA format has slowed to a trickle since the days when the yellow plates were the only ones in town. It takes three years on average for the state to get through a leading letter series...and it'll probably take about nine for the progression to get to ZZZ. What happens at that point is anyone's guess...although my preference would be for the state to standardize on a single baseplate and single numbering format.

Pennsylvania truck and motorcycle

[licence plate] I contemplated moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania off and on in the mid-2000s. It was not to be...but the state has been on my mind ever since.

The standard configuration in the Keystone State is AAA-0000. The catch is that the format is split three ways: Passenger vehicles are doled out plates from the bulk of the alphabet, from A through M and beyond. Trailers are issued plates in the X series, while trucks are assigned Y and Z.

It took eleven years and one reissue for Pennsylvania trucks to work their way through the Y series. The Z series has been a bit slower-going...but make no mistake about it, the end is near. As of early 2023, the progression has reached "ZVX"...and ZZZ is no more than a couple years away.

Where could Pennsylvania go after ZZZ-9999? The state might keep the format the same but backtrack in the alphabet, filling in the W series after Z as the next-closest serial block available. Another possibility is that Pennsylvania reverses the format to 0000-YBA. (Note that Pennsylvania skips A in the second letter position.) I'd consider either scenario equally likely.

[licence plate] As in Michigan and Ontario, however, motorcycles are where format depletion is bound to rear itself first. Pennsylvania's current MC configuration is 0AA00, which started in 2015. It's the fourth format the state has used since its last general reissue in 2000. As of 2023, the series has reached "ZN"...and the end is only a few weeks away.

My guess is that 9ZZ99 will be followed by a reversed format of 00AA0...but that's only a guess. These are uncharted waters...and where Pennsylvania goes, no one truly knows.

That's all for now.

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