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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.

The front page updates every week. And it is just a static page.

16 July 2018

[Falcon Travel sign]

This sign stands in front of a travel agency in London, Ontario. In case you're scratching your head trying to figure out why it seems familiar, here's a picture from Madison, Wisconsin that should cast things into focus:

[U.S. Mail logo]

Yes folks, the American eagle is now a Canadian falcon.

And since U.S. trademark law doesn't apply in Canada, there's scant the USPS can do about this.

9 July 2018

[London Mall corridor]

As you might have deduced from the brown brick and "rustic" faux timber framing in this corridor, there are some places where the 1970s never really ended.

[London Mall exterior]

This is the London Mall, one of a seemingly endless number of small and mostly-empty neighbourhood malls scattered around the cities of southern Ontario. This one is "anchored" by an Asian supermarket (originally an Oshawa Group Food City store 30 or 40 years ago) and the hulking carcass of a Sears Outlet store.

Whatever became of Food City? My understanding is that the chain's stores were rebranded first as IGA, then as Price Chopper, then as Fresh Co. in 2012 (if any lasted that long, that is). But there's a whole lot that I'm unsure about.

There's also a chain called Food City with a trade area in southwest Virginia, a stone's throw from my hometown. That has nothing to do with this.

2 July 2018

Note: The following is a piece that I wrote ten years ago, in 2008. While I don't know if I could muster up the energy to write it today with so many other smoldering fires of injustice to put out, I still think it's a satisfying commentary on several reprehensible aspects of the software industry:

  • The drive to emphasize and prioritize "reinvention" and "disruption" in software development instead of code refactoring and gradual changes dictated by usability research. (Windows 98 imposed mandatory Internet Explorer shell integration on users, when it could have been a transparent refinement of Windows 95 with stability improvements and driver updates.)
  • The drive to limit the ability of the user to customize software and adapt it to individual needs and preferences. (You couldn't remove IE from Windows 98, even though it was a redundant performance and disk space sink when users lacked an Internet connection or preferred Netscape.)
  • The drive to strong-arm and coerce users into adopting new, regressive versions of previously-existing software products while referring to them as "upgrades."

These tendencies were far less normalized in 1998 than they are today, and the release of Windows 98 was the first symptom of them brazen enough to truly anger me. I was hardly alone: Windows 98 was a major political issue in 1998, and it was the subject of an anti-trust case involving 18 states and the U.S. Department of Justice that Microsoft lost. Unfortunately, next to no sanctions were imposed because George W. Bush came to power and dropped the DOJ's pursual of the case...which is one of the many reasons I will never forgive the white theocrats of West Virginia for planting him in office.

I Still Hate Windows 98

[FoxTrot 6/29/98 and 7/1/98 - Jasondows 98]

FoxTrot copyright 1998 by Bill Amend. Clipped from the newspaper and saved for years afterwards by yours truly.

Nine months after IE 4.0, we've passed the tenth anniversary of yet another dubious software artifact in the realm of computers: Microsoft Windows 98.

Windows 98, at best, was a clumsy solution looking for a problem. Its purpose upon release was glaringly transparent: To integrate Internet Explorer with the OS to a practically-unremovable degree, thus letting Microsoft off the hook for demands that the browser be removable like any other bundled accessory. The motive was anti-competitive, pure and simple.

Upon initial release, Windows 98 offered nothing new. Apart from the welding of browser and OS, gratuitous animations and other distracting interface elements were the extent of real changes. USB and FAT32 support had been introduced earlier in Windows 95 OSR2. Its APIs were practically identical. Even its dubious "features" like Active Desktop and web integration were available to masochists foolish enough to ruin their Windows 95 systems with Internet Explorer 4.

I'd personally deem the advent of Windows 98 to be Microsoft's tipping point: Nearly every product release since then has been one step forward and multiple steps back in design, practicality, and execution. For all the attention that might be focused on Windows XP's or Vista's inconveniences and requirements nowadays, it's sufficient to say that much of the damage had already been done in Windows 98.

[Windows 98 is less than Windows 95]

Early on, I logically anticipated that Windows 95 would sustain its popularity long after Windows 98 would be dismissed as a fad. Yet, that scenario obviously didn't hold true. In spite of its obvious faults, Windows 98 caught on, and exceeded Windows 95's popularity in relatively short order. I personally witnessed numerous computer systems in schools and libraries that were clumsily "upgraded" from Windows 95 OSR2 to Windows 98 or even ME; with little but slower performance, extra bugs, and a distracting interface to show for the effort. And in the "Windows 95/98/98SE/ME" subforum of a support forum I visit from time to time, the Windows 98-centric discussions outnumber the 95 threads by an approximate ratio of ten to one.

Why? The explanation for Windows 98's enduring popularity at the expense of its superior predecessor plays out almost as dubiously as the OS itself.

Windows 95 was largely withdrawn from the consumer market at the moment Windows 98 was released. Furthermore, Windows 95's superior OSR2.x releases were never sold in the retail market to begin with, thus forcing non-OEM customers to resort to Windows 98 for features such as FAT32 support.

Perhaps even more suspiciously, vendors of USB devices discontinued writing Windows 95 OSR2-compatible drivers at large from the time Windows 98 was released. Exacerbating the situation, the USB standard soon began to predominate with appropriations for a dizzying variety of peripheral applications; even those where it had absolutely no advantage over OS-universal "legacy" ports such as in keyboards and printers.

Microsoft's "support" for Windows 95 was discontinued only three years after Windows 98 came out, in seemingly premature haste: By contrast, Windows 3.1 received support for nine years altogether, long after software development for it had naturally died off. As a result of this stipulation, Microsoft's new software titles (many of which had already started requiring Internet Explorer 4) ceased being compatible with Windows 95 at this point, and the firm stipulated for and seemingly bribed and forced other software vendors to do the same; even if just in word:

"Last spring I bought Adobe Photshop Elements 2, got home and read the box panel... OS requirements w98 and above. At the time, I was running w95. Called where I purchased the program and talked to the manager to advise I would be returning it. He assured me it would work.. because he was running with w95. He suggested the OS listing was all "Politics". Once MS no longer supported w95, they strongly encourage software companies to DROP w95 off there list for minimum OS requirements..... even if it WORKED with w95. Still does not explain why Netscape took it off (unless AOL decsion), but for the run of the mill software company... think there going to argued with MS."

- Dennis L. on the long-defunct SillyDog701 support forum, 2003

Since the APIs and architecture of Windows 95 OSR2 and Windows 98 were practically identical to each other, there was and remains to be little to no practical reason for any software compatible with one not to be compatible with the other as well. By reducing the desirability of Windows 95, however, Microsoft increased the penetration of Windows 98 and therefore Internet Explorer upon the marketplace. Many remaining Windows 95 users, seemingly orphaned from their software titles, began "upgrading" en masse at this time, and the bane of inexplicable "Windows 98/ME/NT4/2000/XP" system requirements for various programs prevailed for several years after that until Windows 98, ME, and NT 4.0 also found themselves on the chopping block.

If there was vocal resistance to Windows 98 on the part of Windows 95 users on a league similar to XP users' resistance to Vista today, perhaps things would have been different. There certainly was a bit of resistance...LitePC practically developed out of a desire to make Windows 98 perform like Windows 95, after all...but it often felt like the exception to the rule. But were most users ambivalent about the matter, or were they simply waiting for the U.S. Department of Justice to carry out the order for them?

Regardless of the specifics of that matter, I can count at least one person who still uses Windows 95 today. And when he upgrades, it will be to Linux, not Windows 98.

25 June 2018

[Two Stop signs in London, Ontario]

Do I stop twice? Twice as long? Damned if I know...

18 June 2018

[Mysterious sign in London, Ontario]

This mysterious sign, emblazoned only with the letter "R" and a five-pointed star, faces the sidewalk on a building wall in the 600 block of Richmond in London, Ontario.

My best guess is that this is a cryptic message for firefighters or emergency workers: "Fire exit rear," maybe. Or perhaps "R" means "roof truss contruction." But I don't know. If this were an emergency code, I'd expect that A) it would be documented somewhere on the Internet, and B) I'd have noticed similar signs on other buildings as well. So far, neither of those points have held true.

Any guesses? Let me know.

11 June 2018

[Progressive Conservative campaign sign in front of an Anglican church]

This is a symptom of the reason why I'm not a Christian, and will never be a Christian again.

4 June 2018

[Andrew standing in front of the recently-closed Kroger Superstore in Jackson, Michigan]

The supermarket sagas return this week with a truckload of new content covering one of the biggest chains south of the border: The Artifacts of Kroger. This is by far the largest, most ambitious, and most meticulously researched section I've written so far, and I've divided it into three pages.


And that's not all. I've given the supermarket pages a nice little portal for clicking between them: Supermartifacts. Kind of catchy, don't you think?

With the four biggest pieces of the puzzle filled (and with library school ramping up), The Artifacts of Supermarkets Past will be taking a break from here on out.

28 May 2018

[Former Loblaws store] [Former Loblaws store]

This week, The Artifacts of Supermarkets Past moves north of the border to take a look at Canada's biggest grocer: well as National, its oft-forgotten U.S. subsidiary.

Ever since 2017 when I moved there for graduate school, "Canada" to me has meant "London, Ontario." London also has an abundance of older grocery stores that opened as Loblaws stores, continue to operate as grocery stores, and even continue to sell Loblaws products...but which aren't branded as Loblaws stores any more. These mysteries and more are what get deciphered on this page.


Lest you think I was done, there's more! I've contributed two tables of location research for David Gwynn's Groceteria supermarket history website:

I should disclose that these links rely on Google APIs and JavaScript that don't work on older (i.e., Windows 9x-compatible) browsers.

21 May 2018

[Former Safeway stores]

The supermarket sagas continue this week with a new content addition: The Artifacts of Safeway!

This is one area in whch the notion of "detached fascination" applies: I've never shopped at Safeway, and I've never even lived in Safeway's historical trade area. But, it is no matter: It's difficult to deny the aesthetic merit of these buildings.

14 May 2018

[Former A&P store] [Former A&P store]

One of these pictures was taken in the place I started out in: Princeton, West Virginia. One of these pictures was taken in the place I ended up in: London, Ontario. Yet if these near-identical buildings are any indication, I am not the only thing that these two wildly-dissimilar cities have in common.

Both of these buildings housed A&P supermarkets through the course of the 1970s. And they're not the only ones: Hundreds of buildings like these exist, housing everything from churches to post offices to pizza parlours. Some of them even still house supermarkets...but don't expect any of them to carry the A&P name. The company shut down for good in 2015.

This weekend, I was inspired to dig through my photos to create a new gallery for the website: The Artifacts of A&P. Enjoy.

7 May 2018

During my latter days of living in Wisconsin, I largely got out of the habit of going to plate meets due to disenchantment and disgust with my surroundings. Living in Ontario has been like turning over a new leaf, and it's rejuvenated my interest in things I'd given up on before.

[Acton plate meet]

Where was I going? Acton. Therein lies the rub: Like Grimsby, Acton is an overbearingly white, conservative town on the fringes of the Golden Horseshoe. It's also a stone's throw from Georgetown, the community where the high school team was called "the Rebels" and embraced the Confederate flag as a symbol in my lifetime. In case you wonder how American-style bigots and bullies like Doug Ford and Stephen Harper earn support, it comes in places like this.

In spite of those misgivings, this meet was less melodramatic than the last. The drive there was under dry and daylit skies, I never got lost, and I had some idea of what to expect this time around. I lugged Birthyear Motorcycles Below the 49th from the car and walked through the automatic doors of the hockey rink serving as our venue. What would I discover this day?

[Acton plate meet]

What I discovered was a crowd bigger than the one I had seen the previous October in Grimsby, albeit an overwhelmingly male one. I found a table and spread my mostly-unsalable US trading stock far and wide. The collector I had an altercation with last time was there, along with a collector whose collection amounts to a fetishization of police, so I felt on edge at times.

But soon, I was digging through boxes and my inhibitions started to melt away. I found myself engrossed in conversation with David Wilson and Mike Franks over plates and topics as far-flung as new cars and foreign languages. Joe Sallmen had driven up from West Virginia (the state I once called home), and another collector had driven from Illinois and immediately recognized my name.

[Acton plate meet]

Midway through the meet, two containers of complimentary coffee and Timbits arrived. Every participant in the room congregated in a circular cluster for announcements, and a tale was promptly conveyed about a priceless Ontario temporary plate from 1916 that had been discovered and acquired in an auction. It was also time to show and tell about interesting plates, and this 1913 Illinois front plate with silhouette-cut numbers certainly fit the bill on that!

I made the rounds of the tables and displays one more time for second pickings and photos. Then, it was over.

How did my collection make out from Acton? I was hoping to find some of the Canadian motorcycle plates that I needed for my birthyear run. Alas, motorcycle plates were in short supply and I didn't find any of the provinces I was looking for...but my CanCon quotient was boosted by other finds, including a British Columbia plate with a scarce 1980 sticker. Not a bad day:

[British Columbia] [British Columbia] [Manitoba] [Ontario] [Ontario] [New Brunswick] [New Brunswick] [Ontario]

My stateside finds actually ended up being a little more interesting. One highlight was a D.C. taxi (hire) plate bearing the unusual vertical stickers that the District experimented with during a four-year period in the 1960s. I was also thrilled to find an 1980s Guam motorcycle plate, and...uh, a Mississippi plate. Why a plate from there, of all places? Well, 1) it's a kitschy piece of 1970s graphic design, and 2) as with 1980 in B.C., 1977 expirations in Mississippi are scarce because of the way staggered registration was implemented there. It also showcases the die set that's improbably conquered Canada over the last 20 years, thanks to Waldale of Nova Scotia clinching Mississippi's plate contract in the '90s:

[D.C.] [Mississippi] [Guam]

Perhaps my collecting interests have become more world-aware as the US circles the drain. I found myself scutinizing international plates with newfound interest and enthusiasm, and came away with birthyear-appropriate plates from two of Europe's larger economies of the mid-1980s: France and Yugoslavia.

[France] [Yugoslavia]

French plates used a delightfully straightforward coding and numbering system, with "69" indicating the department of Rhône, home to Lyon, the third-largest city in France. Yugoslav plates also carried a subdivisional code, and the letters "SA" indicated...Sarajevo.

In 1985, Sarajevo was a thriving multicultural city in the Dinaric Alps that had just achieved recognition the world over for hosting the Winter Olympic Games. In 1985, the idea that the 39-year-old Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would cease to exist less than a decade later would have seemed preposterous. In 1985, it would have seemed preposterous that rural right-wing nationalists would join paramilitary groups to beseige a hitherto secular and liberal city, kill its residents, and reduce its cultural institutions to rubble.

Alas, there are three things I've learned over the last four years in the United States: The circumstances of your life can change without warning. Trusted institutions can disappear in an instant, and the toxic mindsets that inspire war, death, fascism, and destruction are far more common than they ever deserve to be.


The Ontario Project has been updated after a winter hiatus, and the truck plate die survey has been updated and posted there as well.

30 April 2018

[Manitoba 1958-70 license plates]

Remember the days of October, when I attended a license plate meet in southern Ontario? Well, last Sunday it happened again!

[Ontario license plate display]

Jim Becksted enlivened the 16th annual Acton meet with a two-panel display of Ontario passenger, passenger-related, truck, and trailer plates. One plate was significant enough to overwhelm almost everything else on the board: CAN-001, the number traditionally issued to the prime minister of Canada. Duplicates exist; but judging by its used condition, I can only guess that this particular plate actually did once adorn Pierre Elliott Trudeau's limousine once upon a time.

[Ontario truck plate display]

Mike Franks provided an array of the post-2011 commercial truck series in alphabetical order. It stops just short of the "AT" series, which was being issued at the time I moved to Ontario and which also happen to be my initials!

[Quebec Green Vehicle license plates]

Both Ontario and Quebec issue distinctive plates to plug-in electric vehicles, but the Quebec version is notoriously tough to spot this far southwest of the Ottawa River. They're referred to as "green" license plates, and they bear a distinctive olive colour. Appropriately enough, their serials also bear the letters "VE"...a mnemonic for vert, or green!

The seven-figure "FVE" plate was issued to a light commercial vehicle, while the lower plate was issued to a prosaic passenger car. Twelve different versions of these plates exist for different vehicle types.

[1985 motorcycle license plate run]

Finally, there was the matter of my own display: Birthyear Motorcycles Below the 49th. It's a colourful, compact compilation of the 50 U.S. states and the notoriously-tough D.C., all in motorcycle form and all from 1985.

I began working on this run in earnest at the 2014 ALPCA convention in Rochester, and had just recently located the last state I needed to finish it off: Louisiana. My Canadian birthyear motorcycle run will have to wait, though: Stickered plates from the Atlantic provinces and Northwest Territories are very difficult to find, so I'm only halfway there!

To be continued next week.

23 April 2018

[Ontario Highway 2 sign]

This sign is a blast from the past.

From 1917 to 1998, Ontario Highway 2 stretched the gamut of the province from Windsor to Cornwall, providing the main southwest-northeast conduit for traffic until the advent of the 401 in the 1960s. And it didn't stop there: At one time it connected to Quebec highway 2 and like-numbered thoroughfares in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, forming a trunkline across the whole of eastern Canada. It was a road packed with lore and history.

Today, Ontario Highway 2 exists only as a pitiful one-kilometre stub connecting the town of Gananoque to a bypass ramp. The rest of it fell under the knife of the Harris government and its fallacious fiscal policy of "downloading" provincial responsibilities to local governments less suited to handle them. So it came to pass, and the old course of 2 now exists as a patchwork of inadequately-signed and indifferently-maintained county roads and city streets.

But wait! What about the sign above? Well, it turns out the province didn't quite eviscerate every trace of Highway 2 from southern Ontario. This one still clings to life, somewhat worse for wear, 20 years after it last had bearing!

There are actually two types of route markers for Ontario provincial highways: Square signs like the one above used at junctions, and ornate cutout shields used as trailblazers. Although small changes have been made to the marker designs over the years, this style and application of signage have been constant since the 1950s:

[Ontario highway signage diagram]

It's interesting to note that the province's application of signage is almost identical to that employed by many U.S. states in the 1950s...which posted ornate cutout signs as trailblazers and plainer square signs with white edges at junctions, much like Ontario today:

[U.S. highway signage diagram - circa 1950s]

(Yes, I know that U.S. 2 doesn't actually go through Indiana. This is just a mock-up for the purposes of example.)

The 1961 U.S. MUTCD stipulated that junction route markers have black edges for better visibility, resulting in the U.S. route marker design (and a fair number of state route marker designs) that we're familiar with today. Cutout trailblazer markers fell out of favour soon afterward (except in California, where they persist), leaving highways marked by scores upon scores of identical signs:

[U.S. highway signage diagram - circa 1960s] [U.S. highway signage diagram - circa 1970s]

But the U.S. isn't Canada, and the MUTCD has no bearing north of the border. Consequently, Ontario's route markers are essentially the same now as they were 60 years ago...and they continue, unintentionally, to provide a glimpse into America's past!

16 April 2018

[Lillian H. Smith Branch, Toronto Public Library]

Remember what I said about going to Toronto a few weeks ago? I wasn't there for idle reasons.

I am an MLIS student (in case you didn't already know), and in March my Children's Literature class made tracks for YYZ to view the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books at the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library.

[Lillian H. Smith Branch, Toronto Public Library]

The Lillian H. Smith branch is located in between U of T and Chinatown, and opened in 1995. It's a very aesthetically-appealing structure: Each level is wrapped around a cylindrical atrium and linked by a spiral staircase. This also wasn't the first time I had visited: I had stepped into this library on a whim last December, when I was wandering the city waiting for an evening train and had hours to burn. (The two pictures above were actually taken during that prior visit, since the shadows and crowds were more coöperative that day.)

[Horn book ca. 1700] [Aesopus moralisatus ca. 1300]

The Osborne Collection contains some extremely old books. Among the crown jewels of the collection are an instructional hornbook from the 18th century, and the oldest book of them all: A Latin copy of Aesopus moralisatus (Aesop's Morals) inscribed on vellum and dating to the 14th century. (Yes, it's 700 years old.) I think of the distant past as being a dystopic era where young people were denied childhoods and ushered into "adult" responsibilities, abusive labour conditions, etc. at a premature age...but it's heartening to see that children's books existed in some form or another even in the bleak times of yesteryear.

The other interesting take-aways from these materials are the symbols and archaisms they contain. As a case in point, the hornbook is inscribed with an English alphabet containing 24 letters: J did not become distinct from I, nor U from V, until the mid-1700s. (The onetime-interchangability of U and V also explains why W is called "double U" yet consists of two Vs linked together.)

The 14th-century book makes judicious use of litterae notabiliores (notable or enlarged letters) and pilcrow symbols (¶). The pilcrow (or paragraph symbol, or Latin alinea) just might be my favourite typographical symbol: It's familiar, yet mysterious. It's distinctive. And, it used to have much greater significance than it does now.

On manuscripts of the late middle ages, ¶ was used to indicate new trains of thought in much the same way that paragraph breaks or indents are used today. It also had a squat profile in those days (resembling a C more than a P), and was often inked in bright colours to provide contrast with the surrounding text.

This is the case for Aesopus moralisatus: The left margin of each page is punctuated by squat red pilcrows galore. Due to the consistent and regular structure of the fables, the quantity and positioning of these symbols seldom varies: Two pilcrows appear in line with the last two lines of each tale; at the point where the moral appears, no doubt.

[Aesopus moralisatus ca. 1300]

With one exception, that is. On one anomalous page of the volume, two fables appear inscribed with four pilcrows apiece. What could be the significance of this? If I could read Latin, I'd know.

[Compendium 1505]

¶ Pilcrows also appear in the second-oldest book in the Osborne collection; a work titled Compendium octo partiu oronum set in Latin blackletter and printed in 1505. By this point the symbol was typeset and had gained an elongated stem, largely taking on its present-day appearance.

By 1505, however, pilcrows were on their way out of books. According to Keith Houston (author of the book Shady Characters), the symbol became obsolete due to a confluence of circumstances following the advent of printing presses in the 15th century. Typefounders were reluctant to cast pilcrows in type because doing so stepped on the turf of the rubricator, whose profession consisted of adding pilcrows to books by hand. Rubricators were unable to keep up with the vast quantity of books that printing presses produced. Readers then got used to books with blank indents where the pilcrows were supposed to be...and the indents were just as useful as indicators as the symbols themselves had been. So endeth the tale of ¶, banished from the body of texts and relegated to specialized roles in legal citations and proofreading for centuries to come.

[Word 2]

Banished until 1991, that is, when Microsoft Word 2 for Windows appeared with the incriminating symbol on its toolbar. Clicking the ¶ button restores the very symbols to documents that the printing presses had banished 450 years earlier. So there you go!

More about this seminal collection of historical children's literature:

And, more links about those perplexing pilcrows:

9 April 2018

[Stop Spokes signs]

Stop spokes?

1 April 2018

This is not an April Fool's joke.

[London sewer grate]

I have a habit of looking down as I walk. Yes, I know there's nothing remarkable about your step and look where you're going is a lesson most of us have committed to memory since we were two...but sometimes there is something remarkable about the things you see down there.

Take iron storm sewer grates: They have variations, they're typically emblazoned with the year in which they were cast, and they provide clues as to when their vicinity was developed. This grate is dated 1972, and it's also located in front of the building I happen to live in: The entire block was probably a cow pasture until then.

[Toronto sewer grate]

Toronto has some surprisingly-old grates underfoot. This one is located near the corner of Huron and Cecil streets (roughly in between U of T and Chinatown), and hails from 1889. The ornate "TBW" monogram was the symbol of the Toronto Board of Works, the ancestor of what's known as Works and Emergency Services today. Also worth noting is that the letter "F" is missing from the lettering...which must have been a flaw in the mold.

I'm also apparently not the only person who pays attention to these.

Feeling disoriented? Here's the site map that used to be on the front page.

All older posts have been split off to a quarterly archive page.

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