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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.


10 December 2018

There's not much point in maintaining suspense in this space. What was the mysterious object that I pointed out a week ago?

[KarTrak barcode plate]

The object was a deteriorated KarTrak identification barcode plate...an artifact of a fascinating and colourful effort at automating railcar classification operations half a century ago. This was actually the first widespread application of barcodes, predating grocery scanners by a number of years.

The KarTrak system was devised by GTE's Sylvania subsidiary in 1961, and consisted of barcode plates read by trackside scanners connected to computers. The plates consisted of a vertical strip of reflective red, blue, white, and black bars that encoded a start code, equipment code, owner code, car number, and check digit from bottom to top.

The bars were reflective to facilitate all-weather scanning, and became required on all railcars by the AAR in 1967. Unfortunately, the system unraveled soon after that: The barcode plates often became dirty or damaged, and roughly one car out of five went unread. By the end of the 1970s KarTrak was gone...but some faded barcode plates still cling to the flanks of older rolling stock to this day. Look for them: They're there!


3 December 2018

[CN boxcar detail with KarTrak plate visible]

If you a) recognize what the black object in the lower-right corner of this picture is, and b) are excited about it, there's a good chance that you might be someone I could chat with for hours.


26 November 2018

Poulet du Passé

Ever wonder what happened to the world's unremodeled KFC restaurants? It turns out they all flew the coop and migrated north of the border...

[Kentucky Fried Chicken] [Kentucky Fried Chicken] [Kentucky Fried Chicken] [Kentucky Fried Chicken] [Kentucky Fried Chicken] [Kentucky Fried Chicken]

From top to bottom: Paris, Ontario; Aylmer, Ontario; London, Ontario; Newmarket, Ontario; Bowmanville, Ontario; London, Ontario.

All of these locations are still in operation, and all are still decorated with signage no less than 20 years old. The bottommost store (on London's Hamilton Road strip) is the choicest relic of them all, basically being stopped in time since the Scott's Chicken Villa days of four or five decades past. What's more, this barely scratches the surface of what exists in Ontario.

Unfortunately, the Colonel's food will forever make my stomach churn.


19 November 2018

Some of the strangest early memories I have are of watching the static slides and promotions that ran between programs on WSWP-TV, the low-budget PBS station in southern West Virginia, in the late 1980s. Then as now, I was fascinated by graphic design.

Thirteen years after YouTube and its clones got off the ground, you might assume that every video clip of historical ephemera in existence has surfaced on the Internet. Yet, absolutely no evidence of WSWP in the 1980s (or 1970s or 1990s) has emerged: It's as if it never was. So that's what makes these images so remarkable:

[WSWP-TV 1988 capture - PBS logo] [WSWP-TV 1988 capture - Eye Physicians and Surgeons] [WSWP-TV 1988 capture - Lillys' Crown Jewelers] [WSWP-TV 1988 capture - John W. Eye Company Furnitureland] [WSWP-TV 1988 capture - Sanders, Austin, Swope and Flanigan] [WSWP-TV 1988 capture - Key Centuriaon Bancshares] [WSWP-TV 1988 capture - Program menu]

If more of this exists, I'd love to see it.

(I also regret the intrusion of William Buckley into the last screenshot. He was a racist asswipe who praised fascists, wanted to tattoo AIDS victims with warning labels, and laid the groundwork for Tr*mp. But it's the only footage I have.)


12 November 2018

Much Ado About Ways Out

[Exit sign - Milwaukee, Wisconsin]

The "Exit" signs above doorways in North America are so ubiquitous that most people don't think twice about them.

Oh, there's a bit of variation (I'm particularly fond of 1960s incandescent box fixtures, and these tapered, dimly-lit contraptions of the 1970s), but the message itself seldom varies: It's always EXIT, in large red letters or sometimes green, inside a rectangular frame. Simple, clear, and unambiguous...if you know the local tongue.

Word-based exit signs have a fatal flaw, though...and that flaw is the language barrier. "EXIT" may mean Exit in English, but how quickly could an English speaker find their bearings if the signs said "SORTIE," "AUSGANG," "USCITA," "SALIDA," or "出口" instead? How quickly could someone from abroad find their way around here? Add this to the fact that a person needs to be able to identify these signs at a moment's glance in emergencies...quite possibly in a thicket of smoke or a stampede of people...and you start to see the problem.

[Exit sign - Toronto, Ontario]

These long and ponderous "Exit-Sortie" signs sometimes appear in Canada, usually in government buildings. They solve the language problem for most of Canada's population...but they're a stopgap solution, and they're useless for anyone illiterate in English and French.

Wouldn't a symbol be simpler, clearer, and more universal? You'd think it would. But, what symbol do you use for a concept such as "Exit?"

[Exit symbols]

In 1974, the U.S. Department of Transportation commissioned the American Institute of Graphic Arts to produce a study of symbols used at world transportation facilities and international events. The study and its resulting recommendations were later published in a 1981 book titled Symbol Signs (ISBN 0-8038-6777-8), and I heartily recommend a copy to anyone interested in graphic design.

For "Exit," 90% of the symbols gathered for the survey took on either one of two forms: An arrow pointing out of a box, or a figure walking away from a wall. The AIGA were well aware of the problems of both concepts, calling the stick-figure symbols "ambiguous" and finding multiple issues with the arrow drawings: "Groups 3 and 4 imply, to those who can read diagrams, exit from an enclosed space. But this is sometimes not the meaning intended. More importantly, the arrow implies a direction to the side, whereas in fact one usually must proceed ahead. Combining an arrow dominated symbol such as X'67 with a directional arrow pointing differently would cause considerable confusion."

[AIGA Exit symbol]

There was one symbol that stood out from the pack, though: An icon of a circle bisected by a vertical line, as used by the British Airports Authority of the time. The AIGA was almost taken aback by the elegance of its symbolism ("The Exit symbol is a green ('go') disk with a vertical bar (raised barrier). To further imply the idea of passageway, the vertical bar completely bisects the green disk."), and heartily recommended that the sign be adopted for widespread use.

Four decades after the DOT/AIGA study, most of the "Symbol Signs" have been widely adopted in the U.S. and around the world. Yet, the Exit symbol languishes in obscurity...even though it's still part of the official Symbol Sign set, and its recommendation never was revoked as far as I know. As I discovered while flying into Gatwick in 2006, not even the BAA (or the post-Thatcher, privatised remains thereof) uses the symbol any more. What happened?

[Exit sign - Edinburgh, Scotland]

"Other symbols" is what happened. This photo hails from Edinburgh, Scotland, and represents another memory from my 2006 UK trip: An exit signed both with an improved version of the old "box and arrow" concept and the EU-standard exit sign, which consists of a man running to a door against a safety-green background. Both contain arrows, but both are aligned in the direction of travel...ameliorating the brunt of concerns with their 1970s visual graphic forbears.

[Exit sign - London, Ontario]

An even better variation of the "running man" symbol was designed by Yukio Ota in Japan shortly after the timeframe of the AIGA's survey, combining the figure and doorway into a single, striking icon. The symbol is representational rather than abstract, so its meaning is immediately apparent without needing to be consciously "learned"...which is something that a bisected green circle can never hope to be.

These signs have made headway both in Europe and in Canada. And how: This symbol became compulsory in new buildings in Ontario in 2014, and seems destined to replace the American-style word-only signs (and their overly-long bilingual cousins) in the years ahead.

[Exit - Madison, Wisconsin] [Exit sign - Madison, Wisconsin]

But what about the abstract circular symbol that the BAA and AIGA promoted in the 1970s? Is there a place left for it in a world where other symbols have leaped to the plate to fulfil the purpose it was once destined to serve?

As it turns out, the vaunted circular symbol does exist in at least one place: The public library of Madison, Wisconsin, following its 2013 renovation. Fire exits are marked with illuminated word-only signs in green, balancing international colour standards with domestic language conventions. And on the doors themselves is none other than the symbol itself...albeit presented in grey instead of green.


5 November 2018

[Up Dn sign]

Rotational symmetry is a beautiful thing. (But why is "up" not further up than "dn?")


Tomorrow is the first major U.S. election that I'll spend outside of the United States. My absentee ballot was dropped in the mail over a month ago.

You...the people of the United States, and Wisconsin in particular...had a responsibility in 2016 to stop the march to Republican Fascism in its tracks. Crush it. Eviscerate it. You blew it.

Right now, you should hear the anguished cries of children in camps, the innocent people being gunned down in schools and synagogues by racist white men, and your queer neighbours, brothers, and sisters being written out of existence. This isn't hyperbole: It's become a daily reality for everyone less privileged than you.

This is your last chance.

If you're qualified to vote in the US and you don't vote straight-ticket Democratic...or you don't vote at all...you are garbage, and I don't want to know you.

If you blow it again, I don't see a way out of this that doesn't lead to war.


29 October 2018

Success

[Graduation]

Andrew Turnbull, UWO MLIS '18.


15 October 2018

London's bygone Dundas Street markets

Dundas Street forms the heart of London, Ontario's downtown. It forms part of the historical course of Ontario Highway 2, connecting London to the like-named street in Toronto. It bisects the street grid for 11 kilometres, and forms the densest strip of commercial property in the city.

Anyone who's read my Supermartifacts pages will probably be aware that one of the best ways to get a sense of the history and development of a community is through its grocery stores. What tale does Dundas tell?

56 & 94

The westernmost chain grocer that ever opened up shop on Dundas Street was A. Hassan & Co., a local two-store outfit that operated in 1925 from an address a scant block from the river. Loblaws opened a store on the same block two decades later, and it proved to be long-lived...not closing until Loblaws' financial crisis of the early 1970s. This 1940s-era storefront was likely a living relic by this time. Unfortunately, neither it nor Hassan's store currently stand; modern high-rises now inhabit the block.

118

[Loblaws store]

The predecessor of Loblaws' 94 Dundas store may have been the very first Loblaws store in the city, opening in the late 1920s and closing in the early 1940s. The building itself still stands in intact condition, and currently houses a Vietnamese restaurant on the lower level.

123

[Caroll's store?]

Just across the street lies 123 Dundas...the site of a Carroll's grocery store from 1935 to 1940. I'm unclear whether this was the actual building, though: The 1960s-mod façade is simply too modern for the era. It's possible that the original building was given a massive façadectomy along the way; or it could have been demolished and rebuilt, little as I like to admit that...

124

[Dominion store]

Dominion was the first large grocery chain to operate in London in the 1920s. This was not Dominion's first London store, however. This one opened by 1930, and operated through at least 1945 before replacement. The building itself likely predates 1930 by an order of magnitude, and houses a hair salon (among other things) today.

195

195 Dundas Street was home to a short-lived mid-1930s A&P store, completing the "big four" grocers that once competed in the area. Don't expect to see much of it, though: This location is now a vacant lot.

260

[Loblaws store]

260 Dundas was another long-lived Loblaws location, opening by 1935 and not closing until after 1961. I have a suspicion that the black and pale yellow tiling on the upper facade was also added by Loblaws, as it matches the colour scheme of many of their freestanding mid-century stores. It houses a coffee shop today.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, Loblaws operated two Dundas Street stores in London's city centre. This density was typical in the bygone days of the "neighbourhood market," though it seems quaint today.

310 & 332

310 Dundas Street might have been the first Dominion store in the city, opening in the first half of the 1920s. It's difficult to say with any certainty that it was, however: Dominion had 8 local stores by 1925, and this wasn't even the location closest to the city's centre.

Roughly around the same time Dominion vacated their store in the early 1930s, A&P opened a veritable supermarket on the same block. This grocery edifice had a relatively long life, remaining open until the late 1950s. Don't expect to see a trace of either store now: The City Place high-rise apartments now stand on the block.

496

[Dominion store]

Here is another Dominion location...and a world apart from all the stores that preceded it on the street. Instead of being an occupant in a multistory building with no parking in sight, this was an example of the type of store that gripped the lower-density areas of cities in the early postwar years: A one-story building built expressly as a supermarket, and adjoined by a parking lot.

This store might have been the first "modern" supermarket in London, opening by 1950 and closing after 1975. The building was later reoccupied by a beauty school, but is currently vacant.

650

[Dominion store]

650 Dundas Street comes quite a few blocks after 496...and by this point, we're no longer close to the city centre. We're now in the Old East Village neighbourhood, smack dab in its own "downtown!"

The right half of this building was home to another very early Dominion location, opening by 1925 and closing after 1935. Currently it's home to Chapman's Pharmacy, which has subsumed no fewer than five adjacent storefronts on the block; this one included.

662

[Loblaws store]

The biggest architectural treasure of the Old East Village neighbourhood might be this Victorian structure, clad in attactive multicolour tiles, sporting contrasting brick, and spanning eight storefronts. The building has been the focus of cultural heritage studies, and recently had its 1912-era façade restored.

The storefront in the left half of this photo is tied with 118 Dundas as being home to the first Loblaws store in the city, opening in the 1920s and closing after 1940. Currently, it is home to a furniture store.

674

[Dominion store]

In around 1940, Dominion replaced its initial Old East Village store with a new store housed in the same attractive eight-storefront Victorian structure as Loblaws. (At one point, a local grocer named W.A. Bailey & Son also operated a store in this structure.) Here is Dominion's space, somewhat obscured by trees; a tattoo shop now calls it home.

684 & 688

[Loblaws store]

This address has several layers of chronology and numerology to untangle. A&P was the first grocer to set up shop on this site, operating a store at 684 between 1935 and 1940. By 1945, A&P had moved out and Loblaws had moved in...incrementing the number to "684-688," and quite possibly building a new single-story supermarket on the premises in the process. Loblaws remained until closing during the chain's financial crisis of the early 1970s. Today the building houses a convenience store...and groceries are still being sold from this spot after more than 80 years.

754

[Carroll's store]

This imposing 3-story building occupies the corner of Dundas and English streets, and currently houses a coffeehouse within. Back in the 1930s and early 1940s, however, it was home to a Carroll's grocery store.

The Carroll's firm was based in Hamilton, and had a major presence in Ontario until selling itself to the American Grand Union firm in 1953. This kicked off a domino effect of acquisitions, divestitures, and name changes that still hasn't let up: Grand Union eventually sold its Canadian stores to Steinberg of Quebec, who eventually rebranded them under the Miracle Food Mart name. Miracle Food Mart was eventually sold to A&P, who eventually sold their Canadian division to Metro, who eventually rebranded many stores as Food Basics.

831

A&P opened a store on this site by 1955, and closed it after 1975. As with all of A&P's bygone Dundas Street stores, however, the original building no longer stands.

1002

[Dominion store]

Before exiting London's Old East Village, the last grocery relic we see is this one-story specimen, which briefly housed a Dominion store around 1940. Dominion didn't last long, but the site remained open as John's Market through the early postwar years.

Dominion's store only occupied the left third of the storefront you see here. The space was later consolidated with an adjacent building, and hidden behind a new unified façade.

1014

1014 Dundas was the predecessor of Dominion's 1002 Dundas store. It was also another first-wave location, opening by 1925 and closing after 1935. I'm unclear, however, whether or not the original building still exists.

1500

[Dominion store]

Two kilometres east, we find ourselves far away from the spaces where "neighbourhood markets" once thrived. This is a newer part of the city...less walkability, more cul-de-sacs, more concrete sprawl.

This store is also the newest of any we've seen on Dundas so far: This was a Dominion supermarket, opening by 1960 and remaining open until A&P bought the chain in 1985. The location was spun off and housed a local Knechtel supermarket in 1990, but it didn't last long. Today, it's a front for a used car lot. I'm also almost sure that labelscar from the old Dominion sign is still visible if you squint a bit in the right light...

1920

[Loblaws store]

The crossroads of Dundas Street and Clarke Road on London's east side has long been a magnet for development. It's also been a magnet for Loblaws stores: The big Ontario grocer opened its first on the site in October 1953. The resulting supermarket was thoroughly modern, and featured a yellow porcelain enamel front characteristic of Loblaws supermarkets of this era. Its operational life was cut short, however: A fire broke out on 3 January 1954, consuming and destroying the structure.

[Loblaws store]

Loblaws pulled out the stops to rebuild on the site, and a replacement store opened the following July. This store managed to survive the next two decades without burning down. It couldn't survive the 1970s push for larger and more modern stores, however...and 1920 Dundas gave way to 1925 (below). The old store was eventually demolished, and a small shopping centre was constructed on the site.

(Photos credit London Free Press/Western Archives; reproduced under fair dealing provisions for non-commercial research.)

1925

[Loblaws store]

The easternmost store on our Dundas Street tour is also the newest...and it's one of only two still selling groceries today. This store is located at the Argyle Mall, originally anchored by Woolco. Loblaws moved to this site by 1975, replacing its earlier store just across the street. The store was converted to Loblaws' No Frills discount concept in the late 1980s. Several decades and store owners later, it's still in business.

The road goes on, but our tour ends here.


1 October 2018

[Bicycle remains]

Somewhere in London, Ontario.


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







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