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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 (usually) updates every week. And it is just a static page.

13 January 2020

Minnesota Supermartifacts

It's difficult for me to write about anything as the world figuratively and literally burns...even the geeky stuff that I like to write in the best of times. Nevertheless, I try...

[National store]

2224 W. Superior St., Duluth, MN

What geeky stuff do I have today? Just a continuation of the Minnesota tangent that I'm on, crossed with my determination to deconstruct the history of supermarkets and the cities they served.

Loblaws' defunct stateside subsidiary National Tea used to operate stores in Minnesota...just like in Michigan and Wisconsin. The cities of Minnesota are littered with repurposed National buildings...just like in Michigan and Wisconsin. Unlike in Michigan or Wisconsin, however, National's Minnesota division managed to last until the 1980s and this store could have housed its original occupant as little as...well, thirty-seven years ago. (Damn, where has the time flown?)

[National store]

15 S. 13th Ave. E., Duluth, MN

Yet another old supermarket building in Duluth. Like the last, I managed to confirm this one as a former National location. Unlike the last, it's still selling groceries under auspices of Super One Foods, a local chain. And also unlike the last, this one is housed on the upper floor of an absolutely bizarre two-story building with buttresses and windows running down the side! Have I ever seen anything like this before? I think not...

[Kroger store]

4626 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN

The Kroger Company of Ohio once had stores in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "What?!", you say. "That's preposterous!"

But it's true. Between 1960 and 1970, four Kroger stores opened their doors in the city of Minneapolis. All four had closed by 1975, as the company cut its losses and bailed from the area. Yet, two of the buildings still stand: This one on Nicollet straddling the King Field and Tangletown neighbourhoods, and an identical store on 3010 Penn Avenue. Both buildings feature a three-tier window arrangement and fieldstone wall accents, and would have looked identical to this Kroger in Grosse Isle Township, Michigan at one time. This fact is extremely interesting to...well, probably one other person.

All for now...

6 January 2020

[Minnesota welcome sign just aft of the Canadian border]

Road Signs of Minnesota

Well! Shall we begin our tour? Of course...

[Minnesota road sign]

We'll begin with the route marker signs. US highways are signed pretty much the same in Minnesota as they are anywhere else, but state highways are not. Minnesota's state route marker design is unusually ornate and colourful, and you won't get any complaints about it out of me! Except for one thing: At a distance, it looks like an Interstate shield. Blue signs are crapshoots for road class in Minnesota.

[Minnesota road sign]

And speaking of Interstate shields, here's a specimen that happens to have the state name emblazoned on it! This is unusual for Minnesota, where most shields bear the route number, the Interstate legend, and nothing more.

I strongly suspect this is less a case of being an older sign, and more a case of a county- or township-level sign shop inadvertently fabricating a new sign from an obsolete template. I've tacked over and around the course of I-35 between Grand Portage and the Twin Cities in both directions...and the only "state name" Interstate shields appeared off the highway, which lends corroboration to the latter scenario. The peculiar arrow placement is probably also the fault of a county- or township-level authority.

[Minnesota road sign]

The most lore- and fame-ridden highway in Minnesota might be U.S. 61, immortalized by Duluth native Bob Dylan in Highway 61 Revisited in 1965. Over half the highway's length was also decommissioned or downloaded in 1990, due to I-35 making it redundant. In some segments between Duluth and the Twin Cities, the old course of the road has been signed with these interesting pseudo-historical cutout "Old Hwy US 61" markers; though I can testify through experience that the quality of signage isn't good enough to prevent a traveller from getting lost trying to follow them!

This photo also shows one of the methods in which county highways are signed in Minnesota. There isn't a lot of consistency here.

[Minnesota road sign]

Yes, there isn't a lot of consistency in signing county highways in Minnesota. Some counties prefer white squares, others blue pentagons, others both.

The idea of numbered county highways is a bit novel in itself in the eastern half of Hennepin County, which basically consists of urban Minneapolis city streets. At least Hennepin actually uses numerals in the proper, regulatory yellow colour: A fair number of counties are lazy, and just stick white numerals intended for Minnesota state or Interstate route markers onto the blue pentagon-shaped blanks.

[Minnesota road sign]

Minnesota is one of the rare places where an Interstate highway takes on a split with letter suffixes. Such splits were actually fairly common in the Interstate System's earliest days, but most were eliminated by renumberings by the 1980s. This couldn't have worked in the Twin Cities, though: I-35E serves St. Paul, I-35W serves Minneapolis, and to "demote" one segment to another number would have meant demoting one Twin City in favour of the other! And that would never fly in Minnesota.

[Minnesota road sign]

Let's get away from route markers for a bit. This Pedestrian Crossing sign in downtown Minneapolis is obviously on the old side, because it's a) cracked and discoloured, and b) plain yellow instead of fluorescent yellow-green. What caught my eye, though, was the supplementary plaque reading "Ped Xings," in the plural. Was this an old Minnesota standard, or just a one-off deviation cooked up for this installation? I wish I knew the answer.

[Minnesota road sign]

And speaking of old Minnesota standards, downtown Minneapolis is the only place I ever recall seeing "No Turn On Red" signs with a red ball in the middle! A bit disorienting to read from top to bottom, but I like it.

There's nothing unusual at all about the "One Way" sign, or the crossing signal with built-in countdown. And that concludes our tour this week...

31 December 2019

2019 was the year in which I became a permanent resident of Canada, and I'm willing to assess it a little more charitably than 2017 or 2018 for that reason alone. I don't regret putting an international border between a US hellscape and I.

So what did I do to celebrate my first Christmas with my newfound status?

I celebrated it in the US.

[Minneapolis establishing shot]

Don't laugh. I wasn't just anywhere in the US. I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

[Minneapolis establishing shot] [Minneapolis establishing shot] [Minneapolis establishing shot] [Minneapolis establishing shot]

Minneapolis feels more "Canadian" to me than just about any other place I've been south of the border. It's also a place I've nearly moved to again and again...without ever actually doing so.

I first considered living in Minneapolis or St. Paul in 2002, which was also the time I began contemplating Canada. I was 17, I wanted to escape from my surroundings in West Virginia, and applying to the University of Minnesota would have been one way to do so. Due to my financial circumstances and scholarships, however, I knew that there was no realistic chance of attending any university other than a public institution this "plan" never advanced beyond the daydreaming stage.

When I graduated from WVU with a bachelor's degree five years later, I would have moved to the Twin Cities in a heartbeat if an internship or job opportunity in my field had presented itself to me. None did in the Twin Cities. None did anywhere.

The closest I ever came to moving to the Twin Cities was in 2012. I had migrated to Wisconsin...the state where my grandparents, cousins, and neighbours had lured me on past progressive reputation and false "Midwestern Nice" pretences, undermined my existence by voting in a full slate of Republican fascists at the earliest opportunity, then used the 2012 Recall Election to twist the bloody knife they had stabbed in my back. On June 6th I stopped scouting out jobs in Milwaukee and Madison, started scouting out jobs in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and was nine-tenths of the way towards packing my car and driving there...when I got a job I had previously applied for in Madison, Wisconsin instead.

I wasn't happy about having to stay in Wisconsin, but I resolved to grit my teeth and duke it out in my increasingly-frightening surroundings until I had accrued enough professional experience to satisfy the "five years required" line that I saw at the bottom of nigh every IT ad. 2012 plus five years equals 2017...and in a different timeline, I would have moved to Minneapolis that year and been happy at last. But it was not to be, because my grandparents, cousins, and neighbours in Wisconsin reared their bigoted "Midwestern Nice" selves yet again and gave the entire fucking country to McConnell and Tr*mp.

23 December 2019

[Windows Fucking Seven]

I don't care about "support" for Windows 7 ending, and neither should you.

If you let "support" be the arbiter of whether a software product that you own is worth using, you're wilfully taking control away from yourself and giving it to the hands of a convicted monopolist that does not have your interests in mind. Do you want a practical UI designed for desktop computers instead of touchscreen tablets? Then you want Windows 7 or earlier, not Windows 10. Do you want the ability to see the difference between active and inactive windows, and disable theming for better performance? Then you want Windows 7 or earlier, not Windows 10. Do you want an operating system free of invasive "phone home" telemetry? Then you want Windows 7 or earlier, not Windows 10. Do you want the ability to dictate what patches or revisions you install, rather than having Microsoft violate your consent over your computer? Then you want Windows 7 or earlier, not Windows 10. Windows 7 is the superior product by far, "support" be damned.

What constitutes "support?" Back in the 1990s, it was simple: "Support" was your ability to telephone Microsoft with technical-support questions. Microsoft barely supported anything, and anyone trying to get a straight answer out of their hotline was in for an exercise so painful that they might as well have been gouging their eyes out.

And for all the "software as a service" bullshit that Redmond spouts these days: If you own it on a physical medium, if you can install it and use it, it's yours and no one can take it away from you. This is especially true of Windows 2000 and earlier, which contain no activation schemes linking your ability to use the software to the mercy of its maker. None of those versions are "supported" any more, either. And guess what? That doesn't stop you from being able to use them. I'm typing this from Windows 95 right now.

16 December 2019

I wanted to have a big update this week...but I got sidelined by technical issues, so it was not to be.

In the meantime, enjoy this picture of the Finnish Labour Temple:

[Finnish Labour Temple, Thunder Bay]

9 December 2019

Momentarily taking a break from Ontario and West Virginia, here are some surprisingly-ancient traffic signs that I captured in Rochester, New York during the summer of 2014:

[NY 31 sign] [US 15 sign] [NY 31 and I-490 signs] [I-490 sign]

New York has a distinctive and effective state route marker design, based (very loosely) on the shield in the official state crest.

Note that the arrow plaque for the US 15 sign was actually bent so that another sign could be fit onto the same pole! I wouldn't be surprised if all these crusty, rusty signs were gone by now, though I'd love to be proven wrong.

2 December 2019


[WV 112 map]

I delight in describing West Virginia with Canadian spellings and metric units. The second phase of the Roads and Rails of Mercer County, WV project is complete, with all the highways that didn't warrant a mention the first time around:

This completes the primary highway section. To celebrate, the snazzy 1997-style image map has been enabled.

I'd like to explore railroads next. But for now, it's time to take a break.

24 November 2019

US 52 is ready now!

[WV 52 photo]

And that's not all that's ready. The first phase of the Roads and Rails of Mercer County, WV project is essentially complete, with all the major highways taken care of:


18 November 2019!

[West Virginia map] [West Virginia sign]

Well, a little bit is live. These features take a lot of time to research and create:

11 November 2019

West Virginia's fractional highways

In Ontario, there hasn't been much about roads to be excited about since Mike Harris took a machete to the highway map in 1997. Most of the U.S. states I have innate familiarity with (namely Wisconsin, Michigan, and Virginia) have differing rules for highway classifications, and signage and numbering of minor roads (or lettering, in Wisconsin's case) is inconsistent at best.

Thank dog for West Virginia.

[West Virginia Route 44 map]

In the 1930s, my home state of West Virginia hatched an ingenious solution for inventorizing and numbering minor roads. Each county became criss-crossed with a web of secondary "trunk" roads with whole numbers, connecting isolated pockets to major highways. Minor connecting and spur roads were treated as "tributaries" of the highways and secondary trunks...and were assigned fractional numbers to match!

Minor roads branching off from highway 44 would bear the numbers 44/1, 44/2, 44/3, and so forth, then reset at the county line. The "denominators" were numbered in the order in which the state inventorized and commissioned them, not in the order of geography. Nevertheless, the initial-assigned batch of fractional highways in the 1930s did work their way numerically from north to south and from west to east.

The typical means of signing these roads are one-piece guide signs. Several variations of these signs exist, with the one below being a rare old specimen from the 1970s. The number circles became black on white in the 1980s, and the newest signs have mixed-case Series E lettering.

[West Virginia fractional county route sign]

As ingenious as the system was, it did have one catch: The state didn't tell anyone about it.

Even though the fractional numbers appear on signs and some maps, they have no significance in addressing. Houses and parcels aren't numbered nearly as meticulously as the roads, and whatever mail comes their way would be addressed something like "Rural Route 2 Box 152." Nor is there much local awareness of the system. Ask someone on the street above where they live: Chances are, most of them would answer "Lilly Addition Road," and some of them would have their own pet names. Next to none would say that they live on "20/7," and even fewer would know that "20 over 7" is WVDOT's prescribed way for saying it.

Because the fractional road system ended up being exclusively for the domain of internal accountants, map geeks, and traffic engineers rather than for addressing or waymarking, many of them became fossilized in time. There's no better example of this than West Virginia Route 44, the example at the top of the post. In the 1940s, this highway was renumbered "20." Yet, spur roads with "44"-denominator fractional numbers persist in several counties along the road to this day! Similar "numerator artifacts" of rerouted, renumbered, and decommissioned highways can be found all over the state.

Still another fascinating side-effect of the "fossilization" of the fractional route system: Route designations can stay in place when the roads (and connections between them) disappear.

[Mercer County, WV CR 4 and branches in 2019]

Here's an excerpt of the current Mercer County, West Virginia highway map. See route 4/2 in the lower-right corner? And see the whole-number route 4 near Dunns at upper left? Both of these roads are insignificant stubs, with a state park and river canyon filling the impassable void in between. Surely they were never connected?

[Mercer County, WV CR 4 and branches in 1935]

Pulling out a map from circa 1935, it turns out that...yep. The roads were once connected! Not only that, but route 4 once had an additional fractional spur, 4/1, that has now completely disappeared from the map. What could explain this?

When Pipestem State Park was built as a Great Society project in the 1960s, several of the roads that passed through the property were closed to traffic and converted to hiking trails. This appears to have been the fate of the bulk of 4/2.

Route 4, meanwhile, didn't actually disappear: It was recast as a park maintenance road, and deliberately omitted from the map.

That leaves the mystery of 4/1. My best explanation for the fate of this road is that it passed through an uninhabited area, and never warranted being "improved" from dirt two-track status. With no traffic and no pavement to keep entropy at bay, the road eventually returned to the earth and was deleted from the State Road Commission's files in the name of expediency.

I've spent the last two weeks drawing maps and examining the roads of the Place I Once Lived with a fine-toothed comb. Expect to see more posts like this in the near future.

4 November 2019

Allure of the blue school signs

Canadian road signs are a strange beast. Half the time, they more or less look the same as their stateside counterparts. Sometimes, the differences are subtle: A differently-drawn graphic here; 21st-century kilometres instead of 18th-century miles there. But once in a while, their standards bodies throw a curve ball and drop a design that looks like nothing else in the world.

[School signs, 1956-57 Ontario Motor League Road Book]

The school sign is a good example of this. For many years, it wasn't yellow: It was blue! It came in two flavours: A pentagonal design for school zones, and a rectangular design for school crossings. Both designs were in use by 1956, a full decade and a half before the Americans had anything comparable. (The scans above came from the Ontario Motor League Road Book, which I've highlighted before.)

There's one problem with the blue signs, though: They're obsolete. Newer Canadian school signs are fluorescent yellow, same as in the US. And the blue signs are so rare that I might as well be looking for King's Highway shields from the George VI era.

How rare? A quick search of the topic brought up the AARoads forum...and with it, a tale of frustration finding the Phantom Blue:

"I've lived in BC off and on, and have never seen one, so good luck. I'm looking around GMSV right now, quite furiously, and have not been able to find anything. The BC MOT and local jurisdictions have recently put lots of money into roads and many older signs have been replaced."

"After MONTHS of searching, I finally found one in Mitchell, near Steinbach, Manitoba."

[Blue school sign] [Blue school sign]

Through luck and persistence, I've managed to find two blue school signs in my travels in northern Ontario. One five-sided sign turned up north of Sault Ste. Marie, and the rectangular "crossing" variation showed up right under my nose in Thunder Bay. Both are sights for sore eyes.

Questions that becken:

  • When precisely did fluorescent yellow replace blue in the Canadian school sign standard?
  • Where else have blue school signs persisted on the road?
  • When did the 1956-era "word" designs get replaced with purely graphical designs? Seems far-fetched that any of the former are still out there; though as usual, I'd love to be proven wrong.

  • 28 October 2019

    The election is over, and Canada has a Liberal minority government. This is actually the best-case outcome, giving the social-democratic NDP a seat at the table as a de facto partner and obligating the Liberal Party to back up its lofty platitudes with constructive action, particularly on environmental issues. I'm very proud to live in Canada right the country's bigots and bullies cry in their $1 beers.

    Two weeks in, Thunder Bay is proving to be a interesting city with a rich history and more twists and turns than I expected! I'll be having a field day on Supermartifacts as soon as my local research on that front is complete. For now, however, it's time to turn my gaze back to a place I've lived before: Wisconsin! Brenna Stollenwerk was kind enough to share these images of older Sentry stores for the site. Both of these buildings stand in Waukesha, and are very much representative of the chain's architectural conventions:

    [Sentry store] [Sentry store]

    The first store features a rather bizarre layout, with a windowed second story jutting out from part of the building's roof. This second level covers only about a quarter of the building's full footprint, and is accessible from a side exterior walkway. Office space for a divisional headquarters? Who knows.

    Looking back even further into the past, I've dusted off my copy of Inkscape and drawn two maps of Mercer County, West Virginia. What'll it be, folks? Railroads (number one), or highways (number two)? If you picked railroads, be aware that there are tracks, tracks everywhere, yet not a single passenger train to board.

    [Mercer County, WV railroad map] [Mercer County, WV highway map]

    For quite a while, I've been resolving to write more about West spite of the bitter feelings I have about the state (hoo boy!) and the 489,000 people in it who never saw a racist, creationist, forced-birther, homophobe, or fascist that they didn't like. I see it as defiance: West Virginia is my home state, Mercer is my home county, my formative experiences were fostered there, and no one can ever take those away from me: Not Don Caruth, not Don Blankenship, not D*n*ld Tr*mp. Enjoy!

    21 October 2019

    [Pulled out that 'Canada' picture, again.]

    I find it heartening that Canada has a parliamentary system of government that represents people more fairly than the political system of the United States. That isn't to say it's beyond reproach by any means (the system is riddled with catches and clauses that overrepresent some and underrepresent others)...but confidence motions exist as a safeguard, gerrymandering is kept at bay, and you'd never have a political party fail to get elected with 3 million more votes.

    I find it heartening that the modern notion of Canadian national identity was fostered by the contributions of Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, instead of by Ronald Fucking Reagan and a host of 18th-century slave owners. I find it heartening that that identity gets expressed in the popular consciousness as a shared affinity for universal healthcare and multiculturalism, not the barrage of Christian dominionism and white-supremacist gun worship that accompanies the Stars and Stripes.

    I find it heartening that the Canadian parliamentary system allows the New Democratic Party the practical chance to exist, to influence policy, and to become coalition partners.

    I find it heartening that Stephen Harper—Canada's closest brush with American-style fascism—was denied a parliamentary majority for well over half his tenure as Prime Minister.

    I find it heartening that Ontario has used its outsized influence as a "safety valve" against total right-wing domination, pulling strong for the federal Liberals while Mike Harris was mucking with cities and hospitals close to home (and conversely, pulling strong for the provincial Liberals during the years Harper was turning Canada into a terror-milking, Kyoto-withdrawing hellhole on the international stage). With Doug Ford running amok in Toronto and every day brimming with the news of a new environmental or human rights atrocity south of the border, Canada desparately needs a safety valve about now.

    But as heartening as these things are, I don't know if they're enough.

    14 October 2019

    Here I am in an unfamiliar land.

    [Thunder Bay, ON establishing shot]

    Welcome to Thunder Bay, Ontario. How does it compare to someplace more familiar, for better and for worse?

    London Thunder Bay
    Population 383,822 107,909
    Annual snowfall 194 cm 162 cm
    Snow in mid-October? No Yes
    Passenger rail service Yes No
    Nearby shipwrecks None 19
    Libraries 16 public, 10+ academic 4 public, 2 academic
    Gay bars 1 (that's rarely open) 0
    Safeway stores 0 3
    NDP MPPs 3 1
    Telephone company Ma Bell Municipal-owned
    Distance from Minnesota 1,300 km 60 km
    Job opportunities None 1

    P.S.: Did you know that the intra-province travel distance from London to Thunder Bay is the same as the distance from London to Fredericton, New Brunswick?.

    7 October 2019

    [London, ON establishing shot]

    I'm going to miss London, Ontario.

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

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