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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 2019 Archive


25 March 2019

I want to talk about music. And, I want to talk about numbers.

Wait: "Numbers?" Yes, numbers. Feast your eyes on these:

[Catalogue numbers on Depeche Mode CDs]

Yes, I know what you're thinking. The guy's a big Depeche Mode fan.

But that's incidental to the point: Virtually every physical piece of recorded music contains a number indicating its place in the constituent label's catalogue. And sometimes, these codes reveal interesting tidbits about record company operations and history.

What secrets are there to decipher here? The first thing you might notice is the common digit at the end: "-2," which is the industry standard format code for compact discs: Were this a pile of Depeche Mode cassettes, they'd be "-4."

Labels assign catalogue numbers to releases in chronological order, and it's apparent that the executives at Sire (or Reprise, or Warner Bros.) had to sit through anywhere from a hundred to a thousand releases in different eras before a new Depeche Mode record arrived in their laps. Several breaks in the numbering are apparent: WB skipped from 23999 to 25000 in 1984 so that Geffen Records (which they distributed at the time) could have the 24000-series numbers in between. There was an even bigger skip from 26999 to 45000 in 1992. (And in case you're wondering: There is no break between 3642 and 23751. Warner Bros. started tacking on a "2" or "9 2" to its older cataloguing system in 1982, so there are really only 108 numbers between those two releases.)

In the CD era, these numbers are usually fairly straightforward and easy to decipher. But trek back to the hoary days of vinyl in the 1970s, and things start to get hairy in a jiffy.

[Atlantic catalogue numbers on Yes records]

Let's say that you're an avid fan of Yes, one of the most creative bands that came out of Britain in the 1970s. Let's say that you live in the US, and you bought all of their studio albums as new releases. Their first three records have incrementing catalogue numbers in the 8200s...so far, so good. But their next two, Fragile and Close to the Edge from 1972, drop down to the 7200s. What is going on?

[Atlantic catalogue numbers on Yes records]

Making matters worse, Relayer (1974) jumps all the way up to the 18000s...though it's evident that Atlantic Records didn't release 10,000 albums in two years. Going for the One (1977) and Tormato (1978) leap to the 19000s, while Drama (1980) drops to the 16000s. What is going on?

"Pricing" is what was going on. In 1970, the list price of a typical hit record album was $4.98. By 1981, it was $8.98...almost twice as much. In between, the record industry had levied a series of price hikes motivated by a combination of oil shortages, inflation, and greed:

[Record album list price trends, 1970-89]

Barcodes and computerized inventory systems were in their infancy in the 1970s, so record labels couldn't just silently bump list prices up or down without providing some visual clue to the retailers and distributors handling the product. The record industry also couldn't bring itself to be like the paperback book industry, and actually print the list price on the item.

Instead, each label concocted its own complex, individual, and non-obvious price-coding system. Some like Atlantic indicated different price points with different number blocks; some used different letter prefixes, and still others used a combination of the two:

List price 4.98 5.98 6.98 7.98 8.98 9.98
Era of prominence Pre-71 1970-74 1974-77 1977-81 1979-88 1986-89
ABC ABCS prefix ABCX prefix ABCD, AB prefix AA prefix - -
Atlantic SD 8000 SD 7000 SD 18000 SD 19000 SD 16000* E suffix
Arista - - AL 4000 AL 7000, AB 4000 AL 9000 -
Columbia C prefix KC prefix PC prefix JC prefix FC,TC,QC† OC prefix
Elektra EKS 74000 EKS 75000 7E-1000 6E-100 5E-500 -
MCA - MCA-000 MCA-2000 MCA-3000 MCA-5000, MCA-42000 MCA-6000
Mercury SR-61000 SRM-1-600 SRM-1-1000 SRM-1-3700 SRM-1-4000 -
Motown MS 000 M-000L, M5-000V1 M6-000S1 M7-000R1 M8-000M1 M9-000A2
RCA◊ - APL1 APL1 AFL1 AQL1, AFL1 AJL1
Warner Bros.# WS prefix BS prefix W, BS prefix# BSK prefix HS, BSK prefix# -

The list prices weren't totally secret: Industry publications like Billboard listed them in their charts. Motown actually included a straightforward price figure in their prefix system, and other labels sometimes supplemented their bewildering codes with a subtle "X598" or "0898" on the spine. The US record industry tended to make price-point decisions in lockstep, so different labels made changes to their catalogue numbering systems at the same times.

There were also a few exceptions to the labels' price-ratcheting trends. One was midline catalogue reissues: MCA numbered these off in the 37000 and 1000 series, Motown in the M5-000V1 series, Capitol in the SN-16000s, and A&M in the SP-3100s. Columbia/CBS revived its PC prefix in 1979 for the same purpose. Another was the 1980s trend of "developing artists" issues: A label would press a small number of records for a new and unknown artist, price them at $6.98 to stimulate sales, then either delete the record or reprice it at $8.98. Numerous labels tried their hand at this, and they indicated them in various ways: CBS with its NJC and BFC prefixes; Arista with its AL 6600 series; RCA with its NFL1 series; A&M with its SP6 prefix.

Now, some notes about the above chart:

* Atlantic appeared to discontinue the 16000 series in 1981 and allow the 19000 series to assume the 8.98 price point. The label switched to a new numbering system the following year; "standard" 8.98 releases were indicated by the lack of a suffix letter.

† TC and QC prefixes were used on releases by big-name artists in 1981-82 and 1982-84, probably to indicate differences in wholesale pricing.

◊ RCA appears to have made no distinction between the 5.98 and 6.98 price points in its post-1973 numbering system. The AQL1 code was used for the first 8.98 releases; the label reverted to AFL1 in 1981.

# Warners appears to have used "W" for the first few releases at the 6.98 price point, then reverted to "BS" when back catalogue product was raised in price to match. The same seems to have happened with "HS" reverting to "BSK" in 1981.

All weird things must come to an end, and the 1970s trend of price-coded catalogue numbering systems largely died out by the end of the 1980s. Internationalization had been a sore point for all of these systems: Many Canadian releases had to rely on unique prefixes to underscore local differences from U.S.-imposed pricing structures. These situations became more and more untenable as labels consolidated their worldwide presences, and most eventually elected to establish consolidated worldwide numbering systems with a bare minimum of coding. In addition, computerized inventory systems had come to maturity and were now just as home in record stores as they were in supermarkets, enabling price points to be set remotely and changed instantly. Some labels backed away from "official" list prices altogether, in order to give stores greater latitude in pricing. Besides, vinyl records were out: Compact Discs were in, and these newfangled things had a completely different pricing structure that had labels and stores alike laughing all the way to the bank.

That was then.


18 March 2019

I still have this object in my possession. And I'm not entirely sure why I do, since it's hardly a harbinger of good times:

[PikeView High School decorative pseudo-license plate]

Almost 20 years ago, I attended PikeView High School north of Princeton, West Virginia. I remember its corridors as a rancid and festering cesspit of homophobic, white-supremacist, and creationist thought.

Even so, things weren't so bad that I couldn't bear them my freshman year.

George W. Bush stole the U.S. election my sophomore year...and I watched as most of my peers (and some of my teachers) cheered him on.

He presided over 9/11 my junior year...and I watched as most of my peers (and some of my teachers) cheered him on.

In my senior year, he used it as a pretext to invade Iraq (a country that had nothing to do with the attacks) and destabilize the entire Middle East. And I watched as most of my peers (and some of my teachers) cheered him on and celebrated this, as they celebrated the implementation of destructive "abstinence only" bullshit and No Child Left Behind at home.

In 2003, I graduated from PikeView High School in utter disgust. And the tale of my entire adult life has been a tale of putting physical and psychological distance between myself and my experiences there.

Given the political trajectory of the extremely white and rural state it's in, I'd bet my life that the corridors of PikeView are even more rancid and festering now than they were in 2003. And that's saying something.


4 March 2019

[Dusty car covered with Tim Hortons cups]

I think you'll have to come up with your own story about this one.


25 February 2019

[1987-vintage Black & Decker coffee maker]

How often do you come across a brand-new, 32-year-old kitchen appliance?

After persisting on Tim Horton's and Taster's Choice for my caffeine cravings far too long, I found myself in the market for a coffee maker...and, budget-minded as I am, I decided to hit the local thrift stores to see what they had. As soon as I stepped into the aisle at Value Village, I saw it: A boxy old Black & Decker Coffeematic in its 1980s brown-and-white glory, still in its original box, still with the cardboard inserts from the factory holding the carafe in place! Needless to say, I hauled it home immediately...and much to my delight, it works perfectly. My quest to re-create the kitchen of my childhood is one step closer to fruition.

[Canadian Tire invoice label]

The most interesting thing about this appliance might be the backstory revealed by the invoice label on the box. The machine was delivered new to the Frood-Stobie nickel mine in Copper Cliff (i.e., Sudbury), Ontario, where it was probably intended for use in a break room or office. Somehow it never was used, and it sat on a shelf for three decades...until the mine closed in 2017, the shelves were cleared out, and the coffee maker found its way to me.

Also of interest, the words "Frood Mine Safety Award, 1987" are printed in tiny letters on the machine itself. Given this macabre headline, I can't help but feel that the award was premature.


For your amusement: My CD Collection, updated for the first time in half a decade.


18 February 2019

[It's now safe to turn off your computer.]

Most people haven't seen this image on a video screen in years, but it's always been a favourite of mine: Simple and soothing, like the warm glow from campfire embers on a dark summer night. It's the perfect way to bring a day of data entry (or thesis-writing, or checkbook-balancing, or Hover-playing) to a close.

This splash screen appeared in Windows 95 (as well as its inferior Internet Explorer-infested spin-offs, 98 and ME), and is stored in a bitmap called logos.sys. If you delete or rename this file, a slightly different message will appear as plain text:

[You can now safely turn off your computer.]

The Windows 95 shutdown screen gave users the freedom to either turn off or safely reboot their computer, much like the blinking DOS prompt had years before. And the satisfaction of physically flicking the power switch was left to the user alone.

Not every person who used Windows in the late '90s had this luxury, however. In the same year that Windows 95 debuted, the ATX computer design standard was unveiled...which deprecated physical circuit-breaker power switches in favour of soft-touch logic switches that could be manipulated and controlled by software, opening up a can of worms for OS developers to abuse. On computers so equipped, closing down Windows didn't leave users at a soothing "safe to turn off" screen. It turned off their computer.

What if you changed your mind, and wanted to reboot the system instead? No, you had no choice; Windows took the matter out of the user's hands and shut off their machine for them, contravening the expected convention of how computers had operated for the previous twenty years. And it didn't add convenience, since you still had to physically turn your monitor off, anyway.

Soft-touch power switches prompted other frustrations as well: My "favourite" incidents were when a system would crash and the power button would become non-functional, with no obvious way to turn the computer off other than yanking the cord out of the wall. The very first time I had the misfortune of using an ATX system equipped with this "feature," I searched in vain through the Windows 95 control panel looking for an option to turn it off. Eventually I resorted to disabling power management in CMOS altogether, simply to retain the right and ability to switch off my own computer.


Once you had disabled power management, however, you had the ability to tweak Windows' startup and shutdown behaviour to your heart's content.

Are you annoyed by the Windows 95 logo every time you turn your computer on? Edit c:\msdos.sys (making sure the file is not read-only or hidden beforehand), change the Logo=1 line in the [Options] section to Logo=0, and you'll never see it again.

Do you want to boot to a DOS prompt instead of a GUI, making it easier to run a memory-sensitive DOS program (or even an older version of Windows, if you're so inclined?) Then go open c:\msdos.sys once again, and change BootGUI=1 to BootGUI=0.

Perhaps you want to go a step further and have Windows present you with a DOS prompt at shutdown as well? That's no problem, either. Follow the step above, either delete or rename c:\windows\logos.sys...and you'll be looking at a blinking C:\> prompt just like in Windows 3.1, giving you the freedom to turn off your computer, reboot, run a DOS application, or even type win and be back in the thicket of the GUI where you were moments before.

[You can now safely turn off your computer with DOS prompt.]

Microsoft was once an entity that allowed for customization and respected user choice. Imagine that!


11 February 2019

Some interesting things I saw last week

[5 [Draft, do not cite without permission of the Queen of England]

4 February 2019

[Dead Superstore Mall]

Here is another evocative shot from the dead Superstore Mall of London, Ontario. Rust is visible on the framework of the skylight, though peeling paint is not.


28 January 2019

[LOL on pavement]

21 January 2019

What do I do when I'm morose in the middle of winter? I go out and look for something interesting to photograph, that's what.

[Former Dominion store]

I started out by pointing myself westward on London's Hamilton Road, which is always a good place to begin. Sure enough, I hadn't even gotten out of town before I saw something interesting that I hadn't noticed before: This building still had a faint "Dominion" labelscar visible on the side more than three decades after it last housed a Dominion grocery store!

[Village Ford]

Eventually I got as far as Dorchester...which was home to what might be the smallest Ford dealership anywhere in this hemisphere. How small? This small. This is the full extent of the service building, showroom, and front lot. And it serves double-duty as a gas station!

[Middlesex County 32]

Half a block away from the Ford dealer, I photographed an old Middlesex County route marker sign with the flat-topped "3" that all Ontario road signs used to have. These are always interesting.

[House in Dorchester]

Next up in Dorchester was a house that reminded me eerily of the one I grew up in. This was more than just a house, though: A stone plaque in the front lawn marked the property as being home to "The Signpost"...the local weekly newspaper. That discovery led me to the Signpost website, which might be the only media-outlet website I've seen in nine years that renders correctly on SeaMonkey 1.1!

[Mustang drive-in theatre] [Mustang drive-in theatre]

Two turns and twenty minutes after Dorchester, I stumbled across The Mustang...a drive-in theatre on the outskirts of London that opened in 1953 and somehow, miraculously, remains open for business today! Or at least, it would be open if it wasn't the middle of the off-season. There's not much call for outdoor movies on a freezing January day...

[Dead Superstore Mall] [Dead Superstore Mall]

All things must eventually come to an end, and my quest of the day ended pretty close to where it began: On the south side of London, Ontario. The final topic of interest was the Superstore Mall: A very strange, very dead retail construct that's completely vacant today apart from a few "big box" and office tenants carved out of the south anchor store.

This place intrigued me. From what little I've been able to dig up about it online, this mall has origins that trace to a 1960s existence as Treasure Island Mall. Later it reportedly became home to Loblaws Superstore, which imparted its name to the entire shopping centre. But Loblaws left in the 1990s, and the last interior tenants were gone by the mid-'00s. The south anchor has been given a façadectomy, so it's no longer representative of its time as a Loblaws Superstore...assuming that's what it was, of course.

Maybe I'll someday figure out the history behind this place. Maybe not.


14 January 2019

[:-(]

Oh, what is happening to my hair? My forehead didn't always go that far back! Why am I going bald? Is this the stress of the last 8 years biting me at last?


7 January 2019

The front page of this website is a static HTML document that I edit in a text editor. It's about as low-tech as it gets. And it works great for the purposes at hand: I can view and preview it on my home computer in the exact same way as I can on the server. I fully understand and comprehend each bit and line of HTML and CSS code I use, with no amount wasted. The page is a scant 38kb in size, exclusive of images. Since there's no client-side scripting, I don't have to worry about the content being unreadable on older browsers. Since there's no database and no server-side scripting, I can pay for hosting with my pocket change...and if my server went down tomorrow, I'm secure in the knowledge that I could upload the site to another host and be back in business within seconds.

Unfortunately, no server-side scripting also means no permalinks, no automatic pagination, no comments, and no socializing...which makes this website a lonely place. It's also a little difficult to "broadcast" my updates out to visitors...and of all the features of content-management systems conductive to this end, the one I miss having the most is an RSS feed.

In the mid-2000s, RSS seemed on the threshold of becoming a killer feature. It had the potential to empower people by putting chronologically-sorted information from disparate, self-hosted sources at every Internet user's fingertips. The critical flaw stopping it was the lack of any straightforward, non-intimidating way for most people to make use of the technology...until Mozilla unveiled Live Bookmarks, and made RSS feeds as easy to use as a few clicks on the menu bar. Or so I thought.

[Live Bookmarks!]

Of course, we know what happened after that. RSS feeds didn't change the world. It had a brief burst of popularity, buoyed by support from tech and social media companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter...then these companies saw the open RSS standard as a threat to their walled-garden business models, and quietly back-pedaled on the functionality. In 2011, Mozilla began obfuscating Live Bookmarks in Firefox. Thanks to the dearth of other straightforward, non-intimidating aggregators and clients, the field of RSS readers began to be dominated by Google Reader around this time...then in 2013, Google Reader was shut down.

I refuse to let a good technology die without protest. But, how do you generate an RSS feed for a site like this? One way would be to code it by hand, copying over each paragraph from one document to another...but that would be excruciating! Another way is to use a third-party parser like Feed43...but that flies in the face of my DIY ethos. The how-to steps seem straightforward enough:

  1. Make a copy of this HTML page.
  2. Strip out the header, footer, and most of the HTML markup.
  3. Add XML format tags in all the right places.
  4. Parse the dates in the correct format.

You'd think that this could be done with a batch script or macro. Maybe it can. But I don't yet know how to realize this.

Any ideas? Drop me a line.







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