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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.

October-December 2020 Archive

31 December 2020

Remember the halcyon, optimistic days of early January, when it seemed as though Tr*mp's party fostering war in Iran and Australia being on fire were going to be the worst things this year had to offer?

Good riddance to 2020.

22 December 2020

[Junked Corvair]

Here's one of many physical things I've randomly stumbled upon in my romps through the wilds of northwest Ontario: A disused Chevrolet Corvair (somewhere between 1960 and 1964 in vintage), subsumed by a cover of snow and rusting in peace.

But wait, what's that blue-and-white rectangular thing hanging on the back? Zoom in on that.

[Licence plate on Junked Corvair]

What's to say? Let me count the ways...

  • The car is still wearing its original Ontario licence plates from the province's last general reissue in 1973.
  • The original allocations of 1973 plates had a geographical distribution pattern with most of the A series doled out in and around Toronto, B through D in southwest Ontario, E in the northeast, and F in the northwest. All plates from FWF-501 through FXD-999 were distributed from north Thunder the car is local, and it hasn't gone very far!
  • Further reinforcing the point, the car wears a Port Arthur dealership frame...emblazoned with the name of a city that hasn't existed in 50 years.
  • The owner of the car actually cut out the corner of the dealership frame with a hacksaw to open up space for the stickers. Who does this? A sentimental Port Arthurian who was a stickler for plate-display rules, probably!
  • The validation sticker is white on red, so it expired in either 1977 or 1979. Which means that the car has been off the road for well over twice, possibly three times as long as it ever was on it.
  • It's in better physical condition than a 48-year-old piece of rustable steel has any right to be. Lest we forget the multitudes of seven-year-old plates that look like this...

See you in another week.

15 December 2020

Goodbye Twitter

Let me be upfront: I don't like Twitter. It's a vector for trolls and Nazis. It's also an unaccountable entity that's played no small part in centralizing and corporatizing the open web.

Back in 2008 when those vices were less apparent, I signed up for a Twitter account. I found it wholely without point, and abandoned it. Six years later, I returned...for a reason that was a symptom as much as a cause. Several of the online writers I followed (in and outside of the atheist movement) were using Twitter to post content that was wholely absent from their personal blogs and websites. Compared to being completely out of the loop, Twitter suddenly seemed like the lesser of bad situations.

There were also two factors that made Twitter tolerable: First off, it didn't do much. It was short text messages in chronological order, period. It didn't try to commandeer your entire online life like Facebook does. It was a reinvention of RSS that you could reply to.

The other positive of Twitter was that there were two methods of using the website. There was the horrendous "desktop" interface, an utterly unusable monstrosity of chickenshit minimalist design layered over JavaScript bloat and user-hostile elements that flew in from the sides, hijacked the scrollbar, rearranged the page as you read it, and broke catastrophically if you used a browser more than two minutes old. Then there was the M2 "mobile" interface, which was none of those things. Mobile Twitter was lightweight, paginated, consistent, JavaScript-free, and accessible from any protocol-compatible browser...including Retrozilla on Windows 95.

[Desktop vs. Twitter interfaces compared]

The bloat and performance difference between the two Twitter websites is so stark that it's comical. The home timeline of the "desktop" website is 7.36 megabytes in size...a five-minute download on a 28.8 modem. The same page on the "mobile" website? Just 174kb. The default desktop Twitter website is 44 times more bloated than its mobile equivalent, with no functionality gained other than the ability to upload polls and images. Why does "desktop" Twitter even exist?

[Twitter announces its imminent shutdown on 15 December 2020]

Well, no more. No, Twitter isn't shutting down its desktop interface and standardizing on the far-superior mobile version...they're doing the opposite. Four weeks ago, a foreboding disclaimer was added above every "mobile" Twitter page warning of the mid-December demise of the site's only usable interface.

Bear in mind, this is what Twitter's staff are doing instead of banning Nazis.

And why? With 3½ billion US dollars in revenue to swim in, could they not afford the pennies they spent to keep a few lines of stable, JavaScript-free Ruby code on the server?

Goodbye Twitter.

7 December 2020

[St. Paul street sign]

Thunder Bay, Ontario has a St. Paul Street, a Duluth Street, and a Winnipeg Avenue. None of these streets actually lead or connect to the cities they reference. But they do make me yearn to go there.

2020 is slated to be the second year of my life (2018 being the first) that I spent entirely in Canada without stepping foot in the United States at all. It wasn't exactly supposed to be like this: Ten months ago, I was laying out plans to revisit Duluth, explore its neighbourhoods, sketch out its local history, and rendezvous with family there. Then COVID hit, and the borders were closed...and stayed closed, thanks to plenty of malice and dumbassery south of the border.

Being in the wilds of Thunder Bay also puts a damper on intra-Canadian travel. No passenger rail service is available. Winnipeg and Sault Sainte Marie are both eight hours away by car...and in December, that means driving from dawn to dusk along remote and treacherous roads lined with moose and blowing snow. So I stay home, hoping that I might get a better chance in 2021...

30 November 2020

Since the world is on a teensy-weensy better trajectory now than it was a few weeks ago, it's time to breathe out and write about something fun and geeky again. Like old road signs.

[Yellow yield sign]

Every time I travel in northern Ontario, I find myself keeping my eyes open for flat-topped 3s, straight-lined 1s, and obsolete designs of any stripe. This yield sign in Ignace might be my best find yet...and it has got to be about 50 years old.

As in the US, yield signs in Canada were once yellow. The design changed to the internationally-complient, wordless red-and-white style soon after the Official Languages Act of 1969 underscored the need for language-neutral highway symbols; possibly around 1971 when the American standard also changed.

[Upside-down yield sign]

The point on the yield sign is always supposed to point down, resembling the letter Y itself. Since the current Canadian design has no lettering and no "this way up" indicator, however, erroneous installations sometimes occur. This one recently surfaced in Thunder Bay after a spat of intersection reconstruction...and I wonder how long it's going to stay like this.

[Upside-down yield sign]

Not all inversions can be blamed on installation errors. There's absolutely no excuse for this sign to exist. Someone actually drafted and screen-printed it this way!

[Yellow yield sign]

And speaking of other non-regulatory weirdness...this one takes the cake! Seems that a maverick sign maker in London just didn't want to let the memory of the yellow signs go. Obviously, this was off of a public road.

23 November 2020

[5/15/62 written in the sidewalk]

On 15 May 1962, some concrete was poured in Port Arthur, Ontario.

Who laid this? Who wrote this? And what would they think if they had known their handiwork would still be visible to mankind 58 years later?

9 November 2020 (Well, at least it isn't March any more.)

"Be nice to your Republican friends."

Fascists, white supremacists, nativists, homophobes, transphobes, forced-birthers, creationists, climate denialists, theocrats, and child abusers aren't friends, pal.

They're enemies.

And I can be as nasty to them as they damn well deserve.

2 November 2020

Fascism is on the ballot in one day, and I'm tearing my hair out. I voted for Biden (by mail, absentee from Canada) well over a month ago...and I surely hope you did the same. If not, do it tomorrow. I beg and implore you. And wear a mask!

"It's the most important election of a lifetime." Every U.S. election of the last 20 years has been the most important election of a lifetime. EVERY U.S. election of the last 20 years has been an ultimatum on whether queer, black, poor, disabled, and immigrant people should be allowed to exist... and I'm utterly exhausted.

The last four years have been a bottomless nightmare of horrors. The concentration camps and "disappearances" are already here. The uniformed fascists are already here. And this was before COVID-19 stoked the Republican Nazi Party's penchant for cruelty. Hundreds of thousands of people are ALREADY dead, and their blood is on the hands of the people of Wisconsin. And Michigan. And Iowa. And Ohio. And Pennsylvania. I wish I could trust you. But I don't.

I lived through the election of 2000, when my classmates and neighbours in West Virginia decided they'd rather have a sadistic theocrat in the oval office than an environmentalist because their fucking god wanted them to. I lived through the election of 2010, when my own family in Wisconsin lured me to their state on false pretenses of kindness, and promptly stabbed me in the back. And I lived through the election of 2016, which was the United States' last chance to make itself right. 2020 is the last last chance; the final chance to grip the emergency brake and slow a runaway train before it hits terminal velocity and kills everyone aboard.

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