Box Store Hell – from the people who brought you YAFULC.

Yeah, so I don’t like ‘urban lifestyle centers’ or Yet Another Fucking Urban Lifestyle Center – YAFULC – but it’s actually one step up from what is far more common out in the suburban sprawl… Box Store HELL!!!


Above: Tropicaire Shopping Center, a Box Store Hell constructed on the grounds of the former Tropicaire flea market and drive-in cinema, and nearly cutting off a block of apartments from the outside world.

Box Store Hell is yet another example of complete and total failure in urban planning, coupled with a myopic belief that everyone drives a car and never goes anywhere without it.

I guess you could really say the same thing about the box store in general. Typically, it’s the equivalent of a poorly laid out department store, surrounded by parking lot. Usually a MASSIVE expanse of parking lot separates it from the road.

Back in the early 1990s, the mini-mall or strip mall began to disappear as box stores took over where other things had been. The original phrase for a strip mall filled with box stores was “power strip”. It was a number of box stores that had a common walkway in front, sometimes covered. The box store hell, though, is a new kind of awful.

Owing to an obsession in the retail industry for strictly planogrammed stores, many retail chains now insist upon making the very building their store is built into a part of the strict planogram. You may have already noticed this with Walgreens, CVS, Target, and Wal-Mart stores. They all have to be built exactly the same, right down to how the entrances and exits are positioned. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really fit well when all the stores are located together in a ‘power strip’, so the buildings are now just separately dribbled across a vast parking lot. Thus, the Box Store Hell was born and glommed up every bit of commercial zoned landscape it could get its hands on.

Your typical Box Store Hell has a massive parking lot which usually floods in seconds when it rains. Sometimes the parking lot is large enough (especially in the case of Walmart stores) that it required its own stormwater treatment system and underground detention pond be installed. The urban heat island effect is so strong on some of these parking lots that a plastic shopping bag cast into the wind will rise endlessly out of sight, finally disappearing several hundred feet into the air from the thermal updraft.

The parking lot will be a sea of randomly strewn shopping carts, people peeling in and out of parking spaces in sport utility vehicles and minivans without looking first, and a baroque arrangement of nonsensical reserved parking and tow-away zones. There are usually a few spotters for towing companies nearby lurking, watching for you to park in the wrong zone, sometimes even “helpfully” directing you to do so.

Each store has its own shopping carts. You will not be allowed to use the same shopping cart between more than one store, of course; you are expected to pull up to Box Store Hell in your car, visit exactly ONE store, then leave. What, you thought this was supposed to be CONVENIENT?

A second generation of Box Store Hell appeared in some urban centers; it’s basically vertical Box Store Hell. A parking garage is attached and allows access easily(?) to the stores via massive elevators sized to accomodate shopping carts.
These are the goofiest pieces of shit you will ever encounter. Some of them have free parking, but will hold you hostage in a massive line when you’re trying to exit. The line is actually the tail end of a line for valet parking. Others have a pay garage that offers free or discounted parking with validation from one of the box stores in the stack, but if you stay too long you’ll probably be paying a hell of a lot to get out of there. At Midtown Miami, for instance, it’s $30 the moment you hit three hours. Most of these do have pedestrian access though, as opposed to forcing pedestrians to walk through a quarter mile of blindly launched SUVs to get to the stores.

The really curious thing about Box Store Hell happens when a retailer decides to close one of their locations that’s set in one. The entire building will usually be left to rot for a few years, then eventually demolished, because it doesn’t fit the new potential tenant’s planogram. Sometimes it’ll just be knocked down and turned into more parking lot area. There’s just almost no market for a lot and building that big; it’s a total waste.

The most recent Box Store Hell project planned down here in Miami-Dade County is actually seeking to destroy an area of tropical hardwood hammock containing endangered plant species. What’s really more important, yet another Walmart, or one of the last areas of undisturbed tropical hardwood hammock? Seriously? Bueller?

The awful tale of the spiral CFL

Ladies and gentlemen, here is an awful story about light bulbs and why they now SUCK.

In the early 1900s, we had incandescent bulbs with carbon filaments, then tungsten filaments. The earliest bulbs were very low brightness and could only be pushed to burn a sort of orange color at very low efficiency. As time and technology advanced, incandescent bulbs became more and more efficient. In general, the hotter you burn the filament, the more efficient the bulb. Since the bulb is emitting light as a black-body radiator, the visual quality of the light increases with higher filament temperatures as well. Larger wattage bulbs produce more lumens per watt than smaller ones.

The halogen bulb, which dates all the way back to the earliest efforts to prevent the glass from becoming darkened from evaporated filament material on the earliest bulbs, was found to work really well if pushed to super high temperatures using quartz as an envelope material instead of typical sodalime glass. Iodine is used inside the bulb as a cleaning agent; once the quartz envelope and filament reach typical operating temperature, the iodine scavenges the evaporated tungsten back off of the quartz. Pretty cool, really. Of course since these bulbs run so hot, it’s easier to squeeze better efficiency ratings out of them!

So we have those two coiled filament brothers… They’re simple resistive loads, easy to manufacture using no hazardous materials, and they just work. Well, ’till they don’t… then you just change it out, inexpensively.

The problem with them is that they generate a LOT of waste heat, and result in very high energy consumption. As energy shortages become problematic in modern urban areas, and the pollution and other effects from generating this energy using fossil fuels or old nasty-ass nuclear power technologies from the 1970s (I’ll yell about this in another post!) become troublesome, the desire became strong for much higher efficiencies.

Enter the discharge lamp.

The first very high intensity discharge lamps were carbon arc. These predated even the incandescent bulb. They operated in open air using two carbon rods which were slowly consumed as the lamp operated, requiring a regulating mechanism to keep feeding fresh carbon. Some of these lamp regulators are truly beautiful and clever clockwork! They were practical for street lighting and lighting large building spaces, but never made it into the home. Fire hazards? Oh, you betcha. 😉

The carbon arc lamp may still be found in some applications including spotlights that are aimed into the sky. It provides a very harsh, bright light.

Later, in the early 1900s, there were efforts made to use discharge across a low pressure gas inside a glass tube for lighting. Different gases or mixes of gases were used. They all required some pretty scary voltages to strike the arc (3-15 kilovolts depending on gas type and arc length). Daniel McFarlan Moore invented an early practical lamp using carbon dioxide for a nice daylight color, which was used for photographic and color matching applications for some time.

The mercury vapor lamp had been around since the early 1900s as well, but it produced a nasty blue-green light and was not really pleasant for indoor lighting use. In the 1930s, General Electric started lining mercury vapor tubes with phosphor to correct the color and provide enhanced light production, and the modern fluorescent lamp was born.

It flickered, of course. The magnetic ballast transformers needed to regulate the current to the lamp all just feed it 60 cycle AC current.

The fluorescent lamp was introduced to the public at the World’s Fair and Golden Gate Exposition, and it wound up in millions of homes and businesses. The classic fluorescent lamp is a linear tube, and requires fixtures shaped to hold it. Probably the most common form is a 48 inch long form factor that’s available as a 30 or 40 watt lamp. Higher efficiencies are possible in thinner bulbs.

Color rendering was, and still is, fairly awful. There are bands of color simply missing from the lamp’s output. Ott-Lite has some tubes that are reasonably better, through the addition of more exotic and expensive phosphors, but for some reason nobody else ever caught onto the idea that people actually see in color.

Efforts to get away from the long straight tubes have included the “Circline” lamp which is an almost closed C shape with a plastic bracket/connecting plug occupying the space between the ends, and the U-bend tube.

Lights of America used to produce screw in adaptors that worked well in a lot of table and ceiling lamps. They contained a small ballast inside a bracket that screwed into the socket, and had a T-shaped holder that clipped to a Circline bulb and held it in place. To install it in a table lamp, you would remove the shade, unclip the harp (for some reason knowledge of what this is called is uncommon!) from its bracket near the socket, screw in the adaptor, reinstall the harp, put the tube on the arms, and put the shade back on.

This could have been, technically, the first compact flourescent to gain widespread market in the US.

Old_compact_fluorescent_lampPhillips and some other companies also had screw in self-ballasted CFLs. They usually used a magnetic ballast – a very heavy transformer, and would knock over your table lamp. In addition, the magnetic ballast fed the lamp 60 cycle AC current which made it prone to visible flicker.

The electronic ballast eventually showed up, resolving the flicker problem, but also adding a bonus side order of radio/tv interference problems in some designs.

In the late 1990s, Enron put California’s balls in a vise. Through creative accounting and generating more artificial energy shortages than actual energy, they got people used to rolling blackouts and the need for extreme conservation measures. We looked at the incandescent lamp again and realized it was time to ditch it for the higher efficiency of flourescent. LED lighting was out there, but it wasn’t ready for prime time; the first practical white LEDs were just barely enough for a flashlight.

The PL type flourescent lamp, basically a super compact version of the U-bend bulb, finally got paired to a miniaturized screw in miniature electronic ballast and produced as the first modern style CFL in the late 1990s. They were kind of an expensive curiosity at the time and faced with lots of technical difficulties. First off, this represented the first time in US history that manufacture of light bulbs jumped completely offshore to China.

American electronics manufacturing had been so heavily offshored at this point that nobody was ready to manufacture the electronic ballasts stateside. A small but growing number of brands of Chinese imported CFLs became available, and they were all… okay. They had build quality problems, were prone to detonating and filling a room with smoke and/or causing fires, and NONE could be run in a totally enclosed fixture because the ballasts got too hot.

Interestingly, the worst CFLs I have ever seen came out around this time: the GE Biax. The GE name wound up being associated with these either because GE bought production runs from a Chinese manufacturer to have them custom branded for them, or simply because they licensed their brand name and trade dress to an importer or retailers to place on Chinese bulbs themselves. The Biax, however, managed to be prone to downright malevolent failure. The bulbs would be unusually dim and difficult to start from day one, which would indicate either a bad tube or problems with the ballast. By day four or five, the bulb would be flickering or dead, and when they died they tended to fail catastrophically with the ballast area catching fire and breaking open.

If you look at these early CFLs they all had the same sort of appearance. They had a series of U-bend tubes coming out of the base, usually with thin pips connecting them together. They were made in the same molds and machines that were used for “PL” size fluorescent tubes. This form factor was chosen as a compromise between good performance and compact size. Some light is lost in a PL bulb where the light from one tube simply gets absorbed into the phosphor on an adjacent tube, but it really wasn’t half bad. Some of these tubes were even made with really good “daylight” color.

AND THEN THE STUPIDITY HAPPENED.

The spiral fluorescent lamp was experimented with by General Electric in the 1970s. At the time, they shelved it because they could not figure out how to adapt it to mechanized manufacturing. It did not look like the modern spiral CFL; it was a much more widely spaced tube to avoid the occlusion problem wherein the turns of the spiral block light output.

The Chinese took a look at this design and figured it’d work right into their marketing strategy. See, the way I’ve analyzed it, and feel free to laugh at me if I’m wrong, is that the Chinese really love to make themselves spaces to sell on the American market by using technologies adapted or outright stolen from elsewhere, then mass producing a product that may be of inferior quality, but has a lot of flashy features added to entice the consumer to buy theirs through simple comparison shopping. “But does the American made washing machine have Bluetooth and a bunch of LEDs all over it and play a song when it’s finished? No? Okay, let’s buy the Chinese one that does.”

In China, labor standards and employee compensation are NOT what they are over here, so cheap human labor is often sought over safer but more expensive production methods.

Remember how I said the spiral bulb didn’t lend itself well to mechanical production?

Well, Shanghai Xiangshan saw the spiral lamp and decided to enter mass production… employing dozens of glassblowers to manufacture the bulbs. Very soon afterwards, the glassblowers began to fall horribly ill from exposure to the mercury used in the bulbs.

Problem? Your glassblowers are all dying of mercury exposure.

Solution? Sweep it under the rug with a big iron broom. CAPITALISM!!!!!

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Pissbulb shortly after powering on.

Now, remember how I said the Chinese really like to get consumers drunk on flashy but useless features? The spiral bulbs, looking like soft-serve ice cream dispensed into a cup, did indeed have a “wow” factor about them…. Followed soon afterwards by a “yuck!” factor because the quality of light from these bulbs
is
simply
AWFUL.

The cheapest, nastiest phosphors were used shortly into the production runs, owing to the wonderful Chinese business core ‘value’ of quality fade. They look like someone took a piss on the bulb. Additionally, the quality of phosphor coating inside the handblown glass tube is extremely variable, and it’s not uncommon to have large dark spots where the phosphor is too thin or too thick. Just eyeballing one on my desk here, I’d say that about 50% of the light, if not more, gets fired into a useless space inside the spiral where it doesn’t escape, or into adjacent turns of the tube.

Then the clever, evil marketing showed up. The spiral bulbs were foisted upon the public as being the best new thing, just because they were new and looked cool and unique! Nevermind that a U-bend type CFL of the same wattage, placed alongside the spiral, would show just how pathetic the light output and performance of the spiral is.

Flash forward to today… you cannot find the U-bend CFLs anymore. They have reached near industrial extinction in favor of the “ice cream whip” spiral bulb. Only a few special application high wattage CFLs still maintain the old, more efficient, mechanically produced tubes that didn’t require a glassblower to slowly poison themselves to manufacture it.

It’s the horrible end of a vicious cycle that will be very difficult for the industry to ever pull itself out of.

Fortunately, the LED bulb has become practical and is now technically superior. The CFL’s only remaining advantage is that it can be cranked out cheap as hell.

Do the entire world a favor and buy LED instead.

My new transit map for Miami-Dade County.

This is just a set of ideas I had for where the county could REALLY use some high volume passenger rail service. The extensions to Metrorail directly should be on the same heavy rail system, as should the Okeechobee Line that goes up into southern Broward County.

I’m thinking the loop lines that go through the suburbs should be something like the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Crystal Mover trains, since those can make tighter turns and are quieter. They run on a guideway built not entirely unlike a little freeway ramp (rubber tired trains) – the MIA Mover and several other people mover systems inside the airport already use them. And if MIA can’t kill them, nobody else can either 😉


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Picture day…

While the photographer was taking the really cheezy photos of all our on-air personalities looking unusually formal and stuff, he saw me lurking in the shadows and insisted on taking my picture too.

Photo by Carlos Rollon:

Everyone kinda wonders what I’m doing at a *jazz* station. 😉

Comcast BVE / Business Voice Edge settings you should hopefully never need

Useful info for the Comcast Business Voice Edge service:

The portal login is at https://voiceedge.comcast.com/ – at the time of this writing the security certificate is expired (way to go Cumcast)
To log in as admin, you must add TA to the end of your username authorized as administrator. For instance: rmutt1917TA

If your phones lose their settings including the provisioning server they will act really stupid. Press Menu -> Status -> Network to find the phone’s IP address then log into it from a web browser. On Polycom phones the admin password is 456

Go to Settings -> Provisioning Server. The Comcast business voice / Comcast BVE provisioning server address is http://bvedms01.wdv.comcast.net:80/dms/bw/host/wdv-7/dms-psip/
No password.
Server user: PlcmSpIp
Tag SN to UA disabled

If you have other WORKING phones on your network when this happens, please confirm the provisioning address on those first – the fact that it ends in 01 makes me wonder if this may vary regionally. (???)

Note that if the DHCP on your network provides an option 66 response to point phones to a TFTP server, the provisioning WILL fail as the phone is too dumb to proceed to the programmed provisioning server address. Once it gets a tftp address passed to it and this provisioning method fails, it will give up immediately and throw the toys right out of the pram. Wondering if your lan’s dhcp provides response 66? Did you set it to? If not, then it doesn’t. End of story. Honestly, most embedded device/router DHCP daemons don’t even support it.

You can use firmware versions later than what Comcast provides and I’ve had much better results doing so (better audio quality, fixes phone UI hangs/reboots….)
Go to Utilities -> Software Upgrade in the web UI. If you’ve never done this before, go ahead and select Polycom hosted server, click check for updates. The software version selector will populate. Choose the latest version and make it so.

If you HAVE done this before, do not click check for updates. The web UI and then the phone itself will freeze*. Uhhhh, it’s a feature, not a bug?! Click clear upgrade server. The phone will reboot, DOWNGRADE to whatever Comcast provides you, then you’ll be able to do the aforementioned procedure. Hey, we didn’t become Comcast customers because we wanted sane, reasonable, and logical services, did we?

* may be a model dependent thing. The SoundPoint 335 locks up like a dumb brick and eventually reboots itself, but the SoundStation will just do it all right. Who knows. I hate these things, they always make it sound like the person you’re talking to is actually talking waaaay too close to your ear and like you’re half expecting to spit down your ear canal or drool on your shoulder

Tollation

A fool and their money..

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Here, I have a stupid wild idea: give us functional mass transit and stop leaving us trafFUCKED all the time. Grrr!

As a bonus, here’s what you are treated to when you use the free lanes. The horrible imitation of the Lincolnshire Poacher is not necessarily part of the experience.
http://youtu.be/GatHBeVAKkI

Okay guys, you win this game.

If

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there was a game on for spookiest “we know people are stupid” warning labels, Continental-Girbau won it with this baby. I’m not sure how old these machines are, but they do have a hilarious number of safety features to them including a 30 second countdown followed by another 10 second countdown before the drum starts turning, and a stop button on the front panel. You know, just in case you didn’t realize for a few seconds that throwing someone in there with your laundry was a bad idea.

‘Twas a time before CCTV

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Postal Panopticon

Found this in my local post office above the counter. There’s probably a darkened little room behind it where someone could sit and look down. I’m guessing the slots are the audio monitoring system. 😉

Radio Shack has lost it…

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What you are looking at is the prime endcap space in the middle of my local RadioShack store.

Years ago, this would have been occupied by a home theater system, high end stereo, or something that someone would have actually bought, and it would have made the salesperson who helped them with the transaction a good amount on commission.

Now, it’s stupid t-shirts.

Radio Shack is not much longer for this world. They’ve been my go to place when I need a connector or some simple part on short notice, but I don’t think they’re going to be there for me much longer.

They’re the last venture of the Tandy Corporation, which renamed itself to Radio Shack. Tandy Corporation has engaged in many potentially successful ventures over the years, yet methodically run every single one of them into the ground in flames. Some that come to mind, of course, were Incredible Universe, the Tandy Computer brand, TechAmerica, and Computer City.

I used to love Radio Shack in the late 80s through mid to late 90s. They used to have a lot of components and supplies for my tinkering, and it was with the assistance of a Technician class study guide that I purchased at a Radio Shack in 1999 that I got my ham radio license. Back then they still even carried some ham radio equipment in their stores. I remember they still had the HTX-202/404 brick handhelds in their stores, and a 2 meter mobile radio, along with some Vectronics stuff (was this before or after they were part of MFJ Enterprises?). TechAmerica, a mail order only venture (as far as I know) had even more ham gear available when they were around.

What they didn’t have in their stores, they had available in a 200+ page catalog, available for shipment straight to you or to your local store.

In the late 1990s they started to lose focus on what their core business should be. They began to heavily push cell phones, then gradually cut more and more into their retail planograms* to devote more space to cell phones. Eventually, half the store was occupied by cell phones and accessories. Components were pushed back into organizer drawers in one back aisle. They stopped carrying home theater and stereo gear entirely as of about 2010, instead just focusing on low ticket items and cell phones. The commission based sales model would have seriously stopped working for their employees at this point in time, as there’s no longer such a thing as making a $50 commission on the sale of a $500 TV, for instance…

Now, today, I walked into one of their stores and this was in the middle. The cell phone display was pushed against a wall – there’s a good chance they haven’t sold a phone in quite a while, especially since their prices (up front or hidden!) are not competitive with other retail outlets or buying directly from the carriers.

At some point they did make an effort to reconnect with the electronic hobbyist and education markets, but it was all too little, too late. A line of kits they worked on in conjunction with Make Magazine got liquidated en masse at clearance prices…. then promptly reordered. They also carry a number of Seeed Studio kits and boards, but haven’t made any effort to promote this; they are merely just… there.

Despite the large uptick in interest in ham radio, they have not re-entered this market. They don’t even sell TV antennas for those who want to hook up their television sets for over the air programming.

This of course leaves a space for other businesses to fill. Systemax/TigerDirect is now starting to carry electronic kits in their stores. Who knows, maybe you’ll be able to get an oscilloscope there too, just like you can at a Fry’s. Alfa Electronics has been doing great business at their two store locations, and one of my fellow broadcast nerds has started doing some electronic parts sales from his business, Smiling Dog Systems.

It’s just a shame about Radio Shack. The mighty have truly fallen.

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