YAFULC, Yet Another Fucking ‘Urban Lifestyle Center’

Okay, stand back, this is a session of “Things That Piss Me Off”.

The indoor shopping mall was wildly popular at one time. It was convenient, it protected shoppers from inclement weather, but then it at some point felt dated, I suppose. What is the logical progression from something that’s practical, comfortable, reasonably accessible, and works well for most? Why, just take away all the covering, all the parking, all of the amenities and creature comforts, the rest rooms, the food court, and just build this concrete canyon fake “main street” with about ten parking spaces that you have to wait in line for and/or a $15 valet service.

Sounds like a great plan, right?

<horns.aiff>

So the replacement is the “Urban Lifestyle Center”, and I’ve coined a really terrible word for the terrible little things: YAFULC. Yet Another Fucking Urban Lifestyle Center. This article will have no original photographs because you could not even pay me enough to visit YAFULC. Believe me, they are all the same, and they are all AWFUL. You’re missing nothing.

Typical features of YAFULC:

The Shops Pembroke GardensParking and Transit: The first thing you will notice is that One Does Not Simply Walk Into YAFULC. Such centers are usually constructed in areas that are isolated behind one, or an intersection of two, enormous arterial roads that feature no pedestrian or mass transit access. They’re pretty much just plunked down wherever there was a bunch of cheap land available.

As you drive towards YAFULC you will usually be funneled down from a massive delta of entrance lanes into what looks like a small town’s downtown main street. However, unlike a small town, you will be sharing a small two lane thoroughfare with diagonal space on-street parking with about eight hundred sport-futility vehicles. Don’t be surprised if you get stuck in the entrance for half an hour while your exhaust and that of everyone else trapped there with you slowly gasses the shoppers — this is just part of the YAFULC experience.

Finally, you will hit a traffic circle with a sign directing you to parking. This will lead you to a very small lot that is completely full. In this case, whoever has the faster car wins in the hilarious race to dive for a parking space while trying not to mow down TOO MANY pedestrians.

Some versions of YAFULC feature higher capacity parking garages. These are universally arranged to be horrible puzzles, with tiny blind turns, entire floors reserved exclusively for certain businesses, or weird stretches of parking spaces that have been leased out to valet parking or auto detailing services. Don’t expect to find a space in the garage.

Usually there will also be a valet parking stand, where you can pay about $15 to have your car parked…… somewhere. There’s usually an hour’s worth of line to get to the valet parking stand, so who knows if they even do anything. Maybe they just take $15 from the first person who shows up and then just sit there all day?

Stores: Believe me, when I said you’re missing nothing… Okay, compare it this way. Do you have a Simon group mall nearby? The Simon mall has exactly the same national brand retailers that YAFULC does….. except with available parking, easy access, and you don’t get baked, frozen, rained on, or gassed with car exhaust as soon as you step out of a store. There are NO independent small businesses in YAFULC. This is almost universal.

Restaurants: You didn’t come here for the food, did you? Well on the off chance you were silly enough to do so…. Common fare at YAFULC includes a variety of overpriced national chains, but once in a blue moon, an indepdently owned restaurant does sneak in… usually a bizarre half-assed Asian fusion menu kind of place.

kendallvillagecenterCommon area: Open sidewalks are the norm here, with no shade, tree cover, or other amenities. Walking between businesses, you are always faced with the possibility of someone smashing you against the wall of the Chuck E. Cheese because they put their minivan in drive instead of reverse before jamming the gas pedal flat to the firewall. Some of the stores may have awnings but these are only there to break up the concrete monotony a bit – they provide maybe two inches of coverage off the building wall, if even.

Somewhere in there, located in a niche on the side of one of the buildings, there might be a restroom. Good luck finding it, I guess. I think this is just evidence that YAFULC was not designed for humans – robots don’t poop, or do they?

Typical YAFULC infections in the South Florida area include Kendall Village Center in Miami-Dade, The Shops at Pembroke Gardens, Boca Raton’s Mizner Park (which was originally a perfectly legit mixed use development before morphing into YAFULC), and Cypress Creek Town Center.

A special thanks goes out to developer Michael Swerdlow for creating Oakwood Plaza which is a hybrid “power center”/YAFULC, and has been easily the least successful retail development of all time; it consists of box stores and little strip mall buildings separated with giant parking lot spaces. It has been such a washout that last I heard, the management was considering charging a $4 toll for access to it to recoup some of their expenses. Let us never make this mistake again. Actually, the biggest mistake was made by the owners of Atlantis in closing down and selling the site to Swerdlow after Hurricane Andrew… they were not that heavily damaged!

Parking Wars…

My workplace has a dedicated parking lot, in an area where parking is rather scarce. Ask nicely and it’s different, but throw your cars at us and run and you’ll soon be facing locked gates and some annoyed broadcast engineer posting pictures of your cars online to ridicule you for being a douchecanoe. How many more “reserved parking only” signs do we need?!

image

Out, foul demons of stupidity!

Some thoughts on the Axsis of Evil

The Shitty— I mean, City of Miami has been going positively ape for these giant piles of turd as of late. This is an American Traffic Solutions RLC-300 red light extortion camera. When it detects someone entering an intersection on a red light, it shoots two still images and one video clip, and the violator receives a bill for around $160. The appeals process is completely rigged and if you lose, you pay $300. Cute little scam, right?

The City of Miami has been installing these on almost every intersection with traffic lights and has even put in signals at intersections that didn’t have them before to open up the gates for even more camera revenue. Foul.

So here’s what you’re facing when you approach the intersection. First, you will see a fairly standard sign. They’re not stealth, in fact I’ve seen at least one that has a warning light above it.

figia12_longdescThe camera installation itself varies. Some installations are the original Axsis RLC-100 setup and will have a TON of cameras aimed at the intersection – a little tree of video cameras is aimed down at the stop line, with one looking over the intersection itself. A second pole holds a high resolution DSLR in a box sort of thing and a control unit, and a strobe is either mounted on that or on a third pole. The newer Axsis RLC-300 is usually on a single pole with the video and still camera in one box, a radar sensor, and a strobe.

imageThis one pictured is at the intersection of Coral Way and 27th Avenue in the City of Miami. This intersection has VERY long queues approaching it, unusually short yellow lights (I haven’t timed them to see if they’re in compliance with Florida state law, but they’re definitely on the lower end of the allowable spectrum if they are) and a severe visibility problem, in which someone following a tall truck is very likely to hit a red light without even seeing it.

image

 

The camera’s control unit has a pair of antennas on top of it. I’ve seen rumors floating around that this is a WiFi based system of some sort. I have no idea what they speak on newer cameras but my BlackBerry used to be able to detect a nonsense SSID being beaconed by the old RLC-100 installations. Using a wifi card in rfmon mode and KisMAC or similar tools will probably reveal more interesting info. There seems to be a limit as to how many lanes of traffic the RLC-300 can handle, as I’ve seen installations up in Broward County with two or more of them aimed across wide intersections.

At the top of the pole is a radar sensor. The RLC-300’s logic appears to be this: If the light is red AND a magnetic loop at the intersection’s stop line changes state AND motion is detected by the radar, then a recording cycle begins. I used to be able to regularly false trigger the RLC-100 series cameras in the City of Miami Gardens by pulling up rapidly then stopping just before the stop bar, since they had their magnetic loops installed all wrong. Some peon sitting in an office somewhere had to sift through the resulting videos and enjoy a daily video of me NOT committing a red light violation. I like to stick it to The Man, but the RLC-300 is too smart to record if no violation actually occurred. In fact, it is smart enough to abort a recording cycle already in progress and can the data if it sees that nothing interesting happened. Poo. 😛

The newest installations, called AutoPatrol RLSC-3D, also feature a radar sensor on the opposite corner of the intersection; this is used to track the oncoming traffic and improve the reliability of violation detection.


AutoPatrol_3D_HowitWorks
Now if you find this post because you’re curious as to how to fight a ticket — I have no clue but I’ve heard it’s nearly impossible. Consult an attorney to see if you have a chance, but be warned, you’re probably just going to pay more in fees. In Florida, the red light camera tickets do not count as points against your license but they are available as public record; I recall someone using them as a mudpie in a recent bout of political mudslinging. Good times. I don’t know if insurance companies receive that data as well or use it against their clients.

 

The way to deal with these cameras is to avoid them. Waze and Trapster will provide advance warning, though the signs aren’t exactly inconspicuous. The key though is to be ready to stop early, especially in wet or slippery weather, and don’t follow tall trucks closely. Take a momentary glance at the pedestrian crosswalk signals at the sides of the intersection – if the white WALK indicator’s up, you’re pretty well safe to cross, but a blinking STOP indication means the money-grubbing cycle is about to commence. The signals with an LED countdown timer are especially handy here, and they seem to be present on almost all the intersections that also have cameras, just as a matter of ongoing modernizations. Just watch out, I have seen some intersections within the City of Miami set to have as little as a 2 second yellow offering almost no chance to stop safely from normal traffic speeds (US1 and 32nd Avenue is a common offender here).

The State of Florida is currently considering banning the cameras. I can’t say I’d miss them. They have actually made intersections MORE dangerous, as there is a mad dash to stop or to beat the quickly changing light on the approach. I’ve seen several T-bone type crashes at over 80 mph in areas with a 45 mph speed limit that occurred from someone trying to beat a light. Please… don’t speed.

One other hilarious thing I discovered: As of 2008, ATS, like many other business ventures that subsist by nickel and diming the American middle and working class out of existence, is now under the portfolio of GoldBallsacks… I mean, Goldman Sachs.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--(Business Wire)--
American Traffic Solutions ("ATS") announced today that Goldman
Sachs has become its first institutional investor. Goldman Sachs was
invited to invest in ATS as a minority shareholder to support the
explosive growth in the company's photo traffic safety enforcement and
electronic toll payment businesses, according to Jim Tuton, president
and CEO of ATS. ATS is the largest independent, privately held company
providing photo traffic enforcement services in North America. The
company's 2007-08 quarterly compound revenue growth rate exceeded 80
percent.

   Terms of the sale were not disclosed, but Tuton reported that
Goldman Sachs will be represented on ATS' board of directors.

   Jim Tuton founded the American photo traffic enforcement industry
in 1987 when he introduced "photo radar" to the small community of
Paradise Valley, Arizona, in the Phoenix area. Photo traffic
enforcement is now used in approximately 300 communities in 25
American states and the District of Columbia. ATS currently serves
more than 125 municipalities in 18 states, the District of Columbia
and the Province of Alberta, Canada. New York City, Philadelphia,
Washington, D.C., Houston, Fort Worth, Phoenix, St. Louis, Seattle and
San Diego are all ATS customers.

   Budget-constrained communities across the country are turning to
photo safety enforcement because it improves public safety at no cost
to the local police departments, explained Tuton. According to a 2007
study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (www.iihs.org),
red-light cameras reduced violations by as much as 96 percent in
Philadelphia. St. Louis experienced a 49 percent decrease in
violations. And from 1994-2005, red-light-running violations decreased
73 percent in New York City.

   "Cash-strapped cities are finding it more and more difficult to
deploy adequate police resources to fight serious crime," said Tuton.
"Our cameras handle the routine traffic enforcement duties so officers
can spend more time in their communities. We help cities improve
public safety by providing solutions that also generate needed revenue
by shifting the financial burden from the taxpayers to the violators."

   "Goldman Sachs was attracted to the industry and then identified
ATS as a leader with tremendous growth potential, an exemplary track
record and a high-quality management team," said Raheel Zia, vice
president in the principal investment area at Goldman Sachs. "ATS has
been at the forefront of the photo traffic safety enforcement industry
with the company's speed and red-light camera programs. The company's
worldwide expansion into electronic toll collection and
transportation-related commercial services present attractive growth
opportunities."

   "We have grown ATS from a small, single-client company in 1987 to
a company with more than 125 customers," explained Tuton. "We have
been profitable every year since we started the business. This was
accomplished with a national team of 425 employees and managers and
without any private equity investment." Tuton noted that the company's
client base grew by nearly 100 percent in 2007.

   "Our relationship with Goldman Sachs will provide a strong
platform and access to capital resources that will enable ATS to
continue on our amazing growth trajectory," Tuton continued. "Goldman
Sachs is one of the largest and most prestigious investment companies
in the world. They are a terrific fit for ATS because they share our
culture and mission of serving state and local governments with needed
operational and financial services."

   About ATS:

   American Traffic Solutions (ATS) is a leading provider of
technology and business solutions for traffic safety and electronic
toll collection programs worldwide, including PlatePass(R), which is
an automated electronic toll payment service that enables Avis, Budget
and Hertz customers to use high speed, cashless electronic toll lanes.
ATS is a private corporation, which serves more than 125
municipalities and government agencies. ATS is the largest provider of
photo traffic enforcement programs to America's big cities with active
programs in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., St. Louis,
San Diego and Seattle; Houston, Fort Worth, Irving and Arlington,
Texas; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Phoenix, Tucson,
Mesa, Glendale and Scottsdale, Arizona. ATS also serves Canada's
largest digital red-light camera and speed enforcement program in
Calgary, Alberta. The company is headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz.
For additional information visit: www.redlightcamera.com or
www.atsol.com.

   About Goldman Sachs:

   Goldman Sachs is a leading global investment banking, securities
and investment management firm that provides a wide range of services
worldwide to a substantial and diversified client base that includes
corporations, financial institutions, governments and high net worth
individuals. Founded in 1869, it is one of the oldest and largest
investment banking firms. The firm is headquartered in New York and
maintains offices in London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Hong Kong and other
major financial centers around the world.

American Traffic Solutions
Josh Weiss
Director of Communications and Public Affairs
480-596-4613
josh.weiss@atsol.com
or
Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Andrea Raphael
Vice President, Media Relations
212-357-0025

Copyright Business Wire 2008

Tascam CD-500B Button Repair

The Tascam CD-500B is one of a sadly quickly dying breed — a professional grade CD player, with balanced audio output (and AES/EBU digital) as well as RS-232 and contact closure remote control. Unfortunately, it features some very non-professional grade buttons on the front panel. I don’t even understand what on earth they were thinking.

Symptom: Buttons “fall” into front panel. Operation of button is impossible.

Broken off button
Button with broken hinge. Note that the switch is off center and sort of BESIDE the button, not directly under it as it is on Denon players

Problem: Thin plastic hinge section of button has broken.

Solution: Wedge button in place from below so it’s trapped between the front panel, the wedge, and the switch on the circuit board.

Disassembly of the player: This player is truly and sadly built like total BPC (Black Plastic Crap). You have to remove the rack ears, top cover, and the entire front panel. Carefully release the wires going to the front panel and unscrew the one visible grounding jumper. Unplug the two multi pin connectors (they cannot be mixed up – different number of pins). Remove all the silver screws around the front of the player and release the tabs on the right and left sides, then drop the front forward. Remove two screws holding in the LCD, then you can unscrew and remove either button board as needed.

Wedge the broken button(s) from below, then set them into the front panel with it tilted downwards and reassemble.

It is worth noting this player uses what appears to be a standard slotload SATA cd-rom drive as its transport! I have not tried substituting drives yet to see what happens. The buttons break before the transport 🙂

Telecom secrets revealed – A Sprint PCS cell site!!

What you can't see in this photo is that it's over 100 degrees in the room, lolz
The Now -- Failing --Network

This is what a particular Sprint PCS cell site in southwestern Miami-Dade County, Florida, looks like inside.

Shield your eyes, it’s horrible. No, actually, you will want to shield your eyes because the batteries were installed so badly that I felt the need to place some cut-up pieces of a plastic container in between the battery terminals and some aluminum-cased monitoring widgets that were sitting on top of them to avoid an electrical fire. (Upon testing the batteries I found then to be at about 10.1 volts DC. FAIL.)

And this kind of thing is why I trust ham radio for communications more than anything I pay a mystery team for “service” on. 🙂

Spork and Speef

Click to view the horror

Say what you will about the American diet as it stands today — at least we don’t have this around anymore. See, food was disturbing as hell in the 70s.
Just ask Betty Crocker.

Onwards to the disturbing gelatinous “Meat” In A Can:

 

Thanks to x-ray delta one on flickr, who has this beautiful set of Regrettable Food pics…..!!

 

User interface design FAIL? In MY automobile?

It’s more likely than you think!!

 

The next time you turn on your car, leave the key in the “RUN” position without turning it all the way to start and look at the lights that will appear on the dashboard. You should notice somewhere a small battery icon.

And there, folks, is the fail, for despite being a glowing battery icon, this light does not indicate a problem with the vehicle’s BATTERY.

I’m not going to put up schematics and stuff because that’s just getting too technical* for this. In short, the battery light indicates a problem with your vehicle’s ALTERNATOR.

The ALTERNATOR light, which inexplicably has a freaking BATTERY painted on it, indicates that the vehicle’s alternator is not charging the battery when it SHOULD BE. It came on when you turned the ignition on without starting the engine because the alternator is not being spun by the engine. Once the engine is running it should go out, because the alternator is being spun and is generating electric current to recharge the battery.

You may see the light occasionally flicker under any situation that keeps the alternator from spinning. Driving through a puddle may wet the belt and cause it to slip, causing the light to flicker. Forcing the engine RPM too low on a vehicle with a manual transmission will also make it flicker. In either case it will go out once the alternator spins back up to operating speed.

If the alternator fails to generate power, due to a broken/failed belt (you may also notice a loss of power steering assist and air conditioning!), the light will come on. The car will stop running once the battery runs out of power.

If the alternator itself fails, it may also turn on the battery light. Note that the battery light signal is generated by the alternator, so a particularly rotten failure of the alternator’s internal electronics may not necessarily turn on the light. My father had the electronic voltage regulation controls inside the alternator on a Volvo 740  fail like this while driving on the Florida’s Turnpike in the middle of nowhere – the first sign of trouble was when the antilock brake controller (dimly) illuminated its fault light due to the low input voltage!

Soooo… why not label the light “ALTERNATOR”? Even the execrably designed NABI 40LFW transit bus has the light labelled as “GEN STOP”. Suggesting that it means the GENerator has STOPped working is infinitely more useful.

* me, resisting the urge to geek out about how this actually works? INSANE

Vintage 2009, as the real estate market crashed…

I just dug this up off my old LiveJournal page. It’s kinda strange thinking that the residents of one house at the time had pulled down the quality of life so badly in my family’s neighborhood and quite refreshing to realize that the problem more or less solved itself. I was actually glad when the house was just left with the doors open for days and scrappers came in and removed all the plumbing, wiring, and fixtures – thus pretty much ensuring it was uninhabitable until major repairs were done and the heavily modified interior that split it into four apartments was annihilated.

What follows is the post directly copied and pasted. The subject line below is “KITA!” which is… well, it’s well explained in the Densha Otoko TV drama.

キタ━━━━━━(゚∀゚)━━━━━━ !!!!!

My fuckwit neighbors in the quad house across the street appear to be gone.

Back in 1999, this Hispanic family moved out of a house across the street.

The house had new owners temporarily, who did very strange things with it. One day I asked my parents for a ride home from school, and they couldn’t do it because we’d been *triple-parked* into our driveway. I came back via MDTA bus and found the entire neighborhood jammed with cars, a box truck outside that house, and a very loud party going on inside with hundreds of people. This ended when the house’s electrical system caught fire, and everyone just kinda ran. When the smoke cleared, I looked into the house through a door that had been left open, and saw that all the interior walls except for those around one bathroom had been removed. The central HVAC unit was just sorta sitting in one corner on its side on the floor, surrounded by condensate; if the power had still been on, cold air would have been blowing out of it. The DJ had hastily departed and taken his equipment with him, but had left behind *thousands* of flyers for some event taking place at another address in Kendall that sounded residential as well.

A pretty nice couple was going to move in back in 2001. They’d paid a mint to have the house fixed up, new interior and roof… and then they vanished in about April. I think the husband got a job somewhere else. He was working for Piper Aircraft at the time.

Around then, this other family moved into the neighborhood and started buying up many, many properties on ARMs, including that one.

Since like 2002, we’d had to put up with their nonsense day and night. The house had been purchased on an adjustable rate mortgage by this one family who had done the same thing with literally every house that went up for sale in this neighborhood; the rates were very low at the time, and they were making some profit off of renting the houses out.

They were, however, really shady. They’d rent to pretty much anyone who called up and met them with cash in hand for the first month.

Eventually, as ARMs reset, they started ditching the properties one by one, including the house they used to live in, two houses down from mine. They sectioned off one of their houses, across the street from me, into four seperate apartments, and put a shed out back that might have been rented out as a fifth. They lived in one of the apartments, and rented the others out.

The quad magically gathered some of the most unsavory residents imaginable. We had the Harley-tards, a couple of younger guys who owned Harley V-twin powered bikes and apparently had some affliction that kept them from ever shifting out of first gear. They’d circle the block like eight times whenever coming or going, which happened at all hours. With the engines at near redline, it would create a really terrible noise that would shake windows in their frames and could wake the dead. This continued until one of them struck the speed limit sign down the street and died, and the other one moved out of the Quad.

There was one couple who we’d always see there, a douchebag guy and a twatwaffle girl, who would have endless screaming arguments and lovely sessions of domestic abuse in the driveway in the middle of the night. This was on a nightly basis. Such a happy couple.

There was also this tiny lady with blonde hair and a Ford Expedition who would always be coming and going during the day. Like, she’d come home, then leave again within about five minutes. Whenever she left, she backed the SUV out without looking, very rapidly. She nearly creamed my uncle twice, ran me off the road doing it once, and then finally had the rear end of that thing removed when she backed right into someone going by in a Honda Civic. They were uninjured, but their car was a total loss. She eventually got a new black SUV, and after some time of being under law enforcement surveillance, left the Quad.

Finally, in the very end, it was a total mystery… there were entire days of banging, thumping, buzzing car stereo, people getting themselves drunk until they passed out in lawn chairs on the driveway… and then came the weird move-out (best I can tell, that’s what it was).

At some point last year, there was one guy living there who drove a Mustang. He always seemed quite intent on trying to steal my car, but didn’t really know how to steal a car. One night I was coming home around like 2 AM and he was waiting in his driveway in his Failstang. As I passed and went to turn into my driveway, he came up and tried to slam into my car from behind… but I dodged him, ran over a plant in my swale, which recovered within a week, and took off again. I drove around through some of the local streets, turning the corners as fast as I could (which is really fast, with that car), and he kept chasing me… until he wound up kinda parked in the front of an empty house about a mile away. I didn’t stop or really even slow down. I just got the fuck out of there. I didn’t see him for a long time after that, until he appeared briefly, buzzing around the area on a pocket bike.

Last week, there was this frenzied flurry of bizarre activity. Everyone was coming and going 24/7 in all sorts of vehicles, most not street-legal, including pocket bikes, ATCs, and Go-peds. I recall seeing them carrying a television on an ATC at one point. I’m guessing this was them moving out.

Then, suddenly.. there was silence… followed by a dump truck and crew hauling away bits of the shed out back until well into the wee hours of the night.

The house now stands with a door open into one of the apartments. It smells REALLY bad, like moldy avocados, and the smell hangs in the air heavily all around. I even noticed it wafting into my laundry room. I think the Quad’s roof must have failed and soaked the place. I looked up the property info from Miami-Dade County, and it’s currently owned by some German bank. The power’s off, but the meter’s in the socket and my volt-pen shows power present up to the meter — I don’t really know what to make of that. I have the feeling they might have taken the panel with them when they left. (Yeah, I don’t know why they’ll do this, but I do see a lot of the local handymen will buy used panels to resell them and their breakers to homeowners who probably would be a lot better off getting NEW ones…)

And thus… the neighborhood is far cleaner and more peaceful once again.