The Case Of The Lost Indication

My train stopped in the tunnel today. “I lost the indication. Do you have it?” — called out the operator to the conductor over the PA system. Sometimes instead of using walkie-talkies they use overhead PA to communicate. Probably by mistake, because hearing subway jargon spewing from the loudspeaker in a stopped train freaks out passengers.

“I lost the indication here too ” — said the conductor. We were stuck for at least half an hour before the train started moving again.

As it turns out, a signal is called and “aspect”. For instance red light is a red aspect. And an “indication” is the meaning of an aspect in a context. Red aspect’s indication is usually (but not always) – stop. So apparently what the machinist and the conductor meant was that the signal light they were expecting was off. When there is a power loss to a signal a trip arm automatically extends up from the track (it’s up motion is powered by a spring, so it automatically engages when a signal loses power). If a train passes an extended trip arm it trips an on/off switch on the train and you get stuck for much longer.

I need to get a scanner with subway frequency.

Worm Sign!

Every day around 3:40 a red suv drives by our building. It probably has a giant set of speakers with trumendous bass output. We know it passes by because it produces a strong thumping sound that resonates with the walls of the skyscraper. It’s not very loud but feels very weird.

As long as sandworms do not appear I guess we are Ok. But on the other hand what if that is not a sound system but a Tesla oscillator?

Die Kunst Der Rant : Shopping Cart Issue.

I don’t care what you call it – a shopping cart, a shopping bag or a shopping sack, but the following retarded things are going to cost you some sales:

1) Expire the shopping cart. There’s nothing that makes me want to complete my order than coming back in the morning and finding out that 20 items that I picked the night before are gone and my shopping cart is reset. Even better, store the cart id in a memory only cookie so that the cart will be reset even sooner.

2) Before checkout ask – “do you have a coupon”? Hey, the fact that there is a possibility that a coupon exists makes you feel that you are getting the _best_ possible price! Nobody is going to use that popular search engine dealy to try to find that coupon, and then to search for a better price on an item. No siree Bob.

3) Save money on copyrighter’s and photographer’s fees. A one line explanation and a tiny pixilated picture is enough. Even if the photographer gave you a big image file, that stuff will only confuse the customer. Product dimensions are irrelevant. I mean, what moron cant’s figure out the dimensions of a product from a tiny image with white background?

4) Don’t link the product in the shopping cart to the page with the description and photo of the product. A 10 pixel by 10 pixel image and a cryptic description is good enough. Who can forget what he added to the cart earlier?


Blue Lights In The Tunnel

Was taking pictures from the front window of an R40 train again. By the way, in theory it’s ok to take pictures in NYC subways without a permit unless you use “lights” (this may or may not include flash), a tripod for non-commercial purposes. It’s a complicated issue and is pretty open to interpretation, and in fact transit cops might not be aware of it at all. I had been asked by a transit cop once to stop taking pictures and erase what I already shot because of “the 9/11 stuff”. I told her politely about MTA rule Section 1050.9, Paragraph (c), but as I had no desire to argue with her also erased the pictures. You see, if I wasn’t lazy and got an official permit which supposedly “can be obtained from Division of Special Events by contacting Connie DePalma (718) 694-5121, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays” I could show that to her. Besides, nobody likes a dorky smart ass with a camera.

Anyway, the pictures are pretty, but “hold on Luke, we are going into hyperspace” effect becomes tiresome fast enough. So I’ll spare you. Here’s a slightly more interesting shot taken handheld at 1/10th sec., f/2.0 ISO 400 while the train was standing in a tunnel (if your monitor brightness is set too high, you might not see the details). For all the coffee that I consume my hands are pretty steady.

I always wonder how it was for the people stuck in the tunnels during the blackout. They probably actually had to walk through whole tunnel stretches like that to get out after a while.

The train signaling system is not too complicated. I think I figured out a sizable chunk of it from just watching the tracks, and the rest can be picked up from here. There’s even a “train simulator” for Windows (but for some reason the coolest part, “cab view”, doesn’t work for me.

“… The color aspects of subway signals are vaguely similar to those of street traffic lights — red means “don’t go, but stop,” yellow means “slow down,” and green means “go”. The similarity, however, ends there. Green does not just mean “go”, but certifies that the next signal, the one after the green one, doesn’t say “stop”. Yellow is even more different in meaning: While a yellow street traffic signal means “slow down, because this signal is in the process of changing to red” (which many motorists, of course, interpret as “speed up so as to pass it before it does”), a yellow subway signal means “slow down, (most often) because the next signal already is red, and you must slow down and proceed with caution before reaching it. While street traffic signals usually go from green to yellow to red, subway signals usually go from red to yellow to green…. “

Blue lights probably indicate locations of emergency phones, but could be something else. I am not sure.

Two and Four-legged Bomb Protection

JWZ posted a link about a trained hawk that attacked a Chihuahua in Bryant Park. The hawks were used for scaring away pigeons. The hawks were well fed, but still tried to kill a pigeon or two. And of course they could not pass up Mexican food. Yeah, it’s tough to be a lap dog in NYC. If the swans in Central Park won’t get you, the hawks in Bryant Park will.

Of course ratbirds are annoying and a health hazard, but in this case we are talking about the exact spot where Tesla fed pigeons. These are the descendants of Tesla’s pigeons! I guess he’d be pretty pissed about the hawks.

So now it looks like the hawk program will get canned because of the stupid lap dog. That’s too bad – trained hawks are pretty cool. Too bad I didn’t know about the hawks before, or I would have taken pictures. In fact I think I saw the hawk dude in the park, but I thought that he was in for a renaissance fair or something.

Hawks are not the only critters that keep New Yorkers safe from bombs. On my way to work I pass up a guy with a bomb sniffing dog standing in the area where trucks are unloading in the building where I work. In fact, there are a few of these dogs around. I wonder if they found a single bomb.

I See a Gondola. Impulse Speed, Engsin. We Are Off to the Races!

News in photography from : How to take “Panasonic” pictures.

From The drama with tandems, gondolas and POGs in Sears.

Now, store display, design and marketing always fascinated me. So I did a bit of digging around:

Apparently this is a gondola (the long shelves) with end caps :

Tandems seem to be Sears specific type of shelving. I wonder, who invented gondola shelves and why made that person name them so.

I found Glossary of Aftermarket Terms and dug this stuff up:

SKU: Stock Keeping Unit. Refers to each single item carried by a retailer. Every color, style and item having its own vendor or vendee number has its own SKU.
Keystone: A markup of 100% or more.
Loss Leader: A high-demand product such as motor oil or spark plugs, sold at cost or below to draw customers into a store.
Velocity Price: Pricing system based on relative movement within a product line (usually discounting faster moving items more deeply than slower movers).
Ad Slicks: Black and white reproducible artwork used for packaging and advertising.

When I was working on online stores, I once asked in a meeting what SKU stood for. Interestingly enough nobody knew the correct answer. I looked it up on the Net later.

You know those strings of items that festoon the shelves that we now know are called gondolas?
(image from

Apparently those are called “impulse strips”. When will they come up with warp strips?

Now, this is an interesting name for a suprmarket layout:
(taken from
(Illustration 1) Racetrack Layout
Racetrack Layout consists of a main aisle that will lead customers from the front area, around the whole store, and leads them at the check out counter. It is designed for two-way traffic that directs customers to what they are looking for.

More of Deadprogrammer’s Aspirations

I want to become rich in one of the most honorable ways possible – by inventing something. The first step that I took in that direction some time ago is writing down ideas into a notebook.

The notebooks is kind of special. It’s an NYPD style memo binder that I bought from DeSantis. Interesting to note that the NYPD binder is 4×8, but regular one is just 4×6. It took me a while to find correct paper that would fit the notebook, but I found out that the reporter’s notebook available in all stationary stores fits. I just had to remove the wire spiral. You know, the most amazing thing about this notebook is that cops manage to stuff it into the back pocket of their pants. I thought about buying some uniform pants (they look like dark dress casual pants, but are probably very comfortable and durable) but it turns out that you can’t buy them without a cop’s id.

But I digress. Inventing. Right. Well, sometimes I stumble upon companies that are already doing what I was thinking about. Maybe some of my ideas are actually not without merit.

I had an idea bout billboards beaming advertising to PDAs. I made a note in my log about making a cheap beaming module that could be used in subway ads. A blinking light would attract one’s attention, and if the passenger would point a palm pilot towards the ad, a coupon would be beamed down. I did a bit of searching, and it didn’t seem that any company was doing that at the time. That was a few years back, when I got my Palm III. The first company to actually do this (I think, I am not sure though) was Streetbeam. Today there are many more companies that make beaming booths, beaming nodes, etc. Wide Ray is just one of them.

Later I was thinking a lot about wireless power transmission after reading a book about Tesla. Tesla had his lab illuminated by wirelessly powered fluorescent lights. Why not power devices that don’t need that much juice, like cell phones and PDAs wirelessly, I thought? I was also thinking about magnetic fields in trains. Could it be possible to recharge a Palm Pilot or a cell phone from an induced current somehow? My hate of wall warts (12 volt transformers) is also well known. I was thinking for a while about a system of modules that would allow using one power cable to charge multiple devices. The system would involve a modular “multicradle” that would allow to store all devices needing powering neatly on the desk. This Friday I’ve read about a British startup that is going to produce a very cool wireless charging solution. That is going to be so cool.

Defective Detective Shops for a Pepper Mill

I am shopping for a really good pepper mill, and dammit, I can’t decide.

Right now I narrowed it down to two choices:

a) A pepper mill made by Peugeot. Supposedly Peugeot was making pepper mills even before cars. [Insert your own joke about wimpy French cars and their origins]
b) Turkish coffee grinder that was popularized as a pepper grinder by the Frugal Gourmet dude.

Ok, so let’s see what Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance taught me. Thinking romantically, it’s really cool that the grinder is made by an automobile company. It’s a great conversation starter (not that I need any of those). But thinking classically, a mechanism made for grinding Turkish coffee must be by it’s nature more robust, and have a much greater level of adjustment.

Like obsessive-compulsive detective Monk, I can’t decide.

Oooh, isn’t the salt pig adorable? Nah, I’m happy with the salt cellar that I have. Besides, it looks like a perfect place for roaches to camp out.