Thursday, January 7, 2016

Several Weeks with EnChroma Glasses

Previously.

In December 2015, I ordered some EnChroma glasses.  Mine are their indoor lens style with freeform prescription lenses.  You may have seen news stories about EnChroma glasses.  They aim to "correct" color blindness, though that's a bit misleading.  There's no way to correct color blindness and even the term 'correct' is subjective.  We may disagree on what normal color vision is or should be.

Head over to EnChroma's web site for a quick explanation of what they do and then some reaction videos of first time users.

OK, all that aside, what's it like having these glasses?  If you were wondering if there was a WOW moment when I put them on, there wasn't.  So there won't be a reaction video of me putting them on and then looking at a box of assorted LEGO bricks and crying or something like that.  Sorry to let everyone down on that.

EnChroma has an online color vision test that's based around the world famous Ishihara 38 plate test.  EnChroma adjusts what they ask you based on your responses to further refine their analysis of you.  I took the test several times and in all but one instance I was classified as a severe protan with EnChroma warning that the glasses would only have a 30% chance of having any effect on me.

It's worse than that.  The glasses are tinted and make me look like a Visitor ready to meet the Secretary General of the United Nations.  They are only really effective under specific lighting conditions.  They are meant for indoor use, but I probably need more light.

They have taken some time to get used to.  And the frames are sort of crappy.  Maybe at some point my regular optometrist will be able to offer these lenses with frames I buy.

SO IS THERE ANY EFFECT ON ME AT ALL?

Yes!  And it keeps getting a little better the more I wear them.  Here's a list of things I've noticed, in no particular order:
  1. The first day I wore them I was walking around the house noticing subtle differences in things.  Karen pointed out my shirt and I looked at that and said, "WHOA!  GREEN!"  That's the closest to a wow moment I've had with these glasses.
  2. It's much easier to watch movies and TV on our LCD screens at home.  Everyone is sharper and clearer, which I thought was already the case, but it's even more so with these glasses.
  3. Watching college football is less stressful because the uniforms of each team are different colors.  I usually look for pattern differences in helmet designs or some other insignia on the uniform to distinguish them.  This made watching the Michigan vs. Alabama game with my parents more enjoyable. 
  4. ls(1) coloring is easier to read on my laptop screen.  I liked NetBSD's ls coloring by default, the GNU coloring was all over the place.  But these glasses clean that up.
  5. Barbeque sauce and ketchup are different colors.  I previously relied on viscosity differences to tell them apart.  Barbeque sauce in general is not as viscous as ketchup, btw.  Sitting in little cups at a restaurant, barbeque sauce will tend to level out and ketchup doesn't.
  6. The cafeteria at work has a lot of red.  The serving counters are all red.  Like Red Hat red.  Oh, right.
  7. I noticed the red lights on traffic signals today, around lunch time.  They are bright red.
  8. Oh, and the yellow line on the left side of the road.  That stands out much more.  Previously, it looked sort of like an offbrand post-it note and would register as "solid line".
  9. Cumberland Farms stations around here have a green stripe wrapping their roof top.
  10. The badge readers at the office have an LED that shows red but when you scan your badge it turns to green and beeps.  I've always just tried to open the door when it beeps.  The green light is useful.
So, are there any downsides?  Of course.  Here are some:
  1. It's another pair of glasses.  I have my regular glasses and my prescription sunglasses.  I can't really wear the EnChromas all day because it's dark when I head home and I can't wear these in the dark.  I may be able to use these in place of the sunglasses for at least driving.
  2. Detail on the LCD TVs is harder to pick up.  I can see small artifacts on shows and movies, which is likely due to having more rods than cones.  With the EnChroma glasses on, those don't stand out as clearly, but I can take them off and see the artifacts more.
That's it so far.  Probably another update after I've had them for longer.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Filenames I Remember From Shareware Days

Karen and I were talking about how cool sounding the title Ombudsman is and that caused me to think about shareware back when I used DOS. Like many people, my first exposure to Unix was at university. When my parents thought about getting a computer for the house, the prospect of a $10,000 Sun workstation didn't really even get considered when dad's work was throwing out an old IBM PC.

So I used DOS early on. DOS was pretty boring by itself. It didn't do much and what it could do it didn't do fast. But that didn't stop me from collecting shareware programs from every corner I could find them.

Most shareware came packed up in some sort of archive or on a diskette. There were a standard assortment of files, usually including README.TXT. But there were others that popped up in shareware archives over time.

For example, there was almost always a statement from the Association of Shareware Professionals Ombudsman, complete with 5.25" floppy ASCII artwork. Remember this?

         ____|__     |               (R)
    --|       |    |-------------------
      |   ____|__  |  Association of
      |  |       |_|  Shareware
      |__|   o   |    Professionals
    -----|   |   |---------------------
         |___|___|    MEMBER

OMBUDSMAN STATEMENT

This program was written by a member of the Association of Shareware
Professionals (ASP). ASP wants to make sure that the shareware
principle works for you. If you are unable to resolve a
shareware-related problem with an ASP member by contacting the
member directly, ASP may be able to help. The ASP Ombudsman can
help you resolve a dispute or problem with an ASP member, but does
not provide technical support for members' products. Please write
to the ASP Ombudsman at 545 Grover Road, Muskegon, MI 49442 orsend
a CompuServe message via CompuServe Mail to ASP Ombudsman
70007,3536.

My other favorite filenames of that time period were FILE_ID.DIZ and DESCRIPT.ION.  Oh, and shareware usually had an order form in a text file.  Maybe DESC.SDI.

When I started posting software I'd written online, I would get frustrated when people would email me with questions that were very clearly answered in the first few lines of the README file.  In one case I decided that instead of calling the file README, I would call it DONTREADME.  Assuming no one reads documentation, if I explicitly name it that way, would people read it and not ask me the question?  The answer turned out to be yes...mostly.  Everyone read the DONTREADME file, but then they emailed me anyway to tell me they read the DONTREADME file and found the answer to the question they were going to ask me, and maybe I should call it a README file instead because the information in DONTREADME is actually useful.  Ugh....users.

Any one remember other filenames that were common in shareware archives?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Never Try To Order Anything From IBM. Ever.

IBM has been around for a really long time and has so many different products and business units, it should come as no surprise that two people could work at IBM for 20 years and never meet or even know what they work on.  This is common in many large companies.  Sometimes it gets a little out of hand.

I am used to dealing with large companies.  Navigating the maze trying to get what you need.  My most frequent one to deal with is Motorola Solutions, makers of various two-way radios and related equipment.  I have an account and order parts from them on occasion.  Placing an order really relies on you know the Motorola part number and obtaining that is a challenge.  The same people that place your order are not the same people that can look up parts.  To make matters more difficult, the people who can look up parts do not know what to do if a part is discontinued.  Motorola thought it would be ok to just not indicate replacement part numbers when a particular part was discontinued.

OK, so that's sort of what it's like dealing with a big company when ordering parts.  My IBM story has to do with a system at work.  A POWER8 server of some variety.  Let's call it an 8247-21L just so we have a name for it.

Now, my company is an IBM partner and we have a process in place to order hardware, open warranty tickets, and generally deal with IBM.  It works well, except when you have an odd request.  Since we are developing operating system software, we tend to need specific addons for the hardware...not things that typical end customers would order.  IBM is not set up for this.  But, our awesome team in engineering operations is prepared for this and knows how to navigate the system.  Sadly, I gave them what amounted to an impossible request.  They really did try and I have to give them props for that.

The request?  I needed to order carriers (sleds, caddies, cages, brackets, whatever you want to call them) to add additional hard disks to this 8247-21L.

NOT POSSIBLE!

First off, when you start talking to IBM about hard disks, they want you to buy a storage solution.  A big enterprise disk array.  Nope, back up.  Try again.  I'm just talking about local disk.  Or DASD.  OK, IBM gets that.  But they want to sell you the hard disk in a carrier.  Not just a naked carrier.  I mean, you might want to install a non-IBM approved part in the server.  Say, an engineering sample for something not yet released to the general public.  Believe it or not, this is quite common when working on operating systems.

Our eng-ops teams tried really hard and came close.  We almost managed to order very small disks just to get the carriers, but IBM wouldn't go for it.  They even tried CDW, but they couldn't do it either.  CDW suggested I call 1-800-388-7080 which is the number to order parts and addons from IBM.

This is where the fun began.

I called that number and began a 1 hour and nearly 5 second transfer chain across different continents, offices, and divisions at IBM all trying to order this mysterious carrier.  The number above was prepared to sell me the part if I had the part number.  They could not look it up.  OK, I know this game!  I have a Motorola account!  Transfer me to someone who can look up parts.

They transferred me to Lenovo technical support, who kindly asked me for the something something something number of the failing system.  No no, just need parts research.  OK, do you have a ThinkPad or ThinkCentre?  Neither, it's an IBM POWER system.  Ah, ok, you need to be transferred over to enterprise support.  Do it, let's go.

Enterprise support, like all previous operators started by asking for my name, company, address, city, state, county, ZIP code, country, area code, work number, mobile number, time zone, preferred language, character set encoding, Coke or Pepsi, window or aisle, and so on.  I get through all this and I give the system type and serial number.  It's not coming up.  Hmmm, that's odd.  Hold on a minute.  Type type type.  Hold more.  That's odd.  Repeat.  Eventually, "are you an IBM partner?"  Yes, I am.  "Oh, ok, well this needs to be handled by IBM Partner World, let me transfer you."

Hooray!  Repeat all of the above and get to what I want.  I want to order hard disk carriers for 8247-21L.  "Oh, for parts you need to contact technical support and they can place an order."  Really, even though I'm an IBM partner?  "Yes, they handle all parts orders."  OK, send me on over.

I'm back at Lenovo technical support in Atlanta, GA.  A woman who sounds like Paula Deen tells me to please pay close attention as the menu options have changed.  I ignore everything and just press zero.  Nothing happens.  I hit a bunch of random buttons.  I get someone.  We go through the personal history above and get to what I want.  But they can't help me.  What they can do is create a service ticket and dispatch a tech to our location so the system can be examined for what parts might be available for purchase.  Oh, and how would I like to be billed for that?  What?  The hell are you talking bout?  I ask if they can look up parts and they tell me know and suggest I go to www.ibm.com and type in the word "parts" in the search field (I'm dead serious, they suggested this).

I ask for an escalation.  I talk to the manager for this office or division or continent.  Can't remember.  I explain what I'm trying to do and how we are a partner and I normally go through eng-ops at my company, but they hit dead ends and they told me to call 800-388-7080 and that started this entire process of how I am now talking to him.  And all I want to do is order this part.

The guy is nice and explains that this isn't the normal process they are used to.  I don't know, something about how usually people in suits are involved and purchase orders and so on.  I don't care about any of that.  But he does mention one thing.  The whole problem started with me not having the part number.  And what seems to be the trend here is that IBM has ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to look up systems it has sold and determine what parts go with it.  Like, they know they need to do this, but their computers just don't have that information.  If I had a part number, they could place the order.  Even Dell has this figured out with their service tags.  And everything has a service tag.  They know what you have and what should go in it.

So he again offers to dispatch a tech (no thanks) to help get the part number.  I pass on that and decide to have someone on my team turn the damn system off and yank an existing drive.  Pop the drive out of the carrier and their should be a part number, right?

Turns out there is.

After all of that, we obtained part number 00E7600.  IBM calls part numbers an "FRU" which stands for field replaceable unit or something like that.  The FRU number is the key to the castle.  If you have that, you can order all you want.

I come in today prepared for another hour or two on the phone with IBM and decide to try a different route.  What happens if I just Google for it.

Bingo.  Dino DNA.

I was able to purchase 5 of these carriers from a vendor on eBay for $17.95 each.  Hopefully they fit and hold disks.  At this point I'm not sure I care.

Don't ever think you can order parts from IBM without knowing the part number.  What will be POWER's eventual downfall is not low market acceptance, but rather the impossible nature of dealing with IBM to actually buy anything.

Oh, and why was I wanting to add a special disk to this server?  Like most problems, we are solving bugs filed by customers and partner companies.  In this case, the bug that prompted this entire ordeal was filed by IBM.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dial Up Internet

It is 2015 and you can still access the Internet by dialing in via a modem.  Find your nearest AOL access number here:


Yes, this is a real.

Remember, dial-up Internet is free when you call from work.

Monday, March 9, 2015

On Not So Old Computers

Maybe it really is an old system, but I still don't consider a system from 2005 to be that old.  In particular, the Power Mac G5.  The last workstation system from Apple that used the PowerPC line of processors.  Apple began a move to Intel processors in 2006.

A had a Power Mac G4 for about 3 years and used it as my workstation at home during that time.  It was a dual processor system and worked quite well.  I did not buy a G5, but always wanted one.  I moved away from PowerPC systems after the G4.

Recently I picked up a dual processor G5 on eBay and have been getting it up and running again.  These things sell for a couple hundred dollars on average and may or may not need some parts to get it going.  They can use USB keyboards, mice, and LCD monitors.  You may need a display adapter as the default graphics adapters spoke DVI.

As I have been working on this system, I have hit a number of hardware problems that I forgot that we used to deal with.  Maybe newer systems have spoiled me, but even just 10 years ago we had somewhat more irritable systems.  Granted, this is Apple-specific, but Apple is not uncommon.  Here is a list of now oddball things I have dealt with in this G5, each reminding me that computer hardware has improved and we don't have to deal with a lot of this stuff anymore:]
  • The battery died.  Macintosh computers from basically the beginning up until the switch to Intel processors used a half AA size 3.6V lithium ion battery, for a more technical name it's the ER14250.  It's called half AA because it's the same diameter as a AA battery, but about half the length.  These are common enough to be able to find at electronics stores and on Amazon, but not common enough to be able to buy amongst batteries at any major retail store.

    The battery is used to back the NVRAM which stores settings for the firmware. At least in the Power Mac G5, it sort of maybe controls the SMU which is the replacement for the PMU (power management unit) in previous models. I find the PMU interesting because it's an embedded computer based on a 6502 microprocessor and controls the NVRAM and ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) for on-board ADB peripherals. The 6502 was the same processor used in the Apple II line (but not the IIgs), but now in the Mac it's been reduced to a very small embedded computer to run stuff for a larger computer. Heh.

    Battery death on Macs was common before the Intel switchover. Owners of systems would be surprised to find the system not working properly after 5 or more years, only to call 1-800-SOS-APPLE and be told to order a $30 or so battery. I think Apple made the battery choice so it would provide enough power for all system types they might make and on the assumption that customers would be buying a new computer before the 5 year mark. Well, not when you charge Apple prices I guess.
    This size battery is still readily available for a few dollars. I bought a four pack on Amazon because it was the smallest quantity that was eligible for Prime.
  • The hardware clock recorded garbage. Related to the battery death problem. Once the battery was not useful, when the system tried to store the system time to the hardware clock (NVRAM), it failed. But that failure also wrote garbage to the NVRAM. Once I replaced the battery, restoring the clock caused it to reset to some time in 1978. Even the system clock was resetting automatically after I reset it using date(1) or ntpdate(8). It was incredibly strange, but I eventually got past this hurdle through various combinations of erasing NVRAM settings, resetting the SMU, unplugging the system, and using a more recent OS to force the hardware clock value back to something usable.
  • The SATA cable for a second drive was broken.  This was just an unfortunate side effect of it being a second hand system.  The drive connector appeared to have gunk stuck in it.  I can probably find a replacement at work or just order a new one.  At least this part is standard, though I have to thread it through the beautifully designed interior of the G5 tower and hope I don't break something.
  • My replacement SATA drive was not recognized.  Here is another gotcha for G5 owners.  The system will fail to recognize a SATA disk that is not forced to operate at 150 MB/s.  Now how do you force the disk to operate in that mode?  A jumper.  Yes, a jumper.  In 2015 it seems there are cases of jumpers still being required in some corner cases.  So corner, in fact, that the disk does not come with an unused jumper meaning I had to find one somewhere.

    There is no error message here either or a failure to boot. It just doesn't see the disk. At all. So your first thought may be that the disk is dead.
The system is now up and running, though I am now experiencing the fun of figuring out the magic kernel boot parameters to make sure the ATI adapter works correctly. So far I've passed radeon.agpmode=-1 to the kernel and that at least gets me console support. X doesn't like that though. Oh well, it's an older system but one that I can get working eventually.  I am glad that current hardware is a little less picky about itself.

And some other notes I've collected:
  • If using a non-Apple keyboard, the Apple key is the same as the Windows logo key.  The Option key is the same as Alt.
  • If using a non-Apple mouse, the left button is the same as the single button on an Apple mouse.  Common mistake is to use the center button.
  • Hold down Option (Alt) to get a firmware boot menu.  It's graphical and presents icons of bootable volumes found.  It will scan for a while and display a wristwatch mouse pointer, but it is working.
  • Apple+Option+O+F gets you in to Open Firmware.  Hold this sequence down on boot up and don't let up until after the chime.  Or keep pressing it repeatedly like you're hitting a chord on a piano until you see the Open Firmware interface.
  • eject from an Open Firmware prompt ejects the optical drive.
  • mac-boot from the Open Firmware prompt boots the system in the Mac-specific way (i.e., searching for a bootable volume).
  • Pressing and holding the mouse button while the system boots up may eject the optical drive.  I dunno, doesn't seem to on my system though people online claim it works.  May be OS-specific, not firmware-specific.
  • Resetting the clock in Open Firmware is possible with the decimal dev rtc sec min hour day month year set-time command.  The values given need to be UTC.
 With the issues I've encountered with this system, I am glad I bought a tower rather than a Xserve G5 system.  It's at least a little easier to work in.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

LED Light Bulb Pricing Variance at Home Depot

For those unfamiliar with Home Depot, it is an American home improvement warehouse store that operates in North America.  Home Depot has had limited success expanding beyond North America.  The stores are very large warehouses.  Some people might refer to them as hardware stores, but that really isn't an appropriate name.  They carry far more than a traditional small hardware store.  They have a lumber area, a garden center, appliances, interior home stuff, lighting, tools, and so on.  As a new home owner, Home Depot is now a store that I frequent more than any other store.

Recently I decided to change out the various light bulbs in use in our house with LED light bulbs.  I researched different options and went to stores to see what they looked like.  I decided on Cree brand bulbs (currently exclusive to Home Depot).  I purchased 60-watt and 40-watt equivalent bulbs and a bunch of 65-watt equivalent flood light bulbs.

I found that Cree is a company that primarily manufactures the parts used by other bulb makers.  They decided to get in to the bulb and light making business to increase adoption of the technology and to lower the cost for consumers.  There is even a special page for the bulbs:  http://creebulb.com/

On the day I purchased my bulbs, I found that Home Depot sold the bulbs in packs of 4 as well as individually.  I had calculated my costs based on the individual pricing, but in the multi packs the bulbs were a bit cheaper.  I paid $4.25 per bulb before sales tax.  The individual price was $4.97 per bulb before sales tax.  That was for the Cree Model  #BA19-08027OMF-12DE26-2U100 (Internet #204592770, Store SKU #1000003071).  The description for the product is 60W Equivalent Soft White (2700K) A19 Dimmable LED Light Bulb.

Pleased with the outcome, I started recommending these bulbs to friends who were looking at LED bulbs.  In New Hampshire, a friend went to Home Depot to purchase the bulb and found it was $9.97 each.  But as a New Hampshire resident, the power company gives you a $3 per bulb instant rebate at the register, so now it's only $6.97 per bulb.  I was informed of the difference and thought that maybe I bought them on sale or something.

I checked online and they were still listed as $4.97 each individually.  If I changed my store to a New Hampshire store, the price on the bulb changed to $9.97 each.  What?  I began looking in other states and found prices were all over the place.  Here are the locations and stores I checked and the price advertised for the bulb mentioned above:

LocationStore NumberPrice of Bulb
Alabama85779.97
Alaska130210.97
Arizona4869.97
Arkansas14029.97
California6349.97
Colorado15056.97
Connecticut62104.97
Delaware16089.97
Florida2569.97
Georgia1449.97
Guam171011.47
Hawaii (Oahu)17015.97
Hawaii (Maui)17035.47
Hawaii (Kauai)170510.47
Hawaii (Big Island)84535.47
Idaho18066.97
Illinois19789.97
Indiana20126.97
Iowa21044.97
Kansas22029.97
Kentucky23159.97
Louisiana3679.97
Maine24149.97
Maryland25096.97
Massachusetts26674.97
Michigan27219.97
Minnesota28436.97
Mississippi29069.67
Missouri30216.97
Montana31019.97
Nebraska32029.97
Nevada33036.97
New Hampshire34819.97
New Jersey9107.97
New Mexico35039.97
New York12639.97
New York City (Manhattan)617710.67
North Carolina36449.97
North Dakota37019.97
Ohio68579.97
Oklahoma39069.97
Oregon40136.97
Pennsylvania41014.97
Puerto Rico640210.97
Rhode Island42854.97
South Carolina11109.97
South Dakota43019.97
Tennessee89169.97
Texas5778.98
Utah44035.97
US Virgin Islands862210.67
Vermont45014.98
Virginia46329.97
Washington47025.97
Washington, DC25833.98
West Virginia48026.97
Wisconsin49099.97
Wyoming60029.97

This list is only a sample of stores, but I tried to hit one in every state (sometimes more). The lowest price I found was a store in Washington, DC selling the bulb for $3.98. While the most expensive prices were found in New York City, Alaska, Kauai, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Actually, Guam wins here by offering the bulb at $11.47.  You're probably better off buying your bulbs at the world's largest K-Mart if you are in Guam.  A number of states offer the bulb at the price I paid, including 3 more states in New England. The standard price for the item appears to be $9.97 and special pricing adjusts from that. $6.97 and $5.97 appear to be common discounted rates. The majority of the states in the southeastern United States (where Home Depot is from) carry no discounts on these bulbs. Hawaii is a special case given its non-contiguous nature. Oahu has the bulb for $5.97, Maui and the Big Island have the bulb for $5.47, and Kauai carries the bulb at a whopping $10.47.

Home Depot clarified the pricing differences for me. In this case, the differences are related to power company and state incentives. Right now it is a common trend to reduce energy usage. LED bulbs are a cheap way to do that and some states and power companies are making deals with Home Depot to offer the bulbs at lower prices in those states. In Hawaii's case, the power companies are unique per island which explains the pricing differences there. Certain cases like New York City indicate a market difference being more likely.  And some states, such as New Hampshire, have discounts for state residents.  Those apply at the time of purchase meaning the store cannot advertise a lower price.

If you are looking at buying bulbs at Home Depot, I encourage you to look at stores near you in other states if that's possible.  Border cities expose you to multiple markets.  Kansas residents can save money buying bulbs in Missouri, for instance.  Virginia and Maryland residents should buy bulbs in DC.  New England residents should buy bulbs in one of the $4.97 states.

This is just one product at one store.  Market differences always affect pricing, but I find this difference odd because it's really driven by government incentives and/or power company incentives.  We had federal regulation mandating the phase out of incandescent bulbs, yet we have state regulations and state power companies that affect the pricing of replacement bulbs.

I guess my point is, avoid paying the $9.97 price if you can.

Monday, January 26, 2015

OMG! Expanded Polystyrene Foam Food Containers!

A McDonald's in the 1980s would proudly serve you a Quarter Pounder in an expanded polystyrene foam container.  We, the lay people of the general public, would call this container styrofoam whenever we were asked what it was made of.  We were technically incorrect, but no one cared.

StyrofoamTM is a registered trademark of Dow Chemical.  Yes, the Dow with all the trademarks but not the Dow that tracks Wall Street. It found a primary use among new home construction, being a really good insulation product.  You may have seen homes built this way and damaged sections of Styrofoam brand insulation flying around in the air at a construction site.  Yes, Styrofoam is brittle and lightweight.  New homes that I see every now and then appear wrapped in Tyvek.  I guess move over Dow and make way for Dupont.

Styrofoam has a boring technical name called extruded polystyrene foam.  Extruded and expanded sure sound similar to me, the general public, but it's important to note they are different.  Extruded polystyrene foam is also the kind of Styrofoam used for crafts.  If you put extruded (XPS) and expanded (EPS) polystyrene foams next to each other, you would notice some differences.

OK, so that's Styrofoam.  What about the other stuff.  Expanded Polystyrene Foam lacks a fun name, which is probably why we all call it Styrofoam (but it's not).  EPS is the foam used for takeout food containers, coffee cups at Dunkin Donuts, and the little trays that you buy meat on at the grocery store (sometimes).  And this is the product that small cities and towns all over the country are deciding to ban in an effort to reduce landfill usage and make us healthier.

I recently encountered this ban in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Somerville is a very small slice of a city wedged in between Cambridge, Medford, Everett, Boston, and maybe some other places maybe.  I don't know.  It lacks any discernable shape, lacks adequate transit coverage, and has the world's worst parking regulations in metro Boston.  On top of all that, they have decided to ban food containers that actually work.  Thanks!

Why the ban?  In an effort to protect us from ourselves, Somerville has decided that it will shield us from the evils of expanded polystyrene foam.  It's evil because it's dangerous for your body and it can't be recycled.  It just goes in to landfills or storm drains and chokes fish and ducks.  That happens while you suffer unknown effects on your health.  It's really the worst stuff around.

Really?

The health claim is a bit of an overreaction, much like the BPA thing in plastic containers was.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that microwaving food in one of these containers will deform the container.  Probably some of that ends up in your hot and sour soup.  This is why they tell you to not use it in a microwave oven.  More importantly, expanded polystyrene foam should not be consumed.  So don't eat it.  Both of these acts will let expanded polystyrene foam wreck your system.

There are claims that scary chemicals from EPS will leak in to your food.  This is probably true to some degree, which is also why the containers are single use.  Don't save them and use them over and over again.  For a takeout container or cup of coffee, the product works really well at keeping heat in and not adding much weight at all.  Dunkin Donuts has used EPS cups for a very long time because it actually keeps the coffee warm and you can still hold the cup.  It's so much a part of Dunkin Donuts that the EPS cup is in their logo!

BUT THEY CAN'T BE RECYCLED!

If they are single use containers, aren't we just filling up a landfill somewhere?  If you throw them away, yes.  But guess what, EPS can be recycled.  A lot of grocery stores collect foam meat trays (same material in some cases) for recycling.  They can do this because they just batch them all up and send them back to the manufacturer.  Single stream curbside recycling has not caught up to EPS packaging, but I have hope that it will one day.  Remember at one point we all had to take recycling to special centers.  There is not an easy way right now to sort EPS in a single stream system.

So how is it recycled?  Five minutes on Google will turn up a lot of results, but one that I found interesting is a company based here in Massachusetts called ReFoamIt.  This company takes EPS packaging, cleans it, compresses it, and sends it to a company in Rhode Island that then turns it in to very small plastic pellets that are used in the manufacturing of injection molded plastic products.  It's hard to get more recycley than that.

What would have been nice to see Somerville do if they are committed to protecting us from IKEA and scary food containers, is a partnership with a company like ReFoamIt to ensure containers collected in the city are recycled.  Offer incentives to businesses who choose to use alternative products, but let the business continue to choose the product they feel is best for them.

Maybe I am just bitter that Somerville is why I have to drive 30 miles to get to IKEA, but damn it, I would like my Dunkin coffee in the traditional EPS cup please.