The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Sat, 21 Nov 2015 09:25:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Spotted a zebra finch today… Sun, 08 Nov 2015 04:42:25 +0000 So I was on my layover right before starting my last trip of the night, when a bird flew into the bus shelter, and ran right into the glass sides.  The bird apparently didn’t hit very hard, because it never even appeared to act dazed.  It was like the Chumbawamba song “Tubthumping“, in that it got knocked down and then got up again.  And here it is:

A zebra finch, standing in the bus shelter

I immediately recognized what this bird was.  That was a zebra finch.  I knew what those were, because I used to raise them in the early 1990s (more on that in a moment).  This one, though, was out in the city, and was clearly having trouble finding its way out of the bus shelter.  It flew into the sides a few more times, and then flew into my behind once.  That had to have been an amusing sight for the passengers, watching their driver react loudly to a bird flying into his butt.  Of course, as my mother can tell you, I’ve never been one to take abrupt surprises like that quietly.  It eventually flew away, and thankfully not into the bus (I didn’t want to have to shoo it out).

Seeing this actually brought back pleasant memories.  When I was very young, back when we lived in New Jersey, my mother had zebra finches.  Then when we moved to Arkansas, we had parakeets (budgerigars), or, as my mother was fond of calling them, pigs on wings.  Their names were Sunny and Sky.  Sunny was a yellow female parakeet, and Sky was a blue male.  The parakeets were neat because you could give them some out-of-cage time, and they would stand around on your finger and such.  Kind of fun, but we eventually gave the parakeets away, because they were too much of a mess.

Then we had another experience with zebra finches in the early 1990s.  I wanted to have birds again, and so in January 1991, my mother got a male zebra finch that I kept in a cage in my room.  We bought it at Walmart (yes, Walmart sold more live pets than just fish until around 1992).  That first day was amusing: while we were trying to transfer it from the box that we got it in to the cage, it got out and flew all around the room.  Mom had to catch it and finally return it to the cage.

I also got a book about caring for zebra finches around the same time.  We quickly learned something from the book: zebra finches don’t do well alone.  It said:

Are you aware that Zebra Finches (like all Estrildidae species) cannot be kept singly?  Since these birds cannot become attached to humans, a Zebra Finch that is kept by itself misses very acutely the company of others of its kind and suffers from loneliness even more than many other (larger) cage birds.  The results are disturbed behavior, susceptibility to illness, and, all too frequently, death.

I showed Mom that, and soon we were back at Walmart again for a second bird.  This one was a female.  I named the newly formed pair Joel and Jane, after two swim instructors at the pool where I had lessons at the time.  And when we got Jane, Joel (the original bird) got out a second time, and had to be caught and returned to the cage.

Those two birds taught me a lot about responsibility: I had to feed them, water them, supply the grit and cuttlebones, and clean the poop out of the cage.  I usually did all of this before school in the morning.  I also got to breed them.  Mom got a wicker nest, and I hung it up in there.  We put some material in the bottom of the nest, and then the birds lined the rest with their own feces (lovely, no?).  And we had our first group of baby birds.  That was fun, watching them grow up.  We ended up forming a relationship with a pet store in Bentonville, where I sold most of the young birds for $1 each, as well as a trade for one.  With this first group, I was able to expand my flock.  I kept two birds from the original group, and then there was the bird that I got via a trade, and I got a third bird from Walmart.  So in total, I now had six finches: Joel and Jane (the original pair), Debbie and Ron (named for friends), and Bruce and Mary (named for my relatives).  Debbie and Bruce were the birds that I bred and kept, Ron was the other Walmart bird, and Mary was the trade bird.

I also quickly learned something about birds and space needs.  I had two dividable breeder cages for Joel and Jane and for Debbie and Ron.  I’m pretty sure that my parents got these cages before I was born, and they housed the zebra finches from New Jersey, then they housed the parakeets, and then they housed my zebra finches.  But for Bruce and Mary, I had a cage that was smaller than I would have liked, but I didn’t have any more breeder-sized cages – just a small one.  And Bruce plucked Mary just about bare.  I don’t remember where Mom and I got another cage from, but we got a second small cage, and separated the two so that Mary’s feathers could grow back while we came up with a permanent solution.

The permanent solution ended up being a new breeder cage.  This thing was big.  It had a double door on the front of it, i.e. a large door with a smaller door inside the large door.  It wasn’t stackable like the others were, but it was definitely a step up from the older cages.  So we shuffled things around a bit: Joel and Jane, as the original pair, got the new cage (seniority has its perks), and Bruce and Mary got Joel and Jane’s old cage.  It turned out that the plucking issue was indeed space-related, and it did not occur again when Bruce and Mary were reunited in the larger cage.  So, awesome.

With all of my space needs resolved, things went well, and I bred a number of birds, and sold them to the pet store in Bentonville.  I was particularly pleased when one of Debbie and Ron’s male offspring was a lightback.  I never really bred for any specific characteristics, though the inspiration behind the expansion from two to six birds was to improve my chances of getting some unique colorings by diversifying the gene pool, since Joel and Jane produced all standard-colored birds.

Then a sad moment came on my birthday in 1992.  I got up that morning, went to feed the birds, and I noticed that Jane was at the bottom of the cage, on her back, and not moving.  It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know what happened: Jane had died overnight.  Well, crap.  I told my parents about the death, and I indicated that I wanted to bury Jane in the backyard.  However, since I had preexisting outside plans that day, I left Jane’s body in the cage for the time being, and went out.  I got with a group from school, and we went to Braum’s for ice cream, and then saw the movie Far and Away at Dixieland Mall.  When I got back home, I was disappointed to find out that my father had cleaned up the body while I was gone, putting it in the trash outside.  I wanted to give Jane a proper burial, but that clearly wasn’t happening anymore.  I was disappointed, but I got over it.  About a week later, we got a new female bird, again at Walmart, and I named her Linda.  So it was Joel and Linda at that point.

However, that pairing was extremely short-lived.  In July 1992, my parents told me that we were leaving Arkansas at the end of August.  It would be impractical for the birds to come with us, so I had to get rid of them.  I was fine with this, because the intention was to get new birds when we got settled in Virginia.  So I visited the pet store in Bentonville for the last time, and sold my birds, and that was that.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be the end of my time as a bird breeder.  I never did get new birds in Virginia, because my father, who never was much of a pet person (and still isn’t), didn’t want to deal with it anymore.  I was disappointed, but with all of the other changes in my life at that time, having just moved to a new area and such, it was fairly easy to move on.

I always have looked back fondly on my days with the zebra finches.  Raising birds was a fun hobby.  I never made any real profit off of it, but that wasn’t the point of it.  It was fun.  I’ve occasionally thought about the idea of doing it all again, but I have mixed feelings on it.  Part of me thinks it would be fun to do, but another part of me wants it to remain a fond memory, since I’m a very different person now than I was when I was ten.

In any case, the bird at the bus shelter certainly brought back some lovely memories.

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I feel like I was shooting the photos for those motivational posters… Mon, 26 Oct 2015 03:12:46 +0000 This past Thursday, I went up to High Rock, which is a rock outcropping on South Mountain in Pen Mar, Maryland, in Washington County near the Pennsylvania border.  It reminds me a little bit of both Humpback Rock in Virginia, and the Aqueduct Bridge stub in DC.  Like Humpback Rock, it’s high on a mountaintop, however, unlike Humpback Rock, you can drive up to it and park right next to it, rather than parking down below and then hiking a mile straight uphill.  Like the Aqueduct Bridge, it’s covered in graffiti and a popular overlook point, but unlike the Aqueduct Bridge, it’s a natural feature rather than manmade.  I went up there with the intent of scouting out the location for a potential future set for the Photography section on Schumin Web.  I knew it had a view, but I wasn’t so sure about it.  I arrived just before 5:00 PM, and stayed for about an hour and a half.  While there, I let my curiosity lead the way, as I checked things out at the site and just kind of followed what I found interesting.  I don’t know which intrigued me more: the formation itself, the view, or the graffiti.

So here’s what some of the take from this outing looked like:

View from High Rock facing approximately north, towards Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The bit of stone in the foreground is actually manmade. As much as I can tell, this is some of what remains of an observatory that once stood at this site.
View from High Rock facing approximately north, towards Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.  The bit of stone in the foreground is actually manmade.  As much as I can tell, this is some of what remains of an observatory that once stood at this site.

View facing approximately west, plus peace sign graffiti.
View facing approximately west, plus peace sign graffiti.

View facing approximately southwest, with some of the lower rocks visible.
View facing approximately southwest, with some of the lower rocks visible.

Four teens sitting on High Rock, all checking their phones.
Four teens sitting on High Rock, all checking their phones.

A couple takes photos of the view with their respective phones. View facing approximately northwest.
A couple takes photos of the view with their respective phones.  View facing approximately northwest.

Two people stand on High Rock, looking out over the landscape. View facing west.
Two people stand on High Rock, looking out over the landscape.  View facing west.

Sunset. View facing southwest.
Sunset.  View facing southwest.

Sunset. View facing southwest.
Sunset.  View facing southwest.

However, as the sun started to go down, I realized something: I was shooting photos very similar to the ones that they use on those “motivational posters” that were so popular in the 1990s and 2000s.  Suddenly, my mind started coming up with inspirational and/or motivational captions for my photos.  And for some, I came up with parody captions, like those “demotivational posters” that you’ve probably seen around.

Here are some examples of what I was thinking about.  First the motivational ones:

Opportunity: Opportunity lies ahead for those who seek it.

Perspective: Never forget the big picture.

Sunset: Tomorrow is a brand new day.

And then that photo of the four teens on their phones became a parody one:

Smartphones: Because nothing beats traveling to a scenic overlook and then spending the whole time sitting and staring down at your phone.

I don’t think I could pull off a line of Schumin Web motivational posters, but the photos certainly work for the concept.  I still can’t get over that those teenagers drove all the way up to High Rock only to, you know, fumble around on their smartphones.  After all, you can do that anywhere.

And lastly, I got a photo of the Waynesboro Walmart while I was up there:

Walmart in Waynesboro

Mind you, the Walmart in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.  However, it is possible to get a similar photo of the Walmart in Waynesboro, Virginia, i.e. my ex-store, as well.  You do it from the Raven’s Roost overlook up on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Next time I’m down that way, I’ll see about getting a photo.  Funny to go to a mountain almost in Pennsylvania, and grab a photo of a Walmart in a town called Waynesboro, though.  In any case, this Walmart and adjacent Lowe’s store are really the only major commercial structures that you can make out really well from this overlook.  Most of the view is forest and farmland, as Waynesboro, Pennsylvania is a much smaller town than Waynesboro, Virginia.

In any case, I definitely want to come back here again some time and explore the area a bit more thoroughly.

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What happens to a retired Champion… Sat, 24 Oct 2015 02:51:57 +0000 After visiting Diamond Point Plaza just east of Baltimore, Elyse and I set our sights on something else, which she had spotted on South Newkirk Street a few weeks prior.  I’m talking about this:

Bus 5214, a Champion cutaway, intended for Ride On service

This is a former Ride On cutaway, bus 5214.  It’s one of the former Champion models, which were pulled from service in 2012 due to fire concerns.  I rode this particular cutaway on January 23, May 8, June 11, and July 18, 2012, each time as part of my morning commute.  In fact, this was the last Ride On Champion that I ever rode, as I had it the day that the final fire happened, after which the buses were immediately withdrawn from service.

On the outside, other than the Ride On branding and contact information’s being painted out, it still is recognizably Ride On:

We also checked out inside:

The main passenger area looks just like it did in its Ride On days, complete with that multicolor seat fabric pattern.  But towards the front, some stripping has occurred.  The farebox and stop annunciator display are gone, and I’m guessing that Ride On did that for reuse in another bus.  In addition, the cover for the steps into the right-side door on the front are inside the bus.  Go figure.  Meanwhile, I used to always try to sit in that forwardmost seat on the side-facing row, right next to the door.  That way, if the bus caught fire, I could quickly get out of there.

The driver’s area was where it was most evident that this was not a “real” transit bus:

That’s definitely not the driver’s area of a bus.  The column-mounted selector (vs. an Allison transmission pad), the column-mounted turn signal (real transit buses have the turn signals on the floor), the smaller steering wheel, the roll-down window on the driver’s door, and the general look and shape of the dashboard are good indicators that this is no bus.

Just before we left the area, we attracted the attention of and got to have a conversation with the people who now own this former Ride On cutaway.  As it turned out, they bought several of these cutaways, and the plan is to send them to Africa for use over there.  This is similar to how school buses, after being retired for school use, often end up in Latin America and elsewhere, where they see a second career.  So it’s good to see that these buses will still see some use, but I certainly hope that they get to the bottom of the fire issues that caused Ride On to pull them in the first place.  My guess is that these issues will go unresolved, because if these issues were resolvable, Ride On would have kept them in service, rather than quickly replacing them with former WMATA Orion Vs.

So I guess the Ride On Champion story has a somewhat happy ending.  While they only lasted a few years with Ride On (and for good reason), it sounds like they will have a new career overseas.  And who knows: maybe in Africa, they will get the long career that they were unable to get here.

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A shopping center full of what once was… Thu, 22 Oct 2015 00:40:18 +0000 On Thursday, October 15, my friend Elyse and I went to check out a rare thing in the area of retail: an abandoned Ames store, with the signage mostly intact, just outside Baltimore.  For those of you not familiar, Ames was a chain of discount department stores, operating, for the most part, in the northeastern United States.  Through the course of its history, Ames acquired and absorbed two other retail chains, purchasing Zayre in 1988, and Hills in 1998, converting stores from their original names to the Ames brand.  And each of these acquisitions was a contributing factor to bankruptcies.  The Zayre acquisition led to a bankruptcy that lasted from 1990 to 1992, after which the company emerged and returned to profitability.  The Hills acquisition led to a bankruptcy in 2001, which led to the chain’s demise in 2002.

The last we heard of Ames was this final voicemail:

Um, just a couple reminders.  Payroll needs to be called in by 10 AM on Monday.  Um, you can call it in at any point.  Leave a message on your payroll representative’s, uh, voice mailbox, um, either with the hours worked, or for salaried associates, number of days worked.  Um, you can call that in at any time between Saturday night and Monday morning by 10 AM.  Please make sure that the mail, um, post office, has been notified of the forwarding address to the Ames home office, 2418 Main Street, Rocky Hill, Connecticut, 06067.  Once again, uh, when leaving the building, um, set the perimeter alarms, bypass the motion.  This will, uh, help reduce the number of false alarms after we vacate.  Interior lights should be shut off by the breaker, leaving only a few night lights on, scattered around on the salesfloor.  The vacate checklist, notate anything that is left, um, from the fixture liquidator, such as any telephone equipment or ticketing equipment.  If they haven’t sold it, it will be left where it is.  The main thing with all of the fixtures and anything that has not sold is that it be left in the building neatly.  Once again, the final vacate checklist.  The photos, stamps, should be forwarded to my attention, and mailed by Tuesday, November 12.  Once again, I’d like to thank everybody for all their help and cooperation over the past few months, and I wish everybody the very best of luck in the future.

Listening to the audio of the voicemail, you can definitely detect more than a hint of sadness in the woman’s voice, especially toward the end.  It’s clear that she was very close to tears as she was recording this, as the finality of everything may have really started to hit home.  But in any case, the take-home point is that the buildings were more or less put into mothball status, and any fixtures that went unsold was left in place.

Now fast forward to this year.  I had been tipped off that there was a former Ames location just east of Baltimore at the Diamond Point Plaza shopping center, with the sign still mostly intact.  I didn’t quite know what to expect here.  I found the location on Google, but other than verifying the Ames building, I didn’t look around much on Street View.  When we got to the shopping center, we were both surprised about how empty the whole place was:

A very empty Diamond Point Plaza

The only thing missing was a few tumbleweeds rolling through the parking lot.  This shopping center was, for the most part, dead as a doornail.  The only business open in the main shopping center was the Chuck E. Cheese’s visible at the edge of the above photo, and a freestanding former Sam’s Club building housed some sort of sketchy-looking liquidation company.  Everything else was vacant.

The Ames, however, was pretty cool.  Though it was missing the front, it was otherwise entirely intact:

The Ames sign

Even the glass tubing inside is mostly intact.  I wonder how much refurbishment it would need in order to work again.  It’s pretty impressive that the sign has survived this long, i.e. that it wasn’t removed as part of the company’s vacating the store, and then has survived a few hurricanes, snowstorms, etc.  I suppose the signage was just like everything else in the store, i.e. if it didn’t sell, it was to be left where it was, neatly.  Considering that I’ve seen photos of a number of former Ames stores where the sign was left in place, I guess removal of the signage wasn’t a priority when the stores closed.  After all, it’s not like anyone would find any more operating Ames stores when they were finished.

Here are some more photos of the exterior:

As a “box store”, the exterior of the Ames was for the most part unremarkable, except for the sign.  I really loved that sign.  I also got some photos of the interior through the front window:

Interior of the former Ames store

Interior of the former Ames store

Clearly, the instruction to leave any remaining unsold fixtures in place in a neat manner was followed here, with the remaining unsold fixtures still stacked together 13 years after Ames vacated.  I also never realized that floor tiles could curl like that in the bottom photo.  However, considering that the roof is clearly in poor condition (an auction website for the property from 2012 also states that the roof, HVAC, and electrical are most likely in disrepair), I guess that the water did its thing.  Considering the amount of water damage that I saw in the building, I honestly wonder if the building is capable of safely housing another tenant, or if the water and subsequent growth of mold and such has rendered the building beyond economic repair.  Considering that the vast majority of this shopping center is vacant as well, I’m guessing that this building will probably never house another tenant again.

I also spotted an abandoned Hardee’s on an outparcel:

The building design screams “Hardee’s”, however, that faded flame signage with the section cut out of it on the front indicates that even though the building was built for Hardee’s, it was not the only tenant to occupy it.  I have no idea what this place used to be, though.  If you are familiar with what it was after it was Hardee’s, please leave a comment below!

[Update: I was informed by Reddit that this is Roy Rogers signage]

I also peeked inside through a side door that was not boarded up:

Interior of the former Hardee's

Looks like a typical Hardee’s inside.  I’m not sure how much of this decor is left over from the Hardee’s days, or if subsequent tenants redecorated.  In any case, unlike the Ames, it looks like it’s still in pretty good condition, though I don’t know who would want to open a restaurant in a dead shopping center.

I also spotted this labelscar above one of the vacated stores:

Tandy Leather

If “Tandy” sounds familiar to you, it should: this is the same Tandy name that was associated with RadioShack back in its heyday.  Tandy started out as a leather goods company, and then a few other companies, including RadioShack, in the 1960s.  The company took RadioShack as the corporate name in 2000, and the leather business was spun off to The Leather Factory around the same time.

The inside of the former Tandy Leather store was nothing particularly remarkable, so here it is:

Interior of the Tandy Leather store

Elsewhere in the shopping center, there was only one remaining tenant:

Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza

Yes, the only remaining tenant was a Chuck E. Cheese’s, with a vintage exterior sign.  According to the aforementioned auction website, they are on a month-to-month lease, so it is conceivable they could pull out of the shopping center at almost any time, with or without notice.  Elyse ended up having to attend to a personal need while we were at Diamond Point Plaza, so we went in.  I had never been to a vintage Chuck E. Cheese location before (I was a ShowBiz kid, after all), so I can’t speak much about the layout or decor’s vintageness, nor am I exactly sure when the location opened, but there was a sign for “Show Room” over the entrance to the main dining room, and that’s where I settled in to wait for her.

The show was a “two-stage” setup, with Cyberamic animatronics:

The two-stage setup at Diamond Point Plaza.

This show was, to put it nicely, pathetic.  The sound on the show was turned way down, meaning that you could see the lights and watch the animatronics move, but the only audio that you got was the mechanical clacking sounds that were a byproduct of the pneumatic systems that create the movement.  Generally speaking, if you can hear that clacking sound, then the show audio isn’t up loud enough.  This clacking of the animatronics isn’t particularly loud, and so it doesn’t take much to drown it out.  So if you can hear it, that’s really bad.  The show was actually louder in the restrooms than in the show room, for whatever that’s worth.  Of course, it’s not like the show used the animatronics that much in the first place.  Most of the show occurred on the television screens, and the animatronics just randomly moved around.

I’ve always considered the cyberamic versions of the Chuck E. Cheese characters to be inferior to the ShowBiz animatronics (i.e. the ones built for The Rock-afire Explosion, later retrofitted to CEC characters).  The cyberamic bots don’t have as many movements as the Rock-afire ones, nor are those movements particularly realistic.  Then there are two things that bother me about the cyberamic stage as set up for Munch’s Make Believe Band:

Munch's keyboard
The keyboard.

Pasqually's drum face
The drum face.

The keyboard, in the former Rock-afire shows, was reused from Fatz, the keyboard-playing gorilla.  This same prop was then recreated for the cyberamic stages when they were updated to the same design as the former Rock-afire stages.  That just bugs me in “annoyed” sense, but the drum face is worse.  The image on the drum face is from The Rock-afire Explosion, and it doesn’t make sense with the Chuck E. Cheese configuration.  The Concept Unification video showed a new face on the drum.  It’s one thing for this to be overlooked and left in place on the old Rock-afire stages, but to fabricate new Rock-afire drum faces for the cyberamic show really bugs me, because they had their own design and didn’t use it, instead deploying a design that was alien to the rest of the concept.

And then Elyse and I had matching outfits on this particular day:

Matching Power Rangers shirts, pants, and hats.  Yeah.  It was kind of fun, but I also told her that we’re never doing that again.  Realize that we went a few places after leaving Diamond Point, and at every single place we went, someone thought we worked there.  Seriously.  Two people in matching outfits, people think it’s a uniform, even though it looks nothing like what the real employees wear, and start asking questions.  It’s scary how little people pay attention to their surroundings, and how little they think about things.  In any case, after one too many of those encounters, you really just want to say to someone, “No, I do not f—ing work here, and therefore, no, I do not know which aisle has your hemorrhoid cream.”

We also had a small transit-related adventure on this same day, but I’ll post about that separately.

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“He offered her the world…” Thu, 15 Oct 2015 03:50:49 +0000 I’m always surprised to see how some of my photos are used.  I recently got a membership with Pixsy, which skims the Internet for potentially infringing photo usages, and then allows the user to go after infringing users to get them to pay for their usage.  One photo that surprised me as a frequent candidate for infringements was this one from 2003:

This photo is from the Mill Mountain Park By Night photo set, and was one of 29 photos from that set.  Most of the photos from that very old set lacked creativity in their composition and overall came off as uninspired, but the above photo was always a favorite of mine.

I have a feeling that the popularity of this infringement came about via the social media equivalent of “monkey see, monkey do”.  One posted it, and then others followed.  The caption was always, “He offered her the world.  She said she just wanted _______.”  That blank was then filled with whatever the place sold, like pizza, seafood, tacos, breakfast, etc.  While I threw the DMCA book at every single one of these usages that I found, the fact that they all followed the same form made me think of Match Game.  So I presented it to my “panel” on Facebook, and I got the following answers:

  • The rights to this photo
  • A ham sandwich
  • His half
  • To pee
  • About tree fiddy
  • E.T. phone home

Makes me wonder what the likes of Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Marcia Wallace, Richard Dawson, Betty White, and others would have said to this question.  This question also sounds like something that we could work “Dumb Dora” into.  Something along the lines of, “Dumb Dora is so dumb…  (How dumb is she?)  She’s so dumb, that when he offered her the world, she said she just wanted blank.”  (You can hear this in Gene Rayburn‘s voice, can’t you?)

So how would you answer it?  Leave a comment below with your best responses.

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An afternoon at the Trolley Museum… Wed, 23 Sep 2015 03:20:12 +0000 This past Sunday, I was at the National Capital Trolley Museum with Elyse.  Unlike most days, where they only run one or two streetcars, this particular day, they were running four.  They were running a streetcar from Brussels (by way of Grand Cypress Resort in Florida), a streetcar from New York City’s Third Avenue Railway, the 1971 PCC car from The Hague, as well as an open-air car referred to as “the boat“.  We got to ride the first three, but the boat had already been brought in for the day by the time we got there.  Ah, well, there’s always next time, as I literally only live two and a half miles away.

These are the cars that we got to ride.  First, the former Brussels car:

Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (STIB) 1069

Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (STIB) 1069

Then this is the New York car:

Third Avenue Railway System (TARS) 678

And then finally, the PCC from The Hague:

Haagsche Tramweg-Maatschappij (HTM) 1329

Haagsche Tramweg-Maatschappij (HTM) 1329

You may recall the 1971 PCC car from The Hague from a photo feature in late 2013.  I also got a photo of Elyse with the Hague car:

Elyse with the Hague car

I also got a photo of the operator’s console for the Hague car:

The controls of HTM 1329

I find it quite interesting, when watching the people operate the PCC cars, that they are controlled entirely by foot pedals.  Seriously – our operator on this car today was resting his hands on top of the console.  That all-foot control always surprises me, especially since, obviously, buses have steering wheels, and Metro’s railcars use a hand controller.

In addition to all of these other cars, one of the museum’s Toronto streetcars, which I’ve ridden in past visits, was outside on the tracks, but not running in passenger service on this particular day.

We also visited the car barn, seeing a number of other cars in the museum’s collection, including this Washington DC PCC car:

DC Transit's PCC car 1101, next to "the boat"

This car operates on museum trips, but unfortunately, it wasn’t operating on this particular day.  “The boat” is on the adjacent track.

We also spotted an interesting labelscar on one of the older DC cars awaiting restoration:

Note one logo over another.  “Capital Transit” was the name of the streetcar operation until 1956, after which it became DC Transit until streetcar service ended.  I wonder which logo this streetcar will end up with when it is eventually restored.

On our way out of the car barn, Elyse spotted a stack of papers with images of streetcars on them, and a container full of crayons for use with the papers.  She suggested that I give it a spin, so I decided, “Why not?”  I got to coloring, and thought about things.  You may or may not be aware that the streetcar network, after being converted to buses in the early 1960s, eventually became Metrobus.  Metrobus, as you may know, now wears a red livery, whereas the old DC streetcars wore a green livery.  With the coloring page, I decided to envision what the old streetcars would look like in the modern Metrobus livery:

A PCC streetcar in the current Metrobus scheme

Pretty sharp, if you ask me!  And yes, I did forget to color the doors, thank you very much.

All in all, I like the Trolley Museum.  It’s one of those places that I’m always happy to visit with friends and family.  I’ve been four times.  The first time was with Matthew and his mother back in 2011, I went in 2013 with my friend Pete, I took Mom earlier this month while she was in town for the National Book Festival, and then I went with Elyse and her mother on Sunday.  Vintage streetcars are certainly fun.  Mom even said that operating streetcars for the museum might be something fun to do after I eventually retire.  And who knows – she might very well be onto something.

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Hello… Roanoke? Wed, 16 Sep 2015 21:46:10 +0000 This past Friday, I was out with my friend Elyse checking out a few interesting shopping centers in the Baltimore area.  We weren’t so much interested in shopping as we were in seeing the centers themselves, and their various eccentricities.  We first visited Owings Mills Mall, which is a large. two-story facility in Owings Mills, Maryland that contains only six tenants: Bath & Body Works, DTLR, Gymboree, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Victoria’s Secret.  Needless to say, this was a dead mall.  Then we visited the Centre at Glen Burnie, which is a small and well-hidden single-level indoor mall off of Route 2 in Glen Burnie.  This was no dead mall by any means, but its being an enclosed mall surprised me.  I’d been by this shopping center many times in the past, and shopped at the Target store there, and never would have guessed that this was an enclosed mall.  Then our third and final mall was Security Square, a mid-sized single-level mall in Woodlawn.  Security Square was interesting for its former JCPenney building, which, after Penney’s closed, was converted to “Seoul Plaza”, a mall-within-a-mall consisting mostly of Korean businesses, though now approaching dead mall status (though the rest of the mall is doing well).

However, the biggest surprise of the day came as Elyse and I were walking through the Sears wing of Security Square.  Does this remind you of anywhere in particular?

A big star on an island of rides

I knew that star, attached to a raised island full of kiddie rides, from somewhere.  It clearly resembled the Roanoke Star, with the red, white, and blue lighting that it sported from 2001 to 2011.  I was initially inclined to think of it as a weird coincidence, and so Elyse and I continued to check out the mall, spending most of our time in the Seoul Plaza area.  Coming back through here on our way out, walking towards it and facing it, it really struck us that this was Roanoke, Virginia.  Check out the full view:

The whole display really struck me at that time.  The mountains.  The railroad track and signal.  The star with the red, white, and blue lighting.  It had to be referring to Roanoke, a railroad town in the mountains of Virginia, with a large, neon star on one of the mountains.

After we left the mall, I did some digging around to determine if it was, in fact, supposed to be Roanoke.  Back in the summer of 2006, I had taken a few photos of Valley View Mall in Roanoke with my cell phone for use on Wikipedia.  The photos were taken from the upper level, and showed the food court area that’s located near the Sears and Belk stores.  Take a look:

Food court area at Valley View Mall in Roanoke, Virginia, June 13, 2006

Food court area at Valley View Mall in Roanoke, Virginia, June 13, 2006

Even though they were taken with a vastly inferior camera compared to what I now use, they contained the information that I needed to confirm my suspicions.  Take a look:

From the top photo.
From the top photo.

From the bottom photo.
From the bottom photo.

The top blue part has been rounded off and the crossbuck is now slightly up and to the left of where it was before, but enough other details match to make me comfortable in saying that it’s the same one.

And, when I was last at Valley View in September 2014, the ride island was gone:

Food court area at Valley View in 2014, showing the ride island missing.

No more rides, as the space has been replaced with additional seating.

Also, interestingly enough, one of the original rides is still there, specifically the space shuttle:

The space shuttle appears in the background of this photo at Security Square.  It's in a different place than before, but still present.

There it is at Security Square.  I commented on the same ride in The Year That Was, a Life and Times photo set from 2006:

At that time, I commented on the design, saying, “On August 9, while in Roanoke, I noticed this ride, designed to resemble the Space Shuttle.  Upon closer inspection, it appears that it was based specifically on Columbia, based on the black ‘chines’ on the wings, and the ‘USA’ marking.”

So I guess we now know what happens to things at shopping malls when they’re removed.  They get sold and end up at another mall, even if certain details made specifically for the original location no longer make sense.

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While hunting for a photo… Sun, 30 Aug 2015 01:29:21 +0000 Yesterday, I was hunting through my archives to find a photo to show a friend.  My photo archives are arranged by subject and by date.  If I took a bunch of photos in a single day, then all of those photos typically go into a folder marked with the general subject of the photos and the date.  One-off photos usually get dated, marked with their subject, and get put in a folder with all of the one-off shots for the month.  The photo that I was looking for depicted a bus sign after the normal text for that route had changed.  So I knew what it was, and knew what the photo looked like.  I also knew that the photo was a one-off, since I took the photo at Glenmont on the way home from work.  However, I didn’t remember exactly when I took it.  I had an approximate range for when I took it, but didn’t quite know.  So that meant that I needed to hunt.

First of all, I was successful in finding the photo.  Here it is, dated September 24, 2012:

Route Y5, destination MedStar Montgomery Medical Center

I was trying to find the photo of the destination sign for northbound Y buses that I took right after the destination signs were changed from “Montgomery General Hospital” to what you see here.  It was a mouthful on the sign, but it worked well enough.  This message would later be changed to drop “MedStar” from the sign.

In the process of finding this photo, however, I made a nice trip down memory lane, seeing many old photos, some of which had interesting memories, and a lot of which never got discussed on the website for whatever reason (though they probably did hit social media).

So here are a few selections.

Converting the Million Worker March photo set to WordPress
I took this photo on December 17, 2011.  This was part of the big “Falcon” project from a few years ago, where I converted the entire website to run under WordPress.  This struck me as interesting for a few reasons.  First, my desk looks so different in this photo.  Different speakers, different right-side monitor, different mousepad, and, most importantly, different desk!  Then of course, the content on the screens depicted events that had occurred seven years earlier at the time that the photo was taken, and almost eleven years now.  And then the website looked different back then, too.  This was the last year of the 2008-2012 site design, which used the square pattern.  It’s photos like this that really make you think about how much things have changed, even when you don’t necessarily realize it as it’s going on.

This sign was located next to a tree in front of the Webster House condominium building on P Street NW in Dupont Circle, and was placed in the summer of 2011.  I had to walk past this sign every day when I worked at Food & Water Watch.  With this sign, one really had to question which was the bigger bother: dogs’ doing their business in this area, or this sign.  I’d argue that the sign is worse than the original problem.  Apparently someone agreed with me, because the sign was eventually removed.

A man with a briefcase
I spotted this guy on the Metro on October 18, 2011 while I was heading into work.  I remember thinking about how important looking that metal briefcase looked, and how he must have some important stuff in it.  Imagine my surprise to discover that the important stuff that he was carrying around in that metal briefcase was… his lunch.  I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say it was something of a letdown to see his lunch in there.

USPS 1, Food & Water Watch 0.  USPS 1, Food & Water Watch 0.
I was quite surprised one day to receive this in the mail along with a note from the post office.  Apparently, there was a battle between the USPS’s equipment and the Food & Water Watch bottle, and the post office clearly won.

Trogdor the Burninator, beefy arm and all.
On March 2, 2012, I found myself at the Brookstone store in Tysons Corner.  This overpriced trinket was an electronic tablet that you drew on with a special pen and then pressed a button to erase.  I tested it out with Trogdor from Homestar Runner, and I suppose it did well enough, for whatever that’s worth.

Back on May 15, 2012, I attempted to draw a cow.  Clearly, any connection between this drawing and a real cow requires a bit of imagination to make.  However, I at least hinted as to what it was supposed to be, with the little speech balloon that says “moo”.

This was a poster that I did for some sort of holiday thing at work, though what the exact purpose it was to serve is now lost to time.  It does, however, contain a very subtle easter egg for Today’s Special fans: the snowmen.  It is from the “Which snowman is different?” quiz from “Snow“.

So there are a few old photos of mine.  I hope you enjoyed them.  I might have to do this again next time I go digging around the archives.

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I think they just took the “uh-huh” out of Diet Pepsi… Thu, 20 Aug 2015 22:25:08 +0000 You may recall that I made a Journal entry back in April regarding some blown blood vessels in my eyes.  Turns out that my body will no longer allow me to have coffee, after I discovered that no matter whether it was commercially brewed, brewed at home, cheap coffee, or expensive coffee, I would be awake with an upset stomach.  And it was very sudden, too.  One day, I could drink as much coffee as I wanted, and then the next, it was verboten.  Ultimately, I had to give up coffee completely, which some of my former coworkers might be quite surprised to hear.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t the caffeine that was causing the problems, but something else in the coffee that was causing me problems.  Therefore, I ended up replacing coffee with diet soda in order to get my caffeine.  After initially bouncing between different diet sodas for a while, I eventually became a regular Diet Pepsi drinker.  It seemed to work for me, and it tasted pretty good.

Then they started fooling around with the sweetener.

You may have heard the news a few months ago that Pepsi was planning to discontinue the use of aspartame in Diet Pepsi, and replace it with sucralose.  For those not familiar with the generic names, aspartame has been marketed under the names NutraSweet and Equal, and sucralose has been marketed as Splenda.  Then this past Tuesday, I was at the grocery store, and spotted this:

Diet Pepsi, "Now Aspartame Free"

I bought two bottles of it, like I usually do, but didn’t think much of it otherwise at the time.  I figured that the folks at Pepsi knew what they were doing, and the soda would taste the same as it did with aspartame.  Much to my disappointment, the change in sweetener is very noticeable.  I’ve never been a big fan of Splenda, because I feel that it has something of an off taste compared to sugar, Equal, and stevia, and it also leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.  And you can definitely taste the sucralose in the new Diet Pepsi.

Then I was thinking today, and remembered the old Diet Pepsi commercials from the 1990s featuring Ray Charles.  Those commercials usually ended like this:

"You got the right one..."  ""

"...uh-huh!"  "With 100% NutraSweet."

And on that last image, a guy on voiceover would say, “With 100% NutraSweet.”  And remember that for purposes of this discussion, NutraSweet = aspartame (even though technically, the former is one of several trade names for the latter).

As the ad campaign progressed, they started putting a bigger emphasis on “uh-huh”, including going so far as to say that the beverage had “100% uh-huh”, as seen here in a later ad spot:

"With 100% uh-huh."

In ad spots containing either ending, the NutraSweet logo was shown in the lower left corner of the screen at some point during the ad.  So as far as I’m concerned, one could reasonably conclude that the artificial sweetener was the “uh-huh” in Diet Pepsi.

And now, they’ve taken it out.  Diet Pepsi now tastes terrible as a result.

I can understand why Pepsi would opt to ditch aspartame, however.  Aspartame has a good bit of baggage when it comes to potential health effects, and as far as I can tell, the jury is still out about whether aspartame is really as hazardous to one’s health as some will have you believe.  If nothing else, the switch to sucralose is a PR move.  Noting the way they’ve branded the bottles with the introduction of the modified formula, I’m convinced that it’s exactly that – just a PR move.  And if they wanted to change the sweetener just to look better, they could have done way better than sucralose.  After all, Diet Coke came in a Splenda-sweetened form for a few years in the mid-2000s, and that was discontinued after, as far as I can determine, it did rather poorly in sales.  And understandably so – Splenda tastes awful.

If Pepsi wanted to change the sweetener to something that wasn’t aspartame, they should have gone with stevia.  Stevia has two main benefits compared to aspartame.  First of all, it’s not aspartame, and thus doesn’t have all of the aspartame baggage.  Second, it doesn’t have the off-taste and unpleasant aftertaste that sucralose has.  It tastes a lot more like both aspartame and sugar than sucralose does.  Back when I used to drink coffee, whenever I made coffee at home, I would use stevia to sweeten it.  When I got coffee outside the house, I usually sweetened with Equal (or whatever brand was on the blue aspartame packet).  Whenever I made tea by the gallon at home, I normally used either Equal Spoonful or a similar spoonable stevia product – whichever was available and cheaper.  I’ve also had stevia-based colas before (Zevia), and they were quite good.

And if not stevia, they should have gone with monk fruit.  I used that briefly in my coffee and my tea around 2012, and I loved it.  Zero calories (and therefore guilt-free), and it tasted just like sugar.  The only reason that I didn’t continue to go with the monk fruit sweetener was because I felt that it was too expensive compared to the alternatives.  More recently, I found Skinny Girl-brand monk fruit sweetener in the grocery store, and then I couldn’t find it anymore.  It was just as awesome as the spoonable kind.  Apparently it’s still being made, but I can’t find it in stores, and I’m not paying more than the price of the product in shipping fees to get it online.

Or, of course, they could reverse course and put the aspartame, i.e. the “uh-huh”, back in and call it a day, but somehow, I don’t see that happening.

And in the meantime, I need to figure out a new diet soda of choice.  This new Diet Pepsi is awful, and after I finish the two bottles that I’m already committed to, I’m done with them unless they change the sweetener again.

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The speed van… Thu, 30 Jul 2015 01:04:10 +0000 While I was out yesterday, I spotted this van parked on the side of Bonifant Road in Greater Silver Spring (Colesville) near the Trolley Museum and the Intercounty Connector bridge:

White Ford Transit Connect van with "Safe Speed" on the door

This is a white Ford Transit Connect van, with the “Montgomery County Safe Speed” logo on the driver’s side door.  This struck me as something that merited further investigation, because the county has been using Bonifant Road to raise revenue through speed enforcement for years.  I’ve seen police sitting on the road, and there have been fixed speed camera boxes in various places along this road over the years.

So I checked it out.  I peeked in the window, and there was the camera:

The camera unit inside the van, viewed through the windshield

The camera unit inside the van, viewed through the passenger-side window

The camera unit inside the van, viewed through the driver-side window

There was also this device on the front of the vehicle:

Front-mounted device on the Safe Speed van

I don’t know specifically what this bumper-mounted device does, but considering the light on it, I suspect that it’s part of the speed-enforcement unit.

And then here are a few more views of the van:

Then there were these markings on the pavement near the van’s rear tires:

"1071" painted on the ground next to the speed van

"1071" painted on the ground next to the speed van

I have also seen similar markings painted directly onto the fixed speed camera boxes, near the bottom.  I do not know exactly what these numbers mean, but my best guess is that these are identifiers for camera locations.

In any case, be on the lookout for these sorts of vehicles parked on the side of the road when driving in Montgomery County.  They contain camera equipment, and exist for the purpose of separating you from your $40.

Now in the case of Bonifant Road, it runs east-west for 2.4 miles between Layhill Road and New Hampshire Avenue, and is one of several names carried by a much longer roadway (it begins as Emory Lane, becomes Bel Pre Road at Norbeck Road, becomes Bonifant Road at Layhill Road, and changes to Good Hope Road at New Hampshire Avenue, ending at Route 198), it is two lanes for almost its entire length, has relatively wide shoulders, and has many long, straight sectios separated by very gentle curves.  The speed limit is 35 mph for its entire length.  Considering the amount of speed enforcement that I’ve seen, I would suggest that the problem is the speed limit itself more than drivers’ driving too fast along the road, and the county has chosen to exploit this problem to raise revenue rather than instituting a permanent fix for the problem.  I usually end up driving this road in my car about once a week, when I’m going to destinations northeast of me.  The speed cameras activate at 12 mph over, and I see most drivers going about 45 mph except around the cameras, where they drop down to 35 until they’re out of range, and then resume the faster speed.

My opinion is that a speed limit should fit the road.  Thus exceeding a speed limit should cause the driver to genuinely feel as if they are moving at unsafe speed.  If you can speed on a road and not realize that you are speeding until you look down at your speedometer, then the speed limit is set too low for the road.  At the same time, if the authority having jurisdiction over a road wants drivers to slow down, then it should be done by modifying the road to make drivers do this naturally.  There is a term for this: traffic calming.  I’m not in favor of speed enforcement by any means, but I’m all for traffic calming.

For those not familiar, traffic calming takes the form of physical measures designed to make drivers travel more slowly, and increase bicycle and pedestrian safety.  Here’s an example of traffic calming on my street:

Traffic calming island on my street, installed in 2010

This was one of three islands that were added to the street in late 2010.  Stops for Ride On’s 51 bus were relocated to coincide with these islands.  These served two purposes: to slow down traffic by narrowing the street, and to provide a safer way for bus riders to cross the street by providing the island as a refuge, plus crosswalks to mark where to expect pedestrians.  I used to comment that when I worked in Dupont Circle, the two most dangerous parts of my commute were crossing Massachusetts Avenue at its intersection with Dupont Circle, and crossing the street where I live.  This eliminated that danger area.  I greatly appreciated the safer crossing, and I also tried, late at night, to see if it was possible to navigate through this area at the road’s posted speed limit of 30 mph in the car.  It turns out that you can, but it’s a little too tight to do so comfortably.  Seems that the island was successful in its mission.

And it’s not more speed humps, which I absolutely can’t stand.  Even more so after I went over this speed bump a little bit too quickly in the bus during training, nearly throwing the training instructor into the floor.

Here’s another example, from Route 198, near Burtonsville:

Image: Google Street View

This island is not for pedestrians, but rather, it serves to slow traffic down going west on Route 198.  The speed limit through here is 40 mph, but very few people actually go that slowly.  50 is closer to what people actually do in this area.  However, going through that stretch of westbound 198, you can’t help but slow down, because that stretch of roadway is narrow.  Note the way the truck in the picture above more or less just fits through that area.  You will slow down through here, not for fear of getting a ticket, but rather so as not to damage your own vehicle.

And that last point is exactly the idea behind traffic calming.  You will slow down to the desired speed because you can’t safely go any faster due to the road conditions.  If you try to go faster, you will cause an accident.  Of course, the only problem with traffic calming is that these measures don’t raise money like speed enforcement does.  Traffic calming is a permanent solution to the problem, but it costs money to implement, and then doesn’t provide a nice revenue stream after it’s been implemented.

You do, however, have to hand it to Maryland with the way they’ve handled automated speed enforcement.  The fine for a camera ticket is $40.  That’s enough to annoy you, but not enough to make you contest the camera ticket, especially since it comes with no points on your license.  On the two occasions when I’ve gotten nailed by a speed camera (once each in 2011 and 2014), I paid the fine online just like I would any other bill, figuring that they needed that $40 a lot more than I did.

So please keep an eye out for these vans, and drive safely.

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Preserve community heritage, and keep names local… Thu, 23 Jul 2015 19:23:01 +0000 In the wake of the June 17 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, a movement has come up to remove things related to the Confederacy from places of honor, and relegate them to history.

That said, if things go that way, a lot of things named for people who fought for the Confederacy will be up for renaming soon.  Among other things, there is discussion about renaming Jefferson Davis Highway in Virginia.  In addition, there has been longstanding discussion in Staunton, Virginia about renaming the city’s public high school, currently named for Robert E. Lee, if it moves from its current, dated building to a new building on a different site.

Now as far as I’m concerned, history is where the Confederacy belongs.  I mean, the south lost the Civil War 150 years ago.  It’s time that people stopped fighting it, already.  However, when it comes to naming places for people, there are different ways to go about it.  One way is to name things for a prominent national figure, either current or historical, and the other is to search for someone with a direct connection to the area.  If the title of the post didn’t give it away, I support the latter more than the former.

As I see it, naming places and things after national figures represents the Walmartification of our history and our communities.  What do I mean by this?  Take this Walmart store, for example:

A Walmart Supercenter, in some town.

Without any other context, I’d imagine that you would be hard-pressed to figure out where this store is located.  It could literally be anywhere.  This could be the Walmart in your town.  Or the next town over.  Or in the next county.  Or, for all you know, it could be halfway across the country.  (Spoiler: it’s in Laurel, Maryland.  But you get my drift.)

Same goes for names.  If you name a place after a president or another national figure, there is nothing that sets you apart from all of the other places that are named for that same national figure.  For instance, there are 16 different high schools in 13 different states named for Thomas Jefferson.  Likewise, there are 26 different high schools in 16 different states named for John F. Kennedy.  I would bet that in most of the examples for both Jefferson and Kennedy, these people had no actual connection to these places.  For instance, I’m guessing that Thomas Jefferson never visited San Antonio, Texas or otherwise did anything in connection to the town.  Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with naming a place after a national figure.  It’s a name for a place.  However, these names for national figures don’t have much character to them.  It’s as if they pulled a name out of a hat.  One could imagine that such places could just as easily have been named for George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, or another president.

It’s also why I found it laughable that while I was a student at James Madison University from 1999-2003, there was a push by the administration to strengthen the connections between the former president and the university that bears his name.  After all, President Madison had been dead for more than a century when the college was named for him.  The university had no connection to Madison other than a name.  I always thought that the statue of James Madison that was installed on campus in 2002 seemed a bit out of place.  However, the names of many of the buildings on campus reflected the institution itself, rather than an imagined connection to an historical figure.  The library was named for a university president, “Uncle” Ronald Carrier.  The business building was named for Zane Showker, a local businessman who donated money to many causes, including the university.  And likewise, the university’s athletic program used the name “Dukes”, which was in honor of the university’s second president, Samuel Page Duke.

Place names are really what puts a town on the map.  Any town can have a school named for a national figure who had no local connection.  It also takes away an opportunity to honor an upstanding local citizen who may not be very well known outside the town, but who nonetheless left their mark on the town.  For instance, my old elementary school in Rogers, Arkansas is named for Bonnie Grimes, a local educator, i.e. someone from the town who left a mark on the city’s schools.  The school system could have easily named the school for a president or someone else, but they chose a local educator.  Thus the name itself becomes a lesson in local history, by bringing attention to a prominent local citizen.  It becomes something distinct to Rogers.  When you think of Bonnie Grimes Elementary, Rogers, Arkansas immediately comes to mind, because it’s unique to the town.  Name it after George Washington or another national figure, and the name could be in any town.

I think the only reason that national figures get the names so often is because it’s easy to do.  Everyone knows who these people were, and the name doesn’t require much explaining, nor does it require any research.  And you end up getting the town that you deserve, full of generic place names that you could find in any town, with no emphasis on the community.  Naming something after a member of the community requires more work, since the people being honored are not necessarily household names.  Thus they require more research to identify, and more work to explain the significance of these people in the modern era.  But it’s worth it because you end up with something that is unique to the community.

As of late, I’ve noticed that many jurisdictions have named some sort of thoroughfare for civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King.  On its face, it seems sound enough: we want to recognize the struggle for equal rights, and so who better than Dr. King, perhaps one of the most recognizable public faces of the movement.  Harrisonburg, Virginia did exactly that, renaming Cantrell Avenue for Dr. King in 2013.  Aside from the idea of eliminating the name of a major roadway that has a strong association with Harrisonburg, even if the origins of the “Cantrell” name are not completely understood, it fails to recognize any contributions from local citizens to the issue of civil rights.  Don’t get me wrong, though: I’m not trying to downplay any of King’s contributions to the issue of civil rights, and King did great work in that area.  But I thought that they could have done more to spotlight the city’s own history.  Carrier Library at JMU has a work entitled Integration: the African American experience in Harrisonburg, Virginia in its collection.  Perhaps that could have been used to help determine a person to recognize regarding civil rights, and spotlight their contribution to civil rights in Harrisonburg.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the identity of a community should be rooted in that community.  Recognizing community members when it’s time to determine place names, and not contributing to the Walmartification of our history and cities by only naming for national figures, is something that more places should do.  By keeping names local, it emphasizes a community’s own rich heritage, and that’s worth preserving.

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Finally, a road photo that I didn’t have to research… Sun, 12 Jul 2015 02:12:12 +0000 Whenever I find a photo online showing something amusing on the road, I always like to find out the location.  I’ve become rather skilled at looking at background details in photos to sleuth out locations after posting and geotagging countless photos on Panoramio, as well as researching filming locations for Project TXL (a planned overhaul of the Today’s Special site).  So imagine my delight to see this funny road photo, showing Thomas the Tank Engine being transported on the back of a truck:

Original caption: "My buddy saw Thomas the Tank Engine getting kidnapped earlier this morning."
Photo: Imgur

No need to do any research for this photo’s location.  This is northbound Interstate 81, at the southern edge of Harrisonburg.  See for yourself.  I know this location very well from countless trips up and down I-81.  After all, this spot is about 30 minutes north of my parents’ house.

For those not familiar, this is why I love the Internet.  For photos where I do have to research, I’ll usually pick out a background detail in the photo, usually something written, and latch onto it.  Here’s an example, from an episode of Today’s Special:

This is the Little Pie Shoppe in Toronto, which appeared on the episode “Noses“.  My initial research on this location was a bit direct, i.e. I googled the name.  I got an address, and it went to a location that was completely unrecognizable, and too modern for what I was after.  Watching the episode again, I latched onto that “2568” in the upper left corner of the photo.  That’s an address.  I guessed that it was likely on Yonge Street, and I turned out to be right.  Street View for 2568 Yonge Street in Toronto gave me a match.  Even though the building has since been painted and the signage is different, it’s still recognizable, and the details under the second-story windows matched exactly.  Win.

And believe it or not, I enjoy doing this sort of research.  I always get a rush when I can determine a location, especially, in the case of Today’s Special, where the source footage is 30 years old.

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Yes, I made it to New York City… Sat, 13 Jun 2015 07:55:52 +0000 Just in case the current photo feature’s being of One World Trade Center didn’t tip you off, I’m happy to say that yes, I did recently make it to New York City for that day trip that I had wanted to do on my birthday but quickly realized that I couldn’t do.  So I regrouped, and did it the way that works best for me: planned in advance.  I got together with my friend Doreen, and we went up on June 9.  And here’s proof:

Doreen got this photo of me at the 81st Street subway station on the IND Eighth Avenue Line.
Doreen got this photo of me at the 81st Street subway station on the IND Eighth Avenue Line.

I got this photo of Doreen at 10 St. Luke's Place in Greenwich Village, which most will probably recognize as the house from The Cosby Show.
I got this photo of Doreen at 10 St. Luke’s Place in Greenwich Village, which most will probably recognize as the house from The Cosby Show.

This was the first time visiting New York for both of us, and we had tons of fun in what could definitely be described as a whirlwind trip.  I’m going to give this trip a more detailed treatment in a Life and Times photo set, but I did want to indicate that one of the things that helped ruin my birthday two weeks ago has now been resolved.

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“No, really, folks: enough with the ‘happy birthday’ messages. Just stop.” Sun, 31 May 2015 03:50:14 +0000 Well, there you go: my 34th birthday officially sucked.  I think a few things led to it being a pretty crummy day.  I knew a few weeks ago that I would have the day off on my birthday and wanted to do something for it.  I didn’t tell anyone about the day off because I just wanted to do something for myself, by myself, and didn’t want anyone trying to make any requests for my time.  I was tossing around the idea of going to either Ocean City or Rehoboth Beach today, but really wasn’t all that excited about either one.  Then I woke up today, and went online to do a little more research and some more figuring out of what I wanted to do, and I had a different idea that sounded a lot more appealing than going to the beach: New York City.

That was something that I was excited about.  I have never really been to New York City.  I’ve only passed through New York City on the way to and from other places.  I went through by car in 2010 when I went to Boston, and I went through by train in 2011 when I went to New Hampshire.  But since I never exited a vehicle on those occasions, those don’t count as visiting New York.  The way I figured, it would take about four hours to drive up.  I would park at a PATH station (probably Journal Square), take PATH to World Trade Center, and then explore for a few hours before heading back home.  I actually left to go on this trip, and then by the time I got to the end of the street, I realized that it was probably a bad idea.  After all, this was a single day off.  I had to go to work the next day, and didn’t want to be all groggy from a big trip, or worse, oversleep and be late for work.  I quickly came to the realization that I couldn’t go anywhere today, and that just shot my day.  I ended up going to the shopping center up the road from me, bought a new pair of shoes for work, and then went back home.  Total distance traveled: 1.5 miles.

Sometimes I hate being an adult with adult responsibilities.  I wanted to go out and have fun.

So for that, I was annoyed, since I couldn’t go anywhere, and ended up sitting around the house all day feeling miserable.  And then I kept getting all of these annoying birthday wishes from people on Facebook.  I have spoken about my birthday on a number of different occasions in this space, and it should be clear if you have read this website that I am not exactly enthused by my birthday.  I don’t view it as a cause for celebration in and of itself.  I didn’t do anything worth celebrating on that day.  After all, this wasn’t any sort of achievement on my part, since I didn’t exactly choose to be born.  That was entirely outside of my control.  And I don’t like all of the attention that comes with the day, since the day just isn’t very special to me.  It feels undeserved, and the sentiment comes off as somewhat hollow.  Likewise, I hate getting birthday cards.  Save your money, because if I even open them in the first place (and yes, I have in the past thrown birthday cards away unopened), they don’t make me feel good.  Save your money and the cheap sentiment.

And with the day basically ruined due to my inability to go anywhere, all of the birthday messages on Facebook just compounded my bad mood.  I ignored four phone calls from my mother today, because I didn’t want to talk.  I sent a little Emoji happy face to both parents for their texted birthday wishes, as that little way of saying, “Yes, I am acknowledging this message, but don’t want to actually have a conversation about it.”  Then my sister changed her Facebook profile picture to one with me in it (which I did not appreciate), and I got notified of all of the likes on that.  And I got countless wall posts containing hollow “Happy birthday!” greetings, some from people from whom I only hear once per year.  I deliberately have my birthday set to not display on Facebook to cut down on those kinds of annoying messages, and yet they still come.

Then after receiving one birthday message too many, I finally decided that I’d had enough.  I disabled wall posts on my Facebook, and made this post at 3:07 PM:

“No, really, folks: enough with the ‘happy birthday’ messages. Just stop.”

Then I went so far as to delete every single birthday-related post that people had made on my wall.  Those messages did not make me happy, and so those messages needed to die.  Then I closed the tab I keep open for Facebook, and set my phone to auto-ignore all incoming phone calls, essentially pushing everyone away.  I’m sorry, but if all I’m going to hear from you are unwanted birthday greetings, then I’m pushing you away.  I don’t like being thrown into the spotlight against my will.  I said in 2010, “If I want to celebrate in my own way, or choose not to celebrate at all, that’s my prerogative.  […]  And if celebration in my honor is forced on me against my will, I will make sure to spoil it.”  And at that, I believe that I was successful.

Please understand that if a celebration is being done in my honor, it will be on my terms, and done in a way that has meaning to me.  And whether you like it or not, I have complete veto power over it by my participation or non-participation.  Recall that I skipped my college graduation because I felt that I had no control over the whole charade.  College had very little meaning to me, and I did it because I was always expected to do it, for no other reason than to have a degree under my belt.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college, and it wasn’t until ten years after graduating college that I really figured out what I wanted to do with my career.  So that celebration would have been quite hollow for me, and I would have been miserable the whole time.  Note that I don’t participate in celebrations in my honor for the joy of other people.  I do them for myself.  Everyone else’s enjoyment is a bonus.

It’s also kind of interesting that the title of the Journal entry right before this one is a line from a song from the Today’s Special episode “Birthdays”.  In that episode, Jeff is kind of bummed that, being a mannequin, he doesn’t have a birthday, and therefore can’t celebrate like other people can.  The others ended up just giving Jeff a birthday, and that made everything all better.  I honestly sometimes wish I didn’t have a birthday.  Don’t get me wrong, now, I’m not saying that I wished that I was never born or something like that, but every year, I want my birthday to just pass without note.  If it tells you anything, I assign far more meaning to March 23, which is the website’s anniversary date, than I do to May 30, my own birthday.  After all, that date celebrates something that I actually did, and thus means far more to me.

Honestly, the best kinds of birthday celebrations are ones where the fact that it’s my birthday is the excuse to get together with a few people, and then it just becomes something normal like we would also do when it’s not anyone’s birthday.  2013 was like that, where I got together with a friend, we went to dinner, and just generally had a good time.  We might have done this on any other day, but it worked out.  The intent of going on a trip today would have been similar.  It was a free day, so it was supposed to have been an opportunity to do a trip that I’d otherwise have done on one of my regular off-days but never got around to doing.  The fact that it was my birthday just meant I had the day off.  The rest would have just been a fun day exploring a new city.

In any case, all of this unwanted attention every year just fills me with dread whenever my birthday rolls around.  I find all of the unsolicited and unwanted attention in the name of birthday wishes to be unpleasant, and honestly feels more hurtful than uplifting, even though I acknowledge that the intent is anything but that.  Still, I shouldn’t have to go through this ordeal every year.  My birthday has turned into a monster that I have no control over, attacking me.  It’s not fun.  It makes me resent having a birthday, and it also makes me feel guilty because I acknowledge that some of those birthday greetings are genuine, but they don’t enter and get interpreted with the feeling that the sender intended.

Basically, if you want to celebrate my birthday with me in a way that I would appreciate, just follow my lead.  If I invite you to celebrate with me, then that’s great.  Let’s all be merry together.  And if I choose not to celebrate it, respect that, and let it pass.

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“I feel important, just like a king…” Sat, 30 May 2015 16:49:02 +0000 So today is my birthday.  I am officially 34 years old.  I rang my birthday in doing one of the things that I always enjoy doing, i.e. driving the bus, and watching out for Virginia drivers (yes, Virginia drivers are, by far, the worst drivers in this area as far as I’m concerned).  Then I took my birthday as a floating holiday, so I don’t have to work my birthday (yaaaaaay!).

But at the beginning of my workday on Friday, my friend Elyse met me at the location on the street where I pick up my first bus, and gave me a birthday card.  Check it out:


And of course, I immediately made sport of the grammatical error in the handwritten message.  But no worries – I did it with a smile, so it’s all in good fun.  Then down at the bottom is an Edwards Integrity fire alarm horn/strobe, like they have at work.

And all in all, 33 wasn’t a bad year.  Things really got turned around after a pretty crappy 32.  After all, when I turned 32, I was working in an office for an organization full of special snowflakes.  As that job dried up, I went hunting for new sources of income.  While I initially was going after more of the same, i.e. more nonprofit work, I realized that my heart just wasn’t in it, and that it would be pretty meaningless work.  Thus I got a commercial driver’s license, and went in search of transit jobs.  32 ended with my being offered a job with a major regional transit agency, and starting their onboarding process.  Then after I turned 33, I got offered a job at a second, more locally-oriented transit agency as a fallback, just in case the regional agency fell through for whatever reason.  Everything resolved well, with my beginning training with the regional transit agency, and politely telling the local agency “thanks, but no thanks”.  I “grew out my beard” quite well at work, and completed my probationary period.  Now, as I begin 34, I have job security in a union environment, a plan for career progression, and most importantly, I’m having fun every day at work.

Then I also had lots of fun outside of work while 33.  I went to the Outer Banks for the first time since high school, power washed a bunch of stuff at my parents’ house, and engaged in much geekery.

And I got a resolution to what made me sick a few months ago – so sick, if you recall, that I blew out a few blood vessels in my eyes.  My body will no longer tolerate coffee.  I’m sure that the aforementioned special snowflakes at the nonprofit, who were too delicate to deal with real coffee, are shocked about it, considering how I always started my day with some very strong coffee.  I kept that up for bus driving, and then all of a sudden, on March 28, my body said no more, and I got sick.  I replaced my coffee and the equipment, and the first cup with new equipment made me feel bad.  Even 7-Eleven coffee made me feel funny.  So that was it.  The new equipment went back to the store, and I gave whatever coffee I had left to my friend Melissa.  And I soon realized something else: I don’t miss coffee.  I am just as perky as ever, and can get along just fine without the massive amounts of caffeine that I was taking in before with my morning coffee.

However, with all of the driving that I’ve been doing as of late, I feel as though I’ve been neglecting the website.  While I still update the photo feature and splash photo on a regular basis (weekly and monthly, respectively), the Journal has only been getting 2-3 entries a month as of late.  I’m all for quality over quantity, and my Journal entries are a lot longer than they used to be and have much higher production values, but I think I can do better than the current level.

I also have a backlog of miscellaneous photos that stretches back six months as of this writing, and I’ve been trying to work through that for my Flickr and Panoramio pages.  I also want to revamp the Online Store, to make one store for swag, and another for photo licensing, in order to make the licensing work more self-service.  Currently, it’s “contact me to discuss pricing”, and that doesn’t really work well.  Too many places wanting are all, “Oh, we’ll give you credit!” while asking to license my work for commercial use.  My usual mental response to that is, “F— you, pay me,” as I ask them to give me a number for what they will pay to license the desired image.  I never hear back from them, and that’s fine.  If they just want to take advantage of me for free material, then they can go pound sand, and find some other sucker to swindle out of images for their for-profit publications.  Then of course, I also need to do a good photo shoot, which I haven’t done in a while.  I haven’t produced a proper photo set in far too long, and I need to.

And then I also want to refresh the design of the website.  I’ve been on the current design since October 2012 with a minor update to things in August 2013.  I like the way it looks now, but I think it’s time for a change.  Not sure where I want to go with that yet, but we’ll see.

So there you have it, I suppose.  Now it’s time to make 34 the best year possible.

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