The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Tue, 01 Sep 2015 04:00:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Augusta County puts enforcement cameras on its school buses… Wed, 20 May 2015 16:09:22 +0000 I recently read in an article in The News Leader that Augusta County Public Schools, where I went to middle and high school, is partnering up with the local sheriff’s office to outfit two of its school buses with cameras.  These particular cameras are mounted on the exterior of the bus, on the left side, and are designed to catch people who pass a stopped school bus while their red warning lights are flashing.  Normally, drivers in all directions are supposed to come to a complete stop when the bus’s red warning lights are flashing and the stop arm is out.

Now we all know better than to think that this always happens.  I’ve written about school bus stops before, in regards to whether a right turn that begins just beyond a stopped school bus and moves away from it is a legal movement, or if it’s not.  I casually asked a Montgomery County police officer about this one time while I was out and about, and he said that it wasn’t a legal move, describing the area where drivers are required to come to a full stop for a school bus as being like a bubble, rather than as a line of demarcation.  I would have loved for the move that I described to have been legal, because then I could just zip past and be on my way.  But apparently, it’s not.

Also, for those of you who have never driven a large vehicle before, let me let you in on something: if you think that the people around you drive like wackos when you’re in your car, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve watched drivers around a large vehicle.  The “wacko” factor gets turned up to eleven when you’re driving a large vehicle.  After all, large vehicles are very different than your car.  They’re big, they’re heavy, and they’re slow.  And in the case of school and transit buses, they make frequent stops.  Drivers in cars know that, and as such, will do anything, even some very unsafe/illegal moves, to get past or otherwise not have to wait for a bus.  I have been cut off in just about every way imaginable when I’m driving the bus, and I don’t get special privileges like school buses get, i.e. I don’t get to stop all traffic when I’m boarding and alighting passengers.  And even if I could, fellow road users are still very poorly behaved and would stop at nothing to get past or around me while I was stopped, threat of ticket or not.

When I’m driving my car, I have places to go, and the last place that I want to be while I’m driving is behind a school bus.  I’ve never illegally passed one, but I can definitely understand why people would want to do it.  Getting stuck behind a school bus, and having to stop for it while it does every single stop can easily add a lot of time to a trip, especially since they will often keep traffic stopped with the lights until every single child has found a seat on the bus.  The last part is especially infuriating, because then, there are no children left on the road for me to potentially run over, so I see no reason to be held hostage by a school bus driver at that point.  In other words, get the last kid on the bus, kill the lights, and let us get on with our day while they choose which one of their classmates to sit with.

The idea of placing enforcement cameras on school buses to catch drivers who pass a stopped school bus seems to be attacking the problem from the wrong angle.  No one wants to see someone run a bunch of kids over on their way to or from school while they’re boarding or alighting the bus.  However, the idea of camera enforcement like this seems to paint school bus drivers as these people who can do no wrong, and drivers of cars as dangerous psychos.  And I’ve seen the way that school bus drivers drive where I live.  It can be interesting to watch – from a safe distance.  The use of enforcement cameras also leads me to think that this alleged problem is not a matter of safety.  Rather, it seems like a way for cash-strapped localities to raise additional revenue.  I generally take a very dim view of governments that, when faced with a legitimate problem, exploit said problem for revenue through enforcement means rather than looking more deeply at the problem to determine the root cause, and trying to solve that issue.  However, fixing the root cause admittedly doesn’t raise as much money – if any – as exploiting it for enforcement revenue.

It all leads me to think that the typical school bus stop arrangement is a bit unrealistic and not as safe as one would like to think that it is if the achievement of a safe stop requires factors that are entirely outside of the driver’s control to be in complete compliance.

I drive a transit bus for a living (though I am fully qualified and licensed to operate a school bus), and in going about my work, I have to ensure that every single passenger stop that I make is as safe as possible.  I can’t stop all traffic with lights.  I can only alert others that I am about to stop, and make it impractical for other vehicles, including bicycles, to get around my bus on the side where the passenger transaction occurs.  After all, if a passenger gets run over or otherwise injured while attempting to board or alight a bus, that falls on me.  Thus a typical transit stop looks like this, seen here in this Schumin Web file photo:

WMATA bus 2137, in position for a passenger stop at L'Enfant Plaza station.

As shown here, hazard lights are on, the door is within six inches of the curb, and due to the bus’s location relative to the curb, there is no way that a car or bicycle can strike a passenger while they are boarding or alighting.  All passenger transactions are done between the sidewalk and the adjacent curb lane.  Meanwhile, traffic is moving unimpeded on the other side of the road.

And as school buses go, nothing is more infuriating than having to stop for a bus that is doing a passenger stop where the entire transaction occurs on the same side of the street as the bus’s door, i.e. no one crosses the street.  It also makes school buses extremely inconsiderate road users, since they have the power to singlehandedly make you late.

For a number of years, I’ve been tossing around various ideas on how to modernize school bus stop laws, and have school buses share the road with other users to where people won’t be so inclined to do everything that they can to get around a school bus so that they don’t get stuck behind it.  The idea is to ensure that safety is achieved through factors that the bus driver can control, and be more considerate to other road users by limiting the instances where the full eight-way warning system is used.

In regards to the driver’s ensuring safety, it seems like many times, school bus stops are not done as safely as possible, i.e. using the bus itself to ensure safety.  When I dug around on Google, it didn’t take long to find some examples of sloppy school bus stops:

Photo: Doré Law Firm


In both of these cases, the school bus is way out in the middle of the road, leaving the right side of the bus wide open.  A car could easily fit through the space that these drivers left between the edge of the road and the door, potentially running the children over.  If I made a stop like that in a transit bus, I would get nailed for unsafe operation, and rightly so: someone could get by on the right side of the bus, and run my passengers over.  And no, the fact that the school bus has red stop lights on it is irrelevant.  You’ve all seen how people can and do behave extremely poorly when on the road.  The eight-way warning system, ultimately, is just decorative, because the person who is truly determined to get around a school bus will find a way, and that may very well include ignoring the lights and stop arm.  The only thing protecting these students is the eight-way warning system, and the compliance of any other road users around them.  I have seen people try to beat the red lights on a school bus, and that may include passing the bus in an illegal manner.  And if someone is that determined to get around a bus, school or otherwise, no amount of lights will stop them.

Thus I have some recommendations to make passenger stops safer for the children being boarded and alighted, and also make school buses more considerate road users.  After all, we all share the road, and each of us has as much right to use the road as the next guy.

First and foremost, it seems that everyone would be better served to make every use of the eight-way warning system count, i.e. only using it when traffic absolutely needs to be stopped.  Nothing irritates me more when I’m driving than to have to come to a complete stop, only to have them scoop up a few kids on the same side of the road as the bus, or for a few kids to alight and then proceed away from the roadway without crossing the street.  There is no reason for oncoming traffic to be required to stop in those situations, and if there is more than one lane for vehicles traveling in the direction of the school bus, they should be allowed to pass the bus while it is servicing the stop.  That’s why I like what some school districts in Michigan are doing with their school buses: hazard light stops.  These involve using the hazard lights to indicate that the bus is doing a passenger stop, rather than using the eight-way warning system, similar to the way transit buses indicate that a passenger stop is occurring.  The way that these hazard light stops are implemented in Michigan, the following requirements must be met:

  • Same-side stop, i.e. nobody crossing the street
  • The bus needs to be completely out of the traffic lane if the speed limit is over 45 mph
  • The bus cannot impede the flow of traffic on slower-moving roads
  • No hazard light stops if there are more than two lanes of traffic

I would recommend taking this concept a little bit further.  If a school bus is about to complete a passenger stop where no one is crossing the street, every stop should be a hazard light stop, regardless of road speed or width.  The school bus should position itself as close to the curb or edge of the road as is possible and safe, similar to a transit bus, and then do its stop, while letting other drivers go about their business.  If there is a wide shoulder on the road, the school bus should perform its stop there in order to keep the right side closed.  However, if you lift the lane restriction, the speed restriction takes care of itself because traffic can move around the stopped bus.  I see it all the time with transit buses.  The people who can get around the bus do, and those that can’t stop and wait.  And I live and work in the area with the country’s worst drivers.  Likewise, I’ve noticed that on narrow streets, the drivers behind the bus are less likely to try to play games with the bus while it’s doing a stop.  And honestly, the kind of driver that is going to hit a bus while it’s performing a passenger stop most likely would hit said bus regardless of whether they had the eight-way warning system on or not.

Thus as far as I’m concerned, the only time that a school bus should ever activate its eight-way warning system is if there is a need for children to cross the road.  If you make every use of the eight-way warning system count by only using it when necessary, it may very well get more respect than it currently gets.  After all, we don’t want children to be run over by oncoming traffic, and owing to less-developed judgment as compared to adults, if it is necessary for a child to cross a street, we should stop traffic to facilitate that.  But then once the child is on the bus, close the door and kill the lights so that traffic can resume while the child finds a seat, i.e. the eight-way warning system goes off, and the stop becomes a hazard light stop.

I also like what Washington State has in its laws regarding when drivers have to stop for school buses:

The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with three or more marked traffic lanes need not stop upon meeting a school bus which is proceeding in the opposite direction and is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children. (RCW 46.61.370)

In other words, if the road is three or more lanes wide, drivers in Washington State traveling in the opposite direction never have to stop for a school bus, even if the eight-way warning system is activated.  As far as I’m concerned, this makes for safer children, because oncoming traffic will never stop for a school bus, meaning that children have to be dropped off on the same side of the road as their destination.  And in all honesty, this is how it should be all over the country.  I always considered it somewhat silly for a school bus stop on, for instance, US 340 in Stuarts Draft, which is a five-lane undivided highway, to stop traffic in all five lanes.  I consider it somewhat unrealistic to ask a child to cross a five-lane road in the first place, even with the traffic allegedly stopped, because in that sort of width, it’s easy to miss a school bus, stopped or not.  Likewise, it is extremely inconsiderate to require traffic on a five-lane road, i.e. most likely a major thoroughfare, to have to stop for a passenger stop that does not involve anyone crossing a road.  Eliminating the requirement for opposing traffic to stop for a school buses on a road wider than two lanes makes for a more considerate school bus, because it creates far fewer opportunities for a school bus to impede traffic unnecessarily.

Combine the Washington State law with my suggestion for hazard light stops for all same-side stops, and I think you have a winning formula.  It would limit the use of the eight-way warning system to where traffic is stopped only when it is absolutely necessarily: when a child needs to cross a two-lane road to reach their destination.  Otherwise, there is no reason to stop everything for a school bus, as long as the stop is made safely, i.e. there is no way for a child to be struck by other traffic because the door area is properly closed off.  And in that case, all you need are hazard lights to indicate that the vehicle is stopped.

Of course, in order to make what I suggest possible requires changes to existing laws.  Will it ever happen?  Perhaps, but I consider it somewhat unlikely, since this is a lucrative problem.  Like many problems that governments like to exploit for revenue, a real solution to a problem doesn’t make any money.  And why fix a problem when you can use it to raise money by writing tickets for people who allegedly violate these problematic laws?  But if we can make school buses more considerate users of the road by eliminating much of their ability to stop traffic unless absolutely necessary, we can create a much safer environment for all involved.

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This is a message that I can get behind… Wed, 06 May 2015 20:58:36 +0000 This message recently went up on the sign for the church up the street from me:

"Be someone that makes you happy."

Couldn’t have said it any better than that.  No religious overtones, and nothing cheesy.  Just a nice message to help put things in perspective.  Be someone that makes you happy.  After all, we only have one life to live, and it’s far too short to spend it being miserable about yourself.  Be the person that you want to be.

That is all.

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Fun in Philadelphia… Wed, 29 Apr 2015 03:29:31 +0000 Back at the end of March, I went up to Philadelphia with my friends Melissa and Elyse.  We had a list of things that we wanted to do, and we did as many of them as we could.  We had a blast, plus we got to meet up with my cousins Mike and Tara for dinner.  This trip was also a proof of concept for how my various little outings might go now that I routinely work late nights, since my typical workday runs from approximately 4:00 PM until just before 2:00 AM.

Logistically, it worked out this way: Melissa met me at Glenmont station around 11:00, and then we traveled up to Howard County to get Elyse.  Then from there, up to Philadelphia via I-95.  Then in Philadelphia, everything that we were planning was transit-accessible, save for one thing, but we worked it all out pretty well.

Our first point of interest was the non-transit-accessible one: the SS United States.  This would be a quick look-see for some photos, and then move along to other targets.  We parked at the IKEA store across the street, and then Elyse and I walked over for a look (Melissa stayed in the car).  Here are pix:

The SS United States in Philadelphia

The SS United States in Philadelphia

The SS United States in Philadelphia

The day was gray and the openings in the fence were small, so that cut down on my usable angles quite a bit, since it was nearly impossible to get decent shots without having parts of the fence in the photo.  That or I had to reach up to get the camera above the fence, which I could barely do.

Then Elyse got a couple of shots of me:

Say cheese!

Reaching over the fence to get a clear view.

So next time I go to photograph the United States (on a nicer day, mind you), my plan is to bring some sort of ladder with me.  I’m not interested in jumping the fence or anything like that, but I definitely want better pix, and to do that, I need to be able to see over that fence.  And if anyone complains, it’s a public sidewalk, so… meh.

Walking back over, we reunited with Melissa and made a quick pit stop at IKEA.  Spotted this inside:

A yellow Wheelock MPS for an emergency door release!

This was an unusual find.  This is a Wheelock MPS pull station, painted yellow and marked for an emergency exit release.  Normally, these things are red, say “FIRE” on either side of the key, and have the system manufacturer’s name at the bottom (i.e. they look like this).

Following this, we caught the Schuylkill Expressway and headed over the Walt Whitman Bridge into New Jersey.  We weren’t done with Philadelphia, but we were now positioning ourselves for the transit-accessible part.  I was also impressed with how I was able to navigate this area without GPS.  Apparently all those trips to New Jersey paid off.  I took the exit for Route 30, and boom: there’s Victor’s Liquors.  Then from there, it was just a few miles down White Horse Pike to Lindenwold station, the eastern terminus for PATCO.  Perfect.

After fumbling around for cash to do PATCO, we were on our way.  Note to self: Philadelphia-area transit systems don’t do credit cards, so bring cash.  SmarTrip has spoiled us when it comes to credit cards.

PATCO was pretty awesome, since it hasn’t really been updated, style-wise, since the 1960s.  Here was our train:

Our PATCO train arrives!

And this was the interior of car 223:

Interior of our train

Holy 1960s, Batman.  And the door chime was very simple: a bell.  Yes, just a telephone-style bell.  No electronic “please move to the center of the car” type of message.  Bell rings, door closes.  Simple as that.

Then when we got to 8th and Market, we departed:

Leaving PATCO behind, we headed over to Chinatown.  Unlike in DC, where gentrification has taken hold, Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood is still very Chinese.

In heading through Chinatown, I noticed something: Ho Sai Gai, where my parents used to eat in the 1970s, and where we went a few times in the 1990s, has come full circle.  There is now only one Ho Sai Gai, and it’s in the original location on the corner.  The “new” Ho Sai Gai up the street, where it was located in the 1990s, and the one that I was most familiar with, is now a different restaurant:

The "new" Ho Sai Gai, now Spice C

A restaurant called Spice C is now housed inside.  Walking past, they remodeled the space from when it was Ho Sai Gai.  Based on their website, it doesn’t look half bad, specializing in noodles.  Might be worth a visit next time I’m up there.

Otherwise, we found our way to the “pet store”, which got its name from a trip we made in 1997 or so with friends, and one of the kids saw this store with all sorts of live animals in it like frogs and such and thought it was a pet store.  We had to let him know that no, these weren’t pets, but rather food.  But here are the frogs:


I suppose that if you wanted to get one for a pet, they’d still sell it to you, but these frogs are definitely here as food.

Otherwise, Elyse got one of those Chinese-style baseball caps (I’m not sure of the exact name for these, unfortunately) at one of the stores:

Elyse and her new hat

I have one of these hats as well.  Very comfortable, and unlike most hats, it fits on my big head.

As we made our way out of Chinatown, heading down Race Street towards Race-Vine station, we spotted a Chinese line dance being performed on the sidewalk:

Continuing down the street, we passed the parking garage where we used to park when we came up this way in the 1990s.  I showed Elyse, as an elevator enthusiast, the elevator that they had there.  It’s probably quite old, but it does the job.  Basically, you hop on a step and hold on while you ride up and down on the continuously-moving system, which makes it more closely resemble a paternoster than an elevator.  And at the bottom is a little friendly reminder: get off:


And then that yellow item near the bottom of the photo is one of the steps.  Pretty neat.  I’d love to ride a paternoster one day, but they’re increasingly rare anymore, and I also don’t think any full-on paternosters exist in the United States.  This sort of thing is probably the closest you can get stateside, and you probably can’t safely ride this over the top.

After this, we headed into Race-Vine station, with the intention of riding over to Love Park.  There, we discovered that SEPTA doesn’t take credit cards, either, and the station attendant, where you buy fare media, doesn’t provide change.  We ended up scrounging around for enough smaller bills to ride, but ride we did, heading one stop up to City Hall station.  And we got movies:

Love Park was a brief stay, owing to the fact that it was raining.  Nothing like when Anonymous visited back in 2009, and we took a bunch of photos with the “LOVE” sign.  But here it is:

Melissa commented that it looked smaller in real life.

After this, we hit up a nearby 7-Eleven to break some bills for the subway, and we headed over to 15th Street station to start heading back to New Jersey.  The plan was to take a Market-Frankford train to 8th Street, then transfer to PATCO to head back to Lindenwold.  Heading into the station, we got our tokens:

SEPTA token

A token.  That’s something that you don’t see much anymore.  WMATA used to sell tokens for the bus, but they have since been discontinued, though they are still honored.  I’m told that SEPTA wants to phase out tokens for a new fare system, but that has apparently not yet happened.

Then Elyse and I got video of our Market-Frankford train departing when we got to 8th Street:

I love the sound of those Adtranz motors.  You don’t hear that sort of sound in DC.  Though if you want to hear Alstom ONIX motors, DC has those in spades.

Then heading down to the PATCO level, we got more movies of trains:

We ended up riding in the last car, sitting at the railfan window at the end of the train.  PATCO has a really awesome railfan window, too, as you can sit right up next to it.  The operator has a half-cab.  I got this movie out of the window, showing the train leaving Woodcrest station:

When we got back to Lindenwold, we met up with my cousins Mike and Tara, and we all had dinner together at Stratford Diner, located across the street from Lindenwold station.  That was a lot of fun.

Then from there, after saying goodbye to Mike and Tara, we headed back to Maryland.  We took 295, going over the Delaware Memorial Bridge.  And just like earlier, I got us out without GPS.  I was probably most impressed by my ability to navigate in South Jersey without the help of GPS.  Apparently I’ve learned a thing or two from various trips to New Jersey.

And that was that!  I’d say we had fun, and Elyse, Melissa, and I make a great group, as we all have a blast nerding out together.

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I have ridden the 7000-Series… Wed, 15 Apr 2015 12:30:08 +0000 Back in late March, Metro announced that the new 7000-Series railcars, which I toured in January of last year, would enter revenue service on Tuesday, April 14, on the Blue Line.  So on that day, I got together with Elyse, and we sought out and rode Metro’s new 7000-Series railcars on their first day of revenue service.  We met up in late afternoon, and we took the Red Line down to Metro Center from Glenmont.  At Metro Center, we waited for the train.  Elyse and I had been in communication with Metro’s social media team as we were making our way in, and they helped us with our planning, as they indicated when the train was entering service in the evening, how long it would be out, and where it was located, and in which direction it was heading.

And we watched the PIDS screens.  We knew that the train would be eight cars, because the 7000-Series is designed to run in quad sets rather than married pairs.  So when we saw something like this come up on the board, our ears definitely perked up:

That also occasionally led to a few false positives, as this was the result of the above eight-car train:

Drat.  Just Breda rehabs and Rohrs.  Eventually, though, we found what we were looking for, in all of its glory:

And let me tell you: this was a pretty cool train.  I’d seen the interiors once already, but seeing everything in action was a very different experience.  Take a look…

Inside car 7007.  This is one of the non-cab cars, which is a new thing for Metro.  In the older railcars, a cab would be directly behind the camera, but in these cars, there is a set of hostler controls for yard movements adjacent to the bulkhead door.
Inside car 7007.  This is one of the non-cab cars, which is a new thing for Metro.  In the older railcars, a cab would be directly behind the camera, but in these cars, there is a set of hostler controls for yard movements adjacent to the bulkhead door.

Elyse and I also took a selfie not long after we got on.  We sent this to Metro's social media team to show that we had, in fact, caught the train, and we thanked them for helping us find it.
Elyse and I also took a selfie not long after we got on.  We sent this to Metro’s social media team to show that we had, in fact, caught the train, and we thanked them for helping us find it.

The new electronic strip maps, showing the next stop, and the next ten stops on the line.  Maybe now, do you think my mother will stop asking me how many stops we have until our destination?
The new electronic strip maps, showing the next stop, and the next ten stops on the line.  Maybe now, do you think my mother will stop asking me how many stops we have until our destination?

Showing the next five stops.  In this case, 12 stops to the end of the line.
Showing the next five stops.  In this case, 12 stops to the end of the line.

The new electronic displays.  It was showing another strip map on this occasion.
The new electronic displays.  It was showing another strip map on this occasion.

The interior LEDs at the ends of the car.  This replaces the simple "<<<" that the older railcars show to indicate door side.
The interior LEDs at the ends of the car.  This replaces the simple “<<<” that the older railcars show to indicate door side.

This is something that I missed during the preview at Greenbelt last year.  The bulkhead doors have windshield wipers on them.  I was at first perplexed about why the doors would have wipers on them, but then I remembered the hostler controls (behind that panel to the right), and it all made sense.
This is something that I missed during the preview at Greenbelt last year.  The bulkhead doors have windshield wipers on them.  I was at first perplexed about why the doors would have wipers on them, but then I remembered the hostler controls (behind that panel to the right), and it all made sense.

When we got to Largo Town Center, the train went out of service to go back to the yard.  I’m not sure what yard these cars are living at right now.  Before switching over to “NO PASSENGERS”, it briefly showed Franconia-Springfield:

Blue Line to Franconia-Springfield!

And like the older railcars, it shows “Franc-Springd”.  However, when it shows Largo on the sign, it shows “Largo Town Ctr” instead of just “Largo” like the older railcars do.  So far, I’ve seen the new cars displaying Branch Avenue, Wiehle, Largo, and Franconia-Springfield.

And then the train left Largo Town Center:

All in all, not bad.  Only one thing left me a tad disappointed: the automated announcements.  They seemed a bit rough, with the voice’s sounding like a computer-generated voice similar to the Google Maps lady rather than a live person’s voice, like that of Randi Miller, who voiced the “please move to the center of the car” message that we’re all familiar with.  Personally, I would love to see Metro bring Randi Miller back to record a full set of announcements for the new railcars (though Miller once admitted that hearing herself on the train drove her a little nuts).  Time will tell, I suppose.  The 5000-Series railcars had some tweaking after they entered service as well, as the signage went from the original mixed case to all-caps.  There could be similar changes made here, but who knows.

In any case, I had fun on the new 7000-Series railcars.  I look forward to riding them a lot more in the future, though I certainly will miss the Rohr and Breda railcars that they are replacing.

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I never thought that could happen… Sun, 05 Apr 2015 07:20:28 +0000 Among things that I never thought could happen, I never thought that throwing up could cause blood vessels in your eyes to break.  But take a look at this.

This is what my eyes looked like on Friday night:

Right eye, Friday night  Left eye, Friday night

Then this is how they looked on Saturday morning:

Right eye, Saturday morning  Left eye, Saturday morning

I threw up on Friday morning.  It’s kind of interesting how the blood kind of migrated overnight.  Of course, regardless, it meant that I now had to go into work with red eyes due to my brand new subconjunctival hemorrhages.  But at least I had a good story to tell about why I was out sick on Friday.  And who knew that the forces that come into play when it’s time to puke could blow out blood vessels in your eyes.  I’ve heard of eyes watering and a massive headache before, but never have I seen blood vessels blow out like that.  The good news, though, is that they’re harmless.  They look really ugly, but they don’t affect your vision, and they resolve on their own with a little time.

And meanwhile, the cause of my change in eye color was food poisoning.  Twice.  It’s like they say about being seasick.  The only thing worse than being seasick once is being seasick twice.

On Sunday, I had breakfast before I went in to work, which consisted of a sandwich and coffee.  I started feeling bad early on in my day, and it got worse and worse and worse to the point where I had to call Central because I feared that I was about to throw up behind the wheel.  Central sent a supervisor to take me back to the bus garage, and the supervisor brought another operator to take over the bus.  I went home, and the nausea changed to a fever, and I had a pretty miserable night.  then I took Monday as a sick day to recover.  I also threw out what I believed to be the most likely culprits in my food poisoning adventure: a pack of lunch meat and a jar of salsa.

I was feeling well enough by Monday night to where I could go about my Tuesday plans, which involved a trip to Philadelphia with Melissa and Elyse (Journal entry forthcoming on that).  Wednesday, I had appointments, and then on Thursday, I was back to work.  I had my coffee first thing on Thursday as per usual, and I started to feel funny after drinking about half the cup.  Oh, no.  Turns out that I threw the lunch meat and salsa out for nothing – it was something in my coffee!  I would have never suspected something there, because the creamer was still within date, and I’d just about used it all up.  It’s also never a good feeling to realize that you more or less just poisoned yourself.  Work went well enough, though it was more tiring than usual, and then when I got home, I fell asleep very quickly, i.e. so quickly I didn’t even get my shoes off before passing out.

The next morning, I had nausea again, and that’s when the puke happened.  I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just sum it up as “gross”.  I ended up taking Friday as a sick day to recover, because I was in no condition to go to work.  And then that night, I noticed that I had a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

And until it clears up, I have to go about life with red eyes.  I wondered how many people at work on Saturday would notice my subconjunctival hemorrhage, and as it turned out, if the passengers noticed it, no one said anything about it.  I did, however, get some questions from coworkers about why my eyes were red.  Nothing like explaining that one over lunch in the operators’ lounge.

Meanwhile, the whole idea of dealing with suspect food after a food poisoning incident leaves me with mixed feelings on methodology.  On one hand, part of me wants to clean the whole kitchen out and dump everything, i.e. more of a “scorched earth” idea.  Then on the other hand, I paid for all of this stuff, and so I want to hone in on the culprit and only discard the most likely suspects.  That’s what led me to the lunch meat and the salsa, which ended up not being the culprits.  I only found out what the real culprit was when I got sick the second time.  So now I’m going all scorched-earth on the coffee.  The creamer’s already in the trash, and the coffee’s soon following suit.  Then I’m also thinking that it’s probably time to retire my coffee maker, just to be on the safe side.  That thing’s almost 13 years old, and honestly, I’m kind of afraid that it might be part of the problem, i.e. something might be growing in it, despite my best efforts to let it dry out between uses.  Just as well.  I wanted a new coffee maker anyway.

So there you go, I suppose.  I’m feeling much better now, and hopefully my eyes will be back to normal soon.

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How stupid do they think that I am? Tue, 31 Mar 2015 05:08:15 +0000 I recently received an envelope in the mail that looked like this:

I saw this envelope, with just an address and what appeared to be a handwritten address, and thought “bill”, since this is how I’ve seen some smaller doctors’ offices do billing.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find this:

I don’t know what this sort of stuff says more about: how low car dealers really are, or how stupid they think I might be.  Clearly, they want me to think that I’m special, and that everyone is talking about my car.  Well, of course I’m special (just like everyone else), and I hope that everyone is talking about my car.  After all, we’re both awesome, and my car is certainly the darling of social media.  That, however, doesn’t hide the fact that this is a very poorly-disguised marketing message, complete with the sticky note that’s not really handwritten (the paper is completely smooth on both sides).

However, when I can see right through this sort of thing in an instant, you’ve lost me for good.  I really doubt that Steve York and Alex Nowak know about all of the people that they’re “sending internal emails” about.  But they can rest assured that this kind of stunt has turned me off to ever wanting to do business with this dealership.

Of course, it’s not like I’m in the market to sell my car anyway.  My history with cars is that of running them for a long time.  Amongst the whole family, we ran the Previa for 275,000 miles in almost 16 years.  I think the Previa was about as much of a family car as you could get.  My parents bought it, I learned how to drive on it, my sister drove it in high school for a period, and then I drove it for a time after college.  And when I traded the Previa in for the Sable, it was retired, i.e. it never moved under its own power again.  Then I drove the Sable for six years and one month, adding about 70,000 miles to it over that time.  So I figure that the Soul, with 40,000-some miles on it, is hopefully good for a long time still to come.

And this sort of nonsense from slimeball car dealers is not about to change my mind on anything.

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Okay, folks, story time… Wed, 25 Mar 2015 18:03:09 +0000 After hearing far too many people on Reddit spew out the “fact” that you can’t get unemployment insurance if you quit your job, I think it’s time to share a story about one instance why that “fact” is not the case.  It is not, in fact, a hard and fast rule that, if you leave your job on your own, you don’t qualify for unemployment insurance, and it doesn’t make a difference if you head it off by quitting or let your boss fire you.  I should know, because it happened to me.

You may recall that in July 2013, I posted a Journal entry about my last day at Food & Water Watch.  For those of you solely know me through the website, that post probably came as a surprise to you.  Save for a note on a photo feature, I didn’t give any hints prior to that entry that I was leaving Food & Water Watch, and I also never gave a reason in the entry about why I left.  All you knew is that I had left, with no reason given regarding why.  And that made enough sense, because I didn’t want to go into detail while I had an ongoing job search underway in the same field.  Now I feel as though I’m in a place to share, especially now that I’ve changed fields, going from nonprofit operations management to public transportation.

In 2011, I had started to change a bit as a person.  I grew up.  My interests began to shift.  I had also noticed that my own interests and those of the organization had started to diverge.  The organization had also begun to change, with the introduction of anti-fracking work into its fold, beginning its morph from a consumer group into an environmental group.

By the end of 2012, I felt irrelevant, having been left out of the planning process for a major system change (which, when launched, came back very broken), encountering resistance to new procedures designed to streamline processes (with my boss’s approval), and feeling like I wasn’t growing anymore.  That feeling of irrelevance and being taken for granted was confirmed when literally half the staff left a cart full of dirty dishes in the kitchen at the end of the day after a Friday meeting (contrary to the normal idea of cleaning up after one’s self) and went off to a bar.  I could have left it there (since officially, it wasn’t my responsibility), but the alternative was to greet this cart on Monday along with whatever vermin might have found it over the weekend and decided to snack on the contents in the interim.  So I ended up spending an hour washing a cart full of other people’s dirty dishes by hand.  Yuck.

When it became performance evaluation time again in early 2013, I brought up my concerns with my boss about how things had stagnated, and how I wanted more responsibility within the organization.  One suggestion that I had was about the potential of supervising the receptionist.  It made enough sense to me: the receptionist’s job had been split from my position in 2008 as the company expanded, and I had to know and be able to do everything that they did anyway, because whenever they were out, I took care of things, and it reciprocated back the other way to an extent, though not as much.  My boss’s response was that I didn’t have any supervisory experience, and that because of the organization’s size, there was not much room to grow, i.e. I had basically topped out.  I couldn’t argue with that last point much, so I sort of let it go and just continued along, still feeling mostly irrelevant, but now knowing that the proverbial wall that I had hit was real.

In hindsight, I now realize that this was the boss’s way of subtly saying, “It’s time for you to go.”

Around the same time, the job was really starting to take a great toll on my mental health.  I was miserable, and I had thought it was related to something going on with myself.  I was dreading coming into work each day, and on the weekends, I was dreading Monday.  It was a pretty terrible existence.  I had, in fact, started shopping around for therapists.  That search ended, however, when a friend on Facebook posted a quote from someone (exactly who is up for discussion) on their wall that went like this:

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.

That made entirely too much sense, because that was exactly what I was doing.  To quote Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet in the movie Spaceballs, “I knew it.  I’m surrounded by assholes!”  That was a great “aha” moment, because it snapped things into focus, and made me realize the source of those problems.  I felt a bit better after that.

Now fast forward to March.  I took a much-needed two-week vacation at the end of the month, in order to more or less “recharge the batteries” and do some website and photography work.  I discussed what I did on this vacation in the Journal at the time, talking about my visits to Stuarts Draft, the old Springfield Mall, Richmond, Cumberland, Annapolis, and Baltimore.  The photography during this vacation eventually resulted in the Richmond 2013 and Cumberland, Maryland photo sets.  When it was over, I found that the vacation had done exactly what I had hoped that it would do.  It gave me a break from the usual to get some much-needed time to relax, have fun, as well as do a little traveling.  When I came back to work on the Monday after my vacation, I was absolutely glowing.  I was in a great mood, was glad to see everyone, and the smile was genuine.

That glow lasted until exactly 12:00 PM.

Noon was when I had my weekly meeting with my boss.  It was usually a pretty routine affair, talking about the status of various things going on, and discussing new things, etc.  It usually took around 10-15 minutes.  As soon as I went in, I knew something was up because my boss closed the door to his office.  This, by the way, is where the unemployment-qualifying events begin, going down the road toward “constructive discharge“.  In the meeting, I was informed that they had decided to reorganize the department a bit.  The then-current receptionist was being moved to a development (fundraising) role.  A new position titled “Logistics Manager” would be created and hired out.  My role would be redesigned to “something that we know you can do really well”, said in the most condescending tone possible.  When I was shown my new job description, the intent of the move became plain, i.e. I was being demoted to receptionist from my existing role.  The boss didn’t even bother to change the position title on the printed copy:

The top of the job description that I was given

“Program and Administrative Assistant” had long been the title for the receptionist’s role.  I believe that the only reason that he didn’t change my title was so that he could say that my demotion wasn’t a demotion (and he swore up and down that it wasn’t, despite my immediately seeing right through it).  In the meeting, I was also shown the job description for the Logistics Manager role.  It was my existing job.  The job was slightly changed, making it into everything that I had suggested for my role three months prior, including supervision of the receptionist.  I made my case for why I should have had the other role, but I was told I was “not qualified” for that role.  The Logistics Manager job would be hired out, but in the meantime, I was doing the work of two: the receptionist’s job, as well as the back-office job that I’d been doing.  Plus I had to move my workstation from my office in the back down to Storage Basement B, oh, pardon me, the front desk.

This was when I started looking for other work, as it had become clear that there would be no more growth or opportunity at Food & Water Watch for me.  Oh, and thanks for ruining my vacation.

It had taken me a while to get moved to the front desk, because there was lots of regular work to be done in the meantime, but now with zero management support.  When I did, after getting everything set up there, I realized that the front desk did not fit me well, physically.  The setup caused me pain in my wrists when working on the computer, and because of the non-adjustable design of the desk, there was no way to fix it.  I brought this concern to my boss, as I usually did with concerns that I needed help fixing.  He snapped back with a comment to the effect of why I don’t just move back to my old office, then.  Not long after that, he asked me to come back to his office at 4:00 PM.

Going back to his office, I was given paperwork placing me on 30-day probation.  In other words, if things did not “improve” after 30 days, I would be gone.  Okay, then.

Then the following day, when I got back from my lunch hour, things got worse.  I was informed by my boss that a postal worker had come up to the office and indicated that the mail had not been picked up from the mail room in several days.  I didn’t believe a word of that story (I knew better), but my boss used that as an excuse to put the screws on even further.  The new requirement was to send him a bulleted list of all of my activities each day.

My reaction to that was, that’s it.  After all, with that bulleted list, I was essentially writing my own termination papers.  I put in my resignation the following day.  That day was fun, too.  All of that which used to concern me was no longer my problem.  It was like a weight had been lifted.  And the best thing was this: I had made an appointment for a meeting with my boss at 4:00 at the end of the day.  Considering the events that had occurred in the days prior, he really should have been expecting a resignation.  Would you believe that he was completely taken back and speechless regarding my resignation?  I was very surprised about that. You would think that he would have seen that coming.

Then the following day, I had one of the most enjoyable days that I’d had in quite some time, going out to Harpers Ferry with my friend Pete.  Didn’t matter that I was about to be unemployed.  I was so happy that the Food & Water Watch ordeal would be ending.

The time spent between my resignation and my last day showed what a real professional I was.  I spent the first of the two weeks training my replacement.  For that, I got her settled in her “office” (the front desk), introduced her to all of the various contacts that my position had, got her set up on everything, and showed her how to use it.  Then my final week was spent getting all of my own affairs in order and cleaning out my office.  Let’s admit it – I never really worked at the front desk.  I kept the seat warm for three days, and then moved back to my regular office, where I belonged, for my notice period.  And unlike what would have happened with a firing, I left with my dignity intact, and got to say goodbye to everyone when I left.

And then when the job ended, I made the case for my constructive discharge to the District of Columbia’s unemployment office, and I received unemployment insurance for it.  After all, it wasn’t really anything on my part that led to my departure.  It was the boss’s manipulation of my individual working conditions that was the largest contributor, making my working conditions so intolerable that I had no alternative other than to quit.  That helped keep me afloat while I applied for new jobs, and also completed training for a career change, going from nonprofit operations management to public transportation.

In hindsight, though, I have come to realize that much pain and frustration could have been avoided on everyone’s part if my boss had actually acted like he had a spine and just let me go when he decided he wanted me gone, rather than go through the whole charade of demotion and probation.  A simple, “We’re reorganizing the department, and as part of this reorganization, your position has been eliminated.  Your last day will be [whenever].”  I admit that I still wouldn’t have liked it, but at least then it would have been framed from the outset as a business need and not been made so personal.  That would have also avoided much hard feelings all around, because then it would have been “just business”.  And considering that I still got unemployment insurance after I left, making it so personal, rather than taking the more professional road of framing it as a business need, only caused hard feelings and resentment all around.

But in any case, when people state the “fact” that you can’t get unemployment insurance when you quit your job, please know that they are giving you bad advice.  Depending on the circumstances that led to your departure, you can still get unemployment insurance and leave with dignity.

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