The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Thu, 21 May 2015 05:11:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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 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 for 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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Growing out the beard… Wed, 25 Feb 2015 07:44:19 +0000 This past Sunday, I really came to realize that I have, as TV Tropes would say, started “growing the beard” when it comes to driving a bus.  It’s about getting past all of the newness and figuring out how it all really works, and starting to, you know, become proficient at what you’re doing.  When it comes to jobs, if a person is a good fit with the organization, they grow out their beard within the first few months after whatever training period ends.  If the beard doesn’t grow, then it’s possible that they’re not a good fit, and that often ends with a parting of ways.

Me, I’ve grown my (figurative) beard out quite nicely.  I have a run of my own, meaning that my assignment does not change much from week to week.  I do the same thing every weekday, and I do the same Saturday and Sunday schedules every week.  When the transit agency that I work for cut me loose to work my own assignment for the first time, I was a bit overwhelmed.  I was at a different bus garage than the one that I had trained at after having been unexpectedly reassigned at the end of training (about half the class was also moved from where they had trained), and I had never done a street relief in the middle of a route before.

For those not familiar, a street relief is how some bus routes work.  The buses are out on the street all day, and the operators just cycle on and off of them.  One guy takes a bus out of the garage, and then at a designated location, he hands the bus off to another operator.  That next guy takes the bus for however long, and then gives the bus to someone else.  That keeps going until the last guy gets the bus, and he brings it back to the garage.

Prior to going out on my own, the only street reliefs that I had done in training were at the end of the line, and those were relatively few.  Thus for those reliefs, I was starting a fresh trip with passengers that I had boarded since, even though I was meeting the bus while it was already in service, the trip belonged to me.  Doing a relief mid-route means that I’m taking over a bus that already has passengers on it that someone else boarded.  And my first block on my first day started with a street relief.  But somehow, I managed, though truth be told, I was terrified.  Street reliefs certainly took a bit of getting used to, since it felt as though I was tossed in and had to be running on all eight cylinders immediately, vs. having a moment alone with the bus to get to know it and get settled before showtime started.  Realize that there’s a certain mental state that one needs to achieve in order to handle a transit bus.  Doing the pre-trip inspection, setting all of the mirrors and such, and then taking the bus out of the garage are part of how one gets in that zone with that bus.  Then whatever positioning trip is necessary to get to the terminal stand is helpful, too, as it allows me to find out and understand the individual bus’s little eccentricities before boarding passengers.  I’d rather find out about touchy brakes when the bus is empty so that I’m not jostling passengers around unnecessarily.  When I do a street relief, especially when I start the day with one, I know that I have not yet gotten into my zone with that bus, but I’ve got a complement of passengers that have somewhere that they want to go.  I usually end up taking it slowly at first and then build up to full speed as I get into my zone.

When I was in training, and when I first went out on my own, I was late.  On my first day alone, I did three blocks, and I don’t think I ended a single trip on time.  I did, however, pick up all of my street reliefs on time, even though I had to run to make the last one.  And for the most part, I was late because of unfamiliarity.  I didn’t know the streets that well, and was still figuring out the moves.  I didn’t know where all of the bus stops were, and had to listen to the stop annunciator voice quite a bit for help on where the stops were.  And all of that made me a bit of a slow driver.  At least one person in training described my driving as being akin to Driving Miss Daisy, which I didn’t exactly appreciate.

Now, even if a trip runs late, it usually doesn’t run so late that I end up starting the next trip late.  And I run most of my trips on time now.  And I also know my routes.  I’m not listening to the stop annunciator for help on where the bus stops are anymore.  I now know where they all are.  I also know the traffic patterns on the roads that I drive on, and know where I need to be in order to make all of the moves that I need to make, including shading across two lanes at times, to get where I’m going.  I also know the light cycles.  I know, for instance, that on one somewhat complicated intersection that I go through at least twice every day, when a particular pedestrian signal countdown timer hits 18, I get the green to proceed.  When the countdown timer reaches 4, it turns yellow.  Thus I can use those two points to time it and know if I can make it through.  I also have developed a rapport with my regulars.  They know me, and I know them, and we are a part of each other’s daily routine, to the point where I asked the other passengers where one of my regulars was when they weren’t there one day.  And I know what buses I need to do the job.  I do a rush hour bus, and for that, I can take nothing less than an artic, because even with an artic, I will fill the bus completely up.  For another route, I try to get a regular bus that’s somewhat on the heavier side, because of how it handles on the pavement on certain streets that particular route follows.  I also know what kind of bus I need when I’m doing my “marathon session” on Saturdays, i.e. one that’s light on the pedals so that I don’t start to feel it in my legs by my fifth or sixth trip up the same road (my marathon session can be fun or tiring, depending on how things go).

However, I really knew that I had grown my beard out when I realized afterwards how well I had handled a planned route detour on one of my regular routes.  The detour was due to a street closure for a special event that was occurring on the regular route.  So the buses were going a few blocks over and down before regaining the regular route.  First I announced to the passengers that we would be detouring, and how we were going, and dealt with any resulting questions and alightings.  Then I busted a few moves, turning right onto a street that I had never been on before with a bus, turned left onto another street that I had never driven on in a bus before, and then did another left onto yet another unfamiliar street.  Then it was time to make a right turn to resume the regular route, which is on a relatively narrow road, as well as a busy road.  I needed all of the space that I could get to make that turn.  First thing I did was to swing the bus a little bit to the left in order to start the turn from further back in the intersection.  Even with that preparation, I knew that I still needed one of the travel lanes used by oncoming traffic in order to make the turn.  I quickly recalled a memorable event from training when we were learning how to drive artics.  The person driving didn’t have enough space to make the turn because of where a cabbie was, so the instructor said to “dictate”, telling him, “Put the bus in his face!”  On Sunday, I dictated.  I got the nose of the bus out in the intersection when the light changed, and then put the bus in a car’s face.  Stop.  Car moved.  So I took some more space, and put the bus in someone else’s face.  They moved.  I ended up putting the bus in one more person’s face before I got through that turn.  And it all came naturally.  The attitude that you sometimes have to take is, “Look here: I’m the bus, and I’m coming!”  I’m not fooling around, because I have places to go.

Afterwards, talking to a coworker that was right behind me doing the same detour, and who had been in the same training class as me, she was impressed watching how I handled that turn.  That was not the way I would have handled things two months ago.  I would have managed, but it would have been a bit slower, and not nearly so neat.  But now, I know what I’m doing, and I like feeling like I know what I’m doing.  That confidence shows, and I like it.

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This year, I want to slim back down to where I was in 2012… Thu, 19 Feb 2015 08:28:45 +0000 While I was between jobs, I put on a bit of weight, most likely due to reduced activity due to my being out of work, and out of a routine.  My current job, where I operate a bus, is not exactly conducive to physical activity, considering that I sit strapped to a seat for nine hours a day.  Pushing pedals and turning steering wheels does not count as physical activity, though I was getting nighttime leg cramps from it for a while. I also was a bit lazy when it came to exercise once I finished training and got my own assignment.  I work late afternoon into the wee hours of the morning, and initially would tend to sleep in a bit.  The only exercise I got was just under two miles on Sundays, going to and from a street relief that was just a shade under a mile away from the bus garage.  I also now drive to work in my car, which means that I don’t get any activity related to my own commute.

However, now that the bus has finally become routine and I’m really starting to get the hang of things (and – heaven forbid – having fun at work), I can start getting serious about fitness again.  After all, one of my more recent splash photos shows me looking like this:

The October 2014 splash photo, taken on July 5, 2014

However, roll the clock back to early 2013, and I looked like this:

The March 2013 splash photo, taken on March 3, 2013

Photo taken February 27, 2013

This is where I want to be again.  I got there once, and I’m going to get there again.  I liked being that size, and I was displeased to have lost some of the figure that I had worked so hard to attain.  After all, this was me in October 2012:


I’m still convinced that this was a trick mirror, though.  But anyway…

In any case, I am going to look like this again, just you watch.

However, I do have certain mixed feelings about getting down to that size again.  On one hand, I know that it’s a healthier size to be at, and as such, it’s the right thing to do.  But at the same time, when I was that size was not a particularly happy or fulfilling time in my life.  Something clicked when I turned 30, and it’s like I got more mature all of a sudden.  My interests started to shift, and my career started to stagnate.  I started to find the people that I used to joke around with a lot to be amazingly immature, and I found myself being left at the sidelines at work on things where I used to have a more prominent role, and my pushing for additional responsibility led to a significant demotion, which ultimately caused me to leave the company.  In other words, I was happier when I was heavier, as strange as that may seem.  Now I’m doing things that interest me and that energize me (not just anyone can sling an artic around a major city and have fun doing it), rather than pushing papers around for a nonprofit that didn’t appreciate what I did for them.  But I’m also carrying around about 50 pounds that I wasn’t carrying in those less happy days, and I don’t like that.

Of course, now that my job is starting to become routine, and I know my block numbers by heart, among other things, I’m working the pool back in.  My goal is to swim from 11:50 AM until 12:45 PM on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, do my walk to my street relief and back on Sundays, and hopefully work in another swim or a deep water running session on one of my days off.  Then once it warms up, I want to take the bike out and about.  I’m thinking it’s worth just going a few miles out somewhere, and then throwing it on the front of a Metrobus to go home again.  I did that in July, biking up to Olney and taking the bus home, but I also ground up the chain pretty well on that trip (oops), so it was either take the bus home or walk home in that case.  Would also be a good time to get a new helmet, since mine doesn’t really fit as well as I would like.  But in any case, I want to have a destination in mind, and not just pedal around aimlessly.

And then, of course, I would be delighted if I have to go back to Muscatello’s to get my uniform tailored again for a new, slimmer size.

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I can’t believe I set off the DriveCam… Thu, 29 Jan 2015 00:57:17 +0000 I had a good bit of fun on Tuesday.  I went down to the Washington Auto Show at the Washington Convention Center with Elyse, and we wandered through, seeing all sorts of interesting things.  We took the Red Line to Gallery Place, then took the 70 bus up to the Convention Center (and we got an artic).

Unlike most car shows that I’ve been to in my 33 years, this was primarily for auto manufacturers to show off new cars.  As such, it was heavy on the marketing, and you could touch and interact with most of the vehicles that were there.  If you go on a Tuesday, as we did, the place was pretty quiet.  No wait for tickets and security, and no wait to see or do anything, and more time to chat it up with people.

Right off the bat, with its being a slow day, Elyse and I could tell that the people working the event were in a good mood.  When I purchased my ticket, the guy mentioned that admission, normally $12.00, was only $10.00 with a SmarTrip, or $5.00 with a student ID.  My old JAC card from my college days still lives on my keychain over a decade after I graduated college.  I said, “I still have my old student ID from when I was in college.”  The guy sold me a ticket at the student rate, and justified it by saying that it just says “a student ID”, and not that you had to be a current student.

And here’s proof:

My JAC card and my student ticket for the auto show.  Go Dukes.

I suppose this is proof that once a JMU Duke, always a JMU Duke.  In any case, I was tickled to have gotten the student discount, even though my JAC card shows a version of me that had hair where there is no hair now.  “Heri yesterday, gone today,” and all that (Latin buffs will get that one).

As transit nerds, the first thing that Elyse and I sought out was the bus display.  This was Metrobus, and they had bus 8102, a NABI 42′ BRT hybrid-electric, on display.  This bus was brand new, and had not yet been operated in revenue service.  And here it is:

All in all, it’s a nice bus.  Now since I also drive a bus for a living, I was showing Elyse about all of the various things on a bus, like the radio, the way that buses turn on, etc.

Then I pointed to the DriveCam.  For those not familiar, DriveCam is a device manufactured by Lytx that’s mounted on the windshield of a vehicle.  The way it works is that when the device’s accelerometer reaches a certain threshold, usually reached by abrupt changes in speed and/or direction, a 12-second event is recorded.  That event consists of eight seconds’ worth of footage prior to the moment that the event was triggered, and four seconds’ worth of footage after (in other words, the DriveCam is always recording, but it only saves the footage if an event is triggered).  DriveCam footage comes from two sources: a camera facing forward, and a camera facing the driver.  It’s marketed two ways.  One way is aimed at parents, with the intent of using it to monitor their children’s driving habits.  The other is aimed toward fleet operators, i.e. it’s put on commercial vehicles to look at driving behaviors observed during triggered events.

DriveCam is installed on the buses where I drive, and yes, I’ve set it off before, including, most notably, an occasion while I was still in training when a person in an SUV ran a stop sign right in front of the bus and I had to jam on the brakes to avoid hitting them.  I was successful, and for my efforts, I got a what’s-wrong-with-you look from the other driver (even though they had the stop sign and I didn’t), who then went on their way.  The DriveCam’s lights flashed green and red for a few seconds and then stayed red, indicating that an event was stored, i.e. I had set off the DriveCam.  No one ever said anything to me about it, which makes me think that I did everything correctly in that instance.

So at the auto show, I tapped on the side of the camera unit twice with my fingernail as I was showing it to Elyse.  Immediately after, I noticed that the green and red lights were both flashing, and then the light stayed red, i.e. this:

Guess who just set off the DriveCam...

Ooooooops.  Guess who just set off the DriveCam.  On a parked bus.  At the convention center.  Touchy little thing.

After Elyse and I finished laughing our heads off over that, though, we continued.  We spent some time at the Jeep area, where they were demonstrating how tough their Cherokee and Wrangler vehicles were by taking them over a course.  The course included simulated hills and uneven territory.  It was, to put it nicely, a slow thrill ride, as the cars performed admirably over territory much steeper than you would ever want to take your own car on.  Going down a hill with a 35-degree grade was definitely something I don’t particularly want to experience again, that’s for sure.

In other words, this:

The big Jeep hill

It may look nice and gradual from this angle, but from inside the car, it looks way steeper.

Then there was also a spot where the cars went over some very rough terrain.  Look at the rear wheel up in the air:

Yes, the right rear wheel is up in the air...

Then there was the Kia area.  This is more my style:

A green Kia Soul

That is the most recent version of the Kia Soul.  Elyse decided to hop in one and pretend to take it for a spin:

Elyse sits inside a red Soul

Elyse sits inside a red Soul

I still say that Kia put too much effort into trying to look “cool” with the redesign in 2014.  One thing I like about my 2012 Soul is that it’s not too overly “cool”.  Don’t get me wrong, now – it’s a pretty cool car.  But it feels like just the right amount of “cool” without overdoing it.  This newer version seems a tad over the top.  But I do like this function:

Pushbutton start

I like the pushbutton start.  All you need is to have your key fob in the car, and the car will fire right up at the touch of a button.  I wish my car had that.  Would save me from those moments when I try to start the car with the house key.  Or when I try to open the front door of the house with the car remote and wonder why the car’s lights are flashing.

And quit laughing.  You know you’ve done it before yourself.

Then lastly, the Mercedes area, where I pretended to recreate a moment from Mrs. Doubtfire:

Pretending to pull off the Mercedes hood ornament

And no, I didn’t see how easily the real hood ornament would come off.  But it does make a good photo.  And my the looks of it, I need to use some moisturizer on the back of my hands.

So all in all, I’d say that Elyse and I had a fun time at the Washington Auto Show.

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Okay, activists, time to feel old… Tue, 20 Jan 2015 18:22:21 +0000 I just want to bring it to your attention for a moment that this all happened ten years ago today:

For those who don’t recall, these are photos from the J20: Counter-Inaugural photo set, which was about political demonstratons being held on the occasion of the second inaugural of now-former president George W. Bush, on January 20, 2005.  That was quite a long day for me, coming up to DC from Stuarts Draft and attending multiple demonstrations in one day.  I admit that it was a fun day.

Looking back, I have mixed feelings about the way the 2004 election ended up going down.  On one hand, George W. Bush was an awful president.  However, his main opponent, then-senator John Kerry, was an awful candidate.  I admit that I voted for him, but primarily because he was not George W. Bush.  In other words, if Bozo the Clown had been the Democratic nominee in 2004, I probably would have voted for him, too.  He wouldn’t have been the first clown to run for president, though, and he certainly wouldn’t have been the last.  However, I think that if John Kerry had won, we would have likely been just as bad of a president as Bush was, but much of the left would have given him a free pass because he would have been playing on the blue team.  I have much respect for groups that, even when a person seen as more sympathetic to their cause is in office, they still keep on the officials.  After all, if you have the “right” person in office, you ride them even harder than the “wrong” person, because then you may actually have a fighting chance of getting somewhere.  But in hindsight, it’s just as well that Kerry didn’t win in 2004.  Yes, Bush was awful, but he would be gone in four years no matter what due to term limits.  Bringing John Kerry in would have reset that clock, and we would have potentially had eight years of a similarly bad president, just on the other team.

The other problem in 2004 was that the left’s mantra was “anybody but Bush”.  And so they voted for anyone… except Bush.  Perhaps if the Democrats had run a more charismatic Obama-like figure in 2004 who actually opposed the Iraq War, they might have been able to get everyone around one candidate and unseated Bush.  But I’ve noticed that both major political parties tend not to run their big players when they’re going up against an incumbent.  We get the second-tier guys, like Bob Dole, John Kerry, or Mitt Romney.  And I suppose it makes enough sense.  You run your best people when the seat is open, not when you’re trying to unseat someone, because the bar for getting them in is lower because it’s not as much of a referendum on the sitting president.  The only sitting president in my lifetime to have lost a reelection bid was George Bush in 1992, and that was a case where his own party sort of left him out to dry.

In any case, it’s still funny to think that this was a decade ago as of today.  Where has the time gone…

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“I am bold. I am brave. I am confident. I am supreme. I am courageous.” Fri, 09 Jan 2015 18:22:56 +0000 When I was in training to be a bus operator, about half of the program involved going out with seasoned operators on their regular runs, and actually driving in revenue service, i.e. taking real passengers where they need to go (as opposed to driving an empty bus around with the “TRAINING” sign set).  During that time, I joined ten different operators on their runs, and learned a number of different bus routes.  It’s also where I came up with the idea that great bus operators don’t just happen, but rather, they are formed through the help of many, and lends credence to the idea that it takes a village to raise a child.

However, the one point that sticks with me most from this part of training is something that I learned on the first day with a seasoned operator.  This particular operator put a strong emphasis on positive thinking, and encouraged me to say the following affirmations to myself each morning:

I am BOLD.





And, truth be told, it works.  My normal weekday assignment begins with a lengthy deadhead (i.e. going somewhere without picking up passengers), and I remind myself of these things while I’m doing that first deadhead.  It helps me get in my zone, it pushes out the negativity, it calms me down, and it’s a good reminder that no matter what happens on the street on a given day, I can surmount it.

I’ve also learned to appreciate the amount of destructive force that negativity brings.  It’s toxic.  If you think that you can’t do it, then you’re not going to do it, simple as that.  I have a rule when it comes to working on this website, in that when I find myself in certain mental states, I am not allowed to touch the site.  Those states are intoxicated, sad, and upset.  On the first one, I don’t drink that often, and rarely to the point of “drunk” (one or two beers, and I’m done), but still, no one wants anyone drunk-blogging.  But sad and upset don’t work, either.  I admit that I’ve violated this rule a few times over the years, and it’s pretty clear when I’ve done so.  But in general, I don’t work on the site in those states because I don’t want to spread negativity.  If I had taken a negative attitude back in 2011-2012 when I was converting the entire site to WordPress, I don’t think I would have made it, and the site would still be a hodgepodge of different setups that would make big changes cumbersome.  But I told myself that I could do it, and it was done.

Same thing goes for people.  I want to surround myself with positive people.  I left Food & Water Watch in part because the negativity that emanated from that place had become too much to bear, to the point where it started to consume me.  Seriously, my life for about four or five months in 2013 was where I dreaded coming into work each day, and even my weekends were haunted by the fact that I had to go back into work on Monday.  It was a miserable existence, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  When I put in my resignation, it was as if a weight had been lifted.  Even though I didn’t know what the future held for me just yet, I knew that the negativity had to go, and I knew that there was a place for me somewhere that was a better fit.  It took much soul searching to find where my real home was, and after several months of unsuccessful job searching in the nonprofit sector, it became clear that the nonprofit sector was not where I belonged, especially with the realization that it was not a long-term solution.  What was to say, after all, that I wouldn’t be back on the job hunt again in a few years?  It clicked with me in October of 2013 that, as a transit nerd, transit was where I belonged, and I pursued it.  It was like a ray of sunshine, as I now had a clear goal, and I made it happen.  No more negativity.  This is your goal, and yes, you are going to do it, and that’s all there is to it.  I want to say “yes” as much as possible, and leave any negativity behind.  Oh, and doing something that I enjoy as the “promoted fanboy” means that I’m getting paid good money to have fun every day, while providing exceptional service to the riding public.  I like to say that since I’ve been driving professionally, I haven’t “worked” a day yet.  The whole thing energizes me, even late at night after my sixth trip down the same street.  After all, I can leave work every day with a genuine smile, and that’s something to be proud of, since not everybody can claim that in their work.

And if you don’t believe me when I say that I enjoy what I do, and enjoy all of the positivity that resonates from it, ask my friends.  They could probably tell you that I could talk all day about what I do, and do so with a smile.  I actually have to consciously remember that not everyone is as into what I do as I am, and thus ramp it back a bit to avoid making them crazy.

So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t let negativity get you down.  If you find yourself surrounded by negativity, push it out.  Positive thinking will get you much further in life than negativity.  When faced with a challenge, you have to see yourself rising up to meet it.  Snap, clap, and chuckle, as they say.  And just keep reminding yourself: “I am bold.  I am brave.  I am confident.  I am supreme.  I am courageous.”  And make it so.

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I made the mistake of commenting intelligently on a thread populated by very ignorant people… Fri, 12 Dec 2014 16:07:05 +0000 …and for that, I am filled with regret.  I thought that perhaps these people would be able to respond to some level of reason.  I was quite wrong on that point.  This time, it was on the “Wilson Memorial Hornets Football” page on Facebook.  I don’t remember how I ended up landing on this page, since I don’t really care about Augusta County high school sports, but somehow, there I was.

For those not familiar, Wilson Memorial High School is located in Fishersville, Virginia.  The school was built at the same time as Stuarts Draft High School, i.e. where I went to high school, and is identical to Stuarts Draft architecturally.  The two schools are traditionally rivals, and play each other every year in football, though now, I believe, as an exhibition game, since the two schools are now in different conferences.

This Facebook page for Wilson football, however, has been a bit controversial.  On December 6, the page’s owner made the following post:

"What a Game!! Faith. Family. Football. We Are... ...WILSON!"

In the comments for this post, someone named Rebekah Johnson said this:

"Rather than double down on your flagrant defiance of the Constitution and its separation clause, you might think about the consequences it will have on the students that you are paid by the state to be entrusted with. Deleting the warning does not negate Federal Law. We have the screen capture so think about taking the time to fix your verbiage rather than trying to censor and cover up."

The gist of it all is that Johnson was responding to the “faith” part of the post.  Wilson is a public school, and is thus funded primarily by tax dollars.  So an explicit endorsement of religion from the school would be a major no-no.  On its face, whether or not the page owner intended the inclusion of “faith” in the original post to be a religious statement is debatable, but Johnson took it as such, which I consider a reasonable interpretation, though not the only one that I can think of.  Taking it as she did, her argument was reasonable enough, though I probably would have phrased it a bit more politely than that.  That comment generated some responses, first from the page:

So now it comes out: this is not, in fact, a page operated by or otherwise affiliated with the school.  That does change things.  Interesting.  Then the other responses mostly came out like these two:

"Faith, Family, Football, the constitution says freedom of religion not freedom from religion. If you don't like it, go troll another page."

"From what I've gathered Rebekah Johnson this page nor this post was shoved down your throat. And for you to go out of your way to cause trouble over such a simple and harmless phrase. The only thing Faith, Family & Football was trying to accomplish is to put your beliefs (whether Christian in nature or not) first, your family second and football third. It was created to remind people that while football is a way of life, it should not rule your life. If you don't care to see such a phrase feel free to unlike this Wilson Memorial Football fan page. I, like many others will not miss your presence."

On the first note, the First Amendment, which Chris Robinson cites, reads as such:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The key word here is “Congress”.  Therefore, we’re speaking about governmental bodies (applied to state law in 1947 with Everson v. Board of Education) when it comes to the First Amendment.  But since this page is not affiliated with the school or any other governmental organization, the First Amendment doesn’t apply since we’re dealing with private entities here.  The government is not going to get involved in this discussion, but I, as another private entity, have every right to call them an idiot if I choose.

Then regarding the second comment by Erin L. Jones, that posits an alternate interpretation of the faith-family-football wording.  Note, however, the unnecessarily confrontational tone, along with the “get lost” type of sentiment conveyed by both Jones and Robinson, as well as the page owner.

One would think, however, that the discussion would stay within the confines of the faith-family-football post and die out on its own.  And if you thought that, you would be incorrect.  The page owner then decided to fan the flames a little bit more, posting this along with a screenshot of Johnson’s post:

"Dear Friends of the Wilson Memorial Hornets Football page, This page was originally created to provide game updates and highlights for fans of The Wilson Hornets Football team. I am not employed by WMHS or act as an agent of WMHS, VHSL or any official body. I am a parent and a fan of The Wilson Hornets who wanted to provide a site to update game information to those unable to attend those initial road contests. I found that I enjoyed providing the play and scoring updates, so this page has continued throughout the season. Over the recent weeks the number of friends of the page has grown beyond my original intent. With that growth in fans the page has also caught the attention of individuals merely trolling for trouble. A post after the game containing "Faith, Family, Football" has resulted in an attempt of intimidation and threat from an individual. While it was never the purpose of this page to express religious or political views, as the creator and administrator of this page I will not be forced into hiding my personal beliefs. This individual would prefer the choice of another word as "Faith" has religious connotation. My page will continue to use "Faith" because it specifically has religious connotation. I will continue to post positive expressions and share pictures and updates for the remainder of this special season. I invite fans to continue sharing positive posts as well. I trust that anyone offended by any post made or shared by this page simply "unlike" the page and troll elsewhere. Thank you to those who choose to stay. Who am I... Simply a Christian and a fan of Wilson and unapologetic for both. FAITH! FAMILY! FOOTBALL!"

What drives people to make these sorts of posts that fan the flames over a discussion that was contained within a single thread?  The discussion would have died out on its own in a day or so, but why should that stop the drama train?  At this point, I felt compelled to add my two cents about the whole thing:

"See, here's your problem: prior to this post, you appear to have made little effort to indicate prior to this post that the page is not, in fact, operated by Wilson Memorial High School, but rather is just a page by a fan. Therefore a reasonable person would think that it is operated by the school itself. As a public school, they are barred from endorsing any religion for reasons of separation of church and state. As a fan page, say whatever you want. I strongly recommend making your page's "unofficial" status a bit more prominent (like in the page title) to indicate that you're just a fan like everyone else, and not speaking on behalf of the school."
(And yes, that first sentence received the stamp of approval from the Department of Redundancy Department.)

If this sort of advice sounds familiar, it’s because I discussed it in this space back in January, at that time framing it in terms of the infamous “my opinions are my own” social media disclaimer.  In this case, the same concept of branding yourself properly still holds, but it’s about indicating that you’re a fan-made page vs. anything official.  When people would make fansites on the Web back in the day, it was fairly clear that they were fansites, mostly due to rather amateurish design.  But with Facebook, pages get a pretty standardized look, making it harder to tell who is who.  In this case, I came to the conclusion that a reasonable person would confuse this for an official school-endorsed page.  I know that I, for one, did.

When I made my post, I was trying to help explain and offer advice going forward.  The replies made it abundantly clear that I had wasted my time.  The first comment came from the page owner:

"The fact the title doesn't say Wilson Memorial High School should lead a reasonable individual to conclude that this is not an official page."

Apparently “high school” is a magic word that denotes that a page is official?  That’s news to me.  It’s not like I’ve never seen schools drop the type of institution that they are when referring to their athletic teams in an official capacity.  “Stuarts Draft Cougars” and “James Madison Dukes” have both been used officially by those entities.  Therefore, would it not seem reasonable that a page titled “Wilson Memorial Hornets Football” would be an official page?  Brand yourself accordingly.

Then Scott Wakefield had this to say:

"Schools need more God and less government. You don't need to say you are not affiliated with the school, as long as you do not enforce people to pray or believe a certain way, schools have every right to allow prayer and encourage prayer. That was the way it was intended by the founding fathers. The written documents of history prove that. People actually should read them and the Constitution."

Considering that we’re talking about a public school here, I’m going to read “public schools” into this, even though Wakefield did not say this explicitly.  That said, wow.  Just wow.  Kind of reminds me of the “keep your government hands off my Medicare” bit from a few years ago, where someone didn’t recognize that Medicare is a government program to begin with.  Likewise, the public school system is an arm of the local government, and as such is not allowed to officially sanction any religion or religious activities.

On that note, I always find it interesting that the people who advocate for these sorts of things always conveniently forget that nothing is stopping anyone from being religious in a public school on their own.  The school can’t lead a prayer or conduct other religious activities in an official capacity, but nothing is stopping someone from individually praying at the beginning of the school day, at lunch, or whenever they feel they need supernatural assistance.  Likewise, someone can bring a Bible to school and read it during whatever downtime they might have.  And students can start a student-led religious club at school.  My high school had a Bible club that prayed around the flagpole on some mornings before school, and if not mistaken, Fellowship of Christian Athletes also existed at my high school.  This was all “above board” and out in the open.  The school had nothing to do with them other than approving them as student organizations, the same way that they did with any other student group.

Likewise, it is possible to have religious functions on a school’s property.  When I was in middle school, the sanctuary and fellowship hall at the church that we attended underwent a major renovation, which rendered both spaces unusable for a period of about eight months while the construction was underway.  The church made arrangements to use the cafeteria at the nearby Stuarts Draft Elementary School for Sunday services.  I don’t know what the specific contractual arrangements were, but it was done, and apparently, it was good.

Then Michael Todd Plecker said this:

"Why don't you try lifting people up rather than crusing for opportunities to tear them down. On another note you are completely wrong about Separation of Church and State and why it was instituted. You and others like you cherry picked the first few sentences without reading the entire clause."

Was I not trying to help?  All I suggested was stronger branding on the page to indicate its unofficial nature.  After all, a public entity can’t formally endorse a religion, and this entire dust-up was caused by a lack of clarity as to who was operating the page.

After reading that, I had to question whether Plecker understood the Establishment Clause as written in the Constitution, as it is not a few sentences, but rather, it is part of one sentence.  However, the wall of text that Plecker then proceeded to post (which I cut after the first paragraph – I will never get the time back that I spent reading that much larger wall of text) confirmed that a civics lesson is in order:

"Ben Schumin, I noticed on your home page that you called us all ignorant. I see you're practicing your enlightened acceptance of other view points. Before you call others ignorant maybe you should pick up a history book. I'll save you some time. Please read below and have a Merry CHRSTmas. There are two mistakes that are made when opponents of religion make this reference. First, they neglect to continue quoting the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It seems, then, that the federal government wanted to remain neutral on this issue. But what about the states? The First Amendment makes a qualification that, “Congress shall…”, while the Tenth Amendment of the federal constitution leaves that possibility of politico-religious matters to the states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  As Steven Waldman, author of Founding Faith wrote, “[James] Madison reluctantly had to concede that the First Amendment would only apply to the federal government, not to state or local governments, which could aid—or even oppress—religion as much as they wanted.” And historically speaking, this is exactly what they did (as we will see in the next paragraph)."

This response was apparently prompted by a Facebook post that I made, which is where the title of this post came from.  And from what he wrote following that, “very ignorant people” seems to have been an accurate assessment.  As originally written, the First Amendment only applied to the federal government.  However, a number of court cases in the 20th century, taken together, apply the entire First Amendment to the states.

Then Jones returns:

"Nowhere in Faith, Family & Football is God mentioned. Faith is simply where your personal beliefs are rooted. Looking at the situation that way, it wouldn't matter whether this was an official or unofficial fan page instituted by WMHS or just a loyal fan. By all means Ben Schumin go ahead and have faith in goats or fairies or the color red. Frankly it is whatever floats your boat as long as for your own person it gives you something to believe in and rely on when you need it. Where is your right to tell us to not have faith of our own variety. Shame on you for trying to belittle our team and our team's faith in whatever power. Maybe you need to learn to have faith in something other than trying to bring other people down."

Jones basically reiterated what she said to Johnson, now directed at me.  Honestly, knowing that the page is unofficial and run by an individual, my stance is that they can say whatever they want, and I said as much.  My only concern was in the branding.  I’m not saying that anyone should or should not say something, or is or is not allowed to say something.  I’m just suggesting that it is worthwhile to make it clear about who is speaking.

And finally, from Sandy Marshall Shifflett:

"If he was paid to do this what business is it of yours . Get a life and worry about your own problem. Go Big Green!!!"

This is a viewpoint that I wasn’t expecting, because I don’t believe that this has anything to do with money, and whether or not one is getting paid to post, or doing so for free.  It has more to do with who the person at the other end of the connection is speaking for.

So all in all, my lesson from January on how to brand yourself properly rings true in a real-life example.  This entire incident could have been avoided if the page owner had branded the page as unofficial right out of the gate.  Don’t get me wrong – unofficial fan pages are great.  Because they’re a labor of love rather than the official marketing arm of the entity, the content is often much richer and more detailed than one would find in the official materials.  However, fan pages should always do their best to keep their status as unofficial pages prominent, in order to avoid confusion.

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A splash photo that’s open to some interpretation… Tue, 25 Nov 2014 18:38:41 +0000 This past Saturday, I got together with my friend Elyse, and we spent the day seeing what we could see, mostly in Rosslyn and Ballston.  While we were in Rosslyn, we checked out the open-air patio on the fourth floor at the Le Méridien hotel (formerly Hotel Palomar) at the Waterview complex.  The patio had decent enough views, but we ended up spending more time taking photos of the fire alarms, and as a result of that, got December’s splash photo:

Two conflicted lovers?

This photo is scheduled to go live at the top of all the pages at midnight on December 1.  I don’t know about you, but it reminded Elyse and me of those images that they show of conflicted lovers in media, where the people aren’t smiling because of whatever the story is about.  Loving and potentially losing, perhaps.  “Darling, I don’t want to lose you!  But you’re about to be upgraded, and they’re replacing you with… a Simplex system!”  (And you have to read that in an overly dramatic tone.)  But with a fire alarm device as the other “lover” and my expression, we both couldn’t stop giggling about it for some time.  And for those of you who don’t know, Simplex is my least favorite kind of fire alarm, since, in most cases, Simplex systems are too predictable.  Once you see “Simplex” on something, you usually know exactly what you’re going to get in the rest of the system.  Interestingly enough, however, this building had a Simplex system, but all of the notification appliances that Elyse and I could find were Wheelock.  Go figure.

In reality, the photo’s a selfie, and I don’t quite know why I wasn’t smiling for this pic.  When I posted it to Facebook at the time, the number one question was about why the fire alarm was so low on the wall.  As it turned out, the fire alarm wasn’t low down, but rather, I was high up.  Here’s the setting in context:

The same alarm, in context

To get the other photo, I climbed up onto that counter and got up at eye level with that speaker/strobe.  Funny how modern technology works, though.  People asked on Facebook about the positioning, so I ran out, took this photo, ran back in, and sent it out.

And if you have a different interpretation of the photo above, please leave a comment and share!

We also had fun getting other photos.  Elsewhere on the patio, we found a Wheelock ET-1010:

Wheelock ET-1010

We found a Wheelock RSSWP:

Wheelock RSSWP

By the way, the easiest way to tell an RSS from an RSSWP is the screws through the front.  The normal RSS conceals the screws behind a faceplate, while the weatherproof version does not.

And then another photo of my “lover”:

Wheelock speaker/strobe

We also did a little bit of planespotting while we were there.  For those not familiar, Rosslyn is along the flight path for planes coming into National Airport (don’t call it “Reagan”), and so we tried to get a few photos.  I like to make sure that the tail number is visible, so that I can look them up later on  Here’s what I got:

N805MD, an Embraer ERJ-170-100SU for US Airways Express, and likely to be repainted for American Eagle before too long.
N805MD, an Embraer ERJ-170-100SU for US Airways Express, and likely to be repainted for American Eagle before too long.

N908NN, a Boeing 737-823, and the first plane in the American Airlines fleet to wear the company's new livery.
N908NN, a Boeing 737-823, and the first plane in the American Airlines fleet to wear the company’s new livery.

N462AW, a Bombardier CRJ-200LR for US Airways Express.
N462AW, a Bombardier CRJ-200LR for US Airways Express.

One of these days, Elyse and I are going to make a proper trip over to Gravelly Point, and do some planespotting like we mean it.  Should be a fun exercise doing something new, photography-wise.

And lastly, Elyse and I had some fun with the model of future development at Rosslyn, and created a traffic incident with the cars that weren’t stuck down:

A four-car pileup on Route 29.  I blame it on texting and driving.

Now I wonder how long it will take for someone to notice the major accident on Route 29 and correct it.  This is something that could potentially go unnoticed for a long time because it’s so small and in an obscure spot on the model.  Who knows.

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Here’s a blast from the Internet past… Fri, 21 Nov 2014 01:28:24 +0000 So for Throwback Thursday, here’s a little blast from the Internet past: my old AOL Instant Messenger away messages!  Yes, AOL Instant Messenger, otherwise known as AIM, i.e. this:

AIM, circa April 2000

I was recently shuffling some files around on my computer, and found these, which I had preserved as a backup in February 2007, when I moved my computer from the Gateway to the Dell.  I want to say that I used AIM for about fifteen years.  I started using it the summer after I graduated high school, and stopped using it earlier this year, telling the two people that I still talked to primarily via AIM (both in-real-life friends) that I was dropping AIM and for them to use Facebook chat to get a hold of me.

When I was in college from 1999-2003, everyone used AIM (think social media before Facebook existed), and away messages were something that you did, because if you weren’t at your computer, you set an away message telling people where you were.  I want to say that I did away messages until around 2007 or so, and then finally decided to stop posting them, having grown tired of them, and figuring that just going idle would be sufficient to indicate that I’m not around.

That said, I was such a geek with these old messages.  I laughed quite a bit when I unearthed this file.  It’s funny to think about what I considered to be humorous back when I was in college, what I considered to be important, and what my tastes were.

First, my “idle” message, which went on automatically if I hadn’t set an away message before getting up:

Well, [recipient’s screen name], since you’re reading this message, it means I forgot to set an “away” message, so there’s no telling what I’m up to…

Then the away messages themselves:

Place your sand sculptures of famous renaissance statues right over here, and then pick up your wine bottles here.  Doesn’t that deserve an Arbor Mist?

We’re sorry, but the away message you have requested is not in service. Please close your window, and send your message again.  Error code 3265.  [And some people occasionally really did retry their message.]

DON’T TOUCH THAT DIAL! SchuminWeb will be right back.

Take a whole bunch of fruit flavors, mash them all together into a red-colored concoction, then reduce it to a powdered form, and then THROW IT ON THE BARBECUE!  Makes for some neat-colored flames.  Warning: Don’t try this at home.  (If not painfully obvious already, I’m out finding somewhere to burn a punch)  [This refers to dining plan meal punches, which had a cash equivalent at certain campus facilities.]

I’m kinda busy at the moment…

What is our society’s biggest energy source? I’d hazard a guess that we as a society probably use more caffeine in a day than fossil fuels or whatever else. Yes, our society is running on pure caffeine. And think – caffeine is a renewable resource! Yay!

Out filling my mind with wisdom and knowledge gained from professors and textbooks.

Nice days make great fire drill weather, don’t you think?  [This got a bit of response when I first used it, and I also wrote about it at the time.]

This is your friend: “Of course I’ll go to the prom with you! You’re a dork, and I totally dig it!” This is your foe: “Well, I know you have that important message to send, but I’m not here and don’t know when I’ll be back, but I’ll get back to you… eventually…”

Good morning/afternoon/evening, dear friend/family member/random person. I am currently away/busy/out/sleeping/working. Please leave me some darts/pats/love/messages.

Invite the neighbors! I have feed!  [Pretty sure that this was a “having dinner” message.]

Nature’s calling. Be right back.

Duty, once again… another fun-filled night in the Potomac Hall office, where they occasionally let me out to make rounds, but otherwise, not much happens, for the most part. Come visit me!

It’s another day… places to go, things to see, and people to do…

If you’re reading this, you are obviously not doing anything productive. Talking to me while I’m not here is not productive. Go do something productive! I’ll be back soon enough!

I’m over by the quad taking classes for my Public Administration major!

A quick reminder of the rules…
Rule #1: Schumin is always right
Rule #2: If Schumin is wrong, read #1

I am out doing secret RA stuff…

I’m out hitting up Sheetz for some stuff. Gotta love those Pepsi slushes…

Shiver me timbers! SchuminWeb’s not here right now!

I’m in the shower, making myself smell nice and clean, so pretty ladies will go, “Wow, he smells good! I wonder if he’s available…” [For the record, no one ever said that, but I could dream, right?]

Sleep. Sleep is good.

I am sleeping until at least noon… go ahead – TRY and wake me up! Five bucks says you can’t. (Warning: All bets will not be honored)

I’m studying… reading textbooks, writing papers… isn’t college grand?

Timber me shivers! SchuminWeb’s… wait a second… what am I saying here?

I am out partying, smoking, drinking, and having wild, unprotected sex. Catch you later!

So there you are.  It is most definitely the product of a younger man, and taken in context, Schumin Web also came off at that time as the work of a much younger man as well.  Compare Journal entries from a decade ago to now, and you’ll see a marked difference.

And now, of course, I believe that the away message has been replaced by the Facebook status.  My Facebook statuses these days are much wittier than my away messages ever were…

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