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I’m a homeowner now, and so many things to think about…

November 14, 2017, 2:12 PM

Good news: I closed on the house on Thursday, and I am now a homeowner.  About a thousand signatures later, my longtime fantasy just became reality.  There are certain occasions in life where an event leaves you mentally drained at the end of it, and closing on the house was one of those things.  And now that the closing is done, there are so many more things to think about.  There is some minor electrical work that I need to have done.  The paint needs to be updated in some places.  I need to buy curtains.  I need to buy a new bedroom set for myself, since Elyse is getting my old one.  I need to get an air mattress to sleep on until I get the new bed.  The cable gets installed on the 15th.  Moving happens the following day, on the 16th.  I need to change my address in a zillion places.  And it goes on.  Such is the joy of homeownership, I suppose.

But in any case, the house is now mine.  Check it out:

Wheelock 7002T on the breakfast bar
Wheelock 7002T on the breakfast bar in the kitchen.  I used this photo for a “Welcome home” post on Instagram.

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Categories: House

So… I’m buying a house!

November 5, 2017, 2:45 PM

You may recall back in May that I sort of casually mentioned that Pixsy money was helping me get ahead financially and eventually buy a house.  “Eventually” has since morphed into “very soon”.  So I might as well make it official: I am buying a townhome in Montgomery Village, and therefore, I will be leaving my apartment of ten years in Aspen Hill fairly soon.  I am just a ball of different emotions, being both excited and terrified all at the same time.  I’m also picking up a housemate, as Elyse will be living with me.

I have wanted to own my own home for about six years.  Back then, it was an “eventually” thing, and more of a fantasy than anything else.  While some of my coworkers at Food & Water Watch owned their own homes, almost all of those people were married or otherwise in a committed relationship.  As a single person, I could not afford to buy a house on a Food & Water Watch salary.  I also owed a bunch of money on my credit card due to several large repairs that I had to make on my old Sable station wagon, which certainly didn’t help things.  Then when I lost my job at Food & Water Watch, any thoughts of being a homeowner went right out the window for a while as I went into survival mode, having to live off of what should have been retirement money for a little while.  When I started working in public transportation, one of the instructors during bus training gave us some advice: “Get yourself some bricks.”  In other words, buy a house.  My financial situation was not where I wanted it to be yet in order to do that, but I knew that our instructor was right.

In the fall of 2015, I was in the financial position to start considering becoming a homeowner, and I was starting to “hit a wall” with my apartment, as I wanted to do things that I couldn’t do while renting, like paint the walls.  I had creative energies that I wanted to get out, but couldn’t expend them in my place.  So I started fantasizing about redecorating my parents’ house, where the decor is somewhat dated (“stuck in the nineties” is the phrase I would use).  Mom wasn’t very receptive to my ideas for redecorating, unfortunately, as she didn’t see any reason to redecorate.  I also wanted more living space, as it was always hard to have guests over with no spare room and only one bathroom.  Guests sleep in the living room, and so whenever I had visitors over, no one had much privacy.  Plus, with guests sleeping in the living room, bedtime for one basically meant bedtime for all, since no one could really move around without disturbing the other person.

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Categories: House, Montgomery Village

I’m not even going to try to recall how many times I made Elyse cross the street…

October 31, 2017, 2:30 PM

Here’s some “new old stock” for you.  Back in March 2016, I had the idea of writing about a fatal pedestrian accident that happened in December 2015 at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road (MD 586) and the Matthew Henson Trail in Rockville.  It was an area that I was very familiar with, as one of the routes that I did on the bus went through this area.  I did the field work for that planned Journal entry, photographing the area in question, as well as a few other pedestrian control devices in Montgomery County, in order to have a discussion similar to the one I did in March 2012 about an intersection on Georgia Avenue.  Unfortunately, however, life got in the way, as I got a promotion at work, and the several-months-long training program that came with that promotion took precedence over the planned Journal entry.  The post eventually got shelved, and now it’s a moot point, as the intersection was initially upgraded with yellow warning signals directly over the crossing (vs. 500 feet ahead of it as before), and then after a second fatal accident in the same location, the crossing was upgraded again with signals that actually require traffic to stop vs. only warning drivers of the presence of pedestrians.

I was always a bit disappointed that an entire afternoon’s work never got used.  Like the Breezewood photo shoot in 2006, evidence of the shoot showed up fairly soon after the work was done – in this case, a single photo feature – but the intended final product never got made.  In hindsight, I’m not too worried about it, because what I would have advocated for in the intended Journal entry came to pass, though I wish that it hadn’t happened as a result of a second fatal accident.

The shoot itself was pretty fun.  I brought Elyse with me, and we made a good team.  The way we did it was that I set the camera up on my tripod and pointed it at whatever I needed, started filming, and then signaled to Elyse to activate the signal.  She then crossed the street, in order to give some legitimacy to the signal activation.  After all, I knew that I was stopping traffic on some fairly busy roads for a photo shoot.  I had Elyse cross the street so that I didn’t look like a complete dick, stopping traffic for no reason.  Someone needed to cross the street, so that it didn’t look like I was stopping traffic just to film the signals.  I imagine that Elyse probably did about a mile going back and forth across several intersections in Montgomery County and DC.  After all, every single take (and I did multiple takes) required activating a signal, and that meant sending Elyse across the street

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No tire problems this time around…

October 25, 2017, 3:17 AM

On Tuesday, October 17, with Elyse and Aaron Stone in tow, I headed down to Ocean City for the day.  The plan was to do the Ocean City outing that I had wanted to do last year, but which had been significantly curtailed due to a slow tire leak that I had to get repaired en route.  Remembering that, I was very explicit about wanting to make as few stops as possible.  The only stops were restroom stops and a food stop, and we did well enough on time.  After all, the purpose of the trip was photography, and so I needed proper light in order to get it, and that meant making good time on the road.  Once I’m out of daylight, the photography is over, since I am currently without a functioning tripod, and therefore, my nighttime options are limited.

For those of you who are not familiar, Ocean City is one of those dumpy little coastal resort towns that has a very distinct operating season.  Outside of that season, the place is fairly quiet, as many businesses close for the off season, as do many of the hotels and attractions.  I was fine with this, because the off-season meant that there were fewer opportunities for people to get in the way of my shots, and those people who were out were easier to photograph.

The plan was that I would photograph along the boardwalk while Aaron and Elyse, both elevator enthusiasts, went out to ride various elevators.  We parked on 9th Street, and then once we got settled, I went south towards the fishing pier, and they went north to do some “elevator tourism”.

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Buses, fire trucks, ambulances, trains, and… moo cows?

October 19, 2017, 11:17 PM

This past Saturday, Elyse and I got together with our friend Dave, and we went to the Public Safety Open House held at the new Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy on Snouffer School Road near Montgomery Village.  Then we went out to Middletown and visited South Mountain Creamery, which is a dairy farm that sells products on site.

The Public Safety Open House event was a lot of fun.  There was a little bit of everything for us to see there.  We started out by looking at a row of Ride On buses.  Apparently, this facility is used to train Ride On operators, because there is, more or less, one or two of each type of bus that Ride On operates located at the facility.  We saw two Gillig hybrids, an Orion VII CNG, a New Flyer C40LF, and two Gillig 30-footers.

Ride On 5822, a New Flyer C40LF.
Ride On 5822, a New Flyer C40LF.  We all commented on how the one panel on the front was so faded.  No idea why.  I speculated at the time that it might be from the diagonal parking at the old Gaithersburg division’s causing sunlight to hit that corner more than others, but after thinking some more about it, while certainly plausible, I don’t know if I’d necessarily go with it now.

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Renting out eight rooms…

September 30, 2017, 12:29 AM

So apparently, I spoke too soon when it came to the closure of The Inn at Afton.  You may recall that last month, I announced the closure of The Inn at Afton, based on a sign that said that the lobby and hotel were closed.  Elyse and I went down that way again on Wednesday, and one of our stops was to see how The Inn at Afton looked in the daylight after finally going out of business for good.  Much to our surprise, we found that the place was open again.  We stopped into room 211, which was being used as the lobby, and had a chat with the lady working inside.  As it turns out, the hotel is barely operational, with only eight rooms, all on the parking lot side, in service.  None of the rooms on the other side, which has a tremendous view of the piedmont, are in service.  I’m told that the remaining rooms have been stripped, and a walk past some of the first-floor rooms that are not in service seems to confirm this.  That means that out of 118 total rooms, 110 of them are out of service, presumably for being uninhabitable.  That’s an availability of 6.7%.  For that few rooms, it hardly seems worthwhile to remain open, but apparently, they do, likely out of habit.

Meanwhile, the room being used as the lobby smelled strongly of mold, and had visible mold and water damage.  Definitely an unhealthy environment.  We might have stuck around for longer and chatted with the very nice lady working there, but the mold smell was too much.  I imagine that the rooms that are still in service are just as bad, if they are willing to let the room that they’re using as a lobby become so bad.  Thank heavens for Orbit “Bubblemint” gum.  It got the mold taste out of my mouth.

So apparently, and much to my surprise, just when we thought that the book had closed on the operational history of the vintage businesses on Afton Mountain, there’s more to the Afton story to be told.

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I think this takes the cake for condescending job rejections…

September 17, 2017, 6:25 PM

If you’ve ever applied for a job, you’ve probably, at some point, received a rejection letter from a company.  It’s that lovely little note that says “thanks, but no thanks” in a way that typically attempts to deliver the bad news while also attempting to soften the blow of said bad news.  Most of them are fairly straightforward, but some people try a bit too hard to make people feel better in their rejections, usually to the opposite effect.  On the /r/jobs board on Reddit, which I help moderate, this came through, which I believe takes the cake when it comes to rejection letters that try too hard to make people feel better:

Looking at my desk full of fantastic applications is like looking into a box full of puppies – you wish you could keep them all.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, and I’m sorry to tell you that your experience and skill set is not the perfect match we are looking for to fill this position.

I regret that I cannot give you a positive answer, but I have no doubt that there are many companies that will be thrilled to hear from a talented candidate like you.

We wish you all the best for your future endeavors and success finding the perfect match.

Best regards,

[Name]

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Categories: Reddit, Work

Saying goodbye to that unique combination of mediocre pizza and animatronic animals…

September 9, 2017, 1:32 PM

The recent news out of CEC Entertainment, the company that operates the Chuck E. Cheese’s chain of restaurants, was that they were redesigning their restaurants to include the elimination of the animatronic band.  The new concept certainly looks lovely, as they give the dated Chuck E. Cheese theme a modern appearance.  However, I have mixed feelings about the elimination of the animatronics.

First, for those of you who aren’t familiar, here is a brief history of the concept: Chuck E. Cheese was introduced as the mascot of Pizza Time Theatre in 1977, a company founded by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, which was a pizzeria and arcade with an animatronic show.  Then entrepreneur Bob Brock founded ShowBiz Pizza Place in 1980, which was the same basic concept, but outsourced the show to Aaron Fechter‘s Creative Engineering.  The two were in competition with each other until Pizza Time Theatre declared bankruptcy, and ShowBiz bought them out.  They ran the two brands in parallel for a while, but considering that the ShowBiz show and characters were outsourced, while the Chuck E. Cheese characters were owned outright, that came to its logical conclusion in the early 1990s, where all of the ShowBiz restaurants were converted to the Chuck E. Cheese theme and show.  Then in the late 1990s, they started doing stages with only one animatronic rather than five. Then in the early part of this decade, they began opening restaurants with no animatronics at all, leaving the stage empty so that an employee in a rat suit could dance around.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I loved going to ShowBiz, in part because I loved seeing the animatronic band, The Rock-afire Explosion, perform.  I was extremely disappointed when I went into ShowBiz and found my Rock-afire characters gone, having been replaced by a new show called “Munch’s Make Believe Band”.  As soon as I saw it, I remember thinking, The Rock-afire Explosion was a real band, not a pretend one.  I’m pretty sure that we only went to ShowBiz one or two more times after this.  It wasn’t the restaurant that I knew and loved anymore without the Rock-afire.  That was a quality show that was enjoyable for any age.  I enjoyed those shows as a child, and I also enjoyed watching them when I found a bunch of the shows online a few years ago.

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Categories: Companies

I definitely didn’t expect to go to New York City on Wednesday…

August 25, 2017, 12:30 PM

Wednesday, August 23 had been planned as a road trip day for quite some time.  Elyse turned 21 two days prior, and this was my birthday present to her, going on a trip up to Asbury Park, New Jersey to visit the Silverball Museum, a pinball arcade on the boardwalk.  We previously visited this facility in May.  Then the plan was to go up to Menlo Park Mall in Edison to go to Rainforest Cafe, where we were having dinner, and I was buying Elyse a drink.  The day that we ended up having was a lot of fun, but definitely more expansive than I had originally planned.

We left the house around 11:00, with Asbury Park as our destination.  We made a quick stop at Maryland House, and then a White Castle in Howell Township:

White Castle in Howell Township

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The other shoe finally dropped on Afton Mountain…

August 18, 2017, 1:25 AM

On Wednesday, I was on a day trip down to Stuarts Draft and such with a few people.  On the whole, it was a fun time.  On the way out, we swung by Afton Mountain in order to give a quick, five-minute tour of the abandoned motels up there.  One pass across the lower properties, then up and across the front of The Inn at Afton.  The Inn at Afton was a lot darker than I might have expected, and I spotted a sign on the window of room 213, which, as we discovered in April, was being used as the lobby.  This is the sign:

"HOTEL CLOSED. LOBBY CLOSED. WILL REOPEN AT A LATER TIME!"

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Categories: Afton Mountain

That rare case when a company gets a reformulation right…

August 13, 2017, 1:55 PM

Some of you may have heard about how Coca-Cola Zero (aka “Coke Zero”) is being replaced by Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.  I heard it and I was a bit concerned about this.  After all, we saw how bad Diet Pepsi with sucralose was.  I was especially concerned with this after Pepsi, in response to their own reformulation, then rereleased the old version in parallel to the new one, and it’s very hard to find.  I liked Coke Zero, and I hoped that Coke Zero Sugar would not be the same disaster that the new version of Diet Pepsi was two years ago.

First of all, for those of you who are not familiar: Coke Zero is (was?) a diet version of regular Coke.  Diet Coke is a completely different flavor, and has little relation to the original Coke, other than the name.  I was pleased when Coke Zero was released in 2005, and discovered that it was a diet version of regular Coke.  I just plain don’t like Diet Coke, but Coke Zero was good.  I could drink that.

I was tipped off to Coke Zero Sugar’s arrival by a friend who found it at a local Safeway, so I swung by:

Side-by-side comparison of old vs. new.  Note the additional red on the new version.
Side-by-side comparison of old vs. new.  Note the additional red on the new version.

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Categories: Food and drink

Going to show that you never know what you’ll find at the thrift store…

July 30, 2017, 2:39 AM

It’s amazing what you find sometimes when you hit the thrift store.  Case in point, at Unique Thrift Store/Value Village in Hillandale Shopping Center, Elyse and I found this:

Elyse holds a "Big Mavica" type camera

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A lovely little road trip to West Virginia and back…

July 23, 2017, 3:53 AM

This past Wednesday, Elyse, Aaron Stone, and I took a little road trip to Jefferson County, West Virginia.  There was some stuff for all of us, as Aaron wanted to see some stuff that Elyse and I had seen before, I wanted to see some stuff that I had spotted in some Instagram pix, plus wanted to get newer photos of some areas where I had been before.

But first, food.  We designed our trip to take us to Sunshine General Store, which is this little hole in the wall restaurant north of Brookeville, at the intersection of Georgia and New Hampshire Avenues.  Their hamburgers are to die for – thick and juicy.  However, you really have to know that they’re there, because at first glance, the place looks abandoned.

After we had our hamburgers, we headed over to Brighton Dam.  The intent was to get some new photos of the dam, but much to my surprise, a dam rehabilitation project was underway, and the park where you got the best views of the dam was closed in order to accommodate the construction work.  The level of Triadelphia Reservoir was much lower as well, presumably because of the dam project, and from the looks of the now-exposed land, it had been lower for quite a while:

Triadelphia Reservoir, with the lower water level.  Compare to the water level in April 2014.
Triadelphia Reservoir, with the lower water level.  Compare to the water level in April 2014.

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Yes, about that historic French cemetery…

July 9, 2017, 11:55 PM

Sometimes, you really have to give someone the proverbial “smackdown”.  Such was the case of a recent copyright infringement issue that I had with a death metal band called Barbiturate.  As you may know, I periodically skim the Internet looking for unauthorized usages of my photography, which I then submit to Pixsy, a company that goes after these copyright infringers for royalties, therefore making the illegal usages legal.  I really don’t care when people use my work elsewhere.  I actually find it somewhat flattering.  However, if you are making money (and by that, I mean taking in revenue, regardless of whether you turn a profit) with my photo, you can afford to pay me for that usage (i.e. “F— You, Pay Me“), either by licensing it up front, or by having me chase you down via Pixsy.  Or at the very least, you can ask me for permission, because I do occasionally authorize use of my work for free.  But generally speaking, I don’t work for free, or for some vague notion of “exposure”.  I have a Flickr account and other outlets that give me plenty of exposure, thank you very much.  I don’t need anyone’s help getting exposure for my work.

In the Barbiturate case, I found this photo in Pixsy’s image search:

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Yesterday’s future is tomorrow’s memories…

June 29, 2017, 8:00 AM

This month, the thing that we all knew was coming finally came: Metro retired the final 1000 and 4000-Series railcars.  That means no more of these:

Rohr 1000-Series railcar, photographed at Largo Town Center in 2008

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Categories: WMATA