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Out of everything, 2020 was an exceptionally good year for my photography…

December 31, 2020, 2:33 PM

Out of all of the things that occurred in 2020, I think that I could define my year most by my photography work.  I had a very productive year, on a few different fronts.

First of all, I got a new phone in early March, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which is a pretty powerful camera in and of itself, with four different lenses built into its design and all sorts of other fun features.  For that, I tend to get the most out of the standard lens and the wide angle lens.  Here’s a comparison of two shots taken from the same spot:

Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the regular lens.
Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the regular lens.

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Categories: Photography

A lot of “teachable moments” in one email…

December 18, 2020, 6:20 PM

Recently, I submitted a takedown notice for content in a post called “Preaching to the Choir” which, among other things, discusses the seventh and ninth commandments in the Bible (conveniently skipping over #8, i.e. “thou shalt not steal”), on a blog called Serendipity Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth.  The post contained a photo that I took of the former Howard Johnson’s on Afton Mountain.  Specifically, they used this shot:

The Howard Johnson's restaurant on Afton Mountain

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Paying my last respects to Staunton Mall…

December 14, 2020, 9:00 AM

On a recent trip to Augusta County, Elyse and I stopped over at Staunton Mall to pay our last respects to the place.  For those not familiar, Staunton Mall recently changed owners, and in late November, the new owners gave all of the remaining tenants a 30-day notice to vacate, except for Belk.  The last day of operation for Staunton Mall will be December 24.  So we stopped in and documented the place fairly extensively.  Before I get started, please note that this Journal entry will be a very high-level look at the mall.  I took over 1,200 photos of the interior and exterior of the mall, including at least one photo of every single storefront, and I’m going to give the place a more complete treatment as a photo set for Life and Times.  But this ought to hold everyone for now, because the more complete treatment is going to take a while to put together.

The thing about photographing retail settings is that stores typically don’t like it when you photograph in their facilities.  The usual reason cited is to protect trade secrets, which is usually bunk, because, as I understand it, a company has to put actual effort into keeping trade secrets a secret.  If it is in plain view of the public, then it is not a trade secret.  But that doesn’t stop stores from chasing off photographers.  After all, it is private property, and they can choose to exclude whatever activities that they want.  For my purposes, it just means that I have to be a bit more stealthy when I photograph, and shoot with my phone rather than with the big camera.  The way that I typically operate when I do this is to go from lower risk to higher risk as far as getting caught goes.  After all, once a place gets wise to me, the photo shoot is over, because they’ll never leave me alone again as long as I remain there.  In this case, since I had the drone, I considered the aerial photography to be the least risky as far as getting caught goes, since I could accomplish that mostly from off of the property.  Then after I finished flying around the mall, I photographed the exterior from the car with my real camera.  Then I went inside the mall and did my documentation of the interior with my phone.  I suspected that I wouldn’t have any issues with security personnel based on reports from others that there were no security people to begin with, and I was pleased that this ended up remaining the case.  I’ve seen so many cases where stores and/or entire shopping centers are closing, and employees still get on people about photography.  I can’t help in those cases but to think, why do you still care?  After all, the people in question are losing their jobs soon, and so they’re continuing to defend their employer because… why?  No matter what you do, at the end of the day, you’re still losing your job.  So why are you still loyal to and defending a company that clearly has no loyalty to you?  It doesn’t make sense to me.

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I find it very hard to feel any sympathy for Kevin in the second film…

December 8, 2020, 10:07 PM

Since I’ve been a Disney+ subscriber, I’ve been able to watch the classic Home Alone movies, i.e. Home Alone and Home Alone 2, all over again.  And I figure that this seems as good of a time as ever to explore my thoughts about the movies based on this rewatch as a 39-year-old who is now closer in age to the parents than to Kevin.  In other words, I’m waaaaaaaaay more mature than I was when I first watched them when they were new.

For those not familiar with the Home Alone movies, in the first movie, the McCallister family, a well-off family in the Chicago area, is planning to go on a Christmas trip to Paris to visit relatives.  The night before they are to leave on this trip, two things happen.  First, at dinner, youngest son Kevin gets involved in a fight with his older brother Buzz, who is being unkind to him over pizza.  That leads to his being banished to the attic bedroom (“the third floor” as it’s called in the movie), for the night.  Second, while the family is asleep, high winds cause a tree branch to fall on some nearby power lines, creating a power outage, which takes out the alarm clocks, among other things, causing everyone to oversleep.  When the parents wake up, there is a mad dash to make it to the airport in time.  In the course of taking a headcount prior to leaving, a neighbor child, who stopped by to see what was going on and chat, was accidentally counted.  So, with a good headcount, they were off to the airport.  Unbeknownst to them at the time, they had forgotten Kevin.  Kevin, meanwhile, wakes up to discover that the family has left for the airport, and he is all by himself.  He eventually learns that two burglars are working the neighborhood, and that they are looking to target his house, among others.  So he comes up with a plan to defend his house against said burglars, and leads the burglars through a series of traps that should have killed them many times over (but didn’t because this is the movies).  Kevin also befriends a neighbor along the way, who ultimately finishes off the burglars with two well-placed blows with a snow shovel, which leads to the burglars’ arrest.  While this is going on, Kevin’s mother, after realizing that they had forgotten their youngest, is trying her best to get back home to Kevin, and flies to a number of different cities to that end, and ultimately hitches a ride in a van with a polka group to get home, arriving on Christmas morning.  The rest of the family arrives home shortly thereafter, and there is a happy reunion, with no one except Kevin’s knowing what had happened the night before.

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Categories: Movies

The things that we rationalize as children…

November 22, 2020, 10:39 PM

Sometimes it’s fun to think back about what mental connections you made in younger years that you probably should not have, i.e. rationalizing things based on incomplete or wrong information.  I want to say that I’ve always filled in gaps and such myself, and when I eventually learn the truth, it always makes me laugh to think about what I had once believed.

Right offhand, I remember how I used to think that “gross” was spelled when I was a child.  Now mind you, I had never seen the word written down before, but I had heard my mother use the term plenty of times.  I like to think that I had a fairly decent grasp on the English language even as a child, so I took a good guess.  In my mind, I thought it was spelled “groce”, which to me makes a lot of sense.  After all, “grocery” has that spelling, and is pronounced the same way.  And words that end in -oss are typically have an “aw” sound for that vowel than a long “o” sound, like boss, cross, gauss, and moss.  “Gross” doesn’t fit.  I remember when I saw the word in print for the first time, and was informed that it was “gross”, I remember thinking, oh, that’s how it’s spelled?  Weird.  “Groce” still seems more logical for me, but clearly, I’m not going to win this one.  I do tend to say, “G-R-O-C-E gross,” as in spelling it out the way I think it should be spelled and then saying the word, when the situation merits it.  You may recall in a Journal entry about soda from 2017 that I used this phrase.  That’s where it comes from.

Then there’s the opposite situation, where there were words that I had seen in writing but had never heard pronounced.  I remember reading about bones in Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia, Volume 1, which a children’s book all about the body.  It was a good book, and I learned a lot from it.  About bones, they said that while the outside of our bones are hard, the insides are “soft and spongy”.  I had never made the connection between this word and a sponge before, and so I assumed that it was pronounced in a similar way to bong or thong.  I also assumed based on context that “spongy” was something related to softness, and so I was able to work around the unknown word well enough and keep it moving.  When Mom eventually set me straight on the word, it suddenly made the passage in the book make a lot more sense, but I admit that I missed my original pronunciation.

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Categories: Childhood

Going behind the pylons…

November 19, 2020, 11:31 AM

Back on November 6, Elyse and I took the drone out for a spin again, and I did some photography.  This time, we went out to Leesburg, and took a late afternoon golden-hour flight around a familiar landmark: the former Walmart off of Route 15.  This is a typical 1990s-era pylon-style store, and it closed in May 2019 when a new Supercenter opened elsewhere in the Leesburg area.  Because of the proximity of the location to Leesburg airport, I had to notify the airport of our activity using their online form, and then, whirlybirds away.  I flew up and around the building, and even investigated the roof a little bit.

A pre-flight capture, with the HR-V at right.
A pre-flight capture, with the HR-V at right.

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That was a somewhat surprising result, but I’m not disappointed by it…

November 8, 2020, 2:15 PM

On the morning of November 7, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that former vice president Joe Biden had won the race for president, defeating incumbent president Donald Trump.  I am not disappointed by this result, but I am a bit surprised by it.  I fully expected, when the election was all settled, that Donald Trump would win a second term in the White House, and it would be borne out that the Democrats had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, as they are so prone to doing, once again.

I started writing this Journal entry back in April when Biden had first captured the nomination, but then life sort of got in the way, which caused this to get cast aside, and become less relevant.  I was then going to rework it into a pre-election Journal entry like I did in 2016, but with all of the early voting, and my having voted almost a month before election day, I felt like it would be too little, too late, and so I didn’t do anything with it then.  So here we are now, with the election all but settled.  When I first started writing, this entry was titled, “He should have taken the hint when he got the Medal of Freedom…” and was lamenting the choice of Biden as a nominee.  That was following the winnowing down of a very large field of candidates that included the likes of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang, and a whole host of others that you have probably never heard of.  I didn’t particularly like the way the nomination was reached, in that it felt once again like they were trying to stop Sanders, no matter what it took.  I recall that Sanders started out pretty well, outperforming each of the rest of them individually, though combined, the others still had more support than he did individually.  Then after Super Tuesday, the other candidates all started dropping like flies and endorsing Biden, who I felt like was the old coot trying to to remain relevant despite his being past his prime.  I figured that Biden hadn’t taken the hint that the Presidential Medal of Freedom that Barack Obama awarded him in their final weeks in office meant that his political career had reached its end, and that it was time for him to retire, and that this would have disastrous consequences for the country.  But with most of the other candidates gone and putting their efforts into his campaign rather than their own, Biden swept it and got the nomination.

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Categories: National politics

Flying over the Shenandoah Valley with a drone…

October 25, 2020, 10:45 PM

Elyse and I recently made a trip down to Augusta County to see my parents, and we both photographed a bunch of stuff with my drone while we were down there.  So all in all, we had a pretty productive time.  I have gotten pretty proficient in flying my drone around things, and I’ve gotten some nice photos.  The goal of the drone photography this time was to duplicate a lot of what I did in my earlier entry about the area in Microsoft Flight Simulator, but in real life.  All in all, I had a good time, and I liked the results, as I flew around Staunton, Waynesboro, Afton Mountain, and Stuarts Draft.

In Staunton, I first got aerials of the old DeJarnette Center, which is an abandoned children’s mental hospital that closed around 1996 in favor of a newer, more modern facility nearby.  If this place sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve photographed it before.  So here it is:

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

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A weight loss update…

October 14, 2020, 11:18 PM

A friend of mine recently mentioned that I had not given any significant update on my weight loss progress since January, a month after I had my gastric sleeve surgery.  So I suppose that it’s high time that I gave an update.  After all, it’s been ten months since the surgery, and things have progressed since then.  Compare the April splash photo (which was taken on February 3) against the October splash photo, and you’ll see a difference:

Splash photo from April 2020 (taken on February 3)

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Going down a nostalgia rathole…

October 11, 2020, 10:29 PM

Sometimes you sit down at the computer, and the next thing you know, you’re going down a major rathole on some obscure topic.  For me, this was recently the case when I happened upon some videos about the old Care Bears movies by Nostalgia Critic.  They did four such videos: one on the original Care Bears movie, the second movie, the Wonderland movie, and the Nutcracker special.  Gotta love the Internet.

I watched all of these movies as a child, and enjoyed them quite a bit back then, considering them to have decent replay value.  I watched some of these again more recently, and I kind of regretted it.  The problem was that what my child self found to be quality entertainment, my adult self disagreed with that assessment.  As an adult, I saw these movies for what they really were: feature-length commercials for toys, with relatively low quality standards.  The stories didn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, the animation had mistakes in it, and it gave me an overall sense that the people in charge of this film knew that the public would eat it up regardless of how crappy it was.  Therefore, quality was something of an afterthought.  As such, I kind of wished that I had left these movies as memories instead of rewatching them, only because the new viewing has changed my stance on the films, and I didn’t like my new take on them after rewatching.  I was hoping to have an enjoyable experience with an old favorite, only to be disappointed in what I was presented with.  I resented the change in my views, and it made me nostalgic for the old memories of the films before I added to them, so to speak.  Innocence destroyed.  Some children’s movies are still great films on their own merits, even as an adult (Follow That Bird immediately comes to mind), but these, unfortunately, are not.

In any case, watching Nostalgia Critic try to reconcile the events that occurred in the first movie and the second movie got me thinking a bit.  For those not familiar, both movies contain origin stories, and the two origin stories conflict with each other in a very fundamental way.

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Categories: Movies, YouTube

Taking my photography to the skies…

October 6, 2020, 10:37 AM

I suppose that it was inevitable.  When Elyse and I were out meeting up with someone in Baltimore back in March, they had a drone device that they used for a lot of aerial photography, and they showed it off to us.  I loved that thing, a DJI Mavic Pro 2, and they gave me all of the information about it so that I could do my own research.  I wanted one of those things, but I couldn’t justify a $2,000 price tag for a drone that nice when I had zero experience flying a drone, and didn’t have a good idea about what I wanted to do with it.  So I sat on the idea for a while, occasionally going on Amazon to drool over the drone that I knew I couldn’t justify to myself.  Then I found a somewhat lower-end drone, the DJI Mavic Mini.  A $500 price tag was easier to justify, and that price also told me two things: first, it was expensive enough that it would do what I wanted it to do, but also cheap enough to be a good, accessible starter drone.  I asked the experts on Reddit, and the consensus was that it was a good entry-level drone, and it could do everything that I was looking for it to do.  So I went on Amazon and bought it.

One thing that I got a quick crash course in after I bought this was the regulatory environment for drones.  Basically, you can’t just take this thing anywhere and fly it however you want.  Like the roads, you share the airspace with other users, and as a drone pilot, in the big hierarchy of pilots, you are down where the dog lifts its leg.  And that’s how it should be.  I’m flying an unmanned vehicle, and as such, my feet are firmly on the ground at all times.  If something goes wrong with my aircraft while I’m flying, the worst thing that happens is that I lose my drone, as well as all of the material that’s stored on the card.  I might be unhappy about losing my drone and the photos stored on the card, but no one’s going to die should this thing fail mid-flight.  Compare to a real pilot, who’s actually up in the sky with their aircraft, and if something went wrong there, there is a very real possiblity that someone could be seriously injured or lose their life.  Therefore, I quickly learned that you have to do your homework before flying.  Thankfully, there is a phone app called B4UFLY that will tell you what restrictions are in place in different areas.  Right offhand, I live in the Washington, DC area, and as such, there is a lot of restricted airspace there, because Washington.  In short, don’t even think about flying in DC, and you probably don’t want to fly in the suburbs, either.  Right around my house, I also have restrictions because there’s a small airport (GAI) nearby.  Once you get out of the immediate metro area, though, it’s fairly wide open, though national parks are a blanket no-go.  But outside of that, there’s plenty of stuff to do.

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Reimagining how we elect our local officials…

October 1, 2020, 11:17 PM

There comes a point where you have to admit that a process is broken.  In this case, I have reached that conclusion with the way that we elect the county council and county executive in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Our current county executive, Marc Elrich, is the result of such a broken system.  Elrich is a real stinker in my book for a number of reasons, and I admit that I didn’t vote for him in the primary or the general election, because I saw his being a stinker from a mile away.

But this entry isn’t about Elrich specifically.  Rather, it’s about the process that brought him into office.  And ultimately, the problem is that Montgomery County is using a bipartisan process for electing its officials when the county is overwhelmingly one party – Democratic, in this instance.  The way that it works should be quite familiar to most of you: candidates of a given party run for office and compete in a primary election in the spring to determine who will be the nominee for the general election the following November, where all of the various parties’ nominees compete, and the winner of that contest takes office a few months later.  Many, if not most, jurisdictions use this to choose their elected officials.  However, it does depend to a large extent on having multiple viable political parties.  It starts to fall apart when one party completely dominates the process, and none of the other parties’ candidates have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being elected.  In that case, the dominant party’s primary is the “real” election, and the general election is a formality.  In other words, the result is already a foregone conclusion after the primary is done.

This situation is not unique to Montgomery County by any means.  DC is similar, with the Democratic Party’s being the dominant political party over everything else to the point that the other parties don’t matter (save for an at-large council seat that is required to be a different party than the others), and the Democratic primary is generally considered to be the deciding contest for the mayoral race.

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Apparently, this happens to me once a decade…

September 20, 2020, 2:32 PM

Saturday night’s drive home was definitely a more eventful one than I would have preferred.  Driving home from work (I currently work out of a division in Virginia), I tend to take Route 267 to the Beltway to I-270 and then to Route 355 (i.e. Rockville Pike) on my way north to Montgomery Village.  The details in MoCo tend to vary depending on my mood.  Sometimes I take 270 all the way to Shady Grove and cut over there, and sometimes I get off lower down and do more travel on Rockville Pike.  Saturday night was the latter, where I got off on Democracy Boulevard and took Rockville Pike all the way from North Bethesda to Gaithersburg.

At the intersection with First Street (the one with the CVS and the Wendy’s with the glass sign), I was sitting at a red light in the middle lane, and I saw a car run the red light at a high rate of speed in the right lane.  They were going quickly enough that I could feel their wake as they went by (and I felt them before I saw them).  Then a few seconds later, just as the light turned green, a Maryland state trooper went past me, again at a high rate of speed, with lights off, to my left.  I kind of assumed that they were related, and that I would see the trooper pull the other vehicle over at some point on my way home.  So I had my eyes peeled, as I expected to see blue lights at some point.

Then, just before the intersection with Mannakee Street, a deer darted out in front of me, and with not enough space to swerve to avoid and not enough distance to stop, we made contact.  I remember screaming as we hit, and I saw the deer sort of stagger away.  I stopped the car immediately, right there in the center lane.  I got out, looked at the front of the car, and saw a brand new hole where the grille used to be, pieces of the front of the car sticking out of the front, as well as bits and pieces of the Honda logo on the road.  Then, realizing that the engine was still running, and seeing nothing dripping out from underneath, I moved the car to the parking lot of Cameron’s Seafood, and after letting Elyse know that I would be delayed, called 911 to report the accident.  Surprisingly, 911 told me that for a deer strike, they weren’t going to send an officer to take a report, and just to follow up with the insurance.

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Categories: Driving, Honda HR-V, Rockville

I bought myself a toy…

September 19, 2020, 2:12 PM

Soooooooooo… I recently got myself a toy.  I went on Etsy and bought myself a full-size retro arcade machine.  Check it out:

My new arcade machine

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Categories: House, Video games

Twenty years ago, Schumin Web started to get noticed…

September 7, 2020, 9:37 PM

It has now been twenty years since Schumin Web really started to get noticed by people.  My first four years doing this site, I was having fun, but I always assumed, in those very early days of the Internet, that very few people were actually looking (though I had no way of measuring it at that time).  But that was okay, because ultimately, it gave me an outlet to express myself, and I was having fun doing it.

Then, in the summer of 2000, things started to change.  I was featured as “Geek of the Month” in the June 2000 issue of the now-defunct magazine Front, a men’s lifestyle magazine from the UK, i.e. a “lads’ mag”.  Check it out:

Front magazine "Geek of the Month" article from June 2000  Front magazine "Geek of the Month" article from June 2000

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