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When moderators become the thought police…

February 7, 2022, 10:00 AM

A few weeks ago, imagine my surprise one morning to find this in my Reddit inbox:

Reddit ban notice for /r/PoliticalHumor

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Categories: COVID-19, Reddit

At last, it came to visit us…

January 29, 2022, 3:18 PM

Over Christmas, Elyse and I were in the bag, so to speak.  We both came down with some pretty nasty colds.  I had congestion that I could feel all the way down into my lungs, a headache, a fever, a general sense of fatigue, and not much else.  Elyse had similar, as well as a loss of taste and smell, which I did not have.  I ended up missing four days of work for it, which, along with my regular days off, had me out of play for the entire six days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

What we had remained a mystery.  We suspected that it was probably COVID-19, or as we’ve taken to calling it, “The Ronies,” but we were unable to book an appointment for either a PCR or rapid test, nor were we able to purchase one online, because at the time, the recommendation was for everyone to get tested for any or no reason, and people were eating it right up.  We also respected ourselves more than to wait in a line for hours just to rule in or rule out a diagnosis when we already felt as bad as we did.  In other words, going out and getting tested wasn’t going to help us get better any faster, and would probably have the opposite effect, making us feel worse than we already did and causing a lot of unnecessary stress.  I didn’t need that, especially when you consider that I had spent much of at least two of those days that I was out sick asleep in my bed.  We ultimately decided that with a test for an active infection out of the question because of availability issues, we would get an antibody test via blood draw later on to rule COVID in or out after the fact.

In the meantime, with no test to rule the Ronies in or out, we both decided to just treat it like we would any other cold, and drink lots of water, get lots of rest, and do what we could to get through it.  Let’s just say that generic DayQuil and generic NyQuil were our best friends, along with Advil® brand Advil (because I like that candy coating on the name brand stuff).  I also once again got to experience the joy that is “fever dreams“, which are even weirder than the usual dreams.  The best feeling in the world, meanwhile, was when my fever finally broke.  Post-fever perspiration feels awesome, not because of the sweating itself, but because it means that the worst is over, and I would be feeling better again very soon.

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Categories: COVID-19, Personal health

What is the point where elected officials have killed their credibility?

November 18, 2021, 11:41 AM

Starting Saturday, November 20, Montgomery County, Maryland implements mask mandate number three.  This is based on rules that the Montgomery County council, sitting as the Board of Health, determined in August and October, where seven consecutive days of “substantial” COVID-19 transmission by CDC guidelines (50-100 cases per 100,000 people), based on raw case counts, automatically triggers an indoor mask mandate, and seven consecutive days of “moderate” COVID-19 transmission by CDC guidelines (fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people), again based on raw case counts, automatically rescinds an indoor mask mandate.  This continues until 85% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  The result of this auto-on, auto-off policy has been a yo-yo effect, where it’s masks one week and no masks the next.

For some history on this, the Montgomery County government first implemented a mask mandate in April 2020, not long before the governor issued a statewide mask mandate.  That mandate was rescinded in May 2021 when everyone else did after the CDC said that fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks anymore.  When the county had reached a 50% vaccination rate, they abandoned their own COVID rules and began following the state’s guidance instead, which included no more masks and a full reopening of everything.  Then in August, after the CDC revised its guidance again, and the county council watched as case numbers went up, Montgomery County started implementing its own rules again separate from the state, and brought back the mask mandate.  The idea was that the mask mandate would last until there were seven consecutive days of “moderate” transmission, after which time it would automatically be rescinded.  This happened in late October, and the mask mandate was rescinded effective Thursday, October 28.

Right after this is where they started to shoot their credibility, and it demonstrates what is wrong with looking at raw case numbers as a metric for determining public policy.  On October 30, two days after the mandate was rescinded, they were already talking about reinstating the mask mandate, as they soon returned to “substantial” transmission territory, and announced a return to masks less than a week after they were rescinded, to be effective on Wednesday, November 3 (i.e. six days from rescission to reimplementation).

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Regretting the shot not taken…

October 14, 2021, 10:04 PM

Some of you may remember that a month or so ago, there was a large protest on Reddit about COVID misinformation, targeting a subreddit called /r/NoNewNormal.  The idea of the protest was that a number of subreddits “went private”, i.e. stopped accepting submissions, and vowed to stay that way until Reddit management did something about this subreddit, after Reddit management had previously stated that they were not going to intervene.  Ultimately, /r/NoNewNormal was banned, and as such, the subreddit and all of its contents were removed from the Internet, as if they had never existed.  I have mixed feelings about the whole affair, and I feel like I have a unique perspective on it, because I used to moderate the subreddit, and probably did the most in building it, and then once it caught on, it slowly morphed into something that it should never have been.

First of all, my own stance on the whole pandemic is no secret.  I wrote a very long Journal entry about it back in May.  In short, I said that vaccination is the only way out of this, and that we should have never fooled around with much of the fabric of society like we did.  We should never have had mandated masks, lockdowns, closures, plastic shields, social distancing, or any other weird new rules and restrictions.  And then when the vaccine became available, get it without delay.  That has been my stance more or less from the outset.  The entirety of “your part” in this is getting vaccinated.  Aside from that, nothing else matters, so leave me alone.  I took an exceptionally dim view of people who tried to justify all of these changes as a “new normal” like they expected this to remain a thing for the foreseeable future, as well as playing the “wE’rE iN a PaNdEmIc!1!1!” card as an excuse to be exceptionally rude and/or judgmental with other people who disagree with them.

At the same time, it initially felt like those of us who opposed all of these new rules, ostensibly to curb the spread of COVID-19, were fairly alone in our opinions.  The sense that I got was that most people were all in agreement on these measures, and that I was the odd man out.  Then I discovered the /r/LockdownSkepticism and /r/EndtheLockdowns subreddits.  These were people who thought more like me on these matters, i.e. that the lockdowns and related measures were security theater.  I later found /r/NoNewNormal, which was started a little bit after the other two, and I tended to participate in that subreddit most, as it had the post quality of /r/LockdownSkepticism, but unlike /r/LockdownSkepticism, it did not have a “gatekeeper” for posts.  I tend not to post in communities that have gatekeepers, because I don’t want to waste my time posting somewhere when there’s a chance that no one will ever see my post based on the whims of some anonymous approver.  If I go to the trouble of posting something, I want a guarantee that it gets seen.  In any case, /r/NoNewNormal fit that bill, with decent, open discussion and no gatekeeper.  It was described in its sidebar as, “The phrase ‘new normal’ is pretty creepy. Let’s talk about concerns with it, and what can be done to resist it.”  It was sort of a way to criticize the measures being taken, and also a place to get emotional support for what we were all going through from a sympathetic group of people.  In other words, it was built with good intentions.

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Categories: COVID-19, Reddit

Strange what people will latch onto sometimes…

June 26, 2021, 10:10 AM

It’s funny what things people lock onto, take out of context, and run with in the age of the Internet.  I remember when my Code Pink photo in front of the White House became a discussion about President Obama and the 2012 election.  That made enough sense, because while it was a different context than the original one, it was still in the same vein, being anti-war and all.  More recently, though, a very old photo of mine was dusted off by a certain crowd and run in a completely different context than intended.  Remember this photo?

Photo from an Anonymous flash raid from July 2008

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I believe that we have finally reached the other side of this thing…

May 25, 2021, 9:37 PM

On Friday, May 14, 2021, a number of state governments rescinded emergency orders requiring the wearing of face masks in public for people who have had all of their shots for COVID-19, i.e. “fully vaccinated”, on the heels of earlier announcements providing dates for when nearly all COVID restrictions would be removed.  And with that, I think that it is safe to say that we’re finally on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that life will return to normal.  Ever since the middle of March 2020, when the response to a novel coronavirus started becoming out of proportion to the actual threat, and fear began driving the narrative, I’ve been looking forward to this time, when the world finally started returning to normal.

Truth be told, I took a dim view of the official response to this thing from the beginning.  From the outset, my stance has been that almost all of these various “precautions” were unnecessary, and that the best advice for the public was (A) wash your hands at frequent intervals, and (B) be careful about how much you touch your face.  This is the same advice that we give about nearly every communicable disease, and it’s served us quite well.  I didn’t see any reason why this one should have been any different.  Lockdowns, social distancing, masks, limits on gathering sizes, closed restaurants, closed drinking fountains, plexiglass shields, one-way aisles, contactless everything, the constant cleaning and “sanitizing”, temperature checks, and all of the rest of it is all just security theater, i.e. “the practice of taking security measures that are intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to achieve it.”  In other words, these measures were there primarily to placate a certain vocal subset of people who were afraid, and their fear was then projected onto the rest of us.  In the end, though, as long as there was no vaccine for it, there was nothing that most of us could reasonably do to prevent its transmission.  It was a problem that was beyond most of our capabilities to solve.  With that in mind, I wasn’t worried about it, and trusted that the scientists whose job it was to solve it would come through.  For the rest of us, there was only one single action that was “doing our part”.  That action was getting vaccinated against COVID-19 when it became available.  Nothing else made a bit of difference.  But until that time came when a vaccine was available, we just had to wait.

Unfortunately, though, we all know how much people hate to be told that they have to wait for something to be solved, and can’t do anything about it in the meantime – especially when they’re scared.  And for a mass hysteria event, we apparently just can’t have that.  Unfortunately, telling people to wait doesn’t look good for politicians, whose constituents will demand that something be done about it after the media has whipped them up into a frenzy – especially during an election year when many of them were trying to keep their jobs.  You know that people would practically crucify any elected official who got up and said, “I’m sorry, but there is really nothing in my power that I can do to solve this at this time.  Until a vaccine becomes available, we just have to wait.”  So, instead, they pander to the masses, going out and doing things that make it look like they’re doing something, i.e. security theater.  When they make it look like they’re doing something, the masses eat it right up.  They stepped in and shut down businesses (and destroyed many people’s livelihoods in the process – see my Gordmans entry), enforced social distancing rules on everyone, and required masks.  Everyone was impacted in some way, and it sure looked like something was being done while we waited.  Especially with the use of mask mandates, they put the pandemic in your face – and on your face – all the bloody time.  As far as the politicians were concerned, mission accomplished.

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Gordmans, we hardly knew ye…

May 7, 2021, 10:03 AM

Recently, while working through my very large backlog of photos, I processed the various photos that I took of the Gordmans store in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, Gordmans, in the form that I experienced it, was an off-price retailer owned by Stage Stores.  Stage was in the process of implementing a major strategic move, repositioning itself away from department stores and going all-in on the off-price model (like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Ross).  With that, the company had begun to convert all of its department store nameplates, i.e. Stage, Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal, and Peebles, to Gordmans.  The goal was to have all of its 738 stores in 42 states converted to the off-price format under the Gordmans name by the end of 2020.  The Waynesboro store was originally a Peebles, and was an early conversion to Gordmans.

As you probably guessed based on my wording, world events caused a change in Stage’s plans.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, the various “lockdown” orders issued meant that all of Stage’s stores, considered “non-essential” businesses, were shuttered for several months.  With the stores closed and the resulting lack of sales for an extended period, this pushed Stage off of a cliff, financially speaking, which lead to their filing for bankruptcy.  It was ultimately determined that the best course of action was to wind-up operations, and as such, when the stores reopened, they immediately began going-out-of-business sales.

My first experience with Gordmans was on June 1, 2020.  Elyse and I were out doing some photography in the Hagerstown and Waynesboro areas, and happened upon the Gordmans store in the Wayne Heights Mall shopping center, at an hour when it should have been in operation, if not for government orders requiring that it be closed.

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No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose…

April 6, 2021, 1:30 PM

You probably didn’t realize it, but for the first half of 2020, Elyse and I hosted a now-former friend of ours, her boyfriend, and her infant child in the house.  That was a situation that we would have never touched with a ten-foot pole if we had known how it would ultimately turn out.  What was supposed to have been a two-month stay for one adult and an infant ended up being a six-month stay for two adults and an infant, and ended up with a destroyed friendship, a lot of hurt feelings, and resentment all around.

The story starts out in the middle of 2019, when our friend started a long-distance relationship with a guy that she had gone to high school with.  He was now serving in the army, and stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.  In a very short time, that relationship turned into an engagement.  Elyse and I both agreed that relationship had progressed very rapidly – much faster than either one of us would have ever been comfortable with if it were happening to us.  Then in September, when we were planning an outing together, we learned that our friend was pregnant, and also, that she was no longer seeing the person with whom she had been engaged, who was also the father of her then-unborn child.  As I was told, the fiancé had cheated on her, and so she broke off the engagement.  By the time that we actually got together again, she had gotten a new boyfriend, and he would be joining us on this adventure.  I was fine with this, because I usually got along with this friend’s friends, and this seemed to be no exception, as the guy seemed nice enough.  In December, Elyse and I were invited to our friend’s baby shower.  We went, we brought gifts, and generally had a good time.  The one awkward moment at the whole baby shower was seeing the interaction between the boyfriend and her father.  My friend’s father made a big deal about refusing to shake the boyfriend’s hand, and the boyfriend was clearly not amused by that gesture.  I was a bit uncomfortable just witnessing it.  I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal, as the boyfriend had given me no reason for me to suspect anything in our previous meeting, plus the boyfriend was not the one who got her pregnant and subsequently cheated on her.  So I just chalked it up to a “no one is good enough for my little girl” attitude on her father’s part.

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Categories: COVID-19, Friends, House

Photographing a very large plane…

May 12, 2020, 11:30 PM

Today, Elyse and I headed up to BWI in order to photograph an Antonov An-124 Ruslan that was coming in for a landing.  For those not familiar, Antonov planes have helped transport various medical supplies to where they are needed in the fight against the coronavirus.  As I understand it, these movements are generally not publicized in advance, but the plane shows up on various aviation tracking apps, and as such when one is found, people tend to head out to spot them.  Elyse let me know, and after I warmed to the idea (I don’t take too kindly to requests for adventures before I even get out of bed), we went up to the aircraft observation park (we’ve photographed here before) to await it.

When we got there, there were a bunch of guys with cameras that had really big lenses, as well as radio scanners.  Then the winds shifted, and the planes started landing on another runway that is not very visible from the observation park.  All of the guys with the big lenses then left and headed to a nearby Royal Farms, which is an excellent vantage point for the other runway.  We followed them, assuming that they knew what they were doing.  Then after we got there, we saw all of the guys head back to the observation park, and we followed.  And then the plane, tail number RA-82042, came through:

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

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A trip out to Hampton Roads…

April 19, 2020, 10:15 AM

From April 3-6, Elyse and I made a trip to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia to visit friends and do some photography.  The way I figured, the trip was already paid for, and so as long as we took adequate precautions, I saw no harm in running it as planned.  After all, I go out every day to go to work transporting the public, so it’s not like we were “breaking quarantine” or anything, since I’m out in the environment on a regular basis throughout all of this.  All that said, if you don’t like that we took this trip, keep it to yourself, because I don’t want to hear about it.  On our trip, we stayed in Williamsburg, and had a fun time, mostly photographing architecture and infrastructure with friends Aaron and Evan Stone.

Meanwhile, leaving the house, I had the worst shotgun passenger ever:

"I don't like that!"

I mean, despite his sour disposition, you really didn’t think that we’d take a trip without bringing Woomy along, did you?  Elyse quickly threw him out of the front seat so that she could ride, and so Woomy rode in the cup holder.

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The signs of social distance…

March 28, 2020, 12:40 AM

In the era of social distancing brought on by the novel coronavirus, I have definitely observed some changes in how the world looks.  As a person who works in an essential industry (people still have to go places, yo), I still get out quite a bit.  In my work, service levels have been reduced, and all trains are now eight cars in order to allow people to space themselves out, plus it’s strange to go through some stations in the middle of the day and pick up nobody.  It’s also strange seeing the message boards on the Beltway advising people in big letters to stay home.  It’s also strange to see so many people wearing gloves and surgical masks, even though those don’t do anything when the general public wears them as a preventative measure, and may actually be harmful if the person wearing them thinks that it excuses them from things like not touching their face, washing their hands, and so on.

In any case, most of the time when I’m going out, it’s to pick up a few things at stores, mostly on my days off of work.  The first thing that I noticed was the panic buying, as seen on March 14 at the Target in Rockville:

The toilet paper aisle, picked completely bare.
The toilet paper aisle, picked completely bare.

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