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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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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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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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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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What a washing machine might see…

May 24, 2020, 11:06 AM

I’m currently working on a photography project where I’m going through my old photos from the period before I started using Flickr seriously, which means stuff prior to around September 2013, with the goal of putting more stuff from the back catalog on my Flickr feed.  What I’ve noticed is that of all of the photos that I took, I took a lot of stinkers, but there is a lot of good stuff that got passed over in the past, mostly because the Life and Times and Photography formats tend to tell a story through the photos, with various levels of narration, and if an otherwise good photo doesn’t help to tell that story, it typically won’t get used.  Flickr is a different format from Schumin Web, and photos tend to be viewed individually rather than as collections, though that capacity does exist.  So photos that are good but otherwise irrelevant to the story will “work” there.  The recent Journal entry about my trip to Hampton Roads is a good example.  That entry used 79(!) photos from the four-day trip, and there was a lot that I didn’t cover because that was already an obscene amount of photos for one Journal entry, and I already found pacing to be a challenge when writing that one, wanting to cover a lot but not go on for too long.

In any case, I found a group of photos that I did on February 26, 2013 that I never used anywhere.  I set a camera inside the washing machine and the dryer in my apartment building, and set the shutter timer, and posed for the camera.  I believe that my intent was to use one of these as a splash photo, but I ultimately didn’t like any of them enough to run them on the front of the website, so this whole set got shelved.  I think that I rejected them primarily because it was rather late at night, and I wasn’t really looking my best.  However, in going back through these for the Flickr project, they made me laugh a little bit, because the even though the concept was a bit ridiculous, the results aren’t as bad as I thought at the time.

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Categories: Photography

The more they talk, the more irresponsible they sound…

April 23, 2020, 10:45 AM

So I have a new story about my experience enforcing copyrights, this one involving materials posted to YouTube.  First of all, though, for those not familiar with how YouTube handles DMCA copyright takedowns, it is worth noting that their takedown form is a bit lackluster, though they’re usually pretty quick to respond.  The problem is that YouTube doesn’t allow a claimant (i.e. me) to fully make my claim to ownership of a piece of video content, which has led to problems in the past.  Here’s the relevant section of YouTube’s copyright form:

The relevant section of YouTube's copyright form, showing where I identify the work in question

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Stack ’em up?

April 1, 2020, 1:25 AM

So my latest experiments with photography have been with stacking exposures.  For those not familiar, the general idea behind stacked exposures is to take several short exposures instead of one long exposure, and then “stack” them on top of each other in order to simulate a photo with a longer exposure.  It is useful in situations where a true long exposure is impractical, such as when shooting in daylight.  The way it’s done is that you take all of the shots that you intend to stack out in the field, preferably using a tripod and a remote control for the shutter, and then do the stacking at home.

Whenever I test a new technique, I typically will shoot photos of something that I’ve photographed before.  This way, I already know what the photo is supposed to look like, and I know what works as far as angles go.  That eliminates a few variables so that I can just focus on the technique.  In this case, I did two field trips.  One was out to Point of Rocks and along Route 7 in Virginia and ultimately into DC, and the other was to Burnt Mills Dam off of US 29 in Montgomery County.  The Virginia trip was mostly for nighttime shots, and the Burnt Mills trip was for daytime shots.

At Point of Rocks, Elyse went trainspotting at the nearby MARC station while I wandered around with my tripod to photograph some stuff.  My focus was on the Point of Rocks Bridge and the Potomac River running under the bridge.  My focus was mainly on smoothing out the water.

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Looking at some old photos from 2002…

June 17, 2019, 11:54 AM

Sometimes, it’s fun to look back at old photos.  The world changes, after all, and sometimes, old photos document things that don’t exist anymore.  For whatever reason, Elyse and I were looking at my photos from a trip to the Washington DC area that I made on April 13, 2002.  For context, back when this trip happened, I was a junior in college, and had just been notified that I was being laid off from my call center job with Telegate USA (the successor company to CFW Information Services) after just under five years’ employment there.  The call center where I worked was closing, and Telegate, primarily a European company, would exit the US market entirely within the year.

This particular trip produced the Old Town Alexandria set in Photography.  I now consider that set to be poor work, and have it on my list of photo sets that I eventually want to reshoot, along with Meridian Hill Park.  I figure that, with the passage of time and my becoming more proficient with the camera, I could do a much better job a second time around.  In the case of the Old Town Alexandria set, I really didn’t take enough time to compose the shots.  Timestamps indicate that it took me an hour to cover from near the waterfront to the Metro station.  I was really just walking and photographing without putting much thought or effort into it.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the DC area via the Metro, and more or less exploring around.

It’s also funny to think that I took these photos with my original Sony Mavica camera, which recorded at 640×480 resolution, with corresponding image quality.  It was only slightly better quality than a potato.

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Looking back on some old photos…

January 29, 2019, 1:32 PM

Recently, Elyse and I were coming home from Frederick on a night with a very bright full moon.  The discussion turned towards how it was moonlight that was making everything so bright.  I was no stranger to this concept, and remembered a set of photos that I shot on July 31, 2004.  There, I was up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia near Rockfish Gap, shooting photos after work using Big Mavica with the tripod, under a full moon.  It was late at night, but the photos might have almost led you to think otherwise:

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I have so many great ideas for photography, and I want a banner year…

January 12, 2019, 1:24 PM

Let’s admit – 2018 was kind of a bust when it came to photography.  I had plans, but none of them really came to fruition, with the exception of my trip to Centralia in May.  Even the big road trip in October produced only tepid results.  Most of that can be attributed to extremely poor luck when it came to the weather.  I got rained out almost every single time I planned to do something exciting.  Sure, we’re not in a drought situation anymore (far from it), but I have a shortage of newer material, which affects other parts of the site.

That said, I have lots of plans for photo sets.  I keep a list of ideas, but unfortunately, due to the rate that these shoots get accomplished, I have referred to the list as “The place where photo set ideas go to die.”  A lot of the list contains infrastructure sites, such as tunnels and bridges, both locally and on the road in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  I also want to do some explore-the-town photo sets, again both locally and on the road.  I also want to do a few reshoots of old subjects that I think that I can do better now than I did way back in the day.  See Richmond’s Canal Walk from 2002 and Richmond 2013 for an example of this.  Here are two photos of the same subject – one from the 2002 set and the 2013 set:

2002 photo
2002 photo.

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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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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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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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So, about that whole “thou shalt not steal” thing…

May 7, 2017, 11:50 AM

Sometimes the level of hypocrisy shown by those in organized religion just makes me stand back in awe.  They preach Christian values, and then don’t follow them in real life.  In this instance, it involves the church that I used to attend from 1992 until 2003, and where I am still technically a member, albeit inactive.  Through a recent interaction, I learned quite a bit more than I expected as far as where things stand with them.

For those who aren’t familiar, I work with a company called Pixsy to recover royalties for cases where my photographs are used without permission.  I routinely search for and submit cases where my photos are used without permission in hopes of recovering license fees for that usage.  Basically, I have no problem with downstream usages of my photos.  But I am a professional who deserves to be paid for those usages in a professional setting.  Basically, if you expect to take in revenue based on materials that contain my work, then you need to pay me for the usage.  My take on it is that if you were going to hire a photographer to do a shoot for you, there’s no question that you would pay them.  But by using photos of mine that I have already created, you’ve essentially hired me as your photographer, and as such, I should be paid.  Using my work for commercial purposes without even so much as asking me is a major no-no as far as I’m concerned.

In this case, I was skimming through the Internet looking for potential infringement cases, I found this:

The ChurchFinder page for Finley Memorial Presbyterian Church

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