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The taming of the stroad?

December 1, 2022, 10:00 AM

About three weeks after the accident that claimed my HR-V, I read on The MoCo Show about another accident that occurred on the same stretch of road at Russell Avenue, a block away from where my accident happened, that looked very similar to mine.  Additionally, I remember an accident that occurred at the same intersection as mine in May 2020 that Elyse and I encountered while we were out and called in to 911.  Taken together, it tells me that Montgomery Village Avenue (MD 124) between Interstate 270 and Midcounty Highway is a poorly designed road that probably needs to be rethought and redesigned in order to increase safety along that stretch.

For those not familiar, Montgomery Village Avenue, along with quite a number of other roads in Montgomery County, is what is often referred to as a “stroad“.  Wikipedia defines a stroad as “a type of thoroughfare that is a mix between a street and a road”, and the word itself is a combination of the words “street” and “road”.  Basically, it’s a road that wants to function as a local city street and as a major highway all at once, and often fails at both roles.  These roads are typically designed for relatively high speeds, but their functioning as a city street with pedestrians and so many private accesses means that the posted speed limits are typically well below the road’s design speed.  Do you remember that Journal entry that I wrote in 2013 about people who were getting run over at bus stops in Montgomery County?  All of the streets in question were stroads.  Georgia Avenue in particular is the textbook definition of a stroad, being a six-lane divided highway with private access, including single-family residential, directly off of the main road from Silver Spring to all the way to Olney.  The speed limit for much of that road is 35 mph from Silver Spring to Leisure World, with a posted speed of 25 mph through Wheaton.  I speak from experience from ten years’ time living just off of Georgia Avenue that it is very difficult to maintain that speed limit when traffic is moving well, and I often found myself exceeding the speed limit without realizing it and then having to slow down once I do notice.  That’s because the road is designed for much higher speeds than traffic is actually allowed to go, and people tend to drive in a way that befits the road design, especially during off hours.  They say that if you can speed on a road and not realize it, and not feel that your higher-than-allowed speed is actually dangerous, then the speed limit is too low for the design of the road.  In other words, the usual go-to argument of, “LoWeR aLl ThE sPeEd LiMiTs!” is a major non-starter for me, if because the speed limit was already too low for the design of the road, and people weren’t following it anyway, what’s the point of lowering it further?  They weren’t following it when it was 35, so what makes you think that they’re going to follow it at 25?  I also find the way that people are so quick to blame drivers 100% for accidents to be problematic, because the design of the road can also be a legitimate contributing factor to accidents, such as roads that are designed for much higher speeds than anyone probably ought to drive.  It’s kind of like how the “no u-turn” sign is often a symptom of poor road design, because with a better-designed road, you wouldn’t need signage that disallows obvious and mostly reasonable moves to get around the poor road design.

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May the HR-V rest in peace…

October 20, 2022, 8:32 AM

In the early morning on October 9, I was involved in a car accident on the way home from work.  At the intersection of Montgomery Village Avenue and Christopher Avenue/Lost Knife Road in Gaithersburg, the driver of a red Nissan Pathfinder on Christopher Avenue ran a red light at what appeared to be full speed as I was going through the intersection, and despite my slamming on the brakes, there just wasn’t enough space to stop in order to avoid a collision.  As a result, my car got T-boned on the left side on the front fender and the driver’s door, with enough force to deploy the side curtain airbags and knock my car about 150 feet before it came to rest next to a curb.

After the impact, I remember that I was sitting in the car and noticed that the airbags had gone off, and also noticed that the windshield was shatered at the bottom left.  Then I remember hearing a male voice telling me that I needed to get out of the car.  I quickly realized that would probably be a good idea, because considering that the car had just gone through a pretty hard collision, for all I knew, it might be on fire.  I tried to open my door, but I couldn’t get it open, so I ended up climbing out through the passenger side door.  I was quite shaken, I was bleeding above my left eye, my left knee felt sore like it had been scraped, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses anymore for some reason, but nonetheless, I had managed to walk away from it.  Then I saw the person who had been telling me that I needed to get out of the car.  It was a gentleman wearing black eye makeup (kind of like what the band Kiss does) from an event that he had been at earlier from who was also an EMT, and who had witnessed the entire thing.  He also quickly told me that the accident was absolutely not my fault, which I appreciated hearing.  There was also a woman present who had witnessed the accident, who also agreed that I was not at fault.  One of them must have also called 911, because I certainly didn’t, but the police and EMS were there pretty quickly.

When EMS arrived, they quickly took care of me, wrapping some gauze around my head for the bleeding, and taking my blood pressure.  Yes, they took my blood pressure.  I’m standing on the side of the road next to my now-wrecked car, visibly shaking from the accident, and then the guy tells me that my blood pressure is “kind of high”, coming in at 172/116.  I did not need to be told that.  I’m usually pretty nice, but I just shot back, in a pretty sarcastic tone, “Gee, I wonder why.”  He removed the blood pressure cuff from my arm and went away.  Yeah, I just survived a pretty major car accident, got hit by an airbag, had to crawl out the other side of my car, was bleeding from my head, had no glasses, and was shaking.  My blood pressure is high?  No kidding.  I would have been more surprised if it was 120/80 right then rather than some astronomical amount.  I refused transport, feeling that it was unnecessary.  Then the cops got my information, and took my statement.  I also let Elyse know what had happened, and she quickly got an Uber to take her to the scene.

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A reminder about party affiliation in Maryland…

March 14, 2022, 2:40 PM

As we move ever closer to the midterm elections in Maryland, and the primaries that accompany them, this seems like the perfect time to remind everyone about the way that primaries are conducted in Maryland.  Specifically, Maryland, along with 13 other states plus DC, conducts closed primaries.  That means that the only way to participate in a primary election is to have registered your political party choice with the state voter registration system ahead of time, usually before a deadline. In the case of Maryland, that party deadline is June 7, 2022.  Party registration in a closed primary state is not something to be taken lightly, and determines which candidates you get to vote for in the primary.

All of this about party registration should not be confused with any actual political leanings that you may have.  In a jurisdiction that skews very heavily in one direction, and where party registration is required in advance in order to vote for a given party’s primary candidates, the only way that you get any say in your local governance is to register in that party.  In a situation like this, the primary election for that party is the election that decides the result, and the general election is just a formality, because the nominee of that party always carries the race by a very large margin, and the other general election candidates know that they have no real chance at winning.

(By the way, if all of this sounds vaguely familiar, this is not the first time that I have written about this subject.)

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Shooting macro with a new phone…

March 5, 2022, 6:10 PM

At the end of February, I got myself a new phone: a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.  This is the latest and the greatest as far as Samsung phones go, as of the time of this writing.  I typically get a top-of-the-line phone for myself, mostly because of how much I use it for photography.  I also like a big phone screen, especially now that I am in middle age, and have to hold things further away from my face in order to read them clearly.  This new phone was a bit of an update compared to my last phone, the Galaxy S20 Ultra.  It still looks and acts like a Samsung phone, so there was very little learning curve, but it’s faster, easier to read, has a better camera, and has the S-Pen (which I had not had since 2017, back when I had a Note 5).  Most importantly, though, the camera is much better than the S20.  The S20 Ultra’s camera was a bit farsighted.  It did just fine photographing things that were far away, but it couldn’t focus if you got really close to it (sounds like me!).  So in order to get the proper effect, you had to back up and then zoom in.  It wasn’t perfect, but it worked well enough.  Sounds like when I need a magnifying glass in order to read the fine print sometimes.

So with the new phone in hand, Elyse and I went out, and I took it for a spin while running some errands.  I was interested in trying out the improved macro function, and focused on shooting things really close up.  We got together with my friend Matthew, and he got to see me do my thing, getting up, on, over, and around everything while Elyse did the things that she needed to do.

Our first stop was Fair Oaks Mall, where Elyse wanted to go to BoxLunch, which is a gift shop.  I had assumed that BoxLunch was a restaurant, i.e. a place where you can buy a boxed lunch (imagine my surprise to find out that they didn’t sell food!).  While Elyse was going around there, Matthew and I waited outside, where I took the new phone camera through its paces in the mall, focusing on the details in the sitting area just outside of BoxLunch:

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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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A lesson on how not to behave when doing advocacy work…

April 27, 2021, 12:55 AM

Lately, there has been a small grassroots movement in Montgomery Village called “Citizens for Airpark Safety” complaining about noise from the Montgomery County Airpark (GAI/KGAI), which is a small public-use general aviation airport located in the Gaithersburg area.  I had heard rumblings about this from a few folks on a local Montgomery Village group that Elyse and I are in, but then it recently made its way to the physical space on Sunday when I found this on my front door as I was leaving for work:

Citizens for Airpark Safety flyer

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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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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

A paint job for the living room…

August 21, 2020, 11:30 PM

Surprisingly, I never posted about the repainting project that I did in the living room, but better late than never, I suppose.

In any case, I embarked on a massive painting project last fall and winter that transformed the living room and hallways into something that looked the way that I wanted, rather than something that previous owners might have wanted.  The project was something that I had planned from the outset upon moving in because, while I didn’t necessarily dislike the color of the living room and the hallways, the paint, depending on the location, was either in poor condition with a lot of old nail holes, or, in the case of the upstairs hallway specifically, never painted well to begin with.  So rather than try to match the color, it made far more sense to just repaint the whole thing in a new color of my choosing.

In planning this project, I had to figure out how to make my living room look its best.  My living room is long and narrow, and only has one window at the front.  So most of the lighting would come from artificial sources, such as the overhead lights and the lamp.  I ultimately decided to go with a sunnier color than what was there before on three sides, and then I also put a dark blue accent wall on the left side.  That left wall is completely blank, which made it a good candidate for an accent color, since I could do just about anything that I wanted with it as far as furniture arrangement and decor went.  I extended the new color up and down the stairs, since I found the transition between the tan living room and white stairs to be a bit jarring.  Extending the living room color up the stairs and down to the basement just made sense.

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Categories: House, Montgomery Village

Some sad looking retail…

August 9, 2020, 11:44 AM

On Saturday, Elyse, Aaron and Evan Stone, and I went out and visited the Kmart store in Aspen Hill, and the Sears store in White Oak.  The last time that I had been to either of these stores was in 2017, well before the Sears bankruptcy.  I had heard on social media about the way that the remaining non-closing Sears and Kmart stores were being merchandised, and I felt like it was time to see it for myself.  What I saw was what I more or less expected based on what I saw online, but definitely not what someone might expect for a retail business that is still a going concern.

We first visited the Kmart on Connecticut Avenue, which is located less than a mile away from my old apartment on Hewitt Avenue.  I knew this Kmart well enough, though I was never a regular there by any means.  This is also the last Kmart in Maryland to remain a going concern, as the store in Edgewater is currently conducting a store-closing sale, and all of the other Kmart stores in Maryland are gone.

This is the state that the Aspen Hill store was in:

The exterior of the store.
The exterior of the store.

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Drive carefully, everyone…

May 17, 2020, 12:21 AM

You may have noticed the photo feature that is currently running on the front of the site depicts a vehicle on its side following its being involved in an accident.  First of all, before you ask: we were not involved in this accident.  Elyse and I saw a car with a bashed in front in the middle of the road and a second car on its side at the intersection of Montgomery Village Avenue and Lost Knife Road while we were on the way home from dropping off a package at a UPS locker, and, seeing no emergency vehicles around, stopped and called it into 911.  Thankfully, no one appeared to be seriously hurt, as both drivers were able to walk away from their respective vehicles.  However, I suspect that the driver of the smashed car hit her head on the windshield, as there was damage to the windshield consistent with that sort of impact.  Additionally, both drivers did ultimately leave the scene in ambulances, presumably to get checked out.

Once we were finished talking with 911, we got some photos of the scene.  Here are some of mine:


The overturned vehicle, an Acura MDX.  The driver had not yet turned the car off when this photo was taken.

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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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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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The sounds of Metro…

January 18, 2020, 10:37 AM

Back on July 8, 2007, my friend Matthew and I went on a railfan adventure with a different purpose than we would usually do.  Normally, a railfan adventure involved lots of photos and videos.  This time, instead of a camera, we brought a laptop and a microphone.  The goal was to get some audio recordings of the trains from the interior, for use in BVE, which is a train simulator program for Windows.  We worked from the double-ended seats, which were located more or less directly over the wheel trucks and traction motors.  I worked the laptop while wearing headphones, while Matthew held up the mic.  I’ve never been a big train simulator enthusiast (I prefer watching the real thing vs. operating a simulator), so I don’t know if these recordings ever got used in any of the final versions of these trains, but I loved doing the field work for these sorts of community-built projects.  I also did a set of Red Line announcements for the simulator.  As I know, there has never been a commercially available train simulator for the DC Metro, so for that, I enjoyed contributing in a small way to what was the only WMATA train simulator out there.

Our adventure that day took us on the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines, and we got recordings of cars 3273 (Breda original), 3185 (Breda rehab), 5028 (CAF), and 1130 (Rohr).


Original Breda car 3273 from Forest Glen to Silver Spring

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