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Flying over the Shenandoah Valley…

August 27, 2020, 11:25 PM

Recently, Elyse got a copy of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator game, which, among other things, features real landscapes based on map data.  However, it’s not without its issues, since, if it doesn’t have good data for buildings and such, it attempts to fill in the gaps by rendering a building, taking a guess as to what kind of building it’s supposed to be.  When there is good building data, the buildings look correct, as is the case in much of Howard County, Maryland.  Down in Augusta County, that’s not the case, and most of the buildings are rendered by the game, doing its darndest to make a good guess.  To accomplish this evening’s field trip, Elyse dropped us at Eagle’s Nest Airport, which is a privately-owned airport just outside Waynesboro.  I didn’t have to fly the plane.  Rather, we left the plane on the runway, and just flew around with the camera.  I didn’t want to have to fly an airplane, after all.  I just wanted to have a little eye in the sky.  So from Eagle’s Nest, I quickly got my bearings, and made a beeline to Stuarts Draft.

First thing that I took a look at was my old middle school, Stuarts Draft Middle School:

Stuarts Draft Middle School in the flight simulator

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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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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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These photos could have been taken anywhere…

February 28, 2020, 8:30 AM

While on an outing on Thursday, I stopped to photograph the former Walmart store in Leesburg, Virginia.  I had been planning a photo shoot here ever since the store closed in May 2019, upon the opening of a new Supercenter store elsewhere in the Leesburg area.  I was drawn to this location because, unlike a lot of former Walmart stores, this one left a massive labelscar on the building due to repaintings over the years, as revealed in photos taken by Aaron Stone.  Other Walmarts that closed have had lesser labelscars, and Walmart has also been known to paint out their labelscars.  But this one had “WAL★MART” still easily readable in blue.  I felt something of a sense of urgency in getting down to this location, because who knows how long a former Walmart will sit idle.  Other former Walmart stores in the DC area have been scooped up relatively quickly, such as the former Manassas Walmart, which was quickly converted to other uses.  So who knew how long this might remain in this form.

Arriving on site, I couldn’t have gotten better shooting conditions.  The skies were partly cloudy, with only a small amount of cloud cover, which worked to my benefit.  Completely clear skies make for slightly bluish photos that need to be color corrected in post-production, while partly cloudy skies tend to lend to more accurate colors that require less work at the computer.  My only complaint about the conditions was that it was cold and windy, which was not fun to shoot in.  By the time I finished this shoot, which took about 25 minutes to do, I was quite cold.  It took me some time to warm back up once I got back in the car.

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Categories: Loudoun County, Walmart

The remodeling of a Walmart store…

February 19, 2020, 4:33 PM

Back in 2005, I was living in my parents’ house and working for Walmart.  I tended to go out a bit after work in order to unwind, and when I did, I would usually do a circuit that took me from my store in Waynesboro up Afton Mountain, down the Blue Ridge Parkway as far south as Route 60, go west on Route 60 to Lexington, and then head back home via I-81.  When I did this, the Walmart in Lexington tended to be one of my stops, as it was a logical place to get up, walk around, and shop if I needed to (I didn’t like shopping at my own store because I didn’t feel like a customer there, nor was I treated like a real customer).  For a few months that year, Walmart remodeled that store from the late-1990s design that it was given when it was expanded to a Supercenter to the then-current store design, which was the mid-2000s black signage with brown walls.  For some reason, I documented this remodel throughout the process via cell phone photos.  So here it is.  Forgive the quality, because cell phone cameras at the time didn’t take much better photos than a potato, and using Big Mavica would have been too obvious.

Prior to the remodel, the Walmart in Lexington was a typical 1990s pylon-style Supercenter, with a gray and blue color scheme, and late 1990s signage.

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Categories: Virginia, Walmart

A Facebook comment should not bother me this much…

February 11, 2020, 11:11 AM

Recently, I commented on a post on the Facebook page for WHSV, the local ABC affiliate for Harrisonburg, Virginia, and got some unusual feedback.  The original post was for an article about Trump’s participation in the “March for Life“, an anti-choice demonstration held annually in DC on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

Before I continue, though, it seems worthwhile to explain my stance on the matter of abortion.  My stance is that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.  But ultimately, it’s not my call.  What other people do with their bodies is their business, and it doesn’t affect me.

I also believe that abortion is more or less a settled matter, but that it has value for the GOP as a campaign issue.  In other words, the Republican Party will talk a big game about it, but ultimately, no one is going to ban abortion.  Ever.  Why ban it and settle the matter decisively in your favor, when you can bring it up as a campaign issue every election cycle and raise money and get people to vote based on it?  To actually ban abortion would be to kill the golden goose, and also hand a massive fundraising opportunity to the Democrats.  Maybe I’m a bit cynical about the whole thing, but I imagine that if they were really going to act on that issue, they would have done it by now, during the various periods where the GOP has controlled both houses of Congress and the White House.  That they haven’t done that tells me that they are not interested in settling it.

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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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They couldn’t even get mad…

August 12, 2019, 10:17 AM

After the Journal entry where I spoke about my seventh grade year, which generated a lot of great discussion, mostly on Facebook, I thought I’d share an amusing moment from eighth grade.

Eighth grade was one of my best years in school.  I had a great group of teachers, and I had a much easier time with the kids.  Sure, some kids were still terrible, but not like seventh grade.  I didn’t get in trouble at all in eighth grade, except for one time in the middle of the second semester, when I got written up for something relatively minor, but which was entirely my fault.

To give some background, my mother has always enjoyed sharing information that she learns with me.  In the era of the Internet, I typically use it as a starting point to do my own research to turn up more information about it, but back then, with much more limited resources, I typically took it at face value, and was still happy to have learned something new, even if I couldn’t necessarily dive into it more deeply.  In this particular instance, what Mom shared was that men who wore boxer shorts had higher sperm counts than men who wore briefs.  Okay.  So 13-year-old me just learned an interesting new factoid, though I didn’t really understand the whole mechanism behind it (if you want to know, go look it up for yourself).  But in any case, I was a tad more knowledgeable than I was five minutes earlier, and that was awesome.

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In hindsight, sometimes I wonder if I might have had an easier time…

July 14, 2019, 12:20 PM

Sometimes I wonder if, in hindsight, I might have had an easier time in school if I had just beaten the crap out of a few kids.  Seriously.  I got picked on quite a bit, particularly in middle school. I got made fun of for my weight, I got made fun of for the way I walked (which I found out much later was due to overly tight calf muscles, which is remedied through stretching), and I got made fun of for my mannerisms.

I admit that I was a bit of an easy mark in middle school.  I wouldn’t fight back, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I was in a martial arts class at the time that emphasized never starting a fight.  Additionally, and more importantly, when students get into a fight in school, fault was typically assigned equally regardless of what happened, and so both students got suspended.  Thus even if you were not the one who initiated the fight and you were trying to get the other kid off of you, you were still getting suspended.  Since my parents had decided before I was born that I was going to college, getting suspended was viewed as the worst thing ever.  Recall the “you might as well wish you were dead” remark from when I got suspended in fourth grade.  We later found out after we moved to Virginia that the elementary school suspension wasn’t in my records.  Whether that was sloppy work on Mrs. Carmical’s part or what have you, I don’t know, but officially, it never happened.  However, getting suspended going forward was a no-go, because of the assumption that it would affect my ability to get into college.  As it turns out, that assumption was mistaken, because no college cares about what you did in middle school.  But for that mistaken assumption, I had a rough time.

In reading various discussions online, one thing that I saw over and over was that when the victims of bullying retaliated against their attackers, it generally put an end to it.  One story from online that stuck with me was where a girl who was being bullied walked by and jabbed a pair of scissors into her attacker’s back.  She got in some trouble, but the end result was that her bully now feared her.  Seemed like a good result.  She ended it.  And in a fight, if everyone is getting suspended, it really changes the dynamic of things.  With nothing to lose, why not inflict maximum damage?  Give the kid something to remember you by.  Bet that they won’t mess with you again after that.

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Elyse goes to Build-A-Bear…

June 27, 2019, 11:47 AM

On Tuesday, June 26, Elyse, my friend Matthew, and I went to Build-A-Bear at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Virginia, where Elyse got herself a stuffed bear.  This was part of a larger adventure which took us to Manassas and a few other places in that general area.  In the case of Build-A-Bear, Elyse had entered into the sweepstakes for the “pay your age” promotion and got selected, receiving a ticket with a date window to visit a store and redeem it for a bear.

First, we had to find a suitable character.  Elyse briefly considered this flamingo.
First, we had to find a suitable character.  Elyse briefly considered this flamingo.

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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 guess that I can cross “escape from a burning car” off of my bucket list…

February 13, 2018, 2:40 PM

Sad to say, my 2012 Kia Soul is no more.  On the night of February 7, in Lucketts, Virginia, as Elyse and I were on the way back home from a trip around the area with friends, my car caught fire and was destroyed in the resulting inferno.  Thankfully, we both escaped without injury.

The day had gone pretty well.  We had gotten together with two friends, Trent and Jackson, and we went from Gaithersburg to Rockville to Silver Spring to DC to Alexandria to Annandale seeing various things, with a focus mostly on elevators, as Elyse, Trent, and Jackson are all elevator enthusiasts.  I have somewhat of an interest in them, but not nearly as strong as the other three.  At the end of our day, we dropped Trent off at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, and then took Jackson up to Dulles Airport to meet up with family members of his that were flying in from out of town.  After we left Jackson with his relatives, Elyse and I headed out.  We took the Dulles Greenway to Leesburg, and then headed north on Route 15, intending to go over the Point of Rocks Bridge, and then continuing to follow Route 15 until we reached Frederick, after which we would turn south to head home.

However, circumstances would dictate otherwise.  As we were going up Route 15, the car suddenly started losing accelerative power, getting it back, losing it again, and so on.  The end result was that I was rapidly losing speed.  Elyse thought that it was the transmission slipping, and with that in mind, I was trying to see if I could get the car to a safe location in order to stop and call AAA for a tow truck.  A transmission problem would be covered under the Kia 100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and so, like the engine replacement that I had a couple of months ago, I would take it to the dealer to get it fixed, and everything would be fine.

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Renting out eight rooms…

September 30, 2017, 12:29 AM

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

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

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

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