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Playing with the AI image generator…

22 minute read

October 27, 2023, 10:02 AM

Recently, a friend of mine posted some computer generated images from the Bing Image Creator, which uses the DALL-E system as its base.  I enjoyed their posts, so I decided to take it for a spin myself with subjects that were more relevant to me.  My first idea was to have it generate me.  The way I saw it, ChatGPT kinda sorta knew who I was, so it seemed reasonable to see if Bing Image Creator could perform similarly.

The first prompt that I gave it was “Ben Schumin in Washington, DC” and this is what it produced:

"Ben Schumin in Washington, DC" (1)  "Ben Schumin in Washington, DC" (2)

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Toronto was fun, and flying… wasn’t bad.

34 minute read

August 11, 2023, 8:09 PM

So the trip to Toronto that I discussed in my earlier Journal entry about going flying again was a whole lot of fun.  I did not know that one could pack that much fun into three short days.  Seriously, this was a really fun weekend trip, where we got to spend time with friends and see lots of interesting things.

First, though, let’s address the elephant in the room: yes, I went through with it and went flying, and no, I didn’t die.  I don’t know if I would necessarily characterize flying as “enjoyable”, but it was at least relatively painless.  This trip was in part a test to see how well I would tolerate flying, with one of two possible results: either my horizons would be expanded greatly, or I would never fly again.  Fortunately, it was the former, as I think that my being much more mature since the last time I flew, plus my doing a little bit of research did me well.  I also had Elyse with me, who is something of a seasoned flyer and knew what we needed to do, so I just had to do as I was told.  We took public transit from the house to Dulles, via the 58 bus, the Red Line, and the Silver Line.  Then security at Dulles was relatively straightforward, throwing all of our stuff on a conveyor belt and running it through this massive machine.  Though I did roll my eyes at having to take my shoes off – but I wore flip-flops on purpose in order to expedite that process.  Once we got through security, it was just a matter of waiting until our plane arrived and then it was time to board and depart.  This whole airport thing was totally new to me, so I was just sort of taking it in.  I’d never been past the main atrium at Dulles before, so there was lots to see.  We took the air train to our terminal, which was pretty straightforward, but seeing as it was fully enclosed, it was no fun for fanning, since there was no real angle to get a photo of the vehicles.  Though with its being fully automated, there was no cab, which meant that you got a great view of the roadway ahead.

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I’m going flying again…

6 minute read

July 21, 2023, 8:07 PM

Remember when I wrote that Journal entry about how I had not flown on an airplane in more than two decades?  That non-flying streak ends next week.  Elyse and I are taking a Wednesday-to-Friday “weekend” trip to Toronto in order to see an exhibit at the Myseum of Toronto about television in Toronto.  As you probably guessed, there are elements from Today’s Special involved in this exhibit.  The exhibit runs through the middle of next month, and so I figure, we’ve got to go see it.  I found out about the Myseum exhibit from Nina Keogh (who played Muffy), and it opened just after we had finished our trip to Ottawa.  I really wanted to go to the exhibit, but I felt like I couldn’t do another trip to Canada so soon after the last one, both for cost reasons, but also for time reasons.  But eventually, I determined that I couldn’t resist, but that the only way that the trip would make sense would be if we flew.  I played with it in my head, and then pitched it to Elyse, and she was supportive of the trip, but was surprised that I suggested flying.  But an exhibit about Today’s Special will mean a lot to me, so I considered it worth it.  I loved the children’s television exhibit when we went to Ottawa, and so I’m excited to see this second take on a similar subject.  If it tells you anything, I heard Muffy’s voice in my head, telling me, “I know you want to visit me, but to do it, you’ll have to fly, you see.”  Damn it, Muffy, you talked me into it.

Once we get to Toronto, we’re staying at the Chelsea again, which is within walking distance of the Myseum and also “The Store“.  My plan for the day is to visit the Myseum and the store, and see what else I can get myself into in that general area.  It all works out because the Chelsea is about four blocks from the store, and then the store is about four blocks from the Myseum.

I suppose that this trip is the logical conclusion of a process that had led me to do a lot of thinking.  For about seven months, from early November to early June, I was working various services that took me past Washington National Airport several times a day.  I would roll up and see all of these people boarding with their little suitcases and going wherever.  I also saw the planes take off and land as I went by.  This happened day in and day out.  And it got me thinking.  It made my flightless life feel quite confining, as I saw people traveling the world, and I was under a self-imposed limitation based on how far it would be practical to travel via road or rail.  I did a whole lot of regional travel, but I started to feel a little constrained, as there were things that I wanted to do but were either unreachable by car or impractical to do with the time that I had available.

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I went to Ottawa…

6 minute read

May 24, 2023, 2:39 PM

From May 17-20, Elyse and I made a weekend trip to Ottawa.  The primary objective was to go and see the Canadian Museum of History in nearby Gatineau, where a Sam and Muffy puppet from Today’s Special were on display as part of a larger exhibit about children’s television in Canada.  The exhibit was amazing, with puppets and costumes from all kinds of Canadian-made children’s programming on display.  We also explored around Ottawa and Gatineau.  The latter was a particularly interesting experience as that was my first time in a place where the predominant language was not English.  Ontario is largely English-speaking, and signage is largely bilingual, containing both English and French, but once you cross the border into Quebec, it’s like a whole different world, as everything is in French, and only French, and some people over there do not speak English.  It was my first time experiencing a language barrier in a major way, and while I managed, remembering that a large amount of English words are derived from French, it was certainly a challenge nonetheless (but Google Translate helped a lot).

I am planning on doing a larger, more detailed photo set in Life and Times for this trip, so to avoid duplicating efforts, I’m just going to share a few photos here and let that be that for now.

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“Just singing a song…”

< 1 minute read

March 15, 2022, 12:00 PM

This past Thursday evening, Elyse and I found ourselves at JMU, touring the recently renovated Zane Showker Hall.  I’m going to go into more detail on that adventure later, so stay tuned for that, but while we were in the lecture hall formerly known as G5 (now numbered 0212), I found a microphone up front, and it turned on and worked.  When you give me a microphone, you never know what I’m going to do with it.  In this instance, I had a little bit of fun with it, and belted out a tune, which Elyse recorded:

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Thinking about the credits music…

5 minute read

September 17, 2019, 9:14 AM

As you well know, I am a big fan of Today’s Special.  I certainly know more about the show than most, and have traveled to Toronto to visit a number of different filming locations from the show.  And before we get too far along, nerd alert: I’m going deep into the weeds with this one.

There’s one episode, though, where I take issue with the credits.  In that instance, I think that the music that they chose to use doesn’t completely fit the mood of the ending.  That episode is “Babies“, from 1984.  In that episode, we learn that Wanda Willoby, from the Willoby Tale stories, has run away from her home in Possum Ridge and has come to the store, because she feels as though she is being replaced by a new baby that’s on the way.  After everyone finds Wanda, they comfort her, and explain to her that her parents won’t love her any less now that there will be a third child in the family.  Meanwhile, Wanda, while meaning well, causes a lot of trouble in the store, including accidentally dropping a large display of balls in the Children’s Department, and inadvertently backing into an alarm button in the Computer Room.  This underlines the need to get Wanda back home to Possum Ridge as soon as possible.  In the end, Wanda realizes that she is not being replaced by the new baby, and the episode ends with the storyteller, a young Lori Chodos (whom you might better remember as Beezus from the 1988 Ramona series), telling everyone how well Wanda handled the new baby after her experience in the store.  The episode ends on a high note, though certainly differently than any other episode, since the storyteller had never been integrated into an episode like this before (storytellers typically appeared in standalone segments).

The end credits music used was the slow flute theme, which is the basic melody of the theme on flute with some other accompaniment.  This is used on four episodes: “Babies” and “Butterflies” in 1984, and “Wishes” and “Phil’s Visit” in 1986.  Of those four episodes, “Butterflies” and “Wishes” have sad endings.  “Phil’s Visit” doesn’t have a sad ending per se, but it’s a very emotional episode about alcoholism, and the slow flute ending fits.  Out of the four, only “Babies” has a happy ending.  “Babies” is also the first episode to use that piece of music.  For recurring pieces of music, the first usage is sometimes very different than the other usages.  For instance, the music typically used during suspenseful scenes first appears in a relatively lighthearted scene in “Police“, where Sam is attempting to help Officer Hardy look for clues, but ultimately gets in his way.  In almost every other instance, the tune is used to help build suspense, such as when a spaceship lands on the roof, or Muffy is rescued after becoming trapped in a utility chase.

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Categories: Today's Special

Toronto in a nutshell…

6 minute read

April 24, 2019, 9:30 PM

I mentioned about a month or so ago that Elyse and I were going to Toronto in mid-April.  That trip is now in the history books, and much fun was had.  I’m going to do a more detailed photo set in Life and Times later, but I want to present a high-level view of what we did on our trip now.  Much of the focus of the trip was to visit various locations where Today’s Special was filmed.  We visited the store, as well as other places where various characters visited over the course of seven seasons.  We also rode a lot of the TTC, visited friends, had dessert at a poop-themed restaurant, and rode some vintage elevators.

So here we go…

Main Place Mall, a mostly dead mall in Buffalo, New York, where we met up with a friend.
Main Place Mall, a mostly dead mall in Buffalo, New York, where we met up with a friend.

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Categories: Canada, Today's Special, Travel, TTC

I have reached a milestone…

4 minute read

September 11, 2018, 4:08 PM

I recently reached a milestone when it comes to my overhaul of my Today’s Special site.  I last wrote about this project in 2013, at which time I had settled on a platform for the site (WordPress) and had written a few articles, mainly as proof of concept.  The build plan has always been to start with “Hats” and work my way through to “Memories“, adding content in the order that it appears in the show.  After I get through all 121 episodes and the content related to those, I will then write the articles for the content that doesn’t necessarily tie neatly into an episode or episodes, like the articles for the main characters, the various sets, and so on.  Then once all of the articles are written, I just need to write the “business” pages like the main page, privacy statement, etc., give everything a final check, and then launch.

Since I announced the project in 2013, the project has made good progress, though that progress has happened in fits and starts over the intervening years.  I completed the articles for “Hats“, “Snow“, “Noses“, and “Family” in late 2013, and then set the project aside for about two years.  I suppose that other matters took precedence during that time.  Then when I picked it up again in late 2015, I got a lot of prep work done for the episode pages, such as all of the writer, director, and sequence information, and then by March 2016, I had completed things through “Games“, i.e. the twelfth episode.  I then picked it up again in December 2016, and finished up the first season in February 2017.  I picked up on the second season in September 2017, starting with “Dance“, and finished it up exactly one year later, taking approximately six months off from it from December 2017 to June 2018.  That work on the second season also included writing seven brand new episode synopses, to replace some temporary short synopses written in the nineties.  You know what they say: there is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution.  That said, the new synopses are the same length as the standard ones.

In finishing the 1982 episodes, and a number of other articles related to that, I believe that I have reached a significant milestone as far as Today’s Special goes.  Going into the project, I was concerned that I would get bogged down in those early episodes and the project would stall indefinitely.  But now I’m done with them.  I have completed the early material, and am now moving into the middle of the series.  Starting in 1983, the series really “grew out its beard“, as the show definitely hit its stride during that period.  The 1981 episodes were fairly light on story, focusing mostly on teaching about the various concepts that the show covered, such as hats, snow, camping, fruit, and so on.  The 1982 episodes were built around an actual plot, but still had a lot of teaching and explaining in them.  Starting in 1983, the concepts are taught through the storyline, with less direct explanation of concepts.  There’s also more conflict, as 1983 has five episodes where characters get very upset with each other for very valid reasons.  In addition, the characters are far more developed in 1983, as all of their origin stories are shown.  The show also changes its appearance slightly, as this is when Jodie begins wearing her third uniform, which is the version with the long sleeved button-down shirt and pocket on the right side, rather than the short sleeved jumpsuit that she wore previously.

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I’m pretty sure that I now have the modern equivalent of TXL…

2 minute read

June 1, 2018, 3:50 PM

Over the last month or so, Elyse and I created a network of smart speakers in the house. Elyse has had a Google Home Mini since early January, and I expanded it, first to three, and then to seven speakers when I realized the capabilities of the devices. With speakers throughout the house, we can use the “broadcast” feature as something of a home intercom system, and we’ve also created speaker groups in order to play music on multiple speakers in various sections of the house, or throughout the entire house. I love these things, because I can, for instance, just ask the system what the weather is, or what time it is, and it will tell me. I can even make phone calls on them and control the lights, though I don’t typically use the phone feature because of audio quality issues, and I’m not willing to spend money on the lights at this point in time (but maybe in the future). Right now, I use them most often for music, and for the home intercom function. And then if I ever get various Nest products, I will be able to connect them to the system as well. Pretty neat.

All in all, I can do a lot of things that TXL could do on Today’s Special. I can talk to it and it gives me information back, I can place phone calls through it, and I can make it control various building systems. I still don’t know how to get it to play “Yo He Ho” at the most inopportune times, though one day I might figure out a way to make it do that. Only thing about this system that I’m not a fan of is that you have to activate it by saying, “Okay, Google,” or “Hey, Google.” If I could customize the phrases that it responds to, I would make it respond to “TXL”, to make it complete. Considering that it does a lot of things that TXL could do on Today’s Special, it seems rather fitting.

Those of you who have used the various smart speakers also know that Google has built some Easter eggs in them, like if you ask what the answer is to life, the universe, and everything, it will tell you that the answer is 42. Using custom routines, I built in a couple of Easter eggs of my own, related to Today’s Special. I wanted it to respond to “How many size 9 shoes are for sale in the store?” with “There are ten pairs of size 9 shoes for sale,” (from “Boxes and Boxes“) but for some reason, it couldn’t comprehend that one, try as I might.

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Now to build on the successes of the past year…

6 minute read

January 3, 2018, 9:37 PM

A new year always brings a lot of feelings.  It’s a time to reflect on the past year, and a time to look ahead to the year ahead.  Reflecting back on 2017, I’d say that I had an outstanding year, and laid the groundwork for a strong future.  After all, at the beginning of 2017, I was still relatively new at the whole train operations thing, and lived by myself in an apartment with a hostile relationship with the property management.  Now, I’m more experienced with my work and more comfortable with all of the ins and outs of my job, and I’m also a homeowner with a roommate.  I made my first mortgage payment at the end of December.  Things suddenly became very real when I wrote that check.

Now, in 2018, I want to build on my successes from the past year and reach even greater heights.  After all, in 2017, I got the house.  Now, I want to make it my home, and not someone else’s idea of a home with my furniture sitting in it.  That means getting rid of that chandelier in Elyse’s room, painting a few rooms, and getting my wallhangings up.  I’m excited to design the new decor, because I have so many blank canvases upon which to expend some pent-up creative energies.  My parents are delighted about this as well, because I’d been fantasizing out loud about redecorating their house for a few years in order to expend those creative energies that I couldn’t do with the apartment, but they were a bit cool to the idea.  Now I have my own place to paint and decorate as I wish.  The previous owner of my house decorated the place fairly minimalistically, using pale colors on walls and few wallhangings and furnishings, such as in the living room:

My living room during the showing

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“Crisp bacon strips, sliced French bread, hot cheesy sauce, on a plate full of macaroni!”

4 minute read

December 25, 2017, 10:14 AM

For the last several years, I’ve made it something of a tradition of watching the Today’s Special episodes “Christmas Part 1” and “Christmas Part 2” on or around Christmas Eve.  It only makes sense to me.  Most Christmas specials are awful, but Today’s Special‘s two Christmas episodes are outside of that mold, taking the same care with Christmas that they do when discussing the night or feelings.  The end result is a timeless story that still leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy inside after all these years.

This year, I decided to take a minor element from those episodes and bring it into real life.  Across the two episodes, they sing their own variation of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” using food.  It starts out early when Sam sings, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a plate full of macaroni!”  Then Muffy later adds, “Hot cheesy sauce on my plate full of macaroni!”  Near the end of the second episode, it takes its full form:

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me crisp bacon strips, sliced French bread, hot cheesy sauce, on a plate full of macaroni!

So on Friday evening, I went to the grocery store after work and bought this:

Pasta, generic Velveeta, bread, and bacon.
Pasta, generic Velveeta, bread, and bacon.

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Apparently, Sam Crenshaw is an Ottawa Senators fan…

< 1 minute read

December 18, 2017, 12:47 PM

Sometimes, you never know what you’ll find online.  Check this out:

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Categories: Today's Special

Going to show that you never know what you’ll find at the thrift store…

4 minute read

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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My life according to Clive and the Cowboys…

4 minute read

August 6, 2016, 5:12 PM

I was going through my Facebook “memories” feed today, and one in particular struck me as amusing.  My sister made a post on this day in 2009, called “My Life According to Disney”.  It was one of those chain posts where you fill in the blanks and then tag fifteen of your friends.  Here were the directions:

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like and include me. You can’t use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It’s a lot harder than you think! Repost as “my life according to (band name)”.

She chose Disney.  Technically, “Disney” casts a very wide net, since their body of work is very large and spans multiple generations of authors, artists, composers, etc.  But she made it work.  She also tagged me, encouraging me to do the same.  I commented thusly:

Hahahaha... I responded to your note. You asked for it...

And then I gave a proper response:

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like and include me. You can’t use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It’s a lot harder than you think! Repost as “my life according to (band name)”.

Pick your artist: Clive and the Cowboys (yeah, Today’s Special – sue me)

Are you a male or a female: “I am thunder and nothing can happen ’til I bellow and I rumble and wake everybody with my roar…” (A Visit to the Opera)

Describe yourself: “Hocus pocus alimagocus, I can bend, I can stretch, I can see…” (Family)

How do you feel: “Let go of your busy day, let it all just drift away…” (Sleep)

Describe where you currently live: “When I’m at home I just relax, put on slippers, shirt, and slacks, settle down to watch TV, and dunk a donut in my tea.” (Homes)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: “Let’s not get carried away, Sneakamore! Still, I will admit… I’m nasty, I’m not very nice… the heart that’s inside me is as cold as ice…” (Storybooks)

Your favorite form of transportation: “All aboard, the whistle blows, a rumbling starts beneath your toes…” (Trains)

Your best friend is: “When you’re with me, I’m not afraid of anything…” (Flight)

You and your best friends are: “Who’s the one I like to play with? Who’s the one I’ll spend all day with?” (Sharing)

If your life were a TV show, what would it be called: “Today’s Special” (main theme)

What is life to you: “We’ve got a store that I explore when the customers aren’t here anymore…” (Sleep)

Your last relationship: “Just give a snap, a clap, and a chuckle any time you feel a bit dismayed…” (Storms)

Your fear: “I love the rain, I love it when it’s raining…” (Storms) coupled with “Riding along the highway, singing a song and going my way…” (Cars)

What is the best advice you can give: “Let your smile shine through in every thing you do… don’t hide that special you…” (Teeth)

How I would like to die: “Without ever leaving, I’ve been everywhere… I’ve been to those lands ’cause you’ve taken me there…” (Memories)

My soul’s present condition: “Blue! Blue! The cow was blue! She jumped high like a kangaroo!” (Dreams)

My motto: “A singin’ yo he ho, sailin’ across the ocean blue, singin’ yo he ho, I’m a comin’ home to you!” (Costumes)

For those who don’t know, “Clive and the Cowboys” is, as far as I can tell, the name of the group of musicians that played the accompaniment for the songs on Today’s Special.  They were referenced in “Sleep” when Sam was talking on the radio, and also in “Records” when Jodie made the record.  On that later occasion, she referred to the group as “Jodie and the Cowboys”.

Some of these responses are obvious, and some not so much.  With the passage of time, I couldn’t tell you why, for the “male or female” question, I quoted Thunder from “The Rainmakers”, other than that Thunder was a male actor.  The “If you could go anywhere” question, I assume I meant the “Land of Make Believe”, because that’s a song that the two villains sung together explaining how evil they were.  “Your last relationship”, I don’t recall why I chose “Snap, Clap, and Chuckle” for it.  I suppose that 2009 me had a rationale for it, but it’s lost on 2016 me.  And then I also apparently didn’t like driving through storms in 2009.  Still not the most fun, especially since larger vehicles slide surprisingly easily in the rain.  You wouldn’t think that a vehicle the size of a bus would slide more than a much smaller car, but they most definitely do.  I also can’t explain what the Blue Cow song has to do with my soul’s present condition.  Maybe I was in a silly mood, and that’s certainly a silly song.

And then there was my sister’s comment on the post, in response to my original comment on hers:

I guess I did ask for it.

In any case, though, this was a fun exercise, both in writing it at the time, as well as revisiting it now.  Facebook memories can be so much fun to go through.  Unlike a photo album, Facebook memories are like going through an album of our thoughts.  Facebook, without a character limit for posts, allows the space for more explanation of one’s thoughts, and therefore the ability to express the entire idea.  What we were thinking at the time often helps give perspective to what we’re thinking now.  After all, we may not realize it at the time, but we all are constantly growing and changing.  What was important a few years ago is laughable today.  What was considered a dream years ago is now reality.  You know.

Fun with music…

3 minute read

December 20, 2015, 12:41 PM

This past Thursday, among other places, Elyse and I checked out a store called Bill’s Music in Catonsville.  What a wonderful place this was, with professional-grade equipment for sale at professional-grade prices (but you’re paying for quality).  The store has every single piece of musical equipment that you could imagine, including some stuff I hadn’t seen in years, like real xylophones and such.  Elyse actually knows a thing or two about music, unlike me.

The first thing that we discovered was a metallic xylophone (metallophone?).  I hadn’t played one of these since sixth grade music class, a six-week “exploratory” course at Stuarts Draft Middle School.  It was pretty awesome, working not so much with singing, but mostly with musical instruments – primarily xylophones.  We learned some very basic songs on them, and apparently I still remember a couple of them:

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