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I have been to Pennsylvania a lot lately…

August 27, 2016, 6:27 AM

In the span of two weeks, Elyse and I went to Pennsylvania three different times.  We went to Hanover on the 8th, Harrisburg on the 11th, and then Harrisburg again on the 18th.  Two of the trips were to scout out some potential sites for photography, as well as get something out of our system from the earlier bus trip, and then one was to bring the bus back for my friend.

The first trip was to Hanover.  This was one of those “seeing America” kind of trips, about catching a shot of whatever we found interesting, as well as scouting locations for further attention with our SLR cameras when the weather was more accommodating (it was hot and humid out – yuck).  Elyse met me at my house, and then we left for Hanover via Westminster.  On the way up to Westminster, we both knew about a certain street off of Georgia Avenue in Carroll County near Eldersburg and Sykesville (yes, I refer to Route 97 as “Georgia Avenue” all the way up to Gettysburg), and had to get a photo of it with Elyse.  Check it out:

Elyse Court

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Testing out a new camera…

February 28, 2016, 2:44 PM

So I finally got a new camera, with its arriving at the beginning of this month.  I got a Nikon D5300, and got a zoom lens along with it, as well as a new camera bag (i.e. I’m not going to use Big Mavica‘s old bag anymore).  I didn’t test a D5300 when I tested a whole bunch of cameras with Elyse, because it wasn’t available.  But I tested a number of different models around it.  While this one did everything that most SLRs do, this one also had a fliparound screen like the D5500 that I tested, but being an earlier model, didn’t have the price tag of the D5500.  It also had built-in GPS, which I find extremely useful, and that none of the cameras that I tested earlier had.

In case you weren’t aware, I contribute quite a bit to Panoramio.  You know how you see photos in Google Earth and Google Maps?  Panoramio is how a lot of those photos make their way in there.  You upload photos, and then you tag the location on a map.  The problem comes when I’m shooting a lot of photos in an area that I may not be very familiar with.  I’m talking about things like my trip to Richmond in 2013, various trips to Chicago, High Rock, and the like.  In those cases, the way I would typically shoot photos would be to take whatever photos with my real camera, and then grab my cell phone and take a quick reference shot.  The reason for this was that the phone had GPS, but my real camera didn’t.  That worked well enough, but it created extra work both onsite and in post-production.  Onsite, I had to take an extra photo with a different camera, and ensure that GPS had gotten a lock on the position.  Then in post-production, I had to coordinate the two photos, reading the tag on one photo in order to manually place the photo that’s actually getting published in the right spot.  If it sounds like a pain, it’s because it is.  Now that my real camera has GPS on it as well, everything has a location tag on it, which makes my life that much easier.

Also, since it’s come up before, a point of clarification: just because the camera has onboard GPS does not mean that the camera will give you directions.  GPS is a network of satellites operated by the United States government that provides location and time information to users with a GPS receiver.  It is not inherently a navigation system, though the way most people talk about it, you would think that it was.  Just thought I’d put that out there.

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It was a six-mile hike, mostly uphill, but the view was definitely worth it…

May 12, 2014, 12:19 PM

On May 4, I got together with Melissa, Pete, and Pete’s dog Bruno, and we went on a trip out to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to do some hiking.  The inspiration for this trip was twofold.  First of all, Pete and Melissa had recently become friends on Facebook, though they had never met in person.  This seemed like a good opportunity for them to actually meet.  And then the venue came about after I saw someone else post pictures of the Maryland Heights overlook at Harpers Ferry onto Facebook, and I decided that I wanted to see it for myself.

Heading in, I first picked Melissa up at her house in Hyattsville, along with, to my surprise, Jason.  He was going to check out the Smithsonian, and so we brought him down to a Metro station.  After dropping Jason off at Eastern Market station, Melissa and I met up with Pete for breakfast at Sizzling Express.  After breakfast, we headed back over to Pete’s house to get Bruno, and then we all walked down to the car, which was parked on 6th Street SE.  I ended up taking Bruno’s leash, which was an experience all of its own.  Realize that when I was growing up, my family had a dachshund, which is a small dog.  Bruno is a basset hound, which is a much bigger breed.  Walking a basset hound is a different experience entirely from walking a dachshund, in that I was mostly walking Bruno, but there were definitely times when Bruno was walking me.  Bruno is pretty strong, and was able to pull me around at times as he checked out various items along our path.  Greta could never have pulled me around like that on account of her being too small.  But it was fun, so all was well, and Pete was there to remind Bruno to be on his best behavior if necessary.

When we got to the car, Bruno got in his carrier, and we were off.  To get there, we took the Southwest Freeway to GW Parkway to the Beltway to I-270 to US 340.  And for the record, 340’s east-west signing in Maryland always throws me off, because I am very much accustomed to 340’s being signed as a north-south route, as it is in Virginia and West Virginia, though that’s by far not the only US highway that changes directional designations like that.

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Chicago 2013…

August 9, 2013, 8:10 PM

At the end of July, Mom and I took a trip to Chicago.  We took the Capitol Limited, like we usually do, leaving DC on July 25 and returning July 30.  Not a bad trip, but I believe that there was something pivotal about this particular trip: Chicago was becoming a regular thing.  This isn’t a bad thing by any means.  It doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the trip any less, though, it’s just that it’s become something that we do every year, and that’s fine.  With the trip’s becoming something of a regular thing, this is the only thing you’re goign to get that’s specifically about the trip.  There’s not going to be a Journal entry for each day like I did in 2011.  No special photo set about the trip like I did in 2010 and 2012.  And that’s fine.  That’s not to say that there’s not going to be a photo set from the trip, though.  But it’s going to be a regular photo set, in Photography, about the Chicago Botanic Garden.  That photo set’s going to be what I describe as “flower porn”.  Seriously, I got very close to a lot of flowering plants, and got detailed photos of them.  When I used the term “flower porn”, Sis commented that it was also accurate, as I was photographing the reproductive parts of flowers.  So there you go.

On the outbound trip, Mom and I were in a roomette.  Second car back, room 14.  That’s a lower level roomette.  Mom and I were surprised to find that we felt like we didn’t have quite enough space on this trip.  That came about mostly in regards to legroom, as neither one of us really could extend our legs very far without getting in the other person’s way, and sitting diagonally was a little uncomfortable for both of us.  Having only one electrical outlet was also a problem, as we had several devices that we needed to charge: my laptop, my phone (which we were also tethering for Internet access when we had service), Mom’s phone, and Mom’s iPod Touch.  And one electrical outlet.  It was a shame that, when the Superliner I roomette panels were updated around 2011 or so, they didn’t add at least one additional power outlet.  What we ended up doing was plugging in the laptop and charging everything off of that.  It didn’t work as well in this capacity as I would have liked, however, we were asking the computer to do something that it probably was not designed to do, i.e. be a mobile charging station for three devices (vs. just one).

Meanwhile, the ride out was at times like visiting familiar places.  This was not just because this was our fifth round trip on the Capitol Limited.  Realize that as of this trip, I had visited all of the towns where we made a station stop between DC and Cumberland.  DC, Rockville, Harpers Ferry, Martinsburg, and Cumberland.  Now mind you, it’s been eight years since I last visited Martinsburg, and even longer since I was in the part of Martinsburg where the train goes, but it still counts.  Then I added Harpers Ferry earlier in the same month, and Cumberland in April.

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Categories: Amtrak, Chicago, Vacations

Seeing Cumberland from the ground…

April 7, 2013, 12:28 AM

You may be familiar with Cumberland, Maryland.  Whenever Mom and I go to Chicago, we take the Capitol Limited, and that train travels a route that goes through Martinsburg, Cumberland, Pittsburgh, Toledo, and South Bend, among other locations.  When I take train trips, I like to look at the scenery.  Some of it intrigues me, and it leads me do more research on it later.  Take the Koppers facility in Green Spring, West Virginia.  I always found it interesting to see these piles of neatly stacked lumber along the tracks.  I researched it, and I enjoyed learning a bit more about what I had seen from the train.  Towns are a similar idea.  These little towns that the trains either pass through or stop in make me want to do more research.  Unfortunately, many of these little towns are beyond my reach without incurring a lot of travel expenses, but for the places that I can reach, if they interest me enough, I’ll pay them a visit.

Cumberland was one of those places.  The Capitol Limited spends a lot of time in Cumberland.  Going west, the first thing that they do is a crew change, where they exchange engineers.  Then they continue a little further west and do the passenger stop.  That stop takes about ten minutes, and is also a “smoke stop”, where passengers who smoke are permitted to get off of the train and have a cigarette.  While on the train waiting through the crew change and the longer passenger stop, I got to take an extended look at Cumberland.  And I liked what I saw.  I saw a town with some character to it, and I saw a few places that I would love to explore more deeply.  I saw houses, I saw churches, and I saw the WTBO sign on Wills Mountain.  And I was sure that there was much more that was interesting beyond what I could see from the train.

So this past Tuesday, I did exactly that.  I grabbed the camera bag, got in the car, and headed off to Cumberland.  This, by the way, is not exactly a short trip.  Amtrak gives three hours and nine minutes to take the train from Union Station in DC to Cumberland.  Google Maps gives two hours and 123 miles driving from my house in Aspen Hill to Cumberland Amtrak station by car.  That’s going via the Intercounty Connector and I-370 to Gaithersburg, I-270 to Frederick, I-70 to Hancock, and then I-68 to Cumberland.  I’ve done the drive on I-270 to Frederick a number of times in the past, and so I knew what to expect there.  Interstate 70 through to Hagerstown took me over a number of hills and past the Appalachian Trail.  I had taken I-70 west the rest of the way through Maryland when I went to Breezewood in 2006.  Then I-68 was really awesome.  The first thing you do is go through a highway cut through Sideling Hill, and then you go over a number of mountains before you arrive in Cumberland – directly in the middle of downtown.

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A train ride with far more excitement than you might expect…

September 19, 2012, 9:21 PM

This is also why, when I’m traveling on a public mode of transportation, the idea is to leave early so that I can be at the boarding location in plenty of time, just in case anything goes wrong in the process.  Today was one of those days where something went wrong.  I described it as a “clusterf—“, and I think that was putting it nicely.

First of all, though, to set things up: I’m in Stuarts Draft right now, and I went there on Amtrak’s westbound Cardinal.  To get there, my plan was to take the 51 from my house to Glenmont, and then take the Red Line to Union Station. Initially, things went well.  I caught the same 51 that I usually get to go to work, and caught my Red Line train.

And then things went downhill from there.

The Red Line was having a power problem on Track 2 at Brentwood Yard.  Thus they had to single track through the yard, during morning rush hour.  Whenever you hear “single tracking” and “rush hour” in the same sentence, by the way, that’s never a good sign.  So at Glenmont, we sat for several minutes before we started the run – much longer than usual.  Then we proceeded to Wheaton and held again.  No hold at Forest Glen.  Then we held for about ten minutes each at Silver Spring and Takoma.

And then things got worse.  There was a second power problem on the Red Line at Van Ness-UDC, with single tracking over there, too.  Lovely.  By this point, Metro was telling people in the e-alerts to consider taking the Green Line.  That’s when you know it’s bad.  With two areas of single tracking, I bailed at Fort Totten and took the Green Line.

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Renovations at Union Station!

July 25, 2012, 2:16 PM

This is my traditional posted-from-Club-Acela-at-Union-Station Journal entry, because I’m going to be on a train to Chicago with my mother within the hour.  Should be fun.  However, at Union Station, I was surprised to see a lot of netting and scaffolding in the Main Hall.  Last time I was at Union Station, which was in October for the anti-Walmart demonstration, this wasn’t there.  From what I can find, this scaffolding and netting is for ceiling repairs necessitated by damage from the earthquake that happened last August.

In any event, it’s pretty neat looking, seeing all of this extra hardware in what is otherwise a very clean looking Main Hall:

Lights under the scaffolding around the statues on the west side of the Main Hall.
Lights under the scaffolding around the statues on the west side of the Main Hall.

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Categories: Amtrak, Washington DC

While preparation is good, I really don’t want to have to use it…

July 16, 2012, 11:19 PM

So I’m going to Chicago with Mom in a little more than a week.  Like every time we go to Chicago, we’re taking the Capitol Limited both ways, and we’re going to be taking the “L” to get around the city.  So far, it looks like it’s going to be a fun trip.

And then of course, you’re welcome to place your bets on how long it takes for a CTA employees with a chip on their shoulder to harass me about photography in the system.  Recall that last year, a CTA employee at Fullerton station made a scene about photography.  Additionally, I was harassed about it at Howard station in 2010.  I occasionally get the same crap from WMATA employees in DC, but I have learned that I can shut them down fairly easily just by standing up to them.  I have found that CTA employees are a little tougher to crack than the DC folks, but my lack of access to Chicago transit (living in the DC area and all) makes it harder to figure out what quickly shuts them down.

Now going into this, I have two things in my favor.  First, I have the official CTA photo policy from their website.  It states:

The general public is permitted to use hand-held cameras to take photographs, capture digital images, and videotape within public areas of CTA stations and transit vehicles for personal, non-commercial use.

Large cameras, photo or video equipment, or ancillary equipment such as lighting, tripods, cables, etc. are prohibited (except in instances where commercial and professional photographers enter into contractual agreements with CTA).

All photographers and videographers are prohibited from entering, photographing, or videotaping non-public areas of the CTA’s transit system.

All photographers and videographers are prohibited from impeding customer traffic flow, obstructing transit operations, interfering with customers, blocking doors or stairs, and affecting the safety of CTA, its employees, or customers. All photographers and videographers must fully and immediately comply with any requests, directions, or instructions of CTA personnel related to safety concerns.

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Categories: Amtrak, CTA, Photography

My trip to Stuarts Draft… via Amtrak!

September 27, 2011, 10:41 PM

So this is actually a Video Journal entry. And here it is:

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And tomorrow, I’ll be treated to a lovely view of Virginia from the inside of an Amfleet coach…

September 20, 2011, 10:57 PM

Indeed, tomorrow is going to be fun. I’m going down to Stuarts Draft to visit the family, and unlike every past trip I’ve ever made between DC and Stuarts Draft, I’m doing it via public transportation. Specifically, I’m taking the Cardinal, Amtrak train 51. Since it’s only a four-hour train trip, I’m going in coach. That will be a new experience, because aside from like ten minutes in coach on the Capitol Limited in 2007, I’ve always traveled in a class higher than coach, being in the sleepers on the Capitol Limited, and then traveling business class on the Acela and the Downeaster (though it should be noted that the Acela does not have a coachclass section – business class is the lowest class of service).

The reason I’m taking the train is because I will be hosting a visitor as soon as I get back to DC. Specifically, Mom! The reason it worked out like this is because of a perfect storm of events. Sis and Chris are going to be in Virginia to attend a wedding in Blacksburg, stopping by to say hello and have lunch with all of us on Thursday. And of course, I just won’t pass up a chance to see my sister and my brother-in-law, since they live so far away and I don’t get to see them often. Then there’s the National Book Festival in DC, which Mom has attended for a number of years. So because of the timing, it seemed silly to drive down to Stuarts Draft in the Sable, and then take two cars back to DC. So the Sable is staying in Maryland (and it’s likely already parked where it’s going to stay for about four days), and Mom’s Scion is making the trip up and back. But we’re going to be leaving at 4 AM – yecch. I’m not going to the Book Festival, though. I’m just going home. So while Mom’s out meeting authors, I’m going home and taking a nap, getting the rest of the sleep I won’t be able to get on Friday night.

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And at last, we finish Chicago…

August 30, 2011, 10:16 PM

Just in case you thought I forgot to finish my description of Chicago, let me disabuse you of that idea. Here’s the last installment of the trip to Chicago.

First thing Sunday, Mom and I had breakfast in the hotel restaurant with Sis and Chris. To save money, since my main complaint about the trip in 2010 was that we spent too much on food, we bought food for breakfast, and had something reasonably healthy for breakfast that we bought at a nearby grocery store. I had oatmeal and some fruit. Yes, I did my darndest to be good on this trip, despite it all. But this being the last day, we splurged a little, and ate in the restaurant.

Then we went down to Rogers Park. Sis and Chris promised us a farmers’ market, and so we saw the farmers’ market in Rogers Park. It was initially raining, but we managed. Since I couldn’t buy anything on account of the train trip that Mom and I would be taking later in the day, I decided to have a little camera fun, photographing the fruits and vegetables for sale. And unlike the CTA workers, who think that when they harass photographers, they are doing it in the name of national security (puh-leeze), the folks at the farmers’ market were more than happy to show off their wares for the camera. And here are some of the results:

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Categories: Amtrak, Chicago, Family, Friends

And fun was had in Chicago, too!

August 11, 2011, 6:10 AM

So before you think that all I did in Chicago was fight with CTA employees, I did a whole slew of other things in Chicago that were fun. First of all, the train trip over was interesting, as Mom and I shared a lower level Superliner I roomette on the Capitol Limited. That was certainly a different experience from before. Each time we’ve traveled before, it’s been on the upper level of the rail cars. The view isn’t that much different, except that you are just about at eye level with people in the stations that you go by, and your window doesn’t necessarily get above the sides of a few bridges. But otherwise, not bad.

And the Superliner I sleeper that I was on had been slightly refurbished. First of all, the three reading lights in the room were all LED (oooooh, ahhhhh), plus the panels above each seat had been refurbished. Take a look:

 

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Categories: Amtrak, Chicago, Family, Fire alarms

“…and that’s why everybody knows it’s fun to ride on a train!”

July 19, 2011, 9:31 PM

Yes, I’m back from my train trip to Durham, New Hampshire, where I got a lot accomplished in that small New England town. Actually, I got back on Friday, but you’ll forgive me for being a few days late, I’m sure.

The business part of this trip was actually pretty ho-hum. I knew going in what I was supposed to do, I did it, and it went without a hitch. Doesn’t make for great reading, so we’ll skip it.

The train trip was pretty fun. You would have never guessed that I would be one to enjoy the train trip immensely, now, would you? But yeah, it was a fun, new experience, and I went in ready to take it all in. In fact, I was just full of energy leaving the house on Tuesday. Enough that I made the decision: the hell with taking a cab to the Metro. I’m taking the bus. Seriously, I took the 51 to Glenmont. Here’s my luggage at the bus stop:

And there you go - my big suitcase, my work bag, and my camera bag, waiting neatly at the bus stop. All saw quite a bit of use by the end of the trip.
And there you go – my big suitcase, my work bag, and my camera bag, waiting neatly at the bus stop. All saw quite a bit of use by the end of the trip.

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Categories: Amtrak, MBTA, Ride On

Greetings from Durham, New Hampshire!

July 14, 2011, 7:13 PM

First of all, greetings from Durham, New Hampshire, where I’m traveling on business.

Yesterday evening, I did a two-part Video Journal discussing some of the experiences on the trip up as well as my first day in Durham. Due to all the stuff I needed to take care of while up here, I didn’t get a chance to post it until tonight, but better late than never. So here it is:

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National Train Day!

May 7, 2011, 11:17 PM

Today was National Train Day, and so I headed on down to Union Station to check it all out. I had been to National Train Day once before in 2009, so I kind of knew what to expect, but still, it’s always neat to see the different rolling stock that they had on display. Rail cars that travel over the national rail network are very different from those on urban mass transit systems, and so it’s always a treat to see them.

I took the Metro from Grosvenor (yes, Grosvenor) to get to Union Station. The way I figured, since I was also going to a Wikipedia meetup afterwards in Tenleytown, this made more sense than going all the way around to Glenmont afterwards. Plus I’ve never originated a day’s Metro riding from Grosvenor before.

Arriving at Union Station, I found the line. Specifically, the line for the train equipment display. After all, I came to see the real trains. The model trains don’t interest me so much. I want to see the real thing when I go out. The line was long. The end of the line, when I found it, was out in the shops, back here:

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Categories: Amtrak, Events