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A day up in Pennsylvania…

July 22, 2022, 8:30 AM

On July 15, Elyse and I went up to Pennsylvania to photograph a very specific target: the western portal of the Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel, which is one of four tunnels on the mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike.  I’ve been wanting to photograph a Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel for a while, but distance plus operational challenges caused this to be back-burnered for a long time.

My first thought was to photograph the tunnels the old fashioned way: on the turnpike itself, from a vehicle.  I did this on my shoot from 16 years ago where I photographed Breezewood and then did the turnpike to Carlisle.  I do not recommend that anyone do this, at least not the way that I did, because I was driving with one hand and photographing with the other.  At the relatively young age of 24, though, I thought that I was good enough to handle it, but looking back, I’m fortunate that nothing went wrong.  If I had someone else with me doing the driving, this would have been a better option, but I didn’t have one.  Of course, even then, you really only have one shot at it.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike is a toll road, and a relatively expensive one at that, plus the exits are spaced fairly far apart.  Thus, in the case of Kittatinny Mountain (and the adjacent tunnel through Blue Mountain), having to go back to take another crack at it would require about 25 miles of extra driving, considering that the exits on either side are spaced about 12 miles apart, plus the distance to actually turn around at both ends.  Plus extra tolls and the fuel to do that round trip.  Pulling over and shooting some photos from the roadside is also not a viable option, because as I understand it, the PTC does not look favorably on that.  General rule of thumb is that outside of the service plazas, the PTC does not want you outside of your vehicle on their property at any time except if you absolutely have to, and will come check on you if you are outside somewhere that you’re not supposed to be.  So that led me to do some research on Google Maps in order see if there were off-turnpike places to photograph any of the tunnels.  Allegheny Mountain is too far west, being more than halfway to Pittsburgh, plus there’s no off-turnpike access.  Tuscarora also had no access.  No access at Blue Mountain, either.  But at Kittatinny Mountain, Route 641 goes over the turnpike just west of the tunnel portals.  Therefore, we have a winner.

Finding that, I then turned to Elyse and basically said, “Help me justify this outing by building a day,” and sent along a map of my target and the intended route there.  That’s how so many of our adventures happen: there’s something that one of us wants to do, but we can’t justify the time commitment or expense of a trip for it it all by itself.  So we add more stuff and make it into a full-on adventure that typically gets us home around midnight.  Elyse wanted to see a siren and some other stuff in Shippensburg and Chambersburg, so there was the rest of our adventure.

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Apartment security systems and the blame game on deliveries…

September 28, 2016, 11:21 AM

Sometimes, you really have to just shake your head at the lameness when people play the blame game.  Last year, the management at the apartment complex where I’ve lived for the last nine years (!) made some improvements to the property, including painting and carpeting the vestibule, and installing a new security system, making the front door of my building access-controlled, rather than unsecured.  The paint is, for the most part, just lovely.  The security system, meanwhile, is, in general, a good thing, but a number of bad decisions made by the property management have made the system into a mixed blessing.

On one hand, having access control on the front door keeps the annoying salespeople and door flyers away (but that doesn’t stop people from flyering the cars in the parking lot, which is equally bothersome).  It also keeps others who have no business being in the building out, such as a homeless guy that was passed out in the laundry room one night with several empty cans of beer around him.  I ended up calling the police on him, because I didn’t know what his deal was, they’re trained to handle things like this, and I had to do my laundry.  Likewise, I found two teenagers who didn’t live in the building just hanging out in the laundry room one night.  They seemed harmless enough, and they were gone by the time I came back to change loads.  I like to think that seeing me in a bathrobe scared them off.  But nonetheless, they had no business being in the building in the first place.  The security system keeps these kinds of people out of my building, and gives reasonable assurance that anyone who doesn’t live there was let in by someone who does.  So the system overall is a net positive.

However, the property management failed on a number of details that make this system less suited for an apartment building.  As I understand it, apartment buildings with access control have an intercom system to make contact with the residents and buzz guests in.  No such system here.  If you want to get access to the building, you have to call me on your phone, and I have to physically walk down and let you in.  I can’t just say, “Okay!” and press a button to unlock the door.  Let’s just say that I’m glad that the access control system wasn’t in place when I got hurt last year and my mobility was limited.  Imagine trying to hobble down the stairs on crutches just to let Mom in when I could barely move as it was, and considering that I had several instances where I nearly killed myself trying to move on those things in the first place.  Once I was in the house after the initial injury, until I got the boot, I didn’t do stairs without adult supervision.

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Categories: House, Security

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have just defeated Metro’s bag inspections.”

December 12, 2012, 10:40 PM

As summed up in this tweet, this evening’s commute was definitely a memorable one for me.  The ride itself was uneventful, but the events leading up to it demonstrated major flaws in Metro’s random bag inspection program (which has been discussed in this space in 2008 and in 2010) and proves that it will never catch anythingEver.

My evening commute got started as it usually does.  I packed up my stuff, walked over to Dupont Circle station, and went down the brand new south escalators.  Coming down the escalator, I noticed signage at the bottom that indicated that Metro was doing its random bag inspections.  That was a first – I’d never seen one of those happen in person before.  There were two Transit Police officers standing behind a table, swabbing people’s bags.  No one said anything to me.  Then as I headed toward the faregates, the female Transit Police officer standing in front of the kiosk stopped me and said that I had been selected for screening.

I was a bit surprised about that.  I figured this would be just walking by and watching as Metro unnecessarily slowed people down on their way home from work.  I never imagined that I would be the one getting chosen for extra scrutiny.  I knew that I wasn’t going to take this one lying down.  My exact words to the officer were, “I am refusing the search,” and I went back up the escalator.  According to a quote from Metro in a 2010 Washington Post article on the subject, a person who “refuses to submit their carry-on items for inspection will be prohibited from bringing those items into the station.”  Note that.  Since I refused the search, I was, based on information provided to the public, prohibited from bringing my blue work bag onto Metro, which contained an umbrella, my by-then-empty lunch container, my transit log book, a set of keys, and a few various odds and ends (mostly junk – I really need to clean out my bag).

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Categories: Commuting, Security, WMATA

Safety is important on Metro, but let’s not tiptoe around the elephant in the room…

June 18, 2012, 11:05 PM

So I was at Judiciary Square station today on business, and noticed a few new things in the station:

New wall-mounted camera

Three-way camera mount on top of the PIDS screen

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Categories: CTA, MBTA, Security, WMATA

So I got to ride Metro in the dark tonight!

November 16, 2011, 1:03 AM

First of all, yes – it is in fact 1:00 in the morning as I write this. Right now, I am sufficiently pissed off to the point that I can’t sleep until I get a few things off my chest.

So after a wonderful evening out with my coworkers in Adams Morgan, I headed over to take the Metro home. Because of where I was, I walked over to Woodley Park. By the way, now that I’m in so much better shape, the walk through Adams Morgan and out to Woodley Park station was like nothing. It used to be quite a hike.

So I got my Red Line train to Glenmont at Woodley Park, and to my surprise, the third and fourth cars in the eight-car train, Rohrs 1261 and 1260 respectively, were in service and dark. I boarded 1260. There were only two lights on in the entire car – over the left-side end door at each end of the train when facing the bulkhead door at each end, i.e. over the 5-6 door, and the 7-8 door. In other words, Rohr 1260 looked like this:

Rohr 1260 with lights out.  Most of the light you see here is from station lighting at NoMa-Gallaudet U station.

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Well, I’ll be darned – Metro passed the test.

September 10, 2011, 9:08 PM

Well, I did exactly what I said I was going to do in my previous Journal entry. I did some railfan photography on the day before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, expecting to be confronted so that I could give ’em the smackdown about not following the WMATA photo policy. And (surprisingly), Metro passed the test. 176 photos later, I left the system for the day at Glenmont without a single negative word from a Metro employee.

I was impressed. And I was being really blatant about my photography, on purpose. At one point, I was holding the camera in the air above my head and snapping photos on the platform while going through Gallery Place. I even specifically photographed the kiosk at all of the stations I visited – Glenmont, Fort Totten, and Gallery Place. Take a look:

Glenmont kiosk on the way in, photographed from the elevator.
Glenmont kiosk on the way in, photographed from the elevator.

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Categories: Photography, Security, WMATA

It is time to put WMATA’s knowledge of its own photography policy to the test…

September 9, 2011, 8:02 PM

Let me tell you… tomorrow is going to be fun. I’m heading into DC tomorrow for a Wikipedia meetup. On the way over, I’m going to be doing a little railfan photography.

The railfan photography is going to look something like this, I’m sure:

Gallery Pl-Chinatown station

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Categories: Photography, Security, WMATA

I have never before seen such unprofessional behavior from a transit employee…

August 9, 2011, 9:33 PM

First of all, I’m back from Chicago, and Mom and I certainly had fun. We did a whole lot of things while we were there, which included tons and tons of walking – on streets, up and down stairs, and through buildings. If you could walk to it, we walked to it.

But when it was too far to walk, we took the Chicago “L” for the most part. And when I ride a transit system outside of the Washington DC area, rail geekery ensues. By the way, it’s harder for me to get all geeky on Metro for just normal riding as of late, since I take it every day and all.

So on Friday, August 5, Mom and I were heading to the Magnificent Mile from our hotel in Evanston on the “L”, with the intention of going to see the John Hancock Center. Got on at Davis station, where we caught a Purple Line express train to the Loop, and then transfer to a Red Line train at Fullerton. Once on the Red Line, we were getting off at Chicago station.

When we got to Fullerton, we got off our Purple Line train, and stood on the platform awaiting our Red Line train. While waiting, I got busy being a railfan. First I shot a movie:

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Categories: Chicago, CTA, Security, Some people

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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Obviously, the date and time would be too useful to display…

December 19, 2010, 1:59 AM

Coming back from a Christmas shindig in Northern Virginia this evening, I encountered this sign on the Beltway:

TERROR TIPS?  CALL 1-800-492-TIPS

Basically, the sign encourages people to report “terror tips” to the authorities at the aforementioned number. A little research indicates that the number goes to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, a state counter-terrorism agency.

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If this is how Metro is going to spend our money, then I want my fare increase back.

December 16, 2010, 7:31 PM

So Metro posted this little gem on YouTube today:

So Metro really thinks that security theater will make us safer? Really? Didn’t we like just discuss this a couple of years ago? I still firmly stand by what I said two years ago, and that is that it’s a waste of time and money.

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Categories: Security, WMATA

“Oh, it’s terrible! The King has been transformed! Please find the Magic Wand so we can change him back.”

November 27, 2010, 4:31 PM

First of all, I admit – the title doesn’t mean much in relation to this entry, except that it perhaps reflects that I’ve been playing too much Super Mario Bros. 3 on my Super Nintendo lately. Regardless, this Journal entry has been a long time in coming, since this is about a trip I took to Stuarts Draft two weeks ago. All I have to say is, hey, I’ve been busy. But it’s also somewhat fitting that I post this entry this weekend, since this was “Thanksgiving” with the parents a couple of weeks ahead of the holiday. Traffic is a real pain, you see, and this obviates the need to mess with it. Have you ever driven US 29 in Virginia on Thanksgiving weekend? It’s no walk in the park.

On Friday the 12th, after driving perhaps a shade too fast the whole way down, I arrived at Stuarts Draft Middle School. After all, Mom was there, and I hadn’t seen her new classroom yet. Mom was recently switched from sixth to eighth grade, and so she moved rooms as a result, from Room 24 to Room 1. And here it is:

Mom's new classroom, Room 1

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So Metro throws money down a rathole once again…

October 28, 2008, 8:23 PM

According to an article in today’s issue of The Washington Post, Metro has announced that they will be doing random bag searches in response to security concerns regarding the upcoming election and presidential inauguration.

Based on what I’ve read about it, including the Post article and WMATA’s press release, what they’re going to do is set up shop in a station mezzanine or bus stop, and count off a certain number of people such as 15 (I selected this number and will use it throughout this entry), and then stop the person who happens to be that unlucky fifteenth person to search their bags. It’s kind of like an adult version of duck duck goose, except the one who is “it” has a gun. The idea is that these random searches are being conducted to search for explosives, and will take 15 seconds to complete – about as long as a train station stop lasts.

So let’s poke a few holes in this idea, shall we?

First of all, searching every fifteenth rider or whatever does NOT provide any real security. You see, for every one you inspect, you’ve let another fourteen go by. Thus you’re only inspecting roughly 7% of riders. And so when you’re letting 93% of your riders go through uninspected, all you’re doing is wasting the time of the other 7% who you are stopping.

Additionally, the 15 seconds to conduct the inspection is about as long as a train takes to make a station stop. Therefore, being pulled over for the inspection could make the difference between making your train or missing it. During the evenings when train headways start to run around 15 minutes, that makes a significant difference between making it home at a reasonable hour or not. Just thinking about my commute, if I leave outside of rush hour, I have to take the Y bus home. I’ve had to wait more than 30 minutes for Y buses at Glenmont at times, due to the poor service that Metro provides on that route. Thus for a commute that normally takes an hour, it can get stretched out another 45 minutes just having to stand around waiting for the train or bus because you missed your intended train due to their “security” inspections.

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So, yeah, here’s what happened with Transit…

June 5, 2008, 9:42 PM

So as I mentioned in my earlier Journal entry, I had a run-in with Metro Transit Police while on my way in to see Matthew Tilley. So here’s the story.

As you know, I’m a bit of a railfan, and I’m interested in many of the technical aspects of the system. In this case, I was photographing out the back of the train, as I’d done numerous times in the past. I’ve done this on the C, D, E, F, G, J, K, and L routes, and published the results on Transit Center (which will be back, I promise!). For the non-rail buff, those route letters mean I’ve photographed just about everywhere on the system except for the Red Line. So, coming in, I figured, what the heck, I might as well start a railfan trip off right, and get photos of the B Route, which I’d not done before.

So I’m at the bulkhead door of Alstom 6075, and I’m doing fine. I started photographing at the Silver Spring portal (too dark in the tunnels), and I was having a blast, if I do say so myself, even photographing the non-WMATA work trains laying gravel on the adjacent CSX tracks. So at Rhode Island Avenue, two Transit Police officers come on board. “Sir, could you please come with us?” Yes, me. I’m like, okay… Turns out that someone had reported my activity, and they were checking things out. They didn’t know who reported it, but okay. I’m guessing a WMATA employee did, since the officers mentioned that they were told I’d been using a tripod, and the average WMATA rider doesn’t even know that a regulation exists governing tripods. I do. I know that the use of tripods, monopods, etc. is prohibited on Metro. That’s why I left mine at home, despite that I could get some really great shots of the underground stations that way.

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Categories: Security, WMATA

A belated reportback is better than no reportback at all, I suppose.

May 25, 2008, 5:29 PM

Hey, I’ve been busy. So sue me. But I must report back that Katie and I had a great time last weekend. We went all over the place, and had a great time.

However, it started out somewhat rough – Katie took the train up to DC, specifically the Cardinal. And it was late. According to AmtrakDelays.com, on May 16, the eastbound Cardinal, train #50, was an hour and 42 minutes late arriving in Staunton, where Katie got on. Then at Union Station, where I was waiting for her, the train managed to rack up another 44 minutes of delays, and thus ended up getting in at 8:21 PM. That would make it two hours and 26 minutes late. This thing was supposed to show up at 5:55 PM, which would have fit my schedule quite nicely. Leave work, take Metro to Union Station, wait a few minutes, get Katie, and then ride back to Glenmont. However, I found out about the Staunton delay from Katie well in advance, so no problems there. I compensated other places as far as that delay went, and ended up staying later at work, since there were a few things I needed to take care of anyway, and planned to arrive in time for the new delayed arrival. Okay.

So arriving at Union Station, I got in, and immediately checked the boards to see what the deal was. Another delay. Lovely. So I ended up just kind of wandering around Union Station for the next two hours, as I had nothing else to do. I was totally unprepared for a longer delay. However, I did have my iPod, and so at least I got to listen to Randi Rhodes (now on Nova M Radio!). And with headphones on was how I passed a good hour or so of that delay, as I went in and out of stores, seeing what amused me. I also managed to find a relatively quiet corner of the station to make a phone call, finding out about how things were going on the train from Katie. That quiet spot ended up being in a far corner of the parking garage, interestingly enough. But hey, it was nice out, so it worked. I got to watch train movements north of the station, and found out that the initial delay was due to weather, and then heavy rail traffic caused the delays closer in. Okay. Beyond the control of either one of us. What are you going to do, I suppose.

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