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Playing with the AI image generator…

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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I can’t believe that we went to South Carolina…

October 13, 2023, 5:51 PM

First of all, I have some news for you: I bought a bus.  Elyse had been trying to talk me into buying a bus for a while, and I had consistently said no.  But then one came up on GovDeals, which is a website where public agencies sell surplus property, that had promise, and I said okay.  This unit was a New Flyer D35HF from CARTA, which is the transit agency serving Charleston, South Carolina.  If this sounds familiar, “Biscuit” at Commonwealth Coach is another unit from the same agency, and is the same model of bus.  I won the auction for a surprisingly low amount, as we paid nearly twice as much to get “Biscuit” for Commonwealth Coach.  We then immediately made a deal with Trevor Logan, a fellow transit enthusiast in the DC area who runs the TTMG website, to trade this bus for an Orion V that he owns after he expressed his thoughts about the significance of the unit.  It worked out quite well, because while Elyse and I simply wanted a bus to have as a fun vehicle of sorts to take places and show off, Trevor wanted to fully restore and preserve the bus for sentimental reasons, as he had a close relative who worked for CARTA some years ago, and that relative had operated this specific unit.  So swapping made everyone happy, as Elyse and I would get a bus to have fun with, and Trevor got something of great personal significance that he would restore.

With that said, buying a bus from a transit agency in South Carolina meant going down to South Carolina to retrieve it, because these auctions are typically as-is-where-is, i.e. the agency provides little to no assistance with the removal of the item.  I wanted to line this pickup trip with a three-day weekend that I had later in the month, but unfortunately, with deadlines for removal and such, it couldn’t wait.  So I would spend October 5-6 traveling down to Charleston and back with Elyse and our friend Montigue to retrieve this vintage bus.  The whole week prior to our heading down, I was saying to myself, “I can’t believe that I’m going to South Carolina.”  Then on the way down, I was like, “I can’t believe that we’re on our way to South Carolina.”  And then once we were there, I was saying, “I can’t believe that we’re in South Carolina.”  Seriously.  This was not something that I had anticipated doing this year.

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Categories: Transit, Travel

Two stories about Woomy…

September 8, 2023, 11:33 PM

Recently, while we were driving home from shopping, Elyse asked ChatGPT to tell her a story about everyone’s favorite orange curmudgeon: Woomy.  I don’t know what the exact parameters that she gave it were, but it came up with decent enough material to come up with something at least somewhat heartwarming.  Check these out:

In the heart of Alexandria, Virginia, there lived a curmudgeonly orange octopus named Woomy.  Every day, rain or shine, Woomy would climb aboard the DASH bus, his tentacles a tangle of frustration.  He’d grumble and grouse about the noise, the crowds, and the whole human world around him.

Passengers would stare, amused by this unexpected commuter.  Woomy’s sour expression became a familiar sight, and people began sharing stories of his antics.  But despite the attention, Woomy remained steadfast in his curmudgeonly ways.

One winter’s day, as snow painted the city white, a young child with curious eyes got on the bus.  Ignoring the stares, the child approached Woomy, offering a small, hand-knit scarf.  Woomy’s eyes widened, his expression softening just a bit.  He accepted the scarf with a tentative tentacle.

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

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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A fun weekend where no photography goals were met…

June 29, 2023, 8:44 AM

From June 21-23, Elyse and I made a weekend trip to Virginia, but instead of centering on Staunton like we usually do, we centered on Roanoke (but don’t worry – we still saw my parents in Stuarts Draft).  We had planned this trip largely as a photography outing, and then the weather didn’t cooperate.  It was raining continuously almost the entire time, which made for a more difficult drive than I would have liked, but the trip was worth it.  I guess that you could say that while we didn’t necessarily do much in the way as far as photography, we laid the groundwork for future trips by identifying potential subjects.  I didn’t want to lay groundwork for the future this time around, as I really wanted to bring home the goods, but such is what happens when the weather doesn’t cooperate.  I brought my DSLR and my drone on this trip, but neither one of them ever left their respective carrier.

The plan was to drive down from the DC area to Lynchburg via US 29, spend the afternoon and early evening of the first day in Lynchburg, and then head over to Roanoke, where we were staying at the Hampton Inn located downtown (the one built on top of a city parking garage).  Then we would spend the entire second day in Roanoke, largely with Commonwealth Coach & Trolley, which is a bus museum that Elyse and I both serve on the board of.  Then on the last day, we would head up to Staunton and Waynesboro, where I had some things that I wanted to get over there, before going over to see my parents.  What ended up happening was pretty similar to plan, but not quite.  Our departure was delayed, because we already knew that much of the day would be a rainout.  The drive down to Charlottesville was fine, making one stop for food at the third (Bealeton) Sheetz.  We made a brief stop at Barracks Road in Charlottesville, and then we were back on the road.  It started raining harder once we cleared Charlottesville, and we saw three different accidents between Charlottesville and Amherst where people had clearly wiped out after driving faster than conditions allowed.  One of those accidents was a police car, which was clearly totaled in its accident.  We took it slowly, especially since I didn’t have that much experience taking the new HR-V in driving rain like this before, plus I wasn’t as familiar with the stretch of 29 from Charlottesville to Lynchburg (particularly from I-64 to VA 151) as I am with 29 north of Charlottesville.

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A weekend in New York…

April 26, 2023, 8:33 PM

From April 12-14, Elyse and I took a little weekend trip to New York City.  This was the new HR-V’s first road trip, and what better place to go to than New York, I suppose.  It was definitely a different experience than the Soul’s first road trip, which was the trip home from Staunton the day after I bought it, as well as the original HR-V’s first road trip, which was a day trip to Philadelphia.

With this trip, I was looking forward to seeing how the new HR-V did on a long trip with the various smart features that it has built into it, such as the adaptive cruise control and the lane watch system.  I had tested these things on my commutes to and from work on various occasions on a somewhat limited basis, but I hadn’t done a long drive with them yet.  The good news was that these systems worked quite well together on our trip, which we took largely via I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike.  I think that this was probably the least stressful drive on I-95 that I’ve ever had, as the cruise control maintained a safe distance from the cars ahead of me, and it maintained my lane quite well, following the various curves in the road.  That put me, as the driver, in something of a more “strategic” role, as I was responsible for navigating and making lane changes and such, as well as watching out for any hazards, but the car largely drove itself.  I wouldn’t use these systems on city streets, but for a road trip on freeways, it was great.  The thing to remember, though, is that these are driver assist features.  This is not self-driving, and should not be confused with that.  This does not absolve the driver from the responsibility of driving at the proper speed for conditions, and it also does not mean that you can kick back and play on your phone behind the wheel.  Not at all – you’re still very much in charge, even if this does automate certain parts of it.

The trip up was fairly uneventful.  We had to detour onto Route 1 from White Marsh to Joppa in order to avoid a backup, and there was a construction project on the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which had a direct connection to the Turnpike that crossed us over to the southbound span.  Additionally, Maryland House, one of the two full-service travel plazas on I-95 in Maryland, was closed for emergency plumbing repairs.  And then, of course, when driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, the speed limit signs are merely suggestions.  Just keep up with traffic, and you will be fine.  And if traffic is going 20 over the speed limit in a work zone, you’re going 20 over in a work zone, too.  Otherwise, you become a hazard to traffic.  Then upon arrival in the New York area, we got on I-278, where we followed roughly the same route that we did in our impromptu 2017 trip to New York, but in reverse.  We parked on the street in front of our hotel, the Aloft, got checked in and brought all of our stuff up, and then I took the HR-V to its own hotel, which was on the next block over.

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Going to the auto show…

January 27, 2023, 9:08 AM

On Thursday, January 26, Elyse, my friend Matthew, and I went to the Washington Auto Show at the Washington Convention Center.  This was Matthew’s first time ever going to the auto show, and the first time that Elyse and I had been since 2020.  Overall, I was less than impressed this time around, but I am not entirely willing to ding the entities involved with putting on the show for it, as I suspect that the ongoing semiconductor shortage is likely to blame for the weak showing at the auto show.  This is the same reason that my new HR-V is taking so long.  And I get it: if they can’t get cars out to paying customers in a reasonable time, it’s hard to justify pulling units out of circulation for demo purposes.  Because of this, the event space was a lot smaller than it usually is, with large sections of the upper and lower event halls’ being sectioned off with curtains.  I got the distinct feeling when I came in that the space was smaller, and it turned out that my feeling was right.  On the plus side, though, one of my big peeves about the auto show in past years was gone, as we didn’t have to wend our way through the convention center’s lobby through a gauntlet of sponsors hawking their products and services that have absolutely nothing to do with cars before getting to the show floor.  All that gauntlet of sponsors ever managed to do was piss me off before I ever got started.  So good riddance to them, and hopefully they don’t come back in future years.  This year, we just came in and went right into the event.

This year, I wanted to go to the auto show in order to check out electric cars.  Recalling my day test driving electric cars in Frederick last spring, I wanted to see what the various manufacturers’ offerings were like.  I still am in the market for an electric car in addition to the HR-V, but following my October 2022 accident in the original HR-V, this has been put on hold for a while.  Following my visit to the auto show, I still got the sense, as was the case last spring, that the electric vehicle market has not yet “arrived”.  Automakers are still going for overly futuristic designs for their electric models to showcase that they’re something different, and a lot of brands still don’t have an entry in the electric market as of yet.  I have said before that I will know that the electric vehicle market has “arrived” when automakers start rolling out electric vehicles with conventional design.  For instance, I’ll know that it’s “arrived” when Honda starts making an electric version of the CR-V that is otherwise exactly the same design as the regular CR-V.  In other words, it’s first and foremost a CR-V, and it just happens to be electric.  Not this whole, “Woooooooo, look at me, I’m electric!” kind of style that we’re seeing now.

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You’re taking me for a ride…

December 23, 2022, 12:57 PM

On Friday, November 18, Elyse and I went out to Ashburn for a ride on the new Silver Line extension.  This was the conclusion of a long-awaited public works project, bringing the Metro Silver Line out to its intended western terminus in Ashburn, Virginia.  You may recall that I did a similar adventure with my friend Matthew on the Silver Line when it opened in 2014.  I couldn’t attend the opening day events because I had to work, but Elyse did.  She managed to get a ticket to the VIP event by asking nicely, much like I did in 2014, and she had a blast.  She got to meet Metro General Manager Randy Clarke, and even got to sound the horn on a 7000-Series railcar.

For this adventure, our day started out with an open house event at the Dulles rail yard, which guided our plans to an extent.  Driving over, we listened to “Escapee” by Architecture in Helsinki, which Metro had used for a promotional video for the opening of the first part of the Silver Line.  For the first ride on the extension, that seemed fitting.  At Dulles yard, we got a tour of the new facility and had a catered lunch.  The new facility was quite nice, and we both commented that it looked more like a community college building than a train depot.  Lunch was from Panera, we got Silver Line t-shirts, I got my Silver Line pennant to go with the one from 2014, and we also got a special Silver Line cookie:

One of the Silver Line cookies. They tasted as good as they looked, too!

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A trip to New Jersey with Elyse and Woomy…

August 14, 2022, 7:57 PM

On Thursday, July 28, Elyse and I took a trip up to New Jersey.  The main purpose of the trip was to visit the Scrub Daddy headquarters in Pennsauken, where the company has a retail store.  Then we built a day around this in order to justify the trip.  We were no stranger to Scrub Daddy by any means, as we had previously stopped by their facility on the last day of our Atlantic City trip back in January, just to see where it was.  I remember how excited Elyse was during that visit to Scrub Daddy’s headquarters, and on that occasion, we just photographed the outside of the building, since the retail store wasn’t ready yet.  I could only imagine how excited Elyse would be going in and actually seeing the place.

We left the house around 10:00 AM, and got as far as Delaware House by noon.  This was to be our potty stop on the way up.  Elyse noticed an Edwards Integrity on the outside of the facility, and got some photos of it:

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Saying goodbye to the Orion V…

July 5, 2022, 11:15 AM

On Friday, July 1, Elyse and I went on a transit adventure, going down to Alexandria to attend the ceremonial final trip of the DASH Orion buses.  For those not familiar, DASH is one of the local transit agencies in the DC region, serving Alexandria, Virginia alongside Metrobus.  The Orion V is a model of high-floor transit bus manufactured by Orion Bus Industries from 1989 to 2009.  Orion itself went out of business in 2013 when parent company Daimler mostly exited the bus market in North America (save for selling Setra motorcoaches), and New Flyer, another bus manufacturer, bought Orion’s aftermarket parts business.  Long story short, Orion has been gone for a while, and even the newest high-floor buses are now reaching retirement age.  DASH, meanwhile, had been operating Orion buses since its founding in 1984, initially operating the Orion I model, and later the Orion V.  So this event marked the close of an era in DASH’s history, as these were their last Orion buses in service.  DASH’s fleet now consists mostly of Gillig and New Flyer vehicles.  DASH was also the last agency in the region that still operated the Orion V in service, which closes a chapter in the DC region in general as well.  Metro and Fairfax Connector still operate the later Orion VII model in revenue service, but that is a low-floor bus, and is a very different design than the Orion V.

As far as the Orion V itself goes, that is a pretty solid bus.  Most agencies in the area operated them at some point or other.  I’ve photographed Orion Vs operated by Metro, Ride On, DASH, and Fairfax Connector.  I’ve operated Orion Vs plenty of times, and they’re a lot of fun once you get the hang of them.  I found them to be very difficult to handle as a new operator in a training environment because they were a bit bouncier than the low-floor buses, as well as more sensitive in the steering, but once I was out of training and operating on my own, I was able to get the hang of driving them, and had tons of fun with them, to the point where I looked forward to being assigned one.  If the number started with a “21”, I was a happy guy.  I especially liked to take them on runs that had big deadheading (running without passengers) segments – especially on the freeway.  I remember doing a run a few times where the last revenue trip ended up at Prince George’s Plaza station, and I had to deadhead from there all the way back to Rockville, where the bus division was located.  I would take East-West Highway (MD 410) over to Baltimore Avenue (US 1), and then take that up to the Beltway.  Taking an Orion V on the Beltway late at night was a lot of fun.  I just had to remember to limit my enjoyment to about 60 mph in order to keep myself out of trouble.  After all, our buses had DriveCams on them, and those puppies were sensitive.  I was delighted when I got to take an Orion V out for a spin again in 2018 when a friend who helped run a bus museum was visiting.  I got settled in that seat, and it felt like old times again, after I had not operated an Orion V in a little more than two years at that point – ever since I left the bus in order to do trains.  I took my friend, along with Elyse, on a proper adventure in that bus, going over a few routes from my time as a bus operator, and showing it off a little bit.  A good time was definitely had by all.

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Categories: Alexandria, DASH

My first true railfan trip…

August 22, 2021, 10:14 AM

I recently came to the realization that it has been a little more than twenty years since my first true railfan trip on the DC Metro system, on July 28, 2001.  Mind you, I had ridden the system plenty of times before that, and I had photographed the system a few times prior to this, but this was my first time going in with the rail system itself as the destination, rather than as the means to an end.  I explored around in DC and Virginia, photographing stations, making recordings of the door chimes, and exploring new areas of the system that I had never been to before.  Back then, there was no Silver Line, the trains were still orange and ran in four and six-car consists, and they stopped in the center of the platforms rather than at the end like they do today.  I was using my original Mavica for the photos, which saved photos at 640×480 resolution onto 3½” floppy disks.  To record the door chimes, I used a boombox-style tape recorder and recorded it to a cassette.

As I recall, I started at Vienna, stopped off at Virginia Square, went down to L’Enfant Plaza, took the Yellow Line over the bridge to Virginia, got out at Pentagon, checked out the bus bays at Pentagon, briefly took an escalator up into the Pentagon from the station (and then turned around because I didn’t want to visit the Pentagon), went to Pentagon City, visited Pentagon City Mall, then headed to National Airport and Franconia-Springfield.  I stopped at Arlington Cemetery station, and then headed towards Vienna, stopping at East Falls Church and West Falls Church along the way.  Then I got back in the car and headed down to Woodbridge to visit Potomac Mills, where I was trying to get a new optical drive for my computer.  I didn’t find anything at Potomac Mills, but I did remember an optical drive that I had passed up earlier at the Babbage’s store at Pentagon City.  So after leaving Potomac Mills, I drove over to Franconia-Springfield and got back on the Metro, riding back up to Pentagon City and buying that optical drive.  I then stopped at Crystal City and King Street stations on the way back to Franconia-Springfield.

I had a number of firsts on that trip.  I rode between Pentagon City and Franconia-Springfield for the first time, and logged my first visits to Franconia-Springfield, King Street, Crystal City, Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, Virginia Square, East Falls Church, and West Falls Church.  I consider that a pretty good amount of new territory covered.

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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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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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Philadelphia? How about New York?

August 18, 2019, 12:55 AM

August 13 was a day of unexpected twists and turns, for sure.  What was supposed to be a trip to Philadelphia with friends ended up turning into a trip to New York City for Elyse and me.  As originally planned, we were going to meet up with Brian, Trent, and a few other folks from the DC area who were traveling up separately at 30th Street Station, and the bunch of them plus Elyse were going to go fan transit for a while, while I did my own thing, mostly photographing in and around Center City.  That didn’t happen.

What caused our plans to change was twofold.  First, the weather forecast called for storms all up and down the east coast.  So I would have to figure out something else to do, as I would be rained out.  Secondly, we were running a tad late due to traffic around Baltimore that led us to take a more southerly route before resuming our planned route.  Once we got up there, the plan was to park in New Jersey and then ride PATCO into the city.  What happened, though, was that the other group didn’t want to wait for us at 30th Street Station, and so they went and continued with their plan without Elyse, and took SEPTA Regional Rail out to Norristown, with the idea that we would catch up with them later.  We learned this while we were on PATCO riding into the city.  So essentially, they ditched us.  We did not take too kindly to this, and so rather than chase them in an effort to catch up with them, when it was pretty clear that we were not a priority (otherwise, they would have waited for us), we did our own thing instead.

We ended up getting off of PATCO at City Hall station in Camden.  There, we walked over to the Walter Rand Transportation Center station for the River Line.  Neither of us had ever ridden the River Line, so this would be a new experience.  We were surprised that there was very little transit-oriented development around the River Line stations.  Much of what was right around the stations that we could see was older construction that predated the service.

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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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