The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com C  e  l  e  b  r  a  t  i  n  g    2  0    Y  e  a  r  s Thu, 08 Dec 2016 14:49:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7 https://www.schuminweb.com/wp-content/uploads/Clouds-Facebook-icon-150x150.png The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com 32 32 37838674 Yes, that is a star costume… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/12/08/yes-that-is-a-star-costume/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/12/08/yes-that-is-a-star-costume/#respond Thu, 08 Dec 2016 14:48:15 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25638 For this month, the splash photo shows child me wearing a star costume.  I normally lean towards running a vintage photo for December, because December photos, owing to the Christmas elephant in the room, are typically harder to do than most because of that extra holiday element.  I own very little Christmas junk, and so a new photo requires a shopping trip and some spending to do.  That or I do the photo right in the store, as I did in 2008.  The December splash photo had nothing to do with Christmas in 2012, 2013, and 2014, owing to some recent non-Christmas photos of me taken in those years, but in 2015, Christmas returned to the splash photo.  However, I inadvertently duplicated my work in 2015, as I had run the same photo in December 2006 – a mistake that I didn’t didn’t discover until I did the prep work for this Journal entry.

For this month, my original plan was to run a photo taken in 1987, showing my sister and me with Santa Claus.  However, in a routine check of the archives to prevent duplicates, I discovered that I had run it eleven years prior.  So that went out the window.  I went hunting in my scans of old photos, and found this:

In costume as Andro Star

That is me in costume as Andro Star for our church’s production of the musical Oh My Stars, It’s Christmas! on December 15, 1991 – almost 25 years ago, when I was in fifth grade and still living in Rogers, Arkansas.  That is the story of how Andro, a young star that couldn’t sing worth a lick in a heavenly choir, and who was ridiculed by the other stars for his lack of singing ability, became the Star of Bethlehem and, well, you know the Christmas legend.  The play is based on the children’s book Andro, Star of Bethlehem by Anne Claire, published in 1983.  I located and purchased a copy of this book in 2001.

My sister was also in this play, playing a minor star character.  Here she is in her costume:

My sister in her costume

I had a lot of fun with the production.  This was also the first time that I ever participated in an honest-to-goodness play. Previously, the most that I had ever done were those little elementary school programs where all of the kids stand on stage and sing songs together.  This was a play with characters and a script with lines that we had to memorize.  Additionally, the songs in this play were much hipper than you typically heard in church.  No organ music to be found here.

I still remember the songs and could probably sing them all back to you from memory.  I can’t say that I endorse the religious aspect of it all anymore, but the songs were fun and memorable.  The introductory song, “Zip Zappity Zoom”, was upbeat and catchy, even though it didn’t have much to do with the rest of the play.  One song incorporated the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, and the finale was a split between a bouncy arrangement of “Joy to the World” and a reprise of “Zip Zappity Zoom”.  Great songs, all of them.

Here’s a video of another church’s production of the play, showing the lead song, “Zip Zappity Zoom”, with a very different interpretation of the star costumes than what we did.  You can see how much hipper the music is compared to a lot of other stuff that gets sung in church:

Looking back on this, I’m still amazed that I pulled the Andro role off.  I had never acted in anything prior to this, and then, there I was taking the lead role in a musical.  I remember auditioning for the role of Andro just for fun, and I never imagined that I’d actually get it.  Color me surprised.  I was one of the older kids, and we all tended to get the larger roles because we were older and more mature, so even if I didn’t get the Andro role, I would have likely had a larger role regardless, but I was still quite shocked nonetheless.  In any case, I had the most lines out of anyone, and somehow, I managed to memorize all of them.  I consider that an amazing feat in and of itself.

That play was my first and last major acting gig.  I acted one more time after this, doing a small role in a play about King Arthur for social studies class in sixth grade.  That play was also a lot of fun.  The King Arthur play was part of a larger interdisciplinary unit that the team did about the Middle Ages.  I later managed to get into the gifted-and-talented drama program based on those two plays, but after getting in, I never really did anything with it.  Let’s admit – I’m not much of an actor, and that is fine.

All in all, I love sharing these embarrassing old photos, because there is usually a fun story to tell along with them.

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Trying my hand at planespotting… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/11/18/trying-my-hand-at-planespotting/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/11/18/trying-my-hand-at-planespotting/#respond Fri, 18 Nov 2016 16:02:38 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25605 On Tuesday, November 16, Elyse and I went down to Gravelly Point in Arlington and photographed airplanes taking off from National Airport.  In the past, I had photographed airplanes casually, usually when I’m over in Rosslyn, i.e. near the airport, while doing other things (the raw photo set for Urban Demolition II is peppered with random airplane and transit photos, if that tells you anything).  However, this was my first dedicated outing for planespotting.

So I put the big lens on my camera and took it out for a spin, putting the camera in sports mode and going to town with it.  My first takeoff, however, left something to be desired:

That's a nice photo of the sky, though, don't you think?
That’s a nice photo of the sky, though, don’t you think?

Yes, I quickly discovered that this is not something that you should use live mode for.  Out of focus and out of frame.  I usually shoot using the screen rather than the viewfinder, which is a practice that I picked up early on, as neither the original Mavica nor Big Mavica had a viewfinder.  However, when you shoot using the screen in sports mode with my current camera, the screen goes black.  And the result was as you might expect, as I quickly lost track of my subject because I was shooting blind.  Whoooooooooops.

Once I switched to the viewfinder, things started flying far more smoothly.

N128HQ, an Embraer 175LR, operated by Republic Airlines for American Eagle. Formerly painted for US Airways Express.
N128HQ, an Embraer 175LR, operated by Republic Airlines for American Eagle.  Formerly painted for US Airways Express.

N500AE, a Bombardier CRJ-701ER operated by PSA Airlines. This plane was always painted for American Eagle, though previously in the old scheme.
N500AE, a Bombardier CRJ-701ER operated by PSA Airlines.  This plane was always painted for American Eagle, though previously in the old scheme.

N715UW, an Airbus A319-112 for American Airlines. Formerly painted in US Airways colors.
N715UW, an Airbus A319-112 for American Airlines.  Formerly painted in US Airways colors.

N512AE, another Bombardier CRJ-701ER. Always painted for American Eagle, though previously in the old scheme.
N512AE, another Bombardier CRJ-701ER.  Always painted for American Eagle, though previously in the old scheme.

N810MD, an Embraer 170SU, was a blank plane. According to historical photos on Airliners.net, this plane was previously painted for US Airways Express, but it's been blank for around two years. Does anyone know why it now carries no branding?
N810MD, an Embraer 170SU, was a blank plane.  According to historical photos on Airliners.net, this plane was previously painted for US Airways Express, but it’s been blank for around two years.  Does anyone know why it now carries no branding?

N826UA, an Airbus A319-131 operated by United Airlines.
N826UA, an Airbus A319-131 operated by United Airlines.

N7812G, a Boeing 737-76N operated by Southwest Airlines.
N7812G, a Boeing 737-76N operated by Southwest Airlines.

N858RW, an Embraer 170SE operated by Shuttle America for United Express.
N858RW, an Embraer 170SE operated by Shuttle America for United Express.

N348JB, an Embraer 190AR operated by JetBlue.
N348JB, an Embraer 190AR operated by JetBlue.

At this point, Elyse and I swapped lenses.  I let her take my big lens for a spin, and I put my regular lens back on.

N591NN, an Bombardier CRJ-900LR operated by PSA Airlines for American Eagle.
N591NN, an Bombardier CRJ-900LR operated by PSA Airlines for American Eagle.

N204JQ, an Embraer 175LR operated by Shuttle America for Delta Connection.
N204JQ, an Embraer 175LR operated by Shuttle America for Delta Connection.

N638JB, an Airbus A320-232 operated by JetBlue.
N638JB, an Airbus A320-232 operated by JetBlue.

N74856, a Boeing 757-324 operated by United Airlines.
N74856, a Boeing 757-324 operated by United Airlines.

Due to the angle that I photographed this one (more or less directly overhead), I was unable to capture the tail number. Pretty cool shot, though. All I can tell you is that this is likely in the Bombardier CRJ family, and it's Delta Connection.
Due to the angle that I photographed this one (more or less directly overhead), I was unable to capture the tail number.  Pretty cool shot, though.  All I can tell you is that this is likely in the Bombardier CRJ family, and it’s Delta Connection.

At this point, I was able to get my big lens back from Elyse, and did a little more shooting as we entered the “golden hour“.

N302DN, an Airbus A321-211 operated by Delta Airlines.
N302DN, an Airbus A321-211 operated by Delta Airlines.

N932AN, a Boeing 737-823, was the big surprise of the day. After seeing so many airplanes painted in the new American Airlines livery, Elyse and I were quite surprised to find this plane still sporting the older livery, where the aircraft is mostly unpainted.

N932AN, a Boeing 737-823, was the big surprise of the day. After seeing so many airplanes painted in the new American Airlines livery, Elyse and I were quite surprised to find this plane still sporting the older livery, where the aircraft is mostly unpainted.

N932AN, a Boeing 737-823, was the big surprise of the day.  After seeing so many airplanes painted in the new American Airlines livery, Elyse and I were quite surprised to find this plane still sporting the older livery, where the aircraft is mostly unpainted.
N932AN, a Boeing 737-823, was the big surprise of the day.  After seeing so many airplanes painted in the new American Airlines livery, Elyse and I were quite surprised to find this plane still sporting the older livery, where the aircraft is mostly unpainted.

N708PS, a Bombardier CRJ-701ER, operated by PSA Airlines for American Eagle. Formerly painted for US Airways Express.
N708PS, a Bombardier CRJ-701ER, operated by PSA Airlines for American Eagle.  Formerly painted for US Airways Express.


The last plane that we photographed was N560GJ, a Cessna 560XL, which was the only general aviation plane that we spotted taking off the entire time that we were there.

All in all, I’d say that Elyse and I both had a good time.  And the photos didn’t come out too badly for an outing where the purpose was not so much about getting gorgeous photos, but about figuring out the technique.

Also, check out Airliners.net when you get a chance.  It’s a site where planespotters share their photography, and you can search on the tail numbers to get historic photos of different planes.  That’s how I found out some of the historical details for the planes that I photographed.  I captured the tail number in the photos, and then just plugged it into the site.

Meanwhile, it’s kind of funny that I had so much fun planespotting and doing some research into all of these planes, because I haven’t flown in an airplane since 1999, when I took that trip to Canada.  The last plane that I flew aboard was N911HA, a Dash 8 operated by Piedmont Airlines for US Airways Express, from Philadelphia to Charlottesville.  It’s been so long that I’m still surprised when I see the regional carriers using jet aircraft, because the last time I flew, the regional airlines all used turboprop planes.

In any case, I fully intend to do this again, not only at National, but also eventually at BWI and Dulles.

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Painting pottery… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/11/16/painting-pottery/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/11/16/painting-pottery/#respond Wed, 16 Nov 2016 05:21:33 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25521 The day before Elyse and I went to Pittsburgh, we got together with our friend Dave, whom we know through transit-enthusiast circles, and we went over to Color Me Mine in Rockville.  This is one of those places where they have premade pieces of pottery for customers to paint in the store, and then they glaze and fire it all afterward, and you pick it up a week or so later.

Going in, Elyse and Dave both picked train-shaped coin banks for painting.  I got a big plate, because I felt more like drawing, and thus I got myself a nice, blank canvas to paint.

But first, here are Elyse and Dave at the table:

Elyse and Dave, painting away

Meanwhile, I took my painting seriously.  While Dave and Elyse were in more of a transit mood, I was in a fire alarm kind of mood, so I decided to paint the Wheelock 7002T from Zane Showker Hall, which I most recently photographed last March on my trip to JMU.  In other words, this:

Wheelock 7002T at Zane Showker Hall

However, before you paint, you have to draw.  And before you draw, you have to math.  No one can say that I didn’t take this task seriously:

Determing the size of the plate, and the dead space around it  Determining how big to make the fire alarm horn
Yes, I did a good bit of math to determine (A) how much space I had to work with, (B) how much dead space I wanted around it, and (C) how big I wanted the subject.

That work created this sketch on the pottery:

One fire alarm, sketched on pottery

By the way, I didn’t realize until it was too late that the design was slightly off-kilter.  Ah, well.  But I think that translated pretty well from photo to plate, no?

Then on the back side, I decided to go with the classic Wheelock logo:

The classic Wheelock logo.

Now it was time to paint.  First thing I did was the back:

Wheelock

I chose this flecked blue color as something similar to the box style from the 1990s, which was dark blue with some kind of star pattern on it.  Also note that the colors that you see during the painting process are lighter than the colors on the final product.  Firing and glazing and such darkens all of the colors.

Then the first thing that I did on the front was paint the background a light blue color:

The background.

And then this was the finished product:

The completed product, prior to firing

Elyse got a photo of me painting the edges black:

Painting the edges of my plate.

She also got a photo of Dave at work on his:

Dave, painting his train bank.

Here’s Elyse’s final product:

Elyse's train, in a green color scheme

Elyse's train, in a green color scheme

And here’s Dave’s, painted in SEPTA colors:

Dave's train bank, in SEPTA colors.

Dave's train bank, in SEPTA colors.

Then this is what my plate looked like when I picked it up a week later:

Front side of my plate, glazed and fired.

Back side of my plate, glazed and fired.

That plate will look very nice on display in my living room, don’t you think?

All in all, we had a good time.  Painting pottery with friends is a lot of fun.  Definitely need to do this again.

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That wasn’t at all what I expected to happen… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/11/14/that-wasnt-at-all-what-i-expected-to-happen/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/11/14/that-wasnt-at-all-what-i-expected-to-happen/#respond Mon, 14 Nov 2016 15:30:33 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25531 So like much of America, I watched the television on the night of November 8, 2016 in stunned silence as the news media called the race for Donald Trump.  I started watching around 7 PM, when the first polls closed, and kept the television on until 2 AM, when I finally had to go to bed.  Considering the way I wrote about the election around a month ago, I expected that this would be an early night.  I figured that I would watch the returns come in until 11:00, and then once the polls closed in California, they would project California for Hillary Clinton, and then call the race for Hillary Clinton.  Then I would turn the television off and do something else until bedtime.  But that was not the case, as many states were too close to call.  Then I watched as Hillary Clinton’s path to victory narrowed, and it started to become apparent that we were not going to elect the first woman president on this election night.  Once they called Ohio for Trump, I knew that it didn’t look good for Hillary.  After all, Ohio picks the president, because almost no one wins the White House without Ohio.  Then as the night wore on, I ran a few scenarios through an electoral college calculator, and realized that in order for Hillary Clinton to win, she would have had to take every single remaining state that was still in play.  That seemed highly unlikely.  I went to bed kind of stunned, because this was most definitely not how I expected election night to go.  When I woke up the next morning, I checked Reddit, and found out that yes, Donald Trump had, in fact, actually won the election.  Whoa.  I definitely did not expect to have to eat my words about this election.

In hindsight, however, I can’t say that I’m very surprised about this result.

Before even getting into factors specific to this election, in the last 60 years or so since the 22nd Amendment, which formally limits the president to two terms, took effect, the White House has tended to switch parties every eight years.  Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, served two terms, and he was succeeded by John F. Kennedy, a Democrat.  Then after eight years of a Democratic administration, we got Republican Richard Nixon.  The only exceptions to this have been Democrat Jimmy Carter, who was defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 after only a single term, and Republican George Bush, who was elected president in 1988 after eight years of Reagan.  After Bush’s electoral defeat in 1992, the eight-on-eight-off cycle resumed.  Thus after eight years of the Democratic Obama administration, history indicated that it was time for the party to flip again.

Additionally, history in the same 60-year period has indicated that the electorate tends to frown on candidates who run because it’s their “turn” to run.  In 1960, Richard Nixon was the sitting vice president under Eisenhower, and ran for president.  He lost to Kennedy.  In 1968, Hubert Humphrey, then the sitting vice president – ostensibly his “turn” –  ran against Nixon and was defeated.  George Bush was an exception in 1988, where, as a sitting vice president, he actually won – first to do so since Martin Van Buren in 1836.  Since then, Bob Dole, Al Gore, John McCain, and Mitt Romney were all “my turn” candidates, having run for president once before, and it was now their turn to become the nominee.  All were defeated in their respective elections.  Clearly, the voters don’t take kindly to heirs apparent or political dynasties.

Additionally, I’ve noticed that there are two ways to vote for a candidate: because you support them and want to see them succeed, or because you oppose someone else and want to unseat them or otherwise keep them out of office.  One of these strategies tends to work, and the other doesn’t do as well.  I remember in 2004, the Democrats put up John Kerry, who was, by most measures, a pretty awful candidate.  About the only redeeming quality that Kerry had was that he was a warm body that wasn’t George W. Bush.  We checked Kerry’s name on our ballots as a vote against George W. Bush, and not for any reasons related to Kerry himself.  And Kerry got defeated pretty well, which in hindsight, wasn’t surprising.  It’s hard to turn out the vote for someone when it’s not because you’re in love with the candidate, but rather, because you’re trying to defeat their opponent.  Plus it’s also relatively hard to unseat an incumbent, which is what Bush was.  I think that this sign from the DAWN demonstration on the occasion of Bush’s second inaugural sums it up quite well:

"I voted Kerry. Now I'm holding this fuckin' sign."
“I voted Kerry.  Now I’m holding this fuckin’ sign.”  Seems about right.

In regards to this most recent election, I’m at least glad that it is settled, even if I was taken back and disappointed by the results.  There will be no protracted legal battle over the results like happened in 2000.  It’s over.  I do think that the Democrats bombed pretty badly this election cycle, losing the White House and failing to retake the Senate, and they really only have themselves to blame for it.  There are many lessons to take from this, and let’s hope that the Democrats learn them and take them to heart if they expect to retake the White House in 2020.  Otherwise, history will repeat itself.

First of all, it is worth noting that Hillary Clinton now joins the ranks of Andrew Jackson, Samuel J. Tilden, Grover Cleveland, and Al Gore, all of whom also won the popular vote while losing in the electoral college.  The electoral college, where individual votes in a state determine slates of electors based on congressional representation that actually choose the president (I explained how it works in 2013), because of how it’s designed with its first-past-the-post and winner-take-all allocation of votes, requires that candidates get broad support across the country in order to be elected, requiring a plurality of votes in an individual state to take all of the electoral votes in that state (except Maine and Nebraska, which allocate their electoral votes differently).  Thus in a hypothetical state with twelve electoral votes, if Hillary Clinton got 48.1% of the vote, Donald Trump got 48.2% of the vote, and Gary Johnson got 3.7% of the vote, Trump would get all twelve votes.  Likewise, it doesn’t matter if a candidate in this hypothetical state just barely pulls out a win or wins by a landslide.  It’s still the same twelve votes.  So why did Hillary Clinton lose the electoral college despite winning the popular vote?  Because her support was too concentrated in “blue” states, i.e. states where the Democratic candidate is expected from the outset to win the state’s electoral votes.  When it came to “swing states”, i.e. states where it could go either way, Hillary Clinton did poorly.  Among all of the different swing states, she only won in Virginia, which is where her running mate, Tim Kaine, is from – and even that was a much narrower win than expected.  She even lost Pennsylvania, which had gone to the Democrats in every election since 1992.

Considering that it is possible for the electoral college to elect someone who didn’t receive the most votes, and that it happened again this time around, I think that it is definitely time to reform the electoral process to allow for direct popular election of the president and vice president, either by abolishing the electoral college directly, or to bypass it, rendering it strictly ceremonial.  The former method would be accomplished by constitutional amendment, repealing the 12th Amendment and laying out a new system of some sort, because something tells me that they will never go back to the method provided in the original Constitution, where electors voted for two people for president, and first place (provided that they have a majority of electors) becomes president, and second place becomes vice president.  What the details of such a replacement system would be, however, are not known, and would be worked out in Congress during the amendment process.  I would imagine that such an amendment would look similar to the 17th Amendment, which provided for direct popular election of senators.  The latter method, which would bypass the electoral college, is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement that would award the participating states’ electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote.  As of this writing, the compact covers ten states plus DC, which together control 165 electoral votes.  It will go into effect when enough states have joined so that it would cover a majority of the electoral votes, i.e. 270.  However, I feel that the interstate compact method would probably be best only as a stopgap measure, until a constitutional amendment can be worked out.

And for all of the people who helped circulate a Change.org petition around on social media in an attempt to sway the electoral college to give Hillary Clinton the presidency in some sort of last-ditch hail-Mary move, that entire concept just seems like a tremendously bad idea.  Technically, the electors could probably do it, but I don’t think that they could necessarily get away with it by the public.  We all still have to live here, after all, and half the country would – probably rightly – claim that the election was stolen from their candidate if it were to happen, and the other half would almost certainly be uneasy about it.  Imagine the level of civil unrest that would come to this country if such a thing were to come to fruition.  It would be something the likes of which we have never seen before in this country.  It would make the post-election anti-Trump demonstrations that we saw look like child’s play.  Plus such a scheme would require that Hillary Clinton cooperate, and there’s no evidence that such a thing would happen.  Hillary Clinton has already conceded.  She’s out.  Imagine the constitutional crisis should Clinton be installed via this method that overrides the voting (even though she did win the popular vote), and then decline to serve, citing the impropriety of the method.  I don’t think that we as a country want to go there.  Better to move on and change the process for next time.

Meanwhile, noting Hillary Clinton’s poor showing in swing states, it points to another strike against the Democrats in this race: Hillary Clinton was a “my turn” candidate.  People thought it was her turn in 2008, when she ran for president and competed against then-Senator Barack Obama.  She was defeated in the primary, and Obama went on to become president, running against John McCain, another “my turn” candidate, as well as a candidate who would have also kept the White House in Republican hands for a third term (two strikes against McCain).

In 2016, Hillary Clinton was again running for president, this time against Bernie Sanders in the primary.  The feeling that I got during the primaries was that come hell or high water, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was going to make absolutely sure that this was a coronation for Hillary Clinton.  It later turned out that we were spot on with this feeling.  That said, it is probably time for the DNC to take a long and hard look at how it operates, since the effects of its processes have far-reaching consequences (we are, after all, electing the leader of the free world here).  The first thing that the DNC needs to do is reform the way its delegates are allocated, i.e. get rid of the superdelegates.  The superdelegates, the ranks of which include elected officials, as well as party activists and officials, and are automatically seated at the convention and can vote for whoever they want, lend an air of impropriety over the entire process, and a feeling of mistrust of the electorate.  Recognize that the message that having superdelegates sends is something along the lines of, “We don’t believe that you, the Democratic primary voters, are capable of picking the correct candidate.  Therefore, if you don’t vote the right way, the grownups will pick the correct person for you.”  I recognize that the superdelegates have never used their influence in this way in the past, but it is still a “trust us” matter, because the power exists to make it happen.  Additionally, the media’s reporting of Democratic delegate counts typically lumped in the superdelegates’ endorsements with the pledged delegate counts, making an establishment candidate who is close to the leaders of the party appear like they are running away with the nomination, when the race may actually be much closer.  Such is what happened with Clinton and Sanders, where Clinton’s superdelegate lead made it look like it was a fait accompli.  Did that keep Sanders voters home?  Quite possibly.  And it sounds like without Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee, a lot of those supporters stayed home for the general election, and opted to elect Donald Trump by their inaction (and that’s their prerogative, I suppose).  Of course, even the pledged delegates are technically on the honor system when it comes to voting for their pledged candidate, so how much your Democratic primary vote is actually worth is definitely debatable.

Otherwise, Hillary Clinton wasn’t a particularly inspiring candidate.  We knew exactly what we were getting with her through her 30-some years in public life, and her message was not that of hope and change like Obama or Sanders brought to the table for their respective candidacies, and could not be easily distilled down to something that could be easily understood and talked about by average Americans who aren’t “into” politics.  She had no slogan like “Change You Can Believe In” (which she once derided as “Change You Can Xerox“), or Trump’s “Make America Great Again”.  The “I’m With Her” slogan that they ended up using made the campaign seem like it was all about Hillary Clinton, and not about America.  Not “us”, but “me”.  In other words, it was Hillary’s turn, and this was to be her coronation.  She represented the establishment in what was turning out to be a “change” election from both sides, with a heavy presence of Bernie Sanders supporters on the Democratic side, and Donald Trump’s running away with the nomination on the Republican side.

Hillary Clinton’s choice of Virginia senator Tim Kaine was also rather uninspired.  I remember when Kaine was governor, and I voted for him in 2005, back when I still lived in Virginia.  What sticks out most to me about his otherwise fairly uneventful tenure as governor was in 2009 when, in an effort to balance the state budget, he closed a large number of highway rest areas.  Seeing so many closed rest areas along the highway, including consecutive rest areas, sent a very bad message about the state.  In fact, it was such a blunder that both candidates for governor that year made reopening all of the rest areas a part of their campaign platforms.  The only difference in Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds‘ platforms in that area was how quickly they would reopen them (90 days for McDonnell vs. 60 days for Deeds).

In any case, there were so many different directions that the Clinton campaign could have gone for vice president.  Kaine was a real snooze, likely picked because of where he was from, i.e. a swing state, and because he wouldn’t outshine Clinton.  He was a traditional, if uninspiring, pick.  He wasn’t able to reunite the party after Sanders’ defeat in the primaries, which I’m sure left many voters feeling disenchanted, and led them to stay home.  Choosing Bernie Sanders as a running mate would have done much to reunite the party, and would have ensured that the progressive issues that Sanders voters championed were represented.  Such a move, where the runner-up from the primaries gets the VP nod, would not be without precedent.  George Bush was Ronald Reagan’s rival in the Republican primaries in 1980, and clearly, the trick worked, as Reagan and Bush ran away with the election that year.

And if not Sanders, perhaps the Clinton camp could have gone with Elizabeth Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, who, like Sanders, is also a strong progressive.  The Clinton ticket didn’t need geographical balance as much as it needed ideological balance, by including a strong progressive to capture that “change” momentum from the Sanders campaign and keep those people in the fold.  With Kaine, they willingly gave up the progressives.

Ultimately, though, Hillary Clinton lost control of the conversation, as it became more and more about Donald Trump and his outlandish statements.  Hillary Clinton became a warm body who wasn’t Donald Trump, and in the end, the election felt like it was a referendum on Donald Trump.  I admit – I wanted to see Hillary Clinton win, but mainly because I didn’t want Donald Trump to win.  I wasn’t exactly impressed with Hillary Clinton based on her own merits, but I viewed her as better than the alternative.  Therefore, I feel like many on the left, myself included, were voting for her as a default choice, i.e. voting against Donald Trump, rather than voting for Hillary Clinton on her own merits.  And rarely do such votes produce a winning result.  After all, it’s hard to vote for a candidate that you’re not in love with.  I did for the reason that I stated a month ago: because I still had to live with myself should Donald Trump somehow pull out a victory – and he did.  My conscience is clean.

In the end, the expression, “May you live in interesting times,” seems like a fitting description of what we may have these next four years in a Trump administration.  And in any case, I hope that the Democrats take heed of the lessons to be learned in the aftermath of this election, and not make those same mistakes again.

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I’ve seen Christmas lighting, Halloween lighting, but never election lighting… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/11/08/ive-seen-christmas-lighting-halloween-lighting-but-never-election-lighting/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/11/08/ive-seen-christmas-lighting-halloween-lighting-but-never-election-lighting/#respond Tue, 08 Nov 2016 05:00:22 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25525 So Elyse and I were driving down 16th Street in DC last night, and we spotted a house near the intersection of 16th and Corcoran Streets NW with red and blue lighting in the front yard.  Hmm.  So we turned around and took a look:

Election lights in DC

Election lights in DC

Yes, folks, this is an election lighting display.  I’ve heard of Christmas lights and Halloween lights, but never before had I seen election lights before.  That was definitely a new one on me.

I have already gone over my opinions on the election, and so I don’t feel that I need to repeat them here.  However, the big day is now upon us.  If you are eligible, registered, and haven’t done so already via absentee or early processes, please go out and vote today.

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A “lost” photo set of sorts… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/11/06/a-lost-photo-set-of-sorts/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/11/06/a-lost-photo-set-of-sorts/#respond Sun, 06 Nov 2016 15:10:51 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25484 In doing the writing for an upcoming photo set for Life and Times about a trip that Elyse and I recently made to Pittsburgh, I quickly realized that much of the discussion about the trip up builds on a photo set that I shot in May 2006 with the intention of publishing in Photography, but that I ultimately never completed.

In this case, the subject of the “lost” photo set was Breezewood, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, when one travels to Pittsburgh from the DC area, one of the places that you go through is Breezewood, a settlement best known for a quarter-mile stretch of US 30 that carries Interstate 70 traffic to the Pennsylvania Turnpike – a stretch of road that is loaded with gas stations and motels and restaurants.  I first traveled through Breezewood in 2003 during the LPCM trip to Pittsburgh, and it piqued my interest – even more so when I later learned that there was an abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike nearby, including two tunnels.  I discussed a potential trip to Breezewood for a photo shoot in 2005, and then made a trip from Stuarts Draft to Breezewood – a three-hour drive each way – on May 2, 2006.  About the only bit of evidence of the trip on here was five photo features showing Breezewood, a short Journal entry with no photos, plus a few things here and there on Wikipedia and Panoramio, as was my practice at the time.  The intended Photography set, with the working title “Town of Motels”, was never made.  Kind of a shame that, for a trip that was that far away and entirely dedicated to photography, so little was actually published from it.

I’m pretty sure that I never published the set because I didn’t feel like the photos were up to par, even for the (lower) standards that I operated under at the time, and thus couldn’t find the inspiration to complete it.  Most of the photos had a yellow cast over them, and I clearly didn’t take enough time in composing my shots.  In hindsight, while I had fun doing the shoot, the idea was something of a loser.  After all, it was, for the most part, just a clustering of chain businesses along a unique stretch of highway.  The road configuration, created due to regulations in place at the time that precluded the use of federal funds to build direct connections to toll facilities, was what was unique, but that wasn’t the focus of my photography.  I focused mostly on the chain businesses themselves, which weren’t particularly unique.  The chain businesses looked a lot like “Anytown USA”, i.e. they were much the same as you would find anywhere.

In any case, after ten years, I now need it to provide context for more modern work.  I suppose that this set’s publication was inevitable, as I would eventually need to build on that experience, so here it is, more or less in the order that it was photographed.

Taken just east of the Breezewood strip on Route 30, this signage was the first indication of Breezewood. According to Google Street View, the Quality Inn sign is now gone, having disappeared some time between 2009 and 2012.
Taken just east of the Breezewood strip on Route 30, this signage was the first indication of Breezewood.  According to Google Street View, the Quality Inn sign is now gone, having disappeared some time between 2009 and 2012.

The Breezewood strip, facing east, taken from approximately halfway down.
The Breezewood strip, facing east, taken from approximately halfway down.

The old Sheetz in Breezewood. This same area looks different today, as the building is now boarded up, having closed some time between 2011 and 2013 when the Sheetz moved two doors down the road. Additionally, the gas canopy has been demolished.

The old Sheetz in Breezewood. This same area looks different today, as the building is now boarded up, having closed some time between 2011 and 2013 when the Sheetz moved two doors down the road. Additionally, the gas canopy has been demolished.
The old Sheetz in Breezewood.  This same area looks different today, as the building is now boarded up, having closed some time between 2011 and 2013 when the Sheetz moved two doors down the road.  Additionally, the gas canopy has been demolished.

Gas prices at Sheetz on the day of the 2006 shoot. My recollection is that these were relatively high for the time. Prices were in the $2.40 range when Elyse and I went through recently.
Gas prices at Sheetz on the day of the 2006 shoot.  My recollection is that these were relatively high for the time.  Prices were in the $2.40 range when Elyse and I went through recently.

North side of US 30, facing east, from halfway up the strip. Taco Bell, Exxon, KFC, Mobil, and Gateway Travel Plaza. Not much has changed here, other than the closure of the KFC and the conversion of the Mobil station to Valero.
North side of US 30, facing east, from halfway up the strip.  Taco Bell, Exxon, KFC, Mobil, and Gateway Travel Plaza.  Not much has changed here, other than the closure of the KFC and the conversion of the Mobil station to Valero.

Crawford's Museum,on the south side of US 30 in Breezewood. Still there today, and looks exactly the same.

Crawford's Museum,on the south side of US 30 in Breezewood. Still there today, and looks exactly the same.

Crawford's Museum,on the south side of US 30 in Breezewood. Still there today, and looks exactly the same.
Crawford’s Museum, on the south side of US 30 in Breezewood.  Still there today, and looks exactly the same.  Interestingly enough, though, the owner of Crawford’s was convicted in 2015 of selling knockoff sports merchandise, and sentenced to five years’ probation, house arrest, restitution, and community service.

Signage directing I-70 travelers onto the Turnpike. Yes, this stretch of road through Breezewood carries an Interstate designation!
Signage directing I-70 travelers onto the Turnpike.  Yes, this stretch of road through Breezewood carries an Interstate designation!

The Breezewood KFC, now vacant, having closed some time between 2011 and 2014.
The Breezewood KFC, now vacant, having closed some time between 2011 and 2014.

US 30, facing west, showing, more or less, the full Breezewood strip.
US 30, facing west, showing, more or less, the full Breezewood strip.

Big Pennsylvania Turnpike signage.
Big Pennsylvania Turnpike signage.

Trucks along Route 30. Owing to this road's technically being an Interstate, it gets a lot of truck traffic.
Trucks along Route 30.  Owing to this road’s technically being an Interstate, it gets a lot of truck traffic.

The Breezewood strip, viewed from the Turnpike entrance.
The Breezewood strip, viewed from the Turnpike entrance.

The Breezewood strip, viewed from the Turnpike entrance.
Mileage sign at the Turnpike entrance.

Stub end of the abandoned turnpike, though this area is still owned by the Turnpike Commission. The Breezewood exit ramp, which uses part of the old turnpike, is visible in the distance in the top photo. In the lower photo, the road used to lead to the rest of the abandoned turnpike, but was truncated when a bridge over Route 30 was demolished, separating the PTC-owned section, and the Pike-to-Bike trail that the remainder became.

Stub end of the abandoned turnpike, though this area is still owned by the Turnpike Commission. The Breezewood exit ramp, which uses part of the old turnpike, is visible in the distance in the top photo. In the lower photo, the road used to lead to the rest of the abandoned turnpike, but was truncated when a bridge over Route 30 was demolished, separating the PTC-owned section, and the Pike-to-Bike trail that the remainder became.
Stub end of the abandoned turnpike, though this area is still owned by the Turnpike Commission.  The Breezewood exit ramp, which uses part of the old turnpike, is visible in the distance in the top photo.  In the lower photo, the road used to lead to the rest of the abandoned turnpike, but was truncated when a bridge over Route 30 was demolished, separating the PTC-owned section, and the Pike-to-Bike trail that the remainder became.

This, by the way, left me quite confused.  I was told prior to this trip that access to the abandoned turnpike was via this road behind the (now closed) Ramada Inn, and was checking this out for a potential future trip to see the abandoned turnpike, and the tunnels therein.  A stub-end like this was not what I had expected to see.  I was left questioning whether I had gone to the right place or not.  Only later did I learn of the bridge removal, which occurred not long before my visit, which confirmed that I was in the right place, but that what I was led to understand was no longer the case.  I still want to do a trip to see the abandoned tunnels, but such a trip is not currently planned.

Gateway Travel Plaza, one of two truck stops in Breezewood.
Gateway Travel Plaza, one of two truck stops in Breezewood.

The Holiday Inn Express in Breezewood. Since this photo was taken, the hotel built a one-story addition on the right side of the building, adding an indoor pool and gymnasium facility.
The Holiday Inn Express in Breezewood.  Since this photo was taken, the hotel built a one-story addition on the right side of the building, adding an indoor pool and gymnasium facility.

Fat Jimmy's Outfitters, housed in a former Howard Johnson's restaurant. I considered this a strange place to have an outdoors store, considering that Breezewood is very much a gas-eat-go kind of area.
Fat Jimmy’s Outfitters, housed in a former Howard Johnson’s restaurant.  I considered this a strange place to have an outdoors store, considering that Breezewood is very much a gas-eat-go kind of area.  After Fat Jimmy’s moved to a different location, a bar and grill moved in and did some heavy remodeling.

I don’t know about you, but a bar seems like a strange thing to have here, considering that Breezewood’s whole existence is based around drivers who are just passing through.  Having a drinking establishment in Breezewood seems incredibly out of place, and so I’m not surprised that such a place was short-lived.

Sac's convenience store, Sheetz (since relocated), Wendy's (now closed), Holiday Inn Express, and then country beyond. Recognize that Breezewood is basically just the strip, with open land all around.
Sac’s convenience store, Sheetz (since relocated), Wendy’s (now closed), Holiday Inn Express, and then country beyond.  Recognize that Breezewood is basically just the strip, with open land all around.

Family House Restaurant. All of this is now gone, as the restaurant closed around 2008, and the new Sheetz was in operation on the site by fall 2013.

Family House Restaurant. All of this is now gone, as the restaurant closed around 2008, and the new Sheetz was in operation on the site by fall 2013.
Family House Restaurant.  All of this is now  gone, as the restaurant closed around 2008, and the new Sheetz was in operation on the site by fall 2013.

The Breezewood strip, viewed from the western end. This photo is on display at The Henry Ford, a museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
The Breezewood strip, viewed from the western end.  This photo is on display at The Henry Ford, a museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Vintage sign for the Penn Aire Motel.
Vintage sign for the Penn Aire Motel, at the western end of the Breezewood strip.  This facility is now abandoned, though it was once quite nice.

Overhead sign for I-70 facing eastbound Route 30. Funny that it lists DC as the control city, since Interstate 70 goes to Baltimore, not DC. Mind you, Interstate 270 breaks off at Frederick and heads towards the Beltway, but I-70 proper takes a more northerly route and ends up in Baltimore.
Overhead sign for I-70 facing eastbound Route 30.  Funny that it lists DC as the control city, since Interstate 70 goes to Baltimore, not DC.  Mind you, Interstate 270 breaks off at Frederick and heads towards the Beltway, but I-70 proper takes a more northerly route and ends up in Baltimore.

Denny's "Classic Diner".
Denny’s “Classic Diner”.

Signage for Interstate 70. I believe that the numbers on the white sign at the bottom are part of Pennsylvania's Location Referencing System (LRS).
Signage for Interstate 70.  I believe that the numbers on the white sign at the bottom are part of Pennsylvania’s Location Referencing System (LRS).

The Starbucks in Breezewood, where the staff graciously allowed me to park for the several hours that I spent shooting this set.
The Starbucks in Breezewood, where the staff graciously allowed me to park for the several hours that I spent shooting this set.

The Sable, with Virginia plates. That really dates this set, doesn't it? I had owned the Sable for less than three months when I did this trip. The Sable has now been gone for nearly five years.
The Sable, with Virginia plates.  That really dates this set, doesn’t it?  I had owned the Sable for less than three months when I did this trip.  The Sable has now been gone for nearly five years.

Leaving Breezewood, I took the scenic route home.  Considering that this trip revolved around the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it only made sense that I take the Turnpike.  I also got some photos of the three tunnels that I went through on the way:

Western portal of the Tuscarora Mountain Tunnel.
Western portal of the Tuscarora Mountain Tunnel.

Inside the eastbound tunnel at Tuscarora Mountain. Note the sodium lighting, which was unique to this tunnel complex at that time.
Inside the eastbound tunnel at Tuscarora Mountain.  Note the sodium lighting, which was unique to this tunnel complex at that time.

Eastern portal of the eastbound tunnel at Tuscarora Mountain.
Eastern portal of the eastbound tunnel at Tuscarora Mountain.

Western portal of the Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel.
Western portal of the Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel.

Inside the eastbound Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel. Note the fluorescent lighting.
Inside the eastbound Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel.  Note the fluorescent lighting.

Western portal of the Blue Mountain Tunnel. The Kittatinny and Blue Mountain tunnels are back-to-back (only 600 feet apart), separated by the Gunter Valley. This was taken at Kittatinny's eastern portal.
Western portal of the Blue Mountain Tunnel.  The Kittatinny and Blue Mountain tunnels are back-to-back (only 600 feet apart), separated by the Gunter Valley.  This was taken at Kittatinny’s eastern portal.

Western portal for the eastbound tunnel at Blue Mountain.
Western portal for the eastbound tunnel at Blue Mountain.

I vaguely remembered going through back-to-back tunnels on a road trip from Arkansas to New Jersey in 1987, and I remembered the name “Blue Mountain”.  I was glad to get some confirmation on what I saw as a child.  These Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnels were also the first highway tunnels that I ever went through.

Also, please don’t do what I did in taking these photos.  I took them while I was driving, i.e. one hand on the wheel, the other hand on Big Mavica, and eyes not entirely paying attention to the road because I was lining up a shot.  In hindsight, what I did was very unsafe.  So don’t do it.

And lastly, I stopped at the Cumberland Valley Service Plaza after the tunnels:

Cumberland Valley Service Plaza building. This building, along with all of the service plaza buildings, has been demolished and replaced with a larger, more modern building.
Cumberland Valley Service Plaza building.  This building, along with all of the service plaza buildings, has been demolished and replaced with a larger, more modern building.  Also, note the Roy Rogers sign.  Growing up, I always associated Roy Rogers with road trips, because at that time, the only time that you saw a Roy Rogers restaurant was in a highway service plaza like this one.

The Turnpike next to the Cumberland Valley Service Plaza, part of a 12-mile straightaway between Blue Mountain Tunnel and the Carlisle interchange.
The Turnpike next to the Cumberland Valley Service Plaza, part of a 12-mile straightaway between the Blue Mountain Tunnel and the Carlisle interchange.

From Carlisle (home of another Breezewood-like strip between the Turnpike and I-81), I took I-81 all the way down to Staunton, and that was the end of the trip.

And that’s my “lost” photo set of Breezewood and such from 2006.  I suppose that the missing piece of the puzzle has been placed, as these decade-old photos finally make it to publication, though I would have never guessed that they would end up being published in the Journal.

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Horns with bugles attached… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/10/27/horns-with-bugles-attached/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/10/27/horns-with-bugles-attached/#respond Fri, 28 Oct 2016 00:24:04 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25397 As I mentioned earlier, the trip to Philadelphia that Elyse and I made on October 3 was primarily about fire alarms.  In short, I now am the proud owner of 16 Federal Signal Model 53 fire alarm notification appliances, and 12 Couch coded fire alarm pull stations.  This was the total haul:

12 pull stations and 16 horns

It’s funny how this all came about.  As a fire alarm enthusiast, I’m in contact with other enthusiasts, some of whom work in the industry.  As an example, Elyse and I got to know each other on account of fire alarms.  In any case, a friend and fellow enthusiast let me know about another person who had some vintage equipment in Philadelphia that had just been removed from a building that would be disposed of if not saved.  My friend couldn’t make it to Philadelphia due to distance, but I could.  So they put me in contact with them, and we made all of the arrangements.  We built a trip around the alarms, planning to visit Christiana Mall on the way up, and then photograph some infrastructure on the way to King of Prussia Mall.

However, due to a late start, we ended up having to delete Christiana Mall from the itinerary, as well as any sort of Delaware stop.  Ah, well – there’s always next time.  But we made it to Chinatown right on schedule, and parked right next to Ho Sai Gai.  We made the exchange, and that was that.  I got a photo of Elyse holding one of the horns in the back of my car as proof to send to my friend:

Elyse with one of the horns in Chinatown

That was also when we realized something important: these alarms are very heavy.  Realize that these are old-school alarms.  They are made entirely out of metal, plus they have that bugle-like thing on the end, which is also metal.  The pull stations are also all metal, and they’re the older, bigger size.  And there were lots of them.  I ended up keeping some of these in the back of my car for about a week because of the need for assistance in bringing them in.  I could carry the smaller of the two boxes in by myself, but the second one… no way.  Too heavy to carry up the stairs alone.  I got help for that one.

Meanwhile, I don’t know about you, but I find horns that have projectors on them to be especially intimidating.  Take this horn (long since removed), from JMU’s Harrison Hall:

That sound projector makes it seem way more intimidating than it would be without.  Behind that projector is a Standard 4-350 horn, one of which I have in my collection.  The horn itself is not that bad, but that projector seems to say, “Watch out, I’m really loud.”

And this horn, with that bugle-like projector, fits the character.  It is very loud, as demonstrated in a video that Elyse took:

Even from that far away, that will blow your ears out.  These were installed in a residential building prior to an alarm system upgrade.  I can’t imagine being woken up by these in the middle of the night.

The horns themselves are very large, with the horn unit itself measuring 6″ in diameter, and 12″ from the wall to the end of the projector.  Here are a few views of them:

Federal Signal Model 53  Federal Signal Model 53

Federal Signal Model 53  Federal Signal Model 53

Federal Signal Model 53, label

Meanwhile, the pull stations were more familiar to me:

  

This pull station is identical to the Simplex 4263-10 that I already have in my collection, except that this is the original equipment manufacturer’s branding, rather than a rebrand like the Simplex one is.

So that’s the new fire alarm equipment that I now have.  Not too shabby, if you ask me.  That horn, however, will be a challenge to formally photograph for the website, considering its large size and the size of the area where I typically photograph these sorts of things.

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A day trip to Ocean City that definitely felt rushed… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/10/23/a-day-trip-to-ocean-city-that-definitely-felt-rushed/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/10/23/a-day-trip-to-ocean-city-that-definitely-felt-rushed/#respond Sun, 23 Oct 2016 17:20:25 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25408 On Monday, October 10, I finally visited Ocean City, Maryland and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  You would think, having lived in Maryland for nine years, that I would have gotten out there before this, but better late than never, I suppose.

This was a trip where the journey was probably more interesting than the destination itself.  I’m also pretty confident that we did not meet my usual rule for a trip where you should spend as much time at the destination as it takes to get down there and back.  I also felt rushed when we actually got to the destination, but I suppose that such is what happens sometimes.  However, with this being an “overview” trip, where the goal was just to get a feel for what was there for future exploration, meeting my time rule wasn’t as important as it might otherwise be.

In any case, we left a little later than I would have liked, and the trip began fairly uneventfully.  Things went smoothly until we made a planned stop at the Wawa near Annapolis.  There, my low tire pressure light came on as we were getting ready to leave.  Okay.  Wawa has free air, so no problem.  The way that I figured, it had been a while since the last time that I had checked the tire pressure, so one of them may have reached the threshold for the warning light from normal whatever.  So I topped off the tires.  The left rear tire was a bit lower than the others, but the light went away.  Cool.  Problem solved.  Continue on trip.

After going over the Bay Bridge (my first time), I learned far more than I expected about center pivot irrigation systems from Elyse.  If it tells you anything, I’m no longer surprised when I learn that Elyse knows a lot about something medical or industrial.  But her information always checks out.  In this case, I learned about the different brands of center-pivot irrigation systems, and how to distinguish between them.  The main brands are Valley, Reinke (pronounced like “rinky”) and Zimmatic.  Those names, for whatever reason, made me think of the Pacman ghosts: Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde/Sue.  I said, “Valley, Reinke, Zimmatic… and Sue.”  Maybe you had to be there, but we got a laugh out of it.  In any case, though, you saw a lot of them, as the Delmarva Peninsula has a lot of farmland.

For that matter, Route 50 is one of those roads where you can really “see America”.  The road stops being a freeway after the Bay Bridge, and you go through a number of little towns on the way to Ocean City.  I could totally see doing a trip out this way just to photograph the small towns along the way.

Then as Elyse and I approached Salisbury, the tire pressure light came on again.  One time could be as simple as needing to top off the tire.  Two times means that I have a problem.  Considering how much distance we traveled before the problem came back, I knew that it was a slow leak, and therefore I likely had some time to play with before the tire went flat, but didn’t know exactly how much time.  Thus it was time to quickly get the car to a shop to get this fixed.  Elyse knew that there was a Walmart with a tire center nearby, so we started making moves towards that, but we ended up finding a Sears Auto Center before we got to the Walmart.  I normally refuse to patronize Sears because they’re mean to Elyse (and seeing the same behavior toward Elyse at multiple stores tells me that this is standard practice), but in this case, any port in a storm.  They were able to get me fixed and on my way for $18.  Deal.

And in the meantime, Elyse and I got to check out a new mall, The Centre at Salisbury.  As far as malls go, this was a fairly unremarkable one-story facility.  I did, however, find a few interesting things in the mall:

Spotted this sign at Picture People, and if I were looking for a job, this sign, with a grammatical error, would probably give me pause.
Spotted this sign at Picture People, and if I were looking for a job, this sign, with a grammatical error, would probably give me pause.  To me, it’s like how they say that if your resume has a single error, it automatically hits the trash.  Same thing applies the other way as well.  When I was on the job market a few years ago, if I saw a typographical, grammatical, or spelling error, it made me question the level of professionalism that I would find in an organization that couldn’t even be bothered to proofread its job advertisements.  When I was at Food & Water Watch, the job ads that I got were routinely loaded with simple errors.  Part of what I did before posting was to go over them very carefully and fix all of the errors that I found, because you have to put your best foot forward at all times.

Someone needs to tell the person who wrote this sign at the Auntie Anne's that (A) the public does not need to see these sorts of communications, as this sign was in plain view of everyone walking by, and that (B) "quote marks" are not used for "emphasis".
Someone needs to tell the person who wrote this sign at the Auntie Anne’s that (A) the public does not need to see these sorts of communications, as this sign was in plain view of everyone walking by, and that (B) “quote marks” are not used for “emphasis”.

Mystery bags, especially at this sort of price, seen here at Hot Topic, seem like a ripoff waiting to happen. Especially with the all-sales-final note on the bag.
Mystery bags, especially at this sort of price, seen here at Hot Topic, seem like a ripoff waiting to happen.  Especially with the all-sales-final note on the bag.  Trust and believe that if it were me, and I was contemplating the purchase of one of these things, I would absolutely open the bag in the store before purchasing to verify the contents.  If an employee complained about it, I’d tell them to go buzz off.  My thought is that this is the exact opposite of standing by your products, if you have to conceal them to move them, and then not allow returns.

Then once the tire was done (turns out that I had run over a nail), we were on our way.  Our next stop was a planned side trip into Delaware, to go to The Military Exchange, which is a military surplus store in Delmar.  Elyse is also interested in and knows a lot about MRE packs, and so she took a look.  Among other things, she found Menu 19, which is the one that contains beef patties.

Elyse holds the beef patty MRE.
Elyse holds the beef patty MRE.

Trying on a helmet and goggle set.
Trying on a helmet and goggle set.

She ended up buying three MREs from them, including the beef patty one.  Look for a review of some of these on her YouTube channel at some point.  This place also did handwritten receipts, which we were both surprised to see.  I commented that I expected to see one of those old manual credit card imprinters as well, but alas, the credit card machine was modern.

We finally made it to Ocean City around 5:00.  As far as the kind of time that we made, I think “terrible” covers it quite well.  But I suppose that such is what happens when you have a tire problem midway through your trip that costs you about two hours.

In any case, we parked on the street, and headed to the boardwalk, and then to the beach, seeing what there was to see:

Elyse stands on the beach.
Elyse stands on the beach.

Beach selfie.
Beach selfie.

Two chairs set up on the beach.
Two chairs set up on the beach.

Spotted this eroded mound of sand near the water, and my guess is that this was once a sand castle of some sort, that has since been reshaped by nature.
Spotted this eroded mound of sand near the water, and my guess is that this was once a sand castle of some sort, that has since been reshaped by nature.

Waves breaking on rocks.
Waves breaking on rocks.

More waves breaking on rocks. Look at the horizon on this photo, though. That's the only thing about photographing around the ocean: the horizon is supposed to be level. This photo looks pretty nice, except that the horizon is all cockeyed.
More waves breaking on rocks.  Look at the horizon on this photo, though.  That’s the only thing about photographing around the ocean: the horizon is supposed to be level.  This photo looks pretty nice, except that the horizon is all cockeyed.

The boardwalk in late afternoon/early evening.
The boardwalk in late afternoon/early evening.

Spotted this tip jar in an Auntie Anne's on the boardwalk.
Spotted this tip jar in an Auntie Anne’s on the boardwalk.

Sky at sunset.
Sky at sunset.

Guy in a wetsuit, about to go surfing.
Guy in a wetsuit, about to go surfing.

Coming off of the beach, we then headed north on the boardwalk for a few blocks.  We then walked back towards the car along Baltimore Avenue.

Also got an unexpected trip down memory lane on this walk.  Remember in College Life, there was that photo where Bridget was wearing that “Bad Ass Cafe” shirt?  We found the cafe:

Bad Ass Cafe in Ocean City. Good to know that they're still doing well.
Bad Ass Cafe in Ocean City.  Good to know that they’re still doing well.

I don't know about you, but this sign struck me as tacky. I get the need for lodging facilities to preserve their parking lots' spaces for their guests, but the "PERMIT MUST BE VISIBLE!!!" (with three exclamation marks) part just rubs me the wrong way. This could have been done far more tastefully.
I don’t know about you, but this sign struck me as tacky.  I get the need for lodging facilities to preserve their parking lots’ spaces for their guests, but the “PERMIT MUST BE VISIBLE!!!” (with three exclamation marks) part just rubs me the wrong way.  This could have been done far more tastefully.

Returning to the car, we moved down to the far south end of the town, and visited Marty’s Playland, a boardwalk arcade. Most of the games were the same as you would find at Dave & Buster’s, but what made this place interesting was the presence of several vintage claw machines.  Check these out:

The vintage claw machine

The way these worked was that you set the crane to the position that you wanted, and then you put in your money to activate the claw.  I can’t imagine these claws’ actually being able to grab anything in the machines due to their shape, but it was fun to watch.

We then headed around to check out the fishing pier, which had already closed for the night by the time we got over there.  Something for next time, I suppose.  But I did get a photo of Elyse with this traffic light that was flashing yellow, presumably to warn pedestrians of bicycle traffic:

Elyse poses with the traffic light.
Elyse poses with the traffic light.

Elyse stands in a giant tire outside the Ripley's building.
Elyse stands in a giant tire outside the Ripley’s building.

From there, we headed back to the car and turned north.  Time to go up to Rehoboth.  Surprisingly, when we put Rehoboth Beach into Google Maps to navigate us over, it dumped us into a random apartment complex near the ocean.  We then had to backtrack to find the resort area, locating the area where we were supposed to be on the map, and then dropping a pin and having Google navigate us to the pin location.  When we got there, we walked around the boardwalk a little bit, and I got a photo of Elyse in front of a dolphin statue:

Elyse with the dolphin statue

I was also surprised how close we were to New Jersey.  I knew that the Cape May-Lewes Ferry was nearby, but I never realized that it was this close:

See those lights in the distance? That's New Jersey.
See those lights in the distance?  That’s New Jersey.

Then from there, we were done.  We had dinner at Rehoboth Diner, and then headed back.  Surprisingly, Google Maps sent us down every back road imaginable towards Route 50.  Certainly got to see a lot of “slower lower Delaware”, that’s for sure.  We got home around 2:30 AM.

The impression that I got from these two towns is that Ocean City is very much a dumpy resort town, similar to Virginia Beach, in that it’s a bit run down and dated, though still doing well.  Rehoboth seemed like a much nicer town than Ocean City.  All in all, this was a fun trip, even if the execution was less than ideal.  I definitely want to come back here in the future.

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Watching the second debate, I couldn’t help but think that Donald Trump was acting like someone who knew that they had already lost the election… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/10/12/watching-the-second-debate-i-couldnt-help-but-think/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/10/12/watching-the-second-debate-i-couldnt-help-but-think/#respond Thu, 13 Oct 2016 02:25:21 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25379 I had thought of a million ways to start this Journal entry about the 2016 election, but after hearing the revelations of Republican nominee Donald Trump‘s hot-mic comments about women, and seeing his performance at the second debate with Hillary Clinton, I’m convinced that we don’t have to worry about Donald Trump’s becoming president.  It’s not going to happen, especially after the grownups in his party have more or less abandoned him.

It’s kind of funny how it’s all worked out, I suppose.  Back during the primaries, I never imagined that Donald Trump would ever get the nomination.  I said that he would likely be in it for a few primaries before dropping out, having made whatever point that he was trying to make, and that ultimately, one of the grownups would get the Republican nomination.  I figured that Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich would come out on top, and Donald Trump would be a footnote in this election.  Imagine my surprise to watch Donald Trump, a man whose only qualification for political office is being rich and having a very big mouth, take the nomination.  I guess it goes to show exactly how weak the Republican field was this time around.

Realize that Trump’s campaign seems to mirror that of Mr. Burns on The Simpsons when he was running for governor of whatever state Springfield is in.  His campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train, making us wonder why he is so popular.  And the incident regarding women is his fish dinner.  Recall that on The Simpsons, Burns ran for office as a reaction to an inspection of his nuclear plant after three-eyed fish were discovered by Bart Simpson near the nuclear plant.  Burns’ message was about getting government off of our backs.  Just before the election, the campaign arranged for him to have a dinner with a family.  The Simpsons were that family.  At the dinner, Marge served this to Burns:

Burns and his three-eyed fish

Also recall that after taking a bite of the fish, Burns very dramatically spit it out, and with it, destroyed any chance of his winning the election.  This whole issue regarding the comments about women is Trump’s three-eyed fish, and he certainly did spit it pretty far.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, I make no bones about the fact that I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary.  I agree with many, if not most, of his stances, and he would have made an excellent president, coming from much further left than many modern Democratic candidates.  I really became acquainted with Bernie Sanders about nine years ago, when radio host Thom Hartmann would run his weekly “Brunch with Bernie” segment on the radio.  There, Hartmann interviewed Sanders, and I liked what I heard, and I really came to respect Sanders for his stances.  I also greatly appreciated the fact that Sanders ran an extremely clean campaign.  He wouldn’t go negative, and he wouldn’t go on the attack towards his opponents.  However, for the general election, I will vote for Hillary Clinton, despite disagreeing with her positions on many things.  My thought process is this: even though I live in Maryland, a safe “blue” state, i.e. a state where the Democratic candidate is almost certain to take the electoral votes, I still have to look at myself in the mirror every morning.  If Donald Trump somehow pulls this out despite the odds, I don’t know if I could live with myself knowing that I didn’t vote for the major party candidate that I preferred.  I’m not going to lie to you: I’ve voted third party on things in the past, and I reserve the right to do it again.  But this time, with the modern equivalent of Adolf Hitler running as a Republican, I have to support the Democrat.

Progressive talk show host Randi Rhodes put it best in regard to how to vote.  You fall in love for the primaries, but for the general election, you fall in line.  In other words, when it’s primary time, vote for your favorite candidate.  So I voted for Bernie Sanders, my favorite candidate.  But now the primaries are over.  Bernie Sanders is no longer running for president.  Time to fall in line, i.e. come together and support the nominee, because while Hillary Clinton is definitely not the candidate that I fell in love with in the primaries, her views are far closer to mine than those of Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, when it comes to third party candidates like Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, I have mixed views.  I believe that both Johnson and Stein both thoroughly destroyed their credibility over the course of their respective campaigns.  I do see Johnson as having a real chance of picking up a few electoral votes, though, for the simple reason that he is a former Republican who is not named Donald Trump.  In any case, I look at third party candidacies with a certain level of “get serious”.  These are people who are not running for office, but running to make a point.  The chances of a third party candidate’s actually winning this election are exactly zero.  If you are an independent politician and are running for president to actually win, then you run in the major party’s process.  You may still not win, but it shows that you are at least somewhat serious about winning.  However, I do suspect that many of the people that run for president are not really seeking public office so much as they are running for book deals and pundit jobs.  Pretty sure that Herman Cain was running for a pundit job in 2012, and apparently he was successful, taking over Neal Boortz’s radio talk show.

But the whole idea of independent candidates running in the major parties’ primaries is why I have tremendous respect for Bernie Sanders and how he handled his candidacy.  For those not familiar, Sanders, historically, has run as an independent.  But rather than run a third-party campaign, and thus act as a spoiler, opening the door for a Republican presidency (after all, Ralph Nader is a big reason why George W. Bush became our 43rd president), Sanders ran as a Democrat, which is the major party that he is most closely aligned with, ideologically.  Clearly, he was in it to win it, and not just to make a point.  In addition, once the primaries ended and he didn’t get the nomination, he stood down, and threw his support behind Hillary Clinton.  Compare to Jill Stein, who practically begged Bernie Sanders to become a spoiler candidate.  That act was one more reason why Jill Stein and the Green Party should not be taken seriously at the national level.

However, for those of you who still really want to vote third party for whatever reason, if you’re in a safe state, red or blue, go for it.  Vote third party all you want.  If you’re in a swing state, i.e. Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin, you need to pick one of the major party candidates, because that’s where it matters most.  That is where it will really determine whether we get a Clinton or a Trump presidency.  That’s where Gary Johnson and Jill Stein can really spoil an election, and help elect the candidate with the philosophy most opposite of what their candidacies stand for.  Thus how we ended up with George W. Bush, after all – thank you, Ralph Nader.  After all, it’s really 51 separate state elections that feed into the electoral college that makes a president (I wrote about how this all works in this space in 2013).  Thus a few votes in one state can turn the result that the entire country has to live with for four to eight years.

Speaking of swing states, looking at how some states have such an effect on the contest vs. others, I have joked that we as a country could save a whole lot of money and effort by just letting Ohio pick the president for us.  After all, since 1896, Ohio has picked the winner in every election, with only two exceptions: 1944 and 1960.  Save the rest of us the headache and let them do it for us.

And lastly, please don’t forget about your downticket races.  Everyone in the United States (other than DC) has one congressperson and two senators.  You should always know who these people are.  Your congressperson is up for election every two years, i.e. he or she is up this year.  You may or may not have a senator up for a vote this year, since they serve staggered six-year terms.  Then even further down the ticket, with your local races, you really need to research the issues there.  After a, the lower down the ticket that the race is, the more directly it will affect your life.  President and all of that is great, but he or she is not an autocrat.  We have multiple levels of government and lots of people with their hands on different buttons.  And they all matter in some way, including dogcatcher.

So there you have it, I suppose.  My thoughts about the 2016 election.  Now all you have to do now is go vote.

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The evolution of a cloud… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/10/05/the-evolution-of-a-cloud/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/10/05/the-evolution-of-a-cloud/#respond Wed, 05 Oct 2016 14:24:28 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25369 Sometimes, you don’t notice the way things change right in front of your eyes until you analyze them a bit more.  I was recently in the Philadelphia/King of Prussia area with Elyse on what was primarily a fire alarm-related mission (more on that later), and was photographing the Manayunk Bridge.  First of all, for those not familiar, the Manayunk Bridge is a former rail bridge that was closed to rail traffic in 1986, and which reopened last year to pedestrian and bike traffic as a rail trail.  I had previously known it as the big arched bridge that the Schuylkill Expressway goes under, i.e. this, as seen in November 2001:

The Manayunk Bridge, photographed November 22, 2001 from the Schuylkill Expressway

I also got a somewhat decent photo of it on this particular trip:

The Manayunk Bridge, photographed from the nearby Green Lane Bridge

I admit – this wasn’t a great photography day, and so most of what I shot will likely never be published.  However, while I was shooting lackluster photos of infrastructure (really, most of them just plain sucked), a cloud moved in front of the sun, blocking out the light that I needed for these photos.  So rather than stand around waiting for the cloud to move, I focused on the cloud, taking a total of twelve photos of it over the span of about four minutes.

Whenever I look at clouds in real time, they always seem static.  Yes, they can be observed moving across the sky, but they don’t really seem to change very much.  I suppose it’s because we’re watching it as it unfolds, and aren’t really able to look back and compare.  Kind of like how our communities are constantly changing all around us, but we don’t notice the changes because they’re very gradual, and we’re changing right along with it.

However, when I reviewed my photos after getting home, I noticed the way the cloud changed shape, and how I interpreted those shapes changed very much.

In any case, this is photo #1, taken at 3:58 PM:

Photo #1
In this first photo of the cloud, I thought it looked like underwear, or a diaper.

Photo #4, taken at 3:59 PM:

Photo #4
Now, a bump near the top is becoming more pronounced.

Photo #6, taken at 4:00 PM:

Photo #6
A canyon has developed in the top of the cloud, and a white cloud has moved up to fill it.  I thought that it looked like an eagle at this point.

Photo #8, taken at 4:00 PM, about 40 seconds after #6:

Photo #8
The “canyon” has become less pronounced, the eagle’s head has separated, and the left wing has gone away.

Photo #10, taken at 4:01 PM:

Photo #10
The eagle’s head has moved further away and begun to dissipate, and the whole thing now looks like a person standing on a rock, holding a sword and shield, or Moses holding the Ten Commandments.  I could go either way on what it is.

Photo #12, taken at 4:02 PM:

Photo #12
Remnants of the eagle’s head continue to move up, and change shape, but still looks like the warrior/Moses.

Shortly after this, the cloud moved out from in front of the sun, and I resumed taking mediocre photos of the Manayunk bridge, and then took more mediocre photos from the bridge itself.  I guess I had an “off” day regarding photography, but these things happen sometimes.  Besides, photography wasn’t my main purpose in coming up here – fire alarms were.

I’ve turned my camera on clouds before, such as in Virginia Beach in 2004 (I always thought that cloud looked like the British Isles), and in Richmond in 2013 (that cloud was just a spot), but never for an extended series before.  This was a fun exercise, and I must do this again some time.

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Apartment security systems and the blame game on deliveries… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/09/28/apartment-security-systems-and-the-blame-game-on-deliveries/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/09/28/apartment-security-systems-and-the-blame-game-on-deliveries/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2016 15:21:16 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25353 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.

But the most frustrating thing about this security system is getting packages delivered.  With the doors now locked, delivery companies need access to the building in order to deliver packages.  While the property management has given all of us who live here a key fob to scan to enter the building, delivery people enter a code provided by the property management to get in on a keypad.  USPS, UPS, and FedEx can typically get in to make their deliveries, but if a vendor is using another company for the delivery, such as LaserShip or Amazon Logistics, then it starts to get a little questionable.  It usually breaks down to one of three scenarios.  Either I get my package delivered properly to my door, my package gets diverted to the property management office and I have to pick it up from there, or I don’t get my package at all, and it’s returned to the vendor.  The ideal situation would be the first scenario, where every package lands at my front door.  The second scenario is tolerable to an extent, however, it certainly would make me think twice about ordering that 55-gallon drum of lube and having it shipped to the house.  The third situation, as you would imagine, is unacceptable.

The problem comes with that delivery code.  Amazon has a space where I can enter a delivery access code:

Amazon security access code

As you would imagine, the way this works is that I can enter a door code into this field, the Amazon delivery person gets the code as part of their delivery information, they enter it, they enter, and they leave the package at my door.  However, the property management won’t give me the code to pass on to the Amazon people, telling me that the delivery people need to get the code directly from them, and that they won’t give door codes to residents.  When I put “see leasing office for access code” in the access code field, the package comes back as undeliverable, and typically then turns into scenario #3, where I don’t get my package at all.  If I don’t put anything there, they try once, and then I have to divert it to the property management office.  The property management office has told me that they try to give the code to the courier to deliver it to the door, but when their instructions say to deliver it to the management office, they refuse the code, leave the package at the management office, and leave.  There is also no way to divert a package to an Amazon locker at this point.  There is an Amazon locker location at a Shoppers store near my work, but it is not available as a backup delivery location.  If you don’t choose a locker delivery up front, you can’t revert to it later (and some deliveries are too big for a locker, anyway).

This is also where you recognize that if the management had installed an intercom and the ability to buzz people in, this wouldn’t be as much of a problem, because at least if I’m home, Amazon and the like could contact me and I could buzz them in.  And there is nothing more infuruating than having a delivery marked as undeliverable when you’re home, but there’s no way for the delivery person to make contact or otherwise make their presence known.

Understandably, Amazon only takes orders from me when it comes to delivering my packages, since I’m the customer and not the property management.  But clearly, we have a problem, and it’s not with me or with Amazon Logistics: it’s with the property management, who is standing in the way like a 500-pound gorilla.  Clearly, their method, where residents are not provided their own access codes, nor the ability to pass on an access code to delivery personnel, is not working.  The property management in turn blames Amazon for not coming to get an access code.  But since I’m Amazon’s customer, they will only take instructions from me.  And I can’t give them a code to get in because management won’t give one to me.  This is a problem that is entirely within management’s control to fix, and they have chosen not to fix it, and point fingers instead.

In the end, all signs seem to point to that the property management did an extremely poor job in installing and managing this security system.  From what I can tell, this system would be well-suited for a business or other entity that is open during the day, and requires access credentials after hours, where packages are delivered while the business is open.  It’s not very well suited for a residential application, where the doors are always secured.

In any case, as far as I’m concerned, management could easily fix this, but they choose not to, and this leaves everyone else frustrated.  Sigh…

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Amazing how some things never change… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/09/21/amazing-how-some-things-never-change/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/09/21/amazing-how-some-things-never-change/#respond Wed, 21 Sep 2016 14:04:23 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25349 It’s always amazing how some things never change.  Back on August 25, Elyse and I were photographing trains at the MARC station in Gaithersburg.  After the train departed, I captured this photo of a flurry of people walking across the tracks before the gates went up:

People crossing the street at the Gaithersburg MARC station, August 25, 2016

Imagine my surprise when, about four days later, after Elyse posted an unrelated MARC photo on her Facebook, a friend of hers named John Floyd commented with this photo:

John Floyd's photo of Gaithersburg MARC in 1994
Photo: John Floyd II

It came about when I commented “nice elbow” on the original photo, and Elyse’s comment that people will stand right in front of you while you’re lining up a photo.  It has nothing to do with the photography, but rather, they’re not paying the least bit of attention to the foamer, and are just doing their own thing.  Floyd’s comment nailed it:

Commuters are inflexible creatures of habit. They stand in the same boarding spots every morning and try to sit in the same coaches, if not the very same seats every single day. Mind you, when they get off the train in the evening, the mission is simple: rush en masse to their cars and try to leave before everyone else clogs the traffic up!

And with that, he posted this photo from 1994 showing people crossing the tracks at Gaithersburg.  That photo just blew my mind.  I was standing a few steps forward from where Floyd was standing, 22 years later.  Talk about inflexible creatures of habit.  Exact same scene.  Some of the buildings are different, and the signals were replaced, but otherwise, it’s the same.

Let’s admit: commuting habits typically don’t change.  When I commuted into DC for six years, I took the same bus with the same people every day, and typically sat in the same seat.  Likewise, I got on the Metro, stood in the same spot to wait for it, and then always sat in the same seat there, too.  In the morning, I sat in the sixth car, which would land me right next to the escalator for the 19th Street entrance at Dupont Circle station.  Then going back towards Glenmont, I would always sit in the first car, and would typically end up in the second row of seats, which was a good place for napping after work.  And I would get annoyed if “my” spots were taken – especially when I was looking to take that nap on the way home, since the window and the back of the seat line up in the second row, therefore, it’s a good place to put your head.

And that’s what makes things like photographing commuting infrastructure and commuting scenes so interesting, because it generally doesn’t change.  The two photos above are the exact same scene, 22 years apart.  Fast forward to 2038 and take the photo again, and I’ll bet it will look the same as well, with different looking buildings and different clothing styles (or maybe not, considering that a lot of 1990s fashions are currently “in” again).

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I have been to Pennsylvania a lot lately… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/08/27/i-have-been-to-pennsylvania-a-lot-lately/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/08/27/i-have-been-to-pennsylvania-a-lot-lately/#respond Sat, 27 Aug 2016 10:27:02 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25289 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

And of course, the obligatory photo of Elyse with the Elyse Court sign:

Elyse with the Elyse Court sign

Going to Hanover via Route 97 requires going through Westminster, but rather than go the normal way through, we detoured downtown.  Imagine our surprise to find this:

This seedy-looking convenience store building was formerly a Sheetz.  When it was still open, the gas canopy had typical red decor on it, and on the building, the shingles on the front were red, and there was a modestly-sized sign on the front.  This was clearly an older location, and when I visited the store on previous occasions, the store was split between 1990s-era decor on the salesfloor, with 2000s-era decor in the foodservice area.  It says a lot about a location when the company only remodels half of the store, and can’t be bothered to update the whole thing.

In any case, from what I could tell digging around online, the store closed on June 30.  There were, at least at one time, plans to build a new Sheetz at the eastern edge of the city on Route 140, but I don’t know the current status.  I was along that stretch of road with Elyse back in July when we came back from our York trip, and didn’t see any new construction.  So who knows.

When we crossed into Pennsylvania, we saw this sign on Route 94:

"WARNING! CHILDREN IN THIS COMMUNITY PROTECTED BY CHILD REGISTRY"

The sign read, “WARNING!  CHILDREN IN THIS COMMUNITY PROTECTED BY CHILD REGISTRY”.  This was a new one by me.  I had never seen a sign like this before, and so I found it a bit curious.  And unfortunately, when I went hunting online, I couldn’t find anything related to it.  Anyone know what this is about?  The sign is located in Adams County.

As we toured Hanover, we found the Community Aid Thrift Store:

This is a former Giant-PA store.  The Giant store that was formerly housed here moved next door (you can kind of see it in the left edge of the photo), and the thrift store moved in.  Clearly, Giant-PA went for much bigger digs when they moved to their new building next door, because this old store is fairly small as grocery stores go.

Across the street, we found another converted building:

Dollar General in Hanover

This store, now a Dollar General, was built in the 1990s as a Rite Aid.  This looks like it was a fairly cheap conversion, considering that the only exterior changes were replacement of the blue Rite Aid awnings with yellow ones for Dollar General, and installation of a Dollar General sign.  The rest of the exterior is typical Rite Aid – not even painted a different color.  We didn’t go in, but I’d guess that the interior is probably still very much like Rite Aid as well, with Dollar General’s fixtures inside.

We saw some potential for photography downtown, and we will revisit that area on a future date (it was hot on this particular day).  Downtown Hanover has some charm to it, but it was also clearly a little on the dumpy side.

We eventually made our way over to the North Hanover Mall.  I think I’ve found a mall even more pathetic than Staunton Mall.  This mall is smaller and newer than Staunton, but is pretty much the same otherwise – a lot of empty storefronts, very few customers, and a lot of bored employees standing around.  However, the JCPenney in the mall appeared to be new.  It had the most recent version of the logo, concrete floors, and a decidedly modern look compared to most JCPenney stores, which may have had signage changes over the years, but still look quite old.

I also got a photo of Elyse at Penney’s, dressed to the nines in a bow tie:

Elyse in the bow tie, dressed to the nines

And that was pretty much the end of our Hanover trip.  We went back out through downtown, taking Route 94 and Route 30 back to Ellicott City to return Elyse home.

Now fast forward three days.  It was Thursday, August 11, and Elyse and I were on the road again.  This time, our plan was to go to Harrisburg.  This trip was a byproduct of the school bus test drive that we did with my friend Josh a few weeks prior.  Elyse and I had identified some things that she wanted to see in Harrisburg, and while we did see the lopsided Walmart store on that trip, that was intended to be the destination for the test drive had we not been obligated to take the salesman along.  Otherwise, the trip to test drive the bus wasn’t a good time to do other things.  Likewise, a second trip to buy the bus would have similarly been a poor time to see things in Harrisburg.  So we made our own trip to check out the city and see what was going on.

I love these sorts of trips.  These are ones where you have a few goals, but ultimately, you’re flying by the seat of your pants, stopping for whatever looks interesting.  After picking up Elyse, we traveled up to Harrisburg via I-83, making a stop in York for lunch.  Leaving York, however, we saw something interesting: a smokestack off in the distance, putting out clouds of steam.  So we got off of the freeway and made a side trip to check it out.  This is a case where I am very thankful for modern technology.  We didn’t know what this smokestack was, but we were determined to find out.  We found the location on Google Maps, we dropped a pin on it, and got directions to the site.

At first, we thought that it was Three Mile Island, but as it turned out, our destination was the Brunner Island Steam Electric Station.  We pulled over on the side of the road, and got out for some photos.  We didn’t spend much time there owing to the temperature and humidity, though.  But here are some photos from Brunner Island, mostly of the smokestack:

Brunner Island, viewed from near where we parked the car

Brunner Island, viewed from near where we parked the car.

The main smokestack, viewed from south of the plant.

The main smokestack, viewed from south of the plant.

The main smokestack, viewed from south of the plant.

The main smokestack, viewed from south of the plant.

Various infrastructure across the street from the main plant. I assume that this is for handling some sort of raw materials? There were also pipes leading across the street.

Various infrastructure across the street from the main plant.  I assume that this is for handling some sort of raw materials?  There were also pipes leading across the street.

The main smokestack, viewed from fairly close by, north of the first location.

The main smokestack, viewed from fairly close by, north of the first location.

The main smokestack, viewed from fairly close by, north of the first location.

The main smokestack, viewed from fairly close by, north of the first location.

Two road switchers, back to back next to a mountain of coal.

Then on the way back to the freeway, we spotted this sign on a building:

Sign spray painted on the side of a building

Bait, discount furniture, food, and clothing.  Interesting.  Part of the building appeared to be abandoned, or at least disused, while parts of the building appeared to still be active.  In any case, we didn’t stick around to check that out, as we had other things to do.

On the way back, we did get a few glimpses of Three Mile Island, but that was about it.  Elyse wanted to find that, too, but the sky was starting to cloud up, i.e. not good for photography, plus Elyse really was pushing me to get to Hershey’s Chocolate World, so I vetoed Three Mile Island (it’s not going anywhere, after all), and we were off.

It’s funny how Elyse works with these road trips.  When she has a specific destination in mind on an otherwise larger trip, she gets antsy about getting there right away.  Any sort of stop for a meal or a restroom break gets me the stink eye.  But then when I suggest some extensive side trip, it’s “Oh, let’s go!”  Then I get antsy Elyse again after we finish the side trip.  This happened here, and it also happened in June when we went to Philadelphia.  Go figure.

But in any case, we drove through the rain in Harrisburg, including right past the lopsided Walmart, and got to Hershey’s Chocolate World.  There, we quickly found the line for the chocolate tour, which is an Epcot-style dark ride that shows how Hershey’s chocolate is made.  Most of my photos from the tour came out blurry, so I’ll spare you the sight of a bunch of bad photos, but I did get this cute photo of the animatronic cows at the beginning of the ride:

Animatronic cows welcoming you to the attraction

The ride was pretty neat.  They weren’t actually manufacturing any chocolate on the dark ride, but rather, everything was simulated and “made for television”.  But it was fun, as you learned what goes into making chocolate, and there’s a lot to it.  Then as we left the ride, an attendant handed everyone a small chocolate bar.  I assume that most people ate the chocolate right away, as we did, because this is what the nearest trash can looked like:

Yep... all chocolate wrappers.

We also checked out the souvenir area, and quickly realized that everything here was overpriced (fitting for a tourist trap), and as far as food products went, we didn’t see anything that you couldn’t find in a regular store for a lower price.  The only souvenir that we got was a pressed penny:

A pressed penny from Hershey's Chocolate World

Pretty cute, if you ask me.

From here, we headed back into Harrisburg.  We ended up at the Harrisburg Transportation Center, which is Harrisburg’s equivalent of Union Station.  There, we looked at a vintage GG-1 locomotive that was located there, plus watched an Amtrak Keystone train depart.

PRR 4859, with vintage caboose attached.

PRR 4859, with vintage caboose attached.

Siemens ACS-64 locomotive, #629. I love it when the taillights are lit on this locomotive, because coupled with the sleek design, it makes it look evil.

Siemens ACS-64 locomotive, #629.  I love it when the taillights are lit on this locomotive, because coupled with the sleek design, it makes it look evil.

Cab car on the Keystone consist.

Cab car on the Keystone consist.

Elyse films the Keystone as it departs.

Elyse films the Keystone as it departs.

Then in the convenience store inside the station, we spotted this sticker on a wall:

"I proudly support the racist, sexist, ill-informed, misogynistic bigot. Trump 2016."

“I proudly support the racist, sexist, ill-informed, misogynistic bigot.  Trump 2016.”  First of all, that is a very apt description of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.  However, I’m not entirely sure if the person who made this label was trying to be ironic, or if they genuinely do support the racist, sexist, ill-informed, misogynistic bigot.  Considering the anti-intellectual stances of Republican candidates in the last few election cycles (Rick Santorum’s “What a snob!” line from the 2012 race comes to mind), and a lot of the things that I’ve heard from Trump and his supporters about immigration and whatnot, I can’t entirely dismiss this as ironic humor.  I’m not convinced that Trump actually ever wanted to be president, though.  Something tells me that his intent was to troll the country for a little bit, and then lose the nomination to one of the grownups in the race early in the primary season.  However, the fact that the Republicans couldn’t manage to dig up a candidate to beat an idiot like Donald Trump indicates what a sorry state that the GOP is in.  As much as I disagree with Hillary Clinton, I’ll take her any time over Donald Trump.  End of rant, though it is a bit refreshing to talk politics in this space again after quite some time away from it.

Leaving the train station, we made our way over to the river.  There’s a park along the north side of the Susquehanna River, and we photographed the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Bridge:

Norfolk Southern train on the bridge, viewed from the east.
Norfolk Southern train on the bridge, viewed from the east.

Close-up view of the front locomotive, Norfolk Southern 3608.
Close-up view of the front locomotive, Norfolk Southern 3608.

The bridge, viewed from the west.

The bridge, viewed from the west.
The bridge, viewed from the west.

Graffiti face on one of the piers near the shore.
Graffiti face on one of the piers near the shore.

Debris in the water next to the bridge. No idea how so many balloons collected in this spot.
Debris in the water next to the bridge.  No idea how so many balloons collected in this spot.

I also got some photos of Elyse taking photos:

Elyse lines up a shot

That second one, however, was not as intended.  I intended to shoot this as an alternate to the top one, but my subject moved at the last moment.  Still turned out pretty well, if you ask me.

After this, we headed over to Harrisburg Mall.  This one was a rather sad looking two-story mall.  The mall interior was nothing to write home about, but two stores stuck out in my mind.  The first was 2nd & Charles, which is one of those buy-sell-trade kinds of stores.  They have a lot of various nerdy items there, and if you need proof of nerd cred, these were available for sale:

Atari 2600 cartridges!

Yes, these are Atari 2600 cartridges.  Oh, yeah.  They had a whole shelf full of them, but I picked out these titles and arranged them as you see because these are the titles that were available that I used to actually own.  The infamous E.T. game wasn’t among this lot, however.  And for the record, I liked the E.T. game.  Yes, I am one of a very few who enjoyed the game.

Then at Bass Pro Shops (a two-story Bass Pro Shops – how unusual), I got this photo of Elyse on an ATV:

Elyse rides a four-wheeler

And then from there, we hurried back across the mall before they closed, and headed back.  Not a bad time.

Then a week later, we were up in the Harrisburg area again.  This time, we were with my friend Josh, who was going up to buy the bus that we test drove a few weeks prior.  Here’s Josh with his bus, a Thomas Built HDX:

Josh and his bus

I got a photo with the bus as well, and got photobombed by a certain someone:

Photobombed!

And here I am in the seat:

Excited to operate this bus!

At 100 miles, this was my longest route yet.  Elyse and I jokingly referred to it as the J81, since we went up 270 on our way up.  The way we figured, the J9 route in Montgomery County goes up 270 as far as Gaithersburg, so let’s raise the number a bit to reflect the increased distance.  Though as far as mileage goes, it’s comparable to some of the runs that I did on the bus.  Last summer, I worked a run that did roughly 85 miles on Sundays.  So I was used to 100 miles, though not all on the freeway.  Though I certainly appreciated a right-side entrance ramp.  I used to do a deadhead on a regular basis that brought me onto the Beltway via a left entrance ramp.  I then had to cut across four lanes of traffic to get to the curb lane.  I got good at making those lane changes at freeway speeds, utilizing all of my space, and looking at my right convex mirror and my overhead mirror.

The first stop was a Sheetz, for a quick pit stop and water break:

The bus, at Sheetz

The traffic pattern at this Sheetz was less than conducive for a bus, but it worked.  If you look at the map, we came in via the entrance on Wayne Road.  That was a nice, big entrance – perfect for a bus.  However, you couldn’t get back out that way, as the exit was right turn only, and we had to make a left.  So we went out the other exit, which would have been easy except for there is a low median there.  Josh got to see firsthand about how to use your overhang (the space forward of the front wheels and aft of the rear wheels) and all of your space.  First I had to let a few cars go by, and then I put the overhang over that median to get around.  I cleared the curb by about 12 inches.

Oh, and by the way, here’s something that I never thought I’d see: cookies with caffeine.

Cookies with caffeine. Wooooooooow...

Yes, cookies with caffeine.  Wooooooooow.

When we got to Martinsburg, which is where Josh was going to keep the bus, we went over to the Target parking lot, where Josh got his first lesson on how to drive a bus.  He did quite well, learning how to set up turns (i.e. turning inward slightly before flaring out to get around a tight corner), and get around a few traffic islands in the parking lot.  Like everyone does when they drive a bus for the first time, Josh went over a curb.  We’re not even going to talk about how many curbs that I clobbered while learning how to do the bus.  Just know that if you hear any bus driver say that they have never gone over a curb, they are lying to you.  Everyone does that at least once, and most go over quite a few curbs.

Then we went over to a public school on the other side of town, and Josh operated the bus some more in the parking lot.  Elyse also got to operate the bus in the lot.  This was not her first time driving a bus (the first vehicle that she ever drove was a Gillig Low Floor, if that tells you anything), but it was her first school bus.  And she went over the curb, too.  No one gets away without killing a curb.

This was Elyse’s bus stop:

Elyse made a transit-style bus stop in a school bus. Not too shabby, if you ask me.

Elyse made a transit-style bus stop in a school bus.  Not too shabby, if you ask me.  Only difference is that you have to pop the brake on a school bus, because they have no door interlock.  Transit buses typically have an interlock that prevents you from moving the bus with any of the doors open.  You can drive a school bus all day with the door open, though we would hope that you would know better than to actually do that.

Then after this, we dropped the bus where Josh wanted it, and he took us back to our car, and we went back home.  I’d say that we did pretty well there.  I believe that the conversion of this bus to an RV will be a long-term project, but I’ll let you know what it all looks like when it’s done.

And meanwhile, I think I need to give Pennsylvania a break.  I enjoy going on little road trips to these cities and towns in Pennsylvania, but three times in two weeks seems like a bit much, though we had tons of fun on all three trips.

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A good year for soda nostalgia, but… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/08/19/a-good-year-for-soda-nostalgia-but/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/08/19/a-good-year-for-soda-nostalgia-but/#respond Sat, 20 Aug 2016 02:38:35 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25276 2016 has been a good year for those nostalgic for the nineties.  First Coca-Cola brought out this:

Surge!

And then Pepsi brought out this:

Crystal Pepsi!

I saw both Surge and Crystal Pepsi for the first time in a long time in the last two months.  And I will admit that I bought both when I first saw them, for nostalgia’s sake.  I was delighted to find out that Surge still tasted just like I remembered, and that Crystal Pepsi tasted like regular Pepsi, and not that weird citrus variety that they tried at the end of its run.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that the 2016 version of Crystal Pepsi has caffeine in it, which the original never did.  I remember being a big Surge drinker in high school and college (PC Dukes even had Surge in the fountain), and I definitely enjoyed Crystal Pepsi in elementary school.  Then there was Vault and Vault Zero in the mid-2000s, which was essentially Surge with more caffeine, repackaged as an energy drink.

All in all, I hope that both products do well now that they have been reintroduced.  However, in retail settings, I have only seen Surge offered in 16-ounce single cans so far, and I’ve only seen Crystal Pepsi offered in 20-ounce single bottles.  No two-liter bottles, and no six-packs of bottles or fridge packs cans of either.  That concerns me a bit, because it makes me wonder if these are strictly “nostalgia” releases, and that Coca-Cola and Pepsi are not serious about reintroducing these products in earnest.

Other than packaging choices, however, I have one major issue with these releases: no diet version.  I’m guessing that the people who are around my age are the ones who wanted these unique sodas from their childhood and teenage years back, and the companies finally delivered.  Ahe drinks both came back with something more or less resembling their classic packaging, as Pepsi brought out similar packaging design to how it appeared in the early 1990s (but not quite), and Surge was brought back with the original 1990s-era design fully intact.  Surge in particular was marketed to a young audience, and it shows in the packaging.  However, many of the fans of these beverages are now in their thirties and such, and we know that we’re not invincible.  The sugary drinks that we downed without even thinking about as children, teenagers, and twentysomethings now require more planning, as we know that unless you intend to do something about them, that can of regular soda is going to make an extended reservation on the waistline.  Crystal Pepsi was available in diet form in the 1990s, but Surge never had a diet form (though Vault did).

You may recall that I can’t have coffee anymore, following coffee’s starting to make my stomach do flipturns in March 2015.  I switched to diet soda after that, and I presently am drinking Diet Mountain Dew or its generic equivalent, after switching away from Diet Pepsi following the sweetener change (and I’m delighted that they’re reintroducing the aspartame version).  I would totally buy a Surge Zero or Diet Crystal Pepsi (with caffeine) for my morning pick-me-up.  A fan even came up with a logo for a potential Surge Zero:

Surge Zero?

I would totally drink both a Surge Zero and a Diet Crystal Pepsi.  Give it to me in two-liter bottles, and I will clean you out of its stock.  And no, I couldn’t see Coca-Cola calling a diet version of Surge “Diet Surge”, no matter what The Onion thinks.  Surge would most definitely be a “Zero” kind of diet drink that is too cool to call itself “diet”.  Crystal Pepsi, meanwhile, would almost certainly call itself “diet”, because it did it back in the 1990s, when “clear” everything was all the rage.

So to Coke and Pepsi, time to get serious.  Let’s see sugar-free versions of the products, and two-liter packaging.  The grownups want their nostalgia, too, but we don’t want all of the sugar that goes with it.  Please make it so.

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In retail, it’s made abundantly clear that the employee is never right… https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/08/16/in-retail-its-made-abundantly-clear-that-the-employee-is-never-right/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2016/08/16/in-retail-its-made-abundantly-clear-that-the-employee-is-never-right/#respond Wed, 17 Aug 2016 01:12:31 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=25255 The recent discussion in this space about bad employee behavior made me think of a few incidents that occurred during my time at Walmart back in 2004 that defied logic.  These were incidents where I got pulled into the back office and chewed out for something that I had no control over due to policies and procedures in place at the time.  One of these even was handled as a “coaching”, short for “Coaching for Improvement”, which is Walmart’s term for its disciplinary process.  If you ask me, it’s pretty messed up to discipline someone over something that they have no control over.  It’s where you realize that as an employee, you are never right, even when you follow protocol to the letter, and you are also responsible for your managers’ mistakes.

The first incident occurred in the summer of 2004.  I got into work, and my boss, the assistant manager over the front end, pulled me aside to speak with me as soon as I clocked in.  His first words were, “This is your verbal warning,” i.e. this was a coaching.  Lovely.  I was then told that they had caught me on camera at the service desk accepting a stolen item for a return.  They explained what happened, i.e. that a person had taken a vacuum cleaner off of the shelf, walked it over to the service desk, presented a receipt, and got a their money back for it from me.

While at first glance it might seem like an open-and-shut case, and therefore grounds to discipline me for accepting a stolen item for a return, if you look more deeply into it, that argument starts to fall apart.  My job at the service desk was to accept and process returns.  In my store, a mid-2000s Supercenter, the service desk was in the middle of the front end, in a space that I referred to as a cave, since it was a windowless room that was only open to the rest of the store on one side.

Here’s an example of what a Walmart service desk from this period looked like:

Service desk at a Walmart Supercenter in Roanoke, Virginia, photographed mid-2004

Basically, you can’t see anything from there except for a narrow swath of space directly in front of you, and you also can’t see any of the entrances.

In addition, since the guy had a valid receipt, I wasn’t allowed to refuse the return.  So my hands were tied – I had no choice but to process it.  And so I got disciplined for doing my job according to established procedure.

When I asked the key question, i.e. how was I supposed to know, with the resources available to me, as well as the rules and procedures in place, that an item was stolen, my boss responded that I’m just supposed to know.  Okay, then.  With no access to the security camera system and no way to visually monitor any of the entrances due to my physical location in the store, I’m just supposed to innately know when an item is stolen.  Make note that being a Walmart service desk employee requires being clairvoyant.

The phrase “what a weasel” came to mind.  Because to answer the question that I asked truthfully, he would have had to admit that he was disciplining me for something that I had no control over, and that the failure in this process came from either the loss prevention guys or management, because they watched it happen, and failed to stop it.  They could have done that by notifying the service desk about someone headed that way, and to call management over so that they could take care of it, as we were not allowed to accuse someone of stealing.  Only loss prevention or management could apprehend a thief.

In other words, to save his own behind, since the loss was ultimately his failure, I was designated to take the fall so that he could demonstrate that he took care of the alleged problem.  I have a feeling that, if Walmart was a union environment, the grievance to get that writeup removed from my record would have been a very straightforward process, and I would have definitely prevailed.

The second event happened a few months later.  A customer came up to the service desk, wanting to cash out a gift card.  The register didn’t give mere mortals like me the authority to complete that sort of transaction, which I knew going into this.  Okay, then – I needed a supervisor to approve such a request.  So I called one.  One of the customer service managers (i.e. someone in a red vest) came up, and I explained the request which I received.

So the matter was now out of my hands.  I had properly escalated it to the next step in the chain of command, and was now just watching while the supervisor did their thing.

The supervisor immediately said that they could do it, put her key in the register, and went to approve it.  Also realize that this was right around the time that Walmart stopped allowing gift cards to be redeemed for cash unless state or local law required them to do so.  Normally, it would let them authenticate and approve the transaction.  Not anymore.  Now it said, “MANAGER APPROVAL REQUIRED” and asked for management credentials.  So she got herself stuck, and in over her head, since she didn’t have that level of authority.  Ooooooooooops.

So when one of the assistant managers showed up, they realized that the register was stuck waiting for the authentication to approve the transaction.  Recognize that as the register was configured at that time, once the key is turned, the register wouldn’tn’t let you continue until it gets the expected authentication.  The only way to back out was to cut the power to the register.  However, many people either didn’t know that powering the register down was possible, or didn’t think that it was an option.  So as far as the manager was concerned, she believed that her hands were tied.  So she approved it.  The customer got their money, and that was that.

The next day, I got pulled into the management office and chewed out for what happened the day before by the manager involved, as well as the store manager.  They basically told me what a bad person I was for my alleged mishandling of the gift card return from the day before, conveniently forgetting that I had little to do with the transaction, and that it was a supervisor who mishandled the transaction.  When I questioned why I was being reprimanded for this situation, since I immediately escalated the matter, I was told that I should have known better.  Sure – I’ll start giving orders to a person who is in a higher position in the company than I am and who has more authority than I do because I should know better.  It wasn’t my fault that the supervisor who responded was a moron.  Bottom line here, of course, was that I was being reprimanded for something that a superior did entirely on their own.

And by the way, for those wondering, yes, the employees know which managers are good, and which ones aren’t, and so when a bad one comes responding to our call, we know that you’re not going to get the proper quality of service that we want you to get, but are helpless to prevent it or even warn you.  I remember one instance where a customer service manager made a fool of themselves in front of a customer, and was completely oblivious to how stupid they sounded.  I was at the service desk, and was asked by a customer what the letters along the right side of the receipt meant.

Here’s an example, showing the letters in question:

Walmart receipt from Virginia Beach, August 2005

See the various instances of “R”, “Y”, and “T” along the right side?  Those were the letters.  I had noticed those letters some time before, but never knew what they meant.  I was sure that they meant something to someone, but I didn’t know what they meant.  I was actually kind of excited to get that question, because it meant that I might finally find out myself.  I told the customer, “I don’t know what they mean, but let me see if I can find out for you.”  So I put in a request to get someone over to find out, and we ended up getting someone who had less time in the company than I did (though not by a whole lot).  I was hoping for one of the more experienced managers, but I didn’t get to choose these things.

Once they arrived, it was soon painfully obvious that she had no clue what she was looking at, but was determined to “help” the customer nonetheless.  She stood there, looked at the receipt, and tried to figure it out on the fly.  Regarding the R, she said, “R, that must stand for… regular grocery!”  And she continued to fudge answers for all of the other letters, while the customer and I were both looking at her in disbelief.

I knew that she was BSing the whole thing, and the customer did, too.  However, her intentions were good, as she was genuinely trying to help, though she was in over her head and didn’t realize it, or was simply afraid to say “I don’t know” to someone.  I threw her a bone, by saying, “Are you sure, Donna?”  The idea was to give her an out, i.e. to provide an opportunity to extract the foot from her mouth.  But she didn’t take the out, stating that yes, she was quite sure, and then, feeling that the request had been resolved successfully, left the service desk.

That was the first and only time that I felt that I needed to apologize to a customer for a manager’s conduct while I worked at Walmart, and the customer understood the uncomfortable situation that I had been put in.  After all, I couldn’t escalate it a second time, because the odds were quite good that the same person would respond again, and there would be no way to gracefully get past that.  I ended up apologizing for the manager’s behavior, and we never did find out what those letters mean.  I still have no idea to this day what they mean, and I would still love to find out.

All in all, I’m glad that I don’t work at Walmart anymore…

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