The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com C  e  l  e  b  r  a  t  i  n  g    2  5    Y  e  a  r  s Tue, 14 Sep 2021 18:35:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.1 https://www.schuminweb.com/wp-content/uploads/Clouds-Facebook-icon-150x150.png The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com 32 32 37838674 When I say no, I actually do mean no… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/09/14/when-i-say-no-i-actually-do-mean-no/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/09/14/when-i-say-no-i-actually-do-mean-no/#respond Tue, 14 Sep 2021 18:32:14 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=40714 We’ve all been taught the meaning of “no” before, as well as the idea of “no means no”, i.e. someone has declined, and that’s the end of it.  “No” doesn’t mean “yes, if I am persistent enough.”  When I say “no”, I mean it.  In the case of Jeremy Jones, who ran the @DMVFollowers Twitter account, I feel like he just couldn’t grasp this concept.

For some background information on this case, DMVFollowers was a Twitter account that posted news about things happening in the Washington, DC area.  They typically posted links to news articles, and included a photo with their posts.  Their feed looked like this according to an Internet Archive snapshot from January 2018:

@DMVFollowers in 2018

Some of the photos that turned up on there when he was talking about transit-related issues were mine.  Specifically, these:

Blue Line train on D Route bridge in 2005
Blue Line train on D Route bridge in 2005.

Red Line train at Brookland-CUA in 2008
Red Line train at Brookland-CUA in 2008.

7000-Series train at Greenbelt during press event in 2014
7000-Series train at Greenbelt during press event in 2014.

These were all Creative Commons images, and the license was not followed, as no attribution was provided.  Therefore, these were all processed as copyright violations.  The first photo was submitted on April 19, 2018, the second was submitted on August 29, 2019, and the third was submitted on December 1, 2019.  In all of these cases, the images were turned up via Pixsy scans.

About nine months after the first takedown, I received a message from Jones:

Hey Ben,

My name is Jeremy Jones from DMVFollowers, earlier last year we received a DMCA claim for an image we used on our Twitter. Just wanted to reach out to see how we can resolve this, let m know. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Thanks, Jeremy

My records do not show that I responded to this message.  My policy when it comes to follow-ups with DMCAs is that the user made the decision to violate copyright, and they are responsible for whatever consequences come from getting caught.  Therefore, once the notice is processed, and I verify that the image is, in fact, removed, I’m out of the process, as the matter has been resolved.  In other words, he may not consider it resolved, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s resolved.

In the case of the first takedown, the image was removed from the server, and that was the end of it.  Same for the second.  However, the third takedown caused their Twitter account to be suspended:

@DMVFollowers in 2021

Sounds like that third notice put them into habitual-offender territory as far as the Twitter was concerned, and they said enough is enough.

Then on July 13, 2021, a year and a half after the last takedown, i.e. well after the account was suspended and we all moved on, I got a message from Jones on Schumin Web’s Facebook page:

Hey Ben,

My name is Jeremy Jones from DMVFollowers and I was reaching out to see if we can resolve a DMCA claim you made against our Twitter account a few years ago.  It ended up getting our Twitter account suspended.  Back then I was 24y/o and really didn’t understand the importance of crediting for photography.  I was really just posting cool things from around the DC, Maryland, Virginia area.  I totally understand now and wanted to see if I can resolve this somehow.  Let me know, looking forward to hearing from you and sorry for the trouble!

I’m 100% I can bring more business to you!

The first part sounded sincere enough, though it is the typical sob story of someone who doesn’t want to have to actually live with the consequences of their actions after they got caught.  Then the second part made me think that he wasn’t necessarily being sincere about the copyright infringement, i.e. that he was using this as an “in” to drum up business for himself for whatever reason.

In any case, I wasn’t biting, and sent this in response:

As far as I am concerned, the issue was resolved in 2018.  The takedown notices were processed by Twitter, and the infringing materials were removed shortly thereafter.  Therefore, I have been made whole.

Additionally, considering the length of time between when the suspension occurred and when I heard from him, I suspected that this Twitter account wasn’t exactly a high priority for him.

Then fast forward another month, and I got three more messages from Jones:

Hey, thanks for reaching back out.  Sorry for the late response but I rarely check my FB (I activated it just to reach out to you).  This is what happen, our page DMVFollowers was made in 2010 and overtime we reached the threshold of copyright infringing posts, the limit is around 8-10.  After talking to Twitter, they suggested I contact the last person to make a claim and potentially resolve it to restore the page.  DMVFollowers being down for the last 2 years has hurt a bit but Twitter finally got back with me and told me to reach out to you.

Let me know what you think, willing to pay for the photo used or whatever you fine suitable.  Thanks Jeremy

Also, let me know if you have any questions.

First of all, the late response surprised me.  If you don’t normally use Facebook, and when you have demonstrated that you have my email address, which you got via the DMCA process, why not use that instead?  In any case, any sympathy that I might have still had for them went right out the window after that message, based on what they said.  Specifically, “we reached the threshold of copyright infringing posts, the limit is around 8-10.”  Eight to ten?  I submitted three.  That meant that they had at least five other infringements before I came along, i.e. this was by no means their first rodeo when it came to copyright infringements.  And after admitting that they were a habitual offender, they had the gall to think that I was going to dig them out of their hole.  My takedowns may have put them over the top, but they clearly made their own bed, and are unhappy that they now have to lie in it.  I treated him like an adult and held him responsible for his own poor choices, and he clearly didn’t like that.  I find that to be a common thing: people demand to be treated like adults until you actually treat them like an adult, and then they get all upset that they actually have to be held to account for their own decisions.

In any case, I ignored these messages, because I had already declined to take action, and as far as I was concerned, that was the end of it.  For a habitual offender like Jones, I had no reason to think that he wouldn’t go right back to stealing more photos and getting nailed again, so I wasn’t inclined to bail him out by any means.

But apparently, for Jones, it was not over.  When I was visiting my parents last week, Dad told me there was a message on their answering machine for me.  I found that curious, so I gave it a listen:

It was Jones on my parents’ antiquated answering machine.  Apparently, he did his own research and tried again, and ended up calling my parents looking for me.  This would not be the first time that this has happened.  Back in 2008 or so, my parents received a very threatening message for me on their answering machine from neo-Nazi Bill White, after we had an interaction on Wikipedia that he apparently did not like.  I forget what the interaction was, but apparently I removed some sort of content from that site, probably for good reason, and he didn’t like that.  So he decided to follow up, and left a very disturbing message on my parents’ machine.  In any case, the joke was ultimately on him, because White got banned from the site shortly after leaving that message, and he is now incarcerated for a very long time after being arrested in 2009 for threatening a federal juror, and then later fleeing the country in violation of the terms of his release.

In the case of both Jones and White, though, I suspect that they didn’t specifically intend to call my parents, but thought that they had actually reached me.  I googled myself to see what turned up, and what I found amused me.  A site called AllBiz listed four entries for me: two in Stuarts Draft, one in Harrisonburg, and one in Maryland, all containing very outdated information.  Apparently, according to them, I run a “combined office administrative services” company with 25 employees and an annual revenue of $10 million.  Also, if you need assistance, contact my sales representative, James Richardson, at james@schuminweb.com (an address that has never existed).  The contact information for me was listed as such:

AllBiz contact information for me

I’ve redacted the specific details for purposes of privacy, but a 540-337 number does indicate a landline phone in Stuarts Draft, Virginia, and trust me that the address listed is, in fact, my parents’ address.  The email listed was one that I had used a long time ago, but I now use a Gmail address.  I suspect that this information came from a domain name listing, as I did list that as my domain information a long time ago.  AllBiz is by no means the only site to list garbage information for me based partially on old domain registration information, but it just happened to come up high in the search results when I looked it up.  My domain registration details are now private, but that wasn’t an option back then.  Regardless of what those sites say, though, take one look at my website and then compare to those business directory sites, and you’ll see a disconnect somewhere.  It is painfully obvious that my goofy little website is not that of a $10 million company with 25 employees.  James Richardson couldn’t sell $10 million worth of anything with this website.  What I’m getting at is, if Jones used one of these sites to find information about me in order to rescue his Twitter account from oblivion, he should have done more research, and taken these sorts of listings with a major grain of salt, especially before actually calling one of those numbers.

Additionally, when I do not list a phone number as an official communications channel, I feel that calling me crosses a line somewhere.  Similarly, I do not list a postal address, and therefore I feel like if someone mailed me something unsolicited, that would cross a line as well.  If I list it, then by all means, use it, but if I don’t list it, that means that I do not want to be contacted that way.  I also freely admit that if not for the phone call to my parents’ number, you would never have heard of Jeremy Jones and his former @DMVFollowers Twitter account, at least not on account of me.

In any case, though, when I communicate back and decline to take action, i.e. when I say “no”, I really do mean “no”, and don’t appreciate it when people take “no” as an invitation to keep prodding until I acquiesce.  Especially when you steal my content and violate my licenses, I’m not particularly inclined to help bail you out of your own problem.

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My story from an unforgettable day… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/09/08/my-story-from-an-unforgettable-day/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/09/08/my-story-from-an-unforgettable-day/#respond Wed, 08 Sep 2021 14:31:23 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=40632 I can’t believe that this Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, otherwise known as 9/11.  I still remember that day like it was yesterday, even though so much has gone on in the intervening two decades.  They say that everyone can tell you where they were or what they were doing when they found out about 9/11, much like the people of my parents’ generation and the Kennedy assassination.

Back then, I was a junior at JMU, and I was working as a resident advisor in Potomac Hall.  It was the third week of classes, and everyone was getting settled into a nice routine.  Being a Tuesday, I didn’t have any classes until 2 PM, so I was able to sleep a little later.  I was awakened around 9:30 AM by a knock on my door, as one of my residents had accidentally locked themselves out of their room.  I put on a bathrobe over my pajamas, and we went down to the hall office, where I completed the paperwork for the lockout (everyone got two free lockouts in a year, and any subsequent lockouts were subject to a fee), and then gave them the spare key to their room so that they could let themselves in.  I impressed on them to immediately come back down to the hall office after letting themselves back in their room in order to return the spare key, because I would be sitting in there waiting for them to come back so that I wouldn’t accidentally leave any room key business unfinished.  My hall director, Mecca Marsh, was a tough boss to work for, and she did not take kindly to any mistakes.  She treated any oversight or error as the worst thing that you could ever do, going so far as to bean you in your performance evaluation for even the most minor of errors, so if I suffered a little inconvenience in order to ensure that I wouldn’t have to deal with Mecca over something, that was fine.  So I waited down there and found a way to entertain myself, probably for about five or so minutes, until they came back with the key.  Then I put everything back as it needed to be and headed back upstairs.  At that time, I was still oblivious to any sort of world events.  As far as I knew, it was just a normal Tuesday.

After this, I had another matter of business to attend to.  The night before, there was a pretty bad backup in one of the toilets on my floor that I had to deal with, as that fell under the scope of my responsibilities.  The toilet got plunged a bit, but ultimately, I had to tape the stall door closed and mark it as out of order, because it was beyond our capabilities as RAs to fix.  I took the plunger, which belonged to housekeeping, with me that night, in order to return it to our housekeeper, a lady named Kathy.  I hadn’t seen Kathy on my floor from the elevator to my room, so I dipped into my room, grabbed the plunger, and continued looking.  She wasn’t anywhere on my floor, and so I went up the stairs to the fifth floor.  I went down the hall to the TV lounge, and found Kathy in there.  I went in, gave her the plunger, and then looked over at the television.

Oh.

My first thought upon seeing the images of what was going on was, the World Trade Center is on fire.  At this point in time, both towers were burning.  I surmised that something had gone terribly wrong there, but had no idea what it was, and also thought back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.  Back in 1993, terrorists had detonated a bomb in the basement of the complex, causing significant damage, but the buildings ultimately were repaired and reopened.  Once I thought about the 1993 bombing, it took away a lot of the feeling of surprise about it, and it felt like it made more sense that something was happening at the World Trade Center once again, because there was precedent to it.

During this time, one of the people who lived on the fifth floor came into the TV lounge, and was completely beside herself, because she had people whom she was close to who worked in jobs that might have put them in harm’s way, either in New York or at the Pentagon.  Someone else got to her before any of us on the hall staff could, and they helped comfort her.  I was glad that other people got to her first, because I was kind of overloaded on information myself, and didn’t know what to say.

Then the news began discussing the south tower’s having collapsed.  I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around it at first.  What collapsed?  What happened?  I just couldn’t consider the idea that the entire building might have gone down like it did, because it seemed completely outlandish.  After all, the buildings stayed up in 1993 following the bombing there.  Then they cut to a wide shot, and there was the north tower there, still burning, and no south tower.  The entire building was gone.  My first thought was, I guess it will be the single tower of the World Trade Center from now on, because even though I had just seen that the south tower had completely collapsed, i.e. it wasn’t there anymore, I still couldn’t fathom the idea that the second tower could go down like its mate did.  In my mind, I still assumed that they could put this fire out and repair the building, like happened in 1993.  Losing both towers seemed incomprehensible to me.  And then it happened.  I couldn’t believe it, and it took a while of their repeating it and showing the towers’ being missing for that to sink in.

At some point, probably around 11:00, I headed back to my dorm room and looked up more information about it online.  The webcam that I had in my room captured this image of me looking concerned at 11:05 AM:


(For those not familiar with the context here, at that time, Schumin Web had a webcam feature that automatically captured a still image every two minutes, and uploaded it to the site.  The feature was introduced in July 2000, and was discontinued in May 2003.)

I ended up missing that 2:00 class, mainly because I was too distracted to even think about going.  I made my way down to Zane Showker Hall for my next class, though, and got there plenty early.  There, they were projecting the news on the screen in one of the big lecture halls.  I got there in time to see then-mayor Rudy Giuliani giving a press conference at that fire station.  I remember the way that they shot it, as Giuliani was kind of to the right in the shot, and a big clock was in the left of the shot.  I don’t remember what he talked about in the press conference, but I remember that clock.  Then when it was time for class, I went.  The professor impressed on us how important it was to still have class despite everything going on that day, because we still needed the normalcy.  Class was normal for the most part, but I doubt that any of us learned much that day as far as classes went, because most people were too distracted by world events to do any actual learning.

I remember at the time that a lot of people were salty about the fact that JMU did not cancel classes.  Should JMU have cancelled classes that day?  I’m on the fence about it, even now.  On one hand, there was a major world event going on, and considering that much of JMU’s student body was from the Washington, DC area, it affected many in the university community at a very personal level, as many people didn’t know whether loved ones were safe or not.  It certainly could have been justifiable to treat it like a snow day in order to give everyone a chance to take it in and process it, and then make up the instructional time the following Saturday (whenever the university would close for snow, the designated make-up day was typically the Saturday immediately following).  On the other hand, the university still had a mission, and nothing was stopping the university from holding classes.  Additionally, no one was forcing anyone to attend classes, so if they missed, it’s not like they were considered truant or anything.  I imagine that many people split it like I did, missing an early class and making a later one.  At least we had the option, though.  In the middle school where my mother taught, the teachers were instructed not to show the students anything about it or discuss it in any way, and to run a completely normal school day.  While I appreciate that they didn’t want to lose the instructional time, I also considered that a major disservice to the kids.  History was occurring live, but the school rather naively believed that whatever lessons that they were already planning to teach were more important than the lessons occurring live, as world events unfolded in real time.  I feel like they squandered a teachable moment, and denied the kids the opportunity to participate in an event that would help define their generation, even if it meant being part of it only as an observer from afar.

One class that I had that day was PSYC 100, which was a one-credit course that was run by the Office of Residence Life.  It was titled “Interpersonal Skills For Resident Advisers [sic]” and was essentially supplemental training for first-year RAs, and was held in a roundtable format.  I didn’t necessarily appreciate the mixing of work and academics, but it was an easy “A”, so it at least helped my GPA a little bit.  That day’s class ended up being about how to handle 9/11 with our residents, and how to help everyone get through it together.  Everyone was still piecing together exactly what happened earlier that day.  It was impressed upon us that this was the kind of thing when our residents needed us most, but it was a bit light on things that we ought to do.  I ultimately ended up leaving class that day more confused about my role in all of that than I was when I went in.  I think that I would have been better off just winging it than getting that information from the residence life staff, who themselves barely had a grasp on what had gone on, just like we did.

When I got back from class, I ran into the girl who was beside herself earlier.  She was in a noticeably better mood than she was that morning.  I checked up with her, and as it turned out, she got the confirmations that she needed, and everyone that she was concerned about was fine.  When I got back to my room, I took a few minutes to make a phone call to check up on my Uncle Johnny, who at that time worked in New York.  By coincidence, Uncle Johnny had planned to work from home that day, but even if he had been in the city, his office was in Midtown, rather than Lower Manhattan.  Therefore, he would have never been in harm’s way.  That was good to hear.

After that, I needed to go out for a walk and just clear my head.  Considering all that had gone on, I let Mecca know that I would be leaving the building for a little while to go for a walk, likely down to Sheetz.  Much to my surprise, she told me not to leave, because people needed us.  Something about that seemed off, because no one had asked me anything about 9/11-related assistance that day, nor did I expect anyone would (nobody in their right mind would go to some 20-year-old with very little training for counseling over an event like that), but if you want me to stick around, fine, I will.  I ended up watching and reading more news in my dorm room for a couple of hours, and then went on that walk to Sheetz anyway, despite what Mecca said, because I needed it for me to be okay.  After all, (A) it was late enough by then that most people would have gone to bed, and (B) how can you be expected to take care of others’ needs if your own needs have not yet been met?  I needed the mental break.  Walking that half-mile distance down the hill to Sheetz and back to get a sandwich off of the MTO menu did me a ton of good.  It allowed me to recenter myself, especially considering that all of our lives had just changed in ways that we couldn’t even imagine at the time.  We all had a long road ahead of us in sorting through what had happened that day, and making some sense of it all.

So that’s my story.  That’s what I was doing when I found out about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  It wasn’t as eventful as some people’s experiences were that day, but it’s my experience nonetheless.  And if all goes well, we won’t experience another event like this again in our lifetimes.

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Going to show that you never know what is going to produce the winning shots… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/08/29/going-to-show-that-you-never-know-what-is-going-to-produce-the-winning-shots/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/08/29/going-to-show-that-you-never-know-what-is-going-to-produce-the-winning-shots/#respond Sun, 29 Aug 2021 22:30:31 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=40514 On Wednesday, August 25, Elyse and I got together with two friends of ours, Kyle and Pete, and we went up to the Ellicott City area, where we went on a hiking adventure.  We hiked up through the remains of what was once part of St. Mary’s College, and which has since become part of Patapsco Valley State Park.  The goal was to visit “Hell House”, which is the remains of a structure on the former campus.  Elyse was most familiar with this area, so she led the way.  The former campus contains the remains of a number of buildings, and we had a pretty fun time there overall.  Getting to Hell House was a bit of a challenge, considering that the path is not necessarily obvious and required climbing some steep slopes, but in the end, we made it there.

The hike itself wasn’t too photogenic, but we did see a few things:

This tree was growing through what I presume was once some kind of manhole.  It's also grown around the edge of the hole on one side.

This tree was growing through what I presume was once some kind of manhole.  It's also grown around the edge of the hole on one side.
This tree was growing through what I presume was once some kind of manhole.  It’s also grown around the edge of the hole on one side.

We also found the remains of a small building with a concrete roof.  Kyle, Pete, and Elyse explored down in it, while I stayed up to photograph the graffiti.  I didn’t want to go in (too steep of an entrance for my preferences), plus, I figured, not knowing what was down there, someone had to be in a place of safety to call 911 in case anything happened.  But the graffiti was enough to keep me amused.  Here are some of the highlights:

"Call me Daddy/mommy" graffiti.
“Call me Daddy mommy” graffiti.

"Löded Diper" graffiti, referring to a fictional band from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series.
“Löded Diper” graffiti, referring to a fictional band from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series.

A smiling face.
A smiling face.

Mushroom.
Mushroom.

And then this is Hell House itself:

Hell House

Hell House

Hell House

Hell House

I feel like my photos of Hell House came off as a bit uninspired.  I don’t know if it’s the time of day that I shot it, the amount of foliage this time of year, the angles that I could get, or that despite my best efforts to keep hydrated that I felt a little parched by the time I got up there, but I feel like I could have done better.  I consider these results “tepid” at best.  However, in any case, I suspect that this structure likely isn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon, and so I can always revisit on another day.  We’ll see, I suppose.

After we all got back to the car, I took the drone out for a quick spin to photograph a railroad bridge while Pete consumed some water and Elyse and Kyle put their feet in the water to cool off.

Elyse and Kyle in the Patapsco River.
Elyse and Kyle in the Patapsco River.  I wanted to photograph some of the graffiti under the bridge with the drone, but unfortunately, breezes in that area moved my drone around enough that I felt uncomfortable flying there.

And then I photographed the railroad bridge:

Railroad bridge

Railroad bridge

Railroad bridge

Railroad bridge

Railroad bridge

Railroad bridge

And I also got a selfie before landing:

Drone selfie

By the way, you don’t know how good it feels to stand underneath your drone while it’s ten or so feet up in the air on a hot day.  It makes a great fan that way.

We then went over to Old Ellicott City, where everyone checked out Antique Depot.  I took the drone up again, this time checking out a siren:

Ellicott City siren

Ellicott City siren

This was installed following the second flood in Ellicott City in 2018.  The last time that Elyse and I checked this out, it was on a temporary base at the top of the hill, but now it’s permanently installed at the bottom of the hill.

St. Paul Catholic Church.
St. Paul Catholic Church.

Then we went over to the Avalon area of Patapsco Valley State Park.  I wanted to photograph the site of the Bauers’ house (it’s since been demolished) with the drone, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get the drone up high enough to clear the trees due to altitude restrictions in that area (and I didn’t want to walk up the hill to photograph an empty lot).  However, I did get some photos of Thomas Viaduct, located nearby.  I photographed that from outside of the park, focusing on an obelisk located adjacent to the viaduct:

The obelisk.  I was kind of disappointed that it was covered with graffiti.

The obelisk.  I was kind of disappointed that it was covered with graffiti.
The obelisk.  I was kind of disappointed that it was covered with graffiti.

The viaduct itself.
The viaduct itself.

So all in all, I’d say that we had a good trip.  The primary mission was Hell House, and while we had a whole lot of fun there, the photography was lacking.  But I’d say that I made up for it with some of my drone work later on in the day.

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My first true railfan trip… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/08/22/my-first-true-railfan-trip/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/08/22/my-first-true-railfan-trip/#respond Sun, 22 Aug 2021 14:14:58 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=40410 I recently came to the realization that it has been a little more than twenty years since my first true railfan trip on the DC Metro system, on July 28, 2001.  Mind you, I had ridden the system plenty of times before that, and I had photographed the system a few times prior to this, but this was my first time going in with the rail system itself as the destination, rather than as the means to an end.  I explored around in DC and Virginia, photographing stations, making recordings of the door chimes, and exploring new areas of the system that I had never been to before.  Back then, there was no Silver Line, the trains were still orange and ran in four and six-car consists, and they stopped in the center of the platforms rather than at the end like they do today.  I was using my original Mavica for the photos, which saved photos at 640×480 resolution onto 3½” floppy disks.  To record the door chimes, I used a boombox-style tape recorder and recorded it to a cassette.

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

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

And, of course, I took lots of photographs while I was out.  I admit that it’s odd to look at these now, for two reasons.  First, my photography skills have improved considerably in the intervening two decades, and my style has also changed.  Additionally, my original camera, a Sony Mavica FD73, was practically a potato compared to modern cameras, so these photos look a bit primitive because I was using what would now be considered highly outdated technology.

I started out with some photos of my car at the time, a 1991 Toyota Previa LE.  It's parked on the roof of the north garage at Vienna, right next to the elevator.  Whenever I go to Vienna, I always like to park here if I can get the space.
I started out with some photos of my car at the time, a 1991 Toyota Previa LE.  It’s parked on the roof of the north garage at Vienna, right next to the elevator.  Whenever I go to Vienna, I always like to park here if I can get the space.

I got a photo of this guy on the train because I liked his shirt: "You can't scare me.  I'm a teacher."  I got the photo to show to Mom, who, at the time, worked as a middle school teacher.
I got a photo of this guy on the train because I liked his shirt: “You can’t scare me.  I’m a teacher.”  I got the photo to show to Mom, who, at the time, worked as a middle school teacher.

Riding on an Orange Line train from Vienna, on a Breda railcar.
Riding on an Orange Line train from Vienna, on a Breda railcar.

Virginia Square-GMU station, viewed from the mezzanine.
Virginia Square-GMU station, viewed from the mezzanine.

An Orange Line train to Vienna services Virginia Square-GMU station.
An Orange Line train to Vienna services Virginia Square-GMU station.

An Orange Line train to Vienna arrives at Virginia Square station.
An Orange Line train to Vienna arrives at Virginia Square station.

Crossvault at L'Enfant Plaza station.
Crossvault at L’Enfant Plaza station.  This was only my second time visiting L’Enfant Plaza (my first time was during a visit earlier that month, on a photography adventure that focused on the National Mall and such).

Destination sign at L'Enfant Plaza for southbound trains, indicating whether the train is a Green Line train traveling towards Branch Avenue, or a Yellow Line train traveling towards Huntington.
Destination sign at L’Enfant Plaza for southbound trains, indicating whether the train is a Green Line train traveling towards Branch Avenue, or a Yellow Line train traveling towards Huntington.

View from the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac River.  The Pentagon is visible in the background.
View from the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac River.  The Pentagon is visible in the background.

A Yellow Line train services Pentagon station lower level.
A Yellow Line train services Pentagon station lower level.

"HUNTINGTON" destination sign on a Breda 3000-Series car.
“HUNTINGTON” destination sign on a Breda 3000-Series car.

Upper level at Pentagon station.  The kiosk at Pentagon is directly on the platform, unlike the architecturally similar Rosslyn station, where the kiosk was at street level.
Upper level at Pentagon station.  The kiosk at Pentagon is directly on the platform, unlike the architecturally similar Rosslyn station, where the kiosk was at street level.

The original bus facility at Pentagon.

The original bus facility at Pentagon.
The original bus facility at Pentagon.  This facility closed on 9/11, and never reopened, as it was seen as a security risk after that event, as it was right next to the Pentagon building itself.  A replacement facility was already under construction at the time as part of the Pentagon Renovation Program, and so from September 11 until the new facility opened on December 8, all bus service that would have normally gone to the Pentagon was diverted to Pentagon City.

(And by the way, don’t photograph at Pentagon station.  It’s illegal on account of its being within the Pentagon Reservation, but I didn’t know it at the time, and nobody said anything to me about it.)

A Blue Line train traveling towards Franconia-Springfield departs Pentagon City station.
A Blue Line train traveling towards Franconia-Springfield departs Pentagon City station.

A Blue Line train traveling towards Addison Road departs Pentagon City station.
A Blue Line train traveling towards Addison Road departs Pentagon City station.

Pentagon City station entrance pylon.
Pentagon City station entrance pylon.

A Blue Line train traveling towards Franconia-Springfield departs National Airport station.
A Blue Line train traveling towards Franconia-Springfield departs National Airport station.

Trackside signage at National Airport station.  The station's name would be changed to the much longer "Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport" about nine months later.
Trackside signage at National Airport station.  The station’s name would be changed to the much longer “Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport” about nine months later.

A Blue Line train to Addison Road arrives at National Airport station.  Note the 1000-Series (Rohr) car in the lead position.
A Blue Line train to Addison Road arrives at National Airport station.  Note the 1000-Series (Rohr) car in the lead position.

A Blue Line train arrives at Arlington Cemetery station on its way to Franconia-Springfield.
A Blue Line train arrives at Arlington Cemetery station on its way to Franconia-Springfield.

A Blue Line train departs Arlington Cemetery station on its way to Franconia-Springfield.
A Blue Line train departs Arlington Cemetery station on its way to Franconia-Springfield.

Old-style PIDS display before the current three-line style was introduced in 2005.
Old-style PIDS display before the current three-line style was introduced in 2005.  The way that these would work was that the signs would count down as far as three minutes, and then two minutes or less, it would say “APPROACHING”.  That would become “ARRIVING” as the train pulled into the station, and then it would just show the line color and destination while the train was dwelling in the station.  If a station was served by multiple lines, the screens would alternate between the next trains for each line.

Riding another Breda car on the Orange Line.
Riding another Breda car on the Orange Line.

Advertisement at East Falls Church advertising Metro's then-new extension of service hours to 2:00 AM on Friday and Saturday nights.  This was later extended to 3:00 AM, and cut back to midnight in 2016.
Advertisement at East Falls Church advertising Metro’s then-new extension of service hours to 2:00 AM on Friday and Saturday nights.  This was later extended to 3:00 AM, and cut back to midnight in 2016.

Orange Line train to Vienna arriving at East Falls Church station.
Orange Line train to Vienna arriving at East Falls Church station.

A Vienna-bound Orange Line train arrives at West Falls Church station.

A Vienna-bound Orange Line train arrives at West Falls Church station.
A Vienna-bound Orange Line train arrives at West Falls Church station.

At Vienna, with my boombox on a newspaper recycling box.
At Vienna, with my boombox on a newspaper recycling box.  Yes, I carried that clunky thing with me all day, but I still have the recordings, as well as the original tape.  Here are the “doors opening“, “doors closing“, and “please stand clear of the doors” messages as recorded that day on Breda cars.  That was Sandy Carroll’s voice on the cars back then, and they were much simpler than today’s announcements.

A train services Crystal City station.
A train services Crystal City station.

A train arrives at King Street station.
A train arrives at King Street station.

Interior of car 1241 on the Blue Line somewhere between King Street and Franconia-Springfield.
Interior of car 1241 on the Blue Line somewhere between King Street and Franconia-Springfield.

A train dwells on the platform at Franconia-Springfield before beginning a trip back to Addison Road station.
A train dwells on the platform at Franconia-Springfield before beginning a trip back to Addison Road station.

View of the platform at Franconia-Springfield, viewed from the escalator.
View of the platform at Franconia-Springfield, viewed from the escalator.

Signs in the parking garage at Franconia-Springfield.  One sign explains how to get to the station from the garage, and the other has been modified by a prankster to endorse the passing of gas while on television.  Signs in the parking garage at Franconia-Springfield.  One sign explains how to get to the station from the garage, and the other has been modified by a prankster to endorse the passing of gas while on television.
Signs in the parking garage at Franconia-Springfield.  One sign explains how to get to the station from the garage, and the other has been modified by a prankster to endorse the passing of gas while on television.

All in all, I had a pretty good time fanning the system that day.  I look back fondly on this trip, as it harkens back to a time when I was exploring new territory via public transit, adding new places to my world that I had never experienced before.  I now live in the DC region, and as such, it is very familiar to me, and I’ve now ridden Metro in its entirety, so I don’t get that sense of conquering new territory in this area like I used to.  I miss that feeling sometimes.  My next visit to the DC area would be in November 2001, focusing mostly on the National Mall and West Potomac Park at that time.  I wouldn’t get to do another “exploration” trip again until March 2002, when I explored around Arlington and Alexandria.

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Flights over Pennsylvania… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/08/08/flights-over-pennsylvania/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/08/08/flights-over-pennsylvania/#respond Mon, 09 Aug 2021 01:00:26 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=40240 Back on July 20, Elyse and I made a trip up to Pennsylvania for a little photography.  This was one of those adventures where we had a specific mission that brought us out that way, but that mission was too small to justify the time and distance on its own, so we built a trip around it in order to justify the mission.  In this case, the main objective was to purchase some newly released cans of G Fuel (an energy drink) at a Sheetz that had them, and send them to Shock in order for him to do a review video.  Elyse called around ahead of time, and located the flavor in question at a Sheetz location in Gettysburg.  Then in order to justify the trip, I planned a route, adding some stops.  In this case, Sheetz in Gettysburg was a must, but then I added some stops in Waynesboro and Fairfield to the mix to round it out, creating a little arc across south-central Pennsylvania.  We were originally going to run it all the way out to Hanover, but decided to cut it off at Gettysburg in order to get home at a more reasonable hour.

Our first stop in Waynesboro was the Wayne Heights Mall.  This was by no means unfamiliar territory for us, as this was where the Gordmans that we photographed was located.  Gordmans has since closed, but it was a good flight target nonetheless.  Elyse liked it because she could visit Tractor Supply while I was flying.  So here we go:

Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Straight-on shot of the sign on the former Gordmans.
Straight-on shot of the sign on the former Gordmans.  I was not able to get an angle this direct when I photographed this previously in August 2020.  One of the perks of having a drone…

This made me feel a little bit sad, noticing that the sign was prominently advertising the former Gordmans building for lease below market, i.e. it's going for cheap.  I feel like they are admitting that they can't attract a bigger name, therefore they're going to have to settle.
This made me feel a little bit sad, noticing that the sign was prominently advertising the former Gordmans building for lease below market, i.e. it’s going for cheap.  I feel like they are admitting that they can’t attract a bigger name, therefore they’re going to have to settle.

And here’s the Hardee’s in front of Wayne Heights Mall:

Hardee's at Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Hardee's at Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

By the way, if these photos appear a bit more “atmospheric” than what I usually do, it’s because the air was a bit hazy on this particular day due to smoke from wildfires out west that made its way to the eastern US.  My understanding is that the smoke got caught in the jet stream, which brought it this far east.

After Wayne Heights Mall, we went down the road a little bit to the Walmart Supercenter.  I don’t know what it is about flying my drone over Walmart stores, but I tend to do it a lot, as I can think of six other Walmart stores that I’ve flown over in the recent past (though I have not yet published material from some of these flights as of this writing).  So here’s this one:

Walmart Supercenter in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Walmart Supercenter in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Walmart Supercenter in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Walmart Supercenter in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Walmart Supercenter in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Walmart Supercenter in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Flying over the roof of the store, I was surprised that the edging around the top of the store was still red.
Flying over the roof of the store, I was surprised that the edging around the top of the store was still red.  This store was originally painted in the 1990s style red/gray/blue color scheme, and has been repainted at least twice since.  I suppose it was never painted over because most people will never see this.

Walmart Supercenter in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

I also flew around a nearby Sheetz:

Sheetz in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Sheetz in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Sheetz in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

After this, we headed up the road towards Gettysburg, taking Route 16 to Route 116.  We soon found ourselves in Fairfield, which is a really tiny town in Pennsylvania with a population of about 500.  Elyse spotted the fire department, which naturally led us to look for a siren, since Elyse has a very strong interest in sirens.  We found it, but this one was some distance away from the building, in the back corner of the property:

Siren at the fire department in Fairfield, Pennsylvania

And while I was already up in the air, I got a photo of a nearby cell tower:

Cell tower in Fairfield, Pennsylvania

Cell tower in Fairfield, Pennsylvania

And then I raised my altitude and got some aerials of the town:

Fairfield, Pennsylvania

Fairfield, Pennsylvania

Fairfield, Pennsylvania

Note the “atmospheric” quality of the first two, from the smoke that had blown in.

Then in Gettysburg, my flight centered on Lincoln Square.  First, I did some shots looking straight down over the center of the square (I lined it up with the flagpole), and then I rotated around to get photos of the town:

Lincoln Square in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Lincoln Square in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Lincoln Square in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Lincoln Square in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

View from Lincoln Square facing northwest, towards Gettysburg College.
View from Lincoln Square facing northwest, towards Gettysburg College.

View from Lincoln Square, facing approximately east.
View from Lincoln Square, facing approximately east.

And that was pretty much that.  We shipped the G Fuel to Shock at a little pack-and-ship place in the outlet center before we left Gettysburg, and then we headed back home via US 15.  All in all, not a bad time.  I like these little trips where we have a small mission that requires some travel to do, and then we build an adventure around it to make it worth the trouble.  I often get some pretty decent shots out of it.

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Does this count as “over 40” problems? https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/07/18/does-this-count-as-over-40-problems/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/07/18/does-this-count-as-over-40-problems/#respond Mon, 19 Jul 2021 03:27:17 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=39882 FYI, this Journal entry discusses gross body functions in personal places.  If you’re squeamish about such things, you might want to skip this one.  Otherwise, here we go…

This past Friday, I went in for some minor surgery to fix a small problem.  Back in April, I had developed what turned out to be an abscess on my backside.  I didn’t quite know what it was for a while, and was doing what they say that you shouldn’t do, and looked up my symptoms on Google.  It seems like every time you google your symptoms, it always comes back as a heart attack, and therefore, you need to get your tail to the emergency room right now.  But I knew better.  Even controlling for definitely-not-a-heart-attack, though, I still got inconclusive results, i.e. Dr. Google had no clue what it was.  All the while, this thing was uncomfortable.  At its peak, it was so painful that it was difficult to sit.  And considering that my job is performed from a seated position, that point really made for a long day.  At one point, I tried squeezing it, and pus came out of it.  That made me feel a little better for a little while, but it quickly filled back up and continued to hurt.  Eventually it started to drain on its own without any prompting from me.  That felt a little better because there was no more pressure, but it was still painful, and now it was draining all the time and making a mess in my underwear, even soaking through my pants on occasion, which is not a good thing by any means.  I don’t like having to choose my outfits based on thickness and color of material in order to prevent embarrassing abscess leaks from showing up.

I eventually went to an urgent care facility, and there, the doctor diagnosed it as a cutaneous abscess, and prescribed a course of antibiotics (Bactrim) for it.  According to the urgent care doctor, the abscess should take care of itself without any further intervention.  As it would turn out, the antibiotic took care of the infection in very short order, but the drain opening remained, and things kept on draining, albeit with less volume than before, which kept the leakage contained to my underwear and not going through my pants anymore.  I figured that some drainage was normal, considering that I had just had a big abscess that was being treated.  But then it kept on going, even after the infection had subsided, and after I finished up all of the antibiotics.  I kept holding out some hope for a while that it would resolve on its own, but it never did.

So, considering where it was, I ended up making an appointment with a colorectal specialist in Germantown.  I didn’t quite know what to expect going to a colorectal specialist, since my pilonidal cyst surgery back in 2005 was done by a general surgery practice and not a colorectal guy.  I was put somewhat at ease when I got to the office and saw that they had a sense of humor about their line of work.  The password for the wireless had “butts” in it, and there was a little sign on the front desk that said “Proctologists stand behind their work!”  Something tells me that they have heard the Colorectal Surgeon Song, and appreciate its humor, though I wasn’t going to bring it up myself (I suspect that I wouldn’t have been the first).

The exam went well enough.  The initial consultation was in an office with a desk, and then we moved to an exam room for the actual examination.  In this instance, they had me undress from the waist down and put a drape over my midsection.  The exam consisted of two checks.  In the first one, the doctor felt around using his gloved finger.  In the second, he checked my bottom out using a probe.  Those two things were both a very unpleasant feeling.  Nothing like having a finger and then a probe up there where the sun don’t shine.  In the end, once the doctor finished probing me, we had a diagnosis: it’s a fistula.  However, they couldn’t figure out whether it was a superficial fistula or a deeper fistula without sedating me, which requires a separate appointment and is done at a surgical facility.  Fan-bloody-tastic.  The doctor explained that fistulas are repaired surgically, and they could go one of two ways.  If the fistula was superficial, they would open it up and let it heal from the inside out and that would be it, in a similar manner to the way that my pilonidal cyst did in 2005.  However, if it was deeper, they would put a rubber band in it and allow it to heal around the rubber band, and then come back a few months later for a second, more complicated procedure to fix it.

The office staff got me scheduled for the sedation procedure after I was finished seeing the doctor, and gave me a list of homework related to the procedure, mainly getting bloodwork and a physical done with my regular doctor.  I also had to line up a ride for that day, since Elyse doesn’t drive, and the place doesn’t let you drive yourself home after a sedation procedure – and understandably so.  My friend Matthew ended up agreeing to come up to take us, and so that was that.  This would also be the first time that I had something like this at a surgical center rather than at a hospital.  So that would be a new experience.  I was comfortable with it (I trust that they all knew what they were doing), but not having it in a hospital made Elyse a little nervous.

On the day of the procedure, Matthew came up, and then we were off.  The surgery center was down in Rockville.  A complication of the whole thing was that due to measures ostensibly being taken to limit the spread of COVID-19, I was the only person permitted in the facility.  Matthew and Elyse were not allowed in at all.  I let them both know about this ahead of time, and I strongly recommended that they find somewhere to entertain themselves while I was in the shop.  Elyse didn’t like it, but what can you do, I suppose.  She did send Woomy in with me, though.  I guess that she figured that I needed a chaperone, and Woomy, not being human and all, couldn’t get COVID.  Woomy didn’t like it, but it also wasn’t up to him (it wasn’t up to me, either).

Going in, you would never know that this was a surgical center in the basement of an office building, and not in a hospital.  They first had me change into the hospital gown and put on the little hospital socks.  I put Woomy in the bag with my clothes for safekeeping.  He didn’t like it, but it was for his own protection.  They also put some compression sleeves around my calves.  Then a nurse started an IV on me, and I got to speak with my surgeon and the anesthesiologist.  They also explained that they would bring me into the room, sedate me, do their thing, and then when I woke up, I would be back in the spot where they got me prepped.  Cool.  They wheeled me in on the stretcher where I’d been laying.  I remember seeing the big lights, and thought, here we go.  Then they had me turn onto my left side, and got the sedatives moving via my IV.  I felt a little fuzzy as the sedatives went in, and then it was lights out for me.

The next thing that I knew, I was back in the room where I started.  My hip was feeling a bit sore, probably from leaning on it for the duration of the procedure.  The nurse was with me in the room when I woke up, and she gave me some good news: the fistula was superficial, i.e. all they had to do was slice it open and let it heal.  I was delighted.  I reached over for my phone and messaged Elyse, and let her know what the result was, and that the office would be calling her shortly to let her know that I was ready.  I also learned that Elyse and Matthew went to Micro Center up the street while I was getting worked on.  Elyse’s goal was to drool over electronic stuff for potential future purchases.  Specifically, she was looking at mechanical keyboards, because Elyse is a bit of a keyboard snob.  She hates that I have a membrane keyboard rather than a mechanical keyboard, but, you know, it works for me, and I won’t give it up.

In any case, I got dressed, they gave me my discharge instructions along with some prescriptions, Matthew and Elyse came back over, and Elyse came down to get me.  We then went about getting lunch.  Matthew and Elyse wanted to get MrBeast burgers, while I wanted to get something else.  Since they were doing this all for me, I treated all around.  In Gaithersburg, MrBeast operates out of Buca di Beppo in the Kentlands, and there’s a Whole Foods nearby.  So we ordered the MrBeast, I got something at Whole Foods, and then we picked up the MrBeast stuff and went home to eat.  All in all, not a bad time.

One thing that always amazes people is that I don’t even bother filling the prescriptions for the “good” pain meds.  I was prescribed oxycodone, among other more pedestrian meds, and we left that alone.  I think that the last time I took a “good” pain medication was in 2005 after the pilonidal cyst.  That was oxycodone again at that time, and it didn’t make any difference.  When I broke my foot, they gave me serious pain meds, and I never filled it.  When I had my sleeve surgery, the hospital filled the prescription for me, but I never took any because I didn’t need to, and eventually threw them away.  So based on the level of discomfort I was having after this procedure (minimal), I felt fine skipping the pain meds.  I see no reason to mess with real painkillers if I don’t need to.

So there you go, I suppose.  After Matthew went back home, Elyse and I both went right to sleep.  Clearly, we needed it.  All in all, I’m just glad that this abscess saga is almost over, because I’m ready to put it behind me.

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A fence appears around Staunton Mall… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/07/17/a-fence-appears-around-staunton-mall/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/07/17/a-fence-appears-around-staunton-mall/#respond Sat, 17 Jul 2021 12:44:39 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=39728 While Elyse and I were on that trip to Staunton that I discussed earlier, we stopped by Staunton Mall to check in on the progress there.  It would appear that the redevelopment plans for Staunton Mall are for real, because asbestos abatement appears to be happening in a few places, and a perimeter has been established around the building in preparation for demolition.  Recall that I declared Staunton Mall to be a dead mall back in 2009, but it took until 2020 for the mall to finally close.  That fence around the entire mall building, save for Belk, is a major step towards demolition and redevelopment.

Fencing in front of the former Wills/Books-A-Million store.
Fencing in front of the former Wills/Books-A-Million store.

Fencing in front of the mall entrance for the Belk wing.
Fencing in front of the mall entrance for the Belk wing.

Fencing across the front of the mall, from the center court entrance down to Penney's.
Fencing across the front of the mall, from the center court entrance down to Penney’s.

Fencing in front of the entrance to the former Peoples Drug/CVS store (later Always Be Prepared Outlet).
Fencing in front of the entrance to the former Peoples Drug/CVS store (later Always Be Prepared Outlet).

Fencing in front of the JCPenney building.  This building was originally to have been retained in the redevelopment of the mall, but with the closure of Penney's in October 2020, this is clearly no longer the case.
Fencing in front of the JCPenney building.  This building was originally to have been retained in the redevelopment of the mall, but with the closure of Penney’s in October 2020, this is clearly no longer the case.

Fencing in front of the main entrance to Penney's.
Fencing in front of the main entrance to Penney’s.

Fencing on the back side of the JCPenney building.
Fencing on the back side of the JCPenney building.

Fencing in front of the rear entrance to Penney's.  Asbestos abatement was being completed in the Penney's building at the time that these photos were taken.
Fencing in front of the rear entrance to Penney’s.  Asbestos abatement was being completed in the Penney’s building at the time that these photos were taken.

Exterior entrance to the former Peebles store.  Like the JCPenney building, asbestos abatement was underway at time that these photos were taken.

Exterior entrance to the former Peebles store.  Like the JCPenney building, asbestos abatement was underway at time that these photos were taken.
Exterior entrance to the former Peebles store.  Like the JCPenney building, asbestos abatement was underway at time that these photos were taken.  The yellow board across the entrance presumably came from the former Always Be Prepared Outlet military surplus store elsewhere in the mall, as the phone number on the board goes to them.

Fencing in front of the entrance next to the former movie theater.

Fencing in front of the entrance next to the former movie theater.
Fencing in front of the entrance next to the former movie theater.

Fencing in front of the loading dock for the former Montgomery Ward building.
Fencing in front of the loading dock for the former Montgomery Ward building.

Fencing in front of the entrance to the former Montgomery Ward building.
Fencing in front of the entrance to the former Montgomery Ward building.  Curiously, I saw no evidence of asbestos abatement work at the former Wards, despite the building’s being old enough to likely contain asbestos.

The Belk store, still open for business as usual.
The Belk store, still open for business as usual.

So there you have it.  I guess we’ll see what it looks like the next time I’m down that way.  It’s kind of sad to see the old mall go, but at the same time, I admit that this change is long overdue.

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My first time eating at a real restaurant in a very long time… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/07/09/my-first-time-eating-at-a-real-restaurant-in-a-very-long-time/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/07/09/my-first-time-eating-at-a-real-restaurant-in-a-very-long-time/#respond Fri, 09 Jul 2021 19:50:38 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=39726 Recently, on a trip to Staunton, I had my first meal in a full-service restaurant since my weight loss surgery in December 2019.  We were visiting family, as my sister and her husband were in from Chicago.  So our party consisted of Elyse and me, my sister and her husband Chris, our parents, and Chris’s parents.  Nice group all around.  We ate at Zynodoa, which is a higher tier restaurant than I typically go to, but it was a good experience overall.

I would say that the timing of things tended to work against restaurants in general.  I had my surgery on December 6, 2019, and so things were still healing for most of December.  I was figuring out through trial and error about what foods would be tolerated by my body, and also determining portion sizes.  When Elyse and I would go out, we typically would stop in at a grocery store with a food bar if we needed to eat, like Harris Teeter, Wegmans, or Whole Foods.  I was typically able to get out of there for about five bucks (I would jokingly refer to myself as a cheap date).  Doing that allowed me to try out a variety of different foods, and only get the amounts that I needed (remember, my tummy is tiny now).

Then the pandemic restrictions came along, which took eating in restaurants out of the picture entirely.  I’ve never been one to do take-out from restaurants.  If I’m eating food from a sit-down restaurant, I’m more than likely going to be eating it at the restaurant.  If I’m getting it to go, I’m going somewhere else, like a grocery store or something else cheaper than a full restaurant.  Thus if I couldn’t eat on the premises because of various rules in place, a full restaurant was of no use to me.  And if I’m getting food to take home, I might as well just eat the food that I already have at home.  All of that said, the pandemic rules came about while I was still forming new habits after having my surgery, and that meant that full-service restaurants were more or less out of the picture, i.e. they didn’t exist as far as I was concerned.

As far as my eating habits now go, I rarely eat off of a plate these days.  Most often now, I eat out of a coffee mug.  It’s easier to figure out portions when I have a mug rather than a plate.  A mug is small and holds a finite amount of food (i.e. you really can’t load up a mug, unlike a plate), just like my stomach, and so it works out nicely.

So with the restaurant, this was a new experience.  I had never been to this restaurant before (that tier of restaurant is generally above my comfort level), so I didn’t quite know what to expect as far as the food went.  The menu was fairly limited, which made choosing a lot easier.  My goal was to make sure that I got my protein in, and make good choices.  Someone ordered cornbread as an appetizer for the table, and it looked like this:

Cornbread from Zynodoa

As I understand it, this was real cornbread, cooked in a cast iron pan, and not like the stuff that you buy premade in the store.  It also had some sort of glaze on the top of it, with butter and some kind of chutney on the side.  As you can see, it looked lovely.

So how was it?  I have no idea.  I didn’t have any, politely declining to have a piece.  I was not about to fill up on all of that sugar, especially when I’d had a slice of pizza with a standard crust the day before.  One indulgence is enough for a while.  Gotta stick to the program, especially with only 21 pounds left to go until I reach my goal weight.  Everyone else said it was wonderful, though.  I would have preferred that an appetizer had not been ordered for the table at all, but it wasn’t up to me.  Holding an appetizer constant, I would have preferred that it not be cornbread, because that was probably the worst thing on the menu as far as what I should and should not eat.  I’m also not about to ask that everyone acquiesce to my wishes, so I just had to manage.  I admit, though, that I felt a bit left out while everyone was enjoying the cornbread and I couldn’t have any, but those are the breaks.

For the entree (which I unfortunately forgot to photograph), I had the pork loin.  It consisted of several slices of pork loin topped with cabbage and green onion, with some cauliflower around it along with some kind of sauce.  It wasn’t bad by any means.  I suppose that it worked to my advantage that this was one of those expensive restaurants that serves a relatively small portion size, i.e. they don’t pile on massive amounts of food like a diner might do.  I think that I did okay.  I had all of the vegetables, and had all but two of the pork loin slices (I think that it was a total of six). I considered such a small amount left over to be too little to take home, so I gave one to Elyse, and Chris had the other one.

All in all, I don’t think that I did too badly for my first proper visit to a sit-down restaurant post-surgery.  However, I also don’t foresee another visit to a sit-down restaurant in the near future.  When I eat so little now, I find it very difficult to justify the prices at restaurants, as well as justify a tip, especially since so much of restaurant meals consist of things that I wouldn’t eat anyway.  For a hamburger meal, for instance, the bun and the fries would get thrown out for too many carbs, leaving only the meat and the vegetables on it, to be eaten with utensils. I’m not wasting my money on a meal where I’m not going to eat most of it.  Additionally, I’ve learned that foods that don’t have enough moisture in them will get rejected by my stomach, i.e. it’s coming right back up.  Reheating leftovers tends to dry out the food, and that means that something that was tolerated the first time around may get rejected the second time around.  Therefore, it really behooves me to get the size right on the front end of it, and not have leftovers, because half the time, I can’t eat them anyway – thus more money down the drain if I have to throw the rest away regardless.

So there you have it, I suppose.  In the process of forming new habits post-surgery, restaurants are more or less out, and I don’t really miss them, either.  Just give me something quick, easy, small, low in carbs, and full of protein, and I’m good to go.

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Woomy has his own website… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/07/02/woomy-has-his-own-website/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/07/02/woomy-has-his-own-website/#comments Fri, 02 Jul 2021 19:59:29 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=39609 So Elyse and I recently went hunting online, discovered that woomy.info was available, and snagged it.  This is the result:

Woomy's website, as it currently stands

Yes, Woomy, our curmudgeonly little octopus, now has his very own rudimentary little website.  I suppose that it’s proof that (A) Elyse and I do occasionally share one brain amongst the both of us, and (B) we should not be trusted with a credit card on the Internet, because we do things like order domains and make websites for our critters.

Unsurprisingly, when we showed it to Woomy, he just said, “I don’t like that!”

In any case, now that I have this new domain and this website, and I might as well have some fun with it.  Right now, Woomy’s website is just a one-pager, i.e. something I created in five minutes just to have something there.  But there is so much more that could be done to explore Woomy’s world.  After all, he’s a grumpy octopus, with a small body and a big mouth.  I’ve thought about going two ways with this, with both taking the form of a blog.  One is to blog as Woomy, using his very limited vocabulary, as the only thing that he says is, “I don’t like that!”  In that case, I would put a heavy emphasis on photos of Woomy with various things in order to make up for the lack of words.  The other is to write about Woomy’s adventures as an outside observer, and his dislike of the various things in his environment.  In either case, it could be fun.

What do you think that I should do with Woomy’s new website?  Leave a comment and let me know!

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Strange what people will latch onto sometimes… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/06/26/strange-what-people-will-latch-onto-sometimes/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/06/26/strange-what-people-will-latch-onto-sometimes/#respond Sat, 26 Jun 2021 14:10:54 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=39422 It’s funny what things people lock onto, take out of context, and run with in the age of the Internet.  I remember when my Code Pink photo in front of the White House became a discussion about President Obama and the 2012 election.  That made enough sense, because while it was a different context than the original one, it was still in the same vein, being anti-war and all.  More recently, though, a very old photo of mine was dusted off by a certain crowd and run in a completely different context than intended.  Remember this photo?

Photo from an Anonymous flash raid from July 2008

This photo is from an Anonymous flash raid where we were protesting the practices of the Church of Scientology.  In this photo, we were drawing attention to the fact that Scientology sent us letters the previous Monday.  Thus, unlike the normal practice of Anonymous at these sorts of things, where masks are worn by participants to prevent Scientology from identifying demonstrators, we were fully out and had proof that Scientology knew who we were.  Thus no mask necessary.  Being known also had its benefits, because it meant that if we had to attend to any legalities, such as filing protest notifications and such, I took care of it so that no one had to out themselves that didn’t want to.  And that was fine by me.  In any case, Anonymous was fun, and it ran to its logical conclusion, as the movement had more or less run its course by the end of 2011.

Now, fast forward to 2020.  COVID-19 had spread throughout the globe, and our governments had required that everyone wear masks, ostensibly to help limit the spread of the virus.  One thing that the “woke” crowd loved to do was mask-shaming, i.e. shame people who disagreed with the concept of wearing masks, allegedly to slow/stop the spread of the virus.  Among other things, someone dug up that very old photo of Heidi and me and ran it in such a way as to portray us as anti-mask demonstrators as it relates to the pandemic, rather than drawing attention to Scientology’s attempts to intimidate its critics.

Here’s some of what I found of it:

"We'll be dead soon"

Pithy commentary on it

Turned into a meme

Dumb and dumber

Classy, I know.  The gist that I got of this was, with the photo’s having been taken out of context (COVID would not be a thing for about twelve years, after all), they were pushing a narrative that anyone who questioned the use of masks was judged more or less out of hand to be a complete moron, assuming that any person with any smarts would accept masks without question.  What a lovely message, no?  Follow the herd or you will be ostracized.

The whole situation, where this old photo of me became popular again outside of its original context, left me feeling a bit uncomfortable.  On one hand, I was very much opposed to masks, social distancing, lockdowns, and all of the other alleged precautions that we were either asked or required to take on account of the pandemic.  I was of the opinion that government recommendations should have ended at “wash your hands and don’t touch your face” until a vaccine became available.  Masks and distancing and such, that should have been up to each person individually based on their own comfort level.  Recall that I made my opinions about the handling of the pandemic quite clear about a month ago in a Journal entry, so if there’s any question about where I stand on things related to that, it’s all there, in that (very long) entry.  The other thing that made me uncomfortable about this is that, while I opposed all of the measures being taken, I also couldn’t get behind the people protesting the measures, because they were either unable or unwilling to reach across the aisle and unify around a single issue.  Instead, the anti-lockdown protests came off as blatantly right-wing events, exemplified when some people were seen carrying massive guns to the events for no good reason other than to compensate for shortcomings in other places.  If you can’t keep your demonstration on message, I won’t consider participating, out of concern over being associated with all sorts of other issues that I might find abhorrent.  It also angered me very much that masks were seen as a partisan issue in the first place, when it really should not have been that way at all.  This should have been something that transcended party lines, but instead, it broke based on party affiliation for the most part.  I don’t know exactly where I would

Meanwhile, while I take issue with my being associated with this issue in quite this way via an old photo taken out of context, remember that this is not my first rodeo when it comes to such matters.  Going as far back as my appearance in Front magazine, I’ve found my likeness in so many different places, both in context (i.e. about me), and out of context, that I’m used to it.  My reaction is typically closer to, “Oh, look, there I am.”  My favorite one that I turned up as of late is an article on Business Insider called “BMW And Porsche Are Now Testing Extra Wide Cars For Fat Drivers“, and there’s the photo of me in the seat of the Harrisonburg bus from 2005.  Remind me to thank Business Insider for calling me fat in their article.

So there you are, I suppose.  Gotta love what people on the Internet will turn up and use to make a point, and the way that they twist and turn it to fit the narrative that they’re trying to push.

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When your drone starts to act up… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/06/07/when-your-drone-starts-to-act-up/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/06/07/when-your-drone-starts-to-act-up/#respond Mon, 07 Jun 2021 15:20:22 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=39174 On Tuesday, June 1, Elyse and I went on a little adventure in Prince William County, Virginia, where the goal for me was to photograph some old AT&T Long Lines infrastructure up close with the drone.  First of all, for those not familiar, AT&T Long Lines is a now-defunct system from the mid-20th century used for telecommunications via microwave transmission.  It has long since been replaced by more modern systems, but many of the towers still remain.  Some have been converted to cell phone towers, with varying amounts of the old Long Lines infrastructure abandoned in place.  I’ve photographed about six of these things in varying degrees of detail, mostly in Virginia, both ground-based and with a drone.

On this particular day, I had two towers in my sights: one near Dumfries, and one near Manassas.  The Dumfries one was directly off of Route 234, and the Manassas one was a little bit further off of the beaten path.  The Dumfries tower was in full form, with its horn antennas still attached, while the Manassas tower had lost the old horn antennas.

Here are some of my photos of the Dumfries tower:

AT&T Long Lines tower near Dumfries

AT&T Long Lines tower near Dumfries

AT&T Long Lines tower near Dumfries

AT&T Long Lines tower near Dumfries

AT&T Long Lines tower near Dumfries

AT&T Long Lines tower near Dumfries

And here are some of my shots of the Manassas tower:

AT&T Long Lines tower near Manassas

AT&T Long Lines tower near Manassas

AT&T Long Lines tower near Manassas

AT&T Long Lines tower near Manassas

AT&T Long Lines tower near Manassas

However, this adventure was more challenging than most due to some hardware issues.  I’ve been flying a DJI Mavic Mini drone around for about eight or nine months at this point, and the only problems that I’ve had were clearly user error, mostly accidentally flying into obstructions due to poor observations on my part, i.e. misjudging my distance.  But this time around, it just was never operating quite right, like it got up on the wrong side of the bed or something.  It was flying fine, but the camera couldn’t seem to stay level.  Usually, it does a very good job at keeping the camera level, to where I almost never have to rotate the photos in post-processing.  But on this particular day, it seemed confused about things, and it gave me gimbal motor overload error messages.  It would cock the camera to one side, and would be quite jittery as it attempted to correct itself.  I would bring it back to the start point, land it, restart it, and then take off again, and it would work for a while, and then it would malfunction again, making for a very frustrating day of flying.  If it tells you anything, I was quite happy to finally put the drone away after completing my last flight of the day.

Here’s how the malfunction manifested itself as far as photos went, shown here at the Manassas site:

Former AT&T Long Lines tower in Manassas, while my drone was malfunctioning. Note the skewed angle.

Former AT&T Long Lines tower in Manassas, while my drone was malfunctioning. Note the skewed angle.

Former AT&T Long Lines tower in Manassas, while my drone was malfunctioning. Note the skewed angle.

Former AT&T Long Lines tower in Manassas, while my drone was malfunctioning. Note the skewed angle.

Note that the horizon is not level, as it should have been if the drone had been operating normally.

Here’s the way that the camera was sitting in the drone’s housing while in flight and malfunctioning:

DJI Mavic Mini in flight. Note that the camera is cocked to one side.

DJI Mavic Mini in flight. Note that the camera is cocked to one side.

Note that the camera is cocked to one side.

And finally, here are videos that I shot at both the Dumfries and Manassas sites to demonstrate the jittering:

In all three of these videos, I put the drone into an automated return-to-home process, and so the drone is, for the most part, flying itself back to its launch site.  I rotated the drone around and adjusted the camera angle a bit on these flights, but the actual movements that you see were under automated control, except where I had to make some adjustments so as not to land on the car, or where I took the photos of the drone that you saw earlier.

While I was still in the field, I did just about everything that I could think of to remedy it.  I turned it off and restarted it.  I recalibrated everything that I could think of, including the compass, the IMU, and the camera gimbal.  I also made sure that the device firmware was up to date.  Nothing made a difference.  I would take off and it appeared to be acting normally, but then it would start acting up again after a few minutes of flight.

But then the following Sunday, when I had a chance to tinker with it at home, I used an air duster to blow everything out around the gimbal and took it for a test flight over the neighborhood.  The entire system operated flawlessly.  So I’m going to chalk it up to a tiny foreign object’s getting up somewhere it shouldn’t have been (likely from dust or other debris on a landing site), and move on.  Still annoyed that I lost a lot of productive time while out in the field dealing with the issue, but at least it’s not fatal, and I don’t think that I’ll have to send it out for a repair.  However, it also makes me a tad nervous that it cleared up that easily.  Thus I’m concerned that it will come up again, and if it does, it might not be so easy to remedy, or it will be a recurring issue that causes lots of issues in the future.  But I suppose that we’ll cross that bridge if we get there.  But for now, I guess I can fly.

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I am now in my forties… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/06/04/i-am-now-in-my-forties/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/06/04/i-am-now-in-my-forties/#respond Fri, 04 Jun 2021 19:42:23 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=39175 This past Sunday, I turned 40.  I remember the first time that I heard about someone turning 40.  In that case, it was Uncle Johnny, i.e. Mom’s brother, back when I was still in my single digits.  That age sounded so old for someone who was in elementary school.  It was more than four times the age that I was at the time, and seemed so far off.  And now I’m there.  Uncle Johnny, meanwhile, is now in his seventies, and he and Aunt Beth are retired and living their best life.

My actual birthday, meanwhile, was pretty quiet, by my choice.  At work, it’s in our union contract that we are guaranteed to have our birthday off as a “floating holiday”, but I opted to work on my birthday and take the holiday the next day in order to have a three-day weekend.  This was also a bit of a weird birthday, because I definitely had a mental hang-up about turning 40.  I watched all of my classmates from high school post about turning 40 on Facebook, and I couldn’t help but think that it felt wrong for all of these young people that I went to school with to be turning 40.  I didn’t really want to turn 40, because 40 felt old.  You weren’t “young” anymore, but instead were “middle aged”.  Funny thing, though, is that I have one friend who acted like his life was practically over when he turned 40 a few years ago, and I had to reassure him that it wasn’t the case, and here I was having a hang-up myself over “40 is old”.  The morning of my birthday, I woke up, thought to myself, I’m 40!, mentally groaned for a moment, and then rolled over and went back to sleep for another hour.

But then after I got to work, I got to thinking (operating the train gives you lots of time to think), and I realized that I was 40, but I didn’t feel any different than I did the day before, when I was still 39.  I soon came to realize that it was going to be okay. I didn’t feel old.  I felt just as good as ever.  Sure, I have a few lines where there were no lines before, and a lot of things sag now (mainly from the weight loss), and I have to hold things a little bit further away from my face in order to read them than I used to, but all in all, I’m doing pretty well.  But don’t get me wrong – I still hate birthday greetings.

So now that I’m in my forties, here’s to another decade of adventures, I suppose.

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I believe that we have finally reached the other side of this thing… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/05/25/i-believe-that-we-have-finally-reached-the-other-side-of-this-thing/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/05/25/i-believe-that-we-have-finally-reached-the-other-side-of-this-thing/#respond Wed, 26 May 2021 01:37:23 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=32571 On Friday, May 14, 2021, a number of state governments rescinded emergency orders requiring the wearing of face masks in public for people who have had all of their shots for COVID-19, i.e. “fully vaccinated”, on the heels of earlier announcements providing dates for when nearly all COVID restrictions would be removed.  And with that, I think that it is safe to say that we’re finally on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that life will return to normal.  Ever since the middle of March 2020, when the response to a novel coronavirus started becoming out of proportion to the actual threat, and fear began driving the narrative, I’ve been looking forward to this time, when the world finally started returning to normal.

Truth be told, I took a dim view of the official response to this thing from the beginning.  From the outset, my stance has been that almost all of these various “precautions” were unnecessary, and that the best advice for the public was (A) wash your hands at frequent intervals, and (B) be careful about how much you touch your face.  This is the same advice that we give about nearly every communicable disease, and it’s served us quite well.  I didn’t see any reason why this one should have been any different.  Lockdowns, social distancing, masks, limits on gathering sizes, closed restaurants, closed drinking fountains, plexiglass shields, one-way aisles, contactless everything, the constant cleaning and “sanitizing”, temperature checks, and all of the rest of it is all just security theater, i.e. “the practice of taking security measures that are intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to achieve it.”  In other words, these measures were there primarily to placate a certain vocal subset of people who were afraid, and their fear was then projected onto the rest of us.  In the end, though, as long as there was no vaccine for it, there was nothing that most of us could reasonably do to prevent its transmission.  It was a problem that was beyond most of our capabilities to solve.  With that in mind, I wasn’t worried about it, and trusted that the scientists whose job it was to solve it would come through.  For the rest of us, there was only one single action that was “doing our part”.  That action was getting vaccinated against COVID-19 when it became available.  Nothing else made a bit of difference.  But until that time came when a vaccine was available, we just had to wait.

Unfortunately, though, we all know how much people hate to be told that they have to wait for something to be solved, and can’t do anything about it in the meantime, especially when they’re scared.  And for a mass hysteria event, we apparently just can’t have that.  Unfortunately, telling people to wait doesn’t look good for politicians, whose constituents will demand that something be done about it after the media has whipped them up into a frenzy – especially during an election year when many of them were trying to keep their jobs.  You know that people would practically crucify any elected official who got up and said, “I’m sorry, but there is really nothing in my power that I can do to solve this at this time.  Until a vaccine becomes available, we just have to wait.”  So, instead, they pander to the masses, going out and doing things that make it look like they’re doing something, i.e. security theater.  When they make it look like they’re doing something, the masses eat it right up.  They stepped in and shut down businesses (and destroyed many people’s livelihoods in the process – see my Gordmans entry), enforced social distancing rules on everyone, and required masks.  Everyone was impacted in some way, and it sure looked like something was being done while we waited.  Especially with the use of mask mandates, they put the pandemic in your face – and on your face – all the bloody time.  As far as the politicians were concerned, mission accomplished.

What probably surprised me the most was not necessarily how politicized this issue became, but rather how the sides fell.  However, while we may have attempted to address one issue (poorly), we created more problems than we solved.  Every other social issue went by the wayside, and we ended up with some major economic devastation that came as a result of shutting everything down that has caused problems that are far worse and will likely be much longer lasting than the virus.  Nobody has yet convinced me that I’m wrong in this thinking.  Most of the arguments in favor of the song and dance that we endured for more than a year that I had gotten from people were not rooted in reason, but rather in emotion, which I typically tend to dismiss out of hand.  Most surprisingly to me, most of the pro-lockdown crowd has been on the left.  It’s been the Food & Water Watch types and the various other left-wing activists that have shouted the loudest that we should go bury our heads in the sand and keep all of our businesses closed.  That’s a bit different than the way that Mike Flugennock of sinkers.org characterized the two sides in 2008, where Republicans were described as “We’ll rule you like despots,” and Democrats were described as “Please, don’t hurt us.”  Meanwhile, it’s been the right-wingers that have tended to favor normalcy in order to help curb the economic damage that this has caused.  I observed all of this, and I was like, really?  The same folks that for decades preached “my body, my choice” when it came to reproductive rights were now demanding that I lock myself in my house and wear eight masks if I absolutely had to go out.  On the other hand, the Republicans were preaching normalcy and calm, despite that almost every other position that they take is repulsive.  I felt like I was the only person who was consistent about bodily autonomy, i.e. if it’s “my body, my choice” when it came to reproductive health, it also applied to every situation involving people’s bodies.

The arbitrariness of what would spread the virus and what things were considered safe also bothered me, especially when it came to activism.  Demonstrating for certain causes was considered safe, but the “wrong” causes would get us all killed because they would spread the virus to everyone.  The way that typically shook out was that left-wing causes, such as the George Floyd protests, were given special dispensation by the virus and therefore considered safe, while anti-lockdown demonstrations, typically attended by right-wingers, were OmG sUpErSpReAdEr!!!! events where the virus would take great joy in infecting all in attendance.  Likewise, I was appalled by the way that many on the left responded to the death of right-wing commentator and former presidential candidate Herman Cain from COVID-19 in July 2020 after attending a political rally.  People acted as though Cain, who also opposed mask mandates, somehow deserved to die because he contracted COVID-19 and died from it.  I’m sorry, but while many of us on the left disagreed with Herman Cain’s stances on almost everything, practically celebrating his death and treating his contracting and dying from a respiratory illness as a moral failing on his part is absolutely disgusting, and has no place in civilized political discourse, much like the way that I opposed celebrations in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death.  In any case, what this sort of response ultimately told me was that activism was probably perfectly safe, but people were trying to suppress the other side by criticizing one side’s causes and celebrating another in light of the virus.

In any case, when it has come to politics in a pandemic, I have never felt more alienated all around for being an independent thinker.  For the left, while I agree with a lot of their stances, many of them went completely off of the deep end when it came to COVID, and left-wing politicians took a hardline stance on lockdowns and masks and such, and I absolutely could not get behind that.  For the right, I disagree with most of their positions, particularly on social issues, but when it came to COVID, they were preaching normalcy.  However, my pro-vaccination stance makes me quite unpopular with that crowd.  I’ve certainly discovered how much of a “small-L libertarian” I am, especially in this time of government overreach.

Masks particularly bothered me, because it felt like an invasion into my personal space.  Early on in the pandemic, before mandates, Elyse and I laughed about the people who wore masks in public, because we thought that they were being overly paranoid.  Once mandates started to become a thing, Elyse and I would travel to non-mask jurisdictions to do our errands when possible, and only went along with it once all of the states within a reasonable drive implemented it.   If it tells you anything, for a while, we were driving out to West Virginia on a somewhat regular basis for groceries, mainly to avoid masks, and would make a photography adventure out of it while we were out there.  That ended when West Virginia got in on the mask fad (don’t think that governments aren’t subject to fads of their own), and implemented their own mask mandate.  The problem with masks and the way that they were presented, and why everyone was being made to wear one was that, as the narrative went, we were not wearing them to protect ourselves.  We were allegedly wearing them to protect everyone else from us, and it does nothing at all for the wearer except fog up their glasses.  In other words, we were being asked to literally save the world by wearing a mask.  I considered that a ridiculous ask, especially if we were already supposed to social distance (if the virus allegedly can’t travel more than six feet in the first place, what’s the point of wearing a mask?).  That also meant that it failed the “What’s in this for me?” test.  If my mask doesn’t do anything to protect me, and my own protection requires the full compliance of every single other person in the world to be effective, then I don’t get any benefit from this, and I’m also not doing this out of a feeling of selflessness.  After all, people who do “selfless” things like donate to charity expect to get rewarded for it in the form of tax deductions.  It’s not totally selfless by any means.  Whenever I’ve done something truly selfless, I’ve tended to get burned for it.  So no completely selfless acts from me.

I especially loved the way that some people compared wearing masks to wearing seatbelts in a car.  It’s not the same thing at all.  With seat belts, that protects me and me only.  If I don’t wear my seat belt, I’m going through the windshield in the event of an accident.  My wearing my seatbelt won’t stop my passengers from going through the windshield if they’re not also wearing their seatbelts.  They have to do it for themselves, and it only protects them.  If it worked like the masks are alleged to work, wearing my seat belt would do nothing to benefit me, and if the passengers in my car didn’t all wear theirs, I would still be at risk of going through the windshield if someone was out of compliance, even though I had mine on.  Likewise, if they’re all wearing their seatbelts and I’m not, they’re all going through the windshield and I’m staying safe.  After all, my seat belt protects them, and their seat belts protect me.  Therefore, their seat belts are all protecting me, but I’m leaving them unprotected by not wearing mine.  I’m laughing while writing this because it’s that ridiculous, but you get the point.  It really all goes back to what I said about safety in my Journal entry about school buses.  Back then, I said:

It all leads me to think that the typical school bus stop arrangement is a bit unrealistic and not as safe as one would like to think that it is if the achievement of a safe stop requires factors that are entirely outside of the driver’s control to be in complete compliance.

In other words, if your method to ensure safety requires everyone to be in 100% compliance in order to be effective, then it is not safe at at all, because there are too many factors outside of any one person’s control.  If one person’s being out of compliance is going to kill us all, even if everyone else is properly covered, then it is not ensuring anyone’s safety.

What especially got me was when officials started saying that we should start wearing two masks, i.e. a cloth one and a disposable one.  We already knew that masks were security theater, and this seemed to confirm, without explicitly saying it, that wearing a single mask, like people had been doing for six or so months up to that point, didn’t do anything.  But double masking allegedly would do it.  Sure.  My first thought was, oh, the hell with that, as I dismissed it out of hand.  They were lucky to even get one mask out of me.  Like hell I was going to wear two.  If one allegedly doesn’t do anything, what gives me any reason to think that two will be any better?  Ultimately, masks became a talisman of sorts for a lot of people, i.e. if they wore their masks, they got a magical force field around them that would protect them from the disease-du-jour.

Masks also gave me a bit of pause when it came to supporting Joe Biden for president, and why my reaction to the election was tepid at best.  Biden supported a national mask mandate, which was a complete non-starter to me.  Then after he took office, his “national mask mandate” turned into a strong recommendation and about working with states and localities to get people to cover up.  I figured that we had dodged a bullet.  But then Biden issued an order through the CDC requiring the wearing of masks on all public modes of transportation.  I found this to be quite repugnant, because it as sent a very bad message, i.e. that it was not safe to ride public transportation, if it was necessary for everyone to wear a face mask in order to do it safely.  Transit has felt the effects of people’s staying home more often than not, carrying sparsely populated trains up and down the line through quiet stations.  I’m sorry, but I make my living taking people to and from work every day.  If people aren’t going to work at work, or are driving to work, then my job is in jeopardy.  Therefore, I don’t take kindly to this characterization of transit as unsafe because of the virus-du-jour.  And I especially didn’t appreciate Biden’s using my industry as a pawn to fulfill a campaign promise that was ridiculous in the first place.  Yeah, Biden made his national mask mandate, and my industry has to suffer for it.  Thanks for nothing.

Something else that’s bothered me now that people are shedding masks is the perception issue.  I’ve heard more than one person say that they will continue to wear masks because they don’t want to “look like a Republican”.  Every time I’ve heard that, I would look at them like, really? and roll my eyes.  That is perhaps the most ridiculous rationale ever.  Is your identity so wrapped up in your politics, and are you so politically polarized that you will wear a mask solely to show that you’re on the “correct” team?  Get over yourself with your virtue signaling.  The virtue signaling based on politics starts right at the top, though.  Biden made mask-wearing a big part of his campaign, and even though he was just about the first one to get vaccinated against COVID, he still wears that stupid mask all the time, even though he’s now immune.

I believe that I took the stance that I took about the pandemic because I have engaged in acceptance of a certain level of risk.  I understand and accept that the world is a very dirty place, and it’s always going to be that way, no matter how much cleaning and “sanitizing” we do.  I know that when I go out, many other people have touched the same surfaces that I will touch, and that many more will touch them after me.  I know that other people may have coughed or sneezed on these surfaces, or even done something unsanitary like pick their nose and eat it, and then touch a door handle.  I also know that such unsanitary behaviors by others are completely outside of my control, and I accept that.  So I do what I can to protect myself from this, like being mindful about how often I touch my face, and washing my hands on a regular basis.  I can’t control what everyone else does, and it would be futile to think that I could control that.  Additionally, every time I go out, I accept that there is a certain level of risk that comes along with it.  Any number of things could happen to me when I leave the house.  I could step on an uneven surface and break a bone.  I could get into a car accident.  I might have to escape a fire.  If I consider the risk acceptable, I go out.  If I consider the risk unacceptable, then I will reformulate my plans to find a way to execute them with lower risk, or reconsider whether or not I want to do that thing at all.  In any case, I accept what the world is, and then determine for myself how I want to interact with it.  On that same note, I also accept that we share a planet with lots of different kinds of microorganisms that may help or harm us if they enter our bodies, and that by going out, we might be exposed to some of them.  After all, there’s nothing like going out to eat and discovering later that the food that you ate was improperly prepared, and now you’re sick because of it.  But we take that risk any time that we go out.  Similarly, I could catch a cold while out.  Every time I leave the house, I run the risk of being exposed to other people’s germs.  I accept that risk as a part of life.  Life becomes a lot easier once you learn to accept things that you cannot control.  But I don’t project my fears onto everyone else, and I don’t try to force them to live in fear in order to placate me.

There’s also something else that I have come to realize and accept in my time on this planet: when it comes to the matter of man vs. nature, nature wins every single time.  Whenever humans try to “play god”, it never works out.  Whenever we start to think that we have bested nature, nature is quick to humble us again.  COVID-19 seems to be no exception, as we are once again being humbled by nature, this time with a pandemic.  When it comes to nature, you really have to roll with it, because nature plays the longest game around, to the tune of billions of years (i.e. geologic timescales).  How quickly man-made structures deteriorate once they are no longer being maintained should be a good indication of that.  Just look at the shape that the Bauers’ house and that Days Inn were in when we visited them.  According to public records, the Bauers’ house had been built in 1893, but once it was abandoned in 2002, it deteriorated quite quickly, and was beyond economic repair by the time that we visited in 2016 (it has since been demolished entirely).  Meanwhile, that Days Inn was built in 1991 and closed in 2013.  Having been closed for just seven years, nature took its toll on the place and rendered it beyond economic repair before a fire finished it off about six months after our visit.  In the end, nature always wins.

One thing that astonished me about this whole thing was how willing people were to give up their freedoms.  It goes to show that fear is a hell of a drug.  Some folks, including some who would have been very much up in arms if this had happened during the Bush era in response to 9/11, were more than happy to roll over and give up all of the things that we hold dear in the name of safety from a virus.  And to think that people made fun of Bush for saying that we needed to go shopping and live our normal lives following 9/11.  In the case of COVID, we gave an inch, and the government took a mile.  The original ask was for everyone to stay home for two weeks in order to “flatten the curve”, ostensibly to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.  The idea was to stay home and not venture out unless absolutely necessary, and the closure of all “non-essential” businesses was done to support that.  I thought that even just the two weeks was an unreasonable ask, but most people bought into it, and we began to see things shut down, ostensibly to slow the spread.  Then came more open-ended stay-at-home orders from our state governors, and mandated closures of “non-essential” businesses for an indefinite period of time.  And then came the orders to wear masks in public.  If you give an inch, they will take a mile.  And the goalposts gradually shifted, going from “flatten the curve” and “slow the spread” to “stop the spread” and “crush the curve” and eliminating the virus entirely, while the criteria for getting our lives back were rather nebulous.  It was also done in such a way that it sounded like it was our fault that they were doing this to us, and that if we just behaved ourselves and locked down harder, things would get better.  And if the case numbers go up, presumably because we were bad (because it’s not like a virus is doing its thing – no, it’s a moral failure on our part), we lost our privileges, as indoor dining was yanked a few times over the course of this.  You really do start to feel badly for restaurants, because they were the scapegoats throughout all of this.  One of the first things to happen was the banning of indoor dining, and depending on the jurisdiction, it was reinstated and revoked again on multiple occasions.  That’s not a sustainable way to run a business, if you are subject to the whims of a state governor or county executive to know how you are allowed to operate your business from day to day.

I’ve taken a dim view of nebulous criteria given for before certain things can happen for a long time, and I believe with good reason.  Nebulous criteria usually means that there is no criteria at all, and that the person making the determination is just going to do whatever they want regardless of anything else.  My distrust of it stems from fifth grade, when, after my teacher separated my desk from the rest of the class, she gave me some very nebulous criteria when I asked what it would take to rejoin the class.  Her true intent was likely, “Hell no, I’m planning to ostracize you for the rest of the year,” but instead of being honest and telling me that, she just fed me a line that would get no resistance from me, waiting for the day that I could rejoin the class, which ultimately would never come.  Ever since then, my distrust of such things has never been wrong.

I’ve also always been a strong proponent of getting vaccinated against diseases.  My stance from the outset was that vaccination was the only way out of this, i.e. building up a large enough subset the population with immunity to make the disease a non-issue.  There were two ways to achieve that: either everyone gets the disease directly, or we do an end run around it by vaccinating.  With the idea of a novel virus that no one had any preexisting immunity to, it was bound to be one or the other, and you essentially had a choice of which way you wanted to go.  I chose vaccination, because it’s much less messy than contracting the real disease.  I consider it a great milestone of human achievement to see diseases that were once considered a part of life become things of the past by vaccination.  My parents both got the measles.  I was vaccinated for it, so I never had to experience it, along with a number of other things that my parents had to deal with that I didn’t, thanks to vaccinations.  I got the chickenpox at age four, and gave it to my sister and my father(!).  My sister, being about one year old at the time, had an extremely mild case, but my father, in his mid thirties at the time, became legitimately sick from it, and had an extremely hard time with it.  Elyse got the chickenpox vaccine, which was not a thing yet when we all got it, and so she will never have to experience the absolute joy that is chickenpox (or be at risk of developing shingles later in life).  Plus there’s polio, smallpox, and other diseases that have either been eradicated or greatly reduced in their prevalence on account of vaccination programs.  So for me, getting the vaccination was always a no-brainer.  It was never a matter of “if”.  It was always a matter of “where do I sign up”.  And for the record, I got vaccinated in February and March, with the Pfizer version.  And for all of the naysayers, the way I see it, guys trust Pfizer to give them an erection when it’s not possible to do so naturally, and so I see no reason not to extend that same logic to this.  In other words, I have no reason to think that they don’t know what they are doing, and this is not their first rodeo when it comes to developing things like this.

One thing that I found a bit odd, though, was the insistence that people who had already contracted and recovered from COVID-19 get vaccinated against it anyway.  In other words, get vaccinated against a disease that you’ve already had and developed natural immunity against.  What’s the point?  I considered it the height of arrogance to tell people that even if they already had contracted and recovered from the actual disease, that they still needed to get vaccinated.  Clearly, people conveniently forgot about nature’s undefeated record against humans.  Any time that humans have tried to outdo nature, they always get spanked for it in the end.

I’m also going to be the first to say that the marketing for the vaccine was terrible.  They told us, “Get your vaccine!”  However, they also told us that you still had to practice social distancing and wear a mask even if you had gotten the complete series of vaccinations.  They also told us that you still could get COVID-19 even if you were vaccinated.  While I understand that no vaccine is 100% effective, that sort of messaging is not how you entice people to go out and get it done.  After all, based on that messaging, nothing in life changes, and it provides no protection against disease.  It is completely reasonable for someone to hear that messaging and say, “Then what’s the point of getting the vaccine?”  I find it hard to argue with that stance based on the way it’s been marketed.  All I know is that as far as I was concerned, the pandemic was over for me the moment that the second shot went in.  I was fully vaccinated, and therefore, I was out of the woods.  COVID-19 was no longer a concern for me, and I had even less patience for the security theater that I was being subjected to than I did before.

However, while I am a strong proponent for vaccinations, I also oppose implementing vaccination passports in daily life.  As I see it, vaccination records are a matter between a patient and their doctor, and none of anyone else’s business.  While a business’s checking vaccination status at the door is not something that is covered under HIPAA, it’s still none of their business.  I find so many companies’ making new mask policies that exempt vaccinated customers while still requiring unvaccinated customers to continue to wear masks to be laughable, because their customers’ vaccination status is none of their business.  Ultimately, there is no practical way to check vaccination status without alienating customers, and the businesses know that.  My COVID vaccination card is completed and sitting in a file cabinet, and that is where it will stay.  Ultimately, one is on their honor about vaccination status, and that’s how it should be.

On that note, one thing that I’m going to be happy to see go away is seeing corporate America “care” so much about my health.  If I had a nickel for every time I saw a sign from a big corporation telling me all about how much they’re concerned about my health and safety, I could retire right now.  I don’t find that comforting or reassuring.  Rather, I find it creepy.  It is not their job to worry about keeping me safe from a viral illness.  That’s an impossible task, akin to pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.  Their job is to sell me what is on the shelves and otherwise leave me the hell alone.  The only safety that I’m concerned about from them is the usual things to ensure my physical safety, like a building in good repair, spills and such cleaned up quickly, and no worry about falling objects.  That’s all I ask.  I don’t appreciate being micromanaged by employees of a place where the goal is ultimately to give them some of my money.  Similarly, I’ve abstained from going to most entertainment-type places that are open right now, as a matter of self-respect.  I respect myself more than to pay full price to suffer through a degraded experience where I’m subjected to much security theater and micromanaged out the wazoo for masks, distancing, and where many parts of the experience are simply not offered in the interest of “safety”.  I’ll pass for now, and revisit when things are normal again.  I’ve said throughout this whole thing that if you piss me off enough during a pandemic to the point that I don’t want to come back, I’m still not coming back even after the pandemic is over.  I suspect that most businesses did it for liability reasons, protecting themselves from getting sued if someone should catch COVID-19 in their establishments, but it was still completely unnecessary.  All of the micromanagement and such was why, during the debate about the second stimulus (the $600 one), when the Democrats wanted stimulus checks to go out, and the Republicans wanted liability protection for businesses when it came to COVID-19, I said that we should do both.  The two proposals were made out to be at odds with each other, as the Republicans didn’t want more stimulus checks going out, while the Democrats didn’t want liability protection for businesses.  But doing both just made sense.  The government directly caused the need for the stimulus, and therefore they should pony up for the economic recovery, and it’s also not the responsibility of a private business to protect anyone from an airborne virus.  That’s not their job.  They need to stay in their lane and conduct their business, and let the people determine what level of protection is best for themselves.

I’ve also found it disappointing how many people have shown who they really are during all of this.  I recently saw someone wearing a shirt that said, “Time exposes us for who we really are,” and it’s really rung true over the last year.  I have found out how judgmental, closed-minded, and short-sighted some people really are.  I’ve also discovered that many (most?) people really have no stances of their own, but instead simply jump on the bandwagon with whatever will make them look the most virtuous.

The short-sightedness is one thing that got me early on, where people were not only supporting, but actually encouraging the government’s shutting down the industries that they worked in under the guise of preventing viral spread.  I couldn’t help but think, ARE YOU NUTS?!? about these things.  After all, the pandemic would be over in due time.  But if one loses their job, and then loses their house and car because they can’t pay the bills because the government prevented them from being able to work, that’s going to have a far more devastating and lasting effect than a respiratory illness where there are very good odds of recovering.  But if someone did lose their livelihood on account of lockdowns, I’ll bet that they were keen on blaming “the virus” rather than the government.  Thing is, COVID-19 does not care about your job.  “Virus gonna virus”, after all.  The government is what took their jobs, but it felt like very few people were giving the government the proper credit for the economic devastation that they caused.  I remember on the Facebook discussion group that my union provides, one person wished out loud that our industry, public transportation, would be shut down in the name of “safety” (I also never thought that I would ever put “safety” in quotes like that while simultaneously rolling my eyes).  I responded to them in no uncertain terms that if they felt unsafe coming to work, then they could always quit, but that they had no right to project their fear onto me and try to prevent me from coming to work and continuing to earn my own livelihood.  It took all of the restraint that I could muster not to call them an idiot, but I maintained civility.  But it really amazed me how many people were willing to give up everything that they had worked for in their lives in exchange for a (false) sense of security.  Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”  And in this case, in the end, the people lost both.  I felt like I was far away from most people when I advocated that what was going on was nuts, and should not happen in an allegedly free society.  I will never advocate for a policy of ordering businesses closed, specifically because it will cause devastating economic effects.  As I see it, it would have been one thing if the economy still tanked naturally with the onset of the pandemic and the related shifting of economic factors, but once the government forced large swaths of the economy to shut down, it was no longer attributable to a business cycle.  The government completely owned it, especially when they didn’t really put up to help people weather their shutdowns.

I also was amazed to see how many people in their social media posts were openly suggesting mocking people for opposing stances, and using “BuT wE’rE iN a PaNdEmIc!!!!!” as an excuse to be really lousy human beings.  A former coworker of mine, who I used to think was pretty open-minded, posted, “Are we allowed to quarantine shame people?”  I was like, really? over that one.  And then other people were agreeing with him, much to my amazement.  All I could think of was, “Dude, not cool.”  Then there was another time when I posted an article to my own Facebook timeline that articulated my stance on lockdowns.  One person didn’t even discuss the content of the article, but complained that it was from The Hill, which, according to them, was a right-wing source.  Another person didn’t even bother to comment on the content, either, instead, just saying, “Idiotic.  Bye.”  Then he unfriended me.  Yeah, love you, too.  I returned the favor by blocking him, making it permanent.  I’ve also found myself thinking to myself, I used to respect you, quite a bit in the last year or so about a number of people, as they’ve shown their true colors for all to see.

In the short term, I believe that the biggest challenge will be to convince some people that the world is safe to exist in again (not that it ever wasn’t).  Some people will likely continue to mask and distance and only venture out when absolutely necessary for a very long time.  The way that mask rules dropped like flies recently, though, both among states and among private businesses, gives me hope that normalcy will resume quickly.  In the longer term, I suspect that in eight or ten years or so, it will become accepted in hindsight that we overreacted to this pandemic, much like how it is now generally accepted that the Iraq War was a mistake.  In other words, with the passage of time, it will come out that we blew this one in a major way.  If the country had collectively kept its cool and didn’t burn the house down over a virus with a very high survival rate, we probably would have gotten through this much more easily than we did.  The early advice of “Keep calm and wash your hands” was all that ever needed to be said.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not discounting COVID-19 as a hoax or anything like that.  It is a legitimate health concern, but it’s not the sort of super-virus that will kill us all.  I considered the official response to have been been grossly out of proportion to the actual threat posed.  We greatly overreacted, and it this will likely go down in history as a major blunder because we shut down much of the economy and inflicted far more damage on society from our overreaction to the virus than the virus could have ever dreamed of doing on its own if we had left well enough alone.

One thing that I hope becomes a legacy of this pandemic is a reeling in of emergency powers.  The ability to act quickly in an emergency has its place, but this pandemic showed that those powers are probably too broad in scope, and are too subject to abuse.  To that end, we need to pass laws to prevent such a gross overreaction from ever happening again.  What I found most concerning about the use of emergency powers were these open-ended decrees that had real effects on people, made by the executive branch without consultation with the legislature.  Last I checked, that’s not how laws are made.  It is by design that laws go through a lot of hands and get a lot of signatures before being enacted.  That’s a way of ensuring the consent of the governed.  One person’s ruling by open-ended decrees is not that.  If I wanted to be ruled by an autocrat, I’d move to a country that has an autocratic system of government.  The thing is this: if a situation is truly an emergency and the measures being enacted are reasonable for the crisis at hand, then there should be no issue with getting some proper legislation passed, because the legislature will be behind them on the matters.  Bypassing the legislature and ruling by decree is a gigantic middle finger to the democratic process, which is not how we’re supposed do things in our country.  It tells me that the executive in question knows that they wouldn’t prevail in the legislature if they went through them, but they’re doing it anyway, because they just know better.  Laws that would rein that in would be quite welcome.

All in all, I’m glad that we’re finally able to put the events of the past year and change into the past and go forward in a more normal way.  Hopefully, we have learned some lessons from this experience, such that we will never have such a massive and destructive fear-driven overreaction to a virus ever again.

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A flight over JMU… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/05/15/a-flight-over-jmu/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/05/15/a-flight-over-jmu/#respond Sat, 15 May 2021 18:12:34 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=38804 On May 10, while Elyse and I were on a weekend trip down to the Shenandoah Valley to see the parents and such, we stopped at JMU, and I took the drone for a flight over the far side of campus across Interstate 81.  That is a part of campus that has definitely changed since I was a student, as it’s a lot more built up than it used to be.  There are lots of buildings over there that weren’t there when I attended.  There’s also a new indoor arena over there called the Atlantic Union Bank Center, or, as the folks on Reddit have taken to calling it, the “Algerdome”, after JMU’s current president, Jonathan Alger.  I flew from a facility that was new since I was there, on the roof of a massive parking garage next to the Algerdome, built on the former site of Blue Ridge Hall.  That higher vantage point was helpful because it gave me a better line of sight to my aircraft and a better signal for my remote, as there were fewer buildings getting in my way up there.

And here are the photos:

Potomac Hall

Potomac Hall

Potomac Hall
Potomac Hall.  (Yes, I realize that it was renamed Chandler Hall a few years ago, but it will always be Potomac Hall to me.)

Potomac Hall, viewed from directly overhead.
Potomac Hall, viewed from directly overhead.

Chesapeake Hall, viewed from directly overhead.
Chesapeake Hall, viewed from directly overhead.  Note the rounded shape of the features on the front of the building (bottom of the photo) compared to the squared-off features on Potomac Hall.

The College Center, since renamed the Festival Conference and Student Center.

The College Center, since renamed the Festival Conference and Student Center.

The College Center, since renamed the Festival Conference and Student Center.
The College Center, since renamed the Festival Conference and Student Center.  The “Festival” name originated with the dining facility that exists in the building, and everyone already called the building “The Festival” based on that dining facility, so I suppose that it wasn’t a big stretch to name the whole complex (save for the adjoining Leeolou Alumni Center) for the Festival dining facility.

Aerial view looking past I-81 towards the main campus.
Aerial view looking past I-81 towards the main campus.

The far side of campus, viewed from near I-81.

The far side of campus, viewed from near I-81.
The far side of campus, viewed from near I-81.

The ISAT/CS Building and adjoining buildings behind it.

The ISAT/CS Building and adjoining buildings behind it.

The ISAT/CS Building and adjoining buildings behind it.
The ISAT/CS Building and adjoining buildings behind it.

Overhead view of the tower on the front of the ISAT/CS Building.


Overhead view of the tower on the front of the ISAT/CS Building.  I felt like this was a nice companion piece to a photo that I took in October 2001 looking up the same tower.  Perhaps one day when I have more time, I’ll fly a little closer to it and get a more detailed downward shot.

The Festival, the Algerdome, and the dorms.
The Festival, the Algerdome, and the dorms.

Rose Library
Rose Library, which is a second library that was built a few years after I graduated, named for Linwood Rose, the president of the university when attended.

East Campus Dining Hall
The East Campus Dining Hall, otherwise known as E-Hall, which opened in 2009.  This area was a field when I was a student.

View above the parking garage, facing the town.
View above the parking garage, facing the town.

So all in all, I’d say that I didn’t do too badly for a late-afternoon flight.  This worked out really well because this was a week when the university was pretty much closed, being the Monday after graduation and all.  Therefore, I didn’t have to worry about overflying people, because, quite simply, there weren’t any because the place was dead.  This was fun to do, and I would love to fly at JMU again on similarly quiet days like this.

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Gordmans, we hardly knew ye… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/05/07/gordmans-we-hardly-knew-ye/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/05/07/gordmans-we-hardly-knew-ye/#respond Fri, 07 May 2021 14:03:24 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=38583 Recently, while working through my very large backlog of photos, I processed the various photos that I took of the Gordmans store in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, Gordmans, in the form that I experienced it, was an off-price retailer owned by Stage Stores.  Stage was in the process of implementing a major strategic move, repositioning itself away from department stores and going all-in on the off-price model (like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Ross).  With that, the company had begun to convert all of its department store nameplates, i.e. Stage, Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal, and Peebles, to Gordmans.  The goal was to have all of its 738 stores in 42 states converted to the off-price format under the Gordmans name by the end of 2020.  The Waynesboro store was originally a Peebles, and was an early conversion to Gordmans.

As you probably guessed based on my wording, world events caused a change in Stage’s plans.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, the various “lockdown” orders issued meant that all of Stage’s stores, considered “non-essential” businesses, were shuttered for several months.  With the stores closed and the resulting lack of sales for an extended period, this pushed Stage off of a cliff, financially speaking, which lead to their filing for bankruptcy.  It was ultimately determined that the best course of action was to wind-up operations, and as such, when the stores reopened, they immediately began going-out-of-business sales.

My first experience with Gordmans was on June 1, 2020.  Elyse and I were out doing some photography in the Hagerstown and Waynesboro areas, and happened upon the Gordmans store in the Wayne Heights Mall shopping center, at an hour when it should have been in operation, if not for government orders requiring that it be closed.

So this is Gordmans, frozen in time:

Exterior of Gordmans.  Note the Peebles labelscar behind the Gordmans sign.
Exterior of Gordmans. Note the Peebles labelscar behind the Gordmans sign.

View through the front doors, with an Easter display immediately in front.
View through the front doors, with an Easter display immediately in front.

Homelines products on the left side of the store.
Homelines products on the left side of the store.

Long racks of clothes on the right side of the store.  Long racks of clothes like that are a typical arrangement for an off-price store.
Long racks of clothes on the right side of the store.  Long racks of clothes like that are a typical arrangement for an off-price store.

More views of the facade.

More views of the facade.
More views of the facade.

I never visited this particular location when it was Peebles, so I can’t comment on how much things differed from its previous incarnation as Peebles.  I also can’t really generalize based on other former Peebles locations, because the Peebles location that I’m most familiar with was the Staunton Mall store, which was a conversion from Stone & Thomas, and didn’t look much like a regular Peebles.  But in any case, the location now looked like a typical off-price store, similar to what you would find at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Ross.

This visit made me feel a bit sad.  The store was frozen in time, stuck in mid-March (its last day of operation was likely March 19) while the world had changed all around it.  I also knew that this would be the only time that Elyse and I would ever get to see a Gordmans store whole, appearing the way that the company intended.  The company had filed for bankruptcy three weeks prior to our visit, and had announced that the whole company would be liquidated unless they found a buyer.  Thus this store was already doomed, but due to closure orders in effect, it was still frozen in time, blissfully unaware of the fate that awaited it.

Elyse and I would visit this location again on August 20.  By this time, the store had reopened, and the liquidation sale was underway.  So, for the first and last time, we got to see what a Gordmans store was about, albeit in liquidation mode:

The facade of Gordmans, decked out in store-closing signage.

The facade of Gordmans, decked out in store-closing signage.

The facade of Gordmans, decked out in store-closing signage.
The facade of Gordmans, decked out in store-closing signage.

Straight-on view of the Gordmans logo, with the labelscar from the Peebles sign clearly visible behind it.
Straight-on view of the Gordmans logo, with the labelscar from the Peebles sign clearly visible behind it.

At this juncture, it’s worth noting that the logo was my only real criticism of Gordmans.  I always felt like the Gordmans logo did a poor job conveying what the store was actually about, and that it didn’t fit the subject matter of the company that it was branding.  When I first saw that logo, with its purple color and whimsical font, I assumed that it was a store that catered to girls in their early to mid teens.  Gordmans does, in fact, sell stuff for men, as well as people of all ages, but nothing about that logo would pull me in off of the street to get me to check it out.  Likewise, I would have never expected a homelines section based on that logo.  Teenage girls, for the most part, don’t buy homelines (but their parents probably do).  When taken by itself, though, I like the logo.  From a design standpoint alone, I think it’s well done.  I just find it to be ill-suited for the application that it was being used with.  On the right kind of store, that logo would be a killer.

And then I went inside:

The salesfloor at Gordmans.
The salesfloor at Gordmans.  The middle of the salesfloor contained clothing on freestanding racks similar to a department store, while the side contained the long racks.  I couldn’t get a good look at this area in June because other things blocked my view.

One of several message signs located throughout the store.
One of several message signs located throughout the store.  One is visible in the earlier photo at the entrance, advertising an Easter sale.  It made me sad that the message that remained on these signs the longest was “Store Closing, All Sales Final”.

Liquidation sale signage.

Liquidation sale signage.
Liquidation sale signage.

Signage explaining what would happen with Stage's rewards program and store credit cards.

Signage explaining what would happen with Stage's rewards program and store credit cards.
Signage explaining what would happen with Stage’s rewards program and store credit cards.

COVID-19 signage at the fitting room.  I couldn't help but think that in this case, "temporarily" really meant "permanently" since the store would soon be gone.
COVID-19 signage at the fitting room.  I couldn’t help but think that in this case, “temporarily” really meant “permanently” since the store would soon be gone.

COVID-19 security theater signage around the store.

COVID-19 security theater signage around the store.
COVID-19 security theater signage around the store.

The back room at Gordmans, where the liquidators were selling fixtures.

The back room at Gordmans, where the liquidators were selling fixtures.
The back room at Gordmans, where the liquidators were selling fixtures.  I was surprised about a few things back here.  First was that Peebles/Gordmans built additional back room space compared to what was there before.  This entire room was part of the salesfloor in the building’s previous form before Peebles.  And second, based on that wall design, the previous occupant was an Ames store, which occupied this space as well as what is now Dollar Tree next door.  I never would have imagined that such a thing would have been preserved after all of these years.

Amongst the fixtures and such in the back room, Elyse found a Stage board game, presumably used for some sort of training, and wanted to buy it.  Unfortunately, the store wouldn’t sell it to us because it had the company’s name on it.  We were disappointed, but those are the breaks, I suppose.

So all in all, the Gordmans in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania only got to operate for 31 days, from February 18 to March 19, when government orders shut it down for more than two months.  Then when the store was finally allowed to reopen, it went into liquidation.  The store operated under the auspices of a liquidation company for more than twice as long as it was operated as Gordmans by the company as a going concern.

And then this is what the place looked like after Gordmans vacated, photographed on November 27, 2020:

The left side of Gordmans after they vacated

The right side of Gordmans after they vacated

Seeing that empty store, I couldn’t help but think, what a waste.  Stage was in the process of making a major strategic transformation from department stores to off-price, with promising results from the transformation, with same-store sales up 17%.  But then they got kneecapped, and as such, they never got the chance to see how well their strategy would play out in the marketplace.  How would Gordmans perform as an off-price retailer under Stage ownership?  We will never know, because they never got the chance to put their strategy into practice.

I don’t normally feel badly when businesses fail, and especially so when large companies fall.  After all, it’s just business, and failure is a risk that you assume when you go into business.  But Stage Stores failed due to circumstances beyond the company’s control.  It makes me feel sad for them, as well as angry at the entities whose actions resulted in their failure.  Basically, when all of the company’s stores were ordered to shut down for an extended period, the resulting lack of sales caused the company to run out of cash.  After all, even while things are closed and most employees are furloughed, rent still needs to be paid, utilities need to be paid, taxes are still due, and so on.  In other words, people still have to eat.  And companies need a continuous flow of money through them in order to meet these obligations on an ongoing basis.  One cannot just hit “pause” on the economy, weather out a rough period, and then resume like nothing ever happened.  Even if the business is forced to stop operating, the economy never stops moving.  And that’s what makes me angry about this and similar failures: while COVID-19 is most certainly something to be concerned about, it was never the threat to the extent that many governments responded to it as.  The response was extremely disproportionate to the severity of the threat, and destroyed far more lives than it saved.  In the case of Stage, 19,000 employees lost their jobs with the winding-up of the company, and who knows how many people who had invested in Stage lost their shirts, all through no fault of the company’s.  The company was poised for success, after all, but then failed due to circumstances beyond the control of anyone at the company.  The measures may have lessened the risk of catching COVID-19 (but probably didn’t in any appreciable way), but instead, many people lost their livelihoods.

What amazed me most, though, was the response from some people, who rationalized pandemic-related business failures like happened to Stage as something of a moral failing on the company’s part, claiming that the company’s failure due to the extended closure was its own fault and therefore deserved to fail because the company did not save for a rainy day.  Would “delusional” be the right word to describe such people?  After all, prior to March 2020, the idea that a company would be forced to shut down for an extended period by state governments, ostensibly to stop the spread of a virus, would have been considered absurd.  Prior to that, the most that one might have seen would have been a closure of a few days for a hurricane or a blizzard or some other natural phenomenon, but then business would quickly resume once the storm cleared.  And such a shutdown would not have been companywide.  Such a closure would have only affected a few units in a fairly limited geographic area.  It would continue to be business as usual for all of the company’s other operating units.  That sort of contingency is the sort of thing that companies can and should plan for, as it is reasonable to expect a natural disaster to happen from time to time.  However, it would not have been considered reasonable prior to March 2020 to plan for a sudden, extended shutdown of the entire company by government fiat.  It had never happened before, and would have been considered unthinkable.  Was Stage in the best position, financially speaking, prior to March 2020?  Maybe, maybe not.  Perhaps they were leveraged a bit more than would otherwise be advised in order to finance their repositioning to off-price, but in that case, I would imagine that they would have been expected to recoup that through increased sales when the repositioning was complete and the newly-minted Gordmans stores were showing results.

I have said in other places in the past that the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic should be the placement of safeguards to ensure that this sort of overrereaction to a natural phenomenon never happens again.  The vast majority of people who caught the disease recovered in two weeks.  But the economic devastation that our governments perpetrated against their own citizens will take many years to recover from, and some may never recover from it.  So much wasted potential.  This is what happens when people become afraid, and act from a place of fear.  Mass hysteria is a hell of a drug, and it’s left a large path of destruction in its wake.  It would have been one thing if economic shifts as a result of the pandemic had happened naturally and businesses failed because of that, but once the government meddled in such a major way, ordering all of these so-called “non-essential” businesses closed and not providing much in the way of aid to help them weather it, they owned every last bit of it.  After all, the virus didn’t shut the businesses down.  The virus does not care about such things.  The government did that all on its own.  And that’s what angers me so much about all of this.  Companies like Stage didn’t fail on account of business cycles.  Rather, they were artificially starved to death when the government went in and chose winners and losers, and that is never acceptable.

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