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 Mon, 07 Jun 2021 06:21:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.2 https://www.schuminweb.com/wp-content/uploads/Clouds-Facebook-icon-150x150.png The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com 32 32 37838674 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  It has long since been replaced by more modern systems, but many of the towers still remain.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.  But 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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A lesson on how not to behave when doing advocacy work… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/04/27/a-lesson-on-how-not-to-behave-when-doing-advocacy-work/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/04/27/a-lesson-on-how-not-to-behave-when-doing-advocacy-work/#respond Tue, 27 Apr 2021 04:55:57 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=38456 Lately, there has been a small grassroots movement in Montgomery Village called “Citizens for Airpark Safety” complaining about noise from the Montgomery County Airpark (GAI/KGAI), which is a small public-use general aviation airport located in the Gaithersburg area.  I had heard rumblings about this from a few folks on a local Montgomery Village group that Elyse and I are in, but then it recently made its way to the physical space on Sunday when I found this on my front door as I was leaving for work:

Citizens for Airpark Safety flyer

The doorbell camera caught the person leaving the flyer, a woman named Karen Sheehan:

Karen Sheehan, caught in the act by my doorbell camera
(Make a mental note of this now, because it will be relevant later.)

In any case, the flyer discusses noise coming from the airpark, and encourages people to take action against the airpark based on aircraft noise.  Extra points for the Shutterstock image that the group stoleTo give you an idea of how close the airpark is to Montgomery Village, my house is 1.6 miles from the center of the runway as the crow flies.  I regularly see planes flying nearby, as one of the approaches to the airport is a short distance from my house.  The aircraft noise is not loud by any means, nor is it very frequent.  This is not like living in Virginia Beach, where there is jet noise from a military base on a routine basis.  At the airpark, the planes that fly are small turboprops, such as this one that I photographed last July:

N2927Q, about to land at GAI

This plane is part of a fleet operated by the Washington International Flight Academy, which is a flight school that has operated out of the airpark since 1989.

I admit – going off of the flyer, as well as the stuff I’ve seen in the Montgomery Village group, this is one of those NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) movements that I dismiss out of hand, because it’s attempting to fight an existing facility that had been approved long ago, and had been operating for quite some time.  The Montgomery County Airpark is by no means a new thing, having begun operation in 1960.  In other words, this movement is trying to fight a fight that ended a long time ago, if it ever existed in the first place.  Montgomery Village, where the complaints are originating, was founded in 1962, after the airpark was already in operation, and the first residents didn’t move in until 1967.  In other words, the airport predates every single resident of Montgomery Village, and therefore, it was each resident’s responsibility to make themselves aware that there was an airport nearby.  That’s my main criticism about this form of NIMBYism: you came after they did.  The airport didn’t encroach on your neighborhood.  Rather, your neighborhood encroached on the airport.

This is not unique to Montgomery Village, though.  I remember a number of years ago on Reddit, when someone was complaining about noise coming from a business near their townhouse in Rockville.  I let them have it, with the they-were-there-first argument.  In that case, they were complaining about the building that now houses the ethnic grocery store Great Wall Supermarket on Route 355, and how the noise from that store was allegedly impacting their quality of life.  I came back with the argument that there was no way that they didn’t know that they were moving near a commercial property, since according to property record data, the building that now houses the supermarket was built in 1963, while the townhouses were built in 1982.  Therefore, it was the responsibility of everyone in that townhouse development to be aware that there were commercial properties nearby, and if they didn’t like that, it was their choice not to move there.

All in all, I have little sympathy for people who move into an area and then immediately complain about the things that have existed around their house long before them.  Those things are part of what makes the area what it is.  It’s one thing to fight proposed developments that have not been constructed yet, or significant changes to an existing development, but it takes a certain amount of brass to come in and demand that everyone else change in order to accommodate you.  In general, it doesn’t work that way.

But it doesn’t end there.  I let Elyse know about the flyer, and sent the photo of Sheehan to her, along with the full video clip.  She took it and ran with it, posting her own photo of the flyer, along with the image of Sheehan, to the Montgomery Village group:

Elyse's post in response to the flyer

In short, her post reiterates what she had said in the past, and mostly follows my stance, that the airport predates Montgomery Village, and also discusses things like runway length.

Sheehan responded:

Sheehan's response to Elyse's post

I think that we were all a bit surprised that for a flyer that discussed things entirely within the context of aircraft noise, the real issue that they had was actually lead emissions.  Turns out that small aircraft still operate using leaded fuel (who knew?), and the concern was about where that lead landed once it came out of the plane.  That’s a fair issue, since lead emissions are indeed toxic, but no one would have ever taken that from anything in that flyer or any previous communications from people representing that group.

Elyse asked a good question: what research has been done on the issue of lead in Montgomery Village?  Sheehan’s response came up a little bit short:

Sheehan's response to Elyse

That response was a bit too general.  Elyse prodded a little more on this as far as its specific applicability to Montgomery Village further down the thread, both directly to Sheehan, as well as in response to another commenter:

Elyse's response to Sheehan prodding further

Elyse's response to another commenter

Sheehan responded:

Sheehan's response to Elyse

So… no there has not been any research on lead pollution in Montgomery Village.  From what I can tell, this group has taken a public stance on a NIMBY issue that has long since been resolved, and has what was a heretofore undisclosed “real” mission about lead pollution (which is a legitimate enrironmental concern), but hasn’t undertaken any actual research on the matter.  Okay, then.

Another commenter hit the nail right on the head:

Cary Abend regarding the movement's tactics

If your real concern is lead pollution, say as much.  Don’t go around complaining about noise when that’s not your actual concern.  They could probably get some traction trying to fundraise to conduct a proper study on the lead issue.  I might even let them take a soil sample from my front yard in furtherance of the matter, since particulate matter raining down from exhaust overhead could very well end up inside of me, and that stuff has cumulative effects.  The paltry amount of aircraft noise that we get, I don’t care about, and comes across to me like people yelling at clouds.  After all, you moved in knowing that there was an airport nearby.  But the whole lead thing feels like a bait-and-switch to me.  Don’t get everyone all riled up about noise, when you’re really concerned about lead.  If your real concern is about lead, then say lead.

The discussion goes on a bit, where Sheehan makes various claims and attempts to conflate noise and lead, which other people then deconstruct.  Then this exchange happened:

Sheehan's exchange with Elyse

That’s a change of tone: Sheehan actually has no issue with the airpark at all, despite the earlier claims about noise.  Her actual issue is with the flight school and its fleet of planes.  She makes the claim that the median age of the flight school’s planes is 42 years.  That information checks out, as I ran the numbers through Excel and verified aircraft registrations, and the median age is 42 years.  The mean fleet age is 36.  Elyse is also correct, that these small aircraft are really expensive.  A brand new Cessna 172 will run you around $400K, and one manufactured in the 21st century will still run you a quarter of a million or more.  I wasn’t able to verify the cost of a conversion from aviation fuel to car gas.

But then Sheehan turned the conversation back on Elyse: why are you so interested in defending the airport?  When someone turns the conversation away from the issues and onto a participant like that, it tells me that they know that they have lost the argument.  What does Elyse’s motivation have to do with the issue of airplane noise and/or lead pollution?

In any case, it was clear that Sheehan had lost the argument, as Cary Abend demonstrated:

Cary Abend's first response

Cary Abend's second response

And as was indicated earlier, Sheehan has no evidence of such things.  The rest of the thread became a bit of a pile-on mostly in support of the airpark.  The post was ultimately deleted by group moderators, which I consider a disservice to the community in general.  It also harms the credibility of the Facebook group if any posts regarding the community that are remotely controversial are removed, as that has a chilling effect on discussions of issues relating to the community if there’s reason to believe that they’re going to be dirty-deleted by an anonymous moderator.  That is also why I love this space so much, because I am more than happy to hold people accountable on here, and no one can dirty-delete that.

I also got the sense that Sheehan was a bit salty about the fact that Elyse called her out in the original post by sharing the photo of her placing the flyer on our front door.  She sent Elyse a direct message about it:

Sheehan's PM to Elyse

It was clear that she didn’t want to be publicly associated with the movement that she was passionate enough about to go around posting flyers regarding it on people’s front doors.  My take on that?  Let me play a sad song for you on the world’s smallest violin.  In other words, welcome to the world of issue activism and politics.  I consider the posting of the photo to be completely fair game, even if it is a far less flattering shot than what one might post as their Facebook profile photo.  Sheehan stepped onto our property, where there is a camera in plain view from the street.  We control the camera, and can do whatever we want with the camera’s footage, including releasing it to the public, and it is a well established legal doctrine that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy when out in public.  It was entirely her decision to enter our property, where a camera has existed for more than a year.  Additionally, it says a lot about her cause that she is most concerned about her identity being revealed in connection with her cause rather than about the cause itself.  If you’re that passionate about it, get out there and advocate for it.  Be part of the movement.  Sheehan’s getting all hot and bothered about a photo of her doing her thing posting flyers tells me that she doesn’t want to be held accountable for her actions, which gives her cause less credibility in my eyes.  Politics truly is a dirty pool, and nothing is off limits when it comes to politics.  If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.  That her daughter saw her photo on the security camera and got upset over it is not our problem.  If you don’t want to upset her, then don’t do anything that is going to upset her if you get called out for it.  Ultimately, Sheehan blocked Elyse, which amused both of us.  This was not too surprising, though, as another person from this group blocked me when I called them out for their pitch a while back.

So that’s that, I suppose.  If you’re doing advocacy work, be truthful about what your cause is about, do your research first before you speak, be prepared to defend your stances on the issues that you’re advocating for, and expect that you will be called out for your actions and be held accountable for them.

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Peep show… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/04/15/peep-show/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/04/15/peep-show/#respond Thu, 15 Apr 2021 15:41:11 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=38291 No, not like that.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

On Monday, April 5, Elyse and I went up to Westminster, where we saw the annual Peep show, held in the former Sears store at TownMall of Westminster.  There, we saw a number of displays made out of Peeps, those marshmallow rabbit and duck-shaped candies that some people like to eat around Easter.  All in all, it was pretty fun, though I admit that the ones that incorporated the pandemic into their theming made me cringe a little bit, because I am so over that (admittedly, though, I was over it from the moment that it started).

In any case, here are some of the highlights from the visit.

Bunny peep made out of bunny peeps.
Bunny peep made out of bunny peeps.

Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic the Hedgehog.

The Cheshire Cat from the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland.
The Cheshire Cat from the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland.

Pizza in peep form.
Pizza in peep form.

One of many cringeworthy pandemic-themed Peeps displays, this one captioned, "Can't wait until it's safe to hug our Peeps again."
One of many cringeworthy pandemic-themed Peeps displays, this one captioned, “Can’t wait until it’s safe to hug our Peeps again.”

A floral arrangement made out of Peeps.
A floral arrangement made out of Peeps.

This one was titled "Forky".
This one was titled “Forky”.

Fun house mirror themed display.
Fun house mirror themed display.

Painting showing what we believe is Tommy Wiseau coming out of a nest surrounded by Peeps.
Painting showing what we believe is Tommy Wiseau coming out of a nest surrounded by Peeps.

Arlington National Cemetery in Peeps form.
Arlington National Cemetery in Peeps form.

Display for Future Business Leaders of America, aka FBLA, which I've heard referred to as "The Flabbies" in the past.
Display for Future Business Leaders of America, aka FBLA, which I’ve heard referred to as “The Flabbies” in the past.

That Bernie Sanders meme from earlier this year, incorporating Peeps.  Note the crow's feet.
That Bernie Sanders meme from earlier this year, incorporating Peeps.  Note the crow’s feet.

Pinewood derby race car in Peep form.
Pinewood derby race car in Peep form.

Peep pop-up book.
Peep pop-up book.

"Bunny Business: There's no funny business in Bunny Business."
“Bunny Business: There’s no funny business in Bunny Business.”

Display from a dentist's office, showing a healthy tooth vs. a decayed tooth.
Display from a dentist’s office, showing a healthy tooth vs. a decayed tooth.

Peeps water tap.
Peeps water tap.

Floral arrangement, in a basket design to resemble bunny Peeps.
Floral arrangement, in a basket design to resemble bunny Peeps.

Humpty Dumpty made out of Peeps.
Humpty Dumpty made out of Peeps.

"Home is where we roam."
“Home is where we roam.”

Peeps candlestick.  Elyse was disappointed that this one was not for sale, but I told her that if it was that important to her, we could make something just like it at home, since it wouldn't be that hard to do.
Peeps candlestick.  Elyse was disappointed that this one was not for sale, but I told her that if it was that important to her, we could make something just like it at home, since it wouldn’t be that hard to do.

Peeps in the sun.  I ran a close-up of this piece as a photo feature the week after the show ran.
Peeps in the sun.  I ran a close-up of this piece as a photo feature the week after the show ran.

Peeps theater.
Peeps theater.

A Peeps take on The Starry Night.
A Peeps take on The Starry Night.

Peepwarts Express, a spoof of the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter.
Peepwarts Express, a spoof of the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter.

I consider this to be sound advice all around, regardless of the venue.  In a world where you can be anything, be kind.  It's so true.
I consider this to be sound advice all around, regardless of the venue.  In a world where you can be anything, be kind.  It’s so true.

"Pigtacular".
“Pigtacular”.

Meh.
Meh.

A foosball table made out of Peeps.
A foosball table made out of Peeps.

A Peeps spoof of the game Among Us.
A Peeps spoof of the game Among Us.

A real, working jukebox decorated in Peeps.
A real, working jukebox decorated in Peeps.

Peeps claw machine.
Peeps claw machine.

Peeps statue of a healthcare worker wearing a mask and a cape.
Peeps statue of a healthcare worker wearing a mask and a cape.

Ice cream cone, where the cone is made of bunny Peeps, and the ice cream is made out of chick Peeps.
Ice cream cone, where the cone is made of bunny Peeps, and the ice cream is made out of chick Peeps.

Volkswagen bus with trailer.
Volkswagen bus with trailer.

I really cringed over this one, with the Peeps in school with spaced-out desks and wearing masks.  Way to throw the pandemic in our faces in a not-so-funny way.
I really cringed over this one, with the Peeps in school with spaced-out desks and wearing masks.  Way to throw the pandemic in our faces in a not-so-funny way.

Picture of a rabbit carrying carrots made out of Peeps.
Picture of a rabbit carrying carrots made out of Peeps.

Little Bo Peep.  I found it pretty refreshing that the person who made this didn't put a mask on her like too many other people did in their creations.
Little Bo Peep.  I found it pretty refreshing that the person who made this didn’t put a mask on her like too many other people did in their creations.

A coronavirus made out of Peeps.
A coronavirus made out of Peeps.

Pikachu!
Pikachu!

Peeps pillow.
Peeps pillow.

Peeps in the shape of a Maryland flag, because Maryland.
Peeps in the shape of a Maryland flag, because Maryland.

I think that this was supposed to be a message of world peace, but on a peace sign, the vertical bar goes the full height of the circle.  Otherwise, you have the Mercedes-Benz logo.
I think that this was supposed to be a message of world peace, but on a peace sign, the vertical bar goes the full height of the circle.  Otherwise, you have the Mercedes-Benz logo.

Peeps Easter basket.
Peeps Easter basket.

Display sponsored by the local Best Western inn.
Display sponsored by the local Best Western inn.

"Mask-erade Ball Peep".  *cringe*
“Mask-erade Ball Peep”.  *cringe*

"Chillin with my Peeps".
“Chillin with my Peeps”.

Peeps COVID vaccination clinic.
Peeps COVID vaccination clinic.

Super Mario made out of Peeps, showing Mario jumping over a piranha plant.
Super Mario made out of Peeps, showing Mario jumping over a piranha plant.

Yarn Peep sewn into a piece of fabric.
Yarn Peep sewn into a piece of fabric.

So there you go, I suppose.  A good time was had by all, and aside from the ones throwing the pandemic in everyone’s face (because trust me, we get enough reminders about it already without this adding to the noise), it was pretty lighthearted and fun.

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No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/04/06/no-good-deed-goes-unpunished-i-suppose/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/04/06/no-good-deed-goes-unpunished-i-suppose/#respond Tue, 06 Apr 2021 17:30:33 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=33368 You probably didn’t realize it, but for the first half of 2020, Elyse and I hosted a now-former friend of ours, her boyfriend, and her infant child in the house.  That was a situation that we would have never touched with a ten-foot pole if we had known how it would ultimately turn out.  What was supposed to have been a two-month stay for one adult and an infant ended up being a six-month stay for two adults and an infant, and ended up with a destroyed friendship, a lot of hurt feelings, and resentment all around.

The story starts out in the middle of 2019, when our friend started a long-distance relationship with a guy that she had gone to high school with.  He was now serving in the army, and stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.  In a very short time, that relationship turned into an engagement.  Elyse and I both agreed that relationship had progressed very rapidly – much faster than either one of us would have ever been comfortable with if it were happening to us.  Then in September, when we were planning an outing together, we learned that our friend was pregnant, and also, that she was no longer seeing the person with whom she had been engaged, who was also the father of her then-unborn child.  As I was told, the fiancé had cheated on her, and so she broke off the engagement.  By the time that we actually got together again, she had gotten a new boyfriend, and he would be joining us on this adventure.  I was fine with this, because I usually got along with this friend’s friends, and this seemed to be no exception, as the guy seemed nice enough.  In December, Elyse and I were invited to our friend’s baby shower.  We went, we brought gifts, and generally had a good time.  The one awkward moment at the whole baby shower was seeing the interaction between the boyfriend and her father.  My friend’s father made a big deal about refusing to shake the boyfriend’s hand, and the boyfriend was clearly not amused by that gesture.  I was a bit uncomfortable just witnessing it.  I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal, as the boyfriend had given me no reason for me to suspect anything in our previous meeting, plus the boyfriend was not the one who got her pregnant and subsequently cheated on her.  So I just chalked it up to a “no one is good enough for my little girl” attitude on her father’s part.

Now, fast forward to the middle of January 2020.  I got a text from my friend, who said this after starting the conversation with a “random question”:

My question is would you ever consider letting me stay in the spare room you have for about 2 months?

I’m planning on moving out soon but once my tax return comes and [boyfriend] gets paid from his job which is once a month.  The issue is that my dad is being way too overbearing and causing problems basically by saying no friends nor my boyfriend can come and help me with the baby, so I need just an in between place because obviously I will need help and he won’t allow that because he’s being selfish.  Basically my parents have been pretty shitty since I’ve been pregnant and I thought of your place because you have a spare room but no pressure, just thought I’d ask.

I told her that I didn’t foresee any issues, but that I would have to talk to Elyse about it, since she lives there, too, and such a thing would obviously affect her.  My friend responded:

I completely understand and of course I’ll be due very soon, so it would just be the baby and me, and [boyfriend] when he comes to help maybe more throughout the night to make things smoother.  I also wouldn’t want it to be a freeloading type thing of course, so we could contribute to groceries and a bill or two if needed.

I’m out of work right now so of course I won’t be made of money but would like to contribute something if Elyse also agrees it’s okay.

So we agreed to two months, i.e. she would be there until around the end of March.  We got the back bedroom ready, and she moved in on January 22.  The baby, a little girl, arrived within the first week, and so she was in the hospital for about three days for that.  I also learned at this time that the baby’s father, with whom my friend was at one time madly in love, was deliberately left off of the birth certificate.  Therefore, from a legal standpoint, he was nobody.  She had cut him out of her daughter’s life from the outset.  I never met the guy, so I can’t comment much on him directly, but that just felt a bit off to me.  Considering the timing of when things happened, I question whether the former fiancé even knows that he has a child with her in the first place.

Immediately after bringing the baby home, she was at the house more or less continuously, since she was still off of both of her jobs for the baby.  The boyfriend would occasionally come over, and everything seemed to go according to plan.  She went back to work relatively quickly, most likely because she needed the money, going back to her night job as a server at a restaurant, while remaining on maternity leave with her day job, in an office, for the full six weeks.

Life during this time was a challenge for me, mainly because I didn’t really want to have additional people living in the house, but agreed to it in order to help a longtime friend make a transition through a rough situation.  In other words, for two months, I would tolerate it, and then, only barely.  Especially since our new housemate had her own way of doing things that didn’t necessarily line up with the way that we did things.  I am very particular about the way that things are done, and so this grated on me, but I just kept reminding myself, it’s only for two months.

When she went back to work at the restaurant, she would take the baby with her, and arrange for someone to care for the baby while she was at work.  The sitter while she was at work was her mother, at the house that she had just moved out of.  And some nights, she and the baby stayed the night after work.  Already, I was thinking that something didn’t line up with that.  Her father was being difficult over a child, but she was still staying over there, with the kid, on a regular basis?  Later, when she returned to her day job, her mother was again the sitter, for the baby as well as for her brothers’ children.  Something again didn’t line up here.  She was living with us in order to escape a bad situation at her parents’ house, and yet, she’s still actively involved with them on a regular basis?  Makes you wonder.

Additionally, when they were here, the boyfriend came over quite a bit.  My friend did something that I didn’t like during this time regarding house access, giving the boyfriend one of the two keys for the house.  My house uses two keys: a standard key for the doorknob, and a proprietary key for the deadbolt that I inherited from the previous owner of the house.  She kept the deadbolt key, and gave the boyfriend the knob key.  I had no problems with the boyfriend, as he was ostensibly there to help take care of the baby.  However, splitting the keys like that led to an undesirable possibility: a lockout.  Elyse and I typically lock the deadbolt when we go out.  We both had a complete set of keys, so no worries there for us, but I was concerned about my friend’s getting locked out accidentally because someone had locked a lock that she didn’t have the key for.  I didn’t want anyone standing outside in the cold waiting, possibly for hours, for someone to come home and let them in.  Ultimately, I issued a second set of keys for the boyfriend’s use, in order to avoid lockouts, so that he could help take care of the kid.

Then in March, just as our time together was supposed to come to an end, everything got turned on its head by the COVID-19 pandemic.  With the banning of indoor dining, she lost her night job at the restaurant, because you don’t need servers if all of the business is to-go.  The boyfriend also lost his job at a veterinary clinic around the same time.  That threw a monkey wrench in their plans, and I remember that no one really gave much of a thought to anyone’s moving out or not moving out at that time.  Things just continued as they were, because clearly, my friend, having lost a major source of income, now couldn’t afford to get her own place.

By this time, the boyfriend’s status had changed from frequent visitor to “housemate”, as he more or less started staying over full time, sleeping in the back bedroom every night (and snoring – loudly).  I didn’t like that, because the boyfriend’s living in the house was never part of the deal.  I agreed to my friend and her baby’s living there temporarily, but not the boyfriend.  His coming over on a routine basis to help with the baby, sure, but not living here full-time.  I also wouldn’t have agreed to the entire arrangement in the first place if it had been presented to me that way, with the boyfriend’s living here as well.  One adult with a newborn in a bad home situation, sure.  Two grown adults in a relationship together?  No, go find your own place to live.  I started putting two and two together, and came to the realization that my friend didn’t tell me the whole story when she asked to move in.  Rather than her parents’ being unreasonable, I was starting to get the impression that her parents were being completely reasonable, as it started to sound more like she wanted her boyfriend to move in, and her parents were, understandably, not so keen on that idea.  So rather than live under their rules in their house, she took her ball and left, and gave me only part of the story when asking, and thinking that she could do whatever she wanted at my house.

Meanwhile, I felt stuck.  I wanted them gone, because the agreed-upon duration had lapsed, but they clearly couldn’t afford to get their own place and leave.  All the while, my dishwasher was being run every single day, they were generating far more trash than Elyse and I ever did, and they generally did not take much care with the place, messing it up faster than we could clean it.  I also saw my utility bills go up, as they caused a much higher usage of water and electricity.  In other words, they were costing me money well beyond the paltry amount that they were giving me, and also costing Elyse and me our sanity.

Additionally, the boyfriend really started to show his true colors.  How much did he actually help with the child?  Not one bit.  My friend was doing all of the work on that.  I get that the child was not his, but the only reason that I allowed him in the house in the first place was because he was supposed to help with the baby.  Without that, he had no reason to be there.  But instead, he tended to go out and booze it up on a relatively frequent basis, and come back loaded.  We have footage of him that the doorbell camera caught on one occasion that shows him so drunk that he couldn’t even get the key in the door, and had to call out for assistance to be let in.  Additionally, Elyse had bought a bottle of a nicer brand of vodka for herself at one point, and while she had a little bit of it, the majority of the contents somehow disappeared.  We suspected that we knew who took it, but we had no proof of it, so we asked our friend about it.  She claimed that the boyfriend was on some sort of medication that makes it where he can’t have any alcohol.  We didn’t believe a word of that, and it also caused us to lose a lot of repect for her, because it was quite clear that she was now lying to cover for him.  Not a good look.  Other adult beverages that Elyse had bought had also gone missing, and it wasn’t hard to figure out who was taking them, but again, we had no proof.

In any case, Elyse and I were both miserable, and we both felt that we were being taken advantage of.  I remarked to Elyse multiple times during this period that I was paying way too much money for the house to be miserable in it.  There were a lot of smaller things that bothered me, and it all added up to a big pain in the butt, especially when they had already overstayed their welcome.  One of those issues was how the front door was locked.  I mentioned earlier about the lock on the front door, and how there were two locks.  The way that Elyse and I locked the door was via the deadbolt.  When we left the house, we would lock the deadbolt, using the key, from outside.  The way that they locked the front door was via the thumb lock on the knob and then pulling the door closed on the way out, leaving the deadbolt unlocked.  I did not like that, because I know that those locks are not particularly secure, and the deadbolt is a high security lock (Mul-T-Lock).  When I asked her to please use the deadbolt, I was told that I was being unreasonable, because whenever she left the house, she would open the door, lock the knob lock, pick up the baby’s carrier, and pulled the door shut on the way out.  I didn’t think that it was unreasonable to use the deadbolt, especially when it was my property that she wasn’t securing properly.  Quite simply, put the baby’s carrier down on the front step, and lock the door properly before departing.

I also really didn’t like the way that they treated Elyse.  They viewed Elyse as an inconvenience to their lifestyle, when, unlike them, she actually lived there on a permanent basis.  As far as I was concerned, Elyse had more right to be in the house than they did, because she actually had established residency there, and that was the address listed on her ID.  I really didn’t take well to their acting like she was an inconvenience or a nuisance.  I take a very dim view of people who fall into that “mean to Elyse” category, because she tends to get a lot of people who are unkind to her for no discernable reason, and I especially wouldn’t want someone in the house who was going to be like that.

What finally put me over the top was when they left one day without saying anything other than that they were going to a picnic in Annapolis, and then didn’t come back for a week.  Their absence had me a bit concerned, making me wonder if they were all right.  A text message inquiring about their wherebouts confirmed that they were safe, but we had no idea when they would be back.  We also began to wonder if they had just ditched us without saying anything, and left us holding the bag.  It was a distinct possibility.  Elyse and I enjoyed having the house to ourselves again, though there was a certain uneasiness about it because we didn’t know when they were coming back, and so they could conceivably walk through the door at any time.  Then when they did come back, she told us that they had been staying at her parents’ house the whole time while her parents were away.  Let’s just say that I was not happy about that.  If she could stay at her parents’ house with the boyfriend and baby for an entire week, then she didn’t need to stay with us anymore, because clearly, she had other options, and I wanted my house back.  Additionally, I was really coming to resent the way that she handled the paternity issue, i.e. leaving the father off of the birth certificate completely.  She may have kept the engagement ring that he gave her, but by leaving the father off of the birth certificate, she gave up 18 years’ worth of child support payments, which could have helped in her ability to afford her own place, and would have had a valuation of far more than whatever that ring was worth.  Elyse and I were miserable in our own house, providing housing for three extra people for very little in return, and she was not doing everything that she could so that she could support herself.  Essentially, she was using me to subsidize her own poor life decisions.

So after discussing it with Elyse and looking up what I needed to do to make it official, I spoke with my friend, and told her that it was time to move out.  A formal written notice soon followed.  There would be a light at the end of the tunnel, and they would be gone soon.

Then things really got petty.  People who have seen my refrigerator know that I keep four steel water bottles in the left front of the refrigerator, so that I can have cold lemon water available at all times.  Other stuff goes to the right.  She put some drink container where I keep my water bottles.  When I noticed it, I moved it to the right side without comment. Then I noticed it was back in the spot that I moved it from, so I moved it back over. Then I got a text:

There’s no reason to move my stuff in the fridge, if you move mine I move yours.  Tired of that.  Everything isn’t about YOU, OTHER PEOPLE LIVE HERE.  Also, next time you text about the bugs, think about how you leave food out.  There’s brownies in the living room and kitchen uncovered.  Worry about your own bad habits before you tell me anything.

Shots fired.  I saw that, and this was my reaction:

What I suspected for a while was just proven to be true.  What we had was a fundamental disconnect about the roles of the various people in the house.  She believed that we were all equals sharing a house, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Rather, I was the top dog in the house, because I was the one who owned the place. I didn’t want to have to put someone in their place, but apparently, I had to.  It was like when President Truman fired General MacArthur, about which he said, “I could do nothing else and still be president of the United States.”

So I had to put everyone in their place:

Regarding this most recent message, I believe that you need to be reminded of a very important point: I own the place.  My house, my kitchen, my refrigerator, and therefore, arrangement of the refrigerator and the manner in which things are maintained in this house are my prerogative.  When it comes to this house, I am the benevolent dictator, and I determine how certain things in this house are run.  And as long as you live under my roof, you live by my rules.  Don’t be petty and rearrange the refrigerator just because.  I know that you are more mature than that.  If you don’t like the way that I run the place, find somewhere else to stay.

Her response also gave me the sense of her true colors, i.e. that she was a bit of a spoiled brat who had not been told “no” enough in her life:

And you just lost a friend because you think you have power.  You’re not my parent, if you want a child to govern go find one and I will find somewhere else to stay.  I have 2 months.

And truthfully, I was fine with losing her as a friend.  This adventure had been a real eye-opener in a number of ways, and I was content with never seeing her again after she moved out.  It had become quite apparent that Elyse and I had been far too accommodating of them in the past five months, and failed to set proper boundaries.  Lesson learned, I suppose.

Elyse chimed in at this point:

I really don’t like it when you’ve yelled at me out of the blue that hurts my feelings

She responded:

It hurts my feelings when y’all walk all over me.

Because you have “power”

Elyse responded:

I asked for help to clean the living room everyone uses and tracks shit in I don’t understand how that’s walking over you

And she responded again:

It has nothing to do with the living room.  I don’t touch other people’s food in the fridge, mine shouldn’t be rearranged.  But any words I’ve said are too hard to process clearly so what I said goes.  I’ve been nice for a long time but I’m not going to be walked on.

Okay, then.  “Power”, I assume, means owning the house and having the right to set rules for use of the space.  It’s the Golden Rule, after all, i.e. he who has the gold makes the rules.  And if anyone walked all over anyone, I would say that they walked all over Elyse and me after we were quite accommodating to them.  After all, I could have just said “no” and avoided all of this.

In any case, not long after this, she posted this on her Facebook, with a mood as “feeling human”:

Privilege is an abuse of power and using that perceived power to your advantage or as an excuse to excute [sic] that so called “power” against another person and/or animal.  If you’re not sure that you’re using privilege, key terms include “Me”, “My”, and “I”.  There are different types of privileges including, but not limited to: power privilege, white privilege, sexist privilege, and orientation privilege.  So I’m here to tell you, if you fit any of the categories you are equally fucked up and wrong.  Just because you may not be racist, sexist, or anti-gay does not mean you are any less shitty of a person when you use your perceived power against another.  Thank you for coming to my TED talk and if this applies to you “fuck you and have a blessed day”.

I was a bit amused to read this, because I knew that she was talking about me.  Not long after she posted this, she and her boyfriend both blocked both Elyse and me.  She did the same to all of our various mutual friends.

Meanwhile, the boyfriend’s responses, which came later, were quite unhelpful:

Wow just seeing this @ben ?  I’m usually quiet but we can also talk man to man, that’s the most I’ve seen you wrote since we last spoke about the fridge, don’t let any females get you out your character.. let the females speak amongst themselves and even when your girl told me to speak to I didn’t cause men will be men least ehat she said ..

It seems you want your Privacy which is fine in the same way but your girl comes to my mind wife asking pointers about you so please don’t beef with my lady thank you .. Psa– she didn’t tell me nothing I’m tagged in this childish post

I have never even been in a group text with people I see often so tell me

Clearly, he didn’t understand that I was putting all communication in writing on purpose.  But I wasn’t about to tell either of them that, because then they might be more guarded in their communications.  I wanted to give them enough rope to verbally hang themselves.  But for sake of completeness, I responded to him as well:

Basically, by August 15, the only people who will be staying at my house are Elyse and me, and I will have two sets of keys back in my possession.

In other words, I’ve given you a hard deadline to be out of my house. He clearly didn’t understand why I was communicating in writing, and responded accordingly:

It’s fine Ben like I said men talk ..women text .. you can have two sets of keys when your wife stands up for herself you will be the only one with keys .. nobody is talking to my lady like that .. so man up and get out your text or your own head

2:11 texting like a female

Your the man in this house and I’m the man on the streets treat yourself don’t beat yourself

I found that last line particularly laughable, because I’d much rather be the man in the house over the man on the streets, because the so-called “man on the streets” is on the streets because he doesn’t have his own house.  In any case, this situation was definitely not going to end pleasantly.

We had one pleasant surprise during this period, though: they left again for another week away.  I didn’t mind this, because Elyse and I could have the house to ourselves again, especially since now, the relationship between us and them had turned quite sour.  They wouldn’t even speak to us now.  So not seeing them while the clock was still ticking was fine by me.  I also took the opportunity while they were away to set some boundaries when it came to use of the kitchen.  Specifically, I rearranged the refrigerator in order to consolidate all of their stuff to a single section of the refrigerator, and sent them a memo explaining as such, including that any items of theirs found outside of their designated area would be returned to that section, or removed from the refrigerator if space in their section was not available.

When they saw that memo upon their return, you want to talk about fireworks going off, this was it.  The boyfriend started banging on my bedroom door early in the morning demanding to see me about it in a very threatening manner – enough to make me fear for my safety.  Meanwhile, she responded to me threatening legal action should I remove anything from the refrigerator.  I simply responded to that with a request:

Show me in your lease agreement where it states that the landlord is not permitted to set rules regarding lodgers’ use of the landlord’s property.

I knew that she couldn’t produce such a document because it didn’t exist.  That should have been the end of it.  But clearly, the idea of its being better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt never crossed her mind.  She also never thought to think twice before speaking, as she sent this:

You’re not a landlord lol, I stay here.  I don’t rent from you.  I help with bills you send me.  You don’t even have a renter’s license.  You have an issue, you need to feel power but you have ZERO power over me.  Stop emailing me, I told you already to stop.

Last I checked, making a room in the house that I own available in exchange for some form of payment, like it or not, does make me a landlord.  She was still trying to cling to a persecution complex here, playing the victim when she had no leg to stand on.  I didn’t even dignify that message with a response, because it didn’t really matter.  And besides, I wasn’t some psycho trying to exert power on someone else.  I just wanted to get through the remaining time that they were in the house with as little stress as possible for me.  In other words, I just wanted to be left alone, and if that meant setting boundaries that might inconvenience someone, then so be it.

What finally put me over the top was when she started stealing from me.  I had noticed that a jar of mayonnaise that I had bought on a recent grocery trip had been used up awfully quickly – more than I could account for.  Turned out that she had been using it.  She then came into Elyse’s room and confronted her about it while I was at work, claiming that we were stealing from her.  I knew better, but Elyse didn’t know anything about any of it, and as such was caught completely off guard by this confrontation.  Ultimately, Elyse told her where another jar was just to make the whole scene end.  Elyse then explained it all to me, with audio of the entire conversation, as she had been recording something unrelated when the confrontation began and had forgotten to stop the recording.

I was incensed by this when I found out about it, and when I got home from work, I found my mayonnaise jar in the cabinets that they had been using.  I took that right back, thank you very much.  I also sent another memo to them that essentially kicked them out, because the one-two punch of the threatening acts on his part and the stealing on her part made the situation untenable, and I felt that I could no longer ensure the safety and security of everyone in the house.

Around this same time, another friend of mine put me in contact with a landlord-tenant attorney, as it was looking like it was going to come to that.  But then, two days after my last memo, she, the boyfriend, and another friend of theirs showed up with a truck and moved their stuff out of the house.  That was such a wonderful thing to see, especially as they carried their mattress out of the door, because it meant that they were gone, and they weren’t coming back.  Once Elyse and I realized what was happening, we sat on the couch in the living room and watched it all happen with delight.  The rest of that evening was spent cleaning up the back bedroom and getting it back in order.  Ultimately, we got it looking like it should again:

Elyse poses for a photo in the back bedroom, after we got it cleaned up and back to normal

They had left most of their food in the house, and I hadn’t gotten keys back yet, so I had to follow up a bit on that, but eventually, she came back to retrieve the food and return my keys.  In the meantime, I changed the bottom lock on the door to ensure that they couldn’t enter the house without one of us present, i.e. to ensure our safety.  Turns out that I was right to do so, because this is what I got back for the bottom lock when she returned and gave me back my keys:

The keys that I got back. Note the difference between the two.

I gave them two keys that looked like the key to the right.  Those were keys from Lowe’s, made when I replaced all of the doorknobs as part of an improvement project in 2019.  The key on the left is an unauthorized copy made at a Minute Key kiosk.  I did not know anything about this until I was given the keys back, and I was given no explanation about this new key.  I can only assume that one of them lost the key that I gave them, and so they went out and made a new copy of the key without saying anything in order to replace the lost key.  The problem, of course, was that there was a key to my front door floating around in the world unaccounted for, for an unknown length of time, and I didn’t know anything about it.  I didn’t know if it was accidentally thrown away or something, or if someone was in possession of the key.  And in the case of the latter, I didn’t know if a potential unauthorized keyholder knew what it went to or not.  So the security of my house was compromised because they didn’t bother to tell me that they had lost a key.  If the deadbolt was also locked, that wouldn’t have been as big of a deal because the deadbolt is a high-security lock (and I got all of those keys back), but they never locked the deadbolt, relying on the thumb lock alone to provide security.  Of course, if they had told me about it when it happened, I would have been quite understanding about it.  Things happen, after all, so it would have just been a matter of changing that lock and distributing new keys.  The whole exercise would have cost me less than $20 to fix, which I could afford.  That they didn’t bother to tell me about it at all just burned me up.

Meanwhile, we also found out what a low-quality key comes out of a Minute Key kiosk. Look at what Elyse did to it:

The unauthorized key bent around the authorized key

In this photo, the blade of the unauthorized Minute Key is wrapped around the end of the authorized Lowe’s key.  Elyse bent that entirely by hand, using no tools.  Couldn’t do that with the higher quality keys that I got from Lowe’s.

All in all, I suppose that there are lessons to be learned all around from this experience.  For one thing, don’t let friends move in with you, even with the noblest of intentions, because it’s a surefire way to destroy the friendship, and it did exactly that.  If I never see any of them again, it will be too soon.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up moving right back in with her parents.  The boyfriend’s Facebook listed his location as the town where her parents live, which makes me think that it was probably the case that they went to her parents’ house after leaving my house.  If that was what happened, then she trashed a friendship of eight years for absolutely nothing, just to end up right back at square one.  I also learned that I should have gotten everything in writing from the outset, because that would have better protected me when things started to turn sour.

Additionally, I learned that I need to vet anyone that comes into my house myself.  That boyfriend of hers was pure trash, and the only reason that I let him in was because I trusted her judgment of character.  I would learn that this trust was misplaced, and I learned much later that the “man of the street” had a very long rap sheet.  He was no choirboy, that’s for sure.  Looking on the Maryland court records site, I found all sorts of stuff on him.  That included instances of domestic violence, driving under the influence, driving on a revoked license, and various other things.  While staying with us, he managed to pick up an HOV violation, as well as another revoked-license citation while driving around in her car.  Classy.  I imagine that if I had more thoroughly vetted him, I might have come to a different conclusion about letting him in, because all of the various bad things that he did while with us could have been predicted through the court records.  And since they left, when I was doing research for this entry, I discovered that he managed to get another charge for domestic violence, as well as firearms charges.  I wonder if they’re even still together, considering the recent domestic violence case.  The court record listed it as having been dismissed because the petitioner asked to drop the charges, but I also don’t know if she was the victim.  In any case, even though I never want to see my former friend ever again, I don’t want anything bad to happen to her, either, and if she hasn’t done so already, I hope that she figures out that he’s no good and dumps him.

So there you have it, I suppose.  No good deed goes unpunished.

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Schumin Web turns 25… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/03/15/schumin-web-turns-25/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/03/15/schumin-web-turns-25/#respond Tue, 16 Mar 2021 03:15:15 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=37969 March 23, 2021 will mark the 25th anniversary of this website.  I’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century.  If it tells you anything about how long I’ve been doing this, Schumin Web has been around longer than Blogger, Etsy, Facebook, Flickr, Google, Reddit, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube, and a whole host of other online properties.  And in that time, things here have kind of gone on and on, as we’ve all grown older and matured together.

I suppose that nothing is a better indication of the leng th of time that Schumin Web has been around, and the amount of growth that has occurred during that time than the recent Journal entry about the new scooter.  I like to think of that as “Schumin criticizes Schumin,” as I discussed things that I had written in the site’s fifth year in light of more modern developments in the site’s 25th year. The whole thing felt a bit strange, because it felt as though I was criticizing what someone else had written.  I know that it was me, because I still remember the events and remember writing that page, but that look back really reminded me of how much I have changed in the past twenty years.  My writing style is completely different now compared to then.  My writing from back then looks and feels like the work of a much younger man.  My attitudes about things are different now, too, as back then, I clearly felt that I was invincible, throwing caution to the wind and riding my scooter on a wheel that I knew was faulty, just because I needed to get two more days out of it, and nothing bad had happened in the past.  Nowadays, I would never have done that, because I know that I’m not in invincible, and that getting hurt and not being able to go to work has real-life ramifications that affect more people than just me.  All of that said, I’m not the same person that I was back in the early days of this website.  That’s not a bad thing by any means, and I like the person that I’ve become.

Meanwhile, I feel like the 25th anniversary of Schumin Web should be a quiet celebration.  There is no big compilation photo set celebrating the anniversary waiting in the wings like I did in 2016 with the “Twenty Years” set in Life and Times.  Truth be told, the site’s 25th year was a relatively quiet one.  This was the first time in the site’s history where no new photo sets were released in the span of a year.  The last new photo set to be released was “Planespotting at BWI“, which came out on January 31, 2020 as a 2019 set.  I’ve mentioned before that it’s not that I’m not producing new material, but rather, it’s that other projects have hindered my getting things out of the door.  There will be 2020 photo sets, but don’t expect them for a while, because they will span longer time periods, and those require more work to assemble than ones that are shot in a single event.  Therefore, it makes sense to tackle them along with the backlog of photos from the past year.

There will, however, be two photo sets from 2021 that will come out before any 2020 sets.  I think that will be a first for me, putting out a photo set ahead of such a large backlog.  Normally, I try to publish things in the order in which they were shot, but clearly, that’s not happening in this case.  These will be two relatively small sets of 21 and 28 photos that were shot in the same week.  They were each done in a single session, and are fairly simple sets.  One of these will be my first drone photo set, which got me a lot more access than I might have gotten using more conventional methods, as well as some new angles.  I’m looking forward to seeing how that one in particular comes out.

All in all, happy 25th anniversary, I suppose.  I don’t have a lot more to say about it, except that good things will be coming in the months to come as I work through my backlog, and if I continue writing, I’ll just be blathering on to achieve some appearance of fullness.  So, everything willing, here’s to another 25 years.

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Dueling reviews? https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/03/13/dueling-reviews/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/03/13/dueling-reviews/#respond Sun, 14 Mar 2021 01:25:57 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=38035 A few weeks ago, Elyse bought some ice cream from H Mart, which is a chain of international grocery stores.  One was cheese-flavored, and the other was corn and cheese-flavored.  Both of those are flavors that you don’t typically see in regular grocery stores.  Elyse had planned to review them on YouTube, and she did so in a live video on Friday night:

Note that at the 8:24 mark, she says, “We’ll have Ben try it later and then report back to you guys.”  I wasn’t planning to review it on camera, but since I was strongly encouraged to do it, I said why not.  So when I got home from work, I set myself up in the living room, and recorded one:

Unlike Elyse, who recorded fully live, I recorded live to tape.  I did it that way because it was late at night when I recorded this (around 2 AM), and so I wouldn’t expect people to tune in live for it (I’ve also never done a live video of my own, and have no plans of doing so).  Besides that, I just wanted to perform for the camera, and not deal with comments on the fly.

I think we were both in agreement.  Good enough ice cream, but at $10 per carton, not a good bang for the buck.  Meanwhile, if you skip to the ten-minute mark on my video, you will see the age difference between Elyse and me become painfully obvious: reading distance.  While her vision is generally not as good as mine, she can read really well up close.  Me, I’m just glad that I have longer arms, because I need that full length for reading small print sometimes.  Such is what happens when you’re getting close to the first anniversary of your 39th birthday, I suppose.  Then I also make no bones about it: Elyse did a much better review video than I did.  She does a lot more videography than I do, and is much more comfortable performing on camera than I am.  In other words, she knows what she’s doing.

So all in all, that’s cheese ice cream for you, I suppose.

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Return to the Days Inn… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/03/06/return-to-the-days-inn/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/03/06/return-to-the-days-inn/#respond Sat, 06 Mar 2021 14:36:48 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=37925 About a year ago, Elyse and I visited an abandoned former Days Inn in the Warfordsburg, Pennsylvania area, about twenty minutes south of Breezewood.  Since then, we had received reports of a fire at the site in September, which destroyed the motel building.  Six months after that fire, we didn’t quite know what the site would look like, i.e. whether the remains would still be there or if it would all be demolished by now, so we went by to check it out.

First thing I did was fly over the site with the drone:

Former Days Inn in Warfordsburg/Town Hill

Former Days Inn in Warfordsburg/Town Hill

Former Days Inn in Warfordsburg/Town Hill

Former Days Inn in Warfordsburg/Town Hill

Former Days Inn in Warfordsburg/Town Hill

Consistent with news reports, the restaurant was undamaged, but the motel building was toast.  I’d say about a quarter of the motel building was still standing, while the rest had burned to the ground.  There were also piles of bricks blocking vehicle access to the property, presumably done after the fire.

Following my drone photography, I went up and photographed it with my phone.

The Days Inn sign facing the road is unchanged.
The Days Inn sign facing the road is unchanged.

What remains of the canopy now stands alone, as the structure behind it is completely gone.
What remains of the canopy now stands alone, as the structure behind it is completely gone.

View down the front of the building, facing approximately west.
View down the front of the building, facing approximately west.  Compare to a similar view from a year ago.

First floor corridor, shot through the door (we didn't risk going inside).
First floor corridor, shot through the door (we didn’t risk going inside).  Compare to how this corridor looked a year prior.

The laundry facility, now out in the open.
The laundry facility, now out in the open.  Compare to how it looked last year.


The west stairs survived, though nothing else around it did.  This stair was blocked by a vending machine turned on its side during our visit last year, and from the looks of it, that vending machine is still there.

View of the remains, facing approximately northwest.
View of the remains, facing approximately northwest.

Edwards fire alarm horn/strobe, badly melted.
Edwards fire alarm horn/strobe, badly melted.  Compare to how it looked on our last visit.

View from the back side of the building.
View from the back side of the building.

Considering that the building had been abandoned for six years and some change at the time of our visit, and that the remains had not been removed in the six months following the fire, my guess is that the remains aren’t going anywhere any time soon.  Meanwhile, the cause of the fire has not been determined, at least as much as I can find.  The local newspaper’s coverage of the fire on Facebook has generated a lot of speculation in the comments, though.  I suppose that there is one plus side to this fire: all of those employee files that I found sitting in there last year were completely incinerated, so I guess that Jamie Strait and others who worked there can breathe a sigh of relief that their personal information is not hanging out there anymore.

So there you have it, I suppose.

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Elyse and I got a scooter… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/03/02/elyse-and-i-got-a-scooter/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/03/02/elyse-and-i-got-a-scooter/#respond Tue, 02 Mar 2021 15:00:41 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=37882 This past Monday, Elyse and I got a Bird Air scooter.  The Bird Air is more or less a consumer version of the Bird scooters that you can rent in various cities.  The main difference is that there is no unlocking mechanism, since it’s designed to have one owner, and it also folds up for easy transport.  Here it is:

The new Bird Air scooter

We got this thing primarily for Elyse’s use, since she doesn’t have a driver’s license, to give her some extra mobility.  It has a range of about 16 miles, and so it will be enough to get her to the Metro and back, as well as run errands in the Montgomery Village, Gaithersburg, and Germantown areas.  To that end, Elyse took the scooter on its maiden voyage, to the 7-Eleven store around the corner from the house and back.  It will also provide some additional flexibility when we’re out on adventures, as she can go off and explore places on her own more readily.  I plan to use it as well as the need arises, though I expect that those occasions to be relatively few and far between.

I took it for a spin today around the neighborhood, in order to get a feel for it all.  To preface this, prior to taking this thing for a spin, I had never been on a Bird or similar rideshare-style scooter.  Additionally, the last time I rode a scooter of any kind was my old Razor-style scooter from college.  That said, after a quick how-to from Elyse, I did pretty well, getting used to the controls fairly quickly and getting up to speed and doing some simple navigation without wiping out.  I had trouble consistently maintaining a straight course and also felt wobbly on turns, but I assume that comes with practice.  I described the ride as “terrifying”, but I’m guessing that I was just too cautious.  However, considering my previous experience with a scooter twenty years ago, I feel like I am justified in being overly cautious.

Some of you may recall that for my sophomore year of college, I bought a Razor-like scooter to bring with me to college.  In other words, this:

My old "Just Go" Razor-like scooter

With my living in Potomac Hall, a building fairly distant from almost all of the academic buildings on JMU’s campus at that time, the idea was to ride the scooter down to the main part of campus where I had my classes.  Starting from the main entrance of Potomac Hall, I would ride past the ISAT/CS Building and across the bridge.  Then, if I was going to the Quad, I would go down the main path through the Village area dorms to the bottom of the hill.  From there, the scooter’s job was done, as it was uphill the rest of the way to class, and it was easier to walk.  If I was going to Zane Showker Hall, I would ride down Carrier Drive to the bottom of the hill, and then it was level the rest of the way, so I’d ride the scooter all the way to the building.  My “A Trip Around JMU – With a Mission” photo set from 2000 covers the route that went to the Quad fairly adequately.

In preparing to write this Journal entry, I went into the Internet Archive and dug up an old page called The Scooter as Transportation.  On this page, I introduced my old scooter, and explained all of the accidents that I got into.  According to 19-year-old me, in the first two weeks of the fall semester, I wiped out six times and ultimately destroyed one of my original wheels on the sixth one.  After replacing my original wheels, I had a fairly uneventful semester as far as the scooter went, save for an additional wheel change due to wear.  The scooter finished out the fall semester with two accidents during finals week.  I had one wipeout where I handed fairly hard, and then the second accident was a spectacular failure of the equipment.  There, the rear wheel broke apart while I was riding down the Village hill.  With no rear wheel anymore, the system failed, and I fell forward, and went down hard.  I ended up destroying the knee of my jeans, scraping up my knee pretty badly, getting cuts on both hands, and getting some abrasions on my upper lip.  Reading my account of the incident from the time, I realize that it could have been much worse, and that I was really lucky that I got away with only minor scrapes.  I’m also amazed in hindsight that I even took the scooter out at all.  I wrote at the time, “The rear wheel’s center had cracked that day anyway, and with only two days of my finals to go (I finished on Wednesday), I determined that the scooter would make it for two more trips – one to Burruss Hall, and one to Zane Showker.”  Translated, I knew that the wheel had damage on it, and I took it out anyway.  What an idiot I was.  In the page from 2001, I was on there trying to justify why I took the scooter out when it was an unsafe condition.  Reading it now in 2021, I realize that there was no excuse for it, that I should have discontinued its use immediately, and not ride again until I could replace the wheels.

In any case, the scooter returned the following semester with new wheels, and went through two more wheel changes in quick succession, both from unexpected failures that fortunately did not lead to injury.  Here they are:

Failure of the orange wheels

Failure of the green wheels

I got better quality wheels after these, but all of the issues that I had eventually killed the enjoyment of it for me.  I eventually viewed the next accident as an inevitability rather than something that could be avoided, and that caused me to fear the scooter.  I gradually reduced my use of the scooter that second semester, and the scooter did not return the following year.

In hindsight, I suppose that my use of the scooter was doomed from the outset, for a few reasons.  First, I was likely taking it beyond what it was designed to handle.  I was far heavier than what it was designed to carry, and that extra weight was ultimately transmitted to the wheels, which were also the weakest things on the frame.  No wonder the wheels kept failing.  Additionally, the way I used the scooter, i.e. going relatively long distances downhill and riding the brake a bit to maintain a safe speed, was likely not something that the scooter was designed for, either, subjecting the rear wheel to a lot of rapid temperature changes from friction.

I also wonder if the design of the brake was a contributing factor to the poor performance.  Here’s the brake:

The rear wheel of the scooter, showing the brake

The brake is that piece of metal over the rear wheel.  What you did is you pressed down on that, which pressed on the wheel, and slowed the scooter that way.  So essentially, the way that you braked was to stomp on the rear wheel.  With that sort of pressure, especially on the steeper Village hill, where I rode the brake to an extent to maintain a certain speed, it wasn’t surprising that I had two sets of wheels fail in the centers.  Add to that my weight at that time, and it was not a pretty picture.

I also eventually came to the conclusion that for what I was trying to do with the scooter, the wheels were probably too small.  The wheels on Razor-like scooters were essentially big rollerblade wheels, and they tended to get caught on small things that a larger wheel would roll over without anyone’s even batting an eye.  If it told you anything, I looked at sidewalk expansion joints and other cracks with suspicion when I was riding that thing, and knew that certain sidewalks were in too poor of condition to even try to run over them with the scooter, because I knew that the wheels couldn’t handle it.

All of that said, I don’t think that anyone could blame me for being a bit fearful while taking this new scooter out for a spin.  Not only was this a new vehicle for me, but it was also my first time using a powered scooter.  And my last scooter experience caused me much trauma that I had never really gotten over.  Rather than making it right and overcoming that fear that had developed at the time, I just discontinued the use of the scooter and set the unresolved fears aside.  And truth be told, when I was riding the Bird Air, I was looking at every single imperfection in the road and trying to avoid it, fearing that I would wipe out if I went over them.  I suppose that the programming that the old scooter did in my head when I was 19 still existed.  But the Bird Air has much bigger wheels, and unlike the Razor-like scooter that I had before, this new scooter is actually designed for what I was asking my old scooter to do way back in 2000-2001 because it was derived from a design intended for bikeshare services, i.e. point-to-point transportation, and it was intended to be a workhorse.  Therefore, it will serve us well in that capacity.

With that in mind, I’m not so concerned about Elyse’s using a scooter.  She is generally a bit more proficient with scooters in general than I am, and she has lots of experience with the bikeshare scooters in particular.  Plus at the age of 24, she’s older and wiser than I was when I was 19 and riding a scooter.  So she’ll be fine, and I have no doubt that she’ll put a lot of miles on that scooter, and we will get our money’s worth out of it.  I’m more worried about me, because I still have unresolved issues that I need to work through when it comes to scooters.  I see a lot of potential in it for me as well, mostly in accessing things with camera equipment in tow that are difficult to reach with the HR-V, just as long as I can get over that trepidation built up from the Razor-like scooter.  We’ll see, I suppose.

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Storytelling and the value of context… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/02/24/storytelling-and-the-value-of-context/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/02/24/storytelling-and-the-value-of-context/#respond Wed, 24 Feb 2021 23:40:17 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=37809 Lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about how my photography tends to present itself in the various places that I post my work.  This is on the occasion of a nearly yearlong backlog of photography that is sitting in my queue just waiting to be published.  In other words, this is why there haven’t been any Photography or Life and Times sets published from 2020 as of yet (they’re coming, I promise).  2020 was a banner year for me as far as photography went, as I was more productive in that year than I have been for the last several years.  I’ve just not gotten much of it out the door, with only a relatively small amount’s being published as the photo feature on the front of the website, as well as in the Journal.  The rest of it is still waiting to be published.

The reason for the delay in publication is because of a giant Flickr project that I’ve been working on since around April or so.  What I want to do is to use my Flickr as my main photo library, i.e. most stuff that I publish goes on Flickr.  The ultimate goal with this project was to take everything that I had previously published on Wikimedia Commons and ensure that it was duplicated on my Flickr.  I called it “putting Wikimedia Commons behind me”, because I’m essentially moving on from the platform, and making it where I never have to refer back to it again.  But I didn’t just do a straight sweep of Flickr and copy it all over.  That would be too easy, and if I’m publishing something on a new venue, I want it to look good by my current standards.  Thus I go in and locate the original photos in my archive and process them according to my current techniques as if they’re new material.  Sometimes the cut is a little different, and sometimes the lighting comes out a little differently than before, but I think that it’s a much better end result.  Recall that I did the same thing when I converted Schumin Web to WordPress back in 2011-2012.  I went back and reprocessed all of the photos from the originals, and they looked awesome.

This situation was made a tad more complicated by the way I did things back in 2013 when I first started getting serious about my Flickr.  In that case, I went through things from the beginning, but I was very conservative about what older material I published to Flickr.  I didn’t publish a lot of older material when I did that initial upload.  Who knows why.  So for this project, I did two waves.  The first was a second dive through the archives up to 2013, looking for stuff that was worth publishing as a standalone work.  That took several months to do, and resulted in about 17 pages’ worth of new uploads to Flickr.  Some of that was stuff that had previously been published other places, and a lot of it was new.  I figured that I would catch most of the stuff that was on Wikimedia Commons that way.  While I did catch quite a bit of it, I knew that I wouldn’t catch all of it.  Thus my second wave was to sweep through my contributions to Commons directly, and catch everything that I’d missed.  I figured that I would probably catch about 100 photos and put them up on Flickr.  Oh, how wrong I was.  When I finished my sweep, I ended up having 528 all together.  Made me think of Strong Bad when his computer got a virus, and he said, “That is not a small number!  That is a big number!”  I located all of them, edited all of them based on my current standards, and now I’m in the process of uploading them all.  Thankfully, the process has gone fairly smoothly.

Interestingly, this whole project has made me appreciate Schumin Web more, as well as give me a better understanding of the role that it plays in my ecosystem.  Schumin Web will turn 25 next month, and I’ve come to realize what Schumin Web is really about: storytelling.  From the outset, I have always been going to Schumin Web to tell stories.  Some stories are about momentous occasions.  Some stories are about more mundane things.  Some stories are told through words, and some are told through more visual means.  But regardless of the format that a story takes, there is always a story to be told.  Over the years, I’ve refined my approach to how I tell stories.  Modern Journal entries are much longer and more detailed than they used to be, and photo sets have changed form over the years, but that basic element of storytelling is still there.  You don’t get that same element of storytelling on Flickr, Google Maps, Wikimedia Commons, and so on.  Schumin Web is where I tend to go long form on stories.  I’ve said before that social media sites have probably shaped Schumin Web more than anything in the last decade or so, because those shorter stories went there, leaving the longer, more detailed stories for Schumin Web.  And really, that’s suited this site well, since there’s really no place for that sort of longer sort of storytelling on social media.  Social media is for “soundbites”, for the most part.  And as an added bonus, the longer form stuff possibly makes me sound a little smarter, because I can go into more detail and explain things better than in a quick soundbite that doesn’t always capture the whole idea.

Now, that’s not to say that those other services don’t have value to them.  The reduced amount of context that these sites provide allow me to present different things than I might have done on Schumin Web.  With Flickr, I look at the photos first based on various qualities, and then describe each photo individually via a brief text passage and keywords.  With Google Maps, there is no context other than “this is what the place looks like”.  I no longer contribute to Wikimedia Commons directly, but it is similar to Flickr in the level of context that it provides.  But for what services those sites provide, that amount of context makes enough sense.  Commons is about educational usage of photos, Google is to provide context for mapped locations, and Flickr is a photo gallery.

Compare to Schumin Web, where I choose material based on the story that I am telling.  The story determines which photos I use and don’t use.  There are some photos that I absolutely love that don’t get run on Schumin Web because they don’t fit the story that I’m trying to tell.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make me grateful for other venues in order to display stuff that is good but just doesn’t fit.  Likewise, I tend to not post more personal stuff on Flickr, while I definitely post more stuff of a personal nature on Schumin Web.  Different things for different places and all.  For instance, I took tons and tons of photos while Elyse and I were on our Hampton Roads trip last April, but not a whole lot has come out from that adventure, because Schumin Web is not the venue for a lot of it just because it doesn’t really tell a story, and is great as freestanding material.  I admit, though, that the discussion of that trip, with its 79 photos, probably should have been a Life and Times set instead of a Journal entry, but such is life.  Hampton Roads, however, is probably going to be the first thing to go out on Flickr once I finish this project to publish older material.

All in all, though, I suppose that this whole exercise is good for learning the value of various venues, and how they all have different things to do.  Now I just have to get through this monumental backlog of almost a year, and I’ll be good to go.

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I could have told you that was going to happen… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/02/14/i-could-have-told-you-that-was-going-to-happen/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/02/14/i-could-have-told-you-that-was-going-to-happen/#respond Sun, 14 Feb 2021 21:48:10 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=37732 So the story of former president Donald Trump’s second impeachment has come to an end.  And it ended exactly as I predicted, with Trump’s being acquitted by a comfortable margin.  While a majority of senators did vote to convict, it did not reach the two-thirds majority (i.e. 67 votes) required to remove.  I am always a little bit amused to see people watch the whole process, including the chatter from the various senators involved telling the media how they are going to vote, and then act all surprised when a conviction does not happen.  Truth is that a conviction was never going to happen.  The Democrats didn’t have enough votes to convict without substantial Republican support, and they knew that going into this.

And to this I say, sometimes, I hate being right.  I admit that I was rooting for a conviction on this, even though I knew it didn’t have a snowball’s chance of ever happening (hey, one can hope).  But I also stand by what I said in my earlier post that an impeachment was unnecessary.  With Trump’s having fewer than two weeks left in his term when the triggering event occurred, it would have made enough sense to just wait it out and let the prosecutors have at him as soon as he left office.  As it happened, the entire impeachment charade was a moot point, because Trump was already out of office.  The whole thing also showed me that the Democrats under Pelosi seem to be extremely petty, and it has lent some credence to the idea that they were simply out to get Trump, throwing everything at the wall to see what would stick.  This was their second attempt at removing Trump from office within the span of a year, after all.  Practically speaking, you really only get one shot at impeachment, because after that, you start to sound like the proverbial boy who cried wolf, and shoot your own credibility with every subsequent attempt.

In addition, this whole impeachment charade has cost us much in terms of legislative time wasted in both chambers for political games.  There are people who are hurting pretty badly right now due to the economic effects of the pandemic, and the time spent impeaching and then trying Trump could have been spent working on economic stimulus packages and other measures to help people survive until things turn around.  After all, let’s be honest: politically, Trump is old news.  He’s no longer the president, and as such, he is no longer relevant as far as current politics goes, and as such, Congress has more important matters to attend to than to worry about getting revenge on him.

This impeachment also seems to run against the precedent set in 1974 during the Nixon administration.  At that time, then-president Richard Nixon was in the very early stages of the impeachment process relating to the Watergate scandal.  Nixon saw the writing on the wall, and knew that he was toast.  As such, he resigned the presidency, essentially doing an end run around the impeachment process, rendering it moot.  It was the political equivalent of, “You can’t fire me!  I quit!”  With Nixon out of office, the next step might have been a criminal prosecution, had Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, not issued a blanket pardon for Nixon, preventing the former president from standing trial for potential crimes related to Watergate.  One could argue both sides about whether that pardon was the right thing to do, but the pardon put a definitive end to Watergate, and allowed the country to move on.  In the case of Trump, the end of Trump’s term should have given the House of Representatives pause over whether to impeach, because it would have taken care of itself if it had simply been left alone.  They should have started working to gather all of the evidence and hand it over to prosecutors in order to charge Trump criminally for incitement, or anything else that might have been prudent to prosecute him over.

With Trump out of office, about the only thing that a removal would have accomplished would have been disqualification for future office.  All of the various post-presidency perks are secure, since he made it out of office without being removed.  And as far as disqualification is concerned, I am not that concerned about it.  Trump would be 78 by the time of the next presidential election, and he no longer has the support of his own party.  If he ran as a third-party candidate, he would split the Republican vote and guarantee a Democratic win, much like what happened in 1912.  In that case, former president Teddy Roosevelt ran for office on the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party ticket after losing the Republican nomination to his successor, incumbent president William Howard Taft.  While Roosevelt outperformed Taft, he split the vote enough to allow Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson to win the election.  All that said, I consider disqualification from future office to be a non-starter, because I consider the odds of Trump’s running again to be very low.  I also feel like it shows a deep-seated mistrust of the electorate, that the voters can’t be trusted to do the right thing in the future, and thus the grown-ups have to make the decision for them.

Meanwhile, people still need to remember that impeachment is not a legal process.  Despite the similar terminology to criminal proceedings, like “trial” and “conviction”, it is an entirely political process.  You’re not seeking justice through the impeachment process.  That’s not its purpose.  All that impeachment and removal does is to stop the bleeding caused by an officeholder who has gone rogue by removing their access to the levers of power.  If their official misconduct rises to the level of criminality, you also try them in a real court.  The last time that I discussed this, I brought up former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.  He is still the gold standard as far as prosecution of official misconduct goes, because the process was followed completely to its conclusion.  Officeholder commits crime in office.  Officeholder gets impeached and then removed by the legislature for their official misconduct.  Now-former officeholder then gets indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced in criminal court for said offenses.  And finally, the former officeholder goes to jail.  Boom.  Done.  That is the entire process.  You get your justice further down the line, after the impeachment process is done.

Additionally, the two-thirds majority required to convict a sitting officeholder is a high standard on purpose.  That ensures bipartisan support for removal of a candidate, and ensures that the Congress is absolutely certain that they want the guy out before they do so.  Thus if an impeachment does not have bipartisan support, it is guaranteed to fail.  Anyone who thinks that an impeachment that does not have bipartisan support will succeed needs to take a second look at their history.  About the only presidential impeachment that had enough bipartisan support to actually lead to removal was Nixon’s, and he saw what was coming and resigned.  Any other president that thought that they would actually be removed would likely do the same, if for nothing else than to protect their post-presidency benefits.

All of that said, this whole exercise has the potential to extract a political toll on the Democrats come 2022.  Generally speaking, the party that has the White House tends to lose seats in the midterm elections.  With a Democratic president in the White House, that means that the Democratic Party is poised to lose seats in the next election cycle.  How many seats remains to be seen.  The Democrats should be reminded that they have a few things working against them when it comes to maintaining control of the chambers.  First, they have a relatively small majority in the House, and the Senate is split 50/50, with the Democrats’ only holding the majority because the vice president, who casts a tiebreaking vote when necessary, is a Democrat.  That Senate majority in particular is very tenuous.  It would behoove the Democrats to recall what happened the last time that there was a 50/50 split in the Senate, twenty years ago.  In that instance, in the spring of 2001, Republican Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont decided to leave his party and become an independent, and began to caucus with the Democrats.  That flipped the chamber in the middle of the term, and gave the Democrats the majority for the next year and a half.  It would only take one Democratic senator to decide to go rogue to immediately flip the chamber, and put Mitch McConnell back in charge.  That is how tenuous their grip on the Senate is.  Additionally, the Democrats don’t have reliable voter participation.  You have to give Democrats a reason to vote, or else they just won’t vote at all.  And that’s exactly how Republicans get elected.  They may not have the same numbers as the Democrats have, but unlike the Democrats, they vote regularly and reliably.  Therefore, the Democrats can’t afford to waste time with political charades.  They need to come out in spades with their own agenda rather than dwell on the past.  Similarly, the left in general needs to move on from Trump, and let go of the Trump derangement syndrome that has gripped them for the last four years.  It’s not healthy, and it will not win them any elections.  There are more pressing matters to worry about than a former president, even if he is a wacko, and I don’t want to see the Democrats squander their time in power by seeking revenge that they will never get.  They say that success is the best revenge, so they need to just do their best and enact the best agenda that they can possibly do, and relegate Trump to history for good.

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Some people just don’t learn… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/02/07/some-people-just-dont-learn/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/02/07/some-people-just-dont-learn/#respond Mon, 08 Feb 2021 03:20:16 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=37384 Do you remember Marilyn Armstrong, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago regarding a case of copyright infringement?  She came back for a second round.  Apparently, she found my Journal entry, and just couldn’t leave well enough alone, going on another rant in the comments:

First of all, NO ONE intentionally took anything.  This appeared in a pile of pictures listed by Google as “free for public use.”  No name or other information was attached.  I didn’t write the piece, I didn’t post the picture and if I want a picture, I use my own since I am also a photographer.  One of the people who writes on this blog was just looking for a picture of a building with an orange roof and it came up in that Google collection.  I don’t know how ANYONE can figure out whose picture it is when there’s no attached information AND it did not come from your site.  I already said I was sorry, that it was accidental, unintentional, non-commercial.  Beyond that, you really might consider embedding copyright information in your pictures so people have some way of knowing that the picture is NOT — as Google said — free for public use.

Since I didn’t select OR use the picture personally, and since GOOGLE was the organization that pulled it off your blog and stuck it in a pile of “free for public use” pictures, maybe you should consider going after them.  Someone ought to, but they have a lot of money and a lot of lawyers and if the U.S. government can’t get them, I’m pretty sure you can’t and I can’t, so they’ll just keep doing what they do and people like me will get blamed for assuming that they aren’t lying.

I repeat: NO ONE FROM THIS SITE WENT ANYWHERE NEAR YOUR SITE OR TOOK ANYTHING FROM YOUR SITE.  I’m sorry it happened.  If you want to protect your pictures, spend a few dollars and get a copyright application — and you also might ponder that publishing everything on Facebook is probably not the best way to protect anything.

Once again: NEITHER I NOR RICH (WHOSE ARTICLE IT WAS) went anywhere near your site.  I have an archive of more than 100,000 photographs and I let other people use them non-commercially as long as they don’t cut off the signature of the photographer (usually me or my husband).  Even if they do, I pretty much shrug and move on.  I make the photographs small so they don’t reproduce well and I sign everything I publish.  If it’s a friend’s photo, inscribe THEIR name.  That seems to me to be the absolutely minimum protection.

If Rich knew it was copyrighted, he wouldn’t have used it.  If you want to protect your pictures, do something about it. GOOGLE collected it and dumped it in a pile of “free for public use” photographs.  Given that Google steals EVERYONE’S pictures, I’m not sure it would make a difference, but if the information is embedded in the picture, at least it’s possible to discover who “owns” it.  As it stands now, if it didn’t come from your site, no one can find out anything.  Copyright apps aren’t terribly expensive and many of them make you pictures unusable by anyone except you or those to whom you have given permission.

I didn’t take the picture.  GOOGLE took it.  And you know, if you don’t do something to protect your work, it’s going to keep happening because Google steals ev erything — photos, text, comments — you name it, they steal it — from absolutely EVERYONE. It’s their thing.

Clearly, Armstrong learned nothing from my earlier remarks, and has taken the stance that the person who shouts the loudest wins.  In any case, I was happy to participate in this verbal sparring match via a response to her comment – especially since I already knew all of her stances:

I find it interesting that you continue to (A) blame Google for your theft, and (B) throw your contributing author under the bus for it rather than take responsibility for it like an adult.  Google didn’t place the image on your website.  Either you, or people affiliated with your website, did.  And it really doesn’t matter whether it was you directly or a guest contributor, because ultimately, it’s your website, and thus the buck stops with you.  It is therefore your responsibility to determine authorship of third-party content that you want to use on your website, as well as secure permission to use it.  As I demonstrated above, it was not difficult to determine authorship of the Howard Johnson’s image.  If you had wanted to ensure that your usage was legal, you could have done that in seconds.

I am also not surprised that you brought no new arguments to the discussion, but instead have simply rehashed your original arguments that have already been refuted above.  It has become quite clear that you have learned nothing from this incident.  In any case, just remember that if you do your research up front and make sure that you have permission to use any content that you don’t directly own, you won’t have any problems in the future.

Her response was largely a retread of her earlier arguments:

I DIDN’T take the photograph. I never heard of you OR your site.  Google didn’t place it on my site, but they DID steal it from yours and put it in a pile of photographs labeled as “free for public use.”  Was I “in the wrong?”  Technically, absolutely.  But doing a Google search for a random picture is common practice and sometimes, people need an illustration.  You seem to be convinced we could have detected it was yours.  HOW?  I DIDN’T STEAL ANYTHING NOR DID RICH.  I’m sorry it happened.  That’s the truth.  That’s what happened.  Google picked it up, dumped it into their image file and a guy looking for a building with an orange roof used it.  I’m sorry.  It was unintentional.  How about fixing the problem?  Buy a copyright application.  No more accidental problems ever again.

So with this response, I feel as though she is taking one step forward, and then two steps back.  She admits that she is wrong (technical correctness is the best kind of correctness, after all), but then proceeds to deny it in all-caps, because clearly, the loudest person wins.  She then responded again without my prompting it:

I have deleted the post.  This is the second time I’ve deleted it.  Presumably it won’t pop up again.  I can’t bring any new argument.  What happened is really what happened.  Would you prefer I make up another story?  I do not check every picture everyone who writes for me posts.  I can’t.  I don’t have enough hours in the day to do it.  I have to assume that everyone is a mature adult and knows the rules.  Most of my day is taken up taking pictures, processing them, writing, editing, and trying to find time to read what other people have written.  I’m sorry I write so much.  I’m a writer.  I write.  Photography is my hobby; writing is my profession, or was until I retired.

I still think if you are that concerned with copyrights, you should make sure that people don’t need to track you down.  Why make it so difficult?  You don’t have to splash your information all over the photograph.  You can — at this point (they’ve come a long way in making these programs less intrusive) — embed your website information so it “pops out” of the photo.  That makes it easy to use and non-intrusive.  I intentionally DON’T identify the contents of pictures because I use them in a lot of different ways.  When I need ID, I use the caption or it is part of the text.  All that I have ever bothered to embed, back when I thought it might make a difference, was my name and website.  I also don’t include details of the camera or lens or f-stop or date.  I consider that private.  I think you really should check out the newer programs.  You might like them AND you can use them on big batches of photographs at the same time.  Whole folders at a time.

By the way, let the record show that the reason that she had to make multiple attempts to remove her initial comment was because it was flagged as spam.  I reapproved it, since it wasn’t spam.  I had suspected that the flagging as spam was her doing, and apparently, I was right.

It’s also funny the way that Armstrong goes on about the validity of the facts of the case.  No one disputes the facts.  The guest contributor used a photo and failed to provide proper attribution as per the terms of the license, and they got nailed for it.  That Armstrong claims not to have enough time to vet the information that her contributors post speaks more to her capability to properly manage her website.  I suppose that with this lack of oversight, she should consider herself lucky that copyright infringement is the only issue that she has had (at least that I know of) with her contributors.  Someone could totally go rogue and post some really disgusting and/or offensive stuff on her site, and she would never know about it unless someone told her about it because she doesn’t exercise proper oversight over her contributors.  The same thing happened with Barbiturate back in 2017.  In that case, the band hired someone to design their graphics for them, but didn’t bother to verify the copyrights on the image that their designer chose in order to ensure that it was being used properly.  It wasn’t being used properly due to lack of attribution, and so they lost their graphic.  At this point, their graphic has spent more time on my website as a testament to their lack of oversight than it ever did on theirs as way to promote their work.

I also got the sense that Armstrong was desperately trying to project a bit here, likely to prevent bruised egos on her part.  In her mind, it wasn’t her problem for committing copyright infringement.  Rather, it was my problem for not doing enough to stop her people from committing copyright infringement.  Clearly, “don’t use photos that you didn’t take yourself without verifiable permission” is too much.  So it’s my problem for not plastering ugly watermarks all over my work in order to stop bad actors like her from taking my work.  Sure, that makes sense.  It’s like when people say, “Look what you made me do,” after something goes wrong.  The person saying it is not taking any responsibility for their own actions, but rather, blaming the other person for the stuff that they did.  Classy.

She also sent me an email continuing this stance that it’s my problem:

Check these out.

https://photomarksapp.com/blog/best-apps-to-copyright-photos-on-windows/

There’s also a copyright function that’s part of Photoshop, or at least it was when I was using a more recent version of it.  There’s no logic to fight about copyright while failing to do anything to protect them.  Why not make it easy for everyone to know there IS a copyright rather than having an ongoing battle over it?  All the professionals I know use a copyright embedder.

Protect your work.  I didn’t go to your site.  I didn’t take something, nor did Rich.  Google took it, dumped it in a pile of pictures they declared were free for public use.  I’m not sure what lesson to take away from this except to never ever use any photograph I didn’t personally shoot and never trust Google or any other form of social media.

I’m not a press photographer.  If I’m writing about anything outside my realm of experience, I have to use publicly available photos.  Publicity shots of old movie stars, photos of museum pictures, or government pictures OR news shots where information tells you how to include copyright information.  When there’s no information and supposedly it’s free for public use, it’s impossible to untangle it.  Usually copyrighted pictures have SOME indication of copyright somewhere.  A signature, an embedded code, a link to the original site.  SOMETHING.

What lesson should I learn?  Never trust Google?  That’s a good lesson.  ONLY use PR shots or other shots intended for general distribution?  Sure.  But he just wanted a picture of a building with an orange roof.  I would probably have found a picture I took and manipulated it so it appeared to have an orange roof, but he’s not a photographer and doesn’t have the tools to do that.

Do you have a better idea?

Since this is an ongoing problem, why not fix it?  Get a copyright app and use it.  Your photos will BE protected and EVERYONE wins.

Funny how her tone changes a bit when she’s not writing in public.  She’s screaming at me in her public comments, but this email through my comment form takes on a calmer tone, even though she still has no clue.  In this, she said exactly one thing that indicates to me that she knows exactly what she did, even if she doesn’t want to admit it openly.  She said, “I’m not sure what lesson to take away from this except to never ever use any photograph I didn’t personally shoot and never trust Google or any other form of social media.”  Thank you!  That’s what I’ve been saying this whole time.  If you want to use a third party’s image, great, but first make sure that you have permission to use it before you publish it.  That means doing your own research and trusting no one else to do the proper research for you, because in her case, it’s clear that her people aren’t doing it.

Otherwise, she assumes a lot about how I handle my “problem”, as well as what exactly constitutes my “problem”.  After all, I’ve done my due diligence in making sure that people know who shot an image.  Making sure that people know exactly who owns my images is part of promoting my work, and so I’m going to make sure that my name is on my work everywhere that I publish it.  But I suppose that this sort of projection fits the character for someone who is trying very hard to deflect all responsibility for their own actions after they’ve gotten caught doing something wrong.   They don’t seem to realize that I’m not going to think less of someone when they admit a mistake.  I can respect an admission of an error.  I might think more about someone if they’re willing to admit an error because it shows that they’re not so prideful that they always have to be right.  What I can’t stand are people who make excuse after excuse after excuse for what happened, and never take any responsibility for it, even after they’ve been caught red-handed.  Continuing to deny it at that point just makes you look foolish.

And finally, after deleting all of her previous comments, she took one final parting shot that demonstrates that despite everything, no lessons were ever actually learned:

I’m done with this. You can keep plugging away at it if you like, but I’m finished.

And, if all goes well, may our paths never cross again.  In any case, I suspect that if Armstrong does not do her research in the future, she will have to be taught this lesson many times again in the future.

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