The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Mon, 11 Jan 2021 07:06:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.6 https://www.schuminweb.com/wp-content/uploads/Clouds-Facebook-icon-150x150.png The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com 32 32 37838674 And they thought a little graffiti was bad back then… https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/01/10/and-they-thought-a-little-graffiti-was-bad-back-then/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/01/10/and-they-thought-a-little-graffiti-was-bad-back-then/#respond Sun, 10 Jan 2021 16:42:44 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=37385 I was recently participating in a comment thread on the Staunton News Leader‘s Facebook page about the arrest and charging of Jake Angeli, one of the more prominent figures to participate in the storming of the Capitol on January 6.  Most the comments praised the arrest, while some other comments amused me thoroughly.  One comment claimed that it was not Trump supporters who came to DC, but rather, it was “antifa”.  That comment reminded me of how little many right-wingers understand about what antifa is, and it made me laugh.  Recall that I used to do a lot of antifa back in my day (though the common use of the term “antifa” postdates my participation), so I know a little something about it.  The thing that amuses me most is when people think that it’s an actual organization, because trust me, it is most definitely not.  For those not familiar, the term “antifa” is short for “anti-fascist”, and if a bunch of people assemble and decide that they want to call themselves “antifa”, then they are antifa, and it’s over at the end of the event.  It’s really not that complicated.  There is no real organization to it, and people don’t answer to anyone at some headquarters.

But that commenter’s attempt to pin the whole thing on “antifa” reminded me of an event that happened back in January 2007, nearly 14 years ago.  Back then, at an anti-war protest (which I documented here under the title “J27 Anti-War Demonstration“), an affinity group of sorts, comprised mostly of people wearing black clothing and masks, i.e. a black bloc (which many might call “antifa” today), broke away from the mainstream march and headed up to the United States Capitol.  The group made it as far as the bottom of the steps, where Capitol Police was standing to prevent further movement.  No effort was made to go past them, and as far as I know, the bloc was content with that.  While we were there, a few people pulled out some spray paint cans and left some tags on the sidewalk in front of the steps of the Capitol.

Here’s what was left during that event:

Graffiti on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol

Graffiti on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol

Graffiti on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol

I remember this quite well.  At the time, I wrote, “Then I smelled something: spray paint?  Turning to someone next to me, I asked, ‘Do you smell spray paint?’  They agreed with me.  And what do you know… someone had actually tagged the sidewalk in front of the Capitol – twice, in fact.”  I also personally took some of the heat for this in the media, after a guest poster on Michelle Malkin’s blog singled me out about the incident about a month and some change later.  I even received threats of physical harm in reference to the next big anti-war event in DC, which would occur the following Saturday.  I wasn’t worried about the people that I was with causing any harm, because a lot of these folks were regulars, i.e. this was not their first rodeo.  I was somewhat concerned about these right-wingers who came in from out of town, though, because they might have had fantasies about roughing up some peaceniks.  Ultimately, nothing happened at that event when it came to the right-wingers, since the cops did a pretty good job at keeping the two sides separate.

In any case, a little spray paint on the sidewalk was “OmG tHe WoRsT tHiNg EvEr!!!!” according to the fanatical right wing in 2007.  Admittedly, the tagging of the sidewalk should never have happened, but that’s well in the past at this point.  But now, we have had right-wingers who busted into the Capitol and ransacked the place on the occasion of the counting of the electoral votes, and certain people on the right were cheering it on as it happened.  I expected a large crowd outside of the Capitol protesting while the vote tally occurred inside, because right-wing events are typically pretty sedate.  They come in, they march around a bit, they make some noise, and then they go home.  In other words, not that exciting.  That big teabagger march that I photographed in 2009 was a big snooze.  Left-wing events are far more interesting in general than right-wing events, because you never know what is going to happen.  So I was as shocked as anyone to see demonstrators breaching the Capitol’s security and finding their way to the top level of the Senate dais, where the presiding officer usually sits.

I wonder if this will also be the end of the disparate treatment by police that I’ve noticed between right-wing protests and left-wing protests.  For the aforementioned teabagger march, there were about ten MPDC officers assigned for the whole thing according to Captain Jeff Herold, and the entire complement was standing on the steps of the Wilson Building, watching the group like playground monitors.  So for all intents and purposes, they were doing their thing unsupervised.  Compare that to the March on Crystal City six months prior, when we had about that many officers just paying attention to our little black bloc, let alone the big march.  Do I expect that to actually change, with right-wing events’ getting the same amount of coverage as left-wing events?  I’m not holding my breath on that.  But I suppose that at the very least, I suppose that the right wing can’t claim any moral high ground anymore about how they comport themselves during protests.  I’ve never seen a black bloc ransacking the Capitol, after all.  They condemn “antifa”, and then go out and top them at their own game.

Meanwhile, from everything that I can tell, Trump knew that he had lost, knew that there was no way that he could actually get a second term, and admitted as much.  He also indicated that he was more or less getting everyone all wound up just for the lulz.  That then had some major real-life consequences for a lot of people, and that made me really angry with Trump for essentially sending these people off for something that he didn’t even believe in himself.  It also made me feel a little bit badly for the people who participated, because I imagine that a lot of those people didn’t realize that Trump was doing it all for the attention.  I said in a Facebook post at the time, “Does the word ‘suckers’ seem like an adequate term to describe these Trump supporters now?”  I haven’t yet found anything to convince me otherwise.  I suppose that this should be a lesson to a lot of people: use that noodle of yours.  Do your own research, and come to your own conclusions.  Think critically.  Don’t just blindly follow.  Have some conviction, even if it’s unpopular.

And then hopefully, the inauguration is uneventful.  We know that Trump doesn’t plan to attend his successor’s inauguration, but who knows what his rabid supporters might try to pull.  All I know is that I’ll be at work that day, just like I was during the storming of the Capitol, and just like I was at Trump’s inauguration four years ago.  And I’m hoping that I have a nice, boring day on the 20th.  We’ll see, I suppose…

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No more cutesy safety messages? https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/01/07/no-more-cutesy-safety-messages/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2021/01/07/no-more-cutesy-safety-messages/#respond Thu, 07 Jan 2021 22:18:46 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=37334 On January 4, 2021, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a ruling providing “an official interpretation of the provisions of the 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) related to changeable message sign messaging”.  In a nutshell, this ruling bans all of those cutesy safety messages that highway departments love putting on those overhead message signs, such as this one:

"Wear shamrocks, not handcuffs. Drive sober."

This particular one is from March 17, 2016 on US 29 in Maryland, and promotes responsible use of adult beverages, i.e. don’t drive drunk.  I’m sure that you can think of other messages that you’ve seen that are similar, related to drunk driving and seat belt usage.  I never minded these messages, because ultimately, they were PSAs about safety while driving.  As long as it was travel-related and not preempting a more urgent message, fine.  Especially because, for whatever reason, despite decades of anti-drunk driving campaigns and mandatory seat belt laws, people still do these things.  The seat belt part especially surprises me, because I still read far too often about someone’s being ejected from their car during an accident because they weren’t wearing a seat belt, which would have prevented that.  I lack sympathy for those people, because the first thing that comes to my mind when I read about such things is that the idiot wasn’t wearing their seat belt, which would have kept them in their seat, where they belonged.  After all, we want to keep such driver’s ed films as Alice’s Adventures Through the Windshield Glass and The Decapitation of Larry Leadfoot in the realm of fiction, and not play them out in real life.

However, in the last year, I’ve seen these message signs used for a different purpose: pandemic-related propaganda.  Maryland in particular, it seems, has loved to run messages about masks and social distancing and such.  Here are some examples that I’ve spotted:

"If out and about/Do your part/Keep social distance"

"Do your part/Wear a mask/Stay 6 ft apart"

"Stay home for the holidays/Masks on"

This is not limited to Maryland, of course.  On a recent trip up north to see family, Delaware had a message on the overhead on I-95 that said, “A simple ask.  Wear a mask”.  I was quick to respond with, “Get a clue.  Fuck you.”

Virginia jumped on the bandwagon as well, but in that case, they tried to keep it at least somewhat road-related, mixing pandemic and road safety:

"New normal, same rule: buckle up"

In any case, this propagandizing has become so prevalent that the return of the usual cutesy safety messages’ for Christmas was noteworthy enough to warrant a photo:

"He knows when you are speeding/Slow down"

What does it say when normal becomes noteworthy?  But in any case, all of the above-named examples are now banned.  And in their ruling, the FHWA makes the perfect case for these.  It all boils down to this fundamental principle:

Traffic control devices or their supports shall not bear any advertising message or any other message that is not related to traffic control.

Last I checked, messages about seat belt usage, drunk driving, and especially pandemic-related propaganda, are not related to traffic control.  They also fail some other principles of an effective traffic control device:

Convey a clear, simple meaning.  Clear and simple messages are easy to read and comprehend with only short glances away from the roadway, resulting in minimal visual and cognitive distraction from the driving task.  The use of witticisms, colloquialisms, and popular culture references that target or are comprehended only by a limited segment of the population is not consistent with a clear, simple meaning for all.  Instead, these messages rely on hidden meanings or targeted cultural knowledge to understand the message.  Similarly, the use of newly coined terms (neologisms), words combining the meanings of two words or blending of sounds (portmanteaus), metadata tags (“hashtags”), electronic shorthand (“Internet slang”), and other forms that do not use conventional syntax do not convey a clear, simple meaning to many road users.

Command respect from road users.  Respect for CMS is gained through the posting of information that is relevant to all road users at the location and time it is displayed.  Just as important, CMS messages also command respect through the consistent use of simple, official language and design.  The use of colloquialisms, popular culture references, and other types of indirect or potentially esoteric messaging tends to diminish respect of a CMS as a traffic control device because of its unauthoritative tone and its similarity to promotional advertising that employs a similar approach.

The cutesy road safety messages tend to fail the principle of “convey a clear, simple meaning” by assuming that people understand certain cultural elements.  In the case of the St. Patrick’s Day one, it assumes that someone is familiar with St. Patrick’s Day and knows what a shamrock is.  Imagine that someone had never heard of it, such as a recent immigrant from an area where St. Patrick’s Day was not celebrated.  Now you’ve got someone going down the road thinking, “What is a shamrock, and why do I need to wear one?”  That thought is now taking at least some of their attention away from safely moving their vehicle down the road.  In the case of the Christmas-related one, if someone has never heard of the “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” song, the message doesn’t make sense anymore, and the meaning is lost, and you again have a confused driver who is thinking about the message, taking a little bit of brain power away from the task of driving.  We don’t want that, because a distracted driver is a dangerous driver.  Don’t forget that distracted driving comes in many forms, and doesn’t just mean a driver with a phone in their hand.

The pandemic-related propaganda, meanwhile, has zero to do with traffic control.  It also fails to command respect from road users.  I know it fails this, because I look at it and it causes me to lose respect for a whole host of entities because these signs that are supposed to be for road-related messaging are now being used for blatant propaganda about social distancing, lockdowns, and mask-wearing.  My response to the Delaware message is a perfect example of this, as I was clearly not having it.  Don’t waste my time with a non-road-related message when I’m trying to drive.  I have my own opinions about the official response to the pandemic, and it’s generally not complimentary, but this is not the time for that discussion.

Additionally, keeping these signs lit all the time causes their messages to blend into the background.  The FHWA even said as much:

It is important that any safety campaign related messages be limited in duration.  Displaying safety campaign messages on a near‑continuous basis can be counterproductive to the intended purpose, as motorists might habituate to and ignore messages that are displayed for long periods of time or with such frequency or predictability that motorists perceive them as being displayed continually.

With their continual use for propaganda, seeing a message on there is nothing new.  It’s just like any other sign that you see every day while out on the road.  You know it’s there, you’re used to it, and therefore you don’t even really see it anymore.  So when a message that is actually pertinent comes through, you might miss it because you’re used to seeing it lit up with all of the garbage messages.  If the sign is normally dark, and only lit up for pressing matters, then it’s going to get your attention.  You’re going to notice it because it’s something different, you’re going to read it, and then respond accordingly.

All in all, when properly used, these devices are wonderful things, as they are able to convey pertinent information regarding traffic conditions for drivers in order to help keep traffic moving smoothly, such as one time when a sign alerted me to an accident on I-95 while I was traveling to Richmond.  In that case, I was able to get off the freeway in plenty of time, take Route 1 around the accident, and then get back on 95 after I was past the accident.  It saved me time when I was trying to get somewhere by alerting me to a problem on my route.  But when it’s used for other things that are not directly related to my ability to get where I’m going, it cheapens the system, causes more clutter on the roads, and makes it less likely that actual pertinent messages will have the impact that they need to have.  And for that, I’m glad that all of the cutesy safety messages and unrelated propaganda are now banned.

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Out of everything, 2020 was an exceptionally good year for my photography… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/12/31/out-of-everything-2020-was-an-exceptionally-good-year-for-my-photography/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/12/31/out-of-everything-2020-was-an-exceptionally-good-year-for-my-photography/#respond Thu, 31 Dec 2020 19:33:22 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=37203 Out of all of the things that occurred in 2020, I think that I could define my year most by my photography work.  I had a very productive year, on a few different fronts.

First of all, I got a new phone in early March, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which is a pretty powerful camera in and of itself, with four different lenses built into its design and all sorts of other fun features.  For that, I tend to get the most out of the standard lens and the wide angle lens.  Here’s a comparison of two shots taken from the same spot:

Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the regular lens.
Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the regular lens.

Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the wide-angle lens.
Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the wide-angle lens.

As you can see, it’s a much larger shot with the wide-angle lens, though it does come with a little bit of distortion around the edges.  Note the way that the station arch is up on one side in the second shot, as well as the way that the tiles are a little stretched near the bottom.  I view it as “there are worse things”, and work with it.  And I’ve produced plenty of winners with the wide-angle lens.

I also got some new lenses for my real camera, i.e. my Nikon D5300.  One is a portrait lens, and the other is a wide angle lens.  I haven’t gotten as much use out of the portrait lens as I’ve hoped, but I’ve definitely gotten some use out of the wide angle lens.

The portrait lens has only come out twice, but here are examples from those shoots:

The first use was right after unboxing.  I photographed Woomy, who was a willing subject, even if he was complaining the whole time.
The first use was right after unboxing.  I photographed Woomy, who was a willing subject, even if he was complaining the whole time.

In the other instance, I took it out while Elyse and I photographed a cemetery in Frederick County.
In the other instance, I took it out while Elyse and I photographed a cemetery in Frederick County.  The portrait lens was not ideal for this particular application, mainly for lack of a zoom function in an instance where I was mostly down on my knees, but I wanted to get a handle on how the lens performed in a real situation.  But I was able to put it through its paces enough to see the potential in it.

As far as the wide angle lens goes, I got that in November, but I’ve already gotten some decent use out of it.  Here are some examples with that:

A fire truck sprays some water during a training exercise at Point of Rocks.
A fire truck sprays some water during a training exercise at Point of Rocks.

The former JCPenney store at Staunton Mall.
The former JCPenney store at Staunton Mall.

I like this lens a lot.  Unlike the phone’s wide angle lens, it has a little bit of optical zoom on it, which makes it easier to line up shots, and there is a lot less distortion around the edges compared to the phone.

Then I also have the Mavic Mini, i.e. a drone, which opens up a lot more possibilities for me, since I now have easy access to aerial photography.  I’ve found my drone useful for two things: big aerial shots, and also close-ups of things that I couldn’t otherwise get up to, mostly infrastructure.  Here are some examples from a recent visit to Waynesboro, Virginia.  First, the big aerial shots:

A former ice house in downtown Waynesboro, painted up with a mural.
A former ice house in downtown Waynesboro, painted up with a mural.

Downtown Waynesboro, photographed from near Kroger.
Downtown Waynesboro, photographed from near Kroger.

And here are some examples of detail shots with the drone:

Satellite dish on the former News Virginian building.
Satellite dish on the former News Virginian building.

Siren structure on top of the Waynesboro fire department.
Siren structure on top of the Waynesboro fire department.

Detail of a cell phone tower.
Detail of a cell phone tower.

I don’t know which I enjoy more, i.e. the overview stuff or the detailed stuff.  The detailed stuff is more challenging to shoot, since I want to get nice, close, detailed shots, but also have to be careful not to make contact with the subject, because a collision with the subject would likely mean loss of vehicle and contents (i.e. I destroy the drone and also lose the photos) if it lands in a place where I am unable to retrieve it.  But it’s still a lot of fun to do.

Otherwise, with a lot of stuff right now either closed or so bogged down with so-called “safety measures” (i.e. security theater) to be more trouble than it’s worth, the camera has become what I do for recreation, and I’ve been doing a lot of shooting lately.  If Elyse and I are out and I have a moment while I’m waiting for her to do something, I will pull out my phone and start lining up shots, typically close ones.  This photo feature is a good example of that, where I was photographing sandwiches at a little convenience store while Elyse was shopping there.  One of the employees asked what I was up to, and I explained that I was waiting for Elyse to finish shopping, and that the sandwiches gave me a bit of artistic inspiration.  They told me to have fun with it.  I’ve also gone out more with my real camera, making good use of my time off. We’ve gone out quite a bit, and I’ve done a good bit of photography throughout the mid-Atlantic region. I’ve photographed all sorts of things in all kinds of settings.  I’ve brought my tripod out quite a bit, doing a lot of nighttime photography, and lots of other different things.  I’ve also been documenting the signs of the current COVID-19 pandemic quite a bit, though admittedly, I haven’t photographed people in masks, because that is one aspect that I would rather not remember.  I’ve been more about changes that I’ve observed in the physical environment around us rather than the humans themselves.  My Flickr album about the pandemic, which goes through the end of March as of this writing, gives a better idea as to what I mean.  And I admit: I love this photo of Elyse holding a roll of toilet paper in a grocery store, making sport of the panic-induced shortages of toilet paper that we saw this year.

Now, as far as actually getting photos out the door, though, I’ve not been so good.  The newest stuff on my Flickr feed is from the end of March, and there have been no new photo sets on here for 2020.  There has been very little new material posted up, other than in photo features and Journal entries.  That’s for a few reasons.  First of all, considering that I’ve been photographing more this year (99 events that generated their own folder in my archive this year, vs. 41 in 2018 and 43 in 2019), being out in the field more is time that I might have otherwise spent at my desk doing publications.  So there’s that.  As far as photo sets on here go, out of the four things that I’ve got planned as 2020 sets, three of them span multiple months, and for two of those, I’m deliberately running out the year in order to capture everything at once.  The fourth is about Staunton Mall, and I’ve already teased you with a Journal entry about that subject.  But that one is going to take a while to do.

However, the largest reason for a backlog is because I’ve been working on a large project regarding older material.  As of this writing, in order to see the aforementioned photos from this past March, you have to go back to page 17.  That’s because I’ve been going through my archives, preparing and uploading older photos as if they’re new material.  I have a lot of good stuff that I’ve taken over the years that’s never been published before, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s been published in various places over the years, and so I’m trying to get as much of it as possible on my Flickr account so that it’s all in one place.  It’s been fun revisiting these old photos, and especially so in seeing some of what I never published, mostly because it didn’t fit the story that I was trying to tell for whatever reason.  This works to my benefit with Flickr, because photos are published as standalone pieces, and the albums exist to provide that larger context for those photos.  I started back in 1999 with scans from my first trip to Canada, and am done through 2011, and I’m working on the photo prep for 2012 as of this writing.  I’m planning to do through the end of 2013, i.e. the Creative Commons period, plus a little bit from after that.  So I’m well past the halfway point.  Once that’s done, I plan on switching to new material, working on the photo sets and then more Flickr.  Once I get to new material on Flickr, the Hampton Roads trip from April will be the first to go out.

So all in all, I’d say that I’ve had a good year for photography, even if it’s not all up yet.  Hopefully 2021 continues to build on this success.

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A lot of “teachable moments” in one email… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/12/18/a-lot-of-teachable-moments-in-one-email/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/12/18/a-lot-of-teachable-moments-in-one-email/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2020 23:20:20 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=36940 Recently, I submitted a takedown notice for content in a post called “Preaching to the Choir” which, among other things, discusses the seventh and ninth commandments in the Bible (conveniently skipping over #8, i.e. “thou shalt not steal”), on a blog called Serendipity Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth.  The post contained a photo that I took of the former Howard Johnson’s on Afton Mountain.  Specifically, they used this shot:

The Howard Johnson's restaurant on Afton Mountain

This photo comes from the original Afton Mountain photo set that I published in 2003.  As it is one of my older (pre-2014) photos, per my policy at the time, it is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.  That means that as long as you (A) provide attribution to the copyright holder, i.e. me, and (B) license the resulting work under the original license, you’re golden, and you can use the material for whatever you want, and for as long as you want.  And really, I don’t mind that my work is used in other contexts.  I love seeing my stuff appear in the wild, and people who have witnessed my finding one of my photos’ being used in the field will tell you that my face just lights up upon discovering it.  But the license still must be followed in all circumstances, unless you ask to make alternate arrangements ahead of time.

When people choose not to follow this license, and I find out about it, I take care of it using the various remedies that are available to me.  For business or organizational usages, I typically handle it through Pixsy, to get a licensing fee for the usage.  For infringing usages that don’t qualify for resolution through Pixsy, I typically use remedies available to me through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA.  In those cases, I contact the host of the content, they verify the infringement, and they remove it and notify their customer about the removal.  In that case, the host has done what they are legally obligated to do, my claim is satisfied, and we all go on with our day.  Sometimes, though, the original user writes me after it’s all over, not necessarily to challenge it (since there is a legal process for that, too), but rather to tell me what a horrible person I am for defending my copyrights from infringement, or to try to get me to retract my claim for a promise that they will remove it immediately afterward.

In this case, after the takedown notice was submitted, processed, and executed, I received an email from Marilyn Armstrong, the woman who runs the blog, about it.  I suppose that the old saying is true.  If you give someone enough rope, they’ll find a way to hang themselves.  Armstrong went ballistic on me with a very long email complaining about the situation that she now found herself in.  I got the sense that she definitely knew that she was in the wrong, but was desperately trying to justify or otherwise excuse her actions despite knowing full well that she was wrong.  Perhaps she was trying to soften the blow for herself, to make her feel a little bit better about it.

In any case, Armstrong’s email provides a number of “teachable moments”, so I’m going to quote it in its entirety, and discuss the various points that she makes.

Why in the world would you report me without at least getting in touch with me first?  Did you believe a single photograph of an abandoned Howard Johnson’s used as an illustration in a non-profit post as a humorous commentary on sermons during the COVID pandemic, would cause you harm?  Was it used commercially?  Was the site commercial?  Did you lose money?  Were you in any danger of losing anything?

I always find it curious when people immediately question why I go straight to a takedown notice rather than contacting the perpetrator first. Recall that Barbiturate also complained about the same thing when I nailed them for the photo of the cemetery in West Virginia.  The question that I usually have about that is, why should I, especially when I don’t know the person?  I see no benefit to doing this vs. going straight to the various legal remedies available to me, and Armstrong just demonstrated exactly why I don’t do that through her response.  Why would I subject myself to someone’s hemming and hawing and trying to justify why they shouldn’t have to do what is asked of them after they are caught, when I can avoid having to read all of that and get a disinterested third party (the host) to do it for me without all of the fuss?  Especially so when, if the person doesn’t remove it themselves, I then would have to use the legal remedies regardless.  I also don’t like to threaten people with escalation as a tactic to get compliance, i.e. if you don’t do what I tell you, it can get much worse.  That’s not how I operate, and I have always found it a bit tacky when someone threatens escalation.  That goes for teachers, bosses, and anyone else.  If escalation is warranted, just do it, and if it’s not, then don’t.  Or, in this case, start at the level that you’re supposed to and let those people handle it from there.

Additionally, as far as copyright is concerned, nonprofit or not, commercial or not, whether I lose money or are otherwise at risk of being harmed in any way does not matter in the least.  It’s still copyright infringement.  If someone plays the “poor nonprofit” card with me, they’re still going to get spanked for copyright infringement just like they would if they had taken responsibility for it like an adult.

The picture (and by the way, I didn’t use it nor did I write the piece, but it did appear on my site) came via a Google search and not from your website.  Personally, I would not have used the picture because it had obviously been copied and moved multiple times before Rich found it.  It had no name on it.  No signature.  No indication of it having any protection.  I am also a photographer and I post hundreds (maybe thousands) of pictures a year.  Google steals all of them.  I have found my pictures many places — and writing, too.  I decided I was not going to spend the rest of my life mad at “the Internet.”  Google steals everything, and anything Google doesn’t steal first ends up on Facebook or even Wikipedia.  I’ve given up worrying about it since I don’t sell my work.  I do miniaturize them so while someone might use one as a small illustration, they aren’t going to enlarge it as a wall hanging.  I ask people to give a photo credit if they want to use my pictures, but usually, I don’t even get that because some clever person slices the signature off the bottom.

I see a few things here.  First of all, she is passing the buck to a guest contributor, a man named Rich Paschall.  I have no reason to doubt that Armstrong did not write the post in question, as the blog contains a lot of material written by other contributors besides Armstrong.  However, it’s still Armstrong’s blog.  Ultimately, it’s her site that is publishing the material, and therefore, it is up to her to ensure that everything that is being posted is up to spec.  Whenever I watch Bar Rescue, I have noticed that Jon Taffer never lets the owners get away with passing the buck.  There’s a reason for that.  They own the business, and therefore, the buck stops with them, because they’re the owner, i.e. the ultimate authority over that business.  The same thing applies here.  Armstrong’s name is on the copyright notice, therefore, it’s pretty clear that the buck stops with her.  That comes with a lot of responsibility, and if she’s going to put her name on it, then she should take responsibility for it.

Also, notice how Armstrong tries to justify the image use.  She, or her contributor, got the image from somewhere that wasn’t Schumin Web, and therefore, it’s okay to use it.  Even if we pretend to take some of her claims at face value, i.e. that Google and other sites steal and distribute images en masse in violation of copyright, that still does not excuse any party from the responsibility of determining (A) who the copyright holder is, and (B) whether the image is okay to use in a specific situation.  What Armstrong is essentially claiming is that two wrongs make a right.  Basically, because Google “stole” my photo first, and therefore, a wrong has already been committed, it’s okay to commit further wrongs because someone else did it.  It’s like when kids try to justify their actions when they get caught by saying that little Johnny did the same thing and didn’t get in trouble, and therefore, they shouldn’t be punished for it.  Just because little Johnny didn’t get caught didn’t make the thing any less wrong.

Generally speaking, though, if you can’t determine the source of an image, you shouldn’t use it, no matter how great of a photo it may be.  In the case of my photos, if you look a little bit, you will usually find my name somewhere nearby.  This particular photo was published on Schumin Web, Flickr, and Wikimedia Commons, and based on those places, there is a good chance that there will be downstream usage.  However, finding it in a downstream usage doesn’t negate the need to do your own vetting, and to follow the license.

Additionally, one thing that Armstrong fails to recognize is that copyright is automatic.  The moment that you put an idea into a fixed form, it is copyrighted, and if you are the one who created it, you are the one who holds that copyright.  For stuff created since 1989, a copyright notice is unnecessary.  It exists, therefore it is copyrighted, unless the copyright holder explicitly gives it away.

There are battles I will fight. This isn’t one of them. This blog is a hobby, NOT a business.

I admit that I laughed a little bit when I saw this.  For someone who is claiming to pick their battles, and who has also said that this is not a battle that they are willing to fight, it sure sounds like they have chosen to fight it, don’t you think?

I can’t write you on Facebook or Instagram since I do not use either of these social media outlets.  I have already been hacked after Facebook stole all my personal information and sold it Cambridge Analytica.  Ironically, all I got from that was a bland “oops, sorry.”

Congratulations, I suppose?  I have little to no sympathy for people who complain about what Facebook does with their information, since ultimately, it’s stuff that they provided to Facebook themselves, and used pursuant to terms that they probably didn’t read but agreed to nonetheless in order to use the service.  I’m less than concerned about these sites’ using information about me.  I figure, maybe they’ll find me more interesting than I do.

I remember the time when some friends of Elyse and I came over the house, and I showed them the Google Home device in the room where they would be staying.  One of them asked if we were concerned about having a microphone connected to Google right in the house.  Then I showed them how it worked, and they watched the way that Google Assistant responded.  All concerns about the device went out the window, and they were having a blast talking to Google for quite some time.  Clearly, it wasn’t that big of a deal once they got to know it.  I also say that if someone really wanted to do a deep dive into my information, they’re the ones who are going to be scarred for life because of it, and not me.

Let me repeat: the photograph was NOT stolen from your web site.  It had already been stolen by any number of people before Rich found it.  As far as I can tell, the photo does not contain any embedded copyright information — not even a signature.  If you feel obliged to copyright every photo you post, you might want to embed copyright information in the picture (which can also make them impossible to copy) so people know the photo has an owner.  There are any number of programs that do this, including one from Adobe.

When you search Google for a picture, they do not provide any information unless copyright info was embedded.  When you get photos that way, you do the best you can to provide information when it is available, but when there isn’t any?

Armstrong is correct – I do not embed any copyright or authorship information into my photos, either as a watermark or as metadata.  As far as watermarks go, I used to watermark my large-size images until around 2005 or so, when I started using Creative Commons licensing.  A watermarked image would have looked like this:

Schumin Web image with watermark
(For those wondering, this is from the “Cookout at Canterbury” photo set in College Life)

I have never liked watermarks.  I think that they’re ugly, and that they detract from the photos that they’re used on.  I started watermarking images back then when I started an early foray into image licensing, with the idea of marking the images so that people can’t steal them, and routing them to the rather rudimentary licensing site that I had at the time if they wanted to use my work.  But I found that watermarking was (A) a considerable amount of extra work to apply, and (B) it made my images look ugly.  I gradually eliminated watermarks on Schumin Web, first by not using them on new material, and later eliminating them as far back as April 2005 (a change in my work process at that time, starting with the A16 set, meant that I had better photo set masters from that point forward).  I eventually eliminated watermarks entirely in July 2012, when the site was converted to WordPress, and all photo sets were reprocessed from the originals.  Watermarks now only exist on College Life, since I want to preserve that site as something of a time capsule, and thus I am unlikely to edit much of that site, so as to preserve its character as the work of a much younger man.

As far as embedding copyright and licensing information into the metadata goes, I have never explored this.  I don’t know if it’s necessarily worth pursuing, either, considering that material that originates from me is typically well-documented as such, regardless of whether it appears on Schumin Web, Flickr, Google Maps, or Wikimedia Commons.  All of it says “Ben Schumin” pretty explicitly on it.  I also find the idea of retrofitting thousands of photos for this to be more trouble than it’s worth, especially since it doesn’t take much effort by a downstream user to strip out the metadata, thus negating my efforts.

But in any case, the fact that I don’t watermark or embed copyright information in the metadata has no bearing on the end user’s responsibility to do their own research when it comes to determining whether or not a photo is okay to use in their own work.

I’ve got more than 100,000 photos in archives, but I haven’t photographed everything in the world.  Occasionally someone who works with me needs an illustration and can’t find a copy of it in my files.  On a Google search, there is NO way to figure out where a picture came from.  Surely you do know that Google automatically steals every picture you publish, right?  If someone stole anything, Google (or Facebook) is who done it.  But you can’t get through to them.  They don’t even offer you an email address.

Regarding the photo count, I have 183,904 photos in my own archive as of this writing.  So… what’s your point?

Otherwise, notwithstanding Armstrong’s “two wrongs make a right” excuse, I decided to test her argument that it was not possible to determine where an image came from.  So I ran a Google image search on the subject image, and here’s what I came up with:

Google image search results for the Howard Johnson's photo

Out of the twelve results that Google presented me, six of them, including the first five results, are first-party usages, i.e. ones that I uploaded and placed myself.  Five of those are for Wikimedia Commons, where I am attributed by name on the file description page, and the sixth is to the photo in its original context on Schumin Web.  Of the other six results, two are third-party usages, three are scraper sites for Flickr and/or Wikipedia, and the last one is Pinterest (which you shouldn’t use in the first place if you’re looking for photos to republish).

So that blows a hole into that argument so large that you could drive a truck through it.  It took me under a minute to come up with proper sourcing for the photo in question.  The only thing that I can conclude from that is that if Armstrong or her guest contributor tried to find the source information, they didn’t try very hard at it.

Meanwhile though, you are more than welcome to use any of my pictures unless you are a business in which case, this becomes a different story.  Otherwise, I’m old enough and have taken enough photographs that I will never actually have enough years left to publish them.  If the world can benefit from my photos, may it be a better, brighter place because I sent the world some photographs of places I’ve been in the course of life.

I wonder what Armstrong would have said if the shoe had been on the other foot.  I wonder what she might say had I used one of her photos in violation of the terms that she offered it under.  I wonder what her response would have been.

I would appreciate your removing the mark against me.  To call me a copyright thief for accidental use of a photograph of an abandoned Howard Johnson’s restaurant is a bit unjust, don’t you think?  No one did anything intended to harm you.  Moreover, I suspect this falls under the realm of fair usage anyway since it was previously published and used non-commercially for zero financial gain.  No one STOLE ANYTHING.  Rich simply used an untitled, unsigned photograph from a Google search in a non-commercial blog as an illustration.  I was not intended to cause anyone distress or financial injury.  If you had gotten in touch with any of us first — there’s a contact link clearly on the cover of the blog — I would have removed it except, of course, I had no idea there was a problem.  Given the state of the world, did you really need to send more angst to a senior just trying to get through this and come out alive?

I can’t help but laugh a little about this one.  Simply put, Armstrong or her guest contributor (and it really doesn’t matter which one of them did it) used a photo in violation of the license terms, and got caught.  Does that make them copyright thieves?  Yes, it absolutely does.  Do they deserve any of the consequences, such as copyright strikes, that stemmed from their actions?  Most definitely.  Especially when, right after claiming that no one stole anything, she admits exactly that.  She earned her copyright strike, and I see no reason to make any effort to have it removed.  That copyright strike is her warning not to infringe on other people’s copyrights again.

The rest of that paragraph is Armstrong’s attempt to verbally lick her wounds, since it is clear that she knew full well that she was in the wrong, but didn’t want to admit it.  Everything that she cites, such as the commercial nature of the site that she found it on, whether or not she is using it commercially herself, whether or not I “signed” the photo, or her own age, is all irrelevant.  None of that matters when it comes to its being a copyright infringement.  Playing the age card in particular makes me laugh a little, because it opens the door for me to fire back with, “You’re old enough, then, that you ought to know better.”

As far as a fair use justification for the photo goes, I say no.  The passage that makes the HoJo’s photo relevant is towards the middle of the article.  It states, “Now before we begin, we would like to extend our thoughts and prayers to our neighbors just across the state line at the Congregation of the Perpetual Noise.  Many of you know the building right there off the highway.  It’s the one with the large orange roof.  I think you can spot that orange top from a long way off.  I understand it used to be a Howard Johnson’s Motor Inn.  In fact, one of our moms, Mrs. Knaves, used to work the place, but I digress.”  My photo ran with that, captioned, “Congregation of the Perpetual Noise”.  The photo is now gone from the blog, and was not replaced.  Does the lack of the photo decrease the understanding of the remainder of the content?  Not in the least.  The usage is entirely decorative.  In this instance, it’s a pretty picture, and nothing more.

I have trouble understanding people these days.  In a world full of illness, fear, poverty, and pure mean craziness, why in the world would you want to hassle someone with something this minor?  I don’t understand it — and I AM a photographer, and a good one at that.  I guess I just don’t take myself seriously enough.  Sorry to have inadvertently stepped on your territory, but it was unintentional and in no way intended to cause distress or harm to anyone.

Yes, from what I can tell, Armstrong does do a lot of photography, though her style is a bit different from mine.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  We all add a little something to the world through our photography.  But as a fellow photographer and blogger, she really needs to get a better handle on copyright, because if she still has infringing material out there on her blog, the odds are good that she will eventually get caught again.

Another thing that Armstrong fails to realize is that when it comes to policing my copyrights, it’s nothing personal.  It’s just business.  I am not distressed by this.  I just take care of things.  By comparison, she appears to have viewed it as a personal attack against her and her guest contributor.  Clearly, it shook her to the core, affecting her enough to write 890 words about it across ten emotionally-charged paragraphs.  But she grossly overestimates how much I thought about her as an individual.  It’s just a business matter to me.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. — Robert Hanlon
Marilyn Armstrong
Uxbridge, Massachusetts

“Serendipity – Searching for Intelligent Life On Earth”

I admit: I saw her signature, and my first reaction was, “Please don’t make me insult you.”  And let the record show that she said it, not me.  But I can’t disagree with it.  I have no doubt that the infringement that appeared on her blog was an innocent mistake, and not malicious.  And I corrected that mistake.  You’re welcome.

So, all in all, I wonder if Armstrong and/or her guest contributor will learn from her mistakes, or whether they will just view it as someone’s picking on them and not letting them have their fun.  Time will tell, I suppose, but I suspect that it will probably be the latter, since that email definitely has a strong “here is why you are wrong” slant to it.  But the bottom line in all of this is the same as it is in all of the other copyright cases that I’ve written about, i.e. don’t steal.  Just because it’s on the Internet, regardless of where you found it, does not mean that it’s free to use.

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Paying my last respects to Staunton Mall… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/12/14/paying-my-last-respects-to-staunton-mall/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/12/14/paying-my-last-respects-to-staunton-mall/#comments Mon, 14 Dec 2020 14:00:01 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=36859 On a recent trip to Augusta County, Elyse and I stopped over at Staunton Mall to pay our last respects to the place.  For those not familiar, Staunton Mall recently changed owners, and in late November, the new owners gave all of the remaining tenants a 30-day notice to vacate, except for Belk.  The last day of operation for Staunton Mall will be December 24.  So we stopped in and documented the place fairly extensively.  Before I get started, please note that this Journal entry will be a very high-level look at the mall.  I took over 1,200 photos of the interior and exterior of the mall, including at least one photo of every single storefront, and I’m going to give the place a more complete treatment as a photo set for Life and Times.  But this ought to hold everyone for now, because the more complete treatment is going to take a while to put together.

The thing about photographing retail settings is that stores typically don’t like it when you photograph in their facilities.  The usual reason cited is to protect trade secrets, which is usually bunk, because, as I understand it, a company has to put actual effort into keeping trade secrets a secret.  If it is in plain view of the public, then it is not a trade secret.  But that doesn’t stop stores from chasing off photographers.  After all, it is private property, and they can choose to exclude whatever activities that they want.  For my purposes, it just means that I have to be a bit more stealthy when I photograph, and shoot with my phone rather than with the big camera.  The way that I typically operate when I do this is to go from lower risk to higher risk as far as getting caught goes.  After all, once a place gets wise to me, the photo shoot is over, because they’ll never leave me alone again as long as I remain there.  In this case, since I had the drone, I considered the aerial photography to be the least risky as far as getting caught goes, since I could accomplish that mostly from off of the property.  Then after I finished flying around the mall, I photographed the exterior from the car with my real camera.  Then I went inside the mall and did my documentation of the interior with my phone.  I suspected that I wouldn’t have any issues with security personnel based on reports from others that there were no security people to begin with, and I was pleased that this ended up remaining the case.  I’ve seen so many cases where stores and/or entire shopping centers are closing, and employees still get on people about photography.  I can’t help in those cases but to think, why do you still care?  After all, the people in question are losing their jobs soon, and so they’re continuing to defend their employer because… why?  No matter what you do, at the end of the day, you’re still losing your job.  So why are you still loyal to and defending a company that clearly has no loyalty to you?  It doesn’t make sense to me.

In any case, here are some of my aerials of the property:

The mall, viewed from the southwest (near the Hampton Inn).
The mall, viewed from the southwest (near the Hampton Inn).

Another view from the southwest, this one from a little closer in.
Another view from the southwest, this one from a little closer in.

JCPenney store, which closed in October.  This store was an original mall tenant.
JCPenney store, which closed in October.  This store was an original mall tenant.

Center of the mall, with "HOT WOK" signage over the entrance.
Center of the mall, with “HOT WOK” signage over the entrance.

Entrance to the former Safeway/Goody's/Gold's Gym space, which now houses a church.
Entrance to the former Safeway/Goody’s/Gold’s Gym space, which now houses a church.

Belk wing entrance, and former Wills/Books-A-Million store.  The latter now houses a secondhand store.
Belk wing entrance, and former Wills/Books-A-Million store.  The latter now houses a secondhand store.

Belk.  This was built (as Leggett) when the shopping center was enclosed.  I find it funny that they're finally redoing the parking lot now that the mall is closing.  That lot should have been resurfaced decades ago.
Belk.  This was built (as Leggett) when the shopping center was enclosed.  I find it funny that they’re finally redoing the parking lot now that the mall is closing.  That lot should have been resurfaced decades ago.

The full mall, viewed from the northwest.
The full mall, viewed from the northwest.

The back side of Staunton Mall, viewed from the southeast.
The back side of Staunton Mall, viewed from the southeast.

Peebles building, on the back side of the mall.  This building originally housed a Woolworth's, and then briefly housed Stone & Thomas before becoming Peebles.
Peebles building, on the back side of the mall.  This building originally housed a Woolworth’s, and then briefly housed Stone & Thomas before becoming Peebles.

Movie theater entrance.
Movie theater entrance.

Montgomery Ward building, on the back side of the mall.
Montgomery Ward building, on the back side of the mall.

Former Wards Auto Center, now a Dollar Tree.
Former Wards Auto Center, now a Dollar Tree.

Then here are some of my photos from the ground:

Former Penney's.
Former Penney’s.

Military store in the former People's Drug/CVS space.
Military store in the former Peoples Drug/CVS space.

Former Boston Beanery storefront.  This was the only tenant space not accessible from the interior of the mall.
Former Boston Beanery storefront.  This was the only tenant space not accessible from the interior of the mall.


Center entrance, with “HOT WOK” signage.  This refers to a Chinese restaurant that had recently moved from a food court stall to a larger space within the mall.  Previously, this sign had the 1980s-era mall logo, then the Stone & Thomas logo, then Peebles.

Entrance to the former Peebles space.
Entrance to the former Peebles space.

Former Montgomery Ward Auto Center, since converted to a Dollar Tree.
Former Montgomery Ward Auto Center, since converted to a Dollar Tree.

And then I went inside.  The mall was more or less wide open, with a lot of gates open for vacant tenant spaces.  I guess that with the mall’s closure in two weeks, it really didn’t matter anymore.  And there was no security to speak of.  Here are some of the highlights.

The south end of the mall, facing the former JCPenney store.  This entire section of the mall was occupied by a bookstore that also occupied three store spaces in this immediate area.
The south end of the mall, facing the former JCPenney store.  This entire section of the mall was occupied by a bookstore that also occupied three store spaces in this immediate area.  When we visited Staunton Mall in October, this was not the case, and the mall was still a mall in this area at that time.

The center court.  The area covered by the cheap wood-look flooring used to be occupied by a massive fountain, which was removed around 1997.  Good riddance to the fountain as far as I was concerned (it was a massive roadblock in the mall), but I was disappointed that they never put new tile in this area, instead going for the cheap linoleum.
The center court.  The area covered by the cheap wood-look flooring used to be occupied by a massive fountain, which was removed around 1997.  Good riddance to the fountain as far as I was concerned (it was a massive roadblock in the mall), but I was disappointed that they never put new tile in this area, instead going for the cheap linoleum.

Section of the mall north of the center court, looking towards the food court area.
Section of the mall north of the center court, looking towards the food court area.

Corridor leading to the arcade and the movie theater.
Corridor leading to the arcade and the movie theater.

North end of the main corridor, at the former Wards building.  The Belk wing starts to the left.
North end of the main corridor, at the former Wards building.  The Belk wing starts to the left.

Belk wing.
Belk wing.

Mall entrance in the Belk wing.
Mall entrance in the Belk wing.

Entrance to Belk.  Clearly, Belk was no longer using its mall entrance, now only welcoming customers through its exterior entrances.
Entrance to Belk.  Clearly, Belk was no longer using its mall entrance, now only welcoming customers through its exterior entrances.

So that’s Staunton Mall for you in a nutshell.  The place certainly had a long decline.  It gained several new tenants and got a refresh in the 1990s, but then it was all downhill from there towards dead mall status.  Recall that I was calling Staunton Mall a dead mall back in 2009.  Now, however, the mall has less than two weeks to live.  There’s a lot more that I could say about the mall, but I’m saving it for the Life and Times set, since that format will allow me to go into much more detail.

The next stage of the property’s life is expected to be a redevelopment that turns it back into an outdoor shopping center, though not like it was in its original form as Staunton Plaza, before it was enclosed to become Staunton Mall.  This is what the mall property is supposed to look like following redevelopment, according to Loopnet:

Staunton Mall redevelopment plan

One thing that I was surprised about was how similar it was to my amateur redevelopment proposal from 2014:

My amateur proposal for redevelopment of Staunton Mall from 2014

Same basic amount of large tenants.  Still keeps all of the outparcels.  The only real differences between my plan and the real plan are that this retains the Dollar Tree store in its current building, Belk and the former Penney’s are totally freestanding, everything between Belk and Penney’s is demolished, and a few more new outparcel buildings than I proposed.  But by and large, I had the right idea.  Not gonna lie – I’m a bit proud of myself.

So all in all, I had a good last visit at Staunton Mall.  I got a nice sense of closure on this final visit to the mall, and I documented it pretty thoroughly for posterity.  Now, I look forward to seeing how the future redevelopment project pans out.  I hope that it turns out to be successful, and that this breathes new life into what was previously a dead mall.

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I find it very hard to feel any sympathy for Kevin in the second film… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/12/08/i-find-it-very-hard-to-feel-any-sympathy-for-kevin-in-the-second-film/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/12/08/i-find-it-very-hard-to-feel-any-sympathy-for-kevin-in-the-second-film/#respond Wed, 09 Dec 2020 03:07:30 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=36525 Since I’ve been a Disney+ subscriber, I’ve been able to watch the classic Home Alone movies, i.e. Home Alone and Home Alone 2, all over again.  And I figure that this seems as good of a time as ever to explore my thoughts about the movies based on this rewatch as a 39-year-old who is now closer in age to the parents than to Kevin.  In other words, I’m waaaaaaaaay more mature than I was when I first watched them when they were new.

For those not familiar with the Home Alone movies, in the first movie, the McCallister family, a well-off family in the Chicago area, is planning to go on a Christmas trip to Paris to visit relatives.  The night before they are to leave on this trip, two things happen.  First, at dinner, youngest son Kevin gets involved in a fight with his older brother Buzz, who is being unkind to him over pizza.  That leads to his being banished to the attic bedroom (“the third floor” as it’s called in the movie), for the night.  Second, while the family is asleep, high winds cause a tree branch to fall on some nearby power lines, creating a power outage, which takes out the alarm clocks, among other things, causing everyone to oversleep.  When the parents wake up, there is a mad dash to make it to the airport in time.  In the course of taking a headcount prior to leaving, a neighbor child, who stopped by to see what was going on and chat, was accidentally counted.  So, with a good headcount, they were off to the airport.  Unbeknownst to them at the time, they had forgotten Kevin.  Kevin, meanwhile, wakes up to discover that the family has left for the airport, and he is all by himself.  He eventually learns that two burglars are working the neighborhood, and that they are looking to target his house, among others.  So he comes up with a plan to defend his house against said burglars, and leads the burglars through a series of traps that should have killed them many times over (but didn’t because this is the movies).  Kevin also befriends a neighbor along the way, who ultimately finishes off the burglars with two well-placed blows with a snow shovel, which leads to the burglars’ arrest.  While this is going on, Kevin’s mother, after realizing that they had forgotten their youngest, is trying her best to get back home to Kevin, and flies to a number of different cities to that end, and ultimately hitches a ride in a van with a polka group to get home, arriving on Christmas morning.  The rest of the family arrives home shortly thereafter, and there is a happy reunion, with no one except Kevin’s knowing what had happened the night before.

In the second movie, the McCallister family is once again going on vacation for Christmas, but this time, they’re going to Florida.  The night before they are to leave, they are attending a school performance that Buzz and Kevin are both in.  While Kevin is performing a solo, Buzz humiliates Kevin by making various gestures using electric candles that all of the kids on stage were holding.  After Kevin completes his solo, he turns around and punches Buzz, which leads to a chain reaction which causes all of the performers on stage to fall down, and also causes a set piece to hit a teacher, on stage playing the piano, on the head, causing her to fall off of the stage.  This leads to a discussion afterward, with the end result’s being that Kevin is put in a similar situation as the year before.  The family sleeps in again, this time due to an inadvertent unplugging of an alarm clock, but this time, everyone, including Kevin, makes it to the airport.  At the airport, Kevin gets separated from his family while changing the batteries on an electronic device, and ends up following another man who has a similar hairstyle and is wearing the same style coat as his father (the man never has any idea that Kevin is following him).  The airline allows him to board, and he finds himself not in Florida as he expected, instead finding himself in New York City.  While the family learns at the airport in Florida that Kevin is missing, and works to reunite with him, Kevin reserves a room at a hotel and checks in, and lives it up.  In the meantime, he runs into the burglars from the first movie, freshly escaped from prison, and witnesses them in their attempt to rob a toy store, photographing them in the process.  This leads the burglars to pursue Kevin in order to destroy the evidence of their crime.  In the meantime, the hotel discovers that the credit card that Kevin used to book the hotel was flagged as stolen, and they confront Kevin.  Kevin escapes the hotel, and is captured by the burglars.  Kevin eventually gets free from them, and sets up another set of booby traps in a brownstone house owned by a relative that is under renovation, in anticipation of the burglars’ following him.  The burglars again go through all of the traps that Kevin set, and should have each been killed many times over, but they survived, because fiction.  Kevin also befriends a homeless woman in Central Park, who helps finish off the burglars by throwing seed on them and therefore attracting a bunch of pigeons to them, when the burglars eventually catch up with Kevin and attempt revenge on him.  The burglars are arrested, and Kevin’s mother, after the police locate him in New York and the family travels up there, eventually is reunited with her son.  The family then celebrates Christmas together in their complimentary hotel suite in New York.  The end.

The two movies tend to follow the usual pattern for popular flicks that get sequels because they’re so popular.  The first movie flows naturally, and the story flows, and it all comes to a resolution in the end, sewing up all of the various plot points nicely.  The story is complete, and there is nothing left to tell.  But then the movie ends up being a smash hit, and so they decide to make a second installment in order to cash in on the success of the first.  The sequel is usually a bit of a trainwreck, with the story’s coming off as contrived, with lots of callbacks to the original movie.  Mara Wilson put it best about a possible sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire when she said, “Sequels generally suck unless they were planned as part of a trilogy or series.  I think Doubtfire ended where it needed to end.”  Home Alone 2 was no exception to this, as it is, for the most part, a rehashing of the original story, with all of the same elements, but in New York rather than Chicago.  Home Alone 2 is not unique in this regard, though.  Sister Act 2 also tends to do this, with a very contrived way of getting Whoopi Goldberg‘s character back with the nuns.  However, Sister Act 2 likely could have been a standalone story if they had not tried to shoehorn it into the Sister Act franchise by including the nuns and throwing in a few forced callbacks to the first film.  This is not to say that there aren’t sequels that can stand completely on their own, though.  Evan Almighty immediately comes to mind as a sequel that can stand completely on its own without its parent film.  I’ve seen Evan Almighty plenty of times, but I’ve still never seen Bruce Almighty, and my having never seen it has not had a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of its sequel.  Home Alone 2, however, is not one of those sequels that can stand on its own.  You really have to know what happened in the first movie for many elements of the second movie to make sense.

Regardless, in the first movie, it is very easy to feel sorry for Kevin, because he was on the receiving end of just about everything.  He was subject to very poor treatment by almost all of his relatives.  His relatives left him at home, albeit accidentally, and he was probably too young to be responsible for an alarm clock of his own.  The burglars came to him, and were going to rob his house.  The movie really was about Kevin’s making the best of the situation that he found himself in and working through it.  The people committing the wrongs were his relatives for leaving him, and the burglars for attempting to burglarize his house.  Kevin was, for the most part, innocent, and can be easily characterized as a victim.  For the most part, his own actions did not put him in the situation that he found himself in.  Only his attacking Buzz in the kitchen could be attributed to him, which led to his being placed on the third floor in the first place.  Everything else was outside of his control.

The second movie flips that entire concept on its head.  Kevin is very much in control in the second movie, and he’s driving the story rather than reacting to the circumstances that he finds himself in.  But first, ignore all of the scenes about the school program where Buzz humiliates Kevin and the subsequent argument at the house, because all of that has no bearing on the plot.  Kevin still makes it to the airport, after all.  Those scenes could have been deleted from the final film and your understanding of the story would be unchanged.  But starting with the airport scenes, Kevin makes several moves that put responsibility for what happens on his shoulders, and only his shoulders.  In other words, he’s not a victim in the second movie.  Rather, in the second movie, he owns it.  The victims in the second movie are almost everyone that Kevin encounters – particularly his own family and Mr. Duncan.  About the only person who wasn’t a victim of Kevin’s activities was the pigeon lady.  It all makes me wonder if the true villain in the second film was actually Kevin.

It all starts when Kevin and the rest of his family are running through the airport to make their flight.  Kevin is at the tail end of the group, and makes a conscious decision to stop and change the batteries on his Talkboy device.  That’s when he loses his family in the airport.  He owns that.  However, I’m willing to forgive his following the wrong person after that, because he was trying to do right and make it onto the plane with his family, even though he ultimately failed at doing that.  But when he got on the plane, he almost immediately put his headphones on, which prevented him from learning that he was on a flight to New York rather than Florida.  And then the biggest mistake of all was when he got to New York, he realized that he’d screwed up, and he still left the airport.  Any sympathy that I might have still had for Kevin goes out the window right there, because now, he is no longer attempting to follow the original plan and do right by his parents, even if he’s been unsuccessful at doing so thus far.  Rather, at this point, he has gone rogue, and left everyone else holding the bag.  He completely owns it from that point on, since now he’s made his own decision to deviate from the plan, and do his own thing in a city where no one knows that he’s there.

Now, at this juncture, it’s worth noting that Kevin doesn’t necessarily deserve all of the blame.  He deserves most of it, but American Airlines screwed up here as well, because they didn’t check his boarding pass at the gate to ensure that he was on the right flight.  They were in too much of a hurry to depart that they just assumed that he was on the right flight and boarded him without verifying.  Additionally, when his reaction in front of an airline employee after learning that he was in New York piqued the employee’s interest and caused them to question the reaction, they did not go any further than that and took his word that he was okay and let him leave the airport.  Considering that Kevin was essentially an unaccompanied minor at that point, major red flags should have been going off all over the place, but they let him go.  Airlines tend to take unaccompanied minors pretty seriously.  Look at American Airlines’ current policy for unaccompanied minors for an idea about how seriously they take it in real life.  It should have ended right there, with the airline’s correcting their error and getting Kevin on a flight to Florida.  I imagine that American Airlines would have been on the hook for a major amount of money had something happened to Kevin, since they put him on the wrong flight and then let him leave the airport.

Then, of course, he went and lived it up on his parents’ dime once he left the airport, checking into the Plaza Hotel and getting limo rides and such.  That’s all on him.  However, the hotel also deserves a good bit of blame for the situation by allowing him to check into a room by himself in the first place, and transporting him around the city in that limo (complete with cheese pizza).  So if something happened to Kevin, the hotel would likely be on the hook as well.  The hotel also handled the confrontation with Kevin over the credit card extremely poorly.  Holding everything else constant, if I were Kevin, I think that I might have fled, too, if I were confronted in that same way.

Also, Kevin really brought Harry and Marv to him by inserting himself into a situation that he didn’t need to be in.  Of course, without Harry and Marv, it would have just been a story about a bratty kid who ended up in New York by himself and spent a bunch of his parents’ money.  But remember that in the first movie, the burglars came to him.  It was his house, where he lived, that Harry and Marv were planning on robbing.  This time, the burglars were robbing a business.  It wasn’t Kevin’s battle at all.  He had no dog in that fight.  Thus he put his own life in danger over someone else’s money.  Money that was probably insured, too.  And money belonging to someone that he just met earlier that same day, no less, and had only spoken to for about five minutes total.  However, for purposes of the story, this does add a “fighting for what’s right” angle to it all rather than just being about a bratty kid who found himself in New York and spent a bunch of his parents’ money.  But it still wasn’t his fight.  It also wasn’t his house that he booby trapped.  Rather, he led them to his relatives’ house that was under renovation, and set up a bunch of traps for the burglars there.  I suppose that, considering that he trashed his relatives’ house in the name of getting the burglars and then never cleaned it all up afterward, those relatives were another one of Kevin’s victims.

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, the rest of the family did almost everything right.  Sure, Uncle Frank was still a jerk, and the family didn’t show much patience for Kevin, but the family didn’t really contribute to Kevin’s situation in the second movie.  Kevin did it all himself, and took them for a ride.  The parents were, for the most part, on their game in the second movie.  The only things that I can find that they did wrong were to unplug an alarm clock, which caused them to oversleep again, and not taking another headcount once they all got on the airplane to ensure that everyone was accounted for.  That second measure could have nipped the entire problem in the bud, but, of course, then we wouldn’t have a movie, since Kevin wouldn’t have been able to terrorize New York City like he did.  But other than those two mistakes, they did pretty well, going to the police as soon as they realized that Kevin was missing, and then heading straight to New York once Kevin was located based on the credit card usage.  And then Kevin’s mother did exactly what one would expect a mother to do when her child was missing: she went out and looked for him, and there was a happy reunion when she found him.

Oh, and Tim Curry’s character absolutely deserved to get slapped by Kevin’s mother in the scene where she confronts the hotel staff.

All in all, I suppose that all parties involved should be extremely grateful that Kevin came through the experience no worse for wear, since neither the airline nor the hotel would have come out clean if Kevin had been hurt or killed.  I suppose that I may have ruined your enjoyment of the second Home Alone movie by overanalyzing it, but I couldn’t help but realize that Kevin is no hero in the second movie.  All of the predicaments that he finds himself in are of his own making, and he makes victims out of almost everyone that he sees due to his own acts, regardless of whether or not that was his intent.  So he gets no sympathy from me for this one.

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The things that we rationalize as children… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/11/22/the-things-that-we-rationalize-as-children/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/11/22/the-things-that-we-rationalize-as-children/#respond Mon, 23 Nov 2020 03:39:10 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=36528 Sometimes it’s fun to think back about what mental connections you made in younger years that you probably should not have, i.e. rationalizing things based on incomplete or wrong information.  I want to say that I’ve always filled in gaps and such myself, and when I eventually learn the truth, it always makes me laugh to think about what I had once believed.

Right offhand, I remember how I used to think that “gross” was spelled when I was a child.  Now mind you, I had never seen the word written down before, but I had heard my mother use the term plenty of times.  I like to think that I had a fairly decent grasp on the English language even as a child, so I took a good guess.  In my mind, I thought it was spelled “groce”, which to me makes a lot of sense.  After all, “grocery” has that spelling, and is pronounced the same way.  And words that end in -oss are typically have an “aw” sound for that vowel than a long “o” sound, like boss, cross, gauss, and moss.  “Gross” doesn’t fit.  I remember when I saw the word in print for the first time, and was informed that it was “gross”, I remember thinking, oh, that’s how it’s spelled?  Weird.  “Groce” still seems more logical for me, but clearly, I’m not going to win this one.  I do tend to say, “G-R-O-C-E gross,” as in spelling it out the way I think it should be spelled and then saying the word, when the situation merits it.  You may recall in a Journal entry about soda from 2017 that I used this phrase.  That’s where it comes from.

Then there’s the opposite situation, where there were words that I had seen in writing but had never heard pronounced.  I remember reading about bones in Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia, Volume 1, which a children’s book all about the body.  It was a good book, and I learned a lot from it.  About bones, they said that while the outside of our bones are hard, the insides are “soft and spongy”.  I had never made the connection between this word and a sponge before, and so I assumed that it was pronounced in a similar way to bong or thong.  I also assumed based on context that “spongy” was something related to softness, and so I was able to work around the unknown word well enough and keep it moving.  When Mom eventually set me straight on the word, it suddenly made the passage in the book make a lot more sense, but I admit that I missed my original pronunciation.

Another thing that my mind linked together was associating a bald person, as in someone who has no hair on their head, with a ball.  I suppose that it made enough sense at the time.  Heads are round for the most part, and balls are also round (unless it’s a football).  Therefore, the head of a person with no hair would look like a ball, right?  Thus “balled” because they have no hair on their head, and thus their head looks like a ball.  Gotta love three-year-old logic, right?  I suppose that my head now looks like a ball, considering that much of my hair went away long ago.

Then there are those times when you mishear things, rationalize what you thought you heard, and then run with it.  I have written before about the song “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and how, based on my understanding of it, she would be driving six wide horses when she came.  Not six white horses, but six wide horses.  I rationalized it at the time by assuming that six wide horses were more comfortable to drive than six narrow horses.  Hey, I was only five years old.  Then there was a Disney song about the Winnie the Pooh characters that started with “Where, oh, where is Eeyore’s tail?” (that I am having trouble finding now, or else I’d share it with you).  One of the lines talking about where Eeyore’s tail belongs goes, “Not his neck, not his ears, nor his knees or nose.  Don’t put a tail just any place.  Put it where it goes!”  For some reason, I really misheard those lyrics, and what I misheard made me a little bit mad.  I misheard it as, “Not his neck, not his ears, nor his knees or nose.  Don’t put it there, just Danny plays.  Put it where it goes!”  In other words, the song is telling me that i’m not allowed to participate, and that only this random kid named Danny was allowed to put Eeyore’s tail back on his butt.  The song was telling me to get the hell away so that Danny could take care of it.  Of course, when I finally figured out the right lyrics, it all made much more sense, i.e. that there was no Danny, and they were speaking in more general terms.

Of course, you could forgive that when the person assuming things is a small child.  What about when they’re older?  As a teen growing up in Virginia, Mom, Sis, and I were in Charlottesville one day going past the Lowe’s.  Behind the building, the ground slopes down, and it’s landscaped with several brick retaining walls to create a tiered appearance.  Mom described it as a “terraced effect”.  I heard “terrorist effect” and my mind ran with it.  Presumably, the tiered wall was more fun to blow up than a single straight wall?  Who knows.  Mom quickly set me straight about it, and we got a laugh out of it, but my mind still took something and ran with it.

Speaking of my mother, when I was growing up, she liked to use big words around me.  For instance, the restroom was the “lavatory”.  I’ve commented before that there are exactly two types of people who use the word lavatory on a regular basis: people in the airline industry, and my mother.  That said, we had this little plastic E.T. figurine where he was holding a pot of geraniums.  I didn’t know much about different types of flowers.  I asked Mom what he was holding, and she said, “That’s a geranium.”  I didn’t know that “geranium” was a specific type of flower, and that it related to the movie, because I had never seen the movie at that point.  Knowing Mom’s penchant for using big words around me, I assumed that “geranium” was a fancy term for a potted flower.  It was a number of years before I figured out that a geranium was a specific type of flower.  Until then, I just assumed that the geranium was the full package, i.e. the pot with any kind of flower in it.

While we’re still talking about my mother, one of her terms was to refer to flatulence, i.e. which most people call a fart, as a “popper”.  Mom made some good-natured sport of my farts as a child, calling me the “popper king”, even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, and thought that all of this farting was something wrong with me, but that’s besides the point.  “Popper” was the term that I knew for that function, and I learned the term “fart” much later.  It is also worth noting that I have always liked humor relating to farts and other bodily functions.  Now, come second grade, our teacher was going to read Mr. Popper’s Penguins to us.  I was excited, because I knew what a popper was, and, first of all, I was amused that the title character was named for that bodily function.  With that in mind, I also wondered how much fart humor would be in the book (hey, a guy could hope).  I admit that while it was a good story, I was more than a bit disappointed that flatulence didn’t factor into the equation one bit, and that this man did not, in fact, have gas.

I also have a “hail corporate” moment for you when it comes to assumptions about terms.  When my sister was a baby, my parents used Pampers diapers for her.  Then I heard the term “pampered”.  Now, the only context that I knew of a word that sounded like that was the diapers.  So I assumed that to be pampered meant that you were wearing Pampers® brand diapers.  I posted about this on Facebook a few years ago, and a friend from middle school remarked, “The pampered chef takes on a whole new meaning!”  Yes, it certainly does.

Then there was ice cream.  For some reason, I got it in my head that ice cream used fancy terms for simple things.  “Vanilla” was ice cream speak for plain ice cream.  And “pistachio” was fancy ice cream terminology for green ice cream.  I believed this for a very long time, and thus, when I was using these terms, I thought I was choosing the color of my ice cream rather than a specific flavor.  Strawberry and chocolate, meanwhile, I understood the way I was supposed to, though chocolate was generally banned in our house for a long time because Mom claimed it made me hyper.  But it was a long time before I realized that vanilla didn’t mean plain ice cream and was actually a legitimate flavor in its own right, and it wasn’t until I first ate pistachio nuts that I learned that pistachio was related to that, and wasn’t a fancy ice cream term for “green”.

I also made a very innocent connection when it came to world events.  Recall that I was a small child in the 1980s.  Back then, we had the “war on drugs” and the Cold War.  I had heard of the “drug war” first, which I had pretty well nailed down because of much indoctrination in school about how drugs were bad and would lead you to a bad place if you ever tried them, and that you should “just say no” if you are ever offered some.  Then when I heard the term “Cold War”, I immediately thought back to the drug war and how it must be another effort to combat something that affects our society.  I knew that I never liked catching a cold, so the Cold War must be a fight against cold germs… right?  It was a while before I was disabused of that notion.  I still think that assumption makes enough sense, even if it ultimately turned out to be mistaken.

When it came to music as a child, I had a lot to learn.  I didn’t know that heavy metal was a specific kind of music.  I thought that “heavy metal” just meant “really, really loud”, and that any really loud music was heavy metal, even if it wasn’t that style at all.  I now know better, and while metal isn’t my favorite kind of music, I at least know what it is, and that playing, say, classical music at 100 decibels does not make it heavy metal.

And if you think that I outgrew this, no.  For this last one, I guess you can say that I lived a very sheltered existence.  I knew what a blow dryer was, i.e. the thing that blew out hot air to dry your hair after a shower.  I had this pretty well nailed down.  Then I first heard the term “blowjob” at some point, probably in my freshman year of high school.  I didn’t know that a blowjob was what it actually is (look it up if you don’t know), and just assumed that a blowjob was getting your hair dried with a blow dryer.  It made perfect sense to me.  So imagine this scenario of how I got disabused of this little bit of innocence.  My mother, sister, and I had all just finished getting our hair cut.  We didn’t get our hair dried with the dryer because the place upcharged for that, and Mom didn’t want to pay the extra amount.  I was telling them afterward about making my hair look good while getting ready before some event that I had coming up.  For that, I said that in order to look my best, I just needed shampoo, conditioner, and then a blowjob.  All of these women suddenly started laughing loudly in this I-can’t-believe-he-said-that sort of way.  I was mortified, because that was not the reaction that I was expecting, and it seemed awfully out-sized when I was talking about using a hair dryer on my own hair.  I mean, after all, the hairstylists gave blowjobs all the time with their blow dryers as part of the normal course of their work, didn’t they?  Why was my talking about it so scandalous?  I was worried that I had said something wrong.  Mom remarked to me, “You meant blow dry, I believe.”  What a way to find out that a blowjob was not actually drying your hair with a hot air machine.  No one told me what it actually meant that day (I would learn that much later), but it was made quite clear by their reactions that the term did not mean what I had thought that it meant.  How embarrassing, but, hey, at least I learned something from it.

So all in all, I thought that you might enjoy this recounting of these little misconceptions from younger years.  They still make me laugh now that I’m older and wiser, some more than others.

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Going behind the pylons… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/11/19/going-behind-the-pylons/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/11/19/going-behind-the-pylons/#respond Thu, 19 Nov 2020 16:31:08 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=36476 Back on November 6, Elyse and I took the drone out for a spin again, and I did some photography.  This time, we went out to Leesburg, and took a late afternoon golden-hour flight around a familiar landmark: the former Walmart off of Route 15.  This is a typical 1990s-era pylon-style store, and it closed in May 2019 when a new Supercenter opened elsewhere in the Leesburg area.  Because of the proximity of the location to Leesburg airport, I had to notify the airport of our activity using their online form, and then, whirlybirds away.  I flew up and around the building, and even investigated the roof a little bit.

A pre-flight capture, with the HR-V at right.
A pre-flight capture, with the HR-V at right.

Shortly after taking off, at very low altitude.
Shortly after taking off, at very low altitude.

Way up in the air, about halfway down the parking lot, southwest of the entrance.
Way up in the air, about halfway down the parking lot, southwest of the entrance.

View from the southeast, from a similar distance away.
View from the southeast, from a similar distance away.

Here, I was flying at approximately the beltline of the building, i.e. where the stripe is located (painted out in this instance).
Here, I was flying at approximately the beltline of the building, i.e. where the stripe is located (painted out in this instance).  I took a similar shot from the ground in February.

Up above the store, to the southeast.
Up above the store, to the southeast.

Higher up, more or less directly in front of the entrance.
Higher up, more or less directly in front of the entrance.

A little lower and further back to the southwest.
A little lower and further back to the southwest.

The sign area, between the two pylons, photographed dead-on.
The sign area, between the two pylons, photographed dead-on.  I took a similar photo from the ground in February, but the results weren’t as pleasing.


The same angle, having moved straight back past the parking lot islands.  Again, I got a similar photo from the ground before, but this one is more pleasing because it’s higher.

Side view from the west.  The garden center is just behind the camera to the left.
Side view from the west.  The garden center is just behind the camera to the left.

Then I investigated the roof a little bit.

Flying over the roof.  I'm going to estimate that we're over where the women's clothing department would have been when this was still Walmart.
Flying over the roof.  I’m going to estimate that we’re over where the women’s clothing department would have been when this was still Walmart.

Air handling unit on the roof, approximately over the service desk.
Air handling unit on the roof, approximately over the service desk.

This thing on the roof, near the air handling unit.  Your guess is as good as mine as to what this is.
This thing on the roof, near the air handling unit.  Your guess is as good as mine as to what this is.

After investigating the roof, I went up, ultimately going up to the maximum allowed height of 400 feet.

Complete view of the Walmart building, from the southeast.
Complete view of the Walmart building, from the southeast.

The Walmart building and other shops, viewed from the maximum altitude of 400 feet.
The Walmart building and other shops, viewed from the maximum altitude of 400 feet.

View facing north, angling the camera straight out from the previous shot.
View facing north, angling the camera straight out from the previous shot.  Northbound Route 15 is in the right of the photo, and if my reckoning based on Google Maps is correct, the mountains in the distance are in the Harpers Ferry area (but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

Another view at max altitude, from slightly further back.
Another view at max altitude, from slightly further back.

The last thing that I did before landing was to photograph one of the parking lot lights.  I chose this one in particular because the cover was hanging down.
The last thing that I did before landing was to photograph one of the parking lot lights.  I chose this one in particular because the cover was hanging down.

And back on the ground, next to the HR-V.
And back on the ground, next to the HR-V.  Before landing, however, I used my real camera to take a photo of the drone in flight.

So there you have it.  I like photographing here, mainly because it’s an older Walmart building, but with no chance for some Walmart manager to come out and bother me for photographing the store without prior authorization from corporate.

Meanwhile, who knows how long this store is going to stay in this state.  Last I heard, Floor & Decor, which has other locations in the area, was considering a location in this space.  However, this was back in normal times, just before pandemic fever came into full swing, and I haven’t heard anything else since.  So I figure that they either are quietly working their way through the planning process, or have abandoned the idea.  Who knows.

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That was a somewhat surprising result, but I’m not disappointed by it… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/11/08/that-was-a-somewhat-surprising-result-but-im-not-disappointed-by-it/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/11/08/that-was-a-somewhat-surprising-result-but-im-not-disappointed-by-it/#respond Sun, 08 Nov 2020 19:15:02 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=32141 On the morning of November 7, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that former vice president Joe Biden had won the race for president, defeating incumbent president Donald Trump.  I am not disappointed by this result, but I am a bit surprised by it.  I fully expected, when the election was all settled, that Donald Trump would win a second term in the White House, and it would be borne out that the Democrats had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, as they are so prone to doing, once again.

I started writing this Journal entry back in April when Biden had first captured the nomination, but then life sort of got in the way, which caused this to get cast aside, and become less relevant.  I was then going to rework it into a pre-election Journal entry like I did in 2016, but with all of the early voting, and my having voted almost a month before election day, I felt like it would be too little, too late, and so I didn’t do anything with it then.  So here we are now, with the election all but settled.  When I first started writing, this entry was titled, “He should have taken the hint when he got the Medal of Freedom…” and was lamenting the choice of Biden as a nominee.  That was following the winnowing down of a very large field of candidates that included the likes of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang, and a whole host of others that you have probably never heard of.  I didn’t particularly like the way the nomination was reached, in that it felt once again like they were trying to stop Sanders, no matter what it took.  I recall that Sanders started out pretty well, outperforming each of the rest of them individually, though combined, the others still had more support than he did individually.  Then after Super Tuesday, the other candidates all started dropping like flies and endorsing Biden, who I felt like was the old coot trying to to remain relevant despite his being past his prime.  I figured that Biden hadn’t taken the hint that the Presidential Medal of Freedom that Barack Obama awarded him in their final weeks in office meant that his political career had reached its end, and that it was time for him to retire, and that this would have disastrous consequences for the country.  But with most of the other candidates gone and putting their efforts into his campaign rather than their own, Biden swept it and got the nomination.

Here’s what I said about it at that time:

I get the sense that the Democratic Party has likely done it again, and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  Out of all of the candidates to run, we ended up with Joe Biden as the nominee.  Out of all of the candidates in the Democratic field, Biden was at the bottom of my list, and let’s admit it – there were a lot of stinkers in that group.  I am of the opinion that Biden should have taken the hint back in January 2017 when then-president Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  That should have been Biden’s clue that he had reached the end of his career in public service, especially after he declined to run for president in 2016.  In other words, thank you for your years of public service, and enjoy your retirement.

What bothers me about Biden’s candidacy is that he’s kind of a non-starter.  The problem is that he fits the profile of a “default candidate”.  For those not familiar, a default candidate is not someone that you vote for because you like them, but rather, someone that you vote for because you don’t like the other guy.  Thus a default candidate really only has to be a warm body from the right political party.  What does Biden stand for?  Who knows.  Do we care?  Not really.  The point is that Biden is not Donald Trump, and unfortunately, we have to vote for him if we want to get rid of Trump.

The problem with default candidates is that they tend to lose.

I can think of two other default candidates in recent memory: John Kerry in 2004, and Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Kerry ran against then-president George W. Bush, and Hillary Clinton ran against Donald Trump.  They were both awful candidates, and not surprisingly, they both lost.  In Kerry’s case, he really was a warm body that wasn’t George W. Bush.  His policies were terrible – he supported the Iraq War, for pity’s sake.  But we had to vote for him if we were to keep Bush out for a second term.  And we were unsuccessful.  Then fast forward to 2016, and the Democrats nominated the worst possible candidate for president in Hillary Clinton.  Clinton may have had decent policy positions, but they didn’t matter, because she had so much political baggage over the previous thirty years that it was practically open season because there were so many things attached to her for the Republicans to exploit.  And with Trump’s taking control of the discussion with his out-sized personality and rapid ascent to the top of the heap, Clinton became a default candidate, i.e. she was a warm body that was not Donald Trump, and the baggage wasn’t helping her at all.  Not surprisingly, she lost.

I will say that I am happy to have been wrong in this case, seeing the default candidate, i.e. the warm body who wasn’t the other guy, win.  Though I admit that despite that the nomination was all sewn up before Maryland’s rescheduled primary in June, I still voted for Bernie Sanders.  He was still on the ballot, after all, and so I said, why not?  After all, it’s like Randi Rhodes says: you fall in love in the primary, and you fall in line in the general.  I had fallen in love with Sanders (in the political sense), so I voted for him, knowing full well that he was already out of the race.  But the other races in the primary still needed my vote.  But come the general, I voted for Biden, i.e. I fell in line.  I also voted for my carpetbagger congressman, David Trone, because the Democrats need the numbers in the House of Representatives.  It’s a reminder that voting in the general election is best compared to a game of chess, and not choosing a mate.  It’s a matter of voting for the candidate that will get you a little closer to where you want to be during their term of office.

I will also say that while I was surprised to see Biden actually pull it out, Trump did have a few strikes against him.  First of all, thanks to the current pandemic situation (which is a topic for another time), the economy was in the dumper, and presidents who preside over poor economies typically don’t get reelected, as Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush could tell you.  Additionally, presidents whose approval rating remains under 50% leading up to election day also tend not to get reelected.  Trump’s approval rating has never been over 50% throughout his entire presidency to date.  And of course, sitting presidents who get primary challengers also tend to not get reelected.  I discussed this back in February 2019, and it ultimately came to pass, as Trump got primaried by former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld.  We all knew that Weld didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of actually getting the nomination, but nonetheless, it was another piece of the puzzle.  I imagine that the impeachment didn’t help things, either, but I don’t feel comfortable attaching any historical context to it, since Andrew Johnson didn’t run for reelection, and Richard Nixon (who almost certainly would have been impeached had he not resigned) and Bill Clinton were both in their second terms and therefore ineligible to run again.  So that one is without any real precedent, since Trump was the first president to run for reelection following an impeachment trial.  And hopefully we don’t find out whether that becomes a trend, because I don’t want to see another impeachment in any of our lifetimes, i.e. I hope that future presidents behave themselves while in office, ideally running as clean of an administration as Obama did.

Also, historically, it was about time for a one-term president.  The last three administrations were all two terms.  Three two-term presidencies in a row has only happened once before that, with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe‘s each serving two terms from 1801-1825.  I would have been very surprised to see a fourth consecutive two-term presidency, and also rather concerned at the same time.  Three two-term presidencies already was making me wonder if the American public was starting to consider a second term to be a given, and weren’t properly holding presidents accountable for their performance in office if they were just electing them for second terms as a matter of course.  Seeing the American public toss one out on their butt (more so when the person getting voted out made a name for himself with the phrase, “You’re fired“) restored a little bit of faith in our country, especially after the voters put someone so uniquely unqualified for the presidency in there in the first place.

As far as state-by-state results went, I was most surprised by Ohio, which is generally considered a bellwether state.  Ohio went Republican, missing for the first time in 60 years.  Recall that I said this in my pre-election post in 2016:

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

Right now, I’m kind of glad that’s not the case.  But I remember thinking, as I read that Ohio got called for Trump, that Biden’s losing Ohio was a really bad sign, since it’s typically the case that as Ohio goes, so goes the nation, and I really wasn’t expecting a miss.

Ultimately, though, I’m going to be quite happy to see Trump leave office in a few months’ time, and see that dumpster fire of an administration leave town.  No more having to pay attention to nonsensical tweets.  No more having an inexperienced person who doesn’t even quite understand how the government works occupying the top spot.  I’m also glad to not have to hear the various potshots that the left has loved to take against Trump over the last four years.  I never want to hear about the color of Trump’s face, the size of his hands or other body parts, or anything else about his physical characteristics ever again.  Of all of the things related to his actual job performance to bust his balls over, those sorts of attacks are, first of all, juvenile, and second of all, it tells me that the person using it has nothing legitimate to criticize him over, and therefore has to resort to personal attacks.  Do better than that.

Meanwhile, I will be interested to see what the Biden administration ends up looking like.  We already know that Kamala Harris will be our first female vice president, because she was part of the ticket.  I was a bit concerned about the process that led to her selection, though, with Biden’s pledging fairly early on that he would pick a woman as his running mate.  I felt vibes of Walter Mondale‘s choice of Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in 1984, and recalling what a slaughter that race ended up being for the Democrats (Mondale only got 13 electoral votes to Reagan’s 525).  I also worried that Biden was boxing himself in with that pledge.  But working within that pledge, I had hoped that Elizabeth Warren would have gotten that nod, because she more closely represents what I like about Bernie Sanders, and I was hoping that the Biden camp wouldn’t completely shut out the Sanders wing of the party like the Clinton campaign did in 2016.  I had low expectations that Warren would get the pick, but, hey, one could still hope.  The choice of Harris surprised me because she was from California, which has voted for the Democratic candidate in every election since 1992.  Thus it’s not like they might have drawn any extra usable voters on account of her being from that state, since it’s assumed that California will go for the Democratic candidate every time.  Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, was from Virginia, a swing state, and I imagine that he was the only reason that they won Virginia in 2016.  Mind you, it’s not like Warren was from a swing state, either, but once you’ve already got a state in the bag, there’s no sense in trying to milk it for every vote that you can get.  All you need is more votes than the other guy, and that’s good enough.  But in any case, the pick for Harris worked, and she’s there.

As far as the cabinet goes, I suppose that we shall see.  I imagine that some of the people that ran against Biden in the primaries will end up in some of the spots, I could see Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar’s getting cabinet posts.  Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren need to stay in the Senate, because I feel like they could do way more good there than in the executive branch.  Same goes for the congresswoman from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  She needs to stay in the House of Representatives, because she can do far more good there than in the cabinet.  I would be quite disappointed if any of those three accepted cabinet posts, because it would mean that they were out of the legislature.

And then finally, I want to know what Biden’s Oval Office decor is going to look like.  Most presidents redecorate the Oval Office to suit their own tastes, with varying results.  I liked the styling that Ford, Reagan, both Bushes, and Obama did in the Oval Office.  The Nixon decor and Clinton decor, I thought were both far too bold.  I found Trump’s decor to be a bit of a disappointment, because aside from the wallpaper, it was entirely recycled from past administrations.  The rug was from Reagan’s administration.  The gold curtains were from Clinton’s administration.  The couches were from George W. Bush’s administration.  None of it was designed to work together, and it shows.  Let’s admit it: that Oval Office decor was a mess, because it was a bunch of unrelated pieces just sort of thrown together.  It was even more disappointing considering that for the previous 16 years, the Oval Office had been decorated quite elegantly.  I suppose that disaster of an Oval Office could be used as a microcosm for how the Trump era turned out, but in any case, I hope that the Bidens do a great job with the Oval Office decor, and decorate it in such a way that we can all be proud of.

All I know is, the future seems to look rosy again.  Let’s hope that the incoming administration makes us all proud.

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Flying over the Shenandoah Valley with a drone… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/10/25/flying-over-the-shenandoah-valley-with-a-drone/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/10/25/flying-over-the-shenandoah-valley-with-a-drone/#respond Mon, 26 Oct 2020 02:45:48 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=35528 Elyse and I recently made a trip down to Augusta County to see my parents, and we both photographed a bunch of stuff with my drone while we were down there.  So all in all, we had a pretty productive time.  I have gotten pretty proficient in flying my drone around things, and I’ve gotten some nice photos.  The goal of the drone photography this time was to duplicate a lot of what I did in my earlier entry about the area in Microsoft Flight Simulator, but in real life.  All in all, I had a good time, and I liked the results, as I flew around Staunton, Waynesboro, Afton Mountain, and Stuarts Draft.

In Staunton, I first got aerials of the old DeJarnette Center, which is an abandoned children’s mental hospital that closed around 1996 in favor of a newer, more modern facility nearby.  If this place sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve photographed it before.  So here it is:

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

The "No Trespassing" sign at the edge of the property, still photographed with the drone, just before landing

I also photographed the Augusta County Courthouse in downtown Staunton:

The dome on the Augusta County Courthouse

The statue on the Augusta County Courthouse

The Augusta County Courthouse

The Augusta County Courthouse, viewed from above

The Augusta County Courthouse, viewed from above

The statue on the Augusta County Courthouse, viewed from the side

And of course, I also got a selfie at the corner of East Johnson and New Streets:

Selfie while flying the drone

In Waynesboro, we first stopped in at Eagle’s Nest Airport, which is a small airport just outside of the city limits.  We didn’t fly the drone there for obvious reasons, but Elyse wanted to see what it looked like in person, since she tends to fly a lot of stuff out of there in the flight simulator game.

We then headed over to the former Kmart.  That store, which opened in that location around 1995 (vacating an earlier location across the street that is now a Big Lots), closed during Kmart’s recent bankruptcy.  Interestingly, they left the signage up after the store closed.  Because of that, I had wanted to photograph this store, so I did:

The former Kmart in Waynesboro

The former Kmart in Waynesboro

I was originally planning to just do some ground-based photography and call it a day, but then I thought, you know, I have this drone with me, so why not?  So I went for a flight:

Kmart in Waynesboro, from the air

Kmart in Waynesboro, from the air

Kmart in Waynesboro, from the air

Detail view of the signage. I was particularly pleased with this one.

Then we went over to the Walmart in Waynesboro, where I used to work in the mid 2000s, and went for a flight:

Walmart store #5117 in Waynesboro, Virginia

Walmart store #5117 in Waynesboro, Virginia

Walmart store #5117 in Waynesboro, Virginia

Walmart store #5117 in Waynesboro, Virginia

Walmart store #5117 in Waynesboro, Virginia

While I was up in the air, I photographed a few other things.  This is the Dupont Community Credit Union main office just down the street:

Dupont Community Credit Union

This is the Aarons/Goodwill building in between the credit union and the Walmart:

Aaron's and Goodwill building

This is the sign for the Coyner Park shopping center across the street from Walmart:

Coyner Park sign

We then headed over to 1140 Shenandoah Village Drive, which is now the operations center for Dupont Credit Union.  The building previously housed CFW Information Services (later operating as Telegate USA), where I worked as a directory assistance operator from 1997 until the business closed in 2002:

CFW Information Services, viewed from overhead

CFW Information Services, viewed from overhead

CFW Information Services, viewed from overhead

And for the record, I hate that row of trees that the credit union planted along the side of the building.  It’s ugly, though I assume that it was done for glare-reduction purposes, as there are several large windows on that side.  Here’s what it looked like without the trees, in December 2001:

CFW Information Services in 2001, with a more normal amount of shrubbery on that side

If you ask me, it looks much better without that line of trees.

We then went up to Afton Mountain, where we visited the usual suspects as far as abandonments go.  Last time I talked about that area, The Inn at Afton was still renting out rooms, with about eight rooms still in service.  From the looks of it now, though, the motel is completely defunct, and is now abandoned right along with everything else, save for the tourist information center.  The room previously being used as an office appeared to be unoccupied, there were abandoned vehicles in the lot, and it appeared that there were squatters living in rooms that I had previously learned were not being rented anymore (at that time, all rooms being rented were on the first floor, facing the parking lot).  I kind of wanted to go up to the building and pull the fire alarm just to see if it worked, because it’s possible that utilities have been disconnected.  I resisted the urge, because there was a good chance that it still worked, and that would have required that we make a quick escape from the area.

In any case, here it all is:

The destroyed sign at The Inn at Afton

The Inn at Afton, viewed from just past Route 610

The Inn at Afton, viewed from Afton Circle

The former Howard Johnson's

Guest building from the Skyline Parkway Motor Court, now overgrown and covered with graffiti

And a photo of Elyse, who caught the drone in her hand:

Elyse, as seen by the drone

That was my first time landing it with the intention of someone’s catching it, rather than on the ground.

Elyse also took it up at this point and got some of her own photos.  Meanwhile, I got some photos of the drone while she was landing it:

The drone, in the process of landing

The drone, in the process of landing

While we were up here, I also used the drone to investigate a landmark that I had wanted to check out for a while, but had never gone to the trouble of hiking up to.  There was a little teepee made out of wood just east of Skyline Drive.  I’d known about it for a very long time, but didn’t want to actually, you know, hike up to it, because I had no idea what was the best way to hike up there, plus I didn’t know if it was worth the effort.  So I investigated with the drone.  The challenge here was that flying drones is prohibited in national parks as a blanket rule, but while the teepee was outside of the park, finding a safe place to fly from was a challenge.  My first attempt was to fly from the I-64 scenic overlook just past Exit 99, but I soon discovered after taking off that I was too far away.  In other words, I went out of range before I got anywhere near it, and when the drone goes out of range, it automatically starts flying back to its start point until it gets back in range.  I did, however, get some decent shots of the freeway and such from there:

Interstate 64 at Rockfish Gap

The Blue Ridge Mountains, viewed from the overlook

Interstate 64 at Rockfish Gap

I also wanted to see how good the HR-V was as a landing platform, so I landed it on the moon roof, as Elyse watched from inside:

Hovering over the HR-V

Hovering over the HR-V, about to land

Turns out that the HR-V is not a good landing platform, because the roof isn’t flat.  Once I touched down, the drone slid down the windshield and landed on the wipers:

Whooooooooops...

Oh, well.

My next attempt to reach the teepee was to do it from an area near Skyline Drive.  The goal was to find somewhere nearby that was off NPS property and fly from there.  I went to a small parking area next to the interstate but on the connector between Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Then there was an opening in a fence that led to the weather station next to the freeway, but was well above it.  I sat down on a utility box, and took off.  That ended up working, with my being able to investigate.  Here’s what I saw:

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

That last photo should also give you an idea about another reason why I was hesitant to go up there.  That is a rather rugged area next to a cliff, which leads down to the freeway.  It’s perched right up there.

In investigating with the drone, I was surprised about how little there was to it.  I was expecting a more substantial structure, but I suppose that time has caused it to deteriorate over the years.  Adam Froehlig photographed it in 2004, and it was much more substantial back then.  I don’t know if other humans removed some of the branches, or if they just fell away naturally over the years, but it’s definitely a lot less than it was.  I’m kind of impressed that it’s still there at all after all of these years, but who knows how much longer it will be there.

And a bonus shot of me while in the process of landing:

I look very tranquil as I concentrate on setting this thing down safely

From there, we headed down to Stuarts Draft.  I wanted to photograph my old middle school and my old high school from the air, and they were close enough that I could get them on the same flight.  We parked in a nearby shopping center, I walked over to a clearing next to the road, and up we went.  First, Stuarts Draft Middle School:

Stuarts Draft Middle School

Stuarts Draft Middle School

Stuarts Draft Middle School

Stuarts Draft Middle School

Then, Stuarts Draft High School:

Stuarts Draft High School

Stuarts Draft High School

The fieldhouse. This was built after my time there, replacing an older building that was destroyed by a fire in the mid 2000s.

The football field

And then I landed it:

Automated flyback to the launch site

Automated flyback to the launch site

Landing, a few feet from the ground

Landed.

We then went down to the corner of 608 and 340, where I photographed the intersection and surrounding area:

The intersection of 608 (top left to bottom right) and 340 (bottom left to top right). The Exxon and Dairy Queen are at the top of the photo.

Looking down Route 608 towards where my parents live

340 southound, looking towards Greenville

340 northbound, looking towards Waynesboro

Then I turned around and photographed the Walgreens (built as a Rite Aid) where I parked to do this flight:

Walgreens in Stuarts Draft

Walgreens in Stuarts Draft

And unfortunately, that last photo of the Walgreens was the last photo that I got to take with this drone.  Our next target was Finley Memorial Presbyterian Church, where we used to attend church (and my mother still does), and when I took off from there, I flew up into a tree branch that I thought that I was clear of, which caused the drone to stall and fall 20 feet to the ground, where I broke off a motor.  That was the end of that:

The drone, minus one motor

Yeah, there’s really no fixing that, at least as far as mere mortals go.  Good thing I bought the warranty coverage from the manufacturer, because they’ll either repair it or send me a new drone.  Woomy, meanwhile, had his own opinions about my accident damage:

"I don't like that!"
“I don’t like that!”

So all in all, I had a good time flying around the valley with my drone.  I think I got some decent shots, and once I get the drone back from the repair shop, I will continue to work on my skills, and be far more careful about my surroundings when I’m flying.

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A weight loss update… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/10/14/a-weight-loss-update/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/10/14/a-weight-loss-update/#respond Thu, 15 Oct 2020 03:18:06 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=35224 A friend of mine recently mentioned that I had not given any significant update on my weight loss progress since January, a month after I had my gastric sleeve surgery.  So I suppose that it’s high time that I gave an update.  After all, it’s been ten months since the surgery, and things have progressed since then.  Compare the April splash photo (which was taken on February 3) against the October splash photo, and you’ll see a difference:

Splash photo from April 2020 (taken on February 3)

October splash photo

Look at my face, my neck, my arms, and my midsection.  They are all a lot smaller in the October photo, as there is about 89 pounds’ difference between the two shots.  And all in all, I’ve been making good progress with this new tool for weight management.  As of the beginning of October, I now weigh 239 pounds (159 pounds total lost), which is a number that I have not seen since some time in high school – probably around 10th grade.

One thing that I’m happy about is that my stomach has now fully healed from the surgery, and I’ve gotten used to how it all works now.  It really was a matter of learning how to eat all over again, since my stomach had essentially gotten a renovation, and it works a little differently than it used to.  While things were healing, one thing that I had to deal with was nausea and dumping.  Nausea is pretty self-explanatory.  I believe that I threw up more times from December through April than I did in the twenty years prior to my surgery (it’s normally very rare that I throw up), though as I have gotten used to how my stomach works and as things have healed up, the hurling has stopped, thankfully.  Sometimes it was just because something didn’t sit right.  Bacon jerky didn’t sit well with me when I tried it, and my stomach also had a problem tolerating chicken for a while.  Nothing like getting sick on foods that I used to be able to eat just fine.  Not fun.  Then dumping is where the body also rejects food, but pushes it through quickly rather than going in reverse.  That manifests itself in having an urgent need to poop not long after eating.  That is also not pleasant, but far less unpleasant than throwing up (I mean, at least I can play on my phone while I’m taking care of that).  The most common situation for this is if I drink milk too quickly.  If I don’t pace myself on the milk intake, that tends to get dumped.  If I pace it and take my time with it, it tends to be okay.  I asked about the way that my body handles milk, and it turns out that some dairy intolerance is a common occurrence following what I had.  Something else that I had to get used to.  I also get dumping if I drink too soon after eating.  You’re not supposed to eat and drink at the same time after having this surgery, so typically, what I’ll do is hydrate, let that settle, and then eat.  I describe it as a “lockout period” after eating, where any fluid intake is prohibited.  That additional liquid, even after an hour (an hour was what the dietitian recommended), will still dump the system, and push everything through to the exit.  If I wait long enough to forget when I ate, then I’m usually good.

Meanwhile, what I eat and how I eat it has changed.  I got new dishes recently, because my old ones from 2007 were in poor condition, and also, the new dishes are smaller than the old ones.  The rims are lower, and the bowls are much smaller.  That means that they have lower capacity than the old stuff.  I was adamant about getting smaller bowls, remarking that the old bowls promoted overeating.  However, despite the new dishes, I mostly tend to eat out of a mug.  Throw something together quickly, put it in the microwave for about two minutes, and enjoy.  Now that my stomach is smaller, it makes me think more about what I eat, since I have very limited capacity.  Therefore I make sure that everything counts.  No junk food, no bread, and following the guidelines that the dietitian gave me fairly closely, which means protein first.

Following on with this, my new, smaller stomach has also changed how I view food.  I see a plate full of food in advertisements and such now, and my first thought is, I could never eat all of that.  Old me could have put that away, no problem, but not anymore.  When Elyse and I would eat out prior to mid-March, we tended to go to places like Wegmans, Harris Teeter, or Whole Foods because they had the by-the-pound food bar, because I could get exactly what I needed, and usually get away with a tab around five bucks, which isn’t bad for a meal.  Since March, with no more self-service food bars and no indoor seating, when we’ve eaten out, I’ve found eating out to be a daylong commitment, since a meal from somewhere will typically last me at least two different meals.  If it tells you anything, I can usually get two or three meals out of the power bowl from Taco Bell.  Wawa has also been good to me in this regard.  Sheetz doesn’t tend to have a lot of stuff that I’m willing to eat these days, unfortunately.

All of the weight that I’ve lost has also changed a lot of other things on me, health-wise.  I used to have some mild swelling in my legs, and that’s completely gone away.  I’m off of a few medications that I used to be on as well.  Additionally, the back pain that I had been having has gone away for the most part.  That really put a damper on things, since standing up for extended periods had become difficult, and I had to sit down in order to take the pressure off of my lower back.  Now, with a lot of the weight off, that’s more or less gone away.  Instead, I get upper back pain more often now, from other causes (isn’t getting older swell?).  I also get a good bit of tailbone pain nowadays, because with no padding where there used to be padding, I’m more or less sitting right on my tailbone, and that causes soreness after a while.  I now have a coccyx cushion on my desk chair as well as in the HR-V for those times when I have to be seated for an extended period, and those work well enough.  I don’t use one on the train, though, because the constant getting up and sitting back down to operate the doors for left-side stations makes it less necessary.  I also have a whole lot of loose skin.  Let’s just say that seeing me without clothing on isn’t so pretty right now, since I look like a deflated balloon.  Lots of sagging skin on my arms, my stomach, my thighs, my chin, my backside, and other places.  I am not exactly eye candy in a speedo right now, but that doesn’t stop me from wearing one.  There will probably be skin removal surgery in my future to fix some of that loose skin, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  It’s not time for that yet.

I also discovered that I had a very easy time with summertime compared to previous years.  I tolerated the heat quite well this past summer.  However, I also get cold fairly easily now, which leaves me a bit concerned about this winter.  I’m concerned that without that extra layer of insulation that I was used to having, I’ll be freezing all winter long.  I’ve never needed to wear long underwear or anything like that in the past, but it might be a possibility if I get cold enough to the point where I can’t stand it anymore.  I suppose that we’ll see.  I’m just hoping that we get some snow this winter, because we didn’t get a single inch of the white stuff in the DC area last winter.

So all in all, I’m doing well, and hopefully that continues.  My various doctors are pleased with my weight loss, and my surgeon even remarked that my success also makes him look good.  I have about 40 pounds to go until I reach my goal weight, i.e. getting under 200.  I have not seen the other side of 200 since eighth grade, and so I am looking forward to getting there.  And one day, everything willing, I will.

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Going down a nostalgia rathole… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/10/11/going-down-a-nostalgia-rathole/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/10/11/going-down-a-nostalgia-rathole/#respond Mon, 12 Oct 2020 02:29:01 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=35046 Sometimes you sit down at the computer, and the next thing you know, you’re going down a major rathole on some obscure topic.  For me, this was recently the case when I happened upon some videos about the old Care Bears movies by Nostalgia Critic.  They did four such videos: one on the original Care Bears movie, the second movie, the Wonderland movie, and the Nutcracker special.  Gotta love the Internet.

I watched all of these movies as a child, and enjoyed them quite a bit back then, considering them to have decent replay value.  I watched some of these again more recently, and I kind of regretted it.  The problem was that what my child self found to be quality entertainment, my adult self disagreed with that assessment.  As an adult, I saw these movies for what they really were: feature-length commercials for toys, with relatively low quality standards.  The stories didn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, the animation had mistakes in it, and it gave me an overall sense that the people in charge of this film knew that the public would eat it up regardless of how crappy it was.  Therefore, quality was something of an afterthought.  As such, I kind of wished that I had left these movies as memories instead of rewatching them, only because the new viewing has changed my stance on the films, and I didn’t like my new take on them after rewatching.  I was hoping to have an enjoyable experience with an old favorite, only to be disappointed in what I was presented with.  I resented the change in my views, and it made me nostalgic for the old memories of the films before I added to them, so to speak.  Innocence destroyed.  Some children’s movies are still great films on their own merits, even as an adult (Follow That Bird immediately comes to mind), but these, unfortunately, are not.

In any case, watching Nostalgia Critic try to reconcile the events that occurred in the first movie and the second movie got me thinking a bit.  For those not familiar, both movies contain origin stories, and the two origin stories conflict with each other in a very fundamental way.

In the first movie, the Care Bears are already established prior to the events depicted in the film.  The main villain of the film, a spirit whose physical manifestation was mainly as a head in a book, working through a child named Nicholas who was ultimately just seeking acceptance, is trying to stop everyone from caring because the spirit brainwashed him into thinking that’s how to find acceptance, and that really messes up Care-a-Lot in the process.  A group of bears, along with two other children, are subject to a failed teleportation to Earth via their “Rainbow Rescue Beam” and end up in what they later discover to be the Forest of Feelings, while another group of bears takes a cloud boat from Care-a-Lot to somewhere, and they also end up in the Forest of Feelings on the way to wherever they were supposed to be going.  Both groups meet various animals along the way with colorful fur, names in the form of “[Characteristic] Heart [Type of Animal]”, and no symbols on their bellies.  The two groups, along with their new friends who will eventually be known as the Care Bear Cousins, eventually meet up again along the way while battling a bird that is a manifestation of the spirit with the Care Bear Stare (just go with it).  They eventually all make it to Earth, and take on the spirit and Nicholas.  Ultimately, they convince Nicholas that the spirit is no good for him, and close and lock the book, which puts the spirit away for good.  Then, with the main conflict resolved, they go back to Care-a-Lot and induct the Care Bear Cousins into the Care Bear family, giving them symbols on their bellies.  And with that last bit of business settled, the new status quo is set, and a new toy line is introduced and waiting to be sold.

Then in the second movie, it starts out with the Care Bears and the Care Bear Cousins together, as babies, on some rickety ship in the middle of the ocean with rough seas, under the care of True Heart Bear, and Noble Heart Horse.  They are about to get attacked by a sea serpent (who we will eventually find out is a form of the main villain), and then, after slowing down the serpent enough to get away, they all get lifted into the sky and are given their Care Bear and Care Bear Cousin symbols by The Great Wishing Star.  Then all of the cubs grow up, and settle in their respective places, with the Care Bears settling in Care-a-Lot, while the Care Bear Cousins settle in the Forest of Feelings.  They’re also now battling Dark Heart, who is a kid with red eyes that can transform into different animals, a cloud, and also attack with lightning and such.  Dark Heart gets a kid named Christy, who has her own self-esteem issues, to do his bidding, as she is easily manipulated because of her desire to raise her own standing amongst her peers.  Ultimately, in the climactic scene, Dark Heart accidentally hits Christy with a lightning bolt intended for the Care Bears, striking her down.  Dark Heart realizes what he’s done, and while everyone chants, “We care!” in an effort to bring her back, and she only wakes up after Dark Heart admits that he cares, too (that scene has always hit me right in the feels).  Then, with the load-bearing boss defeated, Dark Heart’s lair begins to collapse, and they all have to make a quick escape.  Then Christy realizes that Dark Heart’s eyes look normal, and Dark Heart realizes that he is now a regular boy.  And everyone lives happily ever after, as the kids enjoy camp, and the Care Bears go back to Care-A-Lot to await their next caring mission.  And then at the very end, we get to hear the best song in the whole movie.

Considering that the first movie is called The Care Bears Movie and the second movie is called Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation, it makes sense to try to reconcile them with each other.  The second movie is titled like it’s a sequel, and thus is at least somewhat dependent on the first movie, but it’s not.  The title is actually a bit of a misnomer, since it’s not even a new generation of Care Bears, as Nostalgia Critic was quick to point out.  Rather, it’s the same bears and other critters that we knew from the previous installation, but now they’re babies again.

The way I see it is that the best way to reconcile the two movies is to view them as existing in two separate fictional universes.  In other words, don’t try to reconcile them.  You’re just going to give yourself a headache for your trouble.  It makes a lot more sense when you view them in context with the television programs that were made during that time.  The first two episodes are the two television specials produced by Atkinson Film-Arts: The Care Bears in the Land Without Feelings, and then The Care Bears Battle the Freeze Machine.  These two specials, while very different from each other in their method of storytelling, established the Care Bears, Care-a-Lot, and the various things that go along with the Care Bears, like cloud cars, the “Care Bear stare”, and so on.  The first movie builds on the status quo that was established by the television specials, i.e. Care Bears in Care-a-Lot, by themselves, going on caring missions.  Then the movie adds the new toy line, I mean, their friends the Care Bear Cousins, to the mix.  Then after the movie came the DIC version of the Care Bears TV series.  That series follows the status quo set by the first movie, and every episode is self-contained, i.e. no stories span more than a single episode, and there are no changes to the status quo.  Then once that 11-episode series was done, the run is over, and the fictional universe has ended.

After the DIC series ended, Nelvana took over the production, and everything got overhauled.  The second movie was the reboot of the franchise, providing a new origin story for the characters, and starting a new fictional universe.  Under the new origin story, all of the characters had known each other since they were babies, Care Bears and Care Bear Cousins alike, rather than the two camps’ meeting each other as adults while on a mission and joining forces.  Thus it previously made sense why the Bears were in Care-a-Lot and the Cousins were in the Forest of Feelings, because they had separate origins and then discovered each other when one camp ran through the other’s territory.  The new movie just placed them in their usual lands with no explanation as to why they set up in separate places.  Who knows.  Whatever keeps the toys flying off the shelves, I suppose.  Then the next Care Bears series, i.e. the one with the snappy “Care Bears Countdown” song, came back with the status quo established in the second movie, and a new set of villains, i.e. No Heart, and his assistants Beastly and Shrieky.

So I suppose that if you’re going to reconcile the “A New Generation” title with the earlier continuity, it’s because they threw everything out and started over from scratch, with a new origin story and a new continuity.  Thus the title is more meta than one might think, referring to the franchise itself, i.e. a new generation of stories, rather than a new generation of characters, since it’s the same bears and the same cousins as before.  Though it probably would have been better if the movie hadn’t gotten a sequel title, and had instead gotten a title that could stand on its own, since the movie was clearly designed to stand on its own and not be dependent on the previous film in any way.

Now, as far as any subsequent relaunches of the franchise in the nineties and beyond go, I couldn’t tell you a thing about them, because I’ve never seen a minute of any of them.  No doubt that these are also program-length commercials for toys, but I can’t speak on them.  All I can say is that I hope that the production values are higher than they were for the stuff that we watched.

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Taking my photography to the skies… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/10/06/taking-my-photography-to-the-skies/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/10/06/taking-my-photography-to-the-skies/#respond Tue, 06 Oct 2020 14:37:14 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=35037 I suppose that it was inevitable.  When Elyse and I were out meeting up with someone in Baltimore back in March, they had a drone device that they used for a lot of aerial photography, and they showed it off to us.  I loved that thing, a DJI Mavic Pro 2, and they gave me all of the information about it so that I could do my own research.  I wanted one of those things, but I couldn’t justify a $2,000 price tag for a drone that nice when I had zero experience flying a drone, and didn’t have a good idea about what I wanted to do with it.  So I sat on the idea for a while, occasionally going on Amazon to drool over the drone that I knew I couldn’t justify to myself.  Then I found a somewhat lower-end drone, the DJI Mavic Mini.  A $500 price tag was easier to justify, and that price also told me two things: first, it was expensive enough that it would do what I wanted it to do, but also cheap enough to be a good, accessible starter drone.  I asked the experts on Reddit, and the consensus was that it was a good entry-level drone, and it could do everything that I was looking for it to do.  So I went on Amazon and bought it.

One thing that I got a quick crash course in after I bought this was the regulatory environment for drones.  Basically, you can’t just take this thing anywhere and fly it however you want.  Like the roads, you share the airspace with other users, and as a drone pilot, in the big hierarchy of pilots, you are down where the dog lifts its leg.  And that’s how it should be.  I’m flying an unmanned vehicle, and as such, my feet are firmly on the ground at all times.  If something goes wrong with my aircraft while I’m flying, the worst thing that happens is that I lose my drone, as well as all of the material that’s stored on the card.  I might be unhappy about losing my drone and the photos stored on the card, but no one’s going to die should this thing fail mid-flight.  Compare to a real pilot, who’s actually up in the sky with their aircraft, and if something went wrong there, there is a very real possiblity that someone could be seriously injured or lose their life.  Therefore, I quickly learned that you have to do your homework before flying.  Thankfully, there is a phone app called B4UFLY that will tell you what restrictions are in place in different areas.  Right offhand, I live in the Washington, DC area, and as such, there is a lot of restricted airspace there, because Washington.  In short, don’t even think about flying in DC, and you probably don’t want to fly in the suburbs, either.  Right around my house, I also have restrictions because there’s a small airport (GAI) nearby.  Once you get out of the immediate metro area, though, it’s fairly wide open, though national parks are a blanket no-go.  But outside of that, there’s plenty of stuff to do.

My first flight was a place that I would otherwise probably never fly in: my living room.  I was sitting on the couch one night trying to figure out how to make it all work, since getting everything to power up and link up properly was a bit of a time-consuming challenge, but not insurmountable.  Once I got it all figured out, we were good to go, though, and everything ran perfectly.  And the living room was good enough just to verify that the product worked.  My first drone photos, fittingly enough, were selfies:

Drone selfie

Drone selfie

That first flight did not end successfully, though.  In maneuvering it around the living room, I came a little too close to a wall and made contact, which caused the drone to stall and crash land.  Thankfully, it was no worse for wear.  Then I took it outside for a quick flight.  I got this photo of the car:

The HR-V, still sporting the deer damage, as this was taken prior to its being sent to the body shop for repairs.
The HR-V, still sporting the deer damage, as this was taken prior to its being sent to the body shop for repairs.

Seems to work.  I got a good, working idea of how it flew and such.  I did find myself navigating mostly by looking at the drone directly rather than on the monitor, and only using the monitor to take a photo.  I suppose that worked well enough for a first flight.  I also was able to successfully land it, which was a good thing.

My next test flight was the following day, during the early evening.  There, I did a quick flight up and over the house, staying below the height of the trees (i.e. no chance of fouling any real pilots).  The goal was to put it through its paces and get a good feel for how it all handled before taking it out on its first operational photo shoot.  I also was showing Elyse how it all flew, since she wanted to also pilot it.  Here are the photos that we got from that test flight:

The house, from over the parking area.
The house, from over the parking area.

Drone selfie of Elyse and me.  Elyse is standing in the bed of a silver Nissan Frontier, which is the rental car that I have with the HR-V still in the body shop (it should be back later this week).
Drone selfie of Elyse and me.  Elyse is standing in the bed of a silver Nissan Frontier, which is the rental car that I have with the HR-V still in the body shop (it should be back later this week).

Photo of Elyse with the truck.
Photo of Elyse with the truck.

Higher view of the house.
Higher view of the house.

Selfie.  I ended up using this as the splash photo for October.  I definitely look smaller than I was a year ago, that's for sure (the difference is about 159 pounds).
Selfie.  I ended up using this as the splash photo for October.  I definitely look smaller than I was a year ago, that’s for sure (the difference is about 159 pounds).

Higher view of the dormer at the mezzanine level.
Higher view of the dormer at the mezzanine level.

Overhead view of the dormer at the mezzanine level.
Overhead view of the dormer at the mezzanine level.

View facing towards the front of the house from just behind the peak of the roof.
View facing towards the front of the house from just behind the peak of the roof.

The back side of the house.
The back side of the house.

All in all, I got a good handle on flying this contraption.  I also discovered that it is very convenient to launch out of the bed of the truck, though that’s not something I can do long-term since that’s a rental, and I don’t have an equivalent launching platform on the HR-V (and I can’t wait to get the HR-V back).

I did a final test flight while Elyse and I were on an otherwise unrelated adventure to West Virginia.  Elyse wanted to photograph a siren at the fire department in Jefferson, Maryland (you can see it from Route 340), and so we went over there and took the drone for a flight.  Here’s what I got:

The siren, from various angles.

The siren, from various angles.

The siren, from various angles.
The siren, from various angles.

Some sort of antenna on the roof of the fire department.  I have no idea what this thing does.
Some sort of antenna on the roof of the fire department.  I have no idea what this thing does.


Selfie of Elyse and me with the drone.

Elyse also got a chance to fly the drone, and did a decent job with it.  With both of us piloting and photographing, we ran into an unexpected problem: who owns what?  Elyse and I both have our own various media properties online, and so we are both really careful about making sure that we know whose materials are whose when there’s overlap in subject matter.  What happened in this case was that we changed pilots while the drone was still in the air, and kept on taking photos using the same card.  You see the problem, in not having a clear dividing line between pilots.  We don’t want any guesswork, since that just muddies the waters in case someone ever wants to license this work.  It took a little doing, but we eventually figured out whose were whose and put them in our respective cloud drives.  I came up with a policy which solves everything: we may only have one drone, but we each have our own separate memory card, and the controls are not handed off until the drone has landed and the memory card is changed out.  In other words, while your card is in the drone, it’s your baby.  With separate memory cards, getting the material to its proper home is a snap, since it’s processed separately.  I’m also looking to get a separate (cheap) mobile phone just for use with the drone.

Since these test shoots were done, I’ve also completed two operational photo shoots with the drone.  In one of these shoots, I photographed an intersection in Ringgold which I had previously run as a photo feature.  I used the drone to get some close-ups of the signals, and some aerials of the intersection and surroundings.  In the other one, Elyse and I both investigated an electronic siren in Myersville, and I also investigated a cell phone tower in the Smithsburg area.  I also got some photos of the mountains and the sunset.  Not sure when those photos will appear yet, but they’re in the queue.

All in all, though, I’d say that my photography work just got a lot more interesting, now that I can take to the skies.

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Reimagining how we elect our local officials… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/10/01/reimagining-how-we-elect-our-local-officials/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/10/01/reimagining-how-we-elect-our-local-officials/#respond Fri, 02 Oct 2020 03:17:39 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=33752 There comes a point where you have to admit that a process is broken.  In this case, I have reached that conclusion with the way that we elect the county council and county executive in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Our current county executive, Marc Elrich, is the result of such a broken system.  Elrich is a real stinker in my book for a number of reasons, and I admit that I didn’t vote for him in the primary or the general election, because I saw his being a stinker from a mile away.

But this entry isn’t about Elrich specifically.  Rather, it’s about the process that brought him into office.  And ultimately, the problem is that Montgomery County is using a bipartisan process for electing its officials when the county is overwhelmingly one party – Democratic, in this instance.  The way that it works should be quite familiar to most of you: candidates of a given party run for office and compete in a primary election in the spring to determine who will be the nominee for the general election the following November, where all of the various parties’ nominees compete, and the winner of that contest takes office a few months later.  Many, if not most, jurisdictions use this to choose their elected officials.  However, it does depend to a large extent on having multiple viable political parties.  It starts to fall apart when one party completely dominates the process, and none of the other parties’ candidates have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being elected.  In that case, the dominant party’s primary is the “real” election, and the general election is a formality.  In other words, the result is already a foregone conclusion after the primary is done.

This situation is not unique to Montgomery County by any means.  DC is similar, with the Democratic Party’s being the dominant political party over everything else to the point that the other parties don’t matter (save for an at-large council seat that is required to be a different party than the others), and the Democratic primary is generally considered to be the deciding contest for the mayoral race.

As I see it, the problem in Montgomery County is twofold.  First, Maryland has closed primaries.  Therefore, one can only vote in a primary if they have pre-registered in a certain party prior to said election.  Second, one only has to receive a plurality in the primary in order to advance to the general election.  In other words, a candidate only needs to have more votes than any other candidate, even if it doesn’t constitute a majority (i.e. greater than 50%) of the vote.

I have always opposed closed primaries, because it requires that one box themself in prior to an election.  Functionally, your party registration only exists to determine the primary that you will vote in because of the use of closed primaries.  Changing it requires going back to the state and redoing your voter registration (this can be done online at any time, and it can also be done at Motor Vehicles when renewing your license).  In Virginia, where I lived when I first started voting, they have open primaries.  Virginia doesn’t care what party you identify with, as they don’t collect information about a political party when you register to vote.  When you go to vote in a primary, you tell them at the voting site which party’s primary ballot you want, and that’s what they give you.  Which ballot you will get is not predetermined based on party.  In Virginia, if I wake up on primary day and decide that I want to vote in the Republican primary, that’s my prerogative.  I can go in, ask for that ballot, and go for it.  That is not the case in Maryland.  When I moved to Maryland in 2007, I made the mistake early on of registering as an independent, because I didn’t necessarily want to box myself into one party.  Having only known open primaries up to that point, I didn’t realize what I had done until much later, when I discovered that I was locked out of voting for any of my local officials in the “real” election because of the one-sided nature of the political system in Montgomery County.  After all, in Montgomery County, like DC and other cities, the prevailing wisdom is that if you are actually serious about getting elected and not just running for office for the attention, you had better run as a Democrat (this is the same idea behind why Bernie Sanders ran for president as a Democrat rather than under his traditional Independent label).  I later fixed this oversight on my part by changing my affiliation to Democratic.

The other problem, where it is only necessary to get a plurality in order to advance, is related to the way that Montgomery County is essentially ruled by one party, making the primary the deciding contest and the general election a formality.  It means that one can conceivably be elected with the support of relatively few voters.  In the most recent Democratic primary for county executive, it was a six-way race and broke down this way:

  • Marc Elrich: 37,532 (29.0%)
  • David Blair: 37,455 (29.0%)
  • Rose Krasnow: 19,644 (15.2%)
  • Roger Berliner: 16,710 (12.9%)
  • George L. Levanthal: 13,318 (10.3%)
  • Bill Frick: 4,687 (3.6%)

Note that Elrich won with only 29% of the vote.  That means that out of 129,346 people, 91,814 of them, i.e. almost 71 percent, voted in the primary for someone else who wasn’t Elrich.  Additionally, only 77 votes separated first and second place.  Clearly, every single vote mattered, with a margin that thin.  But that’s also no mandate for anyone, and with the field so diluted, you end up with an incumbent that doesn’t represent most of the people.

If I were to replace the current system with something else, it would be the Louisiana primary method, which is a kind of blanket primary.  Under such a system, all candidates for office run in the same primary, regardless of what their party affiliation (or lack thereof) is, and regardless of how many candidates are running from a given party.  In the case of Montgomery County, that would have led to a ballot with six Democrats, and one Republican (and before anyone thinks I’m trying to endorse the Republican or anything like that, remember that Robin Ficker couldn’t win a race for dogcatcher in MoCo, and even Republican governor Larry Hogan wouldn’t endorse Ficker).  For purposes of this discussion, I’m ignoring Nancy Floreen’s general election candidacy, because she joined the race after the primary was over, in what was essentially a last-ditch effort to keep Elrich from being elected after he won the primary (full disclosure: I voted for Floreen).

In any case, under such a primary system, all seven of the declared candidates would be on the ballot together.  If a candidate receives a majority (i.e. over 50%) of the votes, then the process ends, and that person is elected.  If no one receives a majority, the top two candidates advance to a runoff, and whoever wins in the runoff is elected.  Political party really doesn’t matter in these sorts of situations, because regardless of what label a candidate is running under, everyone is still running together in the same race, and the subsequent runoff election doesn’t care what parties the two finalists are in.  If a Democrat and a Republican end up as the top two candidates, great.  If it’s two Democrats, great.  If it’s two Republicans, fine.  Two independents?  Sure – but I’ll bet that the major parties wouldn’t be too happy about that.  In the case of Montgomery County, including Ficker’s counts from the Republican primary, where he ran unopposed (and assuming that everyone who voted for Ficker would still vote for him under a blanket primary), you would have ended up with Elrich and Blair as the top two candidates, and they would have advanced to a runoff, where, by virtue of there being only two candidates and no write-ins allowed, someone would get a majority come hell or high water, and that person would have gotten the support of the majority of the voters, which seems a win-win situation all around.  I don’t know who might have won if Blair were running against Elrich in a runoff instead of Ficker in the general election, but it’s a moot point now, because that election is over and done with.

So why did I decide on this particular system, and not something like ranked-choice voting or otherwise?  Because here, we need something that addresses and overcomes the one-party nature of Montgomery County politics.  A blanket primary addresses that.  We know that anyone who runs as a Republican in this county has no chance (Ficker only got 16% in the general election), so why bother going to the charade of running a separate primary for the GOP and having the general as a mere formality?  If it tells you my feelings on this, the guy ahead of me in line when Elyse and I voted in this particular primary was registered as a Republican, and therefore got the Republican ballot.  I really wanted to go up to him, pinch his little old-man cheeks and say, “You’re registered as a Republican?  How cute!  How does it feel to have no voice in your local government?” because the Republican primary in MoCo is a dead-end street as far as local races are concerned, because they will never win on account of the county’s being so heavily Democratic.  If you’re not a registered Democrat, you really aren’t worth a bucket of warm spit as far as local politicians go, because it’s the primary where they really get elected, rather than the general, and registered Republicans are locked out from voting in that primary because of their party registration.  Thus we end up with the idea of throwing Republicans and independents in with everyone else and opening the primary to all voters regardless of affiliation.  Make local government more accessible to all, and give no one the opportunity to (accidentally in my case) self-select out of the process.  That also would give the general election more consequence, since then it wouldn’t be a formality for the Democrat anymore, assuming, of course, that no candidate gets a majority in the primary.  If someone gets a majority, that person is elected, and the process is over, i.e. there is no election in November for that particular race because it’s already settled (and we don’t have to put up with any more campaigning for that race).  But it might have been interesting to see Blair run solely against Elrich from late June to early November.  After all, the two received almost the same number of votes.  And if Elrich would have still won, then so be it, but at least then he would have had the support of a majority of the voters in an election that actually meant something.  And no one would have to spend time, money, and effort on a longshot campaign past the primary stage, since they would be eliminated there and only the top two would advance.

Of course, I know better than to think that such a system would ever be implemented in Montgomery County, because it doesn’t serve the interests of the sitting officeholders.  Why should they advocate for and implement a change in the way that they are elected to office, when the existing system clearly is working just fine for them?  Such is what can be very frustrating about election methods, but there you go, I suppose.

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Apparently, this happens to me once a decade… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/09/20/apparently-this-happens-to-me-once-a-decade/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/09/20/apparently-this-happens-to-me-once-a-decade/#respond Sun, 20 Sep 2020 18:32:29 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=34831 Saturday night’s drive home was definitely a more eventful one than I would have preferred.  Driving home from work (I currently work out of a division in Virginia), I tend to take Route 267 to the Beltway to I-270 and then to Route 355 (i.e. Rockville Pike) on my way north to Montgomery Village.  The details in MoCo tend to vary depending on my mood.  Sometimes I take 270 all the way to Shady Grove and cut over there, and sometimes I get off lower down and do more travel on Rockville Pike.  Saturday night was the latter, where I got off on Democracy Boulevard and took Rockville Pike all the way from North Bethesda to Gaithersburg.

At the intersection with First Street (the one with the CVS and the Wendy’s with the glass sign), I was sitting at a red light in the middle lane, and I saw a car run the red light at a high rate of speed in the right lane.  They were going quickly enough that I could feel their wake as they went by (and I felt them before I saw them).  Then a few seconds later, just as the light turned green, a Maryland state trooper went past me, again at a high rate of speed, with lights off, to my left.  I kind of assumed that they were related, and that I would see the trooper pull the other vehicle over at some point on my way home.  So I had my eyes peeled, as I expected to see blue lights at some point.

Then, just before the intersection with Mannakee Street, a deer darted out in front of me, and with not enough space to swerve to avoid and not enough distance to stop, we made contact.  I remember screaming as we hit, and I saw the deer sort of stagger away.  I stopped the car immediately, right there in the center lane.  I got out, looked at the front of the car, and saw a brand new hole where the grille used to be, pieces of the front of the car sticking out of the front, as well as bits and pieces of the Honda logo on the road.  Then, realizing that the engine was still running, and seeing nothing dripping out from underneath, I moved the car to the parking lot of Cameron’s Seafood, and after letting Elyse know that I would be delayed, called 911 to report the accident.  Surprisingly, 911 told me that for a deer strike, they weren’t going to send an officer to take a report, and just to follow up with the insurance.

And this is what the damage looked like:

The damage caused by the deer, immediately following the collision

I checked under the car for any leaks one more time, and, seeing none, I determined that it was safe to continue, though I did pull off those loose parts that were hanging off before leaving.  I didn’t want those to break off and fall away at an inopportune time, so I just did it on the spot for safety (and those pieces would need to be replaced regardless).

When I got home, Elyse wanted to see the scene of the collision for herself.  So we went back out to the scene of the accident.  Elyse collected the bits of the Honda logo from the road, and we also found the deer lying in the median, dead.  I had hoped that the deer would have gotten away, considering that it staggered away from the accident, but apparently not.  It got to the median and died right there:

Dead deer in the median of Hungerford Drive

Apparently, the deer’s left hind leg was broken in the collision, which is consistent with the way that we made contact, and the way that it was moving when it was staggering away.  Hopefully it didn’t suffer for long.  Elyse, meanwhile, noticed some feces beneath its tail, and remarked that I quite literally knocked the crap out of it, as some animals do tend to involuntarily poop in situations like this.

Then this is what the HR-V looks like now, with its brand new grille (or lack thereof):

The damage to the HR-V in daylight

The damage to the HR-V in daylight

The damage to the HR-V in daylight

From everything that I can tell, I came out pretty well.  Everything still runs, though I’m likely looking at a new grille, a new front bumper, possibly a new right headlight, and a few other miscellaneous odds and ends.  Once the insurance stuff goes through, the HR-V will spend a few days in the body shop, and she should be good as new.

Meanwhile, apparently a deer strike is something that happens to me about once a decade.  We had a run-in with a deer on I-81 near Woodstock, Virginia on Thanksgiving back in 1994 on our way up to Connecticut to see relatives.  Dad was driving in that case, but we were all there to see it.  This is the damage to the Previa from that collision:

The damage to the Previa after its collision with a deer

That was my nineties run-in with a deer.  Then you may recall that I had an encounter with a deer on the Blue Ridge Parkway while driving the Sable back in 2006.  The Soul never had a run-in with a deer, but I did hit a bird and run over a chipmunk, both on the same day.  The Soul never made a visit to the body shop, either.  It just self-immolated and that was the end of that.  Then for the 2010s, I ran over a deer with the train in 2018.  It was the same day that the Washington Capitals had their parade for winning the Stanley Cup.  I was running the last train of the night, and as I was going down the line, I saw this deer running up the track between the running rails.  No amount of emergency braking would have prevented that collision because of the distance required to stop, and I watched the deer go under the train.  I felt a little bump as it went by.  I called that in, saying, “Central, this is 191, track 1 in approach to Rockville.  We hit a deer.”  I’m sure everyone in the control center was like, “Ah, crap,” because the last train of the night’s being late makes a whole ton of other people late because the last trains meet up in order to accommodate everyone’s last transfers.  That means that the entire system is late closing down.  I ended up finding the deer’s head and neck behind the train while doing an inspection immediately after I had stopped.  Additionally, a communications coil on my lead car, 7306, was damaged in the accident (this coil almost always gets damaged in collisions involving wildlife, so that was the first thing that I looked for).  Since it happened so close to the beginning of the line, they just brought me another train down from the terminal, everyone stepped over to the new train, and we kept it moving.  Coincidentally, by the way, last night’s deer collision happened within sight of the place where I ran the deer over with the train.

So there you have it, I suppose.  I got my 2020s deer accident in early, and hopefully my track record stays at once a decade, i.e. I don’t want to see the body shop again for a long time after this.

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