The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Tue, 19 Feb 2019 01:02:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 https://www.schuminweb.com/wp-content/uploads/Clouds-Facebook-icon-150x150.png The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com 32 32 37838674 I want to see a primary challenge in 2020… https://www.schuminweb.com/2019/02/18/i-want-to-see-a-primary-challenge-in-2020/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2019/02/18/i-want-to-see-a-primary-challenge-in-2020/#respond Mon, 18 Feb 2019 19:20:40 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=28198 So with the 2018 midterm elections behind us, that means that it’s presidential season again.  This one is already shaping up to be an interesting one, with a large field of Democratic candidates, and a few possible primary challengers for Donald Trump.

As of this writing, there are eleven declared candidates on the Democratic side of things.  A big field like that should produce a good nominee.  By comparison, in 1992, the last time that the Democrats (or anyone) unseated a sitting president, there was a field of nine candidates.  At this point, I am taking a watch-and-see attitude, because I consider it to be too early to really judge it all yet.  I expect that we will see even more candidates emerge on the Democratic side before it’s over, and there is still much to happen before I really dive in and pay attention to them like I mean it.  I’m more hopeful about certain candidates than others, but again, it’s still too early.

In the meantime, I am more interested in what the Republicans are doing at this stage in the process.  As I indicated in the title, I want to see Trump fend off a primary challenge from within his own party.  I have seen lots of discussion and speculation on possible Republican candidates to primary the president, and they all seem like they have potential.  I’ve heard Utah senator Mitt Romney‘s name get thrown around as a potential primary challenger, along with former Ohio governor John Kasich, former Senator Bob Corker, and Maryland governor Larry Hogan.  In addition, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld has formed an exploratory committee, though hasn’t formally declared.  All of them seem like decent enough politicians.  They should run.

I told my mother and several friends about how I’m rooting for several Republicans to join the race, and they were all somewhat shocked to hear me say that, considering how much of a leftist I tend to be.  But fear not – my idea is far more nuanced than the statement might initially let on at face value.  I don’t want to see any of them actually become president.  In Hogan’s case, I voted for his Democratic opponent in both 2014 and 2018, and would be quite content to never hear from him again after his term as Maryland governor is up.

But I do want you to pay attention to how much damage a primary challenge can inflict on a sitting president.  Looking at presidential races following the ratification of the 22nd Amendment, which instituted term limits for the presidency and also forms a convenient demarcation for where the modern presidency starts, history shows us that sitting presidents who get a primary challenge typically don’t get reelectedLyndon Johnson got several primary challengers in 1968, which led him to drop out of the race fairly early on.  Gerald Ford got a primary challenge in 1976 by Ronald Reagan.  Ford survived the challenge, and then lost in November.  In 1976, Jimmy Carter got primaried by Ted Kennedy in 1980.  Carter survived the primary challenge, and then lost to Ronald Reagan in November.  Then in 1992, Pat Buchanan launched a primary challenge against George Bush.  Buchanan didn’t prevail, but Bush then went on to lose to Bill Clinton in the general election.  The common thread here is that if a sitting president gets a primary challenge, it’s a clear sign that he’s not going to be president beyond the end of the current term.

That’s why I’m hoping that these Republicans run.  Trump needs some dissension in the Republican ranks.  I want to see him go through a bruising primary fight.  I hope that they leave him very damaged.  History has demonstrated on multiple occasions that presidents who get primaried don’t get second terms.

However, this does not excuse the Democrats from nominating the best candidate possible.  After all, history also shows us that when you nominate a warm body whose only selling point is that they aren’t the opposition candidate, as happened in 2004 with John Kerry, and in 2016 with Hillary Clinton, the opponent wins.  Kerry was a rather boring, forgettable candidate who later went on to be a rather boring, forgettable Secretary of State.  Hillary Clinton was a “my turn” candidate who already had lots of political baggage coming into the race, which the Republicans quickly weaponized against her.  Then add to Hillary’s list of problems the way that it looked like her nomination was rammed through, plus she completely alienated the progressive wing of her party after receiving the nomination through her choice of Virginia senator Tim Kaine as running mate.  Russian interference or not, the Democrats fouled things up big time.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have another problem that they need to overcome, and that’s the way that they tend to turn on and devour their own whenever any impropriety from someone’s past is revealed.  This most recently came to light with the scandal surrounding Virginia governor Ralph Northam.

For those not familiar, right-wing media site Big League Politics published a page from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook, which included a photo on Northam’s page depicting a person wearing blackface, standing next to someone wearing Ku Klux Klan regalia.  Northam has waffled on whether or not he was actually in the photo, but by then, the damage had already been done.  Various prominent Democrats started falling all over themselves to join the crowd calling for Northam to resign his office.  Northam has thus far refused to do so, and I suspect that he will serve out the remainder of his term.  The same website then also released information about Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax regarding an alleged sexual assault.  Democrats started falling all over themselves all over again calling for Fairfax’s resignation.

For the record, I find the yearbook photos associated with Northam to be inexcusable.  They were just as wrong when they were made as they are considered today.  They’re incredibly racist and insensitive, and should never have been taken, let alone be published anywhere.  Take an example from my elementary school days.  In November 1988, the teachers in my school put on a program called “Turkey Theater” for a PTA fundraiser.  The teachers from each grade level put on their own act.  The sixth grade teachers performed “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes.  They did it in character as The Supremes, including wearing blackface in order to complete the look.  A photo of them in costume made it into the yearbook.  The use of blackface was inexcusable, and didn’t add anything to what was otherwise a very good performance.  I’ll bet that all three of those teachers would express regret for this act nowadays.

But in any case, I don’t think that Northam should resign his office for the incident.  To resign from office sends some very strong messages that I don’t believe are justified.

First, it says that people are completely defined by their past.  It says that people are incapable of growing and changing with the passage of time.  It also says that only people with a completely perfect past are allowed to run for public office.  I challenge you to find someone – anyone – that is exactly the same person that they were twenty years ago.  We all grow and change with the introduction of new ideas and experiences, after all.  Look at some of the really old stuff on Schumin Web compared to today, and you will find that I’m not the same person now that I was back then.  If nothing else, the difference in the quality of the writing should tip you off.  I also challenge you to find someone – anyone – who doesn’t have something in their past that they would rather not have to answer for in the present time.  It doesn’t even have to be something terrible.  But everyone has an “old shame” that they would rather leave in the past, which doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) define them today.  In Northam’s case, his actions since then have demonstrated that he is no longer the person who may or may not be in the photo, though I believe that his political career will still be over following the expiration of his term in 2022, as I suspect that he couldn’t even get elected dogcatcher following this recent scandal.

It also hands a big advantage to the Republicans and others who wish to see the Democrats lose.  All that they have to do in order to destroy a Democrat is to bring something unflattering to light, and then the Democrats will turn on the targeted individual and destroy them from within.  It can be easily weaponized by the right wing, and considering that the same people who outed Northam immediately then went after Fairfax, they knew exactly what they were doing.  And the Democrats play right into their hands, enabling the tactic, and also shooting themselves in the foot, because that sort of stuff weakens the party as a whole.  We saw how differently the Republicans handled things when it came to Donald Trump and his remarks about grabbing women in their nether regions.  The GOP winced for a minute, but then they moved on.  And they came out with majorities in both houses and the presidency following that election.  The Democrats might want to take note of that.  I hate suggesting that the Democrats emulate the tactics used by the Republican Party, because they’re an absolutely despicable party, but those tactics unfortunately work, so fight fire with fire.

Stuff like this is why Democrats always seem to lose.  Being the party of integrity doesn’t win elections when the other side will utilize whatever it can to get what it wants.  The Democrats play nice, and nice guys often finish last.  Though I admit that I have been quite pleased with Nancy Pelosi this time around, as she seems to have grown a spine since her last time as speaker, and is more than happy to be a thorn in Trump’s side.  We could have used this Pelosi during the Obamacare debate, but better late than never, I suppose.

So all in all, get your popcorn, because the 2020 race is shaping up to be a very interesting one.  Ultimately, I hope that it knocks Donald Trump out of the White House, but there’s a lot that still needs to happen before we get there.

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It’s been a year since the car fire… https://www.schuminweb.com/2019/02/07/its-been-a-year-since-the-car-fire/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2019/02/07/its-been-a-year-since-the-car-fire/#respond Thu, 07 Feb 2019 18:18:20 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=28261 Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day that I lost my Kia Soul in a massive fire.  I’ve chosen to commemorate the occasion with a photo set called “Remembering the Soul“, which looks back over the entire life of the Soul, from test drives to the end.  I made the set in part for Elyse, because she had a harder time getting over the fire than I did, and I also wanted to put the fire in perspective with the rest of the Soul’s life in an attempt to somewhat curate the way that she is remembered.  In the past year, it’s been very easy to think of the Soul only for the fire, because the last memories with her involved standing on the roadside and watching her burn to death.  But there were quite a few happy years and wonderful memories made prior to that, and the photo set is a reminder of that, even if she never made it to 100,000 miles.

Meanwhile, in the intervening year, I’ve watched as Hyundai and Kia have gotten some major criticism for other fires in their vehicles, including another 2012 model Soul in Virginia.  From what I can tell, it’s involved the Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe, and the Kia Optima, Sorento, Sportage, and Soul.  Most recently, I’ve seen a recall that focuses on the above named models, minus the Soul, and it seems to explain everything adequately as far as my fire goes.  According to an article on the subject:

Hyundai and Kia started recalling 1.7 million vehicles in 2015 – about 618,000 of which are Kias – because manufacturing debris can restrict oil flow to connecting rod bearings.  That can cause bearings in 2-liter and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines to wear and fail.  The problem can also cause fires.  The repair in many cases is an expensive engine block replacement.

It all seems to jive with my experience so far. The Soul’s original engine died when a rod seized, and the problem was fixed with a new engine under warranty.

It continues:

Now the companies are acknowledging that the engine replacements may not have been properly done in all cases by dealers.  A Kia statement says the high-pressure fuel pipe may have been damaged, misaligned or improperly tightened while the engines were being replaced under recall.  That can allow fuel to leak and hit hot engine parts, causing fires.

That seems to agree with everything that happened to me on the night of February 7, 2018.  The engine started to act as though it was not getting enough fuel, only getting power intermittently.  Not long after this started, as the car was in the process of slowing down due to its only receiving fuel intermittently, we saw flames come out of the engine compartment.  And in all of the photos of the fire, there is a large puddle of fuel burning on the road underneath the car.  It definitely sounds like something went wrong with the fuel pipe.

Ultimately, though, in the case of my car, this is all speculation, since the official investigation by the insurance company was inconclusive due to the fire’s burning everything quite thoroughly.  Fire has a tendency to do that.  It makes me think that I was probably right to fault the dealership for the repair work.  Plus the insurance company wrote me a check for the full value of the Soul, which effectively puts me out of the process, since I’ve been made whole again while the insurance company goes after Kia to get their money back.  Meanwhile, as far as Kia goes, I have nothing to say to them.  I will never purchase another Kia vehicle (or Hyundai vehicle, for that matter), and Kia PR has said in the news, more or less, that once the car catches fire, screw you, because at that point it’s no longer their problem, but rather, it’s now the insurance company’s problem.  Nor would they give me my final mileage reimbursement as part of the class action lawsuit about gas mileage, which my car was included in.  Likewise, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend Herson’s Kia (or any other Herson’s facility) to anyone, since they were the ones who did the engine replacement, and were the last shop to touch my car before the fire.

The high occurrence of fires tells me that Hyundai and Kia vehicles are simply not safe cars.  The Center for Auto Safety includes all Kia Souls in the 2010 through 2015 model years in their request for a recall.  By that metric, every single first-gen Kia Soul, such as mine, along with the first two years of the second-gen Soul, is a fireball waiting to happen.  I suppose that when you consider that Hyundai and Kia vehicles cost a whole lot less than other vehicles (Daniel Pinkwater once called a low price on a car “Hyundai money” on Car Talk), perhaps the old saying that you get what you pay for is true in this case.  The Soul ran me somewhere around $17,000 back in 2012, and the HR-V cost me right around $24,000 last year.  Hondas are considered to be very reliable cars, and the high number of old Civics, Accords, and CR-Vs still on the road seems to confirm that.  Kia, not so much.  I suppose that I got my money’s worth out of the Soul – and no more than that.

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting along quite well with my Honda HR-V since then.  We’ll celebrate our one-year anniversary together on the 12th.  Our first year together has been fun.  We’ve been on several trips, climbing a few mountains in the process, plus we do the daily commute together.  I enjoy putting the car in sport mode at times, and have a good amount of fun with that – especially on the way home from work.  That’s not to say that it’s been all fun and games, though.  It took me a while to get used to the HR-V, and I was absolutely miserable with it for the first month or so.  I suppose that it wasn’t the HR-V’s fault.  I was still not over the Soul, and I imagine that I would have been just as miserable in any car during that mourning period.  Now that I’m over the Soul and used to the HR-V, we make a good pair, and I’ve become proficient in the use of many of her features.  I even have my own little nickname for her now: the “Herv”, which basically pronounces “HR-V” as if it’s a single word.  I also got door dinged by someone early on, which was frustrating.  If you look carefully at some early photos of the HR-V, you’ll see the ding on the left rear door.  I got that fixed last August, because that door ding happened on my brand new car through no fault of my own, and there was no question that I was getting that fixed.  But all in all, the HR-V and I are getting along just fine.  I never realized how nice it was to have heated seats until I got this car.  Likewise, I didn’t realize how much I missed having a moon roof until I got this car (the last car that I had with a moon roof was the Previa, which I got rid of in early 2006), as well as having automatic climate controls again (the Sable had them, but the Soul did not).

So all in all, after a rough start to the year bringing an unexpected change (and a brand new car payment), I suppose that things are going well for me again, automotively.  The Soul will forever occupy a special place in my memory, but I’m glad to be making new memories in the HR-V.

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Looking back on some old photos… https://www.schuminweb.com/2019/01/29/looking-back-on-some-old-photos/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2019/01/29/looking-back-on-some-old-photos/#respond Tue, 29 Jan 2019 18:32:16 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=28181 Recently, Elyse and I were coming home from Frederick on a night with a very bright full moon.  The discussion turned towards how it was moonlight that was making everything so bright.  I was no stranger to this concept, and remembered a set of photos that I shot on July 31, 2004.  There, I was up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia near Rockfish Gap, shooting photos after work using Big Mavica with the tripod, under a full moon.  It was late at night, but the photos might have almost led you to think otherwise:

I remember being amazed at the time about how much the sky, under that eight-second exposure, looked like daytime. That was moonlight.  It was after midnight.  I was amazed that the camera managed to capture a blue sky.  The only giveaways are the shadows on the foreground objects (though the leaves are clearly green in the second photo), and the many lights on the ground below.  I suppose that I learned a lot from these photos.  I learned that the sky is always blue, even if it’s too dark for us to see it.

I also learned that you never know what you’re going to get when you ramp up the exposure settings on your camera.  I experimented a lot with my tripod back in these days, and I was willing to be surprised by the results.  It’s been a long time since I just fiddled around with my camera’s exposure settings and sat back to see what I got.  I suppose that Intentionally Overexposed from 2017 fits that mold, though that was more about repairing a trip after I drove more than two hours to southern Maryland for a sunrise that got clouded out, though I did like the result.

Meanwhile, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one thing that I miss from when I lived in Virginia.  It was a good way to unwind after a day of dealing with all of the nonsense that came with working at Walmart.  I would go up there and hit a few overlooks, and just stand there looking out over the valley below, and just being alone with my thoughts.  It was kind of nice.  I would start at Rockfish Gap and go down to about Raven’s Roost or so, and then I would either turn around and go back home via Rockfish Gap, or I would go the back way home, which would take me through Sherando.  I did, however, eventually learn to skip the first overlook entirely.  Being a stone’s throw away from the main entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, it tended to attract undesirables, and was somewhat trashier than others.  Nothing drove that point home more than one time in 2006 when I was parked there and sitting on the tailgate of the Sable, alone with my thoughts, and a man approached me and propositioned me for sex.  No thank you.  I’m pretty sure that he turned tail and left pretty quickly after that, and I did as well.  But when I went further down on the Parkway, I never had any problems, plus, being further from I-64, it was quieter.

In any case, I always liked this group of photos for what I captured in them, even if the quality meant that they weren’t good enough to use them for anything at the time.  There was no photo feature on the website at that time, and this didn’t even get any mention in the Journal.  I have plenty of old stuff that I’ve never published for whatever reason, and some of it may be worth discussing in the future, now that time has passed.

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Why was I afraid of this as a child? https://www.schuminweb.com/2019/01/18/why-was-i-afraid-of-this-as-a-child/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2019/01/18/why-was-i-afraid-of-this-as-a-child/#respond Fri, 18 Jan 2019 18:16:22 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=28063 Remember this segment from Sesame Street episode 1578, where Gordon talks about rain?

For some reason, that segment, which I called “Gordon in a wig”, terrified me as a small child.  I watched it once, and apparently, didn’t like it.  After that first viewing, I would turn the television off whenever it came on.

A few years ago, I found the segment on YouTube, and gave it a watch.  As an adult, I thought it was hilarious.  Gordon is very passionately advocating on behalf of rain, and getting rained on inside of his office.  Considering the wig and the glasses, I imagine that he is spoofing someone, but I don’t know who.  (If someone knows, let me know.)

I suppose that this also shows how our memories are imperfect.  The segment that I saw as an adult is clearly the same one that I saw as a child, but it wasn’t quite as I remembered it.  I remember Gordon’s greeting of “Howdy, friends,” and an “it’s rain!” exclamation, but otherwise don’t remember hearing most of the talking as a child.  For some reason, I remember seeing Gordon sitting at a desk with that wig on, getting rained on, people coming in and standing with him, his saying that it’s rain, and then taking off his wig, wringing it out, and putting it back on.

I also didn’t remember the wig’s being this neat as a child:

Gordon near the beginning of the scene

I only remembered it like this, from near the end:

Gordon after having put his wig back on after wringing it out

Perhaps it was the plant behind Gordon’s head that made me remember the wig’s final look as existing throughout the show.  Who knows.  I also remember a much wider shot than it turned out to be.

But for some reason, all of this terrified me.  I suppose that this was too much for preschool-aged me to process at the time, with Gordon, who is normally bald, wearing a wig, rain indoors, people standing around him in the rain that’s happening indoors, and then finally taking the wig off, squeezing it out, and putting it back on.

It’s stuff like this that makes me glad that we have the Internet and all of the various things that it contains.  I went around with this segment burned into my memory for thirty years.  Over the years, I figured that it probably wasn’t nearly as bad as preschool-aged me made it out to be, but I had no way of seeing for myself.  When I found it on the Internet, I was delighted to find that it was really funny.  Sesame Street is good about throwing in some stuff to make it entertaining for the adults as well as the kids in order to encourage kids and parents to watch it together, and I suppose that this was one of those instances.  The educational content, after all, is for the kids.  Adults know that rain works hard to make it a better, wetter world, but the ridiculous situation that they put Gordon in made me laugh as an adult.

It’s also why I encourage everyone to seek out some of the media that they watched as a child, just to see what you think of it now as an adult.  My results have been mixed.  Some stuff is better appreciated as an adult, now that you’re old enough to get all of the jokes.  Pee-wee’s Playhouse is a good one in that regard, because that show threw in so much double entendre that sailed right over the kids’ heads, but the adults get it.  Then there’s some stuff that’s better left as a memory, like a lot of the old Care Bears stuff.  As a child, I used to eat that stuff right up.  But as an adult, it’s just not that good.  It didn’t talk down to the children, but it definitely was only for children, and not something that the parents could enjoy with them.  Past decades had crap television, too, after all.

In any case, I suppose that you should go out and support your local rainstorm.  Gordon is counting on you.

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I have so many great ideas for photography, and I want a banner year… https://www.schuminweb.com/2019/01/12/i-have-so-many-great-ideas-for-photography-and-i-want-a-banner-year/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2019/01/12/i-have-so-many-great-ideas-for-photography-and-i-want-a-banner-year/#respond Sat, 12 Jan 2019 18:24:48 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=28047 Let’s admit – 2018 was kind of a bust when it came to photography.  I had plans, but none of them really came to fruition, with the exception of my trip to Centralia in May.  Even the big road trip in October produced only tepid results.  Most of that can be attributed to extremely poor luck when it came to the weather.  I got rained out almost every single time I planned to do something exciting.  Sure, we’re not in a drought situation anymore (far from it), but I have a shortage of newer material, which affects other parts of the site.

That said, I have lots of plans for photo sets.  I keep a list of ideas, but unfortunately, due to the rate that these shoots get accomplished, I have referred to the list as “The place where photo set ideas go to die.”  A lot of the list contains infrastructure sites, such as tunnels and bridges, both locally and on the road in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  I also want to do some explore-the-town photo sets, again both locally and on the road.  I also want to do a few reshoots of old subjects that I think that I can do better now than I did way back in the day.  See Richmond’s Canal Walk from 2002 and Richmond 2013 for an example of this.  Here are two photos of the same subject – one from the 2002 set and the 2013 set:

2002 photo
2002 photo.

2013 photo
2013 photo.

I don’t know about you, but I like the 2013 photo better.  I like the framing better, and it’s clear that I was standing closer to my subject in the 2013 shot.  Back in 2002, I did a lot more volume.  I took way more individual photos, but they weren’t as inspired, and I didn’t take as much time composing them.  The results reflect that.

In any case, it’s fun to make old subjects new again.  I want to give this treatment to my old Malcolm X Park photo set from 2005.  I did the original set in two separate visits about two months apart.  While I still like a lot of the photos from the 2005 set, I think I could do a whole lot better today.  The park has barely changed in the almost 14 years since the original set was made.  I’m pretty sure that the only difference is that the restrooms were moved.  They used to be adjacent to the top of the fountain, but now they’re in the upper section of the park, built inside an existing structure.  However, I would probably call the new photo set “Meridian Hill Park”, as I’ve not heard the “Malcolm X Park” name used in many years.  I also want to reshoot Old Town Alexandria, which I first photographed in 2002, and, to a lesser extent, in 2003.  That original 2002 set was a hot mess.  It’s clear that I didn’t try very hard, and was just taking snapshots while walking down the street, and the accompanying narration was terrible.  The 2003 set was marginally better.  I remember that 2003 set for the timing.  I was also visiting the George Washington Masonic Memorial that day, and so I did the waterfront set, and then power walked it from there to the Masonic Memorial to make the tour time.  In a modern set, I want to focus on details, and not just snapping while walking.  Based on the timestamps on the original photos, I did the whole 2002 shoot in just under an hour.  Same thing for 2003.  Nowadays, I spend more time, and the results show it.

I also want to do more infrastructure photography.  I want to photograph a wind farm, and did some scouting for that on what was otherwise a rainout when Elyse and I went to Centralia.  I also located another one near Cumberland (Twin Ridges), though I’m not quite sure how I would access it based on a look at Google Maps.  I also have several bridges and tunnels on my wish list.  Some are local, and others are not.

I also want to accomplish a few rainout photo sets.  I want to complete “The Wasteland”, i.e. that photo set that I wanted to shoot in Centralia but got rained out for, in 2019.  I also want to go back out to Piney Point to get that sunrise.  Recall that I tried that before and was rained out, though I did get “Intentionally Overexposed” out of it, so it wasn’t a total wash.

And, of course, I am not above cheesy pop culture references.  I want to do a photo feature showing street signs at the intersection of 4th and D Streets in DC, based on the “Capital City” song on The Simpsons.  DC has three 4th and D intersections (there isn’t one in Northwest), and my plan is to photograph all three of them and see what shot I like best.  That might be fun.

So all in all, I think that I have my work cut out for me in 2019.  Let’s hope that I knock a few things off of the list.

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So Christmas in Montgomery Village was a tad underwhelming… https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/12/27/so-christmas-in-montgomery-village-was-a-tad-underwhelming/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/12/27/so-christmas-in-montgomery-village-was-a-tad-underwhelming/#respond Thu, 27 Dec 2018 19:44:17 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=27985 Elyse and I drove around our immediate area in Montgomery Village looking at lights after I got home from work on Christmas Eve.  The sense that we got from driving around was that this wasn’t a big year for decorating.  There were some houses that were decorated, but on the whole, there was not a whole lot going on.  Last Christmas was definitely better, though admittedly, it is more of a challenge to successfully decorate townhouses than single-family houses.  Nonetheless, I have a few highlights to share:

These were the only decorations of note on my street.  It appears that these two houses coordinated their efforts, as the decorations in the second-floor windows match, and the lighting on the hedges on both properties also matches.
These were the only decorations of note on my street.  It appears that these two houses coordinated their efforts, as the decorations in the second-floor windows match, and the lighting on the hedges on both properties also matches.

On the other side of my neighborhood, some simple white lighting around the door, and what looks like a blanket of lights on the hedges.
On the other side of my neighborhood, some simple white lighting around the door, and what looks like a blanket of lights on the hedges.

An end unit townhouse.  Lighted Christmas tree and reindeer, and some of those animated projection lights.  In general, I consider the projection lights to be fairly low effort displays.
An end unit townhouse.  Lighted Christmas tree and reindeer, and some of those animated projection lights.  In general, I consider the projection lights to be fairly low effort displays.

Over in Picton of Birlstone, which has back-to-back townhouses, this was the only display of note, with a manger scene on one side, a more secular display on the other, and some lights to bring it all together.
Over in Picton of Birlstone, which has back-to-back townhouses, this was the only display of note, with a manger scene on one side, a more secular display on the other, and some lights to bring it all together.

I admit, though – with back-to-back townhouses, it’s probably pretty hard to decorate for Christmas.  Your fenced yard is in front, and thus half of your house’s facade is obscured.

This one is at the entrance to my neighborhood, and was by far the most decorated in the whole bunch.  Lots of inflatables, including a character from Frozen and a snow globe, and lots of projection lights.
This one is at the entrance to my neighborhood, and was by far the most decorated in the whole bunch.  Lots of inflatables, including a character from Frozen and a snow globe, and lots of projection lights.

This one is off of Lewisberry, which has more back-to-back townhouses.  These houses have even less area to decorate than Picton, but as seen here, it's possible to do it well.
This one is off of Lewisberry, which has more back-to-back townhouses.  These houses have even less area to decorate than Picton, but as seen here, it’s possible to do it well.

In another neighborhood across East Village Avenue, this was the only house that was decorated.  In this case, they did the space around the entrance.
In another neighborhood across East Village Avenue, this was the only house that was decorated.  In this case, they did the space around the entrance.

In a neighborhood of single-family houses, this one stuck out due to the more tropical theme.  Palm trees and a flamingo!
In a neighborhood of single-family houses, this one stuck out due to the more tropical theme.  Palm trees and a flamingo!

These two houses were the only ones that I found that were really done up for Christmas in a major way.

These two houses were the only ones that I found that were really done up for Christmas in a major way.
These two houses were the only ones that I found that were really done up for Christmas in a major way.

So all in all, it was kind of a blah year for Christmas decor.  But note that it is, in fact, possible to decorate a back-to-back townhouse in grand fashion, as seen last year:

House off of Montgomery Village Avenue decorated for Christmas in 2017

Meanwhile, I am considering doing some simple decorating for next year.  I have always been a fan of simple white light, and so I’m thinking about getting an LED floodlight and lighting the front of the house for December, and then putting a wreath on the door.  Nothing major, but more than nothing.  We’ll see if I do it, I suppose.

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The things that a mother will do for her child… https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/12/14/the-things-that-a-mother-will-do-for-her-child/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/12/14/the-things-that-a-mother-will-do-for-her-child/#respond Fri, 14 Dec 2018 19:00:52 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=27951 One of my favorite books as a small child was Sir Andrew by Paula Winter.  For those not familiar, it is a wordless picture book about a donkey who is very vain, who both gets in and causes trouble over the course of the story due to his vanity.  We first found it at the library in Rogers, Arkansas, where we lived at the time.  Apparently, I wanted my own copy of Sir Andrew, having liked the book that much.  However, in the mid 1980s, over a decade before Amazon and the Internet became commonplace, locating a book like that for purchase was a very tall order.  So my mother did what she could to make me happy: she photocopied the entire book, colored it, and bound it.  I knew that it was a homemade copy from the moment that I saw it, but I was pleased as punch nonetheless.  This was the Sir Andrew that I grew up with:

My bootleg copy of Sir Andrew

I got many hours of enjoyment out of this book as a child.  However, I always wondered how the colors in my bootleg copy compared to the real book.  So a few weeks ago, I finally took the plunge and ordered myself a real copy of the book on Amazon:

My legit copy of Sir Andrew

Fittingly, my copy is a former library book.  When I opened the book, I expected to see a very different set of colors compared to the bootleg version.  Surprisingly, what I saw as far as color went was not unfamiliar.  Mom went for accuracy more than I realized.

Here’s a page from early in the story, showing Sir Andrew getting dressed:

Bootleg copy

Real copy

The colors are, for the most part, right, and in the right places.  Sir Andrew was not lavishly colored to begin with, but rather, made use of a muted color palette to draw contrast between certain objects.  Mom used bolder colors, most likely due to the materials that she had on hand, but I don’t mind the result.

Here’s another illustration, from the middle of the story:

Bootleg copy

Real copy

Mom more or less nailed it, emphasizing the right objects with color, and fairly closely matching the colors, with a little extra color in the wares in the right window as the only noticeable difference.  This page also illustrates exactly how vain Sir Andrew is.  Notice that he is admiring his reflection in the mirror rather than watching where he is going, not seeing the open cellar door ahead of him.

Mom didn’t necessarily nail it on every page, though:

Bootleg copy

Real copy

In this situation, she took a little bit of artistic license with the cars, giving them a lot more color than they had originally.  But I like it that way.  Something about that orange Volkswagen that just seems to work.

And here’s one more instance where Mom was more or less spot on:

Bootleg copy

Real copy

Going to show once again that Sir Andrew is interested in one person, and one person only: himself.  Note that he rushes out into traffic without looking as he was chasing his hat, causing an accident, and also knocks over a trash can, which causes a painter to fall.  He doesn’t notice either.  The last page of the book shows him about to slip on a banana peel that he doesn’t see because he is still admiring his own reflection.

All in all, I’m glad to finally have a real copy of Sir Andrew.  The real copy and the bootleg copy now live side by side on my bookshelf.  I will always treasure the bootleg copy, which used index cards to give it strength, and contact paper to give it resilience, as part of my childhood.  But now I’m glad to have a real copy as well, to be able to compare the two.  Knowing how much Mom went for accuracy in making my childhood copy makes me admire it even more.

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I don’t want to undertake another unfinished furniture project for a long time… https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/12/01/i-dont-want-to-undertake-another-unfinished-furniture-project-for-a-long-time/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/12/01/i-dont-want-to-undertake-another-unfinished-furniture-project-for-a-long-time/#respond Sat, 01 Dec 2018 13:00:45 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=27922 At last, my journey into the land of unfinished furniture is over.  Four dining chairs and an end table are now complete and in service.  My house looks way better for it, but I am so glad that it’s done and over with.

For this project, I was staining to match existing furniture.  I tested a few colors, and ultimately settled on Varathane “Early American” for the stain.  Unlike the kitchen chairs, stain and polyurethane were separate efforts for these pieces, since the right color was not a combo item like it was for the kitchen chairs.

I’ve already shown the unfinished chairs in the Journal entry about the rugs.  Recall:

The unfinished chairs, in place in the living room

Then this photo amused me:

Chair with no seat

This was during the assembly, before I put the seat on.  I remarked that we could always leave it like this and just slide a chamber pot underneath.

And then this is the end table:

The end table after assembly

I did the whole thing as three distinct projects: the first chair, the remaining three chairs, and then the end table.  The process was an initial light sanding, staining, two or three coats of polyurethane, a second light sanding, and then the final coat of polyurethane.

The biggest challenge with this project was the staining.  This was my first non-water-based staining project, which presented new challenges because it didn’t just rinse away with water like I was used to.  To clean up, I had to use mineral spirits, which presented its own challenges.  In my initial staining session, I learned pretty quickly that it’s easy to spread that stain around if you’re not careful, and mineral spirits make it far more complicated to clean.  What I ended up doing was going full-on disposable.  I bought a big bag of painting rags and foam brushes from Amazon, and I wore rubber gloves.  At the end of each staining session, everything went into the trash, and I didn’t need to use the mineral spirits.

Here’s a half-stained chair up on the breakfast bar:

A half-stained chair

And then this was the final result after all of that work:

All done!

That night, Elyse and I had dinner at the table, on the new chairs.

And here’s the completed end table:

The end table, completed

Not bad, if you ask me.  My plan is to put a lamp on top of the table and keep items for use with the TV in the drawer, but I’m not sure what I’m doing with that open space inside just yet.  The original plan for the lamps was to put a new lamp there with some sort of generic filler inside of it, but then, not being satisfied with any of my options for the living room, I decided to move the shell lamp from the mezzanine to the living room, and then put the new lamp in the mezzanine, with a filler to match that space.

So all in all, things are slowly coming together.

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And now, new toilets… https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/11/23/and-now-new-toilets/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/11/23/and-now-new-toilets/#respond Fri, 23 Nov 2018 19:16:49 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=27698 A year after buying the place, I’m still working hard to make it my own.  First it was the new furniture from IKEA.  Then I painted Elyse’s bathroom.  Then I finished the chairs in the kitchen.  Then I painted Elyse’s bedroom.  Then it was the area rugs.  And now, it’s new toilets.  I suppose that this is what happens when you become mature, that buying and installing new toilets becomes exciting.

In any case, Elyse and I had both been less than enthused about our respective toilets from the moment that we moved in.  The ones in Elyse’s bathroom and mine were both fairly old, and both had problems.  Mine leaked water from the tank into the bowl, which was a waste of water, and it also splashed me in certain places, which was quite annoying.  Then parts of Elyse’s didn’t work, which reduced its effectiveness, which also ultimately wasted water.  So they were both quickly marked for replacement.  The toilet in the half bath is in good shape, and is not slated to be replaced, though we are planning to do a small refurbushment project on it, likely coupled with a repainting project in that room.

On September 29, Elyse and I finally took the plunge.  While we were out in Hagerstown, after looking at a store called CoinOpWarehouse, we went over to Lowe’s and looked at the different toilets that they had.  She got the Ove Beverly, which had a very modern design. I got the American Standard Champion 4, which is an ADA height toilet of more traditional design.  This is what the Champion 4 looked like in the store:

The American Standard Champion 4

And here they are on the cart:

Our new toilets, ready to go home

Getting them home, Elyse’s toilet was the first one to go in.  She was the one who knew a thing or two about plumbing and was doing most of the work, and so doing her toilet first was her prerogative.  We ended up referring to Elyse’s toilet as “Bev” during the installation work, almost instantly giving it personality.  Bev went in pretty easily, but we found some issues when we went to do mine.  On mine, the flange had previously been repaired, and the repair job was a little questionable, according to Elyse, which put her beyond her level of comfort.  So we called in Len the Plumber, and got the new toilet put on without issue.

I suppose that knowing when to stop and call in the professionals is a mark of wisdom.  After all, I am paying a lot of money for this house, and I intend to take good care of my investment.  I also won’t necessarily live in this house forever, and so I want to make sure that I am a good steward of it while it is in my care, so that I can get a good price for it when I eventually sell it (though not for quite some time, mind you).

All in all, the new toilets look good and work well.  Here is Bev in her new home:

Bev, down in Elyse's bathroom

And here’s my commode in its new home:

The American Standard Champion 4 in my bathroom

Not bad, if you ask me.  And then here’s Elyse working on dismantling the old toilet in her bathroom:

Elyse dismantles her old toilet

Then here’s Elyse getting rid of her old toilet (Len the Plumber got rid of mine) at the Shady Grove Transfer Station:

Elyse poses for one final photo with the old commode at the Shady Grove Transfer Station.

And finally, the toilet in the dumpster:

Elyse's old toilet in the dumpster at the Shady Grove Transfer Station.

Not bad, if you ask me.  These new toilets are definitely an improvement over the old ones.  I’m pretty sure that Elyse’s old toilet was original to the house (it looked the same as others in the same neighborhood when we went house hunting), while my old one dated to the early 2000s.

Then I also did one other bathroom renovation project: removal of the doors on Elyse’s shower.  That all came together pretty quickly.  I have never been a big fan of shower doors, but since it wasn’t in my bathroom, I was content to let it be.  Then Elyse fell in the shower, and her only (minor) injuries were caused by the track beneath the doors.  She wanted them gone, and I was quick to oblige.  I had all of the tools necessary to take them out, and so I made quick work out of them.

Now you see them:

The shower doors, moments before being dismantled

And now you don’t:

No more shower doors!

And the hardware went out in the hallway, ready to be hauled away:

No more shower doors!

Meanwhile, getting rid of them says something about how resilient those shower doors were.  When we got them to the Shady Grove Transfer Station, we deliberately tried to smash the glass.  Try as we might, we couldn’t get them to break, which was a bit disappointing.  But I suppose that was a good thing during their service life.

And then this is the new look of Elyse’s shower:

The new shower curtain

Elyse went for a world map design, and it appears to be the current map (note presence of South Sudan).  And Russia is orange, as it should be, though Canada is not pink.  I’ve always said that the “proper” map colors include a pink Canada and an orange Russia, and no one is going to convince me otherwise.

So all in all, Elyse’s bathroom is much changed from the bathroom that the previous owner knew.  New paint, new shower head, new toilet, and now a new shower door.  I want to eventually pull out the sink and put in something with a proper vanity, but that’s more of a wish-list thing for much further down the road.

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Adventures up north… https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/11/21/adventures-up-north/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/11/21/adventures-up-north/#respond Wed, 21 Nov 2018 18:48:00 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=27826 Back in the middle of October, as part of a weeklong vacation from work, Elyse and I took a trip to upstate New York and northeastern Pennsylvania.  The first day took us up to Cortland, New York.  The second day, we explored Scranton, Pennsylvania.  The third day, we briefly explored Wilkes-Barre, and then went down to Centralia before heading home.

Our route on the first day took us from home up I-270 to Frederick, and then US 15 to Harrisburg.  We had planned a stop around Harrisburg in order to photograph Three Mile Island from across the river, but scrapped it due to bad weather (clouds).  We can day-trip it to Harrisburg any time, and traveling to the spot for Three Mile Island would have been a significant detour.  We both agreed that we weren’t going to make a long detour for bad photos.  Once we got to Harrisburg, we joined Interstate 81 for our travels north.

I definitely got to know I-81 a whole lot better than I did before taking this trip.  Previously, I had traveled on I-81 from its southern terminus near Knoxville as far as exit 116 in Pennsylvania, from my Centralia trip in May (prior to that, I had only traveled as far as the I-78 split).  Now, I’ve traveled the entire length of I-81 in Pennsylvania, and also 52 miles in upstate New York.  If there’s one thing to be said about I-81 north of Harrisburg, it’s that the views are outstanding.  I-81 runs through the mountains, and it’s quite a sight.  And just like it does in Virginia, it skirts around every single city, which doesn’t make for the most interesting trip.  I prefer when freeways go through the cities like I-95 tends to do, because it gives me something to look forward to, and also keeps me more engaged.

But thankfully, we had this license plate game that Elyse found in a thrift store, so as we spotted different states’ license plates, she turned that state over on the board.  The most unusual license plate that we saw was for St. Maarten, at a Sheetz in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania.  Why a vehicle from St. Maarten was in central Pennsylvania, I don’t know.

After leaving Dillsburg, and going through Harrisburg and for some ways beyond, Elyse started a livestream on YouTube.  The discussion was about the trip and what we were seeing for the most part, and flipping license plates as we spotted them.  We made our first substantial stop near Hazleton, where we stopped for a potty and elevator break at a Residence Inn off of the “CAN DO Expressway” (a name unique enough to deserve mention), and then had lunch at a nearby fast food restaurant.

Then we made a quick stop in Scranton, where Elyse wanted to see the elevators at Commonwealth Health Regional Hospital.  This wasn’t necessarily on the schedule (Scranton was planned for Sunday), but Elyse promised to make it quick.  Sometimes it’s easier to indulge than it is to argue.  This was an older hospital that had been updated in a few places.  She filmed two sets of elevators: the main elevators, as well as the service elevators.

I also got a few photos while we were there:

Elyse is all smiles in her Metro sweatpants as we prepare to do some elevator sightseeing.
Elyse is all smiles in her Metro sweatpants as we prepare to do some elevator sightseeing.

The HR-V, parked on Gibson Street.
The HR-V, parked on Gibson Street.

Bosch door release pull station.  This is a variation on a fire alarm pull station.
Bosch door release pull station.  This is a variation on a fire alarm pull station.

Elyse sits in a now-obsolete phone booth with her cell phone.
Elyse sits in a now-obsolete phone booth with her cell phone.

Vintage Faraday bell next to the main elevators.
Vintage Faraday bell next to the main elevators.

The hospital chapel.  With the crucifix on the wall and other imagery throughout, there was no doubt about it: this is a Catholic hospital.
The hospital chapel.  With the crucifix on the wall and other imagery throughout, there was no doubt about it: this is a Catholic hospital.

And then after we finished up there, we kept it moving, seeing more beautiful mountain views as we traveled I-81.  We soon reached the New York state line, and I soon discovered something annoying: New York still uses sequentially-numbered exit numbers rather than mileage-based exit numbers like most states do.  This is annoying because, dealing with mileage-based numbers all the way up, I figured upon crossing into New York that I was almost there.  Exit 11 must mean eleven miles from the state line.  Almost there!  Nope – it was the eleventh exit, which was actually 52 miles from the state line.

We made a quick pit stop at exit 9, which serves Marathon.  While Elyse used the restroom at a nearby convenience store, I wandered around and photographed a bit.

Four-way traffic light at the intersection of US 11 and NY 221 in Marathon.  It's very rare to see a traffic light as a single unit anymore, and it appears that this one is still being actively maintained.
Four-way traffic light at the intersection of US 11 and NY 221 in Marathon.  It’s very rare to see a traffic light as a single unit anymore, and it appears that this one is still being actively maintained.

 
For some reason, this sign assembly captured my interest in a significant way.  I took a bunch of photos of this from several angles.  One of these was featured on the front of the website shortly after I got home.  I suppose that it was a combination of a few minutes’ downtime coupled with having my real camera on hand that brought out a burst of inspiration.

Bell in front of First Baptist Church.
Bell in front of First Baptist Church.

Political sign for Marc Molinaro in front of a nearby house (spoiler: he lost the election to incumbent Andrew Cuomo by a good amount).
Political sign for Marc Molinaro in front of a nearby house (spoiler: he lost the election to incumbent Andrew Cuomo by a good amount).

Sign outside Marathon Masonic lodge.
Sign outside Marathon Masonic lodge.

Then from there, it was a short drive to Cortland, and then to our hotel, a Holiday Inn Express.  We got checked in, and went up to our room, which was an accessible room on the fourth (top) floor, right next to the elevator.  This was in the deepest part of the hotel, and so to get past the elevator, we had this hallway:

A very long hallway inside of our room

That hallway is probably a good twenty or so feet long.  Other than that, though, it was a pretty standard accessible hotel room.  One would assume that other rooms not next to the elevator would end just past the bathroom door, rather than have all of that extra hallway.

Once we got settled, we headed out again to begin our adventures in Cortland.  Our primary objective was to visit Elyse’s Aunt Mary.  I had met Mary once before, when they came down to Maryland last year, and we really hit it off.  So I was excited to see Mary again.  After making contact with her, we headed over to her apartment building.  We got over to what we thought was the right building, and then waited for Mary to come down the elevator.  Instead, I got a phone call: “Where are you all?”  Turns out that Elyse had taken us to the wrong building.  Whoooooops.  Thankfully, the right building was just around the corner from our location.

Once we got over there, we went out to a few places, and ended up at this place called Fat Jack’s BBQ for dinner.  I didn’t expect to go to a barbecue place on this trip, so that was a pleasant surprise.  Good food, too.

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel, where we met up with a friend of ours, Dan McCormack.  I’ve known Dan since around 2001 through various fire alarm-related circles, and this was the first time that we actually met up in person.  First thing that the four of us did was play a few rounds of Uno.  That was a lot of fun.  I had never played Uno before, and that was really fun.  As Mary was explaining how Uno worked, I was trying to take it all in, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks: it’s based on Crazy Eights, but with additional cards that provide new twists and turns.  Once that connection was made, then everything made sense, and we had a lot of fun.  We also quickly learned about Elyse’s problem with Uno: she is very good at it, and always wins.  Out of however many hands we played, I believe that Elyse won the majority of them.  Later, after I took Mary home, Elyse, Dan, and I spent quite some time up in the room, chatting about anything and everything.  What a wonderful time we had.

And this was the result of the license plate game after the first day was over:

We saw license plates from 32 states, plus Ontario and Quebec license plates, and that St. Maarten plate.  The only rule was that you don't get to turn Maryland until you're out of the neighborhood and actually spot it on the road.
We saw license plates from 32 states, plus Ontario and Quebec license plates, and that St. Maarten plate.  The only rule was that you don’t get to turn Maryland until you’re out of the neighborhood and actually spot it on the road.

The next morning, our plan was to head down to Scranton.  The main plan was to visit the Steamtown National Historic Site.  Before leaving Cortland, however, we photographed just a little bit.

This was the apple juice that was being dispensed at the hotel's breakfast area.
This was the apple juice that was being dispensed at the hotel’s breakfast area.  It was weak.  Clearly, something was wrong with the machine, because the ratio of water to juice concentrate was off, making for a very weak product.  I commented that this looked more like a urinalysis sample than apple juice.

Municipal fire alarm box at North Main and Madison Streets.  Cortland previously had a municipal fire alarm box system, but that system is now in the process of being decommissioned.  Note the "not in service" tape over the handle.  Municipal fire alarm box at North Main and Madison Streets.  Cortland previously had a municipal fire alarm box system, but that system is now in the process of being decommissioned.  Note the "not in service" tape over the handle.
Municipal fire alarm box at North Main and Madison Streets.  Cortland previously had a municipal fire alarm box system, but that system is now in the process of being decommissioned.  Note the “not in service” tape over the handle.

St. Mary's Catholic Church

St. Mary's Catholic Church

St. Mary's Catholic Church
St. Mary’s Catholic Church.  It’s a nice looking church, but for some reason, I couldn’t get the angles right to get really good shots of it.  My photos of it felt a bit uninspired.

"End 15 mile speed" sign.
“End 15 mile speed” sign.  In this instance, it’s being used to mark the end of a school zone.  This is the first time that I’ve seen this sign used in this manner.  Typically, whenever I see this sign, it’s on back roads, to indicate that the earlier posted speed limit ends, and that the speed limit is unposted, which, at least in Virginia, defaults to 55 mph.

From here, we headed out of Cortland via I-81.  Cortland is a nice little town.  I would definitely like to spend some more time here.

On the way down, we stopped at a rest area, and I was surprised about the restroom configuration.  On most toilets, the material leaves the viewer’s sight by going out the back of the bowl.  This one, the pipe went straight down:

This toilet, unlike most, has a straight pipe leading out of it.  Also, note the foam in the bowl.  Rather than a manual or automatic flush mechanism, this toilet has a continuous flow of foam from the lip under the bowl going down to the pipe.
This toilet, unlike most, has a straight pipe leading out of it.  Also, note the foam in the bowl.  Rather than a manual or automatic flush mechanism, this toilet has a continuous flow of foam from the lip under the bowl going down to the pipe.

Sign explaining the mechanism at work.  In short, this toilet is attached to a composting system rather than a municipal sewer system.
Sign explaining the mechanism at work.  In short, this toilet is attached to a composting system rather than a municipal sewer system.

Then from there, we made it into Scranton, and over to Steamtown.  We arrived there just as the final train ride of the day was about to get started, so we quickly bought our tickets and got going.

The interior of the vintage railcar that we rode on.
The interior of the vintage railcar that we rode on.

I admit – I was a bit disappointed with the train ride.  I didn’t know what to expect, but assumed that we would be riding this train around the area or something – in other words, a proper train ride.  Rather, the train never left the property, mostly going back and forth to reach this natural feature:

A stream.

As I understand it, this is a stream that used to be enclosed in a cave, but the roof later collapsed, exposing the stream.  It wasn’t necessarily a bad feature, but this was the destination of the train before returning, and it took a long time to get there.  This ride might have been more exciting for someone that doesn’t work around trains for a living, but for me, I could have skipped the ride and been just fine.

Afterward, Elyse and I explored around the property, to see what was there.

SEPTA Bullet car 206.

SEPTA Bullet car 206.
SEPTA Bullet car 206.  This was technically part of the Electric City Trolley Museum, which is on the same property, but which we did not have time to explore fully (something for next time, I suppose).

Elyse holds up a communications cable that she found on the ground.
Elyse holds up a communications cable that she found on the ground.

Erie Lackawanna passenger coach.
Erie Lackawanna passenger coach.

Delaware Lackawanna locomotive 2423.
Delaware Lackawanna locomotive 2423.

Union Pacific Big Boy locomotive X4012.
Union Pacific Big Boy locomotive X4012.

Reading Company 467.
Reading Company 467.


Reading Company 903.

Reading Company 2124.
Reading Company 2124.

Illinois Central Railroad 790.
Illinois Central Railroad 790.

It’s funny – I was walking around all of these tracks like I knew what I was doing, and I didn’t realize that I was doing that until well into this.  The usual advice holds, though.  Stay well clear of switches, look both ways, and then cross, and make sure not to foul the adjacent tracks.  One difference between this and the rail yards that I’m used to walking in, though, is that Steamtown has no third rails, which makes things much easier, since there’s nothing carrying 750 volts of direct current ready to zap you that you need to step over.

After exploring all of the trains and such on static display, we headed into the museum part.  We got photos of each other wearing hats:

Wearing a "BRAKEMAN" hat

Elyse wears a "CONDUCTOR" hat

Elyse was amazed that the brakeman hat actually fit my big head.  Its so hard to find a hat that fits me properly.

After this, we headed out to downtown Scranton.  Elyse was in search of elevators, and we found that in the Radisson hotel, which was built inside the old train station:

Around the corner from the hotel, I found a vintage railroad crossbuck:

Wooden crossbuck on Cedar Avenue

Wooden crossbuck on Cedar Avenue

They certainly don’t make them like this anymore.  This is made entirely out of wood, and the lettering is painted on.  I can’t even begin to imagine how old this thing is.  The one in Sabillasville, Maryland is old, too, but at least it’s metal.  This one is wood.  It’s in pretty good condition, though.  Meanwhile, the crossbuck on the other side of the crossing is modern, complete with reflectors on the back.

I was a bit disappointed with downtown Scranton in general, though, because there wasn’t much to do – the town really rolls up the sidewalks on a Sunday evening.  I imagine that a future visit during the week will be better.

After this, we checked out Geisinger Medical Center, where Elyse wanted to do some elevators.  Before we went in, we got a photo of “Woomy”, one of Elyse’s “critters” that came along with us for this trip:

Woomy, the most curmudgeonly octopus that I've ever met

Woomy, whom the Internet had named on an earlier live stream, is perhaps the most curmudgeonly octopus that I’ve ever met.  Such a contrarian.  The only thing that I’ve ever heard him say is, “I don’t like that!

Otherwise, Elyse did her thing at Geisinger, getting a video of some urinals in one of the restrooms.  Meanwhile, this piqued my interest:

New Simplex pull station

This is the newest iteration of the Simplex pull station, with a redesigned handle.  I had never seen this version before.  I’d be concerned about accidentally getting something hooked on it.

After we finished up here, we headed down to Wilkes-Barre, where we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on PA 315.  This, unfortunately, was not as nice of a place as the one in Cortland.  I sensed that it was an older building, and may not have always been a Holiday Inn Express.  The rooms were small, and the beds were a bit too large for the rooms.  Additionally, the hotel was in the early stages of a remodel, and wasn’t handling it as well as it could have.  The beds were very tall, which, as explained to me by the staff, came from the hotel’s having received new, thicker mattresses for the beds, which they placed on the old bed frames, which were designed for a thinner mattress.  As a result, Elyse couldn’t get into the bed without assistance.  The front desk staff was very apologetic about it all, because in all fairness, this wasn’t a problem that they had any control over.  They just react to what they are given by their bosses, and it was clear based on their responses, that they thought it was a boneheaded move, too.  They ended up giving us a chair for Elyse to use to get in the bed, and that worked well enough.  However, I’m still not inclined to stay there again, and the next time I stay up that way, I’ll probably go somewhere else.

And then this is the result of the license plate game from Sunday:

Sunday's license plate haul

Not bad.  26 states, plus a few Canadian provinces that aren’t on here, including an Alberta license plate.

The next morning, we got checked out of our hotel, and we were off again.  The goal was to do a little bit of exploring in Wilkes-Barre and then hit up Centralia before going home.  Wilkes-Barre wasn’t really on our itinerary, so I did my best to keep things moving through it, in order to get to Centralia.  First stop was the VA Hospital, where Elyse did a little bit of elevator sightseeing.  Then we went over to the Wilkes-Barre school district office to see a vintage elevator, after Elyse was tipped off to it by some Schindler elevator techs at the hospital.  This was the building:

The Wilkes-Barre Area School District office

I was surprised to learn that this was not built as a former school, but rather, it began life as a railroad company office.  In any case it could certainly use a power washing now.

And here’s Elyse with the elevator:

Elyse with the elevator

Elyse also got a video of it:

Not bad.  From there, we found I-81 and we were on our way to Centralia.  Coming from the north, Google Maps sent us off of I-81 at Hazleton and down a whole bunch of back roads, but not before putting us on the entire length of the aforementioned CAN DO Expressway.  One surprise find on our way was this gas station sign:

"Wolky's" on an Amoco sign

This is Wolky’s, a gas station in East Union Township.  That is an Amoco torch-and-oval sign, with “Wolky’s” on the sign instead of “Amoco”.  The pumps still have Amoco-style striping on them as well.  I have no idea what brought this sign about.  My guess is that this was an Amoco station that went independent before all Amoco stations were converted to BP in the early 2000s, and they just changed the sign.  But I very well could be wrong.

Continuing, we eventually made our way to Centralia.  Unlike last time, I parked on the roadside, out in the open.  I realized last time that hiding the car was unnecessary, plus, unlike when I started back in May, we weren’t alone this time, as there were others on site.

We each had our goals on this visit.  Elyse’s goal was to explore the Graffiti Highway, and add a few tags of her own.  My goal was to shoot a photo set with a working title of “The Wasteland”.  The idea for the photo set was to photograph Elyse in black and white around Centralia while wearing a gas mask.  We would shoot on the Graffiti Highway, at the various cemeteries, and perhaps also at the Ukrainian Orthodox church.  I went in with the idea that even if it was cloudy, it wouldn’t matter, because it was going to be black and white.

But then it started to rain, which put a damper on our plans in Centralia.  Elyse was concerned about being able to tag in the rain, plus, considering that she had some difficulty entering the Graffiti Highway due to a combination of muddy surfaces and her own mobility issues, she was concerned about being able to exit safely if it really started to rain.  So our visit was fairly short.  “The Wasteland” went right out the window, but considering that I can day-trip it to Centralia, I can always go back again to do that project.

However, we did get a good amount of photos in the relatively short time that we spent on site.

The HR-V parked on the side of Route 61.
The HR-V parked on the side of Route 61.

"Stay out, stay alive.  Mines and quarries are not playgrounds.  No trespassing.  Violators will be prosecuted."
These signs were new since my visit in May.  They read, “Stay out, stay alive.  Mines and quarries are not playgrounds.  No trespassing.  Violators will be prosecuted.”  Who knows who put the signs up, but considering that there were quite a few people visiting, those signs weren’t stopping anyone.

Star graffiti that we found on a tree near the top of the Graffiti Highway.
Star graffiti that we found on a tree near the top of the Graffiti Highway.

Elyse tags a tree.
Elyse tags a tree.

Elyse wears a black bandanna as a filter for spray paint fumes while she was tagging.  I put her in all black for the planned photo set, but the bandanna was her own idea.  I laughed, because Elyse was dressed in "full black bloc" for the purpose of tagging the abandoned road.
Elyse wears a black bandanna as a filter for spray paint fumes while she was tagging.  I put her in all black for the planned photo set, but the bandanna was her own idea.  I laughed, because Elyse was dressed in “full black bloc” for the purpose of tagging the abandoned road.

One of Elyse's tags: "Take Transit".  I found it somewhat amusing, considering that we were many miles from the nearest town with transit service.
One of Elyse’s tags: “Take Transit”.  I found it somewhat amusing, considering that we were many miles from the nearest town with transit service.

Lots of leaves, colorfully painted.
Lots of leaves, colorfully painted.

Seeing this, Elyse sprayed a few leaves with her silver paint.
Seeing this, Elyse sprayed a few leaves with her silver paint.

Elyse tags the road again.
Elyse tags the road again.

Her completed tag reads "CREW 96", with 96 referring to 1996, which is the year that she was born.
Her completed tag reads “CREW 96”, with 96 referring to 1996, which is the year that she was born.

Elyse holds her spray paint cans while checking her phone.
Elyse holds her spray paint cans while checking her phone.

After this, we returned to the car, and I gave Elyse the driving tour of Centralia.  I showed her the Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Cemetery, Odd Fellows Cemetery, and took her around a bunch of the abandoned streets, and pointed out where people still lived in the town.  We even inadvertently found our way into an active mine site:

The active mine site.  I would have loved to photograph in here, but I imagine that I would get chased out pretty quickly if I dared to try.
The active mine site.  I would have loved to photograph in here, but I imagine that I would get chased out pretty quickly if I dared to try.

Then we went out in search of the entrance to the wind farm that I spotted last time but didn’t have time to explore.  But we soon got distracted, as Elyse found signs for a mining museum, and so we pursued that.  That led us over to Ashland.  The museum was closed when we went by, but I noted the hours and dates for a future visit, because it looks like fun.

We also had lunch in Ashland, going to M&M Sandwich Shop.  There, we each had this mac and cheese with barbecue dish, as well as flitch, which is a potato, powdered sugar, and peanut butter thing for dessert.  Check it out:

Flitch.

Overall, the food was excellent.  We are definitely coming back here next time.

Then we returned to our original mission, to find the wind farm.  We found the entrance, and went for a drive through it to see how it looked.  A wind farm has been on my wish list for a while, and so even though the weather wasn’t favorable, this appeared to be a good site for it for a future visit.  I think that I could get away with photographing some of these turbines from on-site.  Could make for some gorgeous shots.

From there, we headed through Centralia one more time before heading out.  Elyse wanted to see the siren next to the municipal building (sirens are an interest of hers), and I wanted to check out The Byrnesville Shrine of the Blessed Mother, which is an Orthodox(?) Christian religious shrine on the roadside:

The Byrnesville Shrine of the Blessed Mother, constructed from a fireplace and two bathtubs.
The Byrnesville Shrine of the Blessed Mother, constructed from a fireplace and two bathtubs.

Statue of Jesus.
Statue of Jesus.

Inside the center section of the shrine.
Inside the center section of the shrine.  Surprisingly, the contents are more of a tribute to the people who have maintained the shrine rather than anything religious.

At this point, it was starting to get dark, so we headed out.  This visit to Centralia was kind of a mixed bag overall.  We accomplished very few of our planned goals, but we had a good time nonetheless, and we laid a lot of groundwork for whatever next visit we make, most likely in the early to mid spring, before the leaves come back.

Meanwhile, all of that driving that we did on dirt roads and such around Centralia meant that we really slimed the outside of the car.  Here are some photos that we took of it at a gas station in nearby Ashland:

Dirty car, rear view.
Dirty car, rear view.

Front view of the dirty car.
Front view of the dirty car.

HR-V badging on the back hatch, encrusted with all kinds of dirt.
HR-V badging on the back hatch, encrusted with all kinds of dirt.

My rear license plate, covered in dirt.
My rear license plate, covered in dirt.

The backup camera, completely obscured.
The backup camera, completely obscured.

Then I got this photo further on down the road after it all dried a bit:

Very dirty car.

Yeah, I really messed it up.  But fun was had, so it’s okay.  We also stopped at a car wash in Dillsburg, and Elyse blew all of that gunk off, so we were good again, as seen when we stopped for gas later:

All clean!

And then this was what the license plate board looked like at the end of our final day:


License plates from 28 states seen on the last day of the trip.  Not bad.

And that’s that.  All in all, a fun time was had by all, and all of these various destinations deserve further exploration in the future.

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No, this is not the solution to kids’ getting run over… https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/11/04/no-this-is-not-the-solution-to-kids-getting-run-over/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/11/04/no-this-is-not-the-solution-to-kids-getting-run-over/#respond Sun, 04 Nov 2018 19:59:05 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=27833 Last night, Elyse shared a photo with me from Facebook depicting a school bus making a stop way out in the middle of the road:


Photo: Dana Shifflett Farrar

The photo was captioned, “With the string of school bus accidents, I loved how this bus driver intentionally placed itself [sic] in the middle this morning.  At first I wondered what they were doing, then I realized the kids had to cross the road.  Well done, sir.”  I don’t know where this specific location is, but considering that the person who posted it is from Shenandoah, Virginia, this likely depicts a location in Shenandoah County, Virginia, and as such is most likely a Shenandoah County school bus.  This was likely done in reaction to recent news stories where children have been injured while going to school.

I shared this on my own timeline, saying, “Despite what the original poster said, this is crazy dangerous. The words ‘unsafe operation’ come to mind.”  While the first person to comment got it, most of the responses that I got were fairly predictable:

“Unfortunately, that’s how it’s done these days!!!”

It’s better for them to hit the bus than the kids imo.”

“Best way, police cars following every buses”

The problem with these responses were that it assumes that the school bus can never be wrong.  I’ve never understood that point of view, that school buses and their drivers are some sort of angels because they’re driving kids to and from school.  It’s the idea that the school bus can do anything that it wants and be in the right because “think of the children”.  In reality, we all share the road, including school buses.  While it’s okay to make certain allowances for children, since they may not yet have sufficient judgment to safely navigate the road, there are still other road users who have places to go.

I see two major issues with this stop.  The first one is one that the first commenter immediately noticed: the curve ahead.  The bus is stopped just short of a blind curve, so depending on the normal speed of oncoming traffic, a driver going at normal speed may not be able to stop in time to avoid a collision with the bus.  That could endanger the safety of the driver in a car coming around the curve who might not be expecting a school bus to be blocking the lane, as well as that of the occupants of the bus in the event that the car driver can’t stop in time.  Not a good situation to have happen.  Generally speaking, it is a very poor idea to stop in the middle of oncoming traffic.

The second issue is about the positioning of the bus on the road with respect to the traffic in the lane that the bus is ostensibly in.  Being positioned in such a way so as to occupy parts of both lanes, they have left enough of an opening to the bus’s right to allow a vehicle to pass without having to leave the road.  See for yourself:

The school bus photo, with my Honda HR-V to scale, showing that there is enough room for a vehicle to pass the school bus on the right

I have added an image of my Honda HR-V, and scaled it to match the photo.  There is reasonable distance between the school bus’s open door and the side of my car, and my car’s right-side tires are still on the pavement.  In other words, there is enough space to allow someone to pass the school bus on the right while it is stopped in this position.  While you’ve effectively closed off the left side of the vehicle (though opening yourself up to other dangers already discussed), you’ve opened up the right side of the vehicle, which is the side that children directly interact with.  The right side of the vehicle is also generally harder to see around than the left side, as the driver’s seat is on the vehicle’s left side.  For a driver waiting for a stopped school bus, this is a tempting move to make, and some can’t resist, especially since many school bus drivers leave the red lights on for a period of time after all children have entered the bus.  Drivers coming from behind have no idea whether there are children crossing in front of the bus, or whether all children are on board and the bus is still sitting.  It is the responsibility of the bus driver to account for people who have no patience for school buses, and will find the first opportunity to pass them, legally or not.  That means ensuring that your right side is closed off, and that children are able to step onto the vehicle directly from the curb (or equivalent).  After all, like I said in 2015, the red lights and stop arm on a school bus are ultimately just decorative.  If you’re relying solely on your red lights to make a safe stop, then that stop is not safe.  The red lights are extra insurance, used in conjunction with a properly executed stop that ensures that all passengers can board safely.

What we’re seeing here is ultimately the product of poor route design.  The driver is attempting to stop all traffic by using the bus to physically block oncoming traffic in order to pick up kids who need to cross the street to board.  The best solution is to redesign the route in order to ensure that no one has to cross these sorts of roads, so that every stop is a same-side stop.  But that requires extra planning effort, which costs money.  I like to think that safety is well worth the added cost, but apparently not everyone agrees with that.

Meanwhile, I love the usual response that I get when I cite my earlier Journal entry about school buses: “You should leave earlier!”  I do leave early.  I give myself an hour to go 13 miles to work.  There are two schools on my route to work, lots of neighborhoods, and much of my commute is along two-lane roads.  It is not hard to get stuck behind a school bus making multiple stops, which can easily add ten or more minutes to my commute.  That amount of time is not insignificant, and is on top of having to deal with all of the other people that add time to my route.  On a good day, I get to work about fifteen minutes before my on-duty time.  A school bus cuts it a whole lot closer, but I make it.  What I find insulting about the “you should leave earlier” crowd is that it says that the school bus’s time is more important than mine, and so I should be required to wait.  I have places to go, too, that have nothing to do with school buses or kids.

In any case, we as a country need to have a serious discussion about how we treat the way that school buses interact with the other drivers, and how students interact with school buses.  It’s clear that the status quo isn’t working, and relies too much on voluntary compliance by other road users to ensure a safe stop.  Likewise, exploiting the problem for money by mounting cameras on buses is no solution, either.  I’ve made suggestions before, and they still seem valid, though I would add that routes should be designed so that no one ever crosses the street.

Drive safely, everyone.

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A visit to Morgantown… https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/10/24/a-visit-to-morgantown/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/10/24/a-visit-to-morgantown/#respond Wed, 24 Oct 2018 14:00:03 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=27782 On October 8, I went out to Morgantown for the day with Elyse, Brian, and Trent.  This was a fun little trip, with the intention of exploring the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system and also seeing a few elevators, as the three of them are very much into elevators.  I’m not as much into elevators as they are, but I’ve learned a lot from them.

It’s a long drive to Morgantown, that’s for sure.  From Montgomery Village to Morgantown took us about four hours, with stops in Frederick, Sideling Hill, Cumberland, and La Vale for various (mostly restroom) needs.  I was amazed about how mountainous Interstate 68 was, particularly west of Cumberland.  It felt like we were constantly going up a mountain, but the HR-V was killing the hills like a champ.  This trip also brought out the roadgeek in all of us.  We took I-68 from its eastern terminus in Hancock, and, since we were practically there already, rode 68 to its western terminus at I-79.

Sideling Hill was known territory to everyone.  We had all been there before, but the view was still worth a look.  However, it was foggy on this particular day:

Sideling Hill overlook, facing approximately east

Sideling Hill overlook, facing approximately west

Not a whole lot to see, but you could still make out the various rock formations on the highway cut.  It always brings me back to ninth grade Earth Science class whenever I see that stuff.

The HR-V at the Sideling Hill overlook after conquering South Mountain and Sideling Hill.
The HR-V at the Sideling Hill overlook after conquering South Mountain and Sideling Hill.

We eventually made it to Morgantown, and parked in the garage near Health Sciences Center station.  I was in “new transit system” mode, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself, looking at everything around.  This system is definitely not like the Metro-type systems that I was used to, since the vehicles were small, and there were no operators on board.  This was also my first time riding a system that used rubber tire wheels.  From what I could tell, the vehicles operated on a fixed guideway, and received all of their power and such from rails along the side of the guideway.  There was a noticeable sideways shift whenever the vehicles switched from the power on one side to the other.

The roadway on the PRT system, at the Health Sciences Center station.  What looks like a guardrail is actually the "third rail".

The roadway on the PRT system, at the Health Sciences Center station.  What looks like a guardrail is actually the "third rail".
The roadway on the PRT system, at the Health Sciences Center station.  What looks like a guardrail is actually the “third rail”.

We rode the whole system from end to end before doing anything else.  The ride is about twenty minutes.  I photographed out the front of the vehicle as we rode.

Departing from Towers station.
Departing from Towers station.

Berthed at Engineering station.
Berthed at Engineering station.

A section where the two directions were at different elevations, approaching the maintenance facility.
A section where the two directions were at different elevations, approaching the maintenance facility.

Another vehicle passes us going the other direction.  The maintenance facility is visible in the distance.
Another vehicle passes us going the other direction.  The maintenance facility is visible in the distance.

Approaching Beechurst station.
Approaching Beechurst station.

Our vehicle departs after we alighted at Walnut station.
Our vehicle departs after we alighted at Walnut station.

Then we explored downtown Morgantown for a bit.  That area was certainly older, and had a certain level of charm to it, as it still felt vintage, and had not gone through a period of gentrification.

The first thing that caught my eye was this sign:

Independent Order of Odd Fellows, lodge number 10
Independent Order of Odd Fellows, lodge number 10.  Kind of neat.

This awning on a window over the Dollar General store demonstrated the vintage quality of downtown.  It was clear, with the green growth on it, that this awning had been there for many years.
This awning on a window over the Dollar General store demonstrated the vintage quality of downtown.  It was clear, with the green growth on it, that this awning had been there for many years.

Sign for The Cue, which is a Christianity-focused meeting space.  I don't think that the sign is necessarily vintage, but the wood backdrop and fonts definitely threw back to an older period.
Sign for The Cue, which is a Christianity-focused meeting space.  I don’t think that the sign is necessarily vintage, but the wood backdrop and fonts definitely threw back to an older period.

Street sign for Court and High Streets.
Street sign for Court and High Streets.

At the Citizens Bank building, meanwhile, Elyse, Brian, and Trent all filmed the elevator.  While they were doing that, I found some fire alarms to amuse myself:

Simplex pull station at the Citizens Bank building

Simplex horn/strobe at the Citizens Bank building

You know, Simplex doesn’t usually inspire me to great fire alarm photography, but I think that these came out pretty well.

Then I also photographed this clock:

I appreciated the vintage quality of this clock.  From what I could tell, Lilly's Crown Jewelers was a business that was once in Morgantown, but no longer is.
I appreciated the vintage quality of this clock.  From what I could tell, Lilly’s Crown Jewelers was a business that was once in Morgantown, but no longer is.

Later, we rode the PRT to campus, and explored over there.  One thing that Elyse was excited to show me was the foot-activated toilets and urinals in Armstrong Hall.  Check these out:

Commode in Armstrong Hall

Urinals in Armstrong Hall

It’s interesting what you sometimes find in pre-ADA fixtures.  This was that case with the floor flushers.  It’s the same flush mechanism as on a modern toilet, but it’s mounted at foot height, and the flush bar is designed to be stepped on.  You wouldn’t find this today, of course, because a person who couldn’t use their legs would be unable to flush.  I wonder how difficult it would be to flush that toilet from a seated position, though.  Who knows.

Then my favorite thing at WVU was the Mountainlair, which is the student union on campus.  They have a bowling alley, pool tables, and this:

Pacman and Galaga

They had me at “hello”.  When it comes to Namco games, Elyse and I have it cornered.  She’s good at Galaga, while I can kill it with Pacman.  We pumped a few quarters into both machines.  Brian and Elyse also played H2Overdrive, and Elyse apparently played so well that she killed her side of the game.  It crashed, and had to restart:

H2Overdrive is loading...

And in case anyone was wondering, that game runs on Windows XP.

Then from there, we headed back to the PRT to return to our car.  As we got back to the PRT, we saw this spider web in a lamppost:

Spider webs in the lamppost

Spider webs in the lamppost

Kind of cool, if you ask me.

We learned a bit about how the PRT communicates with riders as we headed back to the car.  Because Elyse has somewhat limited use of her legs, we took the elevator up to the platform.  You have to call to the dispatchers for the elevator via a courtesy phone located near the elevator.  There is no call button for the elevators outside of fare control (even though there is no fare).  The elevator bypasses the turnstiles, which is where you tell the system what station you’re going to.  Elyse, recognizing this, went over to the turnstiles, selected a selection, and then spun a turnstile.  She did this multiple times – once for each of us – in order to register the ridership.  A voice came over the PA system telling us that turning the turnstiles will not make a vehicle come any faster.  Elyse started looking up at the speakers and said something to us out of frustration, and the voice came back saying that they can’t hear us, but if we wanted to talk to them, to pick up one of the courtesy phones on the platform.  I understand where they were coming from, in that the dispatchers were trying to be helpful, but the whole thing came off as a bit creepy, since they were watching our every move, and then talking to us from afar via loudspeaker.  I don’t like being micromanaged by remote.  But other than that, a fun time was had by all.

Our PRT vehicle as we left the station
Our vehicle as we left the system at Health Sciences Center station.

Returning to the car, we started making moves towards home.  The first stop, however, was at a Tim Hortons:

Tim Horton's in Morgantown

I think that we were all a bit surprised to see a Tim Hortons this far south.  I knew that they were in more northern states, but I didn’t expect one in West Virginia.  My first Tim Hortons experience was definitely a good one, though.

Then we got gas, and we were off, killing those hills once again.  We stopped for dinner at Sheetz in Cumberland, and then made a restroom stop at a Pennsylvania welcome center on I-70.  Why Pennsylvania?  Because we wanted to touch Pennsylvania, and we knew that the welcome center was there and easy to turn around at.  So we did.  And then from there, we deadheaded it back to Montgomery Village, and that was that.

All in all, a fun time was had by all.  I definitely want to explore Morgantown further in the future.

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I don’t know why anyone expected a different result… https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/10/11/i-dont-know-why-anyone-expected-a-different-result/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/10/11/i-dont-know-why-anyone-expected-a-different-result/#respond Thu, 11 Oct 2018 16:11:05 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=27739 So in case anyone has been living in a bubble lately, Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed and sworn in as a Supreme Court justice, after several weeks of hearings, where Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by several different women.  And then in the end, the Senate voted to confirm him, mostly along party lines.

First of all, I have no reason to think that these women accusing Kavanaugh of some very vile deeds are not telling the truth.  Based on various posts from friends on social media who have spoken about their own experiences, not reporting these things at the time that they happen is fairly common, for any number of reasons.

What surprises me is how outraged some people are that this nomination went through.  My typical response has been, “What did you really expect would happen?”  Think about it.  Donald Trump is a Republican.  The Senate is controlled by Republicans, and they had enough votes to confirm him to the Supreme Court all by themselves, without any Democratic support.  And unlike the Democratic Party, the Republican Party won’t eat their own, so this whole abbreviated FBI investigation and senators’ publicly wavering on whether or not they would vote up or down was all a political stunt designed to appease the constituents at home during an election year.  And everyone fell for their song and dance, while they knew that they would confirm him all along no matter what.  Brett Kavanaugh could have walked up to Dr. Ford and shot her in the head at point-blank range in front of everyone in the hearing room, and the Republicans would have still confirmed him.  The Eleventh Commandment, i.e. “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” still holds true.  I wish that it had turned out differently, but I also kept my expectations realistic.  I thought it was a bit naive for anyone to really expect that it would have turned out any other way that it did.

At this point, the outrage from the left is directed at Kavanaugh, because he’s the immediate subject.  It’s also far easier to point to him than to admit the real truth, that elections have real consequences.  The Democrats blew it in a major way with their performance in 2016.  Would Hillary Clinton have made a better president than Donald Trump?  Yes, absolutely.  But she alienated enough of her constituency during the campaign to cause a lot of would-be Hillary voters in key states to stay home.  Thus how she may have won the popular vote, but her success was not widespread enough to win electorally.  We are now living with the consequences of the failure of the Democratic Party to win the presidency and more congressional seats in 2016.  So far, those consequences have been two Supreme Court seats and a lot of other policies that do not favor regular people.

Failures to secure majorities in the 2014 midterms before that allowed the Republican-controlled Senate to steal Barack Obama’s third Supreme Court nomination in 2016.  This is why Merrick Garland is not a Supreme Court justice today, and why Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch is instead.  The Republican-controlled Senate leadership opted to sit on their hands and not consider any nominee by then-president Barack Obama after Antonin Scalia died.  They gambled that the next president would be a Republican, and so they held it off until they could get a Republican in office to fill the seat.  Was it a scumbag move?  Yes.  But this is an excellent example of why every election matters.  We might have had a more liberal Supreme Court today had we gotten more Democrats in the Senate in 2014.

That said, it seems like the country is poised to have a major victory on the left in November, and if the Democrats actually pull it out, that might put the brakes on some of the worst of these destructive Republican policies.  Whether the Democrats actually govern like they mean it once they get in, or whether they waste time reaching across the aisle to people who won’t budge an inch and who will shut them completely out whenever they’re in power, is another matter.  But nothing good will happen if people don’t go out and vote.  History has shown us that when turnout is high, Democrats do well, and when turnout is low, Republicans tend to prevail.  Thus it behooves all of us to go out and vote on election day, to get the Congress that we want.

Meanwhile, one meme that I saw going around social media following the confirmation was about the amount of Americans that the senators voting yes represented vs. the number of people who were represented by the “no” voters.  The meme looked like this:

Senate meme in regards to number of senators who voted yes vs. no and how many people they represent

I believe that a little civics and history lesson is in order, and what the purpose of each house is.  Because despite that it posits that the system is broken, it sounds like this meme acknowledges that the Senate worked as designed.

The House of Representatives is intended to be the people’s house.  The representation numbers are determined by population, and representatives are kept on a relatively short leash by having to stand for reelection every two years.  The idea there is to have “one person, one vote” throughout the country, and so, in line with that, the more populous states get more representation than smaller states.  That has become less so in recent years due to a 1929 law that capped the house at 435 members, as it has been more about rearranging the chairs ever since.  Thus if one state has enough population to get another seat, another state has to lose one.  I wrote back in January about a way to fix that, and so I don’t see a need to reiterate it here.

The Senate, on the other hand, was intended to represent the states.  With only two senators per state regardless of population, it was intended to be the counterpoint to the House of Representatives, giving each state, large or small, an equal amount of influence.  In the original Constitution, Senators were selected by the state legislatures.  Thus who you voted for in your state assembly mattered, because they determined who went to Washington, and senators were accountable to them.  That was changed with the 17th Amendment, which provided for the direct election of senators.  I’m on the fence about whether this change was a good thing, but for better or for worse, it’s here to stay.  But in any case, each state has exactly as much influence in the Senate as the next state, whether you’re a big state like California, or a small state like Wyoming.

Of course, the thing that makes Supreme Court nominations so acrimonious is because the stakes are so high.  Supreme Court justices, as is the case with all federal judicial appointees, “shall hold their Offices during good Behavior”, which is generally interpreted to mean a lifetime tenure.  With that in mind, openings on the court occur on an irregular basis, and with people living longer lives, a justice can remain on the bench for decades, shaping US policy for generations.  And no one knows how many appointments a president will get during their term.  Nixon and Reagan had four each.  Gerald Ford had one.  Jimmy Carter had none.  Clinton and both Bushes each had two.  Barack Obama had three (though one was stolen from him).  Trump has so far had two.  It speaks to a need to make Supreme Court nominations more predictable.  I read an article somewhere that suggested putting members of the Supreme Court on staggered 18-year terms.  That seems like a reasonable idea.  Under that sort of arrangement, there would be a nomination to the court every two years, and every president would get two nominations to the court per term.  So a one-term president would get two nominations, and a two-term president would get four.  And the entire court would turn over every 18 years.  In the current court, we have three members who have served longer than twenty years, and there have been periods of eleven and seven years where there was no turnover in Supreme Court justices.  With regular turnover, it lowers the stakes, because we know when each nomination is coming, and we know that each president will get two under most circumstances.  No more retirements timed to ensure a successor from the “correct” side of the aisle.  18 years and you’re out, no matter who is in office.  I imagine that such an arrangement would also make it less desirable for a future senate to steal a seat, as happened with Barack Obama and Merrick Garland, because the next president would get two more picks.  And if a justice were to die or resign before their term was up, the replacement would only serve to complete the previous justice’s unexpired term.  Such a thing would likely require a constitutional amendment to implement, and that would be a high hurdle to clear, but it seems like a reasonable thing to do.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that Trump doesn’t get any more opportunities to fill Supreme Court seats…

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Please do not put me in a position where I have to defend Donald Trump… https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/10/04/please-do-not-put-me-in-a-position-where-i-have-to-defend-donald-trump/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/10/04/please-do-not-put-me-in-a-position-where-i-have-to-defend-donald-trump/#respond Thu, 04 Oct 2018 12:04:36 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=27710 At 2:18 PM on October 3, a presidential alert went out to everyone’s mobile phones.  It was accompanied by the classic emergency tone, and looked like this:

"Presidential alert: THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."

This was a live test of the capabilities and effectiveness of the national capabilities of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) for mobile phones.  And apparently, the test was successful.

After the alert went out, social media was buzzing about it, mostly criticizing Donald Trump.  I admit that I joined that bandwagon, posting the above screenshot with the caption, “Donald says hello.”  The reactions that I saw to the alert message were a bit disappointing.  Here are a few samples culled from Facebook:

“It’s a horrendous moment.”

“I would argue that action is exactly what is needed.”

“Did you get a presidential emergency alert?  Ugh.  The emergency IS the president!”

“I know this was a ‘test’.  Something tells me that some crazy ass [expletive] is about to happen.”

“I came to the conclusion, the Presidential alert BS is just to instill fear.”

The vibe that I got from these messages, and others on Facebook, is that people really don’t understand how EAS works, and thought that it was all about politics.  Some of those sorts of comments came from people who really ought to understand how this stuff works.  Seeing those people make those sorts of comments just kills their credibility in my eyes.  That lack of understanding about what EAS is about is breeding mistrust, and that could lead people to ignore any occasion when their phones go off with an emergency message, whether it’s for an attack by the Soviet Union or a severe weather event.  That is a dangerous thing to happen, because that could cost lives.  I was reading these reactions, and I immediately started thinking, please, people, don’t put me in a position where I’m having to defend Donald Trump.  We all know my opinion about Donald Trump, and he is the last person that I want to defend.  But this test needs to be defended, because it’s not a political thing at all, and shouldn’t be mistaken for one.

What we saw was really no different than something that we’ve seen for decades: tests by broadcasters of the Emergency Broadcast System, and tests of the later Emergency Alert System.  The idea is to periodically test these systems to make sure that they work properly if and when they are needed.  These systems typically get activated over a localized area for severe weather.  The feature that was tested, a national alert, is nothing new.  The capacity for presidential alerts has been in place ever since CONELRAD, which was the original emergency alert system, introduced in 1951.  That system was designed only for national-scale emergency broadcasting, and not intended for local emergencies.  It was never used for a real national emergency, though a few false alarms did occur.  It was replaced by the Emergency Broadcast System, which is what many of us grew up with.  It lasted from 1963 to 1997, and was most commonly activated for local emergencies, such as severe weather.  Like CONELRAD, its national alerting capacity was never used for a real emergency – only a false alarm in 1971 caused by the issuing authority’s mistakenly running a live alert instead of the intended test alert.  Likewise, the EAS, in place since 1997, has never run a real national alert other than tests.

I consider it to be somewhat telling that on 9/11, perhaps the closest thing that we’ve had to a national emergency in a very long time, EAS was never activated.  I imagine that the reason was simple: the news media did a pretty good job that day in communicating all of the pertinent information, and thus there was no need for the government to cut them off and make its own broadcast over them.

Meanwhile, most troubling of all about this is that too many people think that everything about the government is politics.  It’s really not.  Yes, politics plays into things when it comes to policymaking, but when it comes to many functions of government, you’re dealing with career government employees who are not appointed by a political figure, and stay in their roles regardless of what party is in power.  They don’t care one way or the other about politics in an official capacity, and as such, come off as the ultimate neutral figure.  The meat inspectors at USDA are doing their jobs the same way regardless of who is in office.  Same goes for EAS, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  They’re all staffed by career employees who are only concerned about what the Congress or the White House are doing inasmuch as it affects how they perform their jobs.  I wouldn’t trust a political figure from either party as far as I could throw them, but you have to respect the career civil service employees for being experts in their fields.

My take on this test after seeing the fallout from it is that the terminology probably needs to be changed.  “Presidential alert” has got to go.  The reason is that it introduces the title of a political figure into the alert, and that in turn colors the public’s perception of the alert by connecting it to politics.  That’s especially so when you have a lunatic in the Oval Office like we do now.  After all, most of us wouldn’t trust a political figure from either party as far as we could throw them, and I certainly wouldn’t take advice from them.  And if people don’t trust the message, they won’t act on it, and that could cost lives.  I suggest replacing the term with “national alert” in order to keep the focus on emergency communications, i.e. you need to take action in order to not die, and keep the politics out of it.  After all, we’re almost three decades removed from the Cold War at this point.  The Soviet Union is not going to bomb us.  Needs and contexts have changed, and so changing it from “presidential alert” to “national alert” seems prudent in order to keep the focus where it belongs: on safety.

And when you hear your phone go off with the classic Emergency Broadcast System tone, please pay attention to it.  It could mean the difference between life and death.

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Bill Cosby goes to jail… https://www.schuminweb.com/2018/09/29/bill-cosby-goes-to-jail/ Sat, 29 Sep 2018 17:34:18 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=27691 Like everyone else did, I read about Bill Cosby’s being sentenced to 3-10 years in state prison for sexual assault, and his eating a pudding cup as part of his first meal as an inmate.  I also finally figured out the word to describe my own feelings about the whole Bill Cosby situation: disappointment.  I am not angry over Cosby’s conduct.  I am not sad about Cosby’s conduct.  But I am very disappointed over Cosby’s conduct.

After all, I was part of a generation of kids that practically grew up with Bill Cosby, and his very wholesome brand of education and entertainment.  His stand-up comedy was mostly about his family and his children.  We watched Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, where, in the opening, Cosby indicated that, “If you’re not careful, you may learn something before it’s done.”  We watched Picture Pages, where Cosby taught us about math and other subjects with friend Mortimer Ichabod Marker.  Cosby also had a long relationship with the folks on Sesame Street, making many appearances there.  We then watched The Cosby Show, which was a wholesome comedy about a successful family, and ensuring that the children were positioned for their own success.  The final episode was about a college graduation, after all, driving home that heavy emphasis on education.  He also released a book, Fatherhood, during this period.  And then Cosby was all over the commercials during this period as well, pitching Jell-O gelatin, Jell-O pudding, Kodak film (“No seal?  Who knows!”), and EF Hutton, among others.  All of those wholesome and family-oriented roles caused him to develop a public reputation as a father figure.  We all looked up to Bill Cosby, because he had made himself as someone worthy of looking up to, as a successful father of five, a strong proponent of education, and from all appearances, an all-around nice guy.

That Cosby, in the end, turned out to be a grade-A scumbag, is just disappointing, and felt like a punch to the gut.  “America’s Dad” turned out to be a dangerous sexual predator.  There’s a certain feeling of disappointment and betrayal that comes with it, discovering that a role model is anything but.  We all looked up to him, and then soon discovered that he was not worthy of our respect.  Watching his fall from grace is a sad reminder that people are not always who we think that they are, and that Cosby’s wholesome public image was merely a facade over an absolutely despicable person.  Cosby will likely be remembered not for the work that made him famous, but as the scumbag who drugged and sexually assaulted many women over several decades.  And that’s how he should be remembered, because that sort of conduct is inexcusable.  No more love for Cosby, as the real Cosby is a person that is not worthy of admiration and who lost everyone’s respect.  Sigh…

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