The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Sun, 19 Jan 2020 22:56:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Schumin Web 32 32 37838674 It’s been a month since the sleeve… Sun, 19 Jan 2020 19:05:04 +0000 It has been a little more than a month since I had the gastric sleeve surgery.  As of my one-month follow-up appointment with the doctor on January 7, I had lost 23 pounds since the surgery.  That is on top of the 16 pounds that I lost while I was on the pre-op liquid diet, for a total of 39 pounds lost in about six weeks.  Not bad.  I will get weighed next in the middle of February when I have my DOT physical, and so I’ll see how my weight loss is continuing at that time.

The time in the hospital was certainly an interesting experience, and my discussion of it in a previous Journal entry was a bit inadequate, since I was not quite feeling like myself again when I wrote it.  I’ve also learned a few things since then about what I experienced that I didn’t know at the time.  For one thing, I realized that the reason that I hurt all over was from the gas that they use with the laparoscopy.  As part of that process, they pump your abdomen full of carbon dioxide, and that stuff has to go somewhere once the surgery is over.  When everyone said “gas pains” about the surgery, I was expecting something more akin to bloating like when you eat something that doesn’t agree with you.  You know the kind where you go into the bathroom, you produce a little tiny Brazil nut-sized poop and then just fart a lot but feel better afterward?  That’s what I was expecting.  This was not that.  It turns out that the body has to absorb that gas, and it makes everything hurt, including things that had nothing to do with the surgery.  My upper back was sore.  My shoulders were sore.  My calves were sore, too.  It went away after a couple of days, but it definitely made for an unpleasant night at the hospital, since I was sore from that, and all of the stuff that they had attached to me made it difficult to move around in the bed.  Let’s just say that I was thankful to sleep in my own bed again the following night.  That pain from the gas was a lot more manageable when I was in familiar surroundings and not hooked up to a bunch of stuff.

You’ve also got to love the things that you say while you’re under the influence of the various things that they have you on in the hospital.  They gave me all kinds of anti-nausea meds, for one, but then when it was time to go into the operating room, they gave me some stuff through my IV that made me a bit loopy just before wheeling me in.  I got into the operating room, and I was thinking, oooooooooooh, look at the pretty lights as I studied all of the reflectors on them.  Then when they gave me the gas to put me out, all I could think of was that I wasn’t feeling sleepy.  Then the next thing that I remembered, it was done.  Later, as two nurses were wheeling me to my room on a stretcher, my hospital gown was apparently disheveled, because they asked me if my testicles were swollen.  I said, “No, I just have long nuts.”  I imagine that the nurses kind of died a little inside when I said that, but I suppose that such is what happens when the anesthesia is wearing off, because I certainly wouldn’t say that in real life.  But it made for a good laugh later on.

Then the recovery period was pretty good.  I gave myself an extra day of clear liquids before moving up to full liquids, because I didn’t feel confident about my ability to get enough plain water in me to move up to full liquids.  As it was, when I was at the hospital, right after the surgery, they gave me a tray full of gelatin, some kind of broth, and water, but I barely touched any of it.  Same thing again the next day.  I felt bad about wasting the broth, but if I could barely drink water, broth seemed too bold of a move.  Considering that a few hours after surgery, I threw up right after drinking water, I wasn’t going to chance it.  Also, because of the clear liquids that I was on for three days, along with the very little bit of residue that the pre-op diet produced, I didn’t poop for five days.  It was only after being back on full liquids for a few days that I finally did a poop again.  Along with actual liquids, I was also allowed to have yogurt and cottage cheese, because they dissolve in the stomach.

I also discovered what dumping syndrome was, as the stomach will reject something and just push it through.  I tried some ricotta cheese during this time, thinking that it would be like cottage cheese, but it went through me undigested.  I also accidentally consumed a protein shake too quickly, and that came out again in record time.  In either case, it was not a pleasant thing to have happen.

Two weeks out, I was given the clearance to move to soft foods.  That was a new challenge.  I had the liquid thing down pretty well, as I had consumed almost nothing but liquids for the month prior.  Now I had to actually get used to my new stomach, and see what it would and would not tolerate.  My stomach was still healing, and so I had to be careful.  The first thing that I tried was about the safest thing that I could think of: egg salad from Wegmans.  I got a scoop of it off of the salad bar, and had about half of it, and saved the rest for later.  So my first attempt at soft foods was a success.  I also gave scrambled eggs a spin, and they were also tolerated.

Christmas, however, was a challenge.  Elyse and I went to two Christmas events.  One was on Christmas Eve with Elyse’s father’s relatives, and the other was on Christmas Day with Elyse’s mother’s relatives.  I treaded carefully, and mostly succeeded.  On Christmas Eve, I had a little bit of turkey and some pulled pork.  Nobody can accuse me of not getting my protein in, I suppose.  I think that I ate slightly too much, but it stayed down, though I didn’t feel too hot after that.  Christmas Day, I had a little bit of deviled eggs, turkey, and ham.  I did better at that event, and we did other things after that, including some planespotting and some Christmas lights.  But when we got home, I had some leftover turkey that we had brought with us.  I made a small plate of it for myself, and tried to finish what I had put out.  I had one bite too many, and regretted it immediately.  Then I started feeling nauseous, and that leftover turkey came right back up.  I was kind of annoyed about that, but at least I could see that I did a great job chewing it up before swallowing, as I was taught in the classes with the dietitian (every class ended with a reminder of “chew, chew, chew, sip, sip, sip, walk, walk, walk”).  So that’s at least something, though there are a thousand and one things that I would rather do than to regurgitate what I just ate because I accidentally overdid it.

That said, one of the hardest things to get used to post-op was that just because it’s on your plate doesn’t mean that you have to eat it.  That whole “joining the clean plate club” thing goes right out the window, because it actually promotes overeating.  Once you feel full, stop.  I have gotten much better in determining what my limit is for a meal with my newly renovated stomach, but it still can be hit or miss.  I bought a set of six-ounce ramekins on Amazon about a week after surgery, and one of those is about the right size for a meal.  So I have a ramekin full of something, and I’m good to go.  But even then, sometimes I can’t finish.  It’s kind of funny how things work out, though.  Prior to surgery, Elyse would give me food to finish.  Now I give her food to finish.  We’ve also discussed sharing entrees when we go out, though we have not yet been to a place where that would be practical.  Lately, when we eat out, we have mostly gone to grocery stores with a food bar and an inside seating area, like Harris Teeter or Wegmans.  So I get a small scoop of something like egg, tuna, or chicken salad, and Elyse gets whatever she wants.  It certainly is cheaper now, as I can get dinner for two for under $20.  Figure that my own contribution is a few bucks, plus I don’t need to get a drink (you’re not supposed to eat and drink at the same time after bariatric surgery), and then Elyse does what Elyse does, and we’re good.  I can afford that.  I also like the way that the stomach restriction gives some structure to my eating.  I’ve always done well in structured situations, and this provides structure to eating, and I appreciate that.

Meanwhile, clothing has been interesting.  My uniform pants started to fit differently starting during the pre-op diet, and now, they are very loose.  My belt is presently the only thing standing between me and a wardrobe malfunction, as I’ve got that puppy cinched up tightly in order to keep my pants on.  I’m getting the pants altered later this week at the uniform shop, and I imagine that I will need to get further alterations done before I need to replace them (our uniform pants last around a year and some change before they wear out).  I also don’t need to wear a button extender on my collar anymore.  The collar now fits into itself just fine without strangling me.  In fact, I now have room to spare around the collar, which I always appreciate.  Additionally, my sweater vest now goes down lower than it did before.  That still has a lot of life left in it, though, so I don’t want to size it down right away (uniform stuff is not cheap).  I also had a recent occasion where I was cold all day while operating the train, which was an unusual thing for me.  I usually am warm enough in the train cab to where I can operate without a coat on, but on this particular occasion, I kept my coat zipped up and was praying to the Breda gods to give me more heat.  As far as regular clothes go, I’m down a size in jeans, and the size that I moved down to is starting to get a little loose.  Thankfully, I saved all of the pants that I had when I was last at a smaller size, and so I don’t have to buy anything there.  So as far as jeans go, once the belt becomes the only thing holding them up, I just have to dig up the next size.  At the time of surgery, I was wearing a 58, and now I’m in a 56.  Then I have 52, 48, and 44 on hand for when the time comes, hopefully sooner rather than later.

I’m also looking at joining a gym again.  Planet Fitness is still garbage, and I didn’t like the sort of exercise that I was doing there.  I have determined that I want to get back into the pool and swim again, and so I’m using that to guide my plans.  I checked out 24 Hour Fitness, which has locations near where I work.  However, one of the locations isn’t actually 24 hours, closing from midnight to 5 AM, meaning that I wouldn’t have enough time after work to get a workout in before they closed.  And in both cases, the pool was not open all night, closing before I would be able to get in there.  So that was disappointing, because they seemed like a pretty good facility otherwise.  The place seemed well-equipped, and there was none of that judgment-free nonsense that Planet Fitness hawked.  If the pool hours were right, I would probably go there.  The Montgomery County facilities are out, because they’re all relatively far from my house, and the hours don’t line up very well with my work schedule.  The problem with the MoCo pools is that they give priority to other programming, and lap swimmers are at the bottom of the totem pole, down where the dog lifts its leg.  That scheduling issue, coupled with the distance factor, is a deal breaker.  I still have to check out LA Fitness, and I have high hopes for them, though they’re not open overnight.  They have two locations in Gaithersburg, which isn’t the end of the world, as well as a location in Aspen Hill and Wheaton.  I would have to finagle my schedule a little bit to do them before work, but we’ll see, because I still haven’t seen any facilities.  After all, if the gym turns out to be nowhere I want to go, it doesn’t matter what the hours are, as we discovered with Planet Fitness.  So we’ll see there.

So all in all, I suppose that I’m doing pretty well, and hope to continue that success throughout the year.

The sounds of Metro… Sat, 18 Jan 2020 15:37:18 +0000 Back on July 8, 2007, my friend Matthew and I went on a railfan adventure with a different purpose than we would usually do.  Normally, a railfan adventure involved lots of photos and videos.  This time, instead of a camera, we brought a laptop and a microphone.  The goal was to get some audio recordings of the trains from the interior, for use in BVE, which is a train simulator program for Windows.  We worked from the double-ended seats, which were located more or less directly over the wheel trucks and traction motors.  I worked the laptop while wearing headphones, while Matthew held up the mic.  I’ve never been a big train simulator enthusiast (I prefer watching the real thing vs. operating a simulator), so I don’t know if these recordings ever got used in any of the final versions of these trains, but I loved doing the field work for these sorts of community-built projects.  I also did a set of Red Line announcements for the simulator.  As I know, there has never been a commercially available train simulator for the DC Metro, so for that, I enjoyed contributing in a small way to what was the only WMATA train simulator out there.

Our adventure that day took us on the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines, and we got recordings of cars 3273 (Breda original), 3185 (Breda rehab), 5028 (CAF), and 1130 (Rohr).

Original Breda car 3273 from Forest Glen to Silver Spring

Original Breda car 3273 from Takoma to Fort Totten

Original Breda car 3273 from Brookland-CUA to Rhode Island Avenue

Original Breda car 3273 from Union Station to Gallery Place-Chinatown

Original Breda car 3273 from Farragut North to Woodley Park-Zoo

Original Breda car 3273 from Cleveland Park to Tenleytown-AU

Rehabilitated Breda car 3185 from Van Ness-UDC to Cleveland Park

Rehabilitated Breda car 3185 from Woodley Park-Zoo to Farragut North

CAF car 5028 from McPherson Square to Foggy Bottom-GWU

CAF car 5028 from Rosslyn to Court House

CAF car 5028 from Clarendon to Virginia Square-GMU

Rohr car 1130 from Judiciary Square to Union Station

Rohr car 1130 from New York Avenue (now NoMa-Gallaudet University) to Rhode Island Avenue

Rohr car 1130 from Brookland-CUA to Fort Totten

Rohr car 1130 from Takoma to Silver Spring

Looking back in 2020, these recordings are a real blast from the past, since a lot of these sounds can’t be heard on Metro anymore.  The Rohr cars have been gone for almost three years at this point.  Likewise, the CAF cars were retired in 2018.  And the Breda cars’ rehabilitation was finished nearly twelve years ago, meaning that, combined with the 4000-Series’ retirement in 2017, the sound of the old DC chopper motors is now extinct on Metro (but Baltimore still has them for now).  Meanwhile, here’s something to think about as far as how much time has passed since these videos were made: that kid that you hear making noise on some of the Rohr videos is now in middle school.

All in all, this was a fun adventure.  Good memories.

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My second experiment with facial hair… Sun, 05 Jan 2020 13:53:42 +0000 Friday, January 3 concluded my second experiment in growing facial hair.  You may recall my first in October 2009, when I let my whiskers grow during a two-week vacation (16 days’ total growth), and then shaved it off at the end.  This time around, Elyse and I made a deal that I wouldn’t shave while I was at home recovering from my recent surgery, with the day of surgery’s being my last shave.  The agreement was that I wouldn’t shave again until either I couldn’t stand it anymore, or I went back to work, whichever came first.  As it turned out, I was able to go with it for the full period that I was out, which meant that I had 29 days’ worth of facial hair by the time that I shaved.  This is what a month’s worth of facial hair growth looks like on me:

The final beard, after 29 days of growth

The final beard, after 29 days of growth

The final beard, after 29 days of growth

The final beard, after 29 days of growth

Then Elyse got some photos of me sporting the beard while we were out planespotting at BWI on the 31st:

I suppose that if I were to describe my beard in a word, I would say “neckbeard”.  The sides come in pretty decently, and there’s a decent mustache that is a distinctly different shape than Dad’s mustache but doesn’t connect, but then there’s a lot of clear space on the front of my chin and around my mouth.  My neck, meanwhile, has lots of hair, which goes all the way down to the base of my neck.

When I went to shave it, Elyse wanted me to leave the mustache for some photos before finishing the shave.  Here’s what that looked like:

It’s an interesting look, but totally not me.  I thought it looked kind of early 1900s, and so I added my hat to see what I thought:

In any case, I sported this look for all of about ten minutes.  I think that if I wanted to, I could totally grow that out and make an Edwardian-style mustache out of that.  But I don’t, so… yeah.

And then I shaved that off, too:

Clean-shaven and smiling

I was happy to have my normal look back, despite many people’s suggestions on Facebook to keep the beard for a while longer (after a little prompting from Elyse).  Thing about it is that beards itch, plus I kept seeing the mustache in the corner of my eye and thinking that I had something on my nose.  That happened multiple times a day once it got some thickness, and that was annoying.

Meanwhile, in looking back at the way I shaved it, getting rid of the beard and then the mustache afterward, I’m reminded of what my mother has said many times about facial hair.  She says, if she could grow facial hair, “I would grow a beard, and then shave it off.  I would grow a mustache, and then shave it off.  I would grow long sideburns, and then shave them off.”  And then what did I do?  I had the beard, and then shaved it off.  I had the mustache, and then shaved it off.  I suppose that I am my parents’ child.

In any case, I suppose that this was a fun experiment, but I like the clean-shaven look.  Perhaps I’ll try this again one day, though I imagine that it won’t be any time soon.

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Christmas in Baltimore… Sun, 29 Dec 2019 13:35:31 +0000 So Christmas was pretty fun this year.  On Christmas Eve, we had dinner with some of Elyse’s father’s relatives, and then on Christmas Day, we got together with some of Elyse’s mother’s relatives.  This was my first holiday with my new, smaller stomach, and so I was still getting used to its new capacity, figuring out how much I should take, what will be tolerated, and so on.  I believe that I overdid it by a tad on Christmas Eve, likely by eating foods that I wasn’t ready for yet, but I more or less nailed it on Christmas.  When you have a gastric sleeve like I did, you have to chew everything really well, and also not drink and eat at the same time.  Generally speaking, you have to give your stomach time to process the food that it just took in before resuming liquid intake.  Also, if you put too much in at once, it will get rejected, either by getting sent through to the intestines, or it’s coming back up.  But anyway…

After dinner on Christmas, Elyse and I went planespotting near BWI.  We had discusssed doing this for some time, even before our planespotting adventure at National, and on this particular occasion, it just worked out.  We were already in the Glen Burnie area, I had my real camera with me, and we had about an hour or so of daylight to play with.  The location where you typically planespot for BWI is actually specially designated for that purpose: the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.  It’s a very nice area that’s operated by Anne Arundel County, with a walking trail, playground equipment for the kids, and plenty of space to watch planes take off and land.  On this particular day, planes were landing over the park, and so I got some landing photos.  When it comes to planespotting at BWI, it can, for the most part, be summed up in one word: Southwest.  BWI is a focus city for Southwest, and as such, sees more Southwest traffic than anything else, and that also means a lot of Boeing 737s.

So here’s some of what I got:

N443WN, in the new Southwest livery.
N443WN, in the new Southwest livery.

N263WN, in the old Southwest livery.
N263WN, in the old Southwest livery.

N7745A, seconds away from landing.
N7745A, seconds away from landing.

N922VA, an Airbus A321-253N for Alaska Airlines.
N922VA, an Airbus A321-253N for Alaska Airlines.

N649AW, an Airbus A320-232 for American Airlines.  This airliner wore liveries for America West and US Airways prior to becoming part of American.
N649AW, an Airbus A320-232 for American Airlines.  This airliner wore liveries for America West and US Airways prior to becoming part of American.

N258JB, an Embraer 190AR for JetBlue.
N258JB, an Embraer 190AR for JetBlue.

An Air Canada propeller plane that I caught with my phone because I had already put the camera away.  Unfortunately, I can't make out the tail number on this one.
An Air Canada propeller plane that I caught with my phone because I had already put the camera away.  Unfortunately, I can’t make out the tail number on this one.

And in between those non-Southwest arrivals, I got a bunch of Southwest flights.  So all in all, I didn’t have a bad time, though I would love to come back here a little earlier in the day, and when I have clearer skies.

After this, we headed into Baltimore, in order to go to the “Miracle on 34th Street” Christmas light display.  This is a display that occurs on the 700 block of 34th Street in Baltimore, and is very much a neighborhood effort that has become something of a tradition (in other words, if you move in on this block, you are more or less expected to decorate).  The lighting displays were pretty good, with some more elaborate than others.  Take a look:

Not bad, if you ask me.  It definitely seems worth a look in future years, because a Christmas display is never the same two years in a row.

After this, we headed over to Ellicott City to see the lighting display on Red Hill Way.  I’ve discussed this guy’s lights in this space before, and he certainly does “DREAM BIG” when it comes to his display:

And of course, on the neighbors’ lawn:

And here’s the display in action:

All in all, I think that we had a fun day.

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Remembering Snowpocalypse… Fri, 20 Dec 2019 04:40:09 +0000 This weekend marks ten years since the “Snowpocalypse” storm came to the Washington region and blanketed the area with a couple of feet of snow.  It was my first big snowstorm living in the Washington DC area, and it gave me my first snow day since college.  While I was stuck at home, I photographed the snow quite a bit.  After all, what else was I going to do while I was snowed in?

Snow coming down on Hewitt Avenue, seen from my apartment balcony, about four hours after the storm began.
Snow coming down on Hewitt Avenue, seen from my apartment balcony, about four hours after the storm began.

The next afternoon, snow has blanketed Hewitt Gardens Apartments.  We had more than a foot of snow at this point.
The next afternoon, snow has blanketed Hewitt Gardens Apartments.  We had more than a foot of snow at this point.

My car at the time, a Mercury Sable, covered with snow.
My car at the time, a Mercury Sable, covered with snow.

My apartment balcony, with an accumulation of snow on it.  I shoveled that clean myself.
My apartment balcony, with an accumulation of snow on it.  I shoveled that clean myself.

The vacant lot next to my building, after the snow had stopped, and the clouds had begun to clear.
The vacant lot next to my building, after the snow had stopped, and the clouds had begun to clear.

Cars completely buried in snow in front of my building.  The cars right next to the building got the most snow out of all of them for some reason.
Cars completely buried in snow in front of my building.  The cars right next to the building got the most snow out of all of them for some reason.

Cars parked along the side spaces, with a significant amount of snow accumulation, though nowhere near as much as the cars alongside the building got.
Cars parked along the side spaces, with a significant amount of snow accumulation, though nowhere near as much as the cars alongside the building got.

The parking lot at Hewitt Gardens Apartments after the snow stopped.
The parking lot at Hewitt Gardens Apartments after the snow stopped.

Final snow accumulation on my car.
Final snow accumulation on my car.

One of my neighbors clears a huge chunk of snow off of the trunk of his car.
One of my neighbors clears a huge chunk of snow off of the trunk of his car.

The Sable, after I cleared the topsides of it of snow.  I still had to dig myself a way to get out, though.

The Sable, after I cleared the topsides of it of snow.  I still had to dig myself a way to get out, though.
The Sable, after I cleared the topsides of it of snow.  I still had to dig myself a way to get out, though.

All in all, this was a fun snowstorm.  This was my first major snowstorm since I moved out of my parents’ house, and I think that I got through it pretty well, learning a lot about what happens during these sorts of major snowstorms, and how to deal with them.  I also learned that a snow day as an adult is just as fun as having a snow day as a kid – maybe even more fun.  We would repeat the experience less than two months later with two big back-to-back snowstorms in February 2010, but for that, I knew what to expect, having been through this one.

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I have been sleeved… Sun, 08 Dec 2019 00:50:20 +0000 So it’s a done deal.  I received a sleeve gastrectomy on December 6 at Montgomery General Hospital.  Here I am the following morning:

Selfie at the hospital

The process at the hospital was pretty straightforward.  I got there, I got checked in, and then went into the prep room.  First I got changed into the gown that you see in the selfie.  Then I got weighed.  I was surprised to find out that I had lost 17 pounds on the pre-op liquid diet that they had me on twelve days prior to surgery.  I figured that I had lost a little weight, as my clothes had started to fit a tad differently, but 17 pounds off was beyond my wildest expectation.  After this, they put me on a stretcher, and started an IV.  I was a surprisingly hard stick this time, as it took four tries to get a vein, and they all hurt like hell.  They explained that because I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink due to the surgery, my veins didn’t present as well as they normally would.  This is what it all looked like when they got it hooked up:

Hooked into the IV

Then I met with the anesthesiologist, the surgeon, and other various personnel.  Then it was time to go to the operating room.  They started out by giving me some drugs intraveneously, moved me to the operating table, gave me the anesthetic gas, and then I was out like a light.  I awoke in the recovery room, where they told me that the surgery was done, and that it had gone very well.  Good.  Of course, now I had to get used to having a much smaller stomach that needed to heal.  Not long after I woke up, I threw up, producing a brownish, watery fluid, which I was told was normal following this sort of surgery.  They also said that some gas was to be expected, as that a byproduct of the way that the laparoscopic surgery worked.  So burping and farting was good, as it was expelling that gas.

One of the big things about the healing process with this surgery is walking.  The doctor said to walk a lot, and we did, going from my room, 418, to the other end of the floor and back.  Here’s a photo that Elyse got of one of my walks:

Taking a walk down the hospital corridor

The biggest challenge was in getting enough fluids and keeping them down.  The hospital provided little communion-sized cups for drinking water out of as a reminder to sip liquids.  I did one of those cups in one go, and threw up again a minute or so later.  Clearly, my stomach was not yet ready to take that much water on at once.  Duly noted.  So I took very tiny sips of water, and that stayed down.

The overnight stay was one of the worst sleeps that I’d had in quite some time.  I had a bit of upper back pain from the way that they had me placed for the surgery, and that prevented me from getting a good night’s rest.  That, coupled with the soreness from the recent operation and all of the various tubing that they had on me made for an uncomfortable night.  I also didn’t have my watch, so when I did wake up a few times in the middle of the night, I had no idea how long I had slept for, or how much more time I had to sleep.  I ended up getting up at 6 AM, which was quite early for me.

Shortly after getting up, I tried some water, and threw up again.  Lovely.  After that, they got me ready for discharge, removing the IV and such, and I got changed back into regular clothes.  Elyse’s mother took us home.  One of my instructions upon discharge was to make sure that I walked up and down stairs at least three times a day.  My exact response was, “Not a problem.  I live in a townhouse.”  And since getting home, I think I’ve already met that requirement just going up and down between the living room and upstairs, and up and down from the mezzanine.  I’m confident, due to the layout of my house, that I will get a lot more stairs in before it’s over.

Meanwhile, I’m off of work for the next four weeks while I recover.  That will be good for me, giving me time to heal up, plus it gives me a bit of a break from the usual routine while I heal.

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This should have happened a long time ago… Mon, 25 Nov 2019 13:35:39 +0000 Recently, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, and there was someone that I didn’t know in my “People You May Know” list who had an emblem for an organization called “Food & Water Workers Union” on their profile photo.  This piqued my interest, because as you may know, I used to work for an organization called Food & Water Watch.  The similarity in the name made me wonder if it was related, so I looked it up.  I figured that it was some branding that my former employer was using for a campaign of some sort on the environmental issue du jour.  Imagine my surprise to find out that it was for a recently-formed Food & Water Watch employee union, part of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union.  At the time of this writing, they had voted to unionize, and, according to a tweet, were negotiating over which positions will be represented by the union.  I have to say that I’m proud of them for organizing, but I’m also surprised that it took them this long to get to this point.  Their becoming a union shop really should have happened a long time ago.

I don’t know what prompted people to organize, but I can only imagine that people finally got fed up with the culture that I left for greener pastures back in 2013.  Back then, there was rampant favoritism, little to no room for advancement, no respect for different people’s roles in the organization, and no respect for procedure.  There was also the backdoor way that my former boss, Lane Brooks, liked to use to get rid of people, including the finance manager and myself, by creating a new position specifically written to be outside of the targeted employee’s qualifications, and then advertising it out, effectively demoting the employee.  If that by itself didn’t make them leave, he would then put the screws on the employee until they quit.  And if that didn’t work, he made more overt moves to fire them.  After the targeted employee left, the new position was abandoned, having served its purpose in ousting the targeted employee.

In addition, I remember feeling quite resentful of what they did to our health insurance benefits at the end of 2012, downgrading us from a Blue Cross PPO to a plan called “HealthyBlue”, which was an HMO plan that also required taking some online surveys about our health and speaking with an insurance company representative over the phone about our health in order to receive the full benefits of the plan.  “Yes, take away my PPO that is very easy to use for something that requires a lot of unnecessary doctor visits due to referral requirements, and requires that I speak with a stranger over the phone about my lifestyle in order to get all of my benefits,” said no employee ever.  I don’t care that you saved the organization $100,000 by downgrading our health insurance.  I thought that we were worth the extra 100 grand to have excellent health insurance, but apparently they didn’t.  Touting a “generous” benefit package in job advertisements didn’t mean much when they could cut them back at any time.  However, considering that we had no employee contribution to the premium, I, along with others, I’m sure, felt at the time that we would be out of place to complain about it, because we had no direct financial stake in our insurance benefits.  It reminds me of the expression, “United, we bargain.  Divided, we beg.”

About a year and a half after I left the organization, I wrote this about the organization on Glassdoor:

The organization has a major problem with favoritism.  Basically, if you work in the organizing or development departments, you are on top of the heap, and everything that you say is law.  If you are outside of those areas, it is made quite clear by the actions of others that your roles are inferior to those of organizing and development.  Those two areas also got the bulk of the training and professional development, while others were given little, if any.  I found that this created a culture of resentment amongst the “non-favored” employees, which poisoned the well in terms of interdepartmental relationships.  Organizing and development staff would continually deny this, while happily reaping the benefits of their favored status.

Likewise, unless one is in the organizing or development departments, the likelihood of professional advancement is slim to none.  While development and organizing staff are routinely promoted to ever increasing titles and roles, other staff rarely ever gets a raise beyond the annual raise that applies to everyone, and no promotions.  In other words, if you were hired in as a researcher or other non-organizing/non-development position, that’s likely all you are ever going to be there, and the only way to get professional advancement is to leave.  In addition, the line between which employees get their own office and which staff has shared offices is not clearly drawn, resulting in two people who have identical roles in different areas’ having very different office arrangements.

Additionally, the organization is quite unwilling to give up the “small nonprofit” mindset, and continually wants to operate in that way, to its own detriment.  Despite having grown from 10 or so people to well over 100 now, the organization still wants to act as though it’s the small size.  Any attempts to introduce structure to the processes of the organization would be routinely ignored by the organizing staff (the largest department), and would subsequently be tossed by the wayside.  This should come as no surprise to anyone, as the organization was formed when a group of renegade employees at another organization split off to form their own organization because they didn’t like the structure and process that the parent organization operated with.  However, as the organization has grown, the lack of structure hindered productivity because there were no formal channels in order for things to be processed in an orderly manner.  The attitude is very “anti-corporate”, which leads to much inefficiency as they refuse to adopt any processes, policies, or procedures that will make them look “too corporate”, despite such processes’ working well.

I think my review was pretty fair.  Then this was another review written by someone else during the time that I worked there:

If you’re not working as an organizer you’re not considered as important (organizers rule the roost), there is little room for career advancement internally (promotions/raises not given much, if ever), some staff can be demanding of other staff, although staff are usually nice.  Sometimes things can become disorderly/chaotic because there are staff working on the ground all over the place.

PROMOTE INTERNALLY to avoid losing top talent!  Promote at all levels of the organization – do not just promote organizers, it is bad for morale for everyone else.  Keep up the good work otherwise!

Looking at more recent Glassdoor reviews, the environment sounds like it got even worse than when I left it.  Here is some of what I found:

The toxic environment internally makes it a terrible place to work.  Most staff is significantly underpaid.  Notoriously sexist, racist, toxic employees not fired and many women and POC constantly leave because of this.  Terrible culture of backstabbing, passive aggressiveness, bullying, gaslighting.  Morale is non-existent.  No attention is paid to professional development.  Massive mission creep.

Executive director needs to retire.  Stop hiring completely unqualified friends of executive director into senior positions.  Fire the notorious offenders.

There is no real mission, no real values, no long term plans.  There is no pay transparency and many people are underpaid.  Some people in management are overtly racist and sexist and absuive and there have been no real steps to change this – people of color, young people and women leave instead of the perpetrators.  A toxic work environment where you are guilted into working long hours.  They are open to feedback, but will do nothing with the information they get (and sometimes even ask you to delete the files containing your feedback).

[Executive Director] is visionary in terms of campaign strategy.  However, she is also a terrible manager of people.  Morale is low.

The opinions of senior management are the only ones that matter, and they aren’t responsive to the ideas or concerns of staff, which are taken as criticism.  This made the culture increasingly toxic.  Senior management micro-manages every project because junior and mid-level staff are not trusted.  Low morale among staff.

Let’s admit: the management was terrible.  The executive director, Wenonah Hauter, was a strong public figurehead for the organization, but was a horrible manager.  I’d dare say that she couldn’t manage her way out of a wet paper bag, much to the organization’s detriment.  If they had separated Hauter’s roles as figurehead and manager into separate positions, the organization would have been better off, with Hauter going off promoting the organization and writing books, while a strong manager oversees the actual operations of the organization.  The head of my department, Lane Brooks, turned scapegoating into an art form, throwing his employees under the proverbial bus in order to save his own hide, using us as cover for his own shortcomings as a manager.  He was a fine example of the Peter principle, i.e. someone who had risen to their level of incompetence. Then the organizing department’s management clearly would have preferred to have been on their own, as they preferred to bypass everyone else and run their department like its own company rather than as part of a larger organization, duplicating functionality provided by other areas of the organization in order to keep it all within their chain of command rather than rely on people from other departments that they didn’t directly control.  Likewise, promotions were relatively uncommon.  One thing that I noticed was that when a new position needed to be filled or a position opened up, it was generally assumed that it would be filled from outside.  It felt like an internal hire only happened when they tried and failed to fill the role from outside, and they settled for someone who was already on staff because they couldn’t find anyone else.  The money, at least as far as I was concerned, was also not great, and I came to realize that I would never be able to meet certain financial goals as long as I was employed there.

I suppose that for all of the nonsense, it’s no wonder why Food & Water Watch, at least when I was there, was generally a place where people worked to get some experience in order to get a better job, or to be able to put work experience in Washington DC on the resume before returning home.  Why try to put out that dumpster fire when you can leave and get better pay and working conditions elsewhere.  You can’t blame anyone for following the path of least resistance.  At the time that I left, with a tenure of six years, I was one of the longest-serving employees in the organization.  Many positions turned over on a relatively frequent basis.

I have to say that I’m proud of my former colleagues for organizing.  I know that they will benefit from this, just like I have by being a member of ATU Local 689.  No longer will Food & Water Watch management be able to unilaterally cut benefits.  No longer will they be able to push people out of the organization like happened to the finance manager and myself.  I imagine that in a union environment, my demotion and the changing of my working conditions (constructive discharge) would never have happened, or at least not been permitted to stand after the filing of a grievance.  I also would think that a union would have protected my position before it ever came to that, rather than what did happen, where it was slowly whittled away to nothing as the organization grew and hired people on in more specialized roles.

This unionization also shows how committed these folks are to the organization.  By unionizing, it says that they are in it for the long haul.  They are a vital part of the organization, and have as much of a stake in the organization’s success as the management and other stakeholders, and as such, deserve a seat at the table.  Making Food & Water Watch into a place where people want to stay rather than getting some experience and then bouncing would benefit them in the long run.  You have longer institutional memory, and the expertise that you develop has a better chance of staying in the organization rather than going to benefit someone else.  Where I work now, most people will spend a career there and then retire after decades of service.  They know the organization very well, warts and all.  Additionally, because of that, it behooves everyone not to make enemies at work, specifically because these people will be your coworkers for decades.  If more people at Food & Water Watch end up staying for a career, I imagine that it will become a much less hostile environment than what I experienced, and the culture of backstabbing and bullying will fade away, because they’re in it for a career, and not just there to get some experience while looking for something better.

All in all, I wish everyone involved in the new Food & Water Workers Union the best of luck in negotiating a good contract.  While no amount of money would ever make me consider going back to Food & Water Watch, I really do want to see the union succeed.

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Excited, nervous, and so many other feelings… Sun, 17 Nov 2019 14:56:55 +0000 This coming December 6, I will be going in for surgery at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney, where I will be having a sleeve gastrectomy procedure, commonly known as a gastric sleeve.  This is a surgery that will help with weight management.  This is done laparoscopically, and it removes a portion of the stomach, leaving a much smaller stomach behind that’s roughly the size of a banana.  This one only reduces the size of the stomach, and preserves the original path of the digestive tract.  Compare to the older Roux-en-Y procedure, which separates the stomach into two sections, and reroutes the digestive tract.

I am doing this because I have been heavy for most of my life (I haven’t seen the underside of 200 since eighth grade), and diet and exercise alone haven’t gotten me nearly as far as I needed to be.  Sure, I looked far better at 275 than I did at 384, but it was still too much weight to carry, and I still had weight-related health issues at the lower weight.  Over the course of the past year, I have attended classes with a dietitian, had various evaluations and tests done (the endoscopy that I wrote about last April was part of that), and after all of that, the insurance gave the surgery their blessing.

I have to say that I have a bunch of different feelings running through me about this.  On one hand, I know that this is a necessary step.  My primary care doctor first suggested it to me about a year ago, and then I unexpectedly got a second opinion within a month or so from a specialist that I was seeing when they suggested it as well.  As far as I was concerned, that was a pretty strong indicator about what I needed to do, when two out of two doctors, in their professional opinion, suggested it, completely unsolicited.  I also feel like I’m ready for it.  I know what I’m supposed to do to prepare for the surgery, I know what I’m supposed to do immediately after surgery, and I know what I’m doing during the healing process and thereafter on the maintenance diet.  At the end of every dietitian class, they told us “Chew, chew, chew, sip, sip, sip, and walk, walk, walk.”  I’ve also stocked up on my multivitamins and my calcium citrate, as gastric sleeve patients will take multivitamins and calcium supplements for life.  This also has the potential to get me off of some of the medications that I’m on as well as the CPAP (for sleep apnea).  That latter point is exciting, because while I’m used to the CPAP, it’s still a bother, and I would be more than happy to be rid of the device that I’ve described as “the most expensive fan that I’ve ever owned”.  I’ve also spoken with colleagues who have had the same surgery, and they have generally had good experiences, which leaves me feeling optimistic.  After all, if they can succeed with this while doing very sedentary work, then so can I.

I’m also tired of being this heavy.  I was at my lowest in a very long time for about a year in 2012-2013.  Then after I left my nonprofit job, the scale started moving upward again, as I was put off of my routine.  I was able to slow it and even slightly reverse it for a brief period, but ultimately, I ended up back at my original weight.  Let’s admit: even though I love what I do now, working in public transportation is not exactly conducive to physical activity.  I’m not strapped in a seat all day, as was the case when I was driving a bus, but you’re still sitting down all day.  Some days, I would just love to operate the train standing up, but it’s not possible with the design of the trains.  Most of my exercise is the walking that comes with the job, i.e. going from the rail yard to the station and back (not an insignificant distance), and reversing ends on the train platform.

I’m also a bit nervous.  This is not a minor procedure like getting a toenail removed or something.  This is the removal of about three quarters of the stomach.  If that doesn’t give you some pause, I don’t know what will.  I wonder how much it will hurt, and how well I’ll be able to take it.  I never was big on taking pain medication with past surgeries, such as the wisdom teeth in 1995 or the pilonidal cyst in 2005, so hopefully I won’t need to take any pain meds for this.  I’m most concerned that the work zone is in such a central location in my body.  While I’m not concerned about all of the walking that I will be expected to do during the recovery process, I am concerned about how long I will be out of the car.  I would love to do said walking while doing other things, like photo walks and such, but I don’t want to be a risk to myself and others on the road by driving before I’m ready.  In other words, I don’t want to be stuck at or near home for longer than necessary, but I also don’t want to rush things just to get out in the world.  Staying at home for the duration of the recovery is out of the question, because my surgeon has already told me that I need to stay active during the recovery process, and not have someone taking care of me (in other words, my mother will remain in Stuarts Draft).  Meanwhile, I’m also concerned about how my body will react to things with this new configuration.  I had two episodes of food poisoning in the last few months, and in the more severe of the two, I threw up so hard that my stomach muscles were sore.  That was a new feeling (how often do those muscles work so hard that they get sore?), but it raised some concerns for me about how things would go the next time that I got sick.

The big sticking point with this whole surgery, meanwhile, has been Elyse.  She is worried that she will lose her freedom during the time that I’m recovering, because I’m the only driver in the house, along with other concerns.  Overall, she doesn’t feel supported throughout the whole process, despite my best efforts to make sure that she’s well informed about the whole process.  I want her to be involved in this.  She has been to every appointment and every class with me by her own choice, and asked questions, too, but the whole process still stresses her out greatly.  I don’t know what to do, because I’ve offered every bit of help and other resources that I can come up with, including the MedStar bariatric group, and /r/gastricsleeve on Reddit, but she still finds it extremely stressful.  If it tells you anything, she doesn’t even want me to talk about it to other people in her presence.  I have a feeling that when it comes to Elyse, she’s just going to have to plow through it and come out on the other side.  Yes, the process may be stressful (and even with my being mentally prepared for it, it’s still undoubtedly going to be a challenge), but once we come out on the back side of it, it’s going to be okay, and there will be normalcy again.  Like Mrs. Pennypacker said in the Today’s Special episode “Hospitals“, everything will be fine.

Meanwhile, this is my last week eating solid food for about a month.  I start the pre-op liquid diet on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, go to clear liquids only during my hospital stay (expected to be just overnight), back to a liquid diet for two more weeks, then transition to soft foods for another two weeks or so, and then a month after the surgery, move to the maintenance diet, which is lifelong.

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Such an isolating feeling… Thu, 07 Nov 2019 16:24:37 +0000 Let me be the first to say that I am glad that the baseball season is finally over.  For those not familiar, the Major League Baseball team that is based in Washington, the Nationals, made it to the World Series, and ultimately managed to prevail, with the franchise’s winning the first World Series title in its history, both as the Nationals, as well as the Expos before that.

I don’t know how you’re “supposed to” feel about when the team that’s based in your city is in the championship round, but I felt a bit alienated.  I don’t pay much attention to professional sports, other than what I pick up at work (let’s just say that I am well aware of the RedskinsCowboys rivalry).  It just doesn’t interest me.  When everyone around me was celebrating the team’s making the World Series and then winning it, I felt bad because I couldn’t muster up the joy myself.  It made me feel very isolated, with everyone around me wrapped up in baseball fever, and my feeling incapable of sharing in the hubris.

It really came to the forefront for me when we were all given World Series hats at work, and encouraged, though not required, to wear in place of our our standard uniform hats if we so desired.  I was asked to put it on to verify that it fit when it was given to me.  It really brought that feeling of emptiness that I felt for professional sports to a head, and that made me feel guilty because I felt nothing over the success of the local professional team while everyone around me was overjoyed.  I never did wear the hat beyond the fit test, and after the period that it was authorized for wear expired, I gave it to Elyse.  I didn’t want it, but it made her happy.  So that’s a win, I suppose.  I also suppose that the hat was a moot point to begin with, considering that I haven’t worn a hat to work in more than a year.

I don’t know what you would call this feeling of loneliness when it comes to all of this.  I wonder if it stems from my being more than a little jaded when it comes to professional sports.  I’ve read enough about the history of various sports teams and such to know that these teams are interested in making huge profits over all else.  A team might be in Washington today, but if another city makes them a better deal then… “Bye, Felicia,” as the saying goes.  You know how sports teams love corporate welfare.  DC almost lost the then-Expos because they weren’t necessarily willing to give the team all of the corporate welfare that it asked for.  The DC council eventually relented, and gave them everything that they wanted.  I just think about how many roads that they could have resurfaced with that money if they had made baseball pay their own way.  In any case, DC should know all about team relocations, because no fewer than three of the Washington DC professional teams were relocations from other cities.  The Wizards came from Chicago via Baltimore, the Redskins came from Boston, and the Nationals came from Montreal.  Plus let us not forget that Washington’s two previous baseball teams left for greener pastures, becoming the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers, respectively.  In other words, there is no loyalty to Washington in sports by the teams, especially if another city offers a better deal.  This isn’t unique to Washington, nor is it limited to franchises.  Players also will swap teams if they get a better deal somewhere else.  Case in point: Bryce Harper, who left the Nationals after the 2018 season and joined the Phillies.

This lack of loyalty on the part of the teams and players is also why I find the idea of people’s taking their sports so seriously to be so strange.  People devote so much effort and money to loyalty to “their” team, going so far as to refer to a win by said team by saying that “we” won, rather than saying, more accurately, that “they”, as in an entity other than themselves, won.  I hate to be the wet blanket and tell people that they have nothing to do with the team’s performance, so I just cringe silently whenever I hear it.  Sports fans’ role is just to keep the team profitable by buying tickets to games, and to buy lots and lots of merchandise.  It reminds me of a “Buy Me That!” special on HBO from the nineties, where the host was talking about fan clubs for various entities.  There, the host spoke about all of the crap that one would have to buy to be part of the “fan club”, and how it doesn’t really get you anything special, leaving you feeling a bit empty in the end.  The same thing goes for professional sports.  People buy into and give their loyalty to an organization that does not reciprocate.

Likewise, I’ve seen too many people conflate an athletic team with the entity that hosts it.  That starts early, with even elementary schools’ having mascots despite having no team.  We were the Grimes Grizzlies in elementary school, for no good reason.  I was delighted that we had no mascot in middle school.  That happened because at that time, students from my middle school went to two different high schools, each with their own mascots, and therefore one could not get behind either one officially.  Their mascot was technically a lion, but it had been largely dropped during the time I was a student there.  And then my high school was all about being the Cougars, with the mascot painted all over the place, and it was made pretty clear through various actions that school pride meant supporting the athletic program.  College was similar, that school pride meant “Dukes”, and intertwining the athletic mascot with the institution itself pretty thoroughly.  It’s not surprising with that sort of upbringing that people conflate their professional sports teams with their city, and really buy into it.

In the end, I suppose that we need to recognize our professional sports teams for what they are, i.e. businesses providing entertainment, and not take them so seriously.

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What to do with Columbus Day… Tue, 29 Oct 2019 14:25:07 +0000 As the Columbus Day holiday rolled around again this year, we got the usual rounds of people who called the day “Indigenous People’s Day” and denounced Christopher Columbus.  This year, the District of Columbia passed short-term legislation declaring the day by the newer name.  My feelings on the matter have a surprising amount of nuance to them.  But first, let’s make no mistake about it: Christopher Columbus was no saint. From what I’ve read, he enslaved a lot of native people, and killed a whole lot of them as well, both through violence and disease.  For those not familiar, the form that this recognition typically takes is that people and organizations eschew the use of the term “Columbus Day”, referring to it as “Indigenous People’s Day” instead.

However, I take issue with the form that this recognition of Columbus’ being less than worthy of the honor of a holiday typically takes.  The reason that I don’t like this way of doing things is because it takes the holiday away from one entity and gives it to another entity, treating it as a single either/or issue, rather than treating the declaration of a holiday in honor of an individual or entity as one issue, and treating the removal of a different holiday as its own issue.  I also feel that it cheapens the new entity being honored because it makes it seem as though they are a substitute honoree, rather than something worth honoring in their own right.  The direct swap also feels too much like overt political correctness, which grates on me.  That said, I have no problem with the idea of having an “Indigenous People’s Day” holiday, but doing it as a title swap on the Columbus Day date goes about it all wrong.

I defended my ideas on a recent post on WHSV-TV’s Facebook page (the ABC affiliate from Harrisonburg), on a post running an article about Richmond’s recognizing the holiday under the new name.  The comments on WHSV’s Facebook page are typically garbage from very ignorant people, but you do get the occasional intelligent thread in the sea of garbage responses, and this was that latter case.

This was the conversation:

Discussion of the Columbus Day holiday on WHSV's page

In other words, if we’re going to have an Indigenous People’s Day, make it a brand new holiday, and not make it a substitute for Columbus because the real Columbus was not the same as the legend that we learned in school.  If they’re worth honoring, they should be worth honoring in their own right, and not simply as a swap-out.  In other words, don’t use it as a protest against Columbus.  That brings up the idea of whether it’s driven by an actual belief that indigenous people are worthy of the honor, or whether it’s more about a dislike of Columbus, and it is intended more as a slight to him, and therefore not really about indigenous people at all.  On that latter part, though, it’s worth noting that Columbus has been dead for more than 500 years.  I guarantee you that he does not care anymore.

Canada, meanwhile, has an Indigenous People’s Day.  They celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day in June, and its origins date back to 1945, with the holiday taking its current form in the nineties, and taking its current name in 2017.  We should do similarly, creating a holiday in a month where there is currently no federal holiday, and making it into a recognition of the indigenous cultures that help make up the America that we know today.  That is definitely worth celebrating.

Then there’s the other matter of cancelling Columbus Day.  It’s doable, but likely would need a very solidly Democratic Congress to do, and have a Democrat in the White House as well.  In other words, don’t hold your breath while the GOP still holds the Senate and the White House.

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Formality, not respect… Sun, 20 Oct 2019 13:34:22 +0000 Something has always grated on me when people would say that the use of terms like “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Sir”, “Ma’am”, and so on allegedly indicated respect.  It also bothered me that, at least in school, the alleged respect only ran one way.  The students were required to address the staff by title and last name, while the teachers generally addressed the students by first name only.  It only made sense to me that if using last names meant respect, that it would reciprocate, but it never did.  You knew that something was fishy about that, because anyone who’s ever seen a teacher get told off by a student knows that the student will typically use the formal nomenclature for the teacher, but still be rather uncouth.  The student won’t say, “The hell with you, Maureen,” but more likely will say, “The hell with you, Ms. Kelly.”  The teacher in question might still hustle the student out of the room and fling their stuff out into the hallway so hard that their stuff hits a locker before falling to the floor, but they were respectful, because they addressed the teacher by their title and last name, right?  Right?  I see you rolling your eyes, because the argument clearly doesn’t hold water.  The hypothetical kid in the example was clearly being disrespectful, and what name they actually called the teacher, be it formal or informal, was irrelevant.

Then in 2014, when I began work at my current company, it all became clear during orientation.  Use of last names wasn’t about respect at all, but rather, it was about formality.  Formality made a whole lot more sense than respect for that type of address.  And unlike in school, everyone was on a last name basis with everyone, as in regardless of rank or title, you are on a last name basis with your colleagues.  The general rule was title and last name.  Operator Schumin.  Supervisor Walker.  Instructor Jacobs.  Superintendent Walkup.  And so on.  I can respect that, with everyone on a last name basis.  We may have different titles and ranks, but everyone is on a last name basis.  It’s not a matter of “I’m up here, and you’re down there, and I will address you accordingly,” that you get in school.  If schools want to do formal address properly, everyone should be on a last name basis, students and teachers alike.  In other words, if the teacher is “Mr. Matherly”, the student should be “Mr. Schumin”.  Or if one is going to use position titles, “Teacher Matherly” and “Student Schumin”.

As an aside, it is worth noting that the latter usage is something that we often see on television with administration, but which I have never seen in real life.  I’m sure that you can think of a television show where the principal is referred to by title and last name.  For me, The Simpsons immediately comes to mind, with Principal Skinner in charge of Springfield Elementary.  None of the principals that I ever had were addressed as “Principal” on a regular basis.  It was always Mr. or Mrs. whoever, regardless of title.  I had a few professors in college who referred to themselves as “Professor [Whoever]”, but that was about the extent of it when I was in school.

Also: never introduce yourself as “Mr. [Name]” or “Ms. [Name]” to an adult.  It just makes the person saying it seem stuffy and unfriendly.  It’s better to go with title and last name, or just using the full name and then letting the other person figure out the level of formality on their own.

Then the other alleged “magic words” of respect that grate on me are “sir” and “ma’am”.  We’ve all been told that the use of those terms indicates respect.  I’ve rarely seen it that way in practice.  It’s a formal method of address in lieu of a proper name, but not a sign of respect.  My experience in most cases is the exact opposite.  From childhood, I remember many occasions where when someone would say “yes” to a teacher without any additional embellishment, and they would subsequently demand that you say, “yes, ma’am” to them.  I always took umbrage at that.  That sort of behavior on the part of the authority figure (the teacher in this case) is extremely disrespectful, especially when they’re demanding the use of a term that allegedly conveys respect.  Sure, that makes a whole lot of sense.  Nothing like weaponizing a term of alleged respect and using it to be disrespectful to the person that you are demanding respect from.  I’ve also experienced the terms being used in a condescending way more often than a respectful way.  I’ve noticed that usage comes out when someone is tired of someone else’s nonsense.  It takes the language a step up in formality, but the intent is “cut the crap”.  And then there’s what my mother does when she knows that she has lost the argument and concedes: “Yes, sir,” in an annoyed tone.  She used to just do that with Dad, but after I took away her ability to successfully use “don’t argue with me” as a way to end a discussion in her favor by declaring victory whenever she said it, she started doing that with me, too.  And I suppose at least to some measure because of all of the above, I don’t like being called “sir”, and have actively requested not to be called that on a routine basis in the past.

All in all, formality is pretty easy.  All you have to do is follow the conventions of formal address, and you’ve got it.  Respect is a longer process, and cannot be demanded.  It must be earned.  And formal address has nothing to do with it.  I can think of plenty of teachers that I lost all respect for, but still referred to by title and last name.  Same goes for some colleagues.  They may have lost my respect, but that won’t stop me from treating them in a professional manner, including the necessary professional address.  So let’s drop the notion that formal address is synonymous with respect, because it’s most definitely not.

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Changes in the area of photo licensing… Tue, 01 Oct 2019 04:00:42 +0000 I have a few changes to announce in the area of photo licensing.  First and foremost, Schumin Web Photo Licensing, my in-house photo licensing site, is no more.  I had been running that site for about three years, and while it did a respectable amount of business, I felt that it didn’t justify the amount of resources that it consumed, and it also didn’t justify the amount of time spent to maintain it.  There was also always a bit of an uncomfortable interaction with Pixsy.  The idea was that there was a very real possibility that someone could use my licensing site in an attempt to circumvent a Pixsy case for an unauthorized use of an image, and that could be a sticky situation to get straightened out.  Yes, I had policies stating that use of the licensing site to circumvent Pixsy was not permitted, and that any licenses purchased in an attempt to circumvent Pixsy’s process would be cancelled, but good luck trying to prove that.  All it really did was make the site look prickly to potential users by having to put that in the fine print, even though its inclusion was necessary.  So in the end, the site is gone.

Otherwise, my philosophy for photo licensing is changing based on experience.  Licensing on the front end didn’t do as well as I might have hoped, but pursuing Creative Commons violations has been quite lucrative over the last few years.  I like to say that Pixsy furnished the house when I moved to Montgomery Village back in 2017.  Thus my stance on licensing has evolved from a traditional licensing model towards just letting people use the material under a free license that requires attribution, i.e. Creative Commons, and then aggressively policing compliance through Pixsy and DMCA takedown notices.  In other words, follow the rules, and it’s free.  Don’t follow the rules, and it’s going to cost you.

The Content Licensing page has also been revised to jive with this new stance on licensing.  It now again explicitly states that anything published prior to February 20, 2014 is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.  This was always the case due to the way that Creative Commons works in practice, but after February 2014, it was not stated explicitly.  Additionally, it directs users to my Flickr page to find Creative Commons content posted after February 20, 2014.  Explicitly listing every Creative Commons image on Schumin Web would require going through more than five years’ worth of material to mark stuff, and I can think of a hundred other things that I would rather do besides that.  So Flickr it is, especially since that site has very powerful Creative Commons search tools.

I admit that the new licensing policy for images published February 20, 2014 and later is best characterized as “clear as mud”, but by using Flickr as my platform for Creative Commons licensing, it helps to better control what images get released into the wild under free licenses and what remains all-rights-reserved.  One example of where that control is useful comes from a downstream usage of my 2011 “Funny Faces” photo set.  I got an email from my father one day asking if I knew about an advertisement for an anti-virus program that displayed on the site where he checks his email.  That advertisement used a photo that I took of myself holding up a laptop to advertise the software.  I thanked Dad for the heads-up, and then, since it didn’t follow the licensing terms, went over to Pixsy and got compensated for the usage.  Therefore, I can now say, “My face!  My valuable face!” much like Luke Perry did on The Simpsons, because apparently, my face has some marketing value to it.  But in any case, had I been more selective about what went out to Creative Commons back then, I imagine that the “Funny Faces” photo set wouldn’t have been included, because it’s more personal in nature, rather than something that particularly needed to be released into the wild under a free license.  In other words, I didn’t necessarily want to be the unwitting spokesman for an anti-virus program, though I didn’t mind getting compensated for that use.

So that’s the new lay of the land.  If you have any questions, as always, let me know.

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Six years, two months, and five days later… Tue, 24 Sep 2019 12:26:48 +0000 September 24 marks the day that I have been a former employee of Food & Water Watch for the same amount of time that I had been an active employee there.  Since leaving, I have given plenty of thought to my tenure there, and nowadays, I tend to give it a mixed review.  On one hand, that job was what got me up to the Washington DC area in the first place, and it was good for me for a period of time.  I grew both personally and professionally because of my experience there, and I certainly benefitted from that.  I also certainly had lots of good times while there.  However, I probably stayed there for much longer than I should have, as most people spent two or three years there and then moved on.  I was there for just over six years, was ninth in seniority by the time that I left, and was no longer all that interested in the issues that the organization was working on by the time that I left.

One thing that I have come to realize with the passage of time is that my position ultimately came to its logical conclusion.  When I was hired, the organization had about twenty people, with most people based in DC.  By the time that I left, the organization was somewhere around 100 people spread across many offices.  In my role as office manager, I was that “jack of all trades, master of none” person.  I had no direct involvement with the program content, but rather, I was the guy behind the scenes who made sure that the people handling the program content had what they needed to do their thing.  I was tasked with fixing stuff, working with outside vendors, making sure that the office had all of the necessary supplies, doing all of the shipping and receiving, handling matters related to the building, and so on.  In other words, I served in a very generalist role.  I knew a bit about a lot of things, and it suited me well for a time.  What happened was that over the years, as the organization grew, they would carve specialist roles out of my responsibilities.  It made enough sense, because a bigger organization justified creating more specialized roles.  My job gradually evolved over the years as my responsibilities shifted with the growth of the organization.  The view of my generalist role also evolved, with the focus of my role’s shifting from the “jack of all trades” part to the “master of none part”, as, with the hiring of more specialized roles, I went from being the guy who knew a lot about a lot of stuff to “what does he know?”  And eventually, my role was whittled down to a very low-level role that I was overqualified for, and probably overpaid for as well.

Looking back, I can’t imagine its having gone any other way, as the generalist’s role in the small organization is superseded by many specialist roles in the larger organization.  However, it’s not like I didn’t try to change the course.  I knew by the end of 2011 that I was starting to outgrow my role, and that I was not getting the respect that I knew that I deserved.  I had asked for more opportunities for growth, and got denied for upward movement, and was only offered additional responsibilities that would have led to other low-level positions within the organization, i.e. nothing that would have translated to more money.  After all, none of us really do our jobs solely because we’re passionate about the work that we do.  No.  The hell with that.  None of us would do our jobs for free.  We do our jobs because they pay money, which we use to support our lifestyles.  If my job stopped paying me, the trains would stop moving, because none of us would do it for free.  Not a chance.

The turning point with Food & Water Watch was when my boss decided to take my suggestions for additional responsibilities and hire it out as a new position.  I made my case for why I should have the role, but I was unsuccessful in convincing him.  Instead, after six years of employment there, I ended up in a role with fewer responsibilities than I had when I started back in 2007.

I ended up making a meme out of it the week that it all happened:

"Scumbag Steve" style meme about my situation

Yep… I gave my old boss, Lane Brooks, the “Scumbag Steve” treatment.  And that certainly was a scumbag move on his part.  Obviously, I didn’t share this meme around at the time except amongst a few close friends because I needed to find another job, and was initially looking in the same industry.  But in any case, this made me feel a little better about things.  I also realized that this was the spineless way that Lane got rid of people that he didn’t want around anymore, as he did the same thing to another person in our department at the same time as me.  That other employee and I both quit within a week of each other.

Starting my work in public transportation, after a longer-than-intended sabbatical, I was delighted to be back in the saddle again, and I was much changed from who I was when I left Food & Water Watch.  During my time off, I focused on more creative endeavors, and began to view Schumin Web as more of a side business than a hobby, even though the content was still just as quirky as ever.  In other words, even though I was living off of savings, I was growing again, and that was the best feeling ever.  I also stopped pulling punches around this time when it came to taking crap from people.  When someone called looking for pizza, I let them have it, and presented the evidence completely unredacted.  Since then, and in that same vein I’ve also settled a few scores with people from my past via this website, again completely unredacted, and that’s been very helpful for me.

During my first six months as a bus driver, I often ran into my old colleagues because of the areas that I was driving in, and I realized how much I had changed, and how much they hadn’t.  One particular encounter in Petworth with a group of my old coworkers really drove that home.  I was between assignments, walking from my street relief point on one route, and going back to the bus garage in order to start my next route.  I was wearing a complete bus operator’s uniform.  While so dressed, they invited me to come with them and go out for drinks.  My first thought was, do you not see this uniform?  I can’t just go into a bar on a Friday evening wearing that uniform, even if I’m just going in to get a hamburger and a soda.  A healthy respect for things that begin with the word “Unsuck” should keep most people wearing that uniform on their best behavior.  I invited them to come ride my bus if they wanted to see me, and told them when and where to meet me in order to do that, but they were clearly more interested in drinking than about actually spending time with me.  The encounter, while amicable, really made me feel distant from them.  It made me realize that they were part of my past, and that they had stopped being part of my present long ago.  I realized that I was not the same person that I was when I left Food & Water Watch, and that I also liked the person that I had become since our paths diverged.  I didn’t miss my old life.

All in all, I suppose that my time at Food & Water Watch was a learning experience, but I’m glad that it’s over.  I have become a much better and wiser person in the time since I left the organization, and I hope that growth trajectory continues.

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Thinking about the credits music… Tue, 17 Sep 2019 13:14:42 +0000 As you well know, I am a big fan of Today’s Special.  I certainly know more about the show than most, and have traveled to Toronto to visit a number of different filming locations from the show.  And before we get too far along, nerd alert: I’m going deep into the weeds with this one.

There’s one episode, though, where I take issue with the credits.  In that instance, I think that the music that they chose to use doesn’t completely fit the mood of the ending.  That episode is “Babies“, from 1984.  In that episode, we learn that Wanda Willoby, from the Willoby Tale stories, has run away from her home in Possum Ridge and has come to the store, because she feels as though she is being replaced by a new baby that’s on the way.  After everyone finds Wanda, they comfort her, and explain to her that her parents won’t love her any less now that there will be a third child in the family.  Meanwhile, Wanda, while meaning well, causes a lot of trouble in the store, including accidentally dropping a large display of balls in the Children’s Department, and inadvertently backing into an alarm button in the Computer Room.  This underlines the need to get Wanda back home to Possum Ridge as soon as possible.  In the end, Wanda realizes that she is not being replaced by the new baby, and the episode ends with the storyteller, a young Lori Chodos (whom you might better remember as Beezus from the 1988 Ramona series), telling everyone how well Wanda handled the new baby after her experience in the store.  The episode ends on a high note, though certainly differently than any other episode, since the storyteller had never been integrated into an episode like this before (storytellers typically appeared in standalone segments).

The end credits music used was the slow flute theme, which is the basic melody of the theme on flute with some other accompaniment.  This is used on four episodes: “Babies” and “Butterflies” in 1984, and “Wishes” and “Phil’s Visit” in 1986.  Of those four episodes, “Butterflies” and “Wishes” have sad endings.  “Phil’s Visit” doesn’t have a sad ending per se, but it’s a very emotional episode about alcoholism, and the slow flute ending fits.  Out of the four, only “Babies” has a happy ending.  “Babies” is also the first episode to use that piece of music.  For recurring pieces of music, the first usage is sometimes very different than the other usages.  For instance, the music typically used during suspenseful scenes first appears in a relatively lighthearted scene in “Police“, where Sam is attempting to help Officer Hardy look for clues, but ultimately gets in his way.  In almost every other instance, the tune is used to help build suspense, such as when a spaceship lands on the roof, or Muffy is rescued after becoming trapped in a utility chase.

Here is the ending for “Babies” as aired:

In the case of “Babies”, I think that they should have used the regular end credits theme, which is an instrumental of the main theme, instead of the slow flute theme.  This is the default ending theme for most episodes, and is used when the final song of the episode does not run through the credits, or if the mood calls for a different closing song.  Happy endings typically would get the regular end credits.  “Babies” had a happy ending, which goes along with what the regular ending theme is typically used for.  It wasn’t a downer ending by any means, though I suppose that one could argue that it fits the quieter ending with the story.  However, I would argue that the regular ending just fits better.

Here is the ending of “Babies”, modified to use the regular ending theme:

You know, it just seems to fit.  A happy ending deserves the regular credits music.  The slow flute music seems to move at a slower, more thoughtful pace, which fits the heavier-hitting episodes that it was more often used with.  The slower pace gives you a chance to think about and digest what you just saw while the credits run.  This isn’t that, and I feel like the slower pace kind of drags out the credits.  After all, in “Babies”, the story is wrapped up neatly, and everyone is happy: everyone at the store is happy that Wanda is back on Possum Ridge, and Wanda is proud of her new baby brother.  That seems more suitable for the regular theme, since there’s nothing that the viewer needs to digest and process on their own.  The regular ending signals that the episode is over, and that everything is well.  “Babies” also wouldn’t have been the first episode to start the end theme well before the first card, either, nor would it be the last.  Prior to that, “Adventure” started the end theme while Waldo was trying to correct a mistake from earlier, where he had accidentally given Muffy a mustache like Sam’s while casting a spell.  While the end theme played, Waldo magically moved the mustache to Jeff and Jodie, and then finally to himself, where he then tried unsuccessfully to get rid of it while the credits were running on screen.

I have also given some thought to the ending of “Memories“.  That episode, the last in the series, uses its own ending theme, based on the final song in the episode.

Here is the ending for “Memories” as aired:

Being the final episode, I always wondered what it might sound like with the regular ending, i.e. sending the show out with the traditional ending instead of a custom ending.  So I swapped it in to see how it fit.

This is the end of “Memories” with the regular ending theme:

I was kind of surprised to discover that it doesn’t work very well.  I knew that it was shorter than most credits sequences, as this one is 35 seconds, rather than the 45 seconds to a minute that most credits sequences run, though it’s not the shortest (“Water” with its 20-second credits sequence most likely holds that title).  Putting the regular music on the “Memories” ending results in its starting at an odd place, in order for the song to finish at the right spot.  The regular theme also feels too upbeat for the song that would have immediately preceded it in “Memories”, which is slower, and more thoughtful.  I think that the only way that the regular ending theme might work, would be if it started at the first piano slide.  However, that would either require a 53-second credits sequence, or a fade out before the song is complete.  Fading the song out wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, though.  That happens in “Sleep“, which starts the theme much earlier than is typical, and fades out when the credits have ended.  But considering that it’s the last episode, a fade out would leave me feeling like it was incomplete.

However, working on the idea that the ending for “Memories” as aired is slower and more thoughtful, I also considered how the slow flute theme would fit.  The idea was that with the slower and more thoughtful ending, the slow flute ending might just work.

This is the end of “Memories” with the slow flute ending theme:

I was surprised that this ending worked so well.  Prior to editing it in, my guess was that it wouldn’t work because of the shorter length of the “Memories” credits sequence.  The slow flute ending runs for 45 seconds, and I was sure that cutting out the first ten seconds would destroy its balance.  That turned out not to be the case, and as long as you fade it in, it flows quite well, and ends at the right spot.  For “Memories”, it works, for the same reason that it works in “Butterflies”, “Wishes”, and “Phil’s Visit”: because it allows the viewer time to think about and process what just ran on screen.  “Memories” isn’t a downer ending by any means, but that final song, which gives a rundown of the entire series, requires some time to mentally process things afterward, and the slower music provides some space for that processing to happen.

All in all, these little thought exercises, coupled with testing my theories with some video editing, are fun.  Considering how deep in the weeds I’ve been getting with Today’s Special lately with “Project TXL” and all, as well as my recent trip to Toronto, it gets me thinking about things sometimes.

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Meet Woomy… Sun, 08 Sep 2019 14:09:13 +0000 In going through what I’ve posted, I’ve realized that I’ve mentioned some things but never fully explained them.  I typically realize this when these things are slated to appear again or are otherwise planned to be referenced, but discover that there has not been a proper introduction.

In this case, meet Woomy, one of Elyse’s “critters”:

Woomy, on our trip to Scranton in October 2018

Woomy is a stuffed octopus, and Elyse found him at a thrift store.  His name came from the Internet, which named him on one of Elyse’s live streams on YouTube.  We took one look in his eyes, and we immediately knew his personality.  We knew that Woomy was a curmudgeon.  Unlike most of Elyse’s critters, who carry on extensive conversations with us just by nodding their heads, Woomy speaks audibly, but he only says one thing: “I don’t like that!”  Considering that phrase is, for the most part, the only thing that he ever says, we suspect that even if he did like something, he would still tell us that he didn’t like it.

Woomy also the most-traveled critter by far.  Woomy went on our October trip to Cortland and Scranton, and Woomy also went to Toronto with us.  He’s also come along for a few doctor’s appointments.  Did he enjoy any of it?  Not a chance.  At least that’s as much as he told us.  Woomy is also a social media darling, as people really love seeing Woomy make appearances on my various feeds

Here are a few photos of Woomy, not liking things:

Woomy presses the button for our floor at the Holiday Inn Express in Cortland.  Regarding the elevator, he said, "I don't like that!"
Woomy presses the button for our floor at the Holiday Inn Express in Cortland.  Regarding the elevator, he said, “I don’t like that!”

Woomy hangs onto the steering wheel.  When he saw this photo, he said, "I don't like that!"
Woomy hangs onto the steering wheel during our Scranton trip.  When he saw this photo, he said, “I don’t like that!”

Woomy guards a six-pack of non-alcoholic Budweiser at the hotel in Toronto.  When we asked him about it, all he said was, "I don't like that!"
Woomy guards a six-pack of non-alcoholic Budweiser at the hotel during our Toronto trip.  When we asked him about it, all he said was, “I don’t like that!”

Elyse helps Woomy press the button for the lobby in a building in Toronto.  The button earned Woomy's seal of disapproval, as he simply said, "I don't like that!"
Elyse helps Woomy press the button for the lobby in a building in Toronto.  The button earned Woomy’s seal of disapproval, as he simply said, “I don’t like that!”

Elyse gives Woomy one of those what-the-hell looks because of what he did while on our Toronto trip.  He grabbed a Malabar label, and then promptly announced that he did not like it.
Elyse gives Woomy one of those what-the-hell looks because of what he did while on our Toronto trip.  He grabbed a Malabar label, and then promptly announced that he did not like it.

Woomy sits in the waiting room at a doctor's appointment for Elyse.  I don't know what it was, but Woomy's assessment of the whole thing was, "I don't like that!"
Woomy sits in the waiting room at a doctor’s appointment for Elyse.  I don’t know what it was, but Woomy’s assessment of the whole thing was, “I don’t like that!”

Woomy inspects a bottle of Mountain Dew at Sheetz in Frederick.  The verdict was, "I don't like that!"
Woomy inspects a bottle of Mountain Dew at Sheetz in Frederick.  The verdict was, “I don’t like that!”

We took Woomy along with us when we recently went trainspotting at Horseshoe Curve near Altoona.  Woomy watched as well, but all he had to say about it was, "I don't like that!"  We'll see if I ever take him trainspotting again...
We took Woomy along with us when we recently went trainspotting at Horseshoe Curve near Altoona.  Woomy watched as well, but all he had to say about it was, “I don’t like that!”  We’ll see if I ever take him trainspotting again…

Woomy reads the information board at Horseshoe Curve, and then promptly declared his dislike of it.
Woomy reads the information board at Horseshoe Curve, and then promptly declared his dislike of it.

A friend of mine from high school remarked regarding this photo, “Well, with three hearts, you’re bound to have a lot of feelings on many subjects.”  I ran it past Woomy, and then reported back: “Woomy has already declared that he doesn’t like that.”

Woomy inspects a bag of gummy shark candies that Elyse got at the gift shop at Horseshoe Curve.  When he finished looking at them, he said, "I don't like that!"
Woomy inspects a bag of gummy shark candies that Elyse got at the gift shop at Horseshoe Curve.  When he finished looking at them, he said, “I don’t like that!”

I, meanwhile, sang “gummy shark” to the tune of that “Baby Shark” song.  You’re welcome.

Elyse messed with Woomy a little at the railroad museum in Altoona.  The two brooms here are part of an interactive exhibit, and they swept back and forth.  Woomy got quite a shaking from it, and shouted, "I don't like that!"
Elyse messed with Woomy a little at the railroad museum in Altoona.  The two brooms here are part of an interactive exhibit, and they swept back and forth.  Woomy got quite a shaking from it, and shouted, “I don’t like that!”

Woomy surveys the damage after an accident where I damaged a wall while pushing a case of Priority Mail boxes down the basement stairs, because I didn't want to carry all of them down.  He took one look at it and declared, "I don't like that!"  Neither do I, Woomy.  But at least he doesn't have to fix it.
Woomy surveys the damage after an accident where I damaged a wall while pushing a case of Priority Mail boxes down the basement stairs, because I didn’t want to carry all of them down.  He took one look at it and declared, “I don’t like that!”  Neither do I, Woomy.  But at least he doesn’t have to fix it.

All in all, we like Woomy, despite his curmudgeonly disposition.  However, the other critters don’t take as kindly to him.  Another octopus once gave Woomy a swift kick after he declared that he didn’t like something.  That elicited another “I don’t like that!” from Woomy.

In any case, follow me on Instagram for more pictures of Woomy, and you’ll occasionally see him pop up here as well.

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