The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Mon, 26 Oct 2020 02:45:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Schumin Web 32 32 37838674 Flying over the Shenandoah Valley with a drone… Mon, 26 Oct 2020 02:45:48 +0000 Elyse and I recently made a trip down to Augusta County to see my parents, and we both photographed a bunch of stuff with my drone while we were down there.  So all in all, we had a pretty productive time.  I have gotten pretty proficient in flying my drone around things, and I’ve gotten some nice photos.  The goal of the drone photography this time was to duplicate a lot of what I did in my earlier entry about the area in Microsoft Flight Simulator, but in real life.  All in all, I had a good time, and I liked the results, as I flew around Staunton, Waynesboro, Afton Mountain, and Stuarts Draft.

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

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

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

I also photographed the Augusta County Courthouse in downtown Staunton:

The dome on the Augusta County Courthouse

The statue on the Augusta County Courthouse

The Augusta County Courthouse

The Augusta County Courthouse, viewed from above

The Augusta County Courthouse, viewed from above

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

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

Selfie while flying the drone

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

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

The former Kmart in Waynesboro

The former Kmart in Waynesboro

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

Kmart in Waynesboro, from the air

Kmart in Waynesboro, from the air

Kmart in Waynesboro, from the air

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

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

Walmart store #5117 in Waynesboro, Virginia

Walmart store #5117 in Waynesboro, Virginia

Walmart store #5117 in Waynesboro, Virginia

Walmart store #5117 in Waynesboro, Virginia

Walmart store #5117 in Waynesboro, Virginia

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

Dupont Community Credit Union

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

Aaron's and Goodwill building

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

Coyner Park sign

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

CFW Information Services, viewed from overhead

CFW Information Services, viewed from overhead

CFW Information Services, viewed from overhead

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

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

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

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

In any case, here it all is:

The destroyed sign at The Inn at Afton

The Inn at Afton, viewed from just past Route 610

The Inn at Afton, viewed from Afton Circle

The former Howard Johnson's

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

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

Elyse, as seen by the drone

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

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

The drone, in the process of landing

The drone, in the process of landing

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

Interstate 64 at Rockfish Gap

The Blue Ridge Mountains, viewed from the overlook

Interstate 64 at Rockfish Gap

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

Hovering over the HR-V

Hovering over the HR-V, about to land

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


Oh, well.

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

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

The teepee at Rockfish Gap

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

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

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

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

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

Stuarts Draft Middle School

Stuarts Draft Middle School

Stuarts Draft Middle School

Stuarts Draft Middle School

Then, Stuarts Draft High School:

Stuarts Draft High School

Stuarts Draft High School

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

The football field

And then I landed it:

Automated flyback to the launch site

Automated flyback to the launch site

Landing, a few feet from the ground


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

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

Looking down Route 608 towards where my parents live

340 southound, looking towards Greenville

340 northbound, looking towards Waynesboro

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

Walgreens in Stuarts Draft

Walgreens in Stuarts Draft

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

The drone, minus one motor

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

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

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

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

Splash photo from April 2020 (taken on February 3)

October splash photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drone selfie

Drone selfie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The siren, from various angles.

The siren, from various angles.

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

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

Selfie of Elyse and me with the drone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is what the damage looked like:

The damage caused by the deer, immediately following the collision

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

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

Dead deer in the median of Hungerford Drive

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

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

The damage to the HR-V in daylight

The damage to the HR-V in daylight

The damage to the HR-V in daylight

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

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

The damage to the Previa after its collision with a deer

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

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

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I bought myself a toy… Sat, 19 Sep 2020 18:12:06 +0000 Soooooooooo… I recently got myself a toy.  I went on Etsy and bought myself a full-size retro arcade machine.  Check it out:

My new arcade machine

This is something that I had wanted to get for a long time.  I have been interested in retro gaming ever since the nineties, when I first found the Stella emulator for Atari 2600, which reunited me with the games that I used to play in early childhood, like Freeway, Space Invaders, Warlords, and the infamous E.T. game (which I enjoyed, thank you very much).  I also got some other emulators over the years, which have enabled me to play my favorite games from various other systems again.  But through all this, I had always wanted an arcade machine in that arcade-style form factor.  However, those things are expensive, and my funds were quite limited.  I also didn’t necessarily want to only run one game, as most arcade machines tend to do, and at the time, that’s all I could find online – the purchase of a traditional arcade machine, set up for one game.  That’s what also kept me from buying some of those Arcade 1-Up machines that they sell at Walmart, because they’re essentially unitaskers, and I didn’t want a full arcade room to play my various games.  I just wanted one machine that did everything.  Thus I figured that I would forever be doing retro gaming on my computer rather than on proper arcade-style hardware.

More recently, I realized that I could afford such a thing, plus there are now people out there who make custom arcade machines specifically for retro gaming.  And the place where you find those things tends to be Etsy.  I love Etsy, because it has so many niche items from individual sellers, like this calligraphy piece that says “Hocus Pocus Alimagocus” on it.  And in the case of arcade machines, there were a number of different varieties, such as tabletop, wall mount, pedestal, slimline, and even one where the controls are built into a coffee table.  I ended up settling on this one by The Arcade Guys.  I had a couple of customizations done, getting it with bat-top joysticks rather than the ball-top ones because I like the way that bat-top joysticks feel over the ball-top ones, and also selected the trackball option at Elyse’s request in order to be able to properly play bowling games.

I also got photos of the delivery:

The delivery guy gets the machine off of the truck.  I was surprised to see that it traveled next to an Acura TLX.  That car was going to Florida.
The delivery guy gets the machine off of the truck.  I was surprised to see that it traveled next to an Acura TLX.  That car was going to Florida.

The arcade machine, safe and sound in the living room, still wrapped up.  And yes, those are pool noodles being used as bumpers.
The arcade machine, safe and sound in the living room, still wrapped up.  And yes, those are pool noodles being used as bumpers.

Elyse gets to work unwrapping the arcade machine.

Elyse gets to work unwrapping the arcade machine.
Elyse gets to work unwrapping the arcade machine.

And I didn't even get to play with it right away.  Elyse was the first to take it for a spin.  I played it later on.
And I didn’t even get to play with it right away.  Elyse was the first to take it for a spin.  I played it later on.

Note the orientation of the machine in that last photo, where it is completely in the corner.  We went with that initially, but later realized that was not conducive to two-player action.  So I angled it out a bit, which also gave me a little bit more distance from the window and reduced glare.  So that was a win-win all around.

Under the hood, this thing is powered by a Raspberry Pi 4, and it runs RetroPie with Emulation Station as the front end.  And it has thousands upon thousands of games on it.  I’ve found most of my favorites, and I’ve also discovered a bunch more that I’d forgotten about, and discovered a few that I’d never played before.  Check these out:

Maze Craze for Atari 2600.
Maze Craze for Atari 2600.

MotoRace USA for arcade, also known as Traverse USA and Zippy Race.
MotoRace USA for arcade, also known as Traverse USA and Zippy Race.  I used to enjoy playing this game as a child at the Land of Oz arcade at Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Level 72 of the arcade version of Bubble Bobble.
Level 72 of the arcade version of Bubble Bobble.  I soon learned that you can get unlimited continues on this game as long as you keep the other character alive.  I used to play the DOS port for this game back in the nineties.  Mom and I made a special trip to Northpark Mall in Joplin, Missouri to go to Babbage’s (a predecessor to GameStop) to get that game.  Totally worth it, though, since I had many hours of fun with that game (even though it didn’t have unlimited continues, much to my dismay).

Meanwhile, I know that this machine has so much potential, and I also know that I’ve barely scratched the surface on what this thing can do.  I’ve added a USB hub that I got on Amazon in order to be able to play console games on it with console-style controllers, but there’s still so much more to figure out on this.  I haven’t figured out how to remap the buttons for certain systems yet, and that will make playing those games far more straightforward than it is now.  For instance, for the Sega Genesis and related consoles, the controller is laid out with the A, B, and C buttons in a row, and in the six-button variant, the X, Y, and Z buttons in a second row above that.  The current controller layout for Genesis games puts A in the top left position, B beneath that at bottom left, and C in the bottom middle, which is a very weird layout.  I want to remap the controller for Genesis games in order to match what they do in real life, with A-B-C and X-Y-Z.  I have no doubt that there’s a way to do it, but I don’t know what it is.  Similarly, I don’t know how to change what controller is what player.  When I plug a console controller into the USB hub, it is automatically assigned to the second player position, which doesn’t help me for one-player games like Sonic the Hedgehog.  As with the controller mapping issue, I’m sure that there’s a way to do it, but I just don’t know how yet.  I also don’t yet know how to set dip switches with the arcade games.  For those not familiar, dip switches are how game options are set by arcade operators that do things like determine how much a game costs to play, access certain debug functions, and configure certain game options.  Here’s what the dip switch settings for Pac-Man look like.  I’ve played with dip switches before in other MAME programs, so I know how they work for the most part, but I just don’t know how to access it for this system.  I also don’t know how to add additional games, as there are a few games that I have that aren’t on here, that I would like to put on here.  Like everything else I’ve mentioned, I’m sure that there’s a way to do it, but I just don’t yet know how it’s done.

I suppose that it also doesn’t help for my being able to figure things out that this thing is Linux-based.  Out of the three major desktop operating systems, i.e. Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, I am least familiar with Linux.  I’ve fooled around with Linux a little bit here and there, but I’ve never been able to take the time to really get a great understanding of the way that Linux works and become familiar with it like I am with Windows and MS-DOS.  So I feel like a novice around this thing, treading very lightly because I have no confidence that I can fix it if I screw something up.  However, I have backed up my system image as recommended and have it safely stored on my network drive, so in a worst case scenario, I suppose that I can just blow it all away and restore from the backup.

But in the meantime, even though there is still much to learn about this device, I’m having tremendous amounts of fun with it.  And that’s all that matters in the end.

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Twenty years ago, Schumin Web started to get noticed… Tue, 08 Sep 2020 01:37:33 +0000 It has now been twenty years since Schumin Web really started to get noticed by people.  My first four years doing this site, I was having fun, but I always assumed, in those very early days of the Internet, that very few people were actually looking (though I had no way of measuring it at that time).  But that was okay, because ultimately, it gave me an outlet to express myself, and I was having fun doing it.

Then, in the summer of 2000, things started to change.  I was featured as “Geek of the Month” in the June 2000 issue of the now-defunct magazine Front, a men’s lifestyle magazine from the UK, i.e. a “lads’ mag”.  Check it out:

Front magazine "Geek of the Month" article from June 2000  Front magazine "Geek of the Month" article from June 2000

I was not notified or otherwise formally contacted by Front prior to the publication of the column, but I suppose that when your column is only a few inches, including a photo, you really don’t need anyone’s help for that.  So it caught me completely by surprise when word started to trickle in as readers of the magazine sent me much feedback about my site – most of it pretty hostile.  I got a very quick crash course in British slang from these readers, as I got called all sorts of things that I’d never been called before.  Thankfully, AltaVista was able to tell me what all of those words meant, and unsurprisingly, the terms that they were using were not particularly flattering.

Another big one around this time was Portal of Evil.  That site was intended to showcase and discuss the stranger websites on the Internet, and I was apparently considered one of them.  That came in the fall, a couple of weeks after after I started my sophomore year of college.  Like Front, I found out about it when a reader gave me a heads-up about it.  That was an interesting experience, because I actually participated in the discussion on their website, which was something that they were not used to over there.  In hindsight, participating in that discussion was probably an unwise decision, but I suppose that it cemented me into a number of people’s minds that way.  And that was where I really came to realize something: people were actually reading the stuff that I wrote.  Whether or not they liked it was another matter, as was the question of whether they were reading it on its own merit or whether they were reading it because it was like watching a trainwreck, but they were reading it nonetheless.  Looking back, I can sort of understand where some of the “watching a trainwreck” idea came from, since my writing skills were nowhere near as refined as they are today.  Compare an early Journal entry to a more recent one, and see for yourself.  In any case, we started a bit of a dialogue for a while, though I eventually had enough of them, and stopped participating.  When it came to Portal of Evil, however, I ultimately got the last laugh in 2011, after I nominated the Wikipedia article about the site for deletion.  The same day that the deletion process was completed and the article was removed from Wikipedia, Portal of Evil itself shut down, with the owners’ citing legal issues that made the continuation of the website unwise.  I forget where it was said, but someone even acknowledged as much, that I got the last laugh when it came to that experience.  In any case, it provided a good sense of closure, and as I understand it, the people that used to run that site are now very successful game developers.

Then there were smaller little pages about me that cropped up.  One that always amused me was one by Sandra Polifroni, who was a student at York University in Toronto at the time.  She made a little page spoofing my Walmart photo set called “Honouring Schumin“.  The photos amused me.  Here are two examples:

It’s funny because for a website that they allegedly did not like, they certainly went to a lot of effort to make sport of it.  Go figure, I suppose.  Based on the content visible on the site, it would appear that they did the photography work the week of April 8, 2001.

The Walmart photo set actually got a lot of attention back then.  It was my very first photo set, and even back then, it was a goofy little photo set.  The website was a bit different back then, and a lot of areas were not as well defined as they are now.  The Walmart set, being the first, was presented in less context than it is now.  It was just another random page on my site back then, rather than being presented with other photo sets as it is now.  Most importantly, though, most people gloss over the real reason for why the Walmart photo set was made: putting the new camera through its paces.  I say it right in the introduction: “The following day, with the intention of learning the camera, I decided to take it with me on a trip to Wal-Mart with my mother and sister.”  And for that, it served its purpose, as I was able to put my then-new camera through its paces pretty well.  Acceptance testing complete.  The fact that I got some usable content out of it was a bonus.  I suppose that I could have done that test shoot about anything, but it just so happened that we were going to Walmart, so that was it.  I’ve done acceptance testing for all of my cameras.  Big Mavica’s acceptance testing two years later was done at JMU, and it resulted in the Autumn Leaves photo set.  You get the point.

Though my favorite bit of coverage that I got from the Internet around this time was when I was featured on Greg Galcik’s SpinnWebe site.  I had known about SpinnWebe for a long time before I was featured there.  I initially found the site some time in the 1990s when I was searching for something to do with The Family Circus, i.e. the comic strip by Bil Keane.  The first result that I got was for “Dysfunctional Family Circus” on some site called “SpinnWebe”.  It was entertaining, albeit a bit crude.  I also explored around the site a little bit, and came to realize that Galcik was a really smart guy, even if he didn’t always use his smarts for good.

So when someone let me know that a feature about me was ongoing in September 2000, I was already familiar with the body of work, though I hadn’t really been there much since I explored it back when I discovered Dysfunctional Family Circus in the nineties.  When I went back, I was a little disappointed to find out that DFC was gone, though you really couldn’t blame Bil Keane for asking that the feature be retired.  The characters were modeled after Keane’s real-life family, after all, and I couldn’t imagine that he took the captions that readers wrote about what what were essentially his children particularly well.

In any case, I watched as this feature was built over the course of a week, seeing what Galcik wrote about Schumin Web next.  He called me up on the phone prior to writing his fourth day’s coverage of my site, and the thing that amused me about his reportback from it was where he said, “About the most interesting part was what wasn’t there, which is who the hell am I and how the hell did I get his phone number.”  After all, I was already very familiar with SpinnWebe from the days of Dysfunctional Family Circus, and that I had also watched this feature build over the course of the previous few days, so I already was aware of his interest in me, and in my website.  But Galcik probably didn’t know that I was following the story as it was written, and I didn’t mention that I was already familiar with his work.  It wasn’t a deliberate omission, but rather, it just never came up.  As far as how he got my dorm phone number, there was no reason to ask, because I already knew.  At that time, JMU published the phone numbers of all students living on campus on their website, and it was searchable by the public (this is no longer the case, as student directory information is now behind a login prompt).  I didn’t publish my dorm number anywhere, so I knew that was the only place that it was listed.

And on his fifth and final day, he did a spoof of the Walmart photo set, where he walked southbound on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago from near his house to the Starbucks at 4553-4557 North Lincoln Avenue.  I viewed the area on Street View, and it’s actually not a bad place to do a photo walk.  I might have to go out that way for a photo walk next time I’m in Chicago, whenever that ends up being (I have no current plans to visit Chicago, though I need to go).  In any case, I was amused as he took it a little further than I did, and even threw in a few references here and there to site content, such as the quote article about the no-swearing signs in Virginia Beach.  The things that amused me most, though, were right at the top.  First, this:

SpinnWebe logo, done up in rainbow like my logo

Galcik did his SpinnWebe logo up in the rainbow color that I’ve used for my logo.  Very nice.  And then this:

Greg Galcik's selfie

The placement indicated that he was spoofing the photo that I used at the top of my site at the time, which was from my senior photos.  Someone else later photoshopped his face onto my original photo, though the result was a bit… weird.

In any case, I suppose that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and he made a photo set in the same style as I did.  And it genuinely made me laugh.  So that was fun.

But that wasn’t the end of SpinnWebe’s coverage of Schumin Web.  In December, he came back for a second round after he had launched a blog feature called Brainshots.  I found out about it when someone messaged me while I was out, telling me that I needed to look at SpinnWebe (though I don’t remember how this happened, considering the technology at the time), and then I looked at it when I got home.  That one had less to do with me directly, but used a photo of me from Schumin Web as a subject for the actual topic, which was a test to see if women using the “Hot or Not” website were less superficial than the men on the site.  He took a photo that I ran on my site about my homemade Schumin Web shirts (I made them at home for myself before sites like CafePress were a thing):

A photo that my sister took of me in June 2000, showing off a freshly made Schumin Web shirt

Before we continue, though, I just want everyone to notice that beautiful head of hair.  That stuff’s been gone for a very long time at this point.

In any case, with this photo, he ran with it, running me four different times:

Original, minus the URL, because with the URL, it kept getting removed  "YOU CAN'T AFFORD ME", going for some attitude this time

"Titanic" design, going for a softer touch  Going for the athletic look this time

For those wondering, the first version scored a 2.1, the “you can’t afford me” version scored a 1.8, the Titanic version scored a 1.7, and then the athletic version did a 1.5.  And then, trying to get me a better score, Galcik really went to town on me:

He ran me as a woman. Okay, then.

And he ran me as a woman.  I thought that he made me look like my elementary school librarian.  And rather interestingly, in that guise, I did exactly the same as I did the first time, which led Galcik to conclude that the women were just as superficial as the men.

In any case, I was laughing pretty hard reading this.  Especially with that last one.  If nothing else, I suppose that you could say that I’m a pretty good sport about things.

All in all, though, this period, and this little bit of attention, changed the way I viewed Schumin Web forever, because now I had actual confirmation that people were looking at the little slice of the Internet that I inhabited.  And apparently, I managed to be memorable, too.  Many of you know that I participate on Reddit, starting in 2013.  In December, someone recognized my username (“SchuminWeb”), and asked if I was the guy with the website.  I posted proof:

My proof that /u/SchuminWeb was really me

A lot of people were over the moon finding out that I was a Reddit user.  People were so happy to see me, as it brought back fond memories of my site from back in the day, and they visited all over again.  I experienced a “Reddit hug of death”, which was a little unnerving because I couldn’t do some planned maintenance for a little bit because everyone was coming over and bogging down the site, which prevented me from accessing the backend, but it was good, because I still had fans.

Nowadays, the way that people react to my content has changed.  My site is very different from the days of Front, Portal of Evil, SpinnWebe, and so on.  The writing is much improved (thank heavens), and I discuss a lot more topics and go into a lot more detail than I used to.  Nowadays, I get more discussion on the merits of the content, rather than “look at this loony over here” interactions.  And I don’t mind that.  But there will always be a special place in my heart for the attention that I got in the very early 2000s, because it symbolized when Schumin Web started to take off.

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Flying over the Shenandoah Valley… Fri, 28 Aug 2020 03:25:25 +0000 Recently, Elyse got a copy of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator game, which, among other things, features real landscapes based on map data.  However, it’s not without its issues, since, if it doesn’t have good data for buildings and such, it attempts to fill in the gaps by rendering a building, taking a guess as to what kind of building it’s supposed to be.  When there is good building data, the buildings look correct, as is the case in much of Howard County, Maryland.  Down in Augusta County, that’s not the case, and most of the buildings are rendered by the game, doing its darndest to make a good guess.  To accomplish this evening’s field trip, Elyse dropped us at Eagle’s Nest Airport, which is a privately-owned airport just outside Waynesboro.  I didn’t have to fly the plane.  Rather, we left the plane on the runway, and just flew around with the camera.  I didn’t want to have to fly an airplane, after all.  I just wanted to have a little eye in the sky.  So from Eagle’s Nest, I quickly got my bearings, and made a beeline to Stuarts Draft.

First thing that I took a look at was my old middle school, Stuarts Draft Middle School:

Stuarts Draft Middle School in the flight simulator

They turned it into a three-story factory building.  My first reaction was, “If only the school was this big in real life.”  All three years I was there, the school was ridiculously overcrowded, even after they built an addition onto the building during my sixth grade year.  Three stories?  No problem.  They would have never had to build Wilson Middle School in the mid 2000s if Stuarts Draft Middle School was this big.  Compare to the actual school in this image from Google:

Stuarts Draft Middle School from Google Street View

In real life, it’s a typical one-story school.  Then go up the hill to Stuarts Draft High School:

Stuarts Draft High School in the flight simulator

Another three-story factory.  Also, who needs a gym or the Ag Building?  Those two buildings are just markings on the ground.  The building itself appears to end at the cafeteria.  Then here’s the building in real life, seen here in 2007:

My photo of Stuarts Draft High School in 2007

Another one-story rural high school.  There’s the new gym in the left half of the photo that the game didn’t bother to render.  Recall in my 2011 photo set when I visited the renovated Stuarts Draft High School, I said that the second gym was probably unnecessary.  Funny that the flight simulator agreed with me.

Then I went down the road to the intersection of US 340 and route 608:

340 and 608 in the game

Compare to Google Maps:

340 and 608 from Google Maps

So the flight simulator game turned a gas station, a Dairy Queen, and a small strip mall into two houses and a three-story apartment building.

Then my old church, Finley Memorial, is a very long house:

Finley Memorial Presbyterian Church on the flight simulator

Compare to real life:

Finley Memorial Presbyterian Church, photographed in 2003

That’s the right shape for the building footprint, but definitely not the same.    The circular drive is still there, as is the additional parking added in 1993 and the sidewalk in front, but the building is all wrong.

Then we went down into my parents’ neighborhood.  Here’s their house:

My parents' house in the flight simulator game

My first reaction was that with all of the overgrown trees, especially the one growing up through the driveway, and the long grass, the house looks abandoned.  The whole neighborhood looks abandoned, for that matter.  There were houses on 608 that were completely blocked by full-grown trees, as if they had been abandoned for decades.  My parents’ house was a mild case compared to those.  Then here’s my parents’ house in real life:

My parents' house in real life, 2013

I wonder if that tree to the left (nearest to the Soul) is the one that was growing up through the driveway in the rendering.

We then flew over to Waynesboro, and looked at the Waynesboro Town Center shopping center:

Waynesboro Town Center in the game

Looks like a self-storage facility.  Here’s a similar angle in real life from 2007, while the center was still under construction:

Waynesboro Town Center, still under construction in 2007

We then flew down Shenandoah Village Drive to the site of my first job, with CFW Information Services:

CFW Information Services is an apartment building!

It’s an apartment building!  Compare to a similar view from Google Maps:

CFW Information Services, now the operations center for Dupont Community Credit Union, from Google Maps

That’s the building that I remember.  Though now, it’s the operations center for Dupont Community Credit Union, after the phone company vacated the building in early 2002.

Then here’s my ex-store, Walmart 5117:

My ex-store in Waynesboro

My first thought when I saw this was that while it was definitely the right shape for the store, it looked more like a prison than a store.  Considering how they treated those of us that worked there, I suppose that it’s not a big stretch.  Here’s a photo that I took of the store from a similar angle back when I worked there:

Walmart in Waynesboro from around 2004

And here’s a more recent photo:

Walmart in Waynesboro from 2010

After that, I flew over to downtown Waynesboro, where I posed the camera to recreate a popular photo of mine:

Downtown Waynesboro, facing east

Here’s my photo of the same area from 2004:

My photo from 2004 of downtown Waynesboro

It’s very strange to see all of those modern looking buildings in Waynesboro.  Though the mountain that used to house the city landfill is still bald.

Meanwhile, down the street, the bridges that take Main Street and Broad Street over the South River are a bit unusual in their rendering:

Downtown Waynesboro, facing east

I am told by Elyse that bridges don’t render properly.  We saw them show up as a number of things.  We saw big dips in the road, we saw it get rendered as part of the river as was the case with the Broad Street bridge (at left), or as a nonexistent building like the Main Street bridge (at right).  Yes, it rendered an apartment building right smack in the middle of the road.  Go figure?

We then headed up the mountain to go see what the cluster of mostly-abandoned buildings on Afton Mountain looked like.  Surprisingly, Microsoft managed to do what Phil Dulaney could not, and made them look respectable again:

The former Howard Johnson's on Afton Mountain
The Howard Johnson’s has been transformed into a pretty nice looking house, save for the stairs leading up to the garage door.

One of the Skyline Parkway Motor Court buildings
One of the former buildings in the Skyline Parkway Motor Court has been transformed into a house, albeit an older one.  In real life, it is in very poor shape and covered in graffiti.

The Inn at Afton

The Inn at Afton
The Inn at Afton, meanwhile, actually looks like a modern hotel – essentially a very large Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express.  I know that it’s The Inn at Afton, though, because that crappy kidney-shaped pool is still there.

We then flew over to Staunton, where we visited DeJarnette.  The game gets it in this case:

The abandoned DeJarnette Center in Staunton

Even in the game, DeJarnette is abandoned, with several windows boarded up.  Compare to what it looks like in real life:

The Peery Building at DeJarnette, 2011

It may look completely different, but at least they got the main thrust of it, that the building is abandoned.

And finally, we flew up to Harrisonburg and saw JMU.  First, the lake area:

The lake area at JMU

Of these, they got it half correct.  Except for the gable roof, Chandler Hall, at front left, is accurate enough, having the right number of floors and shape.  However, that building now no longer exists to make way for a College of Business expansion.  Then to the right of Chandler Hall is Zane Showker Hall, where I had many classes.  Showker has been reduced to a one-level building.  Looks like a lovely office building, but not the Zane Showker Hall that I knew.  Likewise for Eagle Hall behind Showker.  That’s an eight-story dorm building, and it’s also a single-story building in this rendering.  How they manage that, I don’t know.  Shorts Hall, to the left of Eagle, looks pretty close, though it’s missing a level.  Half credit here.

And here’s Potomac Hall:

Potomac Hall

Potomac Hall looks like a Marriott Residence Inn!  Compare to Potomac Hall (now Chandler Hall) in real life:

Potomac Hall in 2016

And here’s the College Center:

The College Center (now Festival Conference and Student Center)

Pretty accurate compared to real life, though the rendering engine walled in a lot of windows.

And then here’s my freshman dorm, McGraw-Long Hall:

McGraw-Long Hall

It looks like an apartment complex, but with no parking lots or anything around it, it looks like a building that has been abandoned for many years.  Compare to real life:

McGraw-Long Hall, photographed in 2016

I suppose that they got the outline of the building right, but that’s about it.

So all in all, I had fun giving Elyse the aerial tour of some of the areas where I grew up.  I still have no interest in actually flying the planes in the simulator like I mean it, but I enjoyed seeing how the game rendered real-life locations that I was familiar with.  The results were amusing as we found that everything was the right shape, but looked completely different.  I hope that the map data eventually improves to the point where they show the actual buildings rather than the renderings like Howard County has, but I imagine that it will be a very long time before that happens.

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A paint job for the living room… Sat, 22 Aug 2020 03:30:55 +0000 Surprisingly, I never posted about the repainting project that I did in the living room, but better late than never, I suppose.

In any case, I embarked on a massive painting project last fall and winter that transformed the living room and hallways into something that looked the way that I wanted, rather than something that previous owners might have wanted.  The project was something that I had planned from the outset upon moving in because, while I didn’t necessarily dislike the color of the living room and the hallways, the paint, depending on the location, was either in poor condition with a lot of old nail holes, or, in the case of the upstairs hallway specifically, never painted well to begin with.  So rather than try to match the color, it made far more sense to just repaint the whole thing in a new color of my choosing.

In planning this project, I had to figure out how to make my living room look its best.  My living room is long and narrow, and only has one window at the front.  So most of the lighting would come from artificial sources, such as the overhead lights and the lamp.  I ultimately decided to go with a sunnier color than what was there before on three sides, and then I also put a dark blue accent wall on the left side.  That left wall is completely blank, which made it a good candidate for an accent color, since I could do just about anything that I wanted with it as far as furniture arrangement and decor went.  I extended the new color up and down the stairs, since I found the transition between the tan living room and white stairs to be a bit jarring.  Extending the living room color up the stairs and down to the basement just made sense.

Here is the way that the living room looked before I started changing things, seen here in file photos:

The living room on the day that we moved in, November 16, 2017.
The living room on the day that we moved in, November 16, 2017.

The dining side of the living room on July 31, 2018, after we put a new area rug down and bought some unfinished furniture.
The dining side of the living room on July 31, 2018, after we put a new area rug down and bought some unfinished furniture.

As you can see, it wasn’t a bad color by any means.  That I went almost two years without changing it speaks to that.  The basement rooms were the first things that I painted, because those colors were terrible.  But for here, despite the inoffensive color, if I had to go to the trouble of trying to match a color to repair nail holes and such, I might as well just pick a color that I will have documentation of and do the paint over again.  In doing the repainting, I first started with the ceilings.  I bought a can of special ceiling paint for that, which went on pink and then dried white:

The pink paint on the ceiling of the living room

The pink paint on the ceiling of the living room

The pink paint on the ceiling of the living room

It definitely felt strange putting a pink paint on the ceiling, but it did dry pure white.  It also wasn’t afraid to make it known that it was paint, because this was the only paint that I’ve used on the house that really “smelled like paint”.  Just doing one side of the living room made the entire house smell like paint for days.  That was a surprise, but it wasn’t the worst smell in the world, since I associate it with things that are fresh and new.

After completing the ceiling on one side of the living room, I did the walls in the same area:

The first wall to receive its new paint

The extent of the first phase of painting

This stage did a random wall in the kitchen that uses the living room color, the entrance to the kitchen on both sides, and the entire right-side wall of the living room and just past the front door.  I went with a yellow color, which is a lot brighter than before.

After I did this, I started working on the basement stairs and hallway.  I did this work early on in the project for Elyse, because the changes in her part of the house caused her a lot of stress.  So the plan was to get it done and over with quickly so that the new baseline would be established and she could move on.

First, the ceiling:

Painting the ceiling in the basement

Section of the basement stairs ceiling that we debated whether to treat as a wall or a ceiling
This vertical section along the ceiling of the basement stairs was a question for Elyse and me.  We debated whether or not this should be painted as part of the wall or as part of the ceiling.  When I did the ceiling, we hadn’t settled on what it would be, so I painted it with the ceiling paint in case we decided to go with that.  We ultimately decided that since it was vertical, it was a wall, which was probably a good decision, because I tend to put my hand on that section as I’m coming down the stairs, and the wall paint is darker and glossier than the ceiling paint, which is very white and very flat.

Then I edged around the doors:

Edging around the doors in the new color

And the finished product:

The basement hallway, painted

The basement stairs, painted

The basement stairs, painted

Seeing the finished product, I was concerned that the stairs looked too dark, but if you have the lights on upstairs, it isn’t too bad.  I would like to eventually add another can light at the top of the stairs, but that’s for another day, since I would need to hire out for that.

After that, I moved back to the living room, and did the area around the couch:

Painting the ceiling around the couch

The back wall is painted in the new color

This area was another reason that I opted to repaint.  This mark was on the wall when I moved in:

A mark from the previous owner's couch
That is a mark from the previous owner’s couch, which I believe had a chaise attached to it.  I was glad to finally paint out that mark.

At this point, I took about a month off of the painting project in order to have my sleeve surgery.  So with the project halfway complete, it sat while I recovered from surgery.  I resumed just before Christmas, working on the “dining” part of the living room:

Painting the rest of the living room ceiling.
Painting the rest of the living room ceiling.

Painting the last of the yellow in the living room.  The side wall is taped in preparation for painting the accent color.
Painting the last of the yellow in the living room.  The side wall is taped in preparation for applying the accent color.

The accent color turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought.  When I went to start painting, I discovered that my paint was no longer paintable:

This is what it looked like when I tried to paint with it.
This is what it looked like when I tried to paint with it.  As I later found out, my paint had frozen at some point, which led to this problem.  I kept all of the paint cans in the living room during this project, which I thought was fine, but apparently, I have a very cold corner of the room.  This was also the only can that this happened to.  Go figure.  So I had to replace that can.  I also took the opportunity to modify the shade of blue slightly, which seemed to work out for the better.

After seeing the earlier result, once it dried, I painted it out with the ceiling paint.  I suppose that I did that in order to ensure that there would be no chance that the wrong color would show through in the final result.
After seeing the earlier result, once it dried, I painted it out with the ceiling paint.  I suppose that I did that in order to ensure that there would be no chance that the wrong color would show through in the final result.

But after I got the paint, the accent wall went on pretty quickly.  The first phase was the dining area:

The first patch of paint to go on with the roller. Looks good!

The first session is complete, painting the living room wall blue

Not a bad looking color.  The blue complements the yellow nicely.  However, I did run into something that I was not expecting: I needed to do two coats to get proper coverage.  So I went over it again:

The second coat is applied to the accent wall

Much better.  I then pivoted to the rest of the accent wall:

The rest of the accent wall, taped and ready to go
Taped and ready to go.

This was a moment that I had been waiting for: the last swath of the old color, ready to be painted over.  After I did this, the old living room color was finally extinct.
This was a moment that I had been waiting for: the last swath of the old color, ready to be painted over.  After I did this, the old living room color was finally extinct.

The first coat on the rest of the accent wall is complete.

The first coat on the rest of the accent wall is complete.
The first coat on the rest of the accent wall is complete.

The accent wall is complete.

The accent wall is complete.

The accent wall is complete.
The accent wall is complete.  Not a bad way to finish out 2019.

And on New Year’s Day, the living room was put back together:

The living room is back in business

The living room is back in business

Not a bad look.  Those curtains are new, and are the same style as I hung in my bedroom.  I also eventually got a new tablecloth to match the accent color, though that was not yet in place at the time that I took these photos.  I also decided to test how the bookshelf looked in the center as something of a room divider and display case.  I decided that I didn’t like it, but it would take a while before I changed it.  I eventually got a purpose-built glass display case from IKEA for this purpose.

And this was the surprise of the day:

I found a large plastic spoon, likely part of a pail and shovel set for kids to dig with, in one of the air ducts that feeds the living room.  I can only assume that someone’s child dropped it in there at point point, but regardless, Elyse decided to use it, and after we ran it through the dishwasher, she used it as a scoop for powdered drink mix.

And with the living room completed, I turned to the stairs up to the second floor.  That was not a fun undertaking, because it involved relatively high ceilings, meaning that I had to break out the extension poles in order to reach.  It was a challenge, but I managed.  But before I started painting, I documented the poor paint job that existed in the stairway before.  Check this out:

The poor paint job that I inherited

With the exception of those bright white spots in the bottom corners, which are from my earlier paintwork, this is the paint job that I inherited from the previous owner.  The thing that blew my mind was that someone did that crappy paint job, and someone thought that quality of work was acceptable.  I didn’t like it.  It had to go.  So first I taped it:

The stairs, taped off

And then I started to paint:



And finally, on January 30, it was done:



You don’t know how happy I was to finally be done with this.  I started this project on October 8, and finished on January 30.  That meant that for nearly four months, there was a home improvement project in a noticeably incomplete state.  But now I can decorate the living room, but because of a number of factors, I have not completed that project yet.

Meanwhile, with the completion of this project, it means that I have repainted the entire house except for the master suite, the upstairs bathroom, and the back bedroom.  I do eventually want to paint the two upstairs bedrooms, but due to the high vaulted ceilings in those rooms, I will hire professionals to complete that work.  And the master bath doesn’t need to be repainted, because it has an inoffensive paint job in good condition.  Though if I did paint it, I could do it in a few hours.

Next project will probably be to install better smoke alarms, as well as replace the exhaust fans on all three bathrooms with something quieter.

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Some sad looking retail… Sun, 09 Aug 2020 15:44:11 +0000 On Saturday, Elyse, Aaron and Evan Stone, and I went out and visited the Kmart store in Aspen Hill, and the Sears store in White Oak.  The last time that I had been to either of these stores was in 2017, well before the Sears bankruptcy.  I had heard on social media about the way that the remaining non-closing Sears and Kmart stores were being merchandised, and I felt like it was time to see it for myself.  What I saw was what I more or less expected based on what I saw online, but definitely not what someone might expect for a retail business that is still a going concern.

We first visited the Kmart on Connecticut Avenue, which is located less than a mile away from my old apartment on Hewitt Avenue.  I knew this Kmart well enough, though I was never a regular there by any means.  This is also the last Kmart in Maryland to remain a going concern, as the store in Edgewater is currently conducting a store-closing sale, and all of the other Kmart stores in Maryland are gone.

This is the state that the Aspen Hill store was in:

The exterior of the store.
The exterior of the store.

Endcap signage.  Note the sign about a face mask's being required in the store.
Endcap signage.  Note the sign about a face mask’s being required in the store.

One of several aisles near the front of the store loaded with laundry detergent.  Seriously, there was no shortage of laundry detergent in this store.
One of several aisles near the front of the store loaded with laundry detergent.  Seriously, there was no shortage of laundry detergent in this store.

The easternmost (right-side) third of the store was closed off by using shelving to form a wall.  I guess that if you're going to be this light on merchandise to begin with, you might as well condense the store down a bit by blocking off sections of it.  Somewhat ironic to block off a section of the store, though, considering that based on the appearance of the roof, this store was expanded to the west at some point during the 1990s.

The easternmost (right-side) third of the store was closed off by using shelving to form a wall.  I guess that if you're going to be this light on merchandise to begin with, you might as well condense the store down a bit by blocking off sections of it.  Somewhat ironic to block off a section of the store, though, considering that based on the appearance of the roof, this store was expanded to the west at some point during the 1990s.
The easternmost (right-side) third of the store was closed off by using shelving to form a wall.  I guess that if you’re going to be this light on merchandise to begin with, you might as well condense the store down a bit by blocking off sections of it.  Somewhat ironic to block off a section of the store, though, considering that based on the appearance of the roof, this store was expanded to the west at some point during the 1990s.

View facing approximately west, showing the back action alley.  Note the many aisles of detergent.
View facing approximately west, showing the back action alley.  Note the many aisles of detergent.

Kid-sized shirt in the clothing section, reading "taters over haters".
Kid-sized shirt in the clothing section, reading “taters over haters”.

Face mask signage in the clothing section.  The fitting rooms, visible in the background, were closed because of coronavirus.
Face mask signage in the clothing section.  The fitting rooms, visible in the background, were closed because of coronavirus.

There were some things that were noticeably absent from this store.  One was the electronics department.  There was no electronics department whatsoever.  Even more noticeable was the lack of a grocery section.  Following the wave of store remodelings to the “Big Kmart” model in the 1990s, most Kmart stores got grocery sections, and a grocery section existed here when I first moved to the area in 2007, though the “Big Kmart” era signage had been replaced by then.  But now, no more food.  The rest of the store was set up to make the shelves look full, though I don’t know who they were trying to fool with that, because it still looked quite sparse.

This store used to be so much more than this.  It used to be full of merchandise, though I’ve never seen it crowded with shoppers.  It actually reminded me a lot of a Kmart store in liquidation, but this store was a going concern, and there was even a sign on the door to that effect.  It said, “We are staying open and remain committed to serving the community.  Thank you, Aspen Hill, for your continued loyalty!”  In any case, the presentation makes me think that Kmart isn’t too much longer for this world, and that despite what some employee printed on a sign on the front door about being committed to serving the community, they are really just biding their time until corporate decides to close them as well.

Then, upon leaving Kmart, we headed down to White Oak to check out the Sears.  This is one of three Sears stores remaining open in Maryland, with the others in Frederick and Glen Burnie.  The Sears had a noticeably better presentation than the Kmart, as its bi-level design made it easier to condense the store down without making it look quite as obvious as the Kmart.  Here’s what it looked like:

Escalators going down to the lower level, shut off and barricaded.  Only the far end of the lower level (furthest from the camera) was accessible to customers via a stairway and an elevator for access to the portrait studio and the restrooms.

Escalators going down to the lower level, shut off and barricaded.  Only the far end of the lower level (furthest from the camera) was accessible to customers via a stairway and an elevator for access to the portrait studio and the restrooms.
Escalators going down to the lower level, shut off and barricaded.  Only the far end of the lower level (furthest from the camera) was accessible to customers via a stairway and an elevator for access to the portrait studio and the restrooms.

Signs describing their "mattress policy", prohibiting customers from sitting on the beds, because coronavirus.
Signs describing their “mattress policy”, prohibiting customers from sitting on the beds, because coronavirus.

Cash register in the appliance department, which apparently is not to be used under any circumstances.
Cash register in the appliance department, which apparently is not to be used under any circumstances.

The closed-off section of the lower level of the store, being used to store spare fixtures.
The closed-off section of the lower level of the store, being used to store spare fixtures.

This store has also definitely seen better days, though it looks a bit better than the Kmart store in Aspen Hill does.  Despite the closed-off lower level, the Sears otherwise looked like a normal store.  There wasn’t the need to make the space look full like there was at Kmart, because it looked like it had enough merchandise to fill it normally.  It didn’t give me the same impression that the store was biding its time until corporate pulled the plug on it like I got with Kmart.

All in all, though, I feel like the end is near for both Kmart and Sears.  People in the various retail groups love referring to parent company owner Eddie Lampert as “Fast Eddie”, talking about how he’s killing an American institution and blah blah blah, but I suspect that Lampert is a lot more savvy than these people give him credit for.  Recall that Lampert got involved with Kmart following its bankruptcy in the early 2000s, and then acquired Sears a few years later and combined the two into a single company.  Both companies have been shedding locations for a long time now, and I suspect that this is deliberate, and the pace is controlled.  Lampert seems to be playing the long game.  I suspect that he always knew that the retail side of Sears and Kmart was a bit of a loser, but that the real estate is where the real value lies.  But if he closed everything at once, he would flood the market and get no return on his investment.  Thus the slow bleed, maintaining the retail operation at the various locations until they’re ready to do something with it.  By liquidating the retail operation in slow motion, he’s gradually releasing the real estate into the market, maintaining a decent price for it because they’re not flooding the market.  It seems like we’re getting into the end of the bleed, though, as by the calculations by a retail group that I’m in on Facebook, there are 74 Sears stores and 41 Kmart stores remaining as going concerns as of this past May.  I am not going to try to predict when Sears and Kmart will finally disappear, because every time I predict that it will be the company’s last Christmas, it makes it through it.  But I imagine that the company doesn’t have too many Christmases left in it, though I’m pretty certain that it will make it through this one.

In any case, Kmart and Sears definitely seem like they’ve passed the point of no return, and that it’s only a matter of time before they are gone completely.  I suspect that the company will not go out with a bang, like other companies that liquidated have done, having a massive final sale at all of their locations and closing.  Rather, Kmart and Sears will continue the gradual liquidation until there is nothing left to close, and the retail business ceases to exist because there’s nothing left.  The press will wax nostalgic about the closure of the final Kmart and Sears stores, respectively, and that will be it.  It’s just too bad that our last memories of these once-great names will be of stores that are just kind of hanging on, having outlived their relevance a long time ago.

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Is it time to replace the national anthem? Wed, 29 Jul 2020 14:18:48 +0000 An article from the Daily Mail was brought to my attention a while back about a few people who want to replace “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem, ostensibly because author Francis Scott Key was a slave owner.  Replacing “The Star-Spangled Banner” is something that I have had an opinion about for quite some time, though my own opinions about the song as our national anthem have more to do with the song itself, and not for anything that specifically has to do with Key.

First of all, though, for those not familiar, “The Star-Spangled Banner” originated as a poem about the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812.  The poem was later given to his brother-in-law, Joseph H. Nicholson, who put the poem to the tune of “The Anacreontic Song“, which is essentially a drinking song that originated in London.  If you’ve never heard the tune with its original lyrics, I encourage you to give it a listen, because it’s a good song.  Nonetheless, hearing the way bands play the tune with such flourish as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and then remembering that it originated as an English drinking song makes me chuckle.

I take issue with “The Star-Spangled Banner” for a few big reasons.  First of all, the song is not about the country, but rather, it is specifically about the flag.  Another problem with the song is that it glorifies war.  And third, we can’t all see a little bit of ourselves in the song.  For the first point, Americans have a very strange fascination with the flag.  The thing about the flag is that it’s all well and good as a symbol that is associated with our country, but it’s only a symbol, and not actually the country.  Thus I find people who get all up in arms about the way people behave in the flag’s presence to be a bit amusing.  Our country is far from perfect.  We have lots of problems that we need to sort through as a country, and the flag is often used to represent the country, like when people kneel in front of the flag as a respectful way to express various concerns about the direction that our country is taking.  But some people treat the flag like it’s a god in its own right, to be worshipped and adored and held on a pedestal, and that’s not at all what the flag is about.  It brings some truth to the meme about the flag that says, “If you don’t stand for the special song, the magical sky cloth won’t freedom.”  Because that’s about how it sounds to someone like me, who views the flag as a symbol, separate from the thing that it represents.  And then as far as the second point goes, we are altogether too eager to declare war on things.  George Carlin put it best when he said, “We like war!  We’re a war-like people!  We like war because we’re good at it!  You know why we’re good at it?  Cause we get a lot of practice.  This country’s only 200 years old and already, we’ve had 10 major wars.  We average a major war every 20 years in this country, so we’re good at it!”  And for some reason, people love to glorify it.  And in regards to the last point, I feel like the song is distant to a lot of Americans.  I can’t see myself at all in that song, being about a battle in a war that happened over two centuries ago, and I see the flag in its standard form most often used as a political statement by factions supporting issues that I don’t typically agree with.  It all feels somewhat distant to me.  It’s not necessarily the way that I would want to see America represented.

But for the song that represents our country, flag worship, declaring war, and fighting battles is not what I consider putting our best foot forward for the world, even though we certainly do get into it a lot.

That said, what should replace it has gone through a little bit of evolution in my head.  The idea was to come up with a nice song that was about the country rather than the flag, and that was not about war.  My original thought for a replacement song was “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates.  It checked all of the boxes for the most part.  It’s about the country, with the first verse about spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountains, and fruited plains in the first voice.  Then the second verse is about the pilgrims, the third verse is about sacrifice (essentially a heavily-veiled discussion of war), and the final verse sort of looks to the future, talking about patriot dreams that see beyond the years.  For many years, I was content that “America the Beautiful” was the song to use as a national anthem.  But then I had second thoughts, because of my own evolving stance on religion.  I stopped going to church in 2003, and then I soon came to realize that I had outgrown religion.  And “America the Beautiful” has a reference to God in every verse.  The first and fourth verses, after, “America!  America!” both say, “God shed His grace on thee.”  The second verse says, “God mend thine every flaw.”  And the third verse says, “May God thy gold refine.”  I didn’t want to trade one evil (war) for another evil (religion), especially in a country that constitutionally bars the government from establishing an official religion.  “God” is an inherently religious concept.  I take issue with the inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance for the same reason (though my problems with the Pledge of Allegiance are a whole different can of worms that I don’t want to go into now), and I would also take “In God We Trust” off of our money.  Therefore, any reference to religion in an officially-designated song is a non-starter as far as I’m concerned.  And that knocks out “America the Beautiful” from contention.

These days, I consider “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie to be the best song to replace “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our national anthem.  I like it because it’s folksy, and feels very accessible and unpretentious.  In its most common version, there are no references to the military or war, no flag references, and no obvious references to God (though an earlier version does reference God).  Its five verses all discuss various things that make up what we think of as America: the coasts, the heartland, forests, waters, miles of highway, mountains, valleys, deserts, and farmland.  Perhaps it’s a bit idealized, but it works.  I think that we can all relate to something in this song, and we can all see a little bit of ourselves in it.  I may have never seen the redwoods, the deserts, or the Gulf of Mexico in person, but I have definitely done plenty of rolling and rambling through the country, I’ve gone down many highways, I’ve been to New York, and I’ve been past plenty of farmland.  I’m sure that many people have had similar experiences.  I also admit that I would love to see “This Land Is Your Land” performed at sporting events.  Considering the folksy nature of the song, I imagine that rather than seeing another overdone performance by some singer, it could be a sing-along, where they play the music, and put the words up on the big jumbotron so that everyone can participate.  After all, what better way to perform a national anthem that we can all see a little bit of ourselves in than by singing it all together as one?  It could be a new American tradition.

In the end, though, I know that the chances of seeing “The Star-Spangled Banner” be unseated as our national anthem any time in the foreseeable future are slim to none.  But you never know.  It might just happen one day.

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Remember, do your research before you post… Sun, 19 Jul 2020 00:55:03 +0000 Sometimes, people will share anything on social media without giving a second thought to just what they’re sharing.  Recently, with coronavirus all over the news, a few folks that I know shared this:

Claims regarding the pH of coronavirus and various food items

You really have to wonder where some of these claims come from.  I imagine that most of it gets pulled out of a very dark place, if you get my drift.  In any case, this is the kind of stuff that you just dismiss more or less out of hand because the claims being made are just that ludicrous – unless you didn’t pay attention in science class, that is.

For those of you who didn’t pay attention in science class, pH is the measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions in an aqueous solution (dissolved in water), ultimately determining how strong of an acid or a base (alkaki) something is.  The scale runs from 0 to 14, with 0 being the strongest acid possible, 7 being neutral (i.e. pure water), and 14 being the strongest base possible.  If you remember pouring liquids into another liquid in a test tube, watching it change color, and then interpreting what color you got, you were measuring the pH of a solution.  Likewise, if you ever dipped litmus paper into a liquid and then interpreted the color that the paper turned, you were measuring pH.  We use things from all over the pH scale in daily life, though you wouldn’t want to eat a lot of it.

All of that said, let’s debunk the claims in the original post.

First, we can dismiss the claim about the pH of the virus out of hand, since a virus isn’t something that would have a pH.  Therefore, the claim that we just need to eat more alkaline foods in order to beat coronavirus is also nonsense, because it’s built on a false claim.

Second, the pH numbers that are given are way off.  Yes, anything above 7 on the pH scale is considered alkaline, but it stops at 14.  Therefore, anything that is above 14 can be dismissed out of hand.  Additionally, I found it amusing that citrus fruits were listed as “alkaline”.  After all, lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, and other citrus fruits are generally acidic.  That’s where that sour flavor comes from.

Looking at the actual pH of these items, you might notice a trend:

Notice a trend here?  Not a single one has a pH above 7.  All of them fall on the acid side of the scale, with lemons and limes being the most acidic, and avocadoes being the least acidic (but make no mistake, they are still acidic).

And then lastly, anything that people share that tells you to share it widely is usually the sort of stuff that specifically should not be shared, because 99 times out of 100, it’s absolute garbage.

I suppose that the moral of the story is to do your research and vet your facts before you share them.  Because when people don’t vet their facts and share garbage like this, I start to lose respect for them, and I don’t like when that happens.  Even more so when someone posting this crap deletes my comment debunking their “facts” and doubles down on being ignorant.  It bothers me.

All in all, if people would stop sharing easily debunked stuff and doing their research like they should, the world might be a little bit smarter place overall.

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Vegetable smoothies? Wed, 01 Jul 2020 21:20:53 +0000 For a while now, Elyse and I had been coming up with ways to use up certain food items in the house that we were not going through.  It stems from the way that my eating has changed ever since I had the sleeve surgery back in December.  Ever since then, I can’t eat a regular-sized meal anymore, and haven’t eaten off of a regular-sized plate in a very long time.  If I’m eating off of a plate, it’s one of the small plates, but more commonly, I eat out of a six-ounce ramekin, or out of a mug.  That works for me for the most part, but with such limited capacity, I end up getting my protein in, but I haven’t been as good about vegetables.  Typically, for vegetables, I try to throw some in when I make eggs, and then I also get it in when I make that vegan chili that I like.  But I want to say that just that is probably insufficient, and so the thought came up about how to (A) get more vegetables in, and (B) use up several large bags of broccoli and California mix that have been sitting in my basement freezer ever since before the surgery.

So Elyse and I thought about making smoothies with what we have around the house.  The idea seemed reasonable enough.  I have a Ninja blender, and there was food that needed a purpose.  The idea was to put it in and grind it up.  The bag of vegetables that was on the top in the freezer was the broccoli:

A big bag of Bird's Eye broccoli

So in it went:

Into the blender it goes

Then I added some plain Greek yogurt:

Add yogurt

I like Greek yogurt, because it has lots of calcium and protein.  And plain has almost no sugar, which means that it’s low in carbs.  Also, for what it’s worth, this is the only ingredient that I bought specifically for making smoothies.

Then I added some water, and two scoops of vanilla protein powder:

Add water and powder

The way I figure, this adds a little extra protein to it, plus I’m trying to use that stuff up.  After living on the stuff for two weeks before surgery and two weeks after surgery, I realize that I hate the stuff.  Same goes for the meal replacement shakes.  It’s the flavorings in the stuff that bother me.  None of them are very good, and the flavoring really limits what you can do with the stuff, since it adds that vanilla or chocolate flavor to whatever you put it in.  When I use these up, if I get protein powder again, I’m getting unflavored.  That way I can add it in with less impact on whatever I’m making.

Then I put it up on the blender base, and then ground it all up:

Ready to go!  Blending it all up

This is what the resulting concoction looked like:

All blended up!

I ended up filling two of these containers plus a little change:

The containers

And then I tasted it:

My reaction to the smoothie

Let’s just say that it was an interesting flavor combination.  You can definitely taste both the Greek yogurt and the protein powder.  The Greek yogurt was good, lending that sour flavor that plain yogurt tends to have.  The protein powder, well… it tasted awful, like flavored protein powder tends to do, but at least I was able to use up a good bit of it with this, which means that I have that much less of the stuff still to use up.  Then the broccoli kind of felt like orange juice pulp, but less soft.  This is definitely not something that you can drink quickly.  It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s not great, either.  This has the potential to be good, but this iteration doesn’t hit it out of the park by any means.

But, I suppose if it means that I’m getting nutrition that I’m not otherwise getting, then it’s a win overall.

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How should one behave when responding to an unwanted surprise party? Fri, 26 Jun 2020 05:50:57 +0000 I recently ran across an older Reddit post on /r/AmItheAsshole where someone asked the userbase to judge their reaction to an unwanted surprise party.  This is what the user wrote:

Hi.  So I turned 22 yesterday, and I’ve made it clear to my entire family that I didn’t want a party.  In fact, I’ve never had a party, not for my 16th, or 18th, or 21st.  I hate attention being on me.

So on Saturday, my dad told me he wanted to take me to my favorite bar and I thought that would be a decent compromise to wanting to be alone.  However, when we walked into the door, there was my entire family and friends all standing there and they already had me a drink poured.  Because I’d spent the last six months telling my familiy I did not want a party, I just turned around and walked right out the front door and straight back to my apartment (about a 15 minute walk), and I ordered Chinese takeout and went to sleep.  I woke up to over 50 texts from various family members telling me how ungrateful I was and how I made my parents cry, and I even got a text from one of my family members who had visited from overseas who I wasn’t aware was at the party.  I apologized to him for having a wasted journey, and told him we could hang out one day after work if he wanted, and I resolved that issue.  However, the rest of my family now will not talk to me, and my mom is demanding an apology.

​So, AITA?

I was a bit surprised by a lot of the responses.  Many of the responses indicated that the person was out of line for walking out of the party.  Here are a few responses:

But the truth is, in the real world, if people throw you a party, you’re supposed to nod and smile and pretend to enjoy it.  Because it makes them happy.  And sure, maybe it’s not how you want to spend your birthday, but making your whole family happy should be more important than how you spend your birthday.

It’s one night.  Grow the [expletive] up.  If you are socially capable enough to have a favorite bar that your family knows about, spending an hour or two with them isn’t going to kill you.

Sure, you’re entitled to your privacy, but the fact of the matter is [that] everyone went out of their way for you, and you spat in their faces.  You’re allowed to be an [expletive].  Just know that you are absolutely one.

I also hate being [the] center of attention and hate surprises, and everyone knows it.  So much so that there were only twelve people at my wedding, and no reception.  I got a surprise party for my birthday this year.  You know what I did?  Smiled and thanked everyone for coming, especially since half the people there had kids they had to get ready/chauffeur to homecoming dances that night and they still made it a point to be there.  Sometimes you have to suck it up when people do a nice thing and show that they care.

Sometimes you have to do things you don’t like to do, and there were MUCH better ways to handle that besides walking out and ignoring your family.  Wow.

I can’t even fathom what was going through your head.  Even if you didn’t want the party, you could just say, “Hey, I’m really uncomfortable right now.  I think I need to leave.”  Instead, you just turned around and ghosted like a pouting child.  You didn’t want a party.  That’s fine.  But you literally ditched ALL [of] your friends and family without even so much as a goodbye.  I bet the majority didn’t even know you didn’t want the party.  To them, you just didn’t give a damn to give them even 20 seconds of your time.  I hate attention, too, but when loved ones try to do something nice for you, don’t [expletive] on them like that.

People are going to want to celebrate your birthday in your lifetime.  It’s literally because they love you.  Get used to it and stop being so unappreciative!

Your family should’ve respected your wishes, but would it have killed you to stick around for ten minutes and be civil with family members who went out of their way to celebrate you?  You pretty much took the minor inconvenience of, “My loving family wants to spend time with me on my birthday,” and responded in a really [expletive], petty way.

There were some that said that the person was right:

You said you didn’t want a party.  They know you, so they should know you weren’t just saying that.  Honestly, this was so satisfying to read.  Everyone completely ignores your wishes so instead of going, “Oh, well, you trampled a boundary that I had clearly and repeatedly stated.  Guess I’ll just suck it up and fake having fun on MY OWN birthday,” you just left.

Why do people do that?  It wasn’t about you at all.  This was about what THEY wanted.  It’s your party, and you can leave and eat Chinese food if you want to.

You said multiple times [that] you didn’t want a party.  There’s nothing special about 22, so why now.  If you don’t like being the center of attention, then you shouldn’t have to be.

Screw anyone who thinks OP was “being a baby” about it.  They said MONTHS in advance they DID NOT WANT A PARTY.  They set a boundary, which was then stomped on by their family and friends.  If one of my boundaries was stepped on like that I definitely would not be calm enough to talk about it right then and there, which likely would come off as EVEN WORSE.  This was the perfect response.  Now that things have happened, wait for the dust to settle, then calmly talk to your family about how it made you feel that they disrespected your clearly set boundary like they did.  STOP CALLING PEOPLE CHILDISH BECAUSE THEY LEFT RATHER THAN MAKE A SCENE.

And despite what the “you’re the [expletive]” crowd is saying, if you had announced that you would not be staying because your parents disrespected your wishes, or ghosted the party after stay[ing] for a bit, they would STILL call you the [expletive], so ignore them.  Now what to do going forward.  Don’t get caught in argument loops with anyone.  Not parents. Not friends.  Not family.  “My parents ignored the fact I didn’t want a party.  I am sorry they misled you.”  To your parents, “I’m sorry you felt that lying to me and throwing this party was more important than listening to what I wanted.”

Your wishes were clear.  And were made clear for months leading up to their party.  I wouldn’t apologize.  Not to your parents, not the family, because this whole time, you told them [that] you didn’t want anything.  You can send that to the family members who are badgering you for an apology.  Seems harsh, but, hey, your wishes shouldn’t be dismissed just because everyone is mad at you.

I wish I would have had the balls to do this at my 35th.  He threw a surprise party for me assuming [that] I’d love it.  I didn’t.  It was awkward as hell being thrown into hosting an event [that] I didn’t want, with people [that] I didn’t want in attendance.  And bless his socially inept heart, he planned on them paying for their own meals, which I wasn’t going to let happen.  So a party [that] I didn’t want, with people [that] I didn’t want to be with, cost me $1,300.

You were very clear about not wanting a party.  It’s not your responsibility to “smile and wave” to keep everyone happy.  That was your day, and they tried to overrule the only thing you asked for.  Could you have stuck around?  Sure.  Would it have been YOUR party?  No.  You didn’t ask for it.  In fact you specifically asked not to have it.

A few folks placed blame all around:

They shouldn’t have gone against your wishes, and you shouldn’t have acted like a child.

Your immediate family were complete dicks, but the friends and extended family weren’t.  Those did come to make you happy.  Being nice to them and then telling your father to go [expletive] himself afterwards would have been the mature approach.

They knew [that] you disliked the idea of a party.  Your father even acknowledged this before you left.  Then again, you could have at least acknowledged them, stayed for five minutes, [or] even just said thank you.  But they seemed really butthurt by the whole thing.  They really had no right to be that offended, in my opinion.

And then there was this one, which acknowledged that the person definitely was rude, but it had to be done:

YTA.  But you know what?  That’s okay.  Sometimes, you need to be if people consistently ignore your wishes and thrust you into an overwhelming situation that you just cannot deal with at that moment.  The nice thing would have been to suck it up and hang around a party you hate.  But now, I can guarantee you [that] you’ll never have a surprise party again.  Sometimes being the bad guy is the only way to get a message across.  And that’s okay.

I always wonder what I would do if I were confronted with the occasion of a surprise party in my honor.  I have certainly had situations where I was unexpectedly thrust into the center of attention against my will by people who were allegedly trying to honor me, and I’ve never appreciated it.  Right offhand, I recall a “senior roast” that the minister of LPCM, the campus ministry group that I was in while I was in college, did for me at one of our regular Wednesday night things in the spring of my senior year.  I couldn’t make the original event that they wanted to do it at because of another obligation, but I was fine with missing it if it meant that I wouldn’t be made the center of attention (though I also really didn’t want to go to the event that I was obligated to go to).  So they “roasted” me at the next regular event.  I got practically no warning that they would be doing it then, and I was mortified about being thrust into the center of attention without my consent.  I should have said something to the effect of stopping it, or just walked out, but I was too shocked to do anything other than sit there.  Clearly, considering that I have brought this event up on multiple occasions in the past, I’ve harbored a bit of resentment over it for a very long time (the event happened 17 years ago).  I think that someone probably owes me an apology for it, but the odds are good that I will never get the apology that I probably deserve.  Of course, it’s not like an apology would really make a difference at this point.  The deed was done.

Then there was the time in 2005 when I really didn’t want to celebrate my birthday.  I had previously told my family that I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday that year, and I was adamant that there be no cake.  I very much tried to ignore it all, including not requesting the day off at work in order to distract myself through my work, but it ended up being nonstop birthday greetings all day because one of the department managers got wind of it and ran his big mouth over the PA system for all of my fellow employees to hear.  Thanks for nothing.  I believe that no one would have blamed me if I had quit on the spot that day, especially considering how crappy of a job it was.  So after a terrible day at work, my mother messaged me to let me know that they had gotten cake and were planning to celebrate my birthday when I got home.  This was against my explicit request not to have a cake.  Not wanting to be confronted by that when I got home, and fearing that things might get very ugly if I went home to that, I turned off my phone and went for a long drive after work.  I ended up in Culpeper, which is about halfway between Waynesboro and DC.  I spent a few hours there, and then came home, late enough to be fairly confident that my mother would be in bed, and I wouldn’t have to deal with anyone.  And as for the cake that I told them not to buy for me, I threw it away.  Nobody ate any of that cake.  I also really didn’t appreciate it that my mother subsequently confronted me about that incident, telling me that there was something wrong with me for not wanting to celebrate.  I really didn’t view it that way.  Rather, it was my birthday, and determining how to celebrate it, or choosing not to celebrate it at all, was my prerogative.

So if I were confronted with a surprise party, what would I do?  I imagine that I probably would be pretty similar to the person in the Reddit post.  I would probably make sure to ruin it, because I do not like surprises – especially ones that thrust me into the center of attention.  A party in my honor without my consent would be more than I could handle, and I probably would walk out.  I could see myself saying to the guests, “I’m sorry that they brought you all here for this, but this was done without my knowledge or consent, and I want nothing to do with it.”  I consider myself to be quite fortunate that Elyse hates surprises just as much as I do, so I think that I’m probably safe, at least as far as most of that is concerned.

What especially bothered me about the first group of responses, though, was the idea that the person in the original post was somehow obligated to suck it up and attend a party that they didn’t want in the first place, if nothing else but for the sake of politeness to the guests.  Their parents completely disregarded their explicit request that they not have a celebration, and then they’re expected to enable their bad behavior by playing along and being a good sport about it?  No.  The parents should have gotten the whole carton of eggs on their face for that one.  After all, they invited many people for a celebration that the guest of honor didn’t want.  That takes a certain amount of nerve, and it’s their fault.  I hope that they had a lot of explaining to do to the guests for why they arranged a party that the guest of honor didn’t even want.  One respondent said, “everyone went out of their way for you, and you spat in their faces.”  I really took issue with that.  If anyone figuratively spat in anyone’s face, the parents spat in the original poster’s face, for blatantly going against their wishes.  It’s like what happened with my mother on my own birthday in 2005.  I was very explicit in telling them not to buy me a cake, and they did it anyway.  So upon learning about that, I skipped out on their celebration, and they got no celebration, and the cake went completely to waste.  If my mother was disappointed, she really only had herself to blame, when I had made my wishes clear.  Parents don’t always know best, and just because someone is your offspring doesn’t mean that you know better than they do, or that your wishes override theirs.

Additionally, the idea that people want to celebrate someone’s birthday because they love them comes off as extremely creepy.  My stance is that if you love someone, you really should respect their wishes.  If that means that they want no celebration, that means no celebration.  Otherwise, that’s not a very loving thing to do, if it’s against the wishes of the recipient of the love.

The whole thing ultimately boils down to a very simple concept of respect, and so many people just don’t get it.  If you know that someone doesn’t like being thrust into being the center of attention, don’t put them there.  If someone doesn’t want it, they will actively avoid it, and someone will get egg on their face for it.  No really does mean no.

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