The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Mon, 10 Aug 2020 05:42:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5 https://www.schuminweb.com/wp-content/uploads/Clouds-Facebook-icon-150x150.png The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com 32 32 37838674 Some sad looking retail… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/08/09/some-sad-looking-retail/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/08/09/some-sad-looking-retail/#respond Sun, 09 Aug 2020 15:44:11 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=33899 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? https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/07/29/is-it-time-to-replace-the-national-anthem/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/07/29/is-it-time-to-replace-the-national-anthem/#respond Wed, 29 Jul 2020 14:18:48 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=33342 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… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/07/18/remember-do-your-research-before-you-post/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/07/18/remember-do-your-research-before-you-post/#respond Sun, 19 Jul 2020 00:55:03 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=32303 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? https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/07/01/vegetable-smoothies/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/07/01/vegetable-smoothies/#respond Wed, 01 Jul 2020 21:20:53 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=33399 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? https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/06/26/how-should-one-behave-when-responding-to-an-unwanted-surprise-party/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/06/26/how-should-one-behave-when-responding-to-an-unwanted-surprise-party/#respond Fri, 26 Jun 2020 05:50:57 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=33284 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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A little pressure washing makes the backyard look like new again… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/06/20/a-little-pressure-washing-makes-the-backyard-look-like-new-again/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/06/20/a-little-pressure-washing-makes-the-backyard-look-like-new-again/#respond Sun, 21 Jun 2020 01:40:25 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=33259 Sometimes, all that you need to make a space look like new is a little water… at 1,750 pounds per square inch.  There’s really nothing like blowing the gunk off of something and making it look great.  In this case, I did the backyard and deck in order to make them look like new.  As far as “before” photos go, here’s what the backyard looked like when I toured the house in July 2017:

The backyard when I toured the house in July 2017

And here’s what it looked like from the other direction the day before I moved in back in November 2017:

The backyard in November 2017

Now, fast forward about eight months to July 2018, and Elyse and I discovered that we had weeds back there in a major way:

All sorts of weeds growing in the backyard

What happened was that with all of the other things that come with being a new homeowner, the backyard got none of our attention.  After all, in 2018, I was painting the basement bathroom and finishing furniture, as well as painting Elyse’s room and finishing more furniture.  And through all of that, the weeds grew.

So the first thing I did was some weed work.  First, I yanked those really tall weeds out with my hands.  Then I hit most of the weeds with some weed killer, with the hope of keeping the weeds at bay for a time.  Then I took a weed whacker and blew them out.  In the end, I ended up with a lot of yard debris that I swept out of the gate.  This was the result:

The backyard, cleared of weeds

Not too shabby.  From here, the plan was to start power washing, and there was lots to do.  The order was fence, deck, and then brick.  The first day of power washing, I did the right half of the fencing and the gate, and these were the results:

The results of the first power washing session

The results of the first power washing session

This is the difference between washed and unwashed:

Washed vs. unwashed

It is like night and day.  I wonder how many years’ worth of gunk this is.  The only problem with the first day’s work, though, was that it was just a tad too cold.  I got pretty dirty and wet, which was to be expected, and I was freezing by the end of it.  I guess for late April, it’s to be expected.  Subsequent days, I made sure that it was a very warm day before I started working.

The next time I went out, I did the exterior of the fence and the rest of the back side of the fence.  Here is a “before” photo of the back of the fence, taken the day before Elyse and I moved in back in 2017:

The fence on the day before we moved in

Here’s a partial completion photo:

Compare the fence to the gate

And done:

The back of the fence is done!

Not too shabby, though all of the runoff from this made for some extremely slippery conditions with wet grass and a lot of mud.  I came out of this quite dirty, mostly from a fall in the mud.  This power washing also eliminated a labelscar from some house numbers on the fence that the previous owner had installed, and that I removed.

Then the next session was the big one.  I did the entire deck.  That thing was green on the underside, and gray on the topside.  There was also an area rug on the top that I tended to trip on a lot and that had moss growing on it, and so I rolled it up and hauled it out.  Good riddance to that thing.

This is the difference on the underside:

The difference on the underside of the deck

That green stuff came off very easily without much effort.

I also did the lawn furniture, which I bought for the apartment back in 2007.  Note the difference in color, before and after:

The table, partially cleaned

That’s about 13 years’ worth of gunk right there.  And then here’s the deck right after washing:

The deck, cleaned

The deck, cleaned

And here’s the deck after it had a few hours to dry:

The deck, cleaned and having dried for a few hours

The area where the rug used to be took a bit longer to dry than the rest, likely because that rug trapped water in that part of the deck for a long time.  When it finally dried, it looked uniform.

And then the last part of the project was the part that I had been looking forward to the least: the brick.  The only reason that I wasn’t looking forward to it was because it was very detailed and would take a long time to do.  I did it over two sessions.  The first session involved everything that was not under the deck, and the second session did the remainder.

Here are the results from the first session:

The brick after the first session was done

The brick after the first session was done

The brick after the first session was done

The brick after the first session was done

The difference is like night and day.  And I had to go through this and wash every single brick, individually.

And then the last session completed the job.  The remaining bricks all got washed, individually.  But first, we had to do a little housekeeping.  Elyse and I moved the toilets that had been sitting haphazardly in the backyard to their permanent location, where Elyse would start a small garden.  Here they are in their final positions:

The commodes in their final positions

Not too shabby.  I power washed these to get them all clean (because why not), and then turned them over to Elyse to start planting.  She ended up planting a variety of flowers in these, and then I suppose that we’ll see what happens as far as the results go.  I also swept up the remaining amount of gunk in the backyard, and got a nice, satisfying pile:

A nice, satisfying pile of gunk

I swept that out through the gate with everything else, and then went to town with the power washing.  This was the result when I was done:

The power washing is complete

The power washing is complete

The power washing is complete

I imagine that this backyard looks better now than it has looked in a number of years, and definitely better than it has ever looked under my ownership.

Now as far as what I want to do with this space, I am not entirely sure yet.  I’ve casually looked at some nicer lawn furniture, perhaps a swing or maybe a hammock, but I haven’t made any decisions.  I also am tempted to get one of those inflatable hot tubs to set up back there during the warmer months.  Part of me thinks that such a purchase would be silly, and therefore I should dismiss the idea, but part of me just wants to do it.  That might be fun, to go out back and soak in the hot tub.  Whatever I end up doing, though, it won’t be this year, because I’ve already missed the boat on hot tub purchases for this season, and so if I can’t do that, I might as well kick the can down the road and think about what I want to do and how much I want to pay for it all.  Elyse, meanwhile, has already enjoyed some leisurely time out back, and so for that alone, the project was worthwhile to have done, because it’s getting some usage.

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If this turns out to be the end, I think that they had a good run… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/06/13/if-this-turns-out-to-be-the-end-i-think-that-they-had-a-good-run/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/06/13/if-this-turns-out-to-be-the-end-i-think-that-they-had-a-good-run/#respond Sun, 14 Jun 2020 03:43:26 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=33163 Some of the news that has come out of the various retail groups that I’m in on Facebook has centered around the rather dire financial situation that CEC Entertainment, the company that owns Chuck E. Cheese, has found itself in lately.  In short, with the coronavirus pandemic and related closures, that has put the company in a bad financial situation.  The articles that I’ve read have indicated that bankruptcy and liquidation are probably in the company’s near future.  And really, if that is how it ends, that’s not the worst thing in the world.

First of all, though, I find the moves that the company has made since pandemic-related restrictions put the kibosh on their normal business to be rather curious, because it has tended to lay bare certain aspects of the business that they would probably rather not have everyone realize.  One thing that I’ve seen posted online is that the company is selling the prizes outright, whereas normally, they are only available by redeeming prize tickets from the games.  The asking prices show what the company thinks that those prizes are really worth, including a profit margin, rather than having the games and tickets as a middleman to obscure the actual value of these things.  It makes me think of the mug that I won at ShowBiz Pizza for around 100 tickets, mostly via an arcade version of Bozo the Clown’s Grand Prize Game, played for tickets.  I remember that the game was relatively generous with tickets, giving out one ticket per bucket successfully hit.  That’s why I played it, because this game gave up to six tickets per play, while most games only gave out one or two tickets per play.  Thus if I wanted something good, this was the machine to do it with.  So assuming a perfect play every time, to get 100 tickets would have required 17 plays, or $4.25.  But it probably ended up costing us a bit more than that because at around eight years old, I was not capable of doing a perfect play every time, and even getting to the sixth bucket at all, let alone making it, was pretty rare for me.  A more realistic estimate for my size and skill at that time would be three tickets per play, which would require 34 plays and cost $8.50.  And this was not an $8.50 mug, by any means, especially not in 1989 dollars (around $18 in today’s money).  The thing was probably only worth a dollar, even back then.  We paid a lot more for it because you had to redeem tickets from the games for it.  I imagine that if they sold the mug today for cash rather than tickets, it would probably reveal that we paid way more than we should have for that mug.  But for the time, I accomplished what I was trying to do, and left with the mug, the satisfaction of having gotten a good prize, for once, as well as a massive headache.  I did some major hurling that night, too.  Totally worth it.

Then the other thing that I find curious is that the company launched a separate brand to sell pizza for delivery.  Rather than calling themselves “Chuck E. Cheese”, they instead called themselves “Pasqually’s Pizza and Wings” for their delivery service, with no indication of any kind that they were Chuck E. Cheese.  For those not familiar, Pasqually is one of the animatronic characters in Munch’s Make Believe Band, i.e. this guy:

Pasqually P. Pieplate

Along with their using Pasqually as the name rather than their main mascot, it is worth noting that in an article by Food & Wine, the company was quoted as saying that, “[I]t is a different pizza that features a thicker crust and extra sauce, giving consumers a more flavorful, more premium pizza experience.”  Translated, the company knows that (A) the Chuck E. Cheese brand has baggage, as it is known for serving up terrible pizza (and their pizza is indeed terrible), and (B) that no one would buy that crap if they were looking to buy pizza, rather than the food that happens to be served at a place to take the kids in order to feed them and tire them out.  Thus in order to actually sell the pizza on its own merits, they had to upgrade it and give themselves a new name, because nobody wants to eat Chuck E. Cheese if they’re looking for a good pizza.

Through all of this, Chuck E. Cheese has essentially admitted that they are overpriced, they serve a low-quality product, and their brand has some serious image issues.  And I can’t disagree with that.  Of course, it’s not like the company is anything like it was in its heyday, anyway.  Both Chuck E. Cheese and ShowBiz Pizza Place used to have better offerings than the modern company does.  The company stopped updating its animatronic stages decades ago, and reduced the amount of characters on stage in new installations from five to one to zero, and then started actively removing the animatronics from its existing stores in favor of a dance floor for live shows.  I also got the sense that the company lost sight of what the animatronic show was about.  Both the early Chuck E. Cheese shows as well as The Rock-afire Explosion shows at ShowBiz were genuinely good.  Both shows were solid entertainment for all ages.  After all, according to company founder Nolan Bushnell, as reported in a Fast Company article, the show was aimed primarily at the adults, to give them some entertainment while they were waiting for the pizza to come out, and while the kids were spending money in the arcade.  That continued, even after Chuck E. Cheese declared bankruptcy in 1984, and ShowBiz Pizza bought them out of bankruptcy, and even through Concept Unification, which gave all of the restaurants the same theming, they still aimed the animatronic shows at a general audience.  Then some time in the 1990s, they changed Chuck E. Cheese’s voice to a much goofier sounding voice courtesy of Duncan Brannan, and dumbed the show down a bit, now aiming it at the kids rather than everyone, and talking down to them.  And, as expected, the quality went down.  It’s kind of telling when you look at the way that shows incorporating children’s songs were handled.  In a later Rock-afire Explosion show featuring kids’ songs, Billy Bob describes it as “taking them back to their childhood memories today with these kiddie songs”.  In other words, the show was still aimed at the adults, but the kids would probably enjoy it, too.  Compare to a 2000s-era Chuck E. Cheese show, where the characters are introduced and then they immediately start singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It” (the worst and most obnoxious children’s song ever) like they mean it, and talking down to the kids.  If I were there and they started playing that garbage with that voice, I think that my ears would start bleeding.  The only time that song has been halfway decent was when it was used with different lyrics in a commercial to sell cat litter.  Other than that, I never want to hear that song – ever.  I’m just glad that when I visited on a nostalgia trip in 2012, the show was one of their better ones.  But if you watch videos of the shows on YouTube, you will find a lot of stinkers amongst that good one in their show portfolio.  I also find the live shows to be a bit of a non-starter, and I find the way that they get kids to participate in them, i.e. the distribution of free prize tickets, to be a bit degrading for the kids.  Watch for yourself in the Laurel, Maryland location (same location that I visited), and you’ll see that they just throw the free tickets out of a box onto the floor, and then all of the kids rush in to pick the tickets off of the floor that an employee or the character (I’ve seen it go both ways) throws out at them.  Note in the video that the employee even warns the children not to fight over tickets, which indicates that the staff knows full well that the distribution method is problematic.  I’ve always felt that this could be done in a less degrading way that doesn’t lead to the kids’ rushing a pile of loose tickets like a bunch of savages.  A more civilized way would be to prepare packets of an amount of tickets ahead of time and then have the kids line up to receive their tickets directly from either the character or the employee.  “Here you go, kid,” rather than something more akin to “soooooooo-weeeeee!”

Meanwhile, what puzzled me about the discussion of the company’s poor financial condition was the reaction of some of the participants in an animatronics group that I’m in on Facebook.  One person said this:

It’s the only chance to bring back Showbiz!!

Another said this:

Right? It’s their own fault for getting rid of the Rock a Fire Explosion and CEI!

These comments really ignore the history of the companies, and also skips over some ownership issues.  The big point is that the current Chuck E. Cheese is, in fact, ShowBiz Pizza.  I mentioned above that the original Chuck E. Cheese company declared bankruptcy in 1984, and ShowBiz Pizza bought them out of bankruptcy.  While the company still ran both brands, the company gradually made the two brands look the same.  They both had the slogan “Where a kid can be a kid,” which replaced ShowBiz’s earlier “Come for the pizza, stay for the fun” slogan.  Concept Unification, which changed the show, was the final stage of a process that had been going on for some time.  I remember the first time I saw Munch’s Make Believe Band, I was surprised to see new characters up there, but wasn’t surprised at the same time, having figured a while ago that it was only a matter of time before they put Chuck E. Cheese on stage, considering that they had been plastering his face all over everything else at ShowBiz.  Changing the show just made it complete.  ShowBiz Pizza was dead and buried as far as the company was concerned, and nothing is ever going to bring that back.

Thing is, in hindsight, getting rid of The Rock-afire Explosion was a no-brainer.  When Chuck E. Cheese was founded, they created their own characters out of whole cloth.  When competitor ShowBiz Pizza was founded, they inked a deal with a third party, Creative Engineering, for the animatronic show.  In other words, the Rock-afire didn’t belong to ShowBiz Pizza, but was only licensed to them, while Chuck E. Cheese owned its characters outright.  Once the companies merged, it didn’t make sense to keep the Rock-afire, which wasn’t theirs, when they had an equivalent group of characters that did belong to them.  Add to this that Aaron Fechter, the man whose company built the Rock-afire animatronics, refused to manufacture Chuck E. Cheese animatronics for the newly merged company.  So the company really had no reason to continue working with him, because he wouldn’t go with them where they wanted to go.  That’s just bad business as far as I’m concerned.  Yes, Fechter is shown talking about beating Chuck E. Cheese in the “Save the Colander” telethon from 1983, and so he at one time had good reason to dislike Chuck E. Cheese, because the rat was competing against the business that he worked with.  But by the time that ShowBiz asked him to manufacture Chuck E. Cheese, the war was over.  Chuck E. Cheese had been defeated, and had declared bankruptcy.  ShowBiz had clearly won, and the Chuck E. Cheese bankruptcy led to the two companies’ joining forces.  So, not surprisingly, they went to work replacing the Rock-afire.  They experimented with different licensed characters (Yogi Bear), but ultimately opted to bring the Chuck E. Cheese characters to ShowBiz.  That made enough sense, because these were characters that the company owned outright.  Now, mind you, ShowBiz had attempted to acquire the rights to the Rock-afire from Creative Engineering, but Fechter declined to turn over those rights.  According to Fechter, the company offered him no compensation for turning over the rights, so if that is, in fact, the case (and I have no reason to think it isn’t), I can’t blame him for refusing.  But really, the Rock-afire never really stood a chance, and you would be very hard-pressed to make a business case for licensed characters when you already own similar characters outright.  Saves the shareholders money, after all.  And if ShowBiz had managed to get the rights to the Rock-afire, there’s no reason to think that they would not have been dumbed down by the company like happened with Munch’s Make Believe Band.  If the Rock-afire had been kept instead of the Chuck E. Cheese characters, we would probably be talking to how the quality on the Rock-afire dropped instead.

So all in all, if Chuck E. Cheese is finished, just as well.  If I had kids and wanted to take them to an arcade, I would take them to Dave and Buster’s, which is more along the lines of what Chuck E. Cheese and ShowBiz used to be, minus the show.  The games are designed to be fun for everyone, and they also aren’t afraid to challenge the kids and occasionally go over their heads.  The lack of a show at Dave and Buster’s isn’t a factor anymore, because the show was going extinct at Chuck E. Cheese’s anyway.  But even when I was a kid, I knew when I was being talked down to, and appreciated being spoken to like a regular person.  Never talk down to someone, and don’t be afraid if a few things sail over the kids’ heads, because that’s something new to learn.  And considering that they are now all about talking down to the kids rather than giving them some credit, I find few things left that are at all redeeming that other companies don’t do better.  So I imagine that if this is the end of the line for them, not a whole lot will be lost.

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What a washing machine might see… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/05/24/what-a-washing-machine-might-see/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/05/24/what-a-washing-machine-might-see/#comments Sun, 24 May 2020 15:06:21 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=32662 I’m currently working on a photography project where I’m going through my old photos from the period before I started using Flickr seriously, which means stuff prior to around September 2013, with the goal of putting more stuff from the back catalog on my Flickr feed.  What I’ve noticed is that of all of the photos that I took, I took a lot of stinkers, but there is a lot of good stuff that got passed over in the past, mostly because the Life and Times and Photography formats tend to tell a story through the photos, with various levels of narration, and if an otherwise good photo doesn’t help to tell that story, it typically won’t get used.  Flickr is a different format from Schumin Web, and photos tend to be viewed individually rather than as collections, though that capacity does exist.  So photos that are good but otherwise irrelevant to the story will “work” there.  The recent Journal entry about my trip to Hampton Roads is a good example.  That entry used 79(!) photos from the four-day trip, and there was a lot that I didn’t cover because that was already an obscene amount of photos for one Journal entry, and I already found pacing to be a challenge when writing that one, wanting to cover a lot but not go on for too long.

In any case, I found a group of photos that I did on February 26, 2013 that I never used anywhere.  I set a camera inside the washing machine and the dryer in my apartment building, and set the shutter timer, and posed for the camera.  I believe that my intent was to use one of these as a splash photo, but I ultimately didn’t like any of them enough to run them on the front of the website, so this whole set got shelved.  I think that I rejected them primarily because it was rather late at night, and I wasn’t really looking my best.  However, in going back through these for the Flickr project, they made me laugh a little bit, because the even though the concept was a bit ridiculous, the results aren’t as bad as I thought at the time.

So here they are.  First the washer:

And then the dryer:

I trust that you now understand why I decided not to run any of these photos on the site.  It was a good enough idea, but I was definitely not looking my best in these shots, and the smile in the last shot seemed forced.  Also, it is worth noting that for the first two dryer photos, that is one of my old college yearbooks being used as a platform for the camera.  I haven’t cracked one of those open in many years, but whenever I need a heavy object to hold something down, The Bluestone is usually the first thing that I reach for, because while they’re pretty boring yearbooks, they make a great paperweight.

So there you go, I suppose.

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Drive carefully, everyone… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/05/17/drive-carefully-everyone/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/05/17/drive-carefully-everyone/#respond Sun, 17 May 2020 04:21:00 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=32559 You may have noticed the photo feature that is currently running on the front of the site depicts a vehicle on its side following its being involved in an accident.  First of all, before you ask: we were not involved in this accident.  Elyse and I saw a car with a bashed in front in the middle of the road and a second car on its side at the intersection of Montgomery Village Avenue and Lost Knife Road while we were on the way home from dropping off a package at a UPS locker, and, seeing no emergency vehicles around, stopped and called it into 911.  Thankfully, no one appeared to be seriously hurt, as both drivers were able to walk away from their respective vehicles.  However, I suspect that the driver of the smashed car hit her head on the windshield, as there was damage to the windshield consistent with that sort of impact.  Additionally, both drivers did ultimately leave the scene in ambulances, presumably to get checked out.

Once we were finished talking with 911, we got some photos of the scene.  Here are some of mine:


The overturned vehicle, an Acura MDX.  The driver had not yet turned the car off when this photo was taken.

The Acura, on its side, after the driver crawled out through the back hatch.  The man in the blue is not the driver, but rather, he is an off-duty firefighter who happened to pass by and rendered some assistance, particularly in helping the driver get out.
The Acura, on its side, after the driver crawled out through the back hatch.  The man in the blue is not the driver, but rather, he is an off-duty firefighter who happened to pass by and rendered some assistance, particularly in helping the driver get out.

The Acura, on its side.

The Acura, on its side.
The Acura, on its side.

Undercarriage of the Acura MDX.  I never gave much thought to what it looked like underneath, but there it is.

Undercarriage of the Acura MDX.  I never gave much thought to what it looked like underneath, but there it is.
Undercarriage of the Acura MDX.  I never gave much thought to what it looked like underneath, but there it is.

The other vehicle, a Hyundai Elantra, in the middle of Montgomery Village Avenue, with its front smashed in, and debris scattered in front of it.

The other vehicle, a Hyundai Elantra, in the middle of Montgomery Village Avenue, with its front smashed in, and debris scattered in front of it.
The other vehicle, a Hyundai Elantra, in the middle of Montgomery Village Avenue, with its front smashed in, and debris scattered in front of it.

In this photo, note the damage to the windshield consistent with a head impact.
In this photo, note the damage to the windshield consistent with a head impact.

Close-up of the debris from the Hyundai.
Close-up of the debris from the Hyundai.

As far as what happened, I’m not sure.  The accident happened around 12:30 AM, which is the time that many traffic lights in Montgomery County switch from normal operation to flash mode.  This intersection is one that switches at that time.  Clearly, one or both drivers made an error in judgment somewhere, but I couldn’t tell you who hit who or how the Acura ended up on its side.  In any case, I imagine that both vehicles are totaled.  The Hyundai is pretty obviously destroyed, having had a front-end impact.  The Acura may look relatively undamaged, save for the left side mirror, but enough airbags went off that it’s likely done for as well.

In the end, I suppose that the usual advice applies: pay very close attention while you are driving, because your mistake could cost you your life, or could cost someone else theirs.

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Photographing a very large plane… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/05/12/photographing-a-very-large-plane/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/05/12/photographing-a-very-large-plane/#comments Wed, 13 May 2020 03:30:54 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=32524 Today, Elyse and I headed up to BWI in order to photograph an Antonov An-124 Ruslan that was coming in for a landing.  For those not familiar, Antonov planes have helped transport various medical supplies to where they are needed in the fight against the coronavirus.  As I understand it, these movements are generally not publicized in advance, but the plane shows up on various aviation tracking apps, and as such when one is found, people tend to head out to spot them.  Elyse let me know, and after I warmed to the idea (I don’t take too kindly to requests for adventures before I even get out of bed), we went up to the aircraft observation park (we’ve photographed here before) to await it.

When we got there, there were a bunch of guys with cameras that had really big lenses, as well as radio scanners.  Then the winds shifted, and the planes started landing on another runway that is not very visible from the observation park.  All of the guys with the big lenses then left and headed to a nearby Royal Farms, which is an excellent vantage point for the other runway.  We followed them, assuming that they knew what they were doing.  Then after we got there, we saw all of the guys head back to the observation park, and we followed.  And then the plane, tail number RA-82042, came through:

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

The Antonov An-124 comes in for a landing at BWI, viewed from the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. Aircraft Observation Area.

After the plane landed, we headed elsewhere in order to spot it on the ground at the airport.  We ended up going back over near the aforentioned Royal Farms, where it was visible from the road:

The Antonov An-124 after having landed.

The Antonov An-124 after having landed.

All in all, not a bad time.  Considering that you don’t see a Soviet-era jet that often, this was definitely a treat to watch coming in.

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The more they talk, the more irresponsible they sound… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/04/23/the-more-they-talk-the-more-irresponsible-they-sound/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/04/23/the-more-they-talk-the-more-irresponsible-they-sound/#respond Thu, 23 Apr 2020 14:45:27 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=32302 So I have a new story about my experience enforcing copyrights, this one involving materials posted to YouTube.  First of all, though, for those not familiar with how YouTube handles DMCA copyright takedowns, it is worth noting that their takedown form is a bit lackluster, though they’re usually pretty quick to respond.  The problem is that YouTube doesn’t allow a claimant (i.e. me) to fully make my claim to ownership of a piece of video content, which has led to problems in the past.  Here’s the relevant section of YouTube’s copyright form:

The relevant section of YouTube's copyright form, showing where I identify the work in question

As you can see, I identify the specific video, then provide the name of my content, as well as identification of where in the video my content appears.  The problem is that it doesn’t have a place for me to provide an authorized example of my work like other services provide.  Coupled with YouTube’s taking a very strong stance on copyright infringements with its partners, this has lead to a lot of unnecessary negative interaction, where people tend to think that I’m just some loony, and not a content creator in my own right who is treating other people like adults.  Providing an authorized example tends to remove all doubt about the veracity of my claims, seeing a clean version of the subject image in its original context.  It also should be noted that Blogger, which is also a Google product, has a much better copyright process than YouTube, as Blogger allows me to provide an authorized example of my work in order to remove all doubt about the veracity of my claims, and also provides a dashboard so that I can track the status of my copyright claims after I have submitted them.

I’m also none too happy with YouTube for the way that they tend to treat smaller users.  Back in 2018, when they revamped the “partner” program (and kicked me out of it for being too small), they also took the use of their copyright verification tools away from smaller users.  Previously, I was able to pick violations right out of the search results and quickly take care of them on the spot, with most of the required information for a copyright claim pre-filled.  It was quick and easy.  When I inquired about what happened to the tools, YouTube responded this way:

Upon review of your CVP account activity, we have determined that your use of the tool is not within the guidelines of its intended use and your access to the tool has been disabled. The CVP tool is designed specifically for rightsholders who expect to have an ongoing need to remove content from YouTube and you have not demonstrated a need for its use. Specifically, you only submitted 10 complaints within the past year to remove 12 videos.

It seems our copyright complaint webform is better suited for your needs.

Thank you very much, YouTube.  I’m glad that you know more than I do about what tools are most useful for me.  Rather than being able to take care of copyright infringements quickly and efficiently with a dedicated tool for it, now I have to repeatedly fill out the same form for each infringement that I find.  I really resent that kind of treatment, because takedown notices don’t make me any money, and they just doubled the time that it takes for me to prosecute them, especially when their form is one of the more bothersome forms out there.  At that point, I would rather just send them an email, because I have that pre-written, and just have to drop in a few key bits of information and then send it off.

In any case, in this instance, I filed a copyright claim against a video posted by the Albanian company Almus Music for this image, used in violation of copyright:

The subject image, as it appeared in a YouTube video

This image originates in my Mill Mountain Park By Night set in Photography, third from last on the page.  This photo, along with its companion that features the same couple, is a popular one for infringements.

Now as a commercial usage, I would normally send this to be handled by Pixsy, but Albania is not one of the countries that Pixsy currently operates in.  So with no Pixsy involvement, I just filed the DMCA and blew it off of the Internet.  Easy enough.  Then the email came:

Hello Mr. Schumin,

We are contacting by Almus Music, related with a take-down of one of our videos published in Youtube.  Due to our searches we thing you take it down for use of photo in video as background.

Could you please retract the take-down request, so we can remove that video?

Link: https://youtu.be/NaBN4dsyJrY

Best,
Stilo
Legal Department
Almus Music

What they were asking me to do was to withdraw my copyright claim, ostensibly so that they can remove it manually.  The problem here is that with their being in Albania, the DMCA takedown process is really my only legal remedy for them, because I’m not filing suit in an Albanian court to stop them.  Additionally, if I withdraw the claim, I can’t file a new DMCA claim should they not pull the video as they claimed that they would.  So why should I trust them to do for me what I already did without them?  After all, they already demonstrated that they were willing to steal photos and use them for commercial purposes.

My response was in line with this:

I see no reason to retract my takedown request, because I have no reason to think that you would actually remove the video from YouTube after a retraction.  Rather, by retracting the takedown request, all that does is limit my ability to go after it in the future.  Consider this copyright strike to be your warning not to use materials in violation of the licenses under which they are offered.  If you had done your due diligence in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to do this.  Don’t steal, and you won’t have anything to worry about.  If you continue to steal, others might come after you like I did, and then you might have bigger problems.

In other words, your problem is not my problem, and I expected that would be the end of it.  They responded:

Hello Ben,

I do understand your frustration but we are not any intention to infringe copyrights of creators. As publishing and distribution company we have cases that clients bring to us materials that are not original in all elements.

So we request your collaboration to retract that take-down so we can remove that video and we will not have issues with our channel.  There are many cases when users are getting our songs and upload in any platform and we have been in same positions to protect our clients.

Hope in your understanding!

Best,
Stilo
Almus Music

I just wanted to say to them, “You know, you’re not helping your case here.”  What they said in this response was that they have to deal with the same issues themselves that I’m dealing with them over, and they do it anyway.  If you want me to help you out, that’s not the way to ask for it.

So I told him to go away:

Any issues that you experience with your channel that stem from your copyright infringement of my material are not my problem. Even more so when you just admitted to me that you fail to vet the materials that are posted under your brand to ensure that they are used legally.

Once again, enjoy your copyright strike with my compliments. I can’t say that you don’t deserve every last bit of it.

In other words, get lost.  Their response took them from “guilty” to “guilty as hell”:

Hello Ben,

We do apologize for way you feeling but we are not here to express anger.  We do accept that people abuse, so we can’t find everything that is over internet and who’s belongs to.  These are things that happen and we are trying to respect in maximum the copyrights, as we protect music copyrights.

As I mentioned it happens that clients may bring us materials with images or songs that are copied or taken by internet.

Your understanding of our situation would be appreciated.  Please retract the take-down, so we can remove that video.

Best,
Stilo

That greeting of “We apologize for [the] way you are feeling” really doesn’t help their case, especially if they needed my help as much as they claim.  I’ve always taken “I’m sorry you feel that way” and similar to be a very diplomatically worded way of saying “f— you”.  If “Stilo” is part of the legal department as his first email claimed, then he should have performed his due diligence and ensured that the image was being used properly.  That he didn’t says a lot about how well this company handles its business.

I never responded back, because I really didn’t have anything else to say to them.  But I got one more email from them that just took the cake:

Hello Ben,

Hope you doing well.  Could you help us remove the strike on that video, to give us the opportunity to remove that video?  We can delete that video before you retract the infringement, but we don’t have audio file saved for republish; so we are requesting you to retract the strike, to rip off the audio file and then to delete that video from our channel.

The only copy of the music that they had was the YouTube video, and so with that unavailable, they were up the creek.  I suppose that this could go one of two ways: either they are incompetent, or they are lying.  Neither option puts them in a particularly good light.  Either way, it’s not my problem.  As far as I was concerned, my business was complete once I got confirmation that the takedown had gone through.  If they don’t have any other copy of the audio besides the public copy that was taken down, then I suppose that they made their bed, and have to lie in it.

I suppose that the lessons to be learned here are similar to those that we discussed in the Barbiturate matter from a few years ago.  First of all, vet your material.  If the graphics that included my photo were prepared by a third party, which they sort of indicated was the case, it’s still their responsibility to ensure that everything is on the up and up before they publish it under their brand.  After all, they put their logo on it, too, and so with their name all over it, they are just as responsible for the infringement as whatever third party actually did the infringement.  And secondly, don’t talk down to me.  Barbiturate did that, questioning whether my photo was actually mine, and then telling me that they would give me image credit if I could prove that the image was actually my work.  Then they ignored me when I offered to begin negotiations for licensing.  I don’t provide my work in exchange for exposure.  In this instance, talk about adding insult to injury: these jokers didn’t even offer to pay me in exposure.  However, in this case, I made no offer to license, because I didn’t believe that I would ever get paid, and even if I did, I had no reason to think that someone wouldn’t have pulled the rug out from under me.  Considering that I really couldn’t go after them legally owing to the distance, they would have gotten away with it, and I was not going to go there.  In this case, I felt like their asking me to retract my claim so that they could fix it themselves was talking down to me.  I knew where they were going with that.  If I retracted my copyright claim, that would have given them exactly what they wanted, and they would have gone about their day, and I would have been left hanging the bag.  No, thank you.  And they certainly didn’t strengthen their argument by admitting to being buffoons.  Sloppy practices all around do not lend confidence.

In the end, the moral of the story is the same as with Barbiturate, with my mother’s church, and with WJLA: don’t steal.  If you’re going to use someone else’s work, make sure that you have documented permission to use said work, and never assume.

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A trip out to Hampton Roads… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/04/19/a-trip-out-to-hampton-roads/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/04/19/a-trip-out-to-hampton-roads/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2020 14:15:06 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=32139 From April 3-6, Elyse and I made a trip to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia to visit friends and do some photography.  The way I figured, the trip was already paid for, and so as long as we took adequate precautions, I saw no harm in running it as planned.  After all, I go out every day to go to work transporting the public, so it’s not like we were “breaking quarantine” or anything, since I’m out in the environment on a regular basis throughout all of this.  All that said, if you don’t like that we took this trip, keep it to yourself, because I don’t want to hear about it.  On our trip, we stayed in Williamsburg, and had a fun time, mostly photographing architecture and infrastructure with friends Aaron and Evan Stone.

Meanwhile, leaving the house, I had the worst shotgun passenger ever:

"I don't like that!"

I mean, despite his sour disposition, you really didn’t think that we’d take a trip without bringing Woomy along, did you?  Elyse quickly threw him out of the front seat so that she could ride, and so Woomy rode in the cup holder.

We made our way down via I-95 and I-64.  At a rest area, I really had to question a sign that I spotted:

"During this COVID-19 crisis, please be considerate of all travelers and do not remove paper or soap products from the restrooms."

I looked at this and was like, “Really?”  People are actually stealing toilet paper and soap from the highway rest areas?  You know, I had heard of people panic-buying paper products at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, but this was ridiculous, especially considering the Grade-F toilet paper that rest areas typically stock.

When we got to Williamsburg, we checked in at the Country Inn and Suites.  That place was dead.  We had room 210, and according to the lady at the front desk, we were one of only twelve rooms that were occupied.  In a normal year without a pandemic, the place would be at full occupancy (but you really couldn’t beat $60 a night).  The hotel was also rotating what rooms they were using because of the pandemic.  From what I was told, after guests left, the rooms would sit idle for four days, and only then would the staff clean them and turn them over for the next guest.  However, we did still have daily housekeeping.

In any case, our first full day in Hampton Roads was on Saturday, and we spent it mostly in Williamsburg.  The first thing that we saw was the old Howard Johnson’s, well on its way to becoming history.  The restaurant had long since been demolished and replaced with a Cook Out restaurant, and now the motor lodge was actively undergoing demolition.  The guest buildings had been completely demolished, and the gate lodge was still intact, though I imagine that it wouldn’t be for long.

Peeking inside the gate lodge, it was clear that this place had not been occupied for a very long time.
Peeking inside the gate lodge, it was clear that this place had not been occupied for a very long time, with a sign on the door indicating that the motel was closed for the winter season and would reopen in March 2012 confirming that.  I suspect that the motel never reopened after it closed for the season in 2011.  Now, though, I believe that the gate lodge was in the process of undergoing asbestos abatement ahead of demolition.

The motor lodge was gone, now just rubble.
The motor lodge was gone, now just rubble.  A number of old metal bathtubs sit in a pile in the foreground.

We also photographed an AT&T Long Lines microwave tower:

AT&T Long Lines tower in Williamsburg

These Long Lines towers would become a recurring theme, by the way.  We photographed a few of these on this adventure.

Later, we headed out to Newport News, where we photographed another Long Lines tower:

AT&T Long Lines tower in Newport News

Next to the tower was Rip Tide Car Wash, which was a tunnel-style wash, i.e. the kind where you put your car in neutral and it pulls your car through the tunnel as it washes your car.  This one was pretty fun, since they put extra effort into putting on a good show, with lots of LED lighting effects throughout.  It really made for an interesting show as the car became spotless:

We then went over to vacuum the inside of the car, which, to be quite honest, needed it pretty badly.

With the car clean in and out, we went to a nearby parking lot, where Evan and I tried out each other’s lenses.  He had a 50mm lens that he said was good for portraits and macro that I was curious about, and he was curious about my zoom lens.  So we tried them out on our cameras.  Here’s what I got:

Evan lines up a photo of the Long Lines tower with my zoom lens.

Evan lines up a photo of the Long Lines tower with my zoom lens.
Evan lines up a photo of the Long Lines tower with my zoom lens.

Aaron and Evan look at the shots that Evan took.
Aaron and Evan look at the shots that Evan took.  This photo reminded me of one that I took in 2011 at a polar bear plunge showing two girls looking at photos of themselves on a camera.

After this, we headed up the road a bit, and found ourselves at “Romantic Kingdom”, which was an adult store.  As far as adult stores go, this one was kind of “meh”.  It had everything that you would expect an adult store to have, but didn’t have anything that would particularly make your head turn.  Comfort Zone in College Park is still better.  The best thing there was what I said when Evan asked why an adult store would sell batteries: “Those Hitachi magic wands won’t power themselves!”  That made the ladies working behind the counter laugh.

Before leaving Newport News, we got dinner.  With all of the various restaurants’ being take-out or drive-through only, we ended up hitting up three different places.  I didn’t get anything, choosing to continue to work on a Wawa protein bowl that I had bought earlier in the day.  Elyse got Cook Out.  Aaron got Zaxby’s.  And Evan got Rally’s.  The Rally’s took the most time to prepare, so we pulled to the side, and I got some photos while we waited:

Rally's in Newport News

Rally's in Newport News

Rally's in Newport News

I think that I was drawn to this because of the brand name.  I had not seen a Rally’s location in person since I had lived in Rogers, Arkansas.  That led me to photograph this despite there being a near-identical building near me branded as Checkers.  Plus the Rally’s in Rogers didn’t look at all like this, dating from before the companies merged.  Go figure, but it was something fun to do while we waited.

We also stopped at a Big Lots, mainly to use the restroom.  While we were there, Elyse found a new critter in a fuzzy little lobster, which I named Hugh:

Elyse holds Hugh

After this, we went back to the hotel, and we all took a swim in the hotel pool.  Not a bad time.

Then on Sunday, we were up early to take on the big enchilada: a trip around all of Hampton Roads.  Aaron and Evan met up with us at our hotel, and we got started.  But not before Woomy had a look at the decor in the hotel lobby and passed judgment on it:

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

We also discovered on the way out of the hotel that our room had a different window from all of the other rooms:

Guess which room was ours...
Can’t unsee that now.  Presumably, our window was replaced at some point, and the replacement was a single panel rather than the four-panel design of the other windows.  Considering that the hotel looked nice on the surface but everything was a bit janky when you looked a little more closely, this fit the character.

Our first stop after leaving was the Hampton Coliseum, which is a lovely example of 1960s architecture:

Hampton Coliseum

Hampton Coliseum

The best place to photograph this place, by the way, is from a nearby townhouse development.  We would be back here later to photograph it again at night.

From here, we went more or less counterclockwise around the Hampton Roads Beltway.  We went through the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel and ended up in downtown Norfolk, where we spent about two hours photographing around.  I had last been in downtown Norfolk in March 2003 when I made the Norfolk section of An Urban Comparison, and it was clear that a lot had changed in 17 years’ time, some of which surprised me.

But first, I had to be made pretty.  Elyse found some flowers, and so she embellished my appearance slightly:

"Felt cute. Might delete later."

"Felt cute. Might delete later."

It worked, I suppose, but the flowers didn’t stay too long before the wind and normal movements took them away.

One of the first things that we did was ride the Tide, which is the light rail system in Norfolk.  This was not there the last time I was here, and so we had to see it:

The Tide light rail

The Tide light rail

However, due to time considerations, we only rode one stop.  We’ll give it a more thorough ride another time, when there’s a full schedule, and half of the seats aren’t taped off in an attempt to enforce social distancing.

Otherwise, I got a chance to photograph a few buildings.

Norfolk Marriott
The Norfolk Marriott.  We went in so that Elyse could film the elevator.  That was a rather strange experience.  The hotel was undergoing renovations at the time, but owing to the pandemic, the place was completely dead (though that could also be said for most of downtown Norfolk).  The lights were on and the staff was welcoming, but it was just altogether too quiet in there.

Main Street Tower
Main Street Tower.  I photographed this building in 2003 from a similar location for An Urban Comparison.

Norfolk City Hall
Norfolk City Hall, an example of modernist architecture.  I missed this area in 2003, since I stayed entirely to the west of St. Paul’s Blvd. on that trip.

City of Norfolk Courthouse
City of Norfolk Courthouse.

Dominion Tower
The Dominion Tower.  First Union‘s name was on this building back in 2003, and so considering the succession of mergers, where First Union became Wachovia, which then became Wells Fargo, I expected to see “Wells Fargo” at the top of the building.  Surprisingly, it was Bank of America‘s name up there.  I wasn’t expecting that, since Bank of America’s name was on a different building in 2003.

In looking through the 2003 photo set, one thing I commented on back then was skywalks.  There used to be a skywalk connecting this building with the rest of downtown, but now, that skywalk is gone, having been removed in 2019.  Modern urban design principles generally frown on skywalks, and many skywalks have been eliminated over the years, though I didn’t check the status of any of the others that I photographed in 2003, save for the one connecting the garage to the Marriott, which we walked over.

Icon Norfolk
Icon Norfolk.  This was Bank of America’s building in 2003, and now it’s been renovated into apartments.

The Waterside
The Waterside has really changed in the intervening years.  It’s the same building, but it has been completely renovated and now looks very modern.  We couldn’t go in because of coronavirus-related closures, unfortunately, so I can’t comment on the interior.

Owen B. Pickett United States Custom House

Owen B. Pickett United States Custom House

Owen B. Pickett United States Custom House
The Owen B. Pickett United States Custom House.  I photographed this in 2003, and it looks the same, which isn’t too surprising for a government building.

I went to extra effort to photograph this building, because of the experience that I had in 2003 while photographing it.  I photographed this building as part of An Urban Comparison, and a federal officer stopped and detained me for some questioning after seeing me take my photos.  After all, in the decade following 9/11, people tended to wet their pants whenever they saw someone pull out a camera, because terrorists obviously photograph their targets in plain sight before they fly planes into them.  I mean, wouldn’t you?  In any case, I was really put off by the entire experience, with this guy asking me for ID, and questioning me why I was here, and what I did for a living.  I really also was afraid that I would be arrested for photography, and really didn’t want to have to deal with anything related to that, even though what I was doing was and still is 100% legal.  That experience of being harrassed by a police officer for photography was also a big factor as to why I didn’t go back to Norfolk for 17 years.  I mean, would you want to go somewhere again after being treated like that?  This time around, I encountered no resistance with any of my photography.  After all, times have changed, and attitudes about photography have changed, with everyone’s having a camera in their pocket via their smartphones nowadays, selfie culture, and all of that.  It’s a lot more like it was before 9/11 now than it was in the years immediately following 9/11, and that’s the way it should be.  Nowadays, when someone sees me photographing, it’s typically to chat it up, rather than harass me.  And I appreciate that.  End of tangent.

We also spotted a rather unique notification appliance in Norfolk:

Simplex bell and strobe with "TAXI" lettering
This is a Simplex bell and strobe from the early 1990s.  Note the lettering on the strobe, though: “TAXI”.  I assume that this is used to notify cabbies that a ride is waiting.

After this, we rolled out and headed over to the Jordan Bridge:

Jordan Bridge

Jordan Bridge

Not a bad bridge, in a nice park.  Nice bit of infrastructure.

From here, we went on a planned side trip.  We took VA 168 and headed down to Border Station on the Virginia/North Carolina line.  The point here was mostly to touch North Carolina, but it also worked out as a place to have lunch.

"Welcome to Currituck County"
Sign welcoming travelers to Currituck County, North Carolina.

The HR-V in the parking lot of the Currituck Outer Banks Visitor's Center in Moyock.
The HR-V in the parking lot of the Currituck Outer Banks Visitor’s Center in Moyock, across the street from Border Station.

Woomy, with Hugh, straddles the line between Virginia (left) and North Carolina (right).  He didn't like the border.
Woomy, with Hugh, straddles the line between Virginia (left) and North Carolina (right).  He didn’t like the border.

Woomy looks at the note on the table advising patrons that they are not allowed to consume food in the store due to coronavirus-related decrees handed down by the Virginia governor.
Woomy looks at the note on the table advising patrons that they are not allowed to consume food in the store due to coronavirus-related decrees handed down by the governor.  Woomy, like me, is a skeptic about the value of the various coronavirus-related lockdowns and restrictions enacted by fiat, and he was quick to declare that he did not like it.

Carolina-style barbecue.  Elyse and I shared this.
Carolina-style barbecue.  Elyse and I shared this.

Evan got a photo of Elyse and me standing in the adirondack chair on the line between the two states.
Evan got a photo of Elyse and me standing in the adirondack chair on the line between the two states.  I’m standing in Virginia, and Elyse is standing in North Carolina.  I still contend that the colors should be switched, since the Virginia flag is primarily blue, and North Carolina’s flag has a lot of red in it.

From here, our next stop was Virginia Beach.  I had not been to Virginia Beach since 2008, when I took a five-day vacation there and spent most of my time there feeling bored and uninspired.  Let’s admit – the part of Virginia Beach near the ocean fits the character of a dumpy resort town, and it’s not very inspiring for photography.  In this case, we started out doing a drive to the north end of the strip and then down to Rudee Inlet.  It was just as dumpy as I remembered, though the no-swearing signs that were posted all over the place on past visits had been removed.  Apparently, a business group was successful in lobbying the city to remove them in 2019, considering them unwelcoming and ineffective.  Good riddance to them.

Elyse poses with a dolphin in front of one of the hotels along the strip.
Elyse poses with a dolphin in front of one of the hotels along the strip.

We went over to the "END" sign for US 60 just after Rudee Inlet.
We went over to the “END” sign for US 60 just after Rudee Inlet.

I captured a few photos of the Travelodge, where I stayed in 2005 and 2008.  It appeared to be just as dumpy as it's always been.

I captured a few photos of the Travelodge, where I stayed in 2005 and 2008.  It appeared to be just as dumpy as it's always been.
I captured a few photos of the Travelodge, where I stayed in 2005 and 2008.  It appeared to be just as dumpy as it’s always been.

The first of two car carrier ships that we spotted.  This is the Leo Spirit, and from what I could tell researching online, it was on its way to the Port of Baltimore.
The first of two car carrier ships that we spotted.  This is the Leo Spirit, and from what I could tell researching online, it was on its way to the Port of Baltimore.

The second ship was operated by Wallenius Wilhelmsen, but unfortunately, my camera couldn't resolve the name because of distance.
The second ship was operated by Wallenius Wilhelmsen, but unfortunately, my camera couldn’t resolve the name because of distance.  If you know what ship this is, let me know.

The Virginia Beach boardwalk, at approximately 20th Street.

The Virginia Beach boardwalk, at approximately 20th Street.
The Virginia Beach boardwalk, at approximately 20th Street.

At this point, we were running out of sunlight, and so we turned our attention to our nighttime activities, where Evan and I were breaking out the tripods and photographing at night.  We started in Portsmouth, photographing the portal for the Downtown Tunnel, photographed downtown Norfolk from across the river, then we photographed the portal to the Midtown Tunnel, and then we returned to photograph the Hampton Coliseum.

First the Downtown Tunnel:

I wasn’t too pleased with the results from the Downtown Tunnel, as I was trying out bulb mode for the first time.  I’m used to setting timed exposures, and so this was something that I’m not as accustomed to, and it shows.  I’m sure that with practice, I could become proficient with it, but an operational photo shoot really wasn’t the time to experiment with it.

After this, we headed to our across-the-river view of Norfolk, from Portside Park:

Two ships at Washington Point.  The ship to the left, in dry dock, is the USS Jason Dunham, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.  I was not able to determine the identity of the ship to the right.
Two ships at Washington Point.  The ship to the left, in dry dock, is the USS Jason Dunham, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.  I was not able to determine the identity of the ship to the right.

The USS Gravely, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, elsewhere at Washington Point.
The USS Gravely, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, elsewhere at Washington Point.

The area that we saw earlier: the Marriott, the Icon, and the Waterside.  The headquarters building of the Norfolk Southern railroad is also visible at right.
The area that we saw earlier: the Marriott, the Icon, and the Waterside.  The headquarters building of the Norfolk Southern railroad is also visible at right.

The Dominion Tower.
The Dominion Tower.

150 West Main Street, the World Trade Center, and the Hilton, among others.  I photographed this part of downtown in 2003, but didn't go over there this time.
150 West Main Street, the World Trade Center, and the Hilton, among others.  I photographed this part of downtown in 2003, but didn’t go over there this time.

And then the Midtown Tunnel:

Stacked exposures of the Midtown Tunnel portal, showing taillight streaks.

Stacked exposures of the Midtown Tunnel portal, showing taillight streaks.

Stacked exposures of the Midtown Tunnel portal, showing taillight streaks.
Stacked exposures of the Midtown Tunnel portal, showing taillight streaks.

And finally, the Hampton Coliseum:

Hampton Coliseum at night

Hampton Coliseum at night

From here, everyone got dinner (I still had my leftover Wawa), and then we headed back to the hotel.  We said goodbye to Aaron and Evan, and then went to bed, because we had a full day ahead of us, plus we had to end up back at the house at the end of it.

After we checked out of the hotel on our final day, we first headed out to photograph the Long Lines tower in Williamsburg.  We had photographed that earlier in the trip, but now we had clear skies:

The AT&T Long Lines tower in Williamsburg

The AT&T Long Lines tower in Williamsburg

Elyse knows a lot about these things, and made a somewhat educated guess that the three big units were pointing at the other tower in Newport News, and that the other devices were pointing at another tower to the southwest.

We then went downtown and took a bus ride.  We rode the WATA route 5, which is signed for “Monticello”.  Then we photographed afterward:

WATA bus 11907

WATA bus 11907

WATA bus 11905

What surprised me most about WATA was that they ran mostly New Flyer Xcelsior buses.  For an agency that size, I would have expected a fleet dominated by Gillig buses.  In my experience, bigger agencies like Metro, MTA Maryland, SEPTA, and so on tend to use New Flyer, while the smaller agencies tend to use Gillig, though this is not a hard-and-fast rule (Fairfax Connector also uses New Flyer despite their smaller size).  Also, every time I saw “WATA”, I kept thinking that they forgot the “M”, since I am so used to seeing “WMATA” for Metro.

We then headed to Richmond, just as it was starting to get cloudy.  The original plan was to meet up with another friend, but unfortunately, he had to cancel at the last minute due to his not feeling well.  We wished him well, and we’ll plan a trip to see him another time.  Because our visit with our friend didn’t pan out, we ended up zipping west down Broad Street, only stopping at Cook Out so that Elyse could get lunch, and then at an Asian grocery store.

Our next planned stop was just west of Richmond: a rest area in Goochland County with some personal significance.  Back in 1993, on the way back from our first trip to the Outer Banks, we stopped here for a restroom stop.  Mom said, “Everybody try!” in regards to use of the bathroom.  Okay, fine.  I went in there, I produced, and then I reported back, saying, “I did a big, juicy poop!”  Mom was mortified, but I mean, hey, I was twelve years old, and that’s the sort of thing that twelve-year-old boys think is funny.  I had told Elyse this story, and so she wanted to see it and use the same restroom.

Here's the rest area, which is a typical older-style Virginia rest area with no enclosed vestibule.
Here’s the rest area, which is a typical older-style Virginia rest area with no enclosed vestibule.

Elyse is all smiles after having left a token of her appreciation there, and then sending it on its journey.
Elyse is all smiles after having left a token of her appreciation there, and then sending it on its journey.

We then got back on the freeway and turned around at the next exit.  Our travels were to take us up I-295 towards mainline 95, and up to the DC area from there.  We made a stop on 295 to see a Publix for the first time, and visited another AT&T Long Lines tower that we spotted on the way to Publix.  First of all, Publix was pretty nice:

Frozen aisle at Publix

Not bad.  The service level at Publix reminds me of Harris Teeter, which is plentiful up near DC.  I would love to see Publix expand into Maryland, though, because it seems like a great addition to the mix up there, especially with the departure of Shoppers from our area.  We also found this cart interesting:

Wheelchair cart

This cart is designed to be attached to a customer’s existing wheelchair, rather than requiring that a person transfer to an electric cart or another wheelchair equipped with a basket.  It just snaps on and you go.

Then this was the Long Lines tower:

AT&T Long Lines tower visible from Staples Mill Road

AT&T Long Lines tower visible from Staples Mill Road

Not bad.  And then from there, we made a beeline up I-95 to Stafford, where we made a pit stop at Target, and Elyse and I got this photo making sport of the coronavirus-inspired “do not touch the displays” signage:

Touching that which we are not supposed to touch.
Touching that which we are not supposed to touch.

Then we took Route 1 for much of the rest of the way home.  All in all, this wasn’t a bad trip.  I would love to do a longer trip down this way one day in order to give more attention to the various parts of Hampton Roads that we saw.

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Stack ’em up? https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/04/01/stack-em-up/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/04/01/stack-em-up/#respond Wed, 01 Apr 2020 05:25:25 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=31976 So my latest experiments with photography have been with stacking exposures.  For those not familiar, the general idea behind stacked exposures is to take several short exposures instead of one long exposure, and then “stack” them on top of each other in order to simulate a photo with a longer exposure.  It is useful in situations where a true long exposure is impractical, such as when shooting in daylight.  The way it’s done is that you take all of the shots that you intend to stack out in the field, preferably using a tripod and a remote control for the shutter, and then do the stacking at home.

Whenever I test a new technique, I typically will shoot photos of something that I’ve photographed before.  This way, I already know what the photo is supposed to look like, and I know what works as far as angles go.  That eliminates a few variables so that I can just focus on the technique.  In this case, I did two field trips.  One was out to Point of Rocks and along Route 7 in Virginia and ultimately into DC, and the other was to Burnt Mills Dam off of US 29 in Montgomery County.  The Virginia trip was mostly for nighttime shots, and the Burnt Mills trip was for daytime shots.

At Point of Rocks, Elyse went trainspotting at the nearby MARC station while I wandered around with my tripod to photograph some stuff.  My focus was on the Point of Rocks Bridge and the Potomac River running under the bridge.  My focus was mainly on smoothing out the water.

Stacked image of the Potomac River and Point of Rocks Bridge

Stacked image of the Potomac River downstream from the Point of Rocks Bridge

Stacked image of the Potomac River downstream from the Point of Rocks Bridge

Stacked image of the Potomac River and Point of Rocks Bridge

Stacked image of the Potomac River downstream from the Point of Rocks Bridge

Not bad for a first try.  I got a nice rhythm down with the remote, listening for the shutter and watching for each image to pop in on the screen.  I also learned in post-production that these stacks take a very long time to process (so thank goodness for Reddit).

From here, we headed over the Point of Rocks Bridge into Virginia, briefly dimming the lights as a tribute to my old Kia Soul when we passed the area where the Soul burned two years ago, and ended up at the former Leesburg Walmart, which I photographed in daylight about a month ago.  I got this result from stacking a bunch of two-second exposures:

Ten two-second exposures of the former Leesburg Walmart, stacked

I was hoping to get the effect of a true long-exposure photo.  The idea was two seconds of exposure times ten exposures should equal something that looks like a twenty-second long exposure.  Rather, this looked like a single two-second exposure.  When I gave it a different stacking treatment (“summation”), I got this:

Ten two-second exposures of the former Leesburg Walmart, stacked with "summation" treatment

This was closer to what I was going for, but it was too much.  But then when I then hiked up the contrast, I got something closer to what I was looking for:

Ten two-second exposures of the former Leesburg Walmart, stacked with "summation" treatment and high contrast

That’s more like what I was looking for, but I still didn’t like the purple in the sky, though.  So I hiked it up even more:

Ten two-second exposures of the former Leesburg Walmart, stacked with "summation" treatment and high contrast

Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, I suppose.

We then headed down to the Adaire apartment building, which is a high-rise building across the street from Spring Hill station.  I photographed that once before back in September, in a largely unsuccessful photo shoot of the Tysons Corner area at night.  I don’t know if it was lack of inspiration or what have you, but the shoot produced a lot of stinkers.  The photos of the Adaire were the only ones that ever got released.  In any case, this is what I got on the stack shoot:

Adaire apartment building, stacked

That was 25 two-second exposures.  It doesn’t look like a longer exposure, but it’s not bad, either.  Compare this to a single 30-second shot of the same subject, from approximately the same angle, in September 2019:

I definitely have a lot more to figure out when it comes to image stacking for long exposure, but both images have their good qualities.

I also photographed the Mitre building in McLean:

The Mitre building, with several exposures stacked

Not a bad look, though a bit dark.  Then I switched it to summation:

The Mitre building, with several exposures stacked in summation mode

I liked the effect, but it really needed some contrast work.  So I fixed it:

The Mitre building, with several exposures stacked in summation mode with the contrast adjusted

It’s a bit redder than I had expected, but it’s not a bad look, either.

At this point, I was going to hit the Beltway and head home, but Elyse really wanted to go into DC to see how it looked all empty, so we went on in.  We ended up at the Capitol, where I got it from a few different angles:

Two-second exposures of the Capitol, stacked

Two-second exposures of the Capitol, stacked

Two-second exposures of the Capitol, stacked

These aren’t bad photos by any means, but they’re not what I intended, either.  That last image became a photo feature around the time that I shot these.

That was the end of shooting for that particular night.  Looking back at that adventure, I’m amused about my technique on this.  It was a relatively cold night for the time of year, and so my method of shooting was to set up the shot, park the car right behind it, and then cut the lights on the car.  This way, Elyse and I could be in the heat and comfortable while I had the window open clicking the remote.  For the Leesburg Walmart, where I did several angles (most of which came out blurry, unfortunately), I would move the tripod and set up the shot, then run back to the car, and drive it to within five feet of the tripod.  I’d take the shots using the remote and then hop out again, reposition the tripod, and then hop back in and reposition the car.  It worked, but in hindsight, it amuses me, since I feel like I was so lazy, shooting with the remote from the car.  But at least I wasn’t cold.  I also had the exterior lights turned off on my car in order to prevent that light from being captured in the shots.  I’m sure that an observer would have thought that I was nuts, driving in circles around the parking lot of a former Walmart with my lights out, occasionally hopping out to adjust things.

Then a few days later, I went down to Burnt Mills Dam right around sunset for practice with moving water.  I practiced there before in early 2013 when I was trying to shoot water with my old Canon SX10IS.  I don’t believe that I ever wrote about that earlier Burnt Mills adventure at the time, nor did I ever publish any of the shots, but I did write about some pre-work that I did at home.  The experiment in 2013 at Burnt Mills was a bit of a failure, as I realized that even with the fancy neutral density filter, my camera wasn’t capable of doing what I wanted to do because of its own limitations as a midrange camera.  That started the idea that it was time to take the plunge and upgrade to an SLR, but other events put that on the back burner for a few years.  I finally upgraded to an SLR in 2016, and I’ve been having fun with it ever since.

In this case, though, I got decent results:

Burnt Mills Dam

Burnt Mills Dam

Burnt Mills Dam

Burnt Mills Dam

Burnt Mills Dam

Burnt Mills Dam

Burnt Mills Dam

Burnt Mills Dam

Burnt Mills Dam

These photos are all stacked exposures, taken using the tripod and the remote on regular automatic mode.  The last shot also used flash.  You can see that frothy-water look to an extent with the stacks, though not as much as it might if I had let the shutter run a little longer on each shot.  I particularly like the swirling effect that’s visible just below the dam on that seventh shot.  The individual images don’t show that swirling, but when stacked, it shows the movement of the water, and I think that’s pretty awesome.

So all in all, I would consider this to be a good start.  I definitely need to do more research on whether stacked exposures is something that is feasible for long exposure photography.  I’ve found plenty of information about using the technique for astronomy photos, and there’s even specialized software for that, but I didn’t find much about using the technique for more earthbound subjects.  I tested all of this in the best way that I know how: by looking up the basics on how to do it, and then playing around with it and becoming comfortable with it.  I also got a lot of Reddit done while waiting for all of these stacks to process.  If anyone has some good advice for good nighttime photography with image stacking, please share.  The Walmart photos in particular are promising, but they’re not completely what I’d like.  In the meantime, I’m going to do some more research to see what I can turn up on things.

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The signs of social distance… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/03/28/the-signs-of-social-distance/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/03/28/the-signs-of-social-distance/#respond Sat, 28 Mar 2020 04:40:13 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=31909 In the era of social distancing brought on by the novel coronavirus, I have definitely observed some changes in how the world looks.  As a person who works in an essential industry (people still have to go places, yo), I still get out quite a bit.  In my work, service levels have been reduced, and all trains are now eight cars in order to allow people to space themselves out, plus it’s strange to go through some stations in the middle of the day and pick up nobody.  It’s also strange seeing the message boards on the Beltway advising people in big letters to stay home.  It’s also strange to see so many people wearing gloves and surgical masks, even though those don’t do anything when the general public wears them as a preventative measure, and may actually be harmful if the person wearing them thinks that it excuses them from things like not touching their face, washing their hands, and so on.

In any case, most of the time when I’m going out, it’s to pick up a few things at stores, mostly on my days off of work.  The first thing that I noticed was the panic buying, as seen on March 14 at the Target in Rockville:

The toilet paper aisle, picked completely bare.
The toilet paper aisle, picked completely bare.

The laundry aisle, also picked nearly clean.
The laundry aisle, also picked nearly clean.

The household cleaning supplies were also pretty well picked over, though there was still a bit of stuff left.
The household cleaning supplies were also pretty well picked over, though there was still a bit of stuff left.

The bottled water was almost completely cleaned out.
The bottled water was almost completely cleaned out.

The bread aisle had definitely been hit by the panic buying, but I was surprised that it wasn't emptier.
The bread aisle had definitely been hit by the panic buying, but I was surprised that it wasn’t emptier.

I also got a few shots of panic buying at other stores:

At the Giant on Chain Bridge Road in McLean, the meat department had been mostly cleaned out.
At the Giant on Chain Bridge Road in McLean, the meat department had been mostly cleaned out.

At the Walmart in Tysons Corner, the soup and the canned vegetables had been mostly cleaned out.  You really got a feel for the stuff that nobody liked, because it was the only stuff left.
At the Walmart in Tysons Corner, the soup and the canned vegetables had been mostly cleaned out.  You really got a feel for the stuff that nobody liked, because it was the only stuff left.

All of the panic buying surprised me.  It was clear that people had no clue how to prepare for this sort of thing.  The purchasing was similar to the way people panic shop for a natural disaster such as a snowstorm, where they are planning to be stuck in the house for days on end.  This is not that.  Unless you have a natural disaster on top of a pandemic, you’re not going to have anything preventing you from going to the grocery store, and there are no disruptions in supply.

Then when social distancing began is when things really started to get real.  This is what my Metro ride on the Orange Line looked like on March 16:

My Metro ride on March 16

I had the entire car to myself, which is normally unheard of for that time of day.

And then after Maryland governor Larry Hogan closed the restaurants, we had this:

La Casita in Gaithersburg, open for carryout only, with the seating area shut down.
La Casita in Gaithersburg, open for carryout only, with the seating area shut down.

Harris Teeter in Olney, with the seating area closed off.  At this time, however, the salad bar was still operating normally.
Harris Teeter in Olney, with the seating area closed off.  At this time, however, the salad bar was still operating normally.

And then as time progressed, these signs of the times became more and more numerous:

No more fitting rooms at Target.
No more fitting rooms at Target.

Quantity limits on the items that people have panic bought the most.

Quantity limits on the items that people have panic bought the most.
Quantity limits on the items that people have panic bought the most.  (And the toilet paper and paper towel aisles were both completely cleaned out.)

Target even went so far as to shut down the water fountains in the front of the store.
Target even went so far as to shut down the water fountains in the front of the store.

Starbucks at Target is now shut down completely.  Earlier, even with the seating closed down, the counter was still open.
Starbucks at Target is now shut down completely.  Earlier, even with the seating closed down, the counter was still open.

Sign at the pharmacy at Giant Food asking people to be socially distant.
Sign at the pharmacy at Giant Food asking people to be socially distant.

Sign at a restaurant, requesting that people put on the provided gloves before taking a utensil.
Sign at a restaurant, requesting that people put on the provided gloves before taking a utensil.

Sign on the door at the Harris Teeter in Ellicott City asking people to practice social distancing.
Sign on the door at the Harris Teeter in Ellicott City asking people to practice social distancing.

The Harris Teeter salad bar has gone prepackaged.  That made me sad, because now I can't purchase only the quantities that I want, but have to pick a much larger size than I need.
The Harris Teeter salad bar has gone prepackaged.  That made me sad, because now I can’t purchase only the quantities that I want, but have to pick a much larger size than I need.

Closed restrooms at a park in Point of Rocks, Maryland.  And for what it's worth, portable toilets were nowhere to be found (I ended up doing my business behind a tree).
Closed restrooms at a park in Point of Rocks, Maryland.  And for what it’s worth, portable toilets were nowhere to be found (I ended up doing my business behind a tree).

Sheetz took their slush machines out of service, "For the wellbeing of our community."  However, considering how much sugar is in these things, getting rid of them entirely would likely be a net benefit to the well-being of the community.

Sheetz took their slush machines out of service, "For the wellbeing of our community."  However, considering how much sugar is in these things, getting rid of them entirely would likely be a net benefit to the well-being of the community.
Sheetz took their slush machines out of service, “For the wellbeing of our community.”  However, considering how much sugar is in these things, getting rid of them entirely would likely be a net benefit to the well-being of the community.

Sheetz started promoting their mobile app on their touchscreens.  I still used the touchscreen, though.  I imagine that the touchscreens are cleaned more often than most people's phones, too.
Sheetz started promoting their mobile app on their touchscreens.  I still used the touchscreen, though.  I imagine that the touchscreens are cleaned more often than most people’s phones, too.

At the 24-hour Giant near Montgomery Mall, I noticed this on the floor near the registers.
At the 24-hour Giant near Montgomery Mall, I noticed this on the floor near the registers.

Lowe's, meanwhile, installed plexiglass screens in front of the cash registers as a temporary measure.  I definitely did not like those things, as they were very in-your-face and off-putting.
Lowe’s, meanwhile, installed plexiglass screens in front of the cash registers as a temporary measure.  I definitely did not like those things, as they were very in-your-face and off-putting.

Giant did the screens as a temporary measure as well, suspending these from the ceiling.  I don't know what these are supposed to protect anyone from, but if it makes people feel better...
Giant did the screens as a temporary measure as well, suspending these from the ceiling.  I don’t know what these are supposed to protect anyone from, but if it makes people feel better…


Then at Target, they are enforcing checkout spacing, asking that no one come into the checkout aisles until called up.

Those signs were supplemented with these cutesy little feet markers, spaced six feet apart from each other.
Those signs were supplemented with these cutesy little feet markers, spaced six feet apart from each other.

Target also suspended all returns.  I can only assume that the real reason is that they don't want all of the panic shoppers' items back.
Target also suspended all returns.  I can only assume that the real reason is that they don’t want all of the panic shoppers’ items back.

However, of all of the places that we saw, CSNY Pizza in Rockville took things a bit too far.  Check this out:

Yes, they actually wrote “READ THIS SHIT!!” in big letters and put it on a sign in their window.  How unprofessional.  In order to comply with the various emergency rules put in force, I can understand closing the interior of the business to the public entirely, but there is a right way and a wrong way to communicate that to the public and to your delivery drivers.  I posted about this on Facebook, and was surprised about how many people defended the restaurant for this sort of obnoxious conduct.  Not only is the signage unprofessional, but the “don’t be a jerk” and “don’t come any closer” messages are obnoxious, as is the phone box.  As far as I’m concerned, this is showing the owners’ true colors, and I don’t have to take that from someone I’m giving money to.  It makes me think twice about wanting to patronize this restaurant in the future knowing that this is how they really behave.

In any case, I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to this whole period’s passing, and the return of normalcy.  I’m going to leave it at that for now, because while I do have my opinions about what’s going on, my feelings on the matter still feel incomplete, and I’m not quite ready to discuss it just yet.

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Enhancing the curb appeal of the house… https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/03/14/enhancing-the-curb-appeal-of-the-house/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2020/03/14/enhancing-the-curb-appeal-of-the-house/#respond Sat, 14 Mar 2020 12:15:27 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=31765 At last, it is gone:

The tree in my front yard

You don’t know how glad that I am that this tree is gone.  Take a look at the house now:

No more tree!

Now, you can actually see the house, which I think is an improvement.  After all, I paid a lot of money for this house, and I want everyone to see it.  And now, with that ugly tree out of the way, you can.  That tree really did hide the house before.  There were also a few occasions where I nearly killed myself slipping on either blossoms or fallen leaves.

Though speaking of a tree that hides the house, I found a photo of the tree on Bing Maps from back in 2014 when the tree was larger:

The tree at its largest extent
Photo: Bing Maps

As you can see, that tree was a real beast.  Its limbs reached across four different properties at one time.  I don’t know when it was trimmed back, but all of the real estate photos that I could find for the four affected properties show the tree in its final form, pruned back to where it only towers over my property.

Getting rid of this tree was a long time coming.  I hated that tree from the moment that I first laid eyes on it, because it was ugly.  The rest of the house was awesome, though, and so I was willing to overlook the tree.  When I had the home inspection, the inspector asked me point blank if I was planning to get rid of the tree.  I said that I was.  For the last two years and some change, I had thought about getting rid of that tree.  At first, the biggest obstacle to the tree was Elyse, since she was adamant about keeping the tree.  Then after seeing some big bugs living in the tree, she changed her tune and came around to my side on it – or at least didn’t vehemently oppose it anymore.  Meanwhile, I waited a long time to do this because of other funding priorities.  After all, I had to get a new car a few months after I got the house, and so that occupied some funds that I would otherwise have had available for that.  I also put more effort into work on the interior of the house than the exterior, since I would be spending more time looking at the inside than the outside.  Thus I put more time and money into furniture and repainting much of the house (speaking of which, I do have another completed paint job to show you, but I want to clean up a bit before I photograph it).

One thing that I also considered was doing the tree removal myself.  The way I figured, I had the extension pole from the painting project, and maybe if I could get a saw end to put on the end of my extension pole, I could cut it down a little at a time over a period of weeks until it was all gone.  It seemed feasible enough, but Elyse wasn’t exactly enthused about it.  She told me that it was more likely that I would either hurt myself or damage something important, and thus really shouldn’t do it myself.  I begrudgingly agreed that it was probably a bad idea to attempt it myself.  Then this year, I used some of my tax refund money to cut the tree down.  I used Shifflett Tree Service, and they came out and made quick work out of it.  No more tree!

And here’s Elyse standing on the pile of wood chips remaining after they finished:

Now, with the tree gone, I need to see what else I can do to improve the landscape.  2020 might just be the year of the landscape, as I have plenty of things that I need to do with the outside of the house, including weeding the backyard, power washing a few things such as the deck, backyard brick, and fence, fixing the grass in the front yard, and also a few other odds and ends.  I suppose that a homeowner’s work is never done…

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