The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Sat, 08 Dec 2018 07:12:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Schumin Web 32 32 37838674 I don’t want to undertake another unfinished furniture project for a long time… Sat, 01 Dec 2018 13:00:45 +0000 At last, my journey into the land of unfinished furniture is over.  Four dining chairs and an end table are now complete and in service.  My house looks way better for it, but I am so glad that it’s done and over with.

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

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

The unfinished chairs, in place in the living room

Then this photo amused me:

Chair with no seat

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

And then this is the end table:

The end table after assembly

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

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

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

A half-stained chair

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

All done!

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

And here’s the completed end table:

The end table, completed

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

So all in all, things are slowly coming together.

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

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

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

The American Standard Champion 4

And here they are on the cart:

Our new toilets, ready to go home

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

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

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

Bev, down in Elyse's bathroom

And here’s my commode in its new home:

The American Standard Champion 4 in my bathroom

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

Elyse dismantles her old toilet

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

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

And finally, the toilet in the dumpster:

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

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

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

Now you see them:

The shower doors, moments before being dismantled

And now you don’t:

No more shower doors!

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

No more shower doors!

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

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

The new shower curtain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also got a few photos while we were there:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very long hallway inside of our room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Mary's Catholic Church

St. Mary's Catholic Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A stream.

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

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

SEPTA Bullet car 206.

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

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

Erie Lackawanna passenger coach.
Erie Lackawanna passenger coach.

Delaware Lackawanna locomotive 2423.
Delaware Lackawanna locomotive 2423.

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

Reading Company 467.
Reading Company 467.

Reading Company 903.

Reading Company 2124.
Reading Company 2124.

Illinois Central Railroad 790.
Illinois Central Railroad 790.

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

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

Wearing a "BRAKEMAN" hat

Elyse wears a "CONDUCTOR" hat

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

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

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

Wooden crossbuck on Cedar Avenue

Wooden crossbuck on Cedar Avenue

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Simplex pull station

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

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

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

Sunday's license plate haul

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

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

The Wilkes-Barre Area School District office

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

And here’s Elyse with the elevator:

Elyse with the elevator

Elyse also got a video of it:

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

"Wolky's" on an Amoco sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elyse tags a tree.
Elyse tags a tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Statue of Jesus.
Statue of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very dirty car.

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

All clean!

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

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

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

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No, this is not the solution to kids’ getting run over… Sun, 04 Nov 2018 19:59:05 +0000 Last night, Elyse shared a photo with me from Facebook depicting a school bus making a stop way out in the middle of the road:

Photo: Dana Shifflett Farrar

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

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

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

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

“Best way, police cars following every buses”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drive safely, everyone.

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

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

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

Sideling Hill overlook, facing approximately east

Sideling Hill overlook, facing approximately west

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

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

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

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

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

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

Departing from Towers station.
Departing from Towers station.

Berthed at Engineering station.
Berthed at Engineering station.

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

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

Approaching Beechurst station.
Approaching Beechurst station.

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

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

The first thing that caught my eye was this sign:

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

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

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

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

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

Simplex pull station at the Citizens Bank building

Simplex horn/strobe at the Citizens Bank building

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

Then I also photographed this clock:

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

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

Commode in Armstrong Hall

Urinals in Armstrong Hall

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

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

Pacman and Galaga

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

H2Overdrive is loading...

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

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

Spider webs in the lamppost

Spider webs in the lamppost

Kind of cool, if you ask me.

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

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

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

Tim Horton's in Morgantown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Please do not put me in a position where I have to defend Donald Trump… Thu, 04 Oct 2018 12:04:36 +0000 At 2:18 PM on October 3, a presidential alert went out to everyone’s mobile phones.  It was accompanied by the classic emergency tone, and looked like this:

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

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

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

“It’s a horrendous moment.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have reached a milestone… Tue, 11 Sep 2018 20:08:51 +0000 I recently reached a milestone when it comes to my overhaul of my Today’s Special site.  I last wrote about this project in 2013, at which time I had settled on a platform for the site (WordPress) and had written a few articles, mainly as proof of concept.  The build plan has always been to start with “Hats” and work my way through to “Memories“, adding content in the order that it appears in the show.  After I get through all 121 episodes and the content related to those, I will then write the articles for the content that doesn’t necessarily tie neatly into an episode or episodes, like the articles for the main characters, the various sets, and so on.  Then once all of the articles are written, I just need to write the “business” pages like the main page, privacy statement, etc., give everything a final check, and then launch.

Since I announced the project in 2013, the project has made good progress, though that progress has happened in fits and starts over the intervening years.  I completed the articles for “Hats“, “Snow“, “Noses“, and “Family” in late 2013, and then set the project aside for about two years.  I suppose that other matters took precedence during that time.  Then when I picked it up again in late 2015, I got a lot of prep work done for the episode pages, such as all of the writer, director, and sequence information, and then by March 2016, I had completed things through “Games“, i.e. the twelfth episode.  I then picked it up again in December 2016, and finished up the first season in February 2017.  I picked up on the second season in September 2017, starting with “Dance“, and finished it up exactly one year later, taking approximately six months off from it from December 2017 to June 2018.  That work on the second season also included writing seven brand new episode synopses, to replace some temporary short synopses written in the nineties.  You know what they say: there is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution.  That said, the new synopses are the same length as the standard ones.

In finishing the 1982 episodes, and a number of other articles related to that, I believe that I have reached a significant milestone as far as Today’s Special goes.  Going into the project, I was concerned that I would get bogged down in those early episodes and the project would stall indefinitely.  But now I’m done with them.  I have completed the early material, and am now moving into the middle of the series.  Starting in 1983, the series really “grew out its beard“, as the show definitely hit its stride during that period.  The 1981 episodes were fairly light on story, focusing mostly on teaching about the various concepts that the show covered, such as hats, snow, camping, fruit, and so on.  The 1982 episodes were built around an actual plot, but still had a lot of teaching and explaining in them.  Starting in 1983, the concepts are taught through the storyline, with less direct explanation of concepts.  There’s also more conflict, as 1983 has five episodes where characters get very upset with each other for very valid reasons.  In addition, the characters are far more developed in 1983, as all of their origin stories are shown.  The show also changes its appearance slightly, as this is when Jodie begins wearing her third uniform, which is the version with the long sleeved button-down shirt and pocket on the right side, rather than the short sleeved jumpsuit that she wore previously.

Now, for 1983, I will have my work cut out for me.  The way I complete the episode pages is typically in two waves.  The first wave involves work on the synopsis itself, as I clean up the writing and make sure that it’s up to modern quality standards, or write a new synopsis, whichever the case may be.  I can knock out a cleanup job fairly quickly, but writing a new synopsis from scratch typically takes several hours to complete and requires a lot of concentration.  I will be writing 17 new episode synopses, i.e. everything except “Christmas Part 1“, “Christmas Part 2“, and “Adventure“, for 1983.  Then after that, the second wave of work is an analysis of the episode, noting first appearances, last appearances, new concepts, credit formats, and a lot of things like that.  That’s also when I write the articles about things like filming locations.  As far as filming locations go, I am eternally grateful to the folks at /r/askTO, as they have been great in helping me with filming locations that I wasn’t able to identify myself.  1983 doesn’t have as much location footage as the earlier seasons did, but I still have a good bit of homework to do.  I’ve already identified a bunch of filming locations, but there are some more that I still need to turn up.

Then after 1983, I have to do 1984 almost entirely from scratch.  It was a 15-episode season, and all of the synopses are the short style, meaning that they will all have to be rewritten to full length.  That season also introduces a massive change in the sets, as well as Mrs. Pennypacker, a new puppet character.  Once I finish 1984, things will be pretty straightforward.  All of the full-length synopses for 1985 through 1987 are written, and they just need to be cleaned up and have all of the supporting material placed around them.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t have a date for when I will be finished with this project.  I work on things when I can, and try to do one episode function (a synopsis or an analysis) per week.  So just for 1983, I figure that it will take about 37 weeks, or about nine months, to complete.  I come to that figure by figuring that I’m going to write a new synopsis for 17 episodes, and do an analysis of all 20.  Plus figure another week or so on top of that for “Our Story” because of all of the location shooting that was done there.  Just know that I am being very thorough here, and I would rather take a long time and do it right than launch a poor or incomplete product.  I don’t care if the new page for “Hats” sits for a decade before anyone besides me gets to see it.  I will do it right.

And meanwhile, the old site looks a bit dated by now.  It’s a situation where I know that I’m replacing it, but it still has a niche to fill in the meantime.  So it’s not getting many updates because I know that it’s getting replaced, but the new site isn’t ready yet to replace it.  About the only thing that I’ve done with the old site is include the new episode synopses as they are written.  It probably could use a refresh in the interim, but we’ll see.

So all in all, much has been done, and still a lot more to do.  And I’m looking forward to doing it.

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“Roseanne” becomes “The Conners”… Sat, 01 Sep 2018 14:51:11 +0000 Funny how real life sometimes writes the plot.  I was planning to do a review of the tenth season of Roseanne in this space back in May, but while I was writing it, the show was cancelled by ABC after Roseanne Barr posted some pretty vile stuff on the Twitter.  That put the partially-written Journal entry on hold, because those events affected a lot of what I was working on.  However, the network’s reaction to the Twitter rant was completely understandable.  I can’t imagine that any company would want to be associated with such vile rhetoric coming from one of their key players.

Based on the fallout, where Barr blamed Ambien for her racist rant, I can tell you one thing: she’s not sorry.  Sure, she’s sorry that she ran her mouth and lost her job, but she’s not sorry for what she said.  If anything, her using the medication as a scapegoat cements that those were her true feelings.  The idea is that the medication “removed the filter”, and, with nothing to prevent vile things from being said, she let out what she had really been thinking all along.  And then she doubled down on it on a Fox News appearance later on.  I’m disappointed, because I expected better from Barr.  But I suppose that it doesn’t matter anymore, because Barr’s career is most definitely over, destroyed by an ill-considered Twitter post.

I suppose that this is also a lesson about how to handle your relationship between your personal social media and your employer, especially when you’re in a very public position.  People hear about stuff like this and complain about free speech, but the whole concept of “free speech” as laid out by the First Amendment only applies to the government.  A private entity is completely free to fire you for saying something vile on the Internet, and that’s what happened with Barr.  The government played no role in her firing.  She ran her mouth, and boom – she lost her job.

When the new season of Roseanne was announced, I was excited. I wrote a Journal entry about it at the time, discussing how they might pick up again.  Back then, I presented three scenarios: present the “real” family that the book was based on, dismiss the final scene but treat the rest of the ninth season as canon, or dismiss everything from the ninth season and go about like it never happened.  I was delighted to find out that they took the third scenario, and dismissed the ninth season completely.  In fact, they did even better, as they appear to have dropped everything after this point:

The end of Darlene's wedding episode

In other words, they decided to pick up exactly where the original show should have ended, right before it went completely off the rails.  That meant no heart attack, no lottery, no Prince Carlos, no terrorists, no infidelity, etc.  I was pleased about the method that they used to hand-wave the final season away as fantasy, having Dan hold up and briefly discuss Roseanne’s completed manuscript as something that might have had potential, but that never got published.  Good riddance to a bad season.

I was also pleased about how they did the sets on the revived show.  It was a recreation of the old Roseanne set, with additional touches to represent the passage of time, such as an aged look in the kitchen, mismatched chairs around the kitchen table as chairs were replaced as needed, a few new appliances, and so on.  All in all, it looked just like the Conners’ house should look in 2018.  No major renovations, but a lot of piecemeal changes over the years.  The bedroom sets in particular were absolutely spot on.  I also loved that they made new establishing shots of the “Roseanne house” in Evansville, Indiana.

The opening was classic Roseanne, with everyone in the kitchen, interacting with each other as dinner was being served, with the camera panning around a fully-built set, just like in earlier seasons.  No morphs showing the characters changing over the years, as was done in the last two seasons of the original run.  The music was reminiscent of the theme used during the first and second seasons.  I would have probably based the new theme off of the versions used in the third or seventh seasons, as I considered those to be the best themes from the original run, but I suppose that basing it off of the first season works, too.  Only question I have is, who is that laughing with Roseanne at the end?  In the original run, Roseanne laughs alone, but now there is a male voice laughing along with her.

I also liked the way that the characters were updated.  Roseanne and Dan were still living in the same house in Lanford, though Dan now used a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, and both of them were on various medications.  Roseanne’s sister Jackie was still single and living in an apartment, and it was made clear in the first episode that she and Roseanne had been estranged for some time before this.  Oldest child Becky, played by the original actress, is single again, as her husband Mark had died for unspecified reasons at some point in the past (Glenn Quinn, the actor who played Mark, had died from drugs in 2002), and was initially looking to bear a child as a surrogate mother for a new character played by Sarah Chalke, who replaced Goranson as Becky for a few seasons in the original run.  Middle child Darlene and her husband David were separated (Johnny Galecki, the actor who played David, is a regular on The Big Bang Theory on CBS, and thus was unavailable for Roseanne), and they had two kids: a daughter named Harris, whose name was the only thing carried over from the ninth season, and a son named Mark.  Third child DJ is a military veteran, and married a girl named Gina, with whom he has a child.  Jerry Garcia Conner, meanwhile, was more or less hand-waved out of existence, explained briefly as being away doing something or other.  Roseanne’s mother, Bev Harris, was kicked out of the retirement home for bad behavior, and moved in with Jackie.

Then various other characters reappeared, too.  Crystal, who married Dan’s father in the fourth season, appears in two episodes.  Nancy appears in one, as do Annemarie and her husband Chuck.  Surprisingly, we never heard a peep about Leon, Roseanne’s former boss at Rodbell’s and later her business partner at the diner.  I can only assume that Martin Mull, the actor who played Leon, was unavailable.

The new season did leave a few continuity questions.  First: what happened to Jackie’s son Andy?  You may recall that Andy came about because actress Laurie Metcalf became pregnant in real life, and quickly developed a very large baby bump.  So rather than write Jackie out of the show for a while, they made the character pregnant as well.  Considering that Andy never really got any character development, I imagine that they just retconned him out of existence, and figured that no one would notice.  Likewise, what happened to Jackie’s house?  In the fifth season, after Dan briefly got into house flipping and got ripped off by Tim Curry‘s character, Jackie bought the house that had them in dire financial straits.  In the new season, Jackie lives in an apartment.  Perhaps an apartment set was already available vs. recreating the set for Jackie’s house, but it’s never explained.

We also never find out what happened to The Lanford Lunch Box, which was the diner that Roseanne, Jackie, Nancy, and Bev started in the fifth season.  It’s very clear that Roseanne and Jackie don’t work there anymore, but we never found out if the diner went out of business, if they sold their interest in the diner, or what have you.  They were shown giving up their shares in the diner in the ninth season, but with the ninth season’s being hand-waved away, it leaves that issue unresolved.  All we know is that Roseanne and Jackie are no longer involved with it anymore, and they now have other jobs.

I also appreciated the nods to continuity here and there.  For instance, while they didn’t say it directly, it appears that DJ married the girl who, back in the seventh season, he didn’t want to kiss in a play because she was black.  That was a good way to tie up that bit of story, and showed that things worked out well in the end.

And then, ironically enough, the worst character in the whole show was Roseanne herself.  The new season had a lot of cringeworthy moments, and almost without exception, they all were in Roseanne-centric scenes.  Right out of the gate, in the very first episode, there was the reconciliation with Jackie over political issues.  Jackie had voted for Jill Stein in 2016, which fit her character well enough.  It was also made clear, without actually saying it explicitly, that Roseanne Conner was a Trump supporter (Barr is a Trump supporter in real life).  I remember seeing that scene and feeling like the Roseanne revival would be terrible on account of its being overly political in a format that wasn’t designed for it.  Thankfully, the second episode was closer to a standard episode of Roseanne.  If that awful first episode had been shown alone, without the second one’s airing immediately after, I might not have continued to watch the show.

Roseanne as portrayed in the new show also contradicted the way that Roseanne was portrayed in the old show.  Remember that sixth-season episode where DJ stole the family car, Roseanne spanked him, and the rest of the episode was about how she had instant regret about hitting him because she had been abused as a child?  Fast forward to the new show, and she’s holding her granddaughter’s head under the sink in a malicious way in order to make some sort of point.  I was cringing at that scene as well, since it went against so much of what the old Roseanne had stood for.  Likewise, the Conners always used to lean leftward when it came to politics, and this was played upon quite a few times.  Seeing Roseanne as a right-winger in the new series didn’t make sense.

And then the most cringeworthy episode of the entire season was “Go Cubs”, where Roseanne needed to use her Yemeni neighbors’ wi-fi to make an online call to DJ’s wife, who was stationed in Afghanistan, after they had to let their own Internet service lapse due to financial issues.  First they made all of these remarks about the large amount of fertilizer that was being delivered to the neighbors’ house (because, as it turned out, the husband didn’t understand how online ordering worked, and the wife was unhappy about it, too), and then there was all of this trepidation about going over and asking permission to use their network.  And then Roseanne and Jackie acted all awkward around them, while the neighbors were quite friendly and accommodating.  Then there was a later scene where Roseanne and the neighbor were both in the grocery store checkout line, and the cashier made an insensitive remark to the neighbor about her ethnicity, and Roseanne got all holier-than-thou about it, telling the cashier how horrible they were for their remarks.  Give me a break.  We saw the earlier scenes.  “There is no one more virtuous than a reformed whore,” as the saying goes.  I was glad when that episode was over.  So much awkwardness crammed into thirty minutes’ time.

About the only decent Roseanne-centric episode from the new season was the final one, where it is revealed that Roseanne needed surgery for a medical condition, and also was addicted to prescription painkillers.  That was a classic Roseanne-and-Dan scene, but Dan was clearly not fooling around with his wife’s health.

In any case, that short season demonstrated one thing: Roseanne Barr was a drag on the show that bore her name, as all of the other characters were far better actors and had better stories than the alleged star, who was mostly reacting to everyone else in an ignorant way.  Sara Gilbert‘s character, Darlene, was the real star of the new show.  Admitting as much would have put the show in the same league as the Full House and Boy Meets World revivals (Fuller House and Girl Meets World, respectively), which both had generation shifts, where the kids from the old shows were the stars in the new shows, and the parents from the old shows were more distant supporting characters.  It would have made sense to do that for Roseanne, but I imagine that Barr’s massive ego couldn’t handle that.  I imagine that with Barr now out of the picture, that much-needed generational shift will happen.

I also found it a bit jarring about how much name-dropping there was for various Internet companies on the show.  How many times did they say “Facebook” or “Instagram” in a scene?  Roseanne also drove for Uber, which was named by name.  Then the Yemeni neighbors ordered things from Amazon, rather than something more generic-sounding, like “online”.  I understand where they were coming from, with the prevalence of the Internet, social media, and the gig economy, but using real names, and not doing so as the butt of a joke, seemed out of place, and felt like an old show trying to demonstrate that it’s hip and cool in the modern era (which, like adults trying to act cool for the kids, never works).  All of those references could have been genericized to no ill effect.

All that said. I’m looking forward to The Conners.  Based on the promotional and news material that I’ve seen, it’s going to focus on Darlene and Dan.  With Roseanne out of the picture, Darlene would be the matriarch of the family, with Dan as the grandfather, and it could focus on family and working class issues, and hopefully keep the politics out of it.  It sounds like Dan will be a widower in the new season, as Goodman indicated that Roseanne Conner will be dead.  This seems a good way to keep Barr out of it permanently, if her character is killed off – and good riddance to her.  I’m also looking forward to seeing the writers shine without having Roseanne Barr’s ego driving or otherwise interfering with the creative process, as Barr will have no creative or financial interests in the show going forward – and good riddance to her.  So hopefully, The Conners will fix all of the rough edges from the tenth season of Roseanne (mostly due to Roseanne), and be a long-runner in its own right.  Other shows have continued to do just fine after abruptly losing a main character, and I imagine that The Conners will do similarly.  I look forward to finding out how this Roseanne-without-Roseanne will do.

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Please don’t stop for me when I’m waiting to cross the street… Sat, 25 Aug 2018 17:51:49 +0000 On Thursday, while I was waiting for a bus, I witnessed a near accident involving a pedestrian at a crosswalk on Layhill Road near Glenfield Local Park in the Glenmont area of Montgomery County.  In other words, this location, seen from approximately my vantage point:

Layhill Road and Saddlebrook Park
Image: Google Street View

This view is facing approximately south, putting the northbound lanes on the left and the southbound lanes on the right.  There is a median in the middle of the road.  Southbound traffic has a turnout for traffic making left turns into the park police station (entrance visible at left).  There are wide bike lanes on either side of the road.  There is also a Metro facility entrance at this location (out of frame to the right).  This intersection is not a big one by any means.  There are no signals.  Ride On has a bus stop on either side of the road at this location.

What happened was that a woman was crossing Layhill Road via the crosswalk after alighting a Ride On bus on the northbound side of Layhill Road.  She crossed the northbound lanes without incident, and reached the median.  She then waited in the median for traffic to clear on the southbound side.  A vehicle stopped for her in the left lane.  She responded to that and started crossing.  She couldn’t see that a person driving a Toyota FJ Cruiser was coming up at full speed in the right lane that didn’t look like it was about to stop.  Another person at the bus stop saw what was about to happen and shouted at the woman to stop.  She did, and the Toyota driver continued on at full speed.  The woman thanked the other person for saving her life after it was all over.

I feel like the whole incident could have been prevented if the driver in the left lane, who stopped, had been less “courteous” and just kept on moving.  Maryland law requires that traffic stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.  However, the person crossing was in the median, in a pedestrian refuge area designed to split the crossing into two phases.  This is part of the median, and it is not the crosswalk.  The car’s stopping in the lane did two things to cause this near accident.  First, it placed social pressure on the pedestrian to hurry up and cross the street.  The idea is that now there’s a person that has stopped, and is waiting for you to cross the street.  Therefore, hurry up and cross the street so that they can go on with their day after doing you a favor by stopping.  Then the other thing that the stopping caused is physical: the car’s presence blocked the pedestrian’s ability to see the right lane, and more importantly, blocked the Toyota driver’s view of the pedestrian.  Here’s the area from a close approximation of the pedestrian’s point of view:

Layhill Road and Saddlebrook Park
Image: Google Street View
(Note that this image is from 2012, when the pedestrian refuge area had not yet been built, and before the crosswalk was slightly repositioned to be further back.)

When I posted about this on Facebook, a few folks were inclined to blame the Toyota driver for not stopping.  I find it hard to blame the Toyota driver in this scenario, because they couldn’t see the hazard.  I’m inclined to blame the pedestrian for beginning to cross the road when they could not verify that the road was completely safe to cross, and I’m inclined to blame the driver in the left lane for stopping for a pedestrian who was not in the crosswalk.  And ultimately, it is up to the pedestrian to ensure their own safety, because regardless of whether the law is in the pedestrian’s favor or not, if there’s an accident, the pedestrian is still dead.  The driver could have been completely wrong, but that doesn’t mean much if you’re not alive to find out about it.

I’ve crossed Layhill Road at this location many times, going in both directions.  The most frustrating thing is when I’m standing in the refuge area, looking for a wide opening in order to cross two lanes, and someone stops for me.  And it’s always a person in the left lane that stops.  Now you’ve just blocked my view of the rest of the road, and I can no longer guarantee my own safety crossing the road as long as you are there.  So I wave the people past.  They can get mad all that they want that their allegedly kind gesture was rebuffed, because they shouldn’t have stopped in the first place.  I need to be able to see.

In addition, the driver is putting themselves in danger by stopping like that.  There are no traffic control devices of any kind in this area, and the speed limit is 40 (which means that most drivers go 50).  No one is expecting a vehicle to stop in the middle of the road in that area – especially in an area where people are going at that speed.  Therefore, you are now a hazard to other drivers who were not expecting you to stop, and who may not be able to see a pedestrian ahead because you’re blocking them.

It’s funny – everyone talks about how we should be courteous and look out for everyone else on the road, but the roads actually work best when everyone is behaving a bit selfishly.  In other words, you worry about you, and let me worry about me.  I don’t need your “assistance”.  When I’m crossing the street at an unsignalized crosswalk, I assume that the drivers will not stop for me.  Therefore, I operate under that assumption and ensure that there is a wide clear space in front of me before I start across.  I know that I will make it across safely when I have that.  Likewise, drivers should not stop for a pedestrian on the side of the road that is intending to cross.  They’re in a place of safety, so don’t foul your lane to try to “help” that person across.  I can assure you that they do not need your assistance crossing the road.

I believe that in this case, the best solution to prevent this from being deadly is education about best practices when driving.  With this being a relatively low volume crossing, there’s no need to even consider any of the various traffic control devices for pedestrians that I wrote about a while back at this point.  Just don’t stop at unsignalized intersections if you are not absolutely obligated to.  After all, stopping where you’re not supposed to is not courteous or safe.  That’s dangerous.  So don’t do it.

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I finally found it after twenty years… Tue, 14 Aug 2018 17:38:46 +0000 When my family went to England back in 1998, we mainly watched Sky One, which ran American television shows, when we were at the hotel.  I suppose that we watched mostly American TV because it was familiar.  The commercials, however, were very British.  Three commercials stuck out in my mind while we were there.  One was for Ribena, which featured a pregnant woman explaining how beneficial it was during pregnancy.  One was for some mac and cheese product where two boys were playing a game, and the younger boy’s job was to stand there and hold the antenna, complaining, “My arm hurts!” at the end of the spot.  And then the third was for Lucozade, a sports drink.

That third one, for Lucozade, was by far the most memorable of the three, primarily because of some rather racy content.  It featured several men wearing nothing but mountie hats putting on a show, while a bunch of cartoon women watched.  At one point, they explain that because this variety of Lucozade is low in calories, it helps them “stay firm”, as the camera pans from the face down their body, stopping at their stomach, where the man says, “Where it counts!” as he pats his stomach.  Very memorable, and very British.  You would certainly never see a spot like that in the United States.

Back in the nineties, it was never a thought that we would be able to find this commercial.  Of course not.  The technology and the will wasn’t there.  Now, though, with sites like YouTube and the like, a lot of older advertisements have seen new life for nostalgic purposes, which is a welcome addition.  After all, full television programs tend to have good repeat value, but commercials, due to their more timely nature, rarely get airtime again after their planned run is completed.  There are exceptions, like that Arby’s “five roast beef sandwiches” spot and the Fruity Pebbles spot with Santa, which ran for quite a few years, but for the most part, they’re one-and-done.

Once the idea of posting old commercials online became a thing, I started searching for that Lucozade ad.  I didn’t even know at first that it was an advertisement for Lucozade.  I just remembered that it was the commercial with the naked mounties.  My first time searching, I found an article about the commercial, which I found out was called “Full Mountie”, but not the commercial itself.  Turns out that the spot was controversial at the time “for being crude and offensive to overweight women”, and contained “an unacceptable level of sexual innuendo for pre-watershed viewing, while some felt the ad should not have been allowed on air at all”.  Back when we saw it, we were most amused with the “It helps me stay firm where it counts!” part, for exactly the reasons that you think.

But other than finding articles about the advertisement, but not the advertisement itself, I let it go for a while.  Then when Elyse came back one day with a bottle of Lucozade (from Rodman’s on Wisconsin Avenue in DC), I tried it again.  This was the real deal:

Elyse holds a bottle of Lucozade

It even had the European nutrition panel, rather than the one that we’re accustomed to seeing in America.  We had it on the day that we went to BrickFair (more on that later), and since it sat in the car all day, we enjoyed it both cold and hot.  Interestingly enough, we both thought that Lucozade tasted better hot than cold.  We both thought the same thing about the limited-edition Pepsi flavors Pepsi Salted Caramel and Pepsi Fire when they were available, after they both also sat in the car on a warm day.  In the case of this variety of Lucozade, the orange fizzy flavor had some extra kick to it when it was warm.  The cold tends to dull it.

Having found Lucozade, it caused me to look for the commercial again.  And lo and behold, I found it:

That was undoubtedly the commercial that I was looking for.  Animated people watching the show, live actors as the performers, cleverly hidden body parts, and “…so it helps me stay firm… where it counts!”  Going to show that memories aren’t perfect, I remembered it with a closer shot and slower pan down the guy’s body, and for some reason, I also remembered the animated people as old ladies rather than any age where they would have dark hair.

Finding all of the controversy about the “Full Mountie” commercial, and then rediscovering the commercial itself, I was kind of surprised that it was so controversial back in its day.  We all thought it was funny back then.  I still think it’s funny today, though it would still never make it to US television.

I’m still looking for the other two commercials that I found memorable from that 1998 trip to England.  If I turn those up, I’ll let you know.

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Was I right to have been upset about this? Tue, 07 Aug 2018 22:18:52 +0000 While participating in a discussion on Reddit, it conjured up the memory of something that happened in my junior year of college that left me a bit unsettled at the time, and on which I never got any closure.  Before I begin, be advised – the events described here occurred more than 16 years ago, so at this point, this discussion is purely academic.

While I was a resident advisor in Potomac Hall in 2001-2002, there were two occasions where I was asked to swap office duty shifts near the end of the year.  On the first occasion, the person who wanted to switch with me told me that it was for a family emergency.  In that instance, I agreed to switch days without question, because I would expect the same thing for me should a similar situation arise for me.  I remember seeing that person in the building that night, and thought, I thought that you had a family emergency, but dismissed it, because that really wasn’t my place to judge.  Then on the second occasion, a different person asked me to switch duty days so that they could attend an awards ceremony.  I said no, because I didn’t want to trade days, and an awards ceremony wasn’t an emergency.  I held my ground on that, but later relented after my hall director, Mecca Marsh, whom I’ve written about previously in this space, turned the colleague’s request into an order from the boss.  So I was a bit annoyed about that, especially since I knew that Mecca would have never taken my side like that should I have been in the same situation.  But in the end, I did as I was told.

Then fast forward a month or so later.  The colleague who swapped shifts with me for the awards ceremony brought a video over to show me.  The video depicted a probate ceremony for an historically black sorority on campus.  I learned a lot from the video, which both of my colleagues were in, because prior to this, I didn’t know anything about how historically black Greek letter organizations worked.  My colleague did a great job in explaining to me what was going on, why it was going on, and the significance of it all.  Then they went on to explain that sorority events were the real reason for the “awards ceremony”, and the other person’s “family emergency”.  They couldn’t tell me what they were really doing because they were sworn to secrecy.

And right there is where they lost me.  I found that I couldn’t be happy for them because I felt a bit betrayed.  I had been lied to, and there was never an apology or anything for how they went about things.  I found using a family emergency as an excuse to go to a sorority event to be especially low, and the awards ceremony excuse to be dishonest at best.  They saw nothing wrong with the fact that they lied to me in order to trade shifts.  Apparently, to them, the ends justified the means, as they were more than happy to lie for their sorority.  I hope that it was worth it to them, because after that, I felt like I could no longer trust them, as they chose their sorority over their jobs.  That wasn’t a good thing when this was a live-in job that required close relationships with one’s colleagues.  Mistrust can be toxic in that sort of situation.

In any case, I found it to be more than a bit unprofessional.  If they were truly sworn to secrecy, then the professional thing to do would have been, when asking for the trade, to say that they needed to swap shifts for something important, but that they were presently not at liberty to reveal what was going on, but that it would all be explained at a later date.  In other words, don’t lie, but acknowledge that there were things going on that couldn’t be discussed yet.  I would have been fine with that.

The whole affair also damaged my working relationship with Mecca, because she blatantly took sides with it and enabled the lying.  I found out from the colleague that showed me the video that Mecca had figured out on her own that the two of them were in the onboarding process for a sorority, asked them about it, and thus was read into the whole thing – which bothered me even more because Mecca never explained to me when making the shift trade a reality that it was something of significance going on that the involved parties couldn’t discuss openly at the time.  I could have handled that, since explanations usually make everything better.  There were so many ways that she could have handled it to get the desired result, but she ultimately chose to just force it on me.

I also felt like I had no outlet to talk through my frustrations at the time, which led it to remain something of an unsettled matter all of these years.  The person who I would normally have discussed my concern about this with, i.e. my hall director, was part of the problem, and this wasn’t important enough to escalate, especially when I would be working under the same hall director again the following year, and didn’t want to burn a bridge just yet.  Notwithstanding Mecca’s direct involvement in this one, there was another reason I wouldn’t go to her on it: when dealing with Mecca Marsh, everything was somehow about race.  I remember an occasion where I used the word “overhaul“, as in a major repair/update/revision, in conversation.  She had not heard the term before, and as such didn’t know what the word meant.  I could handle that well enough, explaining the meaning of the word, and then continuing the discussion.  Instead, she went into a big spiel about how “we are from different cultures” to excuse why she had not heard the word “overhaul” before, derailing the conversation and making it into a racial issue, most likely in a poor effort to mask a lack of self-confidence, and thus a need to hide any possible weakness.  So discussing this matter with Mecca would have been a waste of effort, because I already knew what I would get from that, and it would be unproductive.

I later bounced the whole situation off of an uninvolved colleague to gauge whether I was wrong to be upset about it, and that person was dismissive, saying that the colleagues in question couldn’t disclose what they were doing, so they had no alternative but to lie.  It was not what I wanted to hear (I wanted to be told that I was right to feel slighted), so I left it at that.

So now, with the passage of 16 years, what does the Internet think?  Was I right to have been upset about this?  Was I overreacting?  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

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New rugs! Thu, 02 Aug 2018 14:28:05 +0000 So I have a little house update for you: carpet!  In the last month or so, I finally got the area rug question figured out, and procured and placed three area rugs in the house.  It makes for a much richer setting with some area rugs on the hardwood floors.  I put area rugs in my bedroom, the back bedroom, and the dining area part of the the living room.  So now, all three bedrooms and the living room have rugs in them.

For some reason, choosing home decor tends to stress me out.  I popped so many Advils in the process of picking these carpets.  I think it’s because it’s a significant cash outlay, because (A) furniture and carpet aren’t cheap, and (B) it’s something that you really don’t want to return, especially if if required special arrangements to get it home in the first place.  Choosing what loveseat to buy for the mezzanine was difficult, as I visited so many stores in search of the perfect loveseat.  I eventually settled on an Ektorp loveseat from IKEA, which turned out to be the perfect thing to put up in the mezzanine.

Deciding on the area rugs took the stress from the loveseat search and multiplied it by twelve.  I had three rooms to outfit, and each had to be perfect, but I didn’t know what “perfect” was.  I knew what my dimensions needed to be, and then worked from there.  I spent many nights on Amazon looking at area rugs.  More headaches.  I went to Walmart and Target’s websites.  Nothing good – need more Advil.  I went down to Big Lots and came out empty, save for a brand new headache.  I also went to Ollie’s up in Jessup, and came out with something for Elyse, but no rugs.  And rugs were my responsibility, since Elyse didn’t quite understand why I was so wound up about rugs, and often suggested that I “just pick something”.

In the end, I got something that I liked.  But not at first.  My bedroom was the first to be outfitted with an area rug, and it was a miss:

That is a Persian-style rug in navy blue, sized at 4′ x 6′.  It was a little too large for the space, and the color was not as I expected.  I expected a much brighter navy color, and instead got something closer to black.  Plus I wasn’t as enthused about how the pattern looked in real life vs. online.  So the rug went back to Amazon.  Lesson learned: I needed a solid color in the room, plus this was a tad too large.  I ended up getting this instead:

New rug in the master bedroom

This is a solid navy rug at 3′ x 5′ that I got for $15 at Walmart.  Not a bad deal, and it fits the area perfectly.

The back bedroom, meanwhile, ended up being a stroke of pure luck.  I had searched and searched online, just like for my bedroom, but then I was at Lowe’s up in Columbia, and stumbled upon the perfect area rug.  I was going through the rack, found a colorful one, and said to Elyse, “Back bedroom.  What do you think?”  She agreed, so we bought it, and into the Honda it went:

The new area rug in the back of the car, taking full advantage of the HR-V's fold-up seats

And then it was so:

The new area rug in the back bedroom

Not a bad look.  Now the question is whether or not I want to hang curtains in that room.  I’m torn between leaving it alone and not hanging any curtains, vs. hanging grommet-style blackout curtains at both windows like I did in my bedroom.  If I do go with curtains, it will probably be a cream color, in order to harmonize with the rug and the pale blue walls.

Then the living room could have gone one of several different directions.  As with the other ones, quite a few Advils gave their lives in the process of outfitting the space.  Lots of Amazon searching.  I hit up Big Lots and a few other places.  I ultimately found the perfect rug at IKEA, along with a bunch of other stuff:

Our haul from IKEA

(By the way, Elyse and I should not be allowed to go to IKEA unsupervised, because things like this happen.  So many picture frames.)

Since that part of the living room was already fitted out, I had to clear out the space:

The temporarily emptied dining area

The furniture from that area, over on the "living" side of the living room

And then the rug went down:

The new carpet in place.

And then the furniture went back:

The furniture back in place.

Seems to work.  Meanwhile, those are new chairs, replacing the somewhat dated original chairs, which I still have to stain and finish to match the rest of the furniture.  I have all of the materials, so now it’s just a matter of doing it.  I also have an end table for the living room side which will be stained to match.

And lastly, unrelated to the carpet, a minor milestone in Elyse’s room:

The mirrors, over the bed again

Rememnber those?  The five IKEA mirrors are back in place over my old bed, in the same arrangement as before.  I’m going do something similar in my bedroom with the newer version of the mirrors, but with the additional vertical space that I have, I’m going to do a 3 x 3 arrangement.

So all in all, this place is slowly coming together.  The only major projects remaining are to paint the living room and the hallways, stain and finish the chairs and the end table, and then decorate.

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You know, he totally looks like… Tue, 31 Jul 2018 14:50:21 +0000 So I was recently on Reddit and looking at /r/blunderyears, which is a board where people post old embarrassing photos of themselves, and came across this guy’s old photo from 2005:

This guy from /r/blunderyears

The moment that I saw this guy’s photo, I thought of this:

Tillie on the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey

Yes, in that photo, I saw Tillie of Asbury Park, New Jersey, formerly of Palace Amusements, and now painted on the wall of the Wonder Bar.  You see the resemblance, I’m sure.  Same eyebrows, same eyes, same nose, same smile.  The guy posted some more recent photos of himself, and he looks pretty sharp these days, but back then, he was definitely Tillie in real life.  Elyse and I were up in Asbury Park on July 30 to visit the Silverball Museum, and we showed some of the employees the photo, and they immediately saw the resemblance, as did a lady working a nearby pretzel stand.

What do you think?  Do you agree with the resemblance?

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