The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Tue, 14 Aug 2018 17:38:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Schumin Web 32 32 37838674 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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Five years since I left the nonprofit world… Fri, 20 Jul 2018 18:34:42 +0000 Yesterday marked five years since I left Food & Water Watch, where I worked for a little over six years.  I had not been happy there for a while, and the deterioration of things in my last three months or so was the final push that I needed in order to do what I knew that I needed to do, i.e. leave the organization.  Looking back, I suppose that what ultimately happened was the logical conclusion to my work there.  I was hired into a very generalist position back in 2007.  I was that guy who “did everything”.  One day I would be doing accounting work.  One day I was building furniture.  One day I was fixing computers.  One day I would be working in fundraising.  You name it, and I probably did it at some point.  Over the years, my job evolved and changed as the organization grew, and people with more specialized roles were added as various functions of the organization became too large for a more generalist position.  Eventually, there became less of a need for a position like mine, but so rather than promote me to a new role, they opted to unload me.  Suit yourself, I suppose.

In any case, the next fifteen months were an interesting time in my life.  I was reminded of exactly how much job hunting sucks, but I also remember not really feeling any of the positions that I was applying for.  More nonprofit work after just having been chewed up and spit out by one didn’t exactly ignite my passion.  Especially when there was that nagging thought that in a few years, I would probably be searching for a job again, since most people tended to only stay somewhere for two or three years before moving on.  By October, I had given up on nonprofits, and focused on transportation.  I got a CDL, and I was applying to driving jobs.  I was more excited about the work than sitting in an office all day, that’s for sure.  I knew I was in the right place, because I felt like the passion and the fire were back.

It’s funny, though, what makes you realize how much you’ve grown and changed in five years.  I redid my resume about a month ago for a few internal positions that I am pursuing with my current employer, and based the new resume on the one that I had used in 2013 and 2014.  That old resume was trying to be a lot of different things, and focused on how well-rounded I was as a candidate, focusing on technical abilities, writing, and work experience.  It was two pages (front and back), and probably had too much on it, as it had this big, flowery “skills” section, plus a section on volunteer work which covered all of my writing on Wikipedia, and also showcased the various skills developed through Schumin Web.  I thought it was great in 2013 and 2014, but in 2018, I saw a whole lot of fluff.  I condensed that puppy down to one page, as a lot of that was irrelevant to an internal move in a transit agency.  My Wikipedia writing experience went right out the window, as I hadn’t done that in quite a few years, and thus it was less relevant.  Schumin Web is now listed as a real job, as the business side of things (i.e. licensing photos for third party use) has actually become a real revenue stream in the last few years.  And then my Office on Youth internship, which I did in the summer of 2003, is gone.  It didn’t provide any new insights that other positions didn’t already provide, and was for such a short duration that it could disappear and no one would miss it.  Kind of weird to think about, though, since that internship defined my summer that year.  But then again, things change.  No one from when I interned there still works there.  I don’t recognize a single face on their staff bio page.

It’s also interesting to see how interactions with former Food & Water Watch coworkers have gone since I’ve left there.  When I was driving the bus, I picked up a few of them at various times on various routes.  Funny how the person who always acted the happiest to see me on the bus was the one who treated me the worst in the office.  Most other interactions were neutral, but this person’s reaction to seeing me was too over the top, complete with a fake smile.  I just thought, yeah, I know what you’re really about, as they sat down in their seat.  Then there was another time that I was walking through Petworth, heading back to the bus division after doing the first part of my run.  I ran into three of them on the street.  They were all happy to see me, and they invited me out to whatever bar they were headed to.  I found that lack of situational awareness to be a little off-putting.  I was wearing a bus operator’s uniform at the time, with a safety vest over top of it.  I had buses to drive.  I had more important things to do than hang out with them, and I certainly couldn’t enter a bar while wearing a bus operator’s uniform, on or off duty.  That interaction really made me realize that I had grown tremendously, both as a person and a professional in the two years (at that time) since leaving Food & Water Watch, and they had not changed at all.  I kind of felt badly for them, because they were still the same people that I got away from in 2013, and I was no longer the same person that I was in 2013.  Our shared histories had diverged, and I realized how much I had outgrown that sort of thing.

Another interesting byproduct of things: I used to think that my colleagues who posted only about work on social media seemed a bit one-dimensional, i.e. they were so wrapped up in their work that their only interests were related to their work.  Then I started working for a transit agency.  I realized that I was posting a lot about work, and issues pertaining to work.  Quite a few buses showed up in my Flickr feed, for one.  The “aha” moment was when I realized that they’re just really passionate about the issues that they work on.  But I still included posts on other interests besides transit, unlike some of them.

All in all, I’m glad that I left Food & Water Watch.  I certainly I grew a lot there and gained a lot of useful experience, but I eventually outgrew the position and the organization, and moved on to better things.  And I’m happier and a better person for it, and that’s all that counts in the end.

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Nothing like tackling some rewriting projects to make you realize a few things… Thu, 12 Jul 2018 20:00:09 +0000 You know, there’s nothing like undertaking a rewriting project to make you realize that you’re a much better writer than you used to be, and also that fluff for the purpose of filling space isn’t helping anyone.  For several years, I’ve had a list of pages that I want to redo, and recently, I finally started knocking a few of them out.  I’ve already completed the new About Me page, and the main page for Odds and Ends also got a rewrite.  Cars and Quote Archives were substantially reworked recently, though those pages were not full rewrites from scratch.  Then I’m also planning on doing full rewrites on the main pages for Archives, Life and Times, and Photography, as the writing on all of those pages is at least a decade old, likely dating back to the 2003 or 2004 redesign.  The photos on those introduction pages were last changed in 2012, when I converted the site to WordPress (six years ago!).

If the two completed rewrites are any indication, this will be a beneficial and much needed upgrade.  The new About Me page replaced a page that was written in 2007 during a site conversion that left the reader with the impression of a person that I no longer am.  The new page corrects that, reflecting new perspectives on things.  The new version also intermingles the history of the website with my own personal history, acknowledging that I’ve had the website for the majority of my life, and that as such, our histories are very much intertwined.  I’ve also linked to different Journal entries and pages throughout, with the idea of providing an overview while not trying to reinvent the wheel by duplicating material that I have already discussed in detail elsewhere on the site.

Then the Odds and Ends rewrite was extremely straightforward, replacing a longer three-paragraph page with a single paragraph.  There’s not much to say about what is essentially a “miscellaneous” section, and the new writing reflects that.  It’s not quite “here it is”, but it avoids droning on for paragraphs just to fill space in order to make the page appear full.  It’s not afraid to be succinct, and to be shorter than the section menu to its right.  I suppose that the new Odds and Ends page’s having blank space beneath while the sidebar continues downward is a flaw in the current site design, but I’m willing to tolerate that for now.  The current site design is nearly six years old at this point, and the site as a whole could probably benefit from a redesign, but one thing at a time.

That idea of making a page appear full is, ultimately, what I’m working to eradicate.  In the era before social media, more specifically defined by when I joined Facebook in the summer of 2007, I tended to use Schumin Web for something more like what we use social media for today.  Journal entries and such were relatively short, and, with my still being relatively fresh out of college, I was accustomed to writing things to meet an arbitrarily defined length requirement, and then fluffing it out if I had said everything that I needed to say but didn’t hit the length requirement, i.e. writing to fill space.  These pages fit that definition.  There wasn’t a whole lot to say, but I felt that I needed the pages to meet some idea of “fullness”.

The quote articles that ran on the main page from 1998-2005 evolved to become like that.  Originally, those articles were text-only, and around a paragraph in length.  They later got longer, and some sort of image, typically a photo, became standard.  With that came the idea of making the articles self-contained, i.e. the text should be long enough to cover the space around the image, so that it won’t dip down into and disrupt any content beneath it.  So if there wasn’t enough to say to cover the image, I wrote fluff to fill it.  Visual needs over strong content.  In hindsight, it’s not surprising that the quote article eventually withered with the introduction of the Journal, because the latter didn’t have that layout that required fluff, and thus was easier to write.

Meanwhile, some of the fluff that I’m about to obliterate is pretty fluffy.  From the Archives main page:

Many will tell you that history has a way of repeating itself.  And many will point this out as the reason that we need to understand history.  Here in the Archives, this is the vault containing the site’s history, laid out before you.  This is where we have been.  If this is your first time visiting The Schumin Web, the Archives section is almost like an orientation to that which is the world of Ben Schumin.  For regular visitors to this site, this is like a fond look back at what we’ve been through together.

From the Life and Times main page:

In Life and Times, come with me as I travel to places with family, with friends, and by myself.  Come with me as we see what’s going on in my life at home.  See what kind of random stuff I encounter in the process of going about things.  Hear my on-the-spot commentary through movie clips.  As you will see, I really do have fun in my life, and never know what’s around the corner.

Talk about useless fluff that no one needs to ever read.  You need to go through “orientation” to understand the site?  Seriously?  I also discuss formats and layouts, and in the Life and Times page, I discuss a categorization of three older photo sets that I eliminated during the WordPress conversion (the categorization, not the sets).  Then Archives does this graceless dip below the text container:


In a word: yuck.  I’m also pretty sure that defeats the purpose of having all of that fluffy text in the first place, as the intent of that nonsense was to fill space, and it doesn’t even fill it. I’m pretty sure that this page layout has survived several site redesigns (Internet Archive shows an early version of the text for that page back in 2005), and hasn’t aged very well.  I’m not entirely sure what I want to do in new introductory pages, but I imagine that it will be a lot less text than this, and more photography.

Then there was the “Welcome!” page.  That was a page that I could eliminate, and nothing of value would be lost.  So I did.  Especially so when you consider that I changed the site sections around about three years ago, and never bothered to revise this page to reflect said change.  I think that the site’s navigation is pretty self-explanatory, and requires no explicit explanation.  Back then, I felt it necessary to explain these things, and like so much old introductory text on here, its time has most certainly passed.

Reading this old text is when I understand why some people used to make fun of my site on the Internet.  The writing wasn’t as good as it is now, and while I’m certainly not perfect, the difference in writing quality is noticeable.  A lot more thought goes into things now, and while I produce a lower number of individual posts than I used to, the content is much better.

It’s also why I say that the best way to become proficient in writing is just to write.  It doesn’t matter what it’s about.  Just write.  School always had a way of sucking the fun out of writing.  There was no enjoyment in writing about something that I had no interest in whatsoever.  I especially resented the way my English classes in 11th and 12th grade required that all of our alleged “freewrites” be based on the literature that we were reading.  I had no interest in the literature that we were reading, especially since we were expected to read the stuff at such a rapid pace that nothing sank in.  In 12th grade especially, I didn’t give a rat’s patootie about the literature.  Writing uninspired poems and submitting them for grades was not a good way to build writing skills.  Same for college.  I didn’t grow much as a writer while churning out a bunch of boring papers on topics that I had no interest in.  Once I got out of school and started writing regularly for Schumin Web, things got better.  Slowly but surely, it improved.  Writing was fun.  Like anything, if you do it a lot and have some passion for it, you get a lot better at it.  Writing about fire alarms or transit is enjoyable.  Writing answers to inane questions to verify that you actually read something is not fun.

In any case, this sort of cleanup work is long overdue, and I’m excited to make good progress on it.

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So now what do I do? Wed, 27 Jun 2018 12:30:41 +0000 This exercise thing sucks.  I recently came to the realization that I’m never going back to Planet Fitness, and therefore I’m cancelling my membership.  No sense in spending $20 per month on something that I’m not going to use.

I can’t say that I didn’t try, though.  I signed up, and I went as I planned, i.e. after work, during the overnight hours.  I tried all of the equipment, and while the elliptical and the recumbent stair climber seemed like possible winners, the whole Planet Fitness environment intimidated me too much.  How ironic for a company that markets itself with a slogan of “No Gymtimidation”.  I got the specific feeling that they were more interested in their “No Gymtimidation” and “Judgement [sic] Free Zone” image than they were about fitness (and a few people seem to agree with me).  The presence of that stupid “lunk alarm” gimmick also sent off the wrong vibe, and I never even touched the free weights, nor did I have any intention to ever use them.  It’s allegedly the judgment free zone, but they’re constantly watching and judging everything that you do, and that made me feel less at ease with it than I preferred.  I just want to go in, do my thing, and leave.  Too much emphasis on individual conduct makes me uncomfortable because it makes me feel somewhat on edge, and that creates a sense of hostility, like I’m being micromanaged.  Perception is reality here, and that perception negatively affected my enjoyment of the club.

Additionally, I couldn’t find a location that I liked.  I found out that some locations were de facto closed on Sunday nights because they dismantled the entire facility to clean it on those nights.  However, because one of Planet Fitness’s big selling points was being open 24 hours, they couldn’t actually close the facility to clean it.  They had to remain open, even though none of the equipment was available.  So on more than one occasion, Elyse and I got dressed and went out, only to be turned away because all of the equipment was offline for cleaning.  That just speaks of poor planning on the facility’s part, since they could easily split the work and clean in sections over the course of a week in order to maintain full access at all times.  Other locations were better, but too far from my house.  I halfway liked the downtown Silver Spring location, but it was just too far away to be practical.

I also got the feeling that corporate was pretty clueless, after an exchange about finding out what equipment is available at each facility.  I asked them this:

Is there a way to find out what locations have certain equipment short of just calling around?  The downtown Silver Spring, Maryland location has some equipment that I have not seen at other locations (rowing machines, seated stair climbers, hand bikes, etc.), and would love to find other locations that also have this equipment.

Their response was completely underwhelming:

Hi there, Ben!  Due to most clubs being independently owned and operated, equipment will vary by location.  The best thing to do is just stop on by the front desk and ask to speak with management or see if your home club has a suggestion box.  We always love hearing suggestions from our valued members.

In other words, they have no idea what locations have what equipment, and so the only way to find out would be to call around.  Which is exactly what I was trying to avoid in the first place.  Thanks for nothing.

I also put myself on a pretty strict diet while I was going to Planet Fitness, and that just made me miserable.  I was always hungry, and what I was eating just made me gassy.  With the combination of exercise and the diet, I lost about five pounds in total.  Whoopee.

When I had my vacation in April, I took a week off from the gym since I was doing other things while on vacation, with the intention of resuming when I went back to work the following week.  I then took another week off from the gym, and then another, and then another, and I soon realized that I didn’t miss it at all.  For the last two months, I’ve been telling myself that I’m going to go back and get back into that routine, but I can’t make myself go back.  I just don’t feel comfortable there, and there’s no sense wasting good money on a membership for a place where I don’t feel comfortable.  Goodbye, Planet Fitness.  It’s been a learning experience, for sure.  What I’ve learned is that you’re far too interested in your own image as the judgment free zone, to the detriment of everything else.

So now what do I do?  I’ve put all of the weight that I lost in 2011-2012 back on.  Swimming, as I articulated back in March, is just too much trouble at the Montgomery County facilities when you consider the schedule and how lap swimmers are at the bottom of the barrel as far as access goes.  There are also no 24-hour indoor pools in Montgomery County, meaning that I would have to travel more than 30 miles to get to an indoor pool that is open all night, and that’s a bit of a non-starter in the middle of the night after work.  Then I also have a bicycle hanging up in my utility room that I have only used three times and stopped using because my knees are not strong enough, and out of those three times, I destroyed the chain twice and had to get it replaced.  It’s been sitting and collecting dust since November 11, 2014.  I should probably just sell the bike, but I also feel like a bicycle is one of those things that might come in handy for something eventually.

So we’re back at square one.

And sadly, I’m also lacking in motivation because of the results from the time when I did lose a bunch of weight back in 2011-2012.  I stopped losing weight when I got down to 275, and held at that weight for about a year and a half.  Nothing that I did could break that 275 mark.  The problem was that, even though I looked fabulous, 275 was still morbidly obese.  So I’m feeling a bit discouraged, because I feel like my best wasn’t good enough, and it’s made me hesitant to commit to another exercise program because of the inability to bust the 275 barrier.

Additionally, I remember the time when I was smaller as an unhappy time.  When I hit 30, my interests shifted, and that included less interest in the issues that my then-employer was interested in.  That was not a good time with work, because at that point, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to meet certain life goals while working there, and also knew that I would probably never get a promotion.  When I started pushing for a promotion, rather than more responsibility looking towards upward movement, I was offered additional work in another department where the person over that department and I didn’t see eye to eye.  I saw a disaster in the making with that, and so when I went to discuss my concerns, my boss just said, “That’s disappointing,” and dropped it entirely.  Then the following year, when I made the same pitch with more specific ideas on how I wanted to grow, I was told that there was no room for a promotion and that if I wanted to move up, it would have to be outside of the organization.  Then my scumbag boss took my suggestions and designed a new position around it, and rolled most of my responsibilities into that new position, which was created specifically to drive me out.  Thanks for nothing.

All that said, I was always much happier when I was heavier, even though I recognize that one didn’t necessarily have to do with the other.  Nonetheless, that nagging feeling is a hard nut to crack.

So if anyone has any suggestions about what I’m to do, feel free.  I know that my current situation is not sustainable, but I don’t know what else to do.

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It has been twenty years since my trip to England… Tue, 19 Jun 2018 16:50:35 +0000 This week marks twenty years since my family went to England.  That trip, from June 14-21, 1998, was our last real family vacation, where we spent about a week doing all of the various touristy things, mostly in the greater London area.

Interestingly, this was a trip that I had been dreading for quite some time.  TWA Flight 800, which went down a few years prior due to what was determined to be a malfunction, was still fresh in my mind, and I was convinced that I was going to die on this flight.  Thus I didn’t want to go.  But they made me.  And as things turned out, I got there and back in one piece, but nonetheless, I still am not a fan of flying.  Every little bump, I’m wondering what’s going on.  I guess that I’m a bit of a white-knuckle flyer, though I wasn’t as a child.  In hindsight, I consider my concern to be rational enough, but I was forgetting that for every incident that makes the news, there are thousands of flights that take off and land uneventfully every day.  It also didn’t help that my last flight prior to that, from Dallas-Fort Worth to Fayetteville on American Eagle in 1992, was one where they had aborted the takeoff due to a mechanical issue.  After aborting the takeoff, they parked the plane somewhere to run a test to determine what was wrong.  The test involved the entire plane’s shaking violently on the tarmac.  After the shaking stopped, they announced that the problem “had corrected itself”.  That was not exactly reassuring.  I would have preferred that they had swapped the plane after that for one where they hadn’t told us of any issues.  I wanted off of that plane, but there was nothing that I could do about it.  Every single bump in that flight, I thought, we’re going to crash.  Not a good feeling.  I was so glad when we finally were on the ground again at the end of that flight.

In any case, we flew from Charlottesville to Philadelphia aboard US Airways Express, and then flew US Airways flight 98 from Philadelphia to London Gatwick.  The Tube was on strike the week that we were visiting, so we did much of our travel via London black cab.

The first day was basically a rest day.  We were jetlagged and knew it, and so we did a lot of sleeping that day, ate dinner at our hotel the Novotel Waterloo), and then took a walk around the area.

The next day, we spent out and about, going to Piccadilly Circus, and then Trafalgar Square.  Here I am at Trafalgar Square:

Standing in front of a fountain at Trafalgar Square

(I still have that shirt, by the way)

While there, we visited the National Gallery, we had lunch at Planet Hollywood, and then we went to SegaWorld, which was housed in the London Trocadero, then an entertainment complex (now under redevelopment to become a hotel).  I remember going there and thinking that this was was one of the sorts of cool things that you can only do in big cities (they certainly didn’t have something like this in Stuarts Draft!).  One thing that captivated us was the “rocket” escalator entrance:

The rocket escalator

My sister and me on the rocket escalator

Then inside, we got a photo of Mom in front of Sonic the Hedgehog:

Mom and Sonic the Hedgehog

I wonder if our visit to SegaWorld wasn’t the most nineties thing that we could have ever done on this trip made in the nineties.  I also discovered pay toilets for the first time at SegaWorld, which was something that we would encounter a few more times on this trip.  I find the idea of pay toilets to be somewhat abhorrent, and I’m glad that they’re more or less nonexistent stateside.

We had dinner at an Italian place called La Dolce Vita, about three blocks away from our hotel.  Dad described them as “low-brow restaurant trying to act high-brow.  But it wasn’t bad, save for lack of a no-smoking section.  I found them on Google Maps while doing some research for this Journal entry, and was disappointed to find out that they have since closed.

The next day, we took an Evan Evans tour around London, led by Brian:

On that tour, we saw Royal Albert Hall, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, we took a boat ride along the River Thames, and then we saw St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.  A few highlights for you:

The toilet at the top of Royal Albert Hall.  We were told that this was where the Queen did her business when visiting there.
The toilet at the top of Royal Albert Hall.  We were told that this was where the Queen did her business when visiting there.

Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace.

My sister and me in front of Buckingham Palace.
My sister and me in front of Buckingham Palace.

The changing of the guard.

The changing of the guard.

The changing of the guard.
The changing of the guard.

The underside of London Bridge.
The underside of London Bridge.

The Tower of London, viewed from our river boat.
The Tower of London, viewed from our river boat.

Tower Bridge, with the deck raised in order to allow a boat with a tall mast to pass through.
Tower Bridge, with the deck raised in order to allow a boat with a tall mast to pass through.

The tour was over after the Tower of London.  Brian’s parting words were, “If you liked the tour, my name is Brian.  If you didn’t like the tour, then my name is Tom.”

Then the next day, we saw Westminster Abbey:

Westminster Abbey  Westminster Abbey

We also saw part of a session of Parliament.  I remember being surprised about being required to get a pat-down in addition to other airport-style security measures.  The biggest take from our visit to Parliament, though, was running into an American couple from Texas.  They suggested that with one more day left on our trip, that we do something outside of London, in order to see what the rest of England looks like.  The idea is that just seeing London and thinking that you’ve seen the UK is like just seeing New York City and thinking that you’ve seen America.  In reality, you’ve only seen a small part of it that’s not necessarily representative of the whole.

On the way back to our hotel, at my request, we stopped for photos with Cleopatra’s Needle:

Sphinx next to Cleopatra's Needle.
Sphinx next to Cleopatra’s Needle.

Cleopatra's Needle.
Cleopatra’s Needle.

My sister and me, posing with the sphinx.  My sister and me, posing with the sphinx.
My sister and me, posing with the sphinx.

I was excited to see this, because I had learned about the history behind Cleopatra’s Needle in Latin class.  I would later visit the other obelisk when I visited New York City in 2015.

Later that day, we did a walking tour around London, which included, among other things, a visit to The Old Curiosity Shop, “immoralised by Charles Dickens”:

The Old Curiosity Shop

My understanding is that the shop was so named after the release of Dickens’ novel, but served as the inspiration for the shop in the book.

Then on our last day in England, we took the Texas couple up on their recommendation and booked another Evan Evans tour.  This one took us to Salisbury Cathedral, Stonehenge, and the Roman Baths.  This was probably my favorite day of the whole trip.  Our tour guide was a gentleman named Paddy.  First stop was Salisbury Cathedral:

Salisbury Cathedral  Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral  Salisbury Cathedral

We then had lunch at The King’s Arms Hotel:

The King's Arms Hotel

Then we headed to Stonehenge.  That place was busy, with our visiting on the day before the summer solstice.  And here are photos:





Me posing in front of Stonehenge.
Me posing in front of Stonehenge.

Dad posing in front of Stonehenge.
Dad posing in front of Stonehenge.

(I don’t know why that light patch is in the corner of all of the Stonehenge photos.  Probably something wrong with the camera that we weren’t aware of at the time.)

Then our tour took us to Bath, home of the Roman Baths.  I had previously learned about these in my high school Latin class, so I was excited to see them in person.

Entrance to the baths.
Entrance to the baths.

Statue of Julius Caesar, among others.
Statue of Julius Caesar, among others.

The baths, viewed from above.  As I understand it, the higher tan structures (made of "Bath stone") date from the 1800s, while the structures nearest the bottom are Roman in origin.
The baths, viewed from above.  As I understand it, the higher tan structures (made of “Bath stone“) date from the 1800s, while the structures nearest the bottom are Roman in origin.

The baths, viewed from above.
The baths, viewed from above.

The baths, viewed from the lower level.  I stuck my hand in, and was surprised to find how warm the water was.
The baths, viewed from the lower level.  I stuck my hand in, and was surprised to find how warm the water was.

Water channel leading to the baths.
Water channel leading to the baths.

Then we went to the gift shop, where they allowed visitors to sample the mineral water from the hot springs that feed the baths.  Paddy commented, in this beautiful British accent, “Oh, you know that gives you diarrhea.”  I gave this mortified look, before Paddy told me that he was joking.  We were flying home the next day, and the last thing that I needed was to spend the whole flight in an airplane bathroom.  I can laugh about it now, though.

Afterwards, we peeked inside Bath Abbey:

Bath Abbey

And that was the end of the tour.  From there, the bus took us back to London.

On the last day, we took a walk around the immediate area, walking around Parliament and such.  We found one statue of interest nearby:

South Bank Lion

This is the South Bank Lion, also known as the Red Lion.  We found it interesting because unlike most depictions of lions that we had seen, this one was wearing what appeared to be a sad or despairing expression.

Then, returning to the hotel, we got our stuff together, got our ride back to Gatwick, and started our journey home.  For some reason, we had an extra stop going home.  Our international flight was the same as before, going from Gatwick to Philadelphia on flight 99, but then, for some reason, we flew to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia, and got our flight to Charlottesville on US Airways Express from there.  Go figure, but we did get to see the AirMall.  The airline also lost our luggage.  After the flight from Gatwick, we had to claim our bags, go through US customs, and then recheck them, and the airline never sent our bags along.  They delivered them to us the next day.

And that was that.  Not a bad trip by any means.  I’d certainly love to go to England and see it all again now that I’m an adult, and can appreciate it a whole lot more than when I was 17.  When that might happen, though, is anybody’s guess.

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Finding my old fifth grade teacher on Facebook… Mon, 04 Jun 2018 18:30:48 +0000 Recently, a very familiar name came up in my friend suggestions: “Sharon Payne Bradley”.  In other words, this person:

Sharon Bradley in August 1991, posing with me on the first day of school

That was my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Bradley, who presided over what was, without question, the absolute worst year in my entire formal education, from kindergarten through my senior year of college.  I had not seen or spoken with Mrs. Bradley since May 29, 1992, when I completed fifth grade at Bonnie Grimes Elementary School.  And now, here I was, confronted by her photo on Facebook.  I declined to send a friend request to her, because in all honesty, I have no desire to have this toxic person, who was extremely abusive to me while I was her student, back in my life.

I suppose that our horrible year together was a perfect storm of sorts.  She had lost her husband to cancer in early 1991, which caused her to miss quite a bit of time late in the previous school year.  I believe that she was likely still coming to terms with such a major life change when the new school year started in late August.  I imagine that she probably should have taken a year off from teaching in order to sort through everything and make peace with her new situation, but I assume that financial considerations prevented that.  As it was, I’m pretty sure that she was just “phoning it in” that year, considering that the room had nothing on the walls aside from the evacuation maps and the bulletin board that didn’t change all year.  See for yourself:

Mrs. Bradley's classroom for 1991-1992. The walls are bare, and that bulletin board didn't change the entire year.

Meanwhile, I was coming into fifth grade following a fairly rough fourth grade year, where my parents and the school administration clashed pretty hard.  When the principal and the guidance counselor tried to blame my being the way that I was on a dysfunctional home life, my parents hired a psychologist who interviewed everyone involved and observed the school setting before coming to the conclusion, as a professional, that our family was fine, but the school had issues.  The school administration banned him from coming back to the school, which put an end to our work with him, because the doctor and my parents agreed that we had gone as far as we could.  I imagine that my being the way that I was came from some mild form of high-functioning autism, but this has never been formally diagnosed.

Then the school year itself was pretty rough.  For starters, we had creative writing on Friday mornings, and the first time that we did it, I had a major case of writer’s block.  I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t get the creative juices flowing that morning.  Perhaps it was a bad prompt.  I remember that the next week’s prompt was “the importance of rules”, so I imagine that the first one was probably similarly lame.  In any case, I remember getting pulled aside and being told exactly what sort of terrible person I was for not being able to come up with something coherent for whatever the prompt was.  And this was only the first week of school, and with the allegedly “nice” teacher.  Way to encourage people to write.  Nothing to help get me started. Just a berating.  A later instance of writer’s block within the first month of school during that creative writing session, where for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get the creative juices flowing, earned me a trip to the principal’s office where she berated me.  I was no stranger to getting yelled at by Mrs. Carmical, with five years of elementary school under my belt at that point, but nonetheless, this was not a good way to start the school year.

Seating arrangements were always a matter of contention.  Originally, all of our desks were arranged individually in a grid format.  Then shortly after the year started, our desks were rearranged into clusters of five or so each.  Mrs. Bradley called them “cooperative learning groups”, but in looking at various definitions of what cooperative learning actually is, this was not that.  This was just student desks arranged in clusters instead of rows, with no change in the teaching method.  One problem that we had in that arrangement was two girls who wouldn’t stop talking to each other.  I had eventually had enough of hearing Mrs. Bradley complain in class about these two girls who wouldn’t shut up, especially since that was a problem that was within her capacity to solve.  So I decided to try and help.  I designed my own seating chart and gave it to her as a suggestion for solving the problem.  This was viewed as the worst thing that I could possibly do to her, i.e. a direct challenge to her authority.  I suppose that it also said a lot about how strong of a hold she actually had on her authority if a mere ten-year-old could shake her to the core like that.  For this episode, Mrs. Bradley wrote “Openly challenges teacher” on my report card at the end of the first quarter:

"Openly challenges teacher" on my report card

I see no problem with challenging someone on a decision or a policy.  One of two things should happen when you challenge something like that.  Either you’re going to get a reasonable explanation as to why something is like that, or they’re going to say something along the lines of, “You know, he’s right.”  Then if you’re not going to even consider a suggestion, then the correct response is, “Thank you for your suggestion.  I’ll take it under advisement.”  In other words, give it a polite and cordial reception, and then ignore it if that’s what you want to do.

And things only got worse.  There was an occasion in October 1991 where, for whatever reason – I forget why – I was instructed to move my desk one foot away from the other desks in the cluster that I had been placed in.  I remember that Mrs. Bradley had then questioned whether I had actually moved it a full foot, and so I pulled out my ruler (you know, the one that we were required to have per our supply list) to verify the distance in order to settle it definitively.  The idea was that it’s fine that you want me to move my desk a foot away, because that’s your prerogative as the teacher.  But if you’re going to then question how well I followed your instructions, I’m going to settle it, and verify my compliance with said instructions.  That was, in her mind, the worst thing that I ever could have done.  Clearly, by her logic, I was doing this as a personal challenge to her and her authority, and as the teacher, she had to win.  So I got sent to the office.  Mrs. Carmical was out that day (otherwise, I probably would have just gotten another lecture from her), and the assistant principal, Mrs. Compton, would not be in until the afternoon.  So she called my mother, with the intention of bringing her in to sit with me, in the office, until the assistant principal arrived.  My mother and Mrs. Compton both arrived around the same time, and then Mrs. Bradley came back and told my mother, in my presence, exactly what sort of terrible person I was.  It was the only time that I ever cried in school, and I was thoroughly embarrassed because of it, because I was not the kind of kid who cried in school.  Then after that, I was sent back to class, tear-stained face and all.

At the halfway point in the year, our desks were rearranged in rows of four or five, which was a tremendous improvement over the clusters of desks that we had before.  Around Valentine’s Day, I was instructed to move my desk away from the rest of my row.  I don’t remember why, but it happened.  I was told that I would be able to sit in a group with the other kids again if I demonstrated something or other, but it was a nebulous enough “goal” as to be unattainable.  I sensed that Mrs. Bradley’s goal was to ostracize me, and apparently it worked, because I sat alone for the rest of the year.  She rearranged the desks one more time for the final quarter, putting the kids in pairs.  In that arrangement, my desk was the odd one out, in the center of the room, looking like a misfit.  How humiliating.

Meanwhile, public humiliation was one of Mrs. Bradley’s usual tactics.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I was singled out and humiliated in front of the entire class for some minor transgression.  I remember one instance that related to the computer.  The unwritten rule was that we could go over and use the computer if we had finished our work.  I had finished my work, so I headed over to play whatever game was there.  A short while later, another kid decided that he wanted to use the computer, and asked me to vacate.  I told him no, that I was not finished using the computer, and to wait until I was done.  The other kid went straight to Mrs. Bradley and ratted on me, and she then made a scene in the classroom about it.  I recall that I was very publicly asked from across the room about what I had said and why I had said that, and then I was told, still from across the room, that I had just lost my computer privileges for a week.  How unprofessional – especially when she could have so easily handled it quietly amongst the two students involved without making a scene and disturbing the entire class to handle a minor issue, and disciplining a student publicly.  Public shaming really has no place in school, but that was one of her go-to tactics.  It’s also not a big stretch of the imagination to think that had the situation been reversed, and I was the kid who wanted to use the computer, that the situation would have gone quite differently, and that I would have been told to go sit down, or maybe get some ridiculous lecture on why I shouldn’t ask people to use the computer, and how terrible I was for even considering it.

Another one of Mrs. Bradley’s favorite things to do was whenever there was a disciplinary issue, of any kind, she would have the student involved write down what happened on a white, unlined index card.  However, this was not simply a matter of taking statements and evaluating them to determine the full picture of what happened.  Rather, she wanted us to write the story of what happened the way that she wanted it to read, i.e. to fit whatever narrative that she was trying to craft about us, and there would be consequences for not doing it that way.  I remember on more than one occasion, after having given a statement about what happened in a situation, being told that what I wrote was wrong, and that I needed to write it again.  On a few occasions, when I stuck to my guns on what happened, she isolated me from the rest of the class, moving my desk into the corner of the room, away from everyone else, because of the index card issue.  If I wanted to rejoin the class, I had to write my statement her way.  She would then use these cards, with the statements of questionable accuracy, as ammunition during parent-teacher conferences.

Parent-teacher conferences were another source of contention (but then again, what wasn’t a source of contention when dealing with Sharon Bradley?).  My father is a very smart and organized person, and is and always has been on top of his game when it comes to matters of business.  My father would bring a notepad with him when my parents went for conferences.  That was seen as a direct challenge to the authority of the teacher, the principal, and the guidance counselor, and, if you haven’t figured it out by now, they just couldn’t have that.  I assume that they didn’t want to later be held accountable for what they said, and thus they didn’t want anyone to document anything that happened in those conferences.  Their “solution” was to ban my father from parent-teacher conferences, much like the way that they banned the psychologist the year before.  I don’t remember what the resolution was on that, but my parents, in hindsight, at one time indicated that they probably should have initiated legal action based on that.  These were the same people who also told my parents that I was “at risk”.  When my parents questioned them on what I was at risk for, since I was doing fine academically, they responded that I was at risk of going to prison.  Okay, then.  Thank you for your suggestion. I’ll take it under advisement.

Then there was the time when I was told how inadequate I was compared to the other kids as far as art skills went.  We were doing this drawing assignment, where we were supposed to draw something related to our social studies material (some period in American history).  I don’t remember what my drawing was about specifically, but it was clearly not up to fifth grade spec.  When Mrs. Bradley saw my drawing in progress, she took me out in the hall and chastized me for it, told me that I drew like a first grader, and then showed me allegedly how much better all of the other students’ drawings were, which were posted on the hallway bulletin board from a similar assignment, compared to mine.  Way to inspire someone to work towards greater heights.  I’m sorry that my artwork didn’t please you, but I was doing my best.  And my best had just gotten trashed by the teacher.  And this was at a school that provided no art education of any kind, so it’s not like they were teaching me to be a better artist or anything.  Ultimately, I never submitted anything for that assignment, and Mrs. Bradley never pressed the point.  Just as well, because clearly, I was incapable of completing that assignment to her preferences.

I also recall several occasions where Mrs. Bradley would tell the class one thing and then do something else when it came to dealing with me.  On one occasion, she told the class that embarrassing a student was the last step that she would take after a series of other methods failed to correct an unruly student before sending them off to be paddled by the principal (Rogers at that time was one of those backwards school districts that still practiced corporal punishment).  I couldn’t believe my ears, because I knew of several occasions where public humiliation was the first step that she took to address a situation, and not as a last resort.  It took great strength on my part not to call her a liar right then and there.  Then there was another time where she told the class that she never made students stand out in the hallway, and that she was more inclined to isolate a student in the room rather than send them out.  Fast forward to a social studies lesson.  I had spaced out, and then was called on for something.  I had no idea where we were because I had spaced out for a while.  When asked why, I told Mrs. Bradley that I didn’t find the lesson interesting.  That was it: go stand out in the hallway.  I was surprised, because based on her previous statement, she wouldn’t send a student to go stand in the hall.  But there I was, standing out there for what felt like an eternity.

As an aside, my mother, also a teacher, put it best about why you should never send a student to stand out in the hallway: the child is completely unsupervised out there.  You have no idea what the kid is doing while they’re out there, or even if they’re still there at all.  A child could conceivably leave the school building entirely while being disciplined in such a way.  I only lived a mile away from school, and so just walking home was not outside the realm of possibility.  And the teacher would likely be held responsible if anything happened, because they were the one who put the child in that situation in the first place, rather than keeping them in a supervised setting where they belong.  It kind of makes me wish that I had thought of doing that as a child.

My best times in fifth grade were when Mrs. Bradley was out of the picture.  We had science with another teacher, and I got along with that teacher really well.  No problems of any kind.  Then we had a student teacher for about eight weeks in the middle of the year, and the atmosphere was noticeably less hostile while the student teacher was running the show.  However, when the student teacher was away, Mrs. Bradley was back, and it was back to the old hostile environment again.  I was very sad when the student teacher’s time with us was over, not only because she was awesome in her own right, but also because it meant that Mrs. Bradley, and all of her abusive behaviors, would be back for good.

Towards the end of the year, we had a substitute for two days.  I was always excited to have a substitute teacher in fifth grade, because it meant that I would get a break from Mrs. Bradley and her abuse, and would have a normal person teaching us for a change.  In this particular case, our sub was someone that went to the same church as me, so we already knew each other really well, and got along really well.  Those two days were awesome, having a teacher who liked me.  The first day that Mrs. Bradley was back, I was out all day for a field trip with the gifted program.  While I was gone, Mrs. Bradley had all of the kids write statements about what went on in class while she was gone.  The day after that, I got called up to her desk.  There, she read me some of these statements, and told me how terrible I was because, according to her, almost all of the statements mentioned me.  I considered that whole episode to be extremely unfair because it was done behind my back while I was away, and thus I never was able to give my own statement.  Of course, considering what she did with the statements, I wasn’t supposed to be allowed to do one by design, since it was clearly intended as an attack on me.  I remember that Mrs. Bradley even went so far as to say that she might ask my parents to keep me home on future days when there would be a substitute.  She wasn’t out again for the rest of the year, but I could imagine that such a request wouldn’t have gone over well with my parents.  Something about denying a student their education, especially when the teacher in question was a mental case to begin with.  You know.  Of course, considering that this happened around early April, I had grown tired of her nonsense by that point.  Yeah, okay, you think that I’m an awful person.  Great.  I’m happy for you.  Now leave me alone.

Then I did have my shining moments: I won both the spelling bee and the geography bee that year.  For the spelling bee, that meant that I would go on to represent the school, along with the second-place winner, at the county spelling bee.  I did respectably in the county bee, and had quite a few people cheering me on.  Then for the geography bee, I scored well enough on the written test given after the school’s bee to advance to the state geography bee in Little Rock.  You know that Mrs. Bradley, Mrs. Carmical, and Mrs. Burns (the guidance counselor) were just dying over the fact that the student that they despised most of all had won both the spelling and geography bees, and was out representing their school in some pretty big competitions.  I absolutely loved it.

However, the encounter did make me wonder what I might say if life brought our paths together in such a way that interaction was inevitable.  Now that our business relationship has long since ended and neither can formally affect the other anymore, plus with the benefit of hindsight, as we’re both older and (hopefully) wiser, one can be more candid and more frank about what went on way back in 1992.  I suppose that I might have had a few questions about things:

Why did you single me out and treat me differently than everyone else in the class?

Why did you take any questions about how things were run as unacceptable challenges to your authority?  Can’t we all learn from everyone?  Or did you consider yourself so perfect that you knew everything that there was to be known, and therefore couldn’t learn anymore?

Considering that my fourth grade year was also rather rough, were you warned about me by other staff prior to the beginning of the year?

That last question makes me wonder.  It makes me wonder if she had been warned about me by Mrs. Carmical or one of my teachers from previous years.  I wonder if that colored her perception of me before we ever met, and if that poisoned the well when it came to our working relationship.  After all, a new school year is a new start.  Every year, it’s a new setting with a new teacher, and I can set aside any differences with the previous teacher, because this is a new person to get to know and form a working relationship with.  If a previous teacher is warning the next teacher about a student, that prevents that fresh start.  It’s why, when my mother would be offered warnings about some of her upcoming students by past teachers, she told them that she didn’t want to hear it.  She wanted to form her own relationships with the students without any remnants of past relationships to color her perception of them.  Besides, the reason that a past teacher had a problem with a student may have had more to do with the teacher to the student.  A warning to the next teacher implicitly says that the student is entirely the problem, and that the teacher was perfect.  And we know that no one is perfect, teachers included, and you’re only harming the student by warning another teacher about their students before they have a chance to meet them.

All in all, I’m glad that I never have to see Sharon Bradley ever again.  I’m glad that she is now retired, because it means that she won’t be able to inflict her emotional abuse on or otherwise harm any more students like she did to me.  I do, however, hope that she made peace with her personal life, but I do resent that her poor mental state at the time affected her ability to be a good teacher.  In the end, I definitely learned a lot of life lessons, and it’s that people with a little bit of power will abuse it, and that teachers can be far worse bullies than other students could ever be.

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I’m pretty sure that I now have the modern equivalent of TXL… Fri, 01 Jun 2018 19:50:13 +0000 Over the last month or so, Elyse and I created a network of smart speakers in the house. Elyse has had a Google Home Mini since early January, and I expanded it, first to three, and then to seven speakers when I realized the capabilities of the devices. With speakers throughout the house, we can use the “broadcast” feature as something of a home intercom system, and we’ve also created speaker groups in order to play music on multiple speakers in various sections of the house, or throughout the entire house. I love these things, because I can, for instance, just ask the system what the weather is, or what time it is, and it will tell me. I can even make phone calls on them and control the lights, though I don’t typically use the phone feature because of audio quality issues, and I’m not willing to spend money on the lights at this point in time (but maybe in the future). Right now, I use them most often for music, and for the home intercom function. And then if I ever get various Nest products, I will be able to connect them to the system as well. Pretty neat.

All in all, I can do a lot of things that TXL could do on Today’s Special. I can talk to it and it gives me information back, I can place phone calls through it, and I can make it control various building systems. I still don’t know how to get it to play “Yo He Ho” at the most inopportune times, though one day I might figure out a way to make it do that. Only thing about this system that I’m not a fan of is that you have to activate it by saying, “Okay, Google,” or “Hey, Google.” If I could customize the phrases that it responds to, I would make it respond to “TXL”, to make it complete. Considering that it does a lot of things that TXL could do on Today’s Special, it seems rather fitting.

Those of you who have used the various smart speakers also know that Google has built some Easter eggs in them, like if you ask what the answer is to life, the universe, and everything, it will tell you that the answer is 42. Using custom routines, I built in a couple of Easter eggs of my own, related to Today’s Special. I wanted it to respond to “How many size 9 shoes are for sale in the store?” with “There are ten pairs of size 9 shoes for sale,” (from “Boxes and Boxes“) but for some reason, it couldn’t comprehend that one, try as I might.

However, I did get it to do two others:

I ask Google if it is a boy. The response is exactly what you would expect: “I am not a boy. I am a Google Home Mini.”

I ask Google if it is a machine. The response is based on TXL’s description of herself and her duties from “Hats“.

Then later, I did one more:

I ask Google where the plaque is. It responds just like TXL did in “Our Story Part 1“.

My apologies to anyone whose phones and/or smart devices I just activated with those videos. And in case anyone is wondering, this is how ridiculous that ski cap looked:

So yes, I totally went there. I couldn’t resist programming those into Google. And if I am ever able to change the activation phrase, I will change the Google references to more proper TXL references.

So all in all, I think that I have a good setup here. I also realized just how accustomed I was to having it after a few days at my parents’ house, when I couldn’t just ask Google about things or use it like a home intercom.

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A walk down an abandoned road… Thu, 24 May 2018 09:40:08 +0000 On May 17, 2018, I took a solo trip up to Centralia, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, Centralia is something of a modern ghost town, having gradually been abandoned due to a coal mine fire that’s been burning uncontrolled beneath the town since 1962, likely caused by deliberate burning of trash in the town’s landfill, which was on top of a former strip mine.  As of 2013, the town had only seven residents remaining, and when those remaining residents pass on or otherwise leave the town, their properties will be seized via eminent domain.

I had done some research about the site, but was a bit iffy on whether it was going to be good or not.  I was concerned about its being a bust, but it was still intriguing enough to make the trip.  And as it turned out, it was pretty cool.  The biggest “attraction” at Centralia is an abandoned section of road known as the “Graffiti Highway”.  That road came about when Pennsylvania Route 61 began having subsidence and visibility issues due to the coal mine fire.  The state built a new alignment for the route on more stable ground in 1993, and the old alignment was abandoned.  Since then, many people have come by and left graffiti tags on the road, which gave the road its nickname.  Besides the road, there are also several cemeteries in Centralia, as well as one remaining active church, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

When I went up, I wasn’t quite sure how it would work out.  Based on my research, as well as a little Google sightseeing, there were the roads of the former town surrounded by empty land and a few houses, and the possibility of seeing steam from the mine fire rising from the ground.  The Graffiti Highway was most intriguing.  I’d heard mixed reports about how accessible the Graffiti Highway was, though.  When it was still under state ownership, my understanding was that police tended to chase people away on a routine basis.  I didn’t want to travel that far just to get chased out.  But last fall, the state vacated their easement, i.e. they gave up the right of way, determining that it will never again be used for a road, and ownership of the land reverted back to adjacent property owners.  So I believe that the old road is now on privately owned land, and as such, the heavy enforcement went away now that the state no longer owns the land.  In any case, no one bothered me on my visit.

I arrived around noon.  I didn’t see any other vehicles, and, not knowing where I was supposed to park, and also not yet having a solid feel on the law enforcement status of the road, I parked my car in an area near the north end of the Graffiti Highway that was not very visible from the main road in order to make my presence less obvious – just in case there was still police activity.  Considering that I was the only one in the area when I began this adventure, I believe that my cautiousness was warranted.  I wouldn’t be alone for long, though, as other explorers arrived not long after me.  When I returned to my car, there were several cars parked quite openly, as well as cars parked in full view at the south end of the road, which has no place to park inconspicuously, so I imagine that on a future visit, I don’t need to hide the car.

In any case, walking over to the start of the abandoned road, I got a taste of things to come in the wooded area near where I parked:

Tagged trees

Tagged tree

Tagged tree

This tree both intrigued and concerned me, as it appeared to have been cut partly through and then left:

Partially cut tree

It appeared to be fairly stable at the moment, but nonetheless, it will eventually break completely, and I just hope that no one is around when it does inevitably fall.

And then here was the road:

The Graffiti Highway, viewed from the north end
This road has definitely earned its nickname of “Graffiti Highway”.  It was hard to find a section that had not been painted at some point over the last 25 years.

The way I operated was to constantly scan the road looking for interesting tags to photograph, and also get overview photos of the road along the way.  Many people put dates with their tags, and considering how many 2018 dates I saw, it’s clear that the road gets tagged very regularly, and the graffiti is always changing.  Next time I visit Centralia, I imagine that what I see will be quite different.

This was one of only a few tags that were in the style of graffiti that you see in cities.  Most tags were much simpler than this.

"Ben". Based on the 215 above, I imagine that this tagger is from Philadelphia.
“Ben”.  Based on the 215 above, I imagine that this tagger is from Philadelphia.

This was a fairly common occurrence: one person would draw something on the road, and then someone else would later draw a penis on it.  Because why not.
This was a fairly common occurrence: one person would draw something on the road, and then someone else would later draw a penis on it.  Because why not.

An alien giving two middle fingers.
An alien giving two middle fingers.

The road near the north end of the abandoned alignment, facing approximately north.
The road near the north end of the abandoned alignment, facing approximately north.

Graffiti-covered guardrail.
Graffiti-covered guardrail.

That weird "S" thing that every kid drew in middle school.  I saw this in several places on the highway.
That weird “S” thing that every kid drew in middle school.  I saw this in several places on the highway.

The first of many discarded spray paint cans that I would find.
The first of many discarded spray paint cans that I would find.

SpongeBob SquarePants.
SpongeBob SquarePants.

Facing approximately south in a section of the road where trees have grown through the median strip.
Facing approximately south in a section of the road where trees have grown through the median strip.

Still facing south, a little further downhill.  This is near the center of the abandoned alignment.  In the distance is an area affected by ground subsidence caused by the mine fire.
Still facing south, a little further downhill.  This is near the center of the abandoned alignment.  In the distance is an area affected by ground subsidence caused by the mine fire.

I think this is a drug reference?
I think this is a drug reference?

One thing that I saw a number of times was social media handles painted onto the highway.  A sign of the times, I suppose.  This one belongs to @KylieFries.
One thing that I saw a number of times was social media handles painted onto the highway.  A sign of the times, I suppose.  This one belongs to @KylieFries.

A long and relatively deep fissure in the road caused by ground subsidence.
A long and relatively deep fissure in the road caused by ground subsidence.  I found photos of steam emanating from this fissure, but on this particular day, I didn’t see any, for a few possible reasons, including migration of the fire underground, and the temperature’s being too warm to make the steam visible.

A couch, abandoned on the side of the road, and also covered with graffiti.  Surprisingly, this was not the only abandoned couch that I found here.
A couch, abandoned on the side of the road, and also covered with graffiti.  Surprisingly, this was not the only abandoned couch that I found here.

View from just south of the big fissure, facing south.

Another abandoned couch.  This one is a sleeper sofa, and is in a more advanced state of decay, considering that the one side has more or less melted away.
Another abandoned couch.  This one is a sleeper sofa, and is in a more advanced state of decay, considering that the one side has more or less melted away.

An American flag, stuck into one of the cracks in the old road.
An American flag, stuck into one of the cracks in the old road.

I saw a few of these, where one person tagged, and then another person later came by and modified it in an unflattering way.  Such is the nature of the graffiti wall, or road, I suppose.
I saw a few of these, where one person tagged, and then another person later came by and modified it in an unflattering way.  Such is the nature of the graffiti wall, or road, I suppose.


Another discarded paint can.
Another discarded paint can.

Looking south near the bottom of the Graffiti Highway.  In the distance is the end of the abandoned section.  The active roadway is just over the ridge.
Looking south near the bottom of the Graffiti Highway.  In the distance is the end of the abandoned section.  The active roadway is just over the ridge.

Facing north from the same location as above.
Facing north from the same location as above.

"Born to be mild".
“Born to be mild”.

Another discarded spray can.  I ran another shot of this subject as the photo feature shortly after returning from this trip.
Another discarded spray can.  I ran another shot of this subject as the photo feature shortly after returning from this trip.

Purple Minion holding a gun.  And then someone added a dick to it.  Because of course, why not.
Purple Minion holding a gun.  And then someone added a dick to it.  Because of course, why not.

Automotive rivalries are alive and well on the Graffiti Highway.
Automotive rivalries are alive and well on the Graffiti Highway.

"Michele" in cursive writing.
“Michele” in cursive writing.

Tree branch, previously painted red, sprouting new leaves.
Tree branch, previously painted red, sprouting new leaves.

Returning to the car, I took stock of what I had learned from talking to others that I had encountered.  I was told that smoke often was seen coming from Odd Fellows Cemetery, and also about other things in the area.  All in all, I had a little bit of exploring to do.  First thing I did was to go around to Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Cemetery.  That was pretty straightforward, but getting to it was more challenging than I imagined.  Google gave me directions that had me driving into St. Ignatius Cemetery, next to where I parked, but there were fences between where the directions dropped me and where I wanted to go.  I ended up finding my own way there, which took me over some rougher terrain than I would have otherwise chosen.  I don’t know if I would call it “off-roading”, but the fact that I now have an all-wheel-drive vehicle did make me feel a little more bold than I might have been if I still had the Soul.  The road was unpaved and very uneven, and there were big puddles around.  I followed a rule of keeping two wheels in a place where I knew that I could get good traction, and not going over anything that would make the car bottom out, and I was through it, arriving at the cemetery:

The Honda outside the cemetery

The Honda outside the cemetery

The cemetery itself, meanwhile, was fairly unremarkable:

Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Cemetery

I suppose that I could have hopped the fence and gotten some more detailed photos, but I was starting to run up against the clock, having spent the better part of three hours photographing the Graffiti Highway, which took up most of the time that I had allotted for this visit.  There were more things to see, and not a whole lot of time left to find them and photograph them.

Next up was Odd Fellows Cemetery.  For that, I wasn’t quite sure how to get there, as I wasn’t inclined to trust Google’s directions due to the quality of the roads through there (big hump in one spot that I didn’t want to take the car over), and so I ended up going through some very narrow and rough paths in the Honda before finally reaching it.  I wandered around a little bit:

Odd Fellows Cemetery

Odd Fellows Cemetery

Odd Fellows Cemetery

Odd Fellows Cemetery

Like the Orthodox cemetery, I didn’t spend much time here, but further exploration in a future visit seems worthwhile.

On the way back from Odd Fellows Cemetery, I photographed a sign that I had spotted on the way in:

This sign advertised a state project that would work to reclaim the Centralia site, contract OSM 19(2000)103.1.
This sign advertised a state project that would work to reclaim the Centralia site, contract OSM 19(2000)103.1.  In other words, mine reclamation, which involves restoring former mine sites to something resembling their natural state.  No idea how that would affect the town site, though.

From here, I ended up going down the realigned Route 61 again, and spotted a random truck trailer for sale:

Truck trailer for sale

Roadside signage for the trailer

I guess you could call this stop “mildly interesting”.  From what I could tell, you could buy the trailer for $1100 and haul it away, or you could buy the trailer along with the land for $6500.  I imagine that the land is nearly worthless, considering that Centralia and nearby Byrnesville have both been abandoned due to the coal mine fire.  And from the looks of it, that truck trailer had been there for a while.

The Honda, parked on the side of the road while I was photographing the trailer.  I believe that the road to the left behind the car leads to the old Byrnesville town site, but I didn't explore down that way.
The Honda, parked on the side of the road while I was photographing the trailer.  I believe that the road to the left behind the car leads to the old Byrnesville town site, but I didn’t explore down that way.

And finally, here is the one remaining active church in the Centralia area:

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

This is Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  I only photographed it from the street, but a few folks that were there when I stopped by indicated a few interesting things on the property.  If I return here on a future visit, I intend to tread carefully, respecting the fact that it is still active.

All in all, this was not a bad visit to this abandoned mine town, which I’d been wanting to view for a while.  I think that I got a good overview, and I got some decent photos, despite cloudy skies (but at least it wasn’t raining like it was on the drive up).  Centralia definitely seems worth a second look, since there was more than I could see in one day, plus I want a chance to photograph under clearer skies, and maybe see some steam coming from the ground.  Elyse and I are planning a trip up to Scranton this fall, and we’ll probably visit Centralia then, either on the way up to Scranton or on the way home.  Elyse has never been and wants to go, plus I want to see how much the Graffiti Highway has changed in the intervening months, and explore some areas that I didn’t explore very thoroughly, like the cemeteries.  The Locust Ridge Wind Farm is also nearby, which I happened upon by accident, spotting a wind turbine while driving, and then turning up the site on Google Maps.  I’ve wanted to photograph a wind farm for several years now, and this seems like a good opportunity to do that.  I was going to check it out while I was on site, but then promptly forgot about it, and didn’t realize it until I was on my way home, on the other side of Harrisburg.  Something for next time, I suppose…

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Another room transformed… Sun, 20 May 2018 02:40:08 +0000 A second room in my house meets the paintbrush.  As you may recall, I painted Elyse’s bathroom a few weeks ago, and now, while Elyse was out on a trip to Japan, I painted her bedroom.  This was a much-anticipated paint job, because the basement bedroom was, to put it nicely, the only weird room in the house.  While the rest of the house had white trim, the trim in the basement bedroom was a blue color.  That color, along with the wall color and the ugly chandelier, worked with the previous owner’s furniture, which involved muted colors.  With my furniture in it the color scheme doesn’t work.  So I fixed it.

The color that we chose was Behr “High Speed Access”, which is a medium gray color, in satin finish.  I strongly recommended that Elyse go with a neutral color for the walls, because she intended to put lots of different things on her walls, and that would avoid having colors on the wallhangings clash with the walls themselves.  And then the trim was getting painted white.  That part was non-negotiable.  The rest of the house had white trim, and Elyse’s room was getting that, too, to achieve a consistent design language.  I have a few other “design language” issues with the house that I want to correct as well, such as doorknobs and light switches, but this was a relatively easy one that I knew how to do.

I started the morning after Elyse left, getting “before” pix:

The last photos of the room in the old colors, taken mainly in order to ensure that I put everything back the way it was supposed to be when I was finished.  Then I moved some furniture and started eradicating blue trim:

The first bit of white paint on the closet door.  That blue trim absolutely must die.
The first bit of white paint on the closet door.  That blue trim absolutely must die.

The main door to Elyse's room partially repainted.
The main door to Elyse’s room partially repainted.

The doors to Elyse's room, following the first coat of white paint.  I did a second coat of white after this all dried to achieve complete coverage.
The doors to Elyse’s room, following the first coat of white paint.  I did a second coat of white after this all dried to achieve complete coverage.

All in all, I did about half of the trim on that first day, going around the doors, the closet, and behind the bed.

All in all, I did about half of the trim on that first day, going around the doors, the closet, and behind the bed.
All in all, I did about half of the trim on that first day, going around the doors, the closet, and behind the bed.

Then the next day, I broke out the roller and started doing the walls in the section where I’d been working.  One thing that I quickly discovered was that the new paint color went on light and then dried darker.  That presented a minor problem, because when wet, it was somewhat difficult to distinguish which areas had been painted and which ones had not.  I ended up working around this by painting for a while, taking some rest time to allow things to dry (and thus darken), inspecting my work, hitting the spots that needed more paint, and then continuing.

The first gray paint goes on around the door.
The first gray paint goes on around the door.

Two walls done.  That chandelier is starting to look a bit out of place, don't you think?
Two walls done.  That chandelier is starting to look a bit out of place, don’t you think?

This photo illustrates the challenge that the paint's application color presented.
This photo illustrates the challenge that the paint’s application color presented.  The section to the left is painted and has dried.  Then down the middle of the photo is a section that has been painted and is still wet.  To the right of that is unpainted wall.  Find the border between the unpainted section and the wet paint.  It was enough to make a person crazy, but I managed.

The walls are gray all the way to the back of the room.
The walls are gray all the way to the back of the room.

I made one change in what was “trim” and “wall”, and that was the cover for the circuit breaker panel:

The circuit breaker panel cover, being painted white

This door, with trim and everything around it, was previously painted like it was part of the wall.  I considered it a door and trim, and painted it accordingly, i.e. in the trim color.

So in my two days off of work, I did about half of the room.  Not too shabby.  After everything was complete here, I put the furniture back and then started moving the furniture in the other half of the room, as well as taking down the curtains.  And then it was back to trim work:

A first coat of white trim around the window.
A first coat of white trim around the window.

A first coat of white trim around the sliding door.
A first coat of white trim around the sliding door.

Painting behind where Elyse's desk usually lives.  Again, the blue trim must die.
Painting behind where Elyse’s desk usually lives.  Again, the blue trim must die.

And then once the trim was done, it was back to the roller.

Then after that dried, I did the edging, and I came to a wonderful realization: I was done.  All I had left to do was to let the edge work dry, check it, hit any spots that I may have missed, remove the tape, and then put the furniture back.

And here’s the end result:

I think that the room looks a lot better than it did before, now that the trim matches the rest of the house, and the walls are painted to go with whatever decorating ideas that Elyse has in mind.  I’m looking forward to seeing what she puts on the walls.

And then my next project will be new chairs for the dining table.  We got that table and chair set at Freight Sales Furniture in Arkansas back in 1992, in preparation for our move to Virginia, and while the table is still in very good condition, the chairs have definitely seen better days.  I bought chairs on Home Depot’s website that match the chairs in the kitchen, and so I’m assembling them and then staining them to match the table.  Should be a fun time.

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When you just hate recognition that much… Wed, 16 May 2018 03:05:24 +0000 People are always amazed when I tell them that I hate receiving recognition.  I just don’t like it.  I don’t find it enjoyable.  In fact, I find it incredibly awkward all around.  I don’t know what it is, but it just isn’t a fun thing.  This came to mind recently because of two discussions that I had with colleagues in the last few weeks.  One was about an operator competition that my employer was having, and another was about an employee of the month program that my specific division has.

In the case of the former, where train operators go out and demonstrate their skills for judges, I couldn’t see any way to get a satisfactory result for myself as a participant.  If I don’t place, I’m kicking myself for not doing better.  If I place, then I have to deal with a whole bunch of unwanted recognition.  Not participating at all seems to take care of both concerns, and I have no problem attending as a non-competitor and watching others compete.  I’ve done that before at a similar event for the bus, where I was there but didn’t compete, and I had a blast.  Besides, I have the most fun just being myself while operating the service.

In the case of the latter, a coworker brought up the idea of it, and how I would possibly be a good candidate for the employee of the month award.  I was honest about it: if I ever were to get the award, I believe that my response would be, “Thank you very much, but please give it to someone else.”  In other words, I would probably decline it.  I just want to do my job and call it a day, and a whole bunch of unnecessary attention just gets in the way of my being awesome.

Thinking about it, I imagine that 24-year-old me would have been surprised to find out that 36-year-old me wants nothing to do with awards or formal recognition to the point that I would decline an award if one was offered to me.  After all, at 24, I was chasing after the “Four Star Cashier” award at Walmart, which had somewhat nebulous criteria, but which I persistently pursued until I got it.  However, that pursuit had a specific purpose: a resume line.  I could put that on my resume as a professional award, because I was definitely looking for a better job the entire time that I was working at Walmart.  Did it help?  Probably not, but it is still on my resume and my LinkedIn profile, though considering the age of the award (12 years!) and the fact that my employment with Walmart did not end on good terms, I probably should take it off of there.

But, interestingly enough, college-aged me got it. We have documented proof of that in a 2003 quote article about my then-upcoming college graduation, where I intended to – and did – ditch the ceremony entirely.  I had plenty of reason to hate JMU by the time that I graduated, as college was generally a negative experience for me where I didn’t see much success.  And I still resent that “senior roast” that LPCM did for me back in 2003.  I had missed whatever LPCM end-of-year event that also honored the seniors due to another commitment that I couldn’t get out of.  I didn’t mind missing it, though going to that would have been preferable to what I was stuck going to, i.e. a dinner where Residence Life masturbated to its own accomplishments.  In any case, I was content to let it go.  But apparently the minister couldn’t, because the following Wednesday, she did what she couldn’t do the previous Sunday and “roasted” me in front of the group.  I was mortified.  I was definitely not in my happy place with that.  Very uncomfortable situation.

You don’t know how happy I was to find out when I was training to be a train operator that there was no graduation event at the end of the program.  Just finish and move on.  When I trained for the bus, there was a graduation event at the end of that program, and I was hand-wringing on that one for several weeks prior, because I knew that the whole thing would be awkward.  I somehow managed (getting paid to participate in that dog and pony show definitely helped in that case), but nonetheless, it caused a lot of unnecessary stress.

And then there’s my birthday.  That big ball of awkwardness that celebrates the fact that I completed another trip around the sun.  I’m pretty sure that I hate my birthday because it’s always awkward, but the fact that the birthday is so culturally ingrained as a celebration makes it hard to avoid.  Elyse and I are going down to see my parents on my birthday, and hopefully I will be able to convince them to act like it’s not my birthday and avoid all of the awkwardness.  I still remember 2005, back when I was working at Walmart, and deliberately didn’t request off on my birthday in order to forget about it.  That backfired majorly, as a few people knew about it, and they told everyone.  All day, I couldn’t avoid it, because the stream was constant.  I just wanted to do my job and go about my business.  I’m amazed that I didn’t slug someone that day, though that would have totally been worth getting fired over.  And really, birthdays are not a cause for celebration – at least not annually.  A few big numbers, sure, but annually is just too much.  So much awkwardness just for existing.  Just let me age quietly, okay?

I think that the best way to describe my aversion to awards and recognitions is like the ending to Street Fighter II if you win as Ryu.  In the normal Ryu ending, Ryu is shown to have ditched the ceremony following the end of the tournament because, seeing no value in celebrating the accomplishment, he has already moved onto his next adventure.  “The fight is everything,” as it says.  I have found myself getting behind that sentiment a lot lately.  I’m not big into celebrations.  I put value in the process of achieving the milestone, but when it’s done, it’s over, and it’s time to move on.  I especially hate when people fawn over an accomplishment, because there’s no way out of that situation that isn’t awkward.  Congratulations are cheap and feel hollow, and as such are of no use to me.  And it’s the little things that stress me out, too, like whether you’re supposed to clap when you’re the one being applauded, or whether you’re supposed to sit there quietly.  Skipping the recognition entirely is always preferred.

So all in all, recognition is just no fun, and I will go to any length to avoid it.

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Reliving the nineties, one adventure game at a time… Mon, 30 Apr 2018 18:25:18 +0000 Lately, I’ve been reliving the computer games that I used to play in the nineties through the magic of YouTube.  I was a Sierra gamer for the most part back in the day, mostly playing in the Space Quest franchise.  I used to love exploring around the worlds that the game created, hoping to make some sort of breakthrough in the game to advance the plot.

Interestingly enough, my first introduction to Sierra was not through an adventure game.  I played Hoyle’s Official Book of Games, Volume 1, which consisted of six card games: Crazy Eights, Old Maid, Hearts, Gin Rummy, Cribbage, and Klondike solitaire.  The game introduced the player to various Sierra franchises, as well as some other folks, via the various characters that you could play against.  You could play against Princess Rosella and King Graham from King’s Quest, Roger Wilco from Space Quest, Sonny Bonds from Police Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry from the series of the same name.  There were also a few real people, such as Jerry Moore, who was one of the animators, and Warren Schwader, who programmed the game.  Jerry and Warren’s kids, Devin and Christina, respectively, were also in the game.  I learned a lot from that game.  I learned how to play several card games, plus I learned about a number of other Sierra franchises by playing cards with their characters.

At the same time as the Hoyle game, I also had King’s Quest IV, which featured Princess Rosella, whom I knew from playing cards.  I didn’t do too well with that game, though, because I didn’t know that it had a text parser interface – and who reads instructions?  I thought it was all point-and-click like Hoyle was.  So I would just wander around aimlessly and eventually either get bored with it or die, either by falling off one of the cliffs, or by getting caught by one of the trees.

Then when my family moved to a Virginia, I discovered my niche in the adventure game segment: Space Quest IV, which was more my style, i.e. lighthearted and funny, while still telling a pretty good story.  Space Quest IV had lots of things that amused eleven-year-old me, such as a creature stumbling out of a bar, throwing up, and subsequently stepping in it:

This was the funniest thing when I was eleven...

I remember my mother’s taking away my Space Quest one time because I described that scene to someone.  I thought it was hilarious, but my mother has never been one for bodily function humor.  Thus, as punishment… you know.  I still think it’s hilarious.

Getting through that game was fun, and it was also a bit of a family thing, as Dad occasionally got into it, as he was the one who found the entrance to the sewer, and then he also later figured out how the bird picks you up and you get caught by the Latex Babes of Estros.  Dad advanced all the way to the mall part, and then I took it from there.  That was a good, solid game.  And who would have ever thought that a space adventure game would land you in a shopping mall?

Around this time, I also played with Leisure Suit Larry 2.  That game was probably a little too mature for me at the time, and the humor wasn’t as good as Space Quest.  I also felt like Larry was just a sleazy guy who bumbled his way through the game while being insulted and mistreated by everyone along the way.  All that said, I never touched another Leisure Suit Larry game, because I wasn’t that interested.

I got the CD versions of Space Quest IV and King’s Quest V around the same time in 1995.  Both games were “talkies” (i.e. all of the dialogue is voiced) in their CD versions, but King’s Quest, for the most part, played the adventure genre straight, which made for a less entertaining game.  The narrator gave a very dry presentation, and there was very little humor in the game.  Compare to Space Quest, where they got Gary Owens to narrate.  It was definitely not a dry presentation with Gary Owens narrating, that’s for sure.

Then I later got Space Quest V.  That game was significantly different from the previous game, both graphically and in play style.  Now, Roger Wilco was training to be captain of his own ship, and eventually achieved that position, albeit by a computer glitch.  As such, the game sent you on various missions as you completed your quest, which started out routine, and led to Wilco’s saving the galaxy from a mutagenic disease caused by a product dumped by the “Sludge Bandits”.  The latter half of that game always creeped me out just a little bit.  Something about seeing those mutants, and the way they would attack you with their goo whenever they found you just gave me the heebie-jeebies.  I mean, this face just says it all:

First appearance of Quirk in mutated form

Nightmare fuel, right there.  And as it turned out, that guy, Captain Quirk, was also a big player in the dumping of toxic waste.  In the end, he got infected by his own goo (the result of which you see in the above image), which led to his undoing.  That game certainly had its frustrating moments, though.  Specifically, the part where you have to rescue Cliffy, your chief engineer, after he floats away while repairing the ship.  You had to be very precise to get through that part of the game, and if you ran out of either fuel or oxygen, your craft would fall to a nearby planet, and there was a long scene before you were given the option to restore:

"Ah, look, Crumpella, a shooting star.  Make a wish."
“Ah, look, Crumpella, a shooting star.  Make a wish.”
“Ok, Slep.  I wish… I wish… I wish we would discover someone else out there among the stars…”
“Don’t be silly, Crumpella!  Everyone knows there’s no intelligent life out there!”

Yes, the game mocks you all over the place when you make a mistake.  That does start to get old when you’ve tried for what feels like the hundredth time to get Cliffy and bring him back to the ship.  If you run out of fuel or oxygen during either part of it, you get to watch Crumpella and Slep – again – before the game tells you, “Fuelish human!  You ran out of gas!” and gives you the option to restore.

Then there was Space Quest 6, which I got in 1995.  The gameplay was not as good as the previous two installments, and the graphics were a bit too cartoony for my liking.  The game also had a very slow start.  After the introduction, where Roger is busted back down to janitor for the events of the previous game, a brief scene of the main villain, and then everyone on Roger’s new ship’s being given shore leave on the planet Polysorbate LX (named for a food emulsifier), you start out doing random things for people, which eventually nets you enough money to get a hotel room.  Only then does the real story begin, as two thugs knock you out and hold you captive with the intent of stealing your body.  I do give that game credit, though, for teaching me some new words: “churlish”, which means “rude in a mean-spirited and surly way”, and “burlesque”, which is “a variety show, typically including striptease”.  In the game, there were chips called “moddies” that some beings could put in their bodies to change their behavior.  One moddie was labeled “churlish”, and another “burlesque”.  You had to peel the label off of the churlish moddie and place it on the burlesque moddie in order to get rid of one of the two thugs.  When you did it all correctly, he inserts the moddie just behind his neck, and then strips down to his g-string and dances off, leaving you alone to complete your next puzzle.  If you give the guy the real churlish moddie, he just beats you senseless and that was that.

I also really got into two non-Sierra games during this time.  The first was one that my cousins got me into: Spaceship Warlock, which is by Reactor.  It wasn’t a bad game, but I plowed through it fairly quickly, and was disappointed when I realized that I had finished the game.  I could have gone on for longer.  It played space a bit straighter than Space Quest, but it worked.  The graphics were very nice for the time, with everything rendered by computer.  They look a bit dated now, but such is what happens with technology.  There was also this animation of a police car, surrounded by a white box:

I imagine that box around the police car is probably not supposed to be there?

Something tells me that in a perfect world, the police car wouldn’t be boxed in like that.  I wonder if that was a technical limitation.  I imagine it was, because the end result looks like an unfinished product.

I never got into any other Reactor games, mainly because their flagship product was Virtual Valerie, which was, to put it nicely, not something that you should buy a 13-year-old boy.

The other non-Sierra game that I really got into was Return to Zork, which was an Infocom game.  That was a fun little point-and-click adventure that Mom forbade me from playing at one point because of one scene:

"Want some rye?  'Course ya do!"
“Want some rye?  ‘Course ya do!”

Yes, Boos.  You had to get him drunk, get his keys, and then get him to fall over in order to reveal the entrance to the underground world.  Mom didn’t approve of that, and so what that meant was that my friend and I couldn’t play it at my house.  We’d just go to his house down the street and play it there.  Mom has always tended to do that, judging a whole body of work based on one element, and it doesn’t always serve you well.  The alien puke in Space Quest IV is another good example.  I found it a little insulting at the time, because it didn’t give me any credit for understanding reality vs. fiction.  I knew that the games were pretend, and thus it was okay to laugh at those things because that’s what they were put in there for.  And in Zork, if you did something really bad, like kill someone, the game issued a swift punishment.  The same idea of Mom’s judging a whole based on one thing didn’t just apply to fiction, though.  For years, Mom judged Roscoe Orman, the actor who played Gordon on Sesame Street, for playing a much more adult character on All My Children when he was also working on a children’s show.  I put that discussion to bed many years later when I said, “Actors have to eat, too, you know.”

In any case, that game, which Mom eventually let back into the house, gave me many hours of enjoyment as I explored the game’s world.  Like in Space Quest 6, I learned a new word: guano.  In that case, you have to release some bats in order to get through the Whispering Woods.  They would leave their droppings as they flew, and that was how you completed that part of the game.  Then you picked up some of the bat guano and used it later to make an invisibility potion.

Watching all of these games again recently on YouTube has given me some new perspective on things, especially with Space Quest.  When I first played these games, I was too young to connect all of the dots (as well as get all of the jokes).  In Space Quest V, it all became clear how the plot came about and how it all unraveled.  Captain Quirk was being bribed by the Genetix Research Corporation, which was dumping the result of a failed experiment in a certain area of space.  Then the product eventually got out from one of the dumping sites and infected the inhabitants of a nearby colony.  When they launched in their shuttle, Quirk’s ship, the SCS Goliath, recovered it, and that caused the ship’s crew, Quirk included, to become infected.  We were given clues to this early on in the game’s mission, where Roger’s ship intercepted a mysterious transmission, and then we saw Quirk sitting with the same being that we saw in the transmission.  There’s an additional clue if you go to Genetix before you’re supposed to: the same being from the transmission will hail your ship and tell you to leave immediately.  Then the next game shows exactly how corrupt Starcon is, as they harshly punished Roger for once again saving the universe, and then everyone from some of the highest levels were complicit with the whole body snatching thing that formed the main story of the game.  So much corruption, complete with the faked death of a crewmember.  It’s too bad there was no Space Quest VII, because I would have loved to have seen the fallout from the events of the sixth game.

I’ve also explored some of the fan games.  Someone made a VGA remake of Space Quest II using the Space Quest IV game engine, and the result is pretty good.  The writing needs to be cleaned up a bit, but all in all, it’s pretty faithful to the original.  The soundtrack is a bit underwhelming for a Space Quest title, but it’s hard to top Gary Owens’ performance.  The narrator in this game reminds me of King’s Quest V and its rather dry delivery.  Then there’s Space Quest IV.5, which attempts to bridge the gap between Space Quest IV and Space Quest V.  It tries to explain how Roger ended up as a cadet at Starcon Academy, and why Zondra, a character in the Space Quest X era, was trying to kill him.  The game is pretty boring, mostly spent running back and forth between several locations, and then ditching the character from Space Quest X in a wedding scene.  Additionally, Roger argues with the narrator, which doesn’t appear in the official games until Space Quest 6 (thus it’s out of place).  I consider this between-games sequel unnecessary, as it doesn’t meaningfully advance the story.  I also always assumed that Zondra’s desire to torture or kill Roger stemmed from something that occurred in the “real” Space Quest X game, which we had not seen (because it wasn’t made), and that what we saw in the fourth game occurred after the events of the “real” game.

All in all, I would love to see the Space Quest series restarted in a real manner, but I imagine that it will never happen.  Oh, well.

In any case, I’ve enjoyed reliving these old games from the nineties.  Such fun.  It’s too bad that Sierra isn’t really around anymore to make more of these things.

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Two projects completed… Sun, 22 Apr 2018 17:44:56 +0000 I always enjoy that feeling of accomplishment.  I recently had a vacation from work, and knocked out two home improvement projects: counter-height chairs for the kitchen, and painting Elyse’s bathroom.  Both of these were long in progress, and several days off of work meant that I could finally complete them.

The kitchen project probably had the most impact on me.  Since moving in, Elyse and I had been using chairs that were the wrong height:

Chairs of the wrong height in the kitchen

I had gotten used to using these chairs, but when I’m seated, the counter is at my chest, which makes me feel like an oversized child.  I bought two chairs from the unfinished furniture store, and they arrived in early March.  They took about five weeks to arrive, ahead of the store’s estimated delivery schedule.  They also gave me a picture frame of the same wood type for free in order to test the stain before doing the chairs.  I asked if they had some scrap wood of the same type that I could test on, and they delivered.  The fact that it’s a whole picture frame means that it might be useful for something later on.  In any case, I did pretty well with the staining.  First, I did a side-by-side test with a small section of toe board left over after I completed that project:

I think that we have a winner!
I think that we have a winner.  The best match was also a stain and polyurethane combo product, which saved me a step.  Plus, unlike the straight stains, this product was water-based, which made cleanup easier.

Then I tested it on the picture frame, and held it up to the cabinets for comparison:

Side-by-side comparison with the picture frame and the cabinet door.

Seems to work.  With the color testing complete, it was time to attack the chairs.  I did a small section on the underside of one of the chairs, and that passed, and so I was ready to go.  I did the first coat of stain on the first chair all in one night:

Not bad, if I do say so myself.

Not too shabby.  I did, however, make a few rookie mistakes.  I did the top first, and then flipped it over to do the rest.  I ended up with a few drips going towards the top of the chair, and also got a big stain spot and a longish drip where the plastic bag that I was using to protect the counter made contact with part of the back of the chair.  Okay.  I ended up sanding those areas back down to the bare wood, and did those areas again.  Here’s a closeup of the big stain spot after I worked to remediate it:

It's not perfect, but it's at least smooth again, and looks more like something in the wood rather than a staining mistake.  I could live with that.
It’s not perfect, but it’s at least smooth again, and looks more like something in the wood rather than a staining mistake.  I could live with that.

Then after my repair to the first coat had a chance to dry, I sanded it all with fine grit sandpaper in order to smooth out any remaining roughness:

Sanding the chair

Sanding the chair
(That dark spot on the underside is not a mistake.  That was the earlier test area.)

I certainly appreciated being able to do this out on the deck.  The weather was perfect for outdoor sanding.  Then the second coat went on a few days later, and it didn’t look too bad:

First chair completed.

Not too shabby.  Once that dried, I put felt pads on the feet, and that was that.  Here’s the completed first chair next to the second chair, still in its original, unfinished state:

Completed first chair and second chair still unfinished.

Not bad, if I do say so myself.  I followed the same process for the second chair, being more careful with the stain to ensure that I didn’t get any drips or spots.

Second chair, partway through the first coat.
Second chair, partway through the first coat.

And this is the finished product:

The two chairs, completed. The first chair is on the left, the second chair is on the right.

The first chair that I did is on the left, and the second chair is on the right.  I was a little more liberal with the stain on the second chair, and that led to a slightly darker finish.  I’m okay with that, because I did it myself, and it was done with love.  And considering that Elyse immediately laid claim to the darker chair, we now have “our” chairs in the kitchen.

And here they are in place:

The completed chairs in front of the breakfast bar.

I like it.  All I have left to do is get some seat pads, and I’ll do that the next time I go to IKEA.

The painting project, meanwhile, was my first paint job since doing my bedroom at my parents’ house in 2004.  It went well enough.  When I got the house, I thought that the color in the basement bathroom was far too dark.  Here’s a photo from the day before move-in:

The basement bathroom as we found it, with Elyse's towels already in place.

There was white tile up to about waist height, and then the walls were dark blue.  I liked the white tile, and I had no plans to change that.  The walls, however, were entirely too dark for that white tile.  Additionally, if you look at the right wall, there is evidence that liquid had run down the wall.  We soon discovered that the liquid was leaching out of the paint.  Whenever Elyse took a shower, it reappeared.  Our original intent was to seal it up with a new paint job, but when I checked a rough spot in the paint with my nail, I was surprised to find that we were able to peel off large sections of that paint:

A large section of that bad paint, gone.

I was surprised at how easily it came off.  We were able to peel away most of that blue paint, revealing a white wall in mostly good condition.  Apparently, that blue was just an exceptionally bad paint job.  The leaching problem went away with the old paint.  I ended up skim coating the areas where the remaining blue paint that we couldn’t get rid of met the plain wall.  Sanding that made so much dust, and it went everywhere.  Here’s what it looked like in the hallway outside the bathroom:

I was covered in it, and tracked it all over the basement.  Some dust even went under the door into Elyse’s room.  So much cleaning afterward.

Meanwhile, be careful with how you remove hardware from the walls.  Elyse wanted to get rid of the towel rack next to the sink because it was in poor condition.  I got most of the hardware off easily, but then the mounting bracket gave me trouble, unscrewing a quarter inch from the wall and going no further.  So, thinking that it was stuck in something, I decided to use the brute force method to get it off of the wall.  So I put a claw hammer in behind it and used that to pull it out.  The good news was that I got it out.  The bad news was that I also took a chunk of wall out with it.  Whoooooooops.  Thank heavens for patches.  I just patched that and put joint compound over it, and you would never know that there was a hole there.

And then once the walls were prepared, painting it was pretty straightforward.  Elyse and I chose a light blue color called “Moonlight Rendezvous”.  First taping:

Taped and ready to go!

Taped and ready to go!

Taped and ready to go!

You can really see in these photos just how much paint we were able to peel off.  Yes, the previous paint application was just that bad.  But Elyse had tremendous fun peeling all of that paint.  And then the painting took no time at all.  This was the final result:

All done!

All done!

All done!

I was pleased with this result.  I knew that a lighter color would harmonize better with the white tile than that dark blue.  I have nothing against dark colors, but when you have white tile covering half of the wall, you need to make sure that things harmonize.

Meanwhile, my next project is Elyse’s bedroom.  That ugly chandelier is leaving, being replaced by a ceiling fan, and then it’s also getting new paint, i.e. white trim and whatever color that Elyse picks for the walls.  That should be pretty straightforward, though painting all of the trim is going to be a real pain in the butt.  But I’m up to the challenge, so I don’t mind.

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