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Regretting the shot not taken…

October 14, 2021, 10:04 PM

Some of you may remember that a month or so ago, there was a large protest on Reddit about COVID misinformation, targeting a subreddit called /r/NoNewNormal.  The idea of the protest was that a number of subreddits “went private”, i.e. stopped accepting submissions, and vowed to stay that way until Reddit management did something about this subreddit, after Reddit management had previously stated that they were not going to intervene.  Ultimately, /r/NoNewNormal was banned, and as such, the subreddit and all of its contents were removed from the Internet, as if they had never existed.  I have mixed feelings about the whole affair, and I feel like I have a unique perspective on it, because I used to moderate the subreddit, and probably did the most in building it, and then once it caught on, it slowly morphed into something that it should never have been.

First of all, my own stance on the whole pandemic is no secret.  I wrote a very long Journal entry about it back in May.  In short, I said that vaccination is the only way out of this, and that we should have never fooled around with much of the fabric of society like we did.  We should never have had mandated masks, lockdowns, closures, plastic shields, social distancing, or any other weird new rules and restrictions.  And then when the vaccine became available, get it without delay.  That has been my stance more or less from the outset.  The entirety of “your part” in this is getting vaccinated.  Aside from that, nothing else matters, so leave me alone.  I took an exceptionally dim view of people who tried to justify all of these changes as a “new normal” like they expected this to remain a thing for the foreseeable future, as well as playing the “wE’rE iN a PaNdEmIc!1!1!” card as an excuse to be exceptionally rude and/or judgmental with other people who disagree with them.

At the same time, it initially felt like those of us who opposed all of these new rules, ostensibly to curb the spread of COVID-19, were fairly alone in our opinions.  The sense that I got was that most people were all in agreement on these measures, and that I was the odd man out.  Then I discovered the /r/LockdownSkepticism and /r/EndtheLockdowns subreddits.  These were people who thought more like me on these matters, i.e. that the lockdowns and related measures were security theater.  I later found /r/NoNewNormal, which was started a little bit after the other two, and I tended to participate in that subreddit most, as it had the post quality of /r/LockdownSkepticism, but unlike /r/LockdownSkepticism, it did not have a “gatekeeper” for posts.  I tend not to post in communities that have gatekeepers, because I don’t want to waste my time posting somewhere when there’s a chance that no one will ever see my post based on the whims of some anonymous approver.  If I go to the trouble of posting something, I want a guarantee that it gets seen.  In any case, /r/NoNewNormal fit that bill, with decent, open discussion and no gatekeeper.  It was described in its sidebar as, “The phrase ‘new normal’ is pretty creepy. Let’s talk about concerns with it, and what can be done to resist it.”  It was sort of a way to criticize the measures being taken, and also a place to get emotional support for what we were all going through from a sympathetic group of people.  In other words, it was built with good intentions.

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Categories: Reddit

Exploring the penthouse suite…

October 9, 2021, 10:00 AM

Since last October, whenever Elyse and I have traveled down to Augusta County, we’ve stayed at Hotel 24 South in downtown Staunton.  If you’ve followed this site over the years, you might recognize the place.  Under its original name, the Stonewall Jackson Hotel (the name was changed to Hotel 24 South in September 2020), I photographed the neon sign that used to be on the roof of the building back in 2007, and my sister had her wedding reception there back in 2010.  The building dates back to 1924, and was renovated and expanded to its current form in 2005, restoring its original use as a hotel after having served as an elder care facility for a time.

However, during the 2005 renovation, one section of the building was skipped over: the penthouse suite.  As I understand it, the penthouse suite was never available for rental to guests, but rather, was intended as the owner’s private residence.  I was made aware of the penthouse’s existence by some friends of mine, and we located the door to access the space on our December trip (the primary focus of that trip was paying last respects to Staunton Mall).  At that time, however, the entrance was locked, but we did learn that the penthouse space was excluded from the renovation due to lack of elevator access.  On our next visit, in March, they were doing maintenance work on one of the hotel’s elevators (a mechanical room for the elevators is also up there), and as such, the door was open.  So Elyse and I took a quick tour of the space before we went out for the day.

My impression of the space, based on the vintage architectural and decorative elements present there, is that it has not been used for anything resembling its intended purpose for a very long time, though it is not abandoned.  Rather, it appears that the current hotel management uses the space for storage.  The space does have modern ventilation, as evidenced by a modern air duct running through the hallway to the living room, and it did not smell old or musty.

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Categories: Staunton

Something about sitcom endings…

September 29, 2021, 9:44 PM

Recently, I was thinking about the way various sitcoms that I watched ended their runs, and it made me realize that I actually prefer a certain kind of sitcom ending over others.  I admit: I didn’t ever think that a preference for certain kinds of sitcom endings would even be a thing, let alone that I would have a preference for types of sitcom endings, but here we are.

First, though, to clarify: I am referring to shows that had a proper final ending, i.e. shows where everyone knew when they were taping the final episode that it was to be the final episode.  To clarify what I mean, Perfect Strangers and Full House, for example, had proper final episodes.  Everyone knew that the final episode was to be the final episode when it was being made, and it was aired knowing that it was the last episode.  By comparison, Family Matters and Step By Step, while both long-running series by sitcom standards, did not have proper series finales.  Both shows were cancelled after their ninth and seventh seasons, respectively, and a proper finale was never filmed for either one.  In this entry, I am talking about the former case, where the end point is known, and not the latter case, where the final episode was not intended as such from the outset.

And interestingly enough, my preference is for series endings where the characters are set up to just go on and on, where things don’t drastically change in the finale, where we’re left feeling like the characters that we had come to love would be just fine going forward, even though we wouldn’t be watching them anymore.  In other words, I prefer the ones where the people involved don’t pull out all of the stops to make a huge grand finale.  They may still provide some sense of closure – a capstone of sorts – but it leaves the premise of the show intact.

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Categories: Television

When I say no, I actually do mean no…

September 14, 2021, 2:32 PM

We’ve all been taught the meaning of “no” before, as well as the idea of “no means no”, i.e. someone has declined, and that’s the end of it.  “No” doesn’t mean “yes, if I am persistent enough.”  When I say “no”, I mean it.  In the case of Jeremy Jones, who ran the @DMVFollowers Twitter account, I feel like he just couldn’t grasp this concept.

For some background information on this case, DMVFollowers was a Twitter account that posted news about things happening in the Washington, DC area.  They typically posted links to news articles, and included a photo with their posts.  Their feed looked like this according to an Internet Archive snapshot from January 2018:

@DMVFollowers in 2018

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My story from an unforgettable day…

September 8, 2021, 10:31 AM

I can’t believe that this Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, otherwise known as 9/11.  I still remember that day like it was yesterday, even though so much has gone on in the intervening two decades.  They say that everyone can tell you where they were or what they were doing when they found out about 9/11, much like the people of my parents’ generation and the Kennedy assassination.

Back then, I was a junior at JMU, and I was working as a resident advisor in Potomac Hall.  It was the third week of classes, and everyone was getting settled into a nice routine.  Being a Tuesday, I didn’t have any classes until 2 PM, so I was able to sleep a little later.  I was awakened around 9:30 AM by a knock on my door, as one of my residents had accidentally locked themselves out of their room.  I put on a bathrobe over my pajamas, and we went down to the hall office, where I completed the paperwork for the lockout (everyone got two free lockouts in a year, and any subsequent lockouts were subject to a fee), and then gave them the spare key to their room so that they could let themselves in.  I impressed on them to immediately come back down to the hall office after letting themselves back in their room in order to return the spare key, because I would be sitting in there waiting for them to come back so that I wouldn’t accidentally leave any room key business unfinished.  My hall director, Mecca Marsh, was a tough boss to work for, and she did not take kindly to any mistakes.  She treated any oversight or error as the worst thing that you could ever do, going so far as to bean you in your performance evaluation for even the most minor of errors, so if I suffered a little inconvenience in order to ensure that I wouldn’t have to deal with Mecca over something, that was fine.  So I waited down there and found a way to entertain myself, probably for about five or so minutes, until they came back with the key.  Then I put everything back as it needed to be and headed back upstairs.  At that time, I was still oblivious to any sort of world events.  As far as I knew, it was just a normal Tuesday.

After this, I had another matter of business to attend to.  The night before, there was a pretty bad backup in one of the toilets on my floor that I had to deal with, as that fell under the scope of my responsibilities.  The toilet got plunged a bit, but ultimately, I had to tape the stall door closed and mark it as out of order, because it was beyond our capabilities as RAs to fix.  I took the plunger, which belonged to housekeeping, with me that night, in order to return it to our housekeeper, a lady named Kathy.  I hadn’t seen Kathy on my floor from the elevator to my room, so I dipped into my room, grabbed the plunger, and continued looking.  She wasn’t anywhere on my floor, and so I went up the stairs to the fifth floor.  I went down the hall to the TV lounge, and found Kathy in there.  I went in, gave her the plunger, and then looked over at the television.

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Categories: Events, JMU, Myself

Going to show that you never know what is going to produce the winning shots…

August 29, 2021, 6:30 PM

On Wednesday, August 25, Elyse and I got together with two friends of ours, Kyle and Pete, and we went up to the Ellicott City area, where we went on a hiking adventure.  We hiked up through the remains of what was once part of St. Mary’s College, and which has since become part of Patapsco Valley State Park.  The goal was to visit “Hell House”, which is the remains of a structure on the former campus.  Elyse was most familiar with this area, so she led the way.  The former campus contains the remains of a number of buildings, and we had a pretty fun time there overall.  Getting to Hell House was a bit of a challenge, considering that the path is not necessarily obvious and required climbing some steep slopes, but in the end, we made it there.

The hike itself wasn’t too photogenic, but we did see a few things:

This tree was growing through what I presume was once some kind of manhole.  It's also grown around the edge of the hole on one side.

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My first true railfan trip…

August 22, 2021, 10:14 AM

I recently came to the realization that it has been a little more than twenty years since my first true railfan trip on the DC Metro system, on July 28, 2001.  Mind you, I had ridden the system plenty of times before that, and I had photographed the system a few times prior to this, but this was my first time going in with the rail system itself as the destination, rather than as the means to an end.  I explored around in DC and Virginia, photographing stations, making recordings of the door chimes, and exploring new areas of the system that I had never been to before.  Back then, there was no Silver Line, the trains were still orange and ran in four and six-car consists, and they stopped in the center of the platforms rather than at the end like they do today.  I was using my original Mavica for the photos, which saved photos at 640×480 resolution onto 3½” floppy disks.  To record the door chimes, I used a boombox-style tape recorder and recorded it to a cassette.

As I recall, I started at Vienna, stopped off at Virginia Square, went down to L’Enfant Plaza, took the Yellow Line over the bridge to Virginia, got out at Pentagon, checked out the bus bays at Pentagon, briefly took an escalator up into the Pentagon from the station (and then turned around because I didn’t want to visit the Pentagon), went to Pentagon City, visited Pentagon City Mall, then headed to National Airport and Franconia-Springfield.  I stopped at Arlington Cemetery station, and then headed towards Vienna, stopping at East Falls Church and West Falls Church along the way.  Then I got back in the car and headed down to Woodbridge to visit Potomac Mills, where I was trying to get a new optical drive for my computer.  I didn’t find anything at Potomac Mills, but I did remember an optical drive that I had passed up earlier at the Babbage’s store at Pentagon City.  So after leaving Potomac Mills, I drove over to Franconia-Springfield and got back on the Metro, riding back up to Pentagon City and buying that optical drive.  I then stopped at Crystal City and King Street stations on the way back to Franconia-Springfield.

I had a number of firsts on that trip.  I rode between Pentagon City and Franconia-Springfield for the first time, and logged my first visits to Franconia-Springfield, King Street, Crystal City, Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, Virginia Square, East Falls Church, and West Falls Church.  I consider that a pretty good amount of new territory covered.

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Flights over Pennsylvania…

August 8, 2021, 9:00 PM

Back on July 20, Elyse and I made a trip up to Pennsylvania for a little photography.  This was one of those adventures where we had a specific mission that brought us out that way, but that mission was too small to justify the time and distance on its own, so we built a trip around it in order to justify the mission.  In this case, the main objective was to purchase some newly released cans of G Fuel (an energy drink) at a Sheetz that had them, and send them to Shock in order for him to do a review video.  Elyse called around ahead of time, and located the flavor in question at a Sheetz location in Gettysburg.  Then in order to justify the trip, I planned a route, adding some stops.  In this case, Sheetz in Gettysburg was a must, but then I added some stops in Waynesboro and Fairfield to the mix to round it out, creating a little arc across south-central Pennsylvania.  We were originally going to run it all the way out to Hanover, but decided to cut it off at Gettysburg in order to get home at a more reasonable hour.

Our first stop in Waynesboro was the Wayne Heights Mall.  This was by no means unfamiliar territory for us, as this was where the Gordmans that we photographed was located.  Gordmans has since closed, but it was a good flight target nonetheless.  Elyse liked it because she could visit Tractor Supply while I was flying.  So here we go:

Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

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Categories: Pennsylvania, Photography

Does this count as “over 40” problems?

July 18, 2021, 11:27 PM

FYI, this Journal entry discusses gross body functions in personal places.  If you’re squeamish about such things, you might want to skip this one.  Otherwise, here we go…

This past Friday, I went in for some minor surgery to fix a small problem.  Back in April, I had developed what turned out to be an abscess on my backside.  I didn’t quite know what it was for a while, and was doing what they say that you shouldn’t do, and looked up my symptoms on Google.  It seems like every time you google your symptoms, it always comes back as a heart attack, and therefore, you need to get your tail to the emergency room right now.  But I knew better.  Even controlling for definitely-not-a-heart-attack, though, I still got inconclusive results, i.e. Dr. Google had no clue what it was.  All the while, this thing was uncomfortable.  At its peak, it was so painful that it was difficult to sit.  And considering that my job is performed from a seated position, that point really made for a long day.  At one point, I tried squeezing it, and pus came out of it.  That made me feel a little better for a little while, but it quickly filled back up and continued to hurt.  Eventually it started to drain on its own without any prompting from me.  That felt a little better because there was no more pressure, but it was still painful, and now it was draining all the time and making a mess in my underwear, even soaking through my pants on occasion, which is not a good thing by any means.  I don’t like having to choose my outfits based on thickness and color of material in order to prevent embarrassing abscess leaks from showing up.

I eventually went to an urgent care facility, and there, the doctor diagnosed it as a cutaneous abscess, and prescribed a course of antibiotics (Bactrim) for it.  According to the urgent care doctor, the abscess should take care of itself without any further intervention.  As it would turn out, the antibiotic took care of the infection in very short order, but the drain opening remained, and things kept on draining, albeit with less volume than before, which kept the leakage contained to my underwear and not going through my pants anymore.  I figured that some drainage was normal, considering that I had just had a big abscess that was being treated.  But then it kept on going, even after the infection had subsided, and after I finished up all of the antibiotics.  I kept holding out some hope for a while that it would resolve on its own, but it never did.

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Categories: Matthew, Personal health

A fence appears around Staunton Mall…

July 17, 2021, 8:44 AM

While Elyse and I were on that trip to Staunton that I discussed earlier, we stopped by Staunton Mall to check in on the progress there.  It would appear that the redevelopment plans for Staunton Mall are for real, because asbestos abatement appears to be happening in a few places, and a perimeter has been established around the building in preparation for demolition.  Recall that I declared Staunton Mall to be a dead mall back in 2009, but it took until 2020 for the mall to finally close.  That fence around the entire mall building, save for Belk, is a major step towards demolition and redevelopment.

Fencing in front of the former Wills/Books-A-Million store.
Fencing in front of the former Wills/Books-A-Million store.

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My first time eating at a real restaurant in a very long time…

July 9, 2021, 3:50 PM

Recently, on a trip to Staunton, I had my first meal in a full-service restaurant since my weight loss surgery in December 2019.  We were visiting family, as my sister and her husband were in from Chicago.  So our party consisted of Elyse and me, my sister and her husband Chris, our parents, and Chris’s parents.  Nice group all around.  We ate at Zynodoa, which is a higher tier restaurant than I typically go to, but it was a good experience overall.

I would say that the timing of things tended to work against restaurants in general.  I had my surgery on December 6, 2019, and so things were still healing for most of December.  I was figuring out through trial and error about what foods would be tolerated by my body, and also determining portion sizes.  When Elyse and I would go out, we typically would stop in at a grocery store with a food bar if we needed to eat, like Harris Teeter, Wegmans, or Whole Foods.  I was typically able to get out of there for about five bucks (I would jokingly refer to myself as a cheap date).  Doing that allowed me to try out a variety of different foods, and only get the amounts that I needed (remember, my tummy is tiny now).

Then the pandemic restrictions came along, which took eating in restaurants out of the picture entirely.  I’ve never been one to do take-out from restaurants.  If I’m eating food from a sit-down restaurant, I’m more than likely going to be eating it at the restaurant.  If I’m getting it to go, I’m going somewhere else, like a grocery store or something else cheaper than a full restaurant.  Thus if I couldn’t eat on the premises because of various rules in place, a full restaurant was of no use to me.  And if I’m getting food to take home, I might as well just eat the food that I already have at home.  All of that said, the pandemic rules came about while I was still forming new habits after having my surgery, and that meant that full-service restaurants were more or less out of the picture, i.e. they didn’t exist as far as I was concerned.

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Woomy has his own website…

July 2, 2021, 3:59 PM

So Elyse and I recently went hunting online, discovered that woomy.info was available, and snagged it.  This is the result:

Woomy's website, as it currently stands

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Strange what people will latch onto sometimes…

June 26, 2021, 10:10 AM

It’s funny what things people lock onto, take out of context, and run with in the age of the Internet.  I remember when my Code Pink photo in front of the White House became a discussion about President Obama and the 2012 election.  That made enough sense, because while it was a different context than the original one, it was still in the same vein, being anti-war and all.  More recently, though, a very old photo of mine was dusted off by a certain crowd and run in a completely different context than intended.  Remember this photo?

Photo from an Anonymous flash raid from July 2008

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When your drone starts to act up…

June 7, 2021, 11:20 AM

On Tuesday, June 1, Elyse and I went on a little adventure in Prince William County, Virginia, where the goal for me was to photograph some old AT&T Long Lines infrastructure up close with the drone.  First of all, for those not familiar, AT&T Long Lines is a now-defunct system from the mid-20th century used for telecommunications via microwave transmission.  It has long since been replaced by more modern systems, but many of the towers still remain.  Some have been converted to cell phone towers, with varying amounts of the old Long Lines infrastructure abandoned in place.  I’ve photographed about six of these things in varying degrees of detail, mostly in Virginia, both ground-based and with a drone.

On this particular day, I had two towers in my sights: one near Dumfries, and one near Manassas.  The Dumfries one was directly off of Route 234, and the Manassas one was a little bit further off of the beaten path.  The Dumfries tower was in full form, with its horn antennas still attached, while the Manassas tower had lost the old horn antennas.

Here are some of my photos of the Dumfries tower:

AT&T Long Lines tower near Dumfries

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Categories: Cameras, Northern Virginia

I am now in my forties…

June 4, 2021, 3:42 PM

This past Sunday, I turned 40.  I remember the first time that I heard about someone turning 40.  In that case, it was Uncle Johnny, i.e. Mom’s brother, back when I was still in my single digits.  That age sounded so old for someone who was in elementary school.  It was more than four times the age that I was at the time, and seemed so far off.  And now I’m there.  Uncle Johnny, meanwhile, is now in his seventies, and he and Aunt Beth are retired and living their best life.

My actual birthday, meanwhile, was pretty quiet, by my choice.  At work, it’s in our union contract that we are guaranteed to have our birthday off as a “floating holiday”, but I opted to work on my birthday and take the holiday the next day in order to have a three-day weekend.  This was also a bit of a weird birthday, because I definitely had a mental hang-up about turning 40.  I watched all of my classmates from high school post about turning 40 on Facebook, and I couldn’t help but think that it felt wrong for all of these young people that I went to school with to be turning 40.  I didn’t really want to turn 40, because 40 felt old.  You weren’t “young” anymore, but instead were “middle aged”.  Funny thing, though, is that I have one friend who acted like his life was practically over when he turned 40 a few years ago, and I had to reassure him that it wasn’t the case, and here I was having a hang-up myself over “40 is old”.  The morning of my birthday, I woke up, thought to myself, I’m 40!, mentally groaned for a moment, and then rolled over and went back to sleep for another hour.

But then after I got to work, I got to thinking (operating the train gives you lots of time to think), and I realized that I was 40, but I didn’t feel any different than I did the day before, when I was still 39.  I soon came to realize that it was going to be okay. I didn’t feel old.  I felt just as good as ever.  Sure, I have a few lines where there were no lines before, and a lot of things sag now (mainly from the weight loss), and I have to hold things a little bit further away from my face in order to read them than I used to, but all in all, I’m doing pretty well.  But don’t get me wrong – I still hate birthday greetings.

So now that I’m in my forties, here’s to another decade of adventures, I suppose.

Categories: Birthdays, Myself