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Is it time to replace the national anthem?

July 29, 2020, 10:18 AM

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

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

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

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Categories: Music, National politics

Remember, do your research before you post…

July 18, 2020, 8:55 PM

Sometimes, people will share anything on social media without giving a second thought to just what they’re sharing.  Recently, with coronavirus all over the news, a few folks that I know shared this:

Claims regarding the pH of coronavirus and various food items

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Categories: Social media

Vegetable smoothies?

July 1, 2020, 5:20 PM

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

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

A big bag of Bird's Eye broccoli

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How should one behave when responding to an unwanted surprise party?

June 26, 2020, 1:50 AM

I recently ran across an older Reddit post on /r/AmItheAsshole where someone asked the userbase to judge their reaction to an unwanted surprise party.  This is what the user wrote:

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

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

​So, AITA?

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Categories: Birthdays, Reddit

A little pressure washing makes the backyard look like new again…

June 20, 2020, 9:40 PM

Sometimes, all that you need to make a space look like new is a little water… at 1,750 pounds per square inch.  There’s really nothing like blowing the gunk off of something and making it look great.  In this case, I did the backyard and deck in order to make them look like new.  As far as “before” photos go, here’s what the backyard looked like when I toured the house in July 2017:

The backyard when I toured the house in July 2017

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Categories: House

If this turns out to be the end, I think that they had a good run…

June 13, 2020, 11:43 PM

Some of the news that has come out of the various retail groups that I’m in on Facebook has centered around the rather dire financial situation that CEC Entertainment, the company that owns Chuck E. Cheese, has found itself in lately.  In short, with the coronavirus pandemic and related closures, that has put the company in a bad financial situation.  The articles that I’ve read have indicated that bankruptcy and liquidation are probably in the company’s near future.  And really, if that is how it ends, that’s not the worst thing in the world.

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

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Categories: Companies

What a washing machine might see…

May 24, 2020, 11:06 AM

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

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

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Categories: Photography

Drive carefully, everyone…

May 17, 2020, 12:21 AM

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

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


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

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Photographing a very large plane…

May 12, 2020, 11:30 PM

Today, Elyse and I headed up to BWI in order to photograph an Antonov An-124 Ruslan that was coming in for a landing.  For those not familiar, Antonov planes have helped transport various medical supplies to where they are needed in the fight against the coronavirus.  As I understand it, these movements are generally not publicized in advance, but the plane shows up on various aviation tracking apps, and as such when one is found, people tend to head out to spot them.  Elyse let me know, and after I warmed to the idea (I don’t take too kindly to requests for adventures before I even get out of bed), we went up to the aircraft observation park (we’ve photographed here before) to await it.

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

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

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The more they talk, the more irresponsible they sound…

April 23, 2020, 10:45 AM

So I have a new story about my experience enforcing copyrights, this one involving materials posted to YouTube.  First of all, though, for those not familiar with how YouTube handles DMCA copyright takedowns, it is worth noting that their takedown form is a bit lackluster, though they’re usually pretty quick to respond.  The problem is that YouTube doesn’t allow a claimant (i.e. me) to fully make my claim to ownership of a piece of video content, which has led to problems in the past.  Here’s the relevant section of YouTube’s copyright form:

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

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A trip out to Hampton Roads…

April 19, 2020, 10:15 AM

From April 3-6, Elyse and I made a trip to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia to visit friends and do some photography.  The way I figured, the trip was already paid for, and so as long as we took adequate precautions, I saw no harm in running it as planned.  After all, I go out every day to go to work transporting the public, so it’s not like we were “breaking quarantine” or anything, since I’m out in the environment on a regular basis throughout all of this.  All that said, if you don’t like that we took this trip, keep it to yourself, because I don’t want to hear about it.  On our trip, we stayed in Williamsburg, and had a fun time, mostly photographing architecture and infrastructure with friends Aaron and Evan Stone.

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

"I don't like that!"

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

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Stack ’em up?

April 1, 2020, 1:25 AM

So my latest experiments with photography have been with stacking exposures.  For those not familiar, the general idea behind stacked exposures is to take several short exposures instead of one long exposure, and then “stack” them on top of each other in order to simulate a photo with a longer exposure.  It is useful in situations where a true long exposure is impractical, such as when shooting in daylight.  The way it’s done is that you take all of the shots that you intend to stack out in the field, preferably using a tripod and a remote control for the shutter, and then do the stacking at home.

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

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

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The signs of social distance…

March 28, 2020, 12:40 AM

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

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

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

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Enhancing the curb appeal of the house…

March 14, 2020, 8:15 AM

At last, it is gone:

The tree in my front yard

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Categories: House

Fun in Pennsylvania…

March 7, 2020, 10:00 AM

I guess that you could say that my March came in like a lion.  On March 1 and 2, Elyse and I did an overnight trip to south-central Pennsylvania, a 350-mile journey that took us to an abandoned motel, to Breezewood, through three of the four mainline tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, to Harrisburg, and then back home.  All in all, we had a fun time.

Our first stop was the aforementioned abandoned motel.  This was a former Days Inn near Breezewood, and from what we could tell, it had been abandoned since 2013, and, from the looks of things, it will never be occupied again.  Just about every piece of glass in the place had been shattered, the ceiling in the hallways had either fallen down or been pulled down, and there was mold everywhere.  Lovely place.

Welcome to Days Inn!
Welcome to Days Inn!

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