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Elyse and I got a scooter…

March 2, 2021, 10:00 AM

This past Monday, Elyse and I got a Bird Air scooter.  The Bird Air is more or less a consumer version of the Bird scooters that you can rent in various cities.  The main difference is that there is no unlocking mechanism, since it’s designed to have one owner, and it also folds up for easy transport.  Here it is:

The new Bird Air scooter

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Categories: Elyse, JMU, Recreation/Exercise

Storytelling and the value of context…

February 24, 2021, 6:40 PM

Lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about how my photography tends to present itself in the various places that I post my work.  This is on the occasion of a nearly yearlong backlog of photography that is sitting in my queue just waiting to be published.  In other words, this is why there haven’t been any Photography or Life and Times sets published from 2020 as of yet (they’re coming, I promise).  2020 was a banner year for me as far as photography went, as I was more productive in that year than I have been for the last several years.  I’ve just not gotten much of it out the door, with only a relatively small amount’s being published as the photo feature on the front of the website, as well as in the Journal.  The rest of it is still waiting to be published.

The reason for the delay in publication is because of a giant Flickr project that I’ve been working on since around April or so.  What I want to do is to use my Flickr as my main photo library, i.e. most stuff that I publish goes on Flickr.  The ultimate goal with this project was to take everything that I had previously published on Wikimedia Commons and ensure that it was duplicated on my Flickr.  I called it “putting Wikimedia Commons behind me”, because I’m essentially moving on from the platform, and making it where I never have to refer back to it again.  But I didn’t just do a straight sweep of Flickr and copy it all over.  That would be too easy, and if I’m publishing something on a new venue, I want it to look good by my current standards.  Thus I go in and locate the original photos in my archive and process them according to my current techniques as if they’re new material.  Sometimes the cut is a little different, and sometimes the lighting comes out a little differently than before, but I think that it’s a much better end result.  Recall that I did the same thing when I converted Schumin Web to WordPress back in 2011-2012.  I went back and reprocessed all of the photos from the originals, and they looked awesome.

This situation was made a tad more complicated by the way I did things back in 2013 when I first started getting serious about my Flickr.  In that case, I went through things from the beginning, but I was very conservative about what older material I published to Flickr.  I didn’t publish a lot of older material when I did that initial upload.  Who knows why.  So for this project, I did two waves.  The first was a second dive through the archives up to 2013, looking for stuff that was worth publishing as a standalone work.  That took several months to do, and resulted in about 17 pages’ worth of new uploads to Flickr.  Some of that was stuff that had previously been published other places, and a lot of it was new.  I figured that I would catch most of the stuff that was on Wikimedia Commons that way.  While I did catch quite a bit of it, I knew that I wouldn’t catch all of it.  Thus my second wave was to sweep through my contributions to Commons directly, and catch everything that I’d missed.  I figured that I would probably catch about 100 photos and put them up on Flickr.  Oh, how wrong I was.  When I finished my sweep, I ended up having 528 all together.  Made me think of Strong Bad when his computer got a virus, and he said, “That is not a small number!  That is a big number!”  I located all of them, edited all of them based on my current standards, and now I’m in the process of uploading them all.  Thankfully, the process has gone fairly smoothly.

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I could have told you that was going to happen…

February 14, 2021, 4:48 PM

So the story of former president Donald Trump’s second impeachment has come to an end.  And it ended exactly as I predicted, with Trump’s being acquitted by a comfortable margin.  While a majority of senators did vote to convict, it did not reach the two-thirds majority (i.e. 67 votes) required to remove.  I am always a little bit amused to see people watch the whole process, including the chatter from the various senators involved telling the media how they are going to vote, and then act all surprised when a conviction does not happen.  Truth is that a conviction was never going to happen.  The Democrats didn’t have enough votes to convict without substantial Republican support, and they knew that going into this.

And to this I say, sometimes, I hate being right.  I admit that I was rooting for a conviction on this, even though I knew it didn’t have a snowball’s chance of ever happening (hey, one can hope).  But I also stand by what I said in my earlier post that an impeachment was unnecessary.  With Trump’s having fewer than two weeks left in his term when the triggering event occurred, it would have made enough sense to just wait it out and let the prosecutors have at him as soon as he left office.  As it happened, the entire impeachment charade was a moot point, because Trump was already out of office.  The whole thing also showed me that the Democrats under Pelosi seem to be extremely petty, and it has lent some credence to the idea that they were simply out to get Trump, throwing everything at the wall to see what would stick.  This was their second attempt at removing Trump from office within the span of a year, after all.  Practically speaking, you really only get one shot at impeachment, because after that, you start to sound like the proverbial boy who cried wolf, and shoot your own credibility with every subsequent attempt.

In addition, this whole impeachment charade has cost us much in terms of legislative time wasted in both chambers for political games.  There are people who are hurting pretty badly right now due to the economic effects of the pandemic, and the time spent impeaching and then trying Trump could have been spent working on economic stimulus packages and other measures to help people survive until things turn around.  After all, let’s be honest: politically, Trump is old news.  He’s no longer the president, and as such, he is no longer relevant as far as current politics goes, and as such, Congress has more important matters to attend to than to worry about getting revenge on him.

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Categories: National politics

Some people just don’t learn…

February 7, 2021, 10:20 PM

Do you remember Marilyn Armstrong, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago regarding a case of copyright infringement?  She came back for a second round.  Apparently, she found my Journal entry, and just couldn’t leave well enough alone, going on another rant in the comments:

First of all, NO ONE intentionally took anything.  This appeared in a pile of pictures listed by Google as “free for public use.”  No name or other information was attached.  I didn’t write the piece, I didn’t post the picture and if I want a picture, I use my own since I am also a photographer.  One of the people who writes on this blog was just looking for a picture of a building with an orange roof and it came up in that Google collection.  I don’t know how ANYONE can figure out whose picture it is when there’s no attached information AND it did not come from your site.  I already said I was sorry, that it was accidental, unintentional, non-commercial.  Beyond that, you really might consider embedding copyright information in your pictures so people have some way of knowing that the picture is NOT — as Google said — free for public use.

Since I didn’t select OR use the picture personally, and since GOOGLE was the organization that pulled it off your blog and stuck it in a pile of “free for public use” pictures, maybe you should consider going after them.  Someone ought to, but they have a lot of money and a lot of lawyers and if the U.S. government can’t get them, I’m pretty sure you can’t and I can’t, so they’ll just keep doing what they do and people like me will get blamed for assuming that they aren’t lying.

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So what’s the point of impeaching at this juncture?

January 25, 2021, 9:37 PM

First of all, I am happy to breathe a sigh of relief that Donald Trump is no longer the president.  A four-year mistake is over, and the grown-ups are back in charge.  I look forward to hearing what happens in the White House now that people who are actually halfway competent at governing are running the show again.  I hope that the next four years see the country do exceptionally well, and I hope that the Biden administration succeeds beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.

However, there is one lingering matter remaining from the Trump administration: an impeachment trial.  After the whole storming of the Capitol on January 6, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for inciting an insurrection, and that was the status quo when he left office on the 20th.  Then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell declined to expedite a trial, and so it became the case that Trump’s second impeachment trial would occur after he had already left office.  Considering that Trump is now out of office, the only thing that could be accomplished through the impeachment process would be to disqualify him from holding office again in the future, and I really question the necessity of going through an entire impeachment process to accomplish that.

I freely admit that I opposed this impeachment, because impeachment is a process that has only a single sanction, just like the University of Virginia’s honor system: if convicted, you’re removed from office.  Therefore, going through the impeachment process feels like a waste of time, since, as we saw, Trump’s term expired before the impeachment process was completed, and therefore, it’s now a moot point.  With Trump out of office, nothing changes, regardless of the outcome of the impeachment trial.  For what it’s worth, I would have been perfectly content in just ignoring Trump for the final two weeks of his term, and then letting his term expire on January 20.  I also am convinced that Trump has trashed whatever credibility that he might have still had with the storming of the Capitol, and I suspect that because of that, most people wouldn’t vote for him for dogcatcher, let alone the President of the United States.  Therefore, an impeachment trial of the former president seems like it would prevent us from moving forward and putting the Trump era behind us, at least as far as our politics go.

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Categories: National politics

And they thought a little graffiti was bad back then…

January 10, 2021, 11:42 AM

I was recently participating in a comment thread on the Staunton News Leader‘s Facebook page about the arrest and charging of Jake Angeli, one of the more prominent figures to participate in the storming of the Capitol on January 6.  Most the comments praised the arrest, while some other comments amused me thoroughly.  One comment claimed that it was not Trump supporters who came to DC, but rather, it was “antifa”.  That comment reminded me of how little many right-wingers understand about what antifa is, and it made me laugh.  Recall that I used to do a lot of antifa back in my day (though the common use of the term “antifa” postdates my participation), so I know a little something about it.  The thing that amuses me most is when people think that it’s an actual organization, because trust me, it is most definitely not.  For those not familiar, the term “antifa” is short for “anti-fascist”, and if a bunch of people assemble and decide that they want to call themselves “antifa”, then they are antifa, and it’s over at the end of the event.  It’s really not that complicated.  There is no real organization to it, and people don’t answer to anyone at some headquarters.

But that commenter’s attempt to pin the whole thing on “antifa” reminded me of an event that happened back in January 2007, nearly 14 years ago.  Back then, at an anti-war protest (which I documented here under the title “J27 Anti-War Demonstration“), an affinity group of sorts, comprised mostly of people wearing black clothing and masks, i.e. a black bloc (which many might call “antifa” today), broke away from the mainstream march and headed up to the United States Capitol.  The group made it as far as the bottom of the steps, where Capitol Police was standing to prevent further movement.  No effort was made to go past them, and as far as I know, the bloc was content with that.  While we were there, a few people pulled out some spray paint cans and left some tags on the sidewalk in front of the steps of the Capitol.

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No more cutesy safety messages?

January 7, 2021, 5:18 PM

On January 4, 2021, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a ruling providing “an official interpretation of the provisions of the 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) related to changeable message sign messaging”.  In a nutshell, this ruling bans all of those cutesy safety messages that highway departments love putting on those overhead message signs, such as this one:

"Wear shamrocks, not handcuffs. Drive sober."

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Categories: Roads

Out of everything, 2020 was an exceptionally good year for my photography…

December 31, 2020, 2:33 PM

Out of all of the things that occurred in 2020, I think that I could define my year most by my photography work.  I had a very productive year, on a few different fronts.

First of all, I got a new phone in early March, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which is a pretty powerful camera in and of itself, with four different lenses built into its design and all sorts of other fun features.  For that, I tend to get the most out of the standard lens and the wide angle lens.  Here’s a comparison of two shots taken from the same spot:

Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the regular lens.
Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the regular lens.

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Categories: Photography

A lot of “teachable moments” in one email…

December 18, 2020, 6:20 PM

Recently, I submitted a takedown notice for content in a post called “Preaching to the Choir” which, among other things, discusses the seventh and ninth commandments in the Bible (conveniently skipping over #8, i.e. “thou shalt not steal”), on a blog called Serendipity Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth.  The post contained a photo that I took of the former Howard Johnson’s on Afton Mountain.  Specifically, they used this shot:

The Howard Johnson's restaurant on Afton Mountain

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Paying my last respects to Staunton Mall…

December 14, 2020, 9:00 AM

On a recent trip to Augusta County, Elyse and I stopped over at Staunton Mall to pay our last respects to the place.  For those not familiar, Staunton Mall recently changed owners, and in late November, the new owners gave all of the remaining tenants a 30-day notice to vacate, except for Belk.  The last day of operation for Staunton Mall will be December 24.  So we stopped in and documented the place fairly extensively.  Before I get started, please note that this Journal entry will be a very high-level look at the mall.  I took over 1,200 photos of the interior and exterior of the mall, including at least one photo of every single storefront, and I’m going to give the place a more complete treatment as a photo set for Life and Times.  But this ought to hold everyone for now, because the more complete treatment is going to take a while to put together.

The thing about photographing retail settings is that stores typically don’t like it when you photograph in their facilities.  The usual reason cited is to protect trade secrets, which is usually bunk, because, as I understand it, a company has to put actual effort into keeping trade secrets a secret.  If it is in plain view of the public, then it is not a trade secret.  But that doesn’t stop stores from chasing off photographers.  After all, it is private property, and they can choose to exclude whatever activities that they want.  For my purposes, it just means that I have to be a bit more stealthy when I photograph, and shoot with my phone rather than with the big camera.  The way that I typically operate when I do this is to go from lower risk to higher risk as far as getting caught goes.  After all, once a place gets wise to me, the photo shoot is over, because they’ll never leave me alone again as long as I remain there.  In this case, since I had the drone, I considered the aerial photography to be the least risky as far as getting caught goes, since I could accomplish that mostly from off of the property.  Then after I finished flying around the mall, I photographed the exterior from the car with my real camera.  Then I went inside the mall and did my documentation of the interior with my phone.  I suspected that I wouldn’t have any issues with security personnel based on reports from others that there were no security people to begin with, and I was pleased that this ended up remaining the case.  I’ve seen so many cases where stores and/or entire shopping centers are closing, and employees still get on people about photography.  I can’t help in those cases but to think, why do you still care?  After all, the people in question are losing their jobs soon, and so they’re continuing to defend their employer because… why?  No matter what you do, at the end of the day, you’re still losing your job.  So why are you still loyal to and defending a company that clearly has no loyalty to you?  It doesn’t make sense to me.

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Categories: Staunton, Staunton Mall

I find it very hard to feel any sympathy for Kevin in the second film…

December 8, 2020, 10:07 PM

Since I’ve been a Disney+ subscriber, I’ve been able to watch the classic Home Alone movies, i.e. Home Alone and Home Alone 2, all over again.  And I figure that this seems as good of a time as ever to explore my thoughts about the movies based on this rewatch as a 39-year-old who is now closer in age to the parents than to Kevin.  In other words, I’m waaaaaaaaay more mature than I was when I first watched them when they were new.

For those not familiar with the Home Alone movies, in the first movie, the McCallister family, a well-off family in the Chicago area, is planning to go on a Christmas trip to Paris to visit relatives.  The night before they are to leave on this trip, two things happen.  First, at dinner, youngest son Kevin gets involved in a fight with his older brother Buzz, who is being unkind to him over pizza.  That leads to his being banished to the attic bedroom (“the third floor” as it’s called in the movie), for the night.  Second, while the family is asleep, high winds cause a tree branch to fall on some nearby power lines, creating a power outage, which takes out the alarm clocks, among other things, causing everyone to oversleep.  When the parents wake up, there is a mad dash to make it to the airport in time.  In the course of taking a headcount prior to leaving, a neighbor child, who stopped by to see what was going on and chat, was accidentally counted.  So, with a good headcount, they were off to the airport.  Unbeknownst to them at the time, they had forgotten Kevin.  Kevin, meanwhile, wakes up to discover that the family has left for the airport, and he is all by himself.  He eventually learns that two burglars are working the neighborhood, and that they are looking to target his house, among others.  So he comes up with a plan to defend his house against said burglars, and leads the burglars through a series of traps that should have killed them many times over (but didn’t because this is the movies).  Kevin also befriends a neighbor along the way, who ultimately finishes off the burglars with two well-placed blows with a snow shovel, which leads to the burglars’ arrest.  While this is going on, Kevin’s mother, after realizing that they had forgotten their youngest, is trying her best to get back home to Kevin, and flies to a number of different cities to that end, and ultimately hitches a ride in a van with a polka group to get home, arriving on Christmas morning.  The rest of the family arrives home shortly thereafter, and there is a happy reunion, with no one except Kevin’s knowing what had happened the night before.

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Categories: Movies

The things that we rationalize as children…

November 22, 2020, 10:39 PM

Sometimes it’s fun to think back about what mental connections you made in younger years that you probably should not have, i.e. rationalizing things based on incomplete or wrong information.  I want to say that I’ve always filled in gaps and such myself, and when I eventually learn the truth, it always makes me laugh to think about what I had once believed.

Right offhand, I remember how I used to think that “gross” was spelled when I was a child.  Now mind you, I had never seen the word written down before, but I had heard my mother use the term plenty of times.  I like to think that I had a fairly decent grasp on the English language even as a child, so I took a good guess.  In my mind, I thought it was spelled “groce”, which to me makes a lot of sense.  After all, “grocery” has that spelling, and is pronounced the same way.  And words that end in -oss are typically have an “aw” sound for that vowel than a long “o” sound, like boss, cross, gauss, and moss.  “Gross” doesn’t fit.  I remember when I saw the word in print for the first time, and was informed that it was “gross”, I remember thinking, oh, that’s how it’s spelled?  Weird.  “Groce” still seems more logical for me, but clearly, I’m not going to win this one.  I do tend to say, “G-R-O-C-E gross,” as in spelling it out the way I think it should be spelled and then saying the word, when the situation merits it.  You may recall in a Journal entry about soda from 2017 that I used this phrase.  That’s where it comes from.

Then there’s the opposite situation, where there were words that I had seen in writing but had never heard pronounced.  I remember reading about bones in Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia, Volume 1, which a children’s book all about the body.  It was a good book, and I learned a lot from it.  About bones, they said that while the outside of our bones are hard, the insides are “soft and spongy”.  I had never made the connection between this word and a sponge before, and so I assumed that it was pronounced in a similar way to bong or thong.  I also assumed based on context that “spongy” was something related to softness, and so I was able to work around the unknown word well enough and keep it moving.  When Mom eventually set me straight on the word, it suddenly made the passage in the book make a lot more sense, but I admit that I missed my original pronunciation.

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Categories: Childhood

Going behind the pylons…

November 19, 2020, 11:31 AM

Back on November 6, Elyse and I took the drone out for a spin again, and I did some photography.  This time, we went out to Leesburg, and took a late afternoon golden-hour flight around a familiar landmark: the former Walmart off of Route 15.  This is a typical 1990s-era pylon-style store, and it closed in May 2019 when a new Supercenter opened elsewhere in the Leesburg area.  Because of the proximity of the location to Leesburg airport, I had to notify the airport of our activity using their online form, and then, whirlybirds away.  I flew up and around the building, and even investigated the roof a little bit.

A pre-flight capture, with the HR-V at right.
A pre-flight capture, with the HR-V at right.

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That was a somewhat surprising result, but I’m not disappointed by it…

November 8, 2020, 2:15 PM

On the morning of November 7, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that former vice president Joe Biden had won the race for president, defeating incumbent president Donald Trump.  I am not disappointed by this result, but I am a bit surprised by it.  I fully expected, when the election was all settled, that Donald Trump would win a second term in the White House, and it would be borne out that the Democrats had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, as they are so prone to doing, once again.

I started writing this Journal entry back in April when Biden had first captured the nomination, but then life sort of got in the way, which caused this to get cast aside, and become less relevant.  I was then going to rework it into a pre-election Journal entry like I did in 2016, but with all of the early voting, and my having voted almost a month before election day, I felt like it would be too little, too late, and so I didn’t do anything with it then.  So here we are now, with the election all but settled.  When I first started writing, this entry was titled, “He should have taken the hint when he got the Medal of Freedom…” and was lamenting the choice of Biden as a nominee.  That was following the winnowing down of a very large field of candidates that included the likes of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang, and a whole host of others that you have probably never heard of.  I didn’t particularly like the way the nomination was reached, in that it felt once again like they were trying to stop Sanders, no matter what it took.  I recall that Sanders started out pretty well, outperforming each of the rest of them individually, though combined, the others still had more support than he did individually.  Then after Super Tuesday, the other candidates all started dropping like flies and endorsing Biden, who I felt like was the old coot trying to to remain relevant despite his being past his prime.  I figured that Biden hadn’t taken the hint that the Presidential Medal of Freedom that Barack Obama awarded him in their final weeks in office meant that his political career had reached its end, and that it was time for him to retire, and that this would have disastrous consequences for the country.  But with most of the other candidates gone and putting their efforts into his campaign rather than their own, Biden swept it and got the nomination.

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Categories: National politics

Flying over the Shenandoah Valley with a drone…

October 25, 2020, 10:45 PM

Elyse and I recently made a trip down to Augusta County to see my parents, and we both photographed a bunch of stuff with my drone while we were down there.  So all in all, we had a pretty productive time.  I have gotten pretty proficient in flying my drone around things, and I’ve gotten some nice photos.  The goal of the drone photography this time was to duplicate a lot of what I did in my earlier entry about the area in Microsoft Flight Simulator, but in real life.  All in all, I had a good time, and I liked the results, as I flew around Staunton, Waynesboro, Afton Mountain, and Stuarts Draft.

In Staunton, I first got aerials of the old DeJarnette Center, which is an abandoned children’s mental hospital that closed around 1996 in favor of a newer, more modern facility nearby.  If this place sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve photographed it before.  So here it is:

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

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