Operating Theater

The Old Operating Theatre” by Uglix. Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

It’s week 2 of virtual schooling for my second grader in Richmond, Virginia. There’s a lot of bubbling consternation among the parents of kids in my daughter’s class. Whether it’s the length of the day or the frustration with certain assignments, folks have a lot to say. I don’t think it’s perfect by any stretch, and my child’s teacher is the source of some issues (extreme technology deficit at the top of the list), but I’m still cautiously optimistic. Every day the students improve their mute button etiquette. The teacher finds clever ways around her own technological limitations. The students respond to and engage in the classwork. I’m super lucky to have had my daughter tell me this morning that she likes her teacher, and she has been generally positive on the experience so far. We’re privileged in that regard, and I recognize that many students may be struggling along with their teachers for a variety of reasons (different needs, home/care center environments, etc.).

I have a hypothesis, however. I think a new and terrible source of anxiety for parents is our sudden and complete view into our children’s school day. Last year, like every year before, we sent our kids to school and hoped to get a few sentences out of them about their day when they returned in the afternoon. We didn’t witness the teacher’s instruction or see any classwork until the results came home. We haven’t been in the classrooms witnessing challenges, disruptions, and any other issues that might surface.

Except now we are. Or at least folks like my wife and me who are largely white and/or privileged. Folks like us who have the money/time/job flexibility to have one or more parents working from home, lending assistance to our kids while they learn remotely. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our superintendent has received most of his feedback on the schedule from parents in the West End and Northside, home to most of the white families in system, with typically higher incomes. I don’t presume that there are no issues for students in other parts of town, but most of the vocal frustration of schedule and operation isn’t coming from the Southside or East End.

Did you have great teachers/school years throughout your entire education? If you did, you’re super lucky and I envy you. When I think back on my own second grade year I recall the very worst teacher of my primary education. She was actively hostile toward me (though I never shut up…)! My daughter’s learning circumstances are not ideal because, well, GESTURES BROADLY, but her teacher is fine. She’ll be fine.

I’m sympathetic to the parents and children that are dealing with real educational, emotional, neurological, social, or other issues in this situation. Every accommodation should be made to ensure equitable education for all students across socioeconomic strata and different levels of ability. But that’s not most of the families. I think a great deal of parents could benefit from weaning themselves off of active monitoring of their kids’ virtual school days. Our kids are smart! Let’s back away (at a reasonable pace) and let them develop self-sufficiency. Perhaps our collective blood pressure will lower.

Virtually Educational

Today is a return to school, such as it is. My daughter attends a school district that is 100% virtual through at least the first half of the school year. My son is starting pre-kindergarten and does NOT want to listen to what his mom or me tell him. So in the best interest of both of them, we’ve taken the calculated risk of sending him back to his in-person school for pre-k. The faculty and staff at his school are great about wearing masks, and the drop-off/pick-up protocol is terrific. But it’s still a bunch of little kids who won’t be able to stay apart because they’re four years old.

His absence from the house, however, will allow our second grader the peace, quiet, and brain space to focus on this weird new virtual schooling world. She loves to learn, actually enjoys reading, math, and science, so we hope that the quiet in our hose allows her to adjust while my wife and I get to our own work. We’ll see…

Worth the Drive

Sunset at Atlantic Beach taken with a dang iPhone using Halide for the RAW, edited in Lightroom Mobile, and exported to JPG.

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 7th birthday and, in these damnable corona-times, that means no party or even a hangout with her friends. Call it overcompensating, call it one last hurrah for the summer, but we decided to take a short family trip to the beach for the occasion.

Takeout dining and easy outdoor social distancing at the beach make this a lower-risk trip, or at least that’s how I’m rationalizing it. Either way, the change in scenery and the smell of the ocean ought to be good for us all before diving into virtual schooling on Tuesday.

Happy birthday, kiddo.

Camera Sleuth: Kodak Retina Ia

Retina Ia” by Michael M.F. on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

My friend Trey shared a screen grab from the HBO series Lovecraft Country in a photography-oriented Slack channel. He wondered what type of camera was used by one of the lead characters. I have not seen the series (never been an HBO subscriber), but I’m given to understand photography plays an important part in the show.

I was told the show takes place in the 1950s, and I figured the production designers were likely to have used an American (or at least American branded) camera. Ansco? Argus? Kodak? I zoomed in a bit to get some more details…

Yeah, I know that’s fairly pixellated, but there are a number of useful details I could pickup from that crop:
  • It’s a “folding” camera; the whole thing doesn’t fold, but there’s a door that opens (under her fingers) and the lens pops out on bellows.
  • There’s a cable running from the flash to the lens at the bottom.
  • There’s a little black semicircle on the right side of the lens barrel.
  • There’s a knob/winding dial of sorts at the top of the camera body, and it’s not very thick.
  • You can see a small viewfinder window above the lens, part of a solid top plate of the camera.
  • You can also see some kind of metal and textured protrusion on the far right edge of the camera.

All of those factors and the ever helpful Camera-Wiki.org led me to the Retina Ia, a camera manufactured in Germany for Kodak AG starting in 1951. Moreover, the camera in the TV show is most likely using one of the 50mm f/3.5 lenses based on the black ring around the lens opening, as opposed to the 50mm f/2.8 pictured at the top of this post. Obsessive nerd success!

If the season wraps up with continued plaudits, I’ll see about watching some episodes. I can’t help but want to check out a show that pays such homage to greats like Gordon Parks while making photography itself an important element of the show.


“Pill Millipede” by Srikanth Vk. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

I got kicked out of bed at 6:20 this morning by my four-year-old, so I went to sit on the toilet and catch up on Twitter for a few minutes. Then my almost-seven-year-old walks in on me in the bathroom and immediately launches into a hypothesis: “I have a guess. I think that centipedes are arachnids because they have more than 6 legs.”

“That’s a good guess,” I say, “but almost all arachnids have specifically 8 legs.” So I looked up what centipedes are (Chilopoda) and we had a nice little chat about it (all while I’m still on the toilet, naturally). Then I found myself in a Wikipedia rabbit hole looking up the related classes under the sub-phylum Myriapoda (“10,000 feet”), including millipedes and such. That included such nifty little buds like the pill millipede in the photograph above. No, those aren’t pill bugs, but are so named because of the resemblance. True pill bugs, oddly enough, are land crustaceans! But that’s a rabbit hole for another morning on the toilet.

August Miscellany

Just a few photos and such from the past couple of weeks. I don’t usually do cloud photos or anything, but I couldn’t help it with the shot above; they were so goofy and layered, and the sky was so brilliantly blue behind them.

Concerns have subsided a bit for contracting COVID-19 from surfaces, so for the first time since March, my family went to a playground. We picked one that was mostly empty, and left after more than a few other people showed up but, for about 40 minutes, it was a real treat to see how happy my kids were to climb and swing once again.

The playground we visited was behind The Carillon – a bell tower that was built as a memorial to Virginians that died in World War I.

Maybe I’ll get to take more than a handful of photos over the next month…maybe…

Rebuilding Interest

LEGO Ducati motorcycle model

Since the start of the pandemic, my time to go out and take pictures has plummeted. I’m wary of spaces with other people, and I just don’t have the freedom I used to; the kids are home with us all the time.

Shortly before the pandemic, however, both of my kids started taking a real interest in LEGO. I played with LEGO almost exclusively as a child but essentially stopped by the time I was a teenager. Now, however, the kids’ interest plus my lack of non-screen hobbies means I’m spending time digging through containers full of bricks all over again.

Lucky for me, LEGO has been producing kits geared toward advanced builders and adults for years now, so it’s been easy to find challenging and rewarding sets just for me. I’ve so far assembled a classic car, a historic Swiss locomotive, and the above pictured Ducati sport bike. Not only is it fun to put these together at the table while my kids build their own stuff; LEGO kit designs have seriously improved since my youth. Carefully thought-out sub-assemblies mate satisfyingly with the main structure, and the pendulum seems to have swung back toward building components rather than a reliance on custom, set-specific pieces.

Pretty sure this will finally be the year of a train around the Christmas tree. And it’ll be made out of LEGO bricks.

Neural Flatus: Rem Koolhaas

Seattle Public Library” by Luke Stearns. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

My weird brain is at it again. I think I heard the words “cool house” from some show my kids were watching. A few misfiring neurons later and I had “Rem Koolhaus” in my head. Was he a painter? Like a Dutch Master or some such? That sure sounded familiar, so off to Google where I found out my spelling (and pronunciation) were off. Rem Koolhaas is absolutely Dutch but is, in fact, a living architect. There’s a good chance you’ve at least seen photos of his CCTV Headquarters, Seattle Central Library, or Casa da Musica.