Sunday, October 30, 2011

Experimenting with the manual settings

I only switched over to a digital SLR relatively recently, and haven't really learned how to use all the features that are on the camera. When I made the switch, I made sure to buy a Pentax, as my old film cameras were Pentax cameras, and I had a few lenses I didn't want to have to re-buy.

Every one told me not to do that, that I would really be able to use my old lenses, but the Pentax information indicated the contrary. And Pentax is correct.

It's taken me a long time to figure out how to do it, but you can indeed use the old, fully manual, lenses. Some would regard it as a bit of a chore, but in actuality, it's very similar to the method I first learned when I first started shooting 35 mm film, except the settings are entered through the electronic camera's settings. You set the speed electronically, and then the F Stop manually.

I hadn't operated a camera in this fashion for years and years. Both of my old 35 mm Pentax cameras were semi automatic, in that I did not have to previously set the Aperture speed, although I had learned to that with other cameras. And I found myself consulting, for the first time in over 30 years, a light meter, although a light meter that was downloaded as an Application for my Ipod. In this fashion, I can now use my old big Vivitar telephoto lens.

The zoom lens that came with my last Pentax 35 mm camera (which my wife bought me after I badly damaged the aforementioned camera) has an Automatic setting and it requires much less effort. You just affix the lens and camera is ready to go, but you have to manually focus it.

Anyhow, this has been a neat experience. I really love the new digital Pentax, but I have a lot to learn to use it. And I still feel that the first of the two 35mm Pentax cameras I had took the best pictures of the three, but it's very nice not to have to be aware of how close to 25 photographs I am at any one time, and frankly it's cheaper not to have to develop all that film. Chances are, once I get fully rolling on it, the new digital camera will prove as good of camera as the first 35 mm did, and I'm sure taking a lot of photographs with it, as this blog generally shows (although there's a few 35mm shots on here, to be sure).

Anyhow, this is just a shot of a corner of the backyard, the first successful shot with my old Vivitar telephoto lens.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Casper's "neighborhood schools"

I've generally declined the temptation to comment on local events, politics, etc. But in this instance, I'm afraid the temptation is simply too great to avoid.

About 20 or so years ago the school board of Natrona County School district No. 1, a district which cover the entire county (we only have one) introduced an experiment in which a couple of schools, or perhaps only one at that time, were designated "lighthouse" schools. The thought was that these schools would be freed from student population boundaries, and would compete for students based on their curriculum. This was at the grade school level.

The program was deemed a success, and a few years later, in 1997, the entire district went to this system. That is, school area boundaries, which compelled students who lived within them to attend that school, were entirely eliminated and the schools had to compete for students.

This program has generally been regarded by most as a success, although it isn't an unqualified one. But, no matter how a person might view it, what it did mean is that the schools had to compete for their students, and the success rate, and test scores, of the schools suddenly mattered in a way that they never had before. While now seemingly forgotten, this actually resulted in some schools being killed off. Garfield Elementary School, for example, the school that I attended for grade school, couldn't keep an adequate number of students and was closed, the teachers being merged with Willard, which apparently had the same problem. The new Garfield Willard school is on the completely opposite side of town, and the old Garfield grounds were sold (for a remarkably low price) to a neighboring church.

This isn't the only instance of this occurring. Other grade schools passed away. And new ones were built.

Very significantly, the new schools were built on the competition model, and they show it. They're very nice schools, but they're unique to themselves, each based on a model that was designed to compete for students. Area boundaries were not a concern, as there are no areas.

This also became the case for junior high schools. When this process started I think we had three junior highs. Now they are middle schools. Of the three buildings then in use, only two remain. A brand new one was built on the grounds of one of the former ones, and three more, I think, have been built. Again, boundary areas played no roles in the construction of the new schools.

I was frankly skeptical of this system when it was introduced, but since that time, it has become highly developed, and I think it is working well.

Beyond that, I do not think that there is any way to go back. In the 14 years since the system went full scale, all school construction that has occurred here has been undertaken with no regard to a local student population. Indeed, I think the one weakness of our current system here is that it is entirely based on busing or parent transportation. Fortunately for us, the state picks up the cost of the busing, which is massive.

Other than that, however, the system is generally successful. In my experience, engaged parents investigate the individual schools, which do have curriculum and teaching theory differences, and they pick the school that they feel (and they best judge) fit their kids.

Apparently not everyone feels that way, however, as the current school board has decided to reintroduce the neighborhood school concept, and make it so that choosing distance from the school is an option over some other options.

Indeed, the way I currently understand it, the choices are now weighted as follows. When entering a new school (grade school at kindergarten, or middle school at grade 6) the choice of school will be based on:

1. Presence of a sibling at the school.

2. Presence of a parent employed at the school.

3. Parent choice that didn't come into play the prior year.

4. Parent preference for distance from the school.

5. Parent choice otherwise.

So, what had been the primary factor for most parents, #5, will now be the last factor.

This is a mistake.

We no longer have an infrastructure based on a neighborhood school concept. For example, my old grade school, Garfield, which I walked to school to for every year of my grade school career, is no longer a school. All the new schools were built with no "neighborhood" in mind. A couple of the very distinct schools were built in their present locations simply because space was available there.

According to the one of the quoted school board proponents of this change (there were opponents on the board) Todd Ingram, parents were choosing schools based just on personality. But this is not my experience at all. I've seen parents very engaged in choosing schools, which I would not have expected at all. Now this will be dropped down to last place, and those parents favoring locality for their student exclusively are bumped up above them. This will fail to meet the current infrastructure, which wasn't designed to support that consideration, and it stands to be extremely disruptive to the couple of schools that were built in far locations based solely upon available land considerations. If they now will draw a high percentage of local students they'll be drawing students who will not be necessarily suitable to their unique curriculum. And, suffice it to say, this would seem to take the element of competition between the schools somewhat back out of the equalization.

Moreover, there doesn't seem to be any good reason for this decision to have been made. Parents who just wanted to have their child go to school nearby were already free to make that choice, and most parents were getting that choice. A certain element of nostalgia for a time now long gone by seems to have been an unstated factor. Those of us of a certain age may look back fondly, and probably unrealistically, on our "neighborhood school", and our "neighborhood", but in this day and age, how realistically does that reflect our reality. Yes, there are still neighborhoods, but this is is a highly mobile age as well. This change seems to be a step back in time, and not a good one.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Laramie Range

Fishing Hole.

Spot with fish, in small stream, at about 8,000 ft.

Coyotes, or. . . .?

This photograph depicts three canines on lower Bates Creek that I recently photographed.

When I saw them, I thought at first they were deer, due to their size, but quickly realized their actions were completely different so I stopped to look at them from a long ways away. All three had their noses to the ground, and were intently milling about. They didn't run off when I stopped and they didn't take the slightest interest in me.

I've seen a lot of coyotes over the years, and wolves twice. There shouldn't be wolves in this area, and the coats are fairly uniform, but at the time, looking at them, and given their size and behavior, I was voting for wolves. Now, looking at my photos, I'm not so sure. Still, they weren't very coyote acting, and they were pretty sizable from a distance.