What is School For?

Seth Godin's message in his Tedx talk is to re-conceptualize education as something more than be complicit in some preordained social role. His solution to this cog-in-the-machine dilemma sounds like problem-based learning in which students are tasked with initiating projects of their own and then reaching out to educators when they need help. An easy critique of this "alternative," more open-ended type of education is that it's too theoretical. Having students choose their own projects simply won't work because their sense of creativity and innovation is continuously and systematically curbed as they "progress" through school. But one counterpoint to this critique is the Montessori style of teaching. And at this point, when I think of how there are "alternative" styles to education that don't make students comply to a larger, social ordering, I realize that the problem at hand might be boiled down to the larger debate over public vs. private schools. 

Funding is an immediate hurdle that public schools would face in implementing Godin's plan. Funding is based on accreditation. Accreditation could arguably be the point when compliance is most apparent in the institution of education. (And that's not necessarily exclusive to public schools). Accreditation pressures both teachers and students to meet arbitrarily and superficially established standards. I agree with Godin's problematizing of both Horace Mann's "normal school" and standardized tests. Both forms of standardization fit nicely into the narrative that industrialization led to a compliant, disciplined workforce. Yet when contrasting the (caricatured) images of public school to private schools (Montessori being only one example among many), there seems to be more possibilities for art-driven curricula and problem-based learning in private school settings. Maybe I am wrong in this assumption and perhaps I am making a false dichotomy.

If not, though, I think the concept of paying for your ability to be creative in a private school or collegiate atmosphere is the larger, overarching problem here. If teachers encountered the pressure of standardization as equally as students do in the public school setting, that tips in favor of the students in the private school and college/university settings. In other words, students as consumers have some sort of "right" (contract) that they feel that must be met. I think this is the essence of what we always hear about in class when primarily dealing with undergraduate students in engineering, science, and math. These students have bought a degree to be more or less certified in their area of study. (Perhaps these students are more aware of the social pressures of getting a job than their humanities and art students counterparts). I think this falls into Godin's imagery of industrialized learning; make cookie-cutter students to fit preordained roles in society.

So what's the big deal, then? :) From a teaching perspective, why take an art-drive, problem-based pedagogy and apply it to fields that encourage students to be fixated on earning their money's worth of a degree? I think that this is like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Students aren't paying for an "alternative" (and hence, that's why these non-traditional forms of education get labelled "alternative"). To say that "education is the starting point of social change" is great. But some people see education as a means to an end. Getting people to see beyond that perception requires some changes on the industry side of the problem...or not. But you'd have to pay to learn that.


Inclusivity and Identity

The readings for this week made me think back to my undergraduate focus on a sociopolitical philosophy approach to race and racism. One of the books I read was Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race.  (Check out the chapters/reviews--they're as revealing as the title!) In terms of addressing implicit biases and identity in the classroom, I think that this is a must-read.

One of the overarching themes in Tatum's book is narratives. Narratives are also present in the Heinemann Podcast on Dismantling Racism Racism on Education. Heinemann Fellow Sonja Cherry-Paul says, "When we teach kids these sort of canned narratives that race doesn't matter, we're all the same, we're all equal, there really needs to be a paradigm shift where we're teaching our children race does matter in this society." Narratives shape identity. I think that canned narratives coincide with the growing acceptance that race is socially constructed. Unfortunately, socially constructed attitudes like race and racism are thought of as "not real" if they aren't biologically real. (But thanks post-positivism!) However, people's identity are shaped by these attitudes, sometimes willingly or unwillingly, despite not being real in a biological sense. Consequently, a socially constructed concept of race seems to be erasing the opportunity for students to share their narratives of identity. 

Shankar Vedantam offers advice to this dilemma between a socially constructed idea as not real and identity formation. "Our hidden brains will always recognize people's races, and they will do so from a very, very young age," Vedantam says. "The far better approach is to put race on the table, to ask [children] to unpack the associations that they are learning, to help us shape those associations in more effective ways." In other words, putting race on the table allows for students to recognize that a socially constructed racism is quite influential in shaping people's identity narratives. I think Dr. Kwame Harrison embodied what this looks like when done well in a classroom setting a few weeks ago.



Visual Creativity in Academia


Tepper's and Kuh's Biography in Context piece on creativity caused me to reflect on how my own educational experiences have been impacted by creativity. Right now, social science in grad school hasn't presented me with any obvious opportunities to explore my creative side. I think that comes with certain pressures and expectations.

But before grad school, there was the open-ended, explorative four years of undergrad. I had the opportunity to study abroad in Ireland. I was really into shooting photography at the time and was looking to make some sort of connection between art and academics. Visual Sociology--an emerging field I was completely unfamiliar with--was a crude combination of "visual" and "sociology." Go figure. After reflecting on similar fields, like photojournalism, the course culminated in a visual essay. The slideshow is my visual essay (that actually connects back to my name tag origin story from the first day of class).

Tepper and Kuh give unsurprising numbers to describe how students in science feel like they lack a sense of creativity. This seems to be a reoccurring theme in our class discussions. (And perhaps there's not only the omnipresent fear of not meeting expectations, but also a complicity in that problem). On the flip side, I think that the authors give lofty attributes of what it means to be an art major. I think there's a happy medium to be found.

Check out the full gallery here

Check out the full gallery here

With the academic buzzword "transdisciplinary" flying around, there's hope for creativity to actually thrive in all types of educational settings. For the scientists who think that their work doesn't allow for traditional art media, I think that these might be the same scientists who fail at communicating their work to non-scientists. The subsequent discourse that responds to that problem is actively being shaped by innovative, creative means of communicating complex topics in visually effective ways. Does that mean "transdisciplinarian" looks like the crude combination of "visual" and "biology?" I'm not sure. But today's world does have a strong emphasis on the visual. With students' time spans decreasing, visual + [insert field here] might be a start at creating a space for creativity and capturing students' attention. 

Visual Sociology is a good example of social sciences getting in touch with their creative side. I can't remember the exact name for the example of creativity in "hard science," but it's roughly known as microscopic cell art. I don't have any background in biology, but I do think that creating these images takes a lot more than textbook-defined "science." I'd imagine that the instrumentation and engineering involved could invoke non-science types who feel left out to also be creative...

Monetization of Mindfulness?

“Throughout the twentieth century, particularly after the Second World War, we had a slow-moving river. Stability, continuity, and maintaining the status quo defined our culture, and progress was carefully controlled. This environment influenced both education and technology” (Thomas and Brown, 39).

I don’t agree with this claim.

I think that the lack of stability, continuity, and maintaining the status quo continually influences education and technology.

I do agree that there’s more to education than teaching someone how to fish, so to speak.

Relevantly adapting to change in an education setting takes mindfulness, a broader awareness, of “what will come next” (Thomas and Brown, 43).

But thinking about teaching someone how to fish brings up a common discussion: what is the purpose of education? Is education a way to learn a new trade, a means to an end, so to speak? Or is education valuable on its own?

“To most people, [reading Harry Potter] doesn’t sound very much like ‘real’ learning” (Thomas and Brown, 44). Langer’s seven pervasive myths of education portrays what “real” learning might look like.

Yes. If the purpose of education is to eventually get a job, then it’s harder to explain how Harry Potter is going to help achieve that goal.

Yes. If the purpose of education is to do education (whatever that means), then reading Harry Potter instead of the “classics” seems more like “fake” than “real” learning.

If the problem is educating more effectively in a “constantly changing world,” and the answer is play and imagination, then the trouble is convincing students, parents, and policymakers to buy into this alternative learning style (Thomas and Brown, 48).

The college student has to weigh whether or not a course that fosters play and imagination is going to be worth her tuition. (And in an ideal world, if she adopts the purpose of education to mean that education is valuable in its own right, then she has to weigh whether or not this course visibly increases her education).

The parents have to either pay tuition (at any age level), accept the value in play and imagination (if this was integrated in the public school system), or both. That may be difficult to sell if parents want “the best” for their children, especially if that means well-being, i.e., job security. Showing the connection between Harry Potter and a job opportunity might be difficult.

The policymakers have to be convinced and convince politicians (and decision makers at every level) that play and imagination is worth funding. Quantifying a mode of education that minimizes the use of tests could also be difficult.

I think that quantifying how play and imagination lead to problem solving skills in a workplace setting is a viable option that fits in “education as a means to an end” purpose. “Mindfulness creates a rich awareness of discriminatory detail” (Langer, 23). Perhaps this discriminatory detail is a visible problem solving skill that finds worth in a workplace setting.

But what is mindfulness’ purpose?

If the purpose of mindfulness is to teach sideways learning, then mindfulness is just another means to an end.

If the purpose of mindfulness is to just increase awareness of discriminatory detail, then mindfulness might have an invaluable quality that teachers and employers may find useful.  



(At the end of the day, the increase in use of “mindfulness” is just one example of cultural appropriation that exists in a larger West meets East phenomenon, c.f. yoga. Mindfulness, like education, will never be non-teleological).

Correlation, No Causation, in Observed Changes in Education

Thomas and Brown write as though there were a self-apparent change in the 20th and 21st centuries, specifically in the context of education. “What happens to learning when we move form the stable infrastructure of the twentieth century to the fluid infrastructure of the twenty-first century, where technology is constantly creating and responding to change? The answer is  surprisingly simple.” Well, I simply disagree. Not only is this question self-fulfilling in that obviously, a fluid infrastructure is preferable and effective to the assumed stability found in the 20th century, but what other assumptions are Thomas and Brown operating under? Their subsection called “Sam’s Story” epitomizes the early 2000s ubiquitous techno-optimism I ranted about last week. Where is the data that shows a connection between effectiveness in learning and new forms of media like Scratch?


Carnes writes, “Last fall [of 2010], President Obama warned that the United States could not succeed in a global economy so long as it ranks as low as 12th in the percentage of young adults with college degrees. ‘We've done OK in terms of college-enrollment rates,’ he explained, but ‘more than a third of America's college students’ fail to earn degrees.” In other words, if adults with college degrees is an acceptable proxy to measure effective in learning for Carnes, then how have new cultures of learning positively impacted this conceivably measurable change? I admit that new types of media require new ways of learning in some instances. But does that translate into a paradigmatic shift in how we learn? I don’t think so.

Out of the “Four things lecture is good for,” I agree with Talbert that “sharing cognitive structures” is soundly dependent on the lecture style of education. But the successes of modeling thought processes, giving context, and telling stories are not solely dependent on the lecture style. That’s just my opinion, but in any case, these three styles (and even sharing cognitive structures) presumably work well in other alternative, non-lecture styles of education. The uses and abuses of technology are just one of these alternatives.

The general assumption of this week’s readings posits that technology somehow unprecedentedly changes education in ways that non-lecture styles of education were not able. I disagree with this assumption, primarily because the “somehow” is widely left unexplained. Moreover, the assumption operates in the limited realm of “new technology requires new ways of learning.” This is different than arguing that new technology causes a paradigmatic shift in how we learn. I would accept the former assumption as true--returning to what Thomas and Brown call surprisingly simple--of course you need a new learning manual to operate your new iPhone for the first time. But just because everyone has an iPhone now does not mean that the change in the United States’ ranking in the global economy, nor college graduation rates, can be attributed to the wide-sweeping social phenomenon of “new media.” Assuming that these rates are proxies of education, regardless of whether or not they go up or down, there can only be a loose correlation made on a macro level between tech’s effectiveness on education.

Look, another way of understanding my skepticism is to consider the “tragic” scene of walking into an undergraduate classroom where all the students are on their laptops and phones (as Allia Griffin puts it). I have discussed this pre-class scene several times before. While I did not live during the pre-internet/pre-smartphone era, I have been told by plenty of professors who did live during that lost “Golden Age” when students still had newspapers, books, and other forms of distraction that kept them from talking to one another. (Or perhaps people were always just unfriendly and the sinister, nefarious consequences of digesting social media only make that social truth more plain than it was before). Yes, there will always be an anecdotal life experience that contradicts this perspective, but this doesn’t seem to be any different than people who claim that on an individual level, there are serious changes taking place when we consume digital media. Other than the simple fact that change is in fact taking place, there isn’t some sort of new culture of learning in this century that polarizes us from the previous one.

We’re not somehow smarter or more effective at learning just because we all have access to iPhones....


Eschatological Expectations in Education

All of my writings here should be taken with a grain of salt. So let Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall wash over you as I take a hypercritical approach to this week’s authors’ myopic problematization of education.

Education is a loaded word, but I think we get some kind of consensus on its meaning from Michael Wesch and Tim Hitchcock: self-improvement. But for me, the three words that come to mind when I think of education are eschatology, meritocracy, and techno-optimism. This is especially the case after watching and reading Wesch and Hitchcock because they ascribe to the impact of blogging without regard for how these three biases might negatively shape education.

Eschatology brings to mind doom and gloom, judgment--the end of the line of what philosophers might call teleology. Think of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “motivational” quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Yea, well, Romanticism is perhaps the opposite of teleology (at least in this instance). Eschatology is really concerned about the destination: the future really doesn’t look to good. In fact, life’s journey should be so fixated on preparing for the destination that you need to find some sort of salvation before getting there. If you’re not scared enough to come to Jesus, than you’re not aptly anticipating the destination’s severity.

For most people, life itself presents people with any variety of doom and gloom destinations. We can call these societal pressures, self-imposed challenges, or familial expectations. Most people might agree that some combination of financial stability, job security, and relationship satisfaction makes up what we might call “the meaning of life.” #eudamonia To achieve the optimal rankings in those categories (as well as others not listed here), you need to have been dealt a good hand in phenotypic, physical, and ideological identities. That is, if you weren’t born a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Heteronormative, Abled-bodied, “Middle”-classed individual, then you are starting life’s rat race from a deficit. In an “ideal” world, if you are born a WASP-HAM, then all you need to do is just play the the game of life “straight up.” Go to school, get educated, and reap the benefits of “working hard.”

That expectation of playing the game well by education and the consequent employment is textbook meritocracy. But I want to discuss a more insidious type of meritocracy. When you’re not born a WASP-HAM, how do you approach the game of life? Is playing a matter of looking past how the game is rigged against you? Is it sticking it to “the man?” Is playing the game a way to defy stereotypes? (Should we try to find our inner hero, like Dr. Wesch suggests, in these pursuits?) Assuming that everyone wants financial stability, job security, and relationship satisfaction, what’s so wrong for non-WASP-HAMs to buy into the promises of meritocracy, to play the game, to buy into education?

Perhaps the problem is making the assumption that meritocracy is a one-size-fits-all solution to self-improvement. Meritocracy works really well if you’re a WASP-HAM; just work hard and climb life’s social ladder. But if you’re not a WASP-HAM, how high can you truly rank in social hierarchies--even when you buy into meritocracy? Glass ceiling much? In other words, can education ever be free from meritocracy? If education is self-improvement (to one degree or another), is that improvement ever free from social realities like racism, sexism, genderism, ableism, classism? Is the education process itself free from biases? Is the end result of education free from biases? Education is something that you quite literally buy into, philosophically and monetarily. There’s the expectation that the doom and gloom destination can be altogether avoided (for WASP-HAMs) if you just work hard enough. Education is a part of that process; pay for that piece of paper and everything will be fine. But for everyone else, the everyday doom and gloom like sexism, racism, and ableism isn’t simply earned by getting educated. Nor are the long term doom and gloom destinations improved through education.

Unfortunately, this salvational characteristic of education is exacerbated by techno-optimism. While I want to add the (obvious) caveat that there are certain technologies that can be of great use to some populations, there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to any type of technology. Nor should there be an expectation that technology unilaterally improves, or saves, us from the impending doom and gloom of life. While I don’t think that Seth Godin and Tom Peters should be accused of suggesting that blogging is a universal good for self-improvement, highlighting the fact that two white men who have played the game of life very successfully are telling us to buy into blogging should warrant some skepticism. We shouldn’t be skeptical of blogging itself. Rather, I find it difficult to view blogging as something outside of the scheme of self-improvement masked as self-expression.

I can hear someone saying that blogging is “about the journey, not the destination.” While this may be true, the Internet as a whole has evolved from its “simple” beginning. Take Ben Schmidt’s blog, Sapping Attention, as an example of skepticism. Hitchcock claims, “[Schmidt] has crafted one of the most successful academic careers of his generation – not to mention the television consultation business, and world-wide intellectual network.” Well, allegorically, we might say that the internet no longer remains as innocent and simplistic as Blogger’s interface--the template that Schmidt still uses today. That is to say, the list of -isms that exist IRL unsurprisingly exist on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter alike. (Anonymity may lead to an increase in the severity of -isms, but anonymity isn’t mutually exclusive to social media). Nothing published on the web goes unnoticed...

Hitchcock writes, “By forcing students to write ‘publicly’, their writing rapidly improves.” This blind, naive optimism placed on technology’s educational (and social) impact might have been appropriate during Blogger’s heyday over a decade ago. But Hitchcock’s 2014 publication date mirrors the blind trust that’s placed in meritocracy: there’s no regard for the people who don’t fit into WASP-HAMs one-size-fits-all online. Despite the internet’s invitation for faux-sense of individuality and accessibility on social media sites, we’re never really free from the social biases that tell us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. I mean, what’s the point? #slacktivism

So, maybe we should listen to Pink Floyd’s lyrics: we don’t need education. But on the other hand, if education is self-improvement, then look no further than Socrates: “Know thyself!”

(And yes, I know that ironically, I have to be in a position in education to name drop Socrates…and write everything above).

cliché galore

thu-berchs-st-louis-destroyed-cityscape-14.jpg Eudaimonia? 




egyptLateStageCapitalism.jpg   Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 5.23.15 PM.png trolling.jpg

Shooting Connemara with Peter Skelton

Early in the day, it was hard to get some good light. Early in the day, it was hard to get some good light.

There are many instances where I think too much devotion and credit is given to social media. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing “activist” groups on Facebook try to get “likes” to change the world. That’s nice, I guess, in terms of raising awareness. But there is a difference between the social capital found in the virtual world and IRL…

What does it really mean for an amateur photoblogger to have x amount of followers? It’s easy to answer that in light of a professional photography: money plays. But none of my artwork is for sale; I’m not in it for the money. So what is to be gained from networking online? Facebook friends, Twitter and Instagram followers, and whoever reads this on Wordpress -only a few of these individuals engage with me face to face. I don’t find these types of relationships to be as gratifying as real-world relationships. I hope that doesn’t offend anyone, but in terms of a healthy lifestyle, I think that physical contacts are superior. But in the instance where those superficial followers can become real-world acquaintances, I think social media can be incredibly valuable.

I wanted to see how much temperature editing I could get away with; definitely over did it. I wanted to see how much temperature editing I could get away with; definitely over did it.

In the months leading up to my departure for Ireland, I was going through different online social mediums to find local photographers to follow. I stalked their photos and got some destinations in mind. There are plenty of photo opportunities throughout the Irish countryside and that became more apparent the more I got out and shot. But while researching, I noticed that most photographers were based somewhere and not in Galway. Then I found “Galway Pete,” whose work I fell in love with the moment I checked out his online portfolio. Maybe I’m still a newbie in terms of photography, but when I see someone’s work that I admire, I really do think, “Wow! I’d love to shoot around with this guy, see how they work, what equipment they use etc.” Again, despite how much I’ve learned online, I think there is something valuable about a hands-on approach to photography.

Watermarked_ConnemaraPS-5 Watermarked_ConnemaraPS-5

For anyone not familiar with Ireland, it’s not the easiest country to get around with a limited and expensive bus system. Apparently, in the past few years, the major motorways that were constructed amount to small roads back in America. These “improvements” don’t really do much in terms of increasing accessibility, but I guess they reduce the time between major urban areas, which are basically Dublin, Galway, and Cork. So finding a local “fixer” was a priority upon arriving here. After some re-tweeting, liking, and generic Twitter conversations, I had contacted Peter and set a date to go out and shoot Connemara. It might strike Americans as odd at how easy and familiar that process seems. But Ireland is such a small country that people really are who they say they are. That “have your guard up” mentality is quite unnecessary here; I guess it’s because communities are so tightly knit.

I didn't truly know what macro photography was until I got a chance to use Peter's 100mm macro lens! I didn't truly know what macro photography was until I got a chance to use Peter's 100mm macro lens!

We headed out of Galway into some pretty relentless rain. There are many attitudes that photographers can have when they interact. In some circles, unfortunately, I detect a lot of condescension, probably due to competition. But Peter was really comfortable with how he shot and was completely open to sharing his opinions on equipment, techniques, and his general philosophy when it comes to photography. I think it’s the last part that comes through in a face-to-face relationship. Sure, online you can view someone’s portfolio, and I guess ultimately, this is what matters if you want pictures. But it’d be pretty miserable if a bride’s wedding photographer was a jerk and ruined her day.

The money shot from the day. I knew these were the exact edits I wanted as I snapped away. The money shot from the day. I knew these were the exact edits I wanted as I snapped away.

I really got the best of both worlds: great photographer and Irishman. Having a local show you around is something I’ve recently learned to treasure after some extensive traveling. I’ve been reading up on art and photography and relationships are what the more keen artists denote as important in their process. Two pieces of advice that Peter shared with me, (and I hope he doesn’t mind me repeating!) really stuck out to me. The first was to never shoot what another photographer dictates as the right way. His wording didn’t really make this tip as much of an absolute that I am making it out to be. But if you’re motivated by someone else’s mindset, or anything other than your own internal drive, then are you really an artist? This is definitely different from motivation or a passive type of influence. But it brings me to his second point: amateurs have the potential to create better work than the pros. I thought this was an interesting tidbit, just because so many people incorrectly assume that the most expensive equipment, which presumably pros have better access to with their photo-related income, churn out the best shots. The relationships that many pros make are, well, professional. And that basically means the motivation is profession driven –ahem, money. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But it’s definitely in this category of online, virtual, and financial.

Watermarked_ConnemaraPS-13 Watermarked_ConnemaraPS-13

Despite the poor weather, I think Peter and I got a few good shots. I went a little crazy with the edits, just because Connemara itself is a really wild landscape. I want to give a huge (virtual) thank you to Peter for the nearly perfect day! Be sure to check out his website and to follow him on Twitter! If your work is great, you're bound to get a re-tweet at the very least.


(Had this post sitting as a draft. Thought I should go ahead and post it. Written on Monday, March 10th, 2014). So I have to write this from my iPhone since Internet isn't as easily accessible in Madrid as it is throughout Ireland--free wifi that is. But oh well, I have time to kill while I wait for my flight. There is something to be said about traveling alone. I think there's a bit of a stigma from a young American's perspective, or at least I get the vibe that there is one. I don't think that's the case for other backpackers from Europe, Asia, and Australia. Flying into Madrid was kind of like passing through the Pearly Gates. I had my face glued against the window as we flew over mountains and circled back to the city. Once inside the airport, it felt like I was going to the beach. The way people dressed was certainly geared for warm weather but there was a kind of touristy air to everyone's arrival. And yet again, another European country outdoes America in terms of security and passport lines! image (16) There's a bit of a constant theme in my posts lately about wanting to get lost. Well I didn't have to get physically lost in Madrid (though at one point I did circle around one area). The language barrier was enough of a challenge. Though to my surprise, I could understand this Spanish accent well compared to Mexican, or my Venezuelan room mates's, accents. And un/fortunately, everyone speaks English to some degree. But with the beard and carefully planned outfit, I wouldn't attract any attention to myself so that on several occasions, I was addressed in Spanish and was able to get away with simple "si" or "no" responses. But then there were other instances where my background in French and Latin actually hindered my pronunciation with generic Romantic rooted words like "chocolate;" I sounded like an idiot at la creperie, ironically, in Spain, with a French accent. Oh well! In many instances, people were understanding and just spoke back in English. I got into the city by a crowded bus. I was assuming Madrid would be the same size like Dublin and Amsterdam. I don't know the populations of any of the cities, but Madrid was noticeably larger with high rises and extended city limits. The spotty internet can only take you so far when you're in a foreign country. In trying to figure out where my hostel was in this astetically pleasing city, I just kind of winged it. A good sense of direction is better than reliance on the internet. So I wandered the streets with a general direction in my mind and eventually found where I was staying.  image (15) The hostel was pretty cool. It had this open roof atrium, a rooftop bar, and a neat lock system that was better than anything I've seen so far. (I was so much happier with this than my time in Belfast. And write as I typed this, some survey person was asking me about my trip here in Madrid. "Uh yea overall definitely a 9 or 10 out of 10," I just told her). Anyways, I was in a small but nice room. I met some awkward Aussie that came across as though there was a language barrier between us. We went for Indian food at his recommendation. Luckily I was able to find some other people that wanted to more Spanish-esque things later that night. Two guys from LA were backpacking throughout Europe and were spending their last night out in the Spanish fashion. We went for some delicious sandwiches with some sort of toasted cheese ball. The Spanish, regardless of age, go out no earlier than 22:30. So at midnight, this little sandwich place was packed full with 30 year olds. Throughout the weekend I noticed that the lighting in most establishments was quite bright compared to Irish pubs. I thought that related to the pace of nightlife: Irish go out earlier and the pubs close at 2 am. Spaniards start late and go out longer but consume alcohol at a slower rate. That first night, I didn't drink because Saturday was going to be a busy day. Plus the hostel room mates were catching an early train the next morning. Saturday was spent in Retiro Park and El Prado Museo. I saw a lot of famous artwork-I get carried away in some of those galleries, particularly the rooms with Romanticism and Naturalism. The prior seemed to be dominated by Spanish painters. I spent somewhere near four hours in there until my feet ached and I had seen ever room. I was tired and feeling quite lonely while walking through the park. I had no idea Madrid was the new Paris: everyone was kissing, embracing, sitting on each other. All age groups too, which was just  a matter of culture rather than teenage hormones. Tapas was the cure! I wanted to find a good place to experience this cuisine. I parked it at some restaurant where the young bartender gave me some free plate of jamon y queso. I think the Irish came out in me as I drained another beer; the alcohol isn't the main attraction at what would seem like an equivalent to America's happy hour. It's not like more beer meant more tapas as you might find with America and wings. But as I was sitting there, I was able to figure this all out. Europeans  definitely use their smartphones more reservedly than Americans. Like the Irish, Spanish people noticeably enjoy physical companionship in social settings. It's no surprise that me as the American happen to be sitting alone ad writing this on my smartphone...The smartphone epidemic really doesn't pervade into cultures that are rooted in such a way, much to my delight. Saturday night, I had two new roommates who were teaching English in northern Spain. One was a Texan, the other an Irishman. We went for those crepes I mentioned earlier at around midnight. They proceeded to invite me to their friends apartment somewhere outside of the city center. It may sound really wild for me to go out with random people. But if you're thinking that, you're coming at it from your biased American perspective. People aren't dangerous in Europe as they might be back in the States. Backpacking kids in the similar position as I was aren't some how predisposed to my prejudice that they're going to pose a threat. Plus, there were more Americans teaching English in Madrid who were at the apartment and locals who were getting degrees in higher education. So I had a blast meeting new faces aside from how crazy you might think I am ? The night somehow continued until the sun started to rise at 7:30. My day didn't start until I was figuring out how to get to a Real Madrid futbol match with one of my new Japanese room mates. I'm glad I got to experience that. Again, probably against the American train of thought, I found it pretty cool to see a sport that is played throughout the world exhibited at the highest level. Cristiano Ronaldo-no idea how much he makes but the fans were about to murder the poor bum that tripped him-scored right in front of me. The fans were wild to no one's surprise but the coordinate cheers and chants were really cool to listen to; there was only one or two that were repeated but for the most part, it was a symphony that went along with the match. The kid coordinating it all down near the goal was very much the maestro as he waved his hands around as he sang into the microphone. It was all in good taste until a lot of tripping occurred and no calls were made. I know there's that American view of soccer players as a bunch of pretty boy actors, and there was a degree of that, but this particular game saw I think somewhere near 10 yellow cards and 1 red card, a fight almost break out after some slapped another player, and the security guards number double as a result of it all. It was definitely more entertaining than watching it on TV and though I'm no a huge fan of the sport in America, it was clear that there was a well executed style of play by Real Madrid as they won 3-0. One of those points was scored accidentally by one Levante's players and good lord, the fans had to let him know he messed up! (I don't feel like typing any more since my flight is leaving. Sorry for only two panoramas. Looking to post some more normal photo-posts!)

Dust Spots, Self-Portraits, and More Posts

Well, my time here in Ireland has flown by and I am staring down the last month I have left abroad. In retrospect, my workflow didn't translate all too well when I started traveling, hence, I didn't have too many posts. What posts I did have were compromised of low-res iPhone shots. That's nice to an extent, but now I have a lot of work to catch up on, starting with the insane amount of RAW files I have sitting on a hard drive. Dust spots. I am incredibly angry at how many dust spots there are on my sensor. I was treating this used Canon 5D like a baby and was even using one of those nasal spray devices to clean the sensor with air and gravity...I know for a fact the dust wasn't from my lenses. So even after today's cleaning, I was still disappointed to find the usual suspects in the same spots. Any photographers out there know what I should do? I don't have any sufficient cleaning supplies, besides what I'd use on my lens.


I have been alone a whole lot on this trip, something I did not anticipate valuing as much as I do now. But in most cases, I didn't bring my bulky tripod. So in order to shoot these self-portraits, a new sub-genre I've become found of after visiting so many art museums throughout Europe, I had to prop my camera on whatever I could. Then, with the 10 second timer counting down, I'd have to dart to my desired position, with the focus locked on wherever my butt would be. For the above shot, I slipped into the lake a few times; even though the image was shot with a 50mm (close to what our eyes see), I think I was further away from the camera than it seems. So I really had to rush out before the timer went off and compose myself quickly.


Family members wanted me to be in some of the photos I was taking, but the awkwardly spaced iPhone selfie was not appropriate for what I wanted to capture. In both instances, these images were intended to portray the feeling got while being there instead of what the viewer him/herself sees when viewing the photograph.

With that being said, I'm looking forward to getting back to posting more routinely!

Easter Crowds in Prague

Prague has been the complete opposite from Vienna. I fell asleep on the bus and when I woke up, we had just crossed into the Czech Republic. I immediately noticed the different alphabet and constant advertisements for strip clubs, which inevitably allude to prostitution in this country. I thought the latter would be an inescapable issue as it had been in Amsterdam (and in Madrid). But I still haven't found myself in an area in downton Prague where there is that kind of smut. So in addition to the districting of Prague, I really liked the architecture and number of churches on almost every corner. Churches in Germany and Spain were beautiful and I always think that cathedrals and basilicas are extravagant to instill awe from the believer/visitor. But here in Prague, the churches are packed full of tourists who gape and take pictures of all the artwork. Even though America is plagued by technology and a subsequent need to be visually stimulated by a smartphone, I am very surprised and pleased to find that the visual beauty in churches, which were undoubtedly and initially intended to invoke certain emotions, still have that effect today! One of the churches, the Loreta, is thought to be a replica or some sort of mystical duplicate of the Santa Casa, the Virgin Mother's birth place. (I didn't go into this church because its staff was on its lunch break). But the folklore from the past still draws crowds which I think says something about a certain post modern view of religion. In this present age of science ad technology, which is almost inextricably (and erroneously, if I might add) associated to a condemnation of faith, believers or just simple tourists still marvel at the views. I think the same could be said about people in the past; they may have just wanted to look at the artwork, or even some relics, just simply because they existed in order that one might look at them. Churches aren't made for salvation, but they certainly have the power to move believers and tourists alike to experience something extraordinary. Even though people were improperly using DSLRs and camera phones to get pictures of the artwork, which annoys me to no end, I thought that the new technology of today distinguishes more clearly now than before that human beings have always been drawn to visual beauty, despite what post modern thinking says. The streets were packed in Prague. It was hard to get some shots without a huge crowd in the foreground. I did aim up above people a few times, so we will see how those shots come out on a bigger screen. A Brazilian from the hostel deduced from her travels that there are usually two cities, when situated closely to one another, juxtaposed and compared to each other. Sometimes it's a capital city and the artsy city, other times it could be a variety of characteristics that distinguish a region's culture. Madrid to Barcelona, Galway to Dublin, Interlaken to Bern/Zurich, and Prague to Vienna. Aside from Madrid, I prefer the non-capital cities. I know Prague and Vienna are from different countries, but most people are heading from one to the other if they're touring Europe. Vienna falls into the category that I've preferred: not the huge party scene, quieter, less of a tourist trap. Yet I really liked Prague, despite a lot of chain companies and a constant debauchery in the streets outside my hostel. I got out of the touristy area and liked it there even more! But the tourist attractions at the palace were really enjoyable and I didn't have to go very far to out walk the heavy crowds. I guess my only complaint was arriving right before Easter because the narrow, maze-like streets were fairly packed. Oh well! Had a great time there! (I don't have a lot of images in my iPhone, which is a good thing because it means I took a lot with my 5D! So I'll post those at some point...)





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