Back To School… Again!

Last year, around this time, I wrote an article about going back to school. If you read that, you might remember that I was beginning my first year of middle school, and that I was excited, but nervous.

Well, it’s that time of year again, but this year, it’s not my first year of middle school… so I kind of know what’s going on. For instance, you might recall that I was slightly nervous about switching classes — that I might be late, etc. This year though, I already know that it works fine.

But that’s not the only example. Things like advisory (our version of what might have been ‘homeroom’ for you) and PA (performing arts) class won’t be new to me.

Strangely enough, one year later, some of those things are what I’m most looking forward to. Either it’s a coincidence, or there’s a perfectly good reason for that irony that I’m just not seeing.

But there’s still going to be new things, and I’m kind of nervous for those (although that’s not terribly surprising). That’s things like my teachers, our new units, new schedules, etc.

But then there’s also things that have always been the same — things like my classmates, the underlying principles of how my school works, and even just knowing my way around. Those are, to me, my “safe zone” — if you will. I know how those things work and I’m comfortable with them.

These are perhaps my favorite part of returning to school because I’m more comfortable with them than any other part.

Overall, I’m really excited to be going back to school. I love school because it’s so much fun, and we learn a ton. Maybe that’s what is really the best part!

What was your favorite part of returning to school? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below.

3,024,000 Seconds

3,024,000 seconds. 50,400 minutes. 840 hours. 35 days. 5 weeks.

Many of you may have noticed that I haven’t been writing a ton recently. Why? Because I’ve been spending the above amount of time away, at camp (although not contiguously). Why am I writing about this?

Well, this is an addition to the topic I’ve been writing about recently: growing up (here are  the links to my first and second articles about this). Another part of growing up that may not continue when you’re a full adult is staying away from home for an extended period of time without people you know and love (such as your parents).

As with a lot of kids my age, right now is one of the biggest times when that will happen — because of camps.

I know that personally, I’ve done a total of three camps this summer — two two week programs and a one week. Especially with the two week camps, I’ve felt this strange emotion at drop-off and pick-up. What was it? I’m not quite sure.

It almost felt like a mix of pride, sadness, and, well, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I probably felt this unknown emotion as I realized what I was doing: growing up.

What about during the camps? It was different — very different — from life here in Chapel Hill. I was managing my own money, I was remembering to brush my teeth, I was in charge of my own choices in terms of food, etc. It’s just so different than normal life — in a way it was almost scary but not so scary that I didn’t have fun doing it.

Like I’ve been talking about, it felt both good and bad — I was growing up, but I was growing up — if that makes any sense. I certainly enjoyed myself while I was away for those 3,024,000 seconds, but, at the same time, it felt like an eternity, having only done this a few times.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that this is yet another part of growing up – which means it’s both good and bad. I love it but I hate it. It’s… bittersweet, for lack of a better word.

When you were growing up, did you have this experience? Did you enjoy it? What are your other thoughts on this topic? Let me know in the comments below.

Looking Back at the History of the Personal Computer

When we look back to the first personal computer – the Apple I – we do not see today’s machines. What we see is the beginning of the first great age of computers. The Apple I sparked other companies to start producing personal computers. For instance, Microsoft licensed a copy of its Windows operating system to IBM, which made the IBM PC. Then, you look at today and see iMacs, MacBooks, and PCs. How did we get from there to here?

Way back in the 1970’s, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (“Woz”) started Apple Computer, Inc. The company produced many units of the new computer called Apple I. It sold without a case, keyboard, or screen – you had to buy your own. Soon, the company started to grow, and made its second computer, unsurprisingly called the Apple II. This machine became really popular.

Photo from

Around this time, some new competition started filtering into the market – most notably, the IBM PC. It was cheap – which, of course, people loved. Then, Apple released a breakthrough in personal computers. Most certainly, the biggest new feature was the graphical user interface, where some kind of pointing device moves around and interacts with other objects on the screen. You guessed it: in 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh.

Almost immediately, it gained lots of fame. But soon it lost its sparkle, it was under-powered and overpriced. Next, of course, Steve Jobs was fired from Apple. This left the door right open for Windows PC makers to become the top personal computer producers. Apple continued to decline, and Microsoft rose to be the king of the personal computer market.

As you may or may not know, Jobs went on to work at Pixar and NeXT.  Fast forward a while, and Apple bought NeXT, bringing Jobs back to Apple. He went on to rise to CEO and work with some amazing people to create some amazing products, like the iMac.

Well, there you have a basic history of personal computers. Ending, of course, with today’s powerful machines that we can’t live without. It’s an interesting story, one with ups and downs for both Apple and Microsoft.

But, as Steve Jobs liked to say, There’s One More Thing.

Well, rather, two more things: When someone says computer to you, you think of desktops and laptops, right? But a new great age of the personal computer is coming in: the post-PC era. That means things like tablets and smartphones.

Yeah, you read that right. Tablets and smartphones are personal computers. Well, think about it. People are starting to use those devices like they once did (and sometimes still do) use their computers.

So tablets and smartphones – they’re already the next era of the personal computer.

Are you ready for the next era of personal computers?

High Score! My Take on Video Games

Video games. Those are the two favorite words of most kids. Your kids seemingly can sit in front of a Wii, Xbox, Nintendo DS, and so on, for the whole day. Now think back to the days when your weekends were spent with your nose in a book, at a soda fountain with your friends, or playing various sports. Compare the two pictures in your head. You’re both having the same amount of fun, so what is different?

Well, from personal experience, I can tell you (and I bet you’ve seen this too) that gamers are less social, don’t have as good manners, and in general are less fun to be around. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t play games on my iPad – I most certainly do, and I’m sure most of you have a fun game that you like to play on your iPhone, iPad, Android, whatever.

I’m talking about kids who come home after school and instantly sit down in front of their device. Kids for whom you must enforce homework. Kids for whom you must encourage to read books. Books especially. Everyone has a favorite book, one that, once you start reading, you can’t keep your nose out of. They are great pleasures and everyone should get to experience that. Video games, while fun and entertaining, can sometimes block out other fun things like great books (for serious gamers).

But that barricade isn’t just for books. As I mentioned earlier, socially, I believe they have a negative effect. Gamers get so focused on Mario or whatever, and not on whomever they’re talking to, eating with, whatever. It’s impolite, and it’s a bad habit for life. Put very simply, it’s not nice. You don’t get a job having bad manners! Pretty much what I’m trying to say is, video games often get in the way of life.

School seems to get lost sometimes too. Instead of getting home and doing homework, whether math, social studies or language arts, they’ll come home and play their new video game. Then you have a problem. If you don’t do your schoolwork, you get bad grades. If you get bad grades, then you don’t get into college. If you don’t get into college, then you don’t get a job. It’s like the social thing; you won’t get a job.

So, what to do about video games? It’s a question whose answer is wanted by everyone: How should you use and limit these sometimes obnoxious but fun games.

iPad 3rd Generation

Hi there! I’m Josh Leffler – the son of the person who writes the $avvy $pender column and the person who co-owns 1360/97.9 WCHL and I’m 10 years old and, at this time, am going into fifth grade. I love sushi, Apple Inc., and Chapel Hill.
I’m a big technology fan, so I’ll be writing about it a lot. But I’ll also be more general, for instance covering things like movies, books, events, etc. I’m also open for suggestions for topics, and you can post those in the comments, and I’ll consider them for a future topic.
But there are many people who write about those kinds of things, so why is my column any different? Well, most of those other people are writing from the perspective of, well, themselves, and so am I, but my perspective is from the eyes of a 10-year-old, unlike the other people, who are all writing from the point of view of an adult.
Now, I don’t have anything against those columns, I’m just trying to show you how I’m different. I’m hoping to:

  • Interest you with the same thing that others are writing about, but from a younger perspective.
  • Point things out to you that you may not have seen from an adult perspective.
  • Help you understand what younger people (at least this younger person) think(s) about a certain topic.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to accomplish that in most of my articles, and I hope that you will be interested enough to keep reading my posts. Anyway, that’s it for now, and I hope you enjoy my first article!
Oh, and thanks to KPO Photo for the photo of me that appears at the top of every post!

First off, let me say that I am a complete Apple geek. Most definitely. So when the new iPad was announced, I was really happy. But that was a while ago.  I would love to sit here and talk about it all day, but I am writing from “A Kid’s View”. So, from the point of view of a ten-year-old, here’s my view on the iPad.

My school is slowly integrating iPad 2 into the curriculum. Now, I own an original iPad, so this was really my first time using an iPad 2. (I had seen and briefly explored the iPad 2 before, but not like this.) So as I launched the app that we were using to create our presentation, I was startled by how fast it seemed. I thought, “Wow! I don’t know how anybody could top this!”

Well, Apple did.

I have also used a 3rd generation iPad, and I’m thinking that if I had been younger, it would have seemed almost as magical as the world of Harry Potter. I also know that, to many kids, the iPad is what they can use to gain understanding of the world around them. That, to me, is even more important than processing power or memory.

Now let me ask you a question: Have you ever seen anything so amazing that it seems unreal? Has (if you’re a parent) your young child ever been so amazed that they pointed their finger and said, “Mommy/Daddy, that’s magic!” to you? It always happens eventually, and whether you are witnessing the beauty of the Eiffel Tower or the magic of the iPad, it’s a rare and precious moment.

Now, I’d like to get to my favorite part – just talking about the new iPad and how it works. First off, the retina display really does make an impression on you. Viewing a picture on and off the high-resolution screen, there really is a noticeable difference. The new cameras are amazing, although the iPad still does make for an awkward camera. The front-facing camera and Photo Booth is terribly fun, though (especially with the silly effects, which will make your kid laugh). Dictation is really convenient sometimes, except it is weird to have to say, “Hello. Period. How are you? Question mark.”

I’m going to use a whole paragraph on the processor. That’s how geeky I am. The A5X chip inside the iPad makes it among the best gaming platforms out there. The graphics are just stunning. Part of that is the fact that the more powerful chip allows for breathtaking detail in the foreground and background, which allows you to delve deep into your game.

So that’s “A Kid’s View” on the new iPad. I’d love to hear your opinions of it. Just comment below.

How to Photograph Tweens

A tween is the stage between middle childhood and adolescence, so from roughly 9 to 12 years of age.  This can be an awkward stage as tweens bodies and minds are changing rapidly in fits and starts. They are not little children and are not yet teenagers. They are busy transitioning in mental, emotional, hormonal and physical ways. My own daughter, Amira, is at this stage. Sometimes she is still my little girl and other times she epitomizes sassiness. I joke that if she continues to roll her eyes at me they might just get stuck that way!

Recently I was asked to photograph a tween named Josh Leffler, who is beginning middle school next year. His parents, Donnabeth and Barry, realized that they had many portraits taken of Josh when he was younger but had slacked off in recent years. Many families fall into this trap! They record every moment of their child’s early years and then don’t photograph them again until they are about to graduate from high school. What about all of those years in between? So, I thought I would write some helpful hints on how to photograph tweens.

Collaborate with the Tween

Before I even came to photograph Josh I asked his mom to consult him about what he wanted to do for his portrait.  I made it clear that this would be best if we all collaborated. He decided that he would like to have his everyday home life and hobbies documented. Even at his young age he realized that this would be an important document that he would look back on as an adult. Before we even began photographing, Josh led me on a tour of his domain. His mom stayed busy at the computer, leaving us alone to talk. The most important work of this portrait involved talking and getting to know Josh, rather than immediately diving into photographing him and ordering him around.  Josh came up with the idea for the photo above. Love it!

Speak to the Tween like They are an Adult

If you have ever met Josh Leffler, you might think he is an adult in a boy’s body. So intelligent and charming! Tweens respond well to adults who speak to them with respect rather than talking down to them. This was not hard to do with Josh as he is so well spoken. We talked about photography, computers and literature. He admires Steve Jobs and loves to read. He even has started an information technology from his Mac. The photos above are an homage to his idol.

Try to Avoid Posing

Even when I was going in for a more traditional portrait I lightly directed Josh to move around. He and I chose a spot with pretty scenery and nice light and I asked him to turn to the side then look at me. Once they stop moving that first frame you quickly snap is crucial! After they are posing for just a second they start to look staged and stiff. I wanted to capture him like he really is, not with a canned smile. So I had him keep moving around. I told him I was trying to figure out which was his best side.

Don’t Forget Mom and Dad

While your tween is busy changing, you are, too. When your child has grown to be an adult they will want to see their loving parents in photographs as well. Don’t worry if it is a bad hair day or if you don’t feel like it, just jump in there. Both Donnabeth and Barry were more than happy to get in a photo with Josh. No arm twisting here. This whole process took less than an hour. A tween’s attention span is longer than a toddler’s but don’t push it! Now get out there and document your lovely tween before you blink your eyes and they are off to college.

Thanks for reading! I am always looking for great photo stories to tell in the Chapelboro area. If you know of someone or something that should be documented please write to me at