Searching the Maze of Math

A Haverford Professor’s search for bias in algorithms

 

By Audra Devoto

“I like this algorithm; it’s clever” Sorelle Friedler said to her Haverford College class, tilting her head back and admiring what looked to be a tangle of dots on the screen. The algorithm she was referring to could discern which two dots out of millions were closest to each other in the blink of an eye—clever indeed.

Algorithms, or computer programs designed to solve problems, are gradually becoming so sophisticated that referring to them with human qualities is not unwarranted. Now used to make decisions ranging from the advertisements we see to more sinister outcomes, such as the sentencing order a judge might hand down in court, algorithms are quietly and constantly affecting our daily lives.

Friedler is well aware of the power of algorithms. She has purposefully embedded them in her life by studying them in an academic context.

In an interview sandwiched between classes, labs, and meeting with thesis students, Friedler talked easily and with obvious ardor about her research on algorithms.

-- Sorelle Friedler

— Sorelle Friedler

After graduating from Swarthmore College, she attended graduate school at the University of Maryland, where she studied the algorithms that can be used to describe objects in motion. Then she left academia seeking a different kind of challenge: Google.

“It was a lot of fun to get to see inside the belly of the beast for a while,” she recalled almost wistfully. But she said doesn’t miss the corporate atmosphere.

“It doesn’t give the leeway necessarily to work on what you are interested in”, she said, “or to go off on a tangent that might not be related to the task at hand”.

Friedler worked in a semi-secret division of Google called simply ‘X’, on a project aiming to provide universal internet access through weather balloons. If it sounds crazy, well, that’s kind of the point.

“[X’s] goal is really to tackle moonshot problems” Friedler said. But ultimately, Friedler said, “I liked the autonomy of being a researcher in an academic environment.”

Friedler’s current work is a reflection of something that she cares about deeply: discrimination and bias. Continue reading

Studies in Black and White

A Puerto Rican photographer chronicles the ‘Negraluz’

 

By Ana Alvarez
For Sandra Andino, it is difficult pinpoint the exact moment she became fascinated with photography. “I remember being a child and there being hundreds of photographs at home,” she says. Her dad, “the photographer of the house” as Andino calls him, loved photography and decided to share his fascination with his daughter. By the age of seven, Andino had her own Kodak Instamatic: “I wanted to photograph everything: my classmates, things at home, etc.”

Sandra Andino

Sandra Andino

Andino, 50, is a cultural anthropologist and a Puerto Rican faculty member of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

She also specializes in black-and-white photography and is the founder of Negraluz Productions. Aside from Andino being an educator, Negraluz is her main artistic endeavor and photography project.

Negraluz’ aim is to “present and represent visual images of Latinos of African descent, heritage, and ancestry in a positive light as history makers of our community, society, and the world,” as Negraluz’ website describes its mission.

Andino chose to juxtapose the Spanish words “negra” or black and “luz” or light in order to signal that blackness can bring enlightenment and consciousness to those within the Afro-Latino community (a community that she is a part of) who are trying to reconcile with their identity:

“In Hispanic culture, there are many negative connotations when the word ‘negro’ or ‘negra’ is utilized,” said Andino. “I wanted to do sort of a play on words and juxtapose these two words to demonstrate how blackness can be an opening– a path. To me it meant that blackness is not a negative thing but something very positive that can create awareness.”

Within Puerto Rican culture, the term “black” is constantly utilized with negative Continue reading

English House Gazette 2015

Welcome to the English House Gazette, the news blog with content reported and written by students in Bryn Mawr’s ART264W News & Feature Writing class, which draws students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr.. We’ll begin with four stories focused on life at the two colleges.

Chloe Bellamio writes this year’s class project, a look at what Haverford and Bryn Mawr students thinks about their schools’ system of grading. An important part of the culture is not to speak publicly about grades. Does it work?

In the week before finals, Canaday Library opens its doors for 24 hours a day for Bryn Mawr students to study. Alison Robins spent a day and a night at Canaday and emerged with a funny and, at times, surreal story of life inside the library’s walls.

It isn’t easy being a female college in today’s co-ed world.  How does Bryn Mawr do it? The school this year had a record number of freshmen. Aliya Chaudhry explains how the school manages to swim against the tide.

Bryn Mawr has a large contingent of international students.  Being so far away from home — and the culture they grew up in — draws some of these students to religion. Fiona Redmond offers the tales of how four students from around the globe cope.

Even though her topic was procrastination, Phoung Nguyen turned her story in before the deadline. She writes a funny and insightful story on the fine art of waiting until later as practiced by college students.

Grading Our Grading System

Students admit to mixed feelings about how grades are handled 

By Chloé Bellamio 

As the second week of December comes to a close, the students of Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College seem to get busier by the minute. Holed up in the libraries or in their dorm rooms, they are hunched over heavy textbooks and squinting at their computer screens, learning various formulas and writing multiple papers.

Finals week is upon the 2,500 students of Bryn Mawr and Haverford, dragging along its fair share of stress and worry.

GRade AIt would be natural to assume that grades, and their anticipation, play a large role in this stress and worry, even though both colleges they do not emphasize grades and discourage their students against discussing them too much.  This is done in the name of creating a less stressful learning environment.

To test this theory, we conducted dozens of interviews with Bryn Mawr and Haverford students and also conducted an email survey of all students with the goal of getting a clear picture on what students’ think about the present system.

We got replies to the survey from 118 Bryn Mawr students and 332 Haverford students. This sample, representing about 10% of Bryn Mawr’s enrollment and 25% of Haverford’s, offers a good notion of the students’ thoughts on grades.

Here are our major findings:

  • Most Bryn Mawr and Haverford students do not think there is too much emphasis on grades and too much open competition over grades, but they think the competition is mostly internally driven.
  • If most Bryn Mawr and Haverford students come from competitive high schools, their high school experience mostly did not influence their choice to attend Bryn Mawr of Haverford. When it did, it was more because their high school encouraged them to look at top-level colleges than to escape grade competition.
  • While most students agree with the emphasis the colleges put on grades, for some students, the lack of insistence on grades make it more difficult to know where they stand academically compared to others.
  • Students from both colleges strongly dislike the fact that the 4.0 scale does not allow for an intermediate grade between 3.3 and 3.7, and want a 3.5 inserted.
  • While students have a lot of thoughts about the systems in place at Bryn Mawr and Haverford, they are not inclined to make many changes, if any.

The emphasis of both colleges on grades appears to be at the heart of the students’ perspectives on grades.

When asked to quantify the emphasis of their colleges about grades, 68% of Bryn Mawr respondents indicated it is “about right,” against 27% arguing there is too much emphasis on grades and 11% too little.

The results for Haverford indicate a slightly different view: 59% of the respondents believe grades are talked about enough, whereas 41% wish grades were more discussed.

Internal pressure

For Meredith Scheiring, a Bryn Mawr College junior, the perceived emphasis on grades depends on the individual.

“If grades are something that is important to you, you’ll see it influences more, she said.“I think there is a lot of pressure to do well, but I don’t think it equates to grades. I really don’t see people comparing numbers or letters per say… There is a level of competition and high expectation […] but I don’t see it specifically with grades.”GRade B

Bryn Mawr College senior Amy Callahan agrees that the emphasis put on grades by the college instills more of an

“internal competition” rather than setting up people to be “super-competitive with one another.” She added that it “creates a really intense energy, so [students] almost don’t need to be competing against other people”.

Continue reading

Canaday All Night and Day

A library open for all of finals fosters a (stressed) community.

By Alison Robins

             During finals week, students barricaded themselves on the site of the first Bryn Mawr College’s dean’s former home. For the next two weeks, the never-closed Canaday Library would be their office, dining hall, bathroom and bedroom.

Canaday, one of three libraries at Bryn Mawr, remains open continuously from the Monday of the last week of classes to the end of finals every winter semester. For some, the open-access to the study space and information trove is a blessing.

For others, it is a necessary curse.

“It’s a narrative of misery,” said Bridget Murray, a junior and a student worker for the circulation desk. “People don’t leave.”

In the wee hours of a Wednesday morning, Canaday was the great equalizer. The library could have been full of complete strangers, yet everyone had a similar story to tell: one of exhaustion and stress. Few escaped its hold—that is, until the morning light.

12:20 a.m.—“Wait, it’s 24-hour Canaday?”

The Lusty Cup café, located in the basement of the library, was abuzz with over 20 students as Tuesday turned to Wednesday.

All heads turned toward the door every time it opened to see who entered. Then, just as suddenly, the students would return to their homework, finals and Facebook.

“Wait, is 24-hour Canaday in session?” Asked Nehel Shahid, a sophomore. “Already? Sweet.”

Studying for Finals, Bryn Mawr circa 2011

Studying at Bryn Mawr circa 2011

Shahid’s confusion was understandable as the Lusty Cup, referred to as Lusty by students, was always open throughout the semester. The café aspect of the Lusty Cup—a student barista manning various coffee machines in a corner—was only open Sundays through Thursdays from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Shahid had just arrived, hoping not to pull an all-nighter. Last night, she stayed until 7 a.m.

“I’m more productive at night,” said Shahid. “It works for me.”

Her table, also occupied by two other students in this packed café, was covered in papers, computers and peanut M&M’s. One piece of candy flew from her hand to my face.

“Whoops, it’s that time of night,” she laughed.

Isabella Dorfman, a junior, was also unaware that 24-hour Canaday had started the night before. Her goal this semester? Not to watch the sun rise.

“That was awful,” she said, reflecting on her previous all-nighters. Yet, there she was, sitting at one of the available computers in Lusty.

“There’s a rhythm going in the room when it quiets down,” said Dorfman. She spoke about how the rhythm makes it easy to concentrate and get work done.

There are other benefits to the night owl environment: community.

“You don’t feel so alone,” she added. A beat. “That’s so sad-sounding.”

* * *

            Walking through Canaday in the middle of the night was like being on a journey through a never-ending labyrinth. You must weave through stacks of decades-old books, dodge the odd carrel filled with tea and, sometimes, you locked eyes with another lost soul and felt a connection as if you two were the last people in existence.

Hidden in the back of the basement stacks, past Vietnam-era change machines, Bara’ Almomani, a senior, was passed out with her head on her laptop.

“I’m almost done…with my methods,” said Almomani, who perked up when she heard the approach of another human. She was working on her biology thesis, which was due the next day.

Behind her were whispering women seated at large tables. The table was covered in laptops, notebooks, papers, binders and drinks—in closed vessels, as is Canaday protocol. All their respective jewelry—bracelets, watches and rings—was off on the side. Nothing could interfere with their typing speed.

Committing to 24-hour Canaday meant avoiding all distractions: a difficult task, considering to leave even this floor, students must walk past tempting DVDs of distracting movies and television shows.

Placebo drunks

The library definitely had a different vibe during 24-hour Canaday, no matter the hour of day, according to its nocturnal student employees.

Kelsey Rall, a junior, worked at the circulation desk on the first floor. According to her, there were at least four times as many patrons in the library.

She would know: student workers must occasionally go through all five floors of the library to check for students and wake them up if they are unconscious.

Studying in Canaday circa 1970's

Studying in Canaday circa 1976

The difference between the Canaday of finals and the Canaday of the rest of the semester was not just its operating hours, but student attitude.

“People are acting more tired and more delirious than usual,” said Rall, no matter the time. When she was working, it was around 1 a.m., a time at which the library is normally still open. Typical weekday hours are 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Rall likened the student sentiment during 24-hour Canaday to that of when children are given grape juice but are told it is wine. They act drunk, though technically they are not.

Kelsey Peart, a senior and a Help Desk student technician, had a more positive outlook on 24-hour Canaday.

“I like it,” said Peart. “I am getting paid to do homework right now.” Though the first floor was packed with students, no one was coming up to her for tech advice.

As most of the Canaday employees were also students, Peart noted, “I’d be here otherwise,” in reference to the work she had to do this finals week.

Though the Special Collections department was closed and the reference librarians had gone home, the Help Desk, almost equally unneeded, remained open.

“No one needs their passwords changed, I guess,” said Peart.

* * *

            Mimi Gordor, a junior, was leaving the library…for now. She was coming back.

“I am in my day clothes and I need to be more comfortable to be more effective in my studies,” said Gordor.

Gordor lived on campus, so she could in theory just study in her room. But rooms have beds, and that was no good for her.

“My friend wanted to study, and I feel more productive when I am in Canaday for some reason?” Gordor said, her voice rising on the last word. “Just not seeing my bed is good for my study life.”

Was tonight an all-nighter in the making? Gordor was not sure.

“I will stay until the work gets done,” she said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the work so…until I’m fully satisfied that I have at least 70% of what I came to do done, I’m not leaving.”

Gordor had a portfolio due at the University of Pennsylvania in 15 hours. She was just going to stay and work on it until they kicked her out of the library—she did not know 24-hour Canaday was in session.

“Yeah, I was just going to wing it,” she laughed.

“Quiet” floor

As students entered the third floor of the Canaday library, M. Carey Thomas haunted their very souls. That is, a bust of her face stared at student’s backs as they walked through the doors separating the stairs from the stacks.

One student sat in the stacks studying as the hours ticked on. She would not leave that spot the whole night.

Continue reading

Finding Their Religion

How religion helps international students connect 

By Fiona Redmond                                                                                                  

Bryn Mawr College offers a unique melting pot of students from all over the world.

International students come from all over the globe—from Turkey, to Kenya, to Vietnam—to study in America, bringing with them new traditions and perspectives.

Religious life on campus reflects the students’ various backgrounds, and each student uses religion in a different way: for personal comfort, to stay connected to home, or to start building communities of their own.

These are the lives of four international Bryn Mawr students, each coming from vastly different parts of the world, and how religion helped them create a new life in America.

Aliya Chaudhry

“Home country?” asks Aliya Chaudhry, Bryn Mawr class of 2018. “I’ll just go through the list.”

Chaudhry’s passport was well used even before she was 10 years old. Born in the U.K., Chaudhry has lived in the Britain, Pakistan, New York City, and Kenya, all before coming to America for college.2000px-Star_and_Crescent_svg

Chaudhry lived in the U.K. for two years, before moving to Pakistan until she was four. Despite this short stay, Pakistan is the only country that Chaudhry has citizenship from, and the country that both of her parent’s grew up in. Chaudhry then moved to New York City for five years, before moving to Nairobi, Kenya, where she has lived up until coming to college.

Her father works in Somalia, but Nairobi is what she calls her family’s “home base”, and where her mother, father, and sister live while Chaudhry’s at school.

All this moving around effected how Chaudhry viewed her connection to Islam. “Because I moved around so much I didn’t really have much of a culture.” She said. “Religion in a lot of ways substituted for that.”

And, according to Chaudhry, coming to Bryn Mawr has helped further this connection to her religion. In Kenya, Chaudhry is part of what she calls an “interesting situation”—a strong minority of Muslims and other expats living in a country that has a Christian majority. In fact, Chaudhry felt that religion in general was looked down on at her high school.

However, after coming to Bryn Mawr, Chaudhry has found a community within the Muslim Student Association (MSA), for which she is the club publicist, and other Muslims on campus.

“Recently, I’ve taken a more active role in my religion.” she said.

According to Chaudhry, the MSA focuses more on community building rather than actual prayer. She would like to see discussions of religion and Friday night dinners to increase in the future.

Chaudhry doesn’t mind that the MSA members don’t actively worship together; she has always felt religion was a more private affair. She and her family used to pray together, and since coming to college Chaudhry still finds it easy to take time from her day-to-day life at Bryn Mawr to worship. She prays in between classes, in her room, and even took a renewed interest in reading the Qur’an.

“Being around more Muslims and having that space to talk about [religion] did make me more invested in religion.”

According to Chaudhry, being away from her family made her feel lost at sea, looking for some kind of connection to be grounded in.

“I was feeling alone and I needed something to connect to” she said, recalling how she felt her first few months of living abroad. “It’s like, spiritually, needing that connection.”

Chaudhry says she feels more comfortable practicing religion at Bryn Mawr, but there is still a cultural unawareness about Islam that permeates the campus,

“And that can be a little awkward.” she said sheepishly.

But that doesn’t stop her from having a positive and optimistic attitude about the future of the MSA and Muslim community at Bryn Mawr.

“It’s a really good community.” she said with a smile.

Fiona Benmayor

Fiona Benmayor, a Bryn Mawr senior, talked quickly and concisely. When she wasn’t gesticulating with her hands, she would pause a moment for breath, and to take a bite of her sandwich. She’s the embodiment of “places to go, people to see,” yet still devotes time and passion to the tasks in front of her.

And that passion is clearly transferred to her religious beliefs, and her love for her native country, Turkey.jewish-symbols-image

Benmayor grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, before moving to Boston, Massachusetts with her family when she was 15. According to Benmayor, they moved to America for the better education system, mostly for her younger brother, who has learning disabilities.

In Turkey, Benmayor is one in about 17,000 Jewish people who live in a country that has a population of almost 75 million people, according to the World Bank.

“We were such a small community that we all knew one another, and that made us very traditional.” said Benmayor, remembering her life in Istanbul.

It was her family’s Jewish identity that helped them settle when first coming to America, connecting them to a new community of Jewish people away from home. Although it was difficult to retain the same religiosity that they did in Turkey, the Benmayor’s still used their Jewish roots to stay close as a family.

Continue reading

Read This Now!

On second thought, it can wait ’til later

By Phuong Nguyen

 “Procrastination is like a credit card. It’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”

— Christopher Parker

It was 12 a.m. on a cold December night. In a small dark room in the basement of Bryn Mawr College’s Erdman dormitory and Tran has been staring at the blank Word Document for two hours.

Her heart was beating fast. Her greasy 3rd-day hair was tied up in a messy potato-like bun. Clothes and papers were scattered over the floor. Banana peels and a dining hall take-out box with half of the pizza left sat sadly in the corner of the room.

After spending the whole week finishing season one of Gossip Girl on Netflix, sending tons of snapchats, texting endlessly with her friends about the fact that she was not doing anything, scrolling over and over and remembering every new story on all social media pages, Linh Tran ‘17 finally ran out of ways to procrastinate and found herself stuck, panicking and mentally dying over the five-page paper that was due in nine hours.

The majority of college students would share the “been there, done that” sympathy with Tran’s situation.

Procrastinating 101

According to a research, procrastination has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years while another suggests that 85-95% of students have problems associated with procrastination.overcoming-procrastination

“I think everybody procrastinates, just at different levels and procrastination is actually very contagious,” said Stephanie Cao, a Bryn Mawr sophomore. “When my friend sitting next to me chooses to go on Yik Yak over writing her paper, I can continue watching makeup tutorials on YouTube instead of studying without feeling guilty.”

Adds Mai Hoang, a freshman:“I procrastinate so much that now I accept that procrastinating is a part of the process. When I plan for doing an assignment, I set aside a few hours for doing nothing before I actually get down to it.”

Walking around the library at night in finals week, it’s not hard to spot the Facebook logo on some computer screens, catch some people glued to their phones or see a group of procrastinators with tired faces complaining about work instead of doing work in a corner.

If procrastination is a subject, most college students should all get A for their unlimited creativity for ideas how to delay doing work.

Yinlu Gong, a sophomore, was very excited to talk about her most favorite distractor of all time – Hay Day game on her iPhone.

“I always started promising myself I will just log in for five minutes and harvest what I planted the previous day,” she confessed. “But most of the time I ended up spending hours working on how many more cows and vegetables I need in order to earn the most money as a farmer, instead of doing my microeconomics problem set on profit maximization.”

Some other nominees for the best procrastinating idea award include: “practicing my autograph believing I’ll need it when I’m famous”, “stalking Facebook of my primary-school friends to see who gained weight”, “scrolling through 50 pages of Forever 21 new arrivals and adding tons to shopping cart but never actually buying anything”, “going through every single picture in the camera roll and feeling nostalgic about the time when I don’t have a deadline”, etc.

Procrastination’s consequences, however, are not fun at all.

Freshman Mai Hoang admitted “I become anxious so badly when the deadline comes closer and that decreases the quality of my work a lot. I really want to cure my procrastinating habit, but I don’t know how.”

A recent research with a sample size of 374 undergraduates found that students who put things off were more likely to eat poorly, sleep less and drink more than students who do things promptly.

Out of 2,700 responses to the question “To what extent is procrastination having a negative impact on your happiness” in an online survey by The Procrastination Research Group, 46% said “very much” or “quite a bit”, while 18% chose “extreme negative effect.”

The World of Procrastinators Continue reading

Woman, Teacher, Poet, Muslim

The many aspects of Dilruba Ahmed

By Labonno Islam        

Dilruba Ahmed has multiple identities.

Every Monday and Wednesday of this past fall semester at Bryn Mawr College, she briskly walked into her Writing Poetry I class, her hands full of papers, ready to help her students write poems and become better creative writers.

But, Ahmed isn’t just a teacher or an educator. She is a complex, multi-faceted individual, and no single word can define her: Professor. Woman. Mother. Wife. Sister. Daughter. Muslim. Bangladeshi-American. Published poet.

She embodies all of these things and much more.

Ahmed was born in the early 1970s in Philadelphia but spent most of her childhood in a rural town in Ohio. Soon after she started high school, she moved to an area in western Pennsylvania about an hour north of Pittsburgh. She attended the University of Pittsburgh after she graduated from high school with a major in creative writing. After finishing her undergraduate career, she got her Master of Arts in teaching at Pittsburgh as well.

She spent the rest of her young adulthood in California, primarily working in education. Later, she worked as a project manager at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, an organization that helps teachers to reflect on their actions as educators.

Later, when she finally had the time to focus on her creativity again, she received her Master of Fine Arts in writing at Warren Wilson College.

Now, almost nine years later, she’s in the outskirts of the city she was born in, living in

Dilruba Ahmed

Dilruba Ahmed

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

Ahmed is petite and has big brown eyes. Her dark hair, sometimes down in a bob, is now in a short ponytail. She delicately gestures with her hands when she speaks, the sleeves of her gray blazer slightly falling and revealing her thin wrists. She has a sweet smile that spreads to her cheeks and a laugh that reads across her heart-shaped face. Her voice is not too low or too high, but rises and falls, depending on the subject of conversation.

Ahmed may be a published poet and professor now, but when she first started college, she planned to add another aspect to her identity: medicine.

“As an undergrad, I was planning to major in both creative writing and be pre-med, of my own volition though,” Ahmed says, laughing slightly. “Everyone always assumed it was because my parents were South Asian and that they expected me to be like this, this or this.”

She often responded to these assumptions by stating how she wasn’t being pressured to become a doctor, but that she wanted “to do something that gave back” to society.

She describes how she pursued that track for three years, and was “probably just a few credits away from actually completing…the degree.”

“But in the end…I realized it wasn’t actually the path I wanted to take,” Ahmed says. “The people that I later interacted with loved science; they breathed it, they lived it and a lightbulb went off in my head and I remember realizing ‘Oh, that’s how I feel about writing.’”

Although she realized her passion for writing late into her college career, Ahmed was not a stranger to it. Continue reading

The Making of a Micro-Brewery

How one family went from brewing 5 gallons to 220 gallons of beer

By Ryan Gooding

Micro-breweries often conjure up a certain mental image: dimly lit, barrels disguised as tables, un-recognizable indie music wafting down from the house speakers – an almost hipster aesthetic.

The Crooked Eye Brewery defies those stereotypes.

Set back off of the main drag in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, the Crooked Eye sits quietly tucked adjacent to Silvio’s Deli and behind the Davidian Tattoo Studio.

Above the un-marked, windowless door — that looks more like a back-door than a main entrance, sits a sign: “Crooked Eye Brewery: For What Ales You”.

The brewery is not imposing, nor is it flashy.

Pulling the door open reveals, a large, fluorescently lit, almost colorless space.  Along the wall opposite the entrance, is the bar itself – completely normal save for its bare plywood side walls and white cinderblock backsplash.

“It’s brand new,” says co-owner Paul Hogan, gesturing towards the bar, “we just expanded it a couple weeks ago . . . big improvement over what it used to be.”

Hogan stretches out his arms, as if to demonstrate the size of the previous bar.

“Couldn’t have been much more than six or eight feet long,” he clarifies.  “Only sat three.”

Now, the L-shaped bar runs for nearly 20 feet and seats 13.

Crooked EyeAcross from the bar are four stainless steel tables – the kind of tables that might easily be confused with workbenches – and dozens more matching stools.

A garage door immediately to the left of the entrance serves not only as the bar’s only window during the winter time, but also as a makeshift outdoor bar in the summer months.

The floors are concrete, and dotted with industrial, floor-level drains.  The walls are unpainted, and almost completely devoid of hanging accoutrement.

“We’re going on our third year in the space,” Hogan said one recent Wednesday evening, during a visit to Crooked Eye, “and it’s never not been a work in progress.”

I’m not surprised.  Save for the bar itself, you might easily mistake the place as a workshop.

But, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

Continue reading

The Last Picture Store

Ardmore’s Viva Video is a blast from the past

By Marcelo Jauregui

Monday: Dec. 7, 2015: 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

Mere seconds have passed from the official store-opening time, and a customer has already pulled up in front of the back entrance of Ardmore’s Viva Video: The Last Picture Store.

Following right behind her is a man and child. Both walk briskly. The man’s shoulder-length hair is visible from a distance. He holds his son’s hand, pulling him along towards the store.

The woman hands Miguel Gomez an encased DVD before driving away. Gomez opens up the store and walks inside with his five-and-a-half year old son, Ash. Ash stays at the store with his father Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. when he gets dropped off at Kindergarten.

Ash runs around the store yelling excitedly about the large pile of movies that were

Miguel Gomez of Viva Video

Miguel Gomez of Viva Video

dropped off overnight. Gomez plugs in an auxiliary chord into his 4th generation iPod classic. Rock music immediately erupts from speakers around the store. Gomez helps Ash bring in the returned movies onto the counter.

“Oh, this one looks pretty cool,” says Ash.

“What’s that one?”

“Salamander?”

A huge smile runs over Gomez’s face. “How did you read that? Did you sound that one out? That’s the longest words you’ve ever sounded out, Ash!”

Ash takes me on a tour around the store. The store is somewhat divided into three spaces: one facing the parking lot, one facing the counter (this would be the middle of the store), and one facing Lancaster Avenue. The first space contains the DVDs on sale; the second, new releases; the third, everything else. The movies people ordered are in shelves behind the counter. Movie posters run throughout the store. Behind the counter are rankings written up on white boards and chalkboards: “Best Reviewed New Releases,” “Last Week’s Top Rentals.”

Salsa music is now playing as Ash shows me around. The first place he takes me to is the horror section. “I never watched this one, but my favorite one is probably The Evil Dead because my name is Ash.” Ash is the name of the main character of that film. Ash then leads me to the kids’ section. “I’m here a lot,” says Ash. He pulls out a few of his favorites: Garfield, Charlie Brown, G-Force. Ash points to a Harry Potter movie, questioning why it was in the kids section. We then start to talk about Harry Potter. “I have two of the books, but I didn’t read them because I don’t like books with no pictures,” states Ash.

We walk back to the counter. Before arriving, Ash quickly turns around and says, “Oh, one more thing, there are 14,000 movies here!”

Gomez chuckles. “I didn’t know he knew how many movies we had. He is correct.”

“You told me!”

“I know Ash! You have such a good memory, much better than mine.”

Ash goes to color near the back entrance. Gomez rushes over to the phone and answers. On the other line is a representative from The Ardmore Initiative, a business development bureau that provided Gomez with a job creation grant when he opened Viva Video.

Three years later, and Gomez is still keeping the place running. He is at the store Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 10.p.m. The store is open from 11a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. When Gomez is not working, his two partners in crime, Dan and Bryan, are at the store.

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