article, writing tips

A Writer’s Guide to Coronavirus Quarantine Life

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Life, Disrupted

By now we realize that Coronavirus has disrupted nearly everyone’s daily lives.

Whether you are self-quarantined, or just social distancing, it can be very tough to keep your creativity and writing output up. It seems counter-intuitive. Writers all over the globe are exactly where we should be right? In front of our keyboards. But any combination of health & financial stress, working from home, caring for children, and home schooling is absolutely disruptive and exhausting. It can make you just want to curl up into a ball and not write or do ANYTHING creative at all.

I’ve been home for about two weeks now. When I received my work from home announcement, I thought whoa, so much writing opportunity! and I was completely wrong. I wasn’t even able to utilize my usual lunch breaks to get words in anymore. This combined with feelings of anxiety and even mild depression from isolation (I’m one of those weird extrovert writers) tanked my output. This past week however, I carefully managed a routine, and it has helped quite a bit. My word count is up, and most importantly, so are my spirits. Here’s what I’ve been doing. Everyone’s situation is different right now, so these may not work for you, but I hope they might help some of my readership out.

Continue reading “A Writer’s Guide to Coronavirus Quarantine Life”

review

French Bull Clip On Book Light by WITHIT – Review

Ah, the humble reading light. Such a simple device in theory, but so nuanced in execution.

I’m on a perpetual quest for the perfect reading light. As someone who cannot let go of physical books (although I love my Kindle) I need a light for night reading. The lamp on my nightstand is OK, but often I want to fall asleep and it’s simply too much.

I’ve gone through bunch of clip-on lights, and many of them had significant drawbacks. Recently I purchased a “French Bull” Reading Light from WITHIT, and it has become my go-to clip. Here’s why.

DESIGN

The French Bull clip light is extremely well designed. It is small, and fits perfectly on a paperback without being intrusive. Its wire neck is pliable, but holds firmly in position even after months of regular use. The LED light is also centered on the unit head, and broadcasts light well across small and larger pages. Finally, there are silicone pads on the clip which prevent damage to your book, and the device comes in a number of snazzy colors and patterns

LIGHT

The French Bull is bright. But not TOO bright. It’s a “Goldilocks” brightness with less-than-blue LED, which I find pleasing. It doesn’t keep me awake, and the light is center-down so it stays inside the book rather than broadcasting all over the room. This is perfect for anyone who reads in bed and doesn’t want to keep a partner or kids awake at bed time. It’s also great if you’re reading on a flight or train and don’t want to disturb the person next to you. I have another light that might as well be a camping lantern. It is so bright it keeps me and my neighbors awake. I can successfully drift off while reading and not suffer any eye strain.

BATTERY LIFE

The French Bull reading light is powered by two “coin cell” batteries that are widely available, and it has a solid battery life. I’ve had it go a few months on one set with a few hours of use each night. The batteries are easy to replace with no screwdriver needed. While some people like a rechargeable USB, I personally like having an extra set of batteries in my night stand because if the USB light dies, your reading is done for the evening. With the French Bull I can pop in a fresh pair and keep going.

DURABILITY

It has survived multiple drops, spilled coffee, and three separate cat attacks. The worst that happened was the battery cover came off during one of the falls and the batteries flew out. The unit still works perfectly fine. The battery cover is not secured by a screw, which might irritate some people, but I don’t mind as it hasn’t come loose on me other than dropping it by accident.

Worth It?

My vote on the French Bull Clip On Book Light by WITHIT is a resounding “YES”. For roughly $10, it has more than paid for itself in the amount of use I have gotten reading with it.

There might be better reading lights out there, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find one that works as well (and looks as sharp) as the French Bull. Recommended if you’re in the market for a book light.

news

Hachette employees stage walk-out over Woody Allen Memoir

Credit: NPR.org

Hachette Book Group employees working for Grand Central Publishing and Little,Brown staged a walk-out on Thursday afternoon after discovering that their parent company was publishing Woody Allen’s memoir Apropos of Nothing.

The controversial memoir was passed over by numerous major publishers, and Hachette group accepted and published it quietly while also publishing Catch and Kill, a book by journalist Ronan Farrow that included allegations of abuse by Allen. Farrow is the son of Allen’s ex-wife, actress Mia Farrow.

This is certainly bad form on a publisher, and doubly so not giving any notification to Farrow or the Catch and Kill team given the sensitive subject matter they were working on. The HBG group employees are walking out in solidarity with Farrow and the book’s team.

What are your thoughts on publishers making money off of controversial memoirs? This isn’t the first time a big publisher has caused a stir by publishing non-fiction centering on a celebrity with a less-than-stellar reputation.

UPDATE: HBG has officially stated they will not be publishing Woody Allen’s memoir.

news

Barnes & Noble To Be Like Indie Bookstores

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Credit: Bloomberg.com

I’ve written previously about the painfully slow demise of Barnes & Noble, and their continued attempts at transformation. It seems pretty obvious, at least when I step into my local stores, that they need to down-size and stop selling toys & games. A book store should focus on selling books. Or is that insanity?

Their new CEO and cut-throat hedge fund owners seem to think this is the right move as well, and in a new article over at Bloomberg it appears that B&N will be turning another corner and trying to mimic independent bookstores. The same type of stores they spent many years putting out of business. Oh, the irony…

I’m torn over this.

I dislike Barnes & Noble, but I dislike Amazon more, for a variety of reasons. That, and at some point B&N stopped instructing their employees to aggressively engage customers about add-ons during every purchase. This was also a good move, because while I’ll never begrudge someone for doing their job, it was just obnoxious trying to buy a $5 paperback and getting the “hard sell” at the register.

I can only imagine my local Barnes and Noble will relocate from the massive shopping mall it currently inhabits, in an attempt to reduce square footage. This would be a good thing as well. I’d prefer to see a more intimate store with some character, and more importantly the flexibility to shelve interesting titles. An emphasis on customer service would be nice too.

Oh and please, PLEASE just finally kill off the Nook. Please. It’s getting sad at this point.

photography

Yashica Electro 35 GSN Review

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Following up on my previous post about the Yashica Electro 35 GSN that I purchased, I’ve now had enough time to use the camera and write a full review.

The “Poor Man’s Leica”

The Yashica Electro 35 is a camera with a long history and many iterations. First developed in the 1960’s, it saw improvements across numerous successive models and has endured with a “classic” rangefinder look. It even made a cameo in one of theĀ Spiderman movies!

The GSN is the final, and arguably most popular, iteration of the camera. It was the last one in the line and has the highest ISO range as well as a convenient hot shoe.

The Electro 35 has also garnered a quiet reputation as the “poor man’s Leica”, as a serviceable rangefinder camera that takes higher-than-average quality photos on a beer budget. I found this to be true, but more on that in a moment.

Build Quality and Feel

I lamented in my previous post about my run in with the original Electro that was beyond repair, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I found a GSN and ultimately it’s a better camera.

What you immediately notice when you pick up the Yashica Electro 35 GSN is that it isn’t small. This isn’t a dainty camera, and it’s basically on par with my Canon Ftb in size, although it’s definitely lighter. It’s a combination of metal and plastic, and hardly feels cheap, although strangely the fixed 45mm lens has a little play or “wobble” inside the chassis and that is a known “feature” of the camera?

Picture Quality

The Electro 35 GSN really excels in a number of areas. I took these photos in a nearby park to run a test roll (Fujifilm C200) through it. It was a bright but consistently overcast day, so the light was mostly even.

Not the most exciting photos, I know. But they illustrate some of this camera’s strengths.

Sharpness

That Yashinon 45mm f1.7 lens is PIN SHARP. I had seen some impressive photos online, but to have all my photos come out this sharp when I had never actually used a rangefinder before (you line up a yellow “patch” to align a double-image) was impressive. It still doesn’t steal the crown from my Canon FD 50mm 1.4, but it’s more than adequate. When the lens is wide open you can get some decent, gentle, bokeh.

Exposure

The Electro nailed correct exposure on every frame of my test roll. Every. SINGLE. FRAME.

Keep in mind I had this CLA’d, but for a camera using late 60’s/early 70’s technology, it’s pretty impressive how accurate the things light meter is. It’s a simple system of red & yellow lights with corresponding arrows that appear in the large and bright viewfinder. Red is “overexposed” and Yellow is “underexposed” and you simply crank the aperture until the arrows disappear. This is an aperture priority camera, so it takes care of figuring out shutter speed for you.

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Ease of Use

Loading and unloading film is easy and pretty much identical to any standard film SLR. As I mentioned above, the Electro 35 is aperture priority so it takes a lot of guesswork out. You focus where you want, half-press your shutter to activate the meter, dial in your aperture and fire. A big reason I wanted one of these was to get away from my fully manual SLR’s. When I’m being a try-hard and want to tinker I have those available. When I don’t want to think, I grab a point & shoot or my Instax. This is a nice “bridge” camera that is a bit more flexible without killing all spontaneity by having to adjust for the entire triangle.

Drawbacks

Not without its faults, I’d warn everyone that any Electro 35 you find, GSN or otherwise, will probably be broken in some way. It has a number of parts that wear out including the “pad of death” which is a foam pad that renders the camera essentially useless when it goes. It also requires an adapter or jury-rigging for a battery. That said, it takes a pretty standard alkaline, which is better than mercury. I’d also say it doesn’t provide the level of control that an SLR does, so don’t think it will.

This camera wants to take good pictures.

It was designed as a mass market consumer camera, so I don’t expect I’ll be doing as much off-the-wall creative photography with it. But again, that’s not why I bought it. I wanted something that took consistent, high-quality film photos that had better sharpness, and nicer bokeh than a Point & Shoot.

Finally, and this is a TINY quibble, but it was engineered for right-handed people, and the non-centered viewfinder threw a southpaw like me off a bit. But I’ll get used to it.

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Conclusion

If you’re in the market to add a classic rangefinder to your camera collection, you could do much worse than the Yashica Electro 35 GSN. They’re plentiful and can be found in excellent cosmetic condition for $40 USD or less, which means you could get one gussied up with a CLA and still be under $100 to buy a roll of film and maybe a milkshake.

It’s not a conversation piece like a Leica, but it’s pretty enough that I got a few compliments from local photogs in the park that day, and the thing is a budget work horse. Overall I’d recommend it, and I look forward to getting more comfortable with mine and seeing what I can do with it.