• Category Archives books
  • Book Review: Low Cost High Impact Photography

    The words “minimalism” and “photography” are perfectly encapsulated in the work of photographer/blogger Steve Johnson (husband of The Minimalist Woman Meg Johnson). He brings a clear eye and a minimalist sensibility to his photos that give them a serene, timeless quality.

    Steve has just released a wonderful new e-book, Low Cost High Impact Photography. His premise is that serious photography does not need to be prohibitively expensive. He demonstrates how to take fabulous photos with a mid-range point-and-shoot camera. And while the information is primarily written for compact cameras, most of the information is applicable to dSLRs as well.

    The book is divided into 4 main sections:

    • Equipment
    • Technique
    • Aesthetics
    • Photo Essays

    Each section is carefully thought out, useful, and beautifully illustrated with Steve’s photos, as seen below:

    Steve writes like an old friend, gently pointing out things about lighting and camera settings in a way that makes the reader feel at ease. Despite his relaxed tone, the information is spot-on accurate. He shares tips and tricks for saving money on camera equipment, for optimizing lighting, for taking steady pictures, and for composing compelling shots.

    He includes countless practical tips, like this one for taking photos of people:
    “Never count down for the shot – great for rigid death grin, and little else.”

    He gives specific, detailed instructions for eBay and product photography, low-light photography, food photography, flowers, sunsets, and much more.

    In his photo essays, he breaks down the shots and explains his process and technique.

    His philosophical musings sprinkled throughout the book are an added bonus:

    “Photography is more about recognition than creation — the good stuff is hidden in plain site.”

    “Good photography is about removing non essential clutter.”

    “The biggest joy of being a photographer is that the smallest, most trivial thing can take over your entire world just like that. While I’m looking and photographing stuff like this nothing else matters, politics, personal stuff, everything just goes away for a few minutes or even a couple of hours.”

    Is the book technical? Yes, but in a way that is practical and helpful, not intimidating. Steve’s mastery of the subject enables him to write with easy confidence in a way that engages the reader and makes you want to reach for your camera to try out his techniques.

    Some writers can discuss the technical aspects of photography, while others are better at discussing the aesthetics of photography. It is a rare individual who can do both, and do it well. Steve is just such a person.

    I highly recommend this book. If you are just starting out in photography or are a seasoned pro, you will find plenty to enjoy in Low Cost High Impact Photography.

    (Please note: I am an affiliate of this product, meaning that if you purchase it through my site, I will get a percentage of the sale.)

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  • E-Readers in Ghana Increase Access to Books

    Kindle_textOne of the main benefits of living a simpler lifestyle is the time it frees up for giving back in some way.

    Readers of this blog will know I am passionate about books in general and e-readers in particular.  I believe the e-reader technology can be used both for personal enjoyment and for the greater good.

    Which is a long lead-up to say that lately I have had the good fortune to do some pro bono freelancing for a wonderful organization called Worldreader.org.  Their goal is to help improve the lives of individuals and families in developing countries by giving greater access to books via e-reader technology.  They are currently running pilot studies at schools in Ghana to test the feasibility of using e-readers to increase access to books as a means of increasing literacy and, ultimately, well-being.

    I recently wrote a guest blog post for Worldreader.org, which you can see here. But, more importantly, I hope you will take a minute to watch some of the short videos on the site.  The joy and excitement of the students with their Kindles is sure to brighten your day!

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  • Best Sites for Free Kindle e-Books

    Free eBooks are readily available on the internet.  However, many of them are in the ePUB format and require a conversion before they can be read on the Kindle.  This is not a problem, thanks to the availability of free conversion software (such as the terrific Calibre).

    However, for people who don’t want to fuss with converting eBooks from the ePUB to mobi (Kindle) format, I have good news. There are several sources of free eBooks already formatted for the Kindle.  Following is a list of my favorites:

    FreeKindleBooks 1000’s of free classic eBooks in Kindle-compatible MOBI and PRC formats.  This site organizes its collections by author and is very easy to navigate.

    Manybooks Excellent resource for over 27,000 Kindle-ready books.

    Just Free Books Allows you to sort by genre (eg, Children’s books) and e-reader (e.g., Kindle)

    Feedbooks Includes new and public domain books.

    Project Gutenberg: You can use “advanced search” to screen for Kindle-compatible books by selecting mobi (or mobipocket) under “file type.”

    Mobipocket (Amazon) is nice because it includes books in several different languages.

    Free kindle books on Amazon.com A mixture of current and public domain books.

    The Free Library offers free, full-text versions of classic literary works from hundreds of celebrated authors.  It is also a terrific resource for current periodicals which are added to the site daily.

    Amazon free kindle books in the public domain (over 20,000 ebooks): A helpful tip is to sort by average customer review, so you find the most highly-rated books first.  This led me to discover Beautiful Joe: The Autobiography of a Dog, by Marshall Saunders.  I was unfamiliar with this book and, after reading the description, downloaded it instantly to my Kindle.  Here is the link.

    A note about Amazon: Most “free” content in the Amazon Kindle bookstore is currently restricted to North America.

    Your turn: have I missed any awesome sites for free e-Books for the Kindle?  Please suggest additional sites by leaving a comment below.  Thanks!

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  • “The Not So Big Life” — Book Review

    Not So Big BookcoverWhen I am reading a book and am inspired by the author’s words and ideas, I want to remember all of their insights and pearls of wisdom. I highlight sentences and make notes in the margins and add sticky tabs to the pages. One indication of just how much I’ve enjoyed/benefited from a book is how many colored  sticky tabs I have used by the end of the book.

    Tabs of not so big life
    Based on that assessment, it should be clear that I loved The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters (you can click on the image to enlarge).

    Author/Architect Sarah Susanka takes  the principles she first discussed in her best-selling The Not So Big House and applies them to the larger experience of life.  The result is a terrific book which discusses how to live a rich, fulfilling, and authentic life.

    Susanka calls for a shift in thinking about well, everything.  For instance, when working on a project, she emphasizes that

    Although it seems that the point lies in the successful completion of the project, in fact the only reason for doing it is to be fully engaged in the experience, so that we can learn more about who we truly are.

    On the value of slowing down:

    It’s the slowing down that allows the ineffable to seep in when we least expect it and that gives our life meaning.

    I love her description of creativity:

    There’s no separation between creativity and you. That’s why the vibrancy of another person’s creative act can inspire our own. It’s the state in which the object was made that is contagious.

    Regarding our urge to accumulate things, she suggests that

    Our love affair with stuff is a surrogate concocted by our heads to obscure the real longings of our hearts.

    She then asks two compelling questions:
    1. “When do we know we have enough?”
    2. “What could we do with our lives if we weren’t so focused on acquiring more?

    The second half of the book looks at the importance of being present, of really showing up to life.

    Susanka describes the value of presence:

    But presence is not something you decide to experience when you have time.  Presence is.  Presence is now, and now is eternal, without boundary.  You have to show up, however, to really be here, to experience it.

    She talks about the importance of mindfulness, and of establishing a daily time and place to be still (meditation).

    One of the things I enjoyed most about this book is the deft use of personal examples Susanka uses to illustrate her points.  She also provides exercises at the end of each chapter to help the reader apply the principles to his or her own life. The book flows easily and has the quality of a conversation with a good friend. To learn more, you can visit her website.

    I highly recommend this book and would love to hear your thoughts about this book or the ideas Susanka presents.

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  • Food and Climate Change Seminar

    Portlandia, Portland Building, PortlandOn Sunday, my good friend Kevin and I attended a terrific and very topical panel discussion in Portland. (The image on the left is the famous “Portlandia” statue on the Portland Building, the venue for the discussion.  You can watch her dramatic delivery in 1985 through the streets of Portland and get a size of her gigantic-ness in this video).

    The subject of the discussion was: Food and the Climate Challenge:  What You Can Do About It. The stellar group of panelists included Scott Givot, President, International Association of Culinary Professionals; Chris Schreiner, Executive Director, Oregon Tilth; Allison Hensey, Oregon Environmental Council; Kumar Venkat, President, CleanMetrics, and Anna Lappé, television host and author.

    The 90-minute session was both hopeful and challenging. Overall, the panelists emphasized two main points:

    1. Our personal food choices matter; and
    2. Our personal food choices are not in themselves enough to bring about the change necessary to solve the climate crisis. Rather, public policy is the largest factor and it is up to citizens to elect officials who are willing to address the intimate connection between food and climate change.

    One of the panelists, Anna Lappé, has just written a new book, Diet for a Hot Planet. As she states in her book,

    If we are serious about addressing climate change we have to talk about food.

    Diet for a Hot Planet via http://takeabite.cc

    She makes the case that our food system is likely responsible for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet the connection between food/agriculture and climate change is mainly ignored in the popular press. For instance, Johns Hopkins University reports that of four thousand articles on climate change published in sixteen leading U.S. newspapers, only 1 percent had a “substantial focus” on food and agriculture.

    Lappé then discusses Seven Principles of a Climate-Friendly Diet:

    1. Reach for real food
    2. Put plants on your plate
    3. Don’t panic, go organic
    4. Lean toward local
    5. Finish your peas…the ice caps are melting
    6. Send packaging packing
    7. DIY food

    As part of her national book tour, Lappé’s sponsors Eat Well Guide and Meatless Monday have put together a terrific reference list of sustainable restaurants and stores in the cities she will be visiting.  You can see a map and get the list of Portland places here and the other cities on her tour here.

    Food and climate change is an important topic and I am glad to see it beginning to get the attention it deserves.

    Your turn:

    Have you considered the connection between climate change and food?  Have you changed your eating habits in response to recent changes in our climate? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this important topic.

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  • Why I Bought a Kindle

    Late last week, my desire to simplify came face-to-face with my love of books:
    e-reader venn

    An obvious solution was an e-reader. An e-reader would cut down on physical stuff, pay for itself (in savings of e-books compared to hardbacks) over a period of time, and save untold numbers of trees from being harvested for paper.

    But the question was, which e-reader? After ruling out the Nook (slow page-turning; no browser) and Sony (no international access; no e-book sharing; cost), I had narrowed my choice down to the Kindle 2 and the i-Pad. The dismal reviews of the i-Pad as an e-reader, especially in sunlight, led to the following list favoring the Kindle 2:

    • Instant e-book delivery
    • Great visual clarity
    • Portability
    • Huge selection of titles
    • Excellent battery life (7 days)
    • Audio book vocalization
    • Basic web browser
    • Near-instant page-turning

    venn diagram

    But, still, I was not convinced until I happened to see a photo of the Kindle at Kent’s Bike Blog (via Rowdy Kittens) (you can scroll down to the pic of the Kindle and the hardback book. And be sure to read his excellent Kindle review) . Before that, I had no idea of how very compact and portable the Kindle was. Seeing it next to the book put it all in clear perspective.

    So, I took the plunge, placed my order with Amazon, and received the Kindle 2 yesterday. It’s been fun exploring all its options. And I have been amazed at the extensive list of free books in the public domain available for download. Some free e-books and magazine and newspaper articles require an additional step of formatting to be read by the Kindle.  But this is super-simple to do and I will be writing about it in a later post.

    Here’s a my Kindle 2 (and its random screen saver image) with cherry blossoms to give a sense of size and scale:

    Kindle with cherry blossoms

    And if I may just make a comment about how very futuristic this feels:  From my computer, I just now went to the Amazon selection of free popular Classics and selected The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Before I could even get to my Kindle, the book was downloaded and ready to read.  It was a very Jetson’s moment…

    The word on the street is that the Kindle will be soon be available at brick-and-mortar stores. It is rumored to be available at Best Buy and Target on April 25th.

    Your turn: Have you considered getting an e-reader? Or, if you have one, which one did you buy? Are you happy with your decision? Has it simplified your life?

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  • Book Giveaway: Autographed Copy of “Gristle”

    gristle bookcover
    image source:gristle-the-book.com

    I am happy to announce my first book giveaway. When I attended the talk/book signing by Moby and Miyun Park last week, I had not had a chance to read Gristle: from Factory Farms to Food Safety. Now, I have read the book and I found it so compelling that I want to give a copy of the book to one of my readers. So, I am offering an autographed copy to one lucky reader (instructions of the giveaway are at the end of this post).

    Gristle is a short book (140 pages) which is densely packed with facts and data that causes one to stop and consider the effects of factory farming on our world and its inhabitants (both animal and human). Factory farms directly and indirectly affect every body on the planet. For those seeking a simpler, more sustainable life, it is a particularly important subject.

    Here are some facts that I found especially disturbing:

    1. Fertilizer production for feed crops alone contributes some 41 million tons of carbon dioxide (C02) annually — the equivalent of that produced by nearly 7 million cars. Note: this is not fertilizer for crops being consumed by humans. This is fertilizer for crops being fed entirely to farm animals.
    2. In the post-World War II era, one-third of the world’s grain along with over 90 percent of soybeans, is going not to humans but is being fed — in an ironic twist — to animals in feedlots.
    3. Male dairy calves are used in the veal industry. (Of course, this is due to the fact that male dairy calves do not produce milk and are of no use to the dairy industry. I had not really put two and two together before. Even by choosing organic milk from “happy” cows, a consumer is indirectly supporting the veal industry).
    4. In meat-eating households, researchers have found more fecal bacteria in the kitchen — on sponges, dish towels,, the sink, and counter surfaces — than they found swabbing the rim of the toilet. (Note:  this is due to cross-contamination of viruses and bacteria from meat and poultry in the kitchen).

    To enter this book giveaway, please leave a comment below.

    The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday, April 7th.

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  • What is an elegant simple life?

    clementines in silver bowl
    Clementines in Silver Bowl

    I’ve chosen to call this blog elegant simple life for several reasons:

    Elegant, because it focuses on the beauty and grace inherent in simplicity.

    Simple, because it does not have to be complicated.

    Life, because it encompasses the whole canvas of being, not just segments of existence.

    Elegant. Simple. Life. For me, this is both an affirmation and a goal. It is about living with less stuff and more joy in an atmosphere of tranquility and beauty.

    I’d like to focus on the concept of elegance for a moment because I have just finished reading  In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing, by Matthew E. May.  I love May’s statement, “…not everything simple is elegant, but everything elegant is simple.”

    Elegance is not a matter of money or upbringing or education. Instead, it is a matter of attitude, a lens through which one views the world. Ultimately, elegance is a state of mind.

    This concept gets to the core of simple living and minimalism. Living a simple life is not about hardship and asceticism. It does not require doing without all the joys and simple pleasures that make life just a little bit sweeter.

    Rather, elegant simple living means identifying what is essential and releasing the rest. And that will look different for everyone.

    And that is what makes it feasible. There are no rules of right or wrong. What is elegant simplicity to one person may be the height of consumerism to another. Conversely, an elegantly simple choice for one individual may look like borderline poverty to somebody else.

    Thankfully, the world of simple living and minimalism is large enough to contain a wide range of attitudes. This keeps it interesting and fresh and available to everybody. The underlying premise is that we are consciously seeking to live fulfilling lives with less stuff and more room for the things that matter.  The rest is open to interpretation. And that, to me, is simply elegant.

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  • Moby and Miyun Park Discuss “Gristle” at Powell’s Bookstore

    Moby at Lecturn
    Moby at Powell's, photo by L. Pierce

    This past Saturday afternoon, my husband and I joined about 200 other Portlanders at Powell’s City of Books to listen to Moby and Miyun Park talk about their new book, Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety (Thinking Twice About the Meat We Eat).

    The book is a collection of essays from 15 contributors who discuss the harm caused by industrially produced meat to agricultural workers, communities, human health, the environment, and animals. Moby, a well-know musician and a vegan for more than 20 years, said the aim of the book is not to convert everybody to veganism. Rather, it is to create dialog concerning the hidden ramifications of industrialized farm animal production which will, hopefully, lead to changes creating a healthier, more humane world.

    Moby and Miyun Park, executive director of Global Animal Partnership, shared their personal stories leading them to veganism and animal advocacy. They were both refreshingly down-to-earth and non-dogmatic in their discussion of the issues. Moby made the point that being militant in his early days of veganism only served to turn people off and/or annoy them. His current moderate approach is much more welcoming and apt to keep the dialog open.

    Plus, he’s got a razor-sharp wit that made us burst out laughing on more than one occasion. In fact, at one point the ever-patient and good-humored Miyun had to pick up the microphone and say, while looking pointedly in our direction, “You know, those of you laughing out loud at Moby’s quips only serve to encourage him.”

    gristle bookcover
    Notice the concerned look in the cow's eye. This idea was Moby's contribution to the image, of which he was justifiably proud.
    image source: gristle-book.com

    I’ve only had time to read a portion of the book, but so far, it’s very good. The book contains essays by experts in 10 different fields (including health, environment, animals, climate change, children’s health, zoonotic diseases, and several others). The writers, while sharing a bit of their personal story, aim to be accurate and noninflammatory. They let the distressing facts speak for themselves.

    This is both a great reference book with useful graphs and statistics, and also a book that could be given as a gift to a friend or family member who is unaware of these important issues.

    Moreover, Moby made it clear that he and Miyun will not be earning money from the sale of this book. The net proceeds will all be donated to organizations advocating animal rights.

    To find out more about the book and read a great email conversation with Moby and Miyun, check out this interview at planet green. It includes a bonus video of Moby making pancakes with berries.

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