Apr 8, 2020

Where The Magic Happens: The Basement Publisher

As we begin a new year, I thought I would take some time to talk about my work space, the equipment I currently use to write and design books, manage my graphics projects, organize my blogs and house all my reference materials. My "office" work space in the basement is quite small (approximately 6.5' x 8') - in fact, I sometimes joke that it's so tight, you don't so much enter it as wear it!

That said, there's a lot packed inside--a newly upgraded HP PC (more on that later), with a triple-monitor setup, a couple external drives, webcam, microphone, an Amazon Fire tablet, a Brother color inkjet printer/scanner and an Epson V30 flatbed scanner. For audio, I send the HP's Bang & Olufsen sound output through a 70's-vintage Harman-Kardon A402 amp into two pair of monitor speakers. To rip vinyl LPs, I use an 80's vintage Technics turntable, then run the output directly into a Behringer USB interface into the PC for monitoring and editing.

If this seems like overkill, it is; the laptop is seldom used here, and the tablet is for TV.
 Whatever space isn't taken up by equipment is home to books; 90% of the titles here are devoted to  architecture--primarily medieval, tudor, elizabethan and revival styles--English and American, along with related arts subjects. Some are old and rare, but the subject matter is fairly tight. The rest of the titles that made their way into the room cover such things as book design, writing, publishing, typography, graphic design and photography. There's also a tiny bit of space left over for decorative things like pictures, old toys, memorabilia and other tchotchkes that provide both inspiration and distraction.

The bespoke work area, including the desk surface, shelving and storage was fit tightly into the space, cobbled together from reclaimed hollow-core doors, re-constructed and repainted shelving, and other odd bits, including a small 2-drawer file cabinet purchased at a secondhand store. A vinyl plank floor and some Armstrong acoustic ceiling tiles help keep things neat and relatively quiet.

On a technical note, my HP PC was recently "inherited" from my son (he has a better gaming unit now) and since its i3 processor was far better than the Celeron j1900 found in the compact Acer box I had been using since 2015, I though I would upgrade it. To this end, I installed a new 500GB solid state (SSD) drive, maxed the RAM from 8GB to 16GB, and added a 2GB Invidia GPU as well as a card with two additional USB 3.0 ports. I kept the PC's original 1TB internal hard drive for extra storage, and backup to an external. These improvements were well under $200.

If you've ever switched from a standard hard drive to a solid state unit, you know how much it improves the performance; the machine now boots up almost instantly, and the added RAM and graphics processing power should help significantly. The old Acer I had always seemed unstable, like it was about to run out of gas (it ran hot) and it had no room inside to significantly upgrade anything.

The level of performance I now have really exceeds most of my needs; I don't do a lot of video work, but this should be able to manage the occasional task well, as well as audio editing or podcasting. Most of my work is with print/web graphics and static photos, and this added power will help with image processing and handling large files.

More books. Imagine that. And some things to listen to music with.
 It took me almost two days to organize and move all my files and software to the new machine. Many years ago, I started electronic publishing using Quark Xpress, and while most everyone in the industry switched to Adobe InDesign, I stuck with Quark - and I still use it. However, I just purchased an outstanding suite of programs - Affinity Publisher, Photo and Designer - which have been getting worldwide raves and are incredibly affordable - while offering all the design and graphics tools I need. UK-based Affinity's suite has been described as an Adobe-killer ever since the new programs came out, and I will be converting most of my work over during 2020. There is a learning curve, to be sure, but it doesn't seem to be too great.

As I was only able to get a few titles out early last year, I have determined to do better in 2020 and finish some projects that had been held up just short of completion. There is an "old house" rehabilitation guide that will be republished in cooperation with the local Historical society, a modest book on earth-built (cob) houses that appeared early in the 20th century, and a couple of historical books that are about 60-75% complete. I am also contemplating at least one new set of game/trading cards as we move ahead, with a highly original theme.

The reasons for the lack of progress in 2019 stem arises from several sources: the need to work on a number of home improvement projects around the house, an extremely busy year for local political consulting work (90% of my candidates won) and a lot of travel for my day job, which has been both demanding and highly rewarding over the past year. In any case, with a new set of tools and better equipment, I can be more productive this year.

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