Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘Apple

What’s summer like for a freelance journalist?

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South Korea’s gleaming capital Seoul

It is the 29th of July, France won the World Cup, we’re over halfway into 2018, and I’m still a freelance writer and journalist living in Beijing.

I went to South Korea in the last week of June for eight days. Four years ago I visited North Korea, for the same amount of time, and it became a hugely profitable trip. Going on a tour of the “Democratic” People’s Republic of Korea is quite expensive but I managed eventually to recoup what I spent and more.

Did South Korea turn out to be as successful a freelance trip? Originally I had set out to visit only for travel’s sake but I eventually thought of a saleable article idea, and I emailed my editor with the idea and he approved. It was then a process of finding a fixer. I used Twitter, and I got myself someone who could help me with research, fixing, and interviewing (I cannot speak Korean).

Seoul is a wonderful city, perhaps the most modern I have visited. It was a marvel of city planning and architecture, with a sense of space and flow that left me deeply impressed. I visited the offices of The Korea Times, the country’s oldest English-language newspaper which started following the aftermath of the Korean War that divided the peninsula. I ate Japanese food and drank Irish stout. I ate stupendously good Korean fried chicken. I made friends with a Korean journalist and we watched the Korea v Mexico World Cup game in the centre of the city, on the grass, with hundreds of other Koreans and a surprisingly large number of Mexicans in the middle of the night.

It was a great trip, and I managed to get my article done, and it will make me more than what I spent on the trip, so all in all I consider that a success.

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I have just come back from a trip to Inner Mongolia. It is China’s third largest province (twice the size of France) and is located north of Beijing, spanning west to east.  I had been aching to get to a particular part of this province since I first heard about it last year.

I am hoping to write something about the experience, and sell it, but I have not yet begun to pitch it out to editors.

It was a place of endless grass, undulating hills, an enormous number of insects, and horses, Caucasian Chinese people, and fresh mutton barbecued to astounding flavour.

It was great to get out of sweltering urban Beijing and head to a temperate grassland of breezes and fresh air, and huge blue skies.

Now I’m back in the city and itching to work and write.

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Lately I have come to a conclusion so obvious and simple that it left me wondering why I hadn’t thought of it before.

For someone whose sense of identity is bound to whatever it means to be a writer, I do very little actual writing. I do read a lot. I read widely and constantly.

I have a friend (a published author these days) who once advised me to write something at least once a day, even if it was just a long email, just write something.

That was a few years ago. But now that I am writing fiction seriously, I realise the trueness of this advice more than ever. To get better I have to practice. To become a better writer I have to write, at least a little, every single day. Dancers dance, painters paint, writers write.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

July 29, 2018 at 9:12 am

The perfect laptop

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The laptop I have now is great, except it’s dreadful battery life

I’d quite like to buy a new laptop.

I am going to Hong Kong very soon and it’s a good place to buy tech.

I bought the laptop I currently use there two years ago. I like its portable form factor, touchscreen and excellent keyboard. A nice keyboard is a priority for me, as a writer.

It’s a Lenovo ideapad S210 Touch. It has a Core i3 processor, 4gb RAM, Windows 8.1, and a 500gb HDD. It cost about £325.

I sometimes open a dozen or more tabs in Chrome and occasionally edit photos and video. Its performance is fine and it has not let me down. Only one thing has been its bane. Woeful battery life.

If it’s not plugged in, it now lasts less than an hour on a charge.

I like to work in cafes, travel not infrequently, and sometimes I have to do some urgent copy-editing, and in those circumstances having a laptop where I don’t need to worry about having to find a power socket would be awesome.

My essentials for a laptop are great battery life and a good keyboard. Desirable would be an HD touchscreen, a light and small form, an SD card slot, and an SSD. The excellent placement of the scrolling buttons (I read a lot) are nice details my Lenovo has.

I’ve looked around a lot. And trying to find the perfect match has been nigh on impossible. The Macbook Pro, with its excellent screen and good battery life, is too heavy. The MacBook is very expensive with a disgusting keyboard.

The Macbook Air has good performance, stellar battery life, and the 11-inch is incredibly portable. I just wish the screen was better.

Windows alternatives are the Dell XPS, Lenovo Yoga 900, and the HP Spectre x360.

The HP is my choice from that list. But I am tempted by the Macbook Air 11-inch’s excellent battery life (which doesn’t deteriorate as fast as Windows laptops) and its extreme portability. I’ve also never had an Apple laptop so I am interested in looking over the OS wall. It’s just a crying shame Apple has not deemed to update the screen.

As we approach 2016 I decided to buy a brand new smartphone — from 2013. Here’s why.

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I got a new phone to replace my old broken phone. I decided to buy exactly the same model. When it was released in September 2013, the LG G2 cost around £468.

In October 2015, you can buy the Apple iPhone 6S, with its “3D Touch”, for £539. Or you could plump for the super sized curved-edge screen (£629) of the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge +.

The two “hottest” phones on the market right now, for these “flagship” pieces of tech, you pay a premium for “killer” features; top-of-the-line processors, screens and cameras, and, admittedly, the best design.

In September 2013, the LG G2 represented the highest end of “high-end” phones. Numerous tech sites proclaimed it as the best Android phone in the world. A year later, some still thought that was the case.

So it’s worth asking whether a great phone in 2013 is a bad phone in 2015.

And it’s worth asking whether you need all those premium features.

The answer to the first question is obviously not. The LG G2 was described as an “absolute speed demon” when it came out; possesses a gorgeous screen that’s a large 5.2 inches in a relatively small body, and a good camera with optical stabilization.

The price I paid for a brand new LG G2 (colour: black; memory: 32GB) in 2015 was a steal. Exactly how much I’ll let you know later.

I bought my first LG G2 in a phone market in Bangkok in the summer of 2014. It was secondhand and in less than perfect condition. This would prove to be its undoing finally when the screen broke. That first secondhand LG cost me around £180. The iPhone 6S costs £539, about 3x the price. But is it three times better?

You may feel that paying that much more is worth it to buy the best of the best; an intangible feeling of product greatness further justified that perhaps by spending more now you bought a phone that will last longer. But that’s millions of dollars of marketing hype speaking through you.

You can’t blame Apple’s or Samsung’s marketing departments for upspeaking their products’s “flagship premium features”. But the fact so-called tech “journalists” go along for the ride too is reprehensible.

Anyway, enough proselytizing.

My new LG G2 was bought for RMB 970, through Taobao.com — China’s eBay. The best phone of 2013 cost me in 2015 £99.

Top 5 mobile phones for journalists

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Most productive

The stylus helps to frame the Note 4 as a productivity tool

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Note 4 has a large screen, a top-of-the-line processor to handle multitasking, a very capable camera, and, best of all, a multifunctional stylus with features journalists may find very handy.

The phone has two-day battery life and there is the option of expandable storage with a MicroSD card slot.

The larger screen, which is one of the sharpest and most vivid on the market, is an important feature. Web browsing, having multiple windows open (which the phone allows you to move around and resize), and typing out emails or memos, are all made easier when there’s extra screen space. The downside to this is the phone really has to be handled with two hands in use. But few other phones has the ability to act as a very portable computer as the Note 4 does.

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Wishlist: 4 gadgets I’d love to do journalism with

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1. iPhone 5S, £549 (32GB)

Why? Because it’s pretty much all you need to do journalism – it browses the internet, sends emails, makes calls, records audio, takes fantastic photos and records incredible video. It’s a media production machine. I’ve heard of at least one freelancer who wrote entire features for almost an entire year using just an iPhone (more on that in a future blog).

The best thing about it is the quality of the images it can make. More than that, it’s the ease and convenience of it that puts it head and shoulders above everything else.

iPhone photos have graced the likes of Time magazine (front cover!), New York Times and much else besides. Conflict photographer Ben Lowy uses it almost exclusively and he’s covered Afghanistan, Libya and the Arab Spring.

Videojournalism? Guardian reporter Adam Gabbatt uses an iPhone to make short video reports which you can see here and here. The Guardian’s SE Asia correspondent Kate Hodal interviewed Suboi, Vietnam’s first mainstream female rapper: “I interviewed her and she gave me an exclusive freestyle, which I caught on my iPhone and then uploaded to our editors in London”.

If you are going to make a video report however, do invest in an external mic – that is extremely important. You want decent video and audio. Some sort of tripod/monopod for it would be very handy too.

2. Surface RT, £279 (with touch cover £319)

The Microsoft Surface RT is a great productivity tool for journalists. It is much lighter than most laptops, coming in at 676 grams (the Macbook Air in contrast weighs 1.3kg), and has a battery life of 8 hours. Why get this tablet rather than an iPad? Two words: Microsoft Office. Apart from being cheaper than an iPad, the Surface RT unlike all other tablets has Microsoft Word. You’ll want the optional touch/type covers – which click in magnetically – to do any serious typing work.

Yes it doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of apps Apple and Android tablets have, but so what. They are distractions you don’t need. You have the internet, email and Word (plus a front-facing camera for Skype calls) – what more do you need as a journo? You have a smartphone anyway for those apps. Another benefit is that you can split the screen in half – so on one side you can browse the web, while the other is on Word for example.

There are two Surface machines. The RT, pictured above, is the cheaper, lighter and smaller version, and runs a custom RT operating system. The Surface Pro is much more powerful (on a par with high-end ultrabooks), much heavier and runs Windows 8, meaning you can install any/all programs you currently run on a normal laptop. Most gadget reviewers say get the Pro, but I prefer the simplicity of the RT and of course it’s a lot lighter and much less pricey.

UPDATE: The Surface 2, an update to the RT, is to be released later this month. It’ll feature an upgraded processor, screen, back and front cameras and a kickstand that is more adjustable. The Surface 2 will retail for £70 more than the RT, at £349 (for the 32GB version).

Panasonic GH3 – a much better choice than a Canon 5D Mk 3, especially for video.

3. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3, £1299 (including 14-140mm lens)

This digital camera takes higher-quality videos than a Canon 5D Mk3. And it is well over £1000 cheaper. Here’s an excerpt from DPreview.com’s review of the camera: “The enthusiastic and largely unanticipated response to the GH2’s movie capabilities by working videographers (Google ‘GH2 video hack’ to get an idea for how keenly its capabilities are being exploited) has meant that Panasonic must now also consider that its camera is being integrated into professional video rigs”.

Needless to say it also produces great photos, and for video there is simply no equal. The sensor inside the camera will be much larger than most dedicated video cameras. And while it won’t quite be able to beat the Canon 5Ds for low-light capability, it does have better video features, frame-rate options and better detail at 1080p HD levels.

For the aspiring video journalist interested in producing films with professional-level picture quality, look no further.


4. Moleskine notebook, £9.41 (240 pages, 13x21cm)

Not exactly a gadget but for someone whose profession is the creation of words, the pleasure of putting pen on paper should still be paramount. I bought my first pocket-sized moleskine last year and I’ve loved the aesthetic, the pages are crisp and a joy to write in. The dimensions are perfect and the pocket in the back is great for storing business cards and cuttings. I recently purchased the larger moleskin (pictured) and I have to say I like it even more. A4-sized notebooks still have a place in my stationary, particularly for taking telephone and face-to-face interview notes, as well as for diagramming article structure plans. But for the simple pleasure of writing and jotting down ideas, the larger moleskin has perfect weight and dimensions.

As design critic and writer Stephen Bayley said in a 2012 article entitled ‘The joy of Moleskine notebooks’: “there aren’t many things you can buy for £10 that are the best of their kind. I buy them compulsively. It makes you think you are just about to write, for once, something brilliant.”