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How Engadget staffers are finding solace during the coronavirus crisis

Here are some of the ways we're living our best (isolated) lives.
Engadget, @engadget
March 23, 2020
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Brett Putman

Reality as we know it is very different now than it was just a few weeks ago. The coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us to stay inside, practice social distancing and find ways to cope with this newfound uncertainty. While Engadget staffers work from home to keep you up-to-date on the latest news, we, too, have come up with methods of dealing with this madness. We wanted to share them with you in the hopes that maybe some of these things can help keep you happy, healthy, and sane too. And let us know in the comments what you've been doing to stave off cabin fever.

Home workouts and sweatpants

I already lead a pretty isolated life. For the past year-plus, I have been working from home and living in a quiet town in Maine. Because the winter is especially cold and dark here, I've left the house even less in the past few months. Just when I could see the spring light at the end of the winter tunnel, we entered this new reality of social distancing. While I am not happy about it, I do feel well-prepared given my WFH experience.

My plan is to double-up on two things that have kept me going all winter: daily walks and yoga. When I first started working from home, I was shocked by how few steps I was taking. I took for granted all the walking I used to do to and from work and around the office. Now that, on top of working from home, I'm not really leaving the house in the evenings, I'm making a point to get out and walk even more -- fortunately, keeping a healthy distance from people is pretty easy when you live on a dirt road.

I'm also making time to practice yoga -- or at least stretch -- every day. I'm leaving my yoga mat rolled out behind my desk as a reminder, and I'm embracing life in sweatpants and leggings. (Let's be honest, you don't need to wear real pants when you're working from home, and if you're dressed right, you can transition from work to workout that much faster.) The yoga studio where I usually practice is also offering virtual classes, which I plan on testing as a way to mix up my exercise, support a local business and connect with fellow humans.

If you're looking for ways to get moving while you're at home, check to see if your local gyms and fitness studios are offering virtual classes. Of course, there are also tons of free workout videos available online. The great thing about exercising at home is that it doesn't require expensive equipment -- though there are plenty of options if that's your thing. You can check out Engadget's guide to fitness apps and gear that won't break the bank, and if you need help making exercise a habit, we've put together a list of fitness apps that allow you to set goals and track your progress.

However you spend your pandemic time, I wish you luck! We're all in this together.

- Christine Fisher, Contributing Writer

Movies for escapism

Zombieland

Greetings from San Francisco, home of the 3-week shelter-in-place order that will remain in effect until at least April 7th. Downtown is deserted, FiDi has been effectively abandoned and even neighborhood traffic has cratered -- not counting the panic shoppers at my local Safeway.

But, as a wise man once said, "Oh, you think social isolation is your ally. But you merely adopted the iso; I was born in it, molded by it." Or at least something close to that. The point is, just because we're quickly becoming a nation of shut-ins doesn't mean we have any excuse for going stir-crazy in the coming months. There's way too much to watch and read for that.

Whenever I'm faced with the overwhelming prospect of a global viral pandemic, I take comfort in living vicariously through movie characters facing a far less destructive disaster: zombies. Really, there are few activities more rewarding than armchair-quarterbacking a zombie flick. Give Dead Set a shot -- it was a limited BBC series wherein the cast on a Big Brother-esque show pull a full Jared Leto and miss the outbreak of the apocalypse while on set. "Just stay in the farmhouse," is a hill I will 100-percent die on. It's not even that hard of a choice.

Then of course you've got the classic Night of the Living Dead and its sequels by George Romero which are largely available on Amazon Prime Video; the Zombieland series, which is essentially two perfect episodes of an even better overarching film, is available on VOD; Shaun of the Dead, The Girl With All the Gifts, and Little Monsters are all streaming as well.

The Korean film scene is also making some incredible zombie content. Kingdom, whose second season just dropped on Netflix, follows a zombie plague outbreak during the Joseon era. It's scary, it's gory, it's fantastic. If you want a one-off from the same historical era, check out Rampant, also on Netflix. And you better believe I'm watching Train to Busan on loop.

I'm also spending the next couple of weeks getting caught up on my Shonen Jump subscriptions. I've got the app but am dozens of issues behind on Chainsaw Man, Tokyo Shinobi Squad, Spy x Family and Dr. Stone.

I've also taken up both knitting and baking again and have started a windowsill garden as productive offline pursuits. I'm going to have so many scarves, scones, and shallots this summer, you don't even know. Gotta get my bartering game tight before the long winter comes.

- Andrew Tarantola, Senior Editor

Record organization

Record collection

I know most people's home offices aren't flanked by stacks of records, but since vinyl sales have been up, there's a good chance you may have a few. So like me, perhaps you'd enjoy digging into the nerdy pastime of cataloging your collection while stuck indoors. The best place to do this is through Discogs: a crowd-sourced online database (and sales hub) that launched in 2000. You can create a profile and begin logging your collection either as a private or public list.

Checking the details is what matters here, since one record might have myriad iterations with subtle differences. Most releases will already be listed, so it may just take a bit of searching to add them to your collection. But if you've got some rarities that aren't in there, you can help grow the knowledge base with your own contribution -- just be sure to follow the submission guidelines.

You can also see what your collection is worth based on the Discogs price and sales history. While doing all this, you'll likely go down some rabbit holes and find more records you'd like to have or discover new artists. You should probably add most of these to your streaming service of choice and save the really special releases for your wishlist. Be careful though, Discogs gives you easy access to tons of sellers across the globe, and the seemingly innocuous act of cataloging your collection may lead to impulse purchases before you know it.

- Jon Turi, Homepage Editor

Nostalgia entertainment

Disney+ Originals

Being home all the time isn't new for me. I've worked from home regularly for the past 4.5 years, but I often try to get out of the house once a day to avoid cabin fever. Unfortunately, there are much fewer places to go now, and while I still get out for a walk or run most mornings, I have found solace escaping into worlds I knew well as a child.

Fortuitously, I recently subscribed to Disney+ it has provided me with a bunch of binge-worthy content that both soothes me and fills me with nostalgia. I made a point to watch Mulan immediately because it was one of my favorite Disney movies as a kid (and remains a favorite today), and now "I'll Make a Man Out of You" has become a daily song sung in my household (no, I don't have young children, and no, I'm not sorry). I'm three-quarters of the way through the Toy Story series as well -- I'm making up lost time as I only saw the first two movies growing up (but now I can say that Toy Story 3 is my favorite of the bunch -- so far).

But the best thing about Disney+ for me has been Boy Meets World. There are a handful TV shows from my childhood and teen years that I hold in high regard and Boy Meets World is one of them (as are Fresh Prince, Home Improvement, Family Matters and Will & Grace, among others). It's been comforting to return to school with Cory, Shawn and Topanga, watch them experience a simpler time, and to hear Mr. Feeny impart powerful life lessons. I don't often yearn to return to my teenage years, but going back to that time in 30-minute episode bursts has really boosted my spirits.

- Valentina Palladino, Commerce Editor

WFH weightlifting

Workout gear

With a nudge from a friend, I started weightlifting in 2015. At the time, my mom was nearing the end of her battle with cancer. In hindsight, I don't think I would have made it through her death if I didn't have an outlet like the gym; weightlifting was one of the few things in my life that made sense at the time and that I felt like I could control. Ever since then, the gym has been the place I go to escape all the stress and turmoil in my life.

So when it started looking like the coronavirus outbreak would force gyms to close, I began to worry about what my life would become. However, I quickly realized a pseudo-quarantine is like almost any other situation in life -- you have to make the best of it. I started thinking about how I could adapt my workout routine to the confines of my small condo.

A couple of YouTube videos and small purchases later, and I'm back to working out most days. Is my current routine the perfect substitute for what I did at the gym? No, but it's made these last couple of days feel almost normal. It's also saved me from entire days spent in front of the computer.

And here's the thing you learn working out: life's problems don't seem so world-ending after you've managed to run your first marathon or bench 225 pounds. You learn to stop worrying about the things you can't control. Besides washing our hands and sticking to social distancing, there's not much most of us can do individually to stop the coronavirus pandemic. But we can try to make the best of our current lives.

- Igor Bonifacic, Contributing Writer

Mythical antics

Good Mythical Morning

With everything going on in the world right now, sometimes you just need to put something on in the background that is light, enjoyable, and doesn't take a lot of brain power. Good Mythical Morning is just that type of show and it helps keep me sane. It was started by YouTube stars and lifelong friends Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neil back in 2011 as Good Morning Chia Lincoln, and eventually morphed into the show it is today.

Episodes vary in length and topic, but are often food-related. Their star segment is "Will It...?" where they take favorites like tacos, Oreos, and cheesecake and try and make new versions with less than the normal ingredients. Some are masterful, like their recent In N Out Burger mac and cheese, while others like pig uterus and breast milk muffins were...less successful.

There are also international fast food challenges where they have to throw a dart on the map for where they think a menu item originates. "The Shelf Where They Leave Things On" also puts items in jars of liquid, such as margarita mix, and after one month, they have to guess what they think will become of those items.

The camaraderie between Rhett and Link really makes the show, as their friendship is legitimate and shines through each episode. It also helps that their Mythical Crew members have great personalities of their own, including a regular voice from a distant Stevie, GMM's executive producer. Occasionally celebrities such as Terry Crews, Nick Kroll, Padma Lakshmi and Zachary Levy join in on the inanity and shake up the dynamic for variety's sake.

The side channel Mythical Kitchen recently launched its own weekly videos, where Mythical Chef Josh creates snack mashups like Takis Pocky and Mountain Dew Moon Pie, to varying degrees of success. I guarantee that with all of these videos to choose from, you'll find something that works for you, and it will help calm your brain and nerves when it is very necessary to do just that. I've been going through their back catalog since social distancing became the norm, and I don't think I'm going to stop anytime soon. And this is fine.

- Ian Levenstein, Database Editor

Peloton workouts and cooking comforts

Peloton

Like many of us, I've been grappling with the shelter-in-place situation for the past week. On one hand, I work from home for much of the day anyway, so it hasn't made a huge impact on my schedule. I'm also a natural introvert and don't socialize often anyway. But on the other hand, the fact that I'm being forced to stay inside puts a very different spin on the whole thing. Suddenly, I feel like going out all the time -- a foreign impulse for me.

And then there's the fact that I now have to work from home with my husband. Our house isn't large, so neither of us has an "office" per se; instead, we both have desks in the living room. Normally, this is a fine arrangement because he isn't home much of the day, but now we have to figure out how to work in the same space without annoying each other (like, for example, not having video conferences while the other person is working on deadline).

Ah, but I should explain how I'm staying sane, instead of how I'm going mad.

One of the ways we're trying to do so is to give ourselves the occasional break. We're fortunate enough to afford a Peloton bike, so we use that to exercise. I'm getting back into yoga as well, which I practice for a few minutes a day. I also went grocery shopping a couple of times this past week, if only to get out of the house for a little while. Aside from that, I've been trying to support local businesses whenever possible by ordering delivery from them or through buying gift cards and giving donations.

Speaking of food, I've also been cooking as a form of stress release. I made Irish soda bread and a Guinness beef stew on Tuesday for St. Patrick's Day and that was our dinner for several nights. Every morning, I make my version of a classic Malaysian breakfast, which consists of half-boiled eggs and toast slathered with butter and kaya (a Malaysian name for coconut jam). I was born and raised in Malaysia, so that breakfast is a comfort meal for me. This past weekend, I made kimchi jjigae, which is a simple and quick stew made with kimchi and pork belly.

Other than cooking, I've filled my time with activities such as playing the piano, listening to podcasts and watching YouTube (my favorite channels are Good Mythical Morning and Bon Appetit). I also recently binged the McMillions documentary series on HBO, which I highly recommend.

In this time of social distancing, I found it refreshing to keep in touch with friends and family over the internet. We talked to my husband's parents over FaceTime, and I chatted with my own mother over Facebook Messenger. I also have an ongoing group chat with a few of my friends via Google Hangouts, and we expanded that to a group video chat over the weekend. We chatted about how we were dealing with the lockdown, and we even played a few JackBox party games through screen sharing. It was fun, and gave me a feeling of togetherness even though we were miles apart.

Last, but not least, I've found recognizing one's emotions to be essential in dealing with this lockdown. I talked to a therapist over the phone for an hour, and my husband and I have had plenty of heart-to-hearts over anxieties and fears. During one especially stressful evening, I ranted to a friend over Google Hangouts at 2AM for 20 to 30 minutes. All of it helped.

- Nicole Lee, Senior Editor

Beat-making at home

Arturia Spark 2

I'm cooped up inside, practicing social distancing, but I'm not lacking in things to do. One project I've started is re-learning how to use the virtual drum software Spark 2 from Arturia. The plug-in acts like a standard beat-making machine that can be programmed step-by-step, but for some reason, I never quite got the hang of it when I purchased an old version years ago. Now that I have a better grasp on it, I'm really digging it.

I purchased a new 27-inch iMac a few months ago, and have been gradually transitioning apps over from my old 2011 iMac and upgrading some outdated ones. I downloaded Logic Pro X, and installed my go-to software synths from Arturia's V Collection. But when I tried to enter my activation code for Spark Vintage -- which recreates old drum machines from Roland, Linn Electronics and more -- I was greeted with a cryptic error. I contacted Arturia and a representative told me that Spark Vintage had been discontinued a long time ago and that I would not be able to run the software.

That was frustrating because I paid $50 for the product six years ago -- digital purchases should last longer than that, right? DRM-induced rage ignited inside me. However, the rep informed me that I could get $130 off of Arturia's Spark 2 -- which includes all of the drum machines from Spark Vintage and plenty more modern ones, too -- bringing the price down to $20. Fair enough.

Spark 2 is a heck of a lot easier to program than a physical drum machine and has a cleaner layout compared to Spark Vintage. One view of the plug-in shows a grid with the various percussion instruments on the Y axis and the beat on the X axis. The intuitive Sequencer view lets you draw complicated rhythms quickly and visually. If you want to take the old school route, you can enter beats just like you would on a physical drum machine, which is time-consuming but rewarding. You can also quickly build your own Frankenstein kit. For example, I love the LinnDrum preset except for its closed hi-hat sound. I navigated to Spark's Library menu, searched for something more to my liking, hit a single button to load it into my kit and then tweaked it a bit in Spark's Studio pane.

Spark 2 has a small change that made a big difference to me. With Spark Vintage, I couldn't easily figure out how to drag a drum pattern into my timeline in Logic. In Spark 2, there are two different buttons -- one to drag the pattern's MIDI data into the timeline and one for a rendered audio file. Figuring this out turned Spark 2 from a noise-making toy into an actual songwriting tool for me.

With that said, there's still plenty more for me to learn. I haven't mapped the pads on my MIDI controller to Spark 2, though the process should be straightforward. What seems more complicated is getting the XY pad on my Korg padKontrol to work with Spark 2.

Overall, I'm much happier with Spark 2 than I was with Spark Vintage. It's much easier to use, has a bunch of helpful new features and has plenty more sounds to choose from. While most of the music I make with other people is on the heavy and aggressive side, Spark 2 is fantastic for the shoegaze, math rock (yes, it supports five and seven beats per measure) and new wave noodling I do on my own -- and I could see it taking up many more hours of social distancing time.

- Marc DeAngelis, Contributing Writer

The usual training routine

Nike's 3D-printed textiles make running shoes even lighter

I am god-awful at building habits, but over the last few years I've somehow become a person who runs multiple times a week. I'm not fast, and I'm not doing a marathon any time soon, but I try to get out every week. I particularly look forward to running this time of year, with cool but not cold temperatures helping me ramp up my speed and distance in preparation for an annual 10-mile race in May.

Well, at least I was getting ready for that race, but it's almost certainly going to be canceled this year. Regardless, sticking to my training plan and racking up at least a few miles every other day has helped keep me sane over the last few weeks.

The good news is that, for now at least, even people living in cities under shelter-in-place orders can get outside and exercise provided they follow the recommended social distancing rules. To make sure my presence outside isn't inconvenient to others who really do need to be outside, I'm trying to run at off-hours and in places where there's more room to give each other space.

Keeping this routine going has a lot more to do with mental health than physical. The reality of working from home hasn't exactly shook up my world, as that's something I've done almost exclusively for four years now -- but it's different when you wrap up work and realize you have zero plans every night for the foreseeable future. Any excuse to get out and enjoy the spring air is worth taking right now, and the combo of getting my heart rate up and some good music almost helps me stop thinking about COVID-19 constantly.

So even though there's little chance that I'll be running my race in May, I'm keeping up the training as if I was. The days are getting longer, making runs at 7PM much more pleasant. There aren't nearly as many cars on the road, and the whole thing is a much-needed respite from being inside all day, staring at the never-ending stream of bad news on my computer screen. As long as it's safe to do so, I'll be out on the sidewalk, giving my fellow runners a wide berth as we pass.

- Nathan Ingraham, Deputy Managing Editor

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