Ending my caffeine fast

My caffeine fast reached its intended three-month mark over the weekend. I was disappointed not to get the sleep benefits I hoped for.

When food writer Michael Pollan tried a three-month caffeine fast and said that by the end he was “sleeping like a teenager,” I wanted in. My sleep has been poor for years.

The first three weeks were challenging as I went through withdrawal. I had a mild headache most mornings and I wanted …something. A salty snack? A stiff drink? A long walk? My body was confused. Obviously I wanted caffeine, but I didn’t specifically crave a hit like a heroin addict.

Drink Coffee Do Work

I switched to herbal tea so I’d still have a warm morning drink. Orange spice tea satisfied me best. But after about six weeks I realized I very much missed the taste of coffee. This made me happy — I worried before the fast that I drank coffee not because I liked it, but because it delivered caffeine into my addicted body. But in truth, I like coffee.

By this time we were on stay-at-home orders thanks to COVID-19. Adapting was hard for the first few weeks. Some of our kids lost their jobs in the pandemic and, struggling, made some choices that caused family stress. I was also leading a critical tight-deadline project at work that drained me dry most days.

With all of this stress I said to hell with it and started making a half pot of decaf every morning. I am delighted that quality decaf tastes very good today. The last time I drank much decaf was at least 25 years ago, and it was all crap then.

Strictly speaking, this ended my caffeine fast as a 12-ounce mug of decaf has about 10 mg caffeine in it. This is still very little caffeine compared to regular coffee, which delivers at least 140 mg caffeine in 12 ounces. It’s even not much caffeine compared to my favorite soda, Diet Dr Pepper, at 41 mg caffeine in 12 ounces. However, before the fast I drank six mugs of coffee every day. That’s a whopping 1,680 mg caffeine! The 30-40 mg caffeine in my daily decaf is a 98% reduction in caffeine intake.

One surprising challenge of quitting coffee was that my digestion … how can I say this delicately … immediately had trouble working its way to its expected end. I was uncomfortable a lot. This resolved entirely when I started drinking decaf.

But quitting caffeine didn’t help my sleep one bit. I’ve never slept easily, and when I’m under stress I wake up at 3 am and can’t go back to sleep. The enormous amount of caffeine I was consuming had to be making it worse. But after eliminating caffeine I still woke up a lot in the middle of the night. Even when I didn’t I frequently woke up not feeling rested. Who knows whether this would have been any different had COVID-19 and the big work project not happened.

It hurts that my alcohol intake has increased during the pandemic. I know alcohol makes my sleep less restful. The stressful work project ended, and when it did I decided to go on the wagon for a while. We will see whether sleep improves.

Now that this is over, I intend to keep limiting caffeine. I haven’t had a cup of regular coffee yet and I’m in no hurry to. I’ll keep brewing decaf at home. I’ll let caffeinated diet sodas back into my life at the couple-a-week rate I drank them before.

Perhaps a good cup of regular coffee can become a tool, something I use occasionally for caffeine’s boost. Perhaps I will approach regular coffee like I approach a good cocktail: I go out for one once in a while, to a place that makes them very well.

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Will the United States ever rebuild from its ugly and shameful history of institutional racism?

A pilgrimage to Central Camera

News is rippling through the film-photography community today that Chicago’s Central Camera was looted and set ablaze last night. Violent protests began Friday night in Chicago, and in many other large cities across the US, after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, a black man, while he was in their custody.

Downtown Indianapolis has seen violent protests this weekend, as well. One person was shot to death and at least two more were shot and injured. Windows are broken and shops have been looted, including in the block where my workplace is located. The city has instituted a 6 pm curfew tonight trying to stem the violence.

Anger was already high in Indianapolis. Earlier this month, city police shot Dreasjon Reed, an black man, to death as he was running from them. Reed was armed, it turned out, but the news does not indicate that he was waving his gun at the time he was killed. This happened about a mile and a half from my old house, near the Michigan Road, which quickly filled with protesters and was closed for hours. Read the story here.

As I scan news reports, it sounds like the majority of protesters in every city are loud but otherwise peaceful. A minority is violent.

I condemn the violence. But I fully support the right of everyone to protest police overuse and misuse of force, especially because it appears to affect black men in gross disproportion. I can’t imagine a valid reason for a Minneapolis police officer to keep his knee on a man’s neck for nine minutes, ignoring his protests that he couldn’t breathe. I can’t imagine a valid reason for an Indianapolis police officer to shoot a man in the back as he ran away. I can’t escape the feeling that if these two men were white, they would not have died.

The owner of Central Camera says he will rebuild his store. But will the United States ever rebuild from its ugly and shameful history of institutional racism? I’m not optimistic.


Recommended reading

💻 The colors were bolder than life. J.P. Cavanaugh tells the history and explains the technology behind Technicolor, the first viable color motion picture film process. Read Technicolor: The Most Colorful Black & White Movies Ever

Pumpkins for Sale
Agfa Clack, Fujfilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2012.

💻 Alister Scott recently gave his longstanding blog (about software testing) a major upgrade, which included going off to self-hosted WordPress. I was at a similar crossroads earlier this year and chose Business Plan, so I was especially interested to hear Alister’s reasoning. Read Why self hosted?

💻 Scott Galloway makes a compelling argument that post-COVID 19, non-elite expensive colleges and universities will have a reckoning, and most won’t survive. Read Post Corona: Higher Ed, Part Deux

📷 This Kodak Instamatic is a proper camera, with full manual control, a coupled light meter, and a fine Schneider-Kreuznach lens! Neil Piper reviews it. Read The Kodak Instamatic 500 / Type 048

📷 Mark O’Brien takes his Agfa Clack out for some exercise. This little box can do some great work, and Mark got some lovely images this time out. Read The Agfa Clack – a 6×9 gem

Sign up for my monthly email to get an insider view of what I’m working on! Sign up here.

Film Photography

Kodak Tri-X info sheet from 1981

This week I shot a roll of Kodak Tri-X in 120 that expired in 1981.

Back then, Kodak packed a useful sheet of information in the box. It was loaded with helpful tips for shooting and developing this film to get good results. I scanned it in so I could share it with you. Click either image to see it larger.

In 1981, when you bought a roll of Tri-X you could spool it into any camera, even one you didn’t know well, and use these instructions to get usable results. It’s too bad Kodak doesn’t pack these info sheets today.

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Camera Reviews

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

From the 1980s to the early 2000s, camera manufacturers manufactured as many compact point-and-shoot cameras as stars in the sky. Or so it seems. eBay lists billions and billions of them at any moment, at any rate. So many of them are crap, making it a crapshoot to find the good ones. So many are wildly overpriced. A tip: Pentax’s compacts in the IQZoom and Espio series are usually good, sometimes great — and are bargain priced. Like this one, the Pentax IQZoom 170SL.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

The IQZoom 170SL is small: just 4.5×2.25×2 inches. But it packs a long lens, a 38-170mm f/5.6-12.8 SMC Pentax Zoom, of 8 elements in 6 groups. Did you catch that? SMC! Super Multi Coated! Just like all the great Pentax SLR lenses. Not all IQZoom/Espio cameras come so equipped. If you don’t see SMC on an IQZoom’s lens bezel, it doesn’t have an SMC lens.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

The 170SL’s electronic shutter operates from 1/360 to 2 sec. It reads the film canister’s DX code to set ISO from 25 to 3200. Avoid non-DX coded films, as the camera defaults to a not-useful ISO 25. It focuses automatically, using a phase-matching five-point system. At the lens’s wide end it focuses from 2.45 feet; at maximum zoom from 3.9 feet. It sets exposure automatically.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

The buttons atop the camera control its functions. One is for flash and shutter modes. When you turn the camera on, it uses flash when low light demands it, unless you turn flash off with this button. It also lets you force flash on and choose long shutter speeds, including bulb mode.

The middle button controls the autofocus, including infinity focus lock and spot focus. The next button turns on the self-timer and a wireless remote shutter control. My 170SL didn’t come with the remote, so I couldn’t try it. The right button sets the camera’s date and time. Some 170SLs don’t have this button, apparently. If you set a date and time, it imprints onto the negative.

The viewfinder offers diopter adjustment, a very nice touch. Move the slider on top of the viewfinder pod until the view is crisp.

The camera loads your film, winds, and rewinds automatically. You load the film upside down from the right side, which is a little odd. A single CR2 battery powers all.

This was an expensive camera: $433 when new. You could get a Pentax 35mm SLR kit for about that then!

If you like point-and-shoot 35mm cameras, check out my reviews of the Yashica T2 (here), the Pentax IQZoom EZY (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), the Olympus Stylus (here), the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (here), the Olympus mju Zoom 140 (here), and the Kodak VR35 K40 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I put a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 into the 170SL and took it to downtown Zionsville one evening. Most places were closed thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown, so we had Main Street largely to ourselves. Here’s my favorite photo from the roll.

T-shirt in the shop window

The IQZoom 170SL was an easy companion on this walk. It is very light but feels solid. Every control fell right to hand. It took me no time at all to blow through all 24 exposures on the roll.


The zoom worked smoothly but a little slowly, with a soft whirr. Winding was similarly quiet. I’m impressed with how the autoexposure system navigated mixed lighting.

Curbside carryout

I’m impressed with the sharpness and bold color I got. This camera made Fuji 400 look better than I’ve ever seen it.

Bus by the salon

Next to the viewfinder are green and red lights. The green light glows when autofocus has a lock. The red light blinks when flash is charging and glows steady when flash is ready. In this fading light the flash fired a lot. I knew when I photographed this sign the flash would reflect. So I turned flash off and the long-exposure mode on and shot it again. That shot turned out soft.

Harold's, flash
Harold's, no flash

In dim corners the 170SL gave surprisingly shallow depth of field.

Pink posies

That roll flew by so fast I barely got a feel for the camera. So I loaded some Fujicolor 200 and took the camera on a lunchtime walk through the shopping centers near my home. I was glad for a bright day, as full sun is so often a challenge for point-and-shoot cameras. Not so the 170SL. Just look at that color!

America's diner

I detect a whiff of pincushion distortion here, but overall I find this lens to suffer little from distortion. Again: just look at that color!

Old Navy

I find yellows commonly wash out on consumer color films, but the 170SL brought it in, big and bold, every time. This photo shows a little vignetting which I suppose is to be expected from a compact zoom camera.

We're open

The 170SL even rendered black impressively deep and true.

One way

I forgot to mention earlier that the 170SL has a panorama mode. A switch on the bottom moves masks in place over the film and in the viewfinder.


That scene was too far away, so I zoomed in to the max and shot again. At 170mm it’s hard to hold the lens steady.

Close-up panorama

I did manage one decent 170mm shot. For this one, I stood square, breathed steadily, and squeezed the shutter button slowly. It’s still soft, but not due to shake this time. That’s just how maximum zoom goes on these point-and-shoot cameras, in my experience.

Bell de tacos

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Pentax IQZoom 170SL gallery.

I’m impressed with the Pentax IQZoom 170SL. Actually I’m blown away by the bold, rich color I got on everyday color film. I plan to put a couple rolls of black-and-white film through this camera to see how they perform. If they wow me as much as these color rolls did, I might just have a keeper!

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Moon-Lite Motel

Moon-Lite Motel
Canon PowerShot S80

You’ll find the Moon-Lite Motel in Versailles (ver-SALES), Indiana, on US 421. That’s also the Auto Trail alignment of the Michigan Road. I’ve seen other photos with the neon fully working — the MOTEL letters light up in pink.

You never know what you’re going to get when you choose to stay at an old motel like this. Thank heavens for Google and its reviews, which say that this is one of the good ones.

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single frame: Moon-Lite Motel

A neon motel sign in Versailles, IN.