Last Year's New Tech

Shawn Blanc:

“If you’re in the market for a new iPhone, iPad, and/or Kindle — this is a great year to buy. Each device is the best its ever been. But…

Despite the fact that there are all these new and amazing gadgets, I think it’s legitimately safe to say that many folks will prefer the tech that was new last year. And, in many cases, there are some people who would be better served by getting last year’s gadgets.”

He's absolutely right. My iPhone 4s is in desperate need of an upgrade, but I'm not entirely sure I want the iPhone 6. It's a lovely device, don't get me wrong. I just don't feel like I need that big of a screen on a phone—that's what my iPad is for.

What I'm really tempted to buy is the iPhone 5s, which I consider to be Apple's best and most beautiful iPhone yet.

My one worry is that, since the 5s is already a year old, it will be obsolete that much sooner. And I don't mean in a "keeping up with the Joneses" way, but rather that Apple may stop supporting it too soon for me.

A Day in the Life of John Lasseter [Video]

Speaking of John Lasseter, this 25-minute documentary provides a fascinating look at a typical day in the man's life—namely: Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011.

The camera follows him from breakfast at his incredible house all the way through his workday at Pixar HQ. I particularly liked how he can work remotely from an iPad using Pixar's in-house apps, and of course getting a peek at the creative process is awesome too.

Am I a weirdo for finding this sort of thing entertaining? Maybe. I don't care.

John Lasseter on Storytelling

Caitlin Roper of WIRED examines the kind of philosophy that allowed John Lasseter and other members of Pixar to completely revitalize Disney's animation studio over the last decade:

“And the emotional core of a movie is what Lasseter pursues. Anybody can make films that dazzle you with technical wizardry or crack you up with biting humor. But that’s not enough for Lasseter. More than anything, the world’s most emotional executive wants to make movies that you connect with, movies that make you feel.

[...]

“The connection you make with your audience is an emotional connection,” Lasseter says. “The audience can’t be told to feel a certain way. They have to discover it themselves.”

Though I am neither an animator nor filmmaker, John Lasseter is one of my biggest heroes, right alongside Hiyao Miyazaki. These guys have set the standard for modern storytelling, and I aspire to approach writing in the same way they have film. I'm not there yet, of course—it's a work in progress.

The article also includes a line from Ed Catmull excellent book, Creativity, Inc., that aligns perfectly with what I said yesterday about words being more important than design:

“Visual polish frequently doesn’t matter if you are getting the story right.”

Pixelmator for iPad [App Store Link]

I've been wishing for an iPad version of Pixelmator ever since I bought the device. Now it's ~finally~ here, and was an insta-buy for me. Still can't believe it's just $5, considering how powerful it is.

The best part? No more putting up with the eccentricities of Photoshop Touch.

Words Are More Important Than Design

Frank Chimero:

“A young designer is beaten over the head with typefaces, grids, and rules—and rightfully so—but typography can act as a smoke-screen. There is so much to learn about the letters that it’s easy to forget about the words. Once a designer has the typographic skills in their pocket, anyone with their head on straight realizes ugly words in beautiful typefaces are still pretty dumb.”

This is just as useful a lesson for us writers as it is for designers. You're better off getting the words right than fiddling with the blog design—believe me, I know.

* * *

You want to know which site consistently delights me, one that I go back and read time and time again despite its ancient design? Maciej Cegłowski's blog, Idle Words. You know, the guy behind Pinboard. The man is such a fantastic storyteller that I'm always, always helplessly drawn in by his words. It doesn't matter that the site is ugly as sin.

Start with his Argentina on Two Steaks a Day piece and you'll see what I mean.

Ryan Holiday: “Wanting to be a "writer" was your first mistake”

“The problem is identifying as a writer. As though assembling words together is somehow its own activity. It isn’t. It’s a means to an end. And that end is always to say something, to speak some truth or reach someone outside yourself.

[...]

No one ever reads something and says, “Well, I got absolutely nothing out of this and have no idea what any of this means but it sure is technically beautiful!” But they say the opposite all the time, they say “Goddamn, that’s good” to things with typos, poor grammar and simple diction.”

Holiday is one of those guys who has achieved quite a lot at a young age, and can dole out advice like "go do interesting things" as a 26-year-old without a hint of pretension.

This particular post really speaks to me for two reasons:

  1. I do self-identify as a writer. It's my standard response whenever asked what I do for a living.
  2. I don't lead a particularly adventurous life. A happy one, sure, but it's hard to write interesting things when most of your time is spent at home.

If nothing else, Ryan has given me some food for thought. Perhaps a little more adventure in my life is in order, hm?

* * *

If you want to read more from Ryan Holiday, I recommend his book, The Obstacle is the Way. It's all about applying the tenets of stoicism to view life's obstacles in a totally different light. He also has an excellent book recommendation newsletter I've been subscribed to for years.

Drafts 4 for iOS

Huge update to one of my favorite apps. There are more new features than you can shake a stick at, some of which I listed in this Tools & Toys post only minutes ago.

Drafts 4 is a $5 paid upgrade for existing users, which I hope I never see a complaint about because Greg works hard to keep the app up-to-date and relevant. This is an app I use all the time, and I'm happy to support him again.

iOS 8's Time-Lapse Feature

Dan Provost of Studio Neat examined how the time-lapse feature in iOS 8 works and shares his findings.

“Time-lapse videos look best when they are buttery smooth, and dynamically selecting intervals in this fashion would create a jittery and jerky video. So what does Apple mean by "dynamically selected intervals"?

Turns out, what Apple is doing in quite simple, and indeed, pretty clever.”

Apple's method is indeed clever, even elegant.

(By the way, can I just geek out for a moment about how gorgeous the Studio Neat website is nowadays? My goodness.)

Josh Gintner's Review of the Olympus E-M10

Though I consider Shawn's review of the Olympus E-M10 to be the canonical one—sure, I'm biased—I also enjoyed Josh Gintner's take on the camera.

“I was utterly amazed at the difficulty in finding an online review that documented the real aspects of buying and owning a camera. Every review talked about f-stops, ISO settings and RAW capabilities. All I wanted was a camera that could take pretty great photos on the spot without having to fiddle with four dials in the process.”

Josh's review clocks in at over 4,000 words and includes plenty of eye cand- er, sample photos. He really did his homework on this one.

A Little More Playful

Yesterday, Shawn Blanc guested on Myke Hurley's podcast, Inquisitive. They discussed the Tools & Toys redesign, as well as the site's history and how our editorial team came together. The parts about starting projects and managing teams were particularly interesting.

Side note: I listened to the show live, and it was a bit surreal to hear Shawn talking to someone else in real-time about how he originally discovered my old site, Unretrofied, two years ago.

The New Tools & Toys is Live

The New Tools & Toys

Yesterday, I said I couldn't wait for the new Tools & Toys site to be revealed. Today, the veil has finally been lifted and you can check out the shiny new design for yourself. It's seriously beautiful.

There's a lot more to it than just a fresh coat of paint, though. Our publishing guidelines and philosophies have also been expanded, in ways that truly resonate with me and what I aim for here at The Spark Journal. Shawn Blanc explains further:

“With this new design, we are aiming to become more than just a cool stuff site. Our new, longer-form articles will center around the values of mindfulness, intentionality, knowing your tools (and your toys), and appreciation for quality.

As fun as it is to geek out over the latest and greatest stuff, at the end of the day, there is much, much more to life. Our self-worth is not tied to how fancy our gear is nor how often we upgrade it.”

We will continue to post about cool stuff we find throughout each week, but at a slightly reduced rate so that we can focus more on long-form editorials, reviews, and interviews. The best example of what's in store is Shawn's long-awaited review of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera. I love what we can do with photos on the new site.

Credit for the design and development goes to Pat Dryburgh, who is a genius. Hire him for your next project.

Scenes from the New American Dustbowl

Similar to the previous link, novelist Alan Heathcock made a visit that provided real perspective about the climate problem:

“I feel badly, not just because others don’t care, but because I was reluctant to care, too. It’s hard to make people care because there’s a general mistrust of desperation, as if a desperate person has replaced logic with emotion, truth with exaggeration. Each night I’ve gone through my notes and fact-checked the farmers, doubting what they told me. Even after seeing the land and meeting the people I second-guessed their claims and statistics, only to find, time and again, they were telling the truth.”

People tend to write off climate concerns as something that only affects poor people in faraway places, too distant to be concerned about. But it's happening right here, right now.

Even if you're not one of the insane people who deny climate change entirely, you must understand this isn't just a problem for your great-grandchildren to deal with. We will likely feel its effects within our own lifetimes. Our children certainly will.

Think about that the next time you decide to write about how you didn't like your huge iPhone.

Meet the Real Victims of Climate Change

Brooke Jarvis visited Papua New Guinea and was confronted with the issue of climate change more directly than even she had anticipated:

“Elias had heard that ice was melting, but hadn’t heard why. No amount of reading or writing about climate change can really prepare you to look into the face of someone who will soon flee her home and explain the greenhouse effect.”

As if by cruel joke, my cigarette-smoking, motorcycle-obsessed neighbors across the street decided to rev their engines SUPER loud and peel off down the street just as I reached the end of this piece.

Awesome iOS 8 App Updates

Over on The Sweet Setup, we spent all day compiling a list of the most interesting iOS 8 app updates. The sheer number of new things our iPads and iPhones can now do is overwhelming. It's going to take a few weeks to fully absorb it all.

Here are just a few of my own favorite new things:

Notebook Tagging

Notebook Tags

Adam Akhtar shares a clever tagging system for physical notebooks:

“[...] notebooks are hard to organize your ideas. You either split your notebook into several sections for each 'category' and end up wasting valuable pages in the quieter sections or you just write your ideas as they come along making them hard to find later on.

If this sounds familiar then you are going to love this little hack I was taught here in Japan by a friendly salariman. It's a little messy, and not something I'd use all the time but for the right subject could come in handy.”

May implement this idea in my own notebooks soon.

"Like a Bubble Surfacing in Water"

While doing research for this Tools & Toys post about the 2015 Hobonichi Techo planner, I came across this quote from Shigesato Itoi, the guy who created it (emphasis mine):

“When people are alone, they have this hazy, blank period of time they can’t put a name to.

The nameless feelings experienced during those nameless times make up a major element of a person. And one day, like a bubble surfacing in water, something will emerge in the form of words. I hope the Hobonichi Techo can serve as a means to keep those words.

I’d like the Hobonichi Techo to be a fishing net to catch all the things you think and feel during your unnameable times. Of course you can use the techo as a scheduler, but there are already other tools you can use for that. I get the feeling there’s never been a container to keep things that surface during unnameable times, unimportant things that stick with you, or things that resonate with you when you don’t know why.

This translates well to how I think about and use Day One.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

I just stumbled on this Tumblr and already love everything about it. As the author describes, it's “a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for.”

His definition for sonder—which he also produced a video for—is the sort of thing I think about all the time:

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

This site speaks to me in so many ways. Such a wonderful concept, beautifully written.

Big Morning in My Little Corner of the Web

I woke up to all sorts of good news today:

There's probably even more I'm forgetting but man, this is one of those days when it's awesome to be a nerd.