Chris Gonzales

Stop Packing So Much: The Minimalist Packing List

Former British Army soldier James Turner constantly travels around the world, so you'd think he carries a ton of stuff everywhere he goes. That is not the case (at least, not anymore).

“Fast forward to the tail end of 2014, I’m at Hong Kong’s ridiculously large airport heading over to Thailand for 3 months. I’ve got a tiny 26 litre backpack casually thrown across a shoulder which tops out at 12kg. The tiny bag, coupled with some impressive Hong Kong’ian logistical efficiency means I’m off the train and into the departure lounge in a speedy, fuss free 20 minutes.”

I also enjoyed his take on the Tom Bihn Smart Alec backpack:

“When you touch it, it’s like closing the door on a VW Golf. You immediately trust the engineer behind the design.

[...]

There are plenty of bags which you can pack small with, but not many which will leave you with a smile.”

If you're interested in travel or want to nerd out about packing organization (and who doesn't?) you should read his article. Lots of great tips and gear recommendations throughout.

But really, it's about much more than travel gear—there's something amazing about the idea of carrying everything you need in one little bag, no matter how big the adventure.

People Pay for the Content, Not the App

Álvaro Serrano, linking to Re/code's article about the financial issues and potential layoffs faced by The New York Times:

“It’s sad to see the Times struggling but let’s face it, their digital subscription model is downright ridiculous. For example, the smartphone and tablet subscriptions are priced separately, and if you want to read the NYT in both your phone and your tablet you need to pay for both. It feels like 2010 all over again.

I can’t believe we still have to say this in 2014, because it’s just obvious: people pay for the content, not the app. And the New York Times is the same whether your read it on your computer, your tablet or your smartphone.”

I have to agree. It's no wonder so many traditional publications are struggling, when one of the smartest and most prestigious publishers around is still getting digital subscriptions so wrong.

Where Ideas Come From

When asked where he gets his ideas, Neil Gaiman often gives the pithy answer, “I make them up. Out of my head.” When a seven-year-old asked the same, he felt compelled to expound a bit (or rather a lot, really, but for my purposes here I've edited out most of it):

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.

[...]

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.

And when you've an idea - which is, after all, merely something to hold on to as you begin - what then?

Well, then you write. You put one word after another until it's finished - whatever it is.”

Daydreaming is a huge part of the creative process. You don't have to stare at a blank page until ideas come—in fact I would advise against it. Gaze blankly out of a window once in a while. Go for walks and stare at clouds. Get lost in your thoughts. Let your inner child wander.

If ever anyone remarks that you look like you're doing nothing, don't be ashamed. Treat it as a badge of honor.

Using VSCO Cam for iPad

Shawn Blanc shares his first impressions of VSCO Cam for iPad, along with his new photo-importing process that involves a Lightning-to-SD card reader.

“Long have I wished for an iPad-centric workflow. For one, the larger screen of the iPad is far better suited to photo editing. Moreover, for extended trips, I’ve always wanted to be able to edit a dozen or more photographs and then send them out to the relevant friends and family. But importing them one at a time and then editing them on my iPhone just never felt appealing.

But, now there is VSCO Cam for the iPad. Combined with the Lighting to SD Card Camera Reader, my wish may have been granted.”

As Shawn details, it's not a perfect setup and probably won't entice many photographers to switch to a primarily-iOS workflow. Still, it feels like we're getting closer to such a world every day—and as someone who is already 99% iOS-centric, you can bet I'm watching this space closely.

VSCO Cam 4.0 Released

I don't often make a habit of linking to app updates on this site, unless there is good reason. Today's release of VSCO 4.0 provided one very good reason: iPad support.

That's right, the interface has been retooled for the iPad display. Let's just say I might have jumped up and clicked my heels when I found out.

Brief Review: Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6

I've been anxious to see this movie ever since I saw the teaser trailer back in May. I look forward to just about anything put out by Disney or Pixar, but this one in particular really spoke to my sensibilities.

Robots. Superheroes. Futuristic cities. Comedy. Epic action. Hints of anime. Could they have called upon my inner child any more strongly?

Now that I'm back home after seeing the film, I can say it was everything I wanted it to be and more. The effects were absolutely incredible, the characters entertaining and believable, and the story perfectly balanced between funny, intense, and emotional. I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say it's not often an entire movie theater applauds a scene less than five minutes in.

Big Hero 6 — 2

Big Hero 6 was pure joy all the way through, minus the sad scenes of course.1 And those scenes were handled with all the care and finesse you'd expect of Disney or Pixar. Just the right amount of emotional impact to make you tear up a little. I'm not ashamed.

Brendon clearly loved it too, because he's running around the house shouting “Baymax!” and making lots of flying and vroom noises. He was also able to recite several lines out loud—and I do mean loud—during certain scenes, thanks to seeing the trailer so many times in the Disney Movies Anywhere iOS app. That made several other parents around us laugh.

The folks at Disney have nailed it yet again, though I never expected any less. My only wish is that I could somehow explore the city of San Fransokyo. It'll be a shame if they don't produce some kind of free-roaming video game where you can do exactly that.


  1. In fact, the same could be said of Feast, the Disney animated short about a puppy that showed before the movie. 

Celebrating Fountain Pen Day

tools-and-toys-fountain-pen-day

Since today is Fountain Pen Day, I thought it appropriate to celebrate the occasion on Tools & Toys' Friday Quality Linkage column. I compiled several interesting links and videos for fountain pen aficionados to enjoy, so if you're into that sort of thing, go check it out.

Tools & Toys 2014 Christmas Catalog

Tools and Toys 2014 Christmas Catalog

Me and the other guys at Tools & Toys have published our 2014 Christmas Catalog. This is our best one yet.

“We at Tools & Toys don’t believe we should buy stuff just for the sake of buying stuff. We believe gift-giving should genuinely benefit the recipient and increase the quality of their life. One way to do this is to give carefully-considered, quality items. We have done our best to make sure everything in our Tools & Toys Gift Guide meets that standard.”

Couldn't be happier with how this turned out. If you're already thinking of shopping around for gift ideas, I truly believe our catalog is the best place to start.

Disney's Impressive Rendering Technology

As Joseph Volpe of Engadget reports, the technology that went into creating Disney's upcoming movie Big Hero 6 is insane. Here, he writes about their proprietary rendering software, Hyperion:

“It’s responsible for environmental effects — stuff most audiences might take for granted, like when they see Baymax, the soft, vinyl robot featured in the film, illuminated from behind.That seemingly mundane lighting trick is no small feat; it required the use of a 55,000-core supercomputer spread across four geographic locations.”

[...]

To put the enormity of this computational effort into perspective, Hendrickson says that Hyperion “could render Tangled from scratch every 10 days.”

Even more impressive to me as a moviegoer is the invisibility of such wizardry. Most people will never notice or even think about what it took to build and illuminate the complex world of the film, and that's what makes it so magical.

Celebrating CSS

Jeremy Keith on the 20th birthday of CSS:

“I think that CSS hits a nice sweet spot, balancing learnability and power. I love the fact that every bit of CSS ever written comes down to the same basic pattern:

selector {
       property: value;
}

That’s it!

How amazing is it that one simple pattern can scale to encompass a whole wide world of visual design variety?”

The Right Words

Patrick Rhone:

“It is moments like this that I am reminded why I am a writer. I’m in love with and in awe of the power of language. The way a single word or just the right ones strung together can capture the whole of something otherwise only imagined. An entire experience can be encapsulated, examined, and then set free for others to bear witness to, all in an instant, with just three simple words.”

This is truer than many writers know. I'm reminded of Tom Stoppard, who said (emphasis mine):

“I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.”

The right words in the right order. A powerful idea, that. Put another way, which words are within you right now, merely waiting to be placed in their proper order?

Jeff Sheldon's Iceland Trip [Video]

Jeff Sheldon—of Ugmonk fame—recorded this footage while recently vacationing in Iceland. It was shot on an Olympus E-M10, the same awesome micro four-thirds camera Shawn Blanc extensively reviewed on Tools & Toys.

The trip was beautifully captured, despite Jeff's claim not to know much about videography. Clearly the man has an eye for composition. Now I want to visit Iceland.

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.)