Chris Gonzales

Advice is Not Criticism

Seth Godin:

“It's quite natural to be defensive in the face of criticism. After all, the critic is often someone with an agenda that's different from yours.

But advice, solicited advice from a well-meaning and insightful expert? If you confuse that with criticism, you'll leave a lot of wisdom on the table.”

Sean McCabe on Dealing with Negative Feedback

In a funny bit of timing, yesterday Sean McCabe posted episode #50 of seanwes tv, giving advice on handling negative feedback.

He makes a good point about the fact that anyone with any measure of success, no matter how positive their message, is going to have haters. There's simply no getting around it. Thus, it's important to keep this in mind:

“It's not a reflection on you, it's just a reflection on them.”

Exactly the sort of attitude I want to internalize in 2015. Maybe I should make it my mantra.

My Resolution for 2015

Anton Ego — 2015 Resolution

Yes, I know, we're already close enough to February to make a new year's resolution at this point seem a bit silly. But from a mathematical standpoint we're only ~6% into the year so I'm willing to make an exception.

* * *

You know the old adage, “If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all”? That's what my 2015 resolution is all about. If I had a personal "mission statement" for this year, it would go something like:

Eliminate as much cynicism and negativity from my life as possible.

That's it. No, really. I want to be a nicer, more optimistic person, and to have the most positive year ever. Hope that's not too much to ask!

You could totally stop reading here if you wanted. The rest of this piece will be a longer explanation of where I'm coming from and what led to this resolution. If you're not interested in that, then by all means go spend time with your family or drink too much wine with friends or whatever it is you like doing.

Enjoy your weekend :)

If you're still here...hi. I brewed some coffee, you're welcome to it. Ethiopia Sidama Homacho Waeno, lovely stuff.

What was I talking about again? Oh, right—cynicism. You know, the kind of baseline negativity some use as a lens with which to view the world, and directed towards others whether or not it's deserved. It's an attitude I've found is far too prevalent on the web.

Now, negativity between internet strangers is nothing new. I myself have produced a great deal of cynicism and contempt online over the years (to my deep shame and regret) and we've all witnessed various forms of it, whether or not we are personally involved or choose to speak up about it. One might say it comes with the territory of being a web denizen—after all, "anonymity is a double-edged sword."

And it doesn't end with our online interactions. We've all been cut off in traffic by someone, or been on the receiving end of some other rudeness from a stranger, that triggers an instantaneous reaction within us. We are (or at least I am) frighteningly quick [NSFW language] to place low value on the other person's intelligence and even their overall worth in the world. We do this knowing we have committed those same acts ourselves. It's always the other person who is clearly a criminal of society and deserves the harshest punishment.

That's not an attitude I wish to harbor anymore, nor is it the kind of legacy I want to leave. I don't want to soil my interactions with kneejerk cynicism, needless aggression, or constant second-guessing about everyone else's intentions. That's the stuff of adolescence, and I'm going on 30. More importantly, I want my son to grow up having a positive outlook on the world. I can't very well help him with that if I'm going around being negative all the time.

Negativity is one of those energies I feed on way too easily, and that's why I'm going to stop allowing much of it in my life, starting right now.

The Six Commandments

I'm going to need some ground rules to help me out with this, to prevent myself falling back into old, cynical habits:

  1. Mute judiciously. — If someone I follow on Twitter decides to go on a rant about something, they're getting muted for a while. Repeated instances of this behavior will result in me unfollowing and/or blocking them. It's not about whether or not they're making valid points, or even if I otherwise like them as a person; I just don't want rage in my timeline.

    Same goes for RSS feeds and podcasts. If a writer or podcaster decides to take a trip to Pessimism Town, I'm unsubscribing. Life's too short.

  2. Stop responding to trolls. — If I, or one of my friends—especially including my teammates at Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup—writes something that attracts overly negative criticism from angry readers, I will not respond to (or interact with) those trolls in any way. I unfortunately take too much glee in shutting people down on the internet, only to feel bad about it later. No more. They are to be blocked or muted immediately.

    In cases of constructive criticism—and yes, I am objective enough to know the difference—I will try to respond as kindly as possible and thank them for their feedback, whether or not I agree with them.

  3. Be proactively positive. — More than reducing negativity and cynicism, I want to proactively push in the opposite direction by injecting more optimism and good vibes in my interactions. If somebody says, makes, writes, publishes, or otherwise produces something I enjoy, I want to go out of my way to show appreciation. My goal is to complement more people this year than I ever have in my life.

    On a similar note, if I have a criticism of something another person has made, I will only share it if I can do so constructively and positively. Help people up, not stomp them down.

  4. Encourage positivity in others. — Where possible, I will encourage others to be positive, or at least lead by example. Generally speaking, I want things I say on Twitter and here on The Spark Journal to come from a place of happiness and positivity, and I don't care how hippie that sounds. "Be the change you want to see in the world" and all that.

  5. Remain a critical thinker. — I will maintain a healthy skepticism about some things, but never assume I have all the answers or that I absolutely know what's right.

  6. No mobbing up on people. — I will not take part in any public shaming of individuals or companies. People make mistakes sometimes, and for once in my life I'd rather try to forgive them than engage in "mob rule" mentality.

* * *

Some of these rules seem simple on the surface, but to anyone who knows me, I'm going to have a hard time adhering to them. I am doing away with a lifetime of terrible attitudes and habits here.

I also realize that these new habits may inadvertently result in me shutting out the many outrages of the world, valid or no. I'm not necessarily aiming to use my first-world white privilege to ignore everyone else's problems, but I don't feel I have a place in most of those kinds of conversations anyway. I spent far too much of 2014 outraged by things like the events in Ferguson, yet feeling powerless to do anything except rant on Twitter—and that's no help to anyone. I still believe there are things are worth fighting for (civil/marital rights for everyone, reducing greenhouse emissions, single-payer universal healthcare, etc.), but I'm not going to take part in causes unless I feel I can actually do some good.

I hope everyone reading this will join me in this resolution throughout 2015 and beyond. Let's all do our best to celebrate positivity and encouragement, rather than pull one another down.

And, if you ever catch me being cynical, please do reach out and encourage me to do better. I'll need all the help I can get.

Further Reading & Listening

Josh Ginter's Review of the 2015 Hobonichi Planner

As I sit here twenty days into 2015, still struggling to think of ways to use my 2015 Hobonichi planner (a thoughtful gift from my buddy Shawn Blanc), Josh Ginter is out there making me feel bad about all the empty pages in the beautiful book next to me.

“I bought both my wife and I a Hobonichi Techo as a 2015 “resolution” gift. We both understood how busy our lives would become in 2015 and we wanted a simple way to stay on top of everything. A solid three weeks in, and my wife has boldly stated that she loves her Techo. It’s the perfect planner for her. And it’s the perfect planner for me as well.”

Great review with lovely photos.

A Review of the GORUCK GR2 Bag

GORUCK GR2 by Álvaro Serrano

Speaking of Mr. Serrano, the man has written and photographed my new favorite review of the GORUCK GR2 bag—quite possibly the only review one will ever need to read about it.

This line really sums it up:

“With just a bit of planning and the right strategy, it’s the only bag you’ll ever need to carry.”

But it's more than just an in-depth examination of an excellent bag—it's a call to travel. If you reach the end of the review and don't feel like planning your next big trip, I can't help you.

The Case for Interchangeable Lenses in 2015

Álvaro Serrano thoroughly examines the current landscape of photography gear:

“But first, let’s take the obvious out of the way: there are no bad cameras or lenses out there anymore. That’s a fact. It is extremely likely that whatever camera you already own is perfectly capable of taking really great pictures, if you take the time to learn how to use it. So be advised: a “better” camera will not magically make you a better photographer. If you’re happy with what you already own, just keep it, stop reading now and go take some awesome pictures. This is all just splitting hairs, really.”

Couldn't agree more (though as a nerd I do enjoy the hair-splitting).

Suggested Uses for Day One

In my recent review of Day One, I listed a few ways to put the journaling app to good use. Over at The Sweet Setup, Shawn Blanc's review of the same app contains a running list of other great ideas worth checking out.

This bit at the end is so true:

“Thanks to tagging and searching, Day One can serve as all of these things at once. That’s the beauty of a personal journaling app, it can be filled with all sorts of topics and media types, with no need to keep it “focused.” And I think that’s the road best traveled. Because a huge part of what makes a successful journal is constant use.”

Day One and the Journaling Habit

“Once you are locked in the journaling habit, you will automatically see an increase in other positive life habits. Personally, I started to feel less worried about things. Before I journaled, I sometimes felt a big confusion in my head; now, all that confusion is resting on Day One, ready for me to analyze it when I’m in a calmer state of mind.”
— Tulio Jarocki

Journaling, like many things, is a habit I've struggled to become good at. For whatever reason I just don't have a natural inclination to write down things that happen in my life or inside my head. It's a problem that has followed me all my life. 

How Overcast Asks for Reviews

Marco Arment:

“When we all started complaining about “Rate this app” dialogs in 2011, and then reignited the discussion last year, the most common developer excuse for leaving them in was that the prompts worked, and the developers needed them to get enough ratings. Like most assumptions about what app developers “need” to do, I couldn’t wait to challenge that with Overcast, and I think the results are now worth sharing.”

Though Overcast is not my podcatcher of choice, there are still many things to like about it. Its unobtrusive prompt for App Store reviews is one of the more delightful ones.

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


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?