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How I'm Holding Up on My 2015 Resolution

This morning my friend Patrick Rhone published a short piece called Right Speech.

In Buddhism, Right Speech is one of the precepts in The Noble Eightfold Path. In short, it is to abstain from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter. It is to consider carefully and mindfully what you say before saying it — weighing how it furthers the recipient of the message. If what we say does not further understanding, come from a place of compassion, or has no true purpose, it should not be said.

I have been bad at this lately.

The post is an apology for his own negativity, but whether he knew it or not, it was something I also needed to hear.

As some readers will remember, I vowed at the beginning of 2015 that I would “Eliminate as much cynicism and negativity from my life as possible.” I did a good job of it for a while, but lately I've fallen back into some old habits, both on Twitter and in my personal life (particularly the latter). I knew from the start I would be prone to falling off the wagon now and then, but I've found that each time I react negatively to something it gets harder and harder to get back on. I take this resolution quite seriously, so it's time to give myself a little kick in the ass with some public accountability.

This post is two things:

  1. My own apology—to myself, to my friends and family, and most of all to my son, who my behavior influences most.

  2. It's also another request for any of you to call me out if you see me behaving against my resolution. I mean it. I once sent Marco Arment a gentle reminder when he was being negative about something, and I hope someone would do the same for me if the roles were reversed.

Half a year left to go for my resolution, and hopefully a lifetime of optimism beyond that. Let's do this.

A Note on Blockquotes

Spoiler alert: in this post I will explain why I am changing the way I write blockquotes.

I fully expect 99% of readers will file this into the “why on Earth are you sharing this information with us, literally no one cares” category, and rightfully so. (If you consider yourself in that 99% and would rather leave right now, might I offer this cute video of 5-year-old kids making espresso instead?)

This one goes out to the other one percent—the writers who obsess over stylistic details and think way too much about this stuff. I love you wackos, you know who you are.

 

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. 

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. 

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.

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:

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.

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Robin Williams

“You're only given a little spark of madness. And if you lose that...you're nothing.”
~ Robin Williams

I've often looked down my nose at people who get overly worked up in the wake of a celebrity's death. All too often, we place famous people on pedestals they don't deserve merely because of their fame or fortune.

This one is different.

This morning, Robin Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide. He was 63. An incredibly sad loss.

His death will touch the hearts of many, because he was more than just a comedian or an actor. He was an artist and a master of his craft, never one to hold back or shy away from taking risks. He was an integral part of our cultural fabric, someone who made us laugh and cry and laugh all over again. He used his success to help those in need. He impacted more lives than we can ever know.

The world was a better place for his talents, and it just won't be the same without him.

Rest in peace, Robin.

My Aeropress Brewing Method

Aeropress — by Casey Klekas

Photo credit: Casey Klekas, because it's a much nicer shot than I can produce in my ugly little kitchen. I do have that same kettle though.

I don't listen to many tech podcasts these days and thus I'm not subscribed to John Chidgey's show, Pragmatic. (Sorry John. It's not you, it's me.) But when the latest episode—in which Marco Arment guest-hosts to wax scientific about coffee—came up in my Twitter feed, I couldn't add it to my Huffduffer queue fast enough.

It's a great listen if you consider yourself a coffee nerd, and quite educational if you're a newbie. I particularly liked hearing Marco discuss why he doesn't fuss over his brewing process anymore. His method is similar to my own, but mine is even simpler in some ways:

  • I add about 1 (U.S.) cup of water to my kettle and bring it up to 195°F.

  • While the water heats up, I scoop some freshly-ground coffee—the most important factor, really—into my inverted Aeropress, up to the "bottom" of the #3 circle (the plunger having been inserted just enough to touch the #4 circle). I don't have a kitchen scale to weigh my coffee, but over time I've found this amount works nicely for me.

  • When the water's ready, I pour just enough to coat the grounds and let them bloom for 45 seconds to let out all that trapped carbon dioxide. Marco derides this very practice on the podcast, and maybe it is just placebo, but I do it anyway.

  • At the :45 mark, I add water to just under the top rim of the Aeropress, stir the slurry mixture around a bit, and let it steep another 45 seconds. At this point I typically run just a little of the hot water through the Aeropress filter/cap, not because I've ever detected any paper flavor in my coffee (I haven't) but because it helps the filter adhere to the cap when the time comes to flip it over.

  • At the 1min 30sec mark, I twist the cap on, flip the Aeropress onto my trusty coffee mug, and plunge. I try to finish before my iPhone timer reaches the 2min mark, and I always stop as soon as I hear any hissing noise coming from the Aeropress. Again, this might be placebo, but I've read that plunging any further will extract the more bitter flavors into the cup.

And that's it!

If this seems like a lot of details to remember, just know that writing it all out like this is severely more complicated than the actual brewing process. It takes me about 7min from start to finish, and most of that is waiting for the kettle to heat up.

The point I want to get across here is that I don't worry much about exact measurements, and I bet you don't need to either. Like any recovering coffee nerd, I've tried experimenting and being fussy and even emulating Aeropress championship recipes, but again, the most important factor by far is using recently-roasted, freshly-ground beans. If you start with good beans and a little practice, it's hard to screw up the end product.

As for the iPhone timer, I don't use any fancy coffee apps. I've tried a lot of them and always come back to the stopwatch bundled with the built-in Clock app. It's simple and it works fine.