Ten years later: iPhone’s impact

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Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone on this day ten years ago during his 2007 Macworld keynote.

I remember watching the recorded keynote later at home on my beloved first Mac (the adorable white iMac G4*). I sat enthralled watching Jobs masterfully and with obvious glee unveil the never-before-seen features of this new device. I gasped along with the audience at touchscreen scrolling and pinch-to-zoom. I recognized immediately that this device was indeed the breakthrough device Jobs was pitching it to be.

The video of that keynote is worth rewatching even if you’ve seen it before, and it’s definitely worth seeing if you’ve never seen it. It’s embedded here along with a fascinating oral history of what led to the moment.

That moment is a turning point in technology, but also, in many ways, in our culture. We take it for granted now that a powerful computer with access to all the world’s knowledge and all of our most treasured photos and favorite songs can fit in your pocket. Before January 9, 2007 that possibility would have seemed far fetched. 

But Jobs’s keynote was remarkable as a form of presentation art as well. That moment was peak-Steve Jobs. The preparation for and execution of that keynote has become legendary. Jobs was in his element. He knew he had the substance—a once-in-a-generation product that he knew would change everything**—and he brought all the powers of his charismatic style to the moment.

The change sparked by the iPhone is remarkable, and its influence on its competitors and on technology and culture at large is undeniable. The world viewed through the prism of the iPhone generation looks different now than it did ten years ago. Better in many ways. Worse in some. 

It was a triumph of engineering and design. And a triumph of imagination. 

What could appear—what can even you bring to life—that might alter the way we can improve the human experience over the next ten years?

Think different, indeed.  

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*I still have this Mac tucked away on a little used desk in my home. I don’t power it on. But it’s still beautiful to look at.

**January 9, 2007 was also the day that Apple officially dropped the word “Computer” from the name of the company. Jobs knew Apple would never be the same after that day, too. It went from being an iconic, but second-tier computer maker to the most valuable and influential company in the world. 

Kitchen tools list, updated

My sister-in-law is getting married later this year. Knowing I’m the primary cook in the family and knowing I’m a little too obsessed with finding the right tool, whether in technology or in the kitchen, she asked me to give her a list of essential kitchen tools for her wedding registry.

I was too happy to oblige, and I thought others might find this list useful as well.

I am no chef, and my skills are rudimentary at best, but I do care a lot about using quality tools that get the job done and are a delight to use.

The list below is made up mostly of tools I own and use, though some just represent categories, and the particular maker is less important. If you’re setting up a kitchen or want to expand your collection of tools, you might find something useful here:

  • Chef’s knife – You don’t need a lot of knives. Most cooks really only use two or three on a daily basis. But the Chef’s knife is the #1 kitchen tool. This Misen knife won’t be available till later this summer, but I’ve preordered one for myself already. It gets rave reviews as having the quality of a $150 knife for less than half that price. A workhorse chef’s knife that I use almost every day is the Victorinox Fibrox. It’s $45 and is very popular in restaurant kitchens. If you want to splurge a bit (and why shouldn’t you on the most important tool in the kitchen?), you can’t go wrong with a Wusthof ($117 German blade) or a Shun ($140 Japanese blade).
  • Paring knife
  • Steak knives – I like that the edge on this one is straight, not serrated. These won’t mangle that gorgeous steak you’ve grilled.
  • Cutting board – Our main cutting board is a work of art (it was a gift) and is so impressively heavy and rugged. It’s as beautiful as it is functional. Oil your wooden cutting boards periodically to keep the wood in great condition. We also have an Oxo cutting board. It’s good to have two or three. I cut meats on the polypropylene boards and everything else on the wooden board. Bamboo boards are a good choice, too.
  • Sharpening steel for knives – Steels don’t actually sharpen knives. They do straighten the edge back into place, though, and keep knives sharp. It’s good to edge your knife before or after every use. You will need to periodically have your knives professionally sharpened.
  • Magnetic strip for knife storage – The best way to store knives is on a magnetic strip mounted to the kitchen wall. It’s best not to keep knives in a drawer. And a block takes up counter space.
  • Cast iron skillet – Lodge is the most common brand you’ll find. But I’m excited about this Kickstarter project, the Field Skillet, which promises a lighter, smoother cast iron skillet. Pre-ordered.
  • Enameled cast iron skillet – Comes in a lot of colors and is my go-to for so many tasks—sautéing, chicken parmesan, frittatas, pancakes…
  • Oxo tongs – I use these often, and in all three sizes.
  • Microplane graters – The fine and coarse graters get used almost every day in our house. (Pre-grated cheese is wrong in many ways. More expensive, coated in starch to keep it from sticking, less fresh, and less delicious. We keep a block of parmigiano-reggiano and use it regularly. My 11-year-old loves it and is sadly disappointed whenever she encounters what passes for parmesan in other kitchens.)
  • Salad spinner
  • Turner and spatula
  • Grill spatula
  • Weber grill – We have a gas grill, too, but I use this classic Weber charcoal grill more often.
  • Weber chimney starter – Lighter fluid is not necessary, nor is pre-soaked charcoal.
  • Coffee grinder – Coffee people only use whole beans, freshly ground, of course. This is the grinder we have, but the Baratza has a bit more acclaim.
  • Garlic press – Unitaskers are not ideal, but this garlic press is a beast and one of my favorite tools.
  • Whisks – You’ll want a small and a large whisk.
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Oxo measuring cup set – Love these. I remember my mom first seeing one of these in my house years ago and being so delighted by the clever design. I gave her mine on the spot.
  • Half sheet pans – We have at least four of these. So useful, for food prep as well as baking and roasting.
  • Thermometer – This is THE thermometer to get if you’re willing to splurge. One of my most relied on gadgets, especially for grilling. $100
  • Dish towels – We use these lint-free surgical towels in the kitchen. Lots of color options.
  • Pepper mill – Never use pre-ground pepper when you can get 100 times more flavor by grinding it fresh.
  • Pizza stone – We use this for homemade pizza, and my wife also uses it for some of her cookies.
  • Simple Human open kitchen trash can – One of my favorite purchases in the past year. Who knew a trash can could be so delightful? It looks terrific, and the fact that it doesn’t have a lid turns out to be crucially awesome. Lids add a layer of friction to throwing something away, and lids get dirty.

 

My next computer: iPad Pro

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I’ve been an iPad guy since the first version was announced in 2010. I loved it immediately and used it mostly for reading, but also for writing.

It was just supplemental, though, to my iPhone and the two iMacs I had—one at the office and the other at home.

The home iMac is old now and sits unused. I use my iPad mini for most of my computer tasks away from the office. It’s a great device for reading, and it’s so good as my presentation device. I use the iOS Keynote app and a VGA adapter to connect the iPad to a projector, and I use my iPhone as the remote. It’s a lightweight, minimal, and rock solid presentation setup.

The iPad mini is also the device that I do a lot of writing on. But that’s where the mini falls short for me. The screen is just too small. I pair the iPad with an external Bluetooth keyboard, but the canvas I’m writing on seems too constricting. The screen is too small for me to write comfortably. Inserting a cursor in the right location and highlighting text can be frustrating. I find myself writing less away from my office iMac just because it’s not as enjoyable to write on the tiny iPad mini screen.

I was intrigued when Apple introduced the new, very lightweight Macbook last year. The form factor is gorgeous. The screen looks impressive, and I was eager to try the new keyboard design. But the computer seemed a bit underpowered. However, I imagined its second iteration might be my dream writing machine.

When Apple introduced the 12.9 inch iPad Pro last fall, it seemed almost comically large to me. “Who is going to want that?” I wondered.

Now, I want that.

I keep hearing about people who have replaced their laptop (or even their desktop) with this new iPad. Federico Vittici, Jason Snell, CGP Grey and Myke Hurley, Serenity Caldwell… All are iPad-Pro-as-laptop-replacement evangelists. 

And now, even Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft’s former head of its Windows division, has written that the iPad Pro has become his primary computer.

I appreciate the simple elegance of iOS versus OS X. There’s less to fiddle and fuss with. There’s less distraction and a more focused environment. It’s a truly modern and mature operating system. 

And now, with the most powerful computing power ever in an iOS device and a screen bigger than the entry level Mac laptops, the iPad Pro may be my ultimate computing device so far. It’s at the top of my wish list. 

 

Every day luxuries: “The things you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get”

I don’t know where I found this, so I can’t give credit. I clipped it as soon I saw it and saved it, but I failed to include the link. Maybe I was too excited about the wisdom imparted here:

It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross. Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It’s melting the North Pole. So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.

The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It’s in your time most, it’s in your space most. It is “where it is at,” and it is “what is going on.”

It takes a while to get this through your head, because it’s the opposite of the legendry of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get.

Amen.

I don’t need or want a lot of stuff. But I want the stuff I use often to be great, to give me pleasure in using it.

“Less, but better” is the mantra for me.

Kitchen tools. My razor. The furniture I sit on. The phone in my pocket. I want to delight in using these everyday things because I do use them daily.

One of my favorite purchases in the past year was this kitchen trash can. Yes, silly, I know, and expensive for a trash can. But it’s actually quite nice looking. And, even better. I love that it’s open, that there’s no lid. There’s no friction in throwing something away—no pedal to step on or lid to lift. Both its form and function are a delight.

I get a tiny tingle of pleasure (maybe microscopically tiny in this case) from using that trash can every time I throw something away. But those tiny tingles add up, as do the tiny pains of annoyance from using subpar or ugly things.

I appreciate the grace of great things, and adding more moments of delight each day or eliminating more moments of frustration or “meh” will make my days shine a bit more.

What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

I enjoyed this feature on Quartz about the best gifts people have received. It’s not exactly a gift guide. It’s a collection of stories about gifts that have staying power and are worth remembering and talking about long after they’ve been given.

I immediately thought about what my answer would be if asked about the best gift I’ve received. Getting set up with the woman who became my wife was the ultimate gift. (Thanks, Gloria, for sending me her name and contact information on the back of that photo. Best gift ever.) And, of course, my two daughters continue to give us joy every day.

But if I’m considering just tangible gifts, I immediately think of the camera my parents gave me when I was in ninth grade. They ran a camera shop and portrait studio, and I worked there myself occassionally. I joined the high school yearbook staff and wanted to be a photographer on the staff, but I didn’t have a good camera.

In my dad’s shop I would play with the 35 mm SLRs that were in the display case, and as Christmas approached my dream was to get the Nikon FM. I knew it was the best, but it was so expensive. My parents were facing lean times as they were trying to keep their store in business. I was sure the best camera I could hope for was the much less expensive Pentax K1000. But I was still dreaming of the Nikon.

On Christmas morning I picked a present under the tree with my name on it, and my heart sunk. From working in their shop I could tell that the box I was holding was a match for the Pentax’s camera case. I was resigned to getting the Pentax. 

It was indeed the box for the Pentax camera case, but inside was another present altogether. Socks, I think. My mom had just repurposed a discarded case box from the store.  

The next present I opened… the Nikon. This was my Red Rider BB gun moment. I was so happy. I can still recall the feel of the Nikon in my hands, the smell of the metal and plastic, wearing the strap around my neck, and eagerly taking pictures (on film, of course) of almost anything remotely interesting on that glorious Christmas morning.

That camera was a beautiful thing. It was this sophisticated and solid device made for grown-ups, professionals even, and I was honored my parents thought me worthy of it. I used it for years and still have it, though it is now a nostalgic relic of a lost era of film photography.

It’s probably that camera and that Christmas memory that cemented my already burgeoning love for cutting edge gadgets and great things in general. 

And it’s the feeling of that moment that I hope to occassionally spark for my wife and kids and other family members as I search for gifts for them.

What are the best gifts you’ve received? 

As you search for gifts for others, are you content to just go through the motions and check gifts off your to-do list? Or do you want to go on a quest to find a gift that surprises and delights and makes a memory worth talking about even years later?

  

Thermapen deal, 48 hours only

The newest version of one of my favorite kitchen tools, the Thermapen digital thermometer, is on sale until 11:59 on December 9. (Thanks, Alton Brown!)

It’s still expensive, but it’s so worth it if you cook regularly. To heck with guessing whether the meat is done. I don’t have much confidence in people who gauge doneness by the way the meat feels when poked or pressed. With this thermometer, you can know if it’s done. 

For the cook or grill master in your life, this would make a great gift. 

  

Kickstart your cooking skills with the Misen chef’s knife

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The most important tool everyone needs in their kitchen is a good chef’s knife.

ToolsandToys.net linked to Kenji Lopez-Alt’s review of the Misen knife which is a Kickstarter project. Kenji is the mastermind behind one of the best cooking tips and recipe sites online, SeriousEats.com. Kenji knows kitchen knives, and he raves about this new knife and its remarkable price:

Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to call it: This is the holy grail of inexpensive chef’s knives. Incredible quality and design, high-end materials, perfect balance, and a razor-sharp edge.

Most quality chef’s knives are well over $100. This Kickstarter Misen knife matches up well with high-end knives, but only costs $60.

From Kenji’s review:

That’s an incredible deal. Yes, there are cheaper knives out there, like the Forschner Victorinox Fibrox knives that Cook’s Illustrated flogs so often, but hold these two knives side by side and it makes the Forschner, with its stamped blade, plastic handle, poor balance, and lack of solid riveting, feel like a baby’s toy. I’ve held a lot of knives in my time across all ranges of the price spectrum and I’ve never held a knife that had the type of value this one is offering.

I’ve got that $35 Forschner, and it does a fine enough job. But every time I use it I can tell that it’s a “budget” knife. The metal is flimsy, and it just doesn’t feel solid in my hand.

I’m in on this Kickstarter. Ordered. And the Kickstarter has already met its goal and then some, so this knife will be produced.

If you don’t have a quality chef’s knife, you need one. And for this price and for this quality, you can’t go wrong. There are 16 days left to get in on the Kickstarter project for this excellent knife that will likely be your primary kitchen tool for years to come.

Then go check out Kenji’s knife skill tutorials so you’ll know what your doing.

On wearable technology and the world as it might be

Ben Thompson has a great post today about wearable technology in light of Apple’s upcoming new device: How Apple Will Make the Wearable Market

Thompson lately has been putting out a consistent stream of thoughtful analysis of Apple especially and of the direction of technology in general. In his most recent post about the Apple Watch he points out that most critics base their pessimism on how new technology will fare in the world as it is rather than looking imaginatively at the world as it might be.

He offers this:

For all of the changes that have been wrought by technology, a huge amount of our daily existence really hasn’t changed in a very long time. Consider keys: in my bag I have several pieces of metal, hopefully unique, that unlock doors or start up machines that run on controlled explosions. It’s positively barbaric! Money has improved a bit – cash is certainly a very old concept, although credit cards are more modern – but the idea that we physically hand someone access to a huge amount of money (i.e. our credit cards) without even thinking about it is odd. We operate lights with switches, print disposable tickets for everything from airplanes to concerts, and pack identification from a whole host of authorities, including the government and workplace.

It’s increasingly plausible to envision a future where all of these examples and a whole host of others in our physical environment are fundamentally transformed by software: locks that only unlock for me, payment systems that keep my money under my control, and in general an adaptation to my presence whether that be at home, at the concert hall, or at work.

He then goes on to explore how wearable devices can take a central role in such a future. And Apple is differentiating their device by making it desirable, aesthetically and emotionally, as well as remarkably useful. It’s not just a smart watch, there is also a good bit of art to their watch.

Apple’s focus on fashion is part of the plan to make their watch a cultural hit and not just a geek fetish. And widespread adoption would be necessary for all the parts to come together to make wearable technology more than just a fad for technology enthusiasts.

Reading Thompson’s post reminded me how much my family enjoyed using Disney’s MagicBands when we visited Disney World more than a year ago. These colorful bracelets unlocked our hotel room door, served as our tickets to enter the parks, managed our Fast Passes for rides, and were used to pay for our meals and souvenirs at restaurants and stores throughout the Disney resorts.

As much as I love good technology, I’ve been reluctant to get excited about Apple Watch. I have been imagining its primary function was to enable notifications to work more seamlessly. It seems to be a notification delivery machine. Literally. And I am anti-notifications. The fewer interruptions, the better.

Yet, a watch that would connect with my life in an abundance of helpful ways, the way the Disney MagicBands did, would be one that would earn a central role in my life the way the iPhone has.

There’s a long way to go before the infrastructure is in place to create such a connected and wireless world. But selling lots of Apple Watches would push that vision forward faster.

It’s hard for me to vividly remember the pre-smartphone world. The iPhone was a niche product with no app store, weak processing power, super slow internet, and a high price tag when it was introduced in 2007. Those who, at the time, saw the world as it was, dismissed its chances. But look at the world as it is now.

Consider the world as it might be from this point on. How will wearable technology and the infrastructure interacting with it look five years from now?

Since reading Thompson’s post, I’ve been browsing the Apple Watch options online, the sizes and band choices, and imagining wearing a watch again for the first time since 2008. (My favorite at the moment: Apple Watch Sport, space gray, black band, 38mm.)

It may be a year or two before I pull the trigger. I’m not a knee-jerk early adopter. The sweet spot of form and function and a robust ecosystem for these devices is surely at least a couple of iterations away. But I think it’s coming.

Apple Watch Sport space gray

Hardcore History: Blueprint for Armageddon V

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I was delighted when I opened my podcast app (Overcast) and found a new episode of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. I’ve raved before about how great Carlin’s work is, but new episodes don’t appear very often. And when you listen you understand why. I can’t imagine the hours that go into creating each episode. The research alone for a single episode must take weeks or months. And a four-hour episode flows seamlessly, meaning the preparation and editing involved in laying out the narrative so smoothly has to take a lot of time.

This latest episode is the fifth in his series on World War I. The complexities of that conflict are overwhelming, and I would not, even after hours of listening to this series, be able to recall the names of the constantly changing cast of generals and political figures. But what I get from this podcast, from the accretion of details and small stories and heartbreaking anecdotes, is an overarching sense of the insanity of our history. It’s fascinating and compelling to follow the flow of events and lives that collide in often tragic circumstances.

I listen while driving alone or while walking. My drive to work is only around fifteen minutes, but I look forward to Dan Carlin regaling me in those short bursts of time with true stories of humanity’s biggest events and told with Carlin’s characteristic enthusiasm and drama.

Here’s a good interview with Dan Carlin that explores how this podcast came to be and how he works.

If you haven’t discovered podcasts yet, Hardcore History is an excellent one to start with. It’s not light or quick. But it’s as rewarding a show to listen to as any I’ve discovered.

Hipster armor: My American Giant hoodie

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I’ve been eyeing an American Giant hoodie for more than a year, and my in-laws gave me this one yesterday at our family Christmas gathering. I read about the company and its best hoodie ever last year and had been intrigued ever since. But I just couldn’t click through and purchase it myself, thinking it was a bit too self-indulgent to splurge on a simple, but pricey, hoodie. So, thanks, in-laws, for your generous gift!

I already love it. Yes, it’s just a hooded sweatshirt with a zipper. But it is a hefty, meticulously well-crafted, glorious sweatshirt. It feels like it will last a lifetime. It is a great thing, and there is a grace in great things that adds delight and makes your days a little better having them in your life. Quality things endure and add value long after most average things have been discarded.

Putting this American Giant hoodie on feels like suiting up in modern, hipster armor. And I don’t even know what “hipster” means exactly. But this is the kind of sweatshirt I imagine coders and designers and writers wearing to work. Me, I’ll wear it on walks around the neighborhood and running Saturday morning errands. And maybe when I sit at my computer trying to express myself.

Some things just make you feel stronger or better, like when you got new shoes as a kid and felt like you could run faster and jump higher. I love using excellent tools that are thoughtfully imagined and well made. True craftsmanship is rare, but it enriches both the maker and the user.

I gave my new hoodie a test run today as I took the day off with my daughters to do some gift shopping. It was a hoodie kind of day, cool and misty. All three of us had on our hoodies, and we made some memories as we explored ways to delight my wife this week, which is her birthday week as well as Christmas week.

No one stopped me on the sidewalk to comment on the greatness of my hoodie. But I felt great wearing it. Things are just things and can’t compare to meaningful moments like the day I had with my kids today. But great things are a unique pleasure, and I’m grateful for those who make the effort to create remarkably impressive things and add a little extra pleasure to our lives.

NOT American Giant hoodies

NOT American Giant hoodies

Seven weeks left in 2014: Habit List app

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I’ve been counting down the weeks left in the year, and we are at the seven week mark today.

I’ve been diligent with most of my finish-the-year-strong habits – getting in my mile walk every day, sticking with the hundred push-ups plan, and posting to this site daily. (Not so solid with my reading habit, though. Commit to a book, man!)

I remembered a habit tracking app I used last year, Habit List, and re-downloaded it. I was delighted to find a new and better design than when I last used it. I’ve tried the very popular Lift app, but I’m not interested in the social component, and the app is just not focused enough for what I want in a habit tracker.

Jerry Seinfeld apparently kept a big calendar on his office wall and crossed off each day on the calendar when he wrote, a daily habit that was a high priority for his work. And he was obsessive enough to not want to break the streak, so the calendar with the red “X”s compelled him to write every day if only to keep the streak alive.

Habit List is that calendar, but on your phone, in your pocket. You load in the habits you want to keep consistently and how often you want to do them. Then you can easily track how you’re doing. I get a small but satisfying boost whenever I tap that I’ve completed that habit for the day and keep the streak going.

And I feel a little tug of uneasiness as long as a habit remains unchecked for the day. I came in from a trip late Sunday night and was tired. But I didn’t want to break my “mile walk” streak, so I put on a jacket and grabbed the leash and took Mosley on a brisk walk through the neighborhood, going just far enough to check off the mile habit for the day.

Remember, systems are better than goals. Do what it takes to consistently put your priorities in front of you, to shame yourself if you have to, in order to act like and become the person you want to be.

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Habit List app

Only nine weeks left to make 2014 awesome

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It’s Wednesday. As of today there are only nine weeks left in 2014, one week down in my ten week countdown to make 2014 more awesome.

What will you have to show for this year? How do you want to finish? Schedule some time for a meeting with yourself on New Year’s Eve to assess the year, to review what was great about 2014 and what could have been better. Really, go put this on your calendar now. I just added it to mine. (By the way, I use Fantastical, a killer calendar app for Mac and iOS. So good.)

I’m imagining Wednesday, December 31. There will be football on TV and a family gathering that night probably. But that morning will most likely be a quiet time to get away and reflect on the year and on these last ten weeks especially. I’m hoping I’m stronger (I’m one week closer in the hundred pushups challenge) and a bit smarter (my book reading plan is slow go for now, though). I plan to have written something I’m proud of, and I’m counting on having even better relationships with the people I love.

What can you do to finish well? What actions can you take this week that will create momentum for the habits and routines you want to build. Systems trump goals, and these final weeks can give you a good foundation to build systems that will endure and that can truly transform your life over time.

Nine weeks is plenty of time to make remarkable progress on something you truly care about. Don’t wait till there are only eight weeks left to get started on finishing strong in 2014.

Start. Now.

iPhone week and the fleeting allure of great gadgets

I’ve loved gadgets since I was a kid. There was my blue plastic cassette recorder I played with in the car on the way to Disney World. I remember recording McCartney’s Live and Let Die from the car radio. I also as a kid had a nifty solar-powered calculator and a classic record player and some excellent film cameras including a Polaroid and a Kodak “pocket camera”. I received a Nikon FM SLR for Christmas in 9th-grade and spent the rest of high school roaming the halls and sidelines as the yearbook photographer. I’ve got that camera packed away in a closet somewhere. And it still works great, but film seems ancient now.

For high school graduation my parents gave me a gorgeous Seiko watch that I had first eyed in a full page magazine ad. That watch was with me throughout college. I lost it somehow a few years later when I was working in D.C. I last remember having it as I was taking my parents and grandmother on a White House tour. Later, after coming up empty with the lost-and-found desk at the White House, I couldn’t help but imagine President Reagan wearing it, proudly admiring my Seiko on his wrist, claiming finders keepers.

One of my favorite gadgets of the pre-iPhone era was the Palm V. It was a svelte little electronic organizer with lovely lines that just felt great to use. I went through a few different Palm devices until the iPhone appeared.

My first Apple device, though, was the distinctive iMac G4 with the white base and the screen on a movable arm. It’s such an appealing design we still keep it on a desk in our home even though it’s not been turned on in years. That Mac led us to the iPod (3rd generation) which eventually put us on the iPhone path.

I’ve been an iPhone user since 2008. I stood in line for hours during the opening week of the 3G release. Bless my sweet wife who waited patiently in the mall with our two young kids. She had no idea it would take so long or cost so much. I loved that phone. I was in awe of what it could do, especially compared to any other device I had ever owned. It did feel magical.

I’ve upgraded every couple of years since then. The iPhone 4 supplanted the 3G as my favorite device ever, and my iPhone 5 has been a solid improvement over the 4.

And now I’ve already preordered the iPhone 6. I went with the 4.7” screen with 64 GB of storage in “space gray”. The 6 Plus is way too big for my tastes. I’m even leery of the screen size of the smaller 6 and worried that it may be too unwieldy compared to the 5. My wife, especially, was fond of the size of the iPhone 5.

I think we’re both going to be fine with the new size, and we will probably wonder why we were even hesitant about it. I’m thrilled with the increase in storage, though. My wife’s 32 GB iPhone 5 stays full with photos and videos. My current phone only has 16 GB, not nearly enough. Fortunately, Dropbox and iCloud have enabled me to keep most of my stuff in the cloud and off my device until I need it.

I realize these devices are frivolous and inessential and have incredibly short reigns as our most cutting edge gadgets. And yet they’re amazing. My phone is one of the few things I have with me almost all the time. It’s in my pocket or on my desk or in my hand or on my nightstand while I sleep. It’s my window to the world and to the people I love. It’s my journal and calendar and to-do list and the first thing I reach for when a creative spark strikes. And it’s an amazing camera that’s helping me chronicle and remember my family’s big and small moments.

I’m not obsessed with my phone, and I don’t let it distract me from being present with the real live people I’m around every day. I keep it on mute and keep it out of sight when I’m in conversation.

I don’t have many material desires. But I do appreciate the grace of great things, and I do love having the most current computer technology. As brilliantly designed as these devices are, though, it’s stunning how fleeting their utility is. My old-school safety razor, for example, will be just as handsome and useful fifty years from now. My chef’s knife and cast iron skillet could be used someday by my future grandchildren. But the new iPhone that’s arriving at my door on Friday will be out of date a year from now when the next one is released.

I don’t mind, though. Such is the way of technology. The allure of having the best right now, especially for something that has such a prominent role in everyday routines, is worth it for me. This pocketable, best-in-its-class gadget regularly, consistently provides moments of delight and utility in a way that no other thing could. A mere thing, thoughtfully designed and well executed, can add genuine value and enhance the enjoyment of my days. I’m looking forward to seeing the UPS truck on Friday.

Digital AND analog

This talk by master penman Jake Weidmann about the dying art of penmanship is fascinating:

Weidmann’s talk makes me care about penmanship. He’s got a great stage presence and makes a somewhat obscure topic something worth talking about.

I have terrible penmanship. I’m left-handed and struggled as a kid trying to use a fountain pen. My gnarled death grip on the pen would have me smudging the wet ink with my hand. I remember being frustrated and a bit embarrassed about my sloppy writing. The only average grades I ever got were in 5th grade for handwriting. (Most schools today don’t even teach, much less grade, handwriting.)

So, I later took to a keyboard with enthusiasm and became a decent typist. To get in to the journalism school in college I actually had to either pass a typing test or take a typing class. I passed the test and can write pretty fast with a computer keyboard. (I think the journalism school not only dropped the typing test a year or two after I graduated in 1986, but probably even shipped out all the typewriters soon after as they made room for computers.)

Now, I find myself resistant to writing anything more than a few sentences by hand. I’ll use my phone or iPad or computer keyboard when possible. They’re convenient and fast and guarantee a neat, legible, electronic copy of what I write.

However, I do switch to thinking through some ideas by sketching out mind maps on my whiteboard and on the big notepad on my desk. I’ve got a clear separation between the digital and analog work spaces in my office. It’s nice to change gears and brainstorm with a marker in hand then turn back to the computer to input and polish and tweak.

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The digital side of my workspace

 

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The analog side of my work space (My family came in this afternoon and added their own touches to my work. My daughters cannot resist writing and drawing on the whiteboard.)

This talk about penmanship is a good challenge to care more about how well and how often I write by hand. Maybe I’ve been holding a pen all wrong all my life. My wife has lovely handwriting and is meticulous and careful about making her writing just right. She should have a font named after her.

I don’t think you need to ditch your handy digital tools. We don’t have to choose sides. You can use both. And if you’re lost in the distractions of your electronic life, try grabbing a pencil or some colorful markers and a big sheet of paper or massive whiteboard. They’re all just tools. Use them to bring out your best.

Paying for quality

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You pay for quality.

If it’s poor quality you’ve purchased, you pay again with annoyance or frustration and regret and possibly lost time and maybe repairing or replacing.

High quality purchases may typically only require the initial payment.

Things are ultimately just things. But great things can add value and beauty and more consistently satisfying moments than things that are merely cheap.

It’s much better to have fewer things that you find useful and beautiful than to have a lot of things that ultimately do not delight you past the purchase price.

Great apps

Speaking of great things, Apple recently announced their annual Apple Design Award winners. They honor developers and designers whose apps stood out from a very crowded field in the ever expanding Apple App Store.

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I was especially happy to see Day One win for its Mac app. It won previously for its great iOS app. Day One, the ultimate journal, is one of my most used apps. It’s beautiful and smart and has become a daily part of my attempt to chronicle and reflect on my life.

I use some of the other award winning apps, too. Sky Guide is magical. Just hold your device to the sky, and it shows you which stars or planets or constellations you’re seeing. (Or point your device at the ground and see the stars visible from the other side of the Earth!) At the beach this week we’ve used Sky Guide a few times to identify the planets appearing in the sunset sky.

Monument Valley is a beautiful, frustratingly challenging, and ultimately satisfyingly delightful iPad game. My 9-year-old went from near tears to fist-pumping triumph and back again trying to play her way through the many levels of puzzles. She’s playing it through again as I write this.

Threes is a fun and engrossing game with charming little details throughout.

There are a lot of poorly executed apps out there, apps that don’t delight. Too many developers are looking for a quick and easy buck, hoping to be the next Instagram or Angry Birds. I appreciate creators who disdain the “quick and easy” approach, and instead put in the effort to make beautifully designed and smartly executed apps that solve problems and add value to my life.

I’m amused by friends who flinch when I recommend an app that costs $3, or, heaven forbid, $5. (These same friends think nothing of dropping that much or more on a cup of coffee that’s gone in a few minutes.) I’m actually a bit leery of free apps. Is this free app going to target ads at me or set me up for in-app purchases or mine my information for some other service? I would rather pay directly to the makers of products I value and know I’m getting my money’s worth.

Go for quality in the things you possess, including the apps you use. Kudos to the makers who bring such wonderful tools to our devices.

Here are my current iPhone and iPad home screens:

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The grace of great things

I have a notion of someday becoming what might be called a minimalist. I’m far from it at the moment. My family has plenty of unnecessary stuff and clusters of clutter scattered mostly out of sight. My wife and I have not yet committed to a truly deep and wholesale purge, just brief sorties here and there to minimize the spill-over of our typical, maximized American life.

However, I think I would make a fine minimalist. I proudly travel very lightly. My product consumption is mostly of the digital sort, e-books and apps being the primary targets of acquisition. I’m no clotheshorse. I have no desire to collect anything that takes up space or needs some sort of shelf of honor. Shopping is my least favorite past time. I’m quick to edit objects out of my life without regret. I’m not particularly nostalgic for memorabilia and am almost cold-hearted in my lack of attachment to sentimental stuff.

But I do appreciate the grace of great things.

A great thing can spark delight and wonder and enhance experiences in meaningful ways.

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I am fond of this hat. I bought it five years or so ago for a beach trip, and I wear it regularly when I’m going to be outside in the sun or rain for long stretches. It is comfortable and rugged, made of hemp and quick drying after a dunk in the ocean or pool. And it’s got just a dash of style. I think I look good in it, whether anyone else thinks so or not. Just putting it on resets my default to play mode. If the wind snatched it from my head and cast it to the waves, I wouldn’t be sad. But I would order another one. I am grateful to whoever designed and made this excellently crafted hat. It is a great thing that adds an extra bit of joy to my adventures.

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And there’s this tea cup. Beautiful to admire, a pleasure to hold. The double-walled glass is ideal for hot tea. I can wrap my hands around the warm brew as well as see the rich color of the tea. The infuser fits perfectly inside. (The infuser that comes with it is fine, but I upgraded to an even better infuser that prevents even the smallest debris of the tea leaves from getting into the cup.) This tea cup is a delightful part of my morning routine. The tea would taste the same from any old mug, but this great cup makes drinking tea a more wonderful experience.

Beautiful form and effective function make for an excellent design and a great thing.

I don’t want a great quantity of things. I do, however, want the things I choose to have around me to be of great quality. I like the declutterer’s sage advice: Surround yourself only with things you find either useful or beautiful. And it’s truly a great thing if it is both useful and beautiful.

May we all produce beautifully useful things in whatever we do.

Procrastinator’s guide to awesome gifts

These gifts are awesome and can be given instantly online:

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin – $17.95. This audiobook is narrated by the author, making it even more awesome. Martin strums the banjo between chapters and you hear his story and his jokes in his own voice. Very nice way to spend four hours, especially if you’re traveling during the holidays.

Disney Animated iPad app – $9.99. Was just named iPad app of the year. Perfect for the Disney fan in your life.

Day One app – $3.99. My favorite iPhone app and an awesome way to chronicle your days.

Mastery by Robert Greene – $9.99. One of the three best books I read this year. Greene explores what sets the greatest masters in history apart. How did they become great, and what can we learn from them?

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport – $11.99. Perfect for anyone in your life who is pondering career decisions. I’ve posted about Newport’s provocative approach to building a career around skill and not passion.

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle – $13.99. This book completes the theme forwarded by the previous two. Coyle investigates talent hotbeds and what their formula is for producing the most skilled people in their fields. Neuroscience ends up offering the key to what it takes to be awesome at something.

Harry Potter HD bundle – $59.99. All eight Harry Potter movies in HD, downloadable in iTunes to play on your iPad or Mac or on Apple TV. That’s $7.50 per movie. Limited time on this discount.

If you’ve got time to ship something, here are some excellent gifts:

Apple TV – $99. My family’s entertainment centers around this tiny device. If you’ve got an iPad or iPhone or Mac, the AirPlay feature is like magic and makes the Apple TV more compelling than a Roku.

Aeropress coffee maker – $26.17. Considered by many coffee nerds to be the best at-home single cup maker. Here’s a lovely little video paying tribute to this plastic contraption and its simplicity. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I use an Aeropress to make my wife’s coffee each morning.

Bodum YoYo Personal Tea Set – $34.95. This is how I brew my tea each morning. It is beautifully designed and an elegant, simple way to enjoy a hot cup of tea.

Things that are beautifully and thoughtfully designed are delightful and offer too rare a pleasure in our culture. There is a grace in great things. The art of a skilled maker – an author or designer or creator of any sort – transfers emotion and gives a gift to the recipient beyond the monetary value of the thing itself. Enjoy finding ways to delight those you love this holiday season.

Quick, easy, and bad

My wife and I gave an excellent pepper mill as a wedding gift to a sweet young couple today. Shanna asked me to write a short note to accompany the gift, so I came up with this:

“In marriage, as in cooking, it takes only a little more effort to add a lot more flavor.”

I thought it was a clever message. But, it rings true to me, not just for marriage and cooking, but as a general guide to being awesome.

A pepper mill is a small example, but freshly ground pepper, requiring very little extra effort, is so much more flavorful than the dull pre-ground pepper most people use.

Over the Christmas holiday last year a family member was showing off their new coffee-making contraption, one of those devices that promises to make coffee fast and with little fuss or effort on the user’s part. I’m a tea guy, so I was handed a cup of hot tea produced by this device. It was bad. Quick, easy, and bad.

I remarked at the time to my wife, as I discreetly disposed of this so-called tea, “I will stick with my fussy way* of making tea, thank you.” The extra few minutes required to boil water and brew loose leaf tea is rewarded with a truly excellent cup of tea that more than makes up for the time and effort invested. And the making of the tea and being mindful of the steps involved can be just as much a pleasure as drinking it.

Convenient, quick, and easy often are just shortcuts to mediocre and forgettable. Efficient does not necessarily mean effective. A small bit of effort and creativity can go a long way toward delighting someone, including yourself.

What little extra bit of thoughtfulness, effort, and attention to detail can I offer to delight my wife, my kids, my colleagues, and those I serve in my work?

*My tea cup and infuser. And if you’re looking for a tea, try Irish Breakfast Tea.