Father & Son

“Mind if we share the lane with you?”

I made eye contact with the man who had just entered my lane. He was middle-aged, obese, and white hairs dotted his once dark-haired head. Underneath his beard he sported a friendly smile.

“Sure, no problem.” I replied.

“We’ll try not to get in the way!” He was there with his son, who was a slightly smaller and somewhat paler version of him.

“Don’t worry about it.” I said as I waved my hand in a palm-out “it’s okay” motion and smiled.

That’s when I noticed his son wasn’t “normal”. He didn’t speak and had this absent stare on his face. The only sound I heard out of him was a droning “ah uhhhh” that he would make when he exhaled.

I have had to share my pool lane with many people, but this father-son pair were different. Usually, I would be annoyed to no longer have the lane to myself and at times even hope my speed would scare off those who dared enter my territory.

But this father-son pair were different. I felt honored to share my lane with them and even lucky they chose me because what I would witness was nothing short of beautiful.

I watched as they pushed off the wall together, the father supporting the son from behind by holding him near the hips. The father would direct them and make sure they swam straight while the son swam freestyle and pulled.

They would reach the other end, briefly rest, and be off again. On the way back, the father would move backwards facing the opposite direction while his son laid on his back and kicked with a kickboard across his chest.

They didn’t move fast, but they moved with determination. I found myself distracted from my normal swim workout and instead observed the two of them move as one. The father kept looking in my direction to see when I would swim, making sure he and his son would be out of the way. What he might not have realized is that it was the other way around: they shouldn’t be worried about getting in my way; I was much more worried about getting in theirs.

One might expect the father to be unhappy, to feel burdened by having to care for his son like this. But instead I saw the opposite: a father with an immensely cheerful smile who enjoyed every second he got to spend with his son. I saw a father who loved deeply and patiently persisted to help his son learn how to swim.

I also saw a son not disabled but enabled, not a burden but a blessing. For in each stroke I saw strength, a relentless drive embodying the proverb it does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop.

Back and forth they went. I couldn’t tell who I admired more: the father for supporting his son or the son for working so hard each and every lap. They were a team.

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be a father, and tonight I’ve found one of the simplest yet purest examples: unconditional love, a supportive smile and spirit, and moving forward together.

Even though I couldn’t hear them as they made their way across the pool, I felt I could hear the father’s voice: I’m here for you son, I’m here.

BLL #6: Cello

Note: Today I did something a little different. Instead of writing as one object, I wrote as my stepdad’s three cellos. I did my best to not only describe them, but to speak in their “voice”.

As an Italian cello, I come from the birthplace of our kind. Unlike cellos from just about every other country in the world, us Italian cellos aren’t produced on an assembly line or in a factory. We are carefully handmade. No two of us behave the same. I am Li’s go-to performance instrument because of my powerful room-filling sound and deeply resonating tone. My orange-brown color (a defining characteristic of Italian cellos) and pronounced ridges are tribute to the highest quality wood that I’m constructed out of. I’m not an easy cello to play, but I will reward any capable hands that use me. Only the very best players are worthy of using me. I am a demanding cello for demanding players. Like a Ferrari is built for the track, I am made for the stage.

Li found me in the corner of an antique store and saw potential in my cracked and broken body. He fixed me up and lovingly restored me to working order, and I have done my best to reward him with a rich and warm tone that only an aged cello can produce. Germany is my origin. My dark brown body and worn back make me stand out as the the oldest of the group. With my age, I am patient and forgiving. Unlike the Italian cello, I don’t thrive on the stage. I hate attention and prefer to play unnoticed. My sound is most appropriate for a funeral or wedding, events of emotion where character takes priority over presence and power.

HEY! I’m the youngest, biggest, and rowdiest of the group. The other two might even call me obnoxious. They just don’t know how to have fun! My French makers designed me as a wide-bodied cello: while I’m of similar height I am noticeably broader than your typical cello. Li refers to me as a “burning” cello for my bright and bold sound. I will get in your face and roar as loud as my player is willing to go. Other cellos (especially the orch dorks) know not to mess with me because when it comes my turn to solo I will drown them out like a bowling ball crashing through pins. One of my favorite places to play is outside, where most cellos’ sounds get lost without walls to resonate off of. Not me! My power is overwhelming. If you play me you better buckle up because it’s going to be a rollercoaster of a ride. KABOOM BABY!

[about the BLL project]

Since I don’t start Accenture until September, I’ve got some free time on my hands. One of the ways I’ve decided to use this period is to exercise my creative writing with a mini-series focusing on everyday objects around us. My goal is to imagine what the things around us, such as our smartphones, would say if they could speak. Through these short stories, I’ll offer my commentary on how these objects affect our lives.

Past BLLs:

BLL #5: Camera

For many, a camera is used to document. It captures birthdays, friends, and unforgettable moments. For others, it is a medium to see the world and visually represent it. It is what a paintbrush is to a painter or an instrument to a musician: the means by which the photographer expresses.

As a $6800 professional-grade full-frame DSLR, I belong to the second camp. Mark is my owner and I am one of two cameras that accompany him on his assignments around the world.

I’ve toured Africa atop elephants, enclosed within a plastic shell to swim with sharks in the Pacific, and photographed Indian children in the streets of Mumbai. I’ve braved the ruthless cold of the Himalayas and endured the relentless heat of the Israeli desert. Because of me, Mark has gone places he wouldn’t otherwise go and met people he wouldn’t otherwise meet. Every time we set out, there’s no telling what kind of adventure we’ll have.

Mark is a quiet man. Behind his black-rimmed glasses are dynamic blue eyes; he is constantly perceptive and keenly observant of everything around him. Now in his early forties, he is beginning to show his age. The same goes for me. Internally I run strong but on the outside I carry blemishes, each one with a story to tell. A scratch in front of my hotshoe mount from banging against the motorcycle in Cagnes-sur-Mer during the Tour de France, a spot on my screen from when Mark slipped while hiking up the Carpathian Mountains, and originally black corners worn silver from frequent usage.

I am a very different camera from when I was first unboxed just as Mark is a very different man from when he first picked me up. We’ve grown together, and I have come to appreciate his extraordinary photographic eye just as much as he has come to appreciate my state-of-the-art low-light performance and razor-sharp autofocus.

Currently, we are stationed in Russia preparing for the winter olympics. Mark laid all of his gear (me included) across his bed to check that everything is in good working condition. He sits in the corner of the room with his laptop reviewing information for tomorrow’s alpine skiing races.

Another day ahead, and many more photos to be taken.

[about the BLL project]

Since I don’t start Accenture until September, I’ve got some free time on my hands. One of the ways I’ve decided to use this period is to exercise my creative writing with a mini-series focusing on everyday objects around us. My goal is to imagine what the things around us, such as our smartphones, would say if they could speak. Through these short stories, I’ll offer my commentary on how these objects affect our lives.

Past BLLs:

BLL #4: Piano

The Bakers bought me for $7000 as a birthday present to Belle, their daughter. I’ve watched her go from a giggling brown-haired six year old chaotically banging the keys to a beautiful and outstanding award-winning pianist. While Belle’s dad never played music, her mom played violin growing up and wanted Belle to establish a musical foundation.

Speaking of Belle, here she comes now!

I can think of nothing more enjoyable than Belle practicing. If I was capable of smiling, I would excitedly beam from my lowest to highest keys whenever she plays. Ever since Belle left for college I’ve grown quite lonely; I long for the breaks when she comes home and we get to spend time together.

Belle places a few sheets of music on my stand, lifts the cover over my keys, and removes the protective red cloth. She smiles in anticipation. She sits on the bench, adjusts it so her feet are in the perfect position to use the pedals, and places her hands on my keys.

I am a proud Yamaha baby grand. While I may not be as majestic as a Steinway or resonate like a Borgato, I am content with the crisp and pure sound I produce. I’m not perfect, but I certainly feel perfect for Belle.

Belle takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and begins playing. Debussy’s Clair De Lune, one of my favorites!

As Belle has grown and matured, so have I. When they first bought me, my sound was raw and harsh. I played loudly, but not in particularly a good way. After years of playing, my sound has become much more refined and smooth. So too did Belle’s abilities. It’s amazing to compare our clunky Twinkle Twinkle Little Star over a decade ago to the Chopin sonatas we play today.

Belle finishes a few of her favorite pieces from memory to warm up, and just as she is about to move into practicing for her concert next month her five-year old sister Clara pokes her shoulder and asks to sit on the bench. Belle picks her up and places her on her lap.

Clara is so cute. Her hair is slightly lighter than Belle’s and her face is slightly wider but she shares the same carefree laugh that fills the room. She recently had her second piano lesson, and sometimes when she plays I feel like I’m listening to a young Belle.

Music is my life. I cherish the memories I’ve made with Belle and look forward to my time with Clara.

[about the BLL project]

Since I don’t start Accenture until September, I’ve got some free time on my hands. One of the ways I’ve decided to use this period is to exercise my creative writing with a mini-series focusing on everyday objects around us. My goal is to imagine what the things around us, such as our smartphones, would say if they could speak. Through these short stories, I’ll offer my commentary on how these objects affect our lives.

Past BLLs:

Facebook Fail!

Last night I made a Craigslist posting at 2am (mistake #1) and had such a funny Facebook fail that I had to highlight it. I was playing around with the price based on what other people were selling for and forgot to publish my edit, resulting in my CL ad asking for $800 while offering my FB friends $900. To paraphrase my good friend Wilfred, how kind of me!!

Goes to show I’ve got some observant friends.

facebookfail

BLL #3: Flash the Road Bike

I love the road. Motion is where I find peace.

Connie, my owner, purchased me when she was 19 after saving up birthday money and paychecks for three years. She dreamt of owning a Trek ever since seeing Lance Armstrong riding one in the Tour de France. Buying me turned her dream into a reality.

She named me Flash for my aggressive red color and how she felt I personified speed. We’ve spent many memorable moments together: her first Seattle-to-Portland race, a long three hour ride of reflection and mourning when her grandma died, and a multitude of adventures to discover new places and challenge our limits.

I’m not just a bike, I’m an extension of Connie. When she clips her cleats into my pedals, we move as one. Together, we ride the road of life. I’ve been with her for the tragic uphill struggles of breaking up with boyfriends and failures as well as the triumphant downhill cruises where everything falls into place. I’ve accompanied her through both the long straights where the future seems so certain and the winding turns where you can’t see what’s around the corner.

The sense of accomplishment is mutual when we come home from a long and grueling ride. Pushing our limits is what keeps things interesting – it doesn’t matter how slow we go so long as we don’t stop.

Our time together hasn’t been perfect; we’ve had our fair share of falls (one was so bad she had to replace my rear derailleur). But regardless of how badly we’ve fallen, we’ve always gotten back up.

Here she is now, preparing for another ride.

“Alright Flash, today we conquer the Lake Washington Loop. Let’s show it what we’re made of!”

Connie’s go-getter attitude and fiery determination are what made her such an exciting owner. We go through our pre-ride ritual of pumping my tires, checking my brakes, and outfitting me with tools/spare tires in case of a flat. Water bottles in place, we set off.

Another adventure begins.

[about the BLL project]

Since I don’t start Accenture until September, I’ve got some free time on my hands. One of the ways I’ve decided to use this period is to exercise my creative writing with a mini-series focusing on everyday objects around us. My goal is to imagine what the things around us, such as our smartphones, would say if they could speak. Through these short stories, I’ll offer my commentary on how these objects affect our lives.

Past BLLs:

BLL #2: iPhone

My name is Clark, and I am an iPhone 5.

My owner, Nathan, bought me two months ago when he upgraded from an iPhone 4 and has been using me nonstop ever since to check his email, listen to music, read the news, and so much more.

And here he goes: he pulls me out to check the time (10:43 am, by the way) then puts me back in his pocket.

I should feel special given that I’m the first thing he picks up when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he uses before he falls asleep. My smartphone brethren and I have practically become electronic limbs to our owners; take it away and they go through withdrawal. Given how much frequently Nathan uses me, it’d be entertaining to see what would happen if you took me a away for a week.

Oh and what’s this? A text from James, his best friend. Whaddup man, want to grab some beers with us at 4:30pm? We’re hitting up the new brewery up north. Jason immediately pulls me out and types a response. Sure bro, sounds awesome. I’ll head over to your place around 4pm.

I’m shocked at how often our owners pull us out to do something like check Facebook or respond to a text when they are physically together, it’s almost like the people they have digital access to are more important than the ones they can physically interact with. Here Nathan is, sitting across the table from his girlfriend Morgan during a lovely Saturday brunch (I know because he took a photo of his smoked salmon scramble 20 minutes ago), and he holds me up in front to answer a text to someone who isn’t even here. Humans are weird. Morgan now has hers out too, my guess is she’s thumbing through Instagram.

Ding ding. I chime, reminding Nathan to pick up his dry cleaning at 11am. What would he do without me?

You’re probably curious as to why I’m named Clark. Well, Nathan’s favorite superhero is Superman, and the moment he unboxed me I was immediately fitted with a blue case sporting the superman logo. It’s kept me safe from the few times Nathan has dropped me. With it, I view myself as Nathan’s sidekick, the case my cape.

Nathan opens up Passbook, and pays for the meal with a voucher his parents gave him. It’s interesting how involved I am with just about every aspect of Nathan’s life. Even more interesting is how much more involved future smartphones might be.

[about the BLL project]

Since I don’t start Accenture until September, I’ve got some free time on my hands. One of the ways I’ve decided to use this period is to exercise my creative writing with a mini-series focusing on everyday objects around us. My goal is to imagine what the things around us, such as our smartphones, would say if they could speak. Through these short stories, I’ll offer my commentary on how these objects affect our lives.

Past BLLs:

BLL #1: Macbook Pro

[INTRO]

Since I don’t start Accenture until September, I’ve got some free time on my hands. One of the ways I’ve decided to use this period is to exercise my creative writing with a mini-series focusing on everyday objects around us. My goal is to imagine what the things around us, such as our smartphones, would say if they could speak. Through these short stories, I’ll offer my commentary on how these objects affect our lives.

Without further ado, here is the start of Bringing Life to the Lifeless. (BLL for short)

Life is interesting as a college student’s laptop. My owner’s name is Kenny, and he just started his freshman year in college. I like to think of myself as his aluminum swiss army knife to tackle homework, manage photos, and peruse Facebook. If Kenny was a knight, I’d be the sword he’d take the battle. Together, we conquer!

Kenny looked so excited when he unboxed me. “Dad, thank you so much buying me this!! I’m going to work so hard!” He gave me a hug (weird kid, I know), then named me. “Hmm what should I call you? Well, Macbook Pro. Macbook. Pro. How about Max?” He mulled it over in his head. “YEAH! I like Max. Well Max, we are going to have an awesome time together.”

Sure, the name isn’t very original being that it shares the first two letters of my model name, but it’s definitely grown on me.

Anyways, fast forward 12 weeks from that day and here I am sitting on his desk. It’s midnight. Kenny has just come back to his dorm. He looks at the clock and makes an annoyed expression when he remembers he’s procrastinated wayyy too much. The quarter is coming to an end and I’ve reminded Kenny at least 10 times to work on his Literature Composition essay. Silly how he continues to ignore my iCal reminders, all I’m trying to do is help!

He boots me up and opens the assignment description. Good Kenny! Finally. Let’s bang these four pages out and you’ll be in bed by 2am! Kenny fires up Word and types in a heading with his name, the class, and title. That’s my boy Kenny!

He sits back for a moment to think and scribbles down a few thoughts. “Hmm, I need some music.” he says as he opens up Spotify and plays Daft Punk (his favorite work music). As I blast Get Lucky through my speakers, his fingers dance across the keyboard has he pounds out the introductory paragraph.

Suddenly, Kenny alt-tabs into Chrome and opens a new tab for Facebook. No Kenny! Stop!! He browses his news feed and stops on a photo posted by Sarah Nelson, captain of the women’s soccer team, who Kenny randomly met at a mutual friend’s party. He has a huuuge crush on her. Kenny you need to get back to work! He instead goes to her profile and clicks through her photos. She’s a beautiful brunette and I wouldn’t be surprised if a bunch of guys chased her around.

After five minutes, Kenny finally closes the Facebook tab. Whew. He goes back to his essay, rereads his intro paragraph, and types a few words to start his first argument. Alright Kenny! He pauses, deletes his last sentence, and sits back to think. Just keep typing Kenny, keep your ideas flowing! His hands return to the keyboard, and just as he’s about to start typing again his phone rings away from a call. Oh no, this can’t be good.

“Starcraft? Now? Agh, I really need to finish this essay. Hmm. Well… FINE. Just a game or two, then I’ll start working.” he says.

Kenny, you are headed down a slippery slippery slope!! He ends the call and opens up Starcraft. It’s going to be a long night.

True Love

Today I played cello for a memorial service honoring a woman who passed away at 87. For 65 of those years, she had been married to an incredibly loving and faithful husband who took care of her throughout her 45-year challenge of Huntington’s Disease. I was amazed at their love and commitment not only to themselves but also being a blessing to others.

It made me rethink what I consider “true” love. While I’m unsure what I fully consider true love, I know what it isn’t. I’m hesitant to call the love popularized by TV/movies/pop music true love because it makes for good entertainment but feels hollow and artificial (just take a look at the erratic love lives of some singers/actors). I’m also reluctant to say that I’ve ever felt it; I won’t claim to even begin to understand it until I’ve proven myself capable of it with a long-lasting marriage.

I do know one thing: if I can have even half the 65-year relationship that the couple maintained I’m doing something right.

The Last Lecture

Every summer, I re-read the Last Lecture. It’s the only book I’ve read more than two times (5 now, to be exact), and every time it gets better. This time around, here are the three things that stood out to me:

1. “There is this skill set called ‘leadership’ … He [Captain Kirk] was the distilled essence of the dynamic manager, a guy who knew how to delegate, had the passion to inspire, and looked good in what he wore to work. He never professed to have skills greater than his subordinates. He acknowledged that they knew what they were doing in their own domains. But established the vision, the tone. He was in charge of morale.”

Ever since I first read this, I couldn’t agree more that leadership is a skill. It takes practice and can always be improved. Leaders aren’t always the smartest, strongest, or most skilled. In fact, I’d venture to say that the best leaders seldom are because they surround themselves with people who are better than them. But the reason they are leaders is because they know how to unite people behind a vision and inspire them to work together.

2. “That’s because nowhere in their [Disney’s] accounting system are they able to measure how a ten-dollar salt and pepper shaker might yield $100,000 … My message is this: There is more than one way to measure profits and losses. On every level, institutions can and should have a heart.”

As a recent business school graduate, I am very disappointed modern US business culture. Our priority is to increase shareholder value. “Successful” companies are the ones that bring in the most profit and most efficiently cut costs. The way I see it, the best companies keep profits in mind but don’t focus on them. Their priorities go beyond profits as they focus on making the world a better place. Three of my favorite companies are Costco, REI, and Southwest Airlines. I have only studied Costco and Southwest from the outside but have been very lucky to work for REI. There is no question all three care deeply for their employees and care for more than profits. Whatever company I lead in the future will prioritize making the world a better place and forwarding humanity.

3. “As I see it, a parent’s job is to encourage kids to develop a joy for life and a great urge to follow their own dreams. The best we can do is to help them develop a personal set of tools for the task. So my dreams for my kids are very exact: I want them to find their own path to fulfillment.”

I’ve done quite a bit of thinking on what kind of a father I want to be, and Randy Pausch has served one of my best role models. I’ve seen far too many parents push their kids in a direction only to have their kids grow up to be unhappy. I want to be a parent that equips my children so they can succeed in whatever they set out to do, one that empowers them to take the burden of success and fulfillment into their own hands.

This book has significantly impacted my life, and I have no doubt it will continue to impact my life with each time I revisit it. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I’d highly recommend watching the video version (the book is simply an extension of it).

Objectified

Today I watched Objectified, a documentary on industrial design and the creative process. It made me think about my Design of Everyday Things project from a while back and rekindle the close scrutiny to the easily-overlooked objects around me.

One of my favorite parts of design is how everyone has a different approach. You can give two people the same materials and the same objective yet get very different results. I’m also fascinated by the challenge that is good design – it’s hard to achieve but easy to notice (bad design usually easier than good). Users are a designer’s best friend but biggest headache.

To me, the best designs marry intuition and timelessness. Intuitive that the user experience feels natural and timeless that the design can be appreciated not only now but in years (if not decades) to come. Three of my favorite designs (pictured below) are a Stradivari cello, the Porsche 911, and the Retina Macbook.

good design

Almost immediately, I appreciate the cello for its elegant shape. As a musician, I appreciate its finely honed design that produces its extraordinarily beautiful sound. With the Porsche, I am amazed by how the original design was so brilliantly created that the modern version shares many of the elements found in the first 1963 design. Things such as its circular headlights and uniquely curved back make for quite a timeless design and iconic silhouette (not to mention its great handling). With the Macbook Retina, I am drawn to its aluminum unibody shell and thin profile. The black and silver compliment each other perfectly and its subtle curves place it in my small list of sleek designs.

So where does intuition fit in? All three of these products are so enjoyable to use because tremendous thought has been put into designing them to connect with humans on a profoundly deep level. I’d venture to say that someone utilizing them to their full potential will consider them an extension of their body; that they become one with the object. I’m also willing to bet that anyone who owns any of these three items appreciates it not only aesthetically but functionally as well.

Design is all around us. We must simply be aware of it and appreciate its beauty.

Nexus 4 vs iPhone 5

[UPDATE 3/23] After using the Nexus 4 for several months, a few fundamental issues have surfaced that have led me to go back to the iPhone 5. Traces of these issues are highlighted in the original post below, but they’ve come to bother me so much that the iPhone’s pros now outweigh the cons.

The lack of LTE on the Nexus has really bothered me – AT&T’s HSPA+ network achieves similar speeds to what my iPhone 4 had on 3G (aka it was acceptable but nothing to brag about). Having experienced wifi equivalent speeds on the iPhone 5’s LTE, every day of using HSPA+ annoyed me more and more. If I was on T-Mobile, this would be a very different story.

Another major issue is the refinement of some my most-used non-Google apps, mainly Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. While they have similar usability between platforms, their feedback (when things go wrong) and reliability differ noticeably. I did not appreciate the polish that iPhone apps had until I experienced their lesser counterparts on Android. Android’s apps have substantially improved, but they still have a ways to go to rival their iOS versions. One thing I will say about Android refinement is that Google Now runs circles around Siri. But that doesn’t really matter since I found myself hardly using that functionality. I’d mostly show it off to my friends, but it had little personal utility.

While the first issue is unavoidable (unless I switched carriers), the second is something that may sort itself out as Android gains market share and thus convinces developers that they should invest as much (if not more) resources into refining Android apps as they do for iOS. While it’s a very tough decision, I won’t be returning to Android until an LTE Nexus device is released and Android apps catch up to iOS.

I also have a few thoughts on how my perception and usage of my smartphone has changed, but I’ll save that for a future post.

After owning the Nexus 4 for a few weeks, I decided to use my AT&T upgrade to get an iPhone 5. My switch to Android felt abrupt – I simply hadn’t been impressed with the iPhone 5/iOS 6 and my Google life begged me to return to Android (I owned a G1 several years ago). I spent this past week exclusively using the iPhone 5, taking notes on its characteristics versus the Nexus 4. This post summarizes my findings!

There are a few things you should know about my digital life and where I’m coming from:

  • I live in the cloud: my contacts are on Google, mobile photos on Dropbox, notes on Evernote, books on Kindle, music on Spotify, etc
  • I utilize many Google services – primarily Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Reader
  • My hardware, excluding the Nexus 4 and Kindle, is exclusively Apple: iMac, Macbook Pro, iPad, and formerly iPhone 4. Efficient cross-device synchronization is very important to me
  • My ideal smartphone is fast, intuitive, and “smart” enough to know what I want before I want it and help me figure out what I want when I don’t know what I want

What I enjoy about both phones:

  • Incredibly easy to transfer contacts and switch between devices. Both phones had my contacts synced within seconds after unboxing them (thanks to Gmail). App setup was brilliantly easy as well: everything I use was installed, logged in, and synchronized within 15 minutes. I even simulated the switch from Android to iOS by not restoring the new iPhone from my iPhone 4 backup and installing everything manually.
  • Amazing cameras and unbelievably seamless photo backup/storage thanks to Dropbox
  • Powerful performance – the hardware in both phones is blazingly fast and noticeably better than previous generations
  • Great hardware design: I don’t just enjoy using these phones, I love how they look and the detail put into creating a not only aesthetically but functionally beautiful device

The Nexus 4
What I like

  • Amazing utilization of what Google has to offer: everything from search to my calendar is brilliantly integrated. My favorite part is the genius of Google Now
  • Phenomenal screen and the best I’ve seen
  • Android 4.2 + 1.5 Ghz Snapdragon Proc + 2 GB RAM = an unbelievably fast and fluid user experience. Multi-tasking and switching between apps is the most efficient I’ve seen
  • Brilliant account management: the centralization under Settings makes it really easy to integrate and manage Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, etc
  • The vibration and screen lock animation. The refined yet subtle vibration of the Nexus 4 is glorious (I never cared about how my phone vibrated until I got to experience the Nexus 4) and TV-like screen lock animation are two easily overlooked things that make the phone really cool. Also, I really like how quick it is to unlock – pressing the button takes you straight to the home screen (as opposed to the iPhone, which requires pressing the button and then swiping to unlock)
  • Free tethering/mobile hotspot and simple one-click activation
  • Small notification light is very handy and highly customizable to show different colors for different notifications

What I dislike

  • Poor battery life: while I’m an active user, I don’t consider myself a true power user. I only sync over wifi and try to cache as many things (like Spotify) as possible. Despite that, my normal usage drains the battery in 10 hours. While I appreciate the slim and sleek design, part of me wishes the Nexus 4 could swap batteries like the Galaxy Nexus
  • Not as durable as I hoped for: the back doesn’t have the same Gorilla Glass as the front and gets scratched easily
  • HSPA+ on AT&T is disappointing, especially compared to AT&T’s LTE and T-Mobile’s 4G (which I observed on my friend’s Nexus 4)
  • There is no Reddit app as good as Alien Blue. I’ve tried 5+ (including m.reddit.com via Chrome) and not found a single one I enjoy. As a result, I don’t browse Reddit on my smartphone – maybe that’s a good thing?

iPhone 5
What I like

  • So simple – everything about the hardware and OS “just works”
  • Unbeatable music listening experience. I have yet to find a manufacturer that beats Apple in building hardware that plays music really well. Tracks at identical quality on identical listening mediums (I’ve tried several headphones and speakers) are overwhelmingly in favor of the iPhone (comparisons were done on Spotify and Pandora, both of which I pay for premium accounts)
  • iMessage: my all-time favorite Apple feature. I love that you can send messages to any Apple device from any Apple device you own. Much better user experience than Google Talk, Google Voice, and any related service
  • The lightning connector, while expensive and annoying (my former iOS device cables are obsolete now), is actually really great to use. No more fidgeting around in the dark to try to plug in the adapter the right way – as far as I know it’s the only smartphone that has a cable that can be plugged in both ways
  • LTE is unbelievably fast. I often can’t tell the difference between LTE and wifi; Speedtest reports astonishingly similar numbers
  • Amazing battery life: I actively used it for 16 hours yesterday and still had >35% battery

What I dislike

  • Lack of customizability and innovation in iOS: Apple’s homescreen looks the same as it did in 2007. While it’s a good interface, it’s not a great one. Simply put, it’s too simple – smartphones are capable of so much more nowadays. Widgets are brilliant, and I’m surprised Apple hasn’t integrated at least a few proprietary ones
  • Siri underwhelms. The first time I got an iPhone 5 and Nexus 4 together, I spent 15 minutes comparing everything from finding the nearest Thai food place and traffic information to setting a reminder and the score of a recent Seahawks game. I mainly judged on speed and quality of results. Android ran circles around iOS and I cut my comparison short because I felt bad for Siri…
  • The screen feels too narrow when I’m reading. I read in portrait orientation on my Nexus 4, iPad, and Kindle and have a great experience on all of them. Small fonts are perfectly manageable on each of those devices, but on the iPhone 5 I struggle with some emails (especially the ones not optimized for mobile). I simply don’t enjoy reading on the iPhone, which is disappointing because I love reading on the go with Pocket and Kindle

While the iPhone 5 was much better than I expected, the Nexus 4 is the victor. I wasn’t impressed with Android until 4.2 came out, and I am amazed at how well they’ve innovated. I am disappointed in iOS6 because I know the iPhone has so much more potential. Regardless, they are both beautiful devices and I am blown away by where smartphones are now (I remember the flip phone I had in middle school).

How I’ve come to look at the two is that the iPhone is better for those who want a simple UI and don’t need the fancy features that a geek like me wants. While I believe Android 4.2 is a generation ahead of iOS6, I can see perfectly valid use cases for both OS. Ultimately, the Nexus 4 is the phone for me.

A Time

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
 a time to be born and a time to die,
 a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 a time to kill and a time to heal,
 a time to tear down and a time to build,
 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
 a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
 a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
 a time to search and a time to give up,
 a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
 a time to search and a time to give up,
 a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 a time to tear and a time to mend,
 a time to be silent and a time to speak,
 a time to love and a time to hate,
 a time for war and a time for peace.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.

-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11

There are forces at work around us that we will never comprehend. All we can do is be thankful for our past, enjoy our present, and hope for our future. Time makes life beautiful.

Too Much?

Everything has an optimal quantity. Too much, and the marginal costs diminish the marginal benefits. Too little, and there is benefit left to be attained. A question I’ve asked ever since my 10th grade Honors Biology teacher introduced me to it is: How much is enough?

As I was in my weekly Monday morning swim session today, I was tempted to swim an extra 500 yards in my main set. What was going to be 5x200s became a 100 and 2x200s. The marginal benefit of 500 more yards was simply not worth the marginal cost of the fatigue. I was unusually tired this morning, and determined that it would be best to save my energy. I wasn’t too happy to do a ‘normal’ workout, but I didn’t feel the need to push myself beyond the optimal quantity. While my drive to always improve has been a blessing for forwarding my life, it’s also a burden because it’s really disappointing when I don’t make tangible progress.

The same balancing decision goes for many other aspects of my life, most of which are substantially more complex than a swimming workout. How many extracurricular activities is enough? How many hours of studying is enough? How much sleep is enough? Everyday, we face hundreds (if not thousands) of decisions regarding the quantities we want to input. Instead of blindly accepting one, my challenge has become optimizing marginal benefit and marginal cost. One of the biggest challenging is determining/measuring benefit and cost. It’s impossible to precisely determine them, but I feel that I’m better off attempting to as opposed to not even trying.

My life’s balance certainly isn’t perfect, but I’m driven to perfect it.

Be Selfish

Here’s the paradox I’ve been thinking about today: in order to be sustainably selfless, you must first be selfish.

You can’t successfully lead others unless you successfully lead yourself; you can’t successfully help others unless you successfully help yourself. At the beginning of college, I immersed myself in a myriad of activities. I loved serving others, volunteering, and doing my best to make the world a better place. But with that, I neglected my health. I’m very fortunate that one of my mentors looked me straight in the eye (in our first meeting actually) to bluntly tell me how my lifestyle was unsustainable and imbalanced. It’s crazy to see how much I’ve grown since then.

There’s nothing wrong with being busy, but there is something wrong if your life isn’t balanced.

Here’s another way of looking at the interdependence of selfishness/selflesness: I don’t write on this blog to help other people. Honestly, I write for myself. Improving myself is challenging enough, and that is my priority. I can’t be successful at helping others improve unless I can successfully do it myself. Thankfully the two aren’t mutually exclusive; helping others improve by improving myself is something I will always strive to do.

Be selfish. Only then can you be sustainably selfless.

Small Steps

My number one value is self-development. I go through every day with one goal: to go to sleep as a better person than I was when I woke up. Instead of focusing solely on lofty New Year’s resolutions and BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) to drive my growth, I focus on the small steps I can take every day. I use BHAGs to set my direction, but my journey lies within what I do every day.

Today, my victory was finishing a swimming set with a pace I haven’t done since high school*. While my body was exhausted at the end of the set, my spirit was uplifted by the accomplishment. What made it even better was that I swam in the morning, starting my day off positively with a victory.

It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life. Days, even weeks go by where you feel like you’re spinning your wheels and not making progress. Had I not began this mentality of everyday improvement, I surely wouldn’t be where I am today. Call me girly, but a significant part of this mindset is developing the habit of journaling every night. It really helps put things into perspective and surely helps me sleep peacefully. Something I also do is record a magical moment. These are the highlights of my days; no matter how terrible of a day I had I can always find at least one thing to be thankful for. (more on these later)

As Lao-Tzu said, A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

* For those of you who are curious, the set was 100 IMs on the 1:45

You Are Lucky

The universe works in mysterious ways. Opportunity is abundant; every day there is potential for one small thing to become a big change for your life. For every one of these life-changing opportunities that I’ve seized, I wonder about the ones I haven’t.

The most recent example: on Thursday, my research methods class had a guest speaker from Microsoft Research’s FUSE Social Media Lab. She spoke about some things that really interested me, and I approached her at the end of class to tell her about my work with UW Student Life and our potential to collaborate. She was interested, and agreed to continue our conversation.

I sent her an email shortly after, and she responded with an invitation to the lab to meet her and another researcher on Monday.

If, on that Thursday morning, you had told me I would be meeting someone from Microsoft Research and invited to their labs, I would have thought you were crazy. Looking back, I could have easily missed this opportunity. I could have been indifferent about the talk, failed to see the opportunity to collaborate, or been reluctant to approach her. There are a multitude of reasons why things shouldn’t have worked out, but a handshake and brief conversation were all it took to make it a success.

There’s the saying “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” I agree, but I have something to add: Be Lucky. Luck doesn’t happen just to us, we can make ourselves lucky. When you take one of these everyday opportunities and make it something that moves your life forward, you are leveraging luck. Simply perceiving you are lucky will make you lucky.

Opportunity knocks everyday. Be lucky – open the door.

Inspiration

Tonight, by sheer luck, I met one of the most influential inspirations in my life.

Ever since I first heard about Alula Asfaw in 2009, his story of founding UW’s Dream Project has continually motivated me to challenge myself and be a driver of change. I consider Alula to be one of the best examples of someone who identified a problem, was motivated to do something about it, and rallied the support of others to further his cause. Alula demonstrates that one person with one idea can radically change the world.

Few things in life can top spontaneously meeting one of your biggest motivators, especially when you can humbly thank them for how much of an inspiration they’ve been to you. It’s my hope that I can serve the same inspiration to those around me.