On Civility, Compassion, and Comments

Almost exactly 14 years ago, I was a bright-eyed young 22-year-old, graduating from Concordia College, pink tassel and all.  I thought I had the world in front of me and about to accomplish great things in the world as a choral music conductor and teacher (how naive I was!).

At our commencement we had a student from the class give a speech and they chose one of the esteemed students from the Speech department and Speech Team.  Makes sense. Let’s have someone who is a great speaker give a speech.  Tami Frisbee was also quite bright if I recall (it’s been a while and I didn’t know her well to be honest).

Shortly into her speech, I realized the topic: civility.  Civility?  Really?  I’m thinking of all the things I’m going to do out in the world and reflecting back on the amazing time that last 4-years have been, and she wants to talk about civility?  I just didn’t get it.

Oh how naive I was…

After several career changes and the explosion of the connected and online world, I’ve come to realize that next to compassion, civility is one of the most important traits a person can possess.  Civility allows us to communicate with respect and dignity.  It means we can get our point across without offending others when there is no need for offensive behavior, and there almost never is a need.

It seems simple, right?  Why can’t we all be civil to each other?  For whatever reason, I think the internet brings out in some people a grand feeling of entitlement and self-righteousness.  This entitlement then spreads to actions outside of the internet. People believe that it is better to be right, than to show respect, civility or compassion.  The scariest part is when I see this behavior from others in the name of religion.  I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that my God believed in respect, civility and compassion towards others, no ifs, ands or buts (that’s enough religion talk for one day though).

Losing the ability to feel compassion for others will bring down our society faster than any dictator or weapon.  It is our innate ability for compassion that makes us human.  It is what allows us to communicate on a personal level and feel connected as a society and as a race, without borders or walls of any kind.

While I enjoy connecting with others online, internet comments are not how I like to it to happen.  Internet comment sections are by and large an enormous waste of time, energy, and space.  On news sites I simply ignore them altogether.  Gruber was right to not have comments on his site for clarity of purpose, but I think another great reason is simply because the minuscule amount thoughtful comments will never come close to outweighing the piles of childish and poorly formed comments. M.G. and Matt might agree as well.

After taking an excellent business communications course on internet communications, I was motivated to allow comments on this blog.  And so I did.  A few posts here and there, nothing too heavy, even though I cross posted on other social media outlets, I wasn’t necessarily expecting comments though friends may get around to reading the site from time to time.  And then a full 4 months after I wrote This Is What Happens To Gold Standards, I finally received my first comment, ironically from someone calling themselves “Herman Melville”:

““Gold standard”? Right that’s what the stock is in the crapper and iphones sold were well under projections.

Gold standard. Don’t equate the default option with the bechmark. Apple had raised the bar, but now they’re standing still as everyone (especially Samsung) sprints by.

Frickin’ Apple iSheep. Totally unable to think critically or have an objective opinion beause you’re too caught up in the marketing and the supposed ‘magic’ of the brand.

You know who falls for such marketing? Morons. Morons who only care about superficialities and ‘oooo! shiny!’ things. Shallow people, that’s who.”

This, to me, was the perfect way to start and end comments on a website.  A comment so void of civility or compassion.  Without even asking for it, “Herman” (most likely hiding behind internet anonymity even though I have his IP address logged and I think I know where he works) became the perfect example of why internet comments are such a waste.  My first reaction was to write a followup and easily deconstruct his “comment” point-by-point using business logic and historical and factual data, but then it dawned on me: that’s exactly what he’s hoping for, and everyone knows you never feed the trolls.

So I let it go and laughed it off to have finally learned my lesson.  That singular comment will remain on my site for a singular purpose, and will remain as the only one, as to why comments are so ridiculous.

So I leave you with this: help spread compassion and civility today and everyday by not participating in venomous internet comments.  If you want to comment, reach out directly to the person instead, or post your response on your own blog.  Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t say in public or front of your mother.

It seems like a small request, but every little bit does go a long way.  The world’s need for compassion and civility will never be fulfilled without many small steps.  Let’s start today.

This Is What Happens To Gold Standards

This is what happens to gold standards when a new, annual revision is announced and sold.

Apple PR:

Apple® today announced pre-orders of its iPhone® 5 topped two million in just 24 hours, more than double the previous record of one million held by iPhone 4S.


AT&T* set a sales record with iPhone 5 over the weekend, making it the fastest-selling iPhone the company has ever offered.  Customers ordered more iPhones from AT&T than any previous model both on its first day of preorders and over the weekend.

The iPhone As The New Standard

apple_iphone_5_precision_cameraIt’s iPhone 5 launch week, and as can be expected, there will be nonstop news about the new wonder-phone and all that it can do, can’t do, and how it compares to the competition.  Here’s the thing though, the only people who really care about that, by and large, are journalists, tech pundits, and competitors like Samsung and Google.

Why? Because the iPhone is now the standard. It is the baseline. The norm. The default option. That is both amazing and boring at the same time.

Ever since the iPhone 5 announcement last week, countless journalists have come out saying how boring and how disappointing the iPhone 5 announcement was?  But does anyone really care about that?  Fact is, the iPhone 5’s industrial design was leaked months ago, and this itself takes a bit of air out of the announcement.  But that doesn’t make it any less new.  The iPhone is also nothing but a paperweight without iOS.

In 2007, Apple shocked and stunned the world with the iPhone.  The announcement in January at Macworld, followed by the launch in June signaled a major shift in the industry.  Apple had made its move beyond MP3 players and into a new major industry: not smartphones, not even phones, but mini personal computers disguised as phones. While the first edition was groundbreaking, it still lacked an immense amount of features. These features would need several years of revisions and refinement as the technology slowly matured.  While it can be argued that some launches and introductions were larger than others (ex. iPhone 3G, iPhone 4), the fact is that each revision was merely an evolution of the preceding version.  While many people loved their iPhone 4, the 4S contained significant improvement in the camera and performance department that it was a significant upgrade, even though it looked the same from the outside.

While the iPhone iterates and grows, it increasingly becomes that “one thing” that everyone has with them.  Due to their industry exclusive feature of free, annual OS updates, users feel more than comfortable keeping a handset for 2+ years.  I purchased my 3GS in 2009, over 3 years ago from today, yet two days from now it will receive the brand new iOS 6.  That’s an intangible that Samsung and Motorola and Nokia simply can’t compete against.  You see more old iPhones running around than any other brand of smartphone.  This isn’t just perception.

So what has this brought us to?  We now find ourselves with the sixth generation of iPhone being largely feature complete, now with LTE and a larger retina display while still delivering great battery life.  Could it be better?  Sure! Apple could have included NFC and joined an already immature, increasingly crowded and confusing market, but to what end?  That’s not Apple’s style.  They didn’t include copy-and-paste until it was just right.  They didn’t included multi-tasking until it was great and didn’t kill battery life. But by and large, the iPhone has grown so mature that the industry of mini personal computers has itself grown boring.  And in boring markets, you usually have a standard; a default choice. Consider the iPhone 5 the gold standard. It may be boring, but it’s pretty as hell and most people can’t wait to get their mitts on it.

The Point-n-Shoot Camera is Dead

I’d like to introduce you to a little friend of mine. The little guy you see here is Timone, or “Monie” as his owners like to call him. A couple weeks ago we were up in Brainerd visiting Monie’s family, and being the little rascal that he is (he’s still in the kitten stage of life, being under a year old and all), they got him little bit of cat accoutrement in the form of a shirt that says “Naughty But Nice”. He definitely has the naughty bit in spades, that’s for sure.

So as cute as the little guy is, I ran over and snapped a few shots with my iPhone 4S. I was in relatively well lit kitchen, at night, with predominantly incandescent lighting, and that was the shot I got, straight out of the iPhone 4S camera. And trust me that when you blow it up to 100%, it still looks just as good.

As a life-long pixel peeper, ever since switching to digital for my photography business back in 2002, I’ve always been frustrated by how stupid cameras are. There’s really no other way to say it, but cameras are stupid. Why do you think that when I shoot a wedding, 99% of the shots I take are on full manual exposure? Yep, you got it: stupid camera. Cameras don’t know how to properly expose, focus, balance the color of light, or just about anything. That’s why most pro shooters use RAW: it’s so much easier to correct the decisions of the stupid camera.

And now Apple comes along with the iPhone 4S’ 8 megapixel pocket shooter and I’m telling you that it is just blowing me away. Shot after shot is not only sharp and in focus, but also very well exposed and remarkably accurate white balance. And that’s not even touching on the natural color balance as well (most p&s cameras and camera-phones have a nasty habit of over-saturating photos so that they look hyper-realistic and not at all natural). This little photo of Timone above is just one perfect example of many.

Apple is doing it right. I can’t stress that enough, and as a dyed-in-the-wool pixel peeper, I want to stand up and applaud them for doing that. They’ve learned much from their mistakes: the poor over-saturation from the iPhone 4’s camera, poor white balance, and slow shutter response times. This camera is amazing and produces so many “winners” right out of the gate, that it almost makes me not care that I can’t shoot in RAW. 😉 Almost….

One great example is white balance. Nailing accurate, neutral white balance has long been a great bugaboo of the camera industry, just ask any engineer from Canon or Nikon or Panasonic and they’ve really come a long way and have been at it for years. Incandescent shots come out way too orange, fluorescent light shots come out too green, sunny shots too blue, on and on and on. In the end, we just want it to look like how our eyes are seeing it, but that is so much easier said than done. But this simple shot of Timone, bathed in only incandescent light, simply has a nice warm glow to it, very close to neutral, yet ever-so-slighly warm. Just look at the white of the shirt and you’ll see that it’s very close to pure white, but a little on the warm side. But that’s just how I like it. Portraits look good when they’re a little on the warm side (despite what the Instagram hipsters will tell you…)

I’m telling you, the only thing holding back the true death of point-n-shoot cameras everywhere is the true lack of a zoom lens on camera-phones. That’s the only appreciable advantage they still have. When a company like Apple now has finally nailed it on the optics, the sensor (sony-made), the processing and the software, how on earth can Canon and Nikon compete with that?

We live in a truly amazing time.

Some things are bigger than football

I’m sitting here, late Wednesday night, watching ESPN and their ongoing coverage of the recent events that have unfolded over the past several days at Penn State, culminating this evening in the firing of longtime head coach Joe Paterno. And I’m very bothered by what I’m seeing in the students Penn State, yet not sure if I should be surprised or not at their failure to see the err of their ways.

The first question asked at the press conference announcing the firing of Joe Paterno:

“Who will coach the team on Saturday!?”

I’m not sorry about this, but some things are just bigger than football. Some things are bigger than tradition. Some things are bigger than one man pouring his heart and soul into a university for 46 years and giving so much back. The destruction of one child’s innocence is simply so much bigger than all of those things.

In the end you walk away with nothing but your dignity and the legacy you leave behind. JoePa’s legacy was always one of the highest integrity, but that’s ALL in question now and he knows it. He may not have been the athletic director or the president of the school, but he arguably held a position much more powerful as head coach of the Penn State football team. It matters not that he apparently reported the incident to the athletic director and did what was necessary according to the letter of the law in Pennsylvania. The law is far from perfect and if we merely use the law as the measure of what is wrong and what is accepted, what are we really saying?

Our leaders MUST be held to higher standards than the minimum bar required by the law. If we choose to follow these people, to raise them up, and to build statues of them, then maybe we can’t be expected have perspective when we realize that their colossal failure in judgement led to the continuation and coverup of untold horrors.

How about we not worry about who’s going to coach the team on Saturday. Football will go on. Penn State will survive. Students will get over the disruption to their Rose Bowl hopes. But nothing can ever take back the atrocities that occurred. Yes Joe, you of all people, should have done more.

R.I.P. Beluga

I sincerely hope this is the last post regarding Beluga I have to write. Since becoming a big fan of Beluga just a year ago, I became concerned when they were bought by Facebook, and then further disheartened when it became apparent that Beluga was no longer loved.

Well, the day has finally come to give Beluga a proper burial:

Now that Facebook Messenger is available everywhere, we’ve decided to stop offering Beluga as a separate service. You can keep using Beluga for now, but we’ll be phasing it out over the next few weeks:

… We’d like to thank you all for being such enthusiastic and loyal users. We’ll continue to use your feedback to improve Messenger and make messaging your friends easier, faster and more fun.

Grrreeeeaaaat… So now that you’ve effectively killed a fantastic, simple, and extremely effective group messaging app, even though there was nothing wrong with it, and now I get to use Facebook instead? You’re assuming I trust Facebook to begin with, and that would be an assumption you shouldn’t make right now.

I’d be lying if I thought we didn’t see this coming. It just would have been nice if they had told us this a long time ago, like back in April when Facebook acquired Beluga in the first place.

So where does that leave us? Well, at this point the only good recommendations I can give are each flawed in their own way. GroupMe is great in many way, but is tremendously hobbled by its ridiculous 160 character limit and the way it deletes your message if you go over while using the web interface. And with GroupMe now owned by Skype, and Skype being owned by Microsoft, I’m not putting it past MS to pull a Facebook and kill the app altogether for their own nefarious reasons.

My new interest is TigerText, which seems to have a lot of potential, but stumbles a little on its non-standard UI. Also of note, TigerText’s 500 character limit isn’t so bad. I’ll be keeping an eye on that one.

The Trackpad Killed My Computer

From Joanna Stern’s Review of the Asus Zenbook UX31 at The Verge:

As I was working on writing this review in Google Docs, the cursor somehow decided to open an Asus utility called WinFlash, which then began to reformat the BIOS. (I’m really not even sure why this is included!) Oddly, I couldn’t stop the process and before I knew it, I had a totally dead system. Yes, the trackpad actually killed the UX21.

Wow… If I made that story up, do you actually think anyone would believe me? I’m gonna say no at this point. Details matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re a baker, a waiter, a factory worker, or a computer engineer, details matter.

For the record, I actually own a single Windows-only computer which happens to be a less than 1-year old Asus laptop. It works ok, though it does have a very finicky touchpad (what PC’s don’t?) and I think it has a faulty GPU as well. Keep forgetting to get that taken care of…

Beautiful Tribute Music for Steve

If you haven’t yet had the chance, I highly recommend watching the “Celebrating Steve” event that Apple held on October 19th at their corporate campus in Cupertino. You hear from Tim Cook, Jonny Ive, Bill Campbell, and Al Gore. Jonny Ive’s comments are particularly poignant. But if you want to hear some amazing music that might bring you to tears, listen to the last song sung by Norah Jones, which is “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan. One of my very favorite bands, Coldplay, also sings a great rendition of “Fix You”, which was also very fitting.

Don’t miss it if you have the time.

Where were you when you heard that Steve died?

We’re probably getting to the point of Steve Jobs memorial overload, but I thought it prudent to share just one bit of reflection on his passing. Much has been said and much will continue to be said about Steve’s accomplishments and his life. The recent release of the Steve Jobs authorized biography by Walter Isaacson has shed much public light on his sometimes very private life.

While Steve was a very flawed individual, it’s hard not to feel a connection to him as he brought into the world such amazing products that are meant to make an emotional connection. Consumers want to love their products. They want to do amazing things with them and do it easily. When devices give average people the power to do amazing things very easily, they start to have an emotional attachment to those devices. Steve was the face behind those devices, even though there was countless others behind the scenes that put their blood, sweat and tears into the work as well.

I remember where I was when I heard that the Challenger exploded. I remember where I was when OJ was acquitted. I remember where I was when the towers fell. And now I remember where I was when I heard that Steve died. All tragic events of varying magnitude to be sure. Why is it we remember so many events of tragedy and yet fewer of triumph? What amazing world events do you remember that are of triumph and joy instead of tragedy?