I Can Breathe

The job’s not finished. We still need to win Georgia in January to win the Senate.

But after 240,000+ deaths being dismissed as “just a flu”, being ridiculed for wearing a mask to protect everyone I directly/indirectly cross paths with, being mocked as sheep for trusting ongoing scientific research around the world, watching the president convince his followers that “it’s us against the world”, watching social media surface the most vile thoughts & theories from the darkest parts of the internet, and waking up every single day for the past four years, bracing myself for some sort of new controversy coming straight from the top of our government…All that election anxiety I’ve struggled with for months has suddenly just disappeared, and I’m once again hopeful for some sort of normalcy in America.

The job’s not finished. But for the first time in a very, very long time…I can breathe.

How I Spent My Year 2018

My 2018 was about crossing things off my bucket list. Traveling solo, eating and exploring my way through Japan. Also attending WWDC festivities in San Jose to hang out with fellow Apple geeks. Just throwing myself out there into places I've always wondered about…I finally got to experience them.

For the 16th straight year, here is my annual run down of how I spent my year 2018.

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Re: Sharing Priceless Photos…in Full Quality

So I'm a sentimentalist and a digital hoarder who is particularly OCD about original photos & videos.

Last year, I wrote an email to Apple's SVP of Software to point out a common, real-world problem that comes up every time a group of friends get together:

Hey Craig [Federighi],

The iPhone is the best and most popular camera on the planet…yet sharing photos & videos in full quality with friends & family is so hard! I wish sharing full-quality photos/videos was as easy as sending stickers to a group chat in iMessage.

I was recently on a trip to Hawaii with a dozen of my childhood friends. 10 of us had iPhones and 2 had Samsungs. We’re all taking photos, with plenty of candid shots, great group shots, and just living the moment. But when we wanted to share each other's best photos on Facebook, we were faced with several options that all have downsides:

  • Send over iMessage — but then everyone receives a downscaled version of each photo and video.

  • Send via AirDrop — (my Samsung friends were getting a jealous about this, lol) but AirDrop assumes all phones are unlocked and within bluetooth range, which isn't always the case. It forces us to take ourselves out of the moment just to make sure all our iPhones are unlocked and ready to accept the AirDrop.

  • Share folders via Dropbox or Google Photos — but not everyone has an account on either of those.

  • Use iCloud Photo Sharing — but not everyone has that enabled. And even if I send them a link to the album, photos/videos are downscaled to lower quality.

I take pride in the quality of photos I take with my iPhone! It’s a shame though that with all these priceless group photos on our phones, we either have to take ourselves out of the moment to coordinate an AirDrop with everyone, or we have to settle with downscaled versions of photos that are meant to last a lifetime.

I feel that of all the companies in the world, Apple is the only company that could solve this elegantly. Hope you take this into consideration!

-Mel

He read my email that day, but he never emailed me back…

Fast forward eight months later.

On Monday, at Apple's annual developer conference, Craig Federighi announced an awesome new photo sharing feature for the upcoming iOS 12 (skip to 0:30:21):

I'd like to think this feature was created 100% because of me — that way I can justify the celebratory chocolate chip cookie dough cinnamon bun I ate before bed — but even it wasn't, I'm just glad all you guys will be able to use this feature coming this fall.

So buy the best smartphone camera you can afford, take lots and lots of photos, and always, always, always keep the full-quality originals. Because the reality is, you can NEVER go back in time to take better photos of your loved ones.

My Solo Travel Packing List for Japan

For the past eight months, most of my purchases had been towards things that would help me in my first trip to Japan and first time traveling alone.

There were four key ideas I adopted in preparation for this trip:

  • Bite-sized vlogs with my iPhone. GoPros are great and all, but I couldn't justify $350+ on an action camera I'd rarely use ever again. And the last thing I want to do when I come back from vacation is spend hours compiling a highlight video for YouTube. With a 256 GB iPhone, I'd have plenty of space to record 4K video, plus I'd be able to edit & upload bite-sized videos on-the-fly.

  • Carry-on backpack only. Having everything in a single backpack means not dragging around secondary luggage as I explore the city between the 10am hotel check-outs and 4pm check-ins.

  • "Capsule wardrobe". Bringing only neutral-colored clothes & layers would give me plenty of possible outfits for the trip, making it easy to adapt to the weather as needed.

  • Unique experiences instead of typical hotels. Standard hotels are expensive and for the most part, the exact same. With Airbnb, I can stay at better locations, pay way less, and experience what it's like to live like a local.

With that said, here's a list of everything I brought, what worked, what didn't, and what I'll bring next time.

Killer Purchases

  • 256 GB iPhone X. The extra space was crucial for recording all my 4K videos throughout the trip.
  • Unlimited 4G SIM card by JAL ABC at Narita Airport1. This was definitely better than the other option: renting a pocket wifi that I would have to recharge and turn on/off throughout the day.
  • 33L travel backpack by Aer SF. This bad boy literally carried everything for me.
  • Outbreaker Daypack by Tortuga. A super light-weight backpack I used to explore the city while I left the rest of my stuff at my Airbnb/hotel.
  • Ultra Light Down Jacket by Uniqlo. The ratio of utility-to-weight is ridiculously good with this jacket. It's super comfortable, loose-fitting, and kept me plenty warm in 45 degree weather.
  • merino wool t-shirts by Unbound Merino. It was my first time relying on (only two) merino wool shirts for an entire week, and it totally lived up to the hype that backpackers have sworn by for years2.
  • merino wool socks by Unbound Merino.
  • Long Sleeve HeatTech t-shirts by Uniqlo. A key clothing layer that helped me manage my temperature throughout the trip.
  • extendable selfie stick with tripod attachment by Smatree. This was invaluable to me as a solo traveler because I wanted pictures of myself without asking other (non-English speaking) people for help.
  • quick-release tripod mount for smartphones by Glif. A handy attachment that allows me to connect my iPhone X — and any future smartphone — to whatever standard tripod or selfie stick I want.
  • 2-in-1 battery pack & wall charger by Anker. Helped me cut down on the extra wall chargers needed for all my devices.
  • Cut Story app for splitting my vlog recordings into 15-second clips for Instagram Stories.
  • Apple Watch 3 for keeping track of two timezones and useful as a camera remote for my iPhone.

Meh

  • First Cabin capsule hotel room. This has been on my bucket list for years, but I won't be doing this again because I really disliked having to be completely silent the whole time, especially when I need to zip/unzip for stuff in my bag.
  • 12.9" iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard. I love my iPad, but my iPhone was simply enough for everything I did on my trip.
  • running waist pack by Flip Belt. I wore this to hold my passport so I could keep my pockets empty, but the tight size caused my passport to fold/curve up awkwardly.
  • water-resistant sneaker boots by Nike. Would've been useful had it rained, but it was a bit heavier than I'd like for travel.

Next Time

  • another merino wool t-shirt. I felt a little weird rotating between just two shirts for a whole week, especially with people were watching me in my vlogs every day. A third shirt merino wool would be perfect for my next one-week trip.
  • lighter sneakers in case of rain.
  • a smartphone gimbal, so I can record smoother video with my iPhone as I walk around. I still can't justify a $350 GoPro, but I think I can justify a $150 gimbal.

Overall, my first solo adventure was a huge personal success. I learned how to get by with much, much less. Solo traveling — especially with one backpack — is so freeing, I could do whatever I want, whenever I wanted. I didn't have to wait up for anyone. I didn't have to rush for anyone. Everything I did, I did on my terms, and no one else's.

I can't imagine traveling any other way anymore.


  1. Before using your smartphone abroad, always make sure your phone is unlocked. For me, my iPhone X was already unlocked as I purchased it through Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program. 

  2. Merino wool shirts are well-known among backpackers as the best base layer for travel. The fabric is finer than typical wool, handles moisture very well, has a natural ability to regulate temperature, and is odor resistant. As long as you air it out every night, rotating a few merino wool shirts can last you for days without wash. 

Dear Japan →

In just a few short days, you’ve taught me how beautiful an entire country can be when every single person practices courtesy & respect, and crafts their work with the thought & care of a true artisan.

I have yet to hear an impatient driver honk their horn. I have yet to see an angry customer arguing with a worker. I have yet to come across restaurant staff, a store employee, bus operator, taxi driver, or subway worker who will give up on me because I don’t understand what they are saying. I have yet to even find a public toilet here that isn’t clean!

You have warmed my heart the way your toilets have warmed my bum...and I will carry that with me forever.

Love,
Mel

How I Spent My Year 2017

In 2016, my mantra was "fail more." It was the next step above "little acts of courage" in that it expects that I constantly push my own boundaries and constantly fail. But instead of getting discouraged, I should feel proud for the opportunity to learn something new about myself. And every once in a while, when I expect to fail…the universe occasionally surprises me in wondrous ways.

2017 was a bit more of a year of getting comfortable and settling into the adventures I started in 2016. Other than Hawaii and my first dance performance, this past year was a pretty laid back one, in many ways. For the 15th straight year, here is my annual run down of how I spent my year 2017.

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