Apple Vision Pro: First Impressions

Vision Pro

I recently had the opportunity to demo the new Apple Vision Pro at my local Apple Store, and I have many thoughts. Even though I was intrigued by the product, I decided not to be an early adopter and pre-order sight unseen, mainly due to the high cost. Up until about a year ago, I was skeptical about the idea of VR as a consumer device, but after reviewing the PS VR2, I was sold on the concept. Apple usually waits until they can make a big splash in a market segment before entering it, so I thought the Vision Pro would be the pinnacle of VR as we know it.

What is Apple Vision Pro?

Apple markets Vision Pro as the first spatial computing device, intentionally avoiding categorizing it as either a VR (Virtual Reality) or AR (Augmented Reality) system. Following my experience with the headset, I would categorize it more as an entertainment device.

What Can Apple Vision Pro Do?

Though not a complete computer, Vision Pro currently shares similarities with an iPad. It has the capability to run compatible iPad apps from the App Store, and developers can also create dedicated visionOS apps exclusively for Vision Pro. The iPad apps functioning on Vision Pro appear as flat windowed instances, similar to Safari. The advantage lies in the flexibility to arrange them within your “space” as desired, deviating from the confinement of one or two on the iPad screen.

Vision Pro

What Can’t Apple Vision Pro Do?

One notable limitation of Vision Pro is its inability to play VR games akin to those found on Meta Quest or PS VR2. While it’s plausible that similar or ported games may become available for Vision Pro in the future, there are currently none at its launch. It’s crucial to note that Vision Pro is not marketed as a gaming system, and purchasing it with that intention would be a waste of money and technology.

The Demo

Upon my arrival at the Apple Store at the scheduled time, an Apple specialist guided me through the process. Initially, he handed me an iPhone for a face and head measurement, similar to the Face ID setup. This measurement determined the appropriate size for the light shield of Vision Pro. Shortly after, another Apple employee presented a tray with a headset equipped with a pre-fitted light shield, along with a battery and cable. Something I found funny was the replaceable light shield had a mesh cloth protector on it, presumably to keep face grease from spreading person to person.

The Apple specialist then followed a scripted guide, instructing me on the precise placement of my hands on the headset and the correct method of putting it on my head. Surprisingly, the entire process took about 10 minutes. I anticipated a lengthier experience, but it seems I got all I needed during the brief period I spent in the goggles.

What I Liked

  • The overall feel of the device is much more premium and meticulously crafted than any of the other plastic headsets I’ve seen.
  • The internal screens you peer into surpass those of the PS VR2, a headset I’ve used extensively. This distinction is evident at first glance.
  • The software appears exceptionally refined, with ubiquitous Apple touches suggesting a thoughtful development tailored for mixed reality.
  • Spatial videos are a killer feature, reminiscent of how Live Photos changed the way I experience my photos. I intend to intentionally capture Spatial Videos with my iPhone, anticipating the possibility of enjoying them on Vision Pro in the future.
  • Panorama photos that you have taken in the past can be displayed as somewhat immersive photos that allow you to see the full perspective of the image.
  • Immersive videos (currently only produced by Apple as a demo) are definitely a look at the way we’ll consume media in the future. Whether this is live music performances, sporting events, or nature videos.
  • The Speaker Pods project sound downward toward your ears without entering them, unlike AirPods, are excellent. I wish Apple would develop a set of AirPods capable of replicating this design.

What Surprised Me

  • The overall weight of the headset was not an issue. It was a lot lighter than I initially thought after reading reviewers complain about the weight on their face.
  • The comfortability was beyond my expectation, again after reading reviews of the default head strap. It was much more comfortable and easy to wear compared to my PS VR2.
  • I didn’t finish the demo and immediately want to drop thousands of dollars on Vision Pro.
  • The eye tracking is good, but nothing revolutionary.

What I Didn’t Like

  • While the internal screens are very good, it’s immediately apparent that you’re looking at screens through a camera, rather than at the real world.
    Open the camera app on your phone and view your room on the display through the camera. That’s what it’s like inside the goggles, but even a little worse.
  • There were several times my hand gestures didn’t work correctly or even register with Vision Pro. About 25% of the time, it did not recognize my two-finger tap to signal an input.
  • The field of view, or lack of, is noticeable. So when you’re inside Vision Pro there are visible areas of your peripheral not engulfed in screen. Not dissimilar to wearing ski goggles.
  • The disparity between wearing the headset and utilizing the passthrough view within the well-lit Apple Store and removing the headset to see through my own eyes was significant. The existing cameras and screens struggle to capture the full spectrum of light and color in the real world.
  • My face was measured to get the correct light seal size, but I did have some light bleed into the goggles. I’m not sure if this is normal, my size was incorrect, or they didn’t have the exact size I needed in store.
  • The demo was too short. I would have liked more time to explore Vision Pro.

Final Thoughts

The Apple Vision Pro is impressive, and I’m excited about the direction the technology is taking. In a few years, I anticipate it becoming as ubiquitous as AirPods. While I’ll be observing from the sidelines for this initial generation, I eagerly await any chance to revisit the device. When Apple decides to release a second-generation Vision Pro with significant upgrades, I’ll be among the first to place an order.

Today I saved at least $3500!

Becoming an Expert in Cigar Smoking: Your Comprehensive Guide

cigar smoking man

The process of preparing, smoking, and all the associated elements of a cigar constitute a ritual. Many cigar enthusiasts, myself included, find solace and relaxation in this ritual. Achieving the ideal cut, a flawless light, and a satisfying draw requires practice, but the journey is as rewarding as the destination.

The Cigar

The world boasts a diverse array of cigars, varying in shapes and sizes. In this discussion, the focus will be on premium cigars, particularly those that are handmade. While machine-made cigars are an option, it’s akin to choosing your dad’s favorite light beer over a craft small-batch IPA.

Wrappers

The outer layer of the cigar, known as the wrapper, is what you see, and it often gives a hint of the cigar’s smoking characteristics. While color isn’t always a decisive factor, the type of wrapper leaf can be a preference, especially for novice smokers.

  • For a light and mild experience, look for wrappers like Connecticut, Sungrown, or those with shade or creme in the name.
  • If you prefer middle-of-the-road and medium-bodied cigars, consider options like Habano, Colorado, Claro, or San Andres.
  • For a heavy, full-bodied experience, opt for cigars with a dark, almost black wrapper, bearing names such as Maduro, Oscuro, or Corojo.

Sizes & Shapes

Cigars are gauged by their widths and lengths (typically in inches) and are often associated with a vitola, which is the general term for the size and shape of the cigar. As you gain more experience, you’ll discover your preferred size for different occasions.

A good starting size is the Robusto, a medium to small cigar ideal for 1-2 hour smokes. A typical Robusto is around five inches long with a ring gauge size of 50. Another well-known vitola is the Churchill, named after the famed British Prime Minister. Churchills are usually about seven inches long with a ring gauge of around 56, suitable for longer smokes lasting 2-4 hours. Read more about the Churchill here.

Beyond the traditional cylindrical cigar shape, there are varieties that provide a different mouth-feel or handheld experience. Popular alternative shapes include box-pressed, torpedo, and pyramid.

The Cut

The majority of handmade cigars are equipped with a cap at the end, requiring removal or cutting before smoking. The cap serves multiple purposes, such as preserving the cigar’s structural integrity during handling and preventing the unraveling of the wrapper leaf. To fully savor a quality cigar, the end must be modified to facilitate proper airflow. There are various methods to achieve this adjustment.

parts of a cigar
Parts of a cigar
  • Straight cut
    Utilizing specialized cigar scissors or a straight cutter involves slicing the cap with a single moving blade. In a pinch, a knife can also be used to remove the end of the cigar. The straight cut is the simplest type of cut.
  • Wedge or “V” cut
    Inserting a V-shaped sharp blade through the side of the cigar forms a wedge-shaped cutout, allowing air to be drawn in. This cut is unusual or unique, typically chosen for a change of pace or when encountering significant draw issues as it removes a substantial portion of the cigar.
  • Punch
    Using a circular metal piece, you can punch a hole into the cap, similar to perforating a piece of paper. This method is a suitable choice for cigars with larger ring gauges or those that are box-pressed.
  • Guillotine
    Like the straight cut, a guillotine is a type of cutter where two blades converge to make a clean slice. It is the most efficient and commonly used method for cutting a cigar before smoking.
  • Peel
    Depending on the cigar and the circumstances, it’s possible to remove the cap by peeling the end of the cigar and exposing the innards. This method is preferred when a cutter isn’t available or if you wish to maintain a more natural approach.

Regardless of the method you select to begin your cigar, remember a couple of key points. On the top of the cigar, you can observe the line where the cap overlaps the wrapper. Be sure not to remove more than below that line. Cutting a cigar too low may result in the wrapper unraveling, leading to problems with the draw and structural integrity of the cigar.

The Light

Following the cut, the next step is lighting. This essential process ignites the tobacco leaves, allowing the smoke to be drawn through the cigar for enjoyment. While the proper light is part of the ritual, it’s crucial to start the burn correctly. A well-executed light ensures the cigar burns evenly and can be fully appreciated. There are three commonly accepted methods for lighting a cigar, recommended for proper cigar etiquette.

  • Butane torch
    A butane-powered torch lighter, designed for clean burning, produces optimal heat, eliminating the need to hold a flame to the foot of the cigar for an extended period. These butane torches are widely preferred for lighting cigars, as they avoid fuel taste and deliver a high temperature for an efficient light.
  • Match
    In certain situations, you might resort to using matches. Although not the most efficient method for lighting a cigar, it serves as a viable option when a torch is unavailable. Be ready to use nearly a whole book of matches when smoking a cigar from start to finish, especially outdoors. Keep in mind that matches are not ideal in windy conditions, so plan accordingly.
  • Cedar spills
    Cedar sheets, occasionally provided with cigars, offer a traditional method for lighting. Transform the sheet into small strips, ignite one end with a lighter or match, and use the lit cedar piece to light your cigar. This elegant approach not only imparts a subtle cedar flavor but also adds a touch of sophistication. If executed correctly, it enhances the experience and adds a cool factor to your cigar ritual.

If you choose to use a conventional (Bic) lighter for lighting your cigar, ensure it operates on butane fuel and be mindful of the prolonged ignition times. Using a Zippo lighter with Zippo lighter fluid is not advisable, as it imparts a disagreeable taste to your entire cigar and may pose additional health risks. Alternatively, you can purchase a butane torch insert for your preferred Zippo lighter, providing a proper solution for cigar lighting while educating your friends on the suitable fuels.

The Smoke

Now that you’ve successfully prepared and lit your cigar, let me share some valuable tips to enhance your smoking experience and derive the utmost pleasure from your well-cut and lit cigar.

  • Go slow
    Take your time; this isn’t a quick five-minute smoke break with a Pall Mall in the cold. A cigar is meant to be savored for hours (depending on its size), offering a leisurely and paced experience. Excessive puffing and drawing too much heat into the body of the cigar can make it uncomfortably hot in your mouth and, more importantly, compromise the carefully crafted flavors intended by the cigar maker. Relax, pace yourself, and allow the cigar to unfold its nuances gradually.
  • Don’t inhale
    Unlike with cigarettes, it’s crucial to take it slow and avoid inhaling cigar smoke into your lungs. The tobacco in cigars provides a more intense experience and can make you feel unwell, especially if you’re not accustomed to it. Cigar smoking is focused on the mouthfeel and taste, emphasizing the sensory aspects rather than seeking a rapid nicotine fix in your bloodstream. Enjoy the rich flavors without the need to inhale deeply.
  • Enjoy
    Above all, relish the cigar and appreciate the diverse flavors and notes revealed during the burn. It’s an excellent means of relaxation, whether in solitude, good company, or paired with a drink. For a heightened smoking experience, consider trying a retrohale.
    If you ever feel dizzy or start coughing, take a break. Combating nicotine sickness can be aided by consuming sugar, either through eating or drinking. Prioritize your well-being and enjoy your cigar responsibly.

The End

The amount you choose to smoke is a personal preference, but a good guideline is to enjoy the cigar down to at least the band. Removing the band can be tricky, as excess glue may cause tearing and damage to the wrapper. Smoking the cigar down to the band allows the heat to melt the glue, making it easier to gently remove the band without harming the wrapper. Once removed, feel free to continue smoking until you’ve finished.

After completing your cigar, simply let it sit. Extinguishing a cigar prematurely creates a mess and an unpleasant smell. The cigar will naturally go out within 15 minutes and be cool to the touch. Once cool, dispose of it properly. Like cigarette butts, cigar remnants can be unpleasant, so part of being a responsible cigar smoker is cleaning up after yourself.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do use butane to toast and light your cigar
  • Do offer a friend or acquaintance a spare cigar
  • Do make your torch lighter available for others to use
  • Do cleanup after yourself by removing ash or burnt cigars properly
  • Do support your local brick and mortar cigar store
  • Do puff a cigar nice and slow
  • Do wait at least 15 minutes between cigars

  • Don’t lick/moisten your cigar cap before cutting with a friends or shop cutter, save that for your own
  • Don’t snuff out your cigar in the ashtray or on the ground
  • Don’t inhale the smoke into your lungs, you’ll have a bad time
  • Don’t bring your own cigars to a cigar lounge, buy from the shop
  • Don’t offer or buy cigars for kids under 21
  • Don’t cut the cigar too far down
  • Don’t rush through smoking a cigar, take it slow

The Why

Many ask, “Why cigars?” Some recoil at the notion of smoking, given its negative reputation and health concerns. However, for me and many enthusiasts, it’s a source of great enjoyment. I liken it to having a beer after work—a moment to unwind and relax. Smoking a cigar, for me, is a ritual that commands my attention during the session. Despite the winter limiting my cigar enjoyment to one or two a month, I compensate during the warmer months. It’s not just a hobby; it’s a passion that extends to the thrill of hunting, collecting, and curating my cigar collection. Call it a collector’s disposition, not an illness.

This simple guide is my attempt to share the joy of cigar smoking with newcomers and those curious about the hobby. I hope it serves as a helpful introduction for anyone looking to unlock the world of cigars.

Head on over to BeardStix and see what I’ve been smoking lately.

French Fry Shapes Ranked

Rather than delving into the cliché “New Year, New Me” resolutions, let’s shift our focus to the realm of fried potatoes and the art of savoring them. In those moments of solitary contemplation, my thoughts often align with the contents of this specific list. While my intention in the new year may be to indulge less in these delectably greasy treats, the mere glimpse of this list allows me to mentally relish the flavors associated with each entry. of the ranked French fry list.

1. Tater Tot
To craft the perfect tater tot, start by dicing a potato into petite pieces, shaping them into adorable tot forms, and then immersing them into the sizzling depths of the deep fryer. Tater tots, the result of this culinary perfection, effortlessly mixes the most exquisite qualities of hash browns and French fries, forming a mouthwatering, juicy nugget of flavor. The unique combination of textures and tastes places the tater tot in the esteemed position of my favorite among the diverse French fry shapes. It stands as a testament to the culinary genius that can be achieved by combining the crispiness of fries with the hearty goodness of hash browns. While not always readily available, the quest for the perfect tater tot finds its pinnacle at GetGo, which, as of my last update, stands out as the ultimate destination for indulging in these delectable treats.


2. Curly
When you cut a potato in a circular motion, you get the delightful curly fry, known for its unique shape and extra seasoning. While enjoyable, they secure the second spot on my list. Right now, Arby’s takes the lead with the best curly fry, thanks to their perfect balance of crispiness and flavor.


3. Crinkle-cut
Take a potato and skillfully slice it into strips using a specially designed serrated edge, and voila – you have the delightful crinkle-cut fry. These fries typically boast a slightly thicker profile compared to your standard French fry, and when deep-fried, they develop a satisfyingly crisp exterior. A recent addition to my preferred fry varieties, I must say that Raising Cane’s crinkle-cut fries have claimed the top spot as my current favorite. The unique texture and enhanced thickness of crinkle cuts bring a distinct and enjoyable twist to the classic French fry experience.


4. Fresh-cut
Skip the peeling process; simply cut the potato, submerge it in an ice bath, and straight into the fryer it goes. The fresh cut fry, characterized by its straightforward shape, often utilizes peanut oil for cooking, resulting in a distinct earthy flavor that pairs exceptionally well with a generous sprinkling of salt. When it comes to fresh cut fries, Five Guys stands as the unbeatable champion. Their mastery in preparing these fries, coupled with the earthy undertones from the peanut oil, makes Five Guys a top choice for indulging in the perfection of fresh cut fries.


5. Waffle
Fries cut with a special waffle blade on a mandolin get an alternating ridge of either side. Offering yet another unique shape on the fried potato, waffle fries are somewhat of a mind-bender when you look at them. It was until recently that the waffle fry became mainstream and it’s success is attributed to the best place you can get them right now, Chick-fil-a.


Honorable mentions:
Beer-battered
Shoestring
Steak

The Best Of: 2023

In 2023, the year was characterized by conflict, upheaval, and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these challenges, I have compiled a list of my best and favorite things from this year as a way to shift focus. While I typically indulge in watching numerous movies, the circumstances of this year prevented me from viewing several significant films that I had hoped to experience.

Best Movie
Barbie
What I thought was going to be a childish movie for kids, actually appealed to some of my comedic senses. Out of all the movies I watched in 2023, it was the most memorable and one I rated the highest. I hope to see more films this winter and have a better pick for next year. This live-action film managed to blend humor, adventure, and valuable life lessons seamlessly. The cinematography was visually stunning, and the acting was top-notch, making it an enjoyable experience for viewers of all ages. The story was heartwarming and had a strong message about the power of friendship and believing in oneself, which left a lasting impact. Barbie exceeded my expectations and proved to be a delightful surprise.
Runners-up: Asteroid City; Knock at the Cabin

Best TV Show
The Bear
The Bear, available on Hulu, has truly captured the hearts of many viewers, and with the second season released this year, the excitement has only grown. This captivating restaurant drama/comedy effortlessly blends elements of anxiety, emotion, and heartwarming moments, making it a truly binge-worthy experience. Whether you’re a fan of the culinary world or simply enjoy immersive storytelling, The Bear is a must-watch. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to dive into the series and witness the enthralling narrative unfold, leaving you eagerly anticipating each new episode.
Runners-up: Succession (MAX); Beef (Netflix)

Best Music Album
The Elovators – Endless Summer
The Elovators’ album “Endless Summer” has become an integral part of my music collection. Their unique blend of reggae and rock creates a captivating sound that has resonated with me. From the moment I discovered the band, I found myself eagerly anticipating the release of this album, and it did not disappoint. The tracks quickly became the soundtrack of my summer, and even now, I find myself turning to these songs on a daily basis. Their music has a way of transporting me to a laid-back state of mind, filled with sunny vibes and carefree moments. I was fortunate enough to attend their live performance in November, and it was an experience to remember. The energy and passion they bring to the stage is just as powerful and captivating as their studio recordings. It’s evident that The Elovators pour their hearts into their music, and this authenticity shines through in every note. The atmosphere at the concert was electric, with fans swaying to the rhythm and singing along to every word. It was a testament to the band’s ability to connect with their audience and create an unforgettable music experience.
Runners-up: Morgan Wallen – One Thing at a Time; mansionz – mansionz 2

Best Song
Morgan Wallen – Everything I love
When it comes to music, the beauty lies in its ability to transcend boundaries and connect with people from all walks of life. Morgan Wallen’s “Everything I Love” achieves just that with its soulful blend of throwback country and Americana influences. This captivating song is not only a breath of fresh air for the genre but also a testament to Wallen’s versatility as an artist. As the world embraced the allure of Americana music, Wallen’s interpretation of this genre brought a new dimension to his artistry, earning accolades from fans and critics alike. His ability to infuse classic country elements with modern sensibilities resonated deeply, making “Everything I Love” a standout in his discography.
Runners-up: Passafire – Offer; Rome & Duddy – Coast of Mexico

Best Video Game
Hogwarts Legacy
While I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, I do like the Wizarding World crafted around the stories of the character. I was hesitant at first about an open-world game set in this universe, but after seeing some reviews upon the launch, I felt I needed to experience it. A well-crafted RPG game, Hogwarts Legacy excels with the story and chance encounters in the world. I was deeply immersed in this game, having spent well over 40 hours completing the story and side missions. The attention to detail in bringing the magical world to life, the intricate storyline, and the freedom to explore Hogwarts and its surroundings truly captivated me. The game mechanics, spell-casting, and the variety of magical creatures added a layer of complexity that kept me engaged throughout. Not many games can capture my attention and dedication these days like Hogwarts Legacy, and I eagerly look forward to any future expansions or sequels that further delve into the enchanting universe of Harry Potter.
Runners-up: Starfield (Xbox); Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch)

Best Mobile Game
NYT Games
For some reason, this year I started getting into crossword puzzles, and I thought, what better way to test my ability than to do the New York Times crosswords. I soon discovered that the NYT had an iOS app that included their crosswords, Wordle, and other word and letter games. I quickly subscribed to their service and have been playing daily for about 6 months. It’s been such a rewarding experience diving into these puzzles and word games. The New York Times crosswords are known for their clever, engaging clues and diverse range of themes, which always keep me on my toes. I’ve found that solving these puzzles not only sharpens my vocabulary and problem-solving skills but also provides a great mental workout. The Wordle game, in particular, has become a favorite quick challenge for me to tackle each day. The feeling of satisfaction when I fill in the final word is truly unparalleled. Overall, my journey with the NYT Games has been an enriching and enjoyable one, and I look forward to many more months of fun and mental stimulation.
Runners-up: Knotwords; finity.

Best iOS App
Callsheet
If you’re a cinephile or simply enjoy keeping track of your favorite movies and TV shows, look no further than Callsheet, the standout iOS app of the year. Created with the intention of replacing the cumbersome IMDB app, Callsheet provides a seamless experience for accessing movie and TV show details without the clutter of ads and promotions. Its sleek design, user-friendly interface, and superior features make it a refreshing addition to the app world. One of the most noteworthy aspects of Callsheet is its innovative feature that allows you to view the age of the actors during the filming of the specific movie or TV show you’re exploring. Gone are the days of wondering, “How old was she in this?” as Callsheet empowers you to effortlessly obtain this information within a matter of seconds, directly from your phone. This thoughtful addition enhances the viewing experience, bringing a new level of insight and appreciation to your favorite entertainment.
Runners-up: Threads; Sports Alerts

Best Podcast
Accidental Tech Podcast
As the year unfolds, the Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP) continues to hold the top spot as my favorite podcast. Despite not being a new addition to the podcast world, ATP has managed to maintain its relevance and captivate audiences with its compelling content. The trio of hosts delves into an array of technology topics, spanning from discussions on Apple’s latest innovations to the complexities of AI and the ever-evolving landscape of gaming. Not only does ATP cater to tech enthusiasts, but it also incorporates lively discussions on automotive technology, stemming from the hosts’ roots in a car-oriented podcast known as Neutral. This unique blend injects an appealing dynamic into the podcast, ensuring that every episode is a delightful fusion of tech insights and entertaining car talk. For me, tuning in to ATP each week has become a ritual, a source of not only staying updated with the latest tech developments but also immersing myself in the amiable banter and camaraderie shared among the three seasoned hosts. Their chemistry and camaraderie create a warm and welcoming atmosphere that keeps me eagerly anticipating each new episode.
Runners-up: Reconcilable Differences; The Backmarkers

Best New Tech Product
Sony PS VR2
As my first foray into virtual reality (VR), the PS VR2 certainly wowed me with all of its immersive features and technology. While the games to support the hardware have been a little lackluster, I hope it gets better as time goes one. Ready my full review of this cool new tech product here.
Runners-up: TP-Link Deco; Nest Cam Spotlight

Best New Apple Product
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
The latest flagship iPhone is proving to be the best yet with the additions of USB-C and a titanium build. Read my full review of this amazing product here.
Runners-up: Apple Watch Ultra 2; MacBook Pro M3


Links and sources:

Barbiehttps://www.themoviedb.org/movie/346698-barbieNYT Gameshttps://apps.apple.com/app/id307569751
Asteroid Cityhttps://www.themoviedb.org/movie/747188-asteroid-cityKnotwordshttps://apps.apple.com/us/app/knotwords/id1598756238
Knock At The Cabinhttps://www.themoviedb.org/movie/631842-knock-at-the-cabinfinity.https://apps.apple.com/us/app/finity/id1071698434
The Bearhttps://www.themoviedb.org/tv/136315Callsheethttps://apps.apple.com/us/app/callsheet-find-cast-crew/id1672356376
Successionhttps://www.themoviedb.org/tv/76331Threadshttps://threads.net
Beefhttps://www.themoviedb.org/tv/154385Sports Alertshttps://apps.apple.com/us/app/sports-alerts/id432450349
The Elovators – Endless Summerhttps://songwhip.com/the-elovaters/endlesssummerAccidental Tech Podcasthttps://atp.fm
Morgan Wallen – One Thing At A Timehttps://songwhip.com/morgan-wallen/onethingatatimeReconciliable Differenceshttps://relay.fm/rd
mansionz – mansionz 2https://songwhip.com/mansionz-2/mansionz-2The Backmarkershttps://relay.fm/backmarkers
Morgan Wallen – Everything I Lovehttps://songwhip.com/morgan-wallen/everything-i-loveSony PS VR2https://www.playstation.com/en-us/ps-vr2/
Passafire – Offerhttps://songwhip.com/passafire/offerTP-Link Decohttps://www.tp-link.com/us/deco-mesh-wifi/
Rome & Duddy – Coast of Mexicohttps://songwhip.com/romeandduddy/coast-of-mexicoNest Cam Floodlighthttps://store.google.com/us/product/nest_cam_floodlight?hl=en-US
Hogwarts Legacyhttps://www.hogwartslegacy.com/en-usApple iPhone 15 Pro Maxhttps://apple.com/iphone-15-pro
Starfieldhttps://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/store/starfield/9ncjsxwztp88Apple Watch Ultra 2https://apple.com/apple-watch-ultra-2
Super Mario Bros. Wonderhttps://supermariobroswonder.nintendo.comMacBook Pro M3https://www.apple.com/macbook-pro/

Apple Watch Ultra 2 – Beard Blog Review

Apple Watch Ultra 1.5

What’s New With Apple Watch Ultra 2

The latest Apple Watch Ultra introduces an all-new System-in-a-Package (SIP) called the S9, marking the first significant update in this department since the Series 6 back in 2019.
One notable improvement is the on-device Siri processing, which ensures quicker responses as your requests no longer need to travel to the internet and back.
The screen is now brighter, peaking at 3,000 nits, a significant 1,000 nits brighter than the original Apple Watch Ultra, marking a 300% increase compared to previous non-ultra models (excluding the first-generation).

“This feature may come across as a somewhat hastily added novelty to drive new watch sales.”

A new double-tap gesture offers the convenience of controlling various aspects of the Watch interface with just one hand. However, in my testing experience, I found it somewhat lacking. While the double tap registers successfully 90% of the time, it often makes assumptions about the function you intend to perform. For instance, if you wish to decline a call using the double tap, it might mistakenly answer the call, and there’s no way to customize this behavior. Moreover, when reading a notification, such as an iMessage, the one-handed operation doesn’t allow for scrolling, making it challenging to double tap to reply without knowing the full message content. This feature may come across as a somewhat hastily added novelty to drive new watch sales.

New things that don’t matter: 2nd-generation Ultra Wideband chip, double the storage capacity (64GB), and that’s it.

The new Modular Ultra face

In a side-by-side visual comparison of the Apple Watch Ultra and Ultra 2, I observed no discernible physical distinctions. Even the text engraved on the underside of both models simply reads “Apple Watch Ultra.”

In essence, this doesn’t appear to be a true second-generation product. Instead, it resembles more of a minor enhancement to the original, especially given that Apple no longer offers the original Apple Watch Ultra for purchase, exclusively offering the Ultra 2.

The Good

  • All new SIP that’s noticeably faster
  • Brighter screen for direct sunlight viewing
  • Siri is much faster to process and understand queries

Missed Opportunities

  • Headlining double tap feature is extremely limited
  • It seems the SIP improvements were focused on neural engine and brighter screen, not battery life
  • No visual indication you have the new hotness
  • Same case and screen size

The Bad

  • Software still not fully taking advantage of the Ultra’s screen
  • Watch faces lack variety. Only one new watch face for the Ultra
  • Apps are still mostly useless on the watch
8.0 / 10

How can the Apple Watch Ultra get to 10/10?
– Better software to utilize the screen size.
– Allow Night Mode on any watch face
– Custom watch faces
– Make better use of the all new SIP
– Ability to customize the gestures

Last year in my Apple Watch Ultra review I outlined who the Ultra watch is for. Apple seems to have leaned into that by not making many changes on the second generation. It sold well so they want to keep that up and have this be the top-tier Apple Watch for all walks of life.

Should You Upgrade?

If you are already the proud owner of an Apple Watch Ultra (first-generation) there is no need to upgrade. There is nothing in this year’s model that makes it worth it. Wait for the possible third generation in 2024. If you were on the fence last year about getting an Apple Watch Ultra, this is the watch for you. Everything about the first generation remains in the Ultra 2 with some nice enhancements. This is the ultimate Apple Watch, no matter if you run marathons, SCUBA dive, or like me and just wear it to the mall.

Read more Beard Blog tech reviews

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: The Beard Blog Review

iPhone 15 PM

It’s no surprise that Apple releases new iPhones in the fall every year, and this September is no different. Apple held an event on September 13th 2023 to announce four new iPhones and two new Apple Watches. All models were available to purchase starting on September 22nd. I again upgraded to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Read about my thoughts on the 17th flagship iPhone.

Read more

The Wild Ride: A Short Story

AI generated image

On a warm summer evening, Zach and I embarked on an ambitious cooking venture, preparing a vast feast for an upcoming wedding. The meat smokers, Blackstone griddles, and charcoal grills were fired up and sizzling. Lots of moving meat, flipping burgers, and seasoning has happening. As we feverishly worked to have all the dishes ready and placed on the heat, time seemed to slip through our fingers. Before we knew it, the middle of the night had descended upon us. Exhausted from the restaurant-like cooking we were doing, I decided to take a break and lay down on the lush grass outside for a short nap.

As dawn’s gentle light broke over the horizon, I awoke to the sight of several wild turkey and deer peacefully grazing nearby. However, my serenity was abruptly shattered when a sudden, immense weight pressed down upon me, sending me into a panicked frenzy. I thrashed around, believing myself to be under attack, convinced that an oversized, rabid raccoon was my assailant. There was some rolling around and struggle, but thankfully I wasn’t in any pain. At this point, I was laid still, and couldn’t move.

Fortunately, Zach, alerted by the commotion, rushed to my aid. In the dim light of dawn, it was difficult to see the shape of the mysterious attacker. After a tense struggle, we finally managed to remove the heavy presence from me. Catching my breath, I asked Zach, “Was that a fucking raccoon?” Breathing heavily from his own exertions, Zach replied, “No, it’s a damn elephant!”

Confusion overcame me as I began to dust myself off. Unexpectedly, Zach tackled me to the ground, and we watched as the tiny pachyderm scampered past us, narrowly avoiding a collision. “What in the world is happening?” I exclaimed from the ground.

The bafflement continued when the animal approached me with an unexpectedly friendly demeanor. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that this was no ordinary elephant but an adorable baby elephant with fluffy fur, reminiscent of a golden retriever, and an unusually short trunk. Without hesitation, we bonded, snuggling together on the grass, wrapped in a blanket. While I had never encountered a baby elephant in real life, this one was decidedly unique. Astonishingly, my new friend seemed content and wanted nothing more than to cuddle.

I gingerly wrapped her in the blanket and proudly paraded her around, introducing my exotic companion to anyone in the vicinity. To my bewilderment, most onlookers appeared unfazed, as though a baby African elephant casually found in the wilds of Pennsylvania was an everyday occurrence. One person even nonchalantly remarked, “Oh yeah, I see an elephant in the woods over there from time to time.” I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of surreal world I had stumbled into.

Realizing that I needed to ensure the well-being of my newfound friend, I contemplated taking her to a veterinarian for a check-up. However, someone advised against it, leaving me yelling, “But I have to make sure she’s okay!”

Moments later, darkness enveloped everything, and I awoke. It had all been a dream…


I had this wild dream just last night and it was so vivid and unusual I had to capture it. I hope you enjoy the short story.

An AI generated image

iPhone 14: One Year Later

It’s been about a year since I received my iPhone 14 Pro Max and published my review. Normally I don’t revisit these as I’m looking forward to a new iPhone in the fall. This year I wanted to highlight my experiences with my iPhone 14. It could be too early to tell, but this may be the best iPhone I’ve ever owned. That of course comes with some concessions as it’s not perfect.

iPhone 14 Pro Max

Durability

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is the most durable iPhone I’ve ever owned. It may be one of the most durable pieces of technology I’ve ever used. I normally don’t use a case, and this year my iPhone didn’t spend a single minute in any protection. The first few months, I babied the device, but after the first drop, that quickly faded. Now, on average, I drop my phone on a hard surface five times a week. In the past, by the summer, my iPhone is so beat up that I need to get it replaced with AppleCare. This year is an exception. Not only do I not need to get it replaced, but there is barely a mark anywhere on it. The most noticeable blemishes are on the screen and around the stainless steel edge. About six months ago, I noticed a deep scratch about one inch long in the middle of my screen. I have no idea where it came from, but I’ve lived with it since. As I mentioned before, I drop it a lot. I’ve even dropped it on concrete from waist-high and cringed as I bent over to pick it up, expecting to reveal a spiderweb of glass on the front. Time and time again, it comes out unscathed

The Dynamic Island

Not quite a gimmick, but not really a useful feature. The Dynamic Island debuted as the coolest way to date to blend the front camera into the screen. In practice, it kind of just faded and became more of a button to get to music playing or a progress bar for when something is uploading. I still like it, but I’m hopeful it gets better in the next iterations before it’s replaced by under-screen cameras and sensors.

Always On Display

Probably the biggest functional difference in the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max is the always-on display. I’ve heard that some people turn it off to save battery life, but in my (and others) testing, it does not have a significant impact on daily battery life. At first, it was somewhat odd to look over at your iPhone on the table and see a full-color display lit up, but I quickly got used to it. Now it serves as a way for me to glance at the time, widgets, and what’s currently playing. I love how Apple engineered the display and software to not just go monochrome like some other phones, but also preserve your wallpaper while giving you the choice to turn it off. Once again, the long wait was worth it.

Not So Great Points

  • The cameras are fine, but I’m ready for a major upgrade.
  • One thing I noted in my review last year was the focus distance of the main camera, especially when scanning barcodes. This was a pain point all year and I believe Apple will fix that on the next iPhone.
  • Battery life has also been just fine. It seems like this phone’s battery is degrading faster than previous ones.
  • The Pro colors are boring, but I don’t see Apple changing this anytime soon.

Pour one out for Lightning

The iPhone 14, 14 Plus, 14 Pro, and 14 Pro Max may likely be the last iPhones with the Lightning connector. While it’s over 10 years old, the Lightning connector is one of the best port innovations we’ve seen in a long time. Some may forget that Apple was part of the consortium that helped develop USB-C, so it was loosely based on Lightning. In a physical connector sense, Lightning is better than USB-C because the complicated and fragile bits are on the inside of the device, whereas USB-C exposes them on the cable side. It was a big deal when Lightning launched on the iPhone 5 in 2012, and it’s still in use on a lot of products today. Let’s pour one out for the previous best charging solution and the originator of the reversible charging cable.

iPhone 14 to 15

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is a great device and while it may be the best iPhone I’ve ever used, there is always the newest one to take that title. I probably won’t think about the 14 again after this, but it remains a favorite in my book. The next iPhone is rumored to be named the iPhone 15, in numerical order after the current iPhone 14. If all goes well, you will soon be reading my review of the next iPhone right here on Beard Blog.

A Short Story About Life

Let’s take another trip back in time to before I had a blog and wrote random essays in Microsoft Word and saved them away from a rainy day.

This is titled “Short Story by Ben Beard” with no other context. I don’t remember writing this, but it has a lot of interesting takes.

This was written over 10 years ago, right after I got married. Keep in mind this was drafted well before the founding of Musk’s company Neuralink.
The short story appears below exactly how I wrote it. Enjoy!


Marriage is a wonderful thing. You get to spend the rest of your life with someone whom you think is the only person that you could stand for that long. As I look out the window of our SUV I can see the rain drops forming trails down the glass. It’s a pretty long drive to the airport from our suburban home. I have lots of time to reflect on that last twenty years of my life. In my forties still with no children I wonder what is in store next. My wife of twenty years has never wanted to have children but I have still held out hope that someday this will change. “Jeff!” she yells from the passenger seat, “watch the damn road, we’re going to be late!” In fact we were 2 hours early for our international flight out of Pittsburgh. A rainy Sunday morning that we have been looking forward to for quite some time.

After two decades we have finally reached our twentieth wedding anniversary and are celebrating by going on cruise around beautiful Europe. We have been saving money for the last ten years for this since traveling in Europe has become so expensive. Money hasn’t come easy to us lately, we have had many obstacles to get over to achieve where we are today. My wife Annie has struggled with her career and now finds herself in another job change. Starting out working with computers, she changed to marketing. While she made a lot of money doing that, she didn’t feel happy about lying to the world. Annie went through this phase of helping people and making the world a better place. Thankfully this didn’t last long because she made zero income doing that. Lately her passion has been for acting, although that ties in well with my career aspirations, I can’t cast in her in all my movies. While she waits for her late acting career to take off, she just finished neuro-nursing school and has a new job lined up for when we return. Luckily for us she will be involved with changing out and upgraded memory modules in the human brain’s neo-cortex. This will allow us to process new ideas faster and make decisions quicker than ever. They say by 2023 everyone will be completely outfitted with the new neo-cortex memory upgrade.

We’ve arrived at the airport and begin to look for a place to park. We just purchased our new vehicle so I want to park somewhere it’s not going to get damaged. This state-of-the-art SUV has all the bells and whistles, including drink dispenser, auto-steer, optional six-wheel drive, and of course neruo-memory uplink. Kia has been the face of luxury over the last ten years as Mercedes and BMW fell when Germany decided to become a socialist nation. That’s a different story that can be read out of every history book. We are happy with our purchase and see this as a new start for us. This vacation will be the beginning of our new life. When we return my latest and greatest movie production will be released. Set to be the biggest movie since ‘The Expendables 5’. I haven’t been making movies very long but I feel this is my big break. I had movie studios fighting for the rights to finance this and signed some of the biggest actors around to start in it. You will see the likes of Jaden Smith, Mark Wahlberg Jr. and established actress Tallulah Moore-Willis. I’m very proud of what I made and hope this career will be long and prosperous. Now I am focusing on having a great trip with my wife.

The Best City in the World: A Top 10 List

Best City banner

As an avid explorer, I’ve compiled a thrilling top 10 list of the best cities I’ve had the pleasure to visit, and I would seriously consider calling my home. Buckle up as we embark on a journey through my favorite urban gems. Now, before I reveal the numero uno, let’s set some ground rules. These cities are not just passing vacation spots; they’ve left a lasting mark on my heart:

1. Extended Stays and Vibrant Vibes: To qualify for my list, I must have spent more than just a fleeting moment in these cities. I’ve truly immersed myself in their cultures, experiencing their pulse beyond the surface.

2. A Thriving Metropolis: All contenders boast a bustling metropolitan area, teeming with life and energy. The hum of city life is part of their charm.

3. Population Power: Only cities with populations exceeding 200,000 made the cut. The more, the merrier!

Without further ado, let’s unveil my top 10 picks:

10. Las Vegas, NV

In the bustling city of Las Vegas, there’s an abundance of excitement and activity. Although their former slogan was “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas,” I wouldn’t choose to be the one who remains in this vibrant city.
Pros:
A lot to do including gambling, shopping, and eating
Some of the best restaurants in the world
They now have sports teams

Cons:
Crime
Weather
Tourist and party destination

9. Cleveland, OH

“Cleveland Rocks!” is the catchphrase, but does it live up to the hype? When the weather is pleasant, it’s not a bad place to be.
Pros:
Along the lake
Sports and music
Small city vibes

Cons:
Rust belt
Winters
Sports fans

8. San Diego, CA

Southern California boasts a reputation for its rainless days, yet this comes with the trade-off of potentially limited drinking water. Nevertheless, nestled along the coast, it remains a city blessed with some of the finest weather in the entire United States.

Pros:
Weather
Near the ocean
Culture and jobs

Cons:
Natural disasters
Homeless issue
Sports teams are leaving

7. Venice, Italy

A city of canals, where boats are your main mode of transportation. It’s a dreamy and romantic destination to visit, but does its charm hold up for those who choose to call it home?

Pros:
Food
Uniqueness of a city on water
Italian culture

Cons:
Living on the water
Access to the mainland only via boat
Job opportunities

6. Memphis, TN

While it’s a legendary city known for its musical heritage, residing here might just be the primary reason to find yourself singing the blues.

Pros:
Food
Music/Culture
Along the Mississippi

Cons:
Crime/Shrinking population
Sports
Weather

5. Nashville, TN

Nashville, the other music city in Tennessee, leans more towards country tunes than blues. With each visit, Nashville has been nothing short of fantastic to me.

Pros:
Music/Culture/Sports
Food
Weather

Cons:
Tourist/aspiring musician destination
Increasing population
Traffic/publica transportation

4. Boston, MA

Undeniably one of the most popular cities on the East Coast, rivaling even NYC. But the big question remains: if you reside there, is adopting the distinctive Boston accent a must?

Pros:
Public transportation
Sports
Culture/Safety

Cons:
Winter
Cost of living
Big city

3. Austin, TX

A delightful slice of the North nestled in the heart of the South. When you’re in Austin, you’ll be surprised at how it defies the typical Texan stereotype. No wonder it attracts numerous California transplants; there’s a compelling reason behind this magnetic draw.

Pros:
Food/Culture
Not a typical southern Texas city
Job opportunities

Cons:
Politics
Weather
Climbing cost of living

2. Denver, CO

The mile-high city, where you can simultaneously soar to a mile above sea level and experience a different kind of elevation. Surprisingly, Denver is often overlooked as a fantastic place to call home, but its unique charms make it a hidden gem worth considering.

Pros:
Food/Culture
Sports
Mountains

Cons:
Crime
Winters
Climbing cost of living

1. Pittsburgh, PA

Famously known as the Steel City in the Rust Belt. However, don’t be deceived by its industrial past, for it is rapidly evolving into a favored technology and Hollywood hub. Despite its modest size, Pittsburgh boasts all the advantages of larger metropolises while gracefully sidestepping many of their downsides. Embrace the charm and possibilities that this dynamic city has to offer!

Pros:
Culture/Sports
All my family is nearby
It’s the only place I’ve ever lived
Food/Beer

Cons:
Public transportation/air travel
Lack of sunshine
Traffic

And that’s a wrap! Surprised, huh? Turns out, the very place I’ve called home all my life takes the crown as the best city in the world to reside in. Pittsburgh, nestled in western Pennsylvania, boasts an array of reasons that make it an ideal place to live and raise a family. The absence of natural disasters, milder weather, affordable cost of living, and, of course, the world’s finest sports teams and passionate fans are just a few of the reasons why Pittsburgh shines as a cherished haven.

Here are some honorable mentions, cherished places I’ve explored but didn’t quite make it to the top 10 list. While they remain attractive for a return visit, they fall short of being the ideal cities I’d call home.

  • Indianpolis, IN
  • New York, NY
  • Washington, DC
  • Orlando, FL
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Detroit, MI
  • Seattle, WA
  • Rome, Italy

Other considerations that didn’t make the population minimum:

  • Outer Banks, NC
  • Paradise Valley, MT
  • Ann Arbor, MI

Driven Through Time: My Journey with Cars

Occasionally, I find pleasure in embarking on a nostalgic expedition, reminiscing about my automotive journey throughout the years. Despite owning a multitude of vehicles, I cherish fond memories associated with each one. Join me on this captivating voyage, delving into the chronicles that originate before the acquisition of my driver’s license.

Acquired: Spring 2001
Model year: 1986
Model: Pontiac 6000 LE
Type: Sedan
Color: Blue

Technically, this was my first car, although I never had the chance to actually drive it on the road. My sister received a new hand-me-down vehicle, so she kindly passed this one down to me. At the time, I was still too young to legally drive, so the car remained parked in our yard for a year until it sadly succumbed to decay, rendering it unfit for the streets. I recall the bittersweet task of maneuvering the car within the yard, ensuring I could mow the grass beneath its stationary presence. Interestingly, it also held significance as my sister’s inaugural car, and I treasure memories of the two of us joyfully cruising around town once she obtained her driver’s license.

1986 Pontiac 6000
Not my actual car nor me pictured, but an accurate representation nonetheless

Acquired: Early 2003
Model Year: 1988
Model: Chevrolet Scottsdale 1500
Type: Pickup truck
Color: Red

Although not solely mine, this truck served as our family’s spare vehicle. Once I obtained my license in early 2003, I took up the exclusive responsibility of driving it to both work and school. However, on a frosty day during my commute to basketball practice, I encountered an untreated icy road. As I reached the peak of the road, the truck lost control, resulting in a distressing rollover into the nearby ditch. Regrettably, this incident marked the final time the truck was ever driven by anyone.

My actual truck and my good friend Zach posing with it

Acquired: Spring 2004
Model Year: 1990
Model: Chevrolet Cavalier
Type: Coupe
Color: White

Finally, I acquired my very first car, one that truly belonged to me and granted the freedom to go wherever and whenever I pleased. My great-grandfather, no longer capable of driving, offered me the opportunity to purchase his vehicle as I prepared to embark on my college journey. Acquiring the car for a mere $200, despite its rusting exterior and numerous repairs required, I wholeheartedly embraced the task of making it my own. Equipped with an MP3-CD player, an amplifier, and subwoofers, it transformed into the archetypal first car, a symbol of teenage independence.


Acquired: Summer 2005
Model Year: 1991
Model: Chrysler New Yorker Salon
Type: Sedan
Color: Silver

My trusty Cavalier, my reliable companion, unfortunately endured a fateful encounter with a deer that left it beyond repair. It became evident that it was time to bid farewell. However, as luck would have it, my sister once again received a new hand-me-down, resulting in me inheriting the second-hand hand-me-down, a silver Chrysler New Yorker that belonged to our grandmother. While undeniably a quintessential “grandma’s car,” I couldn’t care less because it boasted luxurious features like air conditioning, power locks, seats, and windows. I was riding in luxury!


Acquired: Fall 2006
Model Year: 1996
Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo
Type: SUV
Color: Silver

After patiently waiting, my older sister finally made the exciting leap to purchase her very own car, leaving me with the last remaining hand-me-down—a glorious Jeep that would become my first personal vehicle! This rugged beauty had the power to conquer any terrain and weather condition. I cherished every aspect of it, except perhaps the color. This versatile SUV served as the faithful steed that accompanied me on my journey towards independence, as I used it to move into my own apartment and embrace adulthood. It remained in my possession until 2013, when it transitioned into my third vehicle. Sadly, space constraints led me to part ways with it, and I managed to sell it for a steal at $1500, even by the standards of that time.


Acquired: Winter 2009
Model Year: 2004
Model: Chevrolet Trailblazer LS
Type: SUV
Color: Maroon

At the time, my future wife and I were sharing a living space, and the necessity for a second vehicle arose. Coincidentally, my uncle expressed his desire to part with his Trailblazer. I gladly embraced the opportunity, making it my daily driver. Similar to the Grand Cherokee, this resilient vehicle appeared capable of conquering any road conditions. However, it turned out to be the first vehicle that presented me with a plethora of issues. From faulty oxygen sensors to a troublesome transfer case, I found myself investing a significant amount of money to ensure its roadworthiness.


Acquired: Spring 2011
Model Year: 2008
Model: Chevrolet Trailblazer LT
Type: SUV
Color: Moondust

The initial experience with the Trailblazer did not deter me, as I promptly dove into another one, this time opting for a slightly newer model from a dealership. Determined to make a statement, I went all-in with modifications on this SUV, gradually transforming it into a stylish ride over the course of 2-3 years of ownership. The enhancements included a cutting-edge multimedia player with a video display, a convenient backup camera, an impressive amp and subwoofer setup, sleek 20-inch wheels, dazzling HID lights, and an intricate web of wiring to tie it all together.


Acquired: Summer 2012
Model Year: 2013
Model: Kia Optima SXZ
Type: Sedan
Color: Black

Following our marriage, my wife and I decided to embark on the exciting journey of purchasing our very first brand new car, which happened to be fully loaded with all the bells and whistles. Although our initial intention was to acquire an SUV or crossover, we ended up with a surprisingly powerful sedan that punched well above its weight for its time. It became the vehicle I affectionately dubbed my “first sports car.” We took this car on countless adventures, as it served as our daily drivers while we both commuted to the same office. However, the truth about our Kia soon became apparent. It required frequent visits to the dealership for repairs and maintenance, which fortunately were covered under warranty. Nevertheless, the countless hours spent dealing with these issues made us realize that our time was indeed precious and not easily replaced.


2013 – 2013 GMC Terrain SLE, SUV (Iridium)

Acquired: Winter 2013
Model Year: 2013
Model: GMC Terrain SLE
Type: SUV
Color: Iridium

Envious of the impressive features found in the Kia Optima, I made the decision to trade in my 2008 Trailblazer for what I believed was a promising SUV, the GMC Terrain. Initially drawn to its rugged aesthetic, my enthusiasm waned after a few months of driving, as it felt more akin to operating a minivan. Equipped with an underpowered 2.4L I-4 engine, the vehicle struggled to conquer the hilly terrain of Western Pennsylvania. It became evident that this purchase was a regrettable mistake, as keeping my Trailblazer would have likely been a wiser choice in the long run.


Acquired: Summer 2013
Model Year: 2013
Model: Ford Focust ST
Type: Hatchback
Color: Tangerine Scream

Feeling dissatisfied with the unenjoyable experience of driving the GMC Terrain, I yearned for something more thrilling. Despite having no prior experience with manual transmissions, I was enticed by the allure of mastering this skill, considering it the epitome of cool. What better way to learn than by purchasing a brand new car to practice on? Ironically, I couldn’t even drive it off the lot, requiring my dad to bring it home for me. Determined to become proficient, I dedicated numerous hours in the following days to learn the art of shifting gears, operating the clutch, and navigating the open road. Surprisingly, I picked up the techniques rather swiftly, and the rest, as they say, is history. However, my joy was short-lived, as after accumulating around 6,000 miles, I found myself involved in an accident that inflicted substantial damage upon my beloved Focus. While it should have been deemed a total loss, it miraculously survived. Unfortunately, the repairs took over three painstaking months, leaving me eagerly yearning to reclaim my rightful place behind the wheel.


Acquired: Summer 2014
Model Year: 2014
Model: Jepp Grand Cherokee Limited
Type: SUV
Color: Granite

Seeking to bid farewell to the Kia, my wife expressed her desire for a Jeep. Without conducting extensive research, we impulsively purchased one that appealed to our aesthetic preferences right off the lot. This marked our first experience with a leased vehicle, which seemed ideal considering our tendency to frequently switch cars. The Jeep, while fairly generic in its design, provided a smooth ride that we thoroughly enjoyed, and in our eyes, its appearance was quite impressive. It became our trusted companion during numerous memorable road trips. When the lease eventually expired, there was no doubt in our minds that we desired another Jeep to continue our automotive adventures.


Acquired: Winter 2016
Model Year: 2016
Model: Subaru WRX Limited
Type: Sedan
Color: Blue

A few years had passed since my accident with the Focus ST, and I felt it was time to move on from that chapter of my automotive journey. Aware that I would face significant financial losses due to the wreck and subsequent repairs, I accepted the inevitable hit on the trade-in value. After negotiating a deal, I took the leap and placed an order for a brand new Subaru WRX, equipped with a manual transmission, of course. The anticipation of driving off the lot in a faster and more exhilarating vehicle than my previous Focus heightened my excitement. True to my nature, I embarked on a journey of personalization, similar to what I did with my 2008 Trailblazer. The Subaru WRX underwent a series of modifications, including lighting enhancements, tinted windows, an upgraded exhaust system, and even a tuner to unleash its full potential. Undeniably, it was a thrilling car to drive, but I began to realize that it wasn’t the best fit for my body type, prompting me to seek a change and explore new automotive possibilities.


Acquired: Summer 2017
Model Year: 2018
Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee High Altitude
Type: SUV
Color: White

As we prepared to acquire a new Jeep, our hearts were set on finding one in a stunning white color with sleek black accents. Having come across a few similar models, we were resolute in our pursuit of this specific aesthetic. Out of all the Grand Cherokees we have owned, this one stood out as my personal favorite due to its striking appearance. One notable enhancement in this model year was the integration of Apple CarPlay, which, at the time, was a must-have feature for me. True to its predecessors and successors, this Jeep proved to be exceptional, consistently delivering reliable performance without ever letting us down.


Acquired: Spring 2014
Model Year: 2014
Model: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Shara
Type: SUV
Color: Mojito!

Traditionally, I had regarded the Jeep Wrangler as an unattractive vehicle. However, the allure of a convertible SUV capable of venturing off-road intrigued me. When the JL model was announced, its new styling instantly captivated my attention, particularly in one of the newly introduced colors—green. Acquiring this specific shade proved to be a bit of a wait, as the Mojito! color wasn’t scheduled for production until Q2 of 2018. Although I had engaged with my Jeep dealer early on in 2018, it wasn’t possible to place an order just yet. As soon as the order banks opened for the coveted green Jeep, I eagerly arrived at the dealership, unbeknownst to them that the system was ready to accept my order. Naturally, I ordered a manual transmission.

Several months later, I bid farewell to my WRX as I traded it in for a brand new, four-door Jeep Wrangler. Owning this vehicle proved to be an immensely enjoyable experience. I found myself frequently switching between the hard and soft tops, and during summer, I relished the freedom of removing the doors. Adding my personal touch, as I had done with previous vehicles, I incorporated custom elements such as an exhaust system, a light bar, reverse lights, and even some homemade decals.

However, in 2022, I made the decision to bid farewell to the Wrangler. As it aged and ventured out of warranty, I recognized that the used car market was flourishing, presenting an opportune moment to secure a favorable deal. Consequently, I couldn’t resist parting ways with the Wrangler and seizing the advantageous offer that presented itself.


Acquired: Winter 2021
Model Year: 2021
Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee High Altitude
Type: SUV
Color: Black

Once again, it was time for a new Jeep Grand Cherokee, following the familiar pattern. This time, we opted for a sleek all-black paint with a stylish accent mix. Seeking an extra boost of power, we upgraded to the V8 Hemi engine. Presently, we continue to drive this vehicle, but we are actively searching for its successor. As of now, we are entertaining the possibility of straying from Jeep for the first time in quite a while. The outcome remains uncertain. While this particular Jeep Grand Cherokee has served us well overall, its technology and drivetrain have become outdated and are in need of a refresh.


Acquired: Spring 2021
Model Year: 2020
Model: Honda Grom 125
Type: Motorcycle
Color: Green

Driven by the desire to learn how to ride a motorcycle, I faced resistance from my concerned wife who believed it was too dangerous. To find a middle ground, we reached a compromise: I would opt for a small and slow bike that I could comfortably ride around town. This led me to the Honda Grom, and naturally, I chose it in a vibrant shade of green. With its 125cc engine, it struggles a bit to carry my larger frame, but it gets the job done. After the purchase, I enrolled in a motorcycle safety course and successfully obtained my license. As life has evolved with the arrival of our child and less available riding time, I find myself considering parting ways with the Grom. However, I genuinely enjoy the experience of riding a motorcycle, so we’ll see if I can persuade my wife to let me upgrade to something slightly larger and more suited to my current needs.


Acquired: Spring 2022
Model Year: 2022
Model: Toyota Tundra Platinum
Type: Pickup Truck
Color: Gray

Since I first started driving, I had always yearned for a pickup truck to call my own. Seeing most people around me with their trucks while I drove cars or less impressive SUVs intensified my desire. The primary obstacle that stood in my way was the price tag. As much as I longed for a top-of-the-line trim, it consistently exceeded my budget. However, when the announcement of the F-150 Lightning came, it felt like the perfect truck for me. Not only did it possess a bed and a frunk for storage, but it was also an electric vehicle—an appealing combination. Without knowing the precise pricing details, I eagerly placed a $100 deposit to secure a future opportunity to purchase one.

When the time finally arrived and the time slots and pricing were disclosed, it became apparent that the truck I desired was beyond my financial reach and would not be available for a couple more years. Determined to make my truck ownership dream a reality, I thoroughly explored every available truck option in early 2022. After careful consideration, I ultimately settled on the Toyota Tundra Platinum. The decision was influenced by various factors, including its technology features, and the offer I received for my Jeep Wrangler provided the means to step up to a new tier of vehicles. I joined a waiting list and patiently waited for about a month until I received a call informing me that the exact truck I desired was ready for delivery. Without even test driving it, I sold my Jeep to Driveway.com and, just a few days later, made the purchase of my truck.

Thus far, owning a truck has surpassed my expectations. I find myself utilizing it as a true workhorse more frequently than anticipated. Without hesitation, I can confidently say that I would happily buy another Tundra in the future.


What’s next?

I am already contemplating the replacement of my current Toyota Tundra with a newer model, as it offers upgraded features that were not available when I made my purchase. While the actual decision remains uncertain, if everything aligns, it may happen in 2024.

Meanwhile, the lease on our current Grand Cherokee is nearing its end, prompting us to actively search for the next vehicle. Presently, we have narrowed down our options to a shortlist that includes the 2024 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, the 2024 Chevrolet Traverse RS, and, of course, the 2024 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Stay tuned to discover which of these options we will ultimately drive away with as our next vehicle!

Please enjoy this gallery of my car photography over the years:

My Hobby Project – BeardStix

BeardStix

As the sun sets on a balmy summer evening, seated on my back patio, I find myself enveloped in an ambiance that ignites my creative spirit. It is during these moments that I often indulge in the ritual of lighting a cigar, a catalyst for unlocking the depths of my imagination, as wisps of smoke dance around me, transporting me to a realm of boundless inspiration.

Curiously, one might assume that as an IT manager, my desire to escape anything technical or computer-related would dominate my precious leisure hours. Yet, against all odds, I remain drawn to the world of technology. Whether it’s tending to my home server and network or donning the hat of the family’s trusted IT guru, my free time becomes a canvas where I tirelessly refine my technical prowess, for better or for worse.

Recently, I shared my inherent inclination for collecting various items, ranging from games and cigars to YETI products, among others. However, my passion for collecting goes beyond mere acquisition; it extends into the realm of organizing and analyzing data. Initially, I turned to spreadsheets as a means to satisfy my craving for order, yet I soon realized that this alone would not suffice.

A peculiar aspect of my collection obsession revolves around my long-standing practice of rating a universally adored appetizer—mozzarella/provolone cheese sticks—since 2016, meticulously recording my assessments in a note on my trusty iPhone. With the introduction of cigars into my repertoire, I yearned for a method to catalogue my acquisitions and preferences. It was in the latter part of 2019 that the idea of BeardStix came to fruition—an amalgamation of my fondness for cheese sticks and the “sticks” that epitomize cigars.

Since its inception in 2019, my BeardStix website has been a work in progress, continuously evolving with the addition of new features, refined designs, and enriched information. This year, my focus has been predominantly on bolstering the administrative capabilities of the site, empowering me with seamless avenues to incorporate and update content from any location, at any time. This enhanced functionality ensures that I have the flexibility and convenience to contribute and manage website information effortlessly, no matter where I may find myself.

Technical details
For the inquisitive minds, BeardStix is crafted using PHP pages complemented by a MariaDB backend, which operates on a server located within the confines of my own home. To infuse the website with interactivity and real-time updates, I harness the power of JavaScript, Ajax, and cutting-edge Google technologies. This amalgamation enables the pages to be highly responsive and seamlessly updates information as it unfolds, providing users with a dynamic and engaging browsing experience.

BeardStix Features
Cheese stick ratings
Cigar humidor inventory
Cigar recommendations
Cigar ratings and check-ins
Pizza ratings
Add cheese stick rating*
Modify cigar inventory*
Rate and check-in to cigars*
Add pizza rating*

*admin-only functions not currently exposed to the internet

Select here to experience BeardStix

My Apple iPhone Lock Screen

I was surprised to learn that many iPhone users are unaware of the numerous Lock Screen features Apple has introduced in the last 12 months. These features encompass a range of customizations to enhance the appearance and functionality of the Lock Screen, including the introduction of widgets for the first time. Additionally, Apple now allows users to change the clock font, a feature previously unavailable. Given that most of these features are hidden and not easily found, I believe it would be helpful to share the Lock Screen setup I personally use on a daily basis.

iPhone Lock Screen

Customizations

The clock font options provided by Apple do not come with specific names or numbers, but I have chosen a unique font that adds some character to the default style. Moreover, I have opted for a non-standard wallpaper sourced from Reddit, further adding a personalized touch to my Lock Screen.

Widgets

Apple offers a selection of first-party widgets for users to choose from, and third-party developers have the ability to create widgets for their apps. In crafting my Lock Screen layout, I have decided to incorporate a combination of both first-party and third-party widgets, allowing for a diverse and personalized arrangement.

Date
Previously the date was below the time, but now we have the option to add it as a tiny widget above, giving room for more robust widgets in the space below. I wear a watch that display the day and month, but having it on the Lock Screen on my phone is sometimes handy.

Carrot Weather
Here on my Lock Screen I’m using two different Carrot Weather widgets for all my weather watching needs. Positioned above the time is a standard “High & Low” widget, provided by the third-party app Carrot. Directly below the time, I have incorporated a customized large widget from Carrot. The ability to personalize these minute details is one of the primary reasons I am a paying subscriber to Carrot Weather. It’s fantastic that Carrot Weather allows for such customization, enhancing my Lock Screen experience.

Watch Battery
Apple includes a widget that enables you to choose a device and view its current battery level. If you prefer, you can even display the battery level of the iPhone you’re currently using. Personally, I have opted to display the battery level of my Apple Watch, as it is the device I am primarily concerned about. Additionally, this widget has the convenient feature of automatically switching to another connected device, like AirPods, when applicable. This functionality ensures that I can effortlessly keep track of various device battery levels on my Lock Screen.

Snapchat
In addition to having the camera icon conveniently located in the bottom-right corner of my Lock Screen, I frequently unlock my phone with the sole intention of capturing a spontaneous photo to share on Snapchat. This particular widget provides a direct shortcut to the camera function within the Snapchat app, enabling the fastest way to take a snapshot right from the locked position. Similar functionalities can be found in other apps as well, making lock screen widgets an excellent tool for efficiently utilizing various applications.