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).
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.
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.
All new SIP that’s noticeably faster
Brighter screen for direct sunlight viewing
Siri is much faster to process and understand queries
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New York, NY
New Orleans, LA
Other considerations that didn’t make the population minimum:
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.
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.
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: GMCTerrain 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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
From time to time I get questions about what watch face I use on my Apple Watch. After wearing an Apple Watch just about every day for over 8 years, I’ve settled on the information I want to see on my wrist at a glance.
I use the Modular watch face which was been on the Apple Watch since the beginning, but has received several updates since launch. I almost always use digital time because when you have a smart watch, using analog time is inefficient. I have no problem telling time from an analog watch but other than aesthetic, analog time doesn’t have a place on a screen.
More so than telling the time, I use the watch complications to give me more information than a traditional watch can offer.
Calendar I can never keep track of the date or even what day of the week it is. This gives me that information tucked neatly into the corner. I tend to look for this information multiple times per day, instead of just remembering the date or day.
Digital Seconds While an analog clock usually offers a second hand, this digital face does not show seconds. Apple recently added the ability to add digital seconds as a complication. This gives me a way track seconds or just get an idea of when a minute will be rolling over.
Carrot Weather Previously I was an avid user of the Dark Sky complication that gave me the information I wanted. After Apple retired this app, I needed to find a replacement. While Carrot doesn’t offer a direct replacement, I was able to use the custom complication feature in Carrot to get as close as possible. The data points I want to see are temperature, low/high predictions, and sunrise/sunset times. Carrot offers these data points in two lines, so I had the freedom to add another data point and I settled on the “feels like” temperature.
Activity I use my watch to track my fitness, or lack there of, so I like having my activity rings on my watch face. This lets me know how I’m doing activity-wise throughout the day and if I need to step it up.
Geneva Moon The lunar phase doesn’t really have an impact on my life, but it’s cool to be aware of it without having to search the sky. The built-in Apple moon complication does not accurately reflect the moon phase in my location. David Smith created Geneva Moon to fix this. He also provided the option to use a simple moon shape or realistic and I like the filled-in-circle look of the simple moon.
Battery The Apple Watch battery has always been a problem, but if you get into a daily charging regiment, it works. When Apple released the Apple Watch Ultra, the battery life was stretched from 18 hours to about 40 hours. Now my charging isn’t as regular as it once was so I need to keep an eye on my battery level.
Digital Time The digital time is clearly the most important part here, but I wish it could be bigger. Any of the other faces that offer larger digital time, sacrifice complication count or size. I hope in the future Apple better utilizes the Apple Watch screen and allows flexible on element sizes.
My fascination with music began at the age of seven when I received a portable CD player and Michael Jackson’s HIStory album as a Christmas gift. Ever since, music has played an integral role in my daily routine. In the early 2000s, when Napster emerged, I started downloading pirated music to satiate my growing appetite for discovering new songs. I attribute pirated music to broadening my knowledge of music beyond the popular mainstream. It was through free music that I discovered artists such as The Guess Who, Doobie Brothers, and Hall & Oates. During my piracy days, I made countless mix CDs containing 12 to 18 songs to fit the 80-minute limit of a CD-R for myself and friends. Over time, I amassed over 200 mix CDs and the number only increased when I started driving, always ensuring I had a fresh mix CD for the car. The advent of MP3 CDs eventually slowed my mix CD creation, but there’s nothing quite like a well-curated 15-song mix CD to make driving around during your teenage years more enjoyable.
Fast forward to today, I’ve abandoned music piracy and switched to a streaming service. Though I can still make mix CDs, they seem outdated and my current vehicle lacks a CD player. Instead, I create playlists to suit my musical preferences. These could be categorized by genre, artist, or release date, but more often, I like to personalize a selection of songs that relate to a specific theme or concept. One of my favorite playlist creation techniques involves finding songs that sound like my current favorite tune. This approach typically leads me to explore genres that are new to me. Since I’m creating playlists rather than burning CDs, I can add or modify songs over time, continuously expanding the list as new music is released or discovered. Thanks to Apple Music, I can even generate Smart Playlists that automatically add songs from my library to a playlist based on criteria such as release date, genre, or artist.
I have experimented with several music recommendation services in the past, which suggest similar artists or songs. While this approach serves as a decent starting point, I have discovered that algorithms are unable to capture the nuances of music. I also attempted using AI, which provided better results compared to conventional music discovery methods; however, it lacked diversity. Some aspects of music discovery still demand a human touch.
I have compiled a lovely assortment of my personally curated playlists, along with custom artwork for each one. To accommodate those who do not use Apple Music, I have provided links to both Apple Music and Spotify. Please feel free to discover and enjoy these playlists on whichever streaming service you prefer. Click or tap on the logo that corresponds to your streaming service of choice to listen to the playlist.
The music industry created the term “Americana” as a sub-genre of country music, but many artists have rejected this classification. They prefer to be recognized as country musicians rather than being segregated into a category that doesn’t align with Nashville or Texas country music. I support their stance, but my Americana playlist is not meant to force them into a category they reject. Instead, it’s a selection of music with a distinct sound that evokes images of country roads, up-tempo rhythms, and profound lyrics. This playlist features artists such as Tyler Childers, Charley Crockett, Morgan Wallen, and more. It’s my current favorite playlist to play while driving with the windows down.
Beard Bangers is my constantly evolving playlist of the latest hit songs (or Bangers) that I’m loving right now. This is my go-to playlist for discovering new music, and I update it regularly with fresh tracks as they are released and remove older songs as they age out.
Hawaii and other Pacific islands have a very distinctive sub-genre of Reggae music. This mostly modern style of Reggae features the unique island sound, setting it apart from other contemporary Reggae music.
I throw a cookout or barbecue at my house a few times a year and always have music playing. This playlist is what I typically play at these gatherings – a dynamic mix of new and classic tracks that perfectly set the tone for the occasion.
Good Vibes is a playlist of Reggae (or similar) tracks that exude positivity and always put me in a good mood. It’s impossible to feel down when listening to these songs.
Reggae-Rock / Country
This playlist features artists who typically perform reggae-rock, but also sing country songs or covers, which I’m calling the Reggae-Rock-Country genre.
I am driven by a strong desire to collect various items, including virtual collections. Although no research has been conducted in this field, I would like to share my experiences with this compulsive behavior.
I hesitate to call it “collector’s syndrome” since that term implies a more severe form of hoarding or personal attachment to physical objects. My tendency is to collect items without any clear purpose, accumulating as much as possible.
Collect as much as possible of a certain type of item, digital good, or service.
Acquire pieces of a collection that I will never actually use.
Try to complete a known collection if it exists.
Make lists that can show progress or collection completion.
There are numerous examples, past and present, that can easily define my collection tendency. However, to maintain some privacy and brevity, I will detail only a few.
YETI Coolers products are probably the most expensive compulsion I have. The company releases new limited-edition colors of the same products seasonally, which creates demand. I’m a sucker for this, and when there’s a new color (or even a new product) released, I’m compelled to buy one. I have amassed quite the collection of YETI products, and while some may argue, I do use most of them.
Digital video games are a collection that is easy to get out of hand because there is no physical storage required. When you purchase a digital video game from a platform like Playstation, Xbox, or Steam, the purchase lives in your account, and you don’t necessarily need to download or install the game. In theory, one can buy every video game available and never play or install a single one. Much like YETI products, when a new video game is announced or released, I buy into the hype and yearn for it. I add it to a wishlist to monitor if the price decreases. When a title goes on sale, I usually buy it. To my credit, I rarely pay full price ($70!) for new video games and wait until they receive a deep discount before pulling the trigger. The advent of video game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass and Sony Playstation Plus Extra has eased the spending on individual video games as I now have access to hundreds of games through the subscription. This has shifted some of my collection on this front to wanting to install and play every game that comes to one of these services. This only wastes my time, so I consider it a win.
Movies and music used to be a big problem and time sink for me. Acquiring all the latest movies or albums used to take a lot of my time and money. Collecting DVDs/BDs and CDs really scratched my itch when it came to displaying them alphabetically and being able to see my collection every day. I can remember at least 10 times in my past where I purchased a DVD or Blu-Ray that I never opened or watched. I just wanted to have it in my collection. Streaming services and other digital distribution methods have really disrupted this for me, in a good way. Now, I have extended this collecting to video streaming services where I want to be able to watch anything whenever I want. Month-to-month subscriptions thankfully allow me to do that. I can subscribe to Peacock, watch Parks and Recreation, then cancel when I’m done. They’re hoping I don’t cancel to avoid churn, though. Most people just subscribe and forget, and these companies make money on the gym membership business model.
From Beer to Cheese Sticks
A few other examples of my collecting that involve more organizing than obsessive buying include cigars, beer, and cheese sticks. As a beginner cigar aficionado, I like to log the cigars I have tried and whether or not I enjoyed them. I keep a public list of the cigars I have on hand. Similarly, when I drink beer casually, I log it in a way that allows me to look back at statistics, see if I have tried a beer before, and share it with my friends. The app Untappd is great for this, and to date, I have checked in over 1200 beers! Unfortunately, an app like Untappd does not yet exist to track cheese stick ratings. Yes, you read that right: cheese sticks, such as those filled with mozzarella or provolone cheese. I consider myself not only a beer snob but also a cheese stick snob. So when I go to a new place that has them on the menu, I log them and add them to my public database for other cheese stick lovers to enjoy.
It’s not hoarding when you’re just collecting information. Sometimes, I enjoy making spreadsheets, and finding new data to add to Excel is always an adventure. Maybe someone else out there shares my “problem,” or perhaps not. What do you think?
Virtual Reality (VR) has been around since the 1970s, but only recently has it become easily accessible by consumers. In the 2020s we’ve been hearing a lot of VR and AR (Augmented Reality) platforms being developed and released to not much fanfare. Recently Meta (Facebook) unveiled their plan to go all-in on VR/AR proclaiming the Metaverse. The latest VR headset to go on sale is the gaming offering from PlayStation. Read on for my thoughts on this new gaming peripheral and my first experience with the VR2.