The Steam Deck Review

The Steam Deck, not to be confused with the Stream Deck, is a handheld gaming “console” that isn’t from Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo. Valve, the company behind Half-Life, Portal, and Steam, made a portable computer you can play games on.

Back in my day, PC gaming was a never-ending money pit of hardware upgrades as new games push the limits of graphics cards. This vicious cycle led me to primarily be a console gamer, mostly focusing on Sony’s Playstation. I was intrigued when Valve announced the Steam Deck, but like most others, skeptical of the performance a portable PC can achieve. Earlier this year I pre-ordered a Steam Deck, but after reviews said it’s not ready yet, I pulled my order. Meanwhile, Valve worked hard on software updates and getting units shipped, so I gave it time to percolate. Revisiting tech reviews, Reddit first-hand accounts, and six months of improvements, I was ready to give it a go.

Steam Deck vs PS5 Controller

Prior to fall 2022, Valve had long wait times to get your hands on a Steam Deck, much like the almost two-year-old next-gen consoles. Apparently I waited until the right time as my pre-order was only in for a few days before I was able to actually order a console. Within about 10 days, it was delivered to my home and I was full steam ahead.

The first thing I did was look at my sad Steam library and figure out how to play games. After exploring SteamOS a bit, I went directly to Reddit to aid in my fun. The Steam Deck community was alive and well and has all the resources I needed to learn about Steam games, emulation, and playing non-Steam games on my brand new Steam Deck.

The Good

  • While a huge device, it’s comfortable to hold and not heavy
  • Great software and familiar if you know Linux
  • So many buttons
  • Speakers sound good for how small they are
  • Right to Repair friendly

Missed Opportunities

  • The screen could be better on a device released in 2022
  • Base model storage is slow and tiny
  • No built-in cellular options
  • Feels kind of locked to SteamOS

The Bad

  • Battery life is very low, especially on newer games
  • No native way to run Windows
  • Runs hot and has an exhaust port
  • Not a Nintendo Switch competitor

The Steam Deck is a full-fledged gaming computer, that (almost) fits in your hands. For me, it wouldn’t replace a Nintendo Switch or gaming on an iPhone. The Steam Deck is targeted at the PC gaming market in an effort to take those games on the go. What Valve may not have realized, is they have a tinkerer’s dream on their hands. Giving a technically inclined person a powerful computer they can take with them on an Airplane is great opportunity in a small package.

Steam Deck in dock mode

What you CAN do with the Steam Deck:
– Play most games available on Steam
– Install and use most apps available to Linux distros
– Emulate retro gaming systems
– Emulate Nintendo Switch games
– Play Xbox Cloud games
– Use it as a real computer

What you CANNOT do with the Steam Deck:
– Play native Windows games without workarounds
– Run iOS or Android apps/games
– Easily play PC games not purchased through Steam
– Play games for more than six hours without charging
– Mirror wirelessly to a display or TV
– Natively play Xbox, PlayStation, or Nintendo games

 

Did you know?

Steam makes a dock for the Stream Deck to allow you to use it as a full desktop computer or connect to a TV for a Nintendo Switch-like experience.

The Top 100 Songs: 2000s

top100 2000s

As a follow-up to my Top 100 Songs of the 1990s, I think it’s time to revisit the actual best decade of music.

The 2000s (aka Y2Ks, 00s, or the oughts) saw a dramatic change in popular music. Boy Bands flashed in the pan which led to R&B and Hip-Hop to top the charts. The early to mid 2000s saw one of my favorite musical themes, which still works well today. That being an R&B singer paired with a Hip-Hop artist creating collaborations like Ja Rule & J-Lo, Fat Joe & Ashanti, and Nelly & Jagged Edge.

I was in high school and college for all of the 2000s, so this era of music had a huge impact on my formative years. This is also when we first had the ability to download music through services like Napster. It was a simpler time, but also a time with a lot of really memorable music.

Much like the 1990s list, here are the rules I set for this list:
– Main singer can only appear once – Beyonce or Destiny’s Child, not both (this excludes features)
– No covers, original recordings only
– Must have been released as a single or on an album after December 31, 1999 and before January 1, 2010
– No compilations, best of, or greatest hits releases apply

To make these rankings, I started with a list of about 130 songs, then fed them through Pub Meeple’s ranking engine. Over about a week, I completed over 400 comparisons of two songs, head to head. This gave me the list I have below. I took the left over songs and culled the list based on what songs were not ranked high enough to make my list but couldn’t be left off a 2000s essential music list.

Read more

Apple Watch Ultra: The Beard Blog Review

The ultraist Apple Watch of them all.

Watching the recent Apple event where the Apple Watch Ultra was announced, I was elated at the feature set, but at the same time dreading the price reveal. When Jeff Williams revealed the $799 price tag, my jaw dropped. This is not the normal Apple pricing we usually see. I was throwing around $999 or $1099 in my head trying to figure out how I could justify spending that much. Compared to a normal Apple Watch with cellular, sapphire screen, and titanium body, $799 isn’t that far off, but the Ultra does so much more!

I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch every day since buying the first-generation in April of 2015. It was a big change for me as I was an every day traditional watch wearer. I even had a small watch collection growing. Since the first time I put on an Apple Watch, I had wished for a bigger screen for my large wrists. Over the years we’ve seen the (biggest) Apple Watch go from 42mm to 44mm, and then last year to 45mm. The Ultra watch is a generous 49mm.

What’s New on Apple Watch Ultra?

Compared to the Series 7 of last year and the Series 8 introduced with the Ultra, it has a lot more adventurous features than your standard watch. While on the surface it may seem like a whole new watch from the ground up, it’s not. More of a case redesign, it still has the same trusty Apple Watch features we’ve grown to love over the years. What sets the Ultra watch apart from the other Apple Watches is the addition of a 86db siren, 2000 nit display, dual-frequency GPS, customizable action button, and water depth and temperature gauge. If you’re only interested in the health sensors, it has the same exact sensors as the Series 8. Some other improvements to existing features that the Ultra watch has are sure to come to the lower watches like louder speakers, bigger battery, and three mic array.

What Makes This Watch Ultra?

Apple tells us this watch isn’t for everyone, it’s for the most extreme, athletic, and adventurous people out there. We all know that the majority of customers for the Apple Watch Ultra will likely not fit into any of those categories, myself included. This isn’t the first time Apple has offered a titanium case watch with sapphire glass. Last year’s Series 7 was available in that configuration for $699. What truly makes this watch special is the size as it’s Apple’s largest watch to date. Additionally it can withstand the elements more, dive deeper, and possibly not get damaged as easily. My main reasons for buying the Apple Watch Ultra were the large screen size and long battery life, everything else is just a bonus.

Sensor Watch

The new sensor this year on both the Series 8 and Ultra is wrist temperature sensing. This takes a reading of the ambient under-screen temperature and your wrist temperature and forms an opinion on what your body may be like over the course of your sleep. This was presented as a benefit to Cycle Tracking, but for those who do not menstruate, this was left as an unknown. After wearing the Apple Watch to sleep, it does in fact record temperature readings in the Health app. If these will be accurate or useful in the long term remains to be seen.

Water temperature sensing only works when the watch is fully submerged. I was unable to get this to function whilst running my watch under a water faucet.

The Alpine Loop band looks and feels good, but it’s much harder to adjust and remove than any of the traditional Apple Watch bands.

Read more

Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max: The Beard Blog Review

Here we are again, the fall weather is upon us and there are new iPhones out in the wild. Apple recently announced the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max. Later this year the iPhone 14 will get a big brother named the iPhone 14 Plus. It’s easy to tell that Apple has a long term strategy with the iPhone. They meticulously add new features that seem like a big deal at first, but are actually very small improvements year over year. This allows them to continue to release a new phone every fall and get people (like me) to buy it.

What’s new on iPhone 14 Pro Max

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is a lot like the 13 Pro max and even the 12 Pro Max. Same shape, size, and materials. The biggest difference is the screen notch has been replaced by a rotated lowercase “i” shaped cutout called the Dynamic Island. I feel like this has a lot of potential in the future, but without any third-party app integration, it’s just a cool demo. The OLED screen has been updated to be brighter and be “Always-On” when not in use. This is similar to the Apple Watch where the screen dims but still shows some lock screen elements. I frequently have my iPhone sitting on a table in-front of me and now I won’t have to tap it to see what’s going on. Having devices where the screen is always-on is soon to become the norm. In the near future we’ll look at devices that don’t have the screen on as antiquated.

Baseball scores in the Dynamic Island

There’s a new main camera sensor (again) this year, but this time they quadrupled the megapixel count from 12 to 48. This doesn’t mean a whole lot, but allows it to gather more details and present you with a better image. I’ve found that when you want the most detail, use the “RAW” option to get a 48mp image as opposed to the Apple processed 12mp version.

Read more

Top 10 John Mayer Songs

john mayer guitar

John Mayer is by far my favorite musician and what better way to exercise that fact by creating a top 10 list.

I first discovered John Mayer in college when Daughters was at the height of its popularity. I had thought John was just a fleeting pop artist, but when a coworker 15 years my senior mentioned how good he is, and I must check him out. I started with the only two albums he had out at the time, Room for Squares and Heavier Things. Both of those pop albums were not the Mayer we know today. Outside of his hit singles, I was instantly drawn to Why Georgia and Neon where he flexed his guitar skills. Having an early appreciation for John Mayer’s deep cuts positioned me, as a fan, for the release of his masterpiece Continuum.

I’ve listened to the Continuum album probably more than any other music album in existence. Every song is great and conjures indivdual feelings, much like Usher’s Confessions. Since his third album, I’ve been a fan. More than 15 years later, he’s still putting out classic music and living up to what I would call the greatest guitar player of my generation.

I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to see John Mayer live in concert twice in the past five years. Listening to his studio recordings are great, but being in an arena with him live brings it to a whole new level.

Read more

Instagram Snapshot

With all the talk of Instagram changing things up and favoring video/reels, I wanted to do a quick snapshot of my feed as it is today.

Opening the app and scrolling, here’s what I experienced:

  1. Photo – Someone I follow
  2. Ad – Starz
  3. Photo – Someone I follow
  4. Photo – Someone I follow (verified✓)
  5. Video – Suggested post
  6. Photo – Someone I follow
  7. Ad – Starz
  8. Video – Someone I follow
  9. Photo – Suggested post
  10. Photo – Someone I follow
  11. Ad – Audible
  12. Photo – Someone I follow
  13. Photo – Suggested account
  14. Video – Someone I follow
  15. Video – Someone I follow
  16. Ad – Starz
  17. Video – Suggested post
  18. Photo – Someone I follow
  19. Photo – Someone I follow
  20. Ad – Science37
  • 25% ads
  • 20% suggestions
  • 25% video
  • 55% content I asked for

I predict it will only get worse from here with more video, ads, and less content of the accounts I actually follow.

Follow me over on Vero!

Top 10 Best Diet Sodas

soda

First, before you roast me for talking about diet soda and exclaim how it is killing me, read this.

Basically, if you don’t drink a ton of it and still maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s not bad for you. Who knew?

I prefer “diet” or “zero sugar” type sodas because of their perceived sweetness without impacting my glycemic index and adding to my overall daily calories. I would even go as far to say that I prefer the taste over traditional, full-sugar sodas. I enjoy a good soda pop but I don’t want to me left feeling like I just ate a bag of skittles.

Lost of love here for Coca-Cola company, and not so much for PepsiCo.
I’m staying with widely available selections in the US and not considering any seasonal or special editions.
Before you ask, yes Diet and Zero/Zero Sugar products actually taste different and are sold simultaneously.

Read more

When You Have a TV Size Hole in Your Heart

broken heart on broken TV

Have you ever been so enamored with a TV show that when it’s over you feel like something is now missing from your life? Me too!

Like any other summer, my wife and I are watching less TV. Entertainment schedulers know this and make less new content available during the warmer months. Because we’re watching less and want to spend more time enjoying the weather, we gravitate towards shorter, less complicated, TV series. Usually sitcoms that are around 30 minutes are the sweet spot because of the usual large amount of episodes available and easy viewing.

This summer we are getting daily doses of Parks and Recreation. Yes, the same Parks and Recreation show that first aired in 2008 on NBC. Having only seen a few episodes here and there we decided to watch the entire series, in order. We’ve done this previously with shows like Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, and Modern Family.

HIMYM cast
The main cast of How I Met Your Mother

Last spring, summer, and fall we watched How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). All 208 episodes. That show took me by surprise with how witty, heartfelt, and relatable it was. Even a year after completing the watch-through, I stand by it being the best network comedy show of all time. When the show ended, not only were we looking for a new regular show to watch, it felt like something was missing. Over the previous eight or so months, the show was a major part of our lives. When it was gone, there was a hole.

Not all TV shows, movies, or entertainment can make you feel this way. In fact, there’s probably only a few in your lifetime. I don’t think it’s wrong to feel this way either. The creators and actors of the show want you to feel. They write and act it in a way to invoke emotion. Different shows will hit with different people but there was something about the story and characters of HIMYM that imprinted on me. After we watched the entire series I took a long look at my life. Obviously one of those introspections was ”why am I having any feelings about a dumb TV show?” Someday I’ll write about the emotions that came out of this or start a feelings blog where I can really go there.

ron swanson gif
Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is my favorite TV character to date.

We’re about half way through Parks and Recreation and while I don’t feel this will have the huge impact on me like HIMYM, I’m already dreading the end. These TV shows, allow me to escape for 20-ish minutes and live in their fun-quirky world. The end is always disappointing and never what you think it should be. We’ve even avoided watching final episodes in a series so that we can feel that it’s never really over and we will always have just one more episode. Schitt’s Creek is a great example of this. We’ve never finished it even though we loved the series. Someday we’ll go back and spend time with the Rose’s again.

Parks and Rec is a show that I looked over for many years because I thought of it as a bad spinoff of The Office. While some of that is true, it’s very good on its own. If it continues at its current pace, in my perspective, it will be top-10 best shows of all time. Another someday project is list my top-10 best TV shows of all time.

What are some shows that made you feel this way? We’re always looking for another TV series to add to our summer playlist. Usually we look for something that we haven’t seen the entirety of and has a long run. If you haven’t yet watched How I Met Your Mother or Parks and Recreation, you should.

Additional great TV show recommendations:

Love – Netflix
Seinfeld – Netflix
King of Queens – Paramount+
The Office – Peacock
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Hulu

Toyota Tundra Infotainment Review

As a tech enthusiest and an information technology professional, I‘m always looking at technology first when looking at a vehicle. If I had to rank infotainment (what the industry calls the vehicle’s screen, software, and entertainment package) on a list of most important features it would definitely be in the top three. Not only am I a tech enthusiast, I’m also a car enthusiast so I’m always looking at what’s new in the car world. I’ve thought about buying several vehicles and decided against it only because of the technology implementation (looking at you Ford Explorer).

My current vehicle, 2022 Toyota Tundra Platinum, has the best technology package in a truck as of the time I bought it. Even better than the F-150 Lightning (which I’m still ”in line” to buy). The F-150 Lightning has the same infotainment as the non-electric F-150s with the exception of the added controls for the EV.

Ford Explorer ST Backup Camera View
Ford Explorer ST Backup Camera View

Here’s what is wrong with most of today’s in-vehicle technology:

  • Large screens with bad use of space
  • Not utilizing integrated cameras effectively (see photo)
  • Trying to pack options on the screen that no one wants or uses
  • Not prioritizing the majority of drivers that use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

Instead of filling the screen with the functions you are currently using, most manufacturers leave space for other controls, split screen, or messages. The same applies to mirroring you phone to the built-in display.

The 2022 Toyota Tundra has the cleanest large screen infotainment I’ve seen to date. This was major factor in why I purchased this particular truck, especially after pre-ordering an F-150 Lightning, and never owning a Toyota before. The Tundra’s infotainment is simple and thoughtfully laid out on the giant 14-inch LCD display in the center of the dash. There’s not a lot of bloat either with a modest selection of four different modes, plus Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

When using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, it takes over the entire screen giving you the most screen real estate to see your maps, music, or podcasts. My previous vehicles from Stellantis had a bottom navigation bar with CarPlay enabled to allow you to navigate away from CarPlay without having to do anything. Toyota’s implementation, like others I have seen, put a Toyota icon on your homescreen that when tapped, takes you to the built-in vehicle controls. This allows your phone mirroring experience to be more immersive . When the truck’s cameras are activated you again see it fullscreen and are able to see multiple cameras at once. Most of my in-car use is CarPlay so I never use the truck’s built-in functionality so the fullscreen experience was important to me. Hopefully soon Apple updates Carplay to better use the large amount of screen space I have now and make the elements fit better.

Digital rearview mirror camera
Front and bird’s eye cameras at a stop light

2022 Toyota Tundra technology overview

Pros:
UI elements utilize large screen
Fullscreen Apple CarPlay / Android Auto
Responsive and high resolution
No bloatware or complicated views
Landscape orientation
Digital rearview mirror

Cons:
Can’t use in-vehicle WiFi hotspot and wireless CarPlay simulteanously
CarPlay elements not made for such a large screen
Uses Google Maps, but not an online version
360º camera view only available in park [P]
Most camera views only available in drive [D]

In my short four months of owning the Toyota Tundra, it received one software update that was mainly bug fixes, but that doesn’t prevent them from adding features via an update. Hopefully they can add some cool stuff I haven’t thought of, but this is a promising start to a car brand that I once wrote off due to their interest in technology innovation.

Read about why I sold my Jeep and bought a truck.

Top 10 Reasons I’m Going to Miss My Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler Front

Recently I went through a process of selling my Jeep Wrangler to an online service.
Read about how that went here.

Before I sold the Wrangler, I made a video of the Top 10 Reasons I’m Selling My Jeep Wrangler.
I figured I would express that even though I made that video and sold it, I’m still going to miss my Wrangler.

These are the top 10 reasons why I’m going to miss my Jeep Wrangler.

10. Maintenance
Doing your own maintenance on your vehicle is something enjoyed by many and the Jeep Wrangler makes it easy and enjoyable. Over the four years I’ve owned my Jeep, I performed a wide variety of tasks in my garage without issue. The oil plug and filter location makes oil changes a breeze. The last time I did an oil change, it took me about 15 minutes and 10 of those minutes were letting the oil completely drain. The overall ground clearance of the Jeep made rotating and swapping wheels easy as well. I even replaced the front brakes last year and was surprised at how easy Jeep made it. It’s like they knew most people get in there and tinker with stuff so they make it self-service friendly.

9. Fun-factor
Having a Jeep Wrangler is fun. It’s much more capable than your standard SUV and comes with a lot of cool tricks like the removable top and doors. It rides and drives like a truck so you get that feel for it too. Overall the Wrangler is fun to drive around, even with its compromises.

8. Off-road
Coming from a series of boy-racer type cars, having an off-road capable vehicle is a dramatic shift. Not having to worry about curbs, parking barriers, and potholes is nice. I never officially took my Jeep to an off-road trail or mud pit, but I did take my mall crawler off the road. Wether it was in my yard, the random dirt road, or the occasional grass parking lot, I can say my Jeep went off the road.

7. The Jeep club
There’s a large (unofficial) club of Jeep Wrangler drivers and owners. The day you start driving a Wrangler your in this club. Just about every other Jeep driver waves at you and gives you the feeling like you are in a community. I’ve had countless people come up to me and start a conversation based solely on the fact that I was driving a Jeep Wrangler. It’s weird, but at the same time I think I’ll miss it.

6. Ruggedness
Everything about the Wrangler is rugged. It looks rugged, the interior has rugged textures, and most of the time has all terrain tires on it. You can leave your top down/off in the rain and not have to worry about anything getting damaged. I recall a time I was at work and my soft top was down and my doors were off. It poured for probably an hour. Afterwards I went out to asses the damage. I pulled the plug in both floorboards and the almost three inches of water drained out. The sun then dried up everything else and by the time I left for the day it was dry. No damage done.

5. Convertible
Speaking of having the top down, you may not realize this, but the Wrangler is a convertible. Optioned with either a soft top or hard top (I had both), the Jeep’s top can be removed or retracted for an open-air experience that’s like no other. Taking off all four doors and having the top down is one of my favorite summer activities in the Jeep.

4. Aftermarket accessories
As one of the most popular vehicles in the United States, there are a lot of aftermarket accessories for the Jeep Wrangler. You can change almost anything the Jeep with the available third-party market. I added pre-runner lights to the grille, swapped the grille inserts for matte black finish, added a smaller antenna, wired in a 30″ light bar on the hood, upgraded the spare tire carrier to support bigger/heavier tires, added brighter reverse lights to the back bumper, and wired a LED brake light ring inside the spare tire.

3. The look
I really like the look of the current Jeep Wrangler. Prior to model year 2018, the Wrangler looked ugly and outdated to me. When they redesigned it, I was immediately interested in being a Wrangler owner.

save the manual sticker

2. Stick shift
The manual transmission, standard, and stick shift all mean the same thing. Shifting your own gears is a dying art as most cars today come with an automatic or dual-clutch transmission and only two pedals. In 2013, I decided to buy a Ford Focus ST that only came in manual transmission. I thought myself how to drive it and then never looked back. Since then, I’ve had two more vehicles both with stick shifts. The number of new vehicles being produced with standard transmissions is at an all-time low and with the electric revolution coming, it may go away for good.

1. The color
I’ve always wanted a green car. It’s my favorite color and you rarely see cars any color except white, black, gray, or red. My previous two vehicles have been yellow/orange and blue and I finally got my green car. Mojito! the name that Jeep gave this version of green is an exciting color and gets noticed everywhere I went. It was a limited run color so there aren’t a lot of Jeeps around with that same color. Someday I hope to see more green vehicles for sale and I’ll do what I can to get another one.

Keep up with the Double B Garage YouTube channel and don’t forget to subscribe!

Working From Home – Two Years Later

Shallow Focus Photo of Woman Using a Laptop

On this day in 2020, my company sent out an email with details on alternative work strategies for the next 14 days. This meant we were being kicked out of the office and forced to work from home. The CDC and our local government were issuing guidance surrounding the impeding COVID-19 global pandemic. Two weeks was the average timeframe floating around for the lockdown. We had originally planned for a technology test day where most people would work from home to test the strength of our remote infrastructure. At this point, we weren’t a heavy work from home company and more of a in the office everyday type of workforce. This technology test day never happened and we were thrust into the work from home life for the next two weeks. As you probably know, it didn’t last two weeks. In fact, my company has still yet to define how the future of working will look, whether that’s full-time work from home or a mix of in-office and at-home work strategies. Over these last two years I’ve learned a lot about me, how I work, and how I can do my job from anywhere.

Shortly after starting to work from home, the two week estimate grew into “TBD” and we started to settle in. I posted an article (Working Whilst Home) and also shared it with my company. This was my take on effective time and space management working at home coming from a previous telecommuter. This article still holds true two years later and I’d encourage you to read it before we dig into what has happened since.

Read more

Which AirPods Are Right For You?

AirPods_hero

AirPods are completely wireless earphones that go in your ears to provide music or other audio from your Bluetooth device. Apple again revolutionlized music by making earphones that didn’t need wires and were super easy to use. They even went viral during their launch that made AirPods the trendy must-have accessory.

Five years later, Apple now sells four different versions of AirPods, and like some other product categories can be really confusing, especially when buying for others.

AirPods Max are a different kind of listening device and are more of a headphone than an earphone product.

I’m going to talk about the three white wireless versions of AirPods. These are always great gifts for the holidays and are still immensely popular with the younger crowds, but which AirPods are right for you?

AirPods (2nd-Generation)

The now iconic shape of wireless earbuds were refreshed in 2019 to offer additional features like “Hey Siri”, longer battery life, and wireless charging case. Other than the new features, the AirPods shape and design remained the same. It’s impossible to tell a generation 1 product from a generation 2 just by looking at them.

Like the EarPods that proceeded the AirPods, they were designed for a wide variety of ears and rest on the antitragus and intertragal notch. When they were first announced, everyone exclaimed that they were going to fall out of ears and get lost. Based on how EarPods always popped out, it was a hard sell. About 10 minutes after AirPods were in wearer’s ears, they were a hit. So much of a hit, they immediately faced a supply issue. I remember showing people my AirPods and they were in disbelief of the fact that they would stay in my ears, even while jogging.

AirPods Pro

With the success of the first generation AirPods came a lot of outcry that they just didn’t work in some ears. Additionally, the AirPods didn’t isolate sound and were basically useless on airplanes. About six months after the second generation AirPods were announced, Apple announced the AirPods Pro. These featured in-ear silicone tips that completely isolated sound and increased sound quality. Most people were familiar with earbuds that featured the same design, but Apple made the earbud a lot better. Noise cancelling, transparency mode, and increased frequency response were touted as the main features of the Pros. The biggest change was the shape. Gone was the long stem that projected out of people’s ears and was replaced by a stouter, less obvious version. The in-ear portion has silicone tips (in three sizes) to seal in the sound. The case was bigger and wider so the new style could fit in to charge magnetically like the original AirPods.

Apple will inevitably announce second generation AirPods Pro, but probably not until Spring 2022 at the earliest. The Pros being the flagship AirPods, they’ll probably receive new technology before it trickles down to the non-Pro AirPods.

AirPods 3

In October 2021, Apple announced what they’re calling the AirPods (3rd generation) but I’ll be referring to them as the AirPods 3 for confusion avoidance. This was the first time AirPods have changed shapes in almost five years. They look strikingly similar to the AirPods Pro by shrinking the stem and adding more speakers to the in-ear portion. The headlining features of the AirPods 3 are spatial audio, sweat/water resistance, and longer battery life. They also changed the controls to match the Pros by adding a force sensor to the stem so you can squeeze instead of jackhammering your ear. In a rare Apple move, the price also decreased from $199 to $179 for the wireless charging case.

Enjoy my ear as I cycle through wearing all three AirPods

Which AirPods Do I Want?

This is quite the subjective question because all ears are not created equal. The complicated answer falls into three categories to determine which AirPods are right for you.

  1. I want the cheapest AirPods, I don’t care about price.
    • AirPods 2nd generation are right for you, if you can find the 1st-gen, grab those instead
  2. I want to use my AirPods for working out and casual listening.
    • The added sweat resistance and comfort level of the AirPods 3 is great in this scenario
  3. I travel a lot and want to use my AirPods on planes, trains, and automobiles.
    • AirPods Pro offer noise cancelling and adjustable listening modes to aid you when traveling
Some caveats to those recommendations

AirPods (2nd generation) fit in most ears, while AirPods 3 are a bit larger and have trouble staying in ears with smaller openings. If you’re interested in moving from 2nd-gen to 3rd-gen, be aware that the AirPod is larger than the previous. My wife was able to wear 2nd-gen with no issue, but 3rd-gen do not stay in her ears.


AirPods Pro seal off outside noises and can cause you to hear internal noises while you’re ears a blocked. Think chewing and walking thumps. To me, this is the most annoying part of the Pros.

Tech Specs Showdown

AirPods 2nd-gen
AirPods Pro
AirPods 3
Price

$129

$249

$179

Active Noise Cancellation

No

Yes

No

Spatial Audio

No

Yes
Yes
Sweat/Water Resistant

No

Yes
Yes
Battery Life

5 hours

4.5 hours

6 hours
Wireless Charging Case

No

Yes
Yes
"Hey Siri"

Yes

Yes

Yes

Controls

Double-tap

Squeeze

Squeeze

Size (weight)

1.59"x.65"x.71" (4g)

1.22"x.86"x.94"(5.4g)

1.21"x.72"x.76" (4.28g)

Read more about Apple Products on Beard Blog

iPhone 13 Pro Max -A Beard Blog Review

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Review

The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max are all-new this year, again. Every year, like clockwork, we get new iPhones. Just like last year apple announced four new phones with a new number, 13. Last year’s all new design was a great departure from the rounded bars of soap we’ve had for six years. If you’ve been following iPhones for a while, you may know that they like to do what most people call an “S” year. Starting with the 3GS, then 4S, 5S, 6S, and XS, we’ve come to understand that an “S” year is less new design and more internal upgrades.

The iPhone 13 should have been an “S” year. Not sure why we didn’t see the iPhone 12S, but I was betting on it. Literally, bet lunch on it being named the iPhone 12S.

So in the iPhone 12S 13 we get better cameras, bigger batteries and a new processor. The Pros got 120hz display and even better cameras.

I opted to replace my iPhone 12 Pro Max with an iPhone 13 Pro Max. As long as they’re making giant pro phones, I’m buying them.

I’m not going to go into the new features or what Apple is marketing on the device, you can see that at apple.com/iphone.

The Good

  • The 120hz display makes motion buttery smooth, and I smile whenever I notice it
  • The camera upgrades while minor year-over-year, have a huge impact on everyday photos
  • Macro photos are fun and a game changer
    Beard Blog iPhone macro photography deep-dive
  • Same squared-side design that looks modern and still feels new
  • Sierra Blue is a refreshing take on a silver finish
  • OLED screen is brighter, which is useful in direct sunlight

The Missed Opportunities

  • Moving to USB-C should have happened this year
  • The camera / Face ID notch got smaller-ish, but it’s size still feels outdated
  • Same software limitations running on a super-fast SoC
  • Night Mode could be better with the new camera hardware
    Beard Blog iPhone Night Mode deep-dive
  • My phone shipped with eSim enabled, but I still have an ugly SIM card slot
  • The physical mute switch is great, but someday it’s gotta go
  • Speaker holes are still asymmetric

The Bad

  • Front-facing camera feels old and needs updated like other Apple devices
  • Rear camera bump is huge, more noticeable on smaller phones 
  • Telephoto (3x) rear camera has more reach, but less quality
  • Face ID hasn’t seen any major improvements since it was debuted on the iPhone X, while iPads can see faces in different orientations
  • The back face of the phone is still slippery and fragile

Changing to USB-C, upgrading the front camera, and making it more grippy, might make this a 10 / 10 for me.

We’ll see what next year’s iPhone brings, which I’m sure will be named iPhone 14. Will we see USB-C finally or just no ports at all? Stay tuned, here and only here, for iPhone hot takes.

The Top 100 Songs: 1990s

When you think about the best decade of music, you might immediately think the 60s or 70s. Some may argue it was the 80s or 90s. I was pretty sure the best decade of music was the 2000s, but now I’m convinced it was the 1990s.

This started as a top 10 list of 90s music, which was really hard because of all the different sounds during this era. Expanding the list to a top 100 was poised to be my most ambitious list yet. Turns out, my love for music and making lists made this a simple task. In the end, I decided to rank them using an online ranking generator allowing me to compare songs 2 by 2. I input my list of 110 songs into the ranking generator and did over 400 comparisons. The end results were very surprising.

The rules for this list, made up be me:
– No repeats for main attributed artist (e.g. Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson – Scream counts as an entry for both of them)
– No covers, original recordings only (e.g. Whitney Houston – I’m Every Woman originally recorded by Chaka Khan in 1978, not eligible)
– Must have been released as a single or on an album after December 31, 1989 and before January 1, 2000
– No complications, best of, or greatest hits releases apply

For your and my listening pleasure, I’ve created this list as both an Apple Music and Spotify playlist (see below)

 


The top 100 list is below in order based on my opinion, and because I’m me, there are 10 honorable mentions afterwards!

Did your favorite 90s song make the list?

Artist

Title

Year

Rank

Lauryn Hill

Doo Wop (That Thing)

1998

1

Bone Thugs -n- Harmony

Tha Crossroads

1995

2

Usher

You Make Me Wanna...

1997

3

Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson

Scream

1995

4

Whitney Houston

I Have Nothing

1992

5

2Pac


Changes

1998

6

Luniz

I Got 5 On It

1995

7

Boyz II Men

End of the Road

1991


8

Big Pun

Still Not a Playa (feat. Joe)

1998

9

Sublime

What I Got

1996

10

Mariah Carey

Fantasy

1997

11

Hanson

MMMBop

1997

12

TLC

Waterfalls

1994

13

Aaliyah

Are You That Somebody? *

1998

14

Alanis Morisette

You Oughta Know

1998

15

Hootie & The Blowfish

Hold My Hand

1994

16

Warren G & Nate Dogg

Regulate

1994

17

Dr. Dre

The Next Episode (feat. Snopp Dogg)

1999

18

Snopp Dogg

Who Am I (What's My Name)?

1993

19

Kci & JoJo

All My Life

1997

20

Blackstreet

No Diggity (feat. Dr. Dre & Queen Pen)

1996

21

No Doubt

Spiderwebs

1995

22

Alice in Chains

Rooster

1992

23

T.Q.

Westside

1998

24

Ice Cube

It Was a Good Day

1992

25

Outkast

Rosa Parks

1998

26

Blues Traveler

Run-Around

1994

27

The Notorious B.I.G.

Mo Money and Mo Problems (feat. Mase & Puff Daddy)

1997

28

Matchbox 20

3 am

1996

29

Ginuwine

Pony

1996

30

311

Down

1995

31

Ma$e

Feels So Good

1997

32

Rage Against the Machine

Bulls On Parade

1996

33

Do or Die

Po Pimp

1996

34

Soundgarden

Black Hole Sun

1994

35

Destiny's Child

Bug a Boo

1999

36

*NSYNC

Tearin' Up My Heart

1997

37

Jay-Z

Big Pimpin' (feat. UGK)

1999

38

Salt-N-Pepa

Shoop

1993

39

The Presidents of the United States of America

Peaches

1995

40

Beastie Boys

Intergalactic

1998

41

Eminem

My Name Is

1999

42

Green Day

Basket Case

1994

43

Ini Kamoze

Here Comes The Hotstepper

1994

44

Barenaked Ladies

One Week

1998

45

Juvenile

Ha

1998

46

Bush

Comedown

1994

47

Everlast

What It's Like

1994

48

Puff Daddy

I'll Be Missing You (feat. Faith Evans & 112)

1997

49

The Smashing Pumpkins

1979

1995

50

Third Eye Blind

Jumper

1997

51

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Under the Bridge

1991

52

The Cranberries

Zombie

1994

53

Spice Girls

Wannabe

1996

54

The Goo Goo Dolls

Iris

1998

55

Next

Too Close

1997

56

Keith Sweat

Nobody (feat. Athena Cage)

1996

57

Montell Jordan

This Is How We Do It

1995

58

DMX

Party Up (Up In Here)

1999

59

Metallica

Enter Sandman

1991

60

Backstreet Boys

I Want It That Way

1999

61

Wu-Tang Clan

C.R.E.A.M.

1993

62

Sugar Ray

Fly (feat. Super Cat)

1997

63

Lenny Kravitz

Fly Away

1998

64

Master P

Make 'Em Say Ugh

1997

65

Aerosmith

Crazy

1993

66

Mark Morrison

Return of the Mack

1996

67

Brandy

Sittin' Up In My Room

1995

68

The Chemical Brothers

Block Rockin' Beats

1997

69

"Weird Al" Yankovic

Amish Paradise

1996

70

Color Me Badd

I Wann Sex You Up

1991

71

Radiohead

Creep

1996

72

Kid Rock

Cowboy

1998

73

Will Smith

Gettin' Jiggy Wit It

1997

74

Ol' Dirty Bastard

Got Your Money (feat. Kelis)

1999

75

En Vogue

Free Your Mind

1992

76

Marcy Playground

Sex & Candy

1997

77

Naughty By Nature

O.P.P

1991

78

Crazy Town

Buttefly

1999

79

Jamiroquai

Virtual Insanity

1996

80

The (Dixie) Chicks

Wide Open Spaces

1998

81

Robyn

Show Me Love

1995

82

Ace of Base

The Sign

1993

83

Oasis

Wonderwall

1995

84

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

The Impression That I Get

1997

85

The Tony Rich Project

Nobody Knows

1995

86

SWV

Weak

1992

87

Sisqo

Thong Song

1999

88

702

Where My Girls At?

1999

89

Beck

Loser

1993

90

LeAnn Rimes

How Do I Live

1997

91

Mary J. Blige

Real Love

1992

92

The Prodigy

Firestarter

1996

93

Kris Kross

Jump

1992

94

Crystal Waters

100% Pure Love

1994

95

Babyface

Every Time I Close My Eyes

1996

96

Nine Inch Nails

Closer

1994

97

Snow

Informer

1994

98

Garbage

Only Happy When It Rains

1995

99

New Edition

Hit Me Off

1996

100

Honorable Mentions:
101. Shaggy – Bombastic (1995)
102. Meredith Brooks – Bitch (1997)
103. Jewel – Who Will Save Your Soul (1995)
104. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)
105. LFO – Girl On TV (1999)
106. Lil’ Troy – Wanna Be a Baller (1999)
107. Vitamin C – Smile (1999)
108. The Offspring – Pretty Fly (For a White Guy) (1998)
109. 98º – The Hardest Thing (1998)
110. New Kids On the Block – Step By Step (1990)

*Aaliyah – Are You That Somebody? is not available on any digital platforms.

In Memoriam: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Tupac Shakur, Big Pun, Bradley Nowell, Lisa Left-Eye Lopes, Aaliyah, Nate Dogg, Layne Staley, Christopher Wallace, Chris Cornell, Adam Yauch, Dolores O’Riordan, Earl Simmons, Russel Jones, Keith Flint, Chris Kelly, and Kurt Cobain.

Credits: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Pub Meeple

Working Whilst Home

Some of us are working from home full or part time for the first time ever. As a technology professional that’s been in the game for more than 10 years, here are my thoughts.

wfh
My standing desk WFH setup

Working from home (WFH) isn’t easy if you’re used to going to an office or another location every day. Some people love and others hate it. I come down somewhere in the middle. In my past I’ve had a job where I consistently worked from home at least once per week, by choice. Now that some of us are forced to spend both our working day and personal time at home, things need adjusted.

Simulating A Normal Work Day

Firstly, you should have a dedicated space where you can go work. Not your living room sofa, dining room table, or garage work bench. Hopefully you’re fortunate enough to have an office space or a spare room you can isolate yourself in. This allows you to have a place to go to start working and to leave when you’re done. Additionally, if you share your shelter with other people, you can use this space as an off-limits working area.

Before going to your work space and after you get out of bed, try to do some normal things just like you would before you would go to work. Take a shower, get dressed, make coffee, have a snack, or whatever you can do to make it a normal work day. Once you get to your computer you should be ready to work.

I’ve tried to replicate my work setup from my office as much as possible to be the most efficient. I have a standing desk at work so a few months ago (not knowing there was going to be a pandemic) I purchased a smaller sit/stand desk at home. Being used to standing while working all day and then sitting at home doesn’t work for me. Now I can stand all day just like I do at work and not feel the pains of sitting for eight hours per day.

Technology

A hurdle that most people have when they work from home is not having the same technology they’re used to from work. You may find yourself being stuck using a 13-inch laptop now instead of your dual 20-inch monitor setup at the office. Yes you can go out and buy monitors for home, but in reality you probably can accomplish up to 80% of the work you previously were able to do just fine on your laptop. It may take some adjustment and learning periods, but it’s definitely possible. If you find yourself using your own personal technology for work, you may want to make sure you have a compatible computer with your employer’s systems. Hopefully your IT department will be able to give you some guidance on that.

Most of our jobs in 2020 do not require you to print. If you’re used to being able to print anything/everything in the office, that doesn’t mean you need to do that at home. Try reviewing documents on a computer or tablet screen prior to needing to print. Your IT support people will thank you for not having to support a home printer.

Be sure to stay in touch with coworkers and family during this time. Zoom, FaceTime, Teams, Skype, and much more are great ways to communicate with people not in your same geographical location. Try to do video calls as much as possible instead of a voice call. This will allow you see other faces and feel a little more connected.

Staying Busy

Some people say they are more productive at home (me included) because there are less distractions or interruptions. Sometimes you are so productive at home that you may run out of things to do. An important part of working from home is staying busy so you’re not watching the clock or doing too many non-work related tasks. One way you can stay busy is dig through that pile of projects or tasks you’ve been putting off for the last year. Most of these things are time consuming and require concentration that you may not have in your normal work day. What else do you have besides time at home now, it may the right time to take a stab at them. Another way is to ask your peers or manager for things you can be doing. Every company I’ve worked for has organizational tasks that can be done during slow periods. You may even find yourself learning something new when helping out a peer.

Breaks

Taking time for yourself during the day is essential to your mental health during an extended work from home period. Be sure to take ample breaks and get away from your workstation for a few moments. Some ways you can take a break can be walking your dog, throw in a load of laundry, go grab the mail, take a shower, or make yourself an espresso.

Some things you should not do during a break are scroll through social media, watch TV, read the news, get a snack, or play a game on your phone. Activities like these lead to decreased productivity and a feeling of doing the same thing over and over again. It’s important to physically move around during the day, especially if you’ve been sitting a lot. Also, set aside a time of day to catch up on the news. Don’t stress yourself with reading everything as it comes in.

Snacking

When you’re at home all day, nowhere to go, no one to see, it can be easy to head for the pantry for a snack. It’s paramount to your health, and food supply, to avoid snacking more than usual while working from home. Try not to eat more or worse than you would on a normal work day. An easy way to prevent this from happening is simple, don’t buy any bad snacks. If you don’t have chips in the house, you won’t want to go look for them.

Pick a good stopping point or time to eat lunch. During this time you can focus on something else other than work. Make a sandwich and sit down and have a chat with someone or call a relative.

Distractions

I’ve long believed distractions can be good and lead to higher productivity. As long as the distractions are short and constructive, you can try to implement some of these into your daily routine. In addition to the suggestions I went over in the breaks section you can try other short brain stimulating activities that allow you to focus on something else for a few moments. Some activities I would suggest are a quick game of table tennis with a spouse, work on some language learning in Duolingo, shoot some hoops, work on a puzzle, check the oil in your car, or sit on your porch and enjoy the weather.

After one of these activities you can feel refreshed, distressed, and ready to get back to work. You’ll start to notice that you will be looking forward to one of these distractions and might even try to work harder to get there quicker. Don’t be afraid to schedule things during the work day, providing your employer doesn’t make you stay glued to your computer all day, you could have a standing chess meeting with cohabitant.

Make The Most Of It

The single most important thing about working from home more than usual is to make the most of it. Of course it’s not ideal for some, but if you sit and pout about it all day, that doesn’t help anyone. Try some of the suggestions above to make more of your day and don’t forget to stop working when the day is done. Just because you’re still at home and can work doesn’t mean you should. Take time for yourself, your family, and/or your friends.