Apple Vision Pro: First Impressions

Vision Pro

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

What is Apple Vision Pro?

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

What Can Apple Vision Pro Do?

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

Vision Pro

What Can’t Apple Vision Pro Do?

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

The Demo

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

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

What I Liked

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

What Surprised Me

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

What I Didn’t Like

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

Final Thoughts

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

Today I saved at least $3500!

Fried Potato Shapes Ranked

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

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


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


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


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


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


Honorable mentions:
Beer-battered
Shoestring
Steak

Apple Watch Ultra 2 – Beard Blog Review

Apple Watch Ultra 1.5

What’s New With Apple Watch Ultra 2

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

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

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

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

The new Modular Ultra face

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

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

The Good

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

Missed Opportunities

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

The Bad

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

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

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

Should You Upgrade?

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

Read more Beard Blog tech reviews

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: The Beard Blog Review

iPhone 15 PM

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

Read more

iPhone 14: One Year Later

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

iPhone 14 Pro Max

Durability

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

The Dynamic Island

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

Always On Display

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

Not So Great Points

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

Pour one out for Lightning

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

iPhone 14 to 15

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

The Best City in the World: A Top 10 List

Best City banner

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

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

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

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

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

10. Las Vegas, NV

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

Cons:
Crime
Weather
Tourist and party destination

9. Cleveland, OH

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

Cons:
Rust belt
Winters
Sports fans

8. San Diego, CA

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

Pros:
Weather
Near the ocean
Culture and jobs

Cons:
Natural disasters
Homeless issue
Sports teams are leaving

7. Venice, Italy

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

Pros:
Food
Uniqueness of a city on water
Italian culture

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

6. Memphis, TN

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

Pros:
Food
Music/Culture
Along the Mississippi

Cons:
Crime/Shrinking population
Sports
Weather

5. Nashville, TN

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

Pros:
Music/Culture/Sports
Food
Weather

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

4. Boston, MA

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

Pros:
Public transportation
Sports
Culture/Safety

Cons:
Winter
Cost of living
Big city

3. Austin, TX

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

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

Cons:
Politics
Weather
Climbing cost of living

2. Denver, CO

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

Pros:
Food/Culture
Sports
Mountains

Cons:
Crime
Winters
Climbing cost of living

1. Pittsburgh, PA

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

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

Cons:
Public transportation/air travel
Lack of sunshine
Traffic

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

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

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

Other considerations that didn’t make the population minimum:

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

My Apple iPhone Lock Screen

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

iPhone Lock Screen

Customizations

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

Widgets

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

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

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

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

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

My Apple Watch Face

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.

apple watch ultra face

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.

Complications

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.

Download this watch face on your Apple Watch!

Read my Apple Watch Ultra review for more!

I Made You a Mixtape: Piracy to Playlist

playlist baner

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.

Americana Playlist Album Art

Americana

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.

App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Beard Bangers Playlist Album Art

Beard Bangers

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.


App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Pacific Reggae  Playlist Album Art

Pacific Reggae

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.


App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Cook Out Playlist Album Art

Cookout

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.


App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Good Vibes Playlist Album Art

Good Vibes

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.


App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Reggae Rock Country Playlist Album Art

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.


App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Sony PlayStation VR2 Review

PSVR2 Hero Image

What is VR?

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.

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Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

rss beard icon

If you’re reading this you probably remember hearing about RSS in the early 2000s. If you don’t remember or never heard of RSS, you’re in for a treat. I’ve been using RSS pretty much every day for the past 16 years. While a lot of people have given up on RSS feeds and relied on social media, I’m here to say that it’s still great and the best way to keep up with what’s going on.

What is RSS?

To try to keep it really simple it’s a feed that allows you to subscribe to a web site. When you subscribe to a feed, each post/article is sent to you, instead of visiting a website to see it. This enables an email-like system where all your subscriptions come into one place using an application called an RSS reader.

Why would I want to use RSS?

Curating a list of RSS feeds is a great way to stay interested and up to date on certain web sites or blogs. You don’t have to deal with ads, pop-ups, clickbait, and social comments. You only read what you want to read. When you grow tired of a particular feed, you can delete it. Same goes when you discover something new. In a few clicks or taps, the information comes to you.

How I use RSS

I use the email client approach and treat my RSS reader like I do my email. Assess what comes in, read it if I want, delete if I don’t. The client I use also syncs over the cloud so that all my devices stay up to date and I don’t have to cull articles in multiples places.

What RSS feeds do I subscribe to?

Instead of visiting the same blog or news site over and over as things get posted, they come to me. A lot of what I subscribe to relates to my career and interests around technology, computers, and cyber security.
A sample-sized list of the feeds I subscribe to are below. Some of these are more talkative than others, but the beauty of RSS is once you subscribe, you don’t have to worry about missing a post.

9to5Mac
AppleInsider
Beard Blog
Daring Fireball
Hypercritical
Jalopnik
Liss is More
MacRumors
Marco.org
Mark Gurman
Neowin
Six Colors
The Hacker News
The Verge
Windows Central

Using an RSS Reader

Just like email, you’ll need an app to read all your subscriptions and ideally one that syncs what you’ve read across your devices. I use the app News Explorer on Mac, iPhone, and iPad. When I read an article on one of those devices, the app syncs that progress to the cloud, allowing me to pick up another device and keep my place. Another well-known and well-reviewed app for RSS is NetNewsWire. I’ve tried it years ago, but at the time didn’t have the features I came to apprecaite from NewsExplorer.

Keep it Real Simple

If you’re interested in RSS and want to avoid ads, tracking, and Twitter, keep it simple. Start with a few of your favorite web sites or blogs and see how you like it. NewsExplorer has a built-in feature to search for RSS feeds based on your search terms, that way you don’t have to go exploring for RSS links. If that doesn’t work for you, there are some good aggregation sites like FeedSpot that will give you links based on a category.

The Best RSS Feed

If you’re looking for the best feed to subscribe to, look no further than The Beard Blog.
https://blog.benbeard.com/feed

The Best Of: 2022

best of 2022 collage

The year 2022 might be remembered as the year we got back to “normal”. In the spirit of that, let’s revisit all the best things that happened this past year, even if 2022 wasn’t the best year for everyone.

Best Movie
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
The next entry in one of my favorite movies from 2019, Glass Onion is another murder mystery led by Daniel Craig. We first saw him in Knives Out which surprised many as a breakout hit and a fresh take on the murder mystery genre. Glass Onion is different, but good in similar ways. My favorite thing about Glass Onion is how the story unfolds and you aren’t trying to solve the puzzle the entire time.

Best TV Show
Severance
Seems like Severance came out so long ago that I had to check if it was indeed released in 2022. It premiered in February and was released weekly like the good old days. If you haven’t yet watched Severance (Apple TV+) be sure to check it out before season 2 premieres. It’s such a good show and I don’t think I can do it justice trying to explain it here. What I will do is say that it’s a sci-fi/thriller series set in an office.

Best Music Album
Dirty Heads – Midnight Control
In 2022 we began to see the fruits of labor from the lockdown and we got a lot of great music this year. The Dirty Heads have released their 8th album Midnight Control and it might be their best yet. Give it a listen, even if you don’t necessarily like their other music. They are definitely a genre-bending band and with each new album they introduce a refined sound.

Best Song
Morgan Wallen – You Proof
A country song about whiskey and breakups, what’s so good about it? I’m not sure, but You Proof is the song I listened to the most this year and almost all of those listens were by choice. Morgan Wallen is someone who keeps churning out good music and I’m not even a country music fan.

Best Video Game
Vampire Survivors
Lots of great games were released in 2022 (mostly for Playstation) and none struck me and reeled me in like Vampire Survivors. I actually didn’t notice this game until recently and I played it for hours on Xbox Game Pass, then bought it on Steam to play it on the go. it’s a simple game too. The only control mechanism is the direction your player moves. It has been described as a “pure hit of Dopamine”.

Best Mobile Game
Marvel Snap
Look… I’m not a big Marvel fan. I’m not a fan of card strategy games. I rarely play mobile games more than a few times. For some reason, I can’t put down Marvel Snap. It’s a simple card-based game that is absolutely free. Try it, but remember, I warned you that it’s addicting.

Best Podcast
SmartLess
Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes have a comedy podcast where they interview famous people but end up spending a lot of the time joking with one another. It’s a welcome change in my podcast rotation apart from my usual tech and movie/tv podcasts. I’m a Jason Bateman fan and his personality on SmartLess is a lot like some of his movie characters.

Best New Tech Product
Steam Deck
A mobile computer gaming machine that’s better in a lot of ways than the Nintendo Switch. I did an in-depth review on this beast, that you can read over here.

Best Apple Product
Apple Watch Ultra
Apple finally made a watch worthy of my lifestyle. No I don’t rock climb, SCUBA dive, or run marathons, but I am rough on technology. Read my in-depth review on the Apple Watch Ultra over here and let me know what you think!

Let me know your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, or where ever you saw this post!

Last year’s The Best of 2021

Movie Ratings

I like movies and I’m a collector, so I love seeing how many movies I can mark off my to-watch list. I recently started rating every movie I’ve even seen and that process taught me about a lot of great (or critically acclaimed) movies that I have never seen.

I use the movie rating site Letterboxd and as of posting this, I’ve rated over 1,200 films.

View my ratings on Letterboxd

This wouldn’t be a Beard Blog post without a Top 10 list so based on my ratings found on Letterboxd, here are my top 10 movies of all time:

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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.

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