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

From Beer to Cheese Sticks: Exploring the Weird and Wonderful World of Collecting

Collections

I am driven by a strong desire to collect various items, including virtual collections. Although no research has been conducted in this field, I would like to share my experiences with this compulsive behavior.

I hesitate to call it “collector’s syndrome” since that term implies a more severe form of hoarding or personal attachment to physical objects. My tendency is to collect items without any clear purpose, accumulating as much as possible.

Symptoms

  • Collect as much as possible of a certain type of item, digital good, or service.
  • Acquire pieces of a collection that I will never actually use.
  • Try to complete a known collection if it exists.
  • Make lists that can show progress or collection completion.

Examples

There are numerous examples, past and present, that can easily define my collection tendency. However, to maintain some privacy and brevity, I will detail only a few.

YETI Coolers products are probably the most expensive compulsion I have. The company releases new limited-edition colors of the same products seasonally, which creates demand. I’m a sucker for this, and when there’s a new color (or even a new product) released, I’m compelled to buy one. I have amassed quite the collection of YETI products, and while some may argue, I do use most of them.

Digital video games are a collection that is easy to get out of hand because there is no physical storage required. When you purchase a digital video game from a platform like Playstation, Xbox, or Steam, the purchase lives in your account, and you don’t necessarily need to download or install the game. In theory, one can buy every video game available and never play or install a single one. Much like YETI products, when a new video game is announced or released, I buy into the hype and yearn for it. I add it to a wishlist to monitor if the price decreases. When a title goes on sale, I usually buy it. To my credit, I rarely pay full price ($70!) for new video games and wait until they receive a deep discount before pulling the trigger. The advent of video game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass and Sony Playstation Plus Extra has eased the spending on individual video games as I now have access to hundreds of games through the subscription. This has shifted some of my collection on this front to wanting to install and play every game that comes to one of these services. This only wastes my time, so I consider it a win.

Movies and music used to be a big problem and time sink for me. Acquiring all the latest movies or albums used to take a lot of my time and money. Collecting DVDs/BDs and CDs really scratched my itch when it came to displaying them alphabetically and being able to see my collection every day. I can remember at least 10 times in my past where I purchased a DVD or Blu-Ray that I never opened or watched. I just wanted to have it in my collection. Streaming services and other digital distribution methods have really disrupted this for me, in a good way. Now, I have extended this collecting to video streaming services where I want to be able to watch anything whenever I want. Month-to-month subscriptions thankfully allow me to do that. I can subscribe to Peacock, watch Parks and Recreation, then cancel when I’m done. They’re hoping I don’t cancel to avoid churn, though. Most people just subscribe and forget, and these companies make money on the gym membership business model.

From Beer to Cheese Sticks

A few other examples of my collecting that involve more organizing than obsessive buying include cigars, beer, and cheese sticks. As a beginner cigar aficionado, I like to log the cigars I have tried and whether or not I enjoyed them. I keep a public list of the cigars I have on hand. Similarly, when I drink beer casually, I log it in a way that allows me to look back at statistics, see if I have tried a beer before, and share it with my friends. The app Untappd is great for this, and to date, I have checked in over 1200 beers! Unfortunately, an app like Untappd does not yet exist to track cheese stick ratings. Yes, you read that right: cheese sticks, such as those filled with mozzarella or provolone cheese. I consider myself not only a beer snob but also a cheese stick snob. So when I go to a new place that has them on the menu, I log them and add them to my public database for other cheese stick lovers to enjoy.

It’s not hoarding when you’re just collecting information. Sometimes, I enjoy making spreadsheets, and finding new data to add to Excel is always an adventure. Maybe someone else out there shares my “problem,” or perhaps not. What do you think?

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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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.

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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.

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iPhone Photography By The Numbers

iPhone photography

As a semi-professional photographer I use multiple tools for my hobby. With an iPhone, I always have a great camera in my pocket. Since 2007 I’ve been taking photos with my iPhone and updating that camera as fast as Apple introduced new features. Because of the ever-changing smartphone camera market I started to track what type of photos I was taking with my primary camera. Now that we have at least four cameras on flagship smartphones I wanted to know even more which lenses I was using and which I didn’t really care for.

I started tracking these numbers in 2018 when I moved from the iPhone X to the iPhone XS. The iPhone XS had a much better camera over the X which was more of an industrial design change than a focus on photography. Each year since, I’ve counted up my photos from the past year and noted which lens was used. Now I can look back and see which phone I took the most photos with and which lens was the most popular that year.

Over the years my overall iPhone camera usage has gone way down since the iPhone X. Not sure why other than the pandemic. The majority of my photos come from the Main/Wide/1x camera but that share has gone down as the cameras have multiplied and offered different perspectives.The first zoom or telephoto lens was added to the iPhone back in 2016 when the iPhone 7 Plus was announced, and since then it’s been a unique addition allowing you to zoom into subjects without digitally cropping.

With the addition of the Ultra-wide camera on the iPhone 11 Pro, a third rear lens was available to split my photography between. It was recently updated to include macro photography on the iPhone 13 Pro, which explains the large bump in share of my photos this past year. In contrast, the lack of progress on the front-facing camera reflects in my reduced use. If you are the type of person that takes a lot of selfies though, that camera will get a lot of work.

Model

Main

Telephoto

Ultra-wide

Front

iPhone X

2702 / 80%

467 / 14%

-

198 / 6%

iPhone XS

2183 / 74%

646 / 22%

-

128 / 4%

iPhone 11 Pro Max

1458 / 64%

369 / 16%

318 / 14%

141 / 6%

iPhone 12 Pro Max

1094 / 67%

218 / 13%

220 / 14%

104 / 6%

iPhone 13 Pro Max

900 / 52%

291 / 17%

444 / 26%

88 / 6%

Totals

8337 / 70%

1991 / 17%

982 / 8%

659 / 5%

Ever year Apple has a story to tell about how the camera is better/different on the new phones. With every upgrade I say I’m going to make a better effort to take more photos but the numbers don’t lie. Over the last 12 months, I only snapped 1,723 photos which was the lowest amount of iPhone photos per year I have record of. To compare, I have saved about 300 photos from my professional camera, Sony a7III, so overall it was a down photos year. I plan to improve on that over the next 12 months.

Check out my iPhone 14 Pro Max review!

Smarter Home 2022: Curtains

Remote controlled curtains have been around for ages but only recently has that same technology been translated into a smart product. Much like blinds and shades, most of us have at least one set of curtains in our house and depending on where they’re located, you may want to automate them. Opening and closing of curtains can have an impact on both the climate and light in your home, but the primary function is to block nosey people from looking into your room.

The first time I learned about smart curtains was from SwitchBot who I believe was one of the first to market with a smart-assistant controlled curtain controller. Originally they were priced too high for what I wanted to spend, and like a bunch of other products, were only geared toward the Alexa/Amazon smart ecosystem. Even still as I write this today they don’t support Apple Home (fka Apple Homekit).

The smart curtain controller is simple. It rides along various types of curtain rods and rails and pushes or pulls your curtains. The drawback is that if you have two sets of curtains on a window, you need two controllers to push/pull each side. This doubles the cost as most controllers are sold in singles. The controller either connects to the track of your rail or rides along the rod like suspended roller coaster. There is also the compatibility of the type of rod or rail you have for your existing curtains. The compatibility varies from manufacturer and most can’t do a telescoping rod as the wheels can’t overcome the height differences.

When Aqara started selling their curtain controllers I was immediately interested. They’re product connected to my already existing Aqara camera hubs and that connected to Apple Home. They were discounted on Amazon during their initial launch so I thought I would give them a try, and if it wasn’t something I wanted or didn’t work right, I could return them. They arrived pretty quickly and while bulky, they were easy to install.

I have a bay window in my living room that lets in a lot of light throughout the first half of the day, but also faces the street I live on. This window has your traditional dual curtain rods with a shear set covered by an opaque set of curtains. Putting four controllers on each set of curtains wasn’t cost effective for this setup so I opted to buy two controllers for each side of the inner-most opaque curtains, while leaving the shears to manual adjustment.

The Aqara controllers work well and have yet to fail in the two months I’ve been using them. One odd thing about the Aqara models are that I needed to group them as one accessory in the Apple Home app to get the two controllers to work together. They’re exposed as left and right modules to Apple Home allowing you to operate them individually, but I have no use case for only opening one side. I have not yet needed to charge the batteries and as of writing this they currently sit at 80% so they should last about a year before needing charged.

Controlling them from the Apple Home app or by using Siri is very easy. Usually I just shout into the air, “Hey Siri, open the curtains” and within a second or two they start moving. I currently only have one automation set on the curtains and that is to close them in the evening. In the Apple Home app I have the automation set to: 15 minutes after sunset, close the curtains. This allows the most amount of light until the sun fades and then closes for privacy. In the winter months I can see having a schedule automation to open the curtains in the morning when heat is less of an issue.

While having smart curtain is great and convenient I don’t think it’s yet cost effective to have it on every set of curtains in your house. It’s nice on one or two, but there may be no need to automate curtains that are rarely changed or within easy reach. The smart curtain controllers are a great example of retrofitting smart objects on existing dumb things to make them better. Having a robot push or pull curtains open is a glimpse into the future of how tiny machines can make everyday items better.

Check out my other Smarter Home posts!

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.

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Dirty Heads – By The Numbers

dirty heads graphic

My favorite band Dirty Heads recently released their eighth studio album which prompted me to update a long-running spreadsheet I’ve maintained. I like spreadsheets, stats, and organization so I paired that with my love of music and starting keeping track of my favorite band’s songs.

A few years back while listening to Dirty Heads’ back catalog I had wondered how often each singer in the band appears on their songs. Enter Microsoft Excel and a few hours of listening. I went through every song they’ve released and collected data based on who/when a singer is heard.

Over the last year, I haven’t really kept up with the spreadsheet and they haven’t released much new music. When the Dirty Heads announced a new album, Midnight Control, I was excited to update my list. The day that the album was released I went through the eight new songs and logged the data. After the updates, I made a graphic that I could share on Reddit and Facebook’s Dirty Heads groups.

I’ll probably continue to maintain this spreadsheet as the Dirty Heads are an independent band without the large following of a band like Maroon 5, so someone needs to do it.

Link to Dirty Heads spreadsheet

More posts about music