Apple Watch Series 6 Review: Time Matured

Another year, another Apple Watch. Even amid the craziness of 2020 Apple found time to release an update to one of their still emerging products. I’ve been a fan of the Apple Watch since day one and it keeps getting better and better with each revision. I purchased the Apple Watch Series 6 on launch day making this my fifth watch since the original in 2015.

Just like last year, there aren’t a lot of major changes, especially when views as a year over year change. The Series 6 still looks the same and comes in the same sizes as the Series 4 and 5. The biggest three changes this year are the addition of the blood oxygen sensor, new case colors, and better always-on display.

The Series 5 finally gave me a feature that I’ve been longing for ever since the first Apple Watch, the always-on display. This allows you to view information on your watch without having to raise or flip your wrist. The Series 6 expands on that with a brighter display that allows you to see it better in sunlight (in always-on mode).

Something that is pretty relevant right now with COVID-19 being a respiratory disease, is the ability to measure your blood oxygen level. You may have seen this in your doctor’s office when they put a sensor on your finger to get your pulse and a percentage usually in the high 90s. Apple warns that this is not a health device so it should only be viewed as informational. I suspect this is just a liability protection until they can get FDA clearance like the ECG.

Apple Watch rear sensors

I used the Apple Watch blood oxygen reading and a traditional sensor and they both resulted in 99%. To me, this justifies the level of accuracy I would expect out of this device. Just like the ECG in the Series 5 (which is still present and the same in Series 6) I’ll probably only use this occasionally when I remember it exists. The watch will also take background measurements when you are idle, which could be interesting to track.

For the first time ever, we finally have actual colors in the Apple Watch. Instead of the usual silver, space gray, and gold finishes, we get an anodized blue and red finish for the Series 6. These look great in person with and have a similar matte finish as the iPhone 11. The stainless model also got a refined finish changing the black to graphite.

The model I went with is the Apple Watch Series 6 44mm Graphite Stainless Steel. Usually I opt for the Aluminum “Sport” versions, but after a few years of my watch face getting severely scratched I find the stainless model (which features a sapphire crystal lens) to be better against scratches.

In addition to a new Apple Watch Series 6, Apple introduced a lower-priced SE version. This is the same as the Series 6, but without the blood oxygen sensor, ECG, and always-on display. This creates a good, better, best structure to the Apple Watch tiers allowing a wider variety of buyers.

New watches usually come with new bands and this time around Apple debuted a new style called the Solo Loop. Similar to the original Sport Bands, this is a single piece of silicone that you can stretch around your hand to attach to your wrist. These bands come in 12 different sizes (1 – 12) to fit a wide variety of wrists. Downside to this is it’s not like shoes where most people know their size. You have to measure your wrist and hope it’s correct. Apple provides a printable measuring tool to measure your wrist. The tool told me I was a size 12, but I concluded a 11 would be a better fit. After getting the band, I could have gone down to a 10, but that might be too tight. If you but a Solo Loop band with an Apple Watch, and it doesn’t fit, you have to return the entire watch and band to get another one. This is a difficult online-only purchase as in-store try ons would be great for this item.

Update: I have since reached out to Apple about their Solo Loop sizing debacle. They have revised their return policy to allow returning of the band purchased with the watch. Apple also update their sizing guide to make it more clear that it needs to be a tight measurement. They are sending me a size 10 and a box to send them the too large size 11 back. To make things right, they’re also gifting me a Sport Band for my troubles.

Apple Watch on wrist
Apple Watch Series 6 44mm Graphite Stainless Steel
Wrapped in Longvadon Caiman Band

Of course you don’t have to use a watch band made by Apple. One of my favorite bands are made by the good folks over at Longvadon. They make luxury watch bands that pair great with an Apple Watch. Made to look like they came right off a high-end luxury traditional watch. The cost of these bands slots nicely between the cheap knockoffs and the really expensive Apple bands. My favorite thing about these Longvadon bands is they combine the traditional metal clasp with a buckle fastener, meaning you can just unclasp the watch and slide it off your hand instead of fiddling with the buckle. Pictured above is the ‘Men’s Whiskey Brown w/ Silver Details’ from their Caiman Series. It has a beautiful embossed crocodile pattern on top of high quality top grain bovine leather. The inside of the strap is very comfortable and soft. Shortly after I got my Apple Watch Series 6 I had a wedding to attend and the Longvadon watch band was the perfect way to class up my watch for the formal occasion. You can get your own Longvadon watch band on their website use my exclusive code ‘BEN20’ to save 20% off all products in their store!

There’s always a great reason to get a new Apple Watch, and this year’s lineup is no exception. With all the fitness and health benefits of an Apple Watch I recommend any iPhone user (and now their kids) look into being an Apple Watch wearer.

Like the watch faces you see here? Download those and more on my Apple Watch face page.

Read more about my thoughts on the Apple Watch

Introducing: Double B Garage

Double B Garage Logo

For some time now I’ve wanted to get into video content that can help people with the same interests as me.

I’ve created the YouTube channel Double B Garage to share some of my experiences with vehicles. Wether it be repair, mods, or reviews, I feel my content will be valuable to someone.

So far I’ve published two videos, with more to come. Check them out below:

YETI cooler storage in Jeep Wrangler
Wireless CarPlay in Jeep Wrangler

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.

Oscar Nominations 2020

The 92nd annual Academy Awards (Oscars) air Sunday February 9, 2020 on ABC

Back again for 2020 are the Beard Blog Oscars picks.

I made a determined effort to see as many nominated films this year before the awards.

Overall I feel like this year was a hell of lot better than last year. Some big names really showed out this year and put forth a plethora of legendary performances. This is a very difficult year to not only predict but also decide on which film / whom I thought was the best.

Overall, Once upon a Time…in Hollywood was my favorite movie but I’ll admit I’m partial to both QT2 and LDC3 and I think they put together a great movie. Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie also had great parts in OUATIH.1

Scarlett Johansson had a great year with an amazing performance in Marriage Story and an interesting portrayal in Jojo Rabbit.

Parasite seemed to come out of nowhere and while I wasn’t excited about reading subtitles throughout an entire movie, they disappear into the great story behind them. This is also the 12th time a foreign language film was nominated for Best Picture. And also for the second year in a row after last year’s nomination for Roma.

1917 was a great war epic that was uniquely shot and looks fantastic. This will probably win a lot of awards thanks to the director/writer’s personal ties to the film.

I felt like Joker was a bit overrated, but I can see why people hold it highly just based on the performance by Joaquin Phoenix. This is considered to be another comic book movie, but if you’ve seen Joker, you’ll realize it was just set in the world of Gotham City.

One of the longest movies ever nominated (Gone With the Wind holds the record) The Irishman. This seems like the final chapter in a long career of great films between Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, and Joe Pesci. If you can get through the over three and a half hours this clocks in at, you’ll be delighted by how the story wraps up.

Knives Out was a great take on murder mysteries that also seemed to come out of nowhere. A great cast and superb writing could make this a sleeper this year.

I felt Ford v. Ferrari was a great bio film but may leave some audiences out if they don’t appreciate motorsports and/or the history of cars.

Jojo Rabbit is a weird look at WWII Germany. I found it entertaining and witty, but not Best Picture worthy.

The nominees are below, in bold is who I think should win, and in italics are what I think the academy will give the Oscars to.

  • Best Picture
    • Ford v Ferrari
    • The Irishman
    • Jojo Rabbit
    • Joker
    • Little Women
    • Marriage Story
    • 1917
    • Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
    • Parasite
  • Actor in a Leading Role
    • Antonia Banderas – Pain and Glory
    • Leonardo DiCaprio – OUATIH1
    • Adam Driver – Marriage Story
    • Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
    • Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes
  • Actress in a Leading Role
    • Cynthia Erivo – Harriet
    • Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
    • Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
    • Charlize Theron – Bombshell
    • Renee Zellweger – Judy
  • Actor in a Supporting Role
    • Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
    • Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes
    • Al Pacino – The Irishman
    • Joe Pesci – The Irishman
    • Brad Pitt – OUATIH1
  • Actress in a Supporting Role
    • Kathy Bates – Richard Jewell
    • Laura Dern – Marriage Story
    • Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
    • Florence Pugh – Little Women
    • Margot Robbie – Bombshell
  • Directing
    • Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
    • Todd Phillips – Joker
    • Sam Mendes – 1917
    • OUATIH1 – Quentin Tarantino
    • Bong Joon Ho – Parasite
  • Writing (Adapted)
    • Steven Zaillian – The Irishman
    • Taika Waititi – Jojo Rabbit
    • Todd Phillips – Joker
    • Greta Gerwig – Little Women
    • Anything McCarten – The Two Popes
  • Writing (Original)
    • Rian Johnson – Knives Out
    • Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
    • Sam Mendes – 1917
    • Quentin Tarantino – OUATIH1
    • Bong Joon Ho – Parasite

Disclosure – Movies on this list I have not yet seen at time of publishing:

  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • Harriet
  • Little Women
  • Pain and Glory
  • Richard Jewell
  • The Two Popes

Check out my Oscars predictions from last year!


1 Once upon a Time…in Hollywood
2 Quentin Tarantino
3 Leonardo DiCaprio

About Last Saturday Night…

This past Saturday night my wife and I went out with some friends for a low key evening in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The night started off just like any other Saturday but where it went was something out of a movie, like The Hangover. I’m writing about this to share the story but also for my personal memory as the further we get from the night, the less I will remember. Also, because I did not get permission from anyone, I will be changing all the names as to not identify people.

My friend Heather and I were texting back and forth about hanging out on Saturday and never really decided on anything. After her husband Chris got home from work she mentioned about having a herf at a local cigar lounge. Most of them in the area, including a new local spot nearby, close in the early evening. Heather recommended a fancy spot in the Strip District called Cioppino which is a restaurant with a Gatsby-style cigar lounge in the back. We decided on a time and had to change because this place has an unspoken business casual dress code. I packed up my own cigars and accessories before we left, I brought two different sticks because I wasn’t sure what I would be in the mood for later that evening. We left the house around 8:00pm, said goodbye to the dogs, and expected to be back within a couple hours.

When my wife and I arrived in the Strip District we were expecting to have to valet the car, but to our surprise there was a parking garage directly above the restaurant. We found a spot on the second floor right near the stairs we needed to descend to get to Cioppino. It was a warmer night than a usual late January evening so I decided to leave my coat in the car which would save it from cigar stench. At the bottom of the stairs we had to brave the cold wind for a moment to walk around to the entrance of the restaurant. When we walked inside we were immediately hit with the smell of fresh seafood and I remember thinking, “There’s a cigar lounge in here?”. I quickly greeted the host mentioning we were meeting friends but we weren’t sure where the cigar bar was. He replied eagerly, “Let me show you since most people get lost on the way, follow me”. We literally walked around the corner and straight through a door labeled “No smoking beyond this point”. I wasn’t sure how anyone would get lost on that treacherous journey. Walking in we were hit with the unmistakable aroma of cigars burning, but pleasantly surprised at how nice and welcoming the lounge was. After finding a table for four we sat down and ordered two diet Cuba Libre drinks and waited for our friends.

Heather and Chris arrived a few moments later and we start to enjoy our chosen stogies for the night. I went with a “M by Macanudo” which is a Columbian coffee infused cigar with an Indonesian Bezuki wrapper. This was very smooth and enjoyable. As I sipped my drink and smoked my cigar we all traded pleasantries and discussed how our respective jobs were going. Directly behind us was a couple who were obvious cigar newbies. They ordered two expensive large cigars and I thought to myself “Good, I’m glad they’re jumping right into it”. Later on, Chris told me to carefully look behind me and check out that same couple. As I glanced over my shoulder I immediately noticed the problem. Sometimes cigar manufacturers include a thin wrapper around the outer leaf made out of cedar. This is intended to protect the outer leaf as well as maintain the bouquet of tobacco aromas. Normally, you use this cedar wrapper to light your cigar or remove and discard. The couple behind us smoked their entire cigar with the cedar wrapper attached. That had to have been a bad experience. The cedar taste must not have deterred them because after they finished those they went back for two more.

About an hour and a half passed and I decided I was going to smoke my other cigar before the lounge closed up shop. At the table adjacent to us were two men having a good time but were clearly from out of town. One of the guys saw Chris’ travel humidor and began to engage him in cigar talk. They shared what they had with them and opted to trade each other cigars. Both Chris and this stranger are very outgoing and introduced everyone to each other. We all began talking about work, travel, and cigars. The two guys, Shawn and Brad, were naming all the places they’ve been and where to get the best cigars. Curious, my wife asked Shawn what they did for a living since they got to travel for work so often. Shawn responded, “well… you guys don’t seem like terrorists so we can tell you, we’re Federal Air Marshals”. We all gasped in shock because we weren’t expecting that as an answer. I’m not normally one to engage in meaningless conversations with strangers, but I remember thinking “Ok, these guys are actually interesting”.

The six of us probably chatted for an hour about cigars, whiskey, and air travel. Stephanie was in a daring mood so she was trying a new flavor of Jameson Irish Whiskey she hadn’t tried before. After that, Shawn ordered her a glass of some fancier, more expensive, Jameson for her to try. While it was nice of him, I felt like he may have been trying to hit on her. Shawn and Brad were wondering where they should go next since the night was still young. Chris half-jokingly said they should go to a gentleman’s club right up street. Shawn seemed all for it, but since it was late the four of us were going to turn in for the evening.

After more conversation and planning Chris offered to drive our two new friends to the gentleman’s club since they didn’t have a car. Chris also happened to know someone who worked in the club that would allow us to get in for free instead of paying the steep cover charge. Feeling a bit adventurous we all agreed to go along and see where this would end up. Personally, I love to say “yes” to things as much as possible, within reason, and that’s how situations like these arise. We quickly paid the bill, paid for parking, and exited the garage to head down the street. Upon arriving at Cheerleaders gentleman’s club they had mandatory valet parking for $8.00. Because I had no cash, I had to get my wife to pay for it and she brought me cash and we headed inside. We proceeded through the metal detectors and past the cashier, thanks to Chris’ friend, into the club. I went to get some change for the large bills of cash we had and by the time I turned around, Chris was sitting in a very large VIP area. I walked over and said, “is this for us?” He replied, “Hell yeah this is for us!”

This is when the night quickly escalated. Three of us ordered more diet Cuba Libre drinks and I headed to the restroom. Upon my return, instead of a glass of Captain Morgan and Diet Coke on the table I found an entire bottle of Captain Morgan. Shawn had purchased this bottle service for us. We were astonished and extremely grateful. Shawn and Brad continued to drinks glasses of Jameson whiskey, piggybacking on the ones they had at the cigar lounge. A nice middle-aged women came to our VIP area and offered neck massages for about $20. Earlier that morning I attended a yoga class so my shoulders were quite sore. Chris went first and gave his recommendation on the massage so I signed up to be next. It was a pretty good neck massage but it kind of creeped me out being massaged in a gentleman’s club VIP booth. After the massage we toasted to meeting new friends and continued to work on that bottle of Captain Morgan. If you have ever been around people that are drinking, it seems all they want to do is have you drink more with them. As the designated driver for my wife and I, I was making sure I wasn’t drinking too much. To not be a party pooper, I would drip a few drops of rum into my glass and fill it the rest of the way up with Coke. This worked most of the time until one of the drunken guys would make a drink for me. I must have had seven or eight glasses of Diet Coke that night.

If you ever been to a gentleman’s club or a strip club you may have experienced the sales tactics of the women who work the floor. They will continually come up to you and ask for drinks, dances, or whatever, just to make some money. I appreciate their hustle, but I will not be fooled into spending money on them. One young girl stopped by our area and started giving Brad the sales pitches. He wasn’t drunk enough to fall for it and she quickly left. Chris and I were the only sober ones in our six person crew so we commented about how crazy it was that we ended up here. Shawn would periodically make his way around the club checking out the girls, giving tips, and buying drinks. Meanwhile the four of us pretty much stayed in our VIP area, standing around drinking except for the several trips to the restrooms. Later the same girl who was working on Brad came back and must have sweet talked him just enough for him to agree to go in the back with her. Now I’ve been to a few bachelor parties and know what goes on back there (nothing illegal), how much it costs, and how long it takes. Brad quickly came back within two or three minutes. I knew something was wrong when I saw him walking back and then I saw his face. He couldn’t really speak clearly, whether he was in shock or just intoxicated, but all I really got out of him when I asked what happened was, “I felt bad for her, she’s so young, I don’t know, I just felt bad for her”. At this point I urged everyone to cut him off from drinking but this fell on deaf ears of his travel companion. The Jameson shots kept coming out in succession.

In the booth next to ours was a large group of young ladies, I’d say about 15 of them piled into a small sitting area. We immediately thought bachelorette party, but as the night went on, they didn’t exude that vibe. Finally, Chris asked one of the ladies what they were celebrating and how we immediately thought it was a bachelorette party. She scoffed at this notion and proceeded to explain how she used to work here and was working somewhere else, but is leaving that job, so they were all out celebrating her last day. Brad became completely interested in this girl and began talking to her and flirting. At one point Shawn, Brad, and the neighbor girl (I never caught her name) were playing a game where they bet shots on guessing age and ethnicity. She lost and had to take two shots, but I could tell she was nervous about taking drinks from these guys. I didn’t have any reason to suspect foul play so I didn’t interfere. At this point I lost track of how many Jameson shots these two guys had. Shawn was still functioning, but Brad could barely stand.

Shawn and I had some great conversations about being a Federal Air Marshal and how that impacts his home life. Without giving away too much personal information, Shawn is a second generation Air Marshal who has been serving for over 15 years.

Brad was still over talking to our neighbor who didn’t want to leave her party, but was interested in ours. At one point I saw him climbing over the wall between our areas, knocking over some glasses, and falling into the booth. Some of us thought, “He’s going to get us kicked out of here”. Our bottle of rum was about 1/4 full and we were ready to hit the road, it was 2:00am at this point. Shawn convinced us to stay and finish the bottle while he ordered up some more shots. I was standing by the railing, which separated our VIP area from the main bar area, holding my drink when two girls approached me. They reached out to shake my hand so I switched my drink to my left hand, wiped off any condensation on my jeans and shook their hand. They noted how cold my hand was and I explained it was because I was holding my drink there. They then started to comment on how big my hands where and made insinuating facial expressions. I know this as one their sales tactics, so I played along. One of the girls said to me, “you have really big hands, that must mean…” and she reached for my crotch and said “do you mind?” I said no, but motioned behind me and said “You’ll have to ask my wife.” They immediately said “oh no!” While quickly turning and walking away. I laughed and walked behind me and told the story to Stephanie and Heather. Those two were pretty intoxicated at this point so they laughed along.

Another nice young girl approached Brad, who at this point was swaying while standing up and had a glossed over look on this face, with the usual sales pitch. Shawn saw this and immediately came over, handed the girl $200 to buy him a few dances. As they walked away Shawn yelled “Happy Birthday Brad!” And we all joined in knowing it was definitely not his birthday. The girl escorting Brad away replied “Oh, that’s why you guys are out celebrating, happy birthday!”

We were wrapping things up and polishing off our drinks when we noticed Brad had been gone a lot longer than his previous trips to the champagne room. Shawn mentioned about them getting back to their hotel near the airport as they were flying out tomorrow. An Uber ride from the Strip District to the airport was going to cost over $80, so Chris offered to give them a ride much to Heather’s chagrin. Shawn then disappeared and the four of us collected our thoughts on how crazy it was that we were there and how all these drinks have been free. At one point, we were concerned that we have been scammed and could be stuck with the bar bill. All of a sudden we see Shawn talking to a police officer near the entrance. He waved us over in a way that suggested it was time to go. When we arrived at the entrance area, which also happened to be where the entrance to the champagne room was, Shawn was having a friendly chat with the police officer and Brad was standing there expressionless.

We walked out of the club, said our goodbyes, and thanked our new friends for the great night. They got in the car with Chris and Heather and headed towards the airport and Stephanie and I got our car and drove home.

Sometime later Heather sent me a few messages about what happened before we left. As of writing this I’m still not sure what happened exactly. Allegedly during one of Brad’s final interactions with the dancer, he removed his penis from his pants to insinuate an illegal act. This is a huge no-no for places like this, and most public places to be honest. Luckily he was not forcibly removed from the club or arrested. There could be more to that story, but it sounds pretty believable to me.

All in all it was a great night with old friends and new friends. No one got hurt (or arrested), everyone got home safely, and lived to tell the story. You’re probably reading this thinking “that really wasn’t that bad or hard to believe” but to us it was. Normally we have quiet adult evenings with our dogs, this took us out of our comfort zones and we had a good time. Hopefully we run into Shawn and Brad in the future, but if not I wish them the best luck!

The Best Songs of the Decade

2010 – 2019

Another decade is in the books and like the previous two it’s been a great 10 years of music.

As a music lover I decided to pick my best songs of the past decade. I had to constrict myself to certain rules in order to pick the “best”.

The rules are as follows:

The song had to be released as a single after December 31, 2009 and before then end of 2019.

An artist can only appear on the list once.

The selected song must have had a significant impact on popular culture.

Finally, the pick was a song that I enjoyed and listened to frequently over the past decade.

Let’s get into the list. The songs are not in order of best to worst, but in order of release date starting with the oldest.

  • Eminem – Love the Way You Lie (feat. Rihanna) – 2010
    • Eminem’s sort of comeback started off with this classic song featuring the already hot Rihanna. This would later lead to another successful decade for Eminem.
  • Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud – 2014
    • Considered to be Ed’s greatest song so far, Thinking Out Loud shot him into super stardom after the release of his album X. One of the few ballads we saw during this decade.
  • Mark Ronson – Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars) – 2014
    • Uptown Funk was so different and so good it started a new wave of 90s-style music that we saw even more of on Bruno Mars’ next album, 24K Magic.
  • Sam Hunt – Leave the Night On – 2014
    • Leave the Night On started the pop-country trend which opened people’s eyes to great singers like Sam Hunt.
  • Taylor Swift – Shake It Off – 2014
    • Widely regarded as the artist of the decade Taylor had a ton of hit songs during the past 10 years, but nothing impacted us more than Shake It Off.
  • Drake – Hotline Bling – 2015
    • Everyone remembers the dancing in the video, but Drake’s Hotline Bling was another pivotal song to defining the “twenty-teens” musical sound.
  • Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee – Despacito – 2017
    • I’ll never forget Despacito as being the resurgence of latino music in pop culture. This was a good song getting traction, then Justin Bieber hopped on a remix and it blasted it to the top of the charts.
  • P!nk – Beautiful Trauma – 2017
    • P!nk didn’t have a good start to this decade after having a great run the previous years. Beautiful Trauma signaled a comeback for the very talented singer and I picked this because it’s my favorite P!nk song to date.
  • Post Malone – rockstar (feat. 21 Savage) – 2017
    • Post Malone is a prodigy who keeps churning out hit songs one after another. Hopefully that doesn’t stop when this decade comes to a close. The song rockstar put Post in the spotlight and he has stayed there since.
  • Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey – The Middle – 2018
    • I still think this is an underrated song, even after all it’s success. Maren has established herself as not just a country-girl singer, but a crossover artist who has actual talent. It took a long time for Zedd to find a vocalist for this song, but when they heard Maren’s demo, they knew it had to be her.

Honorable Mention:

  • Nelly – Just a Dream – 2010
    • I chose Nelly’s Just a Dream not because it’s a personal favorite of mine, but because it came out towards the end of his successful run in the 2000s. Since Just a Dream we’ve seen many artists come on to the scene with very similar styles like Post Malone, Ty Dollar $ign, and Lil Nas X

I’m really looking forward to see what the “20s” brings us in the form of a musical sound. When we look back at previous decades, the “sound” from that decade can be easily heard. This decade may be one of the hardest to classify, but we’ll see if that get’s easier as we move forward in time.

See you in the 20s!

Side note – here are some artists I think will be on this list for the next decade:

Halsey, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Justin Bieber, Post Malone, and Shawn Mendes.

Beard Blog’s five best albums of 2019

My picks for the best 5 albums of 2019, ranked not by best to worst, but by release date. These albums were selected for their overall enjoyability. It is becoming more rare that albums are enjoyable from beginning to end.

Heard It In A Past Life by Maggie Rogers (1/18/19)

I fell in love with the album as soon as I heard. I’ve been enjoying listening to this all year and it will be in heavy rotation going forward.

Cuz I Love You by Lizzo (4/19/19)

Lizzo blasted onto the scene this year with some great songs. Glad to see someone shake it up a little.

No. 6 Collaborations Project by Ed Sheeran (7/12/19

An unexpected collaboration album from Ed where every song sounds different. This is starting to become one of my favorite albums of all time.

Supermoon by Dirty Heads (8/9/19)

If you haven’t yet heard of Dirty Heads, they are hard to describe what genre they fall into. Reggae rock with some hip hop is the best way to describe it. This album is a great taste of the talent and diversity they bring to music.

Hollywood’s Bleeding by Post Malone (9/6/19)

Another year another classic album from Post Malone. This guy keeps cranking out good music. I’m hoping he keeps this up.

Honorable Mention:

When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? By Billie Eilish (3/29/19)

This album has received a lot of critical acclaim. I do enjoy some of the songs from this album, but I feel it can’t stand up to the other five on this list. The albums I listed above are enjoyable from beginning to end where there are some spots on Billie’s album start to drift me into boredom.

Take time, before we get too deep into 2020 to take a listen to these albums if you haven’t.

Italian Vacation Diary: Chapter 3 – The Gondolorian

Waking up in Venice was a treat, in more ways than one. The weather was nice, so we slept with the windows ajar. Being that there were no screens on the windows, I was awoken by some flying insects that morning. The damp musty smell of the waterways next began filling my nostrils. I recall thinking “where am I and why am I being tortured like this?”. My dismay quickly turned to delight when I looked at the window and saw the astounding buildings and unique landscape Venice offers.
Once we all gathered ourselves we set out to explore Venice for the day. We stopped at a small café where I had an ‘American’ breakfast which consisted of a ham and cheese omelette which I enhanced with a croissant and a Coke Zero. At the café we spoke with a local named Andrea who gave us great advice on visiting the Tuscany region later on our trip. Andrea and Paul talked for a while back and forth in Italian and Andrea complemented him on his language skills.

Before our trip I had studied up on Italian so I could pick up some of the words being said. At one point, Andrea, Paul and myself started laughing which confused the rest of the group. Andrea had asked Paul if we were his kids, which Paul replied blushingly with, “No, no, no”.

By the evening we had hit all the major touristy spots in Venice. We got around by using the water bus which normally costs €7.50 per person per trip, but because we’re dumb Americans we rode for free, illegally. Navigating the tight “streets” of Venice is very difficult because of all the dead ends and bad GPS signal. Several times we headed out one way only to turn around and go back the same way because it was either a dead end or the entirely wrong direction. As the reluctant navigator I took a lot of harassment from the group for these antics. We learned words like sinistra (left) and destra (right) which didn’t help us navigate any better, but were fun to say.
Later we had dinner, I had gnocchi again, and this is where Mike became attached to the word limoncello which he said with a very humorous Italian accent.

After dinner as close to sunset as possible the six of us sought to find a gondola ride. Since this is a busy time of day for the gondoliers we had to wait for one to come available. I started dancing around like I had to pee and saw a public toilet sign not far from the gondola station. I quickly walked to the W.C. and was surprised to find that it would cost me €1.50 to use. I only had 10 Euros on me at the time so I turned around and sauntered back to the group. I found Mike and he lent me a one Euro coin to accompany the 50 cents I had in my pocket. Next I turn around and run back up the hill to where the public restroom was, and by this time I was almost ready to go in my pants. On my trip to find Mike and get some coin, the bathroom closed before I came back. I had no choice but to hold it for the entire 30 plus minutes of the gondola ride.

We all piled in the gondola in random order leaving me to sit in the front facing away from everyone. The ride was delightful and the gondolier was very unrevealed. We quickly noticed we weren’t going on the main waterways and found ourselves traveling down what we would call the ‘back roads’. I looked back a couple times at our driver who did nothing more than steer the boat, poorly, and duck under bridges as we approached them. After a while Mike and I started to smell a distinct yet familiar scent in the air. Each time it wafted by, we would look at each other and chortle. The gondolier’s phone rang and of course he answered it, but this led me to turn around again and glance his way. It was then we all noticed at the same time he was smoking a joint of cannabis. Mike and I laughed and abruptly my urinary pains came back. As we maneuvered through tight waterways, bumping into boats, our high-as-a-kite gondolier seem to have everything under control. All of a sudden we heard a loud thud and a splash. The boat rocked and we felt like we might go overboard. Looking back at our captain we see him half hanging off the boat, on his back, trying to keep ahold of his oar. Shortly after he regained his stability, apologizing, and saying that he is fine, we learned that he had failed to duck low enough to clear a bridge. The concrete bridge clipped his back on our way under and sent him straight to the deck. I think we were all laughing so much it was hard to breathe. I’m pretty sure, though I’ll never admit it in person, I urinated in my trousers a bit when our gondolier went crashing down.
Every bridge thereafter most of us shouted at our driver “Attenzione!” Which is a word we learned earlier when local delivery drivers would want us to get out of their way.
This was another thrilling end to another night of a long trip ahead.

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Italian Vacation Diary: Chapter 2 – Venice

After we disembarked the plane, it was time to enter Italy through customs. We waited in a very long line with a lot of smelly sweaty people. When it came time for our turn with the customs officer, he either didn’t speak English or didn’t feel like talking because he said nothing. After a mumble, grunt, and a stamp, we were cleared to enter the country. Next we headed for the water bus and taxi area. The signs were both in English and Italian, but they still proved difficult to follow. We found a water bus to take us to the main island, bought tickets and 27 Euros later, we got in line. I’m not sure how many people the boat we were on was legally allowed to carry, but I feel like the passengers, crew, and luggage would have been over the weight limit. I was one of the last people aboard because I’m polite and let everyone go in front of me. They told me to sit on some wooden area that was clearly not a seat while everyone else got a padded area. I thought that it wouldn’t be that bad since it’s a short boat ride. I was wrong about that. Between not being able to see much and my lack of seat, the boat trip seemed to take hours. In actuality it was about 30 to 45 minutes.

We arrived near the Rialto Bridge bus station and started to drag our luggage through the small streets and over the hundreds of bridges. The first place we saw we stopped at to have a drink and some food. We had cappuccino and pizza at Gran Caffe aila citti di Torino. This was my first taste of Italian espresso and I was pleasantly surprised how good it was for not being a coffee drinker. Next we began searching for our airBnB which we had trouble getting to because of a lack of navigation or phone usage. Along the way we stopped at a TIM store to get local SIM cards for our phones. Because I’m addicted to the internet I decided that I should buy a one month data plan from a local provider. This turned out to be a great decision as I used over 25GB of data in two weeks and it only cost me 35 Euros. This is where we first got to experience Paul’s understanding of the Italian language. He translated what we wanted to the TIM clerk and we didn’t have any problems. The only downside was our phones weren’t active for another 30 minutes so we still could not use them to get around the city.

Eventually we found the area we were supposed to meet the host for the place we were staying. They were a really nice married couple who spoke pretty good English. They led us through the winding streets back some hidden alleys and we popped out at the place. It was a nice three bedroom second floor apartment with great views of the waterways. We all claimed our bedrooms and started to unpack. Later we headed out on the town to get dinner. We ended up at Dolfini restaurant which was basically empty. Being traveling Americans we had not yet adjusted our eating schedule so we were the restaurant’s first customers for dinner that day. I again payed close attention to Paul’s conversation with the wait staff as I was putting my Italian lessons of the past few months to work. We started with bread and some wine. I ordered gnocchi which has always been one of my favorite Italian dishes. It was dressed in a white alfredo-sque sauce. I ate it all very quickly and remember how delicious it was and how much better it tasted than any previous gnocchi I’ve had. Mike decided to be adventurous and order squid ink pasta. Basically pasta with black sauce all over it. By the end of the meal it had looked like he ate a couple bricks of charcoal; he had black teeth and tongue for a few hours after that. On the way back to our place we stopped at had some gelato, which became a staple for us on our trip. I opted for strawberry and cream flavor that was so buttery and flavorful I can still taste it.

1st Italian Cappuccino

Picture 1 of 4

By this point most of us were tired, but I was determined to stay up to a normal bed time. I found a nice loveseat that I could lay on with my feet dangling off the end and started to browse social media on my phone. The next thing I know I hear a loud bell ringing noise. Not the sound of a phone ringing or church bells, this was clearly a doorbell. I sprung up off the couch, now noticing it was darker than when I last remembered, ran to the door and tried to determine if anyone was there. I eventually unlocked and opened the door to find nothing there. I then heard the ringing bell again and it was definitely intended to be a doorbell. I was still confused on what day is was and what happened, but clearly I fell asleep for some time. Shortly thereafter Stephanie emerged from the bathroom after a fresh shower. It seemed she was trying to find a light and she pulled a string that triggered the doorbell. This was meant as an emergency alert system if you fell or needed help in the bath tub. Lesson learned and mystery solved. After that excitement we went to bed shortly have the sun had set.

 

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Italian Vacation Diary: Chapter 1 – Travel Day

Our first flight wasn’t until the afternoon so we had some time to sleep in and gather last minute items the morning of our trip. A two-week (15 days) vacation is a great idea, if you know how to pack for it. I may have overestimated how many different items of clothes I would need during the trip. Stephanie and I each had a carryon bag plus a backpack to bring on the plane. Additionally, we each had a larger bag to check. This much luggage for two people was not easy to move nor fit in many vehicles. We decided that for a 15 day stay we would get a ride to the airport from our home using Lyft rather than park a vehicle at the airport. To be sure we would get a ride and arrive on time, we requested a ride earlier than we needed to. In order to accommodate our excessive luggage we had to request what is called a ‘Lyft XL’. This is a driver with a larger vehicle such as a large SUV or minivan. Normally, this is for when you have up to six passengers, but in our case four of our passengers were bags of clothes. We were unable to find a Lyft XL in our area, so we had to go with Uber.

We arrived at the airport in sufficient amount of time, unloaded all of our baggage, both emotional and physical, and entered the airport. Some years ago I applied for the TSA Pre-check program which allows you to use the special security line which is usually shorter and less disruptive. Stephanie also got to go through the TSA Pre-check line because we booked our tickets together so we were both through security in less than five minutes. We walked quickly to our gate having shedded two of our bags at the airline desk. Upon turning the corner to the D section of the gates, we saw four smiling faces. Those faces of course were Paul, Natalie, Mike, and Alaina. They were all just as excited as us to get to our destination even though we had a long flight ahead of us.

We all decided that we better get some food before our first flight and we proceeded to the airport eatery. I believe between the six of us, we went to three different restaurants which is one of the benefits of airport and mall eateries; something for everyone. While we were eating Natalie saw someone she knew eating behind us. I usually refer to Natalie as “the mayor” because it seems like no matter where we go, she knows someone. This particular person turned out to be Reb Beach most famously of the band Whitesnake. He seemed nice but also in a hurry to leave, and so were we!

It’s now time to board the plane so Stephanie and I took our seats near the middle of the cabin. Back when we booked our flights I had the great idea that one of us would take the aisle and the other the window seat. With any luck we would have the middle seat empty for us to stretch out into. All of our luck must have been used up on a safe flight because a man sat down right between us. Normally I don’t mind sitting next to a stranger when that person is respectful of my personal space and doesn’t talk to me. The guy who sat between us, let’s call him Brian, took a phone call immediately after sitting down. Because I’m a nosey person I listened to his end of the phone call. In my opinion it sounded like he got good news from a medical test or health outlook. After thanking the person on the other end of the phone countlessly, he hung up, threw his hands up into the air and screamed “Whooooo!”. After a couple more “whooos” and fist pumps he stopped. I thought to myself, “Good for this guy, but I’m glad he’s done celebrating”. As other passengers were still finding their seats Brian decided to explain why we has so happy despite no one asking him for such information. Brian had received a phone call that he had been accepted into “his doctorate program”. Now I don’t know his history or even entirely what was involved in this but I don’t think this news deserved the amount of public display as Brian thwarted. I understand how exciting and proud someone can be when they achieve an education milestone but dude, you just got accepted. In my mind he just got approved for a huge loan in exchange for a future piece of paper. 

We both shared several “WTFs”, eyeballs, and giggles over our past two hours with Brian.

As our plane taxied out to the runway Brian turned his attention toward Stephanie and began to compliment her and ask her questions that made me think he was hitting on her. I know Stephanie is very polite and will never stop this guy or tell him that we’re together so I decided to let it play out. A few times things got weird with him touching her, but it wasn’t in a creepy way, more of friendly interactions. As we were taking off Brian gripped his armrests and put his head back like he had never been on an airplane before. I could see his hands turning white from how hard he was gripping the seat. I kept reminding myself of how I should have never willingly kept an empty seat between us.

Shortly after we were up in the air, Brian fell asleep and I had about an hour of peace on our short flight to Atlanta. Most of the time I listened to music as I was saving all my real entertainment for the long flight. As we descended into Atlanta Brian awoke from his somber where he seemingly forgot everything he talked about before falling asleep. Part of his short-term memory returned as he became instantly reinvigorated by his doctorate news. He mentioned again how excited he was with more fist pumps and “whooos”. This time he was talking to both of us instead of just Stephanie, but definitely didn’t know we were together. The one thing he did, that I will never forget, is he crossed his arms, put his head down and gave Stephanie and I both playful arm scratches from under his folded arms. He also let out a very weird and excited “Ewwwww!” as he touched us. I froze and didn’t know what to do because I never expected something like that. We landed safely and I rushed off the plane leaving Stephanie and her new boyfriend behind. I even saw Brian get Stephanie’s bag down from the overhead compartment. As I walked away I laughed to myself, “I’m a terrible husband”. They walked off the plane together and Stephanie joined me and I saw Brian walk away in defeat. We both shared several “WTFs”, eyeballs, and giggles over our past two hours with Brian. Now it was time to get ready for our nine hour flight to Venice, Italy.

We boarded the giant 767 plane and got settled in. Stephanie and I opted for the “Delta Comfort+” seating which gave us a little more room and two seats by ourselves. They were a lot less roomier than I imagined. This flight was much less eventful than the shorter flight before it. I tried to sleep and definitely fell asleep a couple times, but never to the point where I felt like I was rested. The person in front of me decided that they were going to recline all the way back like no one should ever do. He was essentially reclined back to in between my legs and I was left starring into the balding top of his head. I attempted to lean my own seat back, but didn’t want to disturb the people behind me like a good human being. They served dinner which was surprisingly good. I had brought a bunch of snacks and drinks but didn’t need any of it as they kept you well fed and well hydrated. Shortly after dinner, they served breakfast which was funny to me because yes we were landing in Italy in the morning, but we just ate dinner a few hours ago. Breakfast was also surprisingly good. We landed in Venice around 9am local time but really it was more like 3am at home. I can’t speak for everyone, but I was very tired.

 

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