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.

 

< Read Chapter 1                                                                                                Read Chapter 3 >

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.

 

< Read the Prologue                                                                                            Read Chapter 2 >

Italian Vacation Diary: Prologue

After a successful Outer Banks trip in 2016, Natalie, Paul, Stephanie and I tossed around the idea of the four of us doing an Italy trip together. The next year both of us couples bought houses and Natalie and Paul were unable to attend the follow up OBX trip so our Italy plans had become unknown. After settling in our new homes we had a chance to talk and we were all in favor of keeping the Italian dream alive. The planning commenced.

We decided that the next spring would be the target time and spreading it over Memorial Day would give us an extra day of vacation to play with. Word soon spread that we were going to Italy so it was expected that we would have some envious outsiders. Paul, Natalie, and myself work at the same company so we had a lot of time to think up ideas at work. Our coworker Mike quickly got word that we were planning this Euro-trip and expressed how he and his wife talked about going to Italy for a honeymoonesque getaway. We accepted Mike and his wife Alaina (who coincidentally works with my mother) into our travel group and began planning the serious details.

One late summer evening the six of us gathered at Paul and Natalie’s house and had a whiteboarding sessions of what and where we wanted to see. I was very ambitious with all the cities and landmarks I wanted to visit since this may be my only visit to Italy. We soon devised a plan to start in the north and work our way south. This was going to take a lot of driving and a lot of time.

As the autumn leaves began to fall our anticipation rose. It was still too soon to act on anything as flights were not available. By the end of the year we had pretty much solidified our plan as follows: Fly to Venice, travel south to Rome, maybe hit Pompeii before making the trek to Sicily. Easy enough right?

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2017… we booked our long and expensive transcontinental flight. We were leaving from Pittsburgh, stopping by Atlanta, and landing in Venice the next morning. It was going to be more than 9 hours on a plane, which was about 5 hours more than my longest flight ever. While I was nervous about the flight the once in a lifetime trip excitement conquered all.

After the flights were booked we set our sites on accommodations. We were going to stay in AirBnBs throughout the country as sleeping six in a house was much more affordable than hotels. Mike and Alaina decided that they would parts ways shortly after Rome and spend some time alone before heading back to the states. This was just another cog in our elaborate machine with shuffling of rental cars, hotels, and AirBnBs.

Paul and Natalie are Italy veterans. Not in the sense that they served in the Italian armed forces, but that they’ve vacationed in Italy a few times. They even made the trip all the way to Italy to get married. Paul is the ultimate Italian tour guide as he fluently speaks Italian and has family members living in the country.

We met one last time in March to go over final details and talk about logistics. You could see the excitement building the more we talked. By this time we had all the rooms, cars, and flights booked and I was pretty far into my Italian language app. The only thing we had left to do was pack. Packing for a 15 day trip is very challenging the subject may come up again later.

I want to write down my experience as well as share it with the world as I feel this was a vacation that may not ever be beat. Lots of adventure and great memories to share. Stay tuned.

Read Chapter 1 >

 

My Nelly Top 10 List

Some might call me a Nelly super-fan but I disagree. However, I will say that there are very few Nelly songs I dislike. When I first heard Nelly’s Country Grammar song way back in 2000, I instantly thought to myself, “Wow, I need to buy this album!” That was back before I had a job and buying an album was a big deal. I think I played the Country Grammar album from start to finish, 314 times. Nelly’s sound was different when he came out, it was more R&B but with a Hip-Hop rhythm. Even almost 20 years later, people are still emulating his style.

Nelly

Much like I did for Eminem, I’m going to list my top 10 favorite Nelly songs (with descriptions this time).

  1. Ride Wit Me – Country Grammar (2000) 
    “Must be the money!” This might be the song that put Nelly on the “map” and it was the first time we heard him really lean into the sing-songy melodies he became known for. Ride Wit Me is an ultimate car cruising song.
  2. Just A Dream – 5.0 (2010) 
    Hard hitting bass and strings backdrop make this song great. Just A Dream is easy to sing along to as well put on while cruising down the highway. “Tryin’ to get my Usher on, but I can’t let it burn.”
  3. Fly Away – Sweatsuit (2005) 
    Originally debuted in the movie The Longest Yard this song tells the tale of unfair treatment of prisoners, much like the feature film. Another R&B type song that Nelly makes unforgettable. “I keep a gamma ray, I’ma G-5 G, Take a G-5 jeep, G-5 deep…”
  4. Dilemma – Nellyville (2002) 
    A duet with the fabulous Kelly Rowland (Destiny’s Child) that brings back some great memories for me. There’s never a bad time to list to Dilemma. “Play my position like a shortstop, pick up everything mommy hittin’…”
  5. Grillz – Sweatsuit (2005) 
    The 1st Hip-Hop song on the list. Grillz came out in the peak of rappers getting teeth ornaments decorated with gold & diamonds. This song has a very memorable bass line as well as fun lyrics for a truly stupid fashion trend. “I got a grill I call penny candy, ya know what that mean? It look like now&laters, gumdrop, jelly n beans”
  6. Hot In Herre – Nellyville (2002) 
    Definitely a club banger, Hot in Herre is one of Nelly’s most popular songs because it’s fun, it’s hot, and makes you want to get up and dance. This might be the hottest beat The Neptunes have every produced. “Check your reflection, telling your best friend, girl I think my butt getting big!”
  7. Country Grammar – Country Grammar (2000) 
    Nelly’s first official single from his debut album introduced us to his country roots and melodic style. I obsessed over memorizing every lyric in this song and I still remember it all today. “Let me in now, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, let me in now.”
  8. E. I. – Country Grammar (2000) 
    A very early-2000s feel to this one, E.I. has everything from talking about clothes to buying drugs. This is another fun song to sign along to with the “uh-ooooohhhhh” repetition.
  9. ‘#1 – Nellyville (2002) 
    Nelly snaps back at all his haters and criticism in #1. This is one of my favorites because is able to deliver his message with crafty lyrics while still throwing in his melodic tendencies. “Straight emulatin’ my style, right to the down-down…”
  10. Hey Porsche – M.O. (2013) 
    This song might signal the end of an era as Nelly has yet to release an album since M.O. Hey Porsche is a fun double entendre song where he throws in a lot of car analogies seemingly talking about a girl named Porsche. “Come and let me slide under, so I can work on, work on you!”
  • Honorable Mention – Where the Party At – Jagged Edge – Jagged Little Thrill (2001)
  • Fan Favorite – Cruise (Remix) – Florida Georgia Line – Here’s to the Good Times (2013)
  • Best of the Worst – The Fix – Single (2015)
  • Best Remix – Girlfriend (The Neptunes Remix) – NSYNC – Celebrity (2002)

Apple Music playlist

It’s my top 10 list, I make the rules…

Oscar Predictions 2019

The 91st annual Academy Awards airs Sunday February 24, 2019 on ABC

Back again for 2019 are the Beard Blog Oscar picks.

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

Overall I feel like this was a weak year compared to last. A lot of mediocre films made the list and we’ve now seen our film superhero / blockbuster move, Black Panther, make the nominee list several times. This could be signaling a shift in how the academy picks award winning films, but we shall see how the results play out.

My picks, based on my opinion, of which film or which person should win, are below in bold:

  • Best Picture
    • Black Panther
    • BlacKkKlansman
    • Bohemian Rhapsody
    • The Favorite
    • Green Book
    • Roma
    • A Star is Born
    • Vice
  • Actor in a Leading Role
    • Christian Bale – Vice
    • Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
    • Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate
    • Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
    • Viggo Mortensen – Green Book
  • Actress in a Leading Role
    • Yalitza Aparicio – Roma
    • Glenn Close – The Wife
    • Olivia Colman – The Favourite
    • Lady Gaga – A Star is Born
    • Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  • Actor in a Supporting Role
    • Mahershala Ali – Green Book
    • Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman
    • Sam Elliott – A Star is Born
    • Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    • Sam Rockwell – Vice
  • Actress in a Supporting Role
    • Amy Adams – Vice
    • Marina de Tavira – Roma
    • Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
    • Emma Stone – The Favourite
    • Rachel Weisz – The Favourite
  • Directing
    • Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
    • Pawet Pawlikowski – Cold War
    • Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
    • Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
    • Adam McKay – Vice
  • Writing (Adapted)
    • Joel & Ethan Coen – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
    • Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowtiz – BlacKkKlansman
    • Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    • Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk
    • Eric Roth & Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
  • Writing (Original)
    • Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara – The Favourite
    • Paul Shrader – First Reformed
    • Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, & Peter Farrelly – Green Book
    • Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
    • Adam McKay – Vice

Beard Blog’s five best albums of 2018

My picks for the best 5 albums of 2018, 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.

Man of the Woods by Justin Timberlake – 2/2/18

Motw

Justin Timerblake’s 5th solo album (counting 20/20 experience as two separate albums) explores new sounds. JT is dabbling in some country styles and it lands very well with his new “Man of the Woods” persona.

Beerbongs and Bentleys by Post Malone – 4/27/18

Bb

The second album by Post Malone shows his growth in the music business as well as proving that he’s for real and here to stay.

Dan + Shay – 6/22/18

D+S

The third and self titled album by country duo Day + Shay who are famous for taking the Rascal Flatts style and bringing it into modern country music.

This One’s For You Too by Luke Combs – 6/1/18

LC

The re-release or “deluxe version” of This One’s For You released a year prior by Luke Combs. The 2018 album completes his debut into country music after being discovered from Vine.

Kamikaze by Eminem – 8/31/18

Mm

The 10th album by Eminem and according to Marshall, a makeup for his last pop-ish album. This album goes back to classic Eminem with funny lyrics, great rhymes and personal attacks. No holds barred.

 

Take time, before we get too deep into 2019 to take a listen to these albums if you haven’t yet.

Bonus: Here’s an Apple Music playlist with all 5 albums 

Writing Prompt No. 1

Written by: Ben Beard on iPad Pro 11-inch
Source: Reddit /r/writingprompts

I’m starting a new series called  Writing Prompts where I write short stories, essays, or responses based on outside inspirations. I hope to do this often to sharpen my writing skills.
The subject of this prompt is included at the end of this post

I hear a loud ringing noise in my head as I open my eyes. I’m in a poorly lit room and my vision is very blurred. For some strange reason I feel no pain, no temperature, or warmth through my veins. Reaching down to the armrest of the chair I’m sitting in, I feel a soft velour material that feels so familiar to me. I look down to see a crimson red puffy armrest attached to my chair. Next, I reach out and rub the back of the seat to my left. Everything I touch gives me goosebumps instantly. Quickly realizing there are other people in the room with me I keep my thoughts to myself. “This seems to be some sort of movie theatre, but one I’ve never seen before”, I think to myself exploring the room with my eyes. The cinema looked brand new but had the traditional turn of the century decor. I quickly noticed the theater was filled with men and boys of various ages. Some of these men were seated very close to me and I could tell they knew who I was, but the feeling wasn’t mutual.

Suddenly, the lights dim and the giant screen in front of us lights up with a brilliance I’ve never seen before in my life. The movie begins in a hospital with a woman in labor. She’s alone, no one else is in the room with her. The medical staff enters the room as the patient wipes tears from her face. “It’s time!” Says the doctor with glee. The film starts to get very graphic; showing the entire birth with no cuts or change of camera angles. The baby is now in the arms of the doctor and it begins to let out the first big cry. The entire theater erupts with cheer and applause.

The noise settles down and the movie starts to get really boring with shots of the mother and new baby sleeping. After an hour of this I look over to the middle-aged man to my right. He looks like he’s straight out of a western movie. Cowboy boots adorn his feet and I trace his figure up to his duster jacket and notice fresh blood, a lot of blood. “Was this guy on a movie set recently?” I asked myself. I quietly leaned over towards him and whispered “Hey partner, what’s the deal with this movie?” He immediately tipped up the brim on his Stetson hat and gave me a blank stare. “This picture show here, partner, is our next lifecycle. Sit bank and enjoy the ride buddy. Let’s hope this guy does better than you.” He explained.

At this point I start having visions in my head of where I was before this place. I was with my family in the hospital. I can now remember taking my last breath and that’s when I realized that I’m dead.

Now taking the time to truly look around and observe the people in the room, it begins to click. I just talked to Wild-West-me, to my left there’s pilgrim-me, further up in the front is confused Neanderthal-me, and I also see previous-me. It seems all my previous incarnations are here watching the next me take on life. I stand up and walk over towards who I gathered was previous-me. He was a well-groomed older man wearing a fresh pressed suit. His bright white hair and beard seem to glow from the light of the movie playing in front of us. “Excuse me sir, were you the one before me?” I quietly asked the old man. “Ahh yes, welcome! I was indeed before you, and after your friend Wild Bill over there.” He replied in a proper English accent. “Oh wow, I have so many questions. Why are we here? What did you think of my life? Where are we?” I chanted to this man who was obviously not interested in my chatter.

His face began to frown as he slowly turned his head up towards me “Lister chap, find a seat and relax, we’re going to be here for a while.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading “Writing Prompt No. 1”

My Eminem Top 10 List

I like Eminem’s music, but I’m not a super-fan. When he first burst onto the hip-hop scene, I enjoyed his funny stuff, but mostly liked it because it was the popular thing to do. As him and I grew older, I listened to him less and less.

I decided to make a personal top 10 list since he has put out a lot of different songs over a vast period of time.

  1. When I’m Gone – Curtain Call
  2. Rap God – The Marshall Mathers LP 2
  3. Love the Way You Lie – Recovery
  4. Forgot About Dre – (Dr. Dre) 2001
  5. My Band – (D12) D12 World
  6. Not Afraid – Recovery
  7. Guilty Conscience – The Slim Shady LP
  8. The Way I Am – The Marshal Mathers LP
  9. Fast Lane – (Bad Meets Evil) Hell: The Sequel
  10. Greatest – Kamikaze
  • Honorable Mention – Square Dance – The Eminem Show
  • Fan Favorite – StanThe Marshall Mathers LP
  • Best of the Worst – Shake That – Curtain Call

I made an Apple Music playlist of these songs, if you’re interested.

 

Beard Blog Tech Reviews: Apple HomePod

The gadget you don’t need until you have one

HomePod: The iPod that lives in your home

HomePod

The latest product from tech giant Apple is their own take on the very popular “lady in a cylinder”. The HomePod aims to fill the gap where the competition lacks in areas such as sound quality, ease of use, and aesthetics. I’ve spent the last month with the HomePod, testing everything I could.

It Packs a Punch

The Apple HomePod is a small cylindrical device that is about the size of a two liter soda bottle, with the top cut off. It’s covered in a thick mesh that feels soft but also sturdy at the same time. Inside, the HomePod packs a large upward facing subwoofer and seven tweeters around the bottom circumference. In between those there is a six microphone array for hearing your voice as well as to fine tune the sound based on the surroundings. The speakers and microphones are controlled by a stripped-down version of the fourth generation Apple TV. The processing power allows you to shout anything at it and it responds very quickly. 

High Fidelity

I don’t consider myself an audiophile, but I enjoy high quality music when I can get it. When I listen to music over bluetooth in my car I can hear the lower quality compared to playing over USB. That’s about the extent of my sound quality identifying experience. The HomePod does a great job of producing great sound in a small package. It sits next to my forty-eight inch, nine speaker sound bar, and the HomePod has noticeably better sound.

The music stopped and I thought “there’s no way she heard that.”

The sound output fills my living room with high fidelity music so well that you would think I have a 7.1 surround sound system setup.

Apple’s Music

The HomePod only knows one music service and that’s Apple’s own Apple Music. That means the HomePod cannot play music from Spotify, Tidal, Google, or any other music service out there. You can play songs from Apple’s giant library, your own iTunes library, or songs you’ve previously purchased from iTunes, so there is a lot of variety. If that is not enough for you, you can still stream whatever you like from an iOS device to the speaker, just like you AirPlay to an Apple TV. The benefit of using Apple Music on the HomePod is you don’t need your iPhone or iPad to play it. In fact, if you turned off all your devices, it will still be able to play music from Apple’s streaming service. If you’re thinking of getting a HomePod, switching to or signing up for Apple Music is definitely worth it.

Hey Siri

Beyond playing great music, the HomePod packs the same helpful assistant as iPhones and iPads. Her name is Siri and she is very willing to help you any way she can. The HomePod doesn’t have a screen or a way for you to interact with anything, so Siri is limited. Speaking “Hey Siri…” into the air turns her attention towards you as she hangs on your next words. I’ve had moderate success with asking Siri random questions. I’ve been using Siri for a long time so I know how to ask her things and what she can and can’t do. Here are some things I asked my HomePod that resulted in the correct answer on the first try: What is 60g in oz?; What is the scientific name for a sloth?; How many tablespoons are in 20oz?; Who is Michael B. Jordan?; Who sings purple rain?

Contrary to your iPhone, Siri on the HomePod doesn’t know who you are. Whomever sets up the HomePod initially can choose to allow some details to be passed through the Apple account, but it’s still very limited. The nice thing about this is anyone that can yell “Hey Siri!” can control the HomePod. This can also cause some disagreements between people who want to hear two different songs.

One of my favorite HomePod activities is when I wake up with a random song in my head, I can shout out loud and have it played

One place where the HomePod excels over the competition is how well it can hear you. Even at whisper with music playing the HomePod picks up the “Hey Siri” command. I was in my kitchen cooking with the exhaust fan on, the HomePod was about twenty feet away with a wall between us. The HomePod was playing something from Apple Music when I said “Hey Siri skip” at a volume that a person next to me would struggle to hear. The music stopped and I thought “there’s no way she heard that.” The next song began to play and I was taken aback by how well it could hear my over all the noise.

The Kit of Home

Another way Siri on the HomePod is helpful is by controlling HomeKit devices. These are smart home devices that are compatible with Apple’s home ecosystem. I have structured the smart devices in my home around this ecosystem allowing me to take full advantage of Siri for automation and control. By shouting at the HomePod I can close my garage doors, turn up the heat, turn on/off lights, and trigger scenes I have setup. homepod The HomePod also acts as a HomeKit bridge that allows you to (if you don’t already have an Apple TV) access your HomeKit devices from outside your home network. 

Who should buy one?

If you’re deeply invested in Apple’s ecosystem (which is easy to do) with a subscription to Apple Music, HomeKit compatible devices (Philips Hue bulbs fit this bill), like listening to music in your home, and use an iOS device; the HomePod is definitely for you.

It’s going to be hard to find a lot of people that meet those criteria, which is Apple’s fault, but at the same time it helps get more people into their ecosystem.

One of my favorite HomePod activities is when I wake up with a random song in my head (which happens almost every morning) I can shout out loud and have it played, and it sounds great!

Measuring the Competition

Apple is late to the “lady in a can” game, which seems to be their modus operandi as of late. There is plenty of competition in this space and surprisingly the first mover here was Amazon with their Echo line. Amazon has released nine products with their Alexa assistant before the HomePod shipped. Google now has three different types of devices that use the Google Assistant for your home. Amazon, Google and Apple’s devices all have the same functions; play music, control smart devices, and try to answer your dimwitted questions.

Which one is the best? That’s a hard question to answer for everyone, and each person you ask might have a different answer. The best one for you is which system you’re invested in. Do you have Apple products throughout your home or are you more in the Google ecosystem? Amazon has the advantage of being the cheaper solution and throwing their products at consumers every way possible. It’s more likely you know someone with an Amazon product in their house than the other two.

HomePod

Apple’s HomePod is another great first generation product. A lot of people are comparing it to the the original Apple Watch, which is fair. Both of those devices are late entries to a new market for Apple and so far, both have been received very well. My time with the HomePod has been great and I don’t regret the purchase at all. I’m looking forward to the near future where Apple makes smaller/cheaper versions of the HomePod that I can stick in various places in my house.

In summary, John Gruber put it best when he wrote, “What AirPods are for your own ears, HomePod is for your home.”.

 

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Beard Blog Movie Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

Academy Award Winner: Best Picture – 2018

shape of water
The beast and the beauty

The Shape of Water is a fantasy love story about an amphibious god and a mute woman, taking place during the Cold War era. It’s a very simple movie that seems to draw some inspiration from The Beauty and the Beast tale. 

The Shape of Water is filled with glorious scenes of cinematography and color.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, and Octavia Spencer. Sally Hawkins plays a mute middle-aged woman named Elisa who lives alone and works the night shift at a Navy research center near DC. Her neighbor, played by Richard Jenkins struggles with both his sexuality and his art career. Elisa and her neighbor Giles find comfort in each other during various struggles in this film.

Michael Shannon plays an eccentric antagonist who is set to torture and kill the amphibian man.

The Shape of Water is filled with glorious scenes of cinematography and color. The story is a little weak in the fact that we have no idea why the government wants this thing or what Elisa’s backstory is. There’s a lot of moving parts put into this two hour movie, but by the end, we’re left wanting more information about what just happened.

It’s easy to see what The Shape of Water won this year’s best picture award, but all in all it proved to be a weak year in terms of everlasting classic movies.

Who should see this movie? Fans of fantasy love stories, people who like the previous work of Guillermo del Toro, and if you want to see what the best movie of the year is.

Who shouldn’t see this movie? People who can’t grasp the fact of a “human” loving a “beast” and children because of sexual content.

Score

8 / 10 – A great movie overall, still not convinced it was this year’s best. After watching The Shape of Water you might find yourself saying “That was weird…”.

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Spoilers

 

Caution! Spoilers ahead.

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