🎵 HomePod Test Playlist

When buying a car in 2015 I created a playlist of test tracks for my future car stereo as it was one of the most important features for me. I decided I should take that same playlist, make some edits, and use it for HomePod tomorrow. I’ll let you know what I think about it once I’ve had some time to play with it.

  1. Big Money by Rush. Thanks @joec. A new addition, but I have always though Power Windows was one of the best produced Rush albums.
  2. 6:00 by Dream Theater. That opening drum fill is a great test of soundstage.
  3. Blank Space by Taylor Swift. The thick bass and crackling synths in the chorus give HomePod a lot of layers to play around with.
  4. New Rules by Dua Lipa. A new addition. This song has been my latest pop obsession and the way it makes my Soundsticks sub dance makes me excited to try it on HomePod.
  5. Hope by Rush. Gotta hear some crisp acoustic guitar work.
  6. The Enemy Within by Rush. I was really into this song when I got my car. I think 80s Rush is always a good test because of all the layers of synth.
  7. Losing It by Rush. I think I can cut this one. Even for me, there is a lot of Rush in this playlist but I think they really do have a wide diversity of sound that makes each of these valid in their own right.
  8. Leave That Thing Alone by Rush (specifically live from Time Machine Tour): A new addition. I need to hear how HomePod articulates Geddy’s signature live bass tone and this is probably the best example. Fun fact, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame agrees: this is the song they play for Geddy’s Fender Jazz on display.
  9. Spring Break Mix 2015 by Kap Slap. I used this to test the EDM output. Specifically around 22 minutes when Five More Hours kicks in.
  10. Illumination Theory by Dream Theater. This song has a lot of moments of complexity that I like to test, particularly the symphonic moments.
  11. Don’t Take Me Alive by Steely Dan. A new addition. Steely Dan is known for their extremely well produced, jazzy sound. This is one of my favorite tracks by them with great vocal harmonies.
  12. Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills & Nash. A new addition. Another song with great vocal harmonies that I want to use to hear how HomePod processes each voice.
  13. Sharped Dressed Man by ZZ Top. A new addition, mainly because I want to listen to it tomorrow. Its pulsing low end and necktie shout outs should be pretty cool.
  14. Paperback Writer by The Beatles. A new addition to the list mainly because it hard pans the instruments in the stereo channels and I am curious how HomePods computational computing will handle this input.

Unleash Apple Watch

The last few days I’ve been going to the gym in the morning and doing about 30 minutes on the elliptical while watching some YouTube. I’ve been tracking my exercise using Apple Watch’s Workout App. I don’t have any of the power saving features on.

After my workout, my watch is at 100% battery. My Series 0 would be at ~75, even when the battery was brand new. I know that 100% is never truly 100%, but every morning it is at 100% after my workout. The battery life of Apple Watch has improved dramatically year over year and it’s time to unleash it.

I’ve been tracking my watch’s battery each night before hitting the charger and on my longest day of over 6 hours of usage it ended with 66% battery. There has to be something we can do with this excess battery.

I would be surprised if the Series 3 could not support a low power watch face all day that becomes the watch face we are used to upon raise to wake. If this is exclusive to a new hardware revision of the watch (which I wouldn’t be surprised by) I’d be disappointed. I know that feature is one that would drive upgrades, myself included.

As much as I’d like to see a more robust developer API for the watch to enable better apps and things like podcast playback, I’d take an update that exclusively gave an always on watch face.

2018 Resolution Update: January

With January in the books, I wanted to update my status with my resolutions.

Budget

I’m happy with my first full month of budgeting, though a few things went over budget. I spent more eating out than I wanted to, and a touch more on miscellaneous purchases but I’ll allow it. There are a few reasons for that.

One of the main reasons I went over both budgets was because of spending in Williamsburg. I wasn’t sure if I should include those costs in my travel budget or not (which has some excess at the moment due to a great flight deal I found). I chose not to.

Another reason I am considering it a success is because I was diligent with my spreadsheet and I made sure to log every transaction in a timely manner. This practice definitely made me more intentional with my spending, which was the whole point. I am thinking of spending some time with Mint this weekend to help automate things a bit. I know I won’t do the spreadsheet forever and I think if I keep the practice of managing my finances daily, it’ll achieve the same effect.

Cooking

I did this. I cooked a lot more this month and I only had one lunch out and it was with a friend. I’ve been buying a lot of groceries on the outside edge of the store meaning lots of vegetables, fruits, and proteins. I did spend a lot of money eating out socially this month – more than normal – but I am glad most of the time I ate out, it was to see good friends. I only bought dinner once because I was lazy.

Losing Weight

This morning I weighed 236. From a number perspective, I failed hard this month. But I think there is more to it than the number shows. I don’t have numbers to back this (I plan to change that for next month’s update), but I feel like if I measured myself, there would be losses. I’ve had more beer than normal this month (social eating out == social drinking), which I believe is the main reason the number hasn’t been going down. I need to cut down on that in February. During the second half of January I started to go to the gym and I want to keep that momentum up. Only allowing myself to watch YouTube on the elliptical sure helped me go downstairs and break a sweat more often.

iOS

I have spent more time this month pricing out flights and AirBNBs to WWDC than coding. That isn’t good. I did convince myself to email Curtis Herbert about one of my app ideas since his experience with Slopes would apply. He got back to me with some advice that I plan to follow. Thanks Curtis! With my grad class starting up, I’m disappointed I didn’t make more headway with my app.

My goal for February is to pick an app to develop and make a few storyboards and features. My guess is it won’t be the one I spoke to Curtis about since I would miss the beginning of the season at this point and I could use my other idea to get more experienced with iOS so I can make a bigger splash with the other idea down the line. I’ll be entering a crowded market with feature rich applications. I will need my A game to get a piece of the pie.

Williamsburg

This was a great weekend getaway for us. I hope we are able to do more of these with Anna and Brian as difficult as it may be with our clashing schedules. I recommend Williamsburg if you’ve never been. I found it quite interesting to hear from the different journeyman about their training in various traditional trades from the time period. We got lucky with an unseasonably warm weekend in January. It was nice going off season – I understand the different places of interest get packed during the summer and lines form. For us, there was never a line and we never felt rushed to leave a conversation.

🎶 Shine Right Through You by Airplane Mode Review

Every once in a while, a song comes into your life that you really latch on to. This album has one of those songs, but every song holds its own too. Airplane Mode has done it again, making an album that dares you dance and sing along.

Dance Like You Mean It

I’ve played this album for both my mom and Rachel whilst in the car and they both made the comment how catchy this song is and were singing along by the end of it. This was on two separate car rides.

I agree. I love hearing this song live and the punchy bass line and driving drums get the crowd moving. I want it to be a staple of every dance party. This song also made a big splash with it’s music video featuring Animoji singing the song. The pig gets me every time.

Maiden Voyage

To be honest, this song is the one I have the least to say about. It definitely has taken the longest to grow on me. When I hear it now, I find it soothing and inevitably I find myself nodding slowly to the music. I think that reaction speaks well of my overall opinion of the song. Though it is not my favorite, it is well crafted and your innate musical instinct will take over and having you moving to the song. I think Airplane Mode writes some of the best bridges and this song has one of my favorites.

Holding My Breath

This song was the first single to be released from the EP, and it was my most played song in 2017. Clearly, I like it. I am a sucker for vocal harmonies, and this song delivers with a beautiful performance by Addi McDaniel of Addi and Jacq. Her voice is a great compliment to Dave’s and takes the song to the next level. Patrick’s drums and Agnes’ keys contribute to support a moving guitar solo. The ending call and answer vocals and harmonies close the song beautifully. For the music video the band commissioned a local artist to make an oil painting inspired by the music.

Rules and Hearts Are Made to Be Broken

A song without bass guitar, how could they! I jest, this song rocks. What it lacks in bass guitar it gains with ample synthesizer. I’m a sucker for sequencers and the bridge of this song is just perfect. I remember an early demo where the vocals were absent and I thought the bridge held its own just fine. When my mom heard this song, she too commented on the sequencer and bridge. Sometimes you can tell we are cut from the same cloth. The song ends with another great example of call and answer that you’ll find yourself singing along to.

Lights

As you can probably imagine by now, this is the song I was alluding to previously. The song starts with two guitar chords that almost sound like the band is stretching before getting into this epic masterpiece. In comes the synth that will find its way dripping over the top of the rest of the song. Great stuff. After a song with no bass, Joe says “I’m back!” with a bass lick to launch the band into the first chorus. The rhythm section is incredibly tight in this song. The more you listen to it, the more there is to appreciate. When the song breaks down after the second chorus, follow the drums. Patrick never plays the same pattern, slowly building with the crescendo of keys and guitar. He tops it off with a thunderous fill into the final chorus. The song relentlessly builds on itself. When it ends, it leaves you wanting more. Its the kind of song that could feed off its own energy forever, but alas, all good things must end. An excellent album closer.

2018 Resolutions

I know I am a bit late to the party but I did want to document my goals for the year on my blog, as one does. I like to think that I am late to writing this post because I am fast at work on some of these resolutions, which is partially true.

This is my first year really blogging, and my first time making resolutions. I typically find them icky, but the year marker is a nice way to reflect on things and make a line in the sand. Because of my overall opinion that resolutions should be made at the time of conception rather than according to a calendar, some of these are already underway. Some aren’t.

  1. Stick to a budget. I’ve had a crude budgeting strategy in the past and it was ineffective. The great insight I had was game planning a full year of spending and sticking to the macro plan since month to month can have variability. So far so good. I made this budget in December and have been following it well so far. If you want to use the same spreadsheet as me, check out One Big Happy on Youtube. I found them through a collaboration they did with The Financial Diet.

  2. Cook more. This will help with two other goals, spending less and losing weight. When I cook, I tend to be pretty healthy. When I go out, not so much. I realized I wasn’t necessarily cooking less than before, but now that I am the main chef for Rachel and I, I need to increase my amount of cooking. I love to cook, and I have plenty of cooking gadgets, and love a wide variety of food so it shouldn’t be too hard. To quantify this goal I want to eat out 2 times a week or less, unless celebrating a special occasion. Full disclosure, a golden weekend for Rachel is basically a special occasion as is if we are able to get her friends all together at the same time. My definition is loose but I think as long as I am cooking more during the week and packing lunches, this goal will be marked as complete.

  3. Weight loss. I lost a lot of weight in 2015, and I’ve slowly gained some, but far from all of it back. 2017 wasn’t a productive year from a weight loss prospective. I lost about 10-15 pounds as part of a work competition but gradually gained it back over the course of the second half of the year. I’m back where I started in early 2017. My goal is to get under 210. I’m at 234 as of early last week. Conveniently that is 2 lbs a month, which is very doable so long as I keep it a focus.

  4. Ship an iOS app. I have two ideas, each with their own pros and cons of development. Both would stretch my abilities as a developer since I don’t have much web experience and I think both would need some sort of web backend. Finding the time to develop with grad school and work is tricky, but I need to challenge myself to get there.

That’s it. Believe me, I’d love to play bass more. I haven’t touched it for more than a couple minutes in the past few months and I’ve barely played since the band simmered out in mid 2016. I’m not very good and I have struggled to create much new music so its a cyclical problem. I play more when I’m inspired, I’m inspired more when I play (particularly with others).

I am going to focus on the above four and if I can pull them all off that would be an amazing year. If I overload myself with all the things I’d like to do, I would probably fail to do most of them. It’s a big year ahead. Time to get started.

Voice Assistents’ Knowledge on Car Troubleshooting

Lately my Mazda’s infotainment system will reboot a few times before staying up for the rest of my trip. I figured it had something to do with the frigid weather we’ve been having on the East Coast and after some Googling, that certainly seems to be the case. The system requires a certain level of consistent power or it will shut off. Sounds familiar, right?

Yesterday, it took my car an extra second or so to start up so I decided to look up how often one needs to replace battery in a car. I forgot to Google it and this morning when getting dressed for work the idea sprung to mind and I internally thought, “lets see if Alexa will know.”

I asked the lady in a tube and sure enough, she was able to read a reference.com piece stating that car batteries need to be replaced every 3-5 years though lots of external factors like temperature, driving habits, and usage effect the longevity. I was impressed.

A few minutes later when preparing my lunch I asked Siri through my AirPods. Sure enough, I was provided with a web search on device. No preemptive information. Nothing auditory.

HomePod and Siri have a lot of work to do.

Peer to Peer Apple Pay

With the 11.2 update, Apple added the ability to send money to your contacts in an iMessage app. I’ve been wanting this functionality for a while.

We pay Apple to design delightful experiences. They did a great job with all things AirPods. They blew it with this.

Onboarding

After installing 11.2, you’ll eventually see a full screen advertisement that will tell you Apple Pay is available. After that, by going in the app drawer you are able to summon the Apple Pay interface. It will tell you if a contact is able to receive payments, which is nice. If they are, you are able to set a valid amount and choose Request or Pay.

After this, everything breaks down. I was afraid when I tapped Pay that it would automatically use my credit card and not my newly set up debit card. Luckily, an Apple Pay sheet appeared with my debit card pre-selected, even though my credit card was the default transaction card in Settings. Kudos for Apple picking the one that wouldn’t incur fees, but I wish you could set a default somewhere or it was clearer what would happen before tapping Pay. What if you have two debit cards?

Using the Money

Congratulations, you just received some money from a friend via Apple Pay. Now what? Well, you can use the money anywhere Apple Pay is accepted, but you’ll probably want to transfer the money to your bank, especially if its a large amount. If you go into Settings ➡️ Wallet & Apple Pay you will see an Apple Pay Cash card with a balance. If you tap on the card you can choose to transfer the money to a bank. If it’s your first time you can enter in an account and routing number. After that is set up you can bring up the transfer sheet, type in an amount, and start the 1-3 day transfer. I wish there was a balance button that autocompleted the value for you, particularly since that will probably be the number one use case by a large margin.

In order to transfer the money, you need to add a bank account. In all other similar apps, I’ve been able to add the bank account during onboarding and set it up to both withdraw and deposit funds. For some reason, this option is not given by Apple and I have to enter in two separate ways to access the same account. I understand Apple wants you to carry the balance on the Apple Pay card, but I feel like this onboarding decision is user hostile and ends up causing significantly more work for the user. I never used my debit card for anything but ATM transactions before and my bank actually wouldn’t verify my card for Apple Pay until I used it somewhere.

Money Requests

After sending a money request to a friend, I can’t find any way to see pending requests. There is also no way to take back a money request. Because of this, Apple Pay is not a valid solution for invoicing my friends for our shared expenses.

Conclusion

Apple Pay is coming into a crowded market with Venmo, Square Cash, and Google Wallet. Most people who want this kind of functionality in their life are on one or several of the apps already. For Apple to take over the space, they had to make the Apple Pay system compelling and as friction free as possible. Though Apple might be able to get new customers that didn’t trust previous apps with sensitive bank information, I don’t see Apple Pay being as successful as I hoped it would be many years ago. Having the experience exclusively inside of iMessage and the settings in Settings.app was a disjointed mistake. Currently the Settings.app panel just feels like a junk drawer of all settings and screens rather than a fluid experience. Apple Pay would benefit from its own app with a robust management solution and cleaner interface.

Dream Theater Covers Xanadu

I was very pumped to hear Dream Theater, my second favorite band, cover what might be my favorite song from my favorite band. I was most looking forward to hearing how Labrie would take it up a notch, like he did for Red Barchetta. Unfortunately, though I like what he tried to do in Xanadu, I think the execution could have been better. After seeing him nail Learning to Live last month, I know he still has it. Regardless, its a fun listen that I recommend.