2021 Reading Challenge Accepted

Howdy, y’all. A new year, a new annual reading challenge. As usual, I’m sticking with my one book per month goal at a minimum, so 12 books to read this year. And I’m happy to say I just finished my first one! So I’m on track. Speaking of, this first bit of fiction is called, Cutting The Track, by Cheri Baker.

Fresh off the digi-press, the book was released last week, January 22nd, on Amazon’s kindle. I pre-ordered it…and did not read it on my kindle! Instead, I devoured this one in the kindle app on my iPhone phablet. And despite the lack of e-ink, my eyes did not bug out of their sockets. Whad’ya know? I decided to move from the kindle to Apple’s Books app anyways because, well, it’s Apple! Call me a fanboy. But that’s another story.

Cutting The Track is number four in the Kat Voyzey series, a cozy mystery genre. The series is one of several I’ve read by Cheri Baker. Like all of them, Cutting The Track is a quick read. I’ve come to love that about Baker’s short yarns. Chapters are brief and to the point, allowing for fast sessions in-between life-tasks and to-dos. Also, it’s easy to read just…one…more…chapter!

A cozy mystery is cozy because it typically avoids things like sex scenes or graphic gore. This one’s cozy-enough. It contains some expletives and suggested sex scenes (no real details). And there’s nothing violent or grotesque. I’m not one who can stomach a real murder mystery, and I generally don’t like horror.

The writing is tight, but not too much. Settings, action, and characters are all described well without being verbose or flowery. There’s good character development, and the overall pacing is done well. Dialogue is natural, it flows and isn’t forced. Action scenes are fitting, not overdrawn.

The story (without spoilers) is believable. The roller-derby theme was interesting but not ground-breaking. The video gaming references, for this geek, were sweet! The mystery part, though, might be not-so-mysterious (more on this at the end).

Kat Voyzey is a new private investigator. Being new at her job, the story rightly depicts her lack of skill and confidence at points. In turn, it also shows Kat’s character grow in her new role as a PI.

I really appreciate how the story, written in the first person, interjected Kat’s internal struggles. More than once, she wrestles a bit with the ethics of her job that requires some level of privacy invasion. Other weighty issues or themes include sexual harassment, trust, and justice. I think these are all treated well within the context of the story as its events unfold.

There’s some nice juxtaposition too, intentional or not. Without giving anything away, on one hand, a gross character turns out to have some redeeming quality, however small. But on the other hand, a polite character hides debilitating traits. This goes to show that, however trite, you can never judge a person’s character at face value; there’s always more beneath the surface.

This is something I like about Baker’s stories. I have a tough time deciding if they’re more plot driven or character driven. She has a knack for writing true-to-life characters, not mere cookie-cutter stereotypes.

The story has a flare of girl-power to it, which isn’t a bad thing. But the reason I gave this Kat Voyzey book 3 stars instead of 4 is because of the change in Kat’s character with her new PI role.

In the first three books, to me, Kat’s most endearing qualities were her spunk and somewhat clumsy awkwardness. And she was even more of “the underdog.” She had a different job with different demands or restrictions, which affected her character.

But now that she’s a PI, she seems more serious. In fact, she kind of started to resemble Jessica Warne, the MC from Cheri Baker’s other fiction series, Emerald City Spies. That one has a darker tone. Kat Voyzey’s stories have been more light-hearted, but book 4 felt less so.

Overall, I liked reading this book, and I will be glad to read a 5th one in the series. I’m interested to see Kat’s career grow. But I hope the next one will focus more on the mystery.

While the denouement of book 4 was on par for Baker’s writing, meaning nicely done, the mystery itself was weaker this round. There were different leads to follow up, different suspects to scrutinize, and dead-ends. But it lacked a good twist or surprise ending. Not great, but certainly not a deal-breaker.

If you want a good read, you won’t go wrong with Cutting The Track. It’s got fun parts, touches on meaningful themes, has interesting characters, and is easy to jump-in and read through. Even if you haven’t read the first three books, Kat Voyzey book four is like a fresh start in the series. I recommend it.

What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

Reset Your Digital Self

You know the flustered feeling that all your tech devices and social media services can bring? Turns out, the overwhelming mental clutter can be relieved. I’m not talking about a radical shift like Digital Minimalism, although that would help. It can be simple. In this case, I’m referring to an informative post with a few ideas for a Digital Reset.

Click over to the blog of Anil Dash and check out the list of steps he takes to regain control over his tech life. It’s straightforward and down-to-earth. I like the practical tidbits he shares.

Two of his key principles I especially want to echo here.

Fear Of Missing Out

First, if you decide to step away from social media, FOMO is not as bad as you think. The acute feeling of denial – that fear of not knowing what the latest cool meme is – subsides quickly, being replaced by tranquil relief from the onslaught of info overload.

Deliberate Data

The second principle is about all that info. It’s good to have only intentional info.

For me, the best way to have this is to not have any news feeds! So avoiding social media, I like to intentionally go to websites that I know and trust for certain info. I even use a DuckDuckGo search field to find new info – on purpose!

All it takes is a little clicking and typing and swiping – slightly more effort than mindlessly doom-scrolling Twitter or Facebook.

Addressing Algorithms

If or when I do interact with social media accounts, I like Anil’s idea of resetting the algorithms that fill the feed with stuff. Maybe if I un-pause my Twitter usage, I will likewise unfollow everyone, or at least do a massive purge and slowly rebuild the feed content.

This past week, I unfriended 76 people’s accounts on Facebook. I’m sure my newsfeed will look different now, but I rarely visit Facebook anymore. Shrug.

There are other ways to do a digital reset beyond social media. If it sounds like a good idea to you, go read Anil’s post. I think you’ll find it helpful.

What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

A Month With Apple Watch

Since getting my first Apple Watch on December 24, 2020, I’ve worn it every single day for a solid month; this post is a review of my experience. How does the watch fit my lifestyle, or how has my life adapted to a smartwatch on my wrist? And might Apple Watch be a good match for your daily mobile living?

A Fitting Watch

First and foremost, Apple Watch is about fitness.

Health and wellness are the biggest reasons I finally decided to adopt Apple’s smartwatch and adapt my life to it. And I’m so glad I did!

I’ve used the watch every day to track my steps, stair flights, calories, exercise minutes, miles, pace, and workouts. I’ve closed all three of my rings everyday for a 30 day streak!

The accelerometer and built-in GPS tracking work together like a pedometer to record your steps and movements. The heart sensor continuously monitors your heartbeats. All these log the quantity and frequency of activity. And together, algorithms are used to smartly distinguish the quality of your activities.

Oh, the metrics! Once you get movin’ with Apple Watch, you can nerd out with the myriad of metadata about your ambulation. Much of the data is viewable right on the watch; it’s all nicely organized. And you can take a total dive in the data via the Fitness and Health apps on your iPhone.

Thankfully, all data between the watch and the phone just works. Apple, developing the software and hardware together, makes the sync process invisible, seamless, and reliable. When you record a workout, you can be sure it will appear on your phone; it won’t get lost.

Fantastic Fitness

I have not tried Apple’s new Fitness+ service, although it looks great. I’ve simply used Apple Watch as designed right out of the box, embracing 3 different workouts in 30 days: Walking, Running, and Strength Training. I’m very eager to add Cycling.

The watch has truly helped me improve my fitness and cardio level. I’ve seen a real change in my lung capacity and heart health:

  • I breath easier while running.
  • I can run at a set pace while staying in my target heart zone.
  • My resting heart rate has decreased.
  • My peak heart rate requires more vigorous exercise to attain it.
  • My heart rate at the low end of my comfort zone takes more work to reach.

All this indicates my heart has become more efficient. I’m on my way to reaching my goal of improved cardiovascular health for life.

I flippin’ love my Apple Watch!

How has the watch actually helped me; I could exercise without it? Read on.

Metrics And Motivation

Apple Watch doesn’t just passively record your whereabouts like some benign surveillance system. It actively works with you, helping you workout or simply get up and going.

Throughout the day, the watch will notify you with messages of motivation and encouragement. Short and positively worded, – no judgment! – the watch will let you know how you did, how you’re doing, and that you can do even better. It really is like a mini-coach by your side. And somehow, it feels like the watch itself, not Siri, is the one cheering you on.

And yes, there are awards, spinning shiny metallic and colorful badges of recognition for your athletic achievements. They’re great! Earn and view them on Apple Watch and on iPhone. See what you’ve won, and see what else you can aim for. Goals!

As mentioned, another reason the watch makes a difference is its ability to track, collect, and present a myriad of health metrics.

Having instant, live, and continuous feedback of my immediate and average progress lets me know what’s working and what isn’t. It also allows me to adjust my exercise daily as needed.

One day, I can run for distance, and the next for time, and the next for burned calories. I can record 2 or 3 short fast runs, and then I can track 5 or 6 brisk walks or slow jogs.

With the live heart-rate monitor, I check how fast my heart is beating during a run so I can adjust my speed and stay within my target zone. I can also easily glance down during a run and check my current pace or just let the watch vibrate and beep a sound into my AirPods to alert me.

Wearable Wonder

And oh, those AirPods with Apple Watch! Coolest computer combo ever?

I all-caps LOVE using AirPods with the watch during exercise. While the Fitness app is open on the watch, all I do is lift my arm, swipe left, and the Now Playing app fills the screen so I can control basic audio playback.

Listening to songs or podcasts makes running more enjoyable. Best of all, I leave my iPhone behind; no need to run with my pocket weighed down by a bouncing phablet. Apple Watch stores all my audio on-device for immediate playback. It just works.

Notifications And Siri

Since Apple Watch excels at fitness, what about its other features?

To me, the most useful at-a-glance on-hand capability, notifications, shines on the watch. The slight vibration, the “ding” sound, alerting me to a text message or a reminder is fabulous. Super practical and also more discreet than unpacking a phablet from your pocket.

Speaking to Siri simply by raising the watch up is awesome. It’s not just cool-tech-demo awesome, it’s actually very useful. The speed, ease, accuracy, and simplicity of summoning Siri for assistance is wonderful. I get Siri to take reminders this way often.

Daily Life Apps

Apple Watch has many other features; they add up to an all-around balanced smartwatch experience.

A few apps I use daily are: Weather, Music, Podcasts, Now Playing, Reminders, Messages, and Mail. I don’t use Apple Books or Voice Memos but I see good potential there. I have not tried any Sleep Tracking features. I do like the calming Breathe app. The Flashlight feature has come in handy in a pinch.

Also, I’m not bothered in the least that my version, the Apple Watch SE, does not have an Always-On display. To my surprise, I kind of prefer it.

Whenever audio or video is playing, whether it’s the YouTube app on my iPhone or the Podcasts app on my Apple Watch, I love using the digital crown (dial) to adjust the volume!

Another standout feature is the Phone app. It is flippin’ awesome to make and receive calls right on my wrist with Apple Watch. That’s not hyperbole. One place it’s most useful is while driving in the car.

Raise the wrist, tell Siri to call my wife, done! Next thing I know, I’m talking to my wife, loud and clear, with my watch. Dick Tracy life is super fun. (Can’t wait for the eventual FaceTime on Apple Watch!)

Of course, it’s very cool and useful that you can use Apple Watch as a remote viewfinder and shutter for your iPhone’s camera. I don’t use this much, but it’s there when I need it.

The few times I’ve eaten out at a restaurant in the past month, I’ve loved using the Tip Calculator on the watch. It’s done so very well.

Finally, there’s Apple Pay via the Wallet app. LOVE it!

Every time I can pay at a register with Apple Pay, my watch is right there, ready to make the transaction. It works easily, quickly, fluidly, and feels so natural on a wristwatch. It’s a joy, and it really beats pulling out my big phone (or physical wallet and card).

All these apps and features are just a tap away in what are called, “Complications.” I have found a lot of fun in customizing the many watch faces on Apple Watch. There’s a huge number of faces with many layouts, buttons, choices, and colors; I feel more than satisfied. Much time can be enjoyed by trying new layouts; I’ve even created a few for certain times or situations that are a swipe away.

If you like rearranging widgets and apps on your iPhone screens to perfection, then you’ll enjoy customizing Apple Watch faces.

That sums up my first 30 days of living with Apple Watch. I love having it on me everyday. And I’m looking forward to progress in fitness over the coming months so I will be able to view my cardiovascular health Trends.

The best thing about Apple Watch: it helps me watch my fitness. It’s what I need to be less sedentary and enjoy a healthier lifestyle. I foresee wearing Apple’s wearable for the rest of my life.

What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

A Periscope iPhone Camera

You’re likely happy with your current smartphone. Most phones today are beyond “good-enough.” A lot of folks upgrade just for a better camera; I’m inclined likewise. And one thing that would excite me for the next iPhone: a periscope camera lens. Why? Optical zooooom!

A huge optical zoom on iPhone would be a significant advancement, more than a small iteration or “spec bump.” It would enable the iPhone to capture photos that it just can’t now. Think about how nice it would be, especially if you like outdoor shots.

Sure, you can often “zoom in with your feet” to negate the need for a 2x lens. But the bigger the zoom, say 4x or 8x, then the less likely you’ll do the foot-zoom thing. Let’s say you want to capture an animal in the wild; you’re less likely to scare it off, and you may also be safer by using long telephoto reach.

Of course, a periscope lens should have optical stabilization. More zoom means potentially worse camera shake and blurry pictures. That wouldn’t work.

Most notable is that I’m talking about optical, not digital, zoom. The different glass lenses do the zoom work physically while you compose your shot. And from there, you can still crop-in for greater framing.

A periscope camera on iPhone is possible because: one, it already exists on other phones. Two, I’m sure Apple’s engineers have the skills to make it a reality. I think the only real barrier, a temporary one, would be the cost.

Due to the newness and expense, and Apple’s margins, I think the periscope camera will come in time. It’ll start on the highest-end iPhone Pro Max Super Duper. Then, after a few years, this great camera feature will trickle down to the more affordable iPhones.

To market the new big zoom, Apple could call it: iPhone Z.

The only other question I’d have is what zoom would Apple set for a periscope lens? 4x? 5x? 10x!?

It could all come into focus this year, in 2021!

What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

A Man Bag For Every Day Carry

Do you think it’s okay for a guy to carry a man-bag? If so, are there any that you recommend? That’s what I’ve been looking into lately. I like the idea of EDC (every day carry) bags for men and how that intersects with mobile computing. And I’m on a quest to find the bag that’s quintessential for the essentials.

File this post under Tech. It’s tangential since you need a bag to carry mobile computing gear (plus more) on the go. We haul phone-computers in our pockets everyday. They’re phablets now, almost un-pocketable. And good-luck trying to shove a Nintendo Switch into your pocket.

A guy’s pockets are also stuffed with the usual suspects: keys, wallet, knife, earbuds, etc. I don’t know about you, but I’m running out of clothing cargo space. Yet I don’t have enough gear to warrant strapping on a hulking backpack every day.

Pockets: not enough. Backpack: too much. There must be a better option.

Not A Murse

First, let’s target the stigma of a guy carrying a bag smaller than a backpack. What is the deal?

If pockets are too small and a backpack is too big, then why can’t a dude just use a small to medium sized shoulder or cross-body bag?

Back when I carried all my keys on a single key-ring, the wad of metal clutter crammed into my pocket was super annoying. So I would often toss them into my wife’s purse. Why can’t I carry my own…man-bag without feeling akward?

This quote from the Art of Manliness speaks to this:

“Ridicule around “murses” is a bit much though, in my opinion. We’re in a cultural place where a man can carry a medium to large bag, or whatever fits in his pockets, but nothing in-between. Which is a little odd when you think about it.”

Yeah, it’s odd.

A Man Bag

Okay, so it’s totally practical for a guy, anyone for that matter, to daily carry a small-ish bag when the amount of gear calls for it. Cool. Makes sense to me. The advantages are worth it. Your stuff is always with you, it’s well organized, and thus makes you better prepared.

Then the next question is, what’s the best man-bag for the job? Now that is a tough one.

My ongoing hunt for the perfect ideal EDC bag has been a challenge. But I’ve been enjoying it and have also learned a thing or two.

Along this journey, my previous post about the quest for the best bag mentioned two great sites on the niche topic of EDC and bags. I’ve added others; here’s the updated list:

If you search on Amazon for top-sellers in men’s bags or just look up bags in general, you’ll be inundated with a plethora of packs. Here’s a few lists you might want to check out:

Amazon sells bags in some brands you may have heard of before, but there seems to be an endless supply of unknown brands.

Outside of Amazon, you can find many established and reputable companies and aspirational brands who either sell bags or specialize in the bag business. Here’s a list:

  • Alpakagear
  • Bellroy
  • Buffalo Jackson Trading Co
  • Cargoworks
  • Case Logic
  • Herschel
  • NutSac
  • PacSafe
  • Peak Design
  • Samsonite
  • Swiss Gear
  • Targus
  • TimBuk2
  • Tom Bihn
  • Waterfield Designs

As I’ve unearthed many potential man-bags across the web, I keep coming back to one site in particular, NutSac. Man, their bags look great! The company does too.

So far my personal top pick is the Mag-Satch 11.

Mag Satch 11

At first, I had wanted a sling bag. But then I decided on a mini-messenger bag or cross-body shoulder bag. And up until now, I’ve had my sights set on a bag just big enough to carry a 10 or 11 inch iPad.

But I’m at cross-roads. I don’t have an iPad (at the moment), so I’m thinking I should try a smaller EDC bag, one that’s big enough for an iPad mini or eReader.

The quest continues…

If you can recommend a good EDC man-bag or another website, sound off in the comments below. Thanks!

What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!