Why is No One Talking About Bidets

Look, I know this superlative isn’t entirely true, but in the circles I follow online, which tend toward enthusiastic pontificating about the best setups for hardware, software, and every day use items, no one seems to be talking about one of the most important pieces of hardware we all use every single day.

The toilet.

And in particular, toilets with bidets.

Now there are some publications out there doing the good work of reviewing these — namely outdoors/camping enthusiasts like Outdoorsy Nomad (thanks for the recommendations!), Wired (naturally), and of course in Reddit (r/bidets), but I rarely see anyone else talking shop. Sure, you may say that I live in the US and we don’t have a history or culture around bidets, but we’ve been wrong. For many years.

  • Bidets are amazing. 
  • They are life-changing.
  • We all need to be using them.
  • And they seem to be generally more environmentally friendly than toilet paper.

I mean just look at some these things — Toto and Kohls have spectacular full hardware options. There’s a Bidet King specialty shop. And if you aren’t ready to take the hybrid toil/bidet dive (they can be expensive investments), there are plenty of add-on options for literally any toilet.

Washlets. Wand-only. Portable.

No matter the context, your special parts can be cleaned hygienically with minimal expenditure.

And since I haven’t invested in anything more than entry-level items, let’s talk briefly about two items to get things rolling.

Easily Accessible: The Tushy

a white wand-only bidet attached to a toilet with the branding Tushy visible, along with a wooden turn-dial control

If anyone has heard of a budget bidet, it’s probably Tushy. Great direct-to-consumer brand, and easily accessible as an entry-level (but most certainly solid mainstay) for any bathroom.

  • Older models start around $80, with newer models in the $100+ range
  • They’re very easy to install in under 10 minutes, no plumber required
  • The pressure is phenomenally consistent, plus self-cleaning of the wand (though you’ll probably want to disinfect it during toilet cleanings)
  • You can get the models directly off their site or on Amazon (2.0 version linked here)

Easily Portable: VIKKEN Go+ Bidet

hand holding a small cylindrical bidet device with out-flipped wand over a wooden table

Once you’re regularly using bidets, I guarantee anywhere you visit that doesn’t have one will feel woefully inadequate. While not a perfect solve, there are plenty of portable options (the aforementioned Outdoorsy Nomad has a great round-up) of varying designs — the simplest constituting a nozzle attachment wand to squeeze a plastic bottle’s volume through, with the more functional being a battery-operated mini-bidet wand.

The VIKKEN Go+ represents the latter, and for $39, its slim profile and ability to use its included bottle or attach to almost any other bottle makes it an obvious choice for flexibility. It also packs small (sort of the size of a 6-8oz seltzer can).

Does it work?

Well enough. It has two pressure options (activated by a button that is revealed once the bidet wand is flipped out for usage). You can hold and use this thing one of two ways when mounting the toilet — I won’t get into graphic detail — and it provides a fairly controlled experience.

Overall, Bidets Are a Must

Improved hygiene, moderately better eco-friendliness, and far more rewarding experiences await your manifest lifestyle change when you decide to transition to using a bidet (or bidets plural!).

Highly recommended. Just try.

🫡


Notable Entertainment from 2023

I log all the entertainment I go through every year, dating back to 2009. There’s something about a list across time that helps me orient where I was, how I was thinking, the things I liked at the time (do they still hold up?), and, naturally, to reflect on all the miscellaneous time spent.

I add a double-plus (++) to some of these items to notate my high enjoyment of a thing, so I’ve got several easily recommendable on hand when someone asks.

Here are ++ from last year — note that not all of these were released in 2023.

Literature

  • The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell)
  • A Million Heavens (John Brandon)
  • Hotel Splendide (Ludwig Bemelmans)
  • Timequake (Kurt Vonnegut)

Shows/Films

  • White House Plumbers (series, HBO)
  • Scavengers Reign (series, Max)
  • Succession (series, HBO)
  • The Last of Us (series, HBO)
  • Slow Horses (series, AppleTV)
  • Mrs. Davis (miniseries, Peacock)
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (film)
  • The Banshees of Inisherin (film)
  • Triangle of Sadness (film)
  • The Diplomat (series, Netflix)

Games

  • Celeste (various consoles)
  • Super Mario RPG Remake (switch)
  • Metroid Prime Remastered (switch)
  • Baldur’s Gate 3 (various consoles)

Re:Form Wallet Review

While I don’t do usually do this, I’m writing a brief review of the Re:Form wallets (RE:01 and RE:02 versions) that the company recently sent me after a connect online because, well, the products were that good. So, fair disclosure: I was provided these to assess for feedback.

RE:02 side by side with AirPods
RE:02 side by side with AirPods

Overview:

First up, there are currently two wallets that German-based Re:Form makes: one with a coin sleeve (RE:01), and the other without (RE:02).

  • Both are engineered and built in nearly the same way, and are just about identical across measurements: welded seams, proprietary Re:Fine™ material, and magnet integration (honestly, the best part). As you’d expect, the RE:01 is slightly thicker due to the coin sleeve, but it’s negligible.
  • Each is designed to hold 3-8 cards well, including metal/plastic combos — I’ve tested, and it’s accurate.
  • These are very lightweight at 34 grams and 23 grams respectively; my recent go-to, Tom Bihn Nik’s Wallet, is a shade lighter at 16 grams, but 🤷‍♂️
  • Super durable materials and a lifetime guarantee is welcome.
  • On the RE:01, the coin sleeve is an addition I never thought I’d have a need for in the US (I abhor carrying coins), but... I’d find it exceptionally useful for storing other countries’ coins when traveling abroad. I’ve also slipped an AirTag into it, and it’s hardly noticeable in-pocke

The Great

Overall, the wallets are a pleasure to use and haul around.

  • The material reminds me of ripstop used in other offerings (like with Pioneer), but lighter-weight, denser construction, not overly stiff (but rigid enough to hold itself), and completely waterproof (which is excellent).
  • It’s slim, and has one of the smallest footprints when resting in a pocket.
  • The springy vibes of opening and closing the wallet with the magnets adds an element of joy - it’s a bifold unlike anything I’ve used before, and keeps the profile as slim as the cards its holding without bulging outwards like others in the market. This yield is due to its construction — the magnets are a certain thickness at the ends of the bi-fold sides, so as you fill the wallet with cards, it simply fills in the already evened-out spaces near the fold.
  • And once you fill the wallet with 3-4 cards, everything remains tautly in-place, including a card in the outside quick-slot.
Re:form wallets side by side
Re:form wallets side by side

The Minor Inconveniences

  • There’s no way around it — the material tends to gather dust and particles, though it does shrug off a bit as you pocket/un-pocket the wallet, and you can always wash it off with water. I've been told from the company that the material does break in over time and lessens the attraction of lint to stick.
  • In pocketing/unpocketing the wallet, you’ll sometimes face a bit of friction with certain fabrics, so it doesn’t always glide right in/out of your pocket depending on your attire.
  • Most slim wallets share a common ground with loose paper currency, and the Re:Form wallets aren’t exactly any different. Inserted cards fit perfectly in their slots, but adding cash creates an additional friction point that requires surgical removal depending how card-tight you’ve loaded it.

Overall

Amongst the slim profile, magnet enclosure, welded seams, and RE:01’s clever pocket, Re:Form has climbed to my top three wallet recommendations. I don’t often carry cash, but if you do, the Trove wallet (and its elasticity) is the smartest slim wallet for accommodating it. The pocket on the RE:01 probably works best well for coins and an AirTag.

Overall, the Re:Form wallets are truly excellent products. I genuinely like where Re:Form has gone with this design, and look forward to seeing if they employ their materials and magnets in other clever ways in the future.

the best three slim wallets side by side
the best slim wallets side by side - RE:02, Nik's Wallet, and Trove Swift

The Slimmest Wallet Pursuit

🕖 Last updated: Dec 18, 2023

Back on my bullshit again.

I've been searching for, putting through the paces, and reviewing wallets for over a decade now. And I'm restless again, because someone must be improving the design to meet the holy grail of "nearly as small as the cards that go in it, with a smidgen of room for the occasional few bills".

There are many that come close.

But there are only a few that achieve it.

Considerations

I'll skip the pontificating because no one has time — The following facets were primary considerations:

  • Material: Built with strength and longevity in mind. I prefer non-leather wallet materials, which ruled out brands like Bellroy and Saddleback
  • Size: The aspiration here is minimal footprint inside any carry pocket — wallet bulge is disgusting. Hence the wallet shouldn't exceed the dimensions of a card by much.
  • Functionality: When you get into this narrow arena, functionality becomes a consideration because these wallets are incredibly minimal, and some require pull-straps or other clever ways of extracting contents.

Top Three Wallet Recommendations

Here are the wallets you should be thinking about if you share a similar philosophy about the everyday carry essential:

Three wallets on a marble countertop, the left being the largest, black, with a card inside it, the second being a gray-patterned one with a loop attached to one side, and the third the smallest, with an elastic design From left: Re:Form RE:02, Tom Bihn Nik's Wallet, and Trove Swift
  • Re:Form Wallet. This one surprised me — so much so that it's what I'm currently using everyday. Sleek, functional, and well-made. It has magnets for a slick bifold enclosure, and they rule. One of the two tentpole versions has a coin/AirTag sleeve option. Very pocketable, very thin, waterproof, and fair capacity (up to eight cards) make this is a highly recommended, top-tier choice.
  • Tom Bihn Nik's Wallet: This has been a steady champion for years — a bifold miracle that's a pleasure to use. No degradation in the fabric or materials, including its enclosure strap, and it loads a handsome 5-10 cards, including several metal credit cards with the ability to stash cash all while conforming to a near-card-sized dimension. Incredible. Plus the fabric-feel of halcyon (or their ballistic nylon options) sings in the hand.
  • Trove Swift: I've gone back and forth with this wallet for a similar number of years, and it's a rugged champ. True, some of the options for it include leather, but I recommend going with the carbon fibre. It has three slots snug against an Italian elastic band, so this thing is literally the length of a credit card (the slimmest you will ever get). It also features a rad little pull strap that quickly extracts your cards from one of the slots. It's fast, it's barely visible in a pocket, and it lasts.
  • And that's it. Look no further than those three. I'm not making any affiliate fees off this, so it's my honest opinion. Take with it what you will.

    What did I miss?

    A few considerations that make the rounds or that I've personally tried in the past that just don't cut it:

    • Slimfold. A lot of folks like this one. I reviewed it years ago. It's okay. It's bigger than I'd like it to be, the materials are flimsy, and it doesn't feel confident in its design.
    • Super Wallet. Probably my first minimal wallet purchase yeeeeeeaaaaaars ago. It did not hold up well. It's all just fabric. They made a leather one but I don't know why. Meh.
    • Pioneer. I like these, but the material is super rigid, and their smallest form factor one (Molecule Cardholder) has too large a dimension. It holds up exceptionally well, though. Here's my review from a while ago. I'm also selling this one if you want it for a major discount.
    • Peak Design Mobile Wallet: Lastly, this. It offers something neat for those who care: it comes in a stand variant (small flap that flips open to provide a stand for your phone), or without. Either way, this one is different in that is also magnetizes to your iPhone with MagSafe. Whether you care for it or not, this is still actually a sleek, small wallet with an unique fold-top design that, upon opening, pulls up and outwards to reveal your stack of cards inside. It's less organizable, and the material is the lousiest, but it still hits the mark.

Thanks for reading. Goodbye.


Evergoods’ Undyed Mountain Pack Performed Like a Champ at the Fair

I was so enamored with Evergoods’ choice to go undyed with a set of their bags to build a more earth-friendly line-up, I had to get one. Notably, this was my pack of choice for the Minnesota State Fair this year... yes, a bold choice for a place likely to amass grime on all who pass through).

Luckily, the Mountain Hip Pack 3.5L performed like a champ. Was there ever any doubt it wouldn’t?

I comfortably packed cash, a wallet, wad of keys, battery pack, a map, tickets, a can of SPAM (you had to be there), sunglasses after dark, a headband, and an 18oz Hydroflask in the outer “sleeve” pocket. With room to spare. It's a great size, though I kept this slung across the chest -- seems like it'd look too big on the waist, but who am I to say.

Openened white sling bag with can of SPAM inside, next to a Minnesota State Fair jacket

A lot of customers like the strap on this one, and I can see why — two buckle clips keep it attached to the bag, so you can sling in any which way (waist, right-side or left-side across torso), and it's perfectly comfortable to take on/off and slide around. It also comes with two built-in strap keepers that operate incredibly well.

Overall, it's a very comfortable, functional sling that reliably persevered through a nine-hour maraud through the fair. Shockingly, it didn't get a speck of dirt on it, either.

It. Is. Terrific.


The new Islands album (‘And That’s Why Dolphins Lost Their Legs’) is fantastically catchy, like all their stuff — you feel like you’ve heard it before. Great way to close out the summer.


MUBI’s Printed Notebook (film magazine)

Just received my first issue of MUBI’s Notebook, and it’s an incredible print production. Absolutely love a surprise and delight moment with anything I wasn’t expecting to have such a moment with, and this hit the mark.

MUBI is a niche/classical/independent/international film streaming service that’s been around for over a decade (I originally subscribed back in 2010). I recently re-subscribed and learned that they were producing a bi-annual magazine that accompanies the company’s super-focused spotlight on cinematic experiences.

And it is a beautiful object.

  • It ships in a magazine-sized box (not plastic wrap!)
  • The magazine inside is wrapped with a re-usable, water-resistant sleeve that makes the printed pages inside feel cared for
  • The pages are printed on thick, punchy stock that feels unlike any other magazine, including the crown jewel, Monocle
  • Lay-flat design, so you can open any part of the magazine and keep it comfortably open without the pages curling back around
  • Beautiful orange stitching throughout, which is… notable

This issue (#3) is dedicated to weather throughout film:

…saboteurs are afoot and unpredictable weather is in the forecast! With thematic pieces devoted to the appearance of weather inside and outside of movies—w(h)e(a)ther cataclysmic or beautiful, documented or created—and to the disruptive ways film culture and industry can be sabotaged, this Issue is expected to reach record readings (!).

I’ve only just begun paging through it, but it’s a joy to read and see so far. Highly recommend — keep print alive!


Breathing New Life Into the Weber Spirit E-210 Grill

I’ve been using this thing for going on 7+ years now, and as I’ve noted in the past, it keeps on performing. Recently, I picked up a QuliMetal cast iron grill griddle, built for various Weber models including my own. Why?

  1. This one was available to buy immediately versus the official Weber one
  2. Its portfolio of similar products had received great, genuine (sounding) reviews
  3. Moreover, I wanted to use a griddle on my grill, and I wanted to do it now

For the last several years, we had been bringing out a cast iron pan and setting it atop the slated grill currently built into the Weber to cook various meats, including salmon and steaks. This has been working fairly well, but bringing a pan out to the grill and setting it atop a grate that separates the cast iron from direct flame seemed inefficient and a lousy way of heating the vessel (which is absolutely required for searing meats). And secondly, if we were to use the original slatted grate to cook a steak on, for instance, there’s zero chance of providing each side a comprehensive sear — you have to settle for grill lines.

I’ll admit these reasons may not satisfy under scrutiny, but they’re the primary drivers for investing in this new piece of hardware. And as a bonus, I get to use the flat top griddle for diner-style smashed patties, eggs, bacon, etc. without resorting to polluting the air quality in our home (of which is something we're ever more conscious). Besides, grilling is one of the best things to do in the summer. I’d rather get more use from it and be outdoors.

So how does it perform? In as few words as possible:

  • It does a fine job.
  • It requires aggressive scraping and scrubbing to clear the debris and grease from it after use, but so does a cast iron pan
  • I'm wagering I'll need to re-season it throughout its usage, but to me this still seems very much worth it.
  • The first sears of a steak were, as anticipated, much better than what I was netting with the cast iron pan. Just need to dial in the timing and heat application.

Buying it was a good bet, and highly recommended if you're looking to do something similar here. Cheers. 👨‍🍳


SK Coffee in St Paul

You never really stop seeking out the best a locale has to offer when it comes to coffee. Ever since moving to Minneapolis-St. Paul nearly five years ago, I'd been enjoying — but also on the hunt for — the best coffee the Twin Cities has to offer.

The good news is there's plenty to choose from, whether it be Spyhouse Coffee (the original craft coffee roaster here, from my understanding), the stellar Five Watt (extraordinaires of funky, delicious coffee cocktails), Dogwood (the stalwart choice when you're spending time in a great neighborhood drag), Claddagh Coffee and their old-school trusty vibes, Wildflyer Coffee (with their humane mission to employ and end youth homelessness), or hey, even Bootstrap (well, 'Backstory' now) when you're in St.Paul's west side.

The better news is, when it comes to craft, there is a good argument to be made about SK Coffee being the best.

SK Coffee has something magical going for them. They opened their first spot in the Vandalia Tower in St. Paul (kudos to them for choosing St. Paul to start their franchise), located right in the middle of both cities. They also recently opened a Whittier location in Minneapolis, but I haven't had a chance to visit it yet.

Its St. Paul cafe is a bright, breezy space that operates as the preferred entrance into the commercial building, punctured by an 'SK' neon sign, lounge chairs, long tables, and colorful bar stools tucked cozily at its counter. They also stock house plants in a corner (that you can buy), and feature a rotating bakeries program from some of the best in the Twin Cities (I've seen them sport Marc Heu, and more recently, Vikings & Goddesses). The intentional inclusion of great bakeries should tell you that they take exceptional care in not only the servicing of coffee, but equally in the supplemental fika that pairs alongside it.

In short, it's a cafe that definitely has a more "stay awhile and sip" vs "get a quick fix and leave".

Of course, we came for the coffee, so let's talk coffee.

Owners Sam Kjellberg and Nate Broadbridge bring serious experience and meticulous roasting to the table, cut only by a colorful casualness that's accentuated by their delightfully off-kilter packaging. (Also, I love that they highlight the whole team on their Team page -- great to see the whole crew that brings this brand to life.) They hold a fantastic line-up of default, standby coffees and craft, limited releases, which I feel is a great balance of simplicity for go-to reliability of options, ranging from the stellar, chocolatey washed Peruvian bag, to the fun, passionately collaborated farm releases like the recently sold out Cryomaceration from Finca Gascón that bangs with jammy flavors I've honestly never tasted in a coffee before.

SK Coffee - bag of limited release coffee Cryomaceration

Part of what makes them special is a great flavor profile series that they plug into as they refresh and roast their beans, which include smooth, sweet, bold, unique, and rare. Sure, other coffee shops categorize similarly, but the accurate descriptions that accompany several of the bags (as an attached card) really do reflect the intricacies — those unique, fruity ones are so surprising and smell so incredibly good in the morning, it's irresistible to order them again and again. This was the first line up of coffee that had me intentionally drifting away from my usual light roasts (mostly nutty in favor) in favor of the more fruit-forward options.

With such a deliberate approach to inventories and selection, they of course offer a few great ways to indulge their varietals in the form of "clubs":

  • Membership: An annual fee-based option that grants the member a percentage off their manually-placed orders, and also grants first pick for special coffee projects, events, and micro-lots.
  • Subscription: More of the traditional direct-to-consumer model of a monthly fee that nets you an automatic quantity of coffee bag(s) delivered to your door.

There's also a third option they are exploring (as of May 2023) called Farm Gate Club, which they explain:

"Farm Gate Value" refers to the market value of an agricultural product minus the selling costs (shipping, tariffs, etc.). Our vision is to create a "buying club" or CSA, of sorts. This club will connect the "consumer" more directly to the source. In addition to experiencing economic intimacy with the producers, we will explore producers' most experimental lots, encouraging continued development in the industry.

Overall, SK Coffee provides tremendous value on all fronts -- cafe, food curation, coffee product, and membership clubs. These demonstrate competency and confidence in what they're putting together, providing something truly unique in the midwest, and delivering consistency that encourages continued investment in their coffee program.

You can visit their locations below, their site here, and follow them on Instagram here.


The Weber Spirit E-210 Seven Years Later

It's been seven years since I started grilling on this beast, and it has held up remarkably well. The Weber Spirit E-210 is reliable, sturdy hardware that works just like the day I fired it up for the first time.

The Good:

  • Still works amazingly well, operates like it should without any degradation of intrinsic components/operating elements
  • The modularity of this grill is exceptional -- there are several great additions, add-ons, and readily available replacement parts because it's such a standardized, long-running model
  • This thing can typically exceed 500º degrees F if you let the burners roll at the highest setting, which suits 100% of my grilling needs
  • It's easy to clean. Grill takes apart in three pieces, flavorizer bars (three) are very easy to pull out, and you can spray/wipe just about everything inside and out without worry of ruining anything critical.

The So-So:

  • Speaking of the flavorizer bars, I've done the due diligence of replacing them twice over the course of my ownership. They're easy to buy and replace, and will set you back about $40-50. I probably could have cleaned them, but they really got butchered by dripping cheeses and all kind of other nasty bits where it seemed more appropriate to just replace.
  • The grill cover. For the cost of this thing, you'd think it would have better hardware, but alas, the velcro (hook and loop) to tie the sides against the grill itself do deteriorate over time (maybe the elements?), and I now resort to just tying the two straps in a soft knot. And trust me, if it's windy, I've had this thing blow off the grill before, so keep it tight. Other than this small issue, it hasn't ripped at all, and still perfectly protects the grill.

Is It Still Worth It?

Still kicks ass. Still highly recommended.


Celeste Review

While a few years late to this one, I picked up Celeste on a whim and got right into the "masocore" platformer by Maddy Makes Games.

I love the breadth of creativity in platformers, and its rare to encounter one that delivers the full package - phenomenally designed levels (and mechanics), education through gameplay on building your skillset, wonderful soundtrack to complement the mood of the game narrative, and differentiated environmental color tones to really set the mood for each "stage". Having (somehow) completed the game through its myriad of labyrinthine levels and increasingly masochistic difficulty, it has earned itself an absolute favorite of mine.

First, I am not a masocore gamer by default. I love a good challenge, but I hardly made it more than a couple of bosses in Elder Ring before switching gears to just marauding through the landscapes by horseback and avoiding confrontations. So... there was no way I was playing this game with the default one AirDash value -- I used the assist option to up that value to "2", because, in retrospect, you have to be a far, far more talented player to get anywhere in that game with a single double-jump. And you do a lot of double-triple jumping in this game. It's safe to declare it's the game's signature, and primary, method of movement.

And that is, of course, what makes the game exceedingly challenging and sequentially rewarding: you are given a screen of obstacles that must be navigated, typically by way of dying dozens – dozens – of times to perfectly move the Celeste accurately and correctly through to the end point. Not unlike nearly every other platformer, sure, but there is something melodic about this one that really emphasizes the timing, the learned maneuvers over the course of the stages, that brings everything together in that single screen's set of obstacles. Once executed, there's a thrill to having completed it correctly. And there is usually only one way to complete any given area in this game correctly. Which... is part of the charm.

🎮


Metroid Prime is Still Great 21 Years Later

It's been 21 years since I played the original Metroid Prime, released on the purple-clad Gamecube back when I was, what, a junior in high school?

Eons ago.

When Nintendo dropped a remastered version of it for Switch this past month (unexpectedly, I hear?), it wasn't an instant purchase. I had fond memories of the original (its SNES predecessor, Super Metroid, is my definitive favorite game experience), and the Gamecube version built an exceptional three-dimensional vision for its universe that at once respected the source material and paved a new, albeit different path, for the franchise. I remember it being fairly long (compared to speed running Super Metroid in ~two hours), and recent nostalgia trips haven't been rewarding...

  • Baldur's Gate was a charming return a few years back, but not as magical or as narratively complex as I remembered the original experience
  • Super Mario Sunshine re-release was better than I remembered, but also wasn't interesting enough (and dragged down in antiquity) to spend more than a few hours playing around
  • Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a slog, and while an inventive experience, the mechanics felt dated and, you know, those N64 graphics just never did it for me
  • System Shock 2, forever holding a place in my heart as a thrilling inventory-heavy spaceship horror show, was unfortunately a stale replay experience

Anyway, the siren song of Metroid couldn't be resisted, and I ended up getting Metroid Prime Remastered a week ago. I played the shit out of it, finishing in less than a couple days. It was as remarkable as it was during its first play through, the updated resolution and graphics seamlessly blended in -- like this was how it was meant to be seen on far less adequate hardware -- and the gameplay mechanics haven't missed a beat. Partially why this game works so well is probably the depth of music, sound design, and gameplay weave so well into the very detailed environments, that it feels forever like a perfect Nintendo package.

Of note, the environments (which I don't think were updated significantly beyond their resolution and textures) continue to look like something built in a modern game. I always remembered how different the experience felt back in 2002 -- there were massive vines cracked through walls and strewn about on the ground, pollen and moisture in the air (hitting and steaming up your helmet visor), organic and insectoid creatures moving about between environs, broken debris and spherical/non-blocky objects and walls everywhere that created a much tighter, believable vision for the world -- these all may sound obvious in 2023, but they were so far ahead of its time (especially on console hardware), that it's hard to explain how natural the game still looks and feels 21 years later.

In short: the game is incredible and stands the test of time.


Boludo Pizza - Re-Posting my Review

A “short” review of the best pizza place in the Twin Cities

Parked on a worthy block at the corner of Nicollet and E 38th sits an Argentinian pizzeria called Boludo. It’s flanked by Five Watt (if you need coffee) and Fine Meats (if you need meat). But if you want pizza, Boludo is the place.

I don’t live in Minneapolis, but I do live in St. Paul. The problem with living across the river from Minneapolis is delivery services – sometimes they just don’t deliver over here, and sometimes they do. Regardless, in the hopes of trying to wean myself off a reliance of DoorDash to mitigate restaurants needing to pay their ecosystem fees, I decided to pick this Boludo order up myself. Who better to trust.

When I arrive at Boludo (from which I’ve ordered delivery before, but never stepped foot in), I see that the interior of the place is small and utilitarian. A row of hightop chairs against a window table shelf, a few small tables, an open-air fridge with beverages in the corner, and an ordering counter. They also keep pre-made empanadas in a glass display, which is cool. Very bakery-like.

Anyway, this is a review of the food, not the location. It takes less than a minute to announce myself and take my pick up order.

Back in St. Paul, I heat up the oven. I know, it’s probably not purist of me to do this, but I like my pizza warm when I’m getting it fresh. I use a carbon steel pan to heat up a few slices for a couple of minutes, while also dropping some cheese to my dog’s bowl, because she should be able to enjoy this as much as me. Right.

First, I eat the empanada I ordered as a companion to the main feast. I chose what they call the Carne. It’s a buttery soft (but not that buttery, I don’t even know if they use butter in the dough) encasing of beef picadillo, ají molido, and olives. Yes, this sounds like my kind of order. It also comes with a ramekin of chimichurri, so yes, this will be good. And it is. The mix is a perfectly umami, meat-wet amalgamation, and when dipped in chimichurri, the zing of olive oil, cilantro, and pepper elevate it even further. Let’s be honest, anything with chimichurri is going to be good. Anything. Especially an empanada. But the empanada can stand on its own, too.

Okay, moving on to the pizza. I got the Pepperoni Pizza because I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to order my favorite pizza. My favorite, simple ingredient pizza. I mean, look at those pepperonis. If you see them cupping grease like that, you’ve made the right choice.

Now, I’ve had this pizza before. It’s good every time. I think it actually might get better every time.

But first… just look at that pizza. It’s got a hell of a shape. Kind of like a horizontally-stretched quadrilateral. I don’t know why it’s like this. But it’s no matter, because it’s sliced in a way that makes sense and provides tangible pieces to eat (you probably get four good-sized slices out of this). For context, it’s a perfect size for two people who also might be eating an empanada or salad with it. Or for one very hungry person. After I gave it a little heat-up, I dug in and enjoyed every, single, bite. The sauce is amazing – a bright, light San Marzano tomato spread that sits right under a thinly shredded smattering of mozzarella. And I don’t mean a thin amount of cheese – there is a generous portion lopped on the base, but you can see the shredded pieces of mozzarella flung around the box and hanging off the sides of the crust. It’s a masterpiece of design. Lastly, atop the throne, are those small, curled pucks of pepperoni. Grease reservoirs in the best way. No, I’m not patting this down with a napkin – I’m eating it all.

The first few bites reaffirm why this pizza is great – sweet, but not acidic; the soft, precious crust looks charred but tastes like clouds; the cheese apparently isn’t a blend, but fools me into thinking there are ten different shades of mozzarellas immaculately tossed together; and, of course, the pepperoni just seals the flavor trap. A trifecta of genius.

Chef Facundo DeFraia, who according to the Boludo website, spent time in Buenos Aires learning the cooking trade in his grandmother’s kitchen. Whatever time he spent there is now yielding unfathomable joy from anyone who consumes his dishes. He also helped his friend open Martina, whose sister shop next door is also a very, very good pizza spot called Rosalia. They’re all top tier, and I’d have difficulty casting a vote for either Rosalia or Boludo as the king of pizza in the Twin Cities (but there are so many other contenders… I just won’t go there).

Recommended if you live here or are in the area.


Heggies, the GOAT.


The Joy of Using the Tom Bihn Zip-Top Shop Bag

You have to love the Tom Bihn brand of bags and accessories. They make a great portfolio of products here in the USA (Seattle), all produced with a high level of quality, thoughtful design, material options, many many colors, and, of course, have the brilliant O-ring connected ecosystem.

One of their products shines in its utilitarian genius: the Zip-Top Shop Bag. Like you, I've tried a dozen shop totes that either cost me a couple bucks or were handed out free at some event/magazine subscription. I absolutely advocate for deploying re-usable bags for shopping of any kind. But the bag has to be good to be usable. And most tote bags are complete shit. The Zip-Top Shop Bag is not shit. In fact, it is the best tote bag ever made.

The biggest issue most generic tote bags have is the handle. This critical feature of the bag is often the most poorly designed part of the bag. So often are companies fixated on having their logo or some kind of visual slapped on the side of the bag that they forget you're actually going to be using the bag to tote items around from their store (or other stores). Oftentimes you're loading things into this bag, and then commuting with it a short distance back to your car, or a longer distance on a bus or bike. Thus, the handle needs to be comfortable at all times. It shouldn't dig into your palms like it wants to cut them off when you've aptly used the bag and stuffed it full of groceries. It shouldn't feel flimsy, like it's going to shred off its stitches if the load is too much for its inadequately-constructed purpose. It should work like a dream.

You know what works like a dream? The Tom Bihn Zip-Top Shop Bag. Just look at those handles. They are C-U-S-H-I-O-N-E-D. Brilliant idea. Why did no else thing of that? I wish I knew. Most don't care about your enjoyment or ease of use in toting their tote bag around. But Tom Bihn cares. It cares so much that it designed one of the best handles ever made for a bag. What's crazy is that Tom Bihn pitches the bag with the following, simple bullet-point:

"Has comfortable padded handles"

What an understatement. What modesty. This bag's handles do not disappoint in anyway. No matter the load, it feels like you're holding air -- it does some kind of magic in making you feel like the weight is lessened, and you could carry it forever. I would score them a perfect rating. For the purposes of a tote bag, look no further -- the Zip-Top Shop Bag is the best one on the market.

Okay, Aside from the Handle?

What else is great about it? It has a plethora of other amazing features that elevate it to god-like status.

  • Zip-top: Obvious, but important to note. This bag zips with a slick pair of YKK zippers centered perfectly at the top of the bag. So you can enclose things in there. It's nice. Also worth noting is a slightly cheaper version of the is bag, called the Original Shop Bag, that does not come with a zipper. But it has the handles!
  • Interior Pockets: Kind of important. Maybe. Depends on how or if you care to use them. Two deep pockets line the interior sides of the tote. Nice to have.
  • O-Rings: It's got two of them, right under the zipper line inside the bag. The O-Ring ecosystem is great -- you can clip damn near anything to these things, like your keys! or a carabiner!, and Tom Bihn has a plethora of little accessories that natively clip in as well. Endlessly useful.
  • You Can Shoulder It: Yeah, the handles are awesome. But Tom Bihn also engineered this bag to fit perfectly on your shoulder. So you have two carry styles: holding it with the handles (and even holding the handles, the bag hovers above the ground), or toss it on your shoulder. It fits nice and snug. Comfortable.
  • Materials: Lastly, the material options for this bag are fantastic. Like most of their other bags, Tom Bihn usually offers several materials options when selecting your bag, in addition to a dizzying array of colors. I've seen the Shop Bag featured in several classic Tom Bihn materials, including Cerylon, Cotton Twill, 1000 Cordura, Ruff Stuff, Textured Nylon, and Ballistic. As with most of their products, much of your choice will depend on availability or whether they're doing another production run. I can vouch that this bag rules in both cerylon and ballistic.

So those are the main features of the Zip-Top Shop Bag. It's the best tote bag on the market. Buy one if you truly want to give those other incompetent tote bags a rest, and have this truly be the last tote bag you own. That way, you can finally stop collecting random ones that end up in a landfill.


Aer Travel Pack 2 - A Very Good One Bag Travel Kit

I picked up Aer's flagship product, the Travel Pack 2, last year in preparation of work travel ramping up (note - that link goes to the just-released Travel Pack 3, as they just retired their second version of this bag). Nearly two years into the pandemic, but with waning restrictions (alas, pre-Omicron thinking at the time), I figured I'd want an even more streamlined travel operation than I had prior (usually my Evergoods CPL24 paired with a Goruck Kit, or if I'm ambitious, just the Evergoods CPL24).

As usual, I spent an inordinate amount of time researching my options — and there are a shocking number of options. No longer is the technical material/hardcore design/one-bagging niche a small industry anymore; from my pattern of research, it's massive. There are dedicated bloggers/vloggers, endless kickstarter projects or post-kickstart projects that grew into huge successes, there are niches within niches, and there is shortage of intricate viewpoints on what the preferred array of attributes should be, from size, capacity, opening style, pocket placement, zipper pulls, weight, shoulder strap padding, grab handles/locations, on and on, it's overwhelming. I knew this. You probably knew this. But I continued to research anyway.

Good news, I have a few perspectives on this subject, and in particular, the subject of this review — I selected the Aer Travel Pack 2. Curiously enough, about 6 months later, I'm selling this bag to double-down on the Evergoods CPL version 2, but let me not get ahead of myself. The Aer Travel Pack 2 is an excellent, satisfying choice for being a de facto one bag solution for travel. Let me tell you why.

Capacity

At 33 liters, this is a few liters short of many similar-sized "carry on" backpacks in the space. Usually you see 35L or 40L. 45L seemed to large, and even 40L was pushing it. 33L is a sweet spot. If you can't set yourself up for a week's travel within the confines of 33-35 liters, you're doing it wrong.

I comfortably fit two loaded Tom Bihn shoulder bag packing cubes, a Peak Design small travel cube, Tom Bihn grab bag (for toiletries), a tech kit, extra batteries, notebook, hardcover book, MacBook Pro, and iPad 11 in in there without a problem, and had plenty of room to cinch the bag with its compression straps. This is my usual 3-4 day load out for work travel or personal travel (in autumn/winter months, given weather conditions), so if it can be accomplished in the bag, we're good. As part of this experiment in using this larger bag, I also had been packing a Tom Bihn briefcase rolled up so I could deploy as my laptop bag upon arrival. This system works well, since you do not want to lug the Aer around as your daily bag upon your destination — it's too big for that.

Material & Build Quality

This is an Aer bag, so you likely know what to expect if you've seen or used their hardware before. It's a very sleek, slick, tough ballistic nylon exterior that deflects lint, pet hair, and debris of any kind. Inner materials and organizing pockets are the same cookie-cutter layouts and style from other Aer bags, but that isn't a bad thing -- it's functional. And there are plenty of pockets and places to stash your stuff.

The best, most thoughtful pocket is the top "access" one right next to the primary handle. The worst, most disappointing pocket is the outer-lower pocket that defines the middle zipline when facing the bag. Another disappointment is the pockets lacking their own capacities. Once you have the luxury of pockets offering individual capacities in Evergoods products, it's hard to adjust to anything but.

Lastly, the zippers are chunky YKKs, and they rule. Aquaguard ziplines on most of the main openings.

Clamshell & Compression

The bag opens clamshell, like all good travel bags (or honestly, EDC bags). So, like a suitcase, if you've never used a bag like this before. It's the best way to load and organize your carry. That's all.

This bag also has compression straps to either shrink the bag for lighter loads (dimensionally), or to shrink down a fully loaded bag. This is both a blessing and a curse: the straps look great and work great. They also block the primary zipper for the body of the bag, requiring you to unclip the straps every time you want to open the main contents of the bag. They do not block the laptop backpanel pocket or the slimmer external front pocket, though, which is a nice design touch — this lets you grab pens/books/notepads/computer/whatever you store there that you might easily need access to while on the go and not at your hotel yet.

Carry

The Aer Travel Pack 2 carries like a breeze. It's very cushy, airy, and uncumbersome for most medium-to-heavy loads. I never tired of having on my back, and didn't bother buying the harness straps (though I do realize it's the smart thing to do for heavy loads). I'd say it sits normally on your back — you don't need to ride it high or do anything special. Just toss it on your back.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed using this bag. If I wanted to continue going down the route of one-bag, one trip, screw the luxury of more than 33 liters of space, I would never stop using it. But the siren call of a different kind of load out kit for traveling overrode my enjoyment of the one bag dream here. I have slight regrets in selling it, but at the same time, have no restraint in telling you that it is worth getting if you're stuck on deciding whether to go with this or the plethora of other (probably also good) bags out there, like Peak Design's 45L Travel Bag, the Pakt Travel Backpack, the Nomatic 40L, Evergoods Travel Bag 35L, Tom Bihn Aeronaut/Techonaut, or the Minaal Carry On. This is elite bag culture bullshit, sure, but I did my homework, and there you have it.


Pioneer Wallet - Molecule Card Holder Review

Pioneer has been building a special materials series of wallets since 2016, which is right around the time minimal wallets were hitting their stride. This was apparently a year before Trove released their seminal ultra-thin stretch/leather wallets, which have been a preferred champion for my usage over the years. But the material, thinness, and a year of COVID-19 (lack of need in using a wallet that can accommodate a lot of cards) had me tempted enough to order the Molecule Card Holder version from Pioneer. And I'm glad I did.

The premiere technical material blends that Pioneer uses for every one of its diamond-patterned wallets are the elite differentiators:

10DX

  • DX10 is a their "custom blend of UHMWPE (ultra high-molecular-weight-polyethylene) and nylon"
  • The build here is a very strong ripstop, with a notably tight weave that gives off an agreeably slick finish
  • The entire wallet is, as a result of this, waterproof and machine washable
  • Pioneer claims that the wallet will not noticeably "fatigue or age" for the first several years due to its manufactured process
  • Available colors limited to onyx, black/white, and blue/white

3PN

  • For the wallet I ordered, this is the materials blend I got with the Slate color (this blend is also available in Evergreen)
  • This is a three-ply nylon ripstop fabric, featuring a DWR (dirt and water resistant) coating
  • Since 10XD cannot be dyed in solid colors or achieve a fully dull/matte finish- 3PN helps us maintain our standard of durability and longevity while allowing us to offer limitless solid colors and a matte finish
  • As with 10DX, 3PN stronger than other wallet materials (e.g., leather), it's waterproof and machine washable, and "woven to last a lifetime"

All of Pioneer's wallets have a 10-year warranty (which is incredible seeing as how many wallet companies don't bother with such a thing, though it pales next to Saddleback's 100 year warranty). Part of why they likely offer such a warranty is that their wallets use a stitching methodology they call FutureForm, which is a heat-fusing tech that "helps to reduce stitching and give [their] wallets a premium leather-like hand feel." It's geniuine, and it makes a huge different compared to other stitching in technical material wallets out there.

Overall, there isn't much to criticize. The everyday feel, thinness, and holdability is phenomenal and enjoyable. The three pockets (two short cuts on the outside, one primary deep pocket in the middle) are more than adequate for the number of cards I typically have on-hand in a modern, post-COVID environment (e.g., credit card, license, and debit card -- maybe a couple bills). It barely increases in girth when this load-out is in there, though it will of course get thicker the more you put in. I'd make the argument that this wallet could have a smaller overall footprint -- as you can see in the accompanying photos, it's a good 2cm larger than a typical card footprint. Perhaps this is by design, as a single folded US bill fits neatly into the main middle pocket (and would not/does not on wallets that conform to the exact size of a credit card, like the Trove). But even at its slightly larger size, it still pockets with ease and with minimal heft.

Without anything loaded in, the Molecule Card Holder measures 107mm x 74mm x 4mm, and weighs in at just 28 grams. Pioneer claims this one will hold 4-6 cards comfortably, but they have other wallet options for greater quantity needs. It's at once unremarkable to look at, with mostly hidden features, and the diamond-patterned shell is subtle at best on the 3PN color variants. But its shape, thinness, and extremely lux durability once touched immediately change your perspective.

Available at Pioneer for $59-65.


The Hyper Key Solution for Mac

The beauty and efficiency of keyboard shortcuts has mostly eluded me. While I've memorized native application shortcuts, and created a few dozen automatic text replacements in System Preferences, I never went deep on customizations.

One fine day, I decided to try Keyboard Maestro, a much-loved automation application for macOS by the developer community. I didn't fully grasp everything it could do, but I started to see the depth of programming often-conducted behaviors or maneuvers in my day-to-day work stream. All without having to learn AppleScript or another programming language – understanding sequential boolean operations is all that's needed.

So I set up a few things that would help me establish processes like taking faster notes (foundational templates), open certain folders with hotkeys (to speed up file extraction/sharing), and do basic copy/paste work streams. More recently, I started seeing talk of this elusive "hyper key", which essentially is a way to map together all the modifier keys (command, option, control, and shift) as one holistic global key modifier. By doing this, it safeguards against interfering with other native applications' keyboard shortcuts and regular global modifiers. By virtualizing a hyper key, you get a fifth modifier key to rule over an entirely new set of shortcuts and automations. The trick is assigning this string of keys to a single key not currently in use.

Given that the F-keys are tricky to string together in a physical stroke due to their location on the keyboard (and harder still if you have a MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar), the obvious key to employ is the under-used Caps Lock. It's surprising this key still makes its way onto every keyboard layout – aside from easing the typing of serial numbers, legal agreements, and maybe labeling diagrams, it seems entirely anachronistic. I did some Internet sleuthing, and arrived at a number of ways to deactivate the Caps Lock key's primary operation and remap its usage. Upon perusing said search results, there are quite a few others out there who not only thought the same thing, but have built a myriad of instructions and even apps to accomplish this.

The Hyperkey App - a Review of Sorts

If you don't want to screw around with the more technical elements of this remapping operation, I suggest giving Ryan Hanson's App, Hyperkey, a try. He charges $5 for it, and makes a compelling argument that it might just be easier to have a simple method for remapping Caps Lock instead of the lengthier process of downloading Karabiner-Elements (albeit a more expansive keyboard customizer for macOS):

My goal with Hyperkey is to maximize a human performance gain while minimizing configuration and OS impact. Despite pre-existing solutions to this problem, I still can’t help but gravitate toward Hyperkey and this goal. This app has also been an initial testing ground for two ideas: Swiping one touch from the trackpad edge as a key press, and finding the simplest ways to remap keys.

Since I wanted to go the simple route, and use it with my already-paid for Keyboard Maestro, I threw five bucks at the situation.

Good thing, because it works phenomenally well. I've already built what many will likely find basic operations with the hyperkey, but have tremendously streamlined getting going with work in the morning and getting work out of the way for the evening and weekends, including:

  • Setting Amphetamine to a session duration to kick-start the day
  • Opening work-related apps in the morning in my Desktop 1 Space (work) environment, like Outlook, Teams, Notes/Bear, work-specific browser, etc.
  • Closing work-related apps and shifting the view to Desktop 2 (personal Space)
  • Note-related templates that automate day/time and setup sectional structure for attendees, scratchpad, to-dos, etc.

I'm sure several more ideas will come to me, but even these in their simplest form, have been huge time-savers.

And while I haven't figured out a good use-case for this other option the developer included, it's worth noting:

...the checkbox for swapping option & command for non-Apple keyboards. This is actually the one other item that I have desired out of a key remapper, since the built-in macOS functionality is frustratingly laggy on one of my Microsoft external keyboards every time my mac wakes. I couldn’t help but add this in.

If you want to easily make much better use of the Caps Lock key, Hyperkey is a great gateway into allowing for a super-modifier key to pair with other more robust keystroke automation software. Who knows, maybe it'll work with the new Mac Shortcuts coming in macOS Monterey, too.


Western Rise - Apparel Review

These past several years, I've been bouncing around a few technical-fabric apparel brands, seeking well-built, solid uniforms with thoughtful quality materials. It hasn't been difficult to find dozens of niche brands filling this space. But only Western Rise has fit the bill perfectly across all components of a minimal yet complete wardrobe.

My first foray was with Outlier, a New York brand drenched in radical ideas for hardcore fabrics, construction, and style. They've gathered a cultish following over the years, and their product line has ebbed and flowed, most dominantly from their iconic set (merino wool tee with slim dungaree pants), to such wildly idiotic inventions as the strongwool hide. Their pants are great. Their shirts are inventive (I really like my ramielust tee for summer temps).

I also dabbled in Ministry of Supply, whose mantra is maintaining an inventory of manageable clothing backed by science. So instead of referencing various ways of washing specialty fabrics (like Outlier), Ministry of Supply focuses on machine washable approaches to everything, even though they are heavy on technical, breathable fabrics. I picked up a great merino tee from them a few years ago, and have been sporting their perfectly-designed kinetic blazer for work/travel.

The brand that has aligned with my clothing preferences the most is an outfit out of Colorado called Western Rise. Their color sets are simple and consistent (blacks > blues > grays > greens), their catalog is tiny, but thoroughly meets the needs of a weekly and multi-functional uniform, and the fit of their clothes is better than anything I've had ("tailored," but comfortable).

Over the last year, I've picked up a few staples that have dominated what I wear day-to-day:

Spectrum Jogger

This was my first Western Rise purchase. I went for blue gray, a color perfect for matching the rest of their color spectrum.

Right off the bat, these things fit wonderfully, true-to-size (they run S, M, L, you can target a size accurately since they have a cinched waist). Their 4-way stretch is incredibly pliable, the comfort is high, and the water/stain resistance is a major bonus. And as with most (all?) their products, they've very breathable, which makes them suitable for spring/summer wearing in the heat, and function stellar for things like kayaking (with quick-dry properties). The primary pockets are massive cavities, which is in most cases a good thing, but I tend to use the left-leg zippered pocket for my iPhone since it sits awkwardly in the larger primary pockets. The cinch tie and zipper pull on the side pocket are capped with tightened wax, which is 🤌.

The range you can get in these is incredible. They look nice enough to go out for a drinks, flexible enough to work out in on a cooler day, and comfortable enough to WFH in (or, sure, work in the office). I'd buy more, but this one works so well and resists the need to wash frequently, the value of one is more than enough.

AirLoft Shirt Jacket

This jacket is brilliant. It's super light-weight, comfortably manages temps anywhere from 30 Fº-55 Fº, has great side-slit pockets + a hidden inner zipped pocket + chest-flap pocket, and the fit is superb. Somehow you can manage to wear a tee, sweater, hoodie, or any combination therein, and the jacket doesn't constrict with the layers. Perhaps it's the leeway in stretch, perhaps it's just magic.

I've been wearing this non-stop in Minnesota's wildly fluctuating spring temps, and haven't had to break out a rain coat or a winter jacket for any of it. The AirLoft Shirt Jacket is a great use-case for this weather spectrum.

AT Slim Pant

This truly functions like their claim — it's the jean "re-imagined". This one does a better job of feel/fabric mimicry than Outlier's Slim Dungarees (and has less of the slick-feel, which, depending on what you like, is a positive or negative). The AT Slim Pant does have a minimal technical fabric noise as you move in them, but it's part of the deal.

The fabric is heavier in the sense that it is more substantial than the other pants I've worn from Western Rise. It's not a heavier weight, but it feels more rugged, durable. These can take a beating. Like jeans.

A few bonuses to this vs jeans is that they are much more breathable, have a two-way stretch (which, admittedly, isn't obvious), and they also are water resistant (tried it, and it's an accurate claim). They also claim stain resistant, but I haven't had the accidental pleasure of running into issues there yet.

The one thing I've noticed about these and the Diversion pants are that they have some curious pockets. Main side pockets are great, completely adequate in size, and both have the "fifth" mini-pocket that isn't so mini on the right-side — it luxuriously fits an entire smartphone (iPhone 12 size tested here). While great, a fully-lined device in that pocket does constrict hand volume in using the primary pocket. Additionally, they have a secret zippered pocket on the back-right side, which is kind of a meh for me, but could be a blessing for others who still put a wallet in their back pocket. I could see sticking a $20 in there, and no one would be the wiser.

Diversion Pant

Extremely comfortable material (I'd argue even smoother, stretchier than the Spectrum Joggers). This is close to a default pant to wear day-to-day, but my only point of contention is that they run tighter and stiffer at the waist compared to the same waist size in the AT Slim. It's almost enough to encourage a size up.

Other than this, it's a near-perfect pant. Probably most suitable for an everyday chino/jean replacement, will operate as a great travel pant, and can be dressed up or down. As noted, it's got the 4-way stretch that adds immeasurable comfort to the wear and movement. Same water/stain resistance as you'll find in nearly all their products, and it's similarly breathable. It's been fine in cooler temps, and while I haven't had it for warmer months yet, if it's anything like the Spectrum Jogger, it'll be perfect. Cold sub-zero days may require a switch to the AT Slims.

Limitless Merino Button-down Shirt

I continue to wear a few really functional button-up shirts from Bluffworks, so there was some hesitancy in trying a new type of travel-worthy, wrinkle-resistant button-up/down shirt. Of course, I'm glad I did. Western Rise's take on this is great, starting with the differentiated material. Instead of Bluffworks' 94% polyester/6% spandex blend, we're talking nearly full Oxford knit merino. It has a welcome multi-way stretch, breathable material, and is surprisingly light-weight. As with nearly all merino, the material resists odor for days, meaning one may be all that's needed for a quick business trip.

The shirt design looks classic, fits tailored, has collar buttons for slinging a tie through if needed, one breast pocket, and doesn't run too long, so you can tuck it or wear it over the pant line, no problem. Bonus: these pack very tight, so there isn't much additional volume added when traveling minimally.

The only minor grievance I have is that the lower button on the two shirts I've got has a tendency to undue itself. This is hardly a complaint, but something I've noticed in the daily wear. It's probably my fault 🤷‍♂️.

Cotton X Tee

Hunting the best tee is a never-ending quest. I’m happy to report that Western Rise has a formidable contender in the Cotton X Tee. Solidly constructed, heavyweight but stretchy as hell, and magically odor resistant (tested for several days), the this thing over-performs. The blend is 60% cotton, 35% polyester, and 5% elastane, creating a sweat-wicking, quick drying material that is pleasant on the skin and hyper-wearable. If I could only wear these every day, I would.

StrongCore Merino Tee

The merino tee is a much sought-after holy grail of shirts. While I haven't had the opportunity to try many, the travel/minimal packer/one-bag scene is ripe with recommendations that merino is the only way to go. Odor resistant, strong fibrous weaves, super soft feel, quick dry properties — this is what merino aims to provide. If you're only able to fit one or two shirts into your luggage, make it merino.

Western Rise's product here is good. It's an 18.5 micron single jersey cut, which means very breathable, very light, and dial up or down on keep you warm/cool depending on the weather. The fit is a tad looser than the equivalent size in the Cotton X Tee, which may just be the way they've decided to code this due to the fabric. It also runs longer than your typical tee, but drapes nicely. The length doesn't make a ton of sense to me, but I suppose it works well depending on your torso, and it should be noted that there's a decorative cut on the sides that adds some dynamism to the composition.

Overall, this works exceptionally well. The quality is high, it packs insanely small, and it'll probably last a long time.

~ 👔🤑👖~

If you're interested in trying Western Rise, you can get $20 off your first purchase — here's an affiliate link (full disclosure) to do so:

$20 Off Western Rise

Otherwise, simply check out the site with any of the product links above. You can even try at home for $0 with their Try Now integration.

Good stuff.


Switching Banks: Simple Bank to One Finance

[Includes updates after using One for four months; scroll to bottom.]

January 7th brought disappointing news to a small contingent of bank users in the US -- Simple, a clever fintech banking experience, informed users it was over. The email was blunt, pointing to BBVA USA (the current back-end housing Simple's deposits) as having "made the strategic decision to close Simple".

This was met with a resounding, gutteral sigh from several of us who had been around since the beginning days in 2009. According to the New York Times, Simple had acquired 20,000+ users and aggregated $200MM in transactions by 2013, likely catalyzing it to be acquired by BBVA USA in 2014. The draw of Simple was its experience -- thoughtful in every aspect, the bank was designed to be helpful to users managing their money. It set itself apart immediately from others in the space and, even to this day, has outclassed competitors in its holistic experience and feature set. (There is likely an obvious explanation why.) With Simple, you could:

  • Manage checking and "protected" accounts (essentially savings) in an integrated interface
  • View transaction-level data that has apparently been available to any bank forever, but no one cared enough to share, like time of transaction render and location information, and permitted editing vendor name, categories, hashtags, and memos
  • Provided a programmatic envelope-divvying system in two ways:
    • Expenses, which could be automated to align to date-specific goals that would expense out on a recurring basis (including completion tracking), and pull from direct deposits or other income sources to fund
    • Goals, which could be set up ad hoc to dump money in, or aligned to long-term goals with manual/auto-investments daily/monthly to meet the target funding
  • Safe-to-Spend, a calculated figure indicating the remainder in your available funds to use outside of Expenses and Goals
  • Any transaction could also be aligned/tagged to these Expenses and Goals, allowing for even more organization around money flow and budgeting
  • The beauty of this whole system was that it was native to the bank: Goals, Expenses, and Safe-to-Spend were all virtualized over a basic checking account. This was the magic of its execution.

Simple was, and will continue to stand as, the best banking experience ever designed. Alas, a good thing had to come to an end, evidently. When BBVA USA was acquired by PNC very recently, it came as no surprise Simple was getting shuttered. It competes directly with PNC Bank's other products, and likely interferes with brand building. We'll assume the acquisition was userbase and assets.

And so I, like many others, have been looking elsewhere. The banking and fintech landscape has changed significantly in this past decade, but seemingly has not changed much at all in what's uniquely on offer for banking solutions. An influx of new, flashy banking brands have cropped up in much the same way and variety that millennial DTC brands have been bootstrapped through Red Antler's identity marketing program. That includes the omnipresent Chime, but who offers few value propositions aside from early paycheck deposits (like many others now) and, at this time, a decent APY on savings (0.50%). But their fee-free and overdraft-free account programming isn't anything revolutionary. Many have this now. And it's not compelling enough to switch a discerning Simple user.

I've spent a good deal of time scouring Reddit, fintech industry sites, and Twitter to seek the best alternatives. There has been an enormous amount of other folks’ goodwill towards this research, and I'd like to point out one Reddit user in particular who has compiled a comprehensive comparison list of several alternative "neo-banks", alternative banks, and fintech software layers to traditional banking.

I finally found something that should work.

One Finance Review

In all, there isn't a direct replacement for Simple. Nothing does what Simple has done for years, and there's only one bank that comes close: One Finance. But first... there are a couple solid contenders that could evolve in the right direction:

  • Envel.ai: has the smarts and the talent backing it, uses envelope-based budgeting as a core component, but the hokey, emoji-heavy aesthetic, and the questionable approach of surrendering your money to AI autopilot “learning” was discouraging.
  • Astra: Impressive automation software that layers on top of banking accounts (using Plaid integration only for now, which prohibits some banks) primarily to permit the user to program the movement of money between institutions with instructions like "every two weeks move $from to __". This works, in theory, with any traditional bank you may use, and in practice, this might work for some folks, coming the closest to Simple's recurring expensive and goal funding. It falls short, however, in being a layer atop of bank (not native), not yet being able to recognize income deposits (e.g., paychecks) and then move specified money to the appropriate accounts (only percentage-based). You also can't assign expenses against labeled budgets once they’ve gone through, which was an intrinsic component of managing and organizing in Simple.
  • Huntington: One of the national banks actually does feature some smart integration on saving goals and budgeting within its checking and saving accounts, including MoneyScout that auto-saves money from transactions (essentially a “round-up” based on spending habits and cadence), and Savings Goal Getter, a way to divvy up multiple savings buckets for things like vacations. While these could work as an alternative to envelope budgeting, they still don’t allow for the customization of a recurring or transaction-assignments methodology.

One Finance was appealing enough to try, and immediately made the most sense once inside the platform. A short summary of what works well and helps rationalize why I went with this alternative:

The One Finance debit card (Mastercard)
  • Sub-accounts called Pockets operate as distinct money budget envelopes, with the bonus of having their own unique routing + account number (permitting secure, literal connections to, say, utility bills or investing accounts), and with the bonus of being able to share this with other users (say, your spouse, in an alternative to joint accounts)
  • Auto-save (up to 10% of your direct deposit) in an industry-leading APY (3% at this time) or deposit into a strong 1% APY normal savings account (up to $25K)
  • Ability to attach your debit card to any given pocket at any time, providing extra security and budget-conscious usage of payment structures (virtual cards coming soon)
  • Uses Coastal Community Bank as the back-end, a small regional outfit in Washington. There have been guarantees that there's no intention to attach or sell itself to larger national banks that could wind up putting One in a similar situation as Simple once it was passed from Bancorp to BBVA.
  • Incredible goodwill and outreach to the Simple and bank alternative community on the OneFinance subreddit. They've been adamant about intaking community feedback and ideas, and re-engineering their feature roadmap, including a priority of recurring fund movement into Pockets ala Goals/Expenses.
  • Checks the other expected boxes of no-fee ATMs (within the Allpoint network), no blatant/overdraft fees, early paycheck deposit, round-up transaction to savings, and a low-risk credit line if these things are of use to you.

Overall, One Finance has an altruistic approach to banking, including a lot of the transparent, no-bullshit values that echo Simple's philosophy. It helps that quite a bit of talent leading One is from Simple (their CEO led Azlo, Simple's sister bank) and similar derivatives. It isn't perfect, though, and it has a lot to prove in the months to come in how efficient and capable they are in meeting their ambitious roadmap. It's missing a significant amount of core features, which is why I'd still recommend having a traditional bank as a contingency plan/hedge on needing to do "normal banking tasks". While several of these are on the imminent roadmap, One currently (Jan 2021) doesn't have check deposits, recurring funding of Pockets, outgoing wires, outbound cash app integration (only inbound), physical checks, data exports, search functionality, or editing transactions (categories, memos, etc.). They aren't dealbreakers if you can bear with the early stages of a company carving its way in an ultra-competitive industry, but time will tell if they can meet their lofty aims.

If you're interested in giving One a shot, try it via either of these links:

Affiliate Link (if you're inclined -- you'll get $50 after an initial $250+ direct deposit set-up)

Non-Affiliate Link to Sign Up

Four Months In - Update

Since I opened an account, I've had several direct deposits from my salaried paycheck drop in (it truly does come a few days early due to the way they pull the trigger quicker than normal banks' ACH acceptance + transfer), have created a handful of Pockets (their version of envelope-budgeting), and set up payment structures with utility companies and investing firms where credit card payments don't work.

What I like:

  • Pockets. Simple, but also complex envelope-budgeting. You can share them with any other One user, and each one also has a unique account number, meaning you can securely share these with various companies you want to pull money from without risking security exploits or access to your entire account's funds.

  • Savings. A savings account with 1% APY (at this time) is unheard of. And the way the auto-savings works (a separate account for 3% APY with a max contribution of 10% of all direct deposits) is both a brilliant way to encourage and retaining savings habits, but also an incredible savings rate up to $25K).

  • Engagement. The team has been highly active on social media and answering thorough questions and feedback on One Finance's subreddit. It's a promising sign from an early start-up.

  • The team behind it. Ex-Azlo/Simple folks are contributing, and there have been initial promises that One won't face the same fate as Simple with a sell-off to a large national bank. 🤞

  • A transparent roadmap. This is excellent to see, and reassuring they’re committed to evolving the product over time, like most great software is. Why should the banking experience be any different?


What I don't like (but know will probably be solved for in their roadmap):

  • Lack of transaction search. [I'm using Monarch in the interim.]

  • Limited recurring transfer feature (monthly or every week/two weeks just don't cut it for how this should work). Astra does a superior job of acknowledging a deposit amount and moving xx or xx% to a designated place, but is delayed and clunky by comparison due to it being a third-party method and the fact that our current banking infrastructure is slow and cumbersome.

    • In a recent update on their roadmap, however, they are tackling this in what they’re calling the to their Money Movement update. So again, fantastic to see this be addressed, and so quickly.

  • Lack of authenticator app-based two-factor authentication (they have installed 2FA via text messages, and will be adding step-up authentication this summer, which is great).


Overall, I'm pleased with the switch and look forward to its future. They've already made good on a number of short-term roadmap promises. Here's a raised glass to them rounding out the feature set this year.


Tooletries Shower Kits | A Most Notable Review

First, Some Background

After stumbling upon these ingenious (maybe? Let’s give it a few months) shower storage designs from Tooletries, I ordered us up a kit. These objects are useful, practical, and excellently designed. I don’t know how long I’ve been looking for add-on shower storage that doesn’t suck (not long, let’s pretend), but it’s probably been ever since I had my first apartment in Chicago. 

In the beginning... I came across a decent piece of tech from Simplehuman at Target several years back, and while it worked great, it had a few glaring issues that most of this equipment does:

  • It was cumbersome due to its constrained design and necessary adherence to the front of the shower below the shower head

  • As such, it hung off the shower head (which is fine, but it assumes you want your kit right in front of you under the shower — where plenty nastily-accumulating drippage happens); if you have a ceiling spout, obviously this doesn’t work.

  • The heights of the shelves do not accommodate all kinds of bottles and shower items you may have on hand, particularly anything 8oz (big buys from Costco won’t fit, unless you have room at the top near where the head hanger is). You don’t have to use it for bottles, but the shelf design assumes you’d be doing this, so...

  • The grated shelf system isn’t ideal for storing smaller items like razors or bobby pins (in my wife’s case), as they are wont to slip through the aforementioned grates. You get it.

These issues stack up to what I’d consider important checklists for shower storage in any context. You want it to accommodate key items (granted, shampoo/soap/conditioner bottles likely are always going to be troublesome). You also want it to be positioned where you’re going to need it based on how you like to take a shower. All showers are different, I imagine. You don’t even know how I shower, but still, let’s just say.

Enter Tooletries

Get over the pun name. It describes their goods accurately. To be honest, it was difficult to dig up any kind of background on this company. It was recently curated by Huckberry, which I consider a legitimate outlet for discovery, so I’m confident it’s coming from a trustworthy source. But their site is half-baked, with several missing pieces of content (like FAQs and a proper list of their global stores). If you can get over this aspect of the product’s parentage, I guarantee that the goods themselves are rock-solid.

Their admittedly stale, male-oriented mantra is about believing that a bathroom is a “sanctuary” and a “place of calm and serenity… free from chaos and disorder”. Sure, I can agree with that, and I’m sure every gender could, too. What’s not stale is the design integrity behind these pieces. And whole thing doesn’t work without their 100% antibacterial silicone, extremely-adhesive sticking surface, and thoughtful design like anti-fog mirror and shelf drainage holes.

Let’s take a look at the kit I bought, and I’ll walk you through this.

Harvey & Oliver Set

Available here ➔ The Harvey and Oliver Set

I don’t shave. At least in the traditional sense. I use an electric razor on my haphazard bullshit beard, and I don’t do in the shower lest I get electrocuted. Which means this part of the kit is for my wife, who does shave, and like many, I conjecture, does it in the shower.

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This might be the least impressive of the Tooletries items, but certainly serves a functional purpose if you need it: 

  1. It holds a traditionally-designed razor (my guess is it’ll fit 95% of them in it’s cubby drop-down holder), and also has a little rest for an extra razor, too. Which I suppose is convenient.

  2. It also has a deep pocket for perhaps some kind of shaving cream or tube of something related to shaving or other shower antics. Honestly, it’s not a great shape, and would really only fit a 2-3oz lithe tube of liquid, nothing fatter. I’ve brushed my teeth a few times in the shower, and I’ll park my toothbrush in here between finishing and getting out. It’s about that size.

  3. The mirror is cool. I’ve never had a mirror in a shower before, and while its use is limited (what would I honestly be doing that requires looking at myself... is extremely limited in a shower context). But, having it adds a surreal element to the daily cleanse (at least in these early stages). Maybe its use will manifest itself down the road. I don’t know. Either way, I’m keeping the fucking thing in there.

Body Scrubber & Hook

Available here ➔ - Body Scrubber and Hook

By far the most effective tool in the collection. I ordered two (one for my wife, one for me). Same two-toned options. 

These things stick as well as the rest of the kit, and provide the (likely) most used component. They operate as replacements to loofahs or hand towels, whatever your previous preference in body-washing. Lather the soft-spiked surface area with body soap of any kind, and comfortably hold the joystick handle to apply the region across yourself while showering. Simple operation. 

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The surface area, while significantly different than a loofah’s swirly mess of fibers, does feel different at first: its areal spikes, diameter-y plane of existence is a combination of a towel and a loofah, and it makes perfect sense. Easy to rub that soap everywhere. It causes a bit of friction, which in my unprofessional observation, helps with sloughing off dead skin and priming the epidermis for some lovely cleanliness. 

Phone Holder

Available here ➔ - The Phone Holder

Yeah, this was a hesitancy buy. It’s weird bringing tech into the shower, but if the acoustics of your bathroom aren’t great (how many actually are?), then listing to music or podcasts is best with the phone with you. And since many modern devices are water resistant or proof, this is an obvious choice.

Its design is hefty — never once have I felt that it wouldn’t hold my phone’s weight. Its design suggests you lay the phone horizontal along its shelf, but you can flip it up vertical. It holds either way. In our paranoia, we usually stick a little piece of TP on the camera lens, but depending on where you place the Phone Holder, superstitious prying eyes probably aren’t going to be gazing at you easily. 

Anyway. This was a good addition to the core kit. Fits in nicely with the rest of the pack. Provides a nice use in the morning or evening if you’re catching up on podcasts or looking for some soothing tunes to wake or subdue you. 

In Summary

I recommend the purchase(s) if you want to invest in something like this, haven’t found the right shower kit, and/or if the two-toned options match your shower aesthetic. The sticky mounts do actually work without having to permanently nail anything into surfaces that will rile up your anxiety. These pieces are functional, washable, and — hey! — movable, meaning you can constantly readjust their location. How about that. Flexibility.


The Aer Cardholder Wallet

Been a while since I’ve tried a new wallet. After using the Trove wallet for years, a new cardholder release from Aer (a San Francisco outpost focused on sleek bags and accessories) caught my attention.

The Aer Cardholder as it arrives in its zippered plastic packaging

Wrought of 1680D Cordura ballistic nylon and lined with a microfiber interior, the smartphone-sized wallet is a handsome execution to both hold and look at, and functions well for day-to-day use. Several features set this apart from my default Trove:

  • The wallet is larger dimensionally than the Trove (it measures 5.1” x 3” x 0.2”) vs the Trove’s lean card-sized profile
  • Materials are completely different. Cordura ballistic nylon in this grade is tough and stiffer than the less-heavy duty elastic and leather combo from Trove (and many other slim/minimal wallets)
  • There are three stacked card holders for easy access/common usage on on side of the wallet, which is a 'whatever' for me since I’m typically grabbing only my credit card in nearly every circumstance
  • There is a YKK-zippered pocket that fits damn near everything else, including additional cards, bi-folded US cash, and keys
    • This pocket is also RFID-lined, protecting against skimmers while also permitting cards in the exterior 3-slot pockets to be tappable (e.g., transit cards)

The zippered pocket, while not new to wallets (Bellroy has plenty of options with it), is phenomenally well executed here. It's small and rests almost unnoticeably against the zipline, minimizing its footprint. I’ve been so used to triple/quadruple folding US cash that it’s a great convenience not to have to anymore. And the reduction of a keychain in the summer months (sans winter coat pockets) has been terrific. My only extra daily carry aside from this wallet and my phone is the occasional car dongle when I need to drive. That’s it.

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Overall, the card’s quality build looks like it’ll hold up. The card slots are fine, though it’s much easier to pull out the top card than the others due to the thick-stitched rims (and I do miss the Trove Swift’s pull tab, which at first seemed unnecessary but has grown into a pleasant, tactile luxury). And the zippered pocket is a welcome change — while not elegant, it stores cash, keys, and a few extra cards while keeping the entire wallet profile fairly slim. For the reduction in additional EDC needs alone (especially with limited pockets in the summer), the Aer Cardholder is recommended, and could very well replace any ultra-slim wallet you have if you’re looking for the specific benefits it brings.


The Delightful Escapism of 'The Good Place'

Trucking through modern television series is usually an exercise in exuberance or exhaustion, no matter how good or demanding a show turns out. Of all the substantial dramas, quick-witted comedies, and metaphysical laments, one show — a network show, of all things — captured my attention in a way that many shows haven’t: it was a joy to watch.

I’m talking about Michael Schur’s NBC show, The Good Place, a drama-comedy that came seemingly out of the blue, and since its first episode has been one of the easiest and most delightful shows on television. The writing is quick-witted enough, the material substantial enough, and the concept entirely metaphysical. How does a show capture so many things at once without being burdened by its own complexity?

Looking at Shur’s backlog of work is telling, I suppose. He wrote, produced, and directed a number of previously successful shows, contributing to many cultural milestones such as The Office (US version), Park & Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-nine, Master of None, and Saturday Night Live. He also dabbled in the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive” as its writer, one of the more ludicrous but pitch-dark comedy episodes of the future-shock Netflix series. But for The Good Place, a certain kind of nonchalance permeates its very soul. No one character dominates (though I would argue Kristen Bell’s Eleanor and Ted Danson’s Michael steal the spotlight), and the story is smoothly unwound over a sprint of 25 minutes per episode, each one ending in a credits sequence cliffhanger. The entire format begs you to binge watch without feeling bogged down in a mountain of episodes (each season squares off at just ten episodes a piece).

The Good Place is at its core a show about relationships among four key characters, and whose narrative tackles karma in a constructive and deconstructive way — all in an afterlife setting. The premise is keen on exploring absurdist situational humor, and is at its strongest with character interactions that take full advantage of the quickly-developed dispositions of each of the show’s stars. Michael operates as a kind of foil for everyone’s delights (and toils), sound-boarding off everyone's reality check of the afterlife's meandering eternity.

What perhaps helps set this show apart from many others competing for your attention is the colorful sets and nearly cartoonish narrative brokered through bubbly music, jovial cinematography, and dialogue bantering that exudes a PG-style appropriateness while nodding gracefully to a cleverer audience’s intellectualism. The Good Place sits in stark contrast to HBO’s dreary, somber The Leftovers, but intriguingly both share similar stretches of exploratory existentialism. Of the two, I certainly feel better after finishing an episode of the former.

In a cluttered world of show choices — many of which are exceedingly excellent — The Good Place stands out for its unusual territory and easy format, and has something almost everyone can find delight in.


Lava Cheese

Exploring Iceland’s Snack Directly (But Indirectly)

My wife recently jetted over to Iceland for a quick few days with her sister and a friend. When she arrived back, she left a few goodies for me, one of which was a curious, “handmade” concoction called Smoked Lava Cheese. Though I won’t claim I’m a connoisseur of cheese by any stretch, I would consider myself an enthusiast for the age-old custom of melting a pile of cheese into a merged form and eating with a fork. This may sound strange, or maybe you’ve done it (either way, I recommend doing it, now?), these little circular cheese bites remind me exactly of this practice. Except in portable, snack form. And that’s a good thing.

lava-cheese-front-box.jpg

An Icelandic snack made from “pure” cheese, Lava Cheese is a brand that began in Iceland back in December of 2016, engineered by the founders Guðmundur Páll Líndal and Jósep Birgir Þórhallsson. As they state in their origin story:

The idea of a snack made from pure cheese came to us when we realized the best part of a grilled cheese sandwich is the melted cheese which hits the grill.

So right you are. I’ve always loves the crunchiness of the slightly hardened cheese bits from microwaving or oven-heating nachos (the shredded pieces that missed the tortilla chips and get a heat-flash during the warm-up), which gave me the idea of doing this when I was a kid. Skip the chips and just toss a pile of shredded cheese on a plate, microwave for 1:30, and there you go. Pure cheese. I’ve since migrated to using a small egg-sized pan to do the heating work, and at this age, it’s only once and a while. But… Lava Cheese. These Icelandic guys came up with a few variations, and I’m very thankful Ashley brought me home a box.

lava-cheese-snack.jpg

Since the cheese has been “smoked”, there is a slightly different flavor than when I’d do it. You can feel the hardened cheese texture with your tongue, which nails the first part of the idea of crispier cheese. I suppose, according to the company’s naming convention, this texture reflects the Icelandic lava fields. I’m terrible at describing tastes, so from here, you’ll likely experience a harsher aroma of cheddar, and a sharper association with the cheese you’re likely most familiar with, just restructured in harder, less dairy-like form. It delivers, though, and I have to imagine it’s a better snack than some faux bullshit cheese flavorings from Cheetohs or whatever other hell-spawn snack food from PepsiCo/Nabisco/Mars.

While I was able to enjoy the Smoked Cheddar version, I found that after researching the company’s other products, they also have a Crunchy Cheese series that includes Licorice Root and With Chili. The largest hurdle here is that line of snacks is only available at retail in Iceland, though they hint that new locations are coming soon. I certainly hope so, as I can attest to the magic of this stuff, and think it would do well in any other country on the planet. In the meantime, fry some cheese on your own, toss bacon in there, whatever it takes — it’s an easy, decadent, go-to late-night snack.

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Apple AirPods Review

A Foray into the Future of Audio Platforms

airpods-illustrated-drawing.png

While the unveiling of Apple’s AirPods at last year’s September iPhone 7 event was met with both awe and meh, it’s one of those products that you have to use to appreciate. Ignore the aesthetics and your assumptions regarding their audio output quality, and instead fixate on:

  • Wires into your ears, around your body, and connecting to your phone cause friction and annoyance in movement, can get snagged on things (especially when commuting on public transportation
  • Storing wired headphones is scattershot, and wires typically tangle more often that not, requiring extra time to detangle
  • Wireless headphones have historically not always retained a stable Bluetooth connection to your source device
  • Switching wireless headphones between devices for audio connectivity is not always intuitive or easily accessible
  • Dancing (or other energetic activity with full-body motions) with any kind of headphone is fairly unworkable

While all these points of contention are not deal breakers for any traditional (or even wireless) headphones or earphones, they do illuminate the possibilities of completely wire-free ear buds and new kinds of audio platforms.

Since it’s been over a year since Apple and other companies like Bragi have released this new kind of earphone (“truly wireless” seems to be the current moniker for them), a lot has been said, written, and discussed about their usefulness and application. I’ve only had the AirPods for the latter half of 2017, but I’m ready to provide a perspective on them.

AirPods’ Functionality is Fluid

Some perceptive technology writers have indicated Apple’s master strategy with personal devices is shrinking and handing-off capabilities from one device to another in its ecosystem. Whether that will come to its full realization, the AirPods function exceptionally well today as truly wireless earbuds, and their bridge to Siri expands their convenient usefulness exponentially. Here’s what I like about them:

  • Settings. Customization of both earbuds’ physical tap actions (e.g., you can customize a double-tap on the physical exterior of either bud to pause music, initiate Siri,skip a song, etc.) is great.
    • Gestures like this could expand in the future, as Apple did update the ability to tap both earbuds separately for separate actions
  • Comfort. The AirPods fit is fairly similar to the original EarPods, though they are ever so slightly larger in the ear. I don’t have a problem with the fit, and contrary to what you may assume, they do not fall out of your ears.
  • Lightweight. Hardly any heft to them. You forget they’re in your ear.
  • Ear detection. Truly an Apple move — you pluck one out of your ear while listening to audio and the audio pauses automatically. Place the bud back in your ear and it picks up right where it left off.
  • Pairing with multiple devices. Sure, the W1 chip Apple incorporated into AirPods makes it very easy to pair with with your iPhone or other Apple device right away (you simply open the AirPods case next to the device and it pairs within seconds), but the behind-the-scenes cleverness of using iCloud to then also pair them with all your other devices from which you’re signed into the same iCloud account is brilliant.
  • Speed. These are fast to use. Open the case, pop them in your ears, hear the “bing” noise, and you’re good to go. Pluck them out, slide them into the case (magnetic attraction pulls them right into their slots), and slip the case in your pocket. No wires. No tangle.
  • Lightning charge. While a proprietary cable, they use the ubiquitous Apple Lightning connection to charge. If you have an iOS device, you have this cable (or several) laying around. It also charges exceptionally fast.
  • 24 hours charge in case. The AirPods case acts as both a battery charger for the AirPods and their housing unit. Once charged, the case has 24 hours of life to give, plus the 5 hours of life the AirPods hold themselves.
  • One-bud Use. That’s right. You can use one bud at a time, with mono audio, to make calls or listen to music while you give your other ear some breathing room.

The Current Limitations to AirPods

The AirPods aren’t without issue, though I must say for a first generation Apple product, it’s about as good as it gets. The last time they nailed an accessory so well the first time was probably the original AirPort WiFi router. Here’s a list of things I’ve noticed after using them for several months that derail them from perfection, but could be iterated via improvements in future versions.

  • Sound isolation. EarPods weren’t great at this, and neither are AirPods. You can easily hear noise outside these earbuds quite easily, and commuting on a train nearly defeats the audio output in your ear lest you crank the volume up to unreasonable levels.
  • Lack of physical volume controls. This is by the far the most annoying part of the AirPods. I loved having a remote for volume, pause/playing, and Siri on previous EarPods models and some other earphones/headphones I used in the past. This is a first world problem, though. Volume controls on your device control them just fine. You can use Siri to control the volume, but this is impractical and slow more often than not. But if you have an Apple Watch, the auto-face change on it usually provides volume controls if you’re listening to something, and this is the easiest way to remote control them.
  • 5-hour battery life. I’ve never run them dead before, as I usually am not listening to them for longer than a few hours, but five hours is a limitation for longer flights or extended activities using them. Of all the truly wireless earbuds, though, the AirPods have the longest battery life (as of Dec 2017).
  • Sharing audio. While you can share an AirPod “bud” with someone else to listen or watch the same device’s media, you can’t pair two AirPods to the same device and output the audio simultaneously (which is, granted, an annoying technological limitation for any wireless headphones — dual audio output to two headphones listening to the same iPad on an airplane, for instance, is a drag).

Overall

AirPods are my favorite Apple product of the last few years, and have already become my second-most used device next to my iPhone. They are great for music while quietly getting ready in the morning, the perfect companion for my morning commutes listening to The Daily and The Intercept, and a pleasure to pop in for the evening jaunt home listening to whatever’s left in my podcast queue. I’ll even slip them in a few times during the day at the office to catch a quick track or two while cranking through emails. While I prefer using my Bose QuietComfort 35s when flying (since they cancel out the miscellaneous noises in-flight), I have used the AirPods a few times with the wife while traveling and watching a movie together, and they work just fine as long as the volume is cranked.

Highly recommended.

You can pick them up at [Amazon for $160][4].

[4]: Apple">https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01MQWUXZS/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B01MQWUXZS&linkCode=as2&tag=defiantsloth-20&linkId=76af9f38be545719752102cb8b5a61bc">Apple