Car Shopping

We’re looking at electric vehicles and just the thought of dealing with a car dealer is draining me.

I think Tesla is on the right track for going direct to consumer, but I would never buy a Tesla for a few reasons:

  • Elon Musk. There was a time I liked and even admired him. How cringe. That changed quite a bit when he called one of the rescue cave divers a pedophile.
  • I have read too many accounts of poor service from Tesla. Add to it poor quality control.
  • Tesla’s base model is approaching $50k, which is more than I really want to pay for a car that will just get me from point A to point B.

I might consider a used Tesla which solves, mostly, the first and third issues, if push came to shove, but I’d rather get a different car anyway

I emailed a few dealers and, even over email, I hate dealing with dealers. Most of them are up-charging $5k-$10k above MSRP, and none of the cars I’m looking at are worth as much as 25% more. I’ve found one dealer that isn’t doing that, and has been relatively responsive, and isn’t trying to push me into a phone call to pressure me into buying a car, so that’s probably the dealer I’ll use. But it shouldn’t be this hard to buy a car.

72ish Hours with the Apple Watch

Now that I’ve had the S8 a bit longer, it has really grown on me. A few things I really like:

Fast charging. It actually does charge plenty fast, if you have a 20 watt or higher brick. (Which I do, I think from my iPad. This should have been included with the Apple Watch, however)

Beautiful screen. The OLED screen really is spectacular. Most of my watch faces have color back grounds and they look amazing.

Fast switching of Watch faces. I never did this on the S3 because it was just slow, but on the new watch it’s really fast to switch different watch faces. I have one that I use that’s more activity focused, showing my heart rate throughout the day and my rings progress. The next one shows me all the location data from the compass. The live altimeter is really cool (I live at about 5,360 feet). I have about 5 other faces I use to mix things up and they all switch and load quickly enough I do find myself switching throughout the day.

Always on display. Sure, it dims when you’re not actively using it, but being able to glance down and see the time is so important in a watch. I know some people turn off the always on display to increase battery life but this feature alone is why I went S8 instead of SE2.

24 Hours with Apple Watch Series 8

Just got the new Series 8 Apple Watch and have had it for 24 hours. There are plenty of reviews online, so go check those out.

I’m coming from the Series 3 Apple Watch which Apple unceremoniously dropped support for in the newest WatchOS.

I originally got the Apple Watch because I wanted to try out Apple Fitness Plus and until recently, you had to have an Apple Watch to use it.

The Apple Watch is one Apple product I really don’t love. I laughed when I looked at the apps list and saw Mail. Mail on my watch? Not sure I have ever needed or wanted that. Everything that makes an Apple Watch “better” compared to a Garmin seems unnecessary, and it creates too much of a battery drain.

That said, the thing the Apple watch does better than anything, I think, are the rings. There are three of them: stand, activity, and move. (you can customize each of these goals) Stand I don’t really care about and it encourages you to stand for at least 2 minutes out of every hour. People talk about sitting being the new smoking, but I’m not sure 2 minutes is really enough to move the needle. I could lose this ring and not care in the least, it’s really more annoying than helpful.

But I think Apple got the next two rings right: move and activity. Activity minutes counts how many minutes throughout the day that you have an elevated heart rate. The move ring counts how many active calories you burn throughout the day.

Compared to the FitBit I used to have which was obsessed with hitting 10,000 steps a day (a goal I eventually lowered to 7,500) — I like these metrics way more. I can fill these moments with any exercise of my choosing and the Watch will monitor my heart rate and approximate my active calories burned and move my rings accordingly. I often go for 20-30 minute walks, but sometimes I want to go for a hike, or a bike ride, or lift weights, or play gagaball. It doesn’t matter. My watch is… watching (sorry I had to) and tallying up my points accordingly.

I definitely feel like I’m a lot more likely to hit my (self-set) activity and move goals because I can fill my day up with activity that counts towards them, but I can choose whatever activity feels right for me. It was always discouraging to me with my FitBit to hop in bed and realize I had 9,800 steps and would somehow have to find 200 more steps to go. When I’m similarly close on my rings it makes way more sense for me to go for a five minute row on my rowing machine to get those last few activities.

So, Apple really hit the gamification on the head for me. I’m definitely more encouraged to be active with my rings than with anything I’ve had with Garmin or FitBit.

That said, if you gave me an Apple Watch with a simple LCD/e-paper/whatever screen like most of Garmin’s line up, and it only had the sensors necessary to count calories and heart rate, but had a week battery life and (pretty pretty please) made it round instead of square, I would buy it instantly.

All the other features and bright beautiful color screen are fine, but most of the time it just gets in the way. All I care about is a long battery life. I could charge my Garmin once a week and wear it 24/7, and it would track all of my activities and sleep and … that’s all I really wanted to use it for.

That said, the Apple Watch S8 hardware is nice. It’s got a beautiful screen. I still think square watches look dumb, but this one looks less dumb than the S3 because it is just a bit bigger (going from 38mm case to 41mm) which I think allowed them to “flatten” it a bit. I haven’t measured but the S8 on my wrist appears thinner which makes it look slightly less dumb.

There’s an array of new sensors in the S8 that my S3 didn’t have. I have a complication that shows a live view of decibels. As I type this with a house fan running, it says we’re at about 47dB. I was in a quiet room and I farted while looking at my watch and … well let’s just say I have an idea for a new competition in the future.

The sleep tracking is a new feature in WatchOS 9. I didn’t get much sleep last night. I’m not sure what to do with this information. We will see if I keep wearing the watch while I sleep as this information seems like the same thing I used to get with my FitBit and it was never that actionable or terribly interesting, and with the poor battery life, waking up with less than 100% battery means I need to think about it the next day. I will need to experiment and see if charging it while I’m in the shower will be enough to power throughout the day.

I do appreciate the always on display. Apple’s wrist raising detection is way better than FitBit’s, but it’s nice to not have to move my wrist to just glance at the time. It feels ridiculous to write a sentence like that about a watch.

I guess the bottom line of my review: the Watch is great for gamifying fitness, but you could literally leave out every other feature except telling time and as long as that improved the battery life, I would be so much happier. I’m not really sure what to think about having paid $399 for this thing. It certainly delivers a lot of features, but I’d take 10% of the features for 50% of the price and 700% the battery life any day.

iOS 16 Focus Modes

I installed the new iOS 16 and finally set up my work calendar account to sync with my phone, mostly so I could take advantage of viewing all my calendar events (personal and professional) in the calendar widget on my Home Screen.

Up until now, I’ve just had my personal events in iCloud in the native calendar app and work events in the Google Calendar app. Annoying to check two calendars when making dentist appointments? Oh absolutely. Still an improvement from when I worked at Verizon and they gave us a separate phone! Anyway. At least this way I only looked at my work calendar when I was in work mode.

I thought the new focus mode feature would be my savior. I logged into my work account through settings, only enabled calendars (I really don’t want commingled mail thank you very much!), clicked through a bunch of calendar notifications (including a coworker’s vacation from April. Thanks Apple.) and — focus modes filters work by hiding things only!?!?!

Like you’re telling me I have to see my work and personal calendar events all commingled together. But then I can turn on my “work” focus and hide my personal calendars? Thanks, I guess? This is the opposite of what I want! I want to hide my work calendars until I’m, you know, working. I don’t need my damn 9am Monday meeting showing up on my Lock Screen all weekend long thank you very much.

No problem, I thought, I could just create a shortcut to hide work calendars when the work focus mode turns off. Noooope! You can’t change calendar visibility from shortcuts, so far as I can see.

So should I just leave my phone in a “personal“ focus mode 100% of the time I’m not working? I guess I could do that, and then set the notification/text to allow all notifications — oh this isn’t supported on my SE3 watch that’s not going to get anymore updates.

Ugh. Maybe I should just go back to two phones.

AJ’s Favorite Things: Insulated Water Bottles

There’s always so much whining and complaining about things online, I’m going to try to change that with my own little ray of sunshine on my little corner of the internets. These posts will sound like I’m trying to sell you something and I’m not. No affiliate links here. Just a few of AJ’s favorite things.

You see them everywhere, so I’m hardly unique when I write about insulated water bottles. There’s MIIR, and we have some Yeti tumblers, and Hydroflasks, and some S’wells, but my favorite are the Hydroflasks.

I’m a fan of the 32oz wide mouth. Alissa got one for me for my birthday with custom colors of gray and orange, and when I accidentally left it behind in a rental truck, she ordered me a second one.

It’s the little details that I like about this. The lid’s inner seal is depressed just a little bit, enough that if you drop it on the ground, the part that goes in the bottle isn’t going to make contact with the dirt or ground. I also like that it comes with a little rubber “boot” that acts like a built in coaster.

I’ve relegated all my old uninsulated Nalgene bottles (the ones that don’t cause cancer) to the refrigerator. I love cold water, and keeping them in the fridge lets them cool the water off before filling my Hydroflasks.


We spent the spring and summer trying to get clover to grow in the front yard and it just didn’t quite take the way we had hoped. Tired of having a yard full of weeds and mud, we decided to take a different path and we called a local tree company and they delivered 20 yards of mulch.

I think we might need another 20-35 yards to really get the depth we need to keep weeds at bay, but it’s a start. Last weekend we got some new plants through a friend of ours that is able to order at wholesale prices. We selected native plants that are drought resistant and will hopefully be both beautiful and low maintenance.

I went to Home Depot and got a starter drip irrigation “system” and additional parts and … that’s a lot easier than I really imagined. Now we have each new plant with its own drip water source. Each plant gets 1 gallon per hour, and we just run it a few times a week for a couple hours to ensure the plants have enough moisture to grow and thrive in this crazy September heat.

I’m kicking myself that we didn’t do this sooner. The drip system was shockingly easy to set up, and I just buried all the lines under the mulch so very little digging is required.

Meet Oto

This was one of those things I saw on Instagram that looks cool but not sure if it’s going to work out to be practical. 😅 I originally had it set up in the front yard but I was concerned someone would just steal it, and it didn’t quite have the reach that I was hoping for.

Oto is a wifi watering robot. It comes with an app that lets you customize your watering any way you would like. We are using it in the backyard with our trees to make sure they get established with enough consistent water, but it will water lawns as well and also has support for adding fertilizer and other treatments to the water. It’s a neat thing, but I am always nervous about expensive devices that require a cloud service from the manufacturer. We’ll see if Oto sunsets this service eventually but for now it’s nice to get the trees some consistent water and take at least some things off our todo list.

In the future I think I’d like a few additional fruit trees in the back yard, and we can move Oto to water those.

Electric Cars and the Grid

Much has been made the past few years about various faults and failures in utilities across the country. Of course there’s the famous incident from Texas a few years back, and now California is facing grid problems during an unusually hot September.

Many people are pointing out the irony that the same week California is struggling with power, they announced a ban on gas powered cars. That ban is, of course, years away, but that doesn’t stop plenty of pundits from making their comments.

Something else I’ve found interesting lately is the Tesla virtual power plant. The TL;DR is that plenty of Power Wall owners (people who have a big freaking battery in their house) are getting paid to send some of that power back to the grid when needed. $2 per kWh is crazy.

People have this overly simplified model in their mind that the whole country is connected with a big wire, and you can add or remove power as needed. That’s sort of how it works, but as you could expect, it’s way more complicated than that.

One of the biggest issues is that wires can’t carry an unlimited amount of electricity. Electricity moving through wires creates heat. More electricity means more heat. So even when power grids are interconnected, where they are interconnected matters a whole lot, and how much power can go through that interconnection is limited by the size of the interconnection. If you need a lot of power in Los Angeles, having a bunch of extra hydro-electric power from Oregon available might not do you any good if there’s not enough carrying capacity from point-A to point-B.

The other issue is that it takes time to add capacity to the grid. It doesn’t take any time at all for me to use that capacity. The dryer and air-conditioner are the two largest consumers of electricity in my house. I can turn both on at the same time with hardly a thought. If everyone does at approximately the same time (such as coming home from work), people working at power plants have to fire up the generators and that takes time.

Add this up and when people use electricity is almost as important as how much is used. Air-conditioning is hard because it is extremely power hungry, and most of the demand is going to follow the sun heating the earth up, so a lot of people will want to use a lot of power, all at the same time. Or, a lot of people get home from work to a house that has been heated by the sun all day, turn their air-conditioning on, and now the grid has a problem. (this is also a problem because most people are getting home from work about the same time that solar power is waning as the sun is starting to go down)

There are a lot of schemes to help with this. Our utility provider Xcel is introducing time of use pricing, which uses meters that track when you use power as well as how much, and you get charged more money when you use power when the grid is already close to max-use. This is an economic incentive to encourage you to dry your clothes at off-peak times when the grid is less maxed out.

The other thing that you could do that’s really interesting to me is to do some thermal shifting. If you normally set your A/C to cool to 75º at 6pm, you could set it to cool to 70º at like 2pm. You might use more electricity in total this way, but you’re potentially shifting your power use to when the grid has less demand and more renewable power available (because of solar). Your house can “store” that cool air until you get home, and when you arrive at home from work, the house is already cool and comfortable and you don’t use any grid capacity at 6pm when the grid is at its max.

But what’s really interesting to me is the Tesla Virtual Power Plant when it comes to electric cars. As far as I can see, the Tesla power plant only uses the stationary Power Walls installed in customer’s homes. But what major battery capacity has been coming online the past 10 years or so? Electric cars. Many of these electric cars have 300+ miles range. What if on the days that you don’t need to go somewhere 300 miles away, you could trade some of what’s stored in your batteries for a free payout to help the grid out?

What if you could help your neighbors out, power their A/C, and make like $30-$60 in the process? And the only thing you’d be giving up is 150 miles range for the evening?

I assume the Tesla Virtual Power Plant only covers Power Walls because using cars to power the grid requires a bit of extra hardware. The higher trim F-150 Lightnings actually advertise being able to connect the truck to your house and using it as a battery backup for “2-3 days” for most average sized houses. That’s crazy! And there’s no reason you couldn’t do the same thing with that equipment that Power Wall owners are doing for a “virtual power plant”.

This has a lot of really interesting properties. Decentralizing power means the grid doesn’t have to be upgraded as much, which saves a ton of money. It also means you can operate fewer generators and use those generators within their optimal usage range. But grids are also not perfectly uniform either. Maybe one neighborhood has more people working from home, or more solar, or an electrical problem. You can imagine the grid putting some of those distributed batteries to work to help even out differences and make the grid more intelligent.

If we’re going to put very large batteries in most garages over the course of the next 20 years, there’s a lot of interesting things you can do with that, if you have the right hardware. But honestly, even if you can’t feed power from the cars back to the grid, there’s still a lot that makes sense. Let your car charge when the grid has excess capacity (such as late at night when most people are asleep and not running much A/C, or in the middle of the day when solar is at its peak) and don’t charge your car when you need to run A/C.

I guess I just don’t see the humor in what the pundits are saying. Electric cars don’t automatically mean the end of the California grid, or anybody’s grid. In fact, they could be a really helpful tool in making the grid a lot more stable and resilient.

Taking the Bible Seriously

The more I encounter Jesus in the Gospels, the more skeptical I become of my own interpretations of Scripture.

The Pharisees spent so much of their lives immersed in the Bible, and they took it so seriously. And yet time and time and time again, Jesus seems to get really exasperated with them. I love the NIV’s translation of John 3:10 where Jesus asks Nicodemus, you are Israel’s teacher and you don’t understand?

I think for so long it’s been really easy for me to point the finger at the Pharisees and pity them or mock them or whatever for missing what is now plainly obvious since Jesus came.

But… isn’t that making the same mistake the Pharisees made? Shouldn’t I be a little cautious about my interpretations lest I fall into the same trap? Is this why we have approximately 34 bazillion Protestant denominations, each one believing their particular theology is the most important?

The more I encounter Jesus the more I realize how little I truly know. I don’t want to be a Pharisee. And I don’t want to hold tightly to a theology only for Jesus to come to me and tell me, “Oh you missed the point completely.”

I don’t think it’s wrong to study the Bible. (Quite the contrary, actually) I don’t think it’s wrong to study theology. I don’t think it’s wrong to hold a high standard for personal holiness. I just want to hold more tightly to Jesus than to my flawed understanding of theology.

It’s going to be messy, and inconsistent, and illogical at times. And that makes me deeply uncomfortable. But I’d rather be deeply uncomfortable, following as closely to the example of Jesus as I possibly can, then to be deeply comfortable in a theological fortress of my own design.

AirPods Pro

I got some new AirPods Pro a couple weeks back when they were at sale. (undoubtedly on sale to clear out some inventory before a new version arrives) I had tried out the AirPods Max in the Apple Store and was really impressed by the noise cancellation but I didn’t want anything so ostentatious or as expensive.

I was apprehensive because I never loved my original AirPods. They never switched as seamlessly as I would have liked between devices and I had a fair number of issues with audio cutting out. I always preferred the original wired ear buds, except that Apple removed the headphone jack from their phones so I had to carry a lightning version for my phone and headphone version for my laptop.

AirPods Pro are what the original AirPods should have been. Truly seamless switching between devices. And I think the head tracking/spatial audio feature is a bit of a gimmick, there were several times I have had to stop and make sure that I was playing audio through my headphones the tracking is that good.

The noise cancellation has been really great.

Overall just really happy with these.