30 Days of Gratitude – Day #14, The Tech-ification of Running

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Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, I am thankful for the ways that technology have improved the sport of running and in particular the ways they have helped me improve and be more efficient through the years.

Day #13 – Most Expensive Free Sport Ever

I was scanning my Buzzfeed RSS feed and came across this post, which reminded me that the first GPS satellite went into orbit in February 1989, the same month I started running and my weight loss journey.

That same GPS technology would come into play in 2012 when I went for my first GPS tracked run with my brother – which showed that my distance was much lower and pace much slower than I thought. Ugh – but it was also a wake-up call. I mean, *I* had a smartphone – time to use it! So began my quest for the marathon! 6 months, 1900 miles and nearly 100lbs later … I did it. Wearing a Garmin FR-10, my second GPS watch (Nike+ was first).

Now I mostly use Wahoo Fitness app for GPS run-tracking, and wear the Garmin vivoSmart on my wrist to track steps, sleep, and also keep synced with my phone (review coming soon). I also have the Garmin FR-15 that I love.

Technology has played a huge role for me in other ways … well, mostly clothing. When I started running, there were no affordable tech fabrics, no wicking, no ‘cold-gear’ re-radiating layers. Just piling on the clothes. I remember running in the winter meant a thermal layer, then a sweatshirt layer then a outerwear layer, with thick bulky gloves and hat and scarf … and I wouldn’t go out in sub-zero air temps or sub -10 wind chills. And I was only running a few miles. Oh … and the smells … that was the worst of it I think. You couldn’t wash the stink out of that stuff!

This week when it got down to the 20’s with some wind, I was wearing a thin top layer, mid-weight hat, light gloves, normal running socks, running tights and ‘runderwear’ for the wind (we’ve covered this) … and I was perfectly fine. And newer tech fabrics are quick to wash and hang dry and much more resistant to odor accumulation.

How do you feel about the influence of technology on running?

Technology! 80s! Rocky!

Sunday Tech Round-Up and Weekly Running Summary

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Happy Sunday! I hope everyone has had a great weekend so far! Just a couple of quick items today – new tech and my weekly running summary.

As for the picture above, that is my two-week old Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with a Perixx folding Bluetooth keyboard. It works really well, weighs next to nothing, is easy to carry, but some of the keys are a bit funky in size due to the folding split.

New Tech Roundup

This week at the IFA show in Berlin, the big focus was on wearable tech. Among all of the usual stuff there were a few fitness related items I wanted to share. If you want more on all of the wearables head here. But I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites that have a fitness angle:

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Yeah, the Galaxy Note 4 really doesn’t bring much new to the fitness front according to this first impressions piece, but the one thing it does do is allow you to track your heart-rate using your finger and a built-in sensor below the camera the same way as the Galaxy S5. Here is how that works:

Also related to Samsung, they already have the Gear Fit ($149.99 at Amazon.com), which is an activity tracker that pairs with your Samsung phone … it has met with mediocre reviews.

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Sony Smartband Talk

Loads of info here, but here are some of my favorite details:
– Fitness centric design, counting steps, also has an altimeter for height
– Completely waterproof
– Curved e-ink desplay
– Microphone and speaker to use as a speakerphone.

At the estimated price of over $200, it isn’t clear this will be much of a hit, but it looks intriguing – especially the waterproof design.

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Wellograph

What I love about the Wellograph (official site) is that it is a great looking device, but it also has a three-LED heart-rate monitor that should be effective at tracking real-time activity. I am very excited and am hoping to get to check this one out for a review (at least that is the current plan).

Here are some more details:

Idle Time:
•Wellograph reminds users to sit less, move more and get active.

Activity:
•Wellograph expresses how much of a user’s day is idle vs. active, in hours and minutes. The device offers a today view to show how many calories users have burned each hour and their total for the day. Additionally, the week view feature displays frequency, intensity and time of their week’s activities.

Heart:
•Wellograph measures the quality and quantity of a user’s activity vs. simply the quantity, as the harder the heart works, the more calories burned. Wellograph encourages users to get their heart rates up via high-intensity physical activity and displays a user’s current pulse in beats per minute, including their high, average and resting heart rate each day. They are also provided with an exercise score based on how much aerobic activity they completed each day. After extended use, Wellograph will rank a user’s cardiovascular fitness and estimate their true fitness age, a feature unique to Wellograph.

Walk/Run:
•Users’ steps information is shown automatically as soon as they start moving and totaled to compare how much they ran or walked today vs. yesterday vs. their set goal. The device also offers users the ability to set a stopwatch, see their current pace and distance covered. After a run, Wellograph offers users summary stats about their run, including top pace, average pace, total calories burned and more.

Unfortunately all of those good looks and functionality don’t come cheap – the Wellograph is pre-ordering for $349 through the main site and also through Amazon.com.

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Garmin Vivosmart

I have already talked about how much I love the Garmin VivoFit I got for Lisa – it is a great activity tracker that is accurate, reliable, and has excellent battery life. Now Garmin has done one better by introducing the Vivosmart, which takes the Vivofit and turns it into a partner for your phone.

Personally I know I have been out running and my phone in my belt chimes and I wonder about stopping to check (only phone calls and texts will stop me usually unless I am expecting something from work). With this, I could look at my wrist and I would get a preview of what just arrived.

You can get a great ‘first hands-on’ from DC Rainmaker (whose reviews you should ALWAYS read on fitness devices), but a few things he noted included:
– Smartphone notifications
– Music control from the watch to your phone
– Vibration alerts

Garmin Touts These Key Features:

– Displays steps, calories, distance and time of day
– Vibration alerts for calls, texts and emails from your smartphone
– Easy operation using touch and swipe
– Inactivity alert reminds you to move
– Auto goal keeps you challenged

You can get more info or pre-order at Garmin or at Best Buy. The MSRP is $169.99.

Weekly Running Summary

This was definitely a weird week as I have noted, but I eventually got it together and ended up pretty strong over all. Here is how I did each day:

After coming back from our crazy tour of Providence and Boston, we were all exhausted and all of us felt a bit under the weather during the week, with Chris getting sick for real for most of the week. I took Tuesday off because I was feeling run-down, and then felt pretty good the rest of the week. But for whatever reason, I was still full-on motivated to get out and kill my runs and felt better every day for doing them – but paid in exhaustion at the end of each day! How did I do? Let’s take a look:

Sunday: ‘Rest’ Day – just 10 miles walking and shopping!
Monday: 16.5 miles
Tuesday: 5.25 miles … ugh, awful run!
Wednesday: 10.5 miles
Thursday: 10.5 miles
Friday: 7.5 miles after work
Saturday 23.5 miles with hill repeats

Um … yeah, so much for that ‘lost mojo’ I was worried about! I ended logging 73.75 miles this week. One thing that is clear – I am very much feeling the effects of burning the candle at both ends lately!

What new technology do YOU find compelling? How was YOUR week?

This … (Five Fave Things Right Now)

I laughed the other day when I read Laura at Fit Fresh & Funny introducing her ‘ABCs and 123s’ post by saying “shamelessly stealing this from Mike, because he’s always got the best ideas for a blog post!” Isn’t that something we ALL do?!? I mean, I grabbed the ‘alphabet post’ from Amanda at Running With Spoons from a two year old post she did, which I assume was part of a popular post-scheme at the time … since there seem to be ‘campaigns’ that make the rounds.

Well, in that vein … almost two weeks ago I loved this post over at The Girl Who Ran Everywhere … so naturally I stole the idea 🙂 So let’s get rolling with it, and if you like maybe you should steal it as well!

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This … is my favorite picture right now. I found this as I was trolling my old blog, and it has always been a fave. Chris has always been an avid and adventurous reader, and always loved to fill his bed with stuffed animals and always had a book or two going. Before this he had taken to comparing his kids’ bible to the full good news bible after seeing a VeggieTales episode on ‘Daniel in the Lion’s Den’. As I noted at the time “When I walked into his room, I expected him to be reading on of the Droon or Narnia books, or perhaps a Garfield book … but this floored me and I had to capture the moment.”

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This … is my favorite room in the house, with our inherited cat sitting by my side. She only comes out of the basement when the dogs are out, and was snuggling with me for a while the other day, moving from side to side and walking across the keyboard. I love the room because there is no TV and it is away from the main kitchen-dining-family room hustle and bustle, making it relaxing and peaceful.

My beautiful picture

This … is a moment that popped into my head recently as we were discussing Massachusetts. It is from Danny’s first birthday and he had a cool ‘ball pit’ that he loved to play in, and this was one of those great moments where we were able to capture him in action yet still for just a moment. I really love the look on his face.

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This … is my love of over-tracking and measuring everything in one image. Garmin FR-15, Polar Loop and Magellan Echo … all great fitness tracking tools, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

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This … is where I want to be, who I want to be with, and where we hope to be for our 25th. We went to Sandals Antigua for our honeymoon, and they had ‘resort photographers’ constantly taking pictures around, and you could buy them … and this one we actually liked enough to pay the $5 or $10 (can’t remember anymore). Years ago we thought ‘let’s go back for our 25th’, which sounds awesome … until you realize that we will have two kids in college at the time! So we are not sure if or how it will happen, but as of now it remains a goal.

What are YOU loving now?

‘Rough’ Work Day, Running Lately and 5 Ways to Make Your iPad Your Main PC!

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I have mentioned before that I work in the ‘corporate engineering’ organization, but most people I talk to don’t know what that really means (nor did I really ‘get it’ until I started working at Corning. In my last job there were two divisions – one for microelectronics and the other for printed circuit boards, each with their own research, development, engineering and manufacturing people. Within a division we would work on a variety of technologies and products, and often remain linked to them … well, forever. You would report to your boss but the project lead would have your time. By the time I left I had estimated that 40% of my time was allocated to ‘baggage’ responsibilities from the previous 15 years.

For Corning, without being too specific, each business has employees to do development and engineering and manufacturing, and there is a corporate engineering division that supplies ‘center of excellence’ support to every other division. This allows divisions to streamline operations and the corporate engineering groups to focus on their core skills. Operationally, it means that you almost never see your boss or the people in your department. So I have an office in downtown Corning, but have been there less than a half-dozen times this year.

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‘Rough Day’ at Work

With all of that as introduction, you might understand why it matters for our department to have periodic ‘team events’. We have a monthly staff meeting and quarterly division meetings, but again those are functional and don’t help us connect as people, which greatly enhances our ability to work together effectively. So before I even joined Corning, the group started a routine of having a couple of smaller events and one larger all-day event each year.

For example, last year we had a cooking class day at the New York Wine and Culinary Center, have done wine tours, bowling, boat trips, and more.

This year for our ‘rough day’, we spent the day on a two-masted schooner and then eating at a nice lake-side restaurant.

We did a Seneca lake cruise on the ‘True Love’, which was the boat used in the film High Society when Bing Crosby serenades Grace Kelly on the boat. Because of the weather change from warm & humid to cool & dry, the lake was quite windy … making for excellent sailing! Because the boat is relatively small (capacity of 20 people, we had 14), when we were sailing with the wind the boat tipped so the rail was less than a foot off of the water! The weather was great, and the wind and waves made for a fun and active ride – it was possible to walk around and talk, but choppy enough that you wanted to sit when possible and there were a few drinks spilled. All in all a great adventure, and highly recommended if you are in the area!

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We had a late lunch at the Seneca Harbor Station restaurant, which is a place we’ve been to a couple of times before. Our experience was mixed but generally, and that pretty well reflects the experience this time. Coming in on a Thursday afternoon after 2PM the place wasn’t too busy, so we were able to not be cramped at all.

There were a variety of appetizers, then main dishes. They also provided ‘fresh’ bread that was drenched a sort of butter-oil-garlic … I tried it, but not a fan. I got a Southwest Chicken Salad that had fresh salsa (black bean, red onion, tomato, corn and cilantro salsa with tortilla chips and roasted jalapenos) as well as spinach and other greens and grilled chicken. The problem I had (aside from no tortilla chops and the jalapenos not being roasted, neither of which I minded since the jalapenos were fresh and not from a jar) was that the chicken wasn’t ‘fresh’. It reminded me of getting a big bag of pre-grilled chicken breast from Sam’s Club, reheating and cutting it up. In other words, it was fresh cut, but NOT fresh cooked.

As I talked to others at the table that ‘semi-homemade’ feeling was everywhere. My review of Seneca Harbor Station would be ‘Good’ – food was pretty decent, prices for an ‘on the lake’ place were also reasonable. Service was excellent, one benefit of the place having emptied out after lunch.

But the best thing about all of it was how both events allowed everyone to chat and move around easily – I heard about projects, locations, kids and spouses and parents and so on, planned out a possible course to teach next year, and so on. Excellent day in every possible way!

Running

I have only talked a bit about my running since returning from vacation, but a few things occurred to me as I was finishing up my run today and looking at the 9.07 mile distance … here are the bullet points:
– 10 runs since returning
– 92.5 miles total
– 9 out of 10 runs were over 9 miles
– Totally off last weekend, will run Saturday and take Sunday off
– All runs were ‘free-form’, base building … next week gets back to ‘purpose’.

I was concerned returning from vacation and hopping into running, so I ran with the Kinvara 5s for a few days them rotated back into the Virratas … and I have felt great.

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Five Steps to Make Your iPad Your Main Computer

I talk regularly about using my iPad as my ‘90% Computer’. I also get asked a lot about how to make the iPad useful beyond just ‘a toy’, so I thought I would quickly note a few ways to turn that tablet into your main computing device!

Realize what you CAN Do!

When the iPad first arrived, people dismissed it as an over-sized iPod Touch, and then as a simple ‘consumption’ machine. In other words, some of the obvious capabilities: email, web browsing, listening to music and watching videos. Guess what – the iPad is EXCELLENT at those things.

But very quickly the iPad killed the booming Netbook category and shook up the PC market completely … so it had to be more than just a basic consumption device.

Just by using what is built-in to the iPad and readily available for free from Apple, you get:
– Very capable email client for all common services
– Multi-tab web browsing with most modern features available.
– Calendar / Contacts / To Do
– Maps with GPS and directions
– Messaging and video chat clients
– Camera with integrated browser, separate powerful image editor and movie editor
– Video and music integration with cloud-based playback
– Music making and recording

That is quite a bit – and the hardware is powerful and incredible capable.

Make Use of iCloud, Google+ and Onedrive

One of the great things for me is the ability to quickly shift between iPhone, iPad and Mac in terms of images, music and data files.

For example, I can take a picture on my iPhone, then upload it to a post in WordPress on the iPad without ever downloading it to my device by using the Photo Stream. Using Google+ allows you to add all of the pictures you take to your Google image storage for use with a Chromebook or Android device, and Microsoft’s OneDrive has similar capabilities.

As another simple example, after our New York trip we wanted to look at pictures. We imported ones from our cameras to iPhoto, but the ones from our phones all auto-uploaded so we could just grab the iPad and browse through them all.

Apps, Apps, Apps!

My uses for the iPad?
– Productivity (including all of the stuff from above)
– Data analysis
– RSS browser
– Blogging
– Gaming
– Music making

Doing many of these things requires apps. I love jamming with Magellan Synth, recording up to 48 tracks in Auria, checking RSS feeds in Mr. Brower (uses Feedly), blogging with the WordPress app, and so on.

Whereas most of the best phone games are ‘time wasters’, on the iPad you can play a full game like Baldur’s Gate 2, or X-Com and so on. The screen size gives you the visual space as well as touch-screen space to have a great experience.

The same is true for music – you can use multi-touch to play ‘piano’, manipulate ‘knobs’ and ‘dials’ in real-time, and because of the processing power, an app like AudioBus allows you to string together multiple apps to turn your iPad into a real recording studio!

Accessorize for Success

If you look at the image above, you see I have my iPad in a keyboard case. Specifically I have the Belkin Qode Ultimate, which protects my iPad Air, doesn’t add much bulk, and provides a great Bluetooth keyboard with excellent battery life.

I also regularly use products from IK Multimedia such as the iRig Pro to hook in my guitar, and the iRig Keys Pro as a great portable keyboard.

Temper Your Expectations

Remember … this is NOT a laptop. I think this has fueled some disillusionment and a tapering of sales from all vendors. You WILL need a computer for some things, and to act as a ‘hub’, but you will also find you can use it much less.

That is how my iPad became my 90% computer. When I first got it, I had my work computer for work, but also a smartphone (Droid), netbook and LiveScribe ‘smartpen’. With the iPad the netbook and LiveScribe quickly went away – and so did my use of the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP! And many things I was doing on the Droid I could do more efficiently on the iPad.

When I was in Kentucky last year, I knew I needed my work computer (duh), but I needed some way to do my personal stuff and blogging … and didn’t want to lug two laptops. So I had to do a ‘trust fall’ and hope the iPad would work – and it DID. I was recording and editing and posting video reviews, writing, playing games, making music, emailing, Facetime-ing and so on! So for me, it has earned its place.

And finally – while it seems illogical – maybe you don’t NEED a tablet? As screens get bigger more people are able to use their smartphones for nearly everything. And I look at things and wonder – if Apple DOES release the rumored 5.5″ screen (or even the nearly-certain 4.7″), will the combination of that and my Macbook Air be enough? We shall see …

Have you sailed on a lake? What is your go-to computer / blogging device?

Five Ways Things Were Better in the Pre-Smartphone Internet Days

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Happy Friday! First off I wanted to again thank everyone for so many great comments across the entire ’10 Days of You’ series … it was really amazing to read, and the realization of how much of myself I exposed through these seemingly simple lists makes the comments even more meaningful.

The picture above is my Day 5 collage from Megan’s ‘Ab Challenge’ … and I am pretty pleased with my progress – I am up over a 2 minute plank along with the rest of the ab work and continuing to get in my runs of around 8 – 9 miles every day.

When I took a couple of weeks to ‘step back’ from blogging a few months ago, there were a number of frustrations and other things I needed to sort out … which have ended up in three different draft posts I am finally dealing with. One is on how people treat others, another is on honesty … and this one is about the inefficiency of blogging as a form of communication.

But just saying that by itself doesn’t really mean anything without context, so I wanted to explain WHY I find blogging to be such an inefficient time-soak, and compared to what. As I did that I was thinking about a bunch of other ways technology has become more time-intensive without necessarily delivering more value over the last couple of decades … oh, and before you jump to the comments immediately to tell me how wrong I am, I rebut pretty much every one of my points later in the post!

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1. USENET vs. Forums vs. Blogging

Does anyone reading this remember the days before the web? When I got out of college and wanted to continue to be able to communicate with friends, there was email. Modems were mostly 1200 baud (bits per second … about twice as fast as you can type), and used a phone line. But there was also this thing called USENET.

USENET groups were discussion groups that were handled on a distributed network of servers that replicated the discussions worldwide. You would have a single USENET reader program that would load all of your discussion from your assigned server. Your program would track read and unread, and also discussions you ‘starred’, started or participated in.

So if you were interested in new running shoes, instead of writing on your blog ‘hey guys, what would you recommend for me for running shoes?’ you would post the question to the group rec. running, and a discussion would start … you would supply details, get questions, probably have a side thread or two about certain manufacturers being crap, and so on. Very often the discussions took on a life of their own.

And how would you find groups? Search your server. If you had just listened to music and wanted to see about others who liked that piece, you might go to rec. music.jazz. Or if you had a programming question you could go to comp.lang.c++ and people from all over the world would try to help.

USENET was a very democratic area, where anyone could start a discussion, and once it was out there … it was no longer ‘yours’. But with the rise of the web in the 90s, special interest websites popped up everywhere, gradually killing off USENET participation. An early site I helped out with and participated on was JediKnight.net, which came out after the game Dark Forces as fans waited for the first Jedi Knight game that eventually arrived in 1997. There was news, but mostly it was about the discussions.

What happened with web forums was that the discussions of USENET were decentralized – so you could find a running site which would have all sorts of discussion topics about technique, equipment, and so on. Most also had ‘off topic’ areas where you could talk about music, politics or whatever. Suddenly if you were a video game fan you needed to track a dozen forums to keep up with all of your discussions! But it remained democratic to an extent – all members were pretty much equal, with moderators and site owners having the final word.

Blogs are different – my blog begins and ends with what I want to talk about. If you find my subjects interesting you can comment and follow my posts. But what I found when I started tracking running blogs two years ago was that within the comments were always MORE blogs … and many of them were really cool. So you’d follow another and another and … suddenly you have an out of control subscription list, and this is just as a reader!

But what happens is you have a question you want to ask? Do you search for someone else asking and hope their answers work for you? Do you put your own question in someone else’s comments? No … you make your own blog. And suddenly you realize that there is a lot to blogging:
– Creating content that interests you and hopefully some others
– Reading all of the awesome blogs out there
– Commenting on those blogs
– Responding to comments on YOUR blog!

So suddenly we look back over the last 25 years and realize that we have gone from an in-depth discussion of the harmonic implications of the song ‘Circle’ from Miles Smiles, including several thousand comments in a group with tens of thousands of ‘members’ across dozens of countries … to, well, me introspectively writing a blog article complaining about blogging compared to ‘the good old days’.

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2. PDAs and Dedicated MP3 Players compared to Smartphones

First – MP3 Players. We all know that distracted driving is incredibly dangerous, yet I cannot begin to count the number of people I see on their phones or ‘looking at their laps’ while driving. I know a number of people who use their smartphones as MP3 players. Here is a quick test – how many actions does it take you to stop the current song, change to a new artist, find a certain song on a certain album and play that? And how much ‘screen look’ time? Without doing the math, let em be blunt – it is MUCH less efficient, and MORE dangerous, than on a click-wheel iPod. Which is why I have one in my car.

How is something that takes more effort and distraction to complete a task more efficient? It isn’t! Smartphones are simply less efficient music players, and a bad choice for the car.

Similarly, our smartphones are amazingly powerful tools and the apps we now have are stunning in their depth and breadth. Yet if I had serious math to do on the go I would choose the 20-year old HP 200LX over any of them … in a heartbeat! With Lotus 1-2-3, a full HP scientific calculator, a hardware keyboard and dedicated numeric keypad … POWER! And that was one reason I held off on ‘smartphones’ until Android – ‘convergence’ devices were always inferior.

Look at the keyboard on the HP Jornada 728 from 2002, and you might realize how well it would have worked as something to carry to every meeting and type up notes, do (offline) email, and so on. Looking at the front you might realize it has dedicated hardware media controls – yes it was my MP3 player for quite a while!

It has taken a long time for these convergence devices to catch up – something like the iPad Mini in a Belkin keyboard case is a great replacement for the 728 in every way. But think about it – how great of an accomplishment is it to ‘finally surpass a 12 year old piece of hardware of similar price’ … and to need add-on accessories to do it?

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3. Being ‘In The Moment’ vs. ‘Always On’

There is a joke that we are raising a generation that appears to have an unnatural and humorous fascination with their crotches … that is they think they are ‘sneaking’ cell phone use or somehow being more polite by keeping it under the table – but it doesn’t change the reality of the situation.

Think about it – when was the last time your were out to dinner with friends or family and you DIDN’T have to repeat something because someone’s attention was on their phone? The priority order is skewed – we are more worried about who is on our smartphone than who is across the table.

My point? It has been shown that for all of the ‘social’ aspects, our smartphones have made us much less socially engaged and worse at handling routine interactions. That is NOT progress.

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4. Punctuality and Reliability

When I had my first job out of college, there were essentially no cell phones and pretty much all computers were desktops (and many people didn’t have external email addresses). If you wanted to have a meeting, you generally had to call someone – and if you needed to alter plans, you again needed to call them.

Just this afternoon I had a meeting to help someone with analyzing some data. At 5 minutes after the meeting was supposed to start at my desk, I got a text asking if they could have 10 more minutes and if we could meet at THEIR desk. I didn’t even think twice about it until I was walking to their office, but that sort of thing would never have happened even 10 years ago.

It all reminds me of this:

“In the US, where punctuality is usually seen as important, mobile phones make us later. We’re more likely to schedule things spontaneously, and then reschedule at the last minute via mobile phone.”

Oh – and THIS video pretty much sums it up.

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5. Vacation and Off-Time

I remember going on vacation to Disney in 2001 when Blackberry was a new thing … and I had one of the models like in the picture (but they weren’t in color yet) and for the first day the constant buzzing bothered me and I felt ‘compelled’ to check. But the second morning as we were getting ready, I took one last look, shut it down and locked it in the hotel safe. I didn’t take it out again until we left.

When was the last time you took a cell-phone free vacation? Or brought your phone but actually limited it to taking pictures, keeping up basic communications and that was it? For more and more people it is like the actual number of vacationers has doubled – you have your family … and their phones!

Bonus. The Counter-Points

Of course, for every point I just made there is a counterpoint … and since they seemed obvious to me, I will make them!

The Joy of Blogging – it isn’t SUPPOSED to Replace USENET/Forums – Blogging is all about the celebration of the individual voice and the building of community. We love hearing what our friends have to say – both in posts and in comments. We have something to add and are interested in the reply for the original poster.

It is that celebration of voices and community that makes blogging so great – and worth the challenge of the hard work and time required. I think about the amazing people I have met, the number of folks I genuinely consider friends at this point, and how much faster I have learned so much about them, and shared so much of myself, by blogging and reading blogs. There are people I have talked with on web forums for 20 years regularly I know less about than bloggers I have followed for 3 months. It is amazing.

Also, those discussion I mention STILL happen – in web forums. If you want to talk music theory, head to All About Jazz, where there are incredibly talented people ready to talk – and share annotated links, multimedia files, and other stuff not possible 25 years ago. Same for optimizing virtual instruments in Digital Performer (MOTUForums), and gaming frame rates (numerous forums). Point is – they’re out there.

Also, my USENET example comes from a time when the entire population of the internet was about 100 times SMALLER than the number of people who have viewed the #selfie video. Think about that for a minute … this is even before AOL came along, before ‘text speak’ existed, before most houses had a computer.

Smartphones vs. MP3 and PDAs – When I use my iPhone for music in the car, I am not playing just from when I have remembered to load onto the device, but instead from my entire music library. Last week I wanted to hear ‘Black Radio’ from Robert Glasper (check it out) but on my iPod I only had the ‘Black Radio 2’ album. On my phone that is no problem.

Also, on my phone I have iTunes Radio, Slacker, Spotify, Rdio, Amazon Music, Google Music, and more to play music, Shazam to identify and buy anything I hear while out and about, as well as any number of musical instruments if I hear a tune and want to learn on the go.

Also, I have a full HP-15 calculator on my phone as well as full-featured statistical analysis programs on my iPad. I can go into the lab, grab data, analyze and graph, and report it out all from my tablet quite easily in a way I never could without a full laptop in the past.

Smartphones Require Social Discipline – if you are on a early date and look like the couple above … smartphones are not your biggest issue. Communication requires … well, communication. There are times when you WILL look like that, and sometimes it can be fun – there are times Lisa and I are hearing from the kids, or have posted a picture of us on a date and are getting responses and sharing them together.

It is up to us – technology really CAN add to the social environment … we just need to use discipline and always remember to prioritize the people we are with.

Smartphones Allow Flexibility – I remember getting crappy directions to a place in Cambridge way back in the late 80s, a part of the city I’d never been to, and struggling to find it. I finally found a pay phone, thankfully had change, and called the office to get better directions … which were only somewhat helpful as I had to call once again to notify them I’d be late.

With a smartphone and GPS none of that would have happened. Also, that scenario of the quickly changed meeting worked out fine (although notification BEFORE the start of a meeting would always be better). Social norms still need to apply – we need to be polite and respect other people’s time and feelings … but otherwise rapid communications allows unprecedented flexibility.

Smartphones on Vacation – you know that commercial of the family trip where the daughter seems totally disengaged and into her cell phone, yet at some point produces something documenting everything they have done with ‘best vacation ever’ capturing so many great moments? That is closer to reality … sure our devices tag along – but they also help us grab moments, because as the saying goes the best camera is the one that is always with you and ready to go!

So What Do YOU Think? Do I have any points, Did I negate them all with my counter-points, or is this just my ‘Grumpy Old Man’ showing?!?

Garmin Forerunner FR-15 GPS and Fitness Watch Review

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Just two days before my first marathon in 2012, Garmin sent me their new ForeRunner FR-10. It’s an entry level watch with the right amount of tracking features for most casual runners and racers. Since then I have reviewed a number of watches, and rounded them up here. When Garmin contacted me I jumped at the opportunity to check out their new entry level GPS watch! The FR-15 is easy to recommend, delivering new and improved functionality in all ways except for one – read on for more details!

Manufacturer’s Description:

Run with all your heart. This easy-to-use GPS running watch tracks distance, pace, heart rate1, calories and Personal Reacords.Pair it with a foot pod2 to capture distance data on treadmill runs. Forerunner 15 helps you stay on top of your fitness goalsbetween workouts with Activity Tracking features that remind you when it’s time to move and count steps and calories burned allday. The rechargeable battery lasts up to eight hours with GPS on or five weeks in watch/Activity Tracking mode. Upload to ourfree online community, Garmin Connect, to join fitness challenges and save, plan and share your progress.

•Tracks distance, pace, heart rate¹ and calories
•Activity tracking counts steps and calories and reminds you when it’s time to move
•Compatible with foot pod² for recording distance indoors
•Up to 8 hours of battery life with GPS on or 5 weeks in watch/activity tracking mode
•Save, plan and share your activities at Garmin Connect™

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The Watch:

If you look at the FR-15, you will note that it looks a lot like the FR-10 … because it does. In fact, aside from now having a stylish blue it is virtually identical! That isn’t a bad thing – the FR-10 came in two sizes that worked well for smaller and larger people. The FR-15 is similarly comfortable and easy to fit on a variety of wrists. I had a bunch of people try it on at work and home (I’m pushy that way!), and everyone agreed it was light and comfortable.

Similarly the display is nearly identical to the FR-10, though I feel that the new display is even crisper. You get at most two items displayed at once – Elapsed Time and Distance, Distance and Pace, Heartrate and Calories, and so on. The text size is large enough to be easily visible at a glance. It is a great compromise – larger watches display more but are often harder to see on the run, and many similar sized watches try to display too much (like the Polar RC3) and end up with a confusing interface.

That is where the FR-15 shines – all of the functionality is easily accessible, and the button controls are well labeled and intuitive. You don’t really NEED to read the manual, but it only takes a minute and then you won’t forget.

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More FR-15 Features:

Some of the features you can access are Auto-Pause, which is great if you regularly run in traffic and need to stop at intersections; Auto-Lap, which I (and seemingly everyone else) has defaulted to 1 mile; an ‘auto-pace’ that helps keep you on track; the data fields displayed on the various pages of the display when active; your weight for calculating calories; and a bunch of other settings. For fitness you can turn the system on or off, and set your goals and ‘Move’ alert.

There are not the seemingly infinite settings found in other devices, but there is a considerable amount of flexibility and control, and for me I have yet to come across anything additional I would want. Here are a few screens:

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Fitness Tracker:

One of the biggest additions to the FR-15 is the fitness tracking capability, similar to Garmin’s recent VivoFit dedicated fitness tracker. This product space is interesting now – with Fitbit having to recall their entire ‘Force’ product, Nike exiting the space, leaving the Garmin ViviFit competing against the Polar Loop, Jawbone Up, and older Fitbit products.

The allure of fitness tracking is obvious to most people – modern jobs and internet-centric society means more sedentary lifestyles than ever before, and more and more research shows that ‘sitting is the new smoking’, and that even people who exercise regularly need to maintain active lifestyles throughout the day. So a fitness tracker is a great way to ensure that you are moving throughout the day.

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Using the Garmin FR-15 for tracking fitness is simple – enable tracking, and wear the watch all the time. That’s it – then just look at your watch and it will show your steps and progress against your goal, and tapping the lower-left button will toggle through steps, goal, calories and the current date. The data resets to zero at midnight, but your last 7 days are saved for later sync-up.

Then the next time you hook up to a computer to sync the FR-15 your steps and sleep patterns. You get tracking across days, performance to target and so on, viewable on the web or your Garmin Connect app. The only thing lacking is that you have to manually specify your sleep hours – on the VivoFit you can hold the button and the system goes into sleep tracking mode, and you wake it up by holding the button in the morning. That makes the FR-15 method more approximate, but I still like the way it tracks and charts motion during the night.

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Wireless Sensors:

One of the two criticisms I had for the FR-10 was “no support for ANT+ wireless devices (such as heart rate monitor) or foot pods.”

Well … they listened.

The FR-15 now features ANT+ sensor support, meaning that if you already have an ANT+ HRM (heart rate monitor) or foot pod sensor it will work with the FR-15. Garmin sent along the FR-15 model that comes with the heart rate monitor. I didn’t have a foot sensor to test.

Pairing up the sensor was quick and easy, and I also tried with a couple of other ANT+ HRM sensors and it worked easily every time. The HRM is a standard chest-strap model, so you need to wet your skin and the sensor before it will find your heart rate for precise tracking.

Once paired, the HRM has linked up for me every day without fail. And with the heart rate displayed prominantly on the screen I found it easy to use the system to maintain constant effort based on heart rate. Well, it was easy to see the display … the rest I’m still working on!

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Battery Life:

My other criticism of the FR-10? “Battery life is short.”

Again, Garmin listened.

The FR-10 specified a 5 hour GPS life, and based on my usage the last couple of years that seems about right. That means it is good enough for most people to run a marathon without charging the day before or after … and not much else.

The FR-15 specifies 8 hours of GPS and normal use (since tracking is generally on), so I decided to test it out for a week. I didn’t plug in all week long, which meant tracking for 24 hours per day, using the HRM and GPS for at least an hour per day. At the end of the week I had done over 8 hours of use, was getting low battery warnings but everything still worked. I synced up the watch and everything was stores – activities, heart rate graphs and daily activity tracking. Very impressive for such a small and light watch.

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GPS Location and Strength:

The joke would be that GPS is all about location – in more than one way. Not only is its basic function tracking location, but how well it syncs to GPS to get started can be the difference between fun and frustration. For me the Garmin FR-10 generally would link up within a minute at home, though when in different locations it could take longer. Last year when I was traveling for work it took a few minutes the first couple of times but gradually the lock came faster.

For the FR-15 nothing much seems to have changed. At home the GPS is generally ready to go before I am, and on my trail run this weekend it still took less than a minute. Of course, if you had issues with the FR-10, chances are the FR-15 won’t be much better.

Only one time has the FR-10 GPS failed me – running the trails of the PA Grand Canyon Marathon. So I was interested to see how the FR-15 handled the Catharine Valley Trail on my run … which ended up boring because it never had an issue!

Sync-Up and Apps:

Syncing up the FR-15 is pretty much identical to the FR-10: you get a cradle that the watch snaps into with four contacts on the back. You plug into a USB port on Mac or PC, launch Garmin Express (which should auto-launch), and the data anto-syncs to the Garmin Express site where you can view it.

You can also view activities on the Garmin Connect app for iOS or Android, though honestly it is of less value for the FR-15 than for my wife’s VivoFit. That is because the VivoFit direct syncs to the app, and also has features that work together with the app that the FR-15 doesn’t support.

If there is one weakness, THIS is it – so many devices have moved to wireless sync that it is a shame that the FR-15 requires corded sync. Especially because of the fitness tracking – having to plug into a cable on a computer just to see results on your phone reduces the value of fitness tracking.

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Accuracy & Precision – Fitness Tracking:

There are two areas that I looked at – walking and running.

Running is … weird. And it makes sense – your stride length varies if you are doing hills or a long flat run, an easy pace or a more strenuous speed workout. As a result the tracking of steps to distance was fairly useless for me. I found that I could run the same basic route two days – on easy and the other pushing the pace – and get results that skewed by up to 1000 steps, which would be about 0.5 miles at a walking stride. As a result I did what most people seem to do – not use the Garmin FR-15 fitness tracking when running.

But walking is another thing – Lisa and I love to go for walks, so I was able to test the FR-15 against her Runkeeper app on the iPhone, the Garmin VivoFit and Polar Loop fitness tracker. All of these matched very well between miles and steps (using ~2500 steps/mile equivalent), and the agreement between all of them was withing less than a hundred steps across about a dozen miles walked over several days.

Accuracy & Precision – GPS and Heart Rate:

Comparing heart rate monitors is hard because you can really only have one monitor at once. So instead of making direct comparisons I used different sensors on different days on similar runs. And using three different sensors I got more or less the same message – my rate starts low, ramps as I ramp my intensity, then settles into a groove for most of my run. The Garmin HRM was the most comfortable and easist to adjust and wet of the ones I tried, and I have happily made it my go-to HRM.

In terms of run tracking, I got a bit more involved … I used my old FR-10 on one wrist, the FR-15 on the other, and the Wahoo Fitness app on my iPhone in my running belt. I wore all three across a few weeks, and all three tracked extremely well. I will let the graphs speak for themselves – but the agreement was within +/-0.1 mile across the 7 – 15 mile runs.

GPS Tracking

Conclusions:

The Garmin FR-10 provided a great entry level GPS watch which I heartily recommended. The FR-15 improves on the FR-10 in every appreciable way, with better battery life, fitness tracking and suport for ANT+ wireless sensors. The Garmin Express app and site continue to become more useful and helpful with tracking and integration features, and the ability to do sleep monitoring graphs adds another new direction.

With the FR-15 Garmin retains my vote for the best entry-level GPS watch. For $169.99 you get all the features of the $130 FR-10 and most of the features of the $130 VivoFit combined. Add on the heart rate monitor and you have a $200 all-in-one fitness data collection system!

Review: Garmin ForeRunner FR-15

Where to Buy: Garmin.com or Amazon.com

Price: $199.95 ($169.99 without heart-rate monitor)

What I Like: Great design; fantastic accuracy; useful fitness tracking; support for ANT+ sensors; super light-weight; perfect fit; great price; easy readability and controls; great choices in features.

What Needs Improvement: Lack of wireless sync.

Source: Manufacturer provided review sample

Here is my hands-on video of the Garmin ForeRunner FR-15:

Six for Saturday – Saucony Kinvara 5, Polar Loop, and Five Foods

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On Wednesday I talked about stopping my running streak – and the comments were all very positive and supportive. Over these past couple of weeks I have had the word inspirational used to describe me .. which already makes me uncomfortable. But my concern with my LAST running streak was that it did make for a good story, and I know a few people who did later streaks, some ended up fine and others wonder if it resulted in their injuries. Which all brings me back to my ‘Five Reasons Never to Take Fitness Advice From Me’ post. Yeah … still true.

Anyway, I have a few (mostly) running related items and my ‘Five Foods’. So let’s get started!

1. Saucony Kinvara 5

As you might have seen since I posted before and after pics on Instagram, I got a pair of Saucony Kinvara 5 for review this week. They are awesome … oh, you want more details?

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The Kinvaras are highly regarded lightweight 4mm drop shoes, which are very popular because they are both light and well cushioned. The fit on the first few models seemed to fit most runners – but then the Kinvara 4 came along and there were many complaints about the toe-box. Even my pair – which lasted over 1300 miles – shows considerable wear at both ends of the toe-box.

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The Kinvara 5 addresses that and pretty much any other complaint. In fact, the entire toe box has been reshaped (if you can see it in the picture above. The rear ankle padding has had the contour removed without reducing the cushion, the overall feel is more cushioned, they are still incredibly light, and extremely well fitting and comfortable. I’ve only done two runs so far … but these are definitely some of the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn – and it is like meeting up with an old friend who looks even better with age.

2. Polar Loop

Yesterday I (finally) got the Polar Loop after a whole series of mix-ups and miscommunications that has had the heart-rate monitor part sitting on my counter for three months! Anyway, I got it all set up and configured, I took it on my run with me. My first thought?

Having to permanently cut a wrist strap was really stressful – especially since my first cut went through one of the pin-channels. Fortunately I intentionally under-cut the first time just to be sure. I ended cutting more this morning and now the fit is perfect … for me.

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Quick thoughts:
– Love the wireless sync to the phone
– Not a huge fan of the display – it is useless in sunlight as the LEDs wash out and the time-out is rather fast for activating and then shading … not an ‘on the go’ solution
– The iOS app and PC software is solid, but doesn’t match up with Garmin app Lisa uses for the VivoFit and the site I use for the FR-15
– Also love the easy charge-sync cable
– Not a fan of the ‘cut-to-fit’ thing – if I did it for Lisa, no one else in the house could wear it. Since it fits me it would fit Chris and could be cut for Lisa, but would be too small for Danny.

So … my overall impression is solid but given the choice I would buy the Garmin VivoFit again for fitness tracking. However, I have not tried the heart-rate monitor integration. So that will be an interesting test.

3. The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself

One thing I always talk about is safety – and that includes hydration and fueling. Being caught unready to handle a situation due to too much exercise and too little food and water is very dangerous.

Over at Runblogger, Pete linked to a post from his coach about the time that he fainted in what was really a totally avoidable situation. But the way he describes it is something that we should all reflect on:

1. No matter the run, immediate re-fueling and re-hydration is essential. This was already a rule, but I ignored it on the day.
2. Pre-run nutrition needs to be better. If you’re going to run 19 miles in a day, you can’t go into the afternoon run with a calorie deficit.
3. Don’t be so stubborn. Real life does impact running, and sometimes you need to slow down and realize that being tired has an impact on your body.

4. Anniversaries of Historical Importance

This week marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the 25th anniversary of the Tian’anmen Square standoff. I loved the takes on both of these important milestone’s at Carina’s blog – and really, you should check out each of those links. I wasn’t around for D-Day (my parents were only 2 and 4 years old), but I remember Tian’anmen Square well.

5. Is Being ‘Fat’ Not So Bad After All?

Admittedly I am not a huge fan of this article in general, because it basically comes down to mostly being yet another ‘my BMI says I am overweight, but I am very healthy, so everything you’ve read is wrong’ story. But along the way he highlights (through links) some important things – mostly that BMI is largely useless as a metric as it only alters the weight equation by adding height without taking body type into account.

A few things of note:
– Most of his points relate to being ‘overweight’ – obesity remains incredibly bad for you.
– Being overweight is MUCH better health-wise than being underweight.
– For someone who is overweight, social stigma and shaming and discrimination are the biggest problems.
– Perfect health is a complete myth.

Again, I have a load of mixed feelings, but definitely have seem many people online who are underweight and have dealt with injuries and other chronic health issues as a result. This week Amy posted a great article about when she realized she was too skinny, and includes before and after pictures … it is an amazing post with some great comments.

6. Running Around the World

This isn’t new, but I never noted it, and still makes me smile. Astronaut Mike Hopkins tweeted the following back in March:

Ran for ~1 orbit today. 12 miles on the treadmill while the station travelled more than 25,000 miles. I’ve now run around the world.

Yeah, so there is THAT … which is pretty awesome.

10 Day You Challenge

I have to confess that I am loving this series, as it makes me reflect on myself and my life. I wouldn’t really think I would be learning about myself – but I am. And today I learn something again, as I list out my ‘five foods’.

Day Six: Five Foods

1. Ice Cream – No matter what, I will always love ice cream. It is one thing I will always allow myself – and I have stopped going ‘light’ or whatever. I get what I want. One of the first things I did with my Nutribullet was to figure out how to make desserts – and I make a wonderful banana-based ‘soft serve’ that can be chocolate, fruity, peanut butter or whatever … and it is awesome.

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2. Steak – steak has always been my favorite meat, but not something I get very often. I will have it for my birthday (and did), and also on rare occasions. I will have it for Father’s Day next weekend as well. I tend to eat a diet of mostly fruits and veggies and some lean meats … but I just love a nice juicy steak. Preferably with a nice glass of red wine.

3. Sweet Potato – I have mentioned it before, but growing up sweet potatoes were only at Thanksgiving. Then as a young adult I would have them at restaurants on occasion. Now? Whenever I can. Whole, mashed, cut up as oven-fries, grilled, roasted, whatever.

4. ALL the fruit – I always have fruit with breakfast and lunch, and would say that the vast majority of what hits the Nutribullet is fruit-based. To make this choice even easier, from Mayo Clinic:

The following are technically fruits: avocado, beans, peapods, corn kernels, cucumbers, grains, nuts, olives peppers, pumpkin, squash, sunflower seeds and tomatoes.

So yeah … it is ALL about the fruits for me! Sure I love my veggies … but fruit rules my world!

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5. Smoothies – I enlisted Lisa’s help for this on … I have now had my Nutribullet for two months – and I use it every day, some days twice, and occasionally even three times. I have found some great go-to recipes for thin, thick and spoonable smoothies that are sweet or savory, and really … I am thinking of what I will have for a post-run smoothie even as I type this!

What is your favorite running shoe and/or gadget, and how about your favorite foods?