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Everything stated on this site is, of course, MY opinion / statement / thought, unless specifically stated otherwise. You knew that.

 

PLEASE NOTE: I'm *slowly* combining my blogs into this single site. If you are looking for Lotus Notes content from my old site, please EMAIL me at: jrlitton at gmail dot com and tell me the link or the content you were seeking. I will try to email you the content within a day.

- Joe

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Friday
Feb052016

In search of the perfect smartwatch

Oh, and I'm possibly getting back to blogging :)

I currently own and use several wrist-worn devices, including (left to right) 3 watches: a Pebble, a Mio Alpha, and a Polar -- and my Fitbit Flex:

This is rather ridiculous. The Pebble is my daily wear watch, as it displays the time, and offers notifications from various phone apps (caller id, text messages, Facebook, etc.). The Mio watch is a fantastic heart rate monitor for running and biking - but is terrible for weighlifting and HIIT workouts (Hi-Intensity Interval Training). So for non-running workouts, I have a chest strap heart monitor that works in conjunction with the Polar watch.

The Fitbit Flex is very simple; the "display" is just 5 dots. The more dots that display, the closer I am to my daily goal of 10,000 steps. And I love the vibrating alarm that will wake me without disturbing my wife. There's also quite a bit that I can track via a phone app (or web app). But even after the years that I've had the Fitbit, I still struggle to master just how to properly activate it to see my progress; it requires some magical sequence of just the right tap-tap-tapping - and perhaps burning some sage or something. I rely more on the phone app to view / manage Fitbit data and functions.

And so, even though each of these has value in its own right, I wonder if technology has yet reached the point where I can find my ideal watch / fitness band. My requirements (in particular order):

  • Android compatible. I am not at all an Apple fan, and will only consider something from Apple if it interfaces flawlessly with Android and does not require me to have any manner of Apple account or iTunes, etc.
  • Displays the time
  • Allows me to change the watchfaces at will. I prefer an analog clockface most often, but at night prefer a digital display
  • Backlight
  • Audible and vibrating notifications, with the ability to manage those the same as I do on the phone. For example, I'd want the morning alarm to be vibrating only. Most notifications, if active, should be silent and without vibration, but I'd want calls / texts from certain Contacts to be able to alert me with an audible tone and/or vibration
  • Step-tracker
  • Caller ID
  • Mic and speaker. Yes, I want the Dick Tracy watch phone :) And I want to be able to say, "OK Google, send a text to so-and-so", and speak my message
  • Reliable heart rate monitor for running, walking, resting, and HIIT workouts
  • Ability to view / manage data via phone app and via web app
  • Battery that lasts at least a day (if quick-charge is available), or a battery that needs only infrequent changing.
  • Water resistant. Water proof would be nice, but I mostly just want something that is sweat proof, and can handle being out in a Florida tropical rainstorm.

Nice to have would be GPS, compatibility with Runtastic, and some manner of social networking (I really like the Fitbit community features).

SO ... I'll be doing my own research of course, but I am eager to hear from others. Anyone have any rave reviews to share - or any horror stories?

Saturday
Jan032015

Best heart rate monitor for running: MIO ALPHA

I've been using heart rate monitors for years when working out. Until purchasing the Mio ALPHA almost 6 months ago, a chest strap was always part of the solution. The problem was that the chest strap - regardless of the brand / model (various Timex and Polar and perhaps other) would always give out within 6 months or less. This was not a case of the battery needing replacement, as I'd typically have to change the battery more often than that. The strap was, I think, basically killed by my profuse and corrosive sweat :)

Aside from the hassle of having to replace the straps, I hated wearing the chest strap on long runs (which is when I most wanted the heart monitor to function). I'd constantly have to be adjusting the strap, and sometimes they seemed to just get too soaked or otherwise decide to stop transmitting to the watch.

Then my geek buddy Stephen Wissel told me about the Mio. Stephen (a German in Singapore) rides his bike. A LOT! And he'd been using a MIO for a while. This device has been glorious for me. It requires no chest strap, instead magically detecting one's pulse using LEDs and an "electro-optical cell". OK, I don't really understand how it works, but I find it very comfortable, I no longer hassle with chest straps, the watch is easy to recharge (every couple of weeks for me, although I could probably let it go longer between charges), and for my monthly half marathon races, it has performed flawlessly.

My only complaint is that when I'm doing weight-lifting or HIIT workouts, it doesn't seem able to keep detecting my pulse. I think there's too much wrist movement. Experimentation with location and snugness of the watch has still not yielded the desired results. But that's OK. I mainly use the watch to let me know when I need to slow down a little in order to make through a long run without running out of gas!

At the end of each workout, I can review the duration of the workout, the average heartrate, and the amount of time during which I was exercising within my desired range. I then enter those stats into a spreadsheet where I track my workouts. Yeah ...kinda geeky.

Friday
Jan102014

Washer Repair: $170 for the part. At least saved paying a service fee.

Yup, constant party here. Friday night, so took a little time out to fix the washer. It's a Maytag Model MAH5500BWW , a front loading machine that has been great for 10-15 years (we're not sure just when we invested in high quality laundry gear). But early this week it started getting wonky. The signal (the beep of selectable volume and tone that can be set to sound when a load of wash is done) started having a mind of its own. It would randomly sound different tones when we were running the washer, and then started doing it even when the machine was turned off - as long as it was plugged in. It didn't matter if we turned the signal off; it would come back on in mere moments.

These machines are quite modular. The downside of that is that when something like this goes wrong, one must replace a large (spendy) component. The upside is that this means that the repair is quick and easy. SO... I ordered a new Touchpad and Control Panel from RepairClinic.com http://www.repairclinic.com/PartDetail/Touchpad-and-Control-Panel/22003238/824620 

Yes, it was US$163 plus shipping, but they sent it right away, it arrived today, and as the pictures show, the repair was, indeed, fast and simple. We've got a load of laundry running now with zero problems :)

Here's the patient before surgery. YES, I disconnected it from power before mucking with it.

Using a little mirror, I was able to locate the 4 small Phillips screws holding the plastic housing to the base, and the 2 smaller hex head screws holding a metal panel to the rear. All 6 had to be removed.

With the screws removed, the Touchpad could be pushed back to free it from the base, and then tilted forward to rest on top of the washer.

After removing 4 more Phillips screws, and unplugging the modular connector ribbon, the Control Board could be separated from the Touchpad / Control Panel. 

Then it was just a matter of attaching the Control Board to the new Panel, reattaching the ribbon cable, fitting the new Panel back onto the base, screwing the metal plate (2 small hex screws) into the rear of the base, and screwing the 4 Phillips screws back into the top of the base. Plugged it in and it's working like a champ again :)


Monday
Oct282013

Survived the 10-miler. Registered for half marathon

This pic is me crossing the finish line of the Disney Tower of Terror 10-mile race on Sat 05Oct2013. Well, it was actually Sun 06Oct, since the blasted thing didn't start until 10pm, and I got stuck in the last group, which didn't start until about 10:30pm (past my normal bedtime). I averaged just under 10.5 minutes per mile, which I consider pretty good - especially given that the last grouping included a number of folks who were there to walk the course, and that meant I had to often pass people (walking 3 or 4 or 5 abreast ...ugh) ...often having to detour onto the shoulder of the road to do so.

Fortunately, I've been training part of the time doing a minimalist style of running, which has me striking the ground with the front or front and middle of the foot, rather than my more common heel strike (which is sort of like a Hulk Smash! to one's body). So in addition to being easier on the joints, the front-foot strike allows the foot and ankle to more easily adjust to oddities in the ground. Oddities like little holes, rocks, etc ...the things one might (and does) encounter when running off the pavement when it is dark outside.

I'd like to say that I ran the whole thing without stopping. But at mile 4 I really had to pee, and there were no lines at the portable toilets, so I took a quick relief break. It's amazing how much clearer one's focus becomes after such a quick stop :) ...and I likewise walked a few steps at each of the water stations where I drank a little. I tried, but just could not drink from a cup while running. A water bottle is no problem, but a cup? Nope. So there were several little walk breaks.

Overall, however, I felt pretty good afterwards. Until a day or so later. OMG, the front quads remembered that run for a couple of days! But most runners (and other sports enthusiasts) have poor memories or otherwise view through blinders when considering further activities. And so I am now registered to push a little harder. I've registered for a half marathon (13.1 miles) here in Tampa in Feb. Among the several good things about that: the run is in the morning - daylight!, the run is in Feb - cool temps!, the run is here in Tampa - no hotel fee!

I gave myself a brief time off, and then got started training. The training program is the "Ultimate 13.1" program (US$25) from Run the Edge. Most training schedules focus strictly on distance; run x miles on a given day. This program focuses on duration of each workout, and varies the speeds and combinations quite a bit, along with emphasizing the importance of cross training. So... hopefully in Feb I'll have a pic to post from completion of my first half marathon :)

 

Sunday
Jun232013

Reattached rear view mirror on the Yaris

A couple of weeks back I had the windshield replaced on my Toyota Yaris. A little stone had struck the old windshield, and the large crack was too big to fix. Well this morning (after the car had been parked since Friday at our hotel in Dunedin), I noticed that something in the car was not right. This (see image below) is not where the rear view mirror is supposed to be -- note that it's resting down in front of the gearshift, where it really offers little useful purpose.

So once we were home, I popped over to Autozone and paid $5 for a kit of rearview mirror adhesive:

I should mention that I did very briefly consider calling the company that had replaced the windshield, and have them fix this. But that would have involved more than $5 worth of inconvenience. OK, back to the task at hand. That big black dot near the top of the windshield (above my Florida Sunpass sticker) is where a small (maybe 1 inch at longest edge) piece of flat metal should be glued. The metal piece is grooved around the edges, and the mirror assembly slides over it. I scraped the residue of the old glue from the windshield and from the metal piece (should have taken a pic, but wanted to get this done!), and then opened the blue packet from the kit. I have no idea what chemical cleaner that thing held, but one wipe on the windshield removed any remaining trace of glue.

I followed the instructions from the kit and waited 2 minutes after the cleaning before continuing. Then came the (mildly) stressful part. The glue from the kit is super strong. One drop is all that is applied to the metal piece, then that is immediately pressed to its former location on the windshield. Although I pressed/held it in place for a minute as instructed, I could tell that it was already stuck there and was not going to move. After another 15 minutes of letting everything set up (again, as per instructions), I slipped the mirror back on over the grooved metal tab, and (for now anyway!) all again looks proper. Hopefully it will stay this time! If not, I'll call the folks who'd replaced the windshield :)