If you’ve arrived here looking for my old website ‘thebigdark.com‘, I’ve moved here as of August 2012. Although there was a ton of old blog posts at my old site, I decided to start afresh a month or two ago, so apologies if you were looking for something specific – drop a comment here and let me know.
I love numbers and graphs. They help you visualize progress and data over time, and although I’ve gotten really good at data acquisition and analysis in regards to web sites and applications, not a bit of it was helping me in my quest to get – and stay – more fit until recently. That said, I think I’ve finally cracked the nut on this whole tech/fitness thing, at least for my own personal needs. In my earlier post ‘Trim‘, I talked about my earlier forays and stumblings at tech-enabling fitness efforts – but have now settled down to a much better, more robust solution now that covers all my primary goals. I’ll lay out what I wanted, what I had, and what I ended up with after kissing a lot of frogs.
What I wanted(!)
- GPS/Map tracking of runs/bike rides
- Track/monitor heart rate
- Track general daily activity
- Track sleep effectivity
- Track of calories burned
- Track body measurements
- Track workout and total distances/efforts
- Set goals across workouts/general fitness
- Share results & workouts with friends
- Connect with friends on Nike+
- Connect with friends on Fitbit
- Connect with friends on Runkeeper
Yeah, all the cool kids call them ‘beats’ now, but I never got down with the shoe/kicks vibe either. To me, headphones will always be cans (thanks for that, studio life), and an integral part of my life both personally and professionally. Obviously a clear, uncolored set of cans/headphones are great for studio work so you can translate your mixes/etc to the real world more effectively, but I’ll admit for recreational listening I tend to go for a little more ‘oomph’ in the low end. Having tried a TON of headphones (and headsets) over the years, I’m slowly settling down to three pairs (plus one ‘wildcard’). Here they are, why I still use them all regularly, and their pros/cons from my perspective.
Beats Wireless – General Listening
Somewhere between the Pro & Studio and the Solo models, the Beats Wireless cans have a great balance of fidelity with some fat low end for a rich listening experience. Although the Studio model is much more accurate, there’s just something about the sound of these that I’ve come to love, they tend to warm up the bass guitar range (my personal focus area of the spectrum) and have a pleasing high end, not too brittle or crisp. But the convenience is the best part, they’re so comfortable and easy to use without the connecting cable that I often forget I’m wearing them, or need to stay within range of my phone/tablet/laptop.
Damn, Death Cab for Cutie’s latest album “Codes and Keys” is smooth and silky like butter. It’s been on shuffle/repeat all day (when I’m not scouring random Spotify tracks). Enjoy.
Time to cop to it in public- I gained a lot of weight while living up in the Bay Area. Part of the root cause was simply taking advantage of the amazing San Francisco restaurants/food trucks/eateries, and another large part being the reduced amount of daily activity I engaged in after fast-tracking myself into the technorati circle. Although I worked from home a few days a week, it usually meant work spilled into home more than home was enhanced by a ‘on-location’ work environment, and I ended up working a LOT more than when I’d just keep office hours downtown. A lot is said about the convenience of telecommuting and decentralized workplaces, but all I can really say from my experience with them is that:
a) Working globally at Silicon Valley pace will rapidly erode your available workout/activity time across a 24-hour span!
b) The long hours at a keyboard encourages your body to accumulate fat just as rapidly without a strong, bulletproof exercise regimen (my biggest problem).
Personally, these two points combined with my newfound urban environment to dissuade me from the regular outdoor exercise I used to get when working down here in Carpinteria last time (for MetaCreations in the mid-to-tail 90’s). Gyms have never appealed to me as the social aspect of exercise isn’t my bag, and if I can’t just go run/bike/etc out of my front door on real dirt – anything but pavement – then I’ll rapidly lose the motivation to move my butt. Knowing we’d be moving back to Carpinteria – and I would be nearly guaranteed a healthier life just because of the context – I did some research into how a geek like me could ante-up the process a bit and make it more efficient. Surprise! Between hardware, software and the marriage of the two, getting (and staying) healthy is incredibly wired these days. Here’s what I’m using today to help me keep that extra 25 pounds off.
My choice: After looking over several monitoring options from the vanilla digital pedometers to the Nike+ Fuel Band and a whole range of biometric monitors that didn’t really apply, I ended up purchasing the Fitbit Ultra tracker, and it’s corresponding Fitbit Aria digital scale. Reasons? They covered not just measuring my general level of activity day-to-day but did it in metrics that made sense – calories, inches, pounds, et al (what the hell does a ‘Fuel Point’ mean anyway, Nike?). I can track not just movement time, but my caloric intake, weight, body measurements, specific activities and rationalize them all daily – and both are network-savvy so all I have to do is use them and in return they sync seamlessly behind the scenes and I now have beautiful graphs I can check out online at fitbit.com to measure my progress. Without opening Excel. Downside- the pair cost in the $250 range together, but they work so well and simply I’m hooked and haven’t missed a measurement/update in over 6 weeks now.
The Nike Fuel + band, at least for me, was a bit odd. It measured your progress/activity in a rather obscure metric – Nike ‘Fuel Points’ – which may be handy within the Nike world but didn’t really help me track the actuals, and/or use the metrics with other systems to measure, predict and improve my progress. However, I’ll admit- Fuel Points are a dramatically simplified way to look at this which are a lot more interesting if you’re being social about your workouts and simply want motivation and challenge from your friends without sharing all the REAL statistics. I’m more for the plain truth, frankly. But my wife will likely gravitate towards the Fuel Band for exactly this reason- she doesn’t care about the details, just the generals. Which the Fuel band does quite well, and if that’s your inclination, it may be a better choice.
I used to have a good Polar heart-rate monitor, but it became the odd-man-out once I switched to the Fitbit and tracking my stats got so easy. With everything else saved by the Fitbit hardware into my fitbit.com account, there wasn’t even an easy way to track heart rates over the span of a workout, and I was just pulling the average BPM into a separate Excel spreadsheet… which lasted about a week until I gave up and stopped entering data entirely. I’m currently evaluating a good HRM to use with this system, and it’s probably going to be the Polar H7 low-power Bluetooth monitor, which works fantastically with Runkeeper.com (more on that in Software below).
There are only two to rule them all now on my iPhone 4S, Fitbit and Runkeeper.com. I believe Android apps are also available for each, FWIW. Alas, both apps are absolutely necessary for my needs as I’ve not found a good way to share data between the two, only one-way – Fitbit data is tracked and synced over on Runkeeper.com, but not in reverse. I love Fitbit’s graphs on my stats/intake/etc, but Runkeeper is a better exercise tracker over time (as I ride a mountain bike and run as my primary sources of cardio) and keeps great maps showing my routes/paces/etc. If it ever becomes possible for Runkeeper.com to share it’s exercise data back to Fitbit.com then I won’t have to track both separately – but currently I need to duplicate my exercise data back into Fitbit in order for the exercise to be graphed alongside my stats/measurements (which to me is critical). Particularly as heart rate – a biometric I’d prefer tracked in Fitbit – is only available in Runkeeper with a supported heart rate monitor – and one of the most critical metrics for health/exercise effectivity in my opinion.
Anyway, that’s what I’m doing to amp up my fitness now that I’m back in the land of trails and big waves and not quite as tied to a desk 24-7-365. How are you using todays digital tools to help keep you fit? I’d love to hear some other stories from the trenches and compare notes – please leave a ping below if you’re so inclined.
It’s my second Monday at lynda.com today. I’m such a fresh n00b here it’s kinda funny. I do the expected n00b things like show up in the wrong conference room at the right time, call people by the wrong name, and refer to Adobe as ‘us’. All of which I’m expecting will smooth out in the next week, but hey- I haven’t been ‘new’ anywhere in 12 years so it’s all a bit fresh to me.
We’ve got most of the boxes unpacked now – at least upstairs in the main condo – and one half of our two-car garage packed full with the remainder of the moving van. Although everything was labeled carefully, we’ve now reached that awkward part in a managed move where that ‘one thing’ you need is not in any of the boxes that seem appropriate, so we’re now putting off the inevitable – unpacking everything else, sifting it out and seeing what stays and what goes. A few items are still unsighted yet, including my two guitars (a 7-string Schecter and the tried-and-true modified Fender “Super Strat”). Were I still in Oakland this would be cause for concern, but this is Carpinteria and people don’t really walk off with things – or break in and take them outright – down in these parts. I’m reasonably certain if I left the garage door(s) open all day the only ill effect would be my next-door neighbor calling me on poor form. A far cry from having to double-check windows and doors every time I walked out for even the smallest errand, and expecting to see anything not locked up or bolted down stolen at the earliest possible convenience.
It’s so odd to feel so comfortable here, and unthreatened in the least. Now sure, I had come to know most of the sketchy folks in my old neighborhood and broker an uneasy peace there, but Oakland is not where you want to live if being paranoid about your home and safety is unwelcome. Just being here 2 weeks I feel as if a huge load has been taken off my shoulders – part of which I’m sure is the complete change of job/career/home, but part of which is most definitely feeling less watched than before. Less scrutinized and inventoried. And feeling much less anxious as a result.
Fresh. It just feels fresh. Which is totally awesome.
Things are moving quickly now. We have a condo down South, movers scheduled to shuttle our belongings down to it, but have not yet sorted out renting our home in Oakland- which is proving to be a bit more challenging than I’d hoped. If we can close this game of property manager phone tag this morning, the last push to Santa Barbara county should gain momentum and carry us through to August, and settling down thru the remainder of the summer.
Who needed a real vacation, anyway? 🙂