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What a Day September 4, 2016

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First, I can’t believe it has been an entire year since my last post…

The boys and I had a run, the Labor Day Milford Festival of Races… the 10K for me and the  6K for them. I was a bit nervous about how my run would go. I haven’t really run on it since playing soccer last Sunday and I had a major knee into my calf. During the game, my leg cramped up into my hamstring and I debated on whether I would be able to run at all. I rested it and iced it for the last three days, including this morning.

But back to today… I woke up at 5am and decided not to tried to go back to sleep. I stretched and hung out until the boys got up and ready. The weather was perfect 65 to 70 degrees and clear skies. My race started at 8:30 and I eased into a comfortable pace. I was afraid to push too hard so I just locked into a 8:50 pace. I found a group of other runners that seemed to be at the same pace and managed to keep it up. I found that I was able to run the hills well, up and down. On the flats I ran with the others, but up and down, I advanced. As the race went on, I stayed strong and with each hill, I seemed to pull away. It is a relatively hilly course on a dirt road in the second half and it felt great to have that strength to keep going.

Unfortunately, the Nike Running app was just upgraded in the last week and it truly failed me today. It started out in the first mile okay, but after that it seemed to lose GPS. It had me running 13 to 14 minute miles until it stopped the voice notifications in the last mile and a half. But, or maybe because of this lack of feedback, I was able to run my race and it went better than I was expecting. I finished in the official race time of 54:04, though the clock showed 53:55 and my phone read 54:30.

While I was running, the boys started their race at 8:45am. They ran an even more hilly 6K. It starts on a completely up hill first mile before getting to the same hilly dirt road. I know Alec has felt self-conscience about his speed, but Ian has an unending confidence and went into the race with the goal of beating his older brother. I am so proud of the story that unfolded after that… I got back from my happy race to hear that Alec paced Ian through the first mile, he was going out too fast and Alec got him to settle into around an 8 minute first mile. They were apparently in 3rd and forth place among the kids, but after that, Alec told Ian to go ahead. Ian quickly picked of the first other boy and than gradually took over first. Alec kept a good pace and passed both boys, including the second in the last hundred yards.

I am so proud that they both finished first in their age groups, under 10 and 10-14. And Ian actually finished in 6th place overall. So impressed! They both earned glass mugs for their age group wins.

After the race, the boys headed out with Kim and went to her mom’s to check on her after her foot/ankle surgery. And to watch the U of M football game, which turned out to not be much of a game. I think the final score ended up being 63-3.  I watched from home,  relaxing and getting my laundry and home stuff done.

And I finished off the day, after spending an hour weeding the yard, by taking the kayak for a quick paddle down the Huron. I thought I would try taking off from Island Lake. It was a good change. The river is very similar to the section south of the dam from Central Park, but less issue with low water levels. I ending up covering about 5.5 miles in an hour, 45 minutes. It is the first time I have taken the kayak out since early in the summer, I think actually since I started at CGI – though we went out with the Kearns while we were in PA for a much more causal paddle around the lake near their house.

All in all, a pretty good day, I have to say. A day worth documenting for all eternity.

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Fitbit Force… sorry Fitbit Charge HR Review September 21, 2015

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fitbit-forceFitbit has become a leader in the digital pedometer movement. Of course, they more than measure steps since it can count flights of stairs, calculate miles and calculates calories. Fitbit had started with simple clip-on fitness trackers and then added wrist bands. The Fitbit Flex is a basic tracker that gets inserted into a band. It came out in mid-2013. It does have limited functionality, which is why I had want to get the Fitbit Force.
The Force came out about the same time but at higher price point. But with the extra cost came the promise of more features. The Force showed the time, whereas the Flex only showed 4-5 bars to demonstrate progress against the daily goal. Once the data was synced to the Fitbit website, the details were viewable in a phone app, but the Force also showed the actual steps taken, floors, and calories burned on the small LED screen.
The Force, from my perspective was a big step up from the Flex. In addition to the display advancement, it also offered the eventual promise of call notifications. Via the bluetooth connection, you would be able to sync the data to higher-end phones and with that, came the possibility of call notifications from the phone back to the wristband. But alas, the Force was recalled before this call notification would be realized… sort of.
Once they released the Charge series of devices in late 2013, they upgraded the firmware (software running on the device) and my Fitbit Force suddenly received call notifications. This was huge for me, since I often missed calls when my phone was on silent, vibrate or not on my personal. It was big relief to get this functionality since it was a big reason I had moved up to the Force in the first place. (I asked for it as a gift for Christmas 2013).
After using it for over a year, I started this review in February 2015 to highlight the Fitbit Force. However, in February of 2014, Fitbit opened a voluntary recall of all Fitbit Force wristband devices – only a couple of months after I got it. The Force had been recalled due to some users experiencing a rash under the wrist band.I did not have this reaction and continued to use the band for over a year after the recall. However, Fitbit offered the recall to all users regardless of if the user experienced this problem. Since the next generation, the Charge series, was only available in limited qualities (especially through the Christmas rush), I had held off on turning mine in. Shortly after I started this review though, I decided to turn in my Force and upgrade it to a Fitbit Charge HR once the product was more readily available online and at stores.
fitbitchargeThe recall process took about 6 weeks to submit my Force and get a refund. But the refund fully paid for (and some) the purchase of the my new Charge HR since I was a return customer. it felt like forever though to get my new device. I decided to go with the HR, instead of the base model Charge because I am a numbers freak. I love getting more information about my workouts. With the Charge HR, I could have immediate feedback about how hard my body was working and how well I was recovering.
The biggest downside of this instant feedback though is the battery life. While the Force could go a full two weeks, as promised by Fitbit, the Charge HR can only make it 5 days according to Fitbit. After 5 months of use, I can confirm this is accurate. It is disappointing, but it is workable. I set up the charging cord in my car and I charge my Charge HR during my 45 minute commute. It typically takes 90 minutes to charge, I charge it both ways and I am good to go for another 5 days.
While going from 14 days to 5 days of battery life is depressing, I think the re-design of the wristband made up for this weakness. The Force had a simple double male-female locking system on the band. It did not hold very well and if bumped or pulled in a certain way, the band would fall off. On several occasions, I lost my Force. It came off while taking my shirt of or when I was working in the yard. I was constantly concerned with it coming off. However, the Charge HR designed included a more standard and proven method like any belt. It holds solidly and I have never feel like it will come off, though I do still find myself checking my wrist once in awhile as a remnant of past experiences. In other words, I barely notice it is there.
Some day, I will write a review of the web site and smartphone app, but since it is constantly changing, it is hard to pin down. The app is great – I think better than the website. It displays all tracked information and allows for creating goals and challenges with friends. Since the device tracks sleep automatically, it is a great way to see if you are getting enough. It also allows you to zoom in on activities, as long as you remember to start and stop the timer during the run or activity. I like being able to see how my heart rate tracks throughout a run.
My suggestion is if you are looking to step up your game with fitness trackers, definitely consider the Fitbit Charge HR.

What do you track? August 8, 2013

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Before Google Glass came out, people started strapping cameras to their chest and recording their lives. They took pictures of the places they went and the people that talked to. Day after day, year after year…. with the cloud and the low cost of storage it has become very easy to record our lives.

I think I started tracking my life a long time ago. I used to track what I spent, earned and saving in little notebooks. Most people think I was crazy, but now millions of people do not think twice about tracking their finances online using Mint or other online banking tools. I, for one, love Mint.com. Years before the FitBit came out, my wife and I tracked our steps and activity levels using something called a SportBrain. It was one the first electronic pedometers that allowed you view your progress online. Now, we have the FitBit, Nike Fuel Bands, and the JawBone Up all tracking people movement.

Now that I have gone over to the dark side as a smartphone owner, I have started recording more and more different things. I like to think I am maximizing the usefulness of my phone. It is a small computer that is always with me. And it is capable of just about anything. So what do you track?

Here is a little taste of my list:
Gas fill-ups – I have over 50, 000 miles on my current car (ok, it was 52, 909.5 when I filled ip this morning) and I can tell you that I average 21.7 MPG and the average price per gallon has been $3.41. I also try to track the maintenance costs so I know what the total cost of ownership is.
Running – this is a more obvious one since most people/runners do it. I used to use Garmin watches, but recently switched to the Nike+ and Runkeeper apps on my phone (although Nike needs to resolve a problem with the app since it crashes and is useless since the last update!)
Sleep – this is a new one for me. I have been trying out this Sleep as Android app that tracks sleep patterns and tries to wake you up at the right time. I am not sure it works that well for that, but it does tell me I need to get to bed earlier and how restfully I have been sleeping.
Money – since I have done this since I was little this seems like an obvious one to me. Mint is a great tool that will let you track and categorize all your spending and income. It is also help when looking up expenses for taxes or other reasons.
Days Since… things I need to remember. Like when was the last time I put salt in the water softener. When was the last time I gave blood (Today). How about when my phone contract comes due. Easy. This app keeps this list sorted and serves as a good reminder of when things need to get done… yes, my “weekly” WordPress post is 4 days over due.

So what do you track? What do you need to track?

Best dinner ever June 22, 2013

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While in a Chicago suburb for training this past week, I had one night where I had a big choice for dinner. I was staying in Lombard, Illinois and right by my hotel there was all kinds of restaurant options. Right next door there was a Chick Filet, around the corner there was PF Chang’s Bistro. I also saw a McCormick and Schmidt’s.
I didn’t want to spend a lot and I was debating how long I wanted to be out since Game 7 of the NBA Finals was starting at 8pm. I also thought I should have something that I can’t find at home. So I opened up the Yelp app on my phone and search for restaurants nearby. I came back with about 10 within a 1/2 mile that had 4 or more stars.
Unfortunately I didn’t feel like I had a clear winner. It came down to two options, Trademark or Kona Grill. Both seems to be good for service and food quality. So I decided try the place where I thought I would get the best healthy fish dish, Kona Grill.
I walked in and there was a bar area that was toward the front. It was pretty full, but was a Thursday night so I wasn’t too surprised. I actually asked the hostess if there was any wait for a table for one. In the dinning area it was less than half full. I was seated in a booth in the middle of the main area.
My server came over, Jenna, and was very welcoming. She asked what I wanted to drink and if I had been there before. Having not, she offered to go through the menu with me and provide suggestions. When I told her I was interested in a fish entree she told me about the Sea Bass, Halibut on special and salmon. And when she explained the different sides that came with each dish she said I could mix and match what was on each.
So that made it a little easier since I didn’t want the shrimp/pork rice and seasonal vegetable that was listed with the Sweet Chili glazed salmon.

So what you see below is the Sweet Chili Glazed Salmon with a ratatouille and caramelized bananas. Ummm… yummmmm

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then it was time to decide on the dessert. I asked Jenna for her option. She showed me the six options and quickly listed why all six of them were all good choices. I narrowed it down to the Key Lime Pie, fudge brownie or the Creme Brule. Sticking with the glazed theme, you can see my choice below.

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Soccer Saturday May 11, 2013

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Ian just scored a goal. No celebration there.

Goals, motivation and priorities June 12, 2012

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Hard work, dedication!

Is reaching you goals that simple? Of course not, for anyone with a real life. I have really enjoyed watching the NBC hit show Biggest Loser in which contestants are sent off to a secluded ranch to working with world class trainers to reach their fitness goals. One of these trainers liked to use the mantra “Hard Work! Dedication!” I like that, too, but if we all had that opportunity to focus on one goal at a time, we would be able to accomplish that one goal. But variety is the spice of life and we all have battling priorities.

I am very curious about many things and so my list of what I count as priorities is pretty high. One thing I am curious about is how to better organize my do list and have it do the mental work of prioritizing for me. I have tried many apps and different techniques but I think the ability to prioritize on the fly is nearly impossible to turn over to a computer (yet).

The problem is this: we all have a list of to dos and we all have calendars, the power of the human brain is that it can take those data elements and ranking in terms of importance. And it does this so quickly we often don’t even “think” about it. Picture this, you are at a sporting event with a drink in one hand and a snack in the other. Suddenly, a ball comes sailing in your direction. What happens next is a matter of how quickly your brain process all the important data points. Should you save your drink or project your body? You have an important meeting at work, but your child’s school calls and you have to go pick them up. We make these instantaneous choices throughout the day. Of course, these are the “emergency” examples.

This image comes from the web site of Myrko Thum who discusses Time Management and the Seven Habit of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

What about the priority choices we have to make? Watch an interesting show or exciting sporting event on TV or get to bed on time? Watch TV or read that book you have been wanting to finish? Work on a home improvement project or get some exercise? It seems simple, but these are the priorities we have to rank careful to make ourselves happy. Some have only short term consequences and others affect us over the longer term. The matrix above sums it all up, but how do you choose between similar and competing interests?

I would like to hear how others use technology to help them make the right choices, satisfying their needs and making themselves happy. Please comment below.

@jalenrose – The Hoops Podcast to listen to June 4, 2012

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I have been meaning to post this entry for some time. A few months ago I saw a bunch of Twitter posts about how great the Grantland Network podcast with Jalen Rose was. Given that I rarely make time to watch a regular season game, I thought it would be good to get a crash course before the playoffs started. I subscribed to the Grantland series in iTunes and with it came a TV series recap called Hollywood Perspectives, a futbol discussion called Men in Blazers, and The Jalen Rose show where he has a one-on-one with David Jacoby about NBA basketball and some other current events.

Even without watching much of the shortened seson, it was not hard to follow the teams, players and goings on of the league. Rose has a great knack for making clear points for the novice weekend warrior and putting it in the basketball language we all understand. It is exchanges like the one I have edited down here make it fun to listen to. He follows up clear and concise analysis with a completely ridiculous and yet nearly sensical statement. Get to 40 seconds in and tell me what you think…

Having been in school at the same time as the Fab Five (’91 to ’95) and being a Michigan fan even prior to that (the 1987 Football National Championship drew me in), I have enjoyed following Jalen’s career. He had a very good athletic career, but I think his broadcasting career is set to be even bigger. I also think it is cool that my wife actually had a couple of classes with Jalen, Chris, Juwan (and possibly Ray and Jimmy, I am not sure).

And while I have mixed feeling about the role charter schools are playing in our educational system, I really appreciate the heartfelt efforts Jalen is making to improve the opportunities for youth in the Detroit area. I wish there was a way for these types of efforts to make differences in the public school system, but I understand the bureaucratic nature of the beast and this is the more straight-forward way for him to contribute and change lives. Jalen, your family should be impressed and proud of the man you have become!

What to do? What to do? June 1, 2012

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It has been about ten months since my last post. And yet a couple of month before that, I said I was determined to post more consistently. What happened? Life, I suppose. But here I am back at it. I am still determined to make posting ideas and thoughts. I think it is valuable to be creative and express ourselves as individuals.

We all have our day jobs and sometimes it requires a certain level of mental effort and sometimes it involves significant creativity. And sometimes it doesn’t. Since my last blog post, I changed jobs. I was in a job that was getting mundane, repetitive, duplicitous. I found myself doing the same thing, day after day. I think that type of job does work for some people. But not me. I switched to a new job that has me changing who I work with, what applications I work on and what skills I need, on a regular, if not daily, basis. I am really enjoying it.

And yet I still find myself wanting to meet this goal of putting content out for others to consume. I have thoughts about producing videos, editing and maintaining family photo albums, and of course, writing about it and other things in my life. But the thing I have trouble with is prioritizing these things along with all my other daily responsibilities. I am constantly trying to find a to-do list tool to help me keep items like this in the front of my mind.

I struggle with these lists because they don’t have good reminder systems or prioritizing capabilities. What I finally realized this week is that there are two different types of lists that I need to maintain. And I think this is true for many people. There is one list of reminders of one-off items, like what errands to run this weekend or birthdays that are coming up. The other list is items that I want to accomplish on regular basis, like writing blog posts, exercising regularly and backing up my computer.

Almost all applications I have come across are great at the former. They are great making lists and outlines of ideas and thoughts I do not want to lose track of. And thanks to a recent twitter post by @danielpink, I decided to try a new app that finally meets the latter list this time. It is a simple app that says, what things do you want to keep in your mind and being reminded of every day or couple of days. It is called Wonderful Day. You get self motivational “points” by checking in for each item you have scheduled to complete on given days.

So, I have populated my list to blog on Mondays, exercise (Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday) and get a little yard work done on Saturday and Sundays. Once I get going on this process, I plan to figure out a good night to work on my video library and picture libraries and add them to my list. Clearly, readers of this blog will be the first to know how well it works for me. Wish me luck and please post comments about what tools or methods you use.

Alec First Soccer Practice April 6, 2011

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Our oldest had his first practice on Monday. He has had a couple camps or clinics that he has done since he was about three years old. And he says he plays a lot of soccer on recess at school. But this is the first time for him to actually be on a team.
He seems to love playing, but at his age and height, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It is probably just me, the proud father, but after watching him play and stay focused for the whole hour and a half (half drills and half scrimmage) I think he is going to have a great season.
The coach seems knowledgeable, balanced and most importantly focused on having the kids enjoy themselves and learn what they can about the game. I started playing soccer at about this age (without the prerequisite clinics) and I am pretty sure I did not know half of what he already seems to know. I think most of it is already intuitive for him, so it will be fun to see how far he wants to take this.

(Audio)book review: The Long Run by Matt Long March 14, 2011

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People run for many reasons. It is a very personal sport or hobby for those who participate. I consider myself a runner, even though I often go a few weeks (or rarely) months without running. So, I have taken to listening to various books about running lately. But I have to say this book wasn’t as much about running as it was about life. It was about what a person can do when faced with adversity. In this case, the word “adversity” does not even begin to describe what Matt Long went through. On the morning of December 22, 2005, this New York City firefighter was cycling to work (due to the illegal transit strike) when he was struck by and sucked under a charter bus making an illegal turn (chartered by a large well-known financial institution).

Long goes into excruciating detail about the injuries he suffered, the heroic efforts that doctors performed and his painful recovery. Long received amazing support from his fellow firefighters, New Yorkers and of course his whole family and friends. It was a moving story of pain and obstacles overcome. It is one of those stories that I say I hope I would be able to be that strong if I was ever faced with such a horrific accident. Long had a goal of completing an Ironman triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) which is a difficult challenge for even the healthiest of people. That goal was the driving force of his recovery.

With all that is going on in this world today, I was moved even more by this story for a very different reason. Long was a fit runner (having completed the New York City Marathon) two months before the accident in an impressive (and Boston qualifying) 3 hours 13 minutes. He was also preparing to complete his first Ironman triathlon. Even with this, when Long arrived at the hospital, the doctors initially gave him a 5% chance of surviving. While his training may have caused the accident, his fitness gave his body the extra chance to survive, it was the drive that he held to compete athletically that gave him the power to more than just survive.

But (and I am sure this could be misintrepted, so keep reading…) I think the thing that gave Long the greatest advantage was his position as a public service employee. We have recently had incredible public debate about healthcare reform in this country. And many states are debating the “merits” of the cost vs benefits of tax payer funded public employee benefits. I have a couple of points here, so please bear with me. When the rescue team arrived at the scene, there was a need to save a person trapped under a bus. When that person became a firefighter, one of their own, everything changed. I am not a doctor and I was certainly not there, but it seemed in listening to this story, that the doctors went beyond what they normally would have done for an average person. But that isn’t even the point. In listening to this story, I do not recall more than once that Long described money as an object. He went through 40 surgeries and spend months of time in the hospital and rehabilitation. Long is a business owner and a fireman. He is a working class man. Financial strains of medical problems much less than this one have destroyed people of much more wealth. Of course, I do not know if there was any sort of financial settlement was made by the city, bus company or any other party. My main point is this… Every person in America should have the opportunities that Matt Long had. It is clear though, the Long’s determination is unmatched.

This book is inspiring – plain and simple. Matt’s goal was about running and competing, but the point is more that set one and made a decision to achieve it. It was a magnificent story listening to him work to that end. I highly recommend.