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

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Technology.
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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.

Planet Money podcast April 19, 2014

Posted by shwaldman in Society, Work.
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Let me introduce you to one of my favorite new podcasts. Planet Money is a NPR show that is a lot like Freakanomics. It covers topics that affect our lives day to day and gives some insights into some aspect pf your finances you might not think immediately about.

In this week’s episode,  they discuss the automotive industry and how we have to pay more for cars because manufacturers have to retool their vehicles to meet both American and European markets.

Planet Money #533

The funniest part of this one was when the VW engineer (inadvertently) called Americans dummies for not always wearing their seat belts.

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?

Move Review: The Heart of the Game July 28, 2013

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HeartoftheGame

Netflix Synopsis: Attending predominantly white Roosevelt High because her mother thinks she’ll have better opportunities under the school’s successful coach, gifted black hoopster Darnellia Russell puts herself — and her coach — through the wringer. Shot in a suburban Seattle high school over a seven-year period, director Ward Serrill’s stirring documentary explores the complicated relationship between gender, race and organized sports.

I have seen lot of movies about basketball. Some are dramas, some are documentaries and even a couple of comedies. By far, my favorite type of basketball movie is the documentary. Sometimes they simply document the team that is the best and always wins. Sometimes, they get close and lose in the end. but The Heart of the Game is a roller coaster. I was sitting at the edge of my seat wondering how it was going to turn out.

This is a movie about heart, caring, dedication and strength. They story covers a team and an extended family where love is clearly held together by the love of the coach for his players and the team for each other. Oh, and it is narrated by Ludacris.

Movie Review: The Internship July 27, 2013

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Internship

Netflix Synopsis: Two out-of-work salesmen, lacking the digital-savvy skills they need to find jobs, sign on as interns at a high-tech company. While their new assignment may give them the training they need, it also means staying one step ahead of their ignorance.

The movie has been out in the theaters for a while now. But as busy parents of two active boys we haven’t been out to the movies in months. Both Kim and I have been wanting to get out and see The Internship with Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson. It is the story of two 30-somethings that lose their sales jobs when the watch distribution company they work for shuts down. No one wears watches anymore, right?

They don’t have much in the way of training for other industries or jobs so what are they to do? The answer of course is to apply for an internship at one the most prestigious technology companies in our time. Google. What ensues is a classic comedy from these two stars. The Internship takes us through what is might be like to battle your way into a job at this huge company.

The best part of this movie is the creativity demonstrated by the teams. Sameness instills plainness. The most creative solutions come from diversity. I love problem solving and figuring out how to accomplish the goal and resolve the issue. I definitely recommend this movie. This movie is entertaining, provocative and interesting AND funny!

Favorite Video Podcasts July 11, 2013

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Video podcasts. It is a tough medium, I think. With audio, you can start with a TV show or you can just talk. But to make a good video podcast, it requires a lot more effort and editing. I think there are probably a lot of good ones out there, but here are a few of my favorites.

imgres-1The first and most obvious one has to be TED Talks. If you have already seen a few of these talked which I often repost here, you will know why. If you have never seen a TED Talk, you need to climb out from your rock and open your mind to the variety of 18 or less minutes speeches and presentations that are designed to entertain, enlighten and engage. You can find my favorite, reposted talks HERE. (Even though I may repost a higher percentage of them, not all the talks are about politics. They are often the most thought provoking in today’s divided world.)

imgresAnd on the other end of the spectrum, is a podcast called The Apple Byte with Brian Tong as the host. Primarily focused on the world of Apple products, the show covers what is going on in the consumer technology sector including rumors or even mistakes that Apple is dealing with. It has some good insights and the host is a pretty entertaining character. I also have to give props to Brian’s other show which should on this list too. Prizefight pits two of the top gadgets in different categories and they get reviewed side by side. This a good show to check out if you are looking to buy a new toy.

imgres-2Tekzilla has gone from a show to a franchise. There are various different shows under the Tekzilla and Revision 3 umbrella, but I seem to be stuck watching the main show. It offers great variety of coverage of news and questions from listeners. It discusses do it yourself projects, reviews and how to make the most of your technology. The three primary hosts include Veronica Belmont, Robert Heron and Patrick Norton. One challenge I have for you if you decide to watch this one is to try not counting the number of times Patrick says, “It is kinda funny (or interesting), right.” Good luck!

hsw_pos-257x45Are you a conspiracy theorist? I am not, but I often wonder if we are always getting all the information from our media sources. There is so much out there on the Internet. Many ideas and many crazy people. I don’t have time to research and look into every crazy idea out there, but the Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know is video podcast provides interesting insights and introductions into the conspiracy theories that are out there. They cover things like UFOs, the NSA, and The Free Masons.

imgres-4

imgres-3And for my last recommendation, I have to give a tie, but not because these two are equally good. It is because they are the same. For anyone that remembers the Seinfeld episode where they were casting the stars for the show they were trying to pilot, you will get this “joke”. Originally, there was a site called Engadget run by three brilliant hip technologists. They had a some disagreements with their new parent company and decided to go out on their own and start a similar site called the Verge. They started their own tech journalism site along with a regular show called On The Verge. Well, The Engadget Show lives on but they had to cast copied, literally copied down the host with the same beard, the same team. The shows seem to be released on the same schedule and often cover similar topics, but in much different ways. Both are good and fun to watch and provide lots of good insight into the technology and gadget world.

Favorite Audio Podcasts July 9, 2013

Posted by shwaldman in Politics, Society, Technology, Work.
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There is so much good content online. You could read, watch and listen to anything and everything at any time. I have a hour long drive to work and from work. Rather than just listen to talking heads or bad radio, I download and listen to content as often as I can. I also listen when I work in the yard or exercise, but I still have growing library of information that seems to multiply everyday on my computer.

Here are a few of my favorites. Like I said, there are many more, so if you have one that I haven’t listed, please let me know.

lifehacker Lifehacker. They have a great web site and once a week, they release an hour long podcast that covers the latest news, hints and listener questions. If you are looking for a way to improve your life in any way, through technology or not, you definitely need to check out their website and if you like that, these guys are fun to listen to each week. I usually come away with at least two things I want to implement into my life.

pti_300PTI (Pardon The Interruption) is an ESPN show with Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser. They are classic sports journalists who can speak to any sport and do. They cover all the latest news and action highlights and bring in often touch on hidden gems. They only down side is that this is an audio recording of a TV show, so they will reference videos or images you can’t see. I wish they would make this a video podcast and it would make my other (next) list.

krys_boyd_150NPR has some amazing content. I listen to several compilation podcasts that pull in stories of my favorite categories, like Economy, Education and Technology. But my pick for this list is a little known show from an NPR station in Dallas, TX. They run two one hour interviews shows every weekday and each one is usually very interesting. The host, Chris Boyd, is one of the best interviewers, always incredibly prepared and offering thought provoking questions for a great conversation with the interviewer. This show lives up to its name, THINK! I have a couple more blog post coming from recent shows that I listened to – unfortunately, I am about 8 months behind in my listening!

mzl.xvsnrnou.170x170-75On CNN, Fareed Zakaria has a great global news coverage show called GPS, Global Public Square. It is another show converted to an audio podcast, but I find very little if anything is lost in this change. Fareed is another excellent interviewer and very well informed journalist and he can open eyes to the global situations that affect us all. I highly recommend this one if you are looking for a global perspective and how activities across the world affect Americans.

sidebar_book_drive_pDaniel Pink is a well-known author of business, management and work environment books. He started with Free Agent Nation in 2001 and his most recent book is called To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. But I think he is best known for the best seller Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us from 2009. Pink’s podcast is call Office Hours. It is a casual interview/conversation with other authors and professionals in the field of organizational development and behaviors. While I don’t always agree with the accuracy of this assumptions, it often gives me something to think about how I operate in life and at work.

Movie Review: Hope Springs July 7, 2013

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HopeSprings

Netflix Synopsis: After decades of marriage, Kay and Arnold go to a couples’ counselor in order to spice things up and reconnect. The real challenge for both of them comes as they try to reignite the spark that made them fall for each other in the first place.

We finally got around to watching this movie from Netflix a few weeks ago. It has been sitting on our shelf for a while. Hope Springs is a Comedy Drama from two of the classic actors of our time. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are known for different kinds of movies, but in this case they are well matched.

This was actually a hard movie to watch. It was painful to see a marriage where two people simply co-existed. The had a love for each other, but after years of routine and following each other’s patterns, they just got to a place where life was, well… boring. It also highlights the power of communication, lack of communication and miscommunication.

I recommend this movie only if you are open to seeing the dark side of marriage.

Favorite App Honorable Mention July 6, 2013

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I was remiss in not adding a sixth app to the list on my last post. I only found out about this app last week from Lifehacker. But this one isn’t really an app. It is more of a GUI (graphical user interface) over haul.

Many of the Android phone have slightly different GUIs that are installed by the cell phone manufacturer or the cellular service provider. I believe my phone has Touch Wiz which is good enough. It is fast and easy to use.

But at the suggestion of the editors at Lifehacker on their weekly podcast a few weeks ago I installed Nova Launcher. It is just as fast, but it does a few things better. First is that the home screens rotate and the widgets adjust accordingly.

Next, with Touch Wiz, you are limited to six home screens and as you cycle through them it stops at the end. But with Nova Launcher, the screens cycle around in a circle. I also like the way it actually looks like a box with corners as you change screens.

And finally, while this seems like such a minor nitpicky thing, it doea group better. With Touch Wiz you can only see one or two items in a group while it is closed. But with this GUI, you can see at least four or five. It makes groups much more worthwhile.

I highly recommend this app to anyone running Jelly Bean.

The growth or end of democracy? July 3, 2013

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Watching what is going on around the world with the changing of political systems in other countries and the gridlock that has frozen much of the progress in the US, I have wondered what is next. You may have read my doubts in previous posts.
Our country is divided right now. There are those that seem to feel it should be every person for themselves and the other side that feels we should take care of each other and not let people fall through the cracks.
I am not sure this hypothesis is accurate but it is an interesting concept and possibility.