Monthly Archives: March 2014

Apple is entering the Fitness Tracking market

There have been rumors spinning around the Interwebs for a long time about an Apple smart watch, or iWatch, but it has yet to surface. As Pebble, Samsung, Sony, and now Google all have either products on the market or prototypes soon to be, Apple is strangely mum on the subject.

But just a few days ago, an information leak tipped Apple’s hand a bit. Follow the link to read about the impending Apple HealthBook. While this indicates an iOS application for tracking all kinds of health-related information, you can bet your lucky stars that Apple is going to follow up with a device to feed data into that application. What will that device look like? Nobody knows at this point. There are some stunning ideas out there. There are also some guesses based on patents that Apple has filed.

Concept models for the Apple iWatch

Concept models for the Apple iWatch

So why am I excited about all of this? I’m an old-time IT pro. I’ve been in this business for a long time now (nearly 20 years) and I’ve seen some stuff. Back when personal computers were just learning how to talk to one another, and we were building networks and then hooking them into the Internet for the first time, one of the biggest problems we had was integration. There were so many different manufacturers of hardware and software, that it was often quite difficult to get all of the different parts to talk to one another properly. I remember saying back in 1996 or so, that I didn’t care if Microsoft took over the world, as long as everything worked together properly. And not long after that, Microsoft did indeed take over the PC world. And everything worked together pretty well. The story of the rise of Apple is well documented, and Apple took this idea to the next level. By producing both hardware and software, you are assured of the absolute best user experience.

Now look at the fitness tracking market today. You have apps for your smart phone. You have devices for your ankle, your wrist, or wherever. You have web portals. You have training plans and social networks. And they are all over the place. What’s the biggest issue facing the wearables market today? Integration! It’s really tough to get a holistic view of all of your health data. Some trackers only do steps and distance. Some do heart rate and body temperature. It is very hard to find a single place to put all of your data. Apple has the know-how and the reach to make this right. To make it simple, easy to use, and beautiful.

You can bet I’ll be watching this closely. This is going to be big.


Book Review: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Ok, I admit it. I’m late to the show on this one. I’m sure nearly every runner out there has already read this book. If you have, awesome. If you haven’t, go snag a copy and read it. If you love to run, you’ll love this book.

Born to Run (2009) by Christopher McDougall, who used to be an editor for Men’s Health magazine, started the journey that began with this book by asking a question about his own running, “Why do I keep getting hurt?”

It’s a great question. With all of our modern gear and technology, why are runner’s rates of injury so high? I won’t put any spoilers in this post, just in case you haven’t read it yet.

I initially found the book hard to follow. McDougall, like so many authors these days, writes in a “stream-of-consciousness” style; which basically means he writes exactly like thoughts flow through his mind, meandering around and jumping from topic to topic with little or no warning. I got used to his style soon into the book, and found the story so captivating that I didn’t care. I tore this book up, and finished it in just a few weeks. That’s really fast for me. I read books very slowly, soaking in every little detail.

There are a few major parts of the book I found delightful. Without spoiling the content, here were the major themes he covered:

  • Modern running gear does not prevent running injury. In most cases it makes them worse
  • The native Tarahumara tribes in the Copper Canyons of Mexico are reclusive, but are some of the greatest distance runners on Earth. And they run in thin sandals only.
  • Ultra-marathoners are crazy
  • Humans (Homo Sapiens) evolved as runners. We are literally born to be distance running machines

McDougall covers these topics in great detail, and paints colorful pictures of his cast of characters. The best part is that they are all real. I found myself especially captivated by how he wrote about the different races throughout the book. Being a distance runner myself, I could sympathize.

If you are an amateur runner like me, and you’re struggling with getting to that next distance milestone, or even asking yourself if it is all worth it, read this book. I found it so affirming. I guess lots of other people did, too, which is why it was on the best seller list for so long.

Tech Review: Philips Light Therapy Wake-Up Light

If you live anywhere in the US where it gets cold, then you’re probably (like me) really sick of winter at this point. We’re staring down another major snowstorm starting sometime tomorrow, and many of us are at the breaking point. Go away, winter!

I saw a tweet recently that shared this data:

I cannot vouch for the source of this data, but this graph really spoke to me.

I cannot vouch for the source of this data, but this graph really spoke to me.

This really hit home with me. Runners need sleep in order to stay injury-free. If this data is valid, then there is no doubt. My wife and I both work corporate jobs, and we’re raising a teenage daughter. Getting 8 hours of sleep a night is rough. There is always so much to do. We get up really early every day just to get a head start on things, and typically find ourselves dragging ourselves to bed way too late. But we both love to run. Wifey is training for her first 10k, and I’m training like mad to get my first sub-2hr Half in about 6 weeks. We run, therefore we must get better, and more, sleep.

Part of what makes winter so darned dreary is the lack of sunlight. We get up in the dark, we go to work in the dark, we drive home in the dark. And cold. Yuck. Part of what our bodies love about the summer is the abundance of sunlight. We get to wake up with the bright sunrise each morning and it feels great. I hate getting jacked out of a deep sleep by my alarm in a dark bedroom during the winter months. So this year I decided to try something different. Enter the Philips Wake-up Light

This is a stock photo from the Philips site for the model I bought.
I looked around at light therapy lights since I was really feeling the winter blues this year, and stumbled on this device. The Philips Wake-Up light uses LED lights to simulate sunrise in the mornings to gradually wake you up. I found one on sale and decided to give it a try. 
My Philips Wake-up Light

My Philips Wake-up Light

We’ve been using the Philips Wake-up Light for about 3 weeks now (I actually like to try stuff for a while before I review it). I have to say it has really made a difference in our mornings. Like I said, we get up early. I have traditionally had our alarm set for 5:45am on weekdays. That gives us 15 minutes to shake out the cobwebs and hit the day full-steam ahead at 6am. So I was a little worried when I learned how the Wake-Up light works. You still set the alarm, but that’s the last thing that is anything like a traditional alarm clock. The wake-up light starts 30 minutes BEFORE your alarm goes off. So at 5:15am, my clock starts to simulate the sunrise. 
Here is the beginning phase of the sunrise simulation

Here is the beginning phase of the sunrise simulation

It very gradually increases the amount of light in the room until it gets to the full power of those bright little LED lights.

Here is the light at full capacity. It's very bright!

Here is the light at full capacity. It’s very bright!

Then, at the time of your alarm, it does start to make some noise. You can choose from a couple of built-in alarms or the radio. Some other models even have a dock for your iPhone and you can use playlists, but I didn’t opt for that one. The built-in alarms are very gentle and pleasant. There are two different types of recorded birds chirping, which also really makes you think of warmer times. The third is a gentle piano music. All of theme are meant to slowly, gently coax you out of sleep and not shock your system awake like every other alarm.

The Verdict

I have found that after the first week of getting used to something new, I really, really enjoy the Philips Wake-up Light. The light does exactly what it is supposed to do; it wakes me up very gently. I notice when it turns on at 5:15am, but usually roll over and just drift for the rest of the simulated sunrise. When the birds start chirping, wifey and I are both awake and smiling at one another, and the dogs are wagging their tails (they like it too!). We wake up feeling awake and refreshed, and not sluggish because our sleep phase was too deep when the alarm went off. This one is a keeper!