Though not really a New Year’s resolution, I started working on my health and fitness since the beginning of the year. Given then I am a tech and data nerd, it should come as no surprise that I found way to track my health & fitness activities with apps and online tools. I tried working with a trainer on FitOrbit for a while. After a month, I found that the experience really didn’t meld well with my style. I took a lot of things that I learned from FitOrbit and went back to the gym. Stay tuned for a post about my progress toward specific weight and nutrition goals.
After I moved on from FitOrbit, I wanted to find a program and/or app that would allow me to keep track of my food intake as well as daily exercise. There are a lot of apps and online tools available, but I decided on My Fitness Pal. In a nutshell, MyFitnessPal has a huge database of food (both raw ingredients and prepared foods). I enter my the components of each meal throughout the day, and all the calories are displayed. I also enter my cardio and/or strength activities and MyFitnessPal makes caloric calculations, showing a complete picture of my intake and calories spent. If you like data, particular at the granular level, a service like MyFitnessPal will serve you well. If the idea of manually entering information about each meal and exercise is synonymous with fingernails on a chalkboard, these tools and the fitness bands, discussed below, might not be for you.
I use the MyFitnessPal app daily. That account is synced to my FitBit account, because I have a FitBit Aria wireless scale, which I love! The scale automatically uploads my weight and BMI directly into my account wirelessly, using my home WiFi network. All of that data between FitBit carries over to my account with MyFitnessPal. Conversely, all of the food and exercise that I enter into MyFitnessPal shows up in FitBit. To make it all work, I only rely on FitBit for weight, BMI. Everything else is handled by MyFitnessPal. It takes someone dedicated to entering food and exercise regularly to make apps like FitBit or MyFitness Pal really work for you. I am, admittedly, a bit obsessive, so entering all of that information is not a problem. Carla, on the other hand, doesn’t want a device that requires a lot of manual input. Thus, the Jawbone UP wouldn’t work, simply because of because of the manual sync requirement. She might like the Flex, but only for the daily steps and sleep data. However, she already has a pretty advanced pedometer, so unless the sleep data is really important to her, I don’t know if it’s worth purchasing.
Legitimate Fitness Tool or a Glorified, $100 Pedometer?
The Flex arrived last Wednesday. After a nearly a week with the band, I am trying to decide whether to send it back. It’s not that the device is doing less than what was advertised. I guess that having it on my wrist and looking at the data collected feels more like a novelty than something actually useful in my pursuit of fitness and nutrition goals.
The Flex band tracks your steps, and it will also provide information on your sleep patterns. You can set step or distance goals using the online Dashboard or the mobile app. The band has a small series of LED lights that show how you’re doing, 20 percent per light, toward your goal. The lights also provide a visual confirmation when you tap the band to start or stop the sleep mode. The Flex also has a silent alarm, that must be set online or through the app, that vibrates. I usually wake up before the alarm goes off, so I can’t say that it’s something that would wake me for a deep slumber, or sleep walking (see the next paragraph). The JawBone Up has an “idle” feature that will vibrate the band if you don’t move for a set amount of time. That’s a nice “get off your ass and walk around” feature.
Other information, such as nutrition, and physical activities that can’t be tracked by the Flex (cycling, swimming, etc.) has to be entered into your FitBit account manually. Speaking of entering information, the FitBit can sync with your account through your computer. There’s a small USB wireless adapter that comes in the box with the Flex. You simply plug the adapter into one of the USB slots on your computer, and as long as the Flex band is within 20 feet of the computer, it will connect. I opted to sync the band with my phone. The other way to sync the data from the Flex with your FitBit account is through the mobile app. The FLex uses a low-power Bluetooth 4.0 connection to sync with the FitBit app on your smartphone. The Flex will sync automatically if you keep the FitBit app running in the background, otherwise you have to open the app to force a sync.
As it stands, the only real additive feature of the Flex to my health & fitness is counting my steps. I typically workout twice a day (Monday-Thursday) and once on Fridays and Saturdays. I was looking to capture the steps I talk all day — hoping that it would motivate me to walk more during the day, and take public transportation to work instead of driving. I have fiddled with the calibration on the FitBit dashboard, but still can’t seem to get an accurate reading of my actual steps. For instance, this morning (it’s almost 10 am), my dashboard shows that I’ve walked about 800 steps, but I have only been milling around the house. There’s no way I’ve walked 800 steps. It’s clear to me that the Flex is less accurate than the FitBit one, solely because it resides on my wrist. I wear the Flex on my non-dominant hand. You can go into the settings for the Flex to indicate which hand you’re using to wear the Flex. You can also manually enter your stride to calibrate the steps. I found that fiddling with the settings has made a difference in the data collected and presented.
Tracking my sleep data is something that made the Flex more compelling than the FuelBand, or some other bands/trackers on the market. Again, after a few days, I find myself a bit let down, or even incredulous, by the data presented. I am at a loss to figure out how the Flex (or the Jawbone UP) knows when I am awake throughout the night. I can see the differentiation between restless and deep sleep (presumably because I am still), but how in the world does the band know that I am awake? Apparently the Jawbone Up will cancel the sleep mode when it detects steps. Working on the assumption that I am not a sleep walker, I am calling BS on the some part of the Flex’s sleep stats. FitBit’s presentation of the sleep data is a bit crude. I like Jawbone Up’s interface much better. I don’t mind granular data. In fact, granular is desired. I find it a bit too convenient (read inaccurate) that I had intervals of restless sleep — all 11 minutes in length. That, or I am an amazingly consistent with my restlessness.
As for the physical band … My first impression was that I don’t care for it that much. Even though it’s on my non-dominant hand, it kind of gets in the way — particularly when I’m typing. The metal snap that connects the two ends of the band is right in the middle of the underside of your wrist (read: right where your wrist contacts a surface). In fairness, it’s not as bad today as it was the first couple days.
Other than a wedding ring, I’m not much for jewelry. I used to be a big watch guy, but now I don’t wear one. Perhaps because I don’t wear a watch or any other type of bracelet, the Flex, initially, was quite noticeable; and not in a good way. It is definitely a challenge to snap on. However, barring deep water diving, you’ll only have to take it off once a week to charge. If you are used to wearing watches, a rubber “cause” band, or something on your wrist, you’ll probably be ok — other than fighting to get the band securely fastened. After five days, comfort is less of an issue. It’s also worth noting that bands look like they will show wear pretty soon. Additionally, the little plastic “screen” on the Flex band that shows your LED progression lights can scratch rather easily. Fortunately, the Flex is really a rubber wrist band that houses a pretty small tracker, and you can purchase other bands. I saw a three-pack of Flex bands on Amazon that gives you the option to change the band color. That’s pretty cool. You’ll need to be careful with the USB charging cord that comes with the Flex band. It’s the only way to the charge the device. The charge contacts on the Flex track are proprietary.
In the end, I can see how a number of people view the Flex, UP, or FuelBand, as novelties or fitness fad items. There’s some truth in that, particularly since none of the bands have heart rate monitors or GPS built in. However, these bands could serve as a visual and vibrating reminder or motivator for many to get up and out. For some people that’s needed.
I am pretty self-motivated, but I love data. I’ve shown that I am willing to drop some coin for a device, the Aria scale, the automatically syncs data that I could very well enter myself. However, I must admit that I am rather let down with the Flex, so far and it just might be headed back to FitBit. I think that I will give it another week.
Do you use a pedometer, fitness tracker or band? If so, please share what you use and your experience.
I decided to return the Flex.
If you’re familiar with my Operation Twenty12 project, one of the things that I wanted to work on over the course of the year was writing more often. Though I believe that I have slowly started to put out more content, I have still battled with the frustration of writing. Not necessarily writer’s block, per se, but just overcoming the reticence to write about whatever comes to my mind. What can, or could, I do to get over this hump? Well, I spotted an article a few days ago about an annual writing challenge and my interest was immediately piqued.
The National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a movement, of sorts, that encourages aspiring writers to draft a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. The creation of NaNoWriMo is interesting, and you can read all about it here. I did a quick Google search and there appears to be a lot of writers gearing up for NaNoWriMo. Of course, the challenge has its critics. Laura Miller, a writer for Salon.com, wrote a rather critical piece about National Novel Writing Month a couple of years ago. Carolyn Kellogg wrote a strident counterpoint piece in the LA Times. To each their own, I say. If NaNoWriMo can challenge or encourage someone to get an idea out of his/her head…what’s the harm in that?
I have signed up for NaNoWriMo, and I have about six days to think about a subject, plot, and character(s) for my novel. If you’ve read some of my posts on this blog, you know that I am fully capable of cranking out 1,000 or more words in a single post. Sustaining that flow of thoughts and words 50 times over seems quite daunting, though. With that said, I think the most challenging aspect of NaNoWriMo is that I have not written any fiction since I was kid. I used to love writing illustrated, short stories. Since then, however, all of my writing has been short– or long-form, non-fiction essays. Add to that, practically everything that I read is non-fiction. Just how in the world am I going to develop and write a fiction novel? I guess we’ll see. I see this as a challenge to try out something completely different. Something way outside of my comfort zone. I am anxious, but also excited.
I believe that a couple of friends, who are far more talented writers than I, will be participating in NaNoWriMo. What about you? If you do plan to take on the challenge, let me know in the comment section. I’d like to connect the people that I know are participating. I’d like to use a Springpad folder as a place where we can share ideas, suggestions, tips, and encouragement.
Given that this is a 30-day challenge, You can count on me coming back on December 1st to let you know what happened. Wish me luck!
I have been reading Sir Kenneth Robinson’s book The Element over the last couple of weeks. It is a great book about finding, and honoring, your true passion. Interestingly, I have seen the Aristotle quote above at least three times in the last week. I’m not necessarily one to assume fate or “things happen for a reason,” but I must admit that after the second or third sighting the meaning of the quote started to sink in. I have yet to figure my passion. I certainly don’t think, or want, what I currently, repeatedly, do to define me.
I work hard — repeatedly. However, I think that there’s a pretty bright line between doing something out of a sense of responsibility and doing something because of passion. Don’t get me wrong, I think that doing your best on your job is definitely something worth doing. It’s just not the same as working, even toiling, on something that is driven by love or an inner fire. Put plainly — passion. Perhaps I am writing this carefully so as not to lose my job (chortle); but, honestly, the more that I think about discovering my true passion, the less concerned I am with job security. I say this because I firmly believe that once I discover or realize what makes me tick, the pieces will come together. I will be off and running.
I have been slowly working my way through Robinson’s book because I feel like I have spent a lot of time daydreaming about becoming a full-time photographer. My interest has waned, rather significantly, over the past year, or so, though. I touched on this a bit in my Operation Twenty12 piece at the beginning of the year. A full nine months later, if I’m being honest with myself, I am probably even further away from than that daydream than I have been since first picking up a camera about eight years ago. The most telling sign is that I rarely pick up a camera any more just to shoot. I have tried to determine whether I am simply taking an easy exit. Is becoming a full-time photographer just too much work, and I’m being lazy? I don’t think so.
I truly believe that we will make, or put in, the effort for something we care about. I am unwilling to force myself to follow a particular path simply because I once thought it was “the thing.” I couldn’t care less about what others think about me changing my mind. Ok…that’s not true, but I’m getting there. You know how it is when you proclaim something? Everyone wants to hold you to that thing, and some are oddly intractable about your dream. The glass half full view is that people see something in you, or your work. They think that you’re skilled or proficient at that particular thing. Here’s the rub, though. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing…why bother? An Elbert Hubbard quote came to mind.
I am pretty certain that what dogs me the most is the idea that I am 46 years old and haven’t discovered, realized, or acknowledged my true passion. It seems like so many things interest me, yet not singular thing repeatedly draws me back. This may not be true, and I may need to learn how to tune in into my heart.
One of thing that seems to be quite clear is that I am truly struggling to find my “thing.” I am not merely looking for an escape from something I don’t like or work, generally. It is as if I am hungry but don’t know what to eat. I know, at this point, that I don’t want filler. I want substance. It is very unnerving trying to figure out just what will fill this void. It is hard to say that I am stuck in a rut, because my destination is not defined. The path to discovering my true passion is pretty much free to explore. As the father of a high school senior, it probably goes without saying that I have responsibilities and concerns about my son’s next steps (college) and future. However, I don’t see being a good parent and unearthing what will satiate my creative spirit as being mutually exclusive. In fact, I would like to think that my son would benefit from seeing me follow my heart and not accept living a life of cramming square pegs into round holes.
Surprisingly, I don’t really suffer from the more routine fear of failure, because you can’t fail at something you never start. At this point, my biggest fear is just that — never starting. I have to figure this out! I have reached a point, though, where I no longer want to make announcements or Aha! proclamations. No, I would much rather go about honing in on something that I just can’t do without, quietly, and make a habit of doing that thing repeatedly — and excellently.
I cannot pinpoint the exact time in my life when my reading routine changed and declined. I don’t know if the academic “rigor” of middle– and high school was the culprit, but I definitely read much less on my own — for pleasure — as I got older. It seemed that most of the things that I read were for school. Outside of schoolwork, I would mainly read car and skateboard magazines, album covers (don’t ask), and occasionally thumb through shelves lined with Encyclopedia Britannica and National Geographic magazines. (What can I say? I’ve been a nerd for a long time.) I was an English major in college, and certainly read a lot. Though much of the material that I read in college literature classes was interesting and enjoyable, that reading, again, was not for pleasure. It took effort to read all of those books. The only thing that saved me throughout my years in school, including law school, is that I typically retain what I read.
But what happened to reading for pleasure? How do I get that back?
The answer to that question has been rather hard to pin down. If you pay attention to my bookmarks series, you probably are thinking, “It sure seems like you read a lot;” but that reading is spread out over the course of a week, and it comes in doses. No longer do I curl up in a chair with a book like I did when I was a kid — escaping into the story.
I have yet to read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, which is sitting on my coffee table, but I am very interested to look deeper into about what Carr has to say about how our brains are being rewired because of the Internet. I touched on this a bit in my piece about opting out of social media, but I feel like my thoughts and focus are shot. I look with envy when I see someone lost in a book. Carla is a voracious reader. I want some of that.
I think the first step toward my goal of reading more is to figure out what I am really interested in. I never realized how much I wanted to impress others with smarts. I would, sometimes, read obscure works just that I could sound, if not be, learned. My interest was not connected to what was revealed between the covers of the book, but by the reactions of those who heard me recite the words from these books. That’s bad.
[Start: “dirty laundry”]
Sometime this practice applied to things that interested me, too. I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking about the plight of Blacks in this country, as well as Blacks in the diaspora. However, there are times when I would just feel “Blacked Out.” I got sick of always, and fairly exclusively, reading about Black people. For the record, it’s not as easy as just saying “Well, just read something else.” At least it wasn’t that easy for me, because I have always felt a responsibility for being knowledgeable about the history, and current condition, of Black people. That probably needs to be worked out in another post, and I need to move on. I’ll just say this: That shit is exhausting! Fortunately, I have moved to a place where I am focused on being authentic and not living to prove or justify myself, or impress others.
[End “dirty laundry”]
So, what do I want to read? I have always said that I don’t enjoy fiction, which is a bit because I love fictitious movies. Nevertheless, I’ve tried and failed to get into most fiction books. It could have something to do with my lack of patience and focus. I probably haven’t given most books time to warm up and grab my attention. I’ve had a bad habit of approaching books with a microwave attention span. Come on! It’s been 30 seconds already. Why aren’t you hot yet?
Recently, I picked up Shelly Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, about the ironic phenomenon of the disconnection in the age of online social networks and technological tools like email, text messaging and instant messaging. The book has pulled me in, and I admit that I have been quite proud about plowing through the book. I feel inspired. I’ve started to think about what I want to read next. The difference is that I feel the urge to follow through, whereas before I would just buy a new book that would eventually just collect dust on the shelf, coffee table or night stand. I was so tickled with myself in the library that I must have walked around for about 30 minutes before I started to hone in on some books that I have been eyeballing lately. Most of them have to do with creativity, focus, and learning more about how our minds work. Just as I was about to pick up The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robison, I saw Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything and it spoke to me. I took the book the counter with a big smile on my face. The librarian was still entering my information into the computer. She scanned the book and pulled out the date stamp to mark my due date. I felt myself shrink to a little kid looking up to the counter, reaching out to take my book home. Sometimes we can — and should — relive our childhood.
I just pre-ordered a Nexus 7 tablet, so I am already wondering if I will move to reading only e-books. I think that the convenience of an e-reader will be nice, but I think that I’d like to not lose that sensation of holding a book in my hands; not to mention the child-like thrill of going to the library.
Do you have a library card? If so, do you actively use it?