Categories
Life Technology

Step-Focused Life

I came to a realization recently – ironically while walking my dog – that ever since I got my first FitBit a few years back, I’ve been leading a very step-focused life.  And if I’m being honest with myself, this is why my creative drive has taken a steep dive these last 4-5 years.  Let me explain.   

The FitBit – and by extension, most health-focused smart watches (such as my Gear S3 or Samsung’s latest offerings in the Galaxy Watch / Galaxy Watch Active) – have as their main feature a step count.  They’ve branched out to include heart rate monitoring and other fun stuff, but the main draw is that these are smart devices that track your steps in a better way than those simple pedometers.   

At the basic level, most of these devices try to encourage you to reach 10,000 steps (even though that’s an arbitrary number and there are probably better numbers to reach; but that’s not important right now) every day.  On top of that, in both the FitBit and Samsung software ecosystems at least, there are communities where you can add friends and join challenges (most of the time the challenges are to earn the most steps, but there are other kinds as well).  I would say that the goal is to get the wearers more active in general.   

This is overall great for me; I do feel motivated to move more and be more active.  I wouldn’t say that I was a complete couch potato prior to putting on a FitBit, but this is the point I’m getting at; I’ve found that my main driving force every day seems to be “put the watch on to make sure I capture all my steps – I need to get my steps!”  This extends to make it important enough to wear my watch at night.  Tracking sleep is useful, sure, but the truth is I’m more worried about catching those steps between the bed and the bathroom in the middle of the night.   

I used to read a lot more often during the week at work.  Now, I go for a walk more often than not (unless the weather is particularly bad).  Especially if I see a low step total by lunch time (anything less than 3000 is cause for an extra walk), I feel the need to take a short 20 minute walk around the block.  I’m not complaining entirely; I mean, it’s usually nice to get out of the office and enjoy the fresh air, even in the winter.   

But I think it’s also leaving me frustrated creatively.  Why don’t I take some time to read or create something instead of going out at lunch?  Sometimes I try to do both, but it doesn’t always work out.  More importantly what I’m trying to do is let go of my attachment to my smart watch.  Oh I’ll wear it every day, but I’m trying to be less worried about my step totals.  Perhaps one way around that might be to find a watch face that doesn’t put my steps right in my face.   

I’m also going to be lowering my daily step goal.  Right now it’s set at 10690 or something to that effect.  I’m not going to lower it to something ridiculously low like 2000, but I think I’ll be able to find a sweet spot that allows me to hit it consistently (although not necessarily every day, to keep it something I can work toward).   

I feel like this kind of change will help steer me away from being worried about making sure I have enough steps during the day.  That’s the first change here.  The next step to increasing my creativity is probably unrelated to this, so I won’t get into it (plus, I don’t know what that is right now). 

Categories
Technology

The Microsoft Surface 3

Surface 3

Why am I writing this here?  I honestly can’t tell you what compelled me to start writing about this tablet that I’ve had for maybe…a year and a half?  A tablet that I bought second-hand, without fully realizing what it was that I bought.  

The Surface 3 (and I’ll spare you from having to look it up) is the “non-pro” version of the Surface line that came out I think at the same time as the Pro 3.  They came in 2GB or 4GB RAM models, varying in hard drive size.  I happened to get the 2GB / 32 GB HD variety.  When I bought it, the seller also happened to have bought the type cover (aka the keyboard) and Surface pen.  That was lucky, because the Surface 3 came with neither of those when bought from retail.  

When I learned of the Surface line, I knew this was what I wanted for a laptop.  I didn’t realize that the Surface 3 was not really very powerful, and as I alluded to above, is more of a tablet than a laptop.  BUT I have found it to be a pretty amazing device, especially since I purchased the thing.  

One of the best things I’ve done for it is install a 128GB micro-SD card to expand the hard drive space.  I was getting some pretty terrible performance from the device, both in terms of random freezing and slowness; I attributed most of this to lack of hard drive space.  At one point I had a 32GB micro-SD card but that wasn’t enough to help it.  

But the other thing that’s helped revitalize my use of it has been April 2018’s massive update.  It seems to have brought some stability to the device (it took a long time to install the upgrade; I believe part of the problem was the aforementioned lack of hard drive space) and even some shiny new features.  

The size of the tablet itself is great as well.  I noted recently that while in tablet mode, and orienting the device in portrait mode, it’s basically the perfect size for e-reading.  I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 that I think is great, but its size is best suited for video (and great for watching 4:3 aspect videos).  I haven’t tried this yet, but I have a hold on some Library e-books so hope to give it a shot soon.  

What I think the Surface 3 will be great going forward is a mobile extension of my desktop work area in my studio.  I need to upgrade that computer, but it’s a solid enough work-horse that I can get the audio work I need to on it.  I believe it can handle Windows 10 (currently running Windows 7 – I’ll have to test my theory).  It’s not a powerful computer in terms of getting things done, but for my needs, it works.  

From what I’ve seen of the new Surface Go, it seems similar to that (albeit less powerful with only 2GB of RAM).  I’m interested in seeing what that one looks like!

Categories
Goals

Data Dump

Back in March, I got a Samsung Gear S3 smart watch to replace my FitBit Charge 2.  I’ve been doing a lot more tracking, etc. with it than I ever did with my FitBit.  But until now, I haven’t really looked at the data.  Well, now’s my chance.  Here’s all of the health data I’ve recorded.

Sleep

My data actually goes back to January – I assume that some data got imported when I did some syncs with different apps.  Here are my average sleep times for each month:

  • January – 7 hrs 26 mins
  • February – 7 hrs 47 mins
  • March – 7 hrs 56 mins
  • April – 7 hrs 0 mins
  • May (to date) – 7 hrs 2 mins

My average sleep efficiency recorded for April/May was 90%.  I’m not actually quite sure what “sleep efficiency” is, and whether or not that was a metric that Samsung came up with.  It turns out, it’s an actual number you can figure out yourself.  Here’s how verywellhealth.com defines it:

Sleep efficiency is the ratio of the total time spent asleep (total sleep time) in a night compared to the total amount of time spent in bed. For example, if a man spends 8 hours in bed on a given night, but only actually sleeps for four of those hours, his sleep efficiency for that evening would be 50% (four divided by eight multiplied by 100 percent).

So it looks like I’ve been sleeping pretty well, on average.

Steps

  • March – 8112 average daily steps; average distance 6.07km
  • April – 8247 average daily steps; average distance 5.63km
  • May (to date) – 8813 average daily steps; average distance 5.92km

I seem to be fairly consistent with the average daily steps.  My goal is 10,200 currently, and I’ve hit that 18 times (according to my ‘badge’ list – the last time I hit it was this past Monday).  The most steps I’ve walked to date was March 14th, when I hit 16,838 steps.  The previous record before that was 13,392.

Exercise

  • March – 99 average active minutes
  • April – 103 average active minutes
  • May (to date) – 115 average active minutes

You can tell that I’ve been more active as the weather gets better.

Heart Rate

  • March – 46 bpm Minimum | 68 bpm Average | 200 bpm Maximum
  • April – 45 bpm Minimum | 67 bpm Average | 171 bpm Maximum
  • May (to date) – 49 bpm Minimum | 69 bpm Average | 177 bpm Maximum

I’m not sure how to analyze this data, to be honest.  Is that good?  Bad?  Looking at the average, specifically; I figure that the minimums/maximums will probably be outliers anyway (and the max would be recorded during exercise).

I did some brief research, and found a formula for figuring out targets for training at least.   Using that formula, my max heart rate should be 186-188.  So it looks like except for March, I’m well within that range and have some room to work harder.  I found a Livestrong article that suggests 60 to 100 bpm is “normal” for ages 10 and up.

So there you have it.  I’m interested to see how my numbers compare for June/July/August.  I anticipate that my steps / exercise will probably increase vs the comparable numbers for March/April/May.  I think that it would be realistic to shoot for a 65 bpm average as well.

Categories
Technology

My Current Phone Set up at Work

A word of warning: this post is very Android-heavy, and not likely very relevant if you’re using basically any other smart phone.  Turn away now if you’re in the wrong ecosystem!  (Or, keep reading if you’re interested in some of the cool things you can set up with Android to stay productive.)

I’m always trying to find a way to stay productive while still keeping on top of the personal demands on my phone.  My phone is primarily a personal device, and strictly speaking, is not necessary for my job.  However, I use it constantly to keep in touch with my wife through messaging (we use Allo; I also use text messages for just about everyone else).  Other things that come through include email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  I keep my phone on silent, but I don’t want to miss anything that might be an important notification.  So, I came up with a pretty good solution.  At least it’s good for me.

The other purpose for this set up is to help stretch my battery life a little bit.  The less that I activate my screen, the longer the battery lasts.

The Basic Setup

Phone: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
Android version: 7.0 (Nougat)
Root? Nope!
Other apps in use:

You can probably accomplish this set up with any Android device – it doesn’t have to be a Samsung product, and I think you’re probably fine running Android 4.4+ (KitKat and above), but I can only “guarantee” functionality based on what I’ve got going on here.  To replicate exactly what I’ve done, you’ll definitely need Tasker.  As Tasker is a great program for automation in general, I think it’s a great app to buy anyway.

Right off the bat, I would recommend reading my article about using the FitBit Charge 2 as a Smart Watch.  At the end of the day, the functionality here can be duplicated with any smart watch or any device that accepts notifications.  Form isn’t as important here as function.  The end result is that I have certain notifications sending to my phone – specifically, text messages, Allo messages, FaceBook Messenger messages, and phone calls.  There might be a few other things I’m forgetting but those are the important ones.

Most of the time I will use my device to respond to the instant messages; however there are web-based solutions for everything here.  Allo has a web interface (it mirrors what’s on your phone and has some limitations); you can go to Facebook in a browser to access messenger; and using Join you can send & receive messages through your browser (more on Join in a bit).  Basically if I need to I can leave my device off for everything except phone calls.  Oh – but I could forward my calls to my work number if I wanted to do that.  That’s a basic service provider option that most people probably have too.

Join

Join is a fantastic app.  If you’ve ever heard of Pushbullet, Join is in a similar category – except that it’s free.  The short version of what you can do with it is send browser tabs to / from connected devices, send notifications between devices, send files between devices, copy/paste text between devices, and so on.  You can read more about it here: https://joaoapps.com/join/ 

I use it primarily now to send notifications to my work laptop while I’m at work.  I haven’t figured out entirely how I want to automate it when I work at home, but for when I’m in the office, I have Tasker activate sending notifications to my work laptop as soon as I connect to wifi.  Join is a stand-alone app developed with Tasker plugins in mind, so it works really easily with Tasker as a plugin.  If you want to learn more, leave a comment…I don’t want to get too technical.

I picked a few apps within the Join app that I want notifications from, including Inbox (my gmail app) and Twitter.  These notifications pop up in the bottom corner of my computer whether or not I have a browser window open.  Join is available as both a Chrome plugin and a Windows 10 app; the plugin is free, but you have to pay for the app.  I just use the plugin.  When you click on the notification, you have a few options – you can dismiss it from the device (and if there are any buttons on the notification on your phone, they’ll appear on desktop too) or open it in a new browser window.  The great thing is that if it’s an email notification, it’ll bring you to your inbox; similarly if it’s Twitter or Facebook it’ll bring you to those sites too.

I could go on and on – I highly recommend watching the videos on the Join website to see all the things you can do with it.  But already we have several ways of handling phone notifications without having to turn the screen on and waste precious battery life.

The primary purpose of this isn’t really to avoid using my phone, it’s mostly because as I said I keep my phone on silent.  I may not always be staring at my screen and see I have a new notification.  So, this is a really helpful way to make sure I don’t miss anything.

Tasker

I alluded to using Tasker to automate when I send notifications through Join.  I also turn my “Always On Display” off when I’m connected to work wifi.  So now my screen is entirely disabled while I’m at work.  I should point out that I use several plugins with Tasker, which I pay for through a monthly subscription.  Check out the AutoApps suite (which you can try out for free) – there are lots of cool things to do here.

To accomplish controlling the Always On Display, I use AutoTools – Secure Settings.  To use this you need to enable ADB access.  It’s not too complicated to set this up, but there are some steps involved – you should read it in a better, step-by-step format.

That’s pretty much it.  I find this setup extremely useful so far, and battery life is great.  I’ve been using “AccuBattery” lately and it recommends charging phones only to 80% (based on scientific studies) to extend the battery’s overall life.  Any battery saving tips of your own?

Categories
Technology

Android Nougat First Impressions

I’ve had Nougat for a week by the time this post will publish, but I’ve got some first impressions based on my first few days of use. For reference, I use a Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, and it was upgraded from Marshmallow to 7.0.  Other relevant info – I’m using Evie Launcher*.

And yes, I realize that I’m a year late and Android O is already in the works, to release sometime this year.  Blame Samsung.

First Reaction

I really, really like the way this looks.  Everything looks sleek and well-designed.  If this makes any sense to you, it looks less “cartoon-y”, something which Samsung has been gradually moving away from since I started with the Galaxy S3.  Starting with Lollipop, they’ve been moving toward a more “stock” look with their notification / quick launch drawer.  I like it.

Digging Deeper

Past the visual elements, my phone somehow feels snappier.  I don’t really think it actually is any faster, but it feels like it is, which is important.  I feel like there’s something operating behind the scenes (maybe faster animation speeds?) that is making the difference.  I’m not speaking from a technological angle here – I don’t think they’ve done anything on the software side to affect RAM for example – but the software seems…optimized.  That’s the best term I can think of for it.

Battery life seems to be improved.  It’s hard for me to tell for sure, because I’m not using my phone the way I normally do right now.  Sometimes I’m actually using it less than I normally do.  The first day, I used it a LOT because I was playing around with it, and the battery life suffered accordingly.  Last Thursday though, I noticed that my battery life was only at 64% or so near the end of my work day, so that’s impressive.  I think some of the battery saving measures behind the scenes have been improved for Nougat.

Some other cool things have opened up for me, now that I have Nougat.  Previously, only Samsung’s Messages app allowed you to type out replies from the notification window.  Nougat adds this ability, so now I can do that with an app like Allo.  It’s pretty handy if you don’t want to leave whatever screen you’re on.  The other neat thing that Samsung added was some more utility to their Always On Display function on the S7 edge.

If they stopped at just adding more icon notifications I would have been happy; but you can also double-tap the app icon and it will unlock the screen and open the app with the notification.  That’s really cool and very useful!  To give you a quick comparison, on Marshmallow, only Samsung’s messages app and phone icons would show on Always On Display, and you couldn’t open the apps from there.

Overall Impression

This is definitely a very cool step forward for Android.  I don’t think that this update is revolutionary, but it’s the kind of update that would breathe new life into a phone (for example, if I added this to my S6 edge if it still worked – that would be amazing).  I don’t know how many phones will actually be getting it, as manufacturers tend to drop older phones from support even though they are capable of taking new operating system upgrades.

If you were on the fence of upgrading (or have the option of flashing a custom ROM with Nougat on it), you should definitely do it.  There aren’t any noticeable bugs that I can see and it runs really well.  It can only get better.  Can’t wait until I get Android O in 2018!

* I’ve actually switched back to Nova Launcher, because they added “Dynamic” notification badges, which are really cool and you should look into.

Coming up on Thursday: more Android talk focusing on Waze.

Categories
Technology

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 – A Non-Technical Review

Most of the reviews I looked up when trying to get more info on this device were heavily technical in nature.  Great for comparisons, but a lot of the terms and numbers went over my head.  I’ve since purchased the device (and I’m writing this post with it, in part!), so I thought I’d give a more practical hands-on review.

Display

The display on this thing is absolutely amazing. It is what’s called “Super AMOLED”. I’m not really sure what that means, other than that it’s optimized to not light up the screen when black pixels are present. And it’s a super version of that.

Last night, I watched the highlights of the Ottawa Senators win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the display quality was noticeably better than what I’d get on my TV.  The tablet also has a 4:3 aspect ratio, which means that when I watch Star Trek: The Next Generation in HD, it plays in full screen.  It’s amazing.

Physical Input

I didn’t know how to label this section – but this is the best I came up with.  The device inputs are your standard touch screen inputs – your fingers.  But I also bought a Logitech Type-S keyboard case to go with it, which is how I was typing with earlier in this post.

But it doesn’t stop there.

I was playing Blades of Steel using a Logitech USB Gamepad.
I was playing Blades of Steel using a Logitech USB Gamepad.

As you can see in the above photo, I was able to hook up a Logitech Gamepad I bought years ago for my laptop and play NES games with it.  Specifically I was playing Blades of Steel.  I’m hoping that some of the other games I have will support it (such as Knights of the Old Republic).

But that’s not all, either.  I then hooked up a USB mouse/keyboard combo and was pleasantly surprised to see that those worked as well.  There’s even a mouse cursor / pointer when you attach a USB mouse to the tablet.  Essentially, this is going to act as a pretty decent laptop replacement.

Unfortunately, my USB mic did not work when I connected it to the tablet.  I have to figure that one out still – but I have some ideas for that.  One thought is that my USB mic is technically a Rock Band mic, so that could be a mitigating factor right there.

Software

Nothing out of the ordinary here; out of the box it was running Android 5 (Lollipop) but immediately after I set it up, there were software updates to bring it up to Android 6 (Marshmallow).  So, it’s functionally the same as my S7 edge in terms of the operating system – and both devices should be getting an update to Nougat (Android 7) “soon”.

What I was happy about was that it wasn’t over-loaded with software bloat; my previous tablet, the Galaxy Tab 4, came with a bunch of stuff I never used and just took up precious space.  I haven’t fully explored everything, but from what I can see there wasn’t too much extra.

A welcome pre-installation was Microsoft Office Mobile.  Waiting for me to sign into my Microsoft account were OneDrive, Word, Excel, and other mobile Office suite apps.  I’ve used them before, but when used on the Tab S2’s 9.7 inch screen they actually look and feel closer to their desktop counterparts.

Also pre-installed is Samsung’s SideSync, which allows you to remotely control your phone and transfer files.  It’s a pretty nifty feature to have, though I have yet to make full use of it.  It’s definitely fun to play with!

Overall impressions

Overall, from just one weekend with the device, I’d give it an 8.5/10.  I love the size of it, and having the extra input options just put it over the top.  It loses points based on the fact that you kind of need these additional input options to get good solid use out of it.  I feel like it should be able to stand on its own – which it mostly does, but not completely.

The Tab S3 is coming out in 2017 so now is the perfect time to jump on the S2 bandwagon.  It’s amazingly fast, display quality is top notch, and gives you everything you can do with Android, plus a few extras that only Samsung can give you.