John Galea's Blog

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Livescribe smart pen 3

I have to say, I had never heard of this device. It popped onto my radar because I tripped over it. I had no idea it exists. Which is amusing because I have been searching for better and better ways to take digital notes. I’ve spent a ton of time and money on tablet to do just that. So when I saw this I was curious. I wonder over the years how much money and time I have spent doing nothing more than satisfying a curiosity:) I think it’s part of my personality. I love to learn.

So what is this thing? It is pen that when you write on special paper it saves what you write. This can then be uploaded through bluetooth to your phone and into their own app called Livescribe+. You can do the upload offline, or live. I have not been able to tell just how much memory it actually has (ie how much offline you can do), however their website says it has storage for thousands of pages. There are other versions of this pen that use USB or WIFI.

So let’s get started. The pen comes with a safety cover for the end of the pen. Sadly this will likely get easily lost, not sure if they intend this for shipping only. I’ll probably look around or a case to protect the pen in the pocket.

The first thing you need to do is charge it up. On the one end of the pen is the pen tip itself which houses a regular ball point pen that uses real ink. This ink cartridge can be easily removed and there are blue and red ink for it readily available on Amazon etc. I see no way of knowing the amount of ink left in the cartridge. And if you run out of ink your dead …


On the other end of the pen is a capacitive pen tip you can use on almost any smartphone/tablet. Hiding under this is a microUSB charging port, it uses a rechargeable battery. This is a brilliant design rather than use some kind of proprietary plug.

In the middle of pen is a twist ring that brings the ink out for use and turns the pen on. There’s an LED on the pen that tells you the status. There’s even a beep to tell you it’s ready to go.

There’s the usual pen clip on the top for holding it in your pocket, but it is not that firm so I wouldn’t trust it. Also the pen is longer than most.

If there is a complaint, I wish they had made the bottom of the pen where you hold it less slippery. Say use the same knurling they did on the twist. And I wish they had included a cover for the end. Putting it in my pocket could end up with lint obscuring the lens.

All in all the pen is a touch on the chubby side, but weight is fine and not really noticeable. I do wonder how robust this pen will be to dropping. And given how expensive it is to replace, loosing it is going to make me cryūüė¶ $250 in Amazon.

Ok so we are all charged up and ready to go. Load up the Livescribe app on your phone/tablet and your ready to roll. The pen can pair with up to 4 phones/tablets, but it might be a bit of a challenge to see which device gets the pen if all are on.

On first start the Livescribe app will ask if you want to pair with a pen. It goes out and searches for the pen and adds it. In my case it found a firware update and proceeded to install it. It took a number of tries to complete, not sure why.

Clicking on the pen from within the app gives you everything you might ever want to know. You can see firmware, check for updates, see the battery status, and even help you find the pen by having it buzz (assuming it’s in range). You can even manually unpair one of the 4 devices in memory. All in all well done and thorough.

I had a bit of difficulty getting the pen to quickly move between devices (an Iphone 6 and an iPad mini 2). Sometimes the only way I could get it to move was to turn off bluetooth.

Each device you setup (for example a phone/tablet) is setup separately. All settings have to be redone for each device. This includes setting up your cloud services. Livescribe can send notes out to Evernote and Onenote. These can be setup to happen manually or automatically. There is a LiveScribe account but from what I see there’s no link between the Livescribe app and the Livescibe web site. There does not seem to be a Livescribe portal where the docs are stored. I did eventually see a notebook from one device appear on the other when the pen connected. I almost wonder if the pen storage is how that happened. The lack of a Livescribe portal does make the option to send it off to Evernote or OneNote as a way of keeping this cross platform and always available. Exporting to Evernote and Onenote can be done in one of two ways as an embedded PDF (this seems useless to me) or as a image per page. The image includes the background of the paper. Once in OneNote it can not be edited (except by graphic editors). Handwriting recognition would seem to be further complicated once in OneNote.

It’s worth noting that since the pen seems to keep everything in it’s storage, you may need to be concerned with security if what you are writing is confidential. There is a way to set a PIN for the pen but PINs are kinda limited as far as security goes.

Paper wise you can buy a variety of sizes from Livescribe, or print your own. I did try the print your own and it works fine. Another link to print your own.

I was surprised to see that the notebook from livescribe didn’t include a loop to put the pen in. Seemed like an obvious thing to do …

One of the things you won’t be able to use it for would be to jot notes down on an existing document.

The output is probably the smoothest digitization of handwriting I have seen to date. I don’t however see anyway to erase what has been written, but then that’s no different that writing in ink.

All in all the pen is quite impressive and works well. If you do hand written notes then this might be the gadget of your dreams! The need for special paper is limiting, but also probably one of the reason it works as well as it does!

August 11, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fitbit Alta mini review

I’m a fan of Fitbits. Great portal, easy to use, able to export data, they have it all. Sadly physically speaking they keep missing the mark. I like my Charge but hate the way it does up and can easily come off. I’ve come close to loosing it more than once. I love the Blaze, but it just sucks as a watch, poor watch face design. So I decided to look at the Alta. It’s the latest and greatest from Fitbit.

So let’s start with the physicals. The band features yet again a two whole punch you have to endure to put on. It’s as bad or worse than the Charge. The only positive in it all is that the band can be easily removed and there are ones available on Amazon and ebay. Why Fitbit continue to redesign something that isn’t broke is beyond me. The Charge HR used a simple watch like buckle. Perfect. Mr F’nBit please use a normal watch buckle. Moving on …

The Alta definitely has a more polished look to it. Maybe a bit too polished. The screen is very shiny, I can only imagine this is going to be a scratch magnet. All in all I would have to say the Alta looks, well feminine. The display is oriented like a lot of these wearables the wrong way on the wrist. The app can turn it so it displays in a readable way but the screen is so narrow that it can’t even properly display the steps walked. You get things like 5.3K steps. Fitbit have yet again screwed up like they did on the Charge. They have a setting called quick view that attempts to detect you rotating your wrist, but unfortunately, it doesn’t turn this feature off when your trying to sleep. Absoloutely idotic. So this means, as with the charge, the display is pretty much useless other than to check your steps from time to time.

Fitbit just can not seem to decide on a charging cable/connector. Each and every Fitbit does something different, and unique. I thought the Blaze was bizarre, but the Alta trumps that one. You get this odd spring loaded close pin like thing you need to carefully align with pins you can’t easily see. Getting this on right is really stupidly difficult.

There is no heart rate monitor, not a big loss …

As usual it tracks steps, sleep etc. There’s one new trick up it’s sleeves, it attempts to detect and remind you when you have been inactive for too long. A feature others have had for years, and fitbit has promised to add to the Blaze and have not yet done.

So all in all I am SERIOUSLY underwhelmed. So much so, after two days I returned it. I really have no idea why anyone who already has a fitbit would buy this. There sure isn’t a reason to upgrade IMHO. Sure it looks nice, more like a piece of jewelry, and maybe for this reason alone it will sell well. In fact sales of the unit are strong.

So at this point, I think I will go back to a Fitbit Flex and buy an aftermarket band that has a proper watch clasp. Cost me <$10 on Amazon.
download (1)

August 10, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Mocreo 2500 mAH external battery

I’ve bought a few external batteries in the past and overall been underwhelmed. I was looking for one that was small, and light to allow me to carry it all the time for emergencies. Funny enough, more often when I am carrying the external battery pack it’s been used by colleagues rather than by me:) Probably something to do with my paranoia of running out of battery. This one caught my eye on Amazon as inexpensive, light and thing. So I bought it. The model number is a LAVO-2500 from Mocreo.


iPhones even as far as the 6 only draw a max of 1A out of the charger. Android phones more often require 2A. This battery pack can only put out 1A max. So it’s of little use on Android devices. Check the output current on your charger before you buy a battery pack like this. Most of the smaller ones cap out at 1A. For the iPhone 6 this device is perfect.

Physically the device includes an integrated microUSB cable that is a little on the flimsy side. It also came with a microUSB to lightning converter. The converter has a bay but it is difficult to get it out and if you put it in the wrong way around it’s an even bigger challenge to get it out. If there is a bad part to the design this is definitely it. In fact, I wish the charger was available with a lightning connector on it.

So I put it to the test. The battery on an iPhone 6 is 1860 mAH. I did two runs. First run went from 56 to 92% in 45 mins. Second run went from 1% to 64% in 78 mins. So in all the combined runs were able to provide a 99% charge in 123 mins. The battery pack was able to keep a pretty constant charge current into the iPhone throughout. The charge curve is very close to the stock chargers which is impressive.

Looking at efficiency the 2500 mAH was able to push a virtually full charge into the iPhone 6’s 1860mAH battery which comes out as 74% which is very good.

From completely dead it took around 4 hours to charge. It can only draw 1A on charge so plugging it into a 2A charger doesn’t help this. So this battery pack does not have quick charge circuitry built in as a lot of new phones do, but given the price …

The unit supports passthru meaning you can plug the battery into the wall, and the phone into the battery and both will charge. The current it can take is limited so the phone is given all it wants first and then once full the battery charges.

The pack lacks a flash light that some of these have and would be convenient, and there is no way to tell the charge in the battery pack. There’s only one LED, off when plugged in means fully charged, purple when on pass thru means charging the phone and red means charging the battery.

All in all this an excellent battery pack for every day carrying, at a reasonable price for an iPhone!

August 4, 2016 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Amazon Fire TV 2nd Gen

I’ve had a Kindle Fire TV first gen in the house for a long time. I side loaded Kodi and used llama to hide the Fire interface. Kodi was the only purpose to the box. I still have this and it’s my secondary media player in the house. It works well, sleeps well, draws very little power, is reliable and completely silent. The remote works pretty well with Kodi the only nits being no volume control and no stop button. A while back I started using Firestarter, an app that made it easier to launch and update Kodi. Amazon caught on and blocked Firestarter. Clever folks renamed it to Firestopper and things continued. Then the maker of Firestarter decided to play nice with Amazon and came up with AppStarter and removed some of the things Amazon found offending (capturing the home button, and auto starting on boot). Sadly in becoming less offensive to Amazon the developer neutered anything that was useful about Firestarter in the first place IMHO.

Amazon released a second generation FireTV with some updates to processor, codecs it could support etc. This article does a great job of explaining the differences. The power adapter was bumped up from 18W to 21W and the barrel end of the charger was changed up. Amazon removed the optical output for 5.1 audio (something I still use on my secondary home theater system). The remote is pretty similar to the first gen.

Amazon have been a lot more aggressive with blocking any apps other than apps that come from the Amazon Appstore. They install but you have to find them in the settings to start them. And if you manage to press the home button on the remote, your back manually starting the app. To say this has become infinitely clumsy is an understatement. In fact, Amazon’s behaviour makes the FireTV a far less compelling Kodi box, something I am sure Amazon is fine about. Just to illustrate the point, to launch Kodi from first power on (assuming you can’t get it into the recent apps list, which seems to come and go) it takes 28 clicks (9 – to get to settings from home, 4 – to get to applications, 4 – manage installed apps, 6 to get to kodi (varies depending on how many installed apps)). Sheesh.

A colleague of mine, Johannes, had discovered a neat party trick. When the FireTV registers, it registers with If on you have a US address (pick an address, any address) and add a credit card, low and behold magic happens and apps you manually launch (like Kodi) appear in the applications list, favorites and recent. This dramatically cuts down on the number of clicks to get Kodi up.

You can see what the latest firmware release from From a command prompt on ADB you can issue the command cat /system/build.prop|grep to see what your currently installed firmware version is.

Once Kodi is up and running playback is smooth, and manipulating through the menus is also smooth. IPTV using the Stalker plug in under Kodi also works well, but initial load is quite slow think 2-3 minutes. So if your using it for IPTV your going to want to exit Kodi only when absolutely necessary.

Power management on the FireTV 2 is not perfect. In Kodi your going to want to change the power management option to minimize (or off) to avoid the slow IPTV startup. The screen saver of the Fire’s can be used to black out the screen when not in use and the Fire itself goes into some form of sleep mode. Neither my HDMI receiver nor my TV went into sleep when the FireTV when into sleep, rather the screen was just a dull black.

There is an app called FireTV Utility that you can use to make side loading onto any of the FireTVs easier.

So all in all the FireTV 2 adds new codec support, some challenges to getting a Kodi icon for easy launching, but overall is an excellent playback device. The remote works well for Kodi but is missing volume control and the stop button.

August 2, 2016 Posted by | Mutlimedia, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pokemon Go Quick start

Unless your living under a rock or in the middle of BFN you have seen people playing or talking about Pokemon Go. It’s a new Android/iOS game that is quickly spreading. I’d heard enough people talking about it I decided to have quick boo and see what it’s all about. I’ll try and tell you a bit of what it’s about as well as some basic quick start ideas. First and foremost realize I am new and still figuring it out. So if I got something wrong, please bear with me.

Pokemon Go is what is called an augmented reality game. The board you are playing on is a map of the area you are in.

The first thing you need to do is sign in. Now you can use your Google account, but I am not sure I see a reason to do that. There is no social side to the game so why grant access to Pokemon Go to all your Google contacts etc. So you can create what is called a trainer account. Just be patient the servers are stupid busy and it may take a while. Just keep trying.

On the map are what are called Pokestops. Think of these like Geocaches. The idea is to go out and explore and find these. Your board allows you to see Pokestops (and other stuff near you).
What isn’t on the maps anywhere is other players. It’s like your the only one playing it. Why they didn’t add in a social side to this game is befuddling to me.

When you get close enough to a Pokestop (the blue almost @ like symbol) you can click on it and swipe the item to collect things from the Pokestop. These can be potions (to restore your Pokemon after battle, more on battles in a bit), revive (to wake your Pokemon if he has been knocked out in battle), and other useful stuff.

For the first part of the game you simply wander around and keep going into the Pokestops collecting stuff. These Pokestops have unlimited stuff in them. You can go back to them over and over again (with a slight delay in between). What you get from a Pokestop changes somewhat each time you go back to it. You are not competing with anyone for what’s in the Pokestop. Just walk around collecting stuff. All the while you are getting small amounts of experience points. You rise in levels in the game.
Eventually you will get to the point where your bag is full. Your backpack can only hold so many items. Click items and you will see what’s in your backpack and how many you can carry. Clicking delete beside something you have too much of will allow you to delete as many of them out of your backpack as you need making space for other stuff.
Even when your bag is full you continue to gain XP by going into a Pokestop. You can increase the size of your bag if you want to spend real $$s in the Shopping area of the game, in game upgrades.

Now while wandering around you will feel a vibrate. This will tell you are near something, a Pokestop or a Pokemon. Pokemons are just like the old trading cards. You capture them by throwing a ball at them. These balls are collected at, you guessed it, Pokestops. You can collect many of the same Pokemons. This first view (called the Pokedex) shows you which Pokemons you have. You can sort this in a variety of ways by clicking the bottom right hand corner. Sorting by name will show you your duplicates.
The second view (called Pokemon) shows you the individual Pokemons you have.
Each time you capture a Pokemon you get experience points (XP), Stardust and Candies for that Pokemon. The higher the CP of the Pokemon, the harder it is to catch, and keep. They often get caught and wiggle there way back out. You can increase you chance of catching and keeping the Pokemon by using a Razzberry and/or a Great ball.

This chart shows the XP per level.

You can not trade Pokemons with friends, but you can transfer them (give them back). You get candies back you can use to evolve your Pokemon. There’s not much point in having more than one of each Pokemon, and having a bunch simply provides clutter. Candies are needed to evolve a Pokemon but you only get candies for a particular Pokemon by capturing or transferring a Pokemon of the same kind. A pokemon that is in the same evolutionary chain uses the same candies. Before you decide to transfer the Pok√©mon back, be sure it isn’t a higher CP/HP than the one you already have. Every now and then you may find one that has already been upgraded and has a high HP/CP (hit point combat point, more about these later). There are limits to how many Pokemon you can carry, 250 by default unless you pay to upgrade it. Your Pokemon list screen shows how many you have and how many you can carry. Don’t take too long to capture that Pok√©mon or someone in the area may get it before you do.

The Pokemons can be evolved or powered up. You are asked if you want to do that the minute you capture a pokemon. Don’t bother. Save it to upgrade a couple Pokemons to help you get them as powerful as possible as quickly as possible. Powering up costs Stardust. Stardust is general so save it again for powering up a few Pokemons. On the screen for the Pokemon you can see how many Stardust or Candies it takes to upgrade your Pokemon and how many you currently have.
This link shows the max CPs a particular Pokemon can eventually get to.

There are also eggs, which hatch into a Pok√©mon. To hatch one go into your pokemon list, slide over to eggs and you can set an egg to hatch. It is placed into an incubator that you have. To hatch an egg you have to walk about. Once it hatches low and behold you have a new pokemon. You won’t know which one until it hatches. Don’t try and trick the game by driving, it knows the difference. Biking was successful at tricking it some of the time. Likely based on speed. I can think of no reason why you wouldn’t want to always keep eggs in however many incubators you have. You gain experience points by hatching eggs as well as Pokemons.

Speaking of driving, one of the things about this game is it encourages people to get out and explore around. But unlike other apps like Waze that makes sure you are the passenger before it lets you interact with it while driving, pokemon makes no attempt. So if you are stupid enough to be playing pokemon while driving, well it will let you.
Update: They now added this:

In your items list is something called a Lure, which you can drop at a Pokestop. It attracts Pokemons to the Pokestop. This benefits everyone in the area. You can tell a Lure is in use at a Pokestop by the colorful pink confetti dancing around the top. Once you click on the Pokestop you can see above the picture a pink Lure module.

After wandering around for a while you finally will get to the point where you have reached level 5. Your now able to go onto the next phase of the game. Battles and gyms. The CPs (combat points, think experience in fighting) as well as the HPs (hit points) you see on your Pokemon tell you how much damage it does in a battle. This is why you want to upgrade your Pokemons. How far you can upgrade your Pokemon will be limited by your level. Evolution of the Pokemon is limited by the pokemon. This chart shows the Evolution path of the pokemon.

The white bar indicates how far you can Power Up your pokemon at your current player level. Notice I am almost at the top of this Pokemon at my level. Researching shows this Pokemon can go all the way up to 2184 if your player was at a high enough level. As you get towards the top it seems to cost more and benefit less (in CP/HP). The second image shows a completely maxed out Pokemon. As an example at player level 22 the hypno could be upgraded to 1368 CP, and at Level 23 1426 CP an increase of 58 CPs or a mere 4%.

I read an interesting trick. Save up all your evolves. Then use a Lucky egg (in your items). For the next 30 minutes you get double XP points. So do a bunch of evolves at once, go to a gym, hatch eggs do whatever to get XPs for 30 minutes and you can move your player up in levels quicker! I did this and earned over 13000 XP in under 1/2 an hour. I also used a lure to bring Pokemons to me.

In case your curious the maximum level for a player is 40. And it is reported that between levels 39 and 40, you need a whopping 5m XP. A cheater reached it and took screen caps.

Pokemon can be played on more than one device, in fact I see nothing that would prohibit you from working together as a team to move up in the ranks quicker.

Pokemon loves battery, don’t plan on heading out and being away from a plug for long and playing Pokemon Go. In an hour on an iPhone 6 it dropped 33%!

For an app in this day and time, I am shocked at how replete the code is of social media. No sharing on facebook, nada. Did I mention there is little to no social side to Pokemon? And given how obsessed we are with stats, there are shocking few in the game. Don’t look for your battle win percentage, or how many balls it generally takes to catch a pokemon, nada.

And finally after a couple of days … your allowed to explore the gym. This sets a whole new level and drives how you play the game. Gyms are scattered around the map. Don’t go looking for a search utility or a way to list gyms, nope, wander around and find them (although there are apps that try and do that). Gyms are defended at a particular moment by a particular pokemon, and a particular team (well unless it is an unoccupied gym). Gyms can have as many defenders as they have levels. So a level 2 Gym for example can have 2 defenders. If there is an open spot in the gym you can leave your pokemon to help defend the gym. You earn Pixiedust and Pokecoins for every 20 hours your Pokemon has defended a gym. And you can drop your Pokemons at more than one gym (but you can only leave one Pokemon per gym). You find the rewards in the Shop, and then look at the shield in the top right corner. It shows you a count down to your next payout.

If there isn’t an open spot you can still spar with your own team members. Beating your team members increases the prestige of the gym but costs you potions to heal. Loosing buys the gym nothing and again costs you potions to heal.
The icon in the bottom left corner says there is a spot in the gym and you can take it. Hurry someone can take it before you.

Gyms held by another team/color you are attacking and supply a Battlegroup of 6 pokemons to battle the defenders. As above the gyms level defines how many defenders there will be. Before you start a battle compare the Pokemon defending it from a CP point of view. Slide across and you can see all the pokemons defending a gym.
When you start a battle with the defender you just simply tap the screen like a lunatic. Each tap is an attack. You do damage based on your CP/HP. You will see the health level of you and of your opponent on the top. If you manage to loose, that’s ok your next Pokemon steps up and takes over, rinse and repeat until you are out of Pokemons from your group of 6 or you defeat the defender. Each Pokemon has a secondary attack that has to build up. There’s a white bar beneath your health that shows how ready the secondary attack is. The larger this bar the more powerful the secondary attack. To use the secondary attack press and hold the screen until a black bar comes down from the top then tap the screen and the secondary attack is released. You can move sideways to dodge attacks and make it harder for him to hit you.
Defeating the defender knocks down the gyms level. Defeat enough of the defenders and you can take make the gym vacant which is you rush you can drop your pokemon into the gym and take it over. You get experience points for winning battles. Sadly nothing for loosing:) Once the battle is over you will have a variety of Pokemons that will need your help. You need to revive them (the were knocked out), and then heal them with potions. And then your ready to do battle again. Potions and revives are found at Pokestops. Here’s a great article on all of the items in Pokemon Go, free and bought with real $$s.
Beating one defender gets you 100 XP and takes away 500 prestige from the gym. Beat 3 and you get 350 XP and takes away 3000 XP. That’s a huge hit to the gym. Beat all defenders and the gym becomes vacant. Go back in and you can leave your Pokemon at the Gym. This then becomes your teams to defend. Your pokemon shows at the gym (and is no longer available for you to battle until the gym is defeated. In your Pokemon list you will see a little gym symbol showing it’s at a gym. Here you can see two of mine, the Vaporean and the Kingler. Once at a gym you can not evolve or upgrade them. And I do not see a way to recall them either.


When gearing up for battle it’s important to have upgraded the right Pokemon with the best potential, stamina, hit power and defense. This link helps you compare them. For attacking you have a team of your Pokemons that will do the attack so you will need to upgrade/evolve a few. They can be of the same Pokemon or different Pokemons. The benefit is each has there strength and weaknesses, so making a team of upgrade/evolved different Pokemons has it’s advantages.

There are things you can buy with real $$s in the game. They end up being charged through iTunes (on an iPhone). In Canada 1200 Pokecoins cost $15.81 (including tax) which works out to 1.3 cents per pokecoin. Buy 2500 1.1, 5200 and it costs 1 cent. Those pokecoins are then use to buy a variety of things within the game. Here are the in game upgrade costs (at time of writing) for a number of the items.
So for example if you bought 100 Pokeballs they would end up costing you 460 Pokecoins which at 1.3 cents per Pokeball equates to 6 cents a Pokeball. Etc.

There is so much unrealized potential in this game, it’s already gone viral, but the question is does it have staying power? With some improvements I can see it for sure. Already people are using the game to host flash mob based parties where they all use lures and it’s like chumming the waters. It’s a Pokemon frenzy.

Pidgeys are quite prolific in the game, relatively easy to catch and evolve with only 12 candies. This makes them a great way to increase XP by evolving them.

The game and the app right now are buggy. I get flat out crashes on an iPhone 6, times where the game registers me walking but ignores any input and LONG periods of complete outages. Not minutes, hours. Here you can check the status of the Pokemon Go servers.

I started the game July 18th. In 15 days it has consumed 242.5MB of data. So depending on your plan you need to watch that. Oh, and A LOT of battery:)

In those 15 days I am at level 21 (of a possible 40 levels), my highest Pokemon has a CP of 1669, I’ve caught 69 out of a possible 147 different Pokemons or 47%.

And you know your having a bad day when:)

July 24, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Training with a heart rate monitor

I’m a bit of a weekend warrior, I like to mountain bike. And I have always looked for ways to ensure I am at least maintaining my cardio endurance and hopefully increasing it as the season goes on. For a long time I have used a heart rate monitor to help this process. There are lots of kinds of heart rate monitors that I have covered over time on this blog. In the end THE most accurate heart rate monitor is a chest strap. It also as it happens, tends to be the least comfortable. When you are pushing up a hill breathing heavily the strap around your chest restricts your breathing. And sometimes the chest strap can come loose and slide down.

At this point I have three heart rate chest straps I use:
1) Polar H7 chest strap that broadcasts only on Bluetooth low energy. This can talk to my Polar A300 for excellent data recording, or to my iPhone running whatever app you want. Polars own app called Polar Beat can be used to send the bluetooth data to both Polar Beat and the Polar A300 watch. It’s reasonably comfortable, and for the most part stays in place. It runs on a replaceable CR2032 and from within some apps you can see the battery level of the heart rate monitor (I haven’t had this long enough to comment on battery life). Accuracy is good as long as you properly wet the contacts. The electronics snap into two clips on the chest strap. They seem firm enough to hold it in place.

2) Wahoo TICKR chest strap that broadcasts on both Bluetooth low energy and Ant+. I love this flexibility and it can broadcast to all of my Garmin devices as well as to my phone at the same time, or my Polar A300. Ant+ can broadcast simulataneously to as many devices as you wish. The Wahoo TICKR is oddly designed in that electronics clip into the middle of the strap meaning the electronics are being pulled by the strap. The TICKR is by far the most comfortable of the chest straps I’ve used and stays nicely in place. It run on replaceable CR2032 battery and you can tell the battery level from a number of apps on the phone (I haven’t had this long enough to comment on battery life). Via the Wahoo Fitness app you can even update firmware level. This is the first time I have ever seen this.

3) Garmin Ant+ chest strap. Now that I am on an iPhone this is of little use (My Samsungs had the ability to receive Ant+). It’s always been accurate anytime I have run correlation runs. It’s also the least comfortable, but is well designed and rarely moves on the chest at all. It runs on a replaceable CR2032 battery and gets something like a year battery life. It interfaces best with Garmin devices, which as it happens are my favorite bike gadget.

I also have a Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor that goes on your arm and picks up the heart rate optically. This is by far the most comfortable of the heart rate monitors I use and my favorite. The Scosche broadcasts on both Ant+ and bluetooth low energy so is very flexible in terms of what it can talk to. It runs off a rechargeable battery and gets 6-8 hours of battery life.

And now comes the hot topic of accuracy. What is accurate enough? What are you wanting to do with the heart rate data? These are personal choices. When I first started using a heart rate monitor I used it only to get a more accurate count of the calories I burned on a ride to ensure I was working on endurance. Calories burned is a simple calculation based on length of exercise and your average heart rate. If this is all you care about then you ought to go for the most comfortable heart rate monitor because as you will see in a bit accuracy at each and every data point is not all that important in that it does not dramatically effect the average heart rate, and so does not effect calorie counts. Each app calculates calories with their own magical formula. Comparing calorie counts between devices, or between apps is frivolous because you have no idea or control on what algorithm it uses. So choose something (an app, a device whatever) and just stick with it. One of the things I do like to have is a complete picture of my entire exercise in a week. So if you wear an activity tracker (I have a Fitbit Blaze and Charge), you will need to see what data inter operability options there are. Preferably automatic. I use Garmin connect, Fitbit and Endomondo. They all share data to one degree or another and ends up with a complete picture of my exercise in one place, well actually two Endomondo and Fitbit. Be careful if you use multiple devices/apps that your not double counting your exercise. Generally speaking these can be cleaned up manually if need be.

I started to have some suspicions that my Scosche was becoming inaccurate which frankly was what prompted me to look at this topic again. So I started out with an over 3 hours bike ride and used my Polar H7 logged by my Polar A300, as well as my Scosche logged by my Garmin Edge 305. Using dedicated devices to do the logging (instead of a phone app) gives you much better data for crunching numbers. Apps like Endomondo are less precise about how often data is logged. For example during a 3 hour ride I saw sampling rates averaging once per 3.8 seconds (Vs once per second like clockwork for the Garmin, and Polar A300) and at worst when the phone was busy doing god only know what of 17 seconds. Interestingly enough it makes little to no difference on the average heart rate, and thus no difference on the calorie count. If you were using an app to alert you on max heart rates then this might be something you want to worry about. I saw similar sampling rates for Endomondo running in the foreground and backup on iOS and on Android by the way.

As you can see after an initial period the two tracked reasonably well. Crunching the data showed the two were within 10% of each other 97% of the time. That’s not bad correlation. And in the end it only effected the average heart rate by 2.4 beats per minute.

Calorie count is just one reason to wear a heart rate monitor. More serious athletes keep an eye not necessarily on the BPM but the zone your heart rate is in. Now being off by 10% at 180BPM doesn’t sound too bad but translate into BPM and thus into a heart rate zone and you have a bigger issue. Looking at the same data and changing the threshold to how often was the heart rate off by 10 BPM and you get a more troubling 10% of the time. And this is with the first 15 mins out of the data.

Another reason to keep an eye on heart rate is to watch to insure you are staying within a min/max. I use a heart rate alarm on my Edge 305 to insure I don’t spend too much time maxing out my heart rate. I either slow down, control my breathing or flat out stop. Being off by 10% again makes this difficult.

So now let’s have a look at a comparison of my Polar A7 logged by the Polar A300 and my Wahoo TICKR logged by my Garmin Edge 305. Now this is impressive.
Now this is what I call correlation. In the whole 3 hour ride the two were only off by 10% a mere 9 data points (seconds) in over 3 hours. Impressive. And if I change the threshold to 10BPM (instead of %) there are only 11 data points where they differ. It’s worth noting that wearing two chest straps in a bumpy sport like mountain biking can lead to the two just bumping into each other which may explain even the minor differences.

So all in all, give some thought to what you want to do with the data, and use that to choose how accurate you need your heart rate monitor to be and how much discomfort your willing to endure to get that accuracy! I love crunching number and doing data analysis …

July 12, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Heart rate variability

I recently tripped across a concept I had never heard of called heart rate variability. It measures the actual distance between heart beats. As much as we think our heart beats at regular intervals it does not. And oddly the more regular the heart beats are, the less healthy we are (according to studies I read). HRV can measure mental/physical stress, and can tell us when we might be over training. Now in all the reading I have done I am not sure I have a firm grasp on what this all means, but I can start with the technology side of things. Once we have the data then we can scratch things (your head … other things :)) to figure out what exactly it means. I won’t address the topic of what is HRV, or how to interpret it, I will address it from a technology point of view. There are lots of articles on HRV written by medical professionals who have a lot more cred than I. So on with the tech …

First off you need an accurate heart rate monitor. Optical ones won’t do. My Scosche for example is not supported. So your looking at a strap. The Wahoo TICKR as well as the Polar H7 both will fit the bill …

I have not found any watches that do HRV (My polar A300, Fibit Blaze don’t). I am sure one somewhere does … So that leaves us with an app. I am on an iPhone for now. I quickly zeroed in on three apps. HRV+ (free), Elite HRV (free), and SweetBeat HRV (paid). Sweatbeat even offer a free onetime HRV evaluation of the data you have uploaded in the price. Both Elite and Sweetbeat upload the data to their server (HRV+ does not).

One of the first thing I noticed is that HRV, like your heart rate can vary quite a bit, so a longer sampling gives you a more accurate reading. How long? Well I worked with all three apps for over a week and found the biggest variation (on average off by 19%) to be on the app that took the HRV for the shortest, which is HRV+ at only a 60 second reading (Vs 2 or 3 minutes). Interpreting the data is key, and HRV+ did nothing but give you the raw data. As such, I would have to say give HRV+ a pass.

Moving onto Elite HRV I would have to say this app is by far my favorite of the three. It’s free, and who doesn’t like free! It also attempts to help you interpret the data and gives you a simple visual. The raw HRV is there, it quantifies it, compares it and even reminds you if you miss your morning HRV reading. The visual graph should help you determine if your HRV is too low, too high or just right (no references to children s books needed). A track record is really important to the apps ability to help you know where you are at physically/emotionally. You can do HRV readings anytime you want and your history data is kept for you. As a tool goes I think Elite HRV is the best of the three. The one thing that is missing is a web portal to see the results that have been uploaded to the cloud … So if there isn’t a web portal why am I uploading my data? Elite on average was within 10% of Sweetbeat.

Last but not least is Sweetbeat HRV. I bought this after watching a video from one of the founders that went into the work they had done to correlate Sweetbeat with EKG machines. I was impressed (I drank the Koolaid). Couple this with the fact that Sweetbeat will do a manual analysis of your uploaded HRV and it seemed like a good choice. What is missing is a nice visual showing your HRV like Elite does. Oddly there is a second app from the same company for $6.99 that does give you that called DailyBeat HRV.
They do show you your HRV throughout the session:
And a plethora of data on your HRV that if I had no idea what to do with HRV, I REALLY have no idea what to do with this:

As much difficulty I had getting correlation on HRV (between the apps) the other data that comes out of these apps like RMSSD (Root Mean Square of the Successive Differences) was completely all over the place. Without some believable data what the heck do I do with it?

There is a portal to log onto to see your results but it is basic at best and provides little to no tools to help you do anything with the data over and above what you get on the phone.

So tool wise there you have it. Now all I have to do is figure out what it means? I have noticed it definitely detects when I am run down, not feeling great, slept poorly etc, but do I need an app to tell me that? Maybe I should just go low tech an buy a mood ring:) Maybe as a weekend warrior I just don’t need this level of focus?

June 29, 2016 Posted by | iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Tempered glass screen protectors (a mini post)

Over the years I’ve bought a few screen protectors. I have hated most of them. Orange peel textures, bubbles/dirt under them, distortion to the screen, reduced sensitivity to touch etc means as a whole I had given up on them.

Recently a bud of mine Lance bought a tempered glass screen protector and I was hugely impressed. Instead of a film like texture these are thicker and more rigid. They are completely clear, the finger glides over them naturally and there is absolutely no difference in touch responsiveness.

I noticed recently I had somehow aquired a few scratches on my iPhone 6. No idea how. So I bought one from JetDirect on Amazon for my iPhone 6. I actually bought two just in case I messed it up installing it. They were cheap like $10 for the two. It came with a sticky lint remover, a screen cleaner and the protector itself. First up you clean the screen as good as you can. Then polish it with the soft dust free cloth they provide. They give you a sticky lint remover but honestly packing tape works even better. Just go over the screen a couple times removing as much dust etc as you can. Cleanliness is paramount. The slightest piece of dust or hair and you have a mess on your hands. The protector comes with two pieces of tape you put on the front of the screen. This allows you to remove it and reposition it. There’s a thin film on the back of the protector that has to be removed, and is clearly identified on the back. You can lift the corner back up, reposition, reclean if needed and next thing you know you see the protector slowly adhere to the screen. It really is amazing to watch.

Once on the protector provides some additional rigidity to the screen against drops, as well as protection from scratches. It can even hide small scratches on the screen (it did mine). In the even the protector gets scratched it can be removed (tossed out) and replaced with a new one.

The one I bought was off by about 2 mm in size and barely covered the screen. Take some time and read reviews people have posted before buying.

I also bought one for my iPad mini and it was also from JetDirect and fit the iPad perfectly. Getting the screen completely clean took a ton of patience and time (Ok I admit Lance did it). Once in place it is invisible. Really quite amazing. I highly recommend them! Thanks Lance!

June 28, 2016 Posted by | iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Garmin Edge 305 review (take 2)

Dedicated followers may recall that I previously reviewed this device. Sadly I lost it not long after I got it so didn’t really get to totally explore all it’s features.


Currently I mountain bike with a Garmin Foretrex 401 and love it. The navigation is excellent, takes AAA batteries (so you can carry a spare set) and connects to ANT+ heart rate and wheel/cadence sensors. It has enough memory for 500 waypoints (the only device in this category even today). The large number of waypoints means I can carry all of the locations I go in memory and not have to preload them. 5 years later it’s still a fabulous device. It’s starting to show it’s age, the battery connector got bent. And my number one disappointment with this device is that it basically ignores the wheel sensor and always uses the GPS for speed/distance. Now on a road bike where your pretty straight this doesn’t make a huge difference but on a mountain bike where you are winding around constantly turning it can be off by a fair amount, think 10-30%.

To get around this I bought a Garmin FR70 just to record (and display) the data from the heart rate monitor and wheel/cadence sensor. Although I have to say I ignore cadence (the rate of rotation of your pedals). The FR70 has no GPS in it.

So I grabbed this Edge on ebay. The device has an ok size of screen, but given the size of the device Garmin has not made good use of the space on the display. Like a number of us, my eyes are not getting any better so having an option to have a larger font is nice, sadly this is missing on the Edge. It is however extremely flexible in terms of what is on the display. Completely customizable as most Garmins are. They do this very well.

The Edge connects by Ant+ to wheel/cadence sensor as well as heart rate monitors. Ant+ has the ability to transmit to multiple devices at the same time. A very nice feature. Now if you buy a dual band device (ant+ and bluetooth) you can add in connectivity to your phone as well. I’m on an iPhone. When I was on Samsung it too had Ant+ and the flexibility that offered was amazing. To check the wheel size I mapped out a route on Google using there distance calculation and then rode it and compared (once I manually set the wheel size).

Neither the FR70 or the Foretrex allow any kind of alerts for things like heart rate. Eureka, it’s there on the Edge. And very configurable. You can set a min/max heart rate and be alerted if you cross it. The Edge alerts you five times with a nice albeit annoying beep and then shuts up until your back in range. It really works well. If there is anything I wish Garmin had done was to make it easier to turn this on and off.

Waypoint memory size is limited to 50 you you have to pick and choose which to save. And if you add another one when it fills, it starts dropping ones off using some incredibly intelligent (I can only guess) method to it’s madness.

Navigation on the Edge is excellent. Well for the most part it is. You can navigate to a saved waypoint and it will show you a big display showing direction and distance as the crow flies to that way point. Garmin have always done this well. They have improved the usability to track back to the start and it shows your with a nice beep everywhere you need to turn to get back. Shows distance and time to get there. Perfect right? well on the road yes, but totally useless on a mountain bike path filled with turns. It just kept beeping at me telling me a turn was coming up. Ya how about you tell me when there isn’t one? And there is no way to silence the alerts (that I’ve seen). Oh well … There are two things on the Foretrex Navigation they didn’t include on the Edge. If you press and hold button on Foretrex you can navigate to a waypoint. On the Edge you have to press numerous buttons to get to the same point. On the Foretrex it remember where on the list of waypoints you last selected, on the edge it goes to the top of the menu each time. A little irritating.

I also noticed the Edge the map only shows the points on the map for the current lap. On the Foretrex it showed even past rides. I can see both good and bad in that.

The unit runs on an internal rechargeable battery that is charged by a mini USB port. So sadly you can not carry a spare battery and you better remember to charge it.

The Edge comes with two nice mounts making it possible to mount it on two bikes. And there are two different bike profiles you can setup and choose from. I had to dig to find how to choose the bike profile and eventually just stumbled on it (press and hold mode). The bike profiles allow you to set the bike’s weight (I have no idea what it does with that), as well the size of the wheel (or auto). I don’t really trust auto so set my own. I had read some reports that the Edge can fall off the mount so I put an elastic around it to the handle bars as a precaution.

The Edge unlike the Foretrex will always favor speed/distance from the wheel sensor! And in fact, there’s even a GPS off mode for using on a trainer. And next time you turn it back on it turns the GPS back on for you.

The screen scratches REALLY easily and is flush so if you drop it …

Once back in the house you sync your route with Garmin connect (their portal) using the Garmin Express app. It works Ok, but I am kind of disappointed it does not sync over ANT+. Firmware updates are also done this way.

Garmin do include an app called Basecamp to allow you get and edit your data (waypoints, maps and routes) to/from the Edge but this app is pretty poorly done. I prefer the older Garmin Metroguide.

I did have an issue with USB 3 on my laptop not working correctly with the edge. The way around it was to put a USB hub in between, odd but manageable.

So all in all I like the Edge, it’s discontinued now but there are lots around on ebay etc so dirt cheap!

June 23, 2016 Posted by | GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Shinecon VR headset mini review

I’ve been super curious about VR headsets. I’ve seen the ones from Samsung and wondered about them. So I found this one which fits my iPhone 6 and comes with a clicker to control the phone.


First up comes content. VR, 3D, etc are all names for different forms of displaying 3D content. When you go to the movies or have a 3D TV in the house they rely on glasses that refocus an image that on it’s own is out of focus and in so doing creates a 3D image. As an example here is a Youtube video I thought was pretty decent.

This type of headset, is basically a more elborate Google Cardboard. It relies on side by side distortions to create the depth. So if you play it without the 3d what you see is two side by side movies. There’s lots of content out there for this type of headset. Everything from movies, to Youtube. You just need to look for the buzz words SBS (side by side), Google cardboard, 180 degree VR etc. Because of the side by side what you seeing is quite small (think half of a screen). The overall effect definitely gives a perspective of depth, but is no where near as immersive. You don’t get the holy crap that ball is going to hit me I better duck feeling you do in a movie theater. Some of the effects however are quite good.

The headset itself is simply a holder for your existing phone. This one folds down in the front you clip your phone in close the door and away you go.

The headset is placed on your head and projects in front of you. Since you are playing from your phone, your device needs to be handle the demands of the specific movie. The headset is by no means light and the weight is quite noticeable. I found myself holding it with my hands to reduce the weight/discomfort. I have a hard time imagining watching a 3 hour movie with it.


The bluetooth clicker that came with the phone is fairly limited in use on the iPhone. Since the iPhone does not support a mouse you are pretty much stuck with open the door, start the clip, quickly close the door, quickly slip on the headset and away you go. To say it is clumsy is an understatement. This would be a whole lot easier on Android which supports a mouse.

You quickly run into the next challenge, the menuing system for whatever your going to use, be it Kodi, a Youtube video etc all are (of course) not 3D. So your navigating a bizarre looking image. I found it best to close an eye or focus on one eye.

On iPhones you run into a number of additional challenges (beyond the mouse). Storing local content is problematic (although not impossible) and getting Kodi on your iPhone is also non-trivial. Of course none of these are an issue with Android:) Ya ya …

In the end, for $40, it amused me for a brief period of time, and satisfied a curiosity. I am not sure how much I will use it, but been there done that got the t-shirt:)

June 10, 2016 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, Mutlimedia | Leave a comment


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