Sunday, January 25, 2015

Garmin Vivofit 500000 Step Review

Garmin Vivofit - 500,000 Step Review

Click any graphic for
a larger view
The Garmin Vivofit that I purchased in November has been tracking all of my steps - with the exception of a single day when it stayed on the side table and I stayed in bed. 

Garmin Vivofit - 400,000 Step Update 
Garmin Vivofit - First 300,000 Steps

What I Have Learned

First, you need  a few measured loops, simple walking loops where you know the exact distance. 

  • 500 steps to the bus stop and back
  • 2000 steps to the lift station...
  • 4000 to GH Street...
  • 7000 to the elementary school...

At the beginning of the day when the Vivofit picks the target, these numbers are not overly useful. After all, a 9000 step target is not going to be satisfied by any of these. But at the end of the day, when you just need  a few steps to meet your goal, having a few pre-measured loops will keep you from wandering the neighborhood like a hobo.

Second, comfortable shoes matter. I switch back and forth between a pair of mid-weight hiking boots and a pair of very light-weight running shoes. The running shoes allow for a faster pace, and the extra heel cushioning is terrific. The boots give great ankle support, at the cost of a more jarring stride. I still rotate between the two because I wear the boots when hiking (not on paved roads or sidewalks) so I need to feel their weight and support. But, for the longer loops I try to go with the running shoes. 

Third, you have to have good music on your MP3 player. Hit "Random" and start walking. 

What I Need to Work On

I need to work on a strategy for crappy weather. I was able to bundle up (layers) for cold weather down to 32 degrees. But cold and windy and damp are not my favorite combination. Once you get warmed up, the layers start working against you, and any attempt at relief was rewarded with chills. 

Did I really miss my December target by 315 steps?
Yes, Yes I did... 
I need to figure out how to relate to the Garmin Vivofit. Sure, we have come to an agreement on daily targets (the Garmin picks). And, I know that I am going to miss my daily target - my longest streak in 11 days, all during the Christmas and New years Holidays. In fact, I only surpass my target 69% of the time. 

But, I missed my December monthly target by 315 Steps! The sum of the daily targets for the entire month is recorded and reported. Imagine my surprise and disappointment. In January I had a couple of very busy days and missed my daily target. I have been working to catch up. 

I have not found a way to reset the daily target - which is randomly picked, but seems to trend higher every few days. My goal requires 8440 steps per day, which is well below the random picks. 

Finally, I need to find time for the additional steps. I have increased my pace from 1600 steps per 15 minutes to 1800+ per 15 minutes - which is about 3.5 MPH. Much faster and I would need to start jogging. My morning routine and typical work day scores about 3500 steps. So I need to find reliable time for the other 6000 steps or so -- after taking care of wife and kids, and sports and band and scouts and... 

I don't always have an hour a day to dedicate to the road. 

Green Bar = High Activity
This chart shows pace of 1787, 1830, and 1828 steps per 15 minutes.
Click for larger view. 

Bottom Line

I started tracking my steps with the Garmin Vivofit during the week of November 23. Since Thanksgiving I have lost seven (7) pounds and my blood pressure and HbA1C are back to normal. 

I have recorded >535,000 steps, with no injuries - not even blisters. It takes me about 2071 steps to cover a mile (my score today: 14,522 steps, 7.01 miles). 

Aches and pain sure -- because: old and fat. But, I suspect that jogging ~260 miles in 65 days would have been physically traumatic. Injuries limit exercise.  

Walking is working for me. The Garmin Vivofit is keeping me honest and working hard.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Shooting Log

Shooting Log

After consultation with several experts on Twitter (Jason, Carrie, Amanda and Dane), I took the advice to keep is simple and created the following shooting log to track our family results. has as Shooters Journal on their site if you want something very formal. 

Data Collection 

My solution (confession, I'm an IT geek) is a spreadsheet with information stored in ranges so that I can pick them quickly. And, to keep it simple, a couple of free-form columns for notes. The columns in YELLOW are list driven (I have to choose from a specific list). This makes the reporting work. 

The GREEN columns can take any data. For example, I made a note for a session right after Christmas. We shot indoors -- in freezing temps. We could see our breath at the firing line. Why? The range pumps outside air down the lanes in order to keep lead away from the shooters. We also shot archery indoors at Cabela's - with an instructor. I felt this was an important milestone as Tot4 moved from leather glove to a trigger release. 

I need to make a couple of minor adjustments:
  • The Date column needs to be Date/Time
  • For 3P shooting, I'll need to add a column for "Position"
Click on any graphic for a larger image.

I went back and logged the 2200+ rounds (archery, pistol, and light rifle) from the last six months. As we move forward this report will start showing scores and trends. Again, the theme is simple... 

This report shows Shooter, Firearm, and Rounds. 

Why Track Ammo 

When we added a Nikon scope to our Henry Golden Boy, the scope pointed me to the Nikon Spot On BMT Site.  This site provides a calculation of bullet drop to match the reticle in the scope. It is ammo specific - just click a few boxes, and it provides the chart on the right.  

Just a few hundred rounds using CCI, Remington and Federal proved the tool to be really useful - dead on at 50 and 75 (or 50 and 69+ a bit of fudge). 

I'm also tracking ammo because of our Sig Sauer Mosquito. More than a few sites and YouTube videos say the Mosquito is prone to jamming with cheap ammo. Several claimed the pistol is a piece of junk. 

Well, I can confirm that CCI shoots just fine, and that the Mosquito has not shown any major issues with Remington. I have not tried Federal so far.

Bottom Line

We have the log, we have the commitment to shoot, now we just need to start keeping score. 


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

NFL Pro Pick-em Strategy - Wisdom of Crowds

Yahoo! Pro-Pickem Strategy - Fail?

Click for larger image. 
It always pays to evaluate the success (or failure) of your strategies, and base assumptions... but I would love for Yahoo! to some data to support the evaluation.

Are Crowds Smarter than Individuals 

My final results for the 2014 Pro-Pickem season were a marked improvement over my standing from last 2013. Overall improvement was from ~2 games missed per week in 2013 (28 games out of first place), to 12 games missed over 17 weeks. That is, Niam Knows! won this year with 186 correct picks, and I only had 174.

Strategy Changes from 2013 to 2014

Previously, I would watch the Pick Distribution and do a gut-check on my perception of the game. For 2014 I also made a couple of simple rules: Always turn in a pick list (in 2012 I missed a week, which doomed my score), and always review the pick list just prior to game time. I didn't make many changes through the year, but a simple trick - watching for injuries to the starting QB - probably saved me 4-5 games. (RGIII and the Redskins hurt that strategy as well).

Something Happened

Business Insider has published an article: Las Vegas Screwed Up - by setting a bad line for the Super Bowl.

... "In the case of the Super Bowl, that didn't happen. About 80% of the bets on the Big Game in the first 24 hours were on the Patriots, according to

What is even more intriguing about this big swing is that the early betting action is typically done by the more seasoned and often professional gamblers making big bets (AKA "sharps") while Joe Public typically waits until a day or two before the game or even game day.
This means that the usually smarter gamblers felt the opening line with the Seahawks favored was a terrible line and immediately put a ton of money on the Patriots..."

Below is a screen clip from Yahoo Sports Pro-Pickem showing the pick distribution for the Super Bowl as of 1/20. It clearly shows the Patriots as the favorite. So how did Vegas miss? And, was the early money correct, or not? How do the "sharps" adjust for any injuries over the period between Divisional Championships and the Super Bowl? Doesn't uncertainty decrease... as you get closer to game time? 

Bottom Line

The Business Insider article indicates that smart money bets early. In Pro-Pickem, the early bets tend to be homers - people picking their home team. The distribution gets more accurate over the season as the wheat is separated from the chaff. As the season wears on the ability to make up ground on the Pick-em leaders gets more difficult as picks become more obvious and upset games are widely missed. In effect, the leader board becomes self-governing as everyone reflects the tendency towards average.

Is the final Distribution (right before game time) accurate? Is the Crowd more accurate than the individual? 

Wisdom of Crowds - More Data Please

Yahoo Pro-Pickem could really provide a cool data element called "The Crowd". Simply create a player called "The Crowd" and assign all of the picks from the weekly Distribution to this player. For the tie breakers: take the team picked most often for high and low scores, and the average of the numeric scores. (Or, just put Oakland as Lowest Scorer).

Step 2 -- Create a player for each affinity "Fans of San Francisco", "Fans of Dallas" etc. and rank the average "affinity" score. This would provide proof that specific fans know their football, and other fans are just junior varsity. (We all know who you are - rookies!)

Step 3 -- Find the "tail" you know, the guy that makes the outrageous picks... and is correct! Identify the guy that has the most correct picks against the average.

Somewhere at Yahoo! is a math geek that can work this out.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Pinewood Derby - Rebuilding the Perfect Beast

Pinewood Derby - Rebuilding the Perfect Beast

Last spring the boy took first place in in the Pinewood Derby for his Troop. This year we needed to build a new car that will be just as competitive as the old car. Here are the previous posts.

2014 Pinewood Derby Results Mea Culpa
2014 Pinewood Derby - The Boy Isn't Going to Win...

Planning - Blue Steel Part Deux

We wanted to use a simple shape - to reduce the amount of time in the shop. The troop was really lucky to have access to a workshop with everything needed to convert a block of wood into a racing machine.

Our plan was to go to the preparation event with the full design in hand, run the block through the band saw, do a bit of drill work to manage weight placement, sand lightly and walk away.

Mistake #1

When transferring the design to the side of the pine block, I rotated the block to get a better angle for tracing a pencil line down the edge. We went to the preparation event, did our cut-out, light sanding, weighed in, then walked out. According to plan. 

At home, we were dry-fitting the weights when we discovered that the large weight would be slightly behind the rear axle. This would not be the optimum placement since the car might pop a wheelie at the bottom of the ramp. On further examination, I had reversed the wheelbase when drawing the line for the cut. 

OK, so we had to go to the make up session. 

Lesson #1

In order to counter-sink our weights, we used a drill press with a bit that the same diameter as a quarter. Three drill holes on the back of the car, a bit of work with a chisel, and we could slide in a second layer of weights. Based on the preliminary weight-in, it looked like two (2) quarters would do the trick. I do want to build a car and call it 50-cent, but the boy doesn't get the joke.

Make Up Session

For the make up session we double (triple, quadruple) checked the layout and the wheel-base. We cut the simple form, and then went back to the drill press. Our first build required some chisel work to get the groove size correct - we wanted to skip that additional work. We reset the bit-depth so that the drill would not penetrate all the way through the vehicle then used a bit just slightly larger than a quarter.

This round was much easier - squaring out the round corners with a chisel, then flattening the bottom of the groove where the tip of the bit counter-sunk into the pine. Finally, we went over to the belt sander and worked out all of the rough spots.

It's amazing how fast you can get all of this done when you know what you are doing.

Non-Make Up Session

Last year we used Krylon primer and metallic blue paint with silver glitter. This year the boy wants to go au-natural - with no paint at all. Pine and lead... nice.

Formal Weight-In and Turn In

Next week is the formal weight in session. We will have to hand-over the car until after the races are complete.

Fingers crossed that we do as well as last year.


How to Use Feedly

How to use Feedly

RazorSocial just posted a blog "How to Use Feedly for Tracking Blogs". I've been a Feedly fan since the demise of Google Reader, and had a popular post in 2011 which outlined how to use Google Reader to follow Twitter hashtags "Google Reader Tames Twitter Stream" and Facebook pages.

While Google Reader had the flexibility to track Twitter hashtags, and Facebook pages, it is not clear that Feedly has added this functionality.

Feedly Organization

The "organize" features of Feedly do allow quick sorting/grouping of blog topics. This is a snip showing layout in the left-hand margin for my account. I use four major groups to sort the data, and Feedly show the total number of unread articles (237), and the number of unread items in each group. I read 45 blogs via Feedly, and simply don't know of a faster method to collect and organize my list.

Behind the scenes is a drag-and-drop interface for organization. My "A Economists" list is a collection of favorites - which always get first read. The Z-Other Economists still get some of my attention - but time constraints drive priorities.

Click for larger picture.
Drag and Drop interface for sorting/grouping your blogs.

New Feature for Twitter

Feedly did incorporate a new feature into their "Tweet This" functionality. The prior version simply sent the title of the article, a link and a "via Feedly" tag. At the end of 2014 they updated this feature to use hashtags - so "via Feedly" became #Feedly, and, the group name from your organizer is also sent (#xoloandmacro is my group).

If you are judicious in your naming convention, you can Tweet messages and links directly to a specific Twitter hashtag.

Bottom Line:

  • Feedly provides a great blog consolidation platform - with quick collection, organization and reading.
  • Setup and organization (and re-organization) is simple
  • User Interface is the same on my PC, my Android tablet and my Kindle Fire, and functionality is the same across all three 
  • It has decent "push" functionality (to Twitter, to OneNote, etc.) but for pulling data it is not as flexible as the deceased Google Reader.

Feedly Feature Wish List:

  1. Simplify a data pull from Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.
  2. Improve your online Help, or create a user community.



Thursday, January 15, 2015

Garmin Vivofit - 400000 Step Update

Garmin Vivofit 400,000 Step Update

400000 Steps
This is an update to my blog: Garmin Vivofit - the First 300,000 Steps.

Early in January the Garmin Vivofit web site started having Sync issues. It appears that the Sync problem has been resolved - data is flowing between my device and the web site. But some of the data is not flowing down to the Reporting tables. 

Garmin Error Message

I have not lost any data, but I did take the step to create an Excel spreadsheet to capture my steps.

Here are some of my notes:

12 Minute Bars?
Or, 15 Minute Bars?
  1. The Export Function is limited to rolled up values (Weekly or Monthly). It will dump a simple table into a CSV format.
  2. To get daily values, you have to look back over & day periods, then mouse-over the columns to read the number of steps.
  3. Reports look back from "today". If you review your stats on a Wednesday, the "Week" is Wednesday to Tuesday. Seems like a calendar week (calendar month) would be a better timeframe.
  4. The "Workout Intensity" indicator is odd. From a walking point of view... I have hit 1500+ steps in the (12 minute?) time capture. That seems to be "intense". Not sure what the threshold is, but ~4 MPH for walking is a lot. Again, no instructions to understand this feature.  [Update 1/19/15: It appears that 1711 steps is "Intense". Not 1706... 1711.]
  5. Uphill, downhill, flat... no difference. In the end it probably evens out - especially if you are walking loops.
  6. Finally had to take the Vivofit module out of the wrist band at wash it... (60 days!). Gunk accumulation was minor, but it's back to new condition now.  
I'm still a big fan... the Vivofit has motivated me to get off my duff and move. I'm still on track for 2.5 million steps by Thanksgiving, 2015.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Garmin Vivofit - First 300000 Steps

Garmin Vivofit - Review

After two years working at Microsoft my health was pretty poor. Sure, I was really active, but by diet and sleep patterns were a mess. And, to deal with work stress it wasn't unusual for me to grab the chainsaw and garden tools and do several hours of exhausting yard work - just so I could get to sleep.  

When we moved back to Texas from Seattle I was fully burned out. Dr. M. told me my blood sugar (HbA1c) and Triglycerides were too high and put me back on diabetes medication for the first time since 2009. I could have saved time and money for the office visit.

For Thanksgiving I purchased a Garmin Vivofit from Amazon (product link) for just under $80. I'll cover the Good, the Bad and the Bottom Line... and endorse the product as a solid, low price, wearable fitness device - for those that walk or jog. 

The Good 

Dashboard - Drag and Drop modules.
Clean, easy to read, and simple to use.
(Click for larger image).

  • The website is very simple to use. Menus are on the left, graphics on the right, and click-down for more information. 
  • The band display is very easy to read, even without glasses, as long as you have some light.
  • Not having to charge it daily, or weekly, is a huge win. Sync is completed via a wireless mini-USB device and takes less than 30 seconds. I sync every 2-3 days, but understand that it can hold several days of data. 
  • It's waterproof - and I have tested with showers, swimming and the hot tub. In fact, the only time I took it off was when I was cleaning the turkey.
  • The Red Bar (no activity) feature is very motivating.  
  • The reporting feature is easy to understand.  

The Reports Section makes it easy to review your history. 

For those that need encouragement -
Badges are easy to get at first, then they require more effort
The Sleep Tracker is nice, and easily editable -- in case you
forget to set Sleep Mode or to turn off Sleep Mode in the morning.  

The Bad

  • There is very little documentation (even online) to help understand how the device works - the underlying logic that is. YouTube videos for the Vivofit are mostly marketing in nature. 
  • The Sleep Tracker shows how much movement you have during the night - on a scale from Low to High, but does not offer any measure to relate to the scale. Is tossing-turning considered "low" and a walk to the bathroom "high"? It's just not clear.
  • Some chores don't register as activity. Doing the dishes, folding laundry... if you are not moving from place to place, you don't get points. On the other hand, vacuuming and raking the yard seem to over-score.
  • The Personalized Daily Goals (random step targets) are OK, for variety, but the Vivofit does not recognize the days of the week. My Monday calendar is typically booked with conference calls. So I have missed my Monday goal several times. My Thursday calendar is light, so I'm OK with a few more steps.  
  • There is not really a good method to set a monthly (or annual) target for steps. Again, I suspect Garmin sees daily activity as key to success, but I work on longer and larger goals. My 2.5 million step goal for 2015 is not easy to track on the Vivofit. 

The Bottom Line

The Garmin Vivofit has helped me get out of the house and walk. It provides (hourly) encouragement to meet daily goals, does a good job recording activity, and provides very real feedback on performance. It is very low hassle - no recharging, no removal to sync, no removal to take a shower. 

My first 300,000 steps were accomplished with just a bit of nagging... which is exactly what I need. 


P.S. The Garmin Vivofit also allows manual entry of your weight. 
I lost (LOST!) five pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. #winning.