Seven Months with a Fitbit

IMG_8733A little over seven months have passed since I started using a Fitbit. Trying to meet my daily step goal, even while I have not reached it every day, has undoubtedly resulted in me walking more than I would have otherwise. I still feel encouraged seeing my Fitbit iPhone application light up when I reach my goal, and feel embarrassed when I see that I failed to do so.

One of my favorite Fitbit motivators seems to have slowed substantially. The application celebrated my reaching various points such as 10,000 steps in a day, or 25 flights of stairs in a day, with presenting a cheerful badge. While it still records how many times I have walked 10,000 steps in a day, it only makes a big deal out of presenting you with the badge once. I suppose if it’s an achievement that you reach basically every day, getting the badge over and over could get old and annoying, but perhaps the application could be smart enough to see that some achievements you reach only infrequently, and try to make a bigger deal out of those every time.

Another suggestion for the Fitbit outboard software: the solo challenges are really nice. Having walked in Manhattan in person, I especially enjoyed pretending to walk along the various lengths of New York maps. But after a month or two, the half-dozen built-in maps started feeling boring. How about letting users create custom maps? Or, as an additional revenue source for the company, Fitbit could offer more maps as 99-cent add-on purchases.

If they would really like to splurge along these lines, perhaps some sort of virtual reality technology could be developed, so users could be standing in their living room walking in place, but seeing what it would look like to walk in various locations.

The Fitbit device itself seems to be holding up just fine to daily use. The wristband broke a few weeks ago, I suspect due to being stressed from a dog leash around my wrist (the other end of which being attached to a certain border collie suddenly lunging toward rabbits or deer or other points of interest along the trail). Amazon reviews of inexpensive third-party Fitbit bands didn’t look entirely optimistic, so I ordered a replacement directly from Fitbit.

One of the new features that Fitbit rolled out this year was to offer tracking of sleep stages, not just time spent sleeping. While I usually remove my Fitbit when sleeping, for the times that I have left it on, I have not yet seen it report any sleep stage information. I’m not sure if this feature only works on select Fitbit models (not including mine?) or what.

Overall I have been very happy with the product, and look forward to seeing more fitness-encouraging features be developed over time. [As a disclosure, I have in fact been so impressed with my Fitbit, and hopeful for the company behind it, that I am at the moment a stockholder.]

First Week with a Fitbit

IMG_8727I have been using a Fitbit Charge 2 over the past week, with the goal being to improve fitness through measurement and digital encouragement. My iPhone already tracks steps walked, though. What else does the Fitbit offer?

Some Fitbit devices, including the Charge 2, track heart rate. This is useful for recording a measurement of intensity of exercise. And in turn, that is useful for weight management. If you enter your weight, height, and age, and if you honestly record calories eaten, the Fitbit tracks your steps and heart rate, and tells you how many calories you should eat in the day, if you want to gain weight, maintain weight, or lose weight. Rather than having a static number of calories for the day, or even a flexible number based on vague notions of “light exercise” or “moderate exercise”, the Fitbit seems to do a decent job tracking how much exercise you actually get and adjusting remaining calories accordingly.

The outboard Fitbit software (on iOS or web or whatever) provides opportunities to connect with other Fitbit users for good-natured competition, alerting you that “Oscar has almost caught up with you!” or “Laura has completed her step goal for today!” and so on. Even when not connected with any other users, you get alerts and electronic “badges” for various fitness achievements. Both of these, while happening entirely in the digital realm, are surprisingly motivational.

When using the iPhone to track my steps, I would make sure to grab it before going on what I knew to be a long-ish walk, but I would routinely leave it charging at the computer when going on shorter excursions. The Fitbit is more conveniently always with me, taking the place of a wristwatch.

So far, the step counter seems reasonably accurate to me. Extreme arm movements can trigger a false step, but apparently I don’t do much of that when not actually walking (or at least exercising). It does, however, record arm movement when playing the piano as steps; a few days ago, it recorded about 2000 false steps before I took it off and put it in my pocket. Now I know to just take it off before playing the piano.

Curiously, there is no way to turn it off, and no easy way to get it to pause in recording steps. A simple on-device click for that would be a preferred solution, if I were about to engage in activity for which I knew it would record false steps.

A week in, I am finding the Fitbit a great tool for tracking and improving fitness. Now I would like a similar tool for tracking and improving at other things too!

Apple iOS 10 Voicemail Transcription

I don’t actually use my phone a whole lot for placing telephone calls. After getting an iPhone 7 about a month ago, this morning I received my first voicemail message on iOS 10. I was surprised to find the voicemail message audio auto-transcribed to text, and transcribed very well at that.

While an obviously useful technology, I presumed that the voicemail had been processed by Apple remotely at some server farm, as most current hip artificial intelligence applications run on servers rather than on clients or local computers, and that this was yet another affront to individual privacy.

Happily, I was mistaken. According to an Apple support article on using iOS 10 voicemail transcription, all transcription is done local on the iPhone device itself. If the transcription was done poorly, you can optionally send it to Apple for the purpose of them improving the transcription system, but otherwise, it appears that the transcribed text is in fact private to your phone!

Floorplans from Green Tea Software

201405-port-washington-10.jpgI have had an Apple iPad for over five years now. Before the iPad existed, I envisioned a sleek portable tablet as a great productivity tool, and have been somewhat disappointed that — either through system design or through decisions of third-part application developers — the iPad seems better suited for consuming digital content than for creating it.

In working out plans for a new house construction, I found the Floorplans application from Green Tea Software. This is by far the most intuitive, easy-to-use floor plan tool I have yet tried on the iPad. More significantly, it makes using the iPad for content creation a breeze. It’s easy to sneak in a few minutes of floor plan design after breakfast, while watching television, or while fully engaged in the application for hours at a time.

I have long thought that it would be great if there were an iOS content creation application that was as easy to use as playing Yahtzee on my phone. Green Tea Software has delivered! Unfortunately, I don’t expect to be a long-term user of their software, as I don’t plan a new house very often, but their work inspires me that it is possible for great productivity software for the iPad can exist.

Old Avid Software on Mac OS X El Capitan

201506-omaha-5.jpgLittle strikes fear in the hearts and minds of music production engineers like upgrading to a new version of Mac OS X. Will their precious (and often expensive) music software applications continue to work as expected, or will they fail in some unforeseen catastrophic way?

I usually wait months — if not years — before upgrading to a new OS X release, but since I do work not only with music but also with software development, I wanted a newer version of Apple Xcode, which I had been delaying installing for the past year, concerned about upgrading my operating system to OS X Yosemite. When Apple released OS X El Capitan earlier this week, I figured I might as well jump all the way to El Capitan, and fight whatever software update battles may lie ahead.

So how did things turn out?

  • Avid Sibelius First 6: The “lite” version of Avid Sibelius, I have been running this for several years. I was pleasantly surprised to find no problems running this under El Capitan.
  • Avid Pro Tools 10: With Avid up to Pro Tools 12 now, I strongly suspected that Pro Tools 10 might explode in some horrific way, and, with credit card in hand, was prepared to upgrade if necessary. Again though, I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. As was reported under OS X Yosemite, there are some minor graphical glitches when browsing menus, but that problem is reasonably surmounted. Otherwise the software seems to work as expected. I recorded a quick demonstration piece in Pro Tools, which also exercised Native Instruments Kontakt 5, Addictive Drums, and Valhalla Room reverb.
  • Adobe Lightroom 5: Not an audio application, but another major piece of software that I use frequently. No issues under El Capitan that I can see.

[In every case, the software had already been installed as of my previous Mac OS X Mavericks setup, which I upgraded to El Capitan. I have heard that at least some older Avid software won’t install from scratch on El Capitan.]

The biggest surprise was when I turned on my Focusrite Saffire PRO 40 audio interface, and the Saffire mix control software on the computer failed to see the hardware unit. Focusrite’s website claims that the Saffire PRO 40 works under OS X El Capitan with the latest Saffire MixControl 3.6 software, which I installed, so what was wrong?

I eventually found a helpful tidbit elsewhere on Focusrite’s website that explains, when upgrading MixControl software, there is an old library file that you need to manually delete before the hardware connection works properly. I followed the instructions, and all was well.

The bottom line: I could easily continue using all of the old software applications that I have tried so far under OS X El Capitan without significant issue. I will probably upgrade to Pro Tools 12 (or possibly move to another DAW package) soon, but Pro Tools 10 is still quite functional, so no hurry.