What we talk about when we talk about the Blerch

The Beat the Blerch race I mentioned in my previous post grew from this particular comic from The Oatmeal. I bought the book – which is to be made available tomorrow- and I recommend it for new runners, much as I recommend the Couch-to-5K.
The Beat the Blerch comic takes its inspiration from Haruki Murakami’s “What I talk about when I talk about running,” which I have not yet read but will link to as I fully intend to add it to my queue.

The Blerch, Wearable Tech and Me

Hard to believe that it’s already been a few weeks since the world first glimpsed the Apple Watch.  I had the distinct advantage over much of the consumer populace during that announcement because I have already completely converted my entire mobile chain of command (Tablet, Phone, Camera, and yes, a Gear) to Samsung products.  Much as I might be tempted, there’s no reason for me to purchase this impressive new timepiece.

The iWatch renewed my interest in the wearable tech market.  Or more accurately, the rise of the wearable tech market and the impending demise of the unexamined life.  Before I delve too deeply into that, though, here’s some background.

A week ago I ran my second half marathon, a race called Beat the Blerch.  A year ago- almost to this exact day- I started running.  It’s really  easy for me to tell you the exact day because I started running using an App called “Couch-to-5K.” .  The app integrated GPS, music, and an audio coach with what I now understand to be a well phased training plan.  It delivers exactly what it promises- it took me from being a complete running-hating non-runner to finishing a 5k in 30 minutes.  It did this in 9 weeks, but well before that it had turned me into a ravening running fan.  I had signed up for a half marathon before I’d even reached week 6.

A couple of times the app lost my run.  No data? No mileage? No average speed? It was like the run hadn’t happened. Another couple of times I did the run using a different phone.  The app had no cloud behind it in which to save data.  That meant there were orphaned runs that were not being tabulated into the whole.  Panic struck . Spreadsheets were created.  A second running app was downloaded to merge the spreadsheets.  But that one reckoned time and distance differently because it didn’t include warm up and cool down as separate from the run.

It was about here that  wearables started proliferating.  I needed a single source of truth for my data, one that didn’t vary with the phone I was carrying.  I needed to stop my earplugs from bouncing out of my ears.  I needed to make sure that the mileage was properly recorded in my IBM-funded Fitbit..  Sometimes I wanted to take pictures if I was on a particularly scenic (or taxing) run.  So on a typical outing here’s what had to be suited up before I could leave.

1) Phone, because it contained my music and my training plan.

2) Bluetooth headset, because the armband for my phone swung too far away from my body and yanked out my earplugs.  Also, I like to be able to change songs.

3) Garmin 610 GPS watch, newly acquired during a doorbuster sale the day after Thanksgiving.  There was a heart monitor I could have worn that came bundled with the garmin that I remember absolutely requiring and haven’t used once.

4) Fitbit.

5) My samsung gear.  Because I found it confusing to have watches on each wrist, the gear and the GPS would be next to each other on my left arm, a fashion statement no one has signed off on since the end of the Swatch fad in the 80’s.

I was a christmas tree of wearable tech.  None of this prep included things like sunscreen, camelbak backpack, my inhaler or my house key.  As things got more intense during the training for the half, I had to add mid-run electolytes and caffeine.  So the suit up phase could last for up to 20 minutes while I found all of the various elements needed to properly facilitate, soundtrack and record the use of my own legs.

The rise of the wearables is being facilitated by our addiction to data.  As with most addictions, the onramp seems worth it until we find the downside.  A couple of days ago I came across this article in The Suit .  The article discusses the potential dangers of having employees bringing networked devices into the workplace, which is a variant on the current thinking around BYOD.  But the kicker sentence is right here:

From an administrator’s point of view, a business can monitor and track employees through their use of wearable tech

As I mentioned earlier, the fitbit I was wearing during my christmas tree days was an IBM-funded device.  As part of our personal vitality rebate, we had the option of having IBM provide us a fitbit, then linking the fitbit account to a third-party wellness program.  This saved us the trouble of having to manually log our activities, and also gamified the process of leaving our desks by providing points for different levels of activity.  These points were redeemable for Amazon rewards.

I am ambivalent at best about my employer being able to read my activity data.  I went into the program knowing that I was training for a half marathon and was therefore going to shatter whatever bar was set for the game.  My  fitbit fell off my wrist while I wandered around the expo floor of SXSW – which I now realize was the fitbit equivalent of running away to join the circus- and therefore never got to redeem any of my accrued points.  But there’s a balance here that we need to contemplate.

1) Is it a good thing that we can no longer work out without data-driven feedback?

2) Does our employer have any place whatsoever in that data?


If we accrue too many points in one day, are we spending too much time away from our desks? If we spend no time away from our desks, are we then a health insurance risk?  To me this seems like a door we need to be very deliberate about opening, as it will be very difficult to close again.

P.S. Wearable tech skepticism be damned,  I saw this at SXSW and raved about it then:  “Ring,”  should be the standard for design of these devices going forward. [Buy one.  I mean be careful and everything, but Buy One.]

2014-03-10 14.23.31

Yes, this is still an active blog.

I looked at the date of the last post and it’s been more than a month since anything went up here. This would at first seem odd given the wild amounts of things I’ve been up to, but then I went down the list and realized that talking about 90% of it would end up either being

1) Boring
2) Personal
3) Proprietary
Or the controversial 4) which is “Heavily redacted so that things seem neither personal nor proprietary and end up being even more boring.”

Faced with the choice of silence or a series of sentences that looked like this-
I had a meeting with my [unbloggable] and he sent me a list of [unbloggable] and it came at just the right time because I was once again getting frustrated about [unbloggable]-
I went with silence.

So let’s chat about things that are a combination of none of the things above.

1) The Weather.

I think part of the overall blahness of being is that summer has set in. It’s too hot to be outside for any period of time longer than it takes to walk to your car. Then you get in your car and that’s unbelievably hot, so you have to drop all the windows and crank the AC. This cycle repeats itself at every stop until you’re basically drained from having the temperature fluctuate every few minutes from the relatively comfortable 70 degrees inside, to 102 outside, to 168 inside your car, back down to 80 degrees once the AC starts producing cold air. Ironically, that moment is usually when you get to your next destination, so it’s outside into the 102 again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. At the end of a morning of errands you feel like a frog that’s escaped repeatedly escaped being boiled.

2) The Planets.

Yeah, maybe this isn’t as non-controversial as it should be but Mercury Retrograde was some rough stuff this last time. For those of you who don’t follow Astrological happenings, four times a year Mercury’s orbit moves backwards with respect to the orbit of Earth around the sun. Depending on your perspective, this either means nothing or it means EVERYTHING. Short answer, though, don’t buy anything new that plugs in, don’t trust anything you currently own that plugs in, don’t sign a new contract, expect old contracts you signed to get all screwed up, and avoid making any agreements over the phone. I’d have ended up ahead this last time – which went from June 1 – 30th-  if I’d just stayed in the basement with a blanket pulled over my head. I was without air conditioning for a week, which if you go back and review #1 again you’ll understand was a complete catastrophe.

3) The World Cup.

I was into it this time from the ground up, largely because I was really hoping France was going to be France again by getting all pissy and going on strike. They did so well this time that I bought an FFF jersey. Of course the jersey arrived after they won their round of 16 game, and I missed their game with Germany. So the jersey has not yet seen actual international play viewing. It’s still nice to have.
I’m from [an area close to] Philadelphia originally, so I have serious issues around football superstition. I’m not allowed to watch any important Eagles games lest I cause them to choke. And forget wearing any themed clothing.

The other interesting part about the World Cup was that Texans who could have been talking about the summer training camp of their university football team of choice were talking about Team USA. This includes older Texans who probably would have wrapped their gum in soccer players if there had been any while they were in high school. Not once but twice there were texan sports commentators who talked about soccer for an entire 30 seconds or so before returning to an in depth discussion of the Spurs’ draft prospects. It was damn near revolutionary, I tell you what.

4) I haven’t been running.

I had trouble getting back into gear after the half marathon and had a disastrous run at the Autism 8K memorial day weekend. I decided to take a forced two weeks off of running, and then my first day back I managed to hurt my foot in a way not easily healed unless I stopped everything. I did about a month of short runs and inclined bike at the gym, but I have Beat The Blerch coming up in September and I am 100% untrained. I’m also signed up for three more race after that, too, so something has got to give.

I joined a gym so that I’d have someplace to go run during the worst of the heat. I’ve learned something important about the gym, and that is if you go during an “off” time you are going to see a gallery of bad exercise decisions the likes of which you cannot even dream. The early, lunch and evening crew all have a certain amount of horse sense that comes with being employed or otherwise driven to adhere to human schedules. The mid-crew? Not so much. People are leaned over on stair machines with the resistance jacked all the way up, heaving themselves sideways while fully dressed in street clothes. And those are the sane people. On a sane day.

5) Home Organization

I cleared through my daughter’s playroom and got all the little pieces of everything into individually labelled bucketssssszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Yeah that was a non-starter.

6) My Fishtank.

For my daughter’s second birthday I set up a 100 gallon salt water fish tank. Or more like, I set up a 100 gallon fish tank in the four weeks leading up to her birthday and then bought her two starter fish in what would ultimately become my pet project. The tank’s population has swelled and dwindled quite a few times. The past four months we’ve only had these soul killing damsel fish and a couple of black and white clown fish. The guy who fixes it up for us brought in a new filter a few weeks ago and the newly clean tank inspired me to repopulate it. My daughter is now much older than she was when we got the tank and she’s able to help with upkeep of the fish. She’s particularly adept at feeding them frozen shrimp, which is good because I can’t stand touching the water and would therefore never do it.

Overall we enjoy the tank, but I’m here to share a few truths about fish keeping

  • 40% of your new fish will die within 48 hours of getting into the house. The odds are no better for $60 salt water fish than they would be with a carnival goldfish.
  • 90% of the fish that die in the first 48 hours are going to be the fish your kid picked out and got attached to on the ride home.
  • 100% of the fish your kid pick out are going to be characters from Finding Nemo.

DORIE. I have removed at least five dead incarnations of Dorie from this tank in two years. The fish itself is a blue tang, which is particularly vulnerable to skin disease and generally crapping out under stress. Nothing is more stressful than a new tank. The Dorie before this one died of an apparent stroke less than an hour after getting home. The current Dorie has Ick, which means he/she is not long for this world.

…I think that’s what I have for now. Next time we’ll talk about [unbloggable.] Or [unbloggable.] Or maybe we’ll put aside all of that and get right down to delving deep into [unbloggable.]

No promises, though.