A Bumpy Road to the Quantified Self

Fitbit tracking data So for the holidays this year, I received a Fitbit Force as a gift (thanks boss!).

I’d been considering getting an activity tracker for some time now – the main thing stopping me was that all the wrist-based trackers didn’t particularly fit my personal style. Still, once I actually had a Fitbit, I figured I’d give it a try.

A few weeks in, there’s a lot to like about the Fitbit Force. It’s surprisingly accurate in differentiating arm movement from actual motion. Cordless synching with the Android app makes keeping the data updated a breeze. And the most powerful tool by far has been combining my food intake tracking with activity tracking. Being able to see at a glance how many calories a day I have left in my ‘budget’ makes me a lot more mindful about my food choices.

Plus, like many people, I’ve struggled for years with finding the time and motivation to exercise. Now I can see exactly what kind of difference exercising versus not exercising has on my calorie intake. I love it. I’ve finally found something that motivates me to get my butt off the couch, and that’s great.

So what’s the problem? Getting the damn thing onto my wrist each day – there is no way it should be this hard to use! The Force has the worst clasp I’ve ever used, bar none. The fact that Fitbit needs to put a video on their website showing how to use the clasp suggests they were aware that it was an issue but chose to put it out anyway. Not their best decision.

Even after watching the video & a couple of weeks’ practice, getting the two prongs to click in every morning is a frustrating struggle that usually involves multiple tries and some curse words. I don’t know what Fitbit was thinking or who they tested it on, but as much as I like the data I’m getting from the Force, it’s bad enough to make me seriously think about using a different device.

The Phoenix Project

Flying through Paragon City

I spent several happy years heavily addicted to the late great MMO City of Heroes. It was the first MMO I ever played, and the one I loved the most.

So when I recently heard from a friend that there was a serious attempt to bring a new CoH-inspired MMO to life, I was very interested. And when I heard that their Kickstarter to fund development of City of Titans had fully funded in just the first few days, I was thrilled.

It takes a lot of work to create an MMO and there are no guarantees that this new project will ever see the light of day. I’m impressed by the effort Missing Worlds Media has put into the project, though, and am cautiously optimistic that some day I’ll be able to roll up a new hero and maybe even restart the old supergroup.

A girl can dream, right?

What People Get Wrong About Google Glass

Woman wearing Google Glass With the first wave of Google Glass out in the hands of Google I/O attendees and other early adopters, there’s been a lot of debate about the role of Glass in the future.

In the last few years, there’s been a big surge in wearable computing in the health and fitness field. And another one in smartphone apps that leverage the phone’s accelerometer, GPS, and gyroscope to bring the physical world closer to the online world.

Even casual joggers don’t think twice today about using a heart rate monitor when they’re exercising today. Fitness enthusiasts are tracking themselves 24 hours a day, sharing the data with their friends, and debating whether the Jawbone Up or the Fitbit Flex is the better monitoring tool. Using a smartphone app to get realtime turn-by-turn directions is table stakes. So why does Glass cause angst?

My colleague Christian Cantrell thinks the problem is the built-in camera, calling it “one of Glass’s biggest barriers to adoption” and I think he’s got a point.

By putting a camera right up by your face where everyone can see it, you’re raising awareness of the pervasiveness of cameras and video in ways that other forms of technology don’t. It’s not that Glass is all that much more invasive, it just feels that way.

It seems to me that a lot of the debate about the camera misses the point. Google Glass in its current form is quite likely not the shape of computing to come. The important thing about Glass is what it represents as a milepost along the path to the mainstreaming of wearable computing.

I’m eager to try out Glass at some point. But even more, I’m eagerly looking forward to what wearable computing will look like a few years from now – because I’m pretty sure it will owe a lot to Glass, even if it looks completely different.

New Phone! The HTC One

So HTC’s newest flagship phone – the HTC One – was released this week and lucky me, HTC sent me one as part of their launch. I’m a longtime fan of HTC phones, having used the Nexus One, the Inspire HD, and more recently the One X, but the HTC One is a big leap forward from all of these.

Short version: This phone is excellent. It looks, feels, and performs beautifully, and I just love using it. For more info, read on.

Getting Started

Out of the box, the HTC one feels great in your hand. It’s metal, not plastic, which means it’s a bit heavier than my One X, but not too heavy. The screen is beautiful. And the audio volume and quality are a big step forward.

HTC has a nice setup process that allows you to import data from a wide range of accounts. One new thing I found was the HTC Transfer Tool. As you might expect from the name, this transfers some data and settings (although mostly system stuff), including messages, contacts, music, and photos. After downloading the app onto my old phone and pairing the devices, it worked like a charm. Being able to transfer data across two phones without cables or using a computer was very nice. I just wish it included all my apps, not just HTC’s stuff.

HTC One Welcome screen
HTC One Welcome screen

For the rest, Google’s setup added some more apps and settings onto the one, and then finally I went into the Play Store and re-downloads the rest. it would be nice if setting up a new phone was a bit more seamless, but you only have to do it once per phone, so this isn’t that big of a deal. Plus it gives me the chance to re-evaluate what apps make the cut to go onto the new phone.

Using the HTC One

With the phone set up and my apps reinstalled, I could start to give the phone a real workout. Here are my impressions after three days with the HTC One.

There’s a few little things I’d like to see improved, but even so this is easily the best Android phone out there. Sorry, Samsung fans. Given Sense UI over TouchWiz I’ll take Sense any day.

And speaking of UIs, Sense 5 has gotten a nice overhaul. Lots of little tweaks and additions, a new icon set and font — overall a very clean and modern feel to it. I love the upgrades to the Gallery, bringing together the photos that I have in various places, like Flickr, Dropbox, Instagram, plus several others. The email client works great with both my home and office email accounts and looks nicer than the last version.

There’s been a lot of talk about the “UltraPixel” camera and how HTC is focusing not on pixel count but overall photo quality. I come at this from the perspective of what they call a “prosumer” photographer and as such I have a pretty high quality standard. The HTC One is as good as a camera in a smartphone is going to get, but it’s not going to be replacing my Nikon D5100 anytime soon. Here’s a sample indoor shot:

random cat photo shot with an HTC One
random cat photo

The audio quality, as I said earlier, is really excellent, as is the screen. Colors just pop and animations flow smoothly. Battery life is about the same as most phones in its class – decent but not spectacular (about 8 hours of moderate use). I turned down the default brightness to help with battery life but I haven’t made use of the built in “power saver” features.

Although overall I’m very happy with the HTC One, there are a couple of things I’m not completely thrilled with. Primarily, the new home screen. I’d like to be able to do more customization that it allows. The clock and weather widget, for example, can’t be customized at all. And the new BlinkFeed is frustrating, because while I really like the look, I’d like it a lot more if it would display my calendar first all the time and then my social updates and news. My phone is a work tool as well as a social one and access to my calendar is pretty critical. Not having that in my home screen is a big minus.

This is mitigated somewhat by being able to add my calendar notifications into the lock screen. I can live with that.

New BlinkFeed home screen. Click through for a full screen shot.
New BlinkFeed home screen. Click through for a full screen shot.

Also, the whole HTC Zoe Share thing. I still don’t quite get what the heck it is, and I don’t see a need for it. I have plenty of other ways to share my photos and videos already.

None of that is a show stopper, although I do hope HTC continues to work on BlinkFeed to give us more options there.

Anyway, those are my impressions after a few days of use. I look forward to a long and happy life with my HTC One, and would definitely recommend it if you’re in the market for a new phone. Even you iPhone users should take a look.

For an in-depth review, you might want to check out Android Central’s complete rundown.

One last note: I’m pairing my HTC One with a red Cruzerlite “Bugdroid” case. It’s a simple TPU case that doesn’t add a lot of extra bulk but offers some basic protection. Plus it’s cute.

My First Week on Ingress

Ingress has become something of an obsession to the folks over on Google+ in the last month. Like many, I waited more than a little impatiently to see if I’d be one of the lucky ones to get an invite to the currently closed beta of Ingress.

And a few weeks later, I did. Lucky me! Now I’d finally be able to see what all the buzz was about.

The initial experience of Ingress is slick and well thought out. You run through a set of tutorials that show you what to do, and you choose whether to become one of the Enlightened or join the Resistance. Easy enough.

Then you’re out in the world, with your smartphone and the Ingress app, getting engaged in the battle. That’s where I ran into trouble. I found a number of portals quite easily – there are four within a block of my home, and two more by my office. The only problem is, the battle has been advancing while I was waiting to play. As a lowly Level 1 newbie up against enemy portals several levels higher than me, I haven’t much of a chance to successfully attack them, and successful attacks are necessary to advance in level.

That creates a frustrating Catch-22, and I don’t know whether I’ll keep trying or not.

I’m disappointed, because I love the idea of Ingress. A game that requires real-world engagement instead of sitting home in front of your computer is a great idea. The mythology around Ingress is a lot of fun. But the barrier to entry, especially for places like the Bay Area with a lot of geeks, is a real issue.

Two Social Networks Diverged In The Woods

confusion demotivational poster

One of the projects I’ve had puttering on the back burner this summer has been what to do about my personal laptop. It’s a 13″ MacBook Pro that’s just finished its 3-year Applecare warranty. Although so far (knock wood!) it’s running just fine, being out of warranty means it’s time to do some thinking about what next.

Thanks to this year’s crop of hardware choices, what to do about replacing it has been a much harder decision than I expected. What I really want is a 15″ Macbook Air, but sadly that’s not an option. Hence my dilemma.

So over the weekend, Scott & I took a ride down to Palo Alto, where a Microsoft Store and an Apple Store sit side by side. We took a good hard look at the options. I came away more impressed than I thought I’d be by one of the Samsung ultrabooks (this one, if you’re curious). And then, like many confused people these days, I hit up my social networks for feedback. The results were interesting.

I posted essentially the same question on Facebook, Google+, and App.net. Both in terms of amount and quality of feedback, both Google+ and App.net smoked Facebook. At first that seemed surprising, but then it occurred to me that this was actually good validation of the “Strength of Weak Ties” theory.

The other interesting aspect was that I got very different answers on the different networks. The thread on Google+ leaned strongly towards the Samsung laptop, whereas App.net’s denizens were firm Apple advocates.

And then, when I was thinking about this, a related post hit my Twitter stream about being hooked on the familiar. Marco’s main focus is PHP, but the broader point is true for operating system changes as well. When the choice is a familiar OS on a form factor I don’t want, or a less familiar OS on a form factor I do want, the pull of the familiar makes the choice a lot harder than it should be.