Road Trip-Thanksgiving 2014 – Post 1 of 8 – Drive from Austin,TX to El Paso, TX and drive from El Paso, TX to Phoenix, AZ

This is the first in a series of 8 posts, not including the introductory post.

1. Drive from Austin, TX to El Paso, TX and drive from El Paso, TX to Phoenix, AZ (Day 1,2)

Day 01- 11-21-2014 -> Austin, TX to El Paso, TX

I had already fueled my car and packed my stuff the day before and loaded it into my car. So I was prepared, and wanted to leave early in the evening directly from work to save some time, and to try and miss the traffic on Loop 360 in the evening. I managed to leave around 4:45 pm.

My Destination was a motel in El Paso, TX and according to Google maps, it was 567 miles away and would take me ~ 8 hours to get there. I would have expected to reach around 01:00 am Austin time, which I found out was 02:00 am in El Paso, TX.

The route was to get to RM 2224/ Bee Caves Road, on to 71, on to RM 3238, 12, W Hwy 290, 281, 290, I 10 and keep driving on I-10 till you reached El Paso. Google Maps was doing some crazy things right after I started where instead of showing 8 hours, it kept saying 10 hours. I was’t sure if it had the right route, so I had to stop at a Chevron on RM 2224, and make sure I had the right route before I headed on. With 8 hours, and sun going to set pretty fast, I didn’t have any plans of seeing any thing on the way. Also, since I had to do the driving duties, I didn’t have the luxury of sleeping less and visiting more places, or the time before hand to plan properly to stop at National Parks/ State Parks/ Historic Sites …etc. I think I’ll have to keep that for another time.

By the time I hit Hamilton Pool road (RM 2238), it began pouring suddenly, and pretty heavy at that. My visibility was pretty badly reduced. It rained for the next one hour or so – not the ideal way to start on a road trip. :) The Lyndon B Johnson State Park and Historic Site on Hwy 290 would be something I’d like to visit – but it’s close enough to Austin that I should be able to do it on any weekend. Fredericksburg was also pretty interesting to see – again close enough to Austin to do any time, so I’ll not feel too bad about not stopping there.

Other places I might have been interested to stop at: South Llano River State Park, Caverns of Sonora and McDonalds Observatory. Big Bend seems out of the way, and too close to Mexico, but I’d want to do it some day.

The MobilyTrip app crash caused the data to get wiped out, so I’ll have to look for the fuel bill or a photo I took to see where I was stopped. Found it from a photo to be Fort Stockton, TX. Interestingly at the gas station, the gas was just being filled as I got my coffee and came back out. It’s amazing that gas stations can run out of gas – good thing they don’t need to go anywhere :)

Near El Paso, I 10 runs pretty close to Mexico. But like someone remarked about the drive, it was pretty uneventful, boring long stretch – the only exciting thing about which is the high speed limit. I guess I didn’t lose much by driving after sunset – no views, vistas …etc.

Transcript from Journal Entry recorded on Voice Recorder 01:11 am Mountain Time:

05:30 pm rain stopped. 06:30-06:45 pm, reached Fredericksburg, TX. 07:30 pm hit I-10. Speed limit was 80mph. Decent amount of traffic – not alone on the road. Dead carcasses of animals on the sides of the road. Already dark. Deer carcasses on the sides. One wolf like animal crossed the road in front of me. Should have been able to stop if it had stopped on the road. Another animal came out from the left side, (i.e., the median side) peeked out and then went back in. I was a little surprised to see animals come from the median side of the road. Good thing I was driving with high-beam on. 08:00 pm had a bread slice from morning left in the car. 09:15 – 09:30 pm stopped for gas and Subway. Subway was closed. Google maps was giving wrong directions to the open Subway. Had to check with someone, who was able to direct me to the right place. Fueled the car, and got coffee. Maybe started around 10:00pm – search for Subway cost me some time. Half an hour’s stop including the fueling and dinner. Had half the sub. 270 miles left to El, Paso. On reaching Ramada El Paso, check in clerk took his own time to get me checked in. He did make a remark about how he has interestingly never been to Austin, but been to California instead. When asked where he was from, he was from El Paso. Pretty funny if you think about it. He also made a remark about not stopping at any of the smaller towns on the way and how they could be dangerous. I should read up on that. Went to the room, wolfed down the remaining half a sub, and hit the bed. The room itself was pretty ok – nothing fancy. But I was tired and just wanted to sleep.

Some research on animals one can spot on I-10:

http://www.texasalmanac.com/topics/environment/wildlife

Can’t really say what animals I spotted apart from deer. There were at least a couple more.

 Day 02- 11-22-2014 -> El Paso, TX to Phoenix, AZ

This was a drive I undertook eagerly, since I’d get to be back in Tempe and Chandler, where I have lived for the past 3+ years. The only small disappointment was when I found out that El Paso was also on mountain time, and I wouldn’t gain any time magically when I arrived at Phoenix. The breakfast at Ramada was alright. They had boiled eggs, bread, cereal …etc and the quality of food was pretty ok. I took some coffee to go for the road.

To Do: Add More on Day 02, check to see if there is a recorded journal – add it’s transcript. Add some photos.

Road Trip-Thanksgiving 2014

I was about to start on a post, and then realized that I had a draft saved off – phew. Saved me-self some work.

The Plan

Written on 11-21-2014

I have a week off at work for Thanksgiving. Most people generally have 4 days off, (Thu,Fri,Sat,Sun) but I’m lucky to have a 9 day break instead. (Sat-Sun) I wanted to do a Euro-trip, and was really hoping that this was the right break and the right time, but due to my Visa related reasons, I couldn’t. Bummer!

I had a long term dream of Bicycling from San Francisco to San Diego, but then had totally forgotten about it. It’s apparently supposed to take 5-6 days, and would have been wonderful. (Can’t remember where I bookmarked the post I read. I did find others, but want the original article, since that is what inspired me to do it.) If I had remembered this well in advance, I might have done this, but this is something I recollected only after forming other plans. So, this is something that’s going in my bucket list as well. (apart from the Europe trip)

Finally, I decided I’d do a road trip. Nothing extremely crazy, but still hopefully crazy enough. Here’s my rough plan as of now (some plans will evolve as I go.)

High Level Summary:
TX -> AZ -> CA -> UT -> AZ -> TX.
9 Days
Meet Friends, Hike, Run.

More Details:
Fri – Leave from Austin, TX by evening and reach El Paso, TX by night. Night cap at El Paso, TX.
Sat – Leave from El Paso, TX by early morning and reach Phoenix, AZ by afternoon.
I have a few friends in the Phoenix area I’d like to meet. I also have some belongings of mine in my old house that I need to pick up. (Assuming my friend hasn’t thrown them out. :) )

I also hope to do a couple of runs or hikes. I originally wanted to carry my bike on the trip, but that might be a bit much. I really miss the canal paths of the Tempe/Chandler/Mesa area though.

Let’s see – if all goes to plan, I want to run on Tempe Town lake. I also want to hike Squaw Peak. (Piestewa Mountains).

Sun – In Phoenix, AZ. The hike might have to happen on Sunday instead of Sat.
Mon – Leave from Phoenix, AZ by early morning and reach Santa Clara, CA by early evening. Might get to catch up with friends.
Tue – In SFO. Might want to run somewhere, or hike Mission Peak.
Wed – In SFO. Might want to run somewhere, or hike Mission Peak. The coastline near Golden Gate is a wonderful place to run.
Also meet friends and family.
Leave Santa Clara, CA by early evening. Destination (needs syncing with other friends)
Thu,Fri,Sat – Somewhere in the mountains of Northern AZ, Southern UT. (plan needs syncing with other friends.)

Sat – Leave from “X” by evening, and reach Phoenix, AZ by night. Night cap at Phoenix.
Sun – Leave from Phoenix, AZ by morning. Drive to El Paso, TX by lunch. Take a break. Drive back to Austin, TX by late evening.

I’ll try and log more details, trip times, photos …etc.

Actual Execution

Written on 12-01-2014

Most of the plan stayed the same with some exceptions. Utah got thrown out of the picture. No hikes/runs either in the bay area or in the Phoenix area. I had wanted to run on/near the Golden Gate bridge, do the Mission peak hike, and the Squaw peak hike. Among other things I had wanted to do but forgot or didn’t have time to do – have Matcha Green Tea Frappe at Pete’s Coffee and visit the Apple store at Cupertino. Had to make do with walks instead. Also, left one day early from Kingman, AZ (marked X in the plan above.) and reached Phoenix on Friday night instead of Saturday. Drove back to Austin a day early (Sunday – 11-29-2014) to have enough time to rest and recharge before office on Monday. (12-01-2014)

I think I’ll break the post into multiple smaller posts as it would be an awfully longer post otherwise. Also, I think some sections of the trip need more details than the others – so it’s justified to have their own posts

1. Drive from Austin to El Paso, TX and drive from El Paso, TX to Phoenix, AZ (Day 1,2)

2. Phoenix, AZ (Day 2,3,4)

3. Drive from Phoenix, AZ to San Mateo, CA (Day 4)

4. San Mateo, CA (Day 4,5,6)

5. Drive from San Mateo, CA to Kingman, AZ (Day 6)

6. Drive from Kingman, AZ to Supai Hilltop, AZ and hike down (Day 7)

7. Hike to falls, and drive back to Phoenix, AZ (Day 8)

8. Drive from Phoenix, AZ to Austin, TX (Day 9)

I used an app called MobilyTrip to try and track my journey. The app was not very intuitive, and I did not take enough time to try and experiment with it or familiarize myself with it. I need to see if it has any sensible data on it, and can show any good trends, and data like when I stopped where, how long I took to drive a section, how many miles …etc. I did occasionally forget to turn on the app, and it crashed on me once. I also tried taking photos of the trip meter and things like that at regular intervals to have some reference of time and distance, but I guess you need a small notebook and a lot of discipline to meticulously note down details. I did try recording some notes on my phone’s voice recorder – but will obviously have to pore through that to get meaningful details out. I also managed to get some good photos along the way. My hope is to pen down my experience driving, and note any interesting details. I always have an eye for numbers, so that’s something I’ll try and add as well.

Ascent Fliud Trainer

As soon as I bought my new bike, the weather God’s decided I must not ride, so the temperatures went plummeting down to sub-zero, and I was left sad. Considering weather can be too cold or too hot for at least 3-4 months a year, where I currently live, I thought it might not be a bad idea to get a Fluid trainer. I mean for the price you pay for some of these, it might end up costing you less than winter weather clothes.

The other reason I went ahead and bought it was, most bike stands seemed to cost ridiculous sums of money. Now, I either wanted a stand that can double up as a repair/maintenance stand, or this. Guess, I found more utility in this.

http://www.performancebike.com/reviews/performance/power/pwr/product-reviews/Indoor-Training/Indoor-Cycling-Trainers/Resistance-Trainers/ASCENT/p/40__3940-Ascent-Fluid-Trainer.html

http://www.nashbar.com/bikes/Product_10053_10052_556272_-1

http://www.amazon.com/Ascent-Fluid-Trainer/dp/B00BMRNU4I

Mine came from Nashbar directly. (I could have bought through Amazon, but just stuck to Nashbar’s site – maybe I shouldn’t have.)

I did some reading online about the different types of trainers, and which might be best. I still feel trainers should be used sparingly – I think the forces on the bike when it is held by the rear axle (although the contact point is the quick release skewer), is very different from when you ride it on the road – your weight is being partly supported by the front tire, the rear tire and then the quick release skewer and the place where it contacts the frame. Also, since the frame is not rigid, and cannot move side to side, there would be some forces associated with that as well. (Especially, if you decide to stand up and go at it hard.) There’s a bike Nashbar one (which is slightly more expensive, but) which might be better, since it has a quick release kind of lever for tightening the qr on your rear wheel.

Initial Impressions:

I gave it a whirl, and so far it seems to be doing pretty ok. I’ll add more details along the way.

 

Diamondback Century 2 – 2014 – Bicycle Review

I bought myself a new bike – yippe! My intention is to write a review here. For now, I’ll just add pictures.

==========================================
-1th Day Review: (Expectations and Impressions so far)
==========================================

I just ordered the bike on Amazon, and am yet to receive it. Why would anyone write a review even before having received and ridden the bicycle ? Well, I’ll tell you why.

I have been researching bikes for more than a year now. All along, I had a cheap Walmart bike (which I bought to get me across campus at University, so don’t judge me.) – a GMC Denali, which was a road bik-ish bike. It had the geometry of a road bike, 700*32 tires, and although it had it’s pain points, for < $200, I don’t see how anyone can complain. Chief among the issues was that the bike did not have integrated shifters – it had twist shifters to keep the cost down. But the frame was pretty decent, (Aluminum), and I didn’t have complaints about the bike in terms of weight and such. (Although if others had such concerns/complaints, they are justified in having them.) I have done some 1000+ miles on the bike, and though I haven’t done a 50mile ride or a century yet (the best I managed was some 44 miles.), I feel I can do it on a day with good weather. :)

Now back to the researching, I have been on the lookout for bikes for a long time now, though never in a hurry to buy one. I took time to read about the different frames, race vs endurance, different component groups …etc. I also read a couple of bicycling magazines regularly. I think from everything I read there, Specialized Allez, Trek 1.X, Giant Defy, Cannondale Synapse were some of the models the reviewers suggested for someone looking for a bike < $1000. While, all these bikes are good, you will find that for a $1000 equivalent, you will get Sora components.

Now, I moved recently from Tempe, AZ to Austin,TX and sold my Walmart bike in the process. After moving, all my known canal paths were no more available, and generally, from what I see of Austin, (and this may depend on where I live -South Austin.) not as many roads have bicycle lanes. I am yet to explore canal path equivalents. So, I was thinking, I’ll get a better bike than my last bike, but maybe in the $300 ish range. I checked and found some Schwinn bikes, Vilano, Giodarno …etc. Although, if you wanted integrated shifters – it cost you $600-$700. And with those models, you got either 2300/2400 or Sora components.

(There are other brands like Orbea, Fuji, Jamis …etc, but not all stores carry these bikes.)

I almost decided on a Vilano Forza 1.0, and then I saw this bike on sale on Amazon for $750, and when I saw 105 components on it, my eyes lit up like Christmas tree lights! (The Vilano Forza 1.0 for comparison has a no-name crank, 105 rear derailleur only, and Tiagra shifters, front derailleur …etc.) I then took time to read several reviews, and saw that stores like REI carried it. Well, I was floored! The only thing I don’t like about the bike so far is the white hood! I’m a little surprised mainstream magazines and websites haven’t started noticing Diamondback bikes yet. For the kind of prices, these bikes are a steal. Even for the full price of $1200, you’ll be hard pressed to find other bike brands with the same components.

I’m licking my lips in anticipation of getting the bike. I know I can assemble it – I have fixed broken spokes, fixed multiple flats, and tightened cables on my previous bike. I have also put together bikes for friends (although cheap college bikes – nothing fancy.) I am not sure how well, I’ll end up tuning it, but that’s why you have your LBS, multiple internet videos, how-to’s and books.

================================
0th Day Review: (Unboxing and Assembly)
================================

I took pains to write an update here, but that mysteriously disappeared. (Bummer!)

Delivery:
======
The box was left my UPS at my door. My apartment office does not take boxes larger than a certain size, so I guess that left the UPS delivery person with few options. Still, I would have liked for it not to be left unattended outside my door – considering it’s a $1200 bicycle. (Although I paid only $800+ for it.) Another thing I was slightly peeved about was that there was a spanner sticking out the hole in the box which is generally for lifting the box. (Photos attached.) The small parts box inside is meant for this, and I am not sure why it wasn’t inside that.

Packaging:
========
Coming to the packing itself, it was packed extremely well, with attention paid to detail. Every part that could be dinged was wrapped nicely in packing material, and there were plastic end-caps for the wheels, the fork …etc. Pretty impressive. The handlebar, the front tire and the seat-post are detached, but everything else is in place. After watching a video on youtube, I guess I understand that this is pretty much the standard way of packing good and expensive bikes. (The video haid a more expensive cervelo bike in it, and it was marginally better packed – i.e., the fork didn’t hit the bottom of the box, and most components were not assembled. But that’s the price you pay for semi-assembled.)

Parts:
=====

These are the parts the bike came as,

1. Frame with rear wheel, rear casette, derailleur, bottom bracket, crank arm, both gearing cables, rear brake cables, rear brake already assembled.
2. Seat/saddle. This is a decent Diamondback saddle.
3. Front wheel. (The picture doesn’t do justice to the wheels – they are DB Equation, but seem to be pretty good.)
4. Front brake caliper. (This needs to be mounted, and then you run the brake cable through and adjust it.)
5. Pedals! – Yes, the bike came with Wellgo pedals. Now, these won’t work with cleats/biking shoes, but are pretty decent otherwise. I bought another set of Wellgo pedals as I wasn’t sure if this came with it or not. Those will work with cleats.
6. Manuals – User Manual, Assembly Guide (which is pretty useless compared to the Diamondback website.) and individual sheets for the derailleurs, crankset ..etc.
7. Tool set – The spanner, that barely made it, and a set of Allen wrenches for assembly. (One of them was a Philips screwdriver I think.) I used my own tools, and didn’t bother using this or the ones in my multi-tool. (Those are for emergencies, you know.)
8. Extra spokes, and wire-end crimping thingy. (I don’t know what they are called – they look similar to the spoke nipples, except they are to keep your cable ends from fraying.)

The handlebar was separate, i.e., not connected.

Assembly:
========
Assembly is fairly easy, if you’ve done this before, use the DB website instructions, and have a decent set of tools. I only had to connect the seat post, tighten that, fit the handlebar, fit the front wheel. (with a quick release skewer), fit the brake caliper, and then connect the front brake cable through the caliper.

I did fine tune the brakes to make sure the contact was optimal on the rim.

Cutting the front brake cable with my cheap pliers that came with my tool box (not supplied with the bike) was a struggle. I knew it would be so, and tried cutting it 2.5in instead of 1.5 – 2in. (so that I would have room to work with if it went bad.) It did go bad, and horribly, and the end started fraying!! I then had to go rush and buy a better quality $10 pliers, to cut the cable, and put the crimping thing, on it. There is a special tool available for cutting the wire and crimping it, but I think at $30+, those are aimed at bike shops and not one time users. I didn’t buy it because I didn’t think I’d need it.

Accessories:
==========
I put 2 lights on the handlebars – 1 to focus on the road and remain always on, and the other to make me visible to road motorists, by keeping it on the blinking mode. On the seat post, I mounted my Topeak wedge pack, put in my CrankBrothers multi-tool, a spare tube, tire levers, patch kit, emergency contact information, and some cash + bandaids. I also mounted a red reflector and a red light on the seat post. I attached two Ibera bottle cages I bought on Amazon next – and under one of them went the portable pump (Topeak pocket rocket) and it’s mount. I bought Aluminum colored ones, but maybe white would have gone better with the bike. I am still waiting for my Sigma cadence wired computer to be delivered, and that will be next to go on the bike. I also used some 3M reflective stickers to make myself and the bike more visible at night. (done tastefully, and not garishly.)

The bike did not come with a chain stay protector, and I have ordered one on Amazon. My previous bike took some hits to the chain stay, and I think having one is generally beneficial.

Stand:
=====
I didn’t want to install a kick-stand , and I wasn’t even sure if I could on this bike. I looked up some bicycle stands, and they all seemed expensive for what they were doing. Generally $30 or more. I finally decided to get a Fluid Trainer from another website to also double as a stand. The weather is pretty cold this time of the year, so I figured a trainer would be useful.

Sizing:
=====
I am 5’11” and after looking at some fit web-sites, and looking at the sizing guide itself, I decided to get the 58cm instead of the 56cm. I am glad to report that the standover height is > 1inch, and the bike fits me very well. (The previous bike I had was a 57cm, but the frame geometry might have been quite different. so it’s hard to compare with just one number.)

Couple of pain points – they stuck a couple of stickers on the bike that I wouldn’t have wanted – I’ll just need to find a way of removing them without causing any issues with the paint.

=====================
1st Day Review: (First Ride)
=====================

I got to have my first ride yesterday – it was a short one. It was 35 degrees outside, so I just wanted to take a quick ride within my apartment complex, and see how the shifting works, and if the brakes were ok, if my riding stance was comfortable …etc. Full marks on all fronts – the bike fits just perfectly. My saddle height adjustment seemed to be just right. Shifting was nice and smooth. (It took me a while to figure out that the smaller lever was for a smaller cog, and not an easier gear (on the rear casette.) :) On the front crank, the smaller lever takes you to an easier gear. ) Brakes were pretty good, and the bike feels comfortable while being plenty fast. Once I get in a couple of longer rides, I’ll find out how much better this bike is than my previous bike.

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xxx mile Review:
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When I get to it.

Reading

The “About Me” page on Goodreads pretty decently encapsulates things about my reading and reading habits, but they have a word limit in there.

However, here’s an interesting aspect I’ve never talked about to too many people. I never touched a “serious” book. What do I mean by that and why the choice ?

Well, let’s see – I always lapped away at Fiction – you know, the fast paced, ex-CIA no longer with the Government kind of books, or in some cases even slower books, more drama, definitely stirs some of your emotions, (other than just getting your adrenaline pumping.) and has some kind of a message of what’s right and wrong in this world, and all that kind of stuff.

I consciously avoided self-help books because, I always felt it was a bunch of hooey. If people could read books and be successful, first you wouldn’t need so many books, and second, everyone would be successful. Any school kid with half a brain should, simply by observing the world around him know that, that is empirically not possible, and hence you should run while you can, when you see these books. I am not saying people cannot be marginally more successful, or for a small set of people, it will totally change their lives – it might. I’m no shrink – I don’t know what rocks those people’s boat.

But by saying serious, I didn’t mean self-help books. I meant the really good books – they books that made you think, about the problems of the world, about grand philosophy, about what’s really right and wrong – about challenging everything you’ve been taught and thinking beyond. I consciously didn’t read any of those books – I certainly had the opportunity to, had some good books suggested to me, had the interest, but I didn’t.

It might sound stupid when I say why. As a teenager, I knew that I didn’t want to know of these idea, I didn’t want to think about them – I didn’t want to challenge myself intellectually – to become serious, to mull about the world’s problems. I just liked myself the way I was, and didn’t want my ideals to by influenced and shaped by great works. I wanted to find out who I truly was, before I went about reading these books, and letting them shape/fine-tune my thoughts and actions. I always believed that these books changed you in some irreversible way. Once you read them, there’s no going back. You can’t go back to where you were, a week later and forget all of the ideas in there. Looking back, maybe it was a good idea, maybe it wasn’t. My life might have turned out very differently – can’t say for better or worse, but definitely different.

But, now having read book after book of fiction, I think, I finally crave these books, I want my ideas to be challenged, I want my perception of what is right in the world, and what is wrong to be challenged and broadened. Of course, it is a serious undertaking. And unless you do something useful with the way you have processed the information, maybe it’s of no use to anyone. But I think I’m going to give it a shot anyway. I’ll maybe even write down my thoughts on how it goes.

In search of the perfect Wrist-Wearable

You have two wrists – (well, one or none in some cases – see I don’t generalize.) and there are a lot of corporations out there, who seem to be vying for the real estate on them. I have no interest in comparing the offerings, or suggesting what might or might not work for you. I just like to think about what I might like, and think out aloud sometimes – that way, like minded people can resonate with me and there is this cosmic resonance… (ok, that’s a lot of bull, so I’ll cut it.) Anyhoo, here are my thoughts,

  • What do I need and what don’t I need ?

This is a difficult one – let’s see what I would actually want.

  • An ABC watch with Solar charging, and Atomic time syncing. It should be able to measure changes in altitude, temperature, barometric pressure and record the same, and be able to export it into fitness apps …etc. Currently my Casio Protrek, comes pretty close, although it has no way of showing a trend graph, (except for the small barometric change graph it displays) or exporting the data. It also has a compass and temperature sensor. This should never have to be charged, and the protrek series is indeed like that, not to mention it looks brilliant. The compass might be useful if you are into trekking. (But I’ll be honest and admit, I don’t know how to get my bearings :D (pun intended) )
  • To this, add a triathlon watch (like many Garmin offerings, or the Suunto offerings) – GPS, ability to sync to a tracking website – can differentiate between cycling, swimming and running. (or, you have to explicitly choose a mode) Also, has a HR strap, (or a wrist based HR tracker if it is sufficiently accurate) a foot dongle (or whatever else you call it) and cadence sensors for the bicycle with which it can sync. There are watches like these – and they are getting better, although a common complaint seems to be – they don’t last an entire triathlon with GPS on. Maybe with the tracking granularity turned way down, they do. Did I mention “to this add” – meaning, I want only a single device that can do ABC + this, and more. See a GPS takes care of the altitude information at least. so that becomes redundant in an ABC. I am not too sure about the digital compass. I would assume this device needs to be charged before every serious workout.
  • An activity tracker that can track my activity throughout the day and track my sleep if it claims so. I wouldn’t mind a heart rate tracking sensor in there either. I have read the heart rate sensors in activity trackers are tuned to normal activity and don’t do well in extreme conditions i.e., when you are actually exercising. That’s ok – we have the heart rate monitor strap from (ii) remember. This device should also be able to sync it’s data wirelessly and hold charge at least for a week. Water proofing is always good – especially, if I don’t have to take it off in the shower. The aim of this is, to perform the function of a pedometer, when my phone is not on my pocket – for instance in office my phone is almost never in my pocket – at home, my phone is almost never in my pocket – it’s always on a desk somewhere. Also, sleep tracking is a nice feature I’d like to try out. One thing I am kind of worried is double counting – i.e., if I track a run with my GPS watch, and sync that to a site, I don’t want this double counting my steps for that workout. I’d then  have to take it off when performing actual runs, or at least turn it off. (considering the HR data will be junk anyway, who cares.) Of course, if a single device has things integrated, I’d assume it would automatically complement the run data with this step counting, and not double count things.

Now if someone can make a device that does all of the above, and for base minimal functionality – you never have to charge the device, for the activity tracking, you charge it once a week, and for the workout tracking (GPS based), you charge it before every workout, even if it costs $500 – consider me sold. So, in essence even if you device cannot track GPS data, it should still perform ABC functionality based on the battery that is solar charged. I don’t see why the solar charging can’t be efficient enough to also include the activity tracking functionality, but maybe it isn’t yet.

  • Now on to what I don’t need:

I definitely don’t need a device – no matter how fancy, that needs to be charged once a day or once in two days. I find it hard enough to charge my phone once or twice a day. It would be a tremendous pain to keep including devices that run out of charge. Yes, I’m talking about a smart watch. Also, if it needs to sync to my phone and my phone runs out of charge it is redundant anyway. 

I am also wondering if I need the triathlon watch at all. Sure, if I did a lot of swimming- which I don’t – I might. But if I am going to carry my phone, which I do for running and cycling anyway, I’m not sure I need a GPS device inside a watch to do that – considering it drains battery pretty quickly. Plus, I’ll use my phone to listen to music as well. I use a BT headset which I pair with my phone, and it gives me voice feedback when I use apps like Endomondo on it. Now, there are specialized headphones which can play music without the need for a phone (Sony has some offerings – but I’d get bored of listening to the same music over and over again.) There are also other bluetooth headsets that come with a FM radio – which might actually be pretty useful in case you’re not carrying your phone. This is one scenario where you might need a GPS chip in your watch – and can leave your phone at home. Or if you feel you are not used to running professional events with a phone, then you might need GPS in your watch.

I also don’t think I have any use for the smart watch functions – looking at texts on the watch, answer phone calls with the watch, change music tracks on the watch (that might actually be useful on the runs, but I can do it on my headset as well.) Did I mention I don’t want to charge it every day. However, displaying workout related metrics on screen is always nice to get instant feedback while running or cycling.

Now, since no single device exists that can do all I want it to do – not today at least. (maybe not in the near future either), I think from the above, since I already own the Protrek – which I think will soon be going away as a useful device, I think the only other device that makes sense is an activity tracker. Fitbit’s new ones looks like a good one. I’d be interested in both the Charge HR and the Surge – especially if the Surge’s battery can last the same as the Charge HR. (5 days is the claim)

As a footnote, the recently released Microsoft Band is supposed to have a host of sensors, but I don’t know what it does with it anyway. (apart from the HR monitor and the accelerometer that is.) What would you do with a UV sensor and a galvanic skin temperature sensor ? (The ABC watch has a temperature sensor anyway ;) ) Some people say the UV sensor can tell you the UV index. Well, you should be able to tell that by the place you live in, and how sunny it looks. For instance, in Arizona, that sensor might be stating the obvious. Even otherwise, the most this can probably tell you if you should use sunscreen. In the larger scheme of things, maybe it can be used to study skin cancer in athletes or something like that based on the exposure levels and duration of exposure – now, that would definitely be useful.

There are other activity trackers out there – from Polar, Garmin, Basis, Jawbone and so many more. You should check out the DC Rainmaker website if you haven’t – especially if you are looking for meaningful comparisons and looking at buying something.

Update 11-17-2014

After some consideration and thought, I decided to buy myself a Jawbone Up. (Ver 1.0) I thought I could use the continuous step tracking for the times I don’t have my phone, and don’t want to necessarily track it as an activity. I am pretty meticulous about tracking any outdoor activity or any activity on the treadmill, but this was to get an idea as to how well I was doing otherwise. The band itself is pretty un-obtrusive, and I like the sleep tracking function it has. I also like the idle alert. However, I need all of my data to be exportable, and to be viewed on a computer, and not just on a phone. I love Endomondo for this. I hope Jawbone will come up with a web interface sometime soon. I don’t mind waiting for that. But if they don’t I have no qualms about jumping ship to someone else that does.

As an interesting afterthought, I wonder if having a smartphone in your pocket while cycling gives you pretty decent cadence data compared to wearing something on your wrist. I feel it does, when your leg moves up and down, I think the accelerometer can register it, and count it as a step.

Also, I read about the fact that using it on your dominant vs non-dominant hand is supposed to make a difference. I currently thus use it on my non-dominant hand.

Another big consideration for me is that if a GPS tracker claims to do sport based tracking, it has to handle at least running and cycling, even if not swimming. I almost bought the nike+ watch a few months back, but then read that it doesn’t support a bicycling mode. Bummer! I like the foot pod though – but I guess the wrist based trackers myst be just as accurate if not more.

Flipkart Fiasco

Flipkart is something of a butt of internet jokes at the moment. Meme creators are going after the e-commerce website like nobody’s business. :) (Not that I have anything against them – it keeps me entertained.)

Even ‘The Hindu’ had an article quoting tweets and memes. Other facebook groups like ‘Srini Mama’ are doing a fine job of creating memes that cater to a section of the population (Tamil speaking, tamil movie watching.)

Flipkart Sale: Mega success or epic fail ?

Flip(ped)kart

While the innuendos are adorable, and the memes are truly well thought of, I think the Indian e-consumer needs to get some perspective of things.

Most of people’s crib’s about Flipkart have been around for ages on other e-commerce platforms. Amazon for instance has ridiculously priced items too – of course people make awesome fun of it, and Amazon itself sometimes publicizes it. Read about this watch – specifically the first customer review.

There’s also, Amazon’s own list of awesomely written reviews. There’s also this – especially the horse mask.

A lot of times, there are algorithms in the background that will set the price ridiculously high or ridiculously low. There have been many instances of prices being entered wrong, and the seller not being able to fulfill the order because it would be ridiculous to. Of course, when the prices are low, we aren’t complaining – when the price is accidentally high, instead of contacting the customer care, and trying to resolve the issue, we end up posting it on social media – not at all a wrong thing to do. I guess either way, the retailer ends up correcting the price even if only eventually.

Amazon (in the US) definitely does a better job in terms of the website being up, but they are a software behemoth that knows exactly what they are doing.

Price Changes:

When Amazon slashes prices of items already on discount, they show it as a two-step discount. (i.e., original price, discounted price, further discounted price.) This way people don’t think the prices are being inflated before being offered a discount. But anyone who has used plugin’s like camel know – there is no price guarantee in online e-commerce. The prices vary with the retailer intelligently trying to guess how much a person is willing to pay. So, if indeed the prices go up from time to time, there is nothing to complain about. However, if Flipkart did increase the prices of items beyond reasonable limits of what it was before, only to show deep discounts, that was clearly unethical.

There have also been complaints about the prices of some items on Flipkart being more than competing sites, and also being more than a direct retailer price. Again, nothing new – you will find things like this on Amazon as well. Some resellers price the items the way they want – and Amazon doesn’t control it. If you want it bad enough, and are lazy to do some research, then you will end up paying more.

Out-of-Stock Issues:

As for only a small number of items being available at discount, maybe Flipkart could have done a better job of advertising that – but maybe they didn’t want to kill the buzz. Thanksgiving shopping is similar in the US in terms of availability – the amazing deals like eggsbox (sic!) for $50 – there are probably 5-10 per store. Chances are you won’t get your hands on it. It will take people a couple of years to get used to this, and then they will eventually realize, unless they really must have it – like the Gollum must have his precious, it’s not worth the hassle. That consumer maturity will come with time.

Cancellations

This really has no excuses – you should be able to handle multiple requests coming in at the same time. Anyone who knows anything about transactional databases knows that this cannot and should not happen.

All said and done, a bad day for Flipkart, but the consumer needs to understand that if a discount sounds too good to be true, chances are – it is. Most deeply discounted items are also generally useless. As an interesting after thought, I wonder how much resellers make on products if they can afford to routinely give 40-60% off. Are they selling items at a slight loss when then sell it at 60% off ? Or does it mean goods are extremely marked up ? One wonders.

P.S: I buy some stuff on Flipkart from time to time – especially books and music CD’s. (well, music CD’s because (a) I don’t always like enjoying music for free, and (b) I like lossless music, and there is no website where I can purchase lossless Indian music! (at least not that I know of) ) I also compare prices on amazon.in on the books – and have found that no one website has the best price every single time. It keeps changing.