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

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.

 

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.

uShip – ItsOnMyWay Shipping – Motorcycle Moving Review

You can check out the profile of the movers/shippers here:

http://www.uship.com/profile/Itsonmyway/

I wanted to share my experience with using uShip, and using ItsOnMyWayDispatch to ship my bike from Tempe (Phoenix), Arizona to Austin, Texas. I have a 2012 Honda CBR 250R (not the sportiest of bikes, but gets the job done, and has great gas mileage). I was in two minds over whether to try selling it in Phoenix, or have it shipped to Austin. Now, I looked at a few motorcycle shipping websites, and though I’m sure they know what they are doing, and are very good at it, it was costing me $700 to get my bike shipped. Now, bear in mind that if you have a $15,000 CBR1000 RR, or a Harley or something, it makes absolutely good sense. For a $4,500 bike, that’s a substantial fraction of the bike’s cost to make it attractive enough to sell the bike instead of having it shipped.
I then found uShip, and on 09-13-2014, posted an entry there with my requirements, and the price the website suggested. (You can quote higher or lower.) uShip offered to ship my bike for roughly half that price, and suddenly it was attractive enough – and I get to keep my beloved bike instead of selling it. I didn’t have any hard and fast requirements as to when I wanted the bike delivered, but I did want it picked up soon, as I was moving out-of-town. My offer was accepted by ItsOnMyWay shipping on the same day, only a few minutes later (8 minutes to be exact) – wow! Now, I had a couple of extra items I wanted carried with the bike – like a bike jacket, my tank bag, helmet, chain lock, swingarm stand …etc. Had I tried carrying these with me on a flight it would have been one checked luggage worth of stuff. I could have mailed it with USPS, but the Kryptonite chain locks tend to be real heavy – something which would have translated to extra money. The folks at ItsOnMyWay – Cameron and Marvin, were nice enough to be able to accommodate all of that for no extra charge which is really appreciated. I also checked with them to see if they use soft tie down straps, and they did. I wish they would show it better in their pictures though – they are not doing themselves justice with the pictures they have currently on uShip. (something I have told them as well – take some time out, and add good photos of just one bike tied down.)
Pick Up:
The bike was picked up on 09-14, (yes, a mere day after I posted the listing on uShip). Marvin was in touch with me, and after I told him that I would not be available between 11 and 3, he got to my place first while he had planned to come a little later. Again, top-notch customer service. My bike was quickly loaded onto their covered trailer (you can see pictures on uShip), and nicely secured with tie down straps.
Delivery:
The bike was promised to be delivered on 09-19 (which if you think of it, is just 5 days later for a ~1000 mile distance.) I was anyway supposed to come to Austin only on the 17th, so this was wonderful for me. Marvin kept me updated as he was nearing my place, and gave me sufficient time and heads up to be home by the time he arrived. He said he had experienced heavy rains and a flat. The heavy rains I can certainly attest to. Must have been difficult conditions to drive in. The bike was delivered in wonderful condition. I needed to get a 12k mile service done anyway, so I had the bike serviced right after I got it delivered, and it is now running just as wonderfully as before.

Grand Canyon-Rim to Rim Hike

Ok, while a lot of planning went into trying to make this trip happen, it never did, due to unforeseen circumstances. Bummer! Hopefully, we’ll do it someday in the future, and take pride in having done it.

I even had a t-shirt with a QR code embedded in it with a link to this page :) I’m never wearing that t-shirt in public sight till I complete the hike some day, and have a link to that page in here, so that at least some pride can be salvaged if people ever decide to whip out their smart phones, and look up the QR code.