“Automation is just as much about consistency and accuracy as it is about time”

Dr. Drang at the end of a recent post:

People often cite this cartoon by Randall Munroe to point out that automation doesn’t always save time.
XKCD 1319: Automation
But automation is just as much about consistency and accuracy as it is about time. I feel more confident in my corrected directions because they were done by a script instead of by hand.

I’ve said this at work too… I write tools to do my job, especially mundane tasks, because I inevitably screw it up. If I can teach a computer to do it once, it’s repeatable.

(I do smooth out the curve a bit… for one report I make I have an excel book that I can cut and paste the contents of an automatically generated CSV into. The tradeoff here is that I didn’t write Python that could edit the original excel workbook)

Where I’ve run and biked…

Personal Heatmap

After finding some heat map tools while researching a different project, I decided to try to load all of the FIT files from my watch and bike computer into a map and see what comes out. Some patterns definitely show up too… Obviously there’s a dense blob where I typically run around the house and the office. But also: the large loops to the north are from my Tour de Cure rides; the yellow gash down the left edge is from when my watch turned on when I was flying home from Toronto (back when Albany International Airport had international flights); that same yellow gash cuts through two different times when I left my watch running when leaving the Christman Sanctuary.

It also points out to me how close Saratoga and the portions of central-western Saratoga County (north of Ballston) really are. I want to build some mileage during the summer, so seeing how close those places really are is encouraging, since there’s a lot of activity in that area on the Strava Global Heatmap.

I may throw the code up, but it isn’t deserving of being called crude. I have a local cache of FIT files that I save off my devices periodically, and the script just opens those files, looks for all of the latitude and longitude pairs in the activity, and adds them to the heat map (roughly 222k points). All of the coloring and stuff is handled by heatmap.js.

Thoughts on HealthKit

Initially, I believed that HealthKit shouldn’t be panned as much as it is. I didn’t think the point of HealthKit is the Health app.

To me, HealthKit is just like HomeKit: it’s a clearinghouse (or wire nut) for information for one app to write to another. I currently do this through some hacky magic between Fitbit, Garmin Connect, MyFitnessPal, and Strava. If Fitbit would write my weight to the health app and Strava and Garmin could read it from there, that would be great. People who open the Health app and expect magic are thinking of the “now.” Now that apps are out there, I think developers will start shaking out what they’re planning on doing.

Then, last night, I saw this commercial.

(I realize now that this commercial is old. I don’t watch much TV.)

Honestly, I wouldn’t be promoting the Health app yet. I would wait: let the app developers figure out what metrics they’re going to collect and upload to the app over the next year, let the watch come out and start recording fitness, etc. and then once people’s Health apps are already populated with a large corpus of information, start pushing Health as the dashboard.

Right now the app is empty. I have a 6, so it logs my steps, but they’re not my actual steps since I leave the phone sitting around a lot. If Fitbit could write the steps it records, that would be more accurate. Currently my weight is not automatically getting added, and I’m too lazy to enter it by hand from my INTERNET CONNECTED SCALE.


Is 2015 the year of the multi-sport?

Last weekend I completed my first multi-sport event: The Mohawk Towpath Duathalon. It was a 2 mile run, a 17 mile bike, and then back out onto the running course for another 2 miles.

It was bitter cold and windy before the start. Don’t believe me?


It was kind of a dreary overcast too.


I set myself up on the back row of transition, furthest from the entrance and exits of the course, but I had tons of room. For my first time I figured that was important. I looked around at the other bikes, and they thankfully were quite varied, with everything from a kid on her 16″ bike, to a guy on a single speed cycle cross bike, to people on hybrids, to road bikes (of varying vintage), to the guys in the front row of transition with their Specialized Shivs and aero helmets.


Everyone huddled around the start to get our instructions (and to stay warm).


Off we went for our first 2 miles of running. I felt good, and I kept pulling myself back a bit because I didn’t want to go out too hot. About 15 minutes later, I came back into transition.


Got my helmet and bike shoes on,


And headed out for a 17 mile ride.


Thankfully the ride starts on a downhill, which makes it easy to struggle with your clips. After that quick jaunt where I averaged just over 18 miles an hour (fast!), I climbed back up that hill to return to transition.


After having shoe issues in transition, I ended up kneeling on my left leg for quite a while, probably close to a minute. It may look like I’m enjoying myself in this picture, but I’m really not. I can’t contract my left calf. It hurtssss.


After about a quarter mile, my leg started relaxing. I wasn’t fast, and I wasn’t springy, but I was moving forward and that’s what counts. I must have made up time as my leg felt better, because my average pace for the second run was 8:06.


Finishing in about ninety minutes, for my first multi-sport race, was really satisfying. TurnsOut(TM) that I placed third in my age group (we left before awards) according to the official results.

Of course, I was at Riverview Orchards, so I had to have some athlete food after!


The Strava record is a mess from trying to “fix” it to show up as three sports. Here’s the Garmin version, it should be clear what the 5 laps are.

After doing this, I really want to do more of these multi-sport events next year. I just need to learn to swim (efficiently). And I want a watch that understands these things, but I can’t have everything.

So I bought a new phone

Release day, like an absolute tool, I was standing in line in front of my local Apple Store to pick up my new iPhone 6. Here’s what I think of it and iOS 8 after having it for a little over a month:

The size is ok. When I look at my 5c, it feels small, almost like the 4 to 5 transition. I don’t have any pocket fitting issues, but the cup holder insert that came with the car for holding the phone no longer fits the phone. Apps which needed to be scaled up to fit the phone (like Facebook until yesterday) had a bit of fuzz, but I enjoyed the larger text size. (I must be getting old)

It’s fast. I’m coming from a 5 and 5c, so even my wife’s 5s felt snappy compared to it. And ‘dat screen…

It’s thin, light, and wider. I was terrified of holding it until I stuck it in a case. I bought an Apple leather case like I had on my 5. It adds a nice feel to it.

Touch ID is nifty, but anything beyond laziness is limited for me. Some of the things that it unlocks like 1Password are great, but I’m not going to make my master password (more) complicated since I still have to log in on three computers and an iPad with a keyboard (like an animal).

I was super excited for HomeKit, but skeptical. ADT, Lowes/iris, etc. all make money through lock in. Collaboration and interconnection with other apps from other vendors did not seem like something they would partake in. I wanted to play with it too, but all hardware has to pass MFi, ruling out any hobbyist tinkering. I bought some GE Link bulbs which work with Wink, but without an API, they’re mostly toys. I have some Hue bulbs on my Christmas list, which I hope to get and play with.

I’ve used Apple Pay twice. The first time at Panera I had no idea what to expect, and I don’t think the cashier did either. The second was at a self checkout at BJ’s, where the only time saved was the time swiping the card, and it actually ended up being slower because I already have to get my wallet out for the membership card. First world problems.

I’ve got thoughts on HealthKit but I’m breaking them out into another post.

3 months with runcoach and look at me now!

This spring, on the advice of my sister, I read the Daniels’ Running Formula. It was a really good read, and I learned a lot about how to run from reading it. Before this point, all I was doing when I went out was aimlessly killing myself. I would run a couple times a week if that, doing 10 miles on a good week. My average paces were in the low 8s, but I would dread those runs. Leading up to my “May Racing Series” I ran only a few times, and I think the only reason I did so well at the 5k was that my body was used to racing.

The book explained a totally different way to think of running for me, focusing on the different intensity levels, something other than ass kicking. I must admit, the first couple times out at the “proper” “easy” pace were… aggravatingly slow. I tried building a schedule using what was in the Daniel’s book and floundered around a bit.

When Garmin announced their new API platform and the day one partners (Training Peaks and runcoach), I started poking around. I signed up for the trial of runcoach and set up the initial plan. The concepts they use are very similar to what were in the Daniels book, and it had the “direction” that I wanted. It has been awesome this summer. The first “Goal Race” I put in was the Sprint for Soldiers 5k which I won my age group in. That’s a result.

Turns out having a specific schedule each week building throughout the summer really works. Every weekend the past few weekends have been distance PRs for me on my long runs, and my track workouts each week have gotten faster and faster.

We’ll see how it pays off this weekend with my 10k, and the weekend following with my half marathon! Either way, I definitely got results out of it and am going to set up Mrs. Awesome with an account.