For the past few runs, I noticed that my Gear Fit 2 would only lock onto GPS after more than 0.5 km. By “noticed”, I of course mean “got super frustrated with and considered briefly throwing the gadget onto the ground and arranging for its utter disintegration through repeated jumping on it”.
Besides losing the first 0.5 km of my run data, the pacing information, delivered via synthesised voice, would be wildly inaccurate for the rest of my run.
Judging by this 22 page thread on the Samsung community forums, there are other users who were also less than happy that the Gear Fit 2 built-in GPS does not seem to work as advertised. Understandably, people bought the gadget in order to be able to go running without having to lug their smartphones along.
Fortunately, it turns out the explanation is quite logical, although Samsung really has to do better to communicate this to their users.
Why does my Gear Fit 2 take so long to acquire a GPS lock?
In short, at the start of my run, my smartphone was lying on my desk one floor up. At that point the Gear Fit 2 still had a bluetooth connection to the phone, and it was planning to use the phone GPS instead of its built-in unit. As far as I know, the gadget’s use of the phone’s GPS is not well known.
As the distance between me and the office building increased, the Gear Fit 2 obviously lost the bluetooth connection to the smartphone. With the current firmware (R360XXU1BPL1 at the time of writing), it takes the Gear Fit 2 about 0.5 km to realise that the connection is really lost, and that it should switch to its built-in GPS.
This as all pretty logical, but highly frustrating when you don’t know what’s going on. Samsung clearly has to do better.
Knowing what the issue is makes the fix pretty straight-forward.
Before starting your run, disable bluetooth on your smartphone, and wait for the Gear Fit 2 to register loss of the connection. It should vibrate on your wrist, and then show a little rectangle at the top right of the display, like this:
You can now start the exercise app and then start your run.
This morning, my Gear Fit 2 acquired a GPS lock almost instantly. You can see this by the location icon which briefly flashes and then stays on, and by the fact that the on-screen distance gauge (you only see the distance gauge if you have set a distance target) starts climbing immediately.
Samsung Gear Fit 2: Even casual runners should think twice.
For the price, the Samsung Gear Fit 2 packs a lot of features.
However, between this undocumented (as far as I can see) GPS behaviour, the voice guidance which breaks easily and mysteriously (more about that later; bug me in the comments if you can’t wait for this post), and the battery life (a 40 minute run with music and GPS can use up 30% to 40% of the battery), slightly more serious casual runners (strange category, I know) might want to consider carefully their options.
As I munched through the book, I could almost physically sense the impact it was making on my thought patterns. I have since spent another Deep Work Pomodoro scanning through its pages again to make sure I did not miss anything.
Deep Work is at its heart Cal Newport’s passionate argument for Deep Work in this extremely fragmented and highly connected information age. He defines Deep Work as:
Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
Armed with a whole book full of stories and examples, he makes the case for eschewing network tools such as email, twitter, facebook, reddit, slack, whatsapp and so forth, instead dedicating as much of your time as possible to specific valuable outcomes. Yes, even after work, he makes the case for structuring your leisure activities in a similar fashion.
Although the book cites a number of studies, storytelling is its main persuasive tool. Whatever the case may be, I am utterly convinced.
I have resolved to put in a massive effort to get my Deep Work muscles back in top form.
Somehow, maybe because of my transition to business, I’ve slipped back into the illusion that you have to be connected all the time. On an average workday, I have email, two instances of slack, one instance of mattermost and whatsapp all open on my desktop, just in case I need to be reached. (To be clear, there’s a great deal of messages that go through them every day, so it’s not just me sitting there waiting in vain for someone, anyone, to please send me a message.)
Contrary to what I’ve convinced myself of, these tools all detract significantly from my value production, both in terms of quality and throughput.
Structure and summary of the book
In Part 1, Newport tries to convince you of the value and necessity of Deep Work. The take-home message is that in order to excel at learning and at doing especially in the current interruption and distraction filled information age, we need unfragmented periods of distraction-free concentration, during which we push our cognition to the limit.
When I say it like that, it seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?
Phrased differently, the great fallacy of current times is that one can perform at one’s best whilst being hyper-connected.
Even worse, if we continue doing it this way, we’ll start losing our ability to focus.
In Part 2, Newport gives high-level advice towards implementing Deep Work, packaged as the four rules of Deep Work:
Work deeply: More about this further down.
Embrace boredom: Avoid busywork. That is, when you have a few minutes waiting in line somewhere, use the time to think instead of reaching for your smartphone.
Quit social media: EEEKE! Don’t worry, it’s slightly more complicated, but “manage social media” would not have had the same impact.)
Drain the shallows: Squeeze out as much as possible shallow work from your schedule. Focus work should be the default, distractions (shallow work) the exception.
In terms of scheduling, rule #1 can be implemented in at least four different ways: monastic (isolate yourself almost permanently), bimodal (isolate yourself some of the time, but for significant periods, e.g. a month sabbatical), rhythmic (integrate into your schedule at set times during the day every day), journalistic (cultivate the ability to work deeply whenever you get a moment).
Of these, the rhythmic philosophy is probably the most practical for me and for most of the readers of this blog.
More practically, rule #1 (“Work Deeply”, remember?!) can be implemented using the following four disciplines:
Focus on the wildly important: Make sure that you always know what the absolute most valuable thing is to work on.
Act on lead measures: Track your deep work by metrics that can be calculated before the output realises and not after, for example track your daily number of hours during which you were able to work deeply.
Keep a compelling scoreboard: Create some modality with which you can see clearly your daily deep work performance.
Create a cadence of accountability: Your daily or weekly routine should ensure that you review your work, and your deep work performance via the scoreboard for example.
How I’m planning to apply Deep Work
In the book Newport reiterates an important observation: We humans have limited stores of will power. These can and will get depleted through the day if we’re not careful.
If it takes too much conscious effort to avoid distractions and to stay focused on the mentally taxing task at hand, our will power is depleted at some point and then our defences crumble.
Before you know it, you’re stuck in that super satisfying (not) email, twitter, facebook, reddit, email, twitter, whatsapp, slack loop again.
An effective remedy for this is ritualization.
This does not mean that you have to get out the old Ouija board. Rather, it means that you should develop “routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration”.
Fortunately, because of a choice I made in 2013, my work already involves spending longer periods reading, thinking and programming. Now I only need to ensure that these periods are as deep as possible, which means eliminating distractions and practising as intensively as possible focusing on that One Really Important Thing.
I will eliminate distractions by:
Using the pomodoro method (as I’ve been doing all this time, just badly).
Extending the length of the 25 minute pomodoro. If I’m in the deep work flow, I’ll continue past the 25 minute alarm. A longer break can be taken later.
Activating my phone’s no distraction mode during pomodori. Only phone calls get through, nothing else.
Killing my email app and all browser tabs that have to do with real-time communication (slack, mattermost, whatsapp, and so on).
Just in case, pasting a list of time-wasting site hostnames into my uBlock Origin’s “My Filters” list.
Besides that, I am recording deep work by prepending one of D0, D1, … D5 to the mytomatoes.com pomodoro description, corresponding to the spectrum from shallow to most deep work.
Thanks to veronikach.com, I am using focus@will which helps tremendously with my concentration in the sometimes busy office.
Newport explains that most people can manage a maximum of four hours per day of truly deep work. Furthermore, for many people, it is most effective to schedule creative and deep work for the morning, and shallow work (email, admin, meetings etc.) for the afternoon. For a longer time I have been following the guideline of scheduling meetings for the afternoon, so now I’ll strengthen that by trying to get my deep work done in the morning, leaving shallow work for the afternoon as far as possible.
Finally, I think that probably the most important advice here is to practise, practise and then practise some more.
This could very well be due to my own bias, but if I had to describe Deep Work as compactly as possible, I would have to say that it comes down to “mindful action”.
It might sound like a contradiction in terms (mindfulness is the practice of being, amongst other things), but I am referring to the practice of being fully connected to and focused on the current moment.
With Deep Work, one practises connecting fully to and focusing on the current endeavour, thus greatly enriching that experience and the output that it generates.
Thank you, Cal Newport, for this very welcome kick in the butt.
Following the rich tradition over here of year transition posts, having just rounded off a brilliant outdoorsy take-your-mind-off-of-everything vacation with friends, and also inspired by wogan.blog’s nicely personal 2016 review post, I decided that a farewell-2016 how-you-doin’-2017 post was in order.
Warning: This post is long (1800 words+), rambly and sometimes even a bit mushy. I hope you enjoy it!
2016: The Review
The bad, with a hopefully slightly positive outlook at the end
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way as soon as we can…
For me the biggest disappointments of 2016 were the double-whammy of the Brexit followed by the Trumpocalypse.
I really did not expect either of these events to go the way they did.
This is probably because I was, ever the optimist, over-estimating the level of human development of British and US voters.
The exclusionist, nationalist, xenophobic and in many cases even white supremacist thinking associated with Trump’s support in the US and the Leave vote in the UK are truly abhorrent.
I understand that there were many other factors at play. However, these voters were either throwing out the baby with the bath water, or, much much worse, agreeing with the abhorrent sentiments mentioned above. Especially this second possibility depressed me greatly after the US election.
After such setbacks, one needs to look for solutions.
This is yet another strong indication that we should really be pouring every resource we have into the education of our people. (yes, correlation and causation, I know. hence the terms “strong indication”. discuss in the comments if you like.)
Human history has become, more and more, a race between education and catastrophe.
The way things are going now, that thought, and movements like #feesmustfall, are more important than ever. There can be absolutely no excuse for neglecting the highest quality and accessible education (basic up to tertiary) of future generations of humans whom we expect to further our civilization.
The running and the mindful
In 2016, I ran 440km.
There are a great deal of people who have run much more than that, but those are my 440 kilometers and somehow they brought me a great deal of deep satisfaction.
During the year, my per-run distance and speed have gradually increased.
Besides fitness gradually increasing, I discovered experimentally that shorter, quicker steps get me further and a higher pace. It took a biomechanical friend to explain to me that this was about muscles operating within the more efficient middle of their full extension/contraction ranges. I could probably just have read this somewhere, but doing it the hard way and then having a friend explain it on top of Table Mountain definitely added something to the experience.
With the surroundings over here being what they are, it does not take much to slip into a state of mindfulness.
No doing, no planning; just absorbing all of the surroundings, physical and mental, the music, and feeling how the meat-based machine that houses me propels us forward.
On the topic of mindfulness, for the last few months I added a repeat event to my todoist, helping me to spend five minutes every morning before work doing the breathing exercise. More recently I do this without any voice track, but previously Prof. Mark Williams at one point would say (original quote is due to Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD):
Each breath a new beginning; each out-breath a letting go.
There’s a whole lot in there. I have spent quite some time with it and I am far from done.
The first rule of blogging: You don’t blog about blogging.
However, I hope you don’t mind me breaking that rule to mention that in 2016, this blog was viewed 133 thousand times. I already get happy when one other person reads a post. You can imagine how happy it makes me to know that there are even slightly more people who have come here to consume some of the words I have written, and even some who have taken the time to leave behind comments!
The lion’s share of those views were due to focused posts that got picked up by some of the more popular nerd sites. I have to admit that I derived the most enjoyment from the more personal posts that were only read by friends.
Whatever the case may be, this has to be my most satisfying hobby. Thank you for the crucial role that you who read play in it!
The new life
In early(ish) 2016, our third daughter, affectionately known as Genetic Offspring Unit #3 (GOU#3 for short) around these parts, was born.
This wonderful little cellular mega-cluster is currently making noises that have the primary purpose of being immensely cute, but are also slowly starting to make sense. Her ambulation capabilities have increased immensely, and she is on the verge of standing up by herself and so we will probably have to re-arrange our interior. Again.
I prefer making resolutions in secret, then carrying them out or not, and only then reporting on them. However, that would mean that I would have to wrap up this post right now, and for that I’m not quite ready yet.
Those of you who have spent more than 8 seconds in my or my blog’s vicinity know that I absolutely adore craft beer (this includes local, but also special beers of the Belgian type) and local wines, both of which are regularly consumed by me and “business partners” during “business lunches” in the not-unattractive local surroundings.
This decision was not taken lightly.
It is mid-morning of day 2 of Experiment Alcohol Zero (EAZ) as I write this. With the air full of smoke due to local vegetation fires, I have not been able to go running yet, but I am imagining that my energy lasted later last night, and I got up easier this morning. I have 29 more days to investigate.
I also remind myself to be grateful. It takes continuous practice to identify the many things one can be grateful for every day, but it is definitely worth it.
I often remind GOU#1 (#2 and #3 are not old enough yet for this lesson) that, besides the guidelines above, we have to keep on working on two more related characteristics: being useful, and being likable.
Being useful means continuously developing and refining skills that enable one to contribute value to one’s surroundings. Being likable means understanding and appreciating how we humans stick together. Kindness, see above, is an important component of this.
In 2017, I would like to write more (on this blog probably), and read more.
Rapidly morphing goalposts jumping randomly through even more randomly pulsating hyperspace, with a slightly positive outlook at the end
Yes folks, this is going to be my parting thought.
When I was much younger, I used to believe that one’s life could be “cracked”. That is, if you searched, and you worked really hard at understanding yourself, your people and your surroundings, you could come up with some kind of answer with which you would be able to attain contentment.
In the meantime I’ve come to the realisation that that Much Younger Me, although quite dashing, was of course utterly wrong.
Life is utterly dynamic. You Now are a different person from You Last Year. The same goes for people around you, and the same goes for everything around you.
The goal posts are not just moving all the time, they are an illusion flashing in and out of an hallucinogenic and especially dynamic perception.
Importantly, in this restless environment, some peace can be found by realising that a large part of the restlessness originates from within you. Fortunately, you have slightly more say in you than you have in your surroundings.
What one can do then, is nicely summarised by Prof. Mark Williams in the audio accompanying his mindfulness book:
The deep stillness we seek does not arise because the world is still or the mind is quiet. Stillness is nourished when we allow things to be just as they are for now, in this moment, moment by moment and breath by breath.
The End (for now)
Alright friends, that was it from me, for now. I hope that you have the best 2017 possible. I hope especially that your kindness and that of those around you flows deeply and freely.
As a parting gift, here is the high-resolution panoroma I made from the top of Table Mountain, after hiking up Platteklip Gorge with friends:
Since yesterday (Tuesday January 3) multiple fires have been raging in my neck of the woods.
Due to the superhero firefighters and their flying machines (multiple waterbombing helicopters and fixed wing planes), the fires surrounding my specific neighbourhood (Rome Glen, Somerset West) have been brought under control. It was quite scary yesterday when we could see trees going up in flames a few hundred metres away from our house.
Late this morning there were still some flare-ups close by, but the helicopters were on the scene within minutes to waterbomb them out of existence.
Through all of this, the community has pulled together in a fantastic way to keep the firefighters supplied with food and drink, and to help with evacuation and even firefighting where needed.
Following are some photos and impressions of the situation.
The first is of one of the firefighting helicopters landing on the park next to my house to pack up its giant water container. Due to exceptionally strong winds and turbulence, they had to be taken offline last night. This morning they started up again.
The following is a photo taken by Bryn de Kocks of the flames near us. Please see Bryn’s blog for more brilliant impressions.
@lesterkk is an eNCA reporter covering the fire. See his tweet from yesterday with a movie showing one of the helicopters refilling from a dam close by:
Due to my terrible running addiction, my recent acquisition of the Samsung Gear Fit 2 sports tracker watch, and the mechanical incompatibility of the Bluedio Ci3 earphones with my ears, I was again in the market for a new set of bluetooth earphones. (The earphones are not only to listen to MP3s on the watch, but more importantly, to hear the pacing information communicated by the watch’s terrible synthesised voice.)
After some scratching around on Takealot.com, our otherwise wonderful local Amazon-analogue, I settled on the Awei A990-BL Wireless Sport Bluetooth Earphones.
After just under a month of real-world testing of these earphones (that is, running with them a few times a week, they are “sport” earphones after all), punctuated by disappointing performance and some mechanical breakage, and culminating in complete hardware failure, I can make only this very simple recommendation:
DO NOT under any circumstances buy the Awei A990-BL Wireless Sport Bluetooth Earphones. They have attained the rarely awarded “cpbotha.net THREE (3) thumbs down, avoid at all costs” review.
A complete set of accessories
I was pretty happy when the the earphones arrived on November 15, right on time, and with a pretty complete set of accessories:
None of the three sets of silicone earbuds were large enough for my ears, an issue that was easily solved by using a set of my old Sennheiser buds. My last Skullkandy earphones had the same issue, so I’m ascribing it to my anatomy and not to Awei.
Ear clips break easily
During the first run with these earphones in the wind (when one also really notices how the control unit, a few centimetres from one’s right ear, can really flop around), I realised that the curved ear hooks were definitely necessary. For the next few runs, I had them clipped onto the earphones and they made a huge difference keeping music in my ears.
However, at the start of another run, I slight re-adjustment of the hooks relative to the earphones caused both of the earbud attachment bits to break clean off, rendering these accessories completely useless. I used a reasonable amount of force, and have to conclude that these clips are just not well made:
Bluetooth transmission hiccups
Besides the breakage, I also noticed from the start regular little breaks in the music transmission from the Gear Fit 2 to my ears. It’s possible that these were somehow caused by the unit’s movement during my exercise. I take this opportunity to remind the reader of the “sport” classification of this Awei product.
It could also be that the Gear Fit 2’s bluetooth implementation is sub-par, but, unlike the Awei, it’s an a-list product. In the following weeks I will be able to test this hypothesis with alternative hardware.
Complete hardware failure
About 25 calendar days after purchase, the unit spontaneously died during a run, a disappointment in itself. At first I thought that it was simply the battery that was exhausted. However, no amount of charging back home could revive the earphones.
My Awei A990-BL earphones remain completely dead to this day.
I’ll be able to use any wired earphones (at a much better price-performance ratio, and also much easier to replace) and just plug them into the Samsung Level Link, which will connect wirelessly to the Gear Fit 2.