Weekly Head Voices #139: Luna.

Well hello there friends!

We have just returned from a ridiculously enjoyable holiday in The Drakensberg, or uKhahlamba in isiZulu.

More specifically, we started in Giant’s Castle, the place of no internet mentioned in the previous edition of the WHV, and also the subject of that post’s main image, but we spent the largest part of the week at Cathedral Peak.

Due to it having been holiday and all, the rest of this post will follow the trusty old bullet list form.

  • The mountainous surroundings are stunningly beautiful.
  • At Giant’s Peak we did the short hike to the main caves to see rock art by the San people. According to the guide the paintings we saw range in age between 100 and 3000 years. Here are two examples:
  • We did more hikes in the mountains. GOU#3, who just turned 2, was a trooper, relatively speaking. We will never again mention all of the kilometres that we had to carry her.
  • I squeezed in a number of trail runs. It’s a badly kept secret that I have absolutely no sense of direction. This, together with the routes finding themselves at 1400m altitude, made for challenging but awe-inspiring trips.
  • On the way back home, we stopped in Durban for the most amazing curries at The Oyster Box. Me = blown away.
  • At the airport, that thing I said would never happen to me, happened to me. At the security check, we discovered that I had forgotten my trusty Leatherman Wave multi-tool in my backpack, and my trusty Gerber Dime mini multi-tool in my trouser pocket. In a massively pleasant surprise turn of events, I was able to go back out through security, where the amazingly helpful British Airways check-in attendant calmly packaged up the offending tools in a spare box, labeled it, and sent it through with the checked baggage, and to return to my people all in the space of about 15 minutes.
  • We hit a thunderstorm, initially undetected by the weather radar, on our way back to Cape Town for some of the scariest turbulence I’ve ever experienced.
    • At one point, the plane dove so hard that the Kindle lying on my lap (I’m halfway through Mastery by George Leonard, thanks Leif for the recommendation!) flew up into the air, made a slow-motion arc and came crashing down on the floor.
    • It was at this point that a large number of passengers involuntarily panic-shouted, adding to the atmosphere.
    • I myself could not show any external signs of fear, primarily because I needed to comfort GOU#1, who sat next to me, and is now old enough to appreciate the potential risks of the situation we found ourselves in, but also because I had to fit in my behaviour with the narrative that YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO TRUST THE ENGINEERS.
  • During our time away, these puppies had finally made their way through customs ($115 in total for Luna Mono 2.0 sandals + tabi socks, $66 SA import duties ouch):

Yes friends, they are Huarache-style running sandals, in which you go running.

My friend Stéfan sent me a message on Signal shortly after WHV #134, but before I had even started reading Born to Run.

Besides sporting best-in-class encryption, his message was suavely convincing:

Charl, let me bring you a pair of the magical sandals that I run in.

I was not able to purge the thought of running free like that.

When I finally realised that it was only a question of time, I decided not to wait any longer than necessary, and ordered them directly.

This morning I started with a short run, just to see what it was like, and to start acclimatising.

It was exactly like I had been dreaming for the past two nights.

Time will have to tell, but at this very moment, I’m not sure if I’ll want to run in normal running shoes again.

Weekly Head Voices #134: SCARF.

Untitled artwork by GOU#2 (age 7), who is also known as My Most Favourite Middle Child.

I somehow forgot to take photos this past week. At the very last moment, GOU#2 delivered, as if commissioned, the piece shown above.

The WHV visual element lives to fight another day!

The rest of this post is divided into three parts: One for the programming nerds, one for the running nerds and one for the arm-chair psychologists. Feel free to pick and choose!

C++ quo vadis?

This week, we spent more than a day chasing an elusive memory-related access violation (big words for “crash”) in the software we recently released.

In the end, the bug was only really reproducible on Windows 7 (not on Linux, not on macOS, and only with great difficulty and infinite patience on Windows 10). It turned out to be hidden deep in a well-tested, industry-backed open source C++ library.

This and the specific nature of this bug again demonstrated to me that C++, although I love it dearly, simply has too many well-disguised flaws (let’s call them foot-guns) which will eventually lead to even the most experienced and sharp programmer making mistakes.

In spite of the recent language renaissance (C++11, 14, 17 with 20 imminent) and a slew of improvements, it’s still too easy to write unsafe code.

With contenders like rust (rustlang AJ, rustlang!) which enable programmers to write programmes which have C++-level performance but are by default safe, could C++’s days be counted?

Run

It was time to retire my trusty pair of Asics Cumulus 18 shoes.

They had clocked just over 900km, which is perhaps a little too much. By the end, I could feel the bones in my big toe’s main joint (apparently also known as the big-toe’s MTP or metatarsophalangeal joint) crunching down with each strike.

Normally not prone to these types of visits, I had no choice but to pop out to the Run Specialist Store in Edward street on Thursday to get a new pair of activity-proof foot covers.

They let me run on a treadmill (whoohooo running!) with a high-speed video camera. In the footage, we could see that indeed my conversion to forefoot running had been successful (which was good to hear, because it had cost me about 100km of pain), but that I tended to land on the outsides of my forefeet.

The minimal shoes I had had in mind were not (yet) to be.

Instead the run doctor prescribed a pair of Saucony Kinvara 8s, which make my old Asics look like previous generation gardening shoes. I’ve since taken these out on two runs. They are super light, and super springy (everun FTW?), but I have to say that I have my doubts about the durability of the outsole. I’ll report back.

In February, I’m pretty happy that I managed to squeeze in just over 110km of running, which is not too shabby (by my standards, as always!) for the short month.

SCARF

Yes, winter is coming, but this, although also quite useful, is not that type of SCARF.

I am still reading David Rock’s book Your Brain at Work, and SCARF is his mnemonic for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

These are five social needs, the threat or confirmation of which can have profound effects on humans.

If you feel that you are being unfairly treated, for example, this triggers a low-level threat response which fundamentally complicates dealing rationally with a situation.

Conversely, if for example an interaction grants you more certainty or even better autonomy, you are magically able to contribute significantly more cognitive capacity and creativity to that interaction.

Both the fundamental threat and reward responses go for all five of these qualities. Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to go through some of your memories and to see where one or more of the SCARF needs played a role.

Although one (hopefully) mostly intuitively integrates this in one’s daily dealings, I think it’s super useful being able to enumerate the SCARF social needs like this. It helps when managing oneself in any situation (especially when your prefrontal cortex is exhausted, which is just about always), and it certainly helps when you might find yourself in position where you are able to contribute to another human’s well-being.

The end

Have a great week friends, I hope to see you again soon!

P.S. if there are any arduino uno -> hardware serial -> xbee experts in the audience, I would like to have a word. (sparkfun shield. with software serial can talk to xbee. with hardware serial, and sparkfun switch in the right position, xbee won’t respond. uno is a robotdyn clone.)

The 2017 to 2018 transition post.

My innermost circle of humans, on an exceptionally windy hill in St Francis.

Does anything still work around here?

So much dust…

Is this thing on?

Testing… 123… tesssting… sound check sound check.

OH HI MARK.

(HELLO ALL MY OTHER FRIENDS WHO ARE NOT MARK!)

It’s been 4 months since the previous post (a Weekly Head Voices), due to reasons involving work (fortunately challenging and fun), genetic offspring units but especially the youngest one who is currently developing at a frightening speed, the South African climate, and my brain suddenly starting to refuse work any later than about 19:00 every day.

My brain has good reasons I have to admit, having absorbed this Guardian interview with Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. In short, the possible effects of sleeping anything less than 7 hours per night are simply terrifying. It made me, I mean my brain, really rethink its approach to grabbing-one-more-hour-from-sleep-because-this-stuff-is-really-super-interesting.

Anyhow, following the probably better and more beefy example set by my previous transition post, 2016-to-2017 that is, I thought that a new edition would be the best way to get back into slightly more regular posting.

2017: The 100% partial and spotty review

I wrote 21 posts on this blog in 2017, 12 of which were Weekly Head Voices, which means I was about 23% (12 / 52) successful in terms of posting frequency with the WHV.

The most popular post over here was Deep Work: A welcome kick in the butt, published on January 9, which garnered just over 20 thousand views. From there my stats went all downhill. :)

More importantly than reader stats, each post, especially the Weekly Head Voices ones, brought so much connection and satisfaction, which raises the question: Why am I not doing this more? (See my reasons above for not having posted for 4 months, I would have to guess.)

In 2017, I ran just over 800km, which, in contrast to my blogging frequency, is a nice improvement over the 440km I did in 2016. Experiment Alcohol Zero (EAZ) of February last year contributed significantly to my average distance and speed. Those gains were maintained and slightly extended in spite of EAZ concluding in March of last year.

To get an idea of what I was up to work-wise in 2017, you could consider browsing the posts I wrote on my nerd-blog during 2017.  This will give you a bad idea, but it’s probably better than no idea, if you really needed to know.

Life-wise, I might have mentioned The Weekly Head voices posts before. There aren’t that many of them for 2017, but the ones that there are, are not too bad.

2018: Again not much planned, at least not in public.

Following the shining example of Dr Cheplygina, I would love to become a fully paid-up member of the True Weekly Bloggers Club.

For the past 6 months I sort of went Facebook cold turkey (because reasons, mostly to do with attention-abuse and above-mentioned time scarcity). That, in addition to my unplanned blogging hiatus, feels (yes, I have those, albeit in extremely limited quantities) like it’s caused a bit of a disconnect between me and friends around the world.

I have very recently returned to facebook via the mobile website, and only after extremely liberal application of the “unfollow” button to whittle my feed down to just the people I have a healthy connection with. This will help me te maintain connections with the friends who use that as platform.

My reciprocation will have to take the form of weekly updates on this blog.

I look forward to it, and I look forward even more to welcoming you here!

The view from our cabin at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp. 12/10 will go again.

Samsung Gear Fit 2 voice guide at intervals not working at all: The Fix.

Update 2017-05-02: As reported by Kjetil in the comments, if you update the Health apps in the GEAR category of Galaxy Apps, this should fix the problem without having to change your phone’s language. I’m keeping the rest of the post here as a record of events.

This is a really short note to help other people trying to get their broken Samsung Gear Fit 2 voice “guide at intervals” to work.

In short, by activating the “guide at intervals” function on the Gear Fit 2, you can get a synthesised voice to give you all kinds of stats while you are running with bluetooth earphones. In my case, I set it up to give me distance, pacing and heart rate information every 0.5 km. This helps me to control my pace and extend my run.

After a recent phone swap, my Gear Fit 2 stopped giving me any kind of voice guidance. The music would continue playing, but at the first 0.5 km point when the voice guidance should have piped up, the watch would jump back to the watch face, instead of staying in the exercise app.

As seems to be par for the course with the Gear Fit 2, this was highly frustrating behaviour, with no help from the phone user interface or any of the Samsung documentation.

After some to-and-fro on the Samsung forums, Dutch user BarryNL came up with the answer.

It turns out that if the phone language is set to anything other than “English (US)”, the voice guidance seems to crash the running app, dumping you at the watch face during your run.

I switched my phone from “English (South African)” to “English (US)”, rebooted the phone, then rebooted the Gear Fit 2, and finally went out for a quick test walk.

Samsung Gear Fit 2 voice guide at intervals was back!

I am really happy to have this core feature back, and to have the exercise app stay active until the end of my run. However, this undocumented behaviour, as well as the fact that the watch, which has more than enough processing power and a beautiful display, does not give any kind of feedback to help the user correct the issue, makes for an extremely frustrating experience.

Fixing the Samsung Gear Fit 2 GPS lock delay when running without phone

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.

The Fix

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:

Samsung Gear Fit 2 should recognise that it has lost connection with the phone, as shown by the rectangle at the top right.

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 (it’s very important that you ensure that it stays on before running off), 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.

(Update: I’ve had more runs since. Sometimes the GPS struggles for half a minute or more to get a lock, with the location icon remaining in the flashing state. In these cases, I sometimes stop the run, and start over, until that damned flashing location icon goes stable. Frustrating.)

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) and sometimes plain frustrating GPS behaviour, the voice guidance which breaks easily and mysteriously (see another post of mine on that issue and how to fix it), 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 alternatives.