Weekly Head Voices #115: So much Dutch.

Monday January 16 to Sunday January 29 of the year 2017 yielded the following possibly mention-worthy tidbits:

On Saturday, January 21, we had the privilege of seeing Herman van Veen perform live at the Oude Libertas Theatre. The previous time was a magical night many years ago in the Royal Theatre Carré in Amsterdam.

Herman van Veen is a living, extremely active and up to date legend. To most Dutch people you’ll ever meet he is a formidable part of their rich cultural landscape.

That evening, we heard so much Dutch spoken in the audience around us, it was easy to imagine that we had been teleported to a strange midsummer night’s performance, all the way back in The Netherlands.

Whatever the case may be, at 72 this artist and superb human being seems to have energy and magic flowing from every limb.

Things which running nerds might find interesting

The Dutch Watch

I had to start facing facts.

The Samsung Gear Fit 2 and I were not going to make a success of our relationship. The GF2 (haha) is great if you’re looking for a hybrid smart-fitness-watch. However, I was using it primarily for running, and then one tends to run (I’m on a roll here) into its limitations.

My inner engineer, the same guy who has a thing for hiking shoes, as they are the couture epitome of function over form, made the call and selected the TomTom Runner 3 Cardio+Music watch (the Runner 3 and the Spark 3 are identical except for styling) to replace my GF2.

Hidden in the name, there’s a subtle hint as to the focus of this wearable.

It has a less pretty monochrome display that manages to be highly visible even in direct sunlight. It does not have a touch screen, instead opting for a less pretty directional control beneath the screen that always manages to select the correct menu option. The menu options remind me of the first TomTom car navigation we bought years ago: Not pretty, but with exactly the right functions, in this case for runs and hikes.

Most importantly, the watch has an explicit function for syncing so-called QuickGPSFix data, so that when you want to start running, it is able to acquire a GPS lock almost immediately. Importantly, the device keeps you informed of its progress via the ugly user interface.

Also, I am now able to pre-load GPX routes. Below you can see me navigating my local mountain like a pro with a sense of direction, when in reality I am an amateur with pathological absence of sense of direction:

That’s me in the corner, losing my Re-Samsung.

Anyways, after being initially quite happy with the GF2, I am now more careful with my first judgement of the Runner 3. What I can say is that the first 40km with it on my arm has been a delight of function-over-form.

P.S. Well done Dutchies. The optical heart rate sensor in the previous Spark was based on technology by South African company LifeQ. I have not been able to find a good reference for the situation in the Spark 3 / Runner 3.

Experiment Alcohol Zero early results: Not what  I was hoping

The completely subjective Experiment Alcohol Zero (EAZ) I announced in my 2016 to 2017 transition post has almost run (err… too soon?) to completion.

November of 2016 was my best running month of that year: I clocked in at 80km.

EAZ started on January 4 and will conclude probably on Friday February 3.

Although I was a much more boring person in January of 2017, I did manage to run 110 km. The runs were all longer and substantially faster than my best runs of 2016.

Subjectively, there was just always energy (and the will) available to go running, and subjectively there was more energy available during the runs. This is probably for a large part due to the vicious upward spiral of better glucose processing, better sleep, hence better exercise, rinse, repeat.

I am planning to use some of this extra energy to sweep these results right under the proverbial carpet in order to try and limit the suffering that it might lead to.

(Seriously speaking, I will have to apply these findings to my pre-EAZ habits in a reasonable fashion. :)

Things which Linux nerds might find interesting

My whole web-empire, including this blog, my serious nerd business blog, and a number of websites I host for friends and family, has been migrated by the wonderful webfaction support to a new much faster shared server in London.

The new server sports 32 Intel Xeon cores, is SSD based and has a newer Linux distribution, so I was able to move over all of my wordpress instances to PHP 7.

Upshot: This blog might feel microscopically quicker! (I am a bit worried with my empire now being stuck in the heart of Article 50. I worry slightly more about a great deal of my data that lives on servers in the USA however. Probably more about that in a future post.)

On the topic of going around the bend, I now have emacs running on my phone, and I’m able to access all of my orgmode notes from there. It looks like this:

One might now ask a pertinent question like: “So Charl, how often do you make use of this wonderful functionality?”

To which I would currently have to answer: “Including showing the screenshot on my blog? Once.”

I’m convinced that it’s going to come in handy at some point.

Things which backyard philosophy nerds might find interesting

With what’s happening in the US at the moment, which is actually just one nasty infestation of the political climate around the globe, I really appreciate coming across more positive messages with advice on how we can move forward as a human race in spite of the efforts of the (libertarian) right.

The World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Growth and Development Report 2017 is one such message. As summarised in this WEF blog post, it tries to answer the question:

How can we increase not just GDP but the extent to which this top-line performance of a country cascades down to benefit society as a whole?

In other words, they present approaches for making our economies more inclusive, thus helping to mitigate the huge gap between rich and poor.

According to the report, the answer entails that national and international economic policies should focus primarily on people and living standards. In order to do this, each country will have to work on a different mix of education, infrastructure, ethics, investment, entrepreneurship and social protection.

The countries that are currently doing the best in terms of having inclusive economies, and are generally shining examples of socialism working extremely well thank you very much, are Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Austria. See the blog post for the specific different factors helping each of these countries to perform so well on the Inclusive Development Index (IDI).

Although the countries in the top 10 list all still have room for improvement, it’s great to see that it is actually quite a great idea to combine socialism (which is actually just another word for being further along the human development dimension) with economic survival and even success in today’s world.

(I am still hopeful that one day Gene Roddenberry’s dream of the United Federation of Planets will be realised.

LLAP!)

 

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

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.

Review: Awei A990-BL Wireless Sport Bluetooth Earphones – Avoid!

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.

Quo vadis emptor?

After two failed attempts, first with the Bluedio Ci3 and then with these Awei headphones, I have decided to go a different route with the Samsung Level Link bluetooth adapter.

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.

Weekly Head Voices #113: Science and Creation.

(With this edition of the WHV, I’m looking back through exceptionally forgetful lenses at the period of time spanning from Wednesday November 9 to Sunday December 4, 2016.)

This post has been lying around in draft form since Sunday November 20. However, two of the bullet points I was planning to mention, one making the case for preferring short-form blogging over twitter and the other lamenting the sorry state of security on the Android operating system, somehow grew spontaneously into blog posts and then managed to make their way onto the Hacker News frontpage and various other high-traffic aggregators.

Those of you who know me a little bit, know of my strange little hobby: Getting my blog posts onto the HN frontpage. Anyways, it was a glorious week, and a very good month for this blog.

November saw almost 42000 visitors reading my stuff.

THANK YOU MANY VISITORS FOR ALL OF THE HAPPINESS YOU HAVE SUPPLIED! I TRY TO SPREAD IT AS MUCH AS I CAN!

(At the top of the right sidebar, you can make me really happy by entering your email address to be added to a shiny new weekly blog update email. Every Wednesday you’ll receive an email containing all the posts of the week up to then, saving you time and money! The old email-as-I-post list will also be maintained, but I wanted to offer more options for subscribers.)

Ghost in the Shell

Back in the day, I watched the original Ghost in the Shell anime about 102 times. For a time (picture the 90s somewhere, I’m dressed like Sonny Crockett in Miami Vice, except with really long hair, and utterly metal), the SO and I were seriously planning to use the brilliant GiTS theme song instead of the wedding march. You know, this one:

We ended up doing the wedding march because reasons. (The 90s had enough issues as it was.)

Anyways, fast forward a decade or two and a new trailer for the Ghost in the Shell Trailer live action movie has been released. I can’t help but be very excited about this. Listen, they even put some Depeche Mode in there!

Devil on my arm

(This heading should remind some of you of a certain teenage science fiction dystopian novel of the 80s. Picture me with leg warmers and a head band, exercising to a Jane Fonda VHS cassette, but with long hair and utterly metal.)

That terrible running addiction (it’s not a terrible addiction, but my running itself is terrible, doh.) I mentioned last time conspired with a local daily deal campaign to make me acquire a Samsung Gear Fit 2. This is a rather snazzy-looking (for running watches that is, the bar is not very high) timepiece with a beautiful OLED colour touch-screen, and sporting a 1 GHz CPU, 512GB RAM, 4GB of flash, a GPS, and some apps, including an MP3 player.

verge-2016-07-12_14-58-41-0
That’s the Gear Fit 2 on my arm. I wear many golden bangles when I go running.

All of this means that I can go running without my smartphone and still get full geo-located stats on my terribleness. The gadget has a suitably terrible robotic synthesised voice that encourages me, without any noticeable feeling, uttering the words <GO ON. YOU CAN DO IT. GO ON.> when I am close to the end of my route. Brilliant.

More importantly, this also means that we can have a really good giggle at the cpbotha of 2003, who wrote in a post about his new Tungsten E PDA:

If I had known 15 years ago that I would one day walk around carrying a cigarette-tin sized computer with a 126MHz CPU, a total of 160MB ram and a colour screen, I would probably have gone orbital.

13 years later, and my watch would karate chop my old PDA into orbit, if it were still around. I’m really curious in what way we’ll be laughing at me (again) in 13 years time. That is, if the Ayn Rand readers / white supremacists don’t screw everything up for us all before then. :(

Image crafting corner

This is the bit where I post carefully selected photos so that you think my life is infinitely better than it actually is.

It’s not!

This is a practical example of what happens when you (deliberately) don’t listen to Uncle Nyquist. My life is filled with ups and downs, and a great deal of flattish bits. Whatever the case may be, I do try to optimise as much as possible for the good bits. Part of this is dwelling on them for a little bit longer, like this:

Parting thought

“Post-truth” was named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries. As if we don’t have enough problems in the world today, it seems that we are now in the post-truth era. Apparently objective facts have become less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

Bloody hell.

Somewhere in the future, when we’ve all calmed down a bit, I would like to try and analyse how this could have happened, and what can be done to try and fix it. (My money is on 100% accessible education for ALL (people who can afford it pay, people who can’t, don’t. Really not that complicated.)My money seems to be standing together with the statistics on Brexit and Trump voters. This is obviously completely lost on Brexit and Trump voters. OH THE IRONY.)

Anyways, until that future time when we’ll have that mature discussion about these matters, I leave you with this:

This is what I think of "post-truth".
This is what I think of “post-truth”