Category Archives: gadgets

Life Tracking with Exist

I’ve built up quite a collection of health and fitness apps over the last few years. MyFitnessPal (MFP) tracks my eating habits, Withings tracks my weight, my Apple Watch monitors my heart rate & my activities.

Life Tracking Flow (2).png

Life Tracking App/Hardware/Services Flow Diagram

All that data! So many apps to view it all. Well, not really. Thanks to Apple Health and everything starting to talk to each other, all these disparate services can share their wealth of data with each other.

In summary, the heart of my system is Apple Health. I am sure if you are an Android user, then Google Health will probably do exactly the same job.

From there, MyFitnessPal logs my calorific intake and updates Apple Health every time I log anything. MyFitnessPal also updates my weight from Apple Health so it knows how far I am away from my goals, and can update my calorie predictions based on my actual weight.

Next up is the Apple Watch. I use this for Sleep Tracking (with the Pillow app), Activity Tracking (both via passive tracking aka the apple watch rings, and via the included Workouts app). The activity rings play a surprisingly massive role in my health and fitness.

They encourage you to do that little bit more, stand up that little bit longer, and take those extra few steps. You even get badges for completing streaks of days, weeks, and months, and it alerts all your friends with an Apple Watch every time you complete a ring! Everyone loves trophies, achievements and letting people know you are exercising, right?  😉

The Apple Watch also passively monitors your heart rate all the time you are wearing it.  All these data points feed directly into the Apple Health app without any intervention, making it super easy to track just how much or little you do in a day.

Apple Watch Activity Tracking Overview

The final piece of hardware I have is an old set of Withings wifi scales. (Withings was bought by Nokia, so these are now branded as Nokia…)

Jump on these in the morning (… after your morning ablutions..) and your weight will be updated in Apple Health. It will also be available to apps you’ve allowed to read this data like MyFitnessPal, and others.  MFP will update its calorie predictions, as does the Activity tracking on the Apple Watch. If you stay standing on it long enough it will also do a heart rate reading and tell you the weather for the coming day.

 

 

The thing that really ties together all my data is a dashboard called Exist. It connects to pretty much everything I care about… (Withings, RescueTime, DarkSky, Last.Fm, Google Calendar, Apple Health) and displays my data with averages, trends, and predictions.

If you sign up for a trial of Exist with my link, you get an extra month for free (two months total!) so its worth checking out if you are at all interested in the data you generate every single day.

Screen Shot 2017-08-05 at 18.15.20.png

Exist Daily Averages Dash board

I can see at a glance I walk about less on Saturdays, but I complete more workouts on Friday & Saturday. Basically, I sit at home most Saturdays, but I go to the gym more often then too. I can see via RescueTime I am more productive on Wednesdays and that Tuesdays are a shocker for me.

Screen Shot 2017-08-05 at 18.13.37.png

Exist Sleep Widget

The sleep tracking I do my via Apple Watch feeds in, and shows me last night I slept for the longest I have in a month. I was obviously feeling lazy this morning! I can see my average bedtime of 11.25pm is 21 minutes earlier than normal and I’ve been waking up later. Maybe I could get up sooner and go to the damn gym instead?

It will even work out ways to optimise for more steps, or active minutes etc. For example, when it doesn’t ‘rain or snow’ my average steps go up by 19% or when my average heart rate is above 85bpm it goes up 54% (because I logged a workout!)

Screen Shot 2017-08-05 at 18.25.03.png

Optimising for more Steps!

Some correlations are less useful… apparently I weigh less on days when its windier…? after I get fewer likes on Instagram…? Yup, the trick to weight loss is obvious now… post junk on Instagram on windy days! The longer Exist collects data, the more useful it gets. I really like seeing the randomness of things I do mapped out on a graph, suddenly everything isn’t so random.

Screen Shot 2017-08-05 at 18.23.42.png

Who knew I ate more on a Tuesday?

Overall, Exist is working really well for me. The cost is basically 2 pints a month (US$6/month) but I am getting so much use out of my health data being visualised in such a decent way its been totally worth it for me.

It’s helped me focus, and keeps me logging into MyFitnessPal every day. It focuses me on going for a walk, or just getting out of the house for a bit. All of these contribute more and more to my weight loss goals and just make me feel a happier person!

I hope this massive essay was helpful to anyone looking at how to get the most out of their health & fitness data. I’d love to hear any comments on how other people manage this sort of stuff, so do please comment if you read this!

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Review – Anker 25W 5A 5-Port USB Wall Charger Desktop Charger

I saw this desktop USB charger the other day whilst procrastinating from revision and thought it was a neat idea. By our bed at home we had separate USB chargers plugged into a powerstrip. It was a bit of a mess, but it worked for charging our various gadgets. The Anker Desktop charger looked a bit of a blessing and it is!

anker
A little box just over 1 inch deep contains five USB ports for charging your various gadgets. Total overall output is 5 amps split between the 5 ports. Each port has a specific output and they are labelled individually. The iPad ports output 2.1amps each, the Samsung Tab port outputs 1.3A, and the iPhone and Android ports both output 1amp. Power input is 100-240V AC, so the device itself is also ready for international travel with the addition of a local plug for your exotic destination of choice.

Each of the ports should work fine for whatever device you want, but obviously an iPad or Android tablet plugged into the 1A ports will charge slowly. Conversely, your device will only take the maximum current that it safely can meaning you don’t need to worry about ‘over powering’ your phone, or whatever the gadget is that you are charging.

I noticed the device got warm when I was charging four things, not hot but just warm. However, it was not noticeably warmer than a standard USB charger. Some reviews on Amazon stated a problem with a high pitched whine or noise being emitted from the unit under load. This was apparently a problem with a bad batch, and the unit that I have purchased makes no such noise.

anker2

I have successfully tested the charger with the following gadgets:

  • Samsung Galaxy S4 Active (i9295)
  • Samsung Galaxy S3
  • Google Nexus 7
  • Anker Astro E4 external battery
  • Pebble Smart Watch
  • Nintendo 3DS (Using a USB charge lead)
  • Sony PS Vita (Only charges from the Android port)
  • Amazon Kindle e-reader

The only device that was a bit of a pain was the PS Vita, because Sony has done some proprietary crap to their USB charging solution. At least it works on at least one of the ports!

Charging the PS Vita with the Desktop Charger
Overall, this is a great little gadget for under £15! It has enabled me to stop using four separate USB chargers and the mass of cables that go with them. No more do I have to use a power strip to charge all my gadgets, and the bulk that that brings with it. It’s also much easier to put the chargers away now than it was before meaning I’m much more likely to unplug the charger when it’s not being used.

If you have to charge more than a few things via USB then this desktop USB charger is a great deal and one you should think about buying!

Buy one now!

Pebble Steel

Pebble’s announced a new watch, well, not really a new watch but a stainless steel version of their smart watch and it looks amazing! Priced at US$250 Pebble looks like it grew up, finished university and got a job…

Pebble Steel Smart Watch

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the current Pebble by any means. I use my Kickstarter edition Pebble almost daily between university and my part time job. I charge it about once a week (and usually have a weekly panic that I can’t find the cable) and it has to be one of my favourite gadgets of the last few years.

However, the plastic finish scratches really easily during day to day life. I have a GadgetWrap and screen protector on mine, but that doesn’t really help Pebble’s image with people. “Your watch has a screen protector?!” I hear fairly regularly. The glass screen on the Pebble Steel goes a long way to helping the image. Additionally, it looks like a watch you could easily buy at your favourite department store which is a nice bonus. I don’t think that the extra $100 is excessive at all, perhaps some people should go watch shopping to compare prices? It’s nice that they haven’t messed with the internals of the new Steel watch meaning that developers of applications for the watch aren’t going to be split between ‘old’ and ‘new’. Oh yeah, Pebble is finally getting around the launching their promised App store this month! Yipee!

For people moaning about the price, go buy a Galaxy Gear (for between £200-£300 based on my quick google search) and look forward to charging it nightly, taking pervy photos with the tiny camera in the strap, and hoping that you have one of the few phones that it interacts with.

Pebble Steel Smart Watch

I’ll take my Pebble any day. I don’t need to answer calls on my watch. Most days I have my stereo bluetooth headset on for music anyway, and it can take calls (when I rarely receive one that isn’t about PPI). Nor do I need to take photos from my wrist (as much as my girlfriend disagrees with this point), or a colour screen to see the time or my notifications. Not being able to change the strap isn’t exactly a good thing, either.

For me, my pebble is a way of getting notifications from my pocket to my wrist when I can’t get my phone out for whatever reason. That, and I like gadgets so I never really needed a justification for backing the Kickstarter campaign in the first place back in 2012!

I still think Pebble has a long way to go but they are definitely on the right road. This should be an interesting and exciting product category to watch throughout 2014! What will Samsung do with the Gear? Are Apple about the release their revolutionary iWatch?

Installing Plex on the NowTV Box

Sky has released a cut down version of the Roku LT in the form of their NowTV box which is available for £9.99. It’s a really good deal, even if you don’t want to subscribe to NowTV (which honestly is worth thinking about, £8.99 a month for more recent movies than Netflix isn’t too sad!)

Now TV Box

Anyway, you wanted to install Plex on it didn’t you? It’s not in the store on the device presumably as Sky would rather you signed up to their service but fear not you can still install it with minimal fuss!
To get started, you need to enabled the hidden development mode. Grab the remote and press the following buttons:

Home, Home, Home, Up, Up, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right

Once this is done, you’ll need to write the IP address of your NowTV box. If you click through the screen without noting it down, go into the Settings menu and find it out in there. I’m using a modified version of Plex called RARflix, which you can find here. Simply download the lastest non test NOWTV sideload zip to your computer and go to the next step.

NowTV Dev Screen

Once again on your PC, open your favourite web browser and navigate to http://nowtvipaddresshere. Once here, click Choose file and navigate to the zip file you previously downloaded.
Click install, and the channel will upload to your NOWTV box. You should see something like the following on your TV screen if all is well.

Rarflix

It should now connect to your Plex server as normal.

Happy Plexing!

Pebble Watch has finally arrived!

Eleven months after I first backed the Pebble Smart Watch on Kickstarter it’s finally on my wrist. I love it already, it’s just such a slick gadget. I’m using a free app from the Play Store (Pebble Notifier) to funnel more than the default notifications from my watch to the watch. This app is pretty cool because a) it’s free! b) it lets you choose which notifications are sent.

Pebble Smart Watch

So now I get my away messages from IRC sent directly to my phone. Pretty neat? I think so too. Text messages just work, Gmail is a bit iffy if you use the standard Pebble app but with Pebble Notifier it just works well. If you enable “Google Search”, you’ll even get your Google Now cards (generally just the title as I’ve seen so far) straight to your wrist.

Since the recent release of the SDK many new watch faces (several neat Pokemon ones!), and even a few games have appeared for Pebble. Snake is pretty cool (but I read somewhere it’s known for draining the battery so I promptly uninstalled it..) You can find all these available for download at My Pebble Faces. My favourite face so far has to be “91 Dub” but it’s apparently unavailable to download now (even though I managed it this morning…?)

Pebble Smart Watch

If you have any queries leave a comment below or jump on IRC and have a chat! I’ll have a good play with it this week and post again soon with some more impressions after my first week with the watch!

One last thing… If you’re still waiting for your watch to arrive and you’re in the UK try using this Royal Mail tracker rather than the one on their front page. It gives you a load more details!

Skypix Handscanner Handheld Document Scanner Review

Being in halls this year, I don’t have a lot of space. My desk is tiny. I hate tiny desks. This pretty much rules out flat bed scanners completely.

I was browsing Amazon looking to waste money like I normally do when I stumbled across handheld portable document scanners for under £30. ‘Hmm’ I wondered, how could can they possibly be? The answer is pretty good!

The Skypix TSN410 scanner is portable, lightweight, and not bad quality for an amazing price.

Being in halls this year, I don’t have a lot of space. My desk is tiny. I hate tiny desks. This pretty much rules out flat bed scanners completely.

I was browsing Amazon looking to waste money like I normally do when I stumbled across handheld portable document scanners for under £30. ‘Hmm’ I wondered, how could can they possibly be? The answer is pretty good!

The Skypix TSN410 Handscanner is portable, lightweight, and not bad quality for an amazing price.

Skypix Handscanner

Skypix Handscanner

It takes 2 AA batteries (Buy decent ones, the Zinc Carbon ones I got in a hurry lost 1/3 of their charge after about 25-30 scans), transfers via a mini USB cable (Annoying since pretty much everything I own now uses MicroUSB… How things change?) and saves scans to a MicroSD card. (I’m using an 8gb MicroSDHC card I got online for a few quid)

The scanner does feel a little fragile, but it does a really good job. I probably wouldn’t take it with me in my bag, rather just safely store it in a draw except for when I need it.

Included with my scanner was a piece of software called “ABBYY Screenshot Reader” which does a good job of converting the images scanned into editable text. The scanner itself scans to JPEG images at either ‘low’ or ‘high’ resolution. The except spec escapes me… 300 and 600dpi rings a bell though. You can also set it to scan in colour or black and white.

Here are some sample scan of a leaflet that arrived in the post earlier. This is scanned a low resolution because I find the high setting just makes the files ridiculously large without a great deal of benefit.

The Portable Scanner

And the recognized text from the yellow panels: (I haven’t correct the errors on purpose)

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As you can see the quality of the scan is awesome, and the OCR is pretty good too. There are a few errors, but it’s to be expected surely? It wouldn’t take longer than a few seconds to correct them manually. To the left of the scanned image, there is a slight waviness present. The scanner internally adjusts the image if you don’t scan in a perfect straight line. It does a pretty good job, but with the knack of a few scans you get pretty good at pulling the paper/moving the scanner perfectly.

For around £30, I think the scanner is a good investment for students like myself who get handed a ton of handouts that invariably go missing within a week… Now I can store them all in Evernote and not lose them ever.

The Portable Scanner

The Portable Scanner

Productive Day!

I’ve already done loads today, and it’s only 4pm!
1. Cancelled my Three mobile broadband (after convincing the rep that no I did not want a new laptop, and that no my friends do not wish to take over my account)
– Sent my results transcript to Bangor so they can update my application
– Took my iPad to CeX so I can get some cash for it (Nexus 7, baby!)
– Bought some clear plastic storage boxes so I can start organising the crap that I’m taking to uni
– Ate both a banana and an apple!
– Oh, and I bought Pokemon Conquest because I’m weak willed when it comes to new games. (Arghhh Pokemon BW2 and New Super Mario Bros 2 are coming out soon….. Noooooooo)

Yeah, today has been pretty awesome. I guess because I got up early (well, earlier than I normally would on a day off) and gave myself a list of goals that I was definitely going to achieve. I should do this more often, tbh. The great weather is helping too.

Even though I got OpenTTD working again, and I thought I was going to play it all day… Somehow I didn’t. I think that was the weather… it’s just not right to sit in all day when it’s like this… because it doesn’t last long!

Time for a bike ride in a bit when Dad gets home, around 10 miles tonight I think. Felt bad because I didn’t go after I got in from work yesterday but my legs just screamed “NO” at me every time I thought about going…

Nexus 7 OTG Adapters

I’ve used a USB OTG (On the go) adapter with a variety of things so far on my Nexus 7, including:

  • Wired Xbox 360 Controller (Although, I hear it should work with the wireless one with the correct USB dongle)
  • Playstation 2 Controller via a USB adapter designed for a computer
  • Playstation 3 Controller via USB (Haven’t tried using them wirelessly yet.. I think root is needed for that.)
  • 32gb USB memory stick (via Stickmount, root required)
  • Apple USB Ethernet Adapter
  • USB Keyboards and Mice

The variety of add-ons I can use with my tablet is pretty amazing. I remember using my iPad with a Wii Remote after I first jailbroke it. But wow, all these pretty much work in Android without any major steps/changes to the tablet with the exception of rooting for Stickmount.
All of the game controllers that I tested worked great with Snesoid, and Snes9x EX. I probably use those much, since the emulators on PC are that much better but the fact I can is neat.

The Ethernet adapter is really special. The halls that I’m likely to be moving into in September are stuck in the last decade and don’t have wifi access! I just plugged it in, turned off the wifi and everything continued to work. It was a bit strange because there is no indication at all anywhere in the UI that I had even plugged in an ethernet adapter let alone that it was functioning perfectly.

I was able to play various video files from my 32gb USB key through MX Player including a bluray that I had ripped myself. Various other video files also played great. I had less luck with VLC, and MX Player seems to be the player of the moment!

First week with the Google Nexus 7

I’ve had my 16gb Nexus 7 for nearly a week now, and here are some of my initial thoughts from this first week.

The device is amazing. I don’t miss the iPad at all, surprisingly. As I said in a previous post everything I mainly used on the iPad has a fairly decent Android alternative and this is definitely true. I even found a brilliant replacement for Goodreader! (EzPDF)

I rooted the Nexus the day I got it using the Nexus Root Toolkit, but I did have to manually download the Google USB Driver from the SDK before I could get it to work properly and then I had to fully remove that USB driver before the MTP drive would mount properly again. (I think I went into Device Manager and forced Windows to use the normal Nexus driver rather than the ADB driver)

Once I was rooted, I downloaded Stickmount and tried a 32gb USB key with an OTG adapter I bought for around £3. It played a bluray that I ripped myself perfectly using MX Player, something I thought (because of the sentiment on various forums) wouldn’t work! Alas, it worked perfectly!

Onto my thoughts of the device itself. I love the smaller 7” screen compared to the iPad. Yes, it is smaller but it’s actually higher in resolution than the iPad 2 that I migrated from! The device feels well made, and mine seems to have escaped the problems with loose screens which is nice! I haven’t had enough time to properly sit down and play a Tegra enhanced game on the tablet yet, but from what I’ve seen of other people playing them at work they look particularly awesome. Widescreen for videos is neat, too.

The USB OTG adapter works great with both a wired Xbox 360 controller and a Playstation 2 controller through a USB adapter! (Adapters all the way down…). These worked out of the box with Snesdroid and Snes9x EX. I haven’t gotten around to testing any others, or the controller support of Tegra enhanced games. Nor have I tried a keyboard or mouse which should work too!
So yeah, one week in I am really happy with the device! As I find more stuff out and explore more features I will post more entries etc.

Switching to Android

I’m quite interested in the new Nexus 7 tablet from Google for a few reasons which I’m going to outline in this post. Briefly they include cost, reliance on iTunes, and the fact the apps that I actually use regularly on the iPad are now on Android too.

I traded my iPhone 4 in last September for a Samsung Galaxy S2 and haven’t looked back yet, I really doubt I’d ever buy another iPhone. I continued to use my iPad, but this might change soon!
I’m quite interested in the new Nexus 7 tablet from Google for a few reasons which I’m going to outline in this post. Briefly they include cost, reliance on iTunes, and the fact the apps that I actually use regularly on the iPad are now on Android too.

Nexus 7

I’m pretty sure I can migrate away from Apple completely without too much fuss, here are my thoughts anyway… The 16gb Nexus 7 is £199. The base iPad is £399, but I bought my current iPad second hand for around £300, and I could probably sell it for that soon (Yay for family!). My current thinking is buy the Nexus after payday and see how I get with it before I head off to uni in a few months, and sell the one I don’t want. If I sold the iPad it’ll pay off the Nexus, and I’m sure I could find someone to sell the Nexus to if it turns out I really don’t get alone with it.

iTunes on Windows is a piece of shit. It runs slowly, fails to sync all the time, and seemingly goes out of its way to annoy you. I know you can use an iPad without iTunes now, but that makes it harder to sync podcasts and the like. iTunes Match is a prime example! If you enable the service, you can no longer locally sync your music via USB you must download everything you want directly on the iPad. Awesome… A major draw of an Android tablet is not needing iTunes at all!

Anyway, onto the apps that I actually need to justify a tablet. Here is a quick rundown of what I mainly use on my iPad from day to day.

I guess I’ll lose access to the magazines I’ve bought over the last few years, but honestly it’s not a major concern. If I had physical copies I generally read them once, put them in the cupboard for a few years, then take them all to the tip; losing access to Retro Gamer and Wired isn’t really the end of the world.
As for the rest of the apps I just mentioned, they all appear to have fairly decent Android versions available. I’ve bought so many games on the iPad that I just never play, so I’m not that bothered about losing those either. Oh no… pocket planes…. Winking smile There is occasional Humble Bundles for Android anyway, so I can just wait for one of those to start stocking up on more Android games!

The only thing I am mildly concerned about is the state of PDF readers on Android. I use Goodreader on the iPad and it is absolutely amazing. Annotations, copes with massive files, etc. I’ve never had an issue with it, and I hope there is something equally as good on Android!

Apple’s new Podcast app on iOS is terrible. In the week I’ve been using it, it’s hard locked three or four times, and several other times not been responsive to touch inputs for a few seconds after the app is launched. Looking forward to using DoggCatcher again, which in my experience is hands down the best podcast client I have ever used!

I realise the Nexus has limited memory (around 13gb free according to reports) but that is easily remedied by rooting the device, installing stickmount and acquiring a USB OTG adapter for a few quid. From what I’ve read so far, it won’t play movies directly from the USB memory, but you can juggle the files around and copy them to the internal memory which isn’t that bad really. I can’t even remember the last time I actually watched a film on my iPad.
All in all, I think I could jump ship without a lot of fuss. I’d save myself a load of money when I sell the iPad, and I’d be a lot less upset if anything happened to the Nexus because it would be less than £200 to replace if it gets lost/stolen/broken.