Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Apple iPod Nano 6g v1.2 (Part 2)

Back in early October, I gave a favorable report on using the internal accelerometer on the Apple iPod Nano 6g (when updated to v1.2), see here. I decided to test it again on the treadmill.

This morning, I was too fatigued to do the Al Corniche run I did two days ago (see here). (I was suffering perhaps too much from a skin allergy condition that has recently flared up again.)

As a result, I decided to simply run with the iPod Nano on the treadmill in cool air-conditioned comfort at the Mövenpick Towers hotel (see left) for about 30 minutes. The gym there does have a spectacular view of the Gulf from the 25th floor. Better than feeling sorry for myself and doing absolutely nothing I suppose.

But instead of setting a steady, fixed pace (like last time), I varied the treadmill speed up and down. In fact, I ran for the first 10 minutes at 12.5 km/hr (7.8 mph). Then bumped up the speed to 13.5 km/hr (8.4 mph) for 5 minutes, and dropped it to 10.0 km/hr (6.2 mph) for 5 minutes to recover. Finally, back to 12.5 km/hr for the reminder of the run.

So what would one expect the device to report? Well, one would expect something like the red line shown below (possibly shifted slightly vertically, modulo speed calibration of the treadmill).

I can report that the blue data points seem to track the red line fairly well. Though it's not clear there is much difference in the data recorded between the 12.5 km/hr and 13.5 km/hr sections...

(Note: I downloaded the raw data points and directly plotted it in Excel myself. For those interested, you can find them in the directory /Volumes/iPod Nano Name/iPod_Control/Device/Trainer/Workouts/Empeds/nikeinternal/synched when mounted on a Mac. )

This ridiculously heavy-handed smoothing is potentially a huge problem that renders the device useless under non steady state conditions.

(Ignore what I said above. In a previous edition of this post, I said the iPod Nano smoothed away the speed changes. Mea culpa. I screwed up. There was a mistake in my Excel formula.)

From my treadmill speed settings, I should get an average pace of 7'54" min/mile, assuming the treadmill was calibrated perfectly. The internal accelerometer gave me a 7'25" min/mile average or about 6.5% off the treadmill settings.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Doha Al Corniche Run

It has been a very rough last few days indeed. Unable to sleep much at all, I worked through most of the night tired and irritated until dawn.

At 6am, still unable to sleep I ventured outside in frustration to run the Corniche in Doha. Might as well run myself into the ground.

I went in to work bleary-eyed after that as well.
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I'd something more to say.
As the lyrics so passionately articulate, it's the despair and desperation of time wasted and having nothing to show for it at all.

I have to also remark at this point that I can't believe the last time I posted about Doha was about two years ago (see England-Brazil Soccer Match).

So this morning at 6am, I did the Al Corniche run weary-eyed and not expecting much at all. I know my body will crash and collapse sooner or later. Sometimes I feel the sooner I get this to happen the better.

My route went from the Four Seasons Hotel (opposite the Mövenpick Towers, a Swiss chain, where I am staying) to the Pearl and back. Checking my records, I had originally filed the run with MapMyRun exactly 2 years and 10 days ago.

(I normally run all the way up to the edge of I.M. Pei's achingly beautiful Islamic Museum of Art, see here, but the side entrance was blocked by Doha's omnipresent and endless construction.)

See the route below:

I split the run into two halves. On the outbound leg I ran to the Pearl. Then took a short break to drink my water bottle and glance at the high-rise area where I had started my run and ran back along the curve of the Corniche.

Into the elevator, I went up to the jacuzzi at the hotel fitness center.

But being so tired, I wasn't in the mood to enjoy the brightness of the scenery from the 26th floor.

I downloaded my run statistics from my iPod Nano to the Nike+ website:

The run data wasn't that bad. At least I burned about 875 kcal in a bit over 7 miles (or nearly 12km). Still, I was incredibly tired and irritable. And decided not to review the details.

After breakfast, I relented and plotted both legs of the run in Excel. Here you go:

As the red line clearly reveals, yes, I was a wuss on that return leg.

My mind wanders randomly when I'm exhausted. But because I run with music on my iPod Nano, another set of lyrics came to mind:
They say a restless body can hide a peaceful soul
A voyager and a settler, they both have a distant goal
If I explore the heavens, or if I search inside
Well, it really doesn't matter as long as I can tell myself
I've always tried

Saturday, November 26, 2011

International Conference on Social Robotics: Amsterdam

I attended ICSR (International Conference on Social Robotics) 2011. Just a short, two day trip. It was held at the University of Amsterdam. I attended as an invited speaker at a panel discussion.

It was the 3rd international conference on this topic but my first time to see many presentations on human robot interaction. And of course, the robots themselves:

The conference sessions lasted all day starting in the morning. However, in the evening, we were able to go out, relax and experience the ambience of this very compact and walkable city: see bicycles, canals, and those narrow canal houses with richly ornamented facades. Preservation seems to be a priority here: as a result, I feel a real sense of history everywhere.

Let's try a little local beer. Let's see what they have on tap. Hmm, the Manke Monnik Tripel brewed by Amsterdamsche Stoombierbrouwerij De Bekeerde Suster looks interesting.

There very much seems to be a pub culture here.

Live jazz. This small place was packed. Standing room only.

Cheers to you!

A last picture, I feel I'm the happy monk:

It's onto Doha, Qatar next, another world away...

Monday, November 21, 2011

5 miles

Today was a revelation. My plodding solo 10 miler on Saturday seems to have paid off (see here). Like in cycling, there is a lot to be said for simply "doing the miles." Today, I felt a distinct difference in terms of running economy and form. With a new-found clarity and focus.

A single run does not a generalization make. So what sort of evidence can I bring to the table to support my speculative conclusions?

First, I can point to the fact on the two Thursdays previously, I'd suffered mightly, and fell far behind the other runners right from the start. (See blog posts bemoaning the fact Another 3 miles and Just 3 miles.) On this 5 miler I managed to more or less stay with the 2nd group nearly the whole way, only getting truly gapped at the end. Case in point, the photograph on the left would not have been possible last two Thursdays: other runners would have disappeared and gone home by the time I arrived.

One could think that was because the pace was slower for the 5 miler than the 3 miler. But I was also significantly faster this time, clocking in at 39'03" for a 7'31" min/mile pace with much less distress than the previous two Thursdays, where I recorded a maxed out 7'44" and 7'38", respectively. As further evidence of better running economy, I had enough in the tank to finish strongly, as the split times and the overall graph from my iPod Nano below shows:

Today was also the first day with my new colorful Newton Distancia shoes: my previous shoes being the Newton Sir Isaac model. The Distancia is lighter than the Sir Isaacs. However, with respect to my new-found running form: I have to point out: nah, it ain't the shoes!

Fail not for sorrow, falter not for sin,
But onward, upward, till the goal ye win!

(Frances Anne Kemble)

Watermelon and Tenergy

If it's watermelon slices and Tenergy rubber, it must be Open House at my Ping Pong Palace (aka my house), see here. Taken with the Olympus E-P1:

As my friends played at the table, I went outside to enjoy the cool late autumn air, and a great sunset.

Unfortunately, it's a shame I used my iPhone 4 to take the sunset photo instead of having my Olympus E-P1 at the ready. The picture of course is way worse than what is possible with my E-P1. The problem being that one has to capture the moment with whatever tools one has at hand. A few minutes later, when I went inside to grab my Olympus, the sunset had already deepened almost into darkness.

My only saving grace was that I had the presence of mind to activate the iPhone 4's HDR mode. Without a tripod, inevitably blurriness is introduced. It came out okay at web resolution. But it cannot stand enlargement or viewing on larger screens.

However, it's still immeasurably superior tothe non-HDR, i.e. regular iPhone 4 mode. See below:

Blow-out in the highlights, noise and lack of gradation at the lower end irretrievably mar the snapshot.

Navigation Foibles

I love the GPS Navigation system in my car. It's a rather expensive option, the value of which remains somewhat debatable, but on the positive side, it has a large and bright display placed at the proper distance for ease of focusing, is fully integrated into the audio and phone system, and arguably has improved safety, saved me eyestrain (compared to my iPhone's screen), time and gasoline.

Having said all that, there are some system foibles that I find maddening. On the minus side, unlike software for the iPhone, these OEM systems are not designed to be upgradable (apart from map updates).

One feature I find amazingly irritating is that it seems to have no rhyme or reason when it comes to displaying upcoming streets. For example, here it display the names of the upcoming cross streets both minor and major (thick blue line) perfectly.

The photo clearly shows I'm on N Alvernon Way, cross street is E Fairmount St and I'm coming up on E Bellevue St and E Speedway Blvd. It even (helpfully) displays the blue-lined cross street (E Speedway Blvd) twice, once on either side of the intersection!

Yet, somewhat mysteriously, sometimes it stubbornly refuses to reveal the name of a major (blue-lined) cross street, never mind the minor ones.

Here, I'm on E Grant Rd at the same map magnification level (700ft) as before. However, no clue about the identity of the major cross road is given. You'd think that'll be more important information than those parallel distant streets like E Lee St. Go figure.

The worst part of this of quirk is that I know it will have this annoying quirk for the rest of the lifetime of the car. I have emailed the manufacturer about it. However, despite the fact that this particular navigation system is connected, i.e. has a cellular interface (e.g. they can push destinations to you, or you can push e-destinations from the iPhone or computer to the car), they don't push out updates to application software like computer companies.

Update: I did get an email response almost immediately (10 minutes!) from a real person at the manufacturer, see below. I was pleasantly surprised by that.

We appreciate your loyalty to our brand, and thank you for providing us with your comments about the navigation system in your vehicle, and the cross-street display function. We apologize this feature has not met your expectations. We design our vehicles with our customer ownership experience in mind and it is through correspondence such as yours that we are able to continually improve our products. We appreciate the time you have taken to share your thoughts and to provide us with your view. Please be assured that your feedback has been documented at our National Headquarters for future model design consideration.

Parking Safety Specialist

I spotted this guy at at the multi-story parking garage that I use. If you enlarge the photo, you'll see but he has a rather nice-sounding job title: Parking Safety Specialist. Never noticed that before...

These guys have the thankless job of writing tickets when we don't follow the arrows inside the garage, fail to display the appropriate sticker in the windshield, or encroach on an adjacent space.

Since he seems to be a state of repose, I guess he is not lying in wait hoping to catch someone doing a left turn at the top of the ramp inside the garage. Rather, I can only suppose he must have had a tough day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

10 miles

I needed a long run. So Saturday morning, I ran along the Rillito River for 82 mins and a total of 10.34 miles, as indicated by my iPod Nano.

I started from Craycroft Rd on an out-and-back route along the northern Rillito River Park route. It's a fairly flat paved route with foot bridges and underpasses being the only elevation changes. On reaching the Campbell Rd bridge, I turned around.

Although I took one water bottle along in a fanny pack, I had to stop another two times for water. Fortunately, the route has several possible water stops at the various parks along the way.

I started out at around 7'47" (min/mile) pace - not truly sustainable at my current fitness level - and gradually lost speed, running the last segment at a sedentary 8'04" pace. Overall, I averaged just over 12 km/hr (7.5 mph) or for a 7'57" (min/mile) pace.

I'm fairly satisfied with my first long run of the season but I know I need more long runs to acclimatize my legs to the pounding. Pace-wise, I have to let my body pick it's comfort zone. If I push too hard, I won't be able to recover quickly and that'd be counterproductive training-wise.

I felt slight twinges in my shins. To be on the safe side, I'll pick up a new pair of running shoes tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Another 3 miles

One week ago I reported I ran 3 miles and suffered horribly (see here). Things can't get worse can they?

Well, Thursday I did another 3 miler. And somehow, I did do worse. Not only everyone was outta sight, but as the downwards spikes in the graph below show, I had the ignominy of having to stop several times to catch my breath.

The route was a tiny bit longer, though I thought actually the slightly cooler conditions were better this time than last.

I really should try to get in a long, steady run this weekend at my own pace.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stupid happy

I sat on my ZeroRH+ Angelfish (RH579) cycling glasses after I left them on my car seat during lunch today. One lens popped out (that's not supposed to happen) and there was a stress fracture in the lens near where they attach to the frame. I bit my tongue, didn't say a word but I was rather upset with myself at first.

Frustratingly, I couldn't get the lens back in immediately when I was in the car. Nor could I jam them in, the plastic wouldn't bend. Plus there is a spring-loaded metal pin that must be pushed back. Since they were so bloody expensive and had sentimental value, I was very persistent with fixing them. I spent an hour fiddling and struggling with them back at the office. Finally with the aid of a paper clip and a pair of small needle-nose pliers I managed to get them reattached properly. And I was stupid happy.

They are rather special. As you can see, the lenses only attach at one point and are super flexible and soft for safety reasons. They won't cut into your face as easily, and that minimizes gouging if you crash on the bike. I guess that flexibility also enabled them to survive me sitting on them without breaking.

As for the sentimentality that drove my perseverance, I bought them at a well-known sports store in Shibuya, Tokyo the day before a rainy Tokyo marathon. ZeroRH+ or ゼロ・アールエイチプラス is a high-quality Italian brand for technical sports gear for cycling and skiing. I remember dawdling over the cost for a while, rueing the fact I tend to lose things like this and that I'd left my inexpensive mail-order-brand Performance sunglasses at home. In the end, I managed to convince myself I needed them at dawn the next day and laid down the plastic.

This model (06) has 16~46% photochromic lenses. (Some models are 25~85%.) Excellent for both near dawn when one is assembling for the race and still later on when things brighten up considerably. I found the vision is very, very good indeed. Cost was around ¥24,000 (now $300), much higher than I'm used to paying for nearly disposable items. It's made in Italy and I guess that's the price one has to pay.

But I've managed to hang on to them for a few years. I ended up liking the lens quality so much I use them every day for driving. And they haven't scratched up like other cycling glasses I've owned. The soft lens case they come with helps for that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Just 3 miles

I ran just 3 miles around the campus this evening. And suffered horribly. As the students disappeared into the distance ahead of me, I immediately rued my training neglect.

(Last time I posted about running outdoors it was September 2nd. See A Sunset Run.)

As the graph above from my iPod Nano shows, I only managed to last 4 mins at 14 km/hr (8.5 mph) before slowing down to run at my own pace (a bit under 13 km/hr, or just below 8 mph). Have to say this is a pretty good loop around campus.

I could say I am 10lbs heavier than optimal and lack training miles. But the fact is, I'm old and my legs just can't implement what my brain wills it to do anymore. I'm fundamentally slower and need to take my time. As I completed the loop around campus, I was simply happy my lungs and legs held out for the distance. Average pace 7'38" per mile. To my surprise, my iPod congratulated me on a new benchmark 7'22" mile. Ya take what ya can get.

Monday, November 7, 2011

High-end in-ear monitors: JH Audio JH16 Pro

I've been listening to my brand-new pair of in-ear monitors for a couple of weeks now. They're the JH16 Pros I ordered at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest show.

They're extremely pricey and are custom-molded for my ears (done open-mouthed right at the show). In partial mitigation, they are complex, having 8 drivers for each ear, and the sound quality (especially the bass) simply blow the custom-molded Etymotics but bass-light Hf3s that I had before out of the water.

You really don't feel you're missing anything with such tiny devices. It's as good as the best full-sized headphones. It's significantly better than my car audio system. I don't feel like listening to the Etymotics anymore. The difference is night-and-day and readily apparent from the first moments. I simply enjoy my music more with the JH16 Pros.

(Note: believe it or not, they're not quite top-of-the-line for JH Audio. There is a brand-new fancier version of the JH16 Pro with an external box containing a DSP crossover and amplifier for maybe $600 more. It's called the JH-3A. But it's not as portable obviously.)

I bought it for use on trips: long flights and all that, so sound isolation is also important to me: hence, the custom ear-molds. I am listening to music (Apple lossless) out of my iPhone 4.

I'm told the sound can be further improved by bypassing the iPhone's inexpensive internal DAC (Digital to Analog converter) and headphone amplifier for an outboard solution: in other words, using the iPhone as a digital transport only and outsourcing digital-to-analog conversion and amplification to a (presumably, higher-quality) external box or boxes.

Two solutions exist at the moment to take the digital output from an iDevice: the Fostex HP-P1 which contains a 32 bit DAC and a headphone amplifier in one box, or the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo DAC converter feeding another box such as the ALO Continental vacuum tube-based headphone amplifier.

The cost to the wallet is another $750-$1200 depending on the solution, plus you sacrifice portability since you need to carry along one or two other boxes along with my iPhone that also need to be battery powered and charged. The upside is that you get the last 10% of sound quality out of the JH16 Pros.

Maybe I'll go the outboard DAC and separate amplifier solution at a later date, but right now I'm amazed at and very happy with the great sound quality I'm getting from such a tiny speaker system.