Six months with the Apple Watch

apple watch

Six months ago, I bought an Apple Watch. I had been doing some research for a talk I gave to a local economic development group in my hometown (“Technology, Craft, and Local Economies“) and had somewhat of a throwaway line about how we’ve gone from supercomputers that send people to the moon to computers that we wear. I did some Googling and came upon stories about Apple Watches saving lives. This expensive watch suddenly seemed a lot less inexpensive so I took the plunge somewhat half-heartedly since I’ve never been a watch person. The specific model I bought was the Apple Watch Edition GPS + Cellular, 42mm with Gray Ceramic Case (Series 3).

You can find deep reviews of the Apple Watch with a simple Google search so I’m just going to list some of the things I like most:

  • The watch. This is really mundane but a watch is really useful for my coaching work. I go to the client wherever they are. Some rooms have a clock and some don’t. As I started coaching, it seemed awkward to check the time on my phone. I didn’t want to be the guy digging in my pocket to check the time while a CEO was in the middle of explaining a difficult issue. At the same time, I have to keep myself and the client on schedule, so a watch is unusually helpful for the work I’m doing. The alarm on the Apple Watch is unobtrusive and I can use it to buzz when we have 5-10 minutes left in our session to make sure I focus on wrapping up and closing any remaining loops without interrupting the flow.
  • Heart monitoring. I mentioned the “Apple Watches saves lives” stories above that first caught my attention. A friend recently had a surprise diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF) after a trip to the emergency room with some unusual symptoms. He told me about the Apple Heart Study at Stanford. You install an app on your watch that looks for irregular heart rhythms and if you have one, the app will connect you to a doctor for further monitoring. I ran the app for weeks before getting an “all clear” from it. The Apple Watch can detect hypertension and sleep apnea. On a more mundane level, because your heart rate is being monitored whenever you wear the watch, you learn a lot about what makes your heart beat faster or slower. Jack Dorsey found, for example, that testifying in Congress raises one’s heart rate. In the initial period, I started to understand how mundane activities (taking stairs, running for the open subway door) affected my heart rate and how much cardiovascular exercise I was getting when I wasn’t officially “working out.”
  • Activity mindset. The “close your rings” mentality baked into the watch is incredibly motivating. If your rings aren’t closed for the day, you get a friendly alert (example: “A 5-minute brisk walk will close your Move ring.”) Quite often, I’ll jump up and walk around the living room or maybe around the block. On days when you close the rings early, it feels great. Some mornings I close all but my “stand” ring by 9am and I feel like I am truly winning at life.
  • Sleep tracking. Sleep tracking is an inexact science and there are lots of articles out there about why wearables aren’t completely accurate but in my experience they seem at least directionally accurate so you can see improvements even if the baseline isn’t exactly right. I’ve been using the Apple Watch to track sleep using AutoSleep. I wear the watch when I’m sleeping and it has helped me understand my sleep patterns better than I ever have. For a while, I would note anything unusual I did before going to bed and wake up to see how I had slept. For example, just one or two drinks in the hours before bed killed my deep sleep completely. Late dinners did the same thing. On the nights with no alcohol and a relatively early dinner, I got high quality sleep. I figured this out after a couple of months and I have never been more rested and aware of how specific behaviors affect sleep. I had always heard this but seeing it reflected in data from your own body is much stronger evidence.
  • Consistent workout monitoring. I try to go to the gym regularly and tend to use the elliptical machine and stationary bike. As anyone who does this knows, the calorie and heart rate readings you get on these machines can vary widely. With the watch, I just go to the Workout app on the watch and choose the activity and the watch takes care of the rest (and with WatchOS 5, automatic workout detection kicks in and the watch just “knows” what you’re doing). I used to take a photo of the screen on the workout machine when I was done and enter the numbers into a spreadsheet for tracking but now I just let the Health app keep track of it for the most part (though I still regularly dump the data from the Health app into a comma-delimited file using the QS Access app)
  • The ability to leave your phone at home. I have the version with cellular service built in so I can put my AirPods in my pocket, leave my phone at home, and run an errand without worrying about missing a call or a text.
  • Waterproof. You can wear it when swimming (I wore it in the ocean this summer) and in the shower.
  • Control volume on a Sonos from the shower. This seems almost silly but I LOVE this feature. I have a Sonos in the bathroom and I listen to music in the shower. Sometimes you just want to turn a song up and if your watch and the Sonos are on the same wifi network, you can do that by turning the knob (aka the “Digital Crown”) on the side of the watch.

When I bought the Apple Watch, I wasn’t sure I would like it. Six months later, I love it. I feel more informed about my day-to-day health and that has unquestionably made me healthier. I’m not sure how I lived without it.

Review: Jawbone Bluetooth headset

Recently, I went through another round of a roughly annual “find a Bluetooth headset that actually works” exercise after throwing the latest failed attempt in the electronic junk drawer beside the cracked Palm V and the old SCSI Jaz drive. First of all, let me state for the record that I don’t consider myself one of those Bluetooth headset guys and generally observe a personal “only use in the car” rule. Also, when I’m looking at Bluetooth headsets, I’m definitely not looking for something that doubles as a fashion accessory, nor am I looking for something that fits comfortably enough to wear all day. I want something that works reliably with my phone, fits reasonably well, and doesn’t degrade call quality. While I generally do my best to be in a quiet place for calls, it’s inevitable that I’m out and about sometimes and need call someone from the car, in an airport, etc. Anyone who does many business conference calls knows that the guy calling from a car or at a busy airport gate can be a distraction to everyone else. “Can you mute, please?” is a common refrain in those situations.

Until recently, I used the Jabra BT5020 with my iPhone and even though Jabra claims “wind noise reduction” as a feature, a lot of my calls began with the person on the other end asking, “where are you, in a wind tunnel?” I tried the Samsung WEP-200 on Tim Bray’s recommendation, but had trouble pairing it with my iPhone (this seems to be common), and it fell out of my ear if I moved my head even slightly. In my latest round of research, all roads pointed to the Aliph Jawbone. (Disclaimer: just as I was about to go buy it, I serendipitously got an email from the PR firm representing Aliph asking me if I wanted to review the Jawbone, so I received a complimentary review unit).

After a couple months of using the Jawbone regularly, I can attest that it works as advertised and has exceeded my expectations. The online demo of the Jawbone’s Noise Shield technology seems too good to be true, but it isn’t — what a pleasant surprise. The Noise Shield works so well that I sometimes use the Jawbone in situations where I could actually use my phone without the headset, e.g. standing outside a restaurant on a noisy San Francisco street. This breaks my “only in the car” rule, but the noise reduction is worth it. I’ve tested the Jawbone in the car with the Noise Shield off (“you sound like you’re in the car”) and with it on (“wow, you sound like you’re in a quiet office now!”) In all cases, the caller on the other end comes through loud and clear, too. The battery life for my level of usage has been excellent, too.


I do have a few minor gripes. The unit can be a little clumsy to get on and off of your ear. The variety of included earbuds and ear clips were impressive but I couldn’t find a combination that fit my ear really well. Still, the Jawbone fits well enough and its enthusiastic users have some suggestions to create a better fit. When the Jawbone is on standby, I have to turn it off and then on to re-pair it with my iPhone, but that is only a minor annoyance.

All in all, the Jawbone is an excellent product that delivers on its promise. Since I’ve been using it, no one has asked “where are you?” or “can you mute, please?” I never thought I would say this about a Bluetooth headset, but I love it.

Going paperless: is it (finally) time?

For years now, I’ve held onto the dream of going paperless — a dream that was usually shattered with an afternoon of clumsy scanning on a substandard consumer scanner and a few paper cuts. Every couple of years, I check back in on the state of the art and think about giving it another try. In the past, I’ve mainly been scared away by a very simple barrier: the lack of a reasonably-priced scanner with a document feeder that works consistently. I definitely didn’t want to spend my limited spare time placing documents on a flatbed scanner.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing my latest round of research on going paperless and nearly every success story I’ve seen has one scanner at the center of it: the Fujitsu ScanSnap (if you’re using a Mac, the specific model is the Fujitsu ScanSnap S500M). By all accounts, the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner is the iPhone of document scanners (or, judging from the near-universal praise for the ScanSnap — which has been around for a while — the iPhone is the ScanSnap of phones?) No scanner seems to come close for going paperless.

The ScanSnap can scan up to 18 pages per minute (double-sided, so that’s really 36 pages) and the feeder tray can hold 50 pages. Judging from what I’ve read about the scanner, you can clear out your filing cabinet in fairly short order with this little workhorse. It’s definitely not cheap (~$450), but it does come with a full version of Adobe Acrobat 7 Standard (the latest version of the ScanSnap for Windows users, the S510, comes with Acrobat 8, but I couldn’t find an update to their Mac scanner).

Some other random notes from my research:

People who use the ScanSnap with the Mac seem to highly recommend DEVONthink Pro Office, a piece of software with the tagline “meet your second brain.” I’ve run across many mentions of DEVONthink in my occasional GTD spasms, so it might be time to check it out seriously. Wally Grotophorst, a librarian at George Mason University, writes a bit about the magic of DEVONthink and the ScanSnap. According to Wally, DEVONthink has a nice “see also” function as you’re browsing your documents, so if you’re looking at one of your scanned documents (which DEVONthink fully indexes for search), the software will recommend related documents. Compare this to flipping through a filing cabinet.

Other people seem to really like Yep, which is billed as “iPhoto or iTunes for documents.” Yep supports tagging of documents (it can determine the tags algorithmically from the content of your scanned documents) and even has a built-in tag cloud. While a tag cloud with terms like “insurance” and “taxes” isn’t as sexy as a Flickr tag cloud, it’s certainly more useful. Chris Gulker has a nice mini-review of Yep — check it out.

I’ve collected a few links to ScanSnap resources tagged as scansnap in my feed. Needless to say, I placed my order today and hope to be posting more about my paperless experience soon (and posting more in general — what a busy 2007 this has been!)

What I'm listening to

I’m so immersed in work stuff right now (all fun) that I don’t even want to attempt to make sense of it for a public audience, so here’s a throwaway post on the music I’m listening to right now, with mini-mini-reviews of each:

  • Wolfmother, Wolfmother: OK, the band’s name is Wolfmother — what else do you need to know? Power trio, echoes of early Sabbath so heavy that I expected a young Ozzy to pop out of my iPod. An album cover that would make Jimmy Page proud. Song subjects: women, unicorns, gnomes, and occasional mentions of gypsies, and it’s all so completely unapologetic. I would say it was really stupid if I wasn’t so busy loving it and wishing I had a Camaro (thanks to Ann Robson for the recommendation!) Favorite tracks: “Colossal,” “Woman,” “Apple Tree”. (Pitchfork review)
  • Various, dmdk: a danish celebration of depeche mode: what’s not to like? Favorite tracks: “Dreaming of Me” by Figurines and “Just Can’t Get Enough” by CPH Jet. (No Pitchfork review!)
  • Band of Horses, Everything All the Time: Soaring indie pop of the type that always gets me. Favorite tracks: “Weed Party,” “The Great Salt Lake”. (Pitchfork review)
  • Islands, Return to the Sea: ok, I’m running out of critical steam — I just like this record. Favorite tracks: “Don’t Call Me Whitney Bobby,” “Rough Gem.” (Pitchfork review)
  • Eagles of Death Metal, Death by Sexy: When I heard the EODM’s debut album (Pitchfork review), I did what any Silicon Valley music fan would have done at the time — I started an Orkut group in their honor. The group has over 300 members now, but the talk is mostly in Portuguese, so all I’m left with is this second album, and that’s just fine with me. Favorite tracks: all of them as long as you’re drinking beer with friends out in the sun. (Pitchfork review)
  • The Magic Numbers, The Magic Numbers: Lovely, sweet, tooth-rotting indie pop. (Pitchfork review)

Enjoy the spring.

The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society

album coverAnyone who has been living in Northern California for the past couple of months knows that it has rained, and rained, and rained. I don’t generally enjoy exchanging pleasantries about the weather, but I found myself doing just that recently, but less as a conversation starter and more of a plea to the gods: When will the rain stop? It has been that bad.

We’ve had a nice rain-free couple of days now and I’m certain that the clouds first broke the moment I dusted off The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (or Village Green Preservation Society for short). The album is that good — when you’re listening to it, it makes you feel like it literally can’t rain. This is an album that defies meteorology.

I’m not going to ruin the pop majesty of the album by weighing it down with rock-critic-speak or dissecting its influences, or what the bands that followed them owe the Kinks (though this album is a must-have for any music geek who enjoys such topics). Village Green Preservation Society is too viscerally enjoyable for that. Instead, if the weather is good, I suggest that you pack a picnic basket and a copy of the album, pick up some good friends, head out into the country, and sing songs like “Animal Farm” and “Picture Book” along with your companions. You might not know the words when you first pile into the car and press “play,” but you will know them by the time you lay out your picnic blanket — I promise.

Update, 04/15/06: Apparently, saying that the Kinks’ record “defies meteorology” in its wonderful sunny-ness has gotten this post into at least one meteorology news feed (as discovered on this page):

Welcome, meteorologists!

VNC vs. WebEx: VNC wins!

I’m running a little activity at work tomorrow where I need to allow several remote people to show demos (mostly web-based and likely on Firefox) on a laptop hooked into a projector in a conference room full of people watching the demos. This sounds like a job made for WebEx, right? I hadn’t used it in a while and thought maybe it was a good idea.

Wrong. Bad idea.

After messing around with WebEx for two hours and getting absolutely nowhere (on a 1.8 ghz machine with 1GB RAM), I gave up. I tried starting WebEx in Firefox (it worked, but my colleague couldn’t join the meeting, Firefox stopped responding, and I had to kill the Firefox process), then tried starting WebEx in IE (where it insisted that install an ActiveX control — yuck — and froze my machine). It broke in lots of different ways, and I had to reboot my normally quite stable XP machine.

I decided to give the RealVNC Free Edition a try. Within about five minutes, a colleague across the Internet was remote controlling my laptop (through a couple of layers of NAT). Easy, easy, easy. The only downside is that the sharing is one-to-one, but that’s all I really needed in this case (since the projector will handle the one-to-many sharing).

It looks like WebEx just isn’t particularly Firefox-friendly ( James Governor suggests MS Live Meeting instead of WebEx if you’re using Firefox). If you search for Firefox in the WebEx Knowledge Base, though, you’ll find a page (Article ID WBX21942 — can’t figure out their URL scheme to link to it properly!) that says you just need to download the “Meeting Manager Installer for Netscape Navigator” and install the Firefox User Agent Switcher and tell Firefox to announce itself as Netscape 4.8. Maybe I’ll give that a try the next time I use WebEx — if I ever use it again.

Pimp my 24" Dell widescreen monitor

If it seems like I’m writing a lot about products these days. . . well, I am. It’s the holiday season, so it’s a good time to be thinking about such things. I have been doing a lot of experimenting with my home computer setup in the past few weeks. I’ve seen a number of people write about the 24″ widescreen Dell monitors (aka Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW 24-inch Wide Aspect Flat Panel LCD monitor) and how great they are purely as monitors, but that’s only half the story. In relative terms, this is a pretty cheap monitor (do a search for “dell coupons” and you’re likely to find a big discount somewhere — I got mine for less than $900 including tax and shipping), but the price belies that fact that you can solve more problems with it than just having a big screen for your computer. I bought one recently and I have pimped it out well beyond my original intentions of just having a big monitor.

Here’s what I have hooked into the five monitor inputs:

  • my work laptop using the VGA connector
  • a G5 using the DVI connection
  • a DirecTivo satellite TV tuner hooked into the S-Video connection
  • an XBOX (the old model, not the 360) using the composite connection
  • nothing in the composite input yet

The switch on the front of the monitor allows me to switch easily across all these devices, so I can use the monitor for the computer, a satellite TV stream via my DirecTivo, the XBOX, or my work laptop without messing around with cables or other switches. It’s really convenient.

The coolest thing, though (and something that doesn’t seem to be heavily mentioned in what I’ve read about the Dell widescreen) is the picture-in-picture capability. What this means in practical terms is that I can keep a little TV window on my computer desktop while I’m working. I’m a big college basketball fan and during college basketball season, I keep up with the games and spend a lot of time at the computer looking at stats and scores. Now that can be combined on the same screen. Yay.

(I know what some people are thinking — “I don’t watch TV.” Well, this isn’t for you then! An aside on this matter: I hear a lot of people say, “I don’t watch TV — I only watch DVDs of movies and TV shows.” To me, that’s kind of like saying, “I’m a vegetarian, but I eat chicken” — something I’ve heard more than once. Ahem. In this vein, I recommend checking out “Five things (besides a television) that you could constantly remind people you won’t use” on the excellent site by Merlin Mann of 43 Folders fame.)

Here’s a shot of the picture-in-picture capability with my OS X desktop and CNN running in the bottom corner:

Another really nice thing about the Dell monitor is the built-in card reader that sits unobtrusively on the side of the monitor — if you weren’t looking for the card slots, you would hardly even notice them. I use a camera with an SD card, so this feature allowed me to unhook the ugly USB SD card reader device I had hanging off my computer. It doesn’t just do SD cards, though — it can read 8 other types of cards. The monitor also has a USB hub with 4 ports hanging off of it. I threw my old USB hub in a drawer when I got the Dell and the connections on my desk are much cleaner now.

Some people give Dell grief for ripping off the form factor of the new Apple Cinema Displays, but I think this monitor innovates beyond what Apple has done (and I’m no fan of Dell). None of the innovations are rocket science (the SD card reader, the multiple independent inputs including VGA), but they are small touches that make the whole monitor much greater than the sum of its parts. (see the Dell specs vs. the Apple Cinema Display specs for a comparison). Granted, this isn’t necessarily more simple than the Apple product, but it offers more features, and features that I actually needed. (Full disclosure: I don’t have access to a current Cinema Display, so let me know if I’m missing something feature-wise.)

The only (understandable) downside to the Dell monitor is that with all those video sources pumping into the screen, you need a way to handle the audio. The computer audio is easy — just use the speakers you already have hooked up to your computer. To get audio for your TV tuner and/or XBOX, you need to put a stereo receiver in the stack and run the audio output for them through it. This is kind of a drag since your computer audio will be separate.

I tried to figure out a good way to run the audio from my DirecTivo through the Mac, but just couldn’t figure it out. I’m not a total amateur at such things, so I’m surprised it didn’t work. When I ran audio out from the DirecTivo’s optical out into the G5’s optical in, the Sound control panel showed that I was getting audio levels, but the speakers wouldn’t output the audio. If anyone has any tips on how to make this happen, let me know. For now, I have my computer speakers and some regular JBL speakers hooked into a stereo receiver for the DirecTivo and the XBOX.

Despite the minor annoyance of having two sets of speakers, my new setup totally rocks. I highly recommend the Dell if you want a nice monitor — but don’t forget to check out all the other nice benefits beyond the huge display.