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.

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 del.icio.us 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!)

Subscribe to my blog via email

I love FeedBurner. Every now and then, I check out features I’m not using and try a new one out. Tonight, I added the ability to subscribe to my blog via email using FeedBurner email. The form is permanently in my blog template now, but here’s what it looks like for all you RSS-only readers:

To subscribe to my blog via email, enter your email address below:

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Enjoy.

Unix cal command: a key part of my calendaring solution

I noticed both Tim Bray and John Roberts‘ recent ruminations on the perfect calendar solution, and while I don’t have the answer, in thinking about it I realized that I have a quirky calendar-related habit that has stuck with me for over a decade, throughout all my own various experiments with Palm Desktop, Outlook, iCal, etc. On a daily basis, I use the Unix cal command to help schedule my life. I don’t know what I would do without it.

When looking at broad swaths of time (say, a whole year), nothing beats the good ol’ cal command for quickly giving you a lay of the land when you’re making scheduling decisions far in advance (for conferences, vacations, etc.) Just type “cal 2006” and you’ve got the whole year laid out before you:

Of course, the Unix cal command is a read-only environment, so once I determine whether a particular date works for whatever I’m doing, I have to put my commitment on a writeable calendar somewhere — but I still couldn’t do without my cal.

Anyone else out there do this?

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.

ecto for Windows (alternate title: Windows install dependencies suck)

About a year and a half ago (in what seems like another life now), I wrote about my first (good) impressions using ecto for OS X. It was a different job, a different blog platform (Movable Type), and a different OS. Now that I’m doing Windows again at work (still OS X at home), I decided to try ecto for Windows against a WordPress blog.

I downloaded ecto for Windows (zip file, ~3.9MB) and was slightly annoyed when the readme told me I needed to download something else, Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 SP1, which is about 10.5MB. I downloaded it anyway, but got this error message when I tried to install it on my stock Yahoo-issued laptop (which has been rock-solid since I got it just over three months ago):

The upgrade patch cannot be installed by the Windows Installer service because the program to be upgraded may be missing, or the upgrade patch may update a different version of the program. Verify that the program to be upgraded exists on your computer and that you have the correct upgrade patch.

Oh well. I noticed on the .NET Framework 1.1 SP1 page that there was a link to .NET Framework 2.0, so I downloaded that (almost 23MB!) My first thought was, “if this thing installs, there is absolutely no way I’m going to get away without a reboot.” My second thought was “there should be backwards compatibility — maybe it will work.” It installed — with no reboot required. Wow.

Then I tried to install ecto again and got this message:

Microsoft .NET Framework v1.1 SP1 is not installed. Please visit Microsoft website to download and install the framework before installing ecto.

For the heck of it, I tried installing v1.1 again, and got this message again:

The upgrade patch cannot be installed by the Windows Installer service because the program to be upgraded may be missing, or the upgrade patch may update a different version of the program. Verify that the program to be upgraded exists on your computer and that you have the correct upgrade patch.

Deciding that the .NET Framework 2.0 was of no use to me, I went to Add/Remove Programs to remove it and got this message: “Uninstalling Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 might cause other programs to stop working correctly. Are you sure you want to uninstall Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0?” Ugh. What “other programs” are we talking about? I didn’t really feel like blowing up my laptop, so I stopped right there. The ecto for Windows FAQ addresses this requirement: “Q2: Is the .Net Framework really necessary? ecto for Windows is developed entirely in Visual Studio .Net 2003 using C#. This allow rapid development of new features and debugging.”

My verdict on ecto for Windows is simple: making it easy to get past the install process relatively painlessly would be a nice start. I never got past the first dependency. I shouldn’t have veered off the script and upgraded to .NET Framework 2.0 for the heck of it, but should it really be this painful and require a secondary download that is 3x larger than the software itself to get going? I loved ecto for OS X. I guess I’ll have to wait to see how it works for Windows until ecto works with .NET Framework 2.0.

Update: for those of you who don’t read the comments, Alex writes in with the following excellent news (and barely ten minutes after I posted!):

Support for .Net 2.0 in the installer will be added soon. ecto is .Net 2.0 compatible, it is just that the installer needs to be updated to check for that. A maintainance update will be released this weekend to include .Net 2.0 compatibility.

As a matter of fact, the next major update will require .Net 2.0 framework.

I’ll write more about ecto itself when I get it installed. . . but I certainly admire the rapid response.

Update 11/28/05: Alex Hung e-mailed me on Thursday to let me know that ecto had been updated to include .Net 2.0 compatibility. I just installed the new version of ecto with no problems and am using to update this blog post. Thanks, Alex!