While I wait for the Kid who is in her Saturday art class, I’m sitting in a McCafe drinking a $1 coffee an mooching free wifi to kill some time and to write some posts. I’m using a Bluetooth keyboard tethered to my iPhone which is plugged into a portable USB battery pack all while I track the time on my GPS enabled smart watch and listen to music on headphones so small I forgot I was wearing them. It struck me as worth writing here that the largest thing on my little bistro table is my coffee cup. I know we’re all all used to how small and clever things are these days, but every once in a while it still catches me off guard.
As is usually the case whenever I opt to buy a new camera, a confluence of vacation speculation and a modest financial windfall leads me to ponder a technology upgrade.
I think it was a solid five years ago when I bought my first GoPro, a Hero 3. It went to multiple countries, took tens of thousands of photos and too many hours of video to count, and still sits on my shelf as a backup. In fact, I hiked it up Mount Robson this summer and did a lot of side-by-side comparison of the footage compared to my second GoPro.
My second GoPro was a Hero 4 Session. I bought it specifically because it was tiny. The notion I had in my head was that (a) I had been doing a lot of running with my GoPro (v1) but (b) that camera was a little too bulky to bring along for serious races (ie, the New York Marathon). I picked up a session nearly 2 years ago, and although I found it was a minor compromise on image & video quality over the older camera, the photographers maxim held much stronger with the Session: “The best camera is always the one you have with you.” …and with such a small camera, I always had it with me. It fit in my pocket. It went everywhere. Running. Races. Vacation. Up mountains.
Fast forward to a couple weeks ago.
I’ve been eyeing the Hero 5. It marked a significant upgrade from what I had, but was still part of that GoPro ecosystem in which I’m almost as heavily invested in mounts and do-dads as I am cameras (maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.) Still, it wasn’t quite tempting enough..
… Not tempting enough until a few weeks ago the Hero 6 was announced with spec that suddenly cross the threshold of slight improvement into massive jump: higher framerates (mean some awesome slow-mo footage) and a slick on-board stabilization feature (which means running footage that doesn’t make you want to vomit watching it) just to name the two that clicked me into serious consideration mode.
Long story short, I now own this camera. Yup. I picked up a Hero 6 Black on Monday night and you’ll be seeing some footage from it in the very near future. I brought it home, un-boxed it, and went to do the memory card shuffle (you know… where you move the best memory card into the new camera, second best in the second newest, etc…)
Aaaaaaaaand …I couldn’t find the Session, my little mini-GoPro-v2 that came along to New York and up Mount Robson, and had been on a few dozen runs through the river valley. I’d set it down somewhere, stuck it in a drawer, left in a pocket, dropped it in a shoe or between a crack in the floorboards maybe. The problem with small technology is that if you sneeze funny it flutters away in the wind. And I’ve been turning the house upside-down for two days and wracking my brain to remember when I last had it and where it end up.
I mean, great timing on getting a new camera and I’m stoked about trying out the Hero 6 and posting some awesome footage in the coming weeks… but the case of the missing camera is going to drive me nuts if it doesn’t turn up from wherever it has hidden itself.
I usually take better care of my gear, so this is almost more embarrassment than frustration.
At least a dozen, but the better question is what percentage of my day do I look at them. Sadly, that up in the 50%+ range.
Most of the folks I run with already use GPS tools and Strava to keep track of their runs (there are still a few stubborn holdouts!) and seeing our routes mapped out online afterwards is always a bit rewarding.
We went down to Hawrelak pond for a skate on Sunday and I decided to put my GPS watch on and press record. The result was a little over six and a half klicks of ice time over about 45 minutes. Much of that was lumbering around with Claire, but I did a few laps too. And I even tried to write my name in giant GPS letters in the middle of the rink.
The best part was that I wasn’t even alone. Shortly after uploading someone gave me a thumbs up on my activity (one of the social “features” of Strava) and when I looked at his profile, sure enough he had been out on the ice too, doing laps and had passed me four or five times.
But he didn’t write his name on the ice.
We got a little turned around in NYC, but it’s hard to get truly lost with an iPhone and Google Maps in your pocket.
I found an abandoned iPhone on the train on Friday, and at the end of the line turned it into the driver. The story is a little more curious however, and turned into something of an odd observation and social experiment for the twenty minutes that made up the duration of the trip. When I boarded, the train was moderately full, but as I walked on I noticed that one entire seat area (four seats total) was empty. I was fiddling with my music so I only half looked, but when I settled in a second later I noted a lost iPhone on the seat opposite. For five stations people boarded and notably avoided either touching the device or moving it or even acknowledging it. People chose to stand rather than move it and sit. About half way to home, one guy finally spoke up and asked me if it was mine. “No. It’s been there for a few stops.” I said. He shrugged and sat somewhere else. I waited another couple stations (and a few text message dings) later, until I finally breached the invisible wall and plucked it from the seat. But it makes one wonder: what’s so special about these devices that we carry everywhere that so few will dare to reach across that uncomfortable barrier and save one abandoned on a train.
Magpies are considered one of the most intelligent animals in the world, with complex cognition and strong, clever memories. Consider that next time you catch one picking through your trash.
All throughout the year, I see our Corvid neighbors watching, along the paths and from the treetops as I run the asphalt and plod through the winding trails, accumulating distance. So, in a strange way, as I meticulously track my training progress with gadgets, strings of numbers, spreadsheets, and data shared technologically over the social medias, there is a softer and more abstract agent at work from an alternative perspective. A perspective alluded to, but rarely mentioned here. Nature, peering at me through her glassy bird eyes, seems to know something about my efforts that is much more ineffable and little more unbound from the strict boundaries of logic. If I let it, it would pull me back to center, but I admit: I don’t always let it.
Failing to understand whereupon that balance pivots is holding me back.
Or, it feels that way.
I’ve been meaning for a very long time to find a way to write about the softer side of running. It’s so easy to get caught up in the logical aspects, to hang purpose upon fitness and function upon goals and progress, that I all-too-often spew numbers as a replacement for meaning. Etched in the yang of that sometimes-too-logical yin is a kind of gut feeling or a philosophical flow that fits into the squishy places of all our training. We run not merely to reach somewhere, but to feel the path under our feet.
To put it anecdotally: the other day we were about to leave on a run and while we stood there in the entrance of our meeting point, delaying our departure while trying (and failing) to agree upon a route, a distance and a pace, Jenn frowned and asked the obvious question: “Why can’t we just run?”
No one objected to that, so that’s what we did.
And it was nice.
My bias in this informal collection of writing, here on this blog at least, has been pivoting in the direction of technology. After all, I am a technology guy. I revel in tech. I work in tech. I play with tech. I communicate with tech. And when I get called in to do a guest lecture for someone’s running clinic, invariably I get called in to talk about tech.
Thus, and perhaps for for no other reason than my own personal mental and physical balance, to find that pivot back to the center of my training purpose and running passion, I have been needing, yearning, craving to write something –anything– from the other side. The far side of technology. The heart rather than the head of this effort. And because I think it captures the spirit of this thing, whatever that thing is and what is going to take me many years of chaotic writing to explain more specifically, that other side is something I’m calling my Conversations with Magpies.
Because they’re smart. And they’re watching…
“Dad, do you remember that girl who made a comment about my dancing cat?” She asks over her toast at breakfast.
I blink only once or twice at the near-nonsensical question. It’s too early in the morning for that particular brand of kid-using-the-internet gibberish, but the fog clears with a bit of my own peanut butter laden bread and I cough out a confident, “Oh, yeah… sure.”
At not-quite-eight, she’s still seems a little (nay, a lot) young for the digital wilderness wasteland that is social media in the early twenty-first century. The elil are at hunt, and it seems but all a parent can do. Her recent forays into this unexpected interest, however, have been bolstered by the mostly-sheltered social aspect of it and I’m wary about hiding that carrot for fear of losing the (seemingly positive) grip the toy itself holds upon her. She’s been coding. I’ve been nudging and providing guidance, but mostly she’s exploring on her own and finding a kind of creative success in doing so.
“She made a really cool game.” The Girl explains, then her tone turns a bright shade of justification. “But she’s eleven. It’s better than mine.”
I grin. “That’s okay. You can learn from her, you know. Did you look inside to see how her game works?” I ask.
“A little.” She shrugs, considering, which is good enough for me at the moment. The simplified programming-style of the free website has her engaged enough to pry back the corners a little more at each attempt, trying new things as her ideas get more confident, and adding complexity and she groks the abstractions of the code. She’s learning how to turn her imagination into step-wise commands that can be fed into the system. And she’s learning how to peek into the gears of what other kids have shared. For now, and for me, that’s a win.
“And?” I prod.
She takes another bit of her toast and chews in what seems like a thoughtful manner. “I don’t know.” She shrugs again. “It helped.” Another bite. “But I have something I want to try after breakfast. Is that alright?”
“That’s great.” I reply.
nurturing imagination, rule 023
hack logical imagination: code something… anything
I may be biased about writing code, being a bit of a web monkey myself, but computer programming has become something of the trendy skill-du-jour in which everyone wants their tech-savy kids to dabble, at least a little. Like learning French or studying the piano, there is probably a rational argument to be made in either direction for child rearing, pro versus con, structured learning versus free-play, and on and on and on. And perhaps we’ll stumble through the anxiety of knowing that the opportunity cost of pursuing any one skill above anything other is irreducibly complex, and it probably doesn’t matter anyhow. But like any father through history passing down skills to his kids, I’m teaching mine to code and the narrow-minded techie in me thinks its a skill everyone should have.
In the end, coding –be it through words or pictures, IDEs or point-and-click websites– is just another outlet for creativity and imagination: and the power to synthesize abstract ideas into visual, literal, shareable, interactive toys is just a perk of this toy in particular. If nothing else, she’ll appreciate my job a little more. In a perfect world, she’ll hack the multiverse of their infinite digital possibilities.
 I just finished reading Watership Down. Google it.
 Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab https://scratch.mit.edu/
Once again I’ll be giving my standard talk on running technology tonight. I was invited by Heather to chat to her clinic group about the uses of tech to enhance training, a talk I’ve given about fifteen times by now, each time getting a little more enhanced by the number of tools, websites, and dangling bits of plastic-coated silicon that are available to quantify one’s effort. My first stab at the topic was blogged about over four years ago and still sees some traffic. I’ll be refreshing my own brain on my ten points sometime later today, and adding a few bits to it prior to kicking off the evening discussion. If nothing else I may turn a few more naive runners into sport data geeks like me, tracking their every klick and charting their progress across the decades. At worst, it’s another milestone for running nerdom.
Self diagnosis is an art form. Or just stupid… one of the two.
Last time I had this little bout of sciatic nerve issue, I had a full round of tests and the doctor concluded that I needed (a) rest (b) painkillers and (c) to work on my core strength. I played along with the first two, but scoffed at the third because, hey, I run… I’m in shape, right?
One year later, I’m experiencing waves of identical symptoms, the most annoying of which is probably the unpredictable cramping of my calf muscles.
Hack : Core Strength
Thus I turn to technology and the epic lazy approach to fitting in core strengthening exercises into my day.
Oh sure, for you it’s easy. You get home and do a hundred crunches every night before your fifty-klick run as you gulp down a protein shake all the while writing a best-selling How-To-book on the same subject. Or, you’re like me, and you sit at a desk for eight hours straight, need a calendar reminder to pop up and tell you to use your legs for something besides a convenient place to store your shoes, and are lucky enough to squeeze in a run a few times a week let alone anything resembling a weight training regimen.
Technology this time comes in the form of my phone. Actually THERE IS an app for that. Multiple apps, in fact, and since I’m carrying this little device around with me for two-thirds of my day “why not” I thought “get it involved in the lifestyle change that is going to be necessary in fixing up my seemingly threatened lifestyle?”
I have a “Brad’s Workouts” calendar.
1) Calendar – Oh neat, you don’t even need to pay for this one… well, besides the cost of the phone into which it is built. I link my calendar up to my Google account which means I can have multiple calendars, each for a wide variety of things that would smash up against each other in reality. For example, I have a “Brad’s Workouts” calendar. It’s not shared. But it is set to nag me with multiple reminders (by default) and everything is colour-coded to look really important while not clogging up the rest of my day with the sense that I really do have no time for anything, any more than necessary at least.
2) Reminder Apps – Additionally, a dedicated “to do” list app breaks you away from the more strictly scheduled actions. I mean, it’s great to block off a couple hours on a Wednesday evening for “Drop in Running” but I don’t like so much to book my other stuff. For one, if I dismiss the fifteen minute reminder for a bike ride or a weight workout, it’s gone. If I use a checklist, well, it nags me until I actually do it. I recently scored a free copy of “Due” from Starbucks which is really simple and I’ve been giving it a whirl for this hacking effort, but there are literally thousands of these kinds of apps out there.
Setting some defined and reachable goals.
3) Challenge Apps – I know I don’t push myself hard enough. Improvement comes from motivation to go further than last time, and I discovered that there are bunch of little apps out there for not only nagging you to improve, but tracking and pushing and setting some defined and reachable goals. For example (buzz marketing time) my core strength effort is going to be supplemented with a little app called “200 Situps” which is a classic app that I bought back with my original iPhone a few years ago and never did much with… sadly as it turns out. This little app challenges you to build up to being able to do 200 situps (properly, in the back-friendly crunch way) which it does by setting up a four-day-per-week program complete with initial test, interval timer, reminders, and animated tutorials.
Obviously none of this is going to fix anything overnight, and the important part of this whole thing is that technology is not a solution… it’s a tool. And even if that tool isn’t left to gather dust in your basement, you can hit your thumb with a hammer just as easily as you can hit the nail.
[Achievement Unlocked: Daily Metaphor in a Blog Post!]
I’m just going to aim for the nail a little more carefully for the next while… because the roof seems to be leaking.
It took me three weeks but I finally figured out how to program the garage door opener that is built into the truck. It involved pressing the correct three buttons for the exact set amount of time, holding the existing remote the exact right distance and orientation from the truck buttons, and muttering an incantation of some kind… or maybe that was just me cursing under my breath. It seems like a minor victory, yes, but now at least one of those fancy buttons on my console does something besides turning on the radio.
Twenty-Fifteen: I’m doing something I’ve been putting off for far too long. I’m getting serious about reading, again. I’ve dusted off my paperbacks and charged up my Kindle. It’s time to take the time to feed my poor television-adled brain with a selection of healthy, nourishing fiction. So, read on, little brain. Read on. We’re going Book to the Future!
After bragging up my eager consumption of Neal Stephenson’s latest doorstop of a novel “Seveneves” I must admit I lost some momentum.
Six hundred pages into the nearly nine hundred page novel the story did me the same favour. So, I suppose it’s only fair.
To the credit of the author, it picks up speed again after a weighty thumb-thick stack of pages, but any story that straddles a time gap of fifty centuries by ending an engaging narrative with an abrupt conclusion and follows that by simply stating “Five Thousand Years Later” is going to have a few struggles with keeping the reader fully engaged.
I fell off the wagon, and picked away a few dozen pages here and there until I found myself pulled back into the far future action. If it wasn’t for all that lost steam the book would have rated and easy five stars (but I can’t fairly give it full grade, considering.)
After all, the story is truly epic, and Stephenson has done a mind-bending job of world building even as he tears the Earth to shreds in the wake of his story. Many of the characters are rich and unique, save for a few of the secondary players who blur together as the action speeds along, and the complexity of technological ideas and orbital mechanics that interlope through the story rate a reader (at the very least) a deserved and well-enjoyed university credit in introductory physics.
This might turn some off, but anyone who calls themselves a fan of Stephenson for either his rich technical description mixed through his stories or for the scope and scale of his packed long-view perspective will enjoy the ride from “Seveneves.” I kinda wish I had the spare time to read it through once again, actually.