Trying: Using Striiv iOS App to Encourage More Walking

2013 08 25 14 15 01I’ve written at some length about using Fitbit to track my activity, and encourage me to do a bit more. It was somewhat effective, and I liked the device a lot. It was only moderately effective at getting me to actually move about more, though.

After an unfortunate accident killed Sam’s Fitbit, I gave her mine to use, which left me with no tracking. I remembered seeing an iPhone app called Striiv for tracking, which had seemed like a bad idea at the time. Now I had no alternative, I thought it might be worth trying. When I say it seemed like a bad idea, I mean that I didn’t expect it to actually count steps with any accuracy at all, and I expected it to run the battery down far too quickly to be usable.

Well, after a couple of weeks or so at trying it out, I can say I was partially wrong on both counts:

  • It works far more reliably than I expected. I think the step counting is a bit less reliable than Fitbit, but it’s very close. I usually find it’s around 10% or so out, sometimes 20% or so. Considering that’s just using the accelerometer in the iPhone, though, I think it’s pretty good. I don’t need accuracy, I just need a good idea of how I’m doing relative to other days.
  • It does drain the battery, but not enough to be too much of a problem for me. I still get a full day of use most of the time, but it’s a bit more of a problem if we’re out and about for the day. Veho Pebble (Amazon UK, Amazon US) portable chargers look like a good way around the problem, so I may well get one, but it would still be a bit less convenient than the Fitbit was.

What it does do that the Fitbit didn’t really do very well for me is encouraging more activity. It pushes me gently during the day to do more. It keeps setting goals for me, with a little graph showing how close I am to walking the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, or how much more I need to do to burn off a can of soda. It also offers little challenges. If I walk, say, 50 steps in a minute, I get a reward of some extra energy points. If I do 10 more minutes of activity in the next 20 minutes, I can have 7,500 energy points, but it will cost me 750 points to take the challenge.

But why would I want energy points? Well, that’s all part of the ‘MyLand’ game. You have a little world, and you can add plants and buildings to your world, to try to attract creatures back to the land. The game isn’t great, and it’s fairly similar to many other ‘world-building’ games out there, but it still works on me. There are gold coins, which you use to buy a building. But that just gives you a pile of stone and parts. You then need to use energy points to actually put the building together. You can spend gold to upgrade your building, but again, you need to use energy points to make the upgrade actually happen. Walking around is the only way to get your energy points, and it’s much more efficient to get them by doing challenges too. Well, you can get more by inviting friends and weighing yourself, but you can’t buy your way around doing stuff.

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The result is that I walk more than I otherwise would, in order to build a rather crappy little virtual hut, in a game that I probably wouldn’t be playing if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s helping to motivate me to do more. It turns out I’m surprisingly easily tricked into being a bit more active.

It’s a free app, so if it sounds interesting, give it a try. You can add me as a friend too – I’m on there as – you’ll get some extra points for inviting me, and there are extra bonuses to be had for activities your friends do. You can even take part in a Walkathon, to donate a day of clean water to a child in South America.

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Civilian Labs Air Manila MacBook Air Sleeve Review

From a recent spending spree at Heinnie Haynes, the Civilian Labs Air Manila leather sleeve for my MacBook Air may be the only item that won’t get as much use as I’d hoped. And it isn’t the sleeve’s fault at all – it just doesn’t fit where I hoped it would.

When the first MacBook Air was unveiled, Steve Jobs produced it from inside a manila envelope, highlighting how amazingly thin it was. The Air Manila sleeve is a leather sleeve designed to look like a manila envelope.

Civilian Labs Air Manila (7)

It’s a bit brighter in colour, in an orange-yellow ‘mango’ colour. It’s quite a bit thicker than an envelope, too, as it’s made from leather, with a good layer of padding to protect your expensive computer. There’s velcro to keep it closed, but the twist-string closure is there too, completing the envelope look. There’s a really nice quality feel to the whole thing. It even smells nice – it seems like they’ve added a bit of mango scent to the leather. If the bright colour is too much for you, it’s also available in black. I usually go for everything in black, and really don’t like yellow and orange, but the bright cheery colour just seemed right for this.

Civilian Labs Air Manila (1)

It feels like it will provide good protection, and it looks great. The only reason I probably won’t get much use out of it is that it doesn’t quite fit into the bag I bought at the same time. The Maxpedition Sitka Gearslinger is roomy enough for the MacBook Air, but not for the Air in the Air Manila sleeve. The sleeve adds a bit too much width.

Given the price, which makes it cheaper than most leather sleeves, and not much more expensive than many non-leather sleeves of much simpler design, it’s easy to recommend the Air Manila. As long as you have space in your bag.

More photos of the Air Manila:

Zoom – a New Lens for my NEX-6: the Sony SEL55210

I finally decided what my first lens purchase was going to be for my Sony NEX-6, after the standard kit zoom it arrived with. I chose the SEL55210 – a 55-210 zoom from Sony. There are larger zoom ranges available, but they’re much bigger. First, the standard kit zoom at 24mm:

Now the new zoom at 210mm:

First Impressions

First impressions are good. It’s quite small and light, so it can slip into a coat pocket, while the camera is in another pocket. I can still go out without a bag or backpack to carry. The focussing can use PDAF (Phase Detect – the type of focussing used by DSLR cameras), so it should be quicker. That can only work in good light, though, which it hasn’t seen much of yet. A quick test with some birds outside today certainly doesn’t suggest it will match my Nikon D90 for such shots, but they’re very much an occasional thing for me.

It seems like it should do 90% of what I might want it to do, and it fits in a pocket. Seems like a win.

What Next?

The main thing I’m still lacking is anything that can get to a wide aperture. There are several f1.8 lenses, but I haven’t settled on which to go for yet.

  • The Sony 16mm f2.8 pancake lens looks good, but f2.8 isn’t enough. I’ll probably go for one of these at some point anyway, mainly for the sake of adding the fisheye adaptor. That gives really wide angles, for relatively little money, and the results I’ve seen are pretty good.
  • The Sony/Zeiss 24mm f1.8 is nice. The images I’ve seen from it do look better than those from other lenses. It’s a lot of money, though. A lot.
  • The Sony 35mm f1.8 looks like it will be good, though it’s a bit unknown until a few more people actually get them to try. The advantage is it’s the same focal length I’ve liked a lot when using the Nikon 35mm f1.8 lens. The disadvantage is it’s the same focal length I’ve used before, rather than something different.
  • The Sony 50mm f1.8 looks nice, and gives some fantastic results. It’s a bit of a long focal length for ‘normal’ use, but a great portrait lens. Might be fun anyway, and prices are quite reasonable.

A Brief Sony NEX-6 Update

Following on from my earlier posts about the NEX-6, I’ve had it a couple of weeks now. So, how is it?

Pretty good.

The only shots that haven’t gone entirely well with it were some fairly close-up product shots I tried for work, which I didn’t quite get the focussing right with. I often struggled to get good shots of that type with my Nikon D90 too, though, and the little kit zoom is probably a very unsuited lens for the job.

It’s really nice to have a decent camera in my coat pocket. It means I take shots I wouldn’t have bothered with before, which was a lot of what I wanted from the NEX. The picture effects are quite fun to play with, and I’m using the monochrome modes a lot. I’m especially keen on the Rich-tone Mono setting, which combines three shots into one.

It’s just as quick for me now to grab the NEX when I see a potential photo as it is to grab my iPhone. Things might be different with a newer iPhone – the 4S and 5 have faster camera apps – my iPhone 4 still takes a bit of time to be ready to shoot. Even then, though, the difference in time wouldn’t be much, and I’d be pretty sure to get a better photo.

Exeter – Christmas Market

Not many shots of the Christmas market, really, but a few shots in Exeter, taken with my new Sony NEX-6. I’m still loving that Rich-tone Mono setting.

The market itself was quite impressive. They’ve build a little mall from sheds, in front of the cathedral. A bazaar, perhaps, in the grounds of the cathedral. There was a surprising amount of drinking going on.

The NEX-6 feels good for street photography. I feel less self-concious photographing with it than I did with the Nikon D90. I probably still look like a nutter, but I don’t feel like quite so much of one. I think that might be a good thing.