May 18, 2015

Xbox at E3 2015

Today, we announced the Xbox E3 2015 Briefing will take place Monday, June 15, beginning at 12:30p ET/9:30a PT. You […]

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May 8, 2015

lark Review



lark, aka Lark Chat, is marketed as a personal weightloss coach which is available for iOS and Samsung devices.

It takes a positive-reenforcement approach to guide people into eating healthier, getting more sleep, and doing more activities.

Unlike many other apps which track calorie intake closely and highlight the “bad” things being done, lark focusses on what you do right, and suggests what you are missing from your diet rather than asking you to cut things out.

lark is backed by some of “the world’s top health experts”, such as nutritionists, behavioral change experts, and sleep experts, psychologists, and performance coaches from places like Stanford  and Harvard universities.

lark is easy to use, isn’t intrusive, and never feels like you are being inconvenienced to use the app or enter data.  It uses a familiar interface that resembles a chat session, generally provided two to three responses you can select to the questions, or allowing you to type in or dictate your meals to enter them.  On the Apple Watch you can even enter your data from your wrist.  It is very easy, and avoids the hassles of searching for the food and specifying the serving size.  Compared to Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, and others it is much easier and more pleasant to use.

A Friendly Chat


When opening lark you are greeted with one of a few expected items – the first time you open it in a day it asks you to confirm your sleep and/or to confirm your breakfast.  Opening it in the afternoon asks you to log lunch, and in the evenings it asks about logging dinner.

When launching it other times during the day it usually shows you your activity progress for the day, based on the tracking by your phone or Apple Watch.  It treats weekdays differently than weekends, comparing your activity that day to your weekend or weekday average.  When you are ahead, it congratulates you, when you are slightly behind it just notes it, and if you are way behind it tries to identify why, for example if you logged less sleep than usual it may suggest that that you are less active due to that.

lark stays out of the way by getting the minimum info it wants, and then sends you on your way to “have a nice day”, signaling that you are done with it and can close it out.

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life…

imageI suspect that if I ever logged a meal as “a double bacon cheeseburger covered with gravy and sugar” lark would congratulate me on getting some cheese which is a health protein.  After using it for over a week and logging every meal, plenty of them unhealthy, it hasn’t once suggested I stop eating something.  It highlights the good and usually promotes fruits, veggies, and healthy grains.

When it tracks that I’ve lacked a certain food group or type, it asks me to try to fix it, for example saying something such as “you haven’t had many meals with veggies this week, want to try to get one in today?”.  It feels pressure-free, probably thanks to the cognitive behavior and psychologists expects who guide it’s development.

Simple, Yet Insightful Views

image     image     image

The clean interface basically consists of the main chat view, as well as the Activity area where you can view your Activity and Sleep summaries, and the “List” view that shows your logged meals and activity items.  From the List view you can delete them, edit them, or add new ones, but I never have, using the Lark chat method or inputting them via dictation on the Apple Watch is all I’ve needed to do.

Few Options = No Frustration


When you first install lark, or if you want to change your goal later, you have one configuration item, that’s it, for most people once you answer it the first time you’ll never need to go into the Settings.

For people with dietary restrictions you can jump into the settings and set your needs, and lark will adjust it’s suggestions based on what you can eat.

Other than these settings, there isn’t anything to worry about, it just works.

Closing Thoughts

I don’t know if lark’s approach to weightloss is as effective as calorie counting, it such seems to think so and for those interested in why and how it works it occasionally provides links to research which are interesting to read. I do know it is much easier and pleasant to use than traditional calorie counting and restrictive diet approaches.

While I’m not on a mission to aggressively drop weight, I will keep using lark to see what happens.  A few years ago I dropped 60 pounds in under a year using calorie counting, regular exercise, and the Dukan diet.  It wasn’t fun entering all the meals, nor feeling restricted to a set diet.  I’m not sure if lark would get the same results in the same amount of time, but the nice thing about it is that using lark removes the pressure of calorie counting, food restrictions, and timelines.  I’ll post an update in the future on how I feel it’s approach works after using it longer, but whether or not it gets dramatic results it sure feels like it is leading to a healthier lifestyle.

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May 8, 2015

Sync Solver – Health to Fitbit – You almost worked!

syncsolverFor those familiar with my other posts you know I’ve recently ditched the Fitbit and bluetooth heart rate monitor to simplify down to one device – an Apple Watch.  In doing I lost the ability to compete in Fitbit challenges and my position in the Fitbit leaderboard with my Fitbit friends dropped significantly.

When I heard about the Sync Solver Health to Fitbit app I thought my problems were solved.  The $1.99 iOS app (available here) pulls data from Apple Health or other HealthKit sources and pushes them to FitBit.  It sounded perfect, but it doesn’t exactly work in way to solve my problems.

Thanks to how Fitbit allows 3rd-parties to send them data, rather than steps being pushed from Health to Fitbit showing up as steps, they show up as activities.  This means they don’t count towards challenges.  Since this was my main problem, while Sync Solver lets me get my data to where I can see it in the Fitbit app it doesn’t let me compete in challenges with data from the Apple Watch.  Fitbit’s 3rd-party limitations also make the steps show up grouped by hour, this should be fine for most, and if you need to see your step data at further granularity you can get to it in the Health app.

The app itself works the best it possibly can given the limitations Fitbit has in place.  There are limited instructions in the app, and guidance regarding what data sources to choose and why would be nice, but once you pick the “right” data sources the syncing runs automatically in the background and you don’t need to open the app again.

People moving away from Fitbit to an Apple HealthKit compatible device but who want to continue to use the Fitbit app should definitely consider it, just be warned the external data won’t contribute to challenges.  For now, turning on the Fitbit app’s MobileTrack option to count steps using the iPhone on you is the best you can do unless you want to continue wearing the Fitbit.  I tend to leave the phone on my desk now that I have the Apple Watch, so many of my steps don’t make it into the Fitbit, but that is a trade-off I can live with.

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May 7, 2015

Strava with Apple Watch tested (and failed, kind of)

I decided to walk to lunch today and on the way back I used it as an opportunity to test out Strava with the Apple Watch.  If you’ve read my other posts you’d know that while I think the Apple Watch’s Workout app is decent, it is missing some features I’d expect, like easy data sharing and route mapping, and it lacks community features that I became accustom to when using a Fitbit.

I had hoped Strava would meet my needs – simply things so I can the Apple Watch as a fitness tracker so I didn’t need to wear my Fitbit One and a heart rate monitor also, and have a single app with the ability to capture all the health data I want, allow easy sharing, and have motivating community features.  It didn’t seem to be too much to ask, but unfortunately it didn’t meet all these goals.

Let’s take a look at how things stacked up:


Route Mapping

This is what first drove me to start looking at Strava.  I wanted to be able to map the routes, and Strava exceeded those expectations.  The map is clear and with Strava’s built-in features it can go beyond simple mapping and show routes and segments of the route with time tracking and goal-setting options for those segments.  I didn’t use these during my test walk, and I’m not sure if I’ll find them much of use unless I start taking up cycling or run more seriously, but they are cool features I’m sure lots of people will benefit from.

Health / Workout / Activity Data

I liked the Apple Workout app and how it integrated with Activity and Health seamlessly.  I expected that since Strava tied into HealthKit that using it would result in the same, if not more, data.  Unfortunately I was wrong.



Elevation is a new data point thanks to Strava.  The Apple apps don’t track elevation.  While I didn’t get much value from this on my walk, it may be interesting on a run, and I’m sure cyclists love it.



The Apple Workout app reported my overall average speed in terms of how fast I was achieving a mile, which was plenty for me.  Strava kicks it up a notch with speed monitoring for the entire time with a nice graphical view.  This is pretty cool, although I don’t recall sprinting or falling down suddenly, it was a pretty uneventful walk, so I’m not sure how or where I hit 15.2mph!

Heart Rate


Nooooooo!  Fail…  I had expected that Strava would pull the heart rate data from the Apple Watch and use it, but NOPE.  I did a little research, (meaning: I Duck Duck Go‘d it) and found out that Strava doesn’t pull the heart rate data from the watch because, and I’m paraphrasing here – the data isn’t updated often enough to meet their level of standards.

While I can respect that, it implies that Apple doesn’t allow 3rd-parties to kick-up how often the heart rate data is captured.  The watch captures it about once every 10 minutes, but when you activate a workout in the Workout app it grabs it basically constantly, just as well an external heart rate monitor.  Apple must not let 3rd-parties activate this type of real-time heart rate monitoring, or Strava doesn’t know how to or doesn’t want to do it for some reason.

The word from Strava / Apple on this is to run Strava and the Workout app at the same time, which means needing to go two places and not having the full view of everything in one place.  I guess that’ll have to do for now….

Workout info in Activity app


When you use the Workout watch app, you can then open the Activity app on the phone to get the details of the workout.  The workouts are normally indicated by an entry under the “Stand” section and above the Steps row.  As you can see in the screenshot above, the Strava-tracked activity didn’t post there.  I had expected it to because when installing Strava it asked if it could write workouts to Health.  The Activity app doesn’t seem to want to give you credit for workouts tracked with 3rd-party apps and it will only show you workout sessions tracked with the Workout app.  If Apple is pushing apps to use HealthKit to share data, they may want to start using that data too.

Again – the work-around here is to run Strava and Workout at the same time and go multiple places to get the data.  ugh…

Workout info in Health app


The workout data from Strava is captured in the Health app, which is nice, however it is with the heart rate logged at the default (10 minute interval) collection rate, not the higher rate which is more accurate and helpful for workout sessions.

Community Features

Finding friends who use Strava was fast and easy, you can use Facebook to locate them, or upload your contacts “securely” to Strava’s server where they will tell you if there are any matches.  I only did the Facebook connection, picked some friends, and immediately could see their Strava-tracked sessions.

The “Challenges” and “Achievements” in Strava can help motivate people, but I still prefer the Fitbit community/social features where you can see your status ranked against your friends, and create competitions to challenge your friends to see who does best.  Fitbit’s features may not be better, but I am used to them, and I haven’t played around with the app enough to know if these type of competitions can be set up on Strava.  It didn’t seem apparent.

Compared to Fitbit I have very few friends who use Strava, and they are cyclists.  Since I’ll mainly be running so it’s not exactly a fair comparison and I probably won’t be able to convince my friends to move to Strava as Fitbit does what they want and is easy.

Closing Thoughts

It looks like for now I’ll need to run both the Strava app and Workout app to get all the data I want, and I’m not going to be able to see all the info in one place.

If Strava can get access to activate and capture real-time heart rate monitoring via the Apple Watch that’d pretty much solve things for me.  It would be nice for Apple to pull in 3rd-party workout data to their Activity app, but I can live without that, however it should be very easy for them.

If anyone has any tips or tricks to solve this, or know an alternate app to Strava that will do all I’m looking for, please add a comment or track me down on Twitter

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May 6, 2015

Apple Watch Wishlist – And Suggested Workarounds


I’ll keep a running wish list of things I’d like to see added or changed on the Apple Watch here, and if I’ve found any work-arounds to get by I’ll include them.  Some of these wish list items carry over from my initial review.  I’ve excluded the ones without workarounds:

  • 20 glance limit
    • There isn’t a great work-around for this, the limit is what it is.  I’d suggest checking the Apple Watch management app on your phone regularly if you hit the limit to see if new glances are available.
  • Limited workout types in the Workout app
    • I use “Other” most often, and am staring to look into 3rd-party apps like Strava for certain workout types.
  • Activity / Workout community features
    • Lack of being able to use the standard iOS sharing features from Activity on the iPhone, as well as no community features in Activity or Workout are very limiting coming from using a Fitbit and regularly participating in challenges and watching the leaderboards.  I’ve taken a few manual screen-shots in the Activity app and posted them as a work-around, but using 3rd-party apps that support workouts with community features are also a good way to go.  I still keep the Fitbit app on the phone and set to track steps via the phone, although though it doesn’t include steps detected  by the watch which seems like something Fitbit could change if they really wanted to.
  • Inability to view Reminders on the watch
    • Unless you move to a 3rd-party app to manage reminders, there aren’t many options here.  I have used Clear, Wunderlist, and others, but generally try to keep the number of apps I manage things in relatively small.  Since I use Evernote for most things, I tend to put my to-do lists in there.  Evernote’s Apple Watch features are fairly poor, so I have started to use Siri via the Apple Watch to add reminders, and when they notify you on the watch you can dismiss, snooze, or mark them as completed.  While you can’t access the list from the watch, adding them and managing them when they notify you has worked OK for me so far, and I hope Evernote improves their to-do list features on both the phone and watch app.

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May 6, 2015

First Outdoor Run with Apple Watch

IMG_4890.PNGSo I just took my first run with the Apple Watch Workout app.  I’d like to get my time under a 10 minute mile, which Apple probably can’t directly help me with, but here is a wishlist and comments for Apple on things they can help with:

  • To get the view shown in the image, you need to open the app on the phone.  It would be nice to have more access to data right on the watch.
  • It seems to take quite a while for all the data to get from the watch to the phone.
  • The heart rate data isn’t showing on the Activity app on the phone, even though I know it was tracked and it is showing in the Health app on the phone.  I cropped it out of the image here as it wasn’t showing.
  • It would be nice to be able to share an image such as this easily, via MMS, or to Facebook or Twitter using the standard method of sharing to those sites on the iPhone.
  • I’ve never used other apps like Strava, but after using this I may try them, as having a map of where the run was and more access to data would be nice.  This app provides some base data, but it leaves me wanting more rather than feeling like it is enough.

If Apple continues to add features this could be a good app for casual runners/joggers/riders, but it seems very basic right know given the maturity of other apps out there.

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May 6, 2015

Apple Watch Review – From A Pebble Convert


The Verdict: (for those who want the details, see below):

I’ve been wearing the new Apple Watch for a week now and find it to be a solid upgrade to the Pebble Steel I’ve been using since that was released.  The Apple Watch feels more mature that Apple’s typical “version 1″ products, but it is lacking some basic features which will hopefully be added with software updates in the near future.  The limited processing power is noticeable when opening most 3rd-party apps.

I also haven’t found any 3rd-party apps that are amazing.  Other than using the watch for reminders, email notifications, checking the weather, and occasionally to check the time, there isn’t much I do on the watch. When I have a moment I may skim top stories on the news apps, but nearly everything else I have installed goes untouched.

For people who can consolidate a number of other devices, such as an older smartwatch and an activity tracker(s), the Apple Watch makes a nice upgrade and the cost can be offset by the sale of those other devices.  For most, the cost will be prohibitive for something doesn’t add a lot of features beyond what people already have on their phone.

Score: 7 / 10  – Good,  with hopes that the score will increase after future software updates

Detailed Review:


Here are the top benefits so far I’ve found with the Apple Watch:

  • My phone stays in my pocket, or on my desk, most of the day
    • I still pull the iPhone 6 Plus out to browse the web or send lengthy email replies, but it’s no longer in my hand most of the day.  Given that the size of the 6 Plus is so large, the Apple Watch may be more appreciated by a 6 Plus user than a standard iPhone 6 users.  For people tracking their steps, it is also nice not to have to have the phone on you all day.
  • Activity and workout apps are very well done
    • These are very simple and informative, and while some reviewers have complained about the gentle reminders to stand up and meet exercise goals, I find them welcomed, and you can easily turn them off.
  • The notification system is very nice
    • Notifications are easy to access, provide a good level of detail, and are easy to clear/manage.
  • Deleting unneeded mails as they come in is something I’ve been wanting for a while now
    • The Pebble didn’t support this, and it is great to be able to keep a cleaner inbox by deleting unimportant messages as they flow in right on the watch.
  • The battery life is much better than I expected
    • When Apple mentioned the battery would last 18 hours for most people, I was very worried.  When it comes to using tech I don’t consider myself “most people” and feel I would use it a lot more than most.  I put on the watch when I wake up and use it all day until I go to bed and generally have 30% or more battery life left.  While the Pebble could go almost a week between charges, I don’t have a problem charging the watch daily while I sleep, I already do the same with the phone.
  • Siri and voice dictation
    • Speech to text on the watch seems to work better than on the iPhone.  It picks up what I say very accurately.  My only complaint is that it occasionally turns off while I am talking (see below).


  • Poor 3rd-party app speed
    • I don’t know if it is the processor or memory, or perhaps bad development by 3rd-parties who are just learning how to make Apple Watch apps, but apps are noticeably slow when loading most 3rd-party applications.
  • Poor 3rd-party app functionality
    • While this isn’t Apple’s fault, it is worth noting and is a challenge to 3rd-party developers.  Even though there is definitely a limit to what can comfortably done from a device on your wrist, there is a lack of revolutionary or even exciting apps to use.
  • Cost
    • I can now sell off my Pebble Steel, Fitbit, and a heart-rate monitor thanks to the features in the Apple Watch which makes the cost acceptable to me.  If I wouldn’t have been able to do so the cost wouldn’t have been worth it even at the entry level price.  I suspect the cost will drop eventually, early-adopters be warned!
  • Why only 20 glances?
    • While I rarely use the glances, my phone reminds me that I am at the max whenever I try to check out a new one.  If the limit could be removed it would be a nice-to-have.
  • Why can’t I delete a calendar item from the watch?
    • This seems like it should be easy.  I can delete emails, why not a calendar item I want to remove?
  • Poor detection of a raised wrist
    • The watch is “off” most of the time, until you raise your arm using a gesture to look at it.  While it works fairly well, I find it often doesn’t pick up that motion, or the display goes off even as I continue to hold my arm that way.  Hopefully as they collect data they can improve the activation/deactivation of the display.  Having to hold my arm/wrist they way Apple wants it to be held to keep the watch activated can be uncomfortable at times.
  • Limited email viewing
    • Most emails these days are media-rich, with images and HTML formatting.  On the watch these types on emails tell you to go to the phone to read them. While I can understand that scaling an image in an email may not be readable on the smaller watch display, I’d still prefer such a view as I most likely could still tell if the email is worth keeping to check later, and in most cases I could delete it right away.
  • Why are the watch bands so expensive?
    • Apple’s marketing and hype can use words like “stunning” and “luxurious” all they want, but the watch bands are far from revolutionary, nor is there anything about them that seems to justify the high prices.  Hopefully we will see 3rd-party bands at reasonable prices soon.
  • I’d like options for louder speaker volume and stronger feedback
    • I do regularly miss notifications even though I have the volume and feedback levels at their highest.  When in a quiet environment or not busy with a task I notice them, but if I’m focussed on doing something or there is background noise at a decent level I miss them.  I can always to turn them down or off when I don’t want to be disturbed, but not being able to make them loud or noticeable enough can be a pain.
  • Notifications don’t go to the watch if your phone is active/unlocked
    • While this may be the way some people want to work, it would be nice to have a setting to send them to the watch even when the phone is in use.  I may have my phone unlocked if I’m on a call or listening to music, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking at it so notifications can get missed.
  • Also, why can’t I have notifications queue up when the watch is off/charging?
    • The only time the watch isn’t on my wrist is when I’m sleeping, so I’m not sure if the notifications don’t come in due to it charging or just because it is off the wrist, but either way I’d like to be able to put it on in the morning and check anything I’ve missed from the watch, rather than needing to check the phone.
  • More workout types would be nice
    • While the Workout app has quite a few different activity types for tracking (indoor walk, outdoor walk, elliptical machine, rower, …) it isn’t clear how these differ, nor are there choices for many common exercise types like cardio.
  • Activity / Workout community features
    • One of the things I’ll miss about the Fitbit is the challenges you can have with friends.  It helps motivate activity.  Hopefully there will be more social/community options and challenges added in the future.
  • Why can I set a reminder via Siri, and snooze or mark them as completed when they pop up, but not view them on the watch?
    • There is no Reminders app, and Siri will tell you to use your phone to view them.  This seems odd as quite a few 3rd-party apps have decent interfaces to manage reminders, you’d think Apple would extend it’s Reminders app to the watch.

Suggested 3rd-party Apps:

While none of these would be considered “killer apps”, here are the few I’d suggest checking out:

  • Dark Sky
    • This is better than the built-in Weather app for both the phone and watch, highly recommended
  • News apps (WSJ, NY Times, CNN)
    • Take your pick of preferred news source, but having it on the watch is a convenient way to skim top news stories without pulling out the phone.  Most have a way to flag a story to read later from the phone if you see an article of interest.
  • Phillips Hue
    • If you have Hue lights, their phone app makes it easy to toggle your preset scenes or turn lights off from your wrist, although in the time it takes the app to load and respond you probably could have pulled out the phone and done it from there faster.
  • Mint
    • If you use Mint for budget management the watch app is a nice companion.  If you don’t use it, check it out, it’s free!
  • Do Button
    • If you use IFTTT, Do Button is nice, but similar to Hue, slow to load and it is potentially faster just to use the phone.
  •  Passbook
    • While not a 3rd-party app, this one is worth a special mention.  I just recently started using Passbook even though it has been around for a while.  I’m not sure why it took my so long to see the value of it, and having on the watch is very nice.

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April 22, 2015

8 Instances You Weren’t Using a VPN, but Should’ve Been: The VPN Checklist

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April 22, 2015

iOS 8 bug allows hackers to crash iPhones over Wi-Fi

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April 22, 2015

‘Daredevil’ will return to Netflix for a second season

Despite the popularity of Netflix’s original shows, the streaming giant doesn’t actually own most of the content it delivers to customers. It’s a situation that the company is working hard to rectify, but in the meantime it has to negotiate with part…

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