Archive for September, 2019

Mountain bike route planning

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

My goal is to find an app that I can run on a phone mounted to my bike and that will show me a planned mountain bike route so that I can follow it as I ride.

Recommended: Komoot

I tried lots of possibilities. Here are notes on some:

  • Komoot. Komoot seems to be just the thing I was looking for. It lets you plan a route (a “tour”) dropping waypoints along the way. It will plan a route between waypoints that follows trails marked on the map.
  • MTB Project. MTB Project has a much better (i.e., more correct) map of the trail in my local MTB park that either Strava or Trailforks. Having said that, I don’t see any way to use the app to follow a trail in real time. I guess it does show your location and the trail line in the app. I will have to try it. Hopefully, I don’t have to “record” to use this feature.
  • Strava. Strava has a decent route plotter. In many ways, it is the inspiration for this quest. However, it works better at the scale of roads than at the scale of trails. The more important problem I have with it, though, is that using it seems to require recording your ride on Strava. I don’t want to record my ride on Strava (because I have a Polar heart rate sensor that works better when I record in its app, Polar Beat), so I need an alternative to Strava.
  • Trailforks. I don’t know whether the Trailforks app does what I want. I didn’t even get that far because I went to view the Trailforks map of my local mountain bike park and found that it was wrong. All wrong. Every single route I inspected was labeled for riding in the direction opposite that on the maps permanently installed at the trailheads in the park. Ooops. I understand I could potentially correct the Trailforks maps myself. For a site that is new to me, and which has a major error on the very first map I examine, though, I am not inclined to invest a lot of my time in building reputation and making corrections.

How to block distractions: iOS

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

To do deep work, it helps to block distractions in your environment. Devices like your phone, tablet, and watch are some of the most distracting things in your environment. So how do you block them so that you can get deep work done.

One option is to just turn your devices off or remove them from your environment. Take your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch and put them in the garage, or the basement, or another room, or a closet, or anywhere you can’t see or hear them.

The “out of sight, out of mind” strategy has a downside, though: the devices are actually useful. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t have them. For example, you may want to keep your Apple Watch on in order to track activity – or to check the time – even while you are doing deep work. Similarly, you may want to have your tablet or your phone handy to use certain apps for work. Or, you may just want to be able to quickly check notifications in between work sprints, to make sure you haven’t missed an important message from your boss or your ex-wife.

So, what’s the best way to block iOS notifications while keeping your devices close to hand? It is “Do Not Disturb.”

To turn on Do Not Disturb on your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings ? Do Not Disturb and set the Do Not Disturb switch at the top to On.

To turn on Do Not Disturb on your Apple Watch, swipe up from the watch face and tap the button with the moon on it so that it is highlighted. This step is not necessary if you have the Apple Watch paired with an iPhone that you have set in Do Not Disturb. The setting flows from the iPhone to the Apple Watch.

To turn off Do Not Disturb, turn the respective switches Off.

HRV apps

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019

There are a number of iOS apps that purport to measure heart rate variability (HRV). All of them provide advice based on HRV readings. The advice can be more focused on cardiovascular training or more broadly geared toward general wellbeing.

  • Elite HRV (free, in-app purchases, 4.5 stars on 1.08K users). After I signed up, I was able to connect my Polar H10 heart rate sensor and quickly take a 1-minute HRV reading. Nice. The app allows you to tag your HRV readings. However, integration with Apple Health is not good. It seems it reads some data from Apple Health but does not write your HRV value there. That’s kind of useless for use with apps like Wattson Blue and Welltory, so I stopped using Elite HRV.
  • HeartAnalyzer (free, in-app purchases, 4.5 stars on 4.16K users) uses the Apple Watch. ‘Nuff said.
  • HRV4Training ($9.99, 4 stars on 96 users). Allows you to take an HRV reading using a Bluetooth-connected heart rate sensor. You can configure it so that HRV4Training will write your HRV readings to Apple Health. It only allows for one HRV reading per day and assumes that you are taking the reading in the morning. You can tag your HRV readings in all kinds of ways, although they almost all require manual data entry. (They do not pull data from many other apps, even where the data is naturally available in other apps.)
    • Alcohol (you set, none/a little/too much)
    • Current physical condition (you set via a slider)
    • Diet (you type in the name or description each time)
    • Fatigue (you set via a slider)
    • Illness (you set, yes/no)
    • Injury (you type in the name each time)
    • Lifestyle (you set via a slider, from unstable to routine)
    • Location (automatically set but adjustable, populates altitude/temperature/humidity/wind)
    • Mental energy (mood, you set via a slider)
    • Muscle soreness (you set via a slider)
    • Sleep quality (you set via a slider)
    • Sleep start/end (HRV4Training takes a guess; you edit)
    • Supplements (you type in the names each time)
    • Training distance (pulled from Strava)
    • Training duration (pulled from Strava)
    • Training intensity (pulled from Strava; adjustable)
    • Training main sport (pulled from Strava; adjustable)
    • Training performance (you set via a slider)
    • Training rated perceived exertion (you set via a slider)
    • Training stress score (TSS, pulled from Training Peaks(?))
    • Traveling (you set, yes/no)
  • Wattson Blue (free, in-app purchases) uses the “finger over the camera” method. However, you can manually enter values to get advice about training intensity.
  • Welltory (free, in-app purchases) uses the “finger over the camera” method. I must say, it does look like an interesting app, though, in terms of integrating data from all kinds of other apps to give a holistic picture of wellness.

Reasons not to procrastinate

Friday, September 20th, 2019

There are lots of rational reasons to do things later. Mainly, they have to do with priorities. However, for those of us who have made a habit of doing things later whether it is rational or not, it can be helpful to remind ourselves of the reasons that it is irrational. Here are a few of them:

  1. They might be out of stock. If you wait until the last minute to put in an order for a prescription, the pharmacy might be out of stock. If so, you might wind up missing doses.
  2. You don’t want to have to do this twice (or three times, or four times, …). When you procrastinate in the middle of a task, you often wind up having to redo it from scratch. For example, if you wash and dry a load of clothes but don’t fold and hang it, it will get so wrinkled you will at least have to put it back in the dryer if not wash it all over again. If you stop in the middle of sorting it, the kids will stomp all over it, pieces will fall on the floor, and pretty soon you will not know what is clean and what is dirty. Then you will have to do it all over again. Similarly, if you leave a load of clean dishes in the dishwasher for a few days, they will start to smell, and you will have to re-wash them.
  3. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. This is true in a simple quantitative sense and in a more complex qualitative sense. In the quantitative sense, if work accumulates over time, then the longer you wait to do it, the more you have to do. For example, if you dirty one wash load of clothes in a week, then after two weeks, you will have two loads to do.
  4. The more frequently you do it, the better you do it. With certain tasks, especially cleaning tasks, it is impossible to do a great job in one fell swoop. If you are mopping your kitchen floor, there is that one patch along the sideboard under the cabinet that you are bound to miss. If you are washing your car, there is that one spot in the louvers of the air vent that you don’t notice you haven’t wiped. If you are cleaning your toilet, there is that one… well, it’s best not to go there. If you do these jobs more frequently, though, you tend to even out the spots you miss. The result is a better (cleaner) job. This is more than merely saying that, if you clean more often, your stuff will be cleaner. Because that’s obvious. If grime accumulates at rate x per week, say, then cleaning weekly would ideally remove x grime. It doesn’t, though. It removes x-n grime, where n is some loss due to inevitable inefficiencies in the cleaning process. To get around this, you need to clean more than once per week. If you are cleaning less than once per week, you are losing ground.
  5. Fees. The later you are in paying a bill, the more fees will rack up. Billers tack on all kinds of fees and other charges – late fee, service charge, processing fee, and so on – under the best circumstances. Being late paying just gives them an excuse to add even more fees.
  6. Interest. Everybody charges interest now. As soon as you are late with a payment, the interest starts racking up. Even your dentist and your psychotherapist will charge you interest on late payments.

The key fob scam

Friday, September 13th, 2019

It used to be you could get a new car key made at any hardware store for $5. Then came the new electronic car key “smart” transmitter fobs, and suddenly it costs upwards of $500 for a new key. What’s worse, the electronic circuit boards in these key fobs “wear out” over time, forcing you to replace them. (Precisely why these electronic components without moving parts “wear out” is a question to which I have yet to find an answer.) I have been trying to understand how the price of car keys could go up by 10,000% without people complaining. The answer to that seems to be: sheeple. I have also been trying to understand why the price of car keys went up by 10,000%. I have found three purported explanations:

  1. The new keys are little computers.
  2. Programming the new keys requires expensive equipment.
  3. Programming the new keys takes a lot of time.

In the following, I consider each of these purported explanations in turn and dismiss them. Then I will briefly cover the real reasons that the new keys are so expensive: power and avarice.

The new keys are little computers

It is undeniable that the new smart key transmitter fobs are electronic devices. They need to transmit a radio frequency signal that matches the one built into the car. So, they are radios. And different cars operate on different frequencies, for security, so they must be adjustable radios. But adjustable radios are cheap. I just bought my son an adjustable bedside AM/FM clock radio alarm for about $12.

Of course, my son’s radio is a receiver, not a transmitter. It’s also about the size of a large paperback book, not the size of a key fob. Transmitters can be harder to build than receivers, and miniaturizing electronics often increases costs. However, you can buy a USB Wi-Fi adapter on Amazon for $12.99. The USB Wi-Fi adapter both transmits and receives Wi-Fi signals and can do so at numerous frequencies (not just at 2.6 GHz and 5 GHz but also on a variety of narrower “channels” within those bands). So there are no grounds to argue that a miniature adjustable radio frequency transmitter need cost more than $13.

There are some newer transmitter fobs for higher-end, mainly European cars that are more complex than simple radios broadcasting on a single (albeit adjustable) frequency. These keys use a “rolling” code whereby the frequencies on both the key fob and the vehicle change over time. Thus, unlocking the car is not simply a matter of transmitting a single frequency every time but of transmitting a different, matching frequency every time. This is fundamentally the same encryption technology that is built into RSA SecureID tokens, which cost about $50. I am dubious that this is truly a competitive price. RSA has a near-monopoly on these kinds of tokens, and rigorous competition would undoubtedly drive down the price. The function can also be emulated in software, for example, on your smartphone. Many “two-factor authentication” schemes for websites depend on this mechanism at no greater cost than installing an app. In any case, assuming that both the radio transmission function and the rolling authentication code function need to be provided in a high-end smart key fob, we can estimate that such a device could be sold profitably at a cost of no more than $63 ($50 for the rolling code generation and $13 for the radio transmitter). A OEM key fob blank for my 10-year-old car costs $167.

In short, the argument that the new keys are expensive because they are complex, miniature electronic devices does not hold water. There are lots of complex, miniature electronic devices on the market for much less than key fobs.

Programming the new keys requires expensive equipment

When you see the argument that programming the keys requires expensive equipment, you often see a photograph of a fancy machine, sometimes as big as a refrigerator, usually with a miniature computer monitor built-in. That kind of equipment is undoubtedly expensive. The question, though, is why that kind of equipment is necessary in the first place. Why aren’t key fobs built with micro-USB ports so that they can be plugged into and programmed from any old computer?

I have yet to see an explanation of why this couldn’t work. What seems to be roiling under the surface of these arguments (aside from the patently false claim that the programming device must be “more than” a computer) is the thought that the keys are deliberately designed to be hard to program. After all, you don’t want an arch-criminal stealing your car key and programming it on his laptop, do you? Well, why not? After all, once this imaginary arch-criminal has your car key, he already has everything he needs to steal your car. By hypothesis, he has the key. So he doesn’t need to also copy it first. The fundamental security mechanism of a car key—even a fancy new wireless smart car key fob transmitter—is possession. If you have the key, you can get into and operate the car. If you don’t, you can’t. So there hardly seems to be any point in making it difficult—nay near impossible and prohibitively expensive to boot—to copy a key for security purposes. The key is, well, the key to the kingdom. Once the bad guy has the key, the game is lost.

This is also a good place to point out that, although the key is a sufficient means to steal your car, it is not a necessary means. The bad guys can’t hotwire cars anymore due to these fancy new electronic lock systems. They can still carjack you, though. What’s more, they can still tow cars pretty much wherever they want. And that’s mostly what they do. How many times have you seen someone else’s car getting towed and stopped to verify that the tow operator is conducting the operation with the permission of the owner? Towing a car is just, well, towing a car. Totally ubiquitous and above suspicion. It is less shady-looking than hunching down under the steering wheel with a screwdriver. And once the car has been towed to a private location, the bad guy has all the time in the world to carefully replace all the “transmitter key” electronics and other components and replace them with his own.

Programming the new keys takes a lot of time

This argument is supposed to explain the other half of the exorbitant cost of car key fob replacement—the labor costs of programming the key, which are often as much as the cost for the electronics. But here again, we have to ask why it takes so long to program a key fob. Indeed, we need to ask why it is necessary to have professional labor perform the task at all. Because if the key fob had a micro USB port and could be attached to any old computer as I suggested above, then surely it would also be possible to build idiot-proof software to do the job. The procedure might be a little complex. (For example, you would presumably first have to attach a working key fob to demonstrate that you have possession of the key for that vehicle, then switch over to the blank key for programming.) It is doubtful that it would be any more complex than assembling a new vacuum cleaner or setting up a wireless router, though. And, if you can program your key yourself, not don’t have to pay for labor. Heck, you are not even subject to 15-minute “rounding” in labor costs.

So, why do they cost so much?

At the most basic level, car companies charge you so much for key fobs because they can. They design the key fobs and the matching ignition systems, they design the reprogramming equipment, and they patent everything to ensure that you can’t copy your key cheaply. If you want to buy a blank key, you either have to go to the dealer to get an OEM blank (which will cost you a pretty penny) or take your chances online and hope that whatever Chinese company is making the non-OEM blank has stolen enough intellectual property from the carmaker to do it properly. Similarly, if you want to get a blank key programmed, you either have to have the dealer do it with the carmaker’s own equipment and training (which will cost you a pretty penny) or you have to take your chances with a local locksmith, hardware store, or auto shop, which may or may not have the proper equipment and training to do the job correctly. There is a third alternative: you can take the blank and do a “chicken dance”—which typically involves making a senseless, bizarre-looking, and complicated series of maneuvers with the key fob, the key slot, the door handles, and other components of the car to transfer the programming from a working key fob to a new one. There is no rhyme or reason to the “chicken dance.” It varies from model to model. Its complexity is allegedly a security feature. However, as I pointed out above, if your arch-enemy the bad guy already has a working key (which the chicken dance requires), then the game is lost, and there is no point in requiring a song-and-dance routine to make a copy. With touch screens on the dashboards of cars these days, car manufacturers could make copying keys a step-by-step do-it-yourself operation that would require nothing more than a working key, a cheap blank, and a few button presses. Why don’t they? Because they don’t have to. Why not? Because we are sheeple.