Google Fit + Strava Update

Contrary to what I reported the other day, the coordination between Stava and Google Fit does not quite work the way I expected. The way it actually works is that if you use Strava to log your runs then the Strava app will pass that data into Google Fit. If you don't use the Strava app while running, then the push to Google Fit never occurs.

I use a Garmin Forerunner to map my runs. This data gets pushed from Garmin Connect to Strava, but Strava does not push this received data into Google Fit.

So using Strava as a middle man confers no special benefit in terms of coordinating with Google Fit. Strava does seem like a great app otherwise, but unfortunately for them, my needs in that regard are already being met by the Garmin watch and app.

I've removed the Strava widget from my blog, the Strava app from my phone, and will be shutting down my Strava account. Please don't consider this a mark against Strava; I think it's the best free run-tracker app I've come across yet. It just wasn't right for me, personally.


Stay On The Right Side Of The Law

A few days ago, Michael Esch published an excellent article at Liberty.me. The article was ostensibly about teaching his son chess, but more importantly, the article was about better alternatives to modern educational  methods.

In particular, he writes (emphasis in the original):
Educators can nurture these desires, but they cannot make learning happen. We cannot force a person to live a certain way. Many parents and teachers believe that they should force a child to do certain things. If the child does not want to participate, then he is punished. This type of conditioning will only insure that the child becomes blindly obedient to future authority figures. We should teach our children to do what is right, not what is commanded.
One problem with modern education is the fact that it has become a sort of de facto day care for busy modern parents, who can't seem to be bothered to do like Mr. Esch, and help guide their own children toward greater knowledge.

I certainly don't claim that doing so is easy - quite the contrary! Still, the dangers of a 20-year-old government day care program make themselves felt when I come across stories like the one I read at WFAA this afternoon:

GUSTINE, Texas — Here in Gustine, population 457, what happens at the schoolhouse affects nearly everyone. And something happened Monday that is causing a big controversy in this small town. 
"I felt uncomfortable, and I didn't want to do it," said 11-year-old Eliza Medina. "I felt like they violated my privacy." 
She was one of about two dozen elementary students who were rounded up in the small town 90 miles southwest of Fort Worth. 
Eliza's mother, Maria Medina, said boys were taken to one room, girls to another, and they were ordered "To pull down their pants to check them to see if they could find anything."
Every day our society faces a choice between making our children blindly obedient to civil servants who inevitably treat our children as though they are in fact the state's children, not ours, or reducing the size and scope of our public services.

Maybe you believe that all education might be public, and I don't want to pick that fight today. But if education is to be public, shouldn't we at least minimize our children's exposure to it in the same way that we minimize our own exposure to the TSA at the airport, or the DMV?

When we see educators practically forced to abuse their power because we have asked them to step in as surrogate parents, haven't we taken the idea of "public eduation" a little too far?


Garmin Connect and Google Fit

Ooo, look, it's a new blog feature! Notice: at the right-hand side of my blog there now exists a Strava widget! This new widget reports some generic running data accumulated from my recent training. Now you can keep me honest.

If you're like me, you've been searching for a way to get Garmin Connect - Garmin's personal health data interface - with Google Fit, which is Google's entry into the same world. Also, if you're like the me of yesterday, you haven't yet found a way to do that. But, lucky you, the me of today has got some great news: I figured out a way to get all these applications to communicate with each other, at least until they formally amalgamate in Google's or Apple's or Facebook's quest to own all personal data from all human beings.

Why Would You Want To Do This?

Well, you might not want to, especially if you are especially concerned about data privacy. To be honest, though, the potential benefits to people like myself, who are both data-geeks and health geeks, are enormous. Diabetes is, after all, largely a data management game. If you can manage your calories, and your macronutrient balance, and your fitness activity, and your sleeping patterns, and your stress levels, etc., etc., etc., then you can manage your blood sugar effectively. It's all a data game: adjust your bio-markers and profit.

Personally, I've found this useful in the non-health sphere as well. My Nexus phone, for example, has the ability to detect traffic jams long before I ever hit them - and automatically re-route me on the way to work, home, or wherever else I happen to be. It sends me bill reminders, weather notifications for where I'll be, and so on.

Simply put, it does a lot of menial thinking for me, that I don't necessarily need to do myself. This, in turn, frees my mind up for more complicated thoughts, such as how I might want to invest, or whatever music I happen to be writing. Or whatever.

More practically, it is exhausting to try to log every piece of health data on a hundred different health apps. Wouldn't it be great to log something once, in one place, and have that data filter through to every other application that requires it?

Problem: Garmin and Google Aren't On Speaking Terms - Yet.

I use MyFitnessPal for calorie tracking, and Garmin Connect for everything else. When I noticed the Google Fit app on my Nexus, I thought it might be a good central location for all this data activity. I cannot confirm that it is, because I haven't had a chance to really use it yet. Why not? Because, although MyFitnessPal and Garmin Connect talk to each other easily, neither one can sync with Google Fit.

So one solution would be to just grin and bear it, hoping that some day, all these apps decide to talk to each other.

Another solution is to find a work-around. I'm a business analyst by trade (well... along with a bunch of other stuff...), so finding work-arounds comes natural to me.

Solution: Another 3rd-Party App!

Okay, I didn't say it was a particularly elegant solution, did I?

The way I've managed to accomplish a "full sync" of data is by adding a new app to my arsenal: Strava. Strava works more or less the same way as RunKeeper, or MapMyRun, or indeed even Garmin Connect. It tracks your running and cycling activity (using your phone's GPS info, for example) and reports it in a handy graphical interface, along with some meaningless bells and whistles such as "award" and "achievements" and so on.

Strava's primary advantage is that it has the power to communicate with Garmin Connect, MyFitnessPal, and Google Fit. That makes it something of a "Rosetta stone" for all my fitness data. Hooray for me.

So, the steps for achieving this are as follows:
  1. Add the Garmin Connect, MyFitnessPal, and Strava apps to your Android phone.
  2. In the "Settings" of your Strava app, connect it to both MyFitnessPal and Google Fit (they will show up automatically in your settings menu).
  3. Using a web browser, log-in to your Strava account and click on the plus sign at the top-right, on the option that says "Upload Activity."
  4. On that page, you should see a link to Garmin with a box that says "Get Started." Click "Get Started" and follow the instructions. You will be taken to a Garmin pop-up that will authorize the sync to and from Strava.
  5. That's it, you're done!


Time will see how this pans out for me. I might not like Google Fit. I might not like Strava. I might not like having all my data synced up. This is just an experiment. Ryan self-experiments so that his readers don't have to, that sort of thing. I'll keep you all (all two of you?) updated on how this goes. So far, so good...


On "Blowback"

David Henderson has an interesting blog post at EconLog, in which he responds to another EconLog post, by Bryan Caplan. Henderson ties Caplan's point to a few other recent articles. Those articles, along with both EconLog posts, all grapple with the search for meaning in the Charlie Hebdo murders.

Henderson's post concludes as follows (emphasis added for clarity to distinguish embedded quotation):
Do I know that the Paris attacks were blowback? I do not. Nor do Ron Paul or Justin Raimondo. Does Shihka Dalmia know that they were not blowback? She does not. We simply don't have enough evidence. 
Bryan writes:
But the overwhelming majority of recent events are sound and fury, signifying nothing. Serious thinkers don't base their worldview on what happened yesterday, or last week, or last year. Instead, they endlessly ponder the totality of human history, a body of evidence that makes all recent events combined look small and hollow.
Each of those statements is correct. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't also ponder recent events and try to extract the information from them that we can.
I first encountered Caplan's point about "recent events" in the book Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I would not be surprised if that were a major influence on Caplan's point, as they are made in such similar ways.

I think one way to view "recent events" is to wait long enough to know whether the particular "recent event" in question will meaningfully shape history. Many years later, we now know that the 9/11 attacks were not merely "recent events," but cataclysmic ones. We do not yet know whether the Charlie Hebdo murders will have any impact on history. I already strongly doubt the Boston Marathon bombing will be remembered by those who were not there in a few years. Already the "shoe bomber" is less than a footnote in history, and I suspect in five years or less most people will not remember why we take our shoes off at airports.

Now, in hindsight, it is easy to make the point that 9/11 was an example of "blowback" from US foreign policy. However, it is virtually impossible to make a convincing case that the shoe bomber, specifically, is an example of blow-back. Only time can tell whether we can say the same about the Charlie Hebdo murders, but given the public's general amnesia about these things, I doubt it.

None of this means that "blowback" doesn't occur, of course.


Album Review: Richie Kotzen - Cannibals

Given the surprising and outstanding success of The Winery Dogs, it may be somewhat surprising that Richie Kotzen would release a solo album almost immediately after returning from a worldwide tour. But the more familiar one gets with his work, the more one realizes that Kotzen has seemingly endless energy with with to pour himself into being one of music's most prolific independent artists.

To wit, sometimes I get the feeling that there is really nothing that Richie Kotzen can't do. He is an undeniable guitar god, an alumnus of the legendary Shrapnel Records label, releasing albums early in his career (meaning as a teenager) that quickly established him as one of the most gifted electric guitarists in the hard rock world. But it wasn't until "shredding" fell out of favor with music consumers that the world got to treat itself to what Kotzen can really do. His gritty, soulful vocals proudly display his R&B roots; and yet as a rock vocalist he is frequently compared to Chris Cornell, thanks in large part to his impressive vocal range and his ability to channel the vocal grit of 70s legends like Bob Seger, Michael McDonald, Daryl Hall, or Robert Palmer.

For any other artist, being at the forefront of the rock world as both a guitar shredder and a vocalist would be more than enough. Kotzen, however, has managed to develop impressive chops as a bassist, drummer, pianist, and most recently a theramin player. His deft use of social media includes one of the best YouTube channels out there, a fact that inspired this Music As Art post I wrote two years ago.

Consider his long list of accomplishments, it would be fair to ask what a veteran artist has to offer the music world in releasing his twentieth solo album since the late-80s, today, in the year 2015. Surely a prolific artist such as he must be running out of ideas by now, right?


On a pure technical level, Cannibals might be Kotzen's best-produced album to date. While his earlier albums sound great, the production value on this album seems to have upped the ante quite a bit. The tones are crisp and clear, yet still display the warmth we can fairly demand from a great R&B record. The drum tones are warm and clean - no excessive reverb, putting them in the forefront of the track without being too over-bearing. The bass tones are as groovy and warm as we might want them to be, albeit definitely with more of a P-bass twist. The guitars, of course, showcase Kotzen's unique ability to create a sonic heaviness while using minimal distortion - something many other artists attempt and fail.

The songs themselves are a wonderful reprieve from the aggression and noisiness of The Winery Dogs. In the context of Kotzen's full body of work, this is an interesting and important development. 2009's Peace Sign and 2011's 24 Hours saw Kotzen exploring the harder-rocking, more aggressive  side of his artistry, which fairly definitely culminated in a rather heavy collaboration with The Winery Dogs. Kotzen seems to have recognized that the time was right for him to lean further toward his R&B side. And while he doesn't go as far in this direction as, say, 1999's Break It All DownCannibals is nonetheless deeply immersed in rhythm and blues.

This is no more obvious than on "In An Instant," which sounds as though it could have been pulled from an early Hall & Oates album, and on "I'm All In," which is a duet with the legendary Doug Pinnick of King's X. Even the album's harder-rocking songs are drenched in a thick coating of electric piano or Hammond organ tones. For fans that may have come to Kotzen from The Winery Dogs, it may be a bit of a surprise, but as I mentioned above, this transition feels like a necessary one to me. As good as The Winery Dogs is, I, for one, had started to miss the smoother, groovier stuff.

One last thing I should mention about Cannibals from the standpoint of Kotzen's artistic development. A few years ago, Kotzen decided to transition to playing without a pick, a bold and adventurous move that few veteran guitar gods would have made. While this has slowly provoked an evolution of his guitar playing, on Cannibals I finally feel that he has come into his own as pick-less guitarist. From the country-inflected explosion in the album's title track to the warmth of the big, open chords throughout the album, Kotzen's new finger-style approach feels fresh and natural. Anyone who might be less of a guitar-geek than I would never guess that they were listening to one of rock music's most impressive sweep-pickers. It would have been easy for Kotzen to stop playing fast licks when he ditched the pick, but he didn't. He developed a new arsenal of sounds to accompany his new technique. Despite all that, he anchored that new arsenal in the artistic continuity of his music. The result is a new level of artistic maturity from an already well-established musical artist.

The bottom line should be obvious by now: I could not be happier with Cannibals. It is a another invigorated effort by one of my very favorite musical artists, and I strong encourage you to buy this album and use it to decorate the air around you for a while.


Because I Didn't Blog It When It Happened

I never really blogged about what it was like receiving a diagnosis of "type 1 diabetes" after being a health nut for years. Because the question came up elsewhere, I went back into my email archives to see what I had written about it before. What follows are re-worked excerpts of those emails.

What It's Like "Coming Down" With Diabetes

On the list of weirdest things that happen to people, getting Type 1 diabetes at age 30 has to be right at the top. Results from my... blood test at the Ottawa Hospital reveal that my blood sugar [had] been in the 20s for months. To put that in perspective, the normal blood sugar range for non-diabetic people is 4-6. Diabetics usually target 4-7. My blood sugar test on [that] Tuesday morning was 37, which was essentially an emergency situation.

I was rushed into an appointment at the endocrine clinic. There I was interviewed by the medical staff, and all at once was surrounded by doctors. They filled my head full of so many prognoses, instructions, and bits of information that my head was reeling. One of the bits of information was, "This is going to sound like we're rushing into things, but we're going to start your insulin regimen tonight." My wha...? What about...? Um...?

It was quite a shock.

I was then introduced to a number of people in the endocrine clinic, one of whom will be my nurse for the foreseeable future. She taught me how to operate a Lantus SoloStar long-acting insulin auto-injector. I injected my first dose of insulin myself - the staff acted like this was a big achievement. I will admit that I was really upset when I did it, but I've got to get used to it sooner or later. Then it was down to the lab for more blood tests and I went home. [My wife, then girlfriend] did a good job of consoling me, as did [my parents] when they called [on the phone later].

At about 3am I woke up drenched in sweat and obviously in pretty severe shock. At the advice of a dial-a-nurse hotline, I drank a cup of milk and ate a slice of bread. That took me out of shock, and then I went to the emergency room. There they tested my blood sugar at 14.5. The good news is my pulse had actually returned to normal, thanks to the Lantus insulin, so I'm back in the 55bpm range!

[I] went back to the endocrine clinic at 8am this morning, and the doctors advised me that I probably went into shock not because my blood sugar was low, but because it was much lower than it had been for months. Next the nurse gave me thorough instructions on injecting myself with Lantus and Humalog, testing and monitoring my blood glucose levels, etc. After that, I went to the dietitian, and she helped me figure out how to count carbohydrates and dose my Humalog accordingly. She [was] also a marathon runner, and we talked at length about how to train safely and run with diabetes. [As it turned] out, it is totally do-able, so that made me happy. I asked her a lot of tough questions, and she was able to answer me.

Then we went home for my first lunch as a diabetic. [My girlfriend] was a saint. She took all my papers and injectors and devices and stuff, and organized them all in a file for me, with tabs and labels and stuff. Then she made me some tea and some lunch. She helped me figure out how much insulin to take and when to take it, and helped me make sure I did it right.

[At that point, I felt that things were going so] far, so good. I [felt] a lot better having taken some insulin. My mouth [was] no longer dry, and my body [felt] a bit more energetic. I [had] a headache, but [it went] away soon...

Last thing is: Why did this happen? Well, as it turns out as [much] as 5% of the population has what's called Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA). This is also known as "Diabetes Type 1.5" or "late-onset Type 1 diabetes." Basically your body develops an allergy to the beta cells in your pancreas and systematically annihilates them. It has nothing to do with genetics, diet, lifestyle, etc. It is just dumb luck. It's not genetic, so I don't have to worry about passing this on to my children. That much is pretty good. I guess I will have to get serious about maintaining an amazingly healthy lifestyle to avoid complications later in life.


What's Wrong With Local Music

I came across a couple of articles on Facebook that seem to encapsulate everything I hate about being a musician. I'd like to discuss this in some level of detail, but before I do, let me quickly describe the three archetypical "what's wrong with music these days" articles/blog posts.

You'll notice that a running theme in my own music posts is that musicians in general are lazy and don't have an original bone in their bodies. (Okay, bad metaphor, since no human being should ideally have an "original" skeletal structure, but you get the point.) Naturally, we would expect that the articles written by musicians would also be lazy and unoriginal. That's where there are really only three kinds of articles, and here they are:

  1. Articles about how bad the record companies are. We can safely dismiss most of these articles because the number of musicians who have any real experience with record companies is much, much smaller than the number of people who write about how bad record companies are. 
  2. Articles, written by band members, admonishing music fans for not coming out to "support" the local music scene. 
  3. Articles, written by club owners, admonishing bands for not drawing a crowd.
Today's blog post is about these latter two kinds of articles. I've brought a couple of examples with me for illustrative purposes, but the reader is strongly encouraged to locate his or her own examples.

Get Out There And Support Live Music, Maaaaan!

I really hate these articles. Today's example comes from a blog called No One Likes Your Band (.com), and whining gets started in paragraph two:
One of the main things we need in order to get a better music scene is for people to get off their asses, stop complaining, and go to a show. That's it, it really is that simple. “Oh, but I don't know any of the bands playing.” Shut up, and go discover something new! What are you waiting for, the radio to tell you it's good? “But it's like five dollars to get in the door.” There's four bands playing, and you spent ten dollars for coffee this morning; stop with your lame excuses, and get your whiny ass to a show! You want live music? It's out there, go find it, and for the love of all that is holy, unholy, and chaotic neutral: stop thinking that the damn radio or television is gonna help you find anything.
I've always been nonplussed by the type of person who reasons this way. "Nobody came out to see my band play," therefore "People are lazy idiots who don't know what good music is!"

Notice the question that is never asked: Would people show up to my concerts if my musicianship and songs were better?

Our friends at No One Likes Your Band (.com), however, do come closer to this than the more typical examples of this kind of article. How does the author of the article address the criticism that local bands suck and aren't worth seeing live? Thusly:
If you think everything going on here musically is crap, then I can assure you that the only thing that's “crap” is your attitude. Take it from someone who actively searches for new, underground, unsigned music; we're sitting on a goldmine here. 
If you don't like what you hear, you have a bad attitude. His local music scene is a goldmine! I wonder...

True, he does levy a little bit of criticism at the musicians themselves:
A lot of you musicians need to step up your game as well, no one is innocent in this, especially not I. Sure, you should hone your craft, and work towards making the greatest music you can, but you should also step up your overall professionalism.
In hindsight, I'm impressed that his complaints are all consistent: Music fans have a bad attitude because they don't want to see these lousy bands perform (oops, there goes my "crap attitude"), while musicians themselves also have an attitude problem. He's right about musicians being unprofessional, of course, but notice how he takes it on assumption that they have "honed their craft" and worked "towards making the greatest music" they can.

I can count on one hand the number of local musicians I know who have a basic understanding of elementary harmonic theory, I mean the absolute basics of putting chords and melodies together. I know dozens of people who don't even know what key they write their own songs in. And I'm supposed to believe that these "musicians" have "honed their craft?" Please.

Well, that's the "He Said." What about the "She Said?"

Local Bands Are Soooooo Annoying!

Somebody at a website called Metal Sucks (gee, I can already tell they have a great attitude over there!) has a special bullet point on a 39-point list of complaints for the No One Likes Your Band (dot com) guy:
31. Bands that give big lectures on stage about how important it is to support “the scene” but at the end of their set want to get paid ASAP and don’t want to wait until the other bands get done.
The guy at Metal Sucks (dot com) is right about point #31, but for the wrong reasons. Remember, he's a club owner. He wants a packed house. He's not upset that the band isn't sticking around for the scene, he's upset that the band isn't sticking around to buy more alcohol.

That's right, club owners, I'm onto you. I've seen how you run your business. It started out that clubs would organize a quality show for their existing patrons. Then one day they realized that if people can't hear, then they can't talk to each other; and if they can't talk to each other, then they drink more. So the PAs got bigger and louder and everything seemed to work great until... people stopped showing up because they couldn't hear anything. Do you realize how bad any music sounds when a 50-inch speaker cone is distorting?

So what did they do next?  They started compensating for the dwindling crowds by booking more bands. The bands have to stick around, at least until they finish playing, and that means that clubs get to sell lots of alcohol to the bands themselves. Suddenly, twelve bands are playing 10-minute sets. Welcome to your local music scene. The performers are the customers. But if you don't stick around for everyone's 10-minute set and hang out until 2 AM on a Thursday night (are you joking, sir? You expect me to sit in your crappy wooden chairs and broken bar stools until 2 AM on a weeknight?) then Metal Sucks (dot com) has a bullet point #31 for you!

Seven of the thirty-nine bullet points on this list, by the way, are variants of "we don't like bands who don't bring crowds." I would be sympathetic to this argument, were it not for the combination of factors I just mentioned: PAs that are cranked far too loud for a crowd to actually enjoy the show, and shows that are booked late on weekday nights.

Listen, speaking as someone who has on occasion drawn hundreds of people to little bars to see my performances, I can tell you that it is virtually impossible to bring a good crowd with me if I'm booked to play after 7 PM on a weeknight. You're simply delirious if you think it's going to happen on a regular basis. It takes an exorbitant amount of effort to draw a crowd like that on a weeknight. I can pull that off once or twice per year in my local market, but that's it. And some bands are too young or inexperienced to ever do it. So club owners should moderate their expectations accordingly.

Also, keep in mind the arrangement: Clubs pay musicians to perform, not to advertise for your club. Take some responsibility for your own booking responsibilities!

Aha, Now I Get It

And there it is, the secret motive revealed. Clubs want to blame bands for not drawing a crowd. Bands want to blame fans for not being drawn. Everyone is shirking their responsibilities.

Imagine if these writers were correct about what they're saying. Imagine that clubs are so damn attractive that crowds are just lining up to get in late on a Thursday night - but unfortunately those crowds don't show up because the club booked the wrong dozen bands to play 10-minute sets. Imagine if the bands are so damn amazing that the pool of talent is a goldmine waiting to generate revenue for everyone - but fans are just so lazy that they can't be coaxed or whined out of their homes to see twelve bands play for 10 minutes each. (Don't forget about the thirty minutes of set-up time between each band!)

No, really. Imagine that. Imagine that what the music scene is writing about itself is true. What would that mean?

It would mean that it's your damn fault that bars and bands can't make any money.

Can you imagine the CEO of Ford Motors writing an article in Newsweek about how, "Sure, we had a rough year, but it's only because automobile customers are too lazy to get out there and buy our cars. They say our cars are crap, but the only thing that's 'crap' is our customers' attitudes! Lazy bastards!"

Wouldn't that be the stupidest thing you ever read? Wouldn't that be the lamest excuse for poor company performance you had ever encountered? Wouldn't you think that the guy was basically a delusional, entitled, self-absorbed idiot who had nothing to offer to the world other than blaming the universe that the many millions he deserved didn't just automatically gush into his bank account solely because he wanted them to?

If so, then you know exactly how I feel about musicians and club owners in this day and age.


I may not be right about this, but here's why I think I'm right: Every time I walk downtown and I see a talented busker - some guy playing classical guitar on a bridge, or someone playing unaccompanied jazz on a saxophone in a tunnel, or a couple of guys running a drum-line out of overturned buckets and milk jugs - I watch as the crowds gather, stay for a couple of songs, and then disperse with smiles on their faces.

People love music. People want to hear live music. They stop every time they hear it. They pay tips. They take videos. They post the videos on YouTube. They love it

But the difference between your local band and that guy playing classical on the bridge is that he's honed his craft for decades, he plays his music with simple joy, and he offers it into the world as music for its own sake. He doesn't dream of fame or fortune, he is simply an artist who chooses to beautify the air around himself. And the crowds flock.

Local bands, on the other hand, spend a few weeks wrangling 3-chords together in 10 different ways and expect to get hundreds of dollars a night from club owners who don't know how to fill their own establishments. And the crowds stay far, far away, because who wants to sit in a broken wooden chair at midnight on a weeknight drinking over-priced alcohol and listening to crap bands they can hardly hear, without even being able to discuss their experience with their date because the PA is cranked too loud?

I mean, seriously, does that sound like fun to you?