25 March 2015

NEWTON RUNNING CHALLENGE, NOT!

Yesterday was the last day of Week 1 of the Newton Running Run It Feel It Spell It Challenge.  I already got my entry done and was itching to run.  I recall that Charity Miles, the org behind the app of the same name, is on a quest to get the big cola company, Coca-Cola, to sign on as a sponsor.  For those who don't know, Charity Miles app allows runners etc to raise funds for charities as they go about doing what they love, be it running, cycling, walking etc.  In the beginning I had issues with the app but it has improved much since then.  I met the app's founder, Gene Gurkoff, a few times and he's one cool guy.  I use the app regularly and more than once help promote it in person or through my GPS art.  Fresh off my latest work project (read: unemployed) this week, I had a little time in the evening to help Gene with his push for Coca-Cola to become a sponsor.

The first screen below is the usual GPS art made with my Garmin Forerunner 210.  Note that I live near the letter "L" and since I wanted to start "writing" and running ASAP, I "wrote" the phrase backward, starting with the second "a" going from east to west.  It took about 1.5 hours to traverse the 8.37-km course.  I made a booboo with the leftmost "C", the curve should come down into Bay 28th Street but I was at the end of the run and was not thinking straight.  I always do these runs from memory, with occasional checking of the map on my smartphone, never with a piece of paper in hand or the course already marked.  Maybe I should, to avoid these little mistakes.

CocaCola as made by GPS watch Garmin Forerunner 210.

While checking out other entries in the Newton Running Spell Challenge, I noticed the ghostly writings in some of them.  I am not too fond of them but curious what app was used.  I already experimented with MapMyRun and yesterday I checked out Runtastic.  That was it, and the result is shown below.

Runtastic map with speed info and mile markers.

Runtastic maps do not have to be shown that way.  It's just the default view.  I played around with the map via a web browser on a real computer, i.e. not on a smartphone or the like, and was able to show just the path itself.  No elevation, no speed, no markers.  The route even shows in red, like Coca-Cola's color!

I hope Gene and Charity Miles will get the Coca-Cola sponsorship!

Runtastic map without extraneous info.

23 March 2015

NEWTON RUNNING SPELL CHALLENGE WEEK 1

Many of my Facebook friends tell me they love my GPS art, i.e. words etc spelled out when I run with my GPS watch.  Naturally, when Newton Running announced its Run It, Feel It, Spell It Challenge, I have a keen interest in it.  I perused the official announcement and read all the Newton Ambassadors' blogs.  They all mention that there will be daily prizes, then weekly, for six weeks, resulting in a few semi-finalists, then finally some finalists will be selected, and one of them will win the ultimate prize of Newton shoes for life, plus a Timex GPS watch!

I kept re-reading the Rules for details on the daily prizes but found nothing.  I wrote to a few bloggers and got no response.  I also wrote directly to Newton Running but it was the weekend and no answer came about.  In the mean time, I wanted to get a run in and was in the mood of celebrating my return to Brooklyn after four weeks of work in Denver.  So I spelled out "Brooklyn" and thought I would have an extra shot at the daily prize.

I often wondered how others "write" their words and letters.  Many people have very blocky art or thick lines, which I think are not attractive.  I suspect they use smartphone apps instead of GPS watches so I gave MapMyRun a shot while also using my trusty, ahem, Garmin GPS watch.  (I promise to use the Timex watch if I win it...)  The two "Brooklyn" words are shown below, the top being from connect.garmin.com and the other from MapMyRun.  I'd go with the GPS watch any day.  On the smartphone, the MapMyRun picture looked even worse.


"Brooklyn" as generated by Garmin GPS watch.

"Brooklyn" as made by MapMyRun smartphone app.  Thick lines, blocky text, not pretty.

Today I heard back from Newton Running that there is indeed no daily prizes.  I re-read the Rules one more time and concluded that, hopefully, my "Brooklyn" piece will be voided and not considered for judging.  I think I did a better job with "Boulder" anyway.  I probably will re-run "Brooklyn" for Week 2, which spans Wednesday 25 March through the 31st.  I'll make sure the k looks better this time, i.e. with a longer upward diagonal stroke so that it does not look like an h.

My first entry to the Newton Spell Challenge.

20 March 2015

NEWTON RUNNING'S RUN IT, FEEL IT, SPELL IT CHALLENGE!

All good things must come to an end.  Almost four weeks ago I started my long visit, for business purpose, to Denver.  Now there is just a few hours of the work day then Saturday morning I'll fly back to the East Coast.

I enjoyed meeting a Facebook friend and a relative who I haven't seen some twenty years, and had time for some activities outside of work.  First weekend I ran a half-marathon, the That Dam Run race in Cherry Creek State Park, the second weekend I spent back in NYC, then the third weekend I volunteered for the Running of the Green 7K, organized by Volunteers of America.  I also did touristy things like touring the Coors Brewery, climbing a mesa, and visiting the art museum, the State Capitol, and the zoo.
 
Almost every day I rode the bike to work and back.  The first time I used a Bcycle did not end well, as the dock that I returned the bike malfunctioned.  Luckily someone fixed it and afterward I made sure the returned bike chirped three times to acknowledge that the return was successful.  One time a station didn’t release any bike at all but otherwise I did not have any problems with the bike-share system.  Bikes were always available and so were open docks at the stations.  Maybe not enough people are using the bikes or their system of moving bikes around was really effective.

It took me a few tries to find the best bike route between the hotel (Broadway and 6th Ave) and the office (Broadway and 16th Ave).  I knew better to avoid the busy roads like Broadway but then I made the mistake of thinking Cherry Creek Trail was the best way for me.  While the Trail is car-free, it runs below grade and has entrances/exits only every few blocks.  What’s more, once you are out of Downtown center, there are fewer bike stations.  The Trail exit nearest to the hotel requires a few blocks of walking to get to the nearest bike station.  In the end, it was Bannock Street that became my bike route.  I would start the bike trip from Denver Health, where the station is somewhat hidden from public view.  I am still used to New York City’s CitiBike docks that are mostly on public sidewalks, sometimes ever on the street.  Just a short ride with motorists and I would be mostly by myself on Bannock.  In the beginning, I returned the bike at the Webb Building station but by chance I discovered that there are bike lanes on the sidewalk between that station and the one at Denver Post, a block further north.  There are also bike lanes on the sidewalk of Civic Center Park, which would come in handy as one time I actually made the big loop around it, riding on Lincoln Street.


From my experience, Denver motorists are relatively nice people.  I always keep my bike out of their way but there were times I had no choice but to ride in front of them and slowed traffic down.  No one ever honked at me.  If they made rude gestures behind me I would not know.  Overall as I traveled in the city for work or pleasure I don’t recall hearing angry car horns or open hostility.

After the first week the weather improved greatly.  A few evenings I ran outdoor, sometimes along the Cherry Creek Trail, other times on random street route just to stay close to the hotel.  For my last run in Denver, I made a GPS art as my entry to Newton Running’s Run It, Feel It, Spell It Challenge.  Details of the challenge can be found at


http://www.newtonrunning.com/run-feel-spell-official-rules


My entry for the first week of the multi-week challenge is BOULDER.  The theme of the contest is "Running Makes Me Feel" and the runner is supposed to supply an adjective to describe the feeling.  Ever the punster, my BOULDER is both a homonym of BOLDER, or more confident, and BOULDER the city in Denver where Newton Running is based.  It cannot hurt to earn brownie points.

Unlike those Newton Ambassadors out there, I don't have any blings to offer my blog readers.  Lace up your running shoes, activate your GPS watch or smartphone apps, then go for a creative run.  May the best GPS artists win life-time supply of Newton Running shoes and more!



See how the path is traced out as ran into the night on the street of Denver.  Yes, it would be ideal if I actually ran in Boulder, but I am in Denver without a car, not that I have the time to drive to Boulder.
  
https://connect.garmin.com/jsPlayer/724160498


14 March 2015

DANGER IN DENVER

I make a lousy travel reporter.  It is now my third week in Denver for a four-week business trip and I now finally found the time to update my faithful followers.  The first week was so-so, with cold weather and frequent snow.  By the second day, I did get a 30-day pass with Denver Bcycle, both to save my company a bit of money, get a little exercise from the commute, and to support the local bike-share program.  More on that later.  Also on the first week I ran a half-marathon, at one mile above sea level, meaning less oxygen.  More on that later, too, but first, I did something fun today, now that it was anyway.  When it was happening, it was kinda scary.

An in-law relative who lives in the area took me out to Golden to tour the Coors Brewery.  I don't drink alcohol for fun so it was not the free beer that got me interested, I just want to do touristy things while visiting.  After the tour and lunch, my relative said we had time to climb to the top of the nearby mesa.  It looked impossible but it actually took us just twenty minutes to reach the top.  I think the trail head we used was at 16th Street and East Street.  It was not too winding but as we drew closer the the summit we had to veer left to go behind the mesa.  Near the top there was a series of stairs.  It felt great being on top of the world, briefly anyway, but the descend was more difficult.  At some points just to be safe I was on four limbs facing upward.  One slip of the foot and you could be tumbling down one side of the mountain!  It was scary but worthwhile for this city boy.


Free tour and free beer, thank you Coors!

Just outside of the Coors Brewery, little did I know later in the afternoon I would scale a mountain.

My favorite phrase of the day is "Mi mesa es su mesa"

At the start of our ascend to the mesa-top.

A mesa too far.  Can it be scaled?  Not from the side that faces the camera but there are trails looping behind it.

Stairway to heaven...

This was better than climbing the steps of Philadelphia's Art Museum.

25 February 2015

MAKE MONEY WITH YOUR SMARTPHONE

Would it not be nice if you can make some money from all those hours you spend on Candy Crush and its ilks?  Well, you cannot, or at least I don't know that, but there is a group of apps, under the mPoints umbrella, that can actually make you some money.  Note that I did not say the apps will make you rich.  If there is one, I don't know yet.  But these mPoints apps can make you, say, $5 every few weeks.

I first learned about the mPoints network while playing What's The Phrase.  The game is sorta like Wheel of Fortune, where you take turn guessing letters of a phrase and solve it.  Let's say you play a game with someone and lost so you started a new game.  The action earns you a few points.  You play some more games and guess the correct phrase with just a few letters revealed.  That is called a Dedicated Achievement and earn you even more points.  Just opening the app at least once a day gets you 5 points.  You get the idea.  Just using the app as you normally would and you get points that accumulate toward different rewards.  I mostly go for $5 or $10 Amazon gift cards but if you have the patience you can save enough for Chromecast and other high-point items.

Next I started using Challenges, which tracks distance one covers on foot etc.  For me, it's basically a GPS tracker to help me log kilometers as I run or walk.  The app also supports an honor system whereby you can enter manually distance you walk or run etc.  I'm too lazy for that and rather just use the apps outdoor and let the gyroscope do the calculation.  As you may have guessed, yes you earn points for open the app at least once a day but you also get extra points for greater time duration.  For example, running 30 minutes get some points but logging an hour gets you even more.  Other Achievements include working out in the early hours, on the weekends, x days in a row.  Just use it and you get points.

While Challenges offer many activities to choose from, I use mostly Running, Walking, and Cycling.  Sometimes having too many choices turn you off, if that's the case you can use Pedometer by Runtastic.  Pedometer only records walking and is great for using indoor.  You can just hold the phone in your hand and swing it around to simulate motion but of course you would only deprive yourself the exercise of walking.

Crackle is another mPoints app that I use, although not as frequently as I want.  You basically watch movies and TV shows with Crackle to earn points.  You end up investing more time, at least 20+ minutes with shows and upward of an hour and a half with movies.  Yes, shows and movies have ads wedged into them so your watching experience is interrupted, but it is a small price to do things legit.

All mPoints apps have the check-in functions whereby you can log your presence near stores and such on a map to earn points.  Some businesses offer more points than others, so sometimes I would plan my exercise runs to pass by the high-point places.  I suppose the app's goal is to get you to patronize the business but you don't have to.  Right in my house I can log into a Rite Aid and a 7 Eleven every hours until the daily limit is reached.  Sure I buy stuff from them as needed, but you don't have to buy anything each time you check-in.

The check-in function must be popular enough so that mPoints spin it into its own apps, mPlaces.  mPlaces doesn't do anything too useful other than let you check-in.  Sure it provides a map that may be able to help if you are lost, but the whole point of mPlaces is checking-in.  Unlike the old check-in that limits 15 visits per day, mPlaces allow up to 25 visits.  There are also many ways to earn bonus points inside the app.  My favorites are the Challenges, whereby you need to visit certain locations as specified by the challenges.  For example, one past Sports Challenge required visiting a sports arena in addition to finding special coins that review certain sports ball.  I walked a little extra distance to visit Madison Square Garden but strangely it didn't register.  Luckily, before the Sports Challenge ended, I happened to be in St. Louis and was able to walk by Edward Jones Dome to clinch the challenge.  I love walking around in new places so mPlaces along with either Challenges or Pedometer do me much good.  If you drive though, mPlaces is smart enough to not allow you to check into places.  Good thing, we have enough distracted drivers as is.

Now go forth and earn some beer money with the various mPoints apps out there!

http://getmpoints.com/mpoints-apps/

15 February 2015

GREEN TRAVELER

At my current job, I travel frequently. Every time I pack for the trip, I am tempted to plan to not bring back some clothes, as a way of getting rid of excess clothes.  I don't buy clothes that often but I do inherit old ones from relatives and the collection grows slowly.  So far I only actually left behind only some socks that became unfit.  I also plan ahead and try to be a green traveler, by doing the following:

  • I bring along a stainless steel tumbler to drink water etc from.  If needed, I would also use it to hold water with tooth-brushing.  Starbucks has a bring-your-own although I have yet to participate.
  • Usually by the second day I would have a disposable cup from lunch to use with tooth-brushing.  The hotels provide cups, whether glass or plastic, but I'd rather re-use a disposable cups a few times.  One time I accidentally dropped a glass cup, ugh, all the more reason to re-purpose a cup from breakfast.
  • If the hotel provides silverware and the office has cereals, I would borrow a spoon to go with breakfast at work.
  • I take home all opened shampoo travel-sized bottles and unpacked bars of soaps for use at home.  I have a good stack of them to last for a while.
  • Whenever the option is there, I take mass transit to work, even though my employer provides a car for every trip.  Even when I have to get from the airport, with luggages, to the hotel.  It helps that I travel relatively light.  A weekly pass for the local subway, when used to get to the hotel, saves money from a taxi ride, which burns oil.
  • Most offices I visited have recycling bin for paper etc.  As I picked up free magazines or touristy pamphlets, I brought them to the office for recycling.
  • I always hang a Do-Not-Disturb sign and avoid having my room cleaned everyday.  I re-use the hotel towels for the entire stay, which is mostly one week long.  Another reason for the Do-Not-Disturb sign, "If it's yellow, let it mellow.  If it's brown, flush it down. " I have nothing more to say on the topic.

31 January 2015

SOME DAY MY PRINTS WILL COME

Photo hard copies, it is a hard thing to make.  Some years ago I got some coupon from Target, I think, that I splurged on an hp photo printer.  It was painful then, it was still painful when I tried to use it a few weeks ago.  Nothing particular about the hp printer itself, just the process itself that was painful.  Personally I rarely need a hard copy of a photo, but I know some elderly people who still like to have photographs in hand.  So I dug out my hp photo printer but alas the photo papers that would go into it had warped somewhat.  The printer took seemingly forever to recognize the paper, then when it finally started to suck the paper and painfully laid the ink on it, suddenly it stopped.  Paper jam!  If it is not one thing, it is another!

I gave up with the idea of printing the photos myself.  There is a Rite Aid store just a block away, maybe I'll use it.  Then I recalled how painful it was the last time I tried to print at this Rite Aid.  My feeble memory didn't tell me exactly what was wrong with the experience, just that it was not fun.  I did recall I ended up printing at another Rite Aid a little further away.

Maybe I would try online printing with Rite Aid.  Why, they even had a sale, some discount for printing 30 or more photos.  So I dutifully upload the photos and added them to my cart, checked out, then... boom!  Just some cryptic error that didn't tell what was wrong.  It just didn't work.  It was already late at night, I gave up.

A few weeks later, I gave photo printing another shot.  A new Walgreen just opened across the street from my beloved {sarcasm} Rite Aid, I'll give that a try.  Uh, except it wanted 35¢ per print for immediate printing, or 32¢ for one-hour printing.  It was already 4ish, the store would close at 6 PM, I hate the idea of perhaps having to wait the next day.  Knowing the Rite Aid online offer was 19¢ per print convinced me that Walgreen, instant gratification be damned, is not for me.  So I headed back to Rite Aid, insert the USB stick, and wham, "No photos found!"  Maybe Walgreen's machine somehow wiped the photos off my USB stick?  I gave up.  I found out just now that the photos are there on the USB drive, something just went wrong at Rite Aid.

Enough of this nonsense, in the end I went with Snapfish.com.  It'll take a few days for it to arrive in the mail, but it was relatively painless.  I did have to ask to have my password reset, since it had been a while since I last printed with Snapfish.  No email ever arrived, maybe I put in the wrong email address, luckily I was able to correctly guessed my old password.  Oh well, help keep the United States Postal Services useful by printing photos with Snapfish and such.  I pity the average technophobe having to deal with all this headache.