P1010928A couple of months ago I got a wakemate to track my sleep. Actually, I had told my husband about it and he asked me to order one for him. When it finally arrived he didn’t really bother to set it up, so I started to use it instead and now it’s mine.

Here’s what it does:

1. It tracks my sleep and uses the data to analyze my sleep patterns.

2. It wakes me up at the best time within a 20 minute time frame.

As you can see, the wakemate has been used a lot. I usually wear it on weekdays when I have to get up early, but also occasionally on weekends and when I’m on vacation because I’m curious how my sleep patterns change.

What it does is that it tracks my movements during the night and somehow figures out how deep my sleep is based on that. I was sceptical at first, but it seems like Actigraphy, for that is what it’s called, is a standard method to measure sleep patterns.

I’ve also noticed that whenever I remember something about last night’s sleep I can usually trace it back in the data from the wakemate. So if it takes me longer than usual to fall asleep or if I wake up in the middle of the night, I found that this is reflected in that night’s sleep graph. I still can’t tell whether I really had a deep sleep phase when the wakemate says I did, but since the data I can check is usually correct, I’m pretty confident that the data the wristband collects and how it is analyzed isn’t complete nonsense.

As for the waking part, how it works is that you choose the time that you need to wake up the latest and the wakemate tries to find the best moment to wake you up in the twenty minutes leading up to that time without disturbing your sleep pattern. If it can’t find the best moment it will just wake you up at the latest possible moment. The theory is that you will feel better and more awake when you haven’t been woken in the middle of a deep sleep phase.

While this seems to work well, it unfortunately doesn’t work so great for me. The problem is that I’m a big lover of the snooze button and it’s not so much that I am too tired to get up, most mornings I’m just too lazy. So I ignore the wakemate alarm and just wait for my regular alarm to go off. And then I hit the snooze button three to seven times and then I get up. But that’s not the wakemate’s fault. I have noticed that sometimes I’m half awake and the moment my brain starts to work in consistent thoughts the wakemate alarm goes on. Which is another indicator that the movement measuring seems to work fine.

Vollbildaufzeichnung 11.01.2012 193629.bmpYou can track your patterns on the website of the wakemate. You need some kind of mobile device (Android, Blackberry or iOS) which connects to the wakemate via Bluetooth. This device will also transmit the data to the wakemate server and also provides the alarm clock feature –  basically: There’s an app for that. You can then check your nightly graph, compare graphs, add tags and look at some statistics.

Basically I know now that on average:

  • It takes me 8 minutes to fall asleep.
  • I wake up 2 times a night.
  • I sleep for 6 1/4 hours a night.

The last one isn’t quite true, since I usually sleep for at least another 30 minutes after the first wakemate alarm has gone off. Also, I don’t always wear it on days when I don’t have to get up in the morning, which are probably the nights I sleep a lot longer to make up for my lack of sleep during the week.

There are other devices similar to the wakemate, wristbands, but also headbands. I like the wakemate, because it’s relatively hassle-free (I also haven’t tried any other devices, so I can’t really compare). The only complaint I have is that the band has already widened with time and I’m not sure whether that affects its measuring precision. Scott Hanselman tried the Zeo headband and wrote about it here.

 I don’t claim that the science is soundproof and totally accurate, but from what I can tell it works surprisingly well and is quite a fun way to check up on what’s really happening when you sleep.

(It’s also fun to walk into the office in the morning and with a loud voice claim that “Last night I got a sleep score of 85! Woo-hoo!”)

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 184 user reviews.

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Not nearly two weeks ago I finally ordered my Kindle. I’ve been wanting one since last year, but with the new job, the move and everything I pushed it further and further. I had convinced my husband that it would be a nice idea when we were still busy packing up box after box of books and bringing them to our storage. It’s very easy to convince your better half of the advantages of a device that is supposed to hold up to 3, 500 books when you have been busy filling more than fourty boxes with books. (Actually, I don’t know how many boxes with books we have, but there are a lot of boxes in storage and I’d guess about 80 percent are filled with books.)

So. On that famous Thursday in February I finally went ahead and did it. It was delivered the very next Monday, which is pretty fast, considering it went all the way from the US to Germany and I immediately picked it up and loaded The Name of the Wind on it. (Mostly because I had listened to an interview with Patrick Rothfuss on the Sword and Laser podcast and he talked about Joss Whedon which is the maybe easiest way to make me like you.)

I was afraid that reading on an e-book reader wouldn’t be my thing. I thought that I might miss the feeling of a book in my hand. Miss actually buying books or having them sent to me in neat little packages and looking at the covers. Afraid that I liked the way a book’s weight changes from one side to the other while you’re reading it.

Fortunately, all this isn’t the case. Or, maybe it’s the other way round, I enjoy the advantages of the Kindle so much that I don’t have time to miss the real book feeling.

Let me first say that the screen is perfect. It really looks like a writte page, perfectly clear and readable in sunlight. There are a couple of reflections when bright light shines directly on it, but that’s all. When I first held it in my hand I was amazed at how small it is and even more, how incredibly light it is. You can hold it comfortably with one hand and press the next page button with your thumb to read practically anywhere.

It took me a couple of pages to get into it, but I very soon forgot that this was not an actual paper book I was holding. It might have helped that The Name of the Wind is such a great read, but I figure it is just that you need some adjustment time to get used to the feeling of an e-book reader. Then you easy like it or not.

I will keep up with more impressions or remarks as I continue carrying my Kindle around with me, but for now, here are a few early comments on the experience:

 

  • The delivery was awesomely fast. I expected at least two weeks, and it got here in five days. You pay for customs on checkout so that it gets through quicker. Very smart.
  • It is very comfortable to read with, mostly because it’s so light and you only need one hand to hold it and turn the pages. Which makes it easy to pretty much read anywhere, even standing up in a bus or so.
  • Can’t say much about the battery time, but there’s plenty. I have WiFi on all the time, which is supposed to drain the battery somewhat faster. I have charged it once since I originally got it (and not counting the first time I charged it), but that was mostly precautionary.
  • PDFs work okay. I haven’t tried the convert feature so far, just loaded some PDFs I had on my laptop to check how they looked. The font is usually smaller, but it looks generally okay.
  • Most of all: I love reading on it. I was afraid I wouldn’t, but I do. I hope it’s not just enthusiasm, but given that I read nearly 700 pages in less than a week, I’d say that it’s a pretty neat device to read on.

The only irk I had and sometimes still have is a usability issue that I think I just need to get used to (and probably already have). I used to press the „next page“ button on the left side to go back a page every now and then. Somehow the feeling of using a real book got mixed with how the buttons are adjusted. But I also realized that I like the fact that I can hold the Kindle with either hand and just keep turning the page, so I think this is really just something that you need to get used to (if you even have that problem to begin with) rather than faulty design.

Now I’d like for more and more books to be released as e-books as well as Amazon rolling out German books for it. I know there are already some available, but I couldn’t find any current books that I would like to read. And now I’d like to snuggle under the covers and continue reading The Passage.

 

 

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 222 user reviews.

I made the horrible mistake of installing iOS 4 yesterday evening before going to bed. I had planned about an hour for evertyhing to be done, but boy, was I wrong.

To make it short, this is now my third attempt at completely restoring my iPod. One of the problems that kept occurring was that while I was doing something else on my computer, iTunes kept just popping up and as expected at least one of these times I was just hitting return, which basically cancelled the whole clean installation process. I’m pretty sure that that was end of it. From then on I kept on trying to do a full restore, but since my library consists of a respectable 3270 songs, this takes a while. Like more than an hour.

This morning I thought I’d get it done before taking off for work, but there was an estimated ten to fifteen minutes missing until the whole thing was done and I had to cancel the syncing. Now this is the third attempt and I don’t think I have another choice but just wait until it’s done, even though I might like to just go to bed. Oh, the trouble technology puts us through.

Now you might wonder why I still care so much about my iPod. It’s because so far, the Motorola Milestone hasn’t replaced what I mostly use my iPod for: Media player and little entertainment device. I use the Motorola for taking pictures and videos, using location-based services, updating twitter or simply accessing the internet (and currently checking the last results of the World Cup).

I’ve gotten so used to having access to useful information everywhere all the time that everytime I go abroad (which might include my parents-in-law’s, who live so close to the Swiss border that half of the time I’m there my cell phone mistakenly assumes it’s in Switzerland)… anyway… everytime I go abroad I feel robbed of that information. I have a very basic and unexpensive data plan, mostly because I just wanted a simple data plan which emphasized on the DATA aspect of the whole thing. I use the phone for calls and texting, but mostly I’m interested in all the not phone related activities.

I checked out a couple of options for global roaming today, but none of them catered to my needs. I don’t care for any cheap call rates or free text messages. The only person I’m likely to call is my husband and that’s about once a day at the most. What I miss is the opportunity to use all the helpful little apps that help me get around in Germany so much. Finding a restaurant in London. Checking out the timetables for the train back to Luton. Whatever. What I need when I’m abroad is directions, suggestions for restaurants and activities and information about getting somewhere and probably back. 

The options I found for simple data plans for global roaming were still insanely expensive, so it would probably cost me less to just use the options my provider offers anyway. There’s also the option of just getting a SIM from the country you plan to spend some time in, but the last person I knew who tried that was really frustrated by the process so it didn’t seem tempting at all.

Do you all just go de-mobile when you’re abroad? Do you simply not mind about the costs? Or is there a simple trick to stay mobile with your cell phone at a reasonable price? Please enlighten me. This is just s puzzle that… well… leaves me puzzled.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 287 user reviews.

Right now I’m writing this on a Dell Inspiron 11 inch notebook with Windows 7. Which is light green, because, as you might or might not know about me, I have a thing for light green. I’m also waiting for the Android app for Squarespace for my Motorola Milestone (or Droid for the US readers).

Which is another way of saying: I do not really use a Mac notebook and I don’t have an iPhone.

On the other hand and to be fair: I do own a three year old MacBook and I also do own an 2nd generation iPod touch.

However, when lately I had to make a choice what kind of new computer I wanted to buy and what smart phone I wanted, I did choose a Windows laptop and an Android phone.

There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t go for the obvious choice of buying Apple products.

1. I never hated Windows. Sure, I’ve seen my fair share of computer crashes and blue screens of death, but I never had the system fail completely on me. I grew up with Windows using it since I was in my teens and so far I’ve been fine with it. And I kind of dig Windows 7.

2. More than that, I don’t believe that you have to be either or. I can see the merits of an Apple computer (mostly because I have one) and I love my iPod touch. But that doesn’t mean that I have to stick to Apple. The surprising truth is: You can have both! What a concept.

3. I use a Windows system for work and I like to play around with some stuff away from work which I can’t do on a Mac OS. (I know that I can run a Windows OS on an Apple PC, but to me that seems like an option I would consider if I absolutely wanted a Mac. Which I don’t.)

But there are a couple of other reasons, too.

4. Apple products are expensive. An unlocked iPhone still costs around 600 to 700 Euro and you can’t even get one in Germany as far as I’m aware. MacBooks got a bit cheaper, but the smallest ones are still costlier than some of the better equipped Windows laptops.

5. Currently, the iPhone in Germany is attached to T-Mobile exclusively. And the data plans suck. I know, because my husband has an iPhone. He pays about twice as much monthly than what I pay. Admittedly his plan includes a few extra options that I miss and his connection speed is a bit faster, but it still doesn’t justify the price difference for me.

6. I wanted a small simple laptop with acceptable speed and performance and no frills, other than being light green. Basically I wanted something to carry around all the time. An 11 inch screen is perfect for me. It’s big enough to work as a screen for most of the tasks and I can still connect it to a bigger screen on my desk. The smallest MacBook is still a 13 inch which was just a tad too much.

7. The restrictiveness of both the Mac OS and the iPod started to bug me. Maybe I never got around to really learning my Mac skills, but it was a feeling that repeatedly left me frustrated.

8. Slide-out keyboard. Just saying.

So far I haven’t regretted my choice. I’m absolutely and completely in love with my Dell notebook. It’s with me all the time and I use it all the time. Windows 7 also is a great OS to work with. No complaints here so far as well.

Coming from an iPod touch it took me a while to switch to the Android (not as a phone, but as a small computer). I still use the iPod for music and videos, but that might change in the future, too. I even started to play around with Android development, which seems like a developer’s dream compared to my short-lived experience with iPhone development.

I plan to write more about the actual advantages and drawbacks of each system. For now, just leave it at: I have a Dell notebook and a MacBook laptop as well as an Android phone and an iPod touch. I am neither an Apple fangirl nor am I a Windows or Google groupie. And that’s totally fine with me.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 239 user reviews.

The evening before the big flight and my desk is heaped with cables and electronic devices. Makes you think about how much has changed in the past few years.

Now, preparing for a vacation doesn’t just include making sure that all the trash has been taken outside and no perishable fruit is left on the counter. It’s not just checking that you have all your papers and enough clothes to wear.

No, instead I spent most of the evening looking for cables, adapters for American plugs (finally found the right ones in the one drawer after being temporarily confused by Hong Kong adapters… and why the hell do I have two adapters for my iPod charging cable???), packing my Nintendo DS game into the little pouch that came for my headphones and currently also holds the tiny iPod microphone.

Right now I’m transferring all pictures from our Nikon D70 to the MacBook, so we have a completely free disk when we start taking pictures. I should do the same for the Panasonic Lumix in hopes that then we won’t run out of disk space. After a brief discussion over dinner it was decided that the MacBook stays home (hard to believe, right?) and that we’d just buy new memory cards in case the ones we have don’t suffice.

I also need to remember to charge all electronic devices I need for the flight (i.e. camera(s), Nintendo DS, iPod and iPhone) so that they’re fully loaded in the morning. Then of course I hope to get the chance to charge them all again when transferring at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, just to make sure that once on the plane both the Nintendo and the iPod are charged to their fullest and get me through a ten hour flight.

(I have also refrained from playing Scribblenauts and the new Professor Layton to make sure that I don’t run our of riddles before I’m back home.)

Did I forget anything? I also took good care in syncing my iPod with all new TV show material and podcasts. So yes, I think I’m set.

I know in the good old days you brought a book for the flight and one single camera for the trip. Alas, those days are gone. Now half of my hand baggage is cables and geekie tech stuff. And adapters.

(I also have books though. We have three novels, one half-read non-fiction, two travel guides and I wouldn’t completely rule out the chance of stocking up on magazines in Paris.)

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 153 user reviews.

It’s been pretty quiet here, but there’s a reason for that and since it won’t fit into 140 characters and I do feel a bit bad about not writing anything at all here, I thought I’d give you a short heads up on what I’ve been up to these days.

Here’s the thing. A few weeks ago there was nothing on TV which made me tell my husband that I was thinking of buying a Wii somewhen soon which made him dare me to buy one right that evening. By the way it was about 7pm when this happened, which meant that we pretty much ran out of the Italian restaurant, jump into the car and drive to the next electronic store. There I pretty much stopped the first guy to walk around in the games department and said something to him, which can easily be translated into: „We’d like to spend lots of money. Sell me a Wii and whatever equipment there is.“ Which he did.

So we’ve got a Wii. Of course we also bought the Balance Board right away, plus two additional games, so we’re set for now. Can’t wait for Wii Fit Plus to be released though. I want that chicken suit!

I also still have that Nintendo DS I got for my birthday last year. I’ve been pretty bad with buying games for the DS. Of course I’ve got one of the Dr. Kawashima’s which I’m pretty sure everyone has. I also have one of those hidden object games, which was a bit of a letdown (I have a similar game on my iPod which I loved). I got Professor Layton’s Curious Village which was so awesome that I dragged it out because I didn’t want it to end.

And since last Wednesday I have Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.

Conincidentally, last week was also the week when the first part of Monkey Island was released for the iPod.

So, let me get that straight for you one last time: There’s the Wii, Legend of Zelda and Monkey Island. Do you need any more explanation on why I can’t seem to make time to blog?

I thought so.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 268 user reviews.

I was a bit puzzled when I first noticed the new icons that are displayed just below the time slider thingy for podcasts. It was actually when I was on my way to the supermarket, so I didn’t really date to find it out, because I already was trying not to run into things and listening to a podcast at the same time and didn’t want to add a third task to the list.

iPod Podcast Icons

When I wrote my article about the new upgrade I started to muse aloud (if you can apply this to writing as well) about these icons and when I reached the third paragraph I thought I’d just leave it out completely and write in detail about it later. I think it makes a good example for usability and design. So here goes:

The first thing I’d like to say is that yes, I know it’s hard to find an icon that conveys exactly what the button does without any risks of misinterpretation. Still, I couldn’t really say what any of these icons wanted to tell me. I had vague ideas, yes, but I needed to actually try each of them out to see what they actually did – and confirm my suspicions.

Let’s start with the first one. What does the envelope do? Something with mail? Mail updates? Send a mail? Anything to do with RSS? Who knows. The second one could actually have to do something with reverse… like what? Go back 30 seconds? The 1x is as puzzling as the envelope. One time WHAT? Can I change that to two? Anything else? Oh wait, let’s try that.

[Imagine me pressing the 1x button here.]

Oh look, it changes to 2x. What happens if I press it again? 1/2x. Interesting. The answer of course (and I guessed it, too) is that this button changes the speed of the podcast. It also adjusts the pitch, so you don’t get the Mickey Mouse effect when listening to a podcast running at twice the speed.

I don’t know if I’ll use that feature. When I tried it on one of my favorite podcasts, I had trouble following the content. Basically, twice the speed was too fast. I think that 1, 5x might be an interesting adjustment. A bit faster, but not actually to the point where you can’t follow what’s being said.

But enough of that, now comes the icon with the 30 and the arrow. That one seemed very obvious to me once I tested it and realized what it does. Want to guess? Exactly. It goes back 30 seconds. While this is nice, I would actually suggest being able to forward 30 seconds, too. When it comes to long podcasts, using the time slider can be tricky and I can currently think of more use cases for forwarding than for reversing. But maybe that’s just me.

Now for the last one and – as it turns out – the least useful one in my personal opinion. And yes, it does send out a mail with a fancy default text along the lines of „Hey, check out that podcast“ and the link to the podcast.

I’m not sure how other people think about that, but I have never ever in my life felt the need or desire to send out a mail with a link to a podcast. I just… well… I don’t do that. And if I did, I’d probably send the link to the website of the podcast. Maybe there is a big target group out there, but I just don’t see myself using this button at all. It makes me wonder whether the guys at Apple just tried to come up with a third button, because groups of three a) look nicer and b) would be consistent with the number of icons displayed for songs.

In the end all the buttons did more or less what you might have guessed from the icons. I still needed to try each of them, because it wasn’t completely clear. And then, I was slightly underwhelmed by the functionality they provided. The 30 seconds reverse might come in handy at times, and changing the speed could be interesting. Who knows, maybe I will actually use that from time to time. The mail option does nothing for me.

Now the next thing to try out is how to use that scrubbing thing I heard about. I think I have a pretty good idea about how that works, but once again, I’ll have to thoroughly test it to be sure.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 157 user reviews.

photoYes, I too paid my 8 Euro to upgrade my iPod to the latest software. So far I’d say it was worth it.

More than that, the upgrade finally made me go and buy some iPod equipment that I’d been planning to get for some time now, but could never actually come around to actually buying it. But since today I am the proud owner of a Belkin iPod pouch, new Philips earphones and an itty-bitty microphone.

Generally I use my iPod mainly for audio and video. I still think audio trumps video here, but ever since I realized that the quality is sufficient to watch TV shows on my iPod, I’m not completely sure whether that statement is true any more.

I also use it for mail and the web, and of course I have a bunch of applications for all sorts of stuff that I use whenever it makes sense and/or I’m bored.

What really sold the upgrade for me was the search and the copy-and-paste. I also like any kind of Bluetooth feature, although I don’t think this one will actually help me any time soon. Still, glad to know it’s there.

Shake to shuffle also sounds like a wonderful feature, especially since I’ve been using shuffle on my complete library lately.

Now with the new upgrade and the addition of the fancy new iPod equipment (especially the microphone) I might take the iPod experience to a slightly different level. Who knows. I already registered for AudioBoo, but it might be some time before I find a valid reason to actually publish something.

Oh wait, I don’t need a valid reason. I can just do it for fun. But I’d probably like to be less tired for my first and therefore very important AudioBoo publication. So be patient.

I’d also like to tell you a bit more about what I do with my iPod and why. I just need some time away from it to actually write about it, at least until Squarespace finally releases the iPod app they are already marketing to me. Hurry up!

(As for the earphones, they’re Philips and in-ear earphones. The in-ear part was the only requirement I had when I went to the electronics department. The Philips ones came with a little pouch and a volume control, which was the ultimate selling point compared to the slightly cheaper Sony ones that had neither. I really came to like things that come with their own pouches, because it makes handling all the electronic equipment I tend to carry around a lot easier and neater. I also liked the look of the Philips ones better.

Taking all that into account, plus the budget I had in mind for it, I’m glad to report that it didn’t take me too long to decide. It also helped that the sales guy said that in that price range there wasn’t really a significant difference in quality between one company or the other. So. Yep. Pouch and volume control it was. And less glittery design.)

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 296 user reviews.