All posts by Marcus Needham

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Felt VR3 First Ride and Review

I took delivery of a lovely new Felt VR3 road bike on Friday.  This is a genre-bending road/endurance/gravel bike, with a sub-1000g carbon frame, disk brakes and room for up to 38mm tires.  I’d been on the lookout for a light gravel bike, after getting my feet wet in the multi-surface world with an aluminum Giant TCX.  After reading a set of raves reviews in August after it was announced (e.g. Velonews, RKP) I kept an eye on further news, and put down a deposit at my nearest Felt dealer (Bike Connection in San Francisco) in September when they told me that Felt would be prioritizing delivery for pre-ordered bikes.

The spec on the VR3 was very close to my needs, so I wasn’t tempted by the VR2, although I will be swapping out the wheels very soon.  The 3T Discus C35 Pro wheels look fantastic but are not tubeless-ready, which is a strange decision on a bike of this kind.  I have a DT Swiss R23 Spline DB wheelset on order, which I will setup tubeless either with 30mm Schwalbe S-One or 35mm Schwalbe G-One. I also have a set of FSA carbon handlebars that I will be swapping on.

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Messy cables–why is the front brake hose is so long?

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Top-tube mount for a Dark or XLab bento-box:

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Another selling point was the all-new “sub-compact” (30/46) Rotor crankset:

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Stock tires are Vittoria Rubino Pro 28mm, which measure out at a plump 29.5mm on the 3T rims, but plenty of clearance for bigger tires:

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No doubt it’ll be appearing in a lot of my future Instagram shots at @dynamicwatch for my dwMap Garmin watch app project.

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New dynamicWatch Business Blog

Although this will remain as my personal blog, I’ve started a new blog at Medium for anything relating to the business and technology of dwMap, my popular route planning and navigation app for Garmin GPS running watches and cycling computers.

From its start as a hobby app to its success as most popular app in the Garmin App Store and the launch of the paid Premium version, it’s a project that has gone far further than I ever expected.  Learning how to leverage communications and marketing channels such as blogging and social media has become an important part of the project, allowing me to learn and explore with real data and a real product.

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The unexpected success of dwMap

Back on August 31st I shared that I had created a simple route map app called dwMap for Garmin’s popular line of GPS sports watches.

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Since watches like the Garmin Vivoactive do not include the ability to show and follow a route, this seemed to satisfy an unmet need, but at the time I expected that just a few hundred runners and cyclists would find the app useful.  I was surprised and excited to see the number of registered users of the app (and its companion website  http://dynamic.watch) soon climb pass a few hundred, then a thousand, and now to over 50,000!

Although the Garmin watches and fitness trackers are less well known than the Apple Watch or the Fitbit, they have several advantages, such as long (multiday) battery lives, true built-in GPS capabilities (you can leave your phone at home) and are fully waterproof.  New models such as the Vivoactive HR have heart rate sensors built into the back of them.  The Forerunner 735XT combines this with full multisport (triathlon) capabilities , while the Fenix 3 HR is both stylish and packed with hiking and skiing-specific features.

As time allows since August I have been working on adding features and interacting with an awesome community of users, and I will hopefully soon be ready to release a V2 with a set of really cool features.  I continue to use the app myself almost every day, whether I am just recording my activities (which sync automatically from the app to Garmin Connect and Strava) or using the route map to explore a new area.

Initially this was a hobby project to share with a few like-minded individuals, that morphed into a “Big Magic” creative project that I’ve devoted time and energy to simply for the joy of it, and who knows what might come next?

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How would you spend $150 on your health?

Ahead of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales I got a discount offer from Withings for their well-regarded WS-50 connected scale.  This bathroom scale measures one’s weight, heart rate, body fat composition, etc, and automatically uploads it to the Withings Healthmate web service. Since I already manually enter my weight and resting heart rate into Healthmate, this seemed like an elegant way to automate this, but I baulked at the $150 price tag.

That then set me to think about what the “best” way I could boost my health with a $150 spend at the present time, and then to start asking other people what they would choose for themselves?  Since I saw quite a few people at dinners and parties over the Thanksgiving holidays it became the spark for some funny and insightful conversations about health, interventions, personal incentives, etc.

Here’s a list of the answers that I can remember:

  • An everyday object, e.g. a Japanese teapot, that is a joy to use
  • Copay for a comprehensive “executive” medical exam/tests
  • Cycling heart-rate or cadence meter
  • Fitbit activity tracker
  • Lamb chops (“healthier than steak”)
  • Massage
  • Running shoes
  • Nutrition classes
  • Organic food
  • Pass to continue existing classes, e.g. spinning
  • Pass to try new classes, e.g. yoga, spinning, tai chi, etc (this was a popular choice)
  • Session with trainer to learn how to lift free-weights properly
  • Spa day
  • Wifi-connected bathroom scale
  • Year’s supply of statins

I have not (yet) bought the Withings scale, even at a $112 Cyber Monday sale price, and I actually will be spending my 150 health dollars on copays, etc, to try to clear up a recent knee injury I’ve sustained.

How would you spend $150 today on boosting your health?

Where can you see the Bay Bridge Demolition?

Although they say the best way to see tomorrow’s (Nov 14 2015) implosion of the old Bay Bridge span (specifically “Pier E3”) is via TV or streaming at home, the event did get me thinking about where is the closest point to my condo that I can see the old span from?

I have mapping software that lets me use Digital Elevation Model (DEM) terrain data to calculate a “view shed” from a point.  Typically this is used by radio engineers to estimate the coverage area from a possible transmission tower site, but works just as well to answer my question of “where would one have line-of-sight to the old Bay Bridge span from?”  Here’s what I got:

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The red shaded areas are where you should be able to see the bridge from.  This makes the assumption that there are no buildings in the way (the DEM I used uses the height of the ground, not what might be built on it) but at least shows a good estimate.

As expected Yerba Buena Island blocks a large part of the center and north of San Francisco from seeing it.  It should be visible from the top of Bernal Heights, McLaren Park, Potrero Hill and St Bruno Mountain.  Surprisingly not from Twin Peaks, again due to Yerba Buena Island.

It is visible from most of the southern waterfront, from just south of AT&T Park down through the Dogpatch to Hunter’s Point.

Hence the closest point to me will either be the fishing pier jutting out east from AT&T Park, or across China Basin by Pier 48 (right by The Yard biergarten, which sadly won’t be open that early).

Update Nov 14: My calculations were correct, and I was able to see the implosion from the Pier 48 corner:

Waiting for Bay Bridge implosion
Waiting for Bay Bridge implosion
Lego Pushup

365 Days of Exercise

Screenshot 2015-09-24 06.09.48Today I hit the milestone of having an unbroken chain of daily exercise for 365 days. Although I have for most of my life stayed fit through doing serious workouts 2 or 3 times a week (mostly cycling, with some running, weights, swimming and miscellaneous classes), I decided that I wanted to boost my overall health by committing to getting a non-trivial amount of exercise every single day.

My initial motivation was Dan Buettner’s work on “Blue Zones“, the regions of the world where lifespans (and “health spans”) are materially longer than average, and the observation that one of the common factors was daily movement.  This might be daily physical work, such as farming, or hobbies such as gardening and social walking.  Although I still believe that intense exercise (cardio and weight training) is necessary for fitness and weight management, I also now believe that daily non-intense exercise is enormously beneficial for overall healthy and longevity.

At the time I was also interested in using Jerry Seinfeld’s “chain” method for habit formation, where one tries to keep the chain of a daily goal unbroken for as long as possible.  Since I lived 1.7mi (30 mins walk) from work, and often would take the bus in in the morning and walk home in the evening (or vice versa), I adopted this as the minimum daily goal for the chain.  Some days I would go for a bike ride or other activity that would significantly exceed this goal of course.

Things went great for around 160 days.  Then one day I travelled to stay with friends and simply forgot to get a walk in!  I did remember as I was falling asleep, but decided to let it go and restart the chain.  I started again the next day, and 365 days later, here I am!

Although I am fairly disciplined about my health, it’s taken some serious effort to maintain this chain, and I plan on keeping it going forever.  So far I have not had any illness to battle against (not bad for 160+1+365 days I realized), and although “30 minutes of walking” remains the benchmark, I now live 1.1mi from  work and walk both ways, so my daily norm is a bit higher.  I also have recently started wearing a Garmin Vivoactive activity tracker and will probably select a certain step count as the new definition of the goal.

Have I seen any quantifiable benefit?  I would have to say that I have not, as my blood numbers, weight, resting heart rate, frequency of illness, etc, were all ok before I started.  Walking isn’t much of a calorie burner (approximately 130 cals for 1.7 mi, dwarfed by the 3000+ cals of a 4 hour bike ride, for example).  Living in San Francisco and not owning a car meant I already was getting a fair amount of ad hoc, if inconsistent, walking done.

But I strongly believe this is an investment in long term health and longevity.   I was delighted to read a report last month that “a daily walk can add seven years to your life.”  I also think that as an exercise in chain-based habit formation it has been a great success, and I have since used the same method for other habits.  Finally, the daily walks have also become my main podcast listening times, which itself has become an excellent new habit, hooking me on shows such as the TED Radio Hour, The Moth, and the Tim Ferriss Show.

dwMap Garmin Connect IQ Route Maps

Garmin GPS watch-owning friends, my latest side-project http://dynamic.watch launched today.

It’s a Garmin Connect IQ  app for Garmin Vivoactive, Forerunner 920XT, Fenix 3 and Epix GPS watches that lets you download cycling and running routes that you’ve created using popular tools like MapMyRide and follow them on your watch. No more stopping and pulling out your phone or map as you run, ride or hike on a new route.

Website view of route Watch view of route

 

Download the app now from Garmin Connect IQ App Store and setup an account to manage your routes on http://dynamic.watch.

 

One Year of Microliving

It has just been the first anniversary of downsizing my personal space to a 264 sqft microcondo in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood.

Condo floor plan (mine is slightly different)

I can happily report that it has been a very successful year and the condo has proven to be completely livable and comfortable.

Having a limited amount of storage space (and a dislike of visible clutter) has encouraged me to keep purchases to a minimum, and has required some creative solutions.

Why my t-shirts smell slightly of toast.

My choices in furniture–a day-bed as bed and sofa, a glass topped round dining (and work) table with two chairs and a bench-style coffee table–have all worked great.  The coffee table and a stool mean I can seat four for  dinner (I like to entertain regardless of the small space).

Dinner party

The shared roof garden features glass enclosed ramadas which work remarkably well in catching the sun and blocking the wind, and allow for bigger parties.

Rooftop party

The kitchen is small but has the normal amenities and I cook frequently like I would in a larger place.  The fridge/freezer is a little small, but since I do not own a car I tend to do smaller, more frequent shops anyway.  I’ve also learned which types of produce do not need to be refrigerated, such as onions and tomatoes.

The building is mostly concrete and there so far has been surprisingly little neighbor noise considering there are 98 units.  The solidness has also been slightly tested by two earthquakes that have rattled the blinds a bit!

Living in close proximity to all my stuff means that being consistently tidy is necessary, from making my bed as soon as I get up (a habit that gained attention in 2014 thanks to this awesome commencement speech by a Navy SEAL admiral), to washing dishes right after every meal, to putting shoes and jackets away as soon as I come in.  Cleaning, of course, is a delightfully short process!

Finally, the location feels so close to most of the places I go to.  It’s a 15 min walk to work, 5 mins to the waterfront at AT&T Park, and Yerba Buena Gardens are across the street.

Theater in Yerba Buena Gardens

Microliving here I come

I am excited to share that I have just had my offer accepted to buy a “micro-condo” in San Francisco’s SOMA district.  At only 264 sq ft, this might seem mind-boggling small (my last house in Tucson was 1500 sq ft) and is even smaller than the 390 sq ft studio I’ve been renting for the last 12 months, but it has been designed from the ground up for  “microliving.”

It’s in the CubixSF building, which opened in 2008, with 98 units, all 300 sq ft or less.  Each is designed with small but high quality appliances and efficient floor plans, augmented by a shared 9th floor roof garden with glass cabanas, a BBQ grill and 360º views.

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It does have much less built-in closet/drawer space than my current studio, which might be an initial challenge, but it comes with a 24 sq ft storage space in the building basement, which will take care of suitcases, camping gear, skis, etc. and will also be a handy place to store my bikes.  (Some might argue that that should be included in the total square footage of the “space.”)

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I try to apply William Morris‘s golden rule before I buy (or keep) something: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  This has helped me keep my pile of stuff quite small after moving out of the “big” Tucson house, but I will need to choose some furniture for the new space, such as a sleeper-sofa and a dining table.  Hopefully I will be able to make a choice of sofa in much less than the 10 years it took Steve Jobs.

I am very excited by this change.  The small footprint is a delightful challenge, not a burden, and this corner unit is full of light and air.   I take inspiration from mindful small living practitioners like Life Edited‘s Graham Hill, who said in his 2011 TED Talk  “Let’s make room for the good stuff!”

Despite the size, I want to equip it so that I can comfortably accommodate one overnight guest and four for dinner, since hosting visitors and small dinners is a great pleasure for me.  I want to create an inspiring workplace, and a cozy reading place.  Those are “good stuff.”