2 Years with the Nike+ FuelBand

07/02/2014
The first time I hit 10,000 Fuel in a day, still a proud moment.

The first time I hit 10,000 Fuel in a day, still a proud moment.

There are plenty of reviews of wearable fitness gadgets out there, but one thing that is neglected is what happens later when the novelty and shine wear off. And that’s where this review comes in: my thoughts about the Nike+ FuelBand (and FuelBand SE) after being a daily wearer of the device for over two years. I’ll start with thoughts specific to the FuelBand first and then talk about fitness tracking devices more generally after that. (You can read my original FuelBand review here.)

The first thing I can say about the FuelBand is that I still love it. The only time it’s off my wrist is while I’m swimming, giving Ellie a bath, or it’s charging (yes, I wear it while sleeping). It’s still an elegantly simple device and I love that. I really think that Nike knocked many elements of the FuelBand out of the park: design, ease of use, and simplicity (nothing to subscribe to, no add-ons). Two years later, it’s still motivating me to move more and be active, which is the whole point of the thing. Interestingly, it’s encouraged me to move in new ways too.

Here’s an example about that: as I mentioned in my review of the SE (second generation FuelBand), the “win the hour” function encourages users to move for 5 continuous minutes each hour to win that hour. The Nike+ site and iOS app was tracking this with my original FuelBand, but I never payed much attention to it since that data wasn’t tracked on the actual band like it is on the SE. After a few days, I started to realize that my win the hour rate was pretty dismal and decided to try for more. Thankfully, Nike has gameified these efforts and created trophies to recognize users who hit certain goals. I had already won the trophy for winning 8 hours in a day but waiting to be bagged were trophies for winning 10, 12, and 14 hours in one day and then trophies for hitting 8, 10, and 12 hours a day for a week (there is a 14 hours a day for a week trophy but I haven’t yet unlocked it). So, I made it my goal to get that 12 hours a day for a week trophy, which is a lot harder than it sounds and requires a bit of obsessiveness to make it happen. For hours where I wasn’t fully occupied, I’d slip out the door and find 5 minute loops to walk. Here’s where it gets tricky though: some hours you’re just not going to win because you’re busy so there are certain must-win hours that require some creativity to win. As an example: I left work at 4 pm one and thought I’d be home in plenty of time to get a walk in to win that hour, but found myself stuck in traffic at 4:45. I realized I wasn’t going to make home in time for that walk so I pulled over and did a loop through a Walmart to win that hour. I did end up winning the 12 hours a day for a week trophy and, despite it only existing in pixels, I have to say I’m kinda proud of it and impressed at Nike’s ability to get me moving in a new way even after two years.

I'm kind of a big deal.

 

So, that’s the good. Here’s a quick summary of the bad:

  • The Nike+ website chugs along like a freight train. I have no idea why but it has always been slow.
  • This is my sixth FuelBand. SIXTH. The plus side is that Nike+ customer service is top notch. I have never had any hassle getting my FuelBands replaced for free and they will even ship a new one to you before you send in the defective one meaning I have never had to go a day without one. The best part? They start the one year warranty over each time so as long as they have FuelBands in stock and mine keep breaking, I’ll never have to buy one again. The problems I’ve had include: broken button, burned-out LED, and spontaneous battery discharging,
  • Nike first pledged to have an Android app when the FuelBand debuted, but then backtracked and said it wouldn’t happen. Then in the last month they released an Android app that is only compatible with the SE and only available on certain devices. Thankfully I just happened to get an SE as a warranty replacement and thankfully my phone is one of the few compatible devices. So far though the Android app is way behind the iOS app in features: no groups, no trophies, no extra info in landscape mode. I expect this to change as Google announced Nike and Adidas would be part of Google Fit that will be included in the next Android upgrade.
  • Now, as much as I raved about the winning the hour thing above, it’s the following week and guess how many hours I’ve won the last few days? Hint: it’s not 12. I hit my trophy goal and now I’m cruising this week. I’ve noticed the same thing happen with the streaks you get for hitting your goal. There are trophies for hitting 7, 30, 50, 100, and 365 day streaks and if I miss my goal and break my streak, I’ll usually have a couple more days of missing my goal as I slog through the, “What’s the point now?” mentality. Granted, I recover from that and it’s not really Nike’s fault that happens, but adding some trophies and keeping new challenges coming helps to keep things exciting.

So, those are my thoughts on the FuelBand. But the big question is: did it make a difference? Am I more active and thus more fit? Since this was not a proper experiment with a control and a variable, it’s hard to say for sure. But here’s what I do know: I got the FuelBand about 6 weeks after Ellie was born and my main occupation at the time was sitting on the couch. At a time when it was very easy to play the “I’m too tired to move” card, the FuelBand motivated me to move. At the time I wasn’t running as I was still trying to get my runner’s knee sorted out, but by that fall I did have it sorted out and I was up and moving and seeking opportunities to hit bigger goals and new records for Fuel in a day. Could that have happened any other way besides paying money to wear something on my wrist that is really telling me things that I should already know? Maybe.

I think the real reason that the FuelBand works for me (and other wearable devices would work for me) is that I can be very easily motivated by completely arbitrary numbers. I’m really not a math person, but I do like numbers for some reason. Like everyone else, I basically know if I have been lazy on a given day. Knowing that I have been lazy for no good reason (sickness, injury, rest day from a previously busy day) is vaguely upsetting, but not very motivating. It’s a whole other thing when I can look at my FuelBand though and see I’ve only hit 1,000 Fuel by late afternoon. That’s quantified lazy. Yes, it’s an arbitrary number and yes, it’s something I already knew, but adding a score to laziness/activity makes it more depressing/motivating. When I see 1,000 and know my goal is 2,000 for a day, I suddenly have an actionable, definable, and specific plan: acquire 1,000 more Fuel points. Having a numerical goal makes my real goal (physical activity) more attainable as it’s spelled out in an achievable way. So, I move.

What you just read is why I do not necessarily recommend the FuelBand to everyone who asks me if I like mine. Yes, I love mine, but I’m of the mindset that can be easily motivated by the FuelBand. Not everyone is like that and I’d hate to recommend it to someone and they drop the $100 on it, use it for a few weeks, and then watch it collect dust as it does nothing to motivate them. Clearly, fitness devices are not for everybody.

But here’s what I really love about the FuelBand: it’s technology that helps solve a problem that other technology created. Because of the car and the internet and all the other convenient technology, combined with the trend towards jobs that are not labor-intensive, we aren’t as active as we were once were (at least here in the first world). In other words, technology solved some problems but then also created others, as obesity rates clearly demonstrate. For those who find this sort of thing motivating, wearable fitness tech can help close the gap between technology suppressing activity and technology inspiring us to move. And, even better, when it’s done well it uses old-fashioned motivators like achievement (trophies, goals, etc.) and community as well. Someone at Nike reported that Nike+ users with more “friends” to compare their data to tend to rake in more Fuel. In other words, friendly competition works. I have a lot of fun competing with my friends who have FuelBands and have even made some new ones that I’ve never met (another feather in technology’s hat). So, all that to say I’m a big fan of Nike and Jawbone and FitBit and anyone else who, instead of just wringing their hands at how technology has made us lazy, dream big and come up with ways to put that same technology into use for our benefit.


Nike+ FuelBand SE Review

06/20/2014

It’s been nearly two years since I started wearing a Nike+ Fuelband, something I chronicled here, and it’s still a device I love, despite some complaints (I’m on my 6th FuelBand, all replaced for free by Nike, lack of Android app until this week). When the FuelBand SE (2nd generation basically) premiered in the fall, I watched the announcement with great excitement and then great disappointment. Rumored features (heart rate monitor and sleep tracking) didn’t materialize and the SE seemed like a cosmetic and internal upgrade that wasn’t worth re-purchasing. However, that didn’t stop me from trying to talk Nike customer support into upgrading me, which didn’t happen until just this week when I called in with my newest FuelBand issue. Also coincidentally, Nike finally released the Android version of the FuelBand app which is only compatible with the SE. I’ve had the SE for just a few days and been impressed with some of the key changes enough to write about it as a second in a trilogy of posts on the FuelBand experiment (more on that later).

So, is the SE worth an upgrade? Well, if you can get it for free it definitely is. If you are considering purchasing a FuelBand, I would recommend it over the first generation (currently at the Concord Mills Nike Store the first gen goes for $80 and the SE for $100). Here are the upgrades:

  • Better battery: Haven’t had it long enough to notice battery life, but I’m sure it’s good.
  • Zippier display: Before Nike added the double tap to get to the time, scrolling through the display sometimes felt a little slow. The SE has an upgraded processor which flies through the display cycle quite nicely. There are also some new animations which is a nice touch. It even knows my name and I saw somewhere that you can unlock new animations for reaching your goal when hitting certain Fuel tiers.
  • Bluetooth LE: This is pretty impressive. Apparently Low Energy Bluetooth enables the FuelBand to stay connected to your smart phone at a nearly constant state without significantly battery drain. After a couple of days of watching my Moto X’s battery monitor, neither the FuelBand app nor Bluetooth show up in the battery drain meter so I’m guessing it’s working. Plus, the FuelBand syncs with the app nearly instantaneously (a LOT faster than the 1st gen band on my 2nd gen iPad) and doesn’t even require pairing. Just pull up the app and it works. Really like how Bluetooth improves connectivity with my phone.
  • Sessions: Rather than collecting all of your movement data and putting it all up on the app/website in one big dump, you can now start a session on your FuelBand by holding down the button. Say, for instance, you are about to go on a walk. You hold down the button until it says “go” (there’s even a countdown which is kinda fun) and then do your walk. While in a session you can tap the button and it will cycle through some interesting data: Fuel per Minute, elapsed time of your session, and total Fuel per session. Then in the app you can tag what kind of session it is: walking, running, cleaning, biking, sleeping, etc. I think that tagging the session can perhaps change the amount of Fuel your time in session is worth but cannot confirm that. You can tag a session as sleeping too, and while it doesn’t generate the detail available from some other fitness bands, you can see how long you were in bed and when you were squirming around which is kind of nice. So while Sessions sounds a bit gimmicky, it ties in really well to what I consider maybe my favorite part of the SE . . .
  • Win the Hour: All the hip fitness publications are touting sitting as the new smoking. Nike heard that and decided to make the SE anti-sitting. For the hours you tell it to, the FuelBand will notify you if you have not been active for at least five minutes (of 6 fuel per minute) at the :45 and :50 mark with a reminder to get moving on the display (you can also get a notification on an iOS device, not available on Android yet). You could Win the Hour with a 1st gen band on the site and get rewarded for it, but the SE goes one step further with this reminder and allowing you to see how many hours you have won in the band’s display. This has been a huge motivator to me when I started to notice how many hours I lost. So, to combat sitting, I now am watching the clock when sitting at my desk at work or whatever I’m doing at home and in those last 15 minutes of each hour I try to get outside, start a session, and walk for 5 minutes to make sure I win that hour. This has been hugely motivating for me to get moving and I really like this addition. Worth the extra $20 in and of itself? Maybe, if you’re easily motivated by this sort of thing.

So, after being a bit of a doubter, I have to say I’m a fan of what Nike did with the SE. Still wouldn’t double-dip and re-purchase a SE after having a 1st gen, but I am really pleased with it for free. But, there’s a certain pall over this SE good news: Nike fired all its hardware engineers on the FuelBand project and is re-oriented in a new software direction for the Nike+ division. This is really disappointing to me as I think the FuelBand and its whole-body-motion concept is a lot more useful than merely counting steps, but apparently Nike just never got the market share it needed to make the FuelBand a viable part of its lineup. With that in mind, I’ll be doing one more post in the near future with my thoughts on the Nike+ experiment in the near future because it’s been fairly important to me as motivation to not slide into stillness over the last 2.5 years. So, more on that later.


Nike+ Fuelband Review

07/04/2012

The swoosh makes you faster.I’m not typically an early adopter, but I made an exception for the Nike+ Fuelband. 6 months ago I replaced my old classic iPod with an iPod Nano (6th Generation) and fell in love with the pedometer mode that keeps track of steps towards a daily goal. Syncing the iPod uploads data to nikeplusactive.nike.com (which is currently inactive) where steps are translated into distance around routes through real world cities. Along the way you would see the sights and compete with others to see who can get through the fastest and finishing one city would unlock others. Basically, it’s the gamification of fitness and it motivated me to take more steps. The downside was having to carry my iPod everywhere and having the pedometer on 24/7 would significantly shorten battery life. So when Nike announced that they would be creating a wearable device to capture movement data, I was sold.

The Fuelband is basically a souped-up pedometer with fantastic design. Many people have compared it to a LiveStrong wrist band, which it’s kind of like, but it is also thicker and more rigid. There is one button that calls up the LED display and cycles through the various counts of Fuel, calories, steps, and time. The clasp hides a USB plug which allows you to charge it and sync data to a computer. And that’s really all there is to it. This is elegantly designed and simple technology that serves you rather than you serving it. No monthly subscriptions, no accesories. The Fuelband stands on its own.

Rather than just counting steps like the Nano, the Fuelband uses 3 accelerometers to monitor movement in the arm. This makes sense, if you’re doing an activity like throwing a frisbee, you’re not just moving your legs. Thus movement is captured and data translated into something called “Nike Fuel.” Nike Fuel is a proprietary measurement of activity and the idea is to level the playing field among different activities and different sized people. It’s a measure of movement and doesn’t really have any applicability outside Nike hardware or websites..

A daily Nike Fuel goal is the main feature of the Fuelband. When you hit the button a series of 20 colored LEDs mark your progress towards the goal (you can bring up your actual number as well) and I find myself checking it fairly obsessively through the day. There are no tangible rewards to meeting your daily goal, but there is a feeling of accomplishment and syncing my Fuelband to the free iOS app or to nikeplus.nike.com let’s brings up my accomplishments and analysis of my data. For instance, the site and app have a graph that shows activity level hour-by-hour and breaks down Fuel earnings by time of day. That makes it real obvious when I’m active and when I’m not so I can make adjustments.

Just like the Nano and its game, this works for me. Last week I set hard goals and about 10 pm realized I wouldn’t hit them. This meant impromptu dog walks and carrying the baby around the house while feeding her to squeeze in some last Fuel before bedtime. I’m currently on a 7 days streak of meeting my goal and feel pretty good about the extra movement that has inspired throughout the day.

The one drawback to the Fuelband is accuracy. One afternoon I started up the Nano as well to compare its step count with the Fuelband’s. After about 6 hours the Fuelband recorded 1383 more steps than the Nano. My feeling is that the Nano is pretty accurate and the Fuelband was off as the distances my Nano registers for walks seem to be pretty accurate. I’ve also noticed I tend to get more Fuel per day than others in the Nike+ community without trying very hard. I called customer support about this and they seemed to think it was normal enough. Some will find this inaccuracy to be a big problem, but I don’t see it that way. As a pedometer the Fuelband stinks, but it definitely works as a way of tracking how active I am. While it may not be accurate to the world around it, it is accurate to itself. I can go on the site or the app and know that the scores I am getting are consistent to each other. If it’s late in the day and my Fuel score is in the pits, it will motivate me to go do something. If I’m at 5,000 in the evening, I know I have hit a fairly active day and can go to bed with a clean fitness conscience.

So, to sum up the Fuelband: I am loving it. It is a seriously cool piece of exercise technology that really is helping me to commit to more activity. The app and site both greatly improve the experience and the site will be rolling out more features this summer and fall (and hopefully bringing back the city game!). It’s going to be interesting to see how the Fuelband evolves as there are still plenty of things to improve, but as it stands right now the Fuelband great at motivating me to move more.


On Tebow, Tressel, Paterno, Yoda, and Calvin

12/13/2011

I’m emerging from my blogging hermitage for just a few moments because the two trending topics in Facebook right now are, oddly enough, Christmas and Tim Tebow. Now the first thing you need to know about my relationship with Tim Tebow is that I am an Ohio State fan and watched with anguish and heartache when The Ohio State University began a troubled relationship with the SEC, which includes Florida. Tebow seemed like an exception at the time with his philanthropy and just general good-guyness and I gave him the same pass that I now extend to Urban Meyer. Come on, it’s college football, part of the fun is that secondary and tertiary allegiances change every single week.

But now Tebow’s righteousness and/or self-righteousness is at the forefront and everyone has an opinion. I’m not going to take that bait however. What I want to take up is an article I read yesterday that came to the conclusion that Tebow is a good guy but it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll prove to be the hypocrite that so many Christians and professional athletes turn out to be. I’m going to ruin the suspense: Tebow is a hypocrite and the real question is whether or not he’ll be a hypocrite in some big, public way or a smaller, more personal way.

How do I know this? What is my proof? Well, it comes down to this oft-cited and oft-forgotten critique of all humanity: “Nobody’s perfect.” We pretty much universally acknowledge that one, right? Nobody’s perfect. We know that. But somehow we’re all pretty surprised when someone turns out not to be perfect. That’s where coaches Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno come in. Both men are heavyweights in college football. Both men have a legacy of victories but also integrity. Both men then made bad decisions that landed them in trouble and we all acted surprised and offended when it all went down.

Tressel, prior to May, was a sweater-vested saint: “The Senator.” “In Tressel we trust.” This is partly an image he cultivated, but it’s also just part of who he is. At no time did Tressel ever claim he was perfect and I’m reasonably sure he would never claim to be. Same with Paterno. But both men, being humans, are not perfect. Prior to their separate scandals they weren’t perfect either. They had screwed something up, just not as publicly. But still we somehow felt betrayed and angry. It really doesn’t make much sense when you think about it.

One of the charges leveled at Tressel and Paterno is that they are hypocrites, that they talked about integrity and doing the right thing, but when it came down to it, they didn’t do it themselves. And I agree, that makes them hypocrites. They are men who held themselves to a higher standard and they fell short of that standard. But, if we understand that nobody’s perfect, that makes everyone who holds themselves to a higher standard a hypocrite eventually. The solution then becomes to either hold yourself to an incredibly low standard or just acknowledge that everyone is going to be imperfect and a hypocrite and move on. I think the choice here is pretty clear: people who hold themselves to low standards do not make responsible or good leaders. Our leaders need to be people of high standards, standards that none of us can actually stand up to, because that is the only way we learn and grow.

But it goes deeper than nobody’s perfect. Much deeper, and that’s where Yoda comes in. In The Empire Strikes Back Yoda is talking about the dark side of the Force and Luke asks the astute question, “Is the dark side stronger?” Yoda sagely replies: “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.” Don’t miss this: Yoda is saying that the dark side is our default setting. The dark side is as easy as falling into bed; it’s the light side we have to work at. We take this at face value because the Force is something that George Lucas made up, but I don’t think George is talking about the Force here. He’s talking about human nature. The Force isn’t the issue here, it’s what our nature feels comfortable pursuing, basically our own wills and our own desires, rather than the higher and more difficult calling of a greater good.

To bring this back to the real world a bit, we find a similar notion in Christian theology with a wholly depressing name: “total depravity.” It basically means that humans aren’t perfect and we’re all hypocrites. In more detail: humans are completely separate from good, which comes from God, and any good in a person comes from God, not the person. It’s not a happy thought, but it does describe what we see going on around us with Paterno and Tressel and all the rest of us hypocrites. We can know everything there is about morality and what the right call is in each situation, but we are still fully capable of screwing it up. Anyone following the situation, including Joe and Jim, have probably wondered how they could be so stupid. But it’s not an issue of intelligence or even of the brain, it’s a heart issue and our hearts, to be blunt, are flawed.

This is why I don’t doubt that Tebow is a hypocrite. I know for a fact he’s screwed up and I know for a fact he will screw up again, and I don’t think he’d mind me saying that. My hope and prayer is that it won’t be anything too devastating or public, but that’s not guaranteed. And the same goes for me. My hypocrisy is boundless and I am going to mess it all up bad one day, so consider this my confession in advance. I hope it’s nothing too public and too awful, but I know what I am capable of and I hope it doesn’t come to that.

But just as I believe in total depravity because it describes the human condition, I believe in something else that prescribes the cure. If I am the problem, I can’t be the cure, the cure has to come from outside of me. So it can’t be more knowledge and it can’t be modified behavior. I need a heart transplant, and that is exactly the promise that Christ makes each of us. If we accept the gift of grace, Christ does the work and fixes our sin account for us. That is the lifeline that I’m sure Tebow and Tressel and Paterno and I are clinging to. There are many voices that will say we are beyond forgiveness, but there is one Voice saying we’re not, and that’s the only one we need to listen to.


My iPad Review Or: I Really Miss the iPad Already

06/22/2011

There are thousands of iPad reviews out there and I probably won’t say anything new about the device itself. So, I guess it would be more accurate to say that this is a review of how the iPad has changed my computing life and how I’m missing it terribly three days into its absence as Lisa has taken it to Australia. (I swear, I miss her more.) Read the rest of this entry »


On the Dead Bunny Near the Sliding Glass Door

01/18/2011

My dogs have this curious notion that they are criminally underfed which leads to extreme begging from the time we get up to when we feed them and from about 4:00 pm to when they get dinner. It also means that they stare excitedly at squirrels running around the backyard and consider them elusive food sources. Then when evening comes, it also means that any rabbits trapped in our fenced-in back yard might also prove to be food. So, on three occasions now Maggie and Sydney have managed to trap a rabbit before Lisa and I could save it. The first time it was still there in the morning. The time after that it was gone. Last night, in a moment of pride and generosity, Maggie brought the screaming and crying rabbit to the sliding glass door on to the deck and that’s about the time that Lisa called me hysterically to help pull the dogs off the rabbit. Read the rest of this entry »


“Unearthly Desires Pt. 1″

01/12/2011

Since some folks have asked for it, I’m making available the sermon I preached last Sunday (January 9th, 2011) entitled “Unearthly Desires Pt. 1.” Why “Pt. 1″? Well, there is a part 2 and a part 3, but I don’t preach regularly so I don’t know when anyone will hear them (yes, I started a sermon series with no definite plans to continue it). Anyways, here’s what you were looking for:

The sermon text is John 13:34-35, 14:1-7.

Some supplementary material:

Music:

  • “That Where I Am, There You . . .” by Rich Mullins (2nd hymn)
  • “This Is Home” by Switchfoot (offertory)
  • “Big House” by Audio Adrenaline (closing hymn)
  • “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2 (postlude)

Thanks to Ben Acton for lots of advice in putting this one together, Quail Holla’s  youth for leading worship as liturgists and musicians, and the QHPC congregation for letting me up there in the first place!


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