Monthly Archives: August 2013

Walk it off: how I sort of accidentally fell in love with walking.

I know, walking – it’s been done. Old people can’t get enough of it. They wear New Balance sneakers and high-vis vests and scowl disapprovingly at scantily-clad runners oblivious to the world courtesy of their sporty earbuds. In my quest to lose weight (and save a bit of money), though, I’ve started walking more. A lot more.

I’ve thought about joining a gym for a while, but after taking a tour of the one reasonably-priced local facility I was interested in, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about this option anymore. The employees really, really wanted to help. And that’s cool, but I feel like personal trainers / fitness enthusiasts have a hard time understanding what it’s like coming out of three years of an inactive lifestyle and want to help too much. I was told I’d be wasting my money just coming in for cardio machines, and should do aerobic classes, weight training, nutrition plan, etc. I like to think I’m realistic when I say that’s not going to happen for me. Not at the point I’m at, not yet. It’s too much. I’d give up, and I’d feel inadequate if I was told my workout routine wasn’t taking full advantage of my membership. So I passed on that route, and saved my $40 / month.

I pondered my other options. Buy a used road bike? Kind of expensive and, frankly, a little dangerous anywhere in Los Angeles. A home cardio machine was well out of my budget, even used. Hiking is a bit daunting, and I’ve never felt comfortable doing it by myself in rattlesnake country. So what’s cheap, healthy, and practical? Well, as it turns out, walking.

I’d started walking before back in March, but at the time I was having radicular nerve pain in my calves from a car accident I had in January this year. It made all but an easy pace on a flat surface very difficult, and painful, to maintain. I’ve since recovered quite a bit from that injury, and it no longer bothers me.

Three weeks ago I started again. My plan was simple: the carrot on a stick approach. Every day after work, I walked to get dinner. A salad at Chipotle (no rice, dressing, or guacamole, regular portions). It’d easily save me a dollar in gas every day (really more than that, because I’d drive further to get food), and I’d work up an appetite by the time I got there.

I started off slowly, and without any fitness trackers. Just me, my triple-seal earbuds, and a Pandora classic jazz station.

The more I walked, the more I liked it, though. It wasn’t super easy at first (it still isn’t, as I push my pace upward), but it had an less expected benefit: it relieved stress. The more I pushed myself, the more my anxieties and worries sort of melted away. I think that’s kind of what’s getting me hooked on it – some part of my brain is nudging me and saying “hey, this makes you feel better, do it!” So I’ve kept doing it. And the more I do it, the easier it becomes to stay committed to the pattern.

I walk 3 (or more) miles a day, five days a week, split into 1.5 mile intervals with a half hour break in between for dinner. I began using fitness tracker apps a couple weeks back, and have been watching my pace get better and better. I think I started at 22 minutes / mile, but as happens when you start focusing on improving a number, that number got better. Within a couple days it was 20 minutes. Now, I’m down to 18 minutes a mile. I want to break 15. And at that point, I want to start jogging in intervals (trust me, I cannot jog after three years of sedentary lifestyle and weight gain. I tried – once, last week. It did not go well).

But the really great thing? I’ve discovered walking is kind of awesome. And not simply the act, but the entire philosophy of setting aside an hour and a half (or thereabouts) of my day every day to do this one thing that improves my health, and that just flat out makes me feel better.

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Apps that are glorified mobile web page wrappers are evil incarnate.

AT&T just updated its myAT&T account management app with a brand-new UI! And by “brand-new UI”, I mean a brand-new Android app wrapped around its god-awful mobile web page. The mobile web page has been redesigned, too, and now shows your data usage on the front splash of the app, as opposed to being buried in a secondary page.

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This is undoubtedly my biggest pet peeve on Android, or really, any mobile OS. It’s lazy. It’s bad UX. You can see just how lazy AT&T is quite easily – try to swipe left or right on the main page and you’ll see the borders of the viewable area move around slightly. It’s sort of like walking into one of those Hollywood sets where all the buildings are just plywood facades and the skyline is painted on a wall. It’s not a real app, AT&T just wants you to think it’s a real app. 

Now, if AT&T’s mobile web page was actually really good, or pretty, maybe i could understand this. But it isn’t. It’s slow, has ugly animations, and the navigation layout is horrendous. And seriously, a sidebar inside the app that navigates around the mobile web page as a redundant alternative to the shortcuts displayed on the page? AT&T, what are you smoking?

I’m not saying AT&T is the only one guilty of this, far from it. And I’m not saying there is no reason to use a mobile web page as part of an app’s UI. There can be legitimate reasons in some cases. I’m struggling to think of them, but I’m sure they’re out. I hope.

But this. This is bad. This is annoying. It’s lazy. Stop it.

It’s time to let the “$300 Moto X” go.

It seems the Android / tech community at large have recently become obsessed with the idea of the “cheap, good phone.” Every time a new carrier announces unlocked Moto X pricing, it’s news.

Google did a cheap, good phone with the Nexus 4, so why can’t someone else? And Motorola [Mobility] is now a Google company, so shouldn’t they follow along with Google’s revolutionary business model?

The thing is, Google’s pricing of the Nexus 4 isn’t a business model for a phone, it’s a business model for a platform. Just like carriers get you to sign up for 2 years of service in exchange for a low price on your phone, Google is giving you a low price on its phone to get you hooked on Google services and the Android platform at large. How well the Nexus program is accomplishing that in the grand scheme is a bit harder to tell, but the point is this: Google doesn’t make money selling you a phone. Google makes money on what you do with it. A carrier does not make money selling you a phone. A carrier makes money selling you the service that phone requires. Neither Google nor carriers are in the business of selling phones. They’re in the business of selling (I use that term loosely with Google) attached services and products.

This model cannot work for Motorola. Motorola does not sell a platform. Motorola sells hardware, and it derives profit from selling that hardware to consumers, or more accurately, carriers and retailers. If you want to be a successful OEM in the US, you have to play ball with the carrier / OEM relationship. Even Apple does this. It’s how you make money.

You cannot maintain a multi-billion dollar business on razor-thin (har har) margins in a highly competitive, volatile, and ever-evolving market. If I am Joe Consumer, how interested am I in the proposition of – in my mind – walking into a store and paying more for something that isn’t as good (a $300 phone) as something that would cost less and is better (a $200 subsidized phone)?

The idea would undoubtedly resonate with some consumers. But not enough. Not enough to make a multi-billion dollar business of it. Not enough to spend tens of millions of dollars on product R&D.

But what about those $150 Chinese quad-core 1080p phones? Clearly it’s possible. Well, yes, in China it’s possible. Where you aren’t paying hefty import and shipping costs or taxes, where there really is no support structure, few if any OTA updates, and quality control / component sourcing can be most optimistically described as “questionable.”

Maybe one day a $300 unlocked phone really will be something Motorola can pursue profitably. Maybe. Right now, it isn’t going to happen. Not in the US. But what about the Moto X that’s going to be offered outside the US? Why not bring that here? Well, again, because business model. A lower-end phone wouldn’t be as competitive in the US, and it would be less profitable. A cheaper, less powerful Moto X only makes sense outside the US because that is what Motorola is competing with outside the US – other cheap, not very good phones. There’s a low-end phone market in the US, for sure, but the bulk of the profit – and attention – is at the high end of the price spectrum for the time being.

While I wouldn’t buy a Moto X, I applaud Motorola’s current direction. They really seem to have put a great deal of focus into restructuring their business and products in a way that focuses on the company’s strengths; namely, R&D and branding.

Think of it this way – if it were your business, what would you do? I look at Motorola’s trajectory and see a risky, but highly logical, attempt to reinvigorate a company that was falling by the wayside. It may work, it may not. They cut all the crappy smartphones, they kept the highly valuable and successful DROID VZW partnership (killing it would have been monumentally stupid – it’s a moneymaker), and they made one really good phone platform without betting the house on anything too radical (like crazy pricing).

Baby steps. Today, Motorola is focusing on building an image, regaining consumer confidence with quality products, and cementing a position with carriers as a reliable OEM partner that can bring in customers. Let the company get on its feet before you declare it dead.

Working from home is weird.

If you didn’t know, I work from home (read: my bedroom) full-time as the Senior Editor of Android Police. Yep, I bring you in-depth reviews and news three feet from my mattress. Doesn’t that sound nice? Most people seem to think so – every time I tell someone I work from home, they express envy. I’m not so sure they always understand what working from home can mean, though.

Working from home can actually be difficult, and sometimes flat-out undesirable. You have to be disciplined and stay focused – not exactly easy for me to do, personally.

For example, I like to keep a tidy work space, but I also tend to put various crap all over my desk when the day is done, and like to have electronics, tools, and other stuff I might want within arm’s reach at any given moment. I wage a constant war against myself going from clean one day to messy the next, and sometimes I just give up. Then, I have a hard time focusing because my desk is cluttered.

I absolutely get cabin fever being in my room for hours and days on end. Sometimes I go to a coffee shop or library to work, but the internet connection is so slow that it makes doing my job much less efficient.

The moment I decide I’m done for the day, I have to force myself to get out of my own room, or I’ll go a little crazy. That’s so weird to me. Shouldn’t home be the place I go to relax? I have a really hard time with this on occasion, and have taken to long post-work walks around town just to get my mind out of “work” mode.

No commute means that figuring out when I “start” work is really just a matter of deciding when I want to get up (to an extent). If I start at 6:30AM, do I stop early like I would at a normal job, or do I go until I feel like I’ve done enough for the day? At a desk job, you typically have scheduled start and stop times, and while some people hate this, I can’t lie – I miss the structure sometimes.

My home computer is my work computer. So is my laptop. My work programs, Chrome tabs, and other stuff all come up automatically when I log in. It’s easy to get drawn back into a small work task just because I notice an email or message in chat. Working remotely can make “escaping” work hard.

There’s no dress code, so sometimes it’s an excuse to be kind of a slob.

There are benefits, of course. No money spent commuting. No worrying about being late (generally). I can largely make my own schedule if I have things I need to do during the week. Once I’m done for the day, I’m already home! But working from home is not without disadvantages, as you may be able to see now. I often wondered what it was like before starting AP, and now I know. Would I prefer to work in an office? I’m really not sure. For this job, maybe I would – I really like the people I work with, and I’m sure we’d have an awesome time working together in person.

All in all, it’s a matter of preference, of course. Working from home is far from the worst thing in the world, but it definitely takes adjusting to, and requires you to much more actively enforce a life / work balance.