The Journey Begins – MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS… (or nuts)

If you haven’t seen The Hobbit, STOP READING NOW. I’m not certain I won’t have spoilers…

However, if you’ve read the book a bunch of times (or even seen LOTR) there really isn’t a lot of big PLOT spoilers to be spoiled.

The-Hobbit-HERO-2I really enjoyed the movie. Being that he’s made the book into three movies, it stopped about where I expected it too, being the completion of their escape from the Misty Mountains, but before their adventures in Mirkwood.

I watched it in 3D and the new framerate and to be honest, I didn’t think much of it – I mean it still doesn’t seem like either of those technologies significantly adds to the viewing pleasure.

The movie itself – as I said it was good. I already feel like you should watch this series before you watch LotR, but I’m not sure how that will hold up through the trilogy. One of the biggest things I noticed was the omens and portents of what is coming in LotR. They were eventually made clear (to us, not to the characters), however fans would pick up on them a lot earlier. For non fans, they do get explained, but a little later (so the fans can lord it over the others for about 30 mins). As the Lady Galadriel says “Something is moving in the dark and in the shadows.” Saruman already seems a little out of touch, or is he being duplicitous.

It had a lot of humour (but I noticed myself giggling a lot more than most in the cinema, so maybe it was just me) and was overall pretty well paced, with only a couple of moments of boredom. I have read some comments about the songs, but I quite enjoyed the action of “That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates”. 

Uninvited Guests
Uninvited Guests

Dwarves… Ever since reading The Hobbit (think I was about 8, as I know I read LotR later, when I was 10) I have been a huge fan of dwarves. In RPG and computer games, if given the choice I would play a Dwarf. I was always sad that both the LotR book and Jackson’s movies had such small parts for dwarves.

Thinking about it though it does make sense. Dwarves have never really engaged with the world, content as they are to mine and mind their own business. Sauron’s influence on the rings of power didn’t really work on the Dwarven Rings either, certainly not as he had hoped.

But, YAY, three movies of serious dwarf 🙂

It was a great movie, I can’t wait for the next two and then to watch them all in order….  Hey Lucas, maybe you should have got Jackson (or Tolkien) to pen Eps 1 to 3….


Random Review – Nike+ SportwatchGPS

The Nike+ SportwatchGPS in Blue (this is the one I have)

The last of these running related reviews is the Nike+ Sportwatch GPS. I mentioned at the end of the last review that I had purchased the watch and I’ve been running with it for about 3 or 4 weeks now.

It fits nicely on my wrist, but I recommend anyone with thick wrists try it on first as I am almost on the last hole, and I think my wrists are about average. Its light and comfortable, and not overly bulky. The face is easy to read, even in sunlight or when running.

Functionally as a watch its very basic. It has a clock and an alarm. Enough to use day to day, but if you plan on travelling or you expect multiple alarms you should look elsewhere. However as a running tracker I’ve found it performs great. The GPS reception is as competent as the iPhone that I was using, and because of that, the run tracking is very accurate.  As a fallback, the watch can also link to the Nike Shoe Sensor. It will also link to some heartrate monitors if you have one.

The display cycles through a list of useful stats, distance, time, clock, pace throughout the run. It can do intervals and laps either automatically or by slapping the screen. This slap needs to be quite firm, a simple press like a touch screen phone will not register. The slap is also used in the stopwatch mode to view lap times.

The USB connection at the end of the watchband (and the colour Jolt)

It connects via USB to your PC/Mac and special Nike+ software. The software pushes the workouts to the Nike+ website, charges the watch and also updates the GPS satellite data (the more recent this data, the faster the GPS lock). The software also lets you adjust settings on the watch (interval times, data display cycle). The USB plug is actually at the end of watch band under a little cover. A great idea that does mean that the strap can’t be replaced as you’ll sever the USB cable.

And this is currently my biggest concern for the longevity of the watch. The watch has a plasticy rubber strap, and in my experience as you take the watch on and off these kinds of bands eventually snap. Does this mean I’ll need a new watch in six months or a year? In its defence, its been many, many years since I owned a watch with such a band, perhaps they have improved.

The battery life isn’t anything like a normal watch (they can last years), I seem to get about a week out of it. I’m not sure how much of an effect going on an actual run affects this duration as GPS functionality is passive. So a week with three runs of about an hour each.

Overall I’m happy. I can ditch the iPhone again and run with my watch and the little Nano again. And its not bulky and odd looking for use in between runs. I recommend considering it, especially if you use the Nike+ website already.

(oh and it has a run reminder function, but I haven’t used it)

Follow Up Review – Nike+ and Apple

As I mentioned in my recent review of the VFF that I run in, I would be talking about some of the other things I have been experimenting with. This is the Nike+ gear and website and associated Apple products, almost all of which I happen to have anyway.

After I had switched back to the bush running I prefer, I started to get interested in tracking my performance, mostly distance and time. It can be easy to work really hard, feeling like I had done a workout and come back after only 20 minutes and 1 or 2 kilometres. One of my first steps was to spend some time working out some routes on Google Earth to figure out their distances. But with the multitude of trails available to me, it proved difficult to remember all the legs in my head as I was running. Not helpful.

I remembered from the menu on my iPod and from the Apple website that they had some connection with Nike. I did a bit of research and found that my iPod nano 6th gen (that I scored through a product recall of my 1st gen) included the ability to track my pace. I tried this for a little while and also experimented with the Nike+ website. I found the Nano pretty inaccurate and even calibration didn’t really help.

iPod Nano, 6th Gen

For $20 I could get a Shoe Sensor from Nike. Some Nike shoes have a little pocket in the sole to insert these sensors, which then link to various devices and give a much more accurate reading of when the shoe strikes the ground. As you know I don’t run in Nike, I run in VFF. A tip off youtube and I tried just sliding into my shoes on the top of my foot, just behind my toes. Fits snuggly, isn’t annoying and works fine. I found a significant improvement in the accuracy of the iPod with this, but it got me curious about the other options.

Over to the iPhone. Nike has an app that works with the GPS to track your run. I thought the app was a couple of dollars, but it turns out it was free. Not sure if that’s a permanent price though. I had two concerns… how do I carry my iPhone on my run (holding it in my hand just wouldn’t work) and how well would the GPS work in the gullies and bush I run in. The iPhone app also works with the Shoe Sensor, but it will only use one or the other at a time. The iPhone will also track your pace without either should it lose the GPS signal and you don’t have the sensor.

Nike+ Running on iPhone4S

I’ve since done about 7 runs with the GPS and only lost signal on a whole run once. THat’s pretty good considering some of the steep sided gullies I occasionally find myself in.

All the variations of gadgets I’ve tried have voice feedback, describing how far you’ve run, time taken, average pace (instant pace on iPod). These are at regular intervals, I have them set for every 500m. The summary is also read out to you at the end, and occasionally you get a cheer from some one famous encouraging you. You can also see all of this on the screen during the run.

The second part is the Nike+ website. The iPhone can sync over wifi or 3G, the iPod can sync through iTunes. You then get a record of your runs, along with achievements (fastest, furthest, most calories…) and the opportunity to comment or note terrain, weather and what shoe you ran in. If you’ve used a GPS tracker, then the route is mapped, colour coded to pace. Otherwise you get a graph of distance over time, slope (and colour) giving you pace.

It’s a pretty site and reasonably useful. You can compare yourself to some averages, and earn nikefuel (which doesn’t seem to be anything useful, just a tally).

Problems (It hasn’t all been smooth sailing)

–  The iPod was the least accurate, I think because my pace varies quite a bit over the rough terrain I mostly run in. In the worst case, it had a 5.5km run as 6.6km. It can be calibrated but this had better results on an even track or on a treadmill, but I don’t usually run those. Accuracy did improve with the sensor. Still it was pretty out, a few hundred metres over the 5.5km.

–  When the iPhone lost the GPS signal at the start of one run, the iPhone didn’t alert me apart from a popup which I didn’t notice as it was in it’s armband and I didn’t look at it again until I finished the 5km run. It still recorded my pace and gave me timings etc. But no GPS track.

–  I deleted a bunch of inaccurate runs from the website and now my results (fastest, furthest etc) are all messed up. This may fix itself as I surpass those ones.

–  I can’t find a way to match the routes I record on my runs, with the routes I construct on the My Routes page. Neither can I seem to match runs that I’ve recorded with each other, so have to search about to decide which was the fastest run for that route.

But other than that it’s been pretty good.

Future Plans

I still think running with the phone is a bit much and I’d like to go back to the Nano, but it’s widely inaccurate, so I had been considering the Nike+ Sportwatch which can use both the Sensor and its own inbuilt GPS at the same time. I’ve heard fairly mixed reports of the watch, but the local Nike shops can’t seem to keep them in stock so they’re either wildly popular amongst runners here, or there are a lot of “cool kids” buying them because they’re Nike watches….

Nike+ Sportwatch GPS

Last Minute Update – Just purchased the watch today. All set up and ready to run on Monday.

Random Review – Minimalist Running in Vibram Five Fingers

Random, nearly unrelated picture of stuff – morning fog across the Sydney basin… there’s a city of 4 million hiding under this which stretches right to the coast, about 60km away

Ok, first up… this isn’t about WoW (or any computer thing), my girls or my bikes, (breaking my own rules here) but I wanted to review these and this is the best forum I have. It’s also a pretty long post.

So what are they? Vibram Five Fingers are a range of shoes that have no padding in the sole and most noticeably, have pockets for your toes. Pictures will help..

My Vibram KSO Treks (this is the colour scheme I have)
The KSO Trek sole

I’ve never been much into fitness (as Navi will attest) however my employer requires me to maintain a certain standard, office job or not, so running is something I am almost required to do. In my current workplace we have access to several forested areas that really break up the boredom of road running, something that I really don’t enjoy. There’s some photos of the bush further down.

I had been investigating shoe options as I was having trouble with sore feet, heels especially, after my runs. I had read several good articles (a couple of very well balanced ones as well) which started me thinking about these kinds of shoes.

Then I met a work colleague who had some Five Fingers (though not this model) who was very happy with them. Eventually I got into the city where I knew there was a shop so that I could try them on. I described my kind of running, lots of bush, trails and the like and the shop recommended the KSO Trek model as it has a thicker sole and more pronounced tread.

The shoes do take some training and practice before you can get back to your old running distances. Vibram have a lot of detail on this and I expect even the fittest people should pay attention to it. Walk before you run, literally, and make sure you give yourself recovery time at first. Also don’t swap to these shoes a week before some critical run/walk etc. I was limping about for a day with very very sore calves after my first longish run/walk.

6 months later I don’t get sore feet even in some pretty rough bush. I am enjoying my running in them and that’s a big step to ensuring that I keep doing it. You can feel the surface beneath your feet, which is quite a cool feeling. Another advantage is their small size, meaning that with a t-shirt and a pair of shorts I can pack my running gear on trips without taking a lot of space. I also see me using them when travelling as a regular walking shoe.

Disadvantages are mainly cost and smell. They start to smell quite quickly but can be thrown in the washing machine (in one of those care bag things that girls put their bras and expensive knickers). They are also a talking point (which could be an advantage or a disadvantage). They can also be expensive with this pair costing AU$200 retail.

Overall I am very very happy with the shoes. I have run on roads, on treadmills, walked the streets, chased the kids in the park and run the trails that surround my workplace. Here are some photos of the types of trails I’ve run on.

A nice smooth trail here.
Trail along top of the railway tunnel wall.
Trail at Tunnel Gully exit, through old railway cutting
Up to Old Quarry Lookout

I would definitely recommend them for others to consider, though if you were just running on roads, or treadmills, other models may be more suitable. I am planning to stick to them for running, but get a less treaded pair for gym work. I’m still not sure that I am convinced about the whole, its the way we were built to run science, but I find the VFF very comfortable and enjoy running in them.

I apologise in advance, but I’m going to post a review of some Nike+ gear and the website that I have been using to track my running sometime in the near future.