How I finally got myself to exercise regularly

For most of my adult life, I have been able to get away without exercising. For many years I was able to walk to work, so I always had some physical activity. And I was blessed with a metabolism that seemed to naturally defend my weight. I never paid much attention to what I ate but somehow always fit into a pair of 32×32 pants for the last 10 years.  Lucky me.

But now, things have started to change.  My jobs for the last 7 years have required commuting by car, and having two small kids has made more adventurous physical activity like kayaking much trickier to arrange. Aside from my tendency to pace back and forth while talking on the phone, my job basically involves sitting around all day at a desk.

And most significantly, I’ve noticed that those 32×32 pants that I always fit into are starting to get a little bit snug.  Hmm.

What really drove it home, however, was turning 39. I’ve always thought that while I might not be particularly active now, at some point in the future I would have an opportunity to be so again.  And here I was, close to turning 40.  If I was actually going to become active, now was the time.

Of course, I have a big problem… I hate exercising.  Yes, I know I am not alone in this.  But I really hate it.  I don’t mind exercising if it involves doing something fun, but just doing something mindlessly painful feels like torture.

I knew a key factor in getting myself to exercise would be choosing something simple. If there were too many steps or logistics to work out to exercise, it wouldn’t happen. This immediately ruled out group sports activities, like tennis or basketball. The mere fact that I would have to coordinate schedules with other people would make it all too likely to fall through.  I would tell myself it was just too complicated to arrange this time, and then the next time, and again the time after that.

Another requirement was that it had to be fast. I work during the day, and I have little kids who need a lot of attention in the mornings and evenings. I needed something that I could go do and then be done with quickly. This ruled out my preferred physical activity of kayaking. Even though I own my own kayak and live right on the Charles River, there are too many logical steps involved in loading the boat, driving down to the water, unloading the boat, launching and kayaking, and then reversing it all again to get home. Plus, it was very dependent on the weather.

In the end, I was left with one option: running. My theory was that if I could run for 30 minutes just two or three times a week, I would have enough physical activity to get myself back in shape. The beauty of running was that it required no special equipment or location, so I could do it whenever it was convenient, even during the middle of the work day.

Now running is the very definition of mindlessly painful exercise that I hated. It’s not that I haven’t tried it.  I was on the cross country running team in high school, and I didn’t care for it much back then either (mind you, I was never very good at it). But, it still felt like the right choice.  My theory was that even if I hated it, it was just 30 minutes. Even I could do it for 30 minutes, right?

8 weeks ago, I went for my first 30 minute run around the Charles River near my office. It was awful. I felt like I had been mugged. I felt like I was dying. I watched other runners zip past me, and I was doing everything I could to put one foot in front of the other. I was proud of myself for finishing, but when I was done, one thought went through my head: Use it or lose it. And I had most certainly lost it.

Could I get it back?

To my amazement, I actually went out again two days later. I figured I had done it once, and however bad it might have been, I could do it again.

Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time. At least that was what I thought.  Then, when I walked back into the office, something in my right knee popped, and I found myself howling in pain. I limped around for the rest of the day.

I went running again two days later, but this time just two thirds of the way through my knee suddenly popped again. I was forced to walk the rest of the way home. On the way back, it would start to feel okay again, and so I would try running again, only to have it pop a few steps later.  Was I so far gone that I could never get it back?

When I mentioned my knee problem, people would tell me how awful running is for you, and that I would be better off just doing some intensive walking. When I went running again a few days later, and my knee popped yet again, I tried power walking through the rest of the way. I tried to convince myself that perhaps I should give up on running and power walk instead.

But in my heart of hearts, I knew that I would never stick with the walking. Part of it was that I felt like an idiot, power walking on the Charles River as the runners zipped by me.  But I realized that the biggest reason running would be a better choice is that when I run for 30 minutes, I feel like I have done something. Going for a walk, even a long intensive one, just doesn’t fill me with the same sense of accomplishment.

And that was the biggest thing for me. If I hate exercising so much, I need an immediate feeling of payoff after doing it. Without that, I was never going to put myself through the 30 minutes of torture several times a week. I needed to find a way to get this knee problem under control.

Right then, I bumped into one of my coworkers out getting some exercise by walking around the Charles.  She looked at my limp, and then looked at my shoes. “Jeremy, of course you are in pain. You need some decent running shoes.”

I looked down at my feet.  I was wearing some sneakers that were over a year old and not specifically designed for running.  I had no objection to actually buying running shoes, but my theory was that I would wait and see if I could actually do this running thing before I invested some serious money into it.  I am notorious for actually enjoying shopping, and it would be just like me to go out and spend a ton of money on all kinds of running paraphernalia only to have it go nowhere.  

However, my coworker convinced me that the people at the store would actually analyze my walk and find shoes that would really help with my knee issues.  So, with that little nudge, I went later that afternoon to City Sports to look for shoes.  They analyzed my gait and determined that I had over pronation, which was causing my leg to twist and potentially exacerbate my right knee issues.  They pointed out some shoes specifically designed to help correct this issue.

I also asked them if they had any type of brace or bandage that could help with my knee. Indeed, they sold all kinds of products for just this issue.  I bought a knee compression sleeve from Shock Doctor which was designed to hold all the soft tissues in place.  The idea was by giving a little extra pressure to keep the ligaments, tendons, and muscles where they were supposed to be, they wouldn’t pop out and aggravate injuries.  This sounded just like what was happening to my knee.

So, now that I was armed with $200 in equipment, I kept trying.  To my amazement, I was able to complete my next 30 minute run.  I had a few points where my knee started to pop, but I stopped, stretched, and was able to keep going.  Over the next two weeks, my knee problems gradually lessened and then went away altogether.

So, I had accomplished the biggest hurdle… I had found an exercise I could do in just 60 minutes door to door (30 minutes of running, and the other 30 minutes of changing and showering before and after) and feel good about.  Would I be able to keep it up?

Here, I found a big help from the streaks app I had used to cut out soda.  Since I did not plan on going running every day, I set up the streaks to be allowed to skip up to two days in a row, and weekend days did not count as skips.  As long as I went running at least twice a week, it would continue the streak.  Like the soda, this quickly became a powerful incentive for me.  I didn’t want to break the streak, so I kept going with it.

The big test came this past week.  I had managed to run three times a week for the previous seven weeks.  The novelty had worn off, and I was in it for the long haul.  However, last week I had a business trip to New York City.  Running would be really inconvenient.  I wouldn’t be able to just disappear for an hour during the work day to go running.  I would either have to get up early in the morning to go do it (I hate getting up early, and here I was in a quiet hotel with no little kids waking me up!), or I would have to do it in the evening when I could be out in New York.

And I did it.  On two mornings, I got up at 6 am and went for a run in New York City.

So, what did it take to get my to exercise?  Three things:

  1. A powerful incentive: I’m getting older and feel like it is now or never
  2. A short term reward: If I go running for just 30 minutes, I feel like I have accomplished something
  3. A long term payoff: adding a little gamification to push me to stick with it

40, here I come!

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A phantom zone for kids’ toys and artwork

“Jeremy, why is there a kid’s bath toy in the closet?” my wife asked me this morning.

“I’m trying to get rid of it,” I answered.

No further explanation needed. My wife knew exactly what I was up to.

The swimming mermaid Dora was once a prized possession but was now ust sitting in a corner.

The swimming mermaid Dora was once a prized possession but was now ust sitting in a corner.

The item in question was a Dora Swimming Mermaid toy. It was a gift a bath time gift at Grandma and Grandpa’s house from six months ago, and at the time it was a much treasured possession by our kids.  It “needed” to come home with us, and for several weeks thereafter was the focal point of evening baths.

But… times change. The swimming dora mermaid, with its wind-up arms, spring loaded tail and brushable hair eventually lost its luster, and it ended up just taking up 70% of the space in the basket of bath toys. I decided that this space could be better used and it was time to get rid of it.

But, I have learned from hard experience not to just throw things like this away.

We have made this mistake before. My wife in particular likes to keep the house orderly and often gets rid of items the kids no longer use. But every now and agian, we hear the dreaded words from ouyr daughter, “Hey! Where is the <insert item not used in ages>?”

When it comes out that it was disposed of, the tears, screams and yells come out.

“But I loved that!”

“I needed it!”

“I worked really hard on it!”

 

“Why would you do that?!”

“You can’t ever do that again!!!”

This problem is particularly acute with the kids’ artwork. Every week, a plethora of projects come home. Coloring sheets, paintings, ceramics, whatever the kids were doing that week.  At first, we kept a lot of it, but it just started piling up. Now, we have a system. The very best, truly unique items we keep. The very good items we will photograph for future posterity.  The rest we recycle.

But, oh, the tears when my daughter has looked in the recycling bin to discover some treasured piece of artwork sitting at the bottom. I certainly get it – she worked hard on that project at school, and the idea that this would not be a highly valued possession is disturbing.

So, we dispose of them carefully. Items are shoved into the bottom of the recycling bin. We never, ever, empty the recycling bin in front of the kids, since they might see one of their pieces of artwork getting dumped out.

Michael Chabon wrote a wonderful essay on this very topic in his brilliant book Manhood for Amateurs. I highly recommend this essay collection for any parent. It perfectly captures much of the awkwardness and challenge of raising kids.

The problem is that even if we dispose of the artwork secretly, sometimes my daughter shows surprising feats of memory. She will suddenly ask about the whereabouts of some treasured item that she hasn’t touched in weeks. So, when is it ever safe to get rid of something?

To solve this problem, we have introduced our own “phantom zone”. The phantom zone comes from Superman, where Krypton would permanently exile their worst criminals. They had no death penalty, so instead they were sent off to another dimension from which they could never escape. Of course, it’s a comic book, and sometimes they did escape – otherwise it would be a boring story.

In our house, when we decided that a toy or piece of artwork is ready to go, we banish it to the phantom zone. There are a couple around the house… artwork goes in a drawer in the kitchen, clothing and larger toys go in a box in the basement. If no one asks for them after a couple of weeks, then we dispose of them. But, if by surprise they are remembered, there is a rare phantom zone escape and they are returned.

The phantom zone in the closet is reserved for some of the most dangerous criminals… er, I mean, the once most precious items we are eager to get rid of. Rafael’s infamous yellow-and-green spoon is stored away here, now joined by Dora the swimming mermaid.

Now we wait.

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Shortcut: Getting a Mac to behave during presentations and conference calls

One of the best things about leaving the world of enterprise software for a small startup a few years ago was getting to use a Mac as my primary work machine. The interface is refreshingly modern, I can send and receive iMessages right on my desktop, and best of all, it’s still as fast as it was when I got it over a year and a half ago. Unlike the Windows PCs I had been using for the previous 15 years, my 15″ Retina MacBook Pro has not gotten progressively slower with each Microsoft OS patch, and having the entire hard drive encrypted is unnoticeable.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my pet peeves. The fact that Cmd-Tab on a Mac only allows you to switch between applications is a bit silly. Windows let me Alt-Tab through all the windows, and even worse, you can’t see how many windows are open by looking at the Dock. I can’t tell you how many emails I have forgotten to send because I “lost” the window.  I would start them, then I would get interrupted and the main Outlook window would pop over it, and then I would forget that I never finished sending it.

One thing I have had to work out is how to keep my Mac well behaved during presentations and conference calls. Just like a child in the 1800s, the computer should be seen and not heard when you are presenting. I don’t want fancy little notifications or energy saving features to be disrupting the presentation. Here are a few easy tips and add-ons I have found.

Notifications

When you are projecting your screen, those really useful desktop notifications for iMessage can become embarrassing. You are walking people through pricing scenarios for a new project, and the list thing you want is a text message from your spouse to pop up, reminding you to pick up the milk. Similarly, you don’t want Skype messages from a coworker disrupting the flow either.

As it turns out, the designers at Apple have a beautiful solution to this.

Notifications can be temporarily disabled for half a day by option-clicking the notification icon

Notifications can be temporarily disabled for half a day by option-clicking the notification icon

If you option-click in the notification bar, you will see that the lines turn gray. Any notifications that come in will be suppressed. When your meeting is done, option-click again to turn them back on. Even better, if you forget to turn them back on, they will automatically re-enable themselves after half a day. So, you don’t need to worry about missing out on text messages for the next few days if you forget to turn them on.

The good news is that this works for all apps that use Apple’s notification system: iMessage, Skype, Mac Mail, GMail desktop notifications, and so forth.

The bad news is that Microsoft Outlook does not use Apple’s notification system.

Couldn't Microsoft have used the built-in notification system?

Couldn’t Microsoft have used the built-in notification system?

Yes, it’s true… while I have embraced my new Mac, I still use Outlook. Microsoft has hobbled it on OS X, but its automatic support for Exchange, calendar availability, and so on has kept it as my main email client.

Unfortunately, Microsoft insists on using their own notification system. I’m sure they have some good reasons for this, like the ability to flag or delete messages right from the notification that all of two people in the world are using…

Worse, Microsoft doesn’t have an easy way to temporarily suppress notifications like Apple provided.  The best way is to either quit Outlook before your meeting starts or turn off the desktop notifications altogether. To do this, go to the “Outlook” menu, click “Preferences”, then choose “Notifications & Sounds”.  From here, you can turn off the “Display alert on my desktop” checkbox.

Just don’t forget to restart Outlook or re-enable the alerts once your meeting is done.

Sleeping Displays

Mac’s love to be energy conscious. They want to preserve that battery, and if you don’t seem to be using the computer, they will shut off the display so that it doesn’t waste power. Hey, if you are using it, you can just wake it back up, right?

Conference calls make this battery saving feature go hyperactive. It is very common for you to be doing these meetings away from your desk in a conference room (or sitting on the couch if you are at a startup). Your computer is not plugged in, and the Mac shortens its display sleep cycle to just a few minutes.

This is bad if you are presenting. Sure, some of the time you are just going through the slides of a powerpoint presentation zip-zip-zip, one after the other, and the Mac knows you are using it. But the moment questions come up and people start discussing some specific point for a couple of minutes, you take your hands off the keyboard. The Mac thinks you are off doing something else and “helpfully” turns off the display.

This is disruptive. Many times people are pointing at diagrams or numbers on the screen, and it blanks out. You furiously try to wake the computer back up, only to be prompted to enter your password to unlock it. You get it wrong the first time and do it again. Finally, it’s back up, and the interrupted conversation continues, only to have the same sequence repeat itself a few minutes later.

And there is a worst case scenario for this. Ever have a long side-tangent conversation, and the person who is running the presentation steps out for a minute to run to the bathroom or take a phone call? The conversation keeps going because they weren’t really needed, but then the computer shuts off and no one can see the presentation any more. And no one can unlock it because they don’t know the password.

Sleeping screens are also a problem when you are watching someone else’s presentation through a WebEx or GoToMeeting. You are watching with rapt attention as they go from slide to slide or demo some app, but your Mac thinks you are ignoring it and suddenly shuts off the screen. You were paying attention to it, but you weren’t using the mouse.

So, how to fix?

I’ve found a great little free add on app called Caffeine.

The purpose of this app is to keep your computer awake, hence the name “Caffeine”.  It sits as a little coffee cup in the menu bar. When it’s empty, the Mac is in normal mode and will sleep the display as usual. If you click it, the cup fills and it goes into Caffeine mode. It will not shut off the display, even if you leave it unplugged and untouched.

Caffeine allows you to customize how long to actively prevent the display from going to sleep before going back to normal.

Caffeine allows you to customize how long to actively prevent the display from going to sleep before going back to normal.

The best part about it is that it automatically turns itself back off again. I usually set my caffeine to stay on for 30 minutes, but you can adjust the default to whatever you like and also temporarily override.

So, whenever I go into a conference call, I take 10 seconds to do three quick things:

  • Option-click the notification center to suppress pop-up notifications
  • Turn on caffeine for how long I think the meeting is going to run for
  • Quit Outlook

It keeps my calls professional and clean.

 

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Parenting Milestone: Breaking out of a child’s irrational obsession

While my son’s 4th birthday crossed many traditional milestones, like trading in car seats for booster seats, I’m more excited about a much simpler one: he is now willing to eat breakfast with a different spoon.

For the last several years, my son has been willing to eat breakfast with only one spoon. It was plastic with a green handle and yellow polka dots. He would sit down at the table with a cup of yogurt or a bowl of cereal and ask, “Where’s my spoon!” If you tried to offer any other spoon, be it a kids spoon or a grown up soon, he would protest loudly.  “No!!! The little one!!!”

In my son's mind, this green and yellow polkadot spoon is the only one that can be used for eating breakfast.

In my son’s mind, this green and yellow polkadot spoon is the only one that can be used for eating breakfast.

So, every night we would wash that spoon by hand, since we needed it to be ready for breakfast the next day. Sure, we could run it in the dishwasher, but if we hadn’t remembered to run a load that night, we would have to go fish it out and wash it by hand anyways.  This has been going on for almost two years.

Normally in a situation like this, I would simply buy a whole bunch of these spoons and stop worrying about it. The problem is that I have no idea where this spoon came from. We somehow inherited it in a snack bag mixup, and I can’t figure out where to find another one. Not for a lack of trying. I’ve tried searching on Amazon for “green and yellow spoon” but no luck. I’ve searched the kids sections of stores like Target, but no one seems to sell it.

So every night, we wash that one spoon.

I have no idea why kids form these sorts of obsessions. My son is often determined that things be “just so”, but this insistence on the spoon is not specific to him. My daughter is far more flexible, but she has made it clear to me that some things that look identical to us have tremendously important differences.

A few years ago, I bought some plastic bowls at IKEA for the kids to use. They had a flower pattern, and they cam in two identical versions with inverted colors: some had blue flowers on a while background, and others had white flowers on a blue background. I thought it would be nice to mix and match, so I bought four of each.

Apparently, inverting colors on otherwise identical bowls leads to dramatically different breakfast experiences.

Apparently, inverting colors on otherwise identical bowls leads to dramatically different breakfast experiences.

Well, my daughter let me know that was a terrible mistake. The while flowers on the blue background were MUCH better than the blue flowers on a white background. She would insist on using bowls with blue backgrounds, and her brother followed her lead. Since I only bought four, I never have enough.

So, how did we break my son’s obsession with the green and yellow spoon?

Dumb luck.

A couple of weeks ago we were in Portland, Maine and stopped in at our favorite kitchen store. We always go there to see if they sell my favorite sponges (they are colored nylon and very hard to find, but they clean better than anything else… wait a minute, this kind of thinking sounds familiar… hmm…). As we browsed around while trying to keep the kids from knocking fragile items off the shelves, my wife spotted a jar filled with colored-handle spoons of assorted sizes.

Suddenly, we recognized an opportunity.  I turned to my kids and said, “Hey, do you guys want to pick out your own new colored breakfast spoons? You can each choose two.”

Metal spoons with colored plastic handles. Choice makes all the difference.

Metal spoons with colored plastic handles. Choice makes all the difference.

“Yeah!!!” they both shouted and ran over. My son was able to ride both his sister’s enthusiasm and his own excitement about getting to pick something out.  After spending a while debating the benefits of various colors, they each chose two.

When we got home from the trip, they were insisted on using their new spoons for breakfast. We hid the green and yellow spoon away, and he has never asked for it again.

I didn’t really think the plan would work, so we had only bought four. But at least I knew where to get them. On a subsequent trip to Maine over July 4th weekend, we made sure to stop in at the store and bought eight more spoons.  And there hasn’t been a debate about spoon color since.

But, sadly, they still insist that the bowls with the blue backgrounds are better.

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Breaking a bad habit with some help from an app

The last time I drank a soda was at a casual business lunch on Wednesday, May 21st.  My coworkers each ordered a sandwich and a soda to go with it, so I did too. I was trying to cut soda out of my diet and had not had one for over a week, but the diet coke was right there, tempting me. It was easy to pick up, it would taste good, and it would give me a boost that would carry me through the afternoon.

As bad habits go, soda isn’t such a big deal. It won’t kill me slowly like cigarettes will, and it’s not something nasty like chewing on my cuticles. Sure, it’s linked to obesity, but I am reasonably trim. And while I’m sure there are studies that link it to longer term health effects, these are weak correlation studies without a causal mechanism – similar ones exist for just about everything, including coffee, drinking red wine, not drinking red wine, using cell phones, and so forth.

The main reason I want to get rid of soda is that it’s bad for my teeth. I have terrible teeth, with a lot of fillings, and I recently had a second crown put in. I’ve also had an implant, although the experts agree that wasn’t from drinking soda or poor care of my teeth. My dentist has assured me that one soda a day shouldn’t be a problem, but he also agrees that tartar builds up incredibly fast on my teeth. When I brush them at night after having drunk soda earlier in the day, I can feel the buildup.

While I have tried to moderate soda drinking in the past, I’ve been on a major soda kick over the last year. Every afternoon I would need a boost, and I would turn to soda. I had switched from regular to diet, but from your teeth’s perspective, sugar and artificial sweetener have the same effect.

The new crown was a wakeup call. I was already flossing, but I felt that I really needed to be find ways to take better care of my teeth. I knew the crown wasn’t directly caused by soda, but soda was the big thing I could eliminate that would really benefit the health of my teeth.

I tried cutting out soda and was successful for a week, but then we took a trip to Europe and I found myself jet lagged and needed a recharge. I drank soda every day on that trip. When I got back, I was able to go another week without soda and then broke it again at that business lunch on May 21st. I needed more incentive to succeed.

Then I remembered a Friends episode called “The One With the Ball”.  In this episode, a couple of the characters get caught up in the old childhood game of seeing how long they can throw a ball back and forth without dropping it. Once you get a streak going, you really want to see how long you can extend it.

It occurred to me that someone must have written an app to facilitate applying gamification to breaking a bad habit, and sure enough there was one: Streaks. You pick an activity and then check off each day you are successful in doing it (or not doing it, as the case may be). It keeps track of how long your streak has gone and compares it with your previous “high score”.

On May 22nd, I didn’t drink a soda.  I downloaded Streaks and checked off the first day of going soda free.  Then I did it again the next day, and the day after that.  Soon I had beaten my previous run of one week and started to extend it.

I set some ground rules for myself… soda was out, so I mostly replaced it with flavored (unsweetened) seltzer or iced coffee, depending on how much lift I needed. I don’t worry about drinks in the gray area, as long as I don’t drink them too often. Sparkling juices like Izzy I’ve decided are okay because… well just because. Again, only as long as they aren’t regular.

I allow myself to check off the box at 6pm each day, because I would never drink soda at night.  It would keep me awake past midnight. Checking off the box each evening is a nice little reward for the day.

I've managed to keep my no-soda streak alive for more than 45 days and I'm still going.

I’ve managed to keep my no-soda streak alive for more than 45 days and I’m still going.

Thus far, I have kept the streak going for more than 45 days. I don’t think I have ever cut out soda for such a long period. At this number, it has become a very powerful incentive to keep going even when I am sorely tempted to drink a soda. “Sure, I could drink the soda, but I don’t want to break the streak now! I’ll go get an iced coffee instead.” For example, today we drove through grueling July 4th weekend holiday traffic. Normally, I would have gotten a soda to keep myself going in the last few hours, but I wasn’t going to break my 45 day streak just for that.

The Streaks app itself has some interesting configurable features. You can set it for activities that don’t happen every day but rather every X days.  For example, if you set it for every 3 days, it’s okay to skip occasional days as long as the gap is not more than 3 days. It still considers them the same streak. You can also set it so that some days don’t count, like weekends. My soda calendar doesn’t use these features, though – every day counts, no skips allowed.

The best thing for me is that I can really feel the difference. Tartar builds up very quickly in my mouth, and it’s amazing to me how clean my teeth still feel since my last visit with the dental hygienist.

So far, so good. On to kicking the next bad habit.

More on that later.

 

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Solved: Plantronics Voyager Legend fixes wind noise issues with firmware update

Yes, I’m still that jackass who walks around with a bluetooth headset on his ear.

After more than a year using the Voyager Legend bluetooth headset from Plantronics, I still love it.  Between its ability to connect with my phone and my laptopt simultaneously and the fast handoffs with the phone, I find it one of the most useful devices I own.  I spend a lot of my time at work talking on the phone (such is the life of a client-facing technologist), and I also listen to a lot of NPR podcasts, so you can almost always find me with the thing stuck in my ear. I’ve even convinced my wife and sister-in-law to get themselves one.

I’ve had just one complaint… the wind noise.  The headset has great audio quality and picks up my voice extremely well, but it turns out that it is incredibly sensitive to wind.

I remember the first few times I ran in to it. I had to join a conference call while out of the office, so I was in the entryway of a building. It was sunny and I stepped outside as the call continued. Then, people began to complain that someone was picking up wind noise, and would whoever it was please mute their phone. I couldn’t hear any noise, and there was no breeze, so I assumed at first that it wasn’t coming from me.

The boom microphone is so sensitive to your voice that it picks up even the slightest breeze and transmits a loud “rushing sound” to whomever you are talking to, but you can’t hear it.  You can’t even feel any breeze and it still somehow picks it up.  I looked a bit online and found other people complaining about the problem, but no fixes.

So, it has been great for listening to podcasts outdoors, but not talking. And I have had some pretty laughable attempts as I walked to my car to try to get Siri to send a text message to my wife to let her know I was on my way home. I’d say the problems were 25% Siri and 75% wind noise from the headset confusing her.

Then a few weeks ago, I decided to check for a firmware update for the headset and noticed this very interesting item among the varies entries in the release notes for version 93, released last Fall:

  • 4x-improved wind noise reduction

Hmm, that sounded promising. The wind noise problems were so bad that I didn’t think 4x was likely to make enough a dent, but I figured it was worth a shot. I upgraded the firmware and took it for a spin outside.

It turns out that 4x is more like 4000x.  The wind noise reduction is excellent. Over the past few weeks, I have made phone calls in heavy wind and even blowing rain storm. No wind noise at all. (Fun tip – if you want to test your microphone quality for things like clarity or wind noise, leave yourself a voicemail and then play it back).

It kind of blows my eye that they are able to pack so much signal processing power into the tiny piece of electronics that I can hang on my ear. I’m amazed that such a serious wind problem can be corrected with a firmware update.

So, if you have a Plantronics Voyager Legend and are having wind noise issues, go update the firmware.

The Plantronics Voyager Legend has a boom microphone for better voice pickup

The Plantronics Voyager Legend has a boom microphone for better voice pickup

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If the kid won’t go to bed, channel his energy into something useful

After six years of parenting, bedtime remains a daily nightmare. We have two kids, ages six and (almost) four, so you would think that we would have gotten it under control by now.

The problem isn’t so much our technique, or lack thereof, but rather that our kids are on very different sleep schedules. Our six year old, Ayelet, is just finishing kindergarten.  She plays hard throughout the day, and by the time 8:00 pm rolls around, she is exhausted and ready to fall into bed. Once she gets under the covers, it’s rare for her to go more than 10 minutes before she starts snoring loudly. Easy.

The problem is her younger brother, Rafael. He’s in day care, and he also plays hard. He’s an early riser and wakes up more than an hour before his sister in the morning. But, when that 8:00 pm bedtime rolls around, he’s wide awake.  We spend the next hour trying to get him to stay in his bed, but he is constantly getting out or calling us into his room for a hug, a drink of water, a trip to the bathroom, or anything else he can think of. He won’t let us leave, and so we lose another hour of evening trying to get him to sleep.

Why the difference? He naps at day care.

This nap is just killing us. It fills him up with energy, and even though we are all ready for him to go to bed, he just isn’t tired yet. We’ve worked with the day care to try to limit the length of the naps, but it hasn’t helped much (no nap is not an option there). So, every night we have this hour long battle.

We don’t really have an choice about putting the kids to bed at separate times.  They sleep in the same room, and even though Ayelet is very tired, she won’t accept the idea of going to sleep herself while her little brother gets to stay up. So we are at an impasse.

A few weeks ago, my wife was traveling for work and I was solo-parenting. It was already 8:30 pm, my son was still wide awake, and I had a ton to do. The table was a mess from dinner, crumbs were all over the floor, I still had to make the kids’ lunches for the next day, and my son had left toys in the dining room. I was at my wits end trying to get my son to go to sleep and gave up and went downstairs to get started on the kitchen.

Without me to keep him corralled in his room, my son soon followed me downstairs. As I was trying to make the lunches, he started asking me questions about what I was doing.

“Rafael,” I told him, “I’m not talking to you. If you are going to be down here, go pick up your toys and put them away in the living room.”

He promptly picked up all the toys, carried them into the living room and then came back.  Hmm…

“Okay, bring all the dishes from the table and put them on the counter here next to me.” Over the next five minutes, he brought all the dishes over to the sink.

I was now finished making lunches and proceeded to start loading the dishwasher.  How far could I take this?

“Good job, Rafael. Go to take the little dustpan and sweep up all the crumbs under the table.” He grabbed the dustpan and started to sweep up.

Now, I will be honest, the floor was not spotless by the time he finished. But, there were a lot fewer crumbs on the floor. I deemed it good enough.

Before I knew it, it was nearly 9:00 and the whole kitchen was cleaned up and the chores were completed.

“Okay, Rafael, time for bed.” I went with him upstairs, put him in bed, and tucked him.  He immediately turned over, and I didn’t hear from him again.

The alternative was that I would have fought with him as usual about going to bed until 9, and then been doing chores myself until 9:45. Instead, I had him help me from 8:30 to 9, and then we were done.

I wouldn’t exactly call it a bedtime victory – that would be having him getting in bed and staying there – but it wasn’t a bad outcome. Rafael is the kind of kid who likes to help, so if I can make myself a little less frustrated and reclaim some evening time by channeling his helpfulness, so be it.

Rafael actually likes to help clean up, so might as well use it

Rafael actually likes to help clean up, so might as well use it

As it turns out, Rafael is quite good at cleaning up. He even likes to vacuum. Not really what I have in mind after he is supposed to be “in bed”, but sometimes you just have to make the best of a tough situation.

 

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