The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The President's gadget

President Obama and I have the same fitness tracker. His, however, has some customizations:

What counts as must-have features for many people — high-definition cameras, powerful microphones, cloud-connected wireless radios and precise GPS location transmitters — are potential threats when the leader of the free world wants to carry them around.

And so using the latest devices means more than merely ordering one on Amazon for delivery to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It means accepting the compromises imposed by White House technology experts, whose mission is to secure the president’s communications, and by the Secret Service agents who protect him.

He has not given up, though. Mr. Obama is the first commander in chief to regularly carry a specially secured BlackBerry. He reads briefings and checks scores from ESPN on an iPad (the first of which was given to him by Steve Jobs before its public release). And recently he has been seen wearing the Fitbit Surge, a fitness band packed with all the latest technology, on his left wrist.

The article goes on to speculate (because neither the Secret Service nor Fitbit will comment on presidential security) just which features, exactly, they've removed. And my friend request has so far gone unanswered...

Do Fitbits make you sad?

Duke University business professor Jordan Etkin found evidence they might:

"In general, tracking activity can increase how much people do," Etkin said. "But at the same time, measurement has these pernicious effects. Enjoyable activities can became almost like a job, by focusing on the outcomes of things that used to be fun."

In another study, researchers had 310 participants read for eight minutes. One group read additional text that described reading as fun an enjoyable; for another group it was described as useful and educational — more like work. A third group received no additional information. In all three groups, some readers were told how many pages they had read as they went, others were not.

The readers who could see how many pages they had read reported that reading felt more like work and less enjoyable than those who could not — but not among participants who were told the project was more work-like at the start.

"This doesn't mean we should stop measuring our daily activity," she said, "but we need to balance that increased productivity against our underlying enjoyment. For activities people do for fun, it may be better not to know."

Finding out that my Fitbit might make me sad makes me sad.

Of course, this could just be a horrible example of bad science reporting, which Deeply Trivial just blogged about yesterday.

Missing my Fitbit numbers

For the last couple of days, I've missed my 10,000-step goal by 100 to 500 steps. This is why:

Yesterday Chicago got its biggest November snowfall in 120 years; today it's well below freezing. Walking is treacherous at best for bipeds and uncomfortable for quadrupeds. So today might also be a miss.

I haven't missed three days in a row since March 5th-7th—when, not coincidentally, we had a miserable, snowy week. Winter is hard on fitness.

New colors

So the masthead is blue now. Any thoughts?

Parker and I managed to go for a one-hour, five-kilometer walk earlier today, as hoped. So my lazy Sunday hasn't been entirely lazy. But just on principle, I think the rest of the day will involve a nap and some time at a local bar with a book.

A year of FitBit

I forgot that I picked up my FitBit a year ago this week. So how am I doing since 24 October 2014?

  • 4.76 million steps (13,000 per day)
  • 4,081 km (11 km per day)
  • 4,557 floors (12 per day)

By FitBit's reckoning, that puts me somewhere around the 90th percentile of FitBit users worldwide. It also means I've walked the entire length of Japan and climbed enough stairs to reach the normal cruising altitude of a commercial jet.

And Parker and I are about to get more steps in just a few minutes.

FitBit challenge: crushed

The final score from my FitBit challenge over the weekend was: friend, 33,800; me, 37,800. Yesterday I gave Parker 3 hours of walks and also walked home from dinner instead of taking public transit or a Divvy, which got me almost to 23,800 steps (and 17.7 km) for the day.

There was a cost. My feet hurt, Parker was lethargic this morning, and I ate too much. And this week it's not likely I'll get 10,000 steps in every day this week because I've got an all-day meeting Wednesday. Which is probably a good thing, according to my feet and my dog.

FitBit challenge

Following a friend's example, I got a FitBit this week. The same friend has challenged me for the weekend, getting 15,300 steps to my 14,000 yesterday, and going hiking this afternoon. Ah, but I have a dog, you see. And the weather is perfect. So far today I've walked 15,400 steps (11.6 km), almost all of it with Parker, and we're about to go out for another walk.

Here's walk #1, this morning, in Lincoln Park:

And walk #2, at lunchtime, down the Lakefront Path:

I got my 15,000-step badge on Friday, my first full day with the thing. Today I'm aiming for 20,000. My friend is too. This will be close, I'm guessing...