Thursday, June 26, 2014

Zombies, Run! comes to Google Glass

"There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be."
 ~George Sheehan

"You got your Zombies in my Glass!"

"You got your Glass in my Zombies!"

Zombies, Run! and Google Glass. Two great tastes that taste great together!

On Tuesday, after a run, I posted my run stats on Google+. It's something I do after every run. Often when I run I use an app called Zombies, Run! It's a fitness-app-audio-book-game.

Perhaps I should explain Zombies, Run! a bit.

Zombies, Run! does the things a traditional fitness app does - tracks your distance, your time, your pace - plus it adds in a story element. You are Runner 5, a runner from Abel, a small settlement of survivors somewhere in England after the Zombie Apocalypse. Each run you do is a "mission" within the story. The app plays an audio clip telling you what the mission is and setting things up for your run, then it plays music (of your choice), then another audio clip telling you more of the story. Repeat until you finish the mission. 

Scattered throughout your run are virtual objects you pick up. The app helpfully tells you the things you are picking up, which range from clothing (sports bras are a very common item), to various weapons (baseball bats, axes, pistols, knives), to medical supplies, to random items (teddy bears, USB drives, board games, money, glasses, deodorant, etc.). The items themselves are not (usually) integral to the mission you are running, but they serve two purposes: helping you avoid zombies and building your base.

That leads us into the two other aspects of Zombies, Run!, namely avoiding zombies (sprinting) and building up Abel. If you have "Zombie Chase" enabled within the app, groups of zombies will attack you at random points throughout your run. Sometimes the zombie attacks are story driven - you are at a point in the story where you encounter zombies and need to run - or some are merely random attacks during the non-story portion of music listening. To avoid the zombies you need to increase your pace by 20% from your average pace (which the app calculates based on your pace over the previous 30 seconds) and maintain that increased pace for one minute. If the zombies do catch you AND you have items collected, you will drop some of your items to distract the zombies - who apparently like things like sports bras, whiskey, and umbrellas - allowing you to escape and continue the mission. If you have no items to drop then the zombies catch you and the mission is aborted. Wah!

And presumably turn into something like this:

It is an interesting aspect of the game and it really adds to the fun. But, again, you can turn the chases off if you so desire.

The other reason to collect supplies is to build your base. When you are back at home and recovering from all those zombie attacks you can go into the app and look at your base. Using the supplies you collect, or rather an aggregate score based on the supplies which translates into supply points and building points, you can increase the size of your base, add buildings to increase defense and morale, and upgrade existing buildings.

For me this is the least compelling aspect of the whole app. Yes, it is fun to build up your base, see your population increase, etc. But it really has little to do with the story and is more of an add-on.

But, back to my post on Google+. I posted my run stats and as an aside to an aside about a feature-request I mentioned that I would dearly love to have support for Zombies, Run! on Google Glass.

Because Google Glass (I've been a Glass Explorer for just about a year now) and Zombies, Run! (I've been using the app for two years) together would be incredible.

Little did I know...

Within hours of my post (And admittedly unrelated to my post, but a boy can dream, right?) Google announced new features for Google Glass. One of them: SUPPORT FOR ZOMBIES, RUN!

Wow! I have a super power!

Today I got a chance to take Zombies, Run! for Glass (ZRG) out for a test run (heh!). I'm impressed. Having my phone already tucked away for the run is great.

I always find an annoying stutter at the beginning of a run because I have to start the app, lock the phone, tuck it away in my running pack and then get started. With ZRG you start the app with a voice cue, "OK Glass, Start run." You can already be running!

Another great thing - no GREAT thing - about ZRG is that I now have access to all the music I have on Google Play. All of it! With Zombies, Run! you are limited to playlists you create with the music on your phone. Not so with ZRG. (This access to Google Play music as well as Spotify and perhaps others will be coming to the regular Zombies, Run! in the very near future.)

Believe me, that is way, way, way more music than I could ever keep on my phone. And it ROCKS!

Having a visual level added into Zombies, Run! is a wonderful thing. The problem with many fitness apps is that to see your stats during a run you have to take out your phone, unlock it, and scan the screen. Not the best for convenience or safety. With ZRG you can see your stats at any time with a glance.

The zombie chases are still present - in fact, I couldn't find a way to turn them off in ZRG. Although I couldn't get a vignette (Glass' photo-within-a-photo feature) of the zombie chase screen over my idyllic surroundings - because, you know, I was BEING CHASED BY FRICKIN' ZOMBIES! - ZRG gives you a meter showing how close the zombies are getting in addition to the standard audio warning that zombies are attacking and the audio announcement of how close the zombies are to you. It's not virtual zombies attacking like a video game...

...but it did have an impact. A huge impact. I think my sprint was an increase of much more than 20%. I didn't like seeing those zombies getting closer and closer; the creepy red hands closing in on my little green self.

And ZRG seems to have a hidden feature in that it waits until you are about to go uphill before launching those darn zombies at you! (I was heading up the pedestrian overpass when I was attacked.)

I really enjoy having my stats available to me at any moment. And being able to capture my surroundings with Glass as I run is priceless.

Yes, creepy tunnels are important on my runs.

And when you are done with your run ZRG sums it all up for you so you can bask in the fact that you survived! Mission Complete!

Not everything about ZRG is great, however. And that's to be expected. This is not a final product. It is really just a beta product being run on a beta product - although two awesome betas!

Right now the runs you record in ZRG do not sync with your Zombies, Run! account. You only have access to the first few missions of Season 1 (Zombies, Run! is well into Season 3). The options are very limited - I could not find a way to turn off the zombie chases or change the mission length. The tracking is a bit buggy.

My biggest gripe with ZRG is really not a gripe about ZRG at all but about Glass in general when it comes to using it during any activity like running: the screen does not stay on long enough. In a sitting-at-your-desk situation when you activate the screen - either by touching the touch-pad or tilting your head back 30% - the screen stays on for a good 10 seconds. When you are running and activate the screen it goes off within a couple of seconds. This is true of any app with Glass that I have tried to use while running: Strava, ZRG, camera, etc. I'm not certain if Glass has a sensor that is telling it you are jostling around and so it does not leave the screen illuminated for some safety reason, but this would be a good thing to get fixed as technologies like ZRG mature into viable consumer end-products.

How do I rate ZRG? I give it five stars!

Ok, that's a little too much Google/Zombies, Run! fanboy-ness.

Setting aside my giddiness at having a Google prayer answered and also setting aside the novelty of having Zombies, Run! include visuals after two years of audio only, I give ZRG a solid 3.5 stars out of 5.

When more content is available, the options are beefed up at bit, and it links to your Zombies, Run! account so, like any good fitness app, you can keep track of your fitness long-term, It'll get another star.

When you can actually see the zombies Resident-Evil-style as they are chasing you - perhaps something along the lines of Race Yourself, but more scary - I'll turn my rating up to 11.

For now this is a great addition to the family of Glass apps. And I'm proud to say that as an early adopter of both Glass and Zombies, Run! I hit gold. It is both fun and easy to use (good job Google Glass dev team! and Six To Start) and brings Zombies, Run! into the future of wearable technologies. I look forward to having the full Zombies, Run! experience and even MORE in the (hopefully) near future!

Thanks Six To Start and Google Glass. Awesome work!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Climb On! (product review)

"Behold the hands, how they promise, conjure, appeal, menace, pray, supplicate, refuse, beckon, interrogate, admire, confess, cringe, instruct, command, mock and what not besides, with a variation and multiplication of variation which makes the tongue envious."

~Michel de Montaigne

Hands are useful things. 

And I use mine for so many things that I love. I climb with them. I make my living as an artist and graphic designer with them. I hold my daughters' hands in my hands. I build and create with them. I knead bread with them. I communicate with them, through gesture and typing and script. They are essential. They are a requisite, an imperative to my life. 

But despite - or perhaps because of - the necessitous of my hands, I abuse them. I am not gentle with my hands. And when you take the aggregate of abuse I inflict upon my hands it is no small miracle that they still function as well as they do.

Added to the physical abuse I inflict my poor hands I am constantly washing them, what with baking and cooking and building things. I scrub them and soap them up in hot water.

My hands really say a lot about me, and I don't mind the many scars and callouses that decorate them, but I do like to keep them in the best shape that I can. In addition to the hard playing I do, banging them, scraping them, bruising them, they are as equally important in holding my baby daughter, braiding the hair of my eight year-old, holding my wife's hand.

This is a tough situation to be in when you hate - HATE - lotion. Lotions are pretty gross. They mostly feel slimy and slippery and gooey. Kind of like a toad has licked you. And I promise you you don't want to try climbing with a coating of toad spittle on your hands. (Please note that I do not actually know what toad spittle feels like; this is just a broad supposition on my part for the sake of literary illustration.)

Enter Climb On! Originally made for climbers (Yay Climbing!), this is a great skin care product for anyone who has, well, skin. Seriously. This stuff is fantastic! The emulsifier (the stuff that holds all the other stuff together) is Cera alba (also known as yellow beeswax). And what that beeswax holds together is pretty amazing: Prunus armeniaca (apricot kernel oil), Vitis vinifera (grapeseed oil), Triticum vulgare (wheatgerm oil), essential ois of Citrus vulgaris (neroli), Lavendula angustifolia (lavender), Citrus limon (lemon), tocopherl (vitamin E). It's all the stuff your skin needs to be happy.

Don't believe me that this is all good stuff? According to the folks at Climb On! all the ingredients are chemical free and food grade. Yep, you can eat this stuff. And because I believe in thoroughness, I tried it. Just remember that just because you can eat something doesn't mean you should. It's kind of gross to eat. But safe!

Because I climb a lot, I use it a lot. And it works great. It really soothes and softens without the greasiness or sliminess of other lotions I've tried. One of the great things about Climb On! is that I can use it and still climb. It absorbs that well.

And Climb On! isn't just great for my hands. I use it on my feet, which also take a huge amount of abuse being shoved into tiny climbing shoes and made to run mile after mile in Fivefingers, to give my wife foot massages, on the many abrasions I get on my arms and legs while climbing, on my baby daughter's diaper rash (Thanks for that tip, @climbonproducts!), and on the skin around my eight year-old's nose when it gets chapped in the cold weather.

The scent is pleasant and not overwhelming. It smells clean and fresh.

I highly recommend Climb On! If you have skin, give it a try. 

Climb On! has a whole range of natural care products. Give them a visit at and follow them on Twitter at @climbonproducts.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Teachers Are Important

I think that teachers are important.

Of the influences that shape who and what we are, teachers are second only to parents in their capacity to subtly and dramatically impress, direct, incite, arouse, instigate, and persuade us. That is a bold statement, but a true one. (Upon greater reflection, I stand by that statement with one caveat: It is true from my perspective of having parents involved in my life, interested in me, and always willing to be full participants. In this world of dismissive parenting and parenting-by-proxy, perhaps I'm granting too much power to the class of disinterested parents. But teachers are still at the top.)

This is, like most everything powerful, both a good and bad thing. If you are lucky enough to have a good teacher - or so blessed as to have a great teacher - the benefits are incalculable. If you are unlucky enough to have a poor teacher - or so cursed as to have a terrible teacher - the costs are likewise hard to calculate.

I've had both.

When I think about the cast of people who, over the course of 40 plus years, have made a direct impact on my life, have changed the substance that makes me "me," teachers hold many of the top spots.

It is not so much the subjects taught by those teachers as it is the way they taught them that left a mark upon me. Enthusiasm for ideas, for learning, for knowledge. I've sat through classes with brilliant academics at the helm of a class who could not impart a single fact because of a complete lack of connexion with students. And I've been taught by teachers of decidedly ordinary knowledge but extraordinary personality who, if I close my eyes, are still present and alive in my mind after 30 years. It is true what Karl Menninger said, "What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches."

There are teachers whose subjects have been, by a great degree, lost to me with the passage of time. Oh, perhaps tidbits from high school civics survive somewhere in my brain, but most of the knowledge from that class has seeped away. But a statement made by the civics teacher - a true gem of wisdom - imparted with great feeling and caring is still with me. Fresh. "You don't have to memorize all the facts. You don't have to cram your head full with every date or name. But if you learn to be good at finding information, know where to look for it, that will serve you well."

And it has.

Along with the Chungs and Attlesons and Zubers, teachers who inspired me and filled me with a love of learning, there have been others who did the opposite. 

When I was seven I hated school. Really hated it. I would pretend to be sick. And when that wore thin, I willed myself to actually be sick. And I got sick. I had a teacher who would not let me write my name in cursive - which sounds silly, but it was the way she invalidated my worth for wanting that small thing that made the impact. She told me that I did math the wrong way - not that the solution was wrong, but the way I did it was wrong. She was very good at attacking each student. She had a thousand little ways of making me feel stupid and wrong. And, as my mother discovered when visiting the school to find out the reason behind all this kid-sick-at-home-business, a teacher who yelled. A lot. My mother could hear her yelling at the class from all the way down the hall. After that I continued my education elsewhere.

That bitter taste has always remained with me. A bad experience with education like that does not just fade; it lingers, tainting all other experiences you have. If you want me to not hear a word you say, to lose any interest I might have had with an idea, raise your voice. Yell at me. It is guaranteed to block any learning from my brain. It took a long time after that for me to open up to teachers, trust them. Fortunately I had a home that was filled with learning and knowledge. But what about kids that don't have that?

So why am I talking about a teacher I had when I was seven?

Having had both good and bad teachers, I am very aware and very sensitive to the personalities of my daughter's teachers. And we've been lucky. No, we've been blessed.

At seven years old, my daughter loves school. It is the complete antithesis of what I experienced at that age. For that I am thankful. My daughter is, in so very many ways, like me. The good and the bad. Quick to become interested, curious, sometimes-too-inquisitive, but also impatient, easily bored, and often unfocused. It takes a special teacher to make both sides of that coin positive. My daughter's teacher does just that.

I have watched the ways in which her teacher, Ms. Kelsey, interacts with my daughter and all the children in her care.  I'm impressed. I see the use of creative solutions for each student, tailored to fit them all. I cannot envision a scenario in which my daughter comes home in tears because her teacher would not let her write her name in cursive. She'd incorporate that desire into a lesson somehow. 

And that makes my heart smile.

She has a talent as a teacher and is able to exemplify K. Patricia Cross' wise words about teachers: "The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate 'apparently ordinary' people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people."

On this Teacher Appreciation Week 2012 I want to thank all the teachers who have helped me create myself, pursue my dreams, and foster a love of knowing more. And I want to give a very special thank you to Ms. Kelsey. I hope you know how precious and valuable a thing it is to me to see the wonder, joy, and excitement in my daughter's eyes each and every school day.

Teachers are important. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stink! Stank! Stunk!

"The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink! Stank! Stunk!"
~ Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel

I love my Vibram Fivefingers. All flavours. From my Sprints to my Bikilas to my KSOs to my Komodo Sports.

I love them all.

For the past five years my shoe of choice has been Fivefingers. And with few exceptions, I wear them everywhere. They feel better on my feet. They let me move my toes and flex my feet. Yes, I own other shoes. And Fivefingers are not practical for every situation. But I adore them.


Well, there is a darkside.

A rather horrible one.

Fivefingers stink. A lot.

And it is not just a sweaty-feet-in-shoes-all-day smell. It is rank. It is concentrated ick.

Not everyone has this issue. But enough people do that I know it is not just my feet.

And the lengths to which people go, the creativity which is applied to this problem is interesting. Because the stink goes beyond just washing them. You can't just thrown them in the washing machine and tada! they are odorless. No. 

As I said, this is super stink.

I know one guy who washes them. Then soaks them in OxiClean for a couple of hours. Then sets them to dry in front of a fan.

After much trial and error with various products, I settled in to a pretty simple routine of washing my Fivefingers - by hand so I could do some scrubbing - with Scent-A-Way and then treating them with McNett MiraZyme Enzyme - an enzyme-based de-stinker for wet suits. It works pretty well.

And then someone brought Nikwax Sandal Wash to my attention. 

Although not made for Fivefingers, it is technology geared toward a similar problem: stinky sandals. I have owned one pair of Tevas in my life. The stink was similar. (I have no idea why.)

I have been using Sandal Wash for about six month now. And I have to say I am impressed. 

My two-step process has been reduced to one; I only have to wash my Fivefingers with Sandal Wash. And it does really get rid of the stink.

The tech behind the de-stinking is great and works without leaving a heavy perfume-y smell behind. 

I do take issue with the application bottle. But this is mainly due to the fact that it is designed for use on sandals and Fivefingers are not sandals. The bottle has a tip with a sponge applicator on it, meant to distribute and then scrub the Sandal Wash into the sandals. Because Fivefingers are shoes not sandals this is problematic. You cannot get into the toe area of the Fiverfingers with the bottle. And to get the Sandal Wash out you have to press down, applying pressure on a little valve on the tip. You cannot just pour the solution out. Within two weeks I had completely destroyed the sponge applicator and it just fell off. Now I just up-end the bottle and put enough pressure on the little valve to get some of the Sandal Wash to pour out. I use an old toothbrush to get the Wash down into the toes. Scrub-a-dub. Rinse. And let dry.

If you have Fivefingers - or sandals - and are plagued by the dreaded VFF stink, I recommend giving Nixwax Sandal Wash a try.

If you want to check out this solution for yourself or if you have any questions about Nikwax Sandal Wash, give @ProfessorNikwax a shout or check out Nikwax to find a dealer near you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Koskenkorva Martini

"I've climbed with some of the best climbers in the world, more importantly, to me, they are some of the best people in the world. That's another reason why I climb."
~Jim Wickwire

I really like to climb.

No, really. I do.

And why I like it so much - love it, in fact - is hard to distill down into a single statement. I've tried. But each time I think I have it quantified and pinned down, I realise I've left one or two or a hundred things out. Every climbing experience is unique and holds its own magical treasures. There are certainly things which top the list of why I love climbing and some ever-present themes - the zen-like quality; the control; the mindfulness; the freedom; the challenge; the dance-like movements - but I can have as rich and rewarding an experience playing around on 5.8s teaching new climbers as I have puzzling out the pieces of a rapturous - and torturous - 5.12 that draws sweat, blood and tears. How is it that I enjoy climbing as much on a perfect blue-sky day as on a miserable, rain-soaked and frozen-to-the-bones day? Why is a top-belay in too-small shoes in the blazing sun just as enjoyable as a sit-belay from a grassy field in the shade?

There has to be something, right?

A recent weekend adventure of climbing brought that something out of the shadows and into sharp focus. As variable as the situation, the weather, the location, the temperature, the comfort of the gear, the quality of the rock, there actually is a constant: the people. I get to climb with awesome people. And a day climbing, 'suffering' up an unknown 5.14 in Golden or in agony 50 feet up a cliff in Diablo Canyon because I brought the wrong shoes for multi-pitch or freezing my ass off in El Rito because a summer storm moved in to dump rain and hail while halfway up a 90 foot route, with people I truly like is better than most anything I can think of.

I turned 40 this year. I viewed turning 40 in the same way I viewed turning 20: a non-milestone. It held no more fear or excitement than turning 39 did. Or 12. Or 26. However, 40 is a nice, round number and it did elicit a good party and a wealth of presents (Yay presents!). Among the gifts was a climbing route. Really.

Two fellow climbers, Vaino and Doni, had scoped out a possible new route and had earmarked it for me to develop. I got a card. And a photo of the cliff. With a note: This is your route.

I don't squeal. But if I did? Big squeal.

To say I was excited is a bit of an understatement. I've rode shotgun on bolting before. I have some first ascents. My name is attached to a few routes. But I had never developed a route from start to FA.

And setting the route? Bolting it? Climbing it for the very first time ever? PERFECT.

Yes, it was a beautiful day for climbing. Yes the weather was incredibly cooperative. Even the burrito from Sofia's Kitchen  - chicharones and red chile for me, thanks! - was remarkably tasty on the way to the crag.

But it was the company that was truly perfect.

Every climbing adventure I have had revolves around the shared experiences. And this was no exception. I am honored and quite flattered that Doni and Vaino entrusted me with such a gift. They have developed entire walls and Vaino has set some of my favorite routes both in New Mexico and Colorado. But what truly made the experience memorable was that they were with me and I got to climb with them.

So if you want to climb something I've set, head down to Socorro in southern New Mexico. Maybe you'll feel some of the joy I experienced - especially if you climb it with good friends.

It is in The Box. On Alcohol Wall, which is part of the Major Wall Area. It's a short 5.10a. But it is mine and I'm pretty proud of it.

Koskenkorva Martini (5.10a)
A short, fun route. Easy standing first clip. Start on some generous incut holds, moving left, making the second clip and up to the feature (a little cave with a large tooth that looks like the silhouette of a bat). Pull up on a solid match on the 'tooth' and reach for a juggy side pocket to the left for the clip. High feet will get you a decent hold on the right and higher feet will get you up to the great ledge on the left - definitely the crux. Pull up to a short scramble for another clip and up to the finish at the anchors.

Koskenkorva Martini

Vaino & Doni
 Setting and bolting the route.

Safety first.

Drilling a bolt hole.

Drilling a bolt hole.

Hammering in a bolt.

Cleaning the route.
First ascent of Koskenkorva Martini.

The "bat" feature.

Moving past the crux.

At the bolts.