Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gadgets - don't you just love 'em

When I ran a sales organisation I used the phrase "What gets measured gets done". It worked - the trick is to ensure you measure the right things and not the wrong things. Your tracking influences behaviour. Well I have been tracking my mileage (technically my kilometrage) since 1994- in fact here is one of the summary charts that I keep - it sums the total distance travelled each year since 1994. There are two missing years 2000 and 2001 - I tore the cartilage in my knee in 2000. In the first half of the chart during '98 I was the COO (and director) of a company that went public, but with a bit of ingenuity still managed to clock up 6,000Km in the year we went public on the London Stock Exchange and NASDAQ. The year after was a bit more difficult though - a lot of travel was involved and I had not quite got my portable cycling act together. In 2002 I changed my career and lifestyle and so was able to incorporate more cycling into my life. Part of it was a policy change I decided I was going to cycle to the railway station and in London. But it was helped by acquiring more bikes to facilitate cycling. For instance I acquired a Brompton to enable me to cycle and commute by train. I also acquired a custom touring bike, built for me and during a vacation in 2003 cycled from one end of England to the top of Scotland (Land's End to John O'Groats - Lejog).

To keep track of the data I use various Speedometers - my preferred brand is Sigma, I have used Cateye wireless Speedometers and been happy with them. My only issue is using wireless units requires two batteries versus one for a wired unit. The challenge when using wired units is ensuring that the actual speedo makes good contact with its mount and that the cable between the Speedo and the thing on the fork that measures each rotation of the wheel has not been broken. I keep a spreadsheet of speed, distance, etc along with a summary of the route taken. The depressing thing is that I seem to be getting slower over the years. The good thing is that I cycle a greater distance than I drive - at least for the last five or so years. Last year before I set off to cycle from Bangkok to Saigon I bought a GPS unit to allow me to track the speed, distance and actual route taken during the ride. I got a Garmin EDGE 605 and was really impressed. It had some foibles but enabled me to track the route and speed, distance without any fuss. Even better I was able to transfer the data to my PC automatically. I chose the 605 versus the technically more capable 705 because I wanted a simple device. I have a Heart Rate Monitor that has been useful but I am not into Time trialling or racing and cycling is a pleasure in itself I do not feel the need to race. (Actually I don't like losing - so why set myself up to lose eh!.)

Enough of my personal psycho-babble, I track my data and the Garmin EDGE 605 allows me to download the precise route I have cycled along as well - great. Of course being semi-computer literate I also keep my gadgets updated with the latest software updates. I certainly allow Microsoft their wicked way with my PCs and over the years have only seen one real problem that required me to fret a little - it was my wife's PC and so caused more fretting than I normally like. If it was mine I would have switched to another PC whilst I sorted the problem. So I dutifully update software and my DAB radio, my Canon camera and myriad other gadgets, including my GPS unit.

As I said this normally is not an issue - but just recently I updated my GARMIN Edge from version 2.6 to 2.7 - whereupon it stared giving me intermittent "Memory Full" messages. Now the memory was clearly nowhere near full, but I just acknowledged the message and carried on. until it lost the entire contents of a recent ride. Being anal-retentive about my cycle data this is serious. It was a ride on my MTB, which normally has a Cateye wireless speedo to measure essential speed and distance data on it. but since I have been getting too trusting of the GPS unit I did without the Cateye back up - big mistake. (Note did I mention that I have met the Japanese gentleman who developed the first chip that controlled early Cateye speedometers - a very nice chap). Fortunately as I pulled up in my drive I did glance at the distance and time taken so was able to record some data for the ride. But the unit corrupted its memory and refused to divulge anything about the ride's direction....

One of the things I have found is the the quality of the Garmin EDGE 605 is excellent - but the accompanying documentation lets it down severely (actually crap is the word that sprang to mind). Anyway to cut a long story short I immediately dashed of an email to Garmin expressing my displeasure. Their saving grace is that they responded within 12 hours and indicated that the problem was not the product of my fevered imagination and they had noticed this with version 2.7 and told me how to work around the problem. So Garmin - great products, crap documentation - well the 605 anyway - great support - again for the 605. On recent rides since the problem I have been using both a speedo and the GPS unit, just in case - but have had no problems since. Perhaps I won't be quite so keen to upgrade - I did ignore the trained IT view - don't upgrade the software unless it fixes a problem you have!

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