Fitness Wearables

Like many of you, I have followed the “Internet of Things” evolution over the last few years.  One of the big categories that has emerged from this is the explosion of wearable technology.  As a frequent walker / jogger, I like to track my steps and activities.  I have worn a fitbit device for a few years.  I first wore the fitbit one and then moved on to the fitbit flex.  I was wearing the fitbit flex and a pebble watch last year when Apple released the apple watch.  I wanted to combine the function of the two into a single device.  The apple watch seemed like a good option (although not crazy about the price).  So I swallowed hard and forked out the $350 for the device.  I have been wearing it now for just over 6 months.  I use it for notifications thus replacing the need for the pebble.  I use it for activity tracking so it replaces my fitbit flex.  I am just not “wowed” by the device – for $350 I was hoping for Wow!  It is an impressive device but I think it is still a work in progress.  I am sure many users think it is great.  I am also certain there are features that I have yet to tap.  I am a bit disappointed in the 1 day battery life so therefore no sleep tracking.  The interface to upload any of your data to track activity is just not very good.  I was a bit spoiled by the fitbit tracking and convergence features

Of course, since that time, there have been other devices on the market that do many of the same things.  One that has recently caught my attention is a competitor to the apple watch called the fitbit blaze.  It is set to be released later this year, but appears to do many of things that I want my apple watch to do – tracking, heart rate, messaging – but also has a battery that will last 5 days so it can track sleeping and will sync with your phone GPS for longer runs or rides.  It does not do phone calls, which that apple watch does.  I am sure there are several other differences.  The price point on this device will be around $200 and that will attract some buyers.  I look forward to hearing more about it in the coming weeks as well as other new “wearable” technology that might be coming out.

If you would like to read more about some of the new wearables – many just announced last week at the CES in Las Vegas – follow this link to a PC Magazine article by Timothy Torres.   Hopefully you will find that device that meets your particular habits and needs.

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Try Health Wearables Before You Buy

The growing number of wearable health devices makes the choice very difficult.  I am intrigued by the options as well as the new apple watch that is yet to come.  As I blogged a few weeks ago, I decided to jump into the market and purchase the Pebble smartwatch.  I like some things about it but there are other areas that disappoint me.  It would be nice to be able to try a device before you buy it just to see if it meets your needs.  Enter Lumoid.com and their “try” before you buy program.  For $20 you can choose up to 5 devices to try for 7 days.  If you do not like / want any of them, just drop them in the provided shipping container and send them back.  If you decide to purchase, you can apply a portion of the $20 toward the purchase and send the remaining devices back.  What devices are available?  The wearables include Jawbone UP24, Garmin Vivosmart, Fitbit One, Fitbit Flex, Fitbit Charge, and Misfit Shine; smartwatches like the Pebble; health-monitoring equipment including the Fitbit Aria Smart Scale and Withings blood pressure monitor.  They have been doing this for a while with try then buy camera equipment.  Now they are branching into the health / wearables field as well as drones.   It is an interesting idea and might save you money in the long run.  Take a look and see what you think:  https://lumoid.com/wear  I am not endorsing this because I have not tried it – I am just passing along the information.  Read carefully before you agree to anything.

The Internet of Things…

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about my new Pebble smartwatch.  I touched on the “internet of things” that we have been hearing a great deal about lately.  I wanted to come back to that and see if you have noticed the changes and if it is impacting your life.  Google defines the internet of things as “…development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.” We have seen this with Google Glass and other wearable technology over the last couple of years.  Smart toilets have been common in Japan for a number of years.  Three fourths of the homes in Japan have a smart toilet.  Why would you consider something like that?  Aside from the heated seat and the automatic raising and lowering of the seat, think about the health possibilities.  I know it sounds gross, and without getting too graphic on the description, think health monitoring, diabetes detection, etc.

There has also been a surge in home automation devices – go visit the recently remodeled Springfield Best Buy and they have an entire new area on home automation.  Light controllers, garage door monitors, wireless security and webcams are being pushed by a variety of vendors.  Nest (purchased by Google last year) is a smart thermostat that adjusts to your habits and patterns.  Belkin is pushing home automation all the way down to kitchen appliances.  For $130 (Amazon) you can purchase a Belkin slow cooker that connects to the internet and is controlled by your smart phone.  I probably won’t be purchasing many of these items just yet.  It is such a new and changing market, I want to hold out a bit.  One that has attracted my attention and may find its way under the Christmas tree this year is the WeMo switch.  It looks like an ordinary single plug that you can run a light or appliance through – and it can do those things.  It is controlled by an app on your smartphone.  But the thing that intrigues me about this one is that the app also monitors how much electricity is being used.  I could move it around from spot to spot in the house and get some idea of the amount of electricity that is being used by various devices.

Here is a device that I probably won’t be getting just yet, but it demonstrates that there is no limit (except maybe the number of IP addresses available at your house) to the “internet of things.”  The device is called the Egg Minder Wink by Quirky and is available at Amazon for $26.  The egg tray will connect to your home wi-fi and track your eggs.  It will tell you which eggs are oldest, when you are getting low, or if an egg is bad, etc.  What is point of all this?  We need to be smart consumers and look for things that will make our lives better.  One thing is for certain, the Internet of Things is changing the way we live and work.

Wearable Technology

A growing sector of the tech market is the explosion of new wearable technology.  I have been wearing the fitbit flex for a couple of years.  I really like the interface and the real time tracking with my iphone.  I like the app that interfaces with all the fitbit devices in the family.  I even purchased the aria (fitbit scale) last Christmas to help the family track their habits.  This entire concept of “The Internet of Things” is certainly an exciting and growing market.

While I did like the fitbit, I felt like there were 2 or 3 disadvantages.  My device was difficult to charge.  I know that is an issue because they address it on their forums and in the help sections.  It just seemed a bit finicky and had to be plugged in just right to get a charge.  It was difficult to keep it completely dry and that may have been part of the issue with the charging.  I  really felt like it was just too one-dimensional.  A watch face or some other purpose would have been nice.  As talk begin to surface about a new Apple watch, I began to imagine a device that could get me the time, track my health / fitness, interface with my phone for messaging and calls, etc.  Unfortunately, when they said the new device would start at $349, I think they priced me out of that market.

Since I use an iPhone rather than an android, my choices are much more limited.  I had looked at the Pebble and the Pebble Steel in the past and read some decent reviews.  The Pebble recently dropped from about $150 to under $100 (Sam’s or Best Buy) and I decided to jump in.  I am about 3 weeks in as a pebble user.  It is not a perfect device but does meet many of my needs and the price was right.  It interfaces with a couple of different apps and tracks my activities.  It bluetooths to my iphone to notify me of texts, calls, and email.  It has a variety of different watchfaces and several different apps to monitor a variety of things from weather to fantasy football.  It is easy to charge and generally holds for atleast 4-5 days.  I like the idea of keeping my phone turned down and getting a vibration on my wrist that I can glance at to see if I need to answer or respond.

On the downside, I have had a couple of issues with staying synced but it is very easy to reconnect to the phone.  The size of the face is pretty limited and will only give you about 5 lines of the message but that is generally enough to make your decision.  If you have an interest in reading more, here is a link to a video that Jill Duffy did over at PCMag.  It is a good overview of many of the wearable fitness gadgets that are out or coming out on the market.

Making calls on your iPad

I am not sure if I would ever use this feature… maybe as a hands-free option when I am working on my computer, but with a few easy steps, you can send and receive calls from your iPad. It actually works through your iPhone and both devices need to be on the same network and running iO/S 8. You also need to go into the settings of both devices and make sure that facetime is “on” and set iPhone Cellular Calls to “on” as well. That is really all there is to it. If your iPhone rings, you can answer it on the iPad. Equally you can go into your contacts on the iPad and make a call. Pretty cool, although I am still not sure how much I will use it. If you would like more information, read this article: http://www.maketecheasier.com/use-ipad-place-receive-calls/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=02102014

QR Codes in the Classroom

I had a revelation the other day as I was thinking about the nearly 250 ipads we rolled out for Kindergarten, First, and Second Grade classrooms.  These students are going to be non-readers or early-readers and all of them are likely to have difficulty typing in a web address.  Then I saw a post about QR codes and thought they would be perfect in an elementary classroom.  The process is very simple and works on any ipad 2, the 3rd generation ipads, or even the new ipad-mini’s (first gen ipads do not have cameras).  Students would use the QR code to get to any site on the web without having to type or read anything.

You can use a free site like http://goqr.me and create free QR codes.  Just type the complete web address in the text box and the code is created.  From there, you can download the codes as .png files, print them out, and hang them around the room.  The ipads would need a free barcode / QR scanner  app – the one I use is called shopsavvy.  The student would simply open the app and view the QR code in the scanning window.  The Ipad will automatically open the browser and take you to the location.

I think if I had a primary classroom with access to tablets or mobile devices, then I would teach the students how to scan a QR code.  They never expire if you download and save them.  They are hard-coded to that address and will always work unless something in the address changes.  Then you simply create a new one.  How simple is that!

1:1 initiative

Wow!  Where has the year gone?  It has been a busy year with lots of changes taking place within the district.  Maybe I will blog about some of our changes in another article.  What I really want to blog about is a really big change in education that is looming on the horizon.  I have been working with Dr Medlin on a committee to investigate what steps need to be taken to move toward a 1:1 computing environment in our district.  That is the term to describe a computer / computing device for each student.  Will we ever truly get to a point where each student actually has a computer that they bring to school each day?  Probably not in that traditional sense.  But there are several ways that we could get to this point.  Our initiative will likely begin at the high school and maybe start as early as this spring.  We have been working toward this end for quite some time with our purchase of netbooks and tablets at all levels of the district.  Over the last few years, we have added over 1000 netbooks, tablets, and ipods throughout the district.  So what is the plan, what needs to happen, how will everything be affected?
At this time, we are recommending beginning with the junior – senior levels at the high school.  We are looking at a combination of the district owned netbooks and student-owned devices.  Students would be given the option to bring their own device in lieu of using the school netbooks.  In order for us to be able to handle the increased number of stations, we would need to make some changes on the network.  Safeguards would obviously need to be put in place to ensure that students are safely using the internet.  All traffic would need to continue to route through the district filtering software.  Likely, our wireless infrastructure would need to undergo some major upgrades.  We need to make sure we cover logistics such as safety, security, electricity, handling, theft and loss, insurance, etc.  Overall, the biggest change will have to come in the classroom with the way teachers teach.
Solving all of the access issues, working out logistics, and training teachers.will certainly take some work.  A recent survey shows that the students are already excited about the idea and buying into the plan.  I personally have two students in high school.  I am excited for them and the changes that are coming.  But I am excited for all the students and where things are heading.  Monett and Joplin are two area schools that are piloting 1:1 projects this year and several other schools in the state have been doing 1:1 for a couple of years.  Like it or not, these changes are here.  You can either embrace the change and lead the charge, or you can be dragged along kicking and screaming.