Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


How Tracking Your Health and Fitness Improves Your Life

Over the years, I've gotten into the 'quantified self' world through fitness trackers. I used to go overboard with this stuff, but have settled into a zone where I use it to help motivate me, but don't obsess over it. I find that wearables and tracking help me to stay in better shape, but also help when it comes to focus at work. Seems like I'm not alone.

Over 75 percent of wearable technology users have seen improved business performance, according to a study by Salesforce. Additionally, a survey by the weight loss app Lose It! found that 60 percent of people on a weight loss program lose more weight if they pair their efforts with activity trackers.

Tracking what you do can boost your happiness and productivity by monitoring your actions. Becoming aware of your daily habits and how you do things gives you the opportunity to come up with new solutions to streamline and improve your life. Fortunately, wearable technology and monitoring apps can help the process. Here are some ways you can get started:

Hold Yourself Accountable

Regular physical activity helps release endorphins that interact with receptors in your brain to reduce pain. Endorphins are also responsible for flooding your brain with a positive feeling that's similar to morphine. However, the Center for Disease Control reports that only 49.2 percent of adults meet the physical activity guidelines for aerobic physical activity.

Hold yourself accountable by keeping track of your daily weight loss, health regimen and exercise routine with wearable technology and apps. Choose an option like the Moto 360 Black, so you can sync it to your smartphone and monitor your heart rate and how many steps you take each day. In addition to keeping track of your health stats, the Moto 360 offers coaching advice with spontaneous notifications throughout the day to keep you motivated to reach your fitness goals.

If you’re surprised by how little you move on a daily basis, work in a long walk on your lunch break or get up a half hour earlier for a morning jog. Next, turn your digital monitoring into an active goal to complete 10,000 steps a day and 30-minutes of active, heart-pumping exercise.

Stay Connected

Connect with your friends and family by creating a friendly competition that keeps you all on track for your health, happiness and productivity goals. Create weekly challenges to get moving with a prize in mind. PBS reports that belonging to a community gives people a sense of identity and connection to others. For your competition, set a goal to walk 12,000 steps or complete four hours of physical activity over the weekend. Use a fitness tracker like a Fitbit to see who reaches the goal first. Then, take the winner out for a healthy lunch.

Improve Performance

Wearable technology has already proven to increase productivity in the workforce. For example, Tesco grocery stores found the number of full-time employees needed to run a 40,000 square foot store dropped by 18 percent after introducing wearables. Workers could unload products and fulfill orders that were tracked and documented with a wearable device instead of relying on papers and clipboards. Wearables can help you be more productive both at work and at home. By getting your work done more efficiently, the need for you to work overtime decreases, giving you more time to be at home or to do the things you love.

Lately, my gadget habit has crept into cycling - I've got a couple of posts coming on some gear I've found to be very useful for cyclists. Stay tuned.

eBike technology from Bosch - hands-on

A couple of weeks ago, Bosch eBike Systems brought an eBike out to me so I could try it out. What's an eBike, you ask? In technical terms, an eBike is a bicycle that has been augmented with an electrical assist that provides supplemental power while you pedal. In practical terms, it is an impressive tool to help you simplify your commuting or road cycling jaunts.

Bosch doesn't make the bikes - they make the "mid-drive" systems that are built into the bikes, so you can find different types, sizes and styles of bikes to fit your needs and preferences. You can find out more and locate a dealer near you at the Bosch eBike site. [Note: I receive no compensation or other consideration for this - just a free ride on an eBike].

Mount up...

I was riding a Haibike XDuro Trekking RX bike with Bosch Mid-Drive technology (provided by Cynergy E-Bikes, a local Portland company), and it was my first time riding an eBike. 

The bike looks a lot like a typical hybrid bike (built for road cycling, and off-road friendly), and I immediately noticed the weight - it was noticeably heavier than the bike I typically ride. That extra weight is because it has batteries on board, and the frame has been reinforced to handle the forces of the electrical assistance mechanism - the Bosch system is built in during the design of the bike, not bolted on afterward, so it is quite sturdy.  

Once on the bike, it rode and handled very well - it felt like a normal commuting bike, and it took no time at all to get acclimated (and it didn't feel very heavy from a rider's perspective). 

Becoming Superhuman

I rode for a couple of miles near downtown Portland, in a big loop along the Willamette River promenade, which gave me a chance to experiment on flat, straight sections as well as some good inclines, congested areas, and curves. The bike was a lot of fun to ride and I found myself thinking about what it would be like to own.

The real fun started when I turned on the eDrive -- I felt superhuman! It is hard to describe the feeling you get when you turn on the eDrive and the bike begins to surge forward, accelerate, and climb up challenging hills under the assistance of the eDrive.

The way Bosch's eDrive system works is by multiplying your power so every pound of pressure you exert on the pedals is amplified when it reaches the wheels. There are 5 modes:

  • Off:     no assistance from drive unit
  • Eco:    50% assistance from drive unit
  • Tour:    120% assistance from drive unit
  • Sport:    190% assistance from drive unit
  • Turbo:    275% assistance from drive unit

You can change modes on the fly, smoothly and without interrupting the ride. That means you can spend most of your time in Eco, but kick things into Turbo for a killer hill or to make up some time on the road when you're in a hurry.

When choosing modes, keep in mind that the more assistance you get from the eDrive, the faster you use up the battery's charge. For example, depending on conditions, the range in Turbo mode (highest assistance) is 20-40 miles. In Eco mode (least assistance) the range is 50-100 miles. The on-board control panel tells you how you're doing and estimates remaining range based on how you're using the bike.

These bikes do need to be recharged, as they don't recharge while you are riding. That said, they last quite a while - you should only have to charge the bike once or twice a week if you use it for commuting, and the recharge time is about 3 hours (you just plug the bike's charger into a normal household outlet). If you run out of power on the road, you won't be stranded - you can simply pedal it as you would a normal bike (though the additional weight may make pedaling a bit more difficult on hills without the power assist).

Who are eBikes suited for?

While anyone would enjoy this bike, it is ideally suited for commuters, as well as people who are less physically adept but want to ride in hilly terrain (or more easily keep up with more accomplished riders). Bosch says these systems are very popular with the 50 years and up crowd, since they like the physical assistance the bikes provide and typically have more disposable income to justify the extra cost (eBikes typically cost about $1500-2000 more than comparable, conventional bicycles).

Commuters will likely appreciate these bikes most - imagine riding 10 miles to work on an eBike and arriving at work without feeling like you need to take a shower; that is possible with the assistance of the eBike power drive. If you get the chance, stop by a local bike dealer who stocks eBikes, and give it a try - I think you'll be impressed.

Is Your Apple Watch's Crown Dial Getting Sticky? Don't Sweat It

I recently got an Apple Watch, and the other day I noticed the crown dial (aka the "little spinny knob thingy") was suddenly hard to rotate, and not very responsive to clicks. 

After a little thinking and experimenting, I remember that I'd been using the Watch to record workouts and it's been particularly hot in Portland lately. It seems that the minerals in my sweat were accumulating under the crown knob and making interfering with its proper operation.

Wash away your troubles

If this happens to you, the fix is easy. Simply rinse off the watch in warm (not hot) water with mild soap. Rinse the watch well and, while rinsing it, rotate the knob a bit to get the mineral crystals worked out of the mechanism.

I've done this a couple of times now, and it fixes the problem easily - in fact, since I have a sport band (the rubbery one) I think I'll just wear it in the shower to keep it clean. The watch is water-resistant and this kind of exposure should not be a problem. According to Apple:

Apple Watch is splash and water resistant but not waterproof. You can, for example, wear and use Apple Watch during exercise, in the rain, and while washing your hands, but submerging Apple Watch is not recommended. Apple Watch has a water resistance rating of IPX7 under IEC standard 60529. The leather bands are not water resistant.

By the way, there are also articles from other sources discussing tests that indicate that the Apple Watch is even more water-resistant than Apple's claims indicate.  

5 Websites That Will Make Your Life Easier

As I move through life, I like to find easier ways of doing monotonous, frustrating, or time-consuming things. In particular, I like things I can do from my phone, or my iPad when I have a few minutes to spare.

If you think picking up the phone to place a pizza order is too old-school, then you'll be delighted to know there are an abundance of websites that cater to your daily needs. Life is hectic enough, so take a weight off your shoulders by letting technology do the work. Whether you need to pass an upcoming test or are craving Ben & Jerry's at 2am, these websites have you covered:

Ship Items From Home

If you hate standing in line, you probably dread going to the post office. Good news: the United States Postal Service lets you ship items without ever setting foot in a post office. You can get shipping supplies for free online and have them sent directly to your home, then you can package up your items and schedule a free package pickup from the official U.S Postal Service website. You simply fill out an online form, choose the time and date of the pickup and include the weight or amount of your packages. Keep in mind that you can only schedule pickups Monday through Saturday and that same-day pickup is not available after 2 p.m. on the day of the pickup. Still, it's a small price to pay to avoid spending your precious free time at the post office.

Practice Your Driving Skills Online

I've got a couple of teens working on their driving permits / driver's licenses right now. Who can forget that well-loved rite of passage? OK... maybe it's not well-loved, but it doesn't have to be painful either. Online driving tests can help you practice your skills behind the wheel on days when you aren't able to convince your parents to take you for a spin. However, knowing how to drive a car is just one part of the driving exam everyone must endure and the written test is the first step toward getting that shiny new license. Free online permit practice tests are available, and you can choose the one specific to your state to prepare for the real thing come test day. Stop wasting your time memorizing the DMV manual and instead improve your knowledge with interactive practice tests.

Place Late Night Delivery Orders

Ever get the urge for a late night snack but don't feel like going out? Nighttime Nosh may be just what you're looking for. It's a late night delivery service (open until 4 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday) delivers beer and wine (subject to ID verification, of course), ice cream, personal care items, and even party supplies. This is the Internet at its finest, ladies and gents. Unfortunately, this amazing service is currently only available in Tempe, Arizona, but don't lose hope! You can still order food at any hour of the day with GrubHub, a website that finds late night delivery restaurants near you. And if you live in the Hollywood area, Pink Dot can deliver everything from groceries to booze straight to your door.

Skip Waiting on Hold

Everyone hates waiting on hold. Now you don't have to with FastCustomer. This amazingly useful website has a customer service agent call you when you're next in line. The site has over 3,000 companies on its list and, with a simple click of a button, lets you claim your spot. You can also view the approximate wait time of a business, the average minutes on hold per day for a particular company and its customer rating. Additionally, if you own a smartphone you can download the Fast Customer app or text a company's name to (936) CALL-PLS to take advantage of this free service.

Set An Alarm Clock on Your Computer

Lost your phone? Don't want to buy an alarm clock? Have access to a computer? Well then, you're in luck. Online Clock is a free service that simulates an alarm clock, complete with radio functions and a digital display. The website also lets you set a timer, stopwatch and countdown. And unlike traditional digital alarm clocks, you can set a custom background which includes options like rain, fireplace and lava lamp. If you're still not convinced, consider this alarm clock your ideal wake up call. Chances are, your computer is far away from your bed, far enough away that you'll be forced to get up if you want to turn your alarm off.

I hope these ideas are helpful. I'm getting back into the swing of things and plan more frequent posts here including more productivity tips like these, Some info on smartwatches (including the Apple Watch), and some camping gadgets I've been experimenting with. Stay tuned!

Get Work Done Even While Out of the Office


While most of us typically get our work done in the office, sometimes you just can’t be at your desk (or you choose not to be).

From getting your car fixed, to taking care of your sick child to traveling on a business trip, you often have to find ways to be productive in remote locations. Fortunately, modern technology can turn your kitchen table into a work station, and a coffee shop or auto repair shop lobby into a conference room.

Tablets and large-format phones like the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus

To stay current with your work even when out of the office, you need an easy-to-use mobile device. Invest in a tablet or a smartphone so you can email, browse the Internet and call clients and co-workers. For example, the iPhone 6 features a 5.5-inch screen that makes it easier to read documents and type out emails. If you want to get an even larger screen, the iPhone 6 Plus is a great option. I find that with my iPhone 6 Plus I can get almost as much work done as I can with a tablet. If Android is more your speed, consider the Samsung Galaxy Note, which I think is one of the best Android "phablets" available right now.

When buying a mobile device, you also should consider the coverage the carrier provides, along with your expected usage to make sure they are aligned. For instance, if you are a heavy data user and know you'll be out of WiFi range much of the time, take a look at T-Mobile. They have designed their network with cell towers closer together so that places with more people have more coverage. This means that no matter where you are working, chances are good that you will be able to connect to the Internet. The bigger deal is they offer packages with unlimited data, as well as allowing you to stream music for "free" over their data network.

In contrast, if you do have data limits on your mobile phone plan, you'll need to find a way to conserve that data as you work outside of your home or office. For these times, you can download a Free Wi-Fi Finder app so you can locate an area to work without using all your data. The best part about this app is that you can search by geography, or by type of location. This means if you need a cup of coffee while you work, the app can search only for cafés and let you know the closest place to work.

Microsoft Office 365

When it comes to getting work done on the go, nothing beats a program like Microsoft Office 365. A one-year subscription costs $99 for five devices including your smartphone and tablet. The program is cloud-based so it gives you instant access to your work email, video conferencing, file sharing and much more. That doesn't mean you have to be connected to use it - it will let you install Office on your computer and use it offline, as well, and the license includes free usage on mobile devices and tablets.

If your work involves reading and editing a lot of documents, Microsoft Office 365's Word app for iOS, Android or Windows Phone provides a mobile-friendly presentation of your data so it is easier to read on mobile devices. The same is true of the other mobile apps for Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint. Plus, the PowerPoint option includes a presenter view that lets you see your notes while your remote audience looks at each slide. This allows you to easily conduct powerful PowerPoint presentations from your tablet or smartphone while working from home or a hotel room.

One other cool note: an Office 365 subscription also includes access to OneDrive, which is Microsoft's cloud storage service. Even better: Microsoft is in the process of upgrading all personal OneDrive accounts to 10TB of storage - for all practical purposes, it's unlimited. Not a bad deal at all.

Google+ Hangouts

Sometimes you have to check in with your co-workers or your employer while you are away from the office. To do this, download Google + Hangouts for chatting, video conferencing and calling options. This extension lets you group chat and share photos as well as connect on a call with up to 10 of your co-workers. You can even record your meeting if you need to review it later. Hangouts also allows you to share screens with each other, which is ideal if you need to share a project or presentation.

There are a lot of other options that can help with productivity, such as Evernote, Skype, Facetime, etc. Which ones are your favorites? Share your thoughts in the comments.