Random (but not really)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Yesterday on our hike I started to wonder about apples. Specifically: Why are apples typically portrayed as red?

The majority of apples we find at our Farmers Market are green or green & red. Yet when you think of an apple, you generally think of a shiny red apple. Why?

Considering that the most common red apple is the misnamed Red Delicious, which was bred not for flavor but looks and storage, it’s amazing that anyone would want to think about Red Delicious when they think “apple”.

Vaguely from my plant biology classes, I remembered that color was often dependent upon light. So might where apples were red be related to why red is seen as the color of apples? Were red apples more common in Europe?

But it’s even more complicated than that.

Apples do not breed true from seed. If you plant apple seeds you will not get an apple tree that bears the fruit of the apple you planted, most likely you’ll get a cider apple (which is what Johnny Appleseed was doing–planting seeds for cider apples, not the fruit).

You have to graft to get a reproducible apple variety.  So what grows in an area is dependent not just upon hardiness, but what humans have chosen to grow in any particular area.

Out of curiosity, I decided to look up what influences peel color in apples, and although light is important, temperature is also important, and colder temperatures increase anthocyanin production. Which makes sense in retrospect, since anthocyanis are protective. So you’ll get red apples where there is a lot of sun, but also where there are colder temperatures.

So red apples would seemingly be more likely to thrive in areas with harsher conditions (more UV or lower temperatures).

It still doesn’t make Red Delicious apples taste better, but it does help explain why we might have developed a preference for red apples.

(FWIW our other indepth discussion yesterday was use of silver to kill paranormal creatures and what kind of ammunition would be best (and easiest) to defend yourself. So don’t think that I spend my time pondering highfalutin topics.)

Red Color Development in Apple Fruit
Traverso, Amy. The Apple Lover’s Cookbook. W. W. Norton & Company.

Written by Michelle at 11:51 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Food,Non-Sequiturs,Science, Health & Nature  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Better Living Through Chemisty

Someone on FB linked to an article about the medical management of mental health disorders: What It’s Like to Know You’ll Be on Antidepressants for Life.

The essay starts out noting the following:

The notion that people who take medication for mental illness are weak seems rooted in internalized social stigma. There’s still this strange divide in thinking about mental illness, where much of society seems to dismiss those illnesses as somehow less “real” than ones that are considered “physical.”

That’s unfair, yet true. We’re not supposed to talk about mental health issues. It’s ok to have diabetes or high blood pressure but depression or anxiety are secrets to be kept. Issues to be hidden.

To believe that my mental health issues make me a weaker person than someone who has a physical health issue is absurd. Yet it’s a common belief: depression and anxiety are weakness that can just be overcome by hard work and the correct attitude.

Part of it I suppose is historical: Suicide was a mortal sin that would send you directly to hell, so wouldn’t that make the mental state that made you suicidal a moral failing as well?

Part of it might also have to do with many mental health issues being more common in women than men, and women have historically been seen as weaker, both physically and mentally.

But perhaps a greater part is because mental health issues are less visible. You get a cast with a broken limb. You get scars from surgery. I can show someone my scars and X-Rays from my broken ankle, but what do I have to display for more than 30 years of mental health issues?

(Life insurance rates three times higher than my husband’s because I was honest during my interview about my past aren’t really anything you can display as a wound.)


After Robin Williams died, I remember being enraged by people who couldn’t understand how he could be so weak as to take his own life.


When I broke my ankle I didn’t cry–I wasn’t even certain at first I’d broken my ankle, because I was certain it wasn’t painful enough to be broken bones. Yet I have felt emotional pain that was so harsh it took my breath away. A misery so strong that all I wanted was for it to end because it was unbearable.

I knew I could take medicines for relief from physical pain, and that over time the wounds would heal and the pain would eventually be gone.

Mental anguish is different. When you’re given anti-depressants, you’re told they might take up to a month to work. And that some meds are better for some people than for others so what you’re taking might not make things better. And again it’ll be a month before you know for certain.

Know what? I’ve had meds that not only didn’t work, but actually made things worse. That took more than two months to resolve.

Two months of something that no one could see. Two months of something I was certain was a moral failing: A weakness on my part.

A weakness.

During pre-marriage counseling, one of the questions we were asked was whether we suffered from mental illness.

“Yes,” I said, “depression.” (At this time I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with anxiety or OCD, even though they had been part of the mix since the beginning.)

“Not like that,” the counselor replied, “they’re asking about serious illness.”


Here’s the thing: I’m lucky in that I’ve always been able to work through my depressive episodes. It may have been a struggle, but I was able to get out of bed and be physically, if not emotionally, present.

I know I will be on meds for the rest of my life. I’m fine with that, because I have a strange quirk where I remember feelings painfully clearly. I remember the angst of being a teenager. I remember the shame of being different and unable to fit in. I remember breathtaking misery of grief. I remember the feelings of all my mistakes and the belief I would never get past them. I remember how it feels to believe I was worthless. That I was unworthy of love. That all I ever have done is cause harm and create misery.

I don’t want to live with that agony in the here and now, so I’m glad to take meds.


My primary fear is not being able to recognize if the meds start to fail and I begin to slip backwards into the abyss.

My secondary fear is of failing to recognize someone else who is suffering. Of missing the person who thinks they are the only one who feels they way they do: lost and broken and unworthy.

Which is why I share things like this. Because we aren’t alone. These things aren’t moral weaknesses or failures. They’re just physiology, and even if it takes a while, these things can usually be fixed.

Because these issues might be permanent but they don’t have to control me.

Because we are more than our illnesses and because we can live through them and be happy.

Written by Michelle at 6:50 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Depression,Science, Health & Nature  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Why We Have the EPA: Water

In 1952 and 1969 and at least 11 other times, the Cuyahoga along Cleveland Ohio caught fire. (Ohio History Central) (Washington Post)

Let’s take a look at something that’s a little more personal–the water quality of the Monongahela River, which runs past Morgantown and is the source of my water. The Mon River also has had a long history of pollution, especially from acid mine drainage.

The Monongahela River watershed was considered to be one of the region’s most intensely polluted by acid mine drainage in the United States until about 1970. (USACE)

Look at the change in pollution from 1974 (1) to 2000.













Total iron



(WVU Extension Service)

See also: (1964 Department of the Interior Report) (Morgantown Utility Board 2015 CCR)

Access to clean water is not a problem for 3rd world countries, it is a problem in many areas of West Virginia (and elsewhere in Appalachia). (Inside Appalachia)

Clean water is something many take for granted nowadays, but this is something that has come about through regulation and work. It does not come through the actions of private industries who don’t give a shit about those living downstream.

(1) The Clean Water Act was implemented in 1972, so this sampling is from two years after that.

Written by Michelle at 6:28 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Politics,Science, Health & Nature  

Friday, March 3, 2017

Why We Have the EPA: Air

In 1952, England had a Great Smog that killed at least 4000 people (History.com) (The Guardian), although the history of killer smog in London dates back to the 1800s. (Guardian)

In 1966, at least 50 people were killed by a smog that covered the city of NY over Thanksgiving weekend. (Business Insider) (US Dept of Health, Education and Welfare Report from 1966)

In 1948, smog killed at least 20 people in Donora PA (a town south of Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River, north of Morgantown). (History.com) (Pittsburgh Post Gazette) (NPR)

Current smog in the western US comes from uncontrolled emissions from China (Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics), and it’s possible that one third of deaths in China come from smog. (Business Insider)

Why do we need the EPA?

Because industry will not regulate itself. Because without regulation people die.

Written by Michelle at 11:28 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Politics,Science, Health & Nature  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Tyranny of Clothing

I have several bathrobes, which I wear all the time.

This is partially because I like bathrobes (I have three–a heavy terrycloth robe for winter, and two waffle cotton robes for summer) and partially because we shower in the basement, and it’s a trek to make in the winter.

The softest robe has been causing problems for the past couple months–the overlap has been getting smaller and smaller, and it’s a bit to small to contain… me.

This, of course, made me feel badly about myself.

Until I realized that the loops for the tie were no longer at my waist, but are now just underneath my armpits.

The damned thing has been slowly shrinking, but I was convinced that the change was in me.

Nevermind that all my other clothes fit fine, and I’m still wearing the smaller jeans (I have jeans in two sizes; 10 and 12. I’ve been wearing the 10s) but I was somehow convinced that I was getting bigger.

Brains are stupid.

Also, I’m totally getting another robe to replace this one.

Written by Michelle at 9:54 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Depression,Science, Health & Nature  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pedometers: Data Comparison!

Another quick reminder of what I’ve been testing:

Garmin Vivofit
FitBit One
Omron HJ-323U

The Devices
The Software


I tracked the output of the various devices for three weeks, noting steps, kcal, and miles at various points of the day, including immediately before and after exercise or hiking.

Here’s what I found.



As I’d found previously, the FitBit overcounts steps. Accupedo and the Omron are generally pretty close to each other, and typically had lower step counts than the VivoFit and the One.


On days when I was doing things like cleaning house or baking, the VivoFit had a much higher count than any other device. (I also threw out the Accupedo data on several of these days, because I didn’t have the phone in my pocket for several hours.)

I’m not terribly distressed that the VivoFit had a higher step count on days when I was baking or cleaning, because I’m active during those times, just not moving from one place to another.

Calories Burned


Not only does the FitBit overcount steps, but it also generally overcounted how many calories I burned during the day.


Here you can see that during periods of exercise, the FitBit gave me a far higher calorie burn than any other device–including the Garmin Fit, which should also have been taking elevation and pace into account. (Note that for walks, the Omron and Garmin Fit had very close calorie burns, but for hikes (where we were in steeper terrain) the Garmin Fit gave a much higher calorie burn than the Omron. I believe the Garmin Fit data should which should be fairly correct, although I know that using the heart rate monitor would make it more accurate. But I find it uncomfortable, so you don’t get that data because I am unwilling to suffer that much for data.)

Putting that together, we can see how calorie burn and steps tracked for my lunchtime walks.


The step counts are all relatively close during these time periods, but the FitBit in general gave me a much greater calorie burn (I’m not sure what happened on that final Thursday–I’m guessing operator error in noting the counts.)

Yes, I do walk up and down stairs during my lunch walks, but I don’t think that’s enough to account for the FitBit calorie burn being that much higher.


And finally, because I can’t help myself, I compared the mileage calculated by the pedometers as opposed to the distance given by the GPS for outdoor walks and hikes.


GPS readings were from the Garmin Fit, which tracks mileage using my phone, and my Garmin Oregon GPS. I’ll note that the Oregon GPS does tend to give me a slightly shorter reading than is probably true, simply because I meander. So fractally, the distance I walk is probably longer than the distance calculated by the GPS, but not by a large amount.

Also interesting, the Vivofit seems to underestimate distance when I’m hiking and walking, as compared to other devices, but not consistently so, which could be due both to the terrain, and to how frequently I stop to take pictures when I hike.

And to be fair, hiking is quite different from walking, since one’s stride is generally not consistent.

So there you have it: The FitBit continues to overcount steps and overestimate calories burned, but the interface and community are so much nicer than any other device, it’s still my current favorite.

If you do outdoors activity, the Garmin Fit app is very nice, and I can definitely recommend it.

And if you don’t want to carry around an additional device, the Accupedo app is a very good alternative to a separate pedometer (assuming you can correctly calculate the sensitivity).

Previous Pedometer Geekiness:

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Categories: Computers & Technology,Fun & Games,Geek,Science, Health & Nature  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

PEDOMETERS! Software, Websites, & Apps

Because everything is connected now, the screen interface between you and your data is important, so it gets an entire post.

Again, here are this year’s contenders:

Garmin Vivofit
FitBit One
Omron HJ-323U

The Devices

Also tested:

Sense Me
Garmin Fit

Here are the various interfaces.


This is a phone app, so no website.


I like the Accupedo interface. It puts what I want to see right there, cleanly and clearly.

And I also like the widget, which comes in three different sizes.


Note that Accupedo is the only widget on my phone. That’s because the FitBit widget comes in one size–too large–and none of the others have widgets.


Here is the FitBit website Dashboard. It’s fine. It displays everything I want to see at a glance.

fitbit web

This is the FitBit app. Everything is there in a single glance, and the colors change the closer you get to your goal. I also like this app.


Garmin Connect

Here is the Garmin Connect website, with the Vivofit panels.

vivifit web

I find this website frustrating. The panels never seem to stay where I want them–probably because I have different computers with different monitor sizes, and the panels shift around. The steps panel itself is fine–if only it would stay where I put it.

The Garmin Connect app I like better. It displays the same information as the website, and in the same manner, but it shows me what I want to see as soon as I launch it. No hunting to find the right panel.


The Garmin Connect website is ALSO where you view the Garmin Fit app data, (as well as where I view the data from my Garmin watch. (Which I do NOT love, because the buttons are non-responsive, so it’s nearly impossible to start activities and connect the foot-pod and heart monitor. But that’s something else entirely.))

Garmin Fit uses the GPS to calculate the distance, pace, elevation, and calories burned. It does NOT work inside, so this is no good for a pedometer, but it is VERY nice for hiking.

connect website fit

Same panels (and the same issue with the panels) but I do love the little map of my latest activity.

Here’s the app:


I like the display here as well, although it seems like I have to jump through one too many hoops to start an activity.

Omron Wellness Site

The Omron Wellness site is the new site where your data is uploaded.

omron website

I’ll be blunt. I am having major issues with the Omron Wellness site. It says it’s uploaded my data, but as you can see, my recent data is not there. I’m emailing with tech support, but I must say I really miss the old Omron software where everything lived on my computer.

I’ll update you as to how things go. Since they just rolled out the new site, I’m willing to cut them a little slack–but not much, and not for long. This is the only way I can view all my data (besides on the pedometer itself), and it’s not working.

SenseMe Pedometer App


There is no screen where I can get an overview of all my data at once. There is no widget. Plus, it’s inaccurate. Goodbye.

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology,Fun & Games,Geek,Science, Health & Nature  

Monday, March 23, 2015


Yup, it’s that time again, where I get ahold of multiple pedometers AND TEST THEM TO WITHIN AN INCH OF THEIR TRI-AXES.

Or something like that.

Here are this round’s contenders.

FitBit One
Garmin Vivofit
Omron HJ-323U

pedometers 1

pedometers 2


Accupedo is solely a phone app, so its size is your cell phone.

Accupedo tracks steps, kcal burned, miles walked, and active minutes. The feature that makes Accupedo so good is that it has a sensitivity setting. At the base setting, I found it was over-counting steps (dramatically so), but decreasing the sensitivity made is very accurate (when compared to the other devices).

The calorie tracking is only for activities. If you do nothing all day (or leave your phone sitting on a table) your kcal count will be zero. This makes it difficult to compare it directly to the FitBit and the VivoFit, since both of those calculate your calorie use on top of your resting rate.

FitBit One

FitBitThe FitBit one tracks steps, elevation, kcal burned, miles walked, and active minutes. The elevation is one of my favorite things it tracks, because I live in the land of hills, and I always take the stairs.

It’s small, and even if the silicone case fits easily in that little tiny pocket of your jeans, which is where I keep mine (which reduces the amount of incidental abuse it takes.)

It syncs over bluetooth with your phone, or over a dongle you plug into the USB port of your computer. I quite like that you have two different options for syncing, since I don’t generally leave my phone’s bluetooth on.

The One is a rechargeable device that you slip into an odd little USB dongle you plug into the USB slot of your computer. This dongle does not sync–it just charges, which seems like a waste to me, but what do I know?

The One is supposedly water resistant. I haven’t gotten this one particularly wet, however, this is my second One. The first One was accidentally put through the washer by Michael when I was sick (he was being helpful, so I can’t really blame him for not checking my pockets). It didn’t recover from the experience.

The silicone clip is quite sturdy, and I’ve clipped it onto the waistbands of skirts with no ill effect.

Garmin Vivofit

GarminThe Vivofit is a wristband fitness tracker that I got when Michael decided he really didn’t care for it. (He now has a FitBit One.)

The VivoFit tracks steps, kcal and miles and activity.

Although there is a website, the device syncs only through your phone’s bluetooth, and only when you tell it to sync. The later is nice, because it saves the battery. Instead of being rechargable it uses a watch battery. I bought the VivoFit for Michael at the end of October, and we haven’t had to change the battery yet, so it’s got a pretty decent life for what it does.

It is water resistant, and I’ve repeatedly splashed water on it, and no ill signs yet.

It displays the time, just like a watch, although to reserve the battery you can’t read it in low light. I consider that a feature, not a bug.

I find myself strangely pleased with the VivoFit, probably because I always wear a watch, so this does double duty. (I’ll note that I am VERY hard on watches, and regularly destroy them. So we’ll see how much abuse this can take.)

Omron HJ-323U

OmronThe Omron Activa is the third Omron pedometer I’ve had, and it is unfortunately my least favorite.

On the plus side, it’s smaller than previous Omron pedometers, and is built upon a USB stick, so to upload your data, you just remove the cap and plug it into a USB port on your computer. It’s also extremely accurate (assuming it’s in my pocket and not just dropped down the front of my bra, where it does not, in fact, count very accurately).

On the negative side, I don’t trust the clip, so I don’t wear it if I’m not wearing something with pockets, and I utterly despise the current software that comes with it. As in–the software doesn’t work for me and this makes me very unhappy.

It runs off a watch battery, and the battery lasts quite awhile, so no complaints there.

But as I said, the software is currently abysmal and non-functional for me. And although the design is smaller than previous versions, I don’t particularly trust the clip, so unless I have pockets, I don’t wear it. (If you are female, you understand that this happens quite frequently since women’s clothes are STUPID.)


So design-wise, I like the VivoFit and the FitBit One, as I find both unobtrusive.

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Categories: Computers & Technology,Fun & Games,Geek,Science, Health & Nature  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vacation: LA BREA TAR PITS!!!!!!

After we met up with Mechanicky Gal and Carol Elaine, we got to go to THE LA BREA TAR PITS!

Where we saw… FOSSILS!



Why hello there!

American Lion!






Ground. Sloth.




OK. Maybe dire wolves weren’t so smart.


Coyote! Raptor! And some sort of prey!




SO ADORABLE! (Well, perhaps not adorable.)


Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Science, Health & Nature,Travel  

Vacation: JPL!

Carol Elaine generously offered to give us a tour of JPL. (Sadly, it was a holiday of some sort, so I was unable to purchase post cards. You can’t imagine how much pain this caused me.)

I only had my cell phone, so most of my pictures were shit, but here are a few nice ones.

Here’s my favorite thing!

This was a light show that showed you the communication between different satellites and ground control. It was a brilliant way to show the flow of information.


The lights going down the strand represent data coming from a satellite. The lights going up the strands represent data going to the satellite.


Some satellites have very little data transmission right now.


It was a genius learning tool, but also very pretty to watch.


The text that’s hard to read says:
The Habitable Zone: 00001
Confirmed: 01743
Candidates: 03276



This absolutely delighted me, though I have fears it was a set up, and not just the result of some random argument.


Take THAT Neil deGrasse Tyson!


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Categories: California,Photos,Science, Health & Nature  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pedometer Testing: The Results

Now! (drum roll of wooden pencils on a desktop) the uber geeky results!

Pedometer Testing: Round II – Revenge of the Pedometers
Pedometer Testing: Data Tracking
Issues with the Withings Pulse & Elevation: Part I: Dissed by the Pulse, Part II: Withings Pulse Doesn’t Track Elevation for Crap and Part III: THIS IS NOT HOW MATH WORKS

First, the pedometers:
Omron HJ-720
Withings Pulse
FitBit Ultra
Omron HJ-323
FitBit One
Noom Walk

Essentially, if a pedometer gave me a measurement, I tracked it, and compared it to other pedometers that measured the same thing.

All pedometers measured step count (of course). I knew from previous testing that the FitBit Ultra over-counted steps, and that held true this time. The FitBit One, however, seemed far more accurate, or at least closer to the average.

To see how different activities affected step count, I noted the step count at various points in the day. I then averaged those measurements, and plotted how far each pedometer was from the average for that time period. (I did this for every day, but I chose Thursday to show here, because it was easy to read, while being a good representative of what I saw over the course of the testing.


Here is a look at how each pedometer differed from the average over the entire 11 day course.

Difference from avg steps over time

Even those these measurements are against the average for each time period, you can see that the FitBit Ultra gets more and more inaccurate as the day progresses. My observation is that it over-counts when I am at rest, as I tend to doing most of my running around in the morning, and stick closer to my desk in the afternoon (and in the evening, plop my butt on the couch).

The Noom Walk step count was quite off from the average–it was always higher than another other pedometer, so I didn’t count those steps when calculating the average, although I did add it to the Thursday chart, so you can see how far off the average it was.

This chart is showing how each pedometer performed over the entire time period as compared to the average.

difference from avg step count

The first section shows whether the step count for each pedometer for 11 days was over or under the average. The next section is the minimum–the most each pedometer under-counted. The third section is the maximum–the most that each pedometer over-counted. You can see that the Ultra and the Noom had the highest over-counts.

That chart is essentially showing you both consistency and accuracy. (The Ultra consistently over-counts. The Omrons consistently under-count.

Most converted your step count into miles (the Noom Walk didn’t).

I compared the pedometers against each other (I took the average mileage (throwing out the Noom, which was an obvious outlier) and saw how each pedometer did compared to the average.


mileage-gpsDon’t hold that 3/15 data against the pedometers. We took a bike ride that day, and pedometers don’t do well with bike rides (unless you tie the pedometer to your shoe, which I was not willing to do).

I also compared mileage over a period of hours with the mileage generated by my GPS.

In this case, the pedometers which gave a slightly higher mileage are probably closer to true, because as anyone who has every walked with me can attest, I wander all over the path/sidewalk.

Only the Omron pedometers counted aerobic steps. For the Omron, aerobic steps are when you have been walking for ten minutes without stopping.

Active TimeThe Omron HJ-720, Withings Pulse, FitBit Ultra, FitBit One, and Accupedo all gave measures of Active / Aerobic time. These were all slightly different, and FitBit and Withings both gave you measure of different levels of activity.

I used only Very Active and Intense Activity for my comparison data. Because there are different activity levels and measurements, the different pedometers had very different measures, although they all seemed to be consistent within themselves.

To be honest, I don’t pay a lot of attention to Active Time. I’m measuring activities I’d be doing anyway. I’m not looking to break any records or train harder.

Calorie count was very interesting.

CalorieFirst and foremost, FitBit gives you your total calorie output, including the calories you expend just because you’re breathing and your heart as beating. To get a comparable measurement, I arbitrarily decided FitBit was giving me a BMR (basal metabolic rate) of 1600, and subtracted that from the daily totals.

The results were… odd.

The FitBit One and Accupedo were closest to average, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most accurate. Just that they were similar. Why were the Pulse and the Ultra so high? I would guess part is because the Ultra consistently has a higher step count than any other pedometer.

If you’ve been reading along, you’ve seen that I have some serious issues with the Withings elevation count.

As in, it doesn’t seem to be reality based, or even based on any math system with which I’m familiar.

I figured the best comparison would be to take what the pedometers gave me over a set period of time (when I was walking outside) and compare that to what the GPS gave me.

Because the Withings data was so cracked out, I chose the elevation counts generated by the website, because they seemed to be the closest to reality. But as you can see, that didn’t make them very accurate.


The 3/21 data was a walk into town and back. The 3/22 data was from a 4 3/4 mile hike at Coopers Rock.

I fully expected the GPS to have a higher elevation gain than the pedometers, because it counts all elevation, even slight rises that aren’t really noticeable when you’re walking (such as walking up High Street). I was surprised at how close the FitBits were to the GPS readings for our hike at Coopers Rock. Perhaps the steep terrain made them more accurate.

So what does all this mean in the long run?

From a practical point, I’m going to use the FitBit One, so I can monitor whether I’m getting enough exercise to justify eating dessert. I’m also going to keep the Accupedo app, because it’s surprisingly accurate. And for now, I’m going to keep wearing the Omron HJ-323, but I’m not sure if I’ll keep wearing it.

I hope you found that useful, and if you have any questions, I’ll be delighted to answer them. I can also share my raw data if you’d like to see if you trust my manipulations.

But I fully admit that I did this solely because I am a tremendous dork and love doing weirdo things like this.

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Categories: Geek,Science, Health & Nature  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Pedometer Testing: The Contenders

I wore five pedometers and tested two pedometer apps.

Yes, I really am that much of a dork.

The five pedometers were:

Omron HJ-720
Withings Pulse
FitBit Ultra
Omron HJ-323
FitBit One

I discussed four of the five in an earlier post, so I’ll only talk about the FitBit One in this post.

The two pedometer apps were:

Noom Walk

I hadn’t used a pedometer app before, but quite liked one of the two I tried.

First up, the FitBit One. (For perspective on the size of the FitBit Ultra, please see this post.)

Here’s what you get:

Front view, including wireless dongle, and charging dongle:


Back view, with same as above:


The two shiny bits are where the One matches with the charging dongle to charge.

Unlike the Ultra, the FitBit One is a single piece, so the device shouldn’t chip the way the Ultra did. It is also supposed to be water resistant (not water proof). We shall see about that as well.

The protective case/belt clip is silicone, with embedded metal bits. I have concerns about the silicone case tearing (this happened with the silicone case of the pulse) so I’m going to try to avoid removing it from the case except to charge it.

Here is how the FitBit One (in its silicone case) compares in size to the FitBit Ultra:


They’re basically the same size; not at all bulky.

It also comes with a wristband for slipping the One into while you sleep. As I always wear long sleeve sleep shirts, I can just clip the One onto the hem of my sleeve for the same thing. I can also clip it into the old wristband for the Ultra. This saves me from having to pull the thing out of the silicone case every day.

The FitBit one fits perfectly into the little square pocket in your jeans, so that’s where I’ve been keeping mine. It’s unlikely to fall out there, and it’s protected from the other things in my pocket (currently, that would be four other pedometers, though I also carry a multi-tool for work).

You can sync the FitBit One in two different ways: via the tiny dongle that fits into your USB port, or via Bluetooth on your phone.

The old charging stations don’t work. Bluetooth on a computer doesn’t work. But, if you have a bluetooth phone, it’s easy to turn on the Bluetooth, open the FitBit app to sync and then turn the Bluetooth back off. It syncs smoothly and quickly, and I didn’t run into a single transfer hitch the entire time I’ve been using it.

The bad thing is I only have three USB ports on my laptop, and one of those ports already holds the USB dongle for my wireless mouse. Yeah, not a huge issue, but if you’re short USB slots on a laptop, you might want to make sure the Bluetooth works with your phone.

In summary, the FitBit One has been a surprising pleasure to use. The site is exactly the same as for the Ultra, so no surprise there. But the app has been updated and gives you relevant data at a glance.

As I said before, I’d never installed a pedometer app previous, mostly because I didn’t know they existed. I knew programs like Runkeeper etc existed, but they generally use GPS, do don’t work for indoor walking, of which I do a lot.

The Noom Walk is very bare bones, and (as you’ll see later when I look at the data) not particularly accurate.


It really wants you to socialize, and I really had no interest in doing so, I didn’t much go into the app. You see there’s also a huge push to get you to use the other apps.

No thanks, I’ll be deleting Noom Walk as soon as I finish up these reviews.

Both the Noom Walk and Accupedo had widgets, which is how I checked my step counts. The Noom Walk displays only step counts.


The Accupedo has several widgets of different sizes. This is the 4×1 widget that displays step count, mileage, kcal burned and active time.

The Accupedo, on the other hand, was surprisingly wonderful.


It has a number of inputs to personalize your profile, including height, weight, age, stride length, and number of consecutive steps before it starts counting.

It ALSO (most importantly) has a setting to decrease or increase the sensitivity. I discovered that I needed to reduce the sensitivity, but when I did, the accuracy was very close to what the other pedometers were giving me.

There is a start time, end time, and pause option. This allows you to turn off the pedometer at night, and also when you’re doing activities where you aren’t walking, such as riding in a car.

You can also have it notify you when you’re reached your daily step goal.

I currently have the free version, but think I might splurge for the “pro” version, because I really like the app, and like to support people who create things I like.

So those are the contenders. Next up, results.

Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (1)  Permalink
Categories: Geek,Science, Health & Nature  

Friday, March 21, 2014


I’ve thought from the start that the Withings had a wonky way of measuring elevation, but I pretty much ignored it.

But today I decided to take the GPS on our walk into town, and compare the GPS elevation rise to what the pedometers were giving me.

Now, from everything I’ve read, the FitBit gives you ten feet of elevation for every floor climbed. That’s easy enough.

But the more I looked at the Withings data, the less sense it made. So this evening I decided to sit down and try and figure out just what the hell the Withings data was trying to tell me.

For my walk, I wrote down the starting elevation and the ending elevation.

My numbers were 1619 ft and 2026 ft, which gave me a change in elevation of 407 ft.

Then I asked Michael to see if he could give me his elevation gain from the website.

His number was 95 ft.


So, I go to the website, and get the elevation gain for each 30 minute time period.


Can you read that number? The time is from 6:30 to 7:00 and it gave me 92 ft and 30 floors. Adding the numbers for the three 30 minute periods (16/6, 0/0, 92/30) I get an elevation gain over 90 minutes of 110 ft.

100 != 407

So, I note flights and elevation for every 30 minute time period [(14, 2, 13, 2, 6, 7, 1, 8, 35, 24, 4, 20, 9, 3, 3, 2, 6, 30, 5, 1, 8, 4, 1 flights) and (44, 7, 40, 8, 19, 22, 4, 25, 105, 74, 14, 60, 28, 9, 10, 7, 18, 92, 17, 3, 25, 12, 3 feet)] and I get a total of 646 feet and 208 flights of stairs.

Look back at the image. It’s giving my total elevation gain for the day: 2190 ft. None of those numbers seem to have any relationship to each other.

I fully admit that simple math is not my strong point, but I don’t see how my daily elevation gain total can be three and a half times higher than the sum of the individual time periods.

I’ll also note that the 646 ft measurement is much closer to what the FitBits gave me, (assuming 10 ft elevation rise per flight of stairs) an elevation gain of 640 or 670 feet (64 and 67 flights of stairs) for the day.

This… this makes no sense. And even assuming the sum of the individual time periods give me the correct elevation gain, the flights of stairs it gives are ridiculous, unless the Pulse things that a flight of stairs is only three feet high.

So, now I truly, deeply doubt the information the Pulse has been giving me–at least anything beyond basic step count.

Written by Michelle at 9:56 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Geek,Science, Health & Nature  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pedometer Testing: Withings Pulse Doesn’t Track Elevation for Crap

The first part of today’s activities I knew would be problematic for the pedometers: we went biking at Coopers Rock. It’s amusing how far off each device is from every other device.

But, I had my GPS, so I got all that information.

Then I realized that when we walked to dinner, I should take the GPS! Further proof the Withings Pulse can’t calculate elevation for shit!

First up, what Withings recording for me elevation today, all day:


From the time period of 3:30 to 5:30, it gives me an elevation gain of 119 feet.

And now, what the Withings recording for Michael. Keep in mind that we spend the entire day together.


Now here’s what the FitBit recorded for Saturday:


Then numbers aren’t directly compatible, as the FitBit displays the data is flights of stairs. But you can see the trend.

Here’s the route recorded by GPS:


According to my GPS, my elevation gain for the entire trip was 310 ft. So the Withings gave me about a third of the elevation I actually had.

So, compared both to the FitBit and to actual GPS measurements, the Withings Pulse has been giving me only about a third of the elevation it should if I’m climbing hills (versus climbing stairs–it seems to get the stairs fine).


Oh, in case you were interested, here was our elevation from our biking at Coopers Rock:


And here’s the route:


Written by Michelle at 8:50 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Geek,Science, Health & Nature  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pedometer Testing: Data Tracking

More on pedometers! Yay! (The first post is here.)

Because I am a TREMENDOUS dork who loves data, the ability to view my data over time is very important to me.

It’s also what drove me away from the FitBit universe–the inability to view, manipulate, and download my own data in any useful manner.

FitBit Dashboard (web)


FitBit Dashboard (Android)


I’ll admit I haven’t tried in almost a year, but I was never able to get my step data downloaded from the FitBit website in any useful manner.

Withings Dashboard (web)


Withings Dashboard (Android)


Sadly, I got no useful downloaded data from the Withings website. Boo!

Omron Dashboard (web)


The Omron site gives me my data in a pdf. It’s not a cvs file I can dump straight into Excel, but it’s something I can put into Excel with relative ease.

I’ll be curious as to whether they come out with a phone app. I’m betting someone will.

Omron Health Management Software (PC install)


In addition to the many views here, I’ve been able to export the data into a cvs file that I can open in Excel. This gives me EVERYTHING. It’s pretty awesome.

But of course, if you have a web presence, then you can set up partnerships with other companies and web apps. Some of these can be incredibly useful, such as a partnership between your activity monitor and an app that lets you track what you’ve been eating. Combining the two tells you how many calories you’re burning through movement, and lets you know how many calories you can eat that day for your goal (maintain weight, lose weight, gain weight).


I really like MyFitnessPal, even though I haven’t used it for months. It is very good at making you aware how many calories are in what you’re eating, and you can also track salt and other things you might be watching for health reasons. In fact, MyFitnessPal was what convinced Michael that Fettuccine Alfredo was not the best choice at an Italian restaurant. (Oh look! You’re going to eat all your calories for the day! Too bad you already ate breakfast and lunch!) Although I don’t have high blood pressure, I found seeing the sodium content of many foods to be shocking.


And the ability to scan the bar codes of foods is extremely useful. And if you cook from scratch, you can create recipes and calculate from there, though I found it more useful to use MasterCook for the calorie calculations.

MFP-Phone1   MFP-Phone2

I’ve tried lots of other different apps, most of which–for a variety of reasons–didn’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. FREX, I prefer to walk indoors, so RunKeeper didn’t work for me at all, since it relies upon your phones GPS.

FitBit and Withings are partnered with lots of sites and apps. Omron almost none, although when I got the Withings Pulse, there weren’t that many apps that used the Pulse data (in fact, most of the connections are more for their blood pressure monitors and scales).

Here are a few of the more popular apps for each tracker:

Lose It
MS Health Vault



Written by Michelle at 4:56 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Geek,Science, Health & Nature  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pedometer Testing: Round II – Revenge of the Pedometers

So, last year I bought I got a Withings Pulse and was very optimistic / hopeful about how it would work out. It was a new product, the website was still being built, and there were regular software updates to the device.

Unfortunately, the Pulse has failed to live up to my expectations.

1. The pulse rate measurement portion of the device stopped working several months ago. I didn’t use it frequently, but it was annoying that it completely stopped working.

2. The website never developed a way for me to download my data. As that was what made me want to stop using the FitBit, that was a huge problem for me.

3. You cannot edit your data. This means that if you forget to turn off the sleep timer, it says you slept for 12 or 18 or whatever hours. I have obsessive compulsive disorder, so this bothered me IMMENSELY. Immensely, as in, I stopped using the sleep timer completely, because I couldn’t bear to see the incorrect sleep times.

4. Although you are supposed to be able to compare data with other Pulse users, Michael and I haven’t yet gotten that feature to work. So I’m collecting data in a void. Which would be okay if the data was accessible to me to download. But it’s not.

5. The altimeter is off. Michael and I spent a day doing the exact same things, and his altimeter recorded twice the height mine did, when, if anything I should have had a few more flights of stairs than he did. Plus, it gives the distance in feet, instead of flights of stairs. I can grok flights of stairs, but a change in elevation measured in feet means next to nothing to me.

So, I need another pedometer.

After a lot of research, I purchased two: The Omron HJ-32 and the Ozeri 4×3 Sport Digital Pocket 3D Pedometer.

The Ozeri was immediately sent back. First, there was no way to download the data, but more importantly, it did NOT (as stated in the description) count flights of stairs climbed. If I can’t download the data, then I’d have to type it all into a spread sheet, and… just… no. Which is too bad, because it was a nice pedometer.

So now, I’m carrying around four pedometers:
1. My original Omron HJ-720
2. The Withings Pulse
3. My old Fitbit Ultra
4. The Omron HJ-32

These are four very different Pedometers, with four different ways of moving the data from the Pedometer to a computer.

1. The Omron HJ-720 is a dual axis pedometer. This means that it measures most accurately in an upright position (such as sitting in a belt clip). It does not have an altimeter, so it only measures steps, not stairs. Data transfer is done by plugging the pedometer into a mini USB cable, you then open the Omron program on your computer, and tell the Omron Health Management Software to grab all the data from the pedometer.

2. The Withings Pulse uses a 3D motion sensor and has an altimeter, and can be placed anywhere on your body in any direction, and measures steps and altitude. The Pulse uses bluetooth to transmit data from the pedometer to your cell phone, and then your cell phone transfers that data to the Withings website. Which means that you must have a cell phone with a bluetooth connection, and you have to leave your bluetooth on all the time if you want it to sync automatically. I had problems with the pedometer automatically syncing data with the website.

3. The Fitbit Ultra has a 3D motion sensor and an altimeter, so it can be placed anywhere on your body in any direction and measures steps and stairs. The device transmits the data wirelessly to the base station plugged into your computer and from there to the FitBit website. The data is never actually on your computer, it just passes through your computer to the FitBit website. Unless you have multiple base stations, the data is transmitted only when you are near your computer.

4. The Omron HJ-32 (I love Omron, but they do NOT have catchy pedometer names) is a tri-axis pedometer, which means it can be placed anywhere on your body in any direction, but does not have an altimeter, so it only measures steps, not stairs or altitude. It is essentially a USB stick with an attached pedometer. You pull off the cap, plug it into your computer on which you have installed the software, and your data is pulled from the pedometer and put on the Omron website. From the website you can then download you data.

All four pedometers come with belt clips, but I have them stuck in my pocket (because I generally don’t wear a belt).

The FitBit has the easiest data transfer–it happens without you having to do anything.

The Omron is best for giving you your data, in a format you can manipulate as you please.

The FitBit is best if you want to compete and compare with friends and family. There are tons of people using the FitBit. (I don’t know anyone else using an Omron.)

The Omron (at least the HJ-720–we’ll see about the HJ-32) is the sturdiest pedometer I’ve ever seen. I bought mine in 2009 and it still works. I’ve put it through the washer at least twice, dropped it countless times, and it still works perfectly. The FitBit Ultra had problems charging and with the outside case cracking. Not all the features of the Withings still work, although the pedometer still functions as it did when I first bought it. I am pretty sure that neither the FitBit nor the Pulse would survive a trip through the washer.

Pedometers with data display:


Pedometers compared to a tube of lip balm:


Pedometers stacked atop my Galaxy S4 (in an Otterbox case):


Pedometers with charging cables or data transfer cables:


Never fear, I’ll have data comparisons coming up next soon.

Written by Michelle at 8:37 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Geek,Science, Health & Nature  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Spoiled Water

As most everyone knows by now, there was a chemical leak into the Elk river in Charleston WV that led to a state of emergency in 9 of our 55 counties.

First, some clarification and geographical grounding.

Here are the watersheds in the state. I live up in the corner near the only straight lines in the state outline, in Monongahela county in the Monongahela watershed. (We’ve biked into PA along the local rail trail.)


Here are the affected counties:


So you can see that despite the fact that the Monongahela river flows north, we’re nowhere near the chemical spill.

This picture shows you the location of the spill, and the affected counties:


Since Thursday afternoon, we’ve had constant updates, notification that for the nine counties, Boone, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, Roane, and Cabell, were under a state of emergency, and residents were not to use water except for flushing toilets and putting out fires.

I was initially confused by the “putting out fires” bit until I realized that some chemicals can lead to water that could, in fact, catch fire. So it would be best to clarify that putting the contaminated water on a fire wouldn’t cause an explosion.


So what did this mean to those in the affected counties? It meant that all schools, hotels and restaurants in the area had to close.

Stop for just a second, and think of all the times during the day you reach out and turn on a faucet. Can you count the number of times today you turned on the tap and water came out? All those times you went to the faucet without thinking, someone in those counties was attempting to do the same thing, and then remembering they can’t turn on the water.

In the affected areas, you can’t wash clothes, dishes, or your hands. You can’t shower or bathe. You can’t drink the water or cook with it.

All those little thing you do every day without thinking, they can’t do.

In West Virginia, most of us get our water from our rivers.

And our treated sewage goes right back into those same bodies of water.

Well, it’s treated most of the time. In Mon county we historically had problems with heavy rains overwhelming our sewage treatment plants and putting untreated sewage directly into the river. But they changed the storm drains to go directly into the streams and river, which is good, because the amount of new construction–the amount of concrete and asphalt where there used to be woods and fields–in Morgantown has led to more and more run off. Has led to flooding where before the ground would just soak up the water.

When I was growing up, most of the local creeks looked like this:



Does this help at all?


Most streams and creeks were orange from acid mine drainage. Water from mines went straight into nearby streams and creeks.

Streams and creeks that fed into the rivers from which got our water.

So, you see, water quality has always been a problem in West Virginia. Big companies, often with out-of-state owners, would come in to take our resources–our forests, our coal, our natural gas–and leave the forests and creeks and streams and rivers damaged.

Why would they care? The owners didn’t live here.

If we didn’t like it, they’d just take their jobs and leave.

So, we took the short end of the stick, and, well, we took it. And our streams were polluted and our forests cut and our mountains flattened.

So when I heard about the chemical spill into the Elk river, I didn’t imagine an isolated incident.

I was instead reminded of how what happens in West Virginia doesn’t matter, unless it gets in the way of taking our resources so they can be used in other, more important, areas of the country.

Oh, just came across this, which made me feel ALL the better.

So yeah, keep those dirty lights on.

ADDENDUM the First:
I forgot to point out that more than 300,000 people were affected by the chemical spill. That’s more than 16% of the population of West Virginia. So although it was only 9 of our 55 counties affected, it is still a large percentage of our population.

ADDENDUM the Second:
Critics Say Chemical Spill Highlights Lax West Virginia Regulations (NY Times)

I heard (but don’t have a link right this second for verification) that the plant was known to be in poor condition.

Written by Michelle at 6:52 pm      Comments (2)  Permalink
Categories: Science, Health & Nature,West Virginia  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Denial and the Human Psyche

The article on ScienceBlogs, Sharyn Ainscough dies tragically because she followed the example of her daughter, The Wellness Warrior is a fascinating and well-written read. I recommend you wander over and read it yourself.

But I was struck particularly by the closing paragraph, and what it means in a much broader context.

You might think that, seeing her mother die might have been a wake-up call that leads her to change the course she’s on, but I know human nature. She won’t. After all, if she admits that Gerson therapy is useless, even harmful, quackery that failed to save her mother, then she would be forced to acknowledge her role in the death of her mother. She would also be forced to accept that Gerson therapy can’t save her, either. These are both conclusions that Ainscough would likely find too painful to accept.

Those seem like conclusions that almost anyone would find too painful to accept.

How much tragedy and horror in the world are due simply to our inability as individuals to look at our past actions and see wrongdoing because that would be to recognize the cost of our mistakes?

The southerner who flies the confederate flag and claims the Civil War was only over states rights.

The spouse who claims their partner “didn’t really meant it”.

The parent who claims, “it didn’t hurt me any when I was growing up.”

It’s a defense mechanism. A defense mechanism that I truly understand. Admitting that you are wrong, especially if that caused another harm, is a very hard and very painful thing to do. It’s far easier to bend and twist facts to fit your belief system than it is to take a step back and truly consider the facts. To consider what it means if your beliefs and actions caused damage. Caused harm. Caused death.

No one wants that kind of pain, and I think our brains do everything they can to keep us from it. How many people are truly capable of honestly owning up to their mistakes, and the harm they caused?

How often do you hear someone say, “I was wrong” and truly mean it? Not very damned often.

Maybe Jack Nicholson had it right. Maybe we really can’t handle the truth–at least the truth we hide from ourselves.

When was the last time you changed your mind about an important subject? Really considered both sides of the topic? When was the last time you truly considered a view opposite of your own?

I sometimes think about Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, and I believe they have the right of it. The barriers to admitting the truth are high–higher than most people can reach. It seems to me that only by setting aside the fear of retribution can we truly do the work required to come to terms with our actions.

And only by coming to terms with our actions and stripping away our justifications can we begin to heal ourselves and those around us, and keep others from coming to harm in the future.

(NOTE: Believe it or not, this has absolutely nothing to do with the current political situation. It’s just something that I’ve been mulling over.)

Written by Michelle at 6:37 pm      Comments (1)  Permalink
Categories: Religion & Philosophy,Science, Health & Nature  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Weekend Travels: Green Bank

We went to Green Bank Saturday, which is home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

Green bank is the center of the National Radio Quiet Zone, to reduce the amount of radio interference the telescopes pick up. The most obvious thing this means is that there is no cell phone reception. But it’s a lot more than that. Once you go past the gate, you cell phones must be turned off as must all digital cameras, so I was unable to take any pictures up close to the telescope. (You can buy disposable cameras at the gift shop, as they don’t cause interference.)

But it’s more than that.

On site, all electronic equipment–including microwave ovens–must be kept in Faraday cages. And locals occasionally receive visits from Green Bank personnel, who then fix their faulty electronic equipment (such as microwave ovens).

The telescopes operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and anyone can write a proposal for project.



The telescope sits on four wheeled stands that are a bit like train cars, which allow the telescope to rotate a full 360 degrees to point in any direction.

The angle of the dish can also be changed. The thick white arc with the black stripe running down the center contains teeth that allow the position of the dish to be raised and lowered.


The dish of the main telescope is larger than a football field, so it can been seen from quite far away.


There are multiple telescopes on site, to take advantage of the radio quiet zone.


And in the science center, there is a scale model. I took several pictures of it, if you’d like a better look the structure.

Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology,Photos,Science, Health & Nature,West Virginia  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Weekend Travels: Green Bank: Geeking Out

We went to Green Bank Saturday, which is home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

We amused ourselves at the Science Center.

Here’s Michael:





Some self-portraits:




Michael’s picture of me:


Written by Michelle at 10:33 am      Comments (1)  Permalink
Categories: Computers & Technology,Geek,Photos,Science, Health & Nature,Travel,West Virginia  
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