Wrist-based Sleep Tracking Opinion

Referencing this recent article from the NY Times:

By and large I have to agree with the conclusion that we don’t really know what to do with the information.

There was a comment where the person pointed out that the sleep tracker at least gave him some insight into his sleep after lifestyle choices (drinking, going to be late, etc.).

I am using the “Autosleep” app that was referred to in the article. One thing he didn’t mention was that the app references a “sleep bank” and tries to get you to average out to whatever you say your nightly requirement is (defaults to 8 hours). And then proposes wildly inappropriate go-to-sleep times for that night to “catch up”.

For me:

1) Nothing has come close to the UP! wristband for mapping my sleep habits (it had its own issues about not being able to edit the results when it recorded incorrectly)

2) the fitbit is between the UP! and the Apple Watch. It was OK but very coarse.

3) The apple watch is pretty good. I appreciate that “Autosleep” tries to take a holistic view of things and considers your overall sleep in conjunction with what it records as “Deep sleep” and something else called “Quality sleep” and then adds a dash of your average heartbeat and your wakeup heartbeat and something they call “Heartrate variance” to come up with a comprehensive assessment of your sleep status.

Now if only we had any scientific evidence that any of the above actually means anything, I would be much happier. But I suppose that’s one of the points of the original article.

But my perception that the Apple Watch (and any wrist-based tracker I’ve tried. Not mentioned is Intel’s Basis Peak which I rather liked but disappeared pretty quickly) is still relatively crude for sleep tracking does not instill confidence in me in any ratings/statistics generated.

I’m at the point now where I’m thinking of not bothering with sleep tracking anymore in favor of waking up to a fully charged watch so I don’t have to think about topping it up during the day….

Private Internet Access “Connection Refused”

PIA Main Panel

This morning, to my dismay, I found that my Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN had disconnected. It showed a little yield sign on the toolbar icon. A closer look at the panel showed me a note that maybe my account was disabled or expired.

I then logged on to PIA’s web site and verified that my account was just fine and wouldn’t be due for renewal for a few months yet.

  • Checking Google yielded no results, neither did PIA’s own support knowledge base.
  • Restarting the client didn’t help.
  • My computer had recently been restarted so that was an unlikely candidate.
  • Changing connection servers also didn’t help.

The solution, in my case, was to simply explicitly log out of the PIA app and then log back in. Now it’s working again like nothing happened.

I leave PIA on as a matter of course to ensure that ALL of my internet traffic is encrypted. I just like to be sure that nobody knows my business except me and the entities I’m dealing with. Nobody in between anyway.

I use PIA because it’s normally rock-solid reliable. I tried NordVPN’s trial and found it couldn’t even stay connected for a whole day at a time which wasn’t super useful to me.

PIA did a massive marketing campaign a few months ago which I thought was beneath them. Trying to scare everybody into renewing immediately for long term plans with super expensive (nearly triple) annual rates after that. I’m waiting to see what they want to charge me on my next renewal to see if I stick with them. They’ve been very good so far, it’s a shame if they get too greedy.

Found a great source for my Sacrificial Anodes

Long story short, if you are looking to find copper-free zinc sacrificial anodes you want “Pool Tool Anti Electrolysis” and, as of today, you want to get them from GetPoolParts.com.

To protect my Endless Pool Fastlane I use Zinc Sacrificial Anodes.

The purest source for these I had for these was from Endless Pools themselves. These used to cost a little over $15 each from them which was pretty pricey for something I would need to replace 2-4 times a year. When I checked a few days ago they were now

Similar anodes are used for maritime part protection (inboard motors, hulls, etc.) for a fraction of this cost. However, the maritime anodes that I have found are typically not so pure as I hoped. There is enough copper in them to cause blackening of stainless steel which quickly becomes unattractive.

This…

Endless Pool Fastlane showing stainless steel handle.

becomes this…

Endless Pool Fastlane showing stained stainless steel handle (yes I see the irony).

So I bought a healthy supply of the anodes that lasted me until this year.

When I went looking I saw that the price has now increased to about $24 for these, which is patently absurd.

What I want specifically is a product called “Pool Tool Anti Electrolysis”.

So I came across a site called “Get Pool Parts” that had them available for less then half of where I was seeing them anywhere else ($12.16 per anode). Ordinarily this would be a red flag as deals that are too good to be true are there to suck you in on the internet.

Their BBB record was just OK (B+ as of this writing) but I couldn’t find anything really bad about them in searching for scams or problems. Another vote of confidence for them was a few postings on Troublefreepool.com which has been a great source of pool information for me in the past.

I ordered these really late Tuesday night (2 am) and they arrived on Saturday morning. Everything was exactly as specified. I couldn’t be more pleased. I just wanted to give them a shout out and also let people know about this option and my good experience should you wish to avoid the extortionist pricing for this basic part.

AutoWake iOS App

I bought AutoSleep, Autowake and HeartWatch (all by Tantsissa) as a bundle.

While I believe that AutoWake and HeartWatch are excellent apps (and have reviewed them as such), I cannot say the same for AutoWake.

You can set AutoWake up to automatically wake you at a certain time for each day of the week. In my case I have it set to wake me at 7:00 Mon-Fri.

You can also override this behavior as needed, i.e. I disable the alarm if I am taking a day off work or have a holiday.

Its greatest advantage IMHO is that it is supposed to find a time when you are sleeping lightly near to your set alarm time and then tap your wrist to wake you up.

It more or less works most of the time. And when it works it works very well.

I have AutoWake added as a complication on my primary watch face (my ONLY watch face) as required and my phone sits charging on the end table beside my bed so there should be no reason for failure.

But the alarm has failed to go off in the morning 4 times over the past two months. This might not seem terrible, but if you need to catch a plane the next morning – which I sometimes do – I don’t want my alarm to be flakey.

What usually, but not always, happens is that the alarm will go off later in the morning, 9:40 and 10:20 AM are two times that I recall specifically.
This morning it just didn’t go off at all.

I will be deleting this app and falling back to the Apple Watch’s built in alarm.

McDonald’s iOS App

I’m pretty enthusiastic about
1) McDonald’s, and
2) Apps that can simplify my fast-food ordering experience.

IMHO the Chick-Fil-A app came out of the gate working exactly the way ALL fast food apps should work. It’s intuitive, pretty much bulletproof, and every Chick-Fil-A restaurant I went to understood what to do when you showed up with a mobile order.

McDonald’s Menu in iOS App

Admittedly the McDonald’s app has come a long way from the days when it would just discard my credit card information and it’s been a while since I’ve visited a McDonald’s that was hopelessly confused with what to do with me and my order.

Having the curbside, drive thru and take out options are great and I’ve used each option for different circumstances (nice to have the curbside when you order food for a lot of people).
However, the app itself still leaves much to be desired:

  1. The order cart never seems to empty after I’ve picked up my order. Obviously the back end knows I’ve claimed the order since they’ve charged me the correct amount, provided the correct order and given me a receipt indicating such. 
  2. There is NO WAY TO EMPTY the cart when it’s stuck like this. Trying to just delete all the items yields interesting results to say the least. Basically it trashes the order you are now trying to make.
  3. I have now resorted to just deleting the app wholesale every time I want to use it again (and see stuff still in the cart) and re-download it from the App Store. This works very well to clear the cart without completely losing everything. How it remembers me and my payment information after removing and reinstalling the app I try to ignore as it seems to be a security hole.
  4. The user interface breaks my number one rule. When I go back from a screen, I need to end up on the screen I came from in the same state it was in when I left it. Every time I select something and add it to the cart, I’m brought back to the beginning of the top menu.  If I want to order two kinds of sundae I can’t order one and then select the other one. I end up hunting for the desserts menu and then choose my next Sundae. 
  5. It always defaults me to the closest restaurant
  6. I can’t *tell* you how long it took me to figure out how to find my list of “Favorited” restaurants. This is not intuitive at all. Most of the time when I’m ordering from a McDonald’s I’m heading somewhere and want the restaurant nearest to that destination so the food will be as fresh as possible. This is not something this app excels at.

It would be nice if I could have a blacklist of McDonald’s restaurants. There are some that I will not go to even if they were the last ones on earth. My nearest one I’ve never managed to get an order from. I’ve lived here for well over 20 years and have never made it all the way through the drive thru line. I don’t even know how they stay in business but after about 10 minutes of just sitting in place, I drive away and go elsewhere. I try it every 4-5 years and it’s always the same. 

HeartWatch iOS App

I bought AutoSleep, Autowake and HeartWatch (all by Tantsissa) as a bundle.

HeartWatch Today View

While I wasn’t originally looking for a separate Heart Rate app, HeartWatch had excellent reviews and looked like it would appeal to a stats geek like me.

I’m super-impressed with it. I actually use it over the the included Apple Exercise app because I like capturing my HR recovery explicitly after a workout.

There is no shortage of stats you can review: Average and Maximum heartrate while exercising, (separately) while sedentary, and while sleeping.

I especially like the history calendar where you can look at nearly 2 months worth of each stat individually and see how things are changing over time.

I’m very pleased with this quasi-impulse purchase!

AutoSleep iOS App

I bought AutoSleep, Autowake and HeartWatch (all by Tantsissa) as a bundle.

AutoSleep Clock View

AutoSleep has absolutely met my expectations, I used to use FitBit’s sleep function and before that my Jawbone UP!’s app.

I did the most research around the Jawbone app and found that it was *very* accurate and was happy with it. If only the hardware was a bit more durable. The UP! wristband kept failing after around 6-8 months.

Next was FitBit, I got a good deal on a FitBit Charge HR 2 through my work and have been using it for well over 2 years. I felt it’s sleep recording was nowhere near as accurate as the UP! but it was good enough for a gross relative estimate of how I’m doing night by night.
I picked up an Apple Watch Series 4 and, after a bit of research settled on AutoSleep.

Wow.

In addition to it being at LEAST as accurate as the UP! (blowing the FitBit completely out of the water), it has more stats and tweaks than you can shake a stick at!

I admit it was initially overwhelming and I pretty much ignored all but the most basic stats at first. But after a few days I got my bearings and started to see what it’s capturing and how it relates to the real world. I’m *very* impressed with this app. 

If you forget to tell it you’re going to sleep it does an excellent job of figuring that out on its own. If you want to tell it when you’re putting your head down (to figure out how long it takes you to fall asleep once you start trying) you can do that too.

It sends me a nice summary of my night’s sleep at 10 AM the next day that helps me stay aware. And it detects naps with great accuracy so those properly count when evaluating your fatigue. 
Excellent purchase and HIGHLY recommended!

Chick-Fil-A Rewards Best Redemption Value

I *really* like Chick-Fil-A. They just seem to know how to do things right.

When their app came out I jumped on it and was very pleased that, not only was it intuitive, but also the restaurants knew what to do with the mobile order when you arrived. Something that most of the other fast-food restaurants would stumble on in the early days of using their apps (I’m looking at you McDonalds).

When the app was first introduced they offered scads of free entrees, milkshakes, etc. Plus they had plenty of “Just Because” rewards. As the app matured they must have realized how haphazard the rewards system was because they switched over to a system where you accrue points based off the number of dollars spent. They still have some “Just Because” rewards but nothing like in the first year or so.

When I looked at what I could get for my accumulated reward points I was struck with how many points my favorite salad (“Spicy Southwest Salad”, it’s awesome) required vs many of their other offerings. I figured there must be some rewards that are better than others so I whipped up a quick spreadsheet and give you the values here.

Keep in mind that the below reflects the point/price values of my local Chick-Fil-A as of February, 2019. But I imagine it would be similar in most places. Also, I only worked this out for my favorite items. You’ll need to get the price/points for anything else you want to check.

ItemPoints Cost Val/Point
Medium Waffle Fries200 $ 1.85  $ 0.00925
Cookie150 $ 1.19  $ 0.00793
Coke (lg?)250 $ 1.89  $ 0.00756
8 nuggets500 $ 3.49  $ 0.00698
Sandwich500 $ 3.39  $ 0.00678
Lemonade (lg?)350 $ 2.25  $ 0.00643
Chicken Club Sandwich950 $ 5.89  $ 0.00620
Deluxe Sandwich650 $ 3.99  $ 0.00614
Spicy Southwest Salad1500 $ 7.39  $ 0.00493

Summary: So hands down getting yourself a MEDIUM Waffle Fries is your best value with each point being worth *nearly* one cent.

Worst value is redeeming points to get the Spicy Southwest Salad (sigh) with each point being worth just about half that for the fries.

FreedomPop – Just be really careful

*** Update Feb 11, 2018 ***

OK, to their credit, FreedomPop did *not* back bill me for the previous month’s use. So I take back that claim (crossed out below).

What happened was that I missed a service that I enrolled in when I first signed up that I didn’t know to go look for. It was not obvious to me it was a thing that I needed to address. So Mea Culpa even though I think the site is laid out to promote such confusion. I knew this and did not exercise due diligence.

Using their mobile app today I tracked down the service and will disable it next month and see what comes of it.

*** End Feb 11, 2018 Update ***

I wanted a hotspot for my car so my Dashcam could be available to me whenever I wanted.

So I chose FreedomPop as an inexpensive alternative. For $20 (supposedly for Activation) I get an OK hotspot and a promo for 3GB free for the first month.

I knew I was intending to downgrade from the promo after a month so I put a credit on the account for $5 knowing they would not permit a zero balance when the time came.

So, here I am 2 days before the initial month expiry and find my credit has “expired” and I have a zero credit balance.

Apparently any credits “expire” around 30 days and you can activate them again by clicking a tiny link at the bottom if you know about it.

Then, moving on to downgrading, it took a bit of searching to find the tiny little “Downgrade” link located within the dialog that appears when you click your current plan.

I went through a series of confirmation dialogs, one of which asked if I wanted to add a $15 credit to my account, to which I answered “no”.

Finishing the downgrade process should leave me with a very reasonable free plan that gives me 500 MB included and costs 2 cents per additional MB. This is what I was looking forward to and expect I’d pay $5-$10 / month.

When I checked I found:

  1. My credits are going to expire each month so I will need to “reactivate” them each month
  2. When I downgraded my plan, it appears FreedomPop went and back-billed me for the amount I used during the trial that’s over and above the data included in the free plan. Dirty pool there.
  3. They billed me for a $15 credit even though I explicitly instructed them not to.

Ironically, this is *less* shady than my dealings with the major mobile provider I used to use for my personal mobile needs.

I’m expecting my monthly usage to be in the 700 MB range which means that my out of pocket should only be about $4-$5 which is what mobile service really *should* cost.

I’m going to try FreedomPop for a few months and see if they do anything else similarly shady. I am certainly feeling a bit uneasy. They seem to be hoping people don’t read and don’t challenge them. If they just charge me what they say they’ll charge me and stop all this *gotcha* nonsense then I’ll stick with them. The surprise costs so far are low enough that I’ll just suck it up for this start month and be happy that I ended up with a $30 hotspot (adding in the back-billed charges) which is still not a bad deal.

USPS Still looking for my (not so much) missing registered letter…

*** Updated February 25, 2018 ***

I’m thrilled to see that USPS is still hot on the trail of my missing registered letter.

If they put half as much effort into their tracking system as they did into their “assure the customer we’re doing *something*” system, the case would probably be closed by now.

*** End February 25, 2018 Update ***

I originally posted the below on facebook at the end of September 2017. When they lost my final mortgage check I asked them to find it and NOT deliver it.

Of course they subsequently delivered it a week or so after that. I found it funny that about a month ago I received an update letting me know they are still diligently looking for it.

I thought I’d post this today to track exactly how long they keep “looking” for it. Today I received ANOTHER notification that they are still on the hunt.

It’s kind of too bad their “Search” doesn’t include checking their own system to see that the letter was delivered.

 

 

Original Facebook post:

Yay? US Postal Service finally delivered my check! Only 12 days late and against my express instructions! I guess it could have been worse, it could have been food…

Now to see if the mortgage folks try to apply the Stopped-Payment check and try to give me grief over that…

Well, what’s a little challenge in your life, right? It could be a *whole* lot worse.