Upgrading my running technology – help welcome me to 2007…

I’ve gone and done it.  I’ve gone out and bought myself an iPod.  I did, I took the plunge.  And you know what?  It’s fine – it’s a music player.

The Creative Zen Micro. Photo credit: Creative Labs

I will admit to you that I’m a bit of a nerd.  I’ve owned a music player since 2004, back when iPods were in the click-wheel stage, there was no iPhone, and still some confusion on the digital music landscape.  I got my use out of that unit, and it had some great features. It was 4GB, it had superb sound quality, it had a replaceable batter (which never needed replacement, even to this day) and worked with multiple music services – not locking you into one.  I loved that little player so much that about 2 years ago, I upgraded the 4GB hard drive to 32GB of flash memory – and it ran even better than ever.  Small, compact, and nice. (Slight technology rant starts here.)

Time for a change

However, it was time to replace several things.  It was time to replace my running shoes.  It  was time to replace my music player – frankly, something I stopped taking on my runs over 2 years ago because it didn’t have a GPS built-in, so I was using my BlackBerry phone.  It was time to replace my right foot because of an injury I’ve been working through (plantar fasciitis – more on that in an upcoming post).  And honestly, I was looking for something that was better supported than what I bought in 2004, and had more accessories available for it.  I’m willing to admit that I backed the wrong horse, and there just weren’t the accessories available for the one I bought, certainly not like the plethora of accessories available for the iPod.

My Nike Pegasus+ 28s in grey and yellow. Photo credit: counterkicks.com

Which brings me to my point.  The main accessory for iPods that ever really intrigued me at all – including the apps – are the running shoes.  In the spring of 2006 Nike, in conjunction with Apple, released the Nike+iPod kit, which through technological innovation means that a small chip can in your shoe can now connect wirelessly with your current generation iPhone or iPod.  Running shoes that connect to a wearable computer are a pretty neat idea.

The Nike+ shoe widget. Photo credit: Amazon.com

A wireless connection between your foot and your music player, to help granularly find your pace, distance and calories burned is certainly very cool, so when I upgraded my player and got a deal on some Nike Pegasus 28+ shoes within a one weekend stretch, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to connect them.  $25 later, and I had the Nike+ chip in my shoe.  While I had some issues getting it connected to my iPod – annoying when you are trying to go out the door for a run – they eventually connected, and it worked flawlessly.  Everything uploaded to my nikeplus.com profile (feel free to follow me at BigmanBigloser).  It all just plain worked – which is what every Applephile always says.  It was quite nice that it all just worked, once it got going.There are a ridiculous number of reviews available for the Nike+ widget.  That isn’t my intent with this post, nor was the intent to be a comment about technology, so I’ve left that to a footnote on technology and my belief on these “ecosystems” for mobile devices.  iTunes, which threads its tentacles all through your system and is absolutely not my favourite piece of software, but it integrates nicely with my iPod, which connects with my shoe, which… it all just works well.  That’s great.  But there is a broader picture to all this.

The end goal was that I was looking for a new way to track my workouts, to help me record what I’ve done, where I’m going, and to help with my  replacing my phone (which was somewhat bulky) which acted as my player and my GPS.  The new iPod has done this well, although to be really effective with the chip you have to use an iPod that has a built-in GPS.  While the small iPod Nano was really enticing, the storage was small, and there is an accelerometer but no GPS, so the reports are that the Nano’s distances are quite inaccurate.  I found that the iPod touch I’m using, with the chip, is quite accurate – at least compared to my old GPS running app.  However there are more benefits that I hadn’t considered, including all the indoor work I’m doing.  Due to dealing with my injury, I’m working out on a stationary bike quite often, and run on a treadmill occasionally as well.  All of the major equipment manufacturers now have connections for iPods to record the data of your workouts – something that will be handy as the winter closes in, and I travel – and it doesn’t limit me to just running, which is something that I’m striving to improve on, to split my cardio between running and biking when I’m at a gym.

There are lots of reasons why this combination seems to be quite a good one, but it works really well.  The music player sees the chip in my shoe, and it just tracks stuff right away.  The software does lots of stuff that I don’t need – cheers, powersongs, etc – but it seems to do the basic stuff well.  What I also find interesting is that the unit can track more than one chip – I’m moving to rotating through a couple of pairs of shoes (my others will be New Balance 860s), and I plan to figure out a way to rig a chip onto those as well.  If anyone has any tips about that, please let me know.

What I find interesting in all of the reviews I’ve read about the Nike+iPod equipment is that it focuses on the tech, and the review of the shoes kind of gets lost.  I’ve only had one run in them, so it is a bit hard to judge, but I can tell you that they feel fantastic.  New shoes often stress different muscles than your old ones but I came back happy and ran fairly quick having been off for about 5 weeks.  I also loved how they felt.  I’ve read lots of reviews of shoes that talk about “ride” but I’ve never really thought about it before – and these ones do ride like a dream.  It’s like a smooth ride in a Cadillac or a Lincoln – you float, they support, you are solid.  They feel quite comfortable after 5k, and I can’t wait to stretch things out.  My next run tomorrow night will be interesting, for sure.  The fact that these great shoes have all this tech that works with them is just icing on the cake. I can’t wait to start really tracking my workouts through using these comfortable, supportive shoes.  I think people forget that Nike originally made shoes just for running – not golf, hockey, or tennis.  This is my first pair of Nike’s, and I think I will really enjoy them.  The tech is just a bonus.

Welcome, BigManBigLoser, to 2007 tech, in a pair of 2011 shoes, as the calendar is about to roll to 2013.  Hey, I never said I was an up-to-date nerd – I just said I was a nerd.

Technology Rant
But it wasn’t an iPod. And it was Apple’s iPod that, soon, every accessory under the sun was made for. I will also admit to you that I’m not a huge fan of Apple. Nor am I a huge fan of BlackBerry (although I use their devices, as that is what I am provided), or Android, and all for the same reason – I don’t like being locked into choices on where I have to buy my media. I’ve become a bit of a mobile agnostic as a result of a total lack of competition.  Everyone believes that the competition is at the front end, when you purchase the phone – but it isn’t.  That isn’t where the mobile manufacturers make most of their money, and it isn’t the point of the competition.  The point of the competition is their (up to) 30% cut of every song or app they sell.  The printer manufacturers figured this out long ago, as the repetitive sale of printer ink is the most profitable part of the sale.  Imagine if Hewlett-Packard or Epson not only “recommended only HP ink” but only allowed you to buy that ink directly from them?  People would be up in arms not getting to go to Staples.  The automobile manufacturers figured this out as well, locking you in to servicing your vehicle to keep your warranty up by taking it to their shop.  They make more money on service than they do on the sale of the vehicle, by far.  But what if you were only permitted to buy tires for your Toyota directly from Toyota, and then only the brands and specifications that they allowed to be sold in their tire store? The competition bureau would have issues with some of the best-selling cars, trucks and mini-vans in North America dictating what could be installed on their vehicles and restricting all else.  I just sit quite uncomfortably with the whole belief that we came so far on the spirit of competition and the free-market, and the free-market has chosen to yawn and say that they want to be driven to one place to buy everything. Imagine if you couldn’t comparison shop for cars, or jeans, or computers, or books.  No Amazon.  No Wal-Mart.  Only retail directly from the manufacturers.  How is that healthy?
As a side note in a footnote, in which I am being PEDantic (does anyone get that?  anyone?), it’s interesting to note that, the word “app” is an abbreviation of the word “application”, which reference application software.  Applications were, traditionally, large programs like the components of an office suite, an accounting program, a media player like Windows Media Player or iTunes, etc.  They absolutely did not mean ridiculous little programs that do nothing more than imitate flatulence or launch a web page.  Also, the prevalence of “apps” that work with websites only started when mobile devices, including the iPhone, were unable to properly format web pages, and mobile web pages were few and far between.  Apps have come a long way, fortunately, but they are a misnomer in my opinion.  A program that recovers active RAM, or performs a backup, or helps manage files, is not an “app” but rather a “utility“.  That said, I’m willing to concede I’m tilting at windmills here, and there is probably an app for that, too.

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