Slight Sense of Panic

Somehow it’s managed to creep up on me, only 28 days till the Athens marathon. I do feel a lot better about it today than I did a week ago. Then my thinking was along the lines of “I’m now as fit as I should’ve been four weeks ago, not good”. Since then I’ve managed one set of 5*1000m intervals and a 29k long run. Both of which went as well as I could’ve hoped.

Still, there’s only so many days left and I need some drastic measures to make sure everything goes OK. 1) I need to make sure I wont fall ill again just before the run, which is what’s happened before last two marathons I’ve signed up for* and 2) that I’m fit enough to run uphill for 30k.

Here’s the plan. I’ll concentrate on three different types of runs: interval runs at 5-6*1000k and steep, slow up hill runs with about 6-8 repeats. Both are great for breathing and intervals are good for those fast twitch muscle cells. Then there’s time for just two long, up to 30k, runs. I’d like to do three but it gets too close the race day.

Last seven days will be crucial as I don’t want to fall ill but I can’t train too hard either. I think it’ll be ok. Just need to be careful.

Apart from not training enough over the summer, another cause of slight panic is my lower back and both knees. I had some back pains before Edinburgh but never had any problems with my knees which is quite worrying. One reason could be the couple of extra kilos I put on after the wedding and munching sashimi in Japan, where we went for our honeymoon. To combat this, I’m quitting beer, candy, croissants and cakes until the race. My aim is to loose 4 kilos in the next 4 weeks. Very doable and will make a massive difference in the race.

That’s about it, I’ll try and do another update in few weeks time to see where I am at.


*I had to pull out of running in Athens last year and this year before running in Edinburgh, I was still ill on Wednesday (race was n a Sunday). I think it has something to do with tapering down my training too early and too much. The body just gives up thinks now it’s ok to be ill. (Similar to why people are often ill on weekends and on holiday.)

The Legendary Chocolate Cake

We were in Tampere, Finland, earlier this summer to organise and plan things for our wedding. One of the main points on our list was to find a cake worthy of us. We had some eight cakes to try out from several different bakeries but non of them really did it for us. There was nothing that stood out.

Apart from this one.

My uncle and godfather, Jussi, was leaving his job after buying a large hardware store and he was making cakes for his old department. The cake, Chocolate cake á la Veranne, was the absolute winner. No point in tasting anything after having had a slice of that. We had to have it.

Problem was of course that you couldn’t just go and buy it. We had to make 14 of them in the week leading to the wedding.

It turned out to be quite a lot work but I learned some tips and tricks along the way so the recipe below have been amended a little from the original.

Chocolate Cake á la Veranne

Ingredients:

  • 1 dl strong coffee
  • 250 g dark chocolate
  • 250 g butter
  • 2 dl sugar
  • 4 eggs

Whipped cream and raspberries for topping.

Instructions:

1. turn your oven on at 175ºC. Attach a sheet of non-stick baking paper to a 23 cm loose-base cake base.

2. Place a large mixing bowl over a sauce pan with simmering water. Add coffee to the bowl.

3. Piece by piece, mix chocolate with the coffee.

4. Measure your sugar and butter. Cut the butter into smallish slices. Add a little bit of butter and sugar at a time to the mixing bowl. Mix well as you go along.

5. Take the mixing bowl of the heat. Mix your eggs slightly and add them into the dough.

6. Pour your mixture into the cake base and bake in the oven for 1:00-1:15 hours. The cake will rise while it’s in the oven but goes down as it cools and gets a crunchy top. Let the cake cool down completely in the cake base.

7. The cake is at it’s best after spending a night in a fridge.

End notes:

As we could only make few a day, we had to freeze the cakes after cooling them down. Luckily, it turns out the cake freezes really well without loosing any of the taste and the crunchiness of the top stays almost the same, too. As we were making these in bulk, we used nice but pretty basic dark chocolate (in fact, it was lactose free, which limited our choice) so I believe next time I’ll try with some posh chocolate. Perhaps even a flavoured one.

A Galaxy For Your iPad [Updated for the 2012 iPad with Retina Display]

The set of photographs that come with your iPad are great. However, you might want something more. Here’s one I put together. It is, obviously, inspired by The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. To get it on you iOS device, just tap the Don’t Panic link below and and tap-and-hold when the large image appears. Then just select Save Image.

Don’t Panic – Retina quality
Don’t Panic

That image is courtesy of Nasa. You can find the original here: M82 – Galaxy with a Supergalactic Wind.

By the way,
When the original iPhone came out in the UK almost 3 years ago, I put together a collection of alternative planets, just incase you got bored of the western hemisphere of Earth. you can find that here. (Yes, alternative view of the Earth is included.)

We’re In The App Business, Baby

There’s few things better in life are than the feeling of achievement. Unlike most project that I work on this took more or less only 3 weeks from idea to a product.

Last summer after running the Edinburgh marathon, I thought that there must be a better way of creating split times when preparing for a race. (Split times are used by runners to help them run at a consistent speed through out a long race.) Initially I though it should be a website that would help generate them I quickly let go of the idea as I didn’t think I could recoup the money I’d need to invest in it. As you probably know, I’m not a programmer, and I would have had to hire someone to come code it for me.

Then around mid April this year I was listening to an interview of Ryan Carson on the Pipeline podcast where he was talking about the importance of passive income. In the interview, Ryan mention a website called smartpassiveincome.com where the author, Pat, blogs about different passive income streams that he’s been able to create. One of many things he’s doing is developing iPhone apps. As he’s not a developer, he outsources the development work via various outsourcing websites. I guess hearing how little you can have something developed inspired me return back to the idea of making something that helps runners create those split times.

The process itself was almost scarily fast. I mocked up about four or five screenshots in Photoshop to see how the app might look. I then posted a job on a freelancer outsourcing website. Few days later I had enough proposals to choose from and in another 2 weeks the app was ready! Once the ball was rolling, it took surprisingly little time to get it finished.

So what’s the app then? It’s called Split Times. Check out the video below to see how it works. Or get it in the App Store, it’s only 99¢.

Uncertain Future of Polar

My running computer of choice is the Polar RS200 SD, which includes a wrist watch, a heart rate monitor (HRM) and a foot-pod which accurately measures my speed and distance traveled. I’ve been using it for almost a year now and can’t imagine running without it. I’ve ran more or less 1500 km with it so far.

With the way things are going, it looks like it’ll be my last Polar. They have stopped innovating outside their watches. My 7-year-old model of a watch already does 100% of what I want from it during a run but even the newer models do little for me after a run.

This post is a about things I think are necessary for them to do so they can survive.

1. Embrace the Mac

Polar customer support when I asked them about their plans for developing an app for the Mac:

“We’re following the Mac market share closely but so far don’t think it’s big enough for us to concentrate on.”

Concentrate or take notice of?

Market share illusion

I know many of the few PC-using readers of mine will think “here we go again, another Mac fanboy upset his Mac wont run something”. And it’s true, I am upset. It’s a real shame Polar doesn’t make a Mac application. It’s a shame for me as a runner and it’s a shame for Polar. They will end up loosing me as a customer because of it.

The Mac has about 9% market share of personal computers and it’s growing. But market share is a cold statistic that doesn’t take into count either the actual human or the computer behind the number. In June this year in the US, Apple’s share of over $1000 computers was a massive 91%. Those are sold to people who care about the quality of the product they’re buying and are willing to pay more for it. They have more disposable income.

My last argument to shatter the market share illusion comes from a games developer:

Consider this:

  • Out of the several hundred thousand downloads of Tribal Trouble. the Mac is responsible for 23%!
  • Out of all sales of Tribal Trouble, the Mac is responsible for 47%!

[Oddlabs Blog]

This is after they decided to port their popular PC game to the Mac. There is less choice in games and software on the Mac but this should not be seen as an obstacle but rather as an opportunity.

Competition

The four leaders in the market of running computers are Polar, Suunto, Garmin and Nike with their Nike+ product.

Neither Polar or Suunto make a Mac app. Garmin does and it looks pretty decent. Nike+ syncs with nikeplus.com using iTunes on a Mac or a PC. On top these there’s a slew of apps for the iPhone (just search for ‘running’ in iTunes store and find out for yourself).

(Out of the iPhone apps I’ve only used RunKeeper. For free you’ll get duration, distance, pace, speed, total rise, elevation versus speed and path on map and if you pay a little – £5.99 – you’ll get some extra social features. RunKeeper still, in my experience, has it’s downfalls but I’m sure those will be fixed one day.)

Talking about the iPhone, it has been seen as, like iPods, a ‘gateway drug’ that often leads into buying a Mac. People get used to the easy user interface and the fact that ‘it just works’ and end up buying a Mac as a result. Apple has sold 40 million iPhones and most of them are not Mac users. Yet.

I recently went to few specialised running shops here in London and asked what customers are buying and why. Result; Polar is popular but more and more people are buying Garmin ‘because it supports the Mac’.

I also did a quick survey amongst 13 friends of mine who are active runners. 9 out 13 are Mac users! That’s 70%.

So what should Polar do about this?

I’m not suggesting that they should necessarily go ahead and build a Mac app. It would be nice but at the same time they’d be splitting their resources (all though, in reality it would mean hiring Mac developers or another company to build it). And it could end up being like killing half a bird with one stone.

I believe they should build a very good web app along with little helper apps on both Windows and Mac that transfer data between the Internet and the exercise computer. This takes the pressure off of keeping two different complex apps current on two different platforms. It saves money and it saves time. And it makes a lot of sense.

2. Socialize

Not just because it’s hip. Running is a solitary sport. Roll it in flour, have a running club or run with a friend; in the end of the day, you stamp those kilometres all by yourself.

How much effort is Polar putting into it’s polarpersonaltrainer.com website? Although they change the copyright notice in beginning of the year to 2010 from 2008, not much has changed in a while.

Queue PolarSocial.com

Polar should extend their existing online service so that you can share your results and experiences with other runners you know and find new friends who are local to you. I would love to be able find other Finnish runners in South East London to run with. People are already doing this on other social networks and Polar themselves are in the prime position to, not create, but facilitate the community that already exists around their products.

“I’m not a runner. I’m a Polar runner.”

It’s not about reinventing the wheel. It’s really about taking their existing online services few – or few dozen – levels up. On top of it being the destination to store you past exercises and plan for future ones, you can share this data with other likeminded runners.

There are lots of running groups on Facebook, Yahoo Groups and other forums as well as there are dedicated social networks for runners; like Strands.com. From these, it’s easy to see that there is demand for this.

3. Open Up.

Polar is a hardware company. They make physical objects athletes can wear while exercising. Then, why do they tie you up to their platform when your exercise is over? Why can’t you click a button at polarpersonaltrainer.com that says ‘export my data’?

Is it because they they think closedness is good? It scares me to load my data into a place that I can’t bring it with me if I wish to leave. That’s why my exercise calendar is on Google Docs. No, it’s not a completely open platform but at least I can export my data in various different formats as a backup. Or edit it on my desktop.

There’s two things Polar needs to do when it comes to openness.

First, they have to build an SDK and example apps around their platform(s) to enable third-party developers to build on top it. Perhaps not as far as running software on the watches themselves but desktop applications that will lead the way in innovation. Think of how well the iPhone has done after allowing third party apps. Apple sells a lot more of their devices as a result of supporting a large amount of applications.

Second. The data held at PolarSocial network they should build ought to be open. API and widgets, fire hoses of data that developers can use to build other services around. For example, look at Twitter. 80% tweets come from other platforms that their own website.


What’s my point? This is the same struggle many other companies are going through. The paradigm has changed and you either change with it or you die.

Polar, if you’re listening, get in touch. I have tons more ideas on how all this should be done and I’d really love to help. I’m in the market for a new running watch and I’d like it to be a Polar.

The Geek Atlas on Google Maps


The Geek Atlas – 128 Places Where Science & Technology Come Alive by John Graham-Cumming is by far my favourite non-fiction book to be published last year. As the title suggests, it’s full of geeky places to visit and it offers great insight into the science behind different concepts.

This is a prime example of ‘I should have googled it first’.

I was planning a trip to do with my parents around Easter and I started looking on the pages of The Geek Atlas for inspiration. As I was going through it, I started placing a pins on a Google map so I could see their relation to each other. I.e. how best to plan our route around England. Soon I had so many pins on the map that I decided to do the rest of the book as well. I looked up each site in the book and placed a pin for it.

Little did I know, although I should have, that John had already made a map like this. His can be found here.

I didn’t want my efforts to go to waste so I’m still publishing mine on my site. At least that way I can update it with more info and photos if I happen to visit the sites.

Another thing I found when doing this is that there’s an iPhone app version of the book with clickable long/lats to help you easily find the places you’re looking for. The app is available on the App Store.

The book itself is of course available at any good Amazon bookstore near you: US/UK.

Runeberg’s Cake Recipe

(Runebergin torttu resepti)

For me, the favourite day of the year is, of course, 6th February, the day I was born. Second favourite? 5th of February because it was the birthday of another great Finn, Johan Ludvig Runeberg. I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth and on Runebergs day, we have this seasonal delicacy called, to everybody’s surprise, Runeberg’s Cake. If I was to name my favourite cake, this would be it. Looking at it, it doesn’t look or soundlike anything special but the secret is that it’s made with rum. In my case, lot’s of it.

Continue reading

Price of Bits

End of last week Amazon pulled all of Macmillans books off their website and the Kindle store to try and bully the book publisher to let them sell ebooks at a lower price of $9.99. Moments later, they caved and all the books were back, some with higher prices.

Macmillan’s argument was that they should be able to sell bits – as in ones and zeros – at the same price as they sell hardbacks.

Amazon’s argument, I presume, was that they – both Amazon and Macmillan – can make more money by selling the ebook version at a lower price. Shifting physical goods costs money, shifting bits across the Internet doesn’t.

There are three loser in the case when Amazon makes a decision to sell bits for cheaper:

1. The company who prints the book and later has to collect unsold copies of books and pulp them.

2. Climate chance deniers are angry at less trees being torn down.

3. And book publishers autonomy suffers.

Of course, Macmillan only cares about the latter. They want to feel like they’re in charge. They don’t want the bookstore to have the control over what they themselves used to be able to control.

As a bystander, it looks a lot like when Tesco/Asda/Sainsbury’s dictate milk producers at what price they’ll need to sell them milk. Undercutting their actual cost-of-production prices thus making it necessary for governments and the EU to subsidise farming.

Only that… the difference here is that book publisher don’t write books, they publish them. Writers write books. And at no point in this argument between Macmillan and Amazon is anyone asking ‘what do the authors think of this’. Why? Because they’ve been messed about for long enough and they don’t have a voice when it comes to Big Business.

Sure, the top 10 authors make a fair bit of money. The rest don’t. If John Graham-Cumming makes $1.30 per copy of The Geek Atlas sold, all you can think of is to ask where does the rest disappear. It’s the same thing with artists and bands, they make about 6 per cent of the selling price of a CD or a song. No wonder why piracy is rife. Or was, until some figured out that people want easy access to music and that can be paid for with advertising and gigs.

Interestingly, John also says in his tweet that he makes $1.96 per sold ebook. For maths illiterates amongst my readers, whom there are none, that’s more than the hard copy.

(I’m only using him as an example as I knew the numbers. You should run and buy his book, it’s great. I’ve bought a copy for myself and two to give as gifts. By the way, that link is an affiliate link, if you use it, I’ll make a bit of money. In fact, I’ll probably make more than John does from that purchase. That’s how strange the whole setup is.)

OK. I’ve been rambling on a bit without a clear goal.

Why can’t Macmillan allow Amazon to set the price? I’ve got a hunch that, they, Amazon, know far better what sells and at what price than anyone in the room.

They are scared and insulted. That’s probably why.

Selling bits

There is a lot that has to be said for perceived value of a product. Just ask people reading newspapers; paper copy of the same news is valued at £1, digital copy is valued at zero pounds.

When watching the iPad announcement, I made an argument that the average price for an iPad app is going to be more than the average price of an iPhone app. Let’s pull couple of numbers out of the hat: average price of indie software for Apple platforms:

Macintosh: $20
iPad: $5 (for apps that are made to work on just that platform)
iPhone: $1

My reasoning behind this is that it’s easier for a consumer to justify paying more for a product that runs on a faster, larger device. Perceived value.

By far, most ebooks (that are NOT in public domain and many of the ones that are) are DRM protected, therefore can only be viewed on the device they were bought for and cannot be lent to friend. Yes, you can only read a book on the paper it was printed on (pretty good DRM) but no-one is going to tell you not to lend it to your friend.

As I’m limited in this way when buying a book, I don’t think I should be paying as much for an ebook as I pay for a hardcopy. I value the art that has gone into writing the book as much, but as a product, an ebook offers a lower value* because of the limitations it imposes on me.

So, what changed. I’m pretty sure Amazon is quite anxious of what Apple is going to do with their iBook Store. Biggest reason for them to worry about is whether Apple is actually going to pull Amazon’s Kindle app for the iPhone of of the App Store and thus no longer be able tosell books for that device. I think this would be classed as anticompetitive behaviour and it wouldn’t go down well with the courts, from Apples point of view. Amazon would win, but everyone would suffer. I also think that we’re close to seeing whether Apple still thinks it’s in the hardware business rather than starting to show signs of wanting to make money with software and content.

Amazon, on the other hand, should concentrate on it’s ‘we’re a bookstore’ business. Not to forget about Kindle completely but to make sure they stay competitive in the ebooks market. I have no doubt they wouldn’t, this case with Macmillan just shows it. They’re not selling quite that many Kindle’s that they could stop selling lots of books to read on them.

Book publishers, like record companies, will need to find ways of staying relevant as more and more books are being published with out them. They need to find and nurture talent.

Most of all, this is an interesting time for authors. There’s a million ways for a book to be published. It used to be that the hardest part was to get noticed by a publisher, now, if you can get noticed by your audience, you can actually make it. I predict that with in a few months, there’s going to be iPhone OS (for both iPhone and iPad) developers who have a plug’n play – or plug’n publish – solution for you to sell your book on these devices. In my previous post I mentioned iSites, that allows you to publish your social media content and blog through an app. It’s trivial to do this for a book. Just wait and be ready.

Ending note

This was a bit of a brain dump. So many companies have vested interests and legacy to hold on to that it really annoys me when I feel that progress is being stifled or slowed down. The paradigm has changed a long time ago but many still feel like holding on to the past. Everybody needs to really think ‘what business am I in’ and not try to have foot in the door to other contradicting areas. I guess I need to keep that in mind myself as well. What am I good at, get better at it and do it.

* Must be said that in many cases, especially for textbooks and manuals, an ebook can offer more value with it’s lower footprint and the fact that I can read it on-screen with the work I’m doing.

iPad: Initial Thoughts

One of the first features that struck me as surprising was the screen form factor. 4:3. As in, 4:3, like no other screen Apple makes. First, it feels strange to steer away from the expected widescreen aspect ratio the iPhone has, not least because most iPhone apps will run natively on this device.

On the other hand, will it be mostly used in portrait or landscape? I use my iPhone in landscape mode to play some games and watch videos, which I do only occasionally. I use portrait mode for most other things, like, browsing the web, email and Twitter. If most you need is portrait mode, then 4:3 format is wider and thus more useful.

The screen resolution is 1024 by 768 pixels. This is the same as the 12 inch PowerBooks used to have. When you look at a number like that, first impression might be that it’s way too small. Remember how awkward it used to be to work on a small screen if you had used a larger one? But then it occurred to me, iPhones screen doesn’t feel small although it’s only 320 by 480 pixels.

Why doesn’t it feel small? Because the interface and content you’ll use on it is designed to fit a specific screen size and resolution. Look at what you use with an iPhone; apps that are designed only for the iPhone or now the iPad, and websites which scale to the screen size beautifully – in most cases – and often enough there’s a custom made design for an iPhone. Screen can any size, what matters is how you use that space.

The Price

I think Kevin Rose nailed it by comparing it to the Kindle DX, which at $489 is only $10 cheaper than the 16GB model of the iPad. This was the biggest surprise to me.

Kindle DX 9.7” – $489.00

1024×768 color display upgrade – $1.00
Internet browsing upgrade – $1.00
iPod w/16GB upgrade – $1.00
Run iPhone apps upgrade – $1.00
1Gz A4 processor upgrade – $1.00
H.264 720P HD video upgrade – $1.00
Bluetooth upgrade – $1.00
10hr battery upgrade – $1.00
Multi-touch display upgrade – $1.00
Digital compass/accelerometer – $1.00

Your cost: iPad $499.00

As I tweeted earlier, if I were an Amazon VP or engineer working on the Kindle, I probably wouldn’t show up at work as Jeff Bezos is gonna fire the whole department. It’s incredible that Apple is going to be able to sell this at $500. I don’t think many expected that as the starting price point.

(Must be pointed out that, yes, the Kindle has a far superior battery life over the iPad. Do I care? No.)

And the best bit?

I travel a fair bit, mostly to Finland and Scotland to see our families but usually a bunch of other trips too, so I’m away from home probably around 50 days of the year. So far I can go without my laptop for about two days (yes, you can call me sad) but I don’t think I’ve ever been to Scotland for a long weekend without it.

What I consider as the watershed point is that can I load photos and videos from my cameras on to a larger device while I’m away to look at them and send them to other people. With the iPhone I can’t, with the iPad I can. That, to me, that changes everything.

Presumably, as the iPad will have versions iWork applications (Pages, Keynote and Numbers), there is going to be a place to hold other types of media as well. So far, you’ve been able to do this with third-party apps and with the awkward method of emailing files to yourself. Also, as the screen size and computing power of the machine will make this easier, I believe you’ll finally be able to edit Google Docs better than on the iPhone.

It’ll be very interesting to see whether or not you’ll be able to easily move files using Mobile Me as a gateway to your computer. Also, can I put a USB memory stick in the accessory port to copy files with?

How this might help me do a better job

Some might describe me as an ADD computer user. I never have less than 5 apps running or less than 10 Safari tabs open at any given point in time. I could be working on something and then I hear a bleep and suddenly I’m doing something completely different. This can be a good thing but often it’s hard to concentrate on one thing at a time. Cmd + tab and cmd + shift + ‘square brackets’ are my most used keyboard shortcuts.

The iPad wont have multitasking in the way that you could very quickly, without thinking, change to another task or app. This, I think, will be a great productivity improvement to me. The platform will force me to concentrate.

It’s not a reason to put ‘single-tasking’ on a device but it’s a great side benefit. I’ll probably go as far as to not have notifications turned on. We’ll see.

Final thoughts

Apple didn’t talk about how an independent publisher could publish content on to the device. There is that new iBookstore to go along the App Store and iTunes Store but no word on how can I get my content on there. So, I guess I was wrong about the changes in the – so far un-announced – iLife X. That’s a shame but again, I think third-party app developers will come and fix this. There already is a very cheap way of getting your social media and blog content into an iPhone app. At iSites you give details of what you want on it, pay $25 and publish. In few days or a week you’ll have you own, self-branded, iPhone app in the App Store. (By the way, there will be one for myself and for Suklaa, my company, very soon.) I believe there’s going to be similar schemes for publishing books as well.

Will I get one? Yes. Right away? Probably not. It depends on few things. I got the iPhone the day it came out but with this, I’m probably willing to holdback for at least few months and wait for them to iron out the kinks.

But then again, I can imagine it already being a revolutionary device that will change how and where I work and interact with people.

Resistance is futile.

Further reading:

Images courtesy of Apple Inc.

[Footnote not worth having in the main article]
A lot of people are angry at Apple for not having Adobe Flash run on the device. Did they really expect it to? iPhone is never going to support Flash. Period. Neither is the iPad. Period. If you have a problem with it, first read John Gruber’s article Apple, Adobe, and Flash and then either get over it or buy a Windows netbook. Flash is dead in the water.