Cabel Sasser’s post about the Nike-iPod doodad turning the solitary activity of jogging into a multiplayer compeition got me thinking in general about the way technology has made exercising, if not easier, at least more interesting. And this, as with so many things, has to do with data — specifically what you can do with the data.

Fitness gadgets record all kinds of data: heart rate BPM, distance, speed, even elevation and lat/long if you have a GPS watch. (The new Garmin Forerunner 305 for example is a frankenstein of a cardio computer logging everything you can think of including compensating for GPS reception gaps using a pedometer.) Bike computers produce a whole lot more.


So there’s plenty of raw material and that’s where it gets fun. Sites like We Endure and Nike+ let you log workout data, view charts, and compare against others. The Forerunner (even earlier versions) let’s you race yourself using previous run data in a unintentionally hilarious visual of stickmen chasing each other.

Certain companies, such as IBM, offer physical activity rebates for consistent exercise. This too requires workout data. And that’s the thing. None of the fitness sites are interoperable and none of the data formats are standardized. It is a nightmare of multiple entry. Here’s an example. When I return from a run I pop my iPod into its cradle. Up goes the workout data to Nike+. OK, so I get a nice animation and some basic stats for my run in a totally opaque Flash interface. That data is stuck in Nike for all practical purposes. To track all workouts over time I have to enter data manually at We Endure. Then over to the IBM Wellness for Life vendor site. More manual entry. And then there’s Activtrax for gym workouts — a smorgasboard of manual data entry that talks to nothing else.

You’d think there’d be some effort towards standardization what with the ascendancy of microformats and the relatively high percentage of web geeks who are also cyclists, runners, etc. Maybe I’m missing some real work here. It seems so obviously needed. The place to start might be the geo data that is generated from a workout since there’s more standardization here (GIS, etc.) than elsewhere. Also you have to think that there are medical standards for biometric info (heartrate, etc).

Anybody really into microformats out there? How about hFit?

See also Veen’s entertaining rant Polar Heart Rate Monitors: Gimme my data!

Shoehack, day one: criminal apprehended

So I’m running with my newly-technologized shoes yesterday. As I cross a busy street I see a cab going way too fast in the center turn lane.* It suddenly turns hard right, slams full speed into a Jeep Cherokee headed the other way, and throws it up onto the sidewalk and a parking meter. Me and another guy running on the opposite side of the street immediately sprint for the collision. As we get to the cab the driver’s door opens and out falls a little kid, maybe 10 years old. He hits the deck, bleeding from his mouth, and then gets up and runs. So we run after him. I don’t exactly know why, but it seemed like he shouldn’t just run off. It was only when we had tackled him back to the pavement that it occured to us that this kid had just stolen a cab and taken it for a joyride.

He lay on the sidewalk, spitting blood, and moaning not to turn him in. I guess I’ve watched too many Cops episodes because the first thing I asked was “Do you have any weapons or needles on you?” He didn’t respond. I asked him if his face hit the steering wheel and he said yes. The police came, quickly. The elderly driver of the Cherokee was pinned in and covered in glass, but he seemed to be OK. It is amazing to me that pedestrians were not hit. That section of the street has very broad sidewalks that are heavily trafficked. The cab would have thrown pedestrians straight through the plate glass of the bank building there.

Clearly my robo-shoes have transformed me into a crime-fighting superhero. This is the only explanation. Who knows what dastardly deeds I will foil on my next run.

[*] Ashland Ave. just north of Belmont for Chicagoans wanting coords.

Nike plus iPod minus Nike

Have you seen the new doodad from Nike and Apple? The receiver that you hook onto the iPod nano and the transmitting pedometer that you put in your shoe? It looks perfect. It’ll track my runs (even indoors — take that, GPS!) and then synch it all online when I dock the iPod. Perfect.

Except, wait. I have to buy new shoes that fit the pedometer? And they have to be Nike running shoes? But I hate Nike running shoes. I think most people hate Nike running shoes. Well, this sucks. It’s like … Nike is locking people in to proprietary hardware just like … Apple. Hmm, making more sense now.

The Intertubes of course offer a few solutions to this. Some people are velcroing the pedometer under their laces. Others are just sticking it in a little lace-attached pouch.

All fine shoehacks, but I thought I could do one better. See, I have flat feet — Kansas flat feet — so I run with orthotic inserts. Turns out they are almost exactly the right depth to fit the little pedometer, if properly cored out. Note that this might work with the regular inserts in shoes. Orthotic inserts are not that much deeper than the factory inserts. Try it.

Remove the insert.


Grab a power tool for shaving off the hard plastic. Make the hole a little smaller than you need.


Pop it in.


Behold your new cyborg shoe.