Auto Ads by Adsense

Friday, January 18, 2019

First Impressions: ResMed Air Mini

A few years ago, the marketing director at ResMed and I got on the phone and I blasted them about the ResMed S10. Not only was the S10 now bigger and heavier with a non-removable humdifier, it required a 24V input, which meant that all my accessories for running it while sailing were no longer compatible. I told him that I wanted a small, lightweight machine for hiking, camping, and traveling in general. He promised that ResMed was working on something.

When Philips announced the Dreamstation Go, I thought about jumping ship, especially since it came complete with an integrated battery solution. But in the end it was still significantly heavier than the HDM Z1, and I've always had an issue with the Respironics algorithm. (ResMed's algorithm works better if you have moderate to severe apnea like mine:

Last year, ResMed announced the AirMini. I was promised one to test, but it never worked out, and I found that my contact at ResMed had left. Since I still had my HDM Z1 for my summer tour, I wasn't in a hurry to replace it. In addition, in their infinite wisdom, ResMed didn't have an official battery solution for the AirMini! The reviews for the AirMini was mixed, with some people complaining about the noise. The HDM Z1, whatever its virtues is a very noisy machine, so I was wary about spending my own money on a machine that wasn't going to be a significant improvement.

Over the holidays, Lofta ran a 15% off promotion. Coupled with a 30 day money back guarantee, I jumped on it. The AirMini required a new mask, and wasn't compatible with the SwiftFX that I'd been using, though there are after-market 3-D printed solutions for that (it looks like a Chinese company has picked up the design and is now officially selling it on Amazon). When everything arrived, I unboxed it and tried on the new mask. It fit, perhaps even better than the ResMed AirMini. I'm in the habit of touring without a humidifier, so I tried it without one. The noise problem isn't a problem at all, and it's as quiet as my (now 7 year old) ResMed S9. I'm told that it's quieter if I put in the humidifier. I did wake up with a dry throat, so I guess for California conditions you need a humidifier. Unlike the HDM Z1's HMEs, the ResMed humdifier is good for 30 days, which means you only need one for a 3 week tour of the alps, but in exchange it costs more, and if you intend to use this as a full time machine, it'll cost more to run than distilled water.

The machine, mask, humidifier, and power adapter together weighs 651g, which is 110g lighter than the travel weight of the HDM Z1, HME, its power adapter, a standard hose, and my Swift FX mask. It's lighter but would by itself wouldn't justify a change, though the lighter weight of the package means that even with a heavier battery (the Pilot-24), the AirMini is still lighter than the HDM Z1 for backcountry camping purposes. .The HDM Z1 comes with a 30W power adapter, while the AirMini comes with a 20W power adapter. Unless you have your pressure settings turned all the way up, your power draw is likely a fraction of what either power adapters can put out, so if you're good at power hacking you might be able to somehow get a lighter weight adapter that puts out less power. The HDM Z1 battery, for instance, is only 45Wh, while a standard Pilot-24 Lite has 90Wh. (HDM Z1 now sells an extended battery with 99Wh capacity). Either machine weighs in significantly less than the advertised weight (844g) of the Dreamstation Go (sans power cord, mask, or humidifier!). (All my measured weights are available in an Excel Spreadsheet)

The app is great, and walks you through setting up the machine, and detecting leaks. I'm mostly impressed by how nice the mask is. My intention was to keep the S9 as a machine for home and sailing use, but I'm now reconsidering since it'll be so nice to keep the weight down even for sailing trips. I've ordered a 3rd party battery for the AirMini, and will review it when I've used it on a camping/sailing trip. My guess is since I'm stuck with tossing out a humidifier after 30 days whether I use it or not, I'll use my AirMini for at least 30 days after every camping trip.

In the mean time, if you're worried about noise for the ResMed AirMini, don't be. It's much better than the HDM Z1, and I'll be selling my HDM Z1 in favor of this.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: Astounding: John W Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction

I make no apologies that science fiction is my favorite genre of fiction. While mainstream fiction is about people, science fiction is about how technology changes people, and well written fiction frequently tells us how to live with the constantly changing technological landscape we deal with.

Astounding is more than anything else, a biography of John W Campbell, Jr, who through his magazine Astounding (which he later renamed to Analog) shaped science fiction from the 1930s to the 1970s. Because Campbell's true legacy wasn't just the stories in the magazine he edited, but the writers he worked with, the book had to cover Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard as well.

There's lots of stuff in here that I didn't know before, and of course any biography of Hubbard, for instance, had to cover his founding of the Church of Scientology as well. (The book does debunk the story that Hubbard's writing of "Dianetics" was a competition with Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land") All the famous stories are covered, as well as the nurturing of talents such as Asimov and Robert Silverberg. If you're a fan of science fiction, you're going to recognize name after name and titles of story after story in the book, simply because Campbell was so central to the selection and writing to those stories. Campbell viewed himself as a manager of writers, doling out plots and stories to writers so that they would create the stories he envisioned, but in the writers' own style. That's why, for instance, the original Foundation trilogy are so different from the ones that Asimov wrote in the 1980s, after he had passed out of Campbell's orbit.

The book doesn't adopt a worshipful tone of either the illustrious editor or his writers. For instance, Campbell was a rascist and in his later years, dabbled in scientology, crack pot science (investing in various perpetual-machine-type scams) and tried hard to push study of psionics as a serious endeavor. Asimov, as many women friends and acquaintances had told me, would be classified as a serial sexual harassment perpetrator today. (The same has been said of the late Gardner Dozois, who passed away recently) Since I was never very active in science fiction fandom, I knew most of these people through their work, and it's definitely true that their work rarely feature women scientists.

This was a long book, taking me weeks to read, and if it was a novel, I would be complaining that the story drags on and on. (Not being a fan of Hubbard's work, I was unhappy with how much time the book spent on Hubbard, though it's interesting to how one goes about setting up a multi-billion-dollar religion that generates huge revenues --- religion truly is the best legal scam!)

I can recommend this book to every science fiction fan. It's truly an impressive work of history, and well worth your time. But if you don't know who Campbell, Heinlein, Asimov, or Silverberg are, then you're better off reading their stories first. Their work is much more interesting than their lives, and continues to inspire the many technological artifacts that you use in daily life around you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Long Term Report: Fenix 5X

Since I acquired my Fenix 5X, I've taking it on a sailing trip, and finally used it for navigation on a family hike. The device with its sapphire glass is still pristine looking, and I've subjected it to more abuse than most.

During my sailing trip, I tried to use it to find out where I'd dropped my camera. Only then did I realized I should have learned the use of the device better: I could set a marker and use "return to start", but "return to start" had two options, and one of them would try to reproduce the course, which wasn't what you want on the water. You wanted a beeline. So read the manual before trying to use it in anger.

For navigation, surprisingly enough, Garmin Connect is actually a decent website for generating a navigation course and then sync'ing to the Fenix. I like it better than RideWithGPS or Komoot, which was a surprise. Much of it is because neither of those do a good job of sync'ing with the Garmin. Unfortunately, none of these apps as yet have a reasonable mobile version, so it's desktop app only.

As with other Garmin devices, the full array of activities supported is nothing short of astounding: paddleboarding, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking are all the tip of the ice berg. Club riding season will soon be upon us and I'll provide a full report on how that works going forward. And of course, nothing beats real world experience when touring, so look for a report on that. In the mean time, the device is still highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Review: The City That Never Sleeps (PS4 Pro)

The City That Never Sleeps is an expansion to the Spider-man video game on the PS4. Most DLC are not a good deal compared to the main game, and clocking in at $25 retail, this one is not an exception. Worse, they are designed for the most enthusiastic player of the video game: the person who's mastered all the systems, finished the main game, and wants more, so the difficulty level gets ramped up.

This DLC meets all the above criteria, but since it came with my PS4 Pro, and I did platinum the original Spider-man game, I decided to play it. The way you activate the DLC is odd. You go into the in-game menu, and then switch campaigns and pick which of the 3 DLC parts you wish to play. This turns off all the other campaigns, and is one of those cases where the game's commercial nature conflicts with the game design: since the 3 parts of the DLC were clearly meant to be played in order, Sony/Insomniac should have just sold it as one DLC and then merged them all together! This would have solved many of the problems with the DLC, which is that the main story map was designed for a very busy game, where you could pick off many sub-goals on your way to the main objective, while separating each section of the DLC left you with an empty map with nothing to do between main objectives except to swing around and hope for a randomly generated encounter.

My worst fears were confirmed in the first DLC, where a chase sequence required much better button mashing than I expected. I actually left the game for a while and played other stuff, but after a few patches either the game designers made the sequences easier or I got better at the game by sleeping, and I made it through. The side missions were much too hard, however, so I abandoned any attempts at doing them and just bee-lined my way through the main mission DLC content. The main mission was much easier, and had a decent story, which is that of Hammerhead attempting to take over the city in the aftermath of the original video game.

The game is mostly fun, though as I expected, the combat missions got tougher and tougher, eventually making it so that I couldn't get through any encounter without dying multiple times. To be honest I have no idea whether my skills improved or whether I just replayed the encounter(s) enough times to get through by dumb luck. The final boss fight finally introduced new mechanics which were intriguing and fun enough, though again, I died multiple times but at least the checkpointing was generous enough that I finally "beat" the game.

Would I have paid $25 for it? No way. The content is worth $10 at most, but the most important thing that David desJardins convince me of is that video games, books, and movies should be evaluated as "worth the time spent" rather than monetary value, and in that sense the DLC offered quite a bit of fun in exchange for your time. It's flawed, but maybe Sony/Insomniac will release a "definitive edition" of the video game that has all the DLC integrated (and turn The City That Never Sleeps into a side mission like the Tombstone side mission in the main game), which will alleviate many of the issues in the video game's design. Or you can wait and pick it up for cheap on a sale.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Review: Envy Apples from Costco

I'll admit that when I first saw the "envy apples" demo cart at Costco I was very skeptical. I've tried all sorts of Apples over the years, and basically, only the Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and Fuji Apples are up to par. From Costco, I think only the Fuji were worth the money. The expensive Honeycrisp apples, for instance, tasted like crap.

The Envy apples, however, blew me away. One bite just sent me into heaven. There's a hint of honey and everything else about the Fuji which I loved. It's crispy and yummy. I  bought a dozen and took it home. When Bowen tasted one, he couldn't stop eating and I think we went through 2 apples in one sitting.

Highly recommended. If you see it at Costco, get a box. You'll be impressed.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Why We Sleep

I picked up Why We Sleep thinking that this might be one of those "stupid pill" books for me. After all, not only am I a sleep apnea victim, I'm one of those lucky people who've slept quite well all his life. My CPAP therapy has made it such that I only really need slightly less than 7 hours of sleep a night, and I've never needed an alarm clock! I also read The Promise of Sleep, written by the pioneer of sleep studies.

But wow, what a difference 9 years makes. Sleep science has advanced quite a bit, and a lot of my knowledge was obsolete. For instance, Dement's book mentioned that you shouldn't be afraid of sleeping pills. We now know that sleeping pills just sedate you, and don't actually generate sleep of the natural kind. There's also better therapies available for insomnia now, chiefest of which is CBT-I Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia. Wow.

There are way more practical tips in this book on how to get better sleep. In particular, setting a bedroom temperature lower is counter-intuitive:
 The need to dump heat from our extremities is also the reason that you may occasionally stick your hands and feet out from underneath the bedcovers at night due to your core becoming too hot, usually without your knowing. Should you have children, you’ve probably seen the same phenomenon when you check in on them late at night: arms and legs dangling out of the bed in amusing (and endearing) ways, so different from the neatly positioned limbs you placed beneath the sheets upon first tucking them into bed. The limb rebellion aids in keeping the body core cool, allowing it to fall and stay asleep. (Pg. 276)
Yup. Please show this to your Asian mom who keeps tucking you back into your blanket after you've fallen asleep. While you're at it, you might want to get her to lower the nightime thermostat:
A bedroom temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3°C) is ideal for the sleep of most people, assuming standard bedding and clothing. This surprises many, as it sounds just a little too cold for comfort... (Pg. 277)
Another tip is to take a hot bath just before bed. I've had doctors advise me to take a hot shower before bed before, to wash away pollen and other allergens so I don't introduce them into bed. But the reason for how the hot bath works is counter-intuitive:
A luxury for many is to draw a hot bath in the evening and soak the body before bedtime. We feel it helps us fall asleep more quickly, which it can, but for the opposite reason most people imagine. You do not fall asleep faster because you are toasty and warm to the core. Instead, the hot bath invites blood to the surface of your skin, giving you that flushed appearance. When you get out of the bath, those dilated blood vessels on the surface quickly help radiate out inner heat, and your core body temperature plummets. Consequently, you fall asleep more quickly because your core is colder. Hot baths prior to bed can also induce 10 to 15 percent more deep NREM sleep in healthy adults. (Pg. 279)
This is amazing stuff. Prof Walker also debunks several past theories about why sleep evolved biologically:
 Sleep, it turns out, is an intensely metabolically active state for brain and body alike. For this reason, theories proposing that we sleep to conserve large amounts of energy are no longer entertained. The paltry caloric savings are insufficient to outweigh the survival dangers and disadvantages associated with falling asleep. (Pg. 175)
We also now know that sleep-deprivation is its own form of Dunning-Kruger: Sleep deprived individuals perform worse, but don't know that they perform worse, so don't know that they're sleep deprived, which encourages them to think that they don't need to sleep more!
With chronic sleep restriction over months or years, an individual will actually acclimate to their impaired performance, lower alertness, and reduced energy levels. That low-level exhaustion becomes their accepted norm, or baseline. Individuals fail to recognize how their perennial state of sleep deficiency has come to compromise their mental aptitude and physical vitality, including the slow accumulation of ill health. (Pg. 137)
All in all, this is an amazingly good book, and well worth your time. Highly recommended!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review: Endure

Most of my favorite activities can be classified as endurance sports: cycling, hiking, swimming/snorkeling, and (recently) stand up paddle boarding). I picked up Endure thinking that it would give me insights as to how improvement in those sports could work. Alas, the book's mostly about running, which is one of those sports I'm not super-interested in.

All through the book are interspersed chapters on the attempt by Nike's tech people to engineer a sub-2 hour marathon by deploying groups of runners so the primary runner can draft, and providing a super-shoe.
British researchers found that skipping breakfast resulted in a 4.5 percent drop in 30-minute cycling time trial performance at 5 p.m. that afternoon, even though the subjects had been allowed to eat as much as they wanted at lunch. (Page 180)
So don't skip breakfasts. That's great. Another intriguing section of the book discusses an attempt to switch people into high fat diets with extremely low carbohydrates so that for multi-day endurance events, you don't have to carry so much food. Apparently, not all weight loss after a long event like a marathon is water loss!
Part of the explanation, according to University of Cape Town researcher Nicholas Tam, is that not all the weight you lose is water. During prolonged exercise, “you will use fat, and you will use carbohydrate,” he explains, “and once you’ve burned it up, it’s not there anymore.” The chemical reactions involved in burning fat and carbohydrate produce two key by-products: carbon dioxide, which you breathe out, and water—which actually adds to the amount of fluid available in your body. Even more significant, your body stores carbohydrate in your muscles in a form that locks away about three grams of water for every gram of carbohydrate. This water isn’t available to contribute to essential cellular processes until you start unlocking the carbohydrate stores, so your body sees it as “new” water when it’s released during exercise. For decades, these factors were assumed to be insignificantly small. But in 2007, British scientists at the University of Loughborough estimated that a marathoner could conceivably lose 1 to 3 percent of his or her body mass without any net loss of water. (Pg. 171)
 Another tidbit discusses how even at 1900', you get significant performance loss from reduced oxygen. But other than these 3 tidbits, the rest of the book was about the relationship between pain and endurance sports, and how brain training can improve performance (but there's no free lunch, that brain training also takes time, and you can't skimp on your marathon training because of your brain training). There's nothing about technique (though there's one about freediving, but nowhere close to the coverage we got in Deep), very little about injury prevention (not even the discussion of the barefoot running stuff that became popular a few years ago), and nothing about the joy of motion.

I also wanted answers to questions like: "Why do cyclists ride at 90rpm on flat ground, but it feels easier to ride at lower rpms on serious/long climbs?" None of that was addressed here.

The book wasn't a complete waste of time, but it came pretty close. I wouldn't recommend it though.