Happy Birthday To Me: Reviews of Some Toys I’ve Recently Gotten

My birthday was in April, so in the Happy Birthday To Me spirit, I'll consider anything interesting I've acquired in the last few months a birthday present to myself. Much of it is related to cycling, which I've been getting into.

Anyway, here are some mini reviews on some of the stuff, in case others' find any of it useful...

Apple iPhone 6+

My old iPhone 4s was feeling old. I replaced the battery in March, but it still couldn't hold a charge, so I thought it was a good time to upgrade. The 6+ has been really useful on bike rides, with a screen big enough to actually see maps, a battery big enough to last most of the day, and a barometric barometer (that is as of yet, unfortunately, underutilized by trail-logging apps).

I'm pleased with the size, and it feels good in the hand. I just wish that the sleep/awake button didn't have buttons opposing it on the other side of the phone, since that makes it hard to squeeze with one hand (I keep also squeezing the volume buttons).

Apple Pay isn't used in Japan, so I don't get any benefit from that. The unlock-with-your-thumb thing is amazingly useful, much more so than I expected (I registered both thumbs), and now I find that I keep trying to unlock my iPad that way.

The camera sucks, though.

I've cracked the screen only once so far.

Aukey AIPower 20Ah USB Power Brick

I wanted to be able to charge my phone, iPad, and other devices like GPS units while on a long bike ride or long flight. This thing is amazing... I charged it once when I got it a month or so ago, and have not needed to charge it again yet.

It turns out that the iPhone 6+'s battery is sufficiently good that it'll last all day on a long bike ride if I don't need the screen too much (e.g. if I don't need to continuously display the map), but I did need the map for most of the time on my first 100km+ ride and this power brick was indispensable.

Andy Weir's The Martian

I can't say enough about how good this book was. It's a novel with a compelling story told very, very well. It's probably listed under science fiction, but while it's fiction and it's got a lot of science, it's not science fiction at all.

I put this on my Kindle to give me something to do while waiting in line or the like, and it just grabbed me and didn't let go.

Fantastic, fantastic book.

I just peeked at IMDB and found that Matt Damon will play the protagonist in the movie version, and my first reaction was disappointment (a star in a role tends to draw attention to their celebrity, taking away from the character they're supposed to be playing), but upon reflection I can totally hear the opening monologue in Matt Damon's voice, so I'm looking forward to it.

3M Clear Security Glasses SF201AF

I originally got these clear glasses (and another pair with dark lenses) for when riding on my scooter... I never want to ride with my eyes unprotected, and especially in the hot summer it's more comfortable to leave the visor up, so I thought these simple clear glasses with really flexible temples might be nice. They're great.

But it turns out that I use the clear ones on my bicycle more than the scooter. When descending a mountain shaded by trees, it's too dark for normal sunglasses, but without some eye protection I risk a bug in the eye at 50kph, and the wind just makes my eyes water anyway. These solve both problems.

They do scuff easily, but that's not a major problem for how I use them.

Mio Fuse heart-rate monitor

This watch-like device detects your pulse and sends it via bluetooth to your phone. I use it on bike rides to record my pulse, which turns out to be pretty uninteresting because it doesn't get all that high, even when climbing steep hills. (I think this is less a statement about how strong my heart is, and more one about how weak my willpower is: I tend to give up mentally before physically.)

Update: after having some mild rashes from wearing this, I contacted the company to ask for suggestions. They gave me some, and unilaterally said that they'd accept a return if the suggestions didn't work out, even if it was out of warranty. I thought that was nice. I didn't want to have to, but kept getting the rashes, so I did return it.

Doppleganger Saddle Cover DSC74-BK

This is a cushy gel-filled cover for a bicycle seat, and it's fantastic.

On my first long bike ride earlier this year, besides tuckering myself out, my rear hurt quite a bit from all the time on the saddle. Real cyclists wear pants that have cushions built into the crotch area. On one hand, this is convenient because they provide padding whether on the bike or sitting on the ground taking a break, but on the other hand, they're expensive and can be described, at best, as making you look like you're wearing diapers. (But it can get much worse, as a Google Image search shows.)

I suppose I don't look like a real cyclist if I don't have these kind of shorts, but if you've seen my blog lately, you know I don't have much style sense.

These days when I ride, or go to the gym, I tend to be decked out in stuff from Under Armour, which as I've written before, I'm enamored with to the point that I bought their stock. I visited their Brand Store in Osaka the other day, and it was nice to find a huge selection of stuff in my size, but the prices there were full retail, which is too pricey for me, so I didn't buy much.

BM Works SLIM3 bicycle iPhone Holder

I wanted a way to securely hold my iPhone on my bicycle handle bars, and this product certainly does that, but I found it to be a disappointment.

The biggest problem is that its clear cover is highly reflective, so in bright daylight it often makes it completely impossible to see the screen until you get the tilt just right, not something fun while trying to check a map in traffic.

It also makes the buttons on the side of the phone difficult to press, and disables the iPhone's unlock-with-your-thumb thing.

I no longer use it, though I may pull it out if ever faced with a long ride in the rain for which I don't know the route.

TiGRA Sport Bicycle Mount

This is how I mount my phone on my bicycle now, and it's absolutely fantastic. The phone is fully accessible, super easy to take on and off. (I can even take it off one-handed while riding, to snap photos like this one).

How great is it? It's so great that I shattered the screen of my iPhone while using it, yet I still use it.

Oops -- Takatsuki, Osaka, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl, https://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 40mm — 1/160 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400 — map & image datanearby photos

When checking out mountain roads on my scooter, in preparation for last Wednesday's torturous(and tortuous) bike ride, I used the TiGRA mount to affix the phone to my scooter. While driving around, I would take photos of vending machines as a way to record their location (I geoencode all my photos), so that I could have a map of all available sources of water on the ride. At one point while whipping the camera around for a photo of a vending machine I was passing, I was dismayed to notice my iPhone 6+ bouncing on the ground beside me, trying, but failing, to keep up with the scooter.

I have no idea how it happened, but I can only imagine that I simply forgot to actually snap the phone into the holder. It holds the phone very securely, so it's inconceivable to me that it somehow got jiggled loose. It's also inconceivable that I somehow bumped it loose with the camera... I imagine that any impact strong enough to force it out of the holder would shatter the plastic and the phone before separating the phone from the holder.

I have such faith in how well made this product is that the only plausible explanation is that I really really really screwed up, such as laid it sort of into the holder and then got distracted, and so never finally put it in. (My sister once put both contact lenses in the same eye after being distracted in between, so I know such distraction is possible.)

Apple charges about $150 to replace the screen, or, if the screen isn't the only damage, about $430 to replace the whole unit. I went to the Apple store in Osaka the next day, and am glad I arrived 20 minutes before they opened... I was about 10th in line. Ten minutes later, there must have been 30 people.

At first they noted some microscopic dimple in the housing of the phone, and said that the whole thing would have to be replaced. I preferred to pay the lower amount, so pushed and asked them to at least try replacing only the screen. They said okay, and told me to come back in 90 minutes.

I popped over to the Nikon Service Center to have a little plastic protective cover on my D4 replaced... I'd cracked that too somehow some months before. It was $15.

Back at Apple, they indeed could replace just the screen, so I was happy to save almost $300.

I paid my $150, and declined an invitation for an immediate session with an Apple Watch. (I knew that I wasn't really interested in an Apple Watch, but surprised myself at how quickly I said no.)

I then headed over to the Under Armour store, which was nearby, to spend some of my savings on a hat, socks, and windbreaker, all in high-visibility yellow (the same color seen here, and in all these photos).

Back home, I snapped the phone into the TiGRA mount and indeed could not believe that the phone could possibly come out accidentally, so I chalked this up to fate and my own stupidity. I used it on Wednesday's long mountainous bumpy ride and it performed flawlessly, offering 0% worry.

My only reservation about this product is the packaging it came in, which was a clear plastic box built like a tank. It seems to be gratuitous overkill, a monumental waste of plastic, and a huge hassle to open.

Roswheel Rear-Carrier Bag

This is the bag seen on the back of my bicycle in recent photos, such as this one. It's a piece of crap, but for $15, I shouldn't complain.

It's intended to hold on to the rear carrier via Velcro, but the design is so bad that if there's anything in the bag besides air, the weight jiggling back and forth while riding wants to pull the bag off the side of the carrier. Plus, the sides are not firm at all, adding to the tendency for the thing to want to drip over one side or the other.

I went to the hardware store and got some firm metal strips to brace the thing. I bolted them to the carrier facing up, and made holes in the bottom of the bag so that the bag can slip into the strips and be held very firmly in place. It's invisible when the bag is on the bike, but makes the bike look super dorky when the bag is not there. But it works.

Knog Blinder Front Light

This is an LED light for the front of a bicycle (its light is white, as opposed to red for a rear light). The LEDs are very bright to look at, and I got this to augment the red Knog Blinder that I already had rear. For safety, especially in tunnels, I want a light so that I can be seen, and that's what this light does, even in daylight. It's really really bright.

I leave it flashing on the front of my bike as a matter of policy, all day. If it's a really long ride, I may have to recharge it with the power brick noted above, but I've had to do that only once so far when I'd forgotten to fully charge it before heading out for the day.

And since this post is ostensibly about my birthday, let me share a birthday story that my sister sent recently, about her husband Marty's birthday:

Considering it's your birthday, I have a funny birthday story to tell you.

Marty's birthday was a couple of weeks ago. A few weeks before that, the kids and I were badgering him for ideas about what he wanted for his birthday. The evening that conversation took place (Come on, Marty, give me a hint!) I just happened to leave Firefox open on my computer to Amazon.   When I sat down at my desk the next morning after Marty went to work - there it was!   The hint! In the Amazon shopping cart had a little 1 in it - and it was a pair of bicycling gloves in Extra Large that looked a lot like the pair he'd had for years!    Wow! He must need a replacement pair!    What a cute way to let me know what he wanted!    Of course, I ordered it immediately. It took a long time to arrive, so it was a good thing we had several other gifts to give him on his birthday. But when the gloves finally arrived, I tucked it under his pillow for a very late gift.

Words cannot describe the blankness of his face as I cheerfully told him the present he had hinted at had finally arrived.   You know, the one you put in the cart on Amazon? was followed by an even more profoundly thorough blankness.   After a polite but baffled thank you, he gently reminded me that he never, ever, under any circumstances buys any type of glove before trying it on, and would never order them online.   After my response of Well, why did you put it in the cart, then!, the conversation sort of went downhill.  Well *I* didn't!  I didn't!  Well, do you think the kids did it?    A vaguely irritated and thoroughly bewildered truce was called.

It was maybe 5 minutes later that realization dawned, at which point I sheepishly mentioned to Marty that, you know, Jeffy sometimes borrows my Amazon account.  And Marty noted that, well, he's been into biking lately. Anyway, the gloves are on their way to Japan.

Hah! I ordered some stuff through her account during my recent vacation in The States, and had apparently left the gloves in the shopping cart. How convenient for me! I use them on every ride now.

Thanks Marci!

All 8 comments so far, oldest first...

Happy birthday~!
What didn’t please you about the iphone 6+ camera?

The quality of its photos. Just compare the results from a bike ride with the iPhone and a bike ride with a real camera. The difference might just be that I don’t know how to use the iPhone’s camera to its potential, but I somehow doubt that explains everything. —Jeffrey

— comment by nnkka on May 30th, 2015 at 2:09am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

I love the glove story! And I loved “The Martian” too – it was wonderful!

— comment by Ed Rosack on May 30th, 2015 at 2:57am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

If you liked The Martian & have an iPhone, you might want to check out the game Lifeline.


— comment by Bill on May 30th, 2015 at 5:22am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

I love the glove story! And I loved “The Martian” too – it was wonderful!

— comment by temizlik on May 30th, 2015 at 10:25am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

Happy birthday Jeff! I think your expectations are a bit too high. No camera phone is going to be able to compete with a real camera. Against its peers, the IP6+ is amongst the best of its class.

I’m sure it is, and I never expected a phone camera to take good pictures. But nevertheless, I want to take good pictures so it’s not surprising that it just doesn’t cut it as a camera for me. It’s certainly better than nothing, though, if that’s all I have with me at the moment. —Jeffrey

— comment by JJ Lee on May 31st, 2015 at 4:46pm JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

I forgot to ask which iOS app did you used to get the altimeter and GPS altitude readings?

I’m still testing, so use half a dozen at the same time. YMMV, but the one I’m finding to be best so far is from Wahoo Fitness, though like most apps records altitude only from the GPS. The only tracking app I know of that can record the barometric altitude is Runmeter, but their policy of throwing away most data points makes it worthless for me. If they were to add a “keep all data” option, it’d be great. —Jeffrey

— comment by JJ Lee on May 31st, 2015 at 5:00pm JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

Happy Birthday Jeffrey. I totally agree with you that The Martian is the best book ever, but I think it takes a certain kind of mind to enjoy it as much as you and I do. Gotta love science!

— comment by Jan Kabil on June 1st, 2015 at 4:26am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

Thanks for the response Jeff, but which app were you using in the image that you posted? I kind of like the layout in that app.

Oh, unfortunately, it’s not a logger… it just displays the current altitude via GPS and barometer, and allows you to calibrate the barometer. It’s this app. —Jeffrey

— comment by JJ Lee on June 2nd, 2015 at 5:45pm JST (9 years ago) comment permalink
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