iOS Workout App Review: Nike Training Club

** This post is a the first of a series, you can see the next one here.

So I’m not a fitness buff, I’m just realizing that my body needs to be doing things pretty frequently if I want to do high action sports.  My real thrill comes from kiteboarding , skiing, rock climbing, or surfing.  And every one of those activities are inaccessible to most people who sit at their desk 8 hours a day.

So I started looking for an ios app that would help me make the most of my physical activity time.  I was looking for one that will help me achieve my goals to be fit enough to be able to do those sports mentioned above for hours on end, and without injury.  As I started to use these fitness apps, I realized these where the feature I wanted:

  • Lots of types and variety of workouts – I don’t want something that is running or weights only.
  • The ability to navigate those workouts easily – I’m not in a gym frequently, and I don’t know what all the exercises are called.  I need to be able to understand them quickly
  • A good interface during the actual workout – video is key because I need to know how to do the exercises with good form.  I also need to be able to see the important information like reps or time while doing an exercise.
  • Some sort of plan that helps group these workouts together and build towards more advanced workouts.
  • The ability to listen to music while I workout.
  • Free would be nice, but I’m happy to pay if it really gives me a more tailored experience and better workout results.

The Apps I reviewed

  • Nike Training Club
  • Sworkit
  • Fitbit Coach
  • Pear
  • 8fit
  • Bodyweight
  • Ladder
  • Keelo
  • Workouts
  • Aaptiv
  • Trainiac

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Nike Training Club

Summary: This is the app to beat.  Seems like most other apps copy Nike.

What I liked: The user interface puts everything I want to see within a tap , and the workout categories and filters make finding good workouts possible

What I didn’t Like: – I can never get the audio from Spotify loud enough without the coaching voice over being way too loud. I also wish they added more new workouts with higher frequency.

Who’s it good for: someone working out a few times a week in a gym or at home and wants some variety and the ability to do more serious workouts

 

 

Details:

  • Types and Variety of workouts (5/5)
    • Grouped into Edurance (89 workouts), Mobility ( 23) , Strenth (65), and Yoga (17) for a total of 194 workouts.
    • Ranges from stretching to barbell squats and kettlebell swings.
    • Really hits the sweet spot for my personal interests in working out.
    • This would be a 6/5 if they released more frequent additions and updates
  • Navigating Workouts (5/5)
    • Can filter by skill level, duration in minutes, equipment, and intensity
    • Each workout has a landing page where you can preview all the exercises and see the equipment needed.
  • Completing workouts (4/5)
    • Video downloads quick and is high quality.  The multiple angles help you really understand how to do the exercise.
    • Talk track is helpful, and gives guidance on form that I find relevant
    • Has both repetitions based exercises (do it x number of times) and time based workouts (for 30 seconds , etc) that automatically count down.
    • Only negative point is that I struggle to balance the spotify audio with the coaching audio.  Nike Training club reduces the volume of background apps, so I have to crank things up which makes the coaches voice too loud.
  • Workout plans (4/5)
    • Will automatically build a plan for you based on your goals
    • Has the ability to move workouts from one day to another, when life gets in the way
  • Tracking / Motivation (3/5)
    • Has social features, but they are super confusing and not a priority for them
    • Gives you badges and counts how many times you’ve worked out.  This has been good enough to help me know when I’m building momentum or not.
  • Price
    • Free…
    • I’d pay to get access to more workouts, and feedback tailored to me by a specialist

 

 

 

Apple magic mouse and keyboard with multiple computers

I finally upgraded to the latest Magic keyboard and trackpad / mouse combo. Much to my disappointment, neither of these devices are equipped to quickly switch between computers.

My current setup involves an 2010 Mac mini as a server for old archival footage, and a MacBook Pro for all my video editing needs. My wife also has an old 2011 MacBook Air which she sometimes wants to use with a keyboard.

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Now comes the challenge, switching the Mac keyboard and mouse / trackpad combo from one computer to the next. Maybe I’m a complete idiot, but in all my attempts it requires disconnecting from the first computer, then re-pairing with the next computer. This whole process usually takes me 5-10 minutes and its not consistent as sometimes the keyboard / mouse combo keeps trying to reconnect to the previous computer.

Solution 1: Synergy is a piece of software that allows you to share a keyboard and mouse across multiple computers on the same network.  I’m in the middle of testing it, and its been working fairly quickly, or at least faster than disconnecting and reconnecting the magic mouse / keyboard via the bluetooth panel in osx.

Solution 2: A Lightning Cable is honestly the simplest solution.  The magic mouse and keyboard will automatically connect to any computer that they are attached to via the lightning cable, and its almost instant.  It’s just annoying to have to have cables around for a wireless mouse and keyboard 🙂

Solution 3: Logitech has a bunch of keyboards and mice that can very quickly switch from one computer to the next.  We got the K811 and it works great.  The down side is that it’s not as nice as the magic keyboard, and it doesn’t fit the beautiful Hekseskudd walnut tray that we use for the the living room ( a mac mini hooked to a tv).

Killer feature: auto import of files from SD cards

I made this discovery by accident while searching for a way to travel without a laptop.  While I’ll cover laptop-less travel in a different post, one thing that came from my search was the WD My Passport Wireless Pro, and more importantly auto-import.

Western Digital My Passport Pro
More to come on this device, but the real stand out feature was the auto importing or auto ingesting of images from an SD card.

How does Auto Import Work?

You just pop an SD card into the hard drive, and it automatically pulls the files into a predefined folder on the hard drive. What’s nice about it is that its incremental, so it doesn’t just mindlessly re-import all the files on the SD card, it only pulls the new files index the last import.

There’s no selecting a destination, there’s no selecting files, it just works, automatically.

Why is it useful?

I found it to be a really fast way to backup the video and photos that I was shooting while out in the field.  It required less thought than having a laptop and having to focus long enough to organize your ingestion of files.

I also found that it saved time when I got back to my laptop, so that I ddidn’t have to mess with all the different SD cards, i could just pull them from the hard drive, where they were all in one place.

What if I don’t have a WD My Passport?

To be honest, I’m not really using my WD My passport all that often, but I do like the convenience and time savings that came from auto import.

I’ve been looking to find a way to get this auto import feature on my MacBook Pro, but it wasn’t all that straight forward.

The closest I’ve found is Photo Mechanic 5, which will auto-ingest an entire SD card to a specific folder. As of yet, I have not figured out how to get it to do incremental imports, so its just bringing the entire SD card each time.

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Another option which might be coming in the future is Hedge. They have a media management app that helps creators ingest / import their content from SD cards. They have a lot of cool features like importing to multiple destinations, but auto import is not yet part of the solution.  In an email exchange with the company they mentioned that they’ve received this request quite a few times and plan to build it into future versions.

 

Pragmatic Photography 101: exposure basics; not too dark, not too bright

So why exposure second?  Well, it’s more complicated, and you’ll probably want pictures that are in focus first before you start figuring out why your photos are too dark or too bright.

Concept 1: Using exposure compensation in shutter priority to control exposure ( how dark / bright the photo is).

So in the previous tutorial we used shutter priority to help us understand / control motion blur, and at which point we would get blurry images because the shutter was too slow.  Here we’re going to use the same shutter priority mode, but we’re going to add in exposure compensation to change how bright or dark the scene is.

Exposure compensation is a setting that let’s you manually override the automatic suggestions your camera is going to make on how bright or dark an image should be (we’ll use the term exposure going forward).  So if you are shooting in automatic mode (often called “P” on most cameras), and an image is coming out under exposed (too dark) or over exposed (too bright), you can use exposure compensation to override the cameras settings.  Exposure compensation also works for Shutter Priority mode and Aperture priority mode.

[Assignment 1]: Look for a high key (scene that has a lot of bright or white tones), set your shutter speed to a level that will contain blur (likely over 1/250th if something is moving), and then use exposure compensation to get the right exposure.

[Assignment 2]: Now look for a low key scene (one that contains a lot of dark colors), and set your shutter speed to contain motion blur, then use your exposure compensation to get a proper exposure.

Exposure Compensation - Shutter Priority - Panasonic GH5
In this shot, I set the shutter speed to 200 to make sure nothing would blur. Then I just focused on the fitness tracker / airpods and let the camera choose the exposure. It did a surprisingly good job, but there a few bright spots in the image.

[Assignment 3]: Take things a step further and learn how to control exposure while in Aperture priority mode.  If you set your aperture to something low like f1.4 or 2.8 you’ll blur everything thats behind your subject.  If you set it to something like f5.6 or f8 you’ll see a lot more of the photo in focus.  Then use exposure compensation to take a photo thats over-exposed and one that’s under-exposed.  Try it in high-key and low-key settings.

Aperture and Shutter Priority - Panasonic GH5

[Additional Resources]:

In this section I try to include a variety of high quality reference blog posts that might do a better job than I have of explaining the underlying concepts.

Pragmatic Photography 101: avoiding blurry photos

If you’ve been reading a lot of the “How to learn photography” guides out there, you’ll know that they tend to be pretty overwhelming.  I found it easier to keep things simple, and to focus on the things that would get me one small step further in getting usable photos now.  Here’s my first to pointers for absolute beginners:

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This photo is blurry because of “Concept 2” below, the shutter speed was way too slow.

Blurry Images:

When I first started taking photos with an point and shoot, I used to hate getting blurry images.  It drove me crazy that I couldn’t quite figure out why. If your image is out of focus, there’s pretty much no way to salvage it.

What two concepts make your photos burry?

Concept 1: Getting the camera’s lens to actually focus on the right object in the photo.

[Recommendation]: Single area focus mode & focus and recompose

I still don’t know what all the different focus modes do on my cameras, and that’s because I’ve rarely deviated from single area focus.  Basically this mode is one where the camera focuses on the focus point typically in the middle of the camera and that’s it.  For more entry level cameras, this method tends to be the most accurate as well.

At this point you might be asking yourself, “what if I want that thing to be in focus, but I don’t want it to be in the center of my shot?”  Well thats where focus and recompose comes in.  You typically “acquire” focus by pointing your camera something and pressing the shutter speed half-way down (if you push all the way down and the camera takes a photo, you’ve gone too far).  Then, while keeping the button pressed half way down, you can adjust where your camera is pointed to compose your shot before actually pushing the shutter button all the way down.  There’s a lot of confusing material out there, but this guy at Gmax does a good job of explaining focus and recompose on youtube.

[Assignment] : Take 3 shots where in each shot you are focusing on one of three different objects in the photo.  In shot 1, focus on something in the foreground (closest to the camera).  In shot 2, focus on the object in the middle, while in shot 3 focus on the object in the background (furthest from the camera).

Once you’ve mastered still objects, test how fast your reflexes are by trying to shoot something that is moving.  Find a crowded pedestrian street and focus on people as they walk toward you or cross in front of you.

Now for the fun part.  As fast as you can, go pull up these photos on your computer screen so you can see how you did.  What do you notice?  Are some photos in focus, which ones did you miss on?

 

 

[Additional Resources]

Concept 2: Making sure you photos aren’t blurred because your shutter speed is too slow

[Recommendation]:  Set your camera in shutter priority / and learn how shutter speed relates to movement and blurry shots

I realize this is technically part of exposure , but it is a common cause of blurry photos which is how a complete beginner is thinking about things, “Why are my shots all blurry?”  They don’t immediately connect blurriness with shutter speed.

So what is shutter speed?  A shutter is the object that blocks light from hitting your camera’s sensor, and to take a picture, the shutter moves out of the way for a set amount of time.  If it moves out of the way for a long time, lots of light will get it (photo would be lighter).  If it moves out of the way for a very short time, very little light will get in (photo would be darker).  So what does this have to do with blur?

Well, if your shutter speed is slow or open for a long time, then your still image will be ruined because the subject of the photo had time to move while the camera was still capturing the photo.  You would need a much faster shutter speed to capture a fast moving object without the blur.

[Assignment ]: First, figure out how to set your camera to Shutter priority mode.  This is a mode where you are going to be able to directly control the shutter speed, as opposed to your camera doing everything for you.  In shot 1, take a picture of something that is moving quickly (a car, jogger, etc), with a very slow shutter speed ( 1/25th, 1/50th).  In shot 2, do the same thing with a faster shutter speed like 1/125th , 1/250th, 1/500th.

When you check your photos on your computer, you should see the faster shutter speed photos are sharper!

[Additional Resources]

 

Photography 101: Common pitfalls of starting out

I know it comes naturally to some people, but learning to shoot photography was one of the most difficult skills I’ve ever tackled.  It probably took me 3 years of shooting terrible photos and reading blogs and watching youtube videos, and I’m still not able to consistently produce great images.

In order to help other people through this process at a faster pace, I thought I’d lay out some of the tips I wished i’d figured out much sooner.  Below is a list of pitfalls to be aware of , along with a suggested path for learning photography.

Olympus OMD-EM5 with lenses
This is the camera that pushed me over the edge and got me into photography on a much more serious level. Also includes the 12-60 kit lens, the 12-40 2.8, the 40-150mm zoom, the 45mm 1.8, 75mm 1.8, and the 25mm 1.8

What Camera to buy

How can I possibly know what camera to buy if I don’t know anything about photography or what type of photography I will do?

Use what you have!  Because of the complex nature of the catch-22 below, you’ll have a lot of learning to do before you’re even in a position to take advantage of a better / more expensive camera.  Might as well learn the concepts as much as you can before you invest.  If you don’t, you’ll end up spending money on gear you end up hating or not using.

That being said, here are a few features of a camera that really helped me learn these concepts more easily:

  • Live view – you want your camera screen to update in real time as you change your exposure to show you what your image will look like. For the iphone generation, I know it sounds shocking to learn that not all cameras do this, but they don’t
  • Manual Dials – so many new cameras have manual controls, but you have to go digging through pages and pages of a menu system to find them.  Having access to dials on the camera so you can physically control settings is a real advantage.
  • Simple Menu System – in the section below, you’ll see a huge barrier is actually learning how your camera works, and some cameras make this near impossible with their menu systems (Sony and Olympus were extremely confusing to me)
  • Popular camera – you can solve a lot of these problems by buying a popular camera that has a lot of third party guides and content about it.  Something like the Panasonic G85 , where creators like DSLR video shooter have created super accessible tutorials like this one.
Panasonic Lumix GX1
Prior to the OMD EM5 above I had this Lumix. It was clear to me at this point that I wanted a mirrorless camera.

How does my camera work vs how does photography work?

Once you get past the trap of “What camera to buy”, then learning photography come down to two major categories of challenges; figuring out how your camera works and learning basic photography concepts.

So many of the roadblocks I encountered while learning where a function of doing both at the same time, and not treating them like distinct topics.  If I could do it all over again, I’d learn the photography concept from a theoretical perspective, then figure out how to apply that theory using the manual and features of my camera.

Step by step progression for learning a photography concept:

  1. Learn the theory
  2. Learn which features of your camera control that theory
  3. Do an assignment which requires you to demonstrate the theory and the controls in real life.

For example, if you wanted to learn about exposure, you should read about the exposure triangle, then you should read about shutter priority / aperture priority / and manual exposure for your camera.  Then I’d do an exercise that forced me to expose for the highlights and the shadows of a scene with each different method.  As you apply your knowledge of the theory and your camera to the real world, you’ll start to learn what you like and don’t like about shooting.

Mac OSX apps I use for photography and videography

Im always looking for useful / practical / time saving apps that can help directly with media production or can simply enhance the general OSX experience.  Here are some of the apps I’ve found useful over the years and why.

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PhotoMechanic

I finally snapped one day while importing photos in Lightroom, because it was taking FOREVER.  You may think its overkill, but if you’re culling a lot of photos and trying to find the keepers ,this app pays for itself many times over.  I currently import my photos into a RAW folder, then use PhotoMechanic to do my selects, and I move them to a SELECTS folder which I think import into Lightroom.

File Loupe

This was a real surprise, as I didn’t know I needed a media viewer.  File Loupe loads lots of photos and videos super quickly, so I end up using it quite a bit when I’m moving files around, or even importing from SD cards. I was once looking for some photos in my massive archive, and I dropped 70,000 photos and was able to scroll through them quickly and get to the ones I needed.

Chrome Remote Desktop

I use a Mac mini as a media server, so I often need to get access from my laptop.  I know that the Mac osx has a screen sharing / file sharing function but Chrome was so easy to setup and worked without much effort remotely.

DaisyDisk

If you have tons of media files, and you’re always running out of disk space, this app helps you find the biggest culprits.  Its a great visual way to see whats taking up space on your hard drive.

PhotoSweeper

This is another great media utility, and I’ve used it for de-duping massive amounts of photos.  I had old archives that I never really organized, and some how they ended up with lots of duplicates.  This app gives you extremely precise control over how to prioritize which duplicate to keep, and does a thorough job of checking for real duplicates, not just meta-data duplicates.

FCPX

I wasn’t a fan of Adobe’s subscription services, and Final Cut Pro was also a lot faster for me to learn than Premiere.  I paid for it once, and its been great.  Seems to be well optimized for us on a Mac, and I’ve never had any speed or crashing issues.

Lightroom

After Apple’s Aperture shut down, there weren’t too many great choices.  Lightroom is slow and cumbersome, so I use other apps like Photo Mechanic, but I still do all my editing in Lightroom.  I bought the last non-subscription version, and paid for it once rather than paying monthly.  I probably won’t switch until they make the application significantly faster, can’t imagine paying monthly for such a painful experience.

CarbonCopy Cloner

My current back-up system involves using portable hard drives to keep backups of my laptop, and then I eventually archive everything to a big hard drive enclosure on my Mac mini.  I’ve had some issues in the past with RAID setups, so I just use the enclosures in JBOD and use CarbonCopy Cloner to backup one drive to a mirror in the same enclosure.  You can set it up to do things on a schedule, and its pretty fast because it does incremental updates rather than re-copying everything each time.

Backblaze

To back-up my backup system, I have backblaze back-up 4TB of data.  It was relatively quick to get it all backed up (1 week).  I previously used Crashplan, but switched when they shut down the consumer side of things.  I don’t do my media work professionally, so this seemed to be the best consumer option.

Google Photos

This is my last tier of backup.  ITs free, and makes photos supremely searchable and findable.  If I ever lost everything else, at least I know I have low res versions of photos on google photos for safe keeping.