Gear Review: Garmin Vivosmart 4

6290120_rdIn lieu of anything more worthwhile to talk about: I bought myself a wrist-based health tracker a couple weeks ago. It is, as the title of the post indicates, a Garmin Vivosmart 4, one of the very smallest, lightest, and cheapest in their lineup. (95$ for the black band, slightly more for the slightly nicer-looking ones.)

Small and light is actually a very good thing: it’s unobtrusive-looking and easy to forget about, even during sleep. And as far as value for the money, besides the health tracking features (heart rate, heart rate variability, activity, readiness score, sleep tracking, stress tracking, and pulse oxygen saturation), the Garmin proprietary app provides you with a lot more value and data–your data–without the subscription fee-model. The app gives you access your own stored past data (which Fitbit makes you pay for), access to free coaching, GPS courses shared by other people, and stored workouts that you can play on your phone. (Some of the smartwatches with the gigantic displays will be able to play/guide your workouts from your wrist. Nice.)

That being said, some of its features are great, some are ok, and some are just trash.

In the absence of any way to test the heart rate tracking, I’m assuming it’s good. Most wrist-based systems have figured out the basics. Apparently the Apple watch is the best overall at heart-rate tracking; I’m an Android user, however. It’s pretty cool to look back through the 7-day and 4-week timeline….and see how my resting heart rate ticked up with increased stress over certain periods.

Readiness scores: you get a 0-100 score on how charged up you are and how hard you should push it that day. I found this both unexpectedly valuable and uniquely useless, mostly because I haven’t been in situations where stopping and resting would be permissible or possible. On the other hand, starting out today with a nice round 100 was extremely motivating–both to get moving, and to knock it off when my score got to the threshold where I wouldn’t recharge fully by the next morning.

Stress tracking: If you hit a certain threshold, your watch will ask if you want to do a 3-5 minute breathing exercise to relax. It’s actually quite accurate, and occasionally useful. One prompt came when I was standing in between two irate short people who were having an intense disagreement on who legally can dispense medicine to other people’s animals. Like I said, useful….occasionally.

Pulse oxygen saturation: This is one feature that, in the time of COVID, I did want. Thing is, this device is only accurate to within 5% or so. Not hugely useful but as a last-ditch measure perhaps it can help.

Sleep tracking: It’s not great. But it’s not completely awful. (Fitbits or the Oura ring are supposed to be the best, but Fitbits have their pay-to-view setup and the Oura ring costs three times as much.)

As far as non-health/smartwatch features: you can control your phone’s music and view ((short)) texts from your wrist. This is pretty neat, I can’t lie. There’s also a Find My Phone feature on the band (and a Find My Watch on the phone app). The screen lights up when you lift your wrist and turns off when you lower it, you can select one of four watch faces and choose which widgets are in what order, etc. Battery life is unimpressive but will vary with what features are switched on. Mine is about 4 days. You have to use a proprietary charger. It’s supposed to be swimproof but I haven’t tested that. 

I have sensitive skin and did end up with a scaly spot on my left wrist after falling asleep, with the band on, way too tightly, for 13 hours. The solution to this is cleaning the watch band periodically with mild soap and an isopropyl alcohol chaser, switching wrists every week or so, and making sure it’s not cinched on too tightly. 

(It’ll also sync to your phone to tell you the temperature and tomorrow’s expected weather, which is a feature you never knew you needed until you have it.)

Anyway, I basically like it, even though it means abandoning my very nice 13$ Casio watch….

Overall: It’s worth a hundred dollars…if you plan to get a hundred dollars’ use out of it.

this was a verbatim conversation

“I may have to write a scholarly monograph.”
“It will be entitled ‘Redneckus redneckus, A Study.’ ”
“It will be an in-depth survey of the species.”
“Species: ‘Homo sapiens, question mark?’
“Preferred food source: biscuits and gravy.”
“Go away.”
[in the distance]
‘Homo hillbilly-us’?”

(reposted, because it made me laugh.)

Mighty One, We Have Lost Us Another

b9fc5c5c-charlesyeagerChuck Yeager has reached out and touched the face of God.

He was 97.

He was the first man to break the sound barrier, an ace pilot and a lifelong flier.

[…]He totaled 12.5 aerial victories and shot down 13 German planes on 64 missions during World War II, “including five Me109s on 12 October and four FW 190s on 27 November,” his website added. 

After World War II, he became a test pilot beginning at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Yeager retired from the Air Force in 1975 and moved to a ranch in Cedar Ridge in Northern California where he continued working as a consultant to the Air Force and Northrop Corp. He flew for more than 60 years, including piloting an F-15 to near 1,000 mph at Edwards Air Force Base in October 2002 at the age of 79.

The legendary pilot and retired brigadier general became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound on Oct. 14, 1947.

The giants are passing on, and the frontiers are growing ever smaller. We are lesser sons of greater sires.

Repost: Dark Emu – Bruce Pascoe

“So there’s this book called Dark Emu about how the Australian aborigines actually had pretty intensive cultivation before the British or whoever came….”
“What? Well, that’s a lie.”
“No, no, see, he has first-hand, primary sources and so on. He says they practiced intensive cultivation of things like grass and yams…”
“For the seed grain.”
“He thinks its akin to the primitive levels of cultivation of wheat. You know, historically.”
“Grass seeds are not as nutritious as wheat.”
“Well, like, the grass species they used were in the process of being domesticated, the same way it was in Mesopotamia. Only the process was interrupted. Or something like that, I think he thinks.”
“That would be smart except that that didn’t happen in Mesopotamia, either.”
“Well, yes, but the primary sources do say they did have huge fields of grass–”
“Yeah, and huge, huge fields of yams, as far as the eye could see. What they did is they used fire, like all the native peoples. They didn’t cultivate because they didn’t have domesticated animals to pull plows. I’m sure they were able to have large areas to harvest, in places like the coasts where you can do that kind of thing. This guy is just a bleeding-heart liberal environmentalist who doesn’t know anything about agriculture. Have you thought about changing your major to English?”
“Well, that’s another part of his thesis. He thinks that since they didn’t plow and there were no hoofed animals, this had a beneficial impact on the soil, since there weren’t any sheep to overgraze and the soil stayed covered almost year-round. So there are places now are desert that used to be able to support a, not necessarily a large, population.”
“Nope. Nope. Did not happen. You see, Anthropology and Sociology majors have to to do something to pay off their college loans, so they have to go and come up with things like this. It makes him feel good to think about the pure, innocent, primitive natives being out there, secretly being very smart but not as smart as he is. English majors just get jobs teaching school and reading books.”
“Well, he has primary sources! And sheep are very destructive! They could have contributed.”
“Yes, and he thinks that’s a strong argument because he’s an academic. He’s never heard of rotational grazing. No farmer wants to destroy his own pasture, why would he?”
“Well, I’m against sheep on general principles anyway. And Australia has had real trouble with introduced species. Like cane toads. And rabbits.”
“Uh-huh, and are they complaining about rabbits in the original sources?”
“No! Look, what he’s saying boils down to is that the aborigines had a pretty good established system of management for the land that was very different from the European system, that one didn’t necessarily work as well. And that they had some pretty sophisticated other technologies as well, like fish traps and animal traps.”
“And if you teach high school English to the kids, you can assign them books about living off the land and learning how to make bear traps from tree bark. What was that book you used to like? It was about the two boys out in the woods.”
“See, I thought his book was interesting because it seemed like a very elvish way of cultivating the land. You live in harmony with nature, and you get a giant harvest–”
“–of grass–”
“But you use minimal effort and you manipulate the landscape so the whole system works for you.”
“Wrong. Elves live in cities made of stone and glass and they plunder the earth to mine gold and jewels. I read it in a book.”
“….those are city elves, dad.”
“City elves are better than country elves. Who wants to be a country bumpkin elf when you could be a sophisticated and glamorous–”

[Note….This was a more-or-less verbatim conversation. I keep reposting it because it makes me laugh every time.]

clan of the cave bear!

They found a frozen, preserved, intact cave bear! Until now, only the bones have been found.

Unique discovery of perfectly preserved extinct cave bear showing  its teeth after up to 39,000 years

The remains were found by reindeer herders on [Yakutia] and the remains will be analysed by scientists at the North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) in Yakutsk, which is at the forefront of research into extinct woolly mammoths and rhinos.

The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) is a prehistoric species or subspecies that lived in Eurasia in the Middle and Late Pleistocene period and became extinct about 15,000 years ago.

According to the rough preliminary suggestions the bear could live in Karginsky interglacial (this was the period between 22,000 and 39,500 years).

A cub was also found.


They cloned a foal this time

In a world first, a Przewalski’s Horse was cloned from a stallion that died in 1998. His name’s Kurt!


Also, it’s pronounced “shuh-VAL-skees”

The world’s first successfully cloned endangered Przewalski’s horse was born on August 6, 2020. Revive & Restore, San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), and ViaGen Equine collaborated to clone from a cell line of a genetically important stallion that had been cryopreserved since 1980.

This is highly important to conservationists, because:

Today’s Przewalski’s horses, of which there are now approximately 2,000, are descendants of just 12 individuals saved from extinction in the early 1900s.

If you’re wondering how a clone from an inbred line can bring genetic diversity back into a population:

Genetic rescue is one strategy to reduce the negative impact of inbreeding by introducing individuals from unrelated populations. But for the Przewalski’s horse, there are no unrelated populations to draw from. However, forward-thinking conservationists saved living cells from over a dozen Przewalski’s horses and cryopreserved them at the SDZG Frozen Zoo. These cell lines contain genetic diversity that has been lost to recent generations.

The SB615 cell line was chosen for genetic rescue cloning because an analysis of the captive breeding pedigree revealed that the genome offers significantly more genetic variation than any living Przewalski’s horse. Now that the genetic variation from Kuporovic “lives” again in Kurt, Kurt may become the most important horse in the North American captive breeding population. He may also become the first cloned animal to restore lost genetic variation to its species.

And why Kurt, you may ask?

Kurt is named in honor of Dr. Kurt Benirshke, a geneticist at the San Diego Zoo who in 1975 had a prescient idea. Dr. Benirshke began what is now the Frozen Zoo, collecting and cryopreserving the cell lines of endangered species and safely storing away genetic diversity before it was lost. At the time the collection was a bet on cloning and reproductive technologies that did not yet exist. Nearly fifty years later, with the partnership of San Diego Zoo Global Frozen Zoo, Revive & Restore, and ViaGen Pets and Equine, Dr. Benirschke’s plans are quite literally coming to life.

Have we been keeping an eye on Elon Musk?

Because he’s at the “implanting computer chips in pigs” stage.

Neuralink has a medical focus to start, like helping people deal with brain and spinal cord injuries or congenital defects. The technology could, for example, help paraplegics who’ve lost the ability to move or sense because of spinal cord injury, and the first human uses will aim to improve conditions like paraplegia or tetraplegia.

But there are obvious future (and futuristic) implications as well.

But Musk’s vision is far more radical, including ideas like “conceptual telepathy,” where two people can communicate electronically by thinking at each other instead of writing or speaking. The long-term goal is to head off a future where artificial intelligence vastly smarter than humans exterminates us.

Musk envisions people using Neuralink to connect to their own digital AI incarnations so “the future is controlled by the combined will of the people of Earth,” Musk said. “It’s going to be important from an existential threat perspective to achieve a good AI symbiosis.”

And they’re also building robot doctors to do the implantation process itself.

Neuralink is building a robotic installer that ultimately is designed to handle the full surgical installation process. That includes opening up the scalp, removing a portion of the skull, inserting the hundreds of “thread” electrodes along with an accompanying computer chip, then closing the incision. The installer is designed to dodge blood vessels to avoid bleeding, Musk said.

I’m in favor of advanced technology, but let’s focus on getting a significant fraction of the population starborne before we try messing with AI, shall we?