Garmin Fenix 3 drops data from Stages power meter

I’ve been ignoring this problem for a while, hoping that it would be fixed in a firmware update, but it persists, and I finally got aggravated enough with it to write this post (and to engage Garmin support). The problem is simple: my Garmin Fenix 3 triathlon watch will not reliably record data from the Stages power meter I have on my bike.

A quick digression: there are two major standards for wireless exercise sensor connectivity, Bluetooth Low Energy (aka BLE and Bluetooth 4.0) and ANT+. Some devices support one or the other, and some devices support both. For example, my heart rate monitor (the excellent Scosche Rhythm+) simultaneously transmits both ANT+ and BLE signals, but my Wahoo speed/cadence sensor is ANT-only. When I ride, I usually use two devices: my old iPhone 4 on the handlebars, in a Wahoo case that has a built-in ANT+ adapter, plus my Fenix 3. The iPhone is too old to use BLE, and turning on BLE on the Fenix 3 dramatically drops its battery life, so I’m using ANT for all the sensor data. Having two devices means that sometimes I forget to start or stop one device or the other at various points, so I often have mismatched data between the two.

A picture will illustrate the problem most clearly. When I use the Fenix 3, I end up with ride data that looks like this:

Bad power data is bad

As you can see, the power graph has a few spikes with lots of flats– and an average power of only 23W. (I’ll get to why the average is important in a minute). By contrast, here’s what the ride looked like when captured with the Strava app on my iPhone 4. Note that the power data much more closely tracks the speed, cadence, and HR data.

That's more like it

So why is this important? First of all, as a techie, it annoys me when two things that are supposed to work together won’t. More importantly, I actually use the power data from these rides in two ways. While I’m on the bike, I use it to gauge and adjust my level of effort. For example, yesterday’s ride was pretty windy, so I tried to hold a steady 190-210W while riding into the wind, keeping my level of effort constant and accepting whatever speed that gave me. After a ride, my coach and I use the power data to plan my recovery time and to identify areas where I need more practice (e.g. climbing hills). Having inaccurate or dirty data makes both of these uses impossible.

The Stages power meter support FAQ suggests moving the watch around, but I haven’t tried that yet. My troubleshooting efforts so far have been limited to changing the battery in the Stages and making sure the Stages and Fenix both have the latest firmware. I’ll see what Garmin support has to say. Hopefully they have a magic fix; I have a very early-model Fenix 3 so maybe they’ve made some improvements since launch. Until then, I’ll keep recording each ride twice and keeping the cleanest data.

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Flying Friday: 2015 flying year in review

It’s fitting that as I write this, I’m sitting on a Delta 717 coming back from Tampa, where I just dropped the plane off for a month or so in the avionics shop (more on that in the near future). I closed out my flying year today with 3.7 hours of cross-country time from Decatur to Tampa Executive, during which I got 0.8 actual instrument time, found some rain, and battled a misbehaving engine monitor. (And yes, I know it’s not Friday.)

For the year, I flew a total of 89 hours, considerably down from my 2014 total. Of that, a respectable 8.5 hours was actual instrument time, and I logged 20 instrument approaches. This reflects my typical mission of moderate-distance cross-country trips. Those trips gave me some great experiences– I flew to Chattanooga, New Orleans, and Austin to compete in races, visited family in friends in Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina, and went on a number of business trips that would have been boring and/or unpleasant if I’d had to drive.

During the year, I am happy to report that a) I didn’t do anything egregiously stupid in the air and b) none of the squawks I encountered in the air were serious. Despite that, I’ve learned a few valuable lessons that I plan to apply in 2016.

In 2016, I plan to pursue my commercial license, build my understanding of weather patterns and forecasting, and improve my airmanship skills. Ideally I’d like to fly at least an average of 10 hours/month, including some long cross-country flights to the west coast and some trips to see my sons at their various colleges. I’m looking forward to another great year in the air.

 

 

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2015: the books I read

I read a lot. This is both a feature and a bug. At any given time, I’ll usually be reading 3-4 different books, in a mix of electronic and physical formats. Inspired by my mom’s example, about this time in 2014 I decided to keep a book journal. Below you’ll find my list of all the books I finished in 2015, more or less in the order in which I finished them.  I omitted any book that I gave up on before finishing, as well as those that I’m still working on. I didn’t think to jot down a short review for each book as I finished it, and I’m not about to take the time to do so now.  I have embedded a few notes for books that I thought were particularly good. Or not.

That’s it. Time to start working on my 2016 list.

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Training Tuesday: 2015 in review

All right, so it’s not Tuesday. I’m running behind because oft the holidays.

So far in 2015, if I trust Strava’s numbers, I’ve cycled 896 miles and run about 471 miles. That doesn’t count time on my bike trainer, and it’s probably missed a few activities here and there. I don’t know how many pounds of weights I’ve lifted, but I bet it’s a lot.

Competitions

This was a busy year for competitions. Maybe I should say “organized events,” since at my level I am not truly competitive in most events. Still, I had a great time racing with, and against, friends and strangers.

In 2016, I will complete my first half-Ironman: 1.2mi swim, 56mi bike, followed by a half marathon. IRONMAN North Carolina, here I come! Depending on how the offseason goes, I may give IRONMAN New Orleans a shot in April too; I’m still waffling on that. I’ll fill in my schedule with other events as they appear (for example, I already have lifting meets planned in January and February).

Performance

Thanks to the excellent coaching I received from Alex Viada and the crew at CHP, I am much stronger and faster than I was at this time last year. I cut nearly 30 seconds off my best time for the mile, a minute off my 5K, nearly 3 minutes off my best 10K time, and ran my first half marathon in 2:15– then shaved nearly 15 minutes off my best time before the end of the season. My bike endurance is greatly improved, although I’m still not where I want to be speed-wise. And my weightlifting… holy cow. I’ve put 70 pounds on to my maximum bench press, just under 150 pounds on my deadlift, and 80 on my squat. I am looking forward to more speed and power gains in 2016, that’s for sure. I have some specific time goals for Rocketman and Renaissance Man, and my goal is to join the 1000-lb combined lifting club before the end of 2016. (Notice I didn’t say anything about swimming? I will keep hacking away at it. Gradual improvement is still improvement.)

Nutrition

I worked with a nutrition coach for a few months but I did a really poor job adhering to his plan. This is something I need to work on in 2016— not necessarily for weight loss or body composition, but to make sure I’m fueling my body properly for what I’m asking it to do. Most of the nutrition challenges I’ve faced are self inflicted; they come about from failure to stock good things to eat as opposed to random crap, as well as failure to plan to eat so I don’t suddenly decide I’m starving and latch on to whatever’s within reach.

The mental game

If there’s one area where I feel like my 2015 performance was poor, it’s mental focus. I still haven’t learned how to consistently focus and perform. I have a few ideas about how to work on this, luckily enough. I tend to be extremely critical of my performance, and while a certain degree of this is healthy, too much of it is stifling.

I’m looking forward to another dynamic year— as long as I can stay healthy, I’ll see y’all out on the roads. But probably not in the water, because I’ll still be at the back of the pack.

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iOS charging woes

I have been meaning to write a long article about why I moved from Windows Phone back to iOS, and the good and bad parts of the transition, but I’ve been too busy to bother. I do have time for a quick rant, though: damn, I am tired of having charging problems.

See, Apple has this logo certification program called “Made for iOS.” Join it, and your devices (which might include chargers, cables, etc) can be certified as compatible with Apple devices, and you get a cool logo. Sure, it costs you a few bucks to sign up and get certified, but it’s cheap insurance. Nice line of chargers and cables you’ve got there. It’d be a real shame if anything happened to it.

On my last two road trips, previously-working cables have suddenly started producing the infamous “this accessory may not be compatible” message. Once that happens, it’s game over. The phone (or iPad) will no longer charge from that cable. If you happen to be on a road trip, well, too bad. Luckily I had a spare, but I am now nearly out of working cables, and there’s no guarantee that the name-brand cables I bought from Amazon (all of which were from vendors who claimed to be MFi certified) will keep working. Of course, because it’s Apple, there’s no way to override this dialog, ignore it, or force the device to talk to a tainted cable– once the cable is blacklisted, it’s no longer usable with that device at all.

The worst part? I’ve seen many reports of this happening to people who bought cables and chargers from the Apple store. Since I am unlikely to ever do that I’m not too worried, but I hate the precedent, and the inconvenience factor has been pretty stunning compared to my easy prior life of using micro USB cables with my Lumias. While I understand Apple’s desire to protect the IP embodied in the Lightning interface, and while I even believe that part of the rationale behind blocking non-certified devices is to prevent bad customer experiences, the whole thing has left an unpleasant taste in my mostly-discharged battery.

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Flying Friday: looking stupid now vs stupid later

Remember this Fram commercial?

The concept it highlights is a fundamental part of many different aspects of life. Technical debt, TiVo guilt, and my own growing backlog of Kindle books are just three of the many manifestations of the now-versus-later principle. Here’s another great one: “It’s better to look a little stupid now, than a lot stupid later.” 

I don’t really have anything to add to this article; it very neatly captures the principle and provides an excellent cautionary tale for all of us, but especially pilots and most especially those who are entrusted with the role of pilot in command.

 

 

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Training Tuesday: the season’s winding down

As I type this Tuesday night, I have only one more scheduled competition this calendar year. Since my last Training Tuesday post, I’ve been busy with a wide variety of things, some of which actually involve training. Rather than an exhaustive and boring list of all the stuff I’ve done, let me summarize: one road race, two half-marathons, and one powerlifting meet.

    • The first race was the Monte Sano 15K, a road race at Monte Sano State Park. It was mildly hilly, but very cloudy, with maybe 200’ ceilings and lots of low fog. Cool and humid conditions made for a pretty fast course. I ran the 15K in 1:27:36, which was a good time for me on that distance, plus I got a very cool neon-yellow running shirt. Winning!
    • The next weekend I flew to Chattanooga for the Four Bridges Half Marathon. I had the boys that weekend, and Tom was working, so I ended up getting up at 0330 to fly myself to the Chattanooga airport, where the superb staff at Wilson Air loaned me a car. The race was a blast: the weather could not have been nicer, the course was lovely, there were plenty of water/potty stops on the course, and the runners and crowd were both enthusiastic. The only blemish on the day was that the volunteers who laid out the half-marathon course accidentally cut about 0.5 miles off it, so I ended up with not quite a half-marathon PR, running 12.5mi in 1:53:29. However, getting to fly to and from the race helped make up for it. As a bonus, the finishers’ medal had a unique misspelling, making it slightly more collectible than I’d expected.

IMG_0017

    • In early November, I flew to Atlanta to compete in the USAPL “Powerlifting for Pink” meet. My performance here was nothing to brag about; I missed two of my three squats and all three bench attempts, mostly due to poor focus. Turns out you really have to pay attention to the judges’ commands. However, I deadlifted well, I had fun with Dana, and I learned a ton that will help me in my future meets.

P4P-187

  • For my birthday, I’d planned a trip to run Rocketman but the logistics just weren’t going to work, so I ran the Huntsville Half Marathon instead. I didn’t do a lot of race preparation beforehand, and it showed; I ran it in 2:07:49, which was nearly 8 minutes faster than my previous half-marathon but about 0:30/mi off the pace in Chattanooga. I have no idea why. After the race, my legs were much more sore than they were after Chattanooga, too.

One of the lessons I am slowly starting to learn is that I’m not always going to set a PR every time I step up to the starting line or platform. There’s still a large gap between what I feel like I should be able to do and what I can actually do, but the gap is getting smaller, both as I adjust my expectations and as I become more capable.

As things stand right now, the Hobbs Island 10K will probably be my last race of the season; there are a few scattered triathlons before the end of the year, but I don’t think it will be feasible for me to run any of them. The good news is that I’ve already started picking my 2016 events and will be working with my coach to build a training plan accordingly. It’s going to be a busy winter!

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