Friday, August 27, 2010

The New Digs

Your Evil Cyclist has new Evil Labs.

Yes, after being at the old labs for over five years, I felt it was time to leave Professor Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker behind, and hang with a new crowd.

I was looking for a change and a bigger better deal, and I found it. I don't really have a nickname for the new crowd yet, but something will present itself, likely after a Friday Happy Hour, as these things often do.

It more of a consulting job, chasing the filthy lucre if you will, and so far I am digging it.

The down side is that it has negatively affected my riding. At the old labs, I could easily commute most days. They had locker rooms and showers on site, and the dress code was pretty lax.

The new labs has no locker room, the dress code is business casual and I am on the road working with clients most of the time.

This means I have to get up even earlier to get an hour ride in at dawn, and this is still nowhere near as many miles as I got in before.

The good news is I get to spend more time driving my Fine German Steel.

My carbon footprint is now huge. Big V-8 with fuel economy not on the features list. Muhhahaaa!

On the technical note, in the past I had been using a Garmin Edge 305 for tracking my rides. It worked okay, at least well enough that I did not get motivated enough to replace it. However, it finally died when on of the switches failed. I considered buying a new unit, maybe a Garmin 705. Eventually I realized I carry a GPS with me anyhow, in the form of a company issued Blackberry.

The Blackberry is the Toyota of phones ( no, not uncontrolled acceleration), meaning good basic functionality. I loathe it. I really want an Android or iPhone, which I will happily pay for, but they are verboten for company mail/data, and I won't carry two phones. Thus, stuck in Blackberry purgatory.

I tried a couple different biking applications for the phone. They had to meet these basic criteria:
  1. Had to allow mapping/navigation. The Edge 305 did this, but just barely. It was rudimentary at best.
  2. MPH
  3. Total distance
  4. Some way to store and record rides
  5. Average Speed
  6. Elapsed time

Here are the things that the Garmin had which I knew I would have to live without:
  1. Heart rate monitor. Fun, but not critical
  2. Cadence. Haven't used it in years
  3. Native water resistance. BlackBerry is not water resistant.

The two I tried were iMapMyRide and TrimbleAllSport.

iMapMyRide was the cheapest, at $2.99. Well, it was a fail right out of the box. Although for other platforms, like iPhone and Droid, it appears it has a nice moving map display, for the Blackberry, no moving map for navigation. I need to be able to create a route ( or download one) in advance and follow it once on the road without printing route sheets. I also want to be able to deviate from the route and find my way home again.

So I tried Trimble AllSPortGPS. It was more expensive, at $19.99, but they have a 7 day trial so I got it to test. Also much less than a new Garmin.

It had all the features I wanted, including a nice map, but it had two shortcomings:
1. The route line, i.e the line of the route you are following on the moving map, is a faint thin green line that is almost impossible to see while riding, more so when overlaid over a street map.
2. The back light won't natively stay lit on my Blackberry for more than two minutes. So, you have to keep hitting a button to keep the map lit.

Frustratingly close, but both those items made the product almost unusable. So, I posted questions in the support forums. Low and behold, regarding the thin line, one of the actual developers answered with this reply ( to me and the other who also joined in):
"Good feedback guys. I'm thinking we will have to increase the width of the line..."

Well, that was during my trial week, so I had not even bought the product yet. However, based on that answer, I put my money down. Until a fix is supplied ( writing code takes time), I have turned off all background maps, so the route is just a green line against a white background. Its still low contrast and not perfect, but it is as usable as the old Garmin 305 system.

The back light was a bit more complex. There is no way on the Blackberry itself to keep the back light on indefinitely, and the Trimble application had no way to set that feature either. However, other Blackberry applications did it, so I knew it was possible. The answer was a Franken-Hybrid work around.

One application that does keep the back light on is "Trapster", an application I used anyhow in my constant duel with the po-po. The trick is to start Trapster, then start Trimble. Trapster will stay running in the background, keeping the lights on. You cane then ignore it. Other applications, like Telenav will do this too, but Trapster is free, Telenav is expensive.

Only weirdness to this is that occasionally Trapster gives out audible warnings about speed traps and red light cameras, which can startle you on a bike.

I post update on the Trimble setup as they develop. If any of you, my minions, have other solutions, let me know. I'm interested. But just barely.

-Evil C.

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