Friday, 18 December 2015

Review: Hi-Tec Trek Plus Activity Tracker

Years ago (and I do mean many years) I bought myself a Silva pedometer, as I had an idle curiosity about how far I walked every day (I had an outdoor job with a hefty commute to London every day for three years) and the fascination stayed with me for about a month or so, until eventually it was put in a box of precious things for safe-keeping, never to emerge in anger again.

And then, those awfully nice chaps at Mustard PR and Hi-Tec got together to ask me if I would like an early birthday present. As a sucker for presents I accepted with alacrity and so a couple of weeks back I received in the post a "Hi-Tec Trek Plus Activity & Sleep Tracker + Smartwatch with Heart Rate," to give it its full title, that is printed on the box it came in. It is a far more jazzier version of my old Silva pedometer; That's a bit like comparing a Typhoon fighter with the Wright Brothers' aeroplane, really...

It looks like this:


Recently I have noticed that quite a few of my friends have devices called 'Fitbits' and they regularly post on Facebook about how many steps they manage each day/week/month/year. It all seems highly competitive (but always in a good fun sort of way) and having once been a competitive sort, I thought it would be interesting to compare notes, from the sidelines, using my own data collector - for that is what the device is.

As you will have noted from the device's name, once strapped to your wrist, it tracks the number of your steps, converts this to distance (using your height and assumed stride length - which I'll get onto later), the calories you've burned walking this distance (it also takes into account your weight), the cumulative time you have been 'active' and, as long as you remember to tell it to do it, how long you have slept for. And on top of all that it connects to your smart phone (which may be buried in your jacket pocket) and vibrates on your wrist when things like emails and phone calls come in, which, surprisingly, I have found to be a very useful feature. Oh yes, it also measures your resting pulse during the day and lets you know the following day what it was - which I'll talk about later.

Ah - I have forgotten to let you know that it also tells the time and date: Handy, as it's on your wrist.

How do you extricate all these data from the thing? It's connected by bluetooth (I'm at the ragged edge of my techno-geekery here, I hope you'll understand) to your smartphone, when you remember to turn the bluetooth on on your phone.

I'll show you now in pictures what information it provides:


So from here, if you tap the 'steps' button, up pops the following screen:


Haven't I been a busy boy! Now, swipe to the right and up pops how far you've walked; I've chosen to do this in kilometers:


Swipe again to see how long I've been "active."


It looks like I was a bit of a slug on Thursday - but the truth is I had forgotten to strap the watch on until late in the afternoon. (I am currently wandering about with a wristwatch and my tracker. I feel slightly over-gadgeted...)

And swipe again to see how many chocolate bars you have metabolised...


And again:


Quite what I was doing on the Sunday to have a resting pulse of over 90, Lord only knows!


It appears that I have massively erratic sleep patterns... (More later)

If you now go back to home screen and swipe upwards, you will find this screen:


It is possible to link up with friends who have these Hi-Tec trackers to see how you compare to their efforts. But I don't have any friends. Well, none that have this device, so I'm a sad Billy-No-Mates who has no-one to trounce or be trounced by. Quite what the "Chat" is for, I am at a complete loss.

And that's a problem. This device came with the very bare minimum of instructions. All the written instructions tell you is how to charge it up, (it comes with a separate USB charging cable and adapter) how to do the strap up (which I find irritatingly fiddly) and that you have to download the Hi-Tec App to your phone. Of course, those brighter and younger than me will, in all likelihood, scoff at my dinosaur-like predilection for written instructions. But I struggled (yes, I know, we all have our struggles...) getting the device to do things.

Which leads me on to the sleep screen. Boy, have I struggled with this! I have deliberately chosen a week to display where I was moderately successful with the sleep function. Mostly, I am not. Setting this up to work seems to be a pretty random process. I have followed the 'tips' link from the drop-down menu at the top of the screen for instructions, but I have pretty random success with it.  I put the watch on in the morning after my breakfast & shower, and so the watch, sitting on my bedside cabinet, thinks I am blissfully sound asleep and gives me up to ten hours in the land of nod.

Other times, you will notice, I have not managed to turn the sleep timer on at all (even though I thought I had). If I were Hi-Tec, i would dump this pretty useless function. I can't make it work all the time and it is always only going to be accurate if you wear the thing 24 hours a day.

It's clear that the Steps, Distance, Time Active and Calories screens are identical in shape - only the vertical scale changes - which is to be expected, as all the results stem from the steps taken. Of course, everything comes down to your stride length. Hi-Tec estimate this for you, from your height. But you do have the ability to alter this manually if you know your real stride length. For my height (a smidgen under six feet) I have quite long legs (34" inside leg) and I'm pretty certain that it is underestimating my stride length. As an aside, Andy Walker, who has tiny little legs for his height has to walk zillions more paces than me to cover the same ground - He's a short-arse! Phil Lambert, on the other hand, is perfectly proportioned, or so Miss Whiplash claims. I need to be nerdy and go and count my strides over an exact known distance to work this all out. I expect the geeks amongst our congregation know this information already. I shan't tell. 

The Resting Pulse screen is interesting. Apparently the watch takes measurements when you are not leaping about being a mad young thing. However, the results are way higher than when I asked the watch to measure my pulse when resting - by about 10-15 bpm. It must choose moments to take the measurements when I'm swigging a gallon of coffee or staring at the internet of mad & crazy people doing and saying mad & crazy things. But, still, it is interesting to see that some days are obviously more stressful than others. I think a far more useful function would be a maximum pulse rate. That really would be thought provoking.

Battery life is about two days, which is a bit disappointing, as the blurb says it should last "up to five days between charges." Still - it's liveable and no big deal.

There is one niggle that I do wonder about: I've noticed a couple of times that I had an itchy rash under the wristband of the tracker. This only happened when I was changing the sheets of a bed - stuffing the bottom sheet under the heavy mattress and perhaps chafing my wrist. Another time I was carrying cardboard boxes around the place for a day. I had to take the tracker off and apply a cold flannel for a while to get the rash relieved. Could this be an allergic reaction to the plastic brought on by a sweaty wrist? I don't know, but am am now very conscious that it may be a problem.

So - the million dollar question: Would I buy this device with my own money?

I've worn it for over a fortnight now, (with some gaps when I forgot to put it on) and I am still interested to see how far I actually get around during the day. It would be far more interesting if some people I know had them and I could compare notes with them. Have Hi-Tec missed the boat here? Have Fitbit grabbed the market by the scruff of the neck? Who knows - only time will tell.

I shall continue to track my daily waltzes around the place, at least for a while. The Trek Plus won't be consigned to the 'precious things box' along with my Silva pedometer.

It's £80, all bar the shouting. There are cheaper versions, which you can find from Hi-Tec's site - click HERE to go there. I would probably go for the 'Hi-Tec Go', which doesn't bother with the pulse, but has all the other functions, at £60.

So, Yes: I would buy the Hi-Tec Go, but probably not the Hi-Tec Trek Plus. For £60, it's a good laugh and a bit of a motivational tool to get out more. Instead of sitting at home writing reviews, I would be out having a walk.

You can buy the Hi-Tec Plus on Amazon - see HERE for details - it's a penny below £80.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Family Matters

But Eeyore was saying to himself, "This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it."

No, I haven't been ignoring you. I've been away from the blogosphere for a little while, doing good work: Good deeds, indeed! And now I'm back. This is just a short post with a few pictures of happiness.

On 9th December Ezra Simeone arrived, very reluctantly, on his father's [Rod] birthday. It was all a bit traumatic, involving lots of doctors and nurses and the Intensive Care Unit, but everyone is fine now. He weighed in at 8 lb 9 oz. 

I'm a very proud Grandad, again.



Tuesday, 10 November 2015

TGO Challenge 2015, Part X: A Murdering Monoculture


The further you walk east on the TGO Challenge, the more you come face to face with murder, on an industrial scale. There's nothing new about shooting estates in Scotland; Game shoots have been an established part of Scottish life for over a hundred years. However, recently I've noticed a dramatic change. 

The hills in the east have been transformed from the rolling brown loveliness of the heather, to a dramatic chequerboard of muirburn. Game birds, usually grouse in this part of the world, feed on the young, more tender shoots of heather and so the estates regularly burn the heather in a patchwork to promote new growth.

The extent of muirburn is an indicator of how intensively the grouse moors are worked. The first picture, below, is how Glen Lee looked, in 2002. Mick Coady is cluttering up the foreground, descending from Muckle Cairn. You'll notice that there are one or two patches of muirburn.


The next picture was taken a year later. My son Oli is standing in a patch of young heather that was probably burned back a couple of years previously. You'll note that the muirburn is substantially the same; I can't see any new areas.


Fast forward ten years, to the picture below. That's some change, eh? All the hillsides are plastered with muirburn. 

So why am I bothered about this? Surely it means that the Estate is making best use of the land to maximise the economic benefit of landownership, and providing employment. Yes. It does mean that. 


Let me refer you back to the title of this piece: "A Murdering Monoculture." I'm not referring here to the chinless wankers who come up to the estates to murder birds for fun, as sickening and despicable as I find their behaviour. No. I'm talking about the Estates' murder, on an industrial scale, of the creatures who threaten the survival, in any way, of the grouse. Be they weasels, stoats, crows, or mountain hares (they can carry ticks which can reduce grouse populations), rest assured the Estates' employees are tasked to wipe them out.

This is carried out with a Holocaust-like fanaticism. They work only with the most cost effective ways of murdering the little creatures. For the birds, it's most often with Larsen traps. Once caught, the birds are beaten to death by the keeper - all quite legally. You can find out more about the many and various legal, and illegal, traps that are used regularly by shooting estates by clicking the link below:

However, you'll also note that many tagged raptors (eagles, buzzards, kites etc) seem to go "missing" around this part of Scotland, occasionally turning up dead somewhere miles away, dumped in a layby. You can read more about this by clicking the link below:

Golden eagle is dumped by lay-by and left to die lingering death

For an accurate take on Scottish shooting estates behaviour, I suggest you subscribe to the excellent site below:

All in all, it's a pretty sick industry, and one that, like Bear Baiting and sticking children up chimneys, should be abolished.

And now, for the last picture:


Please click on the picture to blow it up to a larger size. You'll note that climbing every hillside and along the top of every hill there are unsurfaced roads. The estates like to call them 'hill tracks'. But they are roads. You could quite easily drive your family car up these. They have all been built, or in some cases, rebuilt, in the last ten years or so. They stick out like sore thumbs. 

They are only there so people who want to go about murdering birds with shotguns for fun, can be driven up the hill in a rather nice Range Rover. These roads do not need any planning permission, as they are there for "agricultural purposes." 

Quite incredible.

When you are next approaching these areas this is what you will be faced with. The Killing Fields.


The Intensification of Grouse Moor Management

Saturday, 7 November 2015

A walk in the woods

Well then. We're all in. A week or so ago the Fat Controller (well, actually, these days the role of the Challenge Coordinator is shared by two sylph-like waifs, but it suited the description of the last incumbent, so I'll stick with tradition) popped a note on the TGO Challenge Message Board letting us know that this year the entry numbers had been raised and everyone could now come to the party.

Straight after reading this shocking news I looked down at my burgeoning belly, escaping from beneath my t-shirt. It looked back up at me, reproachfully. Oh God. I'm going to have to go for a walk now, to sort the bastard out.

It hammered down with rain this morning, but by mid afternoon it had blown through. My razor sharp mind calculated that there was just time for a quick out and back to the pond in the woods. 


Five miles, no passes. It's a doddle, this walking lark...