21 April 2014

One month with the Garmin Vivofit

I’m a sucker for fitness gadgets. The geekier the better. I also have two very sedentary jobs (software by day and novels by night). That’s why, when I first laid eyes on the Fitbit Ultra two years ago, I knew right away I had to have one. I loved that little gadget. I wore it everywhere, clipped to my pocket, smug in the knowledge that my new toy was helping me to at least maintain some bare minimum baseline of fitness. And it worked - until one day, when I reached down to unclip my Fitbit and check my steps, and I discovered it was gone. Gone as is most likely lying in a parking lot somewhere, crushed into a million pieces. Panicked, I raced across town to Best Buy to get a new one, only to discover that there was a new tracker available from Fitbit - the Force. This tracker, Fitbit promised, would sync with my phone. And you know what - it did. Like a champ. The Ultra was dead to me. Long live the Force. I was happy. Very happy. But as the old saying goes - all good things must come to an end. Rumors started spreading on the net about the Force causing blistering. And then the rumors became fact, followed by a complete product recall. While I had never had a skin reaction quite as severe as I saw online (trust me - don’t Google it. You’ll thank me), I had experienced some unexplained redness in the same location as the pictures. I decided to look around and see what else was out there. As it turns out, the market had kind of exploded since I had last shopped for a tracker. Polar, Basis, Jawbone, Nike (glad I didn’t jump on that bandwagon)… and Garmin all had new trackers on the market, all promising to do the same job as my trusty Fitbit Force.

What followed next is pretty typical for me. I researched. Like a madman. I scoured the internet, reading reviews of all the different trackers, evaluating the pros and cons of each one, searching for the perfect tracker to take the place of my poor Fitbit. But during my research, I kept coming back to one tracker in particular - the Garmin Vivofit. You see, it had one feature that, for me, made it stand out above all the rest: a replaceable battery. You don’t have to charge the thing every five or six days. For me, this is huge. If there was one thing I hated about the Fitbit (the only thing, really), it was having to take it off my wrist every few days and plug it into a USB cable. Really? This, by the way, is why I think the whole smart-watch movement is doomed. Things you wear should fade into the background  - not demand constant fiddling. The Garmin promised to last for a year between charges. I was sold. Off I went, to the nearby Tucson REI, to acquire my new Vivofit. I chose the base model, for $130. You can also get a version that includes an ANT+ heart rate monitor for an additional $40. I toyed with getting the blue strap, but ended up with the black one: (I know - boring, but functional)

The other neat feature of the Vivofit that intrigued me was the dynamic step goal. In addition to displaying your current step count, your daily step count goal, the time (yay!), mileage, and your heart rate (optional), the screen also displays a series of red bars across the top if you remain inactive for too long. The first bar appears after an hour, and every fifteen minutes another smaller red bar appears. These bars are you cue to get off your ass and move around for a little bit - to get your blood flowing. This is genius. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been sitting in my chair slinging code or working on a chapter, and meanwhile two or three hours have passed and I haven’t moved a muscle. Now all it takes is a casual glance at the Vivofit every once in a while and I know it’s time to get up and move.

You’re probably wondering if there’s anything I don’t like about the Vivofit? There is. And I can sum it up in two words. Garmin Connect. After using the Fitbit website and app for a year, switching to Garmin Connect feels like going from Gigabit ethernet to dialup. It’s just not there. And not only is the software still in its infancy, there’s no way to sync your data with MyFitnessPal. This, if anything, is the Vivofit’s achilles heel. Your data is stranded on the Garmin island, all by its lonesome, and aside from a few hacks I’ve read about (Garmin Connect -> RunKeeper -> MFP), that’s where your data will stay unless you do manual entry. Which is what I do.

That said, I love this device. It does what I was looking for: It tracks my steps and motivates me to move around on a more regular basis. It doesn’t cause my wrist to itch, and I don’t have to charge it every few days. Win. Win. Win.

05 April 2014

Giveaway! Win signed copies of all four Elements of the Undead books!

I've got a few complete sets of Elements of the Undead books sitting on my bookshelf, and I'd like to give them away to the first three people that can answer three out of the following four questions:

1. In which New Mexico city did Jack Wolfe live before the zombie apocalypse?
2. Name the three poets quoted in Fire.
3. How long is a Coast Guard RB-M, the boat piloted by Chris, at the end of Earth?
4. What the heck was the robed skeletal figure in the shack on Isla Perpetua? (hint: You'll know right away if you watched season three of Breaking Bad)

When you have your answers, just click on the email link in the top right corner of my blog and send them over. The first three people win signed copies.

This contest is open to everyone, everywhere. Except maybe Antarctica.


17 March 2014

Waddya know? I just wrote a new zombie story.

After a crazy month of working on Blood in the Streets (book number three in my Reluctant Hero series), I needed to shift gears for a couple of days and do something different to clear my head. I typically have a half-dozen or so partially complete manuscripts lying around that I can return to in these situations, but this time I decided to do something different. The first draft of Fire had this really cool chapter about a woman in Montana and her encounter with a zombie. I loved it. LOVED it. But the problem was, it didn't hang with the rest of the book. I tried to make it work at the time, but after several rewrites, I finally abandoned it and moved on and forgot about it. Last Friday though, while I was on my lunch break at my day job, I had an idea. What if I took that scene and blew it up into a standalone story? I was hesitant at first. After all, I had already rewritten this piece several times. But the thought wouldn't go away. By writing it as a standalone, I could, in theory, make it something better (I hope) than it ever could have been as part of Fire. I decided to give it a try.

So - over the course of the past several days, I've been slowly accumulating words. I started at around 2000 (which is pretty thin, I have to admit). Tonight, I'm happy to say, I just wrapped the rough draft at 4657 words. That's only about eighteen pages in print. Short. Really, really short. But I like it. A lot. I'm going to tinker with it for a few more days, make some adjustments, and if I still like it after that, you guys may even get a chance to read it. Maybe...

And now that that's out of the way, I can get back to finishing Blood in the Streets.

01 March 2014

Finally - a zombie show with some brains ;)

I'm talking about In the Flesh, a kick-ass BBC series (only three episodes, unfortunately) that came out last year. Set shortly after humanity has emerged victorious from the zombie apocalypse, the show revolves around a young man named Kieren Walker, who, as a partially-cured former-zombie, is trying to rejoin the world of the living. The show does an amazing job exploring the dynamic between the terminally ill former zombies (who have to get a shot every day to avoid reverting) and the surrounding human population.  I don't want to give anything away, but I highly recommend checking it out if you want a good Z-story that challenges the way you think. You can find it on Amazon streaming.

26 February 2014

18 February 2014

Reluctant Hero, #3 (Blood in the Streets) is coming along nicely...

For those of you who've been patiently waiting for the third installment in my Reluctant Hero series, I wanted to let you know that things are progressing nicely. I'm aiming for a rough (and I mean rough in the most generous of terms) draft by the end of this month. It's funny coming back to characters I haven't worked with in several years - it's sort of like reconnecting with an old high school friend on Facebook. They've been going about their business, living their lives quietly while I live mine.

When I first wrote The Patriot Paradox way back in 2010, I never could have imagined I'd still be thinking about Kurt and Amanda four years later. Yet here I am. And here they are. Stay tuned! It's going to be killer ride!

27 October 2013

Cover reveal - Water: Elements of the Undead, #4

With the fourth volume in the Elements of the Undead series inching closer to completion, I thought I'd give you guys a look at the cover art:

Once again, thanks to the awesome team at Streetlight Graphics for helping my turn my sketchy idea into a killer piece of cover art!