Exercise

EA Sports Active: Day 5

I’ve had a little more time to get used to EA Sports Active now. I stopped using the Balance Board in my workouts and that cut down on the annoying peripheral switching a lot. I’ve done four of the 30 Day Fitness Challenge workouts – yesterday was a scheduled rest day.

Now that I’m a few days into it, the preconfigured workouts – playlists, if you will – are what really make this title. The exercises are all similar to what’s in Wii Fit, but the controls feel sluggish and clunky compared to the balance board. But I’m getting a much more comprehensive workout because it’s leading me through a variety of exercises. On WiiFit I tend to just pick my favorites, do 10-15 minutes of those, and call it a day.

The lack of thought required to get a good workout out of EA Sports gives it a big boost in longevity. I really, really, didn’t feel like working out today, and thought about skipping it. Needless to say the pre-programmed workout was much more rigorous than the exercises I would have chosen this morning. So I got in a good workout despite myself.

I’ve seen a lot of WiiFit vs EA Sports Active articles, and I don’t think that’s really a fair comparison. If you’re just getting a wii as an exercise tool, you should probably go with EA Sports Active because it’s a little cheaper and gives you a better workout. But the price comparison overlooks the fact that WiiFit includes the Balance Board, which is a peripheral that’s useful in other games. Whereas EA Sports Active isn’t.

I’m a big fan of the idea of whole-body gaming, partly because I think it’s neat technology and partly because I like the idea of getting some exercise but find most sports incredibly boring. EA Sports Active is really just an interactive workout video. And it’s great at that, but if I wasn’t already interested in getting in shape I wouldn’t find it particularly compelling. Titles like Dance Dance Revolution SuperNova 2 and Shaun White Snowboarding are games, not exercise programs, and that’s more interesting to people like me who skipped PE as a kid. Unfortunately the Balance Board offerings so far have been pretty meager – most have received awful reviews. It’ll be interesting to see if publishers pick up the slack or just let the Balance Board go the way of the NES Power Pad.

Overall I think WiiFit and EA Sports are both good titles, but they server different needs. If you want a workout program, get EA Sports. If you want to play games and get your heart rate up a little along the way, get WiiFit.

Uncategorized

Spamalicious

I’ve been getting a lot of spam comments lately, mostly for Viagra and pictures of Paris Hilton nude, but as I was cleaning out the spam filter one caught my eye. I almost wish it was a legitimate comment:

Stargate Cast Member Hoax!!! These people are not even on the real set of Stargate. It looks like it was shot on green screen. I can tell. Just like the footage of the first American on the moon

Of course it was accompanied by some phishing / Miley Cyrus nude link… but the comment itself is hillarious to me.  As if anyone would go to trouble of staging a Stargate hoax of any kind. Also there may have been a period in college where I watched Stargate. A lot.

Exercise

EA Sports Active

I caved to internet peer pressuer and picked up a copy of EA Sports Active. I was getting a little bored with Wii Fit, and sort of annoyed that it takes you 45 minutes to get in 30 minutes of exercise because you have to pick a new task each time… you can’t just queue up a workout.

Plus I wanted to see if it lived up to the hype.

So far Sports Active is being touted as THE MOST AMAZING EXERCISE GAME. As of this morning 100% of its reviews on Amazon were 5 star.

The game starts off like pretty much every other workout video/ad/pitch you’ve ever seen. Some guy in a fleece vest starts telling you how awesome and perfect your life will be once you follow him and stop being such a pathetic lump. There’s some upbeat ambient music to emphasise this point. It’s cheesy but inoffesive.

I started the 30 day fitness challenge because it required the least amount of thought. Over a 30 day period the game picks workouts for you each day, mixing it up and making sure you’re getting an even workout. If you don’t feel like doing that you can do any of the dozens of pre-programmed workouts or build your own. But, I’m lazy. If I wasn’t lazy I wouldn’t have bought an exercise video game, now would I?

See this girl? She is way more into it than me.
See this girl? She is way more into it than me.

After day 1 I’ll concede that it’s a strong title for the Wii exercise genre, and fills some voids Wii Fit left behind, but I’m not sure it’s my new religion. I had trouble getting some of the exercises to register – particularly the lunges. Overall things seemed a little sluggish – my avatar would follow me about 2 seconds behind. The balance board didn’t bring much to the experience, and I’ll probably leave it out next time just because it was one more thing I kept having to bring out / push out of the way.

The exercises themselves were pretty good, and things changed up pretty quickly so I didn’t have time to get bored… which was nice. I’ve had a hard time motivating myself to do 10 minutes of hula hooping now that my boyfriend isn’t around to appreciate the effort.

My biggest beef is that it felt cumbersome to switch back and forth between all the gear. Nunchuck in leg strap. Nunchuck in hand. Get on the wii balance board. No, with the nunchuck in the strap. Now stand on the resistance band. Oh but holding the nunchuck this time. Yeah.

It’s a title worth picking up if you want to add something to your exercise routine but don’t actually want to join a gym / go outside. Also it tells you how many calories you’ve (theoretically) burned, and that’s a lot like points. And you all know how I feel about points. I’ll post updates as I go through more of the workouts and get a better feel for the overall game. Program. Whatever.

Uncategorized

The Fall of Dell

There was a time, in the mid-90s, when I really liked Dell computers. I was baffled by why someone would walk into Circuit City and buy some pre-fab underpowered peice of junk with a bunch of useless peripherals when you could just go to dell.com and get exactly what you wanted. And the idea of dealing with Circuit City’s tech support was laughable because Dell’s was so good. Between our household and my dad’s business we probably bought around 20 Dell computers over the years.

Fast forward to about 2002, which is the last time I bought a Dell. Gone are the tech support guys who actually know how to use a computer, all replaced by folks in other countries reading from a script. I guess if you don’t know what’s wrong with your computer the step-by-step drone troubleshooting is fine, but god help you if you actually know anything about your computer and you’re stuck talking to these people. No, I don’t want to change the display settings, it’s a hardware problem. Yes, I already did that five times. *go through 10 minute process* Nope, still broken. Really, we have to do it again before you can transfer me to someone with a clue?

But admittedly the awful customer service isn’t the full reason I stopped buying Dells. I have an HP now, and I’m sure their tech support is just as awful. Oh, and I purchased my HP from CompUSA, which may actually be a step down on the food chain from Circuit City. Although both are defunct now so I guess it’s a wash.

But the real impetus behind my conversion to off-the-shelf machines is that it just doesn’t matter that much anymore. In 1997 being able to leave off the printer/modem (uh hello we had ISDN)/CRT etc and put that money towards more memory/processor gave you a big boost in performance. Now, not so much. We’ve hit a plateau in consumer processing needs. There are very few applications that require the latest and greatest hardware.

My HP is about two years old. It has a couple gig of ram and somewhere around a 2 GHz processor. Aside from having to throw a decent graphics card in there to play Portal, it’s totally sufficient. I can run Photoshop/Illustrator/CorelDraw all at once without problems, Steam games run just fine on it, and I really don’t find myself wanting for a faster machine. I remember a time when I wanted a computer with as many hard drive bays as possible so I could stuff it full of disks (I promptly blew out the power supply). Now you can get a 1TB hard drive for under $100. Ten years later the hardware just isn’t as important as it used to be.

Dell, in a bizarre bone-headed move to stay relevant, has released a new advertising campaign: Della. This consists of a number of machines that come in colors besides white or grey because apparently the thing women care about most is whether the computer matches their furniture. And in an age where the hardware isn’t terribly relevant anymore maybe that is the only real consideration. I’ve got no qualms with marketing computers towards women, but the whole website comes off as pretty patronizing. I might want a computer that isn’t a blight on my living room decor but I still plan on using it for world domination.

Della has a page of “tech tips.” Here is a sample tip:

Eat better: Find recipes online, store and organize them, and watch cooking videos.

I’m sorry Dell, there’s no alternate universe in which that counts as a tech tip. Unless the computer is also a personal chef-robot. Oh and here’s a hint, even the most techno-phobic women can already do that, with these ingenious things called recipe books, a Rolodex, and cable TV.

Dell’s latest ad campaign illustrates pretty clearly that they’re out of touch. Seriously the “look you can use a computer for your womenly duties” thing is so 1994. What was once a purveyor of perfectly good consumer hardware is now more like a monolith of #fail.


Exercise, Hacking

Weight Hacking

I was dismayed recently to find my WiiFit calling me fat. Yes, it actually said (in its squeaky little voice) “that’s overweight.” While I’m not in the habit of letting an $80 plastic washboard dictate my lifestyle, my pants agreed. They said “lose 5 pounds or buy new pants.” Since I’m self-employed and like designer jeans I have no choice but to go with option one.

Let me start by saying that I will do anything for points. It doesn’t matter what the points are for, I want them. When I was saving up for video games as a kid I drew little thermometers and filled them up as I saved my money, just like your college alumni drive does. I play Xbox Live games more than others because there are points and a leaderboard and achievements and the achievements get you points and I want them all. And lucky for me, WeightWatchers is all about points.

On WeightWatchers you get a certain number of points per day, and all food has a set value of points (based on the fat/calories/fiber in it). And you can eat whatever the heck you want… as long as you don’t go over the points. You can also earn extra points by exercising, and get a bank of 35 spare points per week so you can eat normal people food and not blow your whole diet. Although tedious to some people, I find this to be an entertaining numbers game. And a challenge to hack my diet to maximum delicousness.

For example: a Chipotle Burrito with cheese and guacamole is 22 points. By comparison, my daily target is 20. Obviously the cheese and guac are big contributors here, and I’m sad to see them go. But all in the name of progress (and not having to buy new pants) I forgo the cheese/guac. Now we’re down to 15. In theory I could just eat half the burrito and save the rest for tomorrow and thus not totally blow my points for the day. But that’s not much fun now is it?

What’s interesting is that according to this handy-dandy calculator (which gets its values from Chipotle’s nutrition facts) the tortilla used to wrap the burrito is also a huge contributor. Nixing the tortilla and opting for the “burrito bowl” brings me down to 9 points. And it is a rather lot of food, so I eat 3/4 of it and save the rest for lunch tomorrow. So now I’m at 7 points, and honestly I didn’t miss the cheese/guac. That much.

You can figure out the points values with some simple math or another handy-dandy calculator and the printed nutrition facts. For stuff you cook at home you can guesstimate using the ingredients list and google… there are a handful of points charts floating around that tell you the value of things like eggs, broccoli, etc. For folks who like beer there’s a nice points values for beers list. It’s by no means comprehensive, but gives me a rough idea. Most of the beers I like are around 4 points.

Having to add up my points for everything has cut out a lot of my snacking, or at least made me switch to healthier options (bananas instead of chocolate). By skipping the cheese/guac on my burrito I freed up 7 points. An ice cream cone is about 5 points. I would much rather have ice cream than cheese on my burrito.

It’ll take about a month before I can tell if it’s actually helping, but in the short term WiiFit has stopped calling me fat. Now it says I’m just festively plump. In addition to the WeightWatchers I’ve been biking more and getting pretty darn good at WiiFii hula hooping, but I think not eating candy constantly will go a long way towards staying in my current pant size.

Uncategorized

Learning Android (or, not)

Wednesday night some friends and I sat down armed with our G1s and laptops to write some code for Android. If you haven’t looked at Android yet, it’s got this whole Java framework you get to learn on top of your rusty Java. It’s been about two years since I even looked at any Java, and most of my evening was spent trying to convince Eclipse and SDK to play nicely together on my computer.

Since Android is so deeply seated in its own framework even though it’s Java you can’t just throw any old Java application on it and expect it to run. This seems a little contrary to Java’s big cross-platform compatibility promise. But since I’ve always found that to be a horrible lie anyway, I don’t really care. So I’m learning Android, and it looks a lot like Java.

The Android SDK includes an Android emulator so you can play with it even if you don’t own an Android phone, and while it’s dog slow to boot it works pretty well. You can set which version of the OS you want to run (1.5 is supposedly coming out this month), although damned if I know how; I just followed the instructions in the Hello World tutorial.

I have to say that this is the longest process from start to Hello World I’ve ever gone through. And that’s my main beef with Java. It seems like every project has 1000 classes and I spend half my time on a wild goose chase trying to figure out what a given line of code is doing. This is exactly the sort of thing I can’t stand about highly OO PHP projects like Magento. Even doing simple stuff feels really really bloated. With Android you can hello world in your code, but really what you’re supposed to do is load your strings up in an XML file, and then load the layout into another XML file, and then some depths of the framework I haven’t read up on magically know to throw this on the screen. Ugh. Maybe this is something I’d appreciate if I did much GUI programming in other languages?

Anyway, so we got through Hello World, and then I lost patience with both Eclipse and the Android framework. I closed Eclipse, and when I restarted it had apparently forgotten all about the Android SDK. I’m sure this is due to some error on my part, but given that it took me 20 minutes to convince Eclipse to install the SDK the first time I didn’t feel like doing it again.

The XML file for your gui is kinda neat, but the documentation is not particularly well laid out. After setting up my little sample XML file with attributes like “layout_width” and “layout_height” I naturally wanted to know what other attributes I could play with. Can I make it pink? Can I make the text an inch tall? The answer to all these things is of course “yes” but first you have to find the list of available attributes, and then you have to figure out what class you’re dealing with (TextView in this case) and then you have to find out all of its parent classes, and then compare all thath against the documentation which you can really only sanely traverse with CTRL+F because apparently they didn’t feel like organizing things with nice hyperlinks.

I’m sure that the Android documentation is totally fine for someone who is used to working with Java frameworks, but frankly I avoid most frameworks at all costs. This might be because I work mostly with PHP, and in PHP a framework is just one more slow broken thing you have to debug. So I’ll keep plugging away at Android, but it’s going to take a lot more reading than I have the patience for this week.

Business, Uncategorized

Getting Legit

Today was spent filling out forms, paying fees, and otherwise transforming Everything Tiny from a fly-by-night sole proprietorship to a legitimate LLC. I’ve waited until this long for a couple reasons…. for one I’m moving to New Jersey on Sunday, and it seemed stupid to set everything up in New York just to have to move it all in a few months. Secondly I wasn’t really sure if the whole thing was going to work, and didn’t want to fork over a ton of time/energy just to have to cancel it all next month. But after processing another wholesale order I figured it was time.

Here’s what I did:

Professional Printing

Up until now I’ve been printing my own packaging. When your packaging design changes every week, it just doesn’t make sense to have hundreds professionally printed. But I’ve finally got something I plan on sticking with for a while, so I went and ordered some nice glossy pre-cut matchbook covers (for the basic Tinysaurs) from overnightprints.com. I’ve heard mixed reviews for them – it sounds like if you use them long enough they’re bound to screw up irreparably – but I’m chancing it for now.

Federal Employee ID Number

I don’t have any employees now, but if things keep going they way they have been (fingers crossed) I’m going to need at least a part-time employee soon. So I went and got myself a FEIN. It took all of 5 minutes on the IRS website.

New Jersey LLC Registration

I’m now an official LLC, and can get a business checking account! The LLC forms were a little more in-depth than the IRS forms, and a little harder to fill out. I think the hardest part was figuring out what industry I’m in. Manufacturing? Arts and entertainment? Retail? Since my plan for this year is to do mostly wholesale and not retail, I went with manufacturing. There were some sub-codes for independent artisans, so I went with that.

UPC Codes

I plan on selling my stuff at some medium-sized retailers, some of whom use barcode scanners with their checkout. To get my stuff to work with their systems I need UPC barcodes on all my stuff, and each one has to be unique per product. I did a whole bunch of research… it’s expensive! You can register with GS1, but it ends up being abour $1000 to start, and then an extra few hundred dollars a year. I’m sure to a major manufacturer that’s nothing, but to me it’s pretty steep, so I decided to purchase barcodes for a reseller for the time being.

There are some drawbacks to purchasing from a reseller. First off, they’re not really your barcodes. They’re someone else’s barcodes, with someone else’s prefix, and they’ve been sold to you. For smaller retailers this isn’t a big deal. If you’re planning to sell your stuff to Wal-Mart or Target, this may cause problems. You also have to do research on your reseller – there was a change in GS1’s policies and only companies who registered with GS1 before August 2002 can resell UPCs. It’s really hard to find objective information because of course all the people providing it want you to buy from them.

Business Cards

Business Cards for real!
Business Cards for real!

So far business cards have been sort of an afterthought. Usually the night before a show I’ll think “Oh shoot, business cards!” and run some off on my home printer. I finally got my act together and had some printed up not only for me but also for my sales rep, Katherine (that’s right, I have a sales rep. You’re jealous).

Overall it was a busy day. I gave my business debit card quite a workout, and my books probably will look a little sadder this month than I thought, but most of it is one-time expenses I won’t have to worry about ever again. I rewarded myself with a bike ride through Liberty State Park with Chris, and we found that the Liberty Science Center is only a 5 minute bike ride away from home! This means we can go see films in IMAX and planetarium shows whenever we want. Now Chris is cooking dinner, I’d say it was a pretty good day.

Business

Managing Wholesale Accounts

Wholesale accounts are great. You move a ton of product with minimal effort compared to retail sales, and if things go well you’ll have a nice steady stream of repeat business. When I first started wholesaling I realized I was going to need a better way of keeping track of orders and payments than just my Paypal account. A spreadsheet will do you allright, but can be a bit of a chore to maintain.

I own a copy of Quickbooks, and actually know how to use it, but I haven’t set it up yet because it’s kind of a chore. And right now I’m working from any of three places, so having my invoicing tied to one machine is kind of a bummer.

Enter Freshbooks. Freshbooks is an online invoicing tool which makes things really easy. You enter your client info, put together an invoice, and send it via email or snailmail. If you send the invoice via email the client will get a link to a login page where they can view the invoice and, if you’ve set it up, pay it. I just got around to configuring mine to work with Paypal / Google Checkout.

It’s made my life a lot easier because I can see at a glance how much wholesale business I’ve done this month and which stores are purchasing the most. And I can track who has paid and who hasn’t easily. You can also get a report of which items are the bestsellers, although it’s a little clunky. But really the best thing about it is that it’s available from anywhere, so even if I’m traveling I can follow up on invoices.

Freshbooks also offers expense and time tracking which I haven’t used, currently I’m using Mint.com for expense tracking until I have the time to spend a morning setting up Quickbooks. You can also have additional accounts for staff members, which I don’t have. The free version lets you have up to 3 clients, after that plans start at $15/month.

Granted, Freshbooks doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do on your own with a little more time and energy, but both of those are a precious commodity for me. So being able to farm it out to someone else is a big plus. And I like that clients can log in and view their accounts at any time, see what’s due, etc. So far I’m happy with them. If you use something else to manage your wholesale clients, tell me about it in the comments!

Business, Crafting

Spring Bada-Bing Recap

Sara and I got back from Spring Bada-Bing late last night. All in all I’d say it was a good show! We’re a little exhausted, and things didn’t always go quite as smoothly as we’d planned, but we still had a good time and made some good sales.

We couldn’t have asked for a better organized show. First off, the venue was beautiful and perfect for an upscale craft show. Unloading in the morning was a breeze, there were plenty of volunteers who helped lug our stuff to our table.  Tables were provided as part of the booth fee, along with two chairs, and it was nice not to have to worry about bringing them down with us.

There aren’t a lot of lunch options near the venue, Plant Zero, but the Richmond Craft Mafia organized an opt-in lunch for vendors. It was delicious, less than $10 for a sandwich/salad/drink, and delivered right to the booth. Not bad at all. This is the 4th year the craft mafia girls have put on the show, and it shows. If anything went wrong at the show I was totally unaware of it.

Attendance seemed a little lower than I was expecting, but I’m not sure how much of that is just my perception.  It’s a nice big space and the walkways were pretty generous (way nicer than the alternative), so it takes a lot of people to really look full. The only downside of Plant Zero is that it doesn’t really have much built-in foot traffic since it’s tucked away on the south side, but there was a steady if light stream of customers. It seemed like the ratio of buyers to browsers was pretty high, a lot of the people who stopped by our table ended up buying something. I’m happy to say I don’t have any customer horror stories to report of terrible children or rude adults.

The million dollar question for any show is of course how much did you make versus the cost of the show. We did OK.  Sara and I both had busy schedules leading up to the show so we weren’t quite as polished and prepared as we would have liked, and I think it affected sales a little. For us travelling from Philly and New York, it was a decent but not amazing show.

I’m getting pretty picky about my shows in my old age, and I’d definitely do Spring Bada-Bing again next year. But tie it into a mini-vacation in Richmond so I have a little more time to relax and don’t feel like I’m travelling down just for the show. And if you live close enough to Richmond you could do the show as a day trip it’s a no brainer, it’s totally worth the very reasonable booth fee.