running technology

Forerunner 55 vs Pixel Watch: Initial Thoughts

A few days ago I laid out my technology woes, about how I think I incorrectly purchased a Pixel Watch. Well folks, since then I bought a Garmin Forerunner 55 and now I’m worried that my Pixel Watch is about to become a Pixel Paperweight. Here’s why:

The Forerunner is light. Way lighter than the Pixel, and oftentimes I don’t even realize it’s on my wrist. Note: This is kind of different now as I switched from wearing it on my left right to my right wrist — I’m not ambidextrous, per se, but I’m left handed with some things and right handed with others, so I’m trying out this placement to see if I like it better, but it also means that I’m far more aware of the watch now. Also, the Forerunner has a lot more air holes in the watch band than the Pixel. I know these are for sizing for large or small wrists, but I appreciate it way more than the Pixel band, which is mostly closed off and thus was irritating my wrist because that part of my skin couldn’t breathe as easily.

The Pixel Watch feels a lot like something that’s trying to constantly make its presence known. Its Tilt to Wake feature makes me think of some obsequious servant who is always there when you need them. With the Forerunner, it feels more like “You come to me if you need anything.” Which I guess I like? I’m realizing as I use it that I’m definitely an Elder Millennial, because a lot of aspects of this watch that I like are things that I’m familiar with.

Like, for example, the LED screen, as opposed to Pixel’s AMOLED. I know I should probably like the latter more, but honestly the LED screen of the Forerunner makes me feel like I’m playing a Tamagotchi game, except instead of a little dinosaur I have to feed at 7am sharp or else it’ll die1This is an example and something that I literally had to do in 7th grade, with my little t-rex tamagotchi. That lasted maybe two or three weeks., it’s me. I’m the Tamagotchi! And I do have to feed myself. Hell, the watch even prompts me to move and has a little “move bar” which starts to turn red if I don’t move. Fitbit does this too, but it’s much more of a pleasant, “You’re an adult” chime coupled with a graphic showing you how many steps you have left that hour. The Forerunner, at least with the watch face I’m using, just shouts “MOVE!” and then when I move enough it says “Move Bar Cleared!” which, I’m telling you, as a gamer, fills a niche in my soul I didn’t know I had.

I got the aqua band because you gotta have some color in your life, you know?

Speaking of watch faces, Garmin provides a bunch as do third parties. I got one that has a “kitchen sink” approach because I like data and I like all of it in one place. The Pixel has watch faces too, but again, they are more elegant and for business people. You can track steps and calories and such through the Fitbit app, but it takes a bit more swiping. It’s all very nice, honestly. Very 2023, very cool and sleek and rounded.

One thing on the Pixel I’m surprised I wasn’t a fan of is the crown on the side. This is a selling point of the watch, that you can press the crown and spin it to go through apps and such, but I really only used it for that and it felt more awkward than just making the whole thing a swipe function. Plus if I bent my hand back enough, which happens occasionally, it would press the crown which was annoying. (Obviously this only happens if you wear it on your left hand.) The Forerunner, meanwhile, has buttons on the side, and I appreciate the tactile aspect of it, which I think is another Elder Millennial thing. I often found when I was running or walking with the Pixel that it was swiping through the screens on Strava on its own and I’m not sure how. Brushing my sleeve or something? But that won’t happen with my Forerunner and I like that.

I think most of all, though, I like that Garmin has a wider array of statistics than Fitbit or Strava. Fitbit was sort of driving me nuts. It’s clearly designed for casual exercisers or people who don’t care as much about stats. Which is fine! Whatever gets you out of the house, right? But I like stats, I like seeing the data progress. I like that Garmin has a coach feature and suggested runs. I like that I can see how terrible my VO2 Max is. I’m not even quite sure what that is, but it’s not great! Garmin also has a better recovery system than Fitbit, which has a more general “Readiness Score,” which is helpful if you just need to know how hard to go the next day, but Garmin uses recovery to help suggest workouts, which I think is better. Fitbit has a bunch of exercise videos that you can watch and follow along with, but it’s not the same. Again, Fitbit is totally fine for a certain type of person, and ultimately I don’t think I’m that person.

The only thing so far that’s been weird with Garmin is the sleep mode, which thought I fell asleep at 9:30pm last night even though that’s just when I went to bed. (Yeah I went to bed early last night, deal with it.) It also said that I never woke in the middle of the night, which is absolutely not true. To be fair, Garmin’s own website says that their sleep profile is about 70% accurate. I think Fitbit was erring too much the other way though, saying I was awake for over an hour every night, which also cannot be true. If I had to choose, I’d rather err on me getting more sleep, because sleep is good.

So what do I do with my Pixel Watch? Well, hopefully I can sell it. That’s the most ideal option. But in lieu of that, it’ll probably sit collecting dust in my drawer, acting as a backup in case my Forerunner explodes or dies somehow. It is surreal to think that I am trading in my $400 watch for my $160 watch, but it’s true. I think overall, except with computer parts, if I can buy the thing for $200 or lower, I’ll go that route. I don’t need a super fancy smartwatch that has a bunch of apps on it, I need a watch that helps me get better at running. The end.

Also, I’m aware of the irony that I got this watch with the LED screen pretty much the day Garmin announced their AMOLED watch series. I don’t really care, because like I just said, I don’t want to pay more than $200 for non-computer electronics anymore, if I can help it.

Alright, that’s it. Time to get back into the swing of things. Parkrun #6 tomorrow!

  • 1
    This is an example and something that I literally had to do in 7th grade, with my little t-rex tamagotchi. That lasted maybe two or three weeks.
rants technology

Technology Woes

Folks, I think I made a mistake. See, a few months back I decided to trade my Samsung A71 in for a Pixel 7 Pro. I was enticed by Google Fi’s “Pixel Pass,” a $50/month option in which you get a free phone upgrade after two years. I liked the Pixel 4 so I decided to give it a shot.

That, so far, had been fine. The Pixel 7 Pro is pretty cool and fast and good. I’m starting to have a more existential objection to the size of the phone itself, but that’s a topic for later. The phone works and is good.

Then, a couple months after that, I took the plunge and got a Pixel Watch. At this point, I had decided: I am a Google Boy. I will get all the Google things. Why not. The Pixel Watch seemed neat and I’d never had a smartwatch before (aside from a very cheap, very defunct watch I bought from China a few years ago). So I bought it. It is the crux of this conversation so I’ll come back to it.

Month or two later, I bought the Pixel Buds Pro. These I like, and I hate earbuds. I really had to hype myself up for these, but they sound great and they don’t make me feel like I’m compacting my ear canal with wax, which is what other, cheaper earbuds feel like. I like this.

Now, as you may know, I am in my 2023 Marie Kondo mode, getting rid of stuff and trying to make my space simpler and sleeker. I’ve also been running, which you definitely know about because I won’t shut up about it. One of my problems with runs is that I have this Pixel phone which is pretty big and heavy, heavy enough to notice when I’ve got it in my pocket for runs. Long story short, the damn thing pulls my joggers down when I’m running and it’s kind of obnoxious. I even bought one of those armbands that holds your phone but that is also a pain in the ass. So, know that that was in the back of my mind when I thought, “Why did I get such a big phone?” which turned into “Why did I get such an expensive phone?” which turned into “Why did I get a Google phone?” etc etc etc.

And so I went to Google Fi, my carrier (which is a good carrier, btw, never had a problem with it). This is when I realized that I was locked into all this stuff: Pixel Pass means I can’t trade in my phone. In fact, Pixel 7 phones aren’t even listed among the items I could trade in. If I cancel Pixel Pass, I have to pay the remainder of my phone’s cost. Which is absurd–why not just switch it over to month-to-month, like you do with every other phone?

That’s alright; the phone is good, if big. I can deal with that. Pixel Pass is nice, and the added features (device protection, YouTube Premium, Google One, and $5 off my plan) are worth it. I just wish I had a smaller phone! Never thought I would think that, but now that I’m running I need something a little smaller and lighter.

The Buds I don’t want to trade in. They are great, no issues.

The watch. The damn watch. I can’t trade it in because there’s nothing to trade it in with. It’s a fine smartwatch but here’s the thing, the wrinkle that helped spur my desire: my health insurance include Rally, which is a whole service dedicated toward fitness and health and wellness. Part of this includes “coins” you can earn which go toward rewards. One of the recent rewards is 25% off a Garmin smartwatch (and $60 off an Oura ring, which is also kind of tempting). This made me think of recent YouTube videos I watched from the Running Channel, in which they tested Garmin’s “suggested” feature for runs based on your activity, which I thought was pretty neat.

Fitbit does this too, but not to the degree Garmin does. And then this morning I was thinking: What do I want out of a smartwatch? Like, what do I use my Pixel Watch for? Heart rate, Strava, Fitbit, and sometimes I use the voice recorder if I had a particularly weird dream. But … I realized I don’t even look at the watch for the time of day. Thus, it dawned on me: I don’t need a smartwatch, I need a fitness watch. I need a Garmin. I barely ever wore a watch in my entire life and I certainly don’t need a watch to tell time. It’s the long battery life and the nuances of exercise that the Garmin offers that I want. Curses!

Honestly, the problem is less that I have this watch and not that watch. The problem is that I locked myself into something I ultimately don’t want, which is frustrating for anyone. And the truth is that I probably will end up getting a Garmin watch and wearing both when I run like one of those dorks. A first gen Pixel Watch will depreciate in value pretty quickly, especially when V2.0 inevitable releases in the future. I think I made a costly error. Thankfully, at least the Pixel Watch still does a good portion of fitness monitoring and does it well. I just wish I had the added features of a Garmin.

My point is this: Don’t be a Google Boy/Girl/Person. Or an Apple X/Y/Z! Just get the stuff that works with what you want. All these brands talk about “seamless integration” but it’s all seamless. It all works together, more or less. Get the iPhone and the Garmin watch and the Pixel earbuds. It won’t be as difficult to pair them as the brands would make you believe! Meanwhile, I’ll just keep using this Pixel watch until I inevitably get the budget Garmin Forerunner and then end up wearing that all the time instead. LOVE TECHNOLOGY!

personal technology

Technology & Life Musings

or, Spending Money to Give Away Things

It’s just my luck that I am considering this year my Marie Kondo year, when she in fact has stopped Marie Kondoing herself. I’m always late to the trends!

I’ve decided to downsize, particularly in the technology category. I’ve been meaning to do this for some time, but this year the exercise and shit like that has pushed my endorphins high enough that I actually feel like doing it. Plus I realized that FreeGeek is just a few blocks away. I have a lot of old tech (and cords … oh god the cords) and electronics that are just gathering dust, when they could go to people who need them.

But it’s funny how, in order to downsize, I actually have to buy things. For example: I have this big asshole gaming desk.

I bought this sometime in 2021, before I moved to my current apartment. It’s pretty big: about 63″ wide and 30″ deep. Large enough to hold all that stuff you see in the picture. It’s also, admittedly, kind of shit. It’s two top pieces (likely particle board) put together and held in place with metal plates. Those then sit on two wobbly metal legs and a cross bar. There are no triangles down there, you know, so it wobbles and the whole thing feels flimsy. But hey, it’s a desk, and it was way better than my desk before it (though that one had extra support to prevent wobbles).

My old apartment was around 600 sq ft; this one is 450. The difference is noticeable but it’s alright. I traded space for location, newer building, better amenities, etc. Ever since the move, though, this desk has been bothering me. It’s just too big. It’s not just too big for this apartment–it’s too big, period. I suppose a year ago I was doing streaming stuff and thought that the space would be helpful, but I can’t stand it anymore. It’s too big, there’s too much going on, I want to downsize.

Well, that means I have to buy a new desk. Which I’ve done. But that desk is probably too small for a computer tower, an ultrawide monitor, and a second monitor. So I thought about it for a bit. What do I do with the second monitor, anyway? Usually I watch YouTube videos while I play video games. Do I need a huge, 1920×1080, 75mhz monitor for that? No, of course not. Well, what if I used my newly refurbished laptop as a second monitor instead? That presents a couple of problems: first, my laptop is so old that I don’t want it to be on that much, and second, it’s so old that the moment it gets anywhere near hot, the loud obnoxious fan inside kicks on. Don’t want that either.

So then I thought, what if I had a little tablet? Something smaller that would definitely fit and could act as a second monitor, or just be there if it doesn’t work as a second monitor? I ended up pursuing this idea and bought a cheap Samsung tablet. It’s only a 10″ screen but I don’t think that’ll be an issue, because I can set it up closer to me for watching. Plus, it’s a tablet! I had thought of getting one of those portable LCD screens, which are about the same price but have a larger screen, but I settled on a tablet because it can do other stuff. Plus, it’s much smaller, and that’s what I’m about right now. Downsizing.1Big TV is an exception. Big TV is Good.

I could try to sell my monitor and recoup some costs, but I’ll probably just give it to FreeGeek. Selling stuff is a pain in the ass and I want to give some low income kid an opportunity to play some PC games on a decent monitor. I tried selling my other other monitor through Nextdoor and it didn’t sell. At this point I’m just sick of having all this stuff. I want to get rid of as much of it as I can. But unfortunately, that means spending more money. Hopefully, this will be the absolute end of money spending and I can use the rest of 2023 to pay off these damnable credit cards.

So, you know. Growing pains. Or shrinking pains, really. Sometimes in order to pursue the life you want, you have to buy some shit and give away some other shit. C’est la vie.

  • 1
    Big TV is an exception. Big TV is Good.
personal technology

An Ode to Graphics Cards

It may come as no surprise that I have been gaming for a very long time. Over 30 years at this point! From sepia-toned Space Invaders on my dad’s old computer, to Super Mario Bros on the NES, all the way to today. Video games are important to me, not just because they’re fun, but because they help me calm down and chill out. When I’m particularly stressed or anxious, video games give me an outlet to vegetate and just work on simple tasks, like puzzles, or follow a story that I am guiding with my choices. They’re good, is what I’m trying to say.

And all along my journey of gaming, one near constant has been graphics cards. See, back in the 90s, 2d gaming was commonplace, but 3d games were becoming more and more popular, thanks to games like Doom and, perhaps more importantly, Quake. Quake was one of the first real 3d games (not just 2d sprites put in a 3d environment). As such, it was very resource heavy and slow. Lots of games were slow back then; FPS wasn’t really a concept because a lot of games couldn’t get up to 30 FPS in the first place.

Then a company came along called 3dfx. They began selling what were basically proto-graphics cards to help boost graphics for intensive games like Quake by allowing the card to process the graphics (known as hardware acceleration), allowing the CPU to process everything else. 3dfx made a graphics card called Voodoo, way back in the late 90s. I had one! Specifically I had the Diamond Monster II (I think), which used the Voodoo graphics chipset that 3dfx created. It changed everything. Suddenly games were running great, with little hiccups, just in time to play classics like Unreal and Quake III Arena.

The box for the Diamond Monster II. Look at that angry car!

3dfx later made the Banshee, which was a cheaper alternative, and then in 2000 the company was bought by Nvidia. Nvidia, by the way, claims to have made the first real GPU, the Geforce 256, but to me, the Diamond Monster II will always be the first GPU, even if it didn’t have all the modern bells and whistles.

The DMII was installed on my father’s computer, but once I started college I bought my first computer: ALBATROSS, aka the Fortress of Consternation. This computer came with an integrated GPU, a S3 ProSavage with a whopping 32MB of RAM. Integrated GPUs still exist but they have fallen out of style, which makes sense when you think about it. I thought I had upgraded the GPU on this one but if I did, I didn’t make a note of it anywhere. (My emails only go back to 2004, sadly.)

So I had that computer for seven or eight years, but it eventually went kaput (I swear I wrote about this somewhere but I can’t find it) and I bought my next computer, called MAGRAGEEVES. This is when I started naming my computers demon names. It’s just … you gotta spice up the little things, you know what I mean? Old Mags was a prebuilt computer and came with this GPU:

I swear I have dust and/or cat hair everywhere. I’m sorry.

I still have this for some reason! The Radeon HD 3650, Over-clocked Edition (guitar riff). This was my first official foray into AMD territory, although this was after AMD bought ATI but before they stopped using the ATI name, so this is technically an ATI Radeon card. This was, as always is with these things, a very good GPU to have at the time.1Fun fact: I still had this computer tower until a friend of mine needed a computer. I repurposed it with an old SSD and sold it to her for, I think, $50. She used it for a few months before rightly thinking, “Why the fuck did I buy this?” It served me well … for a couple of years, before I bought another computer called CABERTOSS in 2011. Cabertoss was a very cheap Chinese prebuilt computer — seriously, it cost $280 at the time. I’m surprised didn’t explode on me. I splurged and spent $70 on an ATI Radeon 4650 with 1gb of ram to go with it. A whole 1000 higher than the last GPU! Wow. I suspect it ran about the same as the 3650.2This computer was given or sold or whatever to my friend Nate many years ago. Again, I would be surprised if it still worked.

At this point I was living in Portland and was getting A) student loans and B) free unemployment checks (thanks Obama!) and so I decided to finally build my own computer. And thus, GARGAROTH was born. Gargaroth had too many fucking fans and in the early 2010s these big fucking heavy as shit computer towers were en vogue so there you go. The GPU I bought with this was the MSI Radeon 6950 Twin Frozr III with 1gb of ram. But then I quickly upgraded it to this, the Radeon 7950 with 3gb of ram:

Twin Frozr III at top, with the VisionTek below for comparison.

For the record, the 3gb and 1gb versions of the Twin Frozr look the same. This was my first real “Jesus Christ, look at the size of that graphics card” GPU. It really is very big, and heavy! This card was nearly top of the line at the time, which isn’t saying much because the line would jump like 50 notches higher every three months. Still, it handled pretty much any game thrown at it and let me watch HD videos with no problem. This card still works; I recently installed it into my HTPC and it would play HD videos up to 4k without a problem.

The Twin Frozr III was my card for nearly ten years, and showed its age about two years into my owning it. The 2010s were like an arms race for GPUs (and computer tech in general), and soon AMD and Nvidia were battling it out for supremacy. I, meanwhile, graduated from Portland State with a nigh-worthless Theatre Arts graduate degree and was broke, and continued to be mostly broke until…

The pandemic! I was lucky to have a job and get stimulus checks, which I used to begin construction on a new PC, the one I currently use: THARGORAD. For this computer I bought a Radeon RX 580 with 8gb of ram. It worked great! And then, like I mentioned earlier, I took the Twin Frozr and added it to some other parts from Gargaroth, bought a old mini-ATX motherboard and a small form case to make my HTPC, known as SMÖLCOMP because it is small.

And that was my setup for the past two years, until recently, when I decided to splurge again and upgrade my GPU, purchasing a Radeon RX 6700 XT (look at all those letters), with 12gb of ram. This is probably the most top of the line card I think I’ve ever bought, as it was released about two years ago. Thus, the RX 580 was moved to Smölcomp, and the Twin Frozr III has now, officially, been decommissioned, because I really have no reason to build another computer. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. The 3gb 7950 is selling on ebay for $80-90, while the 1gb 6950 is going for much lower, around $30-40. Even the 3650 is going for $30. These things aren’t collectors items. I think I’ll just take them to FreeGeek and give them away.

Anyway, this is all just a nostalgic trip through my history with a silly component to a computer. But it’s important to me, because these cards helped me play video games, and video games keep me alive. So thank you, MSI Radeon 7950 with 3gb of ram, for playing all my favorite games over nearly a decade, with maybe a few hiccups and some lowered graphics settings to assuage poor framerates. You did your job well and I hope you and your brethren enjoy retirement.

  • 1
    Fun fact: I still had this computer tower until a friend of mine needed a computer. I repurposed it with an old SSD and sold it to her for, I think, $50. She used it for a few months before rightly thinking, “Why the fuck did I buy this?”
  • 2
    This computer was given or sold or whatever to my friend Nate many years ago. Again, I would be surprised if it still worked.
personal technology

The Tale of the Laptop Update

So, I am attempting to fix and update my 2011 Dell Inspiron laptop, codename FIRGADOR, The Ceaseless Reverberance. It’s a nice little laptop, works alright as-is, but with two glaring issues: 1) the battery does not charge/is dead, and 2) it has an HDD instead of an SSD, so it’s slow as hell. (Also, 3) only 6gb of 1333 Mhz DDR3 RAM, which I’d like to upgrade to 8gb 1600 Mhz, but that’s for another time.) This whole debacle started because of my dad. Or, moreover, because he’s sick and I’d like to see him. I have two laptops, this Dell and an Acer Chromebook that is even slower than my Dell laptop and has the ChromeOS thing, which is fine except I want to have a laptop that I can use for work purposes, on the off chance that I have to remain in Idaho for an extended period of time.

I thought briefly about buying a new laptop, but decided I didn’t want to dig further debt into my Best Buy credit card. Thus, this project.

The biggest problem is the charging issue. One day, several years ago, the laptop just stopped charging. For the life of me, I could not figure out why. I think it’s ultimately just a battery issue, due to a recent battery test. That is, I just think the battery stopped holding a charge for some reason. I didn’t think it was this at the time, because the laptop was still new enough that I couldn’t imagine that the battery would die like that. But I have scoured the internet for answers, mostly to discover that many, many other people have had this same problem and nobody has a definitive answer. Bad adapter? Bad battery? Loose AC connection? Central pin broken/bent? Etc etc etc. I’m working with the simplest answer (the battery is broke) is the best.

Eventually the battery drained to 0% and since then it has not charged. In fact, until recently I couldn’t even get the damn thing to power on with AC power, but then, in my attempt to find a laptop for travel, I plugged it in a couple days and it actually started. A good start!

Then came around EIGHT HOURS of installing updates, including a grueling Windows 7-to-Windows 10 upgrade which took almost all night. This is completely the HDD’s fault. It is slow as hell. It was slow as hell ten years ago. My idea was to get it fully updated and then create a system image, which I would transfer over to an SSD I pulled from my home theater PC (which, by the way, I barely use anymore because Big TV does pretty much whatever I need) to boost the computer speed by a significant amount. I knew the process would be slow but I didn’t think it would be eight hours. And that was last night; I’m still installing updates this morning!

The next issue is that while it’s easy to upgrade the RAM on this thing, installing a new hard drive requires me to take the entire thing apart. I can do that! I already did it last night, after watching a YouTube video of someone else doing it (side note: there are tech YouTube videos of EVERYTHING) to check and see if the AC adapter connection was in fact working properly. (I think it is.) It’s a pain in the ass but it’s also, ultimately, just about unscrewing stuff and removing cables. I am about to do this now so I will let you know how it went in the next paragraph.

I did it! I took everything apart and then swapped the SSD in and put it all together and it still works. I am now in the process of reinstalling Windows 10 so I can install my system image because it won’t let me do it from my external hard drive.

UPDATE: I didn’t even have to do that! I didn’t have to do ANY of the updates, I could’ve just installed Windows onto the SSD, because it recognized my laptop and activated my copy anyway because of the internet and stuff. I wasted all these hours! Aaaaaagggghhhhh

Anyway, SSDs are amazing. Completely upgraded the speed on this laptop. It’s certainly not as fast as my desktop PC, but it’s not a sluggish beast either. Windows 10 works fine on it, though Dell does not have any drivers for Windows 10, which has made software upgrades a little weird. I’m pretty sure Windows is doing it all for me, save for a couple of things (like Dell Touchpad, which makes it so I can actually use all the little fiddly gestures and stuff for the touchpad).

I forgot this but the Inspiron back cover can be removed and replaced with a more artsy one, so I’ll add “buy a new cool back cover” to my list of things to do as well.

Technology. Ain’t it grand?