Tip o’ the Week 327 – To sleep, perchance to dream

clip_image001Some old bard, about 4 centuries ago, wrote about sleep. We all know how important sleep is, for us organic life forms as well as for our intelligent devices.

The Windows Insider program is delivering various new builds to improve battery life for Windows 10 PCs & tablets that use “modern standby(the mode previously known as “connected standby”) that lets them stay on the network and update certain data feeds whilst ostensibly being in sleep mode.

Surface 4 and Book machines have had a few issues with sleep, but recent firmware updates should sort that out.

As for the organic machine, there’s plenty of advice on getting better sleep. Problem page gurus warn against drinking coffee or caffeinated tea after lunch, recommend eschewing alcohol & talk about avoiding “screen time” up to 2 hours before bed in order to fall asleep more easily and get a better quality of sleep while you’re there.

The Microsoft Band 2 does a good job of tracking its wearer’s sleep, either through detecting that you’re in the land of nod, or by the user initiating the sleep mode. The auto-detect function is there for times when you’re too tired/drunk/forgetful to remember to tap the sleep tile on the Band before dropping off, but there are other clip_image002benefits to using the sleep tile proactively – the Band will report your “sleep restoration” (which it doesn’t when auto-detecting), the screen is turned off (as is auto-rotate, which otherwise might be showing you the time), the Band itself will go into Do Not Disturb mode so you won’t get any notifications during the night, and the Bluetooth link to your phone is switched off to save battery power too.

clip_image003Further refinements to the Microsoft Health Dashboard are on their way too; the competitive amongst you may already compare quality and duration of sleep with your partner if you’re both wearing Microsoft Bands, but you’ll soon be able to set yourself targets for sleep duration & quality, get the band to remind you to start winding down for bed, report on how well you’re doing against your targets and so on.

The advice on reducing screen time before bed is partly because reading email or other things that stimulate your mind won’t let you doze off easily, but also because the device you’re using to do the reading might be fooling your brain into thinking it’s still daylight. The LCD/LED screens used by lots of devices – PCs, tablets, phones etc – have a bright, blue/white light that apparently stimulates the noggin in ways you don’t want as you’re about to drop off. Agony Aunts say, don’t use that technology in your bedroom at all, but there could be a better way, if you’re a habitual browser dans le lit.

4 years ago, ToW talked about the “colour of time”, and the same tool/advice is still very useful today – F.Lux is an app that runs on Windows PCs (and versions are available for Macs, iOS, Android & Linux).

clip_image004It’s simple to install & use, and could help to reduce the glare on your laptop if you’re working after sunset, so that when it’s time to go to bed, you’re not still wired. There’s little hard scientific fact that it works as described, but there’s plenty of opinion that it does – and since it’s free, it’s worth a whirl. At first, it looks a bit weird & pink, but you soon get used to is as your eyes adjust.

Install it on your tablet, turn up the wick on its dim settings, and use it happily in the sack without fear of staying awake all night worrying. Unless, of course, you’ve got something to worry about.

Tip o’ the Week 311 – Band on the Run

 … or bike, golf course, in the gym etc.

The original Microsoft Band might not have won many fans for its industrial design but it was a solidly functional thing with a decent and regularly-improving software stack sitting behind it. This pace of updates has continued with the Band 2, which is a lot better to look at and is proving to be more comfortable to wear, as well as more functional. Currently trading in Blighty on Microsoft Store & Amazon for £200, though it has been available for £30 less before Christmas.

As if an optical heart rate sensor, three-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, galvanic skin response and a microphone weren’t enough, the new Band also finds room to include a barometer. This means the device can track your steps, location, heartbeat, sleep quality, burnt calories, elevation (courtesy of that new barometer) and more.

Phew. Time for a lie down already. Band 2, like its predecessor, is cross-platform, so potentially appeals to WinPhone users as well as Appleites and Googlers.

The Microsoft Health mobile app has had a bit of online heat because (as it’s been regularly-updated) it’s now more of a Band-specific thing rather than a generic health-monitoring app for Windows Phone users, but it’s gotten a lot more functional in conjunction with the web-based Health Dashboard.

 In December 2015, a slew of software updates were pushed out to the Band, such as the ability to control the music playing on your phone from your wrist (so when running, you could change tracks without fishing your phone out of a pocket) as well as a bunch of others – like an activity reminder that senses if you’ve been sedentary for too long, and suggests you get up and do something.

The original Band’s exercise tile/app would help your record activity that could be reviewed on the dashboard, tracking you on GPS and measuring your heart rate. This has improved further with Band 2 and with the recent updates to both the firmware, the Microsoft Health app and the online experience: one notable change being the ability to create your own custom workout sets.

The Band 1 & 2 both offered guided workouts from 3rd parties (such as Nuffield Health) but now you can also build your own, though you can’t add your own exercises (you need to search against a predefined list, with some of the naming maybe catching you out – eg press ups are listed as pushups).

You can share your custom workouts with other Band users too.

So, on that next business trip, keep neighbouring hotel room occupants guessing as you grunt and thump your way through sets of Tabata circuits, your band prompting you with each exercise and timing the durations or rests between.