sesam.hu

🏢 Engineering Manager ⛰ trail runner 🇭🇺 Budapest, Hungary

Thirty-four

34 St

AirPods

I’ve been asked how continued use of the AirPods was like and I felt the topic deserved more than a tweetful. Most of the functions are covered in reviews so I am going for my personal experiences.

Just like every early test confirmed: the AirPods do not fall out. I’ve always suspected that it was the cord, in fact, that pushed the earbuds out and when it’s gone they stay put. I wore them in strong wind, during running, and riding a bike without any problems.

While running at first I usually feel a slightly uncomfortable feeling as if the AirPods would drop out any second. However, this goes away quickly and soon I forget about them altogether. In case of sports the lack of tangling wires is a godsend.

The only time one of them did fall out was when I looked high up to the sky while walking and gravity did its job. Incidentally the right pod landed in a deep puddle, too, after which it continued to function normally proving they are safe to be used in the rain too.

The lack of controls doesn’t bother me. Realistically, how often does one adjust volume anyway? When I want to I can find the buttons on the phone just by touch. The fact that removing one pod pauses the music and removing both stops covers most of my daily needs for control.

I use Siri to call people because it can be taught relations eliminating the need to make her understand Hungarian names. (Impossible.) ‘Call my mother’ works perfectly without needing to speak too loudly even.

AirPods also shine when I’m at home and don’t want to carry my phone around while listening to music or making a call. It’s a small thing but this way a playlist doesn’t have to stop when I arrive and change into sweatpants either.

 

Vértes Terep Ultramaraton

This ultra distance trail race took place in Vértes, a hilly area lying some fifty kilometres off of Budapest. It was my second proper trail run event and the first that could be classified as an ultra distance. (Wikipedia says any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi) qualifies as an ultramarathon.) The official distance was measured at 50.6 kilometres with 1245 metres of height gain. The cutoff time was set at 8 hours with additional time limits for the aid stations.

Despite the summer-like weather of the preceding days a cold spell was forecast for the race day with a possibility for rain even until the last minute. In reality the sun started to break through the clouds even before the 9 am starting time and continued to shine all day long. My tights and long-sleeve T-shirt was okay for the start but I became somewhat overheated towards the end. With the knee-high compression socks I think, in retrospect, that I could have gotten away with wearing shorts and a short-sleeved T-shirt only. To be on the safe side I even carried a jacket in my backpack.

The first nine kilometres were known to me as we’ve run the course of the half-marathon race the previous week with Fanni in order for her to be familiar with the route. It was a definite advantage to know which uphill parts were steeper and how long they lasted. Afterwards the unknown trails were a little harder to judge especially since the itinerary was missing the height profile.

Up until the halfway point the course was the same for the marathon and ultra distance runners. The split occurred at the end of the village of Várgesztes. Surprisingly there was no crew member to guide the runners at this very crucial point which caused a bit of a confusion. Even though I remembered which trail to follow some marathoner girls tried to convince me to go the other way. Also it was quite a different experience to suddenly find myself absolutely alone in the woods. Up until that point I ran surrounded by people no farther than a couple of meters in front of me and behind. Left to my own devices it became important to look for the ribbons indicating the route as I could no longer rely on simply following the herd. This was the point I put on some music, too, to battle the oppressing solitude.

I didn’t meet any other runner until the third aid station save some locals who guided me when I entered Vérteskozma and both the trail markers and the ribbons disappeared. The crew told me that despite how it looked I was in fact in the middle of the pack. It was very encouraging to hear so I soldiered on.

I lost some time after that trying to send a sign of life to Fanni but realised that there was absolutely no cellphone reception in the area. The trail continued in some kind of crevice with a slight incline. I managed to keep a steady pace and took over some others who resorted to hiking. When I reached halfway to the next aid station I also managed to place a call to ensure I was okay.

I was quite satisfied with my performance mostly taking over people either by power hiking on inclines faster than them or simply being able to keep running instead of walking. The only people who took over me were ones we’ve kept switching places with depending on the conditions.

I didn’t spend too much time at aid stations just asked for a sip of coke then had my flask refilled at first with isotonic drink then simply with water. The first three times I had some slices of salami and cheese, too, afterwards I just drank. I had four gels with me I planned to eat every ten kilometres but ended up only having two. Fanni also supplied me with a magnesium and an energy shot (carb liquid). The former I drank halfway, the latter after about 30 kilometres instead of a gel. It felt easier to digest than the jam-like gels.

Despite the magnesium shot I started to develop cramps in the back of my right thigh for the last ten kilometres. Apparently I could have stacked up a larger dose of that instead of the gels. Other than the intermittent cramps the heat bothered me the most in the end where the route went through some open areas with direct sunlight. The last few kilometres I kept glancing back because someone was advancing on me which gave me a boost so powerful I almost caught up with the person in front of me.

I finished with 6:03:44, just a little over six hours. At the time I felt satisfied, however, today the official results came and it was somewhat disheartening to realise that I ended up only 81st out of the 106 that finished. There were only twelve women but nine of them had a better time than me as well placing me 90th out of 118 altogether. There is a definite room for improvement.

Current Threat Level: Fuchsia

I didn’t know some of the articles on Index were translated to English:

I worked for the Hungarian National Security Office (NBH) and then for the Constitution Protection Office (AH) between 2000 and 2013. My main areas of expertise were extremism, mainly the far-right and international terrorism, and counter-espionage. The highest-ranking position I reached was executive head of operations, I later became chief adviser to the director general. I currently live abroad as a civilian. — Index.hu

To quote the classic: “the Russians are already in the larder.”

Magyar társadalom- és szociálpolitika, 1990–2015

‘We don’t have public affairs, relations, we don’t talk to each other’, says Ferge, who believes this is why Széchenyi emphasised the need for a host of educated citizens. He didn’t mean a select few but the whole society in general. ‘This is the historical defining factor of Hungarians why citizenry never appeared here. By that I mean the consciousness of what it means to be a citizen with dignity, with rights, who is not less than any other.’ — 444.hu

This is more of a reminder for me not to forget to buy and read this book. I want to have a better understanding of the Hungarian society and why we behave the way we do.

e-Ticket

This past winter I’ve had the chance to travel using international trains between Hungary and Austria quite a few times. It has been an interesting experience to see how differently the ticket inspection went on each side of the border.

Snow is coming. Hauptbahnhof Wien.

I’ve purchased my tickets using the ÖBB mobile app and asked for in-app delivery (e-ticket).

The Austrian conductors—dressed in an impeccable uniform with a tie—often just looked at the printed information, ie. which train the ticket was valid for. I’ve never been asked for an id. The few occasions they checked the QR code it only took seconds with their tablet device.

On the Hungarian side the QR codes were always read. The conductors used some ancient brick-like contraption for international tickets. I managed to glance on the little screen: the camera produced a very low resolution picture with appalling refresh rate. On the moving train with me holding my phone the process took forever. The camera somehow picked up the glare from the screen, too, obscuring a large part of the QR code. Often the conductor just gave up and agreed that everything was in order.

For domestic tickets a mobile phone is used to read codes but with a similar rate of success.

I really wonder what the conductors think of all this.

Battle for Birthday Mountain

Norway, or rather retired geophysicist Bjørn Geirr Harsson wanted to give Finland a mountain for its centennial birthday this year. Mount Halti would have become the highest point of Finland if the project had gone through. Unfortunately, from a legal standpoint it would be quite complex to adjust borders between countries—even willingly—as Norway’s PM Erna Solberg indicated in her open letter. The very first paragraph of the constitution defines that the Kingdom of Norway is “indivisible and inalienable”. The effort was made into a short film and news can be followed in a Facebook group.

Blue Trail #15

The fifteenth leg of the National Blue Trail crosses the Pilis Mountains, from the borders of Budapest (Üröm) up to Dobogókő.

It’s advised to be cautious right at the start because the promised track along the stream is in reality walled off by a corn field and overgrown with stinging nettles.

The rest of the route goes through various nature reserves which is why different animals can be spotted along the way like this stag beetle.

Stag beetle

Or this grass snake which we’ve only noticed because it started slithering away.

🐍

We’ve also seen a couple of rabbits hopping away but they proved to be impossible to photograph.

The Dera-creek near Pilisszentkereszt is one of the more spectacular parts of the trail. The route criss-crosses the stream below through several wooden bridges.

Dera-szurdok

It was under construction during our trip as demonstrated by these half-finished signs.

Half-finished signs

Finally the route culminates at the highest point of the Visegrád Hills, Dobogókő, from where a stunning view of the Danube opens up.

The Danube from Dobogókő

Completing this brought us to 77.5 kilometres (6.7%).

Apple Watch: Day One

I’ve contemplated buying an Apple Watch before with the verdict that it was unlikely that I’d go ahead and do so. Well, this has changed. Following are my experiences during the first day of use.

Unboxing

I was surprised that the Apple Watch came in such a sizeable and elongated box. I’ve been expecting a cube shape, as in the case of many sport watches. Opening the box revealed the reason: the watch comes with a very nice plastic case. Under it are the user manuals and the charger cable, which is quite long, much longer than the iPhone cables.

Setup

Although the device is said come with some initial charge, mine didn’t. It was so drained I had to wait about fifteen minutes before I could turn it on. Unlike an iPhone, the watch didn’t turn on by itself after reaching a minimum charge either. Boot-up time isn’t something to write home about, I stared at the  logo for over a minute.

Although the Apple Watch works standalone with the latest software, a connected iPhone is required for it to reach its full potential. Linking starts via Bluetooth, then the phone reads the watch’s screen with the camera. In my case, a software update to 2.2.1 was also needed, which again proved to be quite lengthy. Despite the small size of the update (114 MB) it took half an hour to download and another thirty plus minutes to install.

The rest of the process was much faster. I’ve opted for installing all the apps which offer an Apple Watch companion. From this point the Watch app served as an extended Settings screen for everything Watch-related.

Odes have been sung to the excellent changes in watchOS 3 especially regarding the launch speed of apps and the rethought UX. Unfortunately, Apple does not offer a public beta of watchOS 3, not even to iOS 10 public beta participants.

Time and Notifications

Raising my wrist almost infallibly woke the screen, there was no need for flamboyant gestures. The downside of the screen not being always on is that unlike a traditional watch I can’t simply glance at it. This will probably remain an exclusive feature for the next generation Apple Watch.

Much better than a traditional watch are the changeable watch faces and especially Complications. For example, I’m using the Utility watch face with my next meeting displayed on the bottom. Just a quick tap shows the relevant calendar entry and I can quickly check which conference room I’d need to head to. Super neat.

Notifications come with sound and haptic feedback, although the latter can be missed due to its weakness even at max setting. It’s up to the app to decide what kind of actions the user can do with notifications. In case of Facebook Messenger, for example, one can one-button reply with a thumbs up emoji or dictate text. However, and this is a big issue for me, Messenger invariably expects English—system default language—dictation. As far as I know iMessage decides the dictation language based on the keyboard set for that particular contact, a feature sorely needed in Messenger.

Activity

A very useful addition to the Apple watch is the Activity app, which tracks active calories, workout minutes and standup time. These are represented by circles: once a circle is closed, the relevant goal is finished.

Upon setup the Activity app asked my initial goal and of course I replied that I’m as sporty as it gets, which translated into 1000 active calories per day. Turned out this was not that easy to achieve as I initially thought. My 10k outdoor run with  200m elevation gain only yielded 757 calories resulting in me narrowly missing my first day goal. This may be the result of the Nike+ app not receiving heart rate data from the watch, but more on that later.

Workout time was set to 30 minutes, which was almost covered by me riding the bike to work and back. Since I go for a run almost every day it put me way above the goal anyway.

Standup time is a neat concept. Every hour at fifty minutes I get a notification to stand up and walk around had I been stationary for the whole hour . If I can continue this for 12 hours during the day, the goal is met. My job usually involves a lot of walking around regardless but there are times I just keep sitting at my desk and it really does make a difference that should I forget to take a break a gentle tap on the wrist reminds me to do so.

Running and Cycling

I have two TomTom sport watches, a Runner Cardio and a Multisport,—both previous generation—the former with a built-in heart rate sensor, the latter able to track cycling and swimming, making it suitable for triathlon. The best thing about TomTom watches is that they can be connected to third party services like Nike+ or Strava and upload every workout to all of these.

I have started to run on Nike+,—and reaching 10,000 kilometres soon—so it is a service I’d not want to abandon. Although cycling had been added to Nike+ recently, still Strava proved to be a go-to app for people serious about cycling. And finally, my co-workers tend to use Endomondo to stage company-wide challenges which I love to take part in.

Cycling is the easier activity of the two, because if I track with Strava, I can export a GPX file and import it to Endomondo. It is still a hassle, since only one file can be imported at once. Running is more complicated Nike+ being a closed system and all. Fortunately, there are hacks allowing me to export runs the same way as bike rides then upload them. Still, I wish it was as easy as tracking with one service, then seamlessly and automatically sync to all others.

Enter the Apple Watch. I obviously wouldn’t want to wear two watches simultaneously so I went ahead and tested my preferred services. Both Strava and Nike+ offer companion apps, even if they are but glorified remote controls, so the phone is needed to be in the vicinity for them to work. When cycling I have it in my pocket anyway, and I usually listen to music while I run, so this was not an issue for me. Not having to fish the phone out every time I wanted to check something was a big advantage in itself.

I did not feel the Strava app to start slow. Due to the surrounding buildings my GPS watch takes its time to find the signal anyway, so I am used to wait a little before I can start. It was pretty bad, however, that since I have defaulted Strava to running, I had to change the workout type every time I started the Apple Watch app. It is achieved via 3D touch, but it is mighty unreliable: it takes ages for the watch to realise I have swapped from running to cycling and it also has the tendency to just switch back to running anyway for the hell of it.

Another issue was with the GPS signal: currently the Apple Watch app does not display GPS strength, meaning I have no way to tell if the phone in my pocket precisely positioned me yet or not. I already have a ride which started putting me all over the place before finally finding my correct position.

A good thing that upon wrist raise the watch shows Strava instead of the watch face. Less favourable is the fact that the app is not updated instantly and takes a few seconds to reconnect to the phone and refresh the displayed data. Also the heart rate detection felt spotty at best afterwards. I am hoping this will be resolved with watchOS 3 when apps can remain in the memory and don’t need to completely reload every time.

Nike+ seems to lag behind in several aspects. For one, the app claims that “Currently Apple doesn’t allow developers to access the heart rate sensor.”, when in fact all I had to do was to enable it in the Health app for Strava. Also, the app instructed me to “Tap General, select Activate on Wrist Raise, then select Resume Previous Activity.” Without this raising the watch took me to the watch face despite the fact that Strava resumed the app out of the box. Unfortunately, if I want a run to appear in Nike+ without manually adding it I have to use their app because there is no upload functionality. Finally, Nike+ does not have a GPS strength indicator on the workout start screen either.

Other than the woes detailed above both apps worked flawlessly during rides and runs. I missed the HR data from Nike+ and I wished the apps instantly updated automatically.

Some of these problems may be addressed in watchOS 3. Still, from my point of view the easiest way to integrate services would be the Health app. If—similarly to TomTom MySports—the Health app would include third party integrations I’d only need to use Siri to start a run or a ride and all the rest could be done in the background. Third party services would receive workout details complete with HR and GPS via their respective API. Of course, even though every app can read and write data in Health, it is not in the interest of these app makers to simply copy the workouts.

Battery

While it felt like ages it might have been just the excitement and the novelty that made me restless during the initial charge. On my first day I went to bed with 40%+ battery life left on the watch. Since Sleep Cycle,—my preferred sleep tracker—does not have an Apple Watch app it is not necessary for me to keep the watch on my wrist while asleep.

Nightstand mode, however, irked me: I expected an always on screen with the charger attached yet it seemed that touch is needed for the screen to wake up.

Conclusion

I haven’t regretted my purchase one bit. I found that handling notifications became much easier and many tasks that had previously required me to produce the phone from wherever it was placed were now easier to complete.

I’m thrilled by the prospect of watchOS 3 making me feel like I own a “whole new watch”.

I went for the 42mm Gold Aluminum Case with Gold/Royal Blue Woven Nylon strap. My iPhone 6 Plus is gold too, so they match. Everyone I’ve seen wearing an Apple Watch had a Space Gray Aluminum Case with Black Sport Band, so I dared to be different.

We’ll see if the notorious District 8 of Budapest gives me any trouble.

Blue Trail #12

This is one of the shorter and more accessible sections of the trail. Both the starting and the end points are train stations on the same line with regular service to Budapest.

Much of the track goes through grassy or bushy areas without much shade so do pack sunscreen. It is not, however, plain. There is  a fair amount of climbing involved to the hills around the villages.

Up from Kesztölc

Between Kesztölc and Klastrompuszta the route goes through a meadow with millions of butterflies.

Throngs of butterflies and insects in the field

Next the trail passes the ruins of the Monastery of the Holy Cross where Blessed Eusebius1 of Esztergom founded the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit.

Unfortunately there was not much to see apart from the church during this section. We had some trouble with the mud where the trail follows a road shared with vehicles and at one point a fallen tree blocked the path a bit.

It fell…

Anyway, here are some cats we passed on the way.

Afternoon nap

Since I last wrote about the section we have completed previously the official National Blue Trail website was renewed. The errors related to the locations of the stamps were corrected and the distances recalculated. Henceforth I will continue to use the website’s data since it’s the most up-to-date.

As of writing this our status is 54.6 kilometres completed out of 1160. (4.7%)

1, Eusebius is ‘Özséb’ in Hungarian, which I was convinced to be a girl’s name…