Monthly Archives: June 2019

Review of our Life Fitness Platinum Club Series bike with Discover SE3 HD Console

We recently purchased our first home exercise bike. While I’m glad we have a bike now, I regret buying this bike in particular. I expect I’d be getting comparable (daily) use from a bike that costs one tenth the price. I would feel very differently if the bike had been designed as I had anticipated based on wonderful experiences using the prior version (SE console) at our community gym. Our new bike (esp. the console) was designed without the home user in mind and is missing the features from the prior version (SE console) which I had most enjoyed. It also has an unmutable beep which defeats our purpose in choosing an exercise bike as equipment that can be used quietly while family members are sleeping.

The major selling point of this bike is the console, and the most advertised feature (e.g. on the LifeFitness website) is Apple Watch compatibility. This works well for logging purposes, but they’ve somehow made the design decision that using the Apple Watch automatically means you can’t get calories to display on the screen while watching a video fullscreen. Other metrics show up, but total calories burned (which is a major goal I like to track throughout a workout) can only be viewed by looking at the watch on your wrist. That is, unless you don’t use the Apple Watch, in which case calories show up on the screen just fine.

Another expectation one would have for a bike which is advertised for its big screen is the ability to easily watch videos. One needs to log in (e.g. to Netflix) each time one starts a workout. You have to keep cycling to avoid the workout ending prematurely and, while cycling, have to enter your username and password on the touchscreen each time. This is an entirely avoidable and quite annoying barrier to starting a workout with the entertainment they advertise. This might make sense in a shared gym environment, but this bike model is only for home users. They are using the same console for this and other (shared gym) bike models, but this could easily have been addressed as an option in the bike’s settings.

As distant second choice, I would have expected to be to have put my own video content on the screen either using the built-in USB port on the front of the bike or an HDMI input port. While the USB port on the original SE console allowed one to bring one’s own media and play it during a workout (a feature I used often, in combination with the excellent content from Virtual Active), the new SE3 HD console’s USB port is only for charging and can’t be used for media playback. Worse still, the USB port doesn’t have enough juice to power a tablet, so you can’t just charge a tablet while putting it in front of the display (although at that point, why buy this particular bike?). The old console had an external HDMI port. It turns out this one has an HDMI port which is accessible by taking the console apart with a screwdriver to access an HDMI port buried on an internal circuit board. One then needs to leave the console open with circuits exposed in order to run an HDMI cable out of the back.

Another major issue – the simplest, but the most critical, as it prevents the bike’s use – is that bike beeps loudly through a speaker when changing intensity, starting a cool down, etc. Thus, I can’t use the bike at odd hours without waking up my family, but odd hours are a main use caseĀ for a family with kids.

So, in summary, don’t buy this bike. I look forward to more cardio equipment coming out which support direct communication with the Apple Watch and other wearable fitness trackers. Meanwhile, I’ve found that the watch does a pretty good job of tracking caloric expenditure without connecting to fitness equipment; it just doesn’t log other attributes like mileage.

Tracking Net Calories with LoseIt and Apple Watch

I use an Apple Watch to track my total calories burned and use LoseIt to track my total calories consumed. LoseIt can show you net calories – calories consumed minus calories burned – with a big caveat that took me a while to figure out:

A LoseIt Break-Even “Bonus” of Zero

LoseIt gives a “Calorie Bonus” (that is, actually subtracts calories burned) only if you exceed the number of calories they expect you to burn in a day. If you burn less than that many calories, there is no “Calorie Penalty” and you don’t have a reliable way to directly see your net caloric balance for the day.

I’ve determined that a “zero calorie” exercise balance (the maximum level burn that still gives a “bonus” of exactly zero) on LoseIt has nothing to do with your LoseIt weight loss goals, manual adjustments to your LoseIt caloric intake goals, or any goal settings on the Apple Watch. The “zero calorie” exercise balance is the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation for BMR times a seemingly arbitrary activity factor (overall multiplicative factor) of 1.4518. LoseIt’s FAQ says they account for “dressing, showering, housework…” (without mentioning the equation or 1.4518 multiplier) but this multiplier is clearly the number to which they feel the activities they list corresponds. This is the same as what LoseIt uses as the baseline for your caloric intact, before subtracting weight loss goals (e.g. 2lbs/week = 1,000 calories/day) and before subtracting any additional manual adjustments.

That is, the exercise bonus on LoseIt is entirely determined by your weight, height, age, and gender, and it is the same equation for the number of calories LoseIt suggests for maintaining current weight. This equation gets me exactly the LoseIt “zero-calorie bonus” (the break-even point) every day for the last 25 days (as far back as I bothered to check) except for two days when it’s one calorie off and another day where it’s two calories off (i.e., this is correct to within rounding error):

Lose-It Break-Even = 1.4518 * 10*pounds*0.45359237 + 6.25*inches*2.54 - 5*age + gender

gender in the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation is +5 for men and -161 for women.
0.45359237 is the conversion factor for pounds to kilograms
2.54 is the conversion factor for inches to centimeters

While LoseIt imports the Apple Watch data, LoseIt doesn’t care about what you’ve set as your Apple activity goal. LoseIt’s definition of a “normal” amount of activity (multiplication of BMR by 1.4518) is already baked into their formula. LoseIt just compares your total calorie burn to the formula above. I compared my Apple Activities App “Total Calories” daily history to LoseIt’s record of total calories burned and found a match within one calorie for all 25 days studied. I vaguely recall that on either LoseIt or MyFitnessPal, my profile included my to provide (via a drop-down) an estimate of my activity level. If that was LoseIt, then the words I chose (“minimal active” or something like that) might be where the 1.4518 came from. Or maybe the same activity factor is universally applied to all users.

Anyway, plotting my weight (over the last 25 days) against what LoseIt would have considered a break-even “bonus” of zero calories (that is, after a day ends, you can see by how much you came up short or how much extra you burned) gives a very nice line:

LoseIt Break-Even Calories as a function of Don’s Weight

Apple’s Non-Move Calories

While LoseIt treats non-active calories as a function of weight, age, gender, and height, it seems that the Apple Watch approach also includes sensor-based measurements when determining non-Move calories. You can even see the variation in non-Move (“Resting Energy”) calories in Apple’s iOS “Health” app:

iPhone screenshot of Apple Watch data

Indeed, there is no obvious correlation between daily Apple Resting Energy calories and weight, and there is at most a weak correlation between daily Apple Resting Energy calories and daily Move calories:

Conclusions

Because LoseIt is using a RMR formula that is a function only of the day’s weight (presuming height, age, and gender are fixed) and because Apple Watch is using biological measurements for both Move calories and for Resting Energy calories, there is no way to know the exact number of Move calories one will need in order to achieve a calorie bonus from LoseIt. Thus, there is no way to know the exact number of calories one needs to burn in order for LoseIt to be a reliable provider of net calories relative to one’s goal…. Except to make sure that one burns a margin-of-error more than what one will guess to be the break-even point. For me, I need roughly 500 active calories on top of the seemingly random “Resting Energy” I get each day to reach the LoseIt break even point. As a result of this analysis, which I initially performed in February 2019, I set the Move goal for my Apple Watch to be 550 calories per day (500 plus a 10% margin of error) and so far, every day that i’ve hit this Move goal, I’ve received at least a few Bonus Calories from LoseIt, and thereby have an accurate net caloric balance from LoseIt’s visualization.

Removing Stamp Ink from a Wall

Our address stamp

We had a six children (including ours) in our house over the weekend and one of them found our return address mailing stamp (we use this one, which has served us well for several years so far). The kid did what kids do, our wall got redecorated, and I got the opportunity to do an experiment.

I found a wide range of advice online and decided to go with the recommendation here to (1) apply white toothpaste, (2) let it sit for 10 minutes, and (3) wipe it away with a wet white washcloth, repeating if necessary.

I was quite surprised to see how well this worked. I did not need to repeat the process; the ink was completely removed after just the first round of steps.

The toothpaste fully absorbed the ink, so wiping the toothpaste took the ink with it. As far as I could tell, the toothpaste wasn’t serving as an abrasive (which is how dry toothpaste is sometimes used in car scratch repair).

The toothpaste I used was Colgate Total Advanced Whitening, which was just what we happened to have around.