Improve your training with Sportiiiis

As a runner, biker or triathlete, how great would it be to have a navigator with you, offering key information like heart rate, pace, speed and cadence during your workout and letting you know when you’re slacking off or pushing too hard, all without taking your eyes off the road ahead? If you think that’s not happening unless you’re pulling a rickshaw behind you, I suggest a more practical solution: the Sportiiiis heads up display and audio feedback system. From 4iiii Innovations, this lightweight device provides athletes with the kind of performance data they need to improve their workouts and cut down their times, all with just a couple taps of their fingers.

The unit itself is small and simple: Just attach the Sportiiiis system (pronounced “Sport Eyes”) to the arm of your glasses (sunglasses, prescription specs, whatever) using the included mounting bracket, wrap the boom (containing the heads up display) around the front of your glasses, make some final adjustments and it’s all set. The only downside with the setup is that you pretty much need to leave the mounting bracket attached to the glasses you’ve chosen – even when you’re not working out – unless you want to go through the setup process again, but that may only be a minor inconvenience for some users.

So you you’ve got the fully charged Sportiiiiis strapped to your glasses. How does this thing work? Well, you’ll need to put in some study time before hitting the road to fully understand all the bells and whistles. The Sportiiiis synchs with any ANT+ device – like a heart rate monitor, a foot pod or a bike sensor, all of which you can buy from 4iiii Innovations or separately from other manufacturers – to give you the information you want to track during your workout. Just download the user guide and configuration software, set up your profile and determine which “Zones” (heart rate, pace, cadence, etc.) you want the Sportiiiis tracking in conjunction with whichever ANT+ device(s) you’ll be using.

You’re not quite ready yet, though. You’ll cycle through the various settings and readings using a series of touches and taps on the side of the unit. It’s not overly complicated but you won’t just be able to figure it all out on the fly. For example, pressing the power button once starts and stops your session; holding the power button for two beeps turns the unit off; holding it for three beeps switches to bike or run mode; double-tapping the side switches between the paired sensors you’re using. Be sure to put the Sportiiiis through some test runs before taking to the road.

Once you’ve done the homework, though, you’ll see firsthand just how useful this device can be. The display is made up of a series of seven LED lights that indicate where you are in the particular zone you’re tracking. For example, if you’re hitting your target heart rate, the LED blinks green. Fall above or below that mark and different lights flash to let you know it’s time to slow down or pick up the pace. This system is programmable by color and position so you can tweak it to best suit your needs. Additionally, the audio function announces when you’ve successfully switched between zones or modes and can tell you when you’re on target, or above/below, via the tiny speaker at the back of the unit. It’s all pretty cool and, once you get the hang of it, pretty easy to use.

The one drawback is a personal one that will vary from one athlete to the next, since some simply don’t like wearing glasses while they work out. Bikers probably don’t mind at all, but as a runner, I’ve never been a huge fan of wearing shades on the road – all that bouncing around can get on my nerves. The Sportiiiis, however, may very well make me reconsider that stance, particularly during an important training run. I’d probably leave the unit at home for simple maintenance runs, but for those who like to have all of their metrics available to them on the go, there may not be a better solution than the Sportiiiis.

  

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Maurice LaMarche (“Futurama”)

Maurice LaMarche has been my Facebook friend for several years, but I’d never actually met him, talked to him, or even traded email with him until a few days ago…which means, of course, that he really wasn’t my friend at all. I mean, not really, anyway. After I found out that he and I would be chatting in conjunction with the return of “Futurama,” however, I decided I’d tag him on my status update about our upcoming conversation. In turn, I drew Mr. LaMarche’s attention at long last…or, at least, one of my “likes” did.

Eh. Either way, Maurice LaMarche kinda sorta knew who I was when I got on the phone. I’m chalking it up as a win.

Maurice LaMarche: Now, I’m looking here on your Facebook page, and…who are your likes? Because I see you’ve got “The Newsroom,” and then you’ve got this guy with really tightly cropped hair, but then when I go into your page, you’ve got something like 1,200 “likes,” so I can’t tell who he is. Do you know who I’m talking about?

Bullz-Eye: Yeah, he’s…I’m blanking on his name right this second, but he’s part of the cast of USA’s “Suits.”

MLM: Hmmm. Because he looks like a guy who used to be on a show that I loved that got cancelled, a show called “Jake In Progress.” He played a magician, I think, but…God, that’s gonna drive me nuts now. I’ve got to look up “Suits” now! [Laughs.] Sorry! Then we can start. I’m a little compulsive…

BE: Well, look, I’ll help you out: that’s the same guy. His name is Rick Hoffman.

MLM: Yes! I love him! He’s so good. So funny. I love that guy.

BE: Yeah, I think I first saw him on “Samantha Who?”

MLM: Okay, so you never saw him on “Jake in Progress,” then…? Oh, “Jake in Progress” was my favorite show, and it just was treated so… [Puffs up his voice.]  …ignominiously by ABC. Reminiscent of the way they treated a certain futuristic cartoon show, one might say.

BE: I’m sure I don’t know what you’re referring to.

MLM: I’m sure I don’t, either. [Laughs, then puffs up voice again.] But Comedy Central has treated us much better.

BE: Yes, “Futurama” continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. It’s like a zombie: Fox tried to kill it, but they couldn’t get rid of it.

MLM: That’s right. We just keep coming back at you. And we’ll try not to do any zombie storylines, so…thank you for your patronage. [Laughs.]

Read the rest of this entry »

  

The Opena iPhone case to the rescue

I’ve seen people open beer bottles using screwdrivers and pliers, cigarette lighters, belt buckles and the corner of a table when a proper bottle opener was nowhere to be found. Turns out there are all sorts of other items you can use too, including car keys, your wedding ring, a toothbrush and even a piece of paper. (We can’t, in good conscience, recommend using a chainsaw.) How about a cellphone case? The Opena iPhone 4/S case ensures you’ve always got a proper bottle opener on you. This slickly designed snap-on case hides an integrated bottle opener in the back — simply slide out the stainless steel extension in your time of need, pop off the cap and get your drink on.

The Opena definitely adds some heft and bulk to your phone, but credit the makers for keeping the added weight to a bare minimum. It won’t take long to get used to, and in the meantime, you’ll be the guy all the ladies flock to when they need someone to open their beverages. Okay, maybe not, but you’ll no doubt attract some attention when you bust the Opena out at a party.

Available in black and white, this PC/ABS hard case is sleek, slim and more more than capable of protecting your phone, and it offers easy access to all buttons and ports. The bottle opener slides in and out easily enough and locks into place, all while your phone remains safely clear from all the action while opening your beverage. It is, however, a little slick in your hand, and you also may want to choose a different case when traveling since a piece of metal hidden behind your phone may attract some attention when going through airport security.

But while the Opena may not be an ideal everyday case, it’s an excellent choice when you’ll be spending the night knocking back some beers with your friends. It’s certainly better than strapping a spatula to the back of your phone.

  

Driving the 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302

There are few things quite as exhilarating as driving a muscular sports car on a track. Driving on the open road or through winding mountain roads can be great, but pushing a beast like the Mustang Boss 302 around the tight turns of a racetrack and then flooring it on the straightaway will give you a thrill you’ll never forget.

We naturally jumped at the chance to participate when Ford invited us to its first “Mustang Masterclass – Something Every Man Should Know” event for the opportunity to drive the 2013 Mustang Boss 302 at Miller Motorsports Park. The idea was to teach us how to drive this incredible muscle car on a track regardless of our skill level. I was pretty comfortable driving a stick but was anxious to learn more from some of the best driving instructors in the country, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Mustang is one of the most iconic American nameplates, and the Boss 302 is a special version of the Mustang that was born on the track. The first generation Mustang Boss 302 was made from 1969-1970 specifically for buyers who wanted to race their Mustangs, and it was revived in 2012 for the same purpose.

Most importantly, the new Boss features a beast of an engine that yields 444 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque. The Boss mandate is to provide the best-handling Mustang ever, so the already strong Mustang GT suspension system has been further refined. The Boss 302 also features unique, lightweight 19-inch black alloy racing wheels in staggered widths: 9 inches in front, 9.5 inches in the rear. The result is an incredible machine with a growl that will turn heads and bring a smile to your face.

Miller Motorsports Park was about 30 minutes away from our hotel, so we loaded up on some coffee and were greeted by a fleet of colorful 2013 Mustang Boss 302s that we would be driving to the track. From a design point of view, one minor change stands out this year involving the side stripes. The 2012 version featured a reflective “c-stripe” on the side of the vehicle inspired by the 1969 model, and the 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302 builds on the heritage of the 1970 Boss 302 with new, reflective “hockey stick” graphics package. The LED lights in the front and back also stand out. We hopped in and revved up the engines and were off. This gave us a preview of what we were in for at the track as we cruised through the Utah countryside. The Boss 302 may be built for the track, but you’ll have plenty of fun driving this beautiful vehicle in any setting.

When we arrived at the track we settled in for some serious classroom work. The goal here was to teach us how to drive on a race track, and the instructors were extremely knowledgeable and safety was always the number one goal. A lot of time was spent on the proper line to take going in and out of turns, focusing on the apex and the entry and exit points. It was fascinating stuff and it also turned out to be extremely helpful.

We got suited up in our racing suits and helmets, and then we headed out to the garage to find our cars. The good folks at Miller had each of our names put on the windshield of our car and it was quite a thrill to climb into a personalized Boss 302 racecar. Mine was orange, though later in the day they switched me into the #57 black car. The track cars had thick safety bars in the interior like you’d find in all race cars. We went through some test laps and then we had some specific lessons on braking and downshifting, and then we were ready for some high-speed laps.

When we got back on the track, the instructor always set the pace in the lead white car with blue stripes with three of us following in our 302s, and following the instructor’s line on the track was a huge help. I was lucky to be in the fastest group, and our instructor really challenged us to keep up. The car was a pure joy to drive and it handled beautifully, and the power on the straightaways and coming out of turns was amazing. I could have spent the whole day in that car.

The entire experience was amazing. We enjoyed many more activities that day at Miller in between our track times, including go-cart racing and zip lining. I’ll follow up with a separate article on all the activities available at Miller Motorsports, but the highlight was the Mustang Boss 302 and taking it out on the track. People from all over the world come to Miller to work with the instructors to improve their driving skills over several days, and we got a very good taste of that experience.

As I was driving back to the hotel, I was stuck behind a truck on a two-lane road so I floored my Mustang Boss 302 and easily blew by it. It was a nice reminder that I didn’t need to be on a track to enjoy this car, but I still can’t wait to do it again.

  

Blu Tuesday: Oscar Gold, Greek Tragedies and More

This past month has been pretty spectacular for Blu-ray enthusiasts, as it’s given us a number of reasons to stay out of the heat and relax inside our air-conditioned homes. (Honestly, it’s been unreasonably hot for June, at least here in Ohio.) Though today’s new releases aren’t as great as previous weeks, there’s still quite a bit to choose from, including arguably the week’s two biggest releases – “21 Jump Street” and “Wrath of the Titans” – which sadly weren’t provided for review. Of course, that just made room for a few titles that probably wouldn’t have been featured otherwise, so no harm done.

“The Artist”

Celebrating “The Artist” for its originality may seem a tad contradictory – after all, silent movies have been around longer than any other form of cinema – but when compared to today’s crop of films, it certainly feels fitting. The big winner at last year’s Academy Awards, “The Artist” plays like a loving homage to an era of filmmaking that many people have either forgotten about or never knew. For as purely entertaining as “The Artist” can be at times, however, it doesn’t do nearly enough to make you fall in love with the film so much as the idea of it. Though the movie’s first 30 minutes are an absolute delight thanks to the charming screen presence of Jean Dujardin, the abrupt change in tone from light-hearted comedy to somber melodrama is a bit disappointing. Still, “The Artist” makes great use of its various stylistic devices, and French actors Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo deliver star-making performances. Although the film often favors the gimmick over the story, it serves as a great reminder that while not every off-the-wall idea is guaranteed to be a success like “The Artist,” it’s the willingness to take those risks that making movies is all about.

Blu-ray Highlight: While I had high hopes for the 45-minute Q&A with the filmmakers and cast, it’s spoiled by a terrible moderator and Jean Dujardin’s language barrier. Still, “The Making of an American Romance” is a pretty entertaining featurette that, in addition to focusing on the two French leads and their supporting cast, also covers many of the movie’s finest moments, including the big tap dance number at the end.

“Bullhead”

Though it was a bit of a surprise nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, writer/director Michael R. Roskam’s “Bullhead” definitely deserved the attention it earned as a result. It’s not exactly in Drafthouse Films’ wheelhouse of bizarre midnight movies (see: “The FP”), but it’s the kind of film that I’d like to see the startup label distribute more often in the future. A unique, character-driven crime drama with one of the most memorable protagonists in recent years, “Bullhead” is worth seeing just for the amazing transformative performance by star Matthias Schoenaerts, who’s virtually unrecognizable under the facial prosthetics and 60 pounds of weight that he reportedly gained for the role. Schoenaerts is a physically intimidating beast of a man who looks like he might snap at any moment, but the brilliance of his performance is the vulnerability and innocence that he brings to the character. Unfortunately, “Bullhead” is yet another case of a sensational performance in an otherwise average movie, and though that doesn’t make it any less worth your time, it does prevent it from becoming the masterpiece it could have been.

Blu-ray Highlight: The guys at Drafthouse have done an excellent job with this release, so there’s quite a bit of good material to choose from. In addition to a pair of insightful interviews by director Michael Roskam and star Matthias Schoenaerts (who talks about becoming obsessed with his physical preparation for the movie), there’s also a cool making-of featurette that delivers a behind-the-scenes look at the filmmaking process.

“A Thousand Words”

Director Brian Robbins’ third collaboration with Eddie Murphy isn’t nearly as terrible as their previous projects (“Norbit” and “Meet Dave”), but it’s not exactly an instance of “third time’s a charm” either. Although taking away Murphy’s best asset – his voice – is troublesome from the very start, the movie’s biggest problem is that it’s played as a silly comedy when it would have made for a much better drama. The basic premise is a pretty high concept idea, but instead of exploring the figurative relationship between Murphy’s character and the leaves on the tree that fall with every word he speaks, Robbins and screenwriter Steve Koren (who’s also responsible for last year’s incredibly awful “Jack and Jill”) take the broader route by making the bond much more literal. So when anything happens to the tree (whether it’s squirrels running around the trunk or the gardener spraying it with toxic gas), it also has a physical effect on Murphy, which only spoils the deeper philosophical and spiritual connotations that are briefly alluded to. “A Thousand Words” is still better than a lot of the crap the comedian has been doing in recent years, but not by very much.

Blu-ray Highlight: There are only two extras included on the disc – a subpar collection of deleted scenes and an inferior alternate ending – and neither one is very worthwhile.

  

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