Thursday, July 28, 2016

Things to do with kids in Singapore: Treetop Walk & Trick Eye Museum

Continuing the series of things to do with kids in Singapore (first post here), here are 2 more places that we went to in the last few months that proved to be fun:

Treetop Walk: Photos of the Treetop Walk that I'd seen online made me want to get to this place at the soonest. When I was researching it however, it seemed like the 4-5 km one-way walk (through the MacRitchie Reservoir) might be a bit too much not just for the kids, but possibly even for me in the hot and muggy weather. I looked around a bit more and figured out that that a particular entry (the Venus Drive Car Park side) seemed to be a shorter walk at 2-3 km. We have been ardent users of the public transport here and so I found the route using the MRT & Bus that would take us closest to this point.

Right at the beginning.. feeling as fresh as the surroundings :)

We ended up dilly-dallying a bit due to some other chores and it was past noon when we finally made it there, but the weather was so cloudy and gorgeous that day that we didn't have any issues with the heat and could just ramble along until evening. I felt quite suspicious of the signs that said 1 km, 2 km, and so on because with all the ups and downs of the path, it definitely felt like we walked a LOT more. My Fitbit too, reported a much longer distance than the signs it, and you know which one I'd trust ;).


The lovely view that we experienced on the actually short stretch of the walk above the treetops, was totally worth it!! We were so high on the experience that we even had enough enthusiasm to go and catch a movie after ;). Must plan another round sometime, with the longer route through the reservoir, but maybe I'll do it on my own before trying with the kids.
That accomplished (and slightly tired) look

How to get here: Flame Tree Pk or Opp Flame Tree Pk are the bus stops to get to. We took an MRT to Marymount and then a bus from there, but depending on your starting point you might be able to take a bus directly as well. The entry to the Treetop walk closes at 5 pm so do take that into account while planning your outing.

Trick Eye Museum: We had seen the main highlights of Sentosa on our earlier holiday, so I hadn't really paid much attention if there was anything new opening up there. Thanks to a kind friend who asked us if we would like to join her and family on an outing to the Trick Eye Museum, we discovered this unique museum where the kids especially had loads of fun.

Relaxing.. in the past apparently :)
It's filled with paintings and other artfully arranged set-ups, where you can pose for a photo, with the end result tricking the eye of any spectator. It really made kids out of us adults too, with trying out the various settings and checking out the end result in photos, as much or even more than the kids did ;).

Expression also to suit the setup :)
Help! The lava!
Who says only the kids should pose ;)

No dearth of actors in the family
How to get here: As far as Sentosa goes, it is really easy to get to by various means - taxi, MRT or bus - and the Trick Eye Museum is quite close to the parking lot. It's on the same stretch as Universal Studios.

If you have any suggestions for places to add in my list of things to do with the kids in Singapore, do comment and let me know :). 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Fitness and the Fitbit Blaze

Fitness is something I have spoken about on my FB timeline on and off, and I truly believe that this is something we MUST prioritize in our lives. I have traversed quite a roundabout route to get to my present state, starting with gym memberships in my younger working days that I made use of for hardly a few weeks in a year, to many varieties of yoga classes (some learnings definitely stuck with me!). It was in my late 30s that I acquired some additional incentive to work on my fitness, as I found that joints and muscles that go about their functioning without much thought in the 20s, start showing signs of aging unless you consciously work on strengthening them in the next decade. What works for me now is a combination of home videos for cardio and strength training (Fitness Blender/Leslie Sansone), Yoga and my latest love - Aqua Aerobics. I still have quite a way to go, but at least I know I'm getting there :).

I love metrics and statistics (funny that I never had a career in this area, but I always enjoyed this part of any job I was in), and found to my delight that a device like the Fitbit really helped to improve my motivation. Competing with like-minded friends, or even just with yourself, is a real feel-good factor and keeps you going on days when you would rather just relax on the couch and watch the latest TV show, or yes, while away time on Facebook. After a couple of years of using the Fitbit Flex, I decided it was time for an upgrade ;). My main requirement was a device that doubled as a watch, and also helped with heart rate monitoring. I decided to stick to the already familiar interface and so - Enter the Fitbit Blaze.

Availability: I looked around a bit, and ordering on Amazon.com seemed to work the best for now. If you have someone in the US who could bring it back for you, or if you travel there on work, jump at the chance. I did when the spouse offered to bring back something on a work trip ;).

Looks: I love large-dial watches, so the size of the Blaze works well for me. I thought it was a bit sleeker(though broader) than the Fitbit Surge, and the screen size is nice for navigating menus or looking at stats for the day. If you're not used to a slightly big watch on your wrist, it's best to check out the size of the Blaze in a store in your city. Another fun aspect that the Blaze offers over the Surge is the option of replacement straps. There are quite a few on offer including leather and metal ones. I ordered a metal one as I had some allergy issues with the Flex bands and wanted to make sure I had a replacement handy when I needed it.

Steps: The calculation of steps remains the same as in the Flex, depending on the movement/cadence of the arm. This means that if you're pushing a cart in a supermarket, there's a chance your steps might not be counted. In my time of using the Flex, I found it quite accurate, and I expect the same of the Blaze. Other friends who use Fitness bands have also reported the Fitbit step calculation to be one of the best.

The "Today" section gives a view into the day's statistics.
I have been very low on exercise in the last couple of weeks
and it shows in my resting Heart Rate :P
Heart Rate Monitor: This was a big reason for my upgrading to the Blaze, and I have been getting interesting readings and trying to make sense of it all. My base rate is around 62-64 and it feels as though even a short walk sends me into fat burn mode.. which is a good thing I suppose. I am still trying to understand how the different routines of cardio and strength would impact heart rate and what is the optimum balance I should aim at. For now, I am happy with fat burn ;).

Calories: The Fitbit calculates calories based on all your activities not just exercise. This means that it might show 200-300 calories soon after you get up, and about 2000 calories expenditure for a moderate to slightly high exercise day with ease. You need to set a baseline of what Fitbit calculates for you on a sedentary day and aim accordingly.

Floors: The calculation of floors climbed is not strictly accurate, and it may consider uneven terrain with ups and downs, and probably even an escalator climb or two as steps climbed. This was not a big requirement for me, so I have no issues here. For those who would like an accurate count here, you might need to keep track of your counter before any intensive climbing to be able to make sense of your final tally.

Active Minutes: The active minutes on the Flex were measured based on the steps - any continuous walking of 10 minutes or more contributed to the active minutes. On the Blaze, any exercise that I enter counts also towards the active minutes, and that makes it a bit more accurate to track your actual activity for the day.

Exercise tracking: Other than the ability to enter exercise details that was available with earlier models, the Blaze also brings with it an automatic sensing of exercise (walk, bike and a few others) when done for 15 minutes or more. This means that a walk for grocery shopping that I might not think to enter in myself is counted by the Blaze as exercise :). It also comes with a built-in set of exercise options, FitStar, which is apparently one of it's unique selling points even compared to the Surge.

Battery life: The promised battery life is 5 days, but I was initially getting only about 3 days worth. I later realized that I was probably looking at the screen a bit too much (common with a new toy!), and checking my phone for the metrics instead keeps it going longer, so I'm at about 4 days as of now. As looking at the time is one of my major needs behind buying it, and this would possible take up battery as the display is turned on every time, I am happy with this much for now, which is still an improvement over the Flex.

Notifications: These are restricted to just calls and messages at the moment, and I hope they would be adding more apps as we go along. I am finding even this much useful though, as it saves me from missing calls in noisy places, even if finding your wrist vibrating can be a bit startling :).

Other possible points of consideration (do let me know in the comments if there are any other Blaze features you would like me to add in this post, and I'll add my personal view):
  • The Blaze doesn't come with GPS but can use the GPS of your phone. 
  • It is water resistant not waterproof, which some have found surprising for the price range of this model. 
Current price at the time of this blog: 179.99 USD on Amazon.com

PS: Please pardon the quality of pics, as an amateur, I found it challenging to find the right light and eliminate reflections. Please see other pics online, and the product in person to get a clear idea of size and looks :).