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Ask HN: Best options for wearable computing? How can I type and walk?
17 points by anthony_barker on July 28, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments
Typically I have gotten sufficient exercise by bicycling to work. Unfortunately last month I had a self inflicted bike accident - broke my jaw and lost couple of teeth. Since then I have been occasionally walking home - but it takes me a good 60 minutes as it is about 5.5 miles / 8 km uphill. What I would like to do is somehow type or be productive while I am walking both ways - 120 minutes on quiet back streets for most of the way.

There is significant proof that staring at screens all day without moving is killing us


Here are the 3 options I have looked at

1) A full setup like this guy at vassar


- Vuzix Glasses http://www.vuzix.com/iwear/product_presentation.html

- chorded keyboard/twiddler http://handykey.com/

- Expensive - $2000

- Vuzix is low res (800 x 600)

- Have to learn new keying method

2) Picking up a viliv N5 and typing directly on the device with my thumbs http://www.dynamism.com/notebooks/viliv-n5.shtml

- 1024 x 600 screen

- No PixelQ screen

- $650

- Not sure if I will be able to type

3) Sticking with my Nokia n900 with bluetooth headset (or Blackberry)

- Cheap

- Not all software is available but could in theory access via VNC anything I need

- Have to stop occasionally to use but screen works in daylight

Any suggestions?

BTW I need to be billable during time I am walking.

I'd learn to think while you walk. Think through problems. Work out solutions. I find that driving/cycling/walking is really really valuable thinking time. I don't think trying to type at the same time would make it quite as useful.

I think one of the reasons driving/cycling/walking is so productive thinking time is precisely that you are constrained. You can't just waste time, you can't launch into stupid half thought out plans.

Edit: I forgot to mention, the same can be done with babies. When you have a baby, and have to feed it, rock it, clean up after it, change it etc. You're forced to just think about problems. It's excellent thinking time. Babies do come in useful after all!

This reminds me of edw519's comments on how he codes fast http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1544453:

"Very fast. Let me explain.

"I work in 2 modes: (A) At the computer and (B) Away from the computer.

"When I'm in Mode A at the computer, I'm cranking out lines of code, testing, revising, testing, revising, etc. This process must be very fast. Several hundred lines of code (or whatever) in less than an hour. A complete cycle in less than a couple of hours. My guideline is that if I'm not working that fast, then I must not be prepared to work that fast, so I don't deserve to be at the computer. I should be in mode (B).

"Mode B is generally much slower. Reviewing code, specs, or notes. Refactoring code. Laying things out with pen and paper. When I have enough work clearly laid out, I know it's time to get back to the computer and return to Mode A."

I've seen/learned this from many programmers.

Also just another point. don't over work yourself, we're all humans (except those damn bots) and you have to give yourself down time to let your brain simmer on the latest and greatest thoughts.

I want to get some real work done. Like they are doing at the Mayo Clinic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPjN07JyVjo&NR=1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcE_JHx5_gA

Mode B is work! Personally, I carry a moleskin notebook and mostly think and jot down notes as I go. When I'm back at my desk, I can switch into mode A and be far more productive. All the planning, design has been done.

If you are into bulk writing, then I'd pick a twiddler and text to speech rather than a heads-up-display.

Here's an idea, use this valuable time to reflect on life, come up with ideas, work through programming problems, and take a break. Maybe carry a voice recorder (or mobile phone with a voice recording app) to record things as they come to mind.

You are way overthinking this. Don't bother with dorky wearable computing gear.

What about using something like Jott?


It may not be my place, but I can't encourage this. You are literally wanting to turn yourself into a gargoyle from Snow Crash. Put in some headphones and listen to a good book or podcast when you're out walking. Save the rest of us the guilt of accidentally running over the walking programmer.

Walk twice as fast and type when you get there. Otherwise you will break the rest of your bones as you type-walk into traffic.

That is another option - basically run and join a gym under my building so I can have a shower when I get in.

Mind you from the article:

"Regular workout sessions do not appear to fully undo the effects of prolonged sitting."

Here is the guy with the world record in typing and running


I would recommend listening to audiobooks or talks with your phone or music player. But if you really wanted to, you could try and chest mount a smaller laptop like the military does sometimes.


These guys offer something similar for about $35 or you could make one yourself.


I'd love to have your 120 minutes to do nothing else but reflect on what's been achieved, what lies ahead and strategize on the best way to get there. I find Evernote on Android to be a great way to record/file thoughts.

I happen to have personally worked for priestdo at Vassar, and I can say that he gets a lot done with his wearable; sometimes it's hard to tell if he's using it at a given time. ;)

I don't think he uses it while walking--he tends to stand around in the hallway while using it. I also never found out how easy it is to see the screen in sunlight...

Not quite so, I do tend to stand in the hall - it is quite short, I would end up walking back and forth. But I do walk, read and type quite a bit. I will go outside and walk around campus if I need to write a chunk of code. I also regularly walk/run from home to campus (mile and a half). On the way in I use the time to catch up on email and plan out my day. I use the walk home to clean up any work related loose ends and transition to home tasks. -Greg

I'm a Vassar CS student as well, and our sysadmin's setup is as awesome as it looks. The first time I met him, I was a little intimidated by how plugged in he is. And yeah, it really is hard to tell when he's using it sometimes. He'll walk through the lab, you'll tell him there's a problem with your account, he'll look into the distance for a second, and he'll tell you he's fixed it.

My biggest concern is that one cannot comfortably & safely type while walking. Just let your imagination fly & type later at home?

Anyway, I would first practice read-only browsing e.g. with Vuzix Tac-Eye LT┬╣ attached to iPhone (or smartphone of your choice). If that worked, I'd add one-hand bluetooth keyboard, such as FrogPad┬▓.

Generally speaking, wearable computers are definitely the future, but the technology is not yet ready for the prime time. Today's virtual glasses are clunky, low-res and expensive; input methods are primitive.

[1]: http://www.vuzix.com/iwear/products_taceye_lt.html [2]: http://www.frogpad.com/

This guy has a similar rig without the vuzix:


Just enjoy the walk, you don't need to be connected to technology 24 hours a day :)

But, the Twidler does look cool! Has anyone here used one? I'm not sure about walking around while typing but I can imagine setting in a comfy chair with one.

Here is another option the alphagrip


Get an Audible account and pick some of their excellent unabridged audio books - for example the excellent biography of Churchill by Roy Jenkins is 37.5 hours!

I was active in the wearable hardware community several years ago, and all the hardware I had collected made the blog rounds when I put it up for sale. I realized that hardware is pretty much a solved problem, and has been for years. You can't do what you want, because the software doesn't exist outside of individual researchers' equipment.

There are HUDs of various resolutions that can put SVGA, XGA and higher into unobtrusive glasses (or perhaps into safety glasses, given your accident). There's plenty of hardware of every possible form factor to provide processing power and you can run x86 and Windows, or ARM and Linux and use whatever desktop software you're used to.

The issue is that all of our desktop (and even iPhone) hardware and software both is designed to be the focus of our attention. Even walking, you'll end up like people who are texting while driving. You can't do both at the same time, neither safely nor productively.

I got rid of all of my hardware because I came to believe the only way to safely and productively do something like that is without traditional interaction at all. You want a system like Steve Mann's, where data is projected onto the environment: http://www.flickr.com/photos/caseorganic/4521834460/

Longer form information needs to be able to be read to you, and you need to be able to slow down, speed up and repeat that information through the noise of the real world as the real world distracts you: http://hirevito.com/oldportfolio/smartdevice/

You want to be able to respond and act with simple gestures as to not draw attention to yourself, and to dictate longer form information out loud (so long as you don't mind being that rude guy yelling into his Bluetooth headset).

You need all new software to support these paradigms, because your UI is rendered not onto windows and boxes in an opaque, bright display taking up your field of vision, but onto the side of a building, and then another one, and then another one, advancing down the street as you continue to walk, a line or two at any given time.

The hardware to process all of this is out there; the iPhone 3GS can handle augmented reality just fine. But every task you want to accomplish needs new software.

You would probably be better off taking a cab home.

I listen to podcasts. I find it very valuable.

I have a twiddler. I'd prefer to not use it when walking, although I prefer a normal keyboard when sitting in front of a computer.

I think that the best interface for working when walking would be speech recognition/spoken word. If I had a screen in my glasses I'd probably walk right into a tree.

Perhaps you could dictate to some kind of voice recognition on a mobile phone?

I think remember that the full time heads up guy (Steve Mann? MIT?) needed anti-nausea drugs to handle the constant visual disturbance of the display. Perhaps there are resolution improvements to the goggles. Learning to use a chording keyboard always seemed like it might make sense, just touch type and edit later. What about voice input?

Try some good audiobooks. Or just walk, it can be quite enjoyable. You are trying to take productivity to a new extreme.

Get a standing desk and an old treadmill.

swype ?

it works pretty well even if you are moving about, since it doesnt depend on accuracy of position.


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