Personal Health Tracking – Part 01

We now live in a world where measuring and tracking your health is accessible to everybody, not just ‘health freaks’ or the ‘diet obsessed’, all walks of life now have the opportunity to take control of their health. In this series of posts I’m going to show you how.

For me it started off simple, ‘I want to know my heart rate’. So I got an Apple Watch, I loved it, I loved checking my heart rate, getting accurate data for work outs as well as a visual rundown of my activity for the day. Combo this with many years of consistent sleep tracking and an interest grew into borderline obsession. Now I have a vast array of affordable, personal health devices that I use on a regular basis to measure my health metrics. They say ‘what is measured, is managed’, so if you want to manage your health, you have to measure it. This post will take you through what devices I use to measure my Heart Rate and Blood Pressure as well as everything I have learnt along the way.

Heart Rate

There are a plethora of devices on the market now that measure your heart rate. Some apps can do it on your phone using a combination of the flashlight and the camera (not very accurate), many health watches measure heart rate including the Apple Watch, the Fitbit and various Android Watches, there are also dedicated heart rate monitoring devices which often get bundled with other forms of body measurement such as blood pressure or blood oxygen level. I have a few of these in my tool kit but what I am going to focus on here is the Apple Watch.

I’ve had an Apple Watch since they launched, then when the Apple Watch Series 2 came out I upgraded to the latest and greatest (the Faster CPU and Water Proof Rating really makes a huge difference). Recently Apple launched the Apple Watch Series 3, for me this wasn’t a huge hardware upgrade so I’ve decided to skip this generation and see what happens next year with the Series 4. But alongside the launch of the Series 3, Apple launched iOS 11 and watchOS 4 bringing with it what I would consider major updates to the Health Platform.

AppleWatch_01

Heart Rate App on Apple Watch Series 2 running watchOS 4.

As you can see in the image above, now when you check your heart rate on the watch you not only get a current heart rate measurement but you also get a graph of how your heart rate has varied throughout the day. By default the Apple Watch takes a heart rate measurement roughly every 5 Minutes, sometimes it will give or take a few minutes and the interval of measurement will be slightly longer or shorter. Unfortunately there is no way to alter this frequency, I wish there was as I’d set it to every minute. Apple control this frequency to keep battery life in check as the more you use the heart rate monitor the more the battery will drain, also for most people the stock measurement frequency selected by Apple is more then adequate and keeps ridiculous amounts of heart rate data from accumulating.

 

These frequent heart rate measurements can be accessed within the Apple Health App on iOS. Above you can see how the raw data is presented. Basically it gets broken down into a category for each day, 10th Oct, 11th Oct, etc. When you click on a day it will show you each individual piece of heart rate data that has been saved that day, it tells you what time the measurement was taken and what your heart rate was. Pretty neat. I find this way of viewing your data is handy if you want to go back and check your heart rate at particular times. Sometimes I am powering up a hill with a heavy trolley at work and later on want to see where my heart rate was at while exerting myself, I can quickly navigate to the day and rough time and get an accurate readout of how fast my heart was beating.

AppleWatch_04

Apple Health App Graphing Out Your Heart Rate Data.

All of this data is great but what is even cooler is how it gets graphed out on iPhone with the Apple Health App. Take a peek at the image above and you’ll see what I mean. You can break down your view into hours of the day, days of the week, days of the month, etc. It then gives you your maximum and minimum heart rate of that particular hour/day, visually displaying your heart rate range for the time period in question. This is a great way to see in a graphical sense how your heart has been functioning over a period of time. New in iOS 11 is the calculation of your ‘Resting Heart Rate’ and your ‘Average Walking Heart Rate’ as well as heart rate range while ‘Working Out’ or using the borderline meditation app called ‘Breathe’ on Apple Watch. These features have been around in 3rd Party Apps such as ‘Cardiogram‘ for a while but it often has trouble processing the large amounts of stored heart rate data and I never found it particularly useful as it was a bit cumbersome to use, now this heart rate data is processed in the background by iOS rather then when you open an app like ‘Cardiogram‘ so you can have results instantaneously and presented in a more logical way.

AppleWatch_05

Viewing an Apple Watch Workout on the iOS ‘Activity’ App.

The Apple Watch is also great for tracking workouts, be it a walk, run, swim, cycle or stint on some gym equipment. When you are running a workout on the Apple Watch it is constantly monitoring your heart rate which gives you a pretty solid overview of your training session. Above you can see an ‘Other’ Workout that I recently completed, it was a session in the gym that involved some Gymnastic Strength Training, Kettlebell Swings, Push Ups, Chin Ups, Crunches, etc. It shows my Average Heart Rate for the workout but also a graph of it’s ups and downs in the session. This data is helpful to see just how hard I was pushing myself at various times. The variability is pretty standard for the type of workout that I was doing as I started with a warm up and alternated between high intensity exercises like the Two Handed Kettlebell Swings and low intensity exercises like Myotatic Crunches.

One little note that is worth mentioning, sometimes during workouts I will notice sluggish responses from the Apple Watch in terms of my heart rate read out. For example, I’ve just finished a sprint leg of my morning run and dropped my pace back to a jog, I check my watch and it says 74bpm, what? I feel my neck and I can feel my pulse and it is pumping fast, at least 120bpm, why isn’t my Apple Watch detecting that? I’m not sure, but I have found that if you leave it for a minute and then bring your wrist back up to check the heart rate again it sort of starts the reading fresh and will then yield an accurate heart rate measurement, in this instance it was like 134bpm. My only explanation is that it’s a connection issue between the Apple Watch Heart Rate Sensor and my wrist, I have experimented with various levels of tension on the wrist strap which doesn’t really change the result. Usually when I pull the watch further up my arm so that it isn’t dead on my wrist it works flawlessly. But when I wear it normally, bang on my wrist, this issue of an incorrect heart rate readout shows up from time to time. Not all the time, just some of the time, which is slightly annoying but totally manageable.

When I first got the Apple Watch my motivation for buying one was a mix between wanting a good heart rate monitor and a desire to have the newest technology. I quickly found that it was pretty much a bonus item, I mainly used it to check the time/date and I could totally function without it. People asked ‘Do I Need An Apple Watch?’ and my answer was no, it’s nice to have but not essential. Nowadays my value for having regular heart rate measurements has grown in importance, I’ve gotten used to having that data, I think it’s beneficial to look at from time to time and I would consider the Apple Watch an essential part of my toolkit.

Blood Pressure

My next venture into the wide world of health tracking was blood pressure. Whenever you visit your GP they generally take a blood pressure reading, if you’re in health trouble and rushed into hospital your blood pressure is a vital sign that the doctors use to help determine what is wrong with you. The sheer weight of importance given to this vital sign is paramount, it makes total sense to track it on a regular basis. With regular measurements you can detect changes early, act early and prevent problems before they become catastrophes. Even if you are young and healthy it’s still helpful to have regular measurements of your blood pressure over time, then if something were to happen you have some facts to assist with the problem solving. Is your blood pressure high, low or in a normal range? Do you know what your regular blood pressure is? If not, I think it’s about time you find out.

When I began researching Blood Pressure Monitors one consistent thing kept coming up, that was the brand Omron. Most GP Offices have an Omron Machine for every consulting room, if you ask your doctor what BP Monitor they recommend they usually say get an Omron, it’s an industry standard. So while I did look at some other brands I stuck with the tried and true Omron Blood Pressure Monitor. They come in many different flavours and can vary in price quite a bit depending on the extra bells and whistles of a particular model. I wanted something up to date and reasonably tech savvy, having it integrate with my phone was important to ensure a fluid tracking experience. The model that I settled on was the Omron MIT5 Connect (HEM-7280T-E).

BP_01

Omron MIT5 Connect (HEM-7280T-E).

This is a great Blood Pressure Monitor. I have used it consistently for over a year and never had any problems. I stumbled across this particular model by the way of reading many reviews online, the more I read the more I felt like this was for me. It was Omron which has the industry backing behind it, it featured Bluetooth for wireless connection to your phone, it supported multiple users and it was portable. I’d never purchased a BP Monitor before and one particular point of friction was that it didn’t ship with a mains power supply, I thought this would be a deal breaker but it seemed to be consistent across the board with many models that I looked at. I thought I would setup the BP Monitor in one place and just leave it there for it’s entire life, I was wrong. I often find myself taking it to the kitchen to do readings, packing it up and storing it in my bedroom, there have even been times that I’ve taken it to family gatherings and done group readings where one by one I have taken everyones blood pressure and got them to log it in their phone. You definitely don’t need mains power, I have run mine off 4 AA Batteries for over a year now and it’s still going strong, portability is key. Below is what you will get in the box alongside an instruction manual:

BP_02

What’s In The Box of the Omron MIT5 Connect (HEM-7280T-E).

As you can see you get the Blood Pressure Monitor Unit, an Armband with attached air tube and a little carry case to package it all up for storage and travel. I find it works best if you coil up the air tube, place it on the armband and then fold it up till it is roughly the size of the case, I then place it at the bottom of the case with the BP Monitor Unit on top, zip it up and you are good to go.

BP_03

The Armband plugs into the Air Socket on the BP Monitor Unit.

To take a BP Reading it is super simple. I put the Armband on correctly (details of how to fit it correctly are located in the user manual), plug in the Armband to the Air Socket on the side of the BP Monitor which is depicted above, it just slots in smoothly and easily. Then I select ‘User 1’ or ‘User 2’ which is depicted below, press the Start Button and it begins taking your reading.

BP_04

Select between User 1 and User 2.

I use ‘User 1’ for myself and ‘User 2’ for my Mum, the User Options allow a history of Blood Pressure Measurements for each individual to be stored within the machine. This is a handy option should you choose not to link it via Bluetooth to your smart phone. If you wish to take someones reading who isn’t ‘User 1’ or ‘User 2’ all you need to do is hold the Start Button rather then press it when you begin a BP Measurement and it will begin taking a reading in guest mode and the measurement won’t be stored on the machine.

But now let’s get into the exciting stuff, how to streamline the measurements from this BP Monitor into your digital record keeping world. As before with my heart rate, I use Apple Health to manage my blood pressure readings and thankfully Omron has created an app called ‘Omron Connect‘ that allows incredibly easy sync and integration from the BP Monitor via Bluetooth to the Omron Connect App which automatically writes data to Apple Health. This short video details the process of taking a blood pressure measurement and syncing it to your phone:

In Apple Health your blood pressure can be displayed visually or as individual data, both are depicted below. I don’t find the visual graph to be all that helpful in this instance but I do often scroll through the individual blood pressure data, it’s easier to read this way and you can clearly identify changes over time. The format of SYS/DIA and then a timestamp means you can just look through all the data, any outliers should stand out to your eye as you begin to notice any consistencies or changes over time.

 

As you can see above I often take multiple readings in a single session, it’s best to take three as you’ll be able to then get a nice average as blood pressure does have slight natural variances depending on your heart rate when it’s taken, even if the readings are only a minute apart. The BP Monitor will also measure your heart rate which is a nice little bonus, this heart rate data is written to Apple Health through Omron Connect alongside the blood pressure data so you don’t need to worry about it. I have done tests where I’ve let my Apple Watch measure my heart rate at the same time the BP Monitor is taking a measurement and they both sync up, sometimes there is a slight difference of 1-2 Beats Per Minute but I find overall that they are either very close or bang on in terms of heart rate measurement. This is nice for peace of mind as it allows me to verify the accuracy of both the Apple Watch and the BP Monitor.

The Omron MIT5 Connect (HEM-7280T-E) works like a dream and I don’t think I could really ask for more out of my blood pressure monitor. That was until I started getting a weird little heart indicator every now and then when I would take my blood pressure. This was puzzling, I know the BP Monitor displays an icon when your blood pressure is too high or too low but what did this icon mean? I consulted the manual and the icon means irregular heart beat detected. It only happened intermittently but still I thought it was worth consulting the doctor about. I went and saw my GP who had a listen to my heart and said it sounds normal but ordered an ECG (Electrocardiogram) just to be sure. This was a pretty simple test and I quite enjoyed the experience. The results came back with a irregular heartbeat indeed, I have a Sinus Arrhythmia and Rightward Axis. The Sinus Arrhythmia is apparently quite normal and nothing to be concerned over though the Rightward Axis did require some further investigation. The doctor ordered an Echocardiogram which was awesome, it’s like an ultrasound for your heart and you get to listen to the amplified sound of your heartbeat while the examination is happening. Very cool. The results came back all clear which I was grateful for. If I wasn’t monitoring my Blood Pressure regularly I’d have never known it was an issue and would have never had it checked out. While it wouldn’t have had any serious impact on me, for many people it could make a world of difference. I think it’s better to be in the know, give a Blood Pressure Monitor a go!

Just a quick note, this model of Blood Pressure Monitor comes with different names depending on which country it is sold. Some countries call it the ‘Omron MIT5 Connect’ and others call it the ‘Omron HEM-7280T-E’, they are both the same thing. The beauty of this is that you can order either model online, locally or overseas, with the convenience of powering it with 4x AA Batteries you don’t need to worry about 240V/110V Power or Power Plugs/Adaptors, it just works everywhere. This worked really well for me in Australia as I was able to order a unit from the UK which was half the price of purchasing it in Australia. Beneficial for your health and cost effective, win win!

Coming in Part 02

I originally intended for this to be a massive post including all facets of my personal health tracking, but it just became too big of a task. So I’ve opted to break it down into smaller components. Up next could be any of the following:

  • Blood Glucose / Ketones
  • Pulse Oximeter for Blood Oxygen Concentration
  • Sleep Tracking
  • Fasting
  • pH Levels

Which of these interest you most? Let me know in the comments below!

 

DIY Apple Keyboard Repairs

In this post I will show you how I fixed the keyboard mechanism on an Apple Keyboard with a toothpick and a metal twisty tie. I was pretty surprised when I MacGyver’d together this make-shift solution and it actually worked! But before we dive into the nitty gritty I must give you some context.

Scissor vs. Butterfly

The infamous Butterfly Keyboard Mechanism was introduced by Apple in 2015 in the New 12″ MacBook. Apple claimed many benefits of the new mechanism such as increased comfort and responsiveness as well as being thinner with a lower profile. But once it got into the hands of users the complaints started rolling in, mainly centring around keys getting stuck while typing.

This replaced the Traditional Scissor Mechanism which you will find in older Apple Keyboards. In this tutorial I will be dealing with the Scissor Mechanism and two older models of Apple Keyboards.

ScissorVsButterfly

Scissor Mechanism vs. Butterfly Mechanism. Image Courtesy of Apple Inc.

The Two Keyboards

The two keyboards that I will be dealing with in this discussions are as follows:

Apple Wired Keyboard with Numeric Keypad (Model: A1243)

WiredKeyboard

Apple Wireless Keyboard (Model: A1314)

WirelessKeyboard

If you wish to learn more about Apple Keyboards I suggest you take a look through this Wikipedia Article which gives you a very solid outline.

The Story

I recently purchased a 2nd Hand iMac during the eBay 20% Off Tech Sale and managed to snatch up quite a good deal. I was upgrading my Mid-2009 24″ iMac that had been retrofitted with an SSD for a Late-2013 27″ iMac that came with a Wireless Keyboard and Magic Mouse as well and providing specs that trumped my current setup. It wasn’t the newest and fastest setup but it was a significant step up for a reasonable price.

The 2nd Hand iMac came used from a facility that rents out Macs to University’s and then upgrades them for newer models down the line. Part of my process when I purchase any 2nd Hand Item is to give it a through once over when I get it. This iMac was in very good condition, it just needed a solid clean to remove some stains and make it feel new again. So I went over it with a combo of Isopropyl Alcohol, Shellite and Mineral Turps depending on the toughness of cleaning required. When I was doing a pass on the Wireless Keyboard I must have been a bit too rough and I broke the F10 Key, which provides the Mute On/Off Function, an important key in my opinion. I wanted it fixed but knew nothing about repairing a keyboard key so I dived in, got my hands dirty and learned a few things. This is what I discovered.

Lessons Learnt

The best way to remove a key from an Apple Keyboard is with a Plastic Spudger. You can use an expensive one similar to the iFixit Model or you can find numerous cheaper alternatives on eBay. The Plastic Spudger is good because it’s made from a material that won’t cause damage to the aluminium frame of the keyboard or the actual keys themselves. You can always use a thin jewellers screwdriver but the material, often steel, can dint the aluminium frame and damage the keys.

You basically wedge the Plastic Spudger underneath the key and lift it up. The deeper you get under the key the more leverage you will have the easier it will be to pop off.

Each key is made up of three seperate elements:

  • Keyboard Button

KeyboardButton

  • Scissor Mechanism

KeyboardScissor

  • Keyboard Key

KeyboardKey

The goal when removing a Keyboard Key from the Keyboard is to detach only the Keyboard Key with the Plastic Spudger and leave the Scissor Mechanism fixed in place to the metal lock offs on the Keyboard Button.

Once you have removed a key, these image will let you know if you have done it the Good Way or the Bad Way:

Keyboard Key

KeyboardKeyGoodBad

It’s bad when the Scissor Mechanism comes out stuck into the Keyboard Key.

Keyboard Button

KeyboardButtonGoodBad

It’s good when the Scissor Mechanism stays latched into the metal parts of the Keyboard Button.

Once you have successfully or unsuccessfully removed a Keyboard Key you will be able to examine how the actual keys function and understand how each of the elements interconnect with one another. Hopefully these images help to convey a certain level of understanding before you go pulling apart your own keyboard.

To fit the Keyboard Key back onto the Keyboard you first need to make sure the Scissor Mechanism is fitted in the Keyboard Button. If you removed the key in a good way then this is already fully sorted, if you unfortunately removed the key in a bad way, don’t stress as it’s easily fixed. You can remove the Scissor Mechanism from the Keyboard Key and fit it back into the Keyboard Button.

KeyboardButtonMetalScrewdriver

I found that it was best to use a small flathead jewellers screwdriver to lift the right metal flap on the Keyboard Button up (Green Circle – Above), then you can easily fit the Scissor Mechanism back into place. Use the same jewellers screwdriver to flick the winged notches into their respective metal holes (Blue Circles – Above). Then use the jewellers screwdriver to apply downward pressure to the same metal flap on the right that you lifted earlier, this will ensure it locks back into place. Then all you need to do is line the Keyboard Key back up and apply pressure down as if you were pressing a button. You’ll hear two clicks and this means that the key has been locked into place.

Tools and Materials

All I used for the repair of the Keyboard Mechanism was simple items that you could find around the home. They are both listed and depicted below:

Tools:

  • Needle Nose Pliers
  • Wire Cutting Pliers
  • Thick Pliers
  • Red Pin from QBond Set
  • Bench Vice

Materials:

  • Toothpick
  • Metal Twisty Tie
  • Super Glue

TheTools

Just to give you an idea of how small the Keyboard Mechanism is and how finicky it is to undergo such a repair, please see the image below of the part sitting next to my finger:

FingerWithMechanism

DIY Repair

I have a broken F10 Mute Key on my new Wireless Keyboard and a fully functional Wired Keyboard. Upon inspecting the broken F10 Key I discovered that the problem was a damaged Scissor Mechanism. I tired re-assembling it but it would just flick up on a weird angle and detach from the keyboard. No good.

I decided that I’d be using my newer Wireless Keyboard as my main keyboard when I setup my new 27″ iMac, the older Wired Keyboard would be put into storage as a spare. The Wired Keyboard has a bunch of smaller profile keys that matched my broken F10 Key located up the top that don’t get used, this is the F13 Key through to the F19 Key. I removed the F14 Key on my Wired Keyboard and transplanted the Scissor Mechanism from there to my Wireless Keyboard. I then put the F10 Keyboard Key back into place and the Wireless Keyboard was as good as new.

Now the Wired Keyboard was missing an F14 Button which I don’t use anyway, not a big deal but my mild OCD says otherwise. There has to be a way to fix it. You can purchase replacement Scissor Mechanisms from eBay and I’ve read of a few stories online where you could take it into an Apple Store and they’d most likely replace it for you for free, but I wanted results now. I thought the best way to achieve that was to repair my broken Scissor Mechanism from my Wireless Keyboard and fit it to my Wired Keyboard.

This is how a Good Scissor Mechanism should look, it consists of two parts:

ScissorMechanism

The ‘See-Saw’ and the ‘Winged Frame’, two parts that make up the Scissor Mechanism.

My Scissor Mechanism was broken in the two parts outlined below:

ScissorMechanismBroken

The first repair was to the See-Saw Part of the Scissor Mechanism. One of the notches which acts as a pivot point when it is placed in the Winged Frame was broken. It’s quite a small part but I was positive I could fix at least this part. What I ended up doing was using the Red Pin to poke a hole through the See-Saw where it was broken. Penetrating the plastic by hand wasn’t easy but it wasn’t overly tough. Eventually the pin went all the way through and I had a very tiny hole. I used a toothpick and forced it into the hole. The toothpick tapers in size as you get further from the tip, this meant that it wedged into place nicely. I used my Wire Cutting Pliers to trim any overlap that fell into the See-Saw inner circle which is where the button would sit, I also trimmed my new wooden notch to match the size of it’s counterpart. During this notch trimming process I clipped off a bit of thickness from the toothpick so that it would easily fit into the hole on the Winged Frame.

RepairedScissorMechanism

The second repair was to the Winged Frame Part of the Scissor Mechanism. One of the corner notches had snapped right off and could no longer clip into place on the Keyboard Button. It was snapped in a way that a simple toothpick wouldn’t do the trick as it still wouldn’t line up horizontally. I also had the problem of where do I put a hole to act as a mounting point. I ended up putting the Winged Frame into a Standard Bench Vice and using the Red Pin to poke a hole in the plastic vertically. This took a great deal of force but it worked and I managed to do it without damaging the rest of Winged Frame, having it mounted in a vice played a big part in that. Next I had to find something that I could bend to achieve the stretch and notch solution that was required, it also needed to be thin enough to fit in the little pin hole that I just made. It took a little bit of thinking but I decided metal would be the best material to use. A paperclip was too thick, a thin gauge nail was too thick and then genius struck. I’ll use a Metal Twisty Tie, you get them with almost every new cable that you buy or even sometimes with loaves of bread. I used my Wire Cutting Pliers to strip the Metal Twisty Tie of it’s plastic wrapper, I then put a tiny bit of super glue on the tip and threaded it into my pin sized hole being careful not to go too deep so that it overlaps the inside. I then trimmed the length of the metal and used a combo of my Needle Nose Pliers and Thick Pliers to clasp the metal within the Winged Frame and bend it into shape. I was done, I had successfully repaired a broken Scissor Mechanism with miscellaneous bits and pieces I had laying around the house.

I fitted it back into the Keyboard Button on the Wired Keyboard with no worries at all. I placed the F14 Key back on top, clicked it in and I was 100% good to go. The button works, it feels and looks normal. Repair Successful!

RepairedScissorMechanism02

I’m pretty happy with myself as now I have a fully working Wireless Keyboard and a fully working Wired Keyboard. Though the Wired Keyboard does have a DIY Fix to one of the keys, the key still works, it also looks and feels normal, plus it’s a key that never gets used so it’ll never have any negative impact. It’s a total win on the DIY Front.

There was a bunch of literature online about cleaning your keyboard under the keys but not a lot on what to actually do if you need to undergo a finicky repair like this. While I initially thought a replacement part would be required, I certainly proved myself wrong. I hope this guide helps someone out there who wants to do a cheeky little fix to their broken keyboard keys all while embracing their inner guerrilla repairman!

Please Note: All Photos for this Blog Post were taken on an iPhone 7, the quality is reasonable but I have since purchased a Macro Lens Kit for my DLSR so I’ll be able to provide sharper, higher res images for you in the future. Thanks!