Saturday, November 8, 2014

Garage door spring replacement project

In September torsion springs on my garage door broke and I had a dilemma of hiring a contractor or fixing it myself. After having three different contractors bid between $400 to $900 for the project ($400 for basic replacement and $900 for complete overhaul of the door), I decided to do it myself.

In addition to replacing torsion springs, I decided to do a complete overhaul of my garage door system and replaced cables, bearing, springs and all 10 rollers with these high quality ones from Amazon:
 Having spent a couple of hours researching the process of replacing the torsion springs, I was very aware how DANGEROUS this process could be if not done properly. I was also having a really hard time finding appropriate torsion springs. This is when I found this AWESOME web site where I ordered two of my new springs, two new cables and new bearing for the torsion rod. This website has lots of instructional videos and very good customer service - I called them three times with questions and they quickly answered all of them! If you ever are going to replace your garage hardware - use this site: Here are instructional videos that they share freely with everyone - these are by far the best videos on the internet about replacing torsion springs:

When you order your new springs, you need to make very careful measurements - the site above explains all of it. Here is what I measured on my setup - I sent a link to the DDM Garage Door folks and they made sure I ordered correct hardware:

This project took me about 10 hours total:
  • 2 hours of researching the technical details and watching videos
  • 1 hour to measure everything (twice)
  • 2 hours shopping for the right parts (I wish I knew about DDM Garage Doors right away)
  • 2 hours installing and adjusting springs
  • 2 hours to install and adjust cables
  • 1 hour to replace rollers
  • 15 minutes to lubricate everything
  • 10 min to write this blog.
I spent about $150 on parts - all highest quality you can possibly buy on the market. This means I saved about $750 compared to the $900 price for the door overhaul proposed by one of the contractors. This comes to about $75 per hour spent. The joy I had from doing it myself - priceless :-). The parts and work quality - I bet it is the same or likely higher than what I would get from a contractor.

The reason I wanted to write this blog is to share my outstanding experience with the DDM Garage Doors as the provider of parts and their excellent customer service.

The other big reason is to warn about the high danger of replacing torsion springs. This project is not for the faint of heart. It can kill you if not done right. However once you know the process and follow it, it is very safe to do and is not complicated at all. But you MUST DO IT CORRECTLY!!! Watch instruction videos and hire contractor if you are not sure you can do it right.

Sprint Triathlon in North Park, Pittsburgh (Janney and YMCA - 2014)

On August 10, 2014 I raced Sprint Triathlon in North Park. This is only few minutes from my home and back in 2011 this was my first ever triathlon race (photos here). In 2013 I took first place in my age group (race report), so in this race I was defending my title sort of speak.

This year I won again in my 40-44 age group (19 participants) and went faster than the all competitors from age group 0 to 44, except for the overall competitors. I was 9th overall out of 233 competitors. The official results can be found here:
Here is the comparison of 2014 results to 2013 and 2011 races:

2011 2013 2014
Swim (700 yards)   00:18:21 00:13:48 00:14:29
Bike (12.5 miles) 00:33:17 00:32:59 00:32:46
Run (3.1 miles) 00:23:04 00:21:42 00:22:01
Total 01:14:42
01:08:29 01:09:16

I am happy with the result, however swim and run are slower compared to 2013 - not really sure why is that so. I sure hope this is because conditions were different and not because I got slower :-).

As always - major thing that needs improvement is the control of pre-race anxiety. I could not get any sleep the night before the race. I may have slept for about 30 minutes total - same as last year...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Two weeks in Russia and a week in Japan

Just came back from the 3 weeks trip to Russia and Japan. This was a business trip, but I got to see my relatives on weekends. Fall is a great time to visit Moscow! Beautiful colors in the forest with plenty of mushroom hunting, fresh apples from the garden, crisp air, and great food - any time of the year :-).

On the way from the airport we drove by the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute (MEPhI) - my Alma Mater. With relatives we went into the forest for mushroom hunting - took few photos while doing that and mom cooked delicious mushroom soup that night. The work week in Moscow was packed with customer meetings and I did not have much time to take pictures.

After Moscow, I flew to Tokyo on a direct flight, which was delayed 7 hours because of the Typhoon in Japan. When I landed any trace of bad weather was gone. In Tokyo I stayed at a nice Royal Park Hotel and went to fitness club for a run, swim and sauna every day :-). In sauna I was reprimanded by the maintenance man for going into it in my swim trunks. My Pittsburgh YMCA folks would disagree, but this was not Pittsburgh, so I took all clothes off next time and fit in well :-). There was not much free time in Tokyo, so unlike my earlier visits this time I have very few pics to offer:

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Paragliding lesson

Yesterday I took a lesson in paragliding. Having never done sky diving or anything at all related to flying (except for too many commercial airplanes), this was such a fun experience! I have to say that watching youtube videos of paragliding pros I thought this was a relatively easy thing to do. However as it frequently turns out it is easier said than done properly :-) Here are few moments from the 2.5 hour lesson yesterday (I had better launches than these, but they were not filmed). In the end I had a towed launch, but I put it at the start of the video as it "looks" the coolest :-)

If you want to take a lesson, I highly recommend Jon at I got this lesson for half the cost thanks to the Amazon Local coupon I got by email.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Camping with Cub Scouts in Boy Scouts' Heritage Reservation

This weekend my youngest son Edward and I were at Camp Independence with his Cub Scout Pack 36 for 4 days. This is annual event and is open for all Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.What an awesome time we had!!! Wow.

The weather was perfect - no rain, not too hot, not too cold. Forest and lake are beautiful. Facilities are great. Staff is outstanding - very energetic and super friendly. Program was packed with all kinds of cool things. The only thing that was a bit lacking is the food, but for 4 days it was ok. Kids had every hour scheduled, starting at 7:50 flag ceremony, followed by breakfast at 8, then activities until 6 pm dinner, which included geology (tour of the mine and rock search), nature trail, sports, BB shooting, bow shooting, crafts, swimming, kayaking, boating, fishing, service project, castle wet sponge fighting, rock throwing, knife skills, tennis, basketball, camp fire, etc. In our pack everyone enjoyed all of the activities. This was so much fun and kids were very happy. After dinner there was a show at camp fire and some free time. Bed time started at 10 pm. Some adults with pedometers found out that we walked about 6 to 7 miles every day. I managed to run 7.5 miles only once (on second day).

I took bunch of pictures and videos while at the camp (click to see the full album):
Full album

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rain water collection system - rainbarrels, etc. (part 1)

In the past week I have setup a system to collect rain water from the roof of my house (located in Pittsburgh, PA). The water to be used for irrigation of the lawn and garden. I have wanted to do it for quite some time now, but now that my pipe under the driveway collapsed, I decided to build it, instead of digging the driveway, which was freshly covered with new asphalt just this past October.

The cost of the system is around $300. the biggest investment was my own time. I spent estimated 20 hours to build this thing, but now I feel quite happy as the system works very well.

I have taken pictures and provided captions for every picture should you decide to build a system like this. The project is only half finished at this time as I have water being collected in plastic totes, but I need to finish the decoration so that these same totes are not exposed to sun and do not look as ugly as they do. I will probably build something out of wood to make it look pretty. Here is a quick snapshot of the entire project - click on the image to see detailed comments for each picture:
The only thing I still need to figure out is the fine filtration. Since I use small electric motor to pump the water to a higher ground of my front lawn, the fine filter on a sprinkler gets clogged every hour or so, so I have to take out the house from that sprinkler and clean it. I need to build a filtering system so that pumped water is clean. Have not decided on how to to id yet.

It appears my calculations for capacity are not correct as some rains provide more water than the total capacity of my system and water overflows via this little blue house I have for the overflow. It is not bad, just sorry to lose that water. Perhaps in the future will add one or two additional 275 gallon water tanks to expand the capacity.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

This past weekend my son and I went hiking with boyscouts to the Shenandoah National Park. Everything was just perfect - company, weather, camp, mountains, river. Here is a photo story of the trip (if you want to see all 131 photos, then go here):

Friday, June 6, 2014

Trip to Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia

The next day after the Pittsburgh Marathon I had to fly to Asia for two weeks for work. I was still very sore after the race and had to get up "almost" every hour on the plane and stretch, walk, etc. Good thing I was sitting in the isle seat. I can imagine what would it be if I had to seat in the middle :-0.
My first stop was Malaysia and it took me over 26 hours to get there, including 3 flights (Pittsburgh -> NY -> Hong Kong -> Kuala Lumpur). Just about 22 hours flying time. Not a good thing after the marathon if you ask me. And this was not business class either.  The hotel in Malaysia was excellent - with nice 20 meter swimming pool and fitness center, so I got to swim every day and did some biking and towards the end of the week even running (up to 3 miles at a time). since this was my second time in Malaysia and I was so sore I did not do any touristic things (although I had great tour my first time around). The breakfast at hotel was simply awesome! Just take a look at these pictures :-). Fresh papaya, fresh squeezed juices, and more. Yum... Although I have spent there entire week, I simply worked in hotel room or in office or met with clients. Not much outside of work or food :-).

My second stop was Singapore. What a lovely city! Very clean and nice looking. It has amazing history - breaking up from Malaysia with no natural resources and prospering to the highest degree. The city is very expensive to live in, especially considering that to drive a car there you would pay almost two or three times of the cost of the car itself for the right to drive it. Such is the cost of a small space. The other thing I learned is that Singapore is buying soil, brings it on barges and dumps it into the sea to reclaim some space. They have expanded its size by 20% and plan to expand it by another 90 sq km. Wow... This was my fourth time here, but I have not been able to explore the city much and I had one free day (Tuesday was their public holiday) and I went to see the Botanical garden. Boy - was it something! I was told that estimated cost to build it was over $1B - and I think it is worth every penny. Beautiful place. Check out these photos I took - all with my Android Samsung Galaxy S3 phone (there are 103 pictures - click to see the full album):

My third stop was Thailand. This was my second time in Thailand and because of the government protests going on I decided not to do any tourism. However my first trip was very lovely from a touristic perspective when I took lots of pictures. This time I only had my Samsung phone with me a took a handful of photos. Compare the tw:

Photos from the first trip:

And photos from this trip :-)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Pittsburgh marathon 2014 race report

For several years I wanted to run Pittsburgh marathon, but other priorities took precedence until now. Finally this past Sunday May 4th I finished the race. This was my second full distance marathon and it was just as much fun as the first one I did in September 2011 (Erie Marathon at Presque Isle). Here is the result from the official site:

This was certainly my "A" race for the year as I wanted to improve my previous result, which I did. The Erie Marathon is very flat with only about 300ft of elevation gain, while Pittsburgh Marathon has 4343 ft of elevation gain and loss (for a grand total of net 0 elevation gain) according to my Garmin GPS. Nevertheless, after 2.5 years of training I improved my result by 3 min, 33 sec - not a bad result considering more difficult terrain. Here is the GPS track with pace and heart rate data from the GPS (click to go to the interactive map):
Interactive map
Race packet pickup was very well organized. I came in about 1 hour before they closed the place and had no lines. Took me only 15 min to get my stuff. I did not do any special carb loading the day before the race. Ate normal - some green veggies, chicken, bread, berry shake, etc.


Just like I did the last time, I have used Hal Higdon "Marathon Training - Novice 2" plan (I used Novice 1 in 2011). Since 29 of December 2013 when the marathon training started, I did run training 4 times a week, cross training about 4 times a week, swimming twice a week, and biking 4 to 5 times a week. Here is the color coded schedule - feel free to click on the image and download into your own XLS document so you can update it for your own training schedule:
I was lucky to not be sick for the entire period from Dec 30 up until the marathon and have not skipped any workouts. I was planning to run 3h:15m, but I assume that will take few things:
  • Upgrading the training miles to the "Intermediate 1 or 2" plan (per Hal Higdon)
  • Sticking with the 3:15 pace group from the beginning
  • Learning how to sleep the night before the race
  • Learning how to overcome the "pain" while running. I went into this race half wanting to run fast and half wanting to just enjoy the race. I would say I mostly enjoyed it and did not push as hard as I could. May be it is a good thing?

Race day

I slept 9 hours two days before the race because I knew I would have trouble getting sleep the night before, which I did. That is I did not get any sleep the night before the race. Even a tablet of melatonin did not help. I just laid in bed with my eyes shut, but had no sleep at all. This was very annoying. I felt my heart rate increase for no reason - just overall anxiety before the race. If I only could get a solid sleep, I could have been so much more rested... I wonder what is the secret to this sleep thing? I never have trouble sleeping.

In any case, I got up at 4:15 am, checked weather forecast (for the 10th time), ate whole wheat slice of bread with almond butter and jelly, hot green tea, banana. Used bathroom for #2 and #1 three or four times. Woke up my wife and youngest son and we left the house at 5:30am. It turns out 30,000 people racing can create a traffic jam even at 6am. By the time we parked on the parking lot north of the Allegheny River (on the ball park parking lot) it was already 6:30. Instead of 30 min, it took 1 hour to get there. One more trip to the bathroom with waiting in line took another 10 minutes. We had to walk very fast across the river to the A starting corral. While on the bridge I only had 15 minutes left before the start, so I jogged to the corral A. Lucky it was still open. I ran in place for 10 min to warm up before the start and got my heart rate to about 130. I decided to pace myself using my GPS and that was a mistake. I should have joined the pace group wight from the start. While walking from the car to the start it was pretty cold and I wore old clothing - old pants and old sweater. I took it off 5 minutes before the start and put it next to the garbage can in the start corral. In hindsight, this was a great thing to do, but I should not have worn long sleeve shirt under my PTC tri race kit as it got warm enough and those long sleeves did not help. But again, the temperature being about 55 was just perfect for the race.

Despite the great number of people at the start line, it was not very hard to run in this crowd. Before the gun went off I saw two PTCers - Ed and Chris. I am glad I wore PTC kit as seeing "brothers in arms" was a nice bonus before the start! Even first mile was pretty good as everyone moved at the same brisk pace of about 7 to 7:30 min per mile and my expectation of being squished between hundreds of runners turned out to be false. After first couple of miles runners stretched even more (more so with every mile) and it became easier to find the best path to run. Even so, next time I will be more careful choosing my path as making wide turns really adds up during the marathon (read this good article). My GPS showed that I ran 0.3 miles more than a marathon distance. That is a couple of extra minutes on the clock that I should not have spent.

I sipped Gatorade about every 2 to 3 miles - about 1/4 of a cup at a time. That will make it approximately 3 full cups over the full distance. I think it was enough liquid as the temperature was about 50 degrees (perfect for running!). I also took my Powerbar Gels every 45 minutes - for a total of 4 gels (all 4 were different flavors). I think I could do away with 3 gels next time? The reason is that consuming a gel slows breathing and slows you down. Plus I don't think I needed all that extra energy anyway.

I noticed that on hills I maintained the effort and was quickly passing people, while on downhills I also maintained the effort, but some people were passing me. Perhaps it is all the North Park trail running?

At mile 14 I was caught by the 3:20 pace group and stuck with them all the way until the end of the race. This took constant GPS watching off my plate and I could simply concentrate on running. However if not for this pace group, I am not really sure I would have been able to maintain the pace that I needed on my own. First half went by very easily with no significant effort, but second half started to be progressively harder. Over the distance of the race I walked twice for 20 seconds each time. First time I fully caught back the 3:20 pace group and have not lost any time at all, but on second walk I got behind pace group by about 15 seconds and have not fully caught them.

As last several miles got progressively harder, it was a great relief to hit the downhill at about mile 23. I passed pace group by about a minute thinking I could run a couple of minutes under 3:20, but one mile before finish they caught me again. Last two mile were pretty hard and I felt something that looked like a beginning signs of cramps on the right side and decided not to push the pace for the fear of locking up, not to mention that it was pretty hard. I swear that if they made finish Gate visible from mile 24, I would have run a LOT faster, but the way they laid it out - you do not see the finish gate until about 100 yards away from it after you make a right turn into Point State Park. This has got to be a consideration! Make the frigging finish shute visible, damn it! :-).

I must say that spectators and scenery on the course was pretty awesome. I felt like the city belongs to runners this day (and it did). There were lots of funny signs, but I stopped paying attention to those after the first half as I had to concentrate on my pace.

The best part was that I knew my wife and son are waiting for me at the finish line. I kept their images in my head for the last few miles when times were tough - and it helped. Would have been harder if they were at home and I had nobody waiting at the finish line.

 At home for recovery I made myself a smoothie on my Vitamix with frozen mangos, chia seeds, carrot, bananas, yogurt, honey, frozen berries, avocado. Drank 3 cups that day and another 2 cups the next morning before leaving for the airport.

Once I got home from the race, it was *very* painful to talk those stairs for two days... I don't think I had that after my first marathon. To make matters worse, the next morning after the race I boarded a plane and flew 1.5h to NY, then 15.5h to Hong Kong and another 3.5h to Kuala Lumpur. Did not get to walk much and had to sit on that plane for almost 24 hours. Not a good thing for recovery. No more DOMs after 4 days. But here in KL before and after having business meetings I got to swim in hotel pool, biked and today (Saturday) ran for the first time after the race. In fact today I did 45 min cross training in the morning and in the afternoon swam 2000 meters, biked 18 miles and ran 3 miles - more than a spring triathlon :-).


Have not decided yet when to run the next full marathon. Perhaps next year? Or may be not. One of the ideas is to pace someone for the 4 hours run. That would be like a slow long run - training run. Really not sure what comes next.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Ride against Multiple Sclerosis

Do you know what Multiple Sclerosis is? I hope you do not. It is very bad. And there is hardly a cure. But there is hope. This is why I am supporting research to fight against MS by riding 175 miles in two days. You can join too!

1. Join my team and ride against MS on June 7 & 8 from Pittsburgh to Lake Erie (you can ride 150 miles or 175 miles).
2. Donate $5 (or any amount you wish) to the cause on my fundraising page.

Here is the link for you to support my ride or join my Team.

I have done this before - once in 2012 and in 2011. If you want to join, but not sure what the ride is all about, watch this video:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Video recording of the swim session

Two days ago I recorded my swim workout from several different angles and would love to get ya all critique - feel free to comment directly on YouTube. Looking forward to recommendations!

Would love to hear any recommendations on how to improve my swimming technique and speed. Here is the breakdown of the workout:
----------- View from above the pool (front)
00:00 - 150 yards - warmup breast stroke
00:12 - 150 yards - kick on a side w/ flippers
00:37 - 50 yards - kick on a side without flippers (note how slow I go - very weak kick)
01:00 - 450 yards - alternate 25 yards skulling with 25 yards free style stroke
02:40 - 150 yards - free style stroke with paddles
03:10 - 100 yards - free style stroke
03:22 - 400 yards - alternate 50 yards one arm drill with 50 yards free style stroke
----------- view from the edge of the pool
05:26 - 100 yards free style stroke
----------- view from the bottom of the pool
05:56 - 400 yards - alternate 25 yards fist drill with 25 yards free style stroke
----------- view from the side of the pool (above water)
06:27 - 50 yards - shark fin drill (note how slow I go because of a weak kick)
07:25 - 400 yards free style stroke
10:45 - 100 yards - cool down breast stroke
Total: 2500 yards, 50 min.

HD version of this video.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Training and racing summary for 2013

Happy New Year 2014 !

It was another awesome year for many reasons, fitness included. Overall training and racing went well and I enjoyed most of it, except the usual 24 hours of anxiety and lack of sleep before each race - if you know a "method" please let me know :-).

In 2013 I did two Sprint triathlon races and two Half Ironman 70.3 distance races (2nd overall in Boardman Sprint, 1st in age group in YMCA North Park Sprint).  Much anticipated introduction into long distance racing of triathlon went very well with first being Eagleman 70.3 and second being Cedar Point 70.3. Both races went very well, but running half marathon after two and a half hours of hard biking turned out to be harder than I expected. The links to detailed race reports are listed on the RACING page of this blog. Here are year summary stats from

I took almost 3 weeks off at the end of the season with very little to no training at the end of November and good part of December.

From Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2013 I averaged 12 hours per week training time:

Year Total swim (miles) Total bike (miles*) Total run (miles) Longest swim (yards) Longest bike (miles) Longest run (miles) 100 yard swim (sec) Half IronMan Olympic triathlonSprint Triathlon26.2 miles  run 100 mile bike
2013 130 5,937 985 3,200 65 16 1:24 5:11:04 -1:06:56- -
2012 117 6,259 822 3,100 102 13.6 1:30 - 2:22:281:04:01- 5:45
2011 72 6,800 948 1,500 102 26.2 - - -1:14:423:23 5:20
2010 15 1,000 300 600 25 8 - - --- -
2009 5 300 200 400 20 6 - - ---
* - bike miles in 2013 have been measured based on Wattage, not on the number shown by the trainer bike (to compare to previous years bike mileage needs to be multiplied by about 20%)

One thing that was very special this past year was the Savage Triathlon Camp that I attended for 3 days. That was a blast! Coaches were super knowledgeable and helpful, the athletes were friendly and fun, the program was very useful and included swim and run video analysis, bike fit, bike ride, open water swims, lectures and barbecue :-). Among other things, I really enjoyed climbing up "The Wall" during our epic bike ride almost entirely in rain. The camp was well worth the time and money and I would highly recommend it.

In  2013 I generally followed the following schedule of training and kept my log in the
  • Monday
    Crosstraining + bike + swim
  • Tuesday
    Crosstraining + bike + run (hill repeats)
  • Wednesday
    Crosstraining + bike + swim
  • Thursday
    Crosstraining + bike + run (track intervals up to 600 yards)
  • Friday
  • Saturday
  • Sunday
    Long run (usually on the trail in North Park)


This past year I was able to improve my swimming quite a bit. Last week in the pool I was able to swim a couple of 1m30s per 100 yards with 10 sec break and that was just steady swim - not all out effort. In 2012 I took two private swim lessons from Kim Schwabenbauer (she is coach, professional triathlete and nutritionist) and in 2013 had two private lessons from Suzanne Atkinson (she is swim coach and triathlete). These lessons helped me a lot as they set me on the right path.

In 2013 I took underwater video camera (Swann Freestyle goes for $140 on Amazon) with me to the pool every other week and set it on the side of the pool, at the end of the lane, under and over water, etc. and then watched that footage when I got back home. This was perhaps the single best thing that helped my swim. Other than that I have read few books on swimming and am subscribed to the newsletter (and bought their book). Those guys are fantastic! Their app is just pure awesomeness :-) - it is free to download and use.


This past year (same as in 2012) 95% of all of my biking I did on the indoor trainer - on my recumbent Schwinn 230i bike (purchase in 2001 on eBay for $650). I have built a computer desk over this bike and while pedaling do some email, read, write and do all kinds of stuff while biking. This is what allows me to do 4 to 5 bike workouts per week. I would never have been able to biks this much if I had to ride outside. Plus doing something on the computer removes any sense of boredom. I know people dread indoor bike workouts and would too if not for my computer setup. Since most of my cycling is done on the trainer indoors while doing something on my laptop, almost all of it is long steady ride with no intervals - after initial warmup of about 25 min, building up power to the steady level of 150 to 230 Watts and maintain it for the period of the ride (usually 1 hour to 3 hours), then cool down for 5 min at the end. I have not ridden my mountain bike in 2013 on real trail (I did ride it on pavement when riding with kids) and took my tri bike to the road for a total of about 15 times this past year, with 5 of those being races.


In 2013 I ran three times a week with a long run being on Sunday morning on the trail of North Park. Other days either on the McKnight Elementary school track or in my neighborhood. Most of my running was in heart rate zones 3 and 4. Thru the year at different times I did tempo runs, 400 and 800 repeats, hill repeats, long steady runs, etc. However I feel I have a lot of work to do to improve my running as shown by the 70.3 races this year. I ran in top

90% of my runs I do while listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Some of my favorites are listed here. Because of those books and podcasts I love running. If I had more time, I would run three times as much. There is simply unbelievable amount of solid non-fiction content available on audio these days. I load my Android phone with podcasts and books, put on headphones and never want to stop running :-), especially if it is on North Park trail. It is as good as it gets.


I usually do cross training in the morning before work and it takes ~35 min. I do about 90 reps on stability ball or on the floor for abs and 90 for the back (laying on stability ball face down), then do about 30 dynamic side planks on each side and then hold for 30 sec, do two sets of pull-ups (total of about 30), pushups with feet on stability ball and hands on floor handles (about 30 to 40 of these in one set).


My height was 172 cm (5'7'') and weight stayed between 68 to 73 kg (about 2 kg less compared to last year). I had one minor foot injury this past year after having tried running in Newton shoes. Wont be using those again... Thanks to Dr. Brad Kleuber for fixing me and for showing some preventative exercises.

Average daily sleep time was about 7 hrs 20 min. Would be nice to get it up to 8 hours per day in 2014 :-).

Nutritionally I did well and made fruit and berry smoothies on my Vitamix blender several times a week. I must admit that this Vitamix is the most important "fitness" equipment I own :-). This is really outstanding stuff. I buy frozen fruit and berries at Costco or Sams Club, add fresh carrots and bananas, some flax seed or chia seed, honey, water and those smoothies are heavenly... The only thing is that I really like chocolate and natural honey and consume more of it than I should. I also love bunch of other sweet things (not soda though) and need to reduce overall sugar intake. This is a hard one... Here is what my fruit shakes look like. I stole this picture from the internet, but you get the idea :-). If you only had $350 to spend on your triathlon gear in 2014 and you asked me where to spend it, I would say you buy yourself Vitamix blender!

Plans for 2014

In 2014 plan on doing few Sprints and Olympic distance races, will run full distance Pittsburgh Marathon and will do MS150 ride. My goal at the Pittsburgh Marathon is to qualify for Boston and run under 3h 15 min.

Have not yet decided on the Half Ironman. If I do, it will likely be Cedar Point 70.3 or perhaps Moraine Man?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Parental control software for network access, Windows, Android, iOS

Since I have three boys aged 14, 12 and 7 the issue of time spent on electronic devices is always a hot one. We do have some limits on how much time boys can spend on their computers and iPod's/iPad's/Android's per day, but it has not been an easy thing to enforce. Having a little bit of time during this past Holiday season I did some research and installed few interesting tools to help me manage this issue.

1. Filtering age appropriate content

I wrote about this in my earlier post back in August 2012 "Filtering offensive internet content for your home network". I still use the *free* service provided by OpenDNS and absolutely love it. It is great and works for every device connected to the Internet via my router, including all of the Android devices, iOS devices, laptops, etc. The best thing OpenDNS does not require any configuration on those devices connected to my home network. I only had to configure my router to use OpenDNS as name server once and never touch it again. OpenDNS also has a browser based UI where you can add or remove certain sites to allow or disallow access to those from your home network. Read my post referenced above for more details.

OpenDNS rocks!

2. Network access control

Filtering internet access is not enough and I wanted the ability to be able to completely shut off internet access for certain devices for certain times of the day (or night). Most network routers do not provide this capability and I did not want to have to install anything on each and every device to do so. Besides, Apple parental controls are so lame, you can not much of a parental control type stuff. The solution was quite simple - I bought a wireless network router that came with open source DD-WRT project (Linux based), which allows to set network access restrictions based on rules (time of day, etc.) and apply those restrictions to certain MAC addresses (meaning certain devices). The configuration is very easy and works like a charm. Besides, I can login into my router and change those time restrictions at any time. You can specify all kinds of rules, for instance that certain iPad or laptop can connect to the Internet only between 5pm to 9pm, etc. You can also set limits of bandwidth, filter based on the protocol used, write time based rules (cron jobs) for changing router rules and configuration (it is Linux based after all and you can get an ssh console access to your router OS). I only use time restrictions and none of the other fancy features. I bought Buffalo Router model WZR-600DHP from Amazon for $70. It has two directional antennas and works very well for me (I installed it few months ago). I turned off my Apple Airport router (which dropped connections quite often) and so far this new router is rock solid. By far better choice compared to Apple Airport router.

DD-WRT on Buffalo router rocks!

3. iOS (Apple) parental controls

Apple iPad's/iPods/iPhone's do not have decent parental controls, especially when it comes to limiting screen time. It seems to me Apple is intentionally not allowing any 3rd party developers to build software that will limit daily screen time on iOS based devices. You must root your device and install 3rd party software yourself. This is potentially on my todo list, but my kids accumulated some content on their devices that will not be easy to move to the rooted version of the device. For now - if your kids know the password to their iOS device, there is no easy way for you to control their activities there.

Apple iOS parental control sucks. I wont buy anything iOS based from Apple until they fix it.

4. Android parental controls

I have been using iPhone's for few years and had 4 different versions of iPhone's, but when I switched to Android in late 2012 I was very impressed with it and will never go back to iPhone. Like I said - I wont buy any iOS based devices - because of the lack of parental control features in iOS. Therefore my youngest son got Android based Nexus 7 as this year Christmas gift. For Android, I found this Screen Time Labs application for Android, which can control screen time, application access time, etc. from my own phone. I can control many Android devices and accounts from one place remotely. The app itself is free, but if you want remote control from another Android device, you will pay $3 per month. Developer says they will provide free remote control app for a PC soon.

I have been using this app for over a week now and it works quite well. Allows me to set daily time limit of say 1 hour for certain apps on the device and set allowed hours, which I set from 9am till 9pm. My son can use his hour (or whatever I define) during this time frame. The application allows to limit time for certain apps. I setup time limit for YouTube, Netflix, and Angry Birds type games to a total of 1 hr per day, but allowed 8 hours total for games such as word puzzles, memory games, math games, etc. Once my son uses up his time playing Minecraft and Angry Birds, he then starts doing math, spelling, etc. This is a good thing and is impossible to do with Apple iOS crap (unless you root it).

My next step is to investigate how Qustodio works on Android (read more below).

5. Windows parental controls

All of the PCs in my house are Windows based (I tried Ubuntu several times and kids totally hated it). I tried using free Microsoft Family Safety tool, but it turns out time restriction feature only works for Windows 8, which I do not have. So Microsoft Family Safety tool "went out of the window".

Next I tried Norton Family Safety software. This allows you to setup the time when the user can login into the system (say 6am till 9pm) and overall time spent per day using that login (say 1h 30 min per day or whatever you define). This is very similar to what Android software I described above. Plus you can control, monitor and configure all of this from Norton website and have many accounts and many devices in that control panel. You do not have to be on the local network and can do it remotely from any device that has Internet access. this worked for a few days, but I often have to add extra time, allow new application to be used and make other changes to the policy and the problem with Norton is that half the time their web application for managing those accounts is not working. The website is down and you cant even log into it. Norton software had to be thrown away...

Finally we come to the holy grail of parental control... enter Qustodio! This does everything I need in one package and works perfectly on Windows - at least so far. I removed Windows parental controls and Microsoft Family Safety, removed Norton Family Safety and replaced it with Qustodio. After few days of free trial, I paid $33 for the annual subscription - and it is absolutely worth it. So far the software works perfectly!!! This really is a perfect solution (except it does not do what I need on iOS - nobody can work well on iOS until Apple opens up APIs). Here is what I can do with Qustodio (you can read comprehensive set of features and watch video here):
  • For each Windows user on all of my computers in the household I can setup time schedule when they can and can not login into their account (e.g. user can login between hours of 9am till 9pm)
  • One child may be "linked" to multiple accounts on different devices
  • For those individual users I can define how much screen time can they have during those "open" hours (e.g. between 9am to 9pm user can only use his computer for a total of 2 hours. Once you reach 2 hours the user is logged off automatically). 
  • For each user I can define what programs he can and can not use and also limit the total time for each program (say Office can be used unlimited, but Minecraft only for 30 minutes).
  • I can setup allowed websites to be visited and filter those by category - very similar to OpenDNS - and even better and there is no way for the user to work around these rules. I also get alerts if the user visits certain sites that I do not want them to visit. I can explicitly add or remove certain sites to the rule set for each user individually.
  • I can see reports per user on their screen time across all devices, web browsing history, program use history, etc...
  • I created "Homework" account where I restricted all games, videos, etc., but for this account there is no time restriction. I know kids can do the homework, visit school website and other technology and educational sites, but no junk.
  • For "fun" use each kid has his own account (separate from Homework) and they have 1 hour per day to use that account and play games, watch YouTube, etc.
  • Qustodio has a more features, but there are too many to list here. Visit their website for details.
  • Last, not least - the Qustodio software is very easy to use and can control all devices in your household that you want it to control, but you can leave some devices and/or user accounts alone and Qustodio wont mess with those.
  • One concern is the privacy of the data, but as we all know "big brother" knows everything anyway...
Qustodio rocks big time!!! I would have paid more for this kind of software. I have not tested it on Android just yet, but it supposed to work well on it. Too bad there is nothing they can do on iOS.

TV and cable

We do not have antenna or TV cable in my household. No problem there.


These are all the "toys" that I use - some of them only for the past several days, some of them much longer. If you know of better ways of doing these things - please let me know. Ultimately I wish I could just write those rules on a piece of paper, put them on the fridge door and have everyone follow those. But it does not work that way. It is very hard to not get distracted when you are online. I grew up without Internet and do not know what I would be like if I had it. I know the best thing is to "talk" to your kids and explain what is the right thing to do - and we do do this, but these additional measures make it easier for parents (and for kids) to follow those rules and form good habits. I think.