The New York Times has an article about how some people use heart-rate monitors, GPS, and power-meters to quantify their exercise. And some of them obsess over the data . These people are not necessarily elite athletes like The Lance. They are active people, who just want to know exactly how many calories they burned or how many watts they can produce in a workout.

Doctors warn that this behavior can do more harm than good. Some people keep checking their heart rate monitor, and expect the rate to increase with each workout. Then they over-train and burn out.

Of course, the simplest training device is the lowly pedometer. Health experts suggest taking 10,000 steps each day as a way to get fit and lose weight. A friend of mine did this for an exercise study. Everyone wore pedometers and kept an activity log.

The researchers were surprised that one very overweight woman seemed not to be losing any weight, even though she walked 20,000 steps a day. After a couple of weeks, she finally confessed that she wasn’t really doing the distance. She would just hold the pedometer in her hand, and shake it for hours while watching her soaps.

Nice housing market you got there. Shame if anything happened to it…

Mortgage insurance company PMI says that there’s a “51.3% likelihood” that housing prices in Santa Clara will drop over the next two years. They say they arrived at that figure by comparing wages in Silicon Valley to housing and mortgage prices.

Let’s set aside for the moment how they were able to compute the risk with 3 digits of precision. PMI’s business is covering lenders when mortgage holders default on their loans. How likely is it that they would predict a booming market, with little chance of homeowners defaulting?

IPO for iRobot

Many years ago, I taught an undergraduate Digital Systems class at MIT. While teaching was an incredibly demanding, it was rewarding to teach such bright, motivated students. I was happy to recommend two of my students to grad school: Colin Angle and Helen Greiner.

Colin joined Prof. Rodney Brooks in the Mobot Lab. There he designed the insect-like Genghis, Hannibal and Atilla robots. These robots could navigate autonomously and react to their environment, much like real insects. These principles were later used in NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers.

After graduating, Colin, Helen, and Rod Brooks founded iRobot in 1990. Colin became CEO, and Helen became President. For several years, the company sold academic and toy robots. They finally hit a home run with the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner in 2002. To date, they have sold over 1.2 million of these small disc-shaped robots. They also designed the very successful PackBot robot for the military, just in time for the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

While the company’s revenues have steadily increased, they only turned a small profit in 2004. This week, iRobot announced plans to issue an initial public offering, in which they hope to raise $115M. Good for them.

Material girls and boys

Some mathematicians at University College London claim to have found the secret to a girl’s heart. (That alone should give you pause). According to their extensive game theory simulations, men should offer women expensive gifts that have no lasting value. Things like fancy dinners or a night on the town, which the women cannot resell or use later.

The idea – now follow closely – is a woman cannot spend the gift in the company of another man. And some gold-digger who was only interested in extracting gifts from our poor Romeo would not be willing to spend much time with him just for a good meal.

Well, I don’t know. Maybe it depends on what else is on TV that night. Apparently one of the researchers came up with this theory after hearing about some poor sap who was paying the rent of a woman he considered his girlfriend. And she was callously accepting his gift, while carrying on with another guy.

So which is more pathetic? The fellow being duped, or the mathematicians who base their research on him?

That’s the best name they could get for $1.2B?

IBM just announced a new line of mainframe computers, called the z9. They say that over 5,000 engineers worked on the project for 3 years, at a cost of $1.2 billion. That seems like a lot of money to invest in any project, let alone dinosaur technology like mainframes.

Sure, the new system has twice the performance of IBM’s previous mainframes. And it has good hardware support for encryption and virtualization. But aren’t large clusters a cheaper way to get that kind of performance and reliability?

Yet customers are still buying these systems, at over a million dollars a pop. And although analysts figure that IBM only sold about 2,500 systems last year, they estimate that sales of associated software, services and storage accounted for up to 25% of IBM’s annual $96B revenue. (And up to half of its operating profits).

Their chip goes to eleven

PCWorld repeats a press release from chip maker Sandbridge. They say that multimode phones could use one Sandbridge chip, instead of separate baseband chips for each network. Fair enough, although established chip makers have a lock on the market.

And they claim a big advantage is that you can use C to program the chip!

Unlike most phone chips, which have to be programmed in assembly language, the SB3000 chips can be programmed in the C language–a significant advantage, according to Strauss.
“People who code in C are a lot cheaper than people who code in assembly language,” Strauss says.

Wharf to Wharf

On Sunday I ran in the Wharf to Wharf race in Santa Cruz. Yep. Just me and 15,000 of my closest friends. It was a fun 6 mile race from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk to Capitola.

I ran pretty well, but unfortunately, I made one critical mistake: I did what I was told. The race organizers told us to line up before the starting line according to our pace. I figured I could run a seven and a half minute per mile pace, so I lined up next to the “Seven Minute” sign. Makes sense, right?

Wrong. I spent the first three miles fighting my way through huge crowds of slow runners. Puffing, out of shape people in new running shoes. Groups jogging four abreast, chatting amiably about last weekend. Even people walking in front of me, fer crissakes!

It took me a full 2 minutes after the start to actually walk across the starting line. It took me 12 minutes to finish the first mile! My split times could only get better after that – 2 miles at 8 minutes, 2 more at 7:30, and 6:55 for the last mile.

In spite of the crowds, it was fun run. It was cold and foggy in Santa Cruz when we started out – perfect running weather. People lined the entire route to cheer us on. And there were bands of all types every few blocks- rock bands, surf punk, drum teams, even bag pipers. It made for a real festive event.

Just the same, I think I’ll look for a less popular event for my next race. And I’ll know better than to listen to the organizers.

Peter at the finish

Another wave I didn’t ride

In spite of everything, home prices in Santa Clara just keep setting records: Santa Clara County home prices sizzle.

Just eight months after reaching $600,000, the median price of houses sold in Santa Clara County blasted past the $700,000 marker in June, hitting a record of $705,000.

That’s up nearly 18 percent from a year earlier, and up 2.2 percent from May 2005.

Median prices were up in all nine Bay Area counties compared with a year earlier. DataQuick cited healthy demand, continued low mortgage interest rates and a few more homes on the market as the likely factors behind the strong June.

Clone this chip!

Research firm In-Stat claims that new Godson-2 processor being produced in China is a copy of the MIPS architecture. (It also gets my vote for creepiest processor name – it sounds like a bad horror movie.)

China has produced the second version of the first microprocessor produced in the country, according to research firm In-Stat, and it’s largely a copy of the MIPS chip invented by the company of the same name based in the U.S.

Since MIPS hasn’t licensed its technology to the Godson designers, they risk being sued if they sell the chip outside of China. Then again, given how poorly MIPS has been doing lately, maybe it’s not that great a risk. (Pun intended).