The Futility of Writing Letters

Every year or so I blast out a message online asking if anyone would like to receive a letter or postcard in the mail, the condition being that they need to send me a response. Usually people say they would love to get one and promise to reply, but the replies never come. Or if they do reply, it’s one or two at most and then they dry up forever. There have been a few exceptions to this, but not many.

So why don’t people write letters? The most common response is probably, “I’m too busy.” That’s a pretty lame excuse. How much time do you spend every day playing with your phone, on Facebook or watching TV? Seriously, it doesn’t take much effort to shave ten minutes off of some time-wasting activity and scribble out a few lines on a piece of paper.

Another excuse that I’ve heard: “I don’t have stamps” or “The Post Office is so inconvenient.” Baloney. If you live in the U.S., or basically any other developed nation, this is not a valid excuse. Do you know how easy it is for you? Do you know the gigantic network of people who are ready to serve you by mailing your letter? You can put money in your mailbox and receive stamps the next day! You can put a letter in the mailbox six days a week and it will be taken care of!

Try living in a developing country. The postal service here in Vietnam seems to consist mainly of languid bureaucrats opening packages and soliciting bribes. Receiving mail here is a luxury for most people; it is not delivered daily, there are no regular carriers coming to every residence and there are no neighborhood post offices. I’m relatively lucky working just a few blocks from the central post office in town. If the post office wasn’t nearby it would be a nightmare getting things in the mail.

Back to letter-writing though, it seems mostly like a exercise in futility for me due to the limited responses that I get. I’ve heard of people looking up random addresses and mailing Christmas cards there; maybe I should try something like that with letters… I might get some responses.

I guess the gist of these paragraphs is this: take a few minutes every week to write a letter or postcard. They are rare and invaluable items in this day and age and show an immense amount of care to those that receive them. Also, if I write to you, write back.


Comparing the Garmin Forerunner 235 and the Xiaomi Mi Band (Optimized Version)

One of the great things about running and exercising these days is all of the technology and analysis tools that are available. I’m not super hardcore into tons of running tech or anything, but I do appreciate a nice running watch. For nearly two months, I’ve been using the Garmin Forerunner 235 to track my runs and also as my activity tracker throughout the day. I am far more interested in tracking the data on my runs, and the activity tracking that Garmin included on the device was a nice little bonus (and an occasional motivator to get out of my chair and walk around).

I also have the Xiaomi Mi Band (the original, optimized version with no heart rate monitoring and all-white LEDs) at home and it wasn’t getting much use at the moment, so I decided to compare the two devices. Keep in mind that the Mi Band only uses an accelerometer to track movement, distance and steps, while the Forerunner 235 uses GPS (and GLONASS, if you choose) to track distance and speed during runs and other activities; otherwise satellite tracking is turned off and it uses an accelerometer to track steps.

Another major difference between the two devices is price. The Forerunner 235 retails for $330, while the original Mi Band is around $25 and the Mi Band 1S with a heart rate monitor is between $20 and $30. While the higher price of the Garmin might put off some people, the Mi Band is relatively inexpensive and is an easy introduction into the world of wearable fitness trackers.

For the comparison, I put on the Forerunner 235 and the Mi Band around 9 p.m., then went to sleep, woke up and went on a 6.6-mile run in the morning. I wanted to compare the two devices on their sleep tracking and also on the way they track steps. Here is the data that I got from the Garmin Forerunner 235 and the Xiaomi Mi Band after my run:


FR 235 Mi Band Difference
Total Sleep: 7:02 6:59 3 mins
Deep Sleep: 3:00 1:55 1 hr, 5 mins
Light Sleep: 3:57 5:04 1 hr, 7 mins
Steps: 11,964 11,282 682 steps
Time: 52:28 1:23:00 ~33 mins
Distance: 10.64km 10.2km 0.44km (0.27 miles)

The two devices were very similar in estimating sleep time; only three minutes different from each other. However, Garmin and Xiaomi must use different algorithms to estimate light and deep sleep, as those numbers showed some significant differences.

Total step counts weren’t that far off from each other either. I would guess that Garmin’s step count is a little more accurate as during runs, the Forerunner is tracking cadence (e.g. the number of times that your feet strike the road per minute). However, the Mi Band seems alright, especially considering its technology and price.

With the Mi Band, you can’t press a button or anything to indicate that you are starting a run like with the Garmin. Instead, the Mi Fit software estimates your total active time and also your distance based on the information from the band. For around seven minutes or so before and after my run, I walked around to warm up and cool down, and perhaps the Mi Band was tracking this as part of my activity (and technically I was active, just not running).

When it came to distance in this activity, I am amazed that the Mi Band held its own, despite no satellite tracking technology. It was only a couple hundred yards off in estimating my running distance. Quite impressive for an unassuming little band.

Personally, I’m gonna stick with with my Garmin as my primary activity tracker for everything, but for folks who are interested in wearable fitness tracking, the Mi Band is a great device with a very low entry barrier. I’ve given several to family members as they have a great price point and provide some interesting data.