BASIS Band is Almost a Great Device… Almost

19 10 2014

Basis Band

I started shopping for a wearable fitness band several months ago.  I looked at several and was most impressed with the BASIS Band concept.  It was different because it combined a device that had advanced tracking capabilities with a cloud-based service that could be expanded and improved with only server-side upgrades.  What a great business model, I thought.  reading the forums, I could see that the BASIS customer service folks were very responsive to feedback and feature requests.  A lot of people were also very excited to see this service expand and were eagerly asking for more features and capabilities that could be added to the back-end service or software.  BASIS didn’t yet have integration with popular fitness apps but that was coming.  You couldn’t yet download your data to analyze it yourself but, given their centralized approach to synchronizing the device and managing all this data, it would only be a matter of time before they would add this capability.  They offered an iPhone and Android app but nothing for Windows or the Windows Phone, but again, a simple API would enable the developer community to do to some great things.  Since the BASIS collected more sensor data than most other devices, I was excited at the prospect of being able to analyze my own fitness data with my own tools.  This just seemed like a slam dunk with some much opportunity.  I could just imagine being able to chart and trend my heart rate, perspiration and calories during and after after workouts; over weeks and month of progress.

Back in June when I started shopping, I could go to the Nike Store and look at their bands.  The JawBone and FitBit bands were on display everywhere, and there were many others that I could touch and look at but the BASIS Band wasn’t on display anywhere; only available online.  As an underdog brand contender with all of their advertising claims, I reasoned that the device itself must be just as good as the competitors so I took the plunge and ordered a BASIS Carbon Steel directly from the company for $199.  Shortly after my purchase, the company announced that they had been purchased by Intel.  Wow! How cool was it that this small start-up was now part of one of the most innovative technology companies on the planet?  Great things must be on the way!  I felt a little slighted when they lowered the retail price of the band I had just purchased to $149 but with all the upgrades coming, I could live with that.

After nearly four months as a BASIS customer, this has been one of the most disappointing investments I have ever made.  They were so close to getting it right by listening to and responding to their customers but they just didn’t do it.  Their support forum is full of questions asking why this company has ignored such passionate customers.  I’ve bought a lot of junk in my life but the BASIS is something that COULD HAVE BEEN GREAT but isn’t.  If you’re considering the BASIS, take some time to read through their Community Forums and the comments from customers.  I’ve posted a few comments and suggestions over the past few months like this one.  I’ve also asked that the customer service people who always respond very quickly with answers like “Thank you so much. We take your feedback seriously but can’t respond with any specific information…” to ask company leaders or developers from the company who can answer these questions to respond.

I had so much hope for BASIS to be cool and useful for me and many others – and it could be, in my opinion, if the company would simply listen to their customers and respond to them.  They would earn the respect of many technologist if they would release an API so the software developer community could develop apps and integration, and the ability to download, export or feed a users personal fitness data to an app or tool of their choosing.  Until they do that, BASIS has very limited use for me.

PEAK Next Generation Band

Will the next generation PEAK be better than the B1 or Carbon Steel?  Of course it will but when you use in a BASIS, you are investing in a complete service and the whole thing has to work together any value from it.  Here’s a good article comparing the new Peak with previous models.  I expect the Peak band to address some of the shortcoming of the device but the biggest shortfall of Basis is their limited service and lack of integration.  If they can fix that, and the damage already done to their reputation by waiting so long, they could have a good product.

What Exactly Is BASIS?

Basis really consists of three different components: The band itself, the synchronization software and the web-based service.  All three must be used or the band is useless.  In my opinion there should be four components, including an API or web service to allow developers to integrate Basis with their own applications.  This is so obvious, in my opinion, that I have included it in one of the grading criteria in my score below.

The Carbon Steel band is bulky but bulky men’s watches are fashionable so that didn’t bother me.  The LCD display is dim and very difficult to read.  It feels like an LCD watch from the 1980s.  The backlight stays on for a short time and it can’t be read during an outdoor run or bike ride.

The Basis Sync application that runs on the desktop looks like a Windows application written ten years ago in Visual Basic 6 in about two hours.  It’s light on features and synchronization fails about a third of the time.  Unplug the device & plug it back in, close the app and re-open it, or wait and try later; and it will then synchronize with the Basis cloud service.

The online service and web site are quite functional.  The site is attractive and the analytic graphic and charting is actually quite impressive.  I featured both the daily fitness statistics time line and sleep analysis in this blog post:  Basis also sends alters and reminders.  They have this goal tracking and point system to keep you motivated.  All of that is well-designed and works well if you want to use your device in this way.

Where the service breaks-down is if you want to analyze more than a days’ worth of stats.  You just can’t. Period.  Since you can’t download or integrate any of “your” data, you can’t use it outside of the few features offered by Basis.  In short, it’s not really “your data” to analyze.

The accuracy of the device is constantly under scrutiny.  Basis has a lot of monitoring capabilities and tracks heart rate, perspiration, skin temperature and movement.  With this, it analyzes different activities, sleep quality and calories.  I have not measured its accuracy against other devices so I don’t a strong opinion.  I can say that it has worked well for me and from my reading, Basis seems to work as well as or better than most competitive devices.  I would rate the functionality of the device quite high but the display is very poor in my opinion.

Setting the time and time zone.  You can’t.  There are no settings at all on the device.  It sets the time when it synchronizes and you cannot change the time, date or the time zone without changing your online profile.  This makes the band useless as a watch when you travel.

Alarms, calendar, reminders – None.  This $200 “sophisticated” device lacks all of these common features of a $20 Casio watch.

Grading Basis

Device – B

Synchronization software – D

Web site, on-line analysis and daily trending – B

Integration & API support – F

Overall grade:  D+


Potential: Could have been an A.  Now a C if they get their act together.

Oregon SQL Mastery Sessions on Friday Oct 31

13 09 2014

We are hosting three all-day sessions on October 31st, the day before Oregon SQL Saturday in Portland.  We are proud to offer the first ever SQL Saturday preconference in Portland this year.

SQL Server Internals and Data Recovery – Argenis Fernandez

Understanding Execution Plans – Hugo Kornelis

Self-Service BI with Power BI – Mark Tabladillo

These are deep-dive workshops designed to give attendees skills and tools they can apply right away to tackle real challenges.  A small registration fee gives us the opportunity to bring these industry-leading experts to Portland for this intensive training event.

Registration is open now.  The cost is only $99 through October 6.  After that the cost will be $129 online or $139 the day of the event.

Details and Registration Information


SQL Server Internals and Data Recovery
- Argenis Fernandez

Take a deep dive into SQL Server internals and data recovery and learn how to handle a wide variety of data loss and corruption scenarios!


Understanding Execution Plans
- Hugo Kornelis

Reading and understanding execution plans is key to understanding and fixing ill-performing queries. This Mastery Session will teach you everything you need to know about execution plans. Attend this Mastery Session if you want to hone your tuning skills!


Self-Service BI with Power BI
- Mark Tabladillo

Power BI (Business Intelligence) is a new and emerging self-service business intelligence and business analytics framework that brings together and enhances a few key Microsoft technologies: Office, SQL Server, Azure & SharePoint.

24 Hours of PASS Recordings

7 08 2014

Jack Bauer would definitely approve of this 24 hour event!

All the videos for the sessions at 24 Hours of PASS are now available for free.  Check the session schedule for a complete list.  Also, many of the PASS virtual chapters have recordings of their meetings online.

James Serra posted a directory of events up to Spring 2014:

24 Hours of PASS videos online

NASCAR driver Kurt Busch’s BASIS Bio Stats

15 07 2014

I thought I’d share this visual from the folks to produce the BASIS Band fitness tracker (recently acquired by Intel).  I just ordered a BASIS Band for myself which is due to arrive from Amazon tomorrow.  I just spun up a new page on my blog to showcase data visualizations and this will be the first entry…

They strapped a band on Kurt Busch, aka The Outlaw, and monitored vital biometric stats during “The Double”, two back-to-back races on May 25th.  After monitoring nearly nine hours of sleep, Kurt raced the Indy 500 and then commuted by helicopter to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600.  As you can see, it was a full day and quite a ride – several, actually.

Nice application of a stacked column chart combined with marker line time-series charts with six series values and grouped call-out markers.



Kurt’s sleep patterns the night before race day


As I mentioned, this is featured on the new Visualizations page on my blog.  Please return for a collection of visualization examples and guidelines for using different tools, techniques and visual patterns.

Book Reviews – “Power Pivot Alchemy” & “Dashboarding and Reporting with Power Pivot and Excel”

1 07 2014

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There are two relatively new books on the market from Holy Macro! Books.  The first thing that I’ll point out is that this small publishing company is actually owned by one of the authors, which should tell you something about the ambition and caliber of the guys who are writing them.  I have several Power Pivot, DAX and dashboard design books on my shelves.  I’m very impressed with both of these books and they’ve made a valuable addition to my library.  Rather than a cursory introduction or restatement of product documentation, they both address real business problems and are based on a body of customer problems and field experience.  Now, I have to admit that I’m a little biased.  I know Rob Collie and Kasper de Jonge quite well from conferences and community involvement.  I’ve also met Bill a few times and know of his reputation in the industry as a tried and true Excel guru with an extensive library of books and training content.  Rob started his career at Microsoft on the Excel product team and the group that developed the Power Pivot technology.  He’s now a consultant and trainer, a Microsoft MVP and an active member of the online community.  Kasper’s background is the polar opposite of Rob’s; he started in the industry, doing consulting and project work and now works for Microsoft on the SQL Server Analysis team responsible for the ongoing development of this technology.  I didn’t realize this until reading their bios on the Rob’s PowerPivotPro site but Kasper actually filled the position at Microsoft vacated by Rob and from my perspective, that was a good transition and a continued partnership of experts who continue to give back to the community.  Kasper is also well-known in the industry for his online present, conference presentations and ongoing support of the MVP and professional community.  As far as I’m concerned, these two books could be bound together into a single volume that would be a comprehensive guide to Power Pivot design, problem solving and best practices.

In the past two years, I’ve spent a great deal of my consulting time developing SSAS Tabular models for clients.  I’ve also done a bit of work in Power Pivot but not nearly as much as the IT-centered version of the xVelocity in-memory aggregation engine from Microsoft.  So, why am I reviewing books about Power Pivot and not SSAS Tabular?  That’s simple: SSAS Tabular is the IT Pro extension of the Power Pivot foundation.  Last year, I reviewed Rob Collie’s book “DAX Formulas for PowerPivot: A Simple Guide to the Excel Revolution” and it just blew me away.  As a learning tool, I found the book to be golden for getting my head around all the basics of DAX even though the focus was on applying it to Power Pivot in Excel rather that Analysis Services.  This book is in the same relaxed, conversational voice that he is known for.

I have to admit that at first DAX was a big brick wall for me.  I’ve taught myself a lot of different languages and tools in my career just by being stubborn and persistent.  When I started using DAX I got the basics but more challenging problems were just insurmountable.  I hounded the known experts; Marco, Alberto, Chris, Darren, Rob and others who were gracious and patient but it took time for that light to turn on and to finally “get it”, or at least to get most of the important concepts.  If you’re like me, you’ll work on a problem obsessively, lose sleep, try to approach it from different angles and keep hacking at it until the answer comes.  Something I’ve learned the hard way about DAX is that it’s just not something you figure out on your own unless you’ve seen the solution demonstrated or solved similar problems before.

Three weeks ago, I started reading “Power Pivot Alchemy” which is also a book centered on using the Power Pivot Excel add-in.  This time, Rob teamed with Bill Jelen (aka “MrExcel”) who is very well-known in the Excel community for his teaching tools and books on just about every facet of Excel.  Rob and Bill are a good team which comes through the pages as two very experienced experts giving very qualified advice about solving pertinent problems rather than a typical “how to” or reference book.  The book is written in the same casual voice with a lot of personality and humor leading the narrative.  This is an excellent book for the moderate to advanced skilled Excel Analyst who needs to create advanced formulas and pivot tables with strong emphasis on best practices and targeted solutions.

I recently picked up Kasper’s book (take a breath before reading the title), “Dashboarding and Reporting with Power Pivot and Excel: How to Design and Create a Financial Dashboard with PowerPivot – End to End”, and I’m finding it to provide very targeted guidance about the best ways to design models, write formulas and reporting and create dashboarding solutions with all of the new integrated features in Excel and Power BI.  I think that Microsoft has generally done a good job of talking to their users and building products that solve real problems but there is a bit of Kool Aid drinking that goes on in Redmond.  This is especially true among the vast majority of Microsoft employees who spend all of their time on campus writing code and imagining how customers might use their products. In this book, the author demonstrates a perspective based on his community involvement and direct support of Microsoft and partner customers.  I know this because Kasper and I have actually worked together to solve some specific customer problems and his assistance as an advocate from the product team has been invaluable.  The techniques described in this book are concise and very real-world, ranging from beginner to advanced level without wasting the reader’s time with lengthy explanations.

Someone recently mentioned that I’ve only given positive book reviews on my blog.  I suppose I’m not much of a critic and frankly I just don’t have time to review bad books – and I’ve read – or started to read – several.  Occasionally someone I know or work with in the community will ask me to review a book and if I’m not impressed, I’ll respectfully decline.  The only thing even remotely critical I can say about the format of these books is that some of the graphics seem a bit oversized.  It makes me feel like I’m reading the large print edition of the book.  Granted, this is a very visual topic and I’d rather have oversized graphics than not enough. 

I’m giving both of these books four-and-a-half stars out of five.


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