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Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Canada

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Chris Campbell

Morning writing on 750words.com

Morning writing on 750words.com

Apps for tracking my health

Apps for tracking my health

It's the beginning of summer and a good time to reflect a bit on what I'm recording every day with various devices, apps, and sites. I first did an inventory of My Tracking Toolkit last year in February and I'm still using a lot of the apps there. The prompt for this update is from starting to use Mike Lazer-Walker's caffeine-tracking app Cortado as it made me think about the uses that other people have for the data that I'm generating. What made me want to use Cortado was a blog post by Lazer-Walker about why you shouldn't trust him. There is a whole bunch of data out there and it's valuable.

For me the value is in being able to check back on what I've been doing and to remember things. In looking back at my other post about this, it didn't list everything I was using, but that's ok as there is so much stuff around and some things drop out of the rotation while others stay. The random tracking that I do is via the Reporter app which collects data through a questionnaire that pops up throughout the day. It's flexible and powerful and always with me.

One site for collecting and analyzing my data is Zenobase, which is Eric Jain's service that allows you to record, import, analyze, and visualize data. While I've been using it for a while and have set up a bunch of data sources, I haven't dove in to explore the full potential of it, but I'm glad there is a place for my data. The other site where I track a lot of stuff and that I still use several times a day is Nathan Yau's Your Flowing Data, which is my backup for recording films, coffee, beer, bike rides, and weight. A lot of the health data also goes into Apple Health either automatically or using the Sync Solver app on my phone.

Maybe a good way to go through what I track is to think about a typical day and the tracking that happens as it progresses. The data is almost always shared somewhere else too, so I have a few IFTTT recipes that work with Craig Eley's Sifttter script that assembles a lot of this into a daily summary added to my Day One journal along with the data that goes into Zenobase.

Questions in Reporter

Questions in Reporter

Starting when I wake up I set the Reporter app to awake and make my first question of the day which is how well I slept. Then I stop the timer on my Fitbit One which recorded my sleep. It also records my steps and I will hop on the Wii Fit and weigh myself (I still don't have a smart scale) and add the weight into the Fitbit app on my iPhone (and send it via Twitter DM to Your Flowing Data using Drafts). I do some stretches and mediate (with the Stop Breathe & Think app) and check those activities along with a few others using Coach.me.

Coffee and oatmeal are breakfast most days and I record the caffeine with Cortado along with an entry to Your Flowing Data for the coffee and oatmeal with Drafts. Then I start recording the water I drink and food I eat with Lifesum on my iPhone. Lifesum has been great for me and it has helped me control my weight by allowing me to track what I eat. I have a Gold membership which allows me to link my Fitbit data, so it keeps track of my activity to be able to adjust the calories available. The nutritional and calorie information is also shared with Apple Health, so I have all that data there too.

If I go for a bike ride I'll track the ride using Cyclemeter which uses GPS from my phone, a Wahoo Blue SC Speed and Cadence sensor, and a Polar H7 heart rate monitor to track my ride data. After my ride it automatically shares data with Strava and I'll use Drafts to record the kms ridden onto Your Flowing Data. Right now I don't have a mount for my phone or a bicycle computer so I don't see the data as I ride, which is good. Sometimes I'll wear the Polar FT4 watch which shows me my heart rate and the time elapsed, and I prefer to be minimalist and simple while riding.

When I'm out and about I'll check in to locations using Swarm from Foursquare which goes to Sifttter and Zenobase. If I have something to eat or drink goes to Lifesum and Cortado (for coffee). When I spend money I track that with Next (which I just started using) and it's been working well for me to keep track of spending. The steps I take go to my Fitbit and more passively with the Human app which reminds me to move if I sit for too long and does a great job at recording when I'm moving in a vehicle or walking.

When I watch a film I record it on Letterboxd (I usually tweet about it with the Letterboxd link to let people know what I am watching). I also record how I watched the film (theatre, DVD, online service) using Your Flowing Data with a DM sent from Drafts. I also have a question in reporter about what I watched that shows up in my final report. If I'm reading a book (either in print or on my iPad) I'll record that using Goodreads (which gets collected through Sifttter too).

If I listen to music or podcasts during the day I'll record those when the question "What did you listen to?" shows up in Reporter and iTunes songs show up thanks to Last FM using the Audioscrobbler plugin. The Last FM data goes to Sifttter and Zenobase as well. But I don't manually record individual songs or podcasts if I listen to more than one episode. I also don't record tv shows (except for in my answer for "What did you watch?" in Reporter in the final report for the day).

Finally before going to sleep I'll click on the Sleep button in Reporter and answer about what I watched and listened to. Then I start the timer on my Fitbit to track my sleep and I go to sleep before starting the whole cycle again the next morning.

Paprika Recipe Manager

Chris Campbell

I love to cook and while it's fun to improvise in many aspects of life, I need recipes to cook most food. There are a bunch of great cookbooks around the house, but now there are so many great recipes online to draw from, it can be a challenge to keep track of them. The best way for me to keep a growing collection of delicious recipes is to use the Paprika recipe manager. It's cross-platform, mobile-friendly, and powerful.

A well-designed app on all platforms, it's become an essential part of the cooking process. It makes it easy to figure out what ingredients to get with shopping lists (organized by grocery aisle), and with the iOS version it can add of the ingredients to a reminders list to make it even easier. Through cloud sync it keeps all my recipes up to date whether I'm using the Mac version, my iPad in the kitchen, or my iPhone when I'm out and about. Being able to find a recipe on my phone while in a grocery store is great to come up with a meal when I see some fresh ingredients.

The most powerful feature for me is the ability to capture recipes from a web page using the built-in web browser. It works in all versions and is kind of magical. When you find a recipe you like you click on the "Save Recipe" button and with most recipe sites it's able to capture the recipe seamlessly. If it can't read it, you can select and copy and paste the elements to bring the recipe in fairly easily. It's synced to the cloud, so when I switch to my iPad the recipe is there. The other important part of the capture is that it gives credit and a link back to the original recipe. It's good to be able to go back to the site where the recipe is from and to be able to share that link with others. Giving credit matters.

It's not just a collection of recipes though. There are timers (generated from the recipes whenever times appear) that you click on to time the steps of the process. When you click on ingredients they get crossed off the list, which is important if you sometimes forget whether you added things or not. You can adjust the size of the recipes to make them bigger or smaller with all of the ingredients automatically changed so it all still works.

There are more advanced features that I haven't used much yet such as the ability to assemble recipes into menus or even plan out a week or a month of meals. Using the calendar would be great as you can plan out when you are going to have things and the grocery list that is generated is for the week or month and not for just one recipe. There are other nice elements like the ability to easily share recipes via email or a converter that will let you make sense of different measurement systems or tablespoons to ml to cups.

I open Paprika every day when I think about food and what to make. It's well-designed, powerful, and easy to use and brings the power of flexibility and sharing to everyday cooking. For me the kitchen just wouldn't have as many possibilities without it.

My Semi-automated Diary

Chris Campbell

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One of the neat things about geeks is that we like to simplify things using semi-complicated methods. It's an investment of time up front that pays off down the road by making things easier. The exploration is a lot of fun and there is a lot of tweaking along the way to make it work just right. Many people do this in different ways as they figure out their preferred methods. I love keeping a journal with the Day One app on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad. At a basic level it's a diary that allows you to write and save photos. For many people I suspect that is how they use it. But it's also built in a clever way that allows you to do all sorts of interesting other things with it and that's where you can have a lot of fun with it (if that is the sort of thing that you are in to).

When you create a new entry, Day One can find your location and weather to keep track of that along with the words that you write. If you take a photo it can add the location and time as well. If you add a photo that you've taken it will ask if you want to change the date, time, and location to the data embedded in the photo. To go beyond simple GPS info, you can also choose a location based on Foursquare's database, so that can be handy if you are at a specific place. On the iPhone you can also record things like the number of steps you've taken (if you have an iPhone 5S with the M7 chip). By syncing through Dropbox or iCloud it makes for a powerful way to keep track of things whereever you are.

Through various other services I write and track things every day. Wouldn't it be nice to have that show up in your diary too? Other folks have thought that and there are few different ways to do it with varying levels of complication. The first system that I used was Brett Terpstra's Slogger Ruby script. It's a neat way to create automated Day One entries for various things that you'll share online like your Tweets, bookmarks, songs listened to, etc. It's a bit esoteric to set up (with a powerful range of plugins) and it served me well for a long time. With a new laptop I was thinking that I wanted something a bit simpler so I switched to Craig Eley's Sifttter Ruby script.

Sifttter uses the almost-magical IFTTT service to collect data from your online sharing into text files. Then when you run the script (or automate the script to run before you sleep) it creates a summary entry for the day using the contents of each of the files. Right now it saves my tweets, my Foursquare checkins, my Pinboard bookmarks, my Last.fm played songs, my bike rides logged at Strava, my films watched on Letterboxd, and my weight logged in Fitbit. The IFTTT recipes append an entry to text files with the date, so it gets updated during the day. At the end of the day the Ruby script runs and creates a nice summary of what I've been up to.

An automated system isn't the same as writing a journal entry yourself, but it is a way to keep things recorded that I log every day. It allows me to look back at a day and remember what I've done which can give you a prompt for writing, or to see how things were going for me. It was a bit of a challenge to set up, but now I love having diary entries for every day even if I don't think about writing one.

Writing Toolkit

Chris Campbell

It's good to write and it's even better to write every day. One of the cycles in #clmooc this year is "Hack Your Writing" and it's made me think about how I write and the tools that I use to write. Most of the time I write something to put it online and my blog is the most common way to share it. Over the years I've used different blogging systems and amazingly I've migrated from various systems and hosts and kept the archive mainly intact. Now my site is on Squarespace which means I've simplified things even more, so I no longer install and maintain the blogging system and I focus on writing more.

One of the important things to me is keeping the content and the presentation separate. So most writing happens outside of the publishing system. While sites like Medium have a great editing and creating experience, most of the time I'm doing the first version of the writing somewhere else. The main location to do my writing (as with this) is on the 750 Words web site. It's simple and minimalist with the goal to write at least 750 Words every day. Sometimes it's journaling, but if there is something that I want to share, the first draft starts on the site and is then copied to the clipboard.

For writing I need a keyboard, so the vast majority of the writing happens on my MacBook Pro. If I don't have it, the other neat thing about using a site like 750 Words is that I can use any computer that connects to the internet. It is rare that I don't have internet access and while I don't bring the laptop everywhere, if I am travelling light, I have a Bluetooth keyboard that I can use with my iPad to get the writing done.

After the first draft, I'll paste it into Byword on my MacBook Pro. Byword is a simple and clean writing environment where I'll start editing and revising what I have written. For most blog posts there will be links, so I usually will have those open in tabs in the web browser and I'll copy the links and then paste them in using the Markdown language. Markdown is simple to add as you write and is easy to read. Byword has built-in support for Markdown, so any links or code added to the text show up as being a bit lighter, so they are there, but not distracting. One of the great features of Byword is synchronizing using iCloud, so I can make revisions on my iPad or iPhone. It's good to change the medium and location for editing as it seems to make it easier to find any mistakes as you change the context of reading slightly.

Sometimes an idea occurs while you are walking or away from your computer. If that happens I'll open up Vesper on my iPhone and take a quick note. It's the electronic equivalent of a notebook you always have with you, but it's easily searchable and will let you have a photo with a note too. It's a good way to capture things that I may need to look up later. Sometimes I'll use Simplenote to capture something too, but with an upcoming Mac version, I think that I'm going to be using Vesper more and more for notes and inspiration.

To keep track of links I've been using Pinboard for years. It's become almost invisible to me as it automatically captures the links that I post to Twitter or add to Instapaper. That makes it a powerful history of what I'm interested in and a fast way to find any links that I want to keep. I pay for the archiving function which means that any sites that disappear are backed up. Every now and then I need to go through my links and add some tags to make it easier to search, but it's good to know I can find what I've been watching and reading quickly.

While it's not something I use all the time, if I want to do a quick check on the writing that I've done, I'll use the online Hemming App to check what my writing. It analyzes the reading level of what you have written and gives advice for making your writing clearer. It's good to use to hone your writing and it always gets me to keep my writing in a more active voice and to vary what I've written. Down the road I may use Brett Terpstra's Marked app which gives a preview of things you've written using Markdown. It now incorporates writing tools to help you assess the reading level or word repetition of what you've written.

The final stages after editing, revising, and adding links is to add a photo to make the blog post more interesting. That's when I turn to Flickr and my archive of over 13,000 photos to choose from. I like using my own photos with blog posts. If I am writing about a film I will usually grab or find a screenshot from the film to go with the post. If I need to edit the photo I'll open up Acorn which is fast, powerful, and simple.

To share my writing with the world I'll go to Squarespace and add a new blog post and paste the Markdown into the editor. Then I'll add any images and check to see how it all looks. Then add some tags and a category and publish the blog post. After publishing, I'll grab the link and tweet it out (which also creates a Twitter card) to let people know about it. I like having a system for writing with separate steps as it lets me pause along the way to think and revise what I share.

Twitterrific 5

Chris Campbell

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My iPhone is a slab of glass and metal that can be a bit magical. A new app can change your perception of the whole device. The same thing can happen with services and websites too. It's a challenge for me to separate Twitter from Iconfactory's Twitterrific app. I started using Twitter early (back in 2006) and initially I used it with my pre-iPhone and on the web. But it was in January of 2007 that Iconfactory launched Twitterrific and that changed the way that I used and saw Twitter. The colour scheme and look are burned into my brain, so that's how I think about the different types of tweets. My tweets are green, replies are brown and direct messages are blue. I got into the iPhone game late (the iPhone 4 is my first iPhone), so I was able to dive right in with Twitterrific there and I loved it too.

With the right app it changes the whole experience. Above having a smoothly-functioning app, the Iconfactory create things that look great. With Twitter the actual content is relatively simple as it is text, so if you can display the text well, it's good. Combine that with additional functionality in terms of posting and viewing other content and it makes it all quite seamless and wonderful. Within Twitterrific they’ve innovated with features that have become standard and many associate Ollie, the icon for Twitterrific, with Twitter itself.

While others moved to more complex apps with multiple columns and accounts and looks, I stuck with Twitterrific on the desktop and my phone. This is software with an opinion about how it should look and work. I agreed with that opinion and I'm so glad that I've stayed with them. They have a point of view, but they listen and evolve and it's fascinating to see how it has changed over the years. Every major update had a few changes. It was all recognizable, but there was a bit of an adjustment period in getting used to some of the refinements.

The app keeps up-to-date with innovations in the operating systems without being too bleeding edge. The vast majority of my tweets have been created through it and I expect that it will continue. The sad spectre lurking over app developers for Twitter is that there is a finite limit to the number of people who can use their apps. It's complicated and most people who use Twitter won't know or really care about it. But it's sad for me as it means that things are moving towards a single web-based interface. I'm hoping that the space and tools enjoyed by more advanced users will remain for a long time.

My other fear was that with the changes that there wouldn't be another update to Twitterrific, but today there is a quite wonderful update for the iPhone and iPad. With version 5 there are no longer two separate versions, but just one. The interface is cleaner with new gestures. Swipe right to reply to a tweet, swipe left to see the conversation. That's nice and fast. It fills the screen more and overall is easier to use. I'm still trying to figure out the best combination of theme and font size, but right out of the box (app store?) it's solid and easy to use. There are three buttons at the top of the screen for the unified timeline, replies and direct messages. This makes it clearer what is going on and there are subtle and beautiful light indicators at the bottom of the buttons to let you know when there are new replies or DMs. You can pull to refresh and there is a delightful animation where you have to pull down and break an egg so a bird emerges and starts to fly.

One neat addition is adding locations to tweets (which had come and gone in various iterations) and continued easy ways to add photos to tweets. I haven't really used location that much with Twitter, but I think I will now. It's funny how having things added in a certain way can change your perception of them. I'm sure that there are other features that I haven't seen or explored yet that will be useful. Search has been improved which will make it easier to add other people and the usual solid sharing functionality is still there. It's a neat improvement to an old friend. Ollie, the Twitterrific mascot also looks a bit different too. He keeps getting bigger in the icon. He's the thing I associate most with Twitter and I'm so glad that he's still around and helping me connect with the world in short bursts.