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Filtering by Category: technology

What I'm Tracking in 2016

Chris Campbell

Time for an update on what parts of myself get quantified and recorded this year. Last year I went through what I was tracking, so this year it’s similar and a bit simpler. There are a lot of things recorded[1], and for some reason I find it comforting to have the data and the ability to go back and see what is happening and if there is progress.

The biggest change in the universe of quantifying my data was buying a Withings Smart Body Analyzer. It was something that I wanted to have for a while and when I saw I could get one on sale I took the plunge. It’s a beautifully designed device that is subtle and simplifies the morning routine. Last year I recorded weight using the scale function of my Wii Fit, which involved setting up the balance board, starting the Wii, and running Wii Fit which took a bit of time. Now I just hop on the scale and get weighed (as well as having my heart rate and fat mass recorded).

My Fitbit One is still the way to capture steps and sleep. It’s with me all the time and it’s a good way to track calories burned throughout the day. The Fitbit app on my phone collects the data, but I’m doing stuff with the data using other apps and sites. Each day when going for a walk I record the workout, but I may switch to doing that with another app. I do like getting the updates and prompts from Fitbit as well as the badges when reaching certain milestones.

When it is bike riding season I’ll continue to use my Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensor to track my heart rate while biking[2]. I’ve used it a bit when exercising inside on the elliptical and will probably keep doing that to more accurately track the calories burned. But I haven’t settled on an app for collecting that data, but I may use my favourite biking app, Cyclemeter for all my workouts whether they are on a bike or not. On my bike I have a Wahoo Blue SC Speed and Cadence Sensor that collects riding data.

Aside for the automatic recording of data, there is a lot of stuff that gets entered manually and the Reporter app is the first thing I check in to in the morning and the last thing I do at night. It randomly prompts me to answer questions (there are now 11). The app also collects data about the ambient levels of sound, location, weather, steps, and photos taken.

On my MacBook Pro and iPhone the Audioscrobbler app keeps track of things I’ve listened to by sending the data to The music data is sometimes incomplete as I’ve been using Apple Music and unless I add something to my library, it isn’t scrobbled.

RescueTime keeps track of what I do on my MacBook Pro to monitor when I’m productive and not. It’s a good way to see how you’ve been spending time on different sites and within different apps.

The Exist app ties in with the excellent site from Hello Code that assembles a lot of the data collected to keep me on track for steps (with a wonderful way of setting goals based on average steps) and with mood (along with some notes I write for each day). The wonderful thing about Exist on my phone is that I check the steps goal throughout the day and while on my FitBit I keep my goal set at 10,000 steps, the changing step goal every day pushes me to walk and move more.

I check in to places I’ve been using Foursquare’s Swarm app. It’s a good way to remind me where I’ve been and like many of the things that I use, it’s become a habit that almost disappears.

Lifesum keeps me on track with diet and exercise so I will record the food that I eat and it automatically pulls in my weight from Withings and steps from Fitbit. In addition to the food and drink that gets recorded there, I also use Cortado to record the coffee that I drink and Untappd to record the beer that I drink.

To create a daily summary as a diary entry in Day One, I use the Sifttter script from Craig Eley to create the entry by combining information from a variety of sources. To make this possible there are a number of IFTTT recipes set up that grab information from sites to create entries in a Dropbox folder. Now I bring in stuff from Twitter, Foursquare, Withings, Fitbit, Untappd, Letterboxd,, Pinboard, and Goodreads so I can remember what I’ve tweeted, where I’ve been, what I weigh, what I drank, what I watched, what I’ve read, and what I’ve listened to.

While I’m on a Learning Leave[3] I have more time each morning, so I’ve been able to reestablish my routine of writing every morning and the best way to get that done is through the site 750 Words. The discipline of needing to meet the goal and to maintain streaks is great, so every day starts with writing my short film reviews as well as the first drafts of blog posts or any other writing that I need to do. They start in 750 Words and then move over to Byword for blog posts or to NVAlt for notes or Day One for diary entries.

For recording the films that I watch I’ve committed to Letterboxd now. It’s the definitive place where I track every film and it’s manual, so each film is found, recorded, and rated. Last year I made an effort to at least write a short review of every film watched to help me remember them. This grew out of rediscovering the reviews I wrote on the now defunct site All Consuming[4] and reposting them to Letterboxd. I added hundreds of older reviews to Letterboxd which also created data on the films that I watched back to 2007.

As a bit of a backup I am still using Your Flowing Data to keep track of films [5] and beer [6]. With Your Flowing Data I just send a tweet (sent from the excellent iOS app Drafts) to record the film or beer. In the past I was recording oatmeal and coffee, but I’ve stopped that since I pretty much have oatmeal every day and that data isn’t interesting.

One more human and positive analytical tools that I use is ThinkUp which analyzes Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts for insight. The great thing about ThinkUp is that it is built with positivity in mind and gently pushes you to interact with people in healthier ways. Instead of focussing on increasing the number of followers it shifts your attention to the quality of the interactions you have on social media which can form deeper connections with the people out there on the other side of your screen.

Keeping track of so many things helps me see trends and to remember things. The great thing is that it keeps me focussed on staying active and doing things every day. It’s good to have a routine and little reminders that keep you healthy. It’s also nice to look back and reflect on how things change over time.

  1. probably way too much  ↩

  2. Which I also use on my exercise bike  ↩

  3. What the Nova Scotia Community College calls a sabbatical.  ↩

  4. A great site that allowed you to record and review films, books, and music that you were consuming.  ↩

  5. what screens and which theatre I viewed them on  ↩

  6. which specific beers I consume  ↩

iPhone 6S

Chris Campbell

It feels smooth and solid in my hand and while it's a bit bigger than my second iPhone, a 5S, I have to say that I'm adjusting nicely to my new iPhone 6S. I was relatively late to the iPhone bandwagon in getting an iPhone 4 in 2010 and heartily embraced it and with the camera and connectivity, it dramatically changed how I did a lot of things. While the intention wasn't to get a new phone right away as my 5S is still working great with no problems, an offer from Eastlink with a discount on my home internet and cable bundle made me switch as getting a new phone and saving money was an offer I couldn't refuse.

With my phone backed up to iCloud it's fast and easy to switch phones with just needing to log in to iCloud to have everything come back. Even things like volume level, wallpaper, and other settings all come back which keeps your new phone set up like your old phone. Since Apple Music and is now part of my online life it means that I don't keep music on my phone, but I've got access to everything that is there, so it frees up a lot of space on the phone (which is 64 GB --- twice the size of my old iPhone).

The screen is bright and the glass is smooth and feels softer (which is kind of weird but it's probably from only needing to press lightly on the screen). It's not as natural-feeling in my hand as the 4 and 5S were, but the bigger screen is much easier to read. Again, as with the other phones it's much faster and smoother. Things just seem to appear. The Touch ID button is significantly faster at recognizing a fingerprint so the screen unlocks instantly. So fast that I'm having to change my behaviour with the menu button as if I want to view the lock screen I need to touch the power button instead as the lock screen is usually skipped with my thumb on the menu button.

iOS 9 is lovely and the new system font works well for me. Siri is faster and a lot more accurate and with "Hey Siri" I find that I'm recording reminders and responding to messages through dictation. It's faster to launch apps by just asking for them too. One of the useful embedded features of iOS 9 is the way contexts can be saved when you are looking at something by asking Siri to remind you about it. If you are on a web page reading something you say, "Remind me about this" and a reminder that includes the bookmark of the page gets created. It's even cooler in my podcast listening app Overcast as I can be listening to something while driving and ask Siri to remind me about it and then in the reminder it will open the podcast and jump within the episode to where I added the reminder. In Instapaper I can be part way through reading something and add a reminder and then pop back into where I left off. That's useful when you are researching something and don't want to go to stray too far in looking things up. It's a great way to jump back to something later if you have to switch to doing something else unexpectedly.

The new and different feature with the 6S is 3D Touch which is challenging to describe and takes a bit of getting used to. It's a fascinating combination of hardware and software that creates the feeling that the surface of the iPhone is a button. So if you press a bit harder on the glass it feels like it clicks and something happens. The most useful aspect of this is to get a quick preview of a link in Safari or a conversation in Messages. If you want to go to the page or conversation you just press a bit harder and it pops open. Or if you want to do something quickly you can just swipe up and then save or, in Messages, quickly send a reply like "on my way" or something like that. The prebuilt responses grow out of your conversations, so if you text back "cool" to people a lot, that will come up, or if "okey dokey" is more your style, that will appear.

It's interesting to see how developers are using 3D Touch and my favourite and long-time Twitter client Twitterrific intuitively uses the feature. I can press on a link and get a preview of the web page, look at a user profile, a hashtag, a discussion, or a quoted tweet without having to open it up. It's fast and intuitive and as other developers add these features it makes everything just a little bit easier and faster.

The set of apps that I'm using a lot has remained the same for a while with Messages, Twitterrific, 1Password, and OmniFocus in the home row as I use each of them all every day. Other frequently used apps are Reporter (for collecting quantified self data), Lifesum (for tracking food and calories), Next (for tracking spending), Drafts (for drafts of notes or tweets), 1Writer (for notes), Spark (for email), Weather Line (for weather), and Fantastical (for my calendar). All the apps seem a lot faster on the new phone and most of them have added 3D Touch integration is useful ways too.

At this point in the development of phones and computer technology there is little more needed, so now we're in the phase where things are faster and easier. That's how it is with the camera which has a higher resolution and better performance in low light. For video you can shoot better slow motion and shoot video in 4K which is pretty sharp. The other photo feature is Live Photos which captures some motion around the moment that you press the shutter. It's neat but not that useful, but it's a little flourish that is cute.

The battery life is great and with the new "Low Power Mode" it makes it even easier to squeeze more battery life out of the phone by easily reducing the amount of background activity and notifications. It does seem to charge a lot faster than my 5S which is nice. Just a few minutes connected to a battery or the wall charger gives a 20% boost in power, so it doesn't feel as scary when the battery level is getting a bit low.

I've surrounded my phone with the minimalist Peel case which is relatively cheap and solid. I didn't get a case at all for my 5S and didn't have a problem, so I probably don't need one, but it's nice to have a bit of extra security and the case makes the phone a bit easier to hold without adding much size at all. The phone feels solid and it's still feels a bit big and awkward at times, but I'm getting used to it. The bigger screen is nice which makes things easier to see and read.

While my 5S was working great and my initial plan was to keep it for another year, I'm happy to have upgraded early to the 6S. It's fast and powerful and has seamlessly become part of all the stuff I do quickly. The best technology disappears and reduces the friction in what you are doing and that's exactly what my phone does as I connect with people, share things, and find things with it. What did I do before I had this magical little computer with me all the time?

Retina MacBook Pro

Chris Campbell

Getting a new laptop is pretty exciting as it allows you to take stock of the hardware and software that you use. When you work in a larger organization you don't usually have a lot of choice in what you get. Luckily in my situation we are Mac-based in the Screen Arts program I teach in, so I knew that I'd be getting MacBook Pro. The standard machine for this year seems to be be a 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro with a 256 GB SSD and 16 GB of RAM.

Typing on the new laptop it makes me notice a few differences. The biggest change is that it is a lot lighter. Apparently something like 20% lighter or so. That makes it feel a bit strange on my lap, kind of like something is missing. It's one of the best laptops that I have ever had. The keyboard is a bit softer than the previous one, and it's become my favourite thing to type on. Not too big and not too small – just right. The other thing I absolutely love is the trackpad. At my desk at work I have a mouse which I don't really like that much. Swiping makes so much more sense to me now.

So much of what we do now depends on connecting to services and sites outside of our personal computers, so the first thing to get installed before starting the reconnection process was AgileBits essential 1Password. It syncs through iCloud, so it took less than a minute to get it up and running and it has all the info I need for getting back into all my accounts. That saves a lot of time and provides peace of mind too.

There are some applications that become such a big part of your workflow that you forget you use them and that's exactly what happens with Alfred, which lets me quickly launch, look up, and find things. On other computers or a new one I will instinctively try to activate it and then wonder what is wrong when it doesn't instantly appear. For mail my accounts are split up between personal and work, so Apple's Mail is what is used for work and the other accounts are all in PostBox. That makes it a bit easier to keep work and my personal life separated a bit and the checking of work email usually will stop when I go home. The other essential thing on the laptop is being able to check my calendars, so for that the best option is Fantastical (also on my iPhone) which is great for adding things and quickly checking my schedule too.

For notes on the laptop everything is synced through Simplenote with nvALT providing a quick and easy way to search and edit notes. Quick and subtle and clear, it is a frictionless way to quickly take notes and get things down. To enhance all entering of text, the next essential piece would be TextExpander which provides a way to have all sorts of frequently-used snippets ready to expand into whatever you are typing. The ones I use the most are the date, class names, and contact information and I really should add some more. The next thing in my workflow after writing something is to work with it more in Byword where I do writing and editing on the MacBook Pro when there is more typing and proofreading and editing on my iPad.

The new MacBook Pro is fast and it's the first computer that I've used that has an SSD, which is good and bad. The speed is amazing, but it has half the storage capacity of my previous MacBook Pro, so that means I've needed to rethink the use of space on the drive. Already my iTunes library and iPhoto library are on an external drive, but the larger documents that I use will now need to be stored externally. It's a good practice to follow and while it is a bit of a pain to be forced into its, having independence of data from the laptop helps keeps things organized a bit better too.

For backup Time Machine backs up to an external drive at the office which provides security in addition to more conscious backups to another external drive (so many drives). Recently I've also signed up with Backblaze to provide another, off-site backup. In addition to that there is the cloud storage from Dropbox and Sync where files are kept. To save and retrieve files my favourite for years has been Panic's Transmit. It's the way that I use FTP. It's powerful and simple and is how I get larger student assignments and share larger files as well.

To keep my Omni apps in sync between devices I use the OmniGroup's OmniPresence which is where my documents from OmniOutliner and Acorn are kept. OmniOutliner is where planning happens for me and it has also worked well as a place for me to keep track of my marking. With summaries I can actually add up marks and keep comments and other information about learners all in one place. Sometimes it will be a spreadsheet in Numbers, but other times I will all be set up in OmniOutliner. OmniFocus is at the centre of my productivity world and that also uses OmniPresence to keep all of the things that I need to do safe.

After the basics are set up and everything is working, the bigger and more specialized applications start to get tried out. The biggest one is Final Cut Pro X, which is Apple's video editing program. The latest version is quite divisive with many dismissing it as a glorified version of iMovie, but it's really a lot more than that. It's frustrating to shift to it from Final Cut Pro 7, but it works in a whole different way with many things hidden. I've grown to like it a lot and on the new laptop it's stunningly fast and with the Retina screen it is gorgeous. The SSD seems to make a big difference in the speed as well, but upgrading from a 4 year-old computer and doubling the RAM is probably a factor in the speed as well.

While Adobe Creative Suite 6 is installed, I rarely use the Adobe stuff as I find that it is a bit jarring with the idiosyncratic interface and the never-ending updates. Uninstalling Flash is one of the first things that I did (the battery-hogging activity is something I want to avoid). For image processing I have both Acorn and Pixelmator, but I find that I love and use Acorn for all my image manipulation needs. It's fast and simple and clear and powerful. Kind of like an idealized Photoshop.

As time goes by the need for a laptop seems to lessen. My iPhone and iPad are used a lot and when I don't have the laptop it isn't that big of an issue. For video editing it's still important to have the laptop, and for writing you need a nice keyboard. But for editing the iPad is great and while I used to watch DVDs on my previous MacBook Pro, the lack of an optical drive means that there will be fewer films watched on this one. My iPad is the way that I watch films on my own now, and for DVDs now it seems that the TV and DVD player will be the way that gets consumed. But now most of the films that I am watching are all digital and that's going to accellerate now.

The devices that we use and the lines between them are all blurring. It's amazing how quickly the shift has happened. I just do things with the screen that is closest to me. Whether it is taking a note, a picture, listening to music, or making something, it doesn't matter which particular device I have. That being said, it's pretty great to have a fast and quiet laptop to create and share stuff with, so I'm very grateful for that.

iPhone 5S

Chris Campbell

iPhone 5S

iPhone 5S

Sports drinks and iPads don't mix. This was made very clear to me when I was rushing around one morning and I noticed that the bottle of sports drink in my bag had opened. I took out my iPad and it was soaked. The liquid was in the screen. It didn't dry out, so I scheduled a Genius Bar appointment at the Apple store to get it replaced. This was on Monday, September 23, after the iPhone launch the Friday before.

Arriving early, I asked if they had any of the new iPhones in stock, specifically the 32 GB Space Grey one. They had just received two, so that's why I have one now. There has only been one other iPhone in my life and that was the 4. It was a similar purchase on launch day when I wandered in to an electronics store at lunchtime to see if they had any. The 4 was a great phone and still works quite well. The interface with iOS 7 made my older phone feel new even though I only used it for a few days. But the 5S is really fast. So fast in that it almost seems too fast. Pages load quickly and the screen updates smoothly. With my whole smartphone life based around the iPhone 4, so my actual, hands-on iPhone experience has been relatively recent. But it is firmly part of my workflow, so having one is important. There was no pressing need for a new phone, but the combination of being out of contract and having my previous phone for over 3 years made it seem a bit more logical to upgrade.

The experience of buying things at the Apple Store is great and with my iPad repair the sales person and I multitasked between setting up the iPad and the iPhone. It doesn't take long and since my backups are with iCloud it was scarily fast to restore both. My wallpaper was back and all of the apps were there too (but it takes a while to actually download the apps onto your phone if you have a lot). Contacts and calendar are all there. My music is all backed up with iTunes Match, so I'll get that when I need it.

The thing I keep coming back to is how light it is. It feels like something fell out of my 4 and it's barely there in my pocket. It's an evolutionary design that feels quite similar, while being noticeably faster. Most of the time you're looking at the screen, so the speed is the big difference. The faster processor combined with the LTE network means that things happen really quickly. Email and Twitter updates just appear. The screen is slightly taller, so I noticed a few times that I wouldn't hit the right target near the top, but the size feels quite right.

The fingerprint scanner is really simple and works very well. Right at the beginning of setting up the phone you can activate it and it's a great way to increase the security of your phone. I didn't have a passcode on my phone before since it's a pain to have to stop and type it in every time you unlock the phone. But now phone is always locked, which is a very good thing. It's very rarely away from me at any time, so it didn't seem like a huge issue before. If you turn the phone off you do need to enter the passcode to unlock the phone when it is turned on again. The accuracy is very good to the point of being almost invisible. You just press the menu button and leave your finger there for a second or less and the phone wakes up and unlocks.

One of the great and frustrating things about Apple is that when they decide on something they usually move in that direction fairly rapidly. That's one of the reasons we don't use floppies any more and have phones without physical keyboards. So many technologies over the years have changed after Apple implemented them and during the changeovers we're left with things that we can't use in the same way. With my new iPhone I ran into that with the Lightning connector. All of my other iOS devices have used the 30-pin dock connector and now I have one device with the newer connection. After 10 years it's not that radical a shift to change connections, and I really love that there is no up with the connector which makes it a lot faster to plug in. With the 30-pin to Lightning connector it lets me charge my iPhone in the iHome clock radio by my bed or use it to play audio through my car stereo.

A surprise for me is how much I use Siri. I didn't have it on my iPhone 4 and while Siri is on my iPad Retina it isn't something that I used a lot. But with it on my phone now I find that I do set reminders and timers with it. That is especially great when I am driving and use my Bluetooth headset. It makes it a lot easier to capture things. The dictation also works surprisingly well and that is a great way to send a text while you are driving too.

The new camera along with the camera app is a fantastic improvement. The pictures are gorgeous and the new flash seems to work well. The video is amazing and with the slow motion mode shooting video at 120 frames per second it means that you can easily create some nifty slow motion videos of anything. It exemplifies a lot of what is interesting about this upgrade to the phone and the OS in that most of what is going on is hidden and you only start to notice things as you use it more. It's not as flashy or completely different as I thought it would be, but it works a lot better and the device really starts to disappear as I do things with it. It's just part of what I do.

iOS 7 is a huge change and the speed that it has been adopted is amazing. It's gorgeous and has very quickly become comfortable to me. It's amazing how quickly apps have updated and how some older apps feel dated now. The built-in Mail app is a lot better with some features from Mailbox working into it. The Notification Centre is similarly improved with a great view of today with a nice overview of what is coming up on your calendar for today and tomorrow. I like that. While visually the elements are flatter, there is a layered approach to the interface that provides a spacial orientation that lets you know where you are in moving into apps and back out into the Springboard. The combination of the new OS and the faster hardware really changes the way that it looks and feels with a smoothness that seems unreal. I love it and it feel like I'm in a sci-fi film with the tiny computer that I hold in my hand that lets me connect with the world.

Apple TV

Chris Campbell

Apple TVAs soon as I picked up the box I thought that it seemed really small. But when I got my Apple TV out of the box it seemed almost impossibly small. While the previous model looked like a small Mac Mini, this one is very tiny. Packaged with Apple's usual style and finish it is efficient and beautiful.

After unboxing it and hooking it up to the tv (you'll need to use HDMI to connect it) it powers up (no power switch) when you use the remote. After a bit of configuration with your network it works. Log in with your Apple ID and then you have access to your iTunes account and you can rent movies.

You can also connect to your computer if it is on the home network and then it allows you to listen to or view anything that you have in iTunes as well as photos that are in iPhoto. If you have video that isn't in the right format you can use HandBrake to convert it (there is a preset for Apple TV 2). The connections can continue with your Flickr account and YouTube (to see your favourites), but the best thing for me to connect to is my Netflix account which provides a ton of movies and tv shows to watch. Each of these accounts show up in different places, but the close analogy is that they are like channels. In each of these areas there are gorgeous thumbnails that appear which is a nice touch.

The remote is quite lovely and is aluminum with a simplified set of buttons. It took a little bit of time getting used to, but it feels nice in my hand. If you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch you can use Apple's Remote app to also control the Apple TV. When you do that you can also see information about music that is playing which is a nice touch. You can dj a party and change the music from your iPhone if you want instead of going over to your computer.

One of the very neat things added with the latest updates to iOS is that you can send video or photos to the Apple TV from any iOS device that is on the network. So when you look at a video on your iPhone and want to share it with people you can just click on the AirPlay button and choose the Apple TV and it magically appears on the screen. I love it and now I wish I had this hooked up to the video projectors at work to allow for more people to share stuff on the screen.

The image quality on the tv (a 32-inch LG HDTV) is great and right now the sound just comes out of the tv speakers, but with support for 5.1 Surround Sound at some point it may be hooked up to the stereo.

There are a wide range of video and audio podcasts that you can stream through the box and with my laptop I can play any of the regular podcasts that I listen to and watch. It's a magical box that provides an easy and affordable way to get video and audio from all of the computers and iPods and iPhones in the house. Ideally it's the type of thing that would be built in to all television sets.

Most of what I watch on the Apple TV are tv shows and films on Netflix. The image quality of some of the shows is a lot better than on watching them through the Netflix channel on the Wii which is the way that I used to watch Netflix on the TV. Without the surround sound hooked up I'm not sure if the sound quality is a lot better, but I'm assuming that it would be.

It just works and I'm looking forward to seeing how it may expand with updates and new channels (the latest addition is Major League Baseball) and new capabilities. But even if it stays the way it is, I'm going to enjoy using this for a long time.