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My Quantified Self

My Quantified Self

Most people I know, especially me, struggle daily to ensure they get enough activity. Simply walking can be one of the best things we can do, but for some of us (particularly geeks), a little bit of gadgetry can provide inspiration to remember to get on with it and do something.
Withings Scales

I’m a big fan of the idea of the “quantified self“, and over the past few years have used several gadgets successfully to assist me in being more active and tracking my health markers.

Top of this list are the excellent Withings Scales that I’ve been using to track weight, body fat and BMI for a couple of years now. I step on these daily, and the data is recorded on the Withings Health Mate app on my iPhone.

I found that tracking all this data was really telling, and it spurred me on. Even though I’ve never had a blood pressure problem, I got the Withings BP Monitor so that I could see the the effect of my nutrition and activity levels on not just weight and fat, but also blood pressure. The information goes to the same great app.

The next things I became interested in was tracking activity and sleep. I tried a variety of apps (RunKeeper, Walkmeter, etc) for these, but ultimately found the FitBit One activity and sleep tracker which is fantastic.

The FitBit tracks my routine and specific exercise, including steps taken, stairs climbed and (by calculation) distance walked/run and calories consumed. It also has a mode that tracks your sleep, giving you an indication of sleep quality. It transmit the data back through bluetooth to your desktop or iOS device to log everything with an app or web portal.

Only 3 things I’d want to add are:

  1. Integration to Withings so all my data is in one place
  2. Heart rate monitor so I can log this in before/during/after specific activity
  3. Waterproof casing and features that would allow me to use it swimming

Yesterday at CES Withings announced their Smart Activity Tracker, for release later this quarter. Basically it is a product created in the image of the Fitbit One, but adding the first 2 features I’ve listed above. I look forward to getting one, and having a single integrated view of my overall health and activity.

Fitbit also have Aria scales which do much the same as the Withings scales (from what I’ve read). I’ve not used them, or heard much about them, but if I were starting out and didn’t already have scales but did have the Fitbit One, I’d certainly consider that route.

Withings also announced scales that measure heart rate and air quality. I’m admittedly a geek, but even I can’t see the real benefit of measuring air quality.

Of course, talking all about this is one thing. But my Fitbit has just reminded me to get active. I’m off for a swim – an activity I’ll have to log manually, now and into the future.

Citizen Science and the Wisdom of Crowds

Citizen Science and the Wisdom of Crowds

Interesting piece in The Conversation today by John Gollan entitled Citizen science can produce reliable data.

Citizen science has benefits for scientists – including an inexpensive and potentially large labour force – and citizens, who get knowledge and fulfilment. These schemes expose people to the environment and develop the stewardship ethic.

Underwater cleanup participants with some of the rubbish collected

As a scuba instructor, I’ve organised and participated in a variety of diving activities where data on the maritime environment is collected by everyday divers. These include underwwater cleanups (known as Dives Against Debris) and fishlife surveys conducted under the Project AWARE banner, as well as a reef health survey.

Participation in an event such as an underwater cleanup has (at least) three benefits. I’ve listed these in what I see as the order of increasing importance:

  1. The actual removal of rubbish from the environment;
  2. The awareness generated by onlookers seeing what we’re doing, and from participants talking later to family, friends and colleagues about the cleanup; and,
  3. The data collected can be collated and aggregated by Project AWARE and then used by the scientific community and advocacy groups as requried.

As John Gollan explains in the article, a criticism of citizen science is that

Many scientists question the quality, reliability and in general, the utility of data

In the tech and blogging community, we’ve talked for a while about the power of collaboration and citizen journalism. The 2005 book by James Surowiecki called The Wisdom of Crowds outlined four elements that are required to form a wise crowd. I think these four things apply beautifully to citizen science:

  1. Diversity of opinion
  2. Independence
  3. Decentralisation
  4. Aggregation

If we take the example of a Dive Against Debris, these are organised by dive operators in the field, run by dive professionals with divers as participants, thus getting diverse people involved in a decentralised way.

These divers are largely independent of the dive operation, Project AWARE itself and almost certainly of the advocacy groups / research organisations who may ultimately use the data.

By establishing a process for organising a Dive Against Debris, and formats for collecting, recording and submitting data, Project AWARE offers the opportunity for aggregation of data.

Ultimately I agree wholeheartedly with the author’s conclusion in The Conversation article:

Research has shown that volunteers experience high levels of many different satisfactions. For example, participants gain educational benefits, there is potential to reunite science and society, the public can be inspired to appreciate nature through hands-on experiences and participants can build a sense of ownership in both the program and place.

So, get involved in citizen science. We’re all learning, always, as individuals and as a society. Thats what science is all about.

The State of Science Education in Australia

The State of Science Education in Australia

According to the SMH, too few Australian university entrants are considering science for their degrees.

As the next generation of Australia’s workforce use their smartphones and tablets and chat over social networks, this trend of declining interest in science and technology suggests the uncomfortable question: are we going to be a nation of creators of the future, or just the consumers of it?

When I entered uni, I never really considered science. If I had my time again, I would study science in a heartbeat.

New iPad in March Predictions

New iPad in March Predictions

Predictions by the sometimes-spot-on, often-way-off rumour site Macotakara suggest that a new, thinner, lighter 5th generation iPad will be released in March.
I’ll make an early prediction on this one: “no way”. I give it a 20% chance of happening.

Simply, Apple loves releasing new versions of its flagship products about once per year. In the past 2 years they’ve carefully “reset” the cycle for both iPhone and iPad to coincide with the Christmas buying season.

I’d say we can predict that iPhone and iPad, along with iPod, will continue with a September/October launch cycle.

Karateka Remake Coming Soon to iOS

Karateka Remake Coming Soon to iOS

I’ve always been a bit of a karate geek. OK, a lot of one.
Growing up, one of my favourite computer games as a young karateka was the game Karateka, on my trusty Commodore 64. So I was fascinated to see this morning that it looks like this classic game is making a comeback, with an XBox version launched, and PSN, Steam and iOS versions coming later this month. This cool video was made to announce the releases.

I’ve always been a bit of a geek, but not much of a gamer. I’ve never owned a dedicated game console, such as an XBox, but instead have played games on my computing device of the day.

These days my iOS devices (iPhone and iPad) are my game devices of choice, but I’m still not much of a gamer. I do enjoy some word and logic games (Letterpress and Sudoku being key among those), but have to admit I’ll be looking forward to playing karateka, if only for nostalgic reasons.

And the fact that I am still a karate geek.

My Thoughts on Maps

My Thoughts on Maps

Since the release of iOS 6 and iPhone 5, there has been a lot of chatter about maps, in particular, the new Maps app on iPhone. Now I don’t have an iPhone 5, but have updated to iOS 6 on both my iPhone 4S and iPad. To me the overall direction of iOS is great, with a bunch of new features that make sense.
But I would have to agree that on the surface, the new Maps (lets call it “Apple Maps”) app seems to be a very “version 1.0” release, especially when compared to the previous Maps app, powered by Google data (lets call that “Google Maps” for ease). There is a lot of discussion going around about the pros and cons of Apple Maps, and about why Apple chose the timing to release a product that is immature.

This has got me thinking about just how important maps are. I am fascinated by relationships, and how individuals form communities to survive and thrive. In many respects, maps provide a visual representation of the evolution of communities.

As a kid, my parents, grandparents and family friends gave me the building blocks and my parents gave me a whole spare room to set up a model train set. Whilst the train set itself was absorbing and cool, I loved building the townships around the stations, including model buildings, roads, etc. The trains themselves represented the linkage between the towns.

Just before my 21st birthday, just after I graduated from my undergrad degree, I moved to Tokyo, Japan, in order to start my career in the IT industry, and to further my pursuit of karate. This was just on 21 years ago (in less than 2 weeks time), and I was going for 12 months, although this extended to almost 2 years.

Before leaving for Japan, I acquired 2 books that I thought would be useful – the Lonely Planet guide to Japan, and an Atlas of Tokyo, including the various Wards of the city, Subways, rail systems and more. At 20 million residents, Tokyo is a huge city, and it was daunting for a guy who had grown up in Gunnedah, before going to boarding school and university in Brisbane.

On arrival, I had a couple of weeks before starting my job, so I set out, atlas in hand, to explore the city and surrounding places like Kamakura and Kawasaki. I would go somewhere that seemed interesting, get off the train when it seemed cool, and just wander about. When my interest levels declined, I would try to find my way back to the nearest station, and go on to the next place.

This was a good test to develop both my Tokyo navigation abilities and my Japanese language skills. That 2 weeks remains one of the most valuable experiences of life to date, despite the fact that I’ve now traveled to many other cities, countries and continents.

Whenever I go anywhere new, I love to have a local map, preferably before arriving. If nothing else, I get an inkling into what lies in wait, and where I might find resources and cool things to see.

Life is in many respects a collection of cool experiences, and those experiences are built on the relationships between peoples, and the monuments that represent those relationships. Maps are a portable, visual summary of these.

The changing boundaries on maps also represent the changes in societies and cultures. Heck, the world atlas of 21 years ago has entire countries on it that no longer exist, and others that do now that didn’t then. A map has to be quite up to date to be useful.

My iPhone, iPad and notebook computer are my principle mapping devices. I use them to pre-explore new places, and go back and reminisce about old ones.

So my message to Apple is that I am (maybe like many other users) willing to give you a chance to get your stuff together. Your devices are an incredible way to view and explore. But the data has to be current and up-to-date, and the product needs to be easy to use, and it needs to look good. Whilst 2 out of 3 usually aint bad, I look forward to having a powerful, wonderful mapping experience in my iDevices again soon!

Drafts for iPhone and iPad

Drafts for iPhone and iPad

Drafts for iPhoneIts not often that an iOS app makes its way to take up precious position on my device’s dock. Actually, its not often an app goes onto my main screen, let alone the dock, so when this does occur its really saying something about the potential of that app.
David Sparks of the Mac Power Users podcast has mentioned once or twice about an iPhone app called Drafts, which is a quick way to collect thoughts and info as they arise. David, along with his co-host Katie Floyd, have become people who I pay attention to when it comes to productivity on Mac and iOS devices, and when David recently blogged about the release of a new version of Drafts for the iPhone along with a new version for the iPad, it was time to give the app a try.

Of course, the fact that Brett Terpstra and the Time Management Ninja blog also posted about the release of Drafts 2 / Drafts for the iPad only reinforced the need for me to check it out.

This “quick collect” system fits nicely with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) as it allows an iPhone user to quickly collect ideas and thoughts as they arise, so that they can be processed and organised later for action.

On opening Drafts, the first thing seen is a blank note. You can quickly type your thought and leave the app, no other action required. By default, if you reopen the open more than 60 seconds later, it will automotically start a new note, but of course you can review older captured thoughts. If you’re running Drafts on both iPhone and iPad, there is a seamless syncing capability of the notes.

Once you’ve got your drafts, its quite simple to later do something with them. You can Tweet, post to Facebook, send emails or messages, send to apps like Byword or DayOne, or other web services like Evernote and Dropbox.

As a writer, I like that Drafts supports John Gruber’s Markdown. This allows me to easily integrate Drafts to my writing workflow, which is built around Byword as my editing device. From Byword, its easy for me to then export to my Squarespace or WordPress blogs, or to apps like Pages, Scrivener or iBooks Author. My only criticism of Drafts is that the Markdown preview process seems a little flakey at this time. I am sure that will be fixed shortly.

I like the seamless, low-threshhold method of quickly capturing thoughts and ideas. The app has a lot of power, and easily integrate into many workflows. As with any capture device (such an in-trays and inboxes), the trick is to ensure that it’s contents are regularly processed and organised for action. Get Drafts for iPhone and iPad