Experiments in data/life tracking/visualization

Daytum lets you track key inputs/outputs
Daytum lets you track key inputs/outputs

I’ve been investigating tools and methods for tracking, measuring and displaying key inputs and outputs for daily life.

Why am I doing this? Because I’m sick of important things falling off the table.

Long term effect is a product of the cumulative effect of short terms actions. While it’s hard to keep a long term goal in sight, it’s usually not too difficult to keep your daily habits and actions in line with daily goals. Provided the long term and daily goals and actions are aligned that is. Ahem. Yes, it’s a simple concept we can all grasp at a young age but one that seems to require habitual reminders for throughout life. But maybe that’s just me.

This all leads to using tools to track, measure, report and manage with.

Example – Scenario ‘a’

Inputs

Sleep = 8 hours
Engergy = Good
Eating well = YES
Excercise = YES

Outputs

  • feeling of satisfaction
  • calm, assured
  • money in the bank

Example scenario ‘b’

inputs

  • stay up late
  • get drunk
  • chuck beer bottles on the front lawn while singing ABBA songs in my falsetto voice

Outputs

  • jail house
  • poor house

More

This includes work and home life. For example I want to raise the visibility of certain tasks for my young kids like doing their homework, studying, eating the right food and exercising.

I went looking for web based solutions that would also work well on paper and on my iPhone. This research netted me squat. That drove me back into the waiting arms of spreadsheets and online solutions like Google Docs and using Google Gadgets to add visual indicators to my data (like the nice dial graphic below). Spreadsheets are great for flexibility but lacking somewhat in their setup time and maintenance.

Back to more research. I finally started finding some good links. One tool I’m trying is called daytum and the user interface is by far the best out of those I’ve found. However, I came across a problem when I tried to print out pages for my kids for our refrigerator. They have no css print style sheet! Grrrrr. Printouts looks like Mosaic outputs from 1997! So if printing things out is important to you then by all means try something else.

For now I’ve moved on to evaluating me-trics.com. Like daytum, it has a social aspect, allows for multiple inputs (web/mobile, etc.) and also integrates online tools and activities like twitter, Flickr, and others which is a nice add! I’ll let you know how that goes. Er, and if they have a print style sheet.

update: I failed to report that I’ve been using RescueTime for a while. RescueTime logs your actual time spent on your computer tracking application use, web behavior and so on. Most of my frustration with it so far is that it occasionally eats huge amounts of memory (not all the time) and it’s automated categorization of activities is understandably woeful. Not finding it particularly useful but I’ll keep at it a while longer.

I’ve also spent a bit more time with me-trics and it looks like you can’t add custom questions on your own. Instead you pick survey questions that other people (or me-trics) have added. For many things this is great but I immediately found that to be a non-starter. They do offer to add items to track via e-mail which is a nice customer service but not one that really addresses my needs.

Apture makes killer plug-in for web sites and blogs

While viewing my Plurk timeline (oh, you haven’t see plurk yet) this evening I found a link to an interesting blog post. Not only did I enjoy learning about the new open source Twitter client called identi.ca from my Plurk friend Bwana, I also couldn’t help but notice his very useful site plug-in that let me see definitions of words in Wikipedia.

Four months ago I went searching for just such a WordPress plug-in so that I could add custom and general definitions to my small business marketing site LocalNa8ion. After finding little of value in the WordPress plug-in arena I ended up using the tried and true HTML acronym tag. How does the acronym tag work in HTML? The acronym tag places …… under the tagged word, and when you mouse over the word your mouse cursor turns into a question mark with a pointer – a universal computer symbol for help. The acronym tag is particularly useful to site visitors when you’re knee deep in technical and industry terms that you would otherwise have to stop and write about just to gain understanding for less expert readers. Rather than putting everyone through a long written description the acronym tag has allowed me to speak to experts and newbies alike in less time. Yes, this is a bastardized use of the acronym tag. I’m bad bad bad. Technically, the acronym tag should just be used for acronyms and nothing else, but hey, it gets the job done for real people in the real world.

So Apture can address this need for me on Local Na8ion. But it does SO VERY MUCH MORE. In fact, I haven’t been this excited about a plug-in since I started using WordPress in 2004 and found out there were things called plug-ins.

Tools like Apture could change the web – radically.

See for yourself on the short video below and be sure to experience Apture. Subscribe to Apture’s blog while you’re at it.

Hyperlinks

Everyone who uses a web browser should use this tool.

If you want to save a lot of time with your online browsing, research, and other common tasks (like email) then you should use Hyperwords which is a plugin for the Firefox web browser (also works with Flock).

My good friend Ami Givertz just recommended it on a phone discussion we had yesterday and I’m really appreciative of his recommending it and paying his info knowledge forward. So, here’s my contribution to keep the chain going.

Get Hyperwords Now.

Watch the demo.

GrandCentral bug and the ultimate GrandCentral Hack

Hurry GrandCentral guys please fix this one ASAP!

I’m addicted to GrandCentral, the one-number service that rings all your phone numbers at once plus a whole lot more. I’ve got a bug to share with my fellow GrandCentral users and a few points that you might find helpful in using the service.

Don’t miss my GrandCentral call recording hack at the end of this post – you can use it to keep your service providers honest when you cancel their service and they later magically deny having heard from you.

First the bug

The problem comes if you disconnect one of your phone lines and forget to update GrandCentral. Like a lot of other GrandCentral users I typically have 3 to 4 phone lines hooked up to my GrandCentral line:

1) home
2) office
3) primary mobile
4) secondary mobile

My secondary mobile is the one that I use to evaluate mobile phone carriers and phones. It changes frequently. The other day I disconnected my latest trial phone with a Helio Fin (awesome features / boring as hell) and Helio Drift (fun as hell but missing a few things) and forgot to take the number out of Grandcentral.

The result? Complete failure.

No ringy dingy on any phone even though ALL my other lines were operational. If my friend and I hadn’t been IM’ing I would never have known. GrandCentral, please fix this. I recognize that people don’t all carry second cell phones and change them all the time but your GrandCentral users DO change their numbers – it’s a primary reason people want a SMART number platform like GrandCentral in the first place.

I’ve used one-numbers or SMART numbers for a long time. I still use Accessline as my drop-dead-reliable-one-number and so does IBM. Er, I guess that means I have two one-numbers which is kind of sad. But I’ll keep Accessline for the $20 a month I pay for it until GrandCentral is completely out of beta and 100% bug free. Then there’s the question of what Google will do to GC. Hmmmm, let me guess – text link ads everywhere on the web site and voice over ads when you call in to check messages. That will drive us to pay money for their service just to shut the ads off. No problem, I’m in!

And here’s why I’ll pay.

Three things I love that are unique about GrandCentral

  • Lets you transfer live calls to your other phones.  You need to walk out the door to a meeting or to get your kids and you’re no longer chained to your office phone. Never be late again. 🙂
  • Let’s you record in-bound phone calls for podcasting or the ultimate in note taking (don’t worry it tells your callers even if you forget to, saving you from an embarrassing trip to jail). I have a hack for this for outbound calls (see below)
  • Listen in to callers leaving you a voicemail with the ability to pick up and take the call at anytime. It’s like your ol’ mechanical answering machine from 1982 but without the fake wood grain and all the vagaries of microcasette tapes.

The outbound call recording hack for GrandCentral

aka AT&T/Sprint/Verizon/Comcast/Adelphia/Time Warner/DirecTV
YOU’VE BEEN P0wned

Now on to that hack for recording outbound calls. These instructions sound convoluted but they’re really not. If you can handle using two phones and a web browser then you can do this. The only requirement is that you have two phones and since you’re interested in GrandCentral this should be a no-brainer. These instructions assume you’ll make the outbound call from a land line at your home or office but it works with any combo.

  1. Login to GC web site and head over to settings
  2. Uncheck your land line phone from the list of active phones (you don’t need to delete it – just uncheck it so it won’t ring when someone calls your GC line)
  3. Now call your own GC number from the landline phone you just unchecked in your GC settings
  4. Your cell phone rings. (power user tip: put it on vibrate for a cheap thrill)
  5. Answer your cell phone, it is YOU after all. Now mute your cell phone.
  6. Now from your land line place a three-way call to the person/company you want to record. Don’t forget to join the calls – usually by hitting the TALK or CALL key again on your phone keypad.
  7. When you get your party on the line explain that you want to record the call. Then hit the 4 key on your cell phone (hitting 4 on an inbound GC call turns call recording on).
  8. Record away
  9. When you’re done you can simply hang up both of your phones or you can hit 4 again to turn call recording off. If you want to turn call recording on/off during the call just use 4 to toggle. Great when your client wants to trash their boss!

Since Google purchased GrandCentral they’ve demanded that GC avtivate an automated greeting when you turn call recording on to prevent untold litigation against the Googleplex. Smart move since call recording is illegal in some states when you don’t tell the other party you’re recording them.

about that jail thing… 

Now, I’m not suggesting that you do this, but for those of you in states where IT IS legal to record conversations WITHOUT telling the other party you can always turn call recording ON at your cell phone BEFORE you make your three-way call. The message about call recording will come on but since you haven’t dialed your other party they’ll never know. Now you three-way the person you want to call and record. Again, user-beware, check your own local, state and federal laws before considering this.

Keep in mind that the power in call recording really serves you BEST when everyone knows. It’s not just a question of staying on the right side of the law. For example when you turn on voice recording for note taking purposes both you and your other party relax. You both know that you won’t miss something important. I use this all the time with web site design so I can make sure I’ve nailed down all my action items. And if you’re podcasting it’s really easy to download the file from GrandCentral and then edit it in your favorite recorder.

Second, when you’re calling someone like a service provider to get help or cancel your service you WANT them to put their best foot forward. Call recording DOES that. If you cancel, you can rest assured that the customer service rep who has just heard a message saying that they’re being recorded WON’T “forget” to cancel your service. And if they’re bold enough to do so, or if they make an honest mistake, you have a record of your conversation.

No other smart number service has ever had this much power. It’s no surprise that Google bought them. Keep up the good work GrandCentral.

p.s. If you need a beta invite I’ve horded a few.

[tags]Grandcentral smart-number, one-number, call-recording[/tags]

check out my tumblr

Tumblr

I’ve got a weblog or two (or 6) and I’ve been wanting to aggregate all my blog posts in one place and put them under my main url julians.name which I don’t use at present (only blog.julians.name).  I also want to include my other postings from identity tools like Twitter and Flickr. This is Lifestreaming. 

There’s a lifestreaming plugin and other LS resources for WordPress (like these here featured on krynsky.com) but I like the idea of using something off-the-shelf that’s easy to setup and maintain. At present the available WP plugins for lifestreaming are anything but. Enter tumblelogs as a possible solution.

I started a tumblelog on https://julians.tumblr.com yesterday. What’s a tumblelog you ask?

“To make a simple analogy: If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks.

You can also look at tumblelogs as slightly more structured blogs that make it easier, faster, and more fun to post and share stuff you find or create.”

That’s what leading tumblelog service tumblr has to say on the topic.  In the past year I’ve been hearing about tumblelogs and they’ve always been presented to me as something akin to microblogging like Twitter (and similar to how tumblr themselves presents them). That’s good but I already microblog on Twitter and there you have the benefit of being part of a community and conversation.  On the down side Twitter doesn’t capture video, pics and other media well like tumblr can.

Yesterday via Twitter Steve Rubel of Micropersuasion presented Tumblelogs as a great lifestreaming solution. Now tumblelogs don’t seem redundant to my efforts on Twitter and elsewhere. SO I’ve plugged in to give tumblr a try. On this topic it seems to me like Jaiku gets you most of the tools that tumblr would have from a lifestreaming perspective with the addition of friends/community.

One thing I really like about tumblr is that you can use your own url for no additional charge – that’s good stuff and I may use one that is hanging around, like jinfinite8.com, since that’s the ID I use on all my online tools and communities.

Stay tuned and check out my tumblelog for an all-in-one place to see what’s happening in life – mine that is.

Got ya spammers – captcha!

Hi Friends, family and guests.

If you’re commenting on my blog you’ll notice a new addition that looks like this.

Captcha

It prevents very annoying site spam. The downside is that it also can be annoying for people like you to fill out who are just trying to leave a comment! But hold on, there’s an upside for you!

I thought you’d like to know that your perseverance in filling out my captcha will also help with the accurate digitization of history. You see, those words you type in my captcha I’m using to fight comment spam are words that have been scanned from real books by an optical character recognition tool. People are digitizing books for easy access in online form. Carnegie Mellon University is behind this (thank you).

Picture 1
The problem as you may know is that OCR doesn’t bloody work! Too many mistakes, especially in older, harder to read books. That’s where we come in. The words you type in reCaptcha will be used to correct the OCR work of books that Carnegie Mellon is performing. Brilliant!

More here. Don’t forget that you can get reCaptcha for your site.

[tags]captcha, comment spam, spam tools[/tags]

Time Person of the year YOU

Interested in social media? Whether you think Time’s selection of ‘you’ as person of the year (for user generated content) was a bunch of hogswallop or not, I think this quote says a whole lot about what’s happening with a few words.

“It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.”

Check out the full article online if you haven’t had a chance to do so.