Friday, July 10, 2009

Personal Stats

The recent popular trend in keeping stats on yourself seems to be peaking with a recent issue of Wired magazine focused on the topic.

Whether it be the Hawthorne effect or the Prius effect, I believe that using feedback in the form of personal stats can have a positive effect on your ability to control and understand your own behavior.

To me Buster Benson appears to be right on the leading edge of this whole field, with stats (and lovely charts) tracking many, many aspects of his life. I'm using his google spreadsheet to track my Infinite Summer. Matt Haughey also wrote a blog post that brought this into focus for me recently.

I've experimented with this stuff in various ways myself. In college I made a big chart on poster-board to track my sleep. More recently I tried using daytum to track my caffeine intake.

All these things are inspiring me to begin working again on an idea that i first had way back in '06.

I'm a big fan of Lifehacker - in particular the work of Gina Trapani and Adam Pash. Gina has written a nifty set of tools for todo tracking. One of those tools is an AIMbot that can interact with her todo.txt files. Adam later modified this bot to be a personal budget tracker.

I actually ran the budgetbot tool for a short time, but ultimately didn't use it enough. Later I modified it to be a gas mileage tracking bot. I sent it SMS messages everytime I filled up my tank, and a page on my website showed a nifty little graph of my MPG over time. Eventually I moved hosts or something and the code was lost.

Ever since that time I've had more and more ideas for ways to modify the bot to track various stats. I've never sat down and actually done it though. I'm putting this idea out there so that maybe I'll either do it finally, or inspire someone else to do it.

I'm imagining a general-purpose bot/service that can track all these different stats. I could of course just write one big uber-bot by continually hacking the existing bot, but the software engineer in me wants to break it up into a core with many plugins. And instead of simply using sms/AIM, it would have a trendy REST/XML/JSON API or something. Or maybe that would all be overkill.

Here are the ideas for "plugins" that I can see being useful and probably easy to implement:

TodoBot: The original. This is obivously the most mature, since it's already been done for several years.

BudgetBot: Also well defined due to being already done.


gas gallons miles [price] - adds an entry to the db
mpg - returns your most recent miles per gallon or maybe your current average mpg
bestmpg [n] - returns the all time best mpg you got in the last [n] months, default n=12
worstmpg [n] - returns the all time worst mpg you got in the last [n] days, default n=12



weight pounds - adds an entry to the db
weightavg [n] - returns your average weight over the last [n] days, default n=30
hiwieght [n] - returns your highest weight in the last [n] days, default n=alltime
loweight [n] - returns your lowest weight in the last [n] days, default n=alltime
trend - returns whether your weight trendline is pointing downward or upward


game score - adds a game's score to the db
gameavg [n] - returns your average score over the last [n] games
hiscore [n] - returns your best score in the last [n] days, default n=alltime
loscore [n] - returns your worst score in the last [n] days, default n=alltime
handicap - returns your calculated handicap

I think there is a general structure emerging (addnew, best, worst, average), but each one is slightly different.

I'm envisioning a basic storage structure (the existing bots use .txt files, but a real DB may be in order) that can be accessed in various ways. Building one generic interface to the data store allows the ability to put data into it and get data out of it in many different ways. I'm picturing everything from simple websites with forms and Google Charts, to Ubiquity/Quicksilver commands, to fancy Android apps.

I have a hunch that most of this can be accomplished using existing web services, but I need to research it more.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

City Council Race 2009 - Twitter!

I wrote up a post about all the City Council candidates that have Twitter accounts over on the HereInCincinnati blog. Here is a widget containing all their accounts merged into one feed:

For more widgets please visit

Friday, July 03, 2009

Plans for 2009: Mid-Year Update

At the beginning of the year I made a list of things that resembled resolutions for the new year. I had this feeling like I was not doing things as much as thinking about doing things. The list was there so that I would have a place to look during those moments of free time when I think, "I should probably try and do something interesting right now instead of wasting my life away."

Then in March I checked back in to see how many things I'd done, and I was honestly a little bit surprised that I had done more things than I thought I would have. So now I'm checking back in, with the year half gone, so see if I've made it anywhere near halfway through the list.

Making stuff:

- GOAL: Cook "real" food at least once per week at home.
- STATUS: Not going so well. I've learned some new recipes that make it easier to cook something that is relatively healthy relatively quickly, but I'm still mostly just making sandwiches and kool-aid for dinner. I'm doing a decent job of staying away from eating junk food at home though.

- GOAL: I wish I could get good at making my own sourdough bread.
- STATUS: I started out making a lot of Amish Friendship Bread, and that got old after a while. I started a regular sourdough and made bread with it once. Making bread is a long ( like 15-hour ) undertaking. Recently, after several months of keeping the sourdough alive but not making bread, I finally had to commit some of the sourdoughs to the drain.

- GOAL: make beer and root beer
- STATUS: The root beer was fun, but kind of petered out after a while. I met some people recently that brew beer, and I might try and learn from them. I also read recently about making your own mead, so I might consider doing that since it might be easier.

- GOAL: make chese
- STATUS: Haven't made anything. I think I'm going to follow Fankhauser's syllabus where you make yogurt, then work your way up to cheese. I'm not a big dairy person, so I'm not actually in a big hurry to do this one.

- GOAL: Grow food. Possibly hydroponically.
- STATUS: Well, I didn't get my hydroponics set back out, but I did attend a class at Park+Vine called "Your Spring Salad" and got a really great set of seeds and seedlings. I grew several different salad greens, beets, radishes, and onions. I successfully harvested and ate some of the greens and one radish. Most of the plants died while I was in Minnesota for almost a week. Some are still alive though.

Local Food:
- GOAL: eat more local
- STATUS: I had a big project in mind a few months ago and was actively learning a lot about local food systems and was seriously considering building or at least running some sort of local food website for the Cincinnati area, but I think I got kind of burnt out on it. Maybe I need to go back and revisit what I want to accomplish and build some more relationships.

- GOAL: visit a bison ranch and possible eat some bison
- STATUS: This is still something I want to do sometime when I have a free weekend and someone to go with. Unfortunately weekends like that are rare for me. There is a ranch not too far from here.

- GOAL: join a CSA
- STATUS: I didn't join a CSA, but I did a lot of research and the CSA page on my Cincinnati wiki is far and away the most popular page on the site. I believe I have put together a table of information there that is not available anywhere else. Although it is fairly well out of date now.

Farmer's Markets:
- GOAL: visit farmer's markets more often
- STATUS: I've visited the Green Corner Market several times and visited Findlay Market once since March, although I still have not made it a regular practice.

Recycling Paper:
- GOAL: make paper
- STATUS: Big win. I successfully followed this set of instructions and made several pages of paper. I use a shredder to shred waste paper, then use a blender to blend it into pulp. Then I use a piece of screen to make it into new sheets. The new paper is still a bit rough, but the process basically works. I would like to start making things like greeting cards. I would also like to experiment with adding seeds to the paper.

Crafting / Remaking / Upcycling:
- GOAL: turn my busted IKEA hampers into useful new things.
- STATUS: I successfully prototyped a folding table made from one of these hampers, but it is now falling apart. I need to figure out how I am going to go from cardboard prototype to real, useful table.

Knitting / Weaving:
- GOAL: learn to weave or knit
- STATUS: I haven't really done this at all. It seems like lots of people are into knitting, but not as many are into weaving. I would like to track down this video tutorial I saw one time that showed how to weave. Ah, here it is.

- GOAL: create a place to take kitchen compost outside somewhere
- STATUS: I haven't gotten to this yet. I really need to soon though because my under-sink compost container is getting full.

Rapid Prototyping:
- GOAL: have something made by ponoko and/or papekura
- STATUS: I took a design from Thingiverse and sent it into ponoko. And I got back a sweet laser cut bunny. But I (stupidly) scaled the bunny up and it doesn't fit together the way it's supposed to. I might order something else, now that I see how the whole process works. I just wanted to get my feet wet, so I consider that a success.

Making online stuff:

hereincincinnati blog
hereincincinnati wiki
virtual vine st.
wikipedia photo hunt

I'm just going to summarize all of these by saying that I haven't worked a whole lot on any of them. I'm considering working on the wikipedia photo hunt idea some more now that I have a phone with a great browser, gps, and a camera.

New Ideas:

- It's hard to believe that 4 months ago the hackerspace was just a twinkle in my eye. A LOT has happened since then. The hackerspace is a real thing. It is a corporation, I'm on the board of directors, and we have signed a lease. We are currently working on raising money and making our space awesome to hang out in.
Click here to lend your support to: Soundproofing for Hive13 and make a donation at !

Local Currency:
- I've had some more ideas on this, but haven't gone out and implemented them. My desire to run an instance of oscurrency has not decreased.

New New Ideas:

- Due to several factors intersecting - including the possibility of many libraries closing soon in the State of Ohio - I've been pondering the future of libraries more than usual. Obviously libraries have been struggling with what their purpose is for many years now, but I've started to evaluate what types of alternatives to centralized libraries have become possible in just the last year or so. With the rise of cheap and easy cloud computing, and the maturation of the open-source Koha, I've been thinking that there may be an opportunity to create a community of small-scale independent online libraries. Something like a blog-hosting site, but instead of a blog, you get your own ILS. Still need to think on this some more, but I am going to pursue it and see where it leads.

- Via a contact in the hackerspace, I was invited to a crafts night at KHAC hosted by the Cincinnati League of Artisans and I learned that it is really pretty easy to screen-print. I was so excited by it, I asked for (and received) a screen-printing starter kit for my birthday. I have some ideas for some shirts and I may also screen print onto my homemade paper.

Android apps
- Oh yeah, did I mention I have a G1 now? It is really awesome. I've started doing the Hello World tutorials for programming Android apps and I have some ideas for apps that I think I'd like to build if I learn enough. One would be turning the wikipedia photo hunt idea into an android app. Another would be an offline topographic maps application that can be used while hiking.

- I've acquired a starter and brewed several kombucha batches. I'm still learning about tea and haven't made the perfect kombucha yet, but I like doing it.

- I have been lusting over these for months now, and now that I have the hackerspace, I have an excuse to buy one. And I think I've found some people there that will team up with me to build it.

Just Getting Warmed Up

I've surprised myself again with the number of things I've done between March and now. The biggest thing is that the Cincinnati Hackerspace is real. This was (and is) a big project, but the awesome thing is that it will help me do all my other projects. I've found a community of like-minded people and we now have a really nice facility in which to work. I couldn't be more excited.