Friday, October 28, 2016

Keeping Sleeping Under Wraps

One of the first things I started tracking on my quest for the quantified Jay is my sleep - and without even realizing it. See, I got this sweet iHome alarm clock years ago, which also acted as a dock for my iPod. So naturally I grabbed the iHome Sleep App and used that to play music to fall asleep by, as well as manage alarms. In between, it kept track of how many hours passed between me saying I was going to bed and the alarm going off. There wasn't a whole heck of a lot to it beyond a chart, but it was still pretty neat. Especially fun to see the huge dip when I worked a night shift.

More recently though, I picked up Sleep as Android and holy crap, guys. This app has so much going for it. This is one of the first things I talk up to anyone when we start getting geeky. Here's a smattering of features that I'm using it for:
  • Sleep phase tracking, by accelerometer or sonar
  • Smart wake-up to catch you in light sleep with the alarm
  • Falling asleep to music or nature sounds, fades out gradually over time
  • Automatically recording snoring, sleep talk or other bumps in the night
  • Tracks sleep deficit over time, and gives you a bedtime for best results
  • Automatically log your sleep into Google Calendar and Google Fit
Just freaking awesome, right? Adding sleep to my calendar is one of my favorites, because it lets me quickly visualize the time in concert with CloudCal:

Yup that's a midnight to noon shift on the 8th
The phase tracking and charts that Sleep as Android generates are just a huge tickle to my geek brain. The app will even give you some insights on how to get better sleep based on how you've rated previous nights.

Geeking the heck out

Alongside a pedometer or step tracking already built into your phone, I have to suggest sleep tracking as one of your first grabs in building a quantified self. Everyone sleeps, and everyone can benefit from sleeping better.

As always there's more I could get out of this app. I don't really have complaints, but just some wishlist items that would make it even cooler.
  • Sleep as Android integrates with smart lights like Philips Hue to simulate sunlight prior to waking you up. That's so freaking cool. I only register that because I want Hue so much more now but can't justify the price.
  • There's also integration with wearables for much deeper tracking of heart rate and movement. I of course am the man without a smartwatch.
  • There's a jankified method in the app to use music from Google Play as an alarm, but it isn't working at the moment, to my chagrin. Spotify integration is there, though! Why am I the only person who uses anything but Spotify..

Friday, October 21, 2016

Keeping my Sanity with Housework

I've got two small kids and a job with unpredictable shifts bordering on full time. That is to say, my ability to get things done around the house is hamstrung by a very real crunch on time, energy and patience. Before starting a family, I loved having a clean house and it was very easy to accomplish. Nowadays I feel like a modern Sisyphus picking up after everyone on a daily basis.

So! How can I help this, using modern tools and tactics? Here's a few things I've picked up that might help others.

First, and this is very simple, I have to let things slide. There's some small tasks I can do on the fly. Dishes, laundry, garbage. Just because without it done we'd have nothing to eat off, nothing to wear, or nowhere to throw our trash. I'll pick up and toss toys back into the kids' room at the end of the day, but that only takes a minute and it's nowhere the deep clean I like to have done.

IF I continue down the road of "I'll just do this, and then this, and then this" I can lose a whole day to unexpected cleaning. Instead, I keep a running to-do list of tasks that I want to get done, but I'm not about to do them yet. Right now that's managed in CloudTasks (from the same people behind the very cool CloudCal).

CloudCal in Action


The benefit of buffering up tasks like this? Well, it's a psychological thing for me. Intent is almost as good as accomplishment, so I rest easy knowing this is going to get done soon. The actual cleaning happens during predetermined times. What times? Well if I were in charge of that I would procrastinate like heck. So instead I set up a goal in my Google Calendar. One hour, twice a week, when I'm otherwise free. I get notified when it's time to start, and then have at it - knocking out as many of the tasks as I can. When the hour's done, so am I.

At Google's mercy

Another common approach to housework is 20/10. That is, work for twenty minutes, then take a ten minute break. Repeat as many times as you like until you're done. This is the idea behind Unfuck Your Habitat which I also love.

But hey, I mentioned I have kids right? So a whole day of cleaning is a thing of the past. But on the other hand, I can recruit them to help. This is where Familytech's suite of apps comes in handy. That's ChoreMonster for little kids, Landra for big kids, and Mothershp for parents. I give my kids tasks, they earn points, and cash them in for rewards. They freaking love it.

Gamifying Chores!
And that's how I'm managing my workload around the house! Hopefully some of these apps and tools can help you as well.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Keeping it all Together with @gyroscope_app

Look! I'm quantifying my self!

What does that mean? Well, I'm gathering data about several aspects of my life with the intention of better understanding my self, making better decisions, and becoming happier and healthier in the long run. That's some hippy dippy bullshit, isn't it? Well, it's also basically science. Using numbers, visualizing data and drawing connections that could prove to be helpful.

There are a ton of places where this data comes in. How well did you sleep last night? What did you eat today? How active were you? Were you productive with your screen time? How do you feel, as a result?

Almost everyone has a pedometer at the very least, tracking their activity throughout the day. It's built right into your phone. For the rest of these data points, there's tons of apps and tools out there. Unfortunately it's still kind of a wild west, and there's all different ecosystems for where this data gets stored and viewed. Your whole suite of tracking will likely hinge on what kind of devices you have on hand. Apple has Healthkit as a central repository, and Android has Google Fit.

I'm in the Android camp myself, so that means most of my tracking apps feed into Google Fit, and I get a decent dashboard out of it:


It's fine, for what it is. But it could be so much cooler. Nothing demonstrates that better than Gyroscope, a meta-tracking dashboard that pulls from even more sources. The way this all displays is so freaking beautiful, it's hard to capture in screenshots. It's all fluid and animated and has to be seen in action to be believed.






You can share your profile with friends, create groups, and even set your dashboard as your New Tab page in Chrome so you can always keep mindful of your progress. They give you weekly reports with timelines for each day and sweet heatmaps for your activity.

Here's some of the additional data Gyroscope can surface for you:
  • Where you've been (powered by Moves and Foursquare)
  • Your productivity with screen time (as deemed by Rescuetime)
  • Pictures you've posted on social accounts
  • Music you've been listening to (from Spotify)



They also have visualizations for your sleep and biometrics from wearable devices. They're even planning to show info about your DNA if you've set up with 23andMe. These features are behind a premium subscription, but believe you me the second the Android version of their app comes out I'll be all over it. For now I'm getting pretty good stuff out of the integrations already in play.


Of course not everything is perfect for everyone. Each time I highlight something like this, I have to include my personal bugaboos:
  • Music only integrates with Spotify. I use a mix of Google Play and iTunes, and log my listening with Last.fm, so that's a missed connection
  • The premium feature for sleep tracking seems like it only works for Apple users. As they work on an Android version of their app, I'm hoping they can pull from Google Fit or even better, take my graphs straight from Sleep as Android.
  • Place names from Moves aren't quite showing up properly, but I've reached out to support to see what can be done about that. I highly suspect the fault is more on Moves' end.
All in all, the whole thing is really awesome and highly recommended. If you use any tracking at all, pipe it into this site. You won't be disappointed.