It was a lovely afternoon for a stroll around the city today. I managed for the most part to avoid other humans by trundling down beautiful, quiet side streets; occasionally popping back out into the throng of tourists and boating-locals to cross a canal. Amsterdam looks at her best when the sun is shining. 

Home Improvements

We decided that having comfortable guests was over-rated, and that we should turn our seldom-used second bedroom into a study/art-room/workplace; freeing up space in our lounge for a proper dining area and in turn some extra space for reading. 

I'm still getting used to having my very own home and figuring out how best to use it. The sunny weather over the past couple of weeks has really made the garden into an extra room, and we've been spending a lot of time out there, to the extent that that my mental map of the house has switched 180 degrees - I used to think in relation to the street, I now see it in relation to the garden.


Activity tracking

I've been using a Jawbone UP24 band now for a couple of months, and despite my initial suspicion that the novelty would wear off pretty quickly - I'm still using it & even enjoying it. 

I am not an active person, if you've seen me, you'll know what I mean - I am a big unit, I enjoy meat and beer and cigarettes, I have no great desire to lose weight, and I don't really care that my morning coffee contains enough energy to power my iPhone for longer than its' own battery ever does. I am not therefore the ptototypical activity tracker, but I am mildly obsessed with understanding how I spend my time, and being able to gather data which helps in that regard. The idea of being an input for stuff is super cool. 

The UP band provides me with that data with minial effort on my part. I press a button to tell it I'm going to bed, it vibrates to tell me to get up - that's as much as I need to do to get real value from it - the silent alarm alone has made getting out of bed easier and more reliable. However,  the real magic of it for me is the ability to integrate third-party applications with the iOS app.

Here is my day so far: 

All sorts of interesting things are going on here. I am tracking my sleep using the band, and setting and exceeding a sleep goal (currently 5h30m). I am also tracking my movement; my steps are registered again from the band, but other non-walking activity measured using Strava for my rides this morning and this afternoon, and a light dose of manual entry after I got out of the swimming pool this morning. 

IFTTT Recipe: 4sq coffeeshop → UP 'meal'. connects foursquare to up-by-jawbone

The green part on the right is tracking my food/drink intake, triggered when I opted-in to a 'drink the right amount of water' challenge this morning, and using an IFTTT foursquare recipe when I checked in at starbucks on my way into the office. I tend not to track my food intake because it requires manual entry and as I mentioned before, I am not trying to lose weight - but, if it were easier (image recognition, something like that), I'd probably do it anyway.

The ability to integrate third-party app data with my UP timeline is really powerful, and as you'll have seen from my last post, I am really into (IFTTT, but more broadly) the idea of being able to tie together data from seperate applications to do something useful with. 

In my 70 days of using my UP24 band so far, I've realised that I sit on my arse for long periods at work, that I can reduce my amount of sleep and still be functioning property (I've gone from an average of 7hrs to sleep when I started to 6hrs now), that caffeine intake doesn't seem to have a bearing on the quantity or quality of my sleep & that on a good morning I can reach the office in twelve minutes flat. I'm determined to get this down to ten for nothing other than liking the idea of the challenge. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what other data points I can extract about myself and to see if I can reduce my sleep to my 5 hour target without going totally insane or falling asleep during meetings. If I can gain 14 hours of awake time per week from using this thing, then the €100 I paid for it might end up being the best €100 I ever spent. I'd also love to see other apps actively integrating with UP, there is a lot more to come here, I think.  

Quick thoughts on Google Glass

Yours truly, a glasshole

Yours truly, a glasshole

We have a few Google Glass units in the office for the purposes of exploring what the technology might be able to do for us in the future, and for playing around with during our hackathons, etc. 

Last weekend I took a pair home with me and wore them around the city, to try and get a sense for the power of the technology, but more interestingly to me - the implications for the wearer and the watched of a computer strapped to ones face. 

The first thing I should say is that the technological merit of the device is unquestionable; that I have an internet-connected device floating in front of my eyes, with excellent voice recognition, a decent phone camera, a good touchpad and a promising list of third-party applications is remarkable. 

The really interesting thing to me about wearing Glass was that (leaving aside the novelty value and the questions from strangers about what it was) I found the experience of wearing it to be quite isolating. The device acts as a physical barrier between  the wearer and the real world. Even when the display is off (as it is most of the time), I felt like I was observing the world around me and not partaking in it. It was a strange sensation, not dissimilar to the feeling you get after being home ill for a few days and stepping out into the world for the first time and your eyes not quite working properly and everything seeming a bit unreal and remote. 

The flip-side of that isolation is a dose of intrigue and suspicion from people. Being a white, western-european, heterosexual, CIS-gender, able-bodied man living in a white, western-european society, I have the rare benefit of not being the object of peoples suspicion, intrigue or objectification like the rest of society is. Wearing Glass changed that. I was stared at, talked about & questioned. For this experience of being under the constant judgement of strangers, I think wearing Glass is  worthwhile exercise in seeing 1% of what it is like to not be one or more of the things I listed above. 

The most uncomfortable aspect of Glass was that I never felt truly in control of what it was doing, and for something which insists on posting photos to Google+ and elsewhere, that's quite scary. I was accidentally taking photographs by virtue of having what I can only assume is a slow blink (Glass allows you to wink to take a photograph). 4 of the 6 photographs below were taken and subsequently uploaded to my Google+ profile quite to my surprise. 

In all, I found Glass to be a curious device for which their is considerable, but very short-lived novelty value. The interface is difficult to use and hard to learn. The sensitivity of the trackpad is frustrating, the battery life too short, the web browser is useless, and the extent to which is relies on Google services frustrating for me as a mostly non-Google user. It's also so far away from being anything like consumer-friendly that I struggle to even see how it goes from this limited developer release to something real people can and want to use. 

IFTTT Blog - Introducing the Slack Channel

Two of the cleverest web services around, ifttt & slack are now able to talk to each other and in turn a whole load of other things with the introduction of a Slack channel for IFTTT. I'm sure there are lots of really clever ways to integrate the two and soon enough there'll be some awesome recipes. For now, I've set up an IFTTT recipe to post App Store reviews of our iOS applications into a dedicated Slack channel, much quicker and easier than checking manually, and lets us stay close to our users as we try and make their lives easier.