1
How to create iOS apps for your favorite websites
2
How to export notes from iBooks
3
A different weather forecast: Air quality
4
Alain de Botton’s take on news
5
A Quantified Self Primer
6
Why we are so tired: Social jet lag
7
A history of checkins: Facebook checkin stats
8
SuperEgo helps you understand what you do when you are sitting at your computer
9
QS visualizations: Book stats
10
200 days of stats: My QS experience

How to create iOS apps for your favorite websites

The everyday saying ‘there’s an app for that’ is not always true. There are apps for which you have to wait, or pay – and you could create them yourself. Because, yes! ‘there’s an app for that’ if you want to create your own iOS apps from your favorite websites.

There are several reasons you may want to do so. To begin with, there are websites which become important in your life, and they are not simply another browser tab. And then there are advantages to having apps for your websites – among them many that are related to iOS integration: Spotlight search, notification center updates, Growl notifications, and even ‘unread’ badges on your app icons.

And what’s more, you don’t have to be a programmer in order to make an app from your favorite website! Just follow the steps below, and within a couple of minutes you will have your app docked and running! In the example below, I’m creating a Feedly.com app with Fluid.

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How to export notes from iBooks

I don’t know about you, but I use a lot of notes in the process of reading. I remember that in previous versions of iBooks it was kind of difficult to export your notes. I remember, in fact, that I found myself opening the *.plist file which contained the notes and then tweaking the text around until I managed to have some sort of plain-text view of my book notes. The good news is that you don’t have to do anything particularly scary in order to get your hands on your notes. Not only the individual notes, which can be shared on a variety of platforms (including Facebook), but also the bulk of your notes – like a reading abstract can be saved for later use.

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The images below are taken directly from my iPad. iBooks is currently at version 3.2, released in November 2013. Eversince this version, the notes, highlights, and bookmarks are permanently up to date using iCloud. Additionally, support for exporting notes has been introduced, and works smoothly.

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A different weather forecast: Air quality

Ever since I moved to Cracow, I doubt there’s been a day in which at least some smog-related news did not reach me. I know smog is a condition that usually affects large urban areas, and also the ones which are highly industrialized, but I have not considered smog as a problem for most of my life. And research shows that everyone is affected: children, adults who are active outdoors, senior citizens, people with already acquired respiratory diseases. Heart and lung conditions such as emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma, shortness of breath, and proneness to illnesses are among the most common affections, in a long list that goes down even to respiratory death.

Adam_Mickiewicz_statue_with_mask

An activist puts a mask on poet Adam Mickiewicz’s statue in central Cracow in order to raise awareness about pollution.

I like Cracow – I wouldn’t have moved here if I hadn’t; but I think that the constant talk about smog is not yet yielding positive results. Of course, with smog being a trending topic, and Cracow topping the national roster of most polluted cities, a lot more people discuss about smog, and devise ways in which they could be sheltered in more than one way from the effects of smog. Living in central Cracow seems, because of the concentration of smog, like the worst idea, defying the attractions that the center has to offer, as well as the beautiful architecture of the central maze of streets.

However, the measures that are taken against smog seem for the time being arcane, and in a way inefficient. I haven’t seen re-routed traffic, or traffic bans, and the norms of heating – or not so much the norms, but the way they are observed are at times mind-blowing. Add to that the fact that according to the wish of late Polish president Lech Kaczyński, Cracow is supposed  – and has just submitted these days its bid in order to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will mean the construction of numerous sports facilities with doubtful use after the games. The quality of air goes further down the agenda of city hall concerns with such a great thing ahead.

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Alain de Botton’s take on news

Every day a new game-changer, and every day a catastrophe with an impact like nothing we’ve seen before. Humongous market figures we are left with, unable to entirely comprehend and scale. Oh, and throw in some arcane titles, the kind of which you need to read the article in order to know what it was all about, and then surprise! it leaves you unengaged.

alain_de_botton_news_a_users_manual_2014While reading Alain de Botton‘s newest, “News: An User’s Manual” (Pantheon Books, NY, 2014), I found myself nodding in consent more than once. A little background will help – Alain de Botton is if anything, unhappy with the ways news are. I am, too. I’ve been trying to select my news sources for ages. I can’t say I’ve found the right path, but I still don’t feel inclined to watch TV – and I haven’t for 15 years now, and when browsing news on the internet, I try to skim through titles in such a way, that I don’t feel oppressed by news. When buying newspapers, I know I buy them for 10% of the content, and because of an old-school belief I should support printed newspapers. I am not entirely sure I should, in fact. I’m happier with this since I’ve lived abroad, because I can always disguise my fascination with news in the fact that I’m learning the local language and culture by reading some of the news.

News, according to Alain de Botton, are a universe worth considering for various reasons. To begin with, there’s the fact that reading news nowadays is a “ubiquitous and familiar habit”, which, all things considered, IS a prime creator of political and social reality. There are reasons to disregard this statement, and exceptional cases where we would readily disagree, but we can’t be representative of 100% of the worldwide population, or anywhere even close to that. So one thing is sure – there are people who live under the constant mirage of news as conveyor of a natural, and unaccented voice of reality. But are we really there?

News since the Enlightennment and up to Google News

With the advent of press printing and distribution, news permeated everyday life in a way that few people actually saw risks in, or thought wise to defend themselves from. Alain de Botton calls up the example of Gustave Flaubert, who witnessed during his lifespan a society still under the spell of cyclical time, with little interest in daily stuff – and another society, which felt empowered, and to a certain extent engaged by news, regardless of their walk of life. The thing is, and that’s where the contemporary face value of news comes up – or of ‘the soft slush of data’ as de Botton finds particularly alluring to call them; in the fact that the main reason of having the news in the first place, that is of being an informed citizen, local and global, at the same time, points to the fact that we are still not ready to ‘get it’ anyway. This is because however turmoiled the political arena of African states may be, we cannot relate to any of it from the heart of Europe, and because the hard time economy is having right now is still hard to grasp: the figures at which the current dealings of many developed countries are, including their debt, would still mean that we need as individuals some 31k years in which to spend USD1 a second to get there.

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A Quantified Self Primer

New to the world of quantified self or QS-curious? In its briefest description, QS means tracking in order to understand yourself better. Here’s a helpful walkhrough for you.

Understand why you need to quantify yourself

Not all people have the need of quantifying themselves. But if you ask yourself this question, you may be on to something – you may, for instance realize that today it has become increasingly easier to track almost everything about yourself and your activities, and you may also know that compiling the data you get about your activities, as well as analyzing it, may bring you to better terms with yourself, increase your performance, and even track and mend health issues.

Collect quantifiable data

Data collection is surprisingly not that easy, and it calls for determination. Of course, you have websites, services, apps, and even devices with which you can track yourself. Where everything fails, the pen & paper approach is not that bad.

You can collect data about everything you do: sleep, work, read, spend, walk, eat, listen, travel, share. We all know in very general terms if we’ve met our sleeping target, if the delivered workload was good and timely, and in that we are all apt to become self-trackers. There’s just one more step that needs to be taken – collecting data, consistently, and with robust criteria in mind. You may track the number of hours you sleep over a certain time, but you cannot go back and track the deep vs. light sleep ratio if you haven’t gathered data about it. Hard data, therefore, is something you should set as a collection goal from the very beginning.

However, no data collection actually happens without your intervention – so you need to build the habit of collecting data. There are a few such instances where you need to convince yourself that getting a steady flow of information relative to one or another of your activities has some virtue about it. Also – do not let yourself get carried away by first inputs – such data is organic, and needs some time to mature, and yield indeed lucrative results.

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Why we are so tired: Social jet lag

One of the best reads I’ve had of late is an inspiring book from Till Roenneberg. It is titled “Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired” (Harvard University Press • Cambridge, Massachusetts • London, England • 2012), and it deals with one very important topic: sleep! And how we actually use sleep in order to navigate in our daily lives, as well as some very interesting aspects of our sleep activities, both in terms of quality, and quantity thereof.

There are a lot of provocative ideas in Till Roenneberg’s study, and many of them can be – even if the author does not make this assumption at any given point – coupled very interestingly with activities such as self-tracking.

I also think that this book will benefit greatly those who try to find the underlying issues behind their sleep problems, from sleep deprivation to the occasional, alarming oversleep, and also those who face the dire situation of diverging schedules – of sleep included – in their personal relationships.

Here’s an excerpt from Mr. Roenneberg’s very clever introduction:

Till_ Roenneberg_internal_time_chronotypes_social_jet_lag_and_why_you're_so_tired

Introduction | This book is about clocks. Not about those you can buy, wear, or hang on a wall, but about the clock that ticks away in your body. The body clock is not a new invention in the long line of evolution. You share your ability to internally keep track of the time of day with practically every other creature on earth, from other mammals right down to those organisms that exist only as a single cell. This means that an internal biological clock must be extremely important for life on this planet. Living without or against the biological clock would mean premature death by predation or starvation for most animals in their natural environment. (…) Some of us travel fast across many time zones, and others (…) have to work in shifts. If you have ever suffered from jet lag, you know how strongly we are affected when our body clock is out of synch with social time. But even if you don’t work in shifts and never travel across time zones by airplane, you can still suffer from a chronic type of jet lag, which we call social jet lag.

 

 

Chronotypes – early risers and night owls 

One of the first points Till Roenneberg makes based on his scientific research is that people are chronotypes. The same way we arguably are what we eat, we are, to a large extent what, how much, and how good we sleep. Having said that, chronotypes (i.e., the timing pattern of an individual’s lifestyle) are more often than not nowadays at odds with our natural needs, and create in each and every one of us certain tendencies, even philosophical stances about sleep. It is not accidental that most languages abound in proverbs and labels for types of sleepers. Although the pseudo-linguistic research of Mr. Roenneberg is fascinating, it is not his point to actually say that we are tributary to language alone. He points out very elegantly, and eloquently, too, the ways in which our lifestyle changes, in various parts of the world, in rural and urban areas alike, respond, or fail to respond to basic needs. He tackles with our habits to sleep at night rather during daytime, and our two-faced opprobrium of late sleepers.

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A history of checkins: Facebook checkin stats

When I set out to look into my check-in data from Facebook, I was surprised to notice how little actually I have access to, and how limited the uses of the respective information currently are. I was all the more shocked as the number of checkins I could export in a very orthodox way were limited to less than half of my checkins; and several other tools (such as an otherwise very helpful Give Me My Data) were producing information I could barely call useful. Facebook’s own data export option is of little, and very literal help (with checkins mingled with any other status or share activity, and with a varying vocab, e.g. ‘was at X’ and ‘updated (his) status – at X’, that I was thinking that it will become impossible to retrieve my data and look at it. Eventually, what worked was to simply go back in time, and actually look at my timeline’s yearly descriptions. It’s weird, but that’s actually the only way I could take a look at all my check-ins.
At least this way, I was presented with a full account of my checkins, with names of places, days, and times I checked in. There are visible shortcomings (such as the check-in category, which is missing, and other parameters such as exact location will not be there, at all), but at least the rough data IS there, and it can be further worked with. Facebook Places is not heaven, but since I have been storing check-in information there for the last four years, I could have not gotten it from anywhere else. It is high time I look for other services such as Forsquare, which allow for more data transparency, but I will not be able, after all, to import my check-in history from Facebook. So for the time being – that’s what I have to work with.
What did I take a look at? I got back my check-in information from three years – 2011 thru 2013 since they were the only complete years I checked in with Facebook to different places. I needed to sort out some data myself, either manually (for instance the country info), and some other just to tweak and find better work-arounds (such as evening out the time zone, which was not mine, but a referential one). I eventually had to find a way to group checked-in places around very broad categories. I opted – for personal reasons to separate check-ins into only a few, very general and generous categories, such as:  entertainment (mainly, bars and restaurants);  cultural (attractions, museums, cinemas, theaters, concerts);  shopping;  airports;  cities (new cities I checked in from);  lifestyle (medical facilities, sports facilities, dentists, tattoo parlors, etc.).
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SuperEgo helps you understand what you do when you are sitting at your computer

Having recently found and tried to my satisfaction SuperEgo, I wanted to talk to the man behind this promising product. So here is my interview with the very considerate, and extremely friendly Mr. Giacomo Tufano. Enjoy!

Mac user? SuperEgo is super-duper!

SuperEgo appIt silently records as per your request time spent on apps and files – even when bundled together in custom ‘lists’ (i.e. projects). Do you really want to know the harsh truth of how much time you actually spend working productively? If this question has been bothering you, well, jump on the SuperEgo bandwagon, and create your first lists. Or, you could import sample lists that are already available on the developer’s website. New functionalities will be added in the future to the app.

 Developer’s website |AppStore link | Latest version: Nov-07, 2013 | Requirements: OS X 10.7 or later

 

O.L.: Could you please briefly explain, in your own words, what Super Ego does?

G.T.: SuperEgo helps you understand what you do when you are sitting at your computer. It tracks the application you’re using and the related documents and reports back time spent on any document.

O.L.: Why did you choose the name Super Ego for your app?

G.T.: I like the analogy between Freud’s superego, controlling you from inside, and a software that controls you (also from the inside). In Freud’s words: “A special psychical agency which performs the task of seeing that narcissistic satisfaction from the ego ideal is ensured … what we call our ‘conscience’.”

O.L.: How do you compare Super Ego against other tracking apps?

G.T.: I only used Time Sink (from Many Tricks) but I found it confusing (my fault probably, by itself it is a fine piece of software) and RescueTime. I used to like RescueTime (I was also a premier customer) but something they wrote tricked me in thinking about the privacy failure of sending all your data to a third party…

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QS visualizations: Book stats

One of the places I input a lot of data is my Goodreads account. I was a late adopter of Goodreads, having joined but in August 2009 – and frankly, I don’t find any reason why I shouldn’t have actually gone for Goodreads earlier, because it really is a great experience for anyone with a visible interest in reading.

That being said, I ‘train’ myself not to leave too much out of my readings fall out of Goodreads, although I realize it may be the case I should be more constant in my habits of adding Goodreads items. In what follows, I present you some interesting statistics about my reading life.

Books of the 20th and 21st centuries

My readings are for their most part contemporary. I had the benefit of an education that gave me a well-rounded experience of classical literatures; and therefore I feel less inclined to have a classic read, rather than a contemporary one. The visualization below shows my reads per decade between 1899 and 2014 – and I’m talking about the years books from my shelves were originally published.What I notice about this, first and foremost, is that ‘contemporary’ reads (that is published between 1980 and present day) cover up more than half of my 20th and 21st centuries’ reads. That happens for various reasons: the ready availability of current books, my interests, as well as the fact that probably we live in a time and age where a lot more books are published than before. So it is very likely from my point of view, that despite my wish to read things that are contemporary, it is actually also true that a lot more books have been published during my reading life span.

I also notice a progression, namely, if I take the reads between 1981-1990, and 1991-2000, which are completed decades, against my reads from 2011-2020. It is very likely, keeping the pace and current scope, that by the end of 2020 I will have read more books from this current decade than any other decade in history.

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200 days of stats: My QS experience

I noticed that my collection of hard data hit a floor of 200 days. I therefore thought it’s a good idea to visualize my data, and draw some conclusions. They are public, because I think they can help people who take the same approach, and because there are not enough ways to say that there is a strict connection between what we do, and what we feel. My general stats are going on their steady count here:  QS Lab (link).

Movement

I set myself a very much lower target than people usually do – at around 5km/5500 steps a day. I did not want to go for the whole deal of 10km a day, because that would have upset my work goals, and also because I don’t yet believe 100% in the need of walking 10km a day. Different people will need different things, and as long as I don’t stubbornly prefer the coach to the tarmac, I’m all good. And what’s more, I completed 162% of my goal!

Goal completion

% Overall goal

There are things I like, and things I don’t like about my performance. Whereas my 5 daily km may sound lame, I very rarely walked/run less than that, and also some days were filtered away from my stats because I did not consider their output to be accurate (days in which for instance I ‘felt like’ walking less than 2km, and my band recorded 5km instead. There are also days in which I walked literally from 8am to 11pm, and those days bring an awful lot of km into my stats – but I dislike those days, because they may point to many things, but definitely not to balance. I am rather OK with the days in which I know for a fact I was able to walk, sleep, work, and mind my own rather than the days when I’m plain athletic. On the other hand, since my Jawbone UP band dropped dead in mid-November last year, and it was replaced in some 20 days, I think that my performance is even more than I count it per average, but I prefer to count the days I didn’t actually measure, too.

What I did not count in: the days until the Jawbone UP replacement, some 20 outings to the swimming pool. I will think of a way to count them, too.

Here are my daily (non-average) visualizations:

What did I learn? Well, to begin with, that accurate data really makes you feel better about yourself. I used to think that I move insignificantly, and that I spend most of my time in cooking-, working-, or reading-mode. I think that the inactive alert of the band I use really comes in handy, because I remember numerous occasions in which I avoided becoming completely numb, and usually I reduced the time of one sitting from as much as 4 numbing hours to less than 30 mins. I also learned that when you walk some 25km a day, it’s too much (especially for the back – or at least in my case) – but, like any activity that becomes steady in your daily profile, walking has its merits. And I also learned that it indeed is better to set a lower standard for yourself – with my daily average of 8.14km daily I am definitely lower than those mythical 10km, but a lot ahead of my expected 5. And being able to pursue – and satisfy one such target for more than 200 days in a row – well, that’s something!

What did I use?  J Jawbone UP band and  iOS app, IFTTT,  Google Drive spreadsheet.

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