Unsocial

Time has managed to slip away from me again this past month—what felt like shooting off writing an entry a weekend into the future has quickly turned into an entire calendar month. I’d started drafting an update shortly after my last one regarding changing my internet/writing habits and spending more time updating here and virtually none inside of status update composers on social media platforms. But then the news broke on the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, which changed the focus of that draft, but at the same time put me off from internet activity as a whole.

It annoys me that I find myself hard-pressed to compose a post worth publishing, but I don’t have any semblance of writer’s block when it comes to social media missives. Having a deeper conceptual grasp of technology at large than most people do, I also know it’s a long-term better practice to blog than to offset all your life’s content to a social media. If they ever go away a la MySpace, all that gets lost too. Even though the big companies now allow you to export data, you’re not getting an offline copy of the website to neatly sift through, and that’s not even accounting for having to gather enough local disk space to hold a copy of the data you download. Blogs are a universal format that are easily transferred/archived/browsed, and from a purist perspective on personal publishing, a long form entry with no engagement is ultimately worth far more than a blurb smattered in likes. In my time mostly-offline this past month, it’s been nice having the extra mental bandwidth not wasted online. I’ve also been spending that time auditing my accounts and devices. I started with steps to minimize the amount of data I give to Facebook, and have slowly working at doing that same kind of maintenance with all of my other internet accounts.

While I would love to just pull the cord, delete my Facebook account altogether and go back to living in the world without like I once used to, it’s just regrettably not practical. There’s a handful of services that use Facebook as their only login method, and turning my back on the company completely would also mean quitting all of the other products under their umbrella. Yet, the bosses at work have cemented themselves in WhatsApp as their primary business messaging tool, and Instagram is (resentfully) a good discovery & platform, the rare times I actually use it. Online presence and digital marketing have become such an indelible part of modern life, and something I can’t quit altogether as my future plans involve freelance website creation & marketing. There’s no point in trying to get rid of everything if I can’t do it to completion.

That leaves me with my only option to be smarter about things, as I should have been doing all along.I fancy myself as someone security-minded since I use a password manager, but in light of this massive security breach, I can admit without any hesitation that I’ve actively exposed myself to; I’ve clicked through my fair share of novelty quizzes and such knowing something like this was a potential risk. Luckily, as of this morning I was able to verify I wasn’t affected by the Cambridge Analytica data harvest, but that doesn’t rule out any potential others. I’ve also deleted the Facebook app from my iPhone, replacing it with a Safari bookmark pinned to the homescreen and pushed to the end of the last app screen.

WordPress gained the ability to assign post types way back in 2011, so there’s no reason to stray away from here even if it’s to hit “publish” on a frivolous status update. I can selectively syndicate to a bunch of services at once—Facebook included—if I want, but moving forward, everything gets concentrated here.

Wordpress Post Format Options

Fitness Tech Tools: The Essentials

Being a “pro-sumer” tech enthusiast, I’ve downloaded and experimented with more apps — in this case, fitness apps specifically — than I care to admit. Since they’ve managed to become important support tools in my weight loss journey, I feel they’re due their own entries. Though my primary goal with this is to log the progress I make, I do carry this secret hope that maybe all this writing may end up motivating others, and capturing how it is that I achieve my progress feels like it’d help in that regard.

In this initial leg of the journey, the personal profile hasn’t changed much: I started a sedentary male in his mid-late 20’s with a long standing smoking habit who resumed his regular running to lose weight and actually started to enjoy it. Without a gym membership at my disposal, my exercise options are fairly limited. At home, the only equipment I have is a swiss ball, a yoga strap, and a pair of 30lb dumbbells, leaving cardio and body weight exercises as my only other available choices. I only do light/moderate weight training, so as to avoid muscle soreness that can get in the way of my running. While there are plenty of services/apps I have bookmarked for advanced workout & weight training, right now my focus is tied primarily to the core tools that I use to quantify myself and my running.

Withings

Back when I was in the market for a bathroom scale, Withings had just released their WS–30 scale, a $99 entry in response to the market price for wifi connected scales pushing below the $100 price point. Being a “smart” device, the scale has a companion app for smartphone connectivity. For the first few months of ownership, the scale & app carried out their intended functions but left a lot to be desired in regard to utility and presentation, so much to the point that I briefly regretted not opting for the competition, Fitbit’s Aria scale. Though the reviews at the time rated them as mostly comparable, the Fitbit scale tended to win out due to it’s aesthetic and integration with their wearable devices. I opted for the Withings ecosystem because it had wider integration with other fitness services/webapps then.

Withings Dashboard Comparison

In the time since I first purchased the scale, my initial investment has more than paid off. Withings redesigned the web dashboard from a very minimal line-graph interface to its present HealthMate platform, optimizing readability of information at a glance and introducing gamification elements. A recent update to the iOS app brought pedometer functionality, which MyFitnessPal also put into their native smartphone app. The timing of this addition was very fortunate, since I recently uninstalled the popular Moves pedometer app after it got Facebook and immediately suffered a privacy policy fiasco. Thanks to the developed level of communication & interaction between the two services, step tracking can be designated to one app and logged metrics will be pushed to both. Step count presence on the webapp and smarthphone dashboards helps centralize the data, giving a more assistive and holistic tracking experience than Moves ever provided.

MyFitnessPal

Withings does a great job facilitating tracking overall progress, but doesn’t provide much by way of nutrition or activity logging (beyond step counting). However, thanks to the aforementioned integration with various third-party services, it’s easy and painless to extend the scale’s functionality. MyFitnessPal is arguably home the web’s most robust food database. In addition to logging food for calorie intake tracking, it also allows users to log exercise to keep a running estimate of calories burned. Since MyFitnessPal has it’s own set of API’s to plug into other services, a lot of the exercise logging ends up being automated — calories burned are calculated off the running step count (from either the Withings app or the MyFitnessPal app), as are activities logged in other support apps.

MyFitnessPal Dashboard

Admittedly, MyFitnessPal is a service that I’ve been underutilizing. The action of food logging and the inherent accountability mechanism makes is easier to resist cravings and stick to dietary guidelines, but the prospect of yet another thing to have to check in with my phone on has dissuaded my use. That, and the frustration in trying to log food that’s cooked at home or off a menu that doesn’t list nutritional data. Yet I realize that the MyFitnessPal service only really works if food intake is regularly logged, and that even rough approximations from similar entries in its database is better than nothing at all. On top of actively logging calories consumed/burned, I’d also like to start tapping into the community on the site. From what I read, it’s really worth checking out.

RunKeeper

MyFitnessPal’s activity tracking features are sufficient for calorie tracking purposes, but the data collected and presented on the user dashboard doesn’t do much in regard to deeper analysis and training. With my efforts being so strongly concentrated on cardiovascular activity via distance running, run tracking apps are a sub-category of fitness apps that I’ve done plenty of experimenting with. The two I’ve ended up liking the most are Strava and RunKeeper. Though I prefer Strava’s design and data presentation, RunKeeper is still attractive in its own right and has the popularity & wide third-party integration that influenced my wifi scale purchasing decision when I was weighing Withings against Fitbit back in 2012.

RunKeeper Dashboard

As with most technology, the service/platform has improved exponentially since I first signed up with it. Free accounts come with a pretty extensive feature set, though putting down the cash for their premium Elite account level opens up some useful extra options such as additional training plans and granular data analysis. As one of the first and leading run tracking apps, RunKeeper supports data capture using fitness sensor accessories, specifically the Wahoo heart rate monitor strap and stride sensor that I own. This assures me that I’m getting as accurate of an estimate as technology can allow at present, and have it automatically shared to my Withings and MyFitnessPal accounts.

Wrap Up

These three apps/services work very well together and cover the basic areas of body tracking: weight, food, and exercise.

With the slight exception of the Withings scale which requires the $99 purchase of the scale, these services can also be used for free. As such, they’re what I’d recommend to anyone trying to lose weight or improve their physical awareness and performance. Once my efforts start to move past running and into other forms of training that can make use of other apps and services, I’ll likely write about them in a similar fashion. To anyone simply looking for advice on how to get started, a wifi connected scale, MyFitnessPal, and RunKeeper are a winning combination.