Lengthless

I’ve posted about writing in the past, why I write, whether I should do more, and recently I’ve been thinking about taking this casual hobby a bit further.

At the same time I’ve been focusing more on the things I post here which seems to have equated to longer posts. Not a bad thing but it was never quite my aim and, whilst it’s nice to get some praise, I find myself a little boxed in by the informal rules I seem to have set myself.

Last night I sat down and again tried to finish a few posts I have in draft at the moment. I managed to push one over the finish line but the rest sit there looking at me, challenging me, mocking me.

In my frustration I wondered if there were any other ways I could kick-start my writing or improve my focus. Google replied, as always, with several thousand responses, one of which suggested not getting hooked up on the length of the thing you are writing, let it be as long or short as it needs.

Not a bad idea.

Enter the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

I had a vague recollection of reading something similar recently, that short form could be just as good as long, and so the idea stuck as one to try. I decided that tomorrow (today) I would just write a blog post and see what happened. Post and be damned and all that.

With a solution in place I headed for my RSS feeds for a distraction and up pops a post by Jason Snell – Bigger than a Tweet:

a lot of interesting, albeit small, stuff would just fall to the floor and be swept away with the other detritus at the end of the day: Amusing, interesting tidbits that would never be seen because they didn’t cross some imaginary threshold.

Jason also links to a post by Andy Baio which is the piece I recently read. In it Andy talks about mid-length blogging, and links to a post by Gina Trapani on a similar topic, I had also read her post. Baader-Meinhof-tastic.

I’m not sure whether what I do here is mid-length, short-form, or something completely different. I just know that it’s fun. I think I’d gotten away from that in my desire to be a ‘better’ writer which something I can, and should, pursue in other avenues.

So here it is, the blog post I promised myself I’d write. I didn’t have much of an idea of how it would turn out, I don’t care how long it is, nor if anyone reads it. It is neither a long read, mid-length, or short-form piece of writing.

It’s just a blog post.

No school like the old school. Right?

 

Future Quantification of Self

quantified self

I’m an early adopter geek. I back Kickstarter projects, I buy the first wave of gadgets that hit the market, I sign up to new services when they are announced. Unfortunately this can turn out to be a problem.

I’m all for simplicity, it’s why using iTunes to store my music files actually works for me (as a system, iTunes deficiencies aside) because I just search for my what I what to listen to, it’s the same reason why Spotify appeals so much, why Evernote is my central digital information hub, and why Picasa is my chosen photo library.

It’s also why I use Apple products as much as I can, the ecosystem has limitations but they save me more hassle than they cause because they are designed to work together, and when they do it’s simple and easy.

My early adoption of products pulls me away from my desires of simplicity. A whole new slew of gadgets enter my life that, as yet, are definitely not designed to work together, nor do they seem to be headed that way. I’m trying to learn my lessons and be more cautious, but sometimes things come full circle. I’m hoping that Apple might be turning around one part of my ‘gadget life’ that has been causing me some headaches.

Health.

The last few years has seen the rise of the ‘quantified self’, a rapidly expanding universe of gadgets and services that help us understand more about ourselves by surfacing data that us geeks can analyse and use to drive better behaviours. That’s the theory at least. You might have heard about it.

My first venture into the world of health gadgets was the Nike+ system. A small plastic dongle strapped to my shoe which talked to my phone and tracked my runs. At the time I was training for a 10K and as soon as I got home and had cooled down I was on the computer, checking the data.

That behaviour made me realise that I was using the data to push myself to run further/faster and generally kept me focused on my progress. Little did I know that it was only the beginning.

My second venture into the world of the“quantified self” was when I purchased a set of Withings scales a few years ago. It was one first offering and I’ll admit it was mostly the geek factor that appealed. This was the start of a wave of devices and wearables that have since been launched.

A year or so after buying the Withings scales, I bought a Fitbit. Partly as a way to gauge my day to day activity levels, partly to give it a shot and see if it did actually make a difference, I think I still had vague notions of how my, now discarded, Nike+ system had worked for me and wondered if Fitbit could do the same.

At this point I will say this; if Withings had announced their plans to launch a similar device to the Fitbit pedometer I would’ve held off and bought that. But they hadn’t, so I didn’t. And, with that said, I’ll skip the period since I bought my Fitbit I’ve already blogged about most of it, as I want to look ahead.

Right now, like many many others, I have a mixture of devices and services, none of which really talk to each other. I use Runkeeper for tracking runs, Fitocracy for tracking gym visits, Fitbit for daily steps, Withings for my weight and blood pressure. I’ve dabbled with other services but those are the ones that stuck for me but there are many many others.

Like other people I know, I have my own hacked together system as, ultimately it’s my data, about me. It’s annoyance that there isn’t much in the way of sharing and cross-compatibility but I understand why, especially for the Fitbit and Withings of the world who were early into the game and are, still, trying to grab the majority of the marketplace.

Alas none of the services I’ve looked at have solved this problem.

What I really need is something that works on a single device that I always have with me, that can accumulate all the data into one place. Apple Health might just be the solution I want.

Right now, as it’s still new, I’ve no idea if Apple Health will be the answer to my problem but I do know this; the gadget and service makers have had their chance to work together to create something bigger than their own selves, they could’ve created a ‘health’ ecosystem but they didn’t. I think they’ve now missed their chance.

Recent noises from Fitbit stating that they won’t be sharing data with Apple Health seems a little like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum… ‘but I don’t wanna’, and whilst Fitbit does talk to a lot of services, as do Withings, there is no central place where I can get all of my data without buying into a specific ecosystem.

Withings, on the other hand, are already integrating to Apple Health and are issuing statements saying that they will continue to work with Apple to improve the service.

It’ll be interesting seeing this space develop, especially with the behemoth that is Apple now in play, and for once I think I’ll be cautious and let the solution develop. Perhaps that means adopting the ‘most popular’ service over the best one, but if that means a simpler life for me, then I’m happy to make that compromise.

Update: Reading this article – Apple Yanks Fitbit – And Looks Like A Bully For Doing So – made me rethink my position but, on reflection, I’ll stand by what I’ve said. Apple will get HealthKit ‘right’, most of their new services don’t start all that well as they take small steps rather than big ones on stuff like this (think iCloud, over 3 years old (under the iCloud branding) and only now is it hitting its stride).

 

Escape

I’m a bit of a daydreamer, I’ve always been prone to bouts of vivid imagination; childhood memories of numerous flights of fancy running through my head whilst I sat at my desk ignoring my homework. Watching the world through a rain soaked window I’d drift off time and time again.

I wasn’t an only child, although at times it felt like I was, so solitude was something I grew up with and I’d find myself seeking it out more often than not, content to be lost in my own little world. Perhaps this is why, to this day, I still like long train journeys so I can indulge myself in this wonderful distraction, this quiet hobby. The steady movement of a train, the ever changing scenery providing a backdrop to whatever I desire. Stories and ideas flow through my head. Thoughts of others mingle with desires and on I dream as the day floats by.

For the longest time I used to view daydreaming as a pointless exercise, a whimsical waste of time that I tried to rid myself of but the admonishments were futile and, as I get older, I realise that I crave those moments of idle calm and the contemplation of nothing in particular, sneaking an illicit slice of nonsense into my day. I find myself seeking them out, a short walk around the building if I’m at work, grabbing an empty meeting room for a few moments, or just zoning out as I sit and stare at the sky.

In the past I used to walk much more than I do now. I can remember many days when I’d leave college and rather than heading for the nearest train station I’d start walking, skipping one station after another as I meandered along, lost in my head. I would lose track of time, and at times location, a habit I’ll admit also happens when I’m driving… that sudden realisation that you can’t quite remember where your feet have taken you for the last 10 minutes was always an odd one.

The occasional sleepless mornings would also see me take to the streets; A summer morning at 5am, neighbours still snoring as I quietly let myself out the back door and wandered off. An hour later, still bleary and tired I’d realise where I was and wonder what route I’d taken to get there. With no-one around I’d ponder if I’d walked out of time altogether, if the people had all left the town without telling me, was I alone? And then a car would appear and reality was restored.

I know I’m not alone in this, that others find comfort within themselves at times, and usually a wandering path and no sense of time or destination is all that’s needed. It’s not a call for melancholy, not always at least – occasionally I’ll consider myself in quiet contemplation, introspection if you will – but most times it’s nothing of note, scenarios re-imagined, memories jumbled together to create new visions of an unrealistic future. Lottery wins, heroic acts, escaping fate.

In my past I’ve wondered just how much of this behaviour, this pandering to solitude, I’ve manufactured? Was it a way to seem distant and moody, was I trying to be the complex young man crying out for attention? Perhaps at times I did veer down that path, yet looking back I can see that sometimes it was a form of coping mechanism, a way to deal with life when things weren’t going so great. And tell me, where is better to go if you aren’t happy where you are, anywhere of course! And so, in my head, I did just that.

These days I find myself carefully considering how I spend my time, making sure I’m allowing myself a few small moments on my own. Do I need this quiet escape as a balance for the more frantic times in my life, or do I use balance as an excuse to seek out solitude? I’m still not fully sure and I’ve no real inclination to try and figure it out. I am who I am. Faulty but not broken, content and happy.

It’s odd writing about being alone when I am just that at this very moment. At home, on my own, writing.

I’d love to portray a romantic vision; a description of the ornate antique desk at which I’m sitting, the way the soft leather in my chair creaks as I gently move back and forth, gathering my thoughts and contemplating the next line of prose. I’d describe the dark deepness of the red wine in the glass at my side, the way the dimmed lamps soften the evening, and how the gentle crackle of the LP spinning on the deck on the other side of the room quietly sets the mood.

Alas, the desk is modern, the music is electronic and seeping from the speakers in my laptop. There is no wine, no leather chair. And whilst the wind is rippling the trees outside my window I am not ensconced in a cosy cottage at the end of a country lane, miles from anywhere, I am in a modern flat in a modern city.

But it’s nice to dream.

 

Emotional eating

Short version: I hacked a way to only get the weight gain/loss number notified to me from my Withings scale. See here for the end solution, or read on for the background.

I’m overweight. It’s a fact that hasn’t really changed in the last 10 years or so, my weight has fluctuated but not significantly. Recently I’ve taken a step back and tried to look at the things that influence me, what I eat, how/when I exercise and do my best to give myself a proper chance of success. I realised the one thing that triggered my emotional eating was seeing my full weight whenever I weighed in.

I could either stop weighing myself and use other methods to define ‘success’… or I could hack together a system that only should me the difference between my last weight and my new weight (gain or loss). Simple!

Emotional eating

One part of that was realising the emotional impact my weight has on me, specifically seeing the numbers when I weigh-in. There is an argument to be made for not weighing yourself and relying on how your clothes feel/inch loss measurements instead but I know that, at some point, I’d still want to know what weight I am. Given that I turn to food for comfort, well the emotional impact is a big factor in my eating habits for any given day.

I have a set of Withings Wi-Fi scales. You stand on them, and the weight is logged on my Withings account (available online or via an app). Each weigh-in logs my weight (108.8kgs today), fat mass (30.8) and BMI (31.4), so when the information is displayed on the app/website they can also show the gain/loss.

Realising that my actual weight – 108.8kg – is the thing that is bothering me and which is triggering negative emotional thoughts (I’ve been below 100, so I know I can manage that, why can’t I get back to that, why? WHY IS LIFE SO UNFAIR!!! etc etc) I decided to try and do something about that part of my ‘system’.

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