Networked Fitness and the Quantified Self

By Brenda Bethman

Recently, Owen Thomas at ReadWriteWeb embarked on a four-month experiment in networked fitness and the quantified self. Using a treadmill desk, fitness gadgets and apps, he’s tracking his data to see if he can meet his fitness goals and blogging about the results (see here for the posts to date). Coincidentally, I also started a new fitness program on the same date (August 1) as Thomas’ first post appeared — and being a good geek girl, I am also using an array of gadgets and apps to track my progress (and of course also blogging about it — if you have any interest, you can follow my posts here).

Thomas points out that one of the frustrating aspects related to the #quantifiedself movement is the lack of a monopoly — with so many apps, gadgets, websites, etc. — none of which track the same items — it can be overwhelming to try to figure out which tools are the best for you. In this post, I thought I’d share my setup in the hopes that it’s useful. It’s a tad complicated and probably not for everyone, but individual apps and gadgets can also be useful.IMG_1275

Here’s the list of what I use and what’s connected to what:

  • Fitbit One: The Fitbit is the gadget/app/website I use the most — it’s on me 24/7 unless I’m in water. The Fitbit tracks steps, calories burned, distance, active minutes, floors, and your sleep. It will also track non step-based activity (you have to add it manually or sync from another service) and food (although many Fitbit users track their food elsewhere as their database is lacking in areas). One of the things I like about it is that it gives you a good idea of just how active (or sedentary as the case may be) you are — combine that the game aspect of earning badges and suddenly I am talking an extra spin around the block to meet my steps goal for the day. I’ve found it motivates me to keep me active throughout the day instead of just while at the gym. I use the website and the iPhone app for syncing with the One — and have the Fitbit set up to sync with both MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper accounts (although the latter is only one way syncing with the Fitbit data flowing to Runkeeper but not vice versa).
  • MyFitnessPal: MFP is a calorie-tracking website with companion apps. It has a huge number of users and just raised a ton of funding. There’s also a very active user community that shares fitness (and, alas, dieting) tips in forums. I use MFP to track what I eat (roughly anyway — I’m not too obsessive about it) and any non step-based exercise (like strength training, elliptical, etc.). That data is then fit to the Fitbit and the Fitbit data also flows back to MFP. Using them together, I’m able to gain a pretty good picture of what went in and out on a given day. MFP’s food database is HUGE (higher ed folks, they even have Sodexho stuff in there), and tracks nutrients as well as calories, which to me is the more important part.
  • RunKeeper: After a couple of years of using the Nike running app, I recently switched to RunKeeper because it also tracks walking (in theory it tracks strength training also if you sync with one of their partner apps, but I have yet to find a strength training app that I like, so I just enter that data into MFP). RunKeeper will map your walk and track your pace, distance, calories burned, etc. It works for both runners and walkers, and can track other exercises as well. The free version does some minimal reporting and the paid version will get you more detailed reports. I use RunKeeper to keep track of walking distances. While the Fitbit theoretically does that, I prefer RunKeeper.
  • GymPact: GymPact is a motivational app that pays you money for meeting your weekly workout goals and penalizes you by charging you money if you fail to meet them. The nice thing about GymPact is that you don’t have to be in a gym for it to count — you can use their “GymPact Anywhere” (currently iPhone only) or sync with RunKeeper to have outdoor or at home workouts count towards your Pact (this is handy if you have a weekend like the one we just had — it was far too beautiful to exercise inside). I decided to give it a go since I’m committed to training sessions and a class for the foreseeable future. Since I know I’ll be at the gym, I may as well make money from it.
  • EarndIt: Speaking of rewards, EarndIt is another motivational site (no apps yet) that allows you to earn rewards that can be redeemed for goods or to benefit charities. So that run you just took can help bring clean water to Haiti or health to Guatemala. Again, if you’re working out anyway, why not help someone else at the same time? I’ve set up my Fitbit to sync to EarndIt and my Foursquare gym checkins also earn me points.

Reading that, I think “damn, that’s a complicated system!” and it is true that it took me some time to get things set up to work in a way that I like — and that, because of the fragmentation Thomas writes about, I am forced to rely on a system of syncing several apps in order to get a full picture. So far, however, it’s working for me and I definitely recommend any of these apps/gadgets/sites if you’re looking for ways to track your fitness efforts.

What other recommendations for apps/websites/gadgets do you have? Which (if any) do you use?

Networked Fitness and the Quantified Self

Highlight an App: Songza

by Valerie Heruska

<heads-up friends> Download the free music App called "Songza". It's like @Pandora, but instead of picking an artist, you choose the "mood" of music you want to hear (which the options change based on the time of day and weekday you open the App). Super s

Songza is better than Pandora.

Songza and Pandora are two music players that stream music right through your computer or mobile device. They’re both pretty similar: both play music based on a specific artist or genre and both have a limited number of skips (6/hour). Pandora has a free version and a paid version. As many of us know, the free version of pandora has commercials, whereas the paid version does not. Songza is free and there are no commercials.

Songza is what I use from doing work in the office (Divas sing-a-long) or running (Pop remixes). They have funny stations such as “music for saving the world” or , one of my personal favorites, “Jersey Diner” where there is lot of Bruce and Bon Jovi (hooray). Members can put together playlists or go in search of their favorite songs. It’s pretty much the hot new music app. For free. Songza also introduced me to new music, as they have a lot of different indie stations.

I know Pandora has a cult-like following, but you should check out Songza. It’s really user friendly and their most recent update made the layout look really nice and easy to use. Just remember, when you’re in the car on a really long drive and you need some music without commercial interruption, think of the wonders the Justin Timberlake station makes.

Highlight an App: Songza

App Highlight: Key Ring

By Valerie Heruska

Recently, I joined Boston Sports Club. When I joined, and like other gyms that came before it, they gave me a pesky plastic tag to put on my keys. This tag has my barcode membership on it and will allow me access to my gym.

I hate plastic key tags. With a passion.

The membership coordinator who helped me out that day told me about an App for my smartphone called: key ring. He said that all I need to do is download it for free and them scan the barcode of my card. Simple.

I immediately went home and downloaded this app. Let me tell you: this app is amazing. Not only am I amble to put my gym key tag on there, but all my loyalty cards: ranging from grocery stores to clothing stores and everything in between.

The app is simple. All you do is scan the barcode and then tap add new. You search the list of merchants and then select the corresponding store. Bonus: you get coupons and fliers updated weekly. For example, CVS will add the most up-to-date flier and store deals on there. There are also coupons, and the ability to make lists.

Key Ring is a great app for anyone who has a ton of those pesky loyalty cards that are just taking up space in your wallet or on your keys. A disclaimer is that some scanners can only read the barcode if your screen brightness is all the way up. Other than that, the app is simple to use and a life changer.

 

App Highlight: Key Ring

Linkage Love: Pocket

by Lauren Creamer

If you’re anything like me (and I’m sure some of you are), you spend a good portion of your day checking up on social media sites or trolling around the internet looking for some new interesting piece of information. I tend to check my Twitter and Facebook as I ride the bus to my practicum (a short 20 minute trip), wait for a meeting to begin, or just to kill a few spare minutes before I head to class. And in that time – when I seem to have no time – I always find articles or stories that seem intriguing. But I never actually have enough time to read them. However, I was recently introduced to Pocket, my new favorite site/app/gift from God and great solution to my time-crunch problem.

Pocket

Pocket is like some sort of amazing cross between Evernote, Pulse, and Pinterest. Like Evernote, you can save PDFs and articles as you find them and access them across multiple mediums. Like Pulse, it categorizes those articles in a neat, organized fashion. And, like Pinterest, it does so at the click of a button on your search bar. Pocket will also save photos and videos, so you can save three different types of media at your finger tips (videos are especially great to save and watch later – I always find myself doing this with TED Talks).

While I know I have the option, it seems so silly to just keep book-marking pages and going back to them on my laptop periodically. Pocket lets you save articles from your smart phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop – and allows you to access them anywhere, as they are all connected. So now, instead of trying to speed read an article, I can save it with a click and browse them as please.

 

Linkage Love: Pocket

Highlight an App: 30/30 for Productivty

By Brenda Bethman

As I think I’ve previously mentioned, I’m both a bit of an app addict and a stickler for being organized. The combination of those two things means that I have tried just about every to-do list app that exists for iOS. Today I want to write about one of my favorites, 30/30. Made for iOS devices (sorry Android and Windows peeps!) by Binary Hammer, 30/30 is both a task manager that combines a to-do list with a timer. Using it is simple: just enter your tasks, set an amount of time, color code and set icon if you like, and you are ready to start:

Screenshot of entering a task
Screenshot of entering a task

Tasks can be grouped in lists or you can just use one list for everything. Personally, I like lists as I can then look back and see when I did what:

Screenshot of task lists
Screenshot of task lists

Once tasks are entered, you can then use the app as a timer. Simply press the timer button and it starts counting down the time for the task. You also have options to increase or decrease the time, mark complete, move to the end of the list or delete. Tasks that are not active can be rearranged — and hidden in settings is a feature that adds the time to the task. For example, 30/30 tells me right now that I will finish writing this blog post at 1:49 p.m. In settings, you can also sync with other devices via iCloud (and I should note that this is vastly improved with the latest update — previously syncing tended to erase data. Not good). Here is what my list looked like earlier today:

Screenshot of active task list
Screenshot of active task list

You’ll note that I don’t put meetings, breaks, etc. on my list (I just pause the app when I take a break), but one could. I also don’t use it every day — I tend to use it on the days when I have a lot to do and really want to focus as I find the timers to be incredibly helpful in that respect.

30/30 is a free app, although you can make in-app purchases of extra icons if you wish. They are not necessary, though and there are no ads, which is nice. The only thing I wish it could do is sync with Clear, my other favorite to-do app. Do you use 30/30 or other task managers? Share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments!

Highlight an App: 30/30 for Productivty

Highlight an App: PhotoApps

By Jess Faulk

While the number of apps I use on a regular basis decreases dramatically based on the length of time I own my smartphone, I still have some favorites that I manage to find reasons to use.  Most often these apps are a way to capture the moment, or make a photograph unique.  While I most often use them for fun, I have found uses for many of them professionally as well.

Here are three of my favorites:

Microsoft PhotoSynth (Windows Phone or iOS)

provincetown

This photo-stitching app is great for capturing a moment in time or showing off a unique space.  I’ve used it to photograph vistas, our wedding venue, and even the international pillow fight day.  While posting it via twitter or facebook certainly works, the best way to view the outcome of this app is actually in the app itself, or on the web after uploading it to the photosynth site (check out this image of Inauguration 2013 by EricJay).  It feels like you were actually there.  I received quite a few retweets posting my photosynth of the NEACUHO conference final banquet on twitter – it captures so well the scale of an big event.

Pocketbooth (iOS, Android, Nokia, Windows Phone)

Alison & JessG

This has become the #1 app for capturing a moment for my fiancé and I.  During one of our very first vacations together (to the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk) we toiled for over 45 minutes with one broken photobooth after another, and waiting for the repair guy before I remembered I had a photo app on my phone.  Now we capture the moment whenever we are visiting somewhere new.  Our best use so far: pass the app around the table at a wedding and end up with a collection of our friends’ funny poses!  This would be an awesome way to capture the personality  your staff or members of a student organization. Revive the retro style of photo fun!

Popsicolor (iOS)

Just another fun filter to use on your photos.  This is certainly very different from your average instagram filters, and would make some fabulous wall art.  It would also make for a fun and colorful staff bulletin board!

Kiddo

Highlight an App: PhotoApps

Life in the Clouds

By Valerie Heruska

Cumulus, Stratus, Cirrus, Nimbus. Clouds.

When it comes to technology terms, cloud computing is one of those things that I wish was around since the beginning of time because it is just such a useful tool that has helped me in both professional work and personal fun.

Evernote and Dropbox have been my two biggest loves.

Evernote

For those of you who don’t know and have always been curious about Evernote, here’s a quick snapshot of what it is:

Evernote is a suite of software and services designed for notetaking and archiving. A “note” can be a piece of formatted text, a full webpage or webpage excerpt, a photograph, a voice memo, or a handwritten “ink” note. Notes can also have file attachments. Notes can be sorted into folders, then tagged, annotated, edited, given comments, searched and exported as part of a notebook. Evernote supports a number of operating system platforms (including OS XiOSChrome OSAndroidMicrosoft WindowsWindows Phone, and WebOS) and also offers online synchronisation and backup services. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evernote)

Evernote is simple to use and I know many people who use it for research papers or just about anything they need. Evernote can be used to hold recipes, ideas, notes, research, etc. And there’s a cute elephant involved.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a file hosting service operated by Dropbox, Inc., that offers cloud storagefile synchronization, and client software. Dropbox allows users to create a special folder on each of their computers, which Dropbox then synchronises so that it appears to be the same folder (with the same contents) regardless of which computer is used to view it. Files placed in this folder also are accessible through a website and mobile phone applications. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dropbox_(service)

I love Dropbox because it’s simple and user-friendly. I like to use Dropbox with my Senior RA, because it’s so easy to share files (RA Evaluations) so we can both do them and it will automatically update any changes (in the similar way to Google Docs Drive). I used to “share” my music and pictures with friends. The downside is that there is only so much storage on their server, unless you connect with a billion people, then you should be fine.

Apple iCloud

Like a delightful nimbus cloud, the Apple iCloud is great for anyone who is an Apple hoarder (me). I only have to download my music on one device and bam, it’s on all of them. Pictures can be transferred via the cloud, as well as all my apps. I love you Apple iCloud!

 

So there ya have it… life in the clouds is pretty spectacular and hopefully it will make life a little easier for you!

Life in the Clouds