Why I don’t like wearables? (that are attached to your body)

Men wearing wearable wristband (apple watch)

Prepare yourself for a cynical opinion 🙂

I find wearables (mostly wristbands and watches) too annoying and mostly useless. There is a stereotype I’ll follow in this article which, when someone says wearables, I think (and mostly criticize) wristbands. Let me put it out there that there are many versions of wearables that you can wear and carry. I’m happy and ok with most wearables that don’t need to be physically attached to the body and don’t need to be charged every day or every other day. In general, good tech is the ones that you don’t feel any different or do any different than how you live right now. Let’s get the stereotype wristband and likes on the table.

Activities? Meh!

I know I lot of people use to track their activities, like walking, running but I’m sure the majority of the people are not professionals or taking the activity tracking seriously. In my case, everybody I know wearing apple watches are not using them for that. Kind a novelty to have your walking tracked. You either walk or don’t. It’s like a wearable will make me go to swimming more often or not, of course, it will not.

Notifications – God no!

Wearables are like demons in my head. Well, my phone is actually already like that. Wearables are mostly configured to notify you by default when you open them in the box. I know they are changeable, which I tried to make a silent apple watch. But then why am I wearing it, what’s the purpose of it now? I found only 2 passive notifications helped me when I was trying out different wearables:

  • Inactivity alert, where if you sit and don’t move for an hour, you get a nudge that will remind you to move your a** from the chair – which is great and impactful for sure. Instead, I use screen timeout tools that do the same thing (mostly).
  • Good old timer (wrist version of the kitchen timer). This is used for anything but in most cases my pomodoros (or focus blocks, way to GTD). I set the timer with Siri (in apple watch case) and get to work until I get the nudge. This was the only “real” use case I had – but for having a timer at $350+ cost is just dumb.

Health – Yes!

For seniors, wearables that do consistent hearth monitoring throughout the day is probably the most impactful way to use wearables in my opinion.

Sleep? Hell yes but no 😞!

What I loved on body-attached-wearables from the beginning was sleep tracking. But unfortunately “in theory”. Nobody got this right. Jawbone Up was my first and beloved sleep tracker worked “the best” but had a lot of room to improve. Then Jawbone stopped improving this feature (maybe nothing left to improve). Even though the hardware was fragile and gets broken after few months, I was happy to keep buying same hardware many times (I swear I had 10+ of same and different versions of Jawbone Up – I actually still have unopened box ones). But then Jawbone discontinues to sell them (well, I have 3 unopened ones, so I thought I was good for couple years), then they shut down the servers which made the mobile app to not work at all (because it’s a cloud/API based app) which basically made all Jawbone wearables garbage.

Then every single wearable copied but copied the shittiest version of sleep tracking including Apple. Even if Apple was nailed it, it’s just moronic that you have to charge your apple watch pretty much every day – and any real opportunity you have is when you sleep which you are (in practice) forced to not wear it. Please, someone, get this right…

If you really have to…

put something on your wrist to be cool or maybe really tracking your activities, please don’t make it rain! It’s just a waste. Now there is a sea of wearables does the exactly same stuff every other one does as low as $20 on Amazon. I recently tried Xiaomi’s 4th gen wearable which is pretty good – does my timer and alarm functions well (that’s enough for me but if you are interested, it does all the other things too), and I only need to charge almost once a month (well, I only wear it when I sleep).

Work in a distraction free mode on your computer

I always tune my work style and seek for ways to increase my focus and productivity. From my previous posts (screen-less saturdays), you can see I am also sensitive to the screen time the distractions comes with the screens. There are endless ways to waste time as well as get distracted on screens as things pop-up. Namely notifications. God, I started to hate notifications. So much noise!

I’ve been using an app called focus.app for last few years here and ther. I’ve have been incorporating it to me pomodoro-like sessions. Focus is a paid app but cheap that helps tremendously to keep my focus together while I set a session for myself to be distraction-free and get stuff done.

The app is very minimal, sits on your menubar and you simply toggle in focus and unfocus modes. When in focus mode, app blocks predefined and extendable list of websites and apps. If these pages are open, they show an inspirational quote. If a blocked app is open when getting into focus mode, focus.app closes the app.

I set up my pomodoro length sessions with blocking all communication apps. Also turning my mac’s do not disturb mode on and with a custom script. With this scripts, I set my slack status to do not disturb so my team mates can see that I’m in focus mode and will not get response from me right away.

The last two things I explained is unfortunately done with a bash script. This script runs from focus app when getting in and out of focus modes. I also use some additional scripts that re-opens all apps and restore my “connected” work session after a focus session is completed.

I highly suggest focus to anyone can get easily distracted with an email they received, or a thing they wanted to check in twitter.

https://heyfocus.com/


Best GTD method for geeks – Todo.txt

For most of the GTD (Get(ting) Things Done) mastery student, there is a constant research of better “todo” app or tool. I’ve been in this for a very long time and used many apps. Desktop, mobile, command line, cloud, API… You name it, I’ve probably used it for some time.

At the end, I found myself staying very plainly managing my todos without needing a lot of features. In fact, I needed not to worry about the features of the apps I used. This especially become an issue as I’m OCD (obsessed about “order” and tidy) and a little bit ADD (regularly distracted). When you have a todo app that looks ugly and you need to use their features in order to clean things up, it eats up your time aside of actually focusing on your todos.

Methods and apps

There are also a million apps (I wrote 4 of them for myself) does a combination of “todo” management and a specific type of method. Like pomodoro, or kanban or whatever is out there. This gets more dangerous because the method is actually completely independent from what the todo is, where it lives and how it lives. It can be written on a paper list. For instance, if you do pomodoro, the best way to do it actually use a kitchen timer. Literally, use that old school timer to perform your pomodoros. Otherwise, I almost always find it time consuming to think that things will be more connected and automated when you have a todo app that does the pomodoro. So you can click to a todo and a button to do pomodoro of that item. It sounds good but it’s opposite in practice.

Plain formats works best

For long time, I used cloud based (to sync between my devices) tools. I used evernote, then quip, then trello at some point, then few more. But I found it, the simplest when I can simply copy paste stuff to move around. Because you’ll be consistently re-prioritizing your todo list, editing, adding, removing, marking things done. It’s just how the process of GTD works. That’s why you need a method that is the most convenient and requires less adaptation and portability between platforms and environment. There are few fancy stuff you may want to have like:

  • A programmable interface (API/CLI) – for instance to have your top 3 todos for the day appears on a screen somewhere. Or query the last completed tasks.
  • Color coding or highlighting at least to distinct what’s done and what’s not done. Ideally, when you’re done with stuff, it should disappear from your screen but in some cases, you want to see them at least until the end of your day to be able to review.

Todo.txt

After many years trying different things, I came across with the todo.txt format. It’s a very low level and with few simple rules to give you the freedom to use whatever tool you want, wherever you want with having additional capabilities with community implementations on CLI, cloud, mobile etc…

https://github.com/todotxt/todo.txt

todo.txt format is so simple that is explained in one annotation below:

To be honest, I don’t use almost any of these things except the “done” marker. So for me, it’s as simple as todos are either not done or done. That’s it. What I want to do manually is always re-ordered them and have separators (which I simply use 3-5 dash characters “——” as an extra line).

I love this format is because I use it in a few different tools on my platforms. Wasn’t super happy with the desktop solutions, so I forked and enhanced a simple code editor written on electron/nodejs. Added a few capabilities and adjusted the color schema to my liking and open sourced published it (You can find, download and contribute to it here: https://github.com/mfyz/todox).

On mobile, it’s not that easy to have a custom code editor without getting my hands dirty with a lot of native coding which I felt lazy. Also, another point that I had to figure out was the sync between my devices. I live on apple ecosystem so I simply used iCloud drive of the text editor app I use on my iOS devices (Textastic).

Texastic supports textmate and sublime bundles (including custom syntax support and themes). I installed a sublime text implementation of todo.txt format and had color coding which all I needed on my mobile devices. Most of the time my activity on my mobile devices are simply adding new stuff to the list or mark them done.

Taking long (scrolling content) screenshots on Mac

Sometimes we need to take a screenshot of a long content mostly from scrolling applications. Most common example of this is full-length web page screenshot. There are chrome extensions we can use for taking full-length website screenshot. But there is not an easy way to take screenshot from other apps like native desktop apps or email content from mail clients.

XNip Screen Capture Tool

We can use Xnip Screen Capture tool that has all of the common screen capture software features and a feature We can use for taking long content screenshots called “Scrolling screenshot”

It’s is a freeware with upgrade ($2/yr subscription) but works perfectly for this purpose without the upgrade (it leaves watermark that can be cropped easily if needed).

http://xnipapp.com/

http://xnipapp.com/scrolling-capture/

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/xnip/id1221250572?mt=12

Track who goes to space with IFTTT

I have a fun way to track people goes to space and I want to share that with you on this post 🙂

I love using “If This Then That” (IFTTT) and have been using it for years. It’s a brilliant service. For first-timers, I can summarize it as “Internet Robot”. What it does is, connects two internet services (or smart devices) in scenario basis consists of two parts: “event → action”. So it takes an “action” when an “event” happens.

Some generic samples of how to use IFTTT;

  • When I post a photo to facebook → Save to dropbox
  • When there is a new entry in RSS → Send me an email
  • When weather is rainy → Tweet “take umbrella”

Almost all popular services are available in IFTTT.Each service has their own set of events and actions.

Some fund IFTTT Recipes

Tracking Space Activities

I use IFTTT for many different ways, mostly work related scenarios but I have some fun use cases. One of the most fun thing I do with IFTTT is to use NASA’s events about space activity (when there is a new launch with astronauts going into space), I send a message to my slack channel named “space”. This way I see astronauts went to space and often I check their wikipedia page, their achievements etc…

Slack Channel with Space Activities

How we use Quip and how to leverage collaborative writing tool in team communication

I want to talk about a tool we use and how to leverage it for better collaboration on pretty much anything involves multiple people. But first, I encourage to read my thoughts on writing and reading at //mfyz.com/written-communication-king if you haven’t done so.

I started using Quip pretty early on when they came out and loved it from start. Love the simplicity and giving real-time collaboration features and mostly mobile-friendliness of it. Compared to Google Docs, it feels much more lightweight.

For personal use cases, I used to use Evernote for note taking purposes and keep my notes on cloud and keep them synced between my devices and computer. Quickly after starting using Quip, I moved all my notes from Evernote and iCloud Notes to Quip. I document my personal information, my plans, new ideas, my book notes, to-do lists and mfyz.com stuff from todos, bug tracking to articles to write. I even write these blog posts on Quip first, then finalize before I move them to my blog. After publishing, I move them to a folder like “Published” or “Archive”.

At our team, we use quip daily basis and I use quip maybe as much as I use my email client or maybe even web browser. I often edit 10-15 docs in quip a day as mix of personal and business docs.

We use Quip at our team for following reasons primarily;

  • Transparency – we believe in creating a culture of transparency, where our team has full visibility into all aspects of our work.
  • Quip allows us to see (in real-time) what people are working on.
  • Quip’s history allows us to see the conversations and evolution of our thinking, not just the finished product.

Here are few tips that we collected as the team and try to implement on our Quip settings.

  • Turn notifications off apart from @mentions to reduce the noise – most of us don’t need to know everything that is happening in quip in real-time.
  • Fine tune your notifications for documents and folders that you are an active contributor or reviewer of.

We use Quip with it’s “team” version which we pay very minimal cost monthly but there is almost zero reason you need to pay as the team. Their team functionality is free and it’s not very different than sharing a folder to a group of contacts.

Other than my team, I have smaller teams for my other initiatives and a family folder with my wife that are not designed as “team” they are just well organized single folders that are shared with team members.

Create Baby Dashboard with cheap Tablet

When becoming parent, first thing you get into is the feeding and changing cycle of the baby(ies). It’s tiring but optimizable cycle since the whole thing is pretty standard in the beginning.

 

And keeping track of feeding and pooping activities becomes very important especially in early days. You need to feel comfortable that your baby is growing. Best way to know how they are doing well is to track how much they eat around the clock and how many times they pee and poop. It’s a weird thing to track when you think about it but it’s actually very natural and best way to think the only sensors you have about your baby in early days.

You’ll most likely to have multiple people looking after your babies and it’s inevitable to do shifts on feeding and changing duty and it gets really easy to lose track of how much they are consistently eating or pooping. Most parents take notes on paper, or keep track of it in some ways. The tech parents 🙂 will obviously use some form of digital tracking and there are many many apps does this. I’m looking this in an experimental mind and thinking, how this becomes a seamless process.

Last year, when I was trying to hack amazon “dash” buttons, I found this engineer dad, hacked dash buttons for exactly this purpose. Basically, he had 2 buttons for his baby that when the baby poops, tapping to one when the baby pees, he taps to the other one which is pinged to an IFTTT hook to log the timestamp of the activity in a google spreadsheet. Connecting the dots between these services literally takes 5 minutes if you guys are familiar with them.

My challenge was having 2 babies and my early “monitoring” task that I was assigned from the pediatrician was to track of how much babies ate in every 3hr cycle. So I had to log how many milliliters babies ate. I also needed to see last 3-4 times to make sure I balance out if one baby ate less last time, so she gets more attention this time. Having 2 babies at home definitely, requires 3 people’s attention. We also share the day to take some of the feeding hours to be done by one person. I usually take nights and when it’s my turn, I don’t have anybody up to ask what they ate last time. Same thing for my wife and my mother in law when they wake up and I go to bed and it’s time to feed the babies.

I created a solution to stick one of the old tablets to the wall and create a mini-app to log and see the last 4-5 feed logs. So everytime someone feeds the babies, they simply click 2-3 times to log exact amount for each baby.

I wanted to write a react js app to practice react a native little bit more and also have native animations but I found myself losing in “perfect” routing and modulation of the UI which I dropped and wrote a web app in half an hour. I pretty much created a front-end only app that triggers webhooks and implements some proxy APIs to public services to pull some more helpful information for our home life (like clock, weather, brief forecast, a background slideshow of black/white photos from Flickr). Here is how the tablet screens look like. Of course, I’m using a full-screen web view wrapper app to display these in a more kiosk-like way.

Then I let bitbucket to host it without worrying about deployment, hosting etc…

Who has a spare tablet?

Well, we’re trashing more tech gadgets than ever. You may have an old android tablet or iPad or you may not. There are 2 super cheap ways to do this.

Amazon kindle fire tablets are getting bought-from-china level of low costs and Amazon keeps having sales to boost to uses of kindle fire tablets. Having Kindle fire tablet 7 is often as low as $35 to own one. To be honest, it can’t get cheaper than this.

Another way is to look on eBay to get a used one for a low cost but I can’t imagine if it will be cheaper than getting brand new kindle fire tablet. Maybe the last option can be looking at cheap android tablets that go cheaper (on aliexpress).

Tablet on the wall, Ough?

Sticking a tablet on the wall is not my way of doing this. So I hacked an IKEA frame to embed tablet screen with a black canvas cardboard and hide the tablet.

Now it is much more appealing… 🙂

iPhone 5 and iPad Mini’s tend to fall easier and more often

I dropped my iPad mini this morning, it somehow flipped in my hands, fell and kissed the floor from the back side. I did similar with my MacBook pro 5-6 years ago, just a week after I bought it. That’s the only device I dropped until now.

I am usually very careful with my mobile devices but except this last incident, I never dropped my stuff. I’ve been using my iPhone 5 and I dropped it 3 times in the first week. I got my iPad mini last month and it also is lighter and thinner than they were.

I commute using the subway on a daily basis and I usually read on my iPad, I wasn’t carrying my regular iPad but I started to have the new one almost every day. I use a crowded subway line in the mornings and this morning, I was hustling with the crowd to get in and after I got in, I was stabilizing my position and somehow iPad flipped in my hands and I dropped it. It was between stress moment and playing cool 🙂 Nothing happened anyway.

We used to have heavy devices usually and after last ones, I still couldn’t get used to hold them. But it’s obvious that these lighter and smaller devices tend to fall more easily and often. I see cracked screens everyday. Probably screen replacement become cheaper and easier and there are more companies providing these services, i’m assuming this is the case, even if it isn’t, it will be soon.

You may wanna check these durability videos: http://youtu.be/pMvE0lkunBg and http://youtu.be/T4kBn-GRw1M