Gradually evolving my data entry interfaces

I’m interested in Quantified Self as a way to make better decisions through data. When I come up with a question I want to explore, I usually start off tracking things on paper or in a spreadsheet. This means I can get started quickly, and I can check whether the question is useful enough to invest in further.

Clothes

I track my clothes to make it easier to simplify my wardrobe, and to guide my purchases.

I started by writing down dates and clothing combinations on an index card in the morning. Since my index card was unlined and my brain is pretty fuzzy early in the day, I occasionally had problems with incorrect dates or items not matching up. Eventually, I built a small Rails application (Quantified Awesome) to keep track of the clothes for me. Adding pictures made it easier to select the right item. Over time, I added little conveniences like the ability to display or sort by the last time I wore something.

I often find myself backdating entries, so maybe tracking my clothes isn’t as easy or as fun as it could be. I wonder if making it more prescriptive (“Pick one of these three outfits, or select what you’re going to wear”) would help, or maybe integrating it more into my morning routine.

Time

I track my time to guide my activity decisions and remind me of how I used the time.

I used apps on my phone to track time for a few months. I started with Time Recording and a few categories, adding more as I went along. When the number of categories got to be a bit unwieldy, I moved on to Tap Log so that I could organize the buttons into a menu. Since it didn’t have the built-in time analysis I liked about Time Recording, I added time analysis tools to Quantified Awesome. After I added other features to Quantified Awesome, I shifted to using it as my time tracking and analysis tool.

For a while, I tracked time by bringing up the Quantified Awesome web interface on my phone and typing in a substring of a category name. Then I decided to look into building Emacs integration so that I could automatically clock in from my to-do list. To speed up time tracking on my phone, I used Tasker to create a menu of my most common time categories. Since fiddling with Tasker on my phone was time-consuming and a little annoying, I eventually shifted to using Tasker and Javascript. That way, I could edit my HTML file in Emacs, copy it onto my phone through Dropbox, and get my handy menu of buttons. Using Tasker also allowed me to code extra behaviour such as turning off WiFi when I go for a walk.

My next step is probably to build more time visualizations so I can see the shifts from day to day, week to week.

Groceries

I track groceries so that I can make better decisions at the supermarket and so that I can get a sense of the balance and patterns of our consumption.

I started by typing in my receipts manually, but it was a little boring. I paid a virtual assistant to enter the data from my scanned receipts. This worked out to be better than the receipt scanning companies that were out there, since I could get line-item detail in a spreadsheet shared in Dropbox. I periodically reviewed the data, fixing errors and analyzing totals.

After some time doing this and quite a few errors in the data, I decided to build my own interface for entering data more reliably. Now that I’ve built my neat interactive interface, I find it faster (and more fun!) to enter the data in myself than to scan it and send it over. I’ve been digging into visualizing the data with D3 too.

Here’s a quick demo:

My next step is probably to build a grocery list interface for it. We’re currently using OurGroceries because it syncs well between my husband’s phone and mine, but I should be able to use either straight AJAX or WebSockets to get the synchronization part working.

So those are a few examples of how I slowly improve my tracking systems, rounding off rough edges and making things a little bit simpler for myself. Web programming is super helpful for me. Backend tools like Ruby on Rails allow me to build my own tracking tools and front-end tools like Javascript allow me to create personalized interfaces and visualizations.

I tend to code the next step of improvements only when something annoys me enough for me to do something about it or when a question makes me curious enough to want to investigate it. I’ve been deliberately working on my personal projects more often, though, and that might lead to more of these little improvements. We’ll see!

Monthly review: June 2015

Lots of sleep and fuzzy-brain this month, which was a good excuse to learn more about both. I still got a decent amount of coding done, focusing on Angular and D3 for personal projects, and digging deeper into SQL and Bluemix for consulting. I also built a small Tasker + Javascript interface for my tracking things. It’s pretty convenient, although not totally reliable (Tasker weirds out sometimes).

June was heavy on the academics for J-. We helped her with her blackjack game programming project, physics review, English presentation, and university planning. It got me thinking about my processes for solving problems and revising presentations. Anyway, she made it through to summer, and is now working at her first job.

Also, lots of video gaming this month – W-‘s influence on me, plus a resolution to take things super-easy and go into hermit mode. I completed the main storylines for Ni no Kuni, LEGO Hobbit, and LEGO Jurassic Park. Now W- and I are working our (separate) ways through Persona 1. I could probably redirect some of the time I spend gaming to, say, reading or coding, but my reading and coding time seem pretty all right too. Time is not the limiting factor here. Although maybe I can allocate some more time to drawing, and then sit with the vagueness of thought a little longer…

Summer fruits, yum!

July will still be mostly hermit mode, I think. Anyway, I’ll just keep plugging along…

2015-07-06e June 2015 -- index card #monthly #review output

2015-07-06c Plans for July -- index card #plans

Blog posts

Sketches

Time

Category Last month (%) This month (%) Avg h per week Delta (h/wk)
Sleep 35.1 39.7 67 7.7
Discretionary – Play 10.8 13.7 23 4.9
Discretionary – Family 3.0 4.5 8 2.5
Business – Earn 3.9 4.6 8 1.2
Personal 16.1 15.9 27 -0.3
Discretionary – Social 1.6 0.9 2 -1.2
Business – Connect 1.3 0.6 1 -1.2
Unpaid work 9.2 7.5 13 -2.9
Business – Build 10.5 7.8 13 -4.5
Discretionary – Productive 8.4 4.9 8 -5.9

Oookay. Lots more sleep this month, and lots more gaming. Still, lots of coding despite the drop in Discretionary – Productive…

Weekly review: Week ending July 3, 2015

I finally got my grocery visualizations sorted out enough for me to explore the data. =) Nice to be able to see the patterns. Lots of sleep, a bit of code…

Also, W- bought the early games in the Persona series during the Playstation Network sale, so we’ve been powering our way through Persona 1.

2015-07-06d Week ending 2015-07-03 -- index card #journal #weekly

output

Blog posts

Sketches

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (25.1h – 14%)
    • Earn (10.6h – 42% of Business)
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
      • Bluemix: Unify requests
    • Build (14.4h – 57% of Business)
      • Drawing (2.4h)
      • Paperwork (0.2h)
    • Connect (0.0h – 0% of Business)
  • Relationships (1.3h – 0%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (6.6h – 3%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
    • Get data input working again
    • Writing (2.2h)
  • Discretionary – Play (21.2h – 12%)
  • Personal routines (31.1h – 18%)
  • Unpaid work (7.8h – 4%)
  • Sleep (74.9h – 44% – average of 10.7 per day)

Exploring our grocery numbers

Analyzing my grocery data is more challenging than analyzing my time data. There’s a lot more data cleanup needed. I have to figure out obscure line items on old receipts and catch typos in both names and numbers. Then there’s figuring out how much I want to combine different items and how much I want to keep them separate.

For example, milk has different receipt item names depending on the item (size, brand, type) and the store. If I want to know how much we’ve spent on milk, I’ll use the total for all of them. But if I want to get a sense of the price history, it makes sense to track each receipt item type separately. I do this by keeping the receipt name (fixing typos as I review my data) and mapping these receipt names to a friendly name I set for myself. This way, the line “HOMO 4LI” on my receipt gets turned into “Milk” in my report. Come to think of it, maybe I should change it to “Milk, 4 L, Homogenized”…

Categories are handy for reporting too. Because of the ad-hoc way I created receipt item mappings and assigned them to categories, I ended up with inconsistent categorization. Some types of toilet paper were in the Supplies category, and some types were in the Other category. I manually reviewed the category assignments and I think I’ve gotten them sorted out.

Anyway, analyzing my data from 2013-07-01 to 2015-07-01, I see that we spend an average of $80 per week on groceries, which sounds about right. Some of the receipts are missing and there are almost certainly other little errors in the data, but this should give me the overall picture.

I’m still trying to figure out a good way to visualize the data in order to answer the questions I’m curious about, so here are my notes along the way. X axis is date, Y axis is total cost on that day, color is how it compares to the average price it is (lower price than average = blue, higher = orange).

Milk

2015-07-03 20_47_42-sachachua.com_8080_grocery_analysis

Milk consumption is pretty straightforward. Every week, we use around 0.6 bags of milk (~2.4L) – more when J- and her friends are over (teenagers!). The price of milk has stayed at $4.97 per 4L, except for the time we bought a slightly more expensive type of milk (~Oct 2013) and the time in June 2014 when a smaller size was on sale, so we picked up one of those instead.

Eggs

 

We used to buy extra-large eggs, but the supermarket close to us stopped carrying 18-packs of those, so we switched to 18-packs of large eggs instead.

Extra-large eggs

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Large eggs

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The price of large eggs is stable at $4.27 for 18. We use ~11 eggs a week.

Things we buy when they’re on sale

Canned tomatoes

We stock up on canned tomatoes when they go on sale, since they’re easy to store.

2015-07-03 20_50_19-sachachua.com_8080_grocery_analysis

 

We probably use ~3 cans a month. The sale price has drifted up from $0.88 to $0.97, while the regular price is a little bit over $1.50.

Butter

2015-07-03 20_52_53-sachachua.com_8080_grocery_analysis

We haven’t bought butter at full-price in two years. The sale price for unsalted butter tends to be between $2.77 and $3.33, while the regular price is $6+.

Produce

Strawberries

I like strawberries, but I stopped buying them for a long time because they seemed like such an indulgence and the sweetness tended to be hit-or-miss. This year, I gave myself permission to splurge on strawberries in season.

2015-07-03 20_55_25-sachachua.com_8080_grocery_analysis

Bananas

We seem to go through banana phases. When we hit banana overload, we stop for a while.

2015-07-03 20_57_54-sachachua.com_8080_grocery_analysis

 

The colours here are just due to floating point imprecision. Bananas have actually stayed the same price for the past two years ($1.26/kg).

Apples

We often get gala apples:

2015-07-03 21_01_18-sachachua.com_8080_grocery_analysis

We like picking up ambrosia apples during the rare occasions they’re available. Last winter was a good one for ambrosia apple availability.

2015-07-03 21_03_09-sachachua.com_8080_grocery_analysis

Chicken

Whole chickens

2015-07-03 21_05_03-sachachua.com_8080_grocery_analysis

Lots of whole chickens lately, because of the rotisserie.

Chicken quarters

2015-07-03 21_07_49-sachachua.com_8080_grocery_analysis

Our main protein, although we also buy a fair bit of beef and pork, and chicken drumsticks/thighs when they’re on sale.

There’s more I haven’t explored yet, but I figured I’d put together these little observations along the way. =)

 

 

Emacs Hangout June 2015

Times may be off by a little bit, sorry!

Boo, I accidentally browsed in the Hangouts window before copying the text chat, so no copy of the text chat this time… =|

Weekly review: Week ending June 26, 2015

Lots of sleep this week, and few blog posts in the pipeline. On the plus side, I did manage to get a little coding in – learning how to use BlueMix on one hand, and making an edit-in-place grocery receipt interface on the other. Oh, and SketchUp!

2015-07-02b Week ending 2015-06-26 -- index card #journal #weekly

output

2015-07-02b Week ending 2015-06-26 – index card #journal #weekly

Blog posts

Sketches

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (21.7h – 12%)
    • Earn (11.3h – 51% of Business)
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
      • BlueMix training
    • Build (10.4h – 48% of Business)
      • Drawing (4.6h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
    • Connect (0.0h – 0% of Business)
  • Relationships (11.1h – 6%)
    • Check on P
  • Discretionary – Productive (4.0h – 2%)
    • Emacs (0.3h – 0% of all)
      • Edit Emacs Hangout video to blur avy-jump demo
    • Organize photos
    • Make better interface for cleaning grocery data
    • Return friendly name in JSON
    • Get data input working again
    • CAD a ramp for the shed
    • Figure out how to run Jasmine tests
    • Get data types management working
    • Writing (1.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (27.0h – 16%)
  • Personal routines (18.7h – 11%)
  • Unpaid work (11.7h – 6%)
  • Sleep (73.8h – 43% – average of 10.5 per day)