13,705 steps and counting

Walking

13,705 steps in two and a half hours of leisurely walks spread out over one day, encompassing three not-entirely-necessary strolls involving two libraries, a drugstore, and one supermarket. But it was worth it: several bags of books, a package of dental floss, a pantry restocked with instant noodles, and the satisfaction of seeing what it’s like to walk the recommended 12,000 steps.

I headed out for the second half of my walk right after we wrapped up a project. The euphoria was making me buzz too much to write, so I decided to take good long walk.

The streets here are wide and well-lit, and our neighbourhood is wonderfully walkable. The largest park in Toronto is a few blocks from our house, although I more often walk to the library and to Bloor West Village. Near work, underground passages let me wander about while hiding from winter.

I enjoy walking. Even when winter’s giving me the sniffles, it’s still fun. Sometimes I think of Elizabeth Bennet walking from Longbourn to Netherfield (three miles, or a mile less than what I walked today), except in better shoes and more comfortable clothes (but not anywhere near as awesome a hat).

Tracking has certainly influenced my behaviour. I’ve taken to using Walttend Lite to track my steps because it can correctly track on my Google Nexus One even when the screen is off. None of the other pedometer apps I tried could do that, so Walttend it is. Once I was out there, it was easy to talk myself into going just a little bit further so that I could check off my 12,000 goal. After all, when you’ve gotten to the vicinity of 10k with another trip to the library (and another armful of books), you might as well keep going.

Do you use a pedometer to track your walks? What are you learning?

Photo (c) 2009 Tambako the Jaguar – Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives

Reflecting on life as an experiment, gender gaps, and privilege

Is there a gender gap for self-experimentation? Maybe. I’m not sure. But I can tell you about the things I take for granted that might be making it easier for me than for other people, and how some of the barriers might be correlated with gender.

1. I have the privilege of time. It takes time to reflect. It takes time to track. It takes time to analyze. It takes time to be curious. I know lots of other people struggle with work-life balance issues. W- and I share household responsibilities fairly (if anything, he does more work), so we both have the time to hack. Many women bear a disproportionate burden of household and child-rearing responsibilities, which cuts into the time needed to reflect and experiment.

2. I have the privilege of asking my own questions. It means I can ask my own questions. Many people struggle with questions and goals posed from the outside. People are under pressure to ask themselves: "How can I lose weight?" "How can I get out of debt?" "How can I have more time for myself?" "How can I deal with other people’s expectations?" I’m lucky that I’m not under pressure from these questions, so I can ask my own. Women receive a lot of this self-image policing, well-meant or not.

3. I have the privilege of experimenting with and building tools. I’ve saved up an opportunity fund for things like my smartphone. If I have an idea for something I want to track, I can prototype something using spreadsheets, customize my Emacs, or develop an application for
it. Many people aren’t as comfortable with technology as I am, and many women have less exposure to technology for a variety of reasons.

4. I have the privilege of enjoying math. I like tracking my finances and my time. I like analyzing my trends. I like seeing the numbers and the graphs. Many people are uncomfortable with math, and many women haven’t had opportunities to discover how much fun it can be.

5. I have the privilege of a network. I know people (male and female) who geek, who track, who hack. They inspire and encourage me, and sometimes they help me figure things out. Many women aren’t as connected with other technical people.

6. I have the privilege of confidence. It’s not easy being the odd one out, being one of a few women in a room or in an online space. It helps to know I can hold my own, that no one’s going to patronize me because of my gender or perceived inexperience. Many people don’t have
that experience, and women run into those subtleties more often than men do.

7. I have the privilege of understanding the big picture. To an outsider looking in, self-tracking or self-quantification might seem like a lot of work for little benefit. Why would anyone want to track when they wake up, or how much they spend on things, or what their mood is? It really helps to understand the bigger picture. For example, I track my finances because I like knowing when I can afford to grab an opportunity, and because I want to make sure my spending
lines up with my priorities so that I can live a better life. We geeks often talk about the trees without showing people the forest, so many men and women don’t see why it matters.

Knowing the privileges I take for granted, then, I can think about ways to reduce the barriers that other people run into. It’s hard to solve other people’s work-life integration issues for them, but it
might be possible to inspire people to learn more and grow. It’s hard to fight advertising and culture, but I work on counteracting common messages. It’s hard to get everyone into programming or math, but I might be able to help early adopters with tools and blog posts, and
that can ripple out to others. I can’t help everyone get connected or become confident, but I can share stories and help people come in. I’ll periodically lapse into jargon and geeky delight over obscure details, but I can also share my big picture.

What privileges do you take for granted when it comes to experimentation, self-tracking, technology, or other areas? What can you do to reduce the barriers for others?

Quantified Self Toronto: Second Meetup

I went to last night’s Quantified Self Toronto meetup, a get-together for people who are interested in tracking data about their lives. It was good to hear about people’s projects and questions. I shared what I’d been doing with my new Android phone, too. Here are my notes:

For me, the most interesting point was that of analyzing the data you already have in order to understand your patterns.

Correction: I haven’t just had my phone for three days, I’ve had it for a week. (Ah, time flies when you’re having fun.) I’ve only been tracking activities for three days, though, so I guess that’s why that number got stuck in my brain. =)

What do I track, why do I track it, and how do I track it?

I want to experiment with getting up earlier, and to see if I still get enough sleep. I knew that tracking would help me stick to my alarm clock, like the way that tracking time helps me stay focused. I’ve written about tracking my sleep, so you can check out the detailed screenshots there. So far, I’ve been waking up within a few minutes of 5 AM, getting an average of seven hours of sleep, and feeling reasonably awake and energetic.

I want to capture and share as much as possible. On my computer, Org-mode is working well for me – big text files that I dump notes into, with a bit of structure along the way. I’d like to have a structured way to capture notes on my Android, particularly if I can pull those notes into my Org-mode text files. I haven’t settled on any one application yet, although I’m working on tweaking MobileOrg to fit me better. I’m also playing around with mindmapping (Thinking Space supports Freemind maps), and I’m looking for a good way to keep outlined lists.

I want to track how much time I spend on different activities. This will be useful for calibrating my time estimates, comparing my time with my priorities, and identifying opportunities to improve. This definitely has to be a mobile app, as I do things away from the computer too. Time Recording has been working well for me so far.

I want to track my finances. I do this on my laptop so that I can take advantage of all the wonderful reporting tools that the ledger command-line tool gives me. I’ve figured out a virtual envelope-based system that works for me, and I enjoy balancing my books. I don’t particularly feel the need to use my Android to capture this data, as I try to keep my transactions electronic. The occasional note about cash expenses can be handy, though.

I eventually want to get better at tracking my contacts. I like the way Gist gives me a dashboard sorted by importance or filtered by tags. I want to get to the point of deliberately reaching out to people on a regular schedule.

Hmm…

Monthly review: October 2010