Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Shedding weight

In Musings on Sep 23, 2015 at 00:01

I’ve been on a weight loss diet lately. In more ways than one…

As an old fan of the Minimal Mac weblog (now extinct), I’ve always been intrigued by simplification. Fewer applications, a less cluttered desk (oops, not there yet!), simpler tools, and leaner workflows. And with every new laptop over the years, I’ve been toning down the use of tons of apps, widgets, RSS feeds, note taking systems, and reminders.

Life is about flow and zen, not about interruptions or being busy. Not for me, anyway.

One app for all my documents (DevonThink), one app for all my quick notes (nvAlt), one programming-editor convention (vim/spacemacs), one off-line backup system (Arq), one on-line backup (Time Machine), one app launcher / search tool (Spotlight) … and so on.

I’ve recently gone back to doing everything on a single (high-end Mac) laptop. No more tinkering with two machines, Dropbox, syncing, etc. Everything in one place, locally, with a nice monitor plugged in when at my desk. That’s 1920×1200 pixels when on the move, and 2560×1600 otherwise, all gorgeously retina-sharp. I find it amazing how much calmer life becomes when things remain the same every time you come back to it.

I don’t have a smartphone, which probably puts me in the freaky Luddite category. So be it. I now only keep a 4 mm thin credit-card sized junk phone in my pocket for emergency use.

We’ve gone from an iPad each to a shared one for my wife Liesbeth and me. It’s mostly used for internet access and stays in the living room, like newspapers did in the old days.

I’ve gone back to using an e-paper based reader for when I want to sit on the couch or go outside and read. It’s better than an iPad because it’s smaller, lighter, and it’s passively lit, which is dramatically better in daylight than an LCD screen. At night I read less, because in the end it’s much nicer to wake up early and go enjoy daylight again. What a concept, eh?

While reading, I regularly catch myself wanting to access internet. Oops, can’t do. Great!

As for night-time habits: it’s astonishing how much better I sleep when not looking at that standard blueish LCD screen in the evening. Sure, I do still burn the midnight oil banging away on the keyboard, but thanks to a utility called f.lux the screen white balance follows the natural reddening colour shift of the sun across the day. Perfect for a healthy sleep!

Our car sits unused for weeks on end sometimes, as we take the bike and train for almost everything nowadays. It’s too big a step to get rid of it – maybe in a few years from now. So there’s no shedding weight there yet, other than in terms of reducing our CO2 footprint.

And then there’s the classical weight loss stuff. For a few months now, I’ve been following the practice of intermittent fasting, combined with picking up my old habit of going out running again, 2..3 times per week. With these two combined, losing real weight has become ridiculously easy – I’ve shed 5 kg, with 4 more to go until the end of the year.

Eat less and move more – who would have thought that it actually works, eh?

But hey, let me throw in some geek notes as well. Today, I received the Withings Pulse Ox:

DSC 5144

(showing the heart rate sensor on the back – the front has an OLED + touch display)

It does exactly what I want: tell the time, count my steps, and measure my running activity, all in a really small package which should last well over a week between charges. It sends its collected data over BLE to a mobile device (i.e. our iPad), with tons of statistics.

Time will tell, but I think this is precisely the one gadget I want to keep in my pocket at all times. And when on the move: keys, credit cards, and that tiny usually-off phone, of course.

Except for one sick detail: why does the Withings “Health Mate” app insist on sending out all my personal fitness tracking data to their website? It’s not a show-stopper, but I hate it. This means that Withings knows all about my activity, and whenever I sync: my location.

So here’s an idea for anyone looking for an interesting privacy-oriented challenge: set up a Raspberry as firewall + proxy which logs all the information leaking out of the house. It won’t address mobile use, but it ought to provide some interesting data for analysis over a period of a few months. What sort of info is being “shared” by all the apps and tools we’ve come to rely on? Although unfortunately, it won’t be of much use with SSL-based sessions.