A Cornucopia of Quantification: QS apps + tools, Pt.1

Mar 28, 2014 | Code, Geo / locative, Links, Software, Workshops


Outline for my March 29 Quantified Self workshop (now sold out, the next date will April 12.) Diagrammed with XMind.

For anyone who has been paying attention it will be clear that 2013 was arguably the year that Quantified Self exploded. It could also be argued that the focus on pedometers and personal fitness augmentations represents a sort of “QS Lite”, limiting itself to ideas that can be conveniently explained and marketed in the form of soundbites. Good for business, visionary not so much.

The sheer number of new tracking services and apps that have emerged in the last year is both a blessing and a curse. It’s exciting to see new approaches being explored, even though the vast majority are simply re-hashing the same basic ideas. How many workout apps can the market possibly support? QS might be on the brink of becoming a cash cow, but for now it’s mostly a bubble.

Some newcomers (Moves, Tictrac, Reporter ++) do feel like a real evolution, both in terms of user experience and their underlying design concepts. Data hackers and coders should be happy to note that some developers understand their needs and value their participation. A decent export mechanism (cloud-based or not) and maybe even a GitHub repo with sample code is a good start.


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FitBit, shame on you

Apr 7, 2012 | AHO, Code, News, Open source, Workshops

Update, April 2013: Getting Fitbit intraday data is possible through a back door of sorts. Clay Gregory’s jFitbit library makes this easy: https://github.com/claygregory/jfitbit.

I wrote UFitbit for a data workshop, it’s a simple Processing library that sits on top of jFitbut and facilitates batch downloading of Fitbit data for local storage. UFitbit comes with examples showing how to download from Fitbit and later to access the locally stored copies for visualization purposes.

Source and binaries can be found on GitHub:

UFitbit: github.com/mariuswatz/teaching/
Requires Processing 2.0b and Modelbuilder.

Original Fitbit complaint

I just bought a FitBit activity tracker, thinking it could be a fun toy that I could use as a test case in workshops. At $99 it seemed like a decent deal, and from what I’ve heard it’s a pretty decent piece of technology with smart web-based statistics.

So far so good, I’ve worn the device for one day and as predicted it’s mildly satisfying to see logs confirming my pattern of sedentary desk life interspersed with occassional dog walking. Happiness all round.

But then I log on to the FitBit web site (which looks good, btw) and notice a button saying “Premium”. Curious to see what services FitBit considers worth paying an extra $49/year for, I click on it only to discover to my horror that data export apparently is one of those services.

Seriously? What the hell did I buy this thing for, if I can’t get the data? It’s a data tracking device, people.

I guess it was naive of me to believe that the data I generate would belong to me. It must be my Open Source gullibility getting the better of me. I should have known, data capitalism trumps free information any day.

On the plus time I still have time to return this cute little gizmo. It does seem like a good product, but if I can’t get the data without paying extra my enthusiasm is already gone. I’m not training for a marathon and I’m not enough of a narcissist to want to compare my stats to my FitBit “peers”. I really just wanted the data, and I’m too cheap to pay $49 for it, if only on a matter of principle.

Thanks for being yet another entry in the rogue’s gallery of data hoarders, Fitbit. You could have gone the way of the light, but you were tempted by the path of darkness. I realize you have to make money, but people’s data is the wrong place to start.

Updated: Let’s Google “FitBit hacks”

Ok, so it turns out there are some proper FitBit hacks out there, including this little Google Apps hack by John McLaughlin (LogHound on GitHub) that seems capable of auto-retrieving your data hourly. I got it running with Google Spreeadsheets but obviously haven’t tested it over any longer interval. This still only gives daily updates, which is a far cry from the minute-by-minute granularity I would like and which the device clearly supports. Turns out FitBit has an API called API-Get-Intraday-Time-Series which would give you that dataset, but it’s part of what they call a Partner API which is restricted to a case-by-case basis. So given good karma (or a lucrative app proposal) one could potentially get the data.

Hacker friend Qdot has taken a more low level approach with libfitbit, going straight to the tracking device and communicating with it over USB. This approach seems promising, but I don’t have any Linux boxes around and there’s no Windows support for now. In any case that’s not a likely avenue for students unless they’re on the seriously techy side, and my goal with the FitBit was to find a student-friendly tracking device.

The search continues, but at least I’m considering keeping the darn thing. That would save me from kicking myself for having to pay return shipping and a $15 “restocking” fee just to recoup a few dollars if I did decide to return it. The fact that FitBit at least has an API up and running helps a little, even though I’m unlikely to recover my enthusiasm for their business practices.

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