Trying: Using Striiv iOS App to Encourage More Walking

2013 08 25 14 15 01I’ve written at some length about using Fitbit to track my activity, and encourage me to do a bit more. It was somewhat effective, and I liked the device a lot. It was only moderately effective at getting me to actually move about more, though.

After an unfortunate accident killed Sam’s Fitbit, I gave her mine to use, which left me with no tracking. I remembered seeing an iPhone app called Striiv for tracking, which had seemed like a bad idea at the time. Now I had no alternative, I thought it might be worth trying. When I say it seemed like a bad idea, I mean that I didn’t expect it to actually count steps with any accuracy at all, and I expected it to run the battery down far too quickly to be usable.

Well, after a couple of weeks or so at trying it out, I can say I was partially wrong on both counts:

  • It works far more reliably than I expected. I think the step counting is a bit less reliable than Fitbit, but it’s very close. I usually find it’s around 10% or so out, sometimes 20% or so. Considering that’s just using the accelerometer in the iPhone, though, I think it’s pretty good. I don’t need accuracy, I just need a good idea of how I’m doing relative to other days.
  • It does drain the battery, but not enough to be too much of a problem for me. I still get a full day of use most of the time, but it’s a bit more of a problem if we’re out and about for the day. Veho Pebble (Amazon UK, Amazon US) portable chargers look like a good way around the problem, so I may well get one, but it would still be a bit less convenient than the Fitbit was.

What it does do that the Fitbit didn’t really do very well for me is encouraging more activity. It pushes me gently during the day to do more. It keeps setting goals for me, with a little graph showing how close I am to walking the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, or how much more I need to do to burn off a can of soda. It also offers little challenges. If I walk, say, 50 steps in a minute, I get a reward of some extra energy points. If I do 10 more minutes of activity in the next 20 minutes, I can have 7,500 energy points, but it will cost me 750 points to take the challenge.

But why would I want energy points? Well, that’s all part of the ‘MyLand’ game. You have a little world, and you can add plants and buildings to your world, to try to attract creatures back to the land. The game isn’t great, and it’s fairly similar to many other ‘world-building’ games out there, but it still works on me. There are gold coins, which you use to buy a building. But that just gives you a pile of stone and parts. You then need to use energy points to actually put the building together. You can spend gold to upgrade your building, but again, you need to use energy points to make the upgrade actually happen. Walking around is the only way to get your energy points, and it’s much more efficient to get them by doing challenges too. Well, you can get more by inviting friends and weighing yourself, but you can’t buy your way around doing stuff.

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The result is that I walk more than I otherwise would, in order to build a rather crappy little virtual hut, in a game that I probably wouldn’t be playing if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s helping to motivate me to do more. It turns out I’m surprisingly easily tricked into being a bit more active.

It’s a free app, so if it sounds interesting, give it a try. You can add me as a friend too – I’m on there as michael@pigpog.com – you’ll get some extra points for inviting me, and there are extra bonuses to be had for activities your friends do. You can even take part in a Walkathon, to donate a day of clean water to a child in South America.

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New Yahoo! Weather App for iOS

Weather apps on the iPhone are a great playground for app developers. I’ve tried a few of them, but keep returning to WeatherPro from MeteoGroup – it isn’t the prettiest, but it’s got lots of data, fairly well presented. When Yahoo! released a new weather app, though, as a tie-in with Flickr, I had to try it out. And it is good.

The big selling point is the photography – the main screen is a big photo of something similar to your current weather conditions, somewhere near your current location (or the location you’re checking the forecast for).

There isn’t as much detailed data as in WeatherPro, but that can be a bit much sometimes. The basics are beautifully presented, in a nice simple, flat design, with a nice modern look, and there’s as much detail as I generally want. It also ties in with an official Flickr group, so Flickr users (like me) can add photos to the group, and they’ll be used to represent the weather at that location. It’s a weather app that looks great, presents just about the right amount of information, and that you can take a little part in yourself.

It’s become my weather app of choice for now at least.

Update: Oh, one little detail I forgot to mention originally – it’s free.

1Password (Tools and Toys)

Stephen is right – I was in the same situation. The password I had to change was unique, so if someone cracks it, they only have the password to a Twitter account that’s now been changed anyway. Saved the new one once, and its automatically updated on every device I use to access it, and available in my pocket any time. 1Password is great software.

PanoEdit – Mac Panograph Software

I’ve enjoyed making some sort of panorama things from my photos for years now. I’ve never quite liked making them with seamless stitching, as is most commonly done. I prefer them to look a bit rough, to be obvious that they are what they are – a bunch of different photos of the scene, stuck together to make something more. The term Panography seems good to me.

There’s plenty of good software for making ‘real’ panoramas, that will try to hide the joins perfectly. Most of it works to a limited extent, and usually needs the source images to be taken pretty carefully to make them join. The first ones I made were built in The GIMP, which was slow and hard work.

On the Mac, I’ve been using DoubleTake until now. It did a decent job. It often got the joins wrong, but the images can be dragged to where you want them, and you can turn off its attempts at merging the images, giving a rougher look, with the edges of each photo visible. Recently, though, DoubleTake seems to be having trouble with some of the larger panographs I’m trying to do. With around 25 images, it can take a while to move them all to the right places, and it’s much harder when the app seems to be struggling.

So I went looking for alternatives, and happened on PanoEdit. It isn’t expensive, though it looks so in the Mac App Store, sitting next to 69p apps. There’s a demo version on their site you can try out first, to make sure it does what you want before you spend money on it. What it does seem to do, though, for the things I’ve thrown at it so far, is work. It’s quite surprisingly lacking in features, with no option for telling it where an image goes if it doesn’t work it out for itself, but it seems to do a great job of working everything out for itself.

This panograph, for example, involved dragging the source images into PanoEdit from Aperture, clicking a button, and waiting a few seconds:

Everything else was handled automatically. There was one image it didn’t place, and I’d like to be able to tell it where to put that image, but the result is very good, and amazingly easy. It’s a bit more neatly stitched than I usually like, but I’m happy with it, and the result from PanoEdit could always become a new starting point for doing more in another app – overlaying some more zoomed in detail shots, perhaps.

I made a quick panograph on the spot using the iPhone app You Gotta See This, too, which you can see here.

More impressive, though, is the result of using PanoEdit with shots from Hipstamatic. I’ve tried this before and never had good results. PanoEdit, however, didn’t seem to have any trouble at all joining this lot up:

Evernote: Making Searchable Without Reading

As impressive as Evernote’s ability to read handwriting (even my awful scrawl, occasionally) is, there was always something about it that didn’t seem quite right. Firstly, that it could recognise writing in situations that nothing else can. Also, it seemed odd that it would convert your writing to text, but not give you access to that text afterwards.

Evernote themselves only ever said your text was made searchable – they never said they’d convert it to text.

I’d suspected for a while what was really going on. I figured it might be working out what the images could match, but not being too specific – knowing that some images could match various different combinations of letters is probably a lot easier than working out which ones they actually match.

I wasn’t sure, though, until I searched on two completely different words, and both highlighted the same bit of text. I’d written ‘Tuesday’, and scanned the page. It matched for a search for ‘Tuesday’ perfectly. It also highlighted the word ‘Tuesday’ when I searched for ‘Testing’.

Evernote has no idea what the text says, but it can still make it searchable. They’ve been very clever, and realised that they don’t need to actually read handwriting in order to make it searchable. They just have to match to anything that might say what you’re searching for, on the grounds that false positives will be fairly rare, and don’t actually matter.

The technology behind it isn’t as amazing as it first seems, but the thinking that went behind the technology is brilliantly simple.