Posts Tagged ‘iPhone

18
Feb
10

Using a couple of self-monitoring tools

I’ve mentioned before that I’m experimenting with e-tools to help me stay on track with my health goals. I’m also doing it to be able to comment on the emerging fields of personal health records and m-health (mobile health). Today I’ll be commenting on an iPhone app I use all the time to track my walking — iTreadmill — and a free graphing program I found about yesterday thanks to @accarmichael  — Tableau Public.

iTreadmill is a popular pedometer using the accelerometer in the iPhone. The app allows the recording of pace and time during a walk or run and calculates other measures.

  • Average Pace (pace over entire walk/run)
  • Average Speed
  • Calories burned
  • Distance
  • Pace (current pace, pace over past 30 secs)
  • Speed (current speed)
  • Step Count
  • Strike Rate (step rate, in steps/min)

I think iTreadmill does a good job recording these parameters, at least sufficient for my needs. They claim to have proprietary technology (trademarked PocketStep) that is supposed to enable the device to measure your movements whether your iPhone is in your pocket, clipped to your belt, or held in your hand. The stride parameter can be adjusted to fit with your stride. The app senses when you stop at, say, a stoplight and detects when you’re moving again so the elapsed time adjusts for interruptions. Pretty much everything else is calculated off your number of steps and time.

The data for each occasion can be stored so you can see your history. The latest version allows you to graph distance, steps, calories burned, and time over the past week, 30, 90 or 180 days. You can export the history by emailing the history file to yourself.

That’s a sore point with me. The FAQ says you can get a “well formatted” table from the email by copying it into a spreadsheet. But all the data from each event is just a string of characters with variable spaces between data elements. It isn’t comma-delimited so you can’t easily separate the data into fields for calculations. I tried various search-and-replace strategies to break it into separate fields but gave it up as too time consuming to be worthwhile. I’ve twice sent emails to iTreadmill asking for help with data formatting and suggesting they build in a better export format, but I’ve gotten no reply or results so far. I ended up manually re-keying my data from iTreadmill into OpenOffice spreadsheet: not my idea of how to facilitate better health behavior.

Indeed, I’m wondering if poor responsiveness isn’t pretty standard for the apps business. I’ve gotta think many of the 100,000 apps for the iPhone are done by one or two developers working out of their mom’s basement. I suspect limited support for technology is going to plague the e-health, m-health movement for some time to come.

That takes me to the next tool: Tableau Public. For me an essential quality of supporting my health program is being able to gather data with a minimum of fuss, store it, and manipulate it with ease. However, the overriding characteristic of the app world — as has been the case with IT for decades — is fragmentation and lack of common standards by which data from a variety of sources can be conveniently combined into something satisfactory. My goal is to export data from the apps I use, store it as a database (with or withyout the help of HealthVault or Google Health) and visualize it in a way that tells me how I’m doing. Since I’d manually re-keyed my iTreadmil ldata I was pleased to learn a versatile, sharable program for visualization has become available. I figured it was an omen to begin shareing my data on this blog, limited as it is.

I started only a couple of days ago with Tableau. It’s a poweful tool that’ll take me some time to master. You need to download a free desktop program. With it you open your spreadsheet or database from within Tableau, and it interprets your sheet to do a lot of the work of getting it ready for display. The resulting display files are stored “in the cloud” on Tableau’s servers. But the site sets the graphics up for embedding into various web apps such as blogs. I’ll be gathering more data, and it appears that Tableau may be a platform for integrating data into a coherent story. So, such as it is, here’s my graph for walking in January and February.

The distance walked is up and down, but when I put in the trend line (dashed line) at least it’s up. That’s encouraging!

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29
Jan
10

My self-tracking: the prequel

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m doing my thing with adopting a permanent exercise and diet regimen. (Who isn’t?) This program has evolved. Starting back in July 2009 I wanted to get on a self-improvement track. At the same time I was getting interested in what I think is a very significant trend: health 2.0, participatory medicine, e-medicine or whatever else people are calling it.

I started by setting up accounts in both Google Health and HealthVault. Neither is very suitable for what I wanted to do: keep track of my exercise and diet. Both are designed to enable people to set up computer accessible versions of the records their doctor or health provider has. Fortunately I’ve been in good health most of my life, and I don’t have any complicated records of disease episodes or conditions to put in there — even if I wanted to. I say “if I wanted to” because it became apparent that getting records into these PHR (personal health record) systems either requires hooking-up with a limited number of providers, using go-betweens, or just getting your paper records and manually transferring everything in. It didn’t seem worth it in my case.

However, I discovered that HealthVault offers the option of linking your medical records account up to the MSN Health & Fitness site. Health & Fitness is specifically for recording exercise and food consumption. The data and graphs are then accessible in HealthVault.

Good idea, I thought, so I started recording what I was doing in the fitness form. The Health & Fitness recording system calls for you to make a daily exercise and diet plan. Then you keep track of what you actually eat and do for exercise that day and enter it at day’s end. The program then compares your goals with what you really did. That was a problem for me because I never know what I’m going to eat, and I wasn’t embarking on such a controlled diet routine that I was going to control it by, say, preparing and packing my lunch to the office. So, for me, the food consumption planning was useless.

Also, the interface for diet planning and recording is poor. You can search for a food or drink and select from alphabetical drop-down menus. But no matter how many times you have the same thing there’s no way to get a shortcut to your commonly consumed items. Finally, the exercise planning and recording is set up around running or gym workouts. All I wanted to focus on was walking. Believe me, I’m way beyond the six-pack-abs stage.

After about three or four days I realized this wasn’t going to be something I wanted to do for weeks much less years. There was way too much “paperwork” involved through an interface that wasn’t very helpful. Indeed, I ran smack into what I think is a very common obstacle for getting people engaged with health routines: doing the manual labor of keeping track of your progress. There are notorious hurdles in the way of people keeping up sustained health routines, and this is a big one.

I realized pretty quickly that I needed a better way of gathering my data. Coincidentally my cell phone contract was up for renewal, and I latched on to what I hoped (or rationalized) would be a big step forward in convenience of recordkeeping: the iPhone. That was the next phase on my self-tracking saga, and I’ll go into using a smartphone in more detail in the next installment.

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