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Off to the Boneyard: Daily Burn

Daily Burn (dailyburn.com) is a web app that helps users track fitness and nutrition goals in an online community.  It allows you to set goals and offers an interface to track progress.

Honestly, this isn’t a bad app, but there are a handful of gaps that meant a trip to the Boneyard.

It’s a hassle to log in and navigate around to enter the appropriate information:

I’ve dilligently tried to remember to log in every day to track the food I’ve eaten, the workouts I’ve done, and my current weight, but it’s just not an enticing proposition.  First off, the interface requires a large number of clicks per operation.  Oh what’s that, 3 days behind eh?  It’s really going to be a hassle clicking here, there, and everywhere to get caught up again.

Additionally, I’d like to see some deeper flexibility in the type of information I really care about tracking.  Give me some distinct options for how detailed I need to get when logging my progress.

A spreadsheet on Dropbox is as effective of a solution:

Yeah, good ol’ Dropbox (dropbox.com) giving me easy access to a document created in my old standby Excel.  I’m able to track my nutritional and fitness goals and customize to my heart’s content.  Also, though the data sits in the cloud, the format (and ultimate portability) is in my control.

From a security perspective, I encrypt the Excel file that I keep in my Dropbox.  Maybe this is overkill given the low-sensitivity of the contents, but I’m already doing this as my best practice for tracking my finances (more on this another time).

My experience with the community left me unsatisfied:

Even if I’m a bit frustrated with the UI and a little nervous about security, the community isn’t something that gets recreated if I go it alone.  Then again, I never really felt a sense of community when I made my goals public or attempted to participate in group goals.

I connected with “motivators” (other users I found online or recruited to help keep me motivated and on track), however, the motivation I received was stronger from mild acquaintances who commented on my apparent progress.

All said, the DailyBurn community as a whole seems to be meeting their goals, and it is a great place to help get some direction on improving health.  I can say that it was easy to set up, and did not require a bunch of up-front work on my part as a user; I appreciated that, but I ultimately found that I was best off  going this one alone.

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Caught My Attention: Mass Effect 2: the Cerberus Network will run used gamers $15

Though this is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, I’ve been distracted by this news all day.  In short, Bioware’s new release, Mass Effect 2 will include $15 in one-time downloadables for anyone who buys the game new from a retailer.

What a great move by a game developer to find new ways to cash in on the used game market.  Though as a gamer who often waits to buy used, I can’t say I’m too excited by this prospect (though the sales guy in me is smiling).

My first question:  Is the new-purchase freebie content compelling enough to stand on its own for secondhand gamers?  I mean, is it compelling enough to shell out $15 for?  Time will tell, though I suspect an ulterior motive.  This seems like the perfect way to test the waters of a hybrid game delivery method.  One where the core engine with a basic game (at a cheap price mom won’t balk at) is purchased as a physical disc, and the bulk of the content is purchased as a download.  Classic razor and blade method of distribution, but with a video game twist.

Extending my fantasy:  When this does catch on, it will be quite a boon for smaller game studios and indie developers alike.  They can shift their focus on creating maps and stories and character development, and know that the engine is set in stone (or in this case, burned into the “core engine” DVD).  As gamers, we could look forward to tighter engine work and deeper storylines.

Of course there would be proper split between the core game disc and the DLC that’s currently a mystery, and striking that balance would take some work.  It’s influenced by a few key factors:  The price of the Disc (not too cheap, not too expensive), the quality of the core game elements (needs to stand on its own without a requirement of DLC), and a healthy selection of DLC (enough variety to satisfy gamer needs, but lean enough to be profitable).  Err on the blend of these elements, and you’re disappointing the gamer community, leaving money on the table, or losing money on your core investment.

I see Bioware baby stepping to find the balance.

Original Inspiration: Mass Effect 2: the Cerberus Network will run used gamers $15 (thanks Ars!)

Tumblr Stopped Aggregating My Feeds

I’ve been using Tumblr to serve my content behind www.matthewcanderson.com for the last few months.  For the most part, it does what I want it to: acts as a central point for most of my online postings to be aggregated.  It’s not exactly what I want to have (which I’ll discuss further in another Dream posting) but it’s been good enough.

Old Content...

Correction-I was satisfied using some standard feature  functionality of their service, until about a month ago when they stopped monitoring my RSS feed.  Boo.  It looks like I’ve had a dead site since September 27th.

My hope was that it was going to be a temporary blip…but at this point I’m pretty confident that there’s a larger issue that’s not going to magically fix itself.

At this point, I’m debating jumping ship from Tumblr altogether.  I haven’t posted anything directly through their interface…not once.  It has truly been a repository for pulling everything into one spot (think Yahoo Pipes but more hidden).

For now, I’m going to sleep on it, hoping I’ll have an epiphany by tomorrow evening when I’ll have time to address the issue.

Dream: Unified Online Profile

Problem: 

There’s no such thing as a definitive online profile.  There are countless social networking websites, each with their own rules, agenda, privacy issues, and evolving purpose.  For the less one-stop-shop approach, there are blogs, micro blogs, aggregation services, content management systems, and so many other ways to put your ideas in front of the world.  Each of these offer Web 2.0 interaction, and varying levels of  self- and socially-published personal information.

I author a handful of blogs under different service providers covering various topics.  I’m on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter as my core social network connections.  I have a Google Profile (that remains largely underutilized).  I’m slowly reviewing movies on Flixster.  I maintain business relationships on LinkedIn (and I was duped into joining Naymz).  I don’t want or expect these to all be tightly integrated with one another or to contain identical information, but the lack of intelligent communication between services is frustrating.  I also fear investing too much time/effort into a single service, since there’s little guarantee what it will be able to offer me even a few months from now.

Digging the hole even a little deeper, there are still a considerable number of people who don’t buy into one or more of these online islands of social interaction.  I could tell someone to look me up on Facebook or Twitter, but my service of choice may be a put-off.  

This all drives me back to one theme: there needs to be a service-agnostic portal where I can direct someone to…and the only requirement should be that they have a web browser and connection to the web.

Solution:

I don’t have one yet.  As far as I can tell, there’s not a readymade solution that meets my needs.  Honestly, this is a core reason why I created this weblog; to hash out my thoughts on how to best make this happen.  Maybe others out there have a similar dream have ideas/advice for my project.

It’s only fair that I mention that up to this point, I’ve failed miserably at solving this problem.  I think it’s because of the many attempts I’ve made in the past…plenty of plans…but nothing sticks.  It seems like I have set a goal every year for the last five years to revamp my online presence to make it accessible and coordinated.  I know it’s an ambitious goal every time I record it in my journal, but it’s important enough that I keep striving for it.

If you care to take a look at what I have put together at this point, check out http://www.matthewcanderson.com/

The best way I know to solve a problem is to start by figuring out what exactly it is that I’m trying to do…so hopefully that can come through as I strive toward this digitalism dream. 

Dropbox: My Online Hub

I have a computer at work and a computer at home.  Both are laptops, but both serve their own purposes.  I’ve tried a good handfull of methods to have a consistent experience from one to the other.  My solution to this problem is Dropbox, a free (or fee-based, for larger accounts) tool that synchs files between computers through the cloud and also gives me the peace of mind that I’m not only working with the most recent version of the file, but that I’ll have access to it whether I’m online or offline.

For years I carried around a simple USB drive (okay…”pen drive”) with a handfull of key applications and documents.  This was a slick solution for quite some time, but I found I was going through them pretty quickly (they’re not all that durable and the hardcore ones are clunky).  This evolved into my iPod because of the 80GB hard drive (and I had it with me anyway, which offset the clunky factor).  While I loved having easy access to my files, applications and music, it ended up being a hassle to have an outside device tethered to my computer. The extra device I carried around drew lame questions and made my system a bigger hassle to take places.

There was also extra work I made for myself trying to deal with file versioning. Inevitably, I’d take a local version of a file, then have to remember to copy the finished product back out.  As this became more and more frequent, it got tough to keep track of which instance was the right one.

In the back of my mind, there was always this fear that I’d lose my data with a hard drive crash.  This meant making extra copies…locally and on other external drives.  It got tough keeping straight which computer or which drive had the most recent backup, too.

There were online hacks to use Gmail as a file repository (GmailDrive is one example) but it only took one lock of my Google account to put a quick stop on that.  I used Carbonite for a year, which was great for backup and recovery, but not a real solution for synch.  As an aside, I stopped using it when my hard drive crashed and I wasn’t able to recover my files because of a technicality…

Dropbox has been my hero.  A simple installation application creates the “My Dropbox” folder that sits under My Documents.  These files get synchronized out to the getdropbox.com server (2GB starting capacity for a free account, larger available).  Next step (in this multiple computer scenario) is to set up Dropbox on each of the other systems, providing the same account information.  Dropbox kicks right in and starts populating the second computer’s My Dropbox with all of the same files that were on the original system.dropbox

The software runs in the background, waiting for changes, and once an updated file has been saved and closed, the new data is uploaded (and almost immediately) updated on the other computer (if it’s on and connected to the internet).

Pseudo Techie Stuff:

  • Dropbox is monitored by a host agent that looks for file changes.
  • The synch only uploads the part of a file that’s changed, not the whole file.  (So if I wrote a novel and saved the 50MB file to Dropbox, then later realized I forgot to include “The End”, it’s smart enough to only upload a few bytes of data instead of all 50 meg.
  • Both a local copy of the most recent file and a cloud copy are retained.
  • Version history is tracked and older versions of a file can be restored through the web interface.
  • Files on getdropbox.com are encrypted, but user-defined keys are not an option (yet).

I’ve been going strong for several months now and it’s been a fantastic experience.  Dropbox almost exclusively handles my synchronization requirements.  I say almost because large video files (multi GB .VOB files of my band’s shows) are much more quickly transfered over USB or the local network. I’ve been able to silence the fears that the file I want to be using lived on my other computer.

Some of my favorite other features of Drobpox include:

  • “Public” folder which allows me to send links to people who can download the files I put in there
    • Great alternative to sending a file in email, just send the link (like a great video of a co-worker losing it during a fire drill)
    • Image hosting for online content, I trust it will be there more than tinypic (Photo of my band hosted on Drobox)
  • Sharing Folders with other Dropbox users: Far better way to transfer files than over IM…and it gives a little notification balloon saying that a new file has arrived.

These are only the basics, and believe me, I have a lot more to say about the service.  If you’d like to try it out yourself, you can download it yourself at http://www.getdropbox.com/ or (if you’d be so kind) you could click through this link, which will give me referral credit and increase my dropbox size by 300MB when you sign up.

More to come on how I use Dropbox to make digital life a heck of a lot easier.