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List #3: To Make A Graph

21 May, 2009

One really has to have a bunch of data. Now, a lot of the stuff that I have done, or plan to do comes just from various data that a program (like iTunes) automatically gives you, or other bits of paper I have hanging around, where I’ve done calculations or written things done. But a lot of it is more detailed than that, and that requires a slightly more consistent or automatic way of taking things down.

Which brings of, of course, to the internet. Below is a list of a few of the fun tools for recording things (of all kinds) online, all of which I have used at at least some point, if I don’t continue to use.

Spending Diary: This is a pretty handy little guy if you’re trying to stick to a budget. It’s very simple to use, but it does rely somewhat on your memory. Given a day, you put in each transaction you made on that day: what it was, what it cost, and what category it is. For example, one of mine would be Oyster Card Top-Up, £5, Transportation. These each have separate little blanks. What it does is tallies up everything, and gives you nice charts and graphs of how much you spent on what type of thing over a given period. It’s pretty cool, although I’ve since stopped using it because it doesn’t do currency exchange. The data can also be downloaded into an excel document, which is very convenient if you want to play with it yourself.

Last.fm: This one you probably know about, as it’s a little more popular, but it’s still really cool. Thousands of little programs of various sorts can hook onto your iTunes and upload what you’re listening to at any given moment. This all goes to your Last.fm page, where you can see how many times you’ve listened to a particular artist, or song, or genre or… There’s also a radio function so you can play songs from anywhere that are also in your library. What I use it most for, though, actually, is this other site Last Graph. This takes your Last.fm profile data and puts it into a beautiful flowing chart (not flow-chart) of who you’ve listened to over a timeline. It’s a little difficult to describe in words, so head over to the site and check it out!

Yawn Log: Made by some friends of friends of mine, this is a convenient little gadget to tell you how little sleep you’re really getting. Yet another one that I stopped using because I couldn’t really be bothered, it was still fun for a while. You put in when you went to sleep, when you woke up, and if you like, how you slept and dreams and so on. You can set a target amount of sleep per night, and it tells you how close you’ve gotten to that target over the past week, with a graph. It’s a work in progress still, as far as I can tell, so new things are popping up every day.

Wakoopa: This is another automatic one. You download a tiny program, and it records what programs you’ve used and for how long, as well as certain websites (that count as web applications, such as Gmail, or Facebook, or Twitter). Once again, it uploads these to your profile, and presents them as a list and as some nice pie charts so that you can see how distracted you really get. In theory, once it gets a bunch of data, it recommends you programs that you might like. So far I haven’t been interested in any of mine, but there’s still hope.

Mint: This isn’t quite the same as the other ones, it’s more actually functional and less simply interesting. You can put in your financial info (it’s reputable, I swear. Really.) and it collects your various balances from various banks and credit cards and so on in one place, so you don’t have to scavenge around the internet to get them. It can also provide you with charts and graphs of your spending, but since I primarily use cash from ATMs, this is all but useless to me. Nevertheless, for keeping track of how much money I have, it’s a great tool.

TripIt: A very cool way of keeping track of travel information. Useful both for fun’s sake, seeing how many miles you’ve travelled and how many cities and so on, but also again for getting everything in one place. Confirmation codes, things like that. Easy to input stuff, as you jsut send confirmation emails to them, and they magically put everything in. Pretty sweet.

WordPress: This isn’t a link, because it would only be a personal one. When you have a blog on WordPress, such as this one, you get a “Dashboard” along with it. This has handy things like comment tracking, news, and so on, but what really catches my eye is the statistics it gives you. It tells you where people came from to look at your blog, what they looked at, and where they went after. It gives you views per day, per week, and per month. So you can always strive to improve. Until recently these graphs were a little awkward, with a fluctuating baseline, so you couldn’t really get a sense of what was going on, but now that they are set at 0, it’s a wonderful resource. And one I pay attention to too much.

These are just a few of what I imagine are many different applications like them. I’ve read about ones that can track anything quantifiable, such as Daytum, or Plodt, but as I haven’t really used those I can’t say much about them. If you’re interested in quantifying pretty much anything, check out Wolfram Alpha, a search engine that gives you numbers and (hopefully useful) data about whatever you put in. I came across it a little before I found out it was actually useful, and I thought it was lame. But then, for complicated mail-related reasons I had to find out what 8.6 months from December 15th was, and Google completely failed me. I randomly tried Wolfram|Alpha (the proper way to type it I believe), and it worked like a charm! Needless to say I was impressed.

As a final thought, most of these of course bring up a question of privacy. Do you really want the entire internet to know what software you’re using, what you’re listening to, where you’re going? My answer, at least, is absolutely not. With the exception of Mint, these all have an automatic profile, which in theory everyone can see. I have my privacy options on all of them set so that no one but me can see it, which helps it to a certain extent. I realise that the data is still out there, and probably once I get bored with stats I’ll remove myself from all of these. But until then, it’s more fun than it is worrisome. After all, it doesn’t matter that much if someone else knows that I play a lot of Tetris instead of writing, right?

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