Foursquare Hackathon Cardiff – Day 2

Wow. I thought Saturday was busy, but I was wrong. Saturday was a cake walk compared to the crazy nightmare that was Sunday. The challenge of trying to get something (anything) working before the app submission deadline was incredible. Coding was fast and intense, and required a lot of good communication and fast thinking. Unfortunately we hit a few roadblocks that slowed us down (2 hours debugging problems with django’s static file serving really didn’t help, neither did jQuery mobile being an absolute pain in the rear end), but by the end of the day we had a nice looking site with some actual working functionality. Nowhere near the level of functionality that we’d hoped for, but it’s a start. All three of us that were working on the app towards the end are aiming to carry on the development, so hopefully I’ll have another project to post about up here as the months go on.

A number of people didn’t make it to the Sunday, which is a shame, but the core teams of both projects were in early and working hard, and by the end of the day both had been declared ‘working’ enough to submit. Maybe they’ll do ok against the competition, but we’ll see. A couple more hours on our pub crawl app could really have helped as there’s some key functionality missing, but there just wasn’t time to get it working. Overall though, the event was a success. We managed to pull in people from outside our own hyper-local school development team, we all managed to learn some new things and teach some things to others, and I think most people genuinely had fun. It’s definitely an experience I’m looking forward to repeating, both as a hackday organiser and as just a participant. BOX UK have a ‘For the Social Good‘ hackday coming up in November that I’ve already registered for, and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for others in the future, and for opportunities to organise more.

I think I learnt a few things about organising and participating in these sorts of events, so I’ll be putting up a post in the next few days to share the knowledge.

More Augmented Conversation

Another update on the summer project? Already? Yes.

The project is really cracking on. We’re two weeks from the end and beginning to see the results roll in, every meeting brings a new version of the software with more functionality. Nick has successfully written a nice framework that allows us to input conversations and automatically retrieve search results based on the topics of those conversations. Even the voice input works (almost) and we’ve got enough time to try and move on to some content extraction ideas. I’ve now written a script to do some automatic evaluation and we’re in a position to subject the attendees of next week’s mobisoc meeting to a human evaluation, which I’m sure will be fun for all concerned.

There’s some screenshots of the app working below so you can get a flavour of what we’re working on:

Losing Weight in 2011 continued… Libra

Another of the very useful apps I’ve been using since the start of the “New Regime” is Libra. It totally makes up for the crappy progress graphs on the MyFitnessPal website or in the mobile app.

It’s an app that has a singular purpose: it’s just for tracking weight. But it does it very well. You enter a weight for every day, it works out statistics based on those weights, calculates the trend value for your weight, (so smoothes out daily fluctuations caused by water intake etc), and predicts when you’ll hit your target. It performs a weekly backup of data to the SD card, and will export data in csv format too. Screenshots below:

The Libra app is available on the android market for free, with a paid ad-free version also available.

Losing Weight in 2011 continued… My Fitness Pal

(The first in a series of posts on apps I’ve found useful under ‘the new regime’)

One of the best apps/services I’ve found for general fitness and nutrition and weight loss is MyFitnessPal. I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have made quite as good progress without it.

The main selling point of the service is that it allows you to track what you eat and what exercise you do, in order to monitor and help regulate your calorific intake. When you create an account you put in the usual details as well as your weight and height, tell it how much activity you do on a daily basis and how much weight you’d like to lose, and it works out how many calories you should eat each day to hit that target. All you have to do is enter the food you eat (by searching the food database) and the exercise you do (cardiovascular/strength training can be entered separately) and it calculates your net deficit/over spend each day.

I’m a big sucker for life-logging, and logging each part of each meal takes this to the extreme. I now have almost 5 months of data on what I’ve been eating. Why I’d want this, I’m not sure, but it’s there now! The service also handles logging stats such as weight, waist, neck and chest measurements, although the progress graphs for these leave a lot to be desired. Like most good services, this is a website with associated mobile app, with android, iPhone and blackberry versions available. Some screenshots of the android app and the website are below:

Large database of foods with calorific and nutritional information
Easy logging of food and exercise, weight and measurements
Adjusts calorie allowance as weight changes
Social features – friends, forums etc

Mobile app makes it easy to log food or exercise while out and about
Easy to stay on top of calorific intake – actually helps with weight loss
Lots of support, encouragement and advice on forums
Can contribute to database if food is missing
Can report inaccurate data, up-vote correct data

Users can contribute to database and some users are stupid
Progress graphs are pretty useless
Mobile app and website sometimes disagree on calories burnt from exercise

The MyFitnessPal website is at and the mobile apps are available here.

(thanks to my good friend Christopher for the initial heads up on this site!)

Losing weight in 2011

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been living under what we’ve been calling ‘the new regime’. This ‘new regime’ basically involves not living like a fat useless slob, so I’ve been getting fit, eating healthily and losing weight. So far I’ve lost over 10kg and can now run around the park a few times without collapsing to the floor clutching at my chest and screaming about ambulances, so I’d say its going pretty well. The basic concept behind the new regime is:

Eat less + do more = lose weight.

This will be followed once some weight has been lost by:

Eat a normal amount + do more = stay the same.

About a month ago, I came across someone somewhere on the internet recommending “The Hacker’s Diet” as a guide for weight loss. Not having read such a guide before I started on ‘the new regime’ I skimmed it a bit; the tl;dr version is:

Eat less + do more = lose weight.

This doesn’t exactly seem like rocket science to me, but lots of people seem to have a problem grasping this concept. The Hacker’s Diet does a pretty decent job of describing the human body as a simple system with inputs and outputs and manages to explain that if you limit your input and increase your output, you get a deficit and lose weight. So if you find anyone that says ‘Oh, I really struggle to lose weight’, slap them round the back of the head and point them in that direction.

The whole point of this post is that the last couple of chapters of the book contain a lot of information about tracking the calories you eat, the calories you burn, analysing trend from daily weight figures and so on. There’s a lot of detail on how to create spreadsheets to calculate weight trends, how to keep a daily log of calorie intake, and pages and pages of calorific information for food. The thing is, it’s 2011 now so none of those chapters are necessary, because as with anything that’s a pain in the rear end there are now loads of apps available to make life easier. As I’ve been using a number of them for 5 months I figure I’ll share the knowledge and review some of them over the next few days.