Cyclemeter for iOS: A Great App for Cyclists (and Runners Too)

I try to ride my bike most mornings, assuming it’s not pouring down rain. It’s the same route most days, but it occured to me a few weeks ago that I really had no idea how far, or fast, I was riding. Being the nerd that I am, I decided to find a technology solution to this problem.

Enter Cyclemeter

Dedicated bike computers and GPS devices have existed for some years now, but like most everyone else these days, I’ve got an iPhone with a GPS built right in. A little searching led me to a number of apps that did what I wanted, and after reading some reviews, I settled on Cyclemeter. The name is actually a bit of a misnomer, since the app will also work for walking, runnig, skiing, or pretty much any other activity that involves moving forward on a mostly-horizontal plane.

How it Works

Once you’ve installed the app, it’s easy to get started. Open the app, and click the giant green “Start” button. Then get moving. Cyclemeter will plot your route as you go, and calculate your time, speed, distance, elevation and calories burned (if you provide your weight). When you’re done, click “Stop”, and CycleMeter saves the information. You can look back at previous days on the calendar.

Cyclemeter has a slew of other features, like sharing via Facebook, Twitter or Daily Mile, competing against yourself or someone else, and a bunch of nice ways to visualize your results. You can also export all of the data, so you’re not locked in if you want to move to something else, or just want to play with the numbers yourself. All of your data can be backed up to iCloud as well, so you won’t lose it if you run into a tree and shatter your iPhone.

You Need This

At $4.99 Cyclemeter is quite a value when you consider what it replaces. If you bike or run, I’d highly recommend it. You can buy it on the App Store.

How to Use Prismatic to Discover the News You Care About

As the title of my blog implies, I’m a curious person. I like learning, and I’m addicted to keeping up on the latest news about things I’m interested in: programming, design, and the like. Sometimes I find it hard to keep up with it all. About a month ago, I discovered Prismatic, and it’s changed how I read the web by making it easier to find the news that I care about.

Prismatic scans all of the links that come across Twitter (that’s a lot of links), and categorizes them using some fairly sophisticated software (written in Clojure), and then matches those links to you based on who you follow and what you tweet about. It sifts through all of Twitter to find the stuff that YOU care about. That’s powerful.

Getting started with Prismatic is easy. Sign in and link it to your Twitter accounts and it will present you with a list of articles that you will like, based on your Twitter activity. You can also tell Prismatic what you’re interested in, by adding, well, interests. They seem to have just about everything, so whatever you’re looking for is likely to be there.

Prismatic gives you the stuff you care about presented in a single “river of news” format - as you get to the end of the page, it loads more articles for you. They pull out a little it of the article to give you an idea of what it’s about, and show you a sampling of what people on Twitter are saying about it. Each article that you see has a couple of controls on it that let you tell Prismatic what you like and dislike, which will adjust what it shows you based on that feedback. In theory, at least, it will learn over time what you want to see and show you more of what you like, and less of what you don’t.

I’ve been using Prismatic for a month now, and I’m completely addicted. It’s a great way to find news about the things you’re interested in, has some great features, and there’s certainly more to come (an iOS app is in the works according to their blog). Try it out and let me know what you think.

Cool Tool: If This Then That

I tend to be a little skeptical of the new and shiny. There is often a lot of hype about how life changing some new website or gizmo is going to be. Sometimes, however, something comes along that does live up to the hype. The latest one I’ve found is a rather nondescript site called ifttt. The URL is strange, until you understand that it stands for “If This Then That”. What the site does is allow you to automate bits of your digital life by watching for events (the “if this” portion), and then taking an action (the “then that” portion). It lets you tie together the various sites and services that you use, allowing you to do even more with them.

This warrants an example, perhaps.

Let’s say you take lots of pictures of your kids with Instagram. And let’s say your mom (or grandmother) isn’t the most tech-savvy user. She uses email, but doesn’t have a smartphone and doesn’t want one. She doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could automatically email any pictures you post to Instagram to your mother so that she doesn’t give you a guilt trip for never sending her pictures of her grandkids (hypothetically speaking, of course. Any resemblance to my own mother is purely coincidental). Ifttt can do that for you. What about those receipts you get emailed to you every month that you need at the end of the year for taxes? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get those sent to a specific folder in Evernote so that they’re all in one place? Ifttt can do that for you. You know all those links that come across your Twitter stream that you don’t take the time to read? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just favorite the tweet and have the link in the tweet automagically added to your Instapaper account? Ifttt can do that for you.

So, how does it work?

Ifttt is built on the idea of triggers, channels, tasks, and recipes.

Channels represent the hooks into the websites you use. Gmail, Google Reader,Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, Dropbox, Instagram, etc. If it’s a popular service, ifttt probably has a channel for it. There are also general channels for things like RSS feeds that aren’t tied to a specific service.

Triggers then are events that occur on these services. A picture is taken on Instagram, a new email appears in your Gmail account, someone new follows you on Twitter. Triggers allow you to specify when you want to take action. They also frequently allow you to specify criteria. In the case of Gmail, for example, you can specify that you only want to take action if the email is from a specific person, or contains a certain word in the subject line. If you’ve ever created filters in Gmail or Outlook, it’s the same concept, but applied on a much larger scale.

Tasks, like Triggers, are built on Channels. They allow you to perform tasks in reaction to a trigger. Examples of tasks would be things like:

  • Sending an email
  • Creating a new note in Evernote
  • Sending a tweet
  • Send an SMS message

Tasks let you use data from the triggers (ie the subject line in an email) in your task. So you could, for example, use the subject of an email to populate the subject of your note in Evernote.

Recipes are pre-made combinations of the other items, created either by the team at ifttt, by other users, or yourself. There are a lot of them, and chances are you will find a lot of them that you can put to use immediately. Here are a few that I’m either using myself or found interesting:

You get the idea.

I’ve only been using this service for a couple of months, but I’ve already discovered a lot of useful things I can automate with it. Posting things to Twitter for me, taking receipts that I get in email and adding them to my Tax Folder in Evernote, etc. This saves me time and makes my life easier. What’s most exciting though is that there is that this service is very young, and has a lot of potential. There are a lot more channels, tasks, and triggers yet to be created. Perhaps one day they will add the ability to do conditionals, or even more complex logic, using JavaScript or some other language.

It’s early, but I see a lot of potential here. Go create an account and try it out yourself. What can you automate?

The Tools I Use

Inspired by Mike Gunderloy’s recent blog post, I decided to put together a list of the tools I use, both hardware and software.

I use a Mac at home and a Windows laptop at work; I plan to cover the Windows tools in a later post.

Hardware

  • MacBook Pro
    My primary computer is a late-2007 17” Macbook Pro with 2gb of RAM and a 160gb hard drive. I love this laptop, but I made two mistakes when buying it. First, I should have gone with the higher resolution display. If you’re going to have a 17” laptop, you should have as many pixels as you can. Second, I way undersized the hard drive. It was larger than the one in the laptop it replaced, but since I have the three most adorable kids ever, I take a lot more pictures and video than I did previously. This has quickly filled up the hard drive, to the point that I’ll need to replace it with a much larger one next year. To sum up: when buying a laptop, get the largest hard drive and the most pixels you can afford, unless you need ultra-portability.
  • 24-inch Dell Monitor
    Looks nice, and very affordable. Mine was refurbished. The picture quality isn’t bad, but it’s one of their very low-cost displays and is of lower quality than the rest of the line (I didn’t know this at the time). If I was a graphic designer or professional photographer I would probably care more. Since this primarily displays a code editor, a terminal window, and a web browser, I don’t really mind much.
  • Apple Extended Keyboard II
    These are the legendary Apple keyboard you’ve heard about, and the hype about them is true. I bought a couple of them gently used from EBay and then scrubbed them with a brush and some dish soap to clean them up. Paired with a Griffin ADB to USB converter, they work very well. I’m a sucker for the old-style keyboard action.
  • Mighty Mouse (bluetooth)
    A lot of people hate this mouse, but I don’t understand why. It’s solidly built, confortable, and has that cool little ball on top. That said, I’m a keyboard junkie and avoid the mouse when I can.
  • Time Capsule
    This serves as both wireless router for the house as well as the backup system for both laptops. I don’t have an off-site backup at the moment, I need to look into that.
  • Cambridge Soundworks Speakers
    I really wanted the Klipsch computer speakers, but they’re more than I want to spend. These sound good, and cost me only a little over \$100 refurbished.

Software

  • Emacs
    I learned programming with an IDE, but I learned to edit text with Emacs. I’ve been using it for 10 years or so now, and it would be difficult to switch. Every few years I have some brief dalliance with another editor (the last one was Textmate, when I bought my first Mac), but I always return to my first love. What emacs lacks in style, it more than makes up for in substance. In one window I can edit code, run shell commands (or a shell, for that matter), edit files on remote servers, and much more. It’s endlessly scriptable and insanely powerful. The fact that it’s cross platform helps as well. My emacs configuration, which works the same (with a couple of minor exceptions) on all the platforms I use it, is located on Github
  • Safari
    I really want to like Firefox, but it’s just too slow. Safari is quick, stable, and includes all the features I want.
  • The Hit List
    Even though it seems to be the popular thing to do these days, I’m not on a continual quest to find The Ultimate Todo List App. I got The Hit List as part of a MacHeist software bundle, and it works well. I mean, seriously, what do you really need in a todo list application? I can make items, I can check them off. The rest is gravy.
  • Adium
    It’s not perfect, but I can talk to people on pretty much any IM network out there.
  • Tweetie
    I used Twitterific for a couple of years, both on the iPod Touch and OS X. Frankly, it was left to rot, with no updates for a very long time. When Tweetie for the iPhone came out, I bought it immediately and after using it for 10 minutes, concluded that I wanted it for the desktop as well. I got my wish, and I’ve been happy ever since.
  • NetNewsWire
    I do not read as many feeds as I used to. I mean, I subscribe to a lot, I just don’t read them that often. My thoughts on why are here. When I do read feeds though, this is the app I do it in. I like that I can navigate everything with the keyboard and send things to Evernote and Instapaper easily.
  • 1Password
    I can’t remember all the passwords I create, or often even the account names (sometimes it’s a username, sometimes it’s an email address…). 1Password remembers them all for me and enters them for me automatically as well.
  • Evernote
    I use Evernote to track all the little bits of data I accumulate: code snippets, blog posts, how tos, meeting notes, PDFs, presentations, etc. I like the fact that it syncs with other computers, and it’s search works very well. I hate the way it captures web pages though, it destroys all the formatting. Yojimbo gets this right. It’s PDF viewing isn’t all that great either
  • Skype
    Skype works great if everyone is on a fast network pipe. It falls down spectacularly if anyone is on a slightly flaky network connection, like say a cell network connection. I use Skype mostly for after hours deployments (group voice call), and video chats with the Grandparents.
  • iWork
    I use Keynote for creating the occasional presentation and Pages for creating things that require more formatting than a text document. Numbers is the coolest application I almost never use.
  • Terminal
    I always have a terminal window open. Always. Usually more than one.
  • Pixelmator
    Photoshop is awesome, but it is both expensive and far more complicated than I want. I am not an image editing guru, I really just need basic capabilities. Pixelmator provides that - it’s Photoshop for mere mortals.

Online

  • Gmail
    It’s got an amazing spam filter and supports IMAP and POP out of the box (Yahoo still charges for this, for reasons I can’t comprehend). I use the online client almost exclusively.
  • Google Docs
    I love being able to create spreadsheets and easily share them with my better half. It does basically everything I need a spreadsheet app to do, and it does it well.
  • Pivotal Tracker
    Oh, how I love Pivotal Tracker. It’s a simple but powerful project management application that lets you keep track of features, bugs, and chores. I keep all my side projects in here, under a seperate account from the one I use at work. Any application I’ve built is in here as a seperate project (this blog, for example). Any time I discover a bug, or think of a feature I want to add, I can throw it in here under the appropriate project and it will be waiting for me when I have time to work on it. It’s nearly perfect.
  • Instapaper
    I read. A lot. Instapaper lets me capture things that I want to read later, and conveniently strips out all of the formatting for me. The iPhone application is great as well, I can carry reading material with me anywhere.

Hosting

  • VPSLink
    I’ve been hosted with these guys for a couple of years. Fast VPS servers and great uptime.

So that’s what I use to do what I do. If you’ve done a similar list, add a comment below with a link. Or if you have a recommendation for something to replace one of my tools, I’m always looking for cool new tools.

My Favorite New Site: Tripit


I’d heard (first from Joel Spolsky, I believe) about a cool new travel planning site called Tripit. I’m making arrangements for a trip to St. Louis later this month, and so I thought this would be a good opportunity to try it out. To say the least, I’m impressed.

The first thing that I noticed was the registration process: there isn’t one. All you have to do is take any travel-related email (hotel confirmation, airline itinerary, etc) and forward it to plans@tripit.com. If the email account you sent it from isn’t already registered with Tripit, they create an account for you and send you your registration details. Most sites would have you create an account first, filling out a lengthy form before you could use it. Tripit’s strategy on this is brilliant as it removes all barriers to entry to their service, making it completely painless.

Tripit then takes that email and creates an itinerary. I emailed it a hotel confirmation, and it was able to extract out the hotel name, arrival and departure dates, the city I was staying in and more. It builds a nice itinerary out of this data, and adds some useful information to it like weather and maps.

Tripit also allows you to collaborate, sharing your trip information with others in your party. There’s also a social networking component. If you add contacts who also use Tripit, you can see who else might be close to you on an upcoming trip. I don’t really travel enough to probably get much use out of that, but I can certainly imagine that it will be useful to a lot of people.

One other nice feature is that it can publish your itinerary in iCalendar format, for consumption by Google Calendar, Outlook 2007, or Apple’s ICal. It also appears to have good support for mobile devices, though I haven’t had a chance to try that out. One other nerdy item to note is that they’ve marked up many of their pages with Microformats.

All in all, Tripit is an impressive service so far. I would definitely recommend giving it a try - it’s as easy as it gets.