Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

How to Export Your Trakt Watching History for Free (and Do Some Data Analysis)

Trakt.tv is a great, free service for tracking your TV and movie watching. You can manually log what you watch or use additional integrations and tools to automatically track everything on Netflix and other places.

Whether your goal is to decrease your TV addiction or mere curiosity at knowing which shows you watch and when, Trakt is one of the best ways to quantify your media consumption. I’ve written previously about how track your TV and movie watching using Trakt. Personally my main usage is seeing my weekly viewing time statistic, which I can employ in my data-driven weekly review as a data point to better gauge how much tube time I spent and, if excessive, potentially take action.

Let’s go one step beyond the actual tracking and start leveraging our data. But first things first is getting our data.

Tracking services that don’t allow you to export your data should be avoided and honestly have a very bad data policy. Fortunately, Trakt provides a few options to export your data. One option is to become a VIP premium member and to download a CSV export directly from Trakt.tv. Alternatively, you can use a data aggregation service called Zenobase to pull your watching history directly from Trakt.

In this post, we will look at how to export your data from Trakt using Zenobase. First, we will look at how to integrate Trakt with Zenobase; second, at how to do basic data analysis around media time; and third, from there you can use Zenobase’s tools to explore the data, create visualizations and even download a full export of your TV and movie watching history on Trakt.

Build Your Own CRM With Evernote: A DIY Power Tool for Smart Networking

Here my basic recipe for building your own flexible networking tool using Evernote and LinkedIn.

Your network matters, and in an information-overload world, increasingly the tools and processes you use to manage your network matter too.

I use a combination of LinkedIn and Evernote as my DIY power tool solution for managing my contacts and all of their information and to create various networking processes.

While enterprise CRM solutions exist to manage your network and sales funnels, I’m a huge fan of this DIY solution of LinkedIn + Evernote. LinkedIn is the largest professional network. It provides us with raw contact info and personal data of nearly everyone out there. Evernote is the “Swiss Army Knife” of productivity tools. It provides a system for collecting notes on people, adding tags appropriately and is fully searchable. Evernote is an ideal choice for organizing and prioritizing all these connections and their information, and, with tags, Evernote can even be tweaked to create smart networking workflows.

I’m a long time fan of Evernote, and excluding my web browser, it’s the tool I use the most. I use Evernote for a number of functions like writing, task management, and reading articles One of the best descriptions is that Evernote is the equivalent of a digital “shoe box.”

In this post, I want to share how I have bridged this “gap” between the massive, informal network on LinkedIn and a “lite” CRM setup using Evernote. I put this DIY solution together several years ago, and it continues to be as one of my favorite productivity “hacks.” In the first part, we will look at LinkedIn and how to use it as your primary contact list and a method to quantify your “raw” network. In the second we then turn to Evernote, which is a note-based information management system and how you can create your DIY CRM using Evernote. Finally, we will conclude by mentioning some of the more technical aspects of networking, network information and smart process-based networking.

Science and Stories of Running: More Book Reviews on Running and Endurance

“In mind’s special processes, a ten-mile run takes far longer than the 60 minutes reported by a grandfather clock. Such time, in fact, hardly exists at all in the real world; it is all out on the trail somewhere, and you only go back to it when you are out there.” -Once a Runner

I’ve read quite a lot of books on running. As an obsessive autodidact, reading is a big part of how I learn. Not surprisingly, there are two parts to my journey to becoming a better running: running and reading.

I read a lot and I find long-form books to be one of the best ways to learn. This post is a followup on my previous post, “Some Great Books on Running,” where I reviewed nine other books on running.

In this post, we will look at several recent books I’ve read about running and endurance training. I will provide a short summary, review and rating of six more books.

Before jumping into my specific book reviews, I first wanted to share a few broad lessons I’ve acquired.

Track Your Podcast Listening With Screenshots

Looking for a simple “hack” to track your podcast listening? Take a screenshot every time you listen to an episode.

If you are a hardcore podcast listener, like me, it is difficult to remember what you’ve listened to and when. It’s similar challenging when you want to share a great podcast episode with a friend.

For the last year, I’ve been building and using a collection of tools to better quantify and track my podcast listening. But one simple habit or “hack” has been the basis for most of my podcast tracking: screenshots.

A recent chat exchange made me realize that this simple, habitual step is a great starting point for anyone who wants to keep track of their podcasts listening behavior.

For example, the other day I was chatting with a friend about what she had been up to all summer. When a random topic of mutual interest came up, I mentioned that I had just listened to a podcast on the very same time topic. She, of course, asked me to share it. I immediately went into my screenshot photos on my phone and browsed through my recent history. Eventually I pulled up the episode’s screenshot and shared it.

In an ideal world, my podcast listening app would automatically log and visualize all of this, and it would provide me with a better tool for tracking, showing my listening history and sharing.

As I shared in the “Dev Update: Building a Podcast Tracker App”, the current version of my podcast tracker is a simple website I’ve already built that let’s users log their podcast episodes manually. We are working on the next version that will be cross-platform for listening, tracking and managing your listening history.

For now, I recommend that anyone trying to better track and quantify their podcast listening to take a screenshot of the episodes they listen to. It only take a second and it’s an easy first step to denote the media you consume.

By initially logging my podcast listens with screenshots, I have entire folder of photos on my phone that I can look back on. I can see what I listened and with the meta-data, when and where. The fact that I had been “logging” my podcast with screenshots also makes it easy to share with friends later too.

If you want to go beyond this initially logging, I’ve built a simple tool to log them into a podcast aggregator. You can then check your listen time as a total, by week and by podcast channel. Moreover if you want to do your own data analysis, we provide an export. Contact me directly if you want to become a beta tester.

Tracking can come in a lot of forms. The majority of quantified self tools focuses on body, fitness and health tracking, like step counters, heart rate, and fitness. But I personally think there is a lot to be gained through comprehensive media tracking. For media tracking, you can log the books you read with GoodReads, you can record the shows and movies you watch with Trakt, and you can note the articles you read with Pocket, InstaPaper or use a DIY Article Reading Solution with Evernote.

Unfortunately there isn’t a great solution yet for tracking your podcast listening. So for now, I highly recommend the simple “hack” of taking a screenshot for every podcast episode you listen to. If nothing else, it’s easy to look back at your podcast listening history, and, if you want to go one step farther, you can log it manually elsewhere.

Best of luck and happy tracking!

Why You Should Do Regular Blood Tests: Benefits of Blood Testing and Blood Tracking

Blood testing is one of the most powerful ways to know about yourself and your health. If you are tracking other aspects of your life, then I recommend tracking your blood too. Blood testing will tell you if you have a disease (or predisposed to one), how your organs are functioning, the effectiveness of medicines, supplements, or fitness regimes, or even if you are pregnant. Blood tests are quite easy and fast, and they provide a wealth of information.

Blood is a bodily fluid that handles several important biological functions. Like checking the oil to know a car’s engine, you can understand the state of your body and its organs by testing and examining your blood and its constituent parts.

While blood testing may come with a periodic medical check-up, they are often reserved for when you have a medical problem and need a more intensive evaluation for a disease. By contrast, I would argue that everyone should get their blood work done regularly and not exclusively when you are sick. Moreover, everyone should gain a basic understanding about what is blood testing and how to read lab results. Your blood tests can help you optimize for wellness and performance. You should consider tracking your results too.

For me, as a self-tracker, understanding my blood and blood testing are logical extensions of a more comprehensive regime to track my health, productivity and life. Blood testing is a form of professional manual tracking. They aren’t hard, but unlike other forms of passive or manual tracking, blood tests require professional equipment, time, and money.

Blood testing can cost as little as 20-50 dollars to several hundred dollars depending on the specific tests. Personally I get my blood tests a few times a year, including at least one comprehensive health panel per year. I use various DIY blood testing services like Life Extension.

Unfortunately, like much of the medical space, blood testing can feel highly professionalized and difficult to understand for the layperson. This is unfortunate since blood testing results shouldn’t be the domain of experts nor exclusively used when you are unwell. In fact, blood tests should be something any health-conscious person can get done regularly and can easily learn to understand.

In this series of posts on blood tracking, I want to look at a range topics related to blood and how it can be used to help self-trackers and people in general understand their health.

Admittedly this is a topic that can get pretty technical. Even getting started tends to unravel into a new vocabulary and obscure acronyms. I’ll do my best to approach an explanation of blood testing step by step and cover the essentials and most useful aspects.

My emphasis is on how to use blood testing as a measurement for getting feedback on your body and yourself. I want to use blood testing as a framework for being “data-driven” in your health decisions and health tracking.

Here is the plan: First, in this post, we will look at why you should do get regular blood tests and some of the basic aspects of blood testing. In later posts, we will be examining some of the best blood tests, how to read your initial results and how to track your blood work over time. While the main focus will be some of the most common blood tests, I will highlight a few specific blood biomarkers and blood tests (like Vitamin D and Homocysteine) that are particularly beneficial. Finally we will look at some resources and steps you might use to create a data-driven process around your blood testing, your health changes and lifestyle improvements.

Let’s get started by looking at what is blood and blood testing.

Types of Self Tracking: Passive vs Manual Tracking

There are a lot of different ways to track and quantify your life. Before getting overwhelmed by all the kinds of tracking and even the time it might take to setup, let’s first categorize the types of tracking.

Broadly speaking, you can separate tracking into two categories: passive tracking and manual tracking. You can then separate the types of manual tracking according to the effort, time and/or professional equipment required to measure something.

In general, the best form of tracking is passive tracking, but there are several examples of both simple manual tracking and more intensive manual tracking that are worth the effort and provide extremely valuable insights.

We shouldn’t forget though that tracking itself is just the first step in a process to become data-driven and, ultimately, to optimize your life. Don’t just track. Use it to make better decisions and changes.

We can breakdown tracking into three categories: passive tracking, minimally manual tracking and professional, manual tracking. The difference lies in the amount of on-going action required to track the thing and need for professional help or tools for measurement.

Running in Koh Tao: Where to Run and Hike on This Diving Paradise?

Are you heading out to the diver’s paradise of Koh Tao, Thailand, but not sure about keeping up your running?

I recently spent about a month in Koh Tao, Thailand, a small rocky island in the Gulf of Thailand, and I would summarize running options in Koh Tao as: running along the roads, lots of hills, hot and humid conditions, and don’t be afraid to get wet.

In spite of its small size, there are a few routes for running and hiking on Koh Tao. It’s not ideal running situation, but with nice beaches on all sides, it’s easy to end any run with a swim. My best advice: prepare for some steep hills!

Finding My VO2 Max: Running and the Pursuit of Measuring Improvement

How fast am I right now? What is my physiological running capacity? What about my running efficiency? How am I running?

These were some of the questions I was asking myself as I stepped into the Singapore Sports Medicine Clinic. I was there for my first VO2 Max Test. I was more curious than nervous for what is essentially a maximal effort running test on a treadmill with a mask attached to your face. I looked a bit like Bane from Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” In the reality was that like any assessment or race, a few butterflies were in my stomach knowing that I would be pushing myself close to a physical limit.

What is VO2 Max? VO2 Max was one of the oldest measurable aspects of sport physiology yet it continues to be used today. A form of VO2 was tested and used by Edmund Hillary and his team before first climbing Mount Everest and during the lead-up to Roger Bannister’s epic four-minute mile. Nike’s Breaking2 Team used VO2 Max in the battery of tests during their attempt at breaking a sub-2-hour marathon.

In short, VO2 Max is your maximum-oxygen-processing capacity. It’s a number that varies from athlete to athlete depending on the level of cardiovascular fitness, but at its core VO2 Max represents your current fitness level.

How is VO2 Tested? While there are a few different ways to estimate your VO2 Max, the most common way to determine your VO2 Max is a sport lab test. With a mask attached over your nose and mouth, you progressively increase your running speed on a treadmill until your oxygen exchange rate no longer increases (or you can no longer go faster). You capture this data point at maximum exertion.

In this post I want to share a bit about what is VO2 Max, my lab test and results and a few conclusions and lessons learned.

The Data-Driven Weekly Review: How to Use Data and Self-Reflection for Iterative Improvements

Weekly Review 2.0: Of all my habits and routines, writing a weekly review is one of my favorite and most productively beneficial.

A “Weekly Review” is a period of time you set aside each week to pause and take a higher level look at your projects and tasks. In contrast to your doing and working mode, a weekly review is a reflective one. It’s about checking-in on how things are going, dealing with the mess, organizing it all and planning the future.

Each week I set aside about 30 minutes to take a step back. I see how things went during the previous 7 days. I pull out some key data points and write down my key takeaways. Then I set some objectives and mental visualizations for the week to come. Great weeks and shitty weeks happen, but the war is often won in finding consistency in your forward momentum. This is the power of the weekly review.

As I’ve become more and more focused on self-tracking and data collection, my weekly reviews have become increasingly data-driven.

In this post, we are going to look at the basics of what is a weekly review and using your tracking data to improve how you can do your weekly review. The goal is to make your weekly reviews data-driven. I’ll share my simple recipe using Google Form, Google Sheets, Zapier and Evernote to collect and log your data, to calculate and compare your trends and, finally, to generate a weekly review template for high-quality reflection and writing.

Export Your Apple Health Workouts to Your Calendar

DIY Workout Dashboard: Calendars can be much more than a tool for your appointments and time management. By pulling in workouts you track, your calendar can become your data-driven dashboard to health and fitness too.

As we looked at in detail in Calendar as a Self-Tracking Tool: How Visualize Your Life and Quantified Data, there are various tracking data that you can link to your calendar. We can pull in your movements, your cycling and running sessions and your tracked time. These data points let you see an overview of your goals inside one of the tools you use the most: your calendar.

Let’s add one more data point to our data-driven, tracking-aggregating calendars: your logged workouts from Apple Health.

This post is a simple recipe about how to export all of your workouts logged in iOS, import them into Google and display them in your calendar. If you are logging your workouts in iOs (and your really should be!), then it’s quite easy to bring this into your calendar.