Minding the Borderlands

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

Pocket Casts: A Podcast App With Listening Statistics and Tracking

If you are a regular podcast listener, you might be wondering how to track your listening. I found my answer in Pocket Casts app.

We are in the golden age of podcasting. There are so many great podcasts you can listen to. I’m currently hooked on the likes of Serial, Freakonomics and Presidential, b ut I also indulge in a number of niche podcasts too.

When it comes how you listen to a podcast, it’s never been easier. Depending on my travel and work schedule, I might listen to a single podcast in a day or several. I might listen for 30 minutes in a day or more. But I kept wondering exactly how much time was I listening to podcasts?

Tracking Your Meditation Sessions With Calm

Calm is a great meditation app. It’s visually and functionally beautiful and provides a great way to mediate through guided or unguided sessions. As an added bonus, it does a amazing job of tracking and displaying your progress.

Meditation is the practice of training your mind. It has been around for thousands of years. You take time to learn about your brain processes and develop mental frameworks. It’s a practice I highly recommend everyone trying.

There are a lot of applications out there to help you meditate. There must be hundreds of meditation apps in the Apple and Android stores. But when you are evaluating these tools as a self-tracker or, in our case, the goal of tracking everything, you are also looking for applications that provide a history of your usage. You are looking for great single-purpose applications that also store information about your usage and ideally provide graphs, statistics or a calendar. It’s not just about the app but about the data.

Tracking the Soundtrack of Your Life

We are on a journey to document how to track everything (or at least everything within limits). Let’s look at tracking the music we listen to.

Music has existed since the dawn of humanity. We’ve also been singers and drummers, and over ages, we’ve created a wealth of instruments, sounds and styles. Today we are both listeners and collectors of music.

Today we live in the age of personal music listening. The walkman brought music on the go. Future advances made music listening ubiquitous. We can listen to music on our computer, smart phone or mp3 player anywhere.

But do you know what you listen to most? Which tracks? Which artists? Styles?

There are a lot of aspects of our lives that we can track, and I’m an obsessive self-tracker and an adherent of the quantified self movement. We looked at counting steps and tracking time, and we will be looking at tracking food, habits, and many other areas. But for now I want to look at tracking what we “consume” including TV, movies, books, articles and even music.

In this post, we will look at tracking music listening. Using a service like Last.FM makes tracking your music listening easy. You are able to track what songs you listen to and then look at your listening habits over time.

Counting Steps: An Entry Into the Quantified Self Movement

I’m an obsessive self-tracker. I track everything. But it’s also the era we live in, the era of digital traces and the age of the quantified self. Whether we know it or not, we are track things. Or, to be more precise, our devices are tracking us.

This leads to a simple question: How much of our lives can be tracked?

It’s 2016. Where do we stand on our capacity to collect meaningful, personal data? How many data points can we collect about what we do, how we move, live, etc? What areas are currently more easily tracked? What areas have emerging technologies that will allow more tracking and capturing personal data?

In a series of posts and following a more philosophical and poetic prologue on self-tracking, I’m going to look at tracking in some of the following areas: Sleep, Computer Usage, Heart Rate, Exercise, Movement, Time, Internet Usage, Podcast and Audiobook Listening, Habits/Goals/Tasks Tracking, Location, and more.

While arguably the most tracked and monitored arena of human activity is internet and app usage, it’s not talked about that much. As more of our lives intersect with the internet, it’s created a wealth of information and data about our internet behaviors. In fact, most smart home applications essentially add internet connectivity.

Before we dig into data on our internet usage and our internet, I want to start by looking at tracking our steps. For many folks, like myself, counting steps was our entry into the “Quantified Self” Movement. Essentially we suddenly had a number that we could use a measurable target for daily movement. For this first post, let’s look at the one of the most public and active area of human tracking, the pedometer.

Tracking Everything: Prologue From an Obsessive Tracker

To the extent it’s possible and reasonable, I track everything. I record my steps and location. I track my time and internet usage. I check off my habits and completed tasks. I have a log of my heart rate. I journal about what I’m thinking about, studying, or debating internally. I have hundreds of hours of sleep in my logbook. I archive and highlight articles and quotes of books I read. I have written drafts on over 200 ideas. I’ve compiled a list of nearly every book I’ve read or listened to. I keep a weekly diary reviewing the past 7 days and often add daily entries. I have an extensive digital trace.

I write. I document. I record. I track.

Flossing Daily or How to Build a Life Habit

Floss. A plastic box of string, unused yet lingering in the bathroom since you last visit to the dentist. Its mint-tinted flavor is an artifact of our human health progress. Floss, its presence a guilty reminder that you should floss. Your dentist says. The internet says. Your mom says.

But you don’t. You don’t floss.

Most people don’t floss regularly. According to an oral health survey by the American Dental Association, “Only four of 10 Americans floss at least once a day, and 20 percent never floss.”

We also lie about our flossing habits. In a report from NPR, nearly one out of four “lie to their dentists about how often they floss their teeth.”

So you don’t floss and maybe you even lie about it from time to time. I’ve been there.

While I’m a goal-driven and productive dude, I too have struggled on multiple attempts to floss regularly. About three months ago, “floss daily” came up in my list of positive habits I should work on. I once again decided to build this habit into my routine. Fortunately three months later I can claim to have successfully incorporated flossing into my daily routine. According to my records, I’ve flossed daily for 90+ days.

There were three basic techniques I used to start and continue flossing regularly: 1. habit chunking, i.e. the process of combining new activities onto existing habits, 2. activity tracking wherein I track if I did the thing I’ve set out to do, and finally, 3. enjoy and experience the moment. Along with a couple of interesting tweaks, I become a daily flosser.

Here is how I did and what I’ve learned about flossing and daily habits. Here’s how you can learn to floss daily (or build any habit for that matter).

2000 Books Reading Challenge

Some goals take special skills or training. A few you can do right now. Other challenges merely take time or planning. This is a basic categorization of all goals: it takes special skills/training, it takes planning, or I can do it right now.

Read 2000 books. I want to read 2000 books in my lifetime. This is a goal that takes time and dedication. You have to read regularly, but beyond the time commitment, there is not much else required.

Many of most successful people like Warren Buffet dedicate significant amounts of time to reading. Personally, I find reading to be incredibly meaningful. I get a chance to gain knowledge and discover stories. I believe extensive reading is a meaningful human goal.

In this post, I will talk about why and how I am going to reach my lifetime reading goal of 2000 books as well as some of the great pieces of literature and knowledge I want to touch.

Once you have the number of books, this challenge provides a framework for filling in the pieces of what I want to achieve. Which books will I read? Who will I read about? Which languages? What time periods or scientific subjects? What classic literature do I want read or re-read?

Metrics for Rating China’s Startup Community

It’s difficult to summarize the state of startups in China. There is media about China’s startup amazing-ness. Yet it’s not easy to see it as a whole.

China is pumped up for its potential “threat” to Silicon Valley or it’s degraded for its corruption and weakness. Both typical observations for people new to the China’s Startup Scene.

There are a lot of stories and little reliable data. “Startup Powerhouse” China was absent from Compass’s 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking which is notable considering its importance both regionally in Asia-Pacific and globally.

I’d like to provide some context and metrics for a conversation about China’s startup community and startup scene.

Let’s get things in context before looking at China’s place in perspective.

My Tools of Productive Awesome-ness

So, you want to be a badass ninja of productivity, right?

Here are the productivity tools I use regularly in pursuit of this goal. I’ve sharpened them like a samurai sword and continue to train my usage like a kong-fu master. If you want to become more productive, I highly recommend you try some of them out.

In this post, I’ll share my favorite tools and how I use them. Ultimately like any exercise in mind or body, it’s up to you to try them out, put in the world and make yourself into a ninja of productive awesome-ness.

Sitting Cross-Legged on the Floor: A Personal Health Experiment

When my grandpa was around 80 years old, he went into have a physical checkup. He had lived a long and productive life as a farmer in Western Nebraska. He was a physical man. Everyday he awoke early to tend his crops and herds. Even at that age, he still harvested several fields on his own.

After going through a few tests, the doctor asked him to stand up and try to touch his toes. With a bit of a grunt he stood up, bent forward and touched his toes. His body of over eight decades was still flexible enough to touch his toes without a hesitation or second thought.

My body isn’t half way to my grandpa’s age, and yet I can’t touch my toes.

Admittedly, I’ve never been very flexible. In my early teens, I recall pained struggles reaching to touch my toes and accepting failure as I touched towards my shins.

As a kid and even today, I can’t sit cross-legged comfortably on the floor.

Humans have been sitting on the ground in various postures for thousands of years. And yet in the last century or so, we’ve lost many of our capabilities. We sit in chairs, couches or beds. We take cars or other modes of transportation. We are no longer endowed with able bodies.

Over the past several months, I’ve been building my body. I’ve been exploring various exercises in order to better understand and reconstruct a capable body. I’m not aiming to win any Olympic Golds nor break any records. I merely want to be capable of running, jumping, lifting and pushing.

Through running and bodyweight training, I’ve come to realize that the body (and the mind!) can be trained to be bigger, better and faster.

For example, a couple months ago I could barely run for a few minutes without pained breathing. Now, through persistence and practice, I can run for a couple miles nonstop. Good habits and persistence go far.

So, I decided that a typical, healthy, human (myself included!) should be able to sit comfortably on the ground. Our ancestors had been doing it for ages. So should I.