I spend a lot of time thinking about stagnation.
Technical knowledge has a shelf life. Eventually, it expires. Andrew Hunt and Dave Thomas discuss this in The Pragmatic Programmer:
Your knowledge becomes out of date as new techniques, languages, and environments are developed. Changing market forces may render your experience obsolete or irrelevant. Given the speed at which Web-years fly by, this can happen pretty quickly.
Don’t get me wrong — C# is a great language, and I like it a lot. I’ve even ventured out into the world of .NET open source! There’s a lot of room to grow, and the upcoming changes in C# 6.0 are really exciting. The language is getting more dynamic and more expressive with every release. I’m looking forward to writing C# code for many years to come, but today, C# is the only language I really know well. Nine years is a long time to stick to working in one language. What else am I missing because I’m not experimenting with other technologies?
There’s one way to find out. It’s time to try something new.
A Personal Dashboard
Learning a new set of technologies is easier said than done. In my experience, the best way to learn something new is to just try it out, so I went looking for a side project.
A couple of days into the search, I found this Tweet:
It's underestimated how much value you can provide simply by intelligently gluing together existing APIs and services.— Einar Vollset (@einarvollset) April 3, 2015
A few weeks ago, I started wearing a FitBit and tracking the number of steps I take during the day. Does FitBit have an API where I can access that data? As it turns out, they do.
FitBit data is easy to visualize, so putting it into a chart seems like an obvious option. I’m not the first person to figure this out.
Okay. Let’s build a dashboard.
I’m passively pushing data into a few other places, too - commits to GitHub, calorie information into LifeSum, articles to Instapaper. Once I’ve got the basics down, I can incorporate that data into my dashboard, too.
Dashboards are a UI Playground
(With apologies to John Gruber)
Once I decided on a personal dashboard, I started looking around for inspiration. As usual, the internet is a rich source of prior art: dashboards crop up everywhere once you start looking for them.
Examples range from the science fictional:
Image credit: Jayse Hansen
…to the realistic:
Image credit: Panic
Of course, the canonical example of excellent personal analytics has to be Nicholas Feltron:
Image credit: Nick Feltron
Do I expect my project to look as good as that? No, I don’t. Do I expect to end up with something in the same zip code?
I hope so.
I’ve got a destination in mind, and I have a vague idea of what the end result should look like. In my next post, I’ll figure out what I’m going to use to build my dashboard.