Avoiding the ‘Idiot Light’

When I was first learning to drive, my dad told me that the check oil light, what he called the idiot light, should never come on. If I ever saw that light it meant I had been neglecting the basic maintenance of my car, and I should expect to have other problems start to creep up.

Some garages put a helpful sticker letting you know at what mileage you should get your next oil change, but that’s not the only thing we need to do to keep our cars running smoothly. Checking the fluids, rotating and balancing tires, aligning wheels, inspecting the battery … there’s a pretty long list of checks that need to be done at different intervals.

That’s where LoggingIt comes in.

To keep your car in perfect shape you really only have to develop two habits. First, whenever you get maintenance or repairs for your car, it goes in the log. This takes a few seconds and can be done while you’re waiting for the mechanic to finish (with plenty of time to spare, in my experience).

For anything that needs to be done regularly, like getting the oil changed, you can add a note to the log telling you when it will need to be done again. Then, at the beginning of each month, you check the log for anything that might be coming up, add it to your planner, and pat yourself on the back for your diligence.

You can also include reminders about getting new tags and having your emissions checked so that you never get pulled over for expired tags. It’s just the kind of detail that comes up infrequently enough to be overlooked, but can suddenly cost you a couple hundred bucks if it’s a police officer who reminds you of it.

Aside from never missing a beat with car maintenance, this log allows you to keep track of what garages you have gone to, what your experiences were, how long the repairs took and, most importantly, how much you were charged for repairs and services.

Over time, this record will show you which garages are worth visiting and which should be passed over for taking too long, charging too much or unprofessional behavior.

That fact is that keeping track of such minute details over years or decades is simply beyond most people’s memory, but with LoggingIt you don’t have to remember a thing. Just check in from time to time and you’ll have all the information you need right at your fingertips.

I decided as a teenager that I’d never let the idiot light come on, or at least never let dad find out if it did, but with LoggingIt there’s really no excuse for missing scheduled oil changes. A few minutes per month is all you need to keep everything in working order.

 

For more information on how to use LoggingIt to keep track of car maintenance and many other activities, visit us at LoggingIt.com.

 

 

Watching your Weight

The National Weight Control Registry is a research group that studies people who have lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off for at least a few years.

Their mission is to gather as much data as possible about sustainable weight loss. They don’t espouse any particular diet, and they don’t offer advice on how to lose weight, they just present their findings from studying people who have succeeded.

And they have found that one of the most important habits developed by people who keep the weight off is logging their weight on a regular basis, both during the diet and in the years after. According to the National Weight Control Registry, 75% of people who maintain their weight step on the scales at least once a week.

When you think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense. People don’t gain twenty or thirty pounds, they gain one or two. And then another one or two. And another.

Weight gain is slow and people get used to their gradually growing waistline. By the time they realize that they have gained ten or fifty pounds, the damage is already done.

But logging your weight even once per week will help you keep track of those little variations that lead to long-term weight gain. Some people even log their weight every day, though this probably isn’t necessary after the initial dieting phase.

At LoggingIt, we recommend that people who want to maintain their current weight log it once per week on the same day and at the same time. The idea is that even though your weight can vary throughout the day, weighing in at consistent times should give more consistent results.

There will still be variations, but they should be both up and down. Consistently varying upward is probably a trend that needs to be dealt with, not just your body going through its paces. You should also note anything unusual that might affect your weight temporarily. A big birthday dinner might take a few days to work off, but it isn’t evidence of eating habits that need to be corrected.

If you do find yourself four or five pounds higher than you’d like to be, the good news is that you don’t have too much work ahead to get back to your ideal weight. You can start a new log to track your weight on a daily basis until things get under control, still logging your weekly entry on the primary log.

In the end, logging is all about leveraging the power of information, and LoggingIt makes it easier than ever for you to keep track of your weight so that you are aware of small changes, instead of just ignoring the small changes in the mirror.

If you are trying to lose weight, or if you’ve struggled with weight in the past and want to maintain your current weight, sign up with LoggingIt today to learn what logging can do for you.

 

the power of logging

In his recent book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that when people seem to have incredible willpower and discipline what we are actually seeing is the result of powerful mental habits that have been built up over a number of years. Instead of summoning superhuman mental focus in a flash, the people that we look up to actually build their focus and discipline in small steps over a long period of time.

But what surprises most of Duhigg’s readers is that anyone can perform such feats as long as they have a good system in place for building mental habits.

First, you need to have both progressive, achievable goals that you can meet in the short term and a long-term goal to look forward to. If you are trying to lose weight then your long-term goal might be to lose 50 pounds, but your first goal may simply be to lose two pounds. It doesn’t matter that two pounds isn’t much, your short-term goals will keep you success oriented and motivated.

Second, you need to track your progress, which means keeping a log. Sometimes there will be setbacks, and that’s okay, but you always need to know where you are. Think of it like a bank account: you always need to know how much money you have, even if it’s less that you would like. Looking back at your log empowers you to make better choices and reinforces your decision to make a change.

Depending on how much complexity you want to deal with, you can use Logging It in at least two different ways when building new habits. The simpler way is to simply record relevant information in a single list, along with a few comments about your progress.

The other method is to make one list that contains each of the smaller milestones that build up to your long-term goal, marking the dates when you achieve each of them. Then you create additional lists for each of your milestones where you record your daily progress. For example, your main list might be ‘Run Five Miles,’ and your secondary lists would be ‘Run a Half Mile,’ ‘Run a Full Mile,’ and so forth.

Looking back you will be able to see how well you did hitting each milestone and how all of those intermediate goals led up to the new habit that you have formed. Nested lists require a little more use, but they really unlock the full potential of the LoggingIt interface.

Choosing what data you need to log depends on the habit that you are trying to form (or the habit you are trying to break, for the smokers and nail biters in the room), but LoggingIt already has log forms especially for exercise, dieting and other common activities. And if none of the preset options fit your needs, you can always create custom fields.

Of course, you won’t be able to use either type of log until you sign up with LoggingIt, but don’t worry, you can try it out free of charge.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up with LoggingIt today.

download your logs

You can now download your logbooks in CSV format. Look for a download link next to the logbook title. Really simple, but very useful.

Sign up for a trial account, or I if you already have, sign in now, to check it out!

Cheers,

Stephan

totally private blogging II: encryption

A while after starting the Logging It service, I realized you might like to use it to log truly private information, like a dream journal, or your finances, bills, etc.

In a previous post, I wrote about how the site is designed so that your logs are protected: only after signing in with your user id and password can your logs be read. That covers access to your logs from the “outside”, through the website;  no one else can read your logs  (unless you give them your password).

“Inside” Access

Today I’m writing about access from the “inside”. The “inside” meaning people who have access to the infrastructure that runs the site. Me, mostly, at the moment, being the sole employee (and owner) of The Buckmaster Insitute.

Well, your log messages have to be stored. If they are stored on a computer that I have access to, I can read them. I may not want to read them, but when one is looking after a system,  it is difficult to rule out that one may look at the wrong file, and come across your messages. It doesn’t need to be malicious, or nosy. It is simply the nature of the situation.

One simple way to resolve this is to encrypt all messages! Don’t store them in a readable form.  So I started to work on encrypting all messages, with the encryption key based on your password.

But, while the messages are encrypted you should still be able you to search your logs.

Nowadays, there is a lot of software available to solve many different problems. I couldn’t find one suitable for this case: message-by-message encryption plus a full-text search index that is also encrypted. So I implemented it myself. It took longer than I thought.

Loggingit encrypts all your logs

I switched over in October of 2009.  If you signed in at secure.loggingit.com, or signed up at secure.loggingit.com since then, all your logs are encrypted before storing them. It has been working for almost one year now without a single glitch! The nice thing is you do not even notice that encryption is involved.  Everything is still easy, nice and fast.

You may ask, why didn’t I write about this change then?

While writing the programs to perform the encryption, I thought that technically, the service doesn’t need to ever decrypt your logs. I could just make the service such that without your user id and password there is no way at all to decrypt your messages.

I was even envisioning not even to store your user-id (which is possible too with state-of-the-art encryption protocols), and to make payments for the service anonymous. As long as the money comes in to pay for the operation, it doesn’t affect the service at all whether the system has a record of your name or address! Totally anonymous logging, where only you know that you even have an account. The common “I forgot my password, email me a new one” would not be possible since there would be no help once you lost the password.

But I was not certain that this level of privacy and anonymity is legally allowed. I contacted several lawyers, but couldn’t find much useful advice. I got the impression that this ambition was too new, too unusual, and would require much expensive legal research, at the end of which laws might have changed, and it would all be for naught.

The Hushmail Case

Then I came across the case of hushmail.com.

Hushmail.com offers an encrypted email service. On the face of it it works like any other web-based email site, but under the hood all messages are encrypted, with the help of a Java applet that is loaded into user’s web browsers. They promised totally private email.

The promise didn’t hold up. I think it is fair to say that it didn’t hold up in a bad way. The police managed to obtain a court order that Hushmail could not fight. The police wanted to read someone’s email. And so Hushmail poisoned the Java applet, for that single user, to make their messages readable for the police.

You can read about that here:

And here is a quote from privacy advocate and PGP creator Phil Zimmermann (member of the advisory board of Hush Communications)

Their hearts are in the right place but there are certain kinds of attacks that are beyond the scope of their abilities to thwart. They are not a sovereign state.

So here is a company proclaiming that the emails passing through their system will be safe from any prying eyes, but they found that they cannot live up to their promise. It also strikes me that Hushmail was compelled to change the software running their service. To me as a professional software developer, that is alarming: changing software, although easy to do, is difficult to do right. I am used to, and expect, extensive testing for all changes.

This was a sad blow to my vision and hopes for Logging It.

Full Encryption

Not for long, though. I realized if you really want to protect a message, you do not need to (and should not) rely on another party such as Logging It. You can encrypt it using your own encryption software, and post it in your logs on Logging It. For example, a browser plugin can make it completely transparent for you. You would only lose the ability to search through your logs at Logging It.

So I hope you will agree that this is a good compromise: Logging It encrypts all messages and promises to decrypt them only
when compelled by a court, and only on a user by user basis. This protects your logs against “inside access”, lost backup tapes, stolen hard disks etc. If you do need stronger protection for some logs, you can take care of that yourself.

More work needed

In the long run, encrypting log entries is only a first step. It is a basic step, and a useful step. But there are more issues involved, and I’ll be working on them, and keep you informed.

To enjoy enrypted private logging, sign up or sign in!

Thanks for your trust.

Cheers,

Stephan

new feature: log several fields

Just added a new feature to Logging It: now you can log several fields!

For example, if you look at a time sheet, you usually capture activity and time spent – two fields.  A friend of mine was excited about the idea of a fishing log. The fields he wants to track are

  • Water Body
  • Companions
  • Duration, and
  • Catch

With this new feature you can choose up to 5 fields and give them titles as you need them. There are also templates you can choose from on the “add new topic” page. If you want to add fields to an existing log-topic of your’s, go to the “settings” tab, and select the “Advanced” link at the bottom of the form.

This is a simple change, of course. Actually I’ve been wanting to make it for quite a while, but only now got around to it. I like to track how much time I spend on certain projects. Up to now, I just wrote the time at the end of my log notes. With an extra field, it will be easier to get an overview of where my time goes.

If  you already have a Logging It account, sign in now, otherwise sign up, and give it a look-over!

Cheers,

Stephan

service unavailable this morning

Regretfully, the service at https://secure.loggingit.com is not available this morning (Friday, the 13th of November, 2009). The ISP has some networking problems which are beyond our control – except that we’re planning to move the web server to a more reliable location in the near future.

Stephan

Update: Service is available again. 2 hours of downtime in total.

new design

Changed the design and layout for how you add logs and view them. The goal was to make it simpler, and also to make space for some planned additions – coming soon! (The front page stays the same)

If you have an account, sign in, otherwise sign up to take a look! Feedback is welcome!

Cheers,

Stephan

totally private blogging

A few days ago it occurred to me to search the Internet for the headline of the loggingit.com website, “Totally Private Blogging”.

For example, with Google, the first search result is Make [a] Totally Private Blog on the The Real Blogger Status blog, by self-declared “Techno Nerd” Chuck. He explains that with some blogging software “you can block public access to your blog.” You can still “let strangers request access.” And then

“While you close the blog, if you have other administrators, and want to keep them out, you may want to suspend their administrator status.

Of course, this won’t make any blog completely invisible, on the Internet. All of the search engines – Google, MSN, Yahoo, and the others – will have the blog in their cache. That cache won’t go away immediately, or at all in some cases.”

All right, looks like blogger doesn’t make all the options clear to users.

Significantly, however, your blog’s content may be stored by some unrelated search engine, unrelated to the blogger service, and unrelated to you. Well, if you overlooked that, maybe it wasn’t completely private after all. Could be a small problem, could be a huge problem, if you wrote something that you didn’t want to see published.

Similarly, you can find at the blogger forum, a question asked,

[...] i set my settings so only people invited can view it, and i only invited myself, but if i type in it’s web address, it still shows up! everything! why? i have to stop this!

with the answer

Did you have it public when it was setup?  It won’t disappear from public view, in the search engine caches, for a long time.

“A long time” ?!

Turning to another popular blogging tool, wordpress, there is an announcement on their blog about the privacy settings that wordpress supports. They also point out an issue with search engines:

[...] we can’t prevent you [your blog] from showing up in things we don’t control. So if a search engine still indexes you or has a cache of your page, you either have to contact them about it or wait for it to expire eventually. However if you mark your blog as private from the beginning (and it’s now an option on signup) you should be fairly safe from engines like Google.

“Fairly safe”? At their present wordpress features page, there is a list of privacy options. For me, too many options will lead to mistakes, whereas less power means also more reliability.

The loggingit.com service is private from the time you sign up: only when they know your user id and password will anyone else be able to read your logs.

Cheers,

Stephan

Update: just a few hours after posting, the Google search for totally private blogging lists this very post as the second search result.

Update 2: Twitter has some privacy feature, which also has (unexpected) back doors, see the LA Times blog about Twitter holes and the Digital Soapbox blog about Protected Tweets – Oxymoron?

https

loggingit.com now runs under https://secure.loggingit.com – which is protected with a secure SSL certificate. When you read your logs or add a new log entry, all text is encrypted so that your data is protected against eavesdroppers.

You can still reach the service through loggingit.com – your browser will take you to the secure site automatically.

Enjoy!