After-hours Setup

A screenshot of Apple's to-do list app.

I used to ignore anything that looked like responsibility. I didn’t read my mail, I often forgot about appointments, I didn’t plan ahead, and I could never tell where my money was going. Although my strategy surprisingly worked for a couple of years, I eventually reached a tipping point where I was spiraling with guilt and mounting obligations. I’m happy that I’ve gotten to work on my ostrich-like hangups on life admin since then, and I think—for me at least—having the right software tools have helped along the way.

I often see people writing about the tools that they use to get their work done, but it’s rare for me to see much of anything on how people manage their lives outside of work. I’ve been reassessing my setup recently, so I thought I could share the things that have been working well for me and the tools that I’m currently playing around with.

You Need A Budget

In the past, I would budget my money by adding up all my recurring expenses each month and subtracting the total from my income. I’d put down the result as money that I’m allowed to spend. I figured that whatever is left behind after that can turn into my savings. It seemed like a good system: it was simple, and I didn’t have to do it that often.

But reality was very different. It felt like there was always that one “emergency” that would throw a wrench into the whole thing: a doctor’s appointment, going out to dinner with friends, a subscription that I forgot about. So even though I had a great system in place (I didn’t), I still couldn’t manage to put money towards my savings or my credit card debt. So I gave up and figured that I was just bad with money.

I forget how, but I came across an app called You Need A Budget around two years ago. I had a hard time using it at first because I couldn’t wrap my head around the philosophy of only budgeting the money that I currently have. I also struggled because I didn’t understand that I needed to be proactive with budgeting. I didn’t know that I had to:

  • Actively look at what’s left of my budget to guide my decisions
  • Figure out what categories I needed to prioritize
  • Plan and set goals

But after a couple of failed attempts, I eventually joined their workshops and learned how to use the app. I’m not going to go into detail about its features (there’s a bunch), but the gist is that it’s super useful for life admin. Those “emergencies” that I talked about earlier? They’re basically things that YNAB helps me prepare for. If I know that I’ll be getting my wisdom teeth removed soon, I can start putting money towards a category called “Oral Surgery.”

I also have a thing called a “wish farm” to budget my discretionary money into categories like future travel or a pair of boots.

Fantastical

I couldn’t find a single calendar event before 2016, so I don’t really know how I managed to remember things before that year. I think I had this idea that calendars were only for very busy people. Normal people like me, I thought, don’t really have a use for it outside of work. Unfortunately, I wasn’t any good at keeping tabs on my appointments and get-togethers. I realized that computers were a lot better at remembering dates than I am.

I have my calendar hosted on Fastmail, and I started to use it a lot more when I found Fantastical. I think what got me to use it was how ridiculously easy it is to add an event in the calendar. Basically, you just type in “Water plants every other Friday” and it’ll automatically create a recurring event just for that. It suddenly made remembering events easy for me to do.

With YNAB, you can only budget the money that you already have.

One other feature that I love about Fantastical is that it lets me bundle calendars into different sets. This means I can switch between different contexts throughout the week:

  • A set that just shows my personal calendars. (Perfect for weekends or when on holiday.)
  • A set that just shows my work calendars. (This gives me an overview of my work.)
  • A set that combines personal & work calendars. (This is usually my view during the week because, naturally, I don’t want to miss any work meetings or personal appointments.)

Reminders

I don’t have any complex to-do list requirements, so I’ve found popular apps like Things and Todoist to be a bit too much for my personal needs. I didn’t think it was worth paying for features that I wasn’t going to use. Paper, on the other hand, is often inconvenient to carry around and to write in while I’m on the bus or train or at the grocery store.

I was doing some research on to-do lists, and it turns out that most calendars already support simple task management. I thought this would be great at first because the bulk of my tasks are basically events that I want to check off like “Take the trash outside at 9pm every Monday” or “Change out your contact lenses every two weeks.” The downside is that it the more tasks I made, the more cluttered my calendar looked.

The solution for me was to switch to Apple’s built-in Reminders app. It actually syncs with my calendar on Fastmail which meant that I didn’t have to migrate my tasks over to another system.

Reminders makes it easy to for me to create to-do lists that sync with my calendar.

To-do lists are at the heart of my life admin because I would forget a lot of things if I didn’t have it. It has a lot of those recurring items that I used to forget like paying off my credit card every month or taking the compost bin out. Since it’s also on my phone, it’s also really useful for remembering those responsibilities that bubble up when I’m commuting. “Oh yeah I need to get some onions for dinner later.”

Monica

In the past, Facebook was my contact list. I could message friends easily, I could hop on a video call with them, I knew what people were up to, and I knew if their birthdays were coming up. It worked pretty well up until I stopped using Facebook. And at that point, I didn’t realize just how much I relied on it for keeping in touch with friends.

Fortunately, a friend told me about this website called Monica. It’s basically a CRM but without all the business-y language around it. I managed to use it for a couple of months, but my motivation died out soon after.

I tried Airtable for a little bit, but that ended up being even more work. I just wanted something that didn’t require me to build the scaffolding so that I could get on with the actual work. So recently, I started using Monica again, but now I also have a reminder to update it every other day so that I don’t forget about it. I also made it into a “desktop app” using Fluid, so that I’m reminded of it whenever I’m on my computer.

It’s too early for me to say if it’s working for me, but I’m glad that there’s a way for me to keep track of when I last hung out with someone, the names of their pets, and the things that we talked about. It’s almost a complement to my journal. I also appreciate that I get reminders from Monica that basically says, “Hey, you should really keep in touch with this person.”

That’s it

You made it! The invisible work of life admin isn’t glamorous, but thanks for letting me geek out and reading all the way to the bottom. If you have tools that you use to manage your daily life, I’d be happy to hear about it.

Figma Plugin: Fast copy

Screenshot of the Fast Copy Figma extension.

There’s seemingly no limit to the number of wonderful plugins that are already out there for Figma. It’s inspiring but also humbling because it meant that I probably have nothing else to add to that infinitely growing list. It seems that every plugin idea that I can think of already exists in some form.

As an alternative, I briefly thought about making something frivolous, like the Dad Jokes plugin for Sketch. It’s just like lorem ipsum but with dad jokes as placeholder text instead. But I did have a plugin idea for slightly improving copy-pasting content.

What it does is that it fetches all the text nodes within a selected element and organizes them into a table. This should take some tedium out of copy-pasting content since it automatically selects and copies the text for you as you click around. All you have to do is to make a selection and run the plugin.

I’m actually surprised by its simplicity: Under the hood, all it does is run document.execCommand('copy') whenever a table cell is selected, and that copies the selected text on to your clipboard. While it’s not exactly a must-have plugin, I did enjoy learning more about how Figma Plugins work. I’m also glad that writing plugins forced me into the world of Typescript from the very beginning. I admit that I haven’t dealt with explicit types in a long time, but I love that it makes web development so much more pleasant thanks to IntelliSense‘s autocomplete and API documentation.

There’s no need to search for API documentation when you already have it in your IDE.

There’s still a few refinements that I need to do and some edge cases that I need to fix before I could call it done, but you can follow the progress on Github.

Update

Fast Copy is available to everyone! There’s still a lot to do, but at least it’s out there in public.

Giving in 2019

When I started to look more seriously into giving back in 2019, I stumbled across these three big ideas (these ideas are better described in the book, The Life You Can Save):

I was excited about these ideas because it changed my whole perspective on philanthropy. The realization that I’m actually very fortunate and that I could have a real impact on people is empowering. It turns out that I don’t need to go into medicine or become a teacher to make a difference. While I’m not planning on giving 50% of my income (article), I’m very much into the concept of earning to give.

So in 2019, I’m happy that I was able to donate $2,398.50 to GiveWell’s discretion! It’s not much, but it’s definitely a lot more focused and intentional compared to any sporadic donations that I’ve made in the past. I’m hoping that I’d be able to increase my contributions to around $3k or $4k this year.

2019GiveWell$1,398.50
GiveWell (Employer Match)$1,000.00
Total$2,398.50
Breakdown of donations.

In other giving news, I’m also glad that I got to schedule appointments throughout the year to donate blood at a local hospital. I got to come in four times this year, so they should’ve gotten around four pints from me. In return, I got a bunch of hospital swag and $6 meal tickets.

Extending the Workbench

The other week, I had some time to look into Figma Plugins during “Hack Days” at work. Since I’m familiar with both frontend and design, I thought it would be a good chance for me to take a step back from my day-to-day priorities and work on a hack days project that involves the two disciplines. I had a vague idea of creating a plugin that would help me with some of the grunt work that’s involved when I’m designing mockups.

The reason why I’m particularly excited about Figma is that it’s a design tool that’s built on web technologies. (It’s actually written in C++, but it’s compiled to WebAssembly and runs on modern browsers.) That means that I’m already familiar with the concepts and the tooling around building the plugins themselves. For example, I could use the built-in DevTools to explore and manipulate all the different objects on the page, using it as a sort of visual REPL for changing, say, the color of a rectangle on the page.

The Figma Plugin API is relatively new, and it has a couple of limitations at the moment. But at least it allows people to find things in the documentchange their propertiescreate copies of them, and make them do internet stuff.

It was a bit overwhelming to learn how Figma Plugins work when I first started, so I figured that I start off by playing with basic shapes to keep things simple. It made learning more manageable compared to working on a component that’s filled with many different objects in it.

The objects on Figma have a lot of properties that you can change. For example, you can directly change the opacity of a rectangle.

I found that text objects were reasonably easy to modify, so I figured that I could write a plugin that would translate the text in some of the mockups that I had. Translation plugins already exist in Figma (see both Translate and Translator), but I wanted to see if I could write something similar.

I had high expectations from myself at first: I wanted the plugin to actually work and translate any sort of text that I had. But I couldn’t get my plugin to do network requests to a translation service because I had trouble setting up packages from npm. I kept on getting errors from webpack that I didn’t understand so I gave up and went with mock requests for now. In hindsight, it might have been better if I didn’t rely on npm and made the requests myself using XMLHttpRequest or the Fetch API.

A demo of the translation plugin. It shows the plugin creating a copy of the selected frame with all the text inside of it translated into Spanish.

The translate plugin ended up working reasonably well otherwise. You were able to choose which language you’d like to translate your mockup into, and it doesn’t overwrite your original work.

The second plugin that I worked on populated the Yelp Review designs with new data. I found it tedious to copy-paste actual data online, so I thought I could solve that by letting the plugin do the hard work for me.

A demo of the Yelp plugin. It shows the plugin creating multiple copies of a frame, all filled out with fresh data.

Unfortunately, just like the translation plugin, this plugin doesn’t actually make any network requests, and it only works on a specific component. So I think the next time I write a plugin, I’d like to create something that pulls in real data. I’d also like to figure out a way to generalize plugins that would work on any component that’s thrown at it—similar to how Microsoft’s Content Reel plugin works.

I’d definitely like to continue working on Figma Plugins in the future whenever I find some spare time. I’m impressed that they’re able to pull off a Google-docs-like design tool that’s cross-platform (you can design on a Chromebook if you wanted to), and that also has a well-thought-out plugin system. It’s an incredible tool, especially for remote workers like me, so I look forward to seeing Figma grow in the years to come.

Seconds

It’s been seventeen days since I got my surgery, but my jaw still feels tender to the touch. The surgeon told me at the very beginning that, since I’m already in my late twenties, the roots of my wisdom teeth had the chance to grow deeper into the bones of my mouth. This, he says, makes the surgery more invasive and more complicated than it should be. He showed me the x-ray, and the bottom wisdom teeth looked to me like ancient fossils in black and white, fossilized remains that time had consumed and buried in layers of rock.

The first time I had my wisdom teeth removed was in September. But after drilling for forty minutes, they were only able to get one and a half of my teeth out instead of all four. It turns out that my teeth were not only buried deep; they were also seated at an angle that made them difficult to extract without using special tools.

But even though they weren’t able to get everything out, recovering from it was awful. The pain was piercing and constant. It felt like I was getting stabbed in the mouth with a paring knife while simultaneously getting a noogie on my temple. And because of that, I couldn’t afford to skip a beat on pain relievers for the better part of two weeks. I had to take them on time, even if it was three in the morning. The worst part was knowing that I would have to go through the whole thing again.

So, two months later, I found myself back under the knife for round two. Although this time, it was in an actual operating room instead of the doctor’s office.

I had two and a half teeth to go. Things started to blur. I was asleep.

When I woke up in the recovery room, someone handed me a cup of apple juice and some chocolate pudding. I felt great. But I knew that surgery was the easy part—I was unconscious the whole time! Now I had to deal with the pain that came after it.

I felt the same piercing pain as before, but now on both sides of my jaw. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much pain in my life. I learned during my post-op visit that some of the bone around my teeth were also shaved off. The surgeon had mentioned it casually, but I found it a bit surprising. I didn’t know that they would have to deal with bone at all. I thought they only had to smash the teeth into bits. But it started to make sense considering how long it took for me to recover from it.

But, even though I was unfortunate enough to get my wisdom teeth removed a second time, I still feel incredibly lucky. I’m fortunate that I was born in the era of modern medicine, where doctors have access to anesthesia and antibiotics. I felt grateful when I imagined people from the 18th century who got their teeth pulled out using the tooth key. Not only was it painful, but it also led to crushed gums, broken teeth, and splintered jaws.

So now that it’s all over, I’m just glad I can start eating fried chicken again.

Connecting

Nature

I was fortunate enough to go to two outdoor trips this month. The first one was a weekend trip up in the Catskills for my friend’s bachelor party. I’ve admittedly never been to a bachelor party, so it was pleasant to know that it was very much unlike the alcohol-fueled parties that you see on TV.

This one was spent in a quiet town where people hiked during the day and made home-cooked meals at night. We also got lots of sleep!

Co-workers

The second outdoor trip that I went to was with co-workers in Palm Springs. Since we all work remotely, teams in the company get together once a year to get to know each other and talk about our plans for the next year. We got to talk about the future of the design team, and the future of our work.

On the side, we got to swim, hike on Mt. San Jacinto, hike with goats in Pioneertown (archive), and then hike in Joshua Tree National Park.

Family and friends

I also stayed for a few days in Los Angeles to spend time with tito and tita, grandparents, cousins, and my buddy Katherine before I flew back to Philly. I rarely get to make it to California (last time was 2017), so it was good to carve out some time to catch up with people.

Still Going

Last Friday, the same day Apple started selling the newly-released iPhones to everyone, I decided to pry my iPhone 7 open. It had an aging battery, and I had the option of taking my out-of-warranty phone to either the Apple Store or a local repair shop. But swapping it out myself sounded more fun, and going the DIY route also meant that I would pay less.

It was, of course, a complete coincidence that I did it on the day of the event. But learning about it after the fact made me feel a bit more defiant and subversive. I felt like I had just saved my wallet from the world’s first trillion-dollar company by holding off on buying a new phone. I felt good about extending the life of a device that Apple doesn’t want people to repair.

I’m fortunate that I also don’t do much on my phone, so it pretty much does whatever I need it to do. I can play games, browse the web, find my way across the city, take pictures, and manage my budget. The only thing that was really missing was a longer battery life.

But changing the batteries myself does have its risks. I was terrified of opening up my phone because there was a chance that I could accidentally puncture a component or pull on the wires a little too hard. I definitely didn’t want to lose the whole phone altogether. This fix could easily switch from being the cheapest repair option into being the most expensive one.

But I went ahead and did it anyway. I had the tools and the battery, so to hell with those sunk costs.

Of course, it ended up being a success. It took around fifteen minutes, and all I did was follow instructions on iFixit. I felt empowered and proud that I was able to extend the life of a device that I use every day, but also a bit of relief that I didn’t end up bricking my phone. I also felt like I’ve crossed a boundary: I no longer feel like a consumer, but more of a participant in the device’s existence.

There was one thing that I did screw up: I forgot to reapply the display adhesive around the screen. It’s meant to prevent water from getting into the phone, but as long as I never take it near a tub or a swimming pool, I should be good.

The iPhone with the new iFixit-made battery.

Tiny Animations

Back in 2015, I had a bit of a fascination with loading animations. If you’re not familiar, these are animations that you see whenever you wait for content to load on a website or an app. They’re meant to show progress or to distract you from all the waiting. Anyway, there was a couple of weeks where I spent most of my free time breaking down and poring over the details of different loading animations from products like Slack, Asana, and iMessage. I wanted to see if I could try and get my own web-based imitation to look as close to the real thing as possible.

Part of the appeal for me comes from the fact that these kinds of animations are compact and approachable: The only thing that you have to worry about is figuring out how to get something to move. The rest of the time is just spent on endless tweaking to get it to look right. I wasn’t doing it for anything, really. At that time, I simply found satisfaction in trying to learn how to create tiny, single-use animations on the web.

Luckily, it eventually ended up being useful to me at work. I got to use the animation skills that I learned and got to apply it to a few projects that I built. One of those projects was a website called Privacy Heroes. It was a brief collaboration between different privacy companies to try out magazine advertising, and I was responsible for designing and building the website portion of it.

It’s been a year since I last thought about this website. But a co-worker reminded me about it the other day, and it brought back memories of why I like working on animations, and why I’m excited about the web in general.

I think the reason I liked working on this particular project was that I could go further and add a bit of motion and energy on the website—something that we could never do in a magazine ad. With a few lines of code, I can draw attention to a superhero’s speed lines, bring shooting stars to life, and add a bit of twinkle to the stars.

Of course, the applications of animations also extend beyond the superficial and frivolous because it can also be a way to communicate effectively. Take a look at how Stripe demonstrates the value of their products using animations.

Call me biased, but I love the web because it’s a medium where ideas can come alive and become available to anyone with an Internet connection. It’s also a medium that’s available everywhere, existing in many different devices ranging from your TV to your laptop to your phone and, most recently, to your wrist. The upsides are also its downsides because this means you have to accommodate for all sorts of environments. Animations could run slowly on low-powered devices, and your designs could look terrible on really large screens or really small screens.

But, for now, it seems that the benefits of working on the web outweigh its downsides. Only time will tell.

On Giving

When I was in the Philippines back in June, I had a chance to talk to my grandma about giving money to charities. At that time, the majority of my donations have been going to environmental advocacy groups and to local non-profits. But what she was telling me was that I should try and think about giving more effectively, to think about how a little money can go a long way in poorer countries like the Philippines. That way, she said, my donations would have a more significant impact on people’s lives.

It was hard to swallow because the non-profits I’ve been donating to are local, and I love that they: support the people around me, work on things that personally I care about, and improve life around my city. I feel good when the money I give goes directly to my immediate environment. It feels more tangible. More real.

But she was right. My grandma forced me to think about why I was donating in the first place, and to think about the opportunity costs of donating my money to one charity instead of another. With money being a finite resource, wouldn’t it be better if it went to people who need it the most? Should I really choose charities based on things that I have an emotional attachment to and make me feel good instead of giving to charities that can actually do more good?

Take malaria, for example. I don’t know anyone who’s had malaria, I don’t know what it feels like to have malaria, and the community around me doesn’t get malaria. (Although certain parts of the Philippines do.) I have no emotions towards malaria whatsoever, and yet it continues to be one of the leading causes of death in the developing world.

Malaria is one of the most severe public health problems worldwide. It is a leading cause of death and disease in many developing countries, where young children and pregnant women are the groups most affected.

CDC’s Report on Malaria’s Impact Worldwide

So knowing that it’s a deadly disease and knowing that the solutions are proven to work and are low-cost (see long-lasting insecticide-treated nets and seasonal malaria chemoprevention), why wouldn’t I direct my money to that cause?

Of course, I’m not saying that “having the most impact” should be the only criteria that people should use for choosing a charity, and I’m not saying that local charities aren’t worth giving your money to. People’s donations can be shaped by the community around them and their experiences in life. But for someone like me who wants to stretch out every dollar to reach as many people as I could, I think this benchmark makes the most sense. (I don’t actually believe that my money will literally land on the hands of the people in need or be used out there in the field because organizations need to compensate people, do research, do outreach, etc. There are overhead costs, and that can be a good thing.)

But still, I’ve been hesitant. I can’t help but struggle with thoughts of not giving to causes that I have a personal connection to. But I’ve come to terms with it by reminding myself that I don’t have much to give away (therefore I want it to be focused on something that will likely work and get the most “bang for my buck”), and that I shouldn’t value people’s lives differently just because they live in the same country or have had the same experiences as I have.

So, I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve decided to focus 100% of my donations to GiveWell’s discretion because they have the resources to make decisions on which charities are the most effective and which charities have room for more funding. What they do is they take this money and distribute 100% of it to the short list of charities that need it the most. They do a lot of research on cost-effectiveness and impact, so that gives me confidence that the money is going to the right places.

I’ve also decided to bump my donations from 1% to 3% of my pre-tax income.

I’m glad that I got to take a second look at my assumptions and challenge my thinking on giving. I think this is a step in the right direction, but I’m always open to changing my mind as I learn new things. If you can relate to this experience of not knowing where to give, I hope you find this at least a little bit helpful. Here’s a good starting point: Giving 101.

A Day of Data

I figured that since I work for a privacy company, I should try and increase my own awareness of where my personal data goes. I wanted to try and figure out which companies and organizations have, in one way or another, somehow received and processed and stored my personal information.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of every single company out there that knows me because that would be an overwhelmingly long list. Not only am I leaving out every third-party ad and analytics software that apps and websites use (I just included Google Analytics and Chartbeat in my findings), I’m also leaving out the impossible task of knowing the data-sharing practices of the companies that already have my data in the first place. (Chase, for example, shares data with their marketing partners to send you advertising.)

I’m not trying to say that sharing your personal data is necessarily bad. Your doctor, for example, needs a ton of data from you like past visits, current medications, family history, insurance plan, pharmacy of choice, payment method, test results, and your contact information. The point of all this is to figure out just how much my life is dependent on sharing my personal data, how necessary it is in my day-to-day life.

So what I have below is a 12-hour diary of my online activities on September 5, 2019.

6am

Xfinity can see everything that goes in and out of the network because they provide my Internet at home. They can see all the connections that my phone was making while I was asleep. They know which apps on my phone connects to the Internet to fetch new information like my messages, podcasts, and the weather in the morning.

6:57am

At around 6:57am, I reply to people on Telegram Messenger. Xfinity knows that I use Telegram—including the time when I used it—because it passes through their network. Telegram, on the other hand, knows my contact list, the people I’m talking to, and when I contacted them.

7:21am

At 7:21, I turn on Headspace to meditate. Again, this is something that goes through Xfinity’s network since the meditations are downloaded from Headspace’s servers as needed. Headspace knows the time when I opened the app, the type of meditation that I played, and if I’m a paid subscriber. It also keeps track of all the meditation courses that I ever played, and the number of days I meditated consecutively.

7:36am

I look at my transactions and my budget every morning on a budgeting app called You Need A Budget. This means that they have a running list of all my personal transactions and financial information: How much I spend on different categories, my spending habits over time, where I spend my money, and even the things that I buy. (I put notes beside some transactions to help me remember what I spent the money on. An example would be: “Amazon.com, pressure cooker.”)

Oh, when I say “where I spend my money,” I also mean that literally. YNAB remembers the location of my phone where I manually entered a transaction to make manual entries easier for me. It was creepy when I first noticed it, but I actually find this super helpful.

Like most web apps, YNAB uses Google Analytics to learn about customer behavior and usage. I’m pretty sure that it’s on the website version of the app (which you can block on your browser), but I don’t know if the mobile app uses it so I may or may not have hit Google Analytics.

YNAB also has access to my accounts on Wells Fargo, Ally Bank, and Vanguard so that I don’t have to manually put in all the transactions that I made by hand.

7:57am

At 7:57am, I leave the house, which means my Internet connection switches from my WiFi to my cellular provider, Ting Mobile (which, in turn, uses T-Mobile towers).

And just like Xfinity, this means that they can now see the connections that the apps on my phone make when I’m on the go.

8:33am

On my way to the train station, I text someone on WhatsApp (hello, Facebook). Just like Telegram, they have information on when I texted, who I’m texting, and my contacts list. Even though they don’t have access to the actual text message I’m sending, they still have all that metadata that they can use to learn about connections with people so that they can show me relevant ads.

8:41am

I take the train at 8:41am using a digital keycard which keeps track of all the train stations and bus stops that I go to. You can purchase these cards and reload them using cash if you’d like to have more privacy, but I linked my transit card to my credit card and e-mail address so that I could get a refund on lost cards and be able to set it to auto-renew at the end of each month.

Note: The image above is a bit misleading. I put SEPTA beside Ting Mobile, but Ting doesn’t actually get any direct information on my commuting habits.

9:04am

I go to a popular convenience store called Wawa before heading into my co-working space, and I buy a breakfast burrito using my credit card. Wawa knows that my method of payment is Apple Pay and that payment network is Mastercard, but I’m a bit unclear if they know about the issuing bank (Goldman Sachs).

Update: Gosha sent me an e-mail about the BIN or Bank Identification Number on your credit card. The first 6 numbers on your card will tell you the issuing bank.

What I am sure of though is that Goldman Sachs knows that I went to Wawa, what time I went to Wawa, the location of that Wawa, and how much I paid for that burrito at Wawa.

I also budget on YNAB on my phone while I’m in line for my burrito, so YNAB now knows the same details that Goldman Sachs does. Ting is also now aware that I use YNAB since I needed the Internet to access my budget.

9:08am

I send a text on Telegram as I walk to my co-working space, so Ting also knows that I use that app, too.

9:54am

I connect to the WiFi in the co-working space, which is provided by a local ISP called Philly Wisper. I then log on to the websites that I need for work like Asana, the company chat room, and the company calendar on Fastmail.

Generating digital data is, of course, unavoidable when I’m doing remote work since collaborating, planning, and updating work with my colleagues mostly happen on the Internet.

10:56am

At 10:56am, I play some music on Spotify. This particular day was mostly songs from Tyler the Creator, Tierra Whack, Solange, and The Internet. Spotify, of course, knows my listening habits which they use to generate individualized playlists that I might like. Spotify also has business partners that can place cookies on your device whenever you’re on Spotify. This is used to “deliver advertisements more relevant to you and your interests.”

I also start visiting other websites to find inspiration for data visualization for this very article. The websites that I visit, just like YNAB, use analytics software like Google Analytics and Chartbeat to learn about their readers.

12:02pm

At around lunchtime, I call CVS Pharmacy and ask them to get my prescriptions from Walgreens Pharmacy. So now, CVS knows all the medications that I take, who my doctor is, and who my insurance provider is.

Also, that call went through Ting Mobile, who now knows that I made a call to a nearby CVS at 12:02pm for 6 minutes.

12:14pm

I check the Dark Sky app on my phone to see if it’s going to rain this afternoon. Since it’s a location-specific app, it knows the city that I’m currently in.

12:28pm

I walk outside and get a flu shot at CVS (the same CVS branch that now has my medications). I got the vaccine for free because my insurance provider covers the full cost of it. So now both CVS and my insurance provider know that I just got a flu shot at this location and at this time.

1:46pm

At 1:46pm, I get charged for a recurring monthly bill from my therapist’s office at Thriveworks. They see how often I come in for therapy, who my therapist is, my insurance details (Independence Blue Cross), and my payment details (Mastercard).

2:48pm

I use an app called Transit to see what time the bus will come. This app keeps track of where I am (crowdsourced and real-time data is important to them), the possible routes that I can take, where I’m going, and a list of buses and trains that I frequent. Fortunately, they don’t really know who you are unless you send them feedback.

I then hop on the bus using my SEPTA keycard, so the transit agency knows the time I hopped on, where I was waiting, and the bus number. If you noticed, I only mention SEPTA having data at the start of the trip and not the end when I hop off the train or bus. This is because they don’t scan your keycard when you exit the bus or train.

3:23pm

I got home, prepared a late lunch, and watched some videos on YouTube. YouTube (which is owned by Google) knows the types of videos that I watch to improve their advertising and to make better video recommendations. After all, the more videos I watch, the longer I stay on the site.

4:03pm

My last entry of the day is getting a notification for a recurring donation (what a mouthful) to a charity called GiveWell. Just like Wawa, they know my credit card number and that I used Mastercard. (Again, I’m unclear if they know about the issuing bank part which is Goldman Sachs.)

Goldman Sachs and Mastercard, on the other hand, know where I donate my money and how much I give away.

The charity also knows my contact details like my address, phone number, and my e-mail address.

Pfew.

Visually laying out all the entities that have their hands on my data is a bit mind-boggling, and I’m sure that I’m missing a couple hidden services that run in the background that I’m unaware of. What scares me the most is how often data breaches seem to happen and how reliant I am on all these digital services.

There are some alternatives out there that I can take, but none of them seem to be worth pursuing. I could start paying in cash so that banks and payment processors will have limited information on my whereabouts, but I find it too much of a hassle to carry cash and change these days. I could buy music instead of streaming on Spotify, but then I lose having access to virtually any song that I want for cheap. I could dump my smartphone for a less-capable phone to limit the apps that follow me wherever I go, but then I lose the convenience of having transit data, meditation courses, the weather, and my budget at the palm of my hands.

It looks bleak, but thankfully our values are always changing. People are waking up and realizing that digital privacy in this software-filled world is important, which means that people are starting to look for services that offer privacy. Goldman Sachs, for example, has been a recurring company in this log that I made, but at least they can’t share or sell the transactions that they have on me. DuckDuckGo doesn’t know what you’re searching and it blocks online trackers (like Google Analytics and Chartbeat) from following you around the web. Non-profits like Mozilla are creating a suite of privacy tools to help you understand and protect your privacy online.

Things seem to be going into the right direction when it comes to our digital wellbeing. I hope you enjoyed this visualization of my digital data diary, and I hope we both see a future with a little more privacy.