My playground project started from a Google Sheet I found on Reddit to track my weight. I initially only wanted to play about and create some visualisations for it. But,eventually I stopped using that spreadsheet and, like most of my weight-loss escapades, got fat again. In the meantime, the playground developed into a hodgepodge of data sources. There was little rhyme or reason to a lot of it but kept me busy and off the streets.
Since then, I bought myself a fancy Withings body fat scale and have continued to track my weight with that. It does a job, but I don’t like that it locks me into Withings’ platform forever. One day it might shut down – leaving me at best with the hope that they’ll make my data available as a half-arsed CSV file.
I also missed some of the features in the original weight tracker. For instance, I implemented rolling average graphs. These give an idea of how my weight is trending over time, rather than day-to-day fluctuations. As much as I care about how big the poo I did was that day, the average is much more useful.
So I set to extract that weight to my own data store of choice, WordPress. It is not the first place I’d visit for storing time-series data that I could later display as graphs. Or to create an Event store to create my own personal audit trail. It is also not what I would consider a “sexy” technology choice. The primary APIs are all in PHP, a language I’ve not written in any significant manner since 2015. But it’s free, open-source, has a huge vault of useful plugins, and is malleable.
The querying/visualisation is still a work in progress. You can see how it’s going at this top-secret, hard to guess URL: https://playground.breakfastdinnertea.co.uk/weight/. With that said, the main method of data ingress has been up and running for well over 6 months now. It feels stable enough to talk about.
I was recently sharing this with a new Slack that I’ve joined (Si Jobling‘s On The Side slack). Si asked me about this particular integration, which I’ve taken as a prompt to make me write some of this down. If only so that when it next breaks, I have a little dummies guide to help me debug it all.
Here’s a bit of a dodgy and incomplete diagram showing what the information flow looks like. The “A” logo at the right is for the fantastic Astro framework which I use to render the playground. It is very early in its development, but a lot of fun to use. I’d encourage you to give it a look over if that’s your bag.
I won’t go into too much detail on the rendering part, if only because it’s still early days. But the rest of it, I’ll dig into a little below.
Custom Post Types
WordPress allows you to create your own data types using Custom Post Types. There are plugins to define these, but I like having the control you get from setting them yourself. Also, the custom post types API is dead simple. Custom types are exposable using WPGraphQL. Which gives the added bonus of not worrying about a domino chain of dependencies being up to date.
It registers the 3 main fields in that custom post type. The “sanitize_callback” property allows you to translate from Withings format to something UTC-like.
GraphQL allows me to export those post types for consumption off-site. From there, I can aggregate and filter data without having to write custom business logic. I didn’t choose GraphQL from the outset. I started using it because I was integrating against Gatsby, where the primary API is GraphQL. Fortunately, it’s a common interchange method, so I have stuck with it.
WPGraphQL is a plugin that allows you to expose data in your blog as a GraphQL schema. Once installed, it provides a single endpoint from which I can query for lots of different data at once. For simple integrations like a single feed of weights, this is likely overkill. But here it presents new interesting opportunities. I could one day, for example, create a no-extra-code FriendFeed-like aggregation. Because no, I still haven’t realised it’s not 2008 anymore.
It is a bit repetitive, but it allows me to tune the schema and set up some of the fields I want to filter and sort by. It also gives me extra resilience – I can keep the APIs inline myself, instead of being at the mercy of plugin authors staying up to date with each other. This generally isn’t a problem, but I have seen instances where one plugin in a dependency chain updates before the others follow. This has created some dead hard to debug problems, sometimes only solvable by pinning to specific plugin versions.
WordPress JSON Rest API
I don’t know how well known it is, but WordPress has an incredible REST API. Seriously, a really good API. Without doing anything special, once you’ve turned it on, you can post into it (and read from it, if you’re a traditionalist) and it will act on those posts as if you were entering data into its admin interface. The only problem you need to solve is authentication. There are a billion plugins for this – from OAuth2 through to basic HTTP. You should only use basic HTTP if you’re comfortable giving a third party service your username and password. (You should not be comfortable doing that, btw).
I use the fantastic IndieAuth plugin – it’s a bit of a hangover from when I integrated everything with the IndieWeb suite.I ultimately stepped away from that suite because all my customisations broke anytime the plugins updated. I should probably switch out to the OAuth2 plugin at some point, but this works for me as it stands. You generate a token with a scope of what it can do in your WP instance, and then use that token anytime you need to use a privilege.
IFTTT is a nice little service that pipes data between lots of different APIs. It has connectors for both Withings and WordPress, although the WordPress one only covers basic post types. So I make heavy use of its “Make A Web Request” connector.
A previous iteration of this web connector sent a request to a relay lambda I created to pass through the access token. But at the end of last year, IFTTT added the ability to create custom headers to your web requests. This means I can now retire that relay. I enjoy deleting code.
I have that hooked up to the Withings connector. And now, any time I weigh in, data starts trickling into WordPress.
And that’s pretty much it
At this point, I have a database slowly filling up with my weigh-ins from Withings:
It’s far from pretty, but it works. There is a TODO somewhere to fix that “Untitled” link. And it’s also queryable from GraphQL, in a much more digestible format:
Admittedly, this a fair bit of messing on, and it is absolutely too much work to justify a single content type. But I now have films, podcasts, and weigh-ins wired up and I intend to pull in more. I’m hoping that the benefits multiply as I add more stuff. But even if they don’t, the worst-case scenario is that I have a nice PESOS style backup for when services either shut down or arbitrarily kick me off.
And with that cheery thought, thanks very much for reading this far. I hope it is of some use to someone out there. If you want to dig into the implementation, it’s poorly documented but available in my mini-repo. Some pointers of where to look: