Quantified Self 2013 conference report

On 10-11 October I attended Quantified Self 2013 in San Francisco.  This post is long, so I’ve broken it into sections:

  •    Themes: recurring ideas at the conference
  •    Fun quotes and one-line takeaways: to give conceptual flavor
  •    Want!: devices and services I want to try
  •    Shine: my Misfit Shine got some attention
  •    Notes from my Office Hour: my allocated time to talk about my startup
  •    General impressions: to give a feel for the attendees and environment, and how things differed from last year

The Quantified Self conference is an incredible experience.  It is a self-organized conference attended by people who are personally invested in the topics and are genuinely optimistic and enthusiastic about sharing ideas, providing services, getting feedback, helping out.  It is very much a community event with 500 people from around the globe.

Tread softly on people’s lives and flows.  Passive tracking with minimal impact is ideal.


There is only one waterproof tracker on the market.

Large groups’ needs are not being met with current tracker technology.  Why don’t we have uterine sensors and hormone sensors?  Where are all the child-adapted trackers?  Why aren’t there more trackers for underwater activities?

Breathing sensors are up-and-coming, but with different goals.  Some want to find out more about what’s going in and out of your body.  Some specifically want to look for toxins, in the air and in your breath.  Most want to manage your stress levels.  But I ask, where are the breathing trackers aimed at asthma management and improvement?

Fun quotes and one-line takeaways

me playing bass

I agree! Analyzing data makes me happy in a very similar way to making music.

“Analyzing data is right up there with having sex and playing guitars.”

“They were taken over by the corporate wellness monster, in a way, and I say that in the most friendly tone…”

I have yet to hear someone use the phrase “Internet of Things” productively.

“Single subject design has a place in science and evidence-based medicine.”

“So when I say [to my young children] that the ice cream you eat right now will affect your sleep, they’re generally very accepting of it…and eat the ice cream anyway.”

“Collective intelligence is stupid for individuals.”

There were several toys—er, devices—that I want.

my new Withings Pulse

My new Withings Pulse

In one case, I couldn’t resist purchasing.  Withings gave a 15% conference discount on the Pulse, which is already the cheapest device with heart rate measurement capability.  On the downside, it requires active measurement.  On the flashy side, I was rather smitten with the LED touchscreen display.  We’ll see how it performs, especially in comparison with my Shine and retroactive comparison with my now-dead Fitbit.

I’m still watching the data aggregation services in the hope that one will appear that I like and that works with my devices.  So far no demos have impressed me.

I always want to try all the activity trackers on the market.  Everyone I talked to with a Jawbone Up was pretty satisfied with their experience so far.  I’d love to try it because multiple ex-coworkers worked on the analytics.  Very few people have the Basis (probably due to price), but they seem fairly satisfied as well.  I’d love to try it because I’d love to have passive heart rate monitoring when I go running, as an indirect window into my asthmatic status.  However, running isn’t my primary activity.  I have two main activities: climbing and partner dancing.  In neither case do I want a snaggable object on my wrist.  Sadly, many activity trackers come only in bracelet/watch form factor.

Quick list of shiny things:



Misfit Shine with basic choker

Misfit Shine with basic choker

I think Misfit Wearables should reimburse me for all the advertising.  It’s possible I talked about my Shine more than I talked about my startup!  I gave people tours of the app, talked about strengths and weaknesses and how easily addressed some of the weaknesses are (after all, it’s a young product).  For the record, I’m quite optimistic about the Shine.

Several ladies were intrigued by the idea of slinging the magnetic loop onto a homemade chocker rather than paying $80 for the one Misfit makes.  The downside of the homemade one? It’s looser, so your Shine is more likely to sway a bit, especially if you’re bouncing.

Notes from my Office Hour
For Office Hours, several organizations or individuals sit at tables and converse free-form with interested attendees.

It was too windy to bother putting up my poster.  It was too sunny to use the electronic signup I created rather than a nice white sheet of paper.  I felt like all that preparation could have been directed at working on my product instead.  But in reality, it’s good to have focused on marketing for a little while.  The results will come in handy.  And, my business cards were of great use!

business card

Many business cards changed hands. I felt a little like that Kids in the Hall sketch.

However, my business cards were of greater use outside of my Office Hour.  I was scheduled for the worst hour possible; there weren’t very many people circulating the courtyard.  I myself had marked off several conflicting interesting events during that time slot that I wouldn’t be able to attend.  Still, I had some lovely conversations then and elsewhen!

General impressions
I forgot it feels about 10ºF cooler in the Presidio than in the South Bay.  I should have brought another clothing layer.

The average age was higher and average fitness lower than last year.  This is probably because the conference was Thu/Fri this year and Sat/Sun last year, making it easier last year for students and casual enthusiasts to attend.  That said, the average fitness level was still definitely higher than the average population.

Further evidence that attendees were more business-oriented and less student-oriented: more people were dressed less casually, and there were fewer people with unnaturally-dyed hair or uncommon piercings.

Gender, however, was better balanced than any tech conference I’ve attended.

It was so cold in the building that even though I had planned to attend some indoor discussions during some sessions, I opted to stay out in the sun for Office Hours most of the time.  The fireplace at the back of the main hall was always well-attended, despite that you couldn’t hear or see that well back there.

There were rugs on the lawn in the courtyard for lounging. Perfect!

There were several Google Glasses running around.  It definitely makes you hesitate more to join a group, and even moreso to speak.

I was surprised how many people remembered me from last year, given that I’ve failed to attend local community events.

The food at QS conferences is phenomenal.  If I ever need an event catered, I’m going to ask them who they get to do it.  Delicious, and very thoughtfully healthy.

Just shy, not antisocial (you can talk to me!)

I wore this shirt the first day of the conference.

I’m shy, so I’m often very quiet and passive when I enter a new conversation.  A near-stranger introduced me to a group as a person who asks insightful questions, though, and I immediately felt a pressure to live up to that surprising and complimentary introduction.

Playing the non-introvert at the conference and socializing with SF friends in the evenings really wiped me out.  I hid under a rock all weekend.

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