Monthly Archives: June 2017

A few good reads: tech and policy


PillPack presorts and datestamps your medications.

SpaceX rocket launches cost less than 1/4 as much as traditional ULA launches.


Diversity in tech

The results of this entrepreneur’s clothing A/B testing jive with my anecdotal experience in tech: dressing traditionally feminine gets you dismissed, but dressing edgy but not quite on the prowl captures attention and loyalty.  However, this is only a good plan when you are trying to capture their attention and loyalty as an aloof leader.  If you want them to collaborate, rather than to take your lead, I’ve found it’s better to dress more like your collaborators.

Cognitive diversity has higher impact on a team’s success than outward diversity.



Supreme Court says we can repair our own property.

The bike-friendliness of major world cities seems to correlate strongly with my perception of whether it would be a nice place to live.  I actually prefer walking to biking, but I can imagine that city planning that takes biking as a priority also provides well for pedestrians.

Visualization of Brexit options.

US is beginning to formulate regulations for self-driving cars.


A few good reads: mind and body


Exploring the idea that hospital microbiomes could someday be engineered.

And continuing the topic of microbiomes: obesity surgery may work by remaking your gut microbiome.


Modifying your mind via physical stimuli, or modifying your body by stimulating the mind

Autism symptom reduction using a drug developed for African sleeping sickness.

Increasing social sensitivity in autistic people with oxytocin.

There is no evidence that electrical brain stimulation aids cognition.

Bouldering reduces depression severity from moderate to mild.

Yoga, meditation, and similar activities can tweak the activation of certain genes and reduce inflammation.


Observations on the brain

The visual cortex continues to mature until mid-life.

The psychology of recycling is quite complex.

AI diagnosing autism before humans can see symptoms.


QS17 Day 2

I’m at the Quantified Self conference in Amsterdam, Day 2 of 2 completed.  I covered Day 1 previously.

This conference is always so packed with inspiring and thought-provoking talks, breakouts, workshops, office hours, and discussions!  It’s difficult to keep track, summarize, or highlight.  But I’ll do what I can!

Personal note: not everyone took a free uBiome kit, so I grabbed an extra one for Rover.  I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.

Flavor quotes

I feel like the following highlights how informal, accepting, and up-to-the-minute-data-focused this particular conference is.  A speaker was called to the podium and came up very slowly, tapping on his laptop.  The organizer asked:

“Are you still working on your slides as you’re walking up from the back?”

And another quote to highlight that you don’t have to be technical to be an avid self-quantifier:

“What I lack in technical skills I more than make up for with my ability to outsource.”

Note: A number of talks and office hours were devoted to helping people analyze and visualize without coding skills, such that outsourcing is also not necessary for those with a little time on their hands.


Emergent themes

Day 2 had some theme overlap with Day 1, and also produced some new themes.  My lists will of course be different from others’ because every conversation is unique.  The conference was organized with 30 minute breaks between sessions, so there were many fascinating and lengthy conversations—without keeping anyone from attending a session.

  • “emergent experiments”: the idea that many in the Quantified Self community define their personal “experiments” in retrospect, making them more of a precursor to or inspiration for experiments with more scientific rigor
  • high frequency blood measurements: glucose, ketones, and more
  • monetizing QS data, either from the perspective of a company that has access to it or from the perspective of an individual
  • guilt and judgment of behaviors exhibited by self-trackers; how to set a goal for modifying it if it really is a problem
  • custom personal dashboards
  • data ownership—big theme this year!


Other topics

A more comprehensive summary of topics I attended or which were discussed in my vicinity today:

  • optimizing athletic training using genetics
  • obtaining accurate maximum heart rate value without a lab
  • AMH as a fertility measure, and the interesting result that AMH can be increased after it falls
  • creating a negative split app for running
  • tracking phone use to reduce overuse
  • diabetes type 1 tracking and management
  • creating personal dashboards
  • tracking personal growth
  • fasting and ketones
  • automation and screen scraping for creating personal dashboards; UI to emphasize GTD
  • EMG tracking for 6 months; correcting weightlifting form based on muscle activation data
  • balancing neurotransmitters for Parkinson’s
  • sleep tracking and resting heart rate; wearable sensors can predict sickness
  • producing life data magazines
  • overthinking your entire personal inventory
  • recess activity analysis—data to prove to the school that canceling recess is detrimental
  • menstrual and hormonal tracking
  • tracking cyclical data
  • body temperature and ovulatory cycles
  • felt routines
  • turning sleep insights into sculptures
  • turning sleep insights into galaxy-inspired art

…and so many other things! I got more swept away with conversations today and didn’t make as many notes.


I’m at the Quantified Self conference in Amsterdam, Day 1 of 2 completed.  uBiome gave us free kits!


What is Quantified Self?

This year the Quantified Self Institute proposed a working definition that I feel is concise and captures the spirit of the community:

Quantified Self is personal discovery through everyday science.

This seems like a great way to introduce the idea to new people.  You still have to explain “everyday science”, but this is the shortest definition I’ve seen that covers most of the things people in this community do without being overly vague.  “Everyday science” in this case refers not to professional or academic rigor, but to approaching personal discovery with an analytical mind, inspired by the scientific method.  I like this “everyday” modifier not just because I believe it’s possible to discover and change yourself without formal training, but because some of the experiments people perform on themselves could well be detrimental to them if performed with full scientific rigor.  In fact, many of the “experiments” in this community are not planned ahead of time and become experiments in retrospect, as they unexpectedly get a result from a not-fully-intentional change, visible among the data they are already tracking.


Emerging themes

Some themes are starting to emerge among the talks and breakout sessions I’ve attended, as well as the smaller informal conversations I’ve had:

  • data ownership—ways to keep your own data and/or find out where else your data may be and for how long
  • tracking fatigue—for those without a specific experimental focus, it is easy to grow tired of carrying a device or checking results
  • whether automation is “better” than manual tracking, when it’s possible
  • tracking subjective experiences is tricky—comparing data, keeping data consistent, affecting the value by the fact that you are tracking, etc
  • user experience is key


Other topics

Just to give an idea of what other kinds of things we talk about:

  • What is Quantified Self?
  • Quantified Self Institute
  • Crying
  • Psychedelic sweet spot
  • Automatically creating comics in place of complicated flowcharts
  • Why do we track so much?
  • Biofeedback for meditation
  • 3D body scanning
  • Skin scars
  • Tracking, surveying, visualizing, performing nontrivial analyses (beyond a regression), and predicting—without needing to code
  • Tracking subjective variables
  • Single subject experiment design
  • How much do we use our phones? Is our usage (or anyone’s usage) pathological?
  • Tracking parenting data and significant moments in a child’s life
  • Tracking menstrual cycles
  • Hearing loss and pharmaceuticals that prevent/delay it
  • Underwear for tracking
  • Sleep tracking

Traveling for Quantified Self

The 2017 Quantified Self conference is in Amsterdam this year.  I’ll be in the region for about a week afterward to hang out with a friend and be a tourist.  Just a few observations on the process….


Wells Fargo will send you foreign currency at a good exchange rate within a day or so.  Handy!


Project Fi allows me to have a phone that works overseas at no extra cost.  Maps, translation, reservation lookup, and photo uploading are all available to me whenever I want.  If I use a bit more data, they’ll just charge me another $5 or so this month.


I love that hotels have finally made email a priority.  Previously if I wanted to extend my reservation on a few days’ notice I would have had to call overseas at an awkward hour.  The alternative was to book the extension separately and hope that when I arrived I could convince them to keep me in the same room the entire time.  These days I can count on hotels responding to email rapidly and efficiently—not a ton of back-and-forth that costs extra days with the time difference.