Author Archives: megan

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.

Climate change solutions ranked by expert Paul Hawken

Expert Paul Hawken ranks top 100 climate change solutions in his new book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.


Instead of the usual preaching involved in books on this topic, he presents the material more as a reference based on well-researched estimates of the carbon impact of each solution.  I am excited that several of the top ten methods overlap with other desirable goals that individuals might have, and that several are easy for individuals to contribute to.

The top ten solutions

  1. Refrigerant management
  2. Wind turbines (onshore)
  3. Reduced food waste
  4. Plant-rich diet
  5. Tropical forests
  6. Educating girls
  7. Family planning
  8. Solar farms
  9. Silvopasture
  10. Rooftop solar

The number one single solution, refrigerant management, is getting underway worldwide as of late last year.  Not much that we can do as individuals to further or accelerate that strategy.

The number one combo solution is already near and dear to me for reasons other than carbon emissions: educating girls + family planning.  If you are looking for ways to help, Educating Girls Matters has a large list of organizations aimed toward educating girls and women worldwide.  I’ve had some difficulty finding a good list of organizations supporting family planning internationally, but here are a few that I’m aware of:

  • The Gates Foundation—as a rule, the Gates Foundation has been doing a stellar job of crunching the numbers and finding high-impact causes that provide a huge bang for the buck worldwide
  • The World Health Organization has a very detailed description of their approach to this issue
  • USAID works on a variety of causes that contribute to increased voluntary family planning and educating women worldwide.
  • CARE also contributes to both causes.

I’ve been working in my own small way to reduce food waste at home (anyone want some soup or stir fry made from whatever’s left in the fridge?) and to move to a more plant-rich diet.  I already ate less meat—especially beef—compared to most Americans, but consuming a wider variety and larger volume of plants regularly has definitely boosted my energy and my immune system.  Feeling better is a much bigger motivator for individual action!

A few good reads: tech and policy

Quantified Self

Apple buys Beddit, whose sleep monitoring hardware already has a software integration with the Apple watch.

Ars Technica digs into the current state of the art in sleep tracking.

A Carnegie Melon project produced a prototype sensor that can inform you about devices in the room without connecting directly with them.

23andMe has received FDA authorization to provide genetic health risk reports.

Other tech

Bragi’s latest product, Dash Pro, offers real-time translation through earbuds.  Most importantly for me, they have partnered with Starkey Hearing Technologies to offer to tailor the earbuds to customers’ ears.

Google provides games to help people understand that AI is no longer just academic.


Census Bureau director John H Thompson resigns unexpectedly, while the bureau already faces budget difficulties.  The 2020 Census is already suffering setbacks.  The US Census provides crucial information for government infrastructure planning, as well as being an important public dataset.

A few good reads: discoveries

Inner discoveries

A new study shows that testosterone makes men less likely to question their intuition.  I wonder whether they will follow this up with a study on women.  Are we more, less, or just as susceptible to the influence of testosterone?

Acetaminophen dulls pain and empathy, according to new research.

A new paper tests more than 50 compounds for their ability to “turn off” sperm, preventing fertilization.  This could lead to a more effective form of contraception that bypasses some religious objections.

On a related note, scientists have 3D printed mouse ovaries that actually make babies.

Outer discoveries

They found a new dinosaur with its skin preserved in Montana!  And of course, they named it Ghostbusters style: Zuul crurivastator.

When we found homo naledi a couple years ago, we thought it was a precursor to homo sapiens.  Apparently, we existed simultaneously.

Global warming reaches the Global Seed Vault in the Arctic Circle.

We’ve found water in the atmosphere of a warm, Neptune-sized planet.

Related aside

An argument for colonizing Titan before Mars.

Spammy callers escalating, still not beating Google Voice

My various spammy callers have recently taken to leaving voicemails that don’t say anything—either complete silence or the sound of people chattering in the background (I got curious and listened to a couple). IIRC the law prohibits callers from leaving automated messages, but it would be awfully hard to prove these are automated even if you could prove who was calling. One of these silent messages was 48 seconds long! Overkill much?

I’m so glad I run everything through Google Voice‘s transcriptions, so I can see at a glance that it was a spam/phish caller who’s trying to trick me into calling back. I highly recommend an automated transcription service to anyone else who gets far more illegitimate calls than legit ones.

For example, looking at the last month, my legit calls were ~5-10% of all attempted calls—including ones where I was the caller, not the callee. People often look at me like I have 12 heads when I say I never answer unknown numbers. I think it would be crazy for me to answer them, given the givens. Legit callers leave real voicemails or texts, or contact me by other means.