Tag Archives: conference

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

There are more things….

There are more things in my to-do list, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


This was my thought as I reached midday today.  Yesterday’s accomplishments are about a page long, and today’s are rapidly approaching a similar length.  But as we’re prepping for the LAUNCH competition (at the Santa Monica pier next Thursday!), prepping for loads of Erli Bird users to come on board, and getting the initial release lined up for about a month from now, we add at least 3/4 of a page of items daily.  I’m really just treading water.  The full list is soooo loooong.


Such is the life of a startup founder.

Grace Hopper talk options.

A friend suggested I propose a talk at Grace Hopper this year.  She was thinking I could do a sort of introduction to data visualization (which I already outlined for my Analytics department shortly before I left).  I feel like there are more suitable women for giving a lecture on that, but maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit.  I’m sure “not giving yourself enough credit” is a common theme at Grace Hopper!

Here are some topic ideas, one educational, one personal-inspirational, and one idea-inspirational.  What do you guys think I should talk about?

Introduction to Data Visualization (Data Science track)
I’ve been paid to work on the programmatic visualization of abstract data since 2005 (doing it for personal use since…1999?), so I can give people some solid advice, but I’m not always up on the latest research.  Most of the time in industry, though, the latest sexy thing is not useful.  This is almost as true in data visualization as it is in machine learning (Seriously…the regression model or equivalent is the best choice at least 90% of the time.)  So I’m sure I can cover all the crucial pieces for an intro course.  The upside of this option is that I’ve got an outline lying around somewhere from a lecture I was going to give at my previous job.

Straight From Lower-middle Management to Tech Founder (Career track)
This would be a my personal story with observations, anecdotes and advice.  I can’t guarantee it will be a complete success story, but it’s been a very interesting process for me, and puts my previous experiences in a different light where my gender probably made more difference than I thought.  Quite relevant for the conference.

Social Analytics: So Much More We Can Do (Career or Data Science track)
Many of you know I’ve been thinking about personal social analytics for a long time, and I spent a lot of time thinking about social analytics for the dating sites I worked on at my previous company.  I can talk about the popularity of social media and the minimal analytics they provide, and of course mention Klout and its strengths and weaknesses.  And I can talk about Google Analytics and CRMs.  And then, I can talk about what isn’t on the market.

My open source project only got so far before I put it on hold in favor of other work, but I’ve been brainstorming a lot of possibilities for analyzing personal conversation history in the last decade and a half.  These ideas have all been feasible during that time, and they’re getting faster to compute and easier to scale all the time.  So why isn’t anyone making it happen?  In my experience, social media users have been very excited with any level of navel-gazing: finding the list of people who follow them that they don’t follow, or the other way around (drama!); seeing who talks to them the most on a given platform; etc.  There is a market that would pay just for increased analytical power! And they’d definitely pay to have all of their communications data integrated into one location for analysis or even plain review.

And a lot more can be done with the same data.  Merely extend it with some labels and charts and BAM! Social productivity tool.  New target market.  Extend that with some very basic recommendation capabilities and BAM! Customer management tool.  Another target market.  If I thought of all this at least a decade ago, straight from college and before I ever heard of social analytics, others must have too.  Why isn’t the market filled with options?

sudo make me a proper social analytics platform!

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.