Tag Archives: quantifiedself

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

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.

Waking songs

Music in my head

I’m one of those people who have songs in their head over 20% of the time.  It’s rarely a conscious choice.  Most often they’re triggered by conversations, because my head is an distracting little lyrics repository.  They can be obvious triggers like “I hurt myself today” (which is a terrible time to share what’s in my head), or slightly obtuse associative triggers like “Got it!”  And sometimes they can even be triggered by the cadence, rather than the content, of what they said.  I actually rediscovered a 1983 tune I had almost completely forgotten that way.  The lyrics were gone except for “got to keep a-movin“, but the chorus rhythm was still stored in my brain.  Songs also pop into my head when I’m walking or exercising, based on my movements.  You wouldn’t believe how often “March of the Trolls” sneaks in there!

It Only Makes Me Laugh

It Only Makes Me Laugh (Oingo Boingo)

Waking songs

I often find that there’s a song in my head when I wake.  Sometimes this song is related to recent events, but more often I see no connection.  In fact, more often than not it’s something from my childhood, and not always a good something—to the point where I haven’t heard it since my childhood.  I keep “Carry On Wayward Son” on conscious standby to kick out any awful earworms that I need out of my head.  It’s rarely necessary, but it always works.



Most of my waking songs are benign but bemusing.  I’ve started wondering if there’s a pattern I can’t see because these songs are only in my head as I’m waking up—not the clearest-thinking part of the day!  So I’ve started writing them down.  At the end of a year, perhaps, I’ll compile a playlist, and if I’m not too embarrassed by it, I’ll share with y’all.  Maybe we can come up with some interesting hypotheses or experiments.

A few good reads

Quantified Self

I recently signed up with Critter.Co to track some mental/behavioral habit changes.  Liking it so far!



dataset is a new tool for lazy programmers who work with data, in Python.

I can’t help but share this awesome parody, “Up All Night to Get Data”!


Machine learning

This was a neat story.  I hadn’t realized any traffic light infrastructure in the world was capable of the central intercommunication required for this, but it’s an obvious thing to do when the infrastructure can handle it!  Learning to optimize traffic patterns.



You have to scroll down through some detailed explanations to get to rankings of visualization venues.

A template for creating cycle plots in Excel.  I love cycle plots!


Personal Finance

I recently heard about OmniVest.  Sounds intriguing.  Has anyone used it?

A few good reads

I’ve been way behind on my RSS feeds.  Trying to catch up lately.  Here are some recent good reads.


Infovis: http://www.perceptualedge.com/blog/?p=1770

Stephen Few verbosely explains the same issues I’ve been seeing in recent research on chart junk in visualizations.


UI Design: http://goodui.org/

This is a great site for reminding you of design principles.

As an aside, though, in its own design it misses the excellent idea of “table of contents” or “collapsible sections” for insanely long pages.  I’ve been to a lot of startup sites that subscribe to this absurdly long page design, and they almost always lose my interest before the action item appears.  It’s almost as bad as making me watch a video just to maaaaybe find out whether the product has three features I require.


Startup: http://smallbiztrends.com/2013/10/price-elasticity-economics-set-prices.html

This explains the concept and importance of price elasticity for pricing your products, how Apple can get away with jaw-dropping prices in some markets, but must rein in the prices just a bit in other markets.  Likewise manufacturers of facial tissue or twist ties must price largely according to competitors’ prices and the fairly minor differentiations in the products.


Quantified Self: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2013/10/17/by-whom-for-whom-science-startups-and-quantified-self/

Whitney Erin Boesel led a breakout session with Jakob Eg Larsen at QS Global 2013 on “QS Researchers”, focused on the intersection of academia and Quantified Self.  She posted an excellent report on the discussion, including some possible action points.


Personal: http://smallbiztrends.com/2013/10/digital-afterlife-services.html

A handy overview of how to arrange for a digital executor, potentially in addition to your estate executor.

Tracking Sleep via Movements: Misfit Shine and Withings Pulse

Over the summer, my Fitbit tracker (from before they split into multiple products) gave up the ghost. I decided it was time to explore the movement tracking space. First I participated in Phyode‘s W/Me Kickstarter, but that’s a topic for another post. More recently, I bought a Misfit Shine, followed by a Withings Pulse.  This post will focus on comparing sleep analysis, the weakest point of activity trackers.


Tracking sleep via movements

There is sufficient correlation between movement and sleep quality that all the activity trackers attempt to tell you something about your sleep.  You can’t hope for medically informative data from them, but you can probably compare your nights to each other and find correlations with caffeine use or exercise.  Activity trackers expect you to notify them when you go to bed and when you get up, and then they analyze the time between a little differently than they do your waking time.  As in the daytime, they don’t ask you where you are wearing the device, so analyses can be different based on where you put them.  If they suggest anything, companies suggest you wear the tracker on your off-wrist during sleep.


In my case, I get a little annoyed with the results because most people move substantially in their sleep, on occasion.  I have to wake up to make substantial movements.  I can’t roll over in my sleep; I can’t even shift an arm or leg several inches without waking.  I usually have discomfort dreams that inform me I need to wake up and move.  But since that’s abnormal, the analyses I get don’t reflect my personal sleep movement patterns as well as they should.  In my case, the activity trackers are overly willing to report me as having been asleep.  Still, if I stare at the entire movement pattern for a sleep period I can infer things myself, and I find that useful.

Where and how I’m wearing them


Pulse and Shine ready for sleep!

During the day, I wear my Misfit Shine on a homemade choker.  This is looser and therefore less accurate than the choker they sell, but it’s comfortable, secure, cute, and does well enough for my purposes.  At night, I wear it on the watchband on my left wrist (I’m right-handed).


During the day, I wear my Withings Pulse on the clip on the front-right of my belt area.  The clip itself feels very secure, but already the enclosing area is starting to feel less secure, so I’m a bit worried about that. Still, I’ve used many similar items on other electronics in the past, and they usually warp just a tiny amount and then stop.  At night I wear it in the velcro wristband on my left forearm, above the Shine.


I imagine they get reasonably similar data in these positions.


Comfort and transitioning to and from night use

Transitioning the Shine between the choker and the watchband is easy: pop it out of one ring and into the other.  Usually if anything is time-consuming or awkward it’s clasping the homemade necklace.  I make the watchband a little more difficult by wearing it inside out, so that the knob doesn’t face my wrist while I sleep.  I’m not sure why I do this; it isn’t a particularly poky knob.  I think I just dislike wearing things on my wrist while I sleep and seek any potential comfort boost.  Anyway, the watchband is quite comfortable in that it conforms to wrist shape, is flexible, has no stabby or lumpy bits, and secures down to my tiny wrist size without strangling.


Transitioning the Pulse between the clip and wristband is also very quick, but since the wristband is stretchy, wide, and velcro, it can take some effort to pull it taut without cutting off blood flow and without leaving velcro exposed to snag on your soft sheets and clothes.  In case you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of velcro wristbands, especially for sleeping.  I strongly disliked it with my Fitbit too.  I’ve caught it on things a couple times (in just a week and a half!), and it even pulled off my wrist one night, screwing up half the night’s data.

Recording sleep time

Before I go to sleep, I have to click the button on the Pulse 5 times, tap the moon icon, and slide my finger in the direction indicated. This is tedious when I’m tired, but easy enough to accomplish.  On the Shine, I have to tap it solidly three times.  This sounds easy, but now that I have two items on my wrist the Shine gets pushed onto the bendy area, so doesn’t always have a solid item behind it ensure it receives the three taps.  That can be annoying.


When I wake up, same deal with the Shine.  On the Pulse, I press the button and it requests that I confirm I am getting up by sliding my finger again.


Issues with recording sleep time

The primary issue here is that I have to let it know when I am going to bed and when I am getting up.  In both cases, I’m usually sleepy or have other things on my mind, so I don’t always remember.  Neither of these services currently allow you to go back and say “Oh yeah! I swear I slept last night…maybe around this time to that time.  Please update your analyses accordingly.” I hope both will allow it eventually.  These are new products, so I don’t expect them to release with all the features I might like to see.


Now, if I do remember, I remember to do it for both devices.  Yet I have no data for the Shine on one night.  Did it get accidentally triple-tapped shortly before or after I went to bed and triple-tapped intentionally, thus negating the tag?  Did I sleepily see some lights go off and assume it caught the triple-tap when in fact it only caught a double-tap?  Or did I forget to inform either device and the Pulse inferred that I was asleep between two times?  I can eliminate the last possibility because Pulse reported the amount of time “in bed” and “asleep” as different.  But I still don’t know what exactly happened!


Then when I started comparing the results from each devices I realized there was often way more than a minute’s difference between the times each device recorded me as asleep.  I got the impression that the Shine was, shall we say, adjusting the values I gave it.  Last night I manually recorded my sleep and wake times.  The Pulse reflected approximately the same times, while the Shine said I went to bed 20 minutes later.  It’s true that I got up again right after I went to bed, but it makes me wonder why I bother telling it that I was in bed!





Standard deviations of the differences in sleep metrics used by both Shine and Pulse. In other words, these devices use very different algorithms!

With only a week and a half of data, I’ve determined that these services have very different algorithms for determining how long I was asleep and how much of that sleep was deep/restful. The standard deviations in differences between all comparable metrics on the two devices range between a 34 and 64 minutes, which is just huge.


Despite that activity tracking is a weak reflection of sleep quantity and quality, I already favor the Shine’s “deep sleep” algorithm.  It seems to have some correlation with how rested I feel the next day. The Pulse’s sleep analyses seem to have almost no correlation with my state of mind the next day.


Interestingly, the only times Shine thinks I got more deep sleep than Pulse thinks I got, the Shine is mistakenly under the impression I was asleep much longer than I was.  I looked at these data and it appears Pulse is better at trimming off awake times from the beginning and end of the period I tell it I’m asleep.  So if I think I’m going to bed and then get distracted, or if I forget for an hour to tell it I’m up and just poking at my laptop/tablet/phone, Pulse is more likely to figure this out.  Except that last night the Shine trimmed 20 minutes off the beginning of the time I was “in bed” because I was too active.  So there’s something trickier going on here that will require more data to figure out.


Tracking sleep via movements: easy-to-get wishlist

One really simple item I miss from Fitbit’s otherwise useless sleep analysis: number of times I woke during the night.  This one was handy: for example, it correlated with my caffeine intake the previous day.


Also, I haven’t seen anyone doing this, but I really want to see the longest stretch of time in “deep sleep”, or whatever they decide to call the most restful sleep.  Just from eyeballing my raw sleep data, I’ve determined this is a factor in how energetic I feel the next day.  I can’t imagine it’s meaningless for other people!

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.