Tag Archives: app

Gareth MacLeod on Holistic Tracking and Correlations

Gareth MacLeod is a developer/entrepreneur interested in making QS techniques easy to incorporate into daily life. He built an app that sends him text messages to ask about his sleep, mood, romantic encounters, tooth brushing, etc. He then looks for correlations among the different data streams, and even spent 100 hours building a correlation heat map. In the video below, Gareth talks about how to engineer the perfect day, and interesting things he has learned, like if he watches TV before bed, he feels grumpy the next day. (Filmed by the Toronto QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

Gareth MacLeod – Holistic Correlational Tracking from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.

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Toolmaker Talk: Nicholas Gammell (GAIN Fitness)

This is the second post in the “Toolmaker Talks” series. The QS blog features many stories by those conducting personal QS projects that are about: what did they do? how did they do it? and what have they learned?  In Toolmaker Talks we hear from those closely observing all this QS activity and developing appropriate tools: what needs have they observed? what tools have they developed in response? and what have they learned from users’ experiences?

Frequent visitors to San Francisco QS meetups have watched GAIN Fitness grow from an exciting idea to a very helpful exercise tool. It whips up an exercise routine based on what you want to do at the moment — “I’ve got 15 minutes, I’m in a hotel room with no equipment … what can I do that will still help me in my weight loss goals?” — and helps you track your workouts.

 

Founder and CEO Nicholas Gammell explains what led to its creation and the impact it has had.

Q: How do you describe GAIN Fitness? What is it?
Gammell: GAIN Fitness is like a digital personal trainer in your pocket. It allows you to design customized, personal-trainer quality workouts based on your real-time goals and constraints – e.g. fitness level, time and equipment available, desired intensity, etc. You then “play” each customized workout and a series of timers, instructional images and tracking tools will push you efficiently through your workout session. The underlying recommendation algorithms were developed in consultation with certified personal trainers and can produce literally millions of uniquely tailored workouts in a matter of seconds.

Q: What’s the back story? What led to it?
Gammell: I’ve always been a pretty serious exerciser, having grown up playing multiple competitive sports (football, baseball, basketball) where training mattered. I started lifting weights when I was 12 years old and the family got a Soloflex for Christmas. Meanwhile, I always read Men’s Health, where I learned a variety of different training techniques and the basics of exercise science. Ultimately, I went on to play college football at Carnegie Mellon (a school known more for its tech geeks than for its varsity athletics), and I trained hard in the offseason with lifting coaches and teammates.

When I started working as a traveling consultant, my first job out of college, I faced a difficult challenge — how to keep a steady, progressive fitness schedule despite long, unpredictable hours and intermittent gym access. I knew it was completely possible. Whether you have 45 minutes at the gym or 15 minutes in a hotel room, a challenging routine can be designed. It was merely an information problem, and I hacked together a rudimentary Excel model that helped offload some of the thinking/planning aspects to designing situated-adapted workouts on the fly.

Q: What impact has it had?
Gammell: Personally, I’m in better shape now than I’ve been in the past 10 years, and I’m spending about 40% less time working out. I do 3 or 4 GAIN workouts a week, about 20-45 minutes each, plus a cardio activity like basketball or running once a week and a little yoga/stretching in the mornings. I can rep out about 20 pull-ups and I hopped a mountain bike the other day and road 55 miles without much trouble. I do this all while working 70-80 hours per week, so I think anyone can find 2-3 hours a week to get their fitness to a pretty decent level.

We’ve heard many great things from our users – some have told us they’re working out regularly again for the first time in years, others say they’ve lost significant weight and their friends have taken notice. We haven’t had the resources to pull together any before/after pics or transformation stories yet, but plan to do so in the near future.

Q: What makes it different, sets it apart?
Gammell: It’s really the algorithmic, data-driven approach that sets GAIN apart from other fitness apps. We viewed the problem as a big data problem from the outset, and designed a system from the ground up to eliminate as many friction points as possible, providing users with real-time, personally tailored workouts at their command. Most other fitness apps leave you with a bunch of off-the-shelf workout programs to pick through and, at the end of the day, aren’t really that customized. Or they require oodles of manual data entry up front before they do much.

We don’t want you to spend time researching workouts, thinking about what you should do, or entering lots of data. We provide users with an instant action plan so they can stop mulling over “what should I do…” and get right to it.

Q: What are you doing next? How do you see GAIN Fitness evolving?

Gammell: We’re really just in the first quarter. We’re building a platform for fitness experts with different specialties to scale their programs to mass audiences instantaneously. We call this concept “iTunes for Fitness.” Want to maximize your performance next ski season? Want to build muscle but have some rotator cuff issues to work around? These are some of the goals and issues people face in creating a personalized fitness program, and we want to help top fitness experts in various niches turn their expertise into scalable algorithms so users can access workouts precisely tailored to their needs. We’re starting out by launching a few new “fitness packs” that contain workout protocols and exercises designed by top-notch fitness experts.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

Gammell: Just that we’re really excited to be here, to help out lots of people look and feel better, and we want to hear your feedback so we can continue to design our personalized training apps to better meet your needs and remove friction from your journey to gain fitness.

Product: Gain Fitness
Website: http://gainfitness.com
Platform: iPhone & Web
Price: free

(If you are a “toolmaker” and want to participate in this series, contact rajivzume@gmail.com)

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Toolmaker Talk: Robin Barooah (Equanimity)

This is the first post in a new series of “Toolmaker Talks” we’re starting on the Quantified Self blog. There are many conducting personal QS projects, and much of what is featured on the QS blog is about: what did they do? how did they do it? and what have they learned?  Now, we want to also hear from those closely observing all this QS activity and developing appropriate tools: what needs have they observed? what tools have they developed in response? and what have they learned from users’ experiences?

Equanimity, an iPhone app, is a beautiful timer and journal for meditation. Its functionality (timers, logs, charts) and design support your meditation practice in an appropriately non-intrusive way. As one reviewer noted: “Meditating is all about letting go of your frustrations and achieving peace of mind. … [Equanimity] is easy to use and everything about it is focused on offering you a calm experience.”

Developer Robin Barooah explains what led to its creation and the impact it has had.

Q: How do you describe Equanimity? What is it?
Barooah: In the most basic sense, Equanimity is an iPhone app that I designed to help me meditate regularly.  It does this in two ways. First, by providing a timer that’s easy to use and not distracting.  That helps with the meditation sessions themselves because it provides a well-defined end time so I don’t have to worry about going on for too long and disturbing my daily routine.

Secondly, and to me more importantly, Equanimity keeps a log of the meditations it has timed, and provides clear graphical feedback on how frequently I meditate, and how long and how consistently I’ve maintained my practice for.  It also provides a gentle reminder in the form of an indicator that shows whether I’ve meditated yet that day.  The idea behind these features is that they provide an honest reflection of my meditation practice, and that this reflection influences my behavior.

Before I used Equanimity, I found that I would meet resistance in my practice and have an inaccurate perception of how much I was meditating.  I found it easy to think I was meditating every other day, though actually only doing it twice a week, if I didn’t keep a record.  I’ve found it’s even possible to forget during the day whether I’d done it or not.  Since I do actually want to meditate each day, this kind of gentle feedback is enough to help me keep on track in a way I found very hard before.  It’s basically an antidote to self-deceptive or inaccurate thoughts.

Q: What’s the back story? What led to it?
Barooah: I had gone through a particularly stressful couple of years and even though the stress was over, I found that I was experiencing anxiety and lowered concentration. Meditation is associated with spiritual benefits and self-knowledge too, but at the beginning of the project I was just looking to recover.  I had previously meditated in various classes and knew that meditation could help me, but I hadn’t managed to establish a practice outside of a class.  I knew that I wasn’t the only person who had trouble making meditation part of their routine, so I thought that if I could solve the problem for myself, my solution would be useful for others too.

I’d experimented with keeping track on paper and using a coffee timer in the past, without success.  That would often break down because I wouldn’t have the paper and timer with me when I thought of meditating.  I experimented with building a web application, but it became clear that an iPhone app had the potential to be much more personal, and was more likely to be with me when I needed it.  Also, having a computer sitting in the background didn’t feel right.

Q: What impact has it had?
Barooah: I think I can now say that I meditate every day.  It took much longer for me to get to that point than I anticipated, though — something like 18 months.  Over that time, by looking at my meditation history I was able to learn about things that disrupted my practice and make adjustments.  Doing meditation early in my day is much more reliable than later, for example.  More interestingly, I could see from the annual chart that things like traveling, illness, and minor depressions all had the potential to significantly disrupt my practice.  They still do have an effect but now typically only for a day at most, because I understand what’s happening and can adapt my routine accordingly.

I think it’s also helped me grow significantly in patience with myself, by revealing what I would probably have thought of as a series of independent failures to be a slow learning process leading to success.

As far as other people go, it’s a little harder to say. I don’t collect user data because I think that would interfere with the sense of meditation being a private experience.  There are thousands of users, though, and I have heard from many people who also say that it’s helped with their practice. There are also regular meditators who had no trouble practicing regularly before, but use Equanimity because they just like the design.

At some point I would like to ask people to sign up for a study so I can learn more about the range of experiences, but I never feel good about  software that persuades people to give up personal information, so that will be a separate project that people can volunteer for.

Q: What makes it different, sets it apart?
There are a few other well-produced meditation apps available for the iPhone.  Each has a different focus.  I think Equanimity is unique in being directly focused on solving the problem of cultivating a daily practice.

I use it myself every day, so I’ve removed all the friction I can from the daily meditation process.  The feedback charts are carefully designed to provide information that is useful at different stages in the process of developing a practice without needing any work.  For most people it’s self-explanatory and doesn’t need any setting up.  The more advanced features only come into view when you need them.  As I learn more, I’m steadily developing the app while maintaining its simplicity.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

Thanks for asking me about this project!  It’s nice to have a chance to reflect on it.  I think that now that we have truly personal computing devices we are starting to learn how to use them to learn more about ourselves as human beings.  To me, this presents genuinely new and optimistic possibilities for improving our lives.  I’m looking forward to learning more about the stories behind other projects as you continue this series.

Product: Equanimity
Website: http://meditate.mx/iphone
Platform: iPhone
Price: $4.99

(If you are a “toolmaker” and want to participate in this series, contact rajivzume@gmail.com)

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