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Author Archives: Ernesto Ramirez
Typically when we think about Quantified Self and the associated collection and visualization of personal data we’re left struggling in the world of charts, graphs, and other well-worn visualizations. That’s not to disparage those of you who love spending some time tinkering in Excel. Those are valuable tools for understanding and there is a good reason we rely on them to tell us the stories of our data. It’s important to realize that those stories rooted in data aren’t always just about finding trends, searching for correlations, or teasing out significant changes. Sometimes data can represent something more visceral and organic – the expression of a unique experience.
Vincent Boyce is a an artist and designer who spends his free time riding on asphalt and water. Those experiences on his longboard and surfboard led him to starting thinking about how his rides, his performances, could be used as inputs for generating art and “exposing the hidden narrative.” After some tinkering with hardware and software Rideware Labs was born. Vincent has designed and built a prototype sensor pack and custom interface that ingests data from his riding and outputs unique visual representations. As you can see above, these aren’t your typical bar charts.
In his great talk filmed at the New York QS Meetup Vincent describes his motivation behind building his prototype system and his goals for future versions.
This is a great first step in turning data rooted in performance into artistic representations of self-expression. What do you think? What kind of data would you like to see hanging on your wall as works of art? Let us know in the comments!
Food. It’s a wonderful social glue that binds people and cultures together in common practices of preparation, presentation, and consumption. It also happens to be a behavior perfectly positioned for self-tracking. Have I ate too much? Did I get enough vitamins? Am I drinking enough water? Am I drinking too much beer? These introspections can go on almost indefinitely. It should come as no surprise that food tracking is somewhat of a hot topic in the Quantified Self community. We’ve seen many different presentations about how to use simple tools or apps for food tracking over the years. One of the reoccurring themes in many of the experiences we’ve learned about is the simple power of tracking food with pictures.
Ellis Bartholomeus is a game and design consultant who became interested in tracking her food consumption after her friends asked her about he eating patterns. Being the curious type she embarked on a self-tracking project that involved taking a picture of everything she ate and drank. She’s detailed some of her findings in this wonderful blog post. We’re excited to learn more about this ongoing project at our upcoming QS Europe Conference where Ellis will be taking part in our Show & Tell presentations track. Until then, here’s a peek into her what is sure to be an interesting talk.
Ellis began by taking a picture of her food and also informing her friends through Facebook of her intentions. The social pact and the positive reactions of her friends helped to give her that extra motivations boost to keep the poject going. She also mentioned that the simple act of taking a picture provided here with that little extra push to pay attention to her food preparation and not miss too many meals during her busy schedule.
Interestingly, Ellis mentions that the act of photographing her food led her to be more mindful and thoughtful not just about her meals, but also about her day-to-day experiences:
It became a great way to remember how I spent my days, where I was, with whom, very clear reference these pictures, work like very clear anchors in my memory, very joyful to browse through the month foodwise since dinner, breakfast is so often a social occassion, and I was reminded on great conversations and situation while looking at the picture.
We are really excited to have Ellis presenting as part of our Show & Tell track. Make sure to check out our previous conference preview posts as well to get a taste of our amazing community of speakers.
The Quantified Self European Conference will be held in Amsterdam on May 11th & 12th. Registration is now open. As with all our conferences our speakers are members of the community. We hope to see you there!
A quick post here to highlight some interesting developments in the heart rate tracking space. Tracking and understanding heart rate has been a cornerstone of self-tracking since, well since someone put two fingers on their neck and decided to write down how many pulses they felt. We’ve come a long way from that point. If you’re like me tracking heart rate popped up on your radar when you started training for a sporting event like a marathon or long distance cycling. Like many who used the pioneering devices from Polar it felt a bit odd to strap that hard piece of plastic around my chest. After time, and seeing the benefits of tracking heart rate, it became part of my daily ritual. Yet, for all the great things heart rate monitoring can do for physical training, there have been very few advances to provide people with a noninvasive method. That is, until now.
Thearn, an enterprising Github user and developer, has released an open source tool that uses your webcam to detect your pulse. The Webcam Pulse Detector is a python application that uses a variety of tools such as OpenCV (an open source computer vision tool) to “find the location of the user’s face, then isolate the forehead region. Data is collected from this location over time to estimate the user’s heartbeat frequency. This is done by measuring average optical intensity in the forehead location, in the subimage’s green channel alone.” If you’re interested in the research that made this work possible check out the amazing work on Eulerian Video Magnification being conducted at MIT. Now, getting it to work is a bit of a hurdle, but it does appear to be working for those who have the technical expertise. If you get it working please let us know in the comments. Hopefully someone comes along that provides a bit of an easier installation solution for those of us who shy away from working in the terminal. Until then, there are actually quite a few mobile applications that use similar technology to detect and track heart rate:
Let us know if you’ve been tracking your heart rate and what you’ve found out. We would love to explore this space together.
We’re excited to share some great news with our Quantified Self community: Buster Benson, one of the most inspring tool makers and self-trackers we know, will be giving a plenary talk about his experiences and adventures in lifelogging at the upcoming Quantified Self European Conference.
Buster has long been a friend and an inspiration to those of use pursuing various forms of self-tracking. From his pioneering work with helping people maintain writing and journaling habits through his beautifully engineered 750 Words to his work centered on creating and maintaing healthy habits, Buster has employed Quantified Self methods to encourage progress and growth. That is not to say he’s restricted his endeavors to the realm of the digital world. Buster was also one of founding organizers for our wonderful Seattle QS Meetup group.
Buster also happens to be a prolific writer. His wonderful blog ,”Way of the Duck,” details his interest, commitment to, and skepticism about a topic of great interest to Quantified Self: behavior change. His take on the idea of a Codex Vitae is not to be missed. Continue reading
How can I lead a happier life? I’m sure this is something we’ve all asked ourselves. Maybe it was during a turn through doldrums or maybe you asked yourself how you could sustain your happiness during a moment of joy. Whatever the case happiness, and by extension mood tracking, has been at the forefront of engaging in a Quantified Self practice for many individuals.
Konstanin Augemberg is no exception. A statistician by trade, Konstantin has been involved with numerous self-tracking projects in order to “empirically demonstrate that any aspect of my everyday life can be quantified and logged on a regular basis, and that the knowledge from these numbers can be used to help me live better.” In February Konstanin presented the methods and results of his ongoing Hacking Happiness project at the New York City QS Meetup (read on for a full description):
Update: Want to make your own Sparktweet? We made a simple tool that you can use. Check it out here!
I was stumbling around Twitter the other day when I was confronted with something new and different:
— Steve Cavendish (@scavendish) April 5, 2013
Apparently that little data representation is not all that new and different. Way back in 2010 Alex Kerin figured out that Twitter was accepting unicode and decide to play around and see if it could represent data. Lo and behold it could and a SparkTweet was born:
▁▁▂▂▃▄▄█▁▁▂ ▃▄▄▅▆▁▁▂▂▃▄▄▅▆▁▁▂▂▃▄▄▅▆ Can you guess what I’m coding in Excel? Eh? Eh?
— Alex Kerin (@AlexKerin) June 9, 2010
Before we get into how you too can start populating your Twitter feed and Facebook (I checked and it worked there as well) with representations of your own Quantified Self data let’s dive into some history.
a small intense, simple, word-sized graphic with typographic resolution. Sparklines mean that graphics are no longer cartoonish special occasions with captions and boxes, but rather sparkline graphic can be everywhere a word or number can be: embedded in a sentence, table, headline, map, spreadsheet, graphic.
In another wonderful book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Tufte describes sparklines as “datawords: data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics.“ Of course, those of us in the QS community are deeply interested not only in data, but also in how data operates in society, what is means as a cultural artifact that is discussed and exchanged in language both written and verbal. This interest iswhat initially piqued my curiosity. The movement of data and a dataword distributed among text and publicly expressed in a tweet. I can’t help but wonder, what does this mean for how we think about and express data about our world?*
If you want display quantitative data in your Twitter stream it shouldn’t take you all that long to get started. Lucky for us Alex Kerin has provided a nifty little Excel workbook that will generate the unicode that can be pasted into your tweet. Just download this workbook and follow the simple instructions! Soon you’ll be able to send out tweets just like this:
My 30-day step history: ▄ ▄ ▄ ▅ ▅ ▅ ▄ ▆ ▄ █ █ ▅ ▁ ▃ ▆ ▅ ▁ ▄ ▇ ▃ ▅ ▆ ▂ ▂ ▅ ▃ ▄ ▄ ▅ ▄ #QuantifiedSelf
— Ernesto Ramirez (@eramirez) April 11, 2013
Now you’re ready and able to go forth and tweet your data! If you use a sparktweet to express your Quantified Self data be sure to let us know in the comments or tweet at us with #sparktweet and/or #quantifiedself.
*Of course the use of sparktweets is not without controversy in the world of data visualization. For more discussion on sparktweets and their utility I suggest you start here.
We are only four short weeks away from hosting our second Quantified Self European Conference and our excitement is building as we receive more previews of the talks and presentations we’ll be hosting. As you can probably guess, putting on a conference can be a stressful endeavor. Luckily stress tracking and management has been the focus of many different Quantified Self tools and experiments. There are no shortage of interesting methods for tracking both the physiological and psychological manifestations of stress and many more are probably on the horizon. More interesting, and of great interest to us within the QS community, is what is possible once stress becomes trackable and understandable.
Steven Jonas, a data analyst and organizer for the QS Portland meetup, will be giving a Show & Tell talk about his experiences with tracking stress at our upcoming conference. Having started with tracking his sleep in 2005, Steven has gone on to engage with multiple tracking projects including his experience with knowledge tracking and spaced repetition.
He’s been tracking his stress levels using the Emwave2, a neat tool for tracking and visualizing heart rate variability, for quite a while. Steven has taken his stress/HRV tracking beyond just intermittent testing and has experimented with hooking up his EmWave2 to his computer while working and installed software to alert him when it detect periods of stress. You can watch his previous talk about this process here.
This may seem like overkill to some. You might be saying, “Of course work is related to stress! What possibly could he hope to find out?” The beauty here lies in the unexpected and interesting findings that creep to the surface when multiple data streams are integrated. In this Show & Tell talk Steven will be explaining how this constant monitoring helped him understand how particular behaviors acted as triggers and how he could manage those triggers in order to reduce and defuse stress.
Low-level, seemingly mild stress still drains my energy, and many of my behaviors and things that I avoid are related to this stress. I developed a new ‘stress sense’, separate from the tool, that helped me see where my life was being affected by stress.
I hope you’ll join us at the conference to learn from Steven’s experience and take part in what is sure to be a great discussion!
The Quantified Self European Conference will be held in Amsterdam on May 11th & 12th. Registration is now open. As with all our conferences our speakers are members of the community. If you’re attending the conference and want to present your self-tracking project please let us know.
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By being able to see my ideas and see how they’re connected to each other, I’m able to think about myself in new ways.
Amy Robinson is curious. That curiosity led her to think very deeply about her curiosity. What was she curious about? Where do her ideas come from? What inspires her? In this talk from the 2012 QS Conference Amy takes us through a really unique method for quantifying her curiosity and what she’s learned so far.