Gary Wolf

Gary Wolf

Three Wishes From Exactly Ten Years Ago

Exactly ten years ago, at an early Quantified Self meetup, Joe Betts-La Croix expressed “three wishes” for tools to make data collection for self-tracking easier.

Joe asked for:

  1. A simple database that would accept data inputs from anybody using fairly simple and adaptable formats (for instance .xml) and just hold it there, eventually allowing other people to upload tools for analysis so we could do interesting things with the data, like run statistical analysis, or simply graph it. Joe wanted something extremely simple.
  2. Devices that will send data to a simple, private data store using wifi. For illustration, he describes a scale that will send his weight data automatically, a blood pressure monitor, and a blood glucose monitor.
  3. An app for his phone designed to allow quick manual entry of any value, which is then transferred to the data store.

It’s interesting to look back on this from exactly ten years and ask: To what extent have these wishes come true? What turned out to be the hardest problem?








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QS18: Thank You!

The Quantified Self Conference was held on September 22nd and 23rd in Portland, Oregon. Over the two days of the conference we had over eighty talks, presentations, and breakout discussions about self-tracking, everyday science, and “self-knowledge through numbers.”  Over the next few weeks we will be posting videos, slides and notes, but for now let us just say thank you so much to everybody who attended and made this meeting possible. To see QS18 related posts on Twitter, look for #QS18.

For a full program list, see the QS18 Conference Page.

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We Have Posted The Conference Program for QS18!

Please join us at QS18 for over 60 first person talks, tool demos, and expert-lead workshops about self-tracking, N-of-1, and everyday science. Our focus this year is on “QS&Learning.” Along with a special plenary talk and discussion by pioneering teacher, scholar and self-experimenter Alan Neuringer, we are bringing together Quantified Self experts from all over the world to share knowledge about what we are learning about ourselves with our own data, and how we can share this knowledge with our children, students, and peers.

QS18 Conference Program

We’ll also have a special focus on open tools. One of the most powerful forces driving QS in the last two years has been the energy of DIY and open hardware makers. Many uses of data for learning don’t match well with the business models of commercial device companies, who tend to be greedy about data they collect, focused on mainstream use cases, and enthralled by the (potential) money available from traditional health care. Where does this leave individuals and communities who want to learn right now, using tools that match our needs? When you jon us at this year’s conference, you’ll meet the people creating the next generation of open tools, and using them to rapidly accelerate learning about health, sports, environment, and education – among many other topics.

All the sessions listed on our QS18 Conference Program Page have been developed in collaboration with conference registrants. We’ll keep adding and changing up until the moment the conference starts. So please be in touch and tell us what you’re working on. You can share your ideas for sessions when you register.

For a preview, here are some of the QS Show&Tell Talks we’ve announced:

Tracking Across Generations – From Journals To Life-Logging Glasses
Aaron Yih
Since the day Aaron Yih was born, his grandfather documented his life in large picture collages he hung on the walls. Now that he’s 24 and his grandfather is 84, Aaron is using digital archiving and modern lifelogging tools to make a record of his grandfather’s extensive experiences.

What I’m Learning From My Meditation App
Alec Rogers
Alec Rogers wanted to see if there was a way to measure mindfulness after meditation. He’ll talk about this and other lessons he learned using data from a simple, open source meditation tracker that he wrote himself.

Using My Training Data To Inform My Fashion
Anna Franziska Michel
Anna Franziska Michel will describe her use of her own running and cycling data as material for her startling and beautiful work in fashion design.

Blood Values Beyond Ketones – The Effect Of Exercise, Fasting, And Bathing
Benjamin Best
Benjamin Best has decades of experience with self-collected data. He’ll be talking about the analytical and graphical methods he uses to see the effects of exercise, fasting, bathing, and other common activities on his blood test values.

When Do I Do What I Say And How Does It Make Me Feel About Life
Eli Ricker
Eli Ricker tracks what he says he’s going to do and how often he does it. He’ll talk about he’s learned by connecting this data about his actions to his “life satisfaction” score.

3 Different Sleep Trackers Don’t Agree…. But What Can I Learn Anyway
Esther Dyson
Esther Dyson is obsessed with time and circadian rhythms. Wanting to understand how she slept, she started with the Zeo long ago, but now uses the Oura, Whoop, and ResMed/Sleepscore simultaneously. But what happens when this data disagrees?

Using Step And Sleep Data To Monitor Recovery
Jacqueline Wheelwright
Fitness and sleep trackers often contain built in assumptions about what’s optimal. Jacqueline Wheelwright describes how these data can be used for less common and more personal reasons.

My Headaches From Tracking Headaches
Jakob Eg Larsen
Jakob Eg Larsen predicted tracking headaches would be an easy task. But the very first question turned out to be less straightforward than it seemed: What counts as a headache? He’ll show his data and talk about his learning process over 2.5 years.

Exercising Without Glucose Which Is Supposedly Impossible
Jessica Ching
Bay Area QS Show&Tell participants may remember Jessica Ching’s wonderful talk about training dogs to detect low blood sugars. This year she’ll show data about a different project: learning how exercise without glucose.

I Made Polyphasic Sleep Work For Me
Jonathan Berent
You’d have to be a crazy to think you could get by on 2.5 hours of sleep. Jonathan Berent is that kind of crazy. He’ll show data from his polyphasic sleeping, the effects this had on his life, and what he still hopes to discover.

Can Tracking Devices Detect And Help Me With Having Low Energy For An Extended Period?
Justin Lawler
Justin Lawler has been dealing with low energy for the past 6 months. An avid self-tracker, he wanted to see how well the currently available tools capture this feeling and help him along a path of improvement.

An N-of-2 Study with My Best Friend About How to Lower Blood Pressure
Karl Heilbron, Fah Sathirapongsasuti
With a family history of stroke and early warning signs of hypertension, Fah Sathirapongsasuti recruited friend and fellow scientist, Karl Heilbron, for a two person self-study of how lifestyle influences their blood pressure.

What InsideTracker Taught Me About My Five-Day Fast
Kyrill Potapov
Kyrill Potapov tested theory that a fast can clear out the digestive tract and repopulate it differently. He shares his results from a 5 day fast, using InsideTracker panels to test his before and after states.

A Self-Study Of My Child’s Risk Of Intellectual Disability From A Rare Genetic Variant Carried By My Family
Mad Ball
Mad Ball is a carrier for a rare genetic disease which entailed risk of having a child with a serious intellectual disability. But how much risk? Through careful self-investigation based on consumer genomics, a reasonable estimate turned out to be possible.

The Cost of Interruption
Madison Lukaczyk
Madison Lukaczyk tracked her time to see the impact that interruptions had on her productivity; the data and analysis changed how she uses her communication tools.

Learning From 5000 Pomodoros
Maggie Delano
Maggie Delano used the Pomodoro method – 25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of anything else – to complete her Ph.D. Her 5 years of Pomodoro data challenges the assumption that working all the time is the key to accomplishing things.

5 Years Of Tracking And Visualizing Posture Data
Esther Gokhale, Mark Leavitt
How can a sensor accurately detect whether your back is aligned? Mark Leavitt and Esther Gokhale have been working on this problem for years and they share how they used their data to improve their posture.

Running Three Marathons On Zero Calories
Mikey Sklar
Mikey Sklar ran three marathons in one day. He consumed liquids for hydration and metabolites but no calories. He’ll show how he used personal data to understand how this seemingly impossible feat could be accomplished.

Which Grasses Aggravate My Allergies
Thomas Blomseth Christiansen
Thomas Christiansen’s allergies are aggravated when running during grass pollen season. For this extremely clever project he used a GoPro to document passing vegetation and a device to record his sneezes in order to pinpoint what plants activated his nose.

Learning From My Whinges
Valerie Lanard
Valerie Lanard keeps a detailed workout spreadsheet. In her “notes” section, she wrote out whatever excuse she had for not working out. Over time, she realized that this was a rich dataset on it’s own, detailing what’s happening when she’s not exercising.

Cholesterol Levels While Nursing
Whitney Erin Boesel
After giving birth, Whitney Erin Boesel learned that her cholesterol was very high. Given her family history, it seemed that an intervention was in order. But what if she did nothing and simply made observations?

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Using Freestyle Libre To See How Stress Effects My Blood Glucose Levels

Justin Lawler, the organizer of Quantified Self Dublin, has been doing some interesting self-studies about how various changes in his life affect his blood glucose levels. Blood glucose is typically tracked as part of diabetes care, and there are some excellent emerging tools for convenient tracking without doing finger stick tests. (Although these systems are not yet accessible everywhere without a doctor’s prescription, we’ve seen them more and more often in Quantified Self projects over the last few years.)

In a recent post, Justin outlined some of his latest projects and discoveries. Among the most interesting findings was the clear relation between psychological stress and blood glucose spikes. For instance, this chart that covers the time he was giving a talk at last year’s Quantified Self conference in Amsterdam.

“My worst data point by far,” Justin writes, is when I’ve been most stressed—giving a talk at the Quantified Self Europe Conference.” You can see his graph below, which shows his blood glucose spanning the time of his talk.


For Justin’s full account, see his excellent Medium post: Continuous Glucose Monitoring — The First Four Weeks.

You can hear Justin talk about his work and learn more about how to track your own blood glucose levels at QS18: The Quantified Self Conference, which will be held on September 22/23 in Portland, Oregon. There are currently 10 tickets left at the early registration price ($325), so please sign up soon if you want to come.

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Most Young People In The United States Have Used A Health App

The recent report by Victoria Rideout and Susannah Fox, “Digital Health Practices,Social Media Use,and Mental Well-Being Among Teens and Young Adults in the U.S.” deserves sustained attention for its exploration of the relationship between social media and mental health in teens and young adults. While the study is designed to contribute some realism to the question of whether social media is associated with depression, it contains some important basic data about what’s going on with the use of technology generally. Based on a national survey fielded by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, the study is the only one I know of that has carefully examined into how often young people use apps to track their health and wellbeing. Key results include:

  • 64% of young people have used health apps
  • 26% report having used a nutrition related app
  • 20% have used an app to track menstrual cycles
  • 11% have used apps related to meditation or mindfulness

These are large numbers. And yet, as many QS toolmakers have already found out the hard way, the survey data shows that the use of these apps is episodic.

As Rideout and Fox put it:

“While 64% of young people say they have “ever” used health apps, 25% say they “currently” do. It appears that many young people are using health-related apps for just a short time – to reach a goal, for example.”

We’ve recently been in a lot of conversations with toolmakers about how difficult it is to sustain a business offering apps and devices for self-tracking. If a quarter of all young people are currently using apps for things like nutrition, menstrual cycles, and mindfulness, and nearly two thirds of all young people have given these kinds of apps a try, why have toolmakers found that creating a business to support this practice is so hard to sustain?

An obvious guess is that the problem lies with business models that require customers to pay monthly fees, or consistently upgrade devices. Where people are tracking in order to learn – and stopping once they’ve learned something or otherwise lost interest – these kinds of businesses will get in trouble.

There’s a lot to think about in this report, but what sticks with me most after reading through a couple of times is the strong force impelling young people to try to find out more about the health topics that concern them. In survey of around 1300 young people, nearly 500 people shared a favorite health app in the open ended response section. Six percent of the respondents wrote about a mental health topic they had researched that wasn’t listed on the survey, and an equal number mentioned a physical health issue that wasn’t listed. We often talk about the value of self-tracking and self-experiment for people who are thinking about something that that doesn’t match the common pattern. The challenge of understand something that doesn’t seem to “fit” is strongly felt in the many touching quotes from the open ended response sections with which the report ends.

I won’t steal them for this post: go find them at the link above.

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Psychogeography By Sabastian Meier and Katrin Glinka

In honor of today being the last day of the existence of Moves, the app from which so many Quantified Self projects drew their location data, I thought I’d post this artwork by Sabastian Meier and Katrin Glinka, who constructed city models based on connecting Moves data with their memories.

For discussion of the demise of Moves, exporting, and alternatives, see this topic in the QS Forum: Moves shutting down? Oh, no! But note, today is the last day.



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QS Public Health Symposium Coming Up April 19, 2018


The Quantified Self Public Health Symposium addresses the role of self-collected data in advancing health. This years meeting at the University of California, San Diego brings together invited researchers and advocates from diverse fields, including clinicians, policymakers, technologists, scholars and community members to share progress reports and initiate new collaborations. This year’s focus is on self-collected data and cardiovascular health. To request an invitation, please review the QSCVD Program Outline and send a short email to explaining your interest.

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The Ethics of Citizen Science, A Call for Papers

Here’s an interesting call for papers for citizen scientists by the journal Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

The editors want first person accounts of ethical issues in citizen science. I’ve been part of many discussions of whether QS is part of citizen science. There are some key differences. The most important reason not to think of QS as citizen science is that most QS projects are not designed to contribute to research problems in a scientific discipline. Instead, they are meant to answer one person’s question. The answer may be interesting to science, it may even make a novel contribution, but the disciplinary nature of science, and the non-disciplinary nature of QS, is a distinction too important to ignore. And yet, with all that said, I still think this call for papers is interesting to disseminate.

First: I know that many people who do QS projects face interesting ethical questions, and some of the thinking associated with this work might be interesting in the more institutional context of citizen science. And second: there are an increasing number of QS projects that take place among small groups; while each person has their own reason to participate, the social nature of the projects brings them closer to the kind of group research typically done by citizen scientists. I’m curious about the ethical issues of doing group projects, and I’d like to know how others are handing them. For the Bloodtesters group that I helped organize, we ended up using a process of ethical reflection we called – only somewhat tongue-in-cheek – “self-consent.” What have you done?

The full call for papers is here: Narrative Inquiry in Bioscience


Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics will publish a collection of personal stories from individuals involved in citizen science research. Citizen science is a growing area in which the lay public is involved in research in dynamic and important new ways. This enables new questions to be asked, new methods to be pursued, and new people to contribute, often without the usual oversight provided by institutions and funding agencies. Citizen scientists do environmental research, animal research, human research including clinical trials, identification of photographs, or collect other data.

This movement has implications for traditional science and for human participants in trials run by citizen scientists. Among some of the most challenging and interesting are the ethical implications of this new scientific research.

We want to collect true, personal stories from citizen scientists and those who contribute to citizen science. Please share this invitation and guide sheet with appropriate individuals. In writing your story, please consider one or more of these questions:

  • What does citizen science enable that conventional research approaches do not?
  • What unique challenges have you faced doing citizen science?
  • What ethical issues have you confronted in the conduct of the research?
  • Were you able to use existing frameworks (such as Institutional Review Boards) to resolve them, or did you approach resolving the ethical issues in a new way?
  • What advice would you have for individuals who are considering conducting their first citizen science project?
  • What advice would you have for those who seek to regulate citizen science?
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QS Symposium on Cardiovascular Health


Dr. Dawn Lemanne & Dr. Mark Drangsholt at QS Public Health Symposium . Photo: Kristy Walker

We are organizing a QS symposium on cardiovascular health for scholars and researchers and participants in the QS Community. The goal of our meeting is to support new discoveries about cardiovascular health grounded in accurate self-observation and community collaboration. This one-day symposium will be held on Thursday, April 19, 2018 at the University of California, San Diego.

Our “QS-CVD symposium” is free to attend, but space is limited, so if you’d like to be there we ask you to get in touch with us and tell us something about your research, tool development, and/or the personal self-tracking projects you’re doing that are relevant to the symposium there.

Learn more about the meeting here: QS-CVD Symposium.

Read about the community driven research that has influenced our planning for the symposium here: QS Bloodtesters.

From the Symposium program statement:

We know that data collected in the ordinary course of life holds clues about some of our most pressing questions related to human health and well being. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death globally. CVD risk is strongly influenced by many of the factors commonly tracked in the QS community, including fitness, diet, stress, and sleep. But significant barriers stand in the way of using personal and public data for understanding and improving individual cardiovascular health. Perhaps the most important of these barriers is a lack of consensus about the legitimacy of self-initiated research and self-collected data. Our symposium is designed to advance progress in this field through exposing practical and innovative projects that would otherwise remain invisible, inviting critical comment, and documenting the state of the art for a wider public.

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QS17: Join us June 17-18 in Amsterdam


We’ve been working for many months to organize our next Quantified Self conference, and now we’re ready to open QS17 for registration. We’re going to Amsterdam, and we hope you’ll join us.

QS17: The Quantified Self Conference - Register

This will be the fourth time we’ve held the conference in Amsterdam at our favorite venue just outside the Amsterdam city center. Those of you who have already been to a QS conference here will understand why: This calm, beautiful, and extremely well located hotel, just a short walk from the canal ring, is a perfect place to work together and learn from each other.

QS17 is what we call a “Carefully Curated Unconference.” We’ll have over 100 individual sessions, all of which are proposed and lead by conference attendees. We work closely with all the participants in advance, based on what we know of your projects, work and interests. The final program lineup is released a few days before the event. So please let us know what you’re working on when you register.

Due to the  size of the venue, attendance is strictly limited to 350 people. The first hundred people to register can sign up for €250 for the two day conference. So please don’t delay.

See you in June!

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