Gary Wolf

Gary Wolf

Visualizing Blood Glucose


For people who take insulin, self-measurement is a matter of life and death. No wonder, then, that people with diabetes who track their blood glucose have been so important in advancing techniques of visualization,and understanding data. At the Quantified Self Europe conference in Amsterdam this year, we were honored to host a panel discussion on Data Visualization and Meaning with Joel Goldsmith (Abbott Diabetes Care), Jana Beck (Tidepool), Doug Kanter (Databetes), and Stefanie Rondags (diabetes coach and blogger).

This discussion strikes me as widely important for self-trackers whether or not we have diabetes. Many  of us will be tracking blood glucose in the near future. And the issues of data access, understanding, and clinical relevance that people with diabetes are working on resemble challenges commonly faced by anybody who is tracking for health.

For instance, Jana Beck was asked during the Q&A about her health care providers. How receptive are they to the important experiments she’s done to improve her health based on the data she’s collected? ”None of my endocrinologists have been very receptive to this approach,” she answered. “My A1C tends to fall within the range of what’s considered the gold range for people with Type 1. But I’m interested in optimizing that further. Often, I don’t even see them more than twice a year.”

Jana, Stefanie, and Doug all showed their own data in the context of discussing experiments and decisions that have had a major impact on their wellbeing. All were clear that the domain of these experiments and decisions is not healthcare as traditionally understood; but nor is it a matter of general fitness or lifestyle. The domain of these experiments is different and perhaps still unnamed. Self-collected data can and should essential health decisions, but the most advanced techniques of understanding this data are still being developed in an ad-hoc, grassroots way, by knowledgeable and open minded individuals who have a strong interest in learning for themselves.

At the end of the session I asked Joel Goldsmith, of Abbott Diabetes care, about the future prospects of the Freestyle Libre, a minimally invasive wearable blood glucose monitor that is not yet available in the US. (Disclosure: Abbott Diabetes Care was one of the sponsors of the QS Europe Conference.) The Freestyle Libre has a sensor in the form of a patch worn on the arm, and a touchscreen reader device that you lift close to the sensor to get a reading. There is no finger prick involved. While this and competing minimally invasive or non-invasive glucose monitors will almost certainly continue to be regulated as medical devices and understood as part of the health care system, many other people will also use them, and the flood of data and the questions that go with it will challenge our understanding of where this type of information should live.

The video above contains the full session, including the Q&A.

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QS Symposium on Pain and Innovation Challenge

Do you have a Quantified Self idea that can help ease the burden of pain?

On November 5th, 2015, we’re convening the first QS Symposium on Pain and Innovation Challenge on the campus of Singularity University at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. For this meeting, we’re trying  a new kind of innovation challenge, designed to advance your ideas for helping people who are dealing with acute and chronic pain. If you have an idea that can help people in pain, please join us for an intense and inspiring one day workshop with some of the world’s leading experts to advance your idea and connect with collaborators who can support its development, from prototyping to reaching the market.

At the end of the day, we’ll award a $10,000 cash prize to the idea that has most challenged and inspired us to look beyond what is already known about reducing the burden of pain.

We’re looking for ideas based on deep insight into the practical challenges faced by people dealing with acute and/or chronic pain, with a particular focus on tools that enhance self-awareness, self-efficacy, and empower people of all types to better understand themselves and live joyful lives. We welcome participation from all innovators interested in sensing, devices, apps, services, and social innovations.

This is a unique challenge, designed to unfold from start to finish over the course of a single day. Instead of competition, co-operation. Instead of obscure judgments made behind closed doors, an open conversation about what we are learning. Instead of long lead times and uncompensated design work, a short, intense, inspiring immersion among the makers of the most innovative tools of tracking and learning emerging from the Quantified Self movement today.

We are toolmakers, pain sufferers and clinical experts, united by a common intention to make a difference in the lives of people who suffer from pain every day.

Request an invitation by emailing

Include some details about your idea and reference links, and we will follow up with you.

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QS Access: See Your HealthKit Data in a Table


A year ago we released QS Access, a simple app that allows you to see your healthkit data in a table. Our idea was to make it easier for people to explore their data using familiar tools, such as Numbers, Excel, or any  spreadsheet program that can open a .csv file. We’ve really enjoyed hearing its been useful, and we’ve received lots of good feedback. This week we released a new version of the QS Access App that contains some commonly requested features. You can now:

  • QS-Access-ScreenSee raw data from individual elements, such as running.
  • Store the query details, so you don’t start from scratch each time.
  • Choose units for many quantities.
  • Get a table of your sleep data.

We’re still listening, so if you are using QS Access and have feedback for us please let us know by emailing

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Announcing the 2015 Quantified Self Europe Conference Program


Eleven days and counting!

On September 18th and 19th the Quantified Europe conference returns to the beautiful and affordable Casa 400 hotel in Amsterdam. If you’ve been before you know how special this conference is. The dozens of high-handled guest bikes waiting just outside the hotel door suggest it’s going to be hard to stay inside, but we have a lot of experience programming both “with” and “against” the lure of the city and we expect that nobody will be riding away until the last session ends. With over 70 different talks and sessions scheduled between social breaks with excellent food, our “carefully curated unconference” is the fruition of nearly a year’s work getting to know what’s going on the QS community. We’ve been deeply inspired by what you’re thinking about. It’s time for everybody to get in on what we’ve been learning.

Especially notable themes this year include novel ways of measuring sleep; widening interest in blood glucose sensors; popularization of genome and microbiome tests, and, as always, an amazing range of handcrafted and deeply personal tracking stories about health, sports, emotion, and more.

You can read a preliminary program here. [PDF]

As you’ll see, we’re opening the conference with 10 special “how to” sessions covering topics from heart rate variability to accelerated learning. Our goal with these sessions is to give everybody a chance to learn practical tips from experienced trackers. The heart of the program will be our Quantified Self Show&Tell talks, first person stories on topics like home EEG measurements to improve reading skill, self-collected data on distracted driving, and measuring the effect of music on concentration.

Lively informal breakouts will help set the agenda for the Quantified Self movement in the coming year, and we’ll be joined by dozens of Quantified Self toolmakers bringing their ideas and demos, with special thanks owed to the generous sponsors and Friends of QS who make this meeting possible, including Bayer, Abbott Labs, Intel, Scanadu, Oura, Emfit, and Beddit.

Tickets are almost sold out so register today.

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QS Europe Preview: Using Genetic Data for Recovery from Injury


In the nearly 10 years since direct-to-consumer genetic testing was pioneered by 23andme, regulators have grown more watchful over the claims companies can make about the benefits of knowing your genome. In response, direct-to-consumer testing companies have changed their game plan, emphasizing ancestry and fun facts over physiological insight. Meanwhile, at Quantified Self meetings and conferences, interest in using direct-to-consumer genetic data for health and fitness has never let up.

This year at the QS Europe, Ralph Pethica, whose PhD in genetics and obsession with sports performance in surfing and cycling lead him to use his own DNA results to optimize his training, will be contributing two sessions. He’s going to lead a 30 minute “how-to” session on making better use of our genomic data to optimise fitness training; and, he’s going to give a fascinating 5 minute ignite talk about the cycling accident that lead him to explore the relationship between genomics and recovery from injury. You’re invited to join the discussion!

We program our QS conferences to support the exchange of ideas, and we’re always inspired by what we learn. Next up: QS Europe, September 18th and 19th in Amsterdam.

Register for QS Europe

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Oura Ring on Kickstarter: Sleep and Activity Tracking On A Finger


I first got a look at the Oura ring at the Quantified Self Public Health Symposium last May. I was surprised that the Oura engineers had managed to get sleep and activity tracking into  a bit of jewelry the size of a ring, and ever since I’ve been deeply curious to experiment for myself. Although a few samples showed up at QS15, there was nothing we can could take home with us. But the Oura ring campaign on Kickstarter launches today, with delivery estimated for November 2015. The company is a QS sponsor, and they’re offering readers here and our followers on Twitter a few hours head start on the campaign’s very limited number of $199 rings. (They have just 500 0f these, after which the minimum pledge to get a ring rises to $229).

The Oura ring has both optical sensors and an accelerometer, an increasingly common duo, used in the Apple watch and quite a few other devices. But I thought that the combination of sensors and battery demands would make a ring-size sleep and activity sensor challenging.

Of particular interest to me is the offer of “laboratory accurate” measurement of heart rate variability, or HRV, using the optical pulse sensor. Heart rate variability is the the variation in the time between heart rates, and it’s useful for Quantified Self experiments involving measurement of emotional arousal and stress. HRV is relatively easy to get, if you have an accurate heart rate monitor, but typically these have taken the form of elastic chest straps. Even Apple, with its relatively capacious watch, doesn’t yet promise accurate measurement of HRV. If the Oura ring ends up offering accurate HRV in a ring that is easy to keep on at all times, it will spark a lot of very interesting new projects.

Thank you to Petteri Lahtela and Hannu Kinnunen, the Oura founders, for giving us a few hours head start. We wish you good luck on your campaign!

For early access use this link: Quantified Self Access to Oura Kickstarter.

Note: both Petteri and Hannu will be at Quantified Self Europe conference in Amsterdam on September 18 & 19.

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QS15: What Happened?

QS15.wide shot.DH.Medium

Two hundred sessions. Two thousand people. Thirty thousand square feet of exposition space on a San Francisco Pier. Did we really do that?

Over the next weeks we’ll be posting videos, photos, interviews and essays inspired by what happened last week at #QS15. But for the next day or two we’re just going to recover a bit, reflect on how things went, and enjoy the afterglow of spending 3 days with remarkable self-trackers, toolmakers, and scholars who share our interest in self-knowledge through numbers.

Our deepest thanks to to everybody who came to the event and to the hundreds of QS participants who worked with us for more than a year to create the program: to the speakers and session leaders who shared their self-tracking stories and ideas; to our courageous sponsors, whose support was indispensable; to the remarkable architects at The Living, who worked with us tirelessly to design an exposition space that supported conversation and discovery; and, to our friends at e2k events x entertainment, who managed the construction of the exposition from scratch.




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Win a new Apple Watch for your QS Project

AppleWatchSportBlackWe’re interested in the Apple Watch. So you might expect there to be a bunch of interesting self-tracking projects using the Apple Watch presented at QS15: The Quantified Self Global Conference and Exposition.

We expected that too. But, as you might have noticed, even devoted Apple fans are still (mostly) waiting for their watches to arrive. There hasn’t been enough time to learn very much.

So, to prime the pump, we got our hands on a new Apple Watch, and we’re going to give it away to somebody who has an idea for a QS project to try. The model is exactly as shown above: 42mm Space Grey Aluminum Case with Black Sport Band.

Here’s a picture of the actual watch, still in the brown delivery box.


Here’s a picture of the brown boxed, opened up.


And that’s where we’re stopping. The person who wins the watch should get to open it, right?

Let us know if you have a project to propose using our very short application form. We don’t expect there to be more than a few dozen entries, so your odds of winning are quite high compared to most promotions. But you do have to be at the conference on June 18 and 19, 2015, to receive the watch.

(You can register here:

How to Enter

Use this form to tell us what you want to learn about yourself and how an Apple Watch can help you make these discoveries. We will select an idea that we think will be especially meaningful for everybody to learn from, and we’ll hand over the watch to you on June 18. The conference starts in a couple of weeks, so please act fast!

You can share your ideas with us and the Quantified Self community on Twitter using #QSAppleWatch. We’d love to see what you want to learn!

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Two videos. Mark Wilson. Tehching Hsei.

Mark Wilson will be presenting his project at the QS15 Conference and Exposition. I wonder if we could get Tehching Hsei to present his?

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QS Access App: See your HealthKit Data in a Table

On Wednesday this week we learned that the QS Access app we submitted to the Apple store was approved. This means you can download the QS Access app on iTunes. We hope you’ll find it useful. Our app is a very simple tool for accessing HealthKit data in a table so that you can explore it using Numbers, Excel, R, or any other CSV compatible tool.

It is still early days for HealthKit, but my conversations with toolmakers at Quantified Self events convinces me that there will be many device and software makers that integrate with Apple’s platform for collecting and analyzing personal data. I hope this will allow more people to learn from their own data by reflecting on changes over time and by combining multiple data streams – such as activity, sleep, and nutrition – into a single visualization for comparison.

To give you your HealthKit data in tabular format, we’ve had to simplify it. QS Access shows your data in either “hourly” or “daily” chunks.  These won’t be appropriate for all uses, but many interesting questions can be asked of data that is presented as a time series using hourly and daily values. This is just a starting point, and we’re looking forward to making it do more based on your feedback.

We very much hope that if you learn something from your data using QS Access, you’ll share your project by participating in a Quantified Self Show&Tell meetup and by joining us at QS15 Conference and Exposition next year in San Francisco. Suggestions about the app itself and interesting examples of usage can be shared with us directly by emailing us:,

Read a short example of using QS Access to look at my activity data.
Find Support for QS Access in the QS Forum.

The QS Access App was authored by our long time QS Labs friend and collaborator Robin Barooah.

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