Gary Wolf

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

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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?

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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.

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

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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: http://qs15.quantifiedself.com/register/)

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: labs@quantifiedself.com,

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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Gary Wolf: Even when I'm active, I'm sedentary


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We recently released our QS Access app, which allows you to see HealthKit data in tabular format. Not very many tools feed data into HealthKit yet, but Apple’s platform does pick up step data gathered by the iPhone itself. I have step data on HealthKit going back about two weeks. When Ernesto Ramirez and I were playing around with QS Access, loading the data into Excel and looking at some simple charts, I learned something: Even when I’m active, I’m sedentary.

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My daily step totals ranged from a depressing 3334 steps on Thursday, September 18 to an inspiring 21,634 steps on Friday, September 25, but – as these charts clearly show – even  on the extreme days my activity was concentrated into relatively short periods when I got up from my desk and went out to do something. Most hours, every day, were spent with hardly any movement at all. I’m sitting at my desk, and sitting at my desk some more, and sitting at my desk still more. That’s probably not good. No, not good at all.

Pulling my data out of HealthKit and seeing a few simple charts gave me a bit of insight that I hope will lead to a change in how much I sit. It was a great to be able to easily make some simple analysis of my data. I hope you’ll find QS Access useful also (you can learn more about it here). Please share what you learn in the QS Access thread in the QS Forum or by emailing us about your projects: qsaccess@quantifiedself.com.

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Access Matters

Someday, you will have a question about yourself that impels you to take a look at some of your own data. It may be data about your activity, your spending at the grocery store, what medicines you’ve taken, where you’ve driven your car. And when you go to access your data, to analyze it or share it with somebody who can help you think about it, you’ll discover…

You can’t.

Your data, which you may have been collecting for months or years using some app or service that you found affordable, appealing, and useful, will be locked up inside this service and inaccessible to any further questions you want to ask it. You have no legal right to this data. Nor is there even an informal ethical consensus in favor of offering ordinary users access to their data. In many cases, commercial tools for self-tracking and self-measurement manifest an almost complete disinterest in access, as demonstrated by a lack of data export capabilities, hidden or buried methods for obtaining access, or no mention of data access rights or opportunities in the terms of service and privacy policy.

Now is the time to work hard to insure that the data we collect about ourselves using any kind of commercial, noncommercial, medical, or social service ought to be accessible to ourselves, as well as to our families, caregivers, and collaborators, in common formats using convenient protocols. In service to this aim, we’ve decided to work on a campaign for access, dedicated to helping people who are seeking access to their data by telling their stories and organizing in their support. Although QS Labs is a very small organization, we hope that our contribution, combined with the work of many others, will eventually make data access an acknowledged right.

The inspiration for this work comes from the pioneering self-trackers and access advocates who joined us last April in San Diego for a “QS Public Health Symposium.” Thanks to funding support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and program support from the US Department of Health And Human Services, Office of the CTO, and The Qualcomm Institute at Calit2, we convened 100 researchers, QS toolmakers, policy makers, and science leaders to discuss how to improve access to self-collected data for personal and public benefit.  During our year-long investigation leading up to the meeting, we learned to see the connection between data access and public health research in a new light.

If yesterday’s research subjects were production factors in a scientist’s workshop; and if today’s participants are – ideally – fully informed volunteers with interests worthy of protection; then, the spread of self-tracking tools and practices opens the possibility of a new type of relationship in which research participants contribute valuable craft knowledge, vital personal questions, and intellectual leadership along with their data.

We have shared our lessons from this symposium in a full, in-depth report from the symposium, including links to videos of all the talks, and a list of attendees. We hope you find it useful. In particular, we hope you will share your own access story. Have you tried to use your personal data for personal reasons and faced access barriers? We want to hear about it.

You can tweet using the hashtag #qsaccess, send an email to labs@quantifiedself.com, or post to your own blog and send us a link. We want to hear from you.

The key finding in our report is that the solution to access to self-collected data for personal and public benefit hinges on individual access to our own data. The ability to download, copy, transfer, and store our own data allows us to initiate collaboration with peers, caregivers, and researchers on a voluntary and equitable basis. We recognize that access means more than merely “having a copy” of our data. Skills, resources, and access to knowledge are also important. But without individual access, we can’t even begin. Let’s get started now.

An extract from the QSPH symposium report

[A]ccess means more than simply being able to acquire a copy of relevant data sets. The purpose of access to data is to learn. When researchers and self-trackers think about self-collected data, they interpret access to mean “Can the data be used in my own context?” Self-collected data will change public health research because it ties science to the personal context in which the data originates. Public health research will change self-tracking practices by connecting personal questions to civic concerns and by offering novel techniques of analysis and understanding. Researchers using self-collected data, and self-trackers collaborating with researchers, are engaged in a new kind of skillful practice that blurs the line between scientists and participants… and improving access to self-collected data for personal and public benefit means broadly advancing this practice.

Download the QSPH Report here.

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Tidings: QS Southern Oregon Show&Tell

Our friends in Southern Oregon had their 3rd Quantified Self meeting yesterday at Rogue Hack Lab, a makerspace in Medford, Oregon. Dr. Dawn Lemanne, who organized the meeting, recorded the event on her mobile, and we’ll post it as soon as it arrives.

One especially interesting note from this meeting: We hear from Dr. Lemanne that the attendees had a chance to play with the Lapka personal environmental monitor. I’ve enjoyed the Lapka marketing campaign very much, under the impression it was a hoax. Therefore, I take its appearance at a QS show&tell to be a bit of real news. When we check the Lapka Environmental Map for July 15, 2014, we find several measurements recorded in Medford during the QS meeting. Not incontrovertible evidence, perhaps, but evidence nonetheless!

Our heartfelt thanks to Dr. Lemanne for sending in this report. (Readers interested in self-tracking, physical activity, and cancer may appreciate reading her recent paper in Oncology: “The Role of Physical Activity in Cancer Prevention, Treatment, Recovery, and Survivorship.”)

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Seth Roberts: The Best Way To Learn Is To Do

My friend Seth Roberts, pioneering self-experimenter and personal scientist, died last Saturday. Seth’s sister Amy, made the announcement yesterday on his blog. The news was unexpected and very sad. A few things Seth taught me:

  • Doing lots of experiments keeps you supplied with new ideas.
  • With sensitive and reliable measurements, tiny experimental effects can yield surprising clues.
  • The people who care about a problem most have the best chance of solving it, if they have access to tools.

Seth’s contributions as a colleague and teacher had many dimensions, but in thinking about him nonstop this morning what I find myself marveling at most is the unusual style he had in nearly every conversation. Seth became interested when he saw somebody thinking independently and, like the best teachers, he wanted to understand the process by which students and collaborators developed confidence their conjectures. Countless times, I heard Seth ask somebody “Why do you think that?” His challenge was direct and generous, for if you were willing to expose your reasons you could count on him to apply himself alongside you, thinking up ways to improve your investigation, make your measurements more practical, or give your analysis more logical or mathematical power. Seth was acutely aware that confidence in experimental results requires investment. More than any other experimentalist I’ve known, Seth respected the incremental nature of building confidence in our ideas and finding new ideas worthy of confidence. He encouraged us to do small experiments first, to find easier ways to collect data, and to avoid being tripped up at the outset by grandiose schemes of irrefutability.

We’ll collect and share some more impressions and memories of our friend and collaborator when the shock of this news lessens, but in the meantime I want to post a video of one of the talks he gave a few years ago about how to design personal experiments.

For further reading:

In Richard Sprague’s post from today, linked directly above, there is this passage:

 I found his blog, and discovered that he was living near me in Beijing. A famous professor like him – a New York Times bestselling author and all that – might be hard to get ahold of, but one day out of the blue I sent Seth an email, wondering if he’d like to get together for lunch. He replied in minutes and said sure, how about tomorrow?

That’s Seth exactly.

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Talking QS for Kids with Sesame Workshop!

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Sesame Street has been teaching kids to count since 1969. It was a big part of my childhood and I always loved it. After all, children get measured a lot: weighed, evaluated, tested. If we adults sometimes wonder how the powerful techniques of quantification can be used for our own benefit, rather than merely serving to strengthen control by others, imagine what it looks like to a kid still learning the basic language of numbers.

Can QS be useful for kids? When we learned that Jennifer Kotler and June Lee, two excellent researchers from Sesame Workshop were planning to be with us in Amsterdam in May at the QS Europe conference, we decided to do a short interview and ask them our question outright.

What is your interest in Quantified Self for young kids?

Jennifer Kotler: What I think is really interesting about the QS movement is that you see data as both an input and an output. Originally I had been thinking about measuring behavior, so we could better understand children’s lives. How do kids use media? Who is around them? That’s akin to ethnographic studies. But when I listened to people talk about quantifying themselves, I realized that data is also a kind of content that informs the self. Kids like to know how they are doing and what they are learning, that feedback is connected to self-regulation. So we are now thinking of Quantified Self data as both an input and an output.

What’s the difference between the way typical media companies might research their viewers and what Sesame Workshop does with kids?

Jennifer Kotler: Our primary mission is to help all children reach their highest potential. We want to help them learn. So we use media as a tool to support child development. We don’t see our media as entertainment only.

When do kids start to care about numbers?

Jennifer Kotler: Even infants have some awareness of mathematical concepts but it is around the preschool age when children are taught about the meaning of numbers more formally. The more socially or emotionally meaningful numbers are in relation to individual children, the more they can learn.

What’s the most interesting research that involves young kids with data?

Jennifer Kotler: There are some small scale ethnographic studies, using a GoPro camera and interviews, but those happen with older children. As Sir Ken Robinson said, a three year old is not “half a six year old.” You can’t take experiences from older kids and just make it easier. You have to ask what is appropriate for kids of that age. We’re coming to the conference to learn about techniques we can use in our research, but also we are also coming in with an open mind and looking forward to absorbing it all!

The Sesame workshop creates media. So what if the results of your research is: kids should have minimal screen time? Could you handle that research result?

June Lee: The big goal of the research we do is not to get people to consume more media, but to improve the media we do make so that people learn more, engage more, and improve their lives.

We can’t wait to see June and Jennifer at our 2014 European Conference in Amsterdam. If you’re interested in combining QS practices with child development and education make sure you register today. We’re only one month away!

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