**Update: The event is over, but you can watch the whole thing in the video below.**
Since 2014, Quantified Self Labs has put on a one day symposium in San Diego where we bring together toolmakers and public health researchers to support new discoveries about our health and the health of our communities that are grounded in accurate self-observation.
The stream starts at 9:00 AM and the schedule can be viewed here. I hope you’ll join us. Contribute to the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #qsph16.
Abe had an issue with staying up too late. The early morning hours often found him on his couch, working on his laptop.
The problem is that he simply lost track of time. To help make his bedtime unforgettable, Abe built a reminder he could not ignore. He wrote a simple app that uses colors to gently prod him to get ready for bed and installed it on an old android phone that he mounted on the wall in his living room. When the screen first lights up in the evening, the colors are blue (“bedtime is coming.”) and increasingly become red (“bedtime is here.”). When he long-presses the screen, it means that he is ready to sleep, and the phone responds by lighting up with a celebratory array of colors.
It was a simple intervention, but did it work? Abe thought so. But the skepticism of friends spurred him to dig into the data to make sure. The problem was that his simple app didn’t record any data. He had an idea, though. For the past year, a webcam connected to a Raspberry Pi had been recording his living room. Abe used the light levels of the video stream as a proxy for his bedtime. When the light levels dropped, it meant that he had gone to bed. This proved to be a reliable indicator because, as Abe says, “I’m always the last one to sleep, and the last light I turn off is always the living room light.”
Would this work for you? Possibly not, but that’s not the point. It is an excellent example of a person building a solution that is specifically designed for his personality, and also how meaning can be found in the unlikeliest of datasets. In the video, you will find out how much sleep Abe saved and learn more about how he set up his device and ran the analysis.
The Anecdote is the Antidote for What Ails Modern Medical Science by John R. Adler, Jr. M.D. It’s hard to imagine anybody being more of a medical insider than Dr. John R. Adler, the founding editor of Cureus. Adler has a Harvard medical degree, served his residency at Massachusetts General hospital, and is a Stanford professor of neurosurgery, as well as founding CEO of a leading radiation oncology company, Accuray. This makes it especially heartening that Dr. Adler is now focused on opening up medical research literature to important kinds of evidence that have often been ignored: the anecdote and the case report. Quote: “The altruism that is supposed to drive the publication of scientific research has been almost entirely co-opted by the peculiar needs of academic promotion and tenure, as well as the pecuniary demands of the scholarly publishing industry; the public good of medical knowledge has been reduced to a mere after-thought by both academia and the publishing industry.” -Gary
You can train your body into thinking it’s had medicine by Jo Marchant. There is an experimental treatment where the patients always drink from a uniquely flavored beverage every time they take their medicine. After a while, the drug is taken away, but the drink is still consumed. Amazingly, the body continues to act like it received the drug. Considering that many of these drugs have terrible side effects, these findings can impact how medication is administered. -Steven
Fleming’s discovery of penicillin couldn’t get published today. That’s a huge problem by Julia Belluz. John Adler’s reflections on the value of anecdote, linked above, were inspired by this essay by Julia Belluz celebrating the creation of another new journal, called Matters, devoted to publishing reports of small scale experiments and observations. As the publishers write on their web site: “Observations, not stories, are the pillars of good science. Today’s journals however, favor story-telling over observations, and congruency over complexity. As a consequence, there is a pressure to tell only good stories. Moreover, incentives associated with publishing in high-impact journals lead to loss of scientifically and ethically sound observations that do not fit the storyline, and in some unfortunate cases also to fraudulence. The resulting non-communication of data and irreproducibility not only delays scientific progress, but also negatively affects society as a whole.” -Gary
Machine Learning for Easier Dieting by Samuel K. Moore.
“I had a half-cup of oatmeal, with two-tablesoons of maple syrup and a cup of coffee. Oh, I put a handful of blueberries in the oatmeal, and there was milk in the coffee. It was skim milk.”
It would be wonderful to log one’s food by speaking to your tracker in this natural manner. Machine learning may make it possible, but this article reviews some of the obstacles that need to be overcome when it comes to parsing speech. -Steven
A Case of Complete and Durable Molecular Remission of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Following Treatment with Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, an Extract of Green Tea by Dawn Lemanne, Keith I. Block, Bruce R. Kressel, Vikas P. Sukhatme, Jeffrey D. White. This paper from Cureus about a notable clinical outcome offers an excellent example of the kind of research that might never come to light without the work of pioneering science publishers. -Gary
This Dude’s Fitness Tracker May Have Just Saved His Life by George Dvorsky. When a 42-year-old man recently went to the emergency room following a seizure, the doctors had to make a decision in how to proceed that depended on whether the man’s arrhythmia was caused by the seizure or was chronic. The answer was found in the man’s Fitbit data. -Steven
How Can I Stop Feeling Cold by Justin Timmer. A few years ago, I spent a winter wearing only a t-shirt when I went out. I was interested in how my body adapted to the cold over time. I am happy to see Justin attempt a similar thing but with more rigor. -Steven
Letter of Recommendation: Segmented Sleep by Jesse Barron. I’ve been long fascinated by the concept of segmented sleep, where people have a first and second sleep period during the night. I’ve read historical references of this phenomenon, but not many experiences from now. -Steven
Leave that Thermostat Alone! by Michael VanDaniker. Taking advantage of the ability to export his data from his electric provider, Michael compared his electricity usage against the outside temperature to get a better understanding of his electricity use (and created some nice visualizations in the process). -Steven
Resource: Home Hacking Blood Glucose by Jenny Horner. Jenny heard about a study in Israel that showed that post-meal blood sugar spikes differ highly according to the individual. For example, ice cream is fine for some, but sushi is not. Jenny decided to apply the findings to her life. She shares the method she is using to construct her own personal glycemic index. ‑Steven
Personal Information Manager by Fabian Benetou. Fabian’s site is a fascinating mind dump of many aspects of his life. Open to all, but comprehensible only to him, there is a voyeuristic pleasure in traipsing around and seeing a glimpse into someone else’s head (another fun example is Jerry Michalski’s “Brain”). In particular, I love seeing the notes that he keeps from the books he reads, which dovetails with my interest in commonplace books. ‑Steven
Arbor Ludi: “Un proyecto de visualización de datos compuesto por una serie de representaciones gráficas que reconstruyen el árbol de juego de ocho de los mejores ajedrecistas de la historia.” Each image in this beautiful and fascinating series of data visualizations represent the playing life of a chess master. Created by the design and architecture firm Ootro Estudio, the portraits are made out of data from every move from hundreds or thousands of published games (the number varies significantly between masters). The coral-like shape emerges from the fact that in chess the first moves are common and well known, while later moves inhabit a vast possibility space. For more on the technique, see this informative post on The Zugzwang Blog: Arbor Ludi: arquitectura mental de un genio del ajedrez. (In Spanish.) -Gary
All Those New Dinosaurs May Not Be New — Or Dinosaurs by Maggie Koerth-Baker. My first experience of the messiness of paleontology is when I learned that my mug with a green brontosaurus depicted an animal that never existed (though that may no longer be true). This chart shows how often a dinosaur genus is later declared to be invalid. The error rate for dinosaurs named between 1850 and 1980 is 48 percent! -Steven
Changing river path seen through satellite images by Zoltan Sylvester. Using Landsat images, this is a time lapse that shows, over a thirty year period, the oxbow section of the Ucayali river in Peru get pinched and then cut off from the main flow of the river. You can view thirty year timelapses like this for any location on earth at the Google Earth Engine. The Las Vegas one is an incredible example of urban expansion. -Steven
“The heartbeat is a treasure chest of information…”
Mark Leavitt has a unique perspective in that he is both an engineer and a physician. In his retirement, he is applying his wealth of knowledge to keeping himself healthy.
In this talk, Mark looks at how heart rate variability relates to his willpower. Does he lift more weight when his HRV is high? What happens to his eating habits when his HRV is low? And if the term “heart rate variability” is new to you, Mark gives a lucid explanation.
Also, you will get a glimpse of his amazing customized workstation with pedals to keep him active, a split keyboard on the armrests to keep his knees free and built-in copper strips for measuring HRV. Cue envy.
Historically, the most prevalent self-tracking tool in the home was the scale and the relationship between people and weight is complicated. Akhsar found healthy weight loss to be an emotionally difficult process. His breakthrough came with the Withings smart scale with which he lost 65 pounds in the first year and has kept it off for the last three. In this talk he discusses how the data helped him gain the self control to overcome temptations.
Weight has been a popular topic for Show&Tell talks:
Julie Price on the effect of running and family events.
Nan Shellabarger on seeing her life story in 26 years of weight data.
Kouris Kalligas on the relationship between his weight and sleep.
Jan Szelagiewicz on being motivated by family history.
Lisa Betts-LaCroix on using spreadsheets, forms and wireless scales changes the tracking experience.
Rob Portil on how he and his partner experience weight tracking differently.
Amelia Greenhall on using a 10-day moving average.
When someone comes into your life and takes up a special place in your heart, do they also occupy a similar place in your data? Shelly used GMvault to look through 5 years of Google Chat logs to “hunt for signals that I loved my husband and not somebody else.”
She looked at whom she messages, the time of a day, and the words she uses. She was able to extract meaning from innocuous metrics like “delay in response” to show whether her or her future husband were “playing games” at the beginning of the relationship. She also found that use of the word “love” did not correspond with the object of her affections (case in point: “This cytometer needs love too.”)
If you would like to do a similar analysis of your Google Chat log, contact Shelly to get the scripts she used.
The Beacon Experiments: Low-Energy Bluetooth Devices in Action by Chaise Hocking. There is a lot of interest in using micro-location to support QS projects, with much excitement focused on Bluetooth beacons as a possible solution. If you’ve been curious about how well the fairly well known Estimote and Kontakt beacons work for estimating proximity, this post is for you. ‑Gary
Do-It-Yourself Medical Devices — Technology and Empowerment in American Health Care by Jeremy A. Greene. DIY healthcare technology has existed a lot longer than the devices designed to pair with your smartphone, but the “it” in DIY, as well as whom “yourself” is directed towards, has changed significantly over time. ‑Steven
Boundary Negotiating Artifacts in Personal Informatics: Patient-Provider Collaboration with Patient-Generated Data by Chia-Fang Chung et al. This sensitive research paper explores how self-collected data can be used to support collaboration between people seeking health care and their care providers. Based on surveys and interviews, Chung and her co-authors offer a detailed analytical framework for understanding common tensions and misunderstandings, and give extremely thoughtful suggestions for designers. ‑Gary
‘Superman Memory Crystal’ Could Store Data for 13.8 Billion Years by Stephanie Pappas. It’s probably foolish to get excited by a technology that may never escape the research facility, but I’m excited by the idea anyhow. The challenge of keeping data from degrading is a big one. Libraries burn down. Magnetic tapes disintegrate. Hard drives die suddenly. The idea of storing your data on a glass disc is poetically appealing, but I am surprised to learn of it’s practicality in terms of stability and capacity.‑Steven
The Most Famous Mice in the World Right Now by Steve Hamley. I’ve been following the slow transformation of nutritional science from anti-fat to anti-carb since reading Gary Taubes cover story for the New York Times: “What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie?” This week there was a minor chapter in which many media reports used some work by a New Zealand scientist purporting to show that high fat, low carb diets could be bad for your glycemic control after all. The above story by Steve Hamley is the best debunking. ‑Gary
Ann Douglas Details Her Hi-tech Weight Loss Journey by Lauren Pelley. Ann Douglas, an author of books on parenting and pregnancy, lost 135 pounds over two years. She didn’t have one killer device or app, but used a suite of tools that contributed in one way or another. “I had given up all hope of ever losing all this weight,” she says. “If you’re sitting there despairing, wondering how you’re ever going to do anything about your weight problem — I was there too.” ‑Steven
Using Heart Rate Variability to Analyze Stress in Conversation by Paul LaFontaine. “Vapor lock” is Paul’s term for that feeling when you are trying to retrieve something from memory in conversation, but because of the stress of the situation (especially if it is with a boss), you lock up and your recall fails. To better understand this phenomenon and learn how to prevent it, Paul measured his heart rate variability during 154 conversations with bosses and co-workers and discovered that the biggest cause of his “vapor lock” was not what he expected at all. ‑Steven
17 Years of Location Tracking by Stephen Cartwright. Steven has been tracking his latitude, longitude and elevation every hour since 1999. In this talk, Stephen shows how seventeen years of location tracking has given him a wealth of data to explore in the form of three-dimensional data visualization sculptures. He has even brought some of these to QS conferences. They are amazing to behold in person. ‑Steven
Marrying Age: This is when Americans get married by Nathan Yau. This interactive visualization looks at the average marrying age for different demographics. You can’t see the trends over time, but it is interesting, though not wholly surprising, to see smoother distributions for demographics that tend to have more stabile economic situations, like college graduates. (Though I’m not sure if that has more to do with the relative number of people in each group.) ‑Steven
Forget me nots by Lam Thuy Vo. This explores the relationship between a woman and her archive of email exchanges with exes. This visualization above is fairly standard, but the others in the piece are more like tone poems. Appropriate, considering that dives into your archive can leave you swirling in unleashed emotion (Speaking from personal experience here. You would be surprised by how much you can relive your life by looking at old bank statements). ‑Steven
Danielle by Anthony Cerniello. This is a video of a computer generated face that ages over the course of four minutes. The length is interesting in that you can tell that change is occurring, yet it is happening slow enough that it’s hard to see exactly what is changing moment to moment. ‑Steven
Thanks to Ernesto for sending a link our way. If you find an interesting article you’d like to recommend, email email@example.com. If you want to get these automatically in your inbox, you can subscribe here.
“I started [tracking location] because I’m interested in all these invisible systems that we are immersed in.”
Stephen Cartwright has been tracking his latitude, longitude and elevation every hour since 1999. Even though the GPS in smartphones has made location tracking automatic, Stephen finds that he gets more reliable data from manually logging his location, of which he has almost 150,000 entries.
In this talk, Steven shows how seventeen years of location tracking has given him a wealth of data to explore in the form of three-dimensional data visualization sculptures. He has even brought some of these to QS conferences. They are amazing to behold in person.
While his visualizations show where he’s been, he says that it’s the negative space that can be more interesting, prompting the question, “Where do I need to go? What do I need to see?”
Other location tracking talks that we’ve featured include Jamie Aspinall‘s adventures in the UK, Robbie MacDonell on logging his transportation, and Alastair Tse on walking around Manhattan. We’ve also featured some great location-related visualizations from Bob Troia, Aaron Parecki, Eric Jain, and Tom McWright. If you have some location data from Moves, we’ve also written a guide on mapping it.
Paul LaFontaine is the organizer for the Denver QS meetup and has given many fabulous talks on heart rate variability. If you are not familiar with HRV, you can think of it as the measurement of your nervous system’s reaction to a perceived threat.
“Vapor lock” is Paul’s term for that feeling when you are trying to retrieve something from memory in a conversation, but because of the stress of the situation (especially if it is with a boss), you lock up as your recall fails. To better understand this phenomenon and learn how to prevent it, Paul measured his HRV during 154 conversations with bosses and co-workers.
Because “vapor lock” is not a standard measurement, Paul shows the criteria he used to identify these moments in his data. His analysis revealed a likely cause for what locks him up, but it was not what he expected and it changed his approach to meetings and conversations at work.
If you want to watch more talks about heart rate variability, Randy Sargent showed us what his HRV looks like through a spectogram. Matt Dobson talked about using it, along with other measurements, as a way to passively detect emotions. And I used a HRV device to track my stress at work.
This Scientist Is Turning Every Element In the Periodic Table Into Music by Jennifer Ouellette. We have seen Randy Sargent analyze his heart rate variability with a spectogram, a tool normally used for visualizing sound. This project is perhaps the inverse, turning the molecular structure of elements into audible tones. Surprisingly, “sonification” is becoming a useful analytical tool in materials science. Here’s the sound of silicon. -Steven
Building a Better Tracker: Older Consumers Weigh In On Activity and Sleep Monitoring Devices. (PDF) This study by the Georgia Home Lab that explored the value of self-tracking for people over 50. The researchers enrolled 92 participants and set them up with seven different activity trackers, then followed them for a six week period. While participants tended to believe that self-tracking could be valuable, most of them did not learn much of interest, and reason is telling: the lessons provided by the trackers were too general. “Participants who did not find the devices to be useful said that they wanted more data related to their specific conditions and that they wanted notification if the data indicated something of concern. More sensors relevant to health conditions was the most common suggestion for improvement.” -Gary
If You Want Life Insurance, Think Twice Before Getting A Genetic Test by Christina Farr and Cops are asking Ancestry.com and 23andMe for their customers’ DNA by Kashmir Hill. I’m filing both of these stories under “Ways your data can be used against you.” -Steven
BMI Is A Terrible Measure Of Health: But we keep using it anyway by Katherine Hobson. It’s not news for me that BMI is a terrible metric. But if BMI is not a good proxy for health, what metric is out there that is better and as easy to measure? This article looks at mid-section measurements as a candidate. -Steven
Your Letters Helped Challenger Shuttle Engineer Shed 30 Years Of Guilt by Howard Berkes. This is a short piece, but it touches on themes of data-based arguments, courage, guilt, and self-forgiveness. -Steven
Know Thy Cycle, Know Thyself by Ilyse Magy. Using the Fertility Awareness Method and Kindara, Ilyse diagnosed a previously unnoticed vitamin deficiency that had a huge effect on her wellbeing, as well as gained other important insights into cyclical dimensions of her health and wellbeing. ”Once I started charting, I was pretty amazed by what I was learning, but also kind of mad that no one had ever told me this stuff before.” -Gary
Why I Weighed My Whiskers by John Cousins. Inspired by an anecdote about a man’s beard growth while working on a remote island, Jon explores whether there is a relationship between his mood and facial hair. Yes, you read that right. -Steven
Stoic Self-Tracking by Alberto Frigo. One of the most consistently interesting chronicles of a self-tracking life is Morris Villarroel’s shadow of the stream, where he writes on his ongoing, multi-year life-logging projects, about which he’s given several excellent conference talks. But this week Morris turned over his blog to another deeply reflective self-tracker, the artist Alberto Frigo, whose self-tracking practice includes photographing everything he picks up in his right hand. In this post, Alberto revives an old word – operosity – in describing the worthy laboriousness of self-care. -Gary
Excerpt from Alberto’s piece:
On a bus from the Venice airport to the mountains where I am now restoring an abandoned barn to deposit my life-work, I was reading Seneca. I was reading it for different reasons; in the first place, it was what an old professor of mine quoted when he decided to give up his inspiring career and retire to a small barn near the town the bus was passing. Secondly, reading Seneca was like a counter-reaction to all the Anglo-Saxon stuff one is forced to refer to in today’s humanities. Thirdly, Seneca has often been quite superficially pointed out as one of the first persons to quantify himself.
Basis Breakdown. This an interesting take on a weekly journal, combining Basis Peak stats with daily reflections. -Steven
A Day in the Life of Americans by Nathan Yau. This visualization is a timelapse showing how Americans spend their day, based on the Bureau of Labor’s American Time Use Study. It would like to see a similar visualization, but for a single person with each dot representing a different date. -Steven
Codeology. This project takes code from github and represents them with an odd combination of 3D and ASCII text to create organic seeming shapes. After looking at a couple dozen of these, I wanted to see the shapes interact with each other. Arena fight, perhaps? -Steven
The Potential for the Most Liberal Supreme Court in Decades by Alicia Parlapiano and Margo Sanger-Katz. This excellent visualization uses Martin-Quinn scores to show the ideological leanings of Supreme Court justices’ rulings by year. More importantly, by highlighting the relative liberal or conservatism of the justice who sits in the ideological median, it shows how the character of the court has shifted through the years. -Steven