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QS Bay Area Meetup Recap


On March 26th we hosted a fantastic Quantified Self Bay Area meetup at the new Exploratorium space overlooking the San Francisco bay. Over 180 people came together to mingle, learn about new self-tracking tools, and hear from our wonderful speakers.

Our thanks to the companies and organizations who demoed their tools: AddApp, Automatic, ExogenBio, Lumo Body Tech, Metro Mile, Ohmconnect, Reporter, uBiome, and UC Irvine.

We were lucky to have four great presenters talk about their personal self-tracking process. Philip Thomas spoke about building his personal dashboard. Maria Benet talked about how she used self-tracking to lose 50 pounds and take up sport she never dreamed of. Michael Cohn described his use of time tracking and personal commitment contracts. Lastly, Sky Christopherson gave us an update to his wonderful self-tracking talk from a few years ago and how that turned into helping the Women’s US Olympic Track Cycling Team bring home a silver at the London Olympics in 2012. Videos of these talks will be up soon!

Our special thanks go out to Colleen Proppé (who provided the beautiful photo above) and John Schrom who were both live-tweeting the meeting.

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Valerie Aurora On Tracking Street Harassment

When you move from a small town to a big city you’re faced with a number of interesting challenges. How do you get around? Should you sell your car? When Valerie Aurora moved to San Francisco she faced these common roadblocks, but she also encountered something new: being harassed. In this great talk, filmed at the Bay Area QS Meetup, Valerie explains her rationale for tracking street harassment incidents and what she learned about herself and her new city in the process.

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Sara Cambridge on Crowdsourced Dietary Ratings

Sara Cambridge is an interaction designer and a frequent contributor to the Quantified Self community. This past spring she was tasked with creating a unique information visualization as part of her graduate coursework at the UC Berkeley iSchool. Given her interest in QS she chose to use her experience with tracking her diet using the Eatery mobile app as the basis for her visualization project. Using the Eatery led her down an interesting path that helped her understand her own eating habits, how she compares to others, and how people “really” rate other’s dietary choice. (Filmed at the Bay Area QS Meetup)

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Evan Savage on Panic Tracking

Evan Savage has panic attacks, especially triggered by caffeine while driving. In late 2011, he was having multiple panic attacks a week. He didn’t want to take drugs, so he made his own recovery plan – logging his food, exercise, and panic attacks. He eliminated caffeine, and thought he had recovered, then relapsed. In the video below, Evan tells the courageous and entertaining story of how he has navigated through recovery and relapse multiple times, and what he has learned about how to thrive. (Filmed by the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

Evan Savage – Panic from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.

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Mike Winter on his Bike Safety Device

Mike Winter does a lot of crazy research projects, including building an autonomous motorcycle. But when his daughter was in a bicycle accident a couple of years ago, he started thinking about bike safety. Specifically, he built a device with an Arduino CPU and a few sensors that attaches to your bike and connects with your smartphone. Mike’s invention will let bikes and cars be more aware of each others’ presence, track close calls, and alert the cyclist to any upcoming hazards. In this entertaining video below, Mike shows off the device as well as a pair of his own home-brewed Google goggles. (Filmed by the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

Mike Winter – Bike Safety Device from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.

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Jeremy Howard on Language Acquisition Performance

Jeremy Howard has been studying Chinese for the last two years. The method he uses is called spaced repetitive learning, found in SuperMemo and Anki, in which you prompt yourself to remember something just before you’re about to forget it. Jeremy wrote his own software to track his learning, including variables such as time of day, what he ate, when he slept, what activity he was doing, etc, and correlated it with his learning. In the video below, he shows some of his data and talks about what surprised him along the way. (Filmed by the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

Jeremy Howard – Language Acquisition Performance from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.

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Sky Christopherson on The Quantified Athlete

Sky Christopherson is a velodrome cyclist who has been on the U.S. Olympic team. After retiring, he lived in the world of startups, and when his health started to decline as a result of that stress, he turned back to the kind of quantification he had been doing as an athlete to restore his health. In the video below, Sky talks about what he learned, like how temperature affects his deep sleep and how his blood glucose fluctuates. He also shares the exciting news of setting a world record, at age 35, after his self-tracking experiment. (Filmed by the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

Sky Christopherson – Self Quantification and Performance from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.

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Stan James on Project Life Slice

Last December, Stan James started to wonder how much of every day he spent staring at glowing rectangles, and how he was spending that time. He set up his webcam to take a picture of himself every hour, as well as a screenshot of what he’s working on. In the video below, Stan talks about how he set up his project, shows some of his data, and reveals some interesting tidbits about his learnings. (Filmed by the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

Stan James – Project Life Slice from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.

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Recap of QS Discussion Group

George Lawton was kind enough to take notes at our most recent QS Discussion Group meetup. Here is his summary, below.

The QS Meetup on March 13th in Mountain View was great fun, and covered a variety of topics ranging from nutrient tracking, classifying large archives of footage, quantifed-mind.com, and pH tracking, and newly disclosed interventions for mitigating the emotional knots associated with stressful events.

The meeting began with a round of introductions in which people described some of their areas of expertise, research, and curiosity. It ended with smiles on everyone’s face.

The discussion quickly moved to interest in a recent Wired article, which suggested it was possible to mitigate the emotional impacts of traumatic memories. Some discussion pondered to what extent this intervention actually erased the memories themselves, rather than the emotional knots associated with it. In this procedure, participants were actively encouraged to recall some debilitating stressful event such as a war time tragedy or familial abuse, while under the influence of this chemical concoction.

Ryan B said that a number of important new chemical interventions were being developed showing promise in reducing the brain plaques commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Ensuing discussion also considered the possibility that other chemicals such as MDMA may have similar promise in releasing the emotional knots associated with trauma. Alex Grey pointed out that long term effects on down-regulating brain chemical receptors has to be considered, as some chemical interventions like MDMA can lead to a deficit in the neurochemical receptors for serotonin or oxytocin that promote happiness.

It was also suggested that the use of humor may be a non-chemical intervention capable of the same effect. One viewpoint is that any given set of facts can be written as a drama, tragedy, mystery, or a comedy. Perhaps communications-oriented processes that help to see the humor in terrible tragedies may also help to relieve the emotional knots associated with trauma. However, the use of these sorts of techniques in American culture may be challenging to adopt, owing to a propensity to take ourselves too seriously.

Yoni Donner discussed his new research with http://www.quantified-mind.com/, which is a free web app for measuring a number of aspects of intelligence. He said the app takes about fifteen minutes to establish a baseline, and allows participants to track how different aspects of their cognitive performance change over time. He said that care was taken to minimize training effects, so that the tool is better able to track other interventions, training, nutrition, or environmental factors on various types of intelligence.

He noted that they decided to keep the interface as simple as possible so that it could be easier to use. Although the use of sophisticated brain tracking was considered, it was not included owing to the relative paucity of deployment and the logistical challenges associated with setting up and using existing brain training equipment.

Phil von Stade discussed his interest in deriving some meaning, doing research on, or creating art from the 20,000 feet of archived family movies, and thousands of hours of video recordings he has, dating back to the 1950s. In addition, he has also shot several gigabytes of his own picture and video logs. He pointed out that the sheer size of the dataset makes it difficult to find or organize content in a useful way. Some efforts have been made to create slideshows and stories from this archive.

Tools which are automatically able to tag content with metadata such as participants, date, emotional patterns, behavioral data, or even physiological data might be useful in helping to better index such an archive.

There was also some discussion about the use of pH data from urine and other bodily fluids as a marker for other changes in the body. Steven Fowkes said that tracking pH was good for indentifying various physiological states associated with inflammation, leaky-gut syndrome, and other health effects. Some practical considerations were noted with existing measuring techniques, which require one to hold a strip in front of a stream of urine and disposing of this without creating a mess. A pH sensor mounted in the toilet with a Wi-Fi connection could solve these challenges, and provide a potentially reliable, no-touch measurement system for health research.

This led to a discussion on some of the challenges associated with current limitations in describing food. As it stands, many tracking systems might consider wheat from different sources, production processes, and species as identical, while each may have wildly different cooking and health effects, noted Raj. For example early research suggested that high-meat diets were leading to high-level of cholesterol and fatty deposits in the late 1960s. Follow up research suggested that it was in fact a growth in the consumption of grain-fed cattle that were causing these effects.

There are also curious discrepancies and changes in the nutrient database compiled by the USDA, which is often used by tracking programs to estimate the nutritional composition of various foods. For example, the average levels of calcium for the same portion of kale and calcium dropped 10-fold between 1980 and 1990. Perhaps improvements in the farm-to-fork databases now being mandated in the US could help to rectify these discrepancies.

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Dave Kil on Optimizing Workouts

Dave Kil runs marathons. He has detailed records of all his workouts for the past year and a half. Recently, though, he started feeling that running was getting boring, and he wanted more variety in his workouts. So Dave helped create sensors that can monitor different activities passively, including cycling. He also added high-intensity training and social running to his routine. In the video below, he shows the results on his body fat and muscle mass. (Filmed by the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

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