Tag Archives: Brain

What We Are Reading

Enjoy this week’s list!

Doctors voice concerns over plan for greater patient access to medical records by Dennis Campbell. England’s National Health Service is planning giving patients access to medical records by 2018. Additionally, they’re creating means to for patients to read and add to their doctor’s notes. Of course, some physicians are saying this might not be the best idea.

Counting the Miles: Thomas Jefferson’s Quest for an Odometer by Jennifer Harbster. Thomas Jefferson was well known for his interest in measuring and keeping track of important information. This fun article details his near obsession with being able to track how far his carriages traveled.

Helping Teachers and Schools Run Experiments by Tom Vander Ark.

Teachers are scientists, they’ve always experimented. Most of the time it’s informal, “Let’s try a new behavior management routine.” Or, “Watch this video tonight and we’ll discuss it in the morning.” Or, “Let’s try a really hard problem.”

What if we gave teachers, and whole schools, the chance to run experiments of their own or to join larger trials? What if they had access to better measures and powerful analytics?

Transform Your Eating: A Start-to-Finish Guide to Tracking Your Food by Stephanie Lee. Great overview by Stephanie here, who has covered some QS topics in the past, on how to get started with tracking your food. Lots of good tips in this article.

iMore survey shows ultra-high levels of Apple Watch usage by Rene Ritchie. iMore collected survey responses from over 8,000 Apple Watch users and compiled the results. Some interesting stats in here! For instance, according to their data over 70% of the sample stood up after receiving a “stand up” alert.

tumblr_inline_nu0byhQvc61szhymg_1280 Quantifying & Hacking Focus – 2 Months In by Justin Lawler. Justin has been exploring how to better understand focus and concentration for the last few months. In this update, he talks about his Quantified Mind data and what he’s learned so far. (Note: Justin will be giving a show&tell talk at our QS Europe Conference on September 18th and 19th. Tickets are still available. Register today!)

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 10.58.01 AM My Working Pulse by Victor Pascual Cid. Victor used a simple open source keylogger to track how he was using his computer.


Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 11.01.08 AM The Data of Long Distance Lovers. A fantastic analysis of text messaging data between to individuals.

This Week on QuantifiedSelf.com
QSEU15 Preview: Putting Physiological Signals into Pictures
QSEU15 Preview: Why Should I Share My Data?
QS Europe Preview: Using Genetic Data for Recovery from Injury
QS Europe Preview: Where does your time go?

And now for a bit of fun:
Consider filling out this fun survey from the Internet’s favorite geek comic artist - The XKCD Survey!

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Richard Sprague: Fish Oil Makes me Smarter

Richard Sprague is interested in understanding peak performance. Over the last few years he’s been tracking various aspects of this life to try and understand what helps and what hinders. Inspired by our friend and renowned self-experimenter, Seth Roberts, Richard decided to test if consuming fish oil affected his response time. Using a simple reaction time test developed by Seth to test if butter made him smarter, Richard tested himself when he was and was not taking fish oil pills. In this talk, Richard explores his data and discusses what he found out when he ran his analysis.

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Peter Lewis on Meditation and Brain Function

As a long-time meditator, Peter Lewis had a suspicion that meditation could improve brain function, so he conducted a self-experiment and enlisted a few other individuals to help test his hypothesis. By using an arithmetic testing application, a timed meditation app, and an ABA research design he was find out that there was some support for meditation improving his brain function. However, other participant’s results weren’t as supportive. Watch Peter’s talk, presented at the 2013 Quantified Self Europe Conference, to learn more about his process and hear what he learned by conducting this experiment. We also invite you to read Peter’s excellent write up on Seth Robert’s blog: Journal of Personal Science: Effect of Meditation on Math Speed and the great statistical follow-up by our friend Gwern.

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Crystal Goh: Inside My Brain

Crystal Goh looks at brains every day, as part of her work in a brain and sleep imaging lab in Berkeley. She wanted to know how her brain was different from other brains, in a quantitative way. In the video below, Crystal explains voxel-based morphometry, normalization and standard deviation calculations, and the scary, revealing things she has learned about herself by seeing her brain scan! (Filmed by the San Francisco QS meetup group.)

Crystal Goh – Inside My Brain from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.

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Ryota Kanai on Quantifying his Brain

Ryota Kanai does brain scans for a living. He can assess a person’s intelligence level, personality traits, and social proclivity from these scans. He even did a study correlating number of friends on Facebook with brain structure. In the video below, Ryota shows a 3-D scan of his brain, highlighted with colors to show where he has more or less brain than average. He also answers questions about changes in brain structure and how to get a brain scan on the cheap. (Filmed by the London QS Show&Tell meetup group.)

Quantify My Brain from Ken Snyder on Vimeo.

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Matt Keener on The Brain and Self-Quantification: A Bidirectional Relationship

I had to post one more breakout session description for next week’s conference, because this project is so fascinating to me! Check it out, from brain researcher Matt Keener:

Our brains sit at the apex of primate evolution, making it possible for us to think, feel and be self-aware, all made possible through the unique development of specific brain regions and systems over a period of 65 million years. Neuroscience now suggests the “self” as emerging from the integrated workings of three distinct brain systems (limbic, cortical midline, and lateral fronto-parietal). The brain creates the self. Each of these develop through biology, culture, and training; each come with their own varied ways of representing the self, and each can be assessed through different means of measurement.

In my research I study how these brain regions cooperate to create a coherent sense of self, mediate the regulation of our emotions and how this goes wrong in mood disorders like Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder is a characteristic example of how brain and self interact. It is characterized in part by limbic hyperactivity and medial prefrontal cortex abnormalities. Accordingly we see wide fluctuations in one’s anxiety/energy as well as one’s social role and “self”-introspection. The disease wreaks havoc on one’s personality and the self will vary according to illness state, ranging from worthlessness and social isolation to grandiosity and a deep sense of accomplishment and personal agency.

There are various ways to treat this disorder, and a recent study done by CureTogether showed that several interventions relying upon self-assesment and quantification were reported to be of significant benefit, in this sample even moreso than most psychiatric medications.  These modalities like meditation and sleep regulation are not only reported as being helpful, but also have been shown elsewhere to result in functional and structural changes in cortical midline regions as well as limbic areas (for instance the medial frontal cortex and amygdala respectively). The “Self” creates the brain. The function of these areas would then be measured in very different ways if examining the body’s physiology and behavior.

So the self is the product of a brain, that is itself shaped by the actions of the “self”. Through a better understanding of the different brain systems that generate this sense of self, we can now begin to deliver the next generation of integrated self-quantification that may tap into these key brain systems in a more targeted, meaningful manner.

In this session we’ll briefly discuss the three basic brain systems involved in self-processing and talk about some examples of QS paradigms that tap into each. Then we can all discuss the future of cognitive and affective QS tools that can enable us to quantify the entirety of the self in a rational fashion, and in doing so better organize our own brains toward a fuller and more meaningful concept of ‘self.’

(The above image is from Elevated Amygdala Activation to Happy Emotion in Bipolar Disorder. Keener et al., Psychological Medicine 2012.)


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Jim Keravala on Mind Mapping

At our June Bay Area Quantified Self Show&TellJim Keravala of Flaii gave us a brief tour of the mind map he developed using TheBrain. He spends 1-2 hours a day entering information into his virtual brain, and has recorded about 65,000 thoughts so far. He feels that the main benefit he gets from it is enhanced recall, which has given him an advantage in business situations. In the video below, he reveals that he has become very attached to the system he uses and doesn’t like to be away from it for more than a few hours at a time.

Jim Karavala – The Brain from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.

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Bay Area QS Show&Tell #14 – Recap

BayAreaQS14.jpgThis was the scene two days ago, when the lower floor of the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose was opened after hours to an energetic group of Quantified Self enthusiasts and interested spectators.

The first 90 minutes was filled with mingling, enjoying healthy munchies, and gathering around the various devices that people brought to show as part of the theme this time: “Gadgets for Gathering Data.”

Then the talks began – some prepared, some spontaneous, all of them interesting. Here’s a quick recap:

1. Bill Jarrold showed his
hot-off-the-command-line charts for how many UNIX commands he issues by
hour of the day. He found that 3 pm was his peak performance in terms
of number of commands. A second peak at at 10/11 pm
showed him that he was a night-owl.  He was surprised to see that by
this measure, his productivity at midnight was as good as his
productivity at 10 am.

2. Jim Keravala of Flaii gave us a brief tour of the mind map he developed
using TheBrain. He spends 1-2 hours a day inputting information
into his virtual brain, and has recorded about 65,000 thoughts so far. He felt that the main benefit
this gave him was enhanced recall, which has given him an advantage in
business situations. He said he has become very attached to the
system he uses and doesn’t like to be away from it for more than a few
hours at a time.
Bharat Vasan demonstrated his PulseTracer heart rate monitor, which
betrayed his pulsetracer.pngnervousness at public speaking by flashing a heart rate of 120 bpm on his wrist. He
described how this single measure served as an indicator of the
stressfulness of situations he found himself in, and helped him remember
to take positive actions he might otherwise have forgotten in the heat
of the moment.
4. Alex Bangs talked about his experience with Philips DirectLife, and dove into some beautiful bar graphs. He found that using
DirectLife since last October has increased his activity level,
especially when he sees large gaps in activity from sitting at the
computer, and when he gets little “light show” rewards from the
DirectLife on days when he’s met his target. He was surprised to find that
even these very simple rewards were consistently motivating.

Giving Thanks and Looking Forward

A huge thanks to our sponsors who generously helped make this event possible: Ron Gutman thankyou.pngof HealthTap, which is setting up a “Quantified Self Room” at their soon-to-be-opened offices in Palo Alto; the Tech Museum, who is collecting ideas for health exhibits as part of their “participatory museum” philosophy (send ideas for to Alana Conner); and Zeo, the Personal Sleep Coach, who provided healthy food and videorecording.

And last, but very far from least, a standing ovation to Maren Connary for help with setting up, Loren Risker for taking the videos, Andrew Hessel for the picture at the top of this post, and Robin Barooah – for augmenting my memory of the talks and for his meditation tracking app that I have come to love.

The next Bay Area QS Show&Tell will be on August 5, at Institute for the Future, sponsored by HealthTap and Google Health. Any requests for a theme during the opening mingling? How about Apps, as in: “Self-tracking. There’s an app for that.”

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Steve Brown on Augmenting Your Brain

Complete notes and reference links from Monday night’s terrific QS Show&Tell will be up later in the week, with an assist from Mark Carranza’s amazing idea archive. In the meantime, Steve Brown has shared the slides from his rapid-fire talk about 3banana. Steve had the misfortune of going last during an incredible, crowded meeting, and I’ve asked him to come back next time and go first, so he can have some time for back and forth with everybody. He has being working in this area for a long time, and I know there will be lots of questions.

Steve is the founder of a company called 3banana. He talked about augmenting the brain through enhancing working memory. When he returns, some QS folks may also want to ask him about his last company, Health Hero, a pioneer of self-monitoring that was acquired last year by the Bosch Group.

Thanks again to everybody who showed up on Monday night! 

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Measuring My Brain Function: One-Finger Typing

Noticing that flaxseed oil improved my balance led me to measure its effects on other tests of brain function.
It also made me wonder what else in my life affected how well my brain
works. Eventually I measured the mental effects of flaxseed oil with
four tests, but each had problems:

  1. Balance. Time-consuming (15 minutes for one daily test), not portable.
  2. Memory search.  Anticipation errors, speed-accuracy tradeoff.
  3. Arithmetic. Speed-accuracy tradeoff.
  4. Digit span. Insensitive.

“Speed-accuracy tradeoff” means it was easy to go faster and make
more errors. It wasn’t easy to keep the error rate constant. If I got
faster, there were two possible explanations: (a) brain working better
or (b) shift on the speed-accuracy tradeoff function. The balance and
digit span tests had other weaknesses. Only the balance test was

I’m still doing the arithmetic test, which has been highly
informative. However, I want to regularly do at least two tests to
provide a check on each other and to allow test comparison (which is
more sensitive?). I tried a test that involved typing random strings of
letters several times but as I got faster I started to make many

I have recently started doing a test that consists of one-fingered
typing of a five-letter string. There are 30 possible five-letter
strings. Each trial I see one of them and type it as fast as possible.
15 trials = one test. Takes three minutes.

I am doing one-finger rather than regular typing because I hope
one-finger typing will be more accurate, very close to 100%. With the
error rate always near zero, I won’t have to worry about speed-accuracy
tradeoff. Another reason is the need for skilled movement and hand-eye
coordination. Doing this sort of task can be enjoyable. One-finger typing (unlike regular typing) is skilled movement with hand-eye coordination; maybe it will be fun.

I restricted the number of possible letter strings to 30 to make
learning easier. Yet 30 is too large to cause the anticipation errors I
might make if there were only a few strings.

Here are early results.

2009-06-14 one-finger typing early results.jpeg

So far so good. Accuracy is high. On any trial, it isn’t easy to go faster, so speed-accuracy tradeoff is less of a problem. Even better, it’s vaguely enjoyable. Doing the task is a little like having a cup of tea. A pleasant break. There’s no need to do the test four times/day; I just want to.

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