Tag Archives: environment

What We Are Reading

WWAR

Articles

DNA Got a Kid Kicked Out of School—And It’ll Happen Again by Sarah Zhang. This a potent example of the unexpected ways that genetic information can be used against someone. We’ve already seen how 23andMe data can be used for nefarious ends. In this case, it’s a child who was transferred from his school as if he has cystic fibrosis, but only has the genetic markers for the disease. A set of norms or rights around personal data (and genetic information, in particular) has barely been established, so it will be interesting to see how many similar incidents we will see. What’s tricky is that neither side is acting irrationally. At heart is this question: How do you manage risk when a person’s DNA is part of the equation? -Steven

When Wearable Makers Shut Down, Getting Your Data Isn’t Always Easy by Stephanie M. Lee. San Francisco QS Show&Tell co-organizer Greg Schwartz is quoted in this Buzzfeed story about the recent shutdown of BodyMedia servers and bricking of the devices. In January Greg posted a how-to video users who still wanted to get their data, but this only worked until the servers were taken offline on January 31, 2016 Article author Stephanie M. Lee talked a bit about the defunct QS companies Lark, and Zeo. The Zeo shutdown sparked a record thread on the QS Forum where users still trade tips to keep instances of this late, lamented sleep tracker in action. -Gary

Working memory training could help beat anxiety by Christian Jarrett. Dual n-back tests have been championed as a brain game that actually works since a 2008 study showed that the exercise improved fluid intelligence (i.e., IQ). Those results have since been in dispute, but a new study cautiously supports the idea that dual n-back, by improving working memory, may also lessen anxiety symptoms. -Steven

Graphing When Your Facebook Friends Are Awake by Alex. There are at least five reasons to love this post about building graphs of Facebook Friends’ awake/asleep time: a surprising revelation of hidden system, uh, features; a “procedural” on hacking them that is basically comprehensible even if – like me – you don’t understand all the details; a useful general lesson about public exposure of personal data from seemingly friendly and low level status tracking; a hilarious stream-of-consciousness narrative that tries, half-successfully, to answer the question “why;” and, for all of us who have ever tried to do something meaningful with our own data, the comforting admission that the real trouble started when it came time to make a graph. Really a great post that this preview doesn’t do justice, so go read it. -Gary

This Canadian Lab Spent 20 Years Ruining Lives by Tess Owen. As much as it’s claimed that there’s a fair amount of skepticism of science, especially in the United States, there is no doubt that it carries authority in legal matters. This article shows the damage that can happen when seemingly rigorous test procedures and results are accepted without scrutiny. It’s especially galling to see how sloppy commercial testing procedures can become, and how dangerous it is to assume that professional measurement is more reliable than personal measurement, human dialog, and common sense. -Steven

Give Up Your Data to Cure Disease by David B. Agus. Another article on the opportunities and pitfalls of making medical records available for health research. While this opinion piece argues for the value of the opportunities, it makes clear that we need better data security practices to ensure that health information is used for the greater good, rather than used against individual patients. However, nowhere is the point made that research subjects can play an active role in investigating disease and making new discoveries. -Steven

 

Show&Tell

 

MarkWilsonInbox

Three Years of Logging my Inbox by Mark Wilson. The number of emails in Mark’s inbox correlates very well with his stress level. After passively tracking his email for three years, Mark explores how his inbox count reflects his stress level and influences his sense of self. -Steven

 

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Measuring My Indoor Environment: Indoor Quality and Water Quality by Bob Troia. The first two parts in a multi-part series, Bob shows the tools and measurements he’s using to understand the quality of his living space. -Steven

 

 

ManiacWeek

Maniac Weeks for Extreme Productivity by Bethany Soule. A “maniac week” (coined by Nick Winter) is spent doing nothing but working and sleeping while documenting your face and screen with a time-lapse video. Bethany talks about her successes, failures, and side effects of this level of extremism. -Steven

 

 

Data Visualizations

 

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This Chart Shows Who Marries CEOs, Doctors, Chefs and Janitors by Adam Pearce and Dorothy Gambrell. With data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this interactive chart allows you to select a profession and see the five most likeliest occupations of the partner. It will also show whether if the partner is more likely a member of one sex or the other. Refreshing to see that it represents same-sex partnerships as well. -Steven

 

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How China’s economic slowdown could weigh on the rest of the world by Carlo Zapponi, Seán Clarke, Helena Bengtsson, Troy Griggs and Phillip Inman. The interconnectedness of global economies can be difficult to wrap your head around, but this series of visualizations from the Guardian do a good job of illustrating which economies’ rely on exports to China, and how much they are exposed to a downturn in the world’s second biggest economy. -Steven

 

Projects

Música hecha con el corazon. A website where you tap your current heart rate and it finds a song that matches the beat. The site is in Spanish but is easy enough to figure out. Just put one finger on the artery in your neck and click in the circle in time with your pulse. -Steven

The Chart Book: An Overview of Standard Celeration Chart Conventions and Practices. Owen R. White, Malcolm D. Neely. This pdf covers how to use a Celeration chart. Used for the assessment of students by teachers, this chart template aspires to be flexible enough to chart data clearly no matter the scale. It would be interesting to see this used for personal data. Thanks to Ryan O’Donnell. -Steven

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Communities, Climate, Environment, and Health

Today, we are participating in the “Data and Innovation at the Climate-Health Nexus” panel hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. When we’ve spoken to people about this meeting the reaction we tend to receive is, “What does Quantified Self have to do with climate change?” It’s a valid question, and one we hope to answer during the panel. Today we wanted to take some time here to talk about why we’re a part of this important conversation.

It’s no surprise that data and data collection is becoming a part of the normal course of our everyday lives, from the data we choose to collect about our health and wellness to the so-called “data exhaust” we’re creating as we use different technological systems. The practice of self-tracking, collected data about yourself to answer interesting questions or help change behavior, has often been linked to narcissism or navel gazing. We know from our experience interacting with a worldwide community of self-trackers that this isn’t the case. Individuals who track, analyze, visualize, and learn from their own data also tend to do something else: share it. You just have to take a peek at our over 750 show&tell videos to see that sharing experiences, techniques, and outcomes is a core component of our work and our community. It’s the reason we hold conferences, support over 100 meetups around the world, and share on this website.

We also know that data is powerful. It can help us understand ourselves, but also the world around us. We’ve been watching closely as new citizen science, one-off projects, and commercial toolmakers have started to incorporate ways to sense and measure the personal and local environment. From air quality sensors integrated into in-home video monitors to crowdsourced DIY environmental sensing devices – we’re beginning to see the power of data for understanding the environment around us, and perhaps more importantly, how the environment plays a role in the health and wellness of our communities. A great example of this comes from our friends at Propeller Health. Recently they announced the launch of AIR Lousiville, a “first-of-its-kind data-driven collaboration among public, private and philanthropic organizations to use digital health technology to improve asthma.” By combining air quality data with geolocated asthma inhaler use data they hope to better understand and positively impact their local environment and reduce the burden of asthma in the Louisville community.

This is just one example of individuals coming together as a community to generate and contribute data about themselves, their environment, and their health to drive a much needed conversation. A conversation about the complex, and important, relationship between the environment and health. We’re hoping to see more and, to that extent, we’re excited to announce that starting at our 2015 Quantified Self Public Health Symposium we’ll be officially launching, in collaboration with with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Personal & Community Environmental Data Challenges, calling on researchers and companies making wearables, sensing, data-visualization, and digital health-tools to join a national conversation about the importance of gaining a more detailed view of environmental impacts on health. This challenge is just one in a great list of commitments from leading companies and institutions designed to advance the Obama Administration’s Climate Data Initiative.

We invite you to learn more about our challenge announcement and our participation in the symposium on Data and Innovation at the Climate-Health Nexus by reading our brief press release here.

You can also learn more about national initiatives, programs, and newly released climate data from the following Fact Sheet: Administration Announces Actions To Protect Communities From The Impacts Of Climate Change

Update: The video from the panel is up and can be found here. The panel actually starts an hour and 19 minutes in to the video.

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What We Are Reading

Enjoy this week’s list!

Articles
The inside story of how Apple’s new medical research platform was born by Daneila Hernandez. I know we’ve been talking a lot about ResearchKit lately, but I had to add this fantastic piece on Stephen Friend’s journey that lead him to help bring it out of Apple’s lab and onto our iPhones. Of particular interest was this sentence from a FOIA request on Apple’s meeting with the FDA in 2013:

“Apple sees mobile technology platforms as an opportunity for people to learn more about themselves. “

Your Data Is Not Your Life Story by Michael Humphrey. An interesting take on the influence of machines and algorithms on our ability to understand and tell the stories of our lives.

Data Privacy in a Wearable World by Gawain Morrison. Gawain lists five steps for companies to consider as they beocome the gatekeepers of our personal data. My favorite: “Set up an ethical body”

DJ Patil Talks Nerd to Us by Andrew Flowers. You may know DJ as the gentleman who coined the term “data scientist” or from his groundbreaking work at LinkedIn, or maybe even his new position as the deputy chief technology officer for data policy and chief data scientist at the White House. Regardless, this interview sheds some light on his new role and how he thinks about the power of data at the national level.

Wireless Sensors Help Scientists Map Staph Spread Inside Hospital by Scott Hensley. A great piece on a new research article the described a new digital epidemiology method used to track individuals and infection in a hospital. One can’t help but wonder about the future of this type of system for understanding healthcare interactions now that we have low-cost iBeacon, NFC, and RF technology embedded into our phones.

Sensored City by Creative Commons. Together with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the City of Louisville, CC Science is creating an open-source project to map and visualize environmental data. So great to see this work getting out there.

Show&Tell
ShannonConners_FoodLogging Reflections on my ongoing diet and fitness project by Shannon Conners. Again Shannon wows us with her beautiful and thoughtful explanation on how tracking and visualizing her data has set her on a path to a healthy weight.

“I have now collected enough free-living data in my own n=1 study to quantify what works for me to lose weight and maintain in a healthy range for me — an understanding that largely eluded me up to this point in my life. Not surprisingly, I have converged on the same deficit strategy commonly employed in weight loss studies that treat people like caged rats, closely quantifying their intake and activity to prove that negative calorie balance is the critical factor that causes weight loss. I’m truly grateful that I didn’t need to live in a cage to learn what I have over the past few years. In many ways, learning what I have from my data has helped set me free.”

 

happiness-dashboard Tracking Joy at Work by Joe Nelson. Joe and his coworkers use Slack to communicate at work. He was wondering why sometimes things just weren’t working right so he created a tool to randomly ask himself and his coworkers how he they feel. Results are then displayed anonymously on a dashboard. So cool.

Visualizations
deardata Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. Two friends track one topic each week and send each other postcards with hand-drawn visualizations based on the data. Absolutely beautiful work.

 

AirTransformed Air Transformed By Stafanie Posavec with Miriam Quick. Two wearable data objects based on open air quality data: Touching Air (a necklace) and Seeing Air (glasses).

 


Laurie Frick – American Canvas. A great interview with our friend and data artist, Laurie Frick. Make sure to watch through to the end.

Access Links
It’s Not Just the Watch: Apple Also Helping Cancer Patients
Americans Believe Personal Medical Data Should Be Openly Shared with Their Health Care Providers
What should we do about re-identification? A precautionary approach to big data privacy

From the Forum
Looking for Android Time Tracking App
Looking for a software / app to track the general health
Heart Rate and Sleep Monitor

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ECO|Balance: Exploring Design Issues for Mobile Persuasion

This is a guest post by Dominikus Baur,  a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary. Dominikus is interested in personal visualization – how to make the large amounts of personal data available online accessible to their creators through visualization. His previous projects focused on visualizing personal music listening histories.


Our busy daily lifes often make it difficult to keep track of one’s impact on the environment. The personal carbon footprint, i.e., the amount of carbon dioxide emissions caused by one’s actions, directly hinges on a myriad of small decisions: take the train instead of the car? Walk the two miles to the supermarket instead of driving? Use the bike even though it looks like rain? Knowing the exact carbon impact of one option versus the other and estimating the sum of all of those decisions is hard – which leads to most people simply giving up and accepting a bad conscience as the prize of comfort. And while they are aware that, yes, taking the car is bad for the environment, it can’t be that bad, right?

Personal informatics applications can help with keeping one’s carbon footprint low and making decisions based on data instead of opinions. Most people by now carry versatile smartphones in their pockets that not only allow directly working with and analyzing one’s data but also collecting it through a multitude of sensors. But more critical than the actual data collection is the way this information is presented. For lowering your carbon footprint, the hard thing to do is usually also the right thing to do. Therefore, an application developer’s main goal has to be to motivate without scolding, frustrating or even angering. I think a good benchmark for a personal informatics interface is imagining how it would fare in the worst scenarios imaginable: for example, when trying to encourage its owner to wait for half an hour for the train after a long and exhausting day at work. In such a context, annoying sound effects, patronizing on-screen text or childish graphical representations can easily lead to the opposite of the developers’ intentions: a frustrated owner deleting the app from their phone.

Design Process

For our ECO|Balance project we set out to design several mobile visualizations with this worst-case scenario in mind. Instead of going for prescriptive, patronizing or dry, we wanted to create applications that would provide value in themselves. Our hypothesis was that with these apps being interesting and enticing enough, people would regularly launch them just to kill the time or enjoy the visuals and thus start to reflect about their behavior without paternalism. Having abstract representations instead of accusations of wrongdoing should also lead to a calmer interaction and have a soothing effect. We partially felt inspired by ecological environments, such as underwater life. We also tried to create serene and calm interfaces, and include reminders of organic life without being too obnoxious about it.

We started the design process by hooking up three of our lab members with pedometers and notepads and let them keep track of their activities for ten days. Based on this realistic data-set we created multiple interface sketches using coloured pencils which reduced the amount of time required. To be better able to estimate the visual appeal of the designs, we took the most promising ones, re-did them using water colours and sketched animated transitions within them in Microsoft Powerpoint. With this two-fold design process we quickly arrived at a large number of designs but were still able to gauge their visual impact. Using coloured pencils, water colours and Powerpoint animations proved to be a suitable alternative to more high fidelity prototyping approaches such as Adobe’s Flash.

ECO|Balance Sketches

Our resulting sketches range from abstract and organic designs based on metaphors to more traditional chart-inspired visualizations.

Organic Flowers shows an abstract artwork of one’s behavior: each unit of time (depending on the zoom-level months, days or single activities) becomes a flower. The amount of produced carbon dioxide is reflected in the size of the bloom, while the length of the stem depicts the number of steps taken. Dragging and dropping one timeframe into another (middle) switches to a direct comparison (right).

Another design, Jelly Fish (upper left), shows days as jelly fish whose elevation and size encodes CO2 production. Activities on a day become the jelly fish’s tentacles with colour-coding for type and length for duration. To make comparisons easier, all tentacles of one jelly fish can also be laid out vertically (lower left), forming a more traditional bar chart.

Finally, Footprints (right) is the most verbatim of our charts. It shows all activities of one day in a grid with hours as rows and columns as 6 minute segments. Icons show the type of activity (feet = walking, rails = going by train, etc.) and their colour depicts the carbon dioxide impact.

You can find more details about these designs in our paper.

Moving on

In designing personal informatics applications, coming up with as many ideas as possible usually leads to the best results. Creating the ECO|Balance designs taught us that two things are important: First, having an actual, real-world data set, so the impact of the produced visualizations does not hinge on one’s own preconception of the data. And second, to lower the threshold for creating designs, using low-overhead analog tools such as pencils and creating predefined animations in Powerpoint is preferable to digital drawing tools and implementing visualization algorithms.  Regarding motivation strategy, supporting instead of scolding and providing value in itself instead of being a reminder for one’s bad conscience should make for a kinder and more efficient interaction. We plan to implement our most promising designs and make them available as tools to make reducing one’s carbon footprint easier and more enjoyable.

 

This article is a summary of a position paper by Dominikus Baur and his colleagues that will be discussed at the Personal Informatics in Practice workshop at CHI 2012 in Austin, TX on May 6, 2012. The workshop will be a gathering of researchers, designers, and practitioners exploring how to better support personal informatics in people’s everyday lives.

 

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Tracking our interactions :: measuring attention, socializing, and our environment.

Recently, Technology Review invited me to do a guest post on one of their blogs as part of their feature, “The Measured Life.” I chose to engage a claim I saw on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog — that at the QS Conference, it seemed that “quantified self” = “quantified health.” He asked about mood, attention, emotions — other parts of our self beyond the physical body.

This point resonated with me quite a lot — that what’s interesting about the quantified self isn’t just the democratization of established physical measures, but also the creation of new ones to help us understand parts of ourselves that we don’t know how to measure yet. After the jump is the blog post I wrote for Technology Review — looking at current examples of tracking that cover parts of the self — our attention, communication, and environment — that go beyond the physical body.

Continue reading

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Michael Doherty on OpenRTMS

Michael Doherty talks about the Open Source Real Time Mobile Sensor Platform he is developing, which flexibly connects a wide variety of sensors to online databases. He wants to make mobile tracking more accessible, and imagines people using it with their own sensors, as well as kids using it to collect environmental data on class field trips. (Filmed at the NY Quantified Self Show&Tell #10 at Google).

Michael Doherty – Open Source Real Time Mobile Sensor Platform from Steven Dean on Vimeo.

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Crowd-Tracking Noise and Air Pollution

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A new noise/ozone sensor watch being tested in Europe.

Quantified Self enthusiast David Purdy asked me one day, “Why aren’t people measuring simple ambient things like background noise?”
I didn’t have a good answer at the time, but I do now. It turns out a project in France is doing just what David suggested.

Continue reading

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Esther Dyson Answers Questions About Genomics

At the most recent New York City Quantified Self Show&Tell meetup, Esther Dyson took the microphone to talk about her recent experience at the GET (Genes, Environment, and Traits) Conference. She then answered questions from fellow QS’ers about the direct-to-consumer genome market, public perception (“why on earth would you want to sequence your genome?”), DNA art, and other fun topics.

Esther Dyson on GET Conference 2010 from Steve Dean on Vimeo.

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Hybrid Bicycle Tracks Your Environment

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The Cophenhagen Wheel, a project of MIT’s Senseable City Lab, transforms an everyday bike into “a hybrid e-bike that provides feedback on pollution, traffic congestion and road conditions in real-time.” And yes, that’s an iPhone mounted on the handlebars.

Thanks to Nathan Yau of FlowingData
for the heads-up on this. Nathan writes:

The wheel stores energy when you pedal and brake, and turns on auto
pilot through your iPhone when you’re feeling lazy. Your iPhone is also used to switch gears and lock and
unlock your bike.

On top of that, or rather, inside the wheel, there are sensors for
torque, noise, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and location. Look back
on the environment around you, from the your data’s point of view, and
optionally, share your data with the community to contribute to a closer
view of your town.

I love this idea of passively capturing data while you cycle. There is so much environmental data available to us all the time – temperature, ambient noise, light levels, pollutants – why do we not have devices to easily capture all this information?

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How clean is your air?

I was catching up on reading Seth Roberts blog this morning and I noticed this post he made in January about seeking cleaner air in his apartment in Beijing, where he was working for several months. Seth describes a couple of different cleaning approaches, and makes the point that measuring your personal environment is not only about “cleanliness,” but also about the trade-offs you make in acquiring cleaner air. Cleaning power per dollar is one possible graph. But cleaning power per decibel is another.

VOCSensor.pngHere in the Bay Area, where ocean breezes help wash the outdoor air, our indoor environment may actually be more harmful due to high concentrations of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Here are some instructions for a very inexpensive ($14) DIY sensor device for VOCs, designed by Sunyoung Kim, at the Living Environments Lab of Carnegie Mellon University. The link instructions are clearer and more complete than the video, but I’ve posted the video for the sake of flavor. Very few of us gather numerical data on our indoor environment, but Sunyoung Kim’s project makes clear that the technical capacity to do this cheaply is already here, awaiting only a convenient package..

 

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