Self-Tracking Tools Review 4

Ian Li

In this review, I will discuss electricity monitors. Instead of describing the devices one-by-one, I looked at the features of a bunch of these devices using the considerations I wrote about in this article and grouped them into two groups: real-time and long-term. Electricity monitors that belong to the real-time group show users their electricity consumption in real time only. On the other hand, long-term electricity monitors also show historical information about electricity consumption in addition to real-time information.

Real-time electricity monitoring

Electricity monitoring devices that belong to this group are Kill-A-Watt and PowerCost Monitor . These devices are useful for knowing how much electricity you're consuming currently or in the short-term (a day or a week). Instead of being surprised by your electricity bill at the end of the month, you can see immediately whether you are consuming too much electricity. For example, you can check how much electricity your using while watching TV or while doing laundry. This immediate access to energy usage may be useful for making decisions. For example, if you've been watching TV in the past hour, a quick glance at these devices might convince you to turn off the TV to save some electricity.

These devices differ a little bit with what questions about your electricity usage you can answer. The PowerCost Monitor tracks the whole house. On the other hand, the Kill-A-Watt is built for monitoring individual appliances. The PowerCost Monitor also supports measurement of individual appliances, but you have to go through a special process (pressing buttons, turning appliances on and off) that is not as easy as the Kill-A-Watt.

Collection. Daily data collection with these devices are quite painless because they are fully-automated. You install them once and your electricity usage is monitored. However, the setup process for the PowerCost Monitor may be difficult for less technically-savvy individuals; you have to install the monitor on your electricity meter. Setup for the Kill-A-Watt is much easier; you just plug in the device on a wall socket, then plug the appliance that you want to monitor on the Kill-A-Watt socket.

Reflection. These devices have digital displays in which you can see information about your current electricity usage. The PowerCost monitor shows your current energy consumption in dollars per hour and kilowatts per hour. You can also get the total amount of electricity consumption since you reset the device. The Kill-A-Watt has similar info but for individual appliances.

Data portability. There is currently no way of getting the data out of these devices and porting them to another device or computer.

Long-term electricity monitoring

These devices help your current electricity usage, as well as, trends and patterns. There are several devices/services that belong to this group:
* Google PowerMeter
* Current Cost
* Watts Up Meters
* Wattson
* The Energy Detective

Collection. Data collection with these devices is also fully automated, so it is very easy. However, installation could still be a problem with most devices if you're not technologically savvy because you have to install the device on your circuit breaker panel (Current Cost, The Energy Detective, OWL+USB, and Wattson) or your electricity system (Watts Up Meters). If you're one of the lucky neighborhoods whose utility company supports Google PowerMeter, you don't have to install anything; your utility will automatically send your electricity information for Google to visualize. Google PowerMeter also supports receiving data from physical devices such as Current Cost, The Energy Detective, and Watts Up Meters. Visit this page to see if you can use Google PowerMeter.

Reflection. These devices/services use visualizations to show you detailed information about your electricity usage. The devices usually come with software to allow you to look at visualizations on your desktop or laptop computer. Some devices also support Google PowerMeter, so you can look at your data online. Current Cost supports connecting your data to several programs and services .

Summary Table

NamePriceCollectionReflectionPortable Data?
Kill-A-Watt$25AutomatedReal-time, per applianceNo
PowerCost Monitor$110-$160AutomatedReal-time, whole houseNo
OWL+USB£40AutomatedReal-time & long-termNo
Wattson£100AutomatedReal-time & long-termNo
Current Cost£40AutomatedReal-time & long-termYes
Watts Up Meters$195AutomatedReal-time & long-termYes
The Energy Detective 5000$200AutomatedReal-time & long-termYes


Ian Li is a PhD candidate in Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University . His research is on HCI and personal informatics . He is the creator of various self-tracking tools, such as: , Grafitter , MoodJam , Be Like Ben , and DeliciousDiscovery .


Martijn Aslander on

Alexandra Carmichael

From the Amsterdam QS Show&Tell group: Martijn Aslander talks about his project to track all of his personal data. He records everything from travel to the 5 best and worst things he does each day to how many people he addresses at his lectures. He meets 100-200 people every week, and was interested to learn which people he meets the most. In the video below, Martijn talks about the various iterations his app has been through, and why he is now settling on iPad and iPhone interfaces.

Martijn Aslander - from Quantified Self Amsterdam on Vimeo.


Wandering minds, self-tracking, and citizen science

Matt Cornell

522517468_8bd0cf0106_m.jpgA reader over at my blog shared the NYT article Wandering Mind Is a Sign of Unhappiness, which reports on research by Killingsworth and Gilbert showing some surprises about distractedness. (My take: First, the least surprising result may be that the world's happiest activity is reproduction. Second, almost half of the time we are not focused on what we're doing, and this makes us unhappier.) The timing of this report is perfect given Ian's recent Self-Tracking Tools post, where he talks about the Track Your Happiness project that the scientists used, along with supporting mobile apps and tools. The study is well-reported, so I'll riff on it from two perspectives: How do we combine the results with self-experimentation to be happier? and What are the wider implications for citizen science and an experiment-driven life?

Using personal tracking to focus the mind

The article quotes Killingsworth as saying "We see evidence for mind-wandering causing unhappiness, but no evidence for unhappiness causing mind-wandering." I see this as good news, because if the results hold true then we can use the directionality to be happier: wander less by focusing more on the task at hand. This is a popular time management topic (along with her sister, continuous partial attention), but let's take an experimental attitude and ask how our quantified self work can give us some practical tools. (There are benefits to mind-wandering, but my focus here is on the value of staying focused.) A few ideas:

From self-tracking through citizen science to citizen researchers

The second thing I took away from the study was how lovely an example it is of a large application of collecting personal data. This is a natural use of mobile technology - something that we all appreciate here - and the collaboration between scientific study and personal informatics will continue to gain momentum. I like the promise that Urban Atmospheres describes:

  1. Improve the science literacy of everyday citizens,
  2. Provide scientists with richer, finer-grain data sets,
  3. Increase grassroots participation in government and policy making, and
  4. Foster understanding and concern for our climate and environment
However, this kind of citizen science model (see this introduction from NSF) is still focused on expert researchers calling on us for data, and then sifting through the results to support (or disprove) professional theories. I think the next step beyond that is to move from citizen science to citizen researchers. My personal work is creating the principles, practices, and tools so that not just Harvard researchers but anyone with an idea to test can set up experiments that motivated self-trackers can participate in. And these would apply not just to health, but to all aspects of the human condition, such as the potential relationship above between wandering minds and happiness. In other words, citizen science writ large: DIY science + crowd sourcing + statistics?

I'm curious:

[Image from RobertFrancis]

(Matt is a terminally-curious ex-NASA engineer and avid self-experimenter. His projects include developing the Think, Try, Learn philosophy, creating the Edison experimenter's journal, and writing at his blog, The Experiment-Driven Life. Give him a holler at


Recap of San Diego's first Show & Tell

John Amschler

This past Tuesday Evening over twenty people attended the first Quantified Self San Diego Meetup hosted by West Wireless Health Institute in La Jolla, CA.

There was a great group of people from varying backgrounds including Bio-Tech, Neurobiology, Engineering, Wireless, Academia, Finance, Philosophy, Physics, Health Care, Medica and many more!

vlcsnap-2010-11-17-19.jpgThe first talk of the evening was given by Ramesh Rao, a UCSD Electrical Engineering Professor who has been self tracking for a few years.

Ramesh analyzes his Heart Rate Variability information in a way that is familiar to anyone with a signal analysis background - by using the FFT.

Although his analysis is quite mathematical in nature, he is able to verbally and visually explain the data in ways which make it easy to understand what is happening to help us all understand the correlation between signal and feelings.


The second talk of the evening was given by Chris Teague, a Wireless Software Engineer and Open Source Enthusiast. He shared his story of transitioning from non-athlete to Ironman. His engineering background and love of gadgets helped him quickly adapt to utilizing his tools efficiently.

In his talk he focuses on how a Power Tap helped helped him track his cycling power and quantifies that his training paid off by showing how his power capability grew this year.

FitBit-1.jpgThe evening was wrapped up by Chemical Biologist Jun Yin. During her talk she introduced us to Fitbit. She shared information regarding how the device works, what behaviors she changed due to the information and how she translates the data into her experiences. She also added some interesting commentary about human-device relationships.

The meeting was also sponsored by Float Spa San Diego and Zeo.

Mark and Malou, the owners of Float Spa San Diego, donated two certificates for members of our group to experience their Sensory Deprivation Tanks. Due to time restrictions we did not draw the two winners. We will announce them as soon as we do!

Zeo.jpgZeo is offering a $15 discount and free shipping on their device. They were also kind enough to offer support in getting their new Raw Data Library up and running so that self quantifying people like us can begin collecting the data recorded by the EEG headband.

Keep an eye open for a future post on a beginners guide to hack the Zeo and collect your own data at home.

Our next gathering will be mid January - sign up at to be notified when we finalize the details!

Videos will be posted soon!


Robert Rabinovitz on Mapping the Design Process of a Brain Seizure

Alexandra Carmichael

From the New York QS Show&Tell group: Robert Rabinovitz, a design teacher at the Parsons New School of Design and a designer himself, mapped the 40-minute period on January 19, 2007 when he experienced his first brain seizure. He takes us through his gripping story, moment by moment, with images of what he saw that day. Robert is also writing a play, writing a research report and planning a film about his experience of survival. Watch the video below to see how the design process saved his life.

Robert Rabinovitz - Mapping the Design Process of a Brain Seizure from Steve Dean on Vimeo.


Self-Tracking Tools Review 3

Ian Li

In this review, I will take the considerations that I wrote about in my last article to analyze some self-tracking tools. The considerations are: 1) What questions are the tool answering? 2) How is the data collected? and 3) How do you reflect on the data? I'm also adding a fourth consideration, data portability, as suggested by Jason Bobe .

Track Your Happiness

Track Your Happiness is a research project by Matthew Killingsworth who works in Dan Gilbert's lab in Harvard. The research project gives you the tools to find the factors in your life that leads to greater happiness. According to the site, the tool will produce a report that "will show how your happiness varies depending on what you are doing, who you are with, where you are, what time of day it is, and a variety of other factors." I used the tool for a month and the report showed me the correlation of sleep quality and quantity on my happiness and other factors such as how focused I am, whether I'm doing something I want to vs. have to, and how productive I am.

Collection. The way that Track Your Happiness collects information is via your iPhone or smart phone. The site sends you a random text message three times a day (the frequency is editable). The text message contains a link to a web page which has a form that asks you various questions about how happy you are and what is currently happening with you. After completing the form, you get a graph that gives you a taste of the full report; the graph shows you the correlation (so far) between your happiness and a randomly-selected factor. This was a nice addition because it encourages you to keep inputting data as the study progresses 1.

Reflection. At the end of a month of data collection, Track Your Happiness will produce a report with graphs of the correlations between different factors and your happiness. Despite enduring a whole month of interruptions from the text messages and answering the questionnaire, the whole experience was worth it for the report. The report is very easy to read despite the sheer amount of data that was collected about me in a month. In my report, the correlation between my happiness and my sleep quality/quantity was very strong.

Data Portability. The graphs in the report are printable. Even after a year of seeing my report, I could still access it by logging in. Unfortunately, the individual data points that I recorded are not available.


Mint is a web site for tracking your finances. But unlike tracking your finances from your bank web site, Mint gives you the tools to track your finances from multiple accounts, such as your bank, credit card, loans, even investments. With Mint, you'd be able to get a holistic view of your finances from month to month and answer questions, such as where are you spending your money? Are you spending too much on non-essentials? Are you reaching your budget goals?

Collection. The collection of financial data is already done by the accounts; your banks, credit cards, and investments already have records of your financial transactions. What Mint does is gather all this information from multiple sources into a single service. The setup is quite easy. You provide your account information and Mint handles the transferring of data from your multiple accounts. At this point, you might be weary about security, but the Mint folks have taken good measures to protect your account information .

Reflection. Mint automatically categorizes your transactions and provides various visualization tools to help you analyze where you are spending your money. First, Mint provides a graphic that shows how you are doing with your budget for the month. The graphic is very easy to use and can be viewed at-a-glance. Second, Mint provides visualization timelines and pie charts, so you can explore your financial history over a long period of time and view specific details of your transactions. Lastly, Mint sends alerts and messages to inform you of pending payments, low balances, and opportunities to save.

Data portability. Mint does not provide an API to get your financial data directly from them. However, there are several ways to get your financial data:

  1. You can go to each of your financial institutions and download the data from them directly.
  2. Yodlee , a financial data aggregation company, provides tools to developers to make applications that use data from financial institutions. Yodlee served as a backend to Mint. However, since the Intuit acquision of Mint, I don't know if Yodlee is still Mint's backend provider. Yodlee provides a service called Yodlee MoneyCenter that is similar to what Mint offers.

Wrap up

These reviews have been quite lengthy, so, for readability's sake, I will only talk about two today. Then, I will review two more tools this week. Again, please leave comments below regarding your experiences with the tools I mentioned.


1 I've actually done a study that shows that having visualizations while collecting data helps with keeping the user actively collecting data ( view paper | citation ).


Ian Li is a PhD candidate in Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University . His research is on HCI and personal informatics . He is the creator of various self-tracking tools, such as: , Grafitter , MoodJam , Be Like Ben , and DeliciousDiscovery .


Andrew Hessel's Flight Log

Alexandra Carmichael

From the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup group: Andrew Hessel from Singularity University talks about his 2010 flight log. He has traveled 79,922 miles this year - 57 flights, 22 airports, 16 percent of his days in the air. Andrew tracks his flights for the sake of tracking them, with no goal to minimize consumption. Watch the video below and see what you think - exciting lifestyle or excessive environmental impact?

Andrew Hessel - FlightLog from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.


Polyphasic Sleep Experiment at Zeo

Alexandra Carmichael

There's a great new post over at the Zeo blog by an experienced polyphasic sleeper - instead of sleeping in one 8 hour chunk, he breaks it up into three segments throughout the day. In his post he shows how he used Zeo to help optimize sleep quality and create a polyphasic schedule that feels better for him than the more common monophasic sleep.

It's also part of a larger Polyphasic Sleep Experiment involving 11 polyphasic sleepers - Zeo is asking them to document their journey of adapting to polyphasic sleep with writing, sleep data, and video footage. I believe it's still open to anyone who wants to join, so if you're interested in going polyphasic, ask Derek at Zeo for more details.

Sweet dreams! 


How do you celebrate the data?

Matt Cornell

4419333352_3587c5c2d8_m.jpgWhen was the last time you stepped back and gave yourself credit for your data-driven work? In our busy lives it is easy to forget to celebrate our accomplishments. It's especially true when what we're doing is heavy, like working with a medical ailment or a relationship problem.

Fortunately, treating life as an experiment - including the essential observation and measurement tasks - offers natural opportunities to mark important personal events. In one sense, life distills down to a sequence of these events, so it's a shame not to salute them regularly.

Here are some triggers you might use to kick off a celebration, either modest or grand. I've included in parenthesis some specific things to honor.

And a couple of meta ones, which are thankfully guaranteed with every self-tracking effort:

How you celebrate depends on you and the event. It might be a little reward, a personal pat on the back, or sharing it with someone (even a quick IM - "Hey - guess what happened!") A colleague suggests "bottling" the feeling and keeping a hold of it for quieter days. If you keep an experimenter's journal, then record it there for when you need it. Or maybe just put something up on your "wall of fame" for a few days, like a good-looking graph of your data.

I'm curious: How do you celebrate your quantified self work? Any tips for triggering?

[Image from x-ray delta one]

(Matt is a terminally-curious ex-NASA engineer and avid self-experimenter. His projects include developing the Think, Try, Learn philosophy, creating the Edison experimenter's journal, and writing at his blog, The Experiment-Driven Life. Give him a holler at


Kiel Gilleade on The Body Blogger

Alexandra Carmichael

From the London QS Show&Tell meetup group: Kiel Gilleade talks about his experiences with tracking his heart rate 24x7 and sharing it in real-time via the Internet. More information about the project can be found at Kiel's Physiological Computing Site and at his BodyBlogger Twitter stream. Watch the video below to hear Kiel talk about the interesting social ramifications of continuous heart rate tracking, and what he has learned about alcohol, sleep, and stress.

The Body Blogger - Physiology in a Public Space from Kiel Gilleade on Vimeo.