Ian Eslick on Self-Tracking, Self-Experimentation, and Self-Science

“Personal experimentation is simply tracking, on a schedule.”

Ian Eslick is a scientist, researcher, and self-tracker. His unique history has led him down a path towards understanding what it means to understand yourself and your health in and outside the world of healthcare. Ian’s health history helped push him down this path. Since being diagnosed with psoriasis he’s been confronted with the difficult task of figuring out triggers, effects, and treatments as his symptoms changed over time. Ian, began to explore self-tracking by mentally noting what was going on in his life and his symptom severity. You would think that this “in my own head” tracking methodology would limit analytical capabilities, but it helped Ian create mental models that informed more consistent and rigorous tracking methods, as well as influenced his future research.

In this talk below Ian describes that research, both personal and community-based, that explored the concept of helping people learn how to create and engage with personal experimentation.

“What I came to in conclusion after all of this is that N of 1 is overkill for QS. It’s unnecessary level of rigor. Ninety-five percent confidence intervals are about scientific causal proof, but what I want to know is am I making a better decision. Is data improving my decision in some measurable way? Not is it a perfect decision or do I have proof. So we want to value personal significance over statistical significance. Statistical significance says that if I run this trial twenty more times I’m likely to get the same result, but what I want to know is should I keep doing this and in QS we’re never going to stop keep experimenting, in a way, because our life keeps going.”

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What We Are Reading

An extra long list for you to this time. Enjoy!

Articles & Posts

Beyond the Data Portal by Jed Sundwall. The open data refrain has been taken up by non-profits, local, and national governments around the world. Have we questioned what it really means to be good data stewards? A very nice post here that opens up a discussion about the role of data librarians to augment simple access with human-powered information wayfinding.

Could Behavioral Medicine Lead the Web Data Revolution? by John W. Ayers, Benjamin M. Althouse, and Mark Dredz. If you can look past the slightly antiquated use of the term “web data” here you’ll see a good critique of the current methods in behavioral health science and the role of personal data in medical and behavioral research.

Little data: Tracking your life through numbers by Dominic Smith. A nice short piece here on the art behind self-tracking,

Critics might ask why we should care about the aggregated, daily routine of a man most of us will never never meet. But fans would argue that these reports aren’t merely novelties for the coffee table—they represent data as art, a single year of human life parsed into graphs and charts.

Fitness Trackers Could Boost Kids’ Health, But Face Challenges, Experts Say by Tia Ghose. Activity trackers are all the rage these days, but can they be used to track and understand children’s physical activity?

Questioning the Quantified Self as it Marches Towards Mainstream by Matt Stempeck. A very thorough recap of a talk by Natasha Dow Shull given at the MIT Media Lab. It covers the history of self-tracking and the current trend towards algorithmic selfhood. Great read.

When quantified-self apps leave you with more questions than answers by Brendan O’Connor. The author takes at self-tracking and personal data through the lens of the newly released Reporter app. Reading this piece left me wondering, are questions the prominent artifact of a self-tracking practice?

Dan Hon’s Newsletter By Dan Hon. I know you get enough email already, but this is an exceptional project by Dan to express his ideas in the form of a daily newsletter. Covering the vast arena of techno-culture, it’s a great addition to my inbox. See his thoughts on Quantified Self in issue #15.

Why It’s OK to Let Apps Make You a Better Person by Evan Selinger. The ideas and considerations in this piece are as relevant today as they were when this article was published nearly two years ago.

Quantify Everything: A Dream of a Feminist Data Future by Amelia Abreu. A very interesting perspective on self-tracking and the Quantified Self movement by our friends at Model View Culture.

The Ethicist’s and the Lawyer’s New Clothes by I. Glenn Cohen [video]. An interesting lecture on the ethical issues surrounding the use and misuse of “smart clothing.”

Data Sharing Essay Competition by DNA Digest. A writing competition to explore themes around the positives and negatives of data sharing in the health research community.

Show&Tells (a selection of first person stories on self-tracking and personal data)

Quantify Yourself by Amo Utrankar. What happens when a medical student starts self-tracking so he can understand his future patients?

Between Week 1 and Week 4, my “compliance” fell from 96% to 63%. It takes a committed, conscious effort to record every meal, every vital sign, every exercise, every minute of the day. I hold a new-found respect for the diabetic patient who has to monitor his blood sugar, manage his appointments, and mind his meals; it’s a process that’s both distracting and exhausting.

I tracked every penny I spent for one year. Here’s what I learnt. by Todd Green. Ten lessons learned from a year-long meticulous tracking project.

I lost 1,000 hours of sleep in 1 year: My story as entrepreneur & new Dad by Nick De Mey. A father recounts his process of learning about his sleep, or lack thereof. (Editor’s note: Nick is a founding member of AddApp, a Friend of QS).

Visualizations

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 1.49.59 PMMy Facebook Messaging History by Person and Time. A great visualization and conversation with open source code so you can make your own.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 1.50.20 PM

My Recent Exercise Log – Plotted. Another reddit user shares his exercise data from MyFitnessPal.

 

 

 

 

AekSBmnWhat can you learn from almost 3 years of Skype chat logs?. A simple, but nice word cloud visualization of chat logs.

In total there were 280114 words sent. Words that refer to oneself (such as: i, me, ich, my, mich, min, meiner, meine, meins, jag, mig, mir) were used 14995 times whereas words that refer to other people (like above list for others) were only used 6669 times! People in my Skype conversations like to talk about themselves… (which is mostly me. THERE, I did it again )

 

posegrid_ny_Selfiecity. An interesting exploration of new media visualization techniques and social media information processing by an outstanding group of researchers. Take a tour of the website then read Lev Monivich’s post about this new area of research and data visualization.

 

 

 

From the Forum

OPI Truesense for Sleep Tracking

Samsung Gear Fit

Tracking Pain/Discomfort – Thoughts?

Statistical Findings

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Enrico Bertini on Tracking Focused Work

We’ve all come face to face with tracking some aspect of our life only to realize that we’re not quite sure how to get started. Enrico Bertini encountered this roadblock when he began thinking about tracking the amount of time he spends engaging in “focused work.” As an information visualization researcher at NYU he decided on a simple rule that would give him the most accurate data that represented his interests: if it wasn’t tracked then it wasn’t focused work. In this talk, given at the New York QS meetup group, Enrico explains his process and shares his findings (including some great visualizations).

Slides available here.

(Editor’s Note: Enrico also co-hosts a great podcast on data visualization and information design called Data Stories. I highly recommend listening. If you’re looking for a place to start try Episode 17: Data Sculptures.)

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Our 2014 Friends of QS

In 2013, Kate, Ernesto, and I created a Friends of QS program to help fund our work at QS Labs, which includes putting on our QS conferences and events, maintaining the web site and video programming, and creating opportunities for our vibrant global community to connect. We reached out to friends in our network of self-trackers, toolmakers, inventors, and entrepreneurs, and their response was inspiring. Last year we welcomed the contributions of more than 30 organizations and individuals to our inaugural group of Friends.

As we gear up for our 2014 Quantified Self Conference in Amsterdam, we are proud to acknowledge new and returning Friends of QS. If you believe in our work and would like to support it, please consider joining. We welcome your participation. Just get in touch!

Our Friends of QS include:

AMAX is the manufacturer of datacenter solutions for big data analytics (Hadoop) and OpenStack, including architecture based on Facebook’s Open Compute design. Passionate believers that data is the key breakthrough to a fuller understanding of this world, AMAX is looking to collaborate with startups in need of dynamic computing power.
Beddit produces an ultra thin film sensor that fits under the sheets on your bed and tracks your sleeping patterns, heart rate, breathing, snoring, movements and environment. No wearable sensors.  In the morning, the app tells you how you slept and how to turn your data into actionable ideas for improving your sleep and wellness.
Beeminder is a goal-tracking tool with teeth. Connect a QS gadget or app (Fitbit, RescueTime, etc) and Beeminder plots your progress towards your goal on a Yellow Brick Road. Stay on track and Beeminder is free. Go off the road and you (literally) pay the price.
Calit2 is a multidisciplinary research institution jointly run by UCSD and UCI devoted to conducting cutting-edge research discovering new ways that emerging technologies can improve the state’s economy and citizens’ quality of life.
dacadoo is a Swiss startup with a mission to improve users’ health and fitness. The platform calculates a personal health score, a number from 1 (low) to 1’000 (high), to indicate current health status. By integrating gamification and social networking principles, dacadoo motivates participants to be active in a fun and easy way by tracking and comparing personal health, lifestyle and fitness.
Chris Dancy’s name and avatar are synonymous with the future of work, edutainment, technically enabled external evolution, and his quantified life (existence). Since 2007, Chris has spoken around the globe on emerging trends, and has been featured in TechCrunch, Wired magazine, Bloomberg TV, and NPR Radio as the most connected human on Earth.
Douglass Winthrop is an SEC registered investment advisor with offices in New York and San Francisco. The firm believes in ”self knowledge through numbers” on many fronts and manages $1 billion for individuals, families, trusts, and endowments. Douglass Winthrop is owned and managed by its principals.
DreamsCloud is a social platform and resource for people of all ages with an interest in exploring dreams and the unconscious mind. Through its website, mobile apps for all smart devices, and a strong presence in social media, DreamsCloud delivers entertaining and informative content, tools and resources, and a community where users can interact and explore dream meanings.

You were born to move. Ergo Depot’s hand selected line of height adjustable desks and ergonomic seating encourages natural positions and movement. They empower people to function more efficiently, feel better, and live longer. Ergo Depot is evolving the way humans work.
Fluxtream is an open-source non-profit personal data visualization framework to help you make sense of your life and compare hypotheses about what affects your well-being. Using Fluxtream, you can bring together and explore physiological, contextual, and observational data from many devices and apps on a common timeline.
Since 1998, Gordon Bell has been working on the MyLifeBits project with Jim Gemmell – a quest to understand how you store everything in your life in cyberspace. After QS2012 he became a “trackee” of health data using CMU’s Bodytrack holding BodyMedia, Heartrate and other data.
LUMO BodyTech in on a mission to give the body a voice. They aim to bring good posture and movement back into our daily lives using the latest sensor and mobile technologies, starting with their first product LUMOback.
Dr. Mark Drangsholt is Professor and Chair of Oral Medicine at the University of Washington.  He is a passionate enthusiast and supporter of the QS movement.  His focus is on strengthening the bridge between academics and QS, and science and QS.
Mindful Cyborgs the audio present shock on mindfulness, cyborgs, contemplative computing, bio/lifehacking and unhacking, frictionless existence, quantified self netocracy, robotics and digital duality. Hosts, Wired, TechCrunch writer, founder of Technoccult Klint Finley and Global tech fluffer and data exhaust cartographer Chris Dancy.
Narrative (formerly Memoto) is a Swedish startup with the goal of giving everyone a photographic memory. Their tiny camera and GPS device with no controls clips on and takes photos as you go. The App organizes them. This all works together to give you pictures of every moment of your life, complete with information on when and where you took them.
Naveen Selvadurai is a Quantified Self enthusiast and an internet entrepreneur and co-founder of location-based social networking site, FourSquare. He worked previously at Socialight, Sony Music and Sun Microsystems.
OMsignal is developing a line of bio-sensing apparel that continuously tracks your biometrics. Embedded sensors in the apparel monitor your heart rate, breathing and activity while the OMsignal app displays your data in real-time on your mobile phone. OMsignal fits seamlessly into your everyday life. Technology woven into life.
Open mHealth envisions a world where disparate mobile health applications can be harnessed to deliver data-driven patient stories. Collaborating with a community of developers, clinicians, researchers, and business leaders, Open mHealth is a non-profit building an open software architecture that emphasizes modularity and reusability of digital health data.
Project Addapp is a platform created by two guys passionate about self-tracking. It allows users to pull data from multiple different tracking tools to create experiments to see, for example, how training affects sleep or how calorie intake affects workouts.
The Quantified Self Institute is an experimental collaboration between the Hanze University of Applied Sciences (Groningen, the Netherlands) and QS Labs to bridge the gap between science and the QS community. It is a network of QS users/makers, researchers, students, companies and other institutions that support the mission to encourage a healthy lifestyle through technology, science and fun.
Aware of the importance of data tracking in improving quality and way of life, reconti is developing a platform for logging measurements and analysis related to physical activity and health improvement. The aim is to identify connections and correlations between multiple results from a variety of sources. They also collaborate with other organizations in the mHealth community.
RescueTime is a Seattle-based company whose tools are used by more than 600,000 people worldwide to get an accurate picture of how they spend their time each day to help them be more productive. RescueTime is launching new consumer, business, and mobile offerings in Q3 2013.
Rock Health s powering the future of the digital health ecosystem, bringing together the brightest minds across disciplines to build better solutions. Rock Health funds and supports startups building the next generation of technologies transforming healthcare.
Sen.se has created an open platform (currently in beta) called Open.Sen.se for those who want to imagine, prototype and test new devices, installations, scenarios, and applications for this globally interconnected world.
Sensoplex is a one-stop developer & manufacturer of Wireless Sensor Modules and customized wearable devices to OEM’s focusing on the sports, fitness & wellness markets. SensoPlex’ expertise in motion sensors, wireless and design for manufacturing minimizes OEM’s risk, cost & time to market.
The Stir Kinetic Desk is an automated desk that seamlessly transitions between sitting and standing positions with a simple double tap.  It’s designed with the purpose to help promote an active lifestyle based on motion, health and inspiration.  The Stir Kinetic Desk learns your habits and adapts itself to your routine.
Many health conditions are correlated with the microbiome — from asthma to diabetes, autism to depression, irritable bowel, Crohn’s, heart disease, and more. uBiome gives the public access to cutting edge DNA sequencing technology. You can find out what’s in your microbiome, and how you correlate with others in our data set and with existing studies of the microbiome.
Ubisoft, a leader in entertainment software, is introducing O.zen, a motivational wellness training program.  O.zen uses a unique heart rate sensor to create a personalized coaching plan in order to help manage stress and increase your vitality through playful breathing exercises.
 ViviTouch® actuators, from Bayer MaterialScience LLC, produce a cinematic sensation that bridges the senses of seeing, hearing and feeling. ViviTouch® HD Feel is used in mobile, gaming, and wearable devices to bring high definition feel to entertainment and lifestyle experiences. ViviTouch® 4D Sound makes headphones come alive by amplifying the hearing experience.
VSP Global® is a group of leading companies, working together to meet and exceed the needs of eyecare professionals, clients, and it’s 60 million members. VSP wants to fully support the quantified self movement and it’s members who may want to be involved to find self-empowerment.
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An Introduction to the Quantified Self

A big piece of our work at QS Labs is supporting our worldwide community through the over 100 Quantified Self Meetups (see our sidebar at right). At our local meetup in the Bay Area, and others we’ve had the pleasure of visiting, we are consistently observing that nearly half of the attendees are new to the Quantified Self. Considering this, Gary Wolf, our director and co-founder, gave a short presentation to introduce our work and how we see the Quantified Self as a cultural and technological movement. If you’re new here, or just want to reorient yourself, watch Gary’s excellent talk below.

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Ulrich Atz on Tracking on Paper

“If I look at this, I have these memories, and I remember this was a good year.”

Collect it and forget it. This could be be hidden mantra of many people engaged with self-tracking, myself included. I will readily admit to buying a device or application with the hope that I can collect enough information to generate a grand insight at some mythical point in the future where the intersection of free time, analytical knowledge, and sample size magically coalesce. Ulrich Atz encountered the same problem. He was tracking, but soon lost sight of the purpose. Rather than giving up he started a new tracking project.

Ulrich started by building on the popular habit and tracking theory, Don’t Break the Chain, based on consistency in behaviors you care about. He identified six major categories he wanted to understand and pay attention to: his evening ritual, fitness, nutrition, learning, sleep, and travel. Rather than using an passive tracking system like Foursquare of Sleep Cycle, he decided to keep track of it by writing on a large wall calendar. In this presentation, given at the London QS meetup group, Ulrich describes his methods and what he learned from this year-long process.

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Nick Alexander on Running in the Cold

Science. Someone makes an observation, creates a hypothesis, tests it, then analyzes the results against the hypothesis. Hopefully once a conclusion is reached it is tested again and again for validity and reproducibility. With self-tracking, the world of personal science and experimentation is opening up real-world personal laboratories to test the findings, claims, and promises available through the popular and scientific literature.

Nick Alexander is one of these self-experimenters. When he started to hear about thermodynamics and the effect of temperature on exercise and energy expenditure he decided to set up his own experiment:

I had been introduced to thermodynamics exercise research by former NASA scientistRay Cronise via Wired and the Four Hour Body. Ray makes an extraordinary claim (i.e. that exercising in a cold environment, especially in cold water, causes a large increase in calorie burn), and I was curious to see if it would work for me.

In this talk, given at the 2013 Quantified Self Global Conference, Nick explains his experimental setup and what he found after tracking over 30 runs and crunching the numbers. For a more in-depth discussion about his methodology and his findings I recommend reading his recaps.

This video is from our 2013 Global Conference, a unique gathering of toolmakers, users, inventors, and entrepreneurs. If you’d like see talks like this in person we invite you to join us in Amsterdam for our 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference on May 10 and 11th.

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What We Are Reading

We’ve collected another fun batch of reading for you. Enjoy!

High tech in vehicles puts drivers’ privacy up for grabs by Karl Henkel.The cars we’re driving are collecting, storing, and in some cases, transmitting all sorts of data. What are the implications of cars as computers?

Are Companies tracking us, or merely “observing” us? by James Robinson. Another privacy piece here. When large corporations collect consumer data are they able to understand us individually, or are they just making observations about general patterns? Don’t forget, we’ve been down this road before.

Here’s what happens when a data scientist goes to Disney World by Derrick Harris. Apparently the theme to start the list this week is consumer tracking. This article takes a look at the newly implemented “Magic Band” system at the Disney World Resort. Disney is clearly leading the field here, but experience augmentation based on personal data is coming very soon to a store near you.

NBA players start wearing wearable health trackers by John Comstock. Not a surprising move here by the the NBA to equip players with wireless healthy and activity tracking systems. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen self-tracking technology being adopted by professional athletes. I for one am looking forward to watching basketball games with integrated player data visualizations.

Self-surveillance: Should you worry or simply embrace your personal data? By Laurie Frick. A great piece here by our friend, Laurie Frick. Laurie is an artist based in Austin (and part of the Austin QS meetup group) that uses self-tracking data as the inspiration for her various artistic explorations. In this piece she explains her work and he feelings about self-tracking.

Home Automation is an EasyHard Problem by Scott Jenson. I’m a big fan of the Internet of Things and look forward to a more connected future. However, maybe our ideas about what is possible are misguided. In this short piece Scott explains that it’s possible we’re not properly classifying the actual problem at hand,  “[...] humans are messy, illogical beasts and simplistic if/then rules are going to create a backlash against this technology.

Summer Internship in Advanced Analytics. Our friends at Pew are looking for interns to work on advanced analytics and data science. We’d love to see a member of our QS Community help them out.

Visualizations of the Week

brianhouseEternal Portraits by Brian House. Facebook uses facial recognition algorithms to know what their users look like. At one point they exposed that data to users as part of the data export feature. Says Brian, “The information is unusable in its raw form without knowing the specifics of Facebook’s algorithm. But as an irrevocable corporate byproduct, the future implications of such data remain unclear.

 

 

xkcd-d3XKCD-style Plots in D3 by Dan Foreman-Mackey. Not a complete visualization per se, but this example demonstrates how to manipulate D3 to show plots in the style of the great Randall Monroe of XKCD.

 

 

 

fb_loveThe Formation of Love by Carlos Diuk. The Facebook data team crunched the numbers and started to learn what happens as users fall in and out of love.

 

 

 

 

Visualizing Health. A great new project from our friends at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and their collaborators at the University of Michigan. Browse the galleries to find scientifically vetted visualization techniques related a variety of health information situations.

From the Forum

Reporter App Question
Drowzy: app made by Board certified Psychiatrist and Sleep Medicine Expert
Fitness tracker and Jawbone Up data analysisa
Sentiment analysis on my own writing
Best iOS app to track water/coffee/alcohol intake?

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Bethany Soule on Beeminding Beeminder

In this short talk Bethany Soule, founder of Beeminder, a goal setting and commitment tool, describes what happened when they started using it to “mind” the development of the service itself.

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Mike McDearmon on Things I Run Into

There are no shortage of apps and devices to track our various physical activities. Going for run? A few laps at the pool? An early morning hike? All of these are trackable with data delivered and archived in a variety of different ways. Mike McDearmon loves to get outdoors, and he also loves tracking his activities. What started as a project to document his runs by taking a picture every time he went running has evolved into a fascinating mixed-media project. Since 2011 Mike has been taking a picture every time he exercises outdoors. In this talk, presented at the New York QS meetup group, Mike explains his methods, and digs a bit deeper into what this means to him.

For me, the real value in this whole project hasn’t necessarily come from the data at all, but from the process of getting outdoors, exploring my surroundings, taking photographs, and then reflecting on my experiences through documentation. This is what I feel is at the heart of the Quantified Self movement – it’s the passion and enjoyment in certain aspects of our lives that makes us want to document them in the first place. – from 300 Outings.

Download slides here.

I highly suggest taking the time to peruse Mike’s wonderful website where he documents his running, cycling, hiking, walking, and the pictures he’s talking along the way. He’s also built a really neat data dashboard that is worth perusing.

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