Forget Normal: A QS + InsideTracker Challenge


Most people think of blood tests as medical procedures ordered by a doctor, but in the Quantified Self community we’ve seen many fascinating self-experiments using biomarker panels to answer personal questions about sleep, stress, mood, exercise, and more. Thanks to our long time friends and QS sponsors InsideTracker, we’re inviting you to take part in an exciting challenge to develop new ideas and questions about what we can learn from unlocking the information stored in our blood.

Participating in the challenge is easy. All you have to do is propose your own self-experiments using InsideTracker’s extensive biomarker analysis capabilities.  Use this form to tell us what you want to learn about yourself and why your question is important to you.  We’ll select two ideas that we think will be especially meaningful for everybody to learn from.  The winning ideas will receive two free Ultimate Panels (valued at $499 each) to support their project, and be asked to present their ideas and initial data virtually or in-person at the QS15 Conference & Exposition. All entrants, whether selected as winners or not, will receive a discount on InsideTracker, and a $100 discount on QS Conference registration. We’ll be accepting entries until May 30th, so act fast!

Enter Now!


Not sure where to start? Here’s a great example from our friend and QS Seattle community member, Mark Drangsholt:

We’re sure that you have some great ideas for what you could do with access to the answers in you blood. Share your ideas with us and the Quantified Self community on Twitter using #UnlockBlood. We’d love to see how you want to learn!

Want to learn more about InsideTracker? Read this great ToolmakerTalk with Gil Blander, founder and chief science officer. 

Want to meet the folks behind InsideTracker in person? Come to our QS15 Expo, where you can hear more from Gil and the InsideTracker team! Quantified Self website readers get a $10 Discount on tickets so act fast. Register now !

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Tracking Fight or Flight at the Office

Today’s guest post comes to us from our longtime friend and QS community member, Paul LaFontaine. Paul will be joining us at the QS15 Conference & Expo to share his expertise on tracking and making sense of heart rate variability. Read below, and then join us on June 18th through the 20th for three amazing days of talks, sessions, and meeting amazing innovators like Paul. 

uhappy-big-bossHave you every had to give a briefing to the Big Boss, the Boss above the person you report to? And in that have you ever gotten this look?

And when you got that look your brain just froze? You could not think of what to say? The start point for my work in Quantified Self was to try and understand that “freeze” phenomenon and how to train myself to experience it less. I negotiate a lot for business and my hypothesis was that control of physiological reactions in meetings could make me a more effective negotiator.

I had an excellent opportunity to see how I was doing this week as I briefed not one, but SIX Big Bosses. Nine people total were in the room. One Boss had showed up uninvited because he opposed the concepts being discussed. And to make matters even more fun, I was told I was the primary presenter thirty minutes before the meeting. After hearing that I thought, “This will be a great HRV reading.”

The meeting was on a controversial topic and several of the Big Bosses did not agree on how to resolve it. I had been asked a few weeks earlier to help create a resolution. We were scheduled for an hour. There were two points in meeting I remember feeling the “brain freeze” moment and had to push on by looking at the slide and restarting my mental engine. Because of the late notice that I was the presenter I could not use my standard practice of memorizing the material prior to a high intensity presentation. Here is my reading for the session:


This reading recalls the shape of the meeting very well. At the start each of Big Bosses tried to steer the meeting toward a resolution they thought was best. Big Bosses can’t help it, they get paid to steer. The Biggest Boss kept coming back to “let’s let him go through the material.” The dark blue from interval 426 to 2996 was me trying to get a word in edgewise.

In the middle of the meeting I had made my points and the Big Bosses began debating the merits of the resolution. As the spotlight moved from me I did deep breathing, listened and took notes. My memory of that period was that my brain was turned back on and I could feel a lighter feeling in my chest and head. The reading shows that I dropped from Fight/Flight as indicated by the white spaces from interval 2996 to around 6000.

Then the Biggest Boss said something to the effect that the resolution I had presented was incomplete. You can see around interval 6000 I go back into Fight/Flight as I was trying to explain how the missing part he was concerned with actually was completed. This lasted for a good period because other Big Bosses saw this as an opportunity to re-introduce their specific personal points and we were off and running. It was in this period I recall a specific “freeze” moment regarding a question on a detail that I resolved by having the group look at a different slide.

Finally I was able to get the Big Bosses to turn to the last slide where there was a collective “Oh, here it is” and you can see around interval 8900 my physiology begins to relax. The part of the resolution they were looking for was there. To my recollection the room relaxed as well. Some jokes where shared and people began to prepare to summarize and end the meeting.

During this hour long meeting I was in Fight/Flight 46% of the time, a full 27 minutes. I can’t reveal any details of the meeting, but I can believe that quality of my answers was more reactive and less thought out during those two periods. My personal variability training did make an important contribution as I was able to break up the 27 minutes into two periods that each had a specific topic I was “fighting” to make. In the first period I was concentrating on getting my main points across. Once done I was able to use my breathing and get myself to a relaxed state where I had ticked the box of “points made.” When the second period started I was only “fighting” to show the one completion point. I believe that if I had not allowed myself a completion state in the middle I would not have been as focussed on a single point which I was able to make in the end.

To see how much the environment like a meeting can change very rapidly, I had the opportunity to measure a meeting immediately after the meeting recorded above. As in I walked from the conference room for that meeting to the office for the meeting in a period of five minutes. I already had the kit ready so I just hit “record” for the second meeting.

In this second meeting I was brainstorming with a colleague on how to handle a problem that would play out over several months. There was no urgency, the colleague and I get on well and we were coming up with good ideas. Here is the reading:


That means I came from a pretty intense Big Boss meeting where there was a lot of Fight/Flight, did a BreatheSync session for two minutes and entered the second meeting. In this one there was very little Fight/Flight at all and it was a very productive 35 minutes.

Breathing tools, understanding how the physiology reacts when meeting with the Big Bosses and finding the balance between Fight/Flight and relaxation can improve both how you prepare, and how you ramp yourself down when in an intense situation. And these same tools allow a fast transition to a new environment where you can be productive as appropriate for the situation.

I will be presenting more about how I use heart rate variability at the Quantifed Self Conference and Expo in San Francisco June 18 – 20. I look forward to it and I look forward to meeting many of you there.

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Quantifying Family Caregiving

Today’s post comes to us from our longtime friends and collaborators, Rajiv Mehta and Dawn Nafus. Read below to find out about an exciting new project they’re starting and a great Breakout Discussion they have planned for our QS15 Conference

What would it look like to take a “QS approach” to a major social and public health issue, like family caregiving? Caregiving has been the topic of a large array of survey studies, ethnographic studies, etc., but what might it mean to take a close look at the realities of caregiving activities through the first person lens that self-tracking affords?

We have been curious about this issue for a little while now, both as self-trackers curious about what it might be like to quantify the care work we ourselves do, and as researchers interested in care (Mehta) and self-tracking methods (Nafus) more broadly. We hope we can entice you to explore this topic with us in a variety of ways.  The two ways on top of our minds currently are the Breakout Session at QS15, and the Atlas of Caregiving Pilot project.

Breakout Session at QS15

Caregiving has been present as a theme from the beginning at QS. The first conference had a standing-room-only breakout session on tracking for chronic illnesses. At the third conference Yasmin Lucero gave an amazing talk about tracking her baby. In Amsterdam last year, another breakout focused on the human issues around family tracking. In June in San Francisco we want to dive deeper into how to track caregiving activities and the social implications of such tracking.

In this session, we’d like to think broadly about what counts as “care.” So many of us do not think about ourselves as “caregivers” and yet do a whole heck of a lot of it, some more short term than others.  We are curious about how care work affects your self-tracking practice. Does it make sense for you to track care activities explicitly, or does it make sense to track all the other things that are not about care for others, so that you can better care for yourself too?

We are also interested in the social ramifications of making these burdens explicit. Will your siblings be more supportive or empathetic if they really understood how much you’re putting into taking care of your mother? Will your mother feel even more guilty about all the trouble she’s causing you if she saw graphs of your troubles? In many kinds of self-tracking data, it is not just you implicated, though you might only do it for yourself. What are some good ways of negotiating the minefields data can sometimes open up?

Atlas of Caregiving Pilot


We’re not just talking … we’re doing! The “Atlas of Caregiving Pilot” project, supported by a grant from long-time friends of QS, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will enable us to explore this further with our researcher hats on. Our interest is in leveraging QS tools, methods and mindsets. We are less interested in allowing traditional healthcare and academic experts to frame what should and should not be of interest, and more concerned with ensuring caregivers themselves have the opportunity to say what is and is not important about their experiences. Ultimately, these are their stories, not ours, and the pilot is exploring ways that we can help people reflect on, and tell, their stories through QS-style numbers. We are also exploring what new insights are possible by leveraging self-tracking technologies, especially what can we learn about the activities and burdens of care. In practice, this means we’ll be combining qualitative and quantitative approaches; we’ll be encouraging self-reflection; we’ll be emphasizing the individuals (families) and not just the group (population); and we’ll emphasize learning from the uniqueness and variety of family situations. Read more about the project at Atlas of Caregiving.

We would love to hear from you, with suggestions on what to track, technologies to use, and war stories of what not to do. And if you want to to collaborate, contact Rajiv at

Join Rajiv, Dawn, and an amazing group of individuals at our QS15 Conference & Exposition. Register Now!


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Meetups This Week

Four Quantified Self meetup groups are getting together this week. Nashville will be having their very first meetup and we are very excited for them. It’s a great group out there in “Music City.”

There will also be another first meeting, though it is not technically a Quantified Self Show & Tell group. At QS Labs, we’ve been interested to see the impacts of Apple entering the wearables arena, so we created the Bay Area Apple Watch Users Group to share stories of what people are learning about themselves with this device. Definitely check it out if you live by the bay.

Groningen has a fantastic slate of speakers for their event. Dr. Jan Jaap Reinders will discuss how self-tracking improved his life. Peter Joosten will speak about his diet experiments which included trying the paleo diet and Dave Asprey’s diet for a month each. Enna van Duinen embedded an RFID chip in her hand and will discuss how she uses it. And Adri Mathlener will speak on what he found out about his sleep using Sleepbot.

Not to be outdone, Berlin has a fine group of speakers as well. Chris Hardaker will give a toolmaker talk on his MyQS cloud service. Marina Schmidt will discuss how she tracked her activity to better understand her “flow” states. And Simon Eichenauer will speak on the thorny question of how long to track something.

Tuesday, May 19
Bay Area, CA (Apple Watch Users Group)

Wednesday, May 20
Nashville, Tennessee

Thursday, May 21
Cambridge, England
Groningen, Netherlands
Berlin, Germany

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Announcing the QS15 Expo

On June 20th, we are hosting the first of its kind Quantified Self Expo at the beautiful Fort Mason Center. We’re excited to bring toolmakers from all over the world to showcase their devices and apps. To learn from leading users and experts through hands-on workshops and how-to sessions. And to engage with the ideas and breakthroughs that are helping us understand ourselves, our families, and our communities in new and exciting ways. This exposition is your chance to take part and experience first-hand how Quantified Self and personal data will impact your life now, and into the future.

Join us. Tickets for the exposition are on sale now. We hope to see you there!

If you’re interested in the full conference experience we invite you to explore the program for the QS15 Conference. It’s an amazing two-day event leading up the Expo where you can take a deep dive into the fascinating self-tracking experiences, ideas, and insights from amazing individuals from around the world.  Your QS15 Conference ticket includes an Expo pass. Register now!


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QS15 Conference Program Preview

One June 18-20 we will be hosting our seventh Quantified Self Conference. The 2015 QS Conference and Exposition is going to be unprecedented gathering of users and makers of self-tracking tools. Thanks to the remarkable creativity and generosity of people coming from around the world to share their knowledge, we’re going to explore a remarkable range of ideas and tools from the world of the Quantified Self. We build our program entirely from the proposals submitted by attendees, and we’ve been astounded by the amazing self-tracking projects, personal stories, discussion topics, and companies that have stepped forward to contribute.

Today we’re publishing our first program list for the 2015 QS Conference and Exposition. Already we have over 90 different sessions on our program; and there are more to come! We are grateful to each and every one of the individuals who are taking the the time to help shape and expand the QS community through their experiences and insights.

Below are just a few previews. For much more, check out our full list of the initial confirmed program sessions.

(And, of course: Register now!)


Show&Tell Talks

Mark Wilson
The number of emails in my inbox correlates very well with my stress level. After passively tracking this number for three years, I explore what this and other data says about how I’ve controlled (and been controlled by) this stream of angst.

Francois-Joseph Lapointe
My wife and I have tracked our microbiomes in an attempt to assess the complex dynamics of bacterial communities living in two bodies in close contact. We sampled oral, anal, urethral and vaginal microbiomes to see what changes occurred.

Damien Catani
In 1998 I started logging dreams in an effort to reconstruct my life after an intense teenage crisis. 17 years and 5,782 dreams later, I’ll share the surprising findings made during this quest to rationalize irrationality.

Maggie Delano
I was diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome last September and had to give my brain a break from cognitively stimulating activities. I’ll discuss how I tracked my progress toward recovery.


Alexander Senemar
We’ve developed a standardized rating system in which we rate the privacy policy and terms of service of Quantified Self services. We’ll use our results to open a general discussion of the mostly unread contract terms governing data access and privacy.

Jakob Eg Larsen, Edison Thomaz
The experimental nature of self-tracking means that failures are inevitable. We will discuss challenges in self-tracking, experiences from self-tracking that took a different direction than anticipated, and the lessons learned.

Alexandra Carmichael, Richard Sprague
Today it’s possible to get data on the microbes that live in our gut using personal genomics. We’ll lead a breakout workshop on understanding and hacking our microbiome.

Lunchtime Ignite Talks

Morgan Friedman
By tracking and comparing baby milestones, we can find interesting and important patterns and correlations. Applying quantified self principles to babies is letting us create a movement to use data we collect to learn how to help kids grow healthy. We’ll discuss data, patterns, and surprising parenting advice we’ve learned.

Jamie Williams
Jamie will show us how he is building tools to capture a timeline of his daily activities and explore his habits through data visualization

Office Hours

JD Leadam
We create Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation devices for consumers. These devices are able to dramatically influence changes in cortical excitability in the areas of the brain that are targeted. We’ve found numerous customers use our products after quantifying their life and determining what they want to improve on.

Bethany Soule, Danny Reeves
Beeminder is Quantified Self plus commitment contracts. It graphs your progress on a Yellow Brick Road to your goal and if you go off track, it charges you!

Cara Mae Cirignano
We are a web-based platform for networked randomized experiments. Our goal is to bring the power of randomized experiments to a wider audience.

Aaron Coleman
My company helps researchers use Fitbit data to make discoveries in public health and behavioral science. Stop by and I’ll show you how.

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Meetups This Week

Five Quantified Self groups are getting together this week. Singapore will focus on the future of “smart health.” Zürich will discus the use of accountability groups for reaching goals. Budapest will have a couple talks on using personal data for making decisions in a collaborative environment: Anna Naszádi of Misto will show how their tool can help to share the task load in a household and Tamás Varga will talk about keeping a shared budget.

I would also like to welcome the new groups in Princeton, Nashville, and Denver! If you live in the area, sign up!

To see when the next meetup in your area is, check the full list of the over 100 QS meetup groups in the right sidebar. Don’t see one near you? Why not start your own, just like Princeton, Nashville and Denver!

Monday, May 11
Singapore, Singapore
Oslo, Norway

Tuesday, May 12
Zürich, Switzerland

Thursday, May 14
Budapest, Hungary

Saturday, May 16
Denton, Texas

Photos From Last Week’s Meetups

Below are photos from Vienna, which wins the prize for “most picturesque views from a show&tell venue.” Photos courtesy of Anna Riedl.

If you attend a QS meetup, please post pictures of the event to the Meetup website. We love seeing them.

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What We Are Reading


A few notes up top here. First, if you haven’t yet checked it out please give our new QS Radio podcast a listen. We’d love to hear what you think!

Second, our QS15 Conference & Exposition is fast approaching. It’s going to be a wonderful and jam-packed three days of talks, sessions, and amazing demos. Our Early Bird tickets are almost gone. Register before Monday (May 11th) to get $200 off the regular price!

Now, on to the links!


Data (v.) by Jer Thorp. So many people in my network were sharing this over the last few days I had to give it a read, and I’m happy I did. Jer Thorp makes a succinct argument for turning the word “data” from a amorphous blob of a noun into a verb.

By embracing the new verbal form of data, we might better understand its potential for action, and in turn move beyond our own prescribed role as the objects in data sentences.

How Not to Drown in Numbers by Alex Peysakhovich and Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. In this great article, two data scientists make the case for “small data” – the surveys and rich contextual information from open-ended questions.

We are optimists about the potential of data to improve human lives. But the world is incredibly complicated. No one data set, no matter how big, is going to tell us exactly what we need. The new mountains of blunt data sets make human creativity, judgment, intuition and expertise more valuable, not less.

Data, Data, Everywhere, but Who Gets to Interpret It? by Dawn Nafus. We’ve been collaborating with Dawn and her team at Intel for quite a while, and we’ve learned a lot. Reading this wonderful piece lead to even more learning. Dawn uses this article to describe not only the community of individuals who track, but also why, and what happens when it comes time to interpret the data. (You can explore DataSense, the tool Dawn and her team have been working on, here:

Applying Design Thinking to Protect Research Subjects by Lori Melichar. Lori is a director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and recently did some work related to how institutional review boards (IRBs) function. For those who don’t know, IRBs are the groups/committee that evaluate the benefits and harms of human subjects research. Their process hasn’t changed much in the few decades, but the face of research has. In this short post Lori describes the ideas that came from thinking about how we might re-design the current system.

ResearchKit and the Changing Face of Human Subjects Protections by Avery Avrakotos. As mentioned above, research is changing, and one of the big changes we’re currently seeing is the use of mobile systems like Apple’s ResearchKit. It’s not all sunshine and roses though, the popularity and excitement that goes along with these new methods also means we have to think hard about we protect those who choose to participate.


I measured my brain waves and task performance on caffeine- here’s what I found by John Fawkes. John was interested in how much caffeine he should be ingesting to help with his mental and physical performance. In this post he details some of what did, how he tested himself, and what he learned about how caffeine, and how much of it, affects different aspects of his life.

The Quantified Self & Diabetes by Tom Higham. Tom was diagnosed with diabetes in the late 80s. In this short post he details some of the different apps and tools he uses to “get my HbA1c down to the best levels it’s ever been.”

2014: A Year in New Music by Eric Boam. I had the pleasure of meeting Eric recently in Austin and was blown away by his ongoing music tracking project. I’m excited to see this new report and learn a bit more about what he’s discovered.

Apple Watch Heart Rate Comparison by Brad Larson. Brad used a simple script to export the heart rate values from his Apple Watch and compare it to two different heart rate measurement devices. Above is a comparison with the Mio Alpha, and he also compared is to a more traditional chest strap and found the readings to be “nearly identical.”

From the Forum

Lady Data
S+ Device
Continuing posts on visualizing my weight workout data

This week on

QS Radio: Episode 2
QS15 Conference Preview: Katie McCurdy on Symptom Tracking with Spreadsheets

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QS15 Conference Preview: Katie McCurdy on Symptom Tracking with Spreadsheets

On June 18-20 we’ll be hosting the QS15 Conference & Activate Expo in San Francisco at  the beautiful facilities at the Fort Mason Center. This will be a very special year with three days of inspiring talks, demos, and discussion with your fellow self-trackers and toolmakers. As we start to fill out our program we’ll be highlighting speakers, sponsors, and attendees here. 

katie-mccurdyKatie McCurdy is a UX Designer and Researcher living in Burlington, VT. She also happens to have a few autoimmune diseases, and for the past few years she’s been fortunate to be able to focus her UX practice on healthcare. She is especially excited about helping patients communicate better with their healthcare providers, and she’s always experimenting with new and better ways of telling stories. A few years ago she created a visual timeline of her symptoms in an effort to tell a more concise and illustrative story to a new doctor. (It worked.) More recently, she’s been tracking symptoms in a spreadsheet in an effort to maintain control over them. Katie currently works with Open mHealth and the start-up Notabli.

Katie will be sharing her self-tracking story as part of our show&tell program, where attendees share their first-person accounts of what they’ve learned through self-tracking. Katie has been tracking her symptoms, medication doses, and other important health-related things in a giant spreadsheet for a year and a half. She call’s it her “Spreadsheet from Hell.”


In her talk, Katie will share insights that she’s learned from working with her spreadsheet including but not limited to: how she realized that she had chemical sensitivities; how she kept up with tracking for so long; how she got lazy and started entering incorrect data; and what she learned about her periods. We’re excited to have Katie joining us and asked her a few questions about herself and what she’s looking forward to at the conference.

QS: What is your favorite self-tracking tool (device, service, app, etc)?

Katie: Right now, I’m still using a spreadsheet most of the time for symptoms and related life things. It’s not my favorite, but it’s flexible and so far it’s the one I’ve been able to stick with the longest. I do keep Moves and Breeze on in the background on my phone at all times.

QS: What are you most looking forward to at the conference?

Katie: I’m looking forward to meeting and talking with the awesome people at the conference. I love the spirit of openness and experimentation in the QS community. I’m also looking forward to seeing what other people are learning about their health through tracking.

QS: What should people come talk to you about at the conference?

Katie: I’d love to speak with anyone who is interested in how health tracking can help with chronic illness. I’ve tracked symptoms and triggers on and off for about 3 years, and have learned some things that have helped me modify my behavior. I also have an interest in bringing health tracking data into a clinical setting and making it more useful for doctors and patients; that’s what I’m doing professionally with Open mHealth.

QS: What tools, devices, or apps do you want to see at the conference?

Katie: Anything that makes it easier for patients to gather data, and anything that makes it easier to make sense of data sets (heath or otherwise.)

QS: What topic do you think that Quantified Self community is not talking enough about?

Katie: I think it’s good to keep in mind that for most people, manual data tracking over long time periods is not very feasible – it’s just too hard. This is especially important for app developers to understand; even though the resulting data may be really useful, tracking is hard work. I personally have a love-hate relationship with it. I hope that the move to more passive data collection could result in more seamless data capture.

Katie’s session is just one of the many hands-on, up-to-date, expertly moderated sessions we’re planning for the QS15 Global Conference and Exposition. Register here!

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QS Radio: Episode #2


In our second episode of QS Radio we shake things up a bit. We start with a brief discussion by co-host Steven Jonas about his experiences using the SunSprite light tracker and what he’s been learning. Next up, we have a great Toolmaker Talk with Kevin Holesh, the creator of Moment for iOS. Moment is a self-tracking app that helps you track how much you use your iOS devices (iPhone or iPad). Lastly, we wrap up with a short discussion about some interesting news and tidbits about personal data, self-tracking, and quantified self. Links to everything we discussed are below. Enjoy!


Toolmaker Talk

What We’re Reading

Keep in touch with us! Follow along with your co-hosts on twitter: Ernesto Ramirez & Steven Jonas. Also stay up to date with What We’re Reading by signing up for our weekly email newsletter.

Don’t forget to register for the QS15 Conference and Exposition. If you’re interested in Quantified Self, self-tracking, and personal data there is no better place to meet expert users, advanced toolmakers, and learn first-hand through our may talks, sessions, and demos. Register now!

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