This Week's QS Meetups

If you’re interested in learning more about Quantified Self, meeting new and interesting people, and being inspired by unique self-tracking projects we invite you attend a local QS meetup in your area. This week there are nine QS meet ups planned all over the world. Follow the links below to learn more. You can also find the full list of the over 100 QS meet ups in the right sidebar. Don’t see one near you? Why not start your own!

Tuesday (7/15/14)
Southern Oregon Quantified Self  (Ashland, OR)

Auckland QS Show&Tell #6

Malta QS Show&Tell #2

Wednesday (7/16/14)
Dallas/Fort-Worth QS Meetup

Cincinnati QS Hangout #1

Triangle QS Meetup (Raleigh, NC)

Washington DC QS Meetup

Thursday (7/17/14)
Silicon Valley QS Meetup #12 (Mountain View, CA)

Melbourne QS Show&Tell #6

 

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What We Are Reading

Enjoy this week’s reading list. If you’d like to submit something for future What We’re Reading posts we invite you to get in touch!

Articles
Data Journalism Needs to Up Its Own Standards by Alberto Cairo. The influx of new data-based journalistic endeavors seems to grow by the day. In this great piece Alberto Cairo presents four suggestions for those practicing that art and science of data-based reporting.

Big Data Should Not be a Faith-Based Initiative by Cory Doctorow. The idea of “big data” as a miraculous fountain of new knowledge is widespread. In this article Cory Doctorow brings to light some of the major concerns about personal data and the true possibility of de-identification.

Data Privacy, Machine Learning, and the Destruction of Mysterious Humanity by John Foreman. This is a long read, but definitely worth the time. If you’re like me you’ll spend the next few hours (day?) thinking about yourself, the various companies and organizations consuming your data, and how your life may (or may not) be shaped by the information you willingly hand over.

Privacy Behaviors of Lifeloggers using Wearable Cameras [PDF] by Roberto Hoyle, Robert Templeman, Steven Armes et al. This research paper paper offers a good glimpse into the the concerns and real behaviors of people using photo lifelogging systems. This is an area we’ve previously explored (see Kitty Ireland’s great write-up about our lifelogging town hall at QSEU13) and we expect to continue discussing.

Show&Tell
Battery Life, 6mo Checkup By James Davenport. It may seem odd to have a post about tracking battery life from a laptop here in the Show&Tell section, but this is a really neat post. As part of tracking his laptop battery he also tracked his usage and led to some interesting data about his sleep. (Don’t forget to check out the post that kicked off his battery tracking.)

Bringing My Data Together by John T. Moore. John is on a journey of improving his health and being more active through self-tracking/monitoring. In this post he pulls together some of his most important data, but I also suggest reading his summary of how he got started with self-tracking.

Visualizations

carsharing
Seven Days of Carsharing by Density Design. Not exactly personal data here, but some beautiful visualizations based on one week of data from the Enjoy, a carsharing service in Milan.

aprilzero
Aprilzero by Anand Sharma. I stumbled on this website recently via the #quantifiedself feed on Twitter. The visualizations and interactivity on this personal data site are really nice.

LR_annualreports
Lee Rogers’ Annual Reports by Lee Rogers. Lee has been tracking different aspects of his life for more than three years. Since 2011 he’s put together Annual Reports detailing his personal data. You can view his 2011, 2012, and 2013 reports on his website.

From the Forum
Devising Experiments
Looking for a General QS Device
Masters Thesis: Self-Tracking Motivations
Greetings From Germany

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QSEU14 Breakout: Best Practices in QS APIs

Today’s post comes to use from Anne Wright and Eric Blue. Both Anne and Eric are longtime contributors to many different QS projects, most recently Anne has been involved with Fluxtream and Eric with Traqs.me. In our work we’ve constantly run into more technical questions and both Anne and Eric has proven to be invaluable resources of knowledge and information about how data flows in and out of the self-tracking systems we all enjoy using. We were happy to have them both at the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference where they co-led a breakout session on Best Practices in QS APIs. This discussion is highly important to us and the wider QS community and we invite you to participate on the QS Forum.

Best Practices in QS APIs
Anne Wright 

Before the breakout Eric and I sorted through the existing API forum discussion threads for what issues we should highlight. We found the following three major issues:

  • Account binding/Authorization: OAuth2
  • Time handling: unambiguous, UTC or localtime + TZ for each point
  • Incremental sync support

We started the session by introducing ourselves and having everyone introduce themselves briefly and say if their interest was as an API consumer, producer, or both. We had a good mix of people with interests in each sphere.

After introductions, Eric and I talked a bit about the three main topics: why they’re important, and where we see the current situation. Then we started taking questions and comments from the group. During the discussion we added two more things to the board:

  • The suggestion of encouraging the use of the ISO 8601 with TZ time format
  • The importance of API producers having a good way to notify partners about API changes, and being transparent and consistent in its use

One attendee expressed the desire that the same type of measure from different sources, such as steps, should be comparable via some scaling factor and that we should be told enough to compute that scaling factor. This topic always seems to come up in discussions of APIs and multiple data sources. Eric and I expressed the opinion that that type of expectation is a trap, and there are too many qualitative differences in the behavior of different implementations to pretend they’re comparable. Eric gave the example of a site letting people compare and compete for who walks more in a given group, if this site wants to pretend different data sources are comparable, they would need to consider their own value system in deciding how to weight measures from different devices. I also stressed the importance of maintaining the provenance of where and when data came from when its moved from place to place or compared.

On the topic of maintaining data provenance, which I’d also mentioned in the aggregation breakout: a participant from DLR, the German space agency, came up afterwards and told me that there’s actually a formal community with conferences that cares about this issues. It might be good to get better connections between them and our QS API community.

The topic of background logging on smartphones came up. A attendee from SenseOS said that they’d figured out how to get an app that logs ambient sound levels and other sensor data on iOS through the app store on the second try.

At some point, after it seemed there weren’t any major objections to the main topics written on the board, I asked everyone to raise their right hand, put their left over their heart, and vow that if they’re involved in creating APIs that they’d try hard to do those right, as discussed during the session. They did so vow. :)

After the conference, one of the attendees even contacted me, said he went right to his development team to “spread the religion about UTC, oAuth2 and syncing.” He said they were ok with most of it, but that there was some pushback about OAuth2 based on this post. I told him what I saw happening with OAuth2 and a link to a good rebuttal I found to that post. So, at least our efforts are yielding fruit with at least one of the attendees.

We are thankful to Anne and Eric for leading such a great session at the conference. If you’re interested in taking part in and advancing our discussion around QS APIs and Data Flows we invite you to participate: 

You can sign up for the QS Toolmakers List
You can take part in ongoing discussions in the API Forum Thread .
And lastly, you can comment on this particular breakout discussion here

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Justin Timmer: A Lazy Workout

Justin Timmer is a student in human movement science and a fitness instructor. He was interested in exploring what he could do to increase his strength. Rather then starting with a typical strength training program Justin wanted to test if isometric muscle contraction alone could increase his strength. This type of exercise involves just squeezing the muscles without using any weight. He even went so far as to only target one side of his body so that he could test against his non-squeezing muscle groups. In this talk, presented at the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference, Justin explains his process and the results of this 4-week experiment.

What did you do?
For four week, I was “squeezing” (isometric contractions) my muscles four times a day. I trained my right leg, abdominals, and right chest and arm.

How did you do it?
During every quiet moment during the day I contracted my muscles as long and hard as possible. I quantified my progress by completing maximum repetitions on a fitness machine every week.

What did I learn?
I learned that in four weeks I almost doubled my force on the right side of my body. But I also learned that this training was going too fast, I got a lot of issues with little unexplained pains in my legs, and rising fluids whenever I contracted my abdominals. Overall I learnt this was a very effective training that was very easy to implement in my daily life.

You can also view Justin’s slides here.

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Ellis Bartholomeus on Tracking Food with Photos

At the start of 2013 Ellis Bartholomeus decided to start keep track of her life. Since her friends were always asking about her eating habits (she was a consistent traveler and rarely at home) she decide to start tracking her food. Instead of entering in her food into a calorie counting app she started taking pictures of everything she ate. In this talk, presented at the 2013 Quantified Self Europe Conference, Ellis describes her process and some of the interesting things she learned along the way. I was especially interested to hear how these pictures served to act as “anchors” for other things going on in her life:

It became a great way to remember how I spent my days, where I was, with whom. These pictures are very clear reference, they work like anchors in my memory.  It is very joyful to browse through the month food-wise since dinner and breakfast are so often a social occasions, and I was reminded of great conversations and situation while looking at the picture.

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Jamie Aspinall on Learning From Location Data

Jamie Aspinall was interested in what his location history could tell him. As a Google Location user, his smartphone is constantly pinging his GPS and sending that data back to his Google profile. Using Google Takeout Jamie was able to download the last four years of his location history, which represented about 600,000 data points. In this talk, presented at the London QS meetup group, Jamie describes his process of using a variety of visualizations and analysis techniques to learn about where he goes, what causes differences in his commute times, and other interesting patterns hidden in location data.

You can also view his presentation here.

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What We Are Reading

We’ve assembled another great list of articles, posts, and other interesting ideas for you to enjoy.

Articles
Billy Beane’s Ascendant A’s Are Playing a Brand-New Brand of Moneyball by Will Leitch. I know what you’re thinking, “What’s an article about baseball doing in this list?” First, it’s about how the Oakland Athletics are using metrics to improve their team. And two, I was struck by the following:

“Instead, Beane and his front office have bought in bulk: They’ve brought in as many guys as possible and seen who performed. They weren’t looking for something that no one else saw: They amassed bodies, pitted them against one another, were open to anything, and just looked to see who emerged. Roger Ebert once wrote that the muse visits during the act of creation, rather than before. The A’s have made it a philosophy to just try out as many people as possible—cheap, interchangeable ones—and pluck out the best.”

Sounds a lot like our old friend, Seth Roberts, describing the value of self-experimentation - start small, do a lot of them, learn by doing.

Build Great Models . . . Throw Them Away by Mark Ravina. A digital humanities researcher makes the case for using data and statistical methods of modeling not to answer questions, but to come up with better questions. Really enjoyed the great examples in this post.

App data reveals locations, times and distances of Calgary’s runners and cyclists by Meghan Jessiman. A collaboration between RunKeeper and the local Calgary Herald newspaper led to some interesting findings and, of course, some activity heat maps.

A Digital Dose of Magic Medicine by Naveen Rao. Naveen connects the dots between the recent controversy surrounding Doctor Oz to the possibly misplaced hopes we’re putting in tools like HealthKit.

9-Volt Nirvana by RadioLab. This episode of the always interesting RadioLab tells the story of a journalist who was hooked up to a tDCS device for a sniper shooting exercise. The device helped her accuracy in the simulation, but then there was an unexpected after-effect. For three days afterward, the voices of self-doubt and self-abnegation receded from her consciousness. She talks about that experience directly on her blog. (Thanks to Steven Jonas for sending this one in!)

Tracking Sleep With Your Phone by Belle Beth Cooper. A great roundup here of iOS and Android apps you can use to track sleep. I especially appreciated the nice discussion of the current limitations of using mobile apps to track and understand sleep.

From Missiles To The Pitch: The Story Behind World Cup Tech by Melissa Block and NPR. If you’re wondering how FIFA is able to track the movement of individuals players during this year’s World Cup then this is for you. You can also check out all the data on FIFA’s website here.

Show&Tell
Productivity, the Quantified Self and Getting an Office by Bob Tabor. Bob works at home and was curious about how productive he really was. After using RescueTime he realized maybe he wasn’t getting the productive time he really need.

Basis to Roambi by Florian Lissot. Florian wanted to explore his Basis data. After using Bob Troia’s great data access script and some additional tools to aggregate multiple files he was able to create some great visualizations with Roambi and learn a bit more about his daily patterns of activity.

Do you have a self-tracking story you want to share? Submit it now!

Visualizations
losangeles-transport
How We Move in Cities by Human.co. It seems that making heatmaps based on movement is all the rage these days. Human has gone one step further than previous entries in this category by including motorized travel alongside cycling, walking, and running data. Don’t forget to check out the amazing GIFs as well.

cecinestunedataviz
This is Not a Data Visualization by Michael Thompson.

“[...] visualizations are not the data. The data is not the sum of the experience. We’ve been inappropriately using data visualizations as the basis for statements and conclusions. We’re leaving out rigorous statistical analysis, and appropriate qualifiers such as confidence intervals. It’s exciting that we’ve become more and more a society of pattern-seekers. But it’s important that we don’t become lazy and cavalier with what we do with those observations.”

MSFTdataviz
Reflections on How Designers Design With Data [PDF] by Alex Bigelow, Steven Drucker, Danyel Fisher, and Miriah Meyer. Researchers from Microsoft and the University of Utah sought out to understand how designers go the process of understanding data and creating unique visualizations.

Do you have a QS data visualization you want to share? Submit it now!

From the Forum
Best passive GPS Logger?
Quantified Baby
Android App for Self Surveys

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Alberto Frigo: A 36-year Tracking Project

AlbertoFrigo_RHand

“I’ve been systematically tracking my life since the 24th of September, 2003.”

A little over 10 years ago Alberto Frigo embarked on an ambitious project, 2004-2040, to understand himself. Starting with tracking everything his right (dominant) hand has used, he’s slowly added on different tracking and documentation projects. Keeping the focus on himself and his surrounding has helped him connect to himself and the world around him.

Beside the more technical challenges ahead, I have learned how much we can engage in tracking and quantifying ourselves. I have learned that I am what I track and in this respect what I track shapes my life. I believe that every individual can activate him or herself to record his or her life and create a playful engagement with an otherwise dull surrounding. In my opinion then, it is a very healthy commitment as it makes us more aware as well as more engaged with our everyday life.

At the 2014 Quantified Self Conference Alberto led our second day opening plenary, which focused on “Tracking Over Time.” We invite you to watch his talk and read the transcript below to learn about his plans for the next 26 years and what hear what he’s learned through this process.

Transcript
Good morning everyone and thank you for inviting me to this inspiring and well organized event! My name is Alberto Frigo, I am 34 years old, and I was born in a small village in the Italian Alps but I have spent most of my life abroad doing media research and living in Northern Europe, North America and China. Currently I live in Sweden where I have been systematically tracking my life since the 24th of September 2003. I clearly remember that day: it was very sunny in Stockholm, but I felt very frustrated since I was about to start a residency the following day and the wearable computer I had for two years designed to record my life was not working. I was walking through the city with my frustrations when I passed by a tiny store selling dusty photographic equipment. In the middle of it there was a brand new and tiny digital camera. I immediately gave up all my frustrations with the clumsy wearable I had so far been constructing, and just got that very camera to start photographing every object my right hand use.

It has been more then 10 years since I have started that project, to be precise today the 11th of May 2014, is my 3.882nd day I have been photographing every object my right hand uses. With this project, my idea is to track all my daily activities that I do through the very objects I utilize to accomplish them. In total, I have been photographing 295.032 activities, an average of 76 objects a day and one picture every 15 minutes, depending on how busy that day has been. I have also discovered that, if I keep up the project until I turn 60, I will have photographed 1.000.000 objects and could thus claim to have some kind of DNA code of my life, or at least of the core of my life as a mature individual. I like to see this code as made of a continuous sequence of repeating elements, the objects I use as the letters of an alphabet which can give rise to different patterns and understandings.

In this respect, I have embarked on a 36 years long project, from 2004 to 2040, and new kinds of self-tracking projects, or life-codes have naturally come about, mostly in order to compensate the photographic tracking of activities. After a few years, in 2005, I have also started to consider to keep track of myself looking at other perspectives and using different other media such as recording my dreams through writings and recordings the songs I listen to through musical notations. Additionally, I also started to keep track of my social surrounding and the weather. I thus ended up, for example, filming every public space in which I seat and keeping track of the wind when I am outdoor. At this point of time I am conducting 36 different projects to record my life… as many as the years I mean to undertake the project. 18 of these projects are actual tracking of either myself, or the surrounding or the weather and 18 of them are elaborations, like books, gadgets or exhibitions I make about them… not the least this very speech and other meta projects like a virtual memory cathedral I will present in the office hour section after lunch.

To give you an idea of what I am up to these days, I can tell you what I have accomplished so far. Beside recording 295.032 of my activities by photographing the objects my right hand has used with this camera, I have been tracking 12.360 dreams, 5.440 songs that I have heard and recognized using this phone to keep track of them, 620 portraits of new acquaintances using this camera, 285 square meters of discarded objects picked from the sidewalk using this pouch to collect them, 1.512 news of casualties, 15.660 films of public spaces where I seat using this video-camera, 7.560 drawings of ideas, 2.760 recordings of thoughts while walking alone using this recorder, 1.704 shapes of clouds and so forth. By the way this the USB where all my work is stored, always on me.

It was not immediate to be able to track so many things at once; I have learned that one has to start with something basic and simple and then add up to new perspectives and tracking technologies, preferably crafting his or her framework. “From one thing comes another” then but I am also interested to keep up all the projects, more as some sort of a challenge in addition to simply a tool to later make sense of my life. I feel in this respect like the character of a computer game, with a mission to accomplish and this is really my drive in life, conduct these 36 tracking projects till I am 60, in 2040 then, 26 years ahead of me. 26 years in which new challenges arise such as the fact that the technology I have been deploying, like my camera, is already out of production. Well, one ought to act providently and myself, I have got a box full of these refurbished cameras… so lets just hope the operating system now won’t change too drastically in the coming years!!

Beside the more technical challenges ahead, I have learned how much we can engage in tracking and quantifying ourselves. I have learned that I am what I track and in this respect what I track shapes my life. I believe that every individual can activate him or herself to record his or her life and create a playful engagement with an otherwise dull surrounding. In my opinion then, it is a very healthy commitment as it makes us more aware as well as more engaged with our everyday life.

Saying this however, I have to warn you that it is important to give priorities also in what we track. I mostly give priorities to the tracking relating to myself, giving less priority to other forms of tracking, particularly to those forms that are more dependent to the social surrounding and I cannot control. With these priorities in mind I am rather positive that I can succeed in my self-exploration and the exploration of the world through myself, sharing my experience as time passes by and new insights are gained. I really hope my ten years old experience and commitment can be of inspiration of you. Please feel free to approach me so that I can photograph you as my 621st new acquaintance. Thank you!

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Rain Ashford on Wearing Physiological Data

Rain Ashford is a PhD student in the Art and Computational Technology Program at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her work is based on the concept of “Emotive Wearables” that help communicate data about ourselves in social settings. This research and design exploration has led her to create unique pieces of wearable technology that both measure and reflect physiological signals. In this show&tell talk, filmed at the 2013 Quantified Self Europe Conference, Rain discusses what got her interested in this area and one of her current projects – the Baroesque Barometric Skirt.

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QSEU14 Breakout: Open Privacy

Today’s post comes to us from Laurie Frick. Laurie led a breakout session at the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference that opened up a discussion about what it would mean to be able to access all the data being gathered about yourself and then open that up for full transparency. In the summary below, Laurie describes that discussion and her ideas around the idea of living an open and transparent life. If you’re interested in these ideas and what it might mean to live an open and transparent life we invite you to join the conversation on our forum.  

LFrick

Open Privacy
by Laurie Frick

Fear of surveillance is high, but what if societies with the most openness develop faster culturally, creatively and technically?

Open-privacy turns out to an incredibly loaded term, something closer to data transparency seems to create less consternation. We opened the discussion with the idea, “What if in the future we had access to all the data collected about us, and sharing that data openly was the norm?”

Would that level of transparency gain an advantage for that society or that country? What would it take to get to there? For me personally, I want access to ALL the data gathered about me, and would be willing to share lots of it; especially to enable new apps, new insights, new research, and new ideas.

In our breakout, with an international group of about 21 progressive self-trackers in the Quantified Selfc community, I was curious to hear how this conversation would go. In the US, data privacy always gets hung-up on the paranoia for denial of health-care coverage, and with a heavy EU group all covered with socialized-medicine, would the health issue fall away?

Turns out in our discussion, health coverage was barely mentioned, but paranoia over ‘big-brother’ remained. The shift seemed to focus the fear toward not-to-be-trusted corporations instead of government. The conversation was about 18 against and 3 for transparency. An attorney from Denmark suggested that the only way to manage that amount of personal data was to open everything, and simply enforce penalizing misuse. All the schemes for authorizing use of data one-at-a-time are non-starters.

“Wasn’t it time for fear of privacy to flip?” I asked everyone, and recalled the famous Warren Buffet line “…be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful”. It’s just about to tip the other way, I suggested. Some very progressive scientists like John Wilbanks at the non-profit Sage Bionetworks are activists for open sharing of health data for research. Respected researchers like Dana Boyd, and the smart folks at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard are pushing on this topic, and the Futures Company consultancy writes “it’s time to rebalance the one-sided handshake” and describes the risk of hardening of public attitudes as a result of the imbalance.

Once you start listing the types of personal data that are realistically gathered and known about each of us TODAY, the topic of open transparency gets very tricky.

  • Time online
  • Online clicks, search
  • Physical location, where have you been
  • Money spent on anything, anywhere
  • Credit history
  • Net-worth
  • Do you exercise
  • What you eat
  • Sex partners
  • Bio markers, biometrics
  • Health history
  • DNA
  • School grades/IQ
  • Driving patterns, citations
  • Criminal behavior

For those at the forefront of open privacy and data transparency it’s better to frame it as a social construct rather than a ‘right’. It’s not something that can be legislated, but rather an exchange between people and organizations with agreed upon rules. It’s also not the raw data that’s valuable – but the analysis of patterns of human data.

I’m imagining one country or society will lead the way, and it will be evident that an ecosystem of researchers and apps can innovate given access to pools of cheap data. I don’t expect this research will lessen the value to the big-corporate data gatherers, and companies will continue to invest. A place to start is to have individuals the right to access, download, view, correct and delete data about them. In the meantime I’m sticking with my motto: “Don’t hide, get more”.

If you’re interested in the idea of open privacy, data access, and transparency please  join the conversation on our forum or here in the comments. 

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