Topic Archives: Meeting Recaps
A big part of what we do here at Quantified Self is support and promote our amazing meetup groups around the world. We have a wonderful network of meetups in over 70 cities in more than 15 countries around the world. We wouldn’t be able to post all the great videos and articles here on the Quantified Self website if it wasn’t for the meetup organizers and attendees coming together to share and learn about self-tracking and self-experimentation in warm and open environments.
Today we just wanted to highlight a few of the most recent meetups from around the world!
We have another exciting week of meetups coming up with events in Seattle, Stockholm, Phoenix, and Singapore. If you don’t have a meetup in your community and want to learn more about how to start one just let us know!
We had a great turnout at our last meetup in New York hosted at startup accelerator program Blueprint Health in Soho. Thank you to my co-organizers, Patrick Whitaker and Andrew Paulus , who helped pull together this recap. And thank you to the rest of my co-organizers Brian Gallegos, Mark Brooks and Konstantin Augemberg for helping out with another fascinating evening of demo and show&tell talks.
Our latest demo hour included five presenters with concepts ranging from behavior change to respiratory training. QS attendees mingled around tables and engaged in interactive discussions with five demonstrators, who had come to present some interesting and diverse initiatives.
Susan Alexander from app4Mind presented a mental model she created for behavior modification. Susan was inspired by her own experience, those of others, and the world’s wealth of research on change, growth, and how to change behavior. The model distills all of this down to four memorable principles, each word beginning with the letter M. Together, they serve as a “mind app” which she presented in illustrated form. Susan is planning to launch a new website by year’s end to serve as a platform for app4Mind.
Matt Stanfield demonstrated BagIQ, a platform he is developing to give people product-level purchase data and insight into spending habits. BagIQ renders detailed product-by-product, dollar-by-dollar analysis, and presents them in simple, digestible ways. The power is in taking that product level data and connecting it to personally relevant 3rd party data specific to each user’s health, diet, ethics, shopping. Matt’s demo culminated with sweeping discussions about potential applications and insights that could be derived from the data and it will be interesting to see how BagIQ develops.
Melody Wilding presented eCaring, a care management system that seeks to generate comprehensive, real-time behavioral & clinical data from a patient’s home. eCaring was developed to enable hospitals, healthcare providers & families to track & respond to conditions, making early intervention possible, reducing hospital readmissions, lowering care costs, & improving care quality for seniors & people with chronic conditions. eCaring currently has several programs underway with hospitals & for long term care management.
Anthony Ina demonstrated a prototype of HealthBoard, which was developed to allow active duty military personnel the ability to interact with their own personal health information and electronic medical records, and to offer healthcare providers better access to patients and their decisions. By integrating information design principles, HealthBoard seeks provides users with enhanced and streamlined access to information, making it less intimidating and easier to understand the impacts of decisions on health outcomes.
Bez Arkush demonstrated a device that can measure inspiratory and expiratory breathing. Different resistance levels support breathing measurements and exercises to be used in respiratory therapy and respiratory sport training. The device connects with iPads and creates a game-like environment while keeping track of your activity.
Following demo hour, we had six show&tell talks on guitar playing, lucid dreaming, salt sensitivity, exercise, headaches and the unconscious.
Exploring the Sleep Frontier – Lucid Dreaming with the Zeo
The evening started with Dave Comeau, a lucid dreaming enthusiast who described his experiments hacking the Zeo to help trigger lucid dreams. Although Dave had been experimenting with lucid dreaming for many years, the launch of the Zeo Sleep Manager gave him fresh insight into his sleeping patterns, specifically about when he entered the REM sleep states most conducive to lucid dreaming. Dave introduced resources like Zeoscope and Sleep Stream Online and told of his experiments using the Zeo extensions to trigger visual and auditory cues with hopes of inducing lucid dreaming, although they often backfired by waking him up. Following the presentation, there was an interactive Q&A in which the potential of other sensory cues was discussed (e.g. olfactory or gustatory cues like using X10 to trigger a Glade PlugIn). When asked what drew him to lucid dreaming, Dave said “I don’t know what the benefits of those are — except being awesome!”
Exercise and Consumption
The next talk was by Emily Chambliss, who had completed several months of tracking her consumption and exercise in a comprehensive, color-coded spreadsheet. When asked about the motivation behind this effort, Emily noted that she didn’t trust her own perceptions, which is why she needed to start tracking. Informed by her nutrition and activity tracking, Emily was able to strategize, set goals, and implement greater levels of self discipline into her daily life. Over time she learned that her behavior was surprisingly predictable, and clear insights emerged about her self-described “lack of discipline on weekends.” In response to audience questions about the scope and challenges of her tracking project, Emily clarified that she tracked “everything — including booze, which was painful” and was quick to note that “a shot of whiskey has 64 Calories, according to most sources.”
Midway through the evening, we heard from Greg Pomerantz on a self experiment he had conducted on salt sensitivity. Greg noted that health authorities generally recommend salt restriction, which is controversial since people have varying levels of sensitivity to salt that cannot be addressed by blanket advice. Greg raised one of the challenges that “you need IRB approval when you do experiments on humans — except, you know, when you do it on yourself.” Thus empowered with the administrative freedom of n=1 self-experimentation, Greg weighed himself every morning and deliberately varied his salt intake through three phases over a period of several weeks. Although Greg had conceived this experiment since his blood pressure was at the higher end of the normal range, he was surprised by his findings that he was not particularly sensitive to salt, and moreover that the only adverse consequences he experienced (e.g., impair thermoregulation) seemed to be caused by insufficient salt consumption. Since his experiment, Greg has made a point to add more salt to his meals to ensure sufficient levels of consumption. When asked if he had talked to his primary care physician about this, Greg smiled and said, “not yet, but I’m sure he would be interested.”
200 Hours of Guitar Practice in a Year
Jake Jenkins had always wanted to play the guitar, and he told an impressive story of pursuing this goal with the help of commitment devices and Beeminder. Based on his prior experiences learning kite surfing, indoor rock climbing, and downhill skiing, Jake estimated he would need to spend 400 hours deliberately practicing the guitar to be “good enough” and set a goal of practicing for 35 minutes every day for two years. After mixed results and missed practice sessions at the beginning, Jake grew interested in commitment devices and discovered the website Beeminder.com, which helped hold him accountable on a daily basis and achieve remarkable consistency with his guitar practice. Although Jake said at the outset that “[he] would classify[himself] as without rhythm,” he has been continuously improving through one year and 200 hours of guitar practice, which is evident by the videos he posts on YouTube every few months to show himself playing. Although Jake found self-tracking to be a powerful motivator, he learned that it isn’t always enough and can sometimes use the assistance of external commitment devices to stay on track. Jake’s talk was a compelling example of using QS concepts to motivate and manage his efforts to develop a challenging new skill.
Figuring out a Headache’s Source
The next presenter was Michael Wenger, who implemented a series of lifestyle experiments in response to some startlingly vague advice from a doctor. Prompted by chronic headaches, Michael had undergone an MRI which revealed a benign brain tumor. Extreme risks ruled out surgery as a viable option, so a physical simply recommended that Michael “make some lifestyle changes” to try to reduce the frequency and intensity of his headaches. With this sudden burst of motivation, Michael made some critical lifestyle changes including easing the pressure of academic overachieving by electing some pass/fail courses, improving his sleeping habits and eliminating all consumption of alcohol. Michael used various mobile apps to track relevant activities, and over the short term, Michael learned that the best remedy for an excruciating headache was “driving a car with the windows down while having a milkshake.” More importantly, Michael learned that “you can fix things” over the long term by tracking relevant measure to increase awareness of lifestyle choices and making changes to improve your condition.
Storyboarding the Psyche
The final talk of the night was delivered by Cliff Atkinson, who started with the question of “how do you quantify the unconscious?” Interested in exploring such tendencies as procrastination in the context of knowledge about the unconscious developed by the early psychoanalysts, Cliff took a remarkably visual approach to his self tracking by tracking his body, emotions, and thinking through the creative use of iPhone apps, including Insight Timer and Penultimate. By importing clip art in the shape of a body and a head, Cliff created a template where he would visually annotate his feelings and observations each day, and he could zoom out in Penultimate to see many days at once and reflect on the visual storyboard of his tracking activities over time.
The QS London meeting in October (#13) was full of interesting speakers and they’re now available in video form. You can find them all on the London Channel at:
The October talks include (in the order presented):
- Conference Roundup (Adriana Lukas). An Overview for Londoners of the QS Annual Conference.
- SnoreLab (Jules Goldberg). Jules talks about his new iPhone app for tracking and (hopefully) taking control of snoring problems.
- The Memome Project (Stuart Calimport). Stuart talks about his personal adventure in finding the most useful memes for health and wellbeing.
- Quantify my Brain (Ryota Kanai). Professor Ryota discusses his experiments with brain imaging and how his brain compares to others.
- Quantify my Emotions (Matt Dobson). Matt shares his knowledge about the quantification of emotions and shares some interesting current technologies as well as what he sees coming over the next few years.
Two weeks ago I threw a Quantified Self Meetup in beautiful downtown Louisville, and I’m writing this post, two weeks later because I’ve finally come down from the experience. We had a total of four speakers and 13 people show up to the recently renovated iHub co-working space. And I even convinced my mom to postpone her trip back home so that she could speak at it, too. Score. By all accounts it was a great night. If you missed it, check out the abridged recap below (and show up next time!).
Brushing Ain’t Easy
Our first presenter was my friend and long time Quantified Self Louisville aficionado, Alex Frommeyer. Alex has a local start-up that is building a blue tooth toothbrush called the BEAM toothbrush. The idea is to stick sensors into a toothbrush along with Bluetooth technology so that you can keep track of your or your loved ones (kids) brush strokes in a mobile application. Alex talked about the Quantified Self movement in general, the BEAM brush in particular, passed around samples and also spoke about the niche for oral care within QS. The talk was really well received, as I had to cut off the question period, and fend off my mom, who kept bugging me to see if she could get the hook up on a BEAM brush, so we could get to the next speaker.
Let Me Ride… My Personal Dashboard
I have to hand it to Nick Such, because he was really the force behind this meetup. Nick lives in Lexington but really wants a group like this to exist in Kentucky and I can’t thank him enough for helping put this event together. Not only is he a super cool guy, his presentation was super cool too… as he spoke of how he started measuring things by tracking the gas mileage he would get on an old beater he drove in high school and college. That love for efficiency later translated to him joining the Solar Car Team at the University of Kentucky, and ultimately to him tracking and creating a personal dashboard that he presented to the group. He uses the dashboard to track sleep, activity and food consumption, and I’m personally hoping that Nick comes back to speak again after having a chance to dig through his data with questions.
You’re a Data Customer
Next up was my old Humana Innovation Center comrade, Shane Regala, who I now owe a big favor. Shane won the unofficial “who’s wearing the most personal tracking devices at the same time” contest, coming in at four. He also handed out a copy of Ubisoft’s Yourshape Fitness Evolved 2012 Xbox Kinect game to a lucky winner that guessed the number of steps he took on a random Saturday as a volunteer soccer coach (the right answer was 18,000). Shane delivered a visionary talk that related his personal experience tracking his sleep with two small children in the house to the bigger picture of how tracking may be used by payers, to help us all lead healthier lives in the not so distant future. It was also great to get a peak at some of the projects Humana’s Innovation Center is working on, as well as soak in some of Shane’s abundant energy.
Last Night a Fitbit Saved My Life
Last but certainly not least, was my very own mother. My mom’s story is that she first felt symptoms related to Multiple Sclerosis in 1985, but wasn’t diagnosed until 1987. She is still able to walk and live a somewhat normal life, fortunately, and has a never give up attitude. But as you can imagine, it’s hard for her to stay motivated sometimes. As the story goes, my wife and I had purchased Fitbits for ourselves earlier this year and then bought one for my mom for Mother’s Day. We got her all set up before she flew back home to Minnesota and two weeks later, I received this E-mail from her in my Inbox:
I just had to tell you guys, I am so-ooo psyched(sp), I got my weekly results for last week, (5-28 to 6-3), I walked 20,724 steps, distance, 7.69 miles, and burned 10,303 calories. WOW!!!!! I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday, and I’ve lost 3 pounds since last time I was there. Not much, but dang, it’s a start. I told him my kids gave me the Fitbit for Mothers Day, and he thought that was great. I told him how motivated I am, because I can see the results, as I do them!! I told him I was thinking about getting a three-wheeled bike too, for exercise, and he really thought that was a good idea!!! I woke up at 5:30 this morning, and I laid there trying to decide, get up, or go back to sleep? I got up, got dressed and went for an early morning walk. I kept walking until I did a mile. My legs hurt so bad when I got home, I could hardly pick them up, but I did it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know for all you walkers, that doesn’t sound like much, but dang, dang, dang, I am so pumped up, I think I’ll go pull some weeds!!!! Love you all!!!
I’m man enough to admit that I cried when I read this the first time. Feedback loops are powerful.
But as we were looking through my mom’s weekly Fitbit summary E-mails, to put some slides together, we noticed something wasn’t quite adding up. She had been accepted to try out a new drug called Ampyra in June, and by her account it made her right leg, which had been giving her a lot of problems, feel great. However, her Fitbit summaries were curtailing month after month showing less and less activity. When she went to take the Ampyra follow up test, after using it for a month, the drug was deemed to not be helping her enough to warrant continued coverage. She had never looked at her Fitbit E-mails successively to notice that her activity had declined so much, so she was genuinely surprised to see the downward trend.
I personally thought it was super interesting that the Fitbit data didn’t necessarily support my mother’s conviction that this specific drug is helping her, and yet she still loves her Fitbit AND feels that she needs Ampyra because it helps her. A great paradox of the modern health care system. Flash forward two weeks and she has begun her Ampyra retest period, on her own dime, so that she may come to her own conclusions and either appeal a denied claim or move on to something else that correlates with an increase in both activity AND feeling good, but on her own terms. I personally think that is what the future of health care can and should look like in America.
Sidenote: My mother informed me that she is not a “public speaker” many times before the event… I’m extremely proud that she stepped out of her comfort zone to tell her story to a room full of strangers. Her strength and sense of adventure have inspired me more than she will know.
All in all it was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to the next one in the early 2013. Hope to see you there!
Do you have a recap from a Quantified Self Meetup you attended recently? If so, send links over to Ernesto and we’ll post them here!
At our last meetup in New York, we had a packed house at NYU’s ITP, one of our great supporters of QS here in NY. Thank you to my co-organizers, Ben Ahrens and Brian Gallegos, who helped pull together this recap for the blog.
Brad Hammonds and Stan Berkow gave a large-scale, real time demonstration of their web app StudyCure – an online platform that allows its users to create and run interactive experiments geared toward understanding their health in the best possible way. Each experiment is set up in an if…then… fashion (eg. IF I focus on breathing during the day, THEN I will be less stressed). This keeps experiments clean and simple and helps participants make meaningful use of their data that leads to positive change. StudyCure will eventually be able to compare your data with a range of population norms within a given experiment, giving you the ability to benchmark your results against the larger community.
Lead by Lisa and Dr. Mike Gerstenfeld, MD, along with their team of developers, Cloud2Health solves the problem of decentralized and disconnected health data from health & fitness apps and medical records. It does this by providing its customers with one centralized site which serves as “a single source of truth.” In an age of ever-increasing data streams, wouldn’t that be nice? A video presentation was given in a private demo room and projected on the wall while QS experts and enthusiasts crowded around. View their comprehensive video demonstration on the site!
Back in the main demo room, Kuan Huang and partners gave QS members a trial run on Feelytics.me – their iPhone app that allows you to log your ever changing emotional state and associate with your peers based on how they are feeling. The app is characterized by cute and expressive faces ascribed to each emotion and the ability to connect with others, centered on the feelings the faces portray.
Another and very different emotional state tracking platform was being demonstrated across the table by Dan Bretl. Emotish allows you to take a photo of yourself in a particular state (e.g., blissful, serene, calm, excited, etc.) and tag it accordingly. These labels then function a lot like hash tags on twitter and allow you to filter and search for photos of other users in a particular mood or mind state. This app offers a lot of potential and creative leeway for it’s users to search, follow, filter, crowd-source, and of course track their own patterns of emotional change as depicted by a photo journal.
Smart Diaper – this demo was just as cool as it is practical – one of those, “why didn’t I think of that” product ideas. Conceived and created by Yaroslav Fabishenko while taking a 4-hour car ride with his two kids in the back, the Smart Diaper harbors an embedded urinalysis patch that measures ketone bodies, ph balance, presence of certain proteins, and a host of other useful information for keeping on top of your babies health every time they… do their business. The diaper is linked with a phone app that lets you snap a picture of the test patch for the data to be logged and analyzed. Based on the analysis, parents may then, for instance, receive a message suggesting that their child be sent for a checkup or even a particular screening.
Following the demo hour, we had four inspiring show&tell talks.
Autobiography Through Quantification
Christian Monterroza was inspired by On Kawara, an artist that self tracked each day of the year through paintings and newspaper headlines. He wanted to do something similar with his life and asked himself the question, “How can I know if what I’m doing is wrong if I never track what I do?” So he started a regimen of tracking. He found himself using several tools but soon became fed up and created his own tool. He used On Kawara’s work as an example of changing the power of a simple time stamp. He started calling his own self tracking time stamps “self portraits.”
His tracking consisted of sending postcards to friends of the city he was in and recorded everywhere he went in that city. He took this concept and gave it a name, Wrkstrm. To help with this, he built a tool that did the monitoring for him. It’s an application on his phone that automatically tags when he’s in certain regions.
Christian gained a lot of value from his tracking. He learned that it’s not all about numbers. It’s about the perspectives his experiences provided. He learned that sometimes we record the wrong things. For example, we spend a lot of time tracking obvious moments but serendipitous moments are getting lost. He also learned that passive tracking is better than active tracking and that gamification doesn’t really help. In the end, he succeeded in optimizing his day.
I Shot Myself: 365 Days of Self-Portraits
Next up was Sharla Sava with her photo project. Her project was to take a photo every day. But the rules were that a) she could never miss a day and b) she had to appear somewhere in the photo. She added the photos to a group pool on Flickr and collected feedback from the members. She found that having an immediate and responsive audience is addictive. She wondered if her self portraits were just for her and not really for anyone else. But she learned that self portraits, while not very practical, are also not trivial. They can be a site for public dialog.
For example, she explored how the body functions in journalism to send a message. She discovered how certain gestures communicating different messages based on the reactions from the Flickr group. She began to explore and capture a state of mind that’s difficult to convey.
While self portraits may not be meaningless, a question she set out to answer is how do we quantify the meaning? She found that the numbers are related to external factors. For example, Flickr tracks views, etc. She was able to draw conclusions from this data, but it didn’t really allow her to measure meaning. This project ultimately taught her something meaningful about her connection to the world.
Audio Jack Sensor Hack
This was Joel Murphy’s second time presenting at QS New York and this time, along with Leif Percifield, they showed everyone a project to find a better way of getting sensor data into a smart phone or tablet. The basis for their project is that once the data is in there, you can do anything with it. But getting the data into these devices is sometimes difficult. In fact, it’s fairly easy if you have a large processor, but an 8bit processor like the Arduino doesn’t work very well.
Their goal is to create a cheap way to develop hardware that gets data to a phone or tablet easily. So they figured out a way to essentially turn speaker outputs into digital outputs (analog waves to digital). They created a mini-IDE on the phone where you can type in calculations and mine the raw data.
Joel and Lief are hardware hackers trying to get more powerful data transfer from sensors and other devices in a cheaper way. In the end, they showed a quick and dirty etch-a-sketch that displayed the power of their new device. Joel’s notes from the talk are at Phone Jack Hack.
Spaced Repetition: A Cognitive QS Method for Knowledge Acquisition
The final presenter of the night was another veteran of the Quantified Self circuit, Roger Craig. Roger presented on the concept of spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is not about how fast we learn, but how fast we forget. Roger described how Hermann Ebbinghaus, a quantified self pioneer, spent decades of time on memory experiments with himself and discovered what he called the “forgetting curve.” The forgetting curve says that when you remember something, you will forget it, but the decay gets flatter and flatter the more often you are exposed to it.
In the 1930′s, Cecil Mace developed the concept of spaced repetition. With this, you take the forgetting curve and create essentially an algorithm to ping yourself with a piece of information you’d like to remember. You then optimize this process of review. So some information is reviewed more frequently when you first learn it, but then it’s refreshed less often later on as you are able to show fast recall. The advantage of this process is that you learn where to ‘aim’ your learning based on the speed at which you can recall.
Roger has tried many applications to practice spaced repetition and currently uses Anki. He learned that it’s a great way for self trackers to optimize learning.
Last week we had over a 100 folks attend our 16th NY Show&Tell with a Demo Hour held on Tuesday, May 8th at an incredible space that was generously provided by Digitas, a digital brand agency that has watched and supported QS closely over the years.
DIGITAS LABS DEMO HOUR
Digitas Labs and Ben Ahrens assembled a fascinating group of QS members to share their stories, innovations and experiences in our first demo hour that had a real science fair feel. Some of the demos ran on some awesome touch screen devices provided by Digitas Labs. It started at 6pm with the following demonstrations:
Zack Freedman demos Optigon
Sandy Santra gave a lively demonstration of a truly unique DIY self-tracking system built for the iPad that not only charts psychological changes and their effects, but also provides users with full editorial control over data fields and allows them to customize their own personal experiments.
Kat Houghton, founder of ilumivu, displayed a wearable emotional state detector designed to empower people with the ability to tap into their own behavior and the behavioral responses of children with autism to help facilitate positive health and lifestyle changes.
Folks gathered in the Innovation Room as Alex Smith demonstrated his software called “Timebinder” which he designed to create visual timelines out of timestamped data — particularly useful for bringing asynchronous time series data from multiple sources into a single view for analysis.
Craig Dunuloff took spectators through a virtual blast into the past with his app Rewind.me. Where was that restaurant? How may friends were there? What did the gang do last night? This app allows users to get more value out of what they’ve done in their lives by aggregating data from other services such as Facebook, Foursquare, Tripit, Runkeeper, and more. It also lets you see and compare your activities to those of your friends and the world at large.
Amelia Rocchi gave QS members a behind the scenes look at InsideTracker – a web-based service that helps individuals optimize their overall health and performance by giving them a unique view into their personal biochemistry.
Christian Monterroza unveiled his time-tracking project that uses geo-fencing to passively track and organize daily activity. One of the most fascinating and helpful aspects of Christian’s app is that it allows the user to easily and personally allocate different regions of spaces for different activities, i.e., the park is for running; the freeway for driving; the living room for sitting; the grocery store for food shopping, etc. The app then takes over and auto-logs the activities based on its users geography. Fully customizable – NO LOGGING REQUIRED!
Zack Freedman (@ZackFreedman) was quick to draw a crowd with “Optigon” – a wearable wireless cyborg system that integrates with the user’s smartphone allowing him or her to access all data and keep it in plain site – even view nearby mobile user’s text messages, or as Zack puts it, “read people’s minds”! This awesome demo was every bit as impressive as it looked. Zack is currently seeking partners and investment to turn his devious device into the Arduino of wearables.
Following the demo hour, we had four inspiring talks from QS members of the NY community.
How analytics improved my personal life and helped a losing soccer team
Stefan Heeke has a background in analytics and wanted to start using this skill for three self-improvement projects.
The first project was measuring his physical health. He was using the Fitbit to track his activity. He discovered that it takes some time at the beginning but then eventually he discovered what works for him. Specifically, he identified three areas: don’t eat fried food, cut out snacks, and cut out alcohol.
The next project was a daily journal. He decided to write down numbers to better understand how he feels each day. He found that he could gather some very actionable data by correlating the right metrics with each other. His approach is to identify both a positive and negative correlation to the activity. For example, he would correlate stress, whether he had a successful day, or general feelings of satisfaction. He also tracked his commuting time. He wanted to figure out how his daily commute impacts his mood. He found that as his personal time available decreased, his food quality decreased and his television time increased. Overall, he found that a) social days are good days, b) proximity to work is important, c) stuff in general has no impact, and d) TV is a time killer.
The third thing he tracked is how to apply personal metrics to a soccer team. He tried to model the most probable outcomes for certain soccer scenarios in terms of likelihood of success. As a result of the tracking, the team made it to the finals of the soccer league.
Ultimately, Stefan learned that whenever you apply data, it has a transformative impact and if you want to improve your life, data can help. He was also surprised at the number of distractions he ran into and how much that had an impact on his life.
Jana Beck started her self-tracking journey with the goal of better understanding the impact of her diabetes. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 19 and has been dependent on synthetic insulin for survival since. Her problem is that dosing insulin is not easy and is not a one-size-fits-all thing. It requires a lot of adjustment and impacts people differently. She set out to better understand her diabetes and better optimize her glucose management.
She started using a continuous glucose monitor on the back of her arm last year. This device transmits blood readings every 5 minutes and she gets trend and rate of change information. She has a target goal of keeping her readings between 70 and 130 mg/DL.
Her first experience was shock and her next was frustration. She found it hard to change her patterns. So she developed a hypothesis and set out to test it. Her hypothesis is that she needs to restructure her carbohydrate intake. The first step was to read a book on the topic (Good Calories / Bad Calories by Gary Taubes). The next was to use her monitoring device to track how her glucose changed based on her changes in carbohydrate intake. Her conclusion is that a low carbohydrate diet had a significant impact on her readings.
To run her analytics, Jana built her own statistical analysis program using R that tracks daily percentages over time for each type of blood sugar reading (carb-restricted vs. regular diet) against a target. Her program is called iPancreas and is available on Github.
Her next step is to try and start pulling in other variables (exercise, mood, etc.) to see how this changes her patterns. Ultimately, Jana’s self tracking project taught her how to best eat so that she can control her diabetes.
Walk all of Manhattan
Alastair Tse recently moved to NYC six months ago to work at Google. He hadn’t spent much time in NYC previous to moving here and wanted to better discover his new home city. Each day he commutes from 27th St. to 14th St. in Manhattan. One day he was trying to figure out the optimal route to work and wondered how many patterns are there to get from point A (home) to point B (work). He further extrapolated on this idea to see if it’s possible to walk all of Manhattan, and track it.
He started by writing down his walking experience in a notebook and just using general Google Maps. This turned out to be a bad idea because it wasn’t scalable and Google Maps can be buggy. So he built his own mapping app that uses Google Maps but allows him to map his own routes. The app tracks the streets he goes down and allows him to edit each route. It then tracks the routes he takes and shows his walking history.
He learned that it was possible to track something like where in a city a person walks and it’s very useful. In fact, he found that he hadn’t walked one square block north and one square block south of his apartment, much to his surprise. It got him to wonder, what other areas of the city is he often near, but never explored. The app helped Alastair adjust to living in a brand new city and has given him some ideas for places he wants to eventually explore.
How visualizing health problems could help solve medical mysteries
Katie McCurdy is an interaction designer with Myasthenia gravis, an auto-immune disease that causes muscle weakness in voluntary muscles She’s had it for 20 years and has been taking a drug to help the disease. She decided to take an alternate route and consult a holistic doctor. This was a new doctor so she was very motivated to make sure this new doctor understood her entire 20 year history with the disease. So she decided to make a timeline, from memory. She drew a timeline that included when she was feeling good and when she was feeling bad. She annotated the timeline for when she took certain drugs.
Initially, this was all drawn by hand. But as she worked on it, she decided to digitize it. So she next built the timeline into Adobe Illustrator so the graphs can be more accurately represented.
But it wasn’t enough to see all of her mood timelines separately. She wanted to overlay them so when symptoms go up and down, she can see how they are associated with each other.
Two variables she tracked were gut feelings (physical) and voice strength. These are two areas in which the muscle constriction has a high and very noticeable impact. This experience has helped her tell her story in a structured and coherent way and for that reason, this entire project has been helpful.
She learned that antibiotics were probably making her sicker, that docs are busy and probably skeptical of yet another patient created graph, that better health visualizations can be a great storytelling tool, and that memories are data too. Ultimately, she ended up being inspired and is currently doing more focused tracking in other areas of her life.
See our interview with Katie in an earlier QS post here.
Thanks to everyone who came out. We’ll get the videos up soon. See you this summer at the next NY QS Show&Tell.
Last Thursday, twenty people gathered in Beirut, Lebanon for the first QS meetup there. It was organized by the wonderful Hind Hobeika, and had presentations by a biomedical engineer studying human motion and a competitive outdoor sports enthusiast, as well as talks about a data analysis project on cortisone and tracking blood coagulation rate. Some pictures from the event are included below, and here’s a write-up of the event. Exciting!
The QS Meetup on March 13th in Mountain View was great fun, and covered a variety of topics ranging from nutrient tracking, classifying large archives of footage, quantifed-mind.com, and pH tracking, and newly disclosed interventions for mitigating the emotional knots associated with stressful events.
The meeting began with a round of introductions in which people described some of their areas of expertise, research, and curiosity. It ended with smiles on everyone’s face.
The discussion quickly moved to interest in a recent Wired article, which suggested it was possible to mitigate the emotional impacts of traumatic memories. Some discussion pondered to what extent this intervention actually erased the memories themselves, rather than the emotional knots associated with it. In this procedure, participants were actively encouraged to recall some debilitating stressful event such as a war time tragedy or familial abuse, while under the influence of this chemical concoction.
Ryan B said that a number of important new chemical interventions were being developed showing promise in reducing the brain plaques commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Ensuing discussion also considered the possibility that other chemicals such as MDMA may have similar promise in releasing the emotional knots associated with trauma. Alex Grey pointed out that long term effects on down-regulating brain chemical receptors has to be considered, as some chemical interventions like MDMA can lead to a deficit in the neurochemical receptors for serotonin or oxytocin that promote happiness.
It was also suggested that the use of humor may be a non-chemical intervention capable of the same effect. One viewpoint is that any given set of facts can be written as a drama, tragedy, mystery, or a comedy. Perhaps communications-oriented processes that help to see the humor in terrible tragedies may also help to relieve the emotional knots associated with trauma. However, the use of these sorts of techniques in American culture may be challenging to adopt, owing to a propensity to take ourselves too seriously.
Yoni Donner discussed his new research with http://www.quantified-mind.com/, which is a free web app for measuring a number of aspects of intelligence. He said the app takes about fifteen minutes to establish a baseline, and allows participants to track how different aspects of their cognitive performance change over time. He said that care was taken to minimize training effects, so that the tool is better able to track other interventions, training, nutrition, or environmental factors on various types of intelligence.
He noted that they decided to keep the interface as simple as possible so that it could be easier to use. Although the use of sophisticated brain tracking was considered, it was not included owing to the relative paucity of deployment and the logistical challenges associated with setting up and using existing brain training equipment.
Phil von Stade discussed his interest in deriving some meaning, doing research on, or creating art from the 20,000 feet of archived family movies, and thousands of hours of video recordings he has, dating back to the 1950s. In addition, he has also shot several gigabytes of his own picture and video logs. He pointed out that the sheer size of the dataset makes it difficult to find or organize content in a useful way. Some efforts have been made to create slideshows and stories from this archive.
Tools which are automatically able to tag content with metadata such as participants, date, emotional patterns, behavioral data, or even physiological data might be useful in helping to better index such an archive.
There was also some discussion about the use of pH data from urine and other bodily fluids as a marker for other changes in the body. Steven Fowkes said that tracking pH was good for indentifying various physiological states associated with inflammation, leaky-gut syndrome, and other health effects. Some practical considerations were noted with existing measuring techniques, which require one to hold a strip in front of a stream of urine and disposing of this without creating a mess. A pH sensor mounted in the toilet with a Wi-Fi connection could solve these challenges, and provide a potentially reliable, no-touch measurement system for health research.
This led to a discussion on some of the challenges associated with current limitations in describing food. As it stands, many tracking systems might consider wheat from different sources, production processes, and species as identical, while each may have wildly different cooking and health effects, noted Raj. For example early research suggested that high-meat diets were leading to high-level of cholesterol and fatty deposits in the late 1960s. Follow up research suggested that it was in fact a growth in the consumption of grain-fed cattle that were causing these effects.
There are also curious discrepancies and changes in the nutrient database compiled by the USDA, which is often used by tracking programs to estimate the nutritional composition of various foods. For example, the average levels of calcium for the same portion of kale and calcium dropped 10-fold between 1980 and 1990. Perhaps improvements in the farm-to-fork databases now being mandated in the US could help to rectify these discrepancies.
On February 7th, 2012 there was an amazing “meeting of the minds” at CALIT2 down in San Diego, CA. The local San Diego Quantified Self meetup group working in collaboration with CALIT2, the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems, and the West Wireless Health Institute brought together Gary Wolf (Quantified Self founder), Larry Smarr (CALIT2 founding director), Dr. Eric Topol (Scrips Translational Research Institute director and world-renowned digital health evangelist), and Dr. Joseph Smith (Chief Medical Officer of the West Wireless Health Institute) for a great panel discussion. As you’ll see and hear below, it was a lively discussion surrounding the topics of Quantified Self, personal health, the future of the medical profession, and patient-provider communication. There was also a great round of questions from the audience (and twitter) and I highly suggest you stick around to hear the very last question!
Special thanks to CALIT2 for filming and editing the event video. You can find more videos from CALIT2 on the their Youtube channel here.