Topic Archives: Tool Roundups

Announcing: The Complete QS Guide to Self Tracking

One of the most common questions I get from people is, “do you have a list of all Quantified Self tools, or resources in a particular area, like heart rate variability or cognitive function?” We’ve been cobbling together a preliminary list of self-tracking resources over the past few months, but we are now very excited to announce that it will become a formal QS project.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pioneer Portfolio, which supports bold ideas at the cutting edge of health and health care, has awarded us a year-long grant, in partnership with Institute for the Future, to support the development of a complete online self-tracking resource guide. In fact, we are already starting to build the framework – which will allow each QS tool to be tagged, rated, and reviewed by the global QS community.

People interested in measuring their genetic predispositions, or sleep, or body fat, will be able to come to the guide to learn about the different tools available, interact with people who are measuring the same thing, and discover new ideas about how these observations can be useful.

Our colleagues at IFTF will also be researching the dynamics of this shared online resource as it evolves.

We are very excited about this project as a way to gather and organize all of our collective QS knowledge in one central place, for the benefit of self-trackers everywhere. We will post updates as the guide is built and let you all know when it is ready for your contributions!

UPDATE: The guide is now available at http://quantifiedself.com/guide

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Roundup: Lifestyle Tracking Tools

I’m starting to wonder – is there any aspect of life that cannot be tracked? This week’s roundup on lifestyle-tracking tools moves into deeply personal areas like sex life, baby’s sleep schedule, amount of drinking, menstrual cycles, meditation, and media consumption. Proceed with caution if you are squeamish.

It’s part of our regular tool roundup for the complete catalog we’re putting together of all the self-tracking tools out there. Please help us to make sure we include your favorite tool, your company, or your project. Self-promotion is allowed!

Here are all the lifestyle-related tracking tools we’ve found so far. Please let me know what we’re missing in the comments below, and please check our bigger list as well to check if your suggestion is already there.

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Roundup: Health and Medicine Tools

In advance of our next Bay Area Quantified Self Show&Tell meetup, which will have a Health and Medicine theme, this roundup post is on health- and medicine-related self-tracking tools. Blood pressure, genetics, medical test results, blood sugar readings, hormone levels, dietary experiments – if you have a self-tracking project, gadget, or app, we want to know about it! (And good news for all non-San Franciscans – we’ll be trying our first ever livestream of the event on January 11! Stay tuned for more info.)

This post is part of our regular tool roundup for the complete catalog we’re putting together of all the self-tracking tools out there. Please help us to make sure we include your favorite tool, your company, or your project. Self-promotion is allowed!

Here are all the health- and medicine-related tracking tools we’ve found so far. Please let me know what we’re missing in the comments below.

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Roundup: Lifelogging Tools

Lifelogging – the continuous capture of a large part of one’s life. Some people use paper journals, others sport wearable cameras, post status updates, or tap numbers into their smart phones. If you record your life or make tools to record lives, read on!

This post is part of our regular tool roundup for the complete catalog we’re putting together of all the self-tracking tools out there. Please help us to make sure we include your favorite tool, your company, or your project. Self-promotion is allowed!

Here are all the lifelogging tools we’ve found so far. Please let me know what we’re missing in the comments below.

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Self-Tracking Tools Review 4

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

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Self-Tracking Tools Review 3

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

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Self-Tracking Tools Review 2

This is the second article of a series where I review several self-tracking tools. I will go on a little tangent this week. To make it clear what I look for in different tools, I will discuss the different aspects of self-tracking tools to consider when making a selection. These considerations are based on my own experience tracking myself, feedback from users of tools that I’ve built, and from my research in human-computer interaction and personal informatics.

First thing to consider is what question about yourself are you trying to answer and would the self-tracking tool collect the right data to answer your question. For example, you might be interested in losing some weight. Your first thought might be to get a pedometer to start tracking your daily step counts. However, your physical activity (or lack thereof) is only one of the factors that might be causing your weight gain; your diet, how busy you are, stress, and other aspects of your lifestyle may also contribute. Determining what information to collect is critical because you will be spending significant time during the next week or two collecting data. You want your collected data to be full of insight. Here are some web pages to help you:

QS Tool Roundups:
Goals, Food, Fitness, Location

* Personal Informatics Tools:
The second thing to consider is how you want to collect the data. Data collection is one of the most time-consuming aspects of self-tracking, so you want to pick the tool that works best with your time constraints and comfort level. The following are some of the properties of devices or services relevant to data collection.

* Is the data manually-collected or automatically-collected? For example, your bank account and credit card history are automatically-collected. Mint and Quicken leverage these data and add another level of automation by combining all of your accounts into one interface. On the other hand, there are many many financial tools that require you to manually enter data, such as MoneyBook, GnuCash.

* Do you have to wear or carry a device? This aspect is probably domain-specific. You don’t need to wear a device to track your spending, moods, and electricity usage, but tracking physiological data such as physical activity, heart rate, blood sugar level, etc. require wearing devices everyday. Having to wear a device requires considering comfort, visibility, and robustness of the device. To illustrate the differences between devices, I will describe some physical activity tools with varying degrees of wearability:

** Heart rate monitors – These devices provide plenty of specific data about physical exertion, but you have to wear them around your chest, so you probably wouldn’t wear them all day. These devices are usually worn by serious athletes while training.

** Bodymedia SenseWear armband – This device also provides plenty of specific data about physical activity. You have to wear the device around your biceps, so it’s very noticeable even when wearing a long-sleeve shirt. This is another tool that you won’t wear all day long, but would be useful during training times.

** iPod nano – I mentioned this device in my “last review”:http://www.kk.org/quantifiedself/2010/11/self-tracking-tools-review-1.php . Its small form factor is ideal for tracking your physical activity all day. The device might still be noticeable clipped to your shirt or to your pants pocket, but it’s not too bothersome because many people carry their music players with them.

** Fitbit – This is the device that is probably the most inconspicuous of the 4 devices mentioned here. The device is even smaller than the iPod nano and can be easily hidden. Additionally, synching your data online is done automatically just by being near the Fitbit base station.

* Are you prompted to collect data? Most web sites where you manually collect data is voluntary. You visit the site on your own time and manually enter your data. If you want to minimize interruptions in your life, you may want this, but you definitely risk having sparse data. Some services provide alerts to prompt you to record. To illustrate the difference, I will use two mood tracking services: MoodJam and TrackYourHappiness.org. With MoodJam, you have to remember to go to the web site to record your mood. On the other hand, TrackYourHappiness.org sends you an SMS message 3-5 times a day. Since TrackYourHappiness is also a study that requires participation over several weeks, you will need to be patient with the service.

The last thing to consider is how you want to reflect on the data. There are different ways in which you can reflect on your data. The tool can provide visualizations or the tool can be more proactive by sending you alerts with suggestions and tips on what you should do. Here are some questions to ask about this aspect of tools (I will use electricity tracking tools to describe each aspect):

* Does the tool provide the necessary views into your data, so you can keep aware of what’s happening with you right now? For example, Kill-A-Watt has a display, so you can immediately see how much electricity an appliance is using.

* Does the tool provide the necessary visualizations to help you explore your data deeply and find insights into your data? Kill-A-Watt does not provide visualizations, but Holmes , the companion tool to Wattson, has visualizations to allow you to look at trends and patterns of your electricity usage over the past 28 days.

* Does the system provide alerts, suggestions, and tips based on your data? In addition to helping you track your energy consumption, WattzOn allows you to compare and discuss your energy consumption with others. The energy consumption tracking is not automated like Wattson, but the community aspect is helpful in getting suggestions and tips on how to reduce energy consumption.

I’m sure there are more things to consider when self-tracking, but this should be a good list to start with when starting your self-tracking regimen. Leave notes in the comments section for other considerations that you think are important.

More information
* Stage-based model of personal informatics system

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

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Roundup: Goal Tracking Tools

This is our first roundup topic by request! Michael Nagle, organizer of the Boston QS Show&Tell meetup, wrote to say that the founder of StickK is coming to speak at their next meetup. He asked if we could do a roundup of goal-tracking tools in advance of that, so here it is. Thanks Nagle!

It’s part of our regular weekly tool roundup for the complete catalog we’re putting together of all the self-tracking tools out there. Please help us to make sure we include your favorite tool, your company, or your project. Self-promotion is allowed!

Here are all the goal tracking tools we’ve found so far. Please let me know what we’re missing in the comments below. 


[Photo credit: lululemonathletica]

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Self-Tracking Tools Review 1

This is the first part of a series in which I will review several self-tracking tools. For each tool, I will highlight the features of the tool to help you track and explore data about yourself. There are two goals for these reviews: 1) we want to help users find the right tools for them; and 2) we want to encourage sharing of experiences with these different tools.

Zeo
Zeo is a sleep tracking device, which has two parts. First, there is a black headband that you wear around your head while you sleep. This headband contains the sleep sensors. From my own experience, the headband is comfortable to wear. Second, there is the base station that stores the data from the headband. The base station also serves as the primary way to see your data. In big digital letters, the display shows your personal sleep score or ZQ score and the amount of time you were in REM sleep, light sleep, and deep sleep. The base station can store your ZQ score for two weeks. If you want to look at your data in depth, the Zeo allows you to upload your data to your computer, where you can use visualizations to explore your data. To do this, you have to take the SD card from the base station and transfer the files to your computer. This can be tedious if you must do it everyday, but acceptable if you only want to look at your data on your computer once a week. The display in the base station is usually sufficient for getting a daily sense of your sleep quality. In addition to using Zeo as a way to track your sleep quality, you can also use it as a smart alarm clock. The Zeo will wake you up at you “natural awakening point” based on your sleep patterns.

More info:
* Zeo: How It Works
review1-zeo.jpg

iPod nano
I don’t know how many people know this, but iPod nanos have a built in pedometer. Using an iPod nano for step counting has several benefits. First, since most people carry their iPods all day, they can track their step counts all day. Second, the iPod nano’s small form factor is not a bother to wear. Just clip it on and you will hardly notice it throughout the day. Lastly, you can even keep listening to music all day while you’re exercising and the battery will still last all day.

Unlike the Nike+iPod sport kit, you don’t have to buy a specialized Nike shoe with an insert. However, if you already have a Nike+iPod sport kit, you can also use the kit with your iPod nano. At the end of the day when you’re done tracking your step counts, you can upload all your data to the Nike+ web site where you can set your daily step goals and check your progress. The web site also has social networking features, so you can share your physical activity information with your friends.

More info:
* iPod nano Features
* iPod nano Pedometer Review
review1-ipod-nano.jpg

Foursquare and WhereDoYouGo
FourSquare is a service that makes it easy for you to track the places that you go. You can “check-in” to places that you visit using your mobile phone, such as the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc. Foursquare describes itself as “a friend finder, a social city guide, and a game that challenges users to experience new things and rewards them for doing so.”

Did you know you can also use Foursquare to learn which places you frequent the most? Foursquare itself doesn’t have the interface to explore your location data, but Steven Lehrburger has created such an interface. Steven created WhereDoYouGo, a web site that visualizes your FourSquare checkins using heat maps. Heat maps are visualizations that use color to indicate frequency of visits to a particular location. Using WhereDoYouGo, you can easily find which places you frequent most often on a map. To use, just visit the site and follow the authentication process. While it’s a litttle complicated because you have to authenticate twice using Google and Foursquare, the visualization is worth it. When you generate your visualizations, check which neighborhood you “check-in” the most. Is it what you expected? Check for the outliers. Which places did you go that is off the beaten path? From what you see, which places do you think you should visit next? You can also share your visualizations by sharing the links generated by the service.

For developers who are interested in the how the service was created, Stephen has graciously provided the code on GitHub.
review1-foursquare-wheredoyougo.png

Last.fm and LastHistory
Last.fm is a music recommendation web site, but it’s also a great way to track your music listening habits. Last.fm has even created a word for the activity of tracking the music that you listen to: scrobbling. When you install Last.fm’s Scrobbler application, you can track the music that you listen to iTunes, Winamp, and even on your iPhone and Android phones. Last.fm provides an RSS feed, so you can share the music that you listened to recently.

Last.fm doesn’t provide an interface for you to explore your listening behavior in depth, but there are several tools that developers have created, which you can find at build.last.fm. In this review, I will highlight LastHistory, a desktop application that visualizes your music listening histories from Last.fm. Unfortunately, the application is only available on the Mac OS X. The application creates an interactive visualization to help you explore your past music listening patterns combined with your own photos and calendar entries. The tool has two modes: Analysis and Personal. In Analysis mode, you can look at your history in three dimensions: time, tracks, and genres. You can search, highlight, zoom, and get detailed information about your history. In Personal mode, you can explore your data along with your iPhoto library and calendar entries from iCal. This mode can help you reminisce about your past in more detail.
For developers who are interested in building applications with Last.fm, there is an API to access user data.

More info:
* Thesis on LastHistory
review1-lastfm-lasthistory.png

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

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Roundup: Food Tracking Tools

Screen shot 2010-10-25 at 8.56.18 PM.png
Given that the United States eats more average daily calories per person than any other country, it’s probably a good idea for us to track what we eat a little more closely. QS Amsterdam folks can sit this one out if you like! This week’s roundup is for food tracking tools.
 
It’s part of our regular weekly tool roundup for the complete catalog we’re putting together of all the self-tracking tools out there. Please help us to make sure we include your favorite tool, your company, or your project. Self-promotion is allowed!

Here are all the food tracking tools we’ve found so far. Please let me know what we’re missing in the comments below. 

Note: We’re looking for tools that were not already covered in the Fitness roundup (DailyBurn, WeightWatchers, etc already made that list.)
[Photo credit: Lauren Manning]

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