Topic Archives: What We’re Reading

What We Are Reading


Smelling Food Makes You Fat by Robert Sanders. The late Seth Roberts, an influential contributor to the QS community and prodigious self-experimenter, wrote a book called the Shangri-La Diet based on radical weight regulation ideas stemming from his observation that his body seemed to treat calories from familiar sources differently. The germ of his theory came from a trip to Paris, where Seth found that he lost his appetite, and subsequently a good deal of weight, while trying a variety of sodas that, for him, had novel flavors. This seemed odd, given the calorie content. With further testing of his hypothesis, he theorized that the brain associates flavors with calories and will store calories from familiar flavors and burn calories from unfamiliar flavor sources (you can get his book or read this paper to get a full explanation of the theory and why the body would function this way). Related, he found that consuming flavorless calories in the form of extra light olive oil caused him to lose weight. This was a completely new model of weight regulation that, frankly, most people didn’t know what to do with. But this recent study from UC Berkeley seems to validate aspects of Seth’s theory. Scientists found that they were able to help obese mice lose weight by knocking out their sense of smell. Mice who still had their sense of smell ate the same food and increased in size to twice their starting weight. It’s an incredible example of the ability of self-experiments to create novel insights through accurate and tenacious observation. -Steven

“Mysteries in Reference Lists by Martin Fenner. Since we spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to get things right in recording measurements, communicating what we’ve done, and helping others do the same, we’ve come to enjoy a deep respect for how difficult it is create an accurate, explicit recitation of the steps involved in any action. There’s just so much ambiguity in what we say — and also so much tacit knowledge in what we do. But some things are much simpler than others: for instance, academic citations. There are only a few possible elements: Title, Author(s), Date, Journal Name, Volume, Issue, Page(s), DOI, URL, plus some specialty reference elements available to ultra-professionals when needed. You’d think that almost nothing could go wrong. That’s why I enjoyed this post by Martin Fenner so much: Even in the simple case of citations created by scholarly professionals, mysteries are common. -Gary

Evidence Based or Person Centered? An Ontological Debate by Rani Lill Anjum. This is a descriptive account of philosophical differences between two common ways of thinking about how we get sick and what we can do to improve our health. But for me Anjum described a deep underlying antagonism between two different philosophies of care, which helps me understand terrain I’m on when struggling with scientific and medical criticism of Quantified Self practices. I’m going to see how it works to address these criticisms not only as pragmatic doubts about QS methods but also as strong – if implicit – philosophical freak-outs. -Gary

Self-Tracking Induced Sleep Anxiety by Kelly Glazer Baron, et al. This one is presented without comment, but there’s a QS Forum topic started here: “Orthosomnia”. -Gary


My Scars by Ellis Bartholomeus. Ellis has taken a quantitative and thoughtful look at the form and meaning of the physical scars she has accumulated. She walks through a map of decades’ worth of scars and how she turned it into data, finding that when she added the lengths of her scars, the total is over a meter. -Azure

Max’s Vocabulary Acquisition by Nick Winter. Nick tracked the first 100 to 1000 English and Chinese words that his son learned through the first two years of his life. Comparing his son’s acquisition rate to other prominent examples, he found that his son’s progress appears to be rather linear. Nick also made Max’s Vocabulary data to look at yourself. -Steven

Fight For Your Right to Recess by Cantor Soule-Reeves. At Cantor’s school, recess is cancelled whenever it rains, an issue since he lives in Portland, Oregon. He wanted to make a case to the administrators that this policy is negatively affecting his activity levels by tracking his steps and comparing days with and without recess. -Azure

What I Learned from Weighing Myself 15 Times in a Day by Beth Skwarecki. If you are tracking your weight, a common and prudent piece of advice is to weigh yourself the same time every day. Since our weight fluctuates throughout the day, by taking a measurement at the same time, you reduce the amount of randomness in the result. However, what is not often explored is how much weight actually fluctuates during a day. In this example, the swing was over 8 pounds. -Steven (thanks to Richard Sprague)

Tracking Sleep and Resting Heart Rate by Jakob Eg Larsen. Jakob has tracked his sleep and resting heart rate (RHR) for the past four years. By tracking his RHR over a long period of time, has allowed Jakob to develop an intuition for connections between his RHR and physiological state. He has seen multiple times, for instance, that his resting heart rate will increase because of a coming flu before the onset of any other symptoms. -Azure

Data Visualizations

rplacer/place Atlas by Rolan Rytz. On April Fool’s Day this year, Reddit tried an incredible community art experiment called r/place where every user is allowed to change only a single pixel every five minutes on a digital 1000×1000 canvas. The resulting 72 hour timelapse is an entrancing drama as various subreddits fought for space to have their imagery placed on the canvas. The reason I’m mentioning it now is that I recently came across an attempt to tell the story of this project by annotating all the images that showed up at r/place: what subreddit was behind the image, was there a conflict over that space, what new imagery arose from it, and what compromises were made between two warring factions (the r/France-r/Germany compromise was excellent). The atlas contains nearly 1500 entries. -Steven

C6PnLL8U4AAJEZZ#tabtQS 1: RescueTime in Tableau by Tim Ngwena. This novel visualization shows app usage over a three year period. For Tim, I’m sure that there are all sorts of stories embedded in the increased or decreased usage of certain applications during certain time periods. In the link, Tim walks through the workflow for creating this chart. -Steven

Pasted image at 2017_07_12 07_52 AM (1)Activity Levels Around the World. This visualization is from a paper exploring “activity inequality” and comes 717,527 individuals’ smartphone data with over 68 million days of activity. -Steven (thanks to Richard Sprague)

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What We Are Reading



His Doctors Were Stumped. Then He Took Over by Katie Thomas. David Fajgenbaum, a medical student, discovered that he had Castleman disease, a hard-to-classify condition that sits between cancer and immune disorder which kills a third of patients within five years of diagnosis. Like most rare diseases, he found very little about it in the literature. It’s hard to fund research for a disease that affects so few (though legislation like the Orphan Drug Act helps). Fajgenbaum was tenacious in doing his own research and was willing to experiment on himself. By keeping copious records of his condition, including the T cell and VEGF levels in his weekly blood work, he may have made a breakthrough. Again, this breakthrough may help a small number of people, but here’s the thing about rare disease: there is a lot of them. According to the article, 10 percent of the population are afflicted with one of 7,000 rare diseases. With a group that large, we need alternate methods for doing research that does not rely on large sample sizes. -Steven (Thanks to Gwern)

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge by Abraham Flexner. Princeton University Press has just reissued this classic essay by the founder of the Institute for Advanced Study, with a new companion essay by the physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf. I’m going to buy the book, but you don’t have to do that to read the original essay, with it’s terribly relevant opening paragraph: “Is it not a curious fact that in a world steeped in irrational hatreds which threaten civilization itself, men and women – old and young – detach themselves wholly or partly from the angry current of daily life to devote themselves to the cultivation of beauty, to the extension of knowledge, to the cure of disease, to the amelioration of suffering, just as though fanatics were not simultaneously engaged in spreading pain, ugliness, and suffering?” -Gary

Total recall: the people who never forget by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie. This article looks at a small group of people with an ability called highly superior autobiographical memory. These are people who can recall, with amazing clarity, specific details from every day of their life. It’s a fascinating read, but there are two details that I want to make special mention of. One is that this doesn’t a special talent people are born with, but, rather, it was a conscious decision they made early in life. The second is that this group has certain mental habits that I recognized from my attempt to memorize days from my daybook. Unlike most people, they actively organize their memories, tying them to the calendar. For instance, they can cycle through memories to figure out their favorite Tuesday. Memories exist in relation to one another in time. Another is that they keep the memories and their relationship between one another alive through constant repetition throughout the day. This suggests to me that with spaced repetition systems, one could train themselves to have a similar ability to remember their life. -Steven

What Happens When You Mix Java with a 1960 IBM Mainframe by David Cassel – This short, amusing piece about the improvisational talent of government fix-it artists, focused on an engineer for the US Digital Service named Marianne Bellotti, describes how they manage to connect ancient databases to modern web services, using methods that will mostly remain undocumented for the protection and safety of all concerned. As Bellotti says: ““The systems that I love are really the systems that other engineers hate,” Bellotti told the audience — “the messy, archaic, half chewing gum and duct tape systems that are sort of patched together. Fortunately, I work for the federal government, so there’s really no shortage of things like that for me to play with.” -Gary

When Things Go Missing by Kathryn Schultz. There are two types of loss that I hear described by people in the Quantified Self community. The first is the loss of existing data from, say, a corrupted hard drive, or a service that folds without notifying it’s users and allowing them to download their data. The other type of loss is the missed opportunity to track something that is now in the past. Not just the steps missed by a dead fitbit, but sleep before consumer sleep trackers existed. It’s a bit odd that the same emotion is invoked by two very different situations. In this essay, Schultz explores the concept of loss, from the trivial to the life altering. It seems to be our nature to hold on to things. Life logging could be seen as a desperate pencil rubbing of experiences before they pass. As Schultz puts it, “When we are experiencing it, loss often feels like an anomaly, a disruption in the usual order of things. In fact, though, it is the usual order of things. Entropy, mortality, extinction: the entire plan of the universe consists of losing, and life amounts to a reverse savings account in which we are eventually robbed of everything. Our dreams and plans and jobs and knees and backs and memories, the childhood friend, the husband of fifty years, the father of forever, the keys to the house, the keys to the car, the keys to the kingdom, the kingdom itself: sooner or later, all of it drifts into the Valley of Lost Things.” -Steven

Design Beyond the Numbers by Elisabeth van Dijk & Wijnand IJsselsteijn. This paper from the Eindhoven University of Technology is an astute examination of the motivations of self-trackers when they share their data over social media. Despite a reputation of oversharing, most people are careful of what, how and to whom they share their personal data. We are considerate about wasting other people’s time with low-value content and look to find “true peers” for whom the information has greater relevance and less likely to be rebuked. This is an important read for any QS toolmaker for building tools that help people get more from their data by sharing it effectively. -Steven

Show & Tell

This Is What Happens to Your Body on a Thru-Hike by Kyle Boelte. Kyle was already in good shape, but then he hiked over 486 miles on the high-altitude Colorado Trail in just under a month and compared his blood work before and after. Looking at body composition, resting heart rate, blood sugar, cortisol, and testosterone, the results moved in the expected direction, but the degree of change is still astounding. One metric that was new to me is the crossover point for heart rate where fat and carbohydrates are burned equally (As one’s heart rate increases, a greater percentage of carbs is burned). Kyle’s crossover point went from 153 beats per minute to 168. As Kyle joked to his wife, “I should start a business called 8-Hour Abs. Really, just eight hours a day is all it takes!” -Steven (Thanks to Richard Sprague)

Train for Strength or Endurance? by Laila Zemraini. Laila wanted to see if she benefited more from endurance or strength-based exercises. She alternated focusing on each category and looked at the rate of progress. In finding that she responded better to strength-based exercises, she found evidence for why that would be in her 23andMe data. -Steven

Finding out more about me, for free! by Matt Macdonald-Wallace. Matt was uncomfortable with entrusting his QS data to a “corporate organisation who could potentially profit from it”. He shows how he set up his own personal data server with a dashboard by using Connector DB, which bills itself as a “open-source platform for Quantified Self and IoT.” -Steven

College Performance by Tiffany Qi. When Tiffany started college, she assiduously tracked how she spent her time in Google Calendar. Now that she’s graduated, she looks at how the way she spent her time changed over the course of four years and the impact it had on her grades.

Data Visualizations

image (6)Gerrymandering in NC, or, A Tale of Two States by Jeb Stuart. A well-employed data visualization or metric can bring a topic into sharp relief. So it is here with an analysis of gerrymandering in North Carolina. Stuart looks at the number of wasted votes in elections for North Carolina representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. What is a wasted vote? When a candidate wins, all of the votes for that candidate above 50% are considered wasted (those votes could have been used in neighboring districts if the lines were drawn differently). The resulting graph shows how extreme this effort to sequester voters really was. -Steven

P-BirdsNA_10292015Birds of North America. This came out a couple years ago, but I just stumbled across it and spent a good ten minutes looking at all these birds. I loved looking at the variation in body and bill shapes, as well as the similarities that warranted grouping certain species together. This is a product page for a poster, but thankfully, you are able to zoom in and explore. -Steven

tumblr_ol3hg3dcUQ1qf3gj0o1_1280 (1)Seeing Me seeing by Simon Flühmann. I came across this visualization of a Swiss person’s Moves data on Tumblr. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of context, but I love this type of location data visualization. -Steven

Come to QS17

Our next conference is June 17-18 in lovely Amsterdam. It’s the perfect event for seeing the latest self-experiments, debating the most interesting topics in personal data, and meeting the most fascinating people in the Quantified Self community. There are only 13 discounted tickets left. We can’t wait to see you there.

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What We Are Reading

Even though our work at Quantified Self is not ostensibly political, we have been thinking lately about its relevance to the tumultuous times in U.S. politics. Although there is uncertainty and fear, we, like many others, feel activated to make a difference as individuals, more than we did before.

One of my fundamental beliefs about Quantified Self practices is that it leads people to be better versions of themselves. I don’t mean this in the bigger, stronger, or faster sense. It helps people become active agents in their lives. To be more curious and challenge certainty in themselves and others. In navigating this uncertain time and figuring out how to make a personal contribution, communities will play a larger role in people’s lives. It’s important to me, at least, that we are a community that encourages thoughtfulness and thoroughness in reasoning and perspective. I don’t know exactly what our role will be, but we stand in solidarity with those who fight for a better world and defend against capriciousness, avarice, and false confidence. In that spirit, my colleague Erica has put together a beautiful, short video of her experience at the Women’s March on D.C.

I hope you enjoy these articles. Some are a welcome respite. Others may help with understanding the current situation. If you have any suggestions for what we can do to help or if you read anything that we should include in a future WWAR, send it my way at



Algorithmic Life by Massimo Mazzotti. Trendy words become objects of derision. When a word with a range of meanings is overused, it becomes ever more ambiguous, as each discrepant situation through which it passes rubs away some of its precision, until the sound of the word does nothing more than evoke vague memories of where it’s been. Words that have been with us through many struggles, like “justice” or “pride,” acquire the opacity of nearly universal significance. But new minted words, without historical weight— people may just start to laugh them. The word algorithm has begun to suffer this fate. This sensitive essay by historian of science Massimo Mazzotti argues that the semantic confusion of “algorithm” is an invitation to revise our assumptions about people and machines. -Gary

Why Medical Advice Seems to Change So Frequently by Aaron E. Carroll. Nutritional recommendations are a tricky business. Some wonder why scientists can’t get their story straight. Sometimes the issue is that a perceived effect disappears when a more rigorous experiment is done. Another issue is that some people will benefit from an intervention, but it is then proclaimed that all people will benefit. There’s also the problem of studies with negative results being hidden from view. -Steven

Tracking Physiomes and Activity Using Wearable Biosensors Reveals Useful Health-Related Information, by Xiao Li, Jessilyn Dunn, and Denis Salins. This article from PLOS-Bio is a top contender for “QS Paper of the Year.” True, this award was just invented, and the year has barely started. Still, I invite you to download it and see if you can find reasons to disagree. Based on nearly two years of extremely detailed self-tracking by one 58-year old participant, and strengthened by additional group research, the paper makes substantive new discoveries and demonstrates the power of accessible tools for self-measurement. The participant is Mike Snyder, principle investigator in the Stanford lab where the authors work. (Aside from many other interesting things about the paper, it’s an important example of participatory research methods.) Back in 2011, an individual self-experimenter, John de Souza, gave a talk at our QS conference showing that he could predict sickness – before symptoms were felt – by looking at elevation of peak heart rate during exercise over a well established baseline average. Li, Dunn, and Salins’ paper contains a similar result based on elevation of resting heart rate. The data supporting this conclusion is very rich, including both self-reported symptoms and elevated hs-CRP, a marker of inflamation. There is much too much additional interesting material to quickly summarize; thankfully, PLOS-Bio is open access, so have at it. -Gary

Most People Are Bad at Arguing. These 2 Techniques Will Make You Better by Brian Resnick. Something that I see play out on Facebook currently is the futility of arguing with those that we disagree with. It’s not often the case that this does anything to change minds. This article looks at how empathy and listening can make a difference. -Steven

Cortisol and Politics: Variance in Voting Behavior is Predicted by Baseline Cortisol Levels, by Jeffrey A. French, et al. While I don’t have super high confidence the conclusions from this paper published in 2014 are going to hold up, the connection between variations in stress tolerance and participation in politics is very interesting, and more accessible measurement tools are going to allow a much closer look than we’ve ever had before. An intuitive understanding of how to induce and relieve stress has been part of politician’s toolkit forever, but now more than ever we need some kind of self-understanding of our own physiological patterns of response, in order to be able to reflect better on what’s happening around us. -Gary

The FDA Is Cracking Down On Rogue Genetic Engineers. Up until this point DIY biohacking has largely operated without government oversight. As this technology moves out of niche communities and becomes commercialized, there are concerns over whether the FDA will include DIY biology enthusiasts in the rulemaking process. -Steven

Show & Tell

The Year 2016 by Lillian Karabaic. Lillian releases her 9th annual report, with entertaining visualizations, whimsical metrics (e.g., tacos consumed), and a light-hearted, but not to be taken lightly, study of burnout from a new job. -Steven

Introducing BobAPI — A Personal API to Collect and Share All of My Life Data by Bob Troia. I missed this when he originally released it, but Bob created a unified data store that allows him to have control and ownership of his data and better equip himself to contribute to citizen science. I hope this proves to be a model that others follow. – Steven

A College Student’s Individual Analysis of Productivity of Four Years by Tiffany Qi. Tiffany recently graduated from UC Berkeley. During her four years of undergrad study, she tracked her time and productivity. In this analysis, she looks at how how her time spent affected her grades. -Steven

Data Visualizations


One Angry Bird: Emotional Arcs of the past Ten U.S. Presidential Inaugural Addresses. This analysis looks at facial expressions used by the last ten presidents as they give their inaugural addresses. Both the visualizations and method of analysis are novel. -Steven Often Do I Look at the Time? by Ravi Mistry. This is a of a visualization of a novel metric: “how often one looks at the time.” I’m impressed by the discipline required to pull this off. -Steven


AccidentalArt (1)Accidental aRt. This is a twitter feed for R visualizations that go “beautifully wrong.” My personal title for this beautiful work of accidental art is: “Causation is not correlation.” -Gary

QS17 Conference

QS17SidebarLogoOur next conference is June 17-18 in lovely Amsterdam. It’s a perfect event for seeing the latest self-experiments, debating the most interesting topics in personal data, and meeting the most fascinating people in the Quantified Self community. There are only a few early-bird discount tickets left. We can’t wait to see you there.

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What We Are Reading

It’s a new year, and we are starting it off with a collection of articles that we’ve been collecting for the last couple of months. I hope you find them as interesting as we did. -Steven


Making Statistics Matter: Using Self-data to Improve Statistics Learning by Jeffrey L. Thayne. Can Quantified Self projects solve an ongoing problem in teaching statistics? This doctoral dissertation supervised by Victor Lee, a long time participant in our Quantified Self Public Health symposia, argues that it can. The reason QS can help is simple: in QS practices, statistics become personally relevant. As Thayne writes:

[A]n essential feature of effective statistics instruction [is] a relevant, immediately available context of application, wherein learners feel that they are taking part in an ongoing inquiry process in which statistics is being used as a tool for illuminating something new and important about their world.

What I found especially interesting about this research, which used qualitative methods to explore student’s interest and involvement in their statistics learning, was that the use of self-collected data was not powerful because it appealed to the student’s vanity, but because it was familiar and had contextual meaning. Just as professionals who use statistical methods benefit from understanding where the data comes from and what it is for, students who can situate their practice in a rich context find it easier to master new methods. -Gary

On Progress and Historical Change by Ada Palmer. Historian and science fiction author Ada Palmer’s lucid essay on the idea of historical progress is great to read in light of the never-dying hope among the makers of self-tracking tools that there can be a formula for positive change. I sometimes tire out my colleagues opposing this idea, and I know it seems odd that here at Quantified Self we spend every day supporting people trying to figure out how to use technology for change while at the same time not believing that definite techniques for inducing such change can exist. Isn’t that a contradiction? In contrast to my usual philosophical abstractions and pedantic references to the history of behavioral psychology, Palmer tells the story of where our idea of progress comes from, and offers a fascinating account of how events can be simultaneously free and determined, based on the DIY historical simulation machine she builds every year with her students. -Gary

How a Guy From A Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology by Ed Yong. One of my favorite stories in citizen science is how Beatrix Potter (of Peter Rabbit fame) was an early and ridiculed proponent of the idea that lichen was a symbiotic fusion of a fungi and an algae. The need for the term “symbiosis” arose from this discovery (credited to Swiss botanist Simon Schwendener). This article follows the humble beginnings of Toby Spribille and the process for how he determined that the theory that lichen is composed of two organisms is wrong. It’s actually three. -Steven

How To Do What You Want: Akrasia and Self-Binding by Daniel Reeves. I’ve been going back and reading some of Daniel Reeves’ excellent posts on the Beeminder Blog about the cluster of concepts and techniques associated with self-control, including also Smoking Sticks and Carrots and What is Willpower? -Gary

How Language Helps Erase the Tragedy of Millions of Road Deaths by Julie Sedivy. What is the difference between the words “accident” and “collision”? The word “accident” implies a lack of blame. This article explores the effects that these connotations have on our subconscious interpretation of the world. -Steven

Faster, Not Smarter: Does Caffeine Really Make You More Productive? by Alex Senemar. Alex surveys what is known about the effects of caffeine on productivity. How do you keep caffeine a boon and not a crutch. What I love about this article is that Alex finishes it with suggestions on how to run your own experiment to see caffeine’s effect on your productivity. -Steven

In Defense of Tracking Our Poop by Adam Butler. Adam makes the argument that one of the best ways to understand the health of the microbiome is to track and pay attention to your poop. How do you turn that into data? Luckily, there is a time-tested classification system that your physician should recognize called the Bristol Stool Scale. Which will help the next time you need to talk to your doctor. -Steven (courtesy of Ernesto Ramirez)

Childhood trauma leads to lifelong chronic illness — so why isn’t the medical community helping patients? by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. “Were there any childhood traumas or stressors that might have contributed to the extreme level of inflammation you’re experiencing as an adult?” Nakazawa says that this was the most important question posed to her in her adult life. From the question, she was able to untangle how her present day health issues have ties to the traumatic death of her father when she was twelve. The article shows that childhood trauma leads to a great likelihood of autoimmune disease. However, knowing about these links, one can help reduce the number of doctor visits. -Steven

Early Modern Bookkeeping and Life-Writing Revisited: Accounting for Richard Stonley, by Jason Scott-Warren. The use of numbers as an element in personal record keeping is ancient, but the account books of early modern elites hold particular interest for historians, since they seem to hold clues to the origin of today’s autobiographical habits. The great 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys kept his entries in a ledger book, and the carefully folded pages and ruled lines of the account books of bourgeois merchants and lawyers provide a dense cultural background for more famous documents (such as Benjamin Franklin’s memoirs) commonly imagined to to lie at the root of the Quantified Self. This essay from The Social History of the Archive (a special volume of the journal Past & Present) takes a close look at the account book of an obscure functionary named Richard Stonley, and shows how mistakes, repetitions, and elisions challenge the idea of the ledger book as a crucible for the modern sense of self. -Gary


How Software, Data, and a Hell of a Lot of Work Helped Me Lose 110 pounds in 25 Months by Timothy Chambers. Although he doesn’t show his data, it was interesting to read how Timothy integrated various tools into his effort to lose weight. Each tool had a role and each needed certain features to qualify. It’s a complex interaction of data sets and feedback mechanisms. I appreciated one of his points on data portability:

It was critical that my apps could speak to each other and to the cloud, not just to what companies each toolmaker had deals with. My web-based trend tools needed to talk with my scale which needed to speak to my phone. We work so hard for the health data about steps, weight, fat percentage, etc, that should be our data open to use with whatever tools we wish. Not all vendors treat it as such.


My to-do list is now public, and it’s the most useful thing I’ve done in years by Joe Reddington. For years, Joe has kept track his number of open to-do’s. In May, he experimented with making his to-do list publicly available. Now that he knows that he’s being “watched”, he is more conscientious about making his items comprehensible, and is  more motivated. As Joe puts it: “When it was [just] a list for me, it looked great; when I decided to make it public, it instantly looked very poor.” -Steven

Analysis of a Personal Public Talk by Alex Martinelli. Alex analyzes a recent talk he gave at a QS Dublin meetup, by looking at his heart rate and speaking speed. The piece has an appropriately casual tone, but he finishes each section of the analysis with a definitive statement based on the data. After looking at how fast he was talking, Alex writes as if he was consulting someone else:

Your average speech rate is 152 Words Per Minute (WPM), but an approximately constant and significant decrease can be observed, bringing you from an initial WPM of 166 to a final value of 142. The primary cause of this is the usage of increasingly longer pauses between words, secondarily reinforced by a combination of using longer words, as well as a tendency to slow down the pronunciation of words, while the talk unfolds.”

As an engineer at IBM, he’s clearly used to this at his job, but I like the idea of bringing this structure and formality to personal data analysis. -Steven

The Somniloquist by Adam Rosenberg. Adam was told by others that he talks in his sleep, so he set up a recorder to capture his “midnight monologues”. The recordings are transcribed, and in addition to being hilarious, they are an interesting insight into what the brain is doing during sleep. -Steven

My Quantified Wardrobe 2017 by Matt Manhattan. Matt analyzes his wardrobe in an effort to define his relationship with his clothes. He looks at how much of each article of clothing he has and their associated cost. But it’s the pictures of his clothes that makes this post delightful. -Steven

Data Visualizations

History Lesson by Clive Thompson. Not a visualization, but an article about the history of data visualizations. -Steven

The London Wind Map. A whimsical of visualization of where you would go if “you were pushed by the wind each day” in 2015. -Steven


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What We Are Reading

Stealth Research and Theranos: Reflections and Update 1 Year Later by John P. A. Ioannidis. This important and interesting “Viewpoint” article from JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association recounts the author’s first notice of Theranos and glancing involvement with the company’s publicity campaign. This leads Ioannidis, whose critical work on the validity of published research is essential reading, to offer some higher level criticism of the notion of widespread medical testing. Ioannidis’ critique draws attention to the fact that simply increasing the accessibility of diagnostic tests could be harmful, if the result is to expose people to more dangerous, costly, and unnecessary medical treatment. My take on Ioannidis critique is that changing the cultural context of testing is essential for the technological tools to be at all beneficial. For those of us who keenly desire more inexpensive and convenient blood tests, the failure of Theranos is very disappointing. However, if these tests are just treated as a kind of “look up table” linked to current knowledge and treatment protocols, they could well do more harm than good. -Gary

Smartphones won’t make your kids dumb. We think by Olivia Solon. The subject of children and screen time is hard to approach without bias. My own experience of watching my attention span get shredded to ribbons after smartphones were introduced (even though I was past the age where my brain was supposedly fully-formed) makes me feel apprehensive about the effect screen-based activities have on our brains’ reward systems. This article is particularly diligent about wading through the many aspects of this topic with the appropriate amount of trepidation and uncertainty. One thing we’ve learned from watching QS talks about distraction is that we may be more vulnerable to screen compulsion that we’re typically aware. For a poignant example, look at Robby Macdonnell’s superb QS Show&Tell talk: The Data is In, I’m a Distracted Driver. With more self-collected evidence, the worries described by Olivia Solon might be easier to evaluate. -Steven

The Challenge Of Taking Health Apps Beyond The Well-Heeled by Barbara Feder Ostrov. “There is a disconnect between the problems of those who need the most help and the tech solutions they are being offered,” so says Veenu Aulakh, the director of a nonprofit that improves healthcare for underserved patients. At the QS Public Health Symposium in May, we had an excellent session on this topic, titled “Learning About Collaboration in Community Science From from Youth Leaders in the Klamath Basin.” Driving our own research is the idea that toolmakers with positions of privilege could focus less on the design of apps to help “them” and more on listening to community leaders whose long term engagement in health issues gives them a deeper understanding of what’s useful. -Steven

How we built our Quantified Self Chatbot with Instant 4.0, by Shashwat Pradhan. For anybody thinking about building personal dashboard apps that use the native smartphone self-tracking affordances in Android and iOS, Shashwat Pradhan’s project is worth following. Pradhan is also on the QS Forum answering questions from users. -Gary

Show & Tell

40 — Mind the loops by Buster Benson. Here is an annual review, looking at his life at the age of 40, by one of the most insightful self-trackers and toolmakers in the QS community (Many of us use Buster’s 750 words for our daily journaling). -Steven

A Lifetime of Personal Data by Shannon Conners. Shannon’s workout and food journals date back to her high school years. Once digital tools were at her disposal, the diligence that she brought to her tracking has led to some amazing visualizations. -Steven

20 Years of Memories Tucked Away in Personal Finance Data by Peter Torelli. Peter tracked his finances for 20 years, and unintentionally, kept a record of the vicissitudes of his life. -Steven

Data Visualizations

Patternicity: Dreamy Diagrams and Lyrical Visualizations of the Eccentric Details of Daily Life in the City by Maria Popova. For a class, Yasemin Uyar took on the task of visualizing the minutiae of life around her for 100 days. The result is a series of dreamy and idiosyncratic takes on data visualization. The images don’t necessarily reveal the hidden patterns underlying daily life, but rather serve as a vehicle for paying attention, making the argument that merely paying attention can be a noble end, in of itself (as opposed to “hacking” to get a personal advantage). -Steven


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Connected World: Untangling the Air Traffic Network by Martin Grandjean. A network visualization exercise, Martin wanted to see how to visualize all the connections between airports that makes reference to geography, but is not constrained by it (Here is an animation of the difference). For instance, a geography-constrained map would leave Europe to be an indecipherable blob of data points. The wisdom of effective visualization lies in arranging data so that otherwise hidden connections can be found. In this case, Martin discovers that “India is more connected to the Middle East than to South and East Asia. The Russian cluster is very visible, connecting airports in Russia but also in many former Soviet republics. Latin america is clearly divided between a South cluster and a Central American cluster very connected with the U.S.” -Steven


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Unraveling Spiral by Jason Samenow. This animation shows the alarming trend of average global temperatures over time and is the best use of a spiral graph that I’ve seen. -Steven


image (8)Thinking Machine 6. This is a chess game where you, as the player, can see the AI of the opponent evaluate its possible moves in real time. It’s more engaging than I expected. Especially gratifying is when you’ve put the computer into a difficult position and watch it take more time to evaluate thousands of moves to get out of the bind. I don’t think I’ve ever tried as hard to get into the head of a non-living opponent. -Steven

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What We Are Reading


Taking 5: Work-Breaks, Productivity, and Opportunities for Personal Informatics for Knowledge Workers
By “approaching the question of break-taking objectives from a personal rather than an organizational angle” Daniel A. Epstein, Daniel Avrahami, and Jacob T. Biehl open a very interesting new set of questions to Quantified Self trackers and experimenters. The necessity of mental and physical renewal to work is well known and yet largely ignored. This paper, while preliminary and speculative, does us the service of challenging conventional wisdom about work breaks, showing that there is no simple definition for what activities count as breaks. -Gary

Why Talented Black and Hispanic Students Can Go Undiscovered by Susan Dynarski. Interesting article about how objective IQ testing of students for the gifted program in a Florida school district resulted in greater racial diversity. This contradicts the notion that IQ tests are biased against some groups and is a frightening indictment of teacher referral-based enrollment. -Steven

Social Network Algorithms Are Distorting Reality By Boosting Conspiracy Theories by Renee Diresta. In the battle to command our attention, media (and apps) have become like an evolving, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, finding new ways to manipulate our emotions and hijack our reward systems. The way information is presented by many online services preys on our biases, creating a new challenge for us as individuals to design our own experiences with the world to blunt the raw toxicity that is currently out there. But how do you do that in such a way that helps you become a better person, rather than creating your own, insulated bubble? -Steven

Who Will Debunk The Debunkers? by Daniel Engber. When a skeptic debunks a popular myth, it is usually accompanied by some story about how it actually happened, and how the myth spread. However, the same scrutiny is not often paid to this new story and is spread with the same lax attitude to veracity, as long as it comes from a solid-sounding source. As Daniel puts it, “It seems plausible that the tellers of these tales are getting blinkered by their own feelings of superiority — that the mere act of busting myths makes them more susceptible to spreading them.” -Steven

How maggots made it back into mainstream medicine by Carrie Arnold. According to the article, the use of maggots to clean wounds was gaining traction in the early 20th century. The practice was thrown out with the discovery of penicillin and the promise of a cleaner form of antibiotics. As bacteria have become more resistant to antibiotics, this “historical backwater” treatment is being looked at again. It’s assumed that patients would be put off by the “ick” factor, but the real barrier seems to be physcians. According to one nurse investigator: “Some care providers see it as ancient. ‘That’s old fashioned and ancient and we’re doing evidence-based practice’, which in their minds means new. But they’re not looking at the evidence behind larval debridement therapy, which there’s a lot of.” -Steven

How Information Graphics Reveal Your Brain’s Blind Spots by Lena Groeger. This is a great overview of the different tools that data visualizations can employ to help you understand a concept better and overcome some of your cognitive biases (or exploit them). -Steven


Mimicking the Fasting Mimicking Diet by Bob Troia. This is a fantastic experiment where Bob tests for himself a caloric restriction strategy where by “cutting daily calories in half for just four days every two weeks reduced biomarkers for aging, diabetes, heart disease and cancer with no adverse effects. FMD was tested on yeast, mice, and humans and the results remained consistent among all three groups.” Bob does a great job of tracking the effect the diet has on various bio-markers, showing the results visually and sharing his data. -Steven

Crying by Robin Weis is a deeply reflective self-tracking project that explores 589 days of crying data. Robin tracked every incident of crying over about a year and half, measuring and annotating 394 cries on 216 days. There is one day with 14 cries, and the longest stretch without crying is 23 days. Robin’s report from the project has many other analytic dimensions, which she uses to anchor elements of autobiography: change in in ways she handled family stress, a long stretch of travel, and an increase in awareness of injustice linked to becoming a feminist. She uses a relatively fine grained vocabulary of emotion to categories the cries. After all, as she point out: Not all cries are made equal. Some consist of a stray melancholic tear, and some consist of unstoppable laughter. Some represent the deep, achy detachment of a piece of your identity, and some can only be onset by too much hot pepper. Whatever the provocation, as soon as any emotion or sensation crosses some intensity threshold, it seems to manifest itself by physically leaking out of one’s eyes. And if that wasn’t strange enough, the thresholds appear to be drastically different across people and stimuli. What in the actual what?

Data Visualizations

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Britain’s Diet in Data. Interesting interactive visualization that shows changes in British diets over the past 40 years. -Steven


image (3) Semantic Maps in the Brain. This is an incredible project where some researchers used an fMRI machine to map which parts of the brain showed increased activity in response to individual words while listening to the Moth Radio Hour. They then took that data and constructed a 3d-model and interactive visualization that allows you to select a spot in the brain and see which words are most likely to get a response from that area based on their predictive model. This page allows you to explore the semantic map of an individual. My understanding is that where we store information in our neocortex is individualistic. I wonder how much overlap you see across different people. -Steven

image (5) Ship Map. A beautiful interactive map of global shipping routes, but what sets it apart for me is the narration that introduces you to the visualization. Rather than show a video clip, it zooms around the interactive. -Steven

image (6)The Year that Music Died. This is a fun visualization that is a moving timeline of the top 5 songs on the Billboard charts from the past 60 years. As it moves through time, it will play a snippet of the song that was in the #1 spot at the time. For a bout of nostalgia, navigate to the years that you were in your early teens. -Steven

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What We Are Reading


The Anecdote is the Antidote for What Ails Modern Medical Science by John R. Adler, Jr. M.D. It’s hard to imagine anybody being more of a medical insider than Dr. John R. Adler, the founding editor of Cureus. Adler has a Harvard medical degree, served his residency at Massachusetts General hospital, and is a Stanford professor of neurosurgery, as well as founding CEO of a leading radiation oncology company, Accuray.  This makes it especially heartening that Dr. Adler is now focused on opening up medical research literature to important kinds of evidence that have often been ignored: the anecdote and the case report.  Quote: “The altruism that is supposed to drive the publication of scientific research has been almost entirely co-opted by the peculiar needs of academic promotion and tenure, as well as the pecuniary demands of the scholarly publishing industry; the public good of medical knowledge has been reduced to a mere after-thought by both academia and the publishing industry.” -Gary

You can train your body into thinking it’s had medicine by Jo Marchant. There is an experimental treatment where the patients always drink from a uniquely flavored beverage every time they take their medicine. After a while, the drug is taken away, but the drink is still consumed. Amazingly, the body continues to act like it received the drug. Considering that many of these drugs have terrible side effects, these findings can impact how medication is administered. -Steven

Fleming’s discovery of penicillin couldn’t get published today. That’s a huge problem by Julia Belluz. John Adler’s reflections on the value of anecdote, linked above, were inspired by this essay by Julia Belluz celebrating the creation of another new journal, called Matters, devoted to publishing reports of small scale experiments and observations. As the publishers write on their web site: “Observations, not stories, are the pillars of good science. Today’s journals however, favor story-telling over observations, and congruency over complexity. As a consequence, there is a pressure to tell only good stories. Moreover, incentives associated with publishing in high-impact journals lead to loss of scientifically and ethically sound observations that do not fit the storyline, and in some unfortunate cases also to fraudulence. The resulting non-communication of data and irreproducibility not only delays scientific progress, but also negatively affects society as a whole.” -Gary

Machine Learning for Easier Dieting by Samuel K. Moore.

“I had a half-cup of oatmeal, with two-tablesoons of maple syrup and a cup of coffee. Oh, I put a handful of blueberries in the oatmeal, and there was milk in the coffee. It was skim milk.”

It would be wonderful to log one’s food by speaking to your tracker in this natural manner. Machine learning may make it possible, but this article reviews some of the obstacles that need to be overcome when it comes to parsing speech. -Steven

A Case of Complete and Durable Molecular Remission of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Following Treatment with Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, an Extract of Green Tea by Dawn Lemanne, Keith I. Block, Bruce R. Kressel, Vikas P. Sukhatme, Jeffrey D. White. This paper from Cureus about a notable clinical outcome offers an excellent example of the kind of research that might never come to light without the work of pioneering science publishers. -Gary

This Dude’s Fitness Tracker May Have Just Saved His Life by George Dvorsky. When a 42-year-old man recently went to the emergency room following a seizure, the doctors had to make a decision in how to proceed that depended on whether the man’s arrhythmia was caused by the seizure or was chronic. The answer was found in the man’s Fitbit data. -Steven


How Can I Stop Feeling Cold by Justin Timmer. A few years ago, I spent a winter wearing only a t-shirt when I went out. I was interested in how my body adapted to the cold over time. I am happy to see Justin attempt a similar thing but with more rigor. -Steven

Letter of Recommendation: Segmented Sleep by Jesse Barron. I’ve been long fascinated by the concept of segmented sleep, where people have a first and second sleep period during the night. I’ve read historical references of this phenomenon, but not many experiences from now. -Steven

Leave that Thermostat Alone! by Michael VanDaniker. Taking advantage of the ability to export his data from his electric provider, Michael compared his electricity usage against the outside temperature to get a better understanding of his electricity use (and created some nice visualizations in the process). -Steven

Resource: Home Hacking Blood Glucose by Jenny Horner. Jenny heard about a study in Israel that showed that post-meal blood sugar spikes differ highly according to the individual. For example, ice cream is fine for some, but sushi is not. Jenny decided to apply the findings to her life. She shares the method she is using to construct her own personal glycemic index. ‑Steven

Personal Information Manager by Fabian Benetou. Fabian’s site is a fascinating mind dump of many aspects of his life. Open to all, but comprehensible only to him, there is a voyeuristic pleasure in traipsing around and seeing a glimpse into someone else’s head (another fun example is Jerry Michalski’s “Brain”). In particular, I love seeing the notes that he keeps from the books he reads, which dovetails with my interest in commonplace books‑Steven

Data Visualizations


Arbor Ludi“Un proyecto de visualización de datos compuesto por una serie de representaciones gráficas que reconstruyen el árbol de juego de ocho de los mejores ajedrecistas de la historia.” Each image in this beautiful and fascinating series of data visualizations represent the playing life of a chess master. Created by the design and architecture firm Ootro Estudio, the portraits are made out of data from every move from hundreds or thousands of published games (the number varies significantly between masters). The coral-like shape emerges from the fact that in chess the first moves are common and well known, while later moves inhabit a vast possibility space. For more on the technique, see this informative post on The Zugzwang Blog: Arbor Ludi: arquitectura mental de un genio del ajedrez. (In Spanish.) -Gary


All Those New Dinosaurs May Not Be New — Or Dinosaurs by Maggie Koerth-Baker. My first experience of the messiness of paleontology is when I learned that my mug with a green brontosaurus depicted an animal that never existed (though that may no longer be true). This chart shows how often a dinosaur genus is later declared to be invalid. The error rate for dinosaurs named between 1850 and 1980 is 48 percent! -Steven


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Changing river path seen through satellite images by Zoltan Sylvester. Using Landsat images, this is a time lapse that shows, over a thirty year period, the oxbow section of the Ucayali river in Peru get pinched and then cut off from the main flow of the river. You can view thirty year timelapses like this for any location on earth at the Google Earth Engine. The Las Vegas one is an incredible example of urban expansion. -Steven

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What We Are Reading


The Beacon Experiments: Low-Energy Bluetooth Devices in Action by Chaise Hocking. There is a lot of interest in using micro-location to support QS projects, with much excitement focused on Bluetooth beacons as a possible solution. If you’ve been curious about how well the fairly well known Estimote and Kontakt beacons work for estimating proximity, this post is for you. ‑Gary

Do-It-Yourself Medical Devices — Technology and Empowerment in American Health Care by Jeremy A. Greene. DIY healthcare technology has existed a lot longer than the devices designed to pair with your smartphone, but the “it” in DIY, as well as whom “yourself” is directed towards, has changed significantly over time. ‑Steven

Boundary Negotiating Artifacts in Personal Informatics: Patient-Provider Collaboration with Patient-Generated Data by Chia-Fang Chung et al. This sensitive research paper explores how self-collected data can be used to support collaboration between people seeking health care and their care providers. Based on surveys and interviews, Chung and her co-authors offer a detailed analytical framework for understanding common tensions and misunderstandings, and give extremely thoughtful suggestions for designers. ‑Gary

‘Superman Memory Crystal’ Could Store Data for 13.8 Billion Years by Stephanie Pappas. It’s probably foolish to get excited by a technology that may never escape the research facility, but I’m excited by the idea anyhow. The challenge of keeping data from degrading is a big one. Libraries burn down. Magnetic tapes disintegrate. Hard drives die suddenly. The idea of storing your data on a glass disc is poetically appealing, but I am surprised to learn of it’s practicality in terms of stability and capacity.‑Steven

The Most Famous Mice in the World Right Now by Steve Hamley. I’ve been following the slow transformation of nutritional science from anti-fat to anti-carb since reading Gary Taubes cover story for the New York Times: “What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie?” This week there was a minor chapter in which many media reports used some work by a New Zealand scientist purporting to show that high fat, low carb diets could be bad for your glycemic control after all. The above story by Steve Hamley is the best debunking. ‑Gary

Ann Douglas Details Her Hi-tech Weight Loss Journey by Lauren Pelley. Ann Douglas, an author of books on parenting and pregnancy, lost 135 pounds over two years. She didn’t have one killer device or app, but used a suite of tools that contributed in one way or another. “I had given up all hope of ever losing all this weight,” she says. “If you’re sitting there despairing, wondering how you’re ever going to do anything about your weight problem — I was there too.” ‑Steven


Using Heart Rate Variability to Analyze Stress in Conversation by Paul LaFontaine. “Vapor lock” is Paul’s term for that feeling when you are trying to retrieve something from memory in conversation, but because of the stress of the situation (especially if it is with a boss), you lock up and your recall fails. To better understand this phenomenon and learn how to prevent it, Paul measured his heart rate variability during 154 conversations with bosses and co-workers and discovered that the biggest cause of his “vapor lock” was not what he expected at all. ‑Steven

17 Years of Location Tracking by Stephen Cartwright. Steven has been tracking his latitude, longitude and elevation every hour since 1999. In this talk, Stephen shows how seventeen years of location tracking has given him a wealth of data to explore in the form of three-dimensional data visualization sculptures. He has even brought some of these to QS conferences. They are amazing to behold in person. ‑Steven 

Data Visualizations


Marrying Age: This is when Americans get married by Nathan Yau. This interactive visualization looks at the average marrying age for different demographics. You can’t see the trends over time, but it is interesting, though not wholly surprising, to see smoother distributions for demographics that tend to have more stabile economic situations, like college graduates. (Though I’m not sure if that has more to do with the relative number of people in each group.) ‑Steven


Forget me nots by Lam Thuy Vo. This explores the relationship between a woman and her archive of email exchanges with exes. This visualization above is fairly standard, but the others in the piece are more like tone poems. Appropriate, considering that dives into your archive can leave you swirling in unleashed emotion (Speaking from personal experience here. You would be surprised by how much you can relive your life by looking at old bank statements). ‑Steven


Danielle by Anthony Cerniello. This is a video of a computer generated face that ages over the course of four minutes. The length is interesting in that you can tell that change is occurring, yet it is happening slow enough that it’s hard to see exactly what is changing moment to moment. ‑Steven

Thanks to Ernesto for sending a link our way. If you find an interesting article you’d like to recommend, email If you want to get these automatically in your inbox, you can subscribe here.

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What We Are Reading



This Scientist Is Turning Every Element In the Periodic Table Into Music by Jennifer Ouellette. We have seen Randy Sargent analyze his heart rate variability with a spectogram, a tool normally used for visualizing sound. This project is perhaps the inverse, turning the molecular structure of elements into audible tones. Surprisingly, “sonification” is becoming a useful analytical tool in materials science. Here’s the sound of silicon. -Steven

Building a Better Tracker: Older Consumers Weigh In On Activity and Sleep Monitoring Devices. (PDF) This study by the Georgia Home Lab that explored the value of self-tracking for people over 50. The researchers enrolled 92 participants and set them up with seven different activity trackers, then followed them for a six week period. While participants tended to believe that self-tracking could be valuable, most of them did not learn much of interest, and reason is telling: the lessons provided by the trackers were too general. “Participants who did not find the devices to be useful said that they wanted more data related to their specific conditions and that they wanted notification if the data indicated something of concern. More sensors relevant to health conditions was the most common suggestion for improvement.” -Gary

If You Want Life Insurance, Think Twice Before Getting A Genetic Test by Christina Farr and Cops are asking and 23andMe for their customers’ DNA by Kashmir Hill. I’m filing both of these stories under “Ways your data can be used against you.” -Steven 

BMI Is A Terrible Measure Of Health: But we keep using it anyway by Katherine Hobson. It’s not news for me that BMI is a terrible metric. But if BMI is not a good proxy for health, what metric is out there that is better and as easy to measure? This article looks at mid-section measurements as a candidate. -Steven

Your Letters Helped Challenger Shuttle Engineer Shed 30 Years Of Guilt by Howard Berkes. This is a short piece, but it touches on themes of data-based arguments, courage, guilt, and self-forgiveness. -Steven


Know Thy Cycle, Know Thyself by Ilyse Magy. Using the Fertility Awareness Method and Kindara, Ilyse diagnosed a previously unnoticed vitamin deficiency that had a huge effect on her wellbeing, as well as gained other important insights into cyclical dimensions of her health and wellbeing. ”Once I started charting, I was pretty amazed by what I was learning, but also kind of mad that no one had ever told me this stuff before.” -Gary

Why I Weighed My Whiskers by John Cousins. Inspired by an anecdote about a man’s beard growth while working on a remote island, Jon explores whether there is a relationship between his mood and facial hair. Yes, you read that right. -Steven

Stoic Self-Tracking by Alberto Frigo. One of the most consistently interesting chronicles of a self-tracking life is Morris Villarroel’s shadow of the stream, where he writes on his ongoing, multi-year life-logging projects, about which he’s given several excellent conference talks. But this week Morris turned over his blog to another deeply reflective self-tracker, the artist Alberto Frigo, whose self-tracking practice includes photographing everything he picks up in his right hand. In this post, Alberto revives an old word – operosity – in describing the worthy laboriousness of self-care. -Gary

Excerpt from Alberto’s piece:

On a bus from the Venice airport to the mountains where I am now restoring an abandoned barn to deposit my life-work, I was reading Seneca. I was reading it for different reasons; in the first place, it was what an old professor of mine  quoted when he decided to give up his inspiring career and retire to a small barn near the town the bus was passing. Secondly, reading Seneca was like a counter-reaction to all the Anglo-Saxon stuff one is forced to refer to in today’s humanities. Thirdly, Seneca has often been quite superficially pointed out as one of the first persons to quantify himself.

Basis Breakdown. This an interesting take on a weekly journal, combining Basis Peak stats with daily reflections. -Steven

Data Visualizations



A Day in the Life of Americans by Nathan Yau. This visualization is a timelapse showing how Americans spend their day, based on the Bureau of Labor’s American Time Use Study. It would like to see a similar visualization, but for a single person with each dot representing a different date. -Steven



Codeology. This project takes code from github and represents them with an odd combination of 3D and ASCII text to create organic seeming shapes. After looking at a couple dozen of these, I wanted to see the shapes interact with each other. Arena fight, perhaps? -Steven



The Potential for the Most Liberal Supreme Court in Decades by Alicia Parlapiano and Margo Sanger-Katz. This excellent visualization uses Martin-Quinn scores to show the ideological leanings of Supreme Court justices’ rulings by year. More importantly, by highlighting the relative liberal or conservatism of the justice who sits in the ideological median, it shows how the character of the court has shifted through the years. -Steven

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What We Are Reading



DNA Got a Kid Kicked Out of School—And It’ll Happen Again by Sarah Zhang. This a potent example of the unexpected ways that genetic information can be used against someone. We’ve already seen how 23andMe data can be used for nefarious ends. In this case, it’s a child who was transferred from his school as if he has cystic fibrosis, but only has the genetic markers for the disease. A set of norms or rights around personal data (and genetic information, in particular) has barely been established, so it will be interesting to see how many similar incidents we will see. What’s tricky is that neither side is acting irrationally. At heart is this question: How do you manage risk when a person’s DNA is part of the equation? -Steven

When Wearable Makers Shut Down, Getting Your Data Isn’t Always Easy by Stephanie M. Lee. San Francisco QS Show&Tell co-organizer Greg Schwartz is quoted in this Buzzfeed story about the recent shutdown of BodyMedia servers and bricking of the devices. In January Greg posted a how-to video users who still wanted to get their data, but this only worked until the servers were taken offline on January 31, 2016 Article author Stephanie M. Lee talked a bit about the defunct QS companies Lark, and Zeo. The Zeo shutdown sparked a record thread on the QS Forum where users still trade tips to keep instances of this late, lamented sleep tracker in action. -Gary

Working memory training could help beat anxiety by Christian Jarrett. Dual n-back tests have been championed as a brain game that actually works since a 2008 study showed that the exercise improved fluid intelligence (i.e., IQ). Those results have since been in dispute, but a new study cautiously supports the idea that dual n-back, by improving working memory, may also lessen anxiety symptoms. -Steven

Graphing When Your Facebook Friends Are Awake by Alex. There are at least five reasons to love this post about building graphs of Facebook Friends’ awake/asleep time: a surprising revelation of hidden system, uh, features; a “procedural” on hacking them that is basically comprehensible even if – like me – you don’t understand all the details; a useful general lesson about public exposure of personal data from seemingly friendly and low level status tracking; a hilarious stream-of-consciousness narrative that tries, half-successfully, to answer the question “why;” and, for all of us who have ever tried to do something meaningful with our own data, the comforting admission that the real trouble started when it came time to make a graph. Really a great post that this preview doesn’t do justice, so go read it. -Gary

This Canadian Lab Spent 20 Years Ruining Lives by Tess Owen. As much as it’s claimed that there’s a fair amount of skepticism of science, especially in the United States, there is no doubt that it carries authority in legal matters. This article shows the damage that can happen when seemingly rigorous test procedures and results are accepted without scrutiny. It’s especially galling to see how sloppy commercial testing procedures can become, and how dangerous it is to assume that professional measurement is more reliable than personal measurement, human dialog, and common sense. -Steven

Give Up Your Data to Cure Disease by David B. Agus. Another article on the opportunities and pitfalls of making medical records available for health research. While this opinion piece argues for the value of the opportunities, it makes clear that we need better data security practices to ensure that health information is used for the greater good, rather than used against individual patients. However, nowhere is the point made that research subjects can play an active role in investigating disease and making new discoveries. -Steven





Three Years of Logging my Inbox by Mark Wilson. The number of emails in Mark’s inbox correlates very well with his stress level. After passively tracking his email for three years, Mark explores how his inbox count reflects his stress level and influences his sense of self. -Steven



Measuring My Indoor Environment: Indoor Quality and Water Quality by Bob Troia. The first two parts in a multi-part series, Bob shows the tools and measurements he’s using to understand the quality of his living space. -Steven




Maniac Weeks for Extreme Productivity by Bethany Soule. A “maniac week” (coined by Nick Winter) is spent doing nothing but working and sleeping while documenting your face and screen with a time-lapse video. Bethany talks about her successes, failures, and side effects of this level of extremism. -Steven



Data Visualizations



This Chart Shows Who Marries CEOs, Doctors, Chefs and Janitors by Adam Pearce and Dorothy Gambrell. With data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this interactive chart allows you to select a profession and see the five most likeliest occupations of the partner. It will also show whether if the partner is more likely a member of one sex or the other. Refreshing to see that it represents same-sex partnerships as well. -Steven


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How China’s economic slowdown could weigh on the rest of the world by Carlo Zapponi, Seán Clarke, Helena Bengtsson, Troy Griggs and Phillip Inman. The interconnectedness of global economies can be difficult to wrap your head around, but this series of visualizations from the Guardian do a good job of illustrating which economies’ rely on exports to China, and how much they are exposed to a downturn in the world’s second biggest economy. -Steven



Música hecha con el corazon. A website where you tap your current heart rate and it finds a song that matches the beat. The site is in Spanish but is easy enough to figure out. Just put one finger on the artery in your neck and click in the circle in time with your pulse. -Steven

The Chart Book: An Overview of Standard Celeration Chart Conventions and Practices. Owen R. White, Malcolm D. Neely. This pdf covers how to use a Celeration chart. Used for the assessment of students by teachers, this chart template aspires to be flexible enough to chart data clearly no matter the scale. It would be interesting to see this used for personal data. Thanks to Ryan O’Donnell. -Steven

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