Topic Archives: What We’re 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 email@example.com.
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
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
How 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
Our 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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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
History Lesson by Clive Thompson. Not a visualization, but an article about the history of data visualizations. -Steven
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
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
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
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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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?
Britain’s Diet in Data. Interesting interactive visualization that shows changes in British diets over the past 40 years. -Steven
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to get these automatically in your inbox, you can subscribe here.
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 Ancestry.com 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
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
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
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
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
The DIY Scientist, the Olympian, and the Mutated Gene by David Epstein. There are several surprising twists in this story of a non-professional scientist named Jill Viles, who made an important discovery about her own rare genetic disorder. What inspired me mostwas Viles’ tenacious reliance on her own capacity to reason, even in the face of skepticism from professionals who had less knowledge (though more confidence) than she did. Eventually, she connects with highly technical scientists whose research direction she influences with her ideas. Epstein got a fantasic quote from one of them when he asked the scientist if this has ever happened before. “In my life, no,” he says. “People from outside coming and giving me hope? New ideas? I have no other example of this kind of thing. You know, maybe it happens once in a scientific life.” I found myself wondering if this kind of thing will be less rare in the future. -Gary
A Drug to Cure Fear by Richard A. Friedman. This article intersects two of my interests that stem from my own self-experimentation. From my stress tracking I realized that many of my reactions in my day-to-day life are influenced by traumatic memories. From my spaced repetition practice I learned how memories can change over time through retrieval and consolidation. A study done in the Netherlands suggests that a memory can be decoupled from an associated fear response by using propranolol which blocks the effects of norepinephrine, a chemical that strengthens connections in the brain. The study has yet to be replicated, but hopefully it will increase our understanding of trauma. -Steven
Internet of Things security is so bad, there’s a search engine for sleeping kids by J.M. Porup. Ever since doing a research project on data flows for our first Quantified Self symposium we’ve had what you might describe as a below average level of confidence in the security and reliability of information traveling outside the immediate context of its collection, now that APIs connect to APIs connecting to yet other APIs. Still, even I was surprised by the recklessness and potential harm described in J.M. Porup’s brief account of a search engine that displays random pictures from internet connected consumer cameras around the world. -Gary
Algae bloom toxin linked to Alzheimer’s, other diseases by Amy Kraft. One consequence of the climate change and the depletion of fish stocks in ocean’s is the increase occurrence of algae blooms. Ethnobotanists found a correlation between algal blooms and neurodegenerative diseases among remote populations in the Pacific. New research suggests that cyanobacteria, the microorganism in these blooms, has a neurotoxin that can cause neurodegenerative precursors that develop. This neurotoxin enters the human food chain as it bioaccumulates in fish and shellfish. -Steven
Glass Half Full Succeeds in Unwinding Upsets by Paul LaFontaine. Most people have moments of irritation or worry throughout the day. Paul wanted to find out what worked better as a response to these moments. Option A was to step back and observe his emotions in a manner similar to that taught by some schools of meditation. Option B was to figure out the source of irritation or concern and think of a positive angle to the situation. What is great about this post is the very simple but illuminating experiment that he devised to explore this question. -Steven
Finding My Optimum Reading Speed by Kyrill Potapov
As an English teacher Kyrill Potapov spends a lot of time working with 12 year old kids who are trying to improve their reading, writing, comprehension, and analytical skills. In this talk, he explores a remarkable method of speed reading, called Spritz, that promises to let you “read Harry Potter in three hours” with full understanding and recall. Could such a promise possibly be true? -Gary
Heart Rate Variability, Body Metrics, and Cognitive Function by Justin Lawler. This is a great examination of how Justin’s HRV measurements correlate to all other personal data he has collected. -Steven
Using Spectrograms to Visualize Heart Rate Variability by Randy Sargent
Randy’s idea about using spectrograms, normally used for audio signals, to create a portrait of your own time series data, is completely novel as far as I know. -Gary
Spurious Correlations by Tyler Vigen. An entertaining collection of unrelated facts that can be correlated with a high degree of confidence. -Steven
Hackers Diet, FIRECalc and weight loss by u/Thebut_. This chart is a mess, but the idea behind it is fascinating. This reddit user was inspired by FIRECalc, a financial tool that “projects your future assets based on historical market data” and tried to apply it to his weight data. Instead of giving a single projection, the tool shows a range of possibilities. This is similar to how Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA system uses a weighted range of possibilities (probability distribution) rather than a single guess (point estimate) for forecasting a prospect’s future performance. I would like to see more of this kind of thinking applied to personal data. -Steven
Darwin Tunes by Bob MacCallum, Armand Leroi, Matthias Mauch, Steve Welburn, and Carl Bussey. A fascinating project that treats pieces of music like organisms that can mate and reproduce based on listeners’ votes. These audio loops started off as random noise, but as the generations moved into the thousands, the presence of chords and higher order melodies emerged. At this point, there have been over 8700 generations. You can take part yourself! -Steven
Tobias Zimmer tracked what he ate and, in particular, what he didn’t eat. The image above comes from a series of ceramic plates that were created using generated graphics based on the crumbs he left. For more, see his Tumblr: Food-Data:
»Food Data« elevates an everyday occurrence to the realms of art. Minimalistic crumb compositions that emerge while eating every day, are enhanced by generated graphics, which refer to the topic of computerized data tracking of human behavior. The final plates encourage to contemplate on everyday life and to find beauty in daily routines, but at the same time remind of technological advancement and practices of (self-)surveillance, that doesn‘t even stop before the private ritual of eating.
Haunted By Data by Maciej Cegłowski. A keen sense of how things can go wrong is needed if we are to have any hope of – well, if we are to have any hope! This essay by Maciej Ceglowski about the highly toxic nature of large scale data aggregation is highly recommended.
How Your Device Knows Your Life through Images by Graham Templeton. This research demonstrating that an artificial neural network was able to train itself to correctly identify 83% of the time the activity that a person was engaged, just based on the images collected from that person’s lifelogging camera is especially interesting in light of Ceglowski’s talk.
Life Stress by Marco Altini. Marco reviews an exhilarating but stressful 15 months of his life through the lens of heart rate variability.
Body Metrics Under Stress by Justin Lawler. Another stress-related piece. Justin shows through data how his body responded to the stress of giving a talk about his lifelogging experiences at QSEU15.
Pathways Project by Mimi Onuoha. This project looked at what story could be told from a month’s worth of mobile phone data from four groups of people, each with a different type of relationship: co-workers, a couple, a family, and roommates. The charts are interactive and fascinating. As Onuoha writes:
…data visualizations add a level of abstraction over real world events; they gather the messiness of human life and render it in objective simplicity. In life, goodbyes can be heartbreaking affairs, painful for all involved. But on a map, a goodbye is as simple as one dot moving out of view.
The project’s data is available in this Github repository.
My Hamster’s Activity Index by /u/snootsboots
This reddit user used a motion sensor connected to a raspberry pi to make sure that his hamster is ok when he’s away. Here’s a picture of the hamster, if you’re curious. His name is Timmy
My internet’s median ping over time by /u/asecretsin. This a very simple chart, and a simple idea. What I like about it though is that it illustrates how just a little bit of logging and data visualization can reveal a pattern in one’s environment. It clearly shows that the response times slow down from 6pm to 10pm. I have a home office and it often felt like the internet slowed down around the time people starting getting off work.
From the Forum
Activity trackers without online requirement
My review of the H2O-Pal – A Hydration Tracker
Consumer genome raw data comparison – Which has the most health information?
Benefits of 24/7 heart rate monitoring
Can You Quantify Inner Peace?
How to find all major volunteer bioscience projects I can partake in?
As someone who still is not satisfied with any sleep tracking device or app that I have tried, I related to this dialogue from a tumblr called Zen.Sen.Life:
- Sleep Tracking App: I see you’re not violently throwing yourself around your bed, you must be in a deep sleep. Sweet dreams, buddy!
- Me: I’m actually still awake.
- Sleep Tracking App: But you’re lying still…
- Me: Because I’m trying to get to sleep.
- Sleep Tracking App: You mean you ARE asleep.
- Me: I really don’t.
- Sleep Tracking App: You’re going to have to trust me, I do this professionally and I know sleep when I see it, and I’m pretty sure you’re asleep right now.
- Me: I couldn’t be more awake.
- Sleep Tracking App: This is all a dream…