Topic Archives: What We’re Reading

What We Are Reading

A plate from "Food-Data" by artist Tobias Zimmer

A plate from “Food-Data” by artist Tobias Zimmer


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

Internet Pings

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…
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What We Are Reading



A man who tracked five years of sneezes might have a fix for your pollen allergy by Akshat Rathi. Thomas Blomseth Christiansen has spoken about tracking his sneezes at QS conferences. This article is a good telling of Thomas’s story.

Good tool with too small market can get a second chance – a hardware hack saves Zeo by Portabla Media. A short article on how Philipp Kalwies responded to the demise of Zeo. Since the sensors in the headband need to be replaced every three months and official supplies were dwindling on the secondary market, Philipp began to make his own and hopes to have this resource available to the small group of users who continue to get value from their Zeo devices.

The Right to Repair Ourselves by Kim Bellard. A common question in the QS community is “who owns your data?” Another question that should be given more time and is explored here, is “who owns the knowledge of how to ‘fix’ yourself?”


The Habits of Tracking My Diet and Exercise Data by Shannon Connors. Shannon has some of the most impressive personal data sets that I have ever seen. In this post, she gives an overview of the tools that she uses, what about the data she finds useful, and how she integrates the data collection into her day.

What you can learn from 2 years of habit tracking + Machine Learning by Bryan Dickens. Applying association analysis to his data, Bryan was able to see which of his habits tended to occur together. There are some intriguing insights in here.

Visualizing Data in My Sleep with Tableau by Robert Rouse. Robert shows how his sleep patterns changed after the birth of his child.

From the Forum
What Keeps You Tracking?
My Phone and Me
Zeo iOs / Android application

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What We Are Reading

On with the links!


Get your electronic health record: It’s your right by Lisa Zamosky. Make sure to know your rights when you ask for your medical records. A good overview of the regulations and some good links to have in your arsenal.

Open Data Rockstar: Jennifer Pahlka by Maria Renninger. We’re big fans of what Code for America is doing to make open data useful for people in communities around the United States. Great to hear a bit from Executive Director.

Awash in Data, Thirsting for Truth by Margaret Sullivan. The public editor for the New York Times goes deep on how data can be used, and sometimes abused, in the new era of data-driven journalism.

Meet the Hackers Who Are Decrypting Your Brainwaves by Sean Captain. I’m fascinated by the growing presence of brain tracking devices out there. Great to see some grassroots groups looking to make sense of all that data.

When Discrimination Is Baked Into Algorithms by Lauren Kirchner. The code that governs our machines are written by people. Fallible people who have their own opinions and biases. Who make mistakes. But what kind of legal protections are needed when discrimination is the result of the computers that run that code?

589aef6f-86b9-4a43-8919-551427cbaa7a-620x313 Why your bathroom scales are lying to you and how to find your true weight by Martin Robbins. Brilliant and fascinating post by Martin Robbins, who weighed himself every hour over a three-day period.

Soylent: What Happened When I Went 30 Days Without Food by Josh Helton. Say what you will about the techno-utopian food replacement product, but this is a great write-up on a month-long experiment to live off the stuff even while running nearly 70 miles per week. (Don’t forget to check out the data!)


open_jamierubin_net_v8_heatmap_html A Heatmap of Over 900 Days of Writing Data from My Google Docs Writing Tracker by Jamie Todd Rubin. Jamie shows us the data from the last two and a half years of tracking his writing.

From the Forum
Can You Quantify Inner Peace?
Psych Graduate Student Interested in QS Research

This Week on
Announcing the 2015 Quantified Self Europe Conference Program
Track HRV, Make a Dashboard, and Have Fun with Fitbit at QSEU15

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What We Are Reading

Enjoy this week’s list!

Doctors voice concerns over plan for greater patient access to medical records by Dennis Campbell. England’s National Health Service is planning giving patients access to medical records by 2018. Additionally, they’re creating means to for patients to read and add to their doctor’s notes. Of course, some physicians are saying this might not be the best idea.

Counting the Miles: Thomas Jefferson’s Quest for an Odometer by Jennifer Harbster. Thomas Jefferson was well known for his interest in measuring and keeping track of important information. This fun article details his near obsession with being able to track how far his carriages traveled.

Helping Teachers and Schools Run Experiments by Tom Vander Ark.

Teachers are scientists, they’ve always experimented. Most of the time it’s informal, “Let’s try a new behavior management routine.” Or, “Watch this video tonight and we’ll discuss it in the morning.” Or, “Let’s try a really hard problem.”

What if we gave teachers, and whole schools, the chance to run experiments of their own or to join larger trials? What if they had access to better measures and powerful analytics?

Transform Your Eating: A Start-to-Finish Guide to Tracking Your Food by Stephanie Lee. Great overview by Stephanie here, who has covered some QS topics in the past, on how to get started with tracking your food. Lots of good tips in this article.

iMore survey shows ultra-high levels of Apple Watch usage by Rene Ritchie. iMore collected survey responses from over 8,000 Apple Watch users and compiled the results. Some interesting stats in here! For instance, according to their data over 70% of the sample stood up after receiving a “stand up” alert.

tumblr_inline_nu0byhQvc61szhymg_1280 Quantifying & Hacking Focus – 2 Months In by Justin Lawler. Justin has been exploring how to better understand focus and concentration for the last few months. In this update, he talks about his Quantified Mind data and what he’s learned so far. (Note: Justin will be giving a show&tell talk at our QS Europe Conference on September 18th and 19th. Tickets are still available. Register today!)

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 10.58.01 AM My Working Pulse by Victor Pascual Cid. Victor used a simple open source keylogger to track how he was using his computer.


Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 11.01.08 AM The Data of Long Distance Lovers. A fantastic analysis of text messaging data between to individuals.

This Week on
QSEU15 Preview: Putting Physiological Signals into Pictures
QSEU15 Preview: Why Should I Share My Data?
QS Europe Preview: Using Genetic Data for Recovery from Injury
QS Europe Preview: Where does your time go?

And now for a bit of fun:
Consider filling out this fun survey from the Internet’s favorite geek comic artist - The XKCD Survey!

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What We Are Reading

Enjoy this week’s list!


Cell Phones Help Track Flu on Campus by Karl Bates. In 2013, Duke University students participated in a unique research trial to track the spread of influenza. Using sensors from their mobile phones and a few medical tests, researchers were able to see how personal habits and their social networks affected who got the flu.

How San Diego is Using Big Data to Improve Public Health by Mallory Pickett. A nice article here on some new research efforts being led by our friends at the University of California, San Diego.

“You Get Reminded You’re a Sick Person”: Personal Data Tracking and Patients With Multiple Chronic Conditions by Jessica S Ancker and colleagues. A very interesting research study examining the role of self-tracking and health technology in the lives of individuals with chronic conditions.

Next Steps in Developing the Precision Medicine Initiative by DJ Patil & Stephanie Devaney. After a few months of meetings and feedback, the folks helping steer the Precision Medicine Initiative are looking for new ideas and leading examples.


0*7MPPXFrgXIfXEi06 My 40-Day Journey into Meditation with Muse (the brain-sensing headband) by Kal Mokhtarzada. An interesting post examining meditation and the data provided by the Muse. Kal dives deep into his data, and gives a few examples of why things tended to work, and when they didn’t.


6713040-3x2-940x627 What reporter Will Ockenden’s metadata reveals about his life by Will Ockenden and Tim Leslie. A fascinating look into what you can learn from someone just from the metadata their phone collects.



RW_Dating 8 Years of Dating Data by Robin Weis. Robin details her dating history, starting when she was 15, in this wonderful visualization.


image02 See it, believe it: The Web Visualization Library by Jasper Speicher. Our friends over at Open mHealth are building a great set of open source tools to work with personal health data. In this post, they describe why they built their visualization library.

From the Forum

Cholesterol Monitoring
Sleep Tracker and Sleepwalking


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What We Are Reading

Have you registered for our 2015 Quantified Self Europe Conference? If not, this weekend is your last chance to take advantage of our special early bird rate (€149!). We’d love to see you there so register today!

Our friends at Oura are currently crowdfunding their amazing heart rate, sleep, and activity tracking ring. Check out their Kickstarter to learn more.

Now, on with the show!

You may just have updated the map with your RunKeeper route by Alex Barth. Short post here describing a fascinating use of publicly available data from Runkeeper users around the world.

A Six Month Update on How We’ve Been Using Data, and How it Benefits All Americans by DJ Patil. A nice update on some of the current initiatives being championed at the federal level to make data more available and beneficial for all Americans. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Discovering Google Maps New Location History Features by Mark Krynsky. Mark walks us through the new features embedded within Google Maps and Location tracking. Want to find out where you spend most of your time or how often you visit your favorite coffee shop? Google may already know!

Drowning in Data, Cities Need Help by William Fulton.

No city government, university or consulting firm can possibly figure out how best to use all the data we now have. The future lies in having everybody who understands how to manipulate data — from sophisticated engineering professors to smart kids in poor neighborhoods — mess around with it in order to come up with useful solutions.

Just Talking with Maggie Delano by Christopher Snider. Take a listen to a great conversation with our friend and QS Boston and QSXX organizer, Maggie Delano. Well worth your time.


1112195 HRV Measurements: Paced Breathing by Marco Altini. Marco is back at it again with a in-depth post about his experiments on how breathing rate affects HRV and heart rate measurements. Starting with a great review of the current literature, he then dives in to his own data and what he’s found through various experimental protocols.


tumblr_inline_n4fxiifr6T1r6gaqp Resuming Quantified Self Practices by Emily Chambliss. A short post here on using Excel to track and understand food consumption. Make sure to check out the slides from a talk she gave in 2012 at a New York QS Meetup.


9aXr5Mm My Sleep Quality of the last 2 Years by Reddit user Splitlimes. A beautiful visualization of just over two years of sleep data tracked with the Sleep Cycle app.


3 - nqfnVD8 Time-histogram of 10 Million Key Strokes by Reddit user osmotischen.

These are plots of 10 million key strokes and about 2.4 million mouse clicks logged over a bit more than a year’s time on my computer. (Make sure to click through for more visualizations.)


From the Forum
Descriptives and visualizations for large numbers of variables
I created this site to make decisions better with an algorithm. I’d love feedback!
HRV apps for Polar H7 that include SDNN

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What We Are Reading

Enjoy this week’s list!

When ‘Special Measures’ Become Ordinary by David Beer. What does it mean to have measurement, personal and institutional, as part of our everyday experience? A nice article that begins to expose what it means to operate in this new world.

Building smarter wearables for healthcare, Part 1: Examining how healthcare can benefit from wearables and cognitive computing by Robi Sen. In this article, Robi Sen describes what IBM sees as the “analytics gap” in current wearable technology. Specifically, that devices and the data they present don’t fully understand and utilize contextual information, and therefore are not providing meaningful information. What’s the answer? IBM’s Watson, of course.

Doping scandals, open data, and the emergence of the quantified athlete by Glyn Moody. A short and interesting piece that wonders if opening up athlete performance data might be a useful part of combating doping and illegal performance enhancement in professional athletics.

N of 1 Trials and Personal Health Data with Dr. Nicholas Schork. The Health Data Exploration Network hosted their inaugural webinar this past Friday. The focus was on N of 1 trials: why they’re important, how to conduct them, and the role of Quantified Self and self-tracking data.

Lifelog: Pilot Tasks of NTCIR–12. Our good friend and lifelogging researcher, Cathal Gurrin, is spearheading an innovative project to improve search and information access to lifelogging and self-tracking data. If you’re a researcher or information systems specialist you may want to take a look at data and see if you can help push the field forward!

sleepwalking_beddit Sleepwalking. Rather than point to one post over another we’re going to highlight this entire blog by one anonymous scientist who’s exploring his sleepwalking. The whole blog is chock full of insights into measurements, devices, and experiments to see what may or may not affect their sleepwalking. Start here to get a good overview.

How I Hacked Amazon’s $5 WiFi Button to track Baby Data by Ted Benson. Have $5 to spend on an Amazon Dash button? With a little bit of programming you can turn it into your own DIY internet-connected tracker!

FullSizeRender-1 10,000 Steps at a Music Festival by Tim Hanrahan. A fun post about tracking physical activity at the Lollapalooza festival.


vjo_2015-Aug-13 Basis Data Analysis by Victor Jolissaint. I saw this Victor tweet this visualization and was immediately drawn in. Turns out he’s been exploring ways to analyze and understand his Basis watch data using R. Check out the link for his code and take a crack at analyzing your own data!

My-Steps_thumb Tableau: Helping Me See and Understand Myselfb y Craig Bloodworth. Craig pulled all his self-tracking data into Tableau and designed his own personal dashboard to better understand what was going on with his activity, personal finances, and other lifestyle information.

From the Forum
How to acquire info about sent e-mails using gmail?
How to quantify myself
We want to track you!


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What We Are Reading

We’re back again with another round of What We’re Reading. Before diving into the great articles and links below why not take some time to subscribe to our QS Radio podcast! We just released our fourth episode and would love to know what you think!

Want to tell us in person? Why not join us for our fourth QS Europe Conference this September in Amsterdam! Register now to take advantage of our early bird pricing.

Got Sleep Problems? Try Tracking Your Rest with Radar. by Rachel Metz. Researchers at Cornell University, the University of Washington and Michigan state are conducting research using off the shelf components to see if non-contact sleep tracking is possible. Turns out it is!

Apple’s Fitness Guru Opens Up About the Watch by Scott Rosenfield. A nice interview with Jay Blahnik here, where he speaks to Apple’s focus on self-tracking and fitness with the Apple Watch.

To share is human by Laura DeFrancesco. In this great news feature, Laura DeFrancesco exposes some of the issues with sharing personal data, as well as the initiatives hoping to break through those issues to help bring more data into the public sphere.

Using Twitter data to study the world’s health by Elaine Reddy. A great post here profiling John Brownstein and his work in Computational Epidemiology, specifically how he and his research team use public data sources like Twitter to tease out signals for health research.


Charts.001 Comparing Step Counts: Apple Watch, Fitbit Charge HR, And IOS Withings App by Victor Lee. An awesome and in-depth post comparing almost two months of steps counts from three different tracking methods by our friend Victor Lee. Glad to see he put our QS Access app to good use!

Follow-up to how I lost over 40 pounds using HealthKit and Apple Watch by Jim Dalrymple. Jim tells his story of how using a variety of apps and tools, all linked to his Apple Healthkit app, helped him learn about himself and eventually put him on the path to sustained weight loss.

Tracking Confidence by Buster Benson. Buster always has something interesting to say about self-tracking. This time is no different. Here he briefly talks about asking himself, “how confident do I feel right now?”


The Heart Chamber Orchestra.

The Heart Chamber Orchestra – HCO – is an audiovisual performance. The orchestra consists of 12 classical musicians and the artist duo TERMINALBEACH. Using their heartbeats, the musicians control a computer composition and visualization environment. The musical score is generated in real time by the heartbeats of the musicians. They read and play this score from a computer screen placed in front of them.

From the Forum
How to acquire info about sent e-mails using gmail?
Looking for Android exercise tracking app
Resting Heart Rate tracking

This Week on
QS Radio: Episode #4

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What We Are Reading

A long list for this week’s What We’re Reading. I actually had to stop myself from adding in even more visualizations and show&tell examples! We’re always on the lookout for more though, so make sure tweet us your favorite links!

Fitted by Moira Weigel. A very thoughtful essay on gender, identity, and confession – all while using the Fitbit as the narrative backdrop.

What kind of love does the FitBit prepare us to feel? Is it self-love? Or is even the self of the exorexic a kind of body armor?

How to Build a Smart Home Sensor by Dave Prochnow. If you have 2 hours, $95, and know how to solder, then you too can build this DIY sensor to measure the temperature, humidity, light, and noise for any room in your home. If someone builds and tests this please let me know (Would love to see air quality sensors included too!)

It’s Hard to Count Calories, Even for Researchers by Margot Sanger-Katz. New research shows Americans are eating less, but can we really trust the data? Margot does an excellent job here of rounding up the various ways we measure food consumption in the United States while coming to a commonly heard conclusion – food tracking is just plain hard.

Hadley Wickham, the Man Who Revolutionized R by Dan Kopf. If you’re knee deep in data analysis, or just like poking around in stats software, you’ve probably heard of and used R. And if you’ve used R, then there is a good chance you’ve used many of the packages written by Hadley Wickham. Great read, if for nothing else you learn what the “gg” in ggplot2 stands for.

Heart patient: Apple Watch got me in and out of hospital fast by Neil Versel. When Ken Robson wasn’t feeling well he turned to his Apple Watch. After noticing lower than normal heart rate readings his checked himself into the emergency room and soon found out his hunch was right, he had sick sinus syndrome.

New Australian experiment rewards joggers with 3D printed chocolate treats based on exercise data by Simon Cosimo. Sign me up!


Screen_Shot_2015-07-24_at_11.41.15_AMHow Does Giving Blood Affect Your Iron Levels? by Ryan W. Cohen. Simple and to the point blog post by Ryan explaining how he discovered elevated iron levels in his blood, and the simple test he tried to find out why.

The Quantified Athlete by Matt Paré. Matt is a minor league catcher in the San Francisco Giants organization. In this post, the second in a series (read Part 1 here), Matt discusses how he became interested in tracking his biomarkers, and what he’s experimenting with.

What I Learned When I Stopped Wearing a Fitbit After Seven Years by Michael Wood. Michael writes up a brief post on how he felt when he was separated from his Fitbit activity tracker.

1*n0JEGs6Mzgiri0kAUYPDkgHow I tracked my house movements using iBeacons by Joe Johnston. Joe uses a few iBeacons to find out where he spend time in his house. Fascinating idea, makes me want to play with this technology as well!


Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 8.55.26 amVisualizing a Simpler RunKeeper Training Plan by Andy Kriebel. Andy presented his running data, and how he uses a few tools to keep track and visualize his data as he trains for a marathon. Follow the link and you can see his Tableu workbook, which includes a screencast of his presentation, and links to his workflow.

gIV8BlGI decided to take a peek at my Netflix viewing data by Reddit user AmericanPicker69. This enterprising individual decided to take a peak into his user account to understand his Netflix viewing habits. Turns our a simple copy/past is all you need to do to get the raw data. Who knew?!

eUKFHBOMy weight loss journey by Reddit user IMovedYourCheese. Loved this graph and the implementation of BMI categories, a moving average, and lower/upper bounds for weight loss. He even provided the excel template if you’d like to use it with your own weight tracking.

From the Forum
Teach Arduino from Beginner to Making a Quantified Monitor
Google Fit

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What We Are Reading

Have you registered for our QS Europe Conference? Makes sure to do so soon as early bird ticets (€149) are almost sold out. Register today!


Why Cities Need More Technology To Improve Low-Income Citizens’ Lives by Ben Hecht. Can technology create meaningful impact for the disadvantaged in communities across the United States? In this brief article, Ben Hecht describes a few exemplary projects, which are building and using technology to for social impact.

We are data: the future of machine intelligence by Douglas Coupland.

I sometimes wonder, How much data am I generating? Meaning: how much data do I generate just sitting there in a chair, doing nothing except exist as a cell within any number of global spreadsheets and also as a mineable nugget lodged within global memory storage systems — inside the Cloud, I suppose.

New open source uBiome github repository for data analysis tools by Alexandra Carmichael & Richard Sprague. Have you started testing your microbiome and want to do a more in-depth analysis? Check out this post and the open source tools.

You Shouldn’t Trust Me by Mike Lazer-Walker. A brilliant post by Mike describing a coffee tracking application that he  released as both a paid and open source application.

It’s more important to me that we seriously think about our privacy, and what trust means in context of software that handles our personal data. We need to think about the repercussions of trusting large corporations that don’t have our best interests at heart and have no incentives or obligations to be transparent.


Track It! by Dave Mierau. A short post, but Dave does a great job of describing the power of monitoring and tracking. Go spreadsheets!

Currently Tracking by Chris Campbell. What is your tracking routine? In this post, Chris describes a day in the life of his quantified self. I’m sure you’ll learn about one or two new apps/tools. I did!


tumblr_nrqzeeL6Cj1qzbok1o2_1280 Carl Apstein: Annual Reports by Nicholas Felton. It’s no surprise that Mr. Felton is always on the lookout for Annual Reports from around world. In this post he posts a few photos from a hand-drawn report by the German zoologist, Carl Apstein, from the 1930s.

From the Forums

What do you think of a Personal Control Center?
Data Collection and Analysis
Beta-test a very unique mood tracking app – easily export your data and analytics

This Week on

Our Data, Our Health: Thoughts on using mHealth for the Precision Medicine Cohort
Quantified Self Public Health: Stephen Downs on Building a Culture of Health
Runkeeper & Research: The Keeping Pace Study

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