Walking the Talk: How to do QS
Richard Ryan is a co-organizer and a longtime member of Quantified Self. In this talk, he shares an interesting journey with Quantified Self with self-tracking and self-experimentation over the last couple of years. He shares his experiment with the Fisher Wallace Stimulator, an electronic neuro-stimulation device that has been clinically demonstrated to produce therapeutic effects for a variety of conditions such as insomnia and chronic pain. He talks about the various tools that were used in Quantified Self.
Basis personal tracker | Fisher Wallace Stimulator
I see a lot of familiar faces here today. I’ve presented two years ago here at the New York Quantified Self meetup, and I have also presented at the European Quantified Self conference. I’m co-organizer; I’m longtime member of Quantified Self. Was at the very first national Quantified Self conference and co-organizer of Biohackers in YC, a great kind of sister meetup of this group that I think at least some of the people here are also involved with.
And so this is kind of familiar ground, but I have had an interesting journey with Quantified Self and with self-tracking and self-experimentation over the last couple of years, and that’s what my talk is going to be about tonight.
So biohacking for your own good.
Although we know Quantified Self is a data centric movement, and obviously everyone here is concerned about data, data collection, data integrity, and data aggregation. Most of us also are interested in those things for self-interest or subjective reasons. And so that’s what my talk is about.
So, the sad situational baseline, this is what brought me here tonight, and after one year’s involvement with the Quantified Self movement and dedicated biohacking I was doing great. I had lost weight, I was sleeping better, and I had to stop drinking. This was my presentation two years ago.
Between that time and now, I’m a technical contract and I’m involved with technology in various aspects, and I kind of hit a slippery slope. I was gaining weight again, I was drinking too much, I was sleeping poorly, and I was unemployed and this was in June. So I was in short experiencing the dreaded regression to the mean. How many people have heard of that term?
Gary Wolf at his keynote back in September 2012 at Quantified Self Conference talked about this, and it’s a very interesting phenomenon that I bet a lot of people have experienced. Which is you worked really hard self-improvement. You know you track your data, you get better and you do all these things right. And you see real progress, and then suddenly for whatever reason you regress.
And it’s a well-known phenomenon in data which was first observed in the 18th-century, and basically you have these trends and mostly they don’t become permanent, the reverse themselves and you go back and you regress to the mean, or as it’s sometimes called the reversion to mediocrity, which is something I think we are all afraid of.
So I said okay and I started this Quantified Self Meetup was coming up and I said to myself what can I do that can prove that these techniques and some of this data that I had been gathering was meaningful, and I could reverse this regression to the mean.
So I used Fisher Wallace neuro simulator, and I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this. It’s a New York-based device, it’s direct current neuro stimulation. There are more powerful devices, but the Fisher Wallace device has a lot of interesting characteristics. It’s approved by the FDA not that that matters at all, but it is in fact well studied and it’s shown to be safe, and it seems to have all sorts of interesting positive neurological and cognitive effects.
I was also using the Basis personal tracker how many use that here, and how many Fitbit users just out of curiosity – about an even mix.
So, for very subjective reasons I don’t like the Fitbit I like the Basis, so I have been using the Basis personal tracker, and then I have a database that I’m going to show you which is Knack-HQ, it’s a database that is object orientated, non-relational database and a very interesting tool that I’ve been developing and I will show it to you at the end of this.
I set myself a set of daily routines and I wanted to do a 30 day experiment to see how much I could reverse in 30 days. So I measured a variety of personal parameters and what I learned I’m getting too.
So one month experiment goals: to lose 10 pounds, fasting blood sugar to go under 90 on a daily basis. If any of you take your blood sugar on a regular basis you know that is the kind of target goal to hit. And there seems to be a lot of evidence that blood glucose levels, those of you who read the great Chris Chesser’s blog or listen to his podcast regularly you know how much emphasis he puts on blood sugar levels, and to get six hours sleep a night consistently.
So my main tool as I said was a Fisher Wallace stimulator, FDA approved, clinically demonstrated to be effective for depression, insomnia, attention deficit disorder post-traumatic stress disorder. The Pentagon exactly bought a bunch of these and is testing it with soldiers; it’s a very interesting device.
And the basic mechanism is not clearly understood like a lot of biofeedback and neuro stimulation devices. But it seems to be based on serotonin production. It seems as I think many of you who have looked at neuro chemistry know serotonin regulation, and production is a very important part of mental well-being and it seems to help improve and regulate that.
This is me using it for the very first time, and as I say it’s made here in New York, so this is me in the lobby of the Rubin Museum of art trying it for the first time.
And this is the other big tool that are use the Knack data object interface, and as you can see this is the actual programming interface. As I say it’s an object orientated database rather than a relational database. I’ve got now up to 30 things that I’m tracking, and I have been not as consistent about this as I should be, but I have gotten some interesting data out of it, and the achievements that I got after it.
So I did this for 30 days, used the Fisher Wallace stimulator, and what I got I didn’t get my goal of 10 pounds, but I lost four pounds. I improved my digestion and this is me taking a daily very powerful probiotic one, one of the most powerful ones on the market. One of the problems that I have had is with IBS is that it’s completely disappeared just by taking a probiotic, and I think exercising regularly.
I’m coordinator of the biohackers meet up and I memorized all the hundred and 70 flags and capitals of the countries of the world, and if anyone wants to shout out an obscure country I bet I could name the capital. Kazakhstan? Astana.
Those are a website for my fire department, I’m a member of the Hastings voluntary fire department. I got a job, I was unemployed when I started this and I landed a really good contract out in New Jersey which I’m starting next month, and I’m presenting a Quantified Self Meetup which I think is a major achievement.
Okay, so what I don’t have. I don’t have a way to measure my sleep, and those of you who remember my last presentation, remember I was obsessed with the Zeo, and the collapse of the Zeo is to me one of the great tragedies of the recent Quantified Self culture. And it’s really sad because it was such a great device. It was really really good for gamathon sleep improvement, and it gave you measurements of your deep sleep, of your REM sleep. It was just a terrific device.
I tried to get the Basis sleep dated to give me useful information, and then I discovered that when I meditated it thought that I was asleep and it’s just like no, that’s so wrong. I don’t know that of you who use the Fitbit or look at the Fitbit sleep info has had a better experience than I have had. With the Basis sleep info, but in the absence of a device that was sleep specific, I think it’s good to be hard for personal biohackers and self-trackers to get good sleep data, so that is a big disappointment.
We still don’t have in this state, in New York state and effective way to test bio stats, so things like CPR levels, thyroid hormones, testosterone levels obviously very important for the guys out there. You know there are other states in this country, California obviously where you can literally mail-order these tests. In New York State it’s still I believe this is writes Steve, it’s still legally prohibited. Although there are a lot of start-ups out there who are offering these tests you can’t in this state so it’s very frustrating.
You can help me solve this, any of you out there who would like an online data tracking solution who would like to work with me on my database. I’m inviting you to do this, and that obviously gives me access to data, but I can customize the interface for anyone who wants it, I can add stats, and quanta that are not currently part of it. And if you are interested in that then please come up and talk to me afterwards because I would love to have other people involved with this data sourcing effort.
So, this was a 30 day effort, and again one of the things that I learned and again I think this is something that you learned that you are part of the Quantified Self movement is that the data is important, but also what it ultimately comes down to is your subjective interpretation of it.
So I am going to continue the current protocols, and I am going to investigate Basis data that I didn’t really look at in things like body temperature and perspiration which seems to be interesting. I couldn’t see any clear correlations with anything that I’m convinced that there has got to be some good data there. So that is one of the things that I am going to look at.
I’m going to hack the Zeo; there’s a whole Zeo legacy underground out there of people who have actually figured out how to build Zeo headbands and how to hack the Zeo database. So I am going to actually try and revive my Zeo because it was such a great tool. And if any of you have old Zeo headbands that you are no longer using that you would like to sell to me I’ll buy them.
I’m going to draw up starches which I did not do as part of this. I dropped all – I should have mentioned earlier that one of the things that I did this last month was I eliminated all bovine dairy; I still did sheep milk and goat milk, yoghurt, and cheese but other than the butter in my coffee it is all non-bovine, and that seems to have helped my digestion a lot.
I’m going to draw up starches next month and then I hope I am going to get people contributing to the database so that we can get some better crowd source data.
So here are my findings, and the absence of large datasets results from the hints and subjective. Even in the presence of large datasets the results remain subjective, because if you are not feeling better at the end of that, no matter what the large aggregated data says you were supposed to feel, you’re still not feeling better and that’s the most important thing. It is what is your perception of experience.
For certain people gathering data is a form of mindfulness. I actually found, and again this echoes Gary’s observation in his keynote two years ago, that just concentrating on the data and thinking about it and this active putting this new role stimulator on my head for once or twice a day for 20 minutes gave me a kind of calm space. That the good things that have happened to me in the past month, and it seems like it’s been a real personal improvement in the 30 days were all based on that ability to find that calm clarity. And I think data gathering for from being the cold kind of calculated think that some of its critics accuse it of being is actually very kind of passionate, and actual the idea of spiritual discipline.
And this goes back to what I said in my last talk, which is ultimately you have got to choose your placebos, meaning that if it works for you, it works for you and you have got to take ownership of that.
Thank you very much.
Actually, he is the live database and if you can just scroll down to that you can see I have got all sorts of things. Sleep time, wake time, a self-assessment of my sleep quality, various things. I took probiotics, amines, vitamin D, magnesium – those are all defaults I actually take those on a daily basis. Mood rating, energy rating, a daily comment. Here’s the Basis number of steps, calories burned, running minutes, and I can easily add anything that anyone would be interested to this. So as I said it’s a very powerful data tool and I have got lots of capacity in it, and if anybody would like to join me on the understanding that I would obviously have access to this data which I am not going to resell or use for anything other than this personal exploration that would be great.