Visualising converstation

During the Dutch Design Week Awareness Lab conducted an experiment which consisted of a virtual tour through the future Meditation Lab. Visitors viewed a slide show and got an explanation of what it will entail to use Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit (MLEK).

After the tour we asked them open-ended questions like: Can you imagine using MLEK? Do you think the use of the PC is disturbing or contributing to your mindset and attitude? Do you have experience in meditation?
We collected 10 forms and got responses from 14 participants. We were touched by their involvement and interesting and valuable remarks. Remarks turned out to fall into a few areas of interest. Some remarks were mentioned only once others up to six times by different people.

DDW17poster

DDW visualisation of comments during the Meditation Lab virtual tour

You may download this A3 sized PDF: DDW17Viz

I would like to thank: the participants, Creative Ring Eindhoven, Meike Kurella, Hans d’Achard.

Single person experiments with light

A romantic dinner by candle light, bright lights in an office building. Both give us a very different experience. We all know from experience how light can influence our mood and the way we perceive a space.
What I want to find out with Meditation Lab is if light conditions can also influence the quality of your meditation experience. I have a hunch that it does. This is also based on over 20 years of daily meditation practice. And I’ve found starting points on optimal lighting during meditation in scientific research.

Building a meditation lab in my attic

Building a meditation lab in my attic

Conditions for a good meditation session

Contrary to a commonly held belief meditation isn’t about being relaxed and a little sleepy. I practice in the Buddhist tradition of Vipassana (insight) meditation. This form of meditation is about being fully present in the moment without effort. This clear observation will give a person insight into the true nature of reality. This insight will help to overcome suffering and to become a wiser and more compassionate being. An important concept in this context is the Satipatthana.
So the ideal state for a good meditation session is being relaxed but at the same time alert. I had heard about changing light conditions in classrooms to support different activities and states of mind of students. I was also wondering if work had been done on the psychological aspects of light. I’ll summarize my findings and tell about how I will be translating that into one person experiments.

Working with a light expert

Before diving into the theory I would like to explain how I will go about changing the light conditions. I was very fortunate be introduced to Tom Bergman. He is Principal Scientist at Philips Lighting. He has been working on what he calls Light instruments: LED light systems that can be programmed and played like a musical instrument. With his instruments he wants to go beyond mere functionality and use light for expression and experience. Our goals and explorations were a perfect match. I will be using his 9 x 9 mosaic instrument. It can make all colours and make beautiful and unexpected colour transitions. Also interesting is that it has been tested as tool for relaxation by master student Nina Oosterhaven (1). Her study showed for example that looking at changing patterns of light showed a significant reduction in heart-rate. So there are interesting starting points to work with the instrument.
The light instruments are of course very specialized and not commercially available. So Tom kindly also supplied me with a Philips Hue Go. This will enable me to try out similar settings with a consumer device which is already Internet of Things ready.

The lab set up: Light instrument, meditation mat and data server

The lab set up: Light instrument, meditation mat and data server

Types of light

Psychological effects

In the various articles I read I was looking for settings in light colour and intensity that would either relax or activate people and make them alert. There hasn’t been much research on the psychological effects of lighting. Seuntiens and Vogels(2) have done research on atmosphere and light characteristic in living room settings with a group of light designers. They looked at four types of atmospheres of which activating and relaxing are relevant for Meditation Lab. Interesting were their findings on the influence of colour temperature, brightness and dynamics on these atmospheres. In general the findings were: warmer (+/- 2700 Kelvin), static and less bright light (180 lux) is perceived as relaxing. Cooler (+/- 3800 K) and brighter light (390 lux) is perceived as activating this light can have a slow dynamic.

School performance

Sleegers et al (3) looked at school performance in children and students under adjusted light conditions. Their studies used build in light systems which had different settings. Focus, calm and engery are the most interesting for my project. Energy is an interesting setting, it is used in the morning or after mealtime to overcome sluggishness. The settings correspond with the following light properties (measured at eye-hight):
Energy:650 lux and 12000 K colour temperature
Focus:1000 lux and 6500 K colour temperature
Calm:300 lux and 2900K

Staying awake

Jacques Taillard et al (4) studied the effects of blue light on staying awake whilst driving a car at night. They compared the effects of continuous blue light to drinking coffee. When compared to a placebo both coffee and the blue light condition reported significantly less inappropriate line crossings with coffee doing only slightly better then blue light. The light source was a Philips GOLite with a wavelength of 468 nm. Luminance level was around 20 lux measured at eye level.

Research design

Sleepiness, tension and lack of focus are challenges you face when meditating. By experimenting with different types of light I want to find out if the findings in other areas can be used in a meditation setting. I will use warm white light for relaxation, cool white light for focus and blue light for alertness. I will be exposed to one light condition per 20 minute meditation session. Before and after every session I fill in the standardised questionnaires which I have designed. I have started single person experiments (n=1) and I have designed the following experiments.

Design single person experiments

Design single person experiments

There is no baseline measurement included in the single person meditation session. Instead I have conducted 54 baseline session under my usual meditation conditions. I did a 6 day solitary retreat at home. The sessions took place throughout the day, I didn’t manipulate anything, especially not the light conditions. So they varied widely as the day progressed.

Current findings

At the moment I’m conducting n=1 experiments using the Light instrument and the three main light states described above. I’ve set up a darkened lab to control the light conditions. I keep my eyes slightly open with my gaze turned down.
My first impressions are that there is a difference from what I normally experience during meditation. The white lights I find quite relaxing and somehow invigorating. The blue light I find less pleasant and a bit depressing. I suppose the light will interact with my overall state of focus, sleepiness and alertness as it fluctuates during the day. That is why I try to do the experiments at different times of the day while using the same light setting. I do worry a bit about my sleep when meditating in the evening in bright light. For that reason I have turned down the brightness (there a 5 settings) in an effort to not affect my sleep too much.

The single person experiments are my starting point. Later I will report on my design for group experiments. I’m always on the lookout for people who would like to join the experiments. So please leave a comment if you want to participate.

References
1) Oosterhaven, N. (2017). Fascinated by Dynamic Lighting. Thesis Master of Science In Human Technology Interaction
2) Seuntiens, P.J.H. & Vogels, Ingrid. (2008). Atmosphere creation: The relation between atmosphere and light characteristics. Proceedings from the 6th Conference on Design and Emotion 2008.PJC Sleegers, PhD, NM Moolenaar, PhD, M Galetzka, PhD, A Pruyn, PhD, BE 3) Sarroukh, PhD, B van der Zande, PhD (2013). Lighting affects students’ concentration positively: Findings from three Dutch studies. Lighting Research & Technology Vol 45, Issue 2, pp. 159 – 175
4) Taillard J, Capelli A, Sagaspe P, Anund A, Akerstedt T, Philip P (2012) In-Car Nocturnal Blue Light Exposure Improves Motorway Driving: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46750.

How to test a meditation wearable?

I suppose the answer to that question is obvious but not so easy to realise: during a retreat. But still, that is what I did. Last week I spend 6 days meditating while at the same time putting my brand new wearable and software platform to the test.

It was snowing outside while I was doing my 6-day retreat

It was snowing outside while I was doing my 6-day retreat

What is it all about?

For those of you who missed it: the past 3 months I’ve been working on the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. The focus on those first months has been to design and develop a new Silence Suit wearable, improve the electronics and create a software platform (the Data Server) to log and explore the data.
The whole team has been working really hard to get the prototype ready for single user testing. It was quite exciting to put all the different parts together which have been developed by different team members on separate locations. I managed only just in time to get everything to work for the start of my self conducted retreat.

Data science

The main goal was to gather as much baseline data as possible. At a later stage I will try to influence my meditation through manipulating the light. But to really see the effects I need insight into how my ordinary meditation data looks. So German, our AI and data science expert, advised me to get as many 20 minute sessions as possible. I managed to do 54!
Things I wanted to know:
Do all the sensors produce reliable data?
How stable is the software platform?
How easy is it to use the wearable and the platform?
Will I enjoy using both?

Do all the sensors produce reliable data?

MLEK HR

Getting good heart-rate data was the biggest challenge

Because I had been working with most of the sensors in my first prototype I had a pretty good idea of what the data should look like. Programmer Simon had swiftly put together a script that could plot data from all the sensors in graphs. That way I could easily grasp the main trends. It immediately became clear that the heart-rate sensor wasn’t doing what I’d hoped. A lot of beats were missed, once even only 2 data points were collected in 20 minutes (and no, I was not dead).
Oddly enough the rest of the data was fine. I tried recharging the batteries and changing the ear clip but nothing worked and whether or not I’d get good data seemed unpredictable. Until the final day.
While looking at the graphs after I’d finished a session I casually rubbed my earlobe and it felt cold. I looked at the data and saw that the signal deteriorated towards the end of the session. Eureka! The blood flow to my earlobe was the problem, not the electronics.
Cold is a major influence but I also want to experiment with the tightness of the clip. It might prevent the blood from circulating properly.
So most sensors performed well, better even than I’d hoped. Unfortunately no data comes from the cute little PCB one of the students at Design Lab has designed and soldered. Also the soft sensor for detecting sitting down (also the start button) is still unstable.

Force sensor to measure pressure between fingers

How stable is the software platform?

The software runs on my old Dell laptop and Simon has installed the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment (LXDE) on it. So it runs on Linux which was a new experience for me. But I like it, it is basic and simple and does what it should. To start the system I have to run the server for data storing and the adapter for communication with the hardware. I must say I am very impressed with the whole performance. There has been no data loss and the plots are great to get an impression of the session.

getSession

Data output from one meditation session

How easy is it to use the wearable and the platform?

I was pleasantly surprised by the comfortableness of the suit even after 10 sessions in one day. Putting it on with attention takes about 2 minutes and then you’re all set. You hardly notice that you are packed with 10 different sensors.
The pre and post qualitative forms are easy to use. At the moment I still have to use URLs to access certain functionality but everything works and that was such a relief. Plotting the data with around 5000 data points per sensor per 20 min session is hard work for my old Dell. But it gives me time to do a little walking meditation…

Maybe it is just me but I don’t mind filling in two forms for every session. I seriously consider every question and try to answer as honestly as I can.
Doing two or three session in a row is even easier. All I have to do is refresh the home page of the server and I can start another session.

Will I enjoy using both?

Well yes, using the system was a pleasant experience for me. I did learn that I should not look at the data before filling in the post meditation questionnaire because the data caused my mood to plummet. So it will be best to have the data summery after that has been done.

last Session

Session summary. The number of data points will be replaced by mean values.

I have a lot of confidence that the system will be useful and give a lot of insights. There is still a way to go until I can actually automate the light actuation intelligently. But the plots did show variations and now German can work his magic. I can’t wait to see what he will come up with.

Design Lab nirvana

Ready, set, go!

After a difficult start things are really starting to move. Since a couple of weeks all the team members are working on their individual tasks: the database design, the interaction design, suit design, PCB design and experiment design. The project feels like a sort of organism that grows organically in different directions. I keep track of what everybody is up to via Skype or phone but nothing beats a face to face meeting. Last week we had such a meeting at the Design Lab Twente.

Teamwork, photo Meike Kurella

Teamwork, photo Meike Kurella

From 12 o’ clock onwards the Lab had kindly reserved a room for our team to collaborate. Present were Klaas and Stephen students from the TU Twente, designer Vera and my intern, art student Meike.

Klaas and Stephen have been working hard on the PCB design. Their main task is to simplify the design and make it more robust. Vera had been working on the first silhouette of the suit. Our goal for the afternoon was to check if things were still matching up.

Paper sensor, photo Vera de Pont

Paper sensor, photo Vera de Pont

Match maker

The boys walked me through their designs. We were able to clarify things for each other and we spend quite some time on the plug layout and the interaction with them.
I’m learning more and more to think like a designer by assuming the role of the user and by quick prototyping of problems and interaction hiccups. I really loved the way Vera and I found solutions by taking a different angle, using paper, key-cards and even a jojo to make future usage tangible.

Key-card as batch, photo Vera de Pont

Key-card as batch, photo Vera de Pont

Vera and I also discussed the fit and aesthetics. Wearing the suit has to be a pleasant experience that has to be put to the test. At the end of the afternoon Stephen said: You must like the way it fits, you’ve been wearing the suit all afternoon. And he is right, it does feel good to wear it.

Storing wires, photo Vera de Pont

Storing wires, photo Vera de Pont

I also loved the way in which we all are working towards something which still isn’t completely clear to any of us. I use intuition, faith and persistence to keep trying to bring the different worlds together. I’m discovering that this is what comes natural to me. Merging these worlds, looking for solutions to make the most of a problem and connecting different ways of thinking to come up with something that surprises myself.

Hardware and design, photo Vera de Pont

Hardware and design, photo Vera de Pont

Calling

I started this project with the aspiration to become a modern hermit. But more and more I’m beginning to see that I am made for teamwork, that I love to inspire and be inspired. Nothing beats creating something new together. I suppose I’ll be the first part-time hermit.

Introducing Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit

For over a year I’ve been working on a wearable which will track physiological and environmental parameters during meditation. The idea was to improve the quality of your meditation by changing aspects of your environment e.g. light, sounds or temperature.

Silence Suit

In the spring of this year the opportunity arose to apply for an open call organised by the EU. The aim of that call is to generate knowledge about and new applications that address important issues concerning wearable technology today: data ethics and sustainability. Teams consisting of artist/designers and technologists were invited to apply for the WEARsustain open call.

I’m happy to announce here that my project is one of the 23 winners. For the next 6 months I’ll work with a great team of experts to realize this project. There’s what we’ll do.

DIY Science

We will create the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. This is a tool-set for studying, enhancing and sharing meditation experiences. The kit consists of a wearable and software. The main functionalities are:
1) Monitoring: A two piece garment, Silence Suit houses seven different biometric sensors and three environmental sensors.
2) Logging and analysing: A data server can store the data and allows the user to perform data analysis
3) Influencing: The wearable is part of an Internet of Things ecology allowing it to automatically optimise the environment for meditation
4) Sharing: Live or logged data can be used for to create custom output, in this case artistic visualizations for others to experience meditation.

The development will be staged around experiments. I will conduct 1-person meditation sessions in a controlled and customizable environment to explore the influence of light on meditation. Sensor data is combined with qualitative input about the session. The aim is to make 5 wearables. That way I can test the results in group experiments.

DIY Sustainability

I want to make sustainability as easy as possible for the user. The hardware consists of of-the-shelf, low cost and open source sensors. This makes replacement easy. The battery and micro-controller container will be 3D printed. This allows for easy adjustment and replacement. All schematics and patterns will become open-source. Users can keep working with the components and customize the suit.

Freeing Quantified Self

With regards to data ethics I believe that people have a right to own their data and that sharing should be opt-in only. That is why the software should function fully stand alone to protect the personal data. Basic statistical analyses let users explore their data. This makes it easy to independently make sense of the data. The kit democratizes doing scientific experiments and promotes data literacy.

Here’s a video I made together with Michel Gutlich about what we intend to do.

 

Don’t DI all Y

I realize that this is quite an ambitious plan for 6 months. That’s why I work with enthusiastic experts:
ProtoSpace will work on the dataserver.
Vera de Pont will design a new suit and sew the wearables in 3 different sizes.
Hans d’Achard will manage the system architecture and technology management of the software system.
Germán Bravo will provide expert knowledge and work on the machine learning.
Meike Kurella will be my intern for this period. She’ll be blogging about the process and help out with all kind of hands on tasks (sewing, soldering and help out with the experiments).

I’m very much looking forward to starting the project and learning how technology can support spirituality and health. Check this blog for the latest updates.

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Maya cabin hackathon

Since this year my projects Meditation Lab and Silence Suit are part of Hack the Body program initiated by the art-science lab Baltan. They want to combine different programs so they suggested that Hack the Body should work together with people from the Age of Wonderland program.
That meant I could work with Branly again. I met him last year and that was a very impressive experience. Branly works with people using ancient Maya spirituality.
At the same time I could try out the Sensiks cabin. With this cabin you can create multi-sensory experiences. This is very similar to what I want to do in my Hermitage 3.0 project. (This will be a space where I can optimise meditation by changing the environment and influencing the senses.)
I brought my Silence Suit which already has a lot of working sensors. We could use the suit to log biometric and environmental data and see how they are influenced by the actuators in the Sensiks cabin.
The main aim of the hackathon was to explore if ancient Maya culture and rituals can be transferred to a high tech environment. The team members were David, Branly, Masha, later to be joined by Michel.

Day 1: exploring
The first afternoon Branly explained the Tuj/Temazcal. It is used in a purifying rebirth ritual. It is a small dome-like structure that is heated by hot stones and steam. The experience resembles a sauna. The rebirth ritual is multi-sensory too: touch (temperature, rubbing with twigs and salt), smell: different herbs and resins, taste: hot drinks (herbal infusions, cacao, honey). Sound: beating of a drum, like heartbeat. Vision is excluded mostly. The Tuj is dark except for red hot glowing stones. We decided to take this as a starting point for building our experience.

Tuj/Temazcal Wikipedia image

The Tuj is located on a beach or in the woods. A quiet, relaxing space. The ritual isn’t limited to experience in the dome. Preparations start days before. The space around the dome is also part of the ritual. For example the structure has a low door so you have to get on all fours to enter. This immediately takes you back to your childhood.

Sensiks control panel photo by Masha Ru

Sensiks control panel photo by Masha Ru

The Sensiks cabin has lots of different actuators: smell, airflow, light, sound, temperature and VR. Everybody had a test ride. We all felt the cabin was rather clinical. We wanted to connect it to the environment. Make it part of a bigger ritual like the Maya rebirth ritual.

Day 2: concept development
Next day we were joined by other Hack the Body participants and hackers. One of them was Michel with whom I collaborate on the Silence Suit.
The whole group had a very interesting discussion about what an experience actually is and where it is experienced. Is it meaningful to recreate an experience that can never match the real thing? The most interesting would be to create something that can’t be experienced in the real world. We wanted to work on changing our state of mind through bodily experiences.

Another level of conciousness... Photo by Masha Ru

Another level of conciousness… Photo by Masha Ru

Day 3: design and experiments
The Maya team was joined by technology wizard Michel. We decided that we did not want to mimic the actual sensory experiences but try to induce a state of mind, another level of consciousness. We used these keywords as our guideline: womb, unknown, subconscious, abstract and random, rhythm. The next step was to translate these abstract concepts into an experience in the cabin. Actuators that we could use: smoke, heat, sound, red and blue lights.

Michel at work Photo by Masha Ru

Michel at work Photo by Masha Ru

In the womb the developing child experiences the heartbeat and breathing of the mother. In the rebirth ritual they make use of a drum to simulate that heartbeat. We wanted to use our own heartbeat and breathing using life data from the Silence Suit. The Sensiks cabin would provide the feedback through sound and light and influence the user. We did little experiments to try out the effects of hearing your heartbeat and breathing, using smoke, scent, heating the cabin, using airflow, etc. It was promising.

Experimenting with sound Photo by Masha Ru

Experimenting with sound Photo by Masha Ru

Day 4: building and presentation
We wrote a scenario of the ritual which started and ended outside of the cabin. Our aim was to slow heart-rate by manipulating the feedback. Just like the peaceful heart-beat of the mother will quiet the unborn child. This is also a way to connect to the heartbeat of the cosmos.
From this came the idea to limit the experience to 260 heart-beats (there are 260 days in a Maya year). By slowing your heart-rate you can make the experience last longer. Four stages of 65 beats would offer different experiences aimed at first going inward and then returning to the outside again.

The ritual starts outside Photo by Masha Ru

The ritual starts outside Photo by Masha Ru

The main challenge was to get the Sensiks and Silent Suit systems working together and to time the events to the users’ heart-rate. We didn’t even have time to test the final scenario.
One of the jury members agreed to be the guinea-pig. And even though we didn’t manage to manipulate the heart-rate feedback we could hear her heart-beat slowing down as she progressed through the experience. Later she described that she could turn inwards and let go of the world outside the cabin. This was exactly what we were aiming for.

Presenting "260 beats womb reset" Photo by Stellarc

Presenting “260 beats womb reset” Photo by Stellarc

Some conclusions
For me the “260 beats womb reset” experience was a proof of concept. That you can actually change a state of mind through relatively simple means (light, sound, smell and airflow) using physiological data as input. An interesting insight is that it is important to make the experience bigger than the box. To create a larger ritual that is not isolated from the rest of the environment. The user must be lured and triggered to actually use the cabin, it must make sense in the context of life.

It was a great inspiration to work with Branly, David, Masha, Michel, Fred (the inventor of the Sensiks) and all the other participants. Michel did a great job of getting everything to work in time for the presentation and combining the systems. We’ve been able to create a spiritual experience using technology. It will be worthwhile exploring this further. I feel a step closer to realizing my Hermitage 3.0.

Edit >> In addition to this report there is an interview with me by Olga Mink from Baltan Laboratories all about the hackathon. Included there is a very nice video impression of the whole week.

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Introducing Silence Suit

first sensors

Meditation stool with soft sensor and heart-rate sensor

For over a year I’ve been working on a meditation wearable. It measures biometric and environmental input. Its goals is to use the measurements to improve your meditation and use the data to generate artistic visualisations. The wearable is part of a bigger project Hermitage 3.0, a high-tech living environment for 21st century hermits (like me). Now that the wearable project is taking shape I’d like to tell a little about to process of creating it.

The sensors
I started with a simple but surprisingly accurate heart-rate sensor. It works with the Arduino platform. It uses an ear-clip and sends out inter beat intervals and beats per minute at every beat. With some additional code in Processing I can calculate heart-rate variability. These are already two important measures that can tell a lot about my state while meditating. Then I added galvanic skin response to measure the sweatiness of my skin, a nice indicator of stress or excitement. I added an analogue temperature sensor that I put on my skin to measure its temperature. Low skin temperature also indicates a state of relaxation. I also made a switch sensor that is attached to my meditation stool. Sitting on it indicates the start a session, getting up marks the end.
All sensors were connected with a wire to my computer but the aim was, of course, to make it wireless so I’d be free to move. But I could already see day to day changes in my measurements.

A little help from my friends
As things were becoming more complex I posted a request for help in a Facebook group. A colleague, Michel offered to help. We first looked at different ways to connect wirelessly. Bluetooth was a problem because it has very short range. Xbee also wasn’t ideal because you need a separate connector. We also made a version where we could write to an SD card on the device. But this of course doesn’t offer live data which was crucial for my plans. We finally settled for WiFi using the Sparkfun Thing Dev ESP8266. We were going to need a lot of analogue pins which the thing dev doesn’t offer. So we used the MCP3008 chip to supply 8 analogue i/o pins.

Overview of all the sensors

Overview of all the sensors

More is more
We could then increase the amount of sensors. We’ve added an accelerometer for neck position, replaced the analogue skin temperature sensor with a nice and accurate digital one. Around that time a wearable from another project was finished. It is a vest with resistive rubber bands that measures expansion of the chest and belly region. Using the incoming analogue values I can accurately calculate breath-rate and upper and lower respiration. Then it was time to add some environmental sensors. They give more context to for example GSR and skin temp readings. We’ve added room temperature and humidity, light intensity and RGB colour and air flow.

Vest with sensors

Vest with sensors

Environmental sensors

Environmental sensors

Seeing is believing
From the start I’ve made simple plots to get a quick insight into the session data. For now they don’t have an artistic purpose but are purely practical. At this point it is still essential to see if all sensors work well together. It’s also nice to get some general insight into how the body behaves during a meditation session.
Data is also stored in a structured text file. It contains minute by minute averages as well as means for the whole session.

Session data plot with legend

Session data plot with legend

I’ve also made a Google form to track my subjective experience of each session. I rate my focus, relaxation and perceived silence on a 7 point likert scale and there is a text field for a remark about my session.

Results from Google form: very relaxed but not so focussed...

Results from Google form: very relaxed but not so focussed…

Suit
I used the vest from the other project to attach the sensors to. But last week costume designer Léanne van Deurzen has made a first sample of the wearable. It was quite a puzzle for her and her interns to figure out the wiring and positioning of every sensor. I really like the look of this first design. It’s fits with the target group: high-tech hermits and it also is very comfortable to wear.

Upper and lower part of the suit

Upper and lower part of the suit

Back with extension where soft sensors to detect sitting will be placed

Back with extension where soft sensors to detect sitting will be placed

The future
The next step will be adding sensors for measuring hand position and pressure and a sound-level sensor.
Then we will have to make the processing board a bit smaller so it can fit in the suit. We can then start integrating the wiring and replacing it by even more flexible ones.
When all the sensors are integrated I can really start looking at the data and look for interesting ways to explore and understand it.
I’m also looking for ways to fund the making of 15 suits. That way I can start experiments with groups and find ways to optimise meditation by changing the environment.

Pitch for The Big Date Hackathon

I was invited to pitch at a hackathon hosted by the GGD. The topic was: Data citizens: using quantified self to improve health? I got a lot of positive feedback on my pitch so I want to share it here.

I have a dream…
But then I wake up.
I’m lying in my bed, my Emfit QS sleep sensor has logged my sleep phases, heartrate and movements. Todays’ sleep score is 86 points. But how did I sleep according to me? For one I already feel quite stressed because of some issues at work.
I take my morning blood pressure reading and sure enough the blood pressure has risen.
I hope some meditation will help. I put on my meditation monitoring gear and meditate for 30 minutes. Later I can see from my log that my heart rate came down. And I’m glad the whirlwind of thoughts has dropped.
Every morning I’m curious about my current weight. So I step on my Aria Wi-Fi scale, hmm. Yesterday I had a beer and some peanuts and it shows: weight has gone op by 0.4 kg and fat percentage by 0.1. But I can make a new start every day.
So let’s continue with a healthy breakfast: banana 83 gr, 74 kcal, orange 140 gr, 69 kcal, kiwi fruit, 75 gr, 46 kcal. After that a nice, warm oatmeal with extra fibre, apricots, flax seeds and soy milk: a total of 360 kcal.
Now I’m ready for work! My project timer logs the minutes I spend on different projects and the Workpace software makes sure it take my breaks on time.
After lunch (498 kcal) it is time for my walk in the afternoon sun. 4731 steps. Still more then 5000 to go.
In the evening, after a workout and a nice diner I check my energy balance, 1966 calories in and 1856 calories out. I try and burn a little bit more and take an evening stroll.

After some stretch exercise I head of to bed. And then I have a dream:
I’m travelling on a train. A nice and professional looking lady takes the seat next to me. She says: “I’ve been watching you. I see you very often, almost every time I take the train. I’ve got a feeling I know you pretty well. I know you have a very conscious lifestyle: your diet is healthy, you take enough exercise and your BMI is perfect. I estimate your biological age to be around 12.5 years younger than your chronological age. But still, you sleep poorly from time to time and your fat percentage as well as your concentration during meditation fluctuate. Please let me tell you what you can do to further optimise your health.” She bends over and starts whispering in my ear. I can’t make out everything she says but a sense of insight, purpose and control fills me. I lean back in my chair and a feel happy and relieved.

As we’re entering a tunnel she gets up and sits down opposite an elderly, overweight woman with a walking stick by her side. Slowly the young professional transforms into a kind granny as she takes out some knitting from her bag. She starts a conversation with the other woman, about arthritis if I’m not mistaken. Then I wake up.

I had a dream. In this dream all the fragmented pieces of data that I collect about my body and behaviour were translated into actionable information, explained to me in a language I can understand. I had insight into what my next steps should be and what path to follow to keep on track and to further improve my health. I received some true health wisdom.
Now I’m a media artist, I work with data, I program, make visualisations and use statistics. But even for me it is not clear what actionable conclusions I can draw from my data. A visualisation doesn’t necessarily lead to insight let alone advice on how to improve my lifestyle.

And look at the elderly lady. She got her information in a way that was appropriate for her. The oracle answered questions and gave advice fitting to this individual based on a deep understanding of all the data available.

But… it was a dream.
I challenge you to come up with solutions on how to combine data sets, generate knowledge from it and translate it into plans and advice people can really work with. Solutions that are transparent and respect the choices and privacy of the users.
I challenge you to make my dreams come true this weekend.

The big date

The big date hackathon, picture by MAD

 

working on numuseum

After a long time I’ve taken up the numuseum website. It’s been nagging me for ages that it’s so outdated and not working properly any more. I’m keeping it simple but will be implementing some new things.

designI want to create a now part (“nu” means now in Dutch) and a museum part. Now always shows the most recent data. I’ll start of with a picture of the sky with time and location data. I will overlay that with personal data like mood and heart rate. The museum part will show the now part history in some interactive way.

I’ve found a cute, free font Jaapokki Regular that I’ll be using for the website.

The menu at the bottom gives access to the archive of net-art pieces, an about and contact page.

I’ve already started coding the sky part. I use a very neat FTP app (AndFTP) to send the sky pictures to the server. A PHP script sorts the pictures (most recent first) and grabs the date-time and locations data (from EXIF headers).

home

sleepGalaxy: final design

Displaying different activities with the right duration and start time

Displaying different activities with the right duration and start time

There were still a couple of variables to visualise once the basics design was ready. I had to work on integrating my pre-sleep activity. In the end I used three activity types: sport, social and screen (computer and television). Of the first two I’d logged duration by recording start and finish time. For screen time I just logged total duration because it was often scattered.
I was looking for a way to display all aspects (type, start, finish and duration) in a way that fitted with the nice, round shapes I’d been using so far. Then I realised the pre-sleep activities were recorded from 18:00h onwards. So the main circle could act as a dial. I could split up the space from 18 till 23:59 using the activity duration. I calculated the starting position of each activity as a degree on the dial and added the minutes the activity lasted. Using the arc shape with a substantial line thickness resulted in nice, bold strokes around my “night” circles. Each activity type has its own colour.

The final night design (rating still in green)

The final night design (rating still in green)

I was happy with the result but then the recovery line just looked plain ugly. I decided to use the same arc shape on the other side of the circle. The more recovery the thicker the stroke in green. The less recovery the thicker the line in red.

Finally there was the subjective rating of the sleep. I think it is important to incorporate how the night felt for me. Emfit uses a star system from 1 to 5 stars. So I played around with stars, ellipses and other shapes but finally settled on simple golden dots. A five star night would have the fifth and biggest dot in the middle of the deep sleep circle, this seemed fitting.

UFO like rating design

UFO like rating design

When the individual nights were finished it was time for the overall poster design. I somehow had got it into my head that this would be easy. But it was quite hard the capture the look and feel I was aiming for. I wanted the poster to be simple so that the individual nights would stand out and make a nice “galaxy”. On the other had I did want a legend and some explanation of what was on display.

Sketch of the poster design

Sketch of the poster design

My first idea was to go for a size of 70 x 100 cm, the nights would have a size of around 10 cm. This was too small for all the details to be visible. My final poster will be 91 x 150 cm. The nights are big enough and they all have enough space on the sheet while it is still possible to compare them. I found the nice, slim font Matchbook for the title, the legend and text. I’ll be sending the pdf to the printer next week.