Quantified Self Europe conference 2015

As always, I was very much looking forward to the conference. The program looked promising and I hoped to meet QS pals. And because I was giving an Ignite talk and testing my Virtual View installation with updated software (view below.) This is an account of the most striking things I heard and saw.


The how-to sessions were new. I suppose they’re great for subjects which are limited in scope. Like the one on meditation tracking by Gary Wolf. The idea that just tracking time and duration of your meditation sessions can give you insight into how your life is going was refreshing. I’ve got an idea to automatically log my sitting periods. This session has given it a new boost.

There were some sessions on HRV. I went to the one Marco Altini gave together with Paul LaFontaine. I got some useful information on the two modes of tracking: PPG (60 seconds in the morning) or situational tracking. Both have their specific uses. The Polar H7 belt is most reliable and comfortable for the latter as you can wear it for long periods. It was nice to see how Paul did many experiments combining datasets of activities (e.g. phone logs) with HRV data. The session was a nice intro but I would have liked more hands on information. But I talked with Marco later during the office hour. If I just want to measure global, all day changes in heart rate a device like the Fitbit Charge HR would also do. Marco was wearing one and was satisfied with it. He’s the expert, it’s on my whish list…

I really liked that the show & tell talks were programmed on their own. It gave a lot less choice anxiety. The one on speed-reading by Kyrill Potapoc was a real revelation. I’ve already installed the Spritzlet browser extension. As a dyslectic, any improvement in my reading speed is welcome.
I also enjoyed the way Awais Hussain approached datasets that already existed to gain insight in causal chains and decision points. All this in aid to get best start for the future. I think it is a poetic approach.

I skipped one breakout to stroll around the tables during the Office hour. This made me very happy. Emmanuel Pont has developed the Smarter Timer app. It lets you track you activities at room level using differences in strength of Wifi networks. It is a learning app so you can teach it your activities in certain places. A desktop app will also track your software use. Exactly what I need! And a big improvement from the piece I did way back in 2008 “Self portrait @ home“. (I scanned QR-codes every time I entered an room.)
I also had a nice chat with Frank Rousseau from Cozy. An open source platform that allows you control over your own data. If offers similar functionality to the Google suite (mail, calendar, file sharing, etc.) I’m trying it out at the moment. I hope that I’ll be using it on my own server one day.

Ellis Bartholomeus

Ellis Bartholomeus told a very refreshing story about her hand drawn smiley’s. She treated the little drawings as data and discovered much about her moods. It was nice to watch the different stages of her process of getting to grips with what icons to use and how to interpret them.
Jakob Eg Larsen shed some interesting light on one of my favourite topics: food logging. I liked the simplicity of his approach to just photograph one meal a day, his dinner. It was funny how he struggled with the aesthetics of the food. It made me wonder: how much do the colours of your food tell you about their nutritional value?
One of the most amusing and at the same time personal talks was from Ahnjili Zhuparris. She was looking for correlations between her menstruation cycles and other aspects of the life like music and word choice. Not all clichés appear to be true. Female cycles caused some complaining among a few of the male attendants. Moderator Gary Wolf dealt with that in a compassionate but effective way. I was very impressed.

Jakob Eg  Larsen

Reactions to the Virtual View installation

During the Office hour and at the end of the day people tried out the installation. I had 14 users in total. Of course I logged some general data ;-)
I logged baseline heart rate and the lowest heart rate achieved during the experience after the baseline was set. The mean heart rate is calculated over each animated wave. A wave lasts 7.5 to 13.75 seconds depending on the frequency spectrum data. The mean baseline heart rate was 79,68 and the mean lowest heart rate was 68,01. The difference between these two means is significant. There was quite some variation between users: the maximum heart rate during baseline was 96.08 the minimum was 54.76 resulting in a big difference of 41.3. The variation in lowest pulse during the experience was between 80.07 max. and 50.45 min. resulting in a difference of 29.6.
For me it was good to see that even in relaxed circumstances using Virtual View results in a reduction of heart rate. Every user showed reduction, the average reduction was 14% with a maximum of 32%!

Still from the animation

I’m really happy to have received valuable feedback. These are some of the remarks that stood out. Overall users really liked the installation and found it relaxing. A couple of people expected an end to the animation. But a view doesn’t have a beginning or end. I should find a way to make it more clear that people can leave at any time.
Even though I’ve improved the feedback on heart rate some people would still like a little more information about it. For example their baseline measurement at the start of the animation.
The use-case of daycare with difficult children or people under stress like refugees, was suggested.
One of the users said it would be nice to have sheep on the hills. I really like that idea. They shouldn’t be too hard to draw and animate. Their moving speed could for example also give an indication of heart rate.
There were some requests for Virtual Reality devices but I still don’t think this is a suitable technology for patients in healthcare institutions, the main target group.

Apart from the content, there’s always the social aspect which makes the QS conferences such great experiences. People just feel uplifted by the open and tolerant atmosphere, the sense of learning and sharing that we all feel. I can’t wait for next conference to come to Europe.

Quantified Self Conference Europe 2014

For the third time I’ve visited the Quantified Self Europe conference in Amsterdam. I had been looking forward to it but was also a bit nervous because I was asked to take part in a panel discussion on Sunday morning. I felt very honoured of course to have been asked to talk about my Reversed calendar project which I finished last year. The discussion topic was on long term tracking. Apparently it is not something a lot of people have done. We got a lot of questions and hardly any experiences from the audience. The talk went well and it was nice to hear the other speakers. Especially Alberto is quite a die-hard, logging the most crazy things. He’s also an artist and it is interesting to see the different approach artists take on collecting data about themselves. The starting point that you use your personal data as material to make stuff is so different from other approaches. The goal is not to improve but to become aware and study yourself through the collecting, more then through the actual interpretation of the data.

QSEU14 talk

Here’s what I did:
Grief and Mood Tracking (Breakout session)
Whitney Erin Boesel, Dana Greenfield
What happens when you’re tracking, but not looking to change you how feel? Join us to discuss the ways we can use different techniques to work through the process of loss and grief.
Dana gave a very moving and inspiring opening talk about how she is tracking the memory of her mother who passed away recently. She used simple tools like a Google form and pictures to log things that reminded her of her mother. I’d already decided before that I’d like to join this breakout as I’ve made a cd-rom about the death and remembrance of my mother and my grieving process back in 2001.

Someone suggested that it would be interesting to track how the grieving network around you changed as time moved on. For me the reason to make this cd was partly because of a lack of network…
The question came up if someone had experienced grieving with and without tracking. I was in the unfortunate position to have experienced both. I was quite a discovery for me that the making of an art-piece was much more helpful in the grieving process than just tracking my mood. The latter was just a conformation of my sadness while in the art making process I could transform this into something beautiful that I could share.

Ignite Talks
Washing My Eyelids
Steve Dean
Steve will demonstrate how he used self-tracking tools to get under atopic dermatitis.
Tracking his eyelid inflammation was useful to him in talking to his doctor but didn’t yield any insights on its own. This was an interesting talk because of the frustrating process Steve was tracking and the way he kept going in spite of the lack of results.
Analyzing Changes in My Weight and Sleep
Kouris Kalligas
Kouris spent thirty hours combining his multiple data streams into one place, and learned what influenced his weight and sleep.
What was interesting for me here was the thoroughness with which Kouris had looked for correlations between the things he tracked. He also made a list of expected findings at the beginning of his quest and compared these with the outcomes of his analyses. One finding intrigued me: higher fat percentage during the day led to a better sleep. I think that might have to do with feeling more satiated And therefore eating earlier. I’m going to do a little experiment myself on the correlation of food and beverage intake and working late and sleep quality (view below).
Fit 50s Sound 60s
Maria Benet
Maria has been tracking for almost 10 years, developing strategies for improving and maintaining her health as she ages.
I really enjoyed this talk by Maria. First of all because she’s not your usual QS suspect. I found it very refreshing to hear a story by someone who step by step discovered self tracking because she wanted to lose weight and become fit again. Here was this somewhat older lady talking about all these apps and devices with a lot knowledge from experience. I liked the Excel sheet in which she manually annotated and combined different measurements go gain more insight. A quote from Maria that I wrote down: Small habits add up to a big impact in the long run.
A Testosterone and Diet Experiment
Maximilian Gotzler
Blood tests showed Max he had low levels of Vitamin D and Testosterone. Could diet changes help?
What I liked about this talk was the thoroughness with which Maximilian tried to tackle his deficiencies. He had all kinds of blood test done which I didn’t know existed. Would I be able to afford them?

Photo Lifelogging as Context for QS Practice
Cathal Gurrin, Niclas Johansson, Rami Albatal
Learn how to use computer vision to extract metadata from lifelogging photos, enrich a photo timeline with other personal data, and draw insights from massive longitudinal photo collections.
I’ve been thinking a lot about easy food logging and behaviour tracking through pictures. I would make my life so much easier if these things could be automated. So I was really happy when I read this was a topic of one of the breakout sessions. It was a very interesting but sobering talk. No way am I going to write my own program or app to log my food or extract activity from a picture. It takes the experts a _very_ long time to write classification algorithms for every object. It all has to be annotated by human hand.
But fortunately they are open to collaboration. I think automated food and calorie logging will be very big. So I offered to work on the annotating if it can eventually lead me to my food being logged with the right amount of calories while I eat! They were also interested in my behaviour tagged pictures from the north-southfeeling project. So if they’re helpful I’m happy to share them.

Sensing Smell
Jenny Tillotson
Scent has the power to profoundly affect our psychology and physiology. Learn about the state of the art in smell tracking, interpretation, and use.
Smell is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. I’ve used it in the AQAb wearable of course. But for me personally smell is also very important. Jenny is a designer of wearables who is really deep into everything about smell. She’s working on a device that can reduce stress and improve sleep through scent. Being an academic she has the opportunity to work with lots of experts in the field, I envy that sometimes. As an artist you have to do so much on your own.
A lot of aspects about scent and smell still remain a mystery. Digitalising scent is still far of. I asked her about enhancing meditation with scent. She said there’s an interest in that lately, in the realm of mindfulness and she will e-mail some pointers on where to start with that. Great!

Neuroscience & EEG
Martin Sona
This was an unplanned breakout session with neuroscientist Martin Sona on the latest developments in devices and applications for the QS community.
Martin is a really nice and accessible guy. I knew he had a lot of knowledge on open source EEG but I had no clue he was a neuroscientist working as a researcher at the university of Maastricht.
I’ve been looking for an easy way to capture brain data. I was very enthusiastic about the TrueSense wearable bio-sensor kit that was at the QS conference last year. But I couldn’t really work with it because I couldn’t figure out how to get to the live data and it was very hard to interpret the streams. Martin has been collaborating with them and made some patch in BrainBay an open source Bio- and Neurofeedback Application that can be used with the TrueSense kit. Wow, looking forward to trying that out. Martin is looking for ways to be able to place the sensor at different sides of the head. I will look into that for him. I want to integrate it in a wearable anyway.

On top of all these inspiring talks and exchanges I was lucky to make contact with a lot of people. Some from companies, some just participants, some I’d met before others new. There’s a lot of time to talk to people and the insights you get from them and hopefully give to others is just so rewarding.

And I’ve done an ‘impulse’ purchase. It wasn’t really an impulse as I slept on it but for me it is quite something to buy something over a 100 Euro without weeks of deliberation. I’ve ordered an Emfit device. It’s a sleep tracker that can distinguish between different sleep phases and track heart- and breathing rates when you sleep. It can even do heart-rate variability. They’re working on a downloadable csv file of your data and an API. All data is send wireless from a non-contact device under your bed sheets. I’ve wanted a sleep tracker for years. Can’t wait to try it!

Photo Ian Forrester

Finally there was quite a distinct buzz about empathy and including others in your tracking. Kaiton Williams gave an interesting opening speech where he mentioned tracking for empathy. I’ve always wanted to inspire and give to others with my tracking by transforming it into art. But I’m looking for ways to make it more concrete. Quite a few people came up to me to talk about the subject. I might even do something to improve animal well fare using the breathCatchers. It is good to see that others are also looking for ways to reach out and share more.

All in all a very, very inspiring and uplifting experience. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Quantified Self Conference Europe 2013

For me the quantified self conferences are like coming home: getting inspired by hundreds of people who share the same passion. It is hard to make a choice but in this post I would like to list my top three experiences of this QS conference edition.

1. Lonely at the top is the TrueSense wearable bio-sensor kit. It is “the first affordable, ultra-compact, ultra-low-power, bio-signal acquisition kit that allows bio-signal capturing anywhere, any time and on multiple body locations.” And oh yeah, it costs 35 Euro and is OpenSource(!)

I’ve had a nice half hour demo from Fu-Chieh Hsu the inventor and manufacturer of this sensor set. It can track: brainwaves, heart-rate (and deduce breath-rate from that), muscle tension, movement, posture and electro smog. Both real-time (using wifi) or as a logger (it can store at least 11 hours). The nice thing is that you get the full spectrum of waves. It is raw data, not ‘cleaned’. So you yourself can separate muscle movement from brainwaves for example. Another great thing is that you can use several of them on different places on your body. And there is the ability to set markers using the two buttons on the controller.

I haven’t had time to experiment yet. But watch this space for applications and experiments in the near future.

2. My second choice is my own breakout session “Tracking Breathing as a Unifying Experience” which I’ve described here. The reason for it being in my top three is that is was such a valuable experience to get feedback on my new wearables. The participants were enthusiastic and genuinely interested in the topic. It has really given my project a boost.

3. Last but not least are the nice and interesting conversations I’ve had with so many people. Every break I’ve met new people and learned about they’re ideas and projects. No matter at what table I sat down, it was always inspiring. That’s what makes this conference so great. I’m looking forward to the things that will emerge from all those conversations.

There was of course a lot more to see and hear about. Here are some of the runners up (in no particular order): Poikos to make a 3D image of your body with your smartphone (without taking your clothes off), LifeSlice for capturing webcam images of your face and screenshots. Things I’ve been thinking about and working on too. Unfortunately only for the Mac. Empatica for real-time stress measurement in teams. This is closely related to our e-Pressed project. There was Memoto, a life logging device which was discussed in a broad discussion. I’ve had plenty of experience with life logging in my project North-South feeling back in 2008/9. I also included heart-rate and pictures taken in the bathroom and toilet. Using Memoto will definitely reduce time spend on data cleaning and parsing. The last project I want to mention is One year in paper by Merel Brouns. It immediately reminded me of my recently finished piece Reversed Calendar.

Merel logged one year of her life in an analogue way using coloured tape and paper. I liked her addition of the daylight hours, using grey for night time.

And of course lots more…