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 clich├ęs 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.