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Wellness as a currency – Learnings from the 2013 Quantified Self Conference in San Francisco

After a wonderful experience at the Quantified Self Conference in Amsterdam earlier this year, my expectations for the Global version on the big stage in San Francisco were quite high. The program looked very promising and with the arrival at the beautiful Golden Gate Club in the Presidio of San Francisco, I couldn’t wait for it to start.

N=1: A “movement” of self-quantifying individuals

Whereas other conferences often open with an awkward get-to-know-each-other ceremony, a Quantified Self event feels more like an informal gathering of like-minded fellows. Recognizing many familiar faces from Amsterdam, I felt welcome from the beginning and it felt only natural to befriend the still unfamiliar ones. In the opening plenary, QS co-founder Gary Wolf once again shared his vision of Quantified Self as a n=1 movement of self-observing individuals (n=1 referring to studies with only one subject). Quantified Self simply is not about large scale research with control groups. Or as fellow blogger Whitney Erin Boesel put it: “It’s about adopting what “works” (for you), and ignoring what doesn’t.”


Nothing for passive listeners, go mingle!

The event was set up in conventional Quantified Self format with many simultaneous sessions. Next to the Plenaries, there were Show&Tell Talks, Conversations, Breakouts, and Office Hours providing lots of information to be shared during the frequent breaks. With all this material floating around, QS events come to life in the exchanges with others. Anyone just sitting in and passively listening would have a hard time getting his or her money’s worth.

My Thursday highlights

“If it’s relevant to you, it’s relevant!”

The first talk that caught my attention was given by Ian Eslick on “Doing Great Personal Experiments.” Ian contrasted clinical research with self-experimentation and highlighted the significance and value of both. Even though personal experiments might be flawed and statistically insignificant on a clinical level, they still might carry very important personal significance for the individual.

Meeting Linda Avey, Co-Founder of 23andMe and Curious, Inc.

My spit hasn’t found its way into one of 23andMe’s tubes yet but I am very intrigued by the powers of genetic testing. The company offers an affordable genetic screening that provides individuals with reports on their inherited health conditions, traits, and lineage. Linda then left the company in 2009 and established Curious, Inc., a platform that allows people to analyze and interpret their personal data and share it with their community. I was excited to discuss the combination of biomarker and genetic testing with this impressive and very approachable entrepreneur.

Rejection therapy: “Could I buy only one M&M?”

One of the funniest talks was given by AskMeEvery’s Mark Moschel who overcame his fear of rejection by… well… getting rejected every day for 30 days straight! During this month of social challenges, Mark confronted people with mostly silly questions such as if he could borrow money from a grocery store clerk to if he could visit the storage facilities of a warehouse. Even though Mark noticed a sharp increase in confidence during the 30 days, the newly won courage almost dropped to the starting point shortly after he had stopped the experiment.

My Friday Highlights

A crush on a guy called Zip

Highly entertaining was Kitty Ireland’s exploration of her grandma’s diary from 1942. Her grandma Pat painstakingly maintained a diary where she logged everything from meals she consumed, locations she frequented, and (quite a few) boys she had dated. Kitty then correlated her findings with patterns in her own life and identified several parallels. As engaging as this detailed look into a past life was, we were spared a happy end. Grandma Pat’s apparent partner of choice, a guy called Zip as highlighted decoratevily on several pages, disappeared from the log after some time.

A black market for sensor-less clothing and wellness as a currency

Most breakout sessions that I attended were either too crowded or too disorganized, or both. However, the session “QS in 10 & 100 Years” by QS co-founder Kevin Kelly had some very interesting visions of the future of QS. When everything we do is tracked and measured, we might become civilian scientist of our own biology. Our environment would then react to all of our immediate needs: sensors will tell us at all times when we should eat, run, sleep, work, and socialize to optimize our well-being. The information would then be shared with friends and families but also with doctors, employers, and insurance companies. A world of endless possibilities for easy self- enhancement might then turn into a scary rat race with wellness and privacy as a currency. The healthier and more transparent you choose to be, the less you pay. Someone even proposed that instead of reading about Forbes Magazine’s wealthiest people, we might find a list with the world’s biggest “healthionnaires.” Another fascinating vision was an overly transparent, technology-ridden world with black markets for sensor-free clothing and under-the-radar items.

Pitching my project Biotrakr to Dave Asprey, the Bulletproof Executive

What a wonderful feeling to get positive feedback on what you’re working on from one of the field’s greats. Dave Asprey, supposedly the first person to ever sell anything on the internet, cloud computing expert, long-term biohacker, and founder of The Bulletproof Executive brand, really can be considered a pioneer in the field of QS. When I presented him with my idea for Biotrakr, a web-based and intuitive health coach that provides personalized health recommendations based on biomarker diagnostics, Dave was intrigued and shared with me some of his learnings as an advisor for WellnessFX. Moreover, Dave called Vitamin D the “most important biohack” and described eagerly how he prepares and smokes his own bacon at his home on Vancouver Island.

A meal tracker, a breath-taking shirt, and Finnish QS domination

In comparison to Amsterdam, I really liked that we had a separate room for companies showing off their newest gadgets this time. And there were many very cool ones!

AIRO – The next generation wristband

It’s been only a couple of weeks now that I’ve received my UP band replacement (as in so many other cases, it broke after about 3 months) and restarted tracking my activitiy and sleep… Activity and sleep? How basic! AIRO is now working on a spectroscopic tracker that not only tracks activity and sleep but also stress levels and calorie intake. Automatically! Preleminary release is set for the end of 2014 so we’ll have to wait a bit.

OMSignal – The future of clothing

OMSignal is definitely making some noise. They just took home the DC to VC People’s Choice Award at the Health 2.0 conference in Santa Clara three weeks ago and they also were one of the major attractions at QS 2013. Their prototype shirt allows continuous tracking of biometrics by monitoring heart rate, breathing, and activity. The consumer can then display the data in real-time on a mobile phone.

Ambro – The 20-ingredient meal replacement

Amazing, how the Finnish constantly come up with great ideas in the QS space. Ambro is only one out of three of my personal highlights (the other two being Beddit and Health Puzzle’s app YOU). What I really like about Ambro: they don’t claim that you can entirely live on it like their most famous competitor Soylent does with its product. Instead, they offer a highly nutritional drink for the occasional cooking inertia.

Beddit – ZEO 2.0

The team around Lasse Leppäkorpi had presented its sleep tracking sensor that is placed under the sheet already in Amsterdam. This time, I had the chance for a lengthy conversation with Lasse about the origins of the company six years ago, it’s takeover of the ZEO team along the way and its upcoming move to the Valley. Subscribe here for updates, sleep trackers!

There were plenty more captivating ideas, apps, concepts, and services that I’m not going to list. If you want to find out more, visit some of the other blog articles on the conferences listed below. I also added a link to a youtube video of the talk by Zipongo, a company that makes personalized healthy meal plans based on your eating preferences.

Did the event eventually meet my expectations? Right after the event, I wasn’t sure. It didn’t flash me as much as my first QS conference. But now, after gathering my thoughts and looking over my notes, I say: definitely! There certainly were aspects that can be optimized such as the temperature (it was freezing inside), the organization of some of the sessions (a simple agenda would suffice), and the coffee refills (ran out several times). Other than that, hat’s off to the organizers! I hope to see all of you in Amsterdam next year!

On a side note, I loved the healthy, organic, gluten-free, vegan snack bars as well as the large plates full of cooked eggs!

Final words: turn up the heat and see you in Amsterdam!

Maximilian Gotzler

This is a guest post from Maximilan Gotzler, Founder of Biotrakr and supporter of the Berlin Quantified Self Meetup

The 2012 Wearable Technologies Conference

The 2012 Wearable Technologies Conference gave a comprehensive overview over the trends in fitness and health technology currently available on the market and also covered applications that might be realized some years from now. The conference program started with a keynote from Professor Paul Lukowitz from the Embedded Intelligence Lab at the DFKI Kaiserlautern. In his quick runthrough over wearable computers of the past, he concluded that the smartphone with its market penetration of about 50 % of the adults in western countries is the starting point for wearable systems in fitness, health and personal data computing. He thereby made clear that with the smartphone as a personal information hub, we are now entering an age when our lives will be supercharged with sensors, additional interfaces in wearable gadgets and technologically enhanced textiles.

In order to successfully introduce these technologies into our everyday lifes, wearable technologies must follow the same princeples as the clothes we have been used to wearing for ages. Just as we can take our jackets off or change them for a different garment, wearable technologies must seamlessly integrate themselves into our personal information system, the basis of which has just been built with the new Bluetooth Smart standard. After this keynote, the conference speakers held presentations on lifestyle and wellbeing, trends in health and medical and future innovations in the Wearable Technologies field. Here are some of the findings that seemed most interesting to me.

As a topic of lifestyle, representatives from Philips Vitality Solutions and Mr. Papastefanou from the Mannheim-based institute Gesis – presented their approaches for emotion tracking and behaviour change. Focussing on consumer products, Philips presented a bracelet that measures the stress level in its users’ everyday lives. Mobile apps for easy event tagging and collection of data such as calendars and timelines make it easies to undersand emotional triggers and learn how to lead a healthier life in the lines of emotional wellbeing. Researcher Papastefanou in contrast presented a state-of-the-art emotion tracking solution designed for professional use that measures a variety of body metrics.

From the health section, the Munich-based company Moticon presented its pressure-sensitive shoe inlay that can give a precise analysis of the user‘s weight distribution when standing, walking or running. With this innovative technology, Moticon can help cure leg injuries or facilitate learning complex sports like skiing. In such a case, the pressure monitor helps the user find an optimal position while skiing, which in return leads to less exhaustion and a flatter learning curve. Once the technology is ready for mass marketing, a lot of applications might profit from these in-depth analysis capabilities.

After just having launched their platform, Quentiq introduced its health management solution centered around its core metrix Healthscore. Based on the analysis of millions of health data points from some of the biggest long-term studies available, Quentiq has built an index that represents the overall physical conditions of its users. In order to calculate this healthscore, the company offers mobile applications for tracking sports activities, integrating data from various available sensors and utilizing self-assessments for its users. All this information merged together cumulates in the Healthscore, a single number that describes your overall health likeliness. Just as discussed in the German media as a future scenario, Quentiq‘s business model intends to cooperate with health insurance companies, which might take the neutral healthscore as a basis to create an incentive for their customers to lead a healthier lifestyle. Quentiq‘s promise to foster fitness with game mechanics is an interesting approach to cope with the ever-rising health costs in our society.

As an outlook for the future of wearable technology, Vladimir Leonov from the Belgian nano electronics research center IMEC gave an introduction to their energy harvesting technology. With thermo-electric elements integrated into textiles, we might be able to produce all the energy neccessary for our sensors with our own body heat. Obviously, huge improvements in energy consumption of the distributed electronics will be necessary before this can be implemented into future sensors. The presentation by David Icke from the research company MC10 seemed even more futuristic: In his work on the future of electronic circuits, Mr. Icke presented flexible, printable electronic circuits that can be placed on any subtrate such as textiles or skin. This would allow the most seamless solution to physical monitoring and could make medical applications much more effective in performance, data quality, compliance and comfort.

Getting back to the prospects of 2012, the solutions presented at the Wearable Technologies Conference made clear that the megatrends in quantified self, mobile health and wearable technologies are just beginning and still have lots of great opportunities to come. Wearable Technologies will present a number of wearable products at the CeBIT 2012 from March 6th to 10th where I support their team. Meet us at our booth C20 in hall 8.

RescueTime – Don’t Fool Yourself in Time Management!

If you spend most of your time working on your computer, you will have realized the thin line between productivity and procastination. How long do you spend reading news and blogs to get the information you’re looking for, and to stay up to date with your fast moving business? RescueTime is a service which logs and tracks the time spent on your computer’s active window and thereby analyzes what you are doing. In order to use the service, you will have to download and install a plugin to your Mac, PC or Android device which does all this tracking for you.

RescueTime analyzes your productivity

Rescue Time analyzes how long you’ve spent on each software tool or website and tallies the working time for each activity. RescueTime Chart on Activities All your activities can be grouped into categories such as presentation for applications like Keynote or Powerpoint or video for websites like Youtube or video players. Thereby, you can get detailed information on which kinds of applications you’ve been using the most.

RescueTime Chart on CategoriesTime spent on tools and websites are classified with a productivity index which comes with default settings and can be adjusted to your own requirements. Thereby, RescueTime displays your productive time vs. distracted time, calculates a productivity score and shows how you compare to the others users of the service. RescueTime Chart on EfficiencyProductivity is displayed over several time intervals such as day, week or month. Well visualized charts give you feedback of how much time you have spent on the computer being very productive (blue), productive (transparent blue), distracted (transparent red) or very distracted (red). RescueTime Chart on Productivity by the hourIf you don’t wish to check your stats on a regular basis, you might go with the weekly email report, which gives you a detailed feedback on your productivity as well.

Tune RescueTime’s productivity index to your own productivity needs

Since everyone has different working needs, it’s important to refine the default productivity index  in order to receive an accurate feedback. For example, the default settings rate social networks as very distracting, which might be true for many of us. However, since I use Twitter and Facebook as a marketing tool, I had to readjust this setting in order to receive appropriate results. Since I constantly change my computing habits along with the websites and tools I use the most, I inevitably need to readjust my indexing parameters from time to time to keep the feedback RescueTime gives me realistic. Therefore, I set the individual activity indexes to reflect their contribution to value-generation for my business. For my personal settings, this means that working on actual results with software tools is indexed as very productive, whereas web browsing often doesn’t generate real value in the short-term and is indexed as neutral or distracting, depending on the topic of the website. Certainly every user has to come up with their own criteria to define productive and non-productive computer usage in order to enable a helpful feedback.

Benefits for your time management from RescueTime

First off, what you get is a straightforward feedback of your time management. Most people underestimate how time-consuming meetings, breaks or occasional interruptions can be. Every time you return to your computer, RescueTime shows you a pop-up which asks you what you’ve been doing in the meantime while displaying the length of your absence. If you take advantage of this RescueTime function, you can not only receive feedback of what you’ve been doing directly at your computer, but also get a better feel for whether you been using your time well while away from it.

The overview of your working behavior has several benefits. Getting a feedback on your productivity level can help encourage you to stick to your main priorities without losing sight of them amidst all the other urgent things to be done. This is probably the most important advantage when thought in the lines of efficiency. On the other hand, seeing how long and how productive you have worked might either give you a kick when you are about to do some extra hours at night or makes it easier to relax during your free time.

Overall experience with RescueTime

Rescue Time is a tool which easily runs in the background. I am currently using it on three different computers from which the data is seamlessly aggregated into one profile. I can thereby cover up to 80+ hours of my weekly time with Rescue Time, comprising work, meetings or lunch. Of course, the tool only really makes sense for those who work mostly at a computer and who are willing to take some time to adjust the indexing parameters to appropriately monitor their personal working style. If you do so, you will get a precise tracking of your time management. For the self quantifiers out there, this has huge potential for integration into 3rd party applications to give you an even better overview on working hours, productivity, sleep, sports and stress level and their interdependencies. I hope to see some cool integration in aggregation tools soon!

RescueTime Badge Productivity

Looking for a RescueTime friend? Go for igrowdigital!