Currently browsing Posts Tagged “self tracking”

Talking 20 – Take a Look Inside

This is a guestpost from Winslow Strong, author of the blog Biohack Yourself. Winslow was one of the early backers of the crowdfunded startup Talking20 and describes the service and his experience of taking his blood sample.

Talking20 is a recently founded direct-to-consumer biomedical testing company. Their mission is to transform useful biomarker diagnostics into do-it-yourself at-home tests. As a biohacker, I love this idea. It allows me to get enormous amounts of useful data on how my self-experiments in diet, exercise, sleep, supplements, etc impact my biology. Plus, it saves me a moderate amount of time and a ton of money (I wouldn’t be able to afford it) compared to getting these tests done in a doctor’s office or lab. Furthermore, a doctor will probably only give you results on a printed sheet, and probably only upon request (after looking at you strangely). Talking20 will give you a web-accessible graphical presentation of your values over time, which is much more convenient, especially for those of us who tend to move around frequently.

T20 raised some initial crowdfunding via an Indiegogo campaign. What particularly caught my eye, and I ended up purchasing, was their Gold Card package of 36 cards, each of which will give you results for every single test in their catalog at the time when you use it. You can use each card whenever you want – e.g. use one weekly as you intentionally overtrain yourself, in order to get a signature for the hormonal changes that occur, so that you can ID them more easily in the future. Or use one once a year if nothing big is changing in your life, and you just want a nice complete blood panel done at a fraction of the price. It’s your choice, but you can take as long or short as you desire to use your Gold Cards.

What you get

My initial package contained 6 Gold Cards, (the other 30 will be sent as needed) 6 addressed envelopes for mailing them, instructions, 14 lancets (for pricking your finger), and a bunch of alcohol swabs and band-aids. They rushed these packages out to the Indiegogo campaign funders, so we have to wait a bit longer for the storage box that will help us keep all our supplies organized. This is fine with me, as everything needed to get started was in this initial shipment.

At the time of this writing (March 2, 2013), the tests that Talking20 offers in various packages are:

  • Heart biomarkers – Total, HDL & LDL cholesterol, homocysteine, CRP, & HgA1C
  • Hormones – Cortisol, estradiol (the most important of the estrogens), progesterone, testosterone, and Vit D3 (the 25-OH test)
  • Vitamins – A, B6, B9, B12, C, D3 (25-OH), E

They say on their website that they hope in the future to add:

  • All Hormones: including cholesterols, cortisol, testosterone, DHEA, estrogens and progesterone
  • All Vitamins and Minerals: including all fat and water soluble vitamins, and circulating minerals, amino acids, and electrolytes
  • All Disease Proteins: including current and future indicators of cancers, including colon prostate, breast, kidney, and lung cancers
  • All Organ Function related proteins: including current and future indications of organ function, including liver, kidney, pancreas, and autoimmunity problems
  • All future biomarkers discovered that we include in all new retail panels

Gold card holders will receive the new tests automatically as they become available.

Collecting the sample

The technology that T20 uses only requires drops of blood on the absorbant thick-paper cards they supply. There’s no need to stick a large needle into your arm, as often happens at the doctor’s office, so no worries there. They request 5 drops of blood to fill the 5 circles on each card. Their instructions are rather minimal, so let me provide you with some elaboration that I found helpful after some experimentation:

  • Middle finger – Talking20 advises either using the tip of your middle finger or the outside of your ring finger. Visually, my middle fingers look like they carry more blood, so I chose them.
  • LARGE drops of blood. The drop should be so large as to be about to fall off from your downward-facing finger. It was surprising to me how large a drop could become before it started to look unstable enough that it might fall. To facilitate this, it’s advisable that:

    • After washing your hands thoroughly with soap, soak the collection hand (and wrist if you can fit it) in a large pot of very warm water. This will help dilate the capillaries of your finger with blood, and keep it coming as you squeeze it out.
    • After drying your hand thoroughly, use an alcohol swab to disinfect and clean the collection finger.
    • Prick your finger with the lancet, pressing firmly. The lancet is spring-loaded, so when you push your finger sufficiently into it, a spring releases, generating enough momentum for a prick. I found that I had a natural flinch instinct to overcome, because I knew I was pressing my finger into a spike. But the lancets are very well-calibrated, not particularly painful, and to get a deep enough prick, I found I really did need to press quite firmly into it.
    • “Milk” the finger. Use firm but not ferocious pressure to squeeze your finger as you simultaneously slide down it from the base towards the tip. I found it better to not actually squeeze right around the prick site, as this mimics the “apply pressure” advice you hear for wounds to get them to stop bleeding. It worked best for me to apply pressure up until I approached the prick site closely, but was not quite bracketing it. Repeat this many times and your blood drop will grow in size.
  • As the blood drop starts to hang unstably from your finger, try to delicately let the center of it touch the center of one of the circles.
  • You may need multiple pricks. I only got two circles out of each prick, so I had three pricks in total.


Summary

If you haven’t taken your own blood before, then you might need some trial and experimentation at first to get it right. Hopefully, my advice above will prove useful. I would rate the difficulty of this procedure as moderate for first-time users, but that should change to easy by the second or third time as you get the hang of it. It’s not rocket science, nor is it very painful. Overall, I’m pleased with the blood sample collection process.

This product is currently one-of-a-kind and is more convenient and potentially much cheaper than a trip to the doctor’s office to get the same results, depending on your insurance coverage. I’m really looking forward to having a huge array of biomarkers available through Talking20 in the future. I’ll cover that part of the T20 service when the analysis is ready, projected to be in April.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Talking20 at the time of this writing, March 2, 2013.

This is a guestpost from Winslow Strong, Entrepreneur, Biohacker and Organizer of the Zürich Quantified Self Meetup. For more information about Biohacking visit his blog Biohack Yourself.

Further information

Talking20 website

Facebook

Twitter: @Talking20tweets

Indiegogo (completed)

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!

WakeMate – Get to Know Your Sleeping Self

WakeMate is a sleep phase alarm clock that can wake you up during one of your light sleep phases and in addition offers extended analysis of your sleep patterns. After my first experience with a simple iPhone app for sleep tracking I found it quite interesting to gain deeper insights into my sleeping habits with this dedicated tool.

Sleep phases correlate with subtle body movements and can therefore be analyzed with a scientifically proven method called actigraphy. Its main principle states that comparatively higher body activity indicates light sleep phases, whereas less movement indicates deep or REM sleep. WakeMate comes with an armband, which detects these movements and a mobile application that interprets this information and works as a user interface for the sleep phase alarm clock.

By monitoring your sleep activity, this app detects light sleep phases and – within a given timeframe, which you can set for when you intend to wake up – will alert you with a charming alarm tone at just the right moment. After waking up, you are informed of your sleep score, which is calculated comparing the length of your awake, light sleep and deep sleep phases. So far, it has really worked well for me. The alarm has always gone off either when I was already waking up, or when I was just about to turn over for a little more sleep. Even though I’ve never had problems getting up in the morning, this product can definitely help make waking up in the morning easier and less stressful.

In addition to being a sleep phase alarm clock, there are some other exciting features that WakeMate offers for the lifehackers among us. Straight from your mobile app, sleeping stats are uploaded to your free and personal profile on WakeMate’s website. There, you will get a detailed overview of your sleep score, which is projected over such variables as length of sleep, day of the week or the time of day that you went to sleep. Identifying the right circumstances for a higher sleep score might then be used to improve sleep quality. Other stats show sleep frequency based on sleep length, sleep or wake time. All in all, this gives you an outstanding representation of your general sleeping habits from any perspective you find most helpful.

Quantified self-experiments with WakeMate

One of my favorite features about WakeMate is the possibility to create several tags in order to analyze the quality of my sleep under varying conditions. I had a great time collecting a load of data and testing how my sleep quality would vary depending on differing influences such as stress, relaxation, social activities, late work nights or a few drinks. The results were actually quite surprising. Contrary to my expectations, my sleep scores turned out to be the highest when I had drunk lots of coffee that day or enjoyed working late into the night. On other nights, when I could unwind by spending some quality time with friends or while watching a movie, my sleep scores actually sunk. Maybe these results are based on the deep satisfaction the great work my team and I are doing gives me, or it just means that the short-term analysis over 50 nights doesn’t provide a solid enough database. As I extend this analysis long-term, I will keep you updated on the further results.

WakeMate Analytics from igrowdigital

Does WakeMate help improve sleeping habits?

Being an early bird type, I have never had trouble getting up in the morning, but still I enjoy using WakeMate as a pleasant way to start my day. I see the product’s main potential for improving sleeping habits in its analytical functions. Using WakeMate on a regular basis leads to a rich dataset. As the number of monitored sleep phases grows, the reliability of the data interpretation regarding different sleep circumstances will rise correspondingly. In the long-term, I expect this to produce some deep personal insights, which might be used to optimize sleeping quality.

WakeMate’s mobile application is available for iPad, iPhone and Android. I am currently using it on my iPad, which is most convenient for entering tags. Right now I’m testing WakeMate and Zeo in comparison -stay posted for the results!

 

Withings WiFi Body Scale – Weight Watching for Aesthetes

I’ve been tracking my weight for over a year now with Withings free smartphone app WiScale.  Monitoring your weight on a regular basis can become a tedious task when you have to record your data manually, making it hard sometimes to maintain a regular overview. After reading Tim Ferris’ The 4 Hour Body, I decided to loose a few pounds with his slow carb diet. In order to obtain a genuinely accurate feedback on my progress in losing weight, I treated myself to a Withings  WiFi Body Scale and started tracking my weight routinely. Having a rich set of measurements then was a great support for reaching my goal. But now, let me tell you something about the product which helped me with that.

Withings WiFi Body Scale comes with great design and usability

The WiFi Body Scale consists of a glass slab, metal encasing and a wifi connection that is a breeze to set up and sync with your computing appliances. Within minutes, my phone, iPad and home computer were all linked up, and the scale’s setup assistant promptly asked me if I wanted to share my data with my followers on twitter. Well, no, I didn’t, but for those of you who want to add a little peer pressure, this might be an option. The scale measures data such as weight, body fat and BMI and reports it to your free profile on Withings’ website or mobile applications where you can see it displayed in beautiful graphs. Especially the data visualization on iPads, which have interactive navigation features you can access with simple touch gestures, is stunning and certainly a best practice for self-tracking technology to date. Seeing how the diet worked for me in the fancy charts really boosted my motivation to stick to the diet rules.
This caused a positive feedback loop, which made cutting back my eating habits easier than never before. On the other hand, it’s really fun to watch the effects that an isolated binge at a 2-day party had on my weight. After using the scale and app for quite some time now, it’s just beautiful to have all that data visible.

Take it or leave it?

My verdict? The beautiful design, along with its user-friendly, intuitive handling and in-depth tracking and charting possibilities put a whole new playful, and convenient spin on how to lose weight smart and effectively. For me, the investment was worth every dime. Even when not on a diet, it’s just great to follow your weight in that amazing visualization on the mobile apps.  After my truly positive experience with this product, I went for Withings Blood Pressure Monitor as well. Both these devices combined with the smart biosensors, which should be available in the near future, are great ways to gain intimate insights in your physical condition. Next, read more about the Quantified Self and how new technologies can provide support in developing body and mind.

Boost Your Motivation and Gain Personal Insights by Self-Tracking

First things first: When it comes to getting yourself organized, tools like Things, Omnifocus or Wunderlist are quite helpful task managers. Most people enjoy the satisfaction of crossing tasks off their lists. But when you’re managing regular events such as routine exercising, you’ll have different tracking needs than what basic task managing tools have to offer. For activities where you can track your progress based on location or movement– say, when comparing times over distances when running or cycling – services like Runkeeper, Nike+ or biosensors like Fitbit are handy tools to keep a good overview of your progress and are a great way to keep yourself motivated. But what about golf, gymnastics, mental training or any other goals where your progress can no longer be represented by how far you go, but by how well you’ve been achieving the goals you wanted to reach? Here’s where some special tools step into the game.

Several tracking services allow you to transfer personal data into metric scales, thus making it possible to track your efforts while visualizing your improvement over time. This not only gives you the same satisfaction of crossing an item off your list, it also offers an overview chart of the progress you’ve made so far. From my experience, tracking tools available to date all cover different aspects. Tools like Daytum allow tracking individual

daytum horizontal charts

items on a numeric basis, and can be used to monitor  everything from the number of workouts you did to the amount of movies you have seen. Items can be grouped into categories and then be displayed with different type of graphs, as seen in the example on the left. This approach leaves you a lot of freedom to track whatever you’d like, but also challenges you to build up a tracking system that fits your needs. For all of you who want to try this service, I encourage you to keep in mind that with the free version, your charts are visible to the public on Daytum’s website. Apart from that, Daytum offers good usability, connecting a powerful web interface with the easy interaction possibilities of its smartphone app. On the other hand, there are tracking tools, which allow you to monitor things on a more qualitative level. Apps like Track & Share provide a set of icons that can be used to track your mood, your satisfaction with certain areas in your life or anything else that could be described with indicators from bad to good or from sad to happy.

Even if self-tracking may seem kind of rigid for some people, the underlying idea is to help reach personal goals. As a rule of thumb, creating new habits takes about 40 days of consistent practice before becoming routine. So, to get myself used to a daily gym workout, I found it useful to track my workout by having each exercise routine organized in a checklist. In this example tracking was a means to keep in mind what I intended to do. Looking at it from a technological point of view, there is a much bigger potential in self tracking. Analyzing your data may not only give you fancy charts, but also help you to learn more about yourself. This can be particularly helpful, say, if you would like to figure out in retrospect which routines and schedules were the best to help you achieve your own personal goals. Here’s an quick example: If your personal goal is to lose weight, but you haven’t quite figured out which dietary approach is best for you yet, tracking your weight and nourishment daily and comparing the results over time can give you the overview you need to know how best to adjust your dietary plan. Sure, this means you’ll have to try out several different dietary plans over the course of a few days each in order to get appropriate results, but in doing so, you can quantify your progress and produce “scientific” results from you own self-experiments! All in all, self tracking then becomes a huge boost both for your motivation as well as a great tool to find the smart decisions for you to make.

From what I’ve experienced so far, a completely perfect tool to these ends has yet to be designed. That’s why my team and I, along with many others from the Quantified Self movement are continuously working on expanding and improving future software for a more holistic self-management approach. Stay tuned for more information on new products and thoughts on how you can use software to improve your personal development!

Simple Sleep Tracking with the iPhone

Do you often feel tired? How long and how well did you sleep int the last days and when do you usually got to bed? In order to get answers to theses questions for myself, I analyzed my sleeping habits with an iPhone app called Sleep hygiene. All you have to do is press a button when going to sleep and again after waking up.

As you can track several sleeps a day, this will work for those of you who are into naps as well. After a few days you get stats on your average sleep length and bed time. I was really surprised with the results, which were kind of different from what I expected and recommend this to everyone who wants to find out some more about his sleeping habits. Sleep hygiene offers additional features such as tips on sleep improvement and suggests your optimal wake-up times based on biorhythm. Also, you might analyze your sleep stats in order to find out your optimal sleep-length and bed-time.

If you want to get more into details, there are sophisticated tools for sleep tracking. Using biosensors, you can measure data like body movement or brain activity, which allow monitoring sleep-length detailed into different sleep phases like REM or light sleep. Right now I’m testing WakeMate, Fitbit and Zeo to track my sleep. Watch out for in-depth reviews and comparison.