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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.”

QS-Conference
http://www.flickr.com/photos/krynsky/

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.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/krynsky/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/krynsky/

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

Basis Band – High-tech for your wrist

Just like numerous other Quantified Self enthusiasts, I, too, have been excitedly awaiting the arrival of the Basis Band ever since its announcement in the summer of 2011: An activity monitor that, aside from recognizing movement intensity, can also register skin resistance, energy released by the body and the heart rate. The most fascinating aspect of it all is the optic heart rate monitor integrated into the bottom side of the watchcase, which can detect changes in skin pigment caused by the heartbeat. In the past weeks, I tested just how well this new technology works.

From an external glace, one can hardly see everything the Basis Band has to offer. It has a simple design and is not much larger than a regular digital watch – you can only tell the Basis Band is a health product by looking at the back. That’s where the electrodes are that measure the skin resistance and body temperature, along with the components for optic pulse measurement. Here, the skin’s surface is irradiated by the light of two green LEDs; their reflections on the skin’s surface are registered by a photocell and analyzed for systematic variations due to the heartbeat. It is especially this optic pulse measurement that distinguishes the Basis Band from all other currently available activity sensors.
Several weeks of testing showed that this optic method in Basis Band does indeed work, but it also has its limitations. When resting and during moderate movement, the measured heart rate is very close the values measured by other sensors. However, when running, working out at the gym or during many other physical activities, the accuracy of the optic measurement does not suffice to deliver precise values. Thus, the Basis Band is not suitable as a heart rate monitor for endurance athletes. When comparing the strength of the LEDs on the Basis Band with those on the Alpha, which are both based on the same principle, their two differing basic concepts become apparent. Whereas Mio’s optic sensor is strong enough to recognize the heart rate even during intense training and for that needs to be recharged after just 10 hours, the pulse monitor on the Basis Band only partially works for physical activities, in return for which the battery lifetime of 100 hours allows a good long-term observation. The true advantage of the Basis Band therefore lies in the combination of the various values it measures, which allows a more precise calculation, inter alia. Thus, Basis’ algorithms use the difference between the temperature on the top and the bottom of the casing to distinguish the temperature released by the body in order to be able to deliver a more accurate estimate of the number of calories consumed. The recognition of sleep patterns also profits from recording different values. Thus, by combining the measurements of physical activity and changes of the resting heart rate, the onset, length and end of sleep phases can automatically be detected. In contrast to other activity monitors, the Basis Band is a much more complex sensor that, with the capacities of algorithms growing beyond movement and sleep, could provide further health-related information.


 

You can have a look at your measurement values on the Basis Band’s display or after uploading the data to the Basis online portal; an Android app should be available in several weeks. Aside from the current time, the display can also directly show your current pulse, your number of burnt calories and your step-count. In Basis’ online portal, which is currently in the beta phase, information about activity and sleep are the dominating aspects, from which you can choose a number of different goals. Compared to other activity trackers, the goals offered in Basis’ portal are much more specific – whether you want to sleep more, always go to bed or get up at the same time or get into the habit of a morning run – your adherence to the desired habits are carefully monitored by the sensor and visualized in the portal. In the process, Basis tries to help users who weren’t quite as successful to get back on track with a cleverly devised point system. To this end, Basis uses various game mechanics such as points and levels to playfully motivate the users to achieve their goals.



It is also possible to delve even deeper into your own measurement values. Overall activity, heart rate, skin resistance and calorie consumption can be displayed graphically over the course of a week or compared on a daily basis. This offers a detailed insight into your own data that is not possible with any other currently available activity sensor – a download of the data is currently not provided.

 

In order to view your stats on the portal, the Basis Band must be connected to a computer; but because of the current beta phase, it can take several minutes for the uploaded information to become available. However, the Android app, announced for March, in conjunction with the Bluetooth synchronization, should be able to greatly improve the user’s experience. With its four days of battery lifetime, the Basis Band for the first time enables a simple and continuous tracking of various health parameters, although it cannot replace specialized heart rate monitors for athletic training. Instead, with the Basis Band you receive an innovative product that can help create new habits. Should they succeed in producing this high-tech sensor in larger numbers and in enabling better data access with a smartphone app, I see great potential for Basis’ approach. The Basis Band could become an interface to the body, supporting people in an active lifestyle and providing physicians information that can significantly improve medical treatment. With the Basis Band, the industry is at the beginning of the trend towards such an interface. Therefore, the further development of the Basis Band remains quite exciting.

Munich for Quantified Self and Wearable Technology Enthusiasts

End of January 2012 there are some great events for Quantified Self and Wearable Technology enthusiasts. On February 1st, at 7 pm, we will have Munich’s first Quantified Self Meetup in the bar Niederlassung. If you happen to be around, come and join us.

From January 29th to February 1st, the International Sports Business Trade Show ISPO will be taking place in Munich. There, Wearable Technologies, a company I work for, is setting up a booth, displaying sensors and other wearable gadgets. Meet us in hall B6 545. On January 30th, Wearable Technologies will be hosting Mobile Monday at the ISPO.  At this Mobile Monday you will see how technologies are merging together and sensor networks will drive the internet of things.

Also on January 30th, the Wearable Technologies Conference will take place in line with ISPO in Munich. This conference gives visitors the opportunity to discover groundbreaking innovations from the fields of health, fitness and prevention. In addition to novel technologies in development, the 2012 WT Conference will present products ready for the market. The international public attending the event comes from the widest variety of technological and marketing arenas.

I am totally looking forward to these events and the interesting people to meet there.

Fitbit Ultra – A Step Towards a Healthier Lifestyle

Fitbit Ultra, the latest update of the original Fitbit, is a step counter, which allows monitoring your overall daily activity. The current version also comes with a new stairclimb detection and has additional features such as a clock and a stopwatch. The small wearable sensor can be clipped onto your clothing or placed in your handbag. It comes with a computer connected base station for charging the sensor and transmitting your data wirelessly from the Fitbit device to your online profile.

Fitbit visualizes health information and motivates towards an active lifestyle

In its default settings, Fitbit suggests that you take an average of 10,000 steps each day in order to maintain a generally healthy condition. Obviously, this daily target, along with the number of stairs to climb, can be adjusted to your personal needs. Right on the website’s dashboard, you can see how well you’ve achieved your weekly score represented in the number of steps you’ve taken, stairs you’ve climbed, or calories you’ve burned. A number of other stats display ratings such as how long you are active each day, or how long and how well you slept at night. In order to better visualize your stepcount, Fitbit has implemented some game mechanics in the form of badges that are rewarded  according to the number of steps you take. These badges can be linked to foursquare, where they are displayed on 4sq’s website in the partner badges section.

Fitbit online profileIn the website’s log section, you can track other health information such as nutrition, non-stepcount related sport activities or physical parameters such as blood pressure or body weight. Your Fitbit online profile is compatible with Runkeeper’s health graph. When both services are connected, they will automatically share their data, even when obtained from third-party providers such as Withings Wifi Body Scale.

Now, with the product update, Fitbit also features an iPhone application, which helps you track your nourishment and overview your stats on the go.

Fitbit mobile appThe Fitbit can also be used as a sleep sensor. In order to do so, the device must be attached to an armband, which you wear while sleeping. By measuring your overnight movement, Fitbit detects whether you are asleep or awake, and gives you feedback on your sleep quality.

Does Fitbit help staying fit?

Fitbit does a great job at monitoring your step count. When I compared Fitbit’s count with that of the iPod nano’s pedometer, the results of both sensors were within a 5% tolerance range, which seems to be fairly accurate. Compared to the 2 days battery life of the nano, the Fitbit runs for at least a whole week, which is definitely a more user-friendly experience. The dashboard on Fitbit’s website displays a good overview of your activity stats and the log is a well-structured file for storing one’s health data. For those who want to collect their fitness data at services such as Runkeeper, Fitbit allows you to easily connect your Fitbit profile with them and import your step count to them.

Monitoring your step count and the number of floors that you’ve taken can definitely be a way to keep users engaged in improving their overall physical activity. A lot of people – including myself – feel motivated to walk instead of driving or take the stairs instead of using the elevator when rewarded with positive feedback. Especially allowing Fitbit to  automatically post your stepcount on your Facebook or Twitter account can certainly spur your pride and step up your motivation.

If you want to use Fitbit for sleep tracking as well, it can get a bit fiddly to constantly have to attach it to your armband overnight and then clip it back on to your clothing during the day. Companies such as Jawbone or MyBasis will soon come out with sensors, which can be worn 24/7 as a bracelet or watch, giving them an advantage over Fitbit’s convenience in everyday use. So far however, the Fitbit Ultra definitely remains a well-designed, user-friendly and health-engaging product that has made a great contribution to my personal wellbeing. With their just announced  Aria Wifi Scale, Fitbit has made clear that they are going to continue contributing to a healthier lifestyle even more in the future.

iPod nano and the New Nike+ Active – A Perfect Match?

After the latest software update for the 6th generation of Apple’s iPod nano, the Nike+ features have now been extended to monitor the steps you take throughout your day. With the new Nike+ Active your step-count contributes to an engaging online game experience. How well does Team Apple/Nike work?

The iPod nano and its latest software update

I probably don’t need to talk too much about the iPod nano. Most of you already know it is a tiny portable music player that comes with fun add-ons such as different clocks and photo albums. Thanks to the latest software update (Version 1.2) the Nano’s Nike+ feature now has a new function called “walk”. With it, you can easily count the number of steps you take throughout the day with the integrated accelerometer and sync your step-count with your Nike+ Active account. This still requires iTunes and a cable connection, but what you can do with your steps on the Nike+ Active website is worth the hustle.

The new Nike+ Active comes with great gamification features

Once your data is uploaded to the Nike+ Active website, your steps are rewarded with a virtual currency called NikeFuel. For those who are into running or gym, these are additional ways to earn NikeFuel. With this currency, you can play an online game with the aim of conquering cities around the world and encountering renowned landmarks. There you are presented facts and photos of the sights on your route, making it all like a virtual trip around the world. Starting in New York, you move up over the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.

Nike+ Active, New YorkSource: Nike+ActiveNike+Active, New York, Empire State BuildingNike+Active, New York, conquered

After having conquered one city, you can then move on to places like London, Paris or Tokyo. Several game mechanics such as rewards and leaderboards keep the users engaged in gaining more NikeFuel through their real world activities and make the users stay motivated to sync and play regularly. Additional fun features allow e.g. pasting your face onto the Statue of Liberty and posting the picture on Facebook.

Already known for their mobile apps such as Nike BOOM or Nike Training Club, the company once more has shown that they really understand gamification. Although it is still in the beta phase, the new Nike+ Active is a promising approach to engaging users in personal fitness.

Who is Nike+ Active for?

Unlike Runkeeper or Fitbit, the combination iPod nano/Nike+ is not so much intended for seriously tracking and aggregating general health information. Instead, it puts its focus on having fun, which works great to form a positive feedback loop for your daily walking habits. This makes the Nike+ Active perfect for anybody looking for some motivation and fun on the go. Since Nike+ doesn’t share user data with third party services, its value for Quantified Self purposes is limited. I hope Nike+ will change their strategy and contribute their fitness data to a richer set of personal health information in future services.

iPod or not?

If you’re intersted in first getting to know Nike+ Active you might want to try the Nike+ app for 1.99$ on your smartphone, which is synced with Nike+ Active as well. However, using it 24/7 will quickly drain your mobile’s battery and won’t deliver appropriate results without an accurate GPS signal, for example when you’re indoors. I’ve been using Fitbit for quite some time now and find an independent and wearable pedometer, which doesn’t interfere with my smartphone works much better for the time being. By really counting every step you take, you can get a holistic overview of your over-all fitness efforts instead of narrowing your view on just your weekly workouts.

Once you’ve decided to become part of the Nike+ Active game, I would definetely recommend buying the nano. More than a pedometer, you will get a slim and lightweight music player that allows doing your workouts without carrying the bulky smartphone around. I am sure the visionary Steve Jobs put several more grand strategic decisions towards a healthier lifestyle into place before leaving us. For this, and for so much more, my deepest appreciation goes out to His Steveness.

Nike+Active Badge

Withings Blood Pressure Monitor – A Review from the Heart

Withings Blood Pressure Monitor is designed to operate with your iPod, iPhone or iPad, making the product’s concept totally different to blood pressure monitors as we know them. It’s a new approach to measuring blood pressure and using the data for health benefits.

Withings Blood Pressure Monitor makes the hearts of design and tech lovers beat faster

Getting my blood pressure measured was something that I only ever had done at my routine annual check-up or when donating blood. As blood pressure monitors are usually designed either for doctors’ offices or for best agers, why should a man in his early thirties like myself go for such a device?

Actually, my experience with the Withings WiFi Body Scale, which I reviewed earlier was what got me interested in buying another Withings gadget. Being a tech enthusiast in general, I fell in love with the stunning visualization of my bodyweight and just had to go for the company’s blood pressure monitor as well. Just as with the body scale, from an aesthetic point of view it is a deeply satisfying product. Evidently, it was made especially for self-quantifiers and health-hipsters.

All together it consists of a cuff and an aluminum tube that acts both as a handle as well as the housing for the batteries and the pneumatic pump. The cuff itself consists of white faux leather fitted with a fresh green inside. In order to work, the blood pressure monitoring cuff has to be connected to your iPod, iPhone or iPad. By thus using an external device both as its display as well as its internet connection, the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor is a lean and resource-efficient product that enables measuring and synchronizing on the go.

Measuring your blood pressure becomes a mobile experience

Once you’ve twisted the cuff around your arm and connected it to your i-device via the doc connector, the app is automatically launched. All you have to do is press the start button to run the pneumatic pump and let it squeeze your upper arm for about 30 seconds. After the measurement, your systolic and diastolic blood pressure and your average heart rate during the monitoring period appear on your display. Once you’ve collected several measurements, you can scroll and zoom your way through the details of how your blood pressure has varied over time simply by swiping and pinching the screen. If you are simultaneously tracking your weight with the same app, you can get an overview of some of your most important health factors gathered in one chart.

Sharing options for your blood pressure data

Since this product is a serious health device, users can send their data via email to their doctors or sync them with their favorite personal health records. This helps build a solid basis of personal health information and bears great potential for analyzing personal metrics and their co-influence in the future. The fun factor definitely comes with the option of sharing your data on Facebook or Twitter. Imagine status updates like “I just lost my job due to inappropriate use of social media” followed by “my blood pressure is now 152/114″.

Buy it or leave it?

Looking at the 129 $ price tag may be frustrating at first and will probably not convince the ones who don’t care too much about their blood pressure. Still, I believe that some day soon a solid basis of health data will create a number of benefits for many of us. When considering buying a blood pressure monitor, you should think about such factors as operational convenience and the value of your data. According to the Withings partnership strategy, all your data can easily be made accessible for third party services such as Runkeeper or Fitbit. This can make their products more valuable by being able to create a rich data-set aimed towards more comprehensive health awareness. I hope more of the established and soon to come biosensors will follow Withings positive example!

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.