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

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

Beyond #unplugging – let’s find the right balance

Ever since FastCompany wrote about their experiments to get off the grid for a while, #unplug has become the term for a reverse-trend to the digital. People from all over the web started writing about their own experiences with taking time off of internet and social media. Stories about ways to beat your digital addiction pop up daily now (e.g. A Trip to Camp to Break a Tech Addiction). However, we have to move beyond this discussion and find a way in between. ( OFFTIME ), a post-tech start-up from Berlin who is active in this field, next to promoting the discourse, are developing an app for which they also run a crowd funding campaign at the moment.

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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.

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.


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


Twitter: @Talking20tweets

Indiegogo (completed)

Philips Airfloss – The Revolution of Dental Care

After an extremely negative experience with the Philips customer service, I promised myself several years ago never to buy another product from the Philips group. However, since Philips has meanwhile established itself as a manufacturer of highly innovative wellness products such as massage devices or phototherapy lamps, I quickly strayed from my initial intent. Philips Airfloss is the newest lifestyle innovation of the Dutch enterprise – and even if the device hardly contains digital components and does not collect data, I would still like to introduce this small revolution for the bathroom here.

Philips Airfloss is the revolution of dental care

Philips Airfloss is a device used to clean the spaces between your teeth and is thus perfect for all those who love gadgets and can’t be bothered with dental floss. The cleaning is administered by a stream of air and microscopic water droplets, which are shot through a nozzle into the spaces between your teeth. In this way, the Airfloss is similar to an electric toothbrush, except that it has a liquid tank and instead of a brush, there is the nozzle that ejects the cleaning jet. Just as with dental floss, cleaning the gaps between your teeth proceeds one space at a time – the Airfloss has to be repositioned each time and the shot-like jet of air and water needs to be triggered with a button.
In practice, this is a sensible and pleasant activity – using it is simple and it leaves a fabulous sensation in your mouth. Alternative to filling it with water, the Airfloss can also be used with mouthwash, so that the cleaning process can be combined with refreshing and disinfecting your mouth. The material, design and production quality are suitable for the price of $99, and the Airfloss battery can last several weeks, depending on how often it is used. The supply in the water tank is empty after one or two applications – a reasonable design decision, when you think about it, considering it keeps you from spraying stale water into your mouth.

Philips Airfloss is a successful bit of innovation

Personally, I am completely thrilled about Philip’s Airfloss. Before, I could never really motivate myself to regularly use dental floss, now I use it even several times a day sometimes and am enjoying dental hygiene at a totally new level. Compared to dental floss, Airfloss by far excels in user experience both regarding its handling as well the great sensation in your mouth, whereby Philips has reinvented the process of cleaning the spaces between your teeth. As a product, I therefore must absolutely and unconditionally recommend the Philips Airfloss. At the same time, I hope I will never again be in need of the Philips customer service, or that, just in case I do, it has improved in the meantime.  😉

Fitbit Zip – A Pedometer for Beginners and Pros

Over a year after updating its last pedometer, Fitbit presented two new products – the Zip and the One. The Zip is conceived as the beginners’ model with a more narrow scope of functions and yet it offers a decisive advantage – the device runs with a battery for half a year and does not require recharging. Aside from that, the Zip behaves similar to the previous model Fitbit Ultra, only that it doesn’t count floors and cannot be used to measure sleep patterns. As an additional function, Fitbit integrated data transfer to smartphones via the new Bluetooth 4.0 standard, which allows a more energy-efficient data synchronization currently on iphone 4S, 5 and a few Samsung smartphones.

Fitbit Zip

The Fitbit Zip is a real Lifestyle Gadget

The Zip has an oval shape and comes in various colors. The design and the material have a classy appearance, which creates the impression of a real lifestyle gadget. In other aspects, the little sensor also make a sophisticated impression – depending on your personal likings, you can place the device in your pocket or attach it to your waistband, bra or necklace with the protective rubber cover that comes with it. By tapping on the casing, the Zip’s screen is activated and the display of the current step-count or time is opened. Further information can be obtained with the iphone app, where your current number of steps, amount of burned calories and personal activity can be compared with your friends. The app can also be used to record your nourishment in order to gain an overview of your calorie intake. The online profile offers even more detailed information, where aside from your step-count you can also review an activity index and an activity profile over the course of the day. On top of it all, this online profile also offers the ability to record various health values such as blood-pressure and blood-sugar levels in order to compile your own health file as needed.

Fitbit Zip white

The Fitbit Zip is a well-composed new development

Fitbit’s new tracker boasts a compact design, convenient data transfer with Bluetooth 4.0 and practical handling without having to recharge the device. The app and the online platform allow the extensive analysis and individual complementation of activity data. This spectrum of functions, the great design and the price of $ 59,90 earn the Zip a clear recommendation for beginning and advanced users alike. However, those who would like to be able to record their sleeping patterns as well should have a look at Fitbit One, on which I will also provide a short account soon.

Nike+ Kinect Training – Burn Fuel in the Living Room

Nike+ Kinect Training is a fitness game for Microsoft’s XBOX. It uses the cameras of the Kinect game controller to monitor the correct execution of each exercise and to turn physical activity into an interactive game.

Nike’s newest product from the Nike series is a training game that uses a personal trainer and a clever game design to make athletic progress easy and comprehensible. At the beginning of the game, you can choose your personal target from the options of muscle building, toning or weight reduction. This is followed by an assessment that determines your current condition. During the corresponding exercises, you move in front of the screen, jump to various positions as quickly as possible, dodge obstacles or demonstrate your flexibility to eyes of the cameras.
After finishing the assessment, the personal trainer guides you through your training plan, which is developed with a level of difficulty that takes your personal constitution into consideration. For each activity you collect Nike+ Kinect Training fuel points, which complement your scorings of other Nike+ products such as Fuelband on your online profile. With this, Nike has developed a harmoniously interconnected ecosystem of Nike+ products. One new thing about the Kinect game is the distinction of fuel points between fitness fuel and athletic fuel points, which allows a more exact differentiation. The following trailer offers an introduction to how the new game works.

Augmented Human International Conference in Stuttgart, Germany

The Augmented Human International Conference will be taking place in Stuttgart on March 7-8. At the AH’13 experts and scientists will meet for the 4th time in a row to discuss the extension of the human capabilities based on innovative technologies. The conference will cover topics like the augmentation of the human perception with optical and haptic interfaces, data recording with different sensor technologies as well as approaches for processing information in the areas architecture, industry, healthcare and education. I’ve been invited to this conference by the organizers of Augmented Human. I look forward to highly innovative, inspiring insights and will be covering the AH’13 on igrowdigital.com.