Welcomed back to the Quantified Self

Quantified Self 2017

Everytime I go to the Quantified Self conference (2013 & 2014), I walk away with something more than I was expecting. Its been 3 years since I was last at the conference and a lot has happened in that tme. The Quantified Self has shifted from the heydays of super stardom on the front of wired magazine; to everywhere and nowhere. By nowhere, I mean its not really talked about because its actually everywhere. The amount of people with some kind of app or device which they are actively tracking something is so huge. This also raises the question of Self-Tracking vs. Self-Surveillance (which Jana Beck actually covered in her breakout session); are most people self-tracking or is some other entity surveying them? There’s also a debate about how enabling they really are for most people who received a Fitbit for a present.

Garry Wolf raised the topic of what is the quantified self at the start of the first day in the opening talk. Lots of people answered the question from their point of view and it was good to hear the diversity of answers and people building on the previous one.

When back with Gary, he concluded the conversation with a final thought on the subject…

“Everyday science through examination of yourself”

Gary also noted it’s been 10 years since the first conference and threw out 10 interesting points over the last 10 years, plenty to think about; including a Michael Polanyi quote and a request for people to take part in a live experiment around smartphone use. The results were revealed at the end of the day and were quite a shock. I personally only looked at my phone twice over the first day. But as I explained I have my tablet and laptop. It was interesting to hear I wasn’t the only one to have different apps on their different devices. This lead nicely into a group discussion about smartphone use.

Its so easy to feel the fear of missing out (FOMO) at the Quantified Self conference, as there is on average 8-9 things happening in parallel. You really have to pick and if its not for you, move on. Its very much the BarCamp rule of two feet.

Like the rule of two feet, here’s my highlights of the conference.

Session 1: Show & Tells

Quantified Self 2017

I missed the first one by Jana Beck on tracking crying but I got in to see Aaron Parecki kicked off the ignite talks; he later did a session which I’ll dig into the details of with data portability and data ethics in mind. The big things for me was the micropub plugs. I’m going to simplify micropub by saying its like ifttt but open, decentralised and a W3C standard supported by the indieweb community. That was the point when I thought I need to check this out in detail because it reminded me of the media pipeline thoughts I had a long long time ago.

Ahnjili ZhuParris gave a ignite talk which was all about her quantifying her psychedelic experiences. Yes you heard right…She quantified her drugs use to improve her trips! Truly shows how diverse the things track can be. It was captivating to say the least.

Session 2: Self-Tracking vs. Self-Surveillance

This breakout session run by Jana Beck and was full of interesting points. Of course Hasan Elahi was brought up and the group tried to understand the difference between tracking & surveillance. It seemed to boil down to judgment from which entity? Both have issues including the illusion of perfection which can drive self-tracking; and of course the issues of external surveillance are very well know.

This is where I first met the open university who are working on a project called monetize.me. I also bumped into Kley Reynolds who I’ve been thinking about since 2013, when I heard him talk about using QS data to create a fingerprint for data & identity.

Session 3: Connecting Self-Tracking Data to Home Assistants

In this session I helped a out with another person as the speaker couldn’t make it due to flight problems. Myself and Jacqueline took over the session hoping someone would come with some more experience in using home assistants to track something. I had some experience with Amazon Alexia & Google Home but not for quantified/tracking. I could see how it might be possible with something like ifttt but not directly.

We didn’t have to wait long till some knowledgeable people stepped in and a discussion kicked off. I kept going back to the fact these devices are in group/family spaces. Somewhere along the line, Jacqueline & me started thinking about how you could use these devices to bring together a family and nudge them to eat more healthy through dinner time checkins. I feel theres a unpolished gem somewhere there.

Session 4: Using Your Data to Influence Your Environment

Quantified Self 2017

I ran this session and I knew with a brief skim through object media and perceptive media, Questions and thoughts would come from a very data literate crowd. I wasn’t wrong.

Lost of thoughts about the role of public in a media landscape which can be changed and modified. There was a lot of discussion about why and the true benefits of using personal data in storytelling. In retrospect I should have shown parts of my interview back in 2013: We research how personal data and storytelling can be combined.

Points were made about customization vs personalization; people felt that was a big difference and could be the cause for some backlash. There was also a feeling that they would want to know how much things are customized and why if interested. Also there was a sense negotiation was a key aspect in this all, something we are exploring with the Databox project. There was a sense you could try it with little data shared then decide to ramp it up later to see what difference it made to what you saw first time.

A interesting fact was mentioned that fruit machines can be skinned in as quick as 20seconds. This was mentioned when talking about customization of the reality around you. Which led to Minority Report discussions.

It was a positive discussion but lots of worries about how to tell stories with enough richness/depth to work with the diversity of personal data that may be shared or used.

End of the first day

There was lots of discussions following the smartphone experiment at the start of the day. A small list of good ways to stop being distracted by your smartphone started to emerge.

I used Quality Time and as said previously clocked up 2 checks and only 20secs of actual screen time. Some people ran into multiple hours.

Quantified Self 2017

This crossed with Aaron’s list deserves a blog of its own really… (coming soon – honestly!)

More than optimization (day 2)

Quantified Self 2017

The over optimization intrigued me on paper as there is always a dark sense of over quantification in the hope of perfection? I hadn’t really thought how it could be used in team sports to create personalize routines for each rugby team member instead of applying a routine to the team broad brush; it makes perfect sense right?

Session 5: Making money from your own data with Monetize.me

After meeting Monetize.me in the second session, I went along to a dedicated session. I think the plan for the session went slightly out the window but it was fruitful and it all came down to data negotiation. I did talk about the databox project and wondered how they hadn’t come across each other?

There was a lot of questions about how much is data actually worth? I pointed at Jennifer Moore and her position as the first personal limited company. I also mentioned how fresh/realtime is the data.

Of course this all lead to questions asking if you could treat all data the same? What about data discrimination and finally what are the business models which can emerge and what needs to change for it to be?

I also learned about Bitwalking which generates a crypto-currancy from the amount you walk.

Session 6: How to plan for data access with choosing a QS tool

Quantified Self 2017

I mentioned Aaron Parecki’s ignite talk earlier, and there was plenty more depth in his workshop. Aaron started out explaining the process he’s gone through with quantifying himself. He talked about the pain of data portability through broken devices and closed services. This all lead him to a checklist he uses.

  • How much effort is required?
  • How does it Sync?
  • What is the sustainability of the service/product?
  • What is the data portability options?
  • Whats the competition like?

Each point had a bunch of issues under them for example in how does it sync; breaks down to questions about centralized servers vs direct sync to a local computer/device. Sustainability was focused on business models of the likes of Apple, Google, Fitbit, Jawbone, etc. All very different and it all depends on the user which once they are comfortable they are with it (if everything is made transparent, and the user can make a real informed choice!). I talked about Gadgetbridge in connection with effort and syncing.

Hopefully Aaron will make his slides public (but this needs some more thought!)

Session 7: Self-Tracking for the Good of the World

With my public service hat on, I went along to Justin’s session. We explored some of the issues with the internet and I did say, we should be looking at the work Mozilla are doing around the internet health report, but we focused on other things.

One of those things was the packages; packages being things which are a mix of hardware, software and service. This was intriguing to me and got me thinking about opinionated software.

We talked about the public benefit of quantified health but there was a large conversation about how you compare data when the different black box devices can’t agree on a step actually is. This was when someone suggested some governance and that the Quantified Self site has a large number of devices/services/packages reviewed. Maybe there should be some kind of ranking system and clear indicator of different aspects of that thing (you could use Aaron Parecki’s indicators) . You can imagine the QS community making it clear what devices are to be avoided and best practices.

I tweeted Gary to say its time the Quantified Self got political.

Session 8: Quantified Self meetups

I drifted around a few sessions but settled on a session about the meetups, as the Manchester Quantified Self meetup stalled a little while ago. Last time I was at the conference I was inspired to setup a QS meetup. I’m still inspired to run the meetup but it was great to hear from those new and old to the meetups.

Sharing stories and hearing from Steven who is well known in Quantified Self circles was very useful. There was lots of questions about the choice of the format, use of meetup, etc. Steven pretty much said the Quantified Self will support any changes the organizers make. That would include format, event, description, etc changes.

Like Gary said at the start of the first day, things are always changing and they are flexible to these.

With this in mind, I have kicked off another Manchester Quantified Self with a different format.

The wrap ups

Quantified Self 2017

The last keynote talks were fascinating and centered around circular/cyclical time. The picture of the complexity of patterns summed up so much of it.

The people

The best thing about Quantified Self conference is the people, they are so amazing. No edge, just open and all so geeky. No matter where we were it was great conversations which spilled out from the many sessions I didn’t get a chance to attend.

Quantified Self 2017

On the first evening we started at the Casa balcony bar then had dinner at the Café-restaurant De Ysbreeker and ended up Canvas again. Love that place and its so weird seeing it become this incredible place now from the squat it use to be.

On the second night, we headed out in search of cocktails (theres a story behind this, which I never actually posted till now). We almost ended up at Prik and Blue boy which will make 3 people laugh. This time we ended up in a Amsterdam festival and then a speakeasy place called Door 74. Being a geeky quantifiers, we decided to hack friendship by trying the 36 questions in a group.

We didn’t get far, but I actually think it worked…

Quantified Self 2017

Another great time at the Quantified Self… So much learned so much to think and act on. If I have anything to do with it, I’ll be back next year for sure. Massive thanks to everyone who I bumped into over the 2 full days. It was emotional, fun and exciting all at the same time. Special thanks to the newbies who I spent a lot of time with.

Quantified Self 2017

Shenanigans in Amsterdam

I tweeted this because this will never be forgotten by those involved, a night of Shenanigans

Simon suggests burgers for dinner at Burger Zaken, Amsterdam. The Wagu burger wasn’t too bad at all.

I was hunting for cocktails and google maps suggests going to a place called Prik. Where we finally connect the dots realising its actually a gay bar (seems so obvious now, but alas I didn’t connect undressed with undressing so go figure). Just at the point when we seen a heavily pregnant cat order drinks at the bar (I kid you not) and join it with a cocktail of our own.


Moving onwards we tried Tales & Spirits, but it was fully booked and they suggest a new place which just opened that evening. Blue Boy. It use to be a gay cinema, we were told but from that night its a trendy restaurant with very good cocktails. So we went with the recommendation. The night seemed to be full of animals from pregnant cats in Prik to the massive stone dog watching over us while we drank.

It was Jasmine who first went to the toilet and came back to the table saying it was a little weird having unisex toilets. I said that’s just Amsterdam. Then when I went to the toilet, I followed the corridor to the toilets.

Then I made the mistake of using the wrong sexes toilets as the place was so new they forgot to add signs to the doors. For me it wasn’t till the woman also washing her hands asked if she was wrong? I looked confused and she repeated it; getting what she was talking about. I said I think its communal toilets no biggie. But it wasn’t till I left and had the shock from another woman entering, that I realised I was actually wrong. Her partner walked out another door (also with no sign) and I saw the urinals. Embarrassing yes but everybody laughed it off – thankfully!

Back to Niewmarkt and Cafe Cuba for one more before realising the last metro was only 10mins time. Once back at the hotel, I decided to make the most of that super warm night in mid September by doing a mix on the pacemaker outside the hotel entrance.

The inner child in us all

The inner child in us all

Everytime I go to the Quantified Self Conference, I take away so much more than just knowledge. I will write up what I saw later

But we were in a bar after the conference and people got talking. The conversation turned to the 36 questions (yes those ones) and the answers were open, frank & refreshingly honest (what else would you expect from quantified selfers?). Later in the night, we all started digging into relationships at a much deeper level and the question was asked how people deal with arguements in relationships?

I mentioned the fact I like to buy hour glasses for wedding gifts, because from previous relationships; sometimes you just need a time out for a short while. Maybe enough to stop think, drop the ego, etc.

That was when someone (can’t rememeber her name) pointed me at the Burning Man exhibit above. My mind was blown. Its breathtaking and sums up so much about life and relationships. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since, to be honest.

Alexander Milov's Burning Man 2015 scupture

I can’t quite explain the connection but when I saw it, it made me think about the Watchmen scene with the Nuclear Kiss. I’d say something about revealing the true self in a moment of intimacy or something?

Atomic Kiss from Watchmen movie

Flying into storms

Landing after a storm
The scene after landing in Manchester Airport

Finally back from Amsterdam after IBC 2016; the weather was incredible. Weather wasn’t far off in the UK it seems. However on flying back to Manchester, we hit a massive storm. The flight was only meant to be 55mins but we were up in the air for 90min.

On tweeting the above, Andrew sent a tweet.

On the review, it certainly looks about right, I certainly spotted a coast line.

Flying through and around a storm

To be fair once we finally landed and I tried to get a train home, I found out the train line was flooded and no trains were running from the Airport. They said the same was true of the tram but James seemed to get through? Ended up getting a Uber and being very surprised it wasn’t surge pricing. Felt a little sorry for most of the other people who were stuck waiting for trains. I was a little miffed but I didn’t know how bad things could have been or was in Manchester.

Embracing the unquantifiable self?

The Quantified Self scene panel

I’m sat in Manchester terminal 3 airport using the free wifi (for one hour with a sign up to some bothersome news letter) anyway I’m on my way to the Quantified Self Europe Conference in Amsterdam for the 2nd year (reasons why you should be coming too). I gather the popularity of the conference and area has obviously started to rise with a sharp 50% increase in the ticket price. Fair dues but further proves its getting popular and breaking into the mainstream.

But I wanted to reflect on aspects I’ve touched on many times in my blog. The unquantifiable.

Its one of those lunch time chats in R&D. This time I was talking to Matt Brooks and Jasmine about the Quantified Self and some of the smart data wearemoment.us were able to understand from patterns of usage. Matt stopped me and said how much he hated recommendation systems.

“I want a system which doesn’t give you what you want or even the opposite… ”

The perfect example being spotify…  Before long we were talking l about something which is dear to me and my blogging.

The unquantifiable! Or as Matt likes to call it the “unquantifiable self” credit to Matt for that one.

There seems to be somethings which are simply unquantifiable. Two come to mind instantly. Dj mixing and Chemistry when dating. Everything can be right on paper but when meeting that person in real life or hearing that mix, something just isn’t right. Not only that it can be a total rejection of something you should in the data, adore?

Although I love the quantified self: knowledge through numbers. I feel like I appreciate the unquantifiable even more now. I know there is those who believe we just need more data or more computational power (they may even be right) but in the meanwhile lets have fun with the unquantifiable self.

See you at the quantified self europe. By the way I’ll be talking on Sunday afternoon about my media consumption and maybe a tiny bit about how this relates to perceptive media.

See your self in Quantified Self Europe

I had the pleasure of attending the Quantified Self Europe conference in Amsterdam. It was part of my idea to head towards conferences which are less mainstream and more edgy. Nothing wrong with the mainstream, but I love the idea of finding something quite raw.

The Quantified self I have been tracking for quite sometime and I now I got to realise all those self tracking things I do are just part of my lifestyle.

The conference was more of a unconference with up to 14 tracks running in parallel at some point. There are keynotes and sessions which are attended by everyone but most of the time your walking between sessions and talking to people.

As usual here’s my highlights from the conference…

Your Life Log my privacy

Life logging…

There was lots of talk about lifelogging or photologging. Although not quantifiable as such it came up  in discussions around the Google Glass project. The discussions were centred around the privacy issues of lifelogging using not only google glass. 5 people had been given lifelogging devices and had been walking around the conference for a day or so. They then showed the results on the big screen. The ethics and norms were discussed. Witney talked about being conscious of the device taking pictures and shifting her angle when talking to someone to avoid taking clos up pictures. I described my experience of being audio blogged at Future Everything and how it felt like loosing a sense after it was gone. The same was true of the lifeloggers. Somewhere in the discussion Glass came up again and again. People seemed to feel it would work because the norm when not using it is simply to put the glasses on the top of your head. Simple and elegant way of saying you have my full attention and I’m not logging this.

Interesting points… Photos created by them are not as such images but rather data. From the day, 4% were good images, 40% were too dark and blury and 56% were only useful for data.

Relationship logging

Mood and the yet unquantifiable

There was a clear move to towards the yet unquantified. Mood, emotion, context, relationships, sleep tracking, meme, dreamtracking, mindhacking, etc. One of my favourites was relationship tracking by Fabio Ricardo.

Fabio tracks who he’s talking to, when, where and about what in a series of handwritten note books. The data is quite simple but there is so much of it, it makes for some great insight into conversations and relationships which change over time. Of course I have alot of interest in relationship data but more from a different angle. Had a real good chat with Fabio about his findings and possibilities.

It was also good to see Snoozon also talking as they are working with Lucidpedia who are my choice for mydreamscape. If I can get them to do one thing correctly, that would be the way dream data is entered. Actually I found this app which does a much better job.

Food tracking

Food Tracking

There were a number of talks about food tracking for fitness and enjoyment. The problem is putting in that data so it can be quantified. There is a social pressure involved with taking pictures of food. On one half its good because your sharing and the act of doing so really helps the tracker. For example loosing weight through the fact of documenting. However standing up in a restaurant to take a picture of your food is still generally socially painful. Whats interesting however is all the meta stuff around the photo. The table cloth, the angle, who is with you, where, etc. Taking pictures of what your drinking is very boring unless its cocktails (and Rain did suggest I should take do some cocktail tracking)

But the hardest thing is still how you work out the calories, how healthy the contents is, etc. On top of that we have no idea the overall effect on the tracker. This is all tied deeply into health tracking which was a big theme but isn’t so important to my work.

Visualising data with Rain

Alternative uses for Microdata

I was happy to see big data discussed and talked about at length. But it was even better to see personal tracked data included in that category. I have always stood by the idea of personal tracked data as microdata of big data. But interestingly there was lots of talk about the tracking side (tons on sensors) of the quantified self and not much thought about the after effects.

Generally the data was being used for self analysis or to visualise. Rainycat talked about visualising the data using clothes to demonstrate the data.

Quantified Self Europe 2013

Of course my big thing was Perceptive Media and in fact when I kind of hijacked a Fujitsu Labs presentation. The questions and feedback was a lot better than I first feared it would be. Using microdata to drive and alter media seemed of interest to the people in the room, although there was lots of questions about how?

There was so much more to the quantified self conference, I haven’t touched the crazy amount of sensors and there getting so small. One thing which got me very excited was http://funf.org.

The Funf Open Sensing Framework is an extensible sensing and data processing framework for mobile devices, supported and maintained by Behavio. The core concept is to provide an open source, reusable set of functionalities, enabling the collection, uploading, and configuration of a wide range of data signals accessible via mobile phones.

It doesn’t take a lot to imagine the possibilities for prototyping perceptive media projects using Funf…

The whole conference was made of such great diversity of views and opinions, and I was blown away by the mixed of people.

The missing trackers

Who’s missing from the Quantified Self?

However the session which I missed all of but the last 10mins was, the missing trackers by Witney. Looking at the notes it was a very interesting discussion about the ethics of self tracking and sharing. When I joined later it had turned into a debate about identity and how to put forward the Quantified self in the best light. There seems to be a split of view of how to best promote the Quantified Self movement. Is it best done through the numbers and hard data or through the stories and experiences.

I chimed in with the answer being the stories and experiences, data will loose most people while a good narrative will always attract and inspire people.

Quantified Self Europe 2013

We all Track…

To be honest by the end of the conference I was amazed at the amount of things (media, food, steps, work) I track had not really thought about before. Thinking next year I could confidently give a talk about an element of self tracking, although I’d prefer to come back with some Perceptive Media demos.

I was also interviewed at the conference as you can see at the top of the post. I think it went rather well, except half eaten through an apple and really wanting some water. I did have a shock in the morning when coming down to breakfast. One of the ladies behind the reception said they had heard me on the local radio station. Turns out the local station watch the local hashtags top10 and found the interview and decided to use it. I won’t touch on the licence terms but its good to hear Perceptive Media went out to most of Amsterdam.

The whole movement can seem a bit like a low key cult with people talking about self improvement through data. But I felt welcomed and there’s plenty of rational arguments back and forth. People were open and happy to stop and talk about there self tracking projects or ideas to improve self tracking.

I went away inspired enough to setup a Manchester Quantified Self group, so look out for more details about that real soon.

This movement is certainly on its way up and out to the mainstreamsee you next year?

XBMC used for in hotel system


I was in Amsterdam for the Quantified Self conference (blog post coming soon) and the whole conference was in a hotel called Casa 400. It was a good conference but what was strange was the TV in my hotel room which look familiar to me.


I swear it was XBMC underneath but unfortunately the functionality they could have enabled like Samba/NFS shares, DLNA, UPnP and heck Airplay were not available. If they were it would make for an amazing in room system on top of a already technically great hotel. Couldn’t knock there wifi deployment one bit, even with 4 devices using it all day…


Fake passport or over sensitive policing?

I tweeted at 19:33, 15th Jan from Amsterdam Airport – Sitting in airport police in amsterdam airport, they think my passport is faked

I had come back from Amsterdam after giving a talk at Follow the Money conference about BBC Backstage, Everthing was going well and I had plenty of time to catch up with some of the CES coverage using Boxee but when I got to passport control things seemed to be taking too long to look at my passport. About 10 people passed me on the other booth while I was standing there watching this police officer messing with a small microscope type thing. I was prepared for the questioning I usually only get at flights into Chicago O’Hare. But it never happened. Instead someone else came to the booth and the agents talked for a second in dutch, then the first one came out of the booth and gestured for me to follow him into a room less that 5 meters away.

Yep its one of those backrooms where theres people coming in and out. Massive mirror you just know isn’t a mirror, I was sure it was a 2 way mirror or I was being paranoid. When i sat down there was a woman who had gotten a new passport and something was missing from it. Not sure but a phone call later, she was up and out of the room. I waited while 2 officers looked over my passport, one with a microscope. After a while they left it on the table. A new guy came in from eastern europe and sat next to me. His passport also was suspect I assumed.

Anyway after about 30mins, we both get moved to a new location, I swear it was on the opposite side of the airport for another sit down for another 30mins while a 3rd officer looks at the passport under some machine. The officer walking us down said it was quicker to go down there, than send my passport down there and wait for it to come back. After a while of waiting it was decided that maybe the passport was fine and that the RFID tag might be a little faulty or something. Those rfid chips in passports are bull I was told I was free to go but I should follow the officer back through the back way to make the plane.

The trek to the gate was fast and frantic. They had left me about 20mins before the airplane closes its door which would be fine if I was super fit like these dutch officers. Being marched down to my gate so I don’t miss my plane. This airport feels like 10 miles long, but I’m out and coming home

It was certainly a struggle keeping up through the miles of tunnels and doors. I quickly grabbed a few gifts in the shop and boarded the plane back home. Only to be stuck in a queue for 50mins on the UK side because of new passport checks… Geez, I slept well that night…