Keeping your Quantified Self on the right track

I had the joy of attending the Quantified Self Europe 2014 in Amsterdam. It was amazing and I feel kind of gutted its over so quick.

Its amazing to think it was only a year since we talked about sharing data and the joy of data at the Quantified Self Europe 2013. In the year between the two a lot has happened, especially when Edward Snowdon revealed to the world that we were being hoodwinked into something not even George Orwell could make up.

The big unofficial theme of the conference was about data privacy and security. To be honest I’ve been loosely calling it data ethics, which hopefully will make sense in the near future. During the opening of the conference, Gary and Ernesto made a point of talking about photoblogging/lifeblogging and made reference to last years session about lifeblogging. It was common sense but good to be clear right from the top.


The amount of devices like Google Glass, Autographers and Narrative Clip was interesting in its self. Number-wise, I spotted 5 Google Glasses, 4 Autographers (including myself) and about 30+ Narrative clips. The narrative clip was certainly everywhere and with no status, you have no idea if it was on, off or taking a picture right then. I wore the Autographer and the pictures have been useful to remind myself of things and people I spoke to. I will admit I did leave it on by accident when in the loo but nothing was captured (ooer! lets leave at that)

Rami Albatal explaining the technology of image processing

The QS guys, asked their keynote speakers to talk without slides and the talks were passionate and engaging. Dana Greenfield and Kaiton Williams talks were well worth  listening to again. Dana’s talk about grief was personal and really seemed to divide people. I heard someone say it was soooo personal they felt a little uncomfortable. Which I said is a good thing and unique to QSEU. Kaiton talked about self image and posed the question, what happens when being healthy is no longer about not being sick? He’s point was the conflict between business models and self image. What we do now, will effect the future as QS races to the mainstream.

The Conference is structured like a Unconference with filled in slots. At some points there is up to 20 things happening at once. I decided to avoid the eHealth type talks and applications, because they wouldn’t be much use to work and its already quite developed an area.

Here’s my other highlights


Data Futures: Possibilities and Dreams by Alberto Frigo

This discussion was about data reuse beyond the 5-10 years. What happens to our data, where does it just get stored? Does it get deleted? What is the weight of this data? Ethics were in effect again, and interestingly this was right before the EU rule came in about removing links from Google. Kaiton was in the room and said a bunch of interesting things but it was interesting to hear spooky consequences of automated systems. Like someone getting a request to send birthday greetings to someone who had died 5 years previously. This sounds kind of crazy but its going to happen more and more.

Personal data: Attack & Defence by Magnus Kalkuhl and Kley Reynolds.

This two part session started more like a workshop but found its feet in part 2, when Kley ran through a European project (which I’m still trying to get the details for) it turns your quantified state into a finger print securing your devices using a PAN model. This really fascinating for a number of reasons including if it was stolen, only person who could use it would be you or a thief who spend weeks emulating you. At some point Kley mentioned how it could hook into BitCoin but by that point my head was blown already.

Kley also later when talking, said how much he liked the idea of Perceptive Media. He offered up a scenario involving a live view of your house being monitored by an external person like you can do with taskrabbit. You don’t want to necessarily tell that person where your house is, so you change aspects of your home so its not clear where it is or even what time it is. Its very much like Ghost in the Shell’s ghost hacker, the laughing man

The Laughing Man is an expert hacker, able to hide his physical presence by editing himself out of video feeds and cybernetic eyes, concealing his identity by superimposing an animated logo over his face, and hijacking cybernetic brains altogether, all in real-time

Basically your able to manipulate the video feed in real time. If you want to see basic evidence of this, check out diminished reality. It can be simple things like change the angle of the camera,  removing certain objects, changing a dog into a cat for example but these little things all add up to the person watching not quite sure when they decide to come and rob the place. Thanks for that Kley and I certainly look forward to hearing more about the project because damm it could be a disruptive.

It was interesting to hear the term lifejacking in the context of hacking quantified self data. Actually even I was slightly worried…


Is Open Privacy the Next Open Source? by Laurie Frick

Another good conversation resulting in lots of viewpoints including the viewpoint shared with John Wilbanks. Very interesting in the light of the health health caredata upset recently in the UK.

One of the things I never really considered in so much is the linked-data. When I was running BBC Backstage, linked data was a pleasure and joy. The ability to link data to make new and interesting insights was mind blowing. Mashup and create new insight was great but with personal data the insight takes on a much more scary and much more sinister tone.


The other aspect is the amount of insight you can tell over time. A small subset of data can tell you little but a year or more of location data can tell you loads more than you may really want to consider. This was further backed up in the session, Passive Sensing on Smart Phones with Jan Peter Larsen and Freek van Polen. Passive sensing or as I prefer implicit data is the next battle ground.


It was a pleasure to meet PBS’s Sesame Street innovations team too, further proving the quantified self is grow for the betterment of all plus they seem to be trying to archive a similar goal to our project.

Privacy in the cloud

Its aggregation which was the other big trend trend I noticed at QSEU14. Everyone had their own aggregation dashboard to collect your data and make insights. Pryv looked pretty good with a ton of useful clearances and the ability to store exactly which country your data sits. There were even companies offering to make insight of your data for you, bypassing the inputing data part. Even Intel had their own in beta service. I have been a fan of Fluxstream because its the most developed open source dashboard I’ve seen to date. There are many others but I don’t feel confident recommending or using something closed source to store my private data.


I actually had the pleasure of meeting the people behind the fluxstream project and I was very impressed with her ignite talk which highlighted and answered a lot of the issues I had with it. Main one being unambiguous timestamps and a better API. Afterward my talk at the end of the day, we caught up and we discussed how they Flux could work with Trakt.TV, something I’d like to have, as part of a very early Quantified Self project in R&D. Its worth mentioning the project in part but I’d rather do that officially on the R&D blog, although you can get a sniff of the presentation here. Its low on details because its mainly about my own consumption and its auto advancing slides, which I hate so much!

Quantified Self Europe 2014

There was touching finish to the proceedings with a public mention about the work of Seth Roberts (who recently died). Its fitting to end with his moto… The Best Way to Learn is to Do. This sums up the Quantified Self movement more than you can imagine. Even when I finished my presentation, Ernesto asked me the question of what I personally got out of the insight into my own media consumption. We might be the edge cases and even deeply curiosity but as Kaiton said, we will define what the rest of the world does in the near future…


It was an exciting event and I’m very glad I could participate in a small way. It didn’t quite have the buzz of the 2013’s QS Europe but I think its because the diversity of the subjects was so wide, while this year it was much more concrete around the subjects mentioned before. I’ll look forward to telling more on the R&D Blog and going into more depth in internal talks and in the QS Manchester meetup on the 6th June.

Thanks to everyone who took part and made it a great event… Look forward to seeing you all in 2015?

Lifelogging a new way to look at reality

Me with Google Glass

When I was at the Quantified Self Europe conference earlier this year, I was at a talk about lifelogging… It was interesting to say the least but I took away a number of things. Two stuck out…

  1. The images which are taken, cease being images alone per-say.
  2. Lifelogging is like having another sense.

Really interesting to think about that while reading Here’s What Memoto Does With Your Entire Life After Photographing It and How lifelogging is transforming the way we remember track our lives.

The images which are taken, cease being images alone per-say

“Photos make sense as contextualizers for all that data [from the quantified self movement],” Johansson says. By saving data like GPS coordinates and which direction the camera is facing along with the photo, Memoto has also positioned itself for possibilities such as putting together all of the photos taken from one place into a 3-D map or allowing users to opt into a photo pool when they’re at the same event.

None of this, however, will be possible unless enough people find the app’s automatic timeline of their lives compelling enough to warrant wearing Memoto in the first place. For that, the company is betting on something akin to an extreme FOMO–or a fear of missing out, not on an experience, but on the opportunity to capture an experience. FOMOOCE, if you will. “This is a way to get to an effective mindfulness by knowing you are not missing out on capturing anything,” Johansson says.

Lifelogging is like having another sense

In 2013, lifelogging is set to hit another milestone with the launch of self-tracking hardware devices like Google Glass and Memoto’s wearable, automatic camera set to hit market.

To explore the “lifelogging” phenomenon and the shift in how people are remembering and capturing their lives, the creators of Memoto recently launched a documentary about the lifelogging movement. The documentary includes interviews with experts in the field like Steve Mann and Gordon Bell, along with the technical lead of Google Glass — exploring the past, present and future of lifelogging.

Of course the whole lifeblogging movement is dominated with Google Glass right now and the idea is in many visions, (usually dystopian) of the future including Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror’s The Entire History of You.

Set in an alternative reality where most people have a ‘grain’ implanted behind their ear which records everything they do, see or hear. This allows memories to be played back either in front of the person’s eyes or on a screen, a process known as a ‘re-do’.

A promising and interesting future for lifelogging… Me thinks

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

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?