Hacking (and Tracking) My Glucose

I never paid much attention to my blood sugar (aka blood glucose, or as I will simply refer to it, glucose) until a few years back, when I started getting more interested in self-tracking/biohacking and my 23andMe DNA analysis showed that I had a genetically elevated risk for type 2 diabetes, which has been shown to be preventable by maintaining low levels of glucose. Elevated glucose can also contribute to a number of other health issues such as cardiovascular disease.

23andMeType 2 Diabetes

The current “accepted” recommendations by the American Diabetes Association for fasting glucose (i.e., no food or drink in the previous 8 hours) are between 70 – 130(!) mg/dL. The exclamation(!) mark is there for a reason. The upper bound is being hotly disputed – in fact, the ADA has a term called “impaired fasting glucose” that was lowered from 110mg/dL to 100mg/dL in 2003. That means that many people that are classified as “normal” are, in fact, pre-diabetic. Organizations like the Life Extension Foundation (a leading organization focused on advancing research on longevity and anti-aging) suggest keeping fasting glucose at or below 85 mg/dL (and optimally even below 80!).

My most recent blood test showed my fasting glucose level was 85mg/dL, considered “good”, even by Life Extension Foundation guidelines. But what I wanted was to better understand how various factors affected my levels, and then be able to proactively control them. Even though my glucose is considered good, I wanted it to be optimal. Why take any chances? [Read more...]

A Step is (Not) a Step – But Does it Matter?

While assembling some of my data for another self-tracking experiment, I grabbed the number of daily “steps” recorded by both Moves and my Basis B1 and whipped up the following chart:

Basis steps vs. Moves steps

I wanted to see if there was a statistically significant relationship between daily steps reported by Moves vs. Basis, even though their values are clearly different. To do so, I analyzed the data using a free online data analysis tool called Statwing and sure enough, there was a statistically significant relationship!

Basis steps vs. Moves steps Statwing correlation

Looking at the chart on the right, you will see that there is a generally linear correlation between number of steps recorded each day between Basis and Moves. For you statistics geeks, here are the correlation/regression details:

Basis vs. Moves steps Statwing correlation

I realize there will always be outliers, such as when I’m playing a sport or exercising wearing my B1 but not being able to hold my iPhone (in which case, Moves can’t track me), device batteries dying or needing charging, etc. but the fact that I can use either tool as a way to visualize general activity trends is good to know.

The lesson learned here is that regardless of what device you are using to track your activity, over time it’s not about whether you took 8,000 vs. 10,000 steps, but rather that you increased your activity by 20%! That, to me, is the most important metric.

Quantifying My Personality Type

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) seeks to quantify a person’s personality type through a psychometric questionnaire.

Personality typesThey classify an individual into one of 16 possible personality types, based on the following parameters:

  • Extroverted (E) vs. Introverted (I)
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N)
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

As they explain:

“The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment.”

No one type is meant to be perceived as “better” than another. I found a free online version of the test, answered a series of questions that only took about 5 minutes, and here was my result – ENTJ:

Personality type ENTJ

Digging in a little deeper, I found this portrait of an ENTJ, which they call “The Executive”.

I’ll admit that this description pretty much nails me (I’m an entrepreneur and a CEO), and a few of the traits were rather eye-opening (“The ENTJ needs to consciously work on recognizing the value of other people’s opinions, as well as the value of being sensitive towards people’s feelings”, “Sentiments are very powerful to the ENTJ, although they will likely hide it from general knowledge, believing the feelings to be a weakness”). Reading this has allowed me to take stock in how I interact with and are perceived by others, and I will make an effort to overcome my flaws to become a better friend, coworker, and leader.

Just to confirm the results, about a week later and took the test again – and my personality type was exactly the same (ENTJ). Since this free test is meant to be an approximation of personality type, I will probably fork over the $49.95 to take the “official” MBTI test.

Here’s a list of famous ENTJ’s (Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Bill Gates, Peter Theil, Jack Welch… and Dick Cheney(?!), Joseph Stalin(?!).

So, what is your personality type? You can try it out for yourself here (and it’s free!).

What “Moves” Me – Visualizing 2 weeks of Passive Location Tracking

Moves AppI’ve recently started incorporating an application called Moves into my self-tracking arsenal. As an app, Moves only does just one thing, but does it well – it runs in the background on your smartphone and passively tracks your location 24/7. It has no social sharing functionality, gamification, or bloated features. You can look at a timeline of your day and see how long you were actually at work versus commuting (it tracks steps as well if you are into that sort of stuff).

The location tracking app recently released an API to allow 3rd-party developers and apps to integrate their data. Notable design/data visualization guru Nicholas Felton whipped together some code using Processing that provides a cool visualization layer to my Moves location data. Here is what a typical New York City day looks like for me:

Moves data visualization

The yellow lines indicate times when I was walking (to subway, out for lunch, walking the dog), gray lines show when I was in transit (subway, cab, driving), and blue lines represent times I was riding my bike (in this case, to a soccer game). Pretty neat, but nothing too exciting. However, if we look at several weeks worth of data, we can reveal some interesting trends!

Note that I left out two days of data where I went on out of state trips, as this skews the visualization (in its current incarnation). Check out Moves, and and if you aren’t afraid to get too technical you can get the MovesMapper code here. And this is a great set of location data that can be easily exported and integrated into other self-tracking experiments.

Quantified University – Fall 2013 Curriculum

Quantified UniversityMost self-tracking enthusiasts are embarking on new paths of self-discovery that require an understanding of subjects and skills very different than those from their formal education or professions, such as statistics, biology, or electronics. Fortunately, the democratization of education through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) via sites such as Coursera, Udacity, and edX (to name a few) are making it possible for individuals to continue advancing their education, often at their own pace and at no cost.

While searching around for courses that I might be interested in taking myself, I realized that no one had yet compiled a list of QS-related studies, so I’ve put together the following list of great online learning resources that you can start taking this fall “semester.” I hope to continue expanding this list over time, and perhaps it will become the basis of an actual “Quantified Self” curriculum! Please contact me if you know of any great courses I may have missed. Now hit those (virtual) books!

Quantified University

Health/Wellness/Performance

Intro to Biohacking – Be Smarter, Stronger, and Happier
Ari Meisel (of LessDoing.com) will teach you how to reclaim your life. You will learn how to properly train your muscles, strengthen your mind, and turn your body into a machine that will maximize your potential. Categories covered include Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Mind, Supplements, Productivity, and Self-Tracking. $49, Udemy.com

The Bulletproof Life
During this class, Dave Asprey (of Bulletproof Exec fame) will teach you how to effortlessly lose weight without counting calories, how to turn off inflammation in the body, how to upgrade your IQ by at least 10 points, how to turn off your stress response, and how to have more control over what happens in your head. Oh, and Dave will also teach you how to make his world-famous Bulletproof Coffee. $Free, CreativeLive.com

Maintaining Your Body
Learn to live The Supple Life with this ultimate guide to resolving pain, preventing injury, and optimizing athletic performance. Kelly Starrett (of MobilityWod.com fame and the best-selling book “Becoming a Supple Leopard“) offers a healthy “how-to” blueprint for moving about in our hectic everyday lives. How do you fix your position while sitting at your desk at work for hours on end? How can you lift your kids without hurting your back? What’s the best way to run to avoid long-term injury? Kelly will give you all the tools you need to perfect your movement and ensure long-lasting health and mobility. $99, CreativeLive.com

Biology/Genetics

Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life (MIT)
Explore the secret of life through the basics of biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, recombinant DNA, genomics, and rational medicine, taught by one of the founders of the Human Genome Project. You will first focus on the structure and function of macromolecules such as DNA, RNA and proteins. You will discover how changes in the structure of some of these macromolecules alter their functions and what the implications such changes have on human health. As you continue in the course, you will apply an understanding of heredity and information flow within cells to human health and disease and will learn about molecular biological techniques and their potential to impact our changing world. $FREE, edX.org

Useful Genetics (University of British Columbia)
This college-level course gives students a thorough understanding of gene function and inheritance, and enables them to apply this understanding to real-world issues, both personal and societal. This is Part 1 of what is now a two-part course. $FREE, Coursera.com

Data/Statistics

Statistics One (Princeton University)
This course is, quite literally, for everyone. If you think you can’t learn statistics, this course is for you. If you had a statistics course before but feel like you need a refresher, this course is for you. Even if you are a relatively advanced researcher or analyst, this course provides a foundation and a context that helps to put one’s work into perspective. $FREE, Coursera.com

OR

Introduction to Statistics (Stanford University)
In this class you will be introduced to techniques for visualizing relationships in data and systematic techniques for understanding the relationships using mathematics. It will cover visualization, probability, regression, and other topics that will help you learn the basic methods of understanding data with statistics. $FREE, Udacity.com

Data Analysis (Johns Hopkins University)
This course is an applied statistics course focusing on data analysis. Instead of focusing on mathematical details, the lectures will be designed to help you apply these techniques to real data using the R statistical programming language, interpret the results, and diagnose potential problems in your analysis. $FREE, Coursera.com

AND

Computing for Data Analysis (Johns Hopkins University)
This course is about learning the fundamental computing skills necessary for effective data analysis. You will learn to program in R and to use R for reading data, writing functions, making informative graphs, and applying modern statistical methods. $FREE, Coursera.com

Learning from Data (Caltech)
This is an introductory, self-paced course in machine learning (ML) that covers the basic theory, algorithms, and applications. ML is a key technology in Big Data, and in many financial, medical, commercial, and scientific applications. It enables computational systems to adaptively improve their performance with experience accumulated from the observed data. $FREE, caltech.edu

Data Management for Clinical Research (Vanderbilt University)
This course is designed to teach important concepts related to research data planning, collection, storage, and dissemination. Instructors will offer information and best-practice guidelines for 1) investigator-initiated and sponsored research studies, 2) single- and multi-center studies, and 3) prospective data collection and secondary-reuse of clinical data for purposes of research. $FREE, Coursera.com

Scientific Computing (University of Washington)
This is a more advance-level course. Investigate the flexibility and power of project-oriented computational analysis. Practice using this technique to resolve complicated problems in a range of fields including the physical and engineering sciences, finance and economics, medical, social, and biological sciences. Enhance communication of information by creating visual representations of scientific data. $FREE, Coursera.com

Design of Experiments

Quantified Self How-To: Designing Self-Experiments
Sadly I’ve been unable to find a decent, free online course related to experimental design (particularly when dealing with n=1 experiments). Konstantin from MeasuredMe has put together the most solid personal analytics tutorial I’ve come across to date. $FREE, hplusmagazine.com

Sensors/Electronics

Sensor Technologies for Interactive Environments (MIT)
I was looking for a great introductory course to sensor technologies, and this one looks promising, but lacks any online video. This course is a broad introduction to a host of sensor technologies, illustrated by applications drawn from human-computer interfaces and ubiquitous computing. Covers the principles and operation of a variety of sensor architectures and modalities, including pressure, strain, displacement, proximity, thermal, electric and magnetic field, optical, acoustic, RF, inertial, and bioelectric. Simple sensor processing algorithms and wired and wireless network standards are also discussed. $FREE, MIT.edu

Circuits and Electronics (MIT)
6.002x (Circuits and Electronics) is an experimental on-line adaptation of MIT’s first undergraduate analog design course: 6.002. The course introduces engineering in the context of the lumped circuit abstraction. Topics covered include: resistive elements and networks; independent and dependent sources; switches and MOS transistors; digital abstraction; amplifiers; energy storage elements; dynamics of first- and second-order networks; design in the time and frequency domains; and analog and digital circuits and applications. $FREE, MIT.edu

Maker Training Camp: Introduction to Arduino
Have you heard about fun things you could do with an Arduino, but aren’t sure what do do first? This is the course for you. They will help you set up, program, troubleshoot, and design circuits for your Arduino. No matter what brings you to the world of physical computing, this course is an excellent place to start. $80, Udemy.com