All posts by Clinton

Baseline phase complete

I have now finished the baseline phase of the residency. I’ve got good sleeping data for that period, with near continuous sleep mode and night time movement. I’ve got a few nights of heart data, hopefully that will become more continuous now. I’ve got solid weight and fat percentage data, only missing those days I’ve been travelling.

I’ve got near continuous daytime movement data, with a few logs of heart data onto the trip to work. Again, I hope to get a more continuous record of heart data now that I’ve upgraded the heart monitor. I’ve got slightly patchy data when it comes to the size measurements and sleepiness questions, but that is being more reliably recorded now.

What I haven’t got is a public drop of this data, which is unfortunate, but I’m working towards that.

Quantified Self: Week three

This week I upgraded my heart monitor to one that allowed me to get detailed data of my heart rate, more about this in a separate post. I started taking semi-regular measurements of my girth. I also started recording results of the Epsworth sleepiness scale up on my Google Drive. I got a good start on the design of my installation, and have started communications with the appropriate staff at The Edge about how to get it implemented. I also had some external confirmation of the data format I’ve decided to use, which is always a good thing.

Most importantly I finished my Basis phase this week, and begin by Mental phase next week. For this coming week, I have a few posts to write, I have to make a first drop of my data set, and I have to continue looking into the installation.

In terms of oddball things, I’ve been wearing my sleep monitor head band so regularly at night that during the day I feel like I’ve lost something. I’ve even taken to wrapping my shemagh around my head bandana-style to stop myself freaking out so much.

Quantified Self: Week two

This week I continued with with my sleeping baselines, hopefully resolved the heart monitor issue, and started work on one of the deliverables of my residency: the interactive visualisation.

I have upgraded my heart monitor, hopefully to a model that actually can give the detailed logging I’m after; I’ll find out for sure tomorrow when I upload the data from the watch to the computer. I’d really like to get some baseline data of what my heart is doing during sleep, exercise and work.

Next week I aim to start measuring:

  • Some subjective things: how tired I feel in the morning and during the day.
  • What I’m eating.

I also need to look at another one of my deliverables, the publishing of health data. I’m happy with the format I’ve chosen, but I am yet to choose a backend to store the information. At the moment I’m leaning towards storing it as a simple file until it gets too large and I’m forced to store it in a proper way.

Quantified Self: The installation

I would like to get the interactive visualisation of my collected data up as quickly as possible. So it has to be quick and easy to put together, yet eye catching. The installation also be able to grow as the project does. I really want the installation to be up for as long as possible to increase the number of people who know about the residency.

Essentially, my solution is a fancy projection surface, relying fundamentally on the form of the Vitruvian man. I have created a silhouette of the Vitruvian man, combining both positions into one. There are three planes used as a projection surface, the body, the ring and the background. Note that I’ve tried to incorporate the original bounding circle and square into the final shape.


A projector will be placed in the back of the installation. The raw nubmers and graphs will be projected onto the back surface, while the visualisations of this data will be projected onto the body surface. The outer ring will be the interface, divided up into segments for each type of measurement I’m collecting.

The interaction with the interface will be done via a Leap Motion device, which allows hand gestures to drive the interface, up/down motions will rotate the selection bar, while left/right motions will turn a particular segment on and off. Once the measurements to be displayed are selected, the UI bar will turn into a date selector. Once the time span is selected, the data will be projected over the two surfaces.

At the moment I’m seeing it mostly being built out of clear perspex, with white tape for the projection surface, and black card to block projection over the raised areas. There are lots of questions, mostly around how deep I have to make it for it to be self standing.

Quantified Self: week one

I’m writing this on a plane to Perth after a complimentary wine, so this might blather on a bit. This week I got to grips with a few storage issues and started getting baselines for some of the data I wanted to track. I managed to muck up purchasing of two of my gadgets and discovered that the owner behind a third appears to be going out of business.

This week I started using the scales, the pedometer, the sleep monitor, and the much dreaded tape measure. I also started using a heart monitor, but as that gadgets article will show, I purchased the wrong one. Next week I hope to start tracking my food intake, probably by taking pictures with the mobile. I’ll also start logging my general mood, with a questionnaire. I’ll also hopefully upgrade my heart monitor and start tracking that as well, at least for sleeping. As mentioned earlier I’m travelling during the weekend, which presents some problems for the continuity of the project.

The Fitbit and tape measure travel quite well, though the fitbit, which is a wireless transmitter and thus must be switched off, has a rather odd way of being switched off: it must be connected to power in charging mode in order to be switched off. The sleep tracker is a tiny bit more cumbersome to carry, as it’s charging dock has to be taken as well. The scales, unfortunately, just aren’t very good as carry on.

Gadgets: Heart Monitors

The heart monitors I’m looking at are the same used by gym junkies and elite sports folks. There’s a strap around the chest and often a wrist band. The basic idea is that there’s an optimum heart rate band for the person using them, mostly that heart rate band is targetting fat burning, but elite sports people can use them to train for their particular event. If the actual heart rate goes outside the band, the watch or gym machine beeps, and the user can speed up or slow down to get back in the optimal range.

I have a little bit of a different use in mind, at least for the the early stages of the residency. I just want to track my heart beat, while sleeping, sitting at my desk, and the occasional walk to work.

Unfortunately it turns out the first heart monitor I purchased is only able to give me a summary of my heart rate over a period of time: the average and the peak, no where near detailed enough for my needs. This is despite me encouring the salesperson to show me some of his data, and being quite happy at the ten second coverage. As I’m hoping to just be able to upgrade the watch and use the same chest strap, I’m still wearing the chest strap to get used to using it during the night.

Live and learn!

Gadgets: Pedometer

The basic job of the pedometer is to measure the amount and intensity of your walking or running; there are many on the market.

Older style pedometers had a little metal ball bearing that bounced up and down with your hip movement, every time the ball bearing was forced upwards it would hit a couple of contacts, complete an electrical circuit, and another step would be tallied.

Newer pedometers use electronic accelerometers, which use fine strands of wires swinging in the breeze. On movement, these tip of these strands tends to stay still due to their inertia, but the root of the strand has to move, this forces the hair to bend, which changes its electrical properties and that is what is measured. Think of it like someone with long hair doing some headbanging, the tip of the hair and the root of the hair are moving at different speeds, bending the hair. The mechanism is actually quite similar to how our inner ear works out balance, except the inertia is provided by a small amount of liquid inside a tube. Inside the tube, there are very fine hairs that can feel the liquid moving over it.

Typically, these electronic accelerometers come in triplets, one to measure left to right, another for forward and back, another for up and down. These accelerometers are incredibly small, and are basically everywhere these days, including mobile phones.

The FitBit One is a pretty amazing bit of kit, it’s not much bigger than a couple of pieces of chewing gum, has a battery that lasts a week, stores minute by minute data and uploads it wirelessly over Bluetooth 4. Using the up-and-down accelerometer it even tries to work out when you’re going upstairs, which uses a lot more calories. It also has a sleep mode that I’m using, but I haven’t tried to correlate the data with the sleep monitor yet.

It hasn’t all been rosy with the FitBit though, more in another post on your data freedoms.

Gadgets: Scales

The not-so-humble scales.

Time used to be where a scale measured your weight, and that was it. Now, you can get scales that will approximate your bodies fat percentage as well, it’s enough to make you want twice as much comfort food.

To get even fancier, the FitBit Aria scale I went with even uploads these measurements over wireless! All of the family can add accounts, and the scales will play a guessing game as to which member of the family is standing on it.

Now, the accuracy of the fat percentage is really questionable. It sends a tiny electrical pulse up one leg and down the other, measuring the resistance in the body. Fat, muscle, bone and water all have different electrical resistances, so the scales take a bit of a punt and estimate how much fat you have in your body.

The real issue is that it’s not forcing the electricity pulse through your entire body; there is a set of scales that comes with, essentially, a set of handlebars. You pick these up and the scales can send the electricity pulse through your hands down to your feet, ensuring a much better measurement. Unfortunately these scales aren’t licensed in Australia. I’m not too concerned about this, as I’m not all that interested in the exact measurement, just that it’s consistent over time so that I can see a trend. Based just on the week’s data I have so far, it seems very consistent.

Gadget: Tape Measure

Probably the most important, and yet the lowest tech gadget that I’ve got is the humble tape measure.

The obvious things to measure is my girth, particularly my pot belly, but I’ll also be taking some measurements of my chest, hips, legs and arms for completeness.

Intra-organ fat kills, and on males, that fat concentrates around the stomach region, making it relatively easy to measure. I’m going to be measuring my non favoured leg and arm, assuming that I’ll have less muscle there and more fat.

I think it’s important to get consistency with the measurements, which is best done by measuring over particular anatomical landmarks, and measuring frequently. I don’t need to measure it every day, but I figure if I get into a routine with it, it won’t matter if I miss a few days here and there.

I’m using a Google form to submit the data, which means I can use a tablet, laptop or phone to submit the data wherever I am. Once submitted, the data goes into a Google spreadsheet. From there, the data can be easily exported as CSV and imported into my overall dataset.

Introducing Clinton and the Quantified Self project


I figured it would be useful for people to know where I’m coming from so that it’s easier to see what I’m trying to get out of this project.

I am a thirty four year old software engineer. I sit in front of a computer for many hours of the day and make it do my bidding. Most of my career has been based around Open Source software, which means that a lot of the nuts and bolts of my day job and private time are released to the public to hopefuly benefit others. To put it another way, I’m very comfortable sharing my work and opening it up to critique and betterment by others, and in a similar way, the sharing of my health data seems like a natural thing to do for me, rather than a dangerous, silly thing to do.

My chosen profession means a lot of sedentary hours per day, which now appears to be quite unhealthy for both mind and body. In general my health is quite reasonable, my only medication is for mild stomach reflux.

I don’t sleep terribly well, I cannot remember the last time I jumped out of bed and actually felt energised. During the week it can be a real struggle to stick to the nine to five, my internal sleeping clock seems to be out of whack by about five hours. I’m often most alert late at night when I should be getting to sleep. This means I end up actually getting to sleep quite late and struggle to get to out of bed at the time I need to in order to get to work on time.

My diet is reasonably good in terms of what I eat; lots of starches and vegetables, probably not even fruit, with small amounts of meat. In all things I’m quite bad at moderation, but good at abstinence: I can generally stay away from the packet of Tim Tams, but if I start, they’re all likely to go. In short, I eat reasonably well, but too much. I have a little pot belly growing, but it’s small enough at this stage that I haven’t had to give it a name.

Exercise is a real problem for me, I’ve never been very athletic or energetic, I’ve always ended up in the sedentary positions (soccer goalie) or sports (cricket, javelin) rather than running or swimming. My chief excercise these days is walking.

So in short, I need to sleep more, eat less, and exercise (much) more. Probably fairly typical of most Australians. I don’t need to buy any gadgets to tell me this, and yet I still don’t do anything about it. The heart of this project is to find out what I need to do to motivate myself to change.

About my open source Quantified Self project

The quantified self movement is a worldwide undertaking to increase individual responsibility with respect to health. The movement has been enabled by the increasing number of cheap, wearable gadgets that measure different health metrics.

My residency at The Edge is based around using a suite of these tools to track my own health statistics and explore the issues around this. I’m going to be publishing all the data I collect and look at ways of visualising this data, both online in a physical display at The Edge. Invidivudally, these tools are relatively cheap and you will be able to follow along at home if you wish.

I’m breaking my residency up into four parts:

1) Baseline: Buying all my gadgets, getting used to them, getting baseline data for the rest of the project.

2) The Brain: In this section I’ll be looking at improving my mental health, by looking at improving my sleep, concentration and relaxation techniques.

3) Intakes: In this section I’ll be attempting to improve my food intake by following the national food guidelines.

4) Outputs: In this section I’ll be be concentrating on my exercise and movement. I’ll be looking at sitting/standing/exercising desks.

I don’t have everything locked down so if you come up with ideas of things I should be trying, or wish to try tracking your own health data, please let me know in the comments.