Category Archives: Apps

A look ahead to Sherbit: taking control of your data

By: Tim Hanrahan

I wanted to take a look ahead to Sherbit, and app I saw as a first time attendee at the annual Quantified Self summer conference in San Francisco. I took note of the many smartphone apps in development. The collection of apps there was bountiful and it was exciting to discover new ones each of the three days.

Naturally, there’s a bit of overlap in terms of function. Some apps focus on niche markets (sleep tracking, for ex.) and everyone is selling what makes them unique to their competition, vying for their piece of the pie.

Sherbit stood out. It aggregates all of the data collection from your smartphone and emphasizes taking your own control over the data amidst increasing privacy concerns.

Here’s a quick intro the app released this week:

One of the cool initial takeaways is how Sherbit is aggregating all of the apps you use everyday. Your socials, your locations, your Fitbit, your health data… everything. Ok, sure. But then what?

Well, it looks like they’ll be delivering new conclusions about your daily/weekly/monthly patterns. They can easily track how moving around (or maybe the lack of) could be affecting your energy. Moreover, Sherbit even stresses that they can track your coffee intake’s effect on your sleep (where was that for my post last week?!), why you may be stressed, and even if your workout routine is an optimal one.

This is the exciting potential for Sherbit that I’m most eager to see play out, even more than their focus on privacy. Their aggregate tools, and beautiful interface display already, can naturally test many quantified self experiments without us having to do more than the minimal work, even none at all. That’s a huge step for many beginners who are just discovering the power of the quantified self to improve our own lifestyle.

look ahead to Sherbit
Examples of Sherbit’s applications to receive new insights about yourself.

Where I’m curious to know more about Sherbit comes from their stance that “your data doesn’t just belong to internet companies — it belongs to you.” We can all get behind that if we feel our privacy is threatened, and I’m sure you or someone you know has some digital privacy horror story. That may outweigh the counter benefits of, for example, advertisers having access to our Facebook data. We see more sponsored posts and ads in our feed of products or news in our areas of interest that we like. For now though, Sherbit rates the privacy policies of all of your favorite apps, as they say in their introductory video earlier this year.

Sherbit is currently in Beta form and there currently exists a long wait list to try the app. However, you can find out more through Sherbit’s site (and informative blog on wearable/tech news) and join the wait list there. After speaking to founder Alex Senemar in San Francisco, he’s assured me and the attendees that applications are being readied ASAP to get everyone on the wait list in soon. Between Sherbit and my previously positive first impressions of Compass, I think we’ll be in great hands with a couple of go-to apps who aggregate.

Looking forward to getting my hands on Sherbit next. The app has some great promise, and again, stood out amongst what had to be over 40-50 other booths. You’ll definitely see a follow-up with my first impressions, QS experiments, and more of the benefits I’m sure to discover. To make sure you don’t miss it, take a moment to sign up for our QuantSelfLaFont newsletter below. We only send cool updates, like this week’s where Paul went on a five-day water fast (!)

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How Brain.FM can transform the way you work, sleep, and meditate

This past Monday I was introduced to a new app that I have since experimented with this week and have already concluded will change the way I work. Brain.fm can transform work, relaxation and sleep for you too. It takes 30 minutes to try, is free of charge, and for you too, it may also change the way you sleep or meditate.

The app is called Brain.FM and my first exposure to it was by attenting a Chicago Biohacking Meetup and hearing about it straight from the founders, Junaid Kalmadi and Adam Hewett. Their overall goal is to cure ADD, anxiety, and insomnia through their digital health app that emits audio brainwave training. The sessions are analyzed and EEG tested, with much of it coming from Northwestern University neuroscientist Dr. Giovanni Santostasi. His published results are here.

Their data has been further grounded by over 12 years of research, working with 35,000 customers, and over 180 studies conducted to continue the growth of audio brainwave technology across this time.

The information and their backing are both important to know before trying Brain.FM for the first time without any skepticism. I had the advantage of hearing both founders illustrate their passion and belief for Brain.FM in person. So needless to say, I was excited to try it for the first time during the rest of my work week. Here are my first impressions and a walk through of how to use Brain.FM.

Brain.fm can transform

The first great thing about Brain.FM is that it allows you to try it for free. So while you’re reading this, I suggest you follow along and hit the Focus option of the 3 that you’re initially presented above.

As you can see, the app can cover a lot. My primary interest is to improve my work efficiency so I used 3 of my 5 free sessions on Focus — two on ‘Intense Focus’ and one on their other subset of ‘Relaxed Focus’ to see the difference.

Brain.fm can transform

The comforting pop-up illustrated above again underscores the research and testing behind the brainwave session. It turns out, “Benefits should be realized almost immediately while listening to this session,” was 100% accurate as well.

You see, I’ve been searching for a new form of an audio compliment lately. I used to be able to work with hip hop or R&B in my headphones, and most recently podcasts, but I’ve found this summer that I am more easily distracted to the words and this slightest attention switch throws me off my focus. With Brain.FM, I was greeted with a 30 minute continuous instrumental that featured a calm, almost march-like melody to go along with a variety of orchestral or percussion layers. The sound wasn’t too complex and actually reminded me of the old computer game Age of Empires. If you played that game too, you can instantly think of the brooding instrumentals that accompanied your rising empire. I felt the motivational nostalgia, that’s for sure.

After the 30 minute session, I was prompted by another cool feature of Brain.FM — a survey intended to build your own personal, unique brian profile. Answer questions honestly about not only your focus, but anxiety, mood, stress, and sleep and Brain.FM will calibrate a sound that works best for your needs.

Brain.fm can transform

I underwent one more ‘Intense Focus’ 30 minute session afterwards and proved that the productivity of the first one was not a fluke. In fact, I started writing this post in that session!

To further test the app, I tried a ‘Relaxed Focus’ session while doing less pressing work. The instrumental was, naturally, more calmer and slower than the ‘Intense Focus’ track. I felt immediately transferred to the same zone as before, but this time I was only able to sustain focus for the first 20 of the 30 minutes. Then I was back to browsing my Twitter feed… so I’ll probably be sticking to what worked for 100% of the time: ‘Intense Focus’.

Next, I tried the ‘Sleep’ track last night. I usually have no trouble sleeping but when I was tossing and turning for 10 minutes, I decided to put my headphones in. Once again, there is an instaneous transplant inside your mind. You’re encouraged by Brain.FM to let your mind wander a bit and I did as I first noticed the sounds itself: a soothing thunderstorm in the distance combined with slow, wavy layers of strings.

I had to round out the capabilities of Brain.FM and test the ‘Relax’ feature as well. I didn’t use it to meditate but I did take a stretching break with the soundtrack in my headphones and again immediately felt a change within. This time, I noticed a sense of relief, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Within 1 minute, I felt more air flowing into and inside my body with each breathe. These tracks are 15 minutes long and I intend to combine them effectively with the ‘Focus’ sessions.

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By now, you can see that my first impressions of Brain.FM are more than favorable. I want to sign up beyond the free sessions now and test the app more with my productivity. Right now, I can apply the same DIY Tracker that I used for my Coffee Intake QS Experiment and click the option for “A very high boost.”

Taking it a step further, it would be interesting not only to see black and white results in one’s productivity but also to track your vitals and see how it flows during a session. I told Paul about Brain.FM this week too and he’s already experimenting with the app for more data along these lines. Look out for his impressions and takeaways in the coming weeks.

Brain.fm can transform
Brain.FM presents at the Chicago Biohacking Meetup 09.14.15

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The future of quantifying our memories

The short answer to the quantifying our memories: a new app called Compass.

But first, let me explore how I got there.

This week, I’m taking my weekly writeup in a different direction (no pun intended.) A few of my recent quantified self experiments are simply requiring more time and data to evolve. I am still tracking my coffee intake before working out, and now I’m starting to gather more Moves data from those actual workouts. I can begin to see new conclusions forming, but am still stuck with a small sample size.

This limbo phase inspired me, however, to reflect to a time earlier this year before I had all the new tracking apps on my iPhone 6 upgrade. How else have I conducted my own quantified self experiments? What old data can I uncover?

Then it hit me: I have actually been tracking my travels for years. Thanks to Facebook.

I know this isn’t some revolutionary “light bulb moment” here. The majority of us are already aware of Facebook Places. Past check-ins and geotags on photos are aggregated into this data map below and you can sort your places by most recently visited and cities as a whole.

But today for the first time I viewed my destinations in a quantified self lens. Here are a couple of conclusions I easily arrived at: there are still so many cities in the U.S. I want to see and OH YEAH, I need to travel out of the country!

map-final
This is literally the entire world I’ve explored with my own eyes. I don’t even have a passport. But onto my next point…

The other cool feature of Facebook Places is if you hover over one of these data points, it pops up photos taken from that city. For example:

places-ny

 

So this begged the question: Where can we go from here with this data? It’s nice and heartwarming to revisit memories from places we visit, but then what?

That question triggered what I believe may be the answer: a new app coming out called Compass.

This is not some paid promotion. I am genuinely excited about this app and was introduced to it by the creator of Compass himself, Chris Dancy.

He spoke at the QS conference in San Francisco this summer and first established his overall philosophy to design with compassion. Dancy then presented Compass, the way to carry out his positive intention.

One key feature of the app, as it contrasts to Facebook up above, is that Compass shows us our memories in combination with a visualization of our data (see: above.) These photos may come with small reminders to keep us focused on a goal or even a behavior it automatically detects from us (see: the bottom left photo below.)

The result is Compass as a guide —  a friend — there to motivate us and help improve our wellness along the way.

I signed up as an Alpha tester soon after the conference and was able to experience the app first hand. Right off the bat, Compass was the most beautifully designed interface I have seen to date for a QS tracker.

You can view your entire day with a quick spin of the compass. You can view the breakdown your daily activities there, or in a timeline manner below. After a few days, Compass even began to predict my activities later in the day; for instance, an idea of what time I would be home for the night.

In my one month trial, I noted a few differences in my own personal behavior. I was exploring the Bay Area at the time and was even more alert to document my day with photos, specifically to see it in Compass. That spark alone is exciting enough to imagine the data it opens up (plus, I can be a nostalgic sap sometimes :))

It was clear that within days of getting settled with the app, Compass has the promise to be the one-stop app to track all things health, activity, wellness, and memories — and connect them all together.

For now, you can head over to existence.io to view more of the pretty display, understand the Compass philosophy even more, and sign up to be an Alpha tester yourself!

“Your behavior is the new device.” — Chris Dancy (@servicesphere) at the QS15 Conference, San Francisco

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