Sharing Happiness Project Data

[Excel Data Spreadsheet]

My daily sums (between 0 and 7) for my Happiness project dailies, as well as a 7-day trend line. Click for bigger image.

I recently ran into a coworker who keeps a blog with all of his data collected over a period of one year (Chris Volinsky and his “My Year of Data” blog). This is part of a larger movement of Quantified Self – which is about gaining self-knowledge by measuring various aspects of one’s life. I wanted to share my own data from a self-tracking project that I’ve been doing for the past 5 months (ever since my defense). I’ve been doing this kind of mindlessly for awhile so I’m using this blog entry as an opportunity to reflect.

I’ve been tracking myself as I do a variation of the Happiness Project, which is a book/blog that suggests for one to explicitly identify the aspects of life that are important to happiness and track them daily. After trying to do a few things each month, as suggested in the book, I switched to a more holistic approach. So, I track 7 daily items and 5 weekly items that I think are big components of being happy for me. Six of the 7 daily items (one removed for privacy) include: exercise, meditation, sleep, work, social relationships, and planning/reflecting on my day. The 5 weekly items are volunteering my time, exploring something new, reading for fun, dealing with a pesky task, and writing or drawing in this blog. I make all of this data for the past 5 months available as an Excel Data Spreadsheet.

Here are the few bits of insight that I got from this exercise:

  • One of my goals was to prevent “screw it” days where something went wrong so I didn’t do anything. Well, that kind of worked, I had no days with the score of 0 and only four days with the score of 1.
  • Even major life events such as turning in my final thesis, graduating, spending almost an entire month traveling for back-to-back job interviews, and moving from GA to NJ don’t slow me down as much as videogames. All the major dips were times when I started a new videogame. Is this enough to stop me? Not before Pokemon White 2!
  • Tracking alone is not enough (my overall trend is currently negative). I need to actually set goals. Late-May, early-June, I was on the quest for the “perfect week” and it shows in the data. Later on I tracked, but just tried to “do my best” and that wasn’t as successful.

I really just plopped my data in Excel, which limited my insights, but here is what I would like to be able to do easily with this kind of data (*cough* make this for me, please *cough*):

  • See how different tracked values interrelate and how each behavior affects the overall score. For example, is getting sleep very highly correlated with an overall high score? Or is it that if I sleep a lot, I don’t have time for anything else?
  • Understanding why and where I struggle. What goals are most challenging? What days of the week are most challenging? Who are the people in my life who motivate me the most for each behavior (I don’t have contact tracked, but it would be doable to mine my calendar and phone to understand who I talked to that day)?
  • Suggestions for achievable goals or games that I can do to keep myself motivated. For example, I had the idea of “perfect week,” but maybe there could be more focused games to keep things interesting. How about “healthy 10,” 10 days where I focus on sleep and exercise? Or “month of meditation,” where I try to do that every day for a month. Just something that will give me a bit of variety and something to focus on. Gamification really works for me, so I want something customizable where I can get help setting up goals and badges and such.

Is anybody else out there tracking something interesting? How are you analyzing this data to get insights?

What next, Ubicomp?

Gregory Abowd was my Ph.D. advisor at Georgia Tech. Those of your who know him will not be surprised that he is sharing his opinions loudly and looking to start a debate with others in the community. His vision paper this year has provided an interesting look back (and forward) at the Ubicomp conference and he asks us “What next, Ubicomp?”

You can read the whole paper and join in the Facebook discussion, but here are the main points of his paper, for the lazy:

  • Ubicomp (the paradigm) is so accepted as part of all computing that it is no longer a meaningful way to categorize computing research
  • Ubicomp (the conference) has many successes to celebrate, including: popularizing “living labs” style investigations, the “your noise is my signal” intellectual nugget, and bringing together researchers from diverse disciplines
  • Ubicomp (the conference) values both “application agnostic” novel technologies and “application driven” investigations of established technologies. And that’s good!
  • Ubicomp (the paradigm) embodies the “3rd generation” of computing. The next generation may bring a blurring of the lines between the human and the computer through cloud, crowd, nano, and wearable technologies.

During the presentation, he was also a bit incendiary to generate discussion, saying that the bad news is that: (1) defining Ubicomp at the 3rd generation means the generation might be over and we have to move on, (2) a lot of people don’t think of submitting their relevant work there, but rather put it in other places, (3) Ubicomp as a research area is dead because ubiquitous computing is now, in fact, ubiquitous. The paper generated quite a bit of discussion at the conference. I want to add my two cents and (hopefully) put this idea out to a wider audience.

The main point that I want to make is that there is a distinction between Ubicomp the conference and Ubicomp the paradigm. I make these distinctions explicitly in the summary above, but the two points were a bit muddled in the paper and in the discussion. Yes, Ubicomp the paradigm is becoming so common-place that it may no longer be an interesting way to categorize one’s work, but Ubicomp the conference seems to mostly have papers that focus on a very specific brand of that paradigm. My long name for Ubicomp would be “enabling cool sensors and application of cool sensors in the wild” (with inversely varying degrees of “cool” and “wild”). Pretty much all of the papers in this year’s proceedings fall into this category. From an informal survey of my colleagues, this also seems to be the general perception of the kind of paper you might think about submitting to Ubicomp and may help understand why work that Gregory views as relevant to the paradigm doesn’t get submitted to the conference. Would trying to change the perception of Ubicomp the conference to include more of the stuff that is touched upon in Ubicomp the paradigm revitalize the conference? I argue that it wouldn’t (because the paradigm is becoming less relevant to research) and that Ubicomp the conference should take an alternate approach:

  1. Embrace the perception that has developed of it in the community and strive to do (or rather, continue doing) good work in enabling and understanding use of sensors even after the low-hanging fruit are picked. Essentially, Ubicomp’s new name should be SensorComp (I’m not arguing for a formal change, but you get the idea).
  2. By any definition, the 4th generation of computing will build upon the 3rd and SensorComp can contribute to that by building ties with other communities who will find SensorComp’s work relevant, including communities focusing on applications (e.g., health), technologies (e.g., wearables), and paradigms (e.g., social computing). I especially like the idea of collocating with relevant conferences once in a while.

So, rather than arguing that the conference should change or that it should attract different kind of work (good luck, cat herder!), I say that the conference should embrace what it does well, become THE place to publish that sorts of work, and be really in-your-face about it to other communities who would find that sort of work useful. Gregory says that Ubicomp is dead. I say long live SensorComp!

Now, please tear my ideas to bits, esteemed colleagues.

Can’t Have It Both Ways

Dating websites are a fascinating example of technology mediating an intimate area of our lives. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2010 20% of all heterosexual couples and 60% of all same-sex couples met online. In this blog, I’ve done a review of a number of major dating sites and I’d like to point out a common “oversight” which may serve as an example of how values get encoded in technology. Namely, it is very difficult to be bisexual on a dating site.

Only one of these popular dating websites acknowledges bisexuality.

A bisexual woman (for example) might be interested in one of the following combinations of gender (the binary representation of gender is also a design decision, but I won’t discuss that in this post) and orientation: a lesbian woman, a straight man, a bisexual woman, or a bisexual man. However, Match.com, eHarmony, Chemistry.com, Plenty of Fish, and Lavalife all share one common characteristic — one can only “seek” one gender at a time! In other words, as a bisexual woman, you have to choose to either look for lesbian/bi women or for straight/bi men, excluding half of the relevant combinations.  There is a website targeted explicitly to bisexual people, called bicupid.com, but this site only allows you to search for other bisexual individuals (again, excluding half of the relevant combinations). I would also like to point out that even just the front page of bicupid.com perpetuates a number of stereotypes of bisexual people, particularly that they are not interested in having a serious relationship with one person.

This website only allows searching for other bisexual partners and seems to perpetuate some popular myths about bisexuality.

The only popular dating website that acknowledges bisexuality is okcupid.com, which lets you specify that the seeker is “bisexual.” This may not be surprising, since okcupid has always been fairly progressive thinking and interested in ideas of orientation, gender, etc. However, selecting “I am bisexual” also highlights the option “I do not want to be seen by straight people.” This option is presumably there to prevent accidentally coming out to anybody who is not queer, but may not be relevant to bisexuals, who may in fact be considering straight partners. From personal experience, it might be more relevant to also provide an option “I do not want to be seen by people who are currently in a couple.” But, I don’t really want to get too far into implications for design here…

Why is this actually important? It’s not really about finding a date. Websites that exclude same-sex couples have gotten negative press, but as far as I know, nobody has raised a cry about the lack of support for bisexuality. This is an example of something called “bisexual erasure,” which is “the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, news media and other primary sources.” This is just another way of marginalizing people and is one that is practiced by both the heterosexual and the LGBT community. Now, it is explicitly encoded in the design of the vast majority of popular dating websites, and that’s not cool.