QS LA Confidential (Part One)

Two weeks ago while in LA, I met with Eric Blue, co-organizer of LA Quantified Self (QS) Meetup Community.
M: How did you get involved in QS?
Eric: I’ve been interested in self-tracking for several years now and started off by doing my own experiments. A major motivator was monitoring my lower back pain that started about 2 1/2 years ago. Self tracking helped me to become more conscious of my physical activity. Around this time I read a book “Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything” by Gordon Bell. Gordon had been working for 15 years at Microsoft in research and development and developed his project MyLifeBits (the ultimate self-tracking project). I decided to check out Gordon’s work in depth and discovered the Quantified Self community through one of his blog posts. In May 2011 I went to the 1st QS Conference, which was attended by about 450 people. That’s where I connected with John Amschler, who originally started the LA QS Meetup and also co-founded the San Diego Meetup. Since then I help organize the LA Meetup events (every 4-6 weeks).
M: Tell me more about popular QS gadgets and projects on the West Coast.
Eric: Fitbit is popular now as it saves time on manual data entry. It counts steps, distance, calories burned, quality of sleep, etc. Jawbone recently came out with the Up product (wrist band and iPhone app) that tracks your daily activity and inspires you to live healthier (Read Eric’s post about it). And, Zeo measures brainwave activity in order to detect when you’re asleep and what stage of sleep you’re in (light, deep, REM, etc.).
M: So what kind of self- tracking do you do?
Eric: I started doing different things, like capturing photos and memories from great trips (part of my Personsal Memex project, similar to MyLifeBits). I also would manually track my workouts. I was measuring my caloric intake and physical activity which could then be graphed over time. This helped with analysis of my own activity patterns. I’d also set goals like walking 5 miles a day and even wrote a program that would automatically send me text messages as reminders when I needed to go on walks. I eventually moved away from manual data entry to using different gadgets that automatically capture health-related data (Fitbit, Zeo, Withings, UP, etc.)

M: Why do you think people do self-tracking?
Eric: Mainly to help with motivation and making change happen. If you raise awareness and bring visibility, then people can focus on what’s important. Mint.com is a great example of this model. With the combination of nice graphs and budget reminders, it really helps people pay attention to their spending habits.
M: It helps you track but it doesn’t really tell you yet what goals to set, so they could be very subjective. The app will help achieve goals when you know what you need to work on…
Eric: Some gadgets have software that helps set goals. For example, with Fitbit, you buy the device for $100 then you can sign up for a premium subscription that lets you create goals. It takes into account your age, sex, height (BMI formula). Based on your recent activity it tells you how active you currently are: sedentary, lightly active, active… So it helps set goals… in terms of how many calories you need to burn. Over a 12-week period it will set a reasonable goal to gradually increase your overall activity level by the end of the program.
M: Tell me about some interesting QS projects in the LA area.
Eric: We had a great presentation at the last Meetup event here at LA QS by Bryan Dorsey – WorkFoodOut, who lost over 55 pounds by calorie counting. He eventually turned his calorie counting system into a web application that can be used by other people.
M: It is great that he was so determined and disciplined too. Usually there are so many “nice to haves”, but when do people actually say: “enough is enough, it has to be done now”? When do you decide to finally do what you want to do?
Eric: I think people can reach a tipping point, or a point of no return. Or when there is enough peer pressure or other motivating factors. Say, if you realize that the benefit of doing something is bigger than not doing it, or when the current loss/penalty is way too high… Years ago I participated in a kind of “new year resolution weight loss competition” at work with my buddies. I had to lose 6% of body weight – 13 pounds and it had to be done in 6 weeks; starting after the New Year and completed by Feb 14. Money was involved, and I did it.
Another time, with a similar competition, I did an overly aggressive diet because the penalty was too high: if you didn’t lose weight then you had to pay $100 for every pound that was not lost… To lose 1 pound a week is healthy, but taking onlye 1,000 calories a day is super aggressive (and not recommended at all). But I did it. Peer pressure and a financial penalty really motivate. Since then I’ve learned the secret to setting and reaching realistic goals is moderation.
M: I’m sure peer pressure helps motivation but an accountability partner or mentor would be good too, as long as you are not on your own… But definitely the process is about awareness, benefits/penalties and other motivation.


Lunar Tet Holiday for Poor Children

The Lunar New Year is nearly upon us and the 2012 Tết Holiday in Vietnam is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever before. Here at Volunteers for Peace Vietnam Saigon Branch we are just as excited as everyone else and we want to use this year’s Tết as an opportunity to extend our outreach in Vietnam.

Project Overview

For a new year coming, Tet 2012, we would like to organize a voluntary trip to K’rông Pa, a small village in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai. We want to try and make a difference to this community (especially for children) in a variety of ways over a 2-3 day trip. Villages like K’rông Pa are often forgotten in popular society and rarely receive voluntary aid; and the local people have a very poor living condition at the moment. We are looking to raise funds to help us make a positive impact in K’rông Pa, hopefully leading to continued efforts in similar communities in the future.

There will be 3 main aspects to the trip:

  • Gift and everyday necessities donation
  • Organisation of traditional games of Tet for children
  • Personal Hygiene guidance

Gifts: We would like to give presents to the local children in celebration of Tết. Ideally we are looking for direct donations of everyday necessities such as food, blankets, clothes, in particular socks and underwear, as well as important items like new mosquito nets and any other items you may feel are relevant to the living conditions. We understand this is not always possible and will also look to raise funds in order to purchase gifts ourselves. Everything will be spread out equally and we hope for every child to receive the same or similar gifts which emphasizes the importance of these donations. This is a great chance to enhance the living standards of these children but also the families who may be too poor to afford these crucial items.

Activities and Games: With 2 or 3 days in Buon Phum, we plan to arrange many activities for the children especially but we would like to involve as many people as possible. We will play traditional Tết games and arrange performances by the VPV volunteers involved in the project and stories around the fire etc. The most special event will be the making of ‘Bánh Chưng’. It is perhaps the most famous food associated with Tết, It is a rice cake with a square shape to represent the earth. The outer layer wraps in green banana leaves. In the middle is pork meat and mung bean to represent animals and plants on earth. It’s a special tradition and will be lots of fun for everyone involved. This will also be a great opportunity for volunteers and local people to share both experiences of living in such contrasting environments and also local customs that either group of people may find interesting.

Personal Hygiene Guidance: Perhaps the most important aspect of the trip will be a Personal Hygiene guidance for villagers to learn more about improving their cleanliness and personal health. It is so important as we hope to develop simple but crucial life skills that will benefit the children especially in later life. If we can get them to understand the significance of brushing your teeth or the most effective way to keep warm in the cooler mountain weather they will be able to avoid simple but devastating health problems that can arise as they get older. As part of the guidance we would like to offer free toiletries, like toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, toilet paper and other important accessories in hygiene. We need to raise funds in order to create pamphlets that can be distributed amongst locals as well as the amenities mentioned earlier to give out so that we can put the message into practical use for the foreseeable future.

Resources – Available and Required


  • VPV Staff
  • Local Volunteers


As a non-profit organization it is difficult to arrange a project like this which is unrelated to everyday work and provide sufficient funds from within the organization. The fundraising efforts break down into two main areas:

Donations either in actual physical objects, gifts or items for workshop or funds which can be used by VPV to purchase these items. Donors will be made aware of the use of their contributions.

  1. Transportation costs: – there will be around 20 – 30 volunteers taking part in the project. Most are students and will have difficulty in covering transportation costs. The maximum will be 30 and the price per person is estimated around 500,000VND per person. The target transport budget will be 15m VND which will cover the maximum number of volunteers but if we do not reach capacity can be used in the same way as funds donated towards the gift giving or workshop.
  2. Ways of donation: directly at VPV office (88/1B Đào Duy Anh, ward 9, Phu Nhuan district, HCMC) from Monday to Saturday (7:00 am – 9:00 pm) (for local volunteers)
  3. Through Western Union Service / Transfer from Visa card / Pay pal /….. (for international volunteers)

Information of person in charge of fund raising and received your support:

Name: Don Hong Minh

Phone number: +84(915 767 897)

Email: saigon@vpv.vn

ID card number: 111583231

ID card day of issue: Jan 10th 2011

Bank Account: 102 2526 9503 017


Any amount of donation will be highly appreciated (5usd, 10usd,…)

VPV is a trustable organization I volunteered for in 2010. I donated money for this project two years ago and wrote in a blog post about this annual initiative of bringing food to children in the Highlands of Vietnam for Tet. If you feel like making someone happy, it is a good cause. These children live in real poverty, and your presents will brighten their lives!

Re-posted from SaigonOLPC http://wp.me/pKpna-1ik

Hello Handsome My Name is Rose

The first day of school our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn’t already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder.

I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being..

She said, ‘Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I’m eighty-seven years old. Can I give you a hug?’

I laughed and enthusiastically responded, ‘Of course you may!’ and she gave me a giant squeeze..

‘Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?’ I asked.

She jokingly replied, ‘I’m here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids….’

‘No seriously,’ I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age.

‘I always dreamed of having a college education and now I’m getting one!’ she told me.

After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake.

We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this ‘time machine’ as she shared her wisdom and experience with me..

Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up.

At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet I’ll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor.

Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, ‘I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I’ll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.’

As we laughed she cleared her throat and began, ‘ We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing.

There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You’ve got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die.

We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it!

There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up.

If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don’t do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight.

Anybody! Can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets.

The elderly usually don’t have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets..’

She concluded her speech by courageously singing ‘The Rose.’

She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives. At the year’s end Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those months ago.

One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep.

Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it’s never too late to be all you can possibly be.

REMEMBER, GROWING OLDER IS MANDATORY. GROWING UP IS OPTIONAL.. We make a Living by what we get. We make a Life by what we give.

This story was forwarded to me by a friend from Canada

2012 Global Happiness Conference Call

Edwin Edebiri, Chief Happiness Officer at I Am Happy Project, organized 2012 global conference call today. There were 5 presenters:

Marci Shimoff – Author, Teacher, Speaker

She is a celebrated transformational leader and a #1 New York Times bestselling author. In addition to authoring the worldwide bestsellers, Love for No Reason and Happy for No Reason, she is the coauthor of six of the top-selling titles in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and a featured teacher in the international movie and book sensation The Secret.

Dr. Bob Nozik, M.D. – Physician, Professor, Author

The author of Happy 4 Life: Here’s How to Do, he is a physician who has studied happiness ever since discovering his own deep, inner happiness almost two decades ago. He was featured in “Best Doctors in America” every year until he retired. He is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco.

Dr. Brenda Wade – Psychologist, Author, Speaker

She is also an expert commentator for CNN and NBC’s Today Show and a frequent guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She is the Founder of the International Love and Money Summit.

Dr. James W. Jackson – Author, Cultural Economist

He devoted the past 25 years of his life traveling in over 150 countries “delivering health and hope” to the world’s most needy people. Literally thousands of people are alive today as a direct result of the tireless efforts of Project C.U.R.E.‘s staff, volunteers and Dr. Jackson. Now, he is sharing his field-tested and transferable cultural economic best practices for the positive transformation of individuals, organizations, and cultures.

Edwin Edebiri, MBA – Author, Speaker, Consultant

He has interviewed more than 1,000 people in the past year. Based upon their answers, he has come up with a list of 10 concrete things people can do to become happier. He is the inspiration behind the Global Happiness Summit and the founder of the I Am Happy Project, whose mission it is to spread happiness globally, one person at a time.

All presenters shared useful tips and stories on the topic of happiness. I really liked Marci’s story about a woman who cured herself from a serious disease by practicing loving kindness meditation for one year. She wished the best to other people: “May you be safe, May you be healthy, May you be happy, May you live with ease”. The power of our positive thoughts and kindness changes our physical bodies. There were other good exercises recommended like “I’m light and energy”, ”open heart”, Pollyanna and “don’t give in to you inner critic”. I also learned about books that participants wrote. My favorite story was Dr. Jackson’s life story, who said that he is the happiest when he gives himself away: his love, time and effort. “Life is where we direct our pupils”.

“Life is full of alternatives, and based on them we make choices, which lead to consequences, which determine our major happiness”.

“To be happy find someone around you and make them better of”.

“Find your passion and how your focus on that and helping other people will define your life”.

From I Am Happy Project website:

Happiness is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy. Happiness comes from deep within, and not from people, situations, or circumstances.

According to Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego: “When an individual becomes happy, the network effect can be measured up to three degrees. One person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only his friends, but his friends’ friends, and his friends’ friends’ friends. The effect lasts for up to one year.”
Since whatever we focus on grows, the aim of this group is to help members focus on happiness and to spread it at every opportunity.

Ten Ways to Be Happy by Edwin Edebiri:

1. Decide to be happy and make it your top priority.
2. Smile more and learn to laugh at yourself.
3. Volunteer your time one on one or to a group.
4. Donate your money according to your pocket, even if it is a dime.
5. Make time for the 3 F’s: Faith, Family & Friends
6. Create a list of all the things you are thankful for or that make you happy
7. Create a list of all the things that make you unhappy and find a solution or ways to eliminate them.

8. Learn to manage your time and your money
9. Be active and make healthy choices

10. Create a goal or dream list and work diligently towards them

The Collective Mind

On Dec 9 Arthur from Boston Area Philosophy Discussions had another great event called “The Collective Mind”. Personally, I was not able to attend but Arthur created great intro and follow-up messages:

The Wisdom of Crowds, Smart Mobs

Intro: The notion of collective mind or of a collective consciousness is as old as philosophy itself. Beginning with Heraclitus and continuing throughout the history of Greek philosophy the ideas signified by such terms as Logos and Nous denoted a belief in an underlying order, unity or logic that controlled and/or explained the nature of the universe. If there is a Logos it would suggest that it is possible for the individual human mind to connect or tap into it. This possibility may be viewed as the dividing theme on beliefs concerning a collective mind: a division between what might be described as the transcendental versus the scientific orientation towards mind and, by extension, towards reality.

The term “collective consciousness’ was coined by Emile Durkheim, the famous French sociologist and anthropologist. Durkheim used the term to denote the shared values, beliefs and customs that in a sense are an extension of the human brain to the exterior forms of culture and society. Durkheim’s view may be considered to be a scientific model of a collective mind that requires no transcendental belief in immaterial reality. Even a philosopher like Hegel, I think, can be classified as “scientific” because while he clearly was not practicing science in the modern sense of the word he himself viewed his interpretation of the “unfolding of consciousness” or the “world spirit” as a scientific expression of events and of history. Having said that, I am clearly not suggesting that the contrivances of Hegel’s logic are in any sense “science.”

What I am calling the “transcendental” orientation towards collective consciousness may have roots in German and English Romanticism as well as American Transcendentalism that was contemporary with Hegel, including Schopenhauer’s conception of the Will as the driving force of all of nature. And fast forwarding into the twentieth century, the psychology of Carl Jung helped to shape transcendental ideas of the collective consciousness that he called the collective unconscious. Jungian psychology uses what are ascribed to be archetypal concepts, and it seems natural that from this orientation Jung developed his notion of synchronicityin an attempt to give scientific credence to some parapsychological phenomena requiring some sort of psychic underpinning of reality. I think that Jung, fairly late in his life, was quite intentionally trying to forge connections between his psychology and the parapsychological research of Joseph Rhine (of Duke University).

This discussion will entertain the notions of the collective mind. I prefer to use the term ‘mind’ as opposed to ‘consciousness’ because, in my view, ‘mind’ is only intelligence superimposed upon consciousness. For example, I believe that a caterpillar and even less evolved life forms are conscious but that intelligence combined with consciousness demonstrates the gradations of mind. I am of the opinion, to continue further, that the consciousness of an infant is the same as the consciousness of an adult, but it is the evolving thought processes of self-awareness and rationality that deepen what one might call an appreciation of consciousness. The same reasoning, I argue, applies to animals. And, therefore, the collective mind involves the consciousness of ideas, concepts, memories, emotions, and even beliefs.

The question posed for this discussion is whether the Zeitgeist (spirit of the times) is determined by purely scientific phenomena as, for example, Durkheim believed or is it also to some extent indicative of a transcendental or psychic synchronicity more in tune to Jung’s thinking. Or are both factors at work. I know that this is a subject in which strong opinions thrive on both sides of the philosophic divide. I highly recommend that attendees bring to this discussion examples and insights that help illustrate viewpoints concerning the scientific or transcendental nature of the collective mind, respectively: two fascinating and fundamental perspectives on the nature of reality.

Follow-up: I had a great time and enjoyed very much the different perspectives that were contributed. The subject of the collective mind is broad, especially given the way that the discussion was framed as two alternate universes, so to speak, of the “scientific” and the “transcendental” perspectives of a collective mind. The broadness of the topic had its pluses and minuses.

I do remember talking about pain and its importance in conceiving of consciousness. A computer, for example, cannot feel pain. Pain is a good example of a self being conscious of its consciousness as something distinct from material existence. At least that is my view.
See original comments: http://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Discussions/events/41563272/

The Feeling of Happiness Poem

“Good day,
I read with great interest this article about happiness. I would like to send a poem that I wrote some time ago. I’m not a Writer, which you will notice on the poem, but everything I write, what moves me in poem form.
With best wishes from Buten-Bremen.
Brigitte Stürmer”

Thank you, Brigitte, your poem is beautiful!

Dieses Gefühl von Glück

Kennst du dieses Gefühl von Glück,

diese Momente zwischen der Mühsal des Lebens,

diese schwebenden Augenblicke

Lichtpunkte am Himmel?

Dieses Gefühl von Glück,

wenn Meeresbrandung deine Ohren berauscht

wenn der Geruch von Seetang in dich strömt

wenn der Wind deine Haut umfängt?

Dieses Gefühl von Glück,

wenn Vollendung und Schönheit

in den Abgrund dich reißen,

wenn du halten willst,

was nicht zu halten ist?

Dieses Gefühl von Glück,

wenn Weinen und Lachen dich sprengen wollen,

dein Körper zum Theater wird,

alle Gefühle gleichzeitig die Bühne betreten,

wenn die Stille mit wirbelnden Kobolden Purzelbäume schlägt,

wenn Glück die Fassung verliert?

Dieses Gefühl von Glück,

wenn Luft zur samtigen Materie wird

durch deine Hände fließt

deinen Körper berührt

ihn umschmeichelt

sich löst

an anderer Stelle wieder verfängt?

Dieses Gefühl von Glück,

wenn ein Mensch dir begegnet

der deinen Akkord zu spielen versteht

wenn ein Lächeln nur dir gehört?

Kennst du dieses Gefühl von Glück

frei zu sein unter dem Blau des Himmels

im Augenblick des Alles Seins?

This feeling of happiness

Do you know this feeling of happiness,
these moments between the hardships of life,
these floating moments
Points of light in the sky?

This feeling of happiness,

if your ears surf intoxicated
if the smell of seaweed flowing into you
when the wind envelops your skin?

This feeling of happiness,

if perfection and beauty
tear you into the abyss,
if you want to keep,
what not to keep?

This feeling of happiness,

Tears and laughter when you want to blow up,
Your body is the theater,
all feelings simultaneously enter the stage,
when the silence beats with whirling goblins somersaults,
if luck loses composure?

This feeling of happiness,

when air is used to velvety matter
flows through your hands
your body touches
it flatters
elsewhere again caught?

This feeling of happiness,

when a man meets you
of your chord playing to understand
only when a smile is to you?

Do you know this feeling of happiness
to be free under the blue sky
Everything at the moment of being?

Brigitte Stürmer

English translation of the poem is done by Google Translate

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