Inside Tracker Special

Back in December I went to Boston Quantified Self Meetup #8 Measurements: Big and Small. Inside Tracker showed a demo of their platform and approach. They mentioned that “the current health system is taking care of the sick and not promoting our overall health and wellness”. Gil Blander invited volunteers to test their application by doing two blood tests before and after following their recommendations. I gladly signed up in return to share results of my experiment.

I did my blood test in a lab nearby (they have participating labs all over the country) and my results appeared on my web dashboard in 2 days. 11 biomarkers were analyzed, including calcium, glucose, cholesterol, hemoglobin, etc. Suggested healthy ranges were generated based on my personal data (gender, age, height, weight,etc.), and my results were depicted on the graph (within the range or outside of it). 6 out of 11 markers were outside of the suggested range.

In Inside Tracker database demographic information of 100k subjects is connected to blood markers levels. Segterra’s knowledge and food database (about 20K) are based on 1000s of clinical studies about the effects of food supplement & exercise on blood markers levels and performance.

On the first screen, where I see my biomaker graphs, I can also find white papers with detailed research about what can improve biomarkers.

The second screen contains recommendations on certain foods to include or exclude from my diet. You can look at all foods listed to help you work with particular biomarkers.

And the third screen is about creating your own personalized menu, which calculates the number of calories and suggested food intake linked to your biomarker improvement. You can manipulate the menu generation on different levels: by number of calories, type of diet (vegan, etc.), based on what you need to improve, by locking some components. So far I’ve been following some food and exercise recommendations. Going forward I’ll be tracking what I eat and my subjective health and happiness using my happiness formula. At the end of two months I will take blood test again to see if my objective health improved.

My favorites about Inside Tracker so far:

  1. Transparency of my results. ”It is what’s inside that counts!”
  2. Measurability: quantitative graphs answer how far I am from the suggested range and how much of each biomarker I need to improve?
  3. Cause-effect drivers help with motivation and locus of control.
  4. Customization: ability to eliminate foods and create customized menu based on recommendations.

More on Inside Tracker:

Video presentation http://vimeo.com/33564851

Raj Mehta’s blog post: http://quantifiedself.com/2011/11/toolmaker-talk-gil-blander-insidetracker/

Alexandra Carmichael’s blog post: http://quantifiedself.com/2012/02/recap-of-los-angeles-qs-meetups/

To receive a limited time $70 discount use the code QSLATM11176 until Fri 2/24/2012.

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Storytelling with Scott Anger

Yesterday I attended Content Strategy Los Angeles Meetup “Story telling for business with award-winning journalist Scott Anger” organized by Heather Worthingon.

I came to the event because I’m interested in improving my story telling skills and learning new techniques. About 20 people showed up at Coloft to hear Scott talk about best practices of story-telling and content strategy.

Scott, formerly a video content Director at LA Times, is currently consulting and making documentary films (one on Polish youth discovering its Jewish ancestry is in works). Scott had made many documentaries, especially from front lines.

Story telling is everywhere. All you do is storytelling one way or another: it is either our story or somebody else’s story.

We discussed why videos are not that popular in online newspapers compared to text and photographs. One of the suggestions was to provide subtitles to videos so that people can turn the volume off and not distract their coworkers by audio. Another reason was that videos are hard to skim, so a video should have a synopsis of what it is about and tags; then the viewer will decide whether to watch it or not. Due to no captioning provided, videos are considered to be time-consuming.

Measures of video usability are not clearly defined. The important criterion is not the clicks but customer engagement via sharing and commenting.

Scott showed us several examples of videos with great story telling: Girl Effect One and Girl Effect Two. It is interesting that almost everyone liked the first one better, which was simple motion graphics (could be done in PowerPoint or Adobe After Effects).

In my opinion, in the first video the viewer is not distracted by imagery and moving objects and his attention is more focused on text and its meaning, which makes it very powerful. In the second one the viewer attention is diverted from text to images.

At the same time, I’ve noticed that at least in blogging, text+image is better than just text, as you need some visuals to help readers relate to text, but not too much to get distracted and unfocused.

We also watched ETSY video about Liberty Vintage Motorcycles, which was a great example of creating your story around the character. That video was part of the campaign to raise ETSY’s brand awareness via storytelling. The main character is likeable because he is very passionate about what he is doing and the topic he is covering.

The questions were: how do you know what content users want and how to engage them? One of the ways is to ask them directly.

Scott mentioned that there is no PR as per se anymore but branding. Data is king (not content or cash). When you know what people want, you can reach them.

There are many different strategies both in content creation and storytelling. Good examples are Hulu, jivesoftware, Planet Money (fun and creative way to tell about investing), The American Life with Ira Glass.

Other suggestions: Make complex story simple, use Solution based storytelling. Check out Story Structure video on TED “The Secret Structure of great talks” by Nancy Duarte.

Ask your customers tell their stories. Ushahidi from Somali speaks use mobile SMS to gather content.

Someone from the audience gave this example: a business owner sent cameras to all people who received technical help from him, asked to video-record their feedback and mail those cameras back to him. It really worked and he received a lot of testimonials that he posted on his website.

Your story may not always be an epic one with character development and a story arc, but at least make it interesting. Good quality content is very important nowadays, be authentic.

Story arc is usually about conflict and resolution by means of characters. If there are three acts in your story, state your conflict in act 1, then start resolving it in act 2 and come to resolution in act 3. In ETSY film, the statement/conflict was “What is next me?” and “America lost its usefulness”.

Then you would build your story with sequencing events: state event one and what your character feels about it, and then sequencing events and character reaction and development.

Another video we watched was “Mr. Toilet”, which was brilliantly done. It wrapped up with a strong call to action and I really related to it. It reminded me of another video I watched with Vijay Govindarajan http://www.vijaygovindarajan.com/, who spoke at Ted Big Apple Disruptive Ideas about reverse innovation on Feb 4, 2012.

Another highlight of the evening was a 13 min film made by Scott, which is part of the series Stoptortureinhealthcare.org.

It was funded by Open Society Foundation (George Soros). You can find two other ones Scott made about detention of prisoners in Cambodia and sterilization of women in Namibia. The film we watched was made in Ukraine and called “50 milligrams is not enough”. In Ukraine government regulation restricted morphine and other medication to relieve pain for hospice patients. To see the video, go to http://bit.ly/ymqDSg. Scott took 40 hours of footage, and I must say the story is very powerful. Quite a few of us were sobbing in the room and surely all were profoundly impacted by the film.

It was impossible not to feel the boy’s pain, but he was grateful to his friends and family for caring about him and distracting him from pain. The most memorable quote by the boy who was dying:

“I know that this life is nothing but a vapor, like from a kettle. It is not worth worrying that much. Because this vapor is our pass to heaven. Thank you for supporting me through my pain and my suffering. I’m grateful to you and God for it”.

Thank you, Scott, for your great work and for presenting at the Meetup. We learned so much from you.

Psychological Resilience Class Feedback (Part Two)

“Thank you for asking me to tell my story.

The year before I took the course was a very difficult year; it was as if fate wanted to compound many major traumas into a short year. It has been so bad, that I have only been able to five people, not including myself that know the full story. Therefore, before I took the course, people were already complimenting me on how well I was handling things, but I wanted to be able to progress farther and learn the techniques to do so, and the course delivered. It not only taught techniques, but it also provided objective perspectives. In particular it was interesting to read about the contributing factors that Bonato presented in the paper I needed to read about the post traumatic growth in abusive relationships.

I would highly recommend this course for anyone who believes that they would like to improve their resiliency, but not for anyone who does not. Although, what I appreciated most about the course has been the classmates. The discussions in class and outside of class are things that could probably only come from people that know that learning resiliency is so important that it is worth devoting three intense week to learning just a little bit more about it.
The two most important things I learned were the ABC theory, belief is more important than actual events in determining consequences. Bad things can happen, but if one controls their beliefs, looks for the benefits, measures what assets they have to handle the situation, as well as looking at the positive benefits of the change, one will be able to live a more successful life. And of course the opposite is also true. Good things can happen, and if one looks at the negative and the lack, there will be less success.
Since learning that, I have been focused on realistic optimism and have been making the right choices to progress in my career.
Also I have learned immediate techniques. When handling a large problem I go to the gym not just for the dopamine, but it tires me out so I can only think about the problem at hand not distracting thoughts. I have opened up and now seek out social support much more easily, and I look for humor more in situations. However the biggest immediate change has been a focus on seeking gratitude immediately after a problem. That actually has an effect of changing breathing to calm me down and has even reduced physical pain. Additionally it can be a mental challenge that provides additional insights into situations. Moreover, it just feels good”.
Eric Ehmann – US
“As a psychologist who works and conducts researches on violence and trauma, it was necessary for me to take the resilience course. Resilience is a very important field because its discourse is focused on the individual, especially on the health issue. I could learn more about Positive Psychology – which I didn’t have a lot of knowledge before – and how it emphasizes in the individual’s potential aspects instead of psychopathological aspects, as traditional psychology does.
I also liked the classes because they were interactive and dynamic. The class was multicultural. The students could discuss the subjects to each other and that was what I liked most. It’s good to know different points of view and it’s even better to know people from all over the world”.
Thayse Dantas – Brazil

Psychological Resilience Class Feedback (Part One)

Last month Harvard Extension School offered Psychological Resilience Class PSYC-E-1018 led by Dr. Shelley Carson. Here is feedback provided about the class and the importance of this topic from several students:

“From the cradle to the grave, humans have to face problematic situations. In one way or another, we are exposed to danger, confusion, disappointment or grief. However, there is something that changes over time, especially when it comes to the ability to cope with serious, more complex issues. In the hindsight, one can realize how one’s capacity to overcome both minor and major problems increases. I remember having thought about the following question long before taking the resilience course: How come I don’t see the problems the same way I did three years ago?

A noteworthy lesson I learned is that it’s never too late to start something great, regardless of how ambitious your plan may seem at first. Shelley Carson, our professor, told us in a very humble manner that her interest in psychology had come pretty late, in her late thirties or forties. Having a living example of a remarkable case of a successful recommencement imbued the class with a spirit of optimism. A major contribution to the surprising participation of the group was the intimacy we developed by sharing personal experiences.

I’m sure there was a considerable share of students sitting there whose major interest wasn’t necessarily psychology, as it was in my case. However, we talked about commonplace things that awakened interest in all of us, each in a different war. That is definitely the most valuable thing a professor can do. I think that Shelley knew that intrinsically motivated students are more likely to make the most out of any course, so she put all her efforts in making her class interesting, by telling personal, yet very relevant anecdotes, and inviting students to participate in class. One thing I will never forget is how she pushed us to use the “resilience kit” we had been studying, which included several methods to cope with problems.

Most importantly, however, I learned that personal experience is far more worth in terms of resilience than any research that might be done by well-known psychologists anywhere in the world. In other words, understanding what the physiological responses to problems are represents a relatively easy task –as well as understanding the most efficient resilience methods–, but the real challenge is that of self-discovery, which requires a very introspective approach to problems and a lot of experience. I discovered, for instance, that I am very skillful at coping with problems by means of humor, and that I can easily clear my mind by doing exercise. Not only is it important to identify such skills, but also to become aware of their potential in problem-solving. That’s something no one can do for you, so I cordially invite you to start (or continue, if you already started) asking yourself these questions and getting to know yourself better.

In conclusion, I think that the most precious lessons we learn come unexpectedly, so I don’t think that a classroom is the only place where you can learn something useful. However, finding an excellent professor is certainly no easy thing to do and I am grateful –I also learned and have started realizing that gratefulness is a very effective resilience method– for the enriching experience of taking this course. I’m all the more grateful to Marina for allowing me to share my thoughts about it, for expressing one’s ideas is also a very satisfactory experience”.

Fernando de Testa – Mexico

“Dr. Shelley Carson’s Psychological Resilience class @ Harvard Extension School provides students with an in-depth look at the construct itself as well as the psychological tools associated with resilience. I took the course as part of my major in psych and hoped to have a “value added” experience that would broaden my understanding of resilient individuals while gaining a deeper understanding of the difficulties that they’d faced. This course provided that. Dr Carson, Jeff Perrotti, & Ellen Brodsky collectively created a learning environment that was as acutely informative as it was warm and welcoming. By definition, January session classes are fast-paced and mentally burdensome due to the amount of material presented in a 3 week period. Although the material came and went quickly, I never felt overwhelmed as the support and presentation methods made the course enjoyable, while enhancing retention through dynamic class exercises and open discussion.

I took from this course a skill set that enables me to better understand and cope with potentially traumatic and stressful situations, both within myself and others. I look forward to taking Abnormal Psychology and Creativity with Dr Carson in the future, both of which are offered in the fall semester here at Harvard Extension School”.

Christopher Dumas – US

Inner Peace (Part Two)

Soothsayer: The most important time is now. But if you really want to see the future.
Shen: Oh, what do you see?
Soothsayer: A peacock is defeated by a warrior of black and white. Nothing has changed.
Shen: That’s impossible, and you know it.
Soothsayer: It is not impossible, and he knows it.
Shen: Who?

Wolf Boss: Lord Shen, I saw a panda!
Shen: A panda! There are no more panda’s.
Soothsayer: Even with his poor eye sight, he can see the truth. Why is it that you cannot?

[after failing at his attempts to go stealth mode to get closer to the palace]
Monkey: So that was stealth mode, huh?
Po: Uh…to be honest, not one of my stronger modes.

Master Ox: It’s time to surrender, panda. Kung Fu is dead. [in despair]
Po: I…ooh…you…you…! Kung Fu is de…ad! Fine! You stay in your prison of fear, with bars made of hopelessness. And all you get are three square meals a day of shame!
Master Croc: With despair for dessert.
Po: We’ll take on Shen. And prove to all those who are hungry for justice and honor, that Kung Fu still lives! [a boar in one of the prison cells shouts bleakly]
Boar: Yeah!

Po: Nothing’s unstoppable except for me when I’m stopping you from telling me something’s unstoppable!

Master Shifu: Remember dragon warrior, when you follow the noble path, anything is possible.

[as the guerrilla guards are chaining Po and the others]
Crane: You can chain my body. But you will never chain my …warrior spirit!

Soothsayer: The cup you choose to fill has no bottom. It is time to stop this madness.
Shen: Why on earth would I do that?
Soothsayer: So your parents can rest in peace.
Shen: My parents hated me. Do you understand? They wronged me. And I will make it right.
Soothsayer: They loved you. They loved you so much that having to send you away killed them.
Shen: The dead exist in the past. And I must attend to the future.

Po: No more running, Shen!
Shen: So it seems.
Po: Now, answers.
Shen: Oh, you want to know so badly. You think knowing will heal you, huh? Fill some crater in your soul? Well here’s your answer. Your parents didn’t love you.
[Po looks grief stricken]
Shen: But here, let me heal you.
[he releases a cannon from his weapon shooting straight into Po]

[after Po has defeated all the cannon balls thrown at him and destroyed Shen’s ships

Shen: How did you…how did you do it?
Po: You know, you just keep your elbows up and keep the shoulders loose.
Shen: Not that! How did you find peace? I took away your parents. Everything! I…I scarred you for life.
Po: See, that’s the thing, Shen. Scars heal.
Shen: No, they don’t. Wounds heal.
Po: Oh, yeah. What do scars do? They fade I guess.
Shen: I don’t care what scars do.
Po: You should, Shen. You’ve gotta let go of that stuff from the past, cause it just doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now.
Shen: You’re right. Then I choose…this!
[he suddenly draws his sword and swings it at Po]

[after he’s finally defeated Shen]
Shifu: It seems you have found inner peace. At such a young age!
Po: Well, I had a pretty good teacher.
Mr. Ping: So, how did it go? Did you save China?
Po: Yep.
Mr. Ping: Well, I knew you would. That’s why I had new signs made.
[holds up the sign with Po’s picture on it]
Mr. Ping: My son saved China. You too can save. Buy one dumpling, get one free!

Inner Peace (Part One)

To my great surprise I found so much wisdom in the animated “Kung Fu Panda 2” comedy film that I saw the other day. The theme of it is Inner Peace. I want to say big Thank you to its female Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson for creating such a masterpiece. I am sure the film will win Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. See the film to learn full story, but for now enjoy my favorite passages and savor them:

[meditating]
Shifu: Inner peace. Inner peace
[suddenly we hear Po approaching loudly in the background]
Shifu: Ahh! Inner peace.
Po: Master Shifu? Master Shifu? What have we got? Pirates? Vandals of volcano mountain? Whatever it is, I will take them down. Cause I am in a mood. I need to get somethin’ done. You know what I mean?
[Shifu ignore Po and continues meditating with his eyes closed]
Po: Uh..what are you doing?
Shifu: One of master Oogway’s final teachings.

[Master Shifu carefully handles a water droplet and lets it go onto to a leaf intact]
Po: How did you do that?
Shifu: Inner peace.
Po: Inner peace. That’s cool! Inner peace of what?
Shifu: It is the next phase of your training. Every master must find his path to inner peace. Some choose to meditate for fifty years in a cave just like this, without the slightest taste of food or water.
[Po’s stomach makes a loud growling noise]
Po: Or?
Shifu: Some find it through pain and suffering, as I did. Po, the day you were chosen as Dragon Warrior, was the worst day of my life. By far, nothing else came close. It was the worst, most painful, mind destroying, horrible moment…
Po: Okay.
Shifu: …I have ever experienced.
[he shudders at the thought of it]

Shifu: But once I realized the problem was not you, but within me, I found inner peace. And was able to harness the flow of the universe.
Po: So that’s it? I just need inner peace? My innards are already super, super peaceful. So all I need to do is just get this thing going. Inner peace? You’re goin’ down! Now show me what you were doing there with your feet? I saw you do sorta fancy foot thing?

Po: How can kung fu stop something that stops kung fu?

Master Shifu: Remember, Dragon Warrior, anything is possible when you have inner peace.

Soothsayer: Your story may not have such a happy beginning but that doesn’t make you who you are, it is the rest of your story, who you choose to be.

Tigress: The mast is not a worthy opponent.

Tigress: Po, why are you really out here?
Po: I just found out that my dad isn’t really my dad.
Tigress: Your dad, the goose? Must have been quite a shock.
Po: Yeah.
Tigress: And this bothers you?
Po: Are you kiddin’ me? We’re warriors, right? Nerves of steel! Souls of platinum! Like you! So hard core you don’t feel anything.

Tigress: The hardcore do understand, but I can’t watch my friend be killed.

Po: I’m not freaking out, I’m freakin in!

Soothsayer: Stop fighting. Just let it flow.

Soothsayer: If you continue on your current path, you will find yourself…at the bottom of the stairs. I see…I see…I see….pain!
Shen: Ow!
Soothsayer: And anger.
Shen: How dare you! That is the finest silk in the province!
Soothsayer: Followed by denial.

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