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ZoYo: Zombie Yogurt

My latest kitchen experiment. Homemade ricemilk, homemade oatmilk, a bit of commercial soymilk, and Yogourmet yogurt culture.

Boiled and chilled the milks, added the culture, let ferment overnight in our oven’s bread-proofing mode.

Not that interesting on its own, maybe, but pretty good with maple syrup and should work well in smoothies. The yogurt acidity is there (so are the good bacteria) and it tastes like nondairy yogurt. More liquid than my usual cowmilk yogurt, and a bit lumpy (part of the ricemilk had gelled, so I’m not surprised). But I deem it successful.

Why do I call it “Zombie Yogurt” (“ZoYo” for short)?

Is it because of the lumpiness, making it less appetising?

Is it because it’s making a live product out of dead rice, oat, and soy?

Nah… it’s because of what a vegan zombie might say:

Graaaaaaains!

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BBQ Documentation

Did my inaugural cook in the 14.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain my lifepartner is giving me for my birthday (she knows I don’t like surprises).
Will probably post some written notes of my smoking endeavours, at some point. In the meantime, some pictures documenting the whole thing.

Assessing Rhetoric

In version 1.0 of her book on The Participatory Museum, Nina K. Simon described the importance of impact assessment:

Evaluation can help you measure the impact of past projects and advocate for future initiatives.

That chapter struck me as having a slightly different aim than other sections of The Participatory Museum. Much of the book is about helping practitioners undertake participatory projects in museums where they work. Without using the business jargon of “best practices”, the thrust of the book relates to following appropriate examples and avoiding pitfalls. That chapter on evaluation, however, sounds like it also aims at providing practitioners with some of the tools they can use to convince diverse people of the value of specific projects aimed at broad participation. In other words, that chapter had something to do with “giving ammunition” for the debates and negotiations leading to culture change.

To be clear, there’s a lot of continuity between that chapter and the rest of the book. That chapter also includes clear guidelines on making projects work and other chapters give neat examples which can help convince third parties. But I still perceived a bit of a shift in tone, between this chapter and the rest of the book, as though it were addressed to a slightly different crowd.

In this post on Museum 2.0, Simon addresses a gap between decision-makers and practitioners, as it relates to assessment. Doing so, Simon may clarify something about her chapter on evaluation.

This post revolves around a study which, as is confirmed by one of its authors, “was written primarily with policymakers, school administrators, and other scholars as the intended audience”. Such a specific audience requires rhetorical devices which relate more to pleading than to constructing knowledge. While the study most likely follows the scientific method, the language used brings it close to judicial proceedings. “Solid evidence” isn’t just about data, and “proving” isn’t the same thing as “providing support for”. Perhaps more importantly, the “skeptical audience” are said to be “influenced by evidence”. So the purpose of such a research project is clear: getting certain decision-makers to change their minds about something we find important.

There’s nothing wrong with such an approach. Much research works like this, in the current context. So do some artistic projects. There’s a clear goal and the process used to achieve this goal sounds appropriate enough. Decision-makers may indeed be swayed by “solid evidence”. They may also be influenced by genuine insight, by people they deem influential, or by unrelated “arguments” (say, in bribery). But it’s fine to focus on them being rational actors who base their decisions on their own evaluation of the evidence presented to them.

There are some things to keep in mind. It’s one of those many situations in which transparency and honesty are quite important. A project which explicitly aims to convince me that museum tours enhance learning carries the burden of proof and lets me think critically about the issue. The type of assessment Simon was proposing had to be transparent and honest. Not only did it come from project participants, but any answer could be useful, including a negative assessment which could serve as feedback in the rest of the process (reminds me of Norbert Wiener…).

There’s also the broader context to keep in mind. Simon comes from the perspective of involving diverse participants, not giving more weight to those people already established as decision-makers. She’s quite clear on the importance of specific people in hierarchical structures (say, museum administrators). But her goal isn’t to help the hierarchy sustain itself. In a participatory context, there’s a lot to be said about “distributed” decision-making (in parallel to “distributed computing”). In a more collaborative structure, many decisions are made by many people, without waiting for approval or “buy-in” from upper instances. A lot of cool things can happen through such collaborative structures and we find many examples in this post-industrial era.

Maybe much of this relates to trust. At least, to the version of trust which underlined Hanifan’s original concept of “social capital”. When members of a community (or other strong social unit) trust one another, some things are easier to do because there’s no requirement to constantly convince others that what is done is ok. There’s considerable overhead in having to constantly justify everything you do. The state of academic research relates to this overhead. Much of it has to do with goal displacement, since research projects are aimed at justifying their own existence.

Applied research and action research may develop outside of such a logic. While any research project can have a “convincing” document as part of its output, action research can accomplish a lot through the project itself. Simon’s book contains several examples of how that might work, including the simple yet effective idea of getting decision-makers to directly observe what is going on “in the field”. A report may be convincing. A video might be more convincing. Direct experience can generate new insight and make for sound decisions.

Body and Tech: My Year in Quantified Self

Though I’m a qual, I started quantifying my self a year ago.

Not Even Started Yet

This post is long. You’ve been warned.

This post is about my experience with the Quantified Self (QuantSelf). As such, it may sound quite enthusiastic, as my perspective on my own selfquantification is optimistic. I do have several issues with the Quantified Self notion generally and with the technology associated with selfquantification. Those issues will have to wait until a future blogpost.

While I realize QuantSelf is broader than fitness/wellness/health tracking, my own selfquantification experience focuses on working with my body to improve my health. My future posts on the Quantified Self would probably address the rest more specifically.

You might notice that I frequently link to the DC Rainmaker site, which is a remarkably invaluable source of information and insight about a number of things related to fitness and fitness technology. Honestly, I don’t know how this guy does it. He’s a one-man shop for everything related to sports and fitness gadgets.

Though many QuantSelf devices are already available on the market, very few of them are available in Quebec. On occasion, I think about getting one shipped to someone I know in the US and then manage to pick it up in person, get a friend to bring it to Montreal, or get it reshipped. If there were such a thing as the ideal QuantSelf device, for me, I might do so.

(The title of this post refers to the song Body and Soul, and I perceive something of a broader shift in the mind/body dualism, even leading to post- and transhumanism. But this post is more about my own self.)

Quaint Quant

I can be quite skeptical of quantitative data. Not that quants aren’t adept at telling us very convincing things. But numbers tend to hide many issues, when used improperly. People who are well-versed in quantitative analysis can do fascinating things, leading to genuine insight. But many other people use numbers as a way to “prove” diverse things, sometimes remaining oblivious to methodological and epistemological issues with quantification.

Still, I have been accumulating fairly large amounts of quantitative data about my self. Especially about somatic dimensions of my self.

Started with this a while ago, but it’s really in January 2013 that my Quantified Self ways took prominence in my life.

Start Counting

It all started with the Wahoo Fitness fisica key and soft heartrate strap. Bought those years ago (April 2011), after thinking about it for months (December 2010).

Had tried different exercise/workout/fitness regimens over the years, but kept getting worried about possible negative effects. For instance, some of the exercises I’d try in a gym would quickly send my heart racing to the top of my healthy range. Though, in the past, I had been in a more decent shape than people might have surmised, I was in bad enough shape at that point that it was better for me to exercise caution while exercising.

At least, that’s the summary of what happened which might make sense to a number of people. Though I was severely overweight for most of my life, I had long periods of time during which I was able to run up long flights of stairs without getting out of breath. This has changed in the past several years, along with other health issues. The other health issues are much more draining and they may not be related to weight, but weight is the part on which people tend to focus, because it’s so visible. For instance, doctors who meet me for a few minutes, only once, will spend more time talking about weight than a legitimate health concern I have. It’s easy for me to lose weight, but I wanted to do it in the best possible way. Cavalier attitudes are discouraging.

Habits, Old and New

Something I like about my (in this case not-so-sorry) self is that I can effortlessly train myself into new habits. I’m exactly the opposite of someone who’d get hooked on almost anything. I never smoked or took drugs, so I’ve never had to kick one of those trickiest of habits. But I often stop drinking coffee or alcohol with no issue whatsoever. Case in point: I’m fairly well-known as a coffee geek yet I drank less than two full cups of coffee during the last two months.

Getting new habits is as easy for me as kicking new ones. Not that it’s perfect, of course. I occasionally forget to bring down the lid on the toilet seat. But if I put my mind to something, I can usually undertake it. Willpower, intrinsic motivation, and selfdiscipline are among my strengths.

My health is a significant part of this. What I started a year ago is an exercise and fitness habit that I’ve been able to maintain and might keep up for a while, if I decide to do so.

Part of it is a Pilates-infused yoga habit that I brought to my life last January and which became a daily routine in February or March. As is the case with other things in my life, I was able to add this routine to my life after getting encouragement from experts. In this case, yoga and Pilates instructors. Though it may be less impressive than other things I’ve done, this routine has clearly had a tremendous impact on my life.

Spoiler alert: I also took on a workout schedule with an exercise bike. Biked 2015 miles between January 16, 2013 and January 15, 2014.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So Close, Yet So Far

Flashback to March, 2011. Long before I really got into QuantSelf.

At the time, I had the motivation to get back into shape, but I had to find a way to do it safely. The fact that I didn’t have access to a family physician played a part in that.

So I got the Wahoo key, a dongle which allows an iOS device to connect to ANT+ equipment, such as heartrate straps (including the one I bought at the same time as the key). Which means that I was able to track my heartrate during exercise using my iPod touch and iPad (I later got an iPhone).

Used that setup on occasion. Including at the gym. Worked fairly well as a way to keep track of my workouts, but I had some difficulty fitting gym workouts in my schedule. Not only does it take a lot of time to go to a gym (even one connected to my office by a tunnel), but my other health issues made it very difficult to do any kind of exercise for several hours after any meal. In fact, those other health issues made most exercise very unpleasant. I understand the notion of pushing your limits, getting out of your comfort zone. I’m fine with some types of discomfort and I don’t feel the need to prove to anyone that I can push my limits. But the kind of discomfort I’m talking about was more discouraging than anything else. For one thing, I wasn’t feeling anything pleasant at any point during or after exercising.

So, although I had some equipment to keep track of my workouts, I wasn’t working out on that regular a basis.

I know, typical, right? But that’s before I really started in QuantSelf.

Baby Steps

In the meantime (November, 2011), I got a Jawbone UP wristband. First generation.

That device was my first real foray into “Quantified Self”, as it’s normally understood. It allowed me to track my steps and my sleep. Something about this felt good. Turns out that, under normal circumstances, my stepcount can be fairly decent, which is in itself encouraging. And connecting to this type of data had the effect of helping me notice some correlations between my activity and my energy levels. There have been times when I’ve felt like I hadn’t walked much and then noticed that I had been fairly active. And vice-versa. I wasn’t getting into such data that intensely, but I had started accumulating some data on my steps.

Gotta start somewhere.

Sleepwalking

My sleep was more interesting, as I was noticing some difficult nights. An encouraging thing, to me, is that it usually doesn’t take me much time to get to sleep (about 10 minutes, according to the UP). Neat stuff, but not earth-shattering.

Obviously, the UP stopped working. Got refunded, and all, but it was still “a bummer”. My experience with the first generation UP had given me a taste of QuantSelf, but the whole thing was inconclusive.

Feeling Pressure

Fastforward to late December, 2012 and early January, 2013. The holiday break was a very difficult time for me, physically. I was getting all sorts of issues, compounding one another. One of them was a series of intense headaches. I had been getting those on occasion since Summer, 2011. By late 2012, my headaches were becoming more frequent and longer-lasting. On occasion, physicians at walk-in clinics had told me that my headaches probably had to do with blood pressure and they had encouraged me to take my pressure at the pharmacy, once in a while. While my pressure had been normal-to-optimal (110/80) for a large part of my life, it was becoming clear that my blood pressure had increased and was occasionally getting into more dangerous territory. So I eventually decided to buy a bloodpressure monitor.

Which became my first selfquantification method. Since my bloodpressure monitor is a basic no-frills model, it doesn’t sync to anything or send data anywhere. But I started manually tracking my bloodpressure by taking pictures and putting the data in a spreadsheet. Because the monitor often gives me different readings (especially depending on which arm I got them from), I would input lowest and highest readings from each arm in my spreadsheet.

Tensio

My first bloodpressure reading, that first evening (January 3, 2013), was enough of a concern that a nurse at Quebec’s phone health consultation service recommended that I consult with a physician at yet another walk-in clinic. (Can you tell not having a family physician was an issue? I eventually got one, but that’s another post.) Not that it was an emergency, but it was a good idea to take this seriously.

So, on January 4, 2013, I went to meet Dr. Anthony Rizzuto, a general practitioner at a walk-in clinic in my neighbourhood.

Getting Attention

At the clinic, I was diagnosed with hypertension (high bloodpressure). Though that health issue was less troublesome to me than the rest, it got me the attention of that physician who gave me exactly the right kind of support. Thanks to that doctor, a bit of medication, and all sorts of efforts on my part, that issue was soon under control and I’m clearly out of the woods on this one. I’ve documented the whole thing in my previous blogpost. Summary version of that post (it’s in French, after all): more than extrinsic motivation, the right kind of encouragement can make all the difference in the world. (In all honesty, I already had all the intrinsic motivation I needed. No worries there!)

Really, that bloodpressure issue wasn’t that big of a deal. Sure, it got me a bit worried, especially about risks of getting a stroke. But I had been more worried and discouraged by other health issues, so that bloodpressure issue wasn’t the main thing. The fact that hypertension got me medical attention is the best part, though. Some things I was unable to do on my own. I needed encouragement, of course, but I also needed professional advice. More specifically, I felt that I needed a green light. A license to exercise.

Y’know how, in the US especially, “they” keep saying that you should “consult a physician” before doing strenuous exercise? Y’know, the fine print on exercise programs, fitness tools, and the like? Though I don’t live in the US anymore and we don’t have the same litigation culture here, I took that admonition to heart. So I was hesitant to take on a full fitness/training/exercise routine before I could consult with a physician. I didn’t have a family doctor, so it was difficult.

But, a year ago, I got the medical attention I needed. Since we’re not in the US, questions about the possibility to undertake exercise are met with some surprise. Still, I was able to get “approval” on doing more exercise. In fact, exercise was part of a solution to the hypertension issue which had brought this (minimal level of) medical attention to my case.

So I got exactly what I needed. A nod from a licensed medical practitioner. “Go ahead.”

Weight, Weight! Don’t Tell Me![1]

Something I got soon after visiting the clinic was a scale. More specifically, I got a Conair WW54C Weight Watchers Body Analysis Digital Precision Scale. I would weigh myself everyday (more than once a day, in fact) and write down the measures for total weight, body water percentage, and body fat percentage. As with the bloodpressure monitor, I was doing this by hand, since my scale wasn’t connected in any way to another device or to a network.

Weighing My Options

I eventually bought a second scale, a Starfrit iFit. That one is even more basic than the Weight Watchers scale, as it doesn’t do any “body analysis” beyond weight. But having two scales makes me much more confident about the readings I get. For reasons I don’t fully understand, I keep getting significant discrepancies in my readings. On a given scale, I would weigh myself three times and keep the average. The delta between the highest and lowest readings on that same scale would often be 200g or half a pound. The delta between the two scales can be as much as 500g or over one pound. Unfortunately, these discrepancies aren’t regular: it’s not that one scale is offset from the other by a certain amount. One day, the Weight Watchers has the highest readings and the Starfrit has the highest readings. I try to position myself the same way on each scale every time and I think both of them are on as flat a surface as I can get. But I keep getting different readings. I was writing down averages from both scales in my spreadsheet. As I often weighed myself more than once a day and would get a total of six readings every time, that was a significant amount of time spent on getting the most basic of data.

Food for Thought

At the same time, I started tracking my calories intake. I had done so in the past, including with the USDA National Nutrient Database on PalmOS devices (along with the Eat Watch app from the Hacker’s Diet). Things have improved quite a bit since that time. Not that tracking calories has become effortless, far from it. It’s still a chore, an ordeal, a pain in the neck, and possibly a relatively bad idea. Still, it’s now easier to input food items in a database which provides extensive nutritional data on most items. Because these databases are partly crowdsourced, it’s possible to add values for items which are specific to Canada, for instance. It’s also become easier to get nutritional values for diverse items online, including meals at restaurant chains. Though I don’t tend to eat at chain restaurants, tracking my calories encouraged me to do so, however insidiously.

But I digress.

Nutritional data also became part of my QuantSelf spreadsheet. Along with data from my bloodpressure monitor and body composition scale, I would copy nutritional values (protein, fat, sodium, carbohydrates…) from a database. At one point, I even started calculating my estimated and actual weightloss in that spreadsheet. Before doing so, I needed to know my calories expenditure.

Zipping

One of the first things I got besides the bloodpressure monitor and scale(s) was a fitbit Zip. Two months earlier (November, 2012), I had bought a fitbit One. But I lost it. The Zip was less expensive and, though it lacks some of the One’s features (tracking elevation, for instance), it was good enough for my needs at the time.

In fact, I prefer the Zip over the One, mostly because it uses a coin battery, so it doesn’t need to be recharged. I’ve been carrying it for a year and my fitbit profile has some useful data about my activity. Sure, it’s just a “glorified pedometer”. But the glorification is welcomed, as regular synchronization over Bluetooth is very useful a feature. My Zip isn’t a big deal, for me. It’s as much of a part of my life as my glasses, though I wear it more often (including during my sleep, though it doesn’t track sleep data).

Stepping UP

I also bought a new Jawbone UP. Yep, despite issues I had with the first generation one. Unfortunately, the UP isn’t really that much more reliable now than it was at the time. But they keep replacing it. A couple or weeks ago, my UP stopped working and I got a replacement. I think it’s the fifth one.

Despite its unreliability, I really like the UP for its sleeptracking and “gentle waking” features. If it hadn’t been for the UP, I probably wouldn’t have realized the importance of sleep as deeply as I have. In other words, the encouragement to sleep more is something I didn’t realize I needed. Plus, it’s really neat to wake up to a gentle buzz, at an appropriate point in my sleep cycle. I probably wouldn’t have gotten the UP just for this, but it’s something I miss every time my UP stops working. And there’s been several of those times.

My favourite among UP’s features is one they added, through firmware, after a while (though it might have been in the current UP from the start). It’s the ability to take “smart naps”. Meaning that I can set an alarm to wake me up after a certain time or after I’ve slept a certain amount of time. The way I set it up, I can take a 20 minute nap and I’ll be awaken by the UP after a maximum of 35 minutes. Without this alarm, I’d oversleep and likely feel more messed up after the nap than before. The alarm is also reassuring in that it makes the nap fit neatly my schedule. I don’t nap everyday, but naps are one of these underrated things I feel could be discussed more. Especially when it comes to heavy work sessions such as writing reports or grading papers. My life might shift radically in the near future and it’s quite possible that naps will be erased from my workweek indefinitely. But chances are that my workweek will also become much more manageable once I stop freelancing.

The UP also notifies me when I’ve been inactive for a certain duration (say, 45 minutes). It only does so a few times a month, on average, because I don’t tend to be that inactive. Exceptions are during long stretches of writing, so it’s a useful reminder to take a break. In fact, the UP just buzzed while I was writing this post so I should go and do my routine.

(It’s fun to write on my iPad while working out. Although, I tend to remain in the aerobic/endurance or even in the fitness/fatburning zone. I should still reach mile 2100 during this workout.)

Contrary to the fitbit Zip, the UP does require a charge on a regular basis. In fact, it seems that the battery is a large part of the reliability issue. So, after a while, I got into the habit of plugging my UP to the wall during my daily yoga/Pilates routine. My routine usually takes over half an hour and the UP is usually charged after 20 minutes.

Back UP

It may seem strange to have two activity trackers with complete feature overlap (there’s nothing the fitbit Zip does that the Jawbone UP doesn’t do). I probably wouldn’t have planned it this way, had I been able to get a Jawbone UP right at first. If I were to do it now, I might get a different device from either fitbit or Jawbone (the Nike+ FuelBand is offputting, to me).

I do find it useful to have two activity trackers. For one thing, the UP is unreliable enough that the Zip is useful as a backup. The Zip also stopped working once, so there’s been six periods of time during the past year during which I only had one fitness tracker. Having two trackers means that there’s no hiatus in my tracking, which has a significant impact in the routine aspect of selfquantification. Chances are slim that I would have completely given up on QuantSelf during such a hiatus. But I would probably have been less encouraged by selfquantification had I been forced to depend on one device.

Having two devices also helps me get a more accurate picture of my activities. Though the Zip and UP allegedly track the same steps, there’s usually some discrepancy between the two, as is fairly common among activity trackers. For some reasons, the discrepancy has actually decreased after a few months (and after I adapted my UP usage to my workout). But it’s useful to have two sources of data points.

Especially when I do an actual workout.

Been Working Out, Haven’t You?

In January, last year, I also bought an exercise bike, for use in my apartment. I know, sounds like a cliché, right? Getting an exercise bike after New Year? Well, it wasn’t a New Year’s resolution but, had it been one, I could be proud to say I kept it (my hypothetical resolution; I know, weird structure; you get what I mean, right?).

Right away, I started doing bike workouts on a very regular basis. From three to five times a week, during most weeks. Contrary to going to a gym, exercising at home is easy to fit in my freelancing schedule. I almost always work out before breakfast, so there’s no digestion issue involved. Since I’m by myself, it means I feel no pressure or judgment from others, a very significant factor in my case. Though I’m an extrovert’s extrovert (86 percentile), gyms are really offputting, to me. Because of my bodyshape, age, and overall appearance, I really feel like I don’t “fit”. It does depend on the gym, and I had a fairly good time at UMoncton’s Ceps back in 2003. But ConU’s gym wasn’t a place where I enjoyed working out.

My home workouts have become a fun part of my week. Not that the effort level is low, but I often do different things while working out, including listen to podcasts and music, reading, and even writing. As many people know, music can be very encouraging during a workout. So can a podcast, as it takes your attention elsewhere and you might accomplish more than you thought, during a podcast. Same thing with reading and writing, and I wrote part of this post while working out.

Sure, I could do most of this in a gym. The convenience factor at home is just too high, though. I can have as many things as I want by my sides, on a table and on a chair, so I just have to reach out when I need any of them. Apart from headphones, a music playing device, and a towel (all things I’d have at a gym) I typically have the following items with me when I do a home workout:

  • Travel mug full of tea
  • Stainless steel water bottle full of herbal tea (proper tea is theft)
  • Britta bottle full of water (I do drink a lot of fluid while working out)
  • three mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, Nexus 7)
  • Small weights,
  • Reading glasses
  • Squeeze balls

Wouldn’t be so easy to bring all of that to a gym. Not to mention that I can wear whatever I want, listen to whatever I want, and make whatever noise I want (I occasionally yell beats to music, as it’s fun and encouraging). I know some athletic people prefer gym workouts over home ones. I’m not athletic. And I know what I prefer.

On Track

Since this post is nominally about QuantSelf, how do I track my workouts, you ask? Well, it turns out that my Zip and UP do help me track them out, though in different ways. To get the UP to track my bike workouts, I have to put it around one of my pedals, a trick which took me a while to figure out.

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The Zip tracks my workouts from its usual position but it often counts way fewer “steps” than the UP does. So that’s one level of tracking. My workouts are part of my stepcounts for the days during which I do them.

Putting My Heart into IT

More importantly, though, my bike workouts have made my heartrate strap very useful. By pairing the strap with Digifit’s iBiker app, I get continuous heartrate monitoring, with full heartrate chart, notifications about “zones” (such as “fat burning”, “aerobic”, and “anaerobic”), and a recovery mode which lets me know how quickly my heartrate decreases after the workout. (I could also control the music app, but I tend to listen to Rdio instead.) The main reason I chose iBiker is that it works natively on the iPad. Early on, I decided I’d use my iPad to track my workouts because the battery lasts longer than on an iPhone or iPod touch, and the large display accommodates more information. The charts iBiker produces are quite neat and all the data can be synced to Digifit’s cloud service, which also syncs with my account on the fitbit cloud service (notice how everything has a cloud service?).

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Heartrate monitoring is close to essential, for workouts. Sure, it’d be possible to do exercise without it. But the difference it makes is more significant than one might imagine. It’s one of those things that one may only grok after trying it. Since I’m able to monitor my heartrate in realtime, I’m able to pace myself, to manage my exertion. By looking at the chart in realtime, I can tell how long I’ve spent at which intensity level and can decide to remain in a “zone” for as long as I want. Continuous feedback means that I can experiment with adjustment to the workout’s effort level, by pedaling faster or increasing tension. It’s also encouraging to notice that I need increasing intensity levels to reach higher heartrates, since my physical condition has been improving tremendously over the past year. I really value any encouragement I can get.

Now, I know it’s possible to get continuous heartrate monitoring on gym equipment. But I’ve noticed in the past that this monitoring wasn’t that reliable as I would often lose the heartrate signal, probably because of perspiration. On equipment I’ve tried, it wasn’t possible to see a graphical representation of my heartrate through the whole workout so, although I knew my current heartrate, I couldn’t really tell how long I was maintaining it. Not to mention that it wasn’t possible to sync that data to anything. Even though some of that equipment can allegedly be used with a special key to transfer data to a computer, that key wasn’t available.

It’d also be possible to do continuous heartrate monitoring with a “fitness watch”. A big issue with most of these is that data cannot be transferred to another device. Several of the new “wearable devices” do add this functionality. But these devices are quite expensive and, as far as I can see in most in-depth reviews, not necessarily that reliable. Besides, their displays are so small that it’d be impossible to get as complete a heartrate chart as the one I get on iBiker. I got pretty excited about the Neptune Pine, though, and I feel sad I had to cancel my pledge at the very last minute (for financial reasons). Sounds like it can become a rather neat device.

As should be obvious, by now, the bike I got (Marcy Recumbent Mag Cycle ME–709 from Impex) is a no-frills one. It was among the least expensive exercise bikes I’ve seen but it was also one with high ratings on Amazon. It’s as basic as you can get and I’ve been looking into upgrading. But other exercise bikes aren’t that significantly improved over this one. I don’t currently have enough money to buy a highend bike, but money isn’t the only issue. What I’d really like to get is exercise equipment which can be paired with another device, especially a tablet. Have yet to see an exercise bike, rower, treadmill, or elliptical which does. At any price. Sure, I could eventually find ways to hack things together to get more communication between my devices, but that’d be a lot of work for little results. For instance, it might be possible to find a cadence sensor which works on an exercise bike (or tweak one to make it work), thereby giving some indication of pace/speed and distance. However, I doubt that there’s exercise equipment which would allow a tablet to control tension/strength/difficulty. It’d be so neat if it were available. Obviously, it’s far from a requirement. But none of the QuantSelf stuff is required to have a good time while exercising.

Off the Bike

I use iBiker and my heartrate monitor during other activities besides bike workouts. Despite its name, iBiker supports several activity types (including walking and hiking) and has a category for “Other” activities. I occasionally use iBiker on my iPhone when I go on a walk for fitness reasons. Brisk walks do seem to help me in my fitness regime, but I tend to focus on bike workouts instead. I already walk a fair bit and much of that walking is relatively intense, so I feel less of a need to do it as an exercise, these days. And I rarely have my heartrate strap with me when I decide to take a walk. At some point, I had bought a Garmin footpod and kept installing it on shoes I was wearing. I did use it on occasion, including during a trip to Europe (June–July, 2012). It tends to require a bit of time to successfully pair with a mobile app, but it works as advertised. Yet, I haven’t really been quantifying my walks in the same way, so it hasn’t been as useful as I had wished.

More frequently, I use iBiker and my heartrate strap during my yoga/Pilates routine. “Do you really get your heart running fast enough to make it worthwhile”, you ask? No, but that’s kind of the point. Apart from a few peaks, my heartrate charts during such a routine tends to remain in Zone 0, or “Warmup/Cooldown”. The peaks are interesting because they correspond to a few moves and poses which do feel a bit harder (such as pushups or even the plank pose). That, to me, is valuable information and I kind of wish I could see which moves and poses I’ve done for how long using some QuantSelf tool. I even thought about filming myself, but I would then need to label each pose or move by hand, something I’d be very unlikely to do more than once or twice. It sounds like the Atlas might be used in such a way, as it’s supposed to recognize different activities, including custom ones. Not only is it not available, yet, but it’s so targeted at the high performance fitness training niche that I don’t think it could work for me.

One thing I’ve noticed from my iBiker-tracked routine is that my resting heartrate has gone down very significantly. As with my recovery and the amount of effort necessary to increase my heartrate, I interpret this as a positive sign. With other indicators, I could get a fuller picture of my routine’s effectiveness. I mean, I feel its tremendous effectiveness in diverse ways, including sensations I’d have a hard time explaining (such as an “opening of the lungs” and a capacity to kill discomfort in three breaths). The increase in my flexibility is something I could almost measure. But I don’t really have tools to fully quantify my yoga routine. That might be a good thing.

Another situation in which I’ve worn my heartrate strap is… while sleeping. Again, the idea here is clearly not to measure how many calories I burn or to monitor how “strenuous” sleeping can be as an exercise. But it’s interesting to pair the sleep data from my UP with some data from my heart during sleep. Even there, the decrease in my heartrate is quite significant, which signals to me a large improvement in the quality of my sleep. Last summer (July, 2013), I tracked a night during which my average heartrate was actually within Zone 1. More recently (November, 2013), my sleeping heartrate was below my resting heartrate, as it should be.

Using the Wahoo key on those occasions can be quite inconvenient. When I was using it to track my brisk walks, I would frequently lose signal, as the dongle was disconnecting from my iPad or iPhone. For some reason, I would also lose signal while sleeping (though the dongle would remain unmoved).

So I eventually bought a Blue HR, from Wahoo, to replace the key+strap combination. Instead of ANT+, the Blue HR uses Bluetooth LE to connect directly with a phone or tablet, without any need for a dongle. I bought it in part because of the frequent disconnections with the Wahoo key. I rarely had those problems during bike exercises, but I thought having a more reliable signal might encourage me to track my activities. I also thought I might be able to pair the Blue HR with a version of iBiker running on my Nexus 7 (first generation). It doesn’t seem to work and I think the Nexus 7 doesn’t support Bluetooth LE. I was also able to hand down my ANT+ setup (Wahoo key, heartrate strap, and footpod) to someone who might find it useful as a way to track walks. We’ll see how that goes.

‘Figures!

Going back to my QuantSelf spreadsheet. iBiker, Zip, and UP all output counts of burnt calories. Since Digifit iBiker syncs with my fitbit account, I’ve been using the fitbit number.

Inputting that number in the spreadsheet meant that I was able to measure how many extra calories I had burnt as compared to calories I had ingested. That number then allowed me to evaluate how much weight I had lost on a given day. For a while, my average was around 135g, but I had stretches of quicker weightloss (to the point that I was almost scolded by a doctor after losing too much weight in too little time). Something which struck me is that, despite the imprecision of so many things in that spreadsheet, the evaluated weightloss and actual loss of weight were remarkably similar. Not that there was perfect synchronization between the two, as it takes a bit of time to see the results of burning more calories. But I was able to predict my weight with surprising accuracy, and pinpoint patterns in some of the discrepancies. There was a kind of cycle by which the actual number would trail the predicted one, for a few days. My guess is that it had to do with something like water retention and I tried adjusting from the lowest figure (when I seem to be the least hydrated) and the highest one (when I seem to retain the most water in my body).

Obsessed, Much?

ObsessiveSpreadsheet

As is clear to almost anyone, this was getting rather obsessive. Which is the reason I’ve used the past tense with many of these statements. I basically don’t use my QuantSelf spreadsheet, anymore. One reason is that (in March, 2013) I was advised by a healthcare professional (a nutrition specialist) to stop counting my calories intake and focus on eating until I’m satiated while ramping up my exercise, a bit (in intensity, while decreasing frequency). It was probably good advice, but it did have a somewhat discouraging effect. I agree that the whole process had become excessive and that it wasn’t really sustainable. But what replaced it was, for a while, not that useful. It’s only in November, 2013 that a nutritionist/dietician was able to give me useful advice to complement what I had been given. My current approach is much better than any other approach I’ve used, in large part because it allows me to control some of my digestive issues.

So stopping the calories-focused monitoring was a great idea. I eventually stopped updating most columns in my spreadsheet.

What I kept writing down was the set of readings from my two “dumb” scales.

Scaling Up

Abandoning my spreadsheet didn’t imply that I had stopped selfquantifying.

In fact, I stepped up my QuantSelf a bit, about a month ago (December, 2013) by getting a Withings WS–50 Smart Body Analyzer. That WiFi-enabled scale is practically the prototype of QuantSelf and Internet of Things devices. More than I had imagined, it’s “just the thing I needed” in my selfquantified life.

The main advantage it has over my Weight Watchers scale is that it syncs data with my Withings cloud service account. That’s significant because the automated data collection saves me from my obsessive spreadsheet while letting me learn about my weightloss progression. Bingo!

Sure, I could do the same thing by hand, adding my scale readings to any of my other accounts. Not only would it be a chore to do so, but it’d encourage me to dig too deep in those figures. I learnt a lot during my obsessive phase, but I don’t need to go back to that mode. There are many approaches in between that excessive data collection and letting Withings do the work. I don’t even need to explore those intermediary approaches.

There are other things to like about the Withings scale. One is Position Control™, which does seem to increase the accuracy of the measurements. Its weight-tracking graphs (app and Web) are quite reassuring, as they show clear trends, between disparate datapoints. WithingsWeightKg WithingsLeanMassPercent

This Withings scale also measures heartrate, something I find less useful given my usage of a continuous heartrate monitor. Finally, it has sensors for air temperature and CO2 levels, which are features I’d expect in a (pre-Google) Nest product.

Though it does measure body fat percentage, the Withings Smart Body Analyzer doesn’t measure water percentage or bone mass, contrary to my low-end Weight Watchers body composition scale. Funnily enough, it’s around the time I got the Withings that I finally started gaining enough muscle mass to be able to notice the shift on the Weight Watchers. Prior to that, including during my excessive phase, my body fat and body water percentages added up to a very stable number. I would occasionally notice fluctuations of ~0.1%, but no downward trend. I did notice trends in my overall condition when the body water percentage was a bit higher, but it never went very high. Since late November or early December, those percentages started changing for the first time. My body fat percentage decreased by almost 2%, my body water percentage increased by more than 1%, and the total of the two decreased by 0.6%. Since these percentages are now stable and I have other indicators going in the same direction, I think this improvement in fat vs. water is real and my muscle mass did start to increase a bit (contrary to what a friend said can happen with people our age). It may not sound like much but I’ll take whatever encouragement I get, especially in such a short amount of time.

The Ideal QuantSelf Device

On his The Talk Show podcast, Gruber has been dismissing the craze in QuantSelf and fitness devices, qualifying them as a solved problem. I know what he means, but I gather his experience differs from mine.

I feel we’re in the “Rio Volt era” of the QuantSelf story.

The Rio Volt was one of the first CD players which could read MP3 files. I got one, at the time, and it was a significant piece of my music listening experience. I started ripping many of my CDs and creating fairly large compilations that I could bring with me as I traveled. I had a carrying case for the Volt and about 12 CDs, which means that I could carry about 8GB of music (or about 140 hours at the 128kbps bitrate which was so common at the time). Quite a bit less than my whole CD collection (about 150GB), but a whole lot more than what I was used to. As I was traveling and moving frequently, at the time, the Volt helped me get into rather… excessive music listening habits. Maybe not excessive compared to a contemporary teenager in terms of time, but music listening had become quite important to me, at a time when I wasn’t playing music as frequently as before.

There have been many other music players before, during, and after the Rio Volt. The one which really changed things was probably… the Microsoft Zune? Nah, just kidding. The iRiver players were much cooler (I had an iRiver H–120 which I used as a really neat fieldrecording device). Some people might argue that things really took a turn when Apple released the iPod. Dunno about that, I’m no Apple fanboi.

Regardless of which MP3-playing device was most prominent, it’s probably clear to most people that music players have changed a lot since the days of the Creative Nomad and the Rio Volt. Some of these changes could possibly have been predicted, at the time. But I’m convinced that very few people understood the implications of those changes.

Current QuantSelf devices don’t appear very crude. And they’re certainly quite diverse. CES2014 was the site of a number of announcements, demos, and releases having to do with QuantSelf, fitness, Internet of Things, and wearable devices (unsurprisingly, DC Rainmaker has a useful two-part roundup). But despite my interest in some of these devices, I really don’t think we’ve reached the real breakthrough with those devices.

In terms of fitness/wellness/health devices, specifically, I sometimes daydream about features or featuresets. For instance, I really wish a given device would combine the key features of some existing devices, as in the case of body water measurements and the Withings Smart Body Analyzer. A “killer feature”, for me, would be strapless continuous 24/7 heartrate monitoring which could be standalone (keeping the data without transmitting it) yet able to sync data with other devices for display and analysis, and which would work at rest as well as during workouts, underwater as well as in dry contexts.

Some devices (including the Basis B1 and Mio Alpha) seem to come close to this, but they all have little flaws, imperfections, tradeoffs. At an engineering level, it should be an interesting problem so I fully expect that we’ll at least see an incremental evolution from the current state of the market. Some devices measure body temperature and perspiration. These can be useful indicators of activity level and might help one gain insight about other aspects of the physical self. I happen to perspire profusely, so I’d be interested in that kind of data. As is often the case, unexpected usage of such tools could prove very innovative.

How about a device which does some blood analysis, making it easier to gain data on nutrients or cholesterol levels? I often think about the risks of selfdiagnosis and selfmedication. Those issues, related to QuantSelf, will probably come in a future post.

I also daydream about something deeper, though more imprecise. More than a featureset or a “killer feature”, I’m thinking about the potential for QuantSelf as a whole. Yes, I also think about many tricky issues around selfquantification. But I perceive something interesting going on with some of these devices. Some affordances of Quantified Self technology. Including the connections this technology can have with other technologies and domains, including tablets and smartphones, patient-focused medicine, Internet of Things, prosumption, “wearable hubs”, crowdsourced research, 3D printing, postindustrialization, and technological appropriation. These are my issues, in the sense that they’re things about which I care and think. I don’t necessarily mean issues as problems or worries, but things which either give me pause or get me to discuss with others.

Much of this will come in later posts, I guess. Including a series of issues I have with self-quantification, expanded from some of the things I’ve alluded to, here.

Walkthrough

These lines are separated from many of the preceding ones (I don’t write linearly) by a relatively brisk walk from a café to my place. Even without any QuantSelf device, I have quite a bit of data about this walk. For instance, I know it took me 40 minutes because I checked the time before and after. According to Google Maps, it’s between 4,1km and 4,2km from that café to my place, depending on which path one might take (I took an alternative route, but it’s probably close to the Google Maps directions, in terms of distance). It’s also supposed to be a 50 minute walk, so I feel fairly good about my pace (encouraging!). I also know it’s –20°C, outside (–28°C with windchill, according to one source). I could probably get some data about elevation, which might be interesting (I’d say about half of that walk was going up).

With two of my QuantSelf devices (UP and Zip), I get even more data. For instance, I can tell how many steps I took (it looks like it’s close to 5k, but I could get a more precise figure). I also realize the intensity of this activity, as both devices show that I started at a moderate pace followed by an intense pace for most of the duration. These devices also include this walk in measuring calories burnt (2.1Mcal according to UP, 2.7Mcal according to Zip), distance walked (11.2km according to Zip, 12.3km according to UP), active minutes (117’ Zip, 149’ UP), and stepcount (16.4k UP, 15.7k Zip). Not too shabby, considering that it’s still early evening as I write these lines.

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Since I didn’t have my heartrate monitor on me and didn’t specifically track this activity, there’s a fair bit of data I don’t have. For instance, I don’t know which part was most strenuous. And I don’t know how quickly I recovered. If I don’t note it down, it’s difficult to compare this activity to other activities. I might remember more or less which streets I took, but I’d need to map it myself. These are all things I could have gotten from a fitness app coupled with my heartrate monitor.

As is the case with cameras, the best QuantSelf device is the one you have with you.

I’m glad I have data about this walk. Chances are I would have taken public transit had it not been for my QuantSelf devices. There weren’t that many people walking across the Mont-Royal park, by this weather.

Would I get fitter more efficiently if I had the ideal tool for selfquantification? I doubt it.

Besides, I’m not in that much of a hurry.


  1. Don’t like my puns? Well, it’s my blogpost and I’ll cry if I want to.  ↩
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Santé encourageante

Il y a un an, jour pour jour, aujourd’hui, j’étais dans un piteux état, physiquement. Aujourd’hui, je suis dans la meilleure forme physique que j’ai été depuis au moins dix ans. Une chance que j’ai eu un peu d’encouragement.

J’hésite à écrire ce billet. Bloguer à propos de ma santé a pas toujours des effets très positifs. Mais je crois que c’est important, pour moi, de décrire tout ça. Pour moi-même, d’abord, parce que j’aime bien les anniversaires. Mais pour les autres, aussi, si ça peut les encourager. J’espère simplement que ça peut m’aider à parler moins de santé et de me concentrer sur autres choses. Avec une énergie renouvelée, je suis prêt à passer à d’autres étapes. Peu importe ce qui arrive, 2014 risque d’être une année très différente de 2013.

Depuis plusieurs années, ma condition physique  a été une source de beaucoup de soucis et, surtout, de découragement. Il y a près de vingt ans, j’ai commencé à souffrir de divers problèmes de santé. Jusqu’à maintenant, j’ai aucune idée de ce qui s’est vraiment passé. Ma période la plus sombre a débuté par un ulcère d’estomac qui fut suivi de reflux gastro-œsophagien. Par la suite, j’ai subi des problèmes chroniques sur lesquels je n’élaborerai plus (l’ayant fait plus tôt),  que j’ai trouvé particulièrement handicapants. Je commence à peine à me sortir de tout ça. Et ça dure depuis mon deuxième séjour au Mali, en 2002.

À plusieurs reprises au cours de ces années, j’ai pris la décision de prendre ma santé en main. Pas si facile. J’avais toute la motivation du monde mais, au final, assez peu de support.

Oh, pas que les gens aient été de mauvaise volonté. Mes amis et mes proches ont fait tout ce qui leur était possible, pour m’aider. Mais c’est pas facile, pour plusieurs raisons. Une d’entre elles est que je suis «difficile à aider», en ce sens que j’accepte rarement de l’aide. Mais le problème le plus épineux c’est que l’aide dont j’avais besoin était bien spécifique. Beaucoup de choses que les gens font, de façon tout-à-fait anodine, ont surtout un impact négatif sur moi. Pas de leur faute, mais une petite phrase lancée comme si de rien n’était peut me décourager assez profondément. Sans compter que ces gens ne sont pas spécialistes de mes problèmes et que j’avais besoin de spécialistes. Au moins, un médecin généraliste ou autre professionnel de la santé (agréé par notre système médical) qui puisse me comprendre et me prendre au sérieux. Ma condition avait pu s’améliorer grâce à diverses personnes mais ces personnes n’ont que peu de possibilité d’agir, dans notre système de santé. Mon médecin de famille ayant arrêté de pratiquer, il me manquait une personne habilitée à m’aider en prenant mon cas en main.

C’est beaucoup ce qui s’est passé, en 2013, pour moi. C’est en ayant accès à quelques spécialistes que j’ai pu améliorer ma santé. Et tout ça a commencé le 3 janvier, 2013.

Je revenais de passer quelque-chose chez mon frère, à Aylmer. Ces quelques jours ont été très pénibles, pour moi. Je souffrais d’énormes maux de têtes, qui avaient commencé à se multiplier au cours des mois précédents et mes problèmes d’œsophage étaient tels que je n’en arrivais plus à dormir. Mes autres problèmes me décourageaient encore plus. Vraiment, «rien n’allait plus».

Pourtant, j’avais déjà fait beaucoup d’efforts pour me sentir mieux, pendant des années.  Des efforts qui ne portaient fruit que sporadiquement et qui ne se remarquaient pas vraiment de l’extérieur. Une recette pour le découragement. Ma santé semblait sans issue. Dans de telles situations, «les gens» ont l’habitude de parler de résignation, de pointer vers leurs propres bobos, de minimiser la souffrance de l’autre… Normales, comme réactions. Mais pas très utiles dans mon cas.

Les choses ont commencé à changer dans la soirée du 3 janvier. Sachant que mes maux de tête pouvaient avoir un lien à l’hypertension, me suis acheté un tensiomètre à la pharmacie.

Tensio

À 20:53, le 3 janvier 2013, j’ai fait une lecture de ma tension artérielle.

Systolique: 170
Diastolique: 110

Pas rassurant. Ni encourageant.

J’ai appelé la ligne Info-Santé, un service téléphonique inestimable mais sous-estimé qui est disponible au 811 partout au Québec. L’infirmière qui m’a répondu m’a encouragé, comme elles le font souvent, de consulter un médecin. Elle m’a aussi donné plusieurs conseils et donné de l’information au sujet des moments où ce serait réellement urgent de consulter dans les plus brefs délais. Pour certains, ça peut paraître peu. Mais, pour moi, ç’a été la première forme de support dont j’ai bénéficié pendant l’année. Le premier encouragement. Enfin, ma condition était suffisamment sérieuse pour que je sois pris au sérieux. Et de l’aide est disponible dans un tel cas.

C’est donc le lendemain, 4 janvier 2013, que je suis allé consulter. C’est un peu à ce moment que «ma chance a basculé». L’infirmière d’Info-Santé m’avait donné le numéro d’une clinique sans rendez-vous assez près de chez moi. Cette clinique offre un service d’inscription par téléphone, qui fait office de rendez-vous sans en être un. En appelant ce numéro tôt le matin, j’étais en mesure de me réserver une place pour voir un médecin dans une certaine plage horaire. J’ai donc pu consulter avec le Dr Anthony Rizzuto, en ce beau jour du 4 janvier 2013.

Le Dr Rizzuto avait l’attitude idéale pour me traiter. Sans montrer d’inquiétude, il a pris mon cas au sérieux. En m’auscultant et en me posant quelques questions, il a rapidement compris une grande partie de la situation et a demandé que je puisse passer un ECG à la clinique. Avec ces résultats et les autres données de mon dossier, il m’a offert deux options. Une était de traiter mon hypertension par l’alimentation. Perdre 10% de mon poids et de faire de l’exercice physique mais, surtout, éliminer tout sodium. L’autre option était de prendre un médicament, tout d’abord à très petite dose pour augmenter par la suite. Dans un cas comme dans l’autre, je pouvais maintenant être suivi. Les deux options étaient présentées sans jugement. Compte tenu de mes problèmes digestifs, la première me semblait particulièrement difficile, ce sur quoi le Dr Rizzuto a démontré la juste note d’empathie (contrairement à beaucoup de médecins et même un prof de psycho qui font de la perte de poids une question de «volonté»). Même si je suis pas friand des médicaments, j’ai opté pour la seconde option, tout en me disant que j’allais essayer la première. En deux-trois phrases, le Dr Rizzuto m’a donné plus d’encouragement que bien des gens.

J’ai pris mon premier comprimé de Ramipril en mangeant mon premier repas de la journée. Je réfléchissais à mon alimentation, à la possibilité d’éliminer le sodium et de réduire mon apport calorique, tout en faisant de l’exercice physique. Ayant essayé, à plusieurs reprises, de trouver une forme d’exercice qui me conviendrait et étant passé par des diètes très strictes, l’encouragement du Dr Rizzuto était indispensable.

Même si les gens confondent souvent les deux concepts, je considère l’encouragement comme étant bien plus important et bien plus efficace que la motivation. Faut dire que je suis de ceux qui sont mus par une très forte motivation intrinsèque. C’est d’ailleurs quelque-chose que je comprends de mieux en mieux, au fil des années. Malgré les apparences, je dispose d’une «volonté» (“willpower”) très forte. C’est un peu pour ça que je n’ai jamais été accro à quoi que ce soit (pas même le café) et c’est comme ça que j’arrive avec une certaine facilité à changer des choses, dans ma vie. Mais ma motivation nécessite quelque-chose d’autres. Du «répondant». De l’inspiration, dans des contextes de créativité. De l’encouragement, quand je suis désespéré.

Ma motivation intrinsèque d’atteindre un meilleur niveau de santé avait atteint son paroxysme des mois plus tôt et se maintient depuis tout ce temps. J’avais besoin de me sentir mieux. Même si je ne me souviens pas d’avoir manqué une seule journée de travail pendant ma vie adulte, mon niveau d’énergie avait considérablement baissé. Plus directement, les maux de tête que je subissais de plus en plus fréquemment me faisaient peur. J’ai dit, depuis, que c’est la peur de faire un AVC qui m’a poussé. C’est pas tout-à-fait exact. J’étais poussé par ma motivation intrinsèque, de toutes façons. L’éventualité de faire un AVC avait plutôt tendance à m’empêcher d’agir. Ce qui est vrai, c’est que c’est plus à l’AVC qu’à l’infarctus que je pensais, à cet époque. Certains peuvent trouver ça étrange, puisqu’un infarctus est probablement plus grave, surtout à mon âge. Mais la peur est pas nécessairement un phénomène rationnel et mes maux de tête me faisaient craindre un accident qui pourrait rendre ma vie misérable. D’où une «motivation» liée à l’AVC. J’ai pas vraiment l’habitude d’avoir peur. Mais cette éventualité me hantait bien plus que la notion d’avoir un autre trouble de santé, y compris le cancer. (Je connais plusieurs personnes qui ont eu le cancer et, même si certaines en sont décédées, je me sens mieux équipé pour affronter cette maladie que de survivre à un AVC.)

Donc, j’en suis là, mangeant un petit-déjeuner, dans un resto de mon quartier, réfléchissant à mes options. Et prenant la mesure des encouragements du Dr Rizzuto, pour utiliser l’approche diététique de l’hypertension (DASH). Il m’a pas dit que j’étais capable de le faire. Il m’a pas donné des trucs pour y arriver. Mais, surtout, il m’a pas jugé et il m’a pas balayé du revers de la main. En fait, il me prenait en main.

Sans devenir mon médecin de famille.

Ce n’est qu’en juin que, grâce au Dr Rizzuto, j’ai pu avoir un rendez-vous avec ma médecin de famille. Lors de ma première consultation avec le Dr Rizzuto, il me donné un petit signet sur lequel il y avait des informations au sujet du Guichet d’accès à un médecin de famille, dans mon quartier. J’ai appelé rapidement, mais le processus est long. D’ailleurs, le processus s’est étendu bien au-delà de ce qui était prévu, pour toutes sortes de raison. Même que la médecin de famille avec laquelle j’ai pu avoir un rendez-vous, la Dre Sophie Mourey, n’était pas la même personne qui m’était assignée. Reste que, sans l’approche encourageante du Dr Rizzuto, je n’aurais probablement pas de médecin de famille à l’heure qu’il est.

Et je n’aurais probablement pas accompli ce que j’ai pu accomplir dans l’année qui a suivi.

Qu’ai-je accompli? À la fois pas grand-chose et tout ce qui compte. J’ai fait plus de 2000km de marche à pieds et 1870 miles de vélo sur place (à une moyenne de 18miles/heure pendant environ trois heures par semaine, au cours des derniers mois). J’ai débuté une routine quotidienne de yoga (pour une moyenne de quatre heures par semaine, depuis l’été). J’ai baissé mon pouls au repos d’environ 90 battements par minute à moins de 60 battements par minute. J’ai évidemment baissé ma tension artérielle, d’abord aidé par le Ramipril (5mg), mais maintenant presque sous contrôle. Encore plus important pour moi, j’ai fini par trouver une façon de grandement diminuer certains de mes autres problèmes de santé, ce qui me donne l’espoir de pouvoir en enrayer certains au cours des prochains mois.

Donc, comme le disait la Dre Mourey, mon bilan de santé est bien encourageant.

Ah oui, incidemment… j’ai aussi perdu 15kg (33lbs.). Sans beaucoup d’effort et juste un petit peu de motivation.

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“Post-” Society

(Note: The following is a draft I submitted for publication in a magazine. After some back-and-forth with the editors, I decided not to publish it through that route. I was trying something different, with this text. It was meant to be heavily edited after the fact but it was also a deliberate attempt at mixing things up. A later version, after getting feedback on this draft, has a type of internal dialogue serving as commentary. Wasn’t trying to be cute, but I was playing with a few things.)

Post-industrial, post-Rock, post-colonial, post-PC, post-War, post-Impressionism, post-structural, post-digital, post-colonial…

Perhaps more than any other prefix in the English language, “post-” serves as an index of social change. While it may denote a phase in personal development or bodily function (“post-prandial” might be my favourite), it often pinpoints pivotal events of a social scope.

The issue of scope helps bring up a key characteristic of the “post-” prefix, at least in the way many authors use it. The period it defines would seem to be general, global, universal. Such an assumption of universality represents a key sign of ethnocentrism, a culturally-rooted perspective deemed to apply outside of culture. The notion that “the whole World” lives through the same social change calls for some nuance. Though World War II had impacts globally, the term “post-war” means different things in different parts of this globe. Uncritically assuming the relevance of a “post-” term regardless of context collapses a large variety of social dynamics into a simplified, “worldwide” phenomenon.

Conversely, social commentators apply several of the “post-” terms exclusively to their own contexts, using these terms to delimit a specific social system to which they assign global significance. Though different from the assumption of universality, this distinctive use of “post-” terms demonstrates further forms of ethnocentric thought. Calling one society “post-racial” to the exclusion of other societies deemed to be “racial” serves as self-congratulation more than as insightful analysis.

The case of the term “post-industrial” deserves discussion. Unlike many other “post-” terms, this term denotes a fairly straightforward phenomenon: a shift away from the manufacturing sector, occurring at the end of the 20th Century, accompanied by an emphasis on the service sector and on information technology. Though the term has attained some relevance in non-specialist contexts, some usage patterns come from academic discourse.

For instance, sociological textbooks use the term in diverse contexts. In some of those contexts, the term refers to a general principle, according to which some broad social changes accompany the end of industrialization, across the world.

In other contexts, “postindustrial” takes an evolutionary meaning, marking a key step in the inexorable evolution from “preindustrial” and ”industrial” social systems. This usage follows ideas proposed by Gerhard Lenski, who based his “societal taxonomies” on technological distinctions. Though not in itself deterministic, such an emphasis on the power of technology to define social evolution plays admirably into technological determinism. North American popular culture promotes a similar view of history, with societies advancing from one stage to the next along with appropriation of diverse technologies. Sid Meier’s Civilization games propose a clear version of this model and developers could substitute “Post-Industrial” for “Future Era” (though the presence of a “Modern Era” after the “Industrial Era” may complicate this progression).

Those usage patterns bear some of the marks of ethnocentrism. Whether the “post-industrial era” represents a worldwide or country-specific phenomenon, a notion coined in a given context comes to apply to a much broader scale.

The diversity of views on social change make this ethnocentric tendency all the more problematic. Archæological research, at least in its popular forms, proposes a view of social change occurring through a switch from one historical period to the next. Though widespread, this notion has a decidedly non-universal application. Apart from favouring a linear instead of cyclical view of time, “post-” terms imply complete, abrupt, and irreversible changes.

Here lies the crux of the “post-” concept. “Post-” implies a radical shift in social order, a point of no return, a clear boundary between an “after” and a “before”. Though used while focusing forward (toward the future), the “post-” terms cling to preceding events. “Post-Apartheid” underlines the importance of South Africa’s segregationist regime, while “post-Soviet” underscores the secession from the USSR at the end of the Cold War. Though emphasizing change, “post-” terms maintain the memory of past events all the while cutting bridges to the past. In this sense, events labelled through “post-” terms may sound like adolescent rebellion. “No, really, I’m totally a different person, now.”

Labels for artistic genres (and eras) help foreground the rebelliousness of many “post-” terms. From “Post-Impressionism” to “Post-Grunge”, artistic branding proceeds by a rejection of some artistic developments immediately preceding it. Whether or not artists themselves use those terms, their art appears as a reaction to a certain body of artistic activity. Describing novels as “Post-Romantic” and bands as “Post-Bop”, literary and music critics put artistic creativity in a special type of box. Not only do artists typically dislike the attribution of restrictive genre labels to their production, but the “post-” prefix poses a further issue to creators looking forward instead of back. Like a ball and chain, a “post-” genre label restricts movement.

Clearly, creative endeavours involve combinations of ideas and forms regardless of the eras in which they appeared original. Artistic usage of “postmodern” connotes such combinations. Though some may perceive postmodern art as a reaction to modernism, its incarnations bring together forms originating in diverse eras. In this view, postmodern art revolves around mashups, remixes, collages, and other forms of reappropriation. Such a context makes “genre-defying” into a cliché, genre labels appearing quaint to practitioners of postmodern art.

Here, the boxed-in version of social change becomes increasingly awkward. Instead of stable periods separated by radical shifts, postmodern art proposes an intermingling of old and new, of contemporary and ancient elements. Going back and forth between different sets of æsthetic precepts, the postmodern artist can break the shackles of genre labels. Though similar attempts at mixing rules may characterize transition periods between other eras in art history, postmodernism can make this type of blending into an artform.

The output of postmodern creativity can occasionally sound like that of “premodern” art. Yet, as Pierre Menard’s Quixote (described by Borges), the appropriated version differs from the original through the difference in context. Used in “Jungle” music, a sample from a funk and soul version of a gospel-inspired song takes on meanings very different from the original. Similarly, a collage including a replica of a classic painting brings new significance to that element.

This mixing of elements from different eras may make life difficult for archæologists trying to date a piece of postmodern art by focusing on external features alone. Thankfully, archæological research uses more data than an object’s mere appearance.

Postmodernism in social sciences acknowledges the potential for a blurring of distinctions, whether they concern historical periods, political entities, or social identities.

Part of this revolves around breaking rules, or at least questioning them. We can go back to the teenage idea, from earlier. Postmodernists in social science often make it their duty to revolt against authority. As with postmodern art, this reaction goes beyond the succession of historical eras. Though postmodern thinkers might perceive modernist authors as the main figureheads eliciting insurrection, the rebellion needs not focus on a given cast of characters.

Applied to social contexts, “postmodern” matches “postindustrial” as described above and several social scientists use the terms interchangeably. Postmodern societies focus on information technology and deemphasize manufacturing. Tracing back connections between industrialism and modernism, a peculiar view of history emerges.

Among “post-” terms described here, “Postcolonialism” may have the least currency in mainstream Euro-American discourse. Yet, the notion of a “postcolonial” present opens a new dimension in thinking about social change.

Unlike “postindustrial”, “postcolonial” involves no linear, preordained evolution. Few scholars would perceive the transition away from colonialism as a necessary and natural progression. Teleology needs not apply. Like post-Soviet states and post-Apartheid South Africa, postcolonial societies bear the scars of problematized pasts. Though individual members from all of these political entities (Uganda, Belarus, South Africa…) may nostalgically bemoan the loss of past structures, the general theme of independence from former powers resonates with talk of progress. Like other “post-” terms, postcolonialism marks an irrevocable transition.

Post-colonial theorists, like Frantz Fanon and Edward Saïd, go beyond the study of post-independence states. Given an association between colonial and “Western” thought, decolonialization entails a move away from Eurocentrism. Here, nuance and the acknowledgment of diversity help break the moulds in which colonialism has tried to place ideas. In this sense, postcolonialism shares with postmodern art a propensity for boundary defiance.

We can find a peculiarity of postcolonialism, among “post-” terms, in that scholars who use the term consider colonial aspects in the present time period. In other words, despite the “post-”, postcolonialism occurs in parallel with colonialism. Most “post-” terms imply a finished state, equivalent to perfect verb forms in English grammar: “We have done this (modernism, Grunge, industrialization, Impressionism…) and can now move on”. Colonialism, in post-colonial theory, moves on.

Feminism provides a useful angle from which to tackle postcolonialism. Over the last several decades, different phases of feminist thought have served as an academic equivalent to “disruptive innovation”. Though present in academic writing since its inception, feminism has only begun disrupting academia once scholars began acknowledging the impact of inequalities on their work. This acknowledgment corresponds loosely with both the onset of “Second wave feminism” and the so-called “Human Rights Movement”. Postcolonialism took roots during the same period, as diverse groups gained independence from colonial powers. Yet, more than sharing a 1960s timeframe, the feminist impact and the postcolonialist spark both demonstrate the power to challenge established order.

Postcolonialism, like Second wave feminism, problematize scholars’ complacency and obliviousness. In both cases, overwhelmingly large contingents (women and colonized people) have asked academics: “But have you thought about us?”. These contingents’ appropriate representation in academic contexts has preoccupied scholars ever since. Even more important, the notion that these contingents may have insight to share on a variety of topics served as a wake-up call for social scientists and other practitioners.

At this point, you may conceive of several “post-” terms as connected with one another to form a type of conceptual network. For instance, though postcolonial societies may differ from postindustrial ones (in fact, few societies belong to both taxonomies), links between the two concepts appear clearly once we take into consideration a basic tenet of Dependency Theory.

Similar to people associated with “post-” terms, dependency theorists rebelled against Modernization Theory which posited a linear and universal evolution toward modernity and postindustrial systems. As set out by diverse authors from Prebisch to Wallerstein, Dependency Theory claims (among other things) that material conditions of former colonies relate to the control exercised by those states most often classified as postindustrial. According to Dependency Theory, the postindustrial markets force other societies (especially postcolonial ones) to maintain industrial economies. In this context, Dependency Theory represents Modernization Theory’s “post-”.

Several “post-” terms act as temporal indices, marking the passage from one historical phase to another. Dates can then fill conceptual gaps between them. Occurring simultaneously but in distant locations (say, Estonia and South Africa), significant changes necessitating the creation of new “post-” terms may serve as contexts for one another. Because of this synchronicity, certain time periods in the recent past appear particularly significant. The formula “X occurred; meanwhile, Y happened” strike many observers’ fancy. For instance, the early 1960s marked the beginning of diverse independence movements throughout Africa and the early 1990s marked the end of both Soviet and Apartheid regimes. Causal connections exist between some of these events, especially through yet other historical events (World War II and the Cold War serving as major turning points). Unsurprisingly, connections between these significant events have provided fodder for proponents of linear views of history. At the same time, though, these connections allow for alternative views of history, some of which may not strictly follow linear thinking.

More specifically, event-based “post-” terms provide a context for debates about discontinuity and continuity. Do the shifts implied by these “post-” terms cause the disappearance of the conditions which made possible a previous orders? Can modern and postmodern, colonial and postcolonial, Rock and post-Rock coexist? What signs point to the end of a transition period from an era to its “post-”?

Siding with Michel Foucault’s episteme instead of upholding Thomas Kuhn’s “paradigm” allows us to take into account coexisting frames of reference. Both Kuhn and Foucault talked about history of ideas, the temporal dimension of epistemology. However, a key distinction between them can serve to foreground the important debate about continuity through change. While Kuhn focused on what Stephen Jay Gould called punctuated equilibria, one paradigm succeeding another, Foucault left room for the type of complex interaction we have seen in postcolonialism and postmodernism. Though we may evaluate the relative currency of diverse epistemes, one episteme needs not replace another. Difficult to conceive, a mix of epistemes could evoke a postmodern collage or the dialectic tension between postcolonial societies and imperialism.

The current trend for “post-” terms (some would call it a “fad”) tends to emphasize radical shifts instead of complex blends. Used to the archæological and often teleological views of history, social commentators prefer clear-cut concepts like “post-War” and “postindustrial” to fluid ones like “postmodern” and “postcolonial”. However, looking at continuities instead of shifts may help us situate the deeper significance of “post-” terms.

Though narrower in usage than most other “post-” terms, the so-called “Post-PC era” merits some attention, here, as it evokes a radical shift while demonstrating the value of fluidity.

At its root, the “post-PC” concept revolves around a shift in form factor. Following the lead of a certain corporate executive, industry analysts know label smartphones, tablets, and wearable computers as “post-PC devices”. These devices require a “post-” term because laptops and desktops already own the term “PC”.

Personal computing still matters, probably more than before, but new devices differ significantly from devices commonly labeled as PCs (laptops and desktops, for instance). In the 1990s, we could have labelled “personal digital assistants” as personal computers. Post-PC devices share many characteristics with PDAs. The distinction between the two types of devices relates directly to events unfolding in the meantime. To stretch the analogy, a PDA released today (with the same technical specifications as those built in the 1990s) could represent both old technology and a post-PC device.

The term “post-PC” indexes a transition, as we speak, from personal computers to other computing devices. Such transitions have occurred throughout the history of computing. Together, they provide support for Kurzweil’s (and, to a lesser extent, Vinge’s) version of “technological singularity”. The assumption of a grammatical perfect, embedded in “post-” terms, connotes a key distinction between the Post-PC era and the transition periods which preceded it. Despite comments to the contrary made by the corporate executive who popularized it, the term “Post-PC” would seem to imply an expected end to personal computers as we know them. “We have done personal computers, now we can move on.” Of course, computer makers will continue to build PCs alongside “post-PC devices” in the foreseeable future. But the radical shift announced by the “post-” term may make it impossible for PCs to retain their original significance. As we have seen with other “post-” terms, objects change their meaning through radical shifts. In practice, one might expect that PC usage will shift as “post-PC devices” increase in importance: some may become personal servers or hubs, while others could be shared in distributed systems (“Can you imagine a Beowulf cluster of these?”).

Implicitly, the post-PC concept applies globally. In line with a popular version of Modernization Theory, this concept implies that “one day, everyone will join us in the post-PC world”. As with a common reading of Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovations, technophiles assume that adoption of certain tools will reach saturation once “laggards” follow the lead set by “early adopters”. Even if this pattern may help predict market penetration, it provides little insight on the human dimension of technology, which includes knowledge and usage.

Tools on their own signify close to nothing. They become meaningful technology through such things as use cases, literacy, and subversion. Not only may the same tools mean different things according to context, but people often use diverse sets of tools to accomplish the exact same goals. The concept of “technological appropriation” involves both usage and knowledge, the human components of technology. Appropriating a tool involves placing this tool in a broader context. Unintended uses of a tool represent a remarkable form of reappropriation based on usage. Skills needed to master a tool (a smartphone or a saxophone, for instance) contribute to technological; so does the tool’s design. By creating a new tool, a user displays a high level of knowledge related to that tool. Such an appropriation pattern runs at the core of Steven Levy’s “hacker ethic”.

In that sense, people around the world may surprise observers by their use of PCs and post-PC devices alike. One part of this surprise may come from John Perry Barlow and Nicholas Negroponte have bothe the “leapfrog effect” (itself a partial challenge to stricter versions of Modernization Theory). Using post-PC devices requires no prior use of PCs, the same way that cellphones need not follow landline phones. Further, as Heather Horst, Mizuko Ito, and others have demonstrated in the case of cellphones, tools find diverse applications across the World, often challenging assumptions about patterns of technological adoptions. Then, those devices which some label as “post-PC” may in fact open possibilities outside of personal computers as we know them.

On the other hand, reappropriation of personal computers may also surprise those who believe in a post-PC future. As conceived from a folkloristic perspective, one of functionalism’s key insights lies in the fact that social groups maintain a practice if (and only if) it fulfills a function. Personal computers may still fulfill a function in the future, though that function may be radically different from what we currently consider to be personal computing.

Already, shared use of PCs has shifted their place in computing. A family’s desktop computer, with or without separate user accounts, serves a purpose quite different from that of the original personal computer. A cybercafé’s terminals represent another case of PC reappropriation. You can find further examples of reappropriation in case modifications and even subvertive uses of PC cases (the “Macquarium”, for instance). Reappropriated PCs may become something new, sometimes quite unlike a PC.

Examples of creative approaches to technological appropriation abound. In Amélie, Raymond Dufayel’s use of a camcorder as a clock may appear as a waste, given relative prices of clocks and camcorders. Conversely, milk crates used as bookshelves connote thriftiness.

Some reappropriations (often imposed by external conditions) have problematic consequences, as documentaries on “E-Waste” make painfully clear. Technological appropriation takes many forms, often unexpected ones. Teleological approaches to technological development, as the one embedded in the term “post-PC”, often mislead.

Several “post-” terms lead us to think about Globalization… as a “post-national” notion. Defining “global” in contradistinction to “International” helps us along the way. Global corporations differ from multinational in working at a such a high level that national governments matter less than production, distribution, and consumption networks. Most of these enterprises may have corporate headquarters located in specific countries, but entrepreneurial activities may happen outside of these headquarters, distributed across facilities located around the World.

Globalization and postnationalism do differ. Opponents and defenders of worldwide trade can play a semantics game, as they position themselves along dividing lines. Social scientists opposed to economic globalization often support (or even predict) a move to “democracies without borders”. Conversely, economic globalization’s defenders may very well oppose a postnational system of governance, on the grounds that it could lead to totalitarianism. Still, the core notion behind both postnationalism and globalization remains stable, regardless of ideology: a significant decrease in the relevance of nation-states.

Though taken as an ancient concept, the nation-state constitutes a relatively recent innovation. Whether or not national identities resulted, as Eric Hobsbawm and Benedict Anderson have argued, from sociopolitical maneuvering, the strict association between a country and its exclusive “nation” (descendants of the same “people”) mostly came about during the last 200 years, in the Americas and Europe. Prior to this shift, states consisted mostly of kingdoms and empires, with other political entities working outside of the state model. (Since Elman Service, cultural anthropologists have defined these other models as bands, chiefdoms, and tribes. Though Service meant his typology to be evolutionary and these models display increasing complexity, most contemporary scholars use these terms without evolutionary undertones.) , Basing themselves on national identity Instead of a monarchic order, nation-states restrict ethnic diversity.

The national era shrouded key concepts in mystery. Though used interchangeably, “citizenship”, “nationality”, “ethnicity”, and “national identity” differ considerably. The potential for confusion came from the fact that nation-states focus on ancestry, with the core citizenry belonging to a single ethnic group. Thus, Italians traced back their roots to Etruscans and French people got West Africans to talk about “Our ancestors, the Gauls”. Many claims to national ancestry serve nationalistic self-interest more directly than historical accuracy. When the nationalist creation of Germany led Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm to collect fairytales, the Brothers Grimm likely had no idea that many of these tales had diffused from Asia and elsewhere.

At the present time, almost all human beings belong to sovereign states yet few of these states adhere even loosely to the nation-state model. Somalia, Japan, and Armenia have limited ethnic diversity. In this sense, most of us already live in a postnational world. National identities still matter, possibly even more than in the recent past, sustaining ethnic pride or causing conflicts. Yet nation-states now appear mostly as figments of nationalists’ imaginations.

Editors of The Alpine Review describe their publication as a “post-digital” magazine. I agree that we can only conceive of this publishing model once digital forms have taken hold. However, the “post-” term could mislead if it gave one the idea that we have already gone “beyond digital”. Of course, diverse authors propose different versions of the term. Deloitte’s usage deviate’s widely from Roy Ascott’s, though both relate to economic conditions. The core point remains that digital technology only defines part of our existence.

As “post-” terms go, though, “post-digital” relates more directly to continuous co-occurrence like “post-PC” and “postcolonial” eventful shifts like “post-Impressionism” and “post-Apartheid”. It seems clear to most that digital and print (in its post-digital version) will coexist for a while. More generally, digital and analog maintain their relevance, regardless of technocentrism. Digital technology may affect us deeply, but we remain as physical beings.


Alex Enkerli

P.S.
Unless, that is, we all become “post-humans”.

Projets de réappropriation technologique

Quelques projets qui illustrent la réappropriation technologique ou comment passer au-delà de la «fracture numérique».

Description

Fabriquer ses propres objets, c’est un peu court-circuiter les chaînes de production, les rapports inégaux à travers le globe et la notion de propriété. On va parler d’exemples concrets de FabLabs et d’innovation citoyenne, au Québec comme en Afrique pour réfléchir ensemble sur les implications sociales de ces mouvements technologiques.

Liens

Bio

Alexandre Enkerli s’est intéressé aux dimensions sociales de la technologie dès l’achat de son premier ordinateur, un Commodore VIC-20, au début des années 1980. Depuis, il a été à la fois acteur et observateur au sein de ce que l’on appelle maintenant la « culture geek ». Outre son travail de recherche en ethnographie de la technologie, il enseigne l’anthropologie et la sociologie à l’Université Concordia.

A bilingual blog on disparate subjects. / Un blogue disparate bilingue.