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May 22 2012

Quantified me

For some reason I have an aversion to the quantified self terminology. I guess I'm suspicious of excessive overt tracking of stuff that I hope to make into unconscious habit. It probably goes back to when I used to be a runner. I ran a couple of marathons and I would of course log every run and used upcoming races to motivate my training. I ran with a pulse monitor and used the real-time feedback to adjust my pace to the intention of each training session.

I was incredibly disciplined about my training right up until I stopped improving. Once I plateaued I just couldn't stick with it. I experienced a similar pattern with biking, rowing, yoga, and everything else I tried. Train hard, track everything, plateau, quit.

Then a few years ago I read about a study that looked at motivation and it made the point that sometimes leaving things open ended actually improves our ability to stick with it. I've been looking for that study for two years but can't find it again. It has stuck in my head though and fundamentally changed how I think about things. It's made much more skeptical of the value of competitions and other goals in achieving long-term fitness. And something is different for me now because I've been doing CrossFit for three years without quitting. Of course, it might just be that I haven't plateaued yet. But I also think nurturing an open-ended mindset has helped.

Having plateaued and quit so many times I guess I'm just skeptical of the value of tracking the minutia of my exercise life. I wouldn't have known I plateaued if I hadn't tracked the data after all.

So not too long ago when Sara Winge forwarded me a link to an article on the "datasexual" with the subject line "You've been memed" I was taken aback. "Me? I don't track stuff. I don't own a Fitbit. In fact, I'm a huge skeptic of the value of all this stuff. To me it seems too much like putting the cart of technology before the horse of just doing the work." But then I thought about it honestly and I had to admit it. Who am I kidding? I'm an obsessive tracker.

I track every Crossfit workout on Beyond The Whiteboard. I started a paleo / ancestral health diet in December and I use a kitchen scale to measure portions. I kept a journal of every meal for three months and when that got cumbersome I started taking a picture of them with my phone. I do it to encourage consciousness of what I'm eating and to make sure I'm keeping my macronutrient balance where it should be. I weigh myself at least three times each week and log weight, waist, and neck measurements each time to estimate body fat.

Quantiifed data

Not too long ago after I rowed what felt like a fast 2k during a crossfit workout I dug up my old logs from the '90s to see how it compared to the twenty-something me (slower of course, but not awful). I still had those logs and knew where to find them.

From there it gets more obsessive. Once I changed my eating habits I started getting a full lipid panel and other tests every three months to assess the impact of my new high fat / low carb diet (I get over 2/3 of calories from fats now). The next time around I plan to add tests for inflammation markers and a few other things.

I wasn't happy with my doctor only being able to order fasting blood sugar though, so I bought a glucometer and started monitoring my own real-time blood sugar. I measure fasting and +1, +2, and +3 hour postprandial glucose levels after various meals to evaluate my insulin response and to better tune my diet. I also occasionally measure pre- and post-workout glucose levels to optimize when to workout relative to mealtime.

Periodic at home A1c tests verify that my long-term glucose levels are in keeping with what I'm measuring in real time — as a correlation to verify test accuracy and to help me interpret the short-term results. Oh, and I ordered a 23andMe test kit to see (among other things) if I have any genetic disposition to diabetes.

So, I guess I have to admit it. Quantifying the self isn't just something other people do, it's something I do. Yet I remain a skeptic.

The line I'm trying to walk is between obsessive tracking that results in post-plateau burnout and using tracking to maintain awareness and intention while trying to remain open ended. "Maybe I'll work out today." "Maybe I'll lose a few pounds, or maybe I'll gain a few." But at the same time I want to take advantage of the awareness that comes from tracking. More importantly, I want to know what the data says about how healthy I am. A degradation in insulin response wouldn't just be a problem with a plateauing exercise program after all, it would have major long-term health impact.


April 25 2012

Velocity Podcast Series - Joshua Bixby on The Business of Performance

This is the second podcast in our new Velocity Podcast Series. It is my intention to keep our conversations that we start at the Velocity conference going throughout the year. We will be talking with conference committee members, speakers, companies, and attendees. So check back weekly for a new podcast.

I recently spoke with Joshua Bixby of Strangeloop about measuring and making sense out of increased performance. Josh has presented at Velocity in Europe, Asia, and the US and always has some very interesting insights into the business of performance. Josh talks about Business KPIs, metrics and business benefits of performance optimization and always has plenty of data and graphs. In our conversation we touch on mostly on the business of speed.

Our conversation lasted 00:22:11 and if you want to pinpoint any particular answer, you can find the specific timing below.

  • A little background on Josh and Strangeloop (what is a StrangeLoop?) 00:00:26
  • You've mentioned in your talks that we are in the middle of a couple of revolutions, what are they? 00:03:18
  • When did you see an institutional need for making a business case for Web Performance Optimization? 00:05:21
  • How do you benchmark a company's web properties that are most mobile, enterprise, or Web2 oriented so you are comparing Apples to Apples? 00:07:38
  • How do you rank variable tradeoffs that engineers will inevitably encounter with Time, Cost, Quality, Scope and Performance? 00:11:25
  • What is the most common cause of mobile users not staying on a site, or not purchasing? Is is performance related? 00:12:36
  • Do you have any real-life examples of dramatic improvements companies have achieved through performance optimization? 00:14:54
  • In your experience, what is the most important benefit a company will get through performance improvements? 00:18:56

Velocity 2012: Web Operations & Performance — The smartest minds in web operations and performance are coming together for the Velocity Conference, being held June 25-27 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

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April 18 2012

Velocity Profile: Hooman Beheshti

This is part of the Velocity Profiles series, which highlights the work and knowledge of web ops and performance experts.

Hooman BeheshtiHooman Beheshti
Vice President of Technology

How did you get into web operations and performance?

Out of school, I ended up with one of the first load balancing vendors, which is where I learned about everything that has to do with the networking and protocol side of the web. From there, I kind of moved up the stack: I helped found a high-performance caching company; then joined a next generation ADC vendor focusing on web acceleration; and then hooked up with Strangeloop, where we focus on advanced front-end optimization (FEO) for web performance. It's been a pretty cool ride, and I'm still learning every day.

What is your most memorable project?

Two come to mind. About 10 years ago, we had a huge problem trying to solve network proximity problems with geo load balancing. The normal DNS-based solutions weren't good enough. We came up with a pretty clever and more accurate way of measuring network proximity. It's a solution I'm still pretty proud of. More recently, and in a completely different direction, I've been involved with projects where we're leveraging the power of Google Analytics in creative ways to keep track of user behavior when it comes to web performance. It's kind of like what Artur Bergman talked about last year at Velocity, but we've gone further and included more things that give us different types of insight. It's a great example of positively exploiting available tools in new and cheeky ways.

What's the toughest problem you've had to solve?

In the world of web performance, measurement remains a huge challenge. There are way too many tools, metrics, and vendors out there, all doing measurement differently, and ironically, all legit! So, the challenge isn't always finding the right thing to measure, it's to understand which subset of metrics to consider based on the situation. Add to that the fact that there's a lot of confusion about this propagated by everyone who thinks their way is the only right way, coupled with the possibility that we may not actually have the right measurement yet, and this becomes an incredibly complex issue. I can't say that we've solved it, but I do keep finding myself learning new things and educating people about these complexities. So, the fact that people are listening and wanting to learn is a positive step toward solving the problem.

What tools and techniques do you rely on most?

I'm a techy geek, so my favorite tools are those that help me be a good sleuth. At the lowest level, the one tool I can't live without is Wireshark for getting and studying network packet captures. We've dubbed it "The Truth Serum" because of how it proves itself to be the ultimate authority when it comes to figuring out what the hell is going on.

In the browser, I use HTTPWatch all the time to study how my browser processes web pages. It's an excellent tool for getting timings, object breakdowns, and HTTP details.

And my favorite performance tool is WebPagetest. I use the public version, we have a private instance, and I even have one on my laptop. It's an awesome tool for getting an as-close-to-accurate-as-possible reflection of how pages perform in real browsers, with real-world characteristics. It has provided, and continues to provide, a great service for the performance industry.

Velocity 2012: Web Operations & Performance — The smartest minds in web operations and performance are coming together for the Velocity Conference, being held June 25-27 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20


September 14 2011

Social data: A better way to track TV

Solid State by skippyjon, on FlickrNielsen families, viewer diaries, and TV meters just won't cut it anymore. Divergent forms of television viewership require new audience measurement tools. Jodee Rich (@WingDude), CEO and founder of PeopleBrowsr, says social data is the key to new toolsets because it reveals both viewing behavior and sentiment.

Rich explores the connection between social data and television analytics in the following interview. He'll expand on these ideas during a presentation at next week's Strata Summit in New York.

Nielsen has been measuring audience response since the era of radio, yet the title of your Strata talk is "Move over, Nielsen." What is Nielsen's methodology, and why does it no longer suffice?

Jodee RichJodee Rich: Nielsen data is sampled across the United States from approximately 20,000 households. Data is aggregated every night, sent back to Nielsen, and broken out by real-time viewings and same-day viewings.

There are two flaws in Nielsen's rating system that we can address with social analytics:

  1. Nielsen's method for classifying shows as "watched" — The Nielsen system does not demonstrate a show's popularity as much as it showcases which commercials viewers tune in for. If a person switches the channel to avoid commercials, the time spent watching that show is not tallied. The show is only counted as watched in full when the viewer is present for commercials.
  2. Nielsen ratings don't measure mediums other than television — The system does not take into account many of the common ways people now access shows, including Hulu, Netflix, on-demand, and iTunes.

How does social data provide more accurate ways of measuring audience response?

Jodee Rich: Social media offers opportunities to measure sentiment like never before. The volume of data available through social media outlets simply dwarfs Nielsen's sample base of 20,000 households. Millions of people form the social media user base, and naturally that base is more representative of the dynamics of an evolving demographic.

It's not just the volume, however. Social media values real-time engagement over passive participation. We can see not just what people are watching, but also monitor what they say about it. By observing actively engaged people, we can better discern who the viewers are, what they value, what they discuss, how often they talk about these things, and most importantly, how they feel about it. This knowledge allows brands to tailor messages with very high relevance.

Strata Summit New York 2011, being held Sept. 20-21, is for executives, entrepreneurs, and decision-makers looking to harness data. Hear from the pioneers who are succeeding with data-driven strategies, and discover the data opportunities that lie ahead.

Save 30% on registration with the code ORM30

How will these new measurement tools benefit viewers?

Jodee Rich: With social data, the television experience will be better catered to viewers. Broadcasters will enrich the viewing experience by creating flexible, responsive services that are sensitive to real people's tastes and conversations. We believe that ultimately this will make for more engaging entertainment and prolong the lives of the shows people love.

This interview was edited and condensed

Photo: Solid State by skippyjon, on Flickr


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