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The Quantified Self

Online apps can now track our moods, relationships, exercise and health. We look at the “Digital Self,” and where it’s taking us.

photo illustration (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

photo illustration (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

There’s a vision out there, which you may or may not share, of a digital self.  A quantified self.  That is, the human body and life – maybe yours – tracked and measured and monitored 24/7 by wireless apps – in a wrist band, on your belt, in your bag – gathering data on you.

Your blood pressure.  Your heart rate.  Your sleep patterns.  Your exercise.  Your diet.  Your moods.    Your habits.  Your life.  Enthusiasts greet that vision – that  reality – like the next step in evolution.  We will know ourselves.  And be transformed.  Skeptics wonder.

This hour, On Point:  becoming the quantified, digital self.

-Tom Ashbrook


Gary Wolf, co-founder of the Quantified Self Movement, which has followers nationally and internationally and grew out of a blog started in 2008 that helps users find apps and devices to track almost everything about themselves.

Eric Topol, professor in the Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine at The Scripps Institute of Medicine. He’s the author of the new book The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How The Digital Revolution Will Create Better Healthcare.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times “Humans make errors. We make errors of fact and errors of judgment. We have blind spots in our field of vision and gaps in our stream of attention. Sometimes we can’t even answer the simplest questions. Where was I last week at this time? How long have I had this pain in my knee? How much money do I typically spend in a day? These weaknesses put us at a disadvantage. We make decisions with partial information. We are forced to steer by guesswork. We go with our gut.”

Technology Review  “Do you know how much REM sleep you got last night? New types of devices that monitor activity, sleep, diet, and even mood could make us healthier and more productive.”

The Atlantic “This may sound like a lot of information for a very small person, but it’s typical grist for apps designed to tally a baby’s every blink and burp and sniffle, in hopes of charting his development over time. Among Baby Connect’s competitors are Total Baby, Baby Log, iBabyLog, Evoz, and the new Bedtime app from Johnson’s Baby, as well as Web-based programs such as Trixie Tracker (which an enterprising stay-at-home dad named after his daughter).”

Life-Quantifying Apps

Here’s a selection of apps and programs that can help quantify your life.

  • Sleep Cycle The Sleep Cycle alarm clock is a bio-alarm clock that analyzes your sleep patterns and wakes you when you are in the lightest sleep phase. It aims to make you wake up more refreshed.
  • Facebook Timeline The social networking site now includes a timeline feature that puts your interactions with the site and your network of friends in chronological order.
  • Fitbit A machine that tracks your sleep and physical activity.
  • Meal Snap Take a photo of the food you eat and this app — amazingly — can figure out how many calories you’ve consumed.
  • Honestly Now helps you make decisions by getting you the answers you want to your burning questions.
  • What Pulse This app tracks your keyboard and mouse use.
  • Mood Scope This app records your daily mood, tracks it over time, and can be integrated with your friends — with the aim of improving your well-being.
  • Mint An online tool to track your financial transactions.
  • Waterlogged This app keeps track of how much water you’re drinking each day.
  • My Pregnancy Today Track your pregnancy with this app.
  • Baby Connect records information about your newborn: feeding (bottle, nursing, solid, pumping), diapers, sleep, mood, activities, milestones, health, medicines, vaccines, photos, and more.
  • Azumio This app measures and records your stress levels.

Excerpt: The Creative Destruction of Medicine

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  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Where is this taking us?  Into a dangerous world in which our value is only what we can show on an accounting ledger or actuarial table.

  • jefe68

    The height of narcissism with apps. And, you can post it all 24/7 on Face Book.

  • Jacob Arnon

    Facebook is in my face. I wish it would go away. 

    • Alan in NH

      Stop using it. Send a postcard. I often, before I quit accessing it, wondered at the general level of trivia posted on Facebook, e.g., I’m going to the grocery store now; hope they have the brand of peanut butter I like…I’m late for work; boy, this traffic out here is nuts, etc. Why does anyone want to know this is a question that keeps surfacing. Is this really personal connection?

  • AC

    my brother in law just sent me the ‘UP’ bracelet.
    to be honest, i went to the jawbone website and watched the video & it seems a little silly….but, I’ll try it.

  • Gregg

    Information is readily available at our fingertips. The kids with their smart phones have any answer before you can finish asking to question. It’s hard to find fault that but it seems the quest for knowledge is part of the process of critical thinking. I’m not sure if this dynamic makes us smarter of dumber.

    • nj_v2

      That’s kind of funny coming from someone who relies on lying, right-wing, blowhards to help shape their view of the world.

      • Gregg

        Do you look for my poison name just to say something nasty? Try to get me out of your head… please.

        • nj_v2

          Your posts are right here in plain sight, every day, so your proposition is challenging.

          • Gregg

            Try not to let me get to you, I’m a harmless lovable fuzzball.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         Actually, Gregg made a good point.  Information is much more readily available, but people seem to be much less informed.

        • Ray in VT

          That can often be the case.  There is a plethora of information on the web on every conceivable topic, but there is a great problem with authenticity and validity.  The net allows people to isolate themselves in information silos and only view that with which they agree.  One also encounters that problem that print sometimes had:  if it is in “print” then it must be true.  There is a lot of information available, but a lot of people do not either have or use the judgement necessary to scrutinize that information to look for its origin or at its author in order to attempt to determine its validity or bias.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

             Just so.  My students tell me that they read someone on a website.  When I ask them who the author was and why that person is qualified to speak on the subject, they have no clue.

          • Ray in VT

            I see that too.  One of my friends is a history professor, and he showed me a bibliography a while back that was just urls.  One of my other friends taught grade school, and we worked together to develop some activities to teach his students about how to evaluate web resources.  I was very encouraged to hear from my son’s school librarian say that they are addressing this sort of issue with the 2nd and 3rd graders.

          • Don_B1

            Just using the author’s name or publication is not always a full verification of its truth. After all, Romneycare originated at the Heritage Institution and has proven to work in Massachusetts while Paul Ryan’s 2011 budget also originated there and had to use “magical numbers,” like unemployment rates of 2% in a few years to get to the predicted performance.

            The actual facts presented by the source must be scrutinized with facts from other sources, including those that the researcher trusts from previous verifications.

        • Don_B1

          There are a lot of places where information presented as “facts” are false opinions and Gregg is a prime promoter of them. To be “informed” should mean that you have done the critical thinking to identify those false sources and reject them, but it takes a lot of work.

          Note that the neuropsychiatrists, etc., are finding that those that do not take that extra effort turn out to accept the “conservative point of view, no matter how false. See:


          So that is what Gregg and his ilk here and elsewhere depend on, people who are willing to do shallow thinking either because they have never learned better or are basically lazy thinkers.

          It really is a shame this occurs and if enough people continue to follow that approach to politics it will be tragic for the human race.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

             Studies like that are more about aggrandizing the “scientist” than about finding facts or understanding the world.  Apply those critical thinking skills to the study, and you’ll see what I mean.

          • Gregg

            Man! I never knew.

    • Alan in NH

      Gregg: What I see in the classroom is kids who can access information so quickly, they can tell you how old Alexander the Great was when he died and the year of death in five seconds but have no clue why he was important (though they may have learned that the previous year in World Civ. class. Just an example from an actual classroom discussion. These same kids praise GPS apps as a way to keep from getting lost in a city but have no prior concept of city layout, or landmarks, or compass directions, can’t read a map and would certainly never ask someone that wasn’t a “dude” they knew how to get somewhere. These same kids know they are missing something – they speak of things their grandparents understand that they don’t – but the i-gadget is too easy, too appealing, too much fun.  I see an overall degradation of the ability to think independently, and to hold ideas in memory, in the present generations growing into adulthood. And can any of them stop talking and voicing their opinions, experiences, reactions long enough to listen to an usual thought? That’s exceedingly difficult for many of them.

      • Gregg

        I agree Allen, it’s like the wonder and thrill of discovery is gone. Still, the flipside is incredible. Either way, it’s here.

  • SteveV

    Imagine a quiet walk in the woods, or sharing time with a good friend, or watching a beautiful sunset……Now imagine doing these things without an I Pad. For many this is not something they will even contemplate.

    • Adks12020

      Sad, but true.  I spend a lot of time in the woods, leaving my electronics in the car.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the summit of a mountain watching people try to send text messages or post pictures to facebook.  People are missing out when they can’t just absorb all the sights, sounds, smells, etc. without electronics distracting them.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    If a tree falls in the woods, and a kid does not have a smart phone, did the tree really fall?

    We are learning to live in the NOW, like dogs who find adventure in every moment. Ruff!!! Will not reliance upon digital devices have an effect upon memory skills? Kids spend more time living in their smart phones than in physical reality. Is this not stunting their social skills and understanding of reality itself?

    What happens when you take smartphones away from a thirteen-year-olds? Have there been any studies?

  • J__o__h__n

    I only quantify 23.74% of myself.

  • Gregg

    Maybe the quantified self and the subliminal self should have a heart to heart chat. Is there an app for that?

    • jefe68

      Very good. What if they can’t decide on anything.

      • Gregg

         Maybe they can download a self-help ebook.

  • Sam Walworth

    We are giving up ALL the information about ourselves to the Cyberspace and yet we are trying to run away, far far away from the Big Brother.

    Don’t worry everything is fine!!

  • AC

    i am surprised how down/cynical everyone is on this (or on apps/mod tech in general) – it’s not that bad!
    I’m sure the first caveman to try and control fire for the benefit of his little cave town had to listen to all the elders shaking their heads, swearing they were going to burn down the village, or we would lose the ability to digest raw meat, or we’d get fat & lazy & want to sleep in – all by spoiling ourselves with this new fandangled idea called ‘a fire pit’……:P

    • AC

      ps. don’t get me started on the wheel!!

      • Gregg

        You’re funny AC! But we need to remember fossil fuels fueled the industrial age and advanced mankind immeasurably. Many these days want to reverse that. We are heading back to the fire pit.

        • Ray in VT

          I agree to an extent.  I think that religious fundamentalists would like to see a new dark ages.

          • Gregg

            …or everlasting enlightenment one.

          • Ray in VT

            I don’t see much enlightenment in Biblical fundamentalism and the rejection of science and reason in favor of faith.  It may be personally fulfilling, but I don’t see a societal way forward in the belief that disasters are the work of a vengeful God or the steadfast belief that the story of the Ark is a literal, factual truth that is beyond doubt.

          • Gregg

            As soon as I get my head wrapped around the whole time/space/continuum thing as relates to infinity I’ll be able to show the relation between the “great beyond” and over yonder. I’ll get back.

          • Don_B1

            The Enlightenment was to wrest the future away from people who think like the current set of Bible-literalist ideologues.

        • Don_B1

          There will be NO NEED to reduce lifestyle as the world moves to more efficient use of sustainable energy.

          But continued use of fossil fuels WILL result in a non-livable climate as perceived from today. Last year the cost of climate (storms, floods, droughts, etc.) was $52 billion and the year before somewhat less, but it used to be less than $10 billion.

          When the atmospheric warming increases so that the 4% water vapor increase since 1970 becomes a 10% increase or more, the YEARLY damages will be in the hundreds of $billions. Where do you think that money is going to come from?

          A small investment (less than 2% of GDP) can prevent a lot of that, IF that small investment starts NOW. The IEA estimates that for every $1 NOT spent to mitigate the emission of CO2 between now and 2020 will cost $4.30 later.

          That later spending will be accompanied by increased regulation that would otherwise be unnecessary. So oppose mitigation of climate change and bring on the REAL government control state, worse than any nightmare you can conjure.

      • Drew You Too


    • jefe68

      I find it funny how you can equate the idea of fire and the wheel, two huge developments in human evolution, to having an app for telling you your mood or a GPS to tell you where you are. I always thought one should know where they are. There is nothing wrong with technology. My aversion to this is that it seems pointless and a waste of time. Good for the people who sell apps, but pointless to the user. An app to track how much water you are drinking while you count the calories of the food you eat.

      • AC

        if it weren’t for the wheel, we wouldn’t be such weaklings – nor would we have to spend money to wear shoes!!
        no, I understand your point, but I think these apps may help some become more health conscience – or in any case, it’s all new. maybe this one is nonsense, but we have to figure it out as we go…even journalism was trash when the printing press first really got into mass-media, it’s a matter of trial/error/time. At least, I hope….

        • jefe68

          Parse the nuances, again, there is a huge difference between the wheel and an app for telling you how much water you drank.
          Without the wheel no industry.

          • AC

            my point was the complaints about change when these ‘inventions’ first arrived – I’d bet a lot of money that there was DEF complaining going on, i was trying to imagine it from the complainers point of view…(i was truing to be a smarty-pants!)

          • jefe68

            I’m not talking about change. I’m talking about dumb apps that people do not need. Diabetics need to monitor their glucose. A non-diabetic person does not. I can tell how much water I’m drinking by counting how many cups I drink. If I want to be more on top of this I would buy a 24 ounce water bottle and use some simple addition.

            The medical uses are a good thing, but the silly stuff is just that, silly.

  • nj_v2

    The blurb writer for the Web page needs a grammar app.

    The section headline should read, Life-quantifying Apps, not Life Quantifying Apps.

    • nj_v2

      Hey, they found the app!

  • jefe68

    Mr. Chaplin and a food app…

    • Gregg

      That was great!

  • Drew You Too

    One sufficient Solar flare and the resulting coronal mass ejection would render our latest Blankies (distractions) inoperable for possibly a decade. And am I the only one that thinks we’re a good chunk of the way through our next Bubble Cycle?

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    We are now well into the cyber-revolution. Has “i” has taken the magination out of life itself?

    We have an epidemic of obesity, kids can’t concentrate on anything except their inboxes,
    Facebook and Twitter, and our jobs that can’t be shipped to China are
    being threatened by software and robots. Drones are being used to surveil us. Skynet can be realized.

    The dreams of two generations ago epitomized by the question “Where’s my jetpack?” have been replaced with “Where’s MY bot?”

    • Drew You Too


    • Don_B1

      There are strong pointers that the epidemic of obesity is caused by the surfeit of sugar (mostly added by the food industry to make low/no-fat food “tasty”; see:


      ) in the American diet.

      The many hypotheses for the lack of concentration in children today runs the gamut from the rapid subject changes in Kid’s TV programming to lack of adult interaction to help young people develop concentration to drugs for hyperactivity.

      All repetitive jobs that do not lead to better, higher performance jobs are always a prime target for automation. And since they tend not to be emotionally rewarding, their loss should not be mourned; but it does mean that those workers have to realize that more preparation will be needed for them to be able to perform in the more advanced jobs. The automotive industry will never again have the number of workers per car produced as it did in the ’60s – ’90s.

      Tasks such as listening to conversations, detecting cancer in x-ray (or other) images, even deciding whether a tennis ball lands in or out of the court, are more accurately performed by technology because the concentration on the task is really hard for most humans.

      But humans still can learn to do the higher-level tasks that will always be necessary and do them better than whatever the current technology capability has reached.

      But that message is what does not seem to be getting through to too many young adolescents.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68


    Applications or Apps will not rule my life for “It’ is only a machine invented by us.

  • Lauren

    Great topic. I work with data, and understand its appeal. We humans naturally want to categorize, compartmentalize, quantify, and find patterns. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    However, we must remember that–like anything–there is a balance to strike. Amassing data is comforting, but can deceive us into finding patterns that aren’t really there.

    And, of course, sometimes it’s better to resist the urge to quantify. Initially I felt uneasy when I sent my baby to family daycare, because she never came home with the customary ‘progress note’ explaining all the details of her day (how many diaper changes she had, what she ate for lunch, and so forth). But eventually I made peace without that piece of paper, knowing that her providers were spending their time snuggling with her instead of putting her down to note that she ate 1/2 cup of pasta for lunch.

    • nj_v2

      As a reductionist activity, quantification can give the illusion of understanding by extracting isolated tidbits of information from complex systems or phenomenon. Even with lots of tidbits, the full scope of a system cannot be fully described or simulated simply by extracted, isolated data.

      Accompanied by one of the earlier photos of the earth taking on one of the Apollo missions, a tagline which appeared one of the covers of the Whole Earth Catalog in the early 70s read, “We can’t put it together, it is together.

  • Ray in VT

    My experience with working with young people on my brother’s farm is that if you want to get any work out of them, then you had better confiscate their cell phones when they get on the clock.  I find many of them spending more time on Facebook, etc., than with dealing with anything in the real world.

    • feettothefire

       Young people cannot be blamed for the world they are born into. Most of us would behave in the same manner were we born in these times. The problem is merely the fact that adults have failed to guide children and moderate their use of these devices and services. Indeed, many adults themselves are as hooked into this stuff as any teenager or twenty-something. The problem lies in the fact that in a few short years the collective memory of living any other way will be near extinction. The attention span of the leaders in industry, business, and government, and their ability to apply deep analysis and consideration to the issues of the day will be next to nil. Neither business nor government can be run well on the basis of a two minute attention span, but that’s exactly what we’ll have.

  • Ray in VT

    I find myself not wanting to have a “robust” digital shelf.  I share some thoughts, photos and links via social media with people whom I would actually consider to be friends in the real world, and I just don’t understand the appeal of updating one’s status every couple of minutes or sharing what one eats for every meal.

  • Drew You Too

     The potential for Apps and associated technologies is impressive. But then again so was the potential for the internet before it was turned into the world’s largest marketing tool. The ability to access the collective knowledge of humankind was in our grasp but we decided we would rather express outrage, post pics, shop for nick-knacks, let everyone know when we’re going to the bathroom, and play Angry Birds. Perhaps I’m cynical but I feel those who place faith in the advancement of our species through (not so) Smart Phone apps are delusional.

    • AC

      but are you not infact using the internet right at this moment, projecting a thought deeper than the fact that you want pizza for lunch today?

      • Drew You Too

        I’m not projecting any deep thoughts, I don’t have any. I love the internet and I never exempt myself from our collective contributions to our failing Civilization. There’s nothing Civil about it.

        Pizza does sound good though, hook me up.


  • Steve

    Information is becoming more ubiquitous every day,  knowledge and wisdom are much more difficult to come by. The discernment to tell the difference is rarer still.

    When is information complimentary to wisdom and if they are the distinct brain functions when are they at odds?

  • corb

    Life is a computer game where one needs to score.  

    • corb

      “Klout” scoring for supposed influence:   J. Bieber gets has a “perfect” score and, I assume, his parents have no score…

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        Since I don’t know what you’re talking about, can I get a negative score?

  • dirk in omaha
  • none

    Doesn’t anyone have privacy conerns over this? 

    • Drew You Too

      Nah, that would require an expectation of Privacy. We gave that up a while back. Pass the PopCorn please…

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    What astonishes me is that other people care.  Ben Franklin wrote about his program of self improvement in his autobiography, but he had a point to make with that.  But who cares how many steps I take today?  My doctor does, and I do, but the thought that anyone else would be interested is beyond my comprehension.

    • jefe68

      It’s called narcissism, when I’m on FB I see this all the time. People posting about what they eat, what their cat is doing and how cute their dog is. I know of one person who spends hours on FB every day posting about every bit of minutia of her life, she has some kind of compulsion disorder that is fueling this.  

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Quantity does not equal quality.  Not all data are of equal value.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Can that woman stop saying “actually”?

    • J__o__h__n

      Can you quantify how often she says it?

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         Who was the cartoon mobster who said, “Enough is too much. . .”?

    • jefe68

      She was annoying, and her job, health coach?

  • naturalist

    Are people so out of touch with their bodies and themselves that they need APs? Incredible. Another distraction to remove us from ourselves.

  • Will

    If we monitor all of our health symptoms / quantify everything related to health in our life, isn’t that going to create more things to worry about, create more potential trips to the doctor, and ultimately increase healthcare costs?  As a society, do we really have the time / money to seriously entertain something like this?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Some gadget will squawk at me to ask my mood?  @%&%*&@## angry that you made a sound–that’s my mood.  This is narcissism, and it will make totalitarianism all too easy.

  • Roger Meloche

    Is there a sensor that could tell that I am close to fall asleep while driving

  • Chris

    Athletes have been doing this for years with training logs especially now with online training logs like TrainingPeaks. We write down everything from how much we exercise to heart rate to watts to weight to calories and body fat percentage. We are very OCD about it and take pride in our stats, sharing them bragging about them etc. Moreover we see our recordings as a way to track progress and make improvements in training 

  • AnnaLog

    This is why the rest of the world hates us. 

    • J__o__h__n

      Is there an ap for that?

    • nj_v2

      ^ Best-screen-name-of-the-day award!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1816544 Dan Trindade

    If humanity as a whole were to move towards the integrated, data-rich world of the Quantified Self what type of national infrastructure would be required to ensure that everywhere we go our data is realiably quantified?

  • Vtcheflw

    Do we really need computers to know how we feel?  Does it not create a confounding situation that interacting with these devises effects us, maybe in ways we can’t even understand?

  • RD

    I recently got back in to bicycling to participate in the “Bicycle Battling Cancer” ride to support American Cancer Society. I have a cadence and speed sensor on my bike and I ride with a heart sensor. I use iPhone and ANT+ sensors and couple of apps to track my cycling practice… This has just changed the way I cycle now. I simply love it.

    If technology can help us get better, inspire us to do something better, why not?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    My room’s too hot at night–I need a sleep monitor to tell me this?

    • Albert

      The same way you need an app to tell you that when you are thirsty you are not drinking enough water.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         How about an application to tell me when I need a Scotch?

  • Adks12020

    I feel more relaxed and sane when I unplug for a while. Too much information isn’t a good thing for my sanity.

    I’ve been gradually using apps and social networks less and less and I feel better for it.  As an aside I’m 30 and grew up with these things. I just don’t think they work for me. 

    Too much constant streaming information stresses me out.

    • Ray in VT

      I agree.  I’m pretty much entirely unplugged on the weekend, and I enjoy it immensely, although it does put a crimp in my fantasy baseball habit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=877395322 Alec Doane

    How has no one mentioned the potential privacy issues related to these apps? Beaming information about ourselves via unsecured means makes our information available to the government and to advertisers — all of our activities online are already easily tracked via cookies and malware. How long will it take for those things to harvest our vital statistics?

  • Brian

    I can’t help but be reminded of T.S. Elliot’s quote:
    “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

  • Guest

    As “creepy” as it seems from a “big brother” standpoint, I see this as part of our inevitable future. Things we see today as civil liberties- characteristics of a free society if you will-will dimish as the need for society as a whole to control: carbon footprint, health costs, etc. increases. Eventually our use of fossil fuels will be restricted, for example, and I can definitely see all of us having to be “wired up” so our doctors can monitor our health and activities, which of course means the insurance companies as well.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Or the revolution starts tomorrow.  Totalitarianism isn’t inevitable.  It comes about because it’s tolerated.

      • Guest

        It’s too late. How far it’s taken- mind control, preemptive detention or arrests (Judge Dread) who knows, but it’s not going to go back Greg.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Before people turn themselves into peripherals, they should consider how obnoxious computers can be.  I’m still wrestling with every product that comes from Tinylimp.  Do I want my body to ask me, “Are you sure?”

  • Gretchen

    I have had type 1 diabetes since age 7. I’ve had an insulin pump for 16 years, and my last pregnancy, 5 years ago, I have used a continuous glucose monitor that monitors my sugar levels, and then talks to my pump. It keeps track of my overall diabetes control, and alarms when I am trending high or low. This type of monitoring has literally saved my life, and allows me to live a much more healthy life.

  • http://twitter.com/Dave_Eger Dave Eger

    Reminds me of Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. 

    I’m sure for some serious athletes this could be helpful, but I also wonder what happens when someone finds they are always in a bad mood and looks to their cellphone for answers.

  • nj_v2

    There’s information and there’s what we do with information.

    I’m reminded of the old joke about the empiric method.

    A couple of white-coated scientists are standing around in the lab, with clipboards and rulers. One of them gets close to the frog that is sitting at one end of a table. He yells, “Jump!” The other measures the distance. They repeat this a couple of times.

    They cut off one of the legs of the frog, and repeat the procedure. They continue to do this until the frog has no more legs. Despite repeated shouting, the now legless frog doesn’t move.

    Conclusion: Removing all of a frog’s legs causes it to become deaf.

  • steve

    Great show. I wonder if your guest can address the question of privacy of this information. There are possible implications for health insurance as well as for criminal justice and security. What is being done to ensure that our information remains ours? 

    • Drew You Too

       Here’s a Revelation for you: Your information cannot remain yours. You cannot retain that which you don’t posses. Don’t take my word for it, I’m living proof that no one in this country should think that something as simple and as crucial as retaining your own name is possible.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    If I’m communicating with my doctor, that’s one thing, but why does Facebook need to know my daily blood pressure?

  • Curious

    Note:  Type 1 aka Juvenile Diabetes is NOT necessarily inherited or genetic. It’s an autoimmune disorder (believed to be at least sometimes triggered by the Coxsackievirus).

  • Kelly

    The interaction b/w home monitoring and the doctor’s office is here. The PT/INR test that coumadin patients do weekly will have a button in a few months that sends the reading to the mfr and the mfr faxes the doctors office. But the speaker is correct that the doctor’s office and the physician isn’t embracing the possibilities or the decision is not up to the dr as much as a business minded administrator.

  • Olivia

    Does this close focus on self-discipline shift our attention from social and environmental factors that affect wellbeing?  If we’re all trying to improve our sleep by futzing with the thermostat, are we less apt to consider the pollution, high-cost of quality foods, and stress of long hours at low paying jobs that prevent many from participating in this kind of continual self-improvement?

  • Vtcheflw

    The human brain can become so in tune with with the way the body is feeling and so many other things as well.  Finding people how are genuinely aware of themselves is unusual these days.  I would argue that TV and computers, the need for instant gratification, contributes to the common disconnect that is very prevalent today.   Depending on data and a computer to tell us how we feel is not going to help with that disconnect.

  • lauklejs

    One thing not mentioned on the show is that in the field of human activity, Knowledge is NOT POWER.  If it were then the number of cigarettes sold would be zero.

    • Ray in VT

      True, but information can be power and the currently of the virtual world that we inhabit.

      • Ray in VT

        I meant currency not currently.

  • Fiona05

    With the amount of data collection happening now, in fact NPR had a program on digital privacy recently, what are the implications of this data being available?

  • Susan

    I’m a physician focusing on obesity — could the sleep app discussed facilitate the identification of or even diagnose obstructive sleep apnea for patients reluctant to spend the night in a sleep lab?

    • miro

      There are already SPO2 wrist recorders (search for wrist pulse oximeters) that will record  over a 24 hour period that will give you a sense of how bad their apnea is. These retail for about $200 at places like Walmart or Amazon, far, far less than the cost of a sleep study.

      Re: obesity, we need to close the biofeedback loop and develop better tracking AND control programs that heighten awareness of what and how much is eaten, and help patients control that. The state of the art, even with something like Weight Watchers online, is still pretty primitive and these programs are typically not integrated well (often not at all) with other health tracking — blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep quality, weight, percent body fat, exercise.

      If such programs could give instant, corrective feedback (about eating especially), perhaps behavioral “lifestyle” changes might be a viable, effective option for more people. We need aids that promote self-control, as paradoxical as that seems.

      The medical profession is way behind on this stuff, and one has the feeling that the FDA really slows down the development of even no-brainer diagnostics (like home AIDS tests or devices that allow glucometers to download readings to iPhones, and also to chart those results).

      The other problem is that there is very little personal physiological modeling out there in medicine. For obesity, type II diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, individual metabolic models using all this collected personal physiology data might point to the most appropriate treatments. 

      But we are still light years away from that, and most patients with Type II diabetes or sleep problems or other chronic diseases that require daily interventions are really pretty much on their own — the doctors just get snapshots and prescribe whatever therapies or meds they have on hand.

      Great topic, Tom!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1245478104 Thomas M. Stambaugh

    I want to amplify the comment of Alec Doane a few minutes ago about privacy.

    The privacy implications of this strike me as immediate and profound, as opposed to “potential”. Unless the smart-phone is VERY CAREFULLY hacked, every bit goes through Google, Apple, and all the telecommunications carriers. We already know that NSA and the government is ALREADY collecting that information, On Point did a show a few weeks ago about the huge new facility being built by NSA to handle this data. Is anyone paying attention to the reality that employers are now demanding that prospective employees “friend” them and in some cases reveal their login information?

    Meanwhile, what happens to the data itself? Perhaps this data could be encrypted. The next step is that the data needs to go to PERSONAL DISKS, not “the cloud”. Yet this week Google launched a started promoting just the opposite.

    I love this concept. At the same time, I think we need to be FAR MORE proactive about confronting the PROFOUND privacy risks it raises.

    • jefe68

      On that note it is now known that half the population of the state of Massachusetts has had their personal information compromised in the last year. Most of the information that was hacked was from the use of Smart phones and other WIFI devices.   

  • Kathryn

    I would love to use the sleep app to monitor the effectiveness of my new anti-snore dental appliance to hopefully replace my need for C-PAP.  But I wonder if the presence of the electronic monitor & the associated EMFs would impact my sleep, as well.  How do I know?  The research on this impact of electronics is not mainstream yet, but certainly building.

  • Screamingpalms

    This, like so many other aspects of human fascination with technologies, is in many ways a search for a solution to our problems outside of yourself. This technology is in no way an intrinsic part of human development. It is yet one more way to avoid the responsibilities of taking care of yourself. The only exception to this could be medical conditions. Also, in what way will all of this accumulated information be used against us, prevent us from getting healthcare coverage ?

  • Liza

    I’m generally a fan of many of the new apps, and it’s important to talk about how they can be abused.  While the health tracking apps can help with diet, I know multiple people who have used the calorie counters to help monitor their restriction when suffering from eating disorders.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    All this stuff sounds like a lot of fun, but until people actually take some time and effort to learn the basics of their body and bodily functions it really won’t do much.

    • feettothefire

       In today’s America, taking time and expending effort in order to “learn” anything is considered quaint and old fashioned.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Tom Ashbrook, that’s not what the caller said–headed off at the pass from getting another slice of pizza.  He said that he’s concerned over the danger of handing control over to faceless powers.  Your smug mockery belittles an important point.

  • Jasoturner

    I must be old, since I find the implied obsession with self incredibly narcissistic.

    Sometimes I think the folks into stuff like this forget the most important rule of all: Nobody gets out of here alive.

    No need to sweat the calories in you slice of pizza…

  • GordonDR

    To the guest: We are not all top athletes and we are not machines. Listen to your body instead of starting at your screens. If you feel well rested, you have slept well . If you feel stressed, you are stressed. Monitoring for particular medical problems is fine. Otherwise, how about using your time for living? Talk your friends and loved ones, exercise, enjoy nature, cook a meal, use your talents to do useful work, volunteer and help others. Life is short and there is much to be done, including raising kids.

  • Rkr

    To all the naysayers – “Unless something can be measured, it cannot be improved”. You can choose to be the ostrich, or you can do something about it

  • Jaki Reis

    I can’t get the scifi short story out of my mind as you talk about this monitoring device.  Let me say first that I think this is a fabulous idea, the more we know about ourselves, the less we have to speculate on who we are – and the less we can fool ourselves into thinking we are better or worse than we really are, and so, I believe, the better we would take care of our health, for one.  Also, I think it is a natural and healthy flow of the trend for better health care.

    But the image I can’t shake is the story of the “desk” monitor in this scifi story, where each worker opens his work space by inserting his finger into a device that analyses his blood for various health anomalies and then administers the needed medications.  In this story, the device malfunctions, the needed antipsychotic drugs don’t get administered and the guy goes “crazy”.  It was only years later that I thought back to this story and realized that a point I missed originally was that the guy was at a mind-numbing desk job and that, perhaps, the medical monitoring was not a miraculous health/life saving device, but a device to keep him at that desk.

    And yes, this idea came to me while I was sitting at a desk, doing a mind-numbing job.  No, I did not quit…right away.

  • Rex

    What happens when users become dependent on these devices?
    I don’t remember how I was able to get around 10 years ago without a cell phone and GPS.

  • Meghan Listek

    It seems that memory is becoming more and more externalized – we don’t have to remember phone numbers any more, we keep online calendars, we search our email to look back on conversations.  I’m curious about how this trend will play out in the future.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rickevans033050 Rick Evans

    There’s not going to be a mandate? Who says? Google United Healthcare’s Know Your Numbers carrot and stick healthcare program. BMI is junk science but Know Your Numbers punishes you for having a high BMI.

  • Albert

    Please do touch on the privacy issue in regards to this. Because health care may not have a current mandate, but just look at how the issue with jobs asking employees to give their facebook loggin information in order to get a glimpse into their private lifes. The same thing will happen with this information available online and insurance companies want it in order to give your “proper” health care cost.

  • Screamingpalms

    Thirsty ? Drink some water.

    Not sure if you’re drinking enough water.? Drink 1 eight ounce glass of water every hour…or, drink some water every hour. How is it we’ve evolved to the point of being able to make it to the moon but we can’t tell if we’ve been drinking enough water ?

    It’s water ! Just drink the stuff ! Every hour !!!

    My god, people are so incredibly lazy….

  • J__o__h__n

    The guest was quick to dismiss the compulsory use of this by insurance companies.  Considering the current composition of the Supreme Court, I don’t see individual rights to not be monitored (even if established by Congress) as being superior to the insurance companies’ right of contract.  The conservatives will dismiss intrusion by private companies the same way they view workers’ rights - if you don’t like your working conditions you have the freedom to work elsewhere. 

  • peterossetti

    Man, I hate this ongoing attempt to lure people into the concept of adopting a smart phone as the be-all and end-all path to a quality life.

    Last month you had a whole program on the wonders of all the “great” apps that we should all be wanting to use.  Things like: prodding us when we walk past a store to tell us there are items on sale inside that we might want to buy … or, monitoring the road ahead of us as we drive to alert us that we’re too close to the car in front of us.  Now we learn about apps that tell us if we’re getting enough sleep, or eating right, or exercising enough, etc. etc.  The message seems to be that — if only we would purchase a smart phone and sign up for a monthly data plan, all our problems would be solved.I understand that 30% of the population has adopted these gadgets — at significant and recurring expense, but the folks sellling the gadgets are not satisfied.  They see a vast, untapped market, and they will not rest until everyone adopts them.  Seems to me that talk show programs like this one are just one more attempt to convince people to spend.In the words of Dar Williams …
    “Well I look up to the people who are less bought than I You can show them what you’re selling And they’ll only ask you why And their paychecks don’t have lots of zeros They’re my friends and they’re my heroes And the TV sets are angry ’cause they just can’t make ‘em pay But I like the way these people read the signs and walk away “

    • Mike K., Ph.D.

      To Peter and others w/similar skepticsm:

             I ask you to look beyond the knee-jerk reaction that someone’s just trying to simply make more money from you.  I ask you this, as a Health Psychologist:  Let’s say, that at your last yearly physical you were a mere 8 pounds over what your Dr. prescribes as an optimal weight (based on BMI), and your LDL cholesterol was a mere 25 pts higher than desired (but total chlstrl was still well below 200).  As a result, your Dr. lightly ‘prescribes’ to you to try cutting ~5 lbs and suggests various light (1) food modification and (2) additional activity/exercise.  I ask you, what are you likely to do?  Will you follow through for a week or more, then go back to your usual habits and routines until a month prior to next year’s physical when you are presented with the same data (or an additional 2 lbs.)????
            Alternatively, what if during the intervening year you had an aid, a helping tool that quietly and unobrtusively monitored and tracked the amount of activity you engaged in throughout your days (like the Fitbit or Nike Fuelband), or even the picture snapping/calorie counter app mentioned today.  And then, you were able to better face reality with respect to how much you were REALLY moving/exercising and/or eating, not what how much you would like to believe you are exercising/eating.  And then to track it over time, in order to better see patterns and relationships with seasons, or stress, or moods & interpersonal relationships.  Our minds have a wonderful way of distorting unpleasant truths (like our lack of adherence to exercise, or other prescriptions from our doctors OR our own true-inner guidance).  But these tools and tracking devices present the unvarnished truth.  And, perhaps more importantly, they can keep ‘the truth’ (about our habits) at the forefront of our lives – and unlike a nagging spouse or unintentially condescending Dr., they can become a real ally for you, yourself -that which empowers you, vs. dictates or shames you.
           Would you buy that tool?, especially if it kept/lowered your cholesterol in a way to obviate a later need to avoid $25K/year in cholesterol and BP lowering medications which a vast majority of the American public is either currently on, or on a trajectory to later be on?
          The potential for these tools, within the right frameworks is enormous.  The  time for tracking and monitoring of biometric markers is not just for the performance elite anymore, its for all of us.

      Mike K., Ph.D.

  • Cynthia LaPan

    Your guests are discussing the state-of-the-art, brand-new out-of-the-box tools, but are not at all discussing an old, and wide-spread problem:  Why some people *don’t* follow doctor’s instructions.  There is a cultural element that is being completely left out here.  We can have all of the good advice and prescriptions and training available to us, but without the knowledge and drive to *do* these things, people often do not. 

  • Drew You Too

    So it’s direction and implementation is entirely up to us? We’re screwed

  • Mike

    The argument presented before the Supreme Court to justify the health care mandate was: “Everyone is in the health care market whether they admit it or not, so the government has the right to force you to buy insurance”.  Why wouldn’t this same argument be used to require monitoring and then disclosure of each person’s health metrics?  Couldn’t the same argument be used to prevent you from deviating from a prescribed diet?  If our thesis that everyone must do things to lower heath care costs for society, why wouldn’t we mandate these things?

  • Bryck

    When Rene Rene Laennec invented the stethescope in 1816, he faced criticism too.. and interestingly, privacy figured as part of that chorus of negativity…..Now it is part of the armamentarium of the physician… 

  • Jeff

    To GordonDR, you make a good point, but some of these apps help you learn how to listen to your bodies.  As an athlete myself, I’ve used Restwise, which uses sleep, mood, etc. to tell me how recovered I am from training, for a while now, and now I have a much better understanding of what my body is telling me. I agree you don’t want to the apps to take over, but they can help you establish positive habits.

  • Screamingpalms

    “these apps are aimed at MAKING HEALTHIER and MORE PRODUCTIVE.”

    Oh, happiness is gauged by my productivity levels…!?!?!?

    I had no idea. I don’t have an app for that. How would I have ever figured that one out ????

  • feettothefire

    I wish I was thirty or forty years younger. That way I’d be around in fifty years when folks are laughing at what rubes we all were around the turn of the century. I’m sure they’ll have some good chuckles when they think of how mesmerized the public was by every shiny new toy that was thrown at us. I’m sure our belief that life on earth began with the introduction of the “SMARTPHONE” will be very amusing to them. Our inability to take the dog for a walk in the woods without yapping on our phones or cramming earbuds in our ears, despite the fact that people had been doing that kind of thing with little or no problem for years, will be equally amusing. Perhaps they’ll read some historic account of how the world came close to Armageddon because of that horrible day Twitter had to close down for a few hours in order to perform some maintenance. (Shuddderrrr!!)                                                                   I think I’ll go sit on my deck on this beautiful, sunny spring morning. I’ll enjoy a nice cup of coffee and the sound of birds singing. Maybe Ill just sit and think. You know, ponder. Wonder. The kind of mental activity in which humans engaged for thousands of years. The kind of activity that gave us Shakespeare, Aristotle, Mozart, and Einstein. The kind of activity that resulted in things like “Moby Dick,” “The Iliad,” “Beethoven’s ninth symphony,” and “Hey Jude.”  Or, maybe I’ll read a book instead. Maybe it’s time to reread Moby dick. Damn!!! Where’s that ****in’ Kindle? 

    • Bruce

      I agree with your sentiment.  I don’t see these apps contributing much to a more contemplative life, a greater appreciation of the arts & literature, or a more mindful existence in general.  Having said that, I would offer the following caveat:
      As a runner (40+ years), I find these apps enticing to the extent that they provide data that would reinforce a training regimen even for the least competitive runner like myself.  They seem to offer some of the same baseline data & feedback you get if you undergo an assessment before embarking on any strenuous exercise program.    
      As I got older, I noticed my recovery times naturally increasing; what I didn’t know was that the onset of sleep apnea was probably a major factor in my increasing recovery times, decreasing performance of a myriad of other tasks, and eventual exit from the sport after much consternation.   
      If I understood the first part of the show correctly, an app for apnea (or at least its early detection) is now possible…and would have proven useful to a diehard like myself.
      I do agree with the majority of comments on this board questioning the utility and security of collecting, storing and sharing all of this data.  Not having grown up with computers, I am not as inclined to use or trust social media as the average twenty or thirty-something, and am not as intrigued as some by the information these apps may impart — information accessible by other means that seem more natural, direct and more in keeping with our social character.
      For example, a loving and caring wife is the best barometer for my mood swings.  Come to think of it, she was also the major impetus for getting my apnea treated. The snoring was keeping her up at nights :)

  • Todd

    I wasn’t able to listen to the broadcast, so have only read the comments. Frankly I’m really caught off guard by all the negativity and fear I’m seeing in these comments. I’m a little reluctant to jump in, given all the negative speculation and assumptions going on, but here is my take.

    Full disclosure, I am a former New Englander (VT) living in Washington, DC. I am the founder of a software company building an app that does self-tracking and will launch in the coming months (chartMe [net]). I too have conflicting feelings about modern technology and privacy. And I know the value of climbing a mt. and being quiet and self-contemplative in your life. That being said, it seems lost on people that many of us already ‘track’ things in our lives, but don’t give it the name of Quantified Self: your finances, your weight, the cigarettes you smoke, and your workouts (I’ve kept a clipboard of my runs for years. Does that make me a narcissist –or just someone concerned with performance?) 

    Self-tracking is not for everyone, but I’d be willing to bet many of the people making negative comments have never tried it. I’m cynical about pieces of it myself. But it takes seconds to record your info, and gives you the ability to see patterns (for me, i was surprised to see how much the amt. of sleep and my weight are related) and learn things about yourself. “Know thyself” sound like good advice to anyone? “Mindfullness” seem like a worthy goal to people? Don’t knock it ’til you try it. OR, if other people are going to do it, don’t assume they’re narcissistic lost souls, when really they are just people looking to reach goals, understand their patterns, create better habits, improve performance, and make their life better. Sitting back and making self-satisfied, fearful, uninformed, and negative comments about self-tracking doesn’t add to the conversation. 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

      One great example why I am scared of Apps.

      Google seems to track every computer I use. If I use my friends computer and use Google search engine my personal Google web site comes out and I only used my friend’s laptop once.

      • Todd

        Privacy is an incredibly valid and important issue. And you are totally correct Google is tracking your browsing activity, as are most sites that you visit. Cookies help them for marketing purposes mostly, but it doesn’t make you feel much better, huh?

        I dont have a comprehensive answer, but for browsing, you can use privacy-focused search engines like duckduckgo if that is your main concern. Sites that track your health/personal data are also required by HIPAA to protect your privacy.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

          funny I thought HIPAA is only use in the Medical Field I guess that Fed department got more power than I ever thought.

    • jefe68

      It’s narcissistic if you are obsessed about ones self, do it a lot and post it online. Maybe you are somewhat narcissistic and don’t know it. Most people who are are not aware that they are. Which is part of the neurosis.
      If the apps make a good sense great. I don’t need an app to tell me how much water I’m drinking or if I’m getting enough sleep. To that’s a waste of time and really kind of silly. That you have to get defensive, well your business is selling these apps, is just a sign of you not liking the critique. I don’t own a smart phone, I don’t need one and I doubt I ever will so these apps will have no influence on my life.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

    Apps are great but for me it is too early for me to have that technology nosing around my personal date like health.

    probably when it’s regulated I have confidence on using them, but for now Apps should stay away from my personal life

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

      “personal data”

  • mutantdaisies

    It seems to me that the fallacy of “optimizing yourself” is that it’s never quite clear what peak a human should be optimizing *for*. Every instance of optimization is a choice to optimize for some parameters at the expense of others. This is true even with machines: an iPad might be optimized for portable web surfing, but I wouldn’t want to do an intensive data analysis on it. If I were trying to optimize myself for certain life goals or experiences, I would wonder what parameters I’d be very suboptimal for.

    • Jason Goodwin

      good point. at the simplest, i would think length of quality lifespan is the main aim. preventative medicine vs reactive, etc.  when you get into things like optimizing intelligence, athletic fitness, etc, i would imagine there will be short term vs long term tradeoffs. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

    Second reason I don’t like Apps because they only work well on iPhone other smart phones don’t even have Apps on their phones and they call it “Bubbles”

    • Michele

       There are many smartphones that are Android based and there is an android APP market – not a bubble market.

  • http://twitter.com/DrLeslieSaxon Leslie Saxon, MD
  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C2STBLZJK4VKQBV27DVQX3I6CU FAX68

    I want an Apps that tells me that my soul mate is beside me or near me.

  • Elise

    I question the usefulness toward improving general population health, because people who are most unhealthy are the least likely to have the funds and the time to self-monitor. Affluent, self-aware people who would gravitate toward these apps are arguably the healthiest to begin with.

    • @Jhamptongoodwin

      you’re thinking too short term. at this stage it’s alpha users. eventually it’s like a cell phone or cheaper. 

    • Hidan

       Just think,

      The government or health care companies can places this on the poor  to monitor what they eat and what there feeding to there children. Maybe make it mandatory of course this wouldn’t effect the middle-class?

      Than maybe require all school children to wear such to track there health and welfare, than maybe convicts? (for security reason of course) than maybe all Patriotic Americans can vounteer to were them as well? than maybe the ones that arent’ as Patriotic should be required too cause we all know if you have nothing to hide than……

  • Robfiasco

    Most of those apps have terrible reviews….. So how close are we really?

  • Roy Mac

    Totally stupid.  The only reason this exists is because it can be done and there are sheep who will pay for it.  Can you say CB Radio?  Or chest x-rays?  Or personalized horoscopes?

  • Hidan

    Just wait till the hipsters start talking about how cool and great  there government provided bar codes, it monitors all one daily activities 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/KIS7KACF4HCY6FBHTLRA753C4A ralph

    Biofeedback…what happened?
      Why study when you can directly modify?

  • Edyeg

    This is like 21st century biofeedback, but much more subtle. Hooray!

  • Adam

    I am very supportive of the efforts of individuals to pursue self-improvement. I think the anecdote and discussion concerning sleep data collection is especially poignant as it is a direct counter-argument to those suggesting you can know yourself entirely through more traditional introspection. However, my concern lies with the potential legislation involving health insurance firms. We cannot forget that in modern times, we are not the only ones invested in our health. I do not think it is difficult to imagine a future where personal digital data collection becomes so prevalent that these large firms with a lot of money to gain essentially mandate such collection to potential customers. This, to me, is intolerable. As supportive as I am of many acts of self-improvement, I am not supportive of the choice being taken away from people, or at the very least held against them. I think this is a problem we may confront in the not-to-distant future.

  • Lucie Marchand

    this is the first time, i has a mother of an autistic child,  can see light  at the end of the tunnel.    It would help us track down what is disturbing the child and finally find the reasons of there behavior.

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  • JGC

    disqus testing, testing, one two three….

Sep 2, 2014
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