Quantified Self Europe Review

Quantified SelfOne of the first things I discovered this past weekend in Amsterdam at the first ever Quantified Self Europe conference is that I clearly do a bad job explaining what QS is. When asked why I obsessively track things in my life like sleep patterns, exercise habits, food intake, skin condition, and others, I usually give a rambling answer about measuring things to make life better and improve myself and make changes and I like numbers.

Then I’m met with a blank stare which reads, “Freakshow.”

However I spoke with a lot of people this weekend (many of them wearing tracking devices like fitbit & jawbone) who mentioned that when they talk about using RunKeeper or a Withings scale, the response is often “Wow cool, I want to do that too!”

So I’m obviously not a great spokesperson for the movement. However measuring and tracking data about myself is something I’ve been doing ever since I was a little kid, tracking what I spent my babysitting money on and my pet rabbit’s snack intake. I once made a chart extrapolating out all of the possible outfit combinations in my closet (this wasn’t as hard as it might sound, I wore a school uniform during the school year & a camp uniform during the summer, and my mom made the rest of my clothes – it was slim pickings). I was born a data nerd.



I’ve already disqualified myself from answering that question, so I’m stealing the definition from the Quantified Self site: “Quantified Self is a collaboration of users and tool makers who share an interest in self knowledge through self-tracking. We exchange information about our personal projects, the tools we use, tips we’ve gleaned, lessons we’ve learned.”  There. Make sense?

I discovered QS through two of my heroes:  1) a researcher named Seth Roberts, who has been blogging for years about his attempts to improve his lifestyle through self-experimentation and 2) Nicholas Felton, creator of the annual Feltron Report, a collection of beautiful graphics illustrating achievements and quantified activities of Felton throughout the year. Both of these individuals inspired me to begin tracking data to find correlations and improve my life.



Quantified Self meetups happen all over the world (and just started in Dublin!). People use them to share what they’ve learned, ask questions and grow together. It’s a community movement of people who want to make their lives and the world around them better.

Show & Tell meetups allow people to discuss things they’re trying, problems they’ve had, get suggestions and then report back on their successes or issues.  The conference is an annual event for both users and those building apps and tools for self-trackers to meet and discuss the needs of the community.


Quantified Self EuropeQS EUROPE

You know you’re at a Quantified Self meetup when people show up in the morning with kinks in their hair where their Zeo band was. I can’t tell you how much I learned from the insightful and forward-thinking people at QS Europe. I am very glad I went. I learned about personal data visualization integration, building tools for others, objective versus subjective tracking, and lots in between. I met many inspiring people and returned to Dublin quite energized and enthusiastic (and with some ideas for my Christmas list this year like the jawbone bracelet tracker!).



The talk I gave was one of the hardest I’ve ever given because it was so personal. I’m very comfortable giving tech talks, discussing APIs and doing programming demonstrations, but I don’t usually talk about personal things.

One’s face is very personal. When I moved to Ireland in 2007, I began to have skin problems. It began gradually and I attributed it to the move, to stress, to late nights drinking with developers and clients, to travel, to whatever excuses I could think of. The stress was multiplied by the anxiety of being embarrassed about how my face looked, but also because my new job in Ireland involved me being on stage in front of large audiences constantly, often several times a week. A year later my skin was perpetually inflamed, red, full of sores and very painful. When one spot would go away, two more would spring up in its place. It was a tough time. I cried a lot.

Frustrated, I went to see my hometown dermatologist while I was home for holidays. He told me that a) this was completely normal and b) there was nothing I could do but go on antibiotics for a year (in addition to spending a fortune on creams and pills). I didn’t believe either of those things.

I was not interested in being on an antibiotic for a year, nor was I interested in Accutane (my best friend has had it multiple times and it hasn’t had long term results, plus it can be risky). What I was interested in was figuring out why this was happening and changing my life to make it stop. I refused to accept my dermatologist’s insistence that what you put in your body has no effect on how you look and feel.

I began systematically cutting things out of my diet to see how I reacted. First chicken and soy, based on a recommendation from a food allergist. Over the course of a year I cut out sugar, gluten, carbs, starches, caffeine, meat, fish until finally the magical month of December 2010 when I cut out dairy. My skin was my own again by New Year’s day this year.

It took a year to figure it out. It was completely worth it. There’s nothing wrong with Irish dairy, it just doesn’t work for me. I drink Americanos instead of lattes now, I don’t eat cereal; none of that is a huge deal. For what it’s worth, I can drink goat’s milk.

It was worth it but it was still tough. So I spoke at QS Europe about my journey in the hopes that it can help and inspire others who are embarrassed about their skin condition or scared of long stints of antibiotics or potentially risky treatments like Accutane. My slides, while not very exciting since it was a lot more storytelling than slide showing, are below. If you are going through something similar I encourage you to find a group of kind and helpful people like QS-ers, or use a community forum like http://curetogether.com/ to help get support and suggestions.


Quantified Self isn’t for everyone, but everyone should feel they have the power to change things in their body and their life for the better.

Exciting Idea Magazine Addition: Help with Hiring

idea-logo-whiteIf you’ve tried hiring people in the tech industry lately, you know what a tough and competitive market it is right now.

Idea Magazine wants to help.

Today we’re opening up a limited amount of job listings for our inaugural issue launching December 8th. We’re not interested in posting bulk ads with hidden company names. We’re not interested in posting vague descriptions of what someone might be doing. We’re not interested in posting ads for interns to work for free. We’re not interested in posting ads for companies hiring you so they can outsource your skills.

Here’s what we ARE interested in: we want to connect great people to great startups & tech companies. And we think the best way to do that is by being transparent and helping you find each other.

Our job listings cost only 35 Euros each and are featured in both the website and the magazine itself. This is a great deal as it delivers your ad to a very targeted audience of people interested and working in technology in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

We will be selective about which job listings we post so that a) they’re not overwhelming for the readers and b) your job has a chance to stand out.

You have the chance to make your position stand out – jobs will contain the below information so that the candidates contacting you will understand the requirements and be excited about joining your team.

To get your startup job posted in the first issue of Idea Magazine, launching December 8th, fill in the form here: http://readidea.wufoo.com/forms/idea-magazine-startup-job-ads 

Feedback on our job listings? Let us know! Email martha [at] readidea.com.



Blue Pony Media

Graphic Designer, Advanced

Skills required:

Strong graphic design and logo design skills, Photoshop & Illustrator

What you’ll be working on:

You’ll be working with our publishing and media clients to help them design beautiful and appropriate designs and logos for their interactive applications. Understanding an organisation’s vision and helping them to realise that is a big part of this role.

Why our company rocks:

Blue Pony Media is an award-winning media agency, creating interactive applications which delight people everywhere. We are very picky about which customers we take on to make sure to make sure we are proud of the work we do. Blue Pony Media values talented designers and developers and our extremely low turnover rate is proof of that. We’re located in Wicklow, but for the right designer, we’re open to a remote work option.

Blue Pony Media is a mature company with 10-20 employees.
To apply or for more information see: http://omgponies.com/jobs

SuperCrazy Games

XNA Developer, Beginner/Intermediate

Skills required:

C#, XNA, Physics libraries such as Farseer would be a nice-to-have

What you’ll be working on:

You’ll be taking our concepts and turning them into interactive, playable mobile games. Building on top of our internally created animation foundation, you have the tools you need to iterate quickly and be creative. Our games run on PCs and Windows Phone 7 but we’re also building an environment to distribute our games through Xbox Live very soon.

Why our company rocks:

As a small but busy games studio, we’re turning the mobile games industry on its head. We’re agile and creative, so this is your chance to get in early and impact the future of mobile games by helping us create unique, viral concepts. We take fun very seriously, and our office is located in a developer hub in Galway so there’s plenty of excitement around. We believe in working flexible hours and doing anything we can (like bringing in lunch and providing you with the latest mobile devices) to help you focus on exciting projects.

SuperCrazy Games is a Startup company with 1-10 employees.
To apply or for more information see: http://wearesupercrazygames.com/jobs

Tuesday Newsday: Audio News Apps

When talking about digital news apps, we often don’t think outside the walls of written content. However radio and audio applications also deliver news, stories and entertainment to large audiences. There are excellent podcasts in almost every category and their popularity is growing constantly.Audio News Apps

Why would someone choose to listen to audio news instead of reading the same thing, especially when you can probably read faster than most speakers can deliver the same amount of information? Audio news apps are convenient, especially for the increasing number of long-haul commuters. Audio apps let you multi-task (which is arguably a good thing). Listening to a discussion on a topic may be more insightful than an article with one person’s point of view. Maybe our eyes get tired of looking at screens all day. And sometimes it’s nice to listen to well-spoken people with pleasant voices.

I fell in love with Audible a couple of years ago. They have a great selection of books and reasonably priced membership. But two things really sold me: 1) the convenience of being able to drop them onto my mp3 player and listen during commutes and travel and 2) the wonderful readers.  Reading a David Sedaris book is always entertaining. Listening to David Sedaris read you his book, while doing impressions of his sisters and his father, is like stand-up comedy. Malcolm Gladwell’s books become somehow more insightful when read by his calm and thoughtful voice.

So I have a thing for voices. Anyway, back to the apps and their popularity. Today we’ll be covering iPad audio news apps Stitcher, NPR, and RTÉ Radio News.


STITCHERStitcher Radio

I learned about Stitcher a while back when I first found the TechCrunch Headlines podcast (which Stitcher produces).  Stitcher is an app for streaming podcasts, radio and news to mobile devices including iPhone, Android, iPad, BlackBerry and Palm. The app has a catalogue of various podcasts and channels both on demand and live which users can subscribe to for free.

Opening Stitcher shows a nice, simple layout with some of the top news stories, popular channels and new additions on the right and basic navigation on the left.  Clicking into a podcast or channel starts it playing immediately.  Stitcher Front Page

For navigation, the user can choose between OnDemand or Live Stations. Once the user has found a podcast he likes, he can click the star icon to add it to the list of Favorites. Favorites stitches together playlists so users can simply click on Favorites and hear a stream of interesting content.Stitcher Favorites View

Individual episodes can also be bookmarked, to save or listen later. The Favorites list refreshes the podcasts every so often to make sure the episodes are the most recent ones.Stitcher Favorites View

Stitcher has done three things very, very well. First of all, they have tons of content. By region, by interest, by source, they have created a very good directory of much of the top audio content available. Next they created native apps for multiple platforms. So you can listen on many devices and get the same great experience. Lastly they have kept the interface very clean and simple. There aren’t any instruction pages here, no one needs them. The audio controls are always at the top, the navigation always on the left, and the playlist or podcast detail always on the right. Very easy-to-use.



NPR, or National Public Radio, is a familiar enough name to most radio fans. They have built a large audience for their popular shows like Radiolab, All Things Considered, Planet Money, On The Media and many more. NPR’s programming reaches a weekly audience of 26+ million listeners, so they’re clearly creating desirable and interesting content.NPR Front Page

NPR has done a fantastic thing by creating their COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) system which allows other people to build on top of them and access their content. This means that there are many different people and organizations pushing NPR’s content out for them, spreading the audio and podcasts to various devices and platforms.  They’re a very creative organization when it comes to their technology, and their iPad app, which was recently updated for iOS 5, is no exception.NPR Article View

When you launch the NPR iPad app, you have a lovely, easy-to-use interface showing you a selection of recordings and news with a radio player/navigation control section at the bottom. To move between the different channels, there is a sort-of Flud-like, horizontal scroll with thumbnails and short descriptions. For each item, you can choose to listen now or add it to your playlist.

If there are particular programs you regularly enjoy from NPR, you can find them by clicking on the “Programs” button at the bottom and search by title or topic. Clicking the heart icon adds it to your favorites on the left-hand column.NPR Catalogue

Clicking on an individual podcast starts it playing in the radio player at the bottom of the app. You can alternately add it to your playlist & queue up several podcasts. Some of the news stories have written content you can read and share, some only audio and no metadata. But the navigation controls are relatively easy to use to find the programs you want and listen live or on-demand.NPR Audio Ad

NPR has an interesting advertising model as well – they intersperse occasional audio ads in between programs or before certain programs.NPR No Geolocation

The only thing that doesn’t work outside the US is the station finder. As it uses zip code look up, it can’t find anything near you if you’re outside of the US. I’ve seen this as a problem in many US-centric apps; for a long time trying to use geolocation on The Daily would simply crash the app.



It is difficult to find a general “audio news” app that isn’t either full of content specific to the producer (like NPR) or more of an aggregator (like Stitcher). The RTÉ Radio Player is an example of a “local news channel” app. Wherever you live, it’s possible that a local media outlet is doing something similar and providing streaming, podcast feeds or an app for you to listen live or catch up on local news.RTE Front Page

Upon opening the RTÉ Radio Player (which is landscape view only), the live radio begins playing immediately. It starts in RTÉ Radio 1 streaming the live radio station.  Underneath a small summary of the current playing program is a tabbed interface where users can select the schedule, website or podcasts. There’s currently an ad to the left which, if you click it, takes you to Safari and then immediately the App Store to download the same application again for some reason.  But maybe it’s a rotating ad and I just caught it on a bug.RTE Schedule Listing

The schedule link is a bit off-putting as it appears as though you could click on one of the programs and start listening to it, but it’s just a static listing of the programs for that channel. Clicking back from the current day takes you to next week’s programs, so there’s no way to look at the schedule from the previous day.  RTE Website View

The website tab simply embeds the RTE website into a small view. You can increase the area by clicking the up arrow icon on the right and navigate around the website, but as it’s full-sized and contains flash ads, it’s a little bit shoe-horned in. It would be much more useful if it were streamlined content or maybe a mobile device-friendly version of the site.RTE Podcast Listing

On the podcasts tab, you can select from things like most popular, most recent or recommended and you can also search. While you’re presented with only the last day or two worth of podcasts, you can search and find much older recordings if you’re looking for a specific broadcast. I did find it strange that while the podcasts on most popular and most recent seemed to play correctly, clicking on recommended podcasts didn’t always play the podcast I clicked on. I am wondering if it has to do with them being listed but not yet uploaded for that day maybe?RTE Channel Selection

To get back to live radio you can click the “Back to Live Radio” button in the top right, which turns into a “Change Station” option when you’re listening to the live radio channel. So you can select that and switch from RTÉ Radio 1 to RTÉ 2fm, RTE Choice, etc. When you change channels, the schedule and website tabs will update but the Podcasts always contain a variety from RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ 2fm & RTÉ Raidió Na Gaeltachta.



If you travel a lot or spend a lot of time already in front of bright screens, audio news may be a great option for you. Alternately it’s an excellent source of entertainment and education. Whether you decide to go with an aggregator or a local news outlet application depends a lot on the type of content you prefer to hear. Think about your preferences and give one of the audio news apps a shot.



As a podcast enthusiast, I listen to quite a few different podcasts (mostly technology). These days I primarily use Stitcher on my iPad, but I also use Zune software (yes, still) to sync my mp3 player and listen on my desktop computer. Anything to keep me away from trying to use iTunes for podcasts, which I think is a miserable piece of software.

The 5by5 Podcast network has a few different shows I listen to regularly including:

and several others I listen to occasionally such as:

Other podcasts I like are:

And of course I have to mention Tech Radio, where I occasionally join Dusty Rhodes and Niall Kitson to talk about everything tech-related in Ireland: http://techcentral.ie/pod_casts.aspx

A New Idea

Idea Magazine

For a place with such an amazing tech community of developers, designers, startups, entrepreneurs and just plain “do-ers”, it’s shockingly hard to know what’s going on all the time with the Irish technology scene. The most effective way to find out about interesting startups, new technologies, cool design studios, great places to work, upcoming events, testing techniques, great new fonts, etc. is usually an impromptu meetup with a fellow geek.

When I moved to Dublin four-and-a-half years ago I spent a lot of money on technology magazines, from Ireland and abroad, to find out what was going on (still do – I am a magazine junkie). Foreign magazines always had cool profiles of interesting people, tutorials on things that are new and might be useful techniques, list of stuff that was going on and things to get involved with.

I rarely read about anything interesting happening in Ireland. <sadFace/>

But at the same time, I was constantly blown away by unique companies being created here. Things like Build (happening this week in Belfast for the third year!), Coder Dojo (happening every weekend now!), 24theWeb (2nd annual event happened a couple of weeks ago!), that are all creative and beautifully executed initiatives. Studios that turn out gorgeous websites and mobile applications. People turning industries on their heads.


But there’s no platform for talking about it yet. Existing publications write about global gadgets & popular “apps you need now!” They cover huge sales deals. They publish bland PR for big brands. It’s time for something new.




I’d like to introduce Idea Magazine. Idea Magazine is a brand new, bi-monthly digital magazine by and for the tech scene of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We’ll be launching on December 8th with our first issue available online for free.

Idea Magazine aims to highlight startups and technology created in Ireland and Northern Ireland, along with excellent design, educational programs and training, investment and business-related information of interest to the tech community. Things like “Which accelerator program has the best terms”, “What should you know about patenting your software”, “Tips for increasing customer engagement in web apps”, “Which tech events are happening next month”, and much more will be covered in Idea Magazine.

Together with the incredibly talented Stewart Curry as Design Director, we have an excellent team working together to make sure we are covering interesting, relevant and useful topics for you, the tech community. If you have suggestions or things you’d like to see in future issues of Idea Magazine, please feel free to contact me at martha [at] readidea.com.



If you’re interested in learning more, you can go to (the very lovely and responsive) http://readidea.com & sign up for our newsletter today or follow us on Twitter at @readidea. Our launch is only a month away, so we’re busy getting our content and new platform ready for you.

I’d love your feedback and suggestions any time & look forward to creating an outstanding magazine for an outstanding community.

Tuesday Newsday: Newspaper Developer Blogs

A common trait of successful online news and magazine sites is, surprisingly, a developer blog. Think of a developer blog as a look into the minds of the people building the site: what limitations they have, what they’re working on, what they believe their readers want or need, success stories of how they built interesting things, and even day-to-day tidbits that remind readers that the site is built by thinking, feeling people instead of a faceless entity.

  • I’ve heard many excuses for not wanting to have a developer blog:
    “Who would update the thing? Our team is busy!”
    No one wants to read stuff like this, they want to read the news.”
    We absolutely cannot publish this information, it’s secret. What if someone were to copy us?!”
    We’re developers, not writers. We wouldn’t know what to say.”
    Taking the time to write blog posts takes us away from being able to build the technology our team needs.”
    The list goes on and on.

But for teams who do make the effort to create and update developer blogs, the rewards are great. I’m going to walk through some of the benefits of creating a developer blog for your site, using excellent existing blogs as examples of how to do this well.



I believe very strongly that the best way to learn something yourself is to teach others and share your knowledge. This has become apparent to me from many directions including mentoring, teaching, writing tutorials, giving talks and training others. I always learn more each time I share with others.

This industry moves so quickly. Suggestions on things that work and things that don’t as well as best practices and “how to” articles are invaluable for people. A solid “why we did it this way” or “the fastest way to do x” type of article can save other developers a great deal of time and make them eternally grateful to you.  Google recently changed their Maps API Terms of Service, causing a lot of confusion. Chris Keller from Madison.com wrote about the changes and narrowed down the important bits for others affected by the change.

Madison.com Labs

At The Chicago Tribune, the team is not just interested in educating itself and its blog readers, but also the community. Joe Germuska blogs about his presentation to Hacks/Hackers Chicago in October, posting his slides and sites he referenced throughout his talk.

Chicago Tribune News Apps



It might not happen all the time, but occasionally your team may create new applications or methods of doing things which are so valuable they’re worth selling or licensing. In 2005, The Lawrence Journal-World newspaper from Kansas released an open source tool called the Django web framework, and they ended up spinning out a software division to sell their customized CMS now called Ellington CMS. A CMS coming from a media organization is a huge deal, since every media team I talk to vehemently hates their CMS.

Ellington CMS

The ProPublica News Apps team released a new feature earlier this month called DocDiver, and they announced this on their “ProPublica Nerd Blog.” The blog post included how it works, why they built it, and nerdy details on how it works. The project was built on top of the NYT DocumentViewer app and expands on that open source project.

ProPublica Nerd Blog



Recognition and respect are two of the most important things you can help your team members achieve. Developers and technologists who feel appreciated are more likely to stick around, work harder and be more loyal employees. Industry recognition for your team circles back to help your organization improve its image as well.

The Chicago Tribune has built a large collection of applications on Github which are available for others to view & fork: https://github.com/newsapps.

Chicago Tribune News Apps

Last week, Poynter.org published an article by Matt Thompson on why journalists should be ‘showing their work’ while they create and learn. He mentions paying it forward, building data literacy, increasing the impact of your work and more.




The worst thing that can happen to an industry is that it stagnates and no innovation occurs. Developer blogs are the perfect way to share your disruptive ideas with others who might be interested in doing something similar or building off of your idea.

My favourite example of this this year is from a Maine newspaper, The Bangor Daily News. Tired of a typically clunky workflow which involved a lot of cutting-and-pasting, the team built a new workflow out of Google Docs and WordPress. The Bangor Daily News dev blog is here: http://dev.bangordailynews.com/.  You can read more about their new workflow here: http://www.mediabistro.com/10000words/how-to-run-a-news-site-and-newspaper-using-wordpress-and-google-docs_b4781.  And here’s a short video showing the process:




What if you had a whole community of individuals you could get to give you input, suggestions, or even build things with your data and resources? Think of how much more you could achieve.

The Guardian’s Data Blog has done exactly that. A very active blog, The Guardian Data Blog releases new sets of data constantly in raw form. Sometimes they’ve been able to build charts or interactions to tell a story with it, and sometimes they simply provide the data. At the end of each article, they ask “Can you do something with this data?” and ask people to contact them or post visualizations on their Flickr page. 

The Guardian Data Blog

The result is a fascinating body of work, which is much more diverse having community input, and is definitely larger than what The Guardian could have produced on its own. That kind of interaction and dedication by a community makes your site and publication much more interesting and valuable.

The Guardian Data Blog Flickr Pool



My dad used to tell me, “It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it.” If your team has built something amazing, solved a really tough problem, or tried something crazy (even if it was a colossal failure!), why not tell the world? The New York Times launched its “beta620” labs project this year, and the site is specifically for trying out wacky ideas and experimenting. So far they have created some projects which are simply experiments they’ve learned from. But they’ve also created products like the Times Skimmer, which end up as full-fledged products in the main site or in their mobile apps.

The New York Times beta620



We all know hiring good developers, designers, UX designers, content strategists and other technology positions is tough and getting tougher. People want to work for respected organizations doing interesting things. Advertising for free on your developer blog that you’re using new technology or being creative is a wonderful way to help the right people find their way to you.

At The Guardian, they have been hosting “Guardian Hack Days” and “Developer drop-ins” this year, both of which help expose their team and technology to potentially excellent candidates for future hiring. A developer looking for his or her next role would find articles like these very telling about office culture, priorities and work ethic, all things which are near impossible to discover in an interview.

The Guardian Dev Blog



If you’re considering creating a developer blog for your news or magazine application, be sure to keep an eye on the following blogs which are great examples of how to write, teach, influence and share well:

ProPublica Nerd Blog :: http://www.propublica.org/nerds 
Bangor Daily News Dev Blog :: http://dev.bangordailynews.com/
Data Journalism Blog :: http://www.datajournalismblog.com/blog/
LA Times Data Desk :: http://projects.latimes.com/index/ 
Madison.com Labs Blog :: http://labs.madison.com/blog/
beta620 from The New York Times :: http://beta620.nytimes.com/ 
The Guardian Data Blog :: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog
Guardian Developer Blog :: http://www.guardian.co.uk/info/developer-blog
Chicago Tribune News Apps :: http://blog.apps.chicagotribune.com/