Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grad school apps complete.

I've applied to five schools: U. Washington (CSE and I-School), CMU HCII, MIT Media Lab, Georgia Tech, and U. Toronto. I've also applied to two fellowships: the NSF and the NDSEG.

Anywhere I forgot? Could your university use a (ahem) particularly incredible grad student who likes HCI, ubiquitous computing, attention, activity detection, and generally figuring out what we're doing so we can do it better?

(If not, I'll breathe a sigh of relief that I'm done interneting in Nepal. Whew.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Two grad school apps are in

I've been a bit quiet, as I've been wrapping up one research project, applying for grad schools, and getting ready for a trip.

First, the research project. The hypothesis is: "just learning something, without external rewards, can be fun; furthermore, the things to be learned can easily be turned into a game". I've developed this simple game called "Sea Salt" to test this hypothesis by offering different versions to different players, recording how long they are engaged, and recording their answers to a survey afterwards. We've run one study, but not found the results we expected, so it's currently a work in progress while we determine what to do next.

Second, grad schools. I'm applying to the University of Washington, Georgia Tech, Carnegie Mellon Human-Computer Interaction Institute, MIT Media Lab, Stanford, and the University of Toronto, to start as a PhD student in fall 2012. The first two apps are in, while the others are ready to go and just awaiting the opening of the online applications.

Third, this trip. I'll be gone from tomorrow until grad school starts in 2012, traveling around Asia, a bit of Australia, and eastern Europe. More details on my travel blog, if you're interested. So I'm on a bit of a research hiatus, and I hope to jump back into it next year as a full time PhD student.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Links roundup: contemplation, persuasion, embodied emotions

No big theme this time, but a few links I don't want to forget.

First, on meditation/contemplation: I should start keeping a list of reasons meditation is good for you. Here's another one: it helps you deal with pain. And here are some simple, direct results about how reflecting thankfully makes you happier.

Second, on motivation and persuasion: concentrate on the pride you will feel from resisting. (seems to jive with the thought that positive feedback in persuasive software works a lot better than negative.)

Third, lest we forget that we are embodied beings, check this out: in short, danger is sexy. In long, if you experience physical sensations of an emotion, you're likely to think you felt that emotion. You might attribute sensations you felt during music to the band playing it. (This may explain why I'm in love with Eleanor Friedberger.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

What makes games fun?

A distant goal would be to create applications/devices/tools that help people accomplish certain habits. But I wouldn't want to make something "painfully effective"- something that works but people hate it. (for examples.) It'd be nice to make something that helps people improve their lives and enjoy the process.

What makes games enjoyable? What makes them engaging; what makes people want to play them? A ton of people are trying to answer this question now; I'll give it a shot myself.

Daniel Cook (of and Ribbon Hero at MS) says that interpreting information gives us a high. He mentions Biederman and Vessel, whose article "Perceptual Pleasure and the Brain" describes how interpreting new images activates our mu-opioid receptors.
Raph Koster (Ultima Online, among others) provides a nice quote: "with games, learning is the drug." Give someone tools, let them play with them and figure out how they work: this is fun. How so? Cook provides additional guidelines revolving around "skill atoms" and "skill chains".
Yannakakis and Hallam agree: "We view a game primarily as a learning process, and the level of entertainment is kept high when game opponents enable new learning patterns (‘not too easy a game’) for the player that can be perceived and learned by the player (‘not too difficult a game’)"
James Paul Gee bases at least a couple of papers on the idea that games are "learning machines". (this one is similar but shorter.)

Appropriate challenge
Von Ahn and Dabbish, in an ACM article, dedicate about a page to "increasing player enjoyment" and focus on creating an appropriate challenge through time limits, scores, leaderboards, leveling up, and randomness.
David Myers (1990) pulled out Malone's criteria of challenge, curiosity, and fantasy, and added interactivity, and found that challenge was the most important aesthetic in determining someone's favorite game. (including this is a stretch; they were talking about the overall point of the game, like "is it a game based on challenge or a game based on social interaction?" etc, and it's all based on surveys, and it's from 1990.)

The Gameflow model by Sweetser and Wyeth proposes 8 categories: concentration, challenge, skills, control, clear goals, feedback, immersion, and social interaction. It talks about (indeed, is named after) Csikszentmihalyi's idea of Flow. Appropriate level of challenge and feedback are important conditions for flow.
Some, like Jenova Chen and Robin Hunicke, have created Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment systems to address this particular need.

The article that I pulled Koster's quote from, in the Guardian, goes on to talk about authority and reward systems: disproportionate feedback, unpredictable rewards. It branches into self-determination theory, which I alluded to in a previous post. Authority, autonomy, the ability to create your world; these are important things if you want your game to be fun.
Melissa Federoff's thesis may come in handy. (this blog is all work-in-progress!)

For the most part, it seems like making a fun game is all about providing opportunities for learning while keeping the right challenge level. Conspicuously absent is any sort of reward system. Sure, there are long-standing psychological theories behind unpredictable rewards, disproportionate feedback, etc, but those mainly allow some shallow fun. To get to the deeper fun, it seems that we need learning at the right challenge level.

But "gamification" today ("gamification 1.0"?) is all about rewards: points, badges, leader boards. And everyone who talks about gamification hates this. Here's my hypothesis, then: instead of structuring your reward system, structure your learning system.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Healthy Mind Platter: let's not follow the FDA.

Dan Siegel and David Rock recently published an idea called the Healthy Mind Platter. The idea is that we need some guidelines for mental health, kind of like guidelines for physical health. I'm a little conflicted.

The good:
- raising awareness that mental health is necessary (even for people without mental disorders)
- creating a concept ("healthy mind platter") and giving it a name
- calling out some types of mental health that we may not usually be aware of. We all know that sleep, physical, and focus time are helpful; maybe we're aware of connecting time and down time; and time in and play time definitely get the short end of the stick.

The bad:
- are these 7 types of time all that's necessary for a healthy life?
- where can I read more about the decisions that went into creating this Platter?
- it's vague and not actionable. If I'm an average person, how do I use this in my life, besides just worry that I'm not getting a good balance? I guess every so often, I could think "I haven't been getting enough Down Time recently" or something, but I don't think I'd need a Healthy Mind Platter for that.
- do we really want to go the way of physical nutrition? The Food Pyramid was horrendously broken, the new MyPlate is similarly useless (e.g. they're still promoting skim milk), and so I'm not likely to trust anything that follows in their footsteps. Instead of making sweeping generalizations, let's focus on small manageable changes and helping people figure out what's best for their own mental health.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Quantified Self 2011: Mental World/Breakouts and Thoughts

The mental world stuff is really my bread and butter, so it'll likely be more detailed. Also, some of these are notes from breakout sessions.

Mood tracking
Moodscope apparently has a lot of users, but I don't like it at all. It tries to reduce your mood to a number, and the mood-tracking system is a really painful series of 20 ratings with too many page reloads.
- More interesting is Moodlog: it's freeform, just enter any word(s) you want. Also, you can add colors, which is more fun than it might sound.
- There's also MercuryApp, which I haven't tried.

Also, PACO by Bob Evans (an engineer, not the restaurant) is a system to help you do experience tracking on Android. For example, ask yourself "how energetic are you?" 5x/day. Here's a link; it 403s now but he hopes to open it up this week. This is super exciting; I'd been doing this but PACO is strictly more useful. (I hope the input is still quick, but I imagine it will be.)

Attention tracking: Matt Trentacoste's linked to all the notes about this session. (more detailed notes too.) Cool thoughts:
- a lot of the measurement of this is really productivity measurement
- there's some hope in EEG measurement; Neurosky is working on this
- maybe being able to pay attention is less important than being able to direct attention (e.g. ADHD)
- could we tell when distraction begins?
- there's also hope in psychological tests (SART? N-Back?)

Personal text analysisSlides and notes. Coolest bits:
- in the Nun Study, some folks found that diary entries could predict Alzheimer's by measuring idea density.
- you can measure idea density yourself, using CPIDR.
- the LENA foundation has a baby monitor that monitors your child's development.

Mindfulness: Notes. A lot of ideas here; Frank Chen's main push is that technologies that want to support mindfulness should focus on not only attention, but also intention and attitude. Help the user do the right thing, with the right goal, in the right frame of mind. Cool things:
- Harvard maid study; maids who thought they were getting good exercise lost weight, compared to other maids who did the same thing.
- what happens if you frame Kinect dancing games as exercise vs. framing them as games?

Cognition: Don't try to just "improve mental performance"; it's too vague. However, some good tools:
Anki (spaced repetition)
- Lumosity ("brain training games"- might work for some goals?)
- interestingly, this just came up in Newsweek, and their conclusion was that exercise and meditation were really the only general improving-brain solutions.

Behavior Change and Games: two breakouts. Thoughts mostly here.
- Livifi: an interesting idea. Track ALL the goals. I sure can't do it. (I am not being sarcastic.)

Quantified Self 2011: Physical World/Tools and Systems

Just attended the first Quantified Self Conference, held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. There was so much happening, I can't possibly contain it all in one blog post! I'll split it into "physical world" and "mental world", disregarding the inherent nonsense of these lines.

First, though, let me mention how much good energy there was around the conference. I think this group is really on to something big. People in this group will probably revolutionize the web, their lives, and maybe science as a whole. It's an exciting group to be a part of.

Second, check out The Official Quantified Self Guide to Self-Tracking Tools. This is very cool. I don't think anyone has grouped these things together so effectively.

Okay, on to Self-Tracking Things in the Physical World:

Sleep tracking: Seems like the answer is just "get a Zeo." Fitbit was super popular too. (Wakemate had a table reserved but didn't show up.) A cool note about Zeo: by creating the Zeo, they effortlessly also created the largest sleep dataset in the world, over 500k nights. The second largest is something like 2k nights.

Activity sensingGreenGoose! This was popular. Stickers you can put on anything, with built-in activity detection and wireless communication. The idea is that you can, say, put the "toothbrush" sticker on your toothbrush and it'll track when you're brushing your teeth. I'm not sure what I'd like to track with them, but man, sounds cool.

VideoLooxcie hangs on your ear and records video all the time. You can press a button to save the last 30 seconds. I kind of want to get one of these and wear it all around Asia. Or all the time. Kidding, but just barely.

HRV: Someone mentioned EmWave/HeartMath, a heart-wave-variability entrainment system. I didn't get any details, but sounds interesting.
I have "vision quest/wild vine" scribbled next to the EmWave stuff and do not remember what it means. (see, this WAS an interesting conference...)

HRV/Pulse/Temperature/GSR: Basis. Yep, it's supposed to track all those things. (when it launches.)

Ron Gutman gave an Ignite talk about smiling. Similar to his TED talk. Even if it's hard to act on (should we really persuade people to make fake smiles? how MUCH better does it make you feel?), it was a really good talk. I felt better just watching it.

And then, this isn't really physical-world, but it's more a general platform and doesn't really fit anywhere else. Quantter is for tracking numerical things via existing tweets. Sounds cool; also, Twitter is the new Gmail and/or CSV file for storing bits of data. I want to actually use Quantter for something before I can tell how useful it is. Helpful FAQ.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Measurements of enjoyment in games

How do you tell if someone's enjoying a game?

First, because "enjoyment" is a complicated measure, unlike, say, temperature, we first have to model it. What does "enjoyment" mean? Once we've figured out what we mean by "enjoyment", then we can measure it.
One model is the Affect-Behavior-Cognition model (hey, ABC) proposed by Nabi and Krcmar (2004).
Another model is GameFlow (Sweetser and Wyeth, 2005 (pdf download)), which has 8 parts: concentration, challenge, skills, control, clear goals feedback, immersion, and social interaction. These map relatively well to the 8 components of Flow. (memo to my future self: Pervasive game flow.)
Vorderer, Hartmann, and Klimmt (2003) note that competition is an important part of the enjoyment of video games, although they also admit that there may be other components (challenge, fantasy, curiosity, and others).

Fang et al (2008) put together an 11-part questionnaire to measure enjoyment along the Affect, Behavior, and Cognition axes.
Ravaja et al (2006) catalogued some measures for valence and arousal of emotions: heart rate and GSR for arousal, EMG cheek and around-the-eye muscles for positive emotions, EMG brow muscles for negative emotions. (see the intro; the paper itself is about opponents, which I'm not so interested in)
Mandryk and Inkpen (2004) consider even more physiological measures in their study of opponents: EMG jaw, heart rate variability, and respiratory measures. Again, their particular study is not so interesting to me.
Hazlett (2006) did a more detailed study on the cheek (zygomaticus major) and brow (corrugator supercilii) and found that they did indeed reflect positive and negative events, respectively, in games.
Andersen et al (2011) simply tracked how long people played a game under various conditions and how often they returned.

Seems like the questionnaire measures exactly what people want in games (enjoyment) but through the often-cloudy lens of self-report. The physiological measures seem good for emotional state, while the time-on-game measure is more suited for engagement. All good measures; I'm sure there are many others too.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Games: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards

I used to be researching sleep, but now I'm going to switch focus to games and fun. First, I think it'll be useful to look at intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards.

Intrinsic rewards are part of the game or experience. When you learn to ride a bike, all of a sudden you can ride a bike, and that's fun! Extrinsic rewards are outside of the experience. When you do well on a math test and get a good grade, that's an extrinsic reward; the test wasn't fun, but you get a prize afterward.

In short: intrinsic rewards work, extrinsic ones don't. Money (an extrinsic reward) sure doesn't. As usual, Eric Barker provides a nice summary. Recently, Dan Pink and others have expanded this "money doesn't motivate people" theory to "people want autonomy, mastery, and purpose."

In long: it's more nuanced than that; sometimes extrinsic rewards can be turned into intrinsic rewards by reframing the question: "will I?" instead of "I will." And it's possible that some extrinsic motivation actually works, especially if you use "integrated regulation of motivation", where you pick something that you don't enjoy, but you deeply value, and you approach it in your own way. Cal Newport has more. But this integrated-regulated-extrinsic motivation is unlikely to be found in games. Few people explicitly set out to master Halo because it complies with their core values.

So we're often left with games that are intrinsically fun, and "gamified things" that try to slap points and badges on top of otherwise not-fun things. Foursquare is a notable example of the latter, as is Epic Win.

A few game-related papers that point to the necessity of intrinsic motivation in games:
Bruckman (1999) offered the powerful and recurring "chocolate-covered broccoli" metaphor to represent games that combine boring drills with fun interludes.
Laschke and Hassenzahl (2011) express this succinctly in a workshop paper that contrasts patronage (going to a place over and over, becoming friends with the owner; intrinsically rewarding) with Foursquare mayorship (getting points when you "check in"). They conclude: "What is needed is a way to integrate single successes into a meaningful whole – a requirement, which is much better met by meaningful experiences than single rewards."
Habgood, in his doctoral thesis (2007) compared a version of a game where learning was integrated into gameplay with a version where it was external, concluding "... the integrated version is motivationally and educationally more effective than the extrinsic equivalent." (at least, that's what the abstract says. it's 250 pages long.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

CHI 2011 top N, where N > 10

Of course there were more than 10 great papers. I'll give short reactions to papers that I haven't already mentioned. Also, sorry the links are mostly ACM; if you're interested, try a scholar search, maybe the author has put the paper up since then?

Calmness/Emotional States (these are not necessarily related, but I'm lumping them together anyway as I could see some of this research being used in multiple ways)

I Lie to Myself That I Have Freedom in My Own Schedule: Productivity Tools and Experiences of Busyness- busyness is an ethic, a virtue, these days. People like to feel busy. Could we turn "doing nothing" into something? Should we? How can we design tools that address these issues?
GoSlow: Designing for Slowness, Reflection, and Solitude- they made an iphone app to help you chill out, maybe take a nap or something. The audience (and I) are not sold that this is the best way to go, but I'm glad they're working on it anyway!
Affective Computational Priming and Creativity- when you're primed with positive emotions, you're more creative.
Identifying Emotional States using Keystroke Dynamics- they can tell some emotions (whether you're feeling them or not) at mid-70% to mid-80% accuracy, just by the timing of your keystrokes.

Info Visualization and Searching
ChronoViz: A System for Supporting Navigation of Time-coded Data
Evaluating Video Visualizations of Human Behavior- you can parse a video a lot faster (say, to extract data for a study) with an "interaction cube" visualization rather than just watching the whole thing.
Playable Data: Characterizing the Design Space of Game-y Infographics- these are new upcoming and powerful tools to visualize data, but be careful: you can really skew an interpretation of some data with a game.
The Information Flaneur: a Fresh Look at Information Seeking- we should support browsing, and curiously, critically, and creatively exploring data, in addition to Google-like searches. Help people have positive experiences with learning, not just find a quick answer.

MicroMandarin: Mobile Language Learning in Context- vocab flashcards app that brings up airport words when you're in an airport. Advanced-beginner participants say it helps (while beginners need more super-basic words first), and it does lead to more frequent (although shorter) bursts of practicing.

Games and Mastery (not necessarily related, but usually)
Placing a Value on Aesthetics in Online Casual Games- take out sound/music: no effect. Take out animations: people play 20% less. Add extra sub-goals: people play 50% less (yes, less). Also, sweet research method: just post it on Kongregate and thousands of people play it! (if it's any good.)

Persuasive Technology

Mining Behavioral Economics to Design Persuasive Technology for Healthy Choices- Behavioral economics works, even with computers. Simple apple vs. cookie experiments.

Okay there is still some grab bag
This is your Brain on Interfaces: Enhancing Usability Testing with Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy- fNIRS is super-easy to set up and can measure cerebral cortex activity pretty well. Can't get deep-brain stuff though.
Web Workers Unite! Addressing Challenges of Online Laborers- Mechanical Turk: is it dollar-a-day slave labor? Signs point to "maybe so". What can we do about it?

Augmented Reality Flavors: Gustatory Display Based on Edible Marker and Cross-Modal Interaction- Okay, they take a generic bland cookie. Then they put scented air towards your nose and make you wear special glasses that have video overlay so it looks like a chocolate (or green tea or etc) cookie. And it works pretty well. If I were in charge of awards, this would get the "Haha" award, the "WTF" award, and the "Okay but actually that is great" award.
Antiquarian Answers: Book Restoration as a Resource for Design- more questions than answers, but someone's thinking about "When our ipods and kindles get old, can we save them somehow and value their aging instead of throwing them away?"

Really, these feel like they're blurring together a little bit into: "Learning things in procedural memory is fun. It can be even more fun with games. It can also be fun if you gather data about yourself. Maybe one of those can help with behavior change too. Maybe those behavior changes can be to chill out a bit." Hmm hmm hmm.

Friday, May 13, 2011

CHI 2011 Top Ten

Just got back from CHI, the biggest Human-Computer Interaction conference. Blew me away. Top-notch research going on from all corners of everywhere. My current group, the Ubicomp Lab at UW, contributed four amazing papers (SkintennaInGenHeatWaveHaptic Laser), but here's the stuff that I saw from other labs that really knocked my socks off:

Personal Data Management
Overlay streams of data on top of each other. Annotate with a special pen. Zoom through video too. This system does it all. I'd be excited to try this out with some lifelogging data.

"What was that guy's address? Ugh, I typed it somewhere, but I don't remember what file it was in, or anything else that was in it, but I was listening to this song at the time." YouPivot helps you find it.

Visualization system for series of events over time. Example: a hospital. Every patient enters, then gets transferred to ICU, Emergency, or Floor, might get shuffled between them, and then leaves or dies. Visualizing one patient's sequence is easy; LifeFlow helps you visualize all the patients' sequences at once.

Eye tracking, heart rate, skin conductivity, and muscle sensors, a temperature monitor near your mouth, a regular game control, and an awesome looking yeti = Death Trigger. They pulled out some principles for designing such multimodal games. Also, looks fun!

Everyone wants to make games that teach, but nobody knows how. These guys actually did a survey of existing game literature, found that almost nobody evaluates effectiveness, and proposed Applied Behavior Analysis as a framework to actually make educational games that work. Super yes! This may have been the most inspirational thing I saw at CHI.

This was just fun. Games in which you punch a shadow opponent on a wall, play table tennis with 3 people, or hang on a bar. Maybe with their help, Dave and Buster's could actually be fun. (or games-for-exercise could actually work.)

Other Stuff
Recording emotion with words is time consuming and introduces another level of errors. (nobody wants to say "I'm depressed.") So these guys made a pretty thorough set of images and phone app to let you record your emotion by picking a photo.

Programmers know that life is better once you switch from mouse menus to keyboard shortcuts. But it's a hard switch to make. These guys propose to help people switch with "Blur", which is basically the Chrome omnibox (address bar) for Windows.

The only theory/design paper to make my list, this made me think about something I hadn't been thinking about: HCI moves super fast, the medical world moves super slow, so how do you make a paper involving a year-long study and get it published? Answer: skip the year-long study. HCI shouldn't necessarily be concerned about that.

Quick way to learn 1000 French words? Replace their English equivalents whenever you're browsing the web. Sure, there are limitations, but language learning seems to me to be a quick burst of getting some basic fluency and grammar followed by a long slog of learning a bunch of nouns/verbs/adjectives. Maybe this can help you skip that.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Alex Pang's Contemplative Computing articlefesto, take 1

Alex Pang, the researcher at MSR Cambridge whose work I've previously sweated just a bit, has recently (okay a month ago) published the first draft of a big article about what exactly he means by "Contemplative Computing." I want to call it a manifesto but he hasn't used the m-word so I won't either.

I quite like the article! I am glad that he is/was employed by Microsoft; I think he's got an approach towards creating technology that will help us improve our minds, and being at MSR means some of this could actually happen.

Some good quotes (and I'll attempt to weave them into a summary if you don't want to read the whole 60+-page article):

Intro, and what's wrong
"... we need to understand how tools initially built for the scientific laboratory or office may be ill-suited to the home or family; how the objectives of efficiency and optimization may not work in environments characterized by irreducible uncertainty and ambiguity."

"We need to develop personal tools to better control information technologies, and to see how technologies that often are described as irresistible and inevitable are really shaped by human decisions and choices (or the failure to make such decisions)."

"The Web is not frustrating because it does nothing but destroy your capacity to think; the problem is that it brings the promised land within view, but keeps it out of reach." It makes some kinds of knowledge work easy- like searching for the answer to a simple question- then makes you think "oh so all my work should be so easy." You reduce the time it takes to look up the year that Star Wars came out to literally 3 seconds (from at least 3 minutes in an encyclopedia) and feel like you should get a 60x speedup in everything else too. When writing your paper or app doesn't get 60x faster, you feel like you're losing out, and start surfing the web in hope of making up for lost time.

What is contemplation?
"Here, I define contemplation to be a form of detached, calm engagement." This is important. It's not just calm. It's that wonderful state of oneness with the machine (or with the musical instrument, or pen, or tennis racket).

And "detached" is important too: it's not (necessarily) video-game sucked-in-ness. You have the ability to monitor your senses and reactions, to be as aware of your own mind as you are of the guys around the corner with rocket launchers. "Detachment of one's emotions or ego doesn't prevent immersion in the moment; it's a precondition for it."

Anyway, is "contemplation" another word for Csikszentmihaly's "flow"? It's been a while since I read that book, but it feels the same.

"While Csikszentmihaly wanted to understand how optimal experiences make for more complex and satisfying lives, readers of Flow in the Web and game worlds have tended not to ask questions like "How can we design computers in ways that let users experience flow throughout their lives" but rather "How can we use flow to make e-commerce sites stickier?""
Amen, sir! We must be careful if we seek to use these powers for any ends other than to better our lives! It's like martial arts: while you learn karate, you get a lot of powers. But as Mr. Miyagi knows, you don't learn karate to kick someone's ass.

Possible solutions
Pang then posits a few hypothetical pieces of software that could achieve this goal of contemplation.
- Proust is a writing software (or mode in MS Word) that removes distractions. I'd try it, but I don't just sit and write often enough to know if this would be useful. And when I do, it's often right here in Blogger and I have to find a bunch of links anyway.
- Quixote is a search tool that ... does a lot of things. "It's more like a space in which you search for and organize information..." Because, as I mentioned before, most questions are more complicated than "what year did star wars come out?" Imagine a mode to Google where you could search for N things and mind-map them out in a useful way.
- Sensei aims to bring together all the data from various lifelogging sources to help understand what causes contemplation.
- Xuanzang, though, was the most interesting: it's a tool to promote mindful wandering. You seed it ahead of time with high-quality things that you'd like to read/see/watch/hear while taking a break from concentrating on work. Cue it up, start going through these things (mindfully of course), and then after a few minutes, it asks you if you're refreshed enough to start working. This one had the highest product of awesomeness * doability.
To me, Sensei and Quixote sound wonderful, and at least a decade in the future. I'd be thrilled if someone were to start on either now.

Man, there's even more I could write, but this post is getting long and I'm super tired. Read the article if you're interested, it's only 60 pages.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sleep ideas from Quantified Self Boston

are here. In general, it's all cool. In specific:

- Eric Smith tried wearing a Zeo while awake. It basically gave him nonsense data (said he was asleep a lot). This makes sense; it's trained on sleeping people. Still, too bad we can't just give people a Zeo and use that to test their wakefulness.

- Sanjiv Shah got a big result from wearing yellow glasses at night. Kind of like f.lux for the whole world. Interesting, especially given the fact that our circadian rhythms are generally 24.18 hours but electric lights stretch them to 25.

- "[Sleep doctor Matt Bianchi's] talk brought up a discussion around the relative value of exploring small effects. The thought is that we should look for simple changes that have big results, i.e., the low hanging fruit. A heuristic suggested was if, after 5-10 days, you’re not seeing a result, then move on to something else."
Fair enough. Especially when real-world things will give you big margins of error anyway. Say that there was a chemical in bananas that made me sleep 1% longer. There's no way I'll do an experiment that has enough power to find that effect in a way that I know it's not just chance; I'd have to collect data for years. Nor is it really that important.

(the weird part is: how did they pick 5-10 days? I've settled on 2 weeks as a pretty good test period for most life changes, but why 2 weeks then? It's like collecting data: getting "about 10 people" for simple experiments seems to be "pretty good." I guess you have to start somewhere.)

EDIT: while I'm on "cool things", here's an idea about dreams from Scientific American: dreams feel more profound to us than they do to other people because serotonin release is inhibited during dreams. (similarly, you get less serotonin while you're on LSD.)

I had another neat idea about dreams the other day (and now we've moved on to straight-up-guesses). So dreams might be caused by random firings in your brain. It's one of the hypotheses out there. If so, it might explain why dreams make so little sense: they're incompressible. If you generate a random string of characters, and pick a random compression scheme, odds are that you can't compress it much at all. So if you take a series of regular daily firings (say, a bunch of yellow lights in a circle) you might say "that's the sun" and compose a bunch of visual inputs into one quick phrase. But if you take random dream firings, it's really tough to compress them (and therefore remember them) at all.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A step back: is a wearable wakefulness system a good idea?

So I'm kicking around this idea for some kind of system that combines subjective sleepiness ratings, PVT, and some sort of biophysical signal to tell you how sleepy you are. Ideally, this should enable easy sleep research.

Is this worth it? Would you or anyone else use it? Would it actually enable sleep research, or would it just become another cool toy?

Personal sensing devices are apparently popular enough to sustain several companies today. In the sleep sensing space, there's at least Zeo and Wakemate. But that's just while you're asleep; Fitbit and Bodymedia/Bodybugg (a couple papers here and here) work while you're awake. Fitbit and Bodymedia are working on weight loss (how much activity you do) and how much you sleep. Bodymedia is interesting, because it has all these interesting sensors (GSR and heat flux) but they use them just to tell how active you are.

A couple other really neat papers are pushing the "wearable sense a bunch of stuff" system even farther:
1. the Optimi Project is using a multi-sensor system to detect mental health. ECG, EEG, Activity Sensing, Speech Analysis (?) and Sub-dermal cortisol (?!) combine to sense depression. It's been tested in the lab, and will be tested in the real world sometime this year. Paper reference (Majoe et al 2010).
2. the QUASAR system shows evidence for three things: first, that people are interested in personal sensors; second, that such things are feasible; and third, that every project everywhere is named "Quasar". ECG, EOG, EMG, etc. Matthews et al have described this as far back as 2007. I guess this is more of a "here are tools we can use" reference, but still a good reference to have.

(EDIT: incidentally, this Q-sensor is also interesting as another GSR tracker, and this just popped up in Forbes. I find myself feeling strongly about the whole Quantified Self movement, mostly positively, except for a few bits of nerdy rage because some people are "doing it wrong". Mostly positively, though.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Is skin conductivity/GSR a marker for sleepiness?

Galvanic skin response (GSR), AKA skin conductance/conductivity (and a lot of other names), might be a useful signal. It's cheap and easy to measure and widely known. It generally increases with arousal, and therefore is used in lie detectors. And E-Meters. Okay, maybe those are not great examples.

Davies and Krkovic (1964) found that EEG, skin conductance, and performance in a vigilance task all correlated for 10 college students. Skip forward 30 years, and Lim et al (1996) found out more details about the EEG-skin conductance (SCL) relationship. They found a correlation between each brain wave band/position pair and SCL, but then after searching for possible covariates (I might be botching this concept entirely) they came up with a model that only correlated Beta 3 (18-25Hz), Alpha 1 (8-10Hz), and SCL. I mean, the model was:
SCL = -0.685*EEG_Beta3 - 0.045*EEG_Alpha1 + 9.556
(both waves measured at Fz, which is the center of the frontal lobe). Generally, EEG and SCL both correlate with physiological arousal decline. Is that the same as sleepiness?

Bundele and Banerjee (2009) found that they can pretty well distinguish between pre-driving and post-driving skin conductance readings from drivers. They say that the difference is fatigue, so skin conductivity is a signal for fatigue. I say, could be fatigue, or could be stress or any number of other things that rise when you drive. Still, it's something.

Daniel Kramer (2007) studied performance on a video game and found that it correlated with skin conductivity. And Shimomura et al (2008) found that some analysis of skin conductivity correlated with task difficulty. These seem not really relevant here. But now I'm thinking, performance is linked to high arousal, and high arousal is linked to conductivity. If we just say "conductivity is about equal to arousal" and measure your arousal all day, maybe that would be higher on days where you're less sleepy.

So... what? Does GSR measure sleepiness? Probably not in any one case; if you measure your GSR right now, it's unlikely to say "GSR = 0.93, therefore you're sleepy." But maybe over time it'd be worth it.

EDIT: a couple other papers that I only have abstracts of:
Yamamoto and Isshiki (1992): well this looks promising. "We selected the GSR as a physiological index that indicates the awake level."
McDonald, Johnson, and Hord (1964): "Results showed that there were no differences between groups in GSR; however, the drowsy group showed consistently fewer spontaneous GSRs". (I guess GSRs happen in spikes, not just as a value; so maybe more awake people get more spikes in GSR)
Scholander (1961): response amplitudes of electrodermal activity was influenced by sleep deprivation.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Does Heart Rate Variability correlate with sleepiness?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is, well, how variable your heart rate is. If your heart beats slow, then fast, then slow, then fast, your HRV is high. If your heart rate is absolutely constant, your HRV is zero. Okay.

It seems to be a sort-of hand-wavey term; when you say "HRV", you might be talking about SDNN (standard deviation of intervals between heartbeats), rMSSD (square root of the mean squared difference of times between successive beats) or any number of other measurements. But these tend to correlate strongly, so it's not unreasonable to just talk about HRV.

In a study by Fang, Huang, Yang, and Tsai (2008), HRV didn't differ between normal patients and insomniacs. Peng, Lin, Sun, and Landis (2007) found that HRV helped their sleep-stage classifier, but they don't say anything about waking HRV. Back in 1973, Volow and Erwin found that HRV had a "marginally significant but unreliable" relationship to drowsiness onset. Furthermore, it's related to many things, but Wikipedia at least says nothing about sleep.

So why do I think that HRV might have something to do with sleepiness? Well, Kaida et al (2007) found that SDNN predicted worse performance on a vigilance task. However, they do note that this goes against some other results, like Hansen et al (2003) and Kohler et al (2006), which showed improved performance with increased HRV. Then there's Tsuchida, Bhuiyan, and Oguri (2009), who threw HRV and facial features into a classifier, finding a correlation with drowsiness of subjects in a driving simulator. ... which doesn't mean that HRV alone is a useful feature.

That's about all I've got for now. So far, HRV does not seem to correlate with sleepiness. It's a complicated measure, and there's just too much going on.

EDIT: it does help determine sleep stage, as Suzuki, Ouchi, Kameyama, and Takahashi (2009) found while combining it with an actigraph-ish watch. Also cool: the fact that they put HRV in a watch.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Markers of Sleepiness (or Wakefulness)

Argh, I could read things forever! Focus. What am I looking for? A marker of wakefulness, an easily-measurable signal that tells you how awake you are.

Lengthy side note: Aeschbach et al (1997) talk about the two process model of sleep regulation in relation to EEG. Delta, theta, and low alpha waves are all controlled by a homeostatic "Process S" and a circadian "Process C". Process S makes theta and low alpha increase as you stay awake longer, then when you sleep, they decrease as delta increases. The circadian process, on the other hand, deals with aligning you to time of day. So while it's true that sleep is not a one-component construct, it may be (largely approximable by) a two-component construct, and those two components are S and C. (Therefore, surprisingly enough, I haven't developed or furthered any brilliant revolutionary new theories yet.)

So I've convinced myself that "a marker of wakefulness" and "a marker of sleepiness" are at least pretty similar, so I'm looking for a marker of sleepiness. There was apparently a whole conference about this at Harvard. Media summary here. What's the marker, and how can I help bring it to you? Particularly, how can I bring it to you in a way that lets you run all-day kind of studies?

Option 1: EEG. Put an EEG headset on someone, measure eyes-open alpha vs eyes-closed alpha for 12 minutes (Alpha Attenuation Test) or maybe just measure theta, or TLFA (theta/low-frequency alpha) for a couple minutes. Output a number, that's how sleepy you are.

- It's objective (unless you get into subjective scoring of it, but let's try not to).
- It might be quick. The AAT takes 12 minutes, the KDT takes 7. But I got the actual original AAT paper, and it turns out that they (arbitrarily?) pick 12 minutes (2 open, 2 closed, repeat 3x) but looking at their data it seems that 4 minutes would have worked well too. Maybe 2 minutes would. Who knows.
- I mean, I want this to work. EEGs are interesting.

- It might not work. James Krueger argued that EEG delta power alone is not always a satisfactory marker for sleepiness. (he then generalized to "it seems unlikely that a single EEG measure will be reliable as a marker of sleepiness for all conditions", which the media generalized to "Brainwaves? They don't correlate well to sleepiness." okay, the media can be frustrating, etc etc) I'm not convinced. There may be other ways to measure sleepiness besides just delta power.
- Existing EEG headsets are still kind of bulky. Picture big audiophile headphones. Now, unless someone's going to carry that around and whip it out every couple hours, they're not going to do this study.

Option 2: Subjective Tests. Give someone the SSS or KSS or VAS or something on their phone every couple hours.
- It's easy to implement.
- It's quick to do. (quicker than a text, and people do those all the time.)
- It uses existing phones. Or perhaps watches.
- It could be part of a bigger study.

- It's, well, subjective.
- People can forget to do it or decide not to. (even if you send them an alarm.)

Option 3: Behavioral Tests. Make someone take the PVT or something on their phone every couple hours.
- Could still be quick. Again, traditional PVT takes 5-10 minutes but maybe we could make a faster test.
- It's been used for quite a while and pretty well validated.
- It's easy to implement (I think).
- It's on that phone that you already carry around.

- Might not be quick. Maybe if you go below say 5 minutes, validity drops off.
- People can still forget to do it or decide not to.

Option 4: Biological Markers. For example, heart rate variability. As you get sleepier, your heart rate becomes more irregular.
- Instant. Takes no time or effort. Just constantly measure heart rate. Compute now or later, whatever.
- Objective.

- Can a heart rate monitor be unintrusive?
- Maybe this signal won't be as strong. I haven't read more than this paper about it.

Why not put a few of these together? You could imagine doing a subjective 1-7 scale "how awake are you?", playing the PVT game for a couple minutes, and having your heart rate recorded all at once. Then we could see if any of the ratings correlated well with sleepiness, or even if it's some combination of them.

So that's what I'm going to try to implement. This ends the "immediately relevant" part of the post; now I'll try to throw down some more thoughts about some more papers so I can find them later, and also because they're kind of cool:

Aeschbach et al (2001) offer evidence that short sleepers feel just as tired as long sleepers, they just deal with the lack of sleep better.
Harrison and Horne (1996) describe people who aren't sleep deprived or suffering from any disorders, but who can fall asleep at the drop of a proverbial hat. This seems like not news, if you imagine sleepability on a normal curve: some people just have high sleepability.
Rector, Schei, Van Dongen, Belenky, and Krueger (2009) argue that sleep is local and use-dependent. The more you use an area in waking, the more slow-wave sleep you'll get when sleeping. When some systems get tired out, they send inputs to the VLPO, which I guess shuts down when a bunch of systems shut down? And nearby systems tend to be in synch, which is why you generally don't have one arm, or just your visual cortex, falling asleep. That is... neat! And not immediately relevant to me. Sounds like if you had better spatial resolution, say on an EEG or something, you could, say, stimulate one ear a lot and then notice that the part of the brain that processes it getting more slow-wave sleep.
- Maclean, Fekken, Saskin, and Knowles (1991) did some analysis of the SSS and sleep in general. Their analysis of the SSS I am not too concerned about. Their analysis of sleepiness (that there are two components to it) is more interesting. But I'm not convinced; the second component could just be a counteracting component, or maybe it's the circadian rhythm in the two-process model.

Metablog: here's a cool new view of this blog. Thanks, Blogger!
Metablog 2: I am going to link to Readability links of articles all the damn time now. It's so good. Compare the original with the readable one. (not to mention, will redirect you to a paywall if you have the gall to read more than a couple articles.) No thanks,! Thanks, Readability!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

EEG and sleepiness in awake people

I guess when you're sleeping, EEG readings would go along with your sleep stages. What about when you're awake, though?

Kaida et al (2007) say: increased EEG alpha activity predicts when you'll nod off. (as do self-reported sleepiness and heart rate variability)
Cajochen et al (1995) say: activity in the 6.25-9.0 Hz range (theta/low-alpha) increases as you stay up longer.
Finelli et al (2000) agree; theta activity increases as you stay awake longer, as does delta (slow-wave) in your next sleep. Delta drops off exponentially as you sleep.

So that's if you can measure your alpha activity over time. What if you only have a few minutes? The Alpha Attenuation Task looks to be the trick: measure your EEG alpha with eyes open vs. eyes closed. It looks like EEG alpha with eyes open decreases as you get sleepier, while EEG with eyes closed increases. So if your eyes open / eyes closed ratio is high, you're not very sleepy, and vice versa. The task was developed by Stampi, Stone and Michimori in 1993 (which I can't find) and studied again in 1995. They found it to correlate well with the MSLT. Alloway, Ogilvie, and Shapiro in 1997 found that it distinguishes narcoleptics from "normals". It seems to be another useful measure of "sleepiness" (as possibly distinct from wakefulness).

Ă…kerstedt and Gillberg (1990) give a pretty good analysis of what happens in the alpha (8-12hz) and theta (4-8hz) bands as you get subjectively sleepier: they increase, but particularly this high-theta-low-alpha range (5-9 hz). More if you're you're sitting still with your eyes open (as opposed to walking around and doing whatever). If you close your eyes while you're sitting, theta shoots way up, and 10-11hz goes down. This jives with the AAT findings: alpha jumps when you close your eyes, but only if you're not sleepy. (their 5-min eyes-closed, 2-min eyes-open EEG task has become known as the Karolinska Drowsiness Test or KDT.)

In validating the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale, Kaida et al (2006) compared it with a bunch of other measures and found it valid. Interestingly, these all showed correlations: the KSS, the VAS (another subjective sleepiness scale), the KDT and AAT (tests of alpha power with eyes open/closed), and the PVT (response-time test). Which means that the AAT/KDT correlate with both subjective scales (KSS/VAS) and response-time tests (PVT).

In summary: as you stay awake longer (and therefore get sleepier), your theta increases, alpha gets less sensitive to you closing your eyes, subjective sleepiness increases, and task performance goes down.
Other side notes:
- you can run a KDT in 7 minutes, and an AAT in 8 (I think I saw that somewhere). Can you maybe run it in 1 minute? 2 minutes? Or maybe you could just test their theta output for 1 minute?
- Or maybe it'd be possible nowadays to have an office worker or someone just keep an EEG by their desk and test themselves (for 8 minutes) every so often.
- I keep trying to integrate all this with my brewing 2-drive idea, where there's one drive that makes you sleepier and one that makes you more awake, and everyone just keeps talking about the sleep drive when the wake drive needs some research too. It's hard to do.

Friday, March 18, 2011

EEG 101

I've got this EEG. It tells me gamma/beta/alpha/theta/delta readings. I think learning more about EEGs and the corresponding greek lettered names would be useful.

First of all, what are these? My understanding: your brain gives off electrical impulses in regular wavey patterns. We classify these waves based on their frequency. (I think EEG folks don't talk much about "where" the wave occurs because you don't get much spatial resolution. You just know "there's 20hz going on in your brain as a whole." Seems weird! Wouldn't a 20hz wave in lobe A be potentially way different than in lobe B? Dealing without spatial resolution seems like trying to decide what to wear tomorrow when you only have a national weather report. "There's rain somewhere!" But that's all we get.)
Gamma waves (30-100hz) are really quite interesting! There's evidence that they point to the origination of consciousness itself (whatever that means) or the Binding Problem (whatever that means) or at least transcendental states in expert Tibetan meditators (whatever that means). Well! Okay, so this is super interesting but not as well understood; let's move on to waves that we know more about:
Beta waves (12-30hz) are common when you're awake, particularly when you're alert, jumpy, anxious.
Alpha waves (8-12hz) are common when you're awake and relaxed, calm, peaceful, and creative, or when you're REM sleeping.
Theta waves (4-7hz) happen when you're drowsy, sleeping (not super deep), or meditative.
Delta waves (0-4hz) are deep sleep waves.

People sometimes call the deeper, slower states "synchronized" and the shallower, faster states "desynchronized".

For a discussion of what parts of the brain cause different brain wave frequencies in sleep, this Scholarpedia article on the neurobiology of sleep and wakefulness has been pretty helpful (though also pretty dense). I don't think I'll rehash this here; it seems not super critical to me now.

I think I'll follow up with another post talking about EEGs and sleep, because that alone could fill a bookshelf.

A couple other notes/thoughts I want to jot down here so I don't forget:
- According to Wikipedia, Zen meditators produce more alpha waves. A little googling reveals a page about a study. The study is... just a citation? I don't know where the full text is. There seem to be a few papers about meditation and EEGs, like this and this, which I haven't read yet.
Ole Jensen says: alpha waves in an area indicate inhibition, gamma waves indicate engagement. (this hypothesis is also right on his group's front page.) Their group uses MEG, which offers more spatial localization. (MEG is also more expensive and large.)
- What could this mean? There seem to be all kinds of parallels here. Zen meditation -> concentration -> alpha waves, Tibetan meditation -> mindfulness -> gamma waves? I think it is important not to get too carried away jumping to conclusions. But it's interesting!

Measuring my own focus and productivity

(Not quite inspired by xkcd today, but it's topical.)

The freedom of the researchey life is a blessing and a curse, and the difference between success and failure is likely the ability to stay on target.

How can I keep myself on target? How can I even know if I'm on target?

I was inspired by Robin Barooah, who found out that he concentrated no less (and probably more) after he stopped drinking coffee. More interestingly, he quantified concentration: every 25 minutes, if he had concentrated for 25 minutes, he marks an X. Then he was able to improve it by trying something and seeing that it correlated with more concentration. (actually, by looking through his history to see that it correlated with more concentration.)

So what will I try? A few options:
1. The very rigidly scheduled day I was trying. I think this will not work; it was hard to squeeze into my day. And it was prescriptive; it made me feel guilty about chunks I missed.
2. Forget it! Just work! I think this will not work either, because my research is on a computer, so the distracting internet is always around the corner. Also, I'm unfocused enough right now that I could just read things forever and not converge.
3. Something in between: Pomodoro. I've tried this at Google with mixed success, ultimately abandoning it. But maybe it's worth another try. It's nice that it's descriptive and works in 25-minute chunks, instead of 90-minute. It's hard to find 90 unbroken minutes, and it's nice that, if something comes up and interrupts me, I could just skip this chunk, lose 25 minutes, and keep trucking.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sleep debt?

The idea of Sleep Debt is that each person has a "sleep quota" (an amount that he/she is supposed to sleep). If you sleep less than your sleep quota, you'll feel crummy until you sleep more to pay it back. I guess there are a few variants of Sleep Debt theory:
1. It's a straight balance. If your quota is 8 hours, and you sleep 7 hours for 10 days, you'll have 10 hours to pay back, and you won't feel good until you sleep 9 hours for 10 days (or 10 hours for 5 days, or whatever).
2. Sleep debt exists, but it's not a straight balance; a couple days of sleep-as-long-as-you-want will cure you.
3. There is no sleep debt, only REM sleep debt.
4. It's a myth. (tiredness might be caused by too little sleep, but it might equally be caused by boredom or whatever.)

There seem to be variations of Sleep Quota theory too:
1. We all have about the same sleep quota, and it's always been the same.
2. We all have about the same sleep quota, and it's changed in modern times.
3. We all have different sleep quotas.

I'm skimming abstracts here, because I'd like to externalize some thoughts and move on.
Klerman and Dijk, 2005, argue that sleep debt exists, that it persists at least over 3 days, and that our sleep quotas are about the same.
Sallinen et al, 2008, found that one night isn't enough to recover back to normal from sleep deprivation.
Wehr et al, 1993, found that long nights led to longer sleep, over a long duration of time. They did have a short bump to 10 or 11 hours before evening out to about 8, which does support the "sleep debt that fixes quickly". (see fig. 10 here, if you can)
Carskadon and Dement, 1981, agree. One night's rest returns you to baseline. (Dement gave a tech talk at Google a couple years ago; long and not worth watching.
Dinges et al, 1997, show that sleep debt does accumulate, without reaching an asymptote.
Randy Gardner stayed awake for 11 days, slept 14 hours, stayed awake 24 hours, and slept 8 hours and was fine. (okay, sample size of 1. whatever.)

Hmm. The more I read, the more it looks like sleep debt accumulates until you get a chance to sleep it off, and a few days' worth of long sleep cures you. And it's frustratingly unknown what exactly the equation looks like. As for whether we all need the same amount of sleep or not, who knows?

Well, this has been pretty frustrating. Back to your regularly scheduled "actually learning actually useful things" another day, I guess.

Friday, March 11, 2011

This research: now on Twitter.

I think this is not a terrible idea. Follow me on twitter at @dantasse, and you'll get... links to this blog's posts.

Why? So that if someone wants to know what I'm researching without reading long blogs, they can get a title blast in three seconds. And if someone wants to find me and say "I'm researching that too" or "I already did that", they'll have an easy no-pressure way to contact me.

And in the perfect future, when I become a creature of pure idea slinging, I'll be already jacked in to this twitter web. When my colleagues and I are just full of such brilliance that we can only speak in 140 characters because otherwise we'll get too many new ideas to write them all down, we'll have an outlet.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Biphasic/Segmented sleep

I was rather intrigued/distracted by this the other day.

The hypothesis is: back in the day (up to the industrial revolution), humans used to sleep in two phases. Assuming the sun sets at 8pm and rises at 6am, cavemen would sleep 8pm-midnight, wake up midnight-2am, and sleep 2am-6am. This midnight awake time could be used for reading, praying, sex, or just sitting around.

The Ted talk by Jessa Gamble started this whole thing after a coworker (co-researcher? colleague? these terms all sound so 1800's) sent it to me. (4 min; probably worth watching, for her descriptions of extreme wakefulness in people who tried biphasic sleep)

I went on to read this paper by AR Ekirch in which he gives a lot of evidence for biphasic sleep in premodern times. It's all a bit circumstantial, because they weren't exactly running controlled studies back then. But then a guy named Thomas Wehr ran a study where people were in darkened rooms for 14 hours/day and they started sleeping 8 hours in 2 phases. It got picked up by the NY Times in 1995 and then... forgotten? It's cited (only) 23 times in Google scholar.

Today a search for "biphasic sleep" reveals that it's hit a lot of internet lifestyle-design or primal something or pop-sci blogs, but that they all eventually just cite Wehr and Ekirch. Mary Carskadon doesn't dismiss it, but she hasn't researched it herself. (oh, if you're googling: another term is "segmented sleep.")

Otherwise, it seems to have been lost in history! Mollicone et al 2008 found that split sleep schedules don't positively or negatively affect PVT or subjective sleep scores, but that's about it. Hmm. Gamble is publishing a book about this, but I'm not sure when it's coming out.

My thoughts about this are:
1. I want to study this more!
2. Well, studying the health phenomenon (what happens if you segmented sleep?) is more suited to sleep researchers doing big medical studies. Ugh.
3. However, it'd be sweet if some technology we make could let everyone experiment on themselves.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reading machine. Especially about PVT studies.

Been reading a lot of papers. Here is a thing I'd be interested to know: academic folks, when reading academic papers, how fast do you read them? I've done 4 so far today, total of about 55 pages, but there are days I've knocked out 8. I guess it all depends on the paper: some of these are easy reading because they're grounded in reality and not mathy. Probably also depends on how well you need to know it: some papers I skim because I think I won't be able to use it for much, but I just want to get the general idea.

Anyway! What am I reading about? Mostly still "how to tell how awake or sleepy you are." The PVT (Psychomotor Vigilance Test) has caught my attention. It's pretty simple: when you see a signal, press a button. The signal happens randomly every 2-10 seconds for 20 minutes. This tells some measure of "how sleepy" you are.

Here's a long book chapter about it. In short:

- it's easy to learn (after 1-3 trials, you're as good at it as you'll ever be, so no need to worry about learning effects) and easy to do
- it gets a lot of data
- it's reliable within each person
- it reflects some real brain function loss

Why it's interesting to me:
- nowadays, with smart phones, it could potentially be used by an average person to test his/her wakefulness at any time. Indeed, it has been implemented on Palm devices in 2005, and is being implemented at Intel on Android (I'm assuming. Search for "PVT" in that doc. Those look like Nexuses One, no?)
- it measures attention. (for some value of "attention"... hope I'm not totally squashing together meanings of "attention" here.) This sounds like a link between sleep and attention. Because (as I like to say) your attention is your life, that means more sleep = more attention = more life.

Other things:
- self-reported sleepiness has 2 or 3 parts: how tired you feel, and how likely you are to fall asleep. (kinda interesting correlations there: women and young people feel more tired, men and old people are more likely to fall asleep.)
- instead of the SSS, you could try this 13-item "VAS-F" visual self-reported sleepiness test. They showed that it correlates with the SSS and parts of the POMS (mood test), but I didn't see any reason to use it over the SSS, besides hand-wavey "one-item tests are unreliable" arguments. Interestingly, though, they too split this into two parts: fatigue and vigor.

A conclusion that's brewing in my head:
There are roughly 2 things to measure: let's call them the "sleep drive" and the "wake drive". They're different. When I say "how tired are you?" that's a measure of your wake drive. (It's pretty easy to manipulate that one: drink coffee or get surprised. Or get bored.) Your sleep drive is homeostatic and circadian: sleepdrive = time you've been awake * N + sin(time of day). When you try to fall asleep, that's a measure of your sleep drive minus your wake drive. And your wake drive becomes more erratic: now it's on, now it's off.

Just conjecture for now, but it fits pretty nicely with all of these studies. If it's true at all, though, where does that leave us? Can we measure sleep drive AND wake drive quickly on your cell phone? OR: can we assume sleep drive grows according to time of day (and how long you've been awake) and just measure wake drive? Hmm...

EDIT: check it out shut up, here is the coolest PVT paper! Meditation improves your PVT times. Whoa. Not expecting that. Also, experienced meditators in India can sleep a lot less.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What is enlightenment?

So obviously this blog will alternate real world work with wild speculating. As they say, "Keep my feet on the ground / Keep my head in the clouds."

And speaking of wild speculating, how about we go with "what is enlightenment?" because kind of like "happy" and "good", it's sort of a vague term that we all want.

Okay, so an enlightened guy is some monk who is entirely cool with everything. Fine. He's a guy with a sharply tuned mind who is expertly adept at dealing with the world as it is. How does he get that way?

I propose (and this is not by any means an original proposition) that there are 3 parts: concentration, mindfulness, and compassion. I propose this because in reading about "these sorts of topics", these 3 words keep coming up. (you could also include "attention" and "empathy"; I feel like they're pretty close to, although not the same as, "concentration" and "compassion.") Also, I've heard of people meditating for those 3 things, and I haven't heard of people meditating for anything else.

At any rate, it seems as good a place to start as any. If you are awesome at concentration, mindfulness, and compassion, you're probably pretty enlightened, or (not to put a binary distinction on these things unnecessarily) you probably have a good life. And increasing any one of these factors, even, is a big help.

Well, that cuts down the problem by a factor of about three. I'd say my work's done for the day.

Continuing to be that violent force of light / guaranteed to turn it out bad as dolemite,

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Measuring how awake you are

It'd be nice if you could have an instant thermometer for "awakeness". Then you could just "take your temperature" a few times a day, average them out, and say "I was 83 awake today" or "I've been only 34 awake for the past week; I ought to sleep more."

One measure we can use is self-report: how awake do you feel? This is nice for people who want to feel more awake. It's not necessarily awesome if you're trying to gauge whether a truck driver should be driving. I'd like to get an objective, as well as a subjective, component to awakeness measurement. So let's see what other people have used to measure awakeness.

First, we should define awakeness. This is surprisingly difficult. It looks like there's subjective feeling of tiredness, sleep propensity (how likely you are to fall asleep), and reaction time, and these three measures are not the same. One paper hypothesizes that there's a "sleep drive" and a "wake drive", and how sleepy you feel is some function of the two. For example, if you haven't slept in a while, but you are excited about something, your sleep drive and wake drive might both be very high. You could be very tired and very awake. (I like this hypothesis; it's kind of like how happy and sad moods are not opposites; you could feel both.)

So I guess I will wave hands a little bit and just point out some things other people have used to measure sleepiness:

Things you can do in a lab:

Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT). You go to a lab and try to nap every 2 hours. They measure how long it takes for you to fall asleep. Normally takes about 7 hours. Here's a big paper (Carskadon and Dement, 1987) about how the MSLT has been used in many studies. I... think it might be a bit impractical for anything I want to do. (I'd add a smiley but this is a serious research blog)
Maintenance of Wakefulness Test (MWT). Same as the MSLT except you have to stay awake instead of fall asleep. Also not really relevant to me.

OSLER test- like a shorter, easier MWT, with less human intervention; you have to hit a button every time a light flashes; when you miss for 21 seconds, it knows you're asleep. Apparently it works pretty well.

- Sleep-Wake Activity Inventory (SWAI). Questionnaire, 59 items, takes about 15 minutes, provides 6 subscores: Excessive Daytime Sleepiness, Nocturnal Sleep, Ability to Relax, Energy Level, Social Desirability, and Psychic Distress.
- Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS). Questionnaire, 8 items, only a few minutes, asks you to rate how likely you are to fall asleep in a few situations. Probably good for a pre-screening to tell if people have sleep disorders, as shown by this study; it accurately differentiates normal people from people with narcolepsy, sleep apnea, hypersomnia, or PLMD, and almost idiopathic insomnia. (not snoring, though.) They draw a distinction between sleep propensity (how likely you are to fall asleep) and how tired you feel.
- Stanford Sleepiness Scale (SSS). One question, 7 options. Now this is more like it! (here's the paper if I want it later.)
- Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (KSS). One question, 10 options. These are both basically "how awake are you?" and yet, they correlate well with EEG data.

- Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT)- give people an electronic reaction time test. Here's a study that tried to use PVT to replace driving simulators to tell when you're too tired to drive. They found that they measured fatigue pretty well, but they didn't correlate well enough with the driving simulators to replace them. I am interested in this. Perhaps it could be pretty quick.

TODO still: investigate the Optalert device, pupillometry (although not investigate too hard because it involves measuring pupils, so probably not an at-home task)