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The Numbers of a Life 98

Posted by Soulskill
from the plotting-out-a-person dept.
porsche911 points out a recent post by Stephen Wolfram in which he plots out data on his communication habits collected over a period of years — or in some cases, decades. He presents visualizations of the times and frequency of a third of a million emails since 1989, 100 million keystrokes since 2002, phone calls, meetings, modification times on his personal files, and even the number of footsteps he takes in a day. It provides some interesting correlations and insights into the structure of a person's life, and how that structure shifts over the years. He says, "What is the future for personal analytics? There is so much that can be done. Some of it will focus on large-scale trends, some of it on identifying specific events or anomalies, and some of it on extracting 'stories' from personal data. And in time I'm looking forward to being able to ask Wolfram|Alpha all sorts of things about my life and times—and have it immediately generate reports about them. Not only being able to act as an adjunct to my personal memory, but also to be able to do automatic computational history—explaining how and why things happened—and then making projections and predictions. As personal analytics develops, it’s going to give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives."
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The Numbers of a Life

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday March 09, 2012 @09:36AM (#39300469)

    If ((age IS GREATER THAN 25) & (number-of-times-laid IS LESS THAN (age-16)) || number-of-times-laid IS LESS THAN number-of-times-starwars-seen)
          {
          Loser = true;
          }

  • "As personal analytics develops, itâ(TM)s going to give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives."

    Here's a clue - if that would "give a whole new dimension to experiencing your life", you need to step away from the keyboard and get a life!.

  • by mws1066 (1057218) on Friday March 09, 2012 @09:41AM (#39300525)
    At first glance, the whole idea of personal analytics seems kind of worthless. But imagine comparing analytics among populations and drawing correlations between habits, lifestyle choices, and diseases. That could be a helpful step toward the kind of preventative health care we need as a people. Lifestyle choices matter a lot more than the strictly-retroactive fix-me-up-after-my-heart-clogs-up-with-french-fry-grease healthcare that much of the US and I'm sure other countries seem to encourage.
    • by daem0n1x (748565) on Friday March 09, 2012 @09:44AM (#39300553)
      Better yet, correlate the data with happiness.
      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday March 09, 2012 @09:59AM (#39300699) Journal
        Nothing in the budget for that; but the wonderful folks in the advertising and intelligence sectors will be glad to offer an array of custom-tailored consumer products and law enforcement solutions...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Dude, this is Stephen Wolfram. Storing all that data and making all those graphs provided him with more bliss than I experience from a year of lazy Sunday afternoons.

      • the data indicates a strong correlation between avoiding personal analytics and other related neurotic distractions, and happiness

    • by Pope (17780)

      We already have preventative, holistic health care in the West. Have for decades. People are simply too lazy or arrogant to change themselves.

      Keeping tabs on how mail emails you've written over your lifetime is fucking pointless.

      • by daem0n1x (748565)

        You can never think about social issues at the individual scale. Preventative, holistic health care has worked very well increasing the well-being and life-span of people in developed countries. It just moves slow because a whole society has a lot of inertia.

        As an example, I've been reading alarming stuff about the obesity epidemics for decades. My generation was raised on TV, fast food, sweets, soda and beer. Things are starting to turn around. There's an increasing number of people making exercise and

      • Does it mean something if I can't do a project like this because many of my earliest e-mails are stored in QWK packets on floppy disks for a drive type I no longer own?

    • That could be a helpful step toward the kind of preventative health care we need as a people.

      When you say preventative health care, you mean like telling people if they smoke, they will most likely get emphysema, cancer and a host of other issues.

      Or did you mean telling people they need to eat a variety of fruits and veggies every day because doing so provides one with fiber, vitamins and minerals which help ones health?

      Or maybe you meant telling people they can't be fat, that they need to do
    • by afabbro (33948)

      At first glance, the whole idea of personal analytics seems kind of worthless. But imagine comparing analytics among populations

      That is statistics, not "personal analytics".

      Personal analytics appears to be what was earlier called "narcissism".

    • We have medical records already. Comparisons across populations already happen. The effect of habits on lifestyles can already be measured. Choices are available. Education is imposed Unfortunately, the two things we've found that make any significant difference to people's health are where they live and how much money they've got.

      As for personal analytics, there's little chance of that extending beyond the small, self-selecting group that has a temporary interest. We've been able to count calories and
  • Fascinating (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JeffSh (71237) <[gro.0m0m] [ta] [todhsalsffej]> on Friday March 09, 2012 @09:48AM (#39300581)

    I find this fascinating. What I find even more fascinating is how can the man sustain such a momentus amount of activity while maintaining a family? Seriously, he works every waking hour of every day, with no interruption of email activity except dinner and sleep... Where does his family fit in? In my case, my wife won't let me, so perhaps this is just my unique situation. Anyone else have commentary on family life vs work/passion life?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe he just isn't maintaining his family. You don't know how happy or unhappy his wife is with him.

    • Don't forget the six fucking hours he spends on the phone every weekday, on average. That's fucking crazy.

      That said, the consistency of the dinner gap is just as impressive. I certainly don't manage to make time like that for my friends and family, and I'm a single guy with a 9-5.

    • Re:Fascinating (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cachimaster (127194) on Friday March 09, 2012 @12:06PM (#39302119)

      Looking at this data we can conclude that Wolfram's success has a lot to do with his wife being awesome and helping him with the family. I'm sure this is not an isolated result.

      • by plopez (54068)

        Old joke: "Behind every successful man is a woman with a credit card". But this was a play on yet another old saying, "Behind every successful man is a woman".

        Anecdote:
        A friend of mine's father was working his way up the corporate ladder working for a big oil company. A number of times he got the phone call at work which said, "We need you to relocate to location X for project Z". He would say "yes", go home early inform my friend's mom and start packing his suitcase. Mom would then start calling the school

    • by jafac (1449)

      Say nothing of his family. Looking ONLY at the probability of time he spends on the phone, this guy looks like the WORST fucking manager in the world. I would NOT want to work for this man. He's a CEO? He should be a CTO sure.

  • If I count my emails, does Wolfram now expect a royalty check?

  • Live life (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DigiShaman (671371)

    Don't talk about life. Don't analyze life. And most importantly, don't view your own life from a 3rd person perspective 24/7. Observation and introspection is healthy. Too much of it is a waste of time. If you're having to think about your life all the time, it means your not living it. And if you're not living it, do something about it. Don't just sit on the sidelines.

    • Re:Live life (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @10:15AM (#39300859)

      Horse shit.

      What if your happiness *is* statistics and analytics? As long as you're happy doing it and its pursuit makes you a living and gives the rest of us insight that lets us all benefit from a higher quality of life, I'd say that's a pretty damn good chunk of life. Of course it has to be balanced in a healthy way with interpersonal relationships but this same logic applies to biosciences and chemistry.

      Your "insightful advice" sounds more like condescension. It's dismissive of an entire class of meaningful occupations without considering their individual habits. Simply dismissing anyone who invests any time in personal analytics as "sitting on the sidelines" and wasting their lives is intellectually dishonest, even when hedged with, "Observation and introspection is healthy. Too much of it is a waste of time."

    • Wolfram is an ass, a self centered, megalomaniacal little "Timelord" wannabe, who says what he does for the love of attention not because it has any scientific relevance, the term "attention whore" comes to mind!

    • by jafac (1449)

      If nothing else, that's Socratic-as-FUCK.

    • by KhabaLox (1906148)

      Don't talk about life. Don't analyze life. And most importantly, don't view your own life from a 3rd person perspective 24/7. Observation and introspection is healthy. Too much of it is a waste of time. If you're having to think about your life all the time, it means your not living it. And if you're not living it, do something about it. Don't just sit on the sidelines.

      Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitt

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @09:57AM (#39300679)

    I hated this idea when Doctorow introduced me to it as "Reflective Analytics":

    http://www.tor.com/stories/2008/08/weak-and-strange

    It's meta-mental-masturbation. Exactly the kind of thing he would write about.

  • This is pretty sweet. I'll bet you could get all sorts of insight about a life in this fashion. But what are the chances that (the average) someone will be able to gather this data and run the analysis and then keep the resulting insight under their own control? What are the chances that this data could be used by a person to improve their quality of life, as opposed to used by a corporation to more effectively vacuum up the money and utility people shed?

    • Everybody who doesn't have a personal analytics database under their control and does have a Facebook 'timeline' knows the answer to this question already. And the ones who don't know the answer are the answer...
    • Thank you!

      I for one view every emerging news story "so sweetly presented" with a gamer's strategy of "how can someone evil abuse the daylights out of this?"

      Simple example, in a courtroom scenario, with the "we can raid your comp" rules emerging, they can probably find a way to subpoena your study notes.

      Then of course Big Brother style is that "1. You must now keep these records. 2. Turn them over to us."

    • by Pope (17780)

      You could certainly keep this off-line, like in a pen & paper journal or non-networked computer, it'd just takes more work and effort.

  • by stanlyb (1839382)
    Did you want to say USa? Because, this is the guy who is more interested in your insides, and who is willing to abuse you....
  • by shikitohno (2559719) on Friday March 09, 2012 @10:07AM (#39300777)

    Sure, my memory will fail me in the future (it's already crap now), but I'm okay with that. If I were living in a time where this sort of detailed breakdown and analysis were applied to everyone, I'd much rather forget things and not understand the reasons behind events 100% than have a database of every little detail of my life in it for anyone who'd pay to check it out. If one guy decides to do it for himself, I guess that's cool for him. But when you take this idea to its logical conclusion and start applying this to large groups of people, it sounds much too like Big Brother for me to be comfortable with at all.

    It also strikes me as the most likely way people would wind up living in some sort of Orwellian, totalitarian state. At first, they'll tell us of all the benficial things this could give us, and phase it in gradually. They might tell us of how it could help medicine, and we agree to let them start monitoring our food and drink consumption, along with our exercise habits. And when something good, such as a cure for some difficult to vanquish disease, comes as a result, people will see that it provided them some tangible benefit this time. And from there it will slowly bleed out into other areas of life. This slow, creeping invasion of privacy strikes me as a much more likely route to such a future than such a government having a revolution and things changing overnight.

    Personal analytics on large populations will ultimately suffer from the same problem so many schemes involving information and power do. If it happens, we'll probably have welcomed it for the perceived benefits to society we can get from it on a small scale, naively believing individuals in positions of power will be benevolent rulers. Most people will act shocked when this power is abused and steadily has its limits expanded. The rest of us will sit down and say, "When we were talking about this happening 20 years ago, we were the conspiracy nutjobs, eh? I'd say I told you so and leave you to deal with it, but instead I'll thank you for screwing me over too."

    • If you consider the existing body of ad-hoc, largely commercially driven, data collection mechanisms, you don't really need to use the future tense...
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Friday March 09, 2012 @10:24AM (#39300953) Homepage

    He presents visualizations of the times and frequency of a third of a million emails since 1989, 100 million keystrokes since 2002, phone calls, meetings, modification times on his personal files, and even the number of footsteps he takes in a day.

    OCD much? Seriously, who keeps track of this kind of stuff?

    • by cruff (171569)

      Seriously, who keeps track of this kind of stuff?

      I thought his comment about believing that other persons were also tracking this type of information about their activities and then finding out that they weren't was very interesting. Did he just project this onto the others based on his own behaviors, or did they throw out a quick comment about how that might be interesting but then promptly forgot about it?

    • He presents visualizations of the times and frequency of a third of a million emails since 1989, 100 million keystrokes since 2002, phone calls, meetings, modification times on his personal files, and even the number of footsteps he takes in a day.

      OCD much? Seriously, who keeps track of this kind of stuff?

      Google, Facebook and Twitter.

      • Google, Facebook and Twitter.

        That's exactly what I was going to say.

        Imagine Facebook Timeline for your entire life. Including everything your phone ever did. Being monitored by Homeland Security.

        At least you should be able to look at it yourself.

  • by Stargoat (658863) * <stargoat@gmail.com> on Friday March 09, 2012 @10:28AM (#39300993) Journal

    100 million key strokes? I hope for his carpel tunnel's sake that he has an IBM Model M.

    • by Nimey (114278)

      He'd have gone through at least two or three of them by now. IIRC those buckling-spring switches are only rated for ~25 million strokes.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        lol. Think about what you said, and then how many keys are on a keyboard.

  • I think it is safe to say that this data could be considered Facebook porn.

  • The plot of episode 3 details how a mans life is effectively ruined by perfect recall [denofgeek.com]*.

    Forgetting all the fun of interesting stats generated by this Wolfram project, is that what you want?

    Peace,
    Andy.

    * spoiler alert for those of you who have not watched this brilliant series

  • The blog post is much longer, and there is much more analysis than real, meaningful, useful results. So many numbers and pretty graphs, but no conclusions: what is good, what should change, what is bad, what should not change.

    S

    • by Hatta (162192)

      there is much more analysis than real, meaningful, useful results. So many numbers and pretty graphs, but no conclusions

      Funny, that sounds exactly like Wolfram's book.

    • Yeah, it really seems like a terribly longwinded way of saying, "I went OCD and started tracking all this stuff, and I graphed it. Pretty cool, huh?" He doesn't draw any conclusions about it, or even provide some sort of practical uses for it. If my memory is fuzzy about something, I've got a way less time consuming method of getting the info about it. I call up the friends I was with at the time and ask them if they remember whatever it is I forgot. Of course, this method assumes you have friends, an

  • by srussia (884021) on Friday March 09, 2012 @11:32AM (#39301677)
    What if your life is all about keeping track of your life?
  • It mostly tells me that collecting all this data is pretty useless. I've accumulated a lot of data myself, but never got around to analyzing it. Now I won't bother.

  • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Friday March 09, 2012 @12:58PM (#39302747)

    This is fascinating if for no other reason than to compare against my own workday. It's quite evident that this guy's day starts at roughly 10am and ends by about 3pm. So on average 5 hours of work per day. I wish my work day looked like that, even if it meant meant some work on the weekends.

    • No, it's more of 10-11AM to 3AM, as he mentions just below the first plot. The last plots [edgecastcdn.net] are more useful for drawing that sort of conclusion, though.

  • This guy is pioneering digitizing life (something that on this scale, is for the most part unexplored territory). He just might be ahead of his time, this might become the norm in 10-20 years. You assholes are doing nothing but putting him down. Do you think he's an idiot? Do you know how hard it is to develop something as intricate as the site he made? Could you have done any better? Shut the hell up. _You're making fun of nerd on a nerd news site_. Furthermore this nerd will probably be more successful an
    • And what is it exactly that he has accomplished with this? He's certainly a succesful businessman, but what in this article is actually supposed to impress me with its pioneering vision? This man has meticulously documented the minutiae of his day to day life for years and years, then taken this data and produced graphs which tell us...not much of anything, actually. We can tell he wakes up and goes to sleep at largely the same times most days, and also eats dinner at the same time. But please, I'm just

      • by Mia'cova (691309)

        Having access to your own data produces a very positive feedback loop. If you can see your schedule drifting, you can reorient yourself to correct it quickly. I keep track of a few things such as when I wake up, go to sleep, get to work, leave work, and a small handful of personal metrics such as a numeric value for how effective I was at work on a given day.. I've learned a lot from it. For example, I have a better idea now of how my level of engagement (# of hours worked) relates to how effective I am. If

    • This is the typical average response from slashdot readers since most of us can only claim to be better than others rather than actually proving it. Hence, the need to make others smaller. Sadly, much of human interaction falls into this category and its likely that comparisons like that Wolfram's life log provides will only prove that to be true. I wish it weren't so as it would then be easier to find interesting things in slashdot without having to wade to inordinate amounts of self-preening to find in

  • That the best times to call him are between the hours of 2 am and 8 am as he is most likely to not be engaged in a phone call. Guess whose getting calls between those hours.
  • The time spent analyzing emails and phone calls could have been spent learning how to write more effective emails, make more effective phone calls etc. Don't analyze your life to death and then brag about it. Organize it so that you maximize your gain for minimum effort.

The key elements in human thinking are not numbers but labels of fuzzy sets. -- L. Zadeh

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