Today my friend Sara asked me about my favourite asthma tracker app. If you’ve read my post, Technology, Self-Tracking and Asthma on Asthma.Net you’ll know that answer. (Disclosure: they pay me money but don’t influence my views, which is a sweet gig).

Pretend spoiler alert: I don’t like any asthma apps out there. (If you’re looking for one, though, read the article. I tried to look at a variety of aspects from price to what data was collected to design/user friendliness.)

So, with no coding skills what-so-ever, I set out to build my own solution. (I seem to do that.) I’m still working on it, and it’s far from perfect, but here’s what I’ve got so far. Keep in mind, I’ve got dozens of hours of trial and error behind this, and once I got it down, I used it (in the fragments created to that point) for maybe about six weeks before I hit a lapse, or burned out on it. I think, also, it will be easier (maybe not as effective, but easier) when I’m not at the cabin every weekend.

Element One: Google Forms/Google Sheets.
I started this whole thing off with a simple form for myself to fill out regarding my asthma symptoms (1-5 scale) and meds, trigger exposure, as well as my peak flow, FEV1, and oxygen saturation (cause why not?). I tried to tie symptom logging to taking my meds, as well as when I felt an increase in symptoms, so that it wasn’t biased by only reporting increased symptoms (which it still is, of course) and attaining a “baseline”. Unfortunately, I started this project when I was having a bit of a struggle with my asthma control (thanks a lot, rain and humidity).

I also used DO Button from IFTTT for a time to log my Ventolin use. Then I realized this was complicating things as I had to log each puff separately. This is where I began using QR codes.

Element Two: QR Codes.
I usually do not like QR Codes for whatever reason. I really would have preferred to use NFC tags, but, the iPhone 6 doesn’t feature a NFC tag reader like Android does (and whatever future iteration does, it’s ApplePay specific). So, QR Codes have to suffice.

I created individual, colour coded (note the border) QR codes for each of my inhalers (and my Concerta bottle. And the nasal spray I realize I haven’t taken in forever). I made them small enough and simply attached these to my inhalers with tape (I had to scratch the shininess of the tape away but it worked okay after that, and after I learned not to put the codes on curves in the inhalers, which is difficult with Qvar). The QR codes link to individual Google Forms for each medication. I hit the corresponding button for the number of puffs taken (or, in the case of Concerta, one pill), and then hit submit.

My Ventolin (the blue inhaler above) you’ll notice has two QR codes attached. the one on the cap is for the Ventolin itself, the one on the side is for the symptom logging sheet. The peak flow meter has the link to the sheet to log PEF and FEV1. I also have the symptom barcode by my bed (where my peak flow meter usually lives and where I usually stand to take peak flows).

It’s not perfect, but it’s kind of fun. And fun, in a twisted, nerdy sort of way is the motivator here. If it’s not nerdy fun, on my terms, it’s not happening. I log for myself, and my doctors don’t really pay much attention to my PEF/FEV1 results, nor do they ask I take them. Which I am okay with, since it lets me not get burned out on numbers.

I got Launch Center Pro for iOS for this reason, so I can swipe down from the Today(/Notifications) Panel and hit one button to launch NeoReader (my favourite of the free QR code scanner apps I’ve found), which I outfitted with a cute pink rocket ship icon thanks to Launch Center Pro. Because I have to make it fun, of course. What’s not fun about a pink rocket ship?

NeoReader also has a history option, so if I’m somewhere the code isn’t reading well (like the cabin), or the light is dim (sometimes with the tape the bright iPhone light doesn’t help) I can pop it open from history. Usually the code works and is faster, though. But, like all QR codes, sometimes it just doesn’t scan. I also had to cover the pharmacy provided barcodes with tape because often NeoReader tried to pick up the pharmacy barcodes instead of my QR code.

I now have all of these QR codes importing data into different pages on the same Google Sheet.

Element Three: IFTTT.
For like, years now, I’ve had weather pushing itself to Google Drive for this reason. I also, I think, have humidity reports going there so I can correlate my asthma symptoms with humidity percentages and temperature.  

What I’d like to add.
A better summary of what I’d like to add next will be in an upcoming Asthma.Net post called “Quantified Asthma”. However, aside from NFC tags (which is kind of impossible unless I get my hands on an Android device—if anybody has one kicking around they want to send my way for Quantified Self purposes, let me know ;)), I’d like to be able to pull pollen counts automagically from somewhere but that looks impossible from Canada (I don’t have pollen/mold allergies per my testing, but it would be interesting to see if these have any impact on my breathing anyways, like particulate matter). 

Finding trends.
Like I said, I had a pretty crappy bout of breathing going on when I started this project. But, I’d like to grab a week or two a month where I log (since I can’t expect myself to do it all the time without burning out) so I can see differences between seasons. I used Datasense, Sheets and Excel to play with my data, but Datasense is hands down my favourite. I haven’t taken a single data analysis course, so, this aspect has got to be pretty user friendly for me, and, Datasense is a lifesaver for that. Thanks, Intel!

So, that’s it for now. 

I try to track a lot of stuff, but I like that stuff to be as effortless as possible (I’m human, right?). The more stuff I track, the less likely I am to track a thing after a few days or a week, which means I really can’t do anything with that data. There are not a lot of things that will track themselves, however, thinking about this the other day, I became curious to do a bit of an inventory to see what kinds of things I am tracking basically automagically. (Magic, yes.)

For over 2 years (actually, well over 2 years, but I think some of my data got trapped in an old iPod or something before The Cloud was such a big thing), I’ve tapped the screen on my iPhone a few times to track my sleep—I use SleepCycle, and this same app acts as my alarm clock (and lets me use my own music—I actually initially bought it years ago because of that), so I have some motivation to set it. This is, aside from wearing my Fitbit, probably the most automated self-tracking actiivty that I do. So it’s not quite automagic… but it just about could be. (The Charge HR does have automatic sleep tracking though, as well, and I did use the sleep feature regularly on the One and Ultra).

Graphs from SleepCycle. Above, time I went to bed over the last two-plus years. Below, the odd waves of different activity levels on my sleep quality…

I’ve been wearing a Fitbit since January 2012—first the Ultra, then the One, and now the Charge HR. This means, aside from the times that I’ve lost it or forgotten to wear it, I’ve been counting steps, calories burned, activity level, distance covered. Since May, I’ve got a near-continuous record of my heart rate—which is kind of ridiculous and I’m looking forward to someone getting that export heart rate thing figured out. And, since the invention of MobileTrack from Fitbit, even if my device dies on my wrist, I still accumulate a bit of data—though not as accurate as the thing attached to my body.
I also have a couple apps in my phone that serve this purpose. I’m not really sure why I haven’t deleted them yet, however.

Here’s also a little app called fit|line. It gives you all kinds of stats extracted from your Fitbit. It also says things like “You spend an average of 14 hours a day sedentary.” (Don’t worry. My Pebble Time is trying to put an end to that nonsense. Actually, I thought it would be like “You spend an average of 23 hours a day sedentary” so…)

All time Fitbit stats from Fit|Line. different view…

Here you’ll see where I lost my Fitbit, or forgot to wear it, or it died or whatever.
You can also fairly easily pick out the spot in 2013 when I was super sick and when I was no longer in school and no longer working outside of the house. 

Things I Set Up on IFTTT at Some Point And Forgot About.
Okay, let’s take a look.

  • If it rains, this gets sent to a spreadsheet in Google Drive. I was at some point going to trend this with peak flows and asthma symptoms but, ha, those don’t get logged automagically.
  • If humidity rises above 75% this gets added to a spreadsheet.
  • If I enter or exit a tennis club, these times are to be logged (a backup for logging my summer work hours).
  • This one doesn’t quite count because I have to manually check-in on Foursquare… SWARM. I have to check in on Swarm. (Damn these name changes, really.) but that does get sent to my Google Calendar. So if I forget when I went somewhere and I happened to check in on F—Swarm, then I can find out.
Computer Time.
I’ve been using RescueTime for quite awhile. So now I have all this data about how much time I spend doing what, and I really don’t do anything with that.
Similarly, I once installed Checky on my iPhone to see how many times I looked at my phone in a day, but it has to run in the background obviously, which then gets swiped closed.
Because once the guy at the Apple Store had to close all my apps and he told me he’d never seen that many apps open on a phone. And he works at the Apple Store. That’s pretty bad.
There are probably all kinds of other things, but that’s my rundown for 11:40 pm. I’ll add more here when I discover them. 

Okay so I deviated from the blogging schedule already. You couldn’t really expect I’d last more than 2 days right? Even though I’m quantifying all the words… 

Back in May 2015, I cashed in a good chunk of my Shoppers Optimum points for a Bluetooth toothbrush from Oral-B. (For some reason, I get points on prescriptions that I don’t personally spend money on. So, I cash them in for things like pulse oximeters, dust-proof mattress covers and Bluetooth toothbrushes. Yep.)

Toothbrush = $200. $170 = Shoppers Optimum points. $30 mail-in rebate. Toothbrush = free.

Which is good because $200 is outrageous. But Bluetooth is cool. And the toothbrush itself leaves my teeth feeling super smooth and clean for a good chunk of time longer than a regular electric toothbrush. [I switched from an oral-b electric, battery operated to this. I previously also owned, circa 2000, one of the first (I think) electric toothbrushes available in-your-home from Oral-B, sold by my dentist to my mother for my young-and-with-braces self. Sometime around then anyways. While that one had a two minute timer, there wasn’t anything custom about it–which, there probably is a lot less customizability in regular (non-Bluetooth) brushes all these years later compared to this one (how would you program it? Morse code?)

So, I’ve been using this thing for 47 weeks. I think that’s long enough to give it a pretty thorough review.


Here’s the app.

Welcome screen.

One other drawback, is that if you don’t input mouthwash, tongue cleaning (I still WTF at that. I do not use this feature.), or flossing immediately, too bad. So if, for instance, I don’t have the app open, I do not have a chance to record these activities. Which seems really silly.

By the way, I thought the Bluetooth brush would do more than it actually does. All that is, really, is put your toothbrushing stats in a graph so long as you actually sync every 10 sessions. Or else you have gaps, like I do when it deletes the data. It’s like a glorified stats app with a teeny bit of gamification.

I showed this bit to my dental hygenist at the dentist on Monday and she was like “Oh that’s so cool, it’s for your hygenist!” I laughed. Except I forgot to sync it on Monday, unfortunately. It’s synced now—which is as easy as either opening the app and a) removing the toothbrush from its dock, or b) pressing the mode button (particularly useful when travelling sans dock, as the toothbrush can handle about a week of use between charges. One battery downside, however, is that it does take FOREVER to charge, and it has a bright blue light that reflects all over the bathroom from the mirror and regularly gets a cloth thrown on top of it.)

Now yes, I did say “teeny bit of gamification” up there.

THERE ARE BADGES, GUYS. I’ve got the “7 day brushing streak” “14 day brushing streak” (2 times per day. Let’s be honest, it is easy to brush in the morning when you are getting ready to go out. I am doing really well right now at getting the morning—or early day—brush in, but it’s sometimes a challenge when I don’t go anywhere. Because, you know, food is about.) I’m up for the 30 day brushing streak next week. Also to get “professionally approved” your dentist has to use this app to set up your profile. So, is anybody going to actually get that? There are also SECRET BADGES. [They’re called trophies, but do those look like trophies? No they look like Foursquare badges from when Foursquare was cooler than it is now.]

This is my favourite badge, maybe. Not that the US is very foreign, but I forgot that this app had location services (to find you news and weather to check out while brushing. Nope, not joking.)

There are also a set of Oral Care Journeys you can do. Except, look, I’m just getting twice-a-day down consistently, I can’t get in too deep yet. 

And for all of you “give me my data” fiends, there IS an export function… unfortunately, it’s practically useless, as you cannot export to .csv. COME ON, ORAL-B. I want to see if enhanced brushing is correlated with stuff. (…I don’t know really. Like what is more likely to make me lapse in the routine of brushing?)

So have a bit of work to go to be like the Bluetooth brush that I heard about at MedX 2012 that tells you if you’re missing segments of your mouth using Wiimote-esque technology. But whatever. I knew that before I got it, obviously, but still. 

So, I mentioned my dentist appointment on Monday. Well, the good news is, the brush is doing quite a good job (as am I). I may need to set up a focused care routine for the backs of my bottom front teeth, and try to figure out how to get at my wisdom teeth better without gagging like I usually do (…I’m convinced that the dentist’s office has a “gagger” sticker on my file, because as soon as I walk in they address this issue. Although it did earn me a panoramic non-torturous x-ray SOMEHOW for the cheap price of $20 instead of the regular price the receptionist told me of $70. Which I was going to pay because it, like fluoride rinse, makes the whole thing SO MUCH LESS STRESSFUL. I told my hygenist “Good things come in small packages… except when it’s your mouth,” and she laughed. My dentist has previously told me to never let anyone tell me I have a big mouth. Ha.) The bad news? Well, those damn wisdom teeth. Apparently they are in straight and everything, but thanks, teeny mouth, back top righty has a cavity in it because I can’t get the toothbrush in there properly. So, it’s getting pulled, since that’ll be less work in the long run. (“I could pull it… Well, hmm… We could fill it… No, it’s going to be way too hard to get in there to fill it. I don’t think I even CAN get in there to fill it. Yep, I’m right, let’s do an extraction. Good job, I made the right call in the first place.” Bahaha. I was hoping he said to pull it, actually…)

So, post-insurance dentist total? $192, after not being there since August 2014. I thought it would be much worse. (Thanks, mom.) Getting a tooth pulled? $118. It’s not super major work, but underscores why I haven’t yet purchased private insurance, considering I can not die/not go super broke still regardless…

I don’t know how much the $200 toothbrush helped in the fact that I only had one cavity that, like my other cavities, they said I really couldn’t have done much to prevent, but hey… adherence encouraged by a little extrinsic motivation through an app can’t hurt, right?

Just give me some .csv or .xls export, post-brushing additional activities (mouthwash etc) logging, and a reminder to sync maybe (and that magic “you’re missing this part of your mouth” Wiimote tech) and I’ll be 110% happy. But, 95% is pretty okay too.

I’ve been using the Fitbit for several years now, but when I got my Pebble, I threw the Misfit app on there to see how it fared (the Pebble can’t use more than one activity tracker at a time, or I can guarantee you I’d have tried something else on there to see if it trended similarly to Misfit!)

Now, yes, clearly I like that my step count for the month on Fitbit (5.19K) is 29% higher (if I did that math right, yes sometimes I struggle to use a calculator) than that on Misfit (3.67K)–152,000 steps is kind of a lot (some of which potentially accounted for within the five days that the Misfit/Pebble combo just apparently mostly gave up, and then slowly rose back to life? Note that I’ve definitely worn my Pebble every day since getting it, so it’ not like I left it laying on the bathroom counter to not count anything for a day while my Fitbit did stuff.

It’s important to note, though, that at some point I did realize there was a setting on the Misfit app to specify where you’re wearing the device. Not, however, that it became any closer to the Fitbit numbers. What’s more accurate? Well, nothing will say for sure, but a quick google lead me to Neil at Spoken Like a Geek, who noted:

I ran a small test where I recorded the step count on both devices before taking 130 steps and the recording the counts again. [… I]n this very unscientific test the Fitbit was spot on and the Pebble  [was] out by a factor of 35%.

And, note that I had no idea that Neil had run this similar comparison–his trend line is a lot smoother/has a bit more predictable of a flow than mine has. EDIT: Note that Neil was using the Fitbit Flex, thus both trackers were wrist worn. I keep my Pebble on my left wrist, and my Fitbit One on my right hip (pocket), which could account for some variance. I’ll probably run this experiment again (when I don’t have a significant gap of data), and I’d also like to add a third set of data for the steps collected directly from the iPhone (…and be very intentional about keeping my phone on me for the duration of the experiment, because today for example, I had a phone call vibe-ing away on my Pebble and I could not remember where my phone was.)

Additionally, this proves I need to move a lot more. I did try the standing desk thing the other day for a bit, but given that I was using some folding stool from IKEA with my MacBook, it was not a super ergonomic setup [which is my general experience at these things given that I am 5’2″ and thus even when I eventually attempt to build a less makeshift standing desk, the instructions for people who are 6’+ are less than helpful and I am, as we discovered above, not good at math and 5’2″. At the very least, if I’m already standing I’m just more prone to wandering a bit more or breaking out into dance on occasion–the effect on my productivity will be questionable, however.