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So many government electronic devices. And a few books.

As 2020, both the most and least eventful year of my life is coming to a close, I’ve been reflecting on some of the year’s decisions.

I’ve been working in Silicon Valley for the past five years and it has been a whirlwind. The caliber of the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with and the tech I’ve had the opportunity to help build have made these years memorable. …

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Raspberry Pi Setup

I live in Northern California and it is wildfire season. Increasingly, this means poor air quality even in cities. With COVID (don’t go indoors!) and wildfires (don’t go outdoors!) — there was really nowhere else to go besides my own apartment. That of course meant that it was time for a new project! If my goal was to just get an air quality monitor, I probably would have gone with purple air, as it comes with a social component, but I wanted to make life hard on myself. Some features of the approach I took below:

— Data can be contributed to this open source community. …

In my previous thought experiments on “Can we use digital health to drive behavior change?” I’ve focused on wearables in the context of healthy people without underlying conditions. My BMI is in the ‘healthy’ range. I have no underlying conditions. Yes, I should probably definitely run more and drink less. Most of us should, the data tells us. Data tells me that these behaviors may increase my lifespan and number of quality years, but it is all so intangible.

Heart beats are fascinating.

We all have beating hearts. They are not only essential, but also uniquely identifying. Heart beats could one day be used as passwords or in place of facial recognition. They are one of the most fundamental vital signs of most large organisms on Earth. Output is dependent on a vast array of input signals — fitness, BMI, time of day, mental health, disease, etc.

It is crazy how much can be learned about a human by just one number. Did your teenager really fall asleep at 10pm? Did your sister really go running for an hour? Did your friend really only have 2 drinks last night? …

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[This is a guest post by a family member.]

As much as I’d love to write a blog about how much I also think I deserve a billion dollars, I’m here to talk about the challenges of equity in education during the COVID-19 school breaks.

I am writing this to highlight a problem that I do not have a solution for. COVID-19 has highlighted copious issues in US society and as a first grade public school teacher, education is no exception. Today on a call with my grade level colleagues and our principal, we discussed the reality of not returning to our classrooms for the entire school year. The state of California is mandating that teachers continue to teach the rest of the year’s curriculum in some sort of distance learning format (Which one? We don’t know. We are making this up as we go along.) I believe most teachers are inherently good people, happy to work a sometimes thankless job. …

During the first 25 years of my life, I sanely commuted less than one mile between work/school/home. Then, year 26 rolled around and I decided it would be fun to move 30 miles away from work. (What an exciting challenge!) For the past ~4 years, I’ve been commuting from San Francisco to Mountain View/Sunnyvale and been experimenting with many commuting options. Millions of workers do the San Francisco <-> Peninsula commute every day. I’ve tried many different combinations (walking, biking, scootering, train, bus, car). …

[Written in 2016 in relation to my first tech job — still accurate in 2020.]

I realize there are numerous blog posts on transitions from academia to industry, but each individual’s experience adds value to the narrative.

Since making my transition to industry, I’ve received numerous questions from current PhD students and postdocs asking about my experience. Although it is relatively common for engineering students to transition to industry after their PhDs, there is a growing trend of those with a pure science background. The insights below are related to my current company, a relatively established company with significant resources.

My background: From 2011–2015 I completed a PhD in Population Genetics and a MS in Biomedical Informatics at Stanford University. I loved my four years of graduate school. I can think of few better ways to spend those four years than getting paid to (extremely slowly and slightly) expand the bounds of human knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed waking up each morning prepared to learn something new and push the bounds of the unknown. However, as my graduate career progressed, I started to feel too far back from the front lines. I wanted to be closer to the action, creating tools and knowledge that could make an impact more quickly. …

I volunteer at a science and natural history museum, which has been a highlight of my life in the past few years. Museums are institutions full of people passionate about the natural world and it’s preservation, people who think deeply about the challenges this world is facing and who always have a kind word for those around them. The mission of museums is to instill excitement, intrigue, and respect in humans for our home on Earth, so we can work together to focus on preserving the planet and the millions of species that we share it with.

Museums use a variety of techniques to engage guests. Planetariums enamor us with spectacular light shows of giant gas balls hurling through our night sky, reminding us what could be seen outdoors if there wasn’t so much light pollution. Imposing fossils provide insight to ancient creatures beyond our imagination — teaching us about the many species that went extinct in Homo Sapien’s quest for domination. …

When I was in 8th grade, my math teacher assigned each student a Sacramento Kings basketball player to follow for our statistics project. Our job was to track the player’s statistics over time to practice our math skills. My only memory of going to a professional sports game as a child was taking the pamphlet of all the statistics of each Kings player and calculating things like their BMI, change over time etc. It was a lot of fun, and clearly the best way to enjoy sports.

Fast forward 15 years, I’m sitting on a plane headed to Puerto Vallarta for a beach vacation taking heart rate and SpO2 (blood oxygen saturation) measurements with questions like “How much does a plane trip affect my blood oxygen saturation?” Airplane cabins are pressurized to ~8,000 feet and previous studies indicate blood oxygen levels drop by 2–9% during plane flights (link). That seems like a big deal. Is that true? Nobody was more thrilled to answer this question than my sister who got to be my second (un)willing test subject. …

Book Review: Hidden Markov Models for Time Series Data, by Walter Zucchini, Iain L. MacDonald, and Roland Langrock.

I stumbled upon this book on Amazon, and it has only 4 reviews, so I’m not sure how popular it is — but it should be primary reference for anybody working with Hidden Markov Models. I’ve learned about HMMs in a class, but most online material seemed to be either very basic explanations of Markov Chains or advanced academic research. This book was a great help to bridge the gap.

What worked well:

  • This book starts right at the beginning, with explanations of Markov chains and distributions. It quickly picks up pace deriving, for example the forward/backward equations and the viterbi algorithm. …


Kimberly McManus

Building data products | | All views my own.

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