You know, for dorks.

I might actually be sad if my cough goes away

Anybody who has been near me in the fall or winter for the past 8 or so years has probably noticed that I cough. A lot. I often feel like I should have a t-shirt that says, "It's not contagious, I promise!" The short story is that it's most likely allergies and I'm working on it. I found an excellent specialist last year who does neat things like apply science to the problem, rather than just telling me I have asthma. (I do not have asthma.) For the first time in many years, I might be close to a cure for this stupid cough—or at least suppression of symptoms through the magic of corticosteriods. It's already January and my ribs don't hurt from coughing. I can't express how amazing that is. Yay!

Anyhow, that's just the background information. The ridiculous impulse I'm having right now is that I actually want to cough for just a little while longer because I just wrote an Android app to track it. Why didn't I think of this before? It's a very simple app that just asks for a severity level: 1, 2, 3, or 4. When I cough, I pick a severity and click a button. Easy as pie.

After a button is clicked, the app goes out and gets weather from OpenWeatherMap, air quality from AirNow, and then logs everything to New Relic Insights, which is a data analytics platform (disclaimer: I work for New Relic). It has been a lot of fun to build, and I signed up for an Android course through Coursera so I can learn about the things I inevitably did wrong as I slapped it together.

My plan going forward is to clean it up and put it out on Github so other people can fork/contribute/laugh at my source code. I hope it will be useful for others who want to track similar symptoms that have them seeking specialists. In light of that, my next step is probably to find a better way to store the data. Insights was an easy way to get started, but I have a limited retention policy and it's not good for sharing the app with others, should anybody else want to use it. I also want to play around with D3.js to see if I can come up with a good way to visualize the relationships between, say, humidity, temperature, and the severity of my cough. Of course, there are a lot more things I can do with it. For instance, it would probably be good to know when I start or stop medications, start and stop exercising, etc., so I could add some sort of event logging. Jesse also had the idea of doing a little Arduino project that will let me get temperature and humidity data for the room I'm in rather than the current weather in whatever city I'm in.

Here's a look a the super minimal user interface. This could definitely look better, but I was eager to start collecting data before I start mucking around with pretty buttons.

And here's some sample weather data in Insights (air quality didn't fit in a screenshot). I don't have enough data yet to show some good graphs, but this gives you the general idea.

To sum up, this has been good fun, and I'm excited to be writing some code. I'll be even more excited if it helps me gain insight into this cough of mine. I think it will. I mean, even if the steroids stop the cough, cold air will still be a trigger, so maybe I can use it to figure out the minimum conditions needed before I can ride my bike to work again. That would be pretty sweet!


Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Nice work! I couldn't help but imagine coupling your app to a bluetooth headband complete with a dangly appendage like that of the angler fish. It could automatically measure the cough acoustically with a microphone, gather local temp and humidity, register the mechanical violence of the cough with accelerometers, track the cardinal orientation of your head during the cough with a compass (dogs have a directional preference when they poop, after all) and probably gather much more of import, too.

I dare say that if this wearables thing is going to take off, it will be the angler fish appendage that really makes it. Forget mere watches and pedometers. Imagine what the kids might do with a programmable dangly bit that can be used to communicate with potential mates, attract prey, etc.

Do you have any sense whether there might be an unintended bias effect introduced by the excitement to use your new app? (i.e. might you subconsciously induce more coughing just to be able to use it?)
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
fabulous idea! You are so cool. If you want to try getting rich off of it, market it to parents. We are desperate for good ways to evaluate our kids' health and to help doctors do the same. Pediatric allergists would be all over it too.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Howdy, I love the idea of an angler fish appendage. I think we could really start a whole new wave of wearables. It's interesting to me that this is the number one suggestion people have--some sort of sensor to detect the cough and perhaps the severity. Though to be clear, you're the first to suggest headgear.

Erin, I hadn't thought of parents who might want to use it. The one weird thing I've found is that it has been a bit socially awkward to pull out my phone and log my coughs a few times, but luckily I mostly interact with total nerds who are supportive of the effort.

My favorite idea is to also make it usable for people who have various aches and pains due to weather patterns. So Old Mrs. Jones can actually gather data to support the fact that her hip hurts when it rains. If we could feed that data into weather forecasting systems, maybe we'd get more accurate guesses about tomorrow's weather.