Locklin on science

Quantifiably unsane: Vessyl

Posted in Design by Scott Locklin on June 24, 2014

According to the nation’s editorial pages, the modern era is characterized by international trade, the spread of “democracy” and high technology. Historians from the future will characterize the present as a squalid LED-lit beeping dark age where common sense went to die.

Today’s exhibit, brought to you thanks to their PR department: Vessyl. A $200 electric cup that allegedly tells you what you put in the cup, keeps track of how much of it flows into your gob, and sends messages to your nerd-dildo telephone criticizing your choice of beverages. The idea is to help people make “healthier choices” with respect to caffeine intake and liquid calories.


From their website:

“A key feature of the cup is fundamental hydration-tracking, estimating how much you need for peak hydration. You can tell if you need more water or not through what the company dubbed Pryme. As Business Insider explained, “You simply tilt the cup to activate the display. That blue light at the top means you’re fully hydrated. Throughout the day, that line will fluctuate.”

Or, you could take a drink of water when you’re thirsty, you fucking dumbasses. Or should I say, dymasses. Just starting from the obvious: unless you also pee, shit, breathe and sweat in your dumb magic cup, Gauss’s Law dictates that a cup actually has  no  clue as to the state of hydration of the human container you’re pouring liquid in. What happens if I am exercising? What if I am in a desert, or the Antarctic? What if I contract another case of Ukrainian amoebic dysentery and am doubled over and shitting water and blood? What if I have a ‘drinking problem’ like the guy on Airplane?

No matter how good their models are or how many data scientists they hire: no magic cup can tell how well hydrated I am. Thirst, on the other hand, tends to work pretty well as a way of regulating hydration. Or, if optimal hydration is important, use the technique they use in the army and Burning Man and drink water until you pee clear.

There are other  things obviously wrong with this muppet idea. For example: the concept that someone needs a $200 electric cup to tell them that drinking soda or liquor is going to make them into fat drunkards, or that coffee keeps you awake at night. What most fat people need is not a sensor in their cup, but a sensor in their mouth, with a loudspeaker which shouts insults at them every time they stick pasta, ho-hos and icecream in it. Fundamentally though: why do I need my cup to tell me what I put in my cup? I put it there. What kind of neurotic space cadet needs a $200 cup to tell them what they put in their cup?

The “quantified self movement” is  one of the most godawful dorky things ever to have caused squeals of nerdy delight at  gaseous TED Chautauquas. The fundamental idea behind such things is sound: muscle heads, coaches and athletes have kept food logs and workout notebooks for as long as there have been muscle heads, coaches, athletes and the ability to write things down. Data is useful, but no excel spreadsheet or preposterous algorithm is going to do the thinking for you. You have to find the patterns yourself. You almost always have to write the data down yourself as well. Finally, you have to do experiments which test for outcomes: A/B testing is actually kind of hard when performed on a human being. There are fancier ways to infer patterns than A/B testing (coaches use them instinctively), but the chances of average individuals using such statistical tools productively is approximately nil. Most people don’t even know where to start. All the “quantified self” thing does is attempt to give lazy  people with too much money access to the ancient technology known as “a notebook,” which is far more general and useful. Emacs org mode if you want to get all technological. The results speak for themselves. Old school notebooks work better in achieving real world results. Technology is a distraction, and no amount of technology can make up for a lack of character.


This is what people did before “quantified self”


Whatever problems this “vessyl” purports to solve are more effectively solved without the use of electrical devices. Fat people need to eat less, and stop drinking calories. Insomniacs should drink less or no coffee.  No nerd dingus or $200 electric cups will be required. About the only genuine utility I can think of for this is using it to attempt to detect date rape drugs, and it doesn’t claim to be able to do that. Not that anyone would use it when they’d need such a thing, but at least it is a legitimate application of an alleged food sensor that costs $200.

But hey, don’t listen to me: listen to what “leaders” tell you:


15 Responses

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  1. Brian said, on June 24, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Awesome! I just ordered two! You’re the best man!

  2. John Baker said, on June 24, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    I spit non-vessl’ed coffee over my monitor after reading:

    “The “quantified self-movement” is one of the most god-awful dorky things ever to have caused squeals of nerdy delight at gaseous TED Chautauquas.”

    You’re a leading LED-lit poet of consumer scorn.

  3. raj said, on June 24, 2014 at 9:07 pm


  4. Joey Cusack said, on June 24, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Of course, the assumption is that things like your physical activity, whether you have dysentery and so on are tracked with your other quantified self devices at a few hundred dollars each. Presumably, they (or someone else) will build The Great System to Make Decisions For You based on all that data real soon now.

    You can’t really blame the people who work on this, since this kind of stuff easily gets funding and looks like a prime candidate to be acquired by Google for a nice sum.

    But in the future, we’ll all live on Soylent anyway, right?

    • Scott Locklin said, on June 24, 2014 at 10:07 pm

      Soylent: for people so busy, they can’t stick whey protein and oatmeal in a blender. Or buy a can of muscle milk.

  5. Lee said, on June 24, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    This is the most amazing thing I have seen in ages. The video of the “leaders” (not even “thought leaders,” just “leaders,” like “elders”) is indistinguishable from something The Onion would do, and leaves no doubt about how the most respected people in technology are in fact babble-spouting idiots.

    • Scott Locklin said, on June 24, 2014 at 10:04 pm

      It’s turtles all the way down, Lee.
      This company has a headcount of 14, FWIIW. Didier Sornette hasn’t popped up to tell us we’re in a bubble yet, but his model kind of does.

  6. William O. B'Livion said, on June 25, 2014 at 2:04 am

    You gotta get with the times dude, you need an app for EVERYTHING. Experts build those apps, and experts are rarely wrong about what’s good for you. Heck, I’ve got a quarter dozen protologists and urlogists working on a app called the WhizDump that takes input from the vessyl and other tools and lets you know ahead of time when you’re going to have to drop some seals off at the pool, or shake the dew off hte lilly, if you know what I mean. Gotta have an app for that, or today’s teen will wind up soiling themselves.

    I have a couple of really nifty vessels. Like this one http://www.kleankanteen.com/products/cups-tumblers/steel-insulated-tumbler.php. Keeps warm stuff warm longer and cold stuff cold longer. Let’s me hydrate with whatever *I* think is more important to me at the time. Or one with a good lid that I can dump my tea in (Earl Grey currently) in the AM and take it to work where I can drink it whilst it’s still warm.

    Powered by the same thing that keeps Nancy Pelosi insulated from reality, a vacum.

    Oh, and thirst isn’t a reliable indicator of hydration, but having perfect hydration isn’t as critical as some folks would like you to believe. Yeah, you don’t want to get too far off, but if you pay attention you can fix it. Just don’t be dumb about.

  7. Scott Locklin said, on June 26, 2014 at 7:02 am

    While searching to see if the founder patented any part of his dumb cup, I came across this:

    Food Products Derived From Cannabinoid-Administered Livestock
    US 20130280343 A1
    A process, wherein food-producing livestock are administered cannabinoid receptor agonists, is used to induce physiological and/or behavioral effects in the livestock. Food products are then derived from the livestock.

  8. Marc Pisco said, on June 28, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Remember the home water-into-wine kit? You sure this isn’t a brilliant hoax?

    It’s the Poe’s Law Corollary: when people you love to dislike are a little too perfectly loathsome in every detail, it’s a hoax.

    Or it’s inside the Beltway. Potato, potahto.

    • Scott Locklin said, on June 28, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      The people on their “team” page seem legit. It’s possible to do something like this with a simple set of sensors; capacitance, conductance and temperature, say, and a database of things they’ve tested it on. Of course, it won’t be able to distinguish a lot of things, and it will very likely piss people off if thats all it is. Anyway, I didn’t bother making fun of that, because the idea itself is silly.

      • Gavin said, on August 16, 2014 at 7:21 pm

        I believe this is at least partially spectrometer-based according to the past work of the older engineer

  9. maggette said, on June 29, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    That’s so embarrassing ..the video is realy hard to watch. Jesus!! It is hard to know how much energy/kcal or sugar is in my drink using lables? WTF!!!!! I possibly can’t think of an information easier to access (if you do not considered selfmade beer/fruit juices/shakes etc).

  10. TC said, on July 9, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    about Q & kdb .. kx.com just announced that 32 bit kdb + tick are now free for commercial use

    • Scott Locklin said, on July 9, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      I just pushed a bunch of J stuff to my githubs, and will be pushing more in the next few weeks if I can. Nice to see you here, TonyC! I have to get to NYC to beer with you and the gang.

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