Sunday, March 24, 2013

Quantified self and digital tracking

Have you weighed yourself lately? Kept track of your calories? Tracked how many steps you took? Weighed your stool or tested your urine? If you have, you are part of an increasing number of Americans who are engaged in self tracking.

According to a January survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project , “69% of U.S. adults track a health indicator like weight, diet, exercise routine, or symptom. Of those, half track “in their heads,” one-third keep notes on paper, and one in five use technology to keep tabs on their health status.”

While most self-trackers “keep track in their heads”,  a growing subset, known as the Quantified Self(QS) movement, is using smartphone enabled technology like the Nike Fuel Band, the Fitbit, and wearable sensors from companies like MC10 to go beyond simple dietary tracking.

They are using these tools to track everything from hydration and perspiration to heart-rates and steps taken per day. There are even apps for testing ones urine, Uchek,and feces,PoopDiary, for the extreme self-tracker.

The quantified self movement isn’t your typical movement, its doesn’t have any fancy slogans, self-help books, or paid workshops. Its a true grassroots movement of people using technology to generate real-time data on their lives and then via the internet share their results to inspire and compete with others.

The most basic approach used is to chart relevant statistics like weight, calories eaten per day/meal, hours/minutes spent exercising in a simple spreadsheet or application. This data can be gathered with simple tools like a standard scale and a stopwatch, or with more sophisticated tools like wearable sensors and temporary electronic tattoos. That data can, the apps do it for you, then be visually represented in a way that is more easily understood, like line graphs showing trends or pie-charts breaking down where your calories are coming from.

One person who used this method with great success was Jae Osenbach. She tracked her own dieting process(and shared it online) and learned that she lost more weight when she had her beloved chocolate so long as she also replaced 150 calories from other foods with 150 calories of pine nuts.

Before embarking on this tracking, she had assumed, like many, that in order for her diet to work she would have to forgo her love of chocolate. Having to forgo her chocolate caused her to struggle and “cheat” on her diet. After learning that she need only replace other calories with pine nut calories she was able to maintain her diet and continue to lose weight.

The movement is about to take a giant leap forward beyond scales and smartphones with electronic temporary tattoos and wearable computers. Made possible by companies like MC10 and research like the kind done here at OSU on flexible transistors, these wearable, replaceable, sensors will enable individuals to monitor and track their health in real time in a way that up to this point was limited to medical professionals.

While companies like MC10 are already marketing products that will sense impacts and monitor heart-rates in real time, other companies, like Apple, Samsung, and Google, are working on wearable computers, watches and glasses, that will work in conjunction with smartphones. The natural synergy between wearable computers and wearable sensors cannot be overstated.

The combination of even more powerful devices with even smaller and cheaper sensors will enable individuals to track their health-status in ways that doctors used to dream about. Instead of wondering how many calories you burned on that jog or whether you have had enough water, you will be able to look at a screen and know exactly how much you need to drink or how much farther you need to run.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tax Cuts for the Rich....again?

Despite nearly four years of national fiscal policy being done by continuing resolution one would think that the obstructionists, would come up with compromise plan. House Republicans, who are constitutionally vested with the power of generating budget proposals, have failed to draft a proposal that could pass the Senate and garner a Presidential signature.

The Paul Ryan House submitted their budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 this past Tuesday in yet another salvo in the perpetual budget wars in Congress.

Paul Ryan’s Budget Proposal offers no new solutions, gives no ground, and dogmatically adheres to “Republican-base” principles. In short, this proposal is more of the same tired Republican tropes.

Given his recent electoral loss, overwhelming polling opposition, and common sense one would think that, if a functioning government was part of the plan, that Ryan Republicans would have modified their budget proposals over the last six years.

Instead, just like his path to prosperity, the 2014 Ryan budget proposal plans to “balance” the budget by cutting spending through privatizing medicare, cutting taxes for the Oil and Gas industries, lowering marginal tax rates for upper income individuals, reducing government expenditures through the Pell Grant programs, defunding Obamacare, and an additional 900 billion, on top the sequestration, in cuts to non-defense discretionary programs like veterans’ health care, the FDA, the Consumer Product Safety Council, police, fire, and other vital public service programs.

If this sounds just like his previous proposals, thats because it is, complete with military exceptions and Wall Street handouts.

Just as with his previous budget proposals this newest iteration also fails to actually balance the budget. According to Michael Linden of the Center for American Progress, “Extrapolating to 2023 suggests that Rep. Ryan is missing about $840 billion of revenue in 2023 alone, and approximately $7 trillion over the entire 10-year period from 2014 through 2023.“

The Ryan proposal illustrates that over the last six years House Republicans have learned nothing. They still think that their failed ideology of tax cuts for wealthy Americans and businesses coupled with the gutting of social safety net programs will lead to a more prosperous nation.

The deficit this nation has is real, and needs to be addressed. But austerity programs and Ayn Rand style volunteerism schemes like those being proffered, yet again, by House Republicans have been shown to be ineffective and unsustainable.

One has but look at Greece, Italy, or Spain to see that drastic cuts to government spending are just as detrimental to the economy as an overly active government. Churches and charities are excellent supplements to government programs like Head Start and SNAP, catching those who fall through the cracks, but they are in no way capable of solving the logistical nightmare that is the modern day poverty trap.

When low income individuals become trapped by their circumstances and can’t move up the economic ladder the broader economy suffers. The power and dynamism of the American economy has always been derived from the purchasing power of a large and fluid middle class. Historically vibrant middle classes have been made possible by societies with progressive taxation, strong union membership, trust-busting, and reasonable regulation.

The Paul Ryan Budget plan does nothing to facilitate the economic mobility of those at the bottom, the very group of people poised to help drive America through another decade of growth and prosperity. Wealthy people save the extra dollar they make, the paycheck to paycheck crowd spends it. If this country is going to get back to 5% unemployment, it is going to need more people spending more money. Now is the exact worst time to cut back on government spending, because government is the only institution that is actually spending.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Consumer grade 3-d printing and the future of manufacturing

In the 70s and 80s something new entered college laboratories and American garages—tinkers, makers, hackers, venture capitalists, and the simply curious were able to, for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, get their hands on “modern” technology, a personal computer.
Computers at the time didn’t have a general user interface or software that you might recognize as useful or entertaining, but these early adopters, enthusiasts, and students would lay the foundation for the computer revolution of the 90s and the Internet revolution of the new millennium.
DIY 3D Printing
Today we’re at a similar point with another technology, 3D printing, also known as rapid prototyping. Because of more powerful computers, a variety of different methods are being used to, in essence, print or sculpt digital objects of almost any shape into physical reality. In 3D printing, a solid object is created by successive layering of materials, generally plastics, based on a digital model. Users can potentially create nearly any shape in plastic, within size limitations, that they can design. Some of the most common methods are Stereo lithography, Direct Metal Laser Sintering, Selective Laser Sintering, and Fused Deposition Modeling.
Fused Deposition Modeling, a form of additive manufacturing, is the only kind of 3D printing that is available at the consumer level—it’s basically a fancy way of saying computer-controlled plastic melter and printer. It can be found in products like the RepRap, the Makerbot, and the Solidoodle. These hobbyist machines, when properly calibrated, are capable of producing anything one can think of and can even make about one-third of their own parts, although according to one user, the manufacturer’s claims may be exaggerated.

A Local Experience
Early computer companies delivered products and kits that were difficult to build and were even harder to use, and that promised more than they could deliver. Using the current crop of consumer-level 3D printer kits is, according to Allen Brown, a local 3D printer hobbyist and member of Corvallis-Techgroup, “much more complicated than just buying it—there are things about these printers that are undocumented and non-obvious.”
Just calibrating the device took Brown a tremendous amount of time and effort. Other than the few pyramids printed during calibration, he and his friends did not succeed in getting the device to function as advertised.
3d Printing Yoda Printed by a Solidoodle 300x224 Corvallis Tackles 3D Printing: Will DIY Fabrication Kill the Manufacturing Industry?
Yoda Printed by a Solidoodle
Brown and his group of friends have tinkered with several different consumer-grade printers like the RepRap and the Solidoodle. With the RepRap, Brown personally sank more than $2,000 into parts and printing materials. After months of banging their collective heads against the wall, Brown and his friends moved on to the Solidoodle which was not much better than the RepRap.
Brown said that he got into this hobby because he wanted to use his own designs to create things. However, creating the 3D images turned out to be quite a challenge. The software, he said, was “much harder than it needed to be.” Despite all these challenges he also said that, “If you can find someone to help you and you have the time, money, and patience, this is a great thing to do. It’s just not for those looking for an easy project.”
Much like computers in the 80s, 3D printers are not ready for the average consumer, but these technologies are doing amazing things in the laboratory and on manufacturing floors around the nation.
Corvallis’ Hytek Precision Plastics
Hytek Precision Plastics, a local company started by Morris Coville, does a form of 3D manufacturing. Unlike the additive manufacturing process, Hytek designs and fabricates via welding, extrusion, or reduction. It’s more similar to sculpture than printing; instead of layering materials, they start with a solid piece of plastic that they bend, shape, etch, or mill into the desired shape.
Hytek uses precision tools to complete very niche production projects for the state and for aerospace manufacturers in the region. They also work on projects for industrial and commercial companies, educational institutions, and even for individuals.
One of their precision tools is something called a computer numerical control router (CNC). It is used to precisely cut or mill away infinitesimally small pieces or cut intricate patterns, impossible to replicate with human hands. They also produce molded parts that are then precisely cut with a CNC router and welded together to make a seamless product. All of the projects that Hytek designs and produces are made of plastic.
Hytek designs and fabricates work for local schools as well. According to Shelly Lara, manager at Hytek, “These are generally onesie twosie project runs, they made for example little black boxes with one clear side designed to hold fish for an OSU research project.”
Hytek also worked with OSU on its wave energy project by producing the tsunami wave tank. The company has donated quite a bit to the university by producing specialty made pieces for graduate students. Hytek also works with a robotics team at Crescent Valley High School.
“The college and high school kids come out here and we donate materials for them to work with; we also give them advice and guidance,” Lara said.
3D Printing Makerbot at Comicon 2012 300x225 Corvallis Tackles 3D Printing: Will DIY Fabrication Kill the Manufacturing Industry?
The Makerbot 3D Printer at Comicon 2012
The Future of 3D Printing
The printers and manufacturers that will really change the world are the kind that OSU mechanical engineering students Michael Dexter and David Calhoun want to build. They want to start a company, DNC Precision Manufacturing, to make use of a large-build Selective Laser Sintering 3D printer. It would be for direct metal projects and it would make products with full mechanical properties devoid of defects, only requiring a small amount of clean-up in terms of aesthetics and the smoothness of the product.
Current printers capable of this are small-build format, generally capable of producing objects that are less than 22 cubic inches. Dexter said that this limits its use. What he and his partner are trying to do is to start a company that uses a 3D printer that has a 4-foot by 4-foot by 6-foot buildable space. This would open up possibilities for “printing out” functional engines for automobiles or airplanes or any other component, regardless of its complexity.
According to Dexter, this is the new way that items are going to be manufactured. Standard manufacturing methods face limitations and drawbacks that don’t impede 3D printing.
“This is a complementary evolution to standard manufacturing; anything smaller than 500 units or projects with complex geometries that can’t be manufactured in one component are the kinds of projects our company will excel at,” he said.
The image above, from Engineer live, is a conceptual example of Conformal Cooling Channels from LaserCusing a partner in the Netherlands based venture group, JB Ventures BV
One example of the kinds of projects that could be made available by Dexter and Calhoun’s company is Conformal cooling channels. The channels would be implemented in engine molds and turbine blades. They run along the edges of surfaces or coil in the middle of a blade so you can get liquid into the structure and super efficiently remove heat. This kind of manufacturing is very easy, and can be done at no additional cost with 3D printing. It is, however, almost impossible for traditional manufacturing to produce this kind of structure.
The future of 3-D printing isn't limited to industrial uses or even hobbyist creations. 3-D printing technologies can be adapted for the creation of biomedical implants as was the case with company Oxford Performance Materials. Their "OsteoFab™ Patient Specific Cranial Device", which was recently approved by the FDA, was implanted in the skull of an American replacing nearly 75% of his original bone structure. 
OsteoFab™ Patient Specific Cranial Device from OPM press-release announcing FDA approval.
While there is definitely a tremendous amount of hype building around the promise of consumer-grade 3D printing, this country’s manufacturing sector is going to need hobbyists like Brown, companies like Hytek, and entrepreneurs like Dexter and Calhoun in order to stay competitive in the global manufacturing industry. 
Related Links

Conformal Cooling Channels
3-D printed skull that was implanted in a human.

National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Insitute

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Sequestration will affect Linn Benton Community College.

LB, and colleges like it, are set to lose the equivalent of 5 full time staff instructors and 1 adjunct professor, as a consequence of the Budget Control Act of 2011.  
While representatives of the two parties in the Congress bicker about whose fault the sequester is, its effects will begin to roll out over the next thirty days and these effects, while only representing 5% of the discretionary budget, will not be negligible to those affected.
Congress's inability to avoid the sequester, as was the original intent, has led to the ending of automatic overtime for federal law enforcement, cuts to immigration enforcement, cuts in education spending like the kind LB faces, and cuts to the USDA putting the US beef supply at risk because of a lack of inspectors.
Michael Houser a faculty member of the Business Management Department said, when asked about sequestration, “I would say that the congress and president should come to an agreement to avoid the sequestration since it wasn’t intended to begin with.”
Despite the rhetoric in Washington, the sequestration cuts aren’t apocalyptic and they completely ignore the ballooning mandatory spending of Medicare and Medicaid. However, for individuals affected by them, they will be significant.
Jim Huckestein, vice-president of finance and operations here at LB, said that, “there will be consequences to everything, [from the sequester].” The only federal funding that won’t be affected, over the next thirty days, is Pell Grants, which received a 1 year reprieve from Congress last year, and Student Loans which aren’t susceptible to the sequester. “Every federal grant will potentially be affected by the sequester,” he said.
These cuts may come as a surprise to students who have never heard of the sequester. According to Paul M. Johnson, professor of Political Science at the University of Auburn,“ The term, sequestration, is an effort to reform Congressional voting procedures so as to make the size of the Federal government's budget deficit a matter of conscious  choice rather than simply the arithmetical outcome of a decentralized appropriations process in which no one ever looked at the cumulative results until it was too late to change them.”
Jennifer Combs, a student here at LB, said that she had heard only recently learned about the sequester on NPR. When she found out that the sequester would, in part,  reduce the deficit by cutting education, she said, “cutting education is the wrong way to go.”
Cathy Baird, another student, felt that, “for people using these programs, they depend on them, it is not a luxurious lifestyle. With unemployment so high how are people supposed to get ahead?”
Emily Smucker said that it was ridiculous that Congress's plan to get the economy going included cuts to education spending. “If other countries can fund higher education we can do it too.”
While the Congress might still find a legislative compromise to avoid this latest fiscal crisis, citizens should know that their representatives were more willing to cut teacher, firefighter, and police pay, then cut corporate subsidies which amount to over 100 billion, over budget programs like the f-35 joint strike fighter, a 2 billion dollar jet that can’t fly in the rain, or even reign in the pentagon’s stealth program, which approaches 300 billion dollars. These cuts in essence are all pain, for those affected, with no meaningful gain for the nation as a whole, the cuts will reduce the deficit by about .05%.

The National Science Foundation will be cutting 1,000 jobs as a consequence of the sequester.