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The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

The High-tech Skin Care Aisle

Posted January 20, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: app Health sensors

When I imagine the latest in electronic innovation being unveiled last week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, I didn’t exactly expect electronic innovation at the beauty counter. Yet, lo and behold, skincare company Neutrogena managed to find a way to make us feel badly about ourselves using a combination of sensors and an app.

The SkinScanner, which is the latest in connected beauty products, attaches to the top of most smartphones and can capture close-up images of a user’s face with a combination of sensors. Once the images are captured, they can be uploaded into a corresponding app where they are magnified and analyzed.

The app — called Skin360 — tracks the user’s skin health over time using these close-up images and offers suggestions for improvement. The device/app can offer the user readings about pore size, moisture levels and wrinkles, assigning a score, up to 100, for each of the areas under observation. Then, using machine learning, the app will compare images of the user’s skin with the images of others in the same age range.

And, in what some might call a display of marketing genius, the app makes recommendations to improve skin, navigating the user, naturally, to the Neutrogena store where the user can purchase cleansers, sunscreen or products with retinol or hyaluronic acid to treat problem areas.

Who wouldn’t want a device that tells you everything you are doing wrong skin-care wise? It is the kind of device that would bookend nicely with, let’s say, a mother-in-law that tells you everything else you are doing wrong.

How would you like to have your skin health measured against your peers? Or worse still, how would you like to be graded on your skin health?

Source: Johnson & Johnson

6 comments; last comment on 01/23/2018
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Hitting the Facebook "Snooze" Button

Posted January 13, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: facebook social media

Find that you need a break from the nonsense that is Facebook? With its timely updates about what people are doing, not doing, eating, watching, thinking, feeling, is it any wonder we feel the need to socialize with others outside the social media platform? Though entirely responsible for the occasional cute-kid-dressed-up-for-Halloween-back-to-school-lost-tooth-holiday post that even makes me tire of myself, social media can make you even less tolerant of others’ posts. Initially happy to receive a friend request from a long-lost elementary school friend might have you later wishing they were lost all over again when you get a hint of their constant Facebook posting.

Likewise, you may have…let’s say an in-law…who has opinions about women. Do you unfriend or unfollow this Neanderthal? (Well, the answer to that should always be yes, but being as adult relationships have us often making compromises, we remain disgusted friends with them for the sake of our relationships, but that seems like a blog for another time…and possibly another site.)

Thankfully, after a period of not-so-great press, it seems Facebook is attempting to get back into our good graces by adding the “Snooze” button to their existing catalog of tools.

Need a break from the oversharing elementary school friend or Neanderthal in-law? Facebook has installed a category to the drop-down menu that sits in the right-hand corner of each post. Among the old options such as hide post, delete post, etc., Facebook added “Snooze.”

Snooze will offer users a chance to blot out, at least temporarily, the posts that seem to be rage triggers for us. For instance, take your elementary-school friend who posts about everything. I mean everything: Doctor visits, marriage troubles, misbehaving kids, what she ate for lunch. You name it, it’s in her newsfeed. Although you are annoyed by this oversharing nutjob, you also know that you don’t necessarily want to unfriend or even unfollow her (because you will be found out). But maybe you could just use a break. Going to that person’s last post, which was, likely, only moment’s ago, locate “Snooze” in the drop-down menu. Click on that and voila: a vacation from your problem poster.

But don’t worry. The hold only lasts for 30 days and can be undone at any time if you find you are jones’ing for an update on that “snoozed” person.

Source: seanmcgrath / CC BY 2.0

13 comments; last comment on 01/18/2018
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Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

Posted January 06, 2018 12:00 PM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: cold flu illness

At the end of November, I made the frustrating and painful mistake of treating a cold when really I had the flu.

After receiving my religiously scheduled annual flu shot in late September, I confidently went about my life. Then, in the middle of holiday shopping (yes, I try to get that finished early as well. Don’t I sound delightful?), my chest started hurting. I convinced myself that it was the beginning of a cold and took some over-the-counter cold medicine.

Later that evening, the chest pain worsened, but I still attributed it to congestion. It was also accompanied by intensified cold symptoms of the like which I have never before experienced: faucet-like runny nose, painful sore throat, and excessive sweating thanks to a temperature of 102.5 degrees F. Yet, instead of calling the doctor, I propped myself on the couch to watch Netflix, convincing myself that I would feel better in the morning.

I didn’t.

The pounding headache set in as soon as I opened my eyes the next morning. Surely someone had hit me, I thought (and they would have been well within their rights considering how much whining I had done the day before). Accompanying the headache was a dizziness that kept me from driving or making my way into the kitchen, which was fine, because I wasn’t hungry; a symptom that alarmed most of my family enough to insist that I call my doctor.

I detailed my “cold” symptoms to my doctor, all the while insisting I needed an antibiotic to kick this super cold. After all, I had the flu shot and I wasn’t nauseous — just not very hungry — so it couldn’t possibly be the flu.

As it turns out, one man’s lack of appetite can be another man’s nausea. I did, according to the doctor, indeed have the flu and was prescribed Tamiflu. I minimized the doctor’s warning that the symptoms would take some time to alleviate (seven to 10 days in some cases). After all, I was the kind of person who got her flu shot on time and finished her Christmas shopping with annoying speed. Surely, I would heal earlier than most….

Twenty-four hours after my first dose of Tamiflu, my symptoms seemed to worsen. I still couldn’t drive, much less navigate from room to room. Instead, the indent of my body on the couch deepened.

Treating myself with over-the-counter Tylenol, I would have brief moments of clarity where my nearing 103-degree temperature would break in a deluge of sweat; a sight that seemed to restrict my husband to a neighboring room where he would frequently call out asking if I was ok.

For the rest of that week I alternated between these brief sweaty moments of lucidity and episodes of fetal-position crying and dizziness. The pressure on my chest seemed to increase with each day, prompting me to call the doctor on day four to insist that I had been misdiagnosed and that I should instead be treated for pneumonia — a detail I am neither proud of nor can I say was received with any kind of warmth or concern.

This went on for the seven to 10 days that the doctor had suggested it would. While day 5 had me off the couch and day 6 saw the return of my typically ample appetite, my chest still hurt and my breathing was still labored. Eventually, my high temperature started to decrease only to round-house kick me back to the indented couch on day 7.

It took exactly two weeks to return to normal, although week two was markedly better, save the labored breathing, sluggishness and nagging cough. If, according to the research I’ve read about the flu after my own bout, I had recognized the symptoms and gone to the doctor sooner, much of this might have been lessened, if not prevented.

As we struggle through what will likely be one of the worst flu seasons in history (surely not just because it happened to me, wink, wink), consider the following cold/flu symptom checklist so that you don’t misdiagnose yourself…or worse still…refute your doctor’s diagnosis.


  • Can last days
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal symptoms
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Cough


  • Can last as long as two weeks
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches/soreness
  • Congestion
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough
31 comments; last comment on 01/23/2018
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Want to be a Spy? There Is a Test for That!

Posted December 30, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: intelligence Internet

Having made the discovery fairly early on that I am unfit for most professions, I still harbored a quiet hope that I would someday experience work in one of the few professions I fantasized about as a child.

Along with professional book reader, solid gold dancer and all-around story-teller, I imagined myself excelling as a secret agent.

Though I couldn’t tell you what it was that shaped this fantasy, it seemed to me to be the perfect marriage of travel and intrigue. Even as an adult, reading the occasional spy novel, I considered myself capable of conducting covert missions, led, naturally, by my own intuition.

Unfortunately, that fantasy was dashed this week as I struggled to complete the online test to become a spy for Australia’s secret service.

Breaking with traditional recruitment efforts, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) has gone high-tech by posting an online test to determine ones’ fitness for becoming a spy. The test, which is open to the public, gauges the taker’s answers to questions about scenarios that the applicant is walked through. The applicant is expected to demonstrate that he or she is perceptive, empathetic and smart and possesses great attention to detail.

At first blush, it seemed to be a perfect fit….


After an unsuccessful first attempt where I somehow managed to lose track of the volume settings on my computer, I had to start the test all over again.

Undeterred, the first task involved filling in a number to complete a pattern. I am pretty certain that I nailed it, but I guess we’ll never know for sure...though my history with both numbers and patterns might suggest otherwise.


In a scenario meant to gauge whether or not the applicant is both empathetic and persuasive, I was asked to fill in the correct field of multiple choice answers for convincing an overworked airline customer service rep to give me a seat upgrade while simultaneously showing my concern about the day she was having.

Bingo. This is likely the (only) part of the test where I managed to even make an impression on the folks at ASIS — less for my persuasiveness and more for my ability to complain with others.

As the test continued, things went rapidly downhill.


I have only recently discovered that I am not as perceptive as I once fancied myself. How do I know? The test included a segment where I was shown pictures of characters that I would later have to identify. Of the six characters that would reappear in the background of a flight scenario, I managed to identify only one of the characters and it was only because they bore a striking resemblance to a reality show cast member (see Smart).

…and farther down the hill it went.

Attention to Detail

Again, if you had asked me yesterday, I probably would have told you that this is where I would shine. I am all about the details. Just ask the people I live with…and micromanage.

To measure an applicant’s attention to detail, the test used overlapping video of the same character telling three different stories at once. It was up to me to cull three details from the overlapping stories. I managed to extract maybe one detail and it was this: This woman talks too much!

While the character droned on, I was instead imagining my new secret-agent life in Australia, surveilling those hoping to harm that country, and sweeping in at just the right moment, saving the country and its people, thanks in part to my attention to detail.

Annoyed by the character’s ceaseless chatter, I tried to supply the three necessary details to complete the test. I filled in the fields as best as I could, knowing all the while that my answers were incorrect.

Dashed Hopes

The test concluded, to my great surprise…and dismay, with an immediate rejection, forcing me back to a reality where my initial suspicions were confirmed. I really am unfit for most professions.

To take the test as well, go to:

11 comments; last comment on 01/17/2018
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An App to Fight Overeating

Posted December 23, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Apps nutrition smartphones

With the holidays in full swing, like me, you are probably overdoing it: your pants may or may not be strangling you as you sit at your desk, contemplating yet another colorful cookie.

No? Then this blog probably isn’t for you.

However, for those of you who, like me, are gluttonous animals, likely cloaked in a fine cookie dust, there may be help on the horizon in the shape of a new app being developed by researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Connecticut.

Aptly named SlipBuddy, the three-pronged approach to weight management involves keeping track of a user’s eating patterns, offering intervention and assistance to change the behavior.

What makes this app different in a sea of competing apps, according to researchers, is that the process is simple. Users are asked to check in three times a day to fill in information about factors such as stress levels, hours of sleep, fatigue and when the user felt like they had eaten too much. Once collected, a machine learning algorithm is applied to the data, looking at possible patterns and triggers for over-eating. The notion behind determining these patterns, according to researchers, is that the app can help predict conditions likely to trigger an over-eating event, for instance while watching TV, late at night or when the user can’t sleep.

In those instances, sensing that the conditions are prime for the user to over-eat, the app will intervene by suggesting that the user take a walk, turn off the TV or engage in some other stress-reducing activity.

"Mobile technology, which is ubiquitous today, has the capacity to deliver evidence-based weight loss interventions with lower cost and user burden than traditional intervention models," said Carolina Ruiz, associate professor of computer science at WPI.

Built for the Android platform, the app eventually will be available for iOS devices, as well. Although still in the research phase, designers believe that the app could be ready for release as early as 2019.

Would this app appeal to you or would you, like me, need something a bit more convincing, say an app that physically smacks a cookie out of your hand?

9 comments; last comment on 12/28/2017
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