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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.

Cutting Wait Times for Restaurants with Google

Posted November 18, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Electronic Device google

The geniuses at Google are doing life-saving work.

Hear me out.

Thanks to them, those of us impatiently loitering around the hostess stands at our favorite restaurants — desperately hoping that those seated will quickly shovel through their meals so that we can be seated — will no longer have to wait in line. Something, in select circles, that is tantamount to torture; a brand of torture that begins with complaining and, if the wait is long enough, ends with fist-shaking threats of violence.

Or, so I’m told….

Using an algorithm, Google collects information from its millions of users through the location-tracking feature enabled on their phones. The very same technology that helps customize searches and map functions on a users’ phone is used here to determine if the particular establishment will have a wait time based on the number of people frequenting the restaurant while location-tracking is enabled.

Available soon on Google search and eventually on Google maps, the feature works when a user types a restaurant name in the Google search bar. By opening up the restaurant’s business listing and locating “Popular Times,” the user can reveal the wait times for that restaurant. The feature also lets the user view wait times in advance throughout the day.

Although similar features exist elsewhere, Google believes that the real-time data will deliver more accurate wait times for the customer.

And while at first blush the feature might seem to address a very first-world problem, it does have a practical use for people on fixed lunch breaks.

Not to mention, its applications in preventing violence, saving marriages/relationships, and making the world an all-around happier place.

Will you use this feature or are you capable of waiting like a functional, well-balanced person?

7 comments; last comment on 11/19/2017
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Letting Amazon into Your Home

Posted November 11, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: amazon iot

Imagine coming home to a warm pizza or the package you ordered from Amazon already safely tucked away in your home. This latest offering from Amazon is just one in a growing number of features from the retail juggernaut meant to simplify our lives.

Using Amazon Key, an Amazon courier can gain access to your home for the purpose of safely delivering items you have ordered from the retail giant or from a third party doing business with the retail giant.

Working in conjunction with Amazon’s new Cloud Cam and compatible smart lock, the Amazon courier scans the package barcode and awaits approval from Amazon’s cloud. Once the courier is notified of approval via an app prompt, the courier swipes the screen, which activates the camera recording the delivery transaction and unlocks the door.

Upon completion, a second swipe locks the customer’s door and notifies them that the transaction has completed.

Instead of missing work or important events because you are waiting at home for something to be delivered, the service frees you up, giving you back the hour or so you would typically spend waiting for delivery.

Any odds on whether or not that newfound hour will actually be spent cleaning your home lest you be judged by the delivery folks at Amazon?

Are you comfortable with granting the retailer this kind of access?

8 comments; last comment on 11/16/2017
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Advice from Dr. Internet

Posted November 04, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Health Internet

At the age of twelve, I had developed a rash on my arm. Not a big deal really…until I peered into my middle-school health textbook and found pictures of lepers. Convinced I was in the early stages of leprosy (a leap that, let’s face it, made little sense), I broke the news to my family.

Fast forward some years later and the internet has handily replaced my middle-school health textbook, helping me to self-diagnose 24/7 if need be.

And it seems I am not the only one that uses the internet to self-diagnose according to a recent Pew Research Center study revealing that six out of 10 Americans admitted to seeking medical diagnostics from online sources in 2013.

Inspired by that finding, researchers set out to determine the quality of the health information available online. The first part of the study included researchers conducting a keyword search of phrases such as “seasonal influenza” on the video-sharing platform YouTube. Researchers looked at the top videos recommended in the search results and analyzed those videos for both content and specific features.

From there, the research team created a scoring system designed to measure the quality of the information these videos imparted based on guidelines from the CDC. The system awarded points based on the video’s source and other characteristics of the video and deducted points if the team felt that the videos offered misleading health information.

Overall, while researchers felt there was value to the information, they also felt that most of it was lacking in thoroughness.

"This study confirmed that most YouTube videos on seasonal influenza are provided by professional societies and health-care providers, with over half of the videos attempting to educate patients," says Dr. Lakshmi Kallur, lead researcher and resident physician in the Department of Internal Medicine at East Tennessee State University's Quillen College of Medicine. "These videos, although containing accurate information, did not fulfill our criteria as far as educating patients thoroughly."

Do you use the internet to self-diagnose?

14 comments; last comment on 11/14/2017
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St. Louis Commits to 100% Renewable Energy by 2035

Posted November 02, 2017 11:46 AM by Hannes
Pathfinder Tags: renewable energy st. louis

In early September lawmakers in St. Louis, Missouri passed a resolution committing to 100% renewable energy by 2035. According to the resolution, wind and solar would be the primary means for power generation. The city joins the growing list of other US cities committed to 100% renewable power.

Personally, it’s a little surprising to see St. Louis on the list of 100% renewable cities. Most larger metropolitan areas committed to full renewable sources are on the West Coast (San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego), although Atlanta, Madison, WI and Greensburg, KS have also committed. As of 2012, St. Louis’s energy mix is dominated by coal and nuclear—only 4.2% comes from renewable sources. The city clearly has a long way to go in a short time to meet the goal.

But upon closer inspection the potential for renewable power in St. Louis looks healthy. A 2004 NREL solar radiation map shows that Missouri has the potential for decent solar development—not as much as the Southwest or West Texas, but much more promising than the Northeast US. Wind power potential tells a similar story, as shown below: wind speeds at 80 meters average around 6 m/s in eastern Missouri, slightly better than the national average but not quite as windy as the Great Plains to the west.

Another potential renewables resource curiously absent from the city’s plan is hydropower development on the Mississippi River. A 2012 report by the US Department of Energy found that the Melvin Price Locks and Dam—located on the Mississippi only 17 miles from St. Louis—is #5 on the list of US non-powered dams in terms of untapped hydropower potential. The DoE estimates that the Melvin Price Dam could generate 1.4 million MWh per year and has an estimated potential capacity of nearly 300 MW.

Aside from renewable resources, St. Louis has the additional advantage of having a small city proper and large metro area. The independent city of St. Louis had an estimated population of only 311,000 in 2016; for comparison, Greater St. Louis—which consists of 11 Missouri and Illinois counties—has a population of nearly 3 million. Supplying power to a compact, manageable city (which has unfortunately been shrinking since the 1950s) is theoretically easier than with a large, sprawling metro area.

The resolution passed in September doesn’t legally hold the city to meeting their goal, but it does lay plans for future legislation and development for a city looking to at least diversify away from coal.

Image credit: NREL

16 comments; last comment on 11/10/2017
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Science and Technology Represented on the List of Top Fears

Posted October 31, 2017 8:58 AM by Mindful Monkey

Just in time for Halloween and all things dark and spooky, the results of the 2017 Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 4 are in. Science and technology show up on the list in multiple categories. The survey asked a random sample of 1,207 American adults to rate their level of fear of 80 items encompassing a wide range of topics. Each fear is followed by the percentage of people who felt that it made them “afraid” or “very afraid.”

The environment factored heavily in this year’s list with four environmental fears in the top 10. This is a big change as it is the first time any environmental issue made it into the top 10:

3. Pollution of oceans, rivers & lakes (53.1)

4. Pollution of drinking water (50.4)

8. Global warming and climate change (48.0)

10. Air pollution (44.9)

12. Extinction of plant and animal species (43.5)

26. Oil spill (36.2)

27. The collapse of the electrical grid (35.7)

32. Nuclear accident/meltdown (30.3)

37. Devastating drought (26.6)

43. Devastating tornado (24.3)

45. Devastating earthquake (22.6)

46. Devastating hurricane (21.4)

63. Devastating blizzard/winter storm (15.2)

70. Large volcanic eruption (10.6)

Perhaps not surprisingly, a number security and cybersecurity items landed fairly high on the list:

7. The U.S. will be involved in another World War (48.4)

9. North Korea using weapons (47.5)

14. Identity theft (41.9)

15. Biological warfare (41.8)

16. Credit card fraud (40.3)

19. Cyber terrorism (39.1)

21. Nuclear weapons attack (39)

24. Government tracking of personal data (37.4)

25. Corporate tracking of personal data (36.7)

33. Losing my data, photos or other important documents in a disaster (29)

36. Government use of drones within the US (27.2)

Fears around the cost of and access to healthcare also ranked relatively high:

2. American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare (55.3)

6. High medical bills (48.4)

29. Affordable Care Act/Obamacare (39.9)

30. Pandemic or major epidemic (32.8)

Finally, the ubiquitous nature of tech also made the list:

42. Computers replacing people in the workforce (25.3) -- right behind sharks at (25. 4)

64. Technology I don’t understand (14.9)

And, just as a point of reference, number 1 on the list is corrupt government officials (74.5), and way down on the list at number 78 is zombies (5.3), followed by ghosts (4.3), and animals such as dogs, rats, etc. (3.7).

You can see the entire list of fears here.

23 comments; last comment on 11/09/2017
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