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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 Relaxing Effect of Video Games

Posted August 19, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: stress video games

In what my husband has called the best news of the summer, researchers from the University of Central Florida believe that the cognitive fatigue often associated with high-stress jobs can be remedied by quick video-game-playing breaks throughout the course of the day.

According to the study published in the journal Human Factors, researchers observed 66 student participants after they completed a computer-based task meant to induce cognitive fatigue. Once the task was completed, participants were given a five-minute break where they were asked to either sit quietly, participate in a relaxation exercise or play a video game (called Sushi Cat).

Those playing the Sushi Cat video game were the only participants to report feeling "refreshed" after the break.

According to Michael Rupp, a doctoral student in human factors and cognitive psychology at the university, "We often try to power through the day to get more work finished, which might not be as effective as taking some time to detach for a few minutes. People should plan short breaks to make time for an engaging and enjoyable activity, such as video games, that can help them recharge."

The research has not only impacted previous studies concerning video-game playing, it too has impacted how much work has gotten done at my house this summer.

Do you find that video games are relaxing?


R. Pollard / CC BY 2.0

14 comments; last comment on 08/21/2017
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Even More Good News for Booze Lovers the World Over

Posted August 12, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: alcohol dementia

Recently, I wrote about how alcohol (Let’s face it! I will probably write about this topic a lot. It’s kind of in my wheelhouse.) can preserve memory, particularly of those moments before a person drinks. So it stands to reason that alcohol consumption would also have some sort of effect on dementia, no?

Researchers—or more appropriately, soul mates—have recently discovered that moderate drinking may stave off the signs of dementia in senior citizens, according to research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

The study observed 1,300 adults from 1984-2013 living in a white-collar suburb of San Diego, CA, whose cognitive skills were measured every four years.

The good news: Men and women 85 and older who drank moderately around five to seven days a week (my kind of senior citizen) were less likely to show signs of dementia than non-drinkers.

The bad news: Moderate drinking is defined as only one drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men. (Does this gender gap know no bounds?)

"This study is unique because we considered men and women's cognitive health at late age and found that alcohol consumption is not only associated with reduced mortality, but with greater chances of remaining cognitively healthy into older age," said senior author and associate professor at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, Linda McEvoy.

Conversely, heavy drinking (three alcoholic drinks a day for women and four for men) is linked to alcohol-related dementia. So this study, according to researchers, is not meant to signal an increase in drinking…blah, blah, blah.

Will this discovery impact your drinking (or non-drinking)? Anyone else surprised by the definition of moderate drinking here?

20 comments; last comment on 08/21/2017
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You Aren't Paranoid! You ARE Being Watched!

Posted August 05, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: consumer data aquisition roomba

Ever get the sensation that someone is staring at you as you mindlessly watch television or cook dinner? Is the feeling sometimes so intense that you immediately stop what you are doing and quickly scan the room for possible intruders? If you own a Roomba, chances are good that that feeling of being watched may not be imagined after all….

In fact, that Roomba may be doing some heavy recon while roaming around your house—all under the guise of cleaning it.

According to recent reports, iRobot, the maker of Roomba, wants to quite literally sell the "dirt" it gathers about your home to the highest bidder.

Equipped with sensors, cameras and software, iRobot believes that the spatial mapping information Roomba collects while navigating your home will be linked in the future to information collected from other home devices such as the Amazon Echo and smart thermostats. Linking these devices could enable companies like Amazon or Apple to sell products to a customer based on the layout of that customer’s home.

"There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared," Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot Corp., told Reuters.

However, with concerns for consumer privacy making headlines, iRobot assures that the decision will be up to the consumer and they can opt out of having their information sold.

Would you opt out of having your floor plans available to companies like Apple or Amazon or would you welcome a customized consumer experience?

Image credit:

Tibor Antalóczy / CC BY-SA 3.0

15 comments; last comment on 08/15/2017
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Is Microsoft Killing Off Paint?

Posted August 03, 2017 12:00 AM by Hannes
Pathfinder Tags: microsoft paint software

A few memories of elementary school computer class have remained with me. My sense of awe about my computer-savvy classmates who effortlessly created adventure games in HyperCard, for example. Or the fun sounds that made Apple’s Kid Pix so much more fun than Microsoft’s Paint.

Paint and Kid Pix have been in continuous production since their launch dates of 1985 and 1989, respectively. That’s probably part of the reason online communities freaked out on July 24 when Microsoft announced a “deprecated” label for the program when the Windows 10 Fall Creators update hits later this year. The label isn’t necessarily the same as a “slated to removal” label, but Microsoft says deprecated apps are “not in active development and might be removed in future releases.” It’s safe to say that Microsoft has called Paint’s number and now it’s only a matter of time before it disappears.

Paint was never meant to be much more than a simple graphics editor and was always functionally behind other editors like Photoshop. It was totally limited to bitmap and PCX formats until 1998, and Microsoft made no major overhauls until 2009, when the program gained a much-needed ribbon interface. Paint is still the go-to program for quickly and easily cropping or resizing images, or simply scribbling out an idea, but it’s had lots of competition from Adobe and Mac editors as well as free online editor tools.

While news of the deprecation has spurred a bit of outrage and even tears from online commenters, there’s more to this story than meets the eye. First, Microsoft launched Paint 3D last year to simplify production of 3D-printed parts, so one could imagine the company discontinuing Paint but incorporating its simple handy features into a new iteration of Paint 3D at the same time. And the program could remain in the deprecated column for an indefinite period, so it’s not nearly dead at this point. Microsoft could simply let the program slip from development and let it fade away on its own time.

Also on Microsoft’s killed/deprecated list are Outlook Express, 3D Builder, and the Reader app, but if online reaction is any sort of bellwether users are much, much more upset about their beloved Paint.

Image credit: Navarr Barnier / CC BY 2.0

14 comments; last comment on 08/14/2017
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Thanks for the Memories, Alcohol!

Posted July 29, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: alcohol memory

Good news, booze lovers: a recent study is debunking the long-held belief that alcohol diminishes memory.

The study, from the University of Exeter, split 88 social drinkers (31 males and 57 females between the ages of 18 and 53) into two groups: those allowed to drink as much as they wanted and those not allowed to drink at all. Both groups were given a word-learning exercise that they were expected to repeat the following day after (in some cases) a night of drinking had passed.

Shockingly, those who drank the night before remembered more about the word-learning exercise than the folks who didn’t have anything to drink at all.

Even more surprising, according to researchers, is that those who drank the most did even better than people who had fewer drinks and those who didn’t drink at all.

But don’t get too excited. This is not exactly news to promote an increase in drinking for healthy brain function (although let’s get someone to work on that study).

Professor Celia Morgan of the University of Exeter explains:

"The causes of this effect are not fully understood, but the leading explanation is that alcohol blocks the learning of new information and therefore the brain has more resources available to lay down other recently learned information into long-term memory."

"The theory is that the hippocampus—the brain area really important in memory—switches to 'consolidating' memories, transferring from short into longer-term memory."

So, while you can rest assured that you will retain what you learned before a night out on the town, don’t expect to process anything new or vital learned while drinking.

The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

27 comments; last comment on 08/02/2017
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