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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.

All That Glitters

Posted February 17, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Environment ocean plastics

Yes. I am absolutely concerned about glitter’s impact on ocean life.

Yet, self-involved as I am, I am slightly more concerned about the impact of glitter on my household as it falls from everything in my elementary-school-aged daughter’s possession, from clothing, toys and even her shampoo. Naturally, that age group is drawn to the sparkly, eye-catching material with my daughter refusing to wear a simple blouse or t-shirt without the offending material highlighting a cartoon character or puppy.

Though pretty on a t-shirt or a doll, glitter is no joke to clean up as it gathers in corners, mingling with dust, calling out to me when the sun shines a certain way…

But the ocean.

Like the headline-grabbing microbeads (plastic microparticles) that make it into our waterways as an ingredient in everything from cosmetics to clothing, too small to be captured by waste treatment facilities, it is safe to assume that glitter also finds its way into our waterways. Yet, while there is a considerable amount of research concerning the microbead and its impact on ocean life, there is very little known about glitter’s impact.

Made from polyethylene, which is the same plastic found in plastic bags and other products, glitter is likely having the same impact on ocean life as microbeads — which means they are also possibly leaching into the tissue of ocean creatures, thus potentially contaminating their bodies with toxic chemicals and, subsequently, the human bodies that eventually consume them.

So while much is being done to address the microbead issue, very little is being done about glitter. Despite recent concerns, it continues to lure my daughter to objects aisles away in Target, leaving me to wonder how to break her glitter habit short of telling her that she is slowly killing Nemo.

14 comments; last comment on 02/21/2018
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Stay Home and Save the World

Posted February 03, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Energy Environment

Time to celebrate, introverts!

If you have spent the better half of a lifetime shamefacedly making excuses for why you don’t want to go somewhere — to the store, out to eat, to the movies — you now have the perfect excuse. Explain that you are busy trying to save the earth for future generations….

In a recent survey on American Time Use, researchers found that fewer and fewer Americans are leaving home. The natural conclusion, according to researchers, is that technological developments such as online shopping, remote working, and streaming services make it less necessary to leave home as frequently.

In fact, Americans are spending so much more time at home than before that this tend resulted in a net 1,700 trillion Btu (British thermal units) in energy savings for the U.S. in 2012.

While the number of people staying home now might mean a spike in residential energy demand, the decrease in travel and the decrease in non-residential space use mean significant energy savings.

Based on the 2012 numbers:

  • Americans spent an extra eight days at home
  • Americans spent one day less traveling
  • Americans spent one week less in non-residential buildings (i.e., at work)

“We did expect to see net energy decrease, but we had no idea of the magnitude," says first author Ashok Sekar (@_ashok7), a postdoctoral fellow who studies consumer energy use and policy at the University of Texas at Austin. "This work raises awareness of the connection between lifestyle and energy. Now that we know people are spending more time at home, more focus could be put on improving residential energy efficiency." Sekar conducted the study with Eric Williams and Roger Chen, sustainability researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

So get back on that couch, introvert and do your thing!

6 comments; last comment on 02/17/2018
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How Desperate is Facebook? Deactivate It And Find Out

Posted February 01, 2018 11:04 AM by Hannes
Pathfinder Tags: facebook social media

A few weeks ago, for the second time in the last few years, I deactivated my Facebook account. After two or three days of mindlessly typing “facebook” into my browser and then remembering that I no longer belonged to the social network, I now feel confident in saying I’ve purged Facebook from my day-to-day activities. But I’ve been here before and eventually returned to wasting time on the site – addictive social media platforms have a way of doing that to people.

A smattering of news reports issued yesterday provided some interesting context. For one, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reported the company’s FY2017 results; not surprisingly, they’re solid, with ad revenues almost 50% higher than FY2016. Zuckerberg also alluded to worries about the site’s social impact and seems oddly committed to streamlining the site to eliminate wasted time for users:

"In 2018, we're focused on making sure Facebook isn't just fun to use, but also good for people's well-being and for society. We're doing this by encouraging meaningful connections between people rather than passive consumption of content. Already last quarter, we made changes to show fewer viral videos to make sure people's time is well spent. In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day [emphasis mine]. By focusing on meaningful connections, our community and business will be stronger over the long term."

The same day, Bloomberg reported on Facebook’s increasingly desperate emails to users who no longer log on. Apparently, the company first tries to lure eyes back to the site by alerting users to their friends’ activity. After a number of months, Facebook starts sending messages subtly implying that unauthorized users are trying to log on to a deactivated user’s account to get the original user back into the fold. This strategy hasn’t necessarily been confirmed, but all signs point to the company using trickery to get eyes back on their site (and ads).

As a former user, I’m skeptical about Facebook’s apparent concern with their users’ time and social health. Placing a high value on meaningful interactions rather than passive scrolling is indeed good for users, but it’s also good for targeted ads and lead conversion for the company’s partners. That said, losing 50 million user hours per day is quite a hit for a company that relies so heavily on ad revenue.

If Facebook’s past history is any indication, the company will likely bounce back from this trough and continue to dominate the online space. Hopefully I’ll still be watching from the sidelines.

14 comments; last comment on 02/17/2018
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At-home Internet Use

Posted January 27, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Internet smartphones

At the end of each day, I find myself checking off an imaginary list of things I may or, likelier, may not have accomplished. With each passing day, I find that the list of things I am not checking off is far greater than the list of items I am checking off. Is it because I am busier? Do I have more obligations? Am I spending more time with loved ones?


I blame the internet. The internet prevents me from getting stuff done. Instead of finishing The Goldfinch, which sits three-quarters of the way finished on my nightstand, I find myself — in the hours between rushing around and attempting to complete items on my to-do list looking up ridiculous stuff on the internet and sleep — sitting in bed looking up even more ridiculous stuff on the internet. A quick search through my Google history will reveal results such as: “Best Serial Killer Podcasts of 2017,” “What Happened to Mickey Rourke’s Face?” and “Where Does Bono Live?”

Not exactly the stuff of geniuses, I realize. But it truly is the internet’s fault for making it so easy to look this kind of useless information up. Well, all but the Bono stuff. I might actually need that information someday….

Luckily, I am not alone in the amount of time I spend on the internet.

Since the first Digital Future Report in 2000 by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future (which detailed the evolution of internet use), things have changed dramatically. Consider the numbers concerning at-home internet use between the first report in 2000 and those from the 15th annual report that was recently released.

Since 2000:

  • Time spent online each week has jumped from 9.4 hours to 23.6 hours
  • Internet penetration has jumped from 67 percent to 92 percent
  • At-home internet use has increased from 3.3 hours a week to 17.6 hours a week

Much of that is due to introduction of the iPhone and other smart technologies, making the internet even more accessible to us.

Since 2010:

  • People using their phones to connect to the internet has jumped from 23 percent to 84 percent
  • Smartphone email use has escalated from 21 percent to 79 percent
  • Mobile app use has jumped from 49 percent to 74 percent
  • GPS usage has increased from 12 percent to 71 percent
  • The percentage of people streaming music on their phone has gone from 13 percent to 67 percent

Looking at these numbers and the increase in the amount of time spent on the internet, I am left wondering what I did before the internet. Was there any place I could get a quick and satisfying answer to the question about Mickey Rourke’s face or would the question just disappear into the void?

Has how you spend your time changed dramatically thanks to the internet?

13 comments; last comment on 02/06/2018
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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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