The Health Mate App: Generation TMI

Look, Your JoeDog is willing to support his friends’ fitness efforts but if they start posting vital signs to social media, he may have to de-friend them. Would anyone actually post their vital signs? Yes, and believe it or not, there’s an app for that.

The Wifi Body Scale measures weight, body fat, heart rate, and the air quality of whatever room your scale is in. It comes with Wifi networking and a Health Mate app that lets you share its data to social media.

In theory, the app holds you accountable as others bear witness to a personal struggle. But to what extent can they participate in this public shaming? Is it okay to “Like” unflattering updates? Can they note that, um, “your numbers are really going up”?

Keep in mind this technology is still in its infancy. As it becomes more refined, we may one day be able to tell who’s overweight simply by looking at them….



Paragraphs To Ponder

From Tom Goodwin over at TechCrunch:

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

Indeed. The future belongs to transaction-skimmers…



How Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?

For the most part, You JoeDog doesn’t get worked up about hydraulic fracking. Quakes and contamination associated with it tend to appear in areas that support it. If you vote for politicians that green light fracking and your water turns flamable and your walls start to crack, then why should Your JoeDog get upset? Cause and effect, motherfsckers.

The epicenter of what-did-you-think-would-happen-when-you-fractured-the-earth-with-lubricants is Oklahoma. The Sooner state — as in “the sooner I get out of here the better” — has been riddled with earthquakes lately. Since the Joad Family said, “We gotta get out of this place” until 2008, the state averaged two quakes per year of magnitude three or higher. From 2013-2014, that number was ninety-two.

Now that could just be a coincidence, amirite? That’s what the energy industry wants you to think. In places like Oklahoma, polticians put their foot on the gas and never looked back. Frack first and ask questions later! Well, those questions are starting to get answered.

The Seismological Society of America sponsored a study whose findings don’t play nice with narratives told by energy companies. In Ohio, hydraulic fracturing activated a previously unknown fault and was confirmed to be the cause of increased seismic activity.

Another study by the US Geological Survey reached a similar conclusion. According to USGS, the seismicity rate changes it examined were “almost certainly manmade.”

As mentioned above, Your JoeDog doesn’t get worked up about this. If you want to wreck your state, he’ll use your cheap gas. Still, the poindexter in him can’t help but wonder, “How does fracking cause seismic activity?” He assumed fracturing triggered a shift.

In a general survey of hydraulic fracturing by the Financial Times, we gain insight from a clear and concise explanation:

Despite a common misconception, the quakes are not triggered by fracking itself, which involves shattering rocks deep underground with a high-pressure cocktail of water, sand and chemicals. Instead, they result from what bursts out of the rock alongside oil and gas: vast amounts of ancient seawater. The water is worthless, so the industry injects it back underground via disposal wells. The problem is that the liquid has unlocked previously stable faults, creating the slippage that triggers a “shalequake”. Such tremors have also been felt in Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, Ohio and Kansas.

There’s nothing about this process that makes Your JoeDog say, “That sounds like a good idea.” Yet it continues because humans aren’t good at long view and there’s a lot of money on the side of fracking to ensure it remains that way. Good luck, Oklahoma. You’re gonna need it.



Tattoo You: Apple iWatch and Ink

Second World War tattooYour JoeDog hasn’t been to the public pool in years but as a child, he was there almost every day of the summer. It was great. He could get a sugar high off Italian ices and chase sexy girls in bikinis. Your JoeDog wasn’t very old back then and his girl chasin’ skills needed refinement. When he saw a one he liked, he’d try dunk her in the water.

This was the 1970s. when the World War II generation was entering its leisure years. The pool was filled with young and old, Boomer school kids on summer break and old people entering retirement. Those little old ladies didn’t wear bikinis but they sure as hell rocked the one piece. Those old guys were covered with dark blotches up and down their arms and torsos. When you got behind an one in the Italian ice line you could see the blotch was actually a Navy anchor or some shit.

The World War II generation was heavily tatted.

Your JoeDog’s generation doesn’t have much ink. If you see a Boomer or an Xer with a tattoo, you can bet they got it late in life. We grew up surrounded by blotchy smears at the public pool. Those Second World War era tattoos may have been hip during the Big Band Era but they looked like a bad case of melanoma by the time of the Oil Embargo. We saw those things and said, “No thanks.”

Old soldiers may never die but at some point they stop going to the public pool. Gen Y and the Millennials never had a chance to see ol’ CPO Miller’s blotched out Navy anchors on a hot summer day. With no reference images of aging tattoos, a new generation was free to cover itself in ink.

Now Your JoeDog doesn’t pass judgement. The girl at the coffee shop has Keith Haring images tattooed on her arms. He thinks they’re neat; they’re just not for him. But as it happens, our generational revulsion toward tattoos has culminated in an unforeseen benefit. The image of aging tattoos at the public pool, set us on a course toward technological advantage. The Apple iWatch works just fine on members of your JoeDog’s generation.

An Apple support document notes that tattoos can also impact heart rate sensor performance.



Now Go Find It

Your JoeDog caught this blurb on the Internets: “Audi, the German carmaker, said it would test a program in which packages are dropped off into the trunks of people’s cars solving the problem of no one being home.”

Um, …



The Creepiness Factor

Here’s something that may surprise you: People get creeped out when you use their personal information to profit from them. In a study by Ithaca College, researchers discovered that buyers were less likely to make purchases from vendors who acquired their personal information through dubious means and without their consent.

Your JoeDog, on the other hand, gets creeped out when targeted ads miss the mark. “What the hell did I type into Google to make them think I’d like a copy of The Osmonds Greatest Hits?”



I, Leg Brace

exoskeletonHumans have tried to improve the physicality humans for as long as there have been humans. Our big brains often produce big ideas that our puny bodies can’t realize. We’ve made wings in failed attempts to soar. We’ve produced an endless array of footwear, body armor and extensions for our appendages to improve our physical performance. Generally these devices have failed us but sometimes — such as in the case of artificial wings — they’ve killed us.

In our quest for improved performance, physics is generally the meanie that bites our ass. In 1890, a Russian inventor patented a device to improve our ability to run, walk and jump. Unfortunately, it was too heavy and burdensome to actually enhance performance in any of those areas. “This thing sucks. Take it off.”

In 2013, a Belgian team finally produced a version of the 1890 prototype that was able to offset the burdens of its own weight and produce a net positive performance gain. That may seem like a long time but it’s only about three professional lifetimes. Now the gains keep coming.

An American team led by Steven Collins at Carnegie Mellon have developed an extremely light spring-loaded brace which boosts the performance of the calf muscles and the Achilles tendon by absorbing small amounts of energy when the foot hits the ground. The team reports a 7% performance gain.

Gregory Sawicki, one of the paper’s co-authors, put that in perspective for the Guardian. “A 7% reduction in energy cost is like taking off a 10-pound backpack, which is significant. Though it’s surprising that we were able to achieve this advantage over a system strongly shaped by evolution, this study shows that there’s still a lot to learn about human biomechanics and a seemingly simple behaviour like walking,” he said.

Not bad, humans. Not bad at all.



Robots Will Drive Your Drunk Ass Home

audiAn Audi just drove itself across the country:

Nine days after leaving San Francisco, a blue car packed with tech from a company you’ve probably never heard of rolled into New York City after crossing 15 states and 3,400 miles to make history. The car did 99 percent of the driving on its own, yielding to the carbon-based life form behind the wheel only when it was time to leave the highway and hit city streets.

With any new technology there will be winners and losers, those who benefit and those who suffer. In this case, beer drinkers might be the biggest beneficiaries. “Why yes, I can have one more.” While truckers seem the likeliest of losers.

Long haulers have already been squeezed out of the middle class. It will take a some time, but this is probably the tip of the final dagger. Older operators should be able to ride current technologies into sunset but younger truckers better have a Plan B. Their days are likely numbered.

Still – THIS THING CAN DRIVE US HOME FROM THE BREWPUB!!!

[Wired: An Audi Drove Itself Across The Country]

[WAPO: Trucking Has Become Just Another Low-wage Job]



Technology Without Good Policy Is Worthless

Yes, pilot suicide is rare. It’s even rarer in commercial airlines. Post-9/11 cockpit doors were supposed to prevent this type of event. They were supposed to keep suicidal maniacs out of the cockpit and away from the controls. Yet last Tuesday one of these locking doors helped facilitate another suicidal crash. You may certainly call that ironic but it’s the type of bitter humor we can do without.

[WaPo: German Crash Raises Questions About Airplane Security]

 



Amazon Web Services Free Edition

(Or how to run a website on a shoestring budget)

Last fall, Your JoeDog moved this site into Amazon’s web cloud. He’s using a micro instance on the free tier. It’s free for a year then $0.017 an hour after that.

Note that “micro” part. We’re talking about a pretty lean server. When it first came online, this site screeched to a halt at semi-irregular intervals. It was running out of memory. To increase its capacity while remaining in the free tier, Your JoeDog added some swap. “How do you add swap space in AWS?” Glad you asked. Here’s how:

  $ sudo /bin/dd if=/dev/zero of=/var/swap.1 bs=1M count=1024
  $ sudo chown root:root /var/swap.1
  $ sudo chmod 600 /var/swap.1
  $ sudo /sbin/mkswap /var/swap.1
  $ sudo /sbin/swapon /var/swap.1

You can check your creation with the free command:

  $ free -m

By adding swap, Your JoeDog was better able to keep this site humming. Unfortunately, it still locked up. One day, it locked up for an extended period of time.

To monitor the site’s availability, we signed up for pingdom. There’s a free version which allows you to monitor a single URL and send text alerts. (Email won’t do us much good since that service is hosted here.)

Not long after the alerts were configured, one fired. The site was down(ish). Downish? What’s that mean. It was more like a series of brief outages. While this was going on, Your JoeDog’s inbox started filling with new-comment-needs-approval messages.

LINK SPAMMERS!! Some asshole was botting the site with unthrottled comment posts and they essentially DOS’d it.

To free up resources, Your JoeDog created an AWS database instance and moved his content from a local database with an export/import. There’s only one reason you shouldn’t do the same: cost. After the free period, you’ll be charged for that as well.

So what’s the moral of this story? If you can afford it, don’t waste your time on the free instance. These micro VMs are too light to handle traffic bursts. And if you’re a serious business, then you really shouldn’t bother. In the grand scheme of things, Amazon’s computing-for-lease is really inexpensive … except, of course, if you’re a lowly open source developer.