Monthly Archives: September 2014

How High-Tech Innovations Might Soon Be Able to Transform Your House Into a ‘Smart Home’

When looking at some of the emerging trends for home improvement technology, it might be safe to say you could soon have a smart home as well as a smartphone.

Currently, Americans spend approximately $134 billion each quarter on improving their homes — and, according to a September 8 article, these billions may soon be spent on increasingly high-tech improvement projects.

Companies like Nest and Control4 are … helping to usher in the new era of the smart home that enables residents to control almost all aspects of the home environment, such as climate, lighting and security, from a single interface,” the article states. “What’s more, this rapidly growing smart home field is in the midst of being able to control these interior elements from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, allowing the home to become more efficient, which ultimately amounts to increased savings.”

The thought of being able to control your home’s temperature from your phone probably sounds like something out of a movie — but this kind of technology is moving increasingly closer to becoming a reality for homeowners and apartment renters alike. In addition to Nest and Control 4, companies like Comcast and ATandT are also working on bringing this home automation technology to life.

Another company committed to pioneering smart home technology is Samsung. And, according to a September 5 article, Samsung is at the forefront of advancements that would allow your house to brew you a cup of coffee as you wake up, and suggest recipes that will use up ingredients that are close to going bad.

The article reports that by 2018, experts expect Americans will be spending some $100 billion on smart home technology, and as many as 45 million smart home systems will be in use every day by the people living inside them.

Smart homes are still very much a thing of the future — but it’s a future that’s approaching faster than you might think.

Across the Country, Volunteers Help Restore Homes for Veterans

On September 11, volunteers across the country helped show reverence for those who have served our country in a different way than usual.

According to a September 11 Lockport Union-Sun and Journal article, the Home Depot-sponsored effort to fix up veterans’ homes will continue through Veterans Day and will focus on 1,000 homes.

Along with volunteers from Home Depot’s “Team Depot” associate-led volunteer organization, many people volunteered through Americorps, and many more joined on their own accord. Examples of renovations and repairs include new doors and windows, bathroom improvements, flooring replacement, new HVAC systems and more, the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal article reported..

For veterans living in the Northeast, having a garage is typically beneficial — especially for those with physical disabilities, who may be unable to brush the snow and scrape the ice off their car every morning. Naturally, garages also protect cars from rust and damage from the elements, as well.

When many veterans return home from service, they find that re-assimilating to the lives they led can be a challenge — especially for those with PTSD. In many cases, taking the initiative to repair their own homes can be a major cause of stress and financial burden.

“Being in the military, this kind of stuff hit home. I have a lot friends that went overseas,” Libby Aday, a volunteer from the Home Depot, told WGRZ 2. “I have a lot of friends who are struggling with PTSD, can’t get on their feet, so helping our community so close to home, right here, and the Home Depot doing it on top of that, it’s just something great for us to do.”

Arrive Alive Simulation Gives HCC Students a Taste of Driving Distracted

UNITE International gave students at Hagerstown Community College a startling demonstration of distracted driving on Thursday, as part of the organization’s Arrive Alive Tour.

Students at HCC were put behind the wheel with cell phones as part of a driving simulation, and the results were unnerving, to say the least. Students got in accidents, swerved all over the road, hit pedestrians, and ran red lights. Luckily, they did all these things from the safety of a parked car fitted with sensors that connected to virtual reality headgear.

Other students watched what the driver saw on two screens outside the car. In the simulation, no one got hurt, but it did remind students of what could happen if they choose to drive distracted.

“As they’re texting, you see the basic things you expect to see,” team leader Patrick Sheehy told Herald Mail Media. “Lane drifting, slowing way down, speeding way up, perhaps running red lights, and then the worst-case scenario, being in an accident or hitting a pedestrian.”

Sheehy said that about 80% of accidents on the road are a result of some form of distracted driving. Distractions come in many forms, from texting to eating to even the type of car. Automatic transmissions outnumber manuals in the used car market 10 to 1, which means that new drivers who are less familiar with manuals may find them difficult to drive even without the distractions of an incoming text or a drive-through burger.

Sheehy handed out “citations” to each student who participated in the simulation. “I think a lot of people realize that drinking and driving is extremely dangerous and illegal, but don’t take the time to think that the cellphone in their hand could potentially be even more dangerous,” Sheehy told Herald Mail Media. “For every alcohol-related accident on the road today, you’re looking at about four texting and driving accidents.”

According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, an average of 250 people died each year from 2008-2012 due to distracted driving in Maryland, and 30,000 were injured. Cell phones were a major factor.

Over 100 students signed UNITE’s pledge to avoid texting and driving. The event was sponsored by the college, the MVA, and Meritus Health.

Reducing Childhood Obesity Should Include Federal Tax on Sweet Drinks, Research Shows

Childhood obesity is hardly a new problem in the U.S., but now more so than ever before, researchers are striving to find new ways to encourage young Americans — and their parents — to be more conscious about their health. And although many people are inclined to balk at the idea of allowing federal regulations to control dietary restrictions, new research shows that these regulations might just be an important strategy for lowering the country’s obesity rate.

A study conducted by Dr. Ross Brownson, a professor and researcher at the Brown School and the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, shows that a mandated tax on sugar-packed foods and drinks may be able to lower obesity rates, especially for young children. The study, titled “Reducing Childhood Obesity Through U.S. Federal Policy: A Microsimulation Analysis,” appeared in the August 27 edition of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, and it shows that childhood obesity could be mitigated by a government-enforced tax on sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and any other drinks with added sweeteners. This tax is one-third of a federal program, proposed by Dr. Brownson, which would involve an increase in after-school athletic programs and a ban on fast food advertisements shown during children’s TV shows.

The study’s microsimulation showed that all three programs would help reduce childhood and adolescent obesity in the U.S., and that each program could be successful on its own, but that the tax on sweets would be the most effective program in terms of health awareness and cost effectiveness.

One important aspect that could make or break these programs, however cannot be mandated by the government: and that aspect is whether or not children receive support at home and at school, and whether they are strongly encouraged by others to make healthy lifestyle choices. Other health organizations and research groups, such as the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (Ohio AAP), address this concern by directing campaigns at adults and parents, encouraging them to help young children stay aware of how their decisions affect their health.

And these parent-friendly tips don’t just focus on which foods to avoid — the key here is to make sure that we approach our health with a holistic attitude. For example, healthy lifestyle choices could include everything from becoming more active in the morning, to turning down the thermostat at night (which, according to the American Diabetes Association, gets your metabolism moving faster).

This holistic approach shouldn’t just stop once you leave the house, either. As Dr. Brownson states, his research will hopefully “inform federal policy as national leaders plan efforts to address childhood obesity,” and will encourage prominent figures to promote healthier lifestyles, no matter what age they may be.

Missouri School District Finds New Home for Their Autism Therapy Program

writing-autismStudents at the Neosho Center for Interventions and Support’s autism program gather around a table for snack time. While one student asks for a drink, another uses a picture of Cheetos to indicate his snack choice.

Communication and social interaction are difficult for children with autism, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have things to say. While 25% to 30% of children with autism learn some words at 12 to 18 months of age, they later lose them as a result of the disorder. About 40% of children with autism do not speak at all.

This is what makes programs like this one so important. “The foundation thing is that our program is laser-focused on building communication,” says Stacy Tracy, director of special services for the Neosho School District.

Children with autism have different ways of learning and paying attention, and it’s important to take these differences into account in a learning environment, which is why autistic children do not thrive in a regular classroom environment.

The program’s new space in the Crowder College Behavior Support Center opened in July, kicking off the new school year. The new space allows them extra room to work with students one-on-one, and the added resources to teach them skills they can use at home.

The building houses seven therapy rooms and a handful of classrooms, where trained behavior interventionists work with individual students. There is a mock living room area, which provides a place to teach life skills to students struggling at home. There is also a kitchen area, where children can practice skills to use at home, like sitting at the table, loading and unloading the dishwasher, and sorting silverware.

“This is so exciting for kids to learn these self-help skills,” said Jamie Emery, director of the Crowder College Behavior Support Center.

While there is no known cure for autism, intensive therapy can help a child learn a wide variety of skills they will need to thrive in the real world. In individual approach to treatment helps to treat each child’s different behaviors and abilities. The autism program focuses on meeting individualized needs and improving communication skills.

Disney’s Big Hero 6 Promises Even Better Animation Gains for Disney

Big_Hero_6_(film)_posterOver the last several years, animation at Disney has been considerably ramped up. When Toy Story came out in 1995 — which was produced by Pixar, and released by Disney — it was an instant hit. And the gains in digital animation made since then, which can be seen in recent movies like Tangled and Frozen, have been astronomical. Audiences are now accustomed to highly detailed backgrounds and beautifully animated characters in 3D animation. Big Hero 6 is one of Disney’s big new movies appearing on the horizon, and so far, the art promises to be some of the best yet.

Big Hero 6 is set in a future city called San Fransokyo. This summer, journalists were invited to visit the Disney Animation Studios and learn more about the development of the film. Disney writer Mike Rougeau was given a preview of some of the magic, and according to him, the available footage and work-in-progress shown to journalists show great promise. Big Hero 6 has been under development since 2009, when Disney bought Marvel. Big Hero 6 was a somewhat obscure comic that director Don Hall uncovered among Marvel’s properties, and thought would work well to develop into a film franchise. Although Disney executives say that the current movie takes big leaps from the source materials, the comic’s creators have said that the reinterpretation is fine.

While director Don Hall claims that not even a “single fan” has yet emerged to complain about the reinterpretation of the original, internet forums tell a different story, with debate over whether the film will be successful alive and well.

The movie, in itself, will feature a crew of college-aged scientists that have, through one way or another, turned into superheroes. Hiro, the main character of the film, tasks himself with developing armor for all the superheroes.

As with many Disney movies, the animation team has conducted an intense amount of research. In order to effectively design many of the special effects, the team learned about robotics, electro-magnetism, and cutting-edge chemistry — for a final effect that is visually stunning, especially when one realizes all the work that went into the effect. Michael Kaschalk, the head of effects, has explained how they crafted entirely new technologies for work on the movie, in order to ensure that it ends up a unique animation experience. The animation team, for example, invented a new crowd-animation program called “Denizen” that helps them animate large groups of people more realistically.

Will Big Hero 6 live up to the excitement its trailers and released information have generated? There’s no telling for sure. Given the recent success of other Disney animated films like Frozen, Monsters University, and Wreck it Ralph, though, it’s likely that this movie will be a success, and a good move for Disney’s foray into covering Marvel material.