Monthly Archives: October 2014

Introducing the ‘Smart’ Desk That Tells You When to Sit and Stand for a Mere $4,000

business people in a meeting at office Those who are looking for ways to simultaneously increase productivity and fitness at work are in luck — if they have about $4,000 to spare. Stir, a company founded by a former Apple engineer, has introduced the Stir Kinetic, the world’s first “smartdesk.” It comes with a built-in touch screen for its controls and can be programmed to raise and lower throughout the day. The desk moves quietly to allow the user to alternate between sitting and standing for work during the day. It can be programmed to move in intervals (each 20 minutes, for example) and alert the user to a change in position by “breathing,” or moving up and down about an inch until the user selects an option on the touch screen. The Stir Kinetic can also tell when a user is standing in front of it. Also available on the market are several models of “dumb” motorized standing desk for $1,500, and a Kickstarter for a more basic $369 motorized table. The Stir Kinetic, however, will set buyers back $3,890, plus tax and $299 for shipping. The desk is likely a reaction to the research in recent years that cautions against sitting for too long. For example, hunching forward in an office chair can give workers tight, rigid muscles and joints, which increases the chance of injury when they do move. Researchers at the Australian University of Queensland’s School of Human Movement Studies recommends using a “sit less, move more” strategy for office workers. They say that sitting for too long can increase the risk of weight gain, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and even some cancers. In the United States, the National Safety Counsel also recommends using an ergonomics assessment to find the proper chair height, keyboard and mouse distance, monitor height, and more to help workers avoid injury. However, simply standing at work instead isn’t enough on its own, says Alan Hedge, an ergonomics professor from Cornell University. He says that moving around a lot and switching positions will help workers stay healthy on the job. “If you’re sitting in a static posture or standing in a static posture, that’s not particularly helpful, because muscles fatigue very quickly and the circulatory system is not being helped,” Hedge says. But moving around, he explains, “activates what’s called the muscle pump that helps to return blood back to the heart.” The Stir Kinetic can also learn users’ habits, but it can take around four weeks for it to begin timing its prompts. The touch screen also allows users to connect to a WiFi connection to download software updates. Workers can also use their Fitbit exercise bands to record their standing times and compute how many calories they’ve burned.

Getting Medical Advice on the Internet May Get Easier Thanks to Google’s New Service

young medical doctor in hospital

Internet users looking for medical advice may have better luck than they used to, thanks to a new initiative by Google. The company is currently testing a service with a limited number of users by connecting people who conduct health-related searches with doctors via video chat.

After Reddit user Jason Houle, of Springfield, Mass., uploaded a screenshot of the service online, Google confirmed its authenticity to Engadget. The screenshot shows a search for “knee pain” and gives the user the option of finding “health care providers who you can visit with over video chat.”

The service’s costs are currently covered by Google “during this limited trial.”

In a statement on Gizmodo, Google explained that “When you’re searching for basic health information — from conditions like insomnia or food poisoning — our goal is provide you with the most helpful information available. We’re trying this new feature to see if it’s useful to people.”

The service is tied in, according to some sources, with Helpouts, a marketplace where “experts” charge to give lessons and advice over video chat.

Companies, including doctor’s offices, are looking for more digital solutions to compete in the marketplace. This year, advertisers are expected to spend $135 billion on digital marketing solutions, often through platforms like Google.

The wording in the screenshot has led some to speculate whether Google will charge money in the future. Similar services, such as weight-loss consultations, go for about $30 per session on the web already; full-scale medical consultations could charge much higher amounts.

The service comes at a time when the health care industry is worth approximately $3 trillion in the United States, according to an article from The Guardian.

No other details for the program have been released so far, such as the requirements for participating medical professionals in order to verify their qualifications. Google currently warns search users to “consult a doctor if you have a medical concern.”

Google’s Biggest Competition in Search Isn’t Bing or Yahoo — It’s Amazon

smartphone in hand with blank screen

While Google is the clear leader in search, their biggest competition is not what anyone would expect.

According to Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Google’s biggest search competitor is not Bing or Yahoo! — it’s actually the retail giant Amazon.

“People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon,” says Schmidt. “They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches, just as we are.”

Schmidt was giving a speech in Berlin, outlining the competitive landscape, and explaining why Google shouldn’t be regulated as the “gatekeeper” of the Internet.

Google has been under fire from regulators in the EU, where critics have accused it of having too much power. Schmidt, however, took the opportunity to deflect the blame on companies like Amazon and Facebook, who he claims are just as powerful.

In the same speech, Schmidt also calls out businesses like Yelp and TripAdvisor, who have claimed that the Google’s “monopoly” is hurting their businesses. But Schmidt points out that the amount of traffic to their websites has increased significantly thanks to Google searches.

Amazon may be Google’s biggest competition, but the e-commerce site is also their best customer. Amazon was the biggest spender on Google search ads last year in the U.S., spending $157.7 million.

Unsurprisingly, Google is taking notes on its competition. They’ve recently been updating and improving the content marketing of their product listing ads, making them more appealing for shopping, and essentially more Amazon-like. The more features Google offers, like product descriptions and reviews, the less likely shoppers are to start their shopping intuitively on Amazon, unless they’re already Amazon regulars.

The business of search engines is important to more than just the engines themselves, or the users. Search engine optimization is becoming an increasingly important part of online marketing, with companies finding that developing quality offsite and linking it back to their website makes the website looks more relevant to Google, and increases search engine ranking and overall traffic. A study by OutBrain shows that search engines are the #1 driver of traffic to content websites.

Schmidt explained that Google works very differently than other companies that have been called gatekeepers, and regulated as such, because “no one is stuck with Google:”

“…while we’re undoubtedly an important part of the Internet — and the key player in search — information discovery comes in all shapes and sizes because there are many windows onto the web.”

Volvo’s Newest Hybrid Electric Bus Includes Silent Engine and 75% Less Carbon Emissions

It’s no secret that energy efficiency is becoming one of the biggest concerns in the auto industry today. But even though industry experts have often noted that public transportation is significantly more environmentally friendly than driving individual cars, rarely do we see headlines discussing technological advancements that have made, and will continue to make, public transportation even more efficient than before — until now, that is.

Researchers at Volvo have just released plans for the what could be the most environmentally friendly bus developed thus far, and this prototype is definitely headline-worthy. The 7900 PHEV is Volvo’s newest plug-in hybrid creation, and if it works as well in real life as developers have promised, it will likely put the current stream of individual plug-in hybrid cars to shame.

The bus runs on a 600 volt lithium ion battery, and it can be fully recharged in under six minutes through a roof-mounted pantograph. It reportedly runs in “silent electric mode” about 70% of the time, spewing out 75% less carbon dioxide emissions and using up 60% less energy overall than normal diesel buses.

The 7900 PHEV is similar to Volvo’s 7900 Hybrid car, but it features a much more powerful electric motor that is combined with a 240 hp four-cylinder diesel engine. The bus’s battery is 19 kWh, and the normal 600 volts stored in the on-board battery is lowered to 24 volts for electric-powered features including electric steering, an air compressor for the brakes, and an air conditioning system.

Volvo introduced the 7900 PHEV at the International Auto Show for Commercial Vehicles in Hanover, Germany, held this past September. Delivery contracts with multiple cities across Europe have already been drafted and signed, and the buses will reportedly start making appearances by the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015.

Considering that there has been such growing interest in hybrid electric and bio-diesel vehicles lately, it should come as no surprise that the bus industry is beginning to benefit from environmentally friendly technology — although admittedly, it does come as a surprise to many people that a car manufacturer has taken such an interest in public transportation. Everyone from Volvo researchers to environmental advocates are hoping that the 7900 PHEV will be a success when it first rolls out, and if this is the case, Americans may not have to wait much longer to see these green buses in their cities, too.

Corvina Police Officer Dies After Motorcycle Crash

Emergency services

A 28-year-old police officer with the Corvina Police Department died Tuesday after being thrown from his motorcycle, reported the Los Angeles Times. Officer Jordan Corder was driving southbound on Citrus Ave. when he collided with a northbound vehicle making a left turn in front of him on the same road.

Both Officer Corder and the 75-year-old woman driving the SUV were taken to Citrus Valley Medical Center-Intercommunity Campus. Officer Corder was pronounced dead at 2:41 p.m. The woman was treated for injuries, but no further information on her condition was available.

Corder joined the police force as a community service officer in November of 2006. Less than a year later he was promoted as a police officer, and became part of the traffic unit in May as a motorcycle officer. He received numerous awards, including one from Mothers Against Drunk Driving for making more than 100 DUI arrests. He was also received recognition form the California Highway Patrol and the Automobile Club of Southern California for his work on preventing car theft.

While the collision that resulted in Officer Corder’s death is still under investigation, it is a reminder of the caution that should be taken by all drivers on the road. Motorcyclists are much more vulnerable in vehicle accidents, and fatalities are high for motorcycle collisions.

While drivers need to be cautious when driving in close proximity to motorcycles, motorcyclists also need to take steps to prevent serious injuries. Currently, universal helmet laws for motorcyclists exist in only 19 states across the country, but that doesn’t mean that bikers shouldn’t wear a helmet. This protective gear is often times the difference in a life or death situation.

Corder leaves behind his wife, mother and father, who also served on the Corvina Police Department. Capitol flags were flown at half staff the day following the incident in honor of Officer Corder, and a vigil was held in Corder’s honor Tuesday evening.

5 Tips for Incoming Students

September means that students are flooding back to Hagerstown-area colleges. Here are some settling-in tips for students new to the Hagerstown area:

  1. Enjoy the City
    It’s easy to get wrapped up in campus life, but Hagerstown offers numerous restaurants and attractions that college students can enjoy. There are several museums—some interactive—and historical sites that focus on the canal. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park has beautiful trails for walking or biking and picnic areas for a group afternoon out.
  2. Branch Out
    Familiarize yourself with other cities that you may want to visit on weekend trips. Many cities hold festivals and fairs before winter. Just last weekend, for example, Lynchburg, Virginia, hosted a Get!Downtown festival intended to welcome college students and introduce them to what the city can offer. The event drew a crowd of thousands who watched dancers, acrobats and musicians perform. There were also concessions and craft displays. If you do want to drive a few hours, just make sure to plan in advance so your homework and classes don’t suffer.
  3. Stay Safe
    Moving away from home allows students more freedom, but that also comes with taking increased responsibility for your own safety. Make sure that you have campus security’s number programmed into your cell, and set it on speed dial if possible. Also have an “ICE”—in case of emergency—number, such as a parent, in your contacts so someone else will know who to call if you’re unable to communicate. Never hesitate to call for help if you find yourself in an unfamiliar area or you feel unsafe.
  4. Nest
    Whether you’re living in the dorms or in an apartment, college often offers the opportunity to create your own space. Express your personality, but keep quirky frills low-cost. Spend more money for quality pieces when it comes to important staples that have multiple functions. The word “couch” is Middle English, and comes from the French word “couche,” meaning to “to lie down.” This etymology is suggestive, since getting a comfortable couch is an investment that can provide a place for you and your friends to crash for years to come.
  5. Spend Carefully
    Many new students get into financial trouble, with new credit card offers and a lack of parental guidance adding personal spending problems to a growing student debt load. Keep your entertainment budget low by taking advantage of on-campus events (many of which are free, or covered by student activity fees you are required to pay anyway) and looking for spots that offer student discounts. Always consider used textbooks if available. If you’re in a major that doesn’t use textbooks, you can save on other required reading as well; if your professors don’t mind students having different editions, check out used bookstores around Hagerstown instead of buying everything straight from the campus bookstore or online.

What other tips can you offer to Hagerstown students? What Hagerstown attractions shouldn’t be missed? Share advice on your favorite spots in the comments.

Are You Facebook Friends With the Police?

If you’re not on social media, then chances are most of your friends and family are — a fact that police are using to their advantage.

With an estimated 50-80% of all people from various demographics using some social network or other, it was only natural that the Hagerstown Police Department in Maryland would create an internal social media team to curate department Facebook and Twitter pages, which are being used to post community notices, updates with investigations, and Most Wanted photos.

“It’s just been a real, real eye-opener for us on how the community responds to the department through Facebook,” said Hagerstown Police Department’s Chief Mark Holtzman.

Investigators are saying it’s a great way to communicate with area residents in real time. The department can use citizens’ feedback to solve crimes at a faster pace.

Social media allows us to get that message out immediately, a lot of times asking for help from the public and then in return we get that information a lot quicker,” said Lt. Jim Hurd, a member of the Hagerstown Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division.

The Hagerstown Police Department isn’t the only law enforcement agency to adopt social media as a practice. Prince George’s County Police in Maryland recently planned to live tweet a prostitution sting. Gloucester Township and Mountain View’s Police Department is using Pinterest to help connect lost and found property with respective owners. The New York City Police Department also recently tried to spread goodwill throughout the community by having citizens tweet a photo of themselves with police officers using the hashtag #myNYPD.

According to senior program manager Nancy Kolb at the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Center on Social Media, police adoption of social networking has been especially rapid over this past year.

The Hagerstown Police say that residents have so far embraced their presence on social media, and they hope such high levels of positive community response continue.

“You want to engage your community,” Lt. Hurd notes. “The community is our partner and we can’t do our job without the information we receive from the community.”