Category Archives: Tech

Who the hell needs a $1000 phone? This Apple fan went Android…and loves it!

After owning multiple iPhones and bringing my well-loved, aging MacBook Pro back from the edge of death, there’s no doubt that I loved the Apple products I owned. It’s why I kept going back. The $1800 I spent on my laptop in 2011 has been more than worth it, and my battered iPhone 5 is still trucking it, cracked screen, broken speakers and all. Of course, just when I was finally breaking down, preparing to get a new phone, they had to do it.

Apple finally made me snort, shake my head and laugh, “oh, hell no.”

If there’s one sure way to turn a fan away from your brand, it’s letting your product drain their wallet a bit too much, and with the release of the iPhone X, Apple’s done just that. For this formerly loyal customer, $1000 is far too damn much for a phone. That’s over half of what I paid for my MacBook Pro!

Let’s be clear: Despite being an Apple fan, the main reason I got my previous iPhones was due to the discount deals from my cell phone contract. But that was back when I needed a good data contract because I didn’t work at home. Now that I’m a Project Fi subscriber? I’ve lived on T-Mobile instead of using their carrier switching, which allowed me to use my ragged, free iPhone…after my used Nexus 5x died the month I got it.  (BEWARE the dreaded bootloop!)

I mean, if I’m not going to spend $700 on a Pixel, I’m surely not going to splurge for an iPhone that costs even more. Hell, I bitch all day because Project Fi doesn’t have a $250-range phone!

I do admit, I was a bit disappointed that the new iPhone costs so much. I’ve owned iPhones so long that I was seriously considering biting the bullet. Familiarity, you know? Instead, I went on the hunt to see what I could get that was cheap. That’s where I found just the thing I needed: a low-cost Android that barely touches the money in my bank.

Yes, I bought a damn Amazon Prime Exclusive Alcatel A30 Plus. Go ahead, judge me.

alcatel a30 plus amazon prime exclusive

For $80, this is what I got:

  • 1.5 GHz quad-core processor
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 16 GB internal memory – option for 32 GB expandable memory via microSD
  • 5.5″ HD display
  • 13 megapixel rear-facing camera
  • 5 megapixel front-facing camera

Scoff all you want, phone snobs, but I use my phone maybe once a day. I mostly surf the web on it when laying in bed at night. I could honestly use a damn old-school flip phone and it wouldn’t matter as little as I use a phone, but you know what? It never hurts to splurge a little. I do love to play pool, SimCity and slots, after all.

All joking aside, I’m really surprised at how decent the phone is for so cheap. It won’t surprise me if it dies in a year or starts having issues in the near future. I know what I paid for, and it isn’t high quality. The one thing it is, however, is more flexible than my iPhone.

Nintendo emulator on my phone? Yes please!

Blue light filter? Holy hell, there’s one built in?

You mean I can restore my barely used Nexus 5x info from my Google backup? Niiiccceee.

Dude, my phone has facial recognition? WTF do I need a $1000 iPhone with Face ID then?

I didn’t have my Nexus long, but after using an iPhone again for months and coming back to an Android, I have to admit that I love it. That’s right. This former Apple fan girl has turned to the dark side.

I’m sure some of you will give me hell for taking so long.

Others will tell me that I’ll regret it.

The one thing I know is this: I just saved hundreds of dollars by switching to Android.

I know, I know, I know. They say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. But right now? My wallet sure is!

Thanks, Android!

Orphan Black’s technological prowess set the bar for future TV

The competition between television networks and online streaming services currently is flaming hot. Powerhouses like Game of Thrones are bringing movie-quality battles and storytelling to television, and Netflix and Hulu are developing excellent originals such as Stranger Things and Black Mirror. I’ve never found so much TV to love! This upgrade in show quality also comes with an upgrade in special effects, but there’s one problem: these aren’t the early days. The typical CGI dragons and imaginary future tech no longer impress me; they’re expected! There is, however, one thing that does: the use of technology in the sci-fi series Orphan Black.

Beware: Spoilers right ahead!

Welcome to the trip, man

The concept of the Orphan Black mandates an authentic feel, as the show follows a group of women who find out they are clones. We don’t know exactly how many there are in the world, but the show features over a dozen, each played by Emmy award-winner Tatiana Maslany. Although I’d love to go all fan-girl and glow about the amazing job Tatiana does on the show, I don’t want to provide too many spoilers. Besides, even with her talent, the show wouldn’t be what it is today without a key piece of tech: the technodolly.

Every rule needs to be broken

The trip down technology lane all started with the idea that the clone scenes should look natural. The creators did not want to rely on industry tricks that often looked too fake for comfort, especially if the clones were to interact. Luckily, they found their answer in Technocrane s.r.o.‘s telescoping camera cranes.

Using the company’s motion-control technodolly, the crew’s camera can be both manually controlled and automated. First, the director manually controls the camera to get a good shot. Then, they turn it over to the camera. With the push of a button, it retraces the previous movements exactly. This allows Tatiana to act out a scene as one clone, opposite either a tennis ball placeholder or her double Kathryn Alexandre, then act out the same scene as a different clone.

The results speak for themselves. (Note: I chose early scenes that are not spoiler-heavy. There are much better ones in later seasons!)

The whole process that creates these life-like scenes is pretty cool. For instance, when the creators put each of the takes together, sometimes they wind up with Tatiana’s face and torso but Kathryn’s arm. It takes careful alignment and planning to get the clones just right, but boy are they good at it! So good, in fact, that clone hugs and fights look flawless.

Would you believe we’re clones?

The quality of the clones scenes has spoiled me, really.

I remember watching the fight scene between Chip and Dale on Baskets, and the part where Dale chokes Chip looked horrible to me.

The Parent Trap uses backside shots in the twin scenes, except for in short scenes where a still, close-up frame has the characters together, but nicely spaced apart.

Resident Evil: Afterlife does a decent job. There’s a scene where two Alice clones are fighting together, and although it doesn’t look forced, you could draw a line between the two sides of the screen and neither clone would cross.

Orphan Black Sarah and Alison
Sarah pats Alison on the leg in season 1.

In other words, no one does clones and/or twins quite like Orphan Black. While characters face the viewer, the clones actually touch. Instead of relying on the typical still frame shots, the camera flows though the scenes. These two small changes actually make a huge difference in making you see the clones as individuals, and if you ask any Orphan Black fan, making you forget it’s the same actress playing them all!

I just want to make, like, crazy science with you

Since we also love science around here, I’d be a horrible fan if I didn’t take a moment to also geek out on the reality-based scientific aspects of the show. Yes, we aren’t at the point of seeing human clones walking around yet…that we know of…but that doesn’t mean Orphan Black relies on wild, unrealistic ideas.

Recently, news broke of the first human embryo editing experiment in the United States. Using CRISPR, scientists edited the germline of human embryos to remove a gene that causes a specific disease of the heart, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. In the Orphan Black universe, similar tactics are used, except that intent was, obviously, to  implant the embryo.

There are many other cases where the show is just a step or two off from reality, and there are others that turn out to be current reality, no matter how far-fetched they sound. One example that won’t spoil the plot includes stem cell cosmetic treatment causing bone to grow in a woman’s eyelid. I thought it was something made up for the show, but it wasn’t. Lesson learned: don’t dismiss the science if it sounds outlandish with this show because it just might be reality.

Being a show that “follows the science,” it’s not surprising that it covers themes relevant to current and future scientific research. While there’s the well-known nature versus nurture dilemma, Orphan Black also touches on ideas that are becoming ever-more important to tackle as the science of gene editing advances. For instance, the ethics of experimentation has a constant presence: Is it right to experiment on humans if the product is less suffering and illness across humanity? Then, that ties into eugenics, and even bodily autonomy. Should a scientist get to decide the ideal genetic make up of humanity? If anything, Orphan Black makes you think hard about the questions we will have to answer in coming decades as science breaks through more barriers.

Not everyone will find these topics appealing, but if you’re a bit of a science nerd like me? The science is one of the major things that keeps me coming back for more.

You can’t leave me! No!

Now that I’m done hyping you up, I must break the news: There are only two episodes left of Orphan Black. But even though final episode of the fifth season airs Saturday, August 12th, on BBC America, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to join those of us in Clone Club; it means it’s the perfect time to binge it! 

If you’re ready for the trip, stream or download the show from any of the providers below, including directly from BBC America’s website.

Watch the original trailer:

How to replace the hard drive in a broke ass MacBook Pro

No matter how much you take care of your good buddy the MacBook, something is bound to break as the years go by. For me, it’s many things: a bad optical drive, dead USB ports, a loose screen and a malfunctioning trackpad. It may sound bad, but those were easy to work around. My failing hard drive, however, is not.

Thing is, I can’t blame the damned thing; it’d been through a lot even before I started my freelance career. At the same time, I can’t give my partner a pass this time. It’s impossible to ignore the screeching, clicking, anguished cries of a hard drive about to die.

Thankfully, the threat is no more.

Despite my inability to connect an external drive due to dead USB ports, and my inability to install OS X  via disk due to a bad optical drive, I found a simple way to at least fix the hard drive problem on my broke ass MacBook Pro. If you’re in the same boat, hopefully I can help you, too.

Hard Drive Replacement Shopping List
Step 1

Shut down your laptop and disconnect the power cord. Flip it over and unscrew the case. Be sure to place your screws somewhere safe.

unscrew bottom of macbook pro

Step 2

Disconnect the battery, using these instructions from iFixit.

Step 3

Remove your optical drive (directions can be found here). You’ll notice mine is already missing because, of course, it broke a couple of years ago.

inside of macbook promissing optical drive macbook pro

Step 4

Remove your old hard drive by unscrewing the four screws holding it in place. This also involves removing the black plastic bar on its left side.

remove hard drive macbook pro

Step 5

Disconnect your old hard drive.

disconnect hard drive macbook pro

Step 6

Remove the screws from the sides of your old hard drive and screw them into the sides of your new hard drive.

Step 7

Insert your old hard drive into the new second hard drive caddy, and screw in the side screws.

macbook pro hard drive caddy

macbook pro hard drive caddy

Step 8

The connections that run over and around your optical drive should still be loose from step 1. Carefully move them out of the way just enough to insert your hard drive caddy beneath them.

Step 9

Turn your hard drive caddy face down and connect it to the old optical drive’s connector. Then place it and secure the connections.

optical drive connector macbook pro

2nd hard drive macbook pro

Step 10

Connect your new hard drive and screw it in.

macbook pro with two hard drives

Step 11

Reattach the back cover.

bottom of macbook pro

Step 12

Boot up your laptop. It will boot to your old hard drive by default.

Step 13

Open up disk utility. Select your new hard drive, then click “Erase.” You will see the following pop-up:

disk utility

Pick a name for your new hard drive. There’s no need to change the format or scheme. Then, click “Erase.”

Step 14

Shut down your computer, then restart while holding Command + Option + R. This will start OS X recovery utilities, from which you’ll select “Reinstall OS X.”

Recovery Mode OS X

Step 15

Choose your new hard drive for as the destination disk and follow the on-screen instructions.

Step 16

On restart, set up your laptop as usual. (My computer restarted and booted to the new installation. If yours does not, on restart hold Option and select the new disk.)

Step 17

When everything is up and good to go, make sure your system is set to use the new hard drive as the startup disk.

Open the settings panel and click “Startup Disk.”

mac settings

Unlock to make changes, then select the new drive.

macbook utilities

Step 18

Transfer needed files. If you need to move files from your old hard drive, it will appear as a drive in the side bar of the Finder window. You can then explore the files on the drive and find what you need. It’s as easy as drag and drop!

From this point forward, you can choose what to do with your old drive. If you did this to install a second drive, then feel free to erase the old one and use it to store files or as a time machine backup. If your hard drive was failing like mine, you can always replace it with a new one or just leave it until you decide. I was lazy, so guess which I picked.

All in all, the process was not hard. Although I thought it would be a pain, especially since I have so many problems with my laptop, it wasn’t even time-consuming. Hell, I didn’t even have a Torx screwdriver, and improvising with pliers was only slightly more difficult. There was no frustrated hair pulling, no throwing things, and I did not break anything on my laptop during the process. It was actually–dare I say it–kind of fun!

So here’s a lesson for the day: Even when everything seems stacked against you, use your thinker, consider a new idea and dive right in! You’ll be amazed at what you can do when you finally try.

Goodbye, Microsoft Paint! It’s been 32 years too long…

With the upcoming release of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, one of most well-known graphics editing programs is on the chopping block. That’s right, MS Paint is listed as a program that is “not in active development and might be removed in future releases.” Am I allowed to say it’s about time?

I won’t deny that I spent a ton of time using Paint is a kid. But that was back pre- and during Windows XP. Before I was introduced to Photoshop and other programs. I mean, I know some meme-makers all over the web still use it, but I simply cannot remember the last time I used Paint.

Think about it. Just with Paint 3D and Paint.net, it’s outdated, and when you can also use Canva, Pixlr or Vectr or download free programs like GIMP, it’s really time to move on. Besides, after 32 years, Paint had a nice, long run!

So while we don’t know Paint’s official funeral date, I’m happy to kick off the goodbyes.

See ya later, MS Paint!

You won’t be missed in this household, but I’m sure low-grade meme-masters everywhere will be saddened by your retirement.

Update: Due to outpouring of support for MS Paint, Microsoft has announced that the program will be available for free on the Windows Store.

6 must-have, but often overlooked, apps and products for working at home

There are a number of reasons I love working at home. The flexibility of my schedule, hours spent working with a dog in my lap, ease of grabbing a cup of coffee and starting work in PJs. It is stressful at times with due dates and workloads, but for the most part, there are few downsides. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t small ways to make the home office life even better.

When you sit for hours at a time, something as simple as a back pillow can make a huge difference. If you’re like me, short and with arthritis in the knees, a comfortable, properly sized chair can limit pain. With a hectic schedule, nothing’s better than a good old planner or wall calendar. But these are the usual office go-to’s.

If you’re looking to improve your work-at-home space, think outside the box and consider the following products.

6. Lap Desk

Sometimes sitting at a desk all day just doesn’t cut it. But it’s uncomfortable to lean over a coffee table. Plus, laptops get hot when in a lap for long periods. The best remedy is a lap desk, and this one is an upgrade from your basic one.

Recommendation: Sofia + Sam Multi Tasking Memory Foam Lap Desk with USB Light

Sofia + Sam Lap Desk

  • Slide-out side table
  • Memory foam bottom, wrist rest, handle for transport
  • Slots to hold mobile devices (side table) and larger tablets (main table)
  • USB light that’s removable to plug in other USB devices (requires 4 AA batteries)

If you enjoy working on the couch or in the recliner like I do, lap desks like these are practically necessary.

Buy It: Amazon | Walmart

5. Multi-Device Desk Charging Station

Do you have a quite a few devices that you tend to leave everywhere? I do. My cell phone, tablet, laptop, kindle. I move my cords all over the place, too. One place to keep my devices for charging prevents me from wasting time. Like those 20 minutes wasted when I just needed to load my iPad with photography gig details.

Recommendation: MobileVision Bamboo Charging Station & Multi Device Organizer Slim Version for Smartphones, Tablets, and Laptops

MobileVision Bamboo Charging Station

This dock provides plenty of space for devices as large as laptops; because the weight is evenly distributed and there are magnets to keep the top and bottom together, there is no fear of tipping. Word has it that the middle slots are wide enough to fit iPads with OtterBox cases. The bottom has space for a multi-USB charger (not included) so everything can charge in one spot.

Buy It: Amazon

4. Noise-Cancelling Headphones

When you need to concentrate on audio or just need to drown out the noise around you, nothing’s better than noise-cancelling headphones. If you’ve ever worn ear plugs, you know they muffle noise only to a point, and that wearing them for long periods can be itchy, sometimes painful. However, with the right set of headphones, you can shut out even more sound.

High-Price Recommendation: Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones

Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones

  • 20 hours wireless use; 40 for wired use
  • Bluetooth or NFC pairing
  • Voice controls
  • Lightweight, comfortable
  • Balanced audio performance
  • Noise-rejecting dual microphone system

Buy It: Bose.com | Best Buy

Lower-Price Recommendation: Paww WaveSound 3 Bluetooth Headphones

Paww WaveSound 3 Bluetooth Headphones

  • Wireless
  • 16 hour battery
  • Bluetooth connection
  • Foldable and rechargeable
  • Blocks up to 23 dB of noise
  • Turn noise cancellation on/off
  • Built-in microphone for use with smartphone

Buy It: Amazon | Paww.com

3. Cup Warmer

I am the world’s worst about getting busy and letting my coffee or tea get cold. That means either trips back and forth to the microwave or lukewarm coffee after topping it off from the pot. Best solution? A cup warmer for the desk! Not only does it save time, it keeps my caffeine intake at the ideal for long days and nights.

Recommendation: Norpro Decorative Cup Warmer

Norpro Decorative Cup Warmer

The Norpro cup warmer holds up to a 3.75-inch cup of coffee or tea. Its nonstick plate heats up just enough to keep your drink warm, and in case of spills, the surface is easy to clean. The wall cord reaches a nice 5 feet.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Task management app

Paper and digital calendars are helpful for keeping up with to-do’s, and everyone’s fell into the lap of Big Sticky Note, but nothing really beats a good task-management app that can do it all.

Recommendation: Wunderlist

Wunderlist

  • Build a to-do, grocery or other list
  • Create reminders, due dates and to-do’s with deadlines
  • Add notes and hashtags, or organize into folders
  • Print, or create push or e-mail notifications
  • Share lists and reminders with friends, coworkers or employees
  • E-mail things to your list, or add websites straight from your browser

Wunderlist is available for any platform you need–Android, iPhone, Mac and PC–as well as with browser plugins for Chrome, FireFox and Safari. You can download the app to your phone and desktop, and they’ll sync as you update them from anywhere. It’s really the best app for organization.

Download It: Wunderlist

1. Portable Scanner

Having digital copies of everything is practically mandatory these days. For one, it’s easier to organize items. Two, that makes it easy to later look them up. Three, it often means you have duplicate copies, so if the paper document is lost, there is a backup. It’s just good policy, both for personal reasons and for business reasons.

For instance, I have a tendency to misplace my business receipts. Once my printer’s scanner broke, I started taking pictures of everything.  Problem is, they’re not always the clearest. Plus, emailing pictures of business documents? That lack of clarity isn’t professional either. So, instead of relying on pictures from my iPhone, I broke down and bought a portable scanner–and it’s been a dream!

Recommendation: Epson WorkForce DS-30 Portable Document Scanner

epson document scanner

Scan your documents directly to cloud services with this portable scanner. With up to 600 dpi resolution, scans up to 8.5″ x 14″ come out clear. The scanner works quickly, and it even can create editable and searchable PDFs. Mac and PC compatible, it features a USB connection, and software such as Epson Document Capture Pro (Windows), ABBYY FineReader, NewSoft and Page Manager (Mac) provide enhanced functionality.

Buy It: BestBuy

A love-hate relationship with my 6-year-old macbook pro

I’ll be honest: I’ve been an Apple fangirl since high school. After growing up on PCs, the first computer I purchased for myself was a used Powerbook G4 off of eBay. The second was a Macbook in 2009. The third was the late 2011 MacBook I’m typing this on. The one that’s now, you know, trying to kick the bucket. And I’m determined to fix it.

An old friend

We’ve been through some important things together. I bought it while finishing my bachelor’s degree. Used it to type the short story for my grad school acceptance. Spent hours writing term papers, doing research, and drafting the first chapters to a novel for my senior thesis. A novel which I’m still writing and planning to publish. I started my freelance career with this laptop!

In other words, I have spent and do spend a lot of time on it. And besides being old and used a ridiculous amount, I have had no major issues with it. Which is why I’m so irritated right now.

It all goes down hill

The first thing that failed was the CD drive. Initially, it stopped burning DVDs. Then, it stopped reading discs. Was it a big deal? Nah. I very rarely need the disc drive. Not long ago, I even took it out and trashed it.

usb

Next to go were the USB ports. It started with just the top one. I noticed that my phone charged while plugged in, but nothing transferred, and my mouse did not work. A few months later, neither port worked. The only bad thing? Using a Bluetooth mouth sucks. Oh well.

Then, I noticed my screen was wobbling. Adjusting its angle shows the connection is loose on the left side. It doesn’t impact the screen itself, so who knows? I guess as long as I’m careful, the electronic connections won’t break. I’m certainly too terrified to remove the screen and try to tighten the screws myself.

What’s next? Oh! My trackpad. I like to physically push and click. Now I have it set to tap because most of the time my trackpad will not click except in certain spots. This, combined with a crapy Bluetooth mouse connection, means gaming is an absolute chore.

No problem, right? I can live with all of that, even if it’s annoying.

One thing I can’t live with is a failing hard drive.

The final straw

It began with a sound.

Click, click, click. Click, click, click. Low, weird screeching. Click, click.

Rinse. Repeat. Until it drives me absolutely crazy.

See, I thought it was my DVD drive. It sounded like it was coming from that location, but when I took it out, it still happened.

hard driveThen, I thought it was the fan. Until my computer started locking up during the noise. Over and over again.

I backed up all my files to the desktop PC I bought for gaming just in case it finally crapped out. I deleted anything extra except for basic programs, and I’m only using it for work and surfing the internet.

It still makes that damned noise, which at times makes me want to throw it across the room. Perhaps it’s just hopeless.

They say if you love it, let it go

I just can’t though. Although I do love my desktop PC for gaming and working, I love my laptop for surfing the net and writing while the boyfriend watches TV.  And so I can work anywhere, anytime. I can’t afford a new MacBook Pro, and I don’t want a PC laptop. What can I say? I’m partial to my buddy here.

That’s why I’m going to attempt a rescue.

Updating and fixing a MacBook Pro

Luckily for me, in pre-2013 models, there are some things you can do to either update your MacBook’s performance or fix certain problems. (Newer models, however,  have fewer options, so hit the Google before you open yours up.) Some of it is easy, some more challenging.

For instance, I upgraded my laptop’s memory a couple of years ago. (see on Apple’s website MacBook Pro: How to remove or install memory). It was as simple as looking up the max memory for the model (for me, 16 GB), making a purchase, loosening some screws, and swapping it out. In my case, it made a nice difference in performance.

Got a bad disc drive or want to swap it out? Removing the optical drive is a bit more difficult because here are many connections and cables that run on or around the drive. This includes speaker and Airport/Bluetooth assemblies. If you don’t have the proper tools, like I didn’t, it’s not going to be easy. Make sure to have them on hand, and use a good guide to walk you through it.

I changed out a malfunctioning fan. Again, all it took was removing the case, unhooking the fan cable, unscrewing it, then hooking up the new one. iFixit has great guides for this.

I don’t yet have the nerve to mess with my screen, but if you’re having a problem similar to mine, iFixit’s display guide can help.  I’d be cautious if you’re not used to working with the guts of a computer.

There are many good sites and articles out there to help fix your particular Macbook problem. Don’t be afraid to check them out if you have some technical ability. But also don’t be afraid to go to the professionals if you don’t. 

Since I already completed a few changes and repairs, such as a couple of the above, the current job doesn’t seem too significant. Until you remember the problems I outlined previously.

think outside the box

Problem-solving: don’t be afraid to think outside the box

Let’s recap: my USB ports don’t work, I don’t have a CD drive, and my hard drive is crapping out. So how in the world will I install a new hard drive if I can’t hook it up to format it as Mac OS Extended? Install the operating system from a USB drive or a disc?

I could buy a new optical drive, but what’s the point when I’m only using it to set up a new hard drive?

I could buy an adapter to turn my Thunderbolt outlet into a USB plug, but would it even work without the OS X operating system installed?

It seems like there’s only one choice at this point.

If you haven’t heard, that old optical drive bay can be converted to a second hard drive bay. And that’s exactly what I plan to do:

  1. Buy a hard drive caddy made just for this
  2. Buy two new hard drives
  3. Insert one hard drive into the caddy
  4. Insert the caddy into the old CD drive slot
  5. Boot from my usual hard drive, then format the new one using Disk Utility
  6. Install OS X onto the new drive
  7. Replace the old drive with the new
  8. Set up the 2nd new hard drive
  9. Hope nothing else craps out in the process

I’m not saying it’s going to be fun. Heck, it may not even be worth it if something else important breaks. But I’m not going to let my temporary hate for this damned laptop make me do something rash when my problem is entirely fixable.

So stay tuned, dear reader, because in the next week or two, I’ll be taking you through the process with me.

 

5 new medical technologies that will ‘wow’ you!

Despite seeing the benefits of technological innovation in our everyday lives—from computers in the palm of your hand to self-driving cars, lab-grown meat to designer babies—we often don’t think about how these things are possible, and this is especially true in the realm of medical and biological research. The simple reason? For many, science is just plain hard to understand.

Do you know how scientists isolate genes, mix and match for genetic modification?

How about the techniques involved in the search for an HIV cure?

Have you ever looked into the new cancer treatment therapies undergoing clinical trial?

I love learning how these things work. Yet, in no way do I understand every piece of science underlying these and other medical research tactics. At the same time, these are more important to everyone’s future than, say, the latest cell phone.

Look, I get it. The evening news finds it easier to explain why wine is great for heart health than how the latest advance in molecular cancer therapy works. It’s easy to understand. Plus, people love an excuse to eat or drink something they normally feel they shouldn’t. But is there a way to bring biomedical innovation to a bigger spotlight? I say yes.

The average person may not understand how stem cell therapy works, or how and why you’d put human genes in a mouse.  What do they love, though? Technology. Show a robot doing something cool or artificial intelligence beating a human in a task, and they’re hooked.

So, in the spirit of showing off biomedical advances you probably haven’t heard of, check out these cool technologies that may one day help save your life.

Robots improve upon designer microbes

Zymergen is a rising star in the biotech industry, having raised $130 million in 2016 to power their robot factory. A robot factory that takes genetically engineered microbes out of human hands and improves them using artificial intelligence.

microbiologistFirst, the robots are much more precise than humans. For instance, instead of pipetting liquid like human scientists, Zymergen robots use sound waves to send a ripple through the liquid. This results in a more precise, specifically a thousand-times smaller, droplet landing in the selected container.

Also, the robots are fast. Instead of testing maybe a dozen hypotheses a month, Zymergen’s robots can run up to 1000 experiments a week. With each experiment for a specific microbe, the computer system collects the data, then uses it to design further experiments. While there are human scientists checking the work, the artificial intelligence is the one making the decisions as to what to edit in the microbe’s genome. And so it goes until they hit something that works.

Right now, Zymergen’s robots revise and improve upon industrial microbes, such as biofuels, drugs, etc.,  that were already human engineered, finding any flaws and improving the product in ways humans may miss. The hope, however, is to one day have AI take control from the start.

Read more about Zymergen’s technology in Science.

A handheld heart scanner? European scientists hope to put them in doctors’ hands

In 2015, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 project provided a €3.6 million research grant to fund the development of CARDIS (CARdiovascular disease Detection with Integrated Silicon Photonics), a handheld doppler scanner to diagnose heard conditions.   It works like a supermarket scanner and can provide results much faster and cheaper than current methods. With cardiovascular disease listed as the leading cause of death in the world today, this new diagnostic tool is a possible game-changer in the healthcare world.

Using Laser Doppler Vibrometry, medical practitioners point the device to the chest, where it detects any change in vibration of light or sound waves and maps the chest and heart area. This allows doctors to detect conditions, such as possible stiffness in the arteries, build-up of plaque and arterial stenosis, long before cardiovascular disease is typically diagnosed.

cardis handheld doppler scanner

There are a number of reasons to hope 2018’s prototype lives up to the hype.

  1. It’s thousands of dollars cheaper than other tools. For this reason, researchers hope to put it in the hands of doctors for in-office procedures.
  2. It’s noninvasive. There’s no need for examining cardiac biomarkers, performing cardiac catheterization, cardiac MRI or Holter monitoring. Instead, CARDIS, due to its inexpensive and portable nature, can get a quick, early diagnosis to slow or reverse cardiovascular disease.
  3. It’s more accurate than other tests and provides results in a fraction of the time.

Read more about the project on the CARDIS website.

Hate shots? Microneedle vaccinations are on the way

While I don’t personally mind most shots, I understand why both adults and kids have a fear of needles. They’re long, they go in places they seemingly shouldn’t, and they just look like they’ll hurt. Plus, some medical professionals aren’t the greatest at limiting the pain for even the simplest shots. Or hitting the vein the first time. The good news is that science is working to make the whole process a little more comfortable.

Using dissolvable microneedles, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University have developed a pain-free patch for vaccine delivery.  The dime-sized patch contains 100 water-soluable microneedles, and it’s so easy to use that they hope to eventually be able to mail you your flu vaccine.

According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s as simple as using a Band Aid:

Adhesive helps the patch grip the skin during the administration of the vaccine, which is encapsulated in the needles and is released as the needle tips dissolve, within minutes. The patch is peeled away and discarded like a used bandage strip.

They’re also safe for storage and disposal. Patches last for one full year without refrigeration, and you can toss them in the regular trash, no sharps container needed.

So far, the results speak for themselves. A 100-person clinical trial of 18- to 49-year-olds showed that flu vaccine patches and regular injections were equally as effective, and 70 percent of participants stated they would choose the patches over injections or nasal sprays. With such outcomes, it’s easy to imagine that, if this were to hit the market, parents would happily choose the painless option not only for themselves, but especially for their children.

Now researchers are seeking to conduct further trials in order to gain FDA approval. Even better, they’re also already working to develop patches for other vaccines.

Of course, there are going to be vaccines that may not transition to such a patch because they require deep penetration via intramuscular injection to be most effective. On the other hand, who is going to complain when fewer vaccines require normal needles? I’m sure not!

3D printing could revolutionize biomedicine

While doctors in Brazil are now using fish skin to treat wounds, multiple research groups from around the world are taking a different approach: 3D-printed human skin.

Scientists in Madrid, Spain, created a prototype 3D bioprinter that successfully prints functional human skin that’s transplant-ready. The bioinks are created with stock industrial cells or even cells from the patient’s own body. Just like your printer, the ‘inks’ are inserted into cartridges, which are inserted into a specialty printer and used for printing. They hope to have the printer on the commercial market for use in burn centers within 2 years.

Instead of printing skin to later use on wounds, researchers from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are testing printing skin directly onto wounds. For their method, wound depth and size are determined with a scanner, then the details are used by the printer to print the correct kind of skin cell at the appropriate depth. Now in the second phase of their trial, researchers are testing whether a type of stem cell from the amniotic fluid or the placenta helps heal wounds.

The implications for either technique are massive. Not only can 3D printing reduce the scarring and minimize or eliminate skin-grafting surgeries, it can provide coverage for larger areas of skin and perhaps even shorten healing time. It also has the potential to provide a low-cost alternative for countries, like Brazil, who have a shortage of skin bank availability.

Even more importantly, it opens up the possibility for 3D printing of other biological materials vital to human life, such as patches of blood vessels for the ischemic heart; ear, bone, and muscle structures; nerves; and human organs.

3D imaging in medical scans

Using 3D imaging in medicine isn’t exactly new, but EchoPixel is kicking it up a notch. This new tool creates interactive, 3D holographic images of CT and MRI scans. Medical professionals can move, dissect and size parts of the patient anatomy, manipulating holograms to get a full view of the organs and better pinpoint disease.

According to the EchoPixel website, there are five key advantages to the technology:

  1. Real-Time, Interactive Virtual Reality System: True 3D moves beyond the flat screen, displaying real patient anatomy in open 3D space, with instant response and seamless interaction capabilities.

  2. Optimal Image Strategy: Anatomical information is tailored to be procedure-specific, easily accessible and unobstructed.

  3. Effortless Interpretation: True 3D provides the required visual context, with no extraneous information, significantly lowering the cognitive load for doctors.

  4. Engaging User Interface: It’s intuitive to use. Specialized tools enable users to directly grasp, dissect and size key clinical features with one move.

  5. Advanced Protocols and Sharing: Expert-derived protocols facilitate specific procedures, allowing doctors to create rich data, share it with others, and improve the utility of the system across the network of users.

The video below shows how it works.

It will be interesting to see how the technology helps to improve diagnosis as it achieves more widespread use.

Other technologies to keep an eye on

New technology to manipulate cells could help treat Parkinson’s, arthritis, other diseases

Scientists replay movie encoded in DNA

Soft robot helps the heart beat

3D-printed robot aims to fight cancer

New ‘smart needle’ to make brain surgery safer

Laser printing with nanoparticles holds promise for medical research

First off the assembly line: Tesla Model 3

The first Tesla Model 3 is officially here. You’ll never guess who the slick black car goes to!

…Elon Musk.

Normally the first person who pays full price gets the first car to roll out of production, but apparently Musk wasn’t on top of things for the Model 3. Instead, he was gifted the spot as a birthday present from the person who placed the first order.

The rest of the customers at the top of the list can expect first deliveries around July 28th.

Here are some of the specs for Tesla’s new model:

  • Starts at $35,000 before incentives
  • Compact four-door sedan
  • At 184 in. long, approx. 1 ft shorter than Model S
  • Gets around 215 miles on a single charge
  • 0 to 60 in less than 6 seconds
  • Comes with Tesla’s Autopilot
  • Tesla Supercharger compatible, but a a per-charge cost
  • Available with Ludicrous mode, like the Model S

It’s still not affordable enough for me, but it sure would be cool to have one!

Happy 4th of July! 7 scientific and technological events on this day in history

President Roosevelt sends first worldwide message via cable

On July 4, 1903, FDR sent the first message to ever travel around the globe via the Pacific Cable, wishing "a happy Independence Day to the US, its territories and properties..." It took 9 minutes to reach the entire world.

Mars Pathfinder lands a rover on Mars

On Independence Day in 1997, the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft landed on Mars, bringing with it a base station and the Sojourner rover. Lasting almost three months, Pathfinder transmitted 16,500 pictures and 8.5 million measurements from the surface of Mars.

Vermont hits record high

Back in 1911, the 4th of July saw a new record high in Vernon, Vermont. The temperature hit 105 degrees! 

Maryland sees record rainfall

A downpour on July 4, 1956, caused Unionville, Maryland, to gain a record it keeps today: most rainfall in one minute.
A whopping 1.22 inches fell! 

Explorer 38 (aka RAE 1) is launched

Following its Independence Day launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Explorer 38 went on to measure celestial radio sources. According to NASA, "the RAE-1 spacecraft measured the intensity of celestial radio sources, particularly the sun, as a function of time, direction, and frequency (0.2 to 20 MHz)."

Hotmail email goes live

Now branded as Outlook, the free email service Hotmail (first stylized as HoTMaiL, as in HTML) launched on July 4, 1996.

 NASA collides spacecraft with comet, for science

On July 3, 2005, NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft released an impactor, a self-propelled craft that moves to collide with the comet. The impactor took photos near the comet's surface right before impact with the surface on July 4th. From this experiment, scientists discovered ice, dust, and carbon-containing materials on the surface of Tempel 1, the comet in question.

5 must-have gadgets for camping enthusiasts

From around age 11 to 16, I spent almost every other summer weekend camping with my family. Whether it was on the campground or hiking trails in the state park, we spent tons of time around campfires or sleeping in tents. They’re some of my favorite memories, but there are some things I would change.

For instance, I spent a lovely night shivering in a wet tent, blankets and everything damp. I bathed in some stinky, spider-filled bathrooms. Dried my hair with a hand dryer. Drank some nasty instant coffee. Lost flashlights and ran out of lantern batteries. Enjoyed a late-night hike because we got lost on an unfamiliar trail (and the wonderful stepdad refused to turn around).

Plus, we didn’t have smartphones back then, so no matter how bored you got some days, only family was there to entertain you. There was no hand-held GPS, telephone, camera, etc., all-in-one. There were paper maps, and texting was still new. People still used beepers. So if you got lost? Better hope for a crappy signal or just keep walking a trail until you pop out somewhere. When it got dark, you sat around the campfire until bedtime because there was nothing else to do, no iPads, or Kindles, or games to play on your phone.

Kids these days, man. They just don’t know the struggle.

Don’t get me wrong.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t change the way we did things then. I cherish those memories and the time spent together. However, now as an adult with no kids, I will happily take advantage of the advances made since.

So in the spirit of making future camping memories a little more high-tech and pleasant, here are some gadgets I want to try on future trips. They may not fix all of the hiccups along the way, but a little tech sure can’t hurt.

5. Sunjack Camplight

Sunjack Camplight

Battery-powered lights were the thing back when I camped regularly, but not this type. Gone are the days of leaky D-batteries crusting up your lantern. With gadgets like the Sunjack Camplight, you can have USB-powered light at your disposal.

Features:

  • Chain together 3 bulbs with their USB female ports
  • 7-foot long cord with an on/off switch
  • Power with any USB source

Combined with the Sunjack power bank, you can light your campsite for up to 800 hours for one LED light. Heck, grab a power bank for your cell phone while you’re at it, and you’ll never need a flashlight or lantern for camping again.

Buy it: Amazon |

4. Camping Coffee Maker

Okay, so this one isn’t so hot on the technology, but if you’re a coffee-lover like me, it might as well be. For one, drinking instant coffee just isn’t my thing. I’m also not a percolator fan, and there aren’t many rechargeable coffee makers out there. But one thing I do have is a propane-powered camp stove, which provides two good options, both from Coleman.

Coleman Camping Coffee Maker

The cheaper option is the Coleman Camping Coffeemaker, which makes 10 cups. If you already have a propane stove to use, you can simply sit this one on the flame. Once the water starts to boil, your coffee will start a brewin’. In about 10 minutes, you’re ready to enjoy.

Buy it: Amazon | Coleman

Coleman QuikPot Propane Coffeemaker

The next level up is the Coleman QuikPot Propane Coffeemaker. Start your morning off right with 10 cups of coffee using the coffeemaker and a propane tank. The propane hooks right to it, and with the touch of a button, you’ll have a fresh cup of morning bliss in 18 minutes.

Buy it: BassPro | Walmart

3. iNiCE Rechargeable Pocket Hand Warmer + Charger

iNiCE Hand Warmer and Power Bank Camping Tech

Not everyone enjoys camping during warmer months. For those who prefer trips during cool fall nights (like me) or even winter, this multi-tool gadget might be perfect for you. It not only works to heat your chilly fingers but also has a flashlight and serves as a power bank to charge your phone or other gadgets (maybe even your camplight!).

Buy it: Amazon

2. Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit

Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit Camping Hiking

Camping or hiking into the great outdoors, beyond your typical campground? Don’t let your phone, GPS, or other battery-powered gear go dead. This solar kit can store energy and charge your devices. It’s weatherproof, light, and foldable, and you can even hang it off of your backpack to charge while you’re on the go.

Buy it: REI

1.  Goal Zero Yeti 400 Portable Power Station

Goal Zero Yeti 400 Portable Power Station Camping

Forget carrying solar panels, grabbing a bunch or power banks, or, dare I say it, going without electronics. The only portable power station you need is right here, with USB, AC, and 12V outputs. Power up to 7 devices at a time, including phones, laptops, cameras, small appliances, and lights. It charges via AC wall outlet in only 5 hours, and you can even chain it with outer 33Ah lead-acid batteries. Plus, it can serve as backup power for outages in the home, as it’s all electric—no danger of fumes, no need for gas.

Buy it: Amazon | Goal Zero