EMF Camp 2016!

Warning: This is a long one. Maybe I should have split it down into 3 posts….

I was lucky enough to get myself a free ticket to this year’s ElectroMagnetic Fields Camp through a competition I found out about from Codebar Brighton. All I had to do was send them an email about why I felt under-represented in tech and then Yelp Engineering provided 4 of us with free tickets. Yay!

ElectroMagnetic Fields (EMF) is a non-profit festival run almost entirely by volunteers, and it is an incredible festival at that. I was pretty overexcited when I got a ticket and went through the line up of talks and workshops trying to prioritise what I should go to.

I was the first of our Codebar group to get there, set up camp in the middle of the festival and immediately started getting stuck in. The first day consisted of:
A mental health workshop – this was run by Andrew Gordon and took a look at mental health in a similar way to how I had done in education, there was a lot of discussion and studying of a real life case study before and twist in the narrative. A very engaging and thinky talk, if you have a chance to go to any of his stuff in the future, I would really recommend it.
3D printed sculptures of 4D things – Brain twisting and confusing, mathematically 4D shapes can’t exist but in the world of this talk they could and this was proved by 3D printing their shadows (No, I don’t really understand either). Fascinating but brain hurty. Talk by Henry Segerman
An Introduction to Mixology – Yum! Thanks to Ryan Alexander, I learnt how to make my first Old Fashioned (and yes, the bourbon was provided!). Tasting along every step really showed how each ingredient affects the flavour – an interesting, funny and rather scrummy hour!
A talk on Sex Robots – Yes, sex robots have been invented. What would you want yours to look like? a humanoid or something far from human? What will happen to the data stored in that? What if your sex-robot rejects you for the toaster? And other bonkers questions take seriously in that line of research from Kate Devlin. You can read her article on why we should be researching sex robots, not banning them, here.
Swing Dancing for Engineers – Hot, sweaty and good fun! It was packed out and there was hardly enough room to move let alon dance, but we managed it with a lot of laughs and tech jokes along the way.
After the talks it was time for a wander round the site looking at cool installations and meeting nice new people. Firepong, musical fire, LED garden, giant guitar hero with massive LED lights. Yes, basically lot’s of music, fire and colourful lights.

The next morning I got up bright and early (after a terrible and freezing night’s sleep) and left the others still getting themselves together to go off to a couple more talks.
Radios – A talk by amateur radio operators about how they’re involved in emergencies when the internet fails.
Socio-technical evolution – Igor Nikolic looked at Darwinism and how it is relevant to evolution today – including the use of technology by individuals and societies.
Building an open source political platform – This was a brilliant workshop. Open source politics is a system which everyone can be involved in. This version uses a Github repository and direct democracy. Anyone can submit policy ideas and then they’re voted on by other contributors. Through this repo, a politcal party was formed by James Smith (called Something New) and even had a couple of candidates stand for election in 2015 on the manifesto of the people. We got involved and added our own policy ideas too.
Badge Hack – As part of the ticket, each participant of EMFCamp was given an electornic badge. These came fully kitted out with LED screens, connected to WIFI, had snake inbuilt and even had their own phone numbers for SMS. They were incredible. In this workshop we were shown how to add an LED light to the badge and write a little python script to make a torch app on our badges. This was my first time writing python and my first time soldering something! No injuries – whoop!
Hebocon – We all know and love robot wars, awesome robots fighting to the death with cool weapons and tactics etc. Hebocon? Not so much tech and wonder, much more hilarity. A hebocon is a robot wars between crap robots. There were some fantastically shit robots submitted and 32 fought it out (or tried not to fall of the table and actually make contact with each other). One robot, for example, consisted of a Pikachu stuffed toy mounted on an egg timer. Another, was a fan from a laptop. Yet another was a wind-up penguin shieled inside a plastic cup (that one came second!). It was fantastically funny and I’m defitnely going to be on the look out for more to watch in the future.

After that I got some food and chilled out with people for a bit. We wandered around, meeting new people and taking cool light photos.

After a suprisingly good sleep I got up and again left the others to get themselves together whilst I started the day
VR workshop – I was super excited to get involved in this workshop. Armed with my laptop, Google Cardboard and smartphone I managed to create a very basic world in virtual reality just using HTML and Aframe.JS. This was so satisfying and defintely something I want to continue playing with! Massive thanks to Michael Straeubig for the workshop!
Realtime Web – I’m going to be honest, this workshop went a little over my head (and from the chatter I wasn’t the only one). It didn’t seem to lend itself to a workshop so well as only a few people could code at once but they did create some pretty cool stuff which affected each of our computer screens at once – such as changing the colour of a browser when a button was pressed to a colour we’d individually selected earlier.
A talk on how data is used in and from schools – This one was kind of scary in some ways. Schools are now being told to provide the government with country of birth details from students – this can’t be good. In light of the uncertainty from Brexit it might scare parents off sending their children to school in case it leads to deportation or something. Also the government have a database of details of every under 35 year old in the UK – acadmeic things from when we were at school and such like. All this can be passed on to compaines too…. Concerning eh? Find out more
Meditation for Hackers – I ended the festival with 2 hours of being taught meditation techniques. Nice. My favourite was to focus on all the sounds around you, try to focus on one particular one, then try to focus on two, then three. It’s hard and it doesn’t matter if you stop at 1 or 2 sounds, but it definitely shuts my brain up!

Unfortunately EMF Camp is only bi-annual. The next one isn’t until 2018 – booo! But for now we can satisfy that itch by watching the talks from this year here.

 

A Trip to Hungary

I came across this website called workaway where users can trade skills (physical labour, web development etc) in return for food and accommodation. This idea appealed to me quite a lot as a way of travelling on the cheap and getting to experience new cultures. After a couple of days of being on the site I was contacted asking if I would like to go out to Hungary to build a website for a dog and horse ranch. Yes Please! I’d been to Budapest a couple of time already  knew I loved the city so was excited at the prospect of visiting the more rural parts of Hungary.

The ranch was gorgeous. A stretch of land with woods and a little house and lot’s of grounds for the animals. Speaking of which, there were 40 dogs plus pups, 10 horses, 10 goats, some cats, some birds and a rescued terrapin who’d just layed eggs! The animals weren’t worked in a typical farm sense, but some of the dogs are going to be trained up in search and rescue which sounds pretty awesome.

The ranch was being set up to be a centre for people do have animal related therapy as well as participate in dog training and other workshops. My role was initially to develop a website to promote this as a non-profit organisation to get sponsorship to help set up the ranch fully. However, there wasn’t very good wifi signal which made it hard to devote time to the site. I did venture out into the little town a couple of times to use a cafe to start the process but the world was conspiring against me and just as I was making progress my laptop charger broke and nowhere in the town sold them.

Putting the website to one side I got stuck in with the more physical work – from building fences to picking cherries and making jam, from cooking to walking the dogs. It was brilliant. Such a vast change from sitting here at my desk looking out at a busy roundabout working on at a screen all day! The trip was made even more of an ‘experience’ by the lack of drinking water on the farm (we had to fill up as many water bottles as possible on the bi-weekly shopping trip to town, but we could use a pump on the farm to get non-drinking water) the lack of electricity and the heatwave (36 degrees most days!). It felt so good to get back to nature (even if it was far more primitive than we had expected).

My friend, the other workawayer, the host and myself quickly formed a little family – the four of us and the animals. It was fab. Made even better by being able to see the stars each night, which was definitely one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. I’m planning on finishing the website as soon as I can and hoping to go back out and visit in the not too distant future.

 

A Quick Catch Up & Results

So, I’ve finally found an opportunity to sit at my desk again and breathe. It’s been a pretty manic two months – hence the silence on here.

I had a little look back at my previous posts which were from May 18th, right before the hectic rush of deadlines and exams. So, I guess I’ll have a little back look at that first.

I had a couple of horrendous exams. One looking at the theory of Object Orientated Programming and the other a closed book ‘Web Technologies’ exam in PHP, JQuery and SQL. They were hell. Particularly the web tech one. That was supposed to be the thing I’m good at but in the moment I just forgot the syntax, and there was no way of checking even the simplest thing to get myself on the right track – it was the most soul destroying, self-confidence crushing exam I have ever taken (and I took the UKCAT for med school a couple of years ago!). So, in true British fashion we went to a local pub (The Bevy – check it out) and drowned our sorrows with cheap drinks and excellent Indian food.

As soon as I could after that horrendous week I decided to get out of the country and take a bit of a break – I’ll give full details on that adventure in a separate post! I came back to finding out an ex-colleague and good friend of mine from the hospital had died, resulting in a lot of fundraisers and catch up with the clinic family in his honour. You can see how everything has been going, if you’re curious, here.

And, in a totally different train of thought, I also came back to my results:
3D Modelling and Animation –  76%read my post from the time
Time Based Media - 66%my post about that one
Web Technologies Book Club - 80%a bit I wrote about that project a while ago
Portfolio – 71%  – Looks like I didn’t write about that one, which is a shame – it was a pretty cool project re-doing my portfolio and creating a group showcase based on Where the Wild Things are
Web Development – 80% - I wrote a bit about that near the start of the project

Web Technologies Exam – 47%
Object Orientated Programming Exam – 53%
See I told you the exams went badly…

Overall though it looks like I managed to get 70.5% for the second year (which is a first by 0.5%!)

Virtual Therapy

Afternoon! I’ve been really enjoying discovering and blogging about technological advances in health – so much so that I would really like to pursue an internship in this field, but I’ve only found ones in Southern California so far…. I’ll keep looking. (There is a masters degree in Digital Healthcare at Warwick which looks interesting though!) But anyway my point was going to be that I’ve been talking about these products to friends and family and they’ve told me about what they’ve heard about. This week my boyfriend heard on the radio a discussion about using virtual reality in therapy. He knew I’d be interested and repeated the gist of it to me and now I’ve gone off to investigate it.

As usual, I have a video to show you.

It’s hard to imagine the effects of PTSD on your everyday life but it sounds horrific to try and live with. Being able to deal with those real life events in a safe way is surely a brilliant way of combatting it (for some people at least). There’s scope to use this for suffers of abuse – sexual or physical.

A university in Auckland has developed a computer game to help depression in young people. Have a little look at this video:

Isn’t this great? Both of these videos show how we’re using technology in an innovative way to engage and help those individuals for whom traditional counselling just isn’t right for. As the people these techniques are targeted at have mostly grown up surrounded by digital technologies, many of them would identify more with using these virtual therapies than they may with discussing personal issues with a relative stranger.

Personally, I think I’d prefer talking to my counsellor than using a game version, but that’s because I’m not a big gamer and already feel I spend too long on the computer. I’m not really the target audience in that respect but I still think its a fantastic development.

Electronic Skin

I was having another little look at last weeks infographic and a little orange box labelled ‘wearable e-skins’ caught my eye. I googled it and the first page I landed on drew me in. As usual, I want to share a few videos with you about what Ive discovered today.

Video from Biz Buzz on Youtube. You can read the original article on Nature

There seems to be a lot of competing products being developed so it’s likely that electronic skin will become a reality in the not too distant future. But as the video suggested, commercial uses are being seen quicker than medical ones. – have a look at this video…

Video from VivaLnk

The concept of this is pretty damn cool, but personally I don’t find unlocking my phone warrants enough effort for this – although VivaLnk have just released some customisable versions which allow you to open different applications on your phone.

I do think however that the potential health benefits are amazing. VivaLnk are introducing e-skin thermometers this year which is defintely a step in te right direction. Here’s one more video from a guy who clearly shares my enthusiasm and explains what these brilliant tiny pieces of tech could be able to do for us in the future…

Video from FW: Thinking via Youtube

I just think this sounds incredible. As someone who takes a fair bit of medication everyday and is liable to headaches and pain the drug releasing patch sounds brilliant. As a granddaughter of a 90 year old who needs carers and has a family constantly worrying about her the benefits seem even more astounding – maybe a section could be inbuilt to send a text to designated numbers if something bad happens like a heart attack or a fall as well as issuing some form of pain relief?

If you want to read more about any of this theres a couple of great articles in the New Scientist and Nature.

Printing Blood

Today, I was browsing around the internet investigating technological advances in health and stumbled across this infographic on an article called ‘The 7 Biggest Innovations in Health Care Technology in 2014‘.

Infographic accessed from ‘GetReferralMd‘ who cite ‘Medical Future‘ as their source.

The article discusses a few of the different ideas on this infographic. One of the things described as ‘in progress’ above is 3D Printed Bio Materials. This is the idea that we can use 3D printers to create organs, parts of organs, tissue matter, stem cells even bone marrow. Wow.

So, that’s what I’ve decided to focus on today. I did a bit of digging online and discovered some videos and more info about it to share with you. But no doubt I’ll be coming back to concentrate on other things in that fantastic infographic very shortly.

The geniuses at Organovo have been developing blood vessels. Take a quick look at the videos below – if you’re anything like me, you won’t be disappointed.

Video accessed from Organovo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbBo5rojUn0

Video posted by Raunaque Noor on Youtube, originally aired on The National Geographic Channel.

It just seems incredible that potentially so soon in the future this will be a viable option for the massive number of people needing organ transplants. I find this totally inspiring. It is so incredible what technical and digital developments are allowing us to do.

 

Ear Worm

I was taking a little browse through the #digitalhealth trend on Twitter this morning and came across @JanSeghers tweet linking to and article on Mashable discussing 5 big digital health innovations that will hit us in 2015. The one that caught my eye most was BitBite. Take a look at this video…

Video property of ‘Hello Bitbite‘ and accessed via YouTube.

Being someone that has tried (and often failed) to improve my eating habits (like most people in the UK) this seems like quite a cool idea. Although it is a little creepy to have something ‘whisper in your ear’. Personally, I think being constantly monitored and reminded is a good way to build up new habits and I think this is a really clever way of doing just that. Unfortunately as a skint student I can’t afford to back this on Indiegogo but I would if I could. Maybe more out of curiosity though because I do rather enjoy scoffing excessive amounts of cheese and marmite toasties.

Making Sense

Okay, so I’ve got a couple of videos to show you. Take a look, and you’ll see something I think is pretty incredible. It’s all about senses – particularly sound and sight – and how recently developed technology can improve upon sight (or even make it from scratch) for those who really need it. Forget Google Glass materialistically bringing the internet into our everyday vision and imagine being given a form of visual perception if you’d only ever seen darkness and grey vague shapes.

1.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=tEa5XCrh95w

Video from the University of Bath.

2.

Youtube video courtesy of What’s the Big Deal?

Isn’t that incredible? Okay, so it may not be fully restoring sight and the sounds are pretty intense to you and me but that is a major development in technology and in health.

I stumbled across vOICe (with the capitalised ‘OIC’ standing for ‘Oh I See’, go on say it out loud) in the Guardian. It has been in the making for over a decade and the app is totally free so even you could turn your phone into this illusion of vision device.

The Guardian article above discusses the idea that this research and the vOICe device is more beneficial than stem cell technology. This is because using stem cells to improve vision can often be expensive and disappointing. People get their hopes up, expecting it to be how it was before and feel let down when they’re still only seeing the world sub-par to what it once was (often leading to other issues like depression).

I know that it seems quite overwhelming and doesn’t sound like it would be all that effective when you watch the video of walking round the yard but according to Proulx, the researcher whose work has been used here, it actually does a pretty good job. In an article in the Guardian he is quoted:

In the first couple of months after someone had received a retinal implant, they could expect to have a level of vision that was “20/800” – equivalent to being able to see the outline of things that were directly in front of them.

To put this in perspective, a short-sighted person who removed their glasses would have a level of vision that was around 20/400, meaning that they could see clearly up to a foot away. “We found that after just a week’s basic training, people were able to get to levels of 20/250.”

The actually technology is developed by Dr Peter Meijer, he has described the vOICe and learning to use it in an article by the BBC:

While it can’t track fast cars or read small print efficiently, it does allow blind users to trace out buildings, read a graph and even watch television.

Comparing it in terms of difficulty to learning a foreign language, Meijer hopes that in the long run, users will become more “fluent” in the mental translation so that it becomes more like natural perception, without conscious effort.

 

Think how much difference this kind of technology could make. It could just make everyday life that much easier. And I’m still astounded by just how clever it is.

 

Just another Smartwatch?

We’ve all heard about wearable technology – Google Glass and Smartwatches being prime examples. Smartwatches by brands such as Samsung or Apple commonly let you connect to the internet, text etc. all from your wrist – with no need to get your phone out. Handy? I’m not particularly interested to be honest, but if you are that’s great. Today, in the New Scientist, I discovered a smart watch that got me excited though. The Embrace.

This Smartwatch is really very clever.  Empatica has targeted it at those living with epilepsy. Embrace detects changes in the skin’s electrical activity as a precursor for what is happening in the brain. It can therefore detect the start of a seizure before it actually occurs. This allows a pre-programmed message to be sent to the patient’s family and/or friends alerting them. How brilliant is that?!

Check it out below:

Video coutersy of Empatica via Youtube.

 

If a watch can save lives then it is so worth supporting their Indiegogo campaign. They’ve already gained 262% of their original target and I can totally see why. I want to get my hands on it and give it a go just to track my everyday health, just out of pure curiosity. How cool would it be to see on your phone how your body is working? And the style of the normal watch function is pretty funky too.

I don’t suffer with epilepsy although I know someone who does and every step we take to making the world a safer place for these people is a giant leap forward for them and their families. Plus, for every Embrace bought Empatica is donating one to a child who really does need it. So go out and spread the word. Let’s embrace medical technology. Let’s embrace Embrace.