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I Am Unreasonably Excited About This Thermostat

I consider myself a computer geek -- I'm comfortable with that. But today I'm having a new feeling: apparently I'm a thermostat geek. Yesterday I came across the Nest "Learning Thermostat," which has been making the rounds of nerd blogs. Basically, this is a computer-driven thermostat with some fancy features: wifi, various sensors, a HAL-like Big Red Eye, and even remote control (via wifi/web). There's also an aspect of gameplay built into the thing -- much like some hybrid cars have an indicator showing you when you're driving "optimally," the Nest shows a green leaf to urge you in the direction of using less energy (for example, in the winter it may show the leaf for a setting a few degrees cooler than you'd normally use -- encouraging you to use less heat). And finally, it actually has moving, physical parts (a ring), rather than the awful, awful touchscreen on my current thermostat (don't try to turn on the heat in the dark using my current thermostat -- it's impossible). Oh, and did I mention this was designed by Tony Fadell, who ran the iPod division at Apple? Basically, this is a geek's paradise. I've rounded up some of the Nest videos so you can geek out with me.

Introducing Nest

Very Apple-like.

How It Learns

More Videos

There are more videos on Nest's YouTube channel, and a demo/interview with Fadell on TechCrunch.

Further Reading

First up, check out Fadell's blog post "Thermostats? Yes, thermostats." Then read the Wired profile which includes some technical details, including how this thing manages to power itself. There's much more at the Nest website. The device isn't out yet, but is slated for late November. And in case you were wondering, no, I'm not paid by Nest or anyone else for this endorsement -- but I am super psyched to have a HAL-ostat on my dining room wall.

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Google Can Warn You When Your Allergies Are About to Go Haywire
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How much allergy medication are you going to need today? Google can tell you. Well, it can give you a forecast, at least, as The Verge reports.

Google announced on August 16 that the search engine will now auto-populate search results for pollen and allergy information with allergy forecasts from The Weather Channel. The integration will include the most recent pollen index and allergy forecast data, showing a 5-day forecast detailing whether you’re likely to feel seasonal allergy symptoms throughout the week.

An animation shows a scroll of Google’s search results for pollen with allergy forecasts.
Google

If you have the Google app, you can set it to send push notifications when the pollen count is notably high that day, so you know to sequester yourself safely indoors. Hopefully you don't live in a city like Jackson, Mississippi, which in 2016 was named the worst city in the U.S. for allergy sufferers. There, your phone may be pinging every day.

While you can already find this information on sites like Pollen.com, having it show up immediately in search results saves you a few extra clicks, and frankly, it’s far more readable than most allergy and weather forecast sites.

Too bad a search engine can't cure our sneezes and watery eyes, though. Time to stock up on Kleenex, get a jumbo bottle of allergy meds, and maybe buy yourself a robot vacuum.

[h/t The Verge]

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How Louisville Used GPS to Improve Residents' Asthma
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Louisville, Kentucky has some of the worst air pollution in the U.S., which is particularly bad news for the 85,000 people in surrounding Jefferson County (about 11 percent of the population [PDF]) who have been diagnosed with asthma.

The air quality situation in Louisville won’t be changing anytime soon, but a new study with sensor-equipped inhalers shows that technology can help people with asthma cope, as CityLab reports. The two-year AIR Louisville project involved the Louisville government, the Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil, and a respiratory health startup called Propeller, which makes sensors for inhalers that can track location and measure air pollutants, humidity levels, and temperature.

Propeller's inhaler-mounted sensors allowed the researchers to monitor the relationship between asthma attacks and environmental factors and provided new insight on how air quality can change from neighborhood to neighborhood. The sensors—which are already used by doctors, but have never been deployed citywide before—can measure levels of nitrogen oxide, sulfur, ozone, particulate matter, and pollen in the air, plus track location, temperature, and humidity, all of which can impact the risk of asthma attacks. The sensors send Propeller data on when, where, and how many "puffs" patients take to track how often people are resorting to emergency medication.

Propeller sent out app notifications to warn the Louisville program participants of greater risk of an asthma attack on bad air quality days, and showed them where and when the most asthma attacks happened around the city.

An inhaler with a sensor on top of it lies next to a smartphone open to the Propeller app.
Propeller

The Propeller program illuminated just how much more asthma-triggering pollution the city’s west side (predominantly home to poor, African-American residents) faces compared to other neighborhoods. The data also showed that ozone provoked an uptick in asthma attacks throughout the city, namely along highways. The study may end up influencing air quality regulations, since the researchers found that air pollutants became problematic for asthma sufferers even under the legal levels.

The program had huge short-term benefits, too, beyond collecting research for city policies. By the time it ended in late June, the study clearly had a significant impact on the nearly 1200 people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who took part. The asthma group showed a decline in average inhaler use after a year. There was an 82 percent decline in people's weekly average uses of rescue inhalers at the 12-month follow-up, and the participants had twice the number of symptom-free days. The majority of participants said they understand their asthma "very well" or "well," can better control it, and feel confident about avoiding a bad asthma attack.

Now that the program is over, the institutions involved are still working to launch new policies based on the results, like creating citywide asthma alerts and planting more trees.

[h/t CityLab]

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