The Quantified Self – Hack your way to better health

The Quantified Self – Hack your way to better health

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We are fortunate to live at a time when technology is enabling the exploration of solutions because of expanded connectivity. Digital technologies connect us to each other and to information at an ever increasing rate. One of the interesting fields that is gaining quick traction in this space is called the Quantified Self Movement. It is essentially self-knowledge through self-tracking.

This is not new. Benjamin Franklin famously tracked 13 personal virtues in a daily journal to push himself toward moral perfection. Not sure how well that worked, but our curiosity and capacity for self-scrutiny remains intact. If anything, our house of mirrors has gained momentum with new gadgets that make data collection cheaper and more convenient.

Big data and wearable tech allow us to quantify biometrics we never knew existed. Want to know your insulin or cortisol levels, or sequence your DNA, or learn what microbial cells inhabit your body? There’s an app for that. Apple’s app store’s medical category has more than 13,000 individual apps for download. The mobile health industry is estimated to be worth $400 million by 2016, according to ABI Research. Last year, mobile users downloaded 247 million health-related apps, according to market research company Research2Guidance.

Pew Research points out that about 69% of US adults track at least one health metric. Here are some of the more popular tools in use today:

  1. Want to lose weight? Keep a food log. Use MyFitnessPal, pen and paper, or just take a picture. Tracking your food intake will lead to interesting insights about your diet and health. A 2008 study also showed that the act of tracking food further facilitates weight loss.
  2. Searching for happiness? Track your mood. AskMeEvery tracks your mood for 3 months and might add insight to your personal and professional barometer readings. Other good apps include MercuryApp and TrackYourHappiness. We often are not mindful of our changing moods or the factors that affect them. Tracking them daily keeps us self-aware.
  3. Need to move more? Track your activity. There are tons of great tools including Fitbit, Nike Fuelband, Jawbone UP, Basis, Omron, Moves, and more. Your iPhone can also track your activity.

Why do people go to the trouble of tracking health data for themselves or for loved ones? Some say they get results:

  • 46% of trackers say that this activity has changed their overall approach to maintaining their health or the health of someone for whom they provide care.
  • 40% of trackers say it has led them to ask a doctor new questions or to get a second opinion from another doctor.
  • 34% of trackers say it has affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition.

Track your way to health and happiness? Beats wasting time looking at cute kitten videos on uTube . . .

People without Jobs and Jobs without People, Advanced Manufacturing Needs a Makeover

People without Jobs and Jobs without People, Advanced Manufacturing Needs a Makeover

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According to a recent story on PBS and overheard at almost every high school I’ve visited lately, advanced manufacturing needs an image overhaul. When people hear the word manufacturing, they think dirty, sweaty, and covered in a constant film of oily slime. Yuck. They also think of very boring rote work, standing at a loud machine making the same widget day in and day out.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Today’s factory environments are high-tech and high tech means clean! Modern industry is about computer software, complicated electrical machinery, robotics, and multi-tasking. As technology in manufacturing becomes more sophisticated, customer expectations more demanding, and quality system requirements more exacting, shop floor employees are required to possess skills and knowledge far surpassing those of past generations. New training processes are necessary to replace old training paradigms.

This seems daunting, particularly for older workers. The education paradigm is shifting in all sectors as almost no jobs exist today that won’t require continuing education and training. We all need to be lifelong learners to stay afloat professionally. Manufacturing is going through a sea change as baby boomers retire and the needs of the workforce shift and grow. Seems like a perfect time to attract young people. With salaries between $10,000 & $160,000 and a clean, high-tech work environment, you’d think they’d be beating down the doors. But manufacturing has a lingering image problem and entry into today’s factory isn’t as easy as it used to be. Most jobs require more than a high school diploma but less than a Bachelor’s Degree and industry certifications that validate “middle skills” attainment.

It seems like American colleges, trade schools, and industries are tripping over themselves to connect resources to jobs in a desperate effort to bolster our chances of staying competitive in the global marketplace. Stories about apprenticeships academies and associate degrees combined with industry credentials are beginning to compete with the wave of media reports about students graduating with liberal arts degrees to work at Starbucks. I loved my liberal arts education but I know some very smart people who would rather tinker all day than spend as much time in an office chair as I do.

This quote from the PBS article referenced earlier sums the sentiment up beautifully.

So what if they’re not reading Shakespeare? These guys want to work with their hands. They want to get into the theoretical knowledge, not of the iambic pentameter. They want to get into the theoretical knowledge of Ohm’s law.”

Virginia Manufacturers Association has some pretty compelling information on their website. Did You Know…

•In 2013, manufacturers contributed $2.08 trillion to the economy, up from $2.03 trillion in 2012. This was 12.5 percent of GDP. For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.32 is added to the economy, the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector. •Manufacturing supports an estimated 17.4 million jobs in the United States—about one in six private-sector jobs. More than 12 million Americans (or 9 percent of the workforce) are employed directly in manufacturing. •In 2012, the average manufacturing worker in the United States earned $77,505 annually, including pay and benefits. The average worker in all industries earned $62,063. •Manufacturers in the United States are the most productive in the world, far surpassing the worker productivity of any other major manufacturing economy, leading to higher wages and living standards. •Manufacturers in the United States perform two-thirds of all private-sector R&D in the nation, driving more innovation than any other sector. •Taken alone, manufacturing in the United States would be the 8th largest economy in the world.

So, why the skills gap? Why the lag in interest? Why the image problem? Maybe we should call it Production Technology and talk about robotics and that very attractive wage and leave the word manufacturing out of the title? We need to make it cool. We need to market it better. We need to think like good capitalists. If we want to attract teens into the training pipeline, we need to speak their language. When looking for their language, I found Gatorade. Gatorade speaks to teens. Their ads are based on exploding athletes, competitors, winners, strivers, and comic books. Their ads are cool, their sales are hot.

If we want the next generation of manufacturers to come knocking on these academy doors, appealing to their patriotism may not be enough.

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Like so many other areas of our life as we transition into the 21st c., we need a hybrid approach. We can combine the draw of good paying jobs with the caché of continued education; the fascination with gadgets, computers, and robots with the satisfaction of making something, tinkering, and innovating. We have a hugely successful commercial economy based in large part on our ability to manipulate people through ad campaigns. Let’s put those creatives to task on an image upgrade for advanced manufacturing and we might just close that skills gap and really put America back to work.

We can do it. Let’s just think a little more like Gatorade.

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The Forest for the Trees

The Forest for the Trees

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Pinus taeda, commonly known as loblolly pine, because the species is found mostly in lowlands and swampy areas, is one of several pines native to the Southern United States. U.S. Forest Service surveys found that loblolly pine is the second most common species of tree in the United States, after red maple and the pine species is regarded as the most commercially important tree in Southeastern U.S. for its value as timber. The wood industry classifies the loblolly as a southern yellow pine.

Richard Bland College sits amidst 637 acres of forest, much of which is loblolly. As you may have noticed, the loblolly pine are prolific at producing pollen, generating approximately 2.5 to 5 pounds of pollen in a two- to four-week period. Aside from the seasonal inconvenience to allergy sufferers, these trees are a vital part of our ecosystem and deserve our thoughtful management as a resource.

In addition to pollen, trees produce oxygen, they help to reduce storm water run-off and erosion, they provide habitat for wildlife, and are an economic resource if harvested for sale. At RBC, we have an additional opportunity to commune with our trees – research!

A forest is a very active place. Common fields of study related to the woods include dendrology, ecological and environmental modeling, plant biology, ecology and taxonomy, environmental management and conservation, natural resource economics, forest pests and management, silviculture, and wood and soil science. These are all STEM fields.

Because our forest footprint is so large and all but surrounds the campus, the possibility to engage in longitudinal studies is enormous and attractive. Despite the fact that we are a two-year school, we can organize research that is carried out for longer periods and involves community and institution partners (VT and VSU come to mind immediately).

Our Forestry Management Plan focusses on sustainability. Long-term stewardship of this resource will be a multi-tiered process in partnership with VDOF (VA Dept. of Forestry). Our goals include the creation of an environment optimally conducive to student recruitment, engagement and learning; the creation of an environment well-suited to educational programming; recreational/entrepreneurial activities; the management of the timber for generation of revenue and creation of self-sustaining operations; the identification and protection of historic and environmentally significant resources; and attention to the protection of wildlife, forest health, long-term viability of the resource.

The VDOF has been out wandering our woods several times this year. They have advised us that many of our pines are over-matured, stressed, insect-infested and/or in declining health. The removal of these stands will not only improve the overall health of the forest, but will provide the potential opportunity for students to track the life and growth of a stand from reforestation onward. VDOF is in the process of identifying areas to be harvested. The plan over the 18 – 24 months after harvest is to replant the timber stands with various varieties of pine and planting pecan trees along Carson Drive.

Carson Drive is to become the new gateway to our campus, creating an entrance that highlights a pedestrian environment rather than a drive-through experience. More on that in another post about our Campus Master Plan.