All posts by Darrin Jenkins

Darrin is an IT manager for a large electrical contractor in Louisville KY. He is married and has 3 kids. He loves helping people with their technology needs. He runs a blog called Say Geek!

Study Shows the Most Contaminated Surfaces in Hotel Rooms

If you’re like me, the first thing you think about when you walk in a hotel room is whether or not the sheets are clean. After reviewing the information provided by Katie Kirsch, an undergraduate student at the University of Houston, I may have to change my priorities. Kirsch led a team that swabbed various surfaces in hotel rooms then tested them for microbials. The results are little stomach turning.

Hotel Room
(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The study was conducted Texas, Indiana, and South Carolina. It was relatively small in scale only evaluating 3 rooms in each state. The study sought out aerobic bacteria, which is the kind most likely to make one sick. The bacterial measurement is called colony forming units or CFU. So who were the big offenders? Well, as expected, the toilet and bathroom sink had high levels of bacteria. What might be less expected however, was the TV remote and the main light switch for the room. Let’s put it this way, in hospitals the cleanliness CFU goal is less than 5CFU per centimeter squared. The TV remote measured close to 70CFU per centimeter squared. The light switch was a whopping 112CFU per centimeter squared. Yikes! Another major problem they found was in the cleaning tools used by housekeepers. For instance, the sponges housed enormous amounts aerobic bacteria which presents a risk of cross contaminating room to room.

The study was not meant to be a scare tactic but rather, it was done as a first step to introduce the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system to the hotel industry. This system was originally designed by NASA as a way to prevent dangerous chemicals and microbes. The food and healthcare industries already use this system to prevent unwanted encounters with biological and chemical hazards. Kirsch said, “Hoteliers have an obligation to provide their guests with a safe and secure environment. Currently, housekeeping practices vary across brands and properties with little or no standardization industry wide. The current validation method for hotel room cleanliness is a visual assessment, which has been shown to be ineffective in measuring levels of sanitation.”

Kirsch presented her findings at the 2012 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. You can watch the video via the YouTube link below.

 

 

 

Future Displays May Consist of Water and Air

Can you say superhydrophobic three times real fast? Yeah, me neither. This is a term that describes something that is extremely resistant to water. If you were superhydrophobic, you would emerge the clear winner in any water gun fight. However, I shall get back to the point. Researchers have long marveled at how the lotus leaf, pictured below, repels water. Its surface is so smooth that water and dirt cannot adhere to it. To achieve this super water repellency on a surface, there have to be structures in place which force air between the water and the surface of the leaf. Researchers have mimicked this effect by developing a surface that allowed them to print letters in the air layer between it and the water above it.

Water Drop on Lotus
Water Drop on Lotus (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Robin Ras of Aalto University in Finland lead the study along with researchers from University of Cambridge and Nokia Research Center Cambridge. You can watch a really neat display of this technology at work via this link http://youtu.be/AEWPIjLbrSE.  It is pretty impressive to see how they carried this research out. They squirt water directly onto the surface where below, you can see the word “Nokia”. The water just bounces off the surface until it is completely covered. In an effort to keep this simple, what basically happens because of the presence of nano-scale posts on the surface, a layer of air is trapped between the superhydrophobic surface and the water above it. Because of the way the posts are designed, the shape of the air can exist in two “wetting” states. The researchers refer to this as “reversible switching”. All it takes is a pressure change to change the shape of this air layer. “The minimal energy needed to switch between the states means the system is bistable, which is the essential property of memory devices, for example”, Academy Research Fellow Dr. Robin Ras points out. However, there is a feature that makes it all the more interesting: there is a striking optical contrast between the states due to a change in the roughness of the water-air interface. “Combined with the optical effect, the surface is also a bistable reflective display.” Video is also embedded below.

Who knows where this research could lead? It could have applications such as lower power data storage all the way to low power displays. The amazing thing to me is that the original idea came from observing nature. There is so much discovery left in this world and so much to learn. If only, we took more time to ponder nature’s wonders, who knows what amazing innovations we might achieve.

For more information on this research, you can view the published study on the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences website at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/06/05/1204328109.

 

 

Tutorial – PowerPoint 2010 Basics Lesson 4: Fun with Pictures

This is Lesson 4 in a series of tutorials on Microsoft PowerPoint 2010. If you would like to start from the beginning of the series go to Lesson 1 (Table of Contents at the bottom of this article). In Lesson 3, we deleted all of the sample slides from the template and added our own “Album Cover” slide. We also typed text into placeholders and added our own picture. Today, I would like to take the picture concept a little further and see what kind of fun we can have with them.

Let’s take a moment to add a new slide to our photo album. In the image below, you will see where I have clicked the “New Slide” menu and selected the “2-Up Portrait with Captions” layout.

Slide Galler

This particular layout will give us a place for two pictures on our slide side by side with captions underneath.  See the picture below for an example.

Slide Layout

Let’s add a couple of pictures to our slide. Notice that square in the middle of the picture placeholder that looks like it has a mountain scene with a little sun over it. Click this square to open a dialog where you can choose a picture to add to the slide. I am going to pick one that is particularly wide so that I can show what can happen on these narrow picture placeholders. See the image below to see my problem.

Dove

Notice my poor little dove is aligned way over to the left of the picture and partially cut off. The problem here is the ratio of my picture doesn’t match the ratio of my picture place holder. What can I do? Well there is a lot that can be done but for now, I just want to show you a way to get it more centered. If you click the picture the “Picture Tools” tab shows with several options. On the far right side of the ribbon you will see the “Crop” button. Go ahead and hit the crop button. Notice in my image below, how the image changes. In this mode you can put your mouse in the middle of the picture and  click and drag the picture to position it exactly where you want it in the frame. Once you have the picture where you want it click the “Crop” button again and it will apply your change.

Crop Frame

Now that we have our picture positioned where we want it, let’s play around with some other features. Remember earlier when we clicked on the picture, the “Picture Tools” tab showed up with lots of options for us. We could literally spend days here. There are a lot of nifty features we can apply to this picture. Let’s take a look at the “Picture Tools” and discuss some of their functions.

Adjust Group

The first group in the “Picture Tools” is the “Adjust” group. Here you dramatically change the look of the picture. “Remove Background” will let you click areas of the picture you want to keep and remove. So if you have an ugly airplane flying in the sky behind your prize rose, you can use this tool to remove that part of the picture. “Corrections” will basically allow you to blur or sharpen as well as, change picture contrast. The “Color” button will let you tint the picture with color. “Artistic Effects” can be a lot of fun but try not to go to overboard here. “Compress Pictures” will help you lower the file size which is handy for emailing. “Change Picture” basically opens up a dialog so you can pick a different picture. “Reset Picture” will come in real handy if you royally screw up your picture with too many edits. It puts things back to its original state.

Picture Styles

The “Picture Styles” group will let you add frames, borders, reflections, highlights, shadows, and much more.

Arrange Group

The “Arrange” group will let you work with picture alignment and rotation. the “Bring Forward” and “Send Backward” buttons are for when you have more than one picture. If you overlap these pictures, these two buttons will let you determine which is in front of the other.

Size Group

The “Size Group” we’ve used already when we cropped. This basically lets you determine how big or small you want the picture to be.

Now that we’ve looked through this toolbar, take a moment to apply some of the different styles or color effects. I think I am going to add a frame to mine and sharpen it under corrections. Take a moment to play around a little and be sure to save your project for the next lesson.

Table of Contents – PowerPoint Basics

Tutorial – PowerPoint 2010 Basics Lesson 3: Editing a Template

This is Lesson 3 in a series of tutorials on Microsoft PowerPoint 2010. If you would like to start from the beginning of the series go to Lesson 1 (Table of Contents at the bottom of this article). In Lesson 2 I showed you how you could use PowerPoint’s built-in templates to create a new presentation. I also showed how to save a presentation for future editing. Today I will build upon the previous lessons and show you how to edit a template to make it yours.

Let’s open the “Contemporary Photo Album” template that we saved in Lesson 2. If you forgot to save it simply click the “File” tab on the ribbon toolbar, choose “New”, choose “Sample Templates”, then choose “Contemporary Photo Album”. You should see a screen similar to the one pictured below.

PowerPoint Window

Notice I have drawn a green rectangle down the left side of the screen where the slides are shown. Since we want to make this template our own, let’s delete all of these slides. There are several ways to do this. If you click on a slide, you will notice that it highlights similar to the way slide 1 is highlighted in the picture above. When you see this, hit the delete key on your keyboard. Notice that the slide disappears with no questions asked. Scary huh? Don’t worry. If you unintentionally delete a slide, you can undo this by hitting the undo button. The undo button is located on the quick access toolbar in the upper left corner of the screen and looks like a looped leftward pointing blue arrow. Now, let’s go ahead and delete all of the slides in the template.

Now that we have all of the sample slides out of the way, we can begin making our own photo presentation. Let’s add our first slide. On the ribbon toolbar you will see a button labeled “New Slide”. If you put your mouse over it you will notice that it kind of divides in half. The upper half has a little white rectangle and the lower half highlights the words “New Slide” with a downward pointing arrow. Two things can happen with this button. If you just click directly on the top part with the icon, PowerPoint assumes for you what type of slide layout you want. However, if you click the lower part with the downward pointing arrow, you get a slide gallery with several different layouts to choose from. See the picture below for an example.

New Slide

Let’s choose “Album Cover” from the “New Slide” gallery. You should see something similar to what is pictured below.

Album Cover

Notice the components of this slide. In the white space there is an icon that when clicked, will allow you to add a picture to that area. In the blue area at the bottom, there is a placeholder where you can add a title to your photo album. Placeholder’s are really simple to work with. Just click inside the area and begin typing. There is also another placeholder in the green area running along the right side of the slide.

Let’s click the icon in the middle of the slide to insert a picture. By default, it will take you to your “My Pictures” folder underneath “My Documents”. Since this is your photo album feel free to pick what ever picture you like from that location. If you don’t happen to have any pictures, most of the time there is a folder called “Sample Pictures” in the “My Pictures” folder that you can use. When you find a picture you like just double-click it to insert it into the slide. Now, you should see your inserted picture in the middle of the slide. Click the placeholder at the bottom labeled “Click to add photo album title”. Type “My Photos” in the placeholder. Click the placeholder on the right side and add today’s date. Notice it types sideways. This is because whoever designed this template rotated the placeholder to look that way. We’ll look at how to do that later. Go ahead and save your presentation.

In our next lesson, we will go more in depth into editing slides in the template. Remember all questions are welcome. Thanks for reading Techie Buzz.

Table of Contents – PowerPoint Basics

NASA Launches NuSTAR Mission

NASA launched the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) on Wednesday to observe the secrets of the hidden universe including black holes and other “exotic objects”. The telescopic array was carried by a Pegasus XL rocket which dropped from an Orbital Science Corporation “Stargazer” aircraft and launched successfully into space.

NuSTAR
Artist Rendering of the NuStar Telescope (Courtesy NASA.GOV)

NuSTAR is unique in that it uses the high energy X-Ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum to capture images of the Universe. In the artist rendering, pictured above, you will notice that there is a very long mast stretching out from the main craft. This mast separates the optics from the focal plane. The reason for this is to help with focus. The visible light that we use in our everyday cameras doesn’t need much distance between the lens and the focal point. However, these X-rays require greater distance to get the proper focus.

According to NASA.GOV website, the NusSTAR mission will accomplish the following:

  1. Take a census of collapsed stars and black holes of different sizes by surveying regions surrounding the center of own Milky Way Galaxy and performing deep observations of the extragalactic sky;
  2. Map recently-synthesized material in young supernova remnants to understand how stars explode and how elements are created; and
  3. Understand what powers relativistic jets of particles from the most extreme active galaxies hosting supermassive black holes.
According to NASA’s Astrophysics Division Director, Paul Hertz, “NuSTAR will open a new window on the universe and will provide complementary data to NASA’s larger missions, including Fermi, Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer.” Researchers hope to explore regions of the Universe previously impossible to see. They boast that NuSTAR beats previous X-ray type observatories by a factor of 10 to 100. Currently the observatory has released its solar charging panels and is communicating successfully back to earth. It is expected to extend its mast in about  a week. You can view the launch via the video embedded below.

For more information about NuSTAR, visit its mission site at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/nustar/main/index.html.

 

Medical Implants of the Future May Be Powered by Sugar

It’s like something out of a science fiction magazine, but leave it to MIT to turn science fiction into science fact. A study published in the June 12th edition of PLoS ONE reveals a new glucose powered chip that literally will create an interface between brain and machine. The glucose “fuel cell” brings hope that in the future we will be able to help paralytics regain control of their limbs using neural prosthetics powered by this new technology.

Glucose is basically the sugar that can be found in our blood. It is the usable form of energy that our bodies use to power our muscles and our brain. The glucose powered fuel cells can be seen, pictured below, on a silicon wafer.

Glucose Fuel Cell
Glucose Fuel Cells on Silicon Wafer (Courtesy PLoS ONE)

The new fuel cells strip electrons from glucose molecules to create a small electric current. Implantable electronics are nothing new. Consider the pace maker, for instance. Many heart patients are alive and well today due to the tiny electronic module that keeps their heart in perfect rhythm. Oddly enough, scientists in the 1970’s originally proved they could power a pacemaker using glucose but due to some inefficiencies with an enzyme necessary to run them, they eventually decided to use lithium ion batteries instead. The difference in this new technology is that it contains no biological components whatsoever. It can generate hundreds of microwatts which can be used to power “ultra-low-power” implants.

Location, Location, Location

One of the groundbreaking aspects of this new research is not only that the fuel cells are powered by glucose, but also its placement in the body. Before this study, any research done using glucose fuel cells relied on blood or tissue fluid. This research suggested using cerebrospinal fluid which basically is a sugar filled barrier that surrounds the brain. One reason is that this fluid basically contains no cells that would stimulate an immune response. The other reason is that it is so rich in glucose. Due to the relatively small amount of glucose needed to power these fuel cells, no adverse affects are expected to occur in the brain.

Research like this is very encouraging especially for those who have lost use of their limbs due to paralysis. However, it may be a few years before we see this research being used in practical medical setting. If you would like more information, you can read the MIT press release http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/glucose-fuel-cell-0612.html, or for a more technical experience you can find the published study at this link http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0038436.

 

Tutorial – PowerPoint 2010 Basics Lesson 2: Starting a Presentation from a Template

This is Lesson 2 in a series of tutorials on Microsoft PowerPoint 2010. If you would like to start from the beginning of the series go to Lesson 1(Table of Contents at the bottom of the article). Today’s tutorial will show you how to use the templates that are built in to PowerPoint to start a new presentation.

If there is one thing that I try to instill in people that I teach is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. When it comes to making good presentations, PowerPoint gives you a lot of sample material that more than likely will cover anything you would like to do in a presentation. They do this in the form of templates and it is one of the better advantages that PowerPoint has over other presentation tools.

To access templates, we click on the “File” tab on the ribbon toolbar. Click on the word “New” and you will see the screen pictured below. You will notice that the window is broken down into two sections. “Available Templates and Themes” are basically templates already downloaded with the default installation onto your computer. “Office.com Templates” are templates that are available to be downloaded to your computer via the web.

New Presentation Window

One thing you will notice is that there are numerous types of templates. PowerPoint has a lot of capabilities beyond the basic slideshow. Notice the “Diagrams” template. PowerPoint is one of the simplest ways to create an organization chart for your business. For the purpose of today’s lesson I want to use the “Sample templates” located in the top half of the page. When I double-click this I get the screen you see below.

Sample Templates

The reason I want to start with these sample templates is they represent some of the most common formats for a presentation and they also give you little cheat notes to help you learn more about using PowerPoint. Let’s choose the “Contemporary Photo Album” template. When you choose this template you will see a screen similar to the one below. Notice that it already comes with several ready made slides over on the left. We can delete these later but for now it would be a good idea to click each of the slides on the left and notice the instructions they give you regarding how to add your own photos and styles.

Contemporary Photo Album

Now, the first step in making a presentation be your own is to SAVE IT! The last thing you ever want to do is lose all those wonderful changes you make. The last part of this lesson I want to show you how to save this template into a folder that you can easily find later. On the ribbon toolbar, find the tab that says “File”. Click “File” and the first option you should see below it is “Save”. Click “Save”. This will open up a window, which if you use Windows XP, will be opened to your “My Documents” folder by default. If you use Windows 7 it will open to the “Documents” library. Either way this is a really good place to save your presentation because it is easy to find a file in this location.  At the bottome of the “Save As” window you will see two fields. One says “File Name”. This is where you can type a name for your presentation. Let’s just call it “My Photos” just for fun. Below that field you will see “Save as type”. We won’t get into this today but just so you know, this is where you can save the presentation into earlier versions of PowerPoint or into a different format altogether. For today’s purpose though let’s just click the “Save” button in the lower right corner.

In Lesson 3 we will look at adding slides into the presentation and doing more to make our own. Keep checking back as new content will be continually added. Thanks for reading Techie Buzz!

Table of Contents – PowerPoint Basics

Tutorial – PowerPoint 2010 Basics Lesson 1: Getting to Know the PowerPoint Window

This is the first in a series of tutorials aimed at familiarizing our readers with one of Microsoft Office’s most popular applications, PowerPoint 2010. Admittedly, I am starting this tutorial in a very basic manner, but I believe that even the common PowerPoint user will find some things they weren’t familiar with along the way.

We begin our PowerPoint 2010 series simply by familiarizing ourselves with the basic aspects of the main window. When you open PowerPoint, you will see a window similar to that pictured below minus all of the pretty colored rectangles. I have placed those rectangles there to sort of break up the main PowerPoint window into its different components.

PowerPoint Main Window

The area above highlighted by a small red rectangle is called the quick access toolbar. You can see a closer view below. Notice that I have clicked the small downward pointing arrow which brings up a menu to customize the quick access toolbar. This toolbar lives up to its name. You have the ability to add buttons to this toolbar which provide quick access to commands you commonly use. For instance, in earlier versions of Office, the print button was easy to find. This isn’t the case in Office 2010. If you want a quick button that you can click to hit print, then choose the “Quick Print” option from the customize menu, as pictured below.

Quick Access Toolbar

Let’s take a look at the area highlighted by a blue rectangle in the main image above. This area is called the ribbon toolbar. For folks used to using Office 2003, the ribbon toolbar is a pretty dramatic change. As a matter of fact, probably the only thing that will look familiar to you is the placement of the file menu. The ribbon is broken into tabs and underneath each tab are sections. For instance, in the picture below, you can see that the “Home” tab is highlighted. Below it are several sections like “Clipboard”, “Slides”, “Font”, etc… Some of the sections have more options. You can know this by noting a small arrow in the lower right hand side of the section. Pictured below, I have circled the arrow in red. When I put my mouse over the arrow, you will notice I got a little box labeled “Font” with the words “Show the Font dialog box.” You will also note that the section labeled “Slides” is all inclusive and doesn’t have more options.

Ribbon Toolbar

Highlighted in orange in the main image above is the Slides and Outline tabs area. If the Slides tab is selected, then you will see a miniature version of all the slides that you have created in the presentation. If the Outline tab is selected, then you will see the outline view of the presentation. As a matter of fact, this is a great way to organize a presentation. I have previously done a tutorial located at this link http://techie-buzz.com/how-to/using-the-outline-view-in-powerpoint.html which will show you how you can utilize the Outline view to build the basic shell of your presentation.

Slides and Outline Tabs

The next area of focus is highlighted in bright green above and it is the slide content area. This is where the rubber meets the road. It is here that you put the content of the presentation that will be viewed by the audience. Since it is large enough to be seen in the main image above I will not separate it as its own image. However, I will point out the two little boxes that are placed there by default. Those are called placeholders. When you click in a placeholder, it will allow you to type in the text you want. These particular placeholders are labeled as Title and Subtitle which basically means they are formatted differently for emphasis. All of this can be changed.

The last area I want point out, but that is often overlooked, is highlighted in purple and is called the Notes area. The notes area allows you to types notes to yourself and is not visible to the audience. This is a very handy place to write down little reminders to yourself and make sure you get out the intended message.

This concludes Lesson 1. Be sure to return to Techie Buzz for Lesson 2 will soon be on its way. Please feel free to ask questions and give feedback on this and all tutorials. I would enjoy hearing from you and helping you any way I can.

 

Alzheimer’s Vaccine Provides New Hope

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most dreaded diseases known to man. Unlike many other diseases, Alzheimer’s is being diagnosed in increasing numbers and the outlook for any patient is pretty bleak. There is good news being reported out of Sweden where researchers from Karolinska Institute have seen encouraging results of an experimental vaccine. The results are so encouraging, it is now being considered for testing on a larger scale.

alzheimer
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The study was led by Bengt Winblad, Professor of Geriatrics at Karolinska Institute. The new vaccine is called CAD106 and is designed to turn on the body’s natural defenses against beta-amyloid, which is what contributes to plaque build up in the brain. The study was conducted over a three year period and had very good results. 80 percent of the patients involved in the study developed their own antibodies  against beta-amyloid. Even more encouraging, was the fact that there were no serious side affects from the vaccine. The previous clinical studies done 10 years ago were not so lucky. The researchers believe that this is a “tolerable” treatment for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Now they will need to conduct studies on a larger scale to confirm their findings. The study was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that affects memory and behavior. It is the most common form of dementia. Below, is a link to a brief video with some statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association. In about a minute, it can show the staggering reality that is Alzheimer’s better than I can explain.

I have personally seen the effects of dementia on one of my grandparents. It is such a humiliating and painful thing to watch. I hope that this study will encourage more research and eventually come up with better treatment or even better, a cure. If you or a loved one are affected by Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association has a lot of resources on their website which can be found at the following link: http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_4521.asp.

Strange New Zealand Reptile Chews Food

You may have heard the old saying that you should chew your food 32 times for good health. Like most mammals in the world, we humans tend to chew our food to aid in digestion. A commonly held theory has been that the ability to chew food is linked directly with high resting metabolisms observed in mammals. However, a new study suggests that this perception may not quite be a reality. Scientists from the University College of London observed chewing in a New Zealand reptile called the Tuatara.

tuatara
Tuatara (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Most reptiles use repeated bites to break down food or in the case of snakes, simply swallow their food whole. This unique lizard however, uses a very complex chewing method to break down its food. One of the surprising discoveries with this reptile was that its ability to chew seemed to have no bearing on its metabolism. It uses its bottom jaw to push food in between two rows of upper teeth and then is able to move the lower jaw in sort of a sawing motion.  The researchers produced a video describing this process. See below to watch it in motion.

[Video Link]

 

Lead author Dr Marc Jones, UCL Cell and Developmental Biology, said, “The slicing jaws of the tuatara allow it to eat a wide range of prey including beetles, spiders, crickets, and small lizards. There are also several grizzly reports of sea birds being found decapitated following predation by tuatara.” The tuatara is actually a descendant of reptile that existed during the time of dinosaurs. Though its jaws are a rarity in today’s animals, there is fossil evidence showing that this system of chewing was once widespread among its ancestors. The study was published in the The Anatomical Record.

Tuatara