Tag Archive: health


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Home 3D printers – particularly FDM, Makerbot-like devices – are still in their infancy and, as such, are untested when it comes to safety. That’s why some researchers at the Built Environment Research Group at the Illinois Institute of Technology decided to test a popular model for ultrafine particle emissions, a measure of how much junk these things emit while in use.

The result? PLA, a starch-based material, emitted 20 billion particles per minute while ABS, a plastic, emitted 200 billion. This is similar in scale to using a gas stove, lighting a cigarette, or burning a scented candle. In short, it’s a significant bit of potential pollution in an unfiltered environment but it’s nothing we don’t do to ourselves on a daily basis already.

The study didn’t take into account what materials were being expelled, which makes it a bit more troubling. For example, according to PhysOrg, ABS is known to be toxic in lab rats but PLA, oddly enough, is used in nanotechnology for the delivery of medicines.

What’s the takeaway? Ventilate your 3D printer.

Because most of these devices are currently sold as standalone devices without any exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories, results herein suggest caution should be used when operating in inadequately ventilated or unfiltered indoor environments. Additionally, these results suggest that more controlled experiments should be conducted to more fundamentally evaluate particle emissions from a wider arrange of desktop 3D printers.

Obviously these devices are designed for home and office use and probably will never end up under a lab-grade ventilation hood. However, given the various processes used to make 3D objects, it’s important that this research is done to reduce the effects of UFPs on children who may be using these in schools as well as the teachers, designers, and makers who use them on a daily basis.

You can read the entire paper here or just turn on a fan.
via Physorg

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At TechCrunch Disrupt NYC back in April, former Facebook exec-turned-venture capitalist, Chamath Palihapitiya delivered a deflating critique of the tech industry – in particular, the quality of its startups. Had he been issuing a report card, the Tech World would have gotten an “F,” with an extra side of “shame.” His frustration seemed to emanate principally from the fact that “Big Ideas” are few and far between in the industry today. Rather than aiming high, he intoned, entrepreneurs seem content to reach for low-hanging fruit despite the diminishing returns inherent to that approach.

While Big Ideas may not be at all-time high, today’s news brings some assurance that they are still alive and well in the tech industry – and that there’s even capital to support them, for-profit or not. Watsi, a Y Combinator-backed healthcare crowdfunding platform, is tackling one of the biggest: That more than one billion people can’t afford (or don’t have access to) adequate medical services. Even Chamath would likely agree that falls in the “Big Idea” camp.

Today, the non-profit crowdfunding platform announced that it has raised $1.2 million in what is its first round of financing, or “philanthropic seed round,” as the startup is calling it. Granted, if Watsi is setting its sights high, than $1.2 million will only be a drop in the bucket compared to the capital and resources it will need if it truly hopes to make a difference at scale.

A good start, to be sure, especially when considering the impressive roster of names contributing to its first financing, which includes institutional investors, like China’s largest Internet services portal, Tencent, Y Combinator partners – including personal investments from founder Paul Graham and YC Partner Geoff Ralston – along with the “godfather of angel investing” and owner of the most pristine coiffure in the Valley, Ron Conway, Sun Microsystems and Khosla Ventures co-founder, Vinod Khosla, venture philanthropy fund (and Kiva investor), The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation and Flixter founder and Rotten Tomatoes CEO, Joe Greenstein – to name a few.

While the list is impressive, it’s not a group of investors one would typically find contributing to a non-profit fundraiser. Watsi founder Chase Adam explains that the reason the company opted for this approach is that the traditional mechanisms for non-profit fundraising sometimes act as a counterproductive force by undermining the social movements they’re trying to support. Instead of devoting themselves to their “Big Idea,” socially-minded entrepreneurs often spend their time entering online voting competitions and hosting banquets to raise money to support their operations.

Instead, Adams hopes that the collection of VC, angel and institutional donations represents a move toward a new future of non-profit fundraising. Granted, Watsi is in the unusual (and fortunate) position to have been the first non-profit startup to be accepted into Y Combinator and to have had the vocal support of Y Combinator’s founder, Paul Graham, who also recently accepted a seat on the startup’s board – the first time he’s done so for a YC incubation.

In reference to this question, Graham suggested to Watsi that they call this raise a “Series N” (non-profit and n=variable).

On the flip side, Adams tells us that he set a three-month deadline for fundraising, deciding to go after industry leaders and big names in the angel and venture world, regardless of whether or not the efforts proved to be successful. By doing so, the Watsi founder hopes that this might help encourage other social businesses to consider forgoing traditional sources of fundraising.

Ben Rattray, the founder and CEO of social action platform Change.org and I recently spoke on this very subject after the socially-minded for-profit company closed its own $15 million round of funding. As a for-profit business, there’s more pressure for Change.org to raise institutional or venture capital.

As a non-profit, Watsi would likely be more attractive to investors, whereas Big Idea-based, for-profit companies have traditionally found it difficult to raise money from these types of investors. However, both Adams and Rattray share similar goals, as the Change.org founder that would enable them to remain independent without having to constantly be looking for a one-time liquidity event.

“These kind of social enterprise businesses are working over the long-term, 15 to 20 year windows, which is beyond the scope of most venture capitalists,” Rattray said at the time. However, he believes that it’s going to change: “I have no doubt this is going to change – that eventually more investors are going to start backing socially-conscious businesses,” Rattray says. And it’s for that very reason that I think the juxtaposition of Watsi and Change.org is worthwhile. Although perhaps idealistic – and, admittedly, Watsi is a non-profit, perhaps the startup’s funding is the first sign that it is, in fact, beginning to change.

Nonetheless, for Watsi, this raise is an important validation of its own ambitious, “Big Idea” goals. Of course, eliminating poverty or fixing global healthcare and covering the uncovered, don’t happen over night and aren’t solved by one person or one founder. That’s why Watsi is leveraging the “many hands” approach of crowdfunding to let anyone contribute to the funding of low-cost, high-impact medical treatments for those in need.

Furthermore, the platform automatically creates profiles for those in search of financial support for treatments or surgeries and makes it easy to make direct donations. Furthermore, these profiles, besides providing critical transparency into how your donation will be used and actually help someone, it also works towards attaching actual, human faces to global poverty – which sounds cheesy but is critical to conditions or problems like this that are so huge that providing real faces, one-by-one, can help discourage, say, just ignoring it and hanging for a lower-hanging fruit.

To further incentivize donations, Watsi offers 100 percent of the donations it collects from the crowd to those in need. Graham also says that the startup is paying “all their operational costs from their own funding, and none from your donations,” and in turn, even stomach credit card processing fees. A noble gesture in its own right.

The startup hosts the profiles of people in need but who can’t afford them, allowing donors to peruse profiles, donate as little as $5
, Watsi hosts profiles of people in dire need of medical care, but who can’t afford it. Donors can browse the profiles and donate as little as $5 to help someone get well. 100% of donations go to the sick, and Watsi funds its operations and even pays credit card processing fees on donations out of its own pocket. We name

shine3

Fitbits. FuelBands. UPs. The market for smart, connected activity trackers continues to get ever-more crowded. And yet, there’s not an obvious winner yet.

Misfit Wearables’ Shine is a new entrant in the space and they may have the most beautifully-designed piece of hardware yet. The company behind the Shine is itself a homage to Apple founder Steve Jobs’ famous “Think Different” campaign and the famous 1997 commercial that began with the line, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits.

Backed by Founders Fund and Khosla Ventures, the company was co-founded by Sonny Vu, who built up a glucose-monitoring business called Agamatrix that had the first official medical device add-on to the iPhone, and former Apple CEO John Sculley. For a small startup, they have an impressively multi-national team with industrial designers in San Francisco, data scientists in Vietnam and manufacturing in South Korea and Japan.

The Shine is a tiny circle not much larger than a quarter that’s made from Japanese metal or aircraft-grade aluminum. It has LED lights beneath the surface that glow through minuscule holes on the metal itself. Those lights form a ring, indicating how far a person is toward completing their activity goals for the day. You tap the Shine twice to see how much progress you’ve made. If half the lights shine, you’re halfway done. If they complete a circle, then you’ve hit your goal.


I had a chance to test it out for a week or so, tracking everything from regular walks to dancing and downhill mountain biking.

Overall, I love the product. It looks like a piece of jewelry in many ways, and while I’m not an industrial designer myself, several other friends who work in hardware were impressed by the make and form of the Shine.

It is not plastic like a Fitbit. Then because it doesn’t have to be worn as a bracelet like the FuelBand or Jawbone UP, it looks a lot more elegant, especially if you’re a woman and want something more discreet. The Shine is comparable in price to its competitors at $99.95. The Fitbit is about $99.95, the Jawbone UP is $129.99 and the Nike FuelBand is about $150.

The Shine has four different accessories: a wristband, a necklace, a watch and a magnetic clip that makes it easy to attach anywhere, from your shoe to your sleeve to your shirt. My preferred accessory was the magnetic clip, but I didn’t have a chance to try out the necklace or watch.

Throughout the day, the Shine tracks how much you walk or run. It also handles sleep, swimming and cycling, but you have to program it. To do that, you tap the Shine three times, and it will recognize whichever activity you set up in the paired app. Unfortunately, like the other activity trackers, it doesn’t handle yoga (and as someone who practices pretty much every day, the Shine and other competing products are missing out on an hour of physical activity).

The tapping is a bit hard to learn. Sometimes I would tap with two fingers and sometimes with three. Sometimes the Shine would misinterpret a few taps as a signal to record a different type of activity instead of showing me my results so far. You can also use it to tell time with different lights glowing to represent the hour and minute hands of a watch.

“The data science to get the double tap is hard,” Vu told me. “There is no on and off button for the Shine and everything is powered by sensors.”

Indeed, the only way to turn the Shine off is for the battery to run out or for you to remove it.

That underscores the huge benefit of the Shine, which is that it doesn’t need to be charged every few days or weeks. It has a simple coin cell battery that needs to be replaced once every four to six months. It’s also waterproof to a depth of 50 meters. I dunked it in a river in the Sierra Nevadas this weekend and it came out fine, but you could theoretically scuba dive with it, too.

The data transfer to the iPhone is also beautiful. You can see how it works below. The Shine uses a simple Bluetooth connection, and the app directs you to place the Shine on a circle on the iPhone app’s screen. Circles radiate outward before the iPhone picks up the activity data in the Shine.


The paired app tells you how many points you’ve achieved in a day. The Shine doesn’t do “steps” because it would be hard to swim in steps. The middle-range goal of 1,000 points per day requires walking for 1.5 hours, running for 35 minutes or swimming for 25. You can move points higher as you please.

Overall, I was really happy with the product. It is just that much more beautiful looking than the standard Fitbit or FuelBand. For women who are turned off by the look of the bracelet trackers, it’s probably the ideal choice.

The Misfit Shine is only compatible with the iPhone for now, which was surely disappointing for Android-using supporters of the Shine who backed it on Indiegogo.

The company had a successful campaign on the crowdfunding site late last fall where they racked up 8,000 supporters in 64 countries, hit their goal in nine hours and went on to raise $850,000. That was nearly nine times as much as they targeted. Like many other hardware startups, Misfit Wearables used crowdfunding more as a marketing strategy than as a capital source. Misfit had no problem raising from some of the Valley’s better-known VC firms, and this product shows why.

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For small businesses, managing health insurance and payroll services can be a huge pain and time-sink. They probably don’t have someone on staff dedicated to these issues, and they themselves would rather be dedicating that energy to building a company. Zenefits launched out of Y Combinator this winter to remove the friction of setting up and managing group health coverage and payroll by automating the process and bringing it online – for free.

As a testament to how much demand there is among startups and small businesses, since expanding its service at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC in April, Zenefits co-founder Parker Conrad tells us that the company has signed on over 110 clients (ranging from 2 employees to over 100) and is now bringing on an average of 10 customers each week. Today, as it looks to continue expanding operations beyond California, Zenefits is announcing that it has raised $2.1 million in seed capital from an impressive roster of venture firms and angel investors.

The new round, which includes the initial $372K chunk of capital the startup raised out of Y Combinator from Andreessen Horowitz, Yuri Milner, General Catalyst, Garry Tan, Justin Kan and Alexis Ohanian, was led by Venrock and Maverick Capital. A big reason why Zenefits was keen to bring these two investors on board in particular, Conrad tells us, was that Bob Kocher, who led Venrock’s investment, was a key player in helping to write the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) when he worked at the White House.

As Greg explained in April, at its core, Zenefits is essentially a digital insurance broker, meaning that they help startups automate insurance, benefits and payroll but they also get paid a commission by insurance companies each time a company opens a new plan through its system. Over the next two years, as Obamacare goes into effect, the new regulations and provisions mean big changes for health insurance companies and brokers.

These health players are not only being forced to move operations online but will also see the amount of commissions they can take drop – among other things. Many health insurance brokers are going to drop their small-group clients to focus on bigger-ticket customers as a result – and, as premiums could go up for businesses – Zenefits could stand to benefit big-time by offering their services for free. Plus, having someone who’s intimately familiar with the complex and nuanced provisions and regulations in Obamacare (because he helped write them) is huge.

Maverick Capital is also familiar with the healthcare and health insurance industries itself, having backed some of the bigger startups and players in the market, like OneMedical, Castlight Health and SeaChange Health, for example.

On top of its lead investors and the Y Combinator partners (like Sam Altman, Garry Tan, Harj Taggar, Alexis Ohanian, Paul Bucheit and Justin Tan – who all invested personally), Zenefits also saw a number of recognizable names contribute as angels, including Box co-founder and CEO, Aaron Levie, Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever, former Googler and Twitter VP of Corporate Strategy Elad Gil, Weebly co-founder David Rusenko, former Googler and Badoo COO Ben Ling, Google’s Head of Spam Slamming Matt Cutts and Inkling co-founder and CEO, Matt MacInnis.

With the new capital under its belt, Zenefits has expanded its team to 12 and will look to add more in the coming year. Because the company is considered a broker, it is paid a commission from insurance companies for each new employee and employee added (every month), which is great for its bottom line. But this also requires that it be approved by the government on a state-to-state basis. Currently, regulations limit it (and others like it) to a few states.

But with the changes Obamacare will bring, Conrad expects that digital insurance brokers of its ilk will be allowed to expand to more states beginning in January, at which point, Zenefits will look to move quickly beyond California and New York.

In the meantime, Conrad tells us that, according to BenefitMail, the company has already vaulted into the top 5 percent of insurance brokers (in terms of number of clients) in California, primarily as a result of new company submissions to Blue Cross – not bad for a startup five months from launch.

For those unfamiliar, Zenefits has been growing fast in California by turning a paper-heavy process into a digital one, allowing users to create new plans, while serving up quotes for group coverage across health, dental and vision insurance. The company’s system makes it easier for companies hiring new employees to add coverage for each employee, or, if a company fires someone (or they leave), they can click a button to remove their coverage and take them off the payroll, while starting them on COBRA coverage.

It works for companies regardless of whether they don’t have existing coverage or already are set up, syncing employee coverage data and taking over as your insurance broker for those in the latter camp. The company also recently added payroll services, so that startups and small businesses can just tell Zenefits about a new hire and give them the employee’s information, at which point Zenefits will take care of generating offer letters, IP agreements, onboarding details and then add them to its payroll system. They can also do the same for that employee’s benefits.

As part of its payroll services, Zenefits also sets up deductions employees pay for health insurance and other benefits, which employers would usually have to set up themselves. This is a pain, because salary and pricing can be different for each employee and whenever deductions change (which happens a lot when employees move, get married and so on), the price changes. Traditionally, the price of deductions change every 10 years, but with Obamacare, this will happen every year. This could be a huge boon for Zenefits, as it takes care of this stuff for startups and small businesses, who would be seeing a lot more paperwork as a result.

Furthermore, while services like Zenefits may seem familiar or not particularly disruptive to some, it’s hard to over-state just how old-school (and offline) most of the big, old school health insurance brokers are in the U.S. Some of them are multi-billion-dollar market cap companies, but may have little or no software or online-based solutions for their customers. So many startups and founder say “we’re disrupting and old offline industry” to get you excited about your company, and in a lot of cases that’s only half-true.

Health insurance brokerage is definitely one of those industries that qualifies as ripe for disruption thanks to its archaic procedures, practices and infrastructure. Many are aware of the changes that are coming, but they’re limited in how quickly they can react by responsibilities to shareholders, quarterly earnings and so on. Easier to preserve and protect the current state of things than re-build from the ground up. Zenefits won’t be the only one to benefit – many new companies are going to spring up in this space – but it’s definitely off to a good start.

As Inkling CEO Matt MacInniss (who personally invested in this round) told us:

Zenefits has identified a huge opportunity in the shifting landscape of benefits and healthcare among growing companies. Incumbents aren’t going to move as quickly as smaller, nimble companies – and they’re not technologists – so I think there’s a huge opportunity for new digital health insurance brokers to quickly move out front to take the pole position in what’s essentially a new category

Even if moonlight isn’t streaming through your curtains, the phase of the moon may affect how well you sleep

Science and myth rarely agree, but new research suggests that the lunar cycle could have an effect on the quality of sleep.

The study by researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland found that even in the absence of moonlight, participants slept less deeply and for shorter periods during the full moon than at other lunar phases. It is a phenomenon already known in other organisms as the “circalunar rhythm”, but has never before been shown in humans.

Christian Cajochen, who was the lead researcher on the study, said: “A lot of people complain about bad sleep during moon stages, or they claim that ‘it was the moon’, and there’s a lot of myth involved. We decided to go back in our old data to see whether we could effectively quantify such an effect.”

Previous research has found no association between the phases of the moon and human physiology or behaviour. “While I’m quite cautious and sceptical about the data myself, I have to say after a proper statistical analysis that, to our surprise, we found something there,” said Cajochen. “There is a circalunar influence.”

The brain pattern, eye movements and hormone secretion of volunteers were studied while they slept. Participants were also asked for subjective assessments of their sleep quality.

The results, published in Current Biology, showed that around the full moon, subjects’ brain activity associated with deep sleep decreased by 30%, they took 5 minutes longer to fall asleep, had 20 minutes less sleep overall and lower levels of melatonin – a hormone known to regulate sleep. These findings correlated with the volunteers’ own perception that sleep quality was poorer during the full moon.

“I think one issue in the past was that they compared a lot of people by mixing different laboratories, different devices, and including data from patients, so the entire thing was not standardised,” Cajochen said. “The advantage here is that we really had a standardised protocol.”

The data was taken from a previous study that was not originally looking at the moon’s influence. Participants were kept in a very controlled environment, with artificial lighting, regulated temperature and no way of checking the time. This ensured that internal body rhythms could be investigated independently of external influences.

“The only disadvantage with such a standardised procedure is that we could only investigate 33 people,” said Cajochen. “What I would like to do in the future is to increase the number of subjects and then to follow up each person through the entire moon cycle.”

But such a study would have problems of its own, he added. “If you’re actually going to tell people you’re investigating the influence of the moon, then you may trigger some expectation or sensitivity in them. Sleep is also a psychological thing, of course.”

If true, the mechanisms responsible for the phenomenon are unknown. Malcolm von Schantz, a molecular neurobiologist at Surrey University, said: “Essentially it could be either two things: the moon itself has a gravitational pull which somehow affects our physiology. I find that very unlikely as the gravitational pull of the moon is fairly weak. It doesn’t cause tides in lakes for example, only in large oceans. In fact, if you’re sitting within 15 inches of the wall right now then the wall has a stronger gravitational pull on you than the moon does. So I don’t think we have a sort of mini-tide in ourselves.

“The alternative is that there is a ‘counter’, a mechanism which keeps track somehow of the phases of the moon.”

Marine animals are already known to follow a circalunar rhythm and some believe it is tightly intertwined with the circadian rhythm – the other internal clock that many organisms, humans included, have which is entrained to the sun. “In worms, at least, there is a crossover between these two clocks,” said Cajochen. “But we are not worms any more.”

Other researchers have wondered why a human circalunar clock should exist in the first place. Michael Hastings, a neuroscientist studying circadian rhythms at Cambridge University, said: “In evolutionary terms, it sounds plausible to me at least. If you were a hunter gatherer, you’d want to be out there on a full moon, not a new moon. It might be that there’s something about suppression of sleep under those circumstances because you should be out hunting.

“I think at best it’s intriguing. There’s a biological plausibility, if we take the hunter gatherer scenario, with regard to the mechanisms … It is such a striking and unexpected finding that replication by other sleep labs is absolutely critical.”

Not everyone is concerned that there were only 33 subjects – von Schantz even said these numbers are “fairly sizeable” for such a study.

“It’s true, the body of negative data on the effects of the moon on a huge number of parameters is fairly impressive,” he added. “It’s entirely conceivable that all those previous studies are correct, but that there is also an effect in a limited number of other parameters, one of them being sleep, for reasons we don’t yet understand.”

Smart shoes by Apple track the wear and the usage and also help you to identify that when the shoes need to be replaced. This works via built-in LED lights, displays, speakers etc. This works by embedding the processor and other mini electronic devices in the heel of the shoe. This can also be embedded in any part of the shoe which clearly indicates how the shoe is damaged out. This can also reveal that for how long the shoe has been used. This shoe also indicates the user of the shoe if he has crossed the suggested time of the walk by wearing those shoes. The sensors include motion detectors that easily detect the motion of the person wearing smart shoes.

The smart shoe also helps the users to decide when they need to replace their shoes. The qualities of this shoe are that these shoes provide comforts, protection moreover stability for users when they are engaged in physical activities like sports etc.

This also displays the weight. Sensors are given power by the built-in battery or with the help of generator. Apple has also launched such shoes before that was an excellent way to check their workouts by monitoring their actual activities. This was moreover focused on health directly. Whereas, the smart shoes launched by Apple now is not focused on health directly but it can be worn for viewing the workouts, activity habits that tells that how many time you wear your shoes.

So many companies are in future expecting to look for smart watches which will embed on person’s body and it will be invisible so that people around us won’t be able to see it. These inventions don’t give any guarantee. But these inventions are expected to grow in the coming future as it will be a concern of the electronics consumer and the electronics maker.

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The internet: it’s our teacher, our entertainer, and ever increasingly, our doctor. Every day, the country’s sniveling, coughing, light-headed festering contagions plop in front of their computers in hopes of figuring out what the hell is a matter with them—for free. So while brilliant, it’s not entirely surprising that scientists were, for the first time, able to find significant evidence of unreported prescription drug side effects faster than any of the FDA’s own methods. And as The New York Times reports, all thanks to our ailing internet search queries.

Using data from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo search engines, the Stanford and Columbia University joint research team sifted though 6 million users’ internet search queries (which you’ll be uncomfortable to know, are forever saved in web search logs) and looked for searches that related to the antidepressant paroxetine and the cholesterol-lowering drug pravastin. They found that users who had searched for both of these drugs were also 10 percent more likely to search for hyperglycemia or one of its many symptoms. This number may seem small, but as The New York Times notes:

The researchers said they were surprised by the strength of the “signal” that they detected in the searches and argued that it would be a valuable tool for the F.D.A. to add to its current system for tracking adverse effects. “There is a potential public health benefit in listening to such signals,” they wrote in the paper, “and integrating them with other sources of information.”

Currently, the FDA documents interactions and side effects through the Adverse Event Reporting System, which only obtains new information when a physician notices something and goes on to report it. So while the FDA may have the tools to handle interactions as they come, they’re increasingly reliant on this massive deposit of public data, the possibilities of which are only starting to become realized. So search away, sicklings—it’s for the greater good. [The New York Times]

Image: Shuttershock/Robert Keneschke

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