Showing posts with label health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label health. Show all posts

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Humanity Forgetting Terrible Diseases (& History of Tuberculosis)

Sanatorium for Tuberculosis patients

This blog post was inspired by the recent PBS documentary "The Forgotten Plague" (which concentrates on the history of TB, primarily in the United States).

It seems that recently, numerous diseases that we thought were "virtually wiped out", such as the whooping cough, and even polio, have revived in certain areas of the United States. This is primarily due to parents disallowing their children vaccination, and subsequently, protection from these life-threatening diseases.

One opinion of the cause of this is because humans, even within a generation or two, completely forget the horrible history of these terrible sicknesses.

I'd like to focus on one in particular, that was wide-spread and very common up until only the mid-early 1900s: tuberculosis, or "consumption" back when this disease was still common. The reason why it was called "consumption" was because a classic symptom was weight loss.

Although TB was thought to be hereditary, people also thought that fresh air and going outside in the wilderness could help reduce the symptoms. In fact, although there were many other reasons why people went out into the American West, one major cause was the fact that developers advertised how "being in the wilderness" and "going out West" can cure TB.

In 1882, the bacteria that caused TB was discovered, and was named "tuberculosis bacillus" due to its tuber-like shape. So, when people realized that it was not hereditary, and in fact contagious by being in vicinity with a TB-infected person, many special isolated places sprung up to house infected people, and most of these places were in the wilderness.

These places were called "sanatoriums", the first of which was founded by Edward Trudeau, who was also the American to first verify the fact that TB was in fact caused by a bacteria, by taking an excruciatingly long period of time to make the microscope, to adjust the room temperature to be exactly 36-37 degrees celsius for hours (which was extremely difficult back in the early 1900s).

Trudeau's "sanatorium" had grown in popularity in its name, and as a result, many more sprung up, including in Europe as well. All of these sanatoriums tried to mimic how Trudeau ran his sanatorium: patients needed to be in bed all day, eat enough food to be well, and surprisingly, and sitting outside on the porch for hours (even if it was freezing cold outside).

What Trudeau discovered is basically common sense today: that rest and relaxation helps your immune system fight against foreign bacteria.

Eventually, in 1943, the antibiotic streptomycin was discovered by Albert Schatz in order to effectively combat tuberculosis. Schatz painstakingly spent hours and hours getting samples of dirt from outside, and isolate all of the bacteria until he found one that was effective against TB.

And it's 2015 right now, only 72 years later, and most of us have forgotten about this plague - this forgotten plague. In an interview within the documentary with an elderly man who was still alive to tell us his stories about TB, he actually talked about his experiences within the sanatorium, and how his mom, his dad, and most of his relatives died from it. It was one day in 1943 when he was finally told that there was a cure, and lived to tell the tale due to this miracle antibiotic.

Unfortunately for us millenials, there are now many strains of tuberculosis that are resistant to streptomycin, and currently a combination of different antibiotics are used to treat tuberculosis. Perhaps in the near future, there will be even further resistant tuberculosis strains, and I am a bit scared by that, and of any other harmful bacteria that can develop resistance.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Developing the "Footsies" App at PennApps

Author's Note: I have decided to do a blog post for all the hackathons/projects I have done thus far. I feel like I can explain a lot about what I did and how each of the hackathons went a lot better in a blog post than just boringly talking about it on my resume.

Author's Note 2: Thanks for Global Hackathon Seoul for giving me a Raspberry Pi as the winner of the "describe your hack" contest! I submitted this blog post as my submission!

Github Repo of the App:

My Experience at the Hackathon

Poster of PennApps Photographed at PennApps 2015

As you can tell from the above picture, I fortunately got the opportunity to go to PennApps for the first time! (I've never went from Canada to the US just for a hackathon before!)

We figured we wanted to do a hardware and health app, considering that PennApps was promoting those two types of hacks that year. So, we got our hands on a Sensoria Sock, which is basically a sock that has pressure sensors and an accelerometer, and we could read those raw values into our Android application by bluetooth, and interpret the data from there.



We figured we wanted to do a hardware and health app, considering that PennApps were promoting those two types of hacks that year. So, we got our hands on a Sensoria Sock, which is basically a sock that has pressure sensors and an accelerometer, and we could read those raw values into our Android application by bluetooth, and interpret the data from there.

We got this idea to create a gait (walking) and posture analysis/rehabilitation app. Until now, most smart fitness devices only measured heart rate, blood pressure, and other things in the body. There has never been a consumer device which can measure the pressure on the bottom of your foot (gait). It is also novel because patients can send data about their gait/walking data to doctors and it can diagnose walking problems and train/rehabilitate walking problems all through a mobile app.


Posture and the way you walk is important. Very slight variations in walking posture times thousands of steps a day can mean extra stress on various part of your foot, leg, and even the rest of your body. Thus, our target user is anyone interested in analyzing their own walking behavior. Some people may be walking wrong their whole lives without even knowing it. This app is good for people who might not even know they have common foot problems to "self-diagnose" themselves (though obviously, consulting a real doctor is better).


Our app, Footsies, is currently on the Android platform. Even though Sensoria has developed a suite of frameworks for the smart sock (on iOS and Windows Phone), there has not been any major framework for Android. Thus, the technical difficulty was difficult as we needed to store/interpret all of the raw data/numbers from the sensors and manually look at all of the accelerometer data/pressure data, and calibrate the app so that we can accurately determine what is a step, and also manually make a visual map of the pressures on the feet in real time. It connects to the Sensoria smart sock via Bluetooth, and allows the user to get a variety of information from the device.

It calibrates to each users' steps' pressure values through a short and easy process of having them pose in the four basic gait phases (pictured below) for a few seconds each, allowing the app to get more a more meaningful/fine-tuned measurement for accurate diagnosis, monitoring, etc.

We had the user calibrate the sensor with the four main stance phases of gait.

This kind of screen appeared for each calibration pose the user had to do. They would press the calibrate button, and then after all the calibrations are done, main menu (the figure below this one) would pop up.

The app has three main modes: diagnosis, monitor, and training

In diagnosis mode, the user is asked to take 10 normal steps, and based on those steps the app attempts to make a diagnosis based on the gait pressures measured. In particular, we focused on being able to diagnose two types of "simple-to-diagnose" foot conditions (because we only had limited time as this was a hackathon, and could only research about these two): pronation (inward feet) and supination (outward feet).

Our app could easily diagnose this, but if we had more time at the hackathon, we could've researched more common feet problems and then we could've diagnosed those conditions with our app too.

Even if no meaningful conclusion is reached, the app graphs the data (gait phase type as a function of time) to which may help to find correlations. This graph data is also sent to Google Fit API and our own server. This server would help "connect" doctors to patients using this app by easily allowing the doctor to see the data remotely, without the patient being beside the doctor in real life. 

Screen that had an interactive circle that filled up as you took the 10 steps to diagnose your feet problem.

Note: I didn't take a screenshot of the "diagnostics results" page unfortunately... but this screen looked cool, trust me. We had a good designer (a.k.a. one of my teammates!) Below is a figure demonstrating what the graph kind of looked like (we just used a simple interactive-graph-library for Android, that's open source on Github).

Link to the library here:

In monitor mode, the user can watch the details of their every step. A "heat" map of pressure is shown, which can show if a user has a habit of leaning in- or out-wards, for example. Data collected could be sent to the doctor, so in essence, our app could help patients with foot problems by not having to force them to stay in the hospital. This app can easily be used in the patient's own home and can be used for therapy in their own home as well.

Screenshot of monitor screen. The foot at the bottom was an interactive heat map I made, that highlighted with color the varying intensities of pressure on the foot. The official frameworks for Sensoria Sock on iOS and Windows Phone had this heat-map, but Android didn't, so I made it myself by heavily calibrating/modifying/hacking.

In training mode, the user can decide on a number of steps as a goal, and the app will count them to that goal while alerting them of any bad posture steps they made along the way. Footsies even has Pebble integration; the smartwatch will alert you via vibrations if you make a "bad step".

Screenshot of training screen. The graph updates in real time each time the user took a step.

Monday, 31 March 2014

A Female Nerd/Otaku's Guide to Fitness and Health! Part 1 - Why you should exercise!

Hey ladies! (and maybe for the gents who read this as well.) This is a guide that I have written to help all those out there who have never actually exercised outside of those dreadful physical education classes.

When I was in high school, I never really started to work out at all. But believe me when I say that working out is a crucial part of one's lifestyle. I did not realize how big of a negative consequence it was to not work out. I hope that this post will help teenage girls out there realize the importance of exercising.

So, who did I make this motivational guide to?

This guide is to help those who are too scared to go to the gym, and those who were never good at any sport. Believe me when I say that I basically fit all of those characteristics. My head got hit by more baseballs/basketballs/volleyballs/etc. than I could count! I also had a huge phobia of going to the gym (as I was super self-conscious back then). And of course, as a stereotypical straight A high school Asian student that I was, I was horrified when I got a 70 in phys. ed. That mark just extremely demotivated me from exercising in general.

I was basically a huge nerd. Huge geek. Huge otaku. I watched anime since I was super young (as my brother and I immigrated to Canada from Japan). This guide is dedicated to the people who can relate to me - my fellow nerds!

The following is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I feel like I should share it so that you (the reader) can better relate to me. Hopefully, by being able to relate to me, I can help you guys to live a better life. So, after the single mandatory phys. ed. course that I was forced to take in my freshman year, I vowed to never do any exercise again in order to avoid scrutiny and embarrassment. However, I realized that during my 10th grade year in high school, my thighs grew fatter. Because I got a lot fatter in this area in such a short amount of time, I developed a lot of stretch marks on both of my inner thighs. (A lot of them!) After some time, I even felt like I had to suck in my stomach every time I wore my skirts (which means I got fatter around my stomach area as well). I was exceedingly self-conscious about my big hips and thighs, which made me have a pear-shaped body (the body shape that I did not like at all back then).

I tried to ignore my weight gain. I began a life of pure unhealthiness. I played games all day. It was when I got into Starcraft 2 for a while, and then started to play League of Legends addictingly.

Ahri - My Favorite League of Legends Champion

That was basically my life during this rather depressing period. Games and anime. Anime and games. Food. I barely ate any vegetables or fruit. I had a hard time trying to escape from this cycle.

I basically was ignoring, or to be more precise, a unconscious about the status of my health. In fact, I thought I wasn't fat. Sure I had fat, but if you looked at me during those days, you would have seen a girl of an average weight for her height. I thought that because I couldn't see any huge protruding sections of fat on my body, I was healthy.

I couldn't have been more wrong. If I had to summarize this blog post in a few short sentences, the following would be it: The key is to be fit. Not to lose weight,  but to be fit and healthy. Most geeks/nerds don't even realize what it means to be "fit and healthy"!

You see, just because you don't look "externally" fat, does not mean you are healthy. You could be like I was during high school - you might not be overweight, but that does not mean you are fit. Weight should never be a "sign" of how healthy you are. You know why? Fit people generally weigh more than their chubby counterparts. This is because muscle is more dense than fat. So from now on, I would like to encourage my fellow females to please disregard how much you weigh. Instead, start caring about the foods you eat, and also start caring how much exercising you're doing!

If you are like the past me, then that means you are not only unfit, but you might actually be fat "internally" as well. To clarify, your body actually stores a lot of internal fat that you cannot see. This kind of fat is worse than the external fat that actually makes you look fat. Internal fat is worse than external fat because they are nearest to your vital organs. Because they are near your vitals, you will have an increased chance of getting cardiovascular disease when you're older.

Now that you have heard all of the reasons why your lifestyle is bad, The remainder of this blog post will be to try and persuade you and motivate you to start leading a healthy life. I personally like Nike's slogan, because the meaning behind it fits with what I am trying to say: "Just do it". Just start exercising regularly starting right now. No excuses! Then, have your diet mainly consist of vegetables. The second thing your diet should mainly consist of should be fruits. Most people eat lots of those fatty, calorie rich, or sugar-loaded food. Just start getting on the right track now.

In order to further persuade you to exercise, I have written two lists: one that lists all of the negative consequences of not exercising, and one that lists all of the positive things about exercising. Of course, I have written these lists in the perspective that will suit female nerds!

Not Exercising Leads to Lots of Problems:
  • more severe/more sicknesses
  • loss of muscle (i.e. you won't even be able to simple objects when you are older. This is especially frightening to me)
  • loss of bone (This is especially something we females need to worry about. Osteoporosis is very common in females. There are lots of exercises that help prevent bone loss.)
  • depression (I had depression for most of my high school life, and in the beginning of my university life as well. You know what helped me? Regular exercise. Exercising actually releases hormones that will help prevent depression. With exercising, self-confidence can also be increased since you will be seeing objectively that you are making progress on your body!)
  • premature deaths
  • back pain (obesity is linked to back pain)

Why you should Exercise:
  • after only a month, you will be able to actually touch and feel parts of your body having less fat or more muscle
  • after a few months, a more drastic change will occur (i.e. if you got a bit chubby like me in high school, then you can practically revert back to your old self!)
  • you will be stronger, and you'll be more confident (who doesn't want to brag about how they can lift more than their own weight?)
  • you will be able to fit and look good in cosplay
  • you will be healthier, live a longer life, be happier, and potentially get rid of your depression! (which is pretty much what happened to me!)

I hope this blog post has helped motivate some of you to start living a healthy life!