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Kinsa Stick Smart Thermometer Review

Posted in reviews by Joe Colburn on the April 16th, 2016

I hate being sick. Sometimes I miss work because of it, but it almost always means I don’t know when I’ll feel better or what to expect. This is largely because I’m horrible at self-diagnosing. As I write this, I find myself at what I’m hoping is the tail end of a bad cold. What better way to review a smart thermometer like the Smart Stick Thermometer from Kinsa.

First Impressions
When I first heard about this thermometer, I took note of all the marketing materials and how they seemed to be geared towards parents. To be honest, I have a digital thermometer that works just fine, so having no children, I’d probably glance at this and forget all about it. Regardless, it did strike me as a great idea for parents and having a way for someone like me to track my symptoms seems like a big plus. The thing that really stood out, however, was the price. At $24.99, the stick falls right into the middle of the pricing range for digital thermometers I’ve seen in the past, but for its feature set, it’s priced very well.

Out of the Box
When my Kinsa Stick arrived, I liked the case that it comes in. My old thermometer is a single piece that has a plastic cap that covers the part meant to go into my mouth. This one has an extension cable, a setup adapter, instructions, and the Kinsa Stick, itself. The extension cord is meant to wrap around the case and the clear platic top keeps it in place. Flipping over the case, I found that the bottom comes off to reveal the setup adapter and instruction booklet. This is well-designed over all, but the cable can be problematic if not wrapped back in place just right.

Using the Kinsa Stick
A couple minutes after heading to the Android App store and searching for Kinsa, I had the app installed and guiding me through the setup process. This consisted of plugging in and unplugging the Stick with and without the setup adapter until finally plugging the Kinsa back in on its own for use. The whole process took just over a minute on my Nexus 6. For those curious about compatibility, the Kinsa Stick will work with quite a few smartphones when running iOS 8.0 or Jelly Bean (v 4.1) and later on Android.

I’m not sure what the setup adapter does, but it seems to be necessary as part of the process getting started. In fact, I had to use it twice on my phone for some reason. Other than that, everything went pretty smoothly. I tried the Stick orally and it read my temperature without having to keep the thing in my mouth for 3 minutes. I decided to also try taking my temperature in my armpit. The first time, I did it through a thin t-shirt just to see what would happen and it was off by 4 degrees. When I tried again under the shirt, it read just about the same as the oral reading, which is what I would expect. Throughout the process, I was guided with video and prompts, which helped everything run smoothly.

For adults, this thermometer adds the ability to set up profiles and keep track of symptoms and readings for each person. While this is handy, the real value seems to be for parents. These same features are useful for the whole family, but there’s also the ability to keep a child entertained by popping bubbles, for example, while the temperature is being read. Being able to read a temperature via the armpit could also be an advantage to parents. The app also offers the option to read a temperature by ear or rectally, though I did not try those features.

As a non-parent, the Kinsa Stick is a convenience, to be sure, but not a necessity. That said, the price point of $24.99 could easily sway a non-parent. For parents, this could be a great device to help make unpleasant times a little easier to deal with. I would imagine this being well worth the small cost for most parents, more so when there are multiple younger children in the house.

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Common Core Math Vs Old Math In PHP

Posted in Code by Joe Colburn on the February 3rd, 2016

Love it or hate it, Facebook brings out the passion in people. People get unfriended and feelings get hurt. There’s no better way to experience it than to post an opinionated political viewpoint. Still, politics are far from the only fuel for these fires. Recently, I’ve seen heated discussions about Common Core Math, a relatively newer way to approach learning math principles. Some of the concepts seem, on the surface, to be a big, crazy departure from the concepts many of us learned as children and that’s what I’ve seen most of the noise about. In some instances, friends share an image from an angry parent whose child’s math solution was marked incorrect because the common core methods were not applied. In other cases, frustration is voiced because it appears that the new methods are actually worse than the old ones. Whatever side you’re on, be sure to open your mind to learning new things and making your own mind up.

I’m still on the fence, so as a software engineer, I decided to throw ones and zeros at the problem and see what stuck. In this case, I decided that the problem I wanted to solve would be to determine which method might be faster for subtracting numbers. The “old way”, as seen on the left in the image below, involves lining up your numbers and borrowing from the next digit to the left as you subtract each digit on the bottom from the one on the top. The new way involves essentially rounding up the number you’re subtracting until it matches the number you’re subtracting from and adding all the numbers you had to use to round up in order to get to the difference. The simplest explanation I saw for this was 9 minutes into this video, in which the teacher describes the process of counting change back to a customer at a cash register.


To solve my problem, I used PHP to try to mimic the process we go through as humans to subtract one number from another. I programmed functions for the old and new ways to solve a subtraction problem and added code to time each and loop lots of times to create a more visible comparison. The Commmon Core math in PHP code is on GitHub for anyone who would like to try it out or improve it and below are some example results.

1,000 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 1000.
Total time for the old way : 0.0071358680725098 seconds
Total time for the new way : 0.01004958152771 seconds

100,000 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 1000.
Total time for the old way : 0.71134495735168 seconds
Total time for the new way : 0.97455978393555 seconds

1,000,000 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 1000.
Total time for the old way : 6.9777636528015 seconds
Total time for the new way : 9.8461444377899 seconds

100 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 10,000,000.
Total time for the old way : 0.00092959403991699 seconds
Total time for the new way : 0.0014877319335938 seconds

100,000 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 10,000,000.
Total time for the old way : 1.0502970218658 seconds
Total time for the new way : 1.6906788349152 seconds

1,000,000 cycles – random numbers between 1 and 10,000,000.
Total time for the old way : 22.028552055359 seconds
Total time for the new way : 34.783274650574 seconds

It’s worth noting that computers and the human brain work in very different ways. This experiment is not intended to prove anything either way, nor is it intended as scientific data in the slightest. It’s merely an experiment on the process and I welcome discussion and open-minded debate in the comments.

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Amazon’s New Shepard Launches and Lands Again

Posted in Just Cool by Joe Colburn on the January 23rd, 2016

In a few months, I’ll be taking a tour of NASA’s Space Center in Houston, TX and geeking out over all things space. This is a big deal for me as I’ve always been keen on the idea of space travel and have long yearned to leave Earth’s gravity behind for the thrill of extra-terrestrial travel. This is also why I’m excited to see Amazon’s New Shepard rocket successfully re-launch today.

The Commercial Space Travel Race
In 2007, SpacePort America was announced and is now offering tours and hosting rocket and spaceship launches. The next year, Virgin Galactic announced SpaceShip Two, promising to make space flight commercially available, but that hasn’t been without its troubles. In 2014, SpaceShip Two crashed, killing one of the pilots. Meanwhile, Elon Musk (PayPal, Tesla) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) have been racing to be the first to launch and land a rocket for re-use. Hours ago, Amazon’s Blue Origin won that race by successfully re-launching New Shepard, which had launched and landed late last year. Musk’s, SpaceX hasn’t been far behind, launching and landing their Falcon 9 rocket just a month after New Shepard.

The Future of Passenger Space Travel
While Virgin Galactic has been pre-booking seats to space for quite some time, the reality is that none of these companies are flying the rest of us normal people into space yet. There’s still a lot to work out in terms of safety and stability. Once the safety issues are completely ironed out, there’s still the matter of cost. Currently, Virgin Galactic requires $250,000 to fly and I’m sure our other options will come in around the same price. As these companies figure out how to fly more people at a time and lower their costs, we should see the prices come down some, but I don’t expect to spend any less than 5 figures for a long time. Still, this re-launch of New Shepard is a big deal. Every subsequent launch reduces the overhead costs to Amazon’s Blue Origin, which we can only hope will lower the cost per seat.

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