Author Archives: Gerry Manacsa

About Gerry Manacsa

Gerry Manacsa is a designer, multimedia artist and technologist living in Dayton, Ohio. In his off hours, he stays busy shooting photos and exploring the world with his wife, Karina, and their scruffy pup, Giles. You can find @gerrym on Twitter and at manacsadesign.com.

First Look: Scanadu Scout, a Real-Life Tricorder

The Scanadu Scout, a real-life tricorder?

Like all geeks of a certain age, I watched with easy acceptance as Dr. McCoy eyed his medical tricorder while waving a handheld scanner at his patients. Of course he has sleek electronic gadgets to make his diagnoses. The intrusive diagnostic devices of the twentieth century seemed too crude — even medieval — to be used in our shiny, high-tech future.

With the first crop of actual, not-just-on-TV tricorders nearing release, it seems another Star Trek vision is coming to the real world. Scanadu is a finalist in the Tricorder XPRIZE, and the Scout device is becoming available in pre-release form as part of their large-scale FDA consumer health study (a portion of a larger roadmap to gain FDA approval).

the Scanadu Scout in-hand

Karina (a medical doctor and public health professional) and I (emphatically not a doctor but very interested in the health applications of tech and design) were early backers of the Scanadu Indiegogo campaign, giving us early access to a Scout and making me a willing human guinea pig in the study.

The System

The Scout consists of a hopia-sized, sensor-laden handheld scanner (obscure Filipino-culture pastry reference here), along with a smartphone app to collect and display the data. The device is entirely dependent on the app for functionality, with no display or controls of its own beyond an on/off button. The package also contains a micro-USB cable for charging.

Scanadu Scout shown with scale reference

The Hardware

The Yves Béhar-designed device is made in California, and its form reflects a thoughtful design process. Designed to be held and used by the person being measured, the rounded, finger-friendly edges and cleverly positioned indentations are made both for comfort and for optimizing the position of the sensors relative to the subject’s body. Finger indentations on the top and bottom surfaces encourage a proper grip and good ballpark positioning when raised up to the forehead. A sensor on the top surface rests inside the finger indent (an affordance that the finger naturally falls into when gripping the device). Additional sensors positioned on a flat surface on the front edge are intended to be lightly placed against the forehead. Tiny holes on top and bottom presumably are ports for additional sensors measuring the ambient environment.

The rear edge houses the on/off button, the charging port and a power LED. A nice touch on the underside is an inscription reading “sapere aude,” a Latin phrase meaning “Dare to know.”

Rear View of Scanadu Scout

The device is surprisingly light, almost incongruously unsubstantial given the serious information it’s designed to measure. The glossy plastic on the top and bottom has a nice, slightly silky feel but the material’s appearance says “inexpensive medical device” more than it says “Apple.”

Installing the App

The Scout’s smartphone software installs from the App store, requiring no configuration beyond giving the Scout a name and entering some basic personal information (name, height, weight and age) to help with the data interpretation — and presumably to help with the calibration and data validation Scanadu is doing as part of the study. In its current form, the app is intended for a single user, consistent with the constraints of the investigational study (and, I suspect, the constraints of their software development schedule). However, Scanadu indicated that multi-user capability will be available in the future once the device gains FDA approval.

Tricording

Starting a scan immediately guided me through the largely automated process of pairing my iPhone with the scanner via Bluetooth. The only action needed from me was to press the power button. Easy.

Additional screens illustrate how to hold the device and position it on your own forehead. The finger indents and the natural fold of the left arm got me close to the right spot, but the app’s real-time feedback showed that the data acquisition was weak at first. Small changes in position, pressure and body movement all made a big difference, and it was hard to tell from feel alone whether the flat sensor edge was pressing against my forehead. The short time window for collecting data (before the app halted the reading or the scanner hardware went to sleep) meant that many of my early attempts resulted in failed readings. Practice helps, though — I can now get good readings about 75% of the time after a couple of days of occasional practice. Nevertheless, it’s frustrating that the capture fails after the set time interval even as good data comes in. Ideally, the Scout would continue sending for as long as the app confirms good input.

Scanadu Scout in action

The app interface and the data displays are clear and easy to navigate. The real-time data collection screen (below, left) shows an EKG-like live trace, along with an indicator of signal quality. Some set quantity has to be collected before the reading is considered successful and can be analyzed. Otherwise, the collected data are discarded. Upon completion, results for blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and blood oxygen saturation SpO2 are displayed in a summary screen, with some qualitative interpretation (below, center). Personal data trends for various time frames are available in the history screen (below, right). The Scanadu site indicates that the Scout data will include EKG, heart rate variability and some composite measure of stress, but these are not included in the current app. These measures will likely be possible, given that the acquisition screen already shows a real-time EKG, but this doesn’t appear to be recorded or interpreted. Perhaps these will be added later as the app and the underlying algorithms are developed further.

Scanadu app screens

Accuracy

The Scout’s design and data displays are impressive, but does the device really work? Is it accurately measuring what it purports to measure? Quick checks against alternative methods and my own history indicate good accuracy, but we’ll be doing a series of more careful comparisons against traditional measurements in coming weeks.

The Real McCoy

If the accuracy proves to be as good as early comparisons indicate, the Scout promises to be a leap forward in personal health monitoring. It replaces a bag full of traditional instruments, and potentially makes advanced measures like an EKG possible. The simplicity of making measurements makes it practical to get more data over time — even for non-professionals — creating a picture of an individual’s health that can be correlated with behavior, treatment, diet and other factors. Stay tuned in coming weeks as we do our own informal validation of the Scout’s data to confirm that our Star Trek-style medical future has truly arrived.

Post-Tropical Papaya Smoothie

After spending a month traveling in the Philippines and gorging on delicious tropical holiday fare — then taking another couple of weeks recovering from the exotic-sounding tropical dengue fever I picked up along the way — I’d had a belly full of tropical goodness for a while.

Now it’s March and Ohio’s early-spring promises of sunshine and breezy afternoons (along with three months endured of winter’s bitter winds and endless snow) have me longing for palm trees and beaches again.  A nice-looking papaya has been ripening on the counter next to the bananas since the weekend, and I was ready for another taste of the tropics. I made this smoothie a bit simpler than my usual multi-fruit fare, all the better to bring out the papaya’s flavor…

Papaya-Banana Smoothie

Post-Tropical Papaya (and Banana) Smoothie

1½ cups papaya chunks This was about half of a medium-sized papaya.
1 banana It’s just not a smoothie without a banana, I sometimes say. And it’s a nice tropical complement to the papaya flavor.
1–1½ cups almond milk Use less for a thicker, creamier texture.
½ cup plain, nonfat yogurt More creaminess and a bit more protein.
¼ cup raw walnuts Just a few, to balance the tropical fruit sweetness and add some good-for-you nuttiness.
1 tbsp whole flax seeds Need some of those delicious Omega-3s!
dash chia seeds (optional) Add these if you like a little texture (and chia  nutritiousness) in your smoothie like I do.

Good for about two 8-ounce servings.

Place all of the ingredients except the chia seeds into the Vitamix or other blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and stir in the chia seeds. Allow to sit for a couple of minutes to give the chia seeds time to settle in, then kick back and imagine the sunrise coming up over an endless blue sea…

Neapolitan Banana Split Smoothie

When I was a kid, my mom was fond of neapolitan ice cream. My memories are colored with recollections of cracking open the freezer after school, digging out the half-gallon box and dishing out scoops of milky-brown chocolate, white vanilla and neon-pink strawberry ice cream into a Corelle bowl lined with sliced bananas.

This Sunday morning, I thought I’d do a grown-up-me version of that old favorite!

Neapolitan Banana Split SmoothieNeapolitan Banana Split Smoothie

1 banana Unlike banana splits, a ripe and mushy one would be great.
½ cup strawberries We had some early-season fresh ones, but frozen would work, too. No neon pinks here, but they add a beautiful strawberry color.
2 tbsp raw cacao nibs Can’t have neapolitan without chocolate!
1–1½ cups vanilla almond milk Use less for a thicker, creamier texture that you can eat with a spoon.
2 tbsp plain, nonfat yogurt More creaminess and a bit more spunky tartness.
¼ cup raw almonds Let’s make that almond milk a bit more almond-y.
¼ cup blueberries The strawberries were a little too early to be sweet, so I added a few of these.
2 dried apricots Just because.
dash whole flax seeds Need some of those delicious Omega-3s!

Place all of the ingredients into the Vitamix or other blender. Be sure to reserve a strawberry or two and a few cacao nibs if you want to use some to garnish your creation. Blend until smooth. This should be good for about two 8-ounce servings.

Neapolitan Banana Split Smoothie

Banana Bread Smoothie: Comfort Food in a Glass

I’m a pastry guy. But when faced with a multitude of choices in the baker’s case, banana bread almost always makes the cut as a finalist. While visiting Press (my favorite coffee shop here in Dayton) a couple of days back, I had to make a choice between banana bread and a homemade, soft-dough chocolate chip cookie… and I chose banana bread. That’s how much I like banana bread.

I decided to try my hand at making a smoothie version. I think this recipe captures some of that comfort-food goodness…

Banana Bread Smooth with WalnutsBanana-walnut bread, in a smoothie!

2 bananas Riper is better, just like with banana bread!
½ small avocado Didn’t expect this in the recipe, did you? Adds a nice creaminess to the naturally smooth banana texture. Try it, you’ll like it.
handful raw walnuts We’ll be adding these and letting them stay a bit chunky in the smoothie, to give it that extra bit of banana bread-ness.
handful dried goji berries Adds a little nutty complexity to the flavor, some nice color and a whole bunch of great nutrients and antioxidants.
big dash flax seeds A little more nutty flavor, along with some Omega-3s.
dash chia seeds (optional) These remind me of tiny boba or berry seeds, and they adds protein and other goodness. If you don’t care for that texture, blend it until smooth or leave out the chia altogether.
dash ground cinnamon The recipe works without it, but I like banana bread with the extra zest added by cinnamon.
1 large ice cube We have a giant, cocktail-sized cube tray, so you might need a couple of regular-sized cubes.
1-2 cups unsweetened almond milk Some nice grass-fed, natural skim milk would work here, too! 1 cup resulted in a fairly thick drink, the way I like it. Use a bit more if you prefer yours thinner.

Place the bananas, avocado, goji berries, flax seeds, ice and milk into the Vitamix and blend until smooth. Reserving one or two for a garnish, add the walnuts to the previously blended ingredients. Blend on low to medium until the nuts are chopped into smallish pieces. Pour into a glass and stir in some chia seeds until evenly mixed. Top with a dash of cinnamon and garnish with walnuts.

Can you almost smell that fresh-baked banana bread? Enjoy!

Smoothie Improvisation: Apples, Cherries, Walnuts, Cranberries and More

The late afternoon sun is pouring through our windows, flooding my work perch and reminding me of how long it’s been since lunch. Now that we’re on the tail-end of our week’s worth of produce, making a smoothie snack calls for a bit of improvisational scrounging (though admittedly, improvisation is always part of my cooking style).

I gathered a few items likely to match with each other, resulting in this:

Apple Cherry  Walnut Smoothie in the VitamixSmoothie ingredients in the Vitamix, ready for blending.

2 medium apples I used organic Fuji apples this time.
1 handful strawberries These were getting a bit overripe in the fridge, but they were great for smoothies.
2 handfuls cranberries Pulled from the stash of fresh cranberries we just froze.
1 handful dried cherries Grabbed a bunch from the muesli reserve — handy to have dried fruits for a low-produce day like today!
1 handful dried goji berries
1 handful raw walnuts
dash whole flax seeds
dash chia seeds This reminds me of tiny boba or berry seeds. If you don’t care for that texture, leave out the chia.
1 tablespoon mango sorbet Scraping the bottom of the barrel of that leftover sorbet I used in my last smoothie recipe!
1–2 cups almond milk 1 cup resulted in a fairly thick drink, the way I like it. Use a bit more if you prefer yours thinner.

I dumped all of the ingredients except the chia seeds into the Vitamix and blended on high until smooth. I added the chia seeds last and blended on low just to stir them in.

Apple Cherry Walnut Smoothie

Apple, cherry, walnut, cranberry smoothie: a quick and tasty pick-me-up.

Autumn Berry Smoothie

A chill was in the air on this November Sunday in Ohio, and I craved a quick boost… something light and easy — both easy to make and easy to eat. Fortunately, our fruit bowls, cupboards and fridge were well stocked after an end-of-week grocery spree. I gathered together a few organic, fresh or dried fruits, nuts and seeds, threw them in the Vitamix, and this was the result:

autumn berry smoothieThe Autumn Berry Smoothie

The ingredient list is simple and the portions are only roughly measured, so if it tastes a little off just keep adding stuff until it tastes right to you. It would also be totally okay to substitute, given that the whole thing was improvisation — I’ll make a few suggestions along the way to give you ideas.

1 banana The riper, the better!
1 apple I used a Winesap heirloom variety because it’s in season locally, but any would do… best to keep it organic, though.
2 handfuls of strawberries These are pretty much end-of-season — hope you froze some berries! We didn’t, so it’ll be a long, cold, berry-less winter for us. But frozen organic blueberries would be a good alternative.
1/2 handful cranberries This puts the “autumn” in an Autumn Berry Smoothie.
dash dried goji berries I thought about using dried cherries instead — I think that will be my next variation.
dash flax seeds I don’t have anything clever to add about flax seeds. Just throw them in, they’re good for you.
dash chia seeds I wanted a bit more protein in there, and I sort of like the texture. It reminds me of tiny bubble tea bobas.
1/2 handful raw walnuts A big tablespoon of peanut butter would work, too, if you don’t have any walnuts.
small scoop mango sherbet We didn’t have any fresh mango, but just a bit of the half-forgotten mango sherbet in the freezer added that needed mango edge.
1 large ice cube We have a giant, cocktail-sized cube tray, so you might need a couple of regular-sized cubes.
~2 cups unsweetened almond milk Some nice grass-fed, natural skim milk would work here, too!

Wash, core, de-stem or peel the fresh fruits, as needed. Put everything except the chia seeds in the Vitamix or blender and blend until smooth. Add more almond milk or another ice cube or two if you want a lighter texture. Add the chia seeds last and blend on low just to mix them thoroughly into the smoothie. Pour into a glass, garnish with something handsome and drink up!

“I love it so much, I would recommend it to the dead!”

Not, perhaps, the words I would have chosen, but Slate’s Catherine Price was offered that heart-felt endorsement as she carried home her newly purchased Vitamix.

The Incredible, Life-Changing Vitamix!After a few months of owning one, Karina and I have an answer to her title question, “Can a $400 blender change your life?” Without hesitation, our answer is yes!

Yes, $400+ is real money, and being a bit of a cheapskate at times, I felt a little squirmy spending that much on a blender. Yet, I’ve personally burned through several lesser machines (literally, with their productive lives ending with puffs of smoke from charred metal or rubber). And my once-an-engineer-now-a-designer side can appreciate the promise of a carefully crafted, well-built machine.

Its unyielding power and mechanical design can chop or liquefy pretty much anything — I’m sure we could start our own steel recycling plant to produce metal shavings from wrecked cars. Entrepreneurial ideas aside, our daily diet has received a huge infusion of fresh, often raw foods that are light, healthy,  delicious and easy — smoothies, hummus, salsa, soup, cauliflower “rice,” cacao-nib mochas and more. This was an especially good fit for us as we continue our migration to a more plant-based diet, adding welcome variety to our mix of cooked veggies, salads and juicing.

Read Catherine’s full review (which I found via Shawn Blanc), then come back here and get your own Vitamix (as always, buying through our link will help us offset the cost of keeping this site up and running). Then wait for that big box to arrive and start changing lives with your own veggie-fruity goodness.