Tech In Plain Sight: Glucose Meters

If you or someone you know is diabetic, it is a good bet that a glucose meter is a regular fixture in your life. They are cheap and plentiful, but they are actually reasonably high tech — well, at least parts of them are.

The meters themselves don’t seem like much, but that’s misleading. A battery, a few parts, a display, and enough of a controller to do things like remember readings appears to cover it all. You wouldn’t be surprised, of course, that you can get the whole affair “on a chip.” But it turns out, the real magic is in the test strip and getting a good reading from a strip requires more metrology than you would think. A common meter requires a precise current measurement down to 10nA. The reading has to be adjusted for temperature, too. The device is surprisingly complex for something that looks like a near-disposable piece of consumer gear.

Of course, there are announcements all the time about new technology that won’t require a needle stick. So far, none of those have really caught on for one reason or another, but that, of course, could change. GlucoWatch G2, for example, was a watch that could read blood glucose, but — apparently — was unable to cope with perspiration.

Even the meters that continuously monitor still work in more or less the same way as the cheap meters. As Hackaday’s Dan Maloney detailed a few years back, continuous glucose monitors leave a tiny sensor under your skin and measure fluid in your body, not necessarily blood. But the way the sensor works is usually the same.

For the purposes of this article, I’m only going to talk about the traditional meter: you insert a test strip, prick your finger, and let the test strip soak up a little bit of blood.

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The Low-Down On Long-Wave: Unlicensed Experimental Radio

In the 125 years since Marconi made his first radio transmissions, the spectrum has been divvied up into ranges and bands, most of which are reserved for governments and large telecom companies. Amidst all of the corporate greed, the “little guys” managed to carve out their own small corner of the spectrum, with the help of organizations like the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). Since 1914, the ARRL has represented the interests of us amateur radio enthusiasts and helped to protect the bands set aside for amateur use. To actually take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to transmit on these bands, you need a license, issued by the FCC. The licenses really aren’t hard to get, and you should get one, but what if you don’t feel like taking a test? Or if you’re just too impatient?

Well, fear not because there’s some space on the radio spectrum for you, too.

Welcome to the wonderful world of (legal!) unlicensed radio experimentation, where anything goes. Okay, not anything  but the possibilities are wide open. There are a few experimental radio bands, known as LowFER, MedFER, and HiFER where anyone is welcome to play around. And of the three, LowFER seems the most promising. Continue reading “The Low-Down On Long-Wave: Unlicensed Experimental Radio”

They Milk Cows, Don’t They?

You’ve no doubt heard of the many alternatives to cow’s milk that are available these days. Perhaps you’ve even tried a few of them in your quest to avoid lactose. Some coffeehouses have already moved on from soy milk, offering only oat or almond milk instead of 2% and whole. Their reasoning is that soy milk is a highly processed product that can’t be traced back to a single source, which stands in stark contrast to all those bags of single-origin coffee beans.

These nut-based alternatives kicked off what is known as the milk wars — the dairy industry’s fight against labeling plant-based dairy alternatives as ‘milk’ and so on. Well, now it’s getting even more interesting. A company called Perfect Day is making milk using microorganisms that secrete milk proteins. It may sound kind of gross, but it’s essentially microbial fermentation, which is the normal process by which bread, cheese, yogurt, wine, and beer are made.

To be fair, what Perfect Day and other companies are doing is precision fermentation using genetically engineered microorganisms in a bioreactor, so it’s a bit more involved than what you could probably pull off in the basement. Precision fermentation lies somewhere between two modern extremes — plant-based meat and cultured meat. The latter is actual animal tissue grown from stem cells, and is only available at high-end restaurants for exorbitant prices.

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Carbon Sequestration As A Service Doesn’t Quite Add Up

Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. While most attempts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions focus on reducing the amount of CO2 output, there are other alternatives. Carbon capture and sequestration has been an active area of research for quite some time. Being able to take carbon dioxide straight out of the air and store it in a stable manner would allow us to reduce levels in the atmosphere and could make a big difference when it comes to climate change.

A recent project by a company called Climeworks is claiming to be doing just that, and are running it as a subscription service. The company has just opened up its latest plant in Iceland, and hopes to literally suck greenhouses gases out of the air. Today, we’ll examine whether or not this technology is a viable tool in the fight against climate change.

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Basics Of Remote Cellular Access: Watchdogs

When talking about remote machines, sometimes we mean really remote, beyond the realms of wired networks that can deliver the Internet. In these cases, remote cellular access is often the way to go. Thus far, we’ve explored the hardware and software sides required to control a machine remotely over a cellular connection.

However, things can and do go wrong. When that remote machine goes offline, getting someone on location to reboot it can be prohibitively difficult and expensive. For these situations, what you want is some way to kick things back into gear, ideally automatically. What you’re looking for is a watchdog timer!

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Creating Methane From Captured Carbon Dioxide And The Future Of Carbon Capture

There’s something intrinsically simple about the concept of carbon (CO2) capture: you simply have the CO2 molecules absorbed or adsorbed by something, after which you separate the thus captured CO2 and put it somewhere safe. Unfortunately, in physics and chemistry what seems easy and straightforward tends to be anything but simple, let alone energy efficient. While methods for carbon capture have been around for decades, making it economically viable has always been a struggle.

This is true both for carbon capture and storage/sequestration (CCS) as well as carbon capture and utilization (CCU). Whereas the former seeks to store and ideally permanently remove (sequester) carbon from the atmosphere, the latter captures carbon dioxide for use in e.g. industrial processes.

Recently, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has announced a breakthrough CCU concept, involving using a new amine-based solvent (2-EEMPA) that is supposed to be not only more efficient than e.g. the previously commonly used MEA, but also compatible with directly creating methane in the same process.

Since methane forms the major component in natural gas, might this be a way for CCU to create a carbon-neutral source of synthetic natural gas (SNG)? Continue reading “Creating Methane From Captured Carbon Dioxide And The Future Of Carbon Capture”

Yes, You Can Put Out A Burning Gas Well With A Nuclear Bomb

Nuclear explosives were first developed as weapons of war in the pitched environment of World War II. However, after the war had passed, thoughts turned to alternative uses for this new powerful technology. Scientists and engineers alike dreamed up wild schemes to dig new canals or blast humans into space with the mighty power of the atom.

Few of these ever came to pass, with radiological concerns being the most common reason why. However, the Soviet Union did in fact manage to put nuclear explosions to good use for civilian ends. One of the first examples was using a nuke to plug an out-of-control gas well in the mid 1960s.

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