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Therbligs

This App Trains You to See Farther

From Popular Mechanics: Twenty-twenty vision? Big deal. UltimEyes could train your brain to see in 20/7.5.

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Jamie Allen/Getty Images

When a major league baseball pitcher throws a 95-mph fastball, only about 400 milliseconds—the duration of a blink—pass before the ball rockets over the plate. And a batter gets less than half that time to decide whether to swing, and where. Baseball players, then, could reap huge benefits from being able to probe a baseball farther from their eyes. And that inspired Aaron Seitz, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Riverside, who has created a new, publicly available app that conditions users to see farther on or off the baseball diamond.

In a study published this week in the journal Current Biology, Seitz worked with 19 players on the University of California, Riverside, baseball team, and showed that his app UltimEyes lengthened the distance at which the players could see clearly by an average of 31 percent. After using the app for 30 25-minute intervals, players saw an improvement that pushed many of them beyond normal 20/20 vision, including seven who attained freakishly good 20/7.5 vision—meaning that at a distance of 20 feet, they were clearly seeing what someone with normal vision could see at no farther than 7.5 feet away.

"We were using standard, on-the-wall eye charts," Seitz says. "Normally, you stand 20 feet away, but our charts only measured down to 20/10 [vision]. So we moved some of these players 40 feet away from the eye chart and they were still reading the low lines. I was shocked." Seitz has also calculated that, by measuring the improvement in batting of his test subjects against other players, his app made the team score enough extra runs to win at least four additional games throughout the season.

Although Seitz’s app seems quite implausible, its effects are indeed real, says Peggy Series, a neuroscientist at the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the study or the development of UltimEyes. "These results are, in fact, very similar to what’s already been proven in the lab," Series says. "It’s very exciting. The fact that the app is improving the players’ visual acuity is not as surprising to me as that the improvement might actually help in playing baseball."

The Brain—Not the Eyes

Despite its name, UltimEyes has little to do with improving the physical eye or eye muscles. Rather, the app works by exploiting recent insights into when and how the adult brain can be fundamentally rewired—a concept known as neuroplasticity.

"Within the last decade or so we’ve started to learn that brain fitness is a bit akin to physical fitness," Seitz says. "If we exercise our brain in the proper ways, pretty much everything that the brain does should be able to be improved."

UltimEyes exercises the visual cortex, the part of our brain that controls vision. Brain researchers have discovered that the visual cortex breaks down the incoming information from our eyes into fuzzy patterns called Gabor stimuli. The theory behind UltimEyes is that by directly confronting the eyes with Gabor stimuli, you can train your brain to process them more efficiently—which, over time, improves your brain’s ability to create clear vision at farther distances.

Here’s how the app looks in action: UltimEyes presents you with the increasingly difficult challenge of identifying faint and fuzzy Gabor stimuli, which are shown against a hazy, gray background. Among other tests, the blurry blobs might slowly materialize on the screen, or you might be tasked to find multiple blobs as they grow slightly less faint. Each successful find is rewarded with a Pavlovian noise that sounds almost exactly the arcade game Pong. It isn’t exactly fun, but it’s challenging, and the sessions are short.

Seitz likens the app’s effect to leaving an optometrist with a fresh prescription. "There’s much more definition on the leaves on trees," he says. In his recent study several of the ball players also noted they were "able to distinguish lower contrasting things," and that their "eyes feel stronger, they don’t get tired as much."

Open Questions

Despite this success, however, many of the details of exactly why and how UltimEyes locks into adult neuroplasticity are still up in the air. "These Gabor stimuli have proven to be very good at activating visual cortex and causing very strong improvements," Series says, but adds that it’s unclear exactly what is happening in the brain to cause these.

And the researchers are still unable to say why the app improves the vision of some people much more than others, or one eye more than the other. How long the vision benefits last is also not fully understood.

But the neuroscientists are nonetheless excited. Many of the baseball players in this study started with somewhat above-average vision, including the seven that acquired the astounding 20/7.5 vision. Yet even those who started the tests with good eyesight made impressive gains; to Seitz, this implies that the physical limit of human vision may be much higher than we’ve previously thought. And Seitz, bespectacled and nearsighted himself, is interested in investigating the promise this type of training might have for those with impaired vision, though he emphasizes that the app is not meant to completely reverse or cure visual impairments.

Seitz is already experimenting on how to adapt his neuroscience-grounded approach to brain training for other means. "I’m trying to develop a larger set of programs that address an entire suite of issues," he says. From improving hearing to enhancing memory, Seitz believes that exploiting our neuroplasticity is just a matter of finding the right key that challenges the right neurons.

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Engineering

In The Shop: Great Innovations Ultimate Engineering Screw Chart

I was reading the following article about the Engineering Slide Charts and realized that it was now available as an App for my phone.

Engineering Slide Chart in Play

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The slide rule may be a quaint anachronism in this age of ubiquitous computing, but there’s still a place for the slide chart, the volvelle, the nomogram, and other hand-held “paper computers.” These are still published by a few companies, and are a handy source of on-the-spot reference data, particularly in field or workshop environments that may be inhospitable to or inconvenient for electronic devices or books. Slide charts containing key screw, bolt, and nut data have been around for decades, and the folks at Great Innovations identify TAD’s Universal Reference Calculator, discontinued in the mid 1990s, as inspiration for their chart.

The thing itself is simple enough: a clear plastic outer sleeve printed with dimensional drawings and callout fields on both sides, and an opaque plastic inner card printed with the callout data. Sliding the card back and forth in the sleeve indexes all the callout data simultaneously, and of course can be used bidirectionally—you can get key dimensional data from a known fastener size, or figure out fastener size from some real measured dimension. Overall, the chart is about 1/16″ thick, flexible, and measures 8.75″ × 11″—about the same size as a standard sheet of printer paper.

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The front includes sliding tap, drill and stress area callouts for SAE and metric screws, in both standard and coarse threads, as well as key dimensions—such as countersink depth, counterbore depth, socket cap size, etc.—for various types of screw heads, points and nuts. Detail boxes cover metric and SAE shoulder bolt dimensions. The areas not occupied by the sliding chart fields are filled up with static tabulated data—metric/SAE drill equivalent diameters, fractional/decimal drill diameters, common unit conversions, metric prefixes, and SAE bolt grade markings.

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The back has sliding indices for sheet metal and wire gages, dimensioned thicknesses, densities, and minimum bend radii; critical dimensions for tapered pipe threads both NPT and BSPT; and a hardness converter for Shore durometers A-OO with typical reference materials (e.g. “Shopping Cart Wheel”) and conversion factors for Brinell and Rockwell A-C hardnesses, as well as approximate tensile strengths. Static tabulated references include the numbering system for carbon and alloy steels, a circular actual-to-nominal pipe size gauge, and a slew of handy equations from statics, dynamics, electrical engineering, and statistics. One of the long edges is printed with an English ruler, and the other with a metric rule. No space is wasted; pulling out the sliding inner card reveals three more handy tables printed in the “dead spaces” between the keyholes—densities of common metals, a key to common mechanical drafting symbols, and a key to AWS standard weld symbols.

I use the chart in my workshop quite often—mostly, so far, to look up tap drill sizes and gauge nominal pipe diameters. It’s compact and durable and water- and grease-proof, and has saved me a lot of time running back and forth between my web-connected smartphone, tablet, laptop, or whatever (all of which I like to keep clean) and my dirty workshop and tools. Mine is a review unit I got for free, and I would recommend it enthusiastically to others if not for the price of $24.99, which is about $10 more than I think I would pay for the thing. A functionally-equivalent app is available for both iOS and Android for $5 less, but in my mind that sort of defeats the purpose, which is that you can keep the chart on-hand in an environment that might not be hospitable for a handheld electronic device, and don’t have to worry about keeping it clean, charged, or safe from damage.

Engineering Slide Charts