Back in September, probably sometime between campaigns, I sent a note to the team at Atmotube, asking if I could review their product. They quickly said yes, and within a couple weeks I had an Atmotube Pro device clipped near-constantly to my belt loop, where it’s been most days for the last 2 months. 

Atmotube is a personal air quality monitor—it tracks humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, particulate matter (10 and 2.5) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We’ve had a lot of time to get acquainted, as when after a month of use I’d planned to write this, I got a lung infection and blah blah blah. Not why we are here (but it will come up).

There are two models of the Atmotube, the tube-looking one and the Pro, which is the version they sent me. There are some functional differences between the two, but for me, I was most happy with the battery life on the Pro. I have mine set to test the air quality every 10 minutes, since I’m usually at home. As I understand it, it also does on-demand tests when you hit the button, so when I’m curious, that’s a good option too. 

Pressing the button illuminates the multicoloured LED present just above the button—the colour displayed corresponds to the colour the monitor associates with the air quality, from blue [great] to red [poor] with green, yellow and orange in the middle. It also does an on-demand air quality test. Opening the app gives you a greater sense of what your environmental air “looks like” at a given moment in time. Here’s one from as I’m editing this article:

I should really move the air purifier to the kitchen. More on that shortly.

First days with the Atmotube Pro
I sent a lot of messages to friends during the first few days with the Atmotube—this thing is COOL. I wore it out the first night I got it, but was outside most of the evening in great air quality, so my results were as expected. The next day, though, is clear in my mind. Here’s what my day looked like:
Noon – Left home to go to Staples and Shoppers Drug Mart.
12:45 – Shoppers drug mart asked I come back in an hour and a half for my flu shot.
1 PM – Arrived at a nearby apartment building to canvass for the federal election.
2 PM – Completed canvassing 2 floors, walked back to the mall.
2:10 – Went to the food court for a root beer
2:15 – Arrived back at the pharmacy
2:45ish – Returned to the apartment building, chatted with seniors, finally began canvassing again.
4:40 PM – Left apartment to walk to meet my parents for my mom’s birthday dinner. Immediately upon opening door (my hand was still on it!), the Atmotube app IMMEDIATELY alerted the humidity had dropped past the set threshold. My mind was BLOWN how fast it was.
5:05 PM – Finally get to near restaurant but we are not going there anymore. Get in the car.
5:15 PM – Arrive at Mongo’s Grill, an open-grill Mongolian-style stir-fry restaurant if you couldn’t guess.
5:20 PM – Atmotube continues to freak out about high particulate matter for the duration of the meal.
6:30 PM – Arrive home, where the air quality is consistently decent-but-not-great. 

Here’s what the graphs look like from that day:
 

Beyond everyday use
Within a week of getting the Atmotube, I headed off to Philadelphia. The device itself stores data while not connected to a smartphone, so being on the plane didn’t hinder my data collection (although I think it was still connected). The air quality was surprisingly good on all 4 of my flights, which I found interesting—and shocking! The hotel also didn’t cause me any asthma issues as they sometimes do, and the air quality there was also consistently good! 

My friend John also has an Atmotube, and he noted the air quality in the hospital he works in isn’t great – when I went to Urgent Care a couple months ago, I forgot to take the Atmotube with me, which is disappointing because I was sort of looking forward to that experiment! 

What I’ve learned from the Atmotube
I’ve learned a few things from using Atmotube. Here’s the most interesting one:

I very quickly noted sharp drops in air quality when cooking. I checked out a Government of Canada document that notes running the stove exhaust fan when cooking to be helpful for promoting indoor air quality (by drawing the particulate matter out of the house) – I’d love to speak to how the data from Atmotube Pro actually changes but I assume there are many variables involved that would make this complicated for my non-scientist brain to wrap around—ie. duration of cooking, what is being cooked and how, when or whether the exhaust fan was turned on, and device proximity. I can say the effects are a consistent drop in air quality with most stovetop cooking, though (as first noted at Mongo’s). As I wrote this section, my dad was just making food on the stovetop (with the exhaust fan on), some sort of grilled sandwich, as well as making coffee in the percolator. When I opened up the app a minute ago, the air quality score was about 50 – but the sensor is down the hall. Now it’s 66, sensor still down the hall, about 12 steps away.

The next is that some buses appear to have worse air quality than others, even when riding on the same route. I am curious if this is bus-model specific, but haven’t yet been able to determine reliably. It’s fascinating (but also sucky?). 

Oh, and this will surprise no one: It’s true – hockey arenas have poor air quality.
So do food courts. 

Changes I’ve made
Related to the stove exhaust, we try to run it more frequently when cooking on the stovetop.  I have purchased a “pluggable” “air sanitizer” (mostly because it was on sale for $30) made by Germ Guardian that is apparently good for minimizing cooking odours—it wasn’t running when the above food related numbers were cited. Of course, it’s really difficult to tell how well it works because “food odours” are pretty subjective, and I’m going to assume, the particles released are perhaps not super uniform.
But check it out—here’s a small peak in particulate matter during food prep time:
 

Though generally our house air quality scores are quite good overall, I also ordered an air purifier on Boxing Day (a JS FLO). And damn, I can tell you, the Atmotube says that thing actually works—here are the graphs. The first 2 are from the first time I turned the air purifier on. The third is from the day where I heard you should run the air purifier for a couple hours before you go to bed (makes sense, no?) so I left the Atmotube in my room with it.

If it isn’t clear, air quality score (AQS) should go up, VOCs (and particulate matter) should go down. 

Problems I’ve had with Atmotube
The problems I’ve experienced with Atmotube are pretty minimal.

The first, with the LED, you have to hold the device at a very particular angle to see the actual corresponding colour to the current air quality—if you move the device around, you see different colours. For this (and for the greater amount of data), I prefer to use the app.

The device also comes pre-calibrated, and states it does not require regular calibration as it will continue to calibrate as it works. In mid-November (coincidentally, just as I was getting sick with that lung infection), I was getting consistently lower readings. This is also right when it got colder, and I assumed, when the furnace was running more—so, having asthma, I attributed this to why I was feeling cruddy. (As determined later, it was a lung infection leading to the asthma issues.) I did hit the recalibrate button. The change in results (which improved), of course, lead to questioning on my part of the accuracy of the device—it’s generally been consistent . I’d love to do side-by-side comparisons between two devices, such as with another Atmotube Pro, or a different personal air quality monitor (I think there’s maybe one other on the market right now), to see if results are consistent. I still think given my experiences—ie. poor air quality on buses with doors constantly opening and closing in traffic, realistic responses to humid environments and temperature changes, and so on—that the device is reliable.

There’s also a barometer function that I really don’t use—the scale goes from “stormy” to “very dry”, and it’s always apparently “stormy” with low pressure. I don’t know much about this, but I certainly know it’s currently cold but calm outside! 

Oh and this isn’t really a problem, but more of a funny: the Atmotube always alerts me to poor air quality when I do a nebulizer treatment. The particles are likely 5-7 micrometres, which is near certainly registering in the atmotube as an influx of PM10 (which is particulate matter 10 micrometres or less in diameter. I will maintain that the Ventolin I am inhaling is good for my lungs and not a pollutant!

What I’d like to see
While the Atmotube has already given me so much more data and insight than I’d have expected possible—seriously, this thing is cool—the main thing I’d really like to see from the Atmotube app is actually a bit more different information. It does a good job of really concisely saying what you can do in general to improve indoor air quality, but it’d be nice to see, for instance, some information tailored to what you’re experiencing. “Hey. Your PM2.5 is increasing. If you’re cooking, try running the hood fan.” “Hey, your house seems pretty dry. Here’s what can help right now and over time.” (My house is apparently too dry all the time. Other than buying a humidifier, which I don’t want to do, I still don’t know what to do about that.” While I will say it has told me to get plants to increase my household humidity, I’ll say I’ve only been successful at keeping my cactus alive for several years… and it’s a cactus.
More actionable alerts rather than generalized articles would perhaps actually encourage people to do things to alter their indoor air quality, humidity, or so-forth. Like right now, I’d like to know where the heck the elevated VOCs are coming from causing the app to “alarm”!

I can also think of a number of great quantified self projects when I decide to dig into playing with the CSV files a bit more. But that is a nerdy pursuit for another day!

Who Atmotube is for
Are you a nerd who likes checking a device you’re wearing all the time? Do you have a health condition, like asthma or heart disease that makes it more important for you to know what you’re breathing? Are you willing to put some time in to devise patterns, do some research, and make your own inferences from the data the Atmotube is getting you? If yes to any or all of these (all = me), and you can make the financial investment, I’d say yes. I’ve found using the Atmotube the last several months fascinating and illuminating to what, exactly, is in the air I’m breathing. 
Even if that happens to be Ventolin and it tells me its pollution. We can’t be totally perfect. 😉 

Disclosure: I reached out to the makers of Atmotube, who sent me an Atmotube Pro device to review honestly (and keep) with no strings attached beyond just writing this article. They were fabulous answering my many questions, sending a reviewers guide, and being patient in all my delays getting this article out—thanks, Ariuna and Daria!

For over two years now, I’ve navigated an off-and-on, recurrent (or remitting?) knee injury. I’ve gone through rolls of CVS and Synergy brand kinesiotape (and a half roll of KT tape which I swear does not adhere as well and has since been relegated to other tasks). I’ve seen a sport medicine physician. I’ve iced and compressed and elevated. I haven’t gone to physiotherapy because I lack insurance, though that sort of rehabilitation is likely in the works. This has brought me to trialling the SmartCrutch…

Photo on 2018-01-09 at 11.26 PM #2

…but more on that in a moment!

The technical-non-technical background on my knee

If you don’t care about the suspected mechanics of my injury and want to get to the SmartCrutch jump ahead to the next header. 

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Here’s a screenshot of my x-rays from a couple years ago which I posted on Instagram, recently (somewhat poorly) labeled, and sent to a friend. 

It seems the issue is my patella is being pulled medially (toward the “inside” of my leg), and causing some sort of tracking-type problem. Likely, this is because my legs are different lengths—yes, many people’s are, but unlike many people’s, mine are actually clinically significant, to the tune of about 68 mm. This stems from my right hip being super screwed up, also known as severe hip dysplasia. I have an orthotic but because of muscle tension in my quads preventing my hip from fully extending, combined with the other stuff, I still limp.  

The theory here is the malalignment has messed with my quads, has pulled my patella over to a slight angle, and this results in a degree of pain and the feeling like it’s going to give out. My limb length discrepancy is visually apparent (limp), and these symptoms further exaggerate my limp to one that is not-normal-for-me. Doctor, x-rays, then the assessment became that this is all due to my biomechanics and it didn’t seem to my doc that exercises would help this, at least not then. A year and a half ago or so, there was nothing he could really do (especially given my lack of insurance coverage). My pain isn’t terribly severe, thankfully, but feeling like I’m going to possibly fall over combined with that and my general imbalance is a tad disconcerting. Walking longer distances, as well as snow and ice suck (I don’t encounter that many sandy beaches which might also suck after a couple dozen feet). The injury actually started when I was working at tennis clubs, weaving around uneven back areas of courts. So, uneven things remain a problem: cobblestones in Zurich, snow here in Winnipeg, as well as long distance walking, and abrupt stops. 

It was a mostly annoying problem until one night about six weeks ago when, after a fair bit of standing/walking, the only way I could really move about my kitchen was by holding onto the counter. Awkward. 

The question of crutches…

Well over a year ago, a friend asked if I’d considered using crutches. I had, sort of, but related to my hip dysplasia (as they both stem from a staph infection resulting in multifocal osteomyelitis as a neonate, AKA a bone infection affecting multiple joints), I also cannot fully straighten my right arm. This caused significant issues when I had knee surgery (on the other knee) 14 years ago and had to use axillary crutches. My orthopaedic surgeon said forearm crutches might help, but other mobility aids were more easily accessible—I eventually used axillary crutches for a very short period post-surgery when I was semi-weight bearing. Thus, axillary crutches still didn’t seem a great option. A year following the injury, I did check out options and discovered the Smart Crutch, but wasn’t ready to make the mental—and financial—investment into crutches. 

Well, finding myself leaning on my kitchen counter to stabalize myself changed my mind pretty quickly. Within 12 hours of my e-mail to Smart Crutch that night, Kirsten at Smart Mobility had replied, and agreed to send me a pair of crutches for review. (It turns out Kirsten is also trying to find the “right fit” in a Canadian distributor, so while being Canadian is always a win, it was definitely a win here.)

Enter disclosure: I didn’t pay for these, but regardless, promise a thorough and honest review. Because that’s what we agreed on. 🙂 (Formal disclosure at the end of the post.)

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Getting to know SmartCrutch

I contacted Kirsten on Monday night, we discussed by e-mail Tuesday/Wednesday, connected by phone on Thursday, and she shipped the crutches out same-day from Colorado. I was impressed. FedEx had them in my hands in Manitoba on Monday, well before 5 PM as promised. Again—impressed! 

The uniqueness of SmartCrutch is in their adjustability. For me, that’s key. SmartCrutch transitions between a forearm crutch to a platform crutch. As my right elbow does not fully extend (and my wrist also has limited extension, though not as significantly), being able to adjust and carry weight across my full forearm, I thought, would be of significant benefit to me.

SmartCrutches are are a bit of a custom fit, with more customizations out of the box. They have three sizes currently available (with a fourth on the way!). While the upcoming size, Kirsten lamented after I provided her my measurements and we chatted by phone, was likely more appropriate to people my size, we settled on the Petite-Midi crutch. 

Needless to say, in the pre-crutches and starting out phase I was curious: will the SmartCrutch(es) help manage my knee issue? Will it help relieving the lower back pressure I often get when walking and mostly consider normal now? (Oops.) Will there be things I never realized were totally off that are helped? Will I even notice a difference? And the pessimist: Will they just be a pain in the ass? Is the way things are now just the way things are and will be?

And… so began my SmartCrutch trial.

Unboxing SmartCrutch.

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How about a break from this for a video, yeah?
Because, unboxing videos! Yay!

Also apologies for the video quality. I should learn not to record using PhotoBooth and why I didn’t plug in my good microphone which was right beside me is a mystery.

Beginning the SmartCrutch Trial

When I wrote this part, I was 4 weeks into using the SmartCrutch. Within an hour of unboxing, I headed out the door with my SmartCrutches for a board meeting, which was almost rescheduled due to snow/bad weather (which says a lot in Winnipeg). A fresh layer of powder on the sidewalks, I trekked out to the bus stop, a ten minute walk away. 

My first SmartCrutch story is of a “problem”-not-problem. After leaving home, I heard this strange sound. Living near train tracks, I didn’t think much of it. As I continued on, it followed me. Not even halfway to the bus, I realized the odd whistling sound was the wind blowing through the adjustment holes in the crutches—similar to blowing over the top of a pop bottle, except times the four open holes. Quite musical, but not ideal. 😉

Easy fix: Once I got home, I stuck some purple glitter washi-tape over the open holes. Problem solved: no more whistling (though an amusing story!).

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The next issue I came across was more of a fit issue. As mentioned, Kirsten mentioned this when we chatted, that I am somewhat between SmartCrutch sizes. One thing I LOVED about Kirsten from the get-go was her honesty. My forearm measurement is “between” cuff sizes—a little short for the petite/midi crutch. Kirsten mentioned that this could be a problem, but likely workable, and sent the crutches out. She also suggested some great workarounds, and super prompt replies to my e-mail questions. (Again, beyond impressed with her customer service!). One such workaround was modifying the angle of the crutch to closer to 90*. Another was to “close up” the cuff so the opening was essentially non-existent—I accomplished the latter in a few different ways. More on that in a bit.

And before it gets pointed out, yes, I realize the cuff opening is for safety so that if I fall the crutch falls off, but given the crutches make me more stable, I’m willing to take this risk.

SmartCrutch: 4 Weeks Later 

I would say that I continue to grab a SmartCrutch (sometimes two) about 90% of the time I leave the house (and 97% of the time I’m walking farther than say around a small store). I love that they’re small-ish even fully set up so that I can tuck them in between my knees on the bus, keep my backpack on my lap, and only take up my designated one seat. 

In the past few weeks I’ve also “styled my crutches”, both with fun contact paper and by closing the cuff as Kirsten had suggested was helpful, I attempted this a few different ways, starting with shoelaces and a combo of duct tape and KT tape, moving on to a thick bright green ribbon (hey, it was Christmas!).

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I’m still working on other ways to keep the cuffs closed, as the above methods were decent but not terribly long lasting—I just tried Command strips for picture hanging, too, and the velcro-like closure didn’t stay securely closed to the force of the cuff opening trying to separate. So, back to the drawing board!

This was a dual solution, resulting in less forearm friction and also solved the issue I was having of the crutches almost falling off when I reached up for something with them on, AKA every time I went shopping, only saved by the fact I was wearing a puffy jacket.

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The pink chevron contact paper is a mod I am loving. I still have to get the right crutch finished up, but it’s a two person job! Pretty template + idea from Jennifer Peacock-Smith (Facebook group for template here).

I’ve not experienced any arm pain while using the SmartCrutch, although of course some muscle soreness is to be expected (and experienced!). As well, I haven’t noted any lower back tightness/discomfort as I’d often get pre-smart crutch when walking faster than a saunter for more than 10-15 minutes some days. Win!

Another thing about being a person who generally limps and has their whole life, random strangers always seem to need to ask if I’ve injured myself. Usually, the answer was no. Even post-injury, the answer was no, since I limped anyways. 25 years in to my life, I finally got annoyed with these people. Particularly one totally random man when I was just trying to walk across a parking lot with my earphones in and I had to take my earphones out to hear “What happened to your leg?”, and then I just said “Sorry, I’m busy.” and booked it out of there. 

Guess what? Since wandering the world with a crutch or two, no randoms have asked. It’s been quite refreshing.

As well, I find the SmartCrutch is easy to stow in a variety of locations beyond the bus. I’ve yet to take them on a plane (coming in March!), but thanks to their design, I’m set at archery and while pushing a shopping cart! 

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Final thoughts on SmartCrutch

Bottom line here: the SmartCrutch is comfy. Seriously, that layer of foam lining the bottom of the platform is delightful, and comfy whether you’re wearing long sleeves, a jacket, or no sleeves. The adjustability has been crucial for me, and I find the ability to adjust, adjust, and adjust again has been so helpful—you don’t have to get a measurement right the first time, because you can keep tweaking it until you get what works for you. And if you have weird biomechanics like me, that’s super helpful. 

I find I have generally less knee pain at home when I use my SmartCrutch. Actually, today I used my SmartCrutch inside the house for the first time after coaching without it, and my right quads were just feeling unstable and not stellar: it was so nice to not have to repeat that situation from a month ago using my counter to navigate my kitchen—I grabbed a SmartCrutch instead!

As the hashtag goes… #ilovemysmartcrutch!

 

Disclosure: I received a pair of SmartCrutches from Smart Mobility, Inc. in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write favourably, and I have done my best to give my honest opinions. (Of course, bias does come with free stuff. It’s sort of in the box. ;))

This thing is cool.

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Awhile back, I learned of the C-Pen Reader from the Learning Disabilities Association of Manitoba. After learning more about it, I felt like the C-Pen would be a tool that would help me as a person with a learning disability who learns best through listening rather than seeing—as I’ve written before, I primarily now read audiobooks, and frequently use text-to-speech or VoiceOver on my MacBook, iPhone and iPad when reading longer texts. This switch has greatly enhanced my retention of what I read. But what about actual paper documents? It becomes a hassle to scan dozens of pages to have them convert. 

Enter the C-Pen.

In video, because it probably makes more sense that way. 

Disclosure: I contacted Scanning Pens in the UK requesting to review the C-Pen Reader. They got back in touch quickly sent me one out via a Canadian distributor. I am in no way obligated to provide a favourable review.

One in ten Canadian kids has asthma—and a lot more than that have an affinity for soccer. Debbie Spring’s book Breathing Soccer (2008, Thistledown Press) focuses on both of these aspects in an approachable way that encourages kids to learn more about their asthma and find balance through developing an understanding of their disease, while not allowing asthma to hold them back. I received Breathing Soccer last week, and today had the chance to sit down to chat with Debbie about the book.

Breathing Soccer can be found on Amazon [Canada and USA], Chapters/Indigo, or directly from Thistledown Press.  Please continue the discussion by asking questions of Debbie [or I] below, and I’ll be sure to pass them on for her to respond to!

Disclosure: I received Breathing Soccer from Debbie for free after reaching out to her about the book; we agreed to conduct an interview following to my reading of Breathing Soccer–I was not required to provide a favourable review—I do certainly recommend the book, though :].