Monthly Archives: February 2011

Such Irony

Well, folks, in an ironic twist of fate, I am now sick.  Ill.  Infected.  I have come down with some sort of virus.  Yesterday, this involved one swollen tonsil all covered with white spots, as well as dizziness and a moment of lost vision.  At the walk-in clinic, it was confirmed that this was not strep throat, but rather some virus.  As such, there is nothing that can really be done but wait it out.  So, although I am at work, my concentration is lower than the floor, my throat is bother some, my stomache is on edge, and I, my friends, am sick.

After spending two days researching germs, viruses, and the spread of illness.

Don’t you just love irony?

I would also like to point out that we just got our really great new headsets in, and they should be up on the website within days.


The last few days, I’ve been doing research on germs (ewwwww) and bacteria and the like.  I am officially considering germaphobia as a life choice.  Although, really, that seems like a lot more effort that I would want to put forth.  Anyways, here is some of what I’ve learned.  (Those with children in school may not want to read the following.)

Forty percent of parents say that they have sent their children sick to school in the last year.  That is a lot of sick kids running around in school.  In fact, in Minnesota, where we are located, thirty-two schools have reported outbreaks of influenza-like illness in the last week alone.  That includes only cases of illness that were reported.  There have also been more than thirty hospitalizations and one death in MN in the last week due to the flu.  In a report from England, the median length of stay in a hospital for influenza was over 10 days. Ten days of serious hospitalization!   In the US, thirty-five percent of children under five who contract the flu suffer from serious complications.

The average American child will have 6.5 colds a year, and each will last three to five days. One person each second catches the common cold in the US alone.  Children are more than twice as likely as adults to contract a cold.  This is because as adults, we have had many of these strains of colds before and our bodies have immunities built up.  We don’t get sick as often, because we got sick a lot in the past.

Parents – ready for the scary stuff?
Seventy percent of classrooms are not regularly disinfected by custodians.  Classrooms are the number one workplace for germs.  Contrary to popular belief, floors and toilets are some of the cleanest surfaces in school.  The yuckiest include desktops, paper towel dispensers, water fountains, and computers.  A keyboard actually has on average three times the concentration of bacteria as an animal cage.  Bacteria found on the above listed surfaces include high concentrations of e. coli, pneumonia, streptococcus, salmonella, and staph.   Some of these bacteria can live for days and even grow if left unchecked.  Even disinfecting can be tricky, as the more effective products must be left on a surface for approximately ten minutes - hardly practical on computer equipment and between classes.  And its important to disinfect throughout the day when items are in use almost constantly; tests have shown that germs build rapidly throughout the day,.   In one tested environment, influenza A was found on 13% of surfaces in the morning and on 50% by afternoon.  An even more startling statistic – at least for me: only 58% of girls and 48% of boys in high school wash their hands after using the lavatory.

Are you as freaked out as I am?

Some solutions include seals for keyboards and mice that can be sanitized, placing hand sanitizer at every doorway in schools, and washing, washing, washing of hands.

But still.

Colors of the Wind

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”
-Georgia O’Keefe
We see the world around us through an array of colors. Red apples, green grass, blue skies. The colors we see affect our impression of the things that we are seeing, whether we know it or not. For instance, a bright red has been shown to stimulate the autonomic nervous system, creating a slight change in pulse and blood pressure. These effects occur because color is perceived, not only on the surface of the brain, but also in the limbic system, which is often referred to as the “primitive brain.” Red, given this fact as well as its cultural associations, can influence people to be more risk-averse and detail-oriented. Even blind, color-blind, and blind-folded individuals have been shown to experience different physiological sensations under different color lights.

Blue and green, conversely, have been shown to have a calming effect on individuals and to stimulate creative thinking. Certain shades of blue have even been shown to slow the heart rate. It is for this reason that “cardiac blue” is so frequently used in medical centers and hospitals. The debate about certain color improving productivity has gone on for a long time. The truth is, different colors can encourage different types of productivity: red for detail-oriented work and blue for creative work. Blue has also been shown to act as an appetite suppressant. Yellow caution signs and the like work well because yellow is an attention-getting color. Too much yellow, however, can cause headaches and irritability because it over stimulates the eyes.

Similarly, experts advise refraining from over use of color. More than six bold colors in any one piece (wallpaper, for instance) can be overwhelming and inhibit cognition.

Children are usually drawn by warm, bight colors. Using these colors in learning environments can have very positive affects. A classroom decorated in friendly colors can reduce stress, improve visual processing, increase focus and attention span, and aid brain development in visual thinking, problem solving, and creativity.  In fact, color speeds up learning and retention by as much as 78% and use of bold colors (as oposed to black and white) can increase IQ by up to 12 points.

For special needs children specifically, color can be either helpful or harmful, depending on how it is used. Regular, geometric patterns can be used to stimulate the pattern seeking part of the brain and reduce visual stress (in comparison with irregular or more complicated patterns). Autistic children in particular can be overwhelmed easily by color. Researchers have found that approximately 85% of autistic children see colors with greater intensity than do their neurotypical peers. This is not to say that the learning environment of a child with an ASD (Autism spectrum disorder) should be devoid of bright colors or decoration, but rather that bold colors should be used carefully, in that setting. In fact, we have heard from several parents and instructors that children on the spectrum benefit greatly from our colored keyboards because of the color-coding.

Dyslexic children generally benefit from well-used color.  A study has shown that 80% of dyslexic children showed increased understanding of read materials when displayed with a colored overlay.  Color-coding by character set can help with spelling on keyboards for those with dyslexia. Those with ADD and ADHD are also helped by the use of color.  Color has been shown to help with focus for these individuals as well as individuals with Down Syndrome by maintaining interest and breaking monotony.

The benefits of using more color are not limited only to children; repetition of colors has also enhanced the memory of nursing home residents and productivity across most demographics.

The Chester Shuffle

Lately, we’ve been busy sorting out prices, photos, flyers, and production of a whole slew of new products.  It’s kept us fairly busy, and you’ve seen some of the results of that.  This week and for the near future, we’re also busy with some rearrangements.  Paul, who has experience with school suppliers, has joined up, and we will hopefully have a graphic design artist joining us soon.  What that means is new desks, new computers, and a new living arrangement, if you will.  As it stands, Cari, Meg, Karen, Kathy, and Natasha share an office space, with Jim and Jack in offices, all attached to a central meeting space.  Soon, however, we will be rearranging. While Jim, Jack, and possibly Karen will be moving around in the two connected offices and a larger office upstairs, we will be juggling desks in here for a bit.   Please refer to this artfully drawn diagram.

"The Chester Shuffle"

"The Chester Shuffle"

Update: More shuffling! After less than an hour of life, my beautiful diagram is already obsolete.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day, all!  Do we all recognize the stunning cartoon to the left?  No?  But it’s Carl Sagan! Amazing astronomer of great renown.  He was a huge part  of the space program, made great discoveries about the universe and solar system, and starred in the awesome mashup music video below.  Carl Sagan also has the dubious honor of being featured in my new favorite Valentine, as you may have noticed.

In other space-related news, spacecraft Stardust is making a historical second fly by of a comet. Twelve years ago it was the first spacecraft to collect dust particles from a comet.  Now, it will be flying past a second comet, with only a cup of fuel left, to take pictures of a man-made crater.  This is the first time one comet has ever been studied by two different spacecraft.
Other items of interest:
  • Since 1986, more than 295 billion gigabytes of data have been stored.  In case you were wondering, thats a whole lot.
  • Playstation hops on the mobile tech bandwagon with a new smartphone that will feature 50 games, including the popular Splinter Cell, Guitar Hero, Assassin’s Creed, and more.
  • A new human-aware computer is taking on Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, both champions, on a special episode of Jeopardy airing tonight.  Jennings commented at a press conference, “One of the first things I thought was, ‘This time, I’m not just playing to pay my mortgage or something, or to feed my kid’s college fund, I’m actually sort of representing 7 billion human beings against our new machine tyrants.’”
  • Research in Motion, makers of the BlackBerry smart phone, are releasing a new tablet, the Playbook, which will function on three different 4G networks.  This can be contrasted to the super-popular iPad, which is not yet available for the faster 4G.
  • Our new software bundles are in!  Each bundle contains five titles, which in turn contain fun and educational games or programs.Look for these up on the website soon!

Macular degeneration, etc…

Chester Creek Technologies began with the idea to create a line of functional and fun keyboards and mice for children and those with special needs.  Today, we offer over a dozen keyboards and nearly as many mice, not to mention the many other computer accessories that we have added over the years.  What started as a kid-friendly group of products has expanded into the assistive technology niche, and Chester Creek is now known for their high visibility keyboards as well.
In addition to our VisionBoard Black, our VisionBoard2 – white and yellow – and our ReaderBoard, we are now offering a wireless VisionBoard in black or white for greater flexibility.  These keyboards feature large print and high-contrast color schemes, which can greatly increase visibility for a number of conditions.  For instance, our VisionBoard Yellow has been incredibly beneficial for many individuals suffering from macular degeneration.
The macula is a part of the nerves inside the eye that focuses on details and colors directly in the line of vision. With macular degeneration, the center of one’s field of vision becomes distorted and eventually completely occluded.   Certain types of color blindness can also make use of a standard keyboard more difficult, as can other disorders like glaucoma.  Click on the links for simultions of how these can affect your vision.

Software Bundles

I know, I know.  We’ve been telling you all about new products that we’re coming out with, but actual introduction of the items for sale has been slow.

TextSpeak is up. This is a great, ultra-portable little Augmentative Communication keyboard device that allows people to talk through their keyboard, no computer required.

Braille Stickers are up.  These are the only Braille stickers for large-key keyboards, and are clear so that the large-print legend remains visible.

Headphones and the LittleMouse are new.  Chester Headphones are sturdy and adjustable enough for everyone, plus comfy and with convenient inline volume control.  The LittleMouse is perfect for kids still learning (color-coded!), or anyone who doesn’t want to worry about a scroll wheel.

Large-key numeric pad is up coming soon. This keypad is intended as a companion to any of our large-key keyboards for those who prefer the grid layout of numbers, but is also useful paired with any keyboard for those who like or need larger keys.  The keypad should be available by the end of the month.

The Wireless VisionBoard should be in by the end of the month, as well.  This keyboard is very similar to our VisionBoard, but includes f-keys, and will be available in black and white to start with.

We also have some great educational software bundles coming in soon.  We will be offering a pre-K bundle and an early elementary bundle, both of which will feature five titles.

The pre-K bundle will feature:

Baileys Book House
Millie’s Math House
Trudys Time and Place House
Sammy Science House
Thinking Things Toony the Loons Lagoon

Our early elementary bundle will include:
Mighty Math Carnival Countdown
Reader Rabbit 1st Grade
Typing Instructor for Kids Platinum
Reader Rabbit 2nd grade
Zoombinis Island Odyssey

Fabulous February

Well, February has rolled around again, and you know what that means. My birthday! And a whole bunch of other stuff.

Groundhog’s day was today, and groundhogs around the world are ready for Spring. As am I. However, some wonder whether we’ve been doing it wrong.  Despite good forecasts by the mammalia, a huge winter storm is pounding the Midwest and Northeast.

Other fabulous February events include Black History Month, remembering  important people and events in the history of the African diaspora, and encouraging today’s youth.

Also this month is the Mobile World Congress, an annual show being held in Spain featuring new technologies, as well as Valentine’s Day, a much lower-tech event on the same day.

In the astronomical field, February marks a large discorvery of exoplanets — some of which are pretty weird — by the Kepler Space Telescope, as well as the mock arrival of a mock space mission to a mock Mars.

Completely unrelated, a new Harvard report says that college shouldn’t be pushed quite so hard for students, the TSA is working on a less invasive body scan, and Google is accusing Microsoft search engine Bing of cheating – copying results from Google’s search engine.

What’s new for you in February?