12/23/08

An Innovative Approach to Weight-loss

Fad diets and weight loss plans evolve every year, but the main premise is always the same. They all claim to be weight loss programs that actually work.

Yet, a recent Johns Hopkins study suggests that 86% of Americans could be overweight by 2030.

So why aren't these fads working for more people?

It seems losing weight isn't always enough motivation. Instead, many people place more emphasis on instant gratifications, such as the enjoyment of eating.

A new study conducted by Carnegie Mellon Professor George Loewenstein and University of Pennsylvania Professor Kevin Volpp introduced another kind of instant gratification into their weight loss program -- money. The study found that dieters lost more weight when cash incentives were part of the plan.

The study placed adult dieters into three groups:
  • Dieters who entered a daily lottery, but only won money if they reached their target weight levels;
  • Dieters who invested their own money, but lost it if they didn't meet their goals; and
  • Dieters with no monetary incentive at all.
The goal for all dieters was to lose a pound a week for over 16 weeks.

The results?

The mean weight loss for both incentive groups was more than 13 pounds, with about half of the participants reaching the 16-pound goal. But the mean weight loss for the control group was only 4 pounds.

In addition to losing weight, both incentive groups earned money for their efforts. On average, the lottery group earned $272 and the investment group earned $378.

"The key to successful weight loss, whether you use money rewards or not, is to weigh yourself every day and to have daily weight targets that decrease each day by a tiny amount," said Loewenstein. "If you have a larger weekly target, you'll wait to the end of the week to start dieting seriously, and it's awfully difficult to lose a lot of weight in a single day."

So if you're having trouble counting calories, perhaps you'll have better luck counting dollars instead.

12/19/08

Going green with LEED buildings

"Going Green" isn't just a trendy phase. It's our future.

Individuals and organizations, alike, are becoming more environmentally aware. But Carnegie Mellon is ahead of the curve.

How?

For starters, meeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria on all new construction projects has been a university priority since 2000.

Since then, seven buildings on campus have received LEED certification.

Most recent is the Carnegie Mellon Café, a campus dining facility formerly known as Highlander Cafeteria.

The café received a Gold LEED certificate from the U.S. Green Building Council for its energy efficiency, sustainability and use of green design principles.

Renovations to the café utilized a variety of green design strategies, including the use of sustainable materials, improving the interior air quality, making energy efficiency enhancements, providing greater access to daylight and views, and upgrading the building's overall systems.

For example, the Carnegie Mellon Café now uses "smarter" energy systems. The second-floor lights use motion sensors to turn on only when somebody is there. Similarly, the first-floor sensors monitor the amount of natural daylight in the room and adjust the artificial lights accordingly.

LEED's rating system for new construction and major renovations awards points based on how the design, construction, operation and management meet specific environmental standards. Depending on points earned, buildings can achieve a certified, silver, gold or platinum status.

Other LEED certified buildings on campus include: 300 and 407 South Craig Street (2007), the Collaborative Innovation Center (2006), Posner Center (2005), the Henderson House (2004) and the Stever House (2003).

And constructing LEED certified buildings is just one of the many ways Carnegie Mellon achieves excellence in energy and environmental sustainability.

12/12/08

It’s a reality

Today, much of reality television is plagued with the idea of scripted lines and over-the-top drama. But at the Waffle Shop in East Liberty, reality TV is the reality.

Customers discuss a variety of topics while they simultaneously enjoy a waffle or cup of coffee. And it’s all captured on film. The concept is providing customers with good food and five minutes of fame.

"Obviously it's an unfamiliar combination,” John Rubin, associate professor in the School of Art, told the Pittsburgh City Paper.

But for the students in his Contextual Practice course, it’s all in a day’s – or in this case, night’s – work. Waffle Shop: A Reality Show – the students’ semester project – is open from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Each semester, we rent a storefront and students create projects that respond to the surrounding context,” Rubin told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “We start from scratch and look around at the neighborhood, the history of the storefront, the types of people who are walking by or live in the community.”

The next step is for students to choose what to make the storefront. In this case students decided to combine two ideas – a waffle shop with a reality show.

Every night, students film customers who agree to be a part of the reality show. Then students produce a 2-3 minute episode from the footage collected over a couple of nights.

Past episodes play for the public on a TV screen in the Waffle Shop window. And soon they’ll also be available online.

It’s artistic inquiry alright.

But it’s not just art students who are involved. The academic backgrounds of these students include: art, drama, design, architecture, computer science and engineering, proving another example of how Carnegie Mellon really is a place where the left and right brain unite to make innovations with impact.

12/3/08

Innovations in Public Transportation

Every day billions of people across the country benefit from mass transit. Not only is it a smart choice given the current economic downturn – it’s also a great way for people to reduce their carbon footprint.

But for many, using public transportation isn’t a reality.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon want to change that. So they’re collaborating with the University of Buffalo on a project to make public transportation more accessible for everybody.

How? By combining computer science technology and the principles of universal design.

The team will use advances in machine learning to develop software that can assist riders in reaching their destinations. They’ll also focus on the interior design of and access to the Pittsburgh buses.

By partnering with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) in Buffalo and the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, they’ll be able to collect input from transit users.

The next time you step up the stairs into your vehicle or read the route map posted inside, remember that with your support, our researchers are behind innovations making public transportation a reality for all riders.