Diagnostic Errors

Diagnostic Errors result from focusing on details and failing to recognize a large pattern.

Musings on Failure in School

The Math Obstacle In the past few years, reports came out showing strong correlation between failing Algebra and graduation rates — if a kid fails math, he/she won’t be getting their high school diplomas. Here are a few articles describing the studies: “Is Removing Algebra a Key to Reform?” by Daniel Duerden, August 13, 2012 “A Comprehensive Study of the Predictors of High School Outcomes: Why Some Students Graduate on Time While Others Drop Out”. “A Correlation Study of Accuplacer Math and Algebra Scores and Math Remediation on the Retention and Success of Students in the Clinical Laboratory Technology Program at Milwaukee Area Technical College” by James Manto, August 2006. “Is high school tough enough: Full report” by The Center for Public Education. There are many more… Some suggested that based on evidence, we might just want to drop the math curriculum from high school graduation requirement — if there’s a strong correlation, perhaps by removing math, we might remove the problem and more kids graduate. Obviously, I don’t think that this a great solution. But I do come across the math problem a lot as part of the educational evaluations I do in my small practice. What I see…

Cultural Barriers to Success

Tim Buton Exhibition at La Cinémathèque in Paris

Man-made Disasters in a Wake of Tsunami This month, The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission issued its final report on the disaster: It was man-made! Here’s a quote from the report: What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan.” Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program”; our groupism; and our insularity. Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same. The last sentence is particular insightful — the blame was not rested on the shoulders of a particular individual, as tempting as that might be, or even on the shoulders of some manager. The fault was places on the cultural context in which the incident played out. Museums in Paris We just got back from seeing a Tim Burton exhibit at the La Cinémathèque, in Paris. The content of the exhibit, as one could imagine, is quite wonderful. But there were many, many human failures in making the visit an enjoyable experience. And yes,…

Design Solution to Real World Problem — Speeding!

Canada Road Slowdown Project

Knowing something about behavior, visual processing, and human nature, designers can nudge users into doing the right (or in this case, lawful) action. Speeding is a problem all over the world. People are notorious for underestimating the real amount of time it takes to get places they need to be. Traffic congestion, car problems, detours, and other (un)foreseen events can make a huge difference in time variability of getting from one place to another. The problem, though, is that we can’t really force people to leave on time or drive the speed limit when the drivers think that no one is looking. So with the law on our side, we can create other ways of forcing people to behave lawfully by changing environmental conditions and relying on human nature not to do what’s right, but to do what they think they have to based on circumstance. Here are a few creative ways of solving the speeding problem on our streets. Using Visual Processing Errors to Slow Traffic Canadian drives misdiagnose the problem and try to drive straddling the “hole” in the road. Everyone is successfully slowed down. The Fake Traffic Cop Threat as a Speeding Deterrent In general, people tend…

Cultural Differences through Time

Bottle of Heroin (1890-1910) by Bayer, sold as a non-addictive substitute for morphine

There’s been a shift in our culture (at least in US) towards seeing medication as a sign of weakness from one of alleviation of suffering that predominated out society some 100 years ago. Some people I know are even proud of the fact that they’ve never taken a painkiller or were treated for cough. Stoicism became a virtue all in itself — “I’m a good person because I don’t take medicine, preferring to suffer the illness and/or the symptoms of the disease.” And it’s not just the patients that feel this way. Medical professionals routinely prescribe to the “complain 3 times” rule: their patients have to mention being in pain on multiple visits prior to getting a prescription that would deal with it. A friend told a story of a doctor visit during which he was told that “he didn’t want to appear to be complainer.” Several weeks later, he was having back surgery and remains in a wheelchair to this day, a decade later! How did we get here? This is a very complicated question, but it might help to examine how things use to be. Below are medications as they were packaged and sold all over America in the…

Empathy on the Brain

Empathy is a necessary component of product design. To design and make something that is comfortable to use for someone else, requires the maker of the product to imagine how another human being would feel while using it. This is a hard thing to do. Medical students have to take “bed side manners” classes that explicitly teach empathy for the patient. Some design schools do the same (check out this video in Product Design Resources). Fortunately, humans come equipped with a special region in the brain whose job it is to help us see the world from another’s point of view. Here’s a short introduction by Rebecca Saxe, “How we read each other’s minds.” So when we go to the movies, we relate to the characters and feel what they feel, and cry when they are sad, and laugh when they are happy, and cringe when things get awkward, because we have the Right TPJ (or RTPJ) region in our brain just behind and above our right ear. We aren’t born ready to use this part of our brain, as the experiments described by Dr. Saxe in the video show. It takes a long time for this social problem solving…

Information Awareness & Failure Analysis

Given the current state of affairs in Japan’s nuclear facilities, I thought it would be good to do a quick analysis of what’s going wrong and why the officials on the ground act as they do (based on very limited information that’s trickling in via the news sources). As of today (morning of March 14th), we have two reactors that have experienced explosions, partial core meltdowns, and multiple other failures. I’ve put together data from the news with failure analysis for an alternative view of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan. Like many aspects of usability, FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) was the first to develop practical understanding of Information Awareness and Failure Analysis—pilots and airplane designers what to minimize errors in flight and understand failure when it happens. Like the rest of the world, I’m extremely grateful for their insight into these two aspects of systems design and usability. Below is a quick introduction to the basics. Information Awareness Information Awareness is a wonderful term that describes the state of user’s knowledge of the problem at any particular time. This means that Information Awareness changes in time and from person to person. For designers of a complex system that aims…

Cultural Differences or Child Abuse?

Sometimes, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Consider the images below: Is this child being physically tortured? The little girl is the photo is about 5 or so. The temperature of the air around her seems to be about the same: 5 F°. The temperature of the water is below freezing. The child is freaking out and is in serious danger of hyperthermia. So how do we judge the adults in this photo? The winter-coated men dunking the girl into the ice-cold water think they are doing good by this child! This is the right of Epiphany–a religious act meant to help the girl. How do we evaluate the social value of such act from the comfort and warmth of our computer lit rooms? How do you feel about this photo? If you’re not sure yet, follow this link: http://video.mail.ru/mail/mimozachina/2688/2690.html My personal feeling is that if zoo keepers saw this kind of behavior in the primate house, the baby ape would have been taken away due to its mother’s lack of parenting skills. But then again, I’m just imposing my cultural views and norms on someone else…or am I? The Call of Mother Tigers, Mother Grizzlies, Mother Dolphins… There…