Diagnostic Errors

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

Alternative Medicine, Placebos, and Rasputin

In the last few weeks there has been several articles and studies published on the effectiveness of alternative medicines and placebos: “Placebos Help Patients Even Without Faking It, Scientists Say“; “Sugar Pills Help, Even When Patients are Aware of Them“; and “Alternative remedies ‘dangerous’ for kids says report“; “Doctors warn over homeopathic ‘vaccines’“. The gist of these beliefs derives from several factors: People Tend to Get Better: most of us get well over time even without medical intervention. Colds pass; flues do too. Most infections heal with time without the aid of antibiotics. Evolution have provided the human race with a great immune system. Medicine helps, we get better faster with treatment. But in most cases, we survive. So when you hear someone recommend an alternative medicine and predict that a cold will go away in three days, chances are you will get better. And over time, we the people develop p-prims (folksy wisdoms) that link health with alternative tratments. “Natural Chemicals” p-Prims: there is a strong belief among industrialized societies, at the present time, that “natural” is better for us than “artificial”. There are many sources of this belief, too many to cover in this short article. And somehow,…

e-Waste & Product Design

I just came across a very interesting video by Annie Leonard. She’s been making little, approachable documentaries that explain difficult to understand issues—e-waste being one of those. Here’s her latest: The Story of Stuff. This is the story about how stuff gets designed, made, distributed, and then trashed. The Story of Bottled Water. This is the story about drinking water and the marketing of bottled water.

Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits

Zimmer, C., (2010). “Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits.” NYTimes.com. Visited on October 3, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/science/21consciousness.html Carl Zimmer’s article “Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits” for The New York Times seeks to introduce and explore a relatively new area of research into human consciousness. In interviews with the medical researcher Dr. Giulio Tononi, the article discusses current and past conceptions of consciousness and its’ implications for our interactions with each other and with our environment. Given the importance of consciousness in everyday human life, one would reasonably assume that at this time science would have a detailed understanding of consciousness and how it functions. This is not the case, however. Despite centuries of philosophical debate, medical research, and technological development, humans are largely in the dark, so to speak, about what creates and maintains the spark of consciousness. In the context of our currently vague understanding, Dr. Tononi’s research proposes a novel way of conceptualizing consciousness. Dr. Tononi’s goal is to apply the theories of informational networks to the human brain, in a method he terms “Integrated Information Theory.” This theory, hereafter referred to as IIT, seeks to understand the human brain as an integrated network of nodes (neurons in…

What is a p-prim?

I’ve been using the p-prim ever since I’ve learned of them, back in my graduate school days at UC Berkeley. P-prims stand for phenomenological primitives and were “invented” by Andrea diSeesa, a UC Berkeley professor in the School of Education who also happens to be a physicist (diSessa, 1983). Visit his Wikipedia page and check out some of the cool projects he’s working at now. Before I give a definition of a p-prim, I think it would be good to give a few examples. Here’s a graph published by OkTrends on beliefs of various groups (in this case as defined by their sexual orientation) about the relative size of our sun versus the Earth (our planet). Even disregarding the differences in percentages due to sexual preference, an awesome 5 % to 10 % of our population believes that the planet we live on is larger than the star it orbits. Would this qualify as a p-prim? Yes: it’s not a formally learned concept; it describes a phenomenon; it’s a bit of knowledge based on personal observations: the sun looks like a small round disk in the sky; it’s a useful problem-solving tool when one has to draw a picture with…

The History of Usability

NASA Space Shuttle SR-71 Blackbird U2 Cockpit Designs

When did we start being concerned with usability? Some will say that such concern is part of being human: cavemen worked their stone tools to get them just right. Interaction design mattered even then. But the field of usability research really came into being when the tools we used started to run up against our cognitive and physical limitations. And to avoid hitting literal, as well as psychological, walls, it was the aviation engineers who started to think about usability seriously. While cars were becoming ever more sophisticated and trains ever faster, it was the airplanes that were the cause of most usability problems around WWI. Cars were big, but didn’t go very fast or had a lot of roads to travel on at the turn of the century. In the first decade of the 20th century, there were only 8,000 cars total in the U.S. traveling on 10 miles of paved roads. In 1900, there were only 96 deaths caused by the automobile accidents. Planes were more problematic. For one thing, the missing roads weren’t a problem. And a plane falling out of the sky in an urban area caused far more damage than a car ever could. Planes…

Perception & Context

It’s All About Context When it comes to real-estate, it’s location, location, location. When it comes to design, it’s context, context, context. Consider the following scenario: you are going shopping at Good Will. You see a brand new coffee maker for $10. “Oh My God,” you say, “that’s incredibly expensive!” You don’t buy it. You go to Starbucks and see the exact same coffee maker on sale for $120. You get it—how can you pass up such a bargain? In a different setting, the perception of price of the coffee maker resolves as cheap even as the actual price is higher. Why? Why do we care about the context in which the product is sold as opposed to some other intrinsic characteristic? There are people who buy empty Tiffany’s blue boxes and cases. Why? So they can place jewelry and other gift items in there. The mere fact of being inside a blue box makes those object more valuable—they work harder. Again, the perceived value it’s not just in the intrinsic characteristic of an object in a box, but rather in the combination of the two: the product and its context. If a gift-giver tells you that the present you’re…