Tag Archive for user errors

p-Prims about Memory

Memory can be tricky—somethings seem to come to mind without bidding, while others are stubbornly evading our efforts at recalling them. We have many explanations for how and why somethings are easy to remember and others take so much effort; or why some people are very good at mnemonic feats and others not so much. Many of these mental models of how memory works are faulty (or simply not true) and are based on folksy wisdom passed from one generation to the next. Some of these wisdoms involve tricks for remembering things. For example, my Russian grandmother suggested tying corners of handkerchief to aide memory—if you notice a knot on the corner, you know that there’s something you supposed to remember. Since I don’t carry a handkerchief, I use my rings for the same effect—move a ring from finger to another (where it typically doesn’t belong) and then at least I know that should be keeping something in mind. Of course this strategy does nothing to help you remember what it is you are supposed to remember, but that’s another problem. So I thought to put together a little list of memory-related p-prims—a set of beliefs—that are common in our culture. Below,…

p-prims can be dangerous

Some p-prims are harmless, but some can lead to serious bodily harm. The image above shows villages in Indonesia lying on an electrified railway track. Why? They believe this will improve their health. Their p-prim has to do with medicine: “electricity can cure some diseases.” This is not totally untrue, as is the case with all p-prims. Ultrasound therapy helps heal certain muscle strains, and the ultrasound machine runs on electricity. Heat lamps are also commonly used therapeutically. And they too require electricity. There are many, many other examples. It’s easy to explain how such folksy wisdom gets passed around the community. The problem with this particular p-prim is the resulting decisions that people make based on their beliefs in the curative power of electricity. How would a poor farmer in Rawa Buaya, outside Jakarta, get electricity? The most accessible source is this railway track. A tragedy is only a train away…

Decision Scaffolding and Crisis Mapping

I’m working on a series of illustrations to highlight the need for decision scaffolding during an aide mission. The ideas are based on the Ushahidi deployment experience in Haiti after the 2009 earthquake. But the idea is to make this more general. I would love ideas and recommendations on how to make this visualization better and more communicative. (read more about crisis mapping here) Crisis: Smoke Signals from Eye-Witnesses Let’s start with a crisis—a natural disaster or a political upheaval leaves thousands of people in desperate need of help. The people on the ground witness the suffering and use ICT (Information Communication Technology) to send up the spoke signals. Please not that Internet services might be compromised (due to deliberate actions taken by the authorities; infrastructure failures; chaotic conditions on the ground), but people tend to be very creative and use phone lines, radios, satellite links, and just person to person communication to get the information out there. During the current Libyan crisis, people were very creative: “To avoid detection by Libyan secret police, who monitor Facebook and Twitter, Mahmoudi, the leader of the Ekhtalef (“Difference”) Movement, used what’s considered the Match.com of the Middle East to send coded love…

Multitasking Myth

I’ve been noticing a lot of praise and demand for mutlitaskers: “We are looking for a talented individual who is [insert a laundry list of qualifications here] and is also a great multitasker!” or “Women are naturally better at multitasking.” or “Not only is he gifted, but he is able to work on all these projects simultaneously. If only we had a dozen more just like him!” (—probably just to get anything done!) The interesting aspect of this increased demand for multitasking is the rise of ADHD diagnosis. So I thought it would be an interesting exercise to pin down what exactly is being praised and diagnosed. A Curious Case of ADHD Let’s start with formal diagnostic criteria for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). What are the symptoms of ADHD? Below is a list of attributes that is adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th ed. (DSM-IV). When you read this list the first time, imagine an eight year old boy trapped in an elementary classroom. On the second reading, consider an 80-year-old woman in a nursing home. On the third, visualize a soldier just back from Afghanistan. And finally, when you read the list for…

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…

Toilet Games

If you have small children…boys, you are undoubtably familiar with things like: “My Wee Friend”; “Piddlers Toilet Targets for Potty Training”; “Potty Training Targets – Look like real targets!”; “Tinkle Targets for Boys”; “Wee Wee Pals”; or “On Target Infant Toilet Training Balls” from Amazon. Problem: boys have to learn to aim; boys attention span is shorter than the time it takes to empty their bladder; Solution: make going to the bathroom fun; design an activity that extends the attention and improves aim; The conceptual design is pretty straightforward: align the goals of the parents (teaching bathroom skills) with the goals of a toddler (have fun) to improve the toilet experience for all concern–basic goal alignment! Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t seem to go away as these boys grow up. Product design to the rescue! The Urinal Lips design uses the same product design strategy: make aiming fun! What sign on the walls of the bar’s men’s room couldn’t achieve, a playful design did–these men’s room stay clean. One Step Farther… While attention controls might lag during a long bathroom break, video games seem to have a tighter control over attention. So welcome to the future of urinals: These are the…

Language-learning expertise

Landau, E. (2010). “From brain to language to accent.”  CNN Online. Retrieved on October 4, 2010: http://pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/23/from-brain-to-language-to-accent/?hpt=Sbin Becoming a proficient speaker of at least one language is a hallmark of the typical human psychological development. When it comes to learning more than one language, however, our abilities seem much more widely dispersed. Why might some people display a greater “talent” for learning a second language (or more) than others? By far the best known predictor of success at foreign language learning is the learner’s age.  An increasing number of children who grow up in bilingual environments from early on may well grow up to be fluent speakers of both their native languages. But you don’t have to be natively bilingual in order to master multiple languages at the native-speaker level. In a classic study of second-language acquisition by Johnson & Newport (1989), immigrants to the USA were tested for high-level mastery of English (including phonetic and grammatical nuances), and the results were examined as a function of age at initial immersion in the English-speaking environment. People who started learning English before the age of 7 tended to achieve native-like proficiency. From there on, the older one was at arrival, the less native…