Background Knowledge Errors

Us and Them

Warm versus Competent graph

Of Doctors, Babies, Kings, and Zombies Before starting my journey as science fiction writer, I got a few degrees under my belt — astrophysics, mathematics, cognitive science, education, etc. It took a few decades (I’ve gotten married and had a family in there somewhere), but I got my doctorate and have used and still use it to help people think through complicated problems, mostly in product design. How is this relevant to writing, you might ask? Well, in addition to witnessing and surviving some amazing situations — always a good experience for a writer — I’ve acquired a few tools on how to think about situations and people. I would like to share one such tool with you: Us versus Them, a cognitive perspective. What people (and other animals) are very good at is dividing themselves into Us’es and Them’s. It’s a useful tool when we live in a divided world — how else do we keep clear of our allegiances to countries, sports teams, and political parties? But these divisions have neurological and psychological underpinnings. Consider a four square graph that charts competency versus likability (emotional warmth and approachability): We perceive (our) doctors as warm, personable, and able. We…

Alternative Facts in Medicine

Doctors' hygiene

While we are collectively freaking out over the Trump’s White House use of Alternative Facts, these kinds of “facts” have been floating around in medicine (and politics) for a long time. And it is instructive to take a look at how we as a society have been dealing with Alternative Facts in Medicine and what damage these “facts” have wrought on us individually and collectively. I propose the following formula for how Alternative Facts come to be: Desperate Need + Greed = Alternative Fact Medical Myths: Beliefs Based on Outdated Science To start, allow me to refresh your memory, for our history is full of myths when it comes to our heath and our diseases. Let’s begin with a bit of bloodletting. Bloodletting is almost as old as our civilization. Thousands of years ago (that’s thousands, with three zeros!), a healer’s first choice of treatment was to let out the “excess” blood from a patient. Be it a migraine, an infection, or a virus, a person who was probably too sick to object was cut with a lancet or some other easily available tool and weakened even further via blood loss. The Greek physician Erasistratus believed all illnesses were due…

Users Making Fun of Interface Icon Designers

laundry icons fails

You know you failed as an icon designer when users exchange humor forwards on Facebook based on your work. We’ve all done it — we’ve all looked at the little labels on our clothing and tried to figure out what those iconic instructions mean. The icons are so bad that manufacturers themselves are making fun of them! There is not a huge downside for in this case failure, though, in this case. At worst, the piece of clothing would be ruined. Painful, but in the scheme of things not that bad. But other circumstances are more troubling. Last night, an alert lit up on my car’s dashboard. It was a strange symbol, a bit rounded, some waves on top. I had no guess as to what it was. It was accompanied with a bright red glowing triangle with an exclamation sign inside — the universal sign for warning, pay attention! Should I pull off the road? Is this bad? It’s dark and raining outside. Thankfully, my car manual was in the glovebox — I could look this up. In took a few minutes but I figured out that the strange symbol means low pressure in one of my tires (no…

Cultural Differences in Child-rearing or Abuse?

baby and cobra

I’ve written about cultural differences in child-rearing that from our, Western, point of view seem like child abuse. There’s the dunking of babies into freezing ice waters in Russia; and spinning children to improve something; and now I just saw these videos from India. and There is no question that if these were video-documented instances of child abuse in New York or Los Angeles, authorities would be knocking down doors to rescue these children. But in other cultures, is it different? Do we bear responsibility there?

Cultural, Psychological, and Evolutionary Basis for Your Political Choice in 2016 Presidential Election

2016 Election

Who’s your choice for president this election? How did you make your decision? Given where you live and who you are, you might never really had a choice! Your vote might have been decided for you even before you were born… Might. Cultural Argument: Empathy versus Sympathy There is a lot of talk about the presidential candidates that start with: Who would you rather have beer with? Why does such a question have resonance? Why do we put so much importance on our ability to relate to the candidate? Why do we feel that our ability to visualize ourselves hanging out with a potential president somehow qualifies them for office? Many pundits and TV personalities try to convince us that it matters one way or another. But why does it work? Why do people believe them? Well, there is actual is a reason, and it just happens to be culturally-based. It is worth looking at another example that has nothing to do with people running for the Office of the President of the United States of America. Consider mental illness. How do you feel about a person with schizophrenia? How do you feel about a person with Post Traumatic Stress…

“Thanks for choosing Apple”…not!

Apple Customer Service... Not

This last month, we had a bizarre customer service experience with Apple iTunes. It started on September 13th with a simple purchase that wasn’t fulfilled. It ended with us angry and frustrated for no reason. Apple was having a one-day promotion where they were selling movie bundles of 10 movies for $10 each. My husband couldn’t resist and purchased three of the six bundles on Apple TV. But the movies didn’t show up in our list of purchased movies. It’s not the first time we’ve bought movies; our credit card was up-to-date. Something technical had just gone wrong. So the next day, my husband submitted a customer service request with Apple iTunes. The Apple Customer Service rep said that he could see that the purchases had been made and said that other customers were having the same problem getting their purchases. He said that he would resolve the issue. But then, another strangely hostile customer service rep took over. He recanted what the previous rep had said, implied that my husband was a liar and said that he could tell that we had never purchased anything, and effectively told us to go get bent. The customer service interaction with Apple…

Inattention Errors in Extemporaneous Writing

Rapefruit

Automation provides many opportunities for inattention errors. Extemporaneous writing/typing is particularly prone to errors so egregious that they are funny… in retrospect. Here are a few examples of “scary” autocorrect mistakes as well as other problems caused by limited or spit [sorry, that was “split”] attention on the task of communication. 1. Everyone fails sometimes It is easy to fail when we are in a hurry, or are under pressure, or don’t proofread our work before it goes out. Some fails are the result of trying to be too clever and not getting a second opinion. Some fails are due to lack of process — a second pair of eyes on the copy would have noticed the “extra word” problem. Some fails are easily caught via a spellchecker… But in some cases, a spellchecker does help… And in many cases, spellcheck is the CAUSE of strange communications. I had a few of those myself… 2. Errors are different from mistakes Mistakes are things that we know are wrong the moment we notice them — the head-slappers! They are usually caused by inattention on the task. Errors are different. Errors result from true ignorance. But it doesn’t make the resulting fails…