Causal Net Problems

Causal Net Errors arise from mixing up the result with the cause.

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formula for how Alternative Facts come to be: Desperate Need + Greed = Alternative Fact Medical Myths: Beliefs Based on Outdated Science To start, allow me to refresh your memory, for our history is full of myths when it comes to our heath and our diseases.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…

Review eBook: Affordances and Design

Manches a Gigots

Victor Kaptelinin, a Professor at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen, Norway, and the Department of Informatics, Umeaa University, Sweden, just published an eBook with Interaction Design Foundation: “Affordances and Design.” I was asked to write a review of this book and provide some insights into using affordances in interaction design and HCI. Let me start by providing the definition of affordance as given by Donald Norman: In his eBook, Victor Kaptelinin provides the history of the idea of affordance from its initial introduction by James Gibson in 1977 to the present day. The eBook’s bibliography and reference section is a great place to start the exploration of this topic for anyone new to these ideas. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t help much if an individual is looking for some guidance on how to apply these ideas in practical situations during interaction design or HCI design. For clarity’s sake, allow me to give a very brief explanation of affordances, from their roots to the present time. When James Gibson first introduced the concept of affordances, he focused on physical environment — what actions are possible? And the set of these action were invariable — just because…

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…

Information in the Age of ICT: the Guardian Newspaper 3 Little Pigs Ad

The 2012 Guardian newspaper ad really captures the flow of information in the age of ICT (Information Communication Technologies). The ad retells the story of the 3 little pigs, their houses, and the big bad wolf. It shows how stories change with spin and through propagation through social media: twitter, Facebook, email, etc. Well done!

Community of Practice and Knowledge Propagation Circle

This summer my family and I travelled to Rome. While the temperatures didn’t reach the usual astronomic heights, it was rather warm. But we, and other visitors, didn’t have to worry about thirst. Rome has the best network of public drinking fountains that I have ever seen. Every few blocks, there’s a beautifully-designed basin with a spigot of continuously running water (I know, being from California, the never-ending stream made us very uncomfortable, too). There are two bits of information that have to be passed on to the first-time visitors of Rome: the water is potable—safe to drink, and how to use the fountain—there’s a bit of a trick to them. Above is my son demonstrating a little secret interaction. There’s a small hole on the top of the pipe that can serve as drinking fountain if the main hole at the end is plugged up (with a finger). While we learned about the great drinking water in Rome from many traveling guides (books, online sites, etc.), we obviously didn’t know about the trick until we watched a pro do it. Knowledge Propagation Circle Information propagates through communities. When we first encounter a novel bit of data, it tends to…

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…

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…