Before you cast that vote on the ballot this November…

Article: McGrath, M (2008). “Political views ‘all in the mind’.” BBC World Service. Visited on 18 September 2008 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7623256.stm Conceptual Design —  to investigate the level of connection between a person’s political views and her/his physiological makeup, e.g. that person’s sensitivity to fear or threat. Interaction Design — small study targeting potential voters, exposing them to various sights & sounds that may provoke fear, and checking their responses against their political views on multiple issues.  Subjects were first asked a series of questions regarding their political views on multiple issues (like gun control, capital punishment, abortion, etc.).  Then, using electrical conductance to measure subjects’ skin & blink responses, they were exposed to a series of intentionally frightful images & sounds.  This is used to determine their levels of sensitivity to fears & threats Interface Design — creepy images like a scared man with a tarantula on his face, and an open wound with maggots in it, and loud, unexpectedly intrusive noises Summary — while this study is geographically limited (conducted only in Nebraska) and statistically insignificant (n=46), it does offer an interesting hypothesis that people who are highly sensitive to threats & fears tend to support a right-wing agenda. From…

Neuro-Parasites & Problem Solving Errors

Dr. Robert Sapolsky is a professor of neurobiology at Stanford University. He started his career studying baboons, charting the relationship between stress hormones and an individual animal’s social ranking in the baboon society hierarchy. The lower the rank, the more stress the animal experiences, the more consequences there are to the health outcomes and longevity of the baboon. Making a parallel to human society, the conclusions of Dr. Sapolsky’s study is that it sucks to be at the bottom of the social order. In his books “Primate’s Memoir” and “Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” Dr. Sapolsky provides copious details of his work and his conclusions. (see Recommended Books for details) But residing on the bottom of the social ladder is not the only problem a mammal like us can experience. In his video interview with Edge (www.Edge.org), Dr. Sapolsky describes the adventures of Toxoplasma—a protozoan parasite carried by cats which causes an infection Taxo—in our amygdala. Post an active infectious state, Taxo is able to manipulate human dopamine levels. People with post-Taxo infection have higher than normal dopamine levels, resulting in some interesting cognitive consequences. There’s been solid research that documents high level of Taxo infections in schizophrenic patients. There is also…

Reinventing the wheel to help disabled.

Article: Elliot, J. (2008). “Reinventing the wheel to help disabled.” BBC NEWS. Visited on 5 September 2008 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7475609.stm Summary: Wheelchair wheels are not optimally designed for wheelchair users who must travel. While the wheels may be removed from a folding wheelchair, they do not themselves pack well and must often be checked in on flights or stowed separately from the folded chair in other travel scenarios. Former Royal College of Arts (RCA) student Duncan Fitzsimons designed a folding wheel for bicycles and is modifying the design to work for wheelchair users. His design, which folds the full-sized wheel flat while allowing use of a regular tire and inner tube, gives the wheelchair user the ability to quickly stow their chair when using other modes of transportation. Conceptual design: Wheelchair wheels must be removed from wheelchairs, even folding models, to be stowed  when traveling. Design a wheel which does not require removal from the chair and significantly reduces the amount of space needed to stow the chair. Interaction design: The wheel must be large, as this is the key to a wheelchair user’s independence. It should be designed to fit different budgets and performance needs. It must fold flat so it may be…

Understanding Complex Visual Information…

US Military PowerPoint slide designed to explain Afghanistan strategy.

…or not comprehending it, as the case may be. A few years ago, I wrote a paper about people’s ability to comprehend complex visual information such as graphs, charts, diagrams, maps, and so on. Intuitively, we are culturally-trained to believe that it’s much easier to extract information from a picture than from text. But upon testing this belief (p-prim, for those in the know), I found that contrary to the notion “a picture is worth a thousand words,” it’s much more difficult to get data from an illustration than from a story. While emotional impact might be larger with a picture, it’s not true for comprehension. You can read the results of my study at http://www.pipsqueak.com/pages/papers.html “Visual Symbolic Processing in Modern Times” paper presented at AACE ED-MEDIA Conference in 2008. Since then, I’ve collected more data, and the results are similarly aligned: problem-solving requiring higher level visual symbolic processing skills is difficult and results in communication failures. A secondary, and surprising, finding was a gender discrepancy in performance outcome testing of visual symbolic processing skills. Higher level and lower level visual symbolic processing are defined in the paper. And anyone interested in testing their visual processing skills are welcome to…

Imagining the future of technology—Brain Power.

Article: BBC Staff. (2008). “Imagining the future of technology—Brain Power.” BBC News. Visited on 10 September 2008 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7660928.stm The article asks the question: Can we ever expect computers to emulate the achievements of human intelligence? There are two obstacles to overcome in order to achieve this; first, advances in hardware must be made so that computers may be powerful enough to simulate the working of the brain and secondly, we need to be able to program them to do so. In order to better understand the working of the human brain, scientists around the world have utilized processing power of supercomputers in parallel to developed various computational brain models. Some model capture a high degree of detail, modeling the brain on a neuron by neuron basis while others work on the assumption that interesting phenomena occur at the network level and therefore model large numbers of simpler neurons. Once validated by observation, the brain model can be used to explore the effects of altered molecular or genetic information. While researchers have a long way to go in understanding the human brain, progress is being made with respect to understanding brain subsystems and distinct functionality such as learning and vision. Information on…

More is Better: Why iPad doesn’t Satisfy Everyone

Swiss Army iPad

There have been a lot of complaints flying around about how iPad doesn’t do this, and iPad can’t do that, and iPad won’t work with that other thing. Some people are so obsessed about all the things that iPad isn’t capable of doing that they overlook all that it can do. By looking for failure, these reviewers lost sight of what iPad is all about. There are plenty of people who are defending iPad out there, so I was interested in why the people who dislike iPad so passionately feel the way they do. We, the people, tend to make our decisions based on little snippets of information that we find to be true and productive for solving various problems. “If something is steaming, it must be hot.” “Big things fall harder and faster.” “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” “If one is good, two is even better.” “If it looks clean…” “Little kids don’t lie.” “If it’s natural, it’s not chemical.” “Summer is when the Earth is closest to the sun.” “One can’t get fat eating vegetables.” These are the building blocks of our intuitions. We are all walking encyclopedias of folksy wisdom—common sense explanations that are consciously and unconsciously…

Do we want to be citizen or customers.

Article: Knight, M.  (2008).  “Do we want to be citizen or customers.”  CNN. Retrieved on 21 June, 2008. http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/06/12/Rykwert/index.html Summary: In this interview, Joseph Rykwert, an architectural historian, offers his view of the city and the transitions it has gone through. He points out that most people don’t like the new building and skyscrapers being constructed, often mocking them with sexual connotation. In the past skyscrapers symbolized the energy within an urban environment, yet as more and more are being built, buildings are now more of an eye sore. He talks about how gates communities and certain buildings (whether they are under high security or are just constructed to be uninviting) cut through public space, taking away a section of the city.  The need for gated communities is a recent phenomenon, and is a reflection of the growing inequalities of our society. He comments that tall buildings built after the 60’s don’t do a good job of integrating with the streets.   Their entrance halls have become less and less welcoming, characterized by tighter space, less public displays, and more security.  This is because the streets were no longer viewed as a safe place, which was reflected in the design…