High-Tech Devices Keep Elderly Safe From Afar – NYTimes.com

First thing every morning, Lynn Pitet, of Cody, Wyo., checks her computer to see whether her mother, Helen Trost, has gotten out of bed, taken her medication and whether she is moving around inside her house hundreds of miles away in Minnesota.

High-Tech Devices Keep Elderly Safe From Afar – NYTimes.com

Memory Loss – Aging – Alzheimers Disease – Aging Brains Take In More Information, Studies Show – Health – New York Times

This short article nicely talks about a well known pattern of age-related cognition (that with age comes “wisdom” or knowledge).  The challenge in Human Factors is using this information in design.

“These findings are all very consistent with the context we’re building for what wisdom is,” she said. “If older people are taking in more information from a situation, and they’re then able to combine it with their comparatively greater store of general knowledge, they’re going to have a nice advantage.”

Memory Loss – Aging – Alzheimers Disease – Aging Brains Take In More Information, Studies Show – Health – New York Times

Court Says Dollar Design Discriminates Against Blind : NPR

A U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled the Treasury Department is discriminating against the blind by printing money that is all the same size, with no tactile features that would make it possible to distinguish, say, a $10 bill from a $20. The decision could force the Treasury Department to redesign U.S. bills.

Court Says Dollar Design Discriminates Against Blind : NPR [link to streaming audio]

On Reality TV, Less Sleep Means More Drama : NPR

Research shows that sleep deprivation makes people emotionally volatile and temperamental — a fact that hasn’t escaped the notice of some reality TV producers. In fact, though it’s not always obvious to the audience, many reality shows feature contestants who could use a little more sleep.

This is not so different from what actual sleep researchers observe in the lab. Mary Carskadon at Brown University says sleep-deprived people tend to be emotionally volatile.

“You have the little girls on their sleepovers giggling themselves silly. But you also have people who have short tempers or easily cry,” says Carskadon. “I guess all things that do make for high drama.”

On Reality TV, Less Sleep Means More Drama : NPR

Nagging via text messages to help teens remember meds

I‘ve heard of text messages being used to remind older adults, but this is an interesting take on that…I guess it addresses the same underlying problem in both age groups: prospective memory failures.

WASHINGTON – 4gt yr meds? Getting kids to remember their medicine may be a text message away. Cincinnati doctors are experimenting with texting to tackle a big problem: Tweens and teens too often do a lousy job of controlling chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes or kidney disease.

It’s a problem long recognized in adults, particularly for illnesses that can simmer without obvious symptoms until it’s too late. But only now are doctors realizing how tricky a time adolescence is for skipping meds, too.

Nagging via text messages to help teens remember meds – Yahoo News

Overcoming the big downside of tagging

“A tag is a (relevant) keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (a picture, a geographic map, a blog entry, a video clip etc.), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification and search of information.” [Wikipedia]

Tagging is the process of assigning keywords or phrases to items. To be more concrete, many of us may have collections of bookmarks in our web browser. Tagging each bookmark with a relevant term allows them to be classified and categorized semantically, or by meaning.

But one major downside of tagging is that the user has to actually do the tagging; quite a bit of work if you have many thousands of bookmarks (or emails or photographs). Rashmi Sinha was one of the first people to start thinking about the cognitive requirements (i.e., what happens in the head) when users tag. Here is a figure from her analysis:

sep22_cognitive_tagging.gif

Her bottom line is that tagging is efficient (compared to other methods of organization) because when we are trying to think of keywords, we have lots of choices that come to mind (stage 1). However, I see this as a potential downside. It’s a heavy decision step that must be repeated for every item one needs to tag.

Several new products are on the horizon that aim to automate this very step:

The first (which is in private beta and thus unavailable) is Twine. The New York Times wrote an interesting story about Twine and how it automatically scans your documents to obtain relevant keywords.

Sarah Miller, a librarian at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, became a member of Twine’s test group in November, partly because she and her husband, Ethan, a doctoral candidate, needed a place to organize all the documents they wanted to share with each other about teaching and learning.

Ms. Miller likes Twine’s mechanized tagging abilities.

“If I save the URL of a Web page into my Twine account,” she said, “Twine will skim the page and turn it into tags automatically. It’s a way to tie together things that my husband and I find over days, and months and years.”

Twine has an option that allows people to do their own descriptive tagging, just as they might, for instance, use the Web service del.icio.us to assign labels to Web sites to help keep track of them.

“But my tagging is inefficient,” Ms. Miller said. “Personal vocabulary changes. It’s difficult to be consistent.”

A less automated solution is a new product (also in private beta) called zigtag. Zigtag relies on you entering a keyword, but afterwards will suggest additional keywords.

After entering an appropriate tag for a page, the user is presented with a list of matching keywords, each of which has been defined in Zigtag’s database. For example, after entering “Apple” into the search field, I was able to choose from “the computer company”, “the pomaceous fruit”, and “the record company”, among others. The process is painless and the integrated dictionary is fairly comprehensive. If you happen to stumble across a term that isn’t defined, you can easily request to have it added to the dictionary (and can place your own temporary tag). [Tech Crunch]

While these are nice solutions, i’ve always imagined that one side benefit of tagging was that the very effortful process of tagging could contribute to a more durable memory trace (the classic “generation effect“). Incidentally, some limited research of mine (PDF) has not borne this out. But in reality, how well do we want to really remember our bookmarks? Most of us are satisfied that it is stored somewhere and are less interested in retrieving it later unaided.