Unlike McCain, many seniors depend on the Web – Yahoo News

NEW YORK – If Sen. John McCain is really serious about becoming a Web-savvy citizen, perhaps Kathryn Robinson can help.

Robinson is now 106 — that’s 35 years older than McCain — and she began using the Internet at 98, at the Barclay Friends home in West Chester, Pa., where she lives. “I started to learn because I wanted to e-mail my family,” she says — in an e-mail message, naturally.

Blogs have been buzzing recently over McCain’s admission that when it comes to the Internet, “I’m an illiterate who has to rely on his wife for any assistance he can get.” And the 71-year-old presumptive Republican nominee, asked about his Web use last week by the New York Times, said that aides “go on for me. I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself.”

Unlike McCain, many seniors depend on the Web – Yahoo News

This Human Factors Problem Should Be History By Now

An old problem has hit the news again: chemicals that look too much like drinks. This story just came out in New Jersey, where six people drank tiki-torch fuel the color of apple juice.

It is an interesting problem… what SHOULD you make fuel look like? The tiki-torch fuel bottle did not fall into the Fabuloso problem of looking like a sports drink bottle*. It wasn’t being kept under the bar, like the caustic dish liquid that scarred a father and daughter in “Set Phasers on Stun.” It doesn’t taste sweet like anti-freeze.

Yet when six people all make the same mistake, in a short time span, in a wide geographic spread, are of different ages, etc., it’s safe to assume something triggered them to think it was drinkable. As the executive director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System said in the article from the Star-Ledger:

“During my 40 years in medicine, you get an occasional kid who ingests kerosene, but I have never seen this kind of cluster,” he said.”

But what was it? From looking at the bottle, I don’t have a good answer.

*Fabuloso refused to change their bottle shape but made the concession of adding a child-proof cap. As the other stories show, it’s not just kids making these errors, but the cap should at least make the user think as they try to open the “sports drink.”**

**Of course that reminds me of the time I bought a new contact lens solution and opened it to see a bright red bottle tip. “What a neat retro-looking design,” I thought before filling the contact and putting it in my eye. An hour of rinsing later, I still thought maybe I’d blinded myself.

Driving and Talking in California

The new law, which generally bars drivers from talking on their phones unless they use a hands-free device, takes effect today, nearly two years after the Legislature passed it. In the weeks leading up to the deadline, customers have been flooding into stores to buy hands-free devices, particularly wireless headsets. 

The Mercury News

With recent news that it is now illegal in California to use your mobile phone while driving (unless you have a hands-free device), I thought it would be interesting to note that it is not the “holding the phone” that is the problem, it is the cognitive requirements of multi-tasking (driving and talking) that is the problem.  Hands-free will not solve this problem.  As Strayer, Drews, and Crouch (2006) noted:

When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone.

Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Crouch, D. J.  (2006).  A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver.  Human Factors, 48, 381-391.

In Praise of a Good Interface

Those interested in creative usability, learning, and feedback should check out Moe’s Southwest Grill nutrition information website. Of course, as delightful as the menu interface is, it is very difficult to link.

1. Turn down speakers

2. Go to Moe’s home page

3. Wait through annoying splash screen, circa 1995

4. Mouse over “Menu” and click on “nutrition”

5. Enjoy learning about every optional ingredient in your food

I think this interface is especially interesting by comparison. McDonald’s and other restaurants seem to have directly translated the difficult to read “nutrition chart” posted in their stores. Granted, it is probably in their interest to make this information difficult to access and understand. Burger King attempted more advanced interface, though I find it more difficult to use than Moe’s, (and I found their home site almost impossible to navigate. Check out the icons(?) to the right of the “search” bar that isn’t actually a search bar). Moe’s, however, takes full advantage of the computer medium to allow a simple, informative interaction.

What makes it even more interesting than just providing information is that Moe’s allows customers to learn about different choices and maybe even plan their order beforehand. After all, many foods are misleading. Who knew the drizzle of dressing on your taco multiplies total fat by a factor of 6? At Moe’s website you can play around with different choices to compromise with a meal that weighs your preferences against what is good for you. You may still choose that Chipolte Ranch dressing, but at least it’s an informed decision.

Here are some ideas for the Moe’s paradigm:

1. Widely available interfaces like this could be used to teach restaurant “reality” to families as we try to curb the obesity epidemic.

2. The same interface (or one with different “choices”) could be used in studies of decision making.

3. Actually, tweaks to this program could be used to study learning from feedback. I can imagine having a version that provides even more information, such as how the meal you choose fits into a personalized food pyramid and recommended daily allowances.