Vision-themed Potpourri

Today’s potpourri happens to be related to understanding or enhancing what your users see (or don’t see):

Browser Size view of HFB
  • Google Browser Size let’s you see how much of your web content is visible by users.
  • Rocker Lou Reed (of the Velvet Underground) designs an iPhone app for near-sighted users.  It basically increases the font size in the contacts application.  It appears that Mr. Reed has common ground with older users?  (OK, lame attempt to insert the Reed song, “Good evening Mr. Waldheim”).  [Wired]
  • When minimalism in user interfaces is too much (UXforward)
  • Perhaps confirming what we suspected, visual alerts are more disruptive than auditory alerts (LiveScience).
  • Lifehacker has an interesting discussion of the merits of multiple-monitors or single big ones as well as a list of useful utilities (I prefer multiple versus a single big one; use 2-24 inches).

Encouraging Sanitary Behavior at the Urinal

From reader Scot M. comes this NPR story. To encourage proper “aiming” at urinals, some places are now placing images of bugs so that men have something to aim toward. I’ve seen these at Schiphol Airport as well as my local grocery store bathroom (and I live in a tiny town).

Keiboom in Amsterdam says the original fly idea was proposed almost 20 years ago by Dutch maintenance man Jos Van Bedoff, who had served in the Dutch army in the 1960s. As a soldier he noticed that someone had put small, discrete red dots in the barracks urinals, which dramatically cut back on “misdirected flow.”

Two decades later, he proposed to the airport board of directors that the dots be turned into etched flies. According to Keiboom, Van Bedoff decided that guys want to directly aim at an animal they can immobilize. The ability to use one’s natural gifts and achieve victory over the foe while standing is the key, he explained. Guys, he felt, can always beat flies. That’s why flies are so satisfying.

Database Three: Mining safety data

This post is part of a series on free data available to curious researchers and professionals:

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)

This database contains more searching capability than browsing. You need the specific geographic location of a mine before searching (state, county).

Once you zero in on a particular mine, the types of reports available are:

  1. Overview
  2. Inspections
  3. Accidents
  4. Violations
  5. VPID ( Violations Per Inspection Day)
  6. Health Samples
  7. Mine Employment and Coal Production Totals for This Mine

Here is an example of what the database returns when queried for “Health Samples”:


Health samples

Here is an example of “Accidents”:

acc mine


This database lacks much of the rich narrative present in the others and is harder to search. The only way to get complete information would be to go through each state and then each county in that state, then generate reports for each mine. The information is there, but it is hard to get into a useful state.

Database Two: Aviation safety data

This post is part of a series on free data available to curious researchers and professionals:

The Aviation Safety Network Database

The ASN Safety Database, updated every week, contains descriptions of over 12,200 airliner, military transport category aircraft and corporate jet aircraft safety occurrences since 1943.

Here is a link to their recording of the recent landing on the Hudson river by a US Airways airbus.

Included in the report:

  1. a summary of the occurrence
  2. multiple photos of damage
  3. video from reports
  4. maps
  5. statistics

Statistics include:

19th loss of a Airbus A320

This is the 19th Airbus A320 plane that was damaged beyond repair as result of an accident, a criminal act or a non-operational occurrence (hangar fire, hurricanes etc.).

11th worst accident involving a Airbus A320 (at the time)
When the accident happened it was, at the time, the 11th worst accident involving a Airbus A320. This includes crashes as a result of criminal acts (shoot down, sabotage etc.) and does also include ground fatalities.

11th worst accident involving a Airbus A320 (currently)
Currently this is the 11th worst accident involving a Airbus A320. This includes crashes as a result of criminal acts (shoot down, sabotage etc.) and does also include ground fatalities.

1095th worst accident in United States of America (at the time)

When the accident happened it was, at the time, the 1095th worst accident in United States of America. This includes crashes as a result of criminal acts (shoot down, sabotage etc.) and does also include ground fatalities. Please note that accidents that have occurred more than 12 miles / 19,3 km offshore in open waters are classified under one of the three Oceans (Atlantic, Indian, Pacific).

1096th worst accident in United States of America (currently)
Currently this is the 1096th worst accident in United States of America. This includes crashes as a result of criminal acts (shoot down, sabotage etc.) and does also include ground fatalities.

Please note that accidents that have occurred more than 12 miles / 19,3 km offshore in open waters are classified under one of the three Oceans (Atlantic, Indian, Pacific).

When available, you can also find recordings and transcripts from the “black boxes” on airplanes. In all, a great database for many kinds of data.

Human Factors in the World’s First “Purpose-Built” Law Enforcement Vehicle

In the near future, you may see one of these cars in your rear-view mirror. They are new purpose-built law enforcement vehicles that will appear in 2012. I found this press release while searching for something else on the web. The cockpit was designed with human factors input from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI):

The Carbon Motors E7, slated for production in 2012, features an ergonomic “cockpit” designed to help drivers safely and efficiently interact with the vehicle under high-stress conditions. It features a large touch screen with voice-activated controls and a backup manual system.

“Like the pilots of jet fighters, law enforcement officers must interact extensively with their vehicles, receive and evaluate large amounts of information and make split-second decisions in high-pressure environments,” noted Dennis Folds, GTRI’s chief scientist and head of its Human Systems Integration Division. “The assistance we provided Carbon Motors helped the company develop a new-generation vehicle cockpit designed to help these officers do their jobs safely and efficiently.”

The human-machine interface was one of the most critical aspects of the new vehicle, which was designed to meet more than 100 requirements recommended by law enforcement agencies across the nation, said William Santana Li, chairman and CEO of Carbon Motors Corp.

Now that we’ve discussed the HF aspects, here is what you really want to know:

Powered by a 300-horsepower clean-diesel engine that can accelerate it to 60 miles per hour in 6.5 seconds, the E7 will be offered with more than 70 options – including an automatic license plate reader, radiation detector and night-vision capabilities. The vehicle is designed to meet a 250,000-mile durability specification, and it will use up to 40 percent less fuel than current law enforcement vehicles, which are modified passenger cars.

Finally, some video of a walk-around:

Considering Human Factors: Designing the World’s First “Purpose-Built” Law Enforcement Vehicle

HF Potpourri

More potpourri from the web:

Pssssst! Free occupational safety data!

Do you love databases? Especially if you are interested in safety, there are a number of carefully archived databases of events out there. A couple of years ago, I found one of these while trying to answer the question “What kinds of human factors interventions would be most increase agricultural safety?” Six months of coding later, I had some answers and a good direction for my research program*.

The posts describing the databases I have found are long, so I will spread them out over multiple posts under the category “Databases.” Today’s database is…

The Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Progam – NIOSH

This database from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health covers fatal accidents in a number of areas with a standard interview and evaluation for each case. These are rich descriptions with the added benefit of having an expert in that field try to assess what went wrong. Some of the areas they cover are highway work zones, agriculture, commercial fishing, commercial aviation, construction, and logging. Each case includes a summary, descriptions, pictures, analysis, and recommendations to prevent a re-occurrence. Here is an excerpt of one of their cases:


Mid-spring 2005, a 29-year-old man died when the tractor he was operating overturned upside down pinning him underneath (Photo 1). The 40-year-old tractor had a narrow (tricycle) front axle. It did not have a rollover protective structure (ROPS). A front-end loader was attached to the tractor’s frame but no counter-weights had been installed for ballast. The loader with its bucket full of rocks was raised to nearly hood height. The tractor leaned to the right as the man steered it forward at a slight upward angle on a slope. The position of the heavy load, the absence of ballast, the tractor’s configuration, the dynamics of the tractor-loader combination and its load in transport on the sloping, uneven terrain contributed to the sudden overturn of this tractor. ROPS and use of the seat belt would likely have prevented this man’s death.

Photo 1 – Tractor without ROPS at scene of overturn. Note the rocks spilled from the loader bucket and height of the loader bucket relative to the tractor’s hood.

Photo 1 – Tractor without ROPS at scene of overturn. Note the rocks spilled from the loader bucket and height of the loader bucket relative to the tractor’s hood.

RECOMMENDATIONS based on our investigation are as follows:

  • Agricultural tractors should be equipped with a rollover protective structure (ROPS) and the seat belt should be used, except with foldable or retractable ROPS in their down or retracted position.
  • ROPS should be designed and readily available for all makes and models of agricultural tractors in common use..
  • Front-end loaders should not be installed on narrow-front (“tricycle”) tractors that do not have a ROPS.
  • Operators handling heavy loads should follow manufacturer recommendations for proper equipment, set up, ballasting, and safe operating practices.

And that’s just the summary! You can look at cases by state, by cause and any number of other variables.

John presenting poster at HFES 2009

John presenting poster at HFES 2009

Data visualization tools

Foreshadowing Anne’s upcoming series of posts on large, public, and free data sets, here are two interesting tools to help you visualize massive quantities of data. First, my grad student Margaux informed me of Google Fusion Tables (shown above). The site lets you upload data and visualize it in different ways. The website has some samples.

From the website:

Look at public data.

Get started with an interesting data set from the Table Gallery.

Import your own.

Upload data tables from spreadsheets or csv files. During our labs release, we can support up to 100MB per table, and up to 250MB per user. You can export your data as csv too.

Visualize it instantly.

See the data on a map or as a chart immediately. Columns with locations are interpreted automatically, and you can adjust them directly on a map if necessary. Use filter and aggregate tools for more selective visualizations


Microsoft Pivot

Microsoft Pivot

Microsoft Pivot

Next, is Microsoft’s Pivot. Instead of being a web-based service, it is a program that runs on your computer (Windows only). It is currently available by invite-only (invite code available from TechCrunch) and I just installed it but the installer encountered an error so I am not yet able to play with it. But from what I’ve seen, it really provides a type of faceted browsing front-end for disparate sources of data.

Pivot makes it easier to interact with massive amounts of data in ways that are powerful, informative, and fun. We tried to step back and design an interaction model that accommodates the complexity and scale of information rather than the traditional structure of the Web.

TechCrunch got a sneak preview and wrote up a more detailed description:

The best way to understand the importance of Pivot is through a real-world example of how this technology would work. So let’s say I wanted a visualization of all the Wikipedia links to TechCrunch, Pivot would essentially crawl all of Wikipedia and create a map of the Wikipedia pages that are connected to TechCrunch, such as Michael Arrington’s Wikipedia page.

Another real-world use of Pivot is extracting data from Facebook. For example, you can use Pivot to crawl Facebook and break down friends by various data points like relationship status or college. Microsoft has an interesting example of Pivot being used to sort through Sports Illustrated covers, where you can break down covers into verticals by type of sport, team, athlete and more.

Human Factors and Healthcare: The older patient & nurse

I‘ve recently published two papers on the topic of human factors and healthcare. Each paper covers a different “stakeholder”: the older patient and the nurse.  The first paper is available for free but the second paper (a collaboration with my architect colleague Dina Battisto) is available at your local library (or you can request a PDF reprint from me).

Pak, R., Price, M. M., & Thatcher, J. (2009). Age-sensitive design of online health information. Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Older adults’ health maintenance may be enhanced by having access to online health information. However, usability issues may prevent older adults from easily accessing such information. Prior research has shown that aging is associated with a unique pattern of cognitive changes, and knowledge of these changes may be used in the design of health websites for older adults. Objective: The goal of the current study was to examine whether older adults use of a health information website was affected by an alternative information architecture and access interface (hierarchical versus tag-based). Methods: Fifty younger adults (aged 18-23) and 50 older adults (aged 60-80) navigated a health information website, which was organized hierarchically or used tags/keywords, to find answers to health-related questions while their performance was tracked. We hypothesized that older adults would perform better in the tag-based health information website because it placed greater demands on abilities that remain intact with aging (verbal ability and vocabulary). Results: The pattern of age-related differences in computer use was consistent with prior research with older adults. We found that older adults had been using computers for less time (F1,98= 10.6, P= .002) and used them less often (F1,98= 11.3, P= .001) than younger adults. Also consistent with the cognitive aging literature, younger adults had greater spatial visualization and orientation abilities (F1,98= 34.6, P< .001 and F1,98= 6.8, P= .01) and a larger memory span (F1,98= 5.7, P= .02) than older adults, but older adults had greater vocabulary (F1,98= 11.4, P= .001). Older adults also took significantly more medications than younger adults (F1,98= 57.7, P< .001). In the information search task, older adults performed worse than younger adults (F1,96= 18.0, P< .001). However, there was a significant age × condition interaction indicating that while younger adults outperformed older adults in the hierarchical condition (F1,96= 25.2, P< .001), there were no significant age-related differences in the tag-based condition, indicating that older adults performed as well as younger adults in this condition. Conclusions: Access to online health information is increasing in popularity and can lead to a more informed health consumer. However, usability barriers may differentially affect older adults. The results of the current study suggest that the design of health information websites that take into account age-related changes in cognition can enhance older adults’ access to such information.

Battisto, D. B., Pak, R., Vander Wood, M. A., & Pilcher, J. J. (2009). Employing a task analysis to describe nursing work in acute care patient environments. Journal of Nursing Administration, 39(12), 537-547.

To improve the healthcare environment where nurses work and patients receive care, it is necessary to understand the elements that define the healthcare environment. Primary elements include (a) the occupants of the room and what knowledge, skills, and abilities they bring to the situation; (b) what tasks the occupants will be doing in the room; and (c) the characteristics of the built environment. To better understand these components, a task analysis from human factor research was conducted to study nurses as they cared for hospitalized patients. Multiple methods, including a review of nursing textbooks, observations, and interviews, were used to describe nurses’ capabilities, nursing activities, and the environmental problems with current patient room models. Findings from this initial study are being used to inform the design and evaluation of inpatient room prototype and to generate future research in improving clinical environments to support nursing productivity.

The picture at the top of this post is the room prototype referenced in the abstract above.  Further details on its design and evaluation will be covered in another forthcoming paper.

Medication Adherence Case Study

I talked with an 80 year old man last weekend about how he remembers to take his medication. His solution?

Put all the pills in one bottle and take out what he needs each day. It appears to be an anti-organizer.

If you or your loved ones are more interested in environmental support, a new free application created by Consumer Reports helps to record what was taken when. Importantly, it also tries to catch potential side effects, which are a larger problem than one would hope in the age of the computerized pharmacy.*

*After trying out the application, I take this back. It allows you to enter all the information about any drug, using the information you are given with your prescription. However, it does not do any cross-checking with a database or alert you if two medicines you are taking could interact.

If anyone wants to give the application a try and post their experience, we’d welcome the comments. If you have ideas for improvement, Consumer Reports is just the kind of company that would like to hear them. I already have a few suggestions on the screen shots below:

Medication Tracking Application

Medication Tracking Application