Update on an Academic’s Use of the iPad

There seems to be a huge amount of interest in the use of iPads in academia as evidenced by the popularity of my last post on the iPad. This is just a follow-up post with some more app recommendations and more thoughts on how well it substitutes for my laptop after over a month of use.

View from Glacier Point
View of half dome from subdome (yes we went up)

I recently went on vacation for a few weeks (to Yosemite National Park) and carried the iPad exclusively.  I used the Camera Connection Kit to download and view pictures and movies from my digital camera.

When I could get wireless in the park, the built-in email client worked wonderfully with my campus Microsoft Exchange email/calendar system.  Touch-typing emails is a real pleasure once you get used to the software keyboard.

To temper my enthusiasm for the iPad, Anne will present her, “things I hate about the iPad” post shortly.  In the meantime, I just wanted to follow-up with some more app ideas for anyone in academia who is thinking of using an iPad.

First, I still use Evernote as my primary note-taking application when I need to jot down an idea, draft a blog post, draft a paper review, etc. But the major downside (which isn’t the fault of Evernote) is that the lack of true multi-tasking is really annoying. I’d love to be able to have a small note window on the bottom half of the screen to take notes while I do something else.   This is not yet a major annoyance and should be partially fixed when the iPad gets updated to iOS4 this fall.

I also still use iAnnotate a great deal to read PDFs. During my vacation, I used iAnnotate to store, read, and search PDFs of various things to do around Yosemite.  I also used it for light airport/airplane reading of some work material.  The instant-on capability (and 10+ hr battery life really came in handy on the cross-country air and road trip).  PDF tip: if you scan your own journal articles, make sure to OCR them so that they are searchable within any PDF app.

Recently, the iBooks app, from Apple, was updated to support PDF reading. It presents another option if all you want is a PDF reader. It displays your documents on a bookshelf:

I recently downloaded DocsToGo to create and edit Microsoft Office-compatible files and have since abandoned the iWork apps (including Keynote).  I recently created a presentation in Keynote but then only later realized that Keynote does not export to Office/PowerPoint for later editing on the desktop.  It does import PPT files. Apple’s reputation for a closed ecosystem rears its ugly head!

Another major limitation of Keynote is in its presentation capabilities.  When you pair the iPad with the iPad VGA connector (to connect to projectors) you might think you have a great, portable solution for presentations.  Almost.  The connector does output to a projector but you can’t see your presentation on the iPad itself.  All you get is slide up/down control and a laser pointer simulation.  Hopefully this will be remedied in a Keynote update.

The iWork apps (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers) are designed well and incredibly easy and intuitive to use but the lack of a proper export option precludes me from using them full time.

Here are some screen captures of DocsToGo:

A really cool feature of DocsToGo is that it will interface with your Google Docs account and let you edit (offline) any file you have in the Google cloud. This is especially useful if you or your campus uses Google Docs for collaborative activities.  Changes made offline on the iPad will be uploaded back into your cloud. It also integrates with DropBox (another must-have tool that is available on the iPad).

Mac-using academicians may be familiar with the Papers application which allows users build a personal database of PDF articles.   A stand-alone version is available for the iPad:

Although this application does not require the desktop copy of the Papers application, I think it might work best when it syncs with a library that exists on your desktop. The company does not make a PC version so I’ve found this app of limited use right now. It might be more useful next time I need to do a new literature review.

This blog runs on WordPress.  I know many other academics who run blogs also use WordPress because of its simplicity and ease of use.  The WordPress iPad app comes in handy to do light editing, content creation, and spam management on the go.

Wordpress for iPad

There are many things that the iPad cannot do. One of them is run PC software like SPSS (used for data analysis). When I need to access specialized applications for a short time, I use VNC viewer which lets me connect to and control my desktop computer (which is running RealVNC) from my iPad.  Controlling a desktop computer with only a touchscreen is executed very elegantly with the VNC viewer.

Finally, if you’re like me and don’t necessarily want to broadcast to the world that you are carrying around an iPad, what better hiding place than in a book!  I just received the DodoCase (after a 6 week wait).  Highly recommended:

iPad in Dodocase. Moleskine Pocket notebook on top

(image of TRS-80 Model 100 from Wikipedia)

Don Norman’s 10 Rules for Successful Products

The embedded video below is a one-hour talk given by usability guru and cognitive psychologist Don Norman.  He discusses his 10 Rules for Successful Products.  Factoid: Did you know that his landmark book, “The Design of Everyday Things” was originally called, “The Psychology of Everyday Things“?  I guess psychology was a dirty word back then.


Glass Shower Doors

I found this story about shattering shower doors first on The Consumerist blog and then the original by the author, Bob Sullivan at MSNBC (quoted below).

I had just finished showering and turned off the water. Soaking wet, I did what millions of Americans do every day — I reached for my snazzy sliding glass shower door. Seconds later, glass was raining down on me. The door had failed somehow and exploded into a million little pieces. The sound was hideous, something between nails on a chalkboard and a torrential downpour…

At first it sounds like an engineering issue: tempered glass shatters easily (although thank goodness it was tempered!) So, the trade-off is to have glass that breaks more easily, but is safer when it does break. The human factors issue that stood out to me appeared in the advice given by Kohler:

Do not use the shower door towel bars as a safety grab bar or as a lift assist when getting in and out of the bath, or lowering and lifting off a toilet. (MSNBC)

Do not put any weight on the shower door grab bar. (Consumerist)

So, don’t grab the grab bar, ya’ll.

*Photo credit Eqqman*

The Human Factors of Rock Climbing – A matter of life and death

A tragedy occurred last week in West Virginia where a rock climber died apparently due to a human factors issue with her gear. This text comes from a commenter on Rockclimbing.com:

The climber was Karen Feher from Midlothian Va. She climbed to the anchor of Rico Suave and clipped in direct. Her setup: She had two thin dyneema slings girth hitched to her harness. At the end of each sling was a locking carabiner held in place with a rubber Petzl keeper…She clipped a locker to each bolt and probably called off belay. I’m unclear if she was going to rappel or lower. It doesn’t matter. She fell to the ground.

The day after the accident a local climber named Craig (last name?) climbed to the anchor and found a locker on each bolt with a Petzl String still affixed to each one. Both Petzl strings were torn on the side.

Let me give a little background on the gear so you can understand what seems to have happened:

Climbers can affix themselves to the wall with equipment that has carabiners on both ends. This allows them to clip themselves to one side and clip the other to the wall. These can come in different varieties, and two types are illustrated below.

The first type consists of a sewn sling between the two carabiners. It is sewn tightly in multiple places to make sure that it holds tightly to the two carabiners.

A "quickdraw" with two carabiners
Notice the larger and smaller holes in each end. One holds a carabiner loosely to the rock while the other holds a carabiner more tightly on the rope end.

Notice on one side it is sewn so the carabiner hangs loosely and on the other side it is sewn tightly, so that it holds the carabiner almost immobile. The reason for this is to allow the side connected to the wall to swing freely as the rope moves, which keeps the rope movement from jarring or upsetting protection put into the rock. The other end that is connected to the rope keeps the carabiner from moving around and possibly turning sideways.

The second type (below) consists of a nylon sling doubled over between the carabiners. The benefit of this kind of sling is that it can be changed in length – by doubling and tripling it, it can either be 4′ long, 2′ long, or just a foot long. However, notice both sides are the same. The benefit of having one loose side and one tight side does not exist here. Incidentally, this is the type of sling I use almost exclusively.

A simple loop connects the two carabiners
A simple loop connects the two carabiners
The sling has now been doubled over to shorten it

There is one way to turn the second type of sling into an approximation of the first type: a rubber band. Not only can you do this with a plain rubber band, there are some specifically sold for this purpose.

The rubber band holds the rope end tight while allowing the other end to swing freely
Again, rope holds one end, this time with sling not doubled over

The problem with this solution lies in the changes to visibility and function that the rubber bands can have when the slings are doubled-over incorrectly.  Click here for a video explaining what can go wrong.

Essentially, the sling can become almost invisibly connected ONLY by the rubber band. I am sure no one would like to think of hanging 100 feet from the ground by a grocery store rubber band.

The additional component to the tragedy that prompted this post is that both of her slings were attached only by the rubber band. Climbers build redundancy into their systems to prevent accidents like this, but here both failed.

Usability Potpourri

First, some thoughts on mobile usability from Google user experience designer Leland Rechis.

Next, decisions, decisions, decisions…when did buying gas become so difficult?

As Travis says,

At this point, why not let me use a slider to create my own mix? That’s a keyboard, touchscreen and 5 grades of gasoline. From somewhere in Florida on I-75″

(Thanks Travis Bowles).

Finally, when keyboard shortcuts go bad!  (from SvN)


We admit it.  Here at the Human Factors Blog we’ve been slacking in our posts since summer started.

However, some of our colleagues have been exceptionally prolific and posted a number of well- thought out posts on usability! Go check out this series from uselog.com — it contains a number of posts from Analyze the consequences of usability for your company to Don’t let designers do their thing.

Another good post comes from the archives of The Daily Human Factor. If you like reserach on the human factors of driving, you will like the collection of posts ranging from billboards to lane markings.

More posts coming soon!

Contact lens solution safety can be a complex if-then task

We’ve posted before on confusing bottles, even those with labels. This latest problem comes from a type of contact lens solution that burns your eyes if you use it immediately, but does not if you’ve let your contacts sit in it for a long period of time.

Excerpts from the write up at Consumer Reports:

It is a hydrogen peroxide solution that you use overnight in a special lens case that causes the peroxide to fizz and clean the lenses. By morning, the caustic peroxide is neutralized, at which point you douse the lenses in the rinsing solution of your choice and put them in. My dispenser had issued a stern warning that I was never, ever to use the Clear Care as a rinse, or reinsert the lenses after any less than six hours of disinfection, or I would risk a corneal burn.

…The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) reports the FDA has received hundreds of complaints of similar mishaps, and you can easily find many more such accounts online. In our little corridor of offices here at Consumers Union alone we discovered two cases – my daughter’s and that of a colleague who made the same mistake when she asked to borrow rinsing solution at a relative’s home.

…there is a narrow red warning strip at the top, but all you can see from the front is “use only lens case provided,” which isn’t terribly informative but critically important, because if you use the product in a regular lens case, it won’t neutralize the peroxide. The bottle comes with a little cardboard collar that says “do not put Clear Care directly in eye,” but it can easily be removed (or fall off). And the dispenser has a red tip, which supposedly signals that you shouldn’t put the solution directly in your eye. Have you ever heard of this? My daughter sure hadn’t.

And nowhere on the bottle is there an explicit warning that putting the stuff directly in your eye can cause a chemical burn. Or, for that matter, instructions on what to do if you make that mistake (rinse your eye with copious water or saline, it turns out)…

I made this mistake myself back in 1996 when visiting a friend and borrowing their contact lens solution. I even noticed the red tip and thought it was an attractive branding idea — moments before thinking I was going to go blind from the pain.

How would you address this warning issue? Any creative ideas? It is complicated by the solution changing hazard status after being neutralized.