ATM Alarms and Signal Detection Theory

My favorite folks over at The Consumerist posted a nice writeup on why ATMs do not have alarm buttons.

According to a FTC report, at about $1,500 a pop, they’re expensive to retrofit, the police usually don’t have the resources to respond in real-time, and they result in more false alarms than real calls. In one pilot program, an alarm-equipped ATM resulted in 500 false calls to the cops, and zero real robbery notifications.

For some human factors fun, try to calculate d-prime. 🙂

HFES Madness–There’s still time!

The annual Human Factors and Ergonomics Society meeting is next week in San Francisco.  If you’re attending as a presenter (of a lecture, a poster, or a symposium), consider participating in the HFES Madness Sessions!  These new sessions (organized by Anne, Kelly Caine, and me) are short-burst advertisements for your talk.  We’re borrowing this idea from our friends at SIGCHI.

The sessions are:

  • Tuesday at 7am (because of the early plenary)
  • Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at 7:15am

At 25 seconds long, there is definitely room and it’s not too late!  If you want to participate, just send your name and a slide to

Information about each madness presentation will be posted to a dedicated website and Twitter.

Preparing Your Madness Presentation

To participate, please prepare a single slide in PowerPoint or as a pdf. Your slide will appear on screen for 25 seconds. Or, you can even show a video, as long as it is 25 seconds or less. Feel free to be creative! At CHI 2010, presentations included everything from a research rap video to a limerick that summarized research findings. If you don’t have PowerPoint, we suggest you go to, where you can save your presentation as a PowerPoint file. If you submit a video, it must be a WMV file and must not be longer than 25 seconds.

HF Potpourri

Impending Disasters Announced Via Computer

I had no idea that there were automated disaster warnings on planes, such one telling passengers to prepare to crash.

  1. Apparently they exist.
  2. Apparently it’s not too difficult to mistakenly broadcast them.

From one article on the event:

“This is an emergency announcement. We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water.”

Passenger Michelle Lord said: “People were terrified, we all thought we were going to die. They said the pilot hit the wrong button because they were so close together.”

I certainly see the point of an automated message, since in the event of an upcoming crash the crew is almost certainly busy. But the heart attack I might have upon hearing the message in error would render a crash moot.

11 feet 8 inches

A train trestle in Durham, NC has a clearance of 11’8″.

The typical height of a large rental truck ranges from 11’6″ (don’t bounce!) to 13’6″.

How often do you think about clearance when driving? Do you think you could adjust to thinking about it 100% of the time in your rental truck?

I’ve seen parking garages that have a hanging bar well before the low ceiling to notify drivers that they are not going to make it. The bar, on chains, will bang the front of the truck but not peel the top off as the bridge does. The trucks in this video are going to quickly, this warning would have to come well before they crossed the intersection. This solution probably has problems too. I’m sure there would be drivers who were planning to turn before the bridge that get mad that a bar hit their truck. Also, getting someone to pay for and maintain the bar might be difficult as the trestle owners want to blame the drivers (and so do other drivers, if you read the comments on the video.)

More video and information is availible at Videos copyright Jürgen Henn –

“Clomiphene” vs. “Clomipramine”

Found at the Consumerist blog:

The words “Clomiphene” and “Clomipramine” might look similar, but if you work in a pharmacy, you should know that they stand for very different things. Clomiphene is the generic version of the fertility drug Clomid. Clomipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant. A woman in Pittsburgh says that the pharmacy at a Giant Eagle grocery store gave her the antidepressant when she was prescribed the fertility drug. She had a severe allergic reaction and ended up in the emergency room.

The original article may be found here.