Category Archives: ergonomics

You are what you eat (And I’m about a B-)

Like many people, I use heuristics when choosing between food products. My algorithm goes something like this:

  1. What’s the lowest unit price? 25 cents per ounce vs. 40 cents per ounce?
  2. Pick up the lowest
  3. Look at the saturated fat RDI
  4. If reasonable, look at ingredients
  5. Is list too long to read in 3 seconds?
  6. If yes, pick up next cheapest item for comparison.
  7. If no, look for “partially hydrogonated” or “high fructose corn syrup”
  8. If either found, pick up next cheapest item for comparison
  9. If neither found, purchase.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone did steps 3-9 for me? Or if they considered factors I’m too lazy or uneducated enough to balance and comprehend? Well, the ONQI has stepped up to the challenge. The ONQI, or Overall Nutritional Quality Index, is coming to products near you as a single scale for all foods. As the site states, it finally allows the comparison of apples to oranges (oranges win, by the way.)
One of the things I’m most impressed with is the ONQI’s use of the entire scale. Unlike choosing wine by points (where nearly every advertised bottle is above 88 points on a 100 scale), on the ONQI soda gets a 1 while oranges get 100. Now we know that although pretzels aren’t bad for you… they certainly aren’t good for you with a rating of eleven. Eleven is a lot closer to Coca-cola than it is to oranges.

The second thing I’m impressed with is their attempt at transparency. Their conference presentations are available online. However, due to patent, the actual algorithm used is not available. We are asked to trust that experts have tested it and found it reliable. Hopefully this will change as soon as the patent expires and it may be examined by numerous independent investigators.

One thing it does not do (that the food pyramid has been trying to do for 50 years) is recommend a balanced diet. Oranges and strawberries may score 100s, but a pure diet of those won’t do much but prevent rickets. However, I like their concept of attacking the nutrition problem at a food-by-food level. If I have my meal basically planned, I can use the scale to decide between individual options.

Last, I enjoyed this bit from their website:

What about products that don’t score well? Aren’t you at risk of alienating some brands? The ONQI was developed based on sound science, independent of any food company or commodity organization bias. Since the ONQI can be applied to all foods, beverages, recipes and meals, it levels the playing field, and provides consumers with a universal tool to measure any food they wish to purchase. It can also provide a benchmark for product development and reformulation.

The failed food pyramid is a good example of how difficult it is to create a nationwide understanding of a complex topic. The ONQI does the work for the consumer; work we’re clearly not interested in doing ourselves. I’m going to be watching closely to see how the ONQI pans out in studies of purchasing behavior changes.

Electronic Books–A Human Factors perspective

So I finally made the plunge and obtained an Amazon Kindle E-book reader.  This isn’t a gadget review site so don’t expect a full review but I just wanted to comment on some of the ergonomic/human factors considerations after using the device for the past few days.  The bottom line?  There are some critical “book behaviors” that the device does not afford but are critical to me.  My reading material is primarily articles, reference books; not narrative fiction (that typically flows in a linear, page-by-page fashion).

The GOOD:

  1. The hype concerning the display is warranted.  It is extremely high contrast and easy to read even in dim light.  What makes this different from reading on an LCD is that the pixels are actually closer to the reading surface (just like paper).  The pixel density is also very high (167 dpi) compared to LCDs.
  2. The device is very thin and light.  The screen is small but not unusably so.
  3. Search is a nice function.  However, I am not sure if this perfectly replaces book indexes.  With an index, you can rely on recognition instead of free recall (necessary in search).
  4. Built-in 3G wireless for free.
  5. The software is very simple and the navigation is easy.  It is similar to an ATM with soft-options.

The BAD (in no particular order):

  1. Page turning is a bit sluggish (probably .5 to 1 second).  I don’t have empirical data to back up actual “performance” differences but it bothers me.
  2. The page forward and backward buttons are too easily pressed when you pick the device up (not a big deal but an inconvenience).
  3. I can dog-ear pages and include notes on pages or passages.  My notes are accessible as a text file for use later.  However, the text file is sort of meaningless.  While my note is there, it is devoid of context (I don’t know where it goes).  It would be nice if this functionality was improved.
  4. The on-off switch is located on the back of the device.  So when I want to turn it off, I always inadvertently jump a page or two.
  5. Instead of using page numbers to navigate the text, it uses something called “Locations.”  I still have not figured out what this is.  At the bottom of the screen, it might display, “Locations 203-15”.  Are these lines?  Paragraphs?  Pages?
  6. There is the “previous page” button, but also a “Back” button…and they seem to function similarly under some circumstances but differently in others.

Anne and I are writing a book and I’ve been doing quite a bit of research with articles and books.  Typically, I will read a page from a book or article and make notes.  Currently, there is not an easy way to export these notes or even email them to myself from the device.  As I mentioned, the notes it creates are unusable.  Another big thing is that I cannot open multiple books or articles at once–this is a problem with the whole class of devices, not just the Kindle.

These are just some of my recent thoughts on the device.  The tentative bottom-line is that I probably won’t be buying expensive reference books on the device (it just can’t yet replace a paper book for my use cases).  But reading PDF articles and Word .docs is quite pleasant.

Here are some pictures (the device and the device’s text presentation compared to a real book).

Kindle text compared to real print

Inner and Outer Outed

Redesigned Beltline signs to drop ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’

RALEIGH – No more “Inner” and “Outer” for Raleigh’s Beltline. Soon it will be Interstate 40 and Interstate 440, east and west.

The state Department of Transportation is about to make good on a long-standing promise to get rid of the Inner Beltline and Outer Beltline signs that get lots of motorists mad, confused and lost.

This human factors redesign feels personal. I’ve bemoaned the difficulties with the Raleigh loop signs for as long as I’ve lived here. I know people who have no trouble with it, but I am incapable of translating “inner” or “outer” into actual directions, especially during the multi-tasking required for driving toward an entrance ramp and thinking about where my destination is in relation to my current position.

I think the greatest difficulty comes from translation. To know which way the inner beltline goes, the driver must mentally step through the following (at least until s/he just memorizes what ramp to take).

  1. Raleigh is surrounded by a loop with 12 o’clock in the north.
  2. I’m at about the 9 o’clock position approaching an on-ramp from outside the city.
  3. My destination is close to the 4 o’clock position, so it would be best to go right to get there.
  4. Right is….
  5. Right is… uh
  6. Right is inner or outer?
  7. Ok, inner means inside the outer. In the U.S. cars go in prescribed directions on certain sides of the street, so looking down at the beltline I can expect cars on the inner side to be going north from where I am.
  8. Wait, is that true 180 degrees on the other side of the circle? I think so…
  9. So that means that the inner beltline is going clockwise?
  10. That means that the outer beltline goes counter clockwise which is to the right and where I want to go
  11. I want the counter clockwise entrance
  12. The counter clockwise entrance is the outer beltline

No wonder I’m always late.

For a bonus, don’t miss out on the typical “common sense” comments attached to the News & Observer article.

Hospital’s Design Keeps Fresh Air in Mind – NYTimes.com


In July, builders broke ground on a new hospital in Rwanda’s Burera district, near the Uganda border. The design relies on simple features to reduce the spread of airborne disease: outdoor walkways instead of enclosed halls, waiting rooms alfresco and large windows staggered at different levels on opposing walls to keep air circulating.

Global Update – Rwanda – Hospital’s Design Keeps Fresh Air in Mind – NYTimes.com

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.

Human Factors Journal Celebrates 50 Years With Special Issue Highlighting Pivotal Research and Applications

The journal, Human Factors, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a retrospective of some pivotal research and areas. To celebrate, the entire issue is available online for free. Some highlights:

  • The Split Keyboard: An Ergonomics Success Story
  • The Role of Expertise Research and Human Factors in Capturing, Explaining, and Producing Superior Performance
  • Multiple Resources and Mental Workload
  • Putting the Brain to Work: Neuroergonomics Past, Present, and Future
  • Discoveries and Developments in Human-Computer Interaction
  • Aging and Human Performance

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society : Human Factors Journal Celebrates 50 Years With Special Issue Highlighting Pivotal Research and Applications

Facebook for grandma?

“The Jive was created by Ben Arent, a college student, over a six-month period as part of his product design degree. The concept was designed to get elderly technophobes connected to their friends and family without feeling overwhelmed of learning how to use social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. It would essentially be their own type of social networking.”

[link to Crave which includes a video demonstration]

Ergonomics for kids

Ergonomics for kids is a relatively recent area of research.  This new paper addresses childhood ergonomics during computer usage.

A new study by human factors researchers in Australia suggests that students’ posture is affected by the height at which they view classroom learning materials. The researchers cited computer screen displays positioned at mid-level as causing less musculoskeletal strain than high- and book-level displays. Their findings were published in the February 2008 issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

The rapid increase in computer use by children over the past few years, say the authors, “has outpaced the development of knowledge about the ramifications for the health of children.” For example, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that in 2006, 80% of children aged 5 to 14 years used a computer at home.

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society : Research Suggests Mid-Level Computer Screen Displays Can Minimize Musculoskeletal Strain in Schoolchildren

[full text PDF]

A suit that simulates the physical effects of aging used by Nissan

Carmaker Nissan Motor is using a specialized driver’s suit and goggles to simulate the bad balance, stiff joints, weaker eyesight and extra five kilograms (11lbs) that may accompany senior citizenry.

Associate chief designer Etsuhiro Watanabe says the suit’s weight and constriction help in determining functionality and accessibility within cars by putting young designers not only in the minds of the mobility-challenged, but also in their bodies.

 wwwreuterscom.jpg

Japan aging suit puts car makers in senior circuit | Technology | Reuters