Category Archives: misc

Programming note: Please update your feedreaders

You may have heard the news that Google Reader, probably the most popular RSS reader on the web, is shutting down in a few months. Feedburner, also run by Google, is the service we’ve been using to distribute our RSS feed for readers who use Google Reader or who prefer email subscriptions to our blog. Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling that Feedburner will shut down soon as well.

No fear! You can still get email subscriptions to our blog by entering your email in the right-hand column textfield. If you use a feedreader, you may also want to update your link to us (also on the right side). The redirection should be automatic but you never know with automation!

The new feed link is:

Continuing Adventures of an Academic’s Use of the iPad (mini)

My previous posts on using the iPad have become some of the most popular posts on this blog. So I thought I would give you an update on my evolving use of the iPad.

My history of use of the iPad started with great skepticism, moved into curious and active experimentation, and has settled into routine usage. Now, it’s an integrated part of my work and play. I’ve even done what was once unthinkable: nearly wrote a entire manuscript on the iPad without a hardware keyboard! (read on).

With great skepticism I got the original iPad a few months after it was released in 2010. While I could see the theoretical benefits of such a lightweight device, there was not yet much software that was specialized to do any work. In terms of usage, there were probably days that I did not use the iPad. It was primarily relegated to recreational web surfing or curious novelty.

After the release of the iPad 2, however, my usage increased dramatically. The reduction in weight and size, as well as the release of high quality productivity software meant that I not only carried it along with my then-laptop (Fujitsu P1620 ultraportable tablet), I could start to envision how I might start replacing my laptop. Usage was probably split 20 (iPad)/80 (laptop) in terms of mobile computing. It also helped that it was at this time that I switched my desktop computer and laptop to Mac. This made it much more seamless to use Keynote and Pages as replacements for Powerpoint and Word. I’ve kicked Powerpoint but I can’t yet kick Word to the curb.

The iPad 3 again increased usage mainly because of the high resolution display and dramatic speed increase made everything better, especially reading PDFs.

Now, I have an iPad mini and all the software that I’ve mentioned in previous posts are still usable but the form factor has now truly made it even more my primary mobile device of choice over the laptop. The effects of an always-on, super-ultra lightweight device seems to encourage frequent use in places where even a laptop is clunky (e.g., in bed, passenger in a car). I’m currently working on a manuscript and I would estimate that I’ve written more than 50% of it on the iPad mini (using the software keyboard and Pages). Probably another 10% on the iPhone (reading what I wrote, light editing) and the rest on the desktop or laptop computer.

Keynote is an especially capable presentation app. I’ve worked on full presentations created on the iPad (but presented on a laptop). They are whisked silently through the cloud and are on my laptop/desktop waiting for me.

But there are other things that are making the iPad work especially well for me. One feature that isn’t discussed a great deal in reviews is iCloud. iCloud, in contrast to Dropbox, invisibly keeps my Keynote (class lectures, professional presentations) and Pages (manuscripts) in sync on all my devices (desktop, laptop, iPad mini, and iPhone). I still use Dropbox but iCloud is simpler model with less thinking about spatial file organization (the file is just in the app). I still use Dropbox but treat it like an archive; a folder with many levels of folders. While I treat iCloud as an active area for current work, a work space. iCloud = short term memory, dropbox = long term memory. This setup works quite well for me.

Uses will be different for different people but for me (someone who values portability above all else and is a tinkerer) the Mini is a winner (it replaced my iPad 3). I also did not set unrealistic expectations of the device which may be why I’m so surprised how much of my daily computing can be addressed with such a relatively low-powered device. The size/weight of the Mini simply overwhelms any other benefit of the larger iPads. When I travel, I am now more likely to be carrying just the iPad (with no laptop unless I know i’ll need to program or do statistical analysis). In the end, it allows me to do a small amount of things in more places than at my desk.

To conclude, my most frequently used apps lately are:

  • Keynote (lecture and presentation creation & editing)
  • Papers (reading PDFs, literature searching)
  • Pages (manuscript creation and editing)
  • Email (built-in client)
  • LogMeIn Ignition (for connecting to my desktop computer remotely)

Keynote and Papers are truly exceptional apps that have nearly the full functionality of their desktop counterparts without replicating the same interaction style (i.e., they are optimized for tablets). I actually prefer doing lit searches in the iOS version of papers than using the desktop version!

This list is short because everything else is for fun!

How Do You Teach Human Factors?

Reader Mark C. asked the question:

“I plan to offer a class on Human Factor’s Psychology in my school. I’ve looked around to internet for resources…there really isn’t much out there….”

How did you start teaching human factors?  If you had to teach a semester-long course, what would be your resource?  Please chime in!

My undergraduate course is a fusion of material from the required text (Introduction to Human Factors), some chapters from the Design of Everyday Things (which I don’t require to read but may take inspiration from), and Casey’s classic Set Phasers on Stun.  And plenty of examples of human factors from the web to make the material more timely.

A major component is the group project where students pick a system and conduct a human factors evaluation as an end-of-the-semester presentation.

Two New HF Blogs

Just a short note about two new HF-oriented blogs.  First, Arathi Sethumadhavan Ph.D. has started a new blog. Arathi Sethumadhavan is a Human Factors Scientist at Medtronic’s Cardiac Rhythm and Disease Management. She received her PhD in Experimental Psychology (Human Factors) from Texas Tech University.  Second, Ergonomics in Design, a publication of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, has started a blog as well.  Check ’em out!

Paper isn’t so bad…

One thing that annoys me is the silly argument that paper is bad or paper kills. Such hollow arguments are used to encourage technology adoption in airplane cockpits, the class room, and hospitals. Usually they are associated with silly statistics about how much paper is saved or how much less weight is carried, or how much easier it will be to look through documents (I use an iPad to hold hundreds of articles and while I can *hold* more articles, it has not translated to more reading and it does not improve my reading comprehension at all).

We are now finally starting to see a more nuanced view of technology.  The NTSB recently proposed banning all distracting technology while driving and this NYT article discusses the downsides of blind technology adoption in hospitals.

Hospitals and doctors’ offices, hoping to curb medical error, have invested heavily to put computers, smartphones and other devices into the hands of medical staff for instant access to patient data, drug information and case studies.

But like many cures, this solution has come with an unintended side effect: doctors and nurses can be focused on the screen and not the patient, even during moments of critical care. And they are not always doing work; examples include a neurosurgeon making personal calls during an operation, a nurse checking airfares during surgery and a poll showing that half of technicians running bypass machines had admitted texting during a procedure.

I hope this brief period of common sense lasts.

“Feel the pleasure of the mind in the least allayed”

Enjoy this short but entertaining look at “Benjamin Franklin – the first American ergonomist?” by Dr. John Senders (who has appeared previously on this blog).

An excerpt:

Professor Chaplin states of Franklin (p. 65): Cato Major, or His Discourse of Old Age (1744). Franklin solicitously printed the book in large type so that elderly readers (beyond the help even of spectacles) ‘may not, in Reading, by the Pain small letters give the eyes, feel the pleasure of the mind in the least allayed.'”

Enjoy poking around the HFES archives, as well!

Photo shows Benjamin Franklin’s proposal for bifocals, as found at the Library of Congress website.

New Magazine-like Layout for iPad Users

Just a small programming note:  we’ve installed the new OnSwipe plugin for WordPress that shows a specially formatted version to our iPad users.  The experience is very similar to what you might get from Flipboard (an iPad RSS app) complete with page turning animations.

Let us know what you think!  Don’t forget to try swiping.

Kitchen Taskonomy Part 2: Paying Bills (A Guest Post by Kim Wolfinbarger)

In my previous post, I talked about applying taskonomy to kitchen organization. Instead of organizing objects by their name or physical similarity–taxonomy—a taskonomic approach organizes objects by the way they are used.

Today I’m discussing how I used taskonomy to revamp my overly precise but neglected system for paying bills. Paying bills used to be a real chore.  (Yes, I hear you saying that I could solve my problems by signing up for online bill payment. I have several reasons for handling this the old-fashioned way, one of which is my aversion to having money automatically removed from my bank account.)

First, I collected bills from their basket, the checkbook from my purse, and pens, stamps, and mailing labels from the drawer. Inevitably I forgot to get envelopes for the annoying bills that require me to use my own, so I always had to make a trip back to the desk to retrieve those. (I don’t usually pay bills at the desk, since it’s full of computer, but the home-office setup is a subject for a different post.) Simply collecting the materials took five minutes. After spending the next 30 minutes writing checks, I placed the statements in separate files: one for utility bills, another for mortgage payments, one for auto insurance and separate one for home insurance, one for each of the credit cards, and one for each of our investment accounts. But it took so long to file them that I was much more likely to stack them in a pile and file them later. Much, much later. The piles did nothing for my home decor, and when I needed to find a particular statement, it was never with the others. Twice a year, in desperation, my husband and I would sort through the stacks, put the statements in order, gripe about the missing ones which were inevitably the Most Important for Tax Purposes, haul three bags of trash to the dumpster, and consider calling a marriage therapist.

After yet another marathon file-and-shred session, I finally admitted that the system required more time and self-discipline than I had. Just as taskonomy had brought order to my kitchen, I suspected that it would also work for bill-paying. Inspiration came in the form of Marla Cilley‘s book, Sink Reflections. Following her suggestion for a “portable office,” I bought a plastic accordion file with thirteen dividers and a deeper front pocket. In the front pocket, I placed a pen, return-address stickers, and blank envelopes. A smaller insert pocket held stamps. Just behind that section, I placed my mortgage-coupon book and bills to be paid. I labeled the other 12 sections by month. Finally, I wrote on an index card a monthly checklist of the regular bills. Now, when I am ready to pay bills, everything is in one place. I can pay bills at the kitchen table or while waiting to pick up my kids from ball practice. Once a bill is paid, I check that item off the list and file the statement in one of the monthly slots. I never lose a statement, and my husband can find the ones he needs without help from me. At the end of the year, I throw away the statements I no longer need and file the others in the official cabinet.

Like the taskonomic pantry arrangement, this system for organizing bills has worked for over two years. So this January, instead of spending a day sorting and shredding, I’ll be seeking new projects for taskonomic redesign.

Kim Wolfinbarger is the recruitment coordinator and an adjunct instructor for the School of Industrial Engineering, University of Oklahoma. Her research interests include usability, product design, industrial ergonomics and design for special populations.