Personal Update: Australian Adventures

I wanted to check in and update everyone on my current where-abouts: I’ve moved to Canberra, Australia to work for Seeing Machines as a Research Scientist in their Human Factors division.

I’ll be working on making Driver Monitoring Systems and automation interfaces, some of which can be seen in the GM SuperCruise feature on the Cadillac CT6. I’ll also be working on the Australian Capital Territory’s CANDrive project and testing on a Tesla Model S.

Family-wise, we’ve been here most of a month and are finally getting our feet underneath us.  We should finally have all of our home goods from off of the container ship by the middle of December and have managed to get a nice rental that’s close enough to walk to work. We also get parrots an cockatoos in our yard.

We had a couple days of jet lag decompression in Sydney’s Chinatown. I was also lucky enough to run into Dr. Zhijian Pei, of Texas A&M’s Industrial & Systems Engineering Department, at a grocery on our first night.

Sydney Chinatown

Canberra: Nara Candle Festival

We’ve also had a chance to see Canberra a bit, though we’re limited by the public bus system, Ubering with a car seat, and the generosity of friends. Shiyan went with us to the Nara Candle Festival here, which celebrates the sister city relationship with Nara, Japan.


HFES 2017, Austin – Retrospective

I’m fresh back from a long week at the 2017 Human Factors & Ergonomics Society annual meeting. I’m sorry for the delay, but it’s taken awhile to compile all of the notes.

This was my 6th HFES, and I’m glad to say one of the best ones yet. I enjoyed it much more than last year, largely because I actually saw the conference instead of spending 48 hours competing in the UX Day Guerilla Usability Challenge. As always, I loved every minute visiting Austin, though I saw little of it due to the usual breakneck conference pace.

On a personal level, it did my heart good to see the number of Texas Aggies representing the study chapter and to see us claim our first gold status (Whoop!).

What follows is not an attempt to summarize my entire experience. Instead, I’m providing a snapshot of the most noticeable points and my questions involved. If I have any notable asides, I will make sure to indicate them with blue text. I also want to avoid trying to write entire summary essays, so the format will consist of a loose bullet-point arrangement.

If you’re interested in hearing more from another perspective, please check out the Human Factors Cast bonus episodes for HFES ’17.

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6 Reasons Why You’re Not as Rational As You Think

We’re all familiar with the staggering incompetence that human beings can display. It can be frustrating to be an observer to the destructive, clueless behavior of others. The internet abounds with examples of this sort of behavior. It is easy to forget that others must put up with the same shortcomings from ourselves.

The mind is a useful machine and can do a lot of amazing things. There are however, several things that the brain is not very good at. Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for their work on heuristics, or mental shortcuts, in judgement and decision making. It turns out that our minds are really dedicated to smoothing out the edges and oversimplifying reality.

Here are 6 good examples how.

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Schelling Games: The Art of Coordination


Let’s say that you and a friend are touring New York City together and end up separated, with no way to communicate between each other? Where do you meet? When?

Popular culture has focused on the analysis of of game theoretical components of competition, wondering how one individual may gain advantage over another, but little consideration is given to how individuals coordinate actions. (While the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma does have components of cooperation, in the end, it’s really about preventing the other from taking advantage of you.)

Instead, we’ll be looking at the area of game theory explored by Thomas Schelling which looks at how individuals cooperate with minimal amounts of information.

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In a recent piece of news, a dolphin distressed by a fish-hook sought out human divers to provide assistance. This, while heartwarming, has several distinct levels of astounding attached to it:

How did the dolphin know to ask people for help? This dolphin likely has very little personal history in receiving help from humans, and while we’re entirely capable of giving aid, how can it know that? This goes way beyond conditioning into actual intelligent action. The dolphin was able to actively request help from strangers.

How did the dolphin predict that they would even consider to help? The dolphin, somehow knowing that humans might be able to help it, had to have some sense of whether or not they would. This suggests, in my understanding, that the dolphin had a sense of not only its own pain, but the potential empathy that the divers might have towards it.

In short, what is remarkable about this case is that we have a reasonable example of a dolphin showing enough empathic recognition to identify the divers as significantly similar to itself, but how could it possibly do that?

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Continuum Visit

During my trip to Boston for the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society annual meeting, I got to go on a tour of Continuum, a innovative design consultancy. It was incredibly fascinating and resulted in a semi-permanent “kid in a candy shop” feeling.

During our visit, my tour group got to participate in a design competition for a Halloween candy machine prototype. Well, it looks like Continuum just did a small writeup of the whole thing, so take a look!

My group took the approach of utilizing a more tactile sense of fright, something that might have a larger impact for children. What was surprisingly unsettling about the whole process were the flaps over the candy holes. Different materials with vastly varied textures lent a hair-raising physical sensation to reaching into the machine, not to mention the possible chance encounter with our slimy booby trap.

Swarming and Trading Algorithms

My friend, Mel White, was kind enough to take on a question that has been buzzing around in my head for awhile, particularly after the Bio-Inspired Swarms panel at Human Factors and Ergonomics Society annual conference (Mike Goodrich’s visualizations were amazing). While my question and Mel’s analysis largely boils down to a small thought experiment about resiliency, it should be of interest.

More after the jump.

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Resource Use

Over at Ribbonfarm, Venkatesh Rao just put out a really fascinating, fragmented ramble through waste and its impact on the discussion of scarcity versus abundance titled Waste, Creativity and Godwin’s Corollary for Technology.

In it, Rao puts forward several intriguing observations, the first of which is something that I believe I will be repeating for awhile:

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