HFES Meeting, 2013

I’m just writing a quick update from beautiful, mild San Diego.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my presentation for tomorrow morning; I’ll be part of the Perception & Performance Technical Group– Display Research lecture session. I’ll be presenting Supporting Speeded Navigatoinal Communication via Gesture-Controlled Vibrotactile Displays.

I’m also incredibly interested in the Cognitive Engineering panel for Trends in Decision-Making Research, as one of the panelists will be Dr. Alvin Roth, but I’ll be presenting at the same exact time.

Not much to say at this exact moment, but I’m looking forward to the hours upon hours of interesting research that I’m exploring this week.

Who knows, maybe they’ll actually give me a break to see San Diego. So far, I’ve been able to walk through the historic Gaslamp Quarter at night and see all of the interesting shops and bars. It’s very unique here, so I’m looking forward to  the exploration opportunity.

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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Empathy

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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Why Human Factors?

As a human factors student, I usually encounter blank confusion when casually discussing work. In many technical disciplines it’s common to need an education to even begin to understand the basic ideas behind a field. This is why many engineering students, myself included, change majors. It’s difficult to tell if your interest in plasma should be directed to the physics department or mechanical engineering.

Simply: human factors (or ergonomics), is the design of things to fit people, physically and mentally. Most confusion over this occurs due to the lack of awareness. Engineers regularly design things but rarely do people consider that someone will have to use said thing.  If you’ve ever wondered why something was so feature rich and still horribly unusable (usually about the point where said item is being defenestrated), we’re here to help.

A common misconception of our field is that we design office furniture. Admit it, you immediately thought of the ‘ergonomic’ buzzword you see splashed across every highly marketed item. While ergonomists certainly do help design these things, it’s far more common for their work to never truly be noticed. The better a design is, the less you think of it.

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