Sunday, November 25, 2007

Something from social psych and something from cog sci

I was reminded recently of two things, both with implications for human-computer interaction.

First, Bob Sutton (you'll remember my previous post about him) recently blogged about The Psychology of Waiting Lines. This reminded me of several connections to HCI:
  • "Occupied Time Seems Shorter Than Unoccupied Time". We used this principle (as described in Tog's classic Keyboard v. Mouse and his update from the point of view of an airline passenger) in a HICSS article.
  • After reading Sutton's message I vaguely remembered a study long ago that showed that telephone users take longer if they know someone else is waiting to use the phone. I found the article in Social Psychology Quarterly: "Waiting for a Phone: Intrusion on Callers Leads to Territorial Defense". Here's two sentences from the abstract: "Three correlational studies suggested that callers spent more time at the phone if they were intruded on. An experiment indicated that people stayed longer at the phone after an intrusion primarily because someone was waiting to use the phone rather than solely because of the presence of an intruder."

The other thing was seeing Stephen Pinker (a cognitive science person currently at Harvard) talk on BookTV about his latest book. You can see the same talk (with better audience questions) as given at Google, here. Caution! Pinker uses just about every swear word I've ever heard in his talk since he is discussing language and emotion. If you don't want to hear words like that, don't watch the video.

The part that reminded me of HCI is about 24:40 into the talk when Pinker discusses the Stroop effect. I have HCI students experience the Stroop effect themselves. It is a very robust effect, even if you try to avoid it. Try it yourself.

Anyway, Pinker discusses how swear words have a similar effect on performance. If you want to start with something lighter, Pinker was on the Colbert report, where he described in five words how brains work. Here he is, in two short videos: one, two.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Lessig-style update

Last year I gave a link to a talk by Larry Lessig to illustrate his presentation style, the visuals in particular.

The link I gave in my previous message doesn't work anymore, but you can see Lessig's TED talk from March 2007 "How creativity is being strangled by the law"

Monday, November 05, 2007

Made the big time: Slashdot

Speaking of Slashdot (see the end of this post), the grade changing indictments in the recent news spawned a Slashdot thread: "Does Hacking Grades Warrant 20 Years in Jail?".

N-version programming, and recalled algorithms

Software engineering notes always has a Risks to the Public distillation of the Risks Digest email list. One of the threads caught my eye (bad pun, you'll see). Since you need access to the ACM digital library to read SEN I've looked up the links to the Risks archives for the thread and put them below, in roughly the same order as they appeared in the September issue. Each post is a few paragraphs long, so if you are interested in software that might injury or kill someone, these are worth reading.

First, the FDA "recalled" two algorithms for two algorithms used by a LASIK eye surgery system.

This prompted a discussion of safety-critical software, and N-version programming. Some of the information presented about the space shuttle was wrong, but follow-up postings corrected the misinformation.

The LASIK issue prompted a suggestion about using more than one software"development team: "Improving reliability of health critical software, and some misinformation about the space shuttle software ("Improving reliability of critical software").

A wikipedia article is argued over, and then the shuttle software process discussed in two posts: "Space Shuttle uses 2-version programming" with further clarification "Re: Space Shuttle uses 2-version programming".

And finally, a some thought-provoking posts about events that almost never occur: "N-version programming & low-probability events" and "N-version programming -- the errors are in ourselves".

If you are interested in such things, don't forget a recent posting of mine.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Tarantulas, and brain implaints

Tarantulas make the front page of the winter 2007 edition of the Sequoia Natural History Association (SNHA) newsletter Seedlings. November is getting late to see them, but October is prime time for male tarantulas out of their burrows:
So, as the males make their journey to find a mate, we are able to enjoy this once a year visit outside their burrows. Unfortunately, the male spiders will only live a few months after mating while the females can live 25 to 30 years... but, there is comfort in knowing that their brief relationship will produce 50 to 2000 new offspring, some ready to visit us again in years to come."

A fun fact: tarantula hairs were the original itching powder. More creepily, tarantulas don't have red blood, instead they have blue haemolymph.

Changing subjects, deep brain implants are sometimes used to treat Parkinson's disease tremors. Spectrum has an article about an unintended side effect: patients acting more impulsively. If you're a computer person, you might also want to read the article about Slashdot.

And finally, something to ask Santa for: a personal submarine.