Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Oracle OpenWorld: The Oracle Empire's Customers/Users Conference

Oracle OpenWorld was held in San Francisco from September 19-23, 2010. This year’s particularity was the addition of the “Java One “conference after acquisition of Sun Microsystems. This made the event, according to Oracle, the largest conference in Oracle's history. With more than 41,000 attendees it was too large for the Mascone convention center complex and used many hotels in the area as well. Despite the sophisticated conference organization, going from one location to another proved to be difficult, inconvenient and time consuming. Many JavaOne attendees also felt slighted being at Hilton not Mascone and some even found the experience painful!

On the content side and from Human Computer Interaction standpoint, 5 years after acquisition of PeopleSoft and then Siebel and others, the promised land of “Fusion Applications” with all the best of features from all, sounded still quite like a promise. I was not able to see any concrete demonstrations of human computer interaction illustrating advances in technology or innovations in user interface or user experience.

On the technology side an important theme and hot topic seemed to be Cloud Computing, as one finds in most technology conferences and events these days.

All related sessions on this topic were well attended. Curious attendees struggled to see what is really happening in cloud computing since many presentations seemed to be somewhat light in terms of content. We still need to wait and see what the real results and impacts of Cloud Computing will be. Maybe at next year's Oracle OpenWorld - if one is optimistic!


Published in:
HCI International NEWS - November 2010 - Number 44

Book Review: Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL

In a well illustrated and easy to read book on Social Media Networks, the authors offer in the introductory chapters (1 to 3) definitions and overview of social media networking concepts along with multiple examples of analysis techniques. Then, NodeXL, an interesting open source template for Excel is used to illustrate the analysis techniques. Easy instructions are given through tutorials on how to use NodeXL for social media network analysis (Chapters 4-7). Chapter 8-15 provide ample cases studies illustrating networks analysis for email, Twitter, hyperlinks and more, thus enabling readers to use the tool proficiently to conduct social media network analysis.

With an extensive list of related references, colorful charts and graphs, this book is a valuable resource to all professionals involved in designing, evaluating and researching social media networking. It is also an excellent textbook choice for a social media networking related courses.


Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL - Insights from a Connected World, Derek Hansen, Ben Shneiderman, Marc Smith, Morgan Kaufman , Elsevier, 2011, ISBN 13: 978-0-12-382229-1
HCI International NEWS - November 2010 - Number 44

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

BP Gulf Oil Spill and its Accident Investigations Report

In a press release dated September 19, 2010, BP confirmed that “Well kill operations on the MC252 well in the Gulf of Mexico is completed”. Before that on September 8th, 2010 BP published its internal investigation of this accident. BP made several documents available at its website that includes a “Full Investigation Report”, slide presentation and summary report along with several appendices.

Despite all the detailed charts, figures and illustrations in these reports and the investigation into a wide variety of different factors, surprisingly there was no mention in any way of human factors issues and the terms “human factors”, "work organization” or “human performance” were never even mentioned. Interestingly the report uses terms such as “failure” (89 instances) but never terms such as "error" (once to describe measurement error range) or “mistake” (0 instance) which is quite astonishing for an accident investigation report.

During a hearing on the Gulf of Mexico spill in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010. Najmedin Meshkati, a human factors expert and professor at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, highlighted the lack of human factors approach in the BP report and wondered why BP named its report an accident investigation when it left critical elements out. He asked BP to turn over information on shift duration and worker fatigue.

"How could you call this great work accident investigation ... and not address human performance issues and organizational issues and decision-making issues?" Meshkati asked.

It is sad to observe how human factors issues are so easily neglected in such a major accident that might have lasting effects on our environment. Still a long way to go…

BP internal investigation
Experts question BP's take on Gulf oil spill
Published in The Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics International NEWS, October 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Eye catcher in the News

There were three topics that captured my attention while I was reviewing the press. As an HCI specialist, I feel that one way or another, this might affect our professional life, if not our daily life. The first bit of news was the announcement by Google and Verizon that stated they are nearing an agreement that “could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege”(New York Times August 4, 2010). However this might also mean that access to other content would be slower.

Then in another article Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff (wired.com, August 17, 2010) argues that although the usage of the Internet network (a physical networks of devices) is augmenting, the usage of world wide web would decline due to the shift of usage from web browsing to apps. They write that “You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web” because “Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display. “

Though one might argue that this trend might not necessarily happen soon, or that perhaps another eventual technology mutation might stop the life of Apps and create something else, it is noticeable that the building and designing of the application for a variety of features and products is the trend in the user interface design and human computer interaction. This would obviously affect search based user behaviors influenced by Google into a more selective pattern.

From the design perspective a variety of changes can be highlighted, such as the slow conversion to smaller screens. Looking at the multitude of apps on smart phones and their behaviors shows the extent at which learning is facilitated by fewer amount of rules or patterns to learn.

The third story I noticed was an interesting investigation by the Wall Street Journal, which was echoed by other press (National Public Radio network), showing that the fastest-growing businesses on Internet are the ones spying on consumers (Wall Street Journal, July 30th 2010) and how the Web sites (including WSJ) that we are visiting each day are tracking our behavior by using "cookies," "beacons" and "Flash cookies," on our computers. According to this study, an average of 64 tracking cookies were installed from each site by the 50 sites on a test computer used to conduct the study. This study reports that only one site, the encyclopedia Wikipedia.org, installed none and “twelve sites, including IAC/InterActive Corp.'s Dictionary.com, Comcast Corp.'s Comcast.net and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN.com, installed more than 100 tracking tools apiece in the course of the Journal's test”.


HCI International NEWS - September 2010 - Number 43

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics 2010 another Success Story

Close to 1000 academics, professionals and researchers shared their researches, experience and findings in the field of human factors, ergonomics, and usability at the Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics International 2010 and the affiliated HAAMAHA conference on July17-20, at the Intercontinental in Miami, Florida, USA.

Over 891 papers were presented in over 10 parallel interactive sessions. Topics included the most recent research and technology in Medico-ergonomics and Patient Safety, Aviation Designing New Buildings and Facilities for End Users, Ergonomics Hazards and Prevention, Users Interface Design, Online Human Error Management, Methods and Instruments for Ergonomic Design of Production Systems, Universal Access to Novel Interaction Environments, Impact of Human Factors on Technical Systems Failure, and Cognitive and Physical Work Analysis and Design.

One of the major themes of the conference was medico-ergonomics and patient safety which is one of the growing fields in ergonomics and human factors. As Dr. James Bagian the Chief Patient Safety Officer and the Director and Founder of the National Center for Patient Safety at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs underlined in his keynote speech, patient safety is not handled anymore just by a single physician but by a whole complex system. Numerous research papers were then presented in a technical session covering a variety of human factors issues that need to be taken into consideration to ensure patient safety including: human computer interaction, engineering modeling and patient management in health system.

The proceedings of the conference containing all the papers presented at the conference are available in digital format. The hard copies of the proceedings are in eight volumes published by the CRC Press.

The AHFE International 2012 will be held in the beautiful city of San Francisco.

Published in The Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics International NEWS
Available on-line at:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book Review: Colossus- The secret of Bletchley Park’s Codebreaking Computers

Reading Colossus, a book about the world's first fully electronic computer that was built during the Second World War to crack the codes of high-level Nazi communications, is like reading a suspenseful spy story! It is entertaining to read and at the same time one learns a lot about the history of cryptography and code breaking secrets, decryption and related technologies.

After providing a brief history of cryptography from Cesar’s cipher to modern days the authors reveal the history behind Bletchley Park - United Kingdoms’ main decryption center during the Second World War, through recently declassified documents. Colossus covers this project in full detail and is also enlightening about the overall history of technology and computer systems.

Historical pictures along with many interesting charts make the book indispensable to anyone who reviews or writes about the history of computer technology.

This is a very interesting read for almost everyone, even non technical audiences.


“Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park's code-breaking computers“, by
B. Jack Copeland, Oxford University Press, 2010, 462 Pages,

Published in " HCIInternational NEWS - March 2010 - Number 42"

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Human Factors in the BP Gulf Oil Spill

On April 20 th , 2010 an explosion happened onboard of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the United States Gulf of Mexico, 41 miles offshore Louisiana. Out of a crew of 126 workers 11 were reported missing and 17 injured. Following this explosion, underwater robots detected that the deep water oil well was leaking several thousand barrels of oil per day into the ocean. To this date (May 20 th , 2010) the leak has not been controlled and the consequences of this catastrophic event on wildlife, long term impact on the local ecosystem, and the effects on the local and even the national economy and politics are growing every day. I am sure that discussion and investigation will continue for many years on how many barrels of oil have leaked or how to measure the leak, how to control such an accident or prevent it. However an early look at what has already been reported indicates a few human factors that are related to the investigation. Here are just a few of the issues reported:

·Blowout preventer apparently had a significant leak in a key hydraulic system. It seems that the blowout preventer was damaged from an accident that happened a few weeks before the massive disaster.
·Emergency controls on the blowout preventer may have failed.
·A dead man's switch (a switch that is automatically operated in case the human operator becomes incapacitated) failed to activate.
·It is also reported that on the day of the accident, the Transocean manager and BP employee argued about how to finish the well. The BP employee wanted to save time and money by taking some shortcuts.
· The crew member also admitted that the blowout preventer was damaged from an accident that happened a few weeks before the massive disaster. BP and Deep Horizon knew that the BOP and the Pod were damaged, but the operation was behind schedule and losing money.


"The Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics International NEWS - June 2010- Number 20"

Nitrogen-Cement Mix Is Focus of Gulf Inquiry

Blowout: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster

60 Minutes oil spill: accident could have been avoided, BP took shortcuts

Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Work Related Suicides at France Télécom, a Major French Telecommunications Company

Work Related Suicides at France Télécom, a Major French Telecommunications Company

In the field of human factors the effects of work related stressors (environmental, social or psychological) on performance accidents, errors and the overall mental health of the employees are well established. Research suggests that job stress might also result in serious mental health difficulties that can result in suicide. Employees’ suicide is a result of a complex interaction between individual vulnerabilities, stressful working conditions and the social environment.

In September of 2009, the press reported that twenty-three employees of France Télécom have killed themselves since the beginning of 2008 (BBC, 2 September 2008). France Télécom SA provides consumers and businesses with telecommunications services, including fixed telephony and mobile telecommunications, data transmission, Internet and multimedia, and other value-added services. The company employs 100,000 people in France. According to the Wall Street Journal, citing the World Health Organization, the average suicide rate in France is 26.4 per 100,000 men and 9.2 per 100,000 women (WSJ, Sept. 15, 2009). Although the suicide rate at Télécom seems to be in line with the suicides in France over the past decades. The Wall Street Journal reported that France Télécom SA decided to “train all of its 22,000 managers to identify staffers showing signs of depression or erratic behavior”.

In unprecedented news, the French newspapers “Le Monde” and “Le Parisien” cited a report submitted to the Court in the City of Besancon that revealed that the suicide of a France Télécom employee, in 2009 was “related to work” and the “company management was aware of the high risk” and “did not take the sufficient preventive measure”.
Consequently “Le Monde” reports that the L'inspection générale des affaires sociales (IGAS), a French regulatory agency, recommended that France Télécom classifies the three cases of employees’ suicides as work related accidents.
This case again underlines the fact that the social and organizational changes on the enterprise, especially during the economic crises and high unemployment period, have a huge impact on the mental health of employees and their well being at work, and should be focused on more among the human factors and ergonomics professionals community.


“French unease at telecom suicides”, BBC, Sept., 12, 2009.
France Télécom épinglé pour "mise en danger délibérée" de la vie d'autrui,” March, 12, 2010.
France Télécom Addresses Suicides,” Sept 15, 2009.
“Un rapport de l’inspection du travail accuse l’opérateur d’être en partie responsable du suicide d’un de ses agents dans le Doubs,” Le Parisien, March12, 2010.
Published in
The Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics International NEWS - April 2010 - Number 19

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Will the Apple iPad be a paradigm shift that will change the way we use portable computers?

On January 27, 2010, Apple launched the iPad, a device for browsing the web, reading and sending email, photos, watching videos, playing games, reading e-books, and even more. The device has a high-resolution Multi-Touch display that can be described as a bigger, more refined version of the iTouch. Although the tablet computer is not necessarily new, other computer companies have offered similar tablet products before, the success of the Apple iTablet, along with the Amazon Kindle for digital book and iPhone/iTouch that had haptic interfaces, indicates a paradigm shift in portable computer usage. This could also be another major change in the way that people apprehend portable computers, considering the following major changes: graphical user interfaces in making the computer software accessible to everybody, portable music players in the way that people listen to music, and portable computers for giving the opportunity to have a portable office, as well as the Internet's refinements in breaking the wall and connecting and making everything available to everybody, and finally mobile phone's in making it technologically possible to connect anybody to everybody almost anywhere. Even though we still need to physically experience the exact behavior of the iPad, we can anticipate the following major changes in user behavior.

-Reading from a vertical screen to physically changeable position in the way user wants to view or read.
-Cut and paste versus keyboard data entry.
-Direct access to desired application versus free navigation.
-Multi tasking all the time. We can already see that many people have their eyes usually focused on a small screen of a handheld device even when they are walking or talking to someone.

Thus what would be the impact of this device on user behavior? And what are the other changes that we should expect to see soon? These are the questions that HCI experts will need to research.
"International NEWS - March 2010 - Number 40"