12 Months of HCI

A notebook for Carnegie Mellon’s Masters of Human Computer Interaction program

November 17th, 2007

Sony Factory

We went on a Human Factors field trip on Thursday to a Sony factory an hour outside of Pittsburgh. It was the most interesting part of the class so far. However, it was ironically interesting more as a lesson in global economics and the manufacturing business than in Human Factors.

I’m sure it must have been impressive a few years ago when thousands of people worked there manufacturing big, heavy CRT TVs. It made sense then because TVs were so heavy that it was economical to make them in the US and save on shipping. But now that flat screen TVs are so popular, its cheaper to make TVs in Mexico or China and ship them to the US because they are much lighter. So now there are only 2 production lines at this factory. And robots are increasingly replacing the workers that remain. In fact, one had to wonder to what extent the Human Factors issues that we studied haven’t driven up the cost of US manufacturing and contributed to those jobs going to countries unconcerned with cumulative trauma disorders and people bending over to pick up heavy objects.

November 15th, 2007

The Affect of Analog Clocks

I admit that I’ve never been very good at reading analog clocks. I’ve always used digital ones myself. But when I moved to Pittsburgh and no longer had a cable box with a digital clock on it to tell the time in the living room, I discovered that digital wall clocks are really, really hard to find. So I got an analog clock for the living room and between that and the Brain Age clock training game, me and analog clocks were slowly mending our relationship.

Then the subject of displays came up in Human Factors and the teacher insisted in class that analog clocks were faster for telling the approximate time than digital clocks were. Alot of people in class disagreed with her and I really disagreed with her, verbally, even after she gave further reasons for analog clocks being faster for approximate times. Granted, we both agree that digital clocks are faster for telling the exact time. And I think that part of the issue is that my brain doesn’t work with approximate times. It wants to know the exact time and will sit and look at the analog clock to calculate it.

Anyways, the interesting/unfortunately part of all this is that I’ve noticed my time telling skills on analog clocks have gotten alot worse since then. When I look at my clock on the wall, all I can think about is how many extra milliseconds of cognitive processing time it takes to compare the two hands of the clock to figure out which is the minute hand and which is the hour hand, the time needed to realize that the hour hand is slightly before the”10″ and that its thus only 9:55, not 10:55, etc. Its as if all my gripes with the class have been transferred to the clock and my time telling ability has suffered for it because my mind focuses on the argument against analog clocks rather than figuring out how much time I have before class.