How do you deal with human error/mistakes and improve accountability?   In any event, but especially when safety is involved?

James Bagian—NASA astronaut turned VA patient safety expert—suggests in this article to set a “blameworthy” criteria for mishaps.  His criteria is 3-fold: resulting from intentionally unsafe actions, intoxication, or criminal action (assault, rape or larceny).   I might add carelessness to that list, although from a systems perspective, carelessness can be the result of productivity standards set too high.

Bagian says that safety practices in our health care system are shameful compared with the fields of aeronautics and engineering.

Interesting series about wrongology on Slate.

Orlando’s Gesture

In 1958, the University of Buffalo football team was invited to the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando.  It was their first ever bowl invitation, but the team players voted and declined the invitation.   They declined because the invitation game with racist strings attached: the two black members of the team would not be allowed to participate.  The story has been featured on ESPN.

Next month, the UB Bulls are facing off against UCF in our own Bright House Stadium, and Orlando  Mayor Crotty has spearheaded an initiative to apologize and honor those 1958 team members for the stand they took.   The team members are invited to the September 19th UCF game.  Crotty has rounded up donated airfare and lodging for the players, and UCF will honor their attendance at halftime.   This story should not be buried in the sports pages.   Orlando Sentinel details. UCF News story.

new building in research park

groundbreaking Last Friday local and state dignitaries descended onto our property in UCF’s research park to break ground on a new $20M building entirely funded by the state of Florida, and intended for military research, and UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training. This is the third ‘partnership’ building, but the previous ones were built with both federal and state money. Curious. Is that why so many dignitaries showed up for the groundbreaking?

Here’s an article in the Central Florida Future, with a great photo by Caitlin Bush. Another curiosity: not a single mention of this event in the Orlando Sentinel.

UCF announces program cuts

Ouch. 2 of them are online programs. 51 faculty and staff, and 1,000+ students affected. The students will be given 2 years to complete their programs. We’ve postponed this action as long as possible. FSU and UF have previously announced cuts. State funding is drying up.

(what does it say that UCF went to to distribute this video instead of our own resources?)
News release here.

too short a visit

ClaireLinda416Wednesday we bid Bon voyage to our French student Claire Marie.  Her english vocabulary was limited, so we did a lot of pointing and hand gesturing, but we got by.   I only wish the timing were better so that we could have spent time with her over the weekend.

Her weekdays were filled with organized group activities such as the visiting the springs, the space center and the parks.  The highlight of the week for me was taking Claire and two of her cohorts on a UCF campus tour Tuesday morning.  President Hitt was out of the office, but Provost Hickey was gracious enough to take a moment and greet the students.


There was a raucous potluck dinner the last night with American host families and the 40 french kids.

Au revoir, Claire!  (a few more photos here.)

Presenting Data and Information

Tufte holding office hours at Atlanta seminar
Tufte holding 'office hours' at Atlanta seminar

Last month I got some travel funding from work to fly to Atlanta and attend a one-day seminar about data presentation, graphics and charts.   It was conducted by Edward Tufte, who wrote the seminal book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, which I recently named as one of my most influential books.

Tufte has been touring and conducting these seminars for several years now, and he’s become something of a rock star in information geek circles.   Attendees receive copies of all 4 of his lavishly illustrated books which is an added bonus, and is also important to his presentation style.    One of his central presentation concepts is that computer displays and powerpoint projections are extremely ineffectual in displaying complex multivariate information simply because they are of such poor resolution.   He’s comparing the resolution with that which is possible on a printed page or large sheet of paper, and the capacity of the human eye and mind to perceive and absorb and analyze visual information.    Therefore, his presentation style involves minimal use of projection, and he instead asks attendees to refer to specific illustrations in his books to support his lecture.

He also brought out and shared centuries old book editions by Galileo and Euclid to illustrate some of his concepts.

As you can imagine, it was a very rich and detailed seminar.  Tufte started the seminar with reading assignments, and held ‘office hours’ during breaks – which were really book signings, although there was some substantive discussion during these breaks.

Tufte showing original Galileo text.

After I returned, I invited UCF colleagues to a 1hour presentation of my own where I debriefed and led a discussion about some of his concepts and ideas.   One good suggestion I brought back was to create a supergraphic.   That’s a large scale printed handout that meets several criteria.  A supergraphic should:

  • engage the reader, it should contain detailed information of particular interest to the audience
  • contain lots of detail, Tufte says “to clarify, add detail, its not information overload if it is well designed”
  • provide information from multiple sources
  • show multivariate analysis and comparisons
  • show causality, mechanism, structure or explanation
  • be credible, and include documentation of source material

A supergraphic is turning out to be a technical and a conceptual challenge, but I’ve got some ideas.   If nothing else, I know this has changed the way I’ll use powerpoint.


The twitter service is getting increasing buzz in higher ed, so I joined up this morning.   Wikipedia describes twitter as a micro-blogging service, that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates, which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.   A user reports to the service as often as he likes, either by text message or through a website, and that short report is broadcast to all the users followers in the twitter network.   The whole thing can be managed through a mobile phone.

Some say that twitter is a bona fide game changer.

Problem is, its a social networking system that is kinda dependent on having a social network.   Once I created an account, the service combed through my email address book to see who was registered with twitter that I could link up with .  The only persons it found were nephew Austen (natch), sis-in-law Louise, and several work acquaintances with whom I am not social.   For me, this aint gonna happen.


I was in a long meeting this morning with a large tech company who unveiled their objectives for redesign and upgrade of their major product. Among the objectives was to “provide a delightful user experience”.

Initially I thought it a curious choice of word – but as it revealed itself, I think I get it. By delightful, they mean simple, easy, customizable and intuitive. All of those points are excellent usability measures. Its very Web 2.0, and what many users have come to expect.

So, “delightful”?? That does describe the extreme opposite of many user experiences these days.