Archive for March, 2010

Visual Snake Oil diagram!

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Here’s a great site that a friend of mine pointed out – http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/play/snake-oil-supplements/

I’ve been pretty interested in the whole homeopathy/alternative medicine debate – Ben Goldacre has written a great book called “Bad Science” on this subject. I’m firmly on the side of the “homeopathy doesn’t work” – in fact, there’s very little real science done in Homeopathy. Alternative remedies are a bit different, there are some natural compounds which when taken in suplement form (not diluted out of existence) do seem to have some beneficial properties in certain cases. The site above shows this off very nicely, so that you can see the difference between the scientifically tested remedies that may have benefit (and therefore are not really counted as ‘alternatives’ – forming as they do part of the collective group of remedies that we can call ‘medicine’) and those that are just snake oil (and therefore aren’t ‘alternatives’ either – they’re just useless).

More than anything, the geek in me just loves the way this visualisation has been put together, and the methodology has applications for all sorts of things – in fact, I’m very tempted to apply it to ranking Anti-virus products – gotta be more interesting than another bar chart.

Stupidity can be fatal

Monday, March 8th, 2010

I recently rented a car in the USA, so I’ll use it as an example for the point I want to make, though the phenomenon is by no means exclusive to that car rental company nor the country – in fact, the same thing happened to me in Germany in a car rented from a different company. So, when you’re in a new place, you’re likely to need some way of navigating, and with the wonders of modern technology, a GPS guidance system makes sense. It certainly makes sense from a safety point of view – you avoid having to read paper maps or scribbled instructions from a piece of paper while driving. However, there’s one major FAILure that these systems suffer. Some bureaucrat somewhere has obviously decided that you need to be warned not to operate the system while driving. Great – I can understand that, you should pay attention when you drive, and the fewer distractions the better.
However, when you are actually driving, and you try to operate the GPS system, you then get a pop up screen warning you that you shouldn’t operate it while driving – which you have to click to acknowledge (after trying to read it while driving), and then you have to clear another screen to get to the actual navigation setup. Now, these popups don’t come when you’re stationary. So, when you most need to pay attention; while driving; you actually are distracted more by having to read a complex and annoying set of further instructions which has exactly the opposite effect to the intention. So you spend more time reading the screen and being distracted from your driving – the saftey message is much more likely to kill you than cure you from messing with the GPS, which is sometimes necessary. It seems to me that there’s much more to be gained by popping up the warning when you’re stationary, and if it’s so concerning that you can’t operate it while driving, you simply disable the ability to reprogram it while the car is moving – or just minimize the interference from the system, and allow fast reprogramming.