Friday, April 23, 2010

Future star or future flop?

Maybe you saw USA Today's front-page piece on University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow the NFL draft. The headline was, "A shining star, or a flop in the making?"

It's a good question -- and one that is answered in a new paper by Cade Massey of Yale and Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago.

Readers of this blog know how often I harp about overconfidence as a source of error. Massey and Thaler find that NFL teams are way overconfident when it comes to their ability to spot talent in draft picks. Just over half the time, they found, the top picks in the draft turn out to be flops.

As they state: "The more information teams acquire about players, the more overconfident they will feel about their ability to make fine distinctions...these findings stand as a reminder that decision-makers often know less than they think they know. This lesson has been implicated in disaster after disaster, from international affairs to financial markets.”


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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Error by Design

If you get a chance, check out David Pogue's column in today's New York Times. On one level, it's about wireless routers. But on another, it shows how bad design can induce people to make errors.

It seems that a whopping 25% of wireless routers are returned to the store after purchase. Why? Because they are too complicated to use.

In Why We Make Mistakes I talk a lot about how bad design can cause people to make mistakes they might not otherwise make. Those mistakes, in turn, are then blamed on the people, not the design. (For an example, check out the section on the heparin overdose given to the newborn twins of actor Dennis Quaid and his wife.)

These kinds of mistakes can be avoided by applying well-known design principles. One example is what engineers call a "forcing function." A forcing function, as the name suggests, forces you to do a certain thing in a certain way.

A good example is in your car: to put your car in gear you must first depress the brake. That way, you don't accidentally have your foot on the gas when you drop it into gear and go hurtling into a pedestrian or other car. Good idea, huh?

But the people who make routers haven't caught on -- yet.

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The End is Near

If you like doing stupid things like playing Russian roulette or talking on your cellphone while driving your car, go ahead and do it now. Why? Because soon it will be illegal (at least the cellphone and driving part).

U.S. Transportation Ray LaHood said as much in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

"The end game is to get cellphones out of (drivers') hands," said LaHood.

DOT is sponsoring pilot programs in Syracuse, New York, and Hartford, Conn., to ticket distracted drivers. In Syracuse, it'll cost you 180 beanos if you are caught talking and driving. In Hartford, it'll be a C note, plus costs. The program's motto: "Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other."

DOT's move comes on the heels of mounting evidence that cellphone use while driving results in dangerous distractions for drivers.

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