e-Talk Radio: Pressman, Roger, 14 November 2000

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Quality Plus e-Talk! My guest this week is Roger Pressman, who's an internationally recognized consultant and author in software engineering. And coincidentally, he happens to reside in Palm Beach County. We've been talking a little bit about some of the systems that are in place to do the election, to do the election results. And Palm Beach County has come up as, I wouldn't say a shining star, but definitely a shining microscope, I guess you could say. In the listening audience, particularly in Arizona, there's a mixture of optical scanning. No, there is no optical scanning, a very small, I think there's one county that has optical scanning in Arizona. But it's interesting that USA Today says that 18% of the entire country used punchcards. And Arizona predominantly used punchcards and paper, which is similar to what was used in Palm Beach County.

Roger: Well, I think one of the things that's happening, Carol, is there are a lot of people who use a punchcard system like we do down in South Florida. And a lot of the people in other states are making jokes and being very smug about the fact that well, "We didn't have any problems, and our votes got counted." And to them I say your vote was not 5/1000 of 1%. If it was, you would, I think, recognize that your system is as error prone and has as many problems as ours does in Florida. Now, our problems were compounded in Palm Beach County specifically, as the listeners I'm sure are aware, I don't see how you couldn't be aware of this, of a poorly designed ballot, which created some problems on top of the systemic problems associated with the kind of systems that we have in place for collecting data from the polling booths. But all of us I think experienced these problems. It's just that we are generally blissfully unaware of them, because the votes are never close enough to have them come out. In Florida, this time for the first time in history, the vote is so incredibly close that we're seeing these problems. And I think, I certainly wouldn't call it the shining example of anything this week. I think we're an example of a global system, or at least a national system that is seriously flawed. And we have to use the example that Florida is kind of exhibiting to try to do something about it so that if we do have another close election, maybe in another state, maybe in Arizona, where you guys are, that we won't run into these problems again.

Carol: Right. Now, you mentioned something about ergonomics. Maybe you can explain a little bit what you mean by the ergonomics that was involved.

Roger: Well, first let me digress for a moment. When we talk about ergonomics in a software or systems sense, which is what my field is, what we talk about is human factors design. We try to design human interfaces of any type so that they are easily understood, so that they require very little memorization, so that they are not error prone, so that they have kind of a useful metaphor that allows the user to interact in a natural and intuitive way. That's what ergonomics is about. Normally, today in the software engineering field, we talk about the ergonomic design of let's say an Internet-based e-commerce system, or the ergonomic design of some client-server application. In the Florida, Palm Beach County vote, and more importantly, in the national Presidential election, we here in Palm Beach County are at

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