incremental camouflage

My neighbor, in the year 2002, had a front door completely unadorned except for a small piece of paper, on which something was handwritten in Russian. It took me a few months to ask him what it meant because I didn’t want to be nosy.

“Don’t overfeed the dogs.”

Trying not to laugh and trying to respond to this without insulting his dogs, I asked him if the sign worked.

“No. I don’t see it.”

Incremental camouflage is the way something that is always in the same place becomes invisible over time. On my desk is a mousepad that looks like an Arabian rug that I use not as a mousepad but as decoration, and on it I put the things that I need to take with me when I leave the house: wallet, keys, watch, phone, handkerchief, hospital ID. I routinely, routinely leave something sitting on my little desk rug when I leave my apartment. I come back in and there it is, sitting there, plain as day. I didn’t see it.

We are frustrated by incremental camouflage when the LOSE WEIGHT sticker that we post on the fridge doesn’t prevent us from opening the fridge, but this phenomenon can be harnessed to our advantage. I keep the most-used cards in my wallet arranged in a particular order, so that when one of the cards is gone, the inside of the wallet looks all wrong and I notice it immediately.

My new job is performed almost entirely on a computer, in a chaotic environment with dozens of computer terminals around, where everyone uses the same computer application to do their charting. A frequently inconvenient and sometimes dangerous situation arises when Bob, charting patient Smith on one of these computers, gets called away to do something, and then Matt sits down and starts charting patient Jones on the computer that Bob was on, thinking that he’s logged in as Matt charting patient Jones, but in fact the application is still logged in under Bob. Twenty minutes later patient Smith receives a medication intended for patient Jones.

The way that many vendors deal with this problem is to log the user out after some brief period of inactivity, but this just pisses everyone off as they have to log in 50 times per shift. I suggest that we force each user to choose a picture from a palette of pictures, each user assigned to a unique picture. That picture, for example a blue bear or a mauve mushroom, appears in the toolbar at all times. After a few weeks, the mauve mushroom in Matt’s toolbar becomes invisible to Matt, but when he accidentally sits down at a computer logged in as Bob, Matt’s mauve mushroom is now Bob blue bear, and that difference will scream at him (though he may not know it) and he will immediately recognize he sat down in the wrong chair. Error reduction through fun pictures.

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