Author Archives: Bob Hoffa, M.S.


Back in the 90s when I was a free-healed, adventurous young man, many a rock climbing outing was set to the sound track of the Irish rock band U2. Eventually, the title of one of their popular albums became the sounding alert of any hazard my companions and I faced. Whether a rattlesnake on the trail, a long unprotected stretch of vertical rock, or a loose boulder on the descent, “Achtung baby!” was shouted out in warning. This playful call to attention was usually sufficient for a couple of guys in the wilderness, but in the often high stakes environment of today’s technological (and often highly automated) world, the design of alerts and warnings requires some thoughtful consideration. Although the terms alert, warning, and alarm are often used interchangeably, they can be differentiated by the level of urgency required in response. Alerts are generally described as an information display generated … Continue reading

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Back in the day when mainframe computers grinded away for hours or days processing what, by today’s standards, is relatively small amounts of data, lights blinked and flashed on the computer face. These indicators intended to help operators understand the mysterious interworking of the machine were nearly unintelligible, but pretty to look at. Humorous labels and placards (often in a fake German-like English) about the “blinkenlights” found their way onto many mainframes during the 1950s and 1960s, and the moniker is still in use by some computer geeks and hackers today. Although joked about in some circles, blinking information is an essential part of many human-machine systems, and their design and use in warning systems and alerts is no laughing matter. A pilot faced with a mechanical problem, a medical technician operating an electrocardiogram, or just you or I driving our car down the road are dependant upon well designed, … Continue reading

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