Older blog entries for Ilan (starting at number 134)

I won't we able to post any long meaningful diary entries until my cog psych exam is done on tuesday. But I must say, Joy of Tech has been in rare form the last several days.

Since the last time I've posted, I've brushed up on my xml-rpc so I can working on the syncing part of my Zaurus diet program. As the program is written in python, I'm using the xml-rpc python module, though it would be kind of cool if there was a whole application syncing infrastructure for the zaurus that used the DCOP xml-rpc functionality (I'm buzzword compliant today); that way I wouldn't have the overhead the python interpreter running in the background. Once I get the syncing worked out, I'd like to write the desktop software in Java to make Zaurus syncing truly cross-platform.

As for other zaurus-related things, I've been trying to think of new and better xml file formats the zaurus could use to hold stuff like dates, addresses, etc. The fact that the current file formats from Trolltech really don't have much in the way to support two-way syncing sucks. The fact that the XML tags/attributes are impossible to understand and make sense of sucks twice as much. I suppose I *could* look at their code, but my feeling is that any xml file format that forces you to look at the code to understand it is a file format crying out for reimplementation.

Quote for the day:

"It sounds like a Nostradamus Prophecy-'A team from the south will win a hockey championship' "--Andrew Turnier

raph's post got me thinking about the reports I've also heard that the font in OS X is a pain in the ass to read.

I have serious suspicions that many of the complaints over the font rendering in OS X are the result of two things:

  1. The decreased contrast of the outlines of the letters increase visual search time.

    The longest part of the secadic eye movements that are used in the visual searches done on text is dwell duration, which is partially governed by the ease of information extraction, ``which is often influenced by stimulus quality(e.g. in target search, longer dwells on a degraded target).'' (Wickens, Gordon, & Liu, 1998).

    I'm actually getting the information in the above paragraph from the textbook from my human factors course this semester. (I like it a lot. Who thought studying could be so much fun? One should follow their passions and do what they love to do. Preferably for a large sum of money, if possible.)

    My point--ridiculously anti-aliased text is a ``degraded target'' and thus takes longer to perform a visual search. And this would especially suck for older adults like Doc whose visual search capability is already fairly degraded.

  2. The reports of increased eye strain are the result of the brains futile and automatic attempt to compensate for distance.

    When the brain sees text with a reduced contrast and the appearance of blur, visual accomodation (the eye's lens moving to accomodate for distance) kicks in automatically. In other words, ridiculously anti-aliased font tricks the brain into thinking the font is at a different distance than it really is, and the muscles in the eye are constantly trying to adjust the lens very so slightly in the futile attempt to bring the blurry text into focus (which of course never happens). Given that some people feel okay with the extreme anti-aliasing, it might be possible that the brain eventually adapts and quits trying to bring the text into focus. It would also be fascinating to see whether screwing around with the perspective to make the ridiculously anti-aliased text appear to actually be a different distance than the rest of the screen would eliminate the eye strain. Making a menu selection look farther/nearer than it actually is would be a less than adequate solution. But it would be interesting to see if it could be done.

Some of this (mostly #2) is somewhat conjecture right now. But I suspect that if I could get my hands on an oculometer and a bunch of guinea pi...er..subjects and sit them down in front of such environments, I could easily prove both of these conditions to be true.

Got the PyQt zaurus diet program a little more properly laid out last night (at least something got laid last night). Finally got around to learning how to create a Qtopia desktop entry for it, and I hope to learn ipkg shortly. I'm now using DietMaster to record what I eat on a regular basis and it works quite well, though there are still a few minor things I need to add but haven't due to time constraints, such as deleting an entry(although maybe this is not the best idea for a program that records your eating habits. Too much temptation to erase history). One of the things that I think would be neat to add would be something that makes use of the SOAP python module to display values from DietMaster in a graph on my desktop via RPC. It would probably be a fluff feature that really wouldn't add to the user experience and probably shouldn't be in the program. But it would be kind of neat to try it in a prototype.

I have to curb working on stuff right now. I have to devote every waking minute I have to learn everything I can in my Cognitive Processes and Ergonomics classes. These classes will be far more useful to me in the long run for creating usable interfaces than any code I write over the next several weeks.

Have gotten an extremely crude PyQt diet program for my Zaurus up and running. I finally polished up the XML handling a little more and tied that into the PyQt interface. The biggest problem now is that too much screen real-estate is being taken up and not everything can fit. And this is not because I have a whole lotta crud on the screen. It's because TrollTech/Qtopia has fallen into the trap of copying Microsoft/Windows CE who fell into the trap of designing the PDA UI as if it was a desktop UI. Widgets and layouts and styles of navigation that work on a 17" monitor will not necessarily work on something 20 times as small. The text fields and buttons in particular take up too much space for what they are supposed to do. I suppose if I want something well designed, I should shut up and make my own Qtopia. The things we go through for a 206Mhz StrongArm and 64MB...sigh..

It's amazing how PalmOS is close to 5 years old, yet in many ways the design of its user interface (and it's form factor, for that matter) is far more ahead of its time and more well thought-out than much of the crud that came out in the last year.

I've started the habit of keeping a log of everything I eat. I've heard from several people that doing this really helped them lose weight, so I figured what the hell. I've even started to work on a silly little PyQt program for my Zaurus that will help me keep this log in a nice, orderly, XML-ized fashion.

After seeing "Attack of the Clones" a few days ago, I am left with a few puzzlements:

  1. In "Empire Strikes Back" why doesn't Vader recognize his old droids from his childhood?
  2. If Jango Fett was the genetic template for the storm troopers (which is what I assume they were implying), why do they have American accents in the first three movies? Were English accents considered a genetically undesirable trait and removed from the cloning process?
  3. After all of the republic/empire's experience fighting the trade federation, why does stormtrooper armor still suck at stopping blasters or rocks thrown by annoying furry creatures by the time that Luke Skywalker goes to rescue leia from the Death Star? After getting several zillion clone troopers fried by droids you'd think the empire's engineers would have made a few improvements.
  4. Since when do queens have term-limits?

First summer session at NCSU has begun. I'm taking Cognitive Processes and Ergonomics. Finally I get to take classes in stuff I'm really interested in and that can I can use to advance my work further.

Insight for the day: Time spent talking to a wall is time better spent demolishing it.

I actually consider Tk's crap important for what I'm doing. I need to practice receiving lot's of uninformed criticism from immature newbies. I think that that people who have very successful software projects have to cultivate this ability. Keep it coming. You're only making me stronger.

Some people think the UI theories backed up by user testing and findings in cognitive psychology are BS. I have no problem with this and I could really care less. Just as I'm sure all the people working on the Manhattan project didn't care whether many people in Japan or Germany thought that Einstein's theory of relativity was BS. By 1946, it really didn't matter what some people thought.

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