Category: Computers

Digitize you charts with Engauge Digitizer

A few words of appreciation for an open source software that can help you a lot in your work, Engauge Digitizer (ED) from Mark Mitchell. ED is a simple, straightforward curve digitizer: it takes images with graphs like the one below and transform them (with a little help) in data you can use later on.


Continue reading “Digitize you charts with Engauge Digitizer”

How to redesign a numeric keypad?

In an interesting blog post on Smashing Magazine, C.Y. Gopinath explained the design choices he made to build a new calculator for smartphones (iPhones more specifically). He started with an interesting summary of the reasons and origins of the numerical keypads of phones and calculators (keyboards, ATM, etc.). This is what drove me to read his post. Indeed I posted a photo on Flickr that showed the difference, a few years ago.


While reading the post, I was happy the author of the app did some research on the traditions behind this keyboard layout as well as the reasons and studies that lead to these layout. The article also contains links to further details, if necessary, and interesting comments from Harry Blanchard and Michael Long.

However I think the author mixed several things before re-designing his numerical keypad …

Circular design with numbers already exists in the real world: the analog watch (also mentioned in a comment). I guess most if not all humans above 10 years old are used to this design and the way it starts with “0” (well, “12”) at the top and “6” at the bottom. So when I saw Gopinath’s app screen, I was wondering if there is a reason or if there are research showing the tilt is beneficial and will not confuse for the user.

Comparison of C.Y. Gopinath’s calculator app (left) and a regular clock on a smartphone (“HTC Sense – Home” from Cha già José on Flickr, CC-by-sa, right)

Citing research from Bell Laboratories is great: very few apps did this amount of research and still show “revolutionary” user interfaces based only on the gut feeling of a designer on steroids (when there was a designer) (to be fair, some new designs achieve their goals). However the period during which they were conducted (early/mid-last century) has most probably a large role to play in the choices and habits of respondents. One thing in particular is that people most probably would use these numerical keyboards sitting on the table (like phones on table) and use their finger (or fingers but I expect the index being the single most used finger) of one hand.

What could be the response now? Only research would tell. My feeling is to start from habits of smartphone users. My own use would consider the following facts:

  1. so far smartphones are still square / rectangle objects
  2. most smartphones are still small enough to be held with only one hand and one finger on the same hand would be used (the thumb)
  3. if smartphones are too big to be used with only one hand, either you hold it with 2 hands and use your 2 thumbs (text messaging) or you hold it with 1 hand and use one finger from the other hand.

I did not (yet) witness cases where the user types on a smartphone with many fingers, like a typist would use all his/her fingers on a keyboard.

Two ways to hold and interact with a smartphone: with one hand on top (from Iriss on Flickr, CC-by-nc) and with two hands below (from, public domain)

Therefore I would rather see another “radical” design like this one (case phone held with 2 hands, using 2 thumbs to type):

My example of mock-up smartphone with digits on the side, reachable by thumbs if placed on the sides (I guess it needs some more research, of course)

I was also wondering why the author added so many gesture and swiping left, right, center. In his assessment of other calculators, it was mentioned that they offered little or no feedback. How these gestures can be intuitive or discovered by the user? I must admit I didn’t install the app but I guess there should be a tutorial for all these gestures. In my opinion, these tutorials are however the admission that these features were not intuitive, that the discoverability principle was forgotten, most probably on the altar of minimalism …

Although I appreciated the author’s research and share most of the author’s comments on current numerical keyboards, I don’t think the current implementation solves the issues of user-friendliness, discoverability and the greater goal of making kids love maths. Ironically, the “Edit History” page of the app shows the standard, old-fashioned numerical keyboard …

Fedora 23 on a Dell XPS13 (part 1)

Taking advantage of a trip to Canada and a very favourable CAN$:€ exchange rate, I bought a Dell XPS13 (9350 or “late 2015”), following excellent reviews from around the web. Dell sold a ‘developer edition‘ of this laptop (shipping with Ubuntu Linux) but unfortunately it was out of stock on Dell US and I couldn’t find the item on the Dell Canada website. So I bought the Windows version with a touchscreen (it was Black Friday :-)).

fedora_infinity_140x140Here is how to install Fedora 23 on it (and probably most other Linux distribution) … I will focus on three aspects (in brief: everything works out of the box, except the wireless card that needed some additional action):

  1. How to boot and install Fedora Workstation
  2. What works and what doesn’t work out of the box
  3. Some things to do after installation (additional software)

Continue reading “Fedora 23 on a Dell XPS13 (part 1)”

Jadoo and static website generators

Coming back from holidays, I fired my RSS reader and, among many interesting posts, I found this one from Smashing Magazine about static website generators being the Next Big Thing on the web (and a follow-up deep-diving into four of them).

The first paper describes how the web started as something static, became all dynamic and is progressively coming back to something more static, at least for some specific tasks. The interesting thing is that the author also describes pros and cons of each stage and why the web jumped to the next level.

jadooWhile reading this, I couldn’t help thinking of Jadoo, a pet project I started in 2007. Its goal was to get rid of the complexity and number of resources required to run a dynamic blog system. Following some notes from Alexandre Dulaunoy, it was written in Python and already used concepts now hidden under buzzwords 😉 like templating and a rudimentary meta-data organization. At that time, there was nothing like Markdown, assets management, caching, Github, … (not as widespread as today at least). There is an initial post and an update – then I gave up (reasons inside). Note drawbacks I wrote at that time are still drawbacks of current static website generators (manual update and local edition only). All these ideas in 2007, one year before Jekyll … 😉

P.S. The irony is that posts about Jadoo were later transferred to WordPress – and this blog is also npw currently hosted on WordPress!

Happy to use Zotero since a few weeks

Source Material - by Josh DiMauroFor my work I need to reference a lot of statements, mainly with papers and books in the biological / medical literature. Usually “professionals” use two proprietary software, Reference Manager or EndNote (both owned by Thomson Reuters). But there are a few very interesting free alternatives (see this comparison of reference management software).

I switched from Mendeley to Zotero a few weeks ago and I’m very happy. Here is why … Continue reading “Happy to use Zotero since a few weeks”

Creating presentations with non-WYSIWYG tools

I work in a company that shifted from being R&D-driven to being project-driven. It is official since this 2013 but we saw it coming: the main pieces of memory are Powerpoint slides since a few years.

Everything is in Powerpoint, from agendas, discussions, presentations to minutes. Even when modelers want to show some results, they put them on a slide deck first …

For presentations I used to use Beamer but installing the LaTeX toolchain on a restricted, company-owned Windows laptop was a long and cumbersome process. I made a first presentation in Reveal.js this week. And I love it!

I prefer Beamer, Reveal.js and similar tools because a) it forces you to think of your message and its structure first and b) it forces you to reuse material that is already produced (rather than creating new things in / for the presentation medium). Therefore the presentation is a real presentation of something that really exists, that was really thought outside of the context of the presentation (and before it!).

The additional benefit (IMHO) of Reveal.js is that you just need a text editor and a browser. All restricted company laptops provide you with these tools.

The memory of my projects remains in my models, my notes and reports. The context, next steps and consequences are there. The project evolution is better understood (in reviews, audits and simple chats with colleagues).