Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The “How’s Your Thesis Going?” Post

It’s going good thank you very much. As most of you know I have temporarily given up work to complete my masters. I publicly mull over this decision in this post. It’s nice to see that people support me. My second to last semester is over thank you very much (oh! I still owe you the exciting conclusion to the Emilio Juarez story). Now I can fully concentrate on my thesis. Yay! I love making my ideas a reality. So what am I doing? Read on to find out…

I had to ask myself what interests me enough to take on such a challenge? The answer lies in Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Currently the boundary that separates us from our computers is the User Interface (UI). The most popular example of a UI is Window’s start button. It allows us to access our programs quickly and easily (most of the time). Otherwise we would have run them using a command prompt, yummy!

So what could I do in this area? Help out HCI designers of course! They have to follow a set of heuristics when designing an Interface. They may not be aware that their design may be violating this set of guidelines. That’s where I come in; I’ll be creating a tool that analyzes end user behavior when using a UI. After the analysis is complete the tool will generate a report stating which guidelines were violated. As any marketing expert will tell you a good product is only as good as its name. So I am asking you the “I Don’t Know” reader to help me think of an exciting and relevant name for this tool. Because frankly speaking, I can’t think of one.

As always this post will be updated and reposted when new information is available about this project, so here’s the low down:

May 28: The netbeans IDE is mostly cool. I like how the code editor’s side bar highlights errors and warnings. Clicking on them takes you directly to the error, saving you from having to scroll all the way down. However it does like going nuts every so often. I can’t tell what sets it off but all of a sudden it starts to seize up. Controls become inoperable I get stack overflow messages left and right. If I manage to get through that the GUI editor starts acting up. It starts to fix components to their default size disallowing any resizing. I just keep going and somehow the problem gets fixed.

The core of Netbeans is fairly versatile but sometimes it lacks features. I suppose this is acceptable since the creators couldn’t anticipate every single need of the java programming community. However they were forward thinking enough to allow for the additions of plugins. Community members have come up with some pretty nifty plugins. One of them lets you convert forms to java GUI specifications, it’s called NET2Java. I was only able to get the source code and not the design view after the conversion. Another plugin gave you a Datetimepicker controls which comes in handy when you want to set the date using a calendar view.

Again very cool very shiny. But I must say that I had trouble with the installation. I am the kinda guy who needs to be led by the nose in these matters. The documentation the programmers had given was sparse at best. And on top of that they constantly referred to an old version of netbeans. I had to spend a lot of time figuring out the new locations and names of the various managers (e.g. plugin, library etc.).

May 15: I had another mind numbing programming session. I was wrestling with two Jlists. I wanted to generate an event based on what the user selected from one list. I used the isFocusOwner() method but the damn thing kept freaking out every time two selections were made. So I had to make a design decision do I stay Jlist hell or do I change tactics. I decided to change tactics and opted for radio buttons. The Jlists were yanked off the interface in their place was a neat row of radio buttons. I added them to a button group to ensure mutually exclusive selection. Now I just needed a way to generate the event based on the button selected. I went with actionlisteners, they’re the best, plus I used some of the button group’s method to chalk out code that would act the way I wanted to act. After going nearly insane I got what I wanted…and I am just getting started!

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