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Pie Menu Applications | Don Hopkins

Pie Menu Applications

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The Shape of PSIBER Space - October 1989

The Shape of PSIBER Space:
PostScript Interactive Bug Eradication Routines

Written by Don Hopkins, October 1989.
University of Maryland
Human-Computer Interaction Lab
Computer Science Department
College Park, Maryland 20742

[Source code]

Abstract

The PSIBER Space Deck is an interactive visual user interface to a graphical programming environment, the NeWS window system. It lets you display, manipulate, and navigate the data structures, programs, and processes living in the virtual memory space of NeWS. It is useful as a debugging tool, and as a hands on way to learn about programming in PostScript and NeWS.

Introduction

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts ... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding ....

Pie Menu Cookbook - October 1987

A Pie Menu Cookbook
Techniques for the Design of Circular Menus
By Don Hopkins, October, 1987

Abstract

Pie menus are used for making selections from items displayed on the computer screen, by pointing and clicking at the desired one with a mouse. The regions of the menu are shaped like the slices of a pie, laid out in a circle around the menu center.

The click of a mouse button invokes a menu, which pops up on the screen positioned so that the cursor is centered in the small inactive region in the menu center. The active target regions are all adjacent to the cursor, but in different directions. Pie menus are fast, because it only takes a small amount of cursor movement to point at one of the regions, and they are accurate, because the wedge shaped regions all have large areas.

The circular layout of pie menus makes them very appropriate for certain tasks. Complementary items can be placed in opposite directions, and spatially oriented items can be put in their appropriate directions. Experienced users can select from familiar pie menus without looking at the menu, and can even mouse ahead into menus faster than the computer can update the screen. When the user selects by mousing ahead into a menu, suppressing the menu display can speed up interaction considerably.

The cursor distance from the menu center can be increased to get more angular precision, for accurate directional selection. It can also be used as an argument to the selection, as a continuous analog value, or a discrete sub-selection.

Users can benefit from commonly used pie menus if they are designed to be easy to learn and use. A window management pie menu with its spatially oriented items in appropriate directions is an example of such a menu. A font selection menu using direction to select font style, and distance to select point size, is an example of how the two-dimensional aspect of pie menus can be exploited.

A user should be able to discern the function of a pie menu by looking at it. A simple, intuitive, consistent look for visually representing the meaning and function of a pie menu can help to create an easy to use user interface. Pie menus can also be designed so that they have a good kinesthetic feel to them, they do not require a lot of wasted mouse movement, and the directions are easier to select, and well matched with the input device.

NeatWindow Pie Menu Window Manager for NeWS - May 1988

I released the source code for a NeWS window manager based on pie menus, called NeatWindow (source).

Date: Wed, 11 May 88 02:31:51 EDT
To: NeWS-makers@brillig.umd.edu
Subject: class NeatWindow From: Don Hopkins <don@brillig.umd.edu>

Here is a window class with window managment menus designed to work well with pie menus. You should of course have piemenu.ps loaded up before running this. Just psh it into your environment, and the DefaultWindow will be set up so that the next window you get will be a NeatWindow! Fire up a clock or something, pop up the frame menu, and play around! I am not including any instructions right now, because I would like to hear what you think of it after trying to figure out what the menus do on your own. (heh heh heh -- the code is free but you gotta be a guinea pig!) This is experimental, so I'll be coming out with a more refined version later. If you'd care to answer the following questions after playing around with the NeatWindow menus, I'd really appreciate it!

- Which functions were obvious by their direction, or their labeling?

- How would you change the labels to make their meanings clearer?

- Why do you think the selections are arranged the way they are?

- What mnemonic tricks can you think of to remember the selection directions?

- After using them for a while, which selections do you find yourself mousing into without looking at the menu?

Enjoy!

-Don

Sims Content Catalog in Laszlo and Python

This is a large project I'm developing in OpenLaszlo: creating a rich web application for browsing, searching, exploring, collecting, personalizing, shopping and downloading Sims content.

I'm working with SimFreaks to put their entire catalog of thousands of Sims objects and characters into this database driven catalog. I'm using Transmogrifier to automatically export pictures of all the Sims objects.

Besides simply searching the catalog for interesting objects, you can navigate and explore collections of objects, and even interactivally compose your own scenes.

It's like a cross between colorforms playsets, hypercard and graphical adventures, with Sims room backgrounds, objects and characters, including interlinked image maps and text annotations.

The front-end is implemented in OpenLaszlo, and the back-end is implemented in Python, using SQLObject.

It also includes an administrative database interface for browsing and editing the SQL database that is used to model the site, and keep track of the users, objects, collections, pictures, etc. It's extensible by plugging in customizable Laszlo widgets for displaying and editing special data types, like pictures, checkboxes, color selectors, date pickers, pie menus, OPML editors, etc.

Laszlo Database Interface

I'm developing a reusable Laszlo component for browsing and editing SQL databases.

Currently it's up and running, built into the Sims Content Catalog Laszlo application, and it talks to a Python/SQLObject/MySQL back-end. But I'm factoring it out and redesigning it to work on its own, and support multiple back-ends.

Laszlo is ideal for implementing specialized user interface components for editing custom data types, like checkboxes, pie menus, color selectors, date pickers, OPML editors, picture viewers, map browsers, etc.

The Sims Stuff

This is stuff about The Sims, includes a discussion forum, and chapters about computer game design, player created content, and Sims proposals and documentation.

I worked with Will Wright at Maxis on the original team that developed The Sims. I developed the character animation system, user interface, content creation tools. I'm independently developing tools and content for The Sims.

Educational Multi Player SimCity for Linux Proposal

Back in March 2002, Maxis told me they were interested in supporting the educational use of products like SimCity. Earlier, I had developed a multi player version of SimCity, which runs on Linux/X11, and was scriptable in TCL. Educators and researchers from Columbia University, MIT, IBM, Xerox and other educational and commercial institutions were excited about gaining access to this version of SimCity, and adapting it to teach and stimulate students' interest in urban planning, computer simulation and game programming.

So I wrote this proposal and presented it to Maxis, but nothing ever became of it. But recently, Will Wright has been pushing EA to relicense SimCity under the GPL, so the OLPC project can use it. So it may eventually see the light of day!

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