Thesis Research: Week 1

Thoughts/Questions

Figure Labeling. I haven’t found the best way to label the figures yet. In the GitHub, they are alphabetical. On the Phys Comp site they are arranged by lab, and not numbered. In my style guide, they are displayed in the order of the design principles they support.

Question: Perhaps we organize them by lab? So Figure 1.1 would be PComp Lab 1 and the first image used (good question to bring up on 2/7/19 meeting).

SVG Hosting. I’d like to find a way to streamline the way I’m making these images available to the public. A goal of mine is to become proficient enough in GitHub to add to the Phys Comp repo. Google Drive has been my backup, so far.

Question: Should we continue to make GitHub our main source of these schematics?

Final Output. After the conclusion of the research and preparation of the abstract, I need to start thinking about where it will live elsewhere. Is it an online hub with a PDF of the style guide, research paper, and documentation? Are there any best practices on how to present design research? Is it a physical bound book? How can I show the side-by-side comparison of the graphics before and after- should they be next to each other on a book page?

Using Templates. In my Workflow Guide, I created a basic Illustrator template, that way the page setup, Braille and text point size, binder holes, and page layout is ready to be pasted into, jumpstarting a designer’s process.

Question: Would this be helpful to someone like Emily Lin or would she prefer to create her own document? Are the steps I listed clear?

Non-Electronics Experts. Currently, the style guide is written for someone with basic knowledge of microcontrollers. I need to consider who the audience is here and where they fall on the novice to expert spectrum. I’m looking at identifying opportunities to remove the tech expertise filter- what is helpful is that I am not a tech expert, ITP or no ITP, and I think speaking to Emily on this will also be helpful.

Low Vision Access to Graphics. Another thing to consider asking our low vision users is what is the most convenient way for them to find, access, download, and print the graphics on their own. Right now I’m assuming that if the graphic is linked to the schematic on the Phys Comp site, a screen reader can help navigate to it and I could be very wrong.

Question: How might we make this the most seamless process for a student, like Antonio, to do independently?

Testing Format. I need to begin making considerations for how we want to test and what we want to learn- the framework. I, personally, interact effectively and come to a better understanding when working with individuals. I find one-on-one testing to be more focused and more engaging. It would be an interesting exploration to compare the difference between individual and groups for this particular project, however. I wonder if a group setting correlates better to a classroom setting.

The tech filter will be challenging as no two students are at the same place in terms of curriculum comprehension. I’m not sure how much they’d need to know in advance about the Arduino- is this PComp, Day 1 level? My instinct prefers they know the basics: what a resistor feels like, basic understanding of circuits, a little familiarity with the Arduino, and an understanding of where they might practically apply the tactile graphics.

Questions: Will this be group testing? Individuals? What would the threshold be for vision impairment, since most readers have some form of light perception? How new to tech would they be and when would our cutoff be (e.g. 2nd semester ITP)?

Questions from a Designer. Emily Lin will be working with Antonio on his 100 Days of Making project and she had some work flow questions, that are worth looking at, especially since she comes from a design background and would be one of the audiences I’d be speaking to. The work flow direction from Tom was as follows:

  1. Make a diagram, and put the text, non-Braille, on its own layer.
  2. Copy the text layer into a new layer, convert all the text in that layer to Apple Braille, 29-point
  3. Copy each phrase into the Branah.com translator, translate, then copy the result and paste back over the original phrase.
  4. Turn off visibility on the non-Braille text layer and rearrange as needed.

Questions from Emily:

1. What has been your process for printing the Illustrator or Tactile View file? Is there swell paper in supply somewhere close to campus? Antonio ordered some, but I am wondering if there are some in NYU already.

2. Since we haven’t printed the files yet, it is hard for me to know if the design is accurately showing what Antonio would like. I am hoping that printing it out with swell paper will help, but until then I am wondering if you have a series of questions/guideline to make sure your design was on the right track?

3. From the steps outlined above, is there any part that is missing?

4. I would love to know any advice or suggestions that you think would help the process.

Removing Expert Filter in the Style Guide

Design Consistency. This is a language issue. It assumes the reader has familiarity with electronics and microcontrollers, using specialized terminology. Maybe this needs to go more in depth about symbol standards (showing a chart of customary ones), and the roles that pins play on a microcontroller. I don’t think I need to go into what microcontrollers do, or I’d assume the reader wouldn’t be interested in this style guide.

“Only add labels for the connections and parts that are relevant to the circuit. There are standards for symbols but use the simplest versions of them. Remove unused pins or components from the symbols, making them easier to read. The only time to deviate from this is for a component that they will be handling a lot.”

Clarity. Since, as mentioned above, I’ll explore a brief explanation of what microcontroller pins do, the statement below should make more sense. However, I could sum up the way the pins are organized into rows, separated by analog and digital, to help clarify for the reader, especially if they are new to the material.

“For component pins, use lines rather than dots. You don’t need to label all of them– just the first and last pins in the row.”

Negative Space. When working with Antonio, I used Human-Centered design to determine the optimal measurements for tactile representations of schematic elements. I listed them in a chart for clarity’s sake. He knew the names and functions of all the elements. So not only are they developed for his preferences, but the chart also targets someone who knows what these elements are. For example, “zig-zag points” is a descriptor for someone who has seen a resistor symbol and understands how the measurements relate to it. It assumes the reader knows what an LED and ground symbol is and mentions a dot but doesn’t elaborate on what a wire junction is. A solution could be two additional columns: one that depicts the symbol and another that describes what it is and how it’s used.

Contrast. Components, connection lines, microcontrollers, and modules are meaningless terms unless you’ve had experience with them. This seems like basic beginner information, but they’re complicated concepts if you’re new to them. It could be as simple as defining what qualifies as a microcontroller and assuming any other lines are connections (a 2-point stroke).

“Line thickness can be used as a signifier for different components. Use a 2-point stroke for connection lines and a 6-point stroke for the outlines of microcontrollers or other modules. ”

Existing Resources for Parents and Teachers

Interactive Circuit Diagram. Uses keyboard to explore different elements of a circuit, working with a screen reader. Written in plain text and allows reader to navigate into the graph. However, doesn’t allow reader to perceive the shapes of the elements.

ARIA Interactive Simulations. Another example of an interactive diagram that describes Ohm’s Law.

Tangible Graphs 1982 Guide. Standards for teachers and low vision students to learn how to read tactile graphics. More generalist, doesn’t get into electronics.

Wikki Stix. Waxed string warms in hand and can be used to make simple and on-the-spot tactile graphics.

Virtual Pencil. Pencil and paper simulation that works with screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. It’s meant for users who are unable to operate a pencil effectively. The user guides the cursor, or pencil, to a place on the paper where they can input an answer. The numbers and actions are read by JAWS and shown on the refreshable Braille display.

Math Window. Modular magnetic tiles that combine Braille and text in a confined workspace. Could be remodeled for electronics, changing numbers and operators into schematic symbols and connection lines.

MathML/MathJax. Markup language that displays math equations across different browsers. It optimizes math for screen readers because they’re stored in structured text. It also allows the student to explore parts of the equation.

Other Resources for More Advanced Students

Blind Arduino Project. Founded by Josh Miele and William Gerrey to develop and share techniques for low vision users to build electronics projects. They have a monthly Meetup and a blog, though it seems to be for non-beginners.

Smith Kettlewell Technical File. A publication founded by William Gerrey for low vision electronics enthusiasts. However, according to Josh Miele, “the do-it-yourself projects published in The Technical File did not include circuit diagrams. Instead they used highly standardized verbal circuit descriptions that allowed blind readers to assemble electronics projects independently.”

Text to Speech Circuits Description. Uses image processing and cv to detail electronics schematics in a document, generating automatic text to speech descriptions of the sequence of components in the circuit.

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