Taking Notes with Evernote !


     In this digital age, where people grow plants online feed them water digitally.  It is  no wonder that most of us use digital medium for taking notes or scribbling ideas instead of using traditional pen and paper.  Everyone has their favourite application for taking notes.  I have my favourite application and it is called ‘Evernote’.  I can gladly say that ‘Evernote’ is all what you need for taking digital notes.  And, this post is about why I love its features for taking notes. 

a. Usability:

    –  Unlike every other note taking application, it just takes a minute or two to figure out the interface of Evernote and how it works.  It is such simple.  Consider each new note as a paper or a section, you can organize them into notebooks in the application.  The navigation flow between the notes and notebooks are simple yet smooth using almost the minimal CPU and memory resources. 

b. Cross-Platform Support & Synchronization :

     – Every note that you take synchronizes to a evernote server as a backup.  Evernote has applications for every platform out there say Windows, Mac, Web Application and many mobile device platforms.  So, you can use your own means to take notes in Evernote – PC, Web or your Mobile Device. 

c. Intergration with other Note-Taking Applications:

     – Evernote nicely integrates all the actions that you do in the other related applications like ‘Evernote Web Clipper, Skitch, Food and People’ into seperate notebooks in Evernote iteself. So, you just have to access or search only on Evernote to find something that you have added from other related applications. 

d. A Step Further:

     – To top it all, Moleskine and Evernote has teamed up and just introduced a Hybrid Notebook in which all you write, jot, draw, scribble and sketch are available digitally on Evernote as a seperate notebook. 

Happy Noting, Everyone.  Thanks. :). 

Image Courtesy : http://blog.evernote.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/evernote_web_new8.jpg

ZBrush – A Modeling Tool with an Artist Friendly UI

ZBrush InterfaceZBrush's Interface

     ZBrush is a sculpting and texturing tool which is now quite a competition to Autodesk’s tools for animation – Maya & Mudbox. Though ZBrush can get complex with its advanced features, it has the most artist friendly interface that I have come to know.  The learning curve for knowing the layout of the interface and how the tools works is not quite as complex as other sculpting tools, I would say.  I have tried to break down the usability features of the interface to show you how they play in minimizing the same.  So, here we go. 

a. Paletting :

     – Like a ‘Traditional Artist’ (either Painter or Sculptor), you would like to have the necessary colors or tools that you would use while painting in your canvas.   You can do the same in ZBrush.  The necessary menus and tools can be paletted into the left and right side sections called ‘Palettes’ of the interface.  (2 & 3).  The beautiful thing of this all is you can create ‘palettes with-in palettes ‘ called Sub-Paletting. 

b. Spotlight & Lightbox Section (File Preview with Description ):

     – How many times have been frustrated to open a file with previwing it or navigating out of the working interface to access them.  You can do them all minus all the frustrations without leaving ZBrush.  There is a section called Spotlight & Lightbox (4 in the picture) below the canvas (5 in the picture) in the interface where you can see the preview of what a tool does or the file that you are accessing.

c. Color Theme:

     –  The contrast and color scheme of the interface is balanced and has a aesthetic prowess from all the other similar tools.  The color scheme is kind of similar to the Gordon Freeman’s HEV Suit from Half-Life.  (And, that is also one of personal reasons to like the interface). 

d. Icons & Buttons:

     –  ZBrush’s Buttons are neatly layed out and clearly describes what is clickable and what is not at the point of time you are looking at it.  The Icons of the tool clearly describes what the item does.  I think the designer’s invested a considerable amount of time in crafting each and every part of the icon.  

e. Customization:

     –  The software package is completely customizable.  It has inbuilt scripting language called ZScript where you can build on adding additional features to ZBrush. 

      Thanks to Pixologic (the makers of ZBrush) for giving us all a wonderful sculpting tool to play with.  Kindly, drop in your comment and views about the post in the comments section.  Thanks.  :). 

Image Courtesy : http://www.digital-design3d.com/3d-design/images/zbrush.jpg

The Chrome’ium Shine

     Google Chrome is very new player when compared with the many standard and existing browsers who play the age-old ‘Browser Wars’. But now, 34% of the internet traffic is through Chrome.  And, no wonder why.  It is by far the best browser that I have used with the many simple and usable features that I have not identified with the others.  Google is based on the ‘WebKit’ layout engine, the same which powers Apple’s Safari.  The following are the outstanding features that I have noticed with Chrome when comparing with the other browsers that I have used.

a. Simple Interface  : 

     The first point of attraction in Chrome is the simplicity of the interface and its elegance.  (1 in the Picture).  Less buttons.  And, everything on the interface conveys the user its functionality without needing any label for it.  It simply conveys the user what to do and what not to do with it.

b. Synchronization :

     Almost every internet user has a Google account nowadays with an exceptional few.   (2 in the Picture).  Google has rightly integrated the feature of synchronizing web data with the user’s Google Account.  The user just have to do is – Sign In.  All your browser Bookmarks, Open / Closed Tabs and Application Data will be synced to all your chrome browsers where you have logged in minutes.

c. Browser Apps & Extensions :

     If its iOS on the mobile market for its iTunes AppStore, it’s Google on the browser apps.  (3 in the Picture).  Chrome simply owns the web with its many number of Browser Application and Extensions.  Life is much more simpler when you sync your To-Do List across all your devices.

d. Interface Customizability :

     With its support for Themes and Extensions, you choose your theme for dressing up your Chrome browser.  Either its Halloween or Christmas, or its just your mood.  You simply change the theme to match your style.  The interface of Chrome is customizable.

e. Speed & Efficiency :

     Beauty without Brains does not matter, Right ? This browser has both.  It is very powerful and efficient.  You can see it for your own when you just search for ‘Browser Benchmarks’ on the Web.  The web page load times were much lesser when compared with the other browsers that I have used.

   To simply summarize, Google’s Chrome browser is “Simple, Efficient, Human and more than everything ‘Usable’ “.

Thanks. :).

Image Courtesy : 

One ‘IDE’ to ‘Code’ them All !

     If you are a Programmer or been into programming then Microsoft’s Visual Studio needs no introduction.  For new comers, Visual Studio is an Integrated Development Environment for programming by Microsoft Corporation.  In general, an IDE is a application which provides the programmer with features such as Code Editor, Debugger and build automation tools.  I have used many IDE’s but personally I have felt that the Visual Studio is the best in both in its Features and in its Usability.  I’ll explain why in this blog post.

The following are some of the best features of Visual Studio IDE as far I have explored the application :

a. Customisability :

     – Like Maya and Unity, the interface customization features are all there in Visual Studio with some cool additional features.

b. Intellisense :

     – IntelliSense feature of Visual Studio allows user to auto-completing code parts by suggesting Classes, Methods, Functions or the Variables used by the User.  This is a very handy feature and the most important feature which makes Visual Studio, an outstanding IDE.

c. Extensibility :

     – If a Developer does need an additional feature which is not in Visual Studio, he can code the additional feature using Visual Studio and add it to the application like a Plug-In or an Extension.  Is not that ‘Cool’ ? :).  I have even seen a team come up with an extension for integrating Python programming language as an extension into Visual Studio with all the Intellisense features.

d. Auto-Formatting :

     – Everytime you type a word in the code editor it gets auto formatted by the editor, so that the developer can just concentrate on the logic rather than formatting the code lines that he had typed.

e. Other Features :

     – Apart from the above mentioned features, Visual Studio has additional feature sets which makes it a well rounded application.  Those features are Build Automation (creation of Setup Wizards), Unit Testing Features (Testing Code Quality), Debugging, Profiling and Mobile Application Development etc.,

   Though, I cannot talk about all the features of the largest IDE in the world, I covered most of the important features of them.  Kindly mention your thoughts about this post in the comments section.  Thanks. :).

Image Courtesy :

The Beauty of Windows 8 UI

     The first thing that I noticed and that I can surely say after seeing many demos of  Microsoft’s latest Windows 8 is – ‘Microsoft has finally started responding to Apple with its news OS’.

   When I first posted a status in my Facebook page that ‘We can pre-order Windows 8 from today’.  Many people commented that – ‘They were not really interested in trying the new Windows’, ‘It is for Touch-Based Systems’ and ‘Its an Operating System for Surface tablet, just revamped and released as Windows 8’.  Now, after Windows 8 is finally released, I can really say that Windows 8 is a great OS in terms of performance and Beauty.  From the design philosophy that I have learned in the classes and Information Foraging theory.  People are lazy and kind of hesitant in accepting new technology just because of the learning curve that we have in the process.  I accept that Windows 7 was cool.  And, that does not mean that we have to use the same Windows forever.  And for you Windows 8 Infidels, here is my blog post.

   I am writing this blog post just to serve as a ‘Rumor Demystifier’ and to explain the good design aspects of the next trick from Microsoft’s Sleeve – Windows 8.  The Operating System follows a tile based communication with the User.  The design language of Windows 8 is called ‘Modern UI’ or ‘Windows Style 8 UI’ like the previous ‘Aero’ of Windows 7.  The video demonstrates from the New York City conference shows how the OS can be used with both Touch and Mouse Input.

1. Rumor : Windows 8 is for tablets / touch-based monitor and not for Mouse input.

Fact : No, not at all.  Windows 8 is for both Mice Input and Touch based Monitors.  Also, Windows 8 is not a tweaked up version of Windows Phone OS.  It just follows the same design language.  There is a separate OS for tablet systems called Windows RT.

2. Rumor : Windows 8 has performance issues.

Fact : Really ? See the following benchmark reports from TechRadar.com.

Windows 7 vs. Windows 8 :

Windows 7 startup: 1 min 19 secs
Windows 8 startup: 38 secs
Windows 7 shutdown: 41 secs
Windows 8 shutdown: 19 secs
Windows 7 resume: 26 secs
Windows 8 resume: 26 secs
Windows 7 hibernate: 33 secs
Windows 8 hibernate: 13 secs

Browser speeds :
Windows 7 V8: 1594
Windows 8 V8: 2581
Windows 7 canvas speed: 22fps
Windows 8 canvas speed: 52fps
Windows 7 Webvizbench: 3030
Windows 8 Webvizbench: 4230
Windows 7 Webvizbench fps: 5.89fps
Windows 8 Webvizbench fps: 13.64fps

3. Rumor : Windows 8 doesn’t have a start menu and my precious desktop.  

Fact : Partially.  The ‘Start’ menu may have been gone.  But not the ‘Desktop’.  We can even bring back the ‘Start’ Menu by free third party applications.

4. Rumor : Windows 8 is not meant for Gaming. 

Fact :  Did Microsoft say or specify that anywhere,  Dear User.  They surely know of their strengths and they definitely did not do that to Windows 8.  Because of the optimized kernel, Windows 8 performs well with Games.  I have even read in a blog that the Games perform well in Windows 8.

5. Rumor : Windows 8 won’t run in my current machine.

Fact :  This OS is not resource hungry.  Just, see the recommended requirements for Windows 8 here – System Requirements.  I am sure that it would run in any PC’s that have decent configurations.

Image Courtesy : http://www.slashgear.com/

Design Aspects – From what I have noticed so far in Windows 8 :

a. The design approach followed here is a huge change and it is Significantly Better. (Phenomenal Change – Phenomenally Better).  In both aspects – Performance and Design.

b. Best of both the worlds – Optimized for both Touch and Mouse Clicks.

c. The Modern UI is both Butter’y and Like’able.   It is definitely innovative and better.  Also, it is fun to work with it.

d.  Most used Applications in the tiles and those tiles are customizable.

e.  The current generation of Windows Installments for PC’s, Tablets and Mobiles Phones speaks the same design language.  (Windows 8 , RT & Phone 8).  This makes a unified design and less learning curve for the Users.

   I know people hated Windows XP when it was first released.  But, now it is considered as one of the best installments of Windows till date along side Windows 7.  I am sure that Windows 8 will get there soon.  Personally, I feel that Windows is getting better and Windows 8 is a Good Design.

Thanks. :).

RAA #5 – Skinput

1. APA Citation :

Chris Harrison, Desney Tan, and Dan Morris. 2010. Skinput: appropriating the body as an input surface. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 453-462. DOI=10.1145/1753326.1753394 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1753326.1753394

2. Purpose :

     In this paper, the Authors present a technology called as ‘ Skinput’ – a device that makes the whole body as an input device by analyzing the mechanical vibrations that propagate through the body by touching a  part of body skin (here Skin in the Arm region) called Bi-Acoustic Signal Acquisition Process.  This device and research paper is another great valuable addition to Wearable Computing and Finger Input Technologies.  Also, this device will open doors for an always available ‘System’ with which we can interact anytime.

3. Methods : 

i. Construction of the Device :

The Research Scholars built a custom device with the following important components for developing the ‘Skinput’ system.  And, they are :

a. Pico-Projector – For projecting the output from the system to the User for Visualization.

b. Bio-Acoustic Sensors – For detecting the User Touches.

c. Arm Band – The Arm band collectively houses the Bio-Acoustic Sensors for the Users to wear them and the arm band itself serves as a place holder for co-ordination of the sensors with that of the arm.

d. Sample Applications – They also built several sample applications which served for testing the Device, User Study and Performance Analysis of the Device.

e. Audio Output Device – For audio feedback.

For clarification, the following image shows the Input Sets and proximity positions of the Bio-Acoustic sensors that should be present in the arm for detection of the user inputs by the device.

ii.  Evaluation of the Device :

For evaluating the device, an User Study was conducted with 6 Male and 7 Female participants of an age group ranging from 20 to 56 with different Body Mass Indexes.  (The BMI of a person is an important criteria in this evaluation because it directly affects the Vibration Level of the Skin in turn affecting the detection of ‘User Touches’ by the Sensor.)

Apart from the above said testing locations of the skin (i.e., Fingers, Whole Arm and Fore Arm), there was also another set of supplemental testing with respect to the environmental conditions so as to test the device in real-time environment and targeted setting.  The following are the supplemental methods used for testing the device :

a. Walking / Jogging

b. Single Handed Gestures

c. Surface and Object Recognition

d. Identification of Finger Tap Type

e. Segmenting Finger Input

The participants were 1 Male and 1 Female for the first exercise.  For the rest of the experiments, 7 new participants (3 Females) were invited for the testing the device.

4. Main Findings :

After the User Study, the following were the main results :

a. The device performed well with an average accuracy of 87.6 % from the all experiments.

b. Additionally, the results of the experiments were also analyzed by considering the Body Mass Index, Sex and Age of the Participants for improving the device in the future.

c. By numbers, the device was very much and well capable in detecting the inputs from the Male participants in higher rate than that of female participants.

d. From the overall results of the supplemental tests performed, the environmental conditions and targeted test settings did not affect the performance of the device.

5. Analysis :

     In every front, this was a very good research.   It has the potential to be successful if it is harnessed and used in the right way, so as it is to be usable and useful in every dimension.  The authors included several methods for testing the device which is very much convincing for me that the user study is performed well.  Also, separated indexing of the impact of BMI analysis in the device was good.

   Personally, though I cannot find any flaws in this paper, I felt that this paper was not much of a phenomenal game changer but an incremental research.  I chose this paper as it was kind of similar to one of my favorite research articles of all time – SixthSense by the MIT Media Lab.  This paper being just two years old has more than 96 citation in total.  I am interested in following up this paper’s citations and the future research direction of the research scholars.

The Flexible Interface of Unity3D Game Engine

     Last week, I posted on the customization and flexibility features of Maya.  One of the other application, that I have started using on a daily basis is Unity,  the IDE (Integrated Development Enviroment) for the Unity 3D Game Engine.  One of the issues, that Game developers face everyday is seeing the code changes that they do gets reflected in real-time.  I have not used the high-level and highly successful game engines like Unreal or CryEngine.

   But, in my perception Unity gives the flexibility to the developers on that level.  When using Unity in Purdue Labs, I won’t face any issues on seeing the change reflection because there would be dual monitors in which I’ll be coding on One and the Game render on the other monitor.  But, when I use Unity in my laptop, not me but anyone would face the same issue.  That’s where the power of Unity IDE comes into play.  :).  Just take a look at the above picture.  All the screenshots are from the same version of Unity, look at the beauty of UI customization and flexibility.  :).  For me, Unity Game Engine is a very good interface design.

Thanks. :).

Image Courtesy :