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Re: A new graphic user interface

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  • Subject: [mg111672] Re: A new graphic user interface
  • From: Helen Read <hpr at>
  • Date: Mon, 9 Aug 2010 05:16:35 -0400 (EDT)
  • References: <i3gpp1$2v0$> <i3jc57$d03$> <i3m40f$hln$>
  • Reply-to: HPR <read at>

On 8/8/2010 7:21 AM, telefunkenvf14 wrote:
> One related example, which I believe emphasizes my point: When
> students jump into using palettes they're able to create a pile of poo
> rather quickly----a pile they cannot possibly debug due to the fact
> they've never absorbed 'everything is an expression'. Clinging to the
> pointy-clicky route also makes the documentation seem very foreign to
> new users.

I think the Documentation always was foreign to new users, and don't see 
that as a problem. How many new users can get much useful information 
from the documentation for say MS Office? Most people are going to start 
off doing very basic things, will click around the various menus trying 
to find whatever they are looking for, and will ask someone more 
knowledgeable for help if they get stuck. They will only consult the 
documentation later, when they have figured out the basics and need help 
with something more complicated.

Similarly, I find that my students don't go into the Mathematica 
Documentation at all when they first start out, and with the new 
palettes they don't need to. It's not until later, when they know what 
that they are doing, that they use the Documentation. The Classroom 
Assistant Palette helps them get to that point more easily. On Day 1, I 
show them their way around in the Classroom Assistant and get them up 
and running with no discussion of syntax. I get them defining functions, 
making tables and plots, using Solve, and a couple of other things. I 
don't say a word about braces and brackets, spelling with capital 
letters, etc. at this stage. They gradually stop relying on the 
pointy-clicky palette over a period of a few weeks, having picked up the 
syntax almost subliminally. Most of them figure out the use of capital 
letters, square brackets, etc., on their own, without having to ask. 
When they get to that point, they *are* able to figure out what's wrong 
when they mess something up, or their friend sitting next to them can 
spot a mistake if they cannot. I don't encourage or even really mention 
the Documentation until they have gotten to that point.

> I have nothing against using palettes, but things need to
> be learned in proper order. In this regard, trying to make the
> interface more like MS Word will, in the long run, hurt new users and
> the reputation of the software.

I agree. Making it more like Word would be a big mistake.

> 1. DPI scaling in Windows is a mess. (for many different pieces of
> software, not just Mathematica) A lot of programs are locked into the 96 DPI
> world. My new laptop is 1920x1080, which looks great, except that
> fonts become way too small in Mathematica. To compensate for this I have
> adjusted the default Magnification to 1.5----as a result, the
> notebooks look PERFECT, but the documentation center now looks like
> CRAP (distorted). Adjusting the system wide Windows DPI scaling causes
> similar problems. Suggestion: could WRI just make it so users can 'run
> through' the documentation center, re-evaluating all the examples and
> saving the output to the doc center? I can easily imagine this would
> be problematic. Regardless, a suggestion.

I have *always* found the default font sizes to be too small. I use a 
custom stylesheet for some of the assignments I give the students, and 
of course I have the fonts set to a reasonable size there. But that 
means that I do not set the default magnification to 1.5, because then 
those fonts are too big. Instead I just click on the magnification along 
the bottom of each notebook and crank it up to 150%. I do it so 
habitually that I don't even think about it. One of the first things the 
students ask when they start working in blank notebooks (which happens 
within the first week) isn't "How come this looks different?" but "How 
do I make it bigger?"

> 2. Stylesheets need to be easier to create and alter

That would be nice.

> (without fear
> that your going to screw something up---this is frustrating and extra
> confusing for new users.)

I don't think a new user could do it at all, the way it is now.

> (ii) I'd also like to be able to
> bookmark locations in the documentation and save scraps of customized
> code ideas, tagged to those bookmarks. I know this would cut down on
> the mountain of scrap notebooks I have!!

Yes, yes. I've been wanting to bookmark pages in the Documentation for 
ages, and your idea of saving your own examples tagged to the bookmarks 
is terrific. Half the time I can't find the little notebooks of my own 
examples that I have saved (on several different computers, which 
doesn't help).

I only recently discovered that right-clicking in the Documentation 
gives an option to Open in New Window. I wonder how long that has been 
there? I had been going back up to the Help menu to open up a a new 
Documentation center window. It would be helpful if there were a button 
somewhere for opening a new window, so that people don't have to stumble 
on it by accident. Better yet, would be the ability to Open in New Tab, 
with a button for it and a right-click option. I'd like to have several 
tabs open in the Documentation center, so that I could go back and forth 
among the tabs instead of lots of windows.

Helen Read
University of Vermont

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