Casey Means' DREU Journal.
Summer intern at the UMBC Assistive Tech Labs.
Working on Software for pointing difficulties.
Sponsored by DREU.
PRECISE, PERSONALIZED PERFORMANCE:
Designing Notifications and Adaptations to Address Pointing Problems
It's been a few days since my DREU summer ended. I had to travel back to Johnson City from Baltimore. I made few stops to visit friends, and now I'm back home. I've spent many hours driving, a day sleeping, and I've had time to reflect.
Beyond that, I have a more tangible plan for my future on my exit than I did entering. Before it was a very vague idea of master's program; which field and which schools were questions I would get to later. I was very nervous about it because I didn't feel I had many CS credentials to my name. However, I have to apply in six months, and not only do I have some new CS credentials, I have a strategy. The help I've gotten in that regard, in making my next steps and expectations clearer, has been so valuable, and I'm very thankful for it.
This summer has also helped me understand myself as a worker. I'm used to myself as a student, and working in a research environment was a little different. Some things I learned were good: I can pick things up quickly; other aspects need improvement: I'm reluctant to ask for help when I need it. I've always known these faults. However, they aren't as much of a problem your work is your own. In a lab, everyone is learning; everyone depends on each other. It's good to know my strengths and my weaknesses.
This has been one of the best summers of my life. I don't believe its effects are limited to my stay. Amy and Aqueasha are trying to present a paper later this year which I would receive a credit on, and have suggested that I present a poster. I have the option to stay on the project and I intend to. I signed up not knowing what to expect and I have received welcome direction. I am so thankful for all the opportunities I've been given. I recommend DREU to all interested parties.
There was no post last week, which was my fault. So this post counts double.
Last week, I conducted and collected studies for the Young Adult version of the AUI study. I met with many people and collected feedback. I began working on my poster presentation. The prototype is still buggy; I wonder how that has affected results.
As for the code - I was stuck. The first two weeks, when I was just making HTML and JS mockups, I felt very productive. Yes, there were problems, but they were of a kind that let me know the goal was in sight. But these last two weeks, I've been trying to implement that previous code in Chrome Extension architecture and I have had minimal output. Last week, Aqueasha offered to go over the code with me and we reviewed it for two hours. That was the most helpful thing that happened last week. We broke a plateau and affected a change. Then, this week, we got Abdullah back. Yesterday, I met with him and I showed him what I had done and he helped me get to the next level.
I can't learn real code alone. I've been trying for the past two weeks and I've had very little to show for it. I'm not used to asking for help. It's a combination of habit and a little bit of laziness. I'm used to working at my own pace, learning but slowly. It's a silly attitude when I reflect on it: a difficult two hours with my mentor is much less time than several drawn out nights of frustration.
I moved very slowly that way. Improvements were few and far between. They were mostly improving on the same problem, instead of improving, or providing insight into, multiple problems, which makes much healthier code in my opinion. These last week was exhausting and I had nothing to demonstrate why it was exhausting except sloppier code.
But that was last week. This is this week.
The studies are done, my code is cleaned up, and I have two meetings today (learning!). I'm working on putting the cursor loss functions back in the extension and then I need to talk to Abdullah more about how a chrome extension actually works. I think that's going to involve doing a few more mockups, because I can only read so much about it without doing it.
I worked on the the pointer script for the AUI. It's mostly been writing and revision. The goal is to have the pointer pulse when the user is idle. I wrote a idle-time detector and replaced the pointer with a css element. The pointer would then change colors and pulse when the user was idle. I have had problems with the webkit animations. I would fix 90% percent of it, but attempts to get the last 10% would open a new issue that I could fix 90% percent of, and so on. It is all very Zeno's paradox.
It was getting frustrating and I was getting burnt out, so yesterday I took a minute to reconsider the requested criteria. I made something new in a few hours. When I sent it to one of my mentors, they liked it. They then requested an extra pointer using the previous css element that had been giving me grief. I think I'm going to move forward with the pointer I made but keep working on the other one on the side.
Looking forward I anticipate:
Today I am going over the code with Abdullah and going to learn about what I need to be working on. I am going to tell Aqueasha I am still unsure as to what I am doing and will ask for more deadlines.
(As for my brother, I'm thinking something low-poly and cute.)
Hello! Last week, my Summer of DREU officially started, but this has been the week in which work has begun in earnest! Here's the play-by-play, day-by-day:
Wednesday: Learned my specific roles in the project! Today was the first team meeting for the AUI project. I spoke with Abdullah Ali, who coded the plug in, and he has some ideas for me. I can work with HTML/CSS or PHP and WEKA. HTML/CSS is what I know more of but the PHP/ backend interfacing is what I would like to know more about. However, I want to come away from this summer having made a contribution. He's gone now and I'll see him on Monday, which is when I'll present my questions.
Thursday: Worked on PHP and annotated the plug-in code so I could understand it. I'm going to have to learn more about browser software, because I’m still in the dark. Had a good talk with Imani and Stacy about the importance of negotiation in jobs.
Friday: Today was an out of office day! One of my roommates and I went to DC to work the booth at the Maker Faire. We went a little early so we could walk around and tour before. So fun, but so hot, and so many sunburns. The Maker Faire was so much more than I anticipated. Many of the booths were very visually impressive; the displays were set up to wow the audience and demonstrate tech prowess. Compared to those, our booth was simple. We had a few markers, some brightly colored grips, doodling paper, and some tactile graphs. But the simplicity and non-intrusiveness was the whole point. The booth showcased Assistive Tech design at UMBC. There were GripFabs, which are 3D printed grips and handles that are easily attached to utensils to help those with motor problems. The software that models the grips was designed by a DREU student, actually. The other section, the tactile graphs, help the visually impaired. They offer a way to render otherwise visual information, like graphs of equations, or star maps. The user inputs an equation and it is 3D printed out about an hour later.
While we were at the booth a man came up and asked what we could do to make Assistive Tech models more prevalent on websites like thingiverse. I said incentivize it, Veeha said raise awareness. In hindsight I think it's a combination of the two.
First day done; so many introductions. This morning, I met my mentor, Dr. Amy Hurst, and Imani, my fellow DREU participant. We spoke about what to expect from research in the weeks ahead. Afterwards, we toured the PAD lab (so many knick-knacks) and met a roguish and rag-tag group of PAD researchers. During lunch, I got to speak with Aqueasha and Stacey, the researchers working with Dr. Hurst. Tomorrow, Imani and I meet with both of them. We then pair off to develop our research in earnest.
Here are primary goals for the summer:
I'm willing to work on anything, but I want to leave this summer with a clearer understanding of the mechanical/ programming side of computing.
It's hard to avoid sounding too exuberant, but I am very excited to have met everyone, and I do look forward to the weeks ahead!