Thursday, March 22, 2012

Obsessive ReKey

Ever since I got my iPhone, I've wondered why it had a qwerty keypad. The thing is virtual, it could be ANYTHING. I know there are good reasons for it, buy legacy is not a sufficient reason. Here's why:
  1. Keys are virtual. They can be any shape in any order. They could move, grow, and learn. There is no hardware reason to propagate the legacy.
  2. Touch screens have no variable feedback. You pretty much have to keep an eye on the typing. If you'e watching it instead of touch-typing, why not change it up?
  3. The given display keys are small enough I can't type with my thumbs (plus I have long nails) so I'm pretty much typing one fingered, including this. You know what isn't optimized for one finger typing? Qwerty.
  4. there's not a physical limit on key response. Keys could do just about anything from typing one letter to inputting a sentence or swapping screens. There's no good reason to not take advantage of that.

With that in mind, I set out to design a keypad for typing American English one-fingered. And I have a solution I'm extremely happy with. I'm torn about whether or not to upload it here, because the blog is Google archived. Email me if you want to see it while I consider posting it. An early version did go up on facebook, where I learned that the Android Platform has a programmable keyboard option. But that doesn't help me on my iPhone.

Still and all, I'm looking to program it in some testable way. A colleague's CS prof may be interested and has experience programming for the Apple platforms. If that doesn't work out I'll keep trying. I'd also like to see if I can work it for the Android, since they were so open about options.

My design principles:
Frequent letters belong together. The most frequent combos should be adjacent.
Order should trend L-R like word order, so prefix heavy mid-list letters go left, and suffix heavy letters go right.
Common keys should be bigger to allow for more slop at speed.
Adjacent keys should be swipe-able for fewer taps.
We need a few helps beyond straight letters like a comma key. And cursors (for when my blogs run long and finger dragging causes weird effects. )
By making typing more clear, autocorrect can be less aggressive and energies can be focused on value-adds over cleanup. All good stuff. I can't wait until it works!

Now, I'm 5min from boarding a plane to FLA via Dallas. My cousin is getting married and I'm a bit of a wreck because I've been keydesigning in all my spare time! I need a manipedi something fierce before the wedding ensemble's open toes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I had some actual plans for this St. Patty's day weekend. It started with Excursion Day plans to visit a Botanical Garden somewhere here in SoCal on my mom's birthday. Mom's a Master Gardener and I thought, hey, it's usually something like 39F in the ancestral homeland this time of year, maybe she'd come visit me that weekend and see the botanical garden. She liked the idea and we made tentative plans - my parents fly standby and don't like to plan so pretty much all plans are tentative.

Firming up the plans this week, I found a St. Patty's day parade, a local community theater Gilbert & Sullivan play, a corned beef and cabbage feast (she likes it, I don't), I snagged a half day off (part of my required 5 days), checked on whale watching, got the remainder of the living room wall painted, and rescheduled the cleaners to come today.

But my mom has a superzero power: she makes hot places cold. When we went to Disneyworld on our only family trip there, it was 10 degrees warmer back in MN than it was in Florida. When we went back to Florida a while back for Thanksgiving, it was 85F when I arrived. Then next day it was 55F when mom flew in and stayed that way until she left, when it went back to 85. The first time she visited me in SoCal, it snowed in Malibu. She was allowed a rare exception to see the Rose parade in temperate weather a couple years ago, but it came back in full force this time.

For this coming weekend, my mom was supposed to be here from Thursday to Monday. It isn't supposed to get above 52F the entire time and it will likely rain all weekend. That wouldn't be so bad if MN was hanging out at its average temp. But it will be something like 75F and sunny at her home that entire time. We were finalizing plans today when she mentioned that her planned route filled up with passengers overnight making the standby situation iffy. Rather than fuss with the planes, we're tempting fate another way. We've rescheduled for after Easter.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Good Neighbors

Last night was a little rough; I had to call the cops on my next door neighbors. They're relatively new. We don't meet up much, but most often, I run into him. He's helped me carry heavy things. He lets me pet their dogs which are kind, curious, and well behaved. They don't slam the door like the previous tenant's teen did.

Around 1:30 AM I heard a loud bang/smash sound. It was the second loudest thudding noise I've heard since moving in - the louder one was caused by an earthquake. I thought the guy upstairs knocked something over. Then a woman outside started screaming. A lot. I put pants on and walked outside to see what was happening and if I could help. Because I'm a big lady and the ruckus was alarming and I don't like to think that neighbors would ignore something like that.

As I was walking down the shared access sidewalk, I could hear her yelling, "Don't touch me you psycho!" from the bushes on the right. I could not see her, but he was standing over or near her. When he saw me, he headed my way saying soothing things like "she's just being crazy". Without a word, I did an aboutface, went inside, and locked the door.

Here's the weird part: I debated calling the police.
- He gave an appearance of calm.
- Maybe this is something they've played out before.
- They're nice to their dogs.
- Nothing like this has come up with them before.
- She was screaming, but not saying "help".
- The situation seemed to be a little diffused after having been obviously caught out.
- I didn't know for sure what had happened. I know they rent but not if they sublet from the previous tenant, whom I know they know. They could be living there sub-legally.
- He's a large guy with large muscles and he knows me and saw me. My kitchen window is not really a barrier to entry for a determined person who doesn't care about making noise anymore.

On the other hand:
- Abuse is not ever ok. (But did this qualify? I asked myself this.)
- He was really trying to downplay things, trying to look calm and rational. (It was surprisingly effective. I worried that if she had issues that it wouldn't help or would cost a lot as a result of intervention. My parents' neighbors got charged $1200 or so ever time the emergency ensemble rode to the rescue - several times a year.)
- When I thought it through, anyone who takes themselves outside and screams as loud as they can is asking for help, no matter what words they're using.
- It looked like she'd climbed through the patio screening, over the 4 foot walls to get out to the sidewalk, and was not standing up.
- They're my next door neighbors, if I call the cops, I'm judging them. Maybe she wouldn't want me to complicate her life more by getting the system involved.

I sat in my dark living room and updated the situation on facebook. By about the time I finished typing, I'd decided to call the police. Here's why:
- Women don't jump over 4 foot walls screaming in fear for no reason.
- Someone screaming with fear or panic after taking it outside is asking for intervention.
- He was going the "it's all her fault" route a little too hard while trying to softpedal things and it set my back up for all he sounded "reasonable". Later, I realized that he was also herding me away from her while hulking toward me. If she was having some sort of problem, you'd think he'd ask for my help instead - even if he didn't have me go physically to her, he could have asked me to call someone or get some supplies or something.
- It started with that very loud noise. I had no way of knowing which of them caused it. Either one could have been the danger.
- I do not want to be the person who does nothing when I can do a very little thing and stop imminent harm happening in front of me. I don't want to wake up to caution tape and asking myself why I let that pass.
- Even if she was crazy or crying wolf, the consequences of this behavior in public should result in professional intervention. I don't want them or the neighborhood thinking that one can do that sort of thing and *not* have the cops get called to investigate.

I sucked it up and called the police. I was able to give the exact unit number. I'm not sure if other neighbors also called - I'm pretty sure their upstairs neighbor would have too - and the cops were already on their way, or if I just live in Law Enforcement Central, but they were there in under 5 minutes. These are situations where I'm glad to have the police around. Because I was staying inside and away from windows and doors, I didn't know if it was cops or just neighbors. Then they all went inside, which seemed cop-like and I tried to listen harder when they exited later, and confirmed that it was indeed the actual police who had arrived before I'd finished my facebook update.

It appears that after the police came, took a tour of their place and spoke to them both. The very small snatches I heard were the police warning him to back down from his bluster because there was a lot of paperwork involved if they had to take him to jail, but they were willing if he kept it up. The emergency broadcast system was tested and worked, which is good. There didn't seem to be an overreaction, which is good.

Keeping in mind that he knows I know, and he was making upset noises at the police, I stayed awake for the next couple hours, despite desperately needing to sleep, making sure no one would try to break in in retaliation. Their front door slammed a few times like when the teen lived there and I finally got to bed around 4. Which means I missed my sleep cycle window and slept clean through my alarm and woke up an hour after I was supposed to be at work. I'd considered leaving a message for my boss about being late, but I'd been hoping I wouldn't be any later than usual and could just let it slide. I should have called. Fortunately for me it was a quiet day - all the managers were involved with something that didn't need my assistance. Here's hoping tonight is more peaceful for all involved.

After action report: Nothing from the neighbors. It was the right thing to do to call the cops and let them sort it out. It was a surprisingly difficult judgement call in the moment though. If I recall correctly, this is only the 2nd or 3rd time I've ever called the police on someone. (The last time was the crazy ex of a neighbor who would repeatedly ring the apartment buzzer for an hour at 2am if we didn't call the cops. Or she'd let him in then scream at him to leave *immediately after* letting him in. The dispatchers were like "those guys again? *sigh* Yeah, we know them.")

While we're here... So far as I know, none of my current friends or family are involved with someone abusing them. My brother got out, but it took a long time to accept that the relationship was abusive and had to end because her good side was really good. I didn't know for a long time but my mom suspected and I didn't know if I should believe her, but she was right to worry. Since one of the things abusers often do is cut people off from their other resources, I worry that someone wouldn't ask me or their other friends (or former friends) for help thinking "hey, I wasn't a very good friend to her" or "she won't believe me". Don't be thinking that. (I wasn't sure if my mom called it right. I believed my brother, once he stopped hiding it.) If you find yourself needing away from a bad situation I will do my best to help you.