February 2009 Archives

Can Teen Love & Statistics Come Together?

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There have been several strategies proposed to encourage teen girls to relate more to math, but perhaps the most romantic is The Manga Guide to Statistics as publicized in the Chance Newsletter from Dartmouth. It's the story of typical teen girl Rui who realizes that the path to the heart of "dreamy" Mr. Igarashi is to learn statistics. Of course, this means her father hires a math whiz tutor which creates an instant romantic triangle.

Based on the sample chapters posted, the story seems to be surprisingly well written, magically combining statistical concepts with real-world situations (e.g. curves on an exam or categorizing ramen noodle restaurant types). Providing a narrative is important to learning how to do problems in context, but many narratives seems forced. These scenarios seem plausible somehow.

The tone is also gently humorous, like a father fondly recalling his ditzy teen daughters who manage to make sense in the end. An interesting scene is when our tutor tries to explain Rui and her friend Yumi, why a 90 in an English exam is not scored as well as a 90 in a Classical Japanese exam. Of course he really needs access to the raw scores to the class. No problem says Yumi: "I have them" (a mystery not lost on Rui). Looks like some girls are smarter than they first appear.

I've only read two excerpts (linked from the Chance site), but I admit I am intrigued. How WILL our tutor hero convey binomial distribution to Rui? It's an interesting story. Is it interesting enough for our target audience?

On A Cultural Note...

This manga really is from Japan, hence the choices of both English and Classical Japanese as foreign language offerings. It's interesting to see how teen girl life is both the same and different here. You may even learn a little bit about different types of ramen. Interesting.

Disabled by Technology?

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When presenting accessibility issues to the "normally enabled", I think it helps to present scenarios when anyone could need the same accommodation as provided for "disabled" users.

For example...if you are on Adobe Connect and the audio is acting weird, you would really appreciate live captioning. I know I did when I attended an accessibility seminar over Adobe Connect. The audio was out for quite a while, but ironically they had included captioning for the hearing impaired audience, so I was set!

That was the seminar that mentioned that lots of students used captions when available - because of forgotten headphones, bad initial recording or they had a roommate sleeping in the next bunk.

This week I realized we had a new tech "disability" called the iPhone. The iPhone is great, but there's no denying that the screen real estate is much smaller than standard monitor. You have to zoom and move around the page a lot ...unless the site is designed to accomodate the iPhone.

Believe it or not the iPhone screen very closely mimics what a low vision user on 500% zoom is experiencing. Jakob Nielsen just conformed this in a recent Alertbox article on the Mobile Web. An interface designed to work for low vision users will probably be optimized for the iPhone.

It's possible to find tech scenarios for all sorts of "real" disabilities :

  • Requiring color-coding to be supplemented with shape helps if you only have a black and white printer.
  • ALT text for graphics is great when the graphic is slow to download...or missing.
  • Designing alternate to pop-up windows can help users who use pop-up blockers.

Accessibility can seem like a huge effort to accommodate only a small number of people, but when you realize that many "accommodations" can actually benefit many people beyond the target audience, it begins to seem much more reasonable.

Welcome to Wireless Radio

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My mother lives in State College now, but missed listening to Baltimore news on the radio. Plus reception in the mountains has never been reliable (her house in NE Pa had cable decades before HBO because of reception.

She got something called a "wireless radio" which is a cool new technology, but not one which has yet crossed my Generation X radar. The "wireless" part refers to the fact that the radio can pull stations through an Internet connection, either wireless or Ethernet. We have a wireless network in the house through Verizon DSL, so we hoped it would work.

The interface for the set up was a little odd until I figured out that the "dial" is a device to scroll through menu selections, or the keyboard. Pressing the dial is like hitting the Return key. It's ironic because the Onion had a parody of the iPod "keyboard" which basically replicates the function of this dial. Who knew.

In any case, the radio first scans for the network. Press dial to enter network, then press to enter WEP. Then spin the dial to the write password characters (ASCII only, but it does distinguish upper and lower case). Then find the End key, then press enter, and you're in.

Now comes the fun part - selecting radio stations. You can choose by genre or location, and the list is huge. Genre's include standard music decades as well as Bollywood, Christian and many others (never got much past the C's). Locations are literally world wide including Armenia, Australia, Britain (hello BBC), the Czech Republic, the Middle East, Latin America and so on. Great for foreign language teaching. We were able to find the Baltimore stations under USA-W stations.

Connection times may vary with distance, but once you're there, the sound is fantastic. Even though it's a relatively small unit, it's almost like listening to NPR on my aunt's deluxe audio console. Sweet. The manual also says that it will also play songs for your Mac/PC's music library (if the files are in the right place and available for sharing). I'll have to experiment with that later.

The radio is from C Crane, and this model is under $200. It's really like having satellite radio without having to pay for extra subscription fees. Maybe it's good that wireless radio is still under the radar...

Ordered Lists and CSS - Are we losing semantics?

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I'm about to question a pearl of standards/accessibility conventional wisdom and ask if we need to rethink how ordered lists are coded in terms of CSS. That is, are we putting too much semantic information in the CSS?

The standard mantra for ordered list OL standards is to use stylesheets to change list numbering types as in the examples below. Another is to make sure that nested lists change numbering schemes between levels to mark a change in list level.

Numeric
list-style-type:upper-latin
Capital Alphabetical
list-style-type:upper-alpha
Lower Roman
list-style-type:lower-roman
  1. Item 1
  2. Item 2
  3. Item 3
  1. Item A
  2. Item B
  3. Item C
  1. Item i
  2. Item ii
  3. Item iii

This is a change from the old days when you would specify numbering schemes and start points with embedded attributes (e.g. <list type="A"> if you wanted capital letters).

From a processing level it makes sense because all ordered lists are numbered lists in disguise. And since modern screen readers appear to recognize the new styles, it appears that a major hurdle is cleared.

On the other hand, this means that all numbering scheme information is in a CSS? That's fine...unless a user chooses to ignore your stylesheet and use a custom style sheet. Then the potential is for a nested listed with distinct numbering levels to become an inaccessible nested list using the same numbering scheme at all levels. Hmmm.

Nested List with CSS Nested List, CSS Disabled
  1. Top Level Item 1
    1. Second Level 1
    2. Second Level 2
      1. Third Level 1
      2. Third Level 2
  2. Top Level Item 2
  3. Top Level Item 3
  1. Top Level Item 1
    1. Second Level 1
    2. Second Level 2
      1. Third Level 1
      2. Third Level 2
  2. Top Level Item 2
  3. Top Level Item 3

I'm not sure how serious a problem this is, but it is a possible gotcha. The line between "presentation" and "semantics" can be a little fuzzy at times. Of course, if I want my Hebrew numbered lists, I have to rely on the new styles.

Postscript (Feb 13)

This issue is being discussed on one of the language tech list, and someone else made the same objection (I'm glad it's not just me).

Collaborative Data Projects

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I ran into an interesting site on collaborative data collection at the The Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education.

The site is a series of data collection activities which students in a school can do such as timing and temperature for boiling water (varies w/ altitude), collecting and analyzing local water samples, etc. I like these because the activities are simple, but students participate in actual research because they can submit results to a global database.

It's also a good example of how we can use non-specialists to gather valuable scientific data. I know of programs where people report which bird visit their feeders (to Cornell) and local weather observations (to the local TV station). What can we do to harness this kind of interest so that more people can become "weather experts" (like one of our writers).

MathML Tutorial Posted

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I posted an MathML Tutorial in preparation for a talk Feb 5. You can also click "MathML" in the categories menu on the left to view all commentary on MathML (so far).

There are also some test pages available:

WebAIM Screen Reader Usage Survey

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The WebAIM organization recently published results of a screen reader usage survey with 1121 responses.

I do have a summary below, but I recommend reading the WebAim results since they have their own interpretations to add.

Platform/Browser

1. The survey confirms the generalization that almost all screen reader users (mostly visually impaired) are on the Windows platform. The two most popular screen reader packages are Jaws (74%) and Window-Eyes (23%).

2. As might be expected, most prefer Internet Explorer (only 2/3 have upgraded to IE 7), but many are also willing to use Firefox.

Navigation

1. About 3/4 of reader base used lists of header tags (e.g. Outline of H1,H2, etc) as a navigation device. Since header structure also improves search engine rankings, this is one of the most powerful tools in the Standards arsenal.


2. Users will look for a search function once they have skimmed the home page. Frighteningly, 61% just jump to the first form field and hope it's search. Site Maps are not widely used (although they are good for search engine rankings).

3. Skip links are used by a healthy percentage of the user base (38%), so may be worth implementing. When asked for a preference, most wanted "skip to content" instead of "skip navigation"

Which Technology is "Difficult"

  • Flash is considered "difficult" by 72% of respondants
  • Pop Up windows are "difficult" by 53% of respondants
  • PDF is labeled "difficult" by 48% of respondants
  • Frames are labeled "difficult" by only 27% of respondants

Labeling Images

1. Another surprise is that 59% do want "atmospheric" images described, but I suspect that context is important.

2. If a photo is of the "White House" it should be identified as "Photo of White House" (80%) instead of just "White House". Results are more mixed for logos.