Asteroid Zoo Talk

Some interface suggestions!

  • Mythricia by Mythricia

    Hello there, just thought I'd share some suggestions for how the detection interface works, based on quite a lot of hours of using it on and off this year.

    Now, as always, these are suggestions and my personal opinions, and should be taken as such, but I've worked with similar things in the past and have some experience with figuring out user friendliness as well as knowing a few things about visual perception!

    So here's the main thing that bugs me at the moment; the slideshow is just too dang slow! Blinking through image sets is a fairly old (and effective) technique used by amateur astronomers (as well as professional) to detect a number of things, including asteroids or other moving objects or changing features in images. Some software suites offer this functionality as well, for that reason... But they either play back the image sequences much faster, or they allow you to actually select the speed yourself. Again - for very good reasons!

    When you watch an image series like this and you're looking for an asteroid - you're really not looking for a specific object to move, or a specific pixel to change location. You're relying on your built-in senses and visual system, it's really rather good at detecting rapid changes in an image. It is, however, quite bad at detecting slow changes in an image.

    Low framerate video is hard to watch, you lose sense of what's going on, and it causes eye strain. High framerate is more visually appealing, you glean more information from it, and it's much easier on the eyes. Granted, the slideshow we watch when hunting for asteroids is not a "video" - but can be treated the same.

    Either the default slideshow speed should be much faster, or there should be a way to select your own speed (doesn't have to be as scientific as allowing you to enter the inter-frame delay in milliseconds, although that certainly would be nice too).

    To this end, I actually created my own macros to perform this function - thanks to the fact the 1-2-3-4 keys allow you to select images, and thanks to the fact there seems to be virtually no delay in the switch once all the images are fully loaded, it's easy to do this kind of script. You can use something like AutoHotKey, if you're on windows you can create some simple VB scripts, and so on.

    I went with a slightly different solution - my keyboard has macro recording and editing capabilities, so I created a couple of different macros.

    1. Fast flip

    This macro simply presses the keys 1-2-3-4, with a 40 millisecond delay between each frame. It loops as long as I keep a set button pressed - allowing me to quickly "play" the sequence, and simply release the key when I want to stop. It turned out to be really super handy - a 40ms delay is somewhat short (works out to be 25 frames per second), but it worked well for some image sets for me. But, it really comes into its own when you combine it with two other scripts I made, see below.

    1. Slow flip

    This is identical to the above, but it's half as fast - the delay between each frame is 80 milliseconds, and I end up using this one to initially scan image sets (load the image set, hold down my "slow flip" macro key, and scan the set). Having these two distinctly different speeds available at my fingertips turns out to be really powerful. I can scan image sets much faster, and with higher confidence, than by trying to manually mash 1-2-3-4 in a consistent fashion, or rapidly scrubbing the frames with the mouse (which never looks consistent).

    1. Back-and-forth flip

    This is a twist on the other macros - this macro starts at frame 1, flips its way to frame 4, and then flips backwards towards 1 again. So the sequence becomes 1-2-3-4-3-2-1. This is actually rather useful and I use it often, again bound to its own key. The reason it's handy is due to the way the scene moves in most image sets - the scene movement (as well as the asteroids if there are any) is usually linear - it progressively moves in roughly 1 direction throughout the image set. Thus, if you loop through the sequence by going 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, you get a jarring "skip" every time you start back at frame 1. This isn't always a problem, and sometimes it helps you see things, but having this "back and forth" flip is really cool, since when you use it, you never get the jarring skip. You just move back and forth like a newton's cradle. This can help pick out faint features and objects, since they don't "skip" out of view. Especially if objects are moving fast, you don't have to try track back to the start of the trail every loop, you can just kinda follow it smoothly back and forth repeatedly until you're satisfied with your observation.

    An additional benefit to this is when you're faced with noisy image sets (which is a big fraction of the sets we look at). The fast cycling images actually work to artificially de-noise the image. This works due to the way our visual perception filters out randomized noise, which is literally what the shot noise in the images is, it's random. So when you cycle through a noisy image set at high framerates, you essentially aid your vision in ignoring the image noise and it makes the actual real objects stand out markedly from the background. Here's a quick illustration of it to prove my point (using a randomly picked image set from this site, as illustration):

    Noisy set, slow

    There's the noisy image set, played back at the normal "Play" speed currently offered by the interface. The red circle indicates a cluster of faint stars that is visible in the image set. Watch closely. You can maybe see the faint stars and tell them apart from the background.

    Noisey set, fast

    There, on the other hand, is a high-framerate version of the image set. I have made 0 modifications to the images themselves, they simply cycle faster. Notice how obvious the background stars are in this animation compared to the previous? That's the power of higher framerate, our vision naturally filters out randomized noise components of the animation, due it its rapid change. Scientifically speaking, high frequency content at a high rate of change, become almost invisible to us. Where as static, persistent content, averages together and becomes more evident. And due to the fact that asteroids don't move randomly, they move in a linear constant fashion, they don't become filtered very easily by our vision when we do this. Neat!

    These three macros have become pretty much the only way I will use Asteroid Zoo, without them, it feels too inconvenient and my confidence in my observation and my ability to actually catch objects is lower. I simply press the key for the desired "slideshow" speed, hold it down for as long as I need, and once I let go, it stops dead, and I can use any of the other tools available like normal. No running scripts off the desktop or having to alt-tab to some third party program or anything.

    Now, that's me, and I'm a nerdy enthusiast, so I have a keyboard with complex macro capabilities and I ain't afraid to use it. That's not everyone! And even though not everyone is savvy and wants these kinds of macros, that doesn't mean they wouldn't appreciate the effects.

    So my suggestion is to either add keyboard shortcuts that do something similar to this (although I read some people can't use keyboard shortcuts in their browsers, which is ludacris, but either way...), as well as actual buttons on the interface (next to or near the Play button probably) that you simply hold down to execute scripts similar to these.

    I think a lot of users would find this useful. And hey, it's optional, and doesn't affect anything other than stopping people from developing repetitive stress injuries from mashing 1-2-3-4 with their fingers or rapidly dragging the mouse back and forth. And this is not a joking concern mind you - RSI is a real thing, I've spent months in my life unable to work properly with a mouse and keyboard due to having done some unfortunate RSI-inducing tasks for too long. Ended up with a bracing glove on both hands for over two months before I could do things normally again. By promoting spamming 1-2-3-4 for long periods of time (let's face it, there are some dedicated Asteroid hunters around here), you're risking causing some actual real problems for people. RSI is not to be messed with, and can cause serious long-term problems.

    On the other hand, so to speak, resting your hand on the keyboard and simply holding down A, S, or D depending on what speed of slideshow you desire, is much less stressful and reduces the amount of keypresses per image set to probably a few dozen at most, compared to maybe hundreds of keypresses needed to mash 1-2-3-4 with your fingers whilst trying to spot some 'roids. Or, if people preferred, just mouse-over and hold down a button on the UI that lets them perform the same actions.

    As I said before, just my opinions, but I have reason to believe my opinions are not entirely crazy, so there you go. We need some fast-flip macros available to people who aren't savvy enough to set up keyboard macros or use 3rd party software. Most people probably don't even think of the possibility in the first place. But if there were some buttons in the UI, some simple "fast forward" graphics should indicate their use, then I think a lot of people would love them. Just some click-and-hold-able buttons would do the job I'm sure.

    [∞]    - back and forth button, some low-ish delay (I found fast speeds with the back-and-forth to *not* work well)
    [>>]   - medium cycle speed, 80ms delay inter-frame delay (my completely arbitrary personal preference)
    [>>>]  - fast cycle speed, say for example 40ms inter-frame delay

    Keyboard shortcuts would be a bonus.

    // Steps off of soap box


  • nicro46 by nicro46

    I agree with your premise, improved image management would be desirable. On the other patre I do not want to change the keyboard or write scripts dedicated (I would not be able) and I find that still using the maximum magnification of the image on the screen, the "invert", and the mouse moved forward / backward or more less quickly depending on the case, I can achieve the same results. I can say this having to now viewed more than 20,000 images. The crucial question is: how long will it take to load and view a single picture? Discarding primarily the (many) bad image sets, with a little experience you can check whether or not there are asteroids in a set after a few seconds.
    If you also think that we wait for the results of our work for over a year ...


  • Mythricia by Mythricia

    The suggested features would be optional though, that is the point. There's literally nothing removed or changed from the current function of the interface; only features added for those who want to use it. If you don't, then don't!

    The entire reason for these features would be so that people don't have to write scripts or buy a keyboard with macros. That's why I'm suggesting the features in the first place.


  • nicro46 by nicro46 in response to Mythricia's comment.

    t goes without saying that your suggestions would be very useful, if only there was the possibility that someone could implement them : that's the point !
    l 'impression most common lately is that this project was unfortunately a little abandoned


  • djsimister by djsimister in response to Mythricia's comment.

    I think these additional features of yours would be an excellent improvement. probably would take this project to another level whilst also making it a much more positive and exciting experience for participants. However nicro46 is spot on about abandonment, and this neglect has unfortunately been very hard on all it's dedicated supporters & proactive users. Let's hope all this good stuff you've kindly shared is at least acknowledged and given a look in as a possible way to perhaps raise the phoenix.

    thanks for sharing :~}