Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tokyo at Night

Back in the 1980s, automakers started to get inventive with dashboard design. The traditional American dash, with its large speedometer front-illuminated by white lights, fell out of fashion as European imports appeared with ergonomic layout and lighting schemes such as backlit orange numerals that didn't damage the driver's night vision. Released from the fetters of convention, and with new materials such as LCDs at their disposal, dashboards underwent a dramatic transformation. In many cases, for the worse, as dials were replaced by bright moving bars. The automotive press derided these as looking like Tokyo at night.

Here we are in the new millennium, sitting in front of computers that have evolved from the monochrome screens of the “dumb terminal” era, through colored text displays, to graphical interfaces that can display millions of colors. And UI designers great and small, released from the fetters of convention, have responded by making use of color: ls --color

Does anyone find that distracting? I have no clue what half the colors mean, and that dark blue just seems to disappear into the background. One of my first tasks when moving to a new environment is unalias ls.

Text editors are equally garish. Out of the box, Eclipse uses a mixture of strident color and boldfaced fonts: Eclipse default color scheme

Boldface text is meant to attract attention. When it's used for a method signature, or a Java keyword, it takes your attention away what's actually happening in the code. Fortunately, we can correct this: My Eclipse color scheme

Yep, it's boring: almost everything has the same tonal values. In fact, it took me several tries before I found a file that showed more than two colors. Java keywords are just text; I don't care about them, so don't do anything to highlight them. Function calls are important, so get highlighted, but not too much. Literal text is important and probably shouldn't exist, so it's highlighted with a shade of red (see if you can find the empty string). And I want to avoid auto-boxing, so it gets highlighted in bright red. At the other extreme, HTML markup within doc-comments almost disappears: I like the “computer text” in JavaDoc, but when I'm in the editor I don't want to see it.

Am I the only person to feel this way?

1 comment:

eric said...

Maybe not the only person who feels this way, but I'm guessing you're in the minority. It was a huge day when my company finally got a unix box whose ls supported --color.