maybe it's a bit bold to request enhancements for a tool "just to play with". But I think if it is fun - or even more fun to play with it that will help to keep people busy playing around with it. And I think that's what the zoo sites are all about: get people to play with things that produce valuable results as a side effect.
First of all I like the simulations and the speed of it... and I suppose there is a good deal of math and some abstract theory going on behind the scenes.
But I must admit - I am not that happy with the user interface.
My points are (no insult intended - I am just talking frankly what came to my mind because silence doesn't change a thing. If anybody might feel bothered, please just ignore my words. There is no need to argue or justify anything. I didn't pay for it, so I have no right to expect anything):
* main screen
- its appearance is... well... ugly (sorry). Just because it's an applet it doesn't have to look like _that_. Maybe I am wrong and people feel enthusiatic about it but my first thought was: "Uh that looks like DOS on graphics". I think a little brushup would make it more appealing.
- I like that I can customize some preferences... may be you can find a way to save those (cookie? If I got it right your applet requests extended access rights - so maybe you may even save some preferences into user space). Readjusting anything each time I am coming back is tiresome.
- I like to play around with the tool and help science a little by the way. But please just come up with a solution for all those runs that in fact do nothing. I read about the problems with pattern matching or feature extraction. Pattern matching surely isn't the way to go - that's obvious. But ey - you are in control of the simulation. You should be able to TELL if something is going on or not. I am no physicist so I can easily chatter about it. But I am sure there are signs that are telling you that some sort of interaction happens or has happened (tidal forces, diverting movements, sudden changes of some kind... I bet you CAN imagine some telltaling signs). It's nice to see things happen. It's boring to waive screen after screen of simulations falling short.
- I read about genetic approaches and their failure. But I would like to have a possibility to pick one simulation and have some variations running based on the parameter set for that one. No genetic approaches. Just a more constrained parameter space to produce more interesting hits...
* Enhancement screen
- what's the reason for the 2D-crossbar field? I dare say: none. Remove it and have it replaced by two independent slider for each parameter axis. Or at least: let the user decide via preference what he/she prefers. Just because I want to adjust the mass of one galaxy I might not want to adjust the mass of the other. It is near to impossible in the current interface to change one axis while leaving the other untouched. With two independend slider I feel more in control.
- Some parameter have a tremendous impact so they don't map well with the current slider space. I would welcome a third slider for those parameter: slider one: speed galaxy 1, slider two: speed galaxy 2, slider three: measure scale. So I could use the broad end of the range to explore the parameter space and turn to fine tuning when I encounter something interesting. So changing the measure scale would not change the current selected parameter but the change per pixel when moving the parameter slider again. But I see that this will require some in depth thinking about the user interface.
- I like the cross that indicates the "old" value. Unfortunately most of the time when I move the cross back to the "old" position because I made things worse I do not get the old result anymore (and I am sure that I move the cross exactly to the position indicated by the "old" cross). Please have some kind of "undo"-button to undo unwanted changes and make sure that the changes are undone.
- so there is something going on and it looks like... and then the simulation stops because the preallocated time is exceeded. I want to be able to extend the time the simulation is running. Some of the tails I played with seem to need more than one pass by to get close to the expected result. But most of the time the simulation frame is way too short and does not allow for some extra movement. Well but that's about the science inside the box. Maybe this request is not valid - I just don't know enough about it. Anyway it would be nice to see the simulation going on (on user request) even if the scientific result is neglectable after the first two seconds [I admit: that's one of the "hey I want to play" arguments].
- When I am confident I press "save" (didn't happen often) and then I "stop" and then...? Somehow it is not very satisfying to know that things go somewhere without leaving a trace. It would be very nice to have the enhanced and "saved" sims listed somewhere so that I could come back and play a little more with them or even show some friends...
So that's all for now. I hope I didn't annoy anybody - these are just some thoughts where I think things could be enhanced a little. It's fun to play with the mergers tool... but I think we can do better.
Cheers and keep up with your good work!