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Two-Fisted Computing 236

whiterat writes "3Dconnexion is selling a variety of input devices that provide a left-hand complement to the traditional computer mouse. The devices control the position of on-screen objects in design programs such as Adobe Systems' Photoshop and its 3D modeling application, Maya. That enables designers to work without constantly togging between 'view' and 'create' modes." Smash TV veterans need no extra training.
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Two-Fisted Computing

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  • Re:Adobe Maya? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ChrisMG999 ( 308536 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @12:06AM (#8687048)
    No, but SGI does.
  • by morcheeba ( 260908 ) * on Saturday March 27, 2004 @12:11AM (#8687080) Journal
    It's a miniture spaceball with a six degree-of-freedom knob and 8 programmable buttons. website [] picture [] and pdf [].

    Looks nice, but the buttons are placed around the rim and look like they'd be easy to confuse because they're identical.

    (sorry for using the words spaceball, knob, and rim in this post)
  • Robotron 2048 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @12:12AM (#8687085) Homepage

    I think Robotron 2048 had the double-joystick controls long before Smash TV came around...

  • by KrispyKringle ( 672903 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @12:17AM (#8687104)
    Maya isn't CAD, just so you know. CAD is more for engineers; Maya is for design in the sense of cool-looking things (as opposed to architectural diagrams--NB being that I've never actually done CAD, but I do know Maya).

    The deal with Maya is that to easily create in 3d, you actually work in a 3d environment. Navigation, just as in a video game, is done with one hand on the mouse and one on the keyboard. The keyboard hand is used to select tools, etc, and to choose what mode the mouse input goes in. The mouse is used to rotate, scale, and pan the object in front of the camera (or the camera around the object, depending on your philosophy). For example, holding CTRL while using the left mouse button rotates (if I remember right--I really can't tell offhand without actually doing it).

    So because input is so odd in such a program, I can imagine many ways to do it differently (unlike, say, typing, in which there really is only one obvious paradigm--one key per letter). I don't know specifically how they implement this, and I do personally feel relatively comfortable with the current setup, but it could be neat.

    On a tangent, though, I think personally the big issue with working in 3d is not input per se, but the fact that the input and display are both two dimensional, despite the goal being to create something three dimensional. So for example, how two dimensional movements on a mousepad translate into three dimensional rotation can be kinda hard to get used to, and quite hard to be precise with. Also, I occasionally found myself, when I was first learning Maya, trying to move my head to look around the edges of an object (quite silly, I know). So the limitations of a two dimensional screen are also clear.

  • price (Score:3, Informative)

    by morcheeba ( 260908 ) * on Saturday March 27, 2004 @12:19AM (#8687117) Journal
    it's also $599 on their net store!! (most of their other controllers are $499 except for the low-cost $399 and the $299 keyboard version)
  • Re:Err... (Score:3, Informative)

    by MyHair ( 589485 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @12:25AM (#8687154) Journal
    What I wish is that there was a one-handed keyboard so I could type with one hand and mouse with the other.

    I'm sorry, you must release your 557057 user ID and go to the back of the line. :-)

    There are Dvorak one-handed keyboard layouts for your system, whatever it is. In Windows you can change to it in the control panel; In X I know it can be done but don't know how offhand. Several Slashdotters use this scheme, and at least one will probably beat me to a reply since I'm using the old slow QWERTY layout.

    I suspect there are free Dvorak typing tutors out there, but I'm not sure about that.

    And if you're really geeky, there are several projects that attempt to let you type with the mouse, and many more for typing with a stylus. (Gestures, vectors, special keypads, etc..)

    I'm too lazy to use Google and give you links right now, so I leave that as an exercise for you.
  • Re:Adobe Maya? (Score:3, Informative)

    by GoofyBoy ( 44399 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @12:33AM (#8687195) Journal
    Actually, its Alias Wavefront which owns Maya and SGI owns Alias.
  • Re:Err... (Score:2, Informative)

    by kistral ( 757265 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @12:34AM (#8687197) Homepage
    Oh, but there are several one []-handed [] keyboards [].
  • That was the plan (Score:5, Informative)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @12:36AM (#8687202) Homepage
    The original creator of the mouse, Douglas Engelbart, always assumed you would use a one-handed "chord" keyboard with one hand, and use the mouse with the other hand. From what I have heard, if you invested the time to learn this, you could really rock. []

  • Re:Err... (Score:3, Informative)

    by dutchdabomb ( 248104 ) * on Saturday March 27, 2004 @12:39AM (#8687220)
    You could always get a Twiddler [], one of these one-handed keyboards [], or one of these [].
  • Re:Adobe Maya? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Brendor ( 208073 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [e.nadnerb]> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @01:02AM (#8687303) Journal
    No, but Maya is a plug-in for Photoshop and I think that was the context within which that statement was made.

    Aah, no.

    Maya [] is a high end 3d design and rendering tool used primarily in TV/ feature film and video-game production. The main relation it has to Photoshop [] is that you can paint textures for objects using photoshop.

    As for the article, this seems mildly redundant at best and useless a worst. Graphic Design is my living (not exactly by choice . . ), and despite the spin in the article, my left hand is often as useful or more so than my moue hand. I taught myself photoshop 3 and have been getting more efficient at using it since then.

    To get the most out of its tools, access to the shift and alt(option) keys is nessecary (subtracting from a selection for example). Holding down the spacebar completely eliminates the need to use the scroll windows at all. Learning keyboard shortcuts eliminates the need for most menu operations in a session, not to mention being that "cmd(ctrl) L" is much more effecient than menu selecting "Image>Adjustments>Levels."

    I'm sure this device is useful for CAD, but the description doesn't sound like it is easier than pressing the space bar in photoshop or the option key to navigate Maya.

  • by K8Fan ( 37875 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @01:02AM (#8687305) Journal

    The TDI Explore system (the 3D software that was purchased by Wavefront, merged with Alias and became Maya) was based on the SGI "knob box".

    This was a set of 8 rotary encoders, and virtually every function used the knobs. For instance, X and Y movement would be handled by the mouse, and Z with a knob. Z, Y and Z scaling would be three more knobs. Z, Y and Z rotation would be another three.

    The knob functions would change based on what object you were manipulating. So the camera would have "Field of View" as one knob, and while the mouse handled U and V translation around the target, a knob would handle "trucking" (movement towards the target).

    This was everywhere in the program, and I found it to be the fastest 3D interface I've ever worked in. The whole idea of "one hand on the mouse, one on the keyboard" is actually a canard - most people actually type with both hands, and have to bring their main hand into play to type anything of any length.

    Of course the system had keyboard shortcuts. But most keyboard shortcuts are used to switch the mouse's functions. With the knob box, we had 8 adjustable parameters, plus the mouse. There are few items on a 3D world that have more than 8 parameters to change at a time.

    I miss it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @01:04AM (#8687315)
    You mean this thing []? Yep, the "Microsoft Strategic Commander."
  • by mistermund ( 605799 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @01:06AM (#8687322)
    I've got a Powermate [] right here, and though it's a very cool and quite useful gadget, the SpaceTraveler seems to be in a different league.

    I think it's a spinoff of the old SGI SpaceBall [] pointer devices, which allowed for multiple axis input - you can push, pull, and move it left and right. The powermate just turns left and right on a vertical axis and can be pressed as a button. Looking further at their other products [], the SpaceBall 5000 [] looks a lot like the old SGI unit. The SpaceTraveler's just a smaller portable version.

    Of course, they don't seem to mention how many axes of input the thing provides on the website, so I dunno.
  • by nexex ( 256614 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @01:19AM (#8687355) Homepage
    its nice being left handed when your right arm/hand gets tired...every once in a while i will just swing my chair over and use my left hand on the mouse. I agree that lefties can 'fake' ambidexterity pretty easily (think driving, scissors, pdas, books, video game controllers, eating with manners, etc.
  • by ControversialPosting ( 765859 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @01:50AM (#8687473)
    (From this month's Game Developer Magazine []), by sean wagstaff

    "If you work in 3D, navigation in space probably occupies far more of your day than you realize. But just as a painter doesn't give much thought to how he positions his brush on the canvas, experienced 3D artists don't really think about moving around in three-dimensional space. Unless you're using an unfamiliar application, say, switching from Maya to 3DS Max, navigation is simply an integral part of what you do and there's not much room for improvement. Or is there?

    The $599 Space Traveler, which looks like a volume control knowb (complete with a purple LED accent on the buttons around it's rim) is designed to make 3D operations faster and more intuitive.

    Using the Space Traveler is almost immediately familiiar. You plug it into your USB port and install the driver software (plug-ins are provided for Maya and Max, and built into MotionBuilder, Cinema 4D, and BodyPaint 3D, but the controller doesn't work with every 3D tool). To use it, you simply push, pull, tilt, and tist the single contol knob. Your finger movements translate directly into 3D space- x,y, and z rotation and translation, often referred to as six degrees of freedom - in your application. Lift th knob and you move up in y, push it forward and you move forward in z. Twist the knob and you'll rotate in y; tilt it, and you'll pitch forward or back, left or right. The tricky part is learning not to traslate on z when you pitch on x, and not to translate on y when you actually mean to roll on z (a temporary filter can be turned on that blocks non-dominant movements). But with a few minutes worth of practice to get a feel for it, the Space Traveler becomes very natural to use, although it is quite sensitive to even fine movement. However, you'll soon find yourself tumbling a scene around as easily as you would with your standard keyboard and moust combinations, and rotating a camera is certainly more intuitive than, say SHFT-CTRL-ALT-middle-mouse dragging.

    Which brings us to the most obvious question about this device: who needs it? If you're already comfortable working in a 3d application, and navigation with the standard key commands and mouse actions has become second nature, why bother with yet another input device? In my experience, many 3D operations, such as architectural modeling, dynamics, and texture manipulations, simply require too much keyboard input to benefit from the Space Traveler at all. I need my hands on the keyboard, and mouse, and instant access to pop-ups and marking menus provided by my right hand mouse button, which just doesn't leave enough hands for a third input device.

    On the other hand (literally) when it comes to operations that require one-handed navigation, the SpaceTraveler is a terrific idea. For example, when sculpting an organic model or painting textures on surfaces with a Wacom tablet, you can rotate and tumble the model with one hand, while painting with the other. While doing character animation, the SpaceTraveler can be used as a low-speed motion capture input device that lets you use gestures, rather than explicit rotations, to move a joint, although you'll have to set up your characters to work with this input. The device's eight buttons can be mapped to common keyboard shortcuts, and the defaults for Maya activate the Hot Box, translate, rotate, and scale commands. However, the buttons are too small with terrible ergonomics, and I still need to use the keyboard for other commands, such as the marking menus.

    The SpaceTraveler, as the name implies, is small and portable. Although on-the-road walkthroughs of real-time-3D scenes seem unlikely, I found the SpaceTraveler useful as an accessory to a high-end 3D laptop for bringing work home. My Compaq runs all my 3D applications, but the built-in trackpad is all but useless for 3D navigation, and the keyboard is cramped, with a non-standard layout, which also makes navigation clumsy. The SpaceTraveler really i
  • by PotatoHead ( 12771 ) * <doug AT opengeek DOT org> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:03AM (#8687512) Homepage Journal
    the little knob with the fancy brushed metal look and blue LED's is cool and small, but really it's just a


    They have been around for a long time. CAD programs such as, Pro/e, I-deas, Solid Edge, Maya, Alias Studio Tools and others all have support for these devices, though Maya only recently joined that group for some reason.

    The primary advantage is being able to very quickly establish a particular point of view for working on the model. A secondary one is to be able to dynamically change that point of view without having to leave the command you are in, or divert your mental attenion away from the task at hand.

    Most other input schemes involving the keyboard and mouse cause you to give up your current state only to rotate or scale the model then re-establish said state. With one of these it is possible to be picking on things, making decisions, assembling parts all while moving (or flying as I see it) around the model space.

    They also save considerable time over traditional nav tools, even if they are well developed and mature tools. Most nav tools have the hardest time helping the user deal with large changes in scale or orientation. Often the best comprimise is to use stored views in lieu of many repetitive command, mouse drag, command mouse drag sequences.

    These devices allow motion in all 6 degrees of freedom without any context changes. A simple pull of the knob upward maintained for a half-second or so, combined with a slow twist throughout can perform the same function as zoom all, pan, zoom window or area, and rotate commands do.

    (Picture looking at one small part of a 1000 part assembly knowing the next item of interest lies behind you and to the left. If you were to just 'move' there that is what these little devices do. Using the keyboard and mouse is like telling somebody else where the item is and how you would like to get there. --For what that is worth!)

    They tend to be costly little buggers though.

    It takes about 2 hours to bond with the device. After that, you will either love it, or hate it. A lot of this depends on the tool at hand as well. Some CAD tools have pretty good nav tools, so you don't have as much pain dealing with them. Others basically demand a controller like this (hey Unigraphics!) to get work done in a reasonable manner.

    This new little toy has 5 or 6 little buttons around the edge that can be programed for different tasks. The device communicates via USB. Most programs need a driver of sorts, though they can be downloaded for free from the website. Some packages have the support built-in. (I-deas, Unigraphics, Pro/e, Alias Studio, others...)

    If you have large hands, this particular model will annoy you because it is little. Get one of the older devices that looks more like a hockey puck attached to a little stand. --Easier to manupulate, cheaper, and works exactly the same way.

    Personally, I really like these things. Having used a number of CAD programs over the years, I can say they make a big difference. Traditional MCAD programs benefit most from the device when users are performing assembly and modeling, though to a lesser degree for the latter.

    They are almost useless for 2D tasks because very few drafting / detailing programs actually make use of the device. For those that do, being able to pan and zoom while picking is nice, but often not much of a help over traditional view manupulation tools.

    You can also do bizzarre things with it as well. Doing fly-through animations manually, just by flying around the model is pretty cool. It's easy to whip one of these out compared to keyframing all the different camera locations, or setting up many different views in an MCAD package.

    If you are lucky enough to have a workstation configured with the 3D glasses and higher end MCAD software, you will find visualization tasks are excellent using one of these, but the 3D will give you a headache after about 30 minutes.

    Anyway, cool stuff that I am happy to see on /. but clearly old news.
  • of the 2d screen because they allow you to associate 3d motion to actual 3d motion with your hand.

    Pulling very lightly upward on one of these will slowly move you toward the model. A sharp tug followed by a slow release rips you toward the model with a nice slowdown just at the end, etc...

    You will find using one of these handy when doing things like shaping surfaces. You can select a group of control points then use the mouse to manupulate them while also roving around the model to see it from different angles.

    Think sculpting with one eye closed and the model in your hand.
  • Re:My idea.. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:46AM (#8687627)
    Windows supports multiple mice (plug in as many as you want) and multiple mouse cursors using CPN Mouse. []
  • by KrispyKringle ( 672903 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:19AM (#8687735)
    I think this sort of thing is probably pretty rare among slashdotters. It's got a really steep learning curve (but then, so does coding and Linux), is taught fewer places, is done less in industry, and so forth.

    Yes, Maya is used in a number of high end 3d design shops, including many, if not all, that make 3d animated movies and special effects (think Shrek, etc). Renderman is a rendering plugin that allows for better looking renders. I've used it, and it does indeed look better, but I'm not expert enough to tell you what the algorithmic difference is. I believe Renderman was developed at Pixar, as a point of trivia.

    Maya itself, after a recent price cut, still runs in the thousands of dollars, depending upon which version you get, but there was and may still be a Personal Learning Edition for free on Alias|Wavefront's site. It can't save as files that can be read by the real version, and its renders are watermarked right across the center, but I would suggest you check it out if you're interested. And then there's the open-source Blender, which I just started messing with. It seems pretty good, especially for the price.

    Yeah, you are also right that Maya is a lot like 3DSMax or Lightwave (neither of which I've used, as a matter of fact), but it is indeed supposed to be better. I don't know a huge amount about 3d modelling, but I like to think I'm not that bad at Maya. So, you know, maybe an expert here can chip in.

  • by Boglin ( 517490 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @10:08AM (#8688633) Journal
    Just to clear up about the Renderman, it's not just a plugin for Maya. Rather, it's a protocol for rendering engines. Now, Pixar's Photo Realistic Renderman [] program is probably the best/most famous implementation, but there are others, such as 3Delight [] and the late Blue Moon Rendering Tools.

    It produces better looking renders for a couple of reasons. First, they support just about every rendering gizmo under the sun (ie it was designed from the beginning with support for motion blur). Next, the textures and lighting are handled by an extremely scriptable shading engine (actually, scripting may not even be the right word here since you actually compile your shaders). Finally, since it is scriptable, it seems like a lot of academics in the graphics section of computer science use Renderman as the test bed for their ideas, resulting in Renderman usually being the first place to pull off a new technique (ie subsurface scattering).

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb