Food Regimens

The Food Wheels

The FDA has unveiled a radical, new representation of what you should eat and drink.  They come in the form of two circles, meant to represent a plate of food and a glass of drink.  The website is USDA’s

Worth noting that this comes years after the United Kingdom’s National Health Service added its own “Eatwell plate” (NHS.UK: Eatwell plate).  Their plate is a little different, being that they eat different things.  They include their drinks on the plate, for example.

So the problem with the plate.  Biggest one is that judging how much of each category should be eaten isn’t easy.  At a glance it looks like you should eat equal portions of vegetables and grains, and equal portions of fruits and protein, with the fruit and protein categories being smaller than the vegetables and grain categories.

And you should drink some dairy, in an amount that looks to be smaller than the fruit/protein portions.

Thing is, the design is nice enough.  But you should eat several plates a day, and you should drink water too.  And a little alcohol is probably good for you, but not too much.

When you actually start to delve into diet, you start getting confused.

Take beans and peas.  According to the website (USDA’s Dry Beans and Peas in the Food Guide), they are unique foods that you can count as vegetables or protein, depending on how much vegetables or protein you eat.  If you eat a lot of one, they’re the other.

It’s some kind of Heisenbean Uncertainty Principle, though, because you could have beans with breakfast as a protein, but by lunch time they could have magically become vegetables.

While the nutritional information is useful, I can’t help but think that they should have spent the money on smartmobile apps whereby you take a picture of the thing you’re considering ingesting and upload it.  The app would then tell you if you should or shouldn’t ingest that.

For example, that old children’s song, Found a Peanut (Wikipedia: Found a Peanut) could have been avoided, not with the MyPlate or Eatwell Plate or Food Pyramid, but with  It could also prevent cannibalism.

Okay, so maybe that idea’s a dud.  But I think a better one would be to actually publish some examples of people with healthy diets.  The diets, not the people.  Because a lot of people just don’t know what constitutes a healthy, simple, low-cost meal.  So they resort to the convenient and available options, like the beeramid.


Discoverability in Software


One of the big challenges in writing usable software is making all of the features and options apparent to the user, particularly to the novice.

Menus do a good job, by being visible and readable (including by accessibility tools).  But keyboard shortcuts that are not menuized have poor discoverability, as do some mouse actions (gestures, uncommon or inconsistent button behavior).

For example, you’ve probably repeatedly clicked on a text field in software before and noticed portions of the entered content are selected.  It’s not obvious what happens if you aren’t paying close attention.

The general behavior here is that a single click moves the cursor while a double click will select some portion of the entered text.  The double click rules are basically:

  1. Select the word the cursor is over (if it is a word).
  2. Otherwise, select the surrounding word(s) (if over a space).

But there’s also the triple click here.  Triple clicking will select the entire paragraph.

How would you determine these behaviors, other than having been told or experimented?  Unlike a checkbox, which has some kind of indication that clicking it does something like erase or add a check to it, text gives no such indication.

There are regular threads across the internet where people discover that shift and middle click both have myriad uses in Firefox.  Having an about: URL that gave the full list might be useful, but even that wouldn’t be too discoverable.  And the sidekick of discoverability is remindability.  If the user reads a long list once, they won’t necessarily remember for the next time they could use that action.

Certain UNIX text editors have extensive tutorials to help people learn their commands and behavior.  And the evidence is compelling that once you learn them it makes you more productive.  But, learning them is still a fairly big hurdle, even with tutorials.  This is purely a discovery issue.

One of the best possible solutions I can imagine would be to create video games with the UI for these applications.  If you had to kill space aliens (no offense to any space aliens reading this) while playing a game version of vi, you would learn the commands much faster.  Same goes for killing zombie tabs and zombie bookmarks in Firefox.