Quick Introduction to the Viewer

The Quotidian Viewer (qviewer) is a computer program designed to help users visualize time and events. The timeline files that the QViewer displays are collections of events organized into categories.

The QViewer Window

The main area of the qviewer window provides a view onto an imaginary 3-D space. One of the three dimensions of the space represents time. The other two define a plane (the category plane) that is used to position and organize timelines. The events in timelines are objects in the 3-D space. Event boundaries are defined by their start and end times and by their location and size in the category plane. The view is generated from a viewpoint inside the 3-D space. This viewpoint has a location and direction of view in the space. The user explores the space by changing the location and view direction.

The user can scale the visible objects along the three dimensions. Scaling time allows very short and very long events to become visible. Scaling the category plane allows many timelines to be shown on the display and allows the user to explore timeline categories nested inside of other categories.

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looking down the time axis towards the future
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looking down the time axis towards the past
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left view
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right view

Events

All the visible and audible elements of timelines are defined as parts of events. All events have a start time and an end time. They may also have references to image and audio files, drawing color, material and transparency, label text and design, links, notes, and source citations. In their simplest form, events are displayed as open-ended boxes with text labels. Built-in and external extensions can be used to change the way events are drawn.

Each event is attached to at least one category.

Categories

Categories are rectangles in the category plane and serve to organize sets of events. Categories can be nested inside other categories. Categories are not visible themselves, but events attached to a category use the category's location and size for their non-time dimensions.

View Direction

The image in the window is rendered from a viewpoint facing in some direction in the 3-D space. The qviewer limits you to a choice of the four most useful directions. These are towards the past and future along the time axis and left and right down the x axis of the 3-D space. In the left view direction the future is towards the left side of the screen. In the right view direction the future is towards the right.

The view direction is indicated with the "compass rose" in the lower left of the display window. The arrow in the compass rose points towards the future. The view direction is changed by clicking with your mouse on one of the four sides of the compass. The new view direction is the one associated with that side. Commands to change the view direction are also attached to the main menu and to keyboard shortcuts.

Display Time

In the past and future view directions, the display time (the date and time in the datetime box at the top of the window) provides a surface that clips events that are closer to the viewpoint. No part of an event is drawn that corresponds to a time closer to the viewpoint than the display time. In the side directions (left and right) the display time is indicated by a thin vertical line at the center of the display area.

It is called display time to distinguish it from the on-going clock time measured by your machine's internal clock and by other clocks out in the world. The display time can be roughly synchronized with clock time using the set time to current time command . The reset command sets the display time to clock time and also resets other display values to their starting values.

The date and time in the datetime box is in the timezone that appears to the right of the box. This timezone is initialized from the local timezone set in your operating system. It is a button that, when pressed, presents a dialog box with choice for timezones and calendars.

The display time is changed by moving the viewpoint along the time axis or by typing another date and time directly into the datetime box. The date and time in the datetime box are shown with a precision determined by the time scale.

Movement and Scaling

Exploring events in the 3-D space requires some mechanism to move the viewpoint inside the space and to scale the three dimensions of the view. You can use the keyboard alone, a set of on-screen mouse sliders, or a gamepad or game controller. We describe the mouse sliders here. More information about other methods can be found in the help document inside the qviewer.

Movement of the viewpoint along the time axis changes the display time shown in a box at the top of the window. Movement in the x (left/right) and y (up/down) locations of the viewpoint changes numbers in the status bar at the bottom of the window. The scale values for the category plane and the time axis are also shown in the status bar.

Knowing the display time is often critical in using the qviewer, but the numbers in the status bar can almost always be ignored. They are useful in talking about the examples in this document because they give us a way to quantify how much to move or scale. If an example timeline is loaded into an empty qviewer, the window on your machine should look like the image in this document when the status bar numbers are the same. That said, it is much more important to get a "feel" for movement and scaling that will let you explore the imaginary space.

the mouse sliders
Moving the cursor to the red area hides the mouse sliders. Moving it to the green area shows the mouse sliders. (These areas are colored for the illustration and are invisible in the qviewer.)

Using the mouse to move the x/y location up and left (left) and to move display time towards the past (right).

Mouse Sliders

The three dimensions of the imaginary space mean that any movement can be separated into movements along three axes. Likewise, scaling actions can be separated into scaling of the three axes. The scaling of the category plane (the two non-time axes) are always linked together. This allows event objects to keep their proportions when scaled. Two axes of movement (left/right and up/down) are always tied together on the same control. Combining them in this way means that only four controls are needed.

The mouse sliders are a set of controls drawn on the display area that allow the user to change four aspects of display movement ( x/y scale, x and y movement, time scale, and time movement).

The mouse sliders appear when the user moves the mouse cursor to an area in the middle of the right edge of the display area. Moving the cursor to the left half of the display area hides the sliders. This allows a quick gesture to show or hide the controls.

The controls are used by "grabbing" and moving one of the central control targets (circle, triangle, square, or diamond.) Grab a control by using the mouse to point the on-screen cursor at the target shape and press down the mouse button. While continuing to hold down the mouse button, the target follows movement of the mouse. When the desired movement or scaling is complete, release the mouse button.

When the user grabs one of the targets with the mouse, the other three controls disappear. The time movement, time scale, and x/y scale controllers behave like sliders. Moving them up increases the value they control and moving them down decreases the value. The farther the target is moved, the faster the value changes. The x/y movement controller indicates the direction of movement. The distance from the center determines the speed of movement.

Selection

The user can select an event by pointing and clicking the mouse on the event's label or on its visual representation. If the selected event has a label, it is highlighted with a blue border.

Some qviewer commands need a selected event to operate:

  • The set time to start of selection command sets the display time to the start time of the selected event. If the display time is at the start of an event, the previous event in the same category is selected.
  • The set time to end of selection command sets the display time to the end time of the selected event. If the display time is at the end of an event, the next event in the same category is selected.
  • The show event info command creates a page with information about the selected event and sends it to your Web browser.
  • The bookmark selected event command allows you to set a bookmark at or near the selected event.

Links

Some event definitions include one or more URL of Web resources. (A URL, or Uniform Resource Locator, is the standard form of names used for addresses on the Web.) Selecting one of these events enables the current link command on the toolbar. A quick click on this button will activate the designated the select link. A slower click will pop up a menu containing a list with all the links. Double-clicking directly on the event or its label will also activate the select link.

An activated link may be handled directly by the qviewer when the link is to another event or to a timeline. Otherwise, the link is passed to the user's Web browser.

Tooltips

When the mouse pointer is left still for a while over an event or over one of the mouse slider controls, a label, or tooltip, is drawn on the screen near the mouse pointer. After a few seconds the tooltip is removed. This behavior can be turned off using the Options->Edit Preferences menu choice and setting the showEventTooltips or showMouseSliderTooltips to false.

Time Ruler

A time ruler is drawn along the time axis in the display area. The ruler recedes in perspective in the future and past view directions. It is not a real timeline object, but like one it is clipped by the near surface of the display time.

The ruler is drawn along the bottom front of the display in the left and right view directions.

The alternating color and clear marks on the ruler represent the interval whose name is in the bottom right corner of the qviewer window. The size of the marks changes as the time scale is changed. When the marks become too long or too short they automatically change to a shorter or longer duration. The color and name of the time scale reflect this change.

Data Hiding

Data hiding is an important aspect of the qviewer. The qviewer allows a vast number of categories and events to be resident in the 3-D space. Hiding refers to a set of related strategies to reduce the visual and audible clutter this can cause.

Events can gradually fade away when they are scaled too large or too small, when their categories are moved off the edge of the display, or when they are too far away from the display time. Most of the strategies are automatic and cannot be controlled directly by users. Instead, they are invoked by normal movement and scaling actions. Authors of timelines can tailor the strategies to fit their data and its presentation.

One aspect of data hiding under the direct control of the user is level of detail. This is a number in the small box at the top left of the window. Its original purpose was to allow the user to manually control how much detail was displayed in timelines. It has become a more general tool to allow the user to request different sets of events at different levels.

Not all timelines use levels of detail. If they are used, it is up to the author of the timeline to communicate the meaning of the levels.

Loading Timelines

There are a number of ways that timeline files are loaded into the qviewer. Loading a timeline does not replace those already loaded.

  • The installer program instructs your operating system to associate timeline files with the qviewer program. Simply double-clicking on a timeline file in a file listing window (Finder on the Mac, Window Explorer on Windows, File Browser on Linux) will start the qviewer if it is not already running and load the timeline file.
  • The icon in a file listing window can be dragged and dropped on the desktop icon representing the qviewer or on the display area of a running qviewer.
  • Activating a link to a timeline in a Web page will cause a qviewer to be started and a timeline loaded. (The examples section of this page contains links to the example timelines.)
  • Activating links from timeline events can cause new timeline files to be loaded.
  • The open command on the menu can be used to select and load a timeline file from your hard disk.
  • The open URL command on the menu can load a timeline file using the URL of a local or remote timeline.

Other commands and features of the qviewer

There are many other useful commands available on the qviewer's toolbar and menu. To find out what they are and how they work you should read the qviewer documentation by choosing Help->Contents... from the qviewer's menu.


Using the Quotidian Viewer with your Web Browser

Loading timelines from a Web page

The qviewer acts as a "helper application" for links to timelines embedded in Web pages. When activated, such links will start the qviewer (if it is not already running), and pass the link to the qviewer. The qviewer loads and displays the linked timeline file. This document is an example of a Web page that links to timelines.

Browsers need to be told to use the Quotidian Viewer as the helper application for links that use the quotid protocol. The installer program does this for all browsers on Windows and Macintosh and for the Firefox browser on Linux.

Loading Web pages from a timeline

Double-clicking on an event with an associated link or using the current link command on the menu or toolbar may cause the URL for a link to be sent to your Web browser. This allows a timelines to act as a time-based index for information on your machine or on the Web. Many of the example timelines contain links to Wikipedia entries or other places on the Web.


The Quotidian Editor

This is the first release of the Quotidian Viewer. We hope that people will find it useful and that someday there will be many timeline files of all kinds scattered across the Web. To encourage people to create their own timelines, Quotidian Incorporated sells an specialized editor. This is available on our We site.

If you do not have a particular timeline project in mind, a useful first timeline is a personal one. This might be very simple and define a single category and a single event starting at your date of birth. The ending time should be set to "alive". This category can be enhanced with the important periods and events in your life. It can be expanded with categories and events for children, parents, and grandparents.

Because the Quotidian Viewer can display many timelines simultaneously, having a personal timeline can provide a useful measure when viewing events in historical and geological time.

For much more information about the editor, start the editor application and select the Help->Contents... menu choice.

© 2011 Quotidian Incorporated