Using the Site

Most readers see the site as a fun distraction, but nearly a third use it as inspiration for their design or sci-fi work. Around 16% just love getting more into the sci-fi they love. Fist bumps, fanpeeps.

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Alerts

Seems like half of you subscribe by RSS, 16% by Facebook and 16% by tweet. The RSS news came as lots of added answers, so is that choppy chunk on top.  One enterprising reader has set up an IFTTT alert. (Sweet.) The RSS news was an informative surprise. I presumed most folks were receiving alerts via Twitter and Facebook, and click through to the blog. I now should start thinking about the fact that many articles are read without the “chrome” of the blog ever been seen.

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The Readership: Who are you people?

I only asked after time zone, rather than location, which in retrospect was not smart. I was trying to figure when the best time to post was, but now I realize that wasn’t the only use of such information. Too late now. Maybe next year.

Looks like you’re concentrated in the middle of the Americas, and Lisbon/UK time zones. But there’s also readers on the continental-American coasts, Alaska(!), Europe, Southeast Asia, and what I suspect is Melbourne/Sydney. Hey look a chart.

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WordPress gives me stats about the readership, too, but only down to the country. It largely agrees with the poll results, but I see that Japan may be happy reading but not so happy responding to polls. (A poll which was, admittedly, written in English.) If I crudely overlay the WordPress map to this map, looks like my anchors are North America, UK & Europe, and Eastern Australia. No surprise. English speaking worlds. (Though, I miss you, Ireland, South Africa, and New Zealand.)

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Readership poll results

Last summer, at the 5 year anniversary of the blog, I ran a readership poll. Thanks to everyone who took a few minutes back then to answer it (now closed). I know when I answer a poll I’m always curious about the results. So I presume you are, too. Here ya go.

Crap

First apologies on some aspects of the poll. I should have made some things multiple-choice, but by the time I caught it was too late. Shifting midway through the poll would mean I’d have to divide the results between radio-button and checkbox responses, and that would have been headachey. Next time, next time.

Overview

There were a total of 51 responses.

Overall, looks like me and the other authors are doing pretty good. 8 out of 10. Personally, I’ve always been a solid B+/A- student, so this plays out. 5 responders think the site is near god-like (that or they’re prone to hyperbole) and a couple of folks said we’re doing below average. Sorry, you two. Thanks for sticking with it.

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A shout out for sci-fi 3D file systems

Hey readers. One of scifiinterface’s writers, Hugh Fisher, is embarking on a cross-show analysis of speculative 3D file browsers. He first started thinking of it when viewing Hackers and remembering Jurassic Park. What others can you think of? (Yes, we know of Johnny Mnemonic, but it’s 3D cyberspace, not files, innit?)

Please list others you can think of in the comments (which is here for those reading RSS). The more detail you can provide, the better. And thanks in advance!

Report Card: The Star Wars Holiday Special

Read all the Star Wars Holiday Special reviews in chronological order.

When The Star Wars Holiday Special aired, it was only one year after the first movie, and while Star Wars was an obvious success at the time, no one knew it was bound to become one of the world’s biggest media juggernauts, which would still be producing blockbuster movies in the same diegesis five decades later (with no end in sight). So we can understand, if not forgive, that it was produced as an afterthought, rather than giving it the full attention and deliberateness we’ve since come to expect from the franchise. In short it was a crass way to keep audiences—and the toy purchasing public—thinking about Star Wars until Empire could be released a year and a half later.

It was doomed from the start. CBS wanted to camp on the movie’s success, and stupidly thought to force-choke it into a variety show format, like The Sonny & Cher Jedi Hour or Donny & Marie, Sith Lords, Variety Show. At the time, Lucas couldn’t be bothered to provide much beyond the framework story and a “Wookiee Bible,” (mentioned here) which explained the background and behavior of the Wookiees, including the fact that they were the center of the story and they can only growl. The first director quit after shooting a few scenes. Other than The Faithful Wookiee, the whole thing seems obviously rushed to production. It had about 30 minutes of script that had to be stretched into 90 minutes of airtime. Though they pulled in some respectable TV names of the time (Harvey Korman, Bea Arthur, Art Carney) to carry the thing and even had the stars of the original cast, those actors couldn’t do much with what amounted to a salad of terrible ideas written by and for goldfish: people pegging the S meter on the Myers-Briggs test.

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I’m quite fascinated by the Special partly for its narrative—for there is one, dishwater-flavored though it is—which requires us to be in the narrative and yet out of it at the same time, depending on the need, switching back and forth at a moment’s notice. For instance, you must dismiss the fact that Malla would have any interest in pausing her day for 5 minutes to stare at a security camera feed from inside a shop, because you know the point is the scene in the shop. Or, we dismiss the awkwardness of Itchy watching cross-species VR erotica in the family living room because we know that the point is the Mermeia Wow number. Or, we dismiss the tragic implication that Malla may be mentally challenged, because she takes a comedy cooking skit as literal instructions she should attempt to follow, because we know the point is the “comedy.” But how do we (or the toy-purchasing kids that were the target audience) know which parts to dismiss and which parts to indulge? There are no explicit clues. These are fascinating mental jumps for us to have to make.

It’s also interesting from a sci-fi interfaces point of view because, like most children’s shows, the interfaces are worse than an afterthought. They are created by adults (who don’t understand interaction design) merely to signal high-techn-ess to kids, whom they mistakenly believe aren’t very observant, and they do so under insane budgetary and time constraints. So they half-ass what they can, at best, half-ass, and the result is, well, the interfaces from The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Ordinarily I like to reinforce the notions that what designers are doing in reading this blog is building up a necessary skepticism against sci-fi (and plundering it for great ideas, intentional or otherwise), but in this case I can’t really back that up. What we’re doing here is just staring agape in amazement at what can come out of the illusion machine when everything goes wrong.

But, to compare apples-to-oranges, let’s go through the analysis categories:

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Life Day Orbs

The last interface in The Star Wars Holiday Special is one of the handful of ritual interfaces we see in the scifiinterfaces survey. After Saun Dann leaves, the Wookiee family solemnly proceeds to a shelf in the living room. One by one they retrieve hand-sized transparent orbs with a few lights glowing inside of each. They gather together in the center of the living room, and a watery light floods them from stage right while the rest of the house lights dim. They hold the orbs up, with heads tilted reverently. Then they go blurry before refocusing again, and now they’re wearing blood red robes and floating in a sea of stars.

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Then we cut to a long procession of Wookiees walking single file across an invisible space bridge into a glowing ball of space light, which explodes in sparkles at no particular time, and to which no one in the procession reacts in any way.

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Break for commercial.

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Snitch phone

If you’re reading these chronologically, let me note here that I had to skip Bea Arthur’s marvelous turn as Ackmena, as she tends the bar and rebuffs the amorous petitions of the lovelorn, hole-in-the-head Krelman, before singing her frustrated patrons out of the bar when a curfew is announced. To find the next interface of note, we have to forward to when…

Han and Chewie arrive, only to find a Stormtrooper menacing Lumpy. Han knocks the blaster out of his hand, and when the Stormtrooper dives to retrieve it, he falls through the bannister of the tree house and to his death.

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Why aren’t these in any way affiiiiixxxxxxeeeeeeddddddd?

Han enters the home and wishes everyone a Happy Life Day. Then he bugs out.

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But I still have to return for the insane closing number. Hold me.

Then Saun Dann returns to the home just before a general alert comes over the family Imperial Issue Media Console.

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