As far as Carmen is concerned, the shuttle is small fries. Her real interest is in piloting a big ship, like the Rodger Young.
On her first time at the helm as Pilot Trainee, she enters the bridge, reports for duty, and takes the number 2 chair. As she does, she reaches out to one of two panels and flips two green toggle switches simultaneously down, and immediately says, “Identify.”
In response her display screen (a cathode ray tube, guys, complete with bowed-glass surface!)—which had been reading STATION STANDBY in alternating red and yellow capitals—very quickly flashes the legend VOICE IDENTITY CONFIRMED in white letters before displaying a waveform with the label ANALYZING VOICEPRINT, ostensibly of her voice input. Then, having confirmed her identiy, it displays her IDENTIFICATION RECORD, including her name, portrait, mission status, current assignment, and a shouty all-caps red-letter welcome message at the bottom: WELCOME ABOARD ENSIGN. There are tables of tubles along the bottom and top of these screens but they’re unreadable in my copy.
She then reaches to the panel of physical controls again, and flips a red toggle switch before pressing two out of a 4×4 grid of yellow-orange momentary buttons. She sits back in her seat, and turns to see the ridiculously-quaffed Zander in the adjacent chair. Plot ensues.
Some challenges with this setup.
It looks like those vertical panels of unlabeled switches and buttons are all she’s got for input. Not the most ergonomic, if she’s expected to be entering data for any length of time or under any duress.
Having the display in front of her makes a great deal of sense, since most of the things she’s dealing with as either a pilot or navigator are not just out the front viewport.
The workflow for authentication is a little strange, and mismatched for the screens we see.
A toggle switch might make sense if it’s meaning was “I am present.” But we can imagine lots of other ways the system might sense that she is present passively, and not require her to flip the switch manually.
Why would it analyze the voiceprint after the voice identity was confirmed? It would have made more sense to have the first screen prompt her to provide a voice print, like “Provide voiceprint” with some visual confirmation that it’s currently recording and sensitive to her voice. Then when she finishes speaking the sample, then the next can say Analyzing voiceprint with the recorded waveform, and the final screen can read Voice identity confirmed, before moving on. I can’t readily apologize for the way it’s structured now. Fortunately it zips by so that most folks will just get it.
That waveform, by the way, is not for the word “identify.”. I opened the screen cap, isolated the “waveform”, tweaked it in Photoshop for levels, and expanded it.
I ran this image through the demo of a program called PhotoSounder. What played from my speakers was more like astronomy recordings than a voice. Admittedly, it’s audio interpreted from a very low-rez version of the waveform, but seriously, more data is not going to help resolve that audio spookiness into human language.
Props to the interface designers for NOT showing the waveform of sounds in the Rodger Young’s database. It would be explanatory, of course, to immediately see the freshly recorded one being compared against the one in the database. But it would not be very secure. A malefactor would just be able to screen cap or photograph the database version, interpret the waveform like I did for the sound above, and play it back for the system for a perfect match.
Additional props to whoever specced the password button presses after the login. She might be setting a view she wants to see, but I prefer it to mean the system is using multifactor authentication. She’s providing a password. Sure, it’s a weak one—2 hexadecimal characters—but it’s better than nothing, and would even help with the hacking I described in the above section.
The welcome message
Finally, the welcome message feels a little out of place. Is this the only place she encounters the computer system? The literal sense of “welcome aboard” is to welcome someone aboard, which would be most appropriate only when they, you know, come aboard, which surely was some time ago. Carmen at least had to drop her stuff off in quarters. It’s also used by individuals who have been aboard welcoming newcomers the first time they greet them. But that anthropomorphizes this interface, which through this interaction and the several we’ll see next, would be dangerously overpromising.
The pictures of the bridge also bring up questions about crew coordination. From what we can see there don’t appear to be any communal screen space. So is each personal display also responsible for showing general information that would be of interest to all bridge crewmen? Communal screen space appears to be a big part of control rooms in both real life examples and in fictional examples. This space gives people a common visual reference point to facilitate communication and coordination with one another.
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