The groomer is a device for sale at the Wookie Planet Trading Post C by local proprietor Saun Dann. It looks like a dust brush with an OXO designed, black, easy-grip handle, with a handful of small silver pushbuttons on one side (maybe…three?), and a handful of black buttons on the other (again, maybe three). It’s kind of hard to call it exactly, since this is lower-res than a recompressed I Can Haz Cheezburger jpg.
Let’s hear Saun describe it to the vaguely menacing Imperial shopper in his store.
Besides shaving and hair trimming, it’s guaranteed to lift stains off clothing, faces, and hands. Cleans teeth, fingers and toenails, washes eyes, pierces ears, calculates, modulates, syncopates life rhythms, and can repeat the Imperial Penal Code—all 17 volumes— in half the time of the old XP-21. Just the thing to keep you squeaky clean.
There are so many, many problems with this thing. On every level it’s wretched. Continue reading →
Hidden behind a bookshelf console is the family’s other comm device. When they first use it in the show, Malla and Itchy have a quick discussion and approach the console and slide two panels aside. The device is small and rectangular, like an oscilloscope, sitting on a shelf about eye level. It has a small, palm sized color cathode ray tube on the left. On the right is an LED display strip and an array of red buttons over an array of yellow buttons. Along the bottom are two dials.
Without any other interaction, the screen goes from static to a direct connection to a hangar where Luke Skywalker is working with R2-D2 to repair some mechanical part. He simply looks up to the camera, sees Malla and Itchy, and starts talking. He does nothing to accept the call or end it. Neither do they. Continue reading →
When she wonders about Chewbacca’s whereabouts, Malla first turns to the Imperial-issue Media Console. The device sits in the living space, and consists of a personal console and a large wall display. The wall display mirrors the CRT on the console. The console has a QWERTY keyboard, four dials, two gauges, a sliding card reader, a few red and green lights on the side, and a row of randomly-blinking white lights along the front.
Public Service Requests
As Malla approaches it, it is displaying an 8-bit kaleidoscope pattern and playing a standard-issue “electronics” sound. Malla presses a handful of buttons—here it’s important to note the difficulty of knowing what is being pressed when the hand we’re watching is covered in a mop—and then moves through a confusing workflow, where…
She presses five buttons
She waits a few seconds
As she is pressing four more buttons…
…the screen displays a 22-character string (a password? A channel designation?) ↑***3- ↓3&39÷ ↑%63&-:::↓
A screen flashes YOU HAVE REACHED TRAFFIC CONTROL in black letters on a yellow background
She presses a few more buttons, and another 23-character string appears on screen ↑***3- XOXOO OXOOX XOOXO-↑ (Note that the first six characters are identical to the first six characters of the prior code. What’s that mean? And what’s with all the Xs and Os? Kisses and hugs? A binary? I checked. It seems meaningless.)
An op-art psychedelic screen of orange waves on black for a few seconds
A screen flashes NO STARSHIPS IN AREA
Malla punches the air in frustration.
So the first string is, what, a channel? And how do the five buttons she pressed map to that 22 character string? A macro? Why drop to a semi-binary for one command? And are the hugs-and-kisses an instruction? Is that how you write Shyriiwook? Why would it be Latin letters and Unicode characters rather than, say, Aurebesh? Who designed this command language? This orthography? This interface? Maybe it was what this guy was assigned to do after he was relieved of duty.
When technology fails to find her sweetheart, Malla turns to her social network. She first uses her Illegal Rebel Comms device to talk to Luke and R2-D2 (next post), and afterwards, returns to the Media Console, which is back to its crappy TSR-80 BASIC-coded screen saver mode.
She taps a few keys (a macro?)
A new code appears: ↑***C- ↓&&&0- 446B°- TP%C↓
The display reads: SUB TERMINAL 4468 (or 446E or maybe 446B. It’s a square font and Malla’s hairy arm is in the way.)
She presses a few more keys
The screen displays STAND BY for a few seconds
Then the word CONNECT flashes a few times
She presses a single button
TRADING POST WOOKIE PLANET C flashes
A live camera feed displays of the trading post
So it’s actually nice to see the first 5 characters of the string be different since this is a different mode: public function (↑***3-) versus video phone (↑***C-). It made me wonder if the codes were some sort of four part IP address, but then I saw the traffic control command is only three lines, so it’s not a consistent enough pattern. So I was hoping to find some secret awesomeness, but no.
Here’s the flow chart as completed by the demoted Stormtrooper designer (translated from the Aurebesh).
Not only is the interaction terrible, but it’s not really your device anyway. The Empire can take control of these screens for government business, like paging errant Stormtroopers. In these cases, an alarm sounds in the house, and then the Empire Video Feed comes online. No bizarre character strings. No flashing text. No arbitrary key presses.
After all that, an Easy Mode
As if that wasn’t enough, the thing works differently later in the show. After he returns to the tree house, Saun uses the system to call the Imperial Officer to cover Han and Chewie’s murderous tracks with a lie. To make the call, all Saun has to do is insert an identification card, press the same key on the keyboard six times, and with no weird codes or substation identification interstitials, he is connected immediately to the Imperial officer. After the officer terminates their call, Saun presses another button a few times and removes his card. That’s it. It was almost easy.
This tells us that the system can work fairly simply. If you’re calling the Empire. Or if you’re high enough social status and have the card to prove it. This technology just sucks. Maybe this is why the rebellion started.
To distract Lumpy while she tends to dinner, Malla sits him down at a holotable to watch a circus program. She leans down to one of the four control panels inset around the table’s edge, presses a few buttons, and the program begins.
In the program small volumetric projections of human (not Wookie) performers appear on the surface of the table and begin a dance and acrobatic performance to a soundtrack that is, frankly, ear-curdling.
This week, to celebrate both the holiday and the release of a new film in the Star Wars, universe, we pause the ongoing review to return briefly to the interfaces of an old, wretched entry in this ongoing saga.
Release Date: 17 November 1978 (USA)
Han and Chewbacca are flying back to the Wookie home world Kazook [sic] for Life Day (read: Christmas) but encounter some imperial trouble which delays them. Worried, Chewie’s wife Malla makes several video calls on an illegal and hidden rebel communication device to try and find his whereabouts, and receives assurances that they are on their way. Then she attempts to cook Bantha Surprise while watching a local-cable cooking show by the eccentric, four-armed Chef Gormaanda.
Family friend Saun Dann arrives with gifts for each of them—including an erotic VR brain implantation chair for Chewbacca’s father Itchy—even as the Empire declares martial law on the planet. Princess Leia and C-3PO contact Malla and ask Saun Dann to look after the family. Stormtroopers arrive at the door to search the place for Solo and Chewbacca. One of the Imperial officers inspects a hologram-box and spends a few minutes to enjoy a music video on it. Saun is coerced to leave.
Alone, the young Wookie named Lumpy proves to be a nuisance to the stormtroopers during their search, so the family distracts him by having him watch a cartoon of Boba Fett and Darth Vader. Finally satisfied that the rebels are not there, the stormtroopers leave and Lumpy finally checks out the video introduction to the electronics kit left him as a gift by Saun. He uses the kit to build a television and watch a live-broadcast local television program. The program is interrupted by the announcement of an Imperial curfew being imposed.
An individual stormtrooper, B4-7-11, returns to the home to threaten Lumpy, but is intercepted by Han and Chewie, who have finally arrived. They defeat him and Han leaves. Saun returns and answers a call from an Imperial officer, lying about the fate of B4-7-11 . Saun leaves, and the Wookies finally undertake their Life Day rituals.
The main ritual involves donning robes, passing into a ball of light that teleports them to the Tree of Life, where they are joined by other Wookies, as well as R2-D2, C-3PO, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, who have teleported here by some unknown means. The English-speaking characters make a speech before Leia sings a traditional song. This causes Chewbacca to go into a reverie, recalling his recent adventures with the Rebellion, always from odd out-of-body ,third-person perspectives, as if from camera droids littered about the galaxy.
After Chewbacca’s reverie, they return home, sit at the table for dinner, and bow their heads in reverent prayer.
On most overviews I include links to purchase or view the film. But as this entire film is available on YouTube, it is included, in full, below. Analyses follow.
The SHIELD helicarrier cockpit has dozens and dozens of agents sitting at desktop screens, working 3D mice and keyboards, speaking to headsets, and doing superspy information work.
The camera mostly sweeps by these interfaces, never lingering too hard on them. It’s hard to see any details because of the motion blur, but given the few pauses we do see:
Wireframe of the helicarrier (A map to help locate problems?)
Gantt chart (Literally for the nascent Avengers initiative?)
Complex, node-network diagram (Datamining as part of the ongoing search for Loki?)
View of a flying camera pointing down. (You might think this is a live view from the bottom of the Helicarrier, but it’s above water, and this seems to be showing land, so recorded? part of the search?)
Live-video displays of cameras around the Helicarrier
There are others that appear later (see the next entry) but these bear some special note for a couple of reasons.
The ones that are instantly recognizable make sense at this glanceable level.
I couldn’t spot any repeats, even among the fuidget-filled screens (this represents a lot of work.)
The screens are all either orange or blue. Not as in orange and blue highlights. I mean each screen is either strictly values of orange or strictly values of blue. Maybe cyan.
In San Francisco and looking to see a dark, disturbing New Year’s Eve themed science fiction film just before 2015 ends? Who isn’t? On December 30th, come to the Roxie Theater to join Chris Noessel, Design Fellow at Cooper, keeper of scifiinterfaces.com, and the co-author of Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction for a viewing of Strange Days: a twisted, recursive, techno-serial-killer brain-interface thriller. The movie was written by TERMINATOR great James Cameron, Scorsese-compadre Jay Cocks, and features an all star cast led by Ralph Fiennes as the anti-hero Lenny Nero and Angela Bassett as “Mace” Mason, whose performance won her a Saturn award for Best Actress. The film also earned director Kathryn Bigelow (POINT BREAK, THE HURT LOCKER) a Saturn for best director.
It’s neither available on Blu-ray nor for streaming in the US, so you won’t want to miss this rare 35mm presentation. If you thought Brainstorm’s anti-corporate take on telexperience tech lacked bite, you will want to see this take on what telexperience tech would mean to psychopaths. Note that it’s rated R, not really a kid’s film, here.
For those familiar with prior scifiinterfaces movie nights, this is a LONG movie, and so there will be only the briefest of introduction presentations.
After Pepper tosses off the sexy bon mot “Work hard!” and leaves Tony to his Avengers initiative homework, Tony stands before the wall-high translucent displays projected around his room.
Amongst the videos, diagrams, metadata, and charts of the Tesseract panel, one item catches his attention. It’s the 3D depiction of the object, the tesseract itself, one of the Infinity Stones from the MCU. It is a cube rendered in a white wireframe, glowing cyan amidst the flat objects otherwise filling the display. It has an intense, cold-blue glow at its center. Small facing circles surround the eight corners, from which thin cyan rule lines extend a couple of decimeters and connect to small, facing, inscrutable floating-point numbers and glyphs.
Wanting to look closer at it, he reaches up and places fingers along the edge as if it were a material object, and swipes it away from the display. It rests in his hand as if it was a real thing. He studies it for a minute and flicks his thumb forward to quickly switch the orientation 90° around the Y axis.
Then he has an Important Thought and the camera cuts to Agent Coulson and Steve Rogers flying to the helicarrier.
So regular readers of this blog (or you know, fans of blockbuster sci-fi movies in general) may have a Spidey-sense that this feels somehow familiar as an interface. Where else do we see a character grabbing an object from a volumetric projection to study it? That’s right, that seminal insult-to-scientists-and-audiences alike, Prometheus. When David encounters the Alien Astrometrics VP, he grabs the wee earth from that display to nuzzle it for a little bit. Follow the link if you want that full backstory. Or you can just look and imagine it, because the interaction is largely the same: See display, grab glowing component of the VP and manipulate it.
Two anecdotes are not yet a pattern, but I’m glad to see this particular interaction again. I’m going to call it grabby holograms (capitulating a bit on adherence to the more academic term volumetric projection.) We grow up having bodies and moving about in a 3D world, so the desire to grab and turn objects to understand them is quite natural. It does require that we stop thinking of displays as untouchable, uninterruptable movies and more like toy boxes, and it seems like more and more writers are catching on to this idea.
More graphics or more information?
Additionally, the fact that this object is the one 3D object in its display is a nice affordance that it can be grabbed. I’m not sure whether he can pull the frame containing the JOINT DARK ENERGY MISSION video to study it on the couch, but I’m fairly certain I knew that the tesseract was grabbable before Tony reached out.
On the other hand, I do wonder what Tony could have learned by looking at the VP cube so intently. There’s no information there. It’s just a pattern on the sides. The glow doesn’t change. The little glyph sticks attached to the edges are fuigets. He might be remembering something he once saw or read, but he didn’t need to flick it like he did for any new information. Maybe he has flicked a VP tesseract in the past?
Rather, I would have liked to have seen those glyph sticks display some useful information, perhaps acting as leaders that connected the VP to related data in the main display. One corner’s line could lead to the Zero Point Extraction chart. Another to the lovely orange waveform display. This way Tony could hold the cube and glance at its related information. These are all augmented reality additions.
Or, even better, could he do some things that are possible with VPs that aren’t possible with AR. He should be able to scale it to be quite large or small. Create arbitrary sections, or plan views. Maybe fan out depictions of all objects in the SHIELD database that are similarly glowy, stone-like, or that remind him of infinity. Maybe…there’s…a…connection…there! Or better yet, have a copy of JARVIS study the data to find correlations and likely connections to consider. We’ve seen these genuine VP interactions plenty of places (including Tony’s own workshop), so they’re part of the diegesis.
In any case, this simple setup works nicely, in which interaction with a cool media helps underscore the gravity of the situation, the height of the stakes. Note to selves: The imperturbable Tony Stark is perturbed. Shit is going to get real.