A better Circuit

The prior posts described The Circuit, critiqued it, investigated the salient aspects of matchmaking in Dome City, and threw up its hands saying that I’m going to have to rethink this one from scratch. In this post, I provide that redesign with the design rationale.

The scenario

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Logan is out and about doing his (admittedly horrible) Sandman job. While riding in a transport across the city, his attention drifts to a young lady waiting with a friend on a platform. He thinks she’s lovely and smiles. She catches his eye and smiles, too, before looking away. In the transport, he looks up at a glowing blue point on the ceiling near the windshield. It pulses in response.

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Is serial presentation a problem in The Circuit?

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In the prior post I described the wonky sex teleporter known as The Circuit and began a critique. Today I go deep into a particular issue to finish the critque.

We only see Logan encounter two riders when using The Circuit, but we can presume that there are a lot of people on there. Why does it only show Logan a single choice at a time? If he actually has, say, 12 candidates that are a match, a serial presentation like this puts a significant burden on his memory. Once he gets to #12 and thinks he’s seen enough candidates, was it #3 or #5 he liked best?

The serial presentation also looks like it might make extra work. If he gets to #12 and decides he was most fond of #2, does he have to jump back through 10 people to get there? What does he say to each of them in turn? Does he have to reject them each again? How awkward is that? If not, and he can jump back to #2, what’s the control for that? Does he have to remember what station they were on and retune them in again? Continue reading

Section No9’s crappy security

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The heavily-mulleted Togusa is heading to a company car when he sees two suspicious cars in the parking basement. After sizing them up for a moment, he gets into his car and without doing anything else, says,

"Security, whose official vehicles are parked in the basement garage?"

It seems the cabin of the car is equipped to continuously monitor for sound, and either an agent from security is always waiting, listening at the other end, or by addressing a particular department by name, a voice recognition system instantly routs him to an operator in that department, who is able to immediately respond:

"They belong to Chief Nakamura of the treaties bureau and a Dr. Willis."

"Give me the video record of their entering the building."

In response, a panel automatically flips out of the dashboard to reveal a monitor, where he can watch the the security footage. He watches it, and says,

"Replay, infrared view"

After watching the replay, he says,

"Send me the pressure sensor records for basement garage spaces B-7 and 8."

The screen then does several things at once. It shows a login screen, for which his username is already supplied. He mentally supplies his password. Next a menu appears on a green background with five options: NET-WORK [sic], OPTICAL, PRESSURE, THERMO, and SOUND. "PRESSURE" highlights twice with two beeps. Then after a screen-green 3D rendering of Section 9 headquarters builds, the camera zooms around the building and through floorplans to the parking lot to focus on the spaces, labeled appropriately. Togusa watches as pea green bars on radial dials bounce clockwise, twice, with a few seconds between.

The login

Sci-fi logins often fail for basic multifactor authentication, and at first it appears that this screen only has two parts: a username and password. But given that Togusa connects to the system first vocally and then mentally, it’s likely that one of these other channels supplies a third level of authentication. Also it seems odd to have him supply a set of characters as the mental input. Requiring Togusa to think a certain concept might make more sense, like a mental captcha.

The zoom

Given that seconds can make a life-or-death difference and that the stakes at Section 9 are so high, the time that the system spends zooming a camera around the building all the way to the locations is a waste. It should be faster. It does provide context to the information, but it doesn’t have to be distributed in time. Remove the meaningless and unlabeled dial in the lower right to gain real estate, and replace it with a small version of the map that highlights the area of detail. Since Togusa requested this information, the system should jump here immediately and let him zoom out for more detail only if he wants it or if the system wants him to see suspect information.

The radial graphs

The radial graphs imply some maximum to the data, and that Nakamura’s contingent hits some 75% of it. What happens if the pressure exceeds 37 ticks? Does the floor break? (If so, it should have sent off structural warning alarms at the gate independently of the security question.) But presumably Section 9 is made of stronger stuff than this, and so a different style of diagram is called for. Perhaps remove the dial entirely and just leave the parking spot labels and the weight. Admittedly, the radial dial is unusual and might be there for consistency with other, unseen parts of the system.

Moreover, Togusa is interested in several things: how the data has changed over time, when it surpassed an expected maximum, and by how much. This diagram only addresses one of them, and requires Togusa to notice and remember it himself. A better diagram would trace this pressure reading across time, highlighting the moments when it passed a threshold. (This parallels the issues of medical monitoring highlighted in the book, Chapter 12, Medicine.)

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Even better would be to show this data over time alongside or overlaid with any of the other feeds, like a video feed, such that Togusa doesn’t have to make correlations between different feeds in his head. (I’d have added it to the comp but didn’t have source video from the movie.)

The ultimately crappy Section No9 security system

Aside from all these details of the interface and interaction design, I have to marvel at the broader failings of the system. This is meant to be the same bleeding-edge bureau that creates cyborgs and transfers consciousnesses between them? If the security system is recording all of this information, why is it not being analyzed continuously, automatically? We can presume that object recognition is common in the world from a later scene in which a spider tank is able to track Kunasagi. So as the security system was humming along, recording everything, it should have also been analyzing that data, noting the discrepancy between of the number of people it counted in any of the video feeds, the number of people it counted passing through the door, and the unusual weight of these "two" people. It should have sent a warning to security at the gate of the garage, not relied on the happenstance of Togusa’s hunch and good timing.

This points to a larger problem that Hollywood has with technology being part of its stories. It needs heroes to be smart and heroic, and having them simply respond to warnings passed along by smart system can seem pointedly unheroic. But as technology gets smarter and more agentive, these kinds of discrepancies are going to break believability and get embarassing.

The Chanel eye-makeup-erator

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After David offers Leeloo some clothes, he also offers her a device for applying eye makeup. Leeloo only has the most rudamentary grasp of English at this point, so to demonstrate its use he holds it up to his eyes.

This is a clear enough signal for Leeloo, who puts the device up to her eyes like a large pair of sunglasses. She can feel the momentary button near her left fingertip and presses it. In response a white ring around a Chanel logo illuminates for a second. Leeloo feels an unfamiliar sensation and pulls her face away, and we see that the device has applied complete eye makeup for her.

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Analysis

The industrial design of the device is brilliant. It’s sized to be slightly larger than the eye area and it has the right shape for someone to know where to place it. The activation button sits exactly where the user needs it, and with enough of a button-like affordance that even without looking she can find it and press it. The device is just heavy enough to encourage supporting it with palms, which provides a firm base to resist too much movement on activation (and thereby risking eyeshadow right on the eye). The shiny black plastic reads like a cosmetic object, and professional enough that you can presume it’s safe to use near delicate eye parts. The white ring is a simple cue for those nearby that it’s in progress and not to interrupt the user.

A minor improvement would be to improve that simple light on/off to a progress ring that swept around. This would gave a sense of how much time it will take and how much time is left, even if it’s only a second.

The main question of the device is of course how does Leeloo specify the details of the makeup. A quick Google image search shows that the number of parameters is…um…vast.

Of course, if the device had some kind of low-level artificial intelligence, that agentive algorithm could handle a lot of the complexity for her, deciding on the best match for her schedule, fashion trends, current outfit, and her preferred position in the fashion-aggression spectrum. (Would there be a device that went up to 11 for drag queens?) But, when the agentive algorithm got it wrong, and Leeloo wanted to override those settings, she’s back to needing to tell the device how she’d like to override its suggestions. How does she do that?

Which raises the question of those three buttons across the bridge of the device.

Those three buttons

Of course three momentary buttons aren’t enough to control all the variables in eye makeup. Even if these are dials that control three variables, three variables aren’t enough. (Even if they were dials, why would they look identical to the momentary buttons? Things that behave differently should look different.)

Even if these buttons are not controls for variables but rather presets for sets of variables (Such as: “Work,” “Formal wear,” or “Defeating ultimate evil”), they’re not signaling their state well. Looking at that screen grab, can you tell which one is currently selected? I can’t. It should be apparent at a glance, so no one accidentally applies “clubbing” makeup when they mean “funeral.” So there should be some indication of what’s currently selected. Note that a lit button is not enough. Some descriptive text is needed. Such text would ideally be on both the “inside” and the “outside” so no matter how it was lying on a dresser, its state could be read.

Anyway, since those buttons aren’t sufficient for setting up the eye makeup, let’s hope that it’s networked to some other device with a richer interface, like a voice interface or Cornelius’ WIMP computer, where she can have a rich interaction for setting up those buttons.

With all that in mind, here’s another comp to illustrate these ideas. Admittedly, Chanel’s brand police wouldn’t be comfortable with an LED font, but it would clearly communicate that the text represents a variable and not a product name.

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Special shouts out to You Yeti! who corrected our tweet that the two Fingernail-o-matics were not the only cosmetic interfaces in the survey. I love writing for a sharp, eagle-eyed audience.

Four a day

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After Korben’s alarm clock starts the music and lights the lights, it also drops his daily allotment of cigarettes into place inside vertical glass tubes in a small dispensary mounted on the wall. Each tube has a purple number printed across the top, reinforcing the limit. A robotic voice tells reminds him to only have “four. a. day.”

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The dispensary is loaded with warnings to get him to quit. Across the top we read 4™ REFILLS. Just below that is a white imperative, QUIT SMOKING. To the right another legend reinforces the principles spoken aloud, 4™ A DAY. A legend across the bottom, written in glittery red capitals reminds him that, TO QUIT IS MY GOAL. Behind the glass tubes is something like a Surgeon General’s warning about the dangers of smoking.
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The Queen’s TV

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As soon as the Black Queen hears of Durand-Durand’’s betrayal, she reveals a panel that is hidden by furs. It is vertical with a handful of transparent, organically-shaped knobs. She clicks the top one out of its off position and rotates it back and forth a few times, and the panel begins to glow as a video image appears on the high walls of the chamber, showing the events happening inside the throne room.

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Later the Queen turns the top knob counterclockwise to click it back into its stop position to stop the video feed. Then she turns another one the same direction to reveal a different video feed of the labyrinth, indicating that each knob is connected to a particular view. There’s indirect evidence that the degree of rotation controls the volume of audio.

Typically remotes have separate controls for power, channel selection, and volume. Coupling them like this adds extra work to the task of switching channels. The Dark Queen has to turn one off before turning the next one on, and readjust the volume each time. If switching channels is something she does regularly, that’s going to be a pain. But if the large screen can display more than one video feed at a time, automatically diving the screen real estate equally to accomodate the multiple views, these controls make a lot of sense, even allowing her to set the volume per feed to a sensible level.

Multiple-feeds

The only thing that might improve the interface is some label to know which control displays which video feed. Seeing as how they’re translucent, I’d suggest coating them with a rear projection film and piping the video feed directly onto the button from beneath. That provides a direct mapping from the control to the display, and a glanceable preview to let the Dark Queen what might be interesting to watch in the first place.

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