Who did it better? Victim card edition.

Let’s cut to the chase. Las Luchadoras is a wholesale rip-off of Cybernauts, from the 1961–1969 British TV series The Avengers, specifically the episode “Return of the Cybernauts” from 1967. Thanks to readers Xavier Mouton-Dubosc @dascritch and Roger Long @evil_potato for drawing my attention to the complete ripoffery.

Dust off your stereoscopes for this one.

Compare freely…

  • Bad robot is silver-faced, wears a black trench coat, does not speak, wears black sunglasses, and a black hat.
  • Bad robot is given instructions via a graphically-designed card inserted into a machine slot.
  • Bad robot smashes through walls to gain access to victims who stand there in horror rather than, say, running from the slow-walking golem.
  • When bad robot kills, it does so with karate chops.
  • Bad human captures scientists and forces them to provide engineering specs to fulfill his evil ambitions.
  • Bad human forces scientists to build a wrist-wearable mind-control device, for use on Team Good. (One’s a bracelet. The other is a watch.) The main target for mind-control is a woman.
  • Bad human has plans to use the mind-controlled person to fight the rest of Team Good.
  • The day is saved (spoiler? I guess?) by pulling the mind-control device from the victim and putting it on the robot, which instead of granting the bad human more control of the robot, causes it to go berserk.

It’s like René Cardona saw “Return of the Cybernauts” on TV, loved it, and thought there is only one thing that could make this better: Lady. Wrestlers. So he added luchadoras and hoped BBC Four wouldn’t notice. He just wanted to make the world better, y’all.

If you think I’m exaggerating, here are a few side by side shots.

I guess we can give credit to Cardona’s selection of a Bolero hat instead of that tired Fedora thing? SciFiFashionChoices.com
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Playing the Victim Card

To specify a target for assassination or kidnapping, Orlak (or a henchman) inserts a specially designed card into a slot built into the robot’s chest, right at its heart. One of those cards is below.

The layout of the card puts the victim’s picture on the left; a node-graph diagram that looks like a constellation diagram, and some inscrutable symbols on the right. The characters discuss that this card contains a cardiogram of the victim, but it’s unclear which part of the card has this information, because they usually look something like this:

1896 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution
only license CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Oh, it’s probably worth mentioning that one of the movie’s givens is that a cardiogram can uniquely identify a person, like a thumbprint (which isn’t as provably unique as popular culture would have us believe). But to use a cardiogram to locate a person without a ubiquitous sensing network (unthinkable in 1969) would require a very high resolution cardiogram, a wall-piercing sensors, and some shockingly advanced pattern matching on the part of the robot, and I’m not sure I’m willing to give this film that much credit.

Presuming that there are lots of technical reasons for the stuff on the right, and the robot needs the profile for visual recognition, I imagine the only thing missing is a human-readable name so these are easy for the henchmen and scientists to discuss amongst themselves. I mean, they might happen to know every single scientist in town by sight, but having the name would avoid possible misidentifications. The design of artifacts have to take into account all common scenarios of use, including production, maintenance, and storage.

Speaking of which, it’s unclear how these cards are produced. They seem like they take a lot of expert effort to produce and fabricate. Let’s give the film credit to say that this is a deliberate attempt by the enslaved scientists to…

  • Make something as irrevocable as a death sentence very difficult to order.
  • Ensure an order to the murderous robot takes time, and thereby give time to let passions subside and orders to be rescinded.
  • Serve as a bailiwick of sorts, being too difficult for a layperson to do, and thereby difficult to turn on its masters.
  • Secure their jobs.

LATE BREAKING UPDATE: Turns out these cards are a copy of cards from The Avengers (1961–1969). Check out the comparison.

Video call

After ditching Chewie, Boba Fett heads to a public video phone to make a quick report to his boss who turns out to be…Darth Vader (this was a time long before the Expanded Universe/Legends, so there was really only one villain to choose from).

To make the call, he approaches an alcove off an alley. The alcove has a screen with an orange bezel, and a small panel below it with a 12-key number panel to the left, a speaker, and a vertical slot. Below that is a set of three phone books. For our young readers, phone books are an ancient technology in which telephone numbers were printed in massive books, and copies kept at every public phone for reference by a caller.

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Chef Gormaand

Hello, readers. Hope your Life Days went well. The blog is kicking off 2016 by continuing to take the Star Wars universe down another peg, here, at this heady time of its revival. Yes, yes, I’ll get back to The Avengers soon. But for now, someone’s in the kitchen with Malla.

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After she loses 03:37 of  her life calmly eavesviewing a transaction at a local variety shop, she sets her sights on dinner. She walks to the kitchen and rifles through some translucent cards on the counter. She holds a few up to the light to read something on them, doesn’t like what she sees, and picks up another one. Finding something she likes, she inserts the card into a large flat panel display on the kitchen counter. (Don’t get too excited about this being too prescient. WP tells me models existed back in the 1950s.)

In response, a prerecorded video comes up on the screen from a cooking show, in which the quirky and four-armed Chef Gourmaand shows how to prepare the succulent “Bantha Surprise.”

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And that’s it for the interaction. None of the four dials on the base of the screen are touched throughout the five minutes of the cooking show. It’s quite nice that she didn’t have to press play at all, but that’s a minor note.

The main thing to talk about is how nice the physical tokens are as a means of finding a recipe. We don’t know exactly what’s printed on them, but we can tell it’s enough for her to pick through, consider, and make a decision. This is nice for the very physical environment of the kitchen.

This sort of tangible user interface, card-as-media-command hasn’t seen a lot of play in the scifiinterfaces survey, and the only other example that comes to mind is from Aliens, when Ripley uses Carter Burke’s calling card to instantly call him AND I JUST CONNECTED ALIENS TO THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL.

Of course an augmented reality kitchen might have done even more for her, like…

  • Cross-referencing ingredients on hand (say it with me: slab of tender Bantha loin) with food preferences, family and general ratings, budget, recent meals to avoid repeats, health concerns, and time constraints to populate the tangible cards with choices that fit the needs of the moment, saving her from even having to consider recipes that won’t work;
  • Make the material of the cards opaque so she can read them without holding them up to a light source;
  • Augmenting the surfaces with instructional graphics (or even air around her with volumetric projections) to show her how to do things in situ rather than having to keep an eye on an arbitrary point in her kitchen;
  • Slowed down when it was clear Malla wasn’t keeping up, or automatically translated from a four-armed to a two-armed description;
  • Shown a visual representation of the whole process and the current point within it;

…but then Harvey wouldn’t have had his moment. And for your commitment to the bit, Harvey, we thank you.

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Imperial-issue Media Console

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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.

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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…

  1. She presses five buttons
  2. She waits a few seconds
  3. As she is pressing four more buttons…
  4. …the screen displays a 22-character string (a password? A channel designation?) ↑***3-   ↓3&39÷   ↑%63&-:::↓
  5. A screen flashes YOU HAVE REACHED TRAFFIC CONTROL in black letters on a yellow background
  6. 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.)
  7. An op-art psychedelic screen of orange waves on black for a few seconds
  8. A screen flashes NO STARSHIPS IN AREA
  9. Malla punches the air in frustration.

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Ghost-hacking by public terminal

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The garbage collector who is inadvertently working for Ghost Hacker takes a break during his work to access the network by public terminal. The terminal is a small device, about a third of a meter across, mounted on a pole about a meter high and surrounded by translucent casing to protect it from the elements and keep the screen private. Parts are painted red to make it identifiable in the visual chaos of the alleyway.

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After pressing a series of buttons and hearing corresponding DTMF, or Touch-Tones, he inserts a card into a horizontal slot labeled “DATA” in illuminated green letters. The card is translucent with printed circuitry and a few buttons. The motorized card reader pulls the card in, and then slides it horizontally along a wide slot while an illuminated green label flashes that it is INSPECTING the card. When it is halfway along this horizontal track, a label on the left illuminates COMPRESS.

On a multilayer, high-resolution LCD screen above, graphics announce that it is trying to CONNECT and then providing ACCESS, running a section of the “cracking software” that the garbage collector wishes to run. After he is done with ACCESS, he removes the card and gets back to work.

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From a certain perspective, there’s nothing wrong with this interaction. He’s able to enter some anonymous information up front, and then process the instructions on the card. It’s pretty ergonomic for a public device. It provides him prompts and feedback of process and status. He manages its affordances and though the language is cryptic to us, he seems to have no problem.

Where the terminal fails is that it gives him no idea that it’s doing something more than he realizes, and that something more is quite a bit more illegal than he’s willing to risk. Had it given him some visualization of what was being undertaken, he might have stopped immediately, or at least have returned to his “friend” to ask what was going on. Of course the Ghost Hacker is, as his name says, a powerful hacker, and might have been able to override the visualization. But with no output, even novice hackers could dupe the unknowing because they are uninformed.

Multipass

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The multipass is the all-purpose card of 2263. It’s a driver’s license, work authorization record, proof of identity, emergency medical information, phone card, plus all your credit cards in one. There is a white rectangle and yellowish, rounded-bevel shape on the lower left, each of which may be a button, but that we don’t see in use.

Often just showing it is enough for a human’s satisfaction, but sometimes it must be read by a machine. To do this, the holder inserts it into a slot, where the machine verifies its authenticity and registers the user locally. In Korben’s taxi, he has to leave it in as he operates the vehicle. At the Fhloston Paradise check-in booth, travelers dip it in and out of the reader.

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The act of inserting the card to authenticate may seem a bit old-fashioned in the days of RFID and read-at-a-distance technology, but it’s also nice to see that whatever agency was able to get the various corporations and government agencies to cooperate has also got privacy in mind. If it needs to be dipped to be read, maybe it can’t be read at a distance. That means the holder has more control over when and how it’s accessed.

As far as convenience, hot damn. It’s practically a wallet in and of itself. But there are security concerns to having all of this in one place. There are many cards that work like this in the world. Bus passes, skeeball tickets, gift cards. They’re generally low-cost. If you steal or forge Korben Dallas’ multipass, though, do you suddenly have his charge accounts, his taxi, and his phone card all at once? Seems high-cost, especially since the one forgery we see in the movie actually works.

This returns us, as so many things do, to multifactor authentication. This security philosophy requires that the user presents three factors: something they have, something they are, and something they know. The multipass covers only the first two.

  • The multipass itself is the thing they have.
  • The picture is something they are, i.e., what they look like.
  • It could be improved by requiring something they know, like a PIN or a password.

We don’t know what kind of power Cornelius’ order wielded in the world, but since it wasn’t enough to sway the president or purchase tickets to Paradise, let’s presume it wouldn’t have been enough to uncover Korben’s password, and in that case, the PIN would have foiled the attempted forgery.

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