Johnny finds he needs a favor from a friend in cyberspace. We see Johnny type something on his virtual keyboard, then selects from a pull down menu.
A quick break in the action: In this shot we are looking at the real world, not the virtual, and I want to mention how clear and well-defined all the physical actions by actor Keanu Reeves are. I very much doubt that the headset he is wearing actually worked, so he is doing this without being able to see anything.
Will regular users of virtual reality systems be this precise with their gestures? Datagloves have always been expensive and rare, making studies difficult. But several systems offer submillimeter gestural tracking nowadays: version 2 of Microsoft Kinect, Google’s Soli, and Leap Motion are a few, and much cheaper and less fragile than a dataglove. Using any of these for regular desktop application tasks rather than games would be an interesting experiment.
Back in the film, Johnny flies through cyberspace until he finds the bulletin board of his friend. It is an unfriendly glowing shape that Johnny tries to expand or unfold without success.
Johnny leaves the airport by taxi, ending up in a disreputable part of town. During his ride we see another video phone call with a different interface, and the first brief appearance of some high tech binoculars. I’ll return to these later, for the moment skipping ahead to the last of the relatively simple and single-use physical gadgets.
Johnny finds the people he is supposed to meet in a deserted building but, as events are not proceeding as planned, he attaches another black box with glowing red status light to the outside of the door as he enters. Although it looks like the motion detector we saw earlier, this is a bomb.
This is indeed a very bad neighbourhood of Newark. Inside are the same Yakuza from Beijing, who plan to remove Johnny’s head. There is a brief fight, which ends when Johnny uses his watch to detonate the bomb. It isn’t clear whether he pushes or rotates some control, but it is a single quick action.Continue reading →
At every major intersection, and at the entrance to each room, the Battlestar Galactica has very large pressure doors. These doors each have a handle and a large wheel on each side. During regular operation crewmembers open the door with the handle and close it firmly, but do not spin the wheel. Occasionally, we see crew using the wheel as a leverage point to close the door.
Sealing it off
We never directly see a crewmember spin the wheel on the door after it closes. While Chief Tyrol is acting as head of damage control, he orders all bulkheads in a section of the ship sealed off. This order is beyond the typical door closing that we witness day-to-day.
This implies that the door has three modes: Open, Closed, and Sealed.
Crewmembers could use the door most of their day in an open or closed mode, where an easy pull of the handle unlatches the door and allows them to enter or leave quickly. In an emergency, a closed door could be sealed by spinning the valve wheel on one side of the door.
As with other parts of the Galactica, the doors are completely manual, and cannot be activated remotely. (Because Cylon hacking made them go network-less.) Someone has to run up to the door in an emergency and seal it off.
One worry is that, because there is a valve wheel on both sides, an untrained crewmember might panic and try to unseal the door by turning it in the wrong direction. This would endanger the entire crew.
The other worry is that the valve spins along a single axis (we see no evidence either way during the show), requiring the crew to know which side of the door they were on to seal it against a vacuum. “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey” would fail in this instance, and might cause hesitation or accidental unsealing in an actual emergency.
Ideally, the doors would have wheels that spun identically on either side, so that a clockwise spin always sealed the door, and a counter-clockwise spin always unsealed it.
Current water-tight doors have two sides, the ‘important’ side and the ‘unimportant’ side. The important side faces towards the ‘center’ of the vessel, or the core of the larger block of the ship, and can be sealed off quickly from that side with a wheel and heavy ‘dogs’.
Weathertight doors have a handle-latch on both sides that is connected (much like a doorknob), and can seal/unseal the door from either side.
If there is a technical limitation to that mechanism (unlikely, but possible), then a large and obvious graphic on the door (a clockwise or counterclockwise arrow) could serve to remind the crew which direction of turn sealed the door. In this case, sealing the door is the primary action to call out because it is the action done under a panic situation, and the action most easily forgotten in the heat of the moment.
Otherwise, the doors could be a danger to the crew: the crew on the ‘safe’ side could seal the door against depressurization, but crew on the ‘unsafe’ side might try to unseal it to save themselves in a panic.
Air pressure might keep the door properly closed in this instance, but it is still a risk.
We see during the damage control incident that the doors are quickly closed and sealed by the crew, even in an emergency, making the rest of the ship airtight. This either shows that the doors are effective at their job, or the crew is very well trained for such a situation.
Like the rest of the Galactica, the technology relies on people to work. A couple hints or minor tweaks to that technology could make the crew’s lives much easier without putting them at danger from the Cylons or the empty void of space.
The Galactica’s fighter launch catapults are each controlled by a ‘shooter’ in an armored viewing pane. There is one ‘shooter’ for every two catapults. To launch a Viper, he has a board with a series of large twist-handles, a status display, and a single button. We can also see several communication devices:
Ear-mounted mic and speaker
Board mounted mic
Phone system in the background
These could relate to one of several lines of communication each:
The Viper pilot
Any crew inside the launch pod
Crew just outside the launch pod
CIC (for strategic status updates)
Other launch controllers at other stations
‘On call’ rooms for replacement operators
Each row on the launch display appears to conform to some value coming off of the Viper or the Galactica’s magnetic catapults. The ‘shooter’ calls off Starbuck’s launch three times due to some value he sees on his status board (fluctuating engine power right before launch).
We do not see any other data inputs. Something like a series of cameras on a closed circuit could show him an exterior view of the entire Viper, providing additional information to the sensors.
When Starbuck is ready to launch on the fourth try, the ‘shooter’ twists the central knob and, at the same time and with the same hand, pushes down a green button. The moment the ‘shooter’ hits the button, Starbuck’s Viper is launched into space.
There are other twist knobs across the entire board, but these do not appear to conform directly to the act of launching the Viper, and they do not act like the central knob. They appear instead to be switches, where turning them from one position to another locks them in place.
There is no obvious explanation for the number of twist knobs, but each one might conform to an electrical channel to the catapult, or some part of the earlier launch sequence.
Nothing in the launch control interprets anything for the ‘shooter’. He is given information, then expected to interpret it himself. From what we see, this information is basic enough to not cause a problem and allow him to quickly make a decision.
Without networking the launch system together so that it can poll its own information and make its own decisions, there is little that can improve the status indicators. (And networking is made impossible in this show because of Cylon hackers.) The board is easily visible from the shooter chair, each row conforms directly to information coming in from the Viper, and the relate directly to the task at hand.
The most dangerous task the shooter does is actually decide to launch the Viper into space. If either the Galactica or the Viper isn’t ready for that action, it could cause major damage to the Viper and the launch systems.
A two-step control for this is the best method, and the system now requires two distinct motions (a twist-and-hold, then a separate and distinct *click*). This is effective at confirming that the shooter actually wants to send the Viper into space.
To improve this control, the twist and button could be moved far enough apart (reference, under “Two-Hand Controls” ) that it requires two hands to operate the control. That way, there is no doubt that the shooter intends to activate the catapult.
If the controls are separated like that, it would take some amount of effort to make sure the two controls are visually connected across the board, either through color, or size, or layout. Right now, that would be complicated by the similarity in the final twist control, and the other handles that do different jobs.
Changing these controls to large switches or differently shaped handles would make the catapult controls less confusing to use.
After the Galactica takes a nuclear missile hit to its port launch bay, part of the CIC goes into Damage Control mode. Chief Tyrol and another officer take up a position next to a large board with a top-down schematic of the Galactica. The board has various lights in major sections of the ship representing various air-tight modules in the ship.
After the nuclear hit, the port launch bay is venting to space, bulkheads are collapsing in due to the damage, and there are uncontrolled fires. In those blocks, the lights blink red.
Colonel Tigh orders the red sections sealed off and vented to space. When Tigh turns his special damage control key in the “Master Vent” control, the lights disappear until the areas are sealed off again. When the fires go out and the master vents are closed, the lights return to a green state.
On the board then, the lights have three states:
Green: air-tight, healthy
Blinking Red: Fire
Off: Intentional Venting
There does not appear to be any indications of the following states:
Damage Control Teams in the area
Open to space/not air-tight
We also do not see how sections are chosen to be vented.
Why it works
The most effective pieces here are the red lights and the “vent” key. Chief Tyrol has a phone to talk to local officers managing the direct crisis, and can keep a basic overview of the problems on the ship (with fire being the most dangerous) with the light board. The “vent” key is likewise straightforward, and has a very clear “I’m about to do something dangerous” interaction.
What is confusing are the following items:
How does Chief Tyrol determine which phone/which officer he’s calling?
Who is the highest ranking officer in the area?
How does the crew determine which sections they’re going to vent?
How do they view more complex statuses besides “this section is on fire”?
As with other systems on the Galactica, the board could be improved with the use of more integrated systems like automatic sensors, display screens to cycle through local cameras, and tracking systems for damage control crew. Also as with other systems on the Galactica, these were deliberate omissions to prevent the Cylons from being able to control the Galactica.
One benefit of the simplified system is that it keeps Chief Tyrol thinking of the high-level problem instead of trying to micromanage his local damage control teams. With proper training, local teams with effective leadership and independent initiative are more effective than a large micro-managed organization. Chief Tyrol can focus on the goals he needs his teams to accomplish:
Putting out fires
Evacuating local crew
Protecting the ship from secondary explosions
…and allow his local teams to focus on the tactics of each major goal.
What it’s missing
A glaring omission here is the lack of further statuses. In the middle of a crisis, Chief Tyrol could easily lose track of individual teams on his ship. He knows the crews that are in the Port Hangar Bay, but we never hear about the other damage control teams and where they are. Small reminders or other status indicators would keep the Chief from needing to remember everything that was happening across the ship. Even a box of easily-grabbed sticky notes or a grease-pen board would help here and be very low-tech.
Possible indicators include:
Secondary lights in each section when a damage control crew was in the area
A third color indicator (less optimal, but would take up less space on the board)
A secondary board with local reports of damage crew location and progress
Low oxygen states
High oxygen states (higher fire risk)
It is also possible that Colonel Tigh would have taken the local crews into consideration when making his decision if he could have seen where they were for himself on the board, instead of simply hearing Chief Tyrol’s protests about their existence. Reducing feedback loops can make decision making less error prone and faster, but can admittedly introduce single points of failure.
Colonel Tigh and Chief Tyrol are able to get control of the situation with the tools at hand, but minor upgrades could have lessened the stress of the situation and allowed both of them to think clearer before jumping to decisions. Better systems would have given them all the information they needed, but the Galactica’s purpose limited them for the benefit of the entire ship.
The FTL Jump process on the Galactica has several safeguards, all appropriate for a ship of that size and an action of that danger (late in the series, we see that an inappropriate jump can cause major damage to nearby objects). Only senior officers can start the process, multiple teams all sign off on the calculations, and dedicated computers are used for potentially damaging computations.
Even the actual ‘jump’ requires a two stage process with an extremely secure key and button combination. It is doubtful that Lt. Gaeta’s key could be used on any other ship aside from the Galactica.
The process is so effective, and the crew is so well trained at it, that even after two decades of never actually using the FTL system, the Galactica is able to make a pinpoint jump under extreme duress (the beginning of human extinction).
The one apparent failure in this system is the confirmation process after the FTL jump. Lt. Gaeta has to run all the way across the CIC and personally check a small screen with less than obvious information.
Of the many problems with the nav’s confirmation screen, three stand out:
It is a 2d representation of 3d space, without any clear references to how information has been compacted
There are no ‘local zero’ showing the system’s plane or relative inclination of orbits
No labels on data
Even the most basic orbital navigation system has a bit more information about Apogee, Perigee, relative orbit, and a gimbal reading. Compare to this chart from the Kerbal Space Program:
The Galactica would need at least this much information to effectively confirm their location. For Lt. Gaeta, this isn’t a problem because of his extensive training and knowledge of the Galactica.
But the Galactica is a warship and would be expected to experience casualties during combat. Other navigation officers and crew may not be as experienced or have the same training as Lt. Gaeta. In a situation where he is incapacitated and it falls to a less experienced member of the crew, an effective visual display of location and vector is vital.
Simplicity isn’t always perfect
This is an example of where a bit more information in the right places can make an interface more legible and understandable. Some information here looks useless, but may be necessary for the Galactica’s navigation crew. With the extra information, this display could become useful for crew other than Lt. Gaeta.
The Battlestar Galactica has at least two Faster-than-Light engines (which might be easier to think of as teleportation engines), activated during a complex sequence. The sequence involves:
An explicit, direct command from Commander Adama
Complex calculations on dedicated computers
Double-checking by a large portion of the CIC staff
and finally, a dedicated key and button to initiate the actual jump
Making an FTL jump is not a standard procedure for the Galactica, and it is implied that it has been decades since the ship carried out an actual jump. This is because of the danger in landing off-course, the difficulty in the calculations, and wear on what is likely a very expensive component. We see that many civilian ships do not have FTL capability.
The FTL engine allows the Galactica to instantly travel between one point in the star system, and another point in the star system. Dense books of pre-made calculations are kept in the Galactica’s CIC to enter into the ship’s FTL computers.
Multiple teams each begin separate calculations, using the Galactica’s FTL computers as giant calculators for their hand-written/typed equations. The teams then cross-check their answers against each other, using a senior officer (in this case, Lt. Gaeta) as the final confirmation.
Once all teams agree on an FTL jump coordinate, the information is plugged into a separate system to “spool up” the FTL drive.
Lt. Gaeta then pulls out a special key that fits into a dedicated slot in the FTL system in the CIC. The key has two cylindrical pins that each glow a distinct blue, and are each different lengths. The handle of the key has a matching shape on the console as well, so that the key can only fit in one way.
Once the key is inserted, Lt. Gaeta turns the key and announces that the FTL drive is active. Commander Adama then gives the order to jump, and Lt. Gaeta pushes a separate button (which has until now been inactive) that jumps the Galactica to the coordinates entered.
After the Galactica finishes its FTL Jump, Commander Adama asks for confirmation that they have arrived successfully at their destination. Lt. Gaeta runs across the CIC to a navigation console and checks the screen there for the ship’s location. From the information on that screen, Lt. Gaeta confirms that the Galactica has re-entered real space at exactly the place they were intended to be. (Or might report an error, but we never see this.)
The entire CIC lets out a breath of relief and begins clapping in celebration. Lt. Gaeta congratulates his navigation team for their work, and the CIC slowly resumes their task of running the ship. The CIC crew is clearly unnerved by the jump, and everyone is thankful when they arrive safely at their destination.
The Current Position Screen
This is the screen that Lt. Gaeta uses to confirm that they have successfully landed at their current target: geosynchronous orbit above their target body of mass. He does not visibly use any of the controls on the console. The screen autonomously zooms in on the ‘X’ marker, then displays a large, red, blinking triangle with “BSG 75” written above it (The Battlestar Galactica’s registry code). The red ‘X’ is written inside a large sphere, which appears to be the object the Galactica was attempting to jump to.
All of the lines on this graph describe arcs, and appear to be orbital paths. The Galactica is marked as being directly on one of these arcs. Dotted arcs connect many other objects on the screen to each other. These have no clear purpose or legend.
At the bottom center of the screen are the words “Waypoint Time”, “Waypoint Distance”, and “T.O.T.” Above those words is a small label: “Synthetic Gravity Field 74.56”. To the left of those words is an area of data that has been boxed off with the label “Optic Nav System Control.”
More text to the top left lists out information in a table format, but is unreadable to the viewer due to the resolution of the screens in the CIC. The two rows of data beside the labels do not have column headers or unit indicators.
When Korben stands up, his bed recognizes the change. In response it pulls the messy bed and linens away, where they will be “autowashed,” i.e. automatically sanitized, remade, and sealed in plastic (for bedbug protection?) A fresh bed rises up to replace the messy one as the bedframe slides into the wall.
This automated response might be frustrating if it presumed too much. Say, if Korben got up in the night to use the restroom and came back to find his bed missing, so you’d want it to be as context-aware as possible. And there’s evidence that it’s not too smart a system. Later in the film Cornelius hides in the bed and is nearly suffocated as it tries to autowash the bed with him in it, and wraps him in plastic. I get the comedy in the scene, but really, if it had the sensors to know when Korben was laying down in it, it should have a safety that prevents that very thing when a person is there.
Korben does have manual controls. There are two panels of pushbuttons at waist height, about a meter apart on a sliver of wall above the bed recess. We don’t get great views of these panels, but we do see Korben using one of the buttons to hide General Munro and his cronies in the hideaway refrigerator. In the glimpses we get we can see that there are six buttons on each panel, each button labeled with a high-contrast icon. The leftmost button on each controls the bed. Pressing it when it’s hidden opens it. Pressing it when it’s open closes it and, as we saw before, starts the murderous autowash.
All told it’s a pretty awesome system. The agentive part of getting up is handled seamlessly. The alarm has gone off, Korben’s up, and having the bed disappear saves space in the room and removes the temptation of Korben’s slinking back to bed and making himself late for work. And to summon the bed or hide it manually at some unusual time, Korben has understandable, accessible controls. The main down side is the lack of a safety or panic button, and the comparatively minor annoyance that Korben has to tear that plastic off every night even if he just wanted to pass out after a long day of saving the world.
Aside from Robbie, we see two other instances of Morbius’ post-Krell inventions, each of which is lacking in its own way.
A tossed orange demonstrates the very dangerous disposal system.
The first is the disposal, which is housed in a cylindrical nook off of the living room. The smooth walls of this nook are covered in the same metallic, cupric material as a short pedestal seated within. When something is tossed into the nook above the pedestal, it is instantly disintegrated in streaks of green-white energy. There is no indication that the device can distinguish between garbage to be disintegrated and, say, human flesh, but even if it can, the utter irreversibility of the action begs for some additional step of confirmation and safety.
Commander Adams discovers Morbius’ hidden door.
The second is the secret door from Morbius’ study to the Krell complex. It is a recessed stretch of wall off of the living room. Adams discovers it accidentally when he approaches and to his amazement, it slides open by dint of his mere proximity. If this is meant to be either secret or secure, it fails on both counts.