Joe and Rita climb into the pods and situate themselves comfortably. Officer Collins and his assistant approach and insert some necessary intravenous chemicals. We see two canisters, one empty (for waste?) and one filled with the IV fluid. To each side of the subject’s head is a small raised panel with two lights (amber and ruby) and a blue toggle switch. None of these are labeled. The subjects fall into hibernation and the lids close.
Collins and his assistant remove a cable labeled “MASTER” from the interface and close a panel which seals the inputs and outputs. They then close a large steel door, stenciled “TOP SECRET,” to the hibernation chamber.
Perhaps the most unusual interface in the film is a game seen when Theo visits his cousin Nigel for a meal and to ask for a favor. Nigel’s son Alex sits at the table silent and distant, his attention on a strange game that it’s designer, Mark Coleran, tells me is called “Kubris,” a 3D hybrid of Tetris and Rubik’s Cube.
Alex operates the game by twitching and sliding his fingers in the air. With each twitch a small twang is heard. He suspends his hand a bit above the table to have room. His finger movements are tracked by thin black wires that extend from small plastic discs at his fingertips back to a device worn on his wrist. This device looks like a streamlined digital watch, but where the face of a clock would be are a set of multicolored LEDs arranged in rows. These LEDs flicker on and off in inscrutable patterns, but clearly showing some state of the game. There is an inset LED block that also displays an increasing score.
The game also features a small, transparent, flat screen that rests on the table in front of him. It displays a computer-generated cube, similar to a 5×5 Rubik’s Cube, made up of smaller transparent cubes that share colors with the LEDs on his wrist. As Alex plays, he changes the orientation of the cube, and positions smaller cubes along the surface of the larger.
Alex plays this game continually during the course of the scene. He is so engrossed in it that when Nigel asks him twice to take his pills, he doesnt even register the instruction. Nigel must yell at him to get Alex to comply.
Though the exact workings of the game are a mystery, it serves to illustrate in a technological way how some of the younger people in 2027 disengage from the horror of the world through games that have been designed for addiction and obsession.
Once Johnny has installed his motion detector on the door, the brain upload can begin.
3. Building it
Johnny starts by opening his briefcase and removing various components, which he connects together into the complete upload system. Some of the parts are disguised, and the whole sequence is similar to an assassin in a thriller film assembling a gun out of harmless looking pieces.
It looks strange today to see a computer system with so many external devices connected by cables. We’ve become accustomed to one piece computing devices with integrated functionality, and keyboards, mice, cameras, printers, and headphones that connect wirelessly.
Cables and other connections are not always considered as interfaces, but “all parts of a thing which enable its use” is the definition according to Chris. In the early to mid 1990s most computer user were well aware of the potential for confusion and frustration in such interfaces. A personal computer could have connections to monitor, keyboard, mouse, modem, CD drive, and joystick – and every single device would use a different type of cable. USB, while not perfect, is one of the greatest ever improvements in user interfaces.Continue reading →
Lorraine prepares the family a pizza using a hydrator. She opens a sealed foil package, branded Pizza Hut, and removes a tiny puck of a pizza, placing it in the center of a large pizza tray. She inserts the tray into a hydrator oven and closes the hinged front door. A small green light illuminates on its panel. She puts her mouth close to the device and instructs it to, Hydrate level 4, please. A red light illuminates as a bubbling sound is heard for a few seconds. Then a timer bell rings, and both lights extinguish. Lorraine removes a full-sized and fully-cooked pizza from the oven.
It could be improved by not having her have to remember and enter the level of hydration. There might be an argument that this helps the hydrator feel like they’re doing enough effort, like the legendary Betty Crocker egg story. While snopes tells us that the usual version of this is poppycock, but also references Ernest Dichter’s research in which yes, the first generation of homemakers using instant cake mixes felt that a preparation that was too easy was too indulgent. So, perhaps the hydrator is first generation, and later generations will be able to detect the hydration needed from the packaging.
Biff(2015) pays for his taxi ride to the McFly household with his thumbprint. When the ride ends, a synthesized voice gives the price one-seven-four-point-five-zero. The taxi driver presents him with a book-sized device with the price at the top on a red 7-segment LED display. Biff presses his thumb on a reader at the bottom that glows white as it scans. When the payment is verified, the thumbprint reader and the price go dark as a sound plays like a register.
For due diligence, let me restate: multimodal biometric or multifactor authentication is more secure.
To get Jennifer into her home, the police take her to the front door of her home. They place her thumb on a small circular reader by the door. Radial LEDs circle underneath her thumb for a moment as it reads. Then a red light above the reader turns off and a green light turns on. The door unlocks and a synthesized voice says, Welcome home, Jennifer!
Similarly to the Thumbdentity, a multifactor authentication would be much more secure. The McFly family is struggling, so you might expect them to have substandard technology, but that the police are using something similar casts that in doubt.
Genarro: “Are they heavy?”
Excited Kid: “Yeah!”
Genarro: “Then they’re expensive, put them back”
Excited Kid: [nope]
The Night Vision Goggles are large binoculars that are sized to fit on an adult head. They are stored in a padded case in the Tour Jeep’s trunk. When activated, a single red light illuminated in the “forehead” of the device, and four green lights appear on the rim of each lens. The green lights rotate around the lens as the user zooms the binoculars in and out. On a styling point, the goggles are painted in a very traditional and very adorable green and yellow striped dinosaur pattern.
Tim holds the goggles up as he plays with them, and it looks like they are too large for his head (although we don’t see him adjust the head support at all, so he might not have known they were adjustable). He adjusts the zoom using two hidden controls—one on each side. It isn’t obvious how these work. It could be that…
There are no controls, and it automatically focuses on the thing in the center of the view or on the thing moving.
One side zooms in, and the other zooms out.
Both controls have a zoom in/zoom out ability.
Each side control powers its own lens.
Admittedly, the last option is the least likely.
Unfortunately the movie just doesn’t give us enough information, leaving it as an exercise for us to consider.
Ghostbusters have a handheld device that detects “psycho-kinetic energy” (PKE), called, appropriately, the P.K.E. Meter.
Early in the library scene, Spengler is holding the device up in front of his eyes when he explains to Stentz that, “It’s moving.” So theoretically, there is some way by which it helps locate the source of PKE concentration. When we see the front of the device, it’s a bunch of small indictor lights, and impossible to make any sense of what we see there. (In fact, the later scene seems to have the orientation of the device horizontally flipped.) The inscrutability of the interface is fine, diegetically, since it’s a custom device built by scientists for themselves, but as they try and hire new ghostbusters and train them, they’re going to want to think about ease-of-training.
You might think that that green display we see in this first scene is pointing in a cardinal direction, i.e. just behind Spengler, but when we see the same device later, right next to the Keymaster, those indicator lights are spinning around a center that’s off the edge of the screen, so, again, the meaning of these lights is inscrutable.
Its most salient feature are the two arms that rotate out from either side, which are topped with a line of amber lights. When in the presence of high levels of PKE, the arms raise up and the lights blink more rapidly. At max PKE, the arms extend horizontally and the lights blink quite rapidly (see above). Unlike the user interface, these little guys are awesome. Let me explain why.
Both their lights and their extension help convey immediately the main point of the device: more PKE nearby. Notably they do so using two hard-to-miss signals that build on universal mental maps: up equals more, and faster blink is more urgent. Even if you can’t parse the UI, you get this. The immediacy means a lower cognitive load for the ghostbuster who’s attention needs to be on the environment around them primarily and on this device secondarily. Having physical motion and blinking even means it could be well in their peripheral vision and still convey the information. But it gets better. Even if it was out of sight, the motors that move the arms would provide a bit of sound and even haptic information that something has changed.
And lastly, we should keep in mind that ghostbusting is a service, and the customers are a vital part of that equation. Even if they don’t use it directly, they see it being used, and what it conveys to them as a touchpoint is important. If they are doubting, for example, the existence of ghosts, the little arms and lights would provide an immediately-understandable sense of whoa, and there’s a direct-feedback loop to verify that it’s not random. It’s detecting something in the environment. That would give the customers and onlookers a confidence that is important to new businesses operating within dubious domains.
So, seriously, those PKE arms are awesome and now I wish I had gone as a P.K.E. Meter for Halloween this year. Well, there’s always next year maybe at a sci-fi interfaces all-costume Halloween ball.
The Ghostbusters wear “unlicensed particle accelerators” to shoot a stream of energy from an attached gun. Usefully, this positively-charged stream of energy can bind ghosts. The Pack is the size of a large camper’s backpack and is worn like one. The Proton pack must be turned on and warmed up before use. Its switch, oddly, is on the back, where the user cannot get to it themselves.
After the Communications Tower is knocked off, Barcalow, looking out the viewport, somehow knows exactly where the damage to the ship has occured. This is a little like Captain Edward Smith looking out over the bow of the RMS Titanic and smelling which compartment was ripped open by the iceburg, but we must accept the givens of the scene. Barcalow turns to Ibanez and tells her to “Close compartment 21!” She turns to her left, reaches out, and presses a green maintained-contact button labeled ENABLE. This button is right next to a similar-but-black button also labeled ENABLE. As she presses the button, a nearby green LED flashes for a total of 4 frames, or 0.16 second.
She looks up at some unseen interface, and, pleased with what she sees there, begins to relax, the crisis passed.
A weary analysis
Let’s presume he is looking at some useful but out-of-character-for-this-bridge display, and that it does help him identify that yes, out of all the compartments that might have been the one they heard damaged, it is the 21st that needs closing.
Why does he have the information but she have the control? Time is wasted (and air—not to mention lives, people—is lost) in the time it takes him to instruct and her to react.
How did she find the right button when it’s labeled exactly the same way as adjacent button? Did she have to memorize the positions of all of them? Or the color? (How many compartments and therefore colors would that mean she would need to memorize?) Wouldn’t a label reading, say, “21” have been more useful in this regard?
What good does an LED do to flash so quickly? Certainly, she would want to know that the instruction was received, but it’s a very fast signal. It’s easy to miss. Shouldn’t it have stayed on to indicate not the moment of contact, but the state?
Why was this a maintained-contact button? Those look very similar when pressed or depressed. A toggle switch would display its state immediately, and would permit flipping a lot of them quickly, in case a lot of compartments need sealing.
Why is there some second place she must look to verify the results of her action, that is a completely separate place from Barcalow (remember he looks forward, she looks up). Sure, maybe redundancy. Sure, maybe he’s looking at data and she’s looking at video feeds, but wouldn’t it be better if they were looking at the same thing?
I know it’s a very quick interaction. And props to the scriptwriters for thinking about leaking air in space. But this entire interaction needs rethinking.