Tattoo surveillance

In the prior Idiocracy post I discussed the car interface, especially in terms of how it informs the passengers what is happening when it is remotely shut down. Today let’s talk about the passive interface that shuts it down: Namely, Joe’s tattoo and the distance-scanning vending machine.

It’s been a while since that prior post, so here’s a recap of what’s happening in Idiocracy in this scene:

When Frito is driving Joe and Rita away from the cops, Joe happens to gesture with his hand above the car window, where a vending machine he happens to be passing spots the tattoo. Within seconds two harsh beeps sound in the car and a voice says, “You are harboring a fugitive named NOT SURE. Please, pull over and wait for the police to incarcerate your passenger.”

Frito’s car begins slowing down, and the dashboard screen shows a picture of Not Sure’s ID card and big red text zooming in a loop reading PULL OVER.

It’s a fast scene and the beat feels more like a filmmaker’s excuse to get them out of the car and on foot as they hunt for the Time Masheen. I breezed by it in an earlier post, but it bears some more investigation.

This is a class of transaction where, like taxes and advertising, the subject is an unwilling and probably uncooperative participant. But this same interface has to work for payment, in which the subject is a willing participant. Keep this in mind as we look first at the proximate problem, i.e. locating the fugitive for apprehension; and at the ultimate goal, i.e. how a culture deals with crime.

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Table Scanner

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After sterilizing the alien head, it is slid out to a table scanner big enough for a crew member to lie upon. Ford brushes the head with some powered material, and says, “Scan.” In response, David presses a button on a nearby illuminated keypad before him, and an arch with sensors slides back and forth over the table on which the head rests. Ford looks at the scan on screen and says, “Dr. Shaw, look at this.”

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The readout screen has a 3D floating pixel display like in the navigation and Neuro-Visor. In this case the scan reveals that the exterior of the object is not an exoskeleton but a suit. On the right side of the screen is a set of curiously organic graphic interface elements seen only on the sterilizer and otherwise unlike anything else in the film.

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There isn’t a clear reason for this change in visual style, but it stands out, so bears a bit of notice. From a readout of 92% “EF-09/8 CONV.” there are lines that flow, like plant leaves, to other labels reading “PROCESSING DATA” and “SCAN HEADS STABLE.” The organic lines drop from the top of the screen to a circular element. These lines look like delicate filaments, and even overlap one another, before connecting to the circle. To the right of this circle more filaments drift from an arc to the upper third of a pie chart. And to the left of the large circle, more filaments run in organic arcs to a smaller circle reading “RKJ-RSSN RATIO”, with a bar chart augmented with numerical data, before drifting out to another circle reading 8.7, and finally arcing off to the lower right hand side of the screen. Comparing this interconnected set of GUI elements to anything else in the movie is a stark contrast. Other interfaces have horizontal and vertical lines, connected with regular filleted corners. The swoopy shapes are lovely, though a minor criticism might be that it feels a bit decorative for a scientific application.

The main criticism for this display is not its GUI but its placement. It requires the scientist to crane her neck to see the results, turning her field of vision far away from the object she’s examining. If there were sudden changes in its appearance, she’d likely miss them. Better would be to have the screen above the table or attached to its edge so a shift from object to scan can happen with a quick glance, and that would let the object remain in her peripheral vision so she would be more likely to notice any change.

Later this same scanning table is used on Dr. Shaw. No attempt is made to fit her into the de-sterilizer, though the point of the quarantine is to determine possible contagion. After a scan, he sees a VP readout that confirms she is pregnant with Halloway’s posthumous, alien baby.