Café 80s

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Following Dr. Brown’’s instructions, Marty heads to “Café 80s” where the waitstaff consists of television screens mounted on articulated arms which are suspended from the ceiling, allowing them to reach anyplace in the café. Each screen has a shelf on which small items can be delivered to a patron. Each screen features a different celebrity from the 1980s, rendered as a computer “talking head” and done in a jittery “Max Headroom” style.

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Coulson Calling

JARVIS interrupts his banter with Pepper, explaining, “Sir, the telephone. I’m afraid my protocols are being overridden.” We can hear Coulson’s voice saying, “Mr. Stark, we need to talk.” Perturbed, Tony grabs his custom phone from where it sits on a nearby table. It is made up of a glass plane within a rounded-rectangle black band. On its little screen we can see a white label reading, “Connected.” Remarkably, this label is presented in mixed case. Nearly all sci-fi interface typography is rendered in all caps, so I have some curiosity how this ended up in majuscule and miniscule. But it feels right. Perhaps that’s because it’s kind-of a consumer device?

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Anyway, beneath the label is a static photo of the caller, Agent Coulson, and below that a large circle with a central bump, and some other tiny controls.

Tony positions the phone before him, looks into the glass, and says, “You have reached the life model decoy of Tony Stark. Please leave a message.” Coulson doesn’t fall for it, saying, “This is urgent.” Tony tries to admonish him, “Then leave it urgently,” but it’s too late. Coulson himself walks out of the elevator in the room, his phone to his ear.

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Aside from the trope screens are cameras, and the bad-but-understandable translucent screen, I have another question about the interaction: What is Tony doing looking at the phone for the duration of the short conversation? Since Coulson isn’t looking at his phone, it’s just an audio connection between them. The phone should convey that status to Tony, and in fact the static image of Coulson seems to imply just that. So, why does he bother looking at it?

So try as I may, I can’t apologetics-my-way to get around this odd behavior in the scene. Perhaps Downey believed that the interface would be rendered with a video image of Coulson on the other end, and that turned out not to jive with Gregg’s holding it to his ear. I hate to leave it at “misinformed actor” but I can’t think of a diegetic explanation. Anyone have a plausible one?

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Carrier Control

The second instantiation of videochat with the World Security Council that we see is  when Fury receives their order to bomb the site of the Chitauri portal. (Here’s the first.) He takes this call on the bridge, and rather than a custom hardware setup, this is a series of windows that overlay an ominous-red map of the world in an app called CARRIER CONTROL. These windows represent a built-in chat feature for discussing this very topic. There is some fuigetry on the periphery, but our focus is on these windows and the conversation happening through them.

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In this version of the chat, we are assured that it is a SECURE TRANSMISSION by a legend across the top of each, but there is not the same level of assurance as in the videoconference room. If it’s still HOTP, Fury isn’t notified of it. There’s a tiny 01_AZ in the upper right of every screen, but it never changes and is the same for each participant. (An homage to Arizona? Lighter Andrew Zink? Cameraman Arthur Zajac?) Though this is a more desperate situation, you imagine that the need for security is no less dire. Having that same cypher key would be comforting if it is in fact a policy.

Different sizes of windows in the app seem to indicate a hierarchy, since the largest window is the fellow who does most of the talking in both conferences, and it does not change as others speak. Such an automated layout would spare Fury the hassle of having to manage multiple windows, though visually these look more like individual objects he’s meant to manipulate. Poor affordances.

dismiss

The only control we see is when Fury dismisses them, and to do this he just taps at the middle of the screen. The teleconference window is “push wiped” by a satellite view of New York City. Fine, he feels like punching them. But…

a) How does he actually select something in that interface without a tap?

b) A swipe would have been more meaningful, and in line with the gestural pidgin I identified in the gestural chapter of the book.

And of course, if this was the real world, you’d hope for better affordances for what can be done on this window across the board.

So though mostly effective, narratively, could use some polish.

Shadowy videoconferencing room

After Loki gets away with the crazy-powerful tesseract and a handful of S.H.I.E.L.D. (seriously that’s a pain to type) agents, Fury has a virtual meeting with members of the World Security Council—which is shadowy in appearance and details. To conduct this furtive conference Fury walks into a room custom-built for such purposes.

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A bank of large vertically-mounted monitors forms a semicircle in the small room, each mounted above a workstation with keyboard and multiple screens overlit for maximum eyestrain. It’s quite unclear what the agents who normally work here are currently doing, or what those vertically mounted screens normally display, since they’d be a shoo-in for an OSHA lawsuit, given the amount a user would need to crane. Ergonomics, Nick, look it up.

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Each screen dedicates most of its real estate to a waist-up view of the speaker. Overlays near the bottom assure us that DATA [is] SECURE and confirms it with a 16-character alphanumeric CYPHER KEY that is frequently changing and unique to each speaker. This is similar to an HMAC-based One-time Password Algorithm (HOTP) password algorithm, so is well-grounded in reality. It’s convincing.

The screens adhere to the trope that every screen is a camera. Nick looks at their eyes and they look right back. Ordinarily that would be a big problem, but with the translucent displays and the edge lighting of the participants, it could actually work.

There is no indication of controls for these screens, but that’s cool if the room is dedicated to this purpose. Someone else would set the call up for him, and all he has to do is walk in. He should be able to just walk out to end it. And let them know how he feels about them.

Federal Services Communiqué

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Live video in Starship Troopers works a little bit differently than video messages. When he wants to call his parents in Buenos Aires, he somehow sets up the call (it’s offscreen, so we really don’t know how he does it). When the call goes through, a soldier comes in to the barracks to tell Rico that it’s going through, and then tells him to take it. You know, three feet away. At the end of the barracks. That they’re currently in. In a giant wall display. So…short improvement #1: Maybe just let it ring with Rico’s name on it rather than require a communication officer to wander around the barracks just telling soldiers to take five steps in a certain direction.

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