Cyberspace: Bulletin Board

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.

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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.

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Cyberspace: Newark Copyshop

The transition from Beijing to the Newark copyshop is more involved. After he travels around a bit, he realizes he needs to be looking back in Newark. He “rewinds” using a pull gesture and sees the copyshop’s pyramid. First there is a predominantly blue window that unfolds as if it were paper.

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And then the copyshop initial window expands. Like the Beijing hotel, this is a floor plan view, but unlike the hotel it stays two dimensional. It appears that cyberspace works like the current world wide web, with individual servers for each location that can choose what appearance to present to visitors.

Johnny again selects data records, but not with a voice command. The first transition is a window that not only expands but spins as it does so, and makes a strange jump at the end from the centre to the upper left.

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Once again Johnny uses the two-handed expansion gesture to see the table view of the records. Continue reading

Cyberspace: Navigation

Cyberspace is usually considered to be a 3D spatial representation of the Internet, an expansion of the successful 2D desktop metaphor. The representation of cyberspace used in books such as Neuromancer and Snow Crash, and by the film Hackers released in the same year, is an abstract cityscape where buildings represent organisations or individual computers, and this what we see in Johnny Mnemonic. How does Johnny navigate through this virtual city?

Gestures and words for flying

Once everything is connected up, Johnny starts his journey with an unfolding gesture. He then points both fingers forward. From his point of view, he is flying through cyberspace. He then holds up both hands to stop.

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Both these gestures were commonly used in the prototype VR systems of 1995. They do however conflict with the more common gestures for manipulating objects in volumetric projections that are described in Make It So chapter 5. It will be interesting to see which set of gestures is eventually adopted, or whether they can co-exist.

Later we will see Johnny turn and bank by moving his hands independently.

jm-31-navigation-f Continue reading

Helmet transition

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The spherical helmet that Barbarella wears with her environmental suit can change from completely reflective to completely translucent. To do so she reaches with both hands and touches controls (never shown) on the back of the helmet to activate the transition. Over 40 seconds the reflectivity withdraws into the base of the helmet, revealing Barbarella’’s face through the glass.

Direct exposure to most of the electromagnetic spectrum is dangerous. To avoid Barbarella’s accidentally frying her own head in space, the suit must be designed against accidental activation. The strategy shown is called two-hand trip, which requires two hands to touch different controls at the same time to start the process. This is most often used in machines where you want hands out of the way of processes that could pinch or cut, but that aren’t dangerous after the process begins. In this case it’s less about mechanical danger than the risks with exposure.

Another strategy would be to use two-hand control, which would require constant contact during the transition. But since this transition is so slow (and presuming there is some undo mechanism that we never see) having this “two-hand trip” is not disastrous. If something or someone accidentally tripped it, she has more than enough time to recover.

On the other hand, 40 seconds is a long time for anyone to wait for things in the days of switchable glass. If your Barbarella was less dreamy-eyed & patient than this one, you might have to make a different tradeoff.

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