Each of the dinosaur paddocks in Jurassic Park is surrounded by a large electric fence on a dedicated power circuit that is controlled from the Central Control Room. The fences have regular signage warning of danger…
As part of the ongoing review of the Iron Man HUD, I noticed a small feature in the Iron Man 3 UI that—in order to critique—I have to discuss some new concepts and introduce some new terms. The feature itself is genuinely small and almost not worth posting about, but the terms are interesting, so bear with me.
Most of the time JARVIS animates the HUD, the UI elements sit on an invisible sphere that surrounds his head. (And in the case of stacked elements, on concentric invisible spheres.) The window of Pepper in the following screenshot illustrates this pretty clearly. It is a rectangular video feed, but appears slightly bowed to us, being on this sphere near the periphery of this 2nd-person view.
Having elements slide around on the surface of this perceptual sphere is usable for Tony, since it means the elements are always facing him and thereby optimally viewable. “PEPPER POTTS,” for example, is as readable as if it was printed on a book perpendicular to his line of sight. (This notion is a bit confounded by the problems of parallax I wrote about in an earlier post, but since that seems unresolvable until Wim Wouters implements this exact HUD on Oculus Rift, let’s bypass it to focus on the new thing.)
So if it’s visually optimal to have 2D UI elements plastered to the surface of this perceptual sphere, how do we describe that suboptimal state where these same elements are not perpendicular to the line of sight, but angled away? I’m partly asking for a friend named Tony Stark because that’s some of what we see in Iron Man 3, both in 1st- and 2nd-person views. These examples aren’t egregious.
To restore the power that Nedry foolishly shut down (and thereby regain a technological advantage over the dinosaurs), Dr. Sattler must head into the utility bunker that routes power to different parts of the park. Once she is there Hammond, back in the Visitors Center, communicates to her via two-way radio that operating it is a two part process: Manually providing a charge to the main panel, and then closing each of the breakers.
The Main Panel
To restore a charge to the main panel, she manually cranks a paddle (like a kinetic-powered watch, radio, or flashlight), then firmly pushes a green button labeled “Push to Close”. We hear a heavy click inside the panel as the switch flips something, and then the lights on the Breaker Panel list light up green.
Now that she has built up a charge in the circuit, she has to turn on each of the breakers one by one. Continue reading
Once Dr. Sattler restores power to the park, Arnold needs to reboot the computer systems. To do this, he must switch off the circuits (C1–C3 in the screenshot above), and then switch off-and-on a circuit labeled “Main”.
It’s a good thing Arnold knows what he’s doing, since these switches are only labeled C1-3, and we don’t see any documentation in the camera frame. As he turns off each circuit, different parts of the computer terminals in the Control Room shut down. This implies that different computer banks are tied to the same power circuits as the systems they control.
So, since this is a major interface for the park, let’s make this bit explicit: When designing infrequently-used but mission-critical interfaces, take great care to explain use, using clear affordances and constraints so that mistakes are very, very difficult to make.
It might look like a mistake to have all the little electrical labeling to the sides, since this cover would have to be removed to get the components where this information would be of use. But that’s perfect. A user needing to remove this panel must encounter this reference information to get to those components, and so would know where to find them. This is a brilliant example of the pattern Put the Signal in the Path. Let’s hope there are similar signs on other access panels.
Wait…where are the backups?
These are the central computer terminals that run Jurassic Park, and keep visitors safe from the “attractions.” And there is no backup power.
When Arnold turns off the main circuit breaker, the computers (and servers behind them) turn off immediately. The purpose and effect of the power switch deactivates all the systems in Jurassic Park, without any kind of warning or backup system.
For something as dangerous as deadly deadly dinosaurs—raised from the 65 million-year deep grave of extinction—the system deactivation should at least trigger some kind of warning.
Tornado sirens have backup batteries in case the city power goes out. They are a solid example of a backup system that should exist, at minimum, to warn park-goers to move quickly towards shelter. A better backup system would be a duplicate server system that automatically activates all the fences in the park.
When Arnold cycles the visitor center’s power system, it also trips the breakers for all of the other power systems in the park. Primary safety systems like that should be on their own circuit. It’s ok if the fridges turn off and melt the ice cream (though it may be an inconvenience), but that same event shouldn’t also deactivate the velociraptor pen security. Especially when the ‘raptor pen is right next to the visitor center and is a known, aforementioned, deadly deadly threat.