The Memory Doubler

In Beijing, Johnny steps into a hotel lift and pulls a small package out his pocket. He unwraps it to reveal the “Pemex MemDoubler”.

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Johnny extends the cable from the device and plugs it into the implant in his head. The socket glows red once the connection is made.

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Analysis: The jack

The jack looks like an audio plug, and like most audio plugs is round and has no coronal-orientation requirement. It also has a bulbous rather than pointed tip. Both of these are good design, as Johnny can’t see the socket directly and while accidentally poking yourself with a headphone style point is unlikely to be harmful, it would certainly be irritating.

The socket’s glow would be a useful indicator that the thing is working, but Johnny can’t see it! Probably these sockets and jacks are produced and used for other devices as well, as red status lights are common in this world.

There are easier and more convenient fictional brain plug interfaces, such as the neck plugs previously discussed on this website for Ghost In The Shell. But Johnny doesn’t want his implant to be too obvious, so this not so convenient plug may be a deliberate choice. Perhaps he tells inquisitive people that it’s for his Walkman.

Analysis: The device

The product name got a few chuckles from audiences in the 1990s, as the name is similar to a common classic Macintosh extension at the time, the Connectix RAM Doubler. This applied in-memory lossless data compression techniques to allow more or larger programs to run within the existing RAM.

The MemDoubler is apparently a software or firmware updater, modifying Johnny’s implant to use brain tissue twice as efficiently as before. It has voice output, again a slightly artificial sounding but not unpleasant voice. This announces that Johnny’s current capacity is 80 gigabytes. As the update is applied, a glowing progress bar gradually fills until the voice announces the new capacity of 160G.

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(Going from 80G to 160G seems quaint today. But we should remember that the value of a mnemonic courier is secrecy, not quantity.)

Why does the MemDoubler need voice output? For such a simple task, the progress bar and a three digit numeric counter would seem adequate. But if there are complications—which for something wired into the brain might have an all too literal meaning for “fatal error”—a voice announcement would be able to include much more detail about the problem, or even alert bystanders if Johnny is rendered unconscious by the problem. (Given how current software installers operate, Johnny is fortunate that the MemDoubler did not insist on reciting the entire end user license agreement and warranty before the update could start.) Maybe the visual should be the default (to respect his professional need for secrecy), and the voice announcement adopted in an alert mode.

It’s also interesting that Johnny installs this immediately before he needs it, in the lift that is taking him to the hotel room where he will receive the data to be stored. Suppose someone else had been in the lift with him? In this world of routine body implants doubling your memory is probably not a crime, but at the time of writing diabetics will inject themselves in private even though that is harmless and necessary. Perhaps body-connected technology will be common enough in 2021 that public operation is considered normal, just as we have become accustomed to mobile phone conversations being carried out in public.

Grabby hologram

After Pepper tosses off the sexy bon mot “Work hard!” and leaves Tony to his Avengers initiative homework, Tony stands before the wall-high translucent displays projected around his room.

Amongst the videos, diagrams, metadata, and charts of the Tesseract panel, one item catches his attention. It’s the 3D depiction of the object, the tesseract itself, one of the Infinity Stones from the MCU. It is a cube rendered in a white wireframe, glowing cyan amidst the flat objects otherwise filling the display. It has an intense, cold-blue glow at its center.  Small facing circles surround the eight corners, from which thin cyan rule lines extend a couple of decimeters and connect to small, facing, inscrutable floating-point numbers and glyphs.

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Wanting to look closer at it, he reaches up and places fingers along the edge as if it were a material object, and swipes it away from the display. It rests in his hand as if it was a real thing. He studies it for a minute and flicks his thumb forward to quickly switch the orientation 90° around the Y axis.

Then he has an Important Thought and the camera cuts to Agent Coulson and Steve Rogers flying to the helicarrier.

So regular readers of this blog (or you know, fans of blockbuster sci-fi movies in general) may have a Spidey-sense that this feels somehow familiar as an interface. Where else do we see a character grabbing an object from a volumetric projection to study it? That’s right, that seminal insult-to-scientists-and-audiences alike, Prometheus. When David encounters the Alien Astrometrics VP, he grabs the wee earth from that display to nuzzle it for a little bit. Follow the link if you want that full backstory. Or you can just look and imagine it, because the interaction is largely the same: See display, grab glowing component of the VP and manipulate it.

Prometheus-229 Two anecdotes are not yet a pattern, but I’m glad to see this particular interaction again. I’m going to call it grabby holograms (capitulating a bit on adherence to the more academic term volumetric projection.) We grow up having bodies and moving about in a 3D world, so the desire to grab and turn objects to understand them is quite natural. It does require that we stop thinking of displays as untouchable, uninterruptable movies and more like toy boxes, and it seems like more and more writers are catching on to this idea.

More graphics or more information?

Additionally,  the fact that this object is the one 3D object in its display is a nice affordance that it can be grabbed. I’m not sure whether he can pull the frame containing the JOINT DARK ENERGY MISSION video to study it on the couch, but I’m fairly certain I knew that the tesseract was grabbable before Tony reached out.

On the other hand, I do wonder what Tony could have learned by looking at the VP cube so intently. There’s no information there. It’s just a pattern on the sides. The glow doesn’t change. The little glyph sticks attached to the edges are fuigets. He might be remembering something he once saw or read, but he didn’t need to flick it like he did for any new information. Maybe he has flicked a VP tesseract in the past?

Augmented “reality”

Rather, I would have liked to have seen those glyph sticks display some useful information, perhaps acting as leaders that connected the VP to related data in the main display. One corner’s line could lead to the Zero Point Extraction chart. Another to the lovely orange waveform display. This way Tony could hold the cube and glance at its related information. These are all augmented reality additions.

Augmented VP

Or, even better, could he do some things that are possible with VPs that aren’t possible with AR. He should be able to scale it to be quite large or small. Create arbitrary sections, or plan views. Maybe fan out depictions of all objects in the SHIELD database that are similarly glowy, stone-like, or that remind him of infinity. Maybe…there’s…a…connection…there! Or better yet, have a copy of JARVIS study the data to find correlations and likely connections to consider. We’ve seen these genuine VP interactions plenty of places (including Tony’s own workshop), so they’re part of the diegesis.

Avengers_PullVP-05.pngIn any case, this simple setup works nicely, in which interaction with a cool media helps underscore the gravity of the situation, the height of the stakes. Note to selves: The imperturbable Tony Stark is perturbed. Shit is going to get real.

 

Nike MAGs

BttF_026Dr. Brown gives Marty some 21st century clothes in order to blend in. The first of these items are shoes. Marty is surprised to see no laces. To activate them, he pushes his foot into the shoe. When his heel makes contact, the main strap constricts to hold his heel in place. Then the laces constrict to hold the ball of the heel down. Finally, the tongue of the shoe and the “Nike” logo glow.

Yep. Perfect. The activation is natural to the act of putting on the device. The glow acts as a status indicator and symbol. No wonder everyone wanted them.

Skyways

BttF_013When driving in the sky along with other flying cars that fill the skies in 2015, Doc follows a proscribed path in the sky called a “skyway.” Lanes are distinguished by floating lightposts, which the pilot keeps to his left. It all seems a little chaosy, but so does driving in Mumbai to the outsider, and it works if you know how. The other brilliance of the skyway is that suddenly flying cars make some sense systemically. Before this, I certainly thought of flying cars as personal helicopters, taking you from point to point. But of course that becomes an air traffic control nightmare. Much better to adapt a known system that puts the onus of control to the operators.

Less successful are the road signs. Continue reading

Stark Tower monitoring

Since Tony disconnected the power transmission lines, Pepper has been monitoring Stark Tower in its new, off-the-power-grid state. To do this she studies a volumetric dashboard display that floats above glowing shelves on a desktop.

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Volumetric elements

The display features some volumetric elements, all rendered as wireframes in the familiar Pepper’s Ghost (I know, I know) visual style: translucent, edge-lit planes. A large component to her right shows Stark Tower, with red lines highlighting the power traveling from the large arc reactor in the basement through the core of the building.

The center of the screen has a similarly-rendered close up of the arc reactor. A cutaway shows a pulsing ring of red-tinged energy flowing through its main torus.

This component makes a good deal of sense, showing her the physical thing she’s meant to be monitoring but not in a photographic way, but a way that helps her quickly locate any problems in space. The torus cutaway is a little strange, since if she’s meant to be monitoring it, she should monitor the whole thing, not just a quarter of it that has been cut away.

Flat elements

The remaining elements in the display appear on a flat plane. Continue reading

Main Power Board

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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

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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

Dat glaive: Mojo Radiator

Loki’s wants to take down the Avengers and the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, to disable the two greatest threats to his invading forces. To accomplish this, he lets himself get captured and the glaive taken away from him, knowing Banner would study it, fall prey to one of its terrible effects, become the ragemonster, and wreck the place.

That effect goes unnamed in the film so I’ll call it the bad mojo radiator. The longer people hang around it, the more discord it sows. In fact just before Loki’s thralls enact a daring rescue of him, we see all of the Avengers fighting in the lab, for no other reason than they stand in the glaive’s presence.

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The infighting ends suddenly when Banner unintentionally takes the glaive in hand as he attempts to silence the group. Because the threat of Hulk + glaive is enough to make other fights seem secondary. Continue reading

Dat glaive: Teleconferencing

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When his battalion of thralls are up and harvesting Vespene Gas working to stabilize the Tesseract, Loki sits down to check in with his boss’ two-thumbed assistant, an MCU-recurring weirdo who goes unnamed in the movie, but which the Marvel wiki assures me is called The Other.

To get into the teleconference, Loki sits down on the ground with the glaive in his right hand and the blue stone roughly in front of his heart. He closes his eyes, straightens his back, and as the stone glows, the walls around him seem to billow away and he sees the asteroidal meeting room where The Other has been on hold (listening to some annoying Chitauri Muzak no doubt).

Avengers-Glaive-Teleconferencing-09 Continue reading

Dat glaive: Enthrallment

Several times throughout the movie, Loki uses places the point of the glaive on a victim’s chest near their heart, and a blue fog passes from the stone to infect them: an electric blackness creeps upward along their skin from their chest until it reaches their eyes, which turn fully black for a moment before becoming the same ice blue of the glaive’s stone, and we see that the victim is now enthralled into Loki’s servitude.

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You have heart.

The glaive is very, very terribly designed for this purpose. Continue reading

J.D.E.M. LEVEL 5

The first computer interface we see in the film occurs at 3:55. It’s an interface for housing and monitoring the tesseract, a cube that is described in the film as “an energy source” that S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to use to “harness energy from space.” We join the cube after it has unexpectedly and erratically begun to throw off low levels of gamma radiation.

The harnessing interface consists of a housing, a dais at the end of a runway, and a monitoring screen.

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Fury walks past the dais they erected just because.

The housing & dais

The harness consists of a large circular housing that holds the cube and exposes one face of it towards a long runway that ends in a dais. Diegetically this is meant to be read more as engineering than interface, but it does raise questions. For instance, if they didn’t already know it was going to teleport someone here, why was there a dais there at all, at that exact distance, with stairs leading up to it? How’s that harnessing energy? Wouldn’t you expect a battery at the far end? If they did expect a person as it seems they did, then the whole destroying swaths of New York City thing might have been avoided if the runway had ended instead in the Hulk-holding cage that we see later in the film. So…you know…a considerable flaw in their unknown-passenger teleportation landing strip design. Anyhoo, the housing is also notable for keeping part of the cube visible to users near it, and holding it at a particular orientation, which plays into the other component of the harness—the monitor.

Avengers-cubemonitoring-03 Continue reading