Viper Launch Control

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The Galactica’s fighter launch catapults are each controlled by a ‘shooter’ in an armored viewing pane.  There is one ‘shooter’ for every two catapults.  To launch a Viper, he has a board with a series of large twist-handles, a status display, and a single button.  We can also see several communication devices:

  • Ear-mounted mic and speaker
  • Board mounted mic
  • Phone system in the background

These could relate to one of several lines of communication each:

  • The Viper pilot
  • Any crew inside the launch pod
  • Crew just outside the launch pod
  • CIC (for strategic status updates)
  • Other launch controllers at other stations
  • Engineering teams
  • ‘On call’ rooms for replacement operators

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Each row on the launch display appears to conform to some value coming off of the Viper or the Galactica’s magnetic catapults.  The ‘shooter’ calls off Starbuck’s launch three times due to some value he sees on his status board (fluctuating engine power right before launch).

We do not see any other data inputs.  Something like a series of cameras on a closed circuit could show him an exterior view of the entire Viper, providing additional information to the sensors.

When Starbuck is ready to launch on the fourth try, the ‘shooter’ twists the central knob and, at the same time and with the same hand, pushes down a green button.  The moment the ‘shooter’ hits the button, Starbuck’s Viper is launched into space.

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There are other twist knobs across the entire board, but these do not appear to conform directly to the act of launching the Viper, and they do not act like the central knob.  They appear instead to be switches, where turning them from one position to another locks them in place.

There is no obvious explanation for the number of twist knobs, but each one might conform to an electrical channel to the catapult, or some part of the earlier launch sequence.

Manual Everything

Nothing in the launch control interprets anything for the ‘shooter’.  He is given information, then expected to interpret it himself.  From what we see, this information is basic enough to not cause a problem and allow him to quickly make a decision.

Without networking the launch system together so that it can poll its own information and make its own decisions, there is little that can improve the status indicators. (And networking is made impossible in this show because of Cylon hackers.) The board is easily visible from the shooter chair, each row conforms directly to information coming in from the Viper, and the relate directly to the task at hand.

The most dangerous task the shooter does is actually decide to launch the Viper into space.  If either the Galactica or the Viper isn’t ready for that action, it could cause major damage to the Viper and the launch systems.

A two-step control for this is the best method, and the system now requires two distinct motions (a twist-and-hold, then a separate and distinct *click*).  This is effective at confirming that the shooter actually wants to send the Viper into space.

To improve this control, the twist and button could be moved far enough apart (reference, under “Two-Hand Controls” ) that it requires two hands to operate the control.  That way, there is no doubt that the shooter intends to activate the catapult.

If the controls are separated like that, it would take some amount of effort to make sure the two controls are visually connected across the board, either through color, or size, or layout.  Right now, that would be complicated by the similarity in the final twist control, and the other handles that do different jobs.

Changing these controls to large switches or differently shaped handles would make the catapult controls less confusing to use.

 

Viper Controls

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The Viper is the primary space fighter of the Colonial Fleet.  It comes in several varieties, from the Mark II (shown above), to the Mark VII (the latest version).  Each is made for a single pilot, and the controls allow the pilot to navigate short distances in space to dogfight with enemy fighters.

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Mark II Viper Cockpit

The Mark II Viper is an analog machine with a very simple Dradis, physical gauges, and paper flight plans.  It is a very old system.  The Dradis sits in the center console with the largest screen real-estate.  A smaller needle gauge under the Dradis shows fuel levels, and a standard joystick/foot pedal system provides control over the Viper’s flight systems.

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Mark VII Viper Cockpit

The Viper Mk VII is a mostly digital cockpit with a similar Dradis console in the middle (but with a larger screen and more screen-based controls and information).  All other displays are digital screens.  A few physical buttons are scattered around the top and bottom of the interface.  Some controls are pushed down, but none are readable.  Groups of buttons are titled with text like “COMMS CIPHER” and “MASTER SYS A”.

Eight buttons around the Dradis console are labeled with complex icons instead of text.

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When the Mk VII Vipers encounter Cylons for the first time, the Cylons use a back-door computer virus to completely shut down the Viper’s systems.  The screens fuzz out in the same manner as when Apollo gets caught in an EMP burst.

The Viper Mk VII is then completely uncontrollable, and the pilot’s’ joystick-based controls cease to function.

Overall, the Viper Mk II is set up similarly to a WWII P-52 Mustang or early production F-15 Eagle, while the Viper Mk VII is similar to a modern-day F-16 Falcon or F-22 Raptor .

 

Usability Concerns

The Viper is a single seat starfighter, and appears to excel in that role.  The pilots focus on their ship, and the Raptor pilots following them focus on the big picture.  But other items, including color choice, font choice, and location are an issue.

Otherwise, Items appear a little small, and it requires a lot of training to know what to look for on the dashboards. Also, the black lines radiating from the large grouper labels appear to go nowhere and provide no extra context or grouping.  Additionally, the controls (outside of the throttle and joystick) require quite a bit of reach from the seat.

Given that the pilots are accelerating at 9+ gs, reaching a critical control in the middle of a fight could be difficult.  Hopefully, the designers of the Vipers made sure that ‘fighting’ controls are all within arms reach of the seat, and that the controls requiring more effort are secondary tasks.

Similarly, all-caps text is the hardest to read at a glance, and should be avoided for interfaces like the Viper that require quick targeting and actions in the middle of combat.  The other text is very small, and it would be worth doing a deeper evaluation in the cockpit itself to determine if the font size is too small to read from the seat.

If anyone reading this blog has an accurate Viper cockpit prop, we’d be happy to review it! 

Fighter pilots in the Battlestar Galactica universe have quick reflexes, excellent vision, and stellar training.  They should be allowed to use all of those abilities for besting Cylons in a dogfight, instead of being forced to spend time deciphering their Viper’s interface.

Damage Control

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After the Galactica takes a nuclear missile hit to its port launch bay, part of the CIC goes into Damage Control mode.  Chief Tyrol and another officer take up a position next to a large board with a top-down schematic of the Galactica.  The board has various lights in major sections of the ship representing various air-tight modules in the ship.  

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After the nuclear hit, the port launch bay is venting to space, bulkheads are collapsing in due to the damage, and there are uncontrolled fires.  In those blocks, the lights blink red.

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Colonel Tigh orders the red sections sealed off and vented to space.  When Tigh turns his special damage control key in the “Master Vent” control, the lights disappear until the areas are sealed off again.  When the fires go out and the master vents are closed, the lights return to a green state.

On the board then, the lights have three states:

  • Green: air-tight, healthy
  • Blinking Red: Fire
  • Off: Intentional Venting

There does not appear to be any indications of the following states:

  • Damage Control Teams in the area
  • Open to space/not air-tight

We also do not see how sections are chosen to be vented.

Why it works

The most effective pieces here are the red lights and the “vent” key.  Chief Tyrol has a phone to talk to local officers managing the direct crisis, and can keep a basic overview of the problems on the ship (with fire being the most dangerous) with the light board.  The “vent” key is likewise straightforward, and has a very clear “I’m about to do something dangerous” interaction.

What is confusing are the following items:

  • How does Chief Tyrol determine which phone/which officer he’s calling?
  • Who is the highest ranking officer in the area?
  • How does the crew determine which sections they’re going to vent?
  • How do they view more complex statuses besides “this section is on fire”?

As with other systems on the Galactica, the board could be improved with the use of more integrated systems like automatic sensors, display screens to cycle through local cameras, and tracking systems for damage control crew.  Also as with other systems on the Galactica, these were deliberate omissions to prevent the Cylons from being able to control the Galactica.

One benefit of the simplified system is that it keeps Chief Tyrol thinking of the high-level problem instead of trying to micromanage his local damage control teams.  With proper training, local teams with effective leadership and independent initiative are more effective than a large micro-managed organization.  Chief Tyrol can focus on the goals he needs his teams to accomplish:

  • Putting out fires
  • Evacuating local crew
  • Protecting the ship from secondary explosions

and allow his local teams to focus on the tactics of each major goal.

What it’s missing

A glaring omission here is the lack of further statuses.  In the middle of a crisis, Chief Tyrol could easily lose track of individual teams on his ship.  He knows the crews that are in the Port Hangar Bay, but we never hear about the other damage control teams and where they are.  Small reminders or other status indicators would keep the Chief from needing to remember everything that was happening across the ship.  Even a box of easily-grabbed sticky notes or a grease-pen board would help here and be very low-tech.

Possible indicators include:

  • Secondary lights in each section when a damage control crew was in the area
  • A third color indicator (less optimal, but would take up less space on the board)
  • A secondary board with local reports of damage crew location and progress
  • Radiation alarms
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Low oxygen states
  • High oxygen states (higher fire risk)
  • Structural damage

It is also possible that Colonel Tigh would have taken the local crews into consideration when making his decision if he could have seen where they were for himself on the board, instead of simply hearing Chief Tyrol’s protests about their existence. Reducing feedback loops can make decision making less error prone and faster, but can admittedly introduce single points of failure.

Colonel Tigh and Chief Tyrol are able to get control of the situation with the tools at hand, but minor upgrades could have lessened the stress of the situation and allowed both of them to think clearer before jumping to decisions.  Better systems would have given them all the information they needed, but the Galactica’s purpose limited them for the benefit of the entire ship.

Black & Decker Hydrator

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Lorraine prepares the family a pizza using a hydrator. She opens a sealed foil package, branded “Pizza Hut,” and removes a tiny puck of a pizza, placing it in the center of a large pizza tray. She inserts the tray into a “hydrator” oven and closes the hinged front door. A small green light illuminates on its panel. She puts her mouth close to the device and instructs it to, “Hydrate level 4, please.” A red light illuminates as a bubbling sound is heard for a few seconds. Then a timer bell rings, and both lights extinguish. Lorraine removes a full-sized and fully-cooked pizza from the oven.

It could be improved by not having her have to remember and enter the level of hydration. There might be an argument that this helps the hydrator feel like they’re doing enough effort, like the legendary Betty Crocker egg story. While snopes tells us that the usual version of this is poppycock, but also references Ernest Dichter’s research in which yes, the first generation of homemakers using instant cake mixes felt that a preparation that was too easy was too indulgent. So, perhaps the hydrator is first generation, and later generations will be able to detect the hydration needed from the packaging.  

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To get Jennifer into her home, the police take her to the front door of her home. They place her thumb on a small circular reader by the door. Radial LEDs circle underneath her thumb for a moment as it reads. Then a red light above the reader turns off and a green light turns on. The door unlocks and a synthesized voice says, “Welcome home, Jennifer!”

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Similarly to the Thumbdentity, a multifactor authentication would be much more secure. The McFly family is struggling, so you might expect them to have substandard technology, but that the police are using something similar casts that in doubt.

Night Vision Goggles

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Genarro: “Are they heavy?”
Excited Kid: “Yeah!”
Genarro: “Then they’re expensive, put them back”
Excited Kid: [nope]

The Night Vision Goggles are large binoculars that are sized to fit on an adult head.  They are stored in a padded case in the Tour Jeep’s trunk.  When activated, a single red light illuminated in the “forehead” of the device, and four green lights appear on the rim of each lens. The green lights rotate around the lens as the user zooms the binoculars in and out. On a styling point, the goggles are painted in a very traditional and very adorable green and yellow striped dinosaur pattern.

Tim holds the goggles up as he plays with them, and it looks like they are too large for his head (although we don’t see him adjust the head support at all, so he might not have known they were adjustable).  He adjusts the zoom using two hidden controls—one on each side.  It isn’t obvious how these work. It could be that…

  • There are no controls, and it automatically focuses on the thing in the center of the view or on the thing moving.
  • One side zooms in, and the other zooms out.
  • Both controls have a zoom in/zoom out ability.
  • Each side control powers its own lens.
  • Admittedly, the last option is the least likely.

Unfortunately the movie just doesn’t give us enough information, leaving it as an exercise for us to consider.

Screenshot (241) Continue reading

Bike interfaces

There is one display on the bike to discuss, some audio features, and a whole lot of things missing.

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The bike display is a small screen near the front of the handlebars that displays a limited set of information to Jack as he’s riding.  It is seen used as a radar system.  The display is circular, with main content in the middle, a turquoise sweep, and a turquoise ring just inside the bezel. We never see Jack touch the screen, but we do see him work a small, unlabeled knob at the bottom left of the bike’s plates.  It is not obvious what this knob does, but Jack does fiddle with it. Continue reading

Healing chamber

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After Johnny was mistakenly reported as killed, the next time we see him he is in a healing chamber, submerged in green-underlit translucent fluid, resting on form-fitting clear plastic supports. He breathes through a tube, and a pair of small robot arms work busily to regenerate the damaged tissue in his leg.

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The main reason to discuss this chamber on a blog about interfaces is the material choice of the outside of the chamber. By being surrounded completely in a transparent material (glass? plexiglass? transparent aluminum?), it means that physicians can keep an eye on progress, and he can have visual interactions with visitors, as we see when Dizzy and Ace visit to share with him his mistaken death certificate (and for Dizzy to leave him a kiss.) Additionally it gives Johnny something to look at during the long hours of recuperation.

I’m not sure why the green light is necessary. The scene implies that it could serve some part in the healing process, but if not, I wonder if an amber light might signal a more human, nurturing warmth to Johnny and visitors. Narratively, you’d want to avoid anything too yellow or run the risk of the audience’s first interpretations drifting too far to the Andres-Serrano-esque.

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Lifeclock: The central conceit

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The central technological conceit of the movie is the lifeclock, a rosette crystal that is implanted in each citizen’s left palm at birth. This clock changes color in stages over the course of the individual’s lifetime.

Though the information in the movie is somewhat contradictory as to the actual stages, the DVD has an easter egg that explains the stages as follows.

White white Birth to 8 years
Yellow yellow 9 to 15 years
Green green 16 to 23 years
Red red 24 years to 10 days before Lastday (30 years)
Blinking Red red_blink from 10 days before Lastday to Lastday
Black black End of Lastday (Carousel/death)

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Lifeclocks derive their signal and possibly power from a local-area broadcast in the city. When Logan and Jessica leave the city their lifeclocks turn clear.

The signal of the lifeclock is so central to life that most citizens dress exclusively in colors that match their lifeclock color. Only certain professions, such as Sandmen and the New You doctor, are seen to wear clothing that lacks clear reference to a lifeclock color, even though the individuals in these professions have lifeclocks and are still subject to carousel at Lastday. We can presume, though are not shown explicitly, that certain rights and responsibilities are conferred on citizens in different stages, such as legal age of sexual consent and access to intoxicants, so the clothing acts as a social signal of status.

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As an interface the lifeclock is largely passive, and can be discussed for its usability in two main ways.

Color

The first is the color. Are the stages easily discernable by people? The main problem would be between the red and green stages since the forms of red-green color blindness affects around 4% of the population. To accommodate for this, reds are made more discernable with a brighter glow than the green. As a wavelength, red carries the farthest, and blinking is of course a highly visible and attention-getting signal, which makes it difficult for an individual to socially hide that his or her time for carousel has come.

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Black is a questionable signal since this indicates actual violation of the law but does not draw any attention to itself. Casual observation of a relaxed hand with a black lifeclock might even be mistaken for a colored lifeclock in shadow, but as the citizenry has complete faith in the system and a number of countermeasures in place to ensure that everyone either attends carousel or is terminated, perhaps this is not a concern.

But if we’re just going on human signal processing, the red should be reserved for LastWeek, and a blinking red for after LastDay. That leaves a color gap between 24 and 30. I’d make this phase blue, since it looks so clearly different from red. The new colors would be as follows.

White white Birth to 8 years
Yellow yellow 9 to 15 years
Green green 16 to 23 years
Blue blue 24 years to 10 days before Lastday (30 years)
Red red from 10 days before Lastday to Lastday
Blinking Red red_blink End of Lastday (Carousel/death)

Location on the body

The second question is the location of the lifeclock. Where should it be placed? It is a social signal, and as such needs to be visible. The parts of the body that are most often seen uncovered in the film are the hand, the neck, and the head. The neck and head are problematic since these are not visible to the citizen himself, useful for reinforcing compliance with the system. This leaves the hand.

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Given the hand, the palm seems an odd choice since in a relaxed position or when the hand is in use, the palm is often hidden from view of other people. The colored clothing seen in the film show that a citizen’s life stage is not really considered a private matter, so a location on the back of the hand would have made more sense. To keep it in view of its owner, a location on the fleshy pad between the thumb and the forefinger would have made a better, if less cinematic, choice.

Ghost-hacking by public terminal

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The garbage collector who is inadvertently working for Ghost Hacker takes a break during his work to access the network by public terminal. The terminal is a small device, about a third of a meter across, mounted on a pole about a meter high and surrounded by translucent casing to protect it from the elements and keep the screen private. Parts are painted red to make it identifiable in the visual chaos of the alleyway.

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After pressing a series of buttons and hearing corresponding DTMF, or Touch-Tones, he inserts a card into a horizontal slot labeled “DATA” in illuminated green letters. The card is translucent with printed circuitry and a few buttons. The motorized card reader pulls the card in, and then slides it horizontally along a wide slot while an illuminated green label flashes that it is INSPECTING the card. When it is halfway along this horizontal track, a label on the left illuminates COMPRESS.

On a multilayer, high-resolution LCD screen above, graphics announce that it is trying to CONNECT and then providing ACCESS, running a section of the “cracking software” that the garbage collector wishes to run. After he is done with ACCESS, he removes the card and gets back to work.

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From a certain perspective, there’s nothing wrong with this interaction. He’s able to enter some anonymous information up front, and then process the instructions on the card. It’s pretty ergonomic for a public device. It provides him prompts and feedback of process and status. He manages its affordances and though the language is cryptic to us, he seems to have no problem.

Where the terminal fails is that it gives him no idea that it’s doing something more than he realizes, and that something more is quite a bit more illegal than he’s willing to risk. Had it given him some visualization of what was being undertaken, he might have stopped immediately, or at least have returned to his “friend” to ask what was going on. Of course the Ghost Hacker is, as his name says, a powerful hacker, and might have been able to override the visualization. But with no output, even novice hackers could dupe the unknowing because they are uninformed.