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January 05, 2007

Comments

Brent Brown

. . . like in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, where the group gets into a Klingon ship and manages to figure out how to fly the thing in a couple of minutes of fiddling with the controls? Never happen!

I do agree with that in principle. Although in the specific case of Star Trek III, I do give the writers credit for at least fiddling with the controls for a few minutes. That was better (and more humorous) than if they had just sat down and starting flying the ship. I kinda viewed the couple minutes of fiddling as the writers saying, "hey.. we know there's an issue here, and this is how we're going to deal with it so we can get on with the movie."

JohnD

These bloopers/stupidities do a couple things:

1. Make it easy for writers to do whatever they want without much mental effort.

2. Make it difficult for audiences to watch without having their intelligences insulted.

It makes it hard to get into a movie that is too stupid (unless it's trying to be stupid)

cv

Scotty: "Computer! Hello computer."

McCoy: [pointing to mouse]. "Try that."

Scotty: "Computer..."

Man in shop: "Try using the keyboard!"

Scotty: "A keyboard. How quaint."

[proceed to several seconds of keyboard banging, ending up with transparent aluminum matrix on screen.]

SDG

Macintosh users live in a world of PCs without ever noticing it (and there were disproportionally more Macs than PCs in films a decade ago, when Apple had the bigger product-placement budget).

Heh. That reminds me of something I noticed in What Lies Beneath, that we see a computer boot up that's clearly a Mac -- but later when we see the screen, it's displaying Windows software! (Yes, technically this could be explained, but of course the real explanation is that the scene comprises different shots of completely different computers, probably nowhere near each other and filmed at completely different times.)

Whoops, there I go again, using humor to promote my reviews. I must be on crack!

Mary Kay

cv, keyboard banging at nearly warp speed no less. I wish my computer's speed was even fractionally that fast....

Kevin Jones

"While voice has its place, it's even less suitable than 3D for most everyday interactions because it's a less data-rich channel and it's harder to specify something in words than to choose it on a graphical display."

'Computer, activate the spreadsheet thingy!'

Esau

I bring up, once again, the case in Independence Day where, for some reason, the folks created a virus for an alien computer system that apparently must have the same operating system as we do in that it was actually effective in bringing down the entire alien network.


Also, good point in the bit about how after just a few minutes of experimentation with an alien craft's consoles, folks who've just commandeered the alien craft (which happens a lot in many cheesy Sci-Fi movies), in spite of the fact that the various instruments on the consoles are in an alien language as well as having any number of alien mathematical notations (e.g., standardized units), with merely a few seconds of dicking around, gained a sudden mastery over the craft's most basic and, at times (depending on the outrageousness of the film), highly advanced functions. Moreover, there are those movies where, for some reason or another, during an attack consequent to their commandeering of the alien craft, the humans were able to master the engineering aspects of the alien craft itself and suddenly became capable of repairing it ever so miraculously considering that they only had the craft in their possession for some minutes.


About the part regarding Time Travelers from the future and how they wouldn't know how to operate today's computer systems, I submit the following from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:

[faced with a 20th century computer]
Scotty: Computer. Computer?
[Bones hands him a mouse and he speaks into it]
Scotty: Hello, computer.
Dr. Nichols: Just use the keyboard.
Scotty: Keyboard. How quaint.

Esau

Crud -- too late!

Thanks, CV! ;^)

WRY

In Star Trek someone like Spock is always saying something like, "If we re-wire our dilithium override circuitry and reverse the polarization, it may be possible to harness the effect of anti-gravity and temporarily immobilize their tractor beam."
Note that this is something the characters have never ever tried before, let alone worked out all the theory to!
Then someone like Scotty will say,
"But it may blow the ship to smithereens!!"
To which the Captain replies:
"We don't have any choice. How long do we have?"
Scotty: "Thirty minutes!"
Captain: "Make it so."
Yeah. Right. That's probably no more complicated than, say, taking out your car engine and turning it around while sitting inside the car and traveling 60 miles an hour down the freeway. But they always pull it off. And it always performs exactly as they want it to.

Esau

About: 2D works better than 3D for the vast majority of practical things that users want to do. 3D is for demos. 2D is for work.


Uhhh... anybody here actually hear of Gene Roddenberry's EFC (not to be confused with KFC, mind you)???

I think the piloting consoles and, even more impressive, the global device they utilized clearly demonstrated the benefits of 3D user interfaces.

Curious

In contrast, it's highly unlikely that anyone from 2207 would have ever seen Windows Vista screens.


I'd rather not have to see a Vista screen, but I don't think I have a choice...

Curious

10. "This is Unix, It's Easy"
In the film Jurassic Park, a 12-year-old girl has to use the park's security system to keep everyone from being eaten by dinosaurs. She walks up to the control terminal and utters the immortal words, "This is a Unix system. I know this." And proceeds to (temporarily) save the day...


What's even funnier about this scene is that right after she says this, the screen shot shows a GUI that is alot more Windowsy or Mac-like with a bunch of point and click features. Unix is primarily a text environment.

Sifu Jones

I don't know, this all seems kind of nit-picky to me. Since we're talking about advanced technology, it seems like there would be easy ways to explain this. For example, the Independence Day problem, where Jeff Goldblum uploads the virus:

They did, after all, have an alien ship at area 51 to work on, and he was hanging out there for about a day prior to taking off. Is it impossible that he fiddled around with getting to know the computer system? Even more likely, the government already developed an interface with the alien ship. Goldblum's character could have written a virus that turned all 1's to 0's or something similarly basic, knowing the upload will be easy due to the ship already having all the proper interface commands.

Sure, it's a stretch of sorts, but so's the entire movie. And that's kind of the point -- it's sci-fi. We already buy that there are aliens, why not easy interface?

Esau

Sifu,

Good points there, but as concerns my comments about a commandeered alien ship, this was meant to address Sci-Fi films in general that had such episodes/scenes and not specifically to the movie Independence Day which was mentioned previously.

Bad transition, I know.

But, as regards the virus in Independence Day, not to be nit-picky as well, but it's almost incredible that even if you were to assume that they had the alien craft for some given period of time, this endeavor of theirs requires an incredible mastery of the alien operating software code.

Figuring that alone would take an immense number of years (you're dealing not only with the logic of the code, its software language but, among other things, the alien nature of it as well; e.g., I would assume that they do not think as we do and, therefore, would need to contend with those aspects in the code and in the programming) -- even in light of the fact that they had it at Area 51 for a given period of time. Not to mention, there is a learning curve to contend with here as well!

Add the fact that not only would they need to attain a mastery of this alien software code and its workings, but would need to determine a way to interface with this alien computer language system with our current computer capabilities (which can only be deemed as inferior given our present level of technology), which would tack on an even greater number of years to figure all this out.

(Hey, if it were that easy, and our present techonology is all that great and advanced as regards our current computer capabilities, Microsoft would have a terribly easy time in terms of speed-to-market and for software that actually work!)

And if they had actually done so (that is, figured out the alien computer software language, its logic, the actual creation of an intermediate alien/human software code that would've needed to be created, and the invention of an appropriate interface that's compatible with both the alien system and our computer systems) amongst the many other things which would need to be accomplished; they, if they had achieved such mastery, would have known in advance how the alien computer network worked to begin with, to the point where they would have initially devised the means by which to bring down the alien computer network ahead of time.

Again, given the time constraints and all the other elements here that make the movie outrageously unrealistic (albeit entertaining) -- aside from the presence of aliens, it seems incredible how they could have accomplished all that they did in the nick of time.

Scott W

Not a blooper, but it can be predicted with 99% reliability that whenever a computer system talks, it is always a soothing female voice no matter how disturbing and desperate the situation: "Five minutes until core meltdown. You have five minutes to reach minimum safe distance." I think Spaceballs even spoofed this when the last announcement was "Have a nice day." one-second before the explosion.

What about 'Hal'? He was pretty soothing, until everything went very wrong, very wrong indeed.

Shane

I have to say that the scene in Independance Day is a lot more realistic than this sort of thing generally is in films. After all, they had the ship for 50 years to study. Further... has anyone seen hackers work? Everytime someone comes out with the latest unbreakable security system, some hacker has it figured out within a two days. If these folks are capable of this, then highly trained government experts can't figure out the computer on a ship they've had for 5 decades?

Mary Kay

Scott, in line with your post, in The Search of Spock (SPOILER in the unlikely event no one has seen it) when the soothing female voice says, "Awaiting final code for one minute countdown...Destruct sequence is activiated" just as if she was saying "have a nice flight." Cracks me up every time.

DaveJ

Unix does have a GUI. It's called X-Windows.

In Independence Day I never understood why they could not save the President's wife. They were in a hospital, and she was able to talk and seemed stable...there were doctors there...why could they not save her?

John F. Kennedy

Speaking of bad user interfaces, in the Hitchiker's Guide series, the space ship Heart of Gold's interface (eiher one) was very difficult to operate or even manage. Not to mention the poor interaction skills of Marvin's AI. Opps, I just mentioned it.

Brown Line

Actually, the Star Trek reference to Scotty and the keyboard may make some sense. If I were to go to sleep, like Rip Van Winkel, and wake up two centuries from now, it wouldn't shock me terribly if people were still using qwerty keyboards. Not because they're so great, but they're good enough - and technology that is "good enough" tends to hang around for a long time.

Shane

Scotty with the keyboard also makes a lot of sense because to anyone who's watched the series, Scotty certainly seems like the kind of guy that would read about or own antique electronics as a hobby. The only problem with this, of course, is that it would be very inconsistent that he would know how to use a keyboard for this reason, but he would not know that a mouse was not a microphone :).

SDG

In Independence Day I never understood why they could not save the President's wife. They were in a hospital, and she was able to talk and seemed stable...there were doctors there...why could they not save her?

Yeah, Mrs. Decent Films is a nurse, and that scene really bugged her at the time too. People don't die like that in hospitals -- alert, conscious, responsive, looking and sounding fine, yet somehow inexorably mere minutes from death. It's possible to die unexpectedly in a hospital moments after being lucid and all, but not like the way it happened here.

Brent Brown

In Independence Day I never understood why they could not save the President's wife. They were in a hospital, and she was able to talk and seemed stable...there were doctors there...why could they not save her?

Because she's a Cylon!! :-P

Dr. Eric

My mom wants to know why the Millenium Falcon has to be fixed with monkey wrenches and screwdrivers while the warp drive on Star Trek II was a beam of light that had to me manually manipulated.

P.S. Why are all the streets wet in movies?

Scott W

What about 'Hal'? He was pretty soothing, until everything went very wrong, very wrong indeed.

That would be the 1%. :)

StubbleSpark

I know this is not a UI issue, but it does have something to do with technology in movies. I think it is so lame when a machine goes haywire and causes all kinds of havoc and the solution? Reverse the polarity. Someone out there thinks that by merely reversing the polarity of a device, it will cause it to do the exact opposite of whatever it did before.

Freeze ray problems? Reverse the polarity and it becomes a heat ray.

Time machine send you too far into the future/past? Just reverse the polarity!

Weird device sucking the Earth dry of energy? Reverse the polarity and everything goes back to where it was.

Not only is it an absurd idea (like turning my fridge into an oven by flicking a little switch) but it is always treated as the most brilliant idea in the world.

"What do we do now?"

"I got it! We'll reverse the polarity!"

"Ingenious! It's just crazy enough to work!"

(Of course this only a Sci-fi solution to problems. The fantasy solution always seems to be to destroy the crystal.)

Only slightly less annoying is the standard tension-inducing or calamity-causing trick of "the controls are jammed!" (And this is a UI issue).

I don't know about you guys, but I think the controls are ALWAYS jammed. But never on familiar devices like cars or bicycles. If someone complained about the controls being jammed on a '97 Jetta, the audience would immediately think that character is an A-grade idiot.

But if it is a fighter jet, starship, robot remote control, factory machinery, or some other strange piece of equipment, the controls are BOUND to jam and cause some horrible accident that puts the heroes in some sort of predicament.

And to that end, it needs to be noted that while bad guys can never hit whatever they aim for, at least their equipment is reliable (so long as it hasn't been sabotaged by polarity-reversing good guys).

So let this be a lesson to you all. Hire good guys as hit men but keep the bad guys on the factory payroll.

And don't bother taking the turkey out of the freezer to cook it when you can just reverse the polarity.

StubbleSpark

"P.S. Why are all the streets wet in movies?"

Easy. Wet streets symbolize the never-ending tears of movie critics stuck with watching Hollywood drek.

Any other questions?

Esau

I have to say that the scene in Independance Day is a lot more realistic than this sort of thing generally is in films. After all, they had the ship for 50 years to study. Further... has anyone seen hackers work? Everytime someone comes out with the latest unbreakable security system, some hacker has it figured out within a two days. If these folks are capable of this, then highly trained government experts can't figure out the computer on a ship they've had for 5 decades?

Shane:
You neglect the fact that hackers deal with code they've already had experience with in one form or another.

Among many other things, you neglect the alien nature of the technology.

I'll not repeat what I've already mentioned in my post to Sifu. It would be best that you go back to it if you hadn't read it.

But suffice it to say that if the mastery over the alien technology was indeed achieved over a mere 50 years (which I highly doubt could ever happen in real life given the advanced nature and complexity of the technology, let alone it being alien), wouldn't it make more sense that the government folks, being such experts as you say, would have anticipated in advance how to deal with the alien threat to begin with since they would have, according to you, gained such mastery over the alien computer system and its workings and, thus, would have already figured out the means to bring down the alien network at the very beginning; especially since government operations usually involve contingency-planning and scenarios? But, of course, you wouldn't have a movie then.

Terentia

In a Deep Space 9 episode "Trials and Tribblations," the DS9 crew goes back to the original Enterprise and Bashir and O'Brian (DS9's uber engineer coresponding to the Scotty character) can't figure out how to use the lift.

Greg Elsbernd

10. "This is Unix, It's Easy"
In the film Jurassic Park, a 12-year-old girl has to use the park's security system to keep everyone from being eaten by dinosaurs. She walks up to the control terminal and utters the immortal words, "This is a Unix system. I know this." And proceeds to (temporarily) save the day...


What's even funnier about this scene is that right after she says this, the screen shot shows a GUI that is alot more Windowsy or Mac-like with a bunch of point and click features. Unix is primarily a text environment.

Actually UNIX has had GUIs long before PC's did. X and Motif were a couple of the first two UNIX GUIs and pre-date Microsoft Windows by several years.

The GUI used in Jurassic Park was indeed a true product made by SGI (Silicon Graphics) for use on their version of UNIX (IRIX) and SGI computers have played a big part in Hollywood for a long time. The GUI in the movie is called 3D File System Navigator and can be found here: http://www.sgi.com/fun/freeware/3d_navigator.html

Finally in regards to Star Trek, if one reads all the books along with all the episodes and what not, there had always been a long time interaction between the Klingons and the Federation. Several Klingon ships had been captured, and with the crew being the elite crew they were, would have surely been given some basic instruction on operations of enemy technology, similar to what happens in this day and age when we capture a tank, or submarine, or some other mechanized implement of war. And to show off my really geeky side, the Federation had cloaking technology, but due to certain treaties were restrained from ever implementing it in their own space craft.

DeeDee!!

As much as I enjoyed Independence Day, I remember thinking at the end that it seemed awfully convenient that he was able to hack into the aliens computer so quickly, considering that the aliens were most likely light years ahead of of in technology and had a different language( and I know next to nothing about computers)
And I agree with the Presidents wife being lucid and able to talk one minute and dead the next(and I'm not a medical professional)
At least in the Voyage Home, there is some sort of nod to the characters having to figure out old fashioned technology, such as the above mentioned Scotty trying to use a "quaint" old computer, Zulu having to ask for lessons to fly the helicopter and McCoy being incomprehending of 20 century "medival" medical technology.
I suspect that if aliens that advanced really showed up and wanted to get rid of us- we'd be toast(but then there wouldn't be a movie.
And remember that episode in Enterprise when Captain Archer and T'pol go back to 2004 and steal a car and Archer can drive it immediatly(and even figure out 2oth century traffic laws and go through a drive through?)

Maureen

Re: Klingon knowledge

The annoying bit was that Uhura, generally considered by the fans both a really good communications officer and a polyglot, was shown as unable to speak Klingon without consulting a clumsy paper dictionary. After being stationed on the border for years, we pretty well figured that most Enterprise officers would have learned at least the rudiments of both Klingon and Romulan, with probably a good number of crew who knew Orion and other common or useful languages. (Even with a universal translator, there are definitely nuances that don't translate, and which the captain would want to know.)

Most retconned it as use of an obscure dialect and thus an undigitized rare book, but it was still depressing.

I will not even begin with the frustrations anybody with half an ounce of linguistics knowledge has with characters who are explicitly supposed to _be_ professional linguists. Except that someday Tolkien will be waiting next to St. Peter with a large nitpick list.

Tim J.

"with the crew being the elite crew they were, would have surely been given some basic instruction on operations of enemy technology"

Actually, from what I understand, military training in the U.S. includes instruction not only how to load and fire an AK 47, but in how to completely disassemble and re-assemble it.

Blindfolded.

Now, that's not a starship, but the same principle holds.

Mary Kay

Maureen, LOL at the image of Tolkien standing next to St. Peter.

Paul Smith

The annoying bit was that Uhura, generally considered by the fans both a really good communications officer and a polyglot, was shown as unable to speak Klingon without consulting a clumsy paper dictionary.

Nichelle Nichols had the same complaint, but got overruled as the director and producers decided to play it for humor. From the IMDB:

Nichelle Nichols objected to the scene in which the crew desperately searches through old printed Klingonese translation dictionaries in order to speak the language without the standard universal translator being used. It seemed more logical to her that Uhura, being the ship's chief communications officer, would know the language of the Federation's main enemy, or at least have the appropriate information in the computer. However, director Nicholas Meyer bluntly overruled her.

Link

Slowboy

"...good point in the bit about how after just a few minutes of experimentation with an alien craft's consoles, folks who've just commandeered the alien craft (which happens a lot in many cheesy Sci-Fi movies), in spite of the fact that the various instruments on the consoles are in an alien language as well as having any number of alien mathematical notations (e.g., standardized units), with merely a few seconds of dicking around, gained a sudden mastery over the craft's most basic and, at times (depending on the outrageousness of the film), highly advanced functions..."

Movies dont have the time to go into complex explainations. I remember a book (sorry, name escapes me) whre the hero after being imprisioned by the bad aliens has escaped and taken an alien space ship. the author did a good job of explaining how he used his intuitive knowladge of the aliens from years of contact, inspiration from desperation, and, in this case, the aliens had done a remarkablly good job of making very simple controls to run a complex machine.

Time and again when I watch movies I think its not what you do its how you do it. Some story lines allow me to skip right over simple objections. Some stoyline are so lame that even minor glitches stand out like a beacon in the night.

PMcGrath

Sorry to get off topic here, but: Important news: Shawn at TLM has just posted an Epiphany Declaration in favor of Latin Mass derestriction. You all may want to jump in on this.

StubbleSpark

P,

I think that will have to wait for Monday as it is an entirely different topic and Jimmy does not blog on weekends.

Elijah

Aahh, all this makes me glad that I'm a fantasy nerd instead of a sci-fi nerd. In our world(s), 'it's magic' IS a good enough explanation!

Matthew Brissette

Didn't they mention in Independence Day that the ship's computers had only turned on when the alien ships arrived in our atmosphere? So the government would only have a day or so to study the ship's system.

Anthony English

... and they're always typing - never thinking. How many developers really do that?

A. Williams


"...This is your Captain speaking. Scotty!, Uhura! Spock! All hands on deck!... We're looking for a dictionary...we think about 8 inches thick, if anyone's happened to see one. Oh, and also a very large owners manual... with pictures.

Crew! ..all crew is allowed a 3 day leave, while we find and read the instructions. But.. don't!, and I emphasize DON'T!.. press any buttons until we tell you to! O.K!..

Out".

Don

I love this topic -- it's always been a pet peeve of mine. A few observations that I remember...

In Mission Impossible I, they went through great lengths to overcome the physical security, but when he got to the computer there was absolutely no data security. Not even the obligatory two "Access Denied" messages before the "Access Granted".

In pre-internet days, movies that featured hacking into a computer via a modem (probably into a mainframe) would result in a GUI display.

Chris Molter

In Star Trek: TNG, there are three fail-safe methods of defeating any unknown hostile alien craft/unusual time-space anomaly/strange spatial occurrence/mentally deficient aliens holding your chief engineer hostage:

1. Modulate shield frequencies

2. If that doesn't work, fire an inverse tachyon pulse

3. if neither of those work, vent drive plasma through the warp nacelles.

These three tactics will solve 99.4567% of all exploration related problems that cannot be solved by negotiations or a combined photon/phaser barrage.

Sincererly,
Your friends at Starfleet Tactical

Ry

This discussion reminds me of why "Firefly" will always be my very favorite sci-fi show ever -- Everything iwas always kept at a level that I can understand:

CAPT. MAL REYNOLDS - So, you mean t' say without this thing...

(He holds up something that looks like part of a car transmission

CAPT. MAL REYNOLDS - ... Ship won't fly?

KAYLEE - Yep.

Lindsay Cortez

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http://dentwizofdfw.4t.com >DentWiz of DFW
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