My favorite computer interface has to be the fictional one used by Tom Cruise in the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie Minority Report (based on a 1956 short story by Philip K. Dick). In the movie, Cruise plays a time cop who is part of a team that prevents murders by predicting them in advance and arresting the future perpetrators.

What has always fascinated me about the movie is the computer interface the cops use to do their investigations — it’s a huge holographic screen that hangs in the air in front of the user, who interacts with it using virtual-reality gloves. Here’s a screen shot from the movie that will give you an idea:

Computer interface from Minority Report

The exciting news for me comes from a TED Talks video from February 2010 showing a lecture by John Underkoffler of the MIT Tangible Media Group (“John Underkoffler points to the future of UI“), who was science advisor for Minority Report. He and colleagues designed the interfaces that appeared in the film.

Underkoffler has some fascinating things to say about how interfaces are evolving. He tells how the design work was done for Minority Report — the design for the computer interfaces was done as a real R&D project.

But most exciting is that Underkoffler and colleagues are actually developing the real thing — the “spatial operating environment” as he calls it — and he was able to demonstrate it during his talk. Here’s a still of his demo from the video:

John Underkoffler demonstrates UI

During his talk he says:

Much of what we want computers to help us with in the first place is inherently spatial, and the part that isn’t spatial can often be ‘spatialized’ to allow our wetware to make better sense of it.

A spatialized interaction model, he believes, improves our computing experience, as it aligns better with the way our brains work.

During the talk, Underkoffler demonstrates a logistics application his team is developing that combines structured data with 3D geographical mapping. He also shows how a spatial operating environment might be used for media manipulation and editing.

Very soon, Underkoffler says, “this stuff will be built into the bezel of every display, it’ll be built into architecture.”

At the end of the presentation, the host asks the big question: “When? … In your mind, five years’ time, someone can buy this as part of a standard computer interface?”

Underkoffler replies, “I think in five years’ time, when you buy a computer, you’ll get this.”

The fist “killer app” for the spatial operating environment? “At the moment, our early adopter customers — and these systems are deployed out in the real world — do all the big data-heavy, data-intensive problems with it. So, if it’s logistics in supply chain management, or natural gas and resource extraction, financial services, pharmaceuticals, bioinformatics — those are the topics right now. But that’s not the killer app!”

He leaves us hanging at that point, recognizing perhaps that the most interesting applications are impossible to foresee.

Here’s the video in its entirety, with lots of fascinating demonstration footage:

AB — 1 June 2010

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I was happy to find a YouTube version of this Kodak ad from about 1963. I’m not sure why a 12-year-old would understand how it feels to watch your children grow up, but I remember I used to cry watching this ad.

I would have to say this is good advertising — makes a strong emotional connection with the viewer and an excellent tie-in to the product. Until today, I hadn’t seen this ad for over 40 years, but I still remembered that it was for Kodak.

Interestingly, the ad is two minutes long. I understand that the song “Turn Around” is by songwriter Malvina Reynolds.

AB — 7 April 2010

Since I started using TiVo a few years ago, I’ve been impressed time and again by the extent to which the digital video recorder (DVR) changes the experience of television — it can open up the “long tail” of TV in amazing ways (see Chris Anderson’s 2006 Wired article, “The Long Tail,” for an explanation of what that means).

For me, the latest example is VH1’s occasional show, “Classic in Concert,” which I never would have learned about had it not been for my practice every so often of reviewing all upcoming shows in TiVo’s alphabetical list.

“Classic in Concert” televises videos of live concerts, some recent, some quite old. Many of them have no interest to me (KISS, ZZ Top) and can go right in the trash. But recently I did enjoy watching concerts by Blind Faith and Brian Wilson, which were well worth the viewing time.

Following are some notes on those concert videos. Unfortunately, “Classic in Concert” appears to have no web home, so there’s nothing great I can find to link to, other than some YouTube videos of doubtful provenance.

Blind Faith’s 1969 Hyde Park Concert

This was a fascinating archaeological treasure, a movie of what might have been the world’s first glimpse of the collaboration between Eric Clapton post-Cream and Steve Winwood post-Traffic (Winwood later returned to Traffic).

Blind Faith also included percussionist Ginger Baker and bassist Ric Grech. I was surprised to learn that Ginger Baker is still alive — guess he got away with it. Grech died in 1990, according to his Wikipedia bio.

I’ve never paid a lot of attention to Steve Winwood, but the video has helped me put a face to the haunting voice in the recordings of Blind Faith and Traffic. I never realized what an enormous mouth he has, but he does well with it.

In the Hyde Park video, Clapton seems subdued and keeps to the background. That fits with what his Wikipedia bio says — apparently Clapton felt that the concert was premature and that Blind Faith hadn’t practiced enough:

[Clapton] thought that the band’s playing was sub-par and that the adulation was undeserved and reminiscent of his Cream days when the crowds would applaud for nearly everything. Clapton, knowing the band had not rehearsed enough and was unprepared, was reluctant to tour and feared that the band would develop into a Cream repeat.

The music is indeed pretty rough — you can tell the group was relatively unpracticed — and Winwood is often off-key. Even so, it’s fun to see.

Clapton has some great videos on his official web site, but nothing of Blind-Faith vintage. Here’s a YouTube video of “Can’t Find My Way Home” as performed at the Hyde Park concert.

Brian Wilson’s Live Redo of Pet Sounds

The other video I watched recently on “Classic in Concert” was a live performance (2003 in London, I believe) of music from the Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds.

Now in his 60s, I think Wilson can be forgiven for being a little off-key and no longer able to hit the high notes. Heck, Stevie Winwood was even more off-key at Hyde Park when he was 21. It’s inherent in the live-concert venue — you’re never going to get the perfection of a studio recording.

The band Wilson uses in the concert does a good job of reproducing the classic Beach-Boys sound, although some of its members might have had great-grandparents in the audience.

In some brief interview comments at the end of the video, Wilson reflects on the Beach Boys’ competition with the Beatles during the late 1960s. He compares Pet Sounds to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — a dubious comparison, in my opinion. While it might be true that the two groups were in competition for raw popularity at the time, I would be hard-pressed to rank Wilson’s output with the innovative genius of the Lennon-McCartney collaboration.

Much as I enjoyed the video, I’m not wild about the Pet Sounds music. However, the concert does include beautiful versions of Wilson’s arrangement of the traditional “Sloop John B.” and his song “Good Vibrations” (which was from Smile rather than Pet Sounds). At the time it came out, I thought of “Good Vibrations” as just another me-too psychedelic release. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate it much more, and I now regard it as a masterwork and a great composition.

Brian Wilson has some fine recent concert videos on his official web site. From NPR’s article “Brian Wilson in Concert,” you can listen to a 2008 live recording.

AB — 3 February 2010

Normally I steer away from hip-hop, but this collaboration between Tom Waits and Kool Keith was weird enough and fascinating enough to take note of. Gives you an idea what Tom Waits might look like if he was a scary cartoon monster (he already has the voice anyway):

AB — 19 Nov. 2009

Here’s a crazy but creative mix video I ran across tonight — title is “Meow Mix,” by Cyriak:

AB — 19 Nov. 2009

Eclectic Method recently released a great remix using YouTube baby videos. Cute and funny, but also very creative. The video is linked below from YouTube.

I’ve discussed some other great remixes at the following entries:

AB — 26 Oct. 2009

TED Talks has posted a video of neurologist Oliver Sacks discussing hallucinations — particularly Charles Bonnet hallucinations, which occur among many visually-impaired people.

Oliver Sacks is known for his investigation of neurological disorders that result in bizarre experiences and behavior. One of Sacks’s early books was calledAwakenings, which was made into a movie of the same name, with Robin Williams playing a doctor based on Sacks, and Robert Deniro playing a catatonic patient who ‘comes back to life’ through an experimental treatment.

Some of my favorite Sacks books are The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat andAn Anthropologist on Mars. Sacks is a great writer, and his books are very entertaining as well as informative.

The video is about 18 minutes — see “Oliver Sacks: What Hallucination Reveals About Our Minds.”

AB — 17 Sept. 2009