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Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 11:40 am
Thinking about the play button

1. I've been thinking about the play button. More specifically, the distinction between status display indicators and play buttons; the way they correspond with different tenses of verb (present and future), different states of action (actual and conditional), different forms of speech (telling and asking), and the way that lots of software today mixes status indicators and play buttons.



2. The transition from the present to the future is one of the most mysterious things in time. Like the horizon, we never quite reach the future, but we're constantly given options or promises to transform the present into a desirable future. Making a purchase, or pressing play, can bring this future about, though of course by the time it arrives this "future" becomes merely an extension of the humdrum present.

3. Yesterday I added the following Status update to my Facebook page: "A button shows what will happen in the future, once it's pressed. A status indicator shows what's happening in the present. Sometimes we confuse the two; a button seen as a status indicator is a lie, and a status indicator seen as a button makes a present actuality into a future possibility. Might there be uses for this confusion, which makes the future the present and the present the future?"



4. Aware that I'd just used a status indicator of sorts, operated by a button, to publish this insight, I added: "For instance, a Facebook status update is clearly a "status indicator". But what if we made it a button instead? What if you were to write here things that you wanted to happen in the future, then clicked "share" to make them happen?"

5. Some interesting replies came in from friends. Keiko Uenishi (the musician oblaat) described a printer with a broken status indicator. Because its current state was hidden, its buttons only talked of future states. Without being able to read the current status of the machine, Keiko had to delve into the past, remembering the sequence of actions she needed to make to create a print ("Press PRINT BLACK button twice and hit ENTER button once"). With this printer, Keiko had the past and the future, but all that remained of the present was a blinking error LED.

6. Artist and writer David Woodard described buying -- presumably for one of his wishing machines -- an "SPST switch... to be used in conjunction with something akin to your latter-described confused scenario. The actuator in this case is a handsome toggle, not a push-button."

7. I decided to look at hardware and software around me to see how consistently the play button was implemented. It turned out that everybody had a different idea of the relationship between present and future, and implemented their play buttons differently. On my old Tesla spool-to-spool tape recorder you rotate a mechanical switch to play and return it to the original position to stop. The mechanical rotation of the play switch makes it an effective status indicator. My cassette recorder works in a similar way, but adds a separate stop button.

8. Audio and sequencing software on my computer does PLAY in a bunch of different ways. In Audacity there's a play button that doesn't change or light up when clicked, but plays the file, and a stop button to stop it. Neither indicate their current status. In Garageband there's a play button that lights up when clicked, but remains a play button. No stop button; you click the play button again to stop playback, and the "active" light goes off. The play button denotes "stop" by being deactivated, but of course you only know this after you use it. If you haven't used it, you may search around for the stop button. In Quicktime and iTunes there's a combined play / pause button that activates visually only during the click, plays the file, and then -- like the lover who turns into a pizza after orgasm -- turns into a pause button.

9. You probably know how the YouTube play button works, but to remind you I'll post this video of Devo's Time Out For Fun, re-edited, rather brilliantly, I think, by yhancik, who uses Echo Nest to slice the second and third beats out of every measure:



10. So, as you can see, in YouTube the play button "becomes active" when you merely hover over it (confusing if you're used to the Garageband style, in which lighting up means the button is actually playing), then becomes a pause button while play is happening (Quicktime style). One way of describing this kind of button is as a "butler", always keen to know your desires, but too tactful to tell you the truth about your current state.

11. Other implementations: In VLC, the play button only becomes "active" at the moment it's clicked. It shows as a play button when playback is not happening, and as a pause button when it is. No stop button. In Wimpy FLV player there's no play button at all, the program simply opens a Flash file and lets it decide how play is effected (because every Flash interface has to invent its own transport conventions -- that's one of the bad things about Flash). In Windows Media Player, the play button remains a play button whether transport is happening or not. There's a stop button and no pause button, but the stop button works as a pause button.

12. Before we get drowned in tech-geekdom, let's look at a slightly more exciting example of Status / Play confusion: the nude filter on the 4u Beauty Image Bookmarking site.



When you arrive at the 4u page you see a small black oblong box, top left, marked "Nude filter: ON". It isn't immediately clear whether it's a status indicator or a button. Is it telling me the nude filter is on, or offering a way to switch the nude filter on? You approach to click it and the button changes colour from black to pink. Suddenly -- although you haven't clicked anything -- the message switches to "Nude filter: OFF". You click that and the page reloads, this time showing more naked flesh. Aha, so it was a button combined with a status indicator saying what happens when the button isn't pressed!

13. Do buttons indicate what happens when they're pressed, or what happens when they aren't pressed? Nobody seems to agree. You just have to experiment.

14. Things get even more confusing when, as with the 4u button, double or triple negatives are involved. NUDE FILTER OFF contains, if you think about it, three negatives. NUDE means "clothes status: negative". FILTER means "switched off". And OFF means off. So ask yourself, do you want to switch off the switching off of the offing of clothes? Add to this the uncertainty of whether the black oblong is asking you this or telling you it, and you can only be thankful this isn't a control in a jet or a spacecraft. Let's never forget what happened to NASA's Mars Orbiter.

25CommentReplyFlag


(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 09:48 am (UTC)

I just spent my morning working on a piece around the idea of the play button
..
and this is why I love your blog


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 10:04 am (UTC)

Another thought: in Web 2.0 the PLAY button has become a SHARE button. When you publish a thought as a Facebook status update, for instance, you're effectively playing back the thought you just had to your friends, or publishing it. But the button doesn't say PLAY or PUBLISH, it says SHARE.

Funny that one of the first responses came from Keiko Uenishi, whose club -- where people come to play back files from their laptops, but pool the sound collectively -- is called SHARE!


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 10:19 am (UTC)

A major part of Google Wave, which was previewed earlier this year, is the "playback" button which takes you back in time and them brings you again to the present, showing the steps along the way .


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 10:26 am (UTC)

That sounds like Mac OS Leopard's Time Machine, which allows you to "play back your past".


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 12:18 pm (UTC)

Sometimes on line, a site will just launch a video or audio without my consent—rude design.

Ah yes, that MySpace autoplay thing is the worst. I have to wait patiently for the player to load up before telling it to shut the fuck up!

Funny, though -- at the weekend we were talking about how a feature seen as "classy" when a Web 2.0 service is new can be seen as "low class" when it's past its prime. And MySpace is definitely seen as past its prime.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)

Sorry parallel_botany, but I must disagree with Lord Whimsy, usually the expert in all things avian, and lilac -- that bird is not a lilac breasted roller, but its close cousin (a subspecies as it were) called the lilac breasted buttscratcher.

Aeons of evolution have produced an amazing symbiotic relationship between this tiny, polychromatic creature and the cheetah of the South African scrub country wherein the cheetahs will allow the birds to land on their tails and feast on the fleas and ticks in their fur in exchange for the birds using their sharp talons to umm, scratch their butt. The bird's talons have also evolved special prehensile extensions that allow them to stay affixed to the cheetah's tail even at speeds exceeding 60 mph. It's a lovely, almost miraculous sight to see -- a cheetah pursuing a springbok at full speed, flying past you in a yellow blur, with just faintest trace of lilac following behind. But then nature never tires of producing miracles, does she?


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 12:13 pm (UTC)

A note on that re-edited Devo video, which you can learn more about here. What I like is that it drags Devo leftfield. I really loved early Devo, but by 1985 (when Time Out For Fun was made, I believe) they'd gone "too straight" for my tastes, both formally (in their music) and thematically (in their lyrics). Records like New Traditionalists and Duty Now For The Future skirted just a little too close, in their satire, to the values of Ronald Reagan and the new conservatives. And the off-kilter time signatures of, say, their cover of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction gave way to 4/4. So this editing software makes 1985 Devo as good as 1978 Devo, for me.

It also reminds me of certain tracks by The Passage, whose musical syntax of big beats, shouts and electronic sounds is quite similar, but who used (perhaps because of Dick Witts' classical training as a percussionist) much weirder time signatures and rhythms. Again, dragging Devo left

Edited at 2009-07-23 12:19 pm (UTC)


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 12:48 pm (UTC)

Wow, I'm finding this Echo Nest Remix stuff BRILLIANT! It brought back my taste for pop music! Here's what it did to the Black Eyed Peas:


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)

Echo Nest Remix API.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)

There goes the rest of my day.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)

It's good fun! Here's a mix of Momus' covers of The Next Time and Thatness And Thereness off the JoeMus album: http://files.getdropbox.com/u/616192/That%20Next%20Time%20and%20Thereness.mp3


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)

Here's a mix of Momus' covers

"Oddly haunting" -- A Ghost

"Spectral" -- Fill Spectre

"All weird" -- Weird Al


ReplyThread Parent
jdcasten
J.D. Casten
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 07:17 pm (UTC)
Remixing Glitches

I found the echo-nest-flash-api much easier to approach; you can choose a song on your computer from your web browser here:

http://wiki.github.com/also/echo-nest-flash-api/remix-demo

The very popular “Glitch” VST plugin:

http://illformed.org/plugins/glitch/

Kim Cascone’s “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music”:

http://mitpress.mit.edu/journals/COMJ/CMJ24_4Cascone.pdf


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Remixing Glitches

Oh, that makes things a lot easier. I spent my afternoon learning how Python works.


ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
vertigoranger
vertigoranger
VERTIGORANGER.REKAY
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 02:47 pm (UTC)


ReplyThread Parent
vikinggreeneyes
vikinggreeneyes
vikinggreeneyeswithgold
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
T. S. Eliot

Wow=he sounds just like Willem Dafoe in that movie Tom & Viv...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)
Re: T. S. Eliot

Ah, you followed the hidden link under the picture!

It's a shame that documentary seems to have been produced under the BBC's religious affairs wing -- their license forces them to do a certain amount of religious broadcasting per year, and poor old Tom seems to have been forced into that straitjacket. Not that he didn't force himself into it in later life, but I'd have liked to hear more of the young, impish Tom, the one who wore corpse make-up to the bank and titled an early draft of The Wasteland "He Do The Police In The Different Voices".

I liked Virginia Woolf's description of Eliot: "He wore a three-piece suit, no four-piece suit being available."


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
Re: T. S. Eliot

I liked Bob Kaufman's description of Eliot: "He was a fucking square."


ReplyThread Parent
crooksandlucy
crooksandlucy
sound affects
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
trickynometry

one time, wind-sheeted and witless, i was unable to operate my walkman, for the play and fastforward arrows were pointing at 10:30, rewind at 1:30 and stop had become a skewed diamond.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
day four: still no wank

Well, I lol'd.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
scottishness leaking through?

i can't agree with your perception of nude as a negative - don't hide your light under a bushel!


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lazy_leoboiko
lazy_leoboiko
Thu, Jul. 23rd, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)

That «beauty share» site is a great resource for softcore porn. Is there a male equivalent?


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 24th, 2009 11:18 am (UTC)

Photobucket (http://s786.photobucket.com/albums/yy144/blahblabh43/?action=view&current=reversed.jpg)


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 24th, 2009 11:24 am (UTC)

also the play triangle is confusing by itself, it could either go to the top right direction, the bottom left or top left ... or just right ... i gues


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 24th, 2009 11:31 am (UTC)


ReplyThread Parent