The Quantum Pontiff

Casting Computer Spells With My Hands

I’m fascinated by watching the developments in touch and movement based computer interfaces over the past few years. From the Apple iPhone to the Nintendo Wii, it seems that there is a great deal of excitement over these new interfaces. Nearly every week I see something interesting in this domain. Here, for example is a neat little video demoing how to do IR tracking with Nintendo Wii’s sensor and some IR reflecting tape on your fingers:

Whenever I see these new interfaces, I immediately think of the cortical homunculus
which is a representation of the primary motor cortex, weighting the parts of the body being controlled or sensing in proportion to the amount of the primary motor cortex used. Pandering to our evolved overloading of certain motor and sense skills seems like a necessary requirement for a successful interface. Necessary, but certainly not sufficient. Personally, for example, I find mice to be a quite cramped interface. Sure it works great, but the strange disconnect between my hand movements and the cursor movement, still, after all these years using a mouse, feels odd. I mean, when I was a monkey, and I poked a banana, I would never expect that this poke would cause hairs on a neighboring monkey to move. Which is why I find the touch or more direct point interfaces so intriguing. It seems these interfaces appeal to the talented parts of our sense and motor skills, but also restore a sense of direct feedback (or whatever device is being manipulated.)

The real question, of course, is how long before these interfaces allow me to be a wizard. Thrashing my hands around in the air to cast a spell which will execute on my computer really appeals to my inner geek.


  1. #1 Jonathan Vos Post
    November 12, 2007

    I have explained this at length in my novel Axiomatic Magic. You hadn’t known this, because you foolishly restrict yourself to novels which have actually been published, rather than languishing on editors’ desks.

    To summarize, magical spells can be invoked from various dimensions.

    Dimension = 1:
    Magical spells can be encoded by strings of characters which, when spoken aloud (i.e. interpreted vocally) or in some cases merely mentally thought in high resolution, or written (cf. “Syllogismobile” in series of science/fantasy novels by Fletcher Pratt and L Sprague deCamp started in the 1940s, and were collected later in “The Incompleate Enchanter.” They featured Harold Shea, who travelled into the world of Norse Myth, and subsequently into other fictional worlds, including Spenser’s Faery Queen and the Finnish epic the Kalevala. This was accomplished by the syllogismobile: it consisted of reciting and focussing the mind on the underlying logical premises of these worlds).

    Note that two such spells spoken in succession (i.e. interpreted from concatenation) constitute a spell, though reversing the order of reading is not necessarily the same in result (i.e. noncommutivity). Every spell has an inverse (though for technical reasons raising from the dead is harder and more hazardous than killing). The null string results in a null spell. Hence 1-dimensional spells constitute a Group.

    2-dimensional spells: see also ikon, mandala.

    3-dimensional spell: see amulet, magical sculpture.

    4-dimensional spell: the trace of handmotions or motions of the tip of a magic wand, parameterized by time.

    Axiomatic Magic opens in Paradena, a parallel world variant of Pasadena. In this world, both magic and science work, because Newton succeeded as alchemist as well as Physicist; Kepler succeeded as astrologer as well as astronomer.

    On the campus of the California Institute of Thaumaturgy, the world’s leading Group Theorist has been magically murdered. The investigation quickly spins beyond the ability of the Paradena Police Department. Fortunately, Physics/Thaumaturge Richard Feynman, as amateur sleuth, pursues the case, in which John Horton Conway has become the leading suspect.

  2. #2 Dave Bacon
    November 12, 2007

    I sure wouldn’t want to cast a spell corresponding to the first, second, or third Conway group.

  3. #3 Spook
    November 12, 2007

    Just now, I was fumbling around my bedroom and getting ready for class thinking about how two of the most successful products to come out this year were the Wii and the iPhone and how they had interfaces that really stood out as unusual. Then I open up my feed reader and see this post.

    Get out of my head, Pontiff!

  4. #4 Dave Bacon
    November 12, 2007

    I’m trying, I’m trying…but I keep getting lost in your early childhood memories :)

  5. #5 Alejandro Rivero
    November 13, 2007

    Sorry I haven’t got a video, but I asked my students to do this kind of games time ago after the film “Minority Report”. One alternative was Cruise’s glove led. Another, a kitchen glove and colorimetry. Link below in the “posted by”. In the first project, a visual basic applet transforms the move into mouse input. The eccentricity and orientation of the fitted ellipse allows us to give three positions, thus mouse clicks can be immitated. In the “Minority Report” way, we use diodes, and than a PDA is fast enough to translate them to standard USBmouse signals (not so standard actually, because we did not modify the kernel of the Zaurus enough to send HIDReport description tables).

  6. #6 Alejandro Rivero
    November 13, 2007

    Again, a link in the “Posted by”
    This is to an older page, just after the first project, but it is valuable because of the links collected at the end of the page. Some of them do not work, but can be used to google for them or to look in the site.