I actually hadn’t had time to watch my tech RSS feeds yesterday when I said I “lost half an hour dreaming of my new lounge-style studio where I adjust envelope breakpoints from a giant aluminum sphere like the one in Sleeper.”

But, anyway – wish granted!

*Disclaimer: The following video, while demonstrating some insanely cool tech, may bore you to tears. In response to reader requests, we feel it’s important to warn you.

Microsoft’s multi-touch Sphere plays crazy Pong [Boing Boing Gadgets]

Now, of course, researchers being researchers, Microsoft R&D has taken a massive sphere controller and turned it into a mind-achingly dull slide show. I, on the other hand, could imagine kinky sci-fi electronica being made with massive hand gestures, particles spinning through space representing sonic grains, and the like. Microsoft, if you’re looking to hire someone to do something interesting with your giant sphere, I’m sure I or any one of the readers of this site can make something that couldn’t be replicated with a Flickr account, a toy bouncy ball, and a projector. This is the power of musicians. You try to make something absurd useful, but not really. We make the absurdly useless awesome. (Case in point: modular synthesis. Hey, is anyone using these giant telephone switchboards? Mind if we invent a new kind of party and welcome aliens to our planet?)

That said, let’s talk about just how much this is like Woody Allen’s sci-fi parody classic Sleeper.

Woody Allen, tech visionary that he was, clearly foresaw rubbing giant balls as a major future breakthrough in interface design. (For what it’s worth, the same film also predicted the 180 in fad diets that would exonerate protein and fat.)

Not only did Woody Allen’s character get strangely high with a large sphere, but the movie even suggested how to productize a more portable version of the sphere, as seen at right. Microsoft Sphere Nano, anyone?

In the classic manner of the future aging, then becoming hip and retro again, I’m not the only one now coveting a Sleeper sphere. It seems none other than Kanye West is gathering lots of nude models and, in elaborate choreography for his stage show, having them enact a giant be-in with their spheres, inspired again by Woody Allen. See some photos on Flickr, not quite safe for work, depending on where you work. (Oddly, I think this now means Woody Allen and Kanye West have exactly the same fantasy.)

And it’s back to the future in other ways, too.

The classic Keracolor TV has come back into fashion, and (as of last summer, at least) was being remade in a new edition. You probably can’t afford one, but it would look great with the Orion synth you can’t afford – and notice that its hull is more properly rounded. (At least one reader yesterday complained the Orion wasn’t as rounded as it could be.)


Ironically, I think these 1968 designs look far more stylish and futuristic than Microsoft’s Sphere.

So, sorry, Microsoft. The future just isn’t what it used to be. Even Woody Allen’s future. And he was kidding.

  • bliss

    Sleeper is one reference. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* *But Where Afraid To Ask also comes to mind! 😉

  • frragile

    Christ, that video really was dull. You should put a disclaimer before it.

  • it's so amazingly fantastic that Microsoft is busy developing all of these nice multi-touch surfaces with the photo-arrangement-software, so all of those out there (and i know they are many) who secretly dreamed of new ways to move their photographs around digitally, and resize them by simply touching, can now do just that, not only on a table-top but now also on a sphere! Wow. I think Microsoft is fantastic. I could spend all day moving my pictures around and resizing them, just thinking about it makes me so excited i almost have to retire to a private area for some self-indulgence.

    but really, Peter pointed this out already, what's with the photo-arrangement-stuff? well, i guess this makes it clear that the tech-people should make the tech, and the artists should figure out ways of using that tech.

  • frragile

    Thanks, Peter 🙂

  • Bobby N.

    I don't know about a big touch-sphere, but I can't wait for an Augmented Reality Ableton to manipulate 3D representations of sound in infinitely customizable ways.

  • Well, some of Microsoft's other research projects are very cool. But then, that's the funny thing — why this compulsion to think that the only way to get the public interested is with something like photos? On the contrary, walk to a recent MOMA or ITP show, and it's clear the "lay", non-techie person is most interested in whatever's super cool and far-out — just like the rest of us. (Maybe more so, because they don't sit on the Internet seeing this stuff every day.)

  • Wouldn't it be more useful to be inside the sphere (in the sense of a more immersive experience and a larger interfaceable surface area)?

  • samoan

    They play with photos because they think they are copying Apple.