Podkayne's Dispatches from the Inhabited Planets
Speeder Reader is a device that looks very much
like a car driving video game. On the floor is a gas pedal. On the console
is a steering wheel and a stick shift. On the screen is a speedometer
and above that, where the front window would normally be, there are
words flashing rapidly. While the visitor sees only one word at a time,
the words are replacing each other at the rate of several hundred per
minute. Instead of seeing a sentence with words all in a row, here the
visitor sees the words of the sentence appear one after the other. The
gas pedal determines how fast the words flash by. The steering wheel
moves between various "lanes" of words where each lane is a different
story. The speedometer, of course, tells the visitor how many words
per minute he or she is reading.
What's it about? Podkayne's Dispatches from the Inhabited Planets is the diary of a
young girl who takes a space ship to visit each of the planets in the
solar system. Each lane of text is about a different planet. The stick
shift switches between different aspects of her visits to the planets.
The visitor has the option of reading each planet's diary all the way
through or skipping rapidly around the solar system.
What is the experiment? Speeder Reader is an experiment in
RSVP reading (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation) and how it might be
used to read literature. Another aspect of the experiment is to merge
what the story is about (travelling) with the metaphor of the reading
device (driving). Speeder Reader also addresses one
of the vexing problems of RSVP. While RSVP holds much promise, it often
suffers from a lack of context; it's easy for the reader to lose track
of where they are in a text. Speeder Reader is a probe into the use of
physical navigation metaphors as one possible solution.
How does it work? RSVP is a well-known method of reading. It
allows for very fast reading. Using RSVP some people can read 2000
words per minute, compared with most people's reading rate
that averages about 300 words per minute. The program that displays the
words and controls the gas pedal and steering wheel is written in
Java. The text of the story is embedded in an XML (Extended
Markup Language) format somewhat like HTML (the coding language of the
World Wide Web). This format allows for different fonts, colors, lanes
and so on to be easily specified.