Monday, January 30, 2006

Just stick the aerial under my skin and let the signal run through my veins

The other night my best friend Chrome and I were talking about those scenes in TV shows and movies which display someone using a computer. My sissy on TV More often than not, what they are doing is complete bullshit. I don't mean where someone's IP address contains a number greater than 255 [seen frequently] or an URL ends in something other than an accepted TLD [Homicide: Life On The Street once showed Det. Bayliss going to his personal site which was "www.gardenofevil", no dot-whatever], because to me that's done for the same reason that all phone numbers on TV start in '555' – protection of some unwitting person in real life. I mean where someone's doing something which just can't be done, or in the way they display it, and that's seen quite frequently in cop shows. Chrome calls it TVOS – the operating system in use on television. I'm a load of fun to sit next to when anything like that comes up in TV shows, and an easier thrill to attain than my former sport of looking for G-rated sloppiness in porn movies (boom mike shadows, crew faces in reflective surfaces, the top of the scenery becoming visible, more voices heard during passionate scenes than people in the scene, etc.). That's sometimes better than the action. Some prime examples of the logical disconnect between real computers and fictional ones:

• Looking up who sent an email by the IP address and who was online. First, in many cases (especially dialup) the IP changes with every connection. Second, while it is possible to find out what computer/user was using a specific IP address at a specific time ["check the grep log" as the geeks say] most ISPs require a court order before releasing this information. It's nice that Archie on CSI can pull someone's user data in ten seconds, but in real life this will take at least 72 hours. But with our terror-stricken leaders invoking the PATRIOT Acts and the RIAA/MPAA waving the DMCA around like a doo-rag to sue computer users pseudorandomly, whenever they have a whim to know what you're doing, we're getting closer to that sort of no-accountability-required privacy invasion all the time.
• Video cleanup software making a license plate fourty yards away in a fuzzy video razor sharp. Yes, NASA has developed some software that can help reduce the noise in surveilance camera video to the point that faces and details can be made out, but not to the point of taking a 8 pixel by 5 pixel area of a scan off tape that's been used 50 times without a headcleaner, blowing it up to half the screen size, and having it look as clear as if you were standing before the item in question. Too bad the stuff on TV doesn't exist, I could fix the footage of my sister on the evening news a friend copied off late-1980's VHS tape for me, above.
• There was a recent episode of CSI: Miami involving a blog, and the way pages came up was the text was graphically displayed (like it were going through an image editor, not a browser) backwards then doing a 180° rotation on the vertical axis to be displayed forward, against an amorphous multicolor background. Er, no. Potentially possible using Java but far too flashy to be practical. But then they did something stupid: they ran the mouse across the screen to see some hidden stock tips. It's true that you can hide writing by making the text the same color as the background (anyone who has been on a message board with a "spoiler" feature, used on movie or videogame discussion sites, where you have to highlight a blank block to see the writing so you don't reveal a secret without trying has used this concept), but the background as said was not a solid color. The laser 'keyboard' in that episode, by the way, does exist.
• I've seen two shows where a USB memory stick was used in ways that don't happen. In both (the season 5 closer of CSI and an episode of NCIS) someone plugs the drive into the computer and a video starts playing. Autoplay doesn't happen with those thumbdrives like with a CD; you have to open it like a hard drive and view the contents. There were other things that didn't work in that CSI episode, like the randomly jumping IP addresses for Nick's crypt webcam but I'll overlook those since The Goddess of Commercethis episode featured Batman's nemesis The Riddler, Frank Gorshin in his last TV role, and was directed by Quentin Tarantino.
• Hey, you want old school? How about that episode of Star Trek where Spock disables the computer by smashing the keyboard with his clasped fists? You want new school? How about that episode of NCIS where Gibbs stops a guided missile by shooting a notebook computer? (Which reminded me of the notebook-operated-machine-gun-in-the-minivan scene from The Jackal, which isn't impossible... by the way, folks, Die Hard 4.0 is coming out this year. Be afraid, be very afraid.)

Others exist but I have a short memory. It could be worse, the movie version of TVOS is really bad too; I'm not a movie-goer so I can't get point-and-verse but some examples include the viruses in Hackers (c'mon, Cookie Monster is an annoyance that begs you to type 'cookie', not a threat; the real Michelangeo virus is about 4 kilobytes that will wipe your hard drive one March day, not an animation with voice in excess of a gigabyte that goes after oil tankers) or Independance Day (why would an advanced civilization from far away be using Windows on Intel chips?) and the degree of identity theft in The Web (even if you wanted Sandra Bullock to disappear!). And I don't even want to think about You've Got Mail. I can't suspend my disbelief when I watch TV, I'm sorry, and I apologise to those whose enjoyment of the boob tube I've crimped in the past. I can't be the only one who shouts "FAKE!" at the TV.

now that was edifying! my fave example is the second one because I too witnessed that happening a lot (in X-files too), I think they could make it believable immdetaiely did they say this is a new alien technology under testing. thanks for the list, I'll be SOOO proud when I realize all those fake actions myself in the future.

er... one question, though... are you kidding or you really don't believe that aliens use Windows?
Very cool post. I like the movies where the hacker has to log into someone's account without the password. He just starts typing frantically, and in 30 seconds he's in. (This happens so often it's hard to say where I saw it first).
Thanks for the comments, folks. This is a subject that means something to me but I wasn't sure that other people also noticed... other than in the movies because I've been witness to that conversation (especially about Hackers) on several occasions, and get asked whether such-and-such in a TV show or movie is true.

I forgot one of the other TVOS instances in a movie but it's not a glaring inaccuracy. just a curiosity: the computer Peter is using in Office Space -- it looks like a Windows PC, the interface is like a Macintosh, and when it completes the daily archiving it drops to a DOS prompt. Er...

Ariel: A truly advanced civilization would be using Linux or something, and would not attempt to voyage across the Milky Way on an unstable OS.

Indie: Yeah, that always cracks me up too, but there's a kernal of truth to it. Call it social engineering, but a lot of people use really elementary passwords like "12345" or "password", or if you know the person you can guess (pet's name, child's name, birthdate, hobby). In business situations, it should never be that simple by IT policy but this isn't always the case (at one bank job, we were told to use upper/lower/number passwords of 8 characters but I was able to use a 5 character lowercase password without issue, and this worried me).
Courtney is always noticing these things on CSI and CSI Miami. She scoffs at how quickly they just pull up items based on dirt samples or some weird thing and are able to pin point some remote location.
Also, Horatio always enters the room JUST at the minute the needed info is coming up onscreen. He sure has great timing!
And there they are dragging items from one window to another window for unrelated apps. Er, sure.

PERFECT example of that was last night, Jamie. Wolfe was beating the locker at the very end... and out of the shadows steps HoCaine The Emotional Vampire. Just like he'd done at a couple other points. You'd think that more characters would go "Uhnn!!" and jump when he materializes and says something cryptic/dramatic. At least this time Dalco was the one who got to give the sage advice at the end and stand there on the sidewalk looking stately.
But NO ONE can look as stately and serious with a strong hint of compassion for the downtrodden and a mighty "gotcha" smirk like Horatio. No one.
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