How to get arrested in Germany

Oh golly, The Blacklist is getting a spin-off series bearing the incredibly original title The Blacklist: Redemption. Ryan Eggold will lead as Tom Keen once again, who will work alongside his – surprise! – mother Susan Hargrave (Famke Janssen). What an awful idea, NBC, and good luck getting more than one season out of it without James Spader because he’s the only actor keeping The Blacklist together.

But enough of that. Let’s talk about the latest episode of the original show, 03×22, where Tom Keen once again ventures to Germany to infiltrate the G8 summit. To quote for posterity:

Pruitt’s in Berlin staying at the Turkish Embassy as a guest of the Ambassador. He’ll attend a reception at the embassy for the G8 ministers.

Technically, it’s the G7 summit since Russia got the boot in 2014 for annexing Crimea but who’s counting?

Anyway, a visit to Germany on any given NBC show is bound to be a desaster. Tom has the brilliant idea to get into the country assuming the fake identity of Eugene Pavlenko, an Ukrainian man wanted in Turkey for money laundering. Fantastic idea, really. Here’s Eugene’s passport:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

He likely got this passport from the same forger who whipped up the other terrible fake last season because this one is just as bad! Here we go:

  • since 2007, Ukrainian passports feature laser imprinted black-and-white photographs
  • there’s no bearer’s signature on the passport even though real ones obviously feature one on the lower right side of the ID card
  • the nationality is stated as “Ukrainian” where official passports would read “UKRAINE” instead. Interestingly, the ukrainian text (Україна) correctly translates to “Ukraine”
  • the place of birth simply reads Україна (Ukraine) instead of stating the city and country. Maybe they just don’t know where Eugene is from but that’s quite unlikely.
  • it’s a bit hard to tell from the picture but the passport number isn’t properly replicated in the machine readable part (lower left corner of the page). Also, the line above that should start with “P<UKR”

There’s likely more wrong than that – the dates seem fishy –  but Google Translate only goes so far. If he wants to be arrested, he’ll definitely be just for presenting this obvious fake.

Anyway, Tom’s plan is to get into the Turkish embassy in Berlin by getting arrested for being a criminal. Since he’s wanted in Turkey, he should be brought to the embassy before being extradited, right?

This part of the plot is researched so badly my poor brain wanted to explode while watching the episode. German extradition law simply doesn’t work that way (PDF in German, page 10 is relevant). If Tom was arrested trying to enter Germany, he’d first be handled by German law enforcement and detained in a German prison. A German judge would have to conduct a hearing no more than 24 hours after the arrest and only after hearing Tom out the judge could decide if his arrest was even warranted. If it was, he’ll remain in jail until being extradited straight to Turkey – not in the embassy. Germany doesn’t simply hand over people to foreign countries, and turning Tom in to the Turkish embassy would be exactly that since the embassy is technically on Turkish soil.

But mere technicalities like that simply don’t matter in The Blacklist.

Tom manages to escape the interrogation room by means of force (what else) and quickly dresses up as a waiter. Of course, he speaks Turkish fluently enough to keep up his charade and of course nobody really pays any attention to a waiter who’s wandering aimlessly around the rooms instead of doing his job. He quickly finds his target who’s addressing him in incredibly mangled German for some reason. It’s clearly not his mother tongue which makes the scene a little bit strange since he continues to speak English in all remaining scenes. As an international guest in a foreign embassy, you’d expect the staff to be fluent in English anyway so why bother attempting to speak German if everyone would understand your first language anyway? Oddly enough, despite Tom speaking German in that one short scene, he drops it entirely in later shots and addresses the target in English as if nothing happened, and the target is even confused about his ability to speak English – again, something you should definitely expect in such an environment. That was a long sentence.

Tom and his team escape the embassy with their target in an ambulance. The license plates actually look alright this time, which is definitely an improvement over last time, but the dialogue feels off:

You have Landespolizei units approaching to your south.

Nobody in Germany would say “Landespolizei” – not that the term doesn’t exist, it’s not used in everyday language. “Landespolizei” is just a term for all police forces in a state, not some specific unit of the police. In Berlin, there’s indeed a “Landespolizei” but again, that’s just an all-encompassing term for every police unit except the Landeskriminalamt (criminal investigation unit). The dialogue makes it sound like “Landespolizei” is some special unit while it simply isn’t. The only intention seems to add some locale to the dialogue which just doesn’t feel right given that they could have just said “You have police units approaching …”. Okay, maybe I’m even more picky than usual here but it just didn’t feel right to me.

The operator is directing the team to Wilhelmstraße and while she’s doing that, we can see the map she’s looking at:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

I honestly have no idea which city this map is of but it doesn’t look anything like Berlin (the marker points to Wilhelmstraße which does indeed exist):

Image (c) Google

Image (c) Google

From the grid layout, the map could be of some American city, but certainly not Berlin.

The team runs into some trouble because the target was drugged and his pupils are too dilated for a retinal scan. Tom claims the poor sap was administered 200mg of Fentanyl. So far, so good, although the Fentanyl dose was so high the target could have been killed by it. According to (German) Wikipedia, the effective dosage is 0.01mg per kilogram body weight. The guy looks a bit on the heavy side so I’d say his weight is around 90kg. A dosis of 0,9mg Fentanyl would have been enough to knock him out. However, Tom administered him 2,22mg per kilogram body weight, which is far too much. According to the dialogue, he even gave him Fentanyl twice for whatever reason which would put the dosis way over the 3.1mg needed to kill a rat – for humans, the lethal amount is way less.

But the target doesn’t die. Instead, the team breaks into a pharmacy to obtain Tropicamide, a drug indeed used by eye doctors to widen pupils (because that’s the only worry the poor sap has right now). The pharmacy really doesn’t look anything like a real one because in German pharmacies, the shelves usually only contain common over-the-counter drugs, not prescription stuff. They would have to rummage around the drawers (of which most are in the back of the store, away from customers) to get eye drops containing Tropicamide. I’m not even sure if it’s even stocked in a pharmacy since it’s a drug not commonly needed by patients. Also, in the only wide shot of the pharmacy interior, it looks like it’s actually a cosmetics store – while German pharmacies do offer a variety of cosmetics, they don’t usually look like this:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

The police finally arrives:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Hey, the fake number plates are back! German plates simply don’t look like that, nor do police patrol cars. This is how they look like:

Image (c) Wikimedia

Image (c) Wikimedia

Image (c) Wikimedia

Image (c) Wikimedia

Geman patrol cars are usually Volkswagen Passat, the cars in The Blacklist look like they could be Toyotas although the logo is really hard to see. Also, the police crest on the cars is all wrong, the real one (for Berlin) looks like shown on the left. It’s also in the wrong place as the crest is usually on the rear passenger doors. EDIT: Not true. They can be on either door. Apologies.

Why do I even bother? They clearly never learn! But then again, what do I expect? Without the brilliant James Spader, The Blacklist would just be another typical NBC show. Like Crisis, for example. Ugh, Crisis.

It’s not a trick, it’s a Sony

After a hiatus of over a year and a half, Person of Interest is back with it’s final season. Which is a crying shame, because it was a serious guilty pleasure of mine and probably one of the finest examples of a terrible show that was retooled to become absolutely awesome. The premiere had everything I expected – lots of shooting, lots of blank-eyed staring from Jim Caviezel and a lot of witty banter to boot.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good ended and the bad began. Of course, PoI is hardly a show oozing with realism, but the plot in this episode was just so mind-blowingly stupid I just had to go and write a little post about it. And by “little”, I mean “a little longer”. As Mr. Finch would probably say: “Oh dear!”.

It all starts where it ends: the machine is in a suitcase full of RAM chips and batteries and Mr. Reese is carrying it around. After a bit of shooting, we get it: the longer the machine stays in the suitcase, the bigger the chance it’ll break forever. So, there’s a great deal of urgency in the dialogue, for example:

Mr. Finch:
Damage to a single bit of the code of the Machine
in its presently compressed state would equal terabytes of lost data. Irretrievable, irreparable. It’s running now on the lithium-ion backup, but if that light starts blinking, we’re in big trouble. Even then, I’m not sure I can fix the battery, much less decompress the Machine. It would take vast amounts of processing power, which I don’t currently have available.

That’s not good, isn’t it? Obviously, the light starts to blink pretty soon afterwards and not soon after …

Mr. Finch:
It’s powering down. There’s only a very small amount of residual power remaining. The RAM chips could be losing their data even as we speak.

According to this research paper (PDF), RAM chips lose their data “within microseconds, at best within seconds”. So once the battery power is gone, there’s basically zero chance to recover the machine in a state in which it could still decompress, let alone run. The degradation becomes even worse in warmer environments. Keep that in mind for later.

I was a bit puzzled by the “terabytes of data” that would apparently be lost when all the suitcase contains is a ton of RAM chips, but apparently that’s a thing since 2013. Who would have known?

Anyway, as they come to their old HQ in the subway, Mr. Finch immediately begins to open the suitcase to recover whatever’s left of the machine. Mr. Reese gets a phone call from Fusco, and because this is way more important than the time-sensitive recovery of his wonderous machine, Mr. Finch spends the entire time of the call by listening in and making conversation (oh, and checking the web as well!). After 47 seconds, Mr. Finch is exactly where he started: the suitcase is still closed and the light on it doesn’t even blink any more. Also, he’s not able to pry the damn thing open, which leads to a funny moment at least. If there was any hope for the machine being able to recover, he just wasted almost a minute of it. Fantastic.

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Later, Mr. Finch manages to set fire to the machine (and half his lab) by short-circuiting the damn thing. If the surge didn’t kill off the remaining data, the fire surely will – remember what I wrote earlier? Temperature is important! Not that anything would matter at this point, this has gone on for far too long. After the fire, the contents of the suitcase look like this:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Meanwhile, Root is up to something – she’s visiting an old russian “friend” of hers, who happens to run an electronics recycling center. After some more shooting and a save by Mr. Reese (because this guy is literally everywhere at once), she gets an idea how to obtain some raw processing power:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Yep, that’s a Playstation 3 – fat model, by the way, which is accurate in terms of narrative. She’s going to need “about 300 of these”, because, you guessed it, she’ll build a server farm out of them!

Oh, in case you’re wondering – of course the chips are dead already. Even the characters know that:

Mr. Reese:
What about the RAM chips? Have they lost all their data?

Mr. Finch:
Battery’s dead. It has no power source. Could be a residual charge in the lithium-ion backup. If there was, I fried it.

Mr. Reese:
Come on, Finch, there’s got to be a way to resuscitate it.

Mr. Finch:
Mr. Reese, even if there were battery power left, we don’t have enough processing power to decompress the Machine.

Well, that can be helped, of course:

Root:
These particular gaming consoles have a unique cellular structure that can be scaled. Networked, they approach the processing power of a supercomputer,  but only use about 1/10 of the power, and their OS can be overwritten with Linux.

According to Wikipedia, there’s some truth to it …

In November 2010 the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) created a powerful supercomputer by connecting together 1,760 Sony PS3s which include 168 separate graphical processing units and 84 coordinating servers in a parallel array capable of performing 500 trillion floating-point operations per second (500 TFLOPS). As built the Condor Cluster was the 33rd largest supercomputer in the world and would be used to analyze high definition satellite imagery.

… and that’s likely where the script writer got his idea. There’s just one teensy-tiny problem: you can’t just build a supercomputer out of 300 used PS3 consoles, at least not given the extremely short amount of time the team has to complete this task.

First of all, you’ll need to obtain 300 consoles that still work. The PS3 model in question was the launch version, so it’s at least ten years old. These consoles had technical issues causing them to fail early (the so-called “Yellow Light of Death” or YLOD, where the console would die from overheating), and considering Root found the hardware on a recycling yard, it’s not hard to guess why they ended up there. Since she can’t know if they still work or not, she’d have to test them all to ensure they don’t fail seconds into decompressing the machine.

Second, even if all the consoles still work, the OtherOS functionality that came with the original model was removed with a firmware update in 2010. Considering many later games required the user to update the firmware in order for them to run and considering what purpose a PS3 usually has (beside building supercomputers, of course), there’s a good chance none of the consoles Root acquired still have that functionality. She’d have to check for that as well.

Third, the OtherOS feature doesn’t just work out of the box. You can’t just start a PS3 and expect it to boot into Linux – you’ll have to install it first, a procedure which will likely take at least a few hours unless Root happens to have a disc ready for each of the consoles, which seems unlikely considering the sparse equipment in the lab. Also, only a handful of Linux distributions even worked with OtherOS, which makes things even harder. They are still obtainable, of course, but all these things waste precious time – time the team doesn’t have!

Fourth, even after installing Linux, making a supercomputer out of a bunch of PS3s probably won’t work without a good amount of fiddling – it’s Linux, right? Even genius hackers like Root and Mr. Finch can’t type faster than their fingers move, and as we learned more than once in this episode, time is of the essence – at least as long as it’s okay with the plot.

Fifth, Mr. Finch was talking about “terabytes of data” that would be lost from a single error in the compressed RAM, so we can assume the machine requires at least a few terabytes of storage to even boot, let alone do its thing. PS3 consoles simply don’t offer that much storage – their memory (RAM) is only 256 Megabytes and the stock hard drive was between 20 and 160 Gigabytes. The final count of consoles used was only 70 (see below) so the max. storage space on stock drives would only be around 10 TB. Of course, the drives could have been upgraded, but that’d take even more time, plus Root would also need to get her hands on a huge number of hopefully undamaged hard drives.

Of course, none of these glaring problems stop them from building their supercomputer anyway. Here’s how it looks:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Seems my doubts weren’t entirely unfounded since that’s only about 70 PS3s, not 300 – maybe the rest of them simply didn’t work. Not quite as big a supercomputer as Root might have had in mind, but still, that’s some impressive hardware. I’m a bit confused about the amount of CAT5 cables hanging everywhere, though. Since the PS3 doesn’t have more than one network port, there shouldn’t be more than one colored wire coming from each console, but there clearly are. Take a look at the leftmost console in the lower shelf for an example, there’s a green network cable coming out of the HDMI port which is right above of the network connector (which a blue cable is connected to):

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Also, many of them don’t seem to be connected to the power grid at all, which is odd since they all light up. Which by the way is also odd since I don’t remember the PS3 having a colored LED on the back of the machine. All that wiring must have been great fun to set up under pressure anyway, but it seems like Mr. Reese was able to help with that, even though he doesn’t speak nerd.

Of course the whole thing almost blows up because the PS3s can’t keep up with the machine’s demand of processing power. One by one, the consoles crap out with sparks and a nice fluff of magic smoke, which would actually strain the remaining ones even harder, but since time is only a problem if the script asks for it, Mr. Reese manages to grab a liquid nitrogen container from the street (now at least that’s realistic, these safety hazards are literally just standing around at every corner in NYC) and is able to cool down the cluster so much the machine is still able to recover. Take that, science!

Down the drain

European press went nuts last week over the release of Netflix’ new drama Marseille, instantly comparing it to House of Cards, Netflix other great political drama. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint all you journalists out there who can’t research for half a second, but if Marseille has to be compared to another show, it’s a french take on Boss. Which is good, because that show was seriously underrated and cancelled far too early. It’s also not as entertaining as Boss was, but it’s still not a bad show and it’s nice to see Netflix do something in Europe, can’t fault them for trying.

During the first two episodes, the mayor repeatedly gets strange emails – to his outlook.com account no less. The entire show seems to be heavily sponsored by Microsoft so there’s Windows 10, Windows Phones and Surface tablets everywhere. Anyway, these emails contain a scan of a newspaper cutout:

Image (c) Netflix

Image (c) Netflix

Looks like the mayor has a little secret, doesn’t it? Well, in episode two, there’s a scene where prison guards are searching a female inmate’s cell. What they ultimately find is this damning piece of “evidence” – it’s hidden in the toilet, by the way, hence my not-so-clever post title:

Image (c) Netflix

Image (c) Netflix

Looks like they found the culprit, doesn’t it? That’s the image that was sent to the mayor alright! However, they shouldn’t jump to conclusions too quickly as there was no way the inmate could have sent these emails, at least not with that cellphone. You see, it’s a Thomson Tlink11, which, among other features, offers MP3 playback, a FM tuner and 200 phone book entries. It doesn’t, however, offer access to the internet or even just email. It doesn’t even run Windows! What a dumb phone.

It also feels like a seriously bad idea to hide a phone down a toilet and not turn it off before you do. Considering you can’t just recharge it in the open as much as you like – it’s a prison, after all, and cell phones aren’t allowed in there – why not turn it off and save battery? It’s also decidedly odd that the phone is still showing the picture instead of a lock screen, something you’d expect once the phone hasn’t been used for a while (and “for a while” with these old cells means basically as soon as you don’t press any buttons for all of five seconds).

Seems the mayor still has something to worry about, and so do we as this isn’t exactly a great start to a show that’s supposedly the “french answer to House of Cards” And it isn’t. But still..