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!

Airplane! (Updated)

Note: the original post went up a little bit early. After thinking about the episode more than I should have, I have found other discrepancies worth mentioning. I have edited them into the article below.

Just when I said that current shows just don’t cut it in terms of epic failures, well, turns out Blindspot returned! In the most recent installment (1×11) of NBC’s rather unimpressive tattoo show, there’s just too much wrong to ignore.

It starts with the plot. Now Blindspot was always rather ridiculous in terms of narrative and this episode surely wasn’t the only one with “problems” in the storytelling department, but with so much else going wrong, it felt like they were just taking the piss.

So there’s another tattoo on Jane’s ink-riddled body and of course it’s been decrypted by Patterson, a character that truly annoys me for many reasons. In the puzzle, she found coordinates leading to a tiny island in the Black Sea:

(c) NBC

(c) NBC

The map is actually correct, by the way, although the group of islands doesn’t exist in the real world aka Google Maps. No matter, Jane, KURT (sorry for caps but his voice’s too manly to spell his name any other way) and the gang grab their go-bags and off they go to Turkey, where they are greeted by a guy driving an army Jeep.

(c) NBC

(c) NBC

With British plates and right-side steering wheel. Huh. Wonder what that’s doing in Turkey?

Why there’s an airport on such a small island is another question entirely – according to the narrative, it was built by a mining company in the 80s, so maybe. Anyway, the team finds a MD83 airplane sitting in a hangar – and not just any plane:

(c) NBC

(c) NBC

Sure enough, the tail number is fake as N-numbers can’t have a zero after the N, but the team still recognizes the plane as Pan-Asian Flight 921, a “commercial flight between Istanbul and New York”. Now I’m certainly no aviation expert but it seems kinda wrong to use a MD83 for such a flight as the distance between Europe and the East Coast is way over 3,000 miles and the MD83 can only go 2,350 miles without refueling.

The team quickly gets caught by – you guessed it – terrorists who have an especially devious ridiculous plan: they want to use the plane to get into Earth’s orbit by using a Pegasus rocket attached to the aircraft. Up there, they want to release 3D printed micro-satellites to disrupt the GPS satelites by means of EMP. Yep, it’s buzzword bingo time alright, and if this doesn’t sound like a plot straight from a James Bond movie I don’t know what would.

Because terrorists aren’t usually the brightest tools in the shed, they don’t really have the first idea on how to carry out such a plan, so they also forced an aerospace engineer who was on the abducted flight to do their bidding. Smart idea! However, it would have been much smarter to ask said engineer if the plane would be even able to reach Earth’s orbit in the first place, because, as she tells us way too late, the plane would break apart way before reaching such an altitude. Not to mention that the mere idea of flying into the orbit, opening a door and tossing out the satellites is utterly ludicrious. There’s no oxygen at such a high altitude and it’s really fucking cold, so whoever opens a door would be asphyxiated and frozen solid in no time – and also likely orbiting Earth very quickly thanks to the pressure drop in the cabin.

Also, the GPS satellites aren’t all stationed on the same spot, but are spread around the globe – with the micro-satellites having no way to move on their own, how would they even get close to their targets? Just tossing them out in almost-space would not achieve anything except for polluting Earth’s orbit even more.

So the plan sounds ridiculous and wouldn’t work anyway, but that doesn’t stop the common terrorist. The engineer telling them about the risks probably didn’t convince them to abandon their foolish quest. So what did the abducted passengers do? Well – they built a satellite telephone from scraps laying around the satellite factory. It’s a bit rough and doesn’t transmit audio – just morse code – but it would work, if only they could find a battery. However they came to the conclusion that their design was functional without any way to test it is beyond me, but KURT and the gang quickly decide they’d just need a battery from a cattle prod the terrorists are using and they’d be out of there in no time. Since cattle prods seem to use normal batteries, that might work – except that a satellite phone also needs some kind of SIM card to actually connect to the network, and I highly doubt they also got their hands on one of these. If they did, the card was likely already inserted into a satellite phone, so why not steal that instead and actually call somebody instead of resorting to morse code?

Anyway, of course it works, and of course they are able to call Patterson, and of course Patterson instantly deciphers the morse code in her head and of course she instantly recognizes where it originates from. She may be annoying like hell but she sure is smart! Doesn’t really help KURT much because suddenly the aircraft is on the airstrip and lots of shooting ensues. While the plane is being fueled, we can spot something decidedly odd:

(c) NBC

(c) NBC

On the … thing … below the fuel port, we can clearly read “OPERATED BY AMERISTAR CHARTERS”. Ameristar Jet Charters is a real company that operates executive charter jets in, you guessed it, the USA. And considering that the episode was sponsored by exactly that company:

(c) NBC

(c) NBC

Suddenly it all makes sense. They didn’t use a proper plane that could actually fly the distance between Turkey and the USA because they got the MD83 for free. Who cares for all these logical fallacies if you can stay on budget! Do you know what renting an Airbus would cost?!

No idea what Ameristar Charters got out of that deal – you can hardly see their company name and the jet itself doesn’t sport a logo or anything. Lending their jet to be used in context of a plane hijacking and a terrorist plot also doesn’t scream “great advertising” to me.

However, while we are at it, there’s another company logo in rather plain sight while all the kerfuffle at the airport happens:

(c) NBC

(c) NBC

That’s the logo of Atlantic Aviation, a company specializing in aviation services at many airports in the United States. It makes absolutely no sense on an abandoned airstrip in  Turkey. Sure, the set dressers made sure to put up a few signs in turkish, but that doesn’t fool anyone if the rest of the airport isn’t transformed to look the part.

Oh, and when the plane starts and lands, things get even more obvious:

(c) NBC

(c) NBC

I have no idea what airport this may be, but it’s kinda unlikely to be a small abandoned airfield on an island because it’s simply far too big. There are multiple runways which a mining company would never need because how many planes are going to start or land there per day? Exactly. There’s also a rather large terminal building visible, something you’d not expect on a private airfield.

But before KURT and the gang (hey, this sounds like a really cheesy band name!) are getting back down to earth, they need to somehow stop the terrorists, right? First, we are treated to an exterior view of the plane ascending rapidly.

(c) NBC

(c) NBC

There’s a good reason passengers and crew are required to sit down and fasten their seat belts while ascending – it’s a bumpy ride and people would fall all over each other because they wouldn’t be able to keep standing at that angle. However, when we see our heroes inside the avionics bay they don’t seem to be bothered by gravity at all. None of them is even trying to hold on to something in order not to fall, and there’s barely any movement either.

(c) NBC

(c) NBC

Maybe the plane isn’t ascending as rapidly as they think it is? Well, the altimeter surely tells us different – it’s going up at a brisk pace alright. But when we get a view over the pilot’s shoulder, there’s something we shouldn’t be able to see at all: the ground.

(c) NBC

(c) NBC

Hey – all things considered, this episode wasn’t so bad! Except for the story, the “acting” and all the other nonsense, of course.

Mythbusters

(c) ABC

(c) ABC

Just a quick one about the latest episode (1×10) of The Whispers (ABC) in which a scientist named Theo (pictured above) tries to explain to Wes why “his alien” – the entity called Drill – is “literally” becoming less powerful:

Theo: Maybe it’s different where he’s from.
But in this planet, in this atmosphere,
he’s basically chewing celery.

Wes: I don’t understand.

Neither do I, but go on …

Theo: It takes more energy to chew celery
than the celery can provide, so a human being
eating nothing but celery…

Wes: … will starve to death.

Err … that doesn’t sound quite right, my dear. Let’s hear what Uncle Wikipedia has to say about celery and nutrition:

Celery is used in weight-loss diets, where it provides low-calorie dietary fibre bulk. Celery is often incorrectly thought to be a “negative-calorie food,” the digestion of which burns more calories than the body can obtain. In fact, eating celery provides positive net calories, with digestion only consuming a small proportion of the calories taken in.

Huh. And that guy calls himself a scientist? Well, it’s probably the glasses, they could fool anyone.

(c) ABC

(c) ABC

Later in that episode, the kid of a government employee who has the codes to the DSN in his home safe (!) is convinced by Drill to steal said codes. Apparently, these codes change daily, but they still put them in a neat little binder so they can be put in a safe in someone’s home.

Fortunately, the code to that safe is right up there on the wall for everyone to see:

(c) ABC

(c) ABC

They seriously want to make us believe the keys to America’s satellite network are locked in somebody’s cheap consumer-grade safe with the combination right next to them? What if the combination needs to be changed? Is he going to buy three new baseball jerseys? Shouldn’t the combination on such important safe be changed rather frequently anyway?

Unfortunately, we’re not done yet.

When they trap Drill inside an abandoned school – abandoned for three years no less, but all windows and light bulbs seem to be intact – the weather’s really acting up:

(c) ABC

(c) ABC

It’s clearly not raining anymore and there are hardly a few drops on their clothes (let alone the hair) but the ambience sounds like its raining cats and dogs. As soon as the camera angle shifts, there’s heavy rainfall visible in the lower right corner, but the actress stays dry. And no, they aren’t standing under a pavillon, because as you can see above, they are standing right in front of one instead.

(c) ABC

(c) ABC

At least that way the entertainment value stays high enough for me to care, because frankly, that show is not even cheesy enough to be good.