The Emperor’s Young Clothes

UPDATE: Veteran actor Bill Paxton, who plays the character this post is about, died on February 26th, 2017. I’d just like to clarify this post is not about Bill Paxton’s performance. In fact, he’s by far the best actor on this show and clearly does his best to save it, but in the end it’s a team effort and his effort alone is just not enough.

It’s Training Day, y’all!

Compated to the movie of the same name, the show is a bit lame, but it’s still better than the train wreck that was Rush Hour, just not as funny. This is just a quick post about something I noticed in episode 3 (and others, but it was most prominent here).

In a flashback at the end of that episode, we see Max Payne Detective Whatshisface shooting a dude and rescuing a girl. Apparently, this was 20 years ago, and here’s our hero:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

And this is the same guy 20 years later:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Not much of a difference, you say? Neither do I since it’s the same actor. He even sports a similar beard and haircut, but in the first shot he’s wearing a hoodie and t-shirt to make him appear younger. I’d say he aged well since he manages to look worse twenty years ago.

Of course they could have cast a younger actor that looks alike like most shows would do, but … nah, screw it, that would cost money.

Ironically they manage to cast a perfect young counterpart to an older character in episode 4. Sometimes I really don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.

Jammin’

Ransom, a rather new show on CBS, is about a team of professional – and commercial – hostage crisis negotiators. Why that’s a thing is beyond me as usually the police is pretty good at doing that already, but why not. Since it’s a CBS filler show – heck, it airs on Saturdays! – it’s pretty much a given that the paper-thin plot is peppered with plot holes and the cast is just as dull, and that’s okay – not every show can be the next Homeland. Oh, by the way – this is the gig Frank Spotnitz left The Man in the High Castle for. No, really. Must be a long way to fall from this height, but he finally hit rock bottom.

So far, the episodes were just your average nonsense but the third one pretty much did it for me. As usual, the script author probably read something about something, thought “hell, why not!” and went with it, logic be damned.

So there’s a hostage situation in a bank. The two hostage takers don’t want to negotiate because it’s not really about money, and obviously that’s a problem for our crisis negotiation team since they are hired to negotiate, not sit around in their thousand dollar suits and look pretty. The perps collected all the phones the hostages had on them so there’s no way to go around them and simply contact a hostage instead.

ransom103-smartwatch

Image (c) CBS

Luck has it, however, that one of the two rent-a-cops in the bank wears a smart watch, more specifically a Samsung Galaxy Gear. How do they know that? Because it’s visible on the security cameras, duh! Unfortunately, the police has a cell jammer active and doesn’t want to shut it down just because some smart looking fella asks them nicely.

What’s the idea here? Well, the lead negotiator pairs his smartphone with the watch and starts to send messages to it. Why any given smartwatch would be able to receive messages directly from the paired smartphone is beyond me as there’s really no need for that kind of feature. Remember: the watch is normally paired to the wearer’s phone, which is likely in their pocket – what good would it do to be able to send messages from the phone to the watch? Except for resolving a hostage crisis, of course, but I doubt that’s high on the priority list when developing a smart watch.

That kind of nonsense aside, the security guy wearing the watch is laying on the floor (he got shot) pretty far from the bank’s entrance and the negotiator is standing a few meters away from it as well. Given how supposedly terrible the Samsung Galaxy Gear’s bluetooth range is – way less than the average of 30 feet, which is about 9 meters – and the fact that there’s a wall and several desks between the phone and the watch, the entire “I’ll just pair my phone with his watch” thing likely wouldn’t work in the first place.

But it gets better. After the negotiator manages to send some messages to the smart watch and gather information about what’s going on inside the bank, he can convince the cops to drop the cellphone jammer in order to get a “dedicated signal” to the phone connected to the smart watch (which, at this point, would still be his own … yeah, this is really through through). Actual cell jammers do have a feature to allow certain phones, although I highly doubt there’s need to shut down the jammer to configure it. The whole “dedicated signal” stuff is nonsense anyway – the cell jammer would simply be blacklisting any and all mobile signals except the ones that are on the whitelist, in this case the phone inside the bank and the negotiator’s phone, and the phones used by the cops.

Fantastic technical research, guys. No, really. No wonder Mr. Robot gets glowing reviews for their way of displaying actual technology at work when everyone else is just doing a hack job out of it every single time. Doesn’t really take much to shine in this colorful CSI world most shows tend to live in. Ugh.

Oh, and while we’re at it – what the fuck is this:

ransom103-screen

Image (c) CBS

No, I don’t mean the cop grinning like a moron, although … yeah, that too. No, what I’m talking about is the … holographic screen that is perfectly readable against bright sunlight. There’s even some room for nonsensical widgets that don’t seem to display any feasible information, and let’s not forget the very important company logo which is  always a great use of screen real estate! Now that’s some prime CSI tech right there! Must have blown out their entire SFX budget given an explosion of four blocks of C4 in a tight air duct looks like this:

ransom103-boom

Image sequence (c) CBS

Oh well. At least there still was some cash left to add a bunch of colored lights to the detonator.

Autocorrect is a way of life

While Rush Hour (CBS) occasionally features rather funny writing, it’s main bullet point seems to be the terrible production quality which is on par with the worst NBC shows.  Of course, the show is cheaply made, but some of the more glaring mistakes could have easily been avoided by taking a little extra care (or at least one more look at whatever you’re filming).

This post is about episode 11 in the show’s first (and thanks to early cancellation, last) season. Captain Cole has a date at the LA Concert Hall (also known as Walt Disney Concert Hall), but it doesn’t really go as planned. The guy she dates is a total bore, and for good reason: he’s talking like he wants to advertise something.

Boring date
But it’s not just about looking good. CrossFit is a way of life.

Captain Cole
Huh. Is that a fact?

Boring date
Yeah. Cardio boxing for endurance and tai chi for precision and focus.

Captain Cole
Oh, fantastic.

Fantastic, yeah, considering CrossFit isn’t just a way of life, it’s also a real product, so this dialogue turns out to be actual advertising. And it’s definitely not a coincidence either, since the CrossFit brand is dropped on another CBS show as well – American Gothic (episode 7):

Reporter
So, how married are you exactly?

Allison
Very publicly married with two kids, as you know.

Reporter
And yet you still somehow find the time for… CrossFit, I’m guessing?

No, actually she finds time to fool around with her lesbian lover, but I disgress.

Anyway, of course things go sideways when armed gangsters storm the concert hall and take hostages. Before all that, we get a look at the concert hall’s loading dock where we can spot a very sloppily redressed sign:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Of course it was too expensive to print a new sign instead of just taping over the real phone number. Renting the LA Concert Hall was probably cutting into the budget so much nothing was left to put up a proper sign.

When Cole finds out there’s something going on, she pulls out her gun (on a date? no wonder she’s not dating well!) and her cell and – as luck would have it – she has the LAPD on speed dial:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Unfortunately, her phone doesn’t have service so she can’t actually place the call. She tosses her phone and moves on just to find two guys on the ground along with a purse and another cellphone. After some shooting, she grabs the phone from the ground (why she ditched her own phone in the first place is beyond me) and hides in an unlocked room. Here, she uses the phone she picked up to call the cops, and lo and behold – it has service!

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

What we see is the lock screen of an Android phone (although it looks like it was doctored as there’s no carrier designation in the upper left corner). While there’s definitely a way to call the police or emergency services from the lock screen, I doubt it would show up as “LAPD” just like on her own phone – it just makes no sense, especially after learning later on that the cell belongs to a person who lives in Switzerland. Instead, it would likely say “Emergency Services” or something unspecific like that.

Cole manages to call for help and the cavalry arrives. She’s on the move through the venue, looking for the kidnappers. Suddenly, the phone has no reception any more. Despite being an experienced police woman, she’s standing out in the open where everyone can see her, and that’s exactly what happens: she gets jumped. She manages to knock her attacker unconscious and would be able to go into hiding, but she doesn’t. Instead, she’s kneeling down basically right next to the downed guy and rifles through his duffle bag. Oh well, at least she gets some intel about the kidnappers.

She then sends a short message to Carter’s phone:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Carter (while looking at his phone)
Unknown number.

Carter (reading aloud)
“I’m upstairs. Alone.”

Carter 
Ah, this must be that Latin chick I met at the club last night.

Carter (writing message)
Busy right now. Will hit your sexy ass back later.

Cole
Come on, you worthless piece of…

Carter (reading aloud)
“Carter, you loudmouth jackass.”

Carter
It’s Cole!

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Carter runs to the commander to tell him about this revelation when Cole starts to type another SMS:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

However, thanks to the autocorrect function, the message she actually sends reads:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

That’s not how autocorrect works – she should have seen the wrong words as she was typing the message, and since we could see her screen, it’s clear there was no autocorrect at work here. Not to mention that it’s highly unlikely to get the word “grenade” corrected to “Teddy” and the word “Picture” to “Peanut” – at least the second word is so damn common that it would never be autocorrected even by the worst autocorrect ever. What’s also odd is that the message was supposed to read “Grenades, Picture of … Pickering” yet the word “of” vanished entirely. It’s also noteworthy that her previous SMS didn’t have any issues in that regard despite using words like “jackass” and “loudmouth” which would be equally prone to auto correction.

Of course, Cole gets caught and is used by the kidnappers to communicate their demands to the police outside. The cops send a negotiator to, well, negotiate. As you can see, he’s clearly the only one at the top of the stairs aside from the kidnapper and Cole:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

So why is there someone standing behind him in the reflection?

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Ah, it’s probably nothing (or it’s the steadycam operator, which is more likely).

After much back and forth, the two detectives decide to sneak inside the theater to get to Cole. But the entire building is surrounded by police snipers, so it’s kind of difficult to get inside. Their solution? Dress up like theater guests and just go inside via a stairwell on the back of the venue. I have the feeling police snipers would definitely report two civilians sneaking around the area but maybe the snipers fell asleep, who knows? Even if the snipers knew the detectives played dress-up, they’d still have to report it since order was that nobody gets in or out (especially not Carter and Lee, who have been more or less banned from the area for disobeying orders).

But they do get in via an air duct and quickly stumble upon a kidnapper:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

There’s a clock hanging on the wall. It’s 9:55pm and 20 seconds.

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

After Lee downs the kidnapper, Carter comes out of the air duct and the clock still shows the exact same time – in fact, the seconds don’t move at all during the entire scene. The clock is obviously out of batteries in order to make preserving continuity easier, but since it’s so clearly visible, the effect this achieves is exactly the opposite. The timeline fits, though, as we can see on Carter’s cellphone:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Ah well. Shouldn’t expect too much from these movie adaptations, should you? These mistakes aren’t exactly shocking, but they really show the creators aren’t exactly commited to excellence either.

Easy to read

Ah, Rush Hour. If this terrible movie spinoff is any indication of the quality of all the other remakes or spinoffs coming in the near future, that future looks pretty grim. Fortunately, CBS already cancelled the show a while back and is now burning off the remaining episodes on saturday nights.

In episode 9, the two (mostly annoying) detectives are briefed by their (also mostly annoying) colleague. She’s showing them an article about a suspect:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Let’s take a look at the paragraph of text in the center of the picture. Well, for one, it’s terribly formatted – no real news site would publish an article with that kind of block formatting, especially not with such small text. However, the text is really irrelevant anyway since it’s Lipsum – there’s nothing there, just Latin gibberish. Seems that whoever had to put the screenshot together made every effort to add more or less legit looking advertisements and video links to the page but couldn’t be arsed to write a halfway decent article. Granted, considering how low-effort the entire show is, that’s not entirely a surprise, but it’s funny nonetheless.

Later in the episode, the detectives are tracking a car using this incredibly detailed map:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

I like how the map has to state it’s Los Angeles in (comparatively) huge letters so everyone is aware it’s not any of the countless other cities built in a grid layout. Pretty amazing tech, folks!

And while writing this post, I went back to the beginning of the episode where I found this little gem:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

Yep, that’s the camera sitting on a dolly, and there’s the camera operator and a dolly grip pushing the dolly. Ah, glass fronts, they are always so tricky to film!

Breathing troubles

Here’s a quick one about the first episode of CBS’ new snoozefest American Gothic. I’d wager a few bucks on this show being cancelled before the first season has run its course – it’s just so dreadfully dull!

At the end of the first episode, the patriarch of the wealthy Hawthorne family is in hospital after suffering a breakdown.

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

As you can see from the tube that leads to his nose, the hospital thought it would be better to give him some additional oxygen to ease his breathing. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t breathe on his own. If that was the case, he’d be connected to a medical ventilator – either via a face mask, mouth tube or a tube connected directly to his windpipe (via tracheostomy).

The poor sap is being visited by his wife who decides to end his life by blocking the oxygen tube.

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

He dies within seconds despite the fact that he doesn’t need the additional oxygen to survive and could very well breathe on his own. It just doesn’t work that way.

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!

Hey man, nice scarf!

Ever since watching an episode of Power being filmed in New York City last year I have paid extra attention to watching extras move in the background of a street scene. While it may appear that there’s just a lot of passerbys walking past the characters, many of these people are hired help – clothed to fit the weather the episode is supposed to be set in, instructed to walk in the background as inconspicuously as possible. The actual background is usually closely (and, to my dismay, fiercely!) guarded by staffers so nobody who doesn’t belong there can get caught on film. Of course, there’s a limited amount of extras walking around so it can occasionally be difficult not to have the same person walk past twice, so the editor and continuity manager have to pay attention.

And that’s just the problem in the latest episode of Elementary which featured a nice street scene set at the corner of E 44th Street & 3rd Avenue. As soon as I watched the episode I just knew I’d have to inspect that scene because something felt off, and I was right, although I had the wrong extra in mind. There’s a man with a dark beanie with a brown stripe passing behind the actors, and for a split second, it seemed the same guy was walking past twice. As it turned out, he was blameless – which can’t be said for this fellow sporting an even more memorable hat and a red scarf to boot:

(c) CBS

(c) CBS

As we’ve learned from that Castle epsiode with similar problems, it’s not a good idea to have extras with very colorful clothing mixed with others that wear rather plain garments – they stick out like a sore thumb if they walk past twice …

(c) CBS

(c) CBS

… because just seconds later, he’s there again, still walking around with no care in the world. Good for him!