Back to the old school

Hey, look, it’s Sergeant Odelle Ballard from NBC’s American Odyssey! In episode 7, she’s making a tape to prove she’s still alive!

Picture (c) NBC

Picture (c) NBC

The arrow points at the important bit: there’s an icon showing a SD card, so the camera is likely one of these cheap digital camcorders that are common now, as opposed to one that uses real tape, like a MiniDV cassette for example. From the display it’s pretty clear that we are talking about digital storage since the run time of tape cassettes used in handheld cameras don’t really exceed 90 minutes.

Begs the question why the resulting tape is shown to be stored on exactly that: a MiniDV cassette. Oops.

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

The bigger question is this, though: if it’s so damn important that the tape gets out, why not upload it straight to Youtube instead of calling a New York Times reporter to come out to Mali? I’m pretty sure they can manage to find an internet connection that works, and given that the video isn’t that long, the upload would only take a moment (at the very least it would be faster than to wait for the reporter to arrive). Once the video is on Youtube there’s little chance for anyone to get rid of it and news would spread like wildfire, so why take all these risks?

Bonus! Our two hackers are searching the internet for information about Amir Alamra, and they even find something:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

That URL format sure is odd! It’s not an IP address, doesn’t bother to mention the protocol (http or https) and simply doesn’t look like an URL at all. For reference, here’s how the search results should be formatted on the search engine they used:
americanodyssey107-realbing

But how do I know what search engine they used? Well …

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Oddly enough, the episode credits do not mention any “promotional consideration” by Microsoft – instead, it’s sponsored by Apple, but barely features any Apple material.

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That’s how an iPhone saved my life

NBC’s new show American Odyssey really ticks all the boxes by taking PMCs, islamists, American heroes soldiers, the Occupy movement, big corporations, hackers, lawyers and the government, adding a healthy dose of conspiracy theorists and mashing it all up into a soup of prime time entertainment. Hell, why not? Not every show can be another Homeland, can it?

Fortunately for me, it’s also fun on another level as there are quite a few unfortunate screw ups in the first episode alone. Hell, it wouldn’t be an NBC show if it was flawless!

So the show is about Odelle Ballard, an American soldier on duty in northern Mali. She has just rid the world of yet another terrorist leader and is now resting with her team somewhere in the desert. While taking a dump, she pulls out her phone and watches a video her daughter made:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Wow, an actual iPhone 4 running iOS 7, showing the actual operating system instead of a mockup? I must be dreaming! Probably, as Ballard’s phone clearly indicates an available LTE connection in the middle of the fucking desert. That’s quite a feat considering at that time – March 13, 2015 – Mali doesn’t have any LTE coverage at all (according to this article posted on March 6th, 2015, “LTE […] would be a new service in the market” and will be “introduced later in the year”) and general cellphone coverage in the northern area, especially the desert, appears to be spotty at best.

Please also note the battery level (about 75% full) and the fact the email icon has no notification badge – no new mail! There’s also no provider identification displayed next to the connection quality indicator, which is odd, but I’m not entirely sure it has to be there. If you have to know, it’s 9:50 pm on March 13, 2015.

Suddenly, the entire squad is blown to smithereens, minus Odelle Ballard who’s pushed out of sight by the blast. She drops her iPhone and falls unconscious. When she wakes up again, some locals with guns are sifting through the remains of her fellow countrymen. She does what every normal person would do after waking up – she checks her mail. But first, she has to turn the iPhone on – not that I’ve got the first idea how she managed to turn it off before falling unconscious. Good for her, had the phone remained on, the battery would likely be dead thanks to the constant network scans without proper coverage.

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

It’s 10:01 am the next day, 12 hours after the attack, and she’s got no cellphone coverage at all, which also means no internet. Surprisingly, the mail app notification icon indicates she has 11,973 (!) new e-mails – pretty amazing considering she’s presumed dead.

Thanks to the sound her phone makes when receiving the 11,973 emails (still without any kind of internet coverage), the (presumed) islamists promptly discover her and smash her phone to pieces, but not before she manages to sneak out an e-mail that gets sent in the last second, typical iOS swoosh sound and all.

iPhones, I tell you – they make the impossible … possible. With out the magic of the iDevice, the show’s already shallow plot would fall flat on it’s face.

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Oh. Now it all makes sense.

(The second episode’s credits omit that line, by the way, and sure enough, cellphones are suddenly either made by Samsung or can’t be identified.)

But we’re far from done here.

Remember when I mentioned hackers are part of the show as well? They sure are, and they manage to get access to Ms. Ballard’s private email account. Look, they (well, it’s really just one greasy guy in his mom’s basement apartment) use professional hacking tools!

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Of course she has an iCloud account – I wonder if this was a good idea in terms of marketing in light of the recent iCloud hacks?

The password is really easy to brute-force, and the hacker has no problem accessing her mailbox:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

The clever bastard is using a web mail proxy because why not. Pretty sure https://webmail/mail/login leads absolutely nowhere unless he has the proxy running on his local machine – in which case the proxy would be completely useless – but the URL format looks suspiciously similar to the one used by GMail. The input box also doesn’t mask the password for whatever reason. However, it’s “the web’s most reliable email client”, that’s something!

Here’s the inbox:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Looks pretty convincing, right? I must admit they really did a decent job on creating this mockup. However, they didn’t really think it through because this isn’t an iCloud mail account! Instead, it looks like they copied Gmail a bit too well, as evident from the URL schema

gmail

and the “FindBigMail” folder which indicates Ms. Ballard is employing the services of FindBigMail.com, a tool to manage large emails that’s exclusive to GMail accounts. To add insult to injury, the number of emails in the account is displayed as 9,591 – a lot less than the 11,973 displayed by the mail app on her iPhone. Also, all displayed mails are at least three days old, which means she didn’t get any new mails at all between a few days before the attack and now.

Code recycling

Sleepy Hollow sure is another of those guilty pleasures of mine. The story is utterly ridiculous and hasn’t deviated a hair from your standard “body of the week” type of supernatural drama, but the adventures of Ichabod Crane and how he learns to adapt to the modern world are equal parts unbelievable and comedy gold. Despite the show’s shortcomings in the story department, there’s rarely a dull moment, I give them that.

However, in episode 7 of the current second season, I could not help but notice something odd. The shot below is supposed to show some kind of “trace” the detective character (Mills) supposedly put on the villain character, Henry, who also happens to be the son of Ichabod Crane – keep your family close and your villains closer, I say.

Image (c) FOX

Image (c) FOX

So, about that “trace”… seems like Detective Mills is a l33t h4x0r and can actually code in … Visual Basic?! Why the code appears in a window called “DB Search” shown inside the police database software is beyond me, and as most of the stuff has been lifted from Microsoft’s own documentation and other, entirely unrelated sources, it doesn’t actually do anything. In the real world, that is, as it manages to find Henry quite well.

Of course, I just had to ask Google about the code, and there’s more to it than meets the eye. Seems Detective Mills is nothing more but a lowly script kiddie, because there’s evidence her “trace” code was taken from somewhere else entirely: Criminal Minds season 3, episode 9.

sleepy108-criminalminds

10 PRINT “FAIL”
20 GOTO 10

Search engines, how do they work?

This is about season 3, episode 4 of the rather entertaining CBS show Elementary, a show where these kind of errors always let my blood pressure rise a little bit higher because Sherlock is such an arrogant prick when it comes to errors made by everyone else.

So Holmes and Watson are interviewing a person of interest called Michael Webb – not that his name is relevant or anything. Michael Webb is a guy who doesn’t like to clean his apartment, but lucky for him, a friend of his entered him into a contest where he won a package of free cleanings. Isn’t that something! The cleaning company is called “Clean The House”, which is a rather appropriate name for a cleaning company, but Sherlock is not impressed. Instead, he’s asking Webb if it ever occurred to him to check out the company’s website because … yeah, why would he, actually?

Oh, because they don’t have a website! That’s a little suspicious in this day and age, at least according to Sherlock Holmes. I’m not entirely convinced – it’s certainly a rare occurrence, but in the end, a small cleaning business really doesn’t need an internet presence anyway. But that’s not what I’m rambling about – it’s this:

Image (c) CBS

Image (c) CBS

The face-palm is strong in this one. Entering something other than an URL into the browser bar of a smartphone – in this case it’s an iPhone with a made-up UI – would result in either the default search engine being queried for the search term or, if the phone has no internet connection, in an error message notifying the user about the lack of connectivity. It would not, however, display a 404 error, because that actually requires a file to be requested off a server. That did clearly not happen because the search term, and not an URL, is still displayed in the address bar.

The only chance a 404 error would be displayed as a result of this query would be if the search engine’s server was broken, but in no case would this lead to the screen Sherlock bases his suspicions on.

Two are better than one, right? Right?!

It was only visible for like two seconds, but I still noticed this rather odd looking login screen in episode 8 of NBC’s drama Crisis:

Picture (c) NBC

Picture (c) NBC

Yes, its actually asking for the same password twice, because that’s like 100% more secure than just entering it once. Maybe it’s supposed to be commentary on the sorry state of user interfaces in government-commissioned software solutions, but seeing the manifold problems Crisis had in its previous episodes, I kind of doubt that.

Print is dead

Can’t anybody give the producers of Crisis some tips on how to properly use GPS coordinates on their show? Because they clearly don’t seem to even understand the most basic things about them, as becomes obvious from watching episode 2.

But before we come to that kind of rocket science, lets start with something old-school: a simple newspaper. The hostages get their hands on a copy of the paper with Amber’s face on the cover, and it seems like everything is in order – until Amber reads the front page and, likely by accident, the back sheets peel back …

Picture (c) NBC

Picture (c) NBC

… to reveal the entire paper is a prop with empty pages to pad out the few ones they actually printed. They didn’t even last until after the credits this time!

That was pretty funny already, wasn’t it? However, the number of GPS coordinate problems this episode has is absolutely mind-boggling. Either the production crew didn’t care at all, or they just didn’t know it better, but in any case, the outcome is pretty damn poor.

The FBI figures out where Hurst, the Secret Service guy who shot his partner, was hanging out during his hour of “personal time”: the Pakistani embassy. They have marked his whereabouts on a handy map …

Picture (c) NBC

Picture (c) NBC

… which is absolutely useless since all five spots are marked with the exact same coordinates (15.94749 -140.28631), and even the “area designation” is identical. Where these coordinates lead to, you ask?

Picture (c) Google

Picture (c) Google

Why, the open sea hundreds of miles east of Hawaii of course! Where else would you expect the Pakistani embassy?

But it gets worse. After some back and forth, we get a more detailed description of the location:

Picture (c) NBC

Picture (c) NBC

Here, we are introduced to a completely new concept: two coordinates for the same spot, and both lead to the middle of nowhere. The top one to somewhere south of the southernmost tip of the African continent …

Picture (c) Google

Picture (c) Google

… and the other is really hard to read, but the part I can make out is -6 -147 which leads to somewhere “near” (read: several hundred miles southeast) Kiribati. So no matter which coordinate you take, you’d end up anywhere but the Pakistan embassy in Washington D.C.

This idiocy continues in a later scene when the formerly disabled GPS tracker of one of the kids suddenly activates inside the embassy:

Picture (c) NBC

Picture (c) NBC

The coordinates listed for the embassy look like they are the hard to read coordinates seen in the last picture and put them at -6.02052 -147.39134, although that doesn’t make them any less wrong. The coordinates for Kyle Devore are listed as 77.47995000 39.97963125, a location somewhere in the Barents Sea “near” the island of Svalbard. Even from just looking at the coordinates in relation to the ones listed for the embassy should make it obvious that something can’t be right, which gives me the impression the production crew just couldn’t be bothered.

Later, another GPS tracker comes online, and “this can’t be right: it’s tracking to this building” – right to the FBI headquarters.

Picture (c) NBC

Picture (c) NBC

This can’t be right indeed: 77.44957500 39.87720937 is pretty close to the coordinates shown for Kyle Devore in the previous screenshot, which, as we already established, point to somewhere to the far northern coast of Sweden. As you can imagine, these also do, although their location is a bit more to the east.

Whoever developed the tracking software for the FBI has some explaining to do.

Even fake software needs standards

While watching the pilot episode of Believe again just to make sure I didn’t miss anything interesting, I noticed the following screen showing on a computer used in the prison escape sequence:

Picture (c) NBC

Picture (c) NBC

Of course, the entire thing is fake, but that’s not the point. I remembered the exact sameĀ  “software suite” being used before in another show: Person of Interest.

I must have a really good memory for irrelevant things, because I was correct – in season 2, episode 10, this screen shows up on Finch’s computer:

Picture (c) CBS

Picture (c) CBS

And it’s not just the same program; the content of the screen is identical down to the placement of windows and even the numbers, with the exception of some animated elements not being visible in both scenes. The only thing that’s really different is the greenish tint in the Believe version – everything else is exactly the same.

Of course, it’s perfectly logical to have two surveillance teams use the same software for the same things – in both cases they are essentially wiretapping someone – but it’s definitely not logical the data displayed on both screens would be identical to the last digit.

Given both shows are produced by Bad Robot, it’s probably not even that big a surprise, but like so much else in Believe, it’s still a complete hack job.