11.02.2009

The Horrid State of IT on TV Shows

I've been watching Jericho, a TV show cancelled in 2007 after a short one season but was critically acclaimed as "good TV". I agree. It is good TV.

However, it suffers from the same malady that plagues every TV show released in the past decade. They have a complete disregard for reality when it comes to anything computer related.

Now, don't get me wrong. I understand that this is TV, and that every body of knowledge has been desecrated in some way or form by the imaginations of writers, especially the laws of physics (and the laws of going to the bathroom. Nobody ever needs to use the toilet on TV. It drives me nuts). But some things are so easy to get right, yet writers always get them wrong. Almost like they're doing it on purpose, just to make me angry (a perfectly plausible reason).

Some background: Jericho is about a nuclear attack on the US in which 23 major cities are vaporized in one short moment. The show chronicles the story of the inhabitants of the smalll town of Jericho, KS, and their quest to survive and adjust to post-apocolyptic America.

So, the scene I'm about to show you transpires after eletricity is temporarily restored to the town, and the population realizes that the Internet doesn't work. As a girl names Sklar attemps to check her email, Allison (whose father may or may not be a Super Duper Secret Agent Man) tries to offer some tech tips.

Failure Ensues.


Ok, let's break this down.

Skylar is fake-typing furiously at a screen that says "You aren't connected to stuff". Protip: If you're going to fake-type, at least make it so that it looks like you're doing something. When in the history of Internet Explorer have you been able to magically connect to the Internet by typing in magical hacker codes that don't even show up on the screen that you're typing on?! At least pull up a command prompt! This is just a symptom of another pet IT peeve of mine in TV shows:

Nobody ever uses a mouse.

Now, I know that in the geek realms that I reside in and call home, keyboard shortcuts are key to productivity, and if you ever have to use a mouse to accomplish anything, you're doing something wrong. What you're doing with your mouse could be done in a fraction of the time with shortcuts, and you are therefore inferior. However, that's not what most of the world. Most teenage mall rats trying to check their email after the apocolypse will not know the various wonderful shortcuts the "Windows" key makes possible, let alone know magical hacker codes that connect you to the post-apocolyptic Interwebs.

So, along comes Allison, angsty teenager turned networking guru, with some helpful tips. After witnessing Skylar utterly fail at fake-typing, Allison reccomends that she type in the staright IP address.

As Allison would say, "Oh, no you di'n't".

Here's some Basic knowledge easily looked up in Wikipedia. When you type in a web address, this nifty little thing called a DNS server translates your web address into an IP address. This was implemented so that you we don't have to memorize 12 digits every time we wanted to go to a website. Very simple. So, Allison thinks that maybe only the DNS servers were wiped out in the nuclear apocolypse, but the rest of the country's network infrastucture is still intact. And I know exactly where this misconception came from. The writer probably saw his company IT guy connect to a company server using its IP address (sometimes it's just simpler to troubleshoot that way, expecially when your local DNS is wonky), and thought "Wow, a magical hacker code to connect to Internet! Even when all the wires in major cities were wiped out in a nuclear apocolypse! This must be someting all the cool trendy teens know how to do. I'll put it in my show and impress the techies." And just to continue the theme here, let's assume that the Internet magically survived. It's really a huge testament and praise to the people in charge of the Internet that viewers assume that after the nuclear annihilation of 23 cities, you'll be able to login to Facebook the day after at your local Starbucks Wi-Fi hotspot without a hitch in service. News Flash: The Internet isn't some transcendent being that resides in our physical realm through the magic and wonder of computer geek fake-typing. It's a bunch of computers dustributed accross major universities and research centers that communicate with each others and the powers that be have duubed "The Internet".

And just when you thought it couldn't get worse, Allison goes ahead and types in an IP address. The address she types is....

827.750.304.001.

Now, before I go and explain how this isn't even remotely close to anything even resembling a valid IP address, let me point out to ridiculosity (that word rocks, shut up) of the whole scenario once again. Let's say Skylar was tring to check Hotmail. Quick, what's the IP address for Hotmail? Ya, didn't think so. Neither does anybody else. And one other slight criticism: You need to press the Enter button when finished with your super hacker fake-typing. "Enter" is the universal keystroke of "Go do all that stuff." Internet Explore requires you to press the "Enter" key when finished typing in your address in the address. Go ahead, see what happens when you type in an address up there and not press the "Enter" key. Hint: Nothing happens.

Now, let me tell you what an IP address is. The Creators Of The Internet (Capitalized for Effect) decided that the world would need a standard system in binary that would store the unique addresses of Internet sites all over the world. So they took 32 bits of binary units (4 bytes, if you're counting), and split up the Internet. The amount of possibilities come to 4,294,967,296 diffferent unique addresses, give or take none. They split it up (in a little trick called subnetting, which I won't explain now) so that instead of referring to yahoo.com as site #3,518,979,381 (the value of 11010001101111110101110100110101, the IP address of yahoo.com), they split all those billions of IP addresses into 4 bytes. So that big binary number up there becomes 1101000.11011111.0111010.0110101. In decimal, that's 209.191.93.53. If you made all the numbers in those 32 bits "1", it would be 255.255.255.255. That's the highest possible IP address in the current IPv4 way of doing things.

That may have been a little complicated, but still. 5 seconds of Google love is all it takes to figure that 827.750.304.001 is an incredibly dumb number to use. An it's not just that all the numbers are not even close to the range. That last number, 001, is just stupid. The whole point of writingit out the way we do is because it is a real number representation of binary. 001 is not a real number. It's hard to believe that nobody on the set at the time pointed this out to someone. It's a pointless lack of simple research.

And it only gets better. Allison says, "But the Internet was designed by the military (SPOILER ALERT: It wasn't really, they just started it) to withstand a nuclear blast (except for the DNS servers)!" I won't even bother to explain how asinine that tidbit of wisdom is, being that "The Internet" isn't a "thing" that can be "destroyed" by bombs. This, followed by Skylar's shining moment of ingenious intellect and insight, "So, why can't I check my email?? (while continuing to quickly fake-type)" should be enough to make any self-respecting nerd start foaming at the mouth.

Alas, things only only go downhill from there. All of a sudden, everyone's IE browser is covered with a Public Service Warning that tells everyone that everything is going to be OK. Now, this makes perfect sense being that nobody had access to the Internet. This is the only plausible way something like this could maybe happen:

- Some super-powerful Internet server is still functioning somewhere that has access to all the DNS servers and has the ability to force your browser to route every request to a single server with that message, without having the user refresh the page or actually try to click on something (SPOILER ALERT: This can't happen).
- It apparently is able to grant Internet Access to everyone that didn't have access to it a moment ago (SPOILER ALERT: This is impossible as well).
- All the physical wiring needs to be intact, along with the routing functionality of all ISPs providing access to the DNS servers. (SPOILER ALERT: What part of Apocolyptic Nuclear Annihilation didn't the writers understand?)
- It would have to bypass spyware, malware and virus checkers (SPOILER ALERT: It won't. You'll get a warning that you have a trojan or something and that would be the end of it).

Of course, the proper response to this is more furious fake-typing, until Skylar finally gives up and secretly admits her failure to implement her obviously l33t haxzor skilz and dies a little inside.

This is just one of many tech stupidities that pervade TV shows and movies these days, and I don't mean to say everything needs to be exactly accurate. That would make things unbelievably boring (If Jack Bauer forgot his password to his Windows Active directory account, he would have to contact the helpdesk to reset that. I don't care how badass he is. IT owns him). But please, please do some basic research. I know you can't always follow the laws of physics, and I'm cool with that, but some things are too easy to get wrong.

3 comments:

Benjamin said...

I'm speechless.

Not only that, but every single thing you wrote down flew threw my head when I watched this clip for the first time. Scary.

I hate when shows are so stupid. Maybe Hollywood needs to hire us :)

dave said...

Dude, you need to lighten up.

Justin Kuzma said...

I LOVE YOU! My first thought when I saw this is "if the DNS isn't working the entirety of the internet is not working." Then I realized the stupidity of the IP she put in. If the world is so saturated by computers why can't Hollywood get this right???

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