Does Not Compute

Drivl.com has a list of “What code DOESN’T do in real life (that it does in the movies)”

One in particular struck me…

10. Most code is not inherently cross platform

Remember in Independence Day when whatshisface-math-guy writes a virus that works on both his apple laptop AND an alien mothership? Bull****!

If real life were like film I’d be able to port wordpress to my toaster using a cat5 cable and a bag of glitter.

Or as my brother once put it: “How did they get the aliens’ modem number?”

There are a few things missing from his list. I can specifically remember an episode of The X-Files where Mulder grabs a printed page of compiled code and a programmer is able to make sense of it. Utter nonsense. Since compiled code (that is, only a computer can read it at that point) would print out as effectively a random bunch of characters, it would not only be completely meaningless to human eyes, but even a computer wouldn’t have been able to make sense of it.

On a somewhat related point, I would categorize under “Things Technology Can’t Do in Real Life (that it does on TV)”:

I see this one on CSI all the time: “Here, take this grainy photograph and blow up a square half inch of it about 5,000%, then ‘enhance’ it. I want to read what’s on that sign in the background.” Cop-show land has the most amazingly high resolution cameras you could ever imagine. ATM security videos are shot in 400 megapixel HD.

The first time I really remember noticing something like this is in a scene from the movie Blade Runner — wherein it actually worked well, because that movie is set in, y’know, the future. Harrison Ford takes a snapshot and puts it in this viewer machine and zooms in. And again. And again. And again. By the time he’s done we’re looking at a tiny little part of the original snapshot, but it’s still in essentially full resolution. In that context I thought it was a very nice subtle bit of “future technology”. In the context of a modern day cop show — unmitigated baloney.

[Update: Speaking of “unmitigated baloney”, I’m guessing my man Kevin might have a wee issue with CSI for all those times they successfully search for a specific gun out of millions based on the firing pattern on the bullet. This is called “ballistic fingerprinting” and a working example not only does not exist but most likely can not exist.]

As an addendum: I read an article about the show “Bones”, in which one of the series creators stated that they tried hard to make the science and technology absolutely realistic. Oh really??? Pray tell, where can I get me one of those high resolution holographic projectors they have in the middle of their “war room”? Behind glass I might buy it as only pushing the tech a bit, but hovering over a table in the middle of a group of people all looking at it? Nope.

There’s a second fallacy that I will forgive in the name of compressing time for dramatic effect: computers that do in seconds what takes days (or at least hours) in real life. Maybe all these cop shows actually take place five years in the future. Yeah, that’s it. Moore’s Law.

Oh, and somebody tell the writers of Kyle XY that when you spill a cup of coffee on a keyboard: A) showers of sparks don’t come flying out of the keyboard; B) that might kill the keyboard, but the computer will be just fine; and C) let’s not even talk about the “type in the raw data of an image file and hit enter” trick.

Update: here’s a similar article

(cross posted in my main blog)

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