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I was watching Battlestar Galactica and realized the Cylons have Windows on their baseships :). So I thought that may be it could be a good communicty wiki question, like the badastronomy movie reviews but for IT.

What pitfalls have you found on movies or TV series (screenshots or concepts)?

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37 Answers 37

  1. The touch interfaces that always work at top speed without delay or lack of responsiveness. Like the big screens on NCIS: LA. The never have problems resizing things, or having to touch the same thing 3 or 4 times to the interface to respond.
  2. The apparently paid promotions, like an episode of HIMYM where they used Bing for the searches and navigation. They always got the right results (but if you try the same searches, bing never works!) At least the usage of video chat in Fringe with Android phones was honest (it included a delay between both characters so it didn't sound too unreal).
  3. Don't get me started on phones. Not really IT related but what battery, connection and processors are those phones using to be so fast and work for days without charging.
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Strange that no one mentionned Stargate yet...

At least for one thing : Interoperability.

Carter, McKay and other scientists are always able to plug their laptop into any kind of alien computer, they always have the right cable/interface !

It seems that Goa'uld, Ancient, Wraith, Asgard and Ori met to define computer and industry standards that outweigh any ISO/IETF/... ones !

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One word: Swordfish

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In one episode of NCIS some cop-hacker-guy (I don't watch the show because of its stupidity that often so I don't know who he is) needs to prevent a worm that tries to access his HDD, so he will install a mirror on a firewall, so that warm would see itself and not the drive's content when it tries to infiltrate his system... I mean, its MEGA stupid. =D

And not to mention the ASDF-HJKL key combinations that do all.

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How about:

  • the entire duration of "The Net" with Sandra Bullock...
  • CSI NY's "GUI interface using Visual Basic to track the killer's IP address" (fantastic)
  • Nearly every bit of computing in 24 (viva Jack Bauer)
  • Nearly every OS ever shown on film.
  • In Clear and Present Danger when Petey uses a tape library to hack Ritter's password (although I did guess my brother's VM password first try based on common information that Petey rattled off in this scene)
  • Of course, "It's a Unix system. I know this!" in Jurassic Park (already been listed, but well worth additional mention)

Here's a decent top-10 list of general screw-ups

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Hackers. Everybody's computer has big letters and wierd graphics, and within a few days they hack the FBI, the city police, and nearly every service in the city.

Oh and countering a cookie monster virus by giving it a cookie.

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Any call to Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds that gets answered in 30 seconds no matter how complex the query would be and how much research would be required.

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What would you expect a Cylon Basestar to run on, Linux, Mac OS X? I know if I'm working on wiping out human existence I want an OS that doesn't use command that sound like speech disorder symptoms (grep, sed, awk, and du).

Plus I need text to speech and surface technology on my baseship - Windows is what I'd run.

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BeOS all the way –  Chopper3 Jun 21 '09 at 14:32
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Given the impending doom of robotic overlords, you would actually think the opposite - commands would devolve into a shrill-sounding modem modulation in pure binary. I guess there's an advantage to being a human and using cumbersome audio emissions. +1 for speech disorders ;) –  Avery Payne Jun 28 '09 at 0:24
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frankly, the Windows machines were just for show - the real OS turned out to be a hot brunette floating in a milk bath. Now that's more like my idea of a UI. –  gbjbaanb Jul 19 '09 at 14:36

"Ill make a GUI in Visual Basic to track an IP Address in Real Time."

I love that quote, anyone else know it? CSI technology, making me lol since 2000

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Not completely along the line of your question, but:

I really liked the StarTrek movie where they come back to the 1990's to take back some whales and someone (damn - who was it - it's so long ago that I saw it) from the team sits in front of a Macintosh (early version), stating "Computer..." when he's told that this is the 20th century and he'll have to use the mouse.

Needless to say, he shrugs, holds the mouse in front of his mouth and dictates: "Computer..."

Now if I only could remember the context of the scene after all this time... someone help me...

Edit: Thanks to the commenters for bringing my memory back on track. I promise, I won't forget again. Especially now that I've fount this story on slashdot: Transparent aluminium is 'new state of matter'. And - yes - it really is this scene

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Scotty is presented as an expert on material science or something at a company and is trying to enter the formula for transparent aluminum into the computer. They need this to transport the whale into the future. –  Sven Jun 21 '09 at 15:30
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I remember this, because they kept talking about "aloominum" where as we pronounce it "Aluminium". I had no idea what they were talking about until someone explained it (I think I was still pre-teen) –  Mark Henderson Jun 21 '09 at 22:32
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"How do we know he didn't invent it in the first place?" –  Matt Simmons Jun 22 '09 at 19:52
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Why does everyone always say they needed transparent aluminium to transport the whales? What they did was barter with the acrylic glass company (Plexicorp) by giving them that formula they got regular thick acrylic glass walls in return that they used for the whale tanks... ^^ –  Oskar Duveborn Jun 27 '09 at 21:21

I find it astonishing that windows and GUI have got so much of a spread when almost every screen character seems to be a mouse denier. And then, when they type (and they type a lot, apparently blindly, because you see no feedback/echo on the screen at most times), they seem to neither use the space bar not modifier keys, despite beeing in a GUI, not a command line interface.

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Also, in Die Hard 4, they were tracking intranet IP's all the time (10, 172 etc.).

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I have literally never seen an accurate representation of computer use in tv or film.

I've worked in 'intelligence' and NOBODY had 3D wireframe maps of buildings to track 'hostiles' as red dots and good guys in green though.

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The ONLY (yes ONLY) accurate representation of computer use in and tv or film that I know of is the way they hacked a computer in the Matrix reloaded movie. it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/05/18/1416213 –  Niels Basjes Jun 22 '09 at 18:57
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really? NONE that are accurate? stackoverflow.com/questions/175462/… –  warren Sep 10 '10 at 13:16

Life Free Or Die Hard where they copied something like 500 TB in a few minutes using an external USB drive. Riiiiiiiight.

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From Mission: Impossible, when Tom Cruise is recruiting a member of his team, and the person wants a laptop in return, he mentions "the one with the AI chip?"

(sigh)

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Yes, but it was Ving Rhames, and if the man wants a laptop with a damn AI chip, I'd be inclined to give it to him –  James F Jul 16 '09 at 11:25

How about the Live Free or Die Hard scene in the NSA datawarehouse where the bad guy is jacking into this super secure mainframe using fiber optics, copper ethernet AND BNC coax!

Or as others have mentioned how MacOS integrates perfectly with alien technology in Independence Day...

The money transfer screens in XXX on the Sony Vaio Picturebook running "MovieOS"...

The super secure mainframe in Mission: Impossible that has an easy to use GUI to make it easy for Cruise to access while suspended from the ceiling...

There's the scene in Firewall where Ford is talking about putting in a Cisco firewall ACL to block a hack attempt and the words coming out of his mouth sound realistic but if you watch what he's actually doing it is totally useless...

I'm surprised no one has even mentioned any of the hacking scenes within Hackers or Sneakers... loads of laughs in any of them...

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Using a computer on TV or in a movie uses an incredible amount of typing, even for GUIs.

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WarGames, seriously. I mean who ever used a physical phone as a modem and large black plastic squares to use a computer? I mean come on!!! That's almost as crazy as paper cards with various holes in them used to program on computers! How crazy is that?!?

That's all, play through....

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Just about any movie or serie where they can zoom and/or sharpen a cctv tape.

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How is it possible that we had two references to CSI, but none to NCIS?

Every single fricking episode has Abby and McGee cracking a custom encryption algorithm read from the magnetic platters of a hard drive that has exploded leading to an anonymous blog that they backtraced through a GPS-enabled cell phone to perform a voice analysis on static that reveals that a train was running through a shipyard where the terrorists are hiding a bomb, at which point the team runs down to their high security room where they can see live infrared images from a satellite of the bad guys hiding in shipping containers.

I want to punch the TV!

My wife makes me leave the room whever NCIS comes on now, I don't know why.

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I am not allowed to roll my eyes or sigh heavily in exasperation anymore while those shows are on, so I end up leaving the room. –  Scottie T Jun 26 '09 at 15:18
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NCIS is like the ultimate in Magic Computer VooDoo land. The number of things they can allegedly do with an IP address alone is enough to make make me froth. –  Laura Thomas Jul 28 '09 at 20:41

Someone already mentioned the Jurassic Park "It's a UNIX system!!" scene. However, there's at least one more epic computer fail in that movie. There's a scene where they're supposedly watching a live feed from a security camera. However, the "live feed" is obviously a simple quicktime movie and the little progress bar at the bottom is moving steadily from left to right.

Interestingly, I just did a Google search to find more info on it and someone mentioned this very gaff over at Stack Overflow.

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I had a hard time keeping myself on the seat when Goldblum infected the mother ship in Independence Day. Here is interesting reading on that.


Then there is the Mission Impossible phrase referring to the new ultra-fast Intel 200 megahertz Pentium 6 chip! it was so anti-climax for the scene. They could have just skipped referring Intel in any way. More entertaining notes here in a 1998 article Computer Movies Suck.


But, moving ahead to another Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report. Lots of interesting interfaces. The most popular being the glove controlled 3D Gesture interface. And, we have moved towards the Sixth Sense since then.

That was after this and related blooper notes, though.

In Minority Report, the characters operate a complex information space by gesturing wildly in the space in front of their screens. As Tog found when filming Starfire, it's very tiring to keep your arms in the air while using a computer. Gestures do have their place, but not as the primary user interface for office systems.

Many user interfaces designed for the movies feature gestural input and 3D data visualizations. Immersive environments and fly-through navigation look good, and allow for more dramatic interaction than clicking on a linear list of 10 items. But, despite being a staple of computer conference demos for decades, 3D almost never makes it into shipping products. The reason? 2D works better than 3D for the vast majority of practical things that users want to do.

3D is for demos. 2D is for work.

Ok, I am not inviting a discussion on that last point here! Bear with me for another para.


It would be fun calling these movie bluffs and looking back (say some 40 years from now?) to see which ones we thought were possible and which actually happened. Remember StarTrek communicator devices? (yeah, we can still do only international calls with our mobile phones). Wonder when the first Star Ship One mobile call will be made.


Ok, this can get quite catchy! these things just keep popping up in my mind. Wee bit distracting I'd say...

I really liked the movie DejaVu. That's how these things should be handled. Take them far into specialized physics. At least I will probably not be around when things are proved one way or the other, and probably not have too many strong doubts (pushing towards hilarity) on the concepts driven around. Look at the alternate reality of the new StarTrek. I am all for it!

But, its still enlightening when someone pulls a blooper in there. I always felt (note I did not say 'knew') that laser pointer into the system display was a bit over the edge. I absorbed it looking at all the hard-science sprinkled in that movie. But, guess what. Not everyone will take these things as lightly -- and, I quote,

Doug Carlin, played by Denzel Washington sits watching this electronic expression of the past, and shines a hand held laser into the apogee of the stable wormhole, and the person in the past sees it, but the very act shuts down the hardware. A laser is no different from the ambient light and albedos of the room as they all sit there watching the wormhole. It is just a bit stronger and focused. Either the subject in the past can see and hear and smell them or it (she) cant. A laser pointer would not pierce the veil there, and besides…it was a video screen replete with character generated text from the computer interface it ran through whenever the camera angle on the past (or more accurately, the stable wormhole event horizon) was moved or expressed at another location. It was all computer controlled and therefore, impossible to pass light or information to the past, even if it was possible under different circumstances in that story and idea of a wormhole.

I enjoyed seeing the movie and then, I enjoyed reading this article.

There is a certain amount of entertainment in identifying some of these bloopers,
while there are others that choke you to near death with their hilarity.

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I always thought the best comment on "Independence Day" was "Luckily the aliens had GCC installed". –  Ronald Pottol Jun 21 '09 at 22:47

Eagle Eye.

GLaDOS-like computer controlling EVERYTHING that is connected to electricity around the world in a matter of nano-seconds.

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My personal favourite is the movie Max Knight: Ultra Spy.

It's filled with a heap of 'interesting' ideas - being able to plug your 'brain' into a computer, downloading your entire brain to a hard drive- and still be alive.

But the best part is when 'Max' gets hit over the head with a Laptop, and he enquires "Is that the new Pentium 3?" - because, you can always tell what kind of chip the computer is running which has hit you over the head :P

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I've always thought of the CSI series as being the worst offenders when it comes to unrealistic use of technology. I think this episode where they zoom in a surveillance video to get the reflection from a person's retina (!!!) really takes the cake.

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Terminator Salvation - Fortunately the Terminator bikes have a USB slot, good to see the standard is still going 20 odd years from now!

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Laser printers and fax machines sound just like dot-matrix printers from the 1980s!

When a computer is running some heavy calculations (such as cracking a password) that involves animation on the screen showing the calculation in progress, the computer make beeping and chirping sounds.

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Every week (without exception) on CSI:Miami.

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How about ANY of the CSI shows. I don't think star trek has the tech those guys have –  Jim B Jun 22 '09 at 2:11
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I actually cannot watch any of the CSI's anymore. Somehow a crime fighting lab of super geeks that specialized in EVERYTHING (including computer hacking) is too much to take anymore –  SpaceManSpiff Jun 22 '09 at 10:30
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@LEAT: I know what you mean. The skillz on NCIS are similarly over broad. But I'd much rather watch it than CSI, even with its magic tech-stretch and occasional evil Bond-villain silliness. –  Dennis Williamson Jun 22 '09 at 13:32

I like the growing trend for unworkable IP addresses in things like "24", where at least one of the octets is >255. Presumably it's the TCP/IP equivalent of a 555 phone number, but I don't know what was wrong with any of the three perfectly good private address ranges that we already have. Talking of 24, I wonder how Bruce Schneier feels about one of his encryption algorithms apparently having a back door in it.

And yes, the seamless connection from Jeff Goldblum's laptop to the mothership in Independence Day was a little hard to take. Although...AppleTalk being of alien origin? Makes a lot of sense.

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I seem to recall him posting when it came up: schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/03/blowfish_on_24_1.html - He took the high road and didn't comment. –  Matt Simmons Jun 22 '09 at 19:54
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That's because Bruce Schneier is awesome - see schneierfacts.com for details. –  RainyRat Jun 22 '09 at 22:36

I COMPLETELY Cracked through this whole scene of Swordfish (ROFL), check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUY8HysBzsE

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Hugh getting a blowjob while cracking the 128-bit encrypted DoD database with gun to his head, as well as dancing around while creating his "worm". Gold. –  LiraNuna Jun 22 '09 at 8:56

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