Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bad Gibberish

I'm catching up on Joss Wheedon's latest effort, Dollhouse, which comes pretty close to being a tribute to the late Philip K. Dick. The particular episode was a wrenchingly straight-in look at the nature of consent, free will and personality, handled better than the little screen usually does.

--And nearly ruined for me by some of the worst, unnecessary made-up technospeak I have yet encountered.

Looky here, screenwriters, if you don't do jargon, go find someone who does. It is pretty much impossible to fake it; you can avoid it, by just taking the tech for granted and letting your players push the buttons and turn the knobs needed to advance the plot unexplained but if you have to hit it head-on? Tackle it. Get the advice to address it in detail and then boil off as much excess as you can[1] or you'll send the viewer's disbelief plummeting in from low orbit, screaming and flailing all the way down.

[Major Character] finds a spy-type bug; he takes it to walk-on Generic Geek, who opens it up, glances at the thing and intones sheer, utter nonsense about "inverting the frequency"and then proclaims that it turns the signal into noise, which makes the receiver untraceable.

This is all over wrong and yet so very easy to fix -- let him peer at it a tiny bit longer and he can say, with a little sarcasm as he describes how much more of a needle-in-a-haystack it is, "No dice. This is spread-spectrum stuff,[2] way longer range than you'd think. A normal bug, yeah, maybe if you checked every possible place in a two-block radius around it you could find the receiver, but this? You'd have to cover half the city! Very advanced stuff."

So easy. So jarringly wrong as actually done on the screen.

It's still a good series, as television goes. The television just doesn't go very far, most of the time.
1. This is part of the the long-term plans for my alter-ego's blog from the Hidden Frontier; a lot of the wrench-turning paragraphs are going to become glib sentences in later drafts. Not all of them, it'd lose the flavor, but really, I can't be tellin' just everyone how to swap out phantasmajectors, can I?

2. Which can actually appear to be noise, just the little random grunge that pops up on a spectrum analyzer; on some digital-based instruments, it can be impossible to find if the hopping is quick enough and random enough.


Drang said...

I recall Harlan Ellison's frustration dealing with CBC on Starlost, which may have been worse than Lost in Space. (Not Harlan's fault...)

He wrote that each "bio-dome" was 50 miles across, they decided they couldn't film it that way, so they changed it in the script to 5 miles. He said "Shoot it as 5, call it 50", they said "Doh! never thought of that!" and went ahead and called it 5...

Bruce B. said...

I laughed at scene where the tech guy found a device and immediately declared that it was NSA tech. He wouldn't have had a clue if it was NSA!

FYI Spread spectrum can be intercepted and "de-spread" if you have enough money to throw at the problem. Even the direct-sequence digital spread spectrum.

Rob K said...

Talking about technobable, look what happened to Schneier:

LabRat said...

*hollow laughter*

Yeah. They usually care a lot more about physics than they do about biology, if they've decided to care at all about any of it. When I'm not driving poor Stingray bananas, I'm usually sitting there in shell shocked silence.

On the bright side, I'm REALLY easy to please with just a thrown bone or two.

alan said...

It's not just TV.

I once had an "engineer" for a radio vendor tell me that a particular problem was caused by "mid path interference" that was "scrambling the packets" before they got to the receiver.

Yep, he was serious too.

phlegmfatale said...

I think hollywood takes liberties with everything when simply paying a competent tech in the field (auto mechanic, high tech, whatever) a relatively modest consultant fee would win the respect and loyalty of an informed audience. They are lazy, though, and rely on the laziness of their viewers, alas.

HTRN said...

Got some bad news for Roberta - Dollhouse(along with the Sarah Conner Chronicles) are both probably not going to be renewed - hence the big wrapup with the season finale of the T:SCC.

Roberta X said...

Ha, way ahead of you. If I like a television program, it's doomed. It gets one season or maybe two (Jeremiah, Firefly, one or two others). The sole exception was Stargate.