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You are being watched. Might as well enjoy it.

Published Friday, July 26, 2013 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Jul 26 2013

In light of the Edward Snowden/NSA scandal, CBS' science fiction series Person of Interest now more closely resembles a reality show:

While not quite as memorable as "Space... the final frontier," the series' opening voice over provides a pretty good summary of the premise:

"You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything... violent crimes involving ordinary people. The government considers these people 'irrelevant'. We don't. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up... we'll find you".

From the Wikipedia article on the show:

John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former Green Beret and CIA field officer, is living as a derelict in New York City after the death of the woman he loves, and is presumed dead. He is approached by Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), a reclusive billionaire computer genius who is living under an assumed identity. Finch explains that after September 11, 2001, he built a computer system for the government that uses information gleaned from omnipresent surveillance to predict future terrorist attacks. However, Finch discovered that the computer was predicting ordinary crimes as well. The government is not interested in these results, but Finch is determined to stop the predicted crimes. He hires Reese to conduct surveillance and intervene as needed, using his repertoire of skills gained in the military and the CIA. Through a back door built into the system, Finch receives the Social Security number of someone who will be involved in an imminent crime, at which point he contacts Reese. Without knowing what the crime will be, when it will occur, or even if the person they were alerted to is a victim or perpetrator, Reese and Finch must try to stop the crime from occurring.

They are helped by NYPD Detectives Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), a corrupt officer whom Reese coerces into helping them, and Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson), who in early episodes investigates Reese for his vigilante activities. Although Reese arranges for Carter and Fusco to be partners in the NYPD early in the first season, neither learns that the other is also working with Finch and Reese until season two.

Periodically, the team also enlists the aid of Zoe Morgan (Paige Turco), a professional "fixer" who applies her skills to particularly difficult tasks. The series features several subplots. One significant story arc involves "HR", an organization of corrupt NYPD officers in league with budding mob boss Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni); in the course of this arc Fusco is forced to go undercover. Another important storyline revolves around Root (Amy Acker), a psychopathic female hacker who is determined to gain access to the Machine; she asserts the device is actually God, and that she has been summoned by "her."

Ah, The Machine...

The Machine is a mass surveillance computer system programmed to monitor and analyze data from surveillance cameras, electronic communications, and audio input throughout the world. From this data, the Machine accurately predicts violent acts. Under control of the U.S. Government, its stated purpose is the identification of terrorist and their planned assaults. However, the Machine detects future violent acts of all kinds, not just terrorism. Unknown to Finch, his partner, Nathan Ingram, installed a routine called "Contingency" prior to delivering the system to the government. The covert software causes the machine to also act on non-terrorist crime. Finch is appalled that Ingram has the data sent directly to him. After Finch fails to prevent Ingram's computer-predicted murder, he further modifies the system so that "irrelevant" non-terrorism data is transmitted to him in the form of social security numbers, via coded messages over a public telephone.

Over the course of each episode, the viewer periodically sees events as a Machine-generated on-screen display of data about a character or characters: identification, activities, records, and more may be displayed. The viewer also sees a Machine-generated perspective as it monitors New York. Commercial flights are outlined by green triangles, red concentric circles indicate no-fly zones around tall buildings, and dashed boxes mark individual people. The Machine classifies the people it watches by color-coding the boxes: white for no threat or an irrelevant threat; red for perceived threats to the Machine, red-and-white for individuals predicted to be violent; and yellow for people who know about the machine, including Finch, Reese, Ingram, Corwin and Root. The white-boxed "irrelevant threat" targets include the Persons of Interest that Reese and Finch assist.

As the series progressed, a wider governmental conspiracy emerged. Known as "The Program", it revolves around the development and utilization of the Machine. Apparently led by a mysterious figure known only as "Control", an unnamed official (Jay O. Sanders) from the Office of Special Counsel begins eliminating key personnel who are aware of the Machine's existence by deploying teams of Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) operatives who believe they are acting to eliminate perceived terrorist threats on the recommendation of a department known as "Research". The members of the elimination teams are classified by the Machine using a blue box.

Person's producers have hinted the third season of the hit series, which moves to a new day and slot (Tuesdays at 10 pm, premiering on September 24) will attempt to be more, er, science fiction-y. Like all television shows, Person does have some reality-bending elements, but the suspension of disbelief level required is remarkably low. The bad guys are still lousy shots, and the key characters make miraculous recoveries from concussions, lethal injections and various forms of physical trauma, often before the show's end credits roll. But hey, it's episodic broadcast television, right?

Where the show excels is in production values and technical accuracy. While Mr. Finch's technology boasts features which are a couple software releases in the future, the indulgences can be forgiven. The show's cellular phone networks, computers, and other devices work at blinding speed. But when you have to shoehorn a rich narrative into 40 minutes of actual episode time, you really don't want to watch systems execute communication protocol negotiations in real time; trust me.

Particularly impressive is the effort the show puts into elements that have perhaps a second or two of screen time. Thanks to high definition and digital video recording, I've been able to freeze frame some of the monitor shots- and it's obvious these guys have some real-world Unix and TCP/IP knowledge. A one-second blip of a phony newspaper article reveals someone actually wrote a faux news story and, apparently, follows The AP Stylebook.

Other one-hour drama series spend eight days or less to film an episode. Person of Interest spends nine and a half, with more camera coverage, extensive location shooting, and substantial post-production work.

They spend money on this show, and it's all up on the screen. The episodes have a decided theatrical motion picture feel.

So... when planning your television viewing for the upcoming season, give Person a shot. Like certain other Warner Brothers shows, the studio hasn't made it available for free, on-demand viewing- you have to buy the DVDs or download the show from iTunes. Update: During the third season, the show became available on the CBS website.

Just type CBS Person of Interest into Google and you'll find hundreds of useful fan sites and video clips from key episodes.

One caveat- the series is produced by J.J. Abrams of Lost fame, which means there's a chance that at some point the whole thing could take a sharp turn into stupidity. But, based on the first two seasons, it's worth the risk.

And, the regular cast includes a dog:

Categories: Amy Acker, CBS, Computers, Dogs, Edward Snowden, Enrico Colantoni, George Orwell, Google, Internet, James Clapper, Jay O. Sanders, Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, Michael Emerson, NSA, Paige Turco, Peggy Noonan, Person of Interest, PRISM, Ron Wyden, Science Fiction, Signs of the Apocalypse, Taraji P. Henson, Technology, Terrorism, The Machine, TV, Video, YouTube

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Social media 101

Published Saturday, June 08, 2013 @ 12:24 PM EDT
Jun 08 2013

Be selective. You may later regret posting photos you thought were hilarious at the time.

I don't know this man.

Categories: Internet, KGB Family, Photo of the day

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Photo of the day

Published Friday, June 07, 2013 @ 5:31 AM EDT
Jun 07 2013

Categories: Barack Obama, Fourth Amendment, Internet, Photo of the day, Snrk, Verizon

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Looks phine oot meee...

Published Thursday, June 06, 2013 @ 7:05 AM EDT
Jun 06 2013

"Just because you can't decrypt the cipher doesn't mean there's something wrong with the code."
-The Covert Comic

My favorite post-modern aphorist, CIA spook, and fellow webmaster, The Covert Comic (follow him on Twitter; friend him on Facebook) sent me an e-mail yesterday telling me that the column on the right side of the page isn't rendering properly on Internet Explorer 8.

I jumped over to a remote machine running XP and IE8 and confirmed his report; the right column was appearing under the left column, and the horizontal position was wrong, too.

The page looked fine in Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and the various browsers on my Android phone. It also rendered correctly in IE9 and IE10.

W3C's online markup validation service showed the style sheet was valid, but it did reveal some errors on the page. I manually corrected the bad code, ftp'ed it up to the website, and:

Big effing deal.

Back over to the XP/IE8 machine. Rename the page so I don't grab a bad, cached version. Type in the new url, and:


Alrighty, then.

If you're still using XP and IE8, you have much bigger problems than reading this page. You know what they say:

We now return you to our regularly scheduled whatever.

Categories: Covert Comic, Internet, KGB Blog News

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IE8 glitch

Published Wednesday, June 05, 2013 @ 10:10 AM EDT
Jun 05 2013

A reader reported, and I've confirmed, that our pages aren't being rendered properly in Internet Explorer 8.

It looks fine in Internet Explorer 10, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and assorted Android browsers.

Odds are that if you're using IE8, you're also using Windows XP. That's because if you're using XP, you were stuck on IE8 because IE9 wouldn't run on IE8 due to some stupid Microsoft design decisions.

So, if you're using IE8- stop doing that.

Seriously, I'll research the problem and get back to you.

But if you're running XP and IE8, you have bigger problems than seeing a distorted version of this web site. You're using a 12 year old operating system. Mainstream support for it ended in 2009, and extended support will end next April.

Time to move on, amigos...

Categories: Internet, KGB Blog News

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Happy anniv&@<@! NO CONNECTION

Published Monday, October 29, 2012 @ 12:06 AM EDT
Oct 29 2012

The first message on the ARPANET (the predecessor of the modern Internet) crashed the system.

Sent at 10:30 pm local time on October 29, 1969 by UCLA student programmer Charley Kline, the message text was the word "login." After transmitting the letters "l" and "o," the system then failed. So, the first message over the ARPANET was "lo," and the result was a failed remote login. (Sort of like if Samuel Morse's first telegraph message, "What hath God wrought" had come across as "Wha".)

About an hour later, the computer at UCLA successfully connected and logged in to a computer at Stanford Research Institute. A permanent link between the systems was achieved about a month later.

Categories: History, Internet

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Cartoon of the day

Published Sunday, October 21, 2012 @ 12:02 AM EDT
Oct 21 2012

(via Tom Cheney in The New Yorker)

Categories: Cartoons, Internet

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Adventures in customer service

Published Thursday, October 18, 2012 @ 12:06 AM EDT
Oct 18 2012

Transcript of my Comcast customer support chat. Elapsed time, about 30 minutes.

Perhaps I'm being overly critical, but I thought the description of my problem was concise and accurate. I suspect the first person was actually a program with a badly designed heuristic pattern-matching algorithm. Or someone for whom English is a second language.

It will be interesting to see if: a) I actually get the correct modem, b) it functions properly; and c) if the process of returning the incorrect replacement modem and my current modem generates any more problems. I'll keep you posted.

analyst Dareen has entered room

Dareen: Hello Kevin, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Dareen. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Kevin: My Issue: I obtained a new digital internet and voice modem, via www.comcast.com/deviceupgrade since you said my current modem could not take advantage of recent upgrades. The modem I received from you is data only; it has no digital voice capability

Dareen: Glad to have you on chat. How are you today?

Kevin: Just ducky.

Dareen: I understand that you have concern with your modem device.

Dareen: Let me go ahead and do my best to assist you with this.

Kevin: ok

Dareen: You mean that your modem is only a cable modem?

Dareen: And you would like to have a telephony modem?

Kevin: Correct. It has no RJ11 jacks for connecting the telephone.

Kevin: Just an ethernet connection for the computer.

Dareen: May I please have the make and model of your device?

Kevin: My current device, or the incorrect device you sent as a replacement?

Dareen: Yes, the one that was sent to you.

Kevin: Arris Model CM820A/CT

Dareen: Thank you.

Dareen: Have you tried connecting the phone at the back of the modem?

Kevin: IT HAS NO PHONE JACKS. It has a power connector, a coax connector, and an internet jack.

Dareen: I understand. Let me connect you over to our Sales department for them to process your concern.

Dareen: Before I connect you over, is there anything else?

Kevin: No. Thank you.

Dareen: I will be connecting you to our partners in the Sales Department. You will see a message that says I have "left the room"; however, you will still be connected to the next available agent. Please stay online and connected to the chat for the next agent who will assist you as soon as possible.

Kevin: Thank you.

Dareen: Please wait, while the problem is escalated to another analyst

analyst Angelie has entered room

Kevin: My Issue: I obtained a new digital internet and voice modem, via www.comcast.com/deviceupgrade since you said my current modem could not take advantage of recent upgrades. The modem I received from you is data only; it has no digital voice capability

Angelie: Welcome to Comcast Chat Sales. My name is Angelie, and it's my pleasure to process your order and answer any questions you may have throughout this chat. How are you doing today?

analyst Dareen has left room

analyst Dareen has left room

Angelie: Please give me a few minutes to check on your previous chat with the previous analyst.

Angelie: Will this be fine?

Kevin: Take your time.

Angelie: Thank you!

Angelie: One moment please.

Angelie: Kevin, I see here that you were sent with an incorrect modem. Is this correct?

Kevin: Correct.

Angelie: Thank you for confirming that information.

Angelie: Let me process a shipment of the correct modem then.

Angelie: One moment please.

Kevin: Thank you.

Angelie: Before anything else.

Angelie: For account security verification, can you please provide me the last 4 digits of your SSN?

Kevin: nnnn.

Angelie: Thank you!

Angelie: Your request has been completed.

Angelie: Please take note of the order ID no.: 100099999999.

Angelie: You will receive the new modem within 3-5 business days from now.

Angelie: I am grateful that I was able to process and complete your order today. Is there any other COMCAST related concerns that I can assist you with before we end?

Kevin: No, that's it. Thank you.

Angelie: Wonderful!

Angelie: You are most welcome.

Angelie: It has been a great pleasure being able to assist you today.

Angelie: Thank you for your time and patience and for choosing Comcast as your entertainment needs! Our goal is to provide you with a consistently superior customer experience – that’s our guarantee. Learn more about the Comcast Customer Guarantee at https://www.comcast.com/corporate/Customers/CustomerGuarantee.html?fss=customer . Please do not hesitate to contact us anytime we are available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

Angelie: I would appreciate your feedback about the service you experienced with me today. It was really great working with you. It is our priority to provide you the best customer service. Kindly answer the 11 question survey following this chat so we can continue to improve our service. To close the chat and proceed to the survey, please click the "Exit Chat" A popup for exit confirmation "Take Our Survey".

Angelie: Bye and you take care! Have a good one!

Kevin: May all your Christmases be white.

Angelie: Thank you so much.

Angelie: Yours too.

(The Adventure Continues... here.)

Categories: Comcast, Internet

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Photo of the day

Published Monday, August 20, 2012 @ 9:26 AM EDT
Aug 20 2012

'Tis a silly place. Happy Monday.

Categories: Internet, Photo of the day, WTF?

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I have an app for that...

Published Monday, February 01, 2010 @ 4:48 AM EST
Feb 01 2010

CTV Television Network in Canada reports "Little or no grammar teaching, cellphone texting, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter- all are being blamed for an increasingly unacceptable number of post-secondary students who can't write properly." (Full story here.)

The solution's simple. Make spelling and grammar checking an integral part of cellphone texting and web chat software. Messages with misspelled words or faulty grammar are flagged and not transmitted until and unless the sender corrects the errors.

I think kids just need a little motivation...

Categories: Facebook, Internet, KGB Opinion, Twitter

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