Main > Week 1: Episodes 1-4
(1), shown 29/11/1999
- Story kicks off with a historical-feedback semi-episode, a very OVERUSED AND STALE TCS technique. Something about how in 1979 this 8-year-old kid managed to hack into U.S. government databases, his house was raided by the SWAT team, he was carried away in a blanket shivering and crying...Although TCS generally tries to find REAL historical examples to show in such situations, I find this one very incredible, also by the way its theme is repeatedly used. It should be fake:
- Computers were absolutely NOT widespread then. I have verified that in 1979, Intel had just introduced its 4.77-MHz 8086 processor. RAM then was measured in kilobytes. From what I saw, the kid was using an Apple II, which was, ahem, just released. (Although since that model is probably the only old computer TCS has, so there's no need to take that literally.) Now, remember computers those days were expensive and low in performance and usability. In such a setting, do you think this kid, or rather his parents, could have come to own a computer (no IBM-compatibles yet) that was powerful enough AND networked (to what I don't know), and that this 8-year-old somehow taught himself to use it? To me, even things like alien abductions seem more believable than this.
- This little yarn's theme seems to be "Everyone can hack, everybody has a potential for hacking, hacking is easy," and it is used repeatedly in the 5 episodes to come (at least). Well, NOT everyone can hack, NOT everybody has a potential to hack, and hacking - real-good hacking - is definitely NOT EASY. I would adapt a phrase here: it is not for the common 8-year-old kid ("ba sui xiao hai"). This is used to dramatise hacking pursuits later and create more excitement, at the expense of the hackers who have mastered the necessary skills, and trivialising the real threat posed to society by the black-hat ones.
Also, personally I am very sick of this technique, so I would be happy if TCS did not resort to it for a while. As long as possible.
CORRECTION: Another Apple history site says the Apple II was actually released in 1977, not 1979. Sorry.
- So here we are in the 90s, a bright sunny morning, and Zoe Tay emerges to throw a crate of stuff away into the sea (later we learn it is her ex-boyfriend's) and exercise her kickboxing. Well, her kickboxing doesn't look real, more like flinging-your-arms-around. Sorry, Zoe Tay, if you actually trained for this.
- Now the fun begins. We are told some bank, Nakamori I think, has failed in its Y2K internal test run, and as a result credit-holder accounts have been screwed up. Crowds overwhelm the bank and the executives are panicking. Such semi-episodes, or incidents of computer problems, typically will pack many flaws in:
- If the test was internal, how did the news get out so fast, or at least as fast to the public as to the POLICE & Zoe Tay?
- How can a bank do its test run on live data in the first place? & without backups of any sort? BACKUPS, BACKUPS!!! I thought as I watched.
- The part about having more/less money in your account is plain SCAREMONGERING. This turns out to be very common. You might think this would endanger Singaporeans' mature conception of Y2K, & I discuss that in "Y2K Chaos" later.
- Minister of Finance shows up with some "Millennium House" CEO. Is Millennium House some quasi-government enterprise, has the government bought their IT services for 10 years, or are they on the take? Not answered.
- Continuing, this CEO (Zhu Houren) assures the credit-holders and proceeds to advertise his product. Oh yes, this is TCS drama for you.
- Backstage, the company's personnel manage to restore everything in a few minutes of work, while the police could only look around in amazement. Maybe they did find the backups after all. :-)
- GOOD POINT: These become increasingly rare that I think I should specially highlight them. Zoe Tay apparently feels insecure and has no self-esteem, partly because of love problems, but also because she claims that her computer knowledge is dated and she isn't good at it, and because of that she cannot be department head of the Computer Crimes Division. That's technological isolation, which is happening to everyone now. It just differs as to how much one chooses to recognise it. So a minor slice of reality is offered here. See? I'm being quite fair to the show. Now if only they would reduce the parts where her shrink philosophises, because they are quite crappy...
- Now I know the significant romantic line in this whole drama serial for now is Zoe Tay's relationship with James Lye, with their 3-day marriage and all, but my critique will mainly concentrate on the computer-related stuff. All I wish to say is that TCS has really updated (downgraded?) its moral standards. Just a few years back divorce was brand-new to Singapore TV. Now? Although we see no impulse sex, it was implied. Fine, doesn't hide the more glaring flaws in the show. So henceforth I will keep my comments to the computer-related events. There are plenty of worthy experts out there to comment on the romance parts.
- For the Chen Hanwei nugget in the closing 5 minutes here, refer to the next episode's commentary...
(2), shown 30/11/1999
- Biochip theft. Hmmm, the way Chen Hanwei went about it had much tension, and could pass for being realistic. Some commendation for TCS is called for here: it's about the first time the police was portrayed as being behind-the-times and inefficient. This includes the banking incident one as well. Good or not? You think about it.
- Chen Hanwei seems to have got into the office pretty easily for a consultant that was going in blind. If he was not going in blind i.e. he knew the security systems in detail (like his friend waiting in the van), then why didn't he simply patch those holes before testing them? Hmmm...
- IMHO, Chen Hanwei could have simply broke the CD to destroy the information, since the blueprint was a dummy one; there was no need to post it back, so troublesome. Never mind, this is not important.
- We see the I.C. scanning system and database for the first time. Doesn't it seem to you that the basic information that the computer produces from scanning the card can be written on the card itself, as the poor low-tech 20th century Singapore does?
- Morally-correct attitude from 386's son about him selling VCD's, except that he was only complaining about him losing face, and not about whether it was right to sell them in the first place. Oh well...
- So as usual we are looking at a triangle relationship. Sigh. Some things are just compulsory for dramas, aren't they?
- Later we find out that no, Chen Hanwei & his friend are not criminals (sigh, I was almost hoping they were, it would make the story more interesting), but instead, purely white-hat hackers. This means, basically, that they are the good guys. I was hoping for a more morally-ambiguous character in Chen Hanwei, but never mind, it's only the 2nd episode and still early!
(3), shown 1/12/1999
- We are introduced to the CYH virus, which in the general spirit of widespread scare-mongering, inflicts its damage on hundreds of thousands of computers around the world! Apart from the fact that this is an unimpressive parody of CIH, and that there is no reason given for the name (as opposed to the real CIH, which was named after its creator's initials), I have nothing else to say about it, except the way it was cracked by Chen Hanwei:
- TCS here seems to be trying very hard to show off how Chen Hanwei is a REAL genius hacker. When Zoe Tay goes to his office to get help against CYH, she sees Chen Hanwei at the indoor basketball court relaxing away. Now, although it should be true that some Silicon Valley companies build indoor relaxation facilities for their employees to take time off, seeing it in a TCS production for the first time is kind of awkward. & with current work practices here, no Singaporean would think of that as relaxing. Rather, slacking away.
- Then Chen Hanwei makes his way back to his position, and promptly clicks the button on that fancy interface to scan the system. Failure to detect CYH is reported. Since I don't know exactly how antivirus companies go about detecting and fixing viruses without getting their own systems infected in the first place, I can give him the benefit of the doubt here.
- The best part comes now. Chen Hanwei groans when the scan fails, seems to type some characters, fails again, then gets up & gives everyone a corny brain teaser. Then he goes back to the computer, clicks to scan again, and NOW IT WORKS! Throughout all this it is never explained how the scanning program has been modified from before i.e. his brain teaser did all the work! Once your brains are rejuvenated by a corny brain teaser, all viruses can be fixed without having to code anything!! I sure wouldn't want this chap to be working in my antivirus company.
- Besides being very obviously dumb and unrealistic, at least, this whole incident only serves to bring down TCS. Hopefully not real computer professionals who do the hard coding work behind the antivirus products, and who get to see their hard work being trivialised like this.
- TCS is evidently also trying to give Chen Hanwei the 'Steve Jobs' goofy genius image by letting him tease the serious people, the father-and-son employees. Unfortunately he just comes off looking silly for his efforts.
- From the scenes here involving them, I can roughly guess what happens with relation to the company. Let it suffice to say that the old revenge-on-the-boss-for-not-being-appreciative trick should be in the play.
- A bit of the airline-hacking incident is let on here, but I'll reserve my comments on that for the next episode's entry...
(4), shown 2/12/1999
- Zoe Tay continues to commend Chen Hanwei on the CYH work and says that they've captured the culprit, who seemed to have surrendered just to hear who had cracked the code, and was angry that it was Chen Hanwei again. Now, why does he need to surrender himself to do that? Just a questionable point. This tries to bring out, to the point of pushing the fact that hackers are famously competitive. Still, too unrealistic to cause me to admire Chen Hanwei more, that being the aim.
- Airplanes are not, or rather, could not, be 100% controlled by flight path programs. TCS has led the LRT-fever get to its head a bit, since they don't realise that pilots are not paid to sit first-first-class & drink their coffee in their cockpit. No, there are manual controls, and they CAN control them. This is obvious.
- No airline in this world who is planning to stay in business is going to make its flight paths available through the Internet for the whole world to hack. This is very obvious.
- After the first attempt, the airline could have isolated the flight paths part of the program from the Internet. Put simply, they could have disconnected the network cable. That's all it takes to make it safer. But no, nobody, not the conspirators nor Chen Hanwei or anyone, suggests this. Simple dramatisation here.
(Actually the above 3 reasons are enough to discount this whole airplane-hacking semi-episode as purely a product of hyperactive imagination and scare-mongering. To sideline a bit: Airlines are not going to fall out of the sky because of Y2K anytime soon, partly because of less passenger rates, but mostly because airlines in most industrialised places have largely prepared themselves. In places like China, airline executives are even required to fly come New Year's Eve just to prove this. Good luck to them :-)
Still, this questionable plot involves hacking, not Y2K, and is the basis for more botches later in this episode, & I simply can't resist pointing them out, so bear with me...)
- OK, the 3D animation used to show how Chen Hanwei attempts to track down the hacker is TOTAL TXJF CRAP:
- NOBODY goes around hunting down IP addresses (even if the nifty colourful flashing blocks and numbers are trying to depict these) in some fancy 3D interface that wastes time which could be better used for the task at hand. The only reason is that plain old command-line screens look boring.
- There are such things as SERVER LOGS, which could have been used for tracking the hacker down. But then, there would have been no fancy 3D chase-through-the-avenues to excite viewers. Instead they would see what actually takes place in real life - boorrring. This is akin to those VRML scenes I recall in that Shuang Tian Zhi Zun II, for big duels. TCS hasn't matured very much since then, has it?
- So James Lye has a dream & visualises the phone number to the HOUSE HE IS SLEEPING IN. Surely takes out some of the miracle-kid effect as depicted. Coincidence?
ADDENDUM: Some further thought, perhaps this may not apply, since the phone number may be to a line used for Internet connections, not the family phone. Maybe. I'm still interested in how they rationalise this computer-whiz-kid effect.
- If I see another scene where Chen Hanwei struggles with a problem, swing his chair and strug about helplessly, then offer a corny brain teaser to his colleagues, then subsequently solve the problem, AGAIN, I am going to throw up my dinner at the screen.
- They said it themselves, only highly-skilled hackers could have penetrated the airline network. Even Chen Hanwei, the supposed God-of-white-hat-hackers, agreed. Later it is found that the culprit had asked somebody who had given him TOOLS to crack the network. Now, I have to go the long stretch (maybe it was the traitor who did that?), or I shall have to conclude that both the airline network, and Chen Hanwei's skills are simply not as good as they claim. This is an extension of the TXJF 8-year-old-kid-hacks-U.S.-govt-data idea that with the correct connections and enough key-tapping you could hack anything.)
- As in the historical prelude, the SWAT teams were excessive and purely theatrical. I thought they were only called into action if the suspect was ARMED.
- I didn't see any handphone, and they said something about the culprit changing the plans through his handphone.
- Can Zoe Tay really recall the chap's particulars at her fingertips, even if she has suspected the guy all along? Seems to be, what, an hour or two? I admit I missed the real culprit; I was too busy noting the flaws to play whodunit.
- We have to go the long stretch, as we have often done, and assume the notebook which supposedly links to the flight path controls has some kind of wireless link to the network. & which can alter data real-time & send it to the plane real-time to avert a crash. Er, plausible?
Main > Week 1: Episodes 1-4