Screenwriters: No, back issues of The Smalltown Gazette from the 1930s are not archived online

Via Matt Yglesias I learn that the complete archives of Vogue magazine are now online.

Those who can afford it — the subscription apparently costs $1,575 a year — can access “every single page from every issue dating back to the magazine’s American debut in 1892.”

I mention this in the hopes that TV writers will pay attention and note that this makes Vogue astonishingly exceptional. The complete archives of most publications dating back to 1892 are not archived online. The complete archives of most publications dating back to 1992 are not online.

So if your story involves an eerie plot-point about the very same thing happening decades ago in the 1930s, or a spine-tingling reveal showing a photo of the suspect looking exactly the same in 1903, then your protagonists need to be looking at microfilm in a library, or at physical print issues in the stacks.

This actually helps. Picture your hero scrolling through old articles in the musty, subterranean archives of the old library, lit only by the dim glow of the microfilm machine and a flickering fluorescent bulb down the hallway. That’s bound to be much creepier than having her or him sitting at a comfortable desk somewhere surfing the Web on one of those sweet, cutting-edge MacBooks that seem to be the product-placement computer of choice even for TV characters who could never plausibly afford one.

And also, no, it won’t do to simply suggest that your super-geek sidekick has world-class hacking skills and therefore can access anything online. The world’s greatest hackers still can’t access newspaper archives that do not exist. Willow Rosenberg, Abby Sciuto, Penelope Garcia, Chloe O’Brian, Chloe Sullivan and the Lone Gunmen combined cannot hack their way into accessing something that is not there to be accessed.

I wish those newspaper archives did exist. I wish every local newspaper in the country were busily figuring out how to make their complete archives available online — even if only as .pdf scans. This would be invaluable to their communities, to historians, scholars, researchers and their own journalists.

And on a more personal note, if newspapers were doing this sort of thing, I might still have a job. Unfortunately, newspapers are not adding new personnel to manage the new task of their new online platform. Instead, the rise of the Internet has coincided with a drastic reduction in the number of people working for newspapers.

That means that for the vast majority of newspapers, online archives only go back to about 1994 at the earliest. That is, if they have any online archives at all — Gannett’s linkrot-ridden papers do not, their stories just disappear from the Web after three months. It also means that any story that can be found online was researched and edited by fewer people working far more quickly than those older stories on microfilm in the library, meaning that as a general rule, a newspaper story from 2009 is far less likely to be as reliable, comprehensive, penetrating or accurate as a newspaper story from 1979.

But that’s a larger, separate complaint. Here I just want to remind TV writers that, no, back issues of The Smalltown Gazette from the 1930s are not archived online.

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  • Lori

    Two questions–what brought this on* and is this going to be a thread about TV and movie stuff that ticks us off?

    *I watch very little TV these days, I’m weeks behind on what I do watch and I haven’t seen a movie in the theater in at least 6 months so the answer to this is not as obvious to me as it might have been in earlier years when I was less behind the curve.

  • http://from1angle.wordpress.com emilyperson

    If we’re talking about Stuff What Ticks Us Off in Fiction, can I add the lack of contact lenses? It’s a small thing, but most of the adults I know wear them, and I can only think of two instances where they’re seen or implied to exist onscreen.* The writers could get away with just not mentioning them… except that characters have a tendency to get stuck in the woods/taken hostage/kept somewhere where there’s no opportunity to remove contacts for several days, and that’s really uncomfortable. They should at least be rubbing their eyes or asking for saline.

    Even that’s a lot less annoying and jarring than the way that, when someone who’s usually a complete stranger or an antagonist or both says something along the lines of, “Are you sure you can trust the loved ones who have made multiple sacrifices for you and proven their trustworthiness many times?” and the character they’re talking to actually. Starts. Having. Doubts.

  • Tonio

    With Gannett burying blurbs about early-retirement buyouts in stories about management changes, I suspect Fred’s point is really about the feudalism that passes for corporate economics and how it deserves much of the blame for destroying the legacy of small-town journalism.

  • Anonymous

    Totally nerding out here, but that’s what makes being the Keeper in a modern-day Call of Cthulhu game fun.  Characters try and start investigating and they find that reverse phone number lookups reveal nothing but advertisements, they find that what they’re looking for isn’t online, and the stuff that they do need is behind a subscription paywall.  The players go in expecting it to be easy and surprise! it’s not.

  • fraser

    I love using microfilm precisely because I feel as if I’m going to make a terrifying discovery (“Look! The suspect’s photo of the Slacktivist Slasher is identical to our new butler—and Sara’s alone in the house with him!”). Never get that feeling online.
    I think it’s not just ignorance, it’s the idea computers are one of those technologies indistinguishable from magic. So if it’s theoretically solvable by computer, then hey, just say “world class hacker” or “incredibly powerful computer” and it’s actually solvable (the Mad Thinker at Marvel falls in this category).

  • P J Evans

    There’s something about looking at microfilm (or a scanned image) of original documents that makes it more of a connection across time than looking at someone’s transcription of it.

  • Anonymous

    You know, I like Bones, but they must have the friggin’ Bat Crime Computer because their forensic bug man can nail the origin of any particular bit of gravel to within 100 yards anywhere in the continental U.S. and that just completely drops me out of the narrative.

    Not to mention the Star Trek level holography their artist can produce on her computer.

    Plus there’s the usual “enhance this image” GRRR ARRG COMPUTERS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY caveat.

  • Ken

    Plus there’s the usual “enhance this image” GRRR ARRG COMPUTERS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY caveat.

    Actually it’s GRRR ARRG PHYSICS DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY.

    You can still run the algorithms, but all you’ll get are processing artifacts.  These are (to pick an actual example) suitable for proving there are alien crystal palaces on the Moon, but not much else.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    These are (to pick an actual example) suitable for proving there are alien crystal palaces on the Moon, but not much else.

    Proof of the Silver Millennium!

    (OK, the SM’s architecture is pseudo-Greek – the crystal palaces are in 30th Century Tokyo, but still…)

  • vsm

    Yeah, that was my first thought too.

  • http://www.kellyandellen.org/stranger Ellen (a librarian)

    Better yet, have your hero or heroine asking a librarian for help using the microfilm or navigating the print index!  (Also, a librarian could have told you that Smalltown Gazette is unfortunately, not online, but is held in the dusty archives of Slightlylargertown University Library…)

  • Anonymous

    My college newspaper has an online archive going back to the 19th century

    http://inside.bard.edu/campus/publications/archive/pubs/index.html

  • Anonymous

    Sadly, while the microfilm cabinets and readers of the library I work at are located in the basement of the old Carnegie, it is a rather nice and not at all creepy basement, largely because it’s the half above ground type of basement.  But also because the Carnegie was remodeled recently. It is still more atmospheric than the computer lab, though.

    If I could afford a degree, I would be plotting to have a job in special collections.  I can think of nothing better than to spend my days in the Carnegie, helping people with genealogy and other local historical research.  *siiiiiigh*

  • Magic_Cracker

    Depizan, assuming you are you talking about the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main Branch? I have heard some wild stories about secret steam tunnels, hidden rooms, and sub-sub-sub-basements in the library and museums. Any truth to those?

  • Anonymous

    Afraid not, though that sounds all kinds of awesome.  If I ever get to Pittsburgh, I will have to check it out.

    I’m in rather a different part of the country.

  • Magic_Cracker

    So, so many Carnegie libraries out there…

  • Lori

    Yup. There’s one in the town up the road from me, here in Nowheresville NE Indiana. It’s quite nice and I feel fortunate that they have privileges with the library in my (even smaller) town.

  • Anonymous

    There are two in my city, since it ate a neighboring town, which had one. (And our library district just might get a third, if another neighboring town decides to finally join us.)  I know of large cities that have even more.  I love Carnegie libraries, since they combine two of my favorite things: old buildings and libraries.

    Though I also have a soft spot for old Carnegie buildings that have become museums or other public buildings.  And I certainly wouldn’t mind living in one of the ones that became apartments.

    I was one of many people involved in saving the old Carnegie building in Council Bluffs, IA, which is now the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.  If not for a bunch of concerned citizens, it might well have been torn down for a parking lot.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    So, so many Carnegie libraries out there…

    IIRC, part of the reason Andrew Carnegie funded so many libraries is because with the 90% income tax rate he was earning, tax-deductible contributions like that were CHEAPER than trying to save more money.

    Of course, our modern Corporate Overlords can’t POSSIBLY do something like that, with the 33% tax rates they’re struggling under.  :-P

  • http://twitter.com/gickgickgick Gick Gick Gick

    Well, they likely are if you’re talking about Smalltown, Australia: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper

    (be warned: it’s a free government programme, which I gather some Americans are allergic to)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    Pretty much anything involving computers in a movie or TV show is likely to annoy me.
    “Enhance,” is, of course, the most annoying one, but I also hate the weird, insanely complex and extravagant GUIs* you see so often that don’t resemble anything that anyone has ever used ever.

    One bit of silliness that always amused me, though, was on Batman:  The Animated Series when Bats would be randomly typing away on these huge, lit-up, unmarked keys and all sorts of incredibly specific things would be happening on the monitor.

    The worst thing I ever saw was some random movie from the late 90s – I have no idea what it was called – that I saw on TV back in early 2000, in which someone accidentally erases the data from a CD after the laptop into which the disc has been placed crashes.  The explanation provided is that it was a rewritable disc and the laptop was “really old.”  So, apparently unlike the new laptops of the time, which rarely, if ever, had drives capable of CD writing – which would be required for it to be able to erase data from the CD – older laptops came with CD-RW drives.

    Macs are the go-to product placement computer, BTW, because Apple is very accommodating about that sort of thing.  Basically, as long as you promise not to blow them up or say anything bad about them, you can have as many Macs to use in your movie as you want.  This is why we got to see UNIX** (“I know this!”) running on Macs in Jurassic Park.  At least, so I was once told. 

    *An e-mail client that looks like Second Life, for example.
    **Which wasn’t UNIX at all.  See the footnote above.

  • Anonymous

    A keyboard of unmarked glowing keys would totally sell on Think Geek.  If they don’t already have one, that is.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    The keys don’t glow, but http://www.daskeyboard.com/model-s-ultimate/

    (And yes, I think it was featured at ThinkGeek at one point).

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    One bit of silliness that always amused me, though, was on Batman:  The Animated Series when Bats would be randomly typing away on these huge, lit-up, unmarked keys and all sorts of incredibly specific things would be happening on the monitor.

    One of the things that I really liked about the old B:AS was the way the art directors deliberately obfuscated the time period in which it took place.  You had Bat’s giant computer with unmarked, light-up keys and an enormous screen.  You had police dirigibles shining spotlights down on the streets below. You had cars from the 40s, cloths from the 50s, and a giant hovering robot hand made for an amusement park attraction based on an in-universe computer game.  

    The full effect was a dark, beautiful art-deco world that proudly defied era classification.

  • lofgren

    One of the things that I really liked about the old B:AS was the way the art directors deliberately obfuscated the time period in which it took place.

    The creators of the animated series originally wanted to set it in 1939, but that idea was nixed by DC. The result was a series with no set time period. It was definitely cool that way, but I still kind of hope to see an ongoing 1939 Batman comic or show someday. Apparently it’s been proposed to DC several times and they keep saying no.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    One bit of silliness that always amused me, though, was on Batman:  The Animated Series
    when Bats would be randomly typing away on these huge, lit-up, unmarked
    keys and all sorts of incredibly specific things would be happening on
    the monitor.

    The old Superfriends cartoon was even worse though — in that one, Batman’s computer could follow the plot along with the characters, solve riddles, and even develop its own strategies to beat the bad guys (which actually made it more powerful and useful than Batman himself, not that he would ever admit!)

    “Enhance,” is, of course, the most annoying one, but I also hate the weird, insanely complex and extravagant GUIs*

    “I’ll go create a GUI interface using Visual Basic to track down the killer’s IP address!”

  • Magic_Cracker

    Oooohhhh, the hatred I have for the Bat Computer and most Bat Gizmos! He’s billed as “The World’s Greatest Detective,” not “The World’s Greatest Computer Programmer” or “The World’s Greatest Gadgeteer,” yet I seldom see him–in the comics any way–doing much actual detection! Mostly, he just beats the shit out of people until they tell him what he wants to hear.

  • fraser

    It’s been a staple rule for the past 10 or 20 years that Batman is the best at everything (okay, Oracle can beat him for computers, but still), so of course he’s a master of programming and gadgets. The days when Flash and Atom could dismiss him as a scientist (“He’s a talented amateur. We’re professionals.”) are unthinkable now.
    It annoys me too.

  • Anonymous

    On this I agree, and I’m a big fan of the Bat.

  • Magic_Cracker

    In part, that’s why I cancelled my subs to the Batman titles (except for the  new Batwoman)(killing BW (and knowing that they would bring him back) did it for me), but kept Daredevil. Even with superpowers, Matt Murdock gets his ass kicked on a regular basis by people with and without superpowers (admittedly, the non-supers are usually ninjas or professional killers of one stripe or another, but still, the point is he’s not the best at everything). Outside of superheroing, the only other thing he’s good at is lawyering. If he needs to do something that doesn’t involve ninjutsu or the law, or is outside his budget (also not a problem for BW), he has to hit up his friends.

    To bring it back, sort of, to the topic at hand, I would love to see J. Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson arguing over whether and how to put the back issues from 1897 forward of the Bugle online. Jameson would be opposed because it would cost time and money and he’s not in the business of community service while Robertson argues that they do have an obligation to the community, and in any case, they need to do something, anything about their hemorrhaging readership. In the end, they would compromise by making Parker do it.

  • Anonymous

    It’s been a staple rule for the past 10 or 20 years that Batman is the
    best at everything (okay, Oracle can beat him for computers, but still)

    In my darker moments I wonder if Bruce doesn’t do all  his own computer work out of pity for Barbara, thinking that if he takes the computers away from her, she just becomes some useless woman in a wheelchair!

    And you know, that could work for a really dark Bruce who discards people as soon as they become useless to him.

    But it wouldn’t fit the Bruce from the animated series (and I think he’s my favorite Bruce).

  • Anonymous

    Depends on who is writing him. Doug Moench’s run with Bats back in the 80’s and 90’s featured a lot of good detective work. To be fair, I don’t think comics is necessarily the best format for detective stories.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Any suggestions on which TPBs I should check out of my rather sinister branch of the Carnegie Library?

  • Anonymous

    Mostly, he just beats the shit out of people until they tell him what he wants to hear.

    Didn’t you know?  That’s what detective work is.  I know I was certainly anticipating the fisticuffs every time I tuned into Star Trek: The Next Generation and there was Patrick Stewart in a fedora.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Okay, fine, but it’s not exactly as if it’s hard to solve Batman crimes. There’s really only one person who would use a giant ice cannon mounted on a blimp to rob a bank that probably contains less money than it would take to build a giant ice cannon and buy a blimp. Being a detective in a town when most criminals have outrageously flamboyant MOs that they almost never conceal isn’t that impressive.

    Or . . . could it be . . . why, it’s almost as if the shows’ creators think we’re stupid.

    Nah, I guess it’s just really hard to simulate real life policework like that, without running into issues about pacing. A lot of the shows also like to take real technology that their advisers only kind of understand and portray them as being magic.

  • Matthew Funke

    The Das Boot keyboard is already blank.  (Hey, you know where the keys are, right?)

    And the Optimus Maximus keyboard that has LCD screens in each key — it makes the keyboard easy to customize for different applications and games.

    I find it fascinating that such polar opposites in functionality each have their own market.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    This keyboard on kickstarter is pretty Hollywood-cool too – it’s just a clear glass touchscreen.

  • Paul Bickart

    The Nation‘s archive is complete online, and available to subscribers (cheap at the price).

  • Anonymous

    Beat me to it…

  • Magic_Cracker

    Also, Harper’s back issues going back to 1841 are available online to subscribers as PDFs.

  • Jenny Islander

    Harper’s Bazar is available from the first issue to 1900 free at the HEARTH Project.  So is Good Housekeeping from the first issue to 1950.  There are some gaps in both archives, however.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Yay for online back issues – boo for the cost – but that DOES beat having to go to some library and poke through paper back issues. (<_<)

    Keyboards without labels! Takes me back to the days when Inspector Gadget or Dr. Claw could hit any random button on their computers (the Gadget-car, or the desk computer, respectively) and do cool things. :P

  • rm

    Yes, and in every episode of GCPD: Cityname Optional (Generic Crime Procedural Drama) the Quirky Computer Nerd is the most terrifying character, because she can access things she legally and constitutionally should not be allowed to access, in addition to things that, as Fred mentions, do not exist online.

    In “Criminal Minds” they make a point of mentioning that Garcia has just broken the law, but dammit, we gotta catch that monster out there so no one mention it. Also, she routinely pulls up hospital records. Hospital records are (1) almost all still on paper, (2) destroyed after a period of time, and (3) completely illegal for her to look at without going to court.

  • Lori

    Oh come on. Garcia can’t be doing anything actually wrong or impossible. Shemar Moore fake flits with her. That’s makes everything OK, right? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    Oh yes, and the “I think I heard a noise so we don’t need one of those pesky warrants to enter” crap.  God, I hate that one.  I would hope that there would be severe consequences for a real cop who tried that, but there never is for the TV cops.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Considering that the legal basis for arrest in a lot of drugs cases boils down to “I smelled a suspicious odor, Your Honor” – the TV shows are sadly not that far off from reality.

  • Dan Audy

    Oh yes, and the “I think I heard a noise so we don’t need one of those
    pesky warrants to enter” crap.  God, I hate that one.  I would hope that
    there would be severe consequences for a real cop who tried that, but
    there never is for the TV cops.

    What annoys me almost as much is on the very rare occasion that the shows acknowledge the incredible illegality that the average TV cop engages with regularity and the suspect is released/evidence excluded they portray it as if the DA or justice system commited a heinous act by doing so not that the cop who broke the law forcing them to do so.  I have to admit that was one of the things I always liked about Law&Order (the original or the new British one, not all the other terrible spinoffs) is that they rarely showed the evilbadguy commiting the crime so when procedural aspects interfered with prosecution it wasn’t as obvious a case of justice not being served as it is in most shows where they magically always get the right person (or briefly suspect another person who is revealed to be innocent when evilbadguy tries to kill them).

  • Donalbain

    To be fair to her, Willow has magic. Magic could make stuff appear on the internet.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    To be fair to her, Willow has magic. Magic could make stuff appear on the internet.

    If “Infomancy” isn’t already a type of magic in Unknown Armies, it SHOULD be.

  • Anonymous

    THIS!  Which is why maintaining local government funding for libraries is so crucial.  We have things that cannot be found anywhere else and are literally irreplaceable.  

    Aklab, Also a Librarian at a Carnegie Library.  I wonder what percentage of Fred’s readership we librarians compose?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    ISTR that hapax is a librarian.

  • http://lihan161051.livejournal.com/ Bruce

    ..one of those sweet, cutting-edge MacBooks that seem to be the product-placement computer of choice even for TV characters who could never plausibly afford one..

    Which are invariably running some reasonable facsimile of Windows 7 .. :p

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    And also, no, it won’t do to simply suggest that your super-geek sidekick has world-class hacking skills and therefore can access anything online. The world’s greatest hackers still can’t access newspaper archives that do not exist. Willow Rosenberg, Abby Sciuto, Penelope Garcia, Chloe O’Brian, Chloe Sullivan and the Lone Gunmen combined cannot hack their way into accessing something that is not there to be accessed.

    I am reminded of DVORAK in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.  The Third Echelon team managed to track back the source of a computer worm “weaponized” for information warfare to a particular building, but despite the government’s best digital intrusion measures were unable to get access of any kind to the system.  It was as though there was nothing on the other end of the line to access.  They send Sam in to infiltrate the building, and when he gets inside, he sees column upon column of wire criss-crossed vacuum tube banks.  

    “Uh, Grim?  I think I figured out why you couldn’t hack into here.”  

    And on a more personal note, if newspapers were doing this sort of thing, I might still have a job. Unfortunately, newspapers are not adding new personnel to manage the new task of their new online platform. Instead, the rise of the Internet has coincided with a drastic reduction in the number of people working for newspapers.

    Speaking of which, the newspaper at which I work announced last week a layoff of 2% of its workforce.  No one in my department was laid off.  Well, unless you count the slashing of the budget for contractors which took effect last month.  Contractors do not count as “employees” for the purposes of layoffs.  

    Unfortunately, as a contractor that means that my employment will only continue up until the end of the month.  Likewise, one full-time employee who was brought on as a contract-to-hire a few months ago is being let go due to his payroll still coming out of the contractor headcount.  

    A more bitter person might cynically think that contractors are effectively second-class employees in the computer industry.  I am not so bitter though.  Not me, so sir, nope.

  • hapax

    ISTR that hapax is a librarian. Yes I am (and I am just marvelling that folks seem to have this touching but naive belief that public librarians will still *exist* ten years down the line, since our funding sources are firmly in the Everything Is On The Internet camp — after all, they saw it on TV!).So, of course, is ohiolibrarian, and lindenharp, who comments here occasionally.We are everywhere [cue shifty eyes and sinister whisper]

  • Anonymous

    A not insignificant number of our funding sources need us for the internet, though.  And the library district I work in seems to be doing quite well as far as patron numbers go.  Of course, since I live in TaxesAreEvilville, we’re going to have problems should we ever need to raise our mill levy.

    On the other hand, in ten years, we may all be living in cardboard boxes.  If we’re lucky.  *frowns in the general direction of Washington DC*

  • rm

    Other things that happen in TV crime dramas:

    Law enforcement personnel work in glass palaceswhere they can instantly display any imaginable information via artful animations on gigantic transparent screens,and where labs and databases give results in mere minutes.Also, CSI techs and profilers carry guns and have replaced detectives, except where they haven’t.

    Obviously these shows take place in a future sci-fi universe where everything about law enforcement is vastly different from what we know.

    Or . . . could it be . . . why, it’s almost as if the shows’ creators think we’re stupid.

  • Ken

    Now that you mention it, a large fraction of the examples at http://www.cracked.com/article_19160_8-scenes-that-prove-hollywood-doesnt-get-technology.html are from TV crime dramas.  I especially like #8, two people using one keyboard – as the article notes, surely this should be one piece of technology that writers would understand.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    Of the many, many admirable things about The Wire, I always enjoyed that they were down in the off-site, basement offices.  It was great that they used where their office was to reflect the different officers’ and units’ standing within the police department.

  • vsm

    The Wire was also good about portraying the cops’ breaking the law as morally ambiguous. The last season was all about good cops taking extreme measures to catch really awful people and said measures blowing up spectacularly on their faces.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ehcoleman Elizabeth S Coleman

    Well, to be fair to cartoons, I suspect one of the reasons they had unmarked buttons was because they needed to keep the animation as simple as possible.

  • Richard Hershberger

    Actually, quite a few small town newspapers are archived online going back to the 19th, or even 18th century.  The Library of Congress has a program of this called Chronicling America.  I also happily pay the very reasonable subscription to genealogybank.com and use it regularly in my early baseball research.

    The key is that it is unlikely for any particular small town paper to be online.  There were an awful lot of small towns, and back in the day they might have multiple newspapers.  The percentage that have been digitized is tiny.  But if you are looking for small town newspapers in a general way, you can go to town.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    The thing that is likely is that if ANYTHING exists on-line of a smalltown newspaper’s archive, it’s more likely to be the whole thing. Digitizing one small town newspaper’s archive is the sort of task that, once started, is more likely to run to completion (And probably by an unpaid intern), and not be endlessly pre-empted by resources being reallocated.

  • John Small Berries

    Here I just want to remind TV writers that, no, back issues of The Smalltown Gazette from the 1930s are not archived online.

    On the other hand, it just might be.

  • Anonymous

    The Carnegie library in Ann Arbor has (well, had) an interesting history. It was built attached to the  public high school, and served as a library until the university purchased both buildings and converted them into dorms and such. Recently, UM had the buildings torn down to make room for a new residential and academic complex. But they preserved the facade of the old library, and incorporated architectural details of the old building into the new structures. It was a nice accommodation for the locals who had some attachments to the library and school. I don’t think many people were that sorry to see them go, though – they were pretty run down, and the new complex is very spiffy.

  • Anonymous

    Huh. I’ll have to ask my parents about what it was like. They went to the University of Michigan back in the day – its possible they were in the building at some point, when it was the Frieze building.

  • Cathy W

    By the late ’80s when I was there, the building was…odd. You had this elegant early-20th-century Public Building (and yes, it needed the caps) that had been subjected to a shotgun wedding with some weird turquoise box-with-windows that was probably ultra-modern (and certainly cheap) when it was put up in the ’50s but hadn’t aged well, either physically or aesthetically. The class I had in the building was in the ’50s wing, and, ehh, it was a classroom. For whatever reason (possibly simply “I was 18 and not that interested in architectural design at the time”) it never occurred to me to go exploring in the older part.

    We may note that, as far as I can tell, not a single scrap of the ’50s wing of the building was preserved in the new structure, but (since I have developed an interest in architectural design at some point in the last 20 years) I was pleased that they kept some of the older wing’s facade.

  • Anonymous

    My parents were there in the late 60s/early 70s, so the turquoise box-with-windows would have at least been newer.  Not that that would help a great deal.  If it was the kind of architecture I’m thinking of, about the only good thing you could say about the 50s boxes was that they had windows.

  • Anonymous

    I know that at least three writers who’ve worked for the Big Two comics companies have admitted (explicitly or by very overt implication) to pirating back issues for their research because the pirates have generally more complete and better-organized archives than the companies themselves.

  • James Aspnes

    Jurassic Park had an SGI machine running Irix, and the annoying 3D file browser was what SGI actually shipped back in the day.  Like OSX, it was essentially Unix under all the glitz.  So this may be the one exception to the usual Hollywood practice of strictly fictional GUIs.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Though Jurassic Park did have “live camera feeds”… which ran in QuickTime windows with little progress slider bars across the bottom.  

    *Sigh*

    Granted, a few scenes concealed this by putting windows over those progress bars, but some of the most screen-centric shots left them in.  

  • http://twitter.com/Jenk3 Jen K

    The writers could get away with just not mentioning [contacts]… except that characters have a tendency to get stuck in the woods/taken hostage/kept somewhere where there’s no opportunity to remove contacts for several days, and that’s really uncomfortable. They should at least be rubbing their eyes or asking for saline.

    Not to mention that no character even needs to change a maxi-pad when hostage. I think the closest was the pregnant woman at the beginning of Die Hard. 

  • http://twitter.com/Jenk3 Jen K

    two people using one keyboard – as the article notes, surely this should be one piece of technology that writers would understand.
    Writers maybe, set designers….?

  • lofgren

    I can tell you exactly why TV writers rely on magical computers. It’s not because they actually believe that computers work that way. It’s economy, pure and simple. They have 43 minutes, max, to commit a crime, introduce the principals, discount the obvious leads, run down at least one dead end, run a couple of their regulars through a monologue, implicate a red herring, throw in a twist, then deliver a pulse-pounding conclusion. Then they have to do the exact same thing next week, and make it all seem a little bit more exciting than it was the last time you saw it. They simply don’t have the time for their characters to go crawling around in musty libraries and city hall basement record offices. On top of that, every set they have to build – or worse, travel to – increases their shooting budget exponentially in both money and time. It’s just not feasible. Of course, this excuse is less viable for movies or for ongoing storielines, but the worst offenses are almost always in service of the episodic plots.

    On top of that, there’s the tedium of it all. The first time a character goes digging for an elaborate backstory or unearths a hidden clue through relentless footwork, it provides suspense and novelty. The twenty-second time, you already know that they’re going to find whatever they need to find, so you might as well just conjure it in fifty seconds of technobabble rather than waste everybody’s time (and insult our intelligence) with non-existent tension. By the time you get to season 6, the writers have to be struggling to come up with an investigative technique that they haven’t already established.

    This is a well-known problem in comic books. Every issue, the Flash needs to run a little faster in order to catch the bad guy. The first time he outruns a bullet, it’s a big deal. Takes maybe a whole page. But the second time if you spend more than a frame on it, you’re just filling space. So he has to outrun a rail gun. Then he has to outrun a laser. Now you have no stories left, so you have to kill the guy off, depower his sidekick and start over with bullets again. The same principle applies to cop shows. Once we’ve established that Garcia can look at anybody’s hospital records with a few mouse clicks, there’s no reason for her not to do it every episode. And if there’s no reason not to do it, there’s no novelty. If there’s no novelty, it’s not worth even talking about except to get us from point A to C.

    So yeah, it’s annoying as hell, and left unchecked it contributes to a rapidly tightening death spiral for a show. But I don’t really see an alternative. So when I see a magic computer in season 4 or 5 I’m perfectly willing to give it a pass like I give the graphic intensive hacking from Hackers a pass because actual hacking is boring as hell.

    But when I see it in the first season of a show, I know it’s not worth watching. (Secret Circle was a recent example that comes to mind, with students’ permanent records from twenty years ago apparently digitized and searchable from any school computer.) You need to earn the right to be that lazy.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Fair points, all of them.

    That said I think there’s a line you can straddle between retaining audience credulity and “JUST HELL NO!” levels of half-assing the technological stuff.

    For example, take Antitrust, the movie. Parts of it – Ok, I could deal. Others? Not so much. ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0218817/ ) Ditto Swordfish ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0244244/ )

    But the takes-the-whole-fucking-BAKERY level of unbelievabilty pretty much rests with Hackers. Especially when the novelization showed just as much slapdash effort as the movie. (200 MZ processor? Quadra-speed CD-ROM? Jesus, get your frikkin’ terminology right, jackasses*.) You can see the IMDb link here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113243/

    So, technobabble – there’s doing it right and then there’s just making a total dog’s breakfast out of it.

    —-

    * The real prize one-liner was in the movie itself: “Check it out, guys! It’s gotta 28.8 BPS modem!”

    *Instant repeated facepalm*

  • lofgren

    But the takes-the-whole-fucking-BAKERY level of unbelievabilty pretty much rests with Hackers. 

    Well I certainly wouldn’t say that I would give EVERYTHING in Hackers a pass.

    That said, I do think there’s a danger of really just splitting hairs on some of this stuff. I actually kind of prefer it when the technobabble is truly incomprehensible, or at the very least so jumbled and inane that even my grandmother knows it’s nonsense. The whole point of technobabble is that you’re not meant to understand it because it’s not actually important. Generally speaking, the movie/tv show/comic book is about the characters and the stories. The computers/radiation/genetic engineering/magic spells are just tools. I know enough about biology that I can often parse technobabble related to that subject better than the average person – enough to know where it goes wrong, or why it’s not even wrong – but you really can’t let that stuff get to you as long as it’s just being used to connect a dot so that the real meat of the story can get back to center stage. I can accept that Superman can fly. I can accept that a 200 MZ processor is a Thing, or that 28.8 BPS is super fast. None of these things really matter, and I can pretty much replace them on the fly with words that actually make sense given my level of understanding of the technology.

    Well-crafted technobabble is a sight to behold, especially in a novel where you can work your way through every word and find that one specific spot where the writer surreptitiously threw in a dot instead of a dash and made the whole thing work in a way that it might not in real life. But that’s really a stylistic choice, like German expressionism or magical realism. It’s not actually key to writing a compelling story.


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