we’re not wizards, just programmers

So the other week, I broke down and decided to pay $15 to see Skyfall. The latest Bond installment was getting a lot of positive attention from reputable places, so I figured it would be worth seeing. While I do think overall it was worth going, I have to say, after dropping $15 for the ticket alone, I was kind of disappointed when the customer service desk wouldn’t redeem my stub for a complimentary bond bobble-head or 007-branded cashmere scarf.

I hale from small town Michigan with a charming downtown that still hasn’t gained enough of a population to warrant a stoplight. Seeing as there isn’t much else to do, my family has an unofficial tradition of Bond marathons every holiday season (though I still can’t say I’ve actually watched every minute of the Bond franchise—a stomach full of mashed potatoes and turkey is a fantastic sedative).

Of course thirteen year old Josh loved these movies. Bond is the epitome of the distinguished man: sharp suits, fast cars, awesome technology, beautiful women…he even drank Heineken. But as the years went on, the movies started losing some of their sheen, and in fact, they got a little cheesy. Somewhere along the line dirty names like Octopussy, Pussy Galore, and Holly Goodhead were less-than elegant. Terry Cloth suits were still ridiculous, fight scenes: dumb, villains: cheesy.

But something else happened too: I started noticing how badly the movies were dating themselves: ridiculous carsghetto blaster rocket launcherscar phonescloaking shields…you get the idea.

Skyfall, ironically, actually pokes fun at this issue with Q making a quip about not dolling out exploding pens anymore. No, they don’t flaunt silly gadgets this time, but they do take some liberties with the realism of programming and computer science. And that’s where I take issue.

For someone that makes a living as a developer, and essentially lives on the internet, scenes like a whole 3-seconds devoted to a Youtube video, dropping nonsensical computer jargon (“Strip the headers, trace the source” is quite a gem), and three dimensional ‘asymmetric’ encryption algorithms make me snarf, but then I realize that the stuff people see in Hollywood is the primary exposure they’re getting to programming and computers.

You might scoff at that, but it’s important. In fact, I’d say putting programming and computers on such a high pedestal is a little dangerous.

I mean while filmmakers are trying to make science cool, and hacking seem like anything other than hunching over your computer for a highly caffeinated 12 hours, for anyone that doesn’t know programming, it paints a very unrealistic picture of what’s actually feasible or even difficult to do in real life. As a side effect, the strides we’re making with computers right now seems much less impressive when some Siberian dude can string up the AI for an army of automated flying drones with little to no testing over a bottle of vodka and a weekend.

Take for example that the producers of Skyfall didn’t want to risk hurting the original Aston Martin DB5 we see in the film, so they used a 3D printer to make a stunt double. Now, I know how much effort goes into doing that, and to me that’s so much cooler and more useful than somebody writing some 3-D encryption algorithm (which, if you don’t know, is not worth taking the trouble to build in the slightest). Putting this stuff on a pedestal also makes it seem totally inaccessible and intimidating to learn to someone who otherwise might actually be pretty well-suited for the job.

But it goes deeper than that.

Programming according to Hollywood gives the impression that everyone that can code is a magician, that hackers are dark sorcerers, and that if 3D algorithms can be done by one guy on some tropical island over a few months, something as simple as a responsive website with custom fonts and dynamic sliders can be done while waiting on your subway connection.

Don’t get me wrong, Skyfall is awesome for a host of other reasons (like the fact that Daniel Craig makes Bond seem human, they put a damper on the whole misogyny thing, etc), and you should go see it (make sure to ask for your bobblehead), but I wish Hollywood would settle down on the whole computer magic thing because it ends up hurting people like me who actually have to put thought into writing a WordPress widget.

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