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Halt and Catch Fire on AMC

Discussion in 'TV Shows' started by DaveF, May 23, 2014.

  1. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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  2. jcroy

    jcroy Well-Known Member

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    I suspect the main thing that will make or break this show, will be execution.

    Reading accounts of computer pc history seems to only really be exciting for technically minded gearhead types. How well the producers can translate such an esoteric and technical history into a semi-watchable tv show, I really don't know.
     
  3. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I've got a Season Pass and watch the first couple episodes to see.
     
  4. jcroy

    jcroy Well-Known Member

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    Same here. I'll watch the first few episodes too.

    (Not much else on Sunday evenings at this point in time).


    I normally don't watch AMC either, other than occasionally recording some movies during the day and watching them later in the evening.

    Tomorrow, I'm recording the "TURN" marathon on AMC to see how that show turns out. (I have never seen it before).
     
  5. Steve Armbrust

    Steve Armbrust Well-Known Member

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    I thought the first episode was interesting and worth watching. However, keep in mind that I am a former "gearhead" and this was a special era of my life.
     
  6. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    I could have done without the hook-up, but the chess moves are interesting.
     
  7. joshEH

    joshEH Well-Known Member

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    Caught the pilot about a week-and-a-half ago via On Demand. If they keep the quality up, this could be exactly what AMC needs to keep its street cred, in the wake of Breaking Bad and Mad Men coming to an end.

    Great opening sequence. It's a short-and-snappy snippet that exactly fits with what follows. Very happy with the leads in this. Lee Pace is in fine form playing a sharp, smooth-talking charmer with (of course) a mysterious (and probably-unseemly) past.

    Similarities certainly exist to Mad Men. Joe (Pace) is cut from the Don Draper-cloth, with his super-competence, good looks, intensity, and troubled soul. Screen time will likely be split between "the office" and home lives, but, based on what I've seen so far, I really don't think the creators were aping Mad Men at all when conjuring up Halt.
     
  8. TravisR

    TravisR Well-Known Member

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    I'm interested enough to keep watching. That being said, I don't know how much of a broad appeal this show will have and since AMC seems to now want immediate hits (rather than building like most of their shows), I don't know about its hopes for renewal.
     
  9. Josh Dial

    Josh Dial Well-Known Member

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    I liked the pilot a lot. The one-year "disappearance" thing seems to be played for "mystery," but one explanation is simply that it helps the "clean room" system of reverse engineering.
     
  10. Greg Kettell

    Greg Kettell Well-Known Member

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    It has some potential, but duing the scene where they spend the weekend disassembling the BIOS all I kept thinkng was that there are much easier ways to read the contents of a ROM chip then to write it out BY HAND. That and IBM actually published a technical reference manual with a BIOS dissasembly, at least a year or two before this show takes place.If the tech stuff is going to be along those lines I may have trouble continuing to suspend my disbelief.
     
  11. Josh Dial

    Josh Dial Well-Known Member

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    Interestingly, this was the subject of a recent podcast in the "History of the Internet." In an interview with Compaq co-founder Rod Canion, he goes into a lot of detail on the reverse engineering process (for those who don't know, Halt and Catch Fire is basically a fictionalized account of the rise of Compaq, among other things).

    Notably, Canion addresses very issue of the technical reference manual, and notes that his team was acting under very specific and strict advice of their legal counsel, who advised that nobody even open the manual so as to not be tainted (without getting into the legal details, both the code and the written manual were copyrighted) in the clean room/Chinese wall process. They were further advised to not obtain the code through any means other than manually (so no, for example, using debug.com or the like). I don't practice IP litigation, but this seems like reasonable advice for the early 1980s in a very fresh area.

    It certainly didn't happen in three days, but the fictionalization on the show isn't *that* far from what actually happened.
     
  12. Greg Kettell

    Greg Kettell Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the link, that was a good listen. From the link:
    On the show, Gordon Clark is going to be the guy who reads the code & generates the specification, and Cameron the one writing the clean room version from those specifications (which was why she needed to be hired right away, and why it was so important that she go on record saying she'd never seen or attempted to reverse engineer anything before (wink, wink)).

    So all Gordon did in the garage was get a dump of the BIOS ROM chip (by the way, it was socketed, so why desolder it?), and disassemble it into the listing in the binder. No reason why that had to be done the way they did it. He's not going to be the write-from-scratch guy since he's seen the code and is tainted, no matter how he got it. So whether he uses a debugger to get a dump, write the hex digits on paper and then type them in, or read IBM's technical reference manual, there's not much difference there, other than one makes for a better scene to showcase Gordon's tech skills in rapidly converting binary to hex from the LEDs on the breadboard.
     
  13. Steve Armbrust

    Steve Armbrust Well-Known Member

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    One other thing that bothered me in the first episode. If Joe had left IBM without notice some time before, how did he get the gig as a speaker at the university? Wouldn't the school have done some checking first? Or did I miss some time shifting?
     
  14. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I've watched the first two episodes. I'm intrigued enough to keep watching. But I'm not yet completely sold.

    I like the period piece, the setting, and style. I'm uncertain about the lack of characters and lack of story.
    Characters: Angry guy, unrecognized genius guy, and hacker grrl. All wrapped up in enigmas. These are more tropes than people. I want more.

    Story: In hindsight, the most amazing thing about Breaking Bad is that it told a straightforward story. It broke convention with the past decade of TV and didn't have a crucial enigma, with more effort put into teasing the audience than telling the story. It told a linear story from the pilot. And it was fairly obvious what the conflict was and where the story was going from the pilot.

    H&CF takes some of the wrong lessons from, especially, Lost. It's all mystery. There's no story yet. I have no idea what's going on or why I should care. It's all about teasing us and avoiding giving out the plot.


    That might come across too strong: I'm watching. It has a lot to like. One moment in the second episode I loved: the salesman gave his parking-lot speech about how he got his scars; how he's a computer geek; and everything he's doing is for that passion. It sounded like every other overblown TV speech that no one has ever actually given. And I wondered: was that bad TV writing, or is this guy completely full of sh*t and giving another sales pitch to his 'colleagues'? And the next scene, hackr grrl called him on it. That showed me the writers do understand their characters and are working with a self-consistency.




    The reverse engineering story in the pilot: I don't know. I'm coming down on the side that it was a bad job of story telling. It was confusing as to what they were doing, why it was illegal, and what was going to be done differently to make it legal with hackr grrl. My wife was hopelessly confused, and based on what was in the show, I was struggling to explain it to her. (Because I was confused as to what they were doing versus what I expected from a cleanroom reverse engineering process.)

    I think what I missed: in the garage did they actually extract the microcode, in order to (illegally) clone the BIOS? Or was it a clean mapping of input / output responses in order to cleanly reverse engineer the BIOS without knowledge of IBM's code? If the former, why -- there be dragons. If the latter, why the need to bring in Cameron and repeat their work?

    I'm looking forward to what the third episode brings.
     
  15. Greg Kettell

    Greg Kettell Well-Known Member

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    The garage scene just had them copying the contents of the BIOS ROM chip (by hand!) so it could be disassembled into the source listing the binder (which as mentioned before they could have just BOUGHT from IBM, since they sold that). That's not necessarily illegal in and of itself, but if they used that listing to copy the BIOS for their PC clone it'd be copyright infringement. That's why Cameron has to do the clean room version and isn't allowed to look at the original code.

    One interesting thing I noticed is that Joe mentions both Compaq and Columbia Data Products to the IBM guy, so they exist in this show's universe, making what Cardiff is doing with reverse engineering the BIOS not all that original. Compaq's first PC product was the Compaq Portable, released in January 1983. So even a portable PC isn't a new idea by this time.

    (Compaq's weighed 28 lbs and Joe wants to shoot for 15 lbs and twice as fast, which IS ambitious).

    I'm still watching the show due to period nostalgia despite the flaws.
     
  16. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Well-Known Member

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    Note Josh's earlier post where he mentions that this show is loosely based on the story of Compaq (among other things).

    I mostly agree with Dave -- this is kind of interesting, but it's going to have to pick up to keep me watching.
     
  17. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    Let's just say it's a good thing this is airing in the summer, I'd gut it from the viewing schedule for other shows if it aired during the regular season.

    It's just a wacky show, with these cross-cutting plotlines, while pushing the portable PC design envelope.
     
  18. jcroy

    jcroy Well-Known Member

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    Similar sentiments here too.

    The first few episodes of "Halt and Catch Fire" haven't really been keeping my attention for the most part. The only reason I'm still watching it at the present time, is that I don't watch anything else on Sunday evenings.


    (On a tangent).

    As to other shows I've been watching recently, Orphan Black and Continuum have just ended (or will soon end) their seasons. I started watching "The Last Ship", but found the pilot kinda mediocre. The first episode of season 2 of Defiance seemed kinda lackluster too.

    I'm still watching 24, and will probably watch the first few episodes of "Under The Dome" largely because it will be on after 24 on Mondays.

    If "The Last Ship", "Under The Dome" and Defiance turn out to be lackluster or outright crap, I guess I won't be watching much of anything during this summer once 24 ends.
     
  19. mattCR

    mattCR Well-Known Member
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    Summers can be kind of rough. At the beginning of this, I thought it was going to be a storyline loosely based around what happened to Leading Edge Technologies. In fact, the entire setup seemed pretty much there in the first episode and second.. but now that they've gone on this entirely fictionalized front, it's harder to relate to then something like 'Mad Men'.

    In the advertising world firms come and go, so having Mad Men play with real advertising properties was interesting and believable. Having a fictitious computer company work these deals around with real players who are still very active today seems like a bit of a trainwreck.
    That and I don't care for the characters.

    I'll keep watching because it could go somewhere, but I think they have to grab hold of a company to somewhat fictionally tell it's story.. and here it seems to be drawing too randomly from too many upstarts to have cohesion
     
  20. Josh Dial

    Josh Dial Well-Known Member

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    The show is pretty much a fictionalized telling of Compaq's famous challenge to Big Blue (yes, Compaq exists in the show's "universe," but otherwise the show loosely tracks history).
     

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