Thursday, October 04, 2007

PBS premiers Wired Science


Wednesday October 3, 2007 (8 PM EDT) PBS premiered a one-hour show “Wired Science” in conjunction with the Wired News magazine and website. The hosts were Chris Hardwick and Camilla Lopez. There were several interesting segments.

The last segment was the most benign. It showed the use of huge robotic machines to assist with coronary bypass surgery at UCLA Medical Center. The robots can thread and work within a smaller incision space (or improve upon laparoscopic surgery by extending planes of rotation of the tiny devices) but the machines themselves are huge and can hide the operating room “theater.” Surgeons still have to scrub. One patient had a mammary artery used as a bypass vessel, and I was not aware that this can be done (usually leg veins have been stripped out and used).

There was another segment on the demise of the chemistry set. In the Sputnik-driven 50s and 60s, these “toys” interested kids in science, and kids could take minor risks at home. There were even separate sets for boys and girls. Today, the companies have gutted the sets of any dangerous chemicals because of fear of liability, after various sensational media stories. However, hobbyists still mail-order chemicals like United Nuclear in New Mexico. The owners of this company have been fined at least once by the federal government. They even showed elementary uranium on the show, which looks almost black and is very dense.

Another segment involved a study at MIT of facial movements in order to help teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is concerned a kind of high-functioning autism (that seems like an oversimplification). The kids learn to read facial expressions and interpret the body language of others for the signals of social interaction. There is a review by me of a recent book on Asperger’s here.

There was a brief demonstration of a new 3-D pixilated graphics technique for the web, with St. Mark’s Square in Venice as the subject matter (the researcher was from Spain).

Wired News is not timid about delving into disturbing topics about computer security and legal risks (such as a 2002 article on a child pornography sting). The first segment was about the botnet attack against the websites of the Estonian government and press from Russian hackers, which infected computers around the world for a distributed denial of service attack, a crime well known since the late 1990s. This started when the government moved a statue with political significance to Russian natives. The show depicted scenes in Tallinn (the composer Eduard Tubin comes from Estonia), with reported Josh Davis interviewing geeks in Tallinn internet cafes, and security expert Bill Woodcock brought in to help the Estonian sites take themselves offline and then come back gradually. One interesting feature of the attack is that it called for non-existent pages (leading to 404 not found errors) but millions of these requests a second, with no actual page requests being satisfied. There is concern that Putin will inspire Russian hackers to disrupt the political campaign of Garry Kasparov.

Wired news has an important story about the “Storm” worm today, here.

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