Science Friday

Cybersecurity, Baseball Physics, Opioid Trial. May 21, 2021, Part 2

May 21, 2021

Americans’ Online Security Needs An Update

Last week, all eyes were on the shutdown of a gas pipeline that delivered fuel to large portions of the Southeastern US. The shutdown was not due to a leak or planned pipeline maintenance, but to a ransomware attack that took billing computers at the pipeline operator offline. The attack had encrypted data on those computers, rendering the data unusable to the pipeline operator until they paid a ransom.

In recent years, similar ransomware attacks have affected other significant industries, from computers in a hospital cancer clinic to the Irish health system. Cybersecurity specialist Katie Moussouris, founder and CEO of Luta Security, joins Ira to talk about what’s behind the rise of ransomware attacks, and what businesses need to do to lessen their risks. Among the causes, she says, are increasing availability of anonymous money transfers via cryptocurrency, nation-states that sometimes turn a blind eye to hacking activities, and businesses who grow quickly without expanding their security to match.


In West Virginia, Opioid Distributors Are Finally On Trial

A trial is underway in West Virginia against the nation’s three largest opioid distributors: Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson. The companies are accused of funneling massive amounts of painkillers to West Virginia communities, fueling the opioid crisis that has devastated parts of the region.

By some measures, Cabell County has the worst drug overdose rate in the country, and its rate of overdose deaths is six times the national average. While the companies say the doctors who prescribed the pills are to blame, this trial is a community’s attempt to hold the massive companies accountable. The city of Huntington, West Virginia and the Cabell County Commission brought the case against the companies. 

Joining Ira to talk about this trial and what led up to it is Eric Eyre, investigative reporter at Mountain State Spotlight in Charleston, West Virginia. Eric won a 2017 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, and is the author of the book Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic.


Video Game Skills May Make Better Surgeons

The classic board game Operation—in which players try to use conductive tweezers to remove a patient’s funny bone and other ailing imaginary organs—may not be the best tool for training real life surgeons for the operating room. But according to a recent paper published in the journal Surgery, playing video games may have a benefit for training surgeons in specific medical fields. 

Arnav Gupta, a third-year medical student at the University of Ottawa and co-author of the study, told Ira that the largest benefits of gaming seemed to come in two specific areas. Gains seen in robotic surgery skills might be due to the similarity of the robotic controls to a game controller joystick. Improvements in laparoscopic surgery, where surgeons operate using instruments inserted through tubes in a thin slit in a patient, may increase doctors’ ability to translate images on a screen to three-dimensional movements. (The researchers didn’t see major improvements in other types of surgery.) Gupta discusses the research with Ira, as well as possible next steps for ways gaming could improve medical training.


What A Rare Baseball Collision Tells Us About The Physics Of The Game

Recently during a pre-game warmup, Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper was doing some batting practice when he hit a line drive to right field, and it collided with another ball in midair.

It was an extremely rare event we’ll probably never see again. But if someone were to try and duplicate the collision, would physics work in their favor? 

Ira is joined by Rhatt Allain, assistant professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University and writer for Wired’s Dot Physics blog, for a quick back of the envelope discussion. Plus, baseball players and fans are learning more about the physics of the game—exit velocity and launch angle are now statistics that people can calculate and tally. Dr. Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at University of Illinois and professional baseball consultant, talks about how physics is changing how America’s pastime is played


The Resonating Room Tones Of Composer Alvin Lucier

Alvin Lucier is one of the giant figures in experimental, electronic and electro-acoustic music, known for “making the inaudible…audible.” 

Last week, he turned 90, and the celebration included a 27 hour marathon of his most famous piece, “I Am Sitting In A Room.” The piece, first recorded in 1969, is very simple in concept but deceptively complex. It consists of a short passage of text, read aloud in a room. That sound is recorded and then played back into that same room, picked up by the same microphone, over and over, until the room resonance renders the speech otherworldly and unintelligible.

"I Am Sitting In A Room" has been performed around the world, and has even prompted a series of adaptations by YouTubers, including one who uploaded his video 1,000 times, resulting in bizarre video degradation over time. Lucier’s work has been academically studied for years, and presented and championed at MIT’s Media Lab in seminars devoted to the “quality of sound as experience.” 

Listen to his work and a SciFri Soundscape of the music.

 

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