Mythbusters

Mythbusters Gagged

Adam Savage, of the excellent 'Mythbusters' programme(*) reports that they were going to do a segment on RFID chips only to have the lawyers descend from Visa, American Express etc.

Texas Instruments comes on along with chief legal counsel for American Express, Visa, Discover, and everybody else... They were way, way outgunned and they absolutely made it really clear to Discovery that they were not going to air this episode talking about how hackable this stuff was, and Discovery backed way down being a large corporation that depends upon the revenue of the advertisers. Now it's on Discovery's radar and they won't let us go near it.

A great quote from the video:

You do have about 3000 people in the room who aren't under such legal arrangements.

The full video is here, and starts with a great talk from Savage about his obsessions.

The point is that keeping the information 'secret' does not stop the bad guys getting it - it stops the rest of us knowing that our information is insecure. If you're reliant on security by obscurity you have no security at all. Given that RFID is a widely distributed technology, the RFID chips should be able to withstand full scrutiny if they're to be trusted for the purpose.

They can't withstand that scrutiny, as evidenced by the reaction of the lawyers, and by this video.

With a bigger antenna on this I can go into Starbucks and get the [details] of everyone there.

It's a shame discovery didn't feel able to nod at the lawyers, and then make the programme anyway - including the conversation with the legal people. Still, when you're depending upon ad revenues, it's not as easy as all that - at least in the short term. A good argument for the BBC TV Licence!

(*) Although the announcer in the UK does often mix concepts of mass, pressure, force etc. Not sure about the guy in the US - the people in the show sometimes do this too, but that comes across to me as more of a 'shorthand' - as they obviously know the difference!

You could be Johnny

I've just posted the following to this article about the tendency in the UK to see being bad at Maths (and Science) as a mark of pride.

It really annoys me every time a presenter on the news 'jokes' that they can't do maths or science. Melvyn Bragg on the usually excellent "in our time" is another. If you can't do it, then research your topic - or at least stay quiet!

I grew up with Johnny Ball. I really miss him on TV - he was enthusiastic and willing to find out about things which he didn't know about. Today's "science" shows are more about blowing things up in the microwave, or the caravan (yes, Braniac, that means you).

An honourable exception is discovery's mythbusters (UK site) - they don't always get the scientific terms right (misusing terms like force, pressure etc, the narrator in the UK is especially guilty of this) - but they have the sense of the scientific method, and of exploration.

On UK TV, there is no modern equivalent. We need a modern day Johnny Ball! (Maybe next year it won't be 'You could be Nancy', but 'You could be Johnny' - I can only dream)

I really like the idea. Each week, wannabe Johnny's would present a piece about some aspect of science. It'd need to be fun, accessible, as well as being good science. The panel would consist of, a non-scientist, a scientist (not Adam Hart-Davies!) and the 'Lloyd-Webber figure' - Johnny Ball himself.

Each week, Graham Norton would tell the contenders 'You could be Johnny'.

The theme tune would end with Jack Nicholson bursting through a door saying "Here's Johnny!"

The public would vote (usually on style over substance) and there'd be a 'present-off' between the two who had the lowest public vote, they'd explain some particularly gnarly bit of science or maths. Johnny would save one of them.

I could be a getting a little flippant here, but I'm deadly serious about the issue at hand. Personally, I think some sort of contest might be a lot of fun, as well as helping to increase interest in science and maths. It could work, couldn't it?