Why is this here, you’re asking? What in your bitter lawyer life has led you to read about a tv show that involves an elite hacker team outrunning planes in a Ferrari? First, because we’re rolling out our bitter empire, and tv, bitter and otherwise, will be a big part of our empire once our death star is fully operational. Also because WOW, people, do something other than work sometimes.
This may look like the kind of fake almost computer code that I use when I try to explain programming to students with no programming experience, but it is actually the logo for CBS’ new Monday night show. Super techy, right?! Except, oops, for most computer people that little slash / before the name actually reads as End Scorpion. Which, judging from the reviews I’ve read, is pretty much what everyone would like to see happen. Except me, because dammit, I thought it was pretty freakin’ awesome.
The premise of the show is that the most brilliant group of techies in the world are hiding their lights under a bushel, until federal agent with sad, über-complicated relationship with lead character (and real person) Walter O’Brien, comes along and activates them Avenger’s Assemble! style.
‘Course, the techies are way too smart to engage with the real world, so they must also acquire a down-to-earth waitress who can navigate the complex waters of remembering that the needs of the many don’t always outweigh the needs of the few, even if Star Trek’s Spock was all up in your childhood telling you so.
Also, we need a cute child that we infer has some sort of syndrome, but actually may just be way smarter than the rest of us can comprehend, so the waitress serves a double purpose, because otherwise it is weird for a group of socially awkward adults to randomly adopt someone else’s child. Also perhaps not legal.
Plus, it’s Katherine McPhee and we don’t care, we just really want her to be in the show.
So, given the general failings of </scorpion> why do I think it was pretty freakin’ awesome?
1. Mid-air Ferrari/airplane software transfer where waitress hangs out of the car, tethered to the plane by a yellow ethernet cord that for some reason is released from the wheel well of the aircraft. Vagaries of the premise be damned, give us more of that hot hot Ferrari/airplane action.
And, if you need more, while I doubt we’re going to need to fix the air traffic control software through mad-cap adventuring, we really should be paying attention to our air traffic control software. BECAUSE IT IS TERRIBLE.
The bare bones of the story laid out in the premiere of </scorpion> is an actual thing that for real REALLY happened. In 2008, a corrupt file was introduced into the air traffic control system. It brought down the entire East Coast system for about 90 minutes – while MANY planes were in the air! And this wasn’t a one off thing – it happened a couple of times in 2007, too.
That’s right – the software we use to safely control our flying coffins of doom has a reputation somewhere on par with Congressional Approval Ratings and Windows ME.
And if you’re thinking…oh, 2008, things have surely gotten better since then…you are pretty much wrong. In August (yes, of 2014) the FAA unleashed their latest fix to their historically unfixable software (code name STARS!) to this particularly awesome nugget of not-praise from the Department of Transportation: “the system could ultimately fall short of providing promised capabilities for controlling takeoffs and landings — the most critical phases of flight.”
But, they can’t delay the STARS installation, because the FAA needs STARS to do what they really want to do – install NextGen, their giant upgrade project. And, you are gonna love NextGen.
The FAA has been working on NextGen since, I shit you not, 1994 – when they scrapped billions of dollars worth of their previous upgrade project, AAS. So what is NextGen? It’s another plan to upgrade the 1988 Phillips mainframes (keeping in mind that Phillips got out of the computing business before Clinton was elected).
So….it’s basically AAS by another name. But that’s okay, because since the mid-80s, the FAA has really upped their game. For example, in 1994 Gary Stix pointed out in Scientific American that “the FAA has evolved into a GPS advocate” – that’s right the FAA had to EVOLVE into their position on GPS systems for planes. What was their previous position? Anti-accuracy? Pro-edjimicated guesswork?
Are you thinking, but we don’t have that many plane crashes? Well, here’s my take away – don’t pretend that’s the tech being all sophisticated. It’s actually the air traffic controllers being all clever with really dumb technology. Go ATC’ers! That’s right, you rock! Keep on keepin’ on!
All this to say, yes… </scorpion> has a stupid name. Yes, it is simultaneously too dumb and too smart for significant portions of our population. But fuck all those haters, </scorpion> took a real thing that really for real happened, and made it way awesomer and interesting, brought attention to a major weakness in our infrastructure, and included a Ferrari. You can at least record it with your DVR – which is way more sophisticated than the system landing your plane. It’s not like you have to actually watch it.