HACKING THE PACEMAKER

EPISODE: NCIS – NEED TO KNOW (2012)

Short Synopsis:
Tamer Hassan guest starred as Arms Dealer Agah Bayar.

Tamer Hassan guest starred as Arms Dealer Agah Bayar.

Alan Katzenbach, a lawyer, waits for Gibbs with his client, a chief petty officer named Leland Wiley. Wiley was busted for drugs and wants to trade information he has — which he claims involves national security and Agah Bayar, the arms dealer.

Gibbs is interested. Wiley comes over to talk, but grabs his heart and drops to the ground.

Gibbs comes for the update from Ducky. Turns out, Wiley had top security clearance and his workstation is locked down. They haven’t been able to connect him to Bayar yet.

Abby calls Gibbs to the lab. She tells him Wiley’s pacemaker was linked into a computer to monitor it. Someone hacked it and raised his heart rate up to more than 400 beats per minute.

“Somebody murdered Wiley by remote control,” she says.

What does this have to do with me?

Well, I’m glad you asked. This particular episode so intrigued the heart surgery team at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston (where I had all that heart surgery in March 2013), that they decided to see if it really could be done. Could you “attack” a pacemaker by remote control? One of the people that performed the experiment was my surgeon.

They did it, though my surgeon pointed out you had to be no more than a couple of feet from the pacemaker to affect it. But you could affect it. So, they contacted the manufacturer who changed the programming to protect it from potential attack. Cool, yes?

In theory, nobody can hack my pacemaker. I am safe from remote terrorists. Which is good, because worrying about it was keeping me up at night.

I find it oddly comforting. Garry finds it disturbing. I suppose I can see where he’s coming from. He doesn’t like thinking about the mechanical and electronic stuff that keeps me alive. It would creep me out too, but I’m a bit of a geek and can detach from it on a personal level and get into the coolness of the electronics.

RBB-pacemaker

It is  kind of creepy. However, it doesn’t matter. No matter how I feel about it, I’ve got this thing in my chest. It keeps my heart beating. If my heart beat on its own, I wouldn’t need the pacemaker.

Every time I go for a pacemaker checkup, they use a little machine and briefly stop the pacemaker to see if my heart will beat without it. My heart stops beating. Talk about creepy. It is an icky feeling. Anyone with a pacemaker knows what I mean.

The blue tooth remote functions work. They are (in theory) more secure than they were before the NCIS episode aired and the guys got curious. Remote functionality is important. After all, I might need a remote tune-up. Blue tooth lets my doctor access my pacemaker from … how far? I don’t actually know. A considerable distance, whatever that is.

Garry — again — doesn’t want to know about it. I pointed out if someone murders me, this is potentially important evidence. He would rather not think about it.

So there we are. Too creepy?

I can feel my pacemaker. It’s in the hollow by my left shoulder. The outline is visible. I can feel the wires, the connections through my skin. It’s impossible to ignore. I might as well find it interesting. It’s part of me, after all.

SABOTAGE – AND – MURDER

Early Hitchcock, by Rich Paschall

The 1936 Hitchcock thriller, Sabotage, could be a story for the present day.  Foreign saboteurs are planning terror attacks on a big city.  No one is sure who these people are or why they are planning these things.  In this adventure the city is London and the time frame is “the present,” in other words the mid 1930s.  It is loosely based on a story by Joseph Conrad, Secret Agent.  Hitchcock released another film in 1936 named Secret Agent.  It is no relation.

Alfred Hitchcock

In Sabotage London experiences a blackout which most take in good humor.  At a local theater, patrons are demanding their money back, and when the wife goes to see if her husband, the theater owner, is home he claims to have been there all along.  We have seen that he has just returned.  He is the saboteur.

Oskar Homolka, the Austrian actor, plays the theater owner.  You are left to guess what European country or group he may be working for.  Sylvia Sydney plays his wife, apparently an American, while her younger brother, played by Desmond Testor, sounds rather British.  Homolka as Karl Verloc does not come across as particularly evil, but rather caught up in the plot.

Scotland Yard is suspicious of Verloc and has Detective Sergeant Spencer on the case.  He is undercover as a grocer assistant at the business next to the movie theater. He ultimately befriends Mrs. Verloc and her brother to get information.

Unhappy with the results of the blackout, the saboteurs want Verloc to plant a bomb that will terrorize London.  It is to go to the station at the Piccadilly London underground at a busy time of day.  Verloc does not want to coöperate with anything that may cause loss of life, but is threatened by his contact who apparently has some hold over him.

Sabotage

Sabotage

The film was released in America in 1937 under the title The Woman Alone.  I guess you could say Mrs. Verloc is alone in this story.  She is unaware of her husband’s activities and seemingly has no one else.  Well, no one else until the concerned Scotland Yard detective comes along. He obviously becomes fond of her as the story progresses.

Although early in his career, the film shows some of the aspects of the great Hitchcock films.  As we build to what is supposed to be the big moment of the terror plot, we see the rapid fire cutting of scenes, to take in not just the faces of the people around the bomb, but the clock as we watch the time move faster and faster to when the bomb is supposed to explode.  Things are not unfolding as planned, and then they take a Hitchcock style plot twist.  We will leave the rest to you in case you wish to track this down, that is, the bomb maker, the other criminals, the men of Scotland Yard.

It is not going to land on the top 10 Hitchcock movies, or even the top 15.  It is just an interesting early work of a director who will ultimately become a master of this type of intrigue and suspense.  This certainly is not very satisfying when compared to other Hitchcock fare.

The 1930 drama, Murder, is an early Hitchcock piece that exhibits some brief moments of Hitchcock style, but basically contains all the elements of bad early “talkies.”  It does not contain that much of interest.  I fear its great reviews of more recent years are based on the reputation of the master of suspense and has little to do with this work.

The plot starts out like Twelve Angry Men, but does not go down that road for long.  Written by Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Walter C. Mycroft the story is based on the novel and play, Enter Sir John.  The story opens with a young actress being accused of the murder of another member of an acting company.  She seems to have been caught red-handed with the murder weapon at hand.  One of the jurors, Sir John, does not think she is guilty and after all jurors give in to the guilty verdict, including Sir John, he decides to investigate.

Murder

Murder

The lead character is played by Herbert Marshall, who went on to a long career in Hollywood films.  Norah Baring plays the actress about to face the gallows.  Yes, they were going to hang the beauty.  This give Hitchcock the nice opportunity to show us the shadow of the noose as the gallows are being built outside the cell window.  There is no need to show the actual building when he can terrorize the audience through shadow and sound.

The lighting and editing are poor, more often than not.  A little of that may be due to restoration.  Hitchcock admitted in an interview years later that the actors were encouraged to improvise dialogue in scenes that were not quite finished.  “The result wasn’t good; there was too much faltering. They would carefully think over what they were about to say and we didn’t get the spontaneity I had hoped for.”

This might account for the slow pacing and awkward pauses we find in many places.  Also, the actors are playing as if they are in a theater rather than in a movie.  It is not uncommon to see this in early talking pictures with actors were trained for the stage.  The over dramatization of all the actors is a bit uncomfortable.  The type of staging seen here was more suited to the West End than the silver screen.  At the same time, Hitchcock also filmed the movie in German with other actors.

digging grave

If these two features offer anything, it is a look at life in London in the 1930s.  You can see how a poorer class of people lived and at the very least you know the props and sets come right out of that time period.  Unless you are such a Hitchcock fan that you need to track down these re-mastered works, you could take a pass on them.  For some reason, they are available on DVD.

KILLING YOU, KILLING ME

An episode of Law and Order got me thinking. “Under what circumstances might I commit murder — or kill someone — for any reason?”

We all say stuff. “I’m going to kill you,” doesn’t mean you are actually planning a murder. You are blowing off steam, saying “I’m so angry, I’ve run out of words to express it.” Garry pointed out that television and movies would be pretty dull if everyone behaved sensibly.

blood evidenceWe yell at each other. Sometimes there’s a slammed door and I occasionally rattle the pots and pans, but we don’t throw things. Don’t break things. Don’t kick the dogs or get in the car and drive like crazy people. We don’t binge drink or comfort ourselves with drugs.

We get angry with each other, though. We think about breaking a window. Throwing a piece of crockery. Then reconsider. Having that picture window replaced would cost a bundle. Never mind.

Under no circumstances do you hurt your pets.

In short, we are rational. We are never so angry we don’t consider the consequences of behavior.

I think most people have a hard-wired inhibition against killing people. If we didn’t, the world would be a much worse place than it already is. You have to train soldiers to kill. Young men won’t (normally) kill other young men unless you break down their inhibitions against killing. That’s what boot camp is about, right?

Garry said something smart, reminding me of one of many reasons we’re together. He said “That’s why it’s good we have things like Facebook. People can go there to rant, rage, carry on. No knives, guns, bats. No corpses. Angry people vent. No one really gets hurt. Like the guys on the sports radio stations who call in screaming about the Red Sox. They’re just letting off steam. It’s just as well there are safe places for them to do it.”

Maybe it’s because Garry has seen so much violence and the results of violence. It was part of his job. Not a part he liked, but something he had to deal with to be a reporter. I couldn’t have done it.

As to my original question, what would it take to make me kill another person? I don’t know. Would I kill to protect my life style or for money — even a great deal of money? I doubt it.

Would I kill to protect someone? I’d want to, but could I? I’m not sure I could kill to protect myself. Many people can’t and lose their own lives because they hesitate. Television, fiction, and mythology notwithstanding, most people’s instinct is to not kill.

Inconvenient, but it may be the saving grace of the human race.

NEED TO KNOW (NCIS, 2012) AND MY PACEMAKER

EPISODE: Need to Know (2012) – SHORT SYNOPSIS:

Alan Katzenbach, a lawyer, waits for Gibbs with his client, a chief petty officer named Leland Wiley. Wiley was busted for drugs and wants to trade his info — which he says is about national security. It concerns Agah Bayar, the arms dealer. Gibbs is interested. Wiley comes over to talk, but grabs his heart and drops to the ground.

ncis-need-to-know

Gibbs comes for the update from Ducky. Turns out, Wiley had top security clearance and his workstation is locked down. They haven’t been able to connect him to Bayar yet.

Abby calls Gibbs to the lab. She tells him Wiley’s pacemaker was linked into a computer to monitor it. Someone hacked in and jacked his heart rate up to 400 beats per minute.

“Somebody murdered Wiley by remote control,” she says.


What does this have to do with me?

Well, glad you asked. This episode so intrigued the heart surgery team at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston (where I had all that heart surgery last March), that they decided to find out if it really could be done. One of the people that performed the experiment was my surgeon.

They did it. My surgeon did point out as far as they could tell, to actually hack a pacemaker you had to be no more than a couple of feet from it. Nonetheless, they made the manufacturer change the programming.

In theory, nobody can hack my pacemaker.

I find this comforting. Garry finds it disturbing and I suppose I can see where he’s coming from. He doesn’t like thinking about the mechanical and electronic stuff that keeps me alive. It would creep me out too, but I’m a bit of a geek.

RBB-pacemaker

I find the technology sufficiently interesting to overcome its inherent creepiness. It is creepy. However, it doesn’t matter. No matter how I feel about it, I’ve got this thing in my chest. It keeps my heart beating. If my heart beat on its own, I wouldn’t need the pacemaker.

Every time I go for a pacemaker checkup, they use a little machine and briefly stop the pacemaker to see if my heart will beat without it. My heart stops beating. Talk about creepy. It is a very unpleasant — and indescribable — sensation. Anyone with a pacemaker knows what I mean.

The blue tooth remote functions still work. They are (in theory) more secure than they were a couple of years ago, before the NCIS episode aired and the guys got curious about it. Remote functionality is important. After all, I might need a tune-up. Blue tooth lets my doctor access my pacemaker from … how far? I don’t actually know. A considerable distance, whatever that is.

Garry — again — doesn’t want to know about it. I pointed out if someone murders me, this is potentially important evidence. He would still rather not think about it.

So there we are. Too creepy?

I can feel my pacemaker. It sits on my left shoulder. The outline is visible. I can feel the wires, the connections through my skin. I find it impossible to ignore. I might as well find it interesting. It’s part of me, after all.

Sensible Violence

75-Duck-BosCommHP-1

We were up in Worcester, the capital of our middle-of-nowhere part of the world. Taking pictures, happily unaware that something awful was happening 60 miles away in Boston. When we got home and the phone and email lit up, we knew something was up,

Garry and I lived in Boston for a long time. Garry was a reporter. If he were still working, as many of his friends are, he would have been exactly where the bombs went off. I would have been one of the terrified wives waiting to hear if my husband was alive and/or in multiple pieces. Maybe I would have been one of the unlucky ones. I’m glad to have missed the experience.

75-BostonView__06

A lot of people needed reassurance, wanted to be sure Garry wasn’t working (retired since 2001, but not everyone believes it) and we hadn’t gone to see the Marathon. We had merely taken a drive up to Worcester, looping back via the grocery store and the pond where the swans live. A normal pleasant spring day. For us, anyhow.

I had been laughing earlier in the day about how seriously New Englanders take their holidays. I had tried to get in touch with my doctor only to discover the office was closed for Patriot’s Day. If you live in Boston, there’s also Evacuation Day, another Revolutionary War remembrance, but affecting only the city. I can’t imagine New York closing down to celebrate a battle that took place more than 200 years ago. New York’s all about getting on with business, but Boston is into remembering and celebrating traditions.

Boston State House - Night

Boston State House – Night

Patriot’s Day and the Boston Marathon are part of what makes the Commonwealth and the city special. Unique. Boston is a big city, but it’s accessible. Even with awful parking, potholes and traffic, you can drive in Boston. You may not enjoy the experience but the city is not in constant gridlock. It’s a great walking city too. There are lots of street festivals, free concerts, and events that are open to everyone and their families. Is that going to change?

Are people going to be too afraid to enjoy the city? Lock themselves up behind steel doors? If terrorists can’t kill us all, they sure can take the joy out of life … if we let them.

75-LazyBostonHP-1

I can’t in good conscience tell anyone not to be afraid. But I lived in Jerusalem. I did lose friends to terrorists. It was black humor indeed to call Thursday at the marketplace “Bomb day.” Yet we went on living because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate and because if you close down your world, the bastards have won.

Yesterday, as we watched and listened to the news, we worried about people we knew until we finally heard they were safe.

I don’t “get” the terrorist gestalt, murdering civilians to make a political statement. What statement can you make based on murder? That you are willing to slaughter people because your cause is more important than life itself? Nothing is more important than life.

I have a feeling we aren’t dealing with an international conspiracy. No one has claimed responsibility for this atrocity. The bombs were built to inflict maximum harm, ugly bombs intended to tear flesh, rip and rend. Any bomb can kill you, but these were explicitly created to maim as well as murder.

If it’s discovered this is the work of a homegrown psychopath, will this make us feel better? I don’t find the idea comforting. Quite the opposite. The perpetrator could be a neighbor … or anyone. That’s creepy, not comforting.

Old South Church from Boston Commons

Garry always laughs at the expression “senseless violence.” As if there’s some other kind. The sensible kind.

There may be times when killing is unavoidable to prevent a greater evil but it’s never a good thing, only sometimes justifiable to protect yourself or others. Killing is never good. Sane people know this. Civilian, military and law enforcement personnel don’t casually take lives. That so many people seem comfortable with murder is deeply disturbing. What is wrong with them … and with us that we glorify killers and turn them into heroes?

Boston Commons and Statehouse-HP-1

Yesterday in Boston, someone showed his/her/their inhumanity and cowardice. Religious fanatics? Non-denominational crazies? Foreign sociopaths? Homegrown psychopaths? Some other previously unknown lunatic fringe group … or a deranged individual?

Does it matter?

Whoever or whatever … I hope we catch them and make sure they never do it again to anyone anywhere.

From Garry:

I covered the Boston Marathon and other Patriot’s Day events for 31 years until my retirement. They are some of the most wonderful memories in my entire TV/radio news career covering more than 40 years. Patriot’s Day is special in New England, in Massachusetts, in greater Boston. The Revolutionary War re-enactments at dawn in Lexington and Concord were among my favorite assignments.

You could see children getting their first real look at history. Normally stoic or cynical adults looked on with pride and awe. I still see their faces in my sense memory. The Marathon weekend was always a period when the bad things going on in the world were put on hold for a brief time.

You met people from all around the world. Instant friendships were formed. Politics were set aside. Laughter and smiles were the common language. It is hard not to see this attack — even in this post 9/11 world — as anything but a horrible loss of innocence. It is so very sad.

Run for your life!

220px-Major_crimesUnless you live on another planet, you have watched your share of crime and cop shows. In first run, rerun, and who knows which run. Cops and crime are the ubiquitous backbone of prime time television and the fast-flowing mainstream of Hollywood. We are fascinated, even obsessed by criminals, cops, courtrooms and killers.

Add the alphabetic agencies,  CIA, FBI,  CSI, NCIS, then throw in some lawyers, car chases, bombs, guns and frontier justice and you have American television for the past 50 years, give or take a decade. There are now — and have been — so many series in this genre I defy anyone to remember all of them (though it might be fun to try). Is there a database for this somewhere?

It’s possible to watch crime 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. At one point, I became addicted to  “Law and Order.” I required frequent fixes. It turned out to be no problem because there’s a rerun of “Law and Order” playing somewhere all the time. You just have to look.

These days, Garry and I watch a great many cop shows, usually reruns of favorites from the recent or not-so-recent past. We can predict dialogue for all of them, including those we’ve never seen before. It turns out there are only a couple of plots, both of which use the same script.

If you watch enough of these shows, you could write them too. You know what’s going to happen before the first commercial break, sometimes before the credits. You know who the killer is. It’s the guest star if there is one, otherwise, it’s the irrelevant character or the first one who points the finger at someone else. One way or the other, you recognize the perp the moment he or she shows up on-screen.

I used to hope for something new and different. Now, I just hope they do the clichés well.

Pilot

Some stuff has become so standard we hear it coming. As the words roll out, we sing along. At our house, we liven things up by laying odds on when the writers will leap on a cliché and what the precise wording will be. Our favorite is when a cop has someone with him or her in the cruiser — a child, relative reporter, friend, former cop (retired, of course), journalist — who is by chance and script on site when the star is called to the scene of a crime.

So. What does he or she say?

You got it.

“STAY IN THE CAR!” “Stay here!” “Whatever you do, don’t follow me!” “If I’m not back in 5 minutes, get away …”

You’ve seen it a zillion times. It never gets old and unlike most jokes, it always gets a laugh. It pops out of the mouths of television and movie heroes and it brings the house down every time. It actually showed up in a book I was reading earlier today. It’s included in every show … brand new shows, with brand new writers, directors and stars.

Nah. I bet they only look new. They are probably using the same script as all the others.

Whether it’s a 9-alarm fire, gun fight, crime scene, stalker, serial killer or zombie attack, it doesn’t matter. No one stays in the car. Cop, kid, or an extra destined to die before the opening credits, no one in film or television history has ever stayed in the car, truck, or anywhere else. They never will.

Pauley Perrette in the season opener of NCIS.

In life, we generally know when we should really stay in the car. Not get involved. Let someone else take this one.

Who stays in the car and who gets out?

Until recently, I never stayed in the car. I took chances. In a different world, I might have been a cop or a detective. Something exciting, anyhow. Alas, but the need for a steady paycheck sent me down a different professional path, one on which opportunities for adventure were rare. Okay, non-existent. Software development does not offer an edgy lifestyle.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (season 6)

So I did what I could to make up for it in my personal life. I had too much fun to regret it, and anyway the experience taught me to deal with the unexpected. There’s been a lot of unexpected to deal with. If you never venture out of your comfort zone you aren’t going to survive the disasters that drop like car bombs into your life. Sooner or later, you have to get out of the car, right? Especially if someone planted a car bomb … is that too much analogy?

Time has marched on. These days, I do stay in the car. Family drama is enough. More would be redundant. I can sustain my sense of adventure through television reruns, memories of the good old days and an occasional terrifying ride on a killer roller coaster. I’ve had a lot of out-of-car experiences. I could use a dose of calm, dull and ordinary.

But you never know. I mean, anything can happen, right? If I’m on the scene, if life  just puts me where stuff is happening … would I really stay in the car? Would you?

Slaughter in a quiet suburb

Yesterday, while putting together awards, a too-long deferred project, I happened to click onto WBZ radio, Boston‘s CBS affiliate. The events in Newtown were just being broadcast. They didn’t know exactly how many children and adults had died. The massacre had just ended — to the degree that such tragedies really ever end. I’m sure that for all the families who lost loved ones, it will never end. There’s no “over” for the slaughter of innocents.

This is the kind of horror story that leaves you with questions that can’t be answered. Even if you know everything there is to know, you still couldn’t make sense of it because it doesn’t make sense and can’t make sense. There is nothing sane, sensible, reasonable or explicable about it. What could possibly make someone — anyone — think murdering children is an acceptable or sane response to anything? No matter what dark secrets or strange thoughts are tangled in the head of the kid who took all those lives … nothing makes it more understandable because our minds reject any answer. There is no reason good enough. Nothing makes it comprehensible nor should it.

I can and will say that had the shooter not had guns, this would NOT have happened.

I do not care how treasured our “rights to bear arms” is to Americans. This is exactly what is wrong with having guns, so many guns, in so many hands. However true it is that guns don’t shoot themselves, the fact is that if they were less accessible to everyone and there were more controls on them to make sure that those who own them understand the responsibility that comes with owning deadly weapons — like the need to keep them out of irresponsible hands — many deaths would not occur. If the same young man had to take whatever weird revenge he sought with a bat or even a knife, he would have been stopped long before the body count had grown so godawful huge.

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Morons at play

Guns don’t kill people all by themselves, but in the hands of people, guns do a lot more damage than the same person could do without guns. These were legal, registered guns.

Why a kindergarten teacher had an arsenal at home where she also had one (more?) mentally ill children is another one of those questions that can’t be answered. Personally I think if all guns disappeared tomorrow and we were reduced to throwing rocks at each other, it would be a better world. Since that’s not about to happen, at the very least, regulating guns so that those who own them are required to keep track of them (how many guns just “disappear” only to reappear as the weapon at a crime scene?), some degree of mental stability has to be established before being allowed to own them, anyone who owns guns has appropriate means to secure them and knows how to properly maintain them … these are minimal sensible requirements. Soldiers aren’t just handed weapons to use indiscriminately. They are taught how to use them, maintain them, and woe to any soldier who just happens to “lose” his weapon.

Yet in the private sector, most states have no requirements other than your ability to fill out a form and wait a few days. Most illegal guns didn’t start out that way, either. They were legal when they were bought … but they roamed to other pastures. If there are simply fewer guns and those who have them are required to account for their whereabouts on a regular basis, secure them when not in use … in short, to be at least as responsible with their guns as they are with their cars for which you are required to take a test, have a licence and registration, and maintain insurance … there would be fewer horrors like that which took place in a quiet Connecticut suburb.

How can we allow mass murder by deranged gunmen and then turn around and say we don’t need gun control? I actually saw posts on Facebook blaming it on not having enough guns. So, now we should arm children so they can shoot each other in schoolyard disputes? That’s your answer? I saw other posts pointing out that we’ve banned school prayer. And you figure that a prayer in the morning would have prevented this tragedy? Really? Has prayer prevented war? Genocide? Plague? Not that I’ve noticed.

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God gave us brains to use. God gave us a conscience to guide us.

In all ten of God’s commandments … nor in anything that Jesus said … is there anything indicating that good people should own weapons. Quite the opposite, actually. Our constitution says that our citizenry is allowed to maintain militia and guns to protect the population, not that ever Tom, Dick, and Jane can have a personal arsenal to use as he or she feels inclined, with no restrictions, no oversight, not even an insurance policy.

It’s outrageous and it’s wrong. If we don’t start to use brains instead of that knee jerk reaction that “Oh my God, the government won’t let me buy an assault weapon! That’s outrageous!” there will inevitably be more of these mornings where families are burying their dead and wondering how it happened. If you want to know how stupid people really are, check out this disgusting website. If you suspected we let insane idiots own arsenals, this website will confirm your worst fears.

It happened because a mentally ill kid was able to get his hands on guns and instead of acting out in a non-lethal way, he instead murdered his family and all those other people too. That’s what happened. Why did it happen? Because we didn’t stop him, that’s why.