How sly of those "Nova" folks. They've concocted a science show masquerading as an espionage tale, a story about math that pretends to be about our Internet passwords, an educational overview of our data-dependent world that wants us to find it entertaining.
Amazingly, it works. Even the math-averse will find this hour fascinating.
PBS's "Nova: Rise of the Hackers" manages to make a complex and rapidly changing corner of computing comprehensible to non-science majors. With plenty of suspense, cultural connections and quotable experts — there are reasons to settle in, 8-9 p.m. Sept. 24, on RMPBS.
You've heard about Target losing control of your credit card numbers. You know about the hacker who spread nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence around the Internet. You may have read about the 15-year-old kid who hacked into NASA just for fun, shutting down computers that control the International Space Station.
Turns out, those are low-hanging fruit when it comes to computer hacking.
Wait until you learn about "ultra-paranoid computing" (really, that's a thing) and get a handle on the worm that is Stuxnet.
Hackers have moved on from taking over Amazon accounts to the more globally threatening business of cyber terrorism.
"Nova" makes this frightening reality understandable while informing us ever so gently about quantum physics, quantum cryptography and the various kinds of con jobs going on online every day. If you're not at least a little worried, you're not paying attention.
"The Internet is a bad neighborhood," says Patrick Lincoln of SRI International, one of the cyber-security experts interviewed. "In the digital world there are ne'er-do-wells coming by to rattle the door all the time."
The esteemed PBS series isn't above using clips of George Clooney in dashing action-adventure mode, switching out security-camera footage to make it look like nothing's wrong during a heist, to explain how hackers get into supposedly secure systems.
"Nova: explains how mischievous teenagers are going head to head with powerful nation-states in the hacking game. There's enough "quantum weirdness" explored here to make you want to rewind, pause or go back to school. What's that? Scientists are using video games to encode password sequences in the human subconscious brain? I think I saw that movie.
It's creepy-cool stuff, even if each chapter could use another few minutes to expand on the concepts, stick to laymen's terms and let the general public catch up.
(I'm still working on the notion of multiplying prime numbers.)
This tale of super spies and hackers tricks us into watching a show about math and physics. Who knew it could be this dramatic — and frightening?