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Software Allows Parents to Monitor Kids' Online Activities; Why Wildfires Have Become Worse; Genetic Clues to Why Some People Live Longer

Aired September 1, 2001 - 13:30   ET


ANN KELLAN, HOST: Big Brother goes to school: software that let's parents find out what their kids are up to. Also, white hot wildfires: what's to blame? And a genetic clue to why some people live to a ripe old age. Those stories and more are just ahead on SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY WEEK.

Hello and welcome. I'm Ann Kellan.

It used to be that parents relied on report cards to see how their kids were doing in school. Well, now some parents just have to get online to keep tabs on every detail of the school day.


(voice-over): Jay gets good grades, does everything right except one little thing -- at lunch time every now and then he likes to buy a Powerade drink and at $1.50 a pop mom and dad would rather he drink it at home and save a little money.

So one day his mom logs onto the Internet and Jay gets caught -- proof of purchase right there on the screen. Minor offense but this demonstrates a powerful tool. Software called Skyward, purchased by schools, free to parents -- let's them keep an Internet on their kids at school.

For example once attendance is taken and is entered by the teacher Sandy Schult can log on from home or anywhere for that matter and know Jay and her other high schooler, Jennifer, are in class.

Grades work the same way.

SANDY SCHULT, SKYWARD USER: As soon as the report cards are posted we can find out what the grades were before the kids even know.

KELLAN: You thought going to the principal's office was punishment enough? Here parents get the red flag as you're heading to the office and parents can e-mail concerns.

ALAN BEAMER, ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL, BIG RAPIDS HIGH: When it comes to discipline what will happens is that I can literally communicate with the parents 24 hours a day. And remember that Powerade? Along with daily attendance and discipline reports, parents can also track what their kids had for lunch.

With the swipe of a card their lunch selection is reported and the amount debited from an account most funded by the parents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're high schoolers and I think that we should be able to chose what we eat and our parents shouldn't regulate it. I mean, it is their money but it's ours to some extent.

KELLAN: They do take cash here so you can buy a Powerade and your mom will really not know.

Though they have some gripes kids see the benefits, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll be able to get my schedule early this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mom can get on any time she wants and check out my grades. And everyday I come home she's always asking, "Well, how did you do on your quiz? How did you do on your test?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's important that the teacher, the student and the parent are in constant communication.

KELLAN: Parents can only see information about their children. A password lets them in. Some students don't like this idea since many parents share their password with the rest of the family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many have given the password?

KELLAN: And a locker combination in the wrong hands...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a little brother -- he might be in middle school but he can get on there and check anything he wants to and who knows where that can go.

KELLAN: And some worry about Big Brother -- that this technology will get kids used to being watched now so as adults tracking will be just a way of life.

Can there be such a thing as like knowing a little too much about what your kids are doing?

SCHULT: I think for some parents there can be. It depends on how you use it. I think that you can't use it against them.

KELLAN: And is all this information secure?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just put your like you contact information and your phone number and your like zip code.

KELLAN: Experts will tell you information over the Internet is vulnerable to theft. That's why this school is thinking twice before putting students' medical records online. JOE BOUMAN, TECHNOLOGY DIRECTOR, BIG RAPIDS SCHOOLS: If we were to provide medical records out there to family access I think that would be a decision of the school board.

KELLAN: And the parents. They can select a program, the information that goes over the Internet or simply not participate.

KEVIN MCFERRIN, SKYWARD, INC.: As a parent you can opt in or out of that program. I mean, it's very easy to do that.

KELLAN: Sandy, for example, has posted specific instructions what to do if Jennifer gets sick. She has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. In an emergency phone contacts are listed online but specific medications and her medical records are not.

SCHULT: It's not in this program -- it's in the office at school.

KELLAN: Kids we talked to admit it makes them think twice before doing something wrong except for maybe senior skip day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a tradition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've got to do that one.

KELLAN: Not without a phone call from mom.

BEAMER: If they don't have a phone call in -- unexcused -- mean.

KELLAN: Very mean.

Catching class skippers and rule breakers helps the principal. Keeping up to date on how the children spend their day helps parents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a parent is really wanting to know what their child is doing, get involved in their educational life, this is a very positive thing to do that with.


KELLAN: The Skyward software is being used in about 300 schools across the U.S. and it's not the only student tracking software that's out there.

Later in the show -- some dynamic dinosaurs. And up next, what happens when fire prevention efforts backfire?


KELLAN: Here's what a small Tsunami looks like -- this one was in China last year. But this is minor compared to the Tsunami that scientists say could happen in the Atlantic ocean some day. Researchers looked at a volcano off the northwest coast of Africa, which hasn't erupted in 50 years. They say when it does start erupting again it could eventually dump a huge chunk of the mountainside into the ocean, creating a Tsunami. In the worst case scenario a 70 foot high wave could hit the east coast of North and South America and the Caribbean just nine hours after the Tsunami begins.

The scientists from University College London and The University of California at Santa Cruz aren't predicting that will happen any time soon but say it's a reason to monitor the volcano.

One volcano that has been monitored closely is Italy's Mount Aetna. And now researchers say its eruption patterns may be changing.

Mount Aetna lies in a boundary zone between two types of volcanoes according to team of French and Italy scientists. They say it seems to be changing from a type with heavy lava flows to a type that features violently explosive eruptions. It's the first time scientists have seen a volcano change character like this.

The research was published in the journal "Nature."

Wildfires have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres in the western United States this summer. Officials say they're seeing more fires and more destruction than usual.

Mike Boettcher reports on one of the reasons.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The hawks are fat in southern Oregon -- gorging themselves on fleeing rodents and the helicopters are busy taking their turn in an airborne bucket brigade.

Wildfire has animals running for cover and man racing for answers. Why so many fires? What is making them so destructive? How to stop them?

Simply put -- the forest may be a victim of Smokey the Bear.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Only you can prevent forest fires.


BOETTCHER: Decades of successful fire suppression have left the forest floor full of highly flammable small trees, brush and fallen branches. Firefighters call it fuel.

GREG GILPIN, INCIDENT COMMANDER, QUARTZ FIRE: We had flaming fronts that were hundreds and hundreds of feet wide. And we had flames somewhere 150 to 200 feet tall. That's a direct result of fuel.

BOETTCHER: Oshana Caprametis is part of a southern Oregon project trying to thin forest undergrowth in high fire risk areas. OSHANA CAPRAMETIS: Once it would hit a bulk in your area, as of there, it would build its velocity, build its heat because these smaller sticks and trees represent kindling that add coals and fuel to a fire that make it hotter and more dangerous.

BOETTCHER: That is exactly what happened in the giant Cordes fires near the Oregon-California border. It burned almost 7,000 acres before it was contained. And when it burned it burned white hot -- a bad fire that scorches the earth and burns all trees in its path -- not a good fire that burns cooler along the forest floor.

Erin Connelly is the district ranger in the Rouge River National Forrest.

BOETTCHER: Judging by the whiteness of the ash it burned very hot here.

ERIN CONNELLY, DISTRICT RANGER, ROUGE RIVER NATIONAL FOREST: Flame length and the heat can destroy the green area that photosynthesizes and produces the nutrients for the tree.

BOETTCHER: The trend is not good Last year wildfire burned about 8 1/2 million acres, more than double the average for the previous 10 years. This year's total again is expected to easily surpass an average year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back in July we had 186 fires -- that's six fires a day, which is highly unusual.

BOETTCHER: Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, while inspecting the forest lines was told his state could have its worst fire season on record. He believes it is not a statistical anomaly and insists state and federal governments must make a huge investment to rid the nations forests of built up fuel.

JOHN KITZHABER, GOVERNOR OF OREGON: It's going to cost a lot more to just let these forests burn down in terms of loss of human life, in terms of loss of habitat, in terms of loss of commercial timber.

BOETTCHER: Mary Badley has seen the situation worsen from her perch in the Old Dutchman's Peak lookout post in Oregon's Rouge River National Forest.

She recalls the old nickname given the expanse below.

MARY BADLEY: Laughingly we say the Asbestos Forest.

BOETTCHER: No more -- the hawks are fat, the helicopters busy while the fires below burn white hot. For SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY WEEK I'm Mike Boettcher.


KELLAN: It there's not enough water to go around whose needs come first? When that question goes to court the water rights may go to developers or environmentalists, farmers or homeowners. But a water war in Golden, Colorado has an unlikely winner -- kayakers. Gina London reports.


GINA LONDON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You already know about its famous water used to brew beer but a controversy is now brewing around this other stretch of water in Golden, Colorado. The city is fighting to hold onto its water park dedicated to kayakers.

MIKE BESTOR, CITY MANAGER, GOLDEN, COLORADO: This course gets tremendous use not only from kayakers from all over the country, all over the world but also by a lot of citizens who would never dream -- never dare to set foot in a kayak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can expose everyone to whitewater no matter almost where you live in the country. And that's the future of the sport.

LONDON: To insure its future, Golden applied for a water right -- unprecedented for the huge amount of water to maintain what it considers the optimum flow through the course.

River water rights used to be fought mainly between farmers and developers but now the economics of water recreation have entered into the mix. This nationally renowned course, for example, generates $2 to $3 million every year for the city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE KAYAKER: A lot of people are here from Oregon, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia -- all over.

LONDON: And now a judge has granted the request making it the first large water rights ruling based solely on recreational use. But the state government's water conservation board is appealing the ruling saying it's unfair to the upstream towns now forbidden from depleting Golden's supply no matter how thirsty they get.

So while cities and states with water interests look on Colorado's Supreme Court will decide whether to go with the flow. For SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY WEEK I'm Gina London.


KELLAN: Still ahead -- wind tunnel science meets the art of the forward pass. And up next -- new findings on people who stay healthy into their 90s.


KELLAN: Why do some people live to be 100? Scientists have discovered some clues that suggest the key to longevity may be in a few genes on a single chromosome. Maria Hinojosa has more.


MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three siblings walking up a hill -- no small feat when they're all over 90 years old.

HAPPY KOHN: I can manage the handles.

HINOJOSA: Over 90 but certainly not over the hill.

LEA KOHN: We keep busy with everything that we do.

HINOJOSA: That's Lea -- she's 98 years old. Her brother, Peter, is 91 years old. Sister, Happy, turns 100 in November. And don't forget brother, Irving, 95 years old. He was too busy at the office to relax with his siblings.

IRVING: I'm normally here about 9:00. It opens at 9:30. And I stay usually until 6:00. Most days I eat in the office. So this is my home away from home.

HINOJOSA: The year was 1910 when this photo was taken of all four siblings. How have they survived into the 21st century?

HAPPY KOHN: Everybody wants a formula. Everybody wants us to give them a one, two, three in order and we don't have it. We didn't have a script to follow -- we just happened to get there.

HINOJOSA: And how they got there is the reason why the Kohn family is now part of a national scientific study to locate a gene for longevity.

DR. TOM PERLS, CENTAGENETIX: We started off studying all the centenarians in a region around Boston and found that they had several things in common -- for instance, they didn't smoke, very significant obesity was rare. But beyond that we couldn't really pin our hat on anything until we kept seeing a lot of brothers and sisters getting to very old age. And some families where we're seeing many brothers and sisters and cousins and parents getting to a very old age as well.

So we thought that genetics was playing a really important role and that's why we embarked on the study.

HINOJOSA: A study, which according to the researchers was a success.

DR. LOUIS KUNKEL, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL, BOSTON: What we've done is identify a region in the human genome which we believe is associated with positively living to an extreme old age.

And the significance is that we believe there's a gene that's positively influencing life span in humans. So it's allowing these people to go 25 and 30 years beyond the average life expectancy, which is I think pretty special.

HINOJOSA: Which scientists hope they might eventually be able to market in a pill but it's not the anti-aging silver bullet.

PERLS: I would never call if the Fountain of Youth. I think much more -- though it sounds like splitting hairs it's the Fountain of Aging Well. It's really seeing aging as an opportunity that if you've got your health these years I think many people should be taking advantage of.

HINOJOSA: But for the Kohns there is no science to the art of living long -- Happy eats junk food and smokes.

HAPPY KOHN: I smoke but I want to make something very clear -- I do not inhale.

HINOJOSA: But Bea who likes to garden watches what she eats.

BEA KOHN: Very healthy life -- a very healthy life.

HINOJOSA: And Peter stays active with his much younger wife. His philosophy...

PETER: Pay attention -- keep your eyes open and do what comes naturally.

HINOJOSA: And what comes naturally to these centenarians -- living life to its fullest without trying too hard. Maria Hinojosa, CNN, Westport, Connecticut.


KELLAN: Did she say she didn't inhale? OK, we'd like to hear what you think about our show. You can e-mail us a Now we may not be able to answer every letter but we do read all of them. And thanks very much for those comments so far.

Coming up -- Jurassic Park gets some competition. We'll be right back.


KELLAN: The Japanese space program got a boost this week when new type of rocket successful put a test payload into orbit. The H2A rocket didn't carry an actual satellite. That will come later.

Japan's space program has been plagued with problems and officials said the successful launch on Wednesday helped rebuild confidence that Japan can become a major player in space.

Also being tested this week -- a new kind of bumper that could make stock car racing a little safer.

Researchers outfitted a driver-less test car with the energy- absorbing bumper then used remote control to smash it into the wall at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The car bounced of with less damage than a conventional bumper. Engineers are analyzing the data and hope to present it to Nascar next week. The device is called the Humpy Bumper named after speedway president Humpy Wheeler.

The dynamics of a football pass just got a little less mysterious thanks to a scientist and a wind tunnel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) (voice-over): When a quarterback throws that long bomb directly to the receiver its partly talent and partly physics. William Rae, an engineering professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo has been working for years to figure out the science of the forward pass.

He's done computer simulations of famous passes and outfitted a football with sensors for wind tunnel testing to see how the air swirls around it. Now the research confirms something that players and coaches have long suspected.

WILLIAM RAE, ENGINEERING PROFESSOR, STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK: It turns out that a long forward pass -- a highly arched forward pass drifts a little bit the right or the left depending on the handedness of the pass.

KELLAN: So even with zero cross wind passes from a right handed quarterback like Doug Flutey drift one way and those from a lefty like Michael Vick drift the other.

Rae says the phenomenon is caused by the interaction between the gyroscopic forces of the ball's spin and the aerodynamic forces as it flies through the air.

Will the research change anybody's technique?

RAE: I don't think it will have any impact on the game whatsoever.

KELLAN: Rae says good passer probably figure out the phenomenon intuitively as soon as they start learning the game and correct for it.


KELLAN: The "Jurassic Park" movie set the standard for scary and believable dinosaurs but some science museums are displaying robotic dinosaurs that will give any Hollywood velociraptor a run for it's money. Denise Dillon reports.


DENISE DILLON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The savage cries of the T-rex -- his powerful tail taking giant swipes. This is the Jurassic park of Japan where computer and mechanical engineers take plastic, metal and wire -- combine it with the latest technology and seem to bring dinosaurs back from extinction.

HIDEAKI SAKURAI, KOKORO COMPANY: We create something which cannot be seen on the planet now referring to the fossils and the various sources.

DILLON: Here you see two T-rex models side by side -- one with skin, one without so it's possible to see the inner workings of the robot. The T-rex contains 22 actuators. Air cylinders are connected to each actuator and with the help of a computer program the robots move.

The computer can create almost any sequence of movements from the movement of the giant head and tail to the flutter of eyelids.

TOMIHIDE ITO, KOKORO COMPANY: Two-legged humanoid robots and industrial robots are great in terms of the technology. However, our robots combine the technology and the artist effect so as to create movements which excite people's emotions.

DILLON: It's a complicated process. It took teams of six engineers and artists more than seven months to make the T-rex prototype. The Japanese robot manufacturer, Kokoro Company, claims to be the leader in the world of animatronics. Their creations are on display in museums and amusement parks throughout the world.



KELLAN: Thanks for joining us. I'm Ann Kellan. Next week the U.S. Air Force turns to new technology to keep its aging airplanes flying. That's coming up on the next SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY WEEK. We'll see you then.



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