Thursday, September 28, 2006

From Today's Word-a-Day

theriac (THEER-ee-ak) noun

1. Treacle or molasses.

2. An antidote to poison.

[From Latin theriaca (antidote), from Greek therion (wild beast).]

"The original theriac was made by combining 60-70 ingredients (including
the flesh of the viper) mixed with honey. It was supposed to be an antidote
against all poisons and thus the word is also used in the sense of cure-all.

Around twenty years ago, there was a radiation therapy machine named
Therac-25. Its buggy software delivered occasional massive overdoses of
radiation and killed at least six patients. This infamous device is now
a standard case study in the matters of software testing and reliability.
With a name like that..."

6 comments:

C. Dale said...

Wow, you know about the Therac-25! Yes, perfect example of why software testing and QA is such a big part of my practice. Radiation therapy today is now 200 times more complex than it was 20 years ago. And we now use multiple computer networks to coordinate a single treatment. Our poor physicists have daily, weekly, and monthly QA they have to do. But it is worth it for safety.

Anne said...

Peter, that is BEGGING to have a poem written about it. Flesh of the viper mixed with honey? Wild beast? Yowzah!

Jilly said...

I had to study the Therac-25 debacle for a human-computer interface class circa 1997. It's also in a book called Set Phasers To Stun. (About technology disasters.)

Pamela said...

I think theriomorph* comes from the same root--transformation of a human into animal form (such as lycanthropy).

(*Another weird word that my son used when trouncing me at Scrutinize--Peter, have you ever played that???? You would love it).

I've transcribed a paper (for a physics student) about the Therac-25 malfunction.

Peter said...

Thanks all: this sounds like a story/wordroot rich for exploring!
"Set Phasers To Stun" OMG!

Peter said...

P: Hmmm . . . Scrutinize. I don't know it. I will have to check it out.