The 14 Aug. New York Times reports that a "Rogue Computer" is billing New Yorkers $19 million a year for parking violations they have not committed. City Councilman Andy Stein insists that the city must hire an independent auditor before a consulting company's contract for $11m is renewed. A spokesperson for the Bureau call Mr. Stein's statements "hyperbolic", adding that the bureau only makes $4m in errors, not $19m. The system processes about 12m summonses a year, resulting in an average of 42,000 complaints against the city. The bureau officials feel that a resulting percentage of .003 is quite good. Previously, the system had been operating at 82,000 errors annually. Monday, many of those who have been unfairly ticked held a news conference. A Mr. Hernandez, who began receiving tickets prior to being of legal driving age, has never held a license and never owened a car, (he also claims not to know how to drive) received $4,152 in parking tickets and has had is wages attached. Another example is a individual who had his license plates stolen, reported it promptly, and still receives summonses. The bureau advises him to track down the car that bears his plates as the only solution. In summary, we have another example of computerized bureaucracy more than a little out of control.
Dr. Caroline Dow and Dr. Douglas Covert, assistant professors of communication at the University of Evansville Indiana, believe they have linked noise made by video display terminals with stress symptoms in women, who hear high-frequency sounds better than men. The AP article, reported in the Aug 12, 1990 San Jose Mercury News (all the news we twist to fit*), reports that the couple first became interested when Dow noticed the subconciously irritating effect that a university computer she was using had on her. Tests on 41 students in April 1987 showed that the subjects exhibited the stress symptoms of speeded up work and a doubling of their error rate when doing clerical work in a room where the high-pitched sound was created. Dow said, "We can all work through that sound, but it is tiring and distracting." They hope their research will be expanded on by others, possibly linking the noise with headaches, tension, miscarriages, and other health problems. Men are rarely bothered by the 16 kilohertz pure-tone sound, as they generally cannot hear frequencies above 15kHz, while women can hear up to around 18 kilohertz, Dow also said. Dow and Covert were to present their findings at the Minneapolis national convention for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. [Also noted by Andrew E. Birner, Zenith. NOTE * I thought it was "All the news that fits we print." PGN]
Will Martin asked about the Riegle bill that would make it a crime to possess any device that the Treasury Department concludes would facilitate counterfeiting. I don't know anything specifically about that bill but will pass on info concerning the larger issue. (Those who want the bill can contact Sen. Riegle's office or contact the U.S. Capitol switchboard ((202-224-3121)) and ask how to get a copy.) Several years ago, the Treasury Dept. became aware that color copiers had reached a level of reproduction clarity that the technology could be used for counterfeiting. A study was done by Battelle on the issue and supposedly a recommendation was made that there be changes in U.S. currency design to prevent counterfeiting of this sort. I understand that the change was to include certain metallic-like threads that would be incorporated into the paper used for printing currency. The threads would prevent true copies from being made or, depending upon how they were used, to make it easier to spot counterfeit money since they would not look the same as the true currency when eyeballed by a bank. So far, I have not heard of the new bills being distributed or whether old currency will have to be traded in. My guess is that the Riegle bill is not in response to that issue but more due to an article that was in Forbes Magazine last year. The article described how desktop publishing could easily be used to create false financial documents, including checks, certificates, and other documents, such as school transcripts, that could be used for financial gain. DTP fraud worries bankers, who already have come across several cases. My guess is that the bill does not *outlaw* printers, computers, or other devices but may be an attempt to beef up the counterfeiting laws on the books and force the Treasury to determine ways to protect easily copied financial instruments. After all, Riegle is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, where they sure know about illegal creation of funds (the Keating Five) and restricting flows of money (the Savings and Loan crisis). Hope this stops rumors that the Feds are trying to outlaw computers. Sandy Sherizen
Several people have asked for references to the Scientific American article which I mentioned in RISKS 10.18. The article is "Test Negative: A look at the 'evidence' justifying illicit-drug tests" by John Horgan in _Scientific American_ Vol. 262, No 3., pages 18 & 22; March 1990. The author examines the broader question of making unjustified conclusions from research findings, in the context of illicit-drug use, and concludes that on-the-job illicit-drug testing does not have any scientific justification. Also, it was pointed out that the legend has it that Edison discovered the carbon filament, not the tungsten filament. I apologize for the error. Jeremy Grodberg
Programmers are now coming to grips with the fact that they are no longer free to write and distribute programs in the United States. Both user interface copyrights and software patents create monopolies on large classes of computer programs, thus restricting the programs that most of us are allowed to develop. For example, Unisys claims a patent covers compress, which may soon be a required part of a national standard (POSIX user portability extensions). Companies delivering the supposedly free X Windows server are being threatened with lawsuits by two different companies. The League for Programming Freedom is an organization dedicated to bringing back this freedom. The members include professors, students, entrepreneurs, and many programmers. Prominent members include Marvin Minsky, John McCarthy, Robert S. Boyer (known for fast string search), and Guy L. Steele, Jr. The League advocates the abolition of copyright on interfaces and of software patents. It does not oppose copyright as it was understood until a few years ago--copyright on individual programs. For more information on the patent threats mentioned above, on the League position, and on the arguments behind it, write to email@example.com and ask for the position papers.
}Since "compress" is the de facto standard method for moving big files across }the net cheaply ... } They will }either find a new data compression algorithm or send around uncompressed files }(as soon as they can find the disk space to store the uncompressed tar files!) Of course, sending around uncompressed files is unbelievably idiotic. That WOULD be consistent with the general FSF philosphy, which is to apparently avoid innovation at all costs and restrict their activities to implementing other people's ideas. Plain and simple, there are zillions of compression schemes about. 'compress' is hardly the best of them, although it is quite good. Its major advantage and popularity is more accidental than that it depends on any real technical necessity [a questionably-public-domain implementation 'made the rounds', and it *IS* better than the adaptive Huffman coding compression, which is what was previously being used. And so it kind of 'snuck in'. Few people using compress have any intellectual or technical investment in it: in fact, few have any clue what the algorithm even IS: if it were changed to something else tomorrow almost no one would know or care. /Bernie\
While on a recent visit to Scandinavia, I encountered "Ex, the magazine for Nordic airport passengers". Despite my citizenship not being Nordic :-), I read the July/August issue. An item titled "Costly Debt" reports the sad case of Bjarne Arnhaug, of Vestfossen, Norway. It seems that he bought a lightning rod which for some reason was priced at 3040.62 kr., say about $500 US. But Norway has eliminated its smallest coins, so that the closest you can get to making up that amount in cash is 3040.60. And when he charged the purchase, that was the amount the bank's computer billed him for. Presumably it was the store's computer that, after 6 months, turned over the remaining debt of 0.02 kr. to a collection agency, which then billed Arnhaug for that amount plus 45.00 kr. in fees and interest! Arnhaug's comment: "I find this a curiosity but I wonder if the debt collector has any control system when such things are allowed to happen. Computers are normally a good thing, but they must be used with common sense. ... Maybe I have a [0.02 kr.] coin hidden somewhere to give them if they are really so poor. But I am not going to pay the extra bill." Mark Brader, SoftQuad Inc., Toronto utzoo!sq!msb
I received an anonymous letter today describing a bank problem that seems worthy of mention. However, since the anonymous contributor did not want his/her name mentioned, I shall not mention the identity of the bank either. "At the beginning of August, 1990, the physical plant/maintenance department decided to test the fire-control system in the computer room. The part of the system that shuts off all computer power was supposed to be disconnected first. Computer operations supervision was notified first, and approved of the test. So *at the approved time* (which was *during the day*, and *in the middle of month-end processing*), the system was tested and all computer power was lost! "The computer was down for about a day while the staff worked to restart it. [The bank] missed the deadline for the Federal Reserve's month-end requirements. All teller machines shut down, and all bank branches, too (and probably had to pay the resulting penalty/fine...). "I'll bet they test their automatic fire control/computer shutoff system differently next time." [End of anonymous contribution]
Upon opening our Saturday, August 11th USmail, we were greeted by "one of those" government looking letters from the US Department Of Education. Nervously, we dropped all other USmail, and tore it open. When we opened it, we were greeted with a intimidating letter that we owed ~$700.00 on my wife's Guaranteed Student Loan. I remarked that I'd paid the loan off-in full in 1989 (May 31st, to be exact), and that I'd call them on Monday. Well, I just got off of the phone with them. There's a massive problem caused by malfunctioning "new computer & new software" said the person on the other end of the phone. "let me transfer you to another extension". At that extension, a very harried man answered, I gave my story, wife's SSN, etc., and he said "your wife's account is paid in full — you've got the "Computer Problem" also. He explained that there was a massive problem. Then, he explained that I'd be transferred to abother extension, where I could explain it to a person, who could post "Account Paid". OK, I've now been forwarded to the next person. This person sounds worn out, like serious burnout from his job is happening. Once again I explain, give him my wife's SSN, he checks, and says "Yep, you're wife got it too"!!. I thought I'd try to find out more from this person(who had phones ringing in the background). Iasked him what the problem was, he explained "About 2 weeks ago, a new system was brought online". "The new system seems to have forgotten about 300,000 ++ paid debts". "So that machine a couple of days ago started sending out delinquent notices to all these folks". He went on to explain that the new system had been "disabled", thus rendering it unable to generate any more inaccurate bills!!! I've got to wonder how many folks, upon seeing this notice from the govt, blindly went and paid the bill anyway thinking that they were still not paid off on their loans. Thank God, I got through. They're reposting that my wife's account is paid off ... Steven C. Blair, Network Operations Center, SynOptics Communications Inc., Mountain View, California
I recently received a postcard with the following text: "Due to a human error at our computer service your renewal to VeloNews was started with the wrong issue date." The postcard goes on to apologize and to explain how they will compensate for their error. Nice to see someone who doesn't blame the machines! Geoff Kuenning geoff@ITcorp.com uunet!desint!geoff
How long do you suppose it will take these probationers to forward their calls to cellular phones during "red alerts". [Also noted by bae@auspex.UUCP (Brian Ehrmantraut) and firstname.lastname@example.org (Scott Deerwester)]
The following happened to a relative of mine who obtained a computer for his kids. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty: The new computer worked, but not well: it failed to boot off one of the system disks. There followed a trip back to the store. Other computers in the store showed the same failure. The manufacturer was telephoned and abused. In desperation a virus check was run. It revealed an infection. It transpired that before allowing a computer to leave the store, the salesman checked that the system worked and that the disks could be read. What he did not realise was that a virus had infected the store demonstration computer's hard disk (from a pirate game played by a staff member probably). This (somehow) meant that ALL computers leaving the store carried the virus. Its a pity, really: having conscientious quality control defeated in such a way. Paul.
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