Telephone service to thousands of MCI Communications Corp. East-Coast customers was disrupted early in the morning of 30 Mar 1994 when a mud slide severed a fiber-optic cable. Calls into and out of the Washington D.C., Maryland, and Richmond VA areas were affected. Custromers in Miami, Atlanta, and St. Petersburg also reported disruptions. [Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 31 Mar 1994]
The 30 March 1994 issue of the San Diego Union contained a Reuters story from Land's End, England. It reads in part: A mechanical sea monster designed to terrify tourists attacked and injured a set designer working on it ... the hydraulic tentacled beast went out of control because of a temporary fault in its computer program and held designer George Thain in its 3-foot toothed jaws for nearly a minute." The man was badly bruised, but otherwise unharmed. The story does not state what corrective action is planned, but the town chairman ``assured visitors they would have nothing to fear from the monster, which will be kept 3 feet away from spectators.'' Will firstname.lastname@example.org [Also heard on NPR by email@example.com (Erann Gat). PGN]
Final report blames Lucas design, Lockheed's procedures for HTTB crash Federal safety officials yesterday blamed an inadequate actuator design by Lucas Aerospace and Lockheed's failure to take account of its shortcomings for the crash last year of Lockheed's one-of-a-kind High Technology Test Bed plane. In its final report on the Feb. 3, 1993, crash at Dobbins AFB, Ga., the National Transportation Safety Board said the plane lost all rudder control during a high-speed taxi test with a simulated No. 1 engine failure when an experimental fly-by-wire control system for the rudder disengaged. "The disengagement was a result of the inadequate design of the rudder's integrated actuator package by its manufacturer," NTSB said. A design feature in the actuator removes hydraulic pressure if the rudder position commanded by the pilot exceeds the actual rudder actuator position for a specified time, and the rudder position trails, according to the report. Lucas Aerospace designed the package, a self-contained unit configured to be a drop-in replacement for the existing Hercules/HTTB dual tandem rudder actuator. The HTTB had recently been modified to evaluate power-by-wire flight control systems developed by Lockheed, along with some 50 suppliers. Lucas' package was demonstrated on two flights in March 1992, which Lockheed, claiming success, noted was the first time the concept had been tested on a manned flight. Still, NTSB said that on at least one occasion the actuator had previously disengaged in flight, but "the company did not conduct a system safety review of the rudder bypass feature and its consequences to all flight regimes, nor of the (ground minimum control speed) test." The fact that neither pilot was trained as a flight test engineer contributed to the accident, the report said. "I do want to emphasize that the seven crew members were extremely qualified for the jobs they were doing," a Lockheed spokesman said in a prepared statement. "We still feel a great sense of loss for these colleagues and we praise their contributions to aviation. Beyond that, we prefer not to comment on the NTSB report, the investigation, or the accident." The highly modified L-100-20 Hercules transport was not programmed to become airborne, NTSB Chairman Carl Vogt said shortly after the accident (DAILY, Feb. 5, 1993, page 200). But an NTSB spokesman told The DAILY yesterday that "it is the analysis of the board that (the pilot) attempted to get the plane airborne at that moment," although to this day nobody knows why the takeoff was attempted. The report noted that the flight test plan specified that engine power be retarded if the rudder became ineffective. The aircraft was at full power but had not reached takeoff speed when it briefly became airborne, clipped a Navy clinic and crashed about 200 yards north of the runway, killing all seven aboard. Lockheed said it was reviewing the NTSB's data, adding that "action will be taken as appropriate."
The 3/30/94 New York Times includes two articles that illustrate the vexatious trade-offs inherent in emerging computer-based systems. Matthew L. Wald, Two technologies join to assist lost drivers, New York Times, 30 March 1994, page A13. This article is about a computer system that Nynex is developing, and that Avis will be testing, in which rental cars are kept in close contact with the rental agency through wireless communication. The technology is sold as a way of protecting drivers such as the tourists who were attacked in Florida; the cars will be equipped with "panic buttons" and the like. The article also says that drivers will be able to call in for directions on wireless phones, with the phone operators having access to digitally encoded GPS information plotted against detailed maps, enough to be able to say "take the next left" remotely. So far so good. But, at least the way the article describes it, the system will also allow the company to track all drivers for all purposes, regardless of whether they are in danger or need directions. A natural suspicion is that this generalized tracking capability is a major part of Avis's actual motives for promoting the systems. Motives aside, the privacy concerns may be serious in any case. How might these concerns be weighed against the advantages? How might the system be designed to obtain the advantages without the disadvantages? The article contains no hint that such questions are being asked, and this is unfortunate. Barnaby J. Feder, Sophisticated software set for exotic financial trades, New York Times, 30 March 1993, pages C1, C5. This article concerns "a marriage made in techno-geek heaven" between computer people and high finance, specifically software for analyzing and administering complex financial transactions based on so-called "derivatives" (see Risks 15.66). One virtue of these systems is that they reduce the possibilities for error, which are pretty serious when these kinds of transactions are done by hand. At the same time, such systems allow derivatives to be traded in much larger volumes, and in much more complex ways. Much popular imagery associates derivatives with speculation, for example high-stakes gambling in commodity futures, but the real issue is almost the opposite. The usual purpose of these transactions is to engineer little islands of stability and predictability within the swirling chaos of global financial markets. Indeed the metaphor of "engineering" is frequently used -- the software discussed in the article is referred to as "financial CAD (computer-aided design)". The potential trouble comes when massive financial edifices are engineered badly. When a steel-and-concrete building falls down, the earth is there to catch it and a limited number of people get killed. But that's not how financial engineering works — one collapsing structure has the capacity to take others down with it (again, see Risks 15.66). Obviously it's in their interest to be careful, but let's hope they know what they're doing. Phil Agre, UCSD
>From the Reuter newswire via Executive News Service on CompuServe (GO ENS): CANBERRA, March 24 (Reuter) - White-collar crime is the most costly crime in Australia, totalling as much as Australian $13.7 billion ($9.8 million) a year, according to a report on Australia's law enforcement agencies. Key points: o Committee included "representatives from the Australian Federal Police, the National Crime Authority, the Attorney-General's Department, the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister's office." o Most white-collar crime is fraud. o Fraud "imposes the greatest economic cost on the Australian community of all forms of major and organised crime." o Annual cost of fraud A$6.9-A$13.7 billion (U$4.9-$9.8 billion) (about 2/3 of cost of all crime in Australia, estimated at A$11-20 billion) Michel E. Kabay, Director of Education, National Computer Security Assn
>From the Associated Press newswire via Executive News Service on CompuServe (GO ENS): Telephone Sex ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (AP, 25 March 1994) — People calling a hot line for victims of domestic violence got a phone sex line instead when authorities didn't notice that the agency operating the hot line had closed. Police habitually distribute cards with numbers of support services to victims. Seems that the hot line was reassigned to a number advertising various aural sex <g> services. No one bothered to check the accuracy of the card for two years. [Consequence of poor quality assurance.] Michel E. Kabay, Ph.D., Director of Education, National Computer Security Assn
>From the Associated Press newswire via Executive News Service on CompuServe (GO ENS): [presumably 30 Mar 1994] MARY BETH SHERIDAN, AP Business Writer, reports on new developments in electronic money. NEW YORK (AP) — Visa International is developing a do-it-all credit card that could pay for highway tolls, telephone calls or chocolate bars from vending machines. The company said Tuesday it is joining with an international group of nine other financial companies to develop the product, called the Electronic Purse." Key points: o Consortium working on standards for interoperability. o Plastic smartcard with embedded processor. o Transfer money from their accounts to the smartcard. perhaps at automated teller machines. o Trials planned for late 1995. o Must equip phones, vending machines, stores with I/O devices. o Current costs $3-$8/card; expect drop to $1 in high volume. Michel E. Kabay, Director of Education, National Computer Security Assn
My son (11) confronted a dial phone this past weekend and couldn't figure out how to use it. He tried pressing the "buttons" but nothing happened. We finally had to show him the concept of turning the dial. It took a little practice to get it smooth. I guess we've reached a milestone. What if he were confronted by the "anti-drug" pay phones with dials and had to dial 911? He'd be stuck. In designing UI's we make assumptions about cultural norms or icons. Most people see the phone dial as a very obvious interface. It isn't, it's just something most of us learned at an early enough age to assume it is a part of the natural world.
It is the bane of my life that spell-checkers offer the following suggestions for my name: goof, gaffe and guff Geoff Cole firstname.lastname@example.org
The DECMate II spell checker offered NAUSEA for NASA. Singularly appropriate some days. Mary Shafer, SR-71 Chief Engineer, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA email@example.com
I have read with interest the RISKs associated with spelling checkers and especially one in which a UNIX machine failed to recognize the word UNIX. A similar thing happened with a spelling checker for the Apple Macintosh which refused to recognize "Laserwriter" (Apple's printer) and instead suggested "Laserjet" (HPs printer). -Scott firstname.lastname@example.org
NeXT is in the NeXT spell checker, but NeXTSTEP is not.
We have had various past discussions on creative disclaimers. Someone very well known to me received the following, but I have anonymized everything to protect whomever. You have our permission to use [...] as an NTP server. Please do not configure more than two of your systems to communicate with [...]. Please understand that [...] makes absolutely no guarantees about the reliability, availability, accuracy, or security of this service. Also, please note that this service is likely to disappear fairly soon, as it is based on a satellite that is about to fall out of the sky.
Next time you get called into the bosses office, spare a thought for Juan Pablo Davila, who WON'T be winning "Employee of the Month" at Codelco. An extract from an article in THE ECONOMIST (p.66.Feb 12, 1994): SANTIAGO: Juan Pablo Davila claims that last September he made a mistake. He punched several 'sell' figures into his computer as 'buy', and vice-versa. Mr Davila was a fairly junior executive at Codelco, Chile's mammoth state-owned copper company. But he handled all Codelco's minerals futures contracts. By the time he noticed his slip he had already lost $40m. So he kept on dealing; when his credit lines finally ran out in January, his losses had reached $207m. Mr Davila's mistakes pose troubling questions for Codelco. Why did nobody notice the losses? Did his superiors fraudulently extend Mr Davila's credit lines? Can any money be recovered? On February 5th Codelco's president resigned, admitting that the losses exposed a failure of internal controls... MARTIN HOWARD, HONG KONG 31/3/93 MARTIN@411.uptown.com Tel: (852) 527 2123 Unit E, 9 Floor, China Overseas Building 139 Hennessy Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
A colleague informs me that, in conjunction with graduate courses he's taking at a local university, he was assigned an account on one of the University's computer systems. He was appalled to find out that his assigned computer ID was his social security number. When he asked whether he could change the computer account ID, he was told, "No. That's your account number." The system in question is on the Internet and apparently has a Usenet newsgroup feed, as well. I won't bother to list the risks. Brian Clapper Telebase Systems Inc., Wayne, PA
EFF SUMMARY PUBLIC INTEREST SUMMIT: SHAPING THE NATIONAL INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURE Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington, DC, MARCH 29, 1994 OPENING REMARKS Welcoming remarks were delivered by Andrew Blau from the Benton Foundation, who expressed gratitude to the program sponsors and planning committee. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown delivered pre-taped opening remarks on video, because he was in Russia at the time of the conference. Secretary Brown, who chairs the Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF), restated the Administration's commitment to universal service, emphasizing that no one should be left standing on the side of the road. PUBLIC INTEREST SUMMIT PANELS DELIVERING THE GOODS: MEETING PUBLIC NEEDS? Moderator: V. Lane Rawlins, President, Memphis State University C. Everett Koop, Senior Scholar, Koop Institute David Lytel, White House Office of Science and Technology Jean Armour Polly, NY State Research and Education Network Anthony Riddle, Chair, Alliance for Community Media Connie Stout, Director, Texas Education Network Patricia Waak, National Audubon Society This panel discussed the ways in which the National Information Infrastructure (NII) can improve education, health care, and the environment by enhancing communication and decisionmaking within communities, as well as within state, national, and international boundaries. There was strong consensus on the panel and from the floor that teaching people to use the tools is as important as building the tools. Choosing the right regulatory model is a difficult issue, but David Lytel said that the Clinton Administration is committed to making sure that citizens can be information producers, as well as information consumers. He stated that the challenge is to make sure that the NII becomes more than just a large pipe for television reruns and movies, home shopping, electronic games, and gambling. The architecture of the NII must guarantee that needs outside the commercial marketplace, including cultural and other public benefits, are met. A LINK INTO EVERY HOME: HOW, WHAT, AND WHEN? Moderator: Allen Hammond, Director, Communications Media Center, NY Law School Ron Binz, Director, Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel Mark Cooper, Director of Research, Consumer Federation of America Deborah Kaplan, Vice President, World Institute on Disability Robert Larson, President/General Manager, WTVS-Detroit Michael Nelson, White House Office of Science and Technology Andrew J. Schwartzman, Executive Director, Media Access Project The panel explored the challenges in applying the concept of universal service to the NII to ensure access for everyone. The panelists discussed universal service funding mechanisms, the role of government in supporting a diversity of voices, and the need for public interest advocacy before the Federal Communications Commission. Mike Nelson said that the Administration's model for the NII is the Internet, and its goals for universal service are to provide subsidies to enable open access for as many people as possible, to adopt pro-competitive policies, to require nondiscriminatory prices, to prohibit network providers from controlling information, and to enhance interoperability and interconnection requirements. Addressing the difference between the common carriage regime for telephone companies and the market/consumer model for the cable industry, Andrew Schwartzman argued for the common carriage model instead of the cable model, because the cable model is passive and connotes people receiving only limited services such as video-on-demand and home shopping. Common carriage would help NII users to be speakers as well as listeners, and producers as well as consumers. Ron Binz offered the phrase "Information Superhypeway" and cautioned that a fully competitive telecommunications industry is not right around the corner. The key decision, according to Binz, is whether to rely on taxing voice communications service to fund the NII. Binz also characterized as "industry propaganda" the view that subsidies should be provided to enable access for as many people as possible. Mark Cooper challenged the widely cited statistic that 93% of the population enjoys telephone service. Instead, he stated that the 7% "unsolution" is really closer to 30%, which includes individuals with disabilities and low incomes. He argued that those who cannot afford access to the NII will be assured access if everyone who can afford to use the NII is required to pay for it. Deborah Kaplan took the discussion beyond the issue of funding to the issue of access. She argued that the 7% of the population that is underserved is a product of the market model. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and policy input from low-income people is essential. She raised the concern that access to the NII for disabled individuals may be uniquely difficult, especially if the NII architecture is modeled on voice-based telephone service. Schwartzman emphasized the First Amendment dimension of universal service, including artistic speech, and the need to protect against any form of censorship. Bob Larson explained how public broadcasting's role in promoting local service responsibilities and public service duties is a model for what the NII can do to marshall local resources. The NII could augment public broadcasting's efforts aimed at reducing violence and improving the well-being of young people. SPEECH BY VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE The Vice President was introduced by Peter Goldmark, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, who emphasized the historical role of the NII in charting the future of democracy. Vice President Gore stated the Administration's commitment to wiring every classroom, clinic, and library in the United States to the NII within the next five years. Every person will benefit from the NII. However, while we already have the technology, we do not yet have the infrastructure. The National Telecommunication and Information Administration in the Department of Commerce recently announced the availability of funding for some of the aspects of the NII and already have received 3,500 inquiries. Reforming telecommunications law is essential. Universal service means lower prices for everyone. Open access means receiving and sending information across the NII. The future will look like the Internet if we make sure the NII is open and accessible like the personal computer. Networked communities are consistent with our democratic form of government and distinguish it from communism and fascism. We need to increase access to government information to enhance community decisionmaking. We are increasing the availability of government information. SeniorNet is providing services to senior citizens. The Environmental Protection Agency's toxics release inventory is empowering citizens to ameliorate environmental hazards in their communities. HUD has begun to put information about fair housing and fair lending on the net. We can empower our representative democracy. People closest to the problems are the smartest about the solutions. BUILDING COMMUNITIES AND THE ECONOMY Moderator: Linda Tarr-Whelan, President and Exec. Dir., Center for Policy Alternatives Morton Bahr, President, Communications Workers of America Cushing Dolbeare, President, Low-Income Housing Coalition Thomas Kalil, National Economic Council for Science and Technology Anthony Pharr, Counsel, Office of Communication, United Church of Christ Diana Roose, Research Director, National Association of Working Women Randy Ross, Vice President, American Indian Telecommunications After brief introductory statements, the panelists discussed what the NII means for generating jobs and economic benefits. The goal is to use the NII to create better, high wage jobs. Development of information policy must make sure that the NII is a tool for community planning. Telecommuting will have an impact on the national economy by enabling people to live and work anywhere, including in other countries. We should use the technology that exists now in order to do the kind of planning needed to make sure the new technologies produce advances in our national economy. MAKING DEMOCRACY WORK Moderator: Sonia Jarvis, Exec. Dir., National Coalition for Black Voter Participation Brian Banks, Policy Research Action Group Jim Butler, Director, AARP/VOTE, American Association of Retired Persons Mitchell Kapor, Chair, Electronic Frontier Foundation Sally Katzen, Chair, Information Policy Committee, IITF Ralph Nader, Center for the Study of Responsive Law Nadine Strossen, ACLU This panel addressed whether the NII can support increased civic participation, free speech and assembly, and privacy. Brian Banks stressed the NII's ability to bring about a reconfiguration of hierarchies; enhanced citizen participation in the decision making process would be the most fundamental change. Jim Butler revisited the NII's potential for community development, educational opportunity, and access to government databases. Mitchell Kapor focused on the potential for achieving the Jeffersonian principles of individual liberty and decentralization. The Internet has enormous democratic potential, but it is not easy to use. The emphasis should be on the Internet and interactivity, not on the Information Superhighway and Hollywood reruns. Everyone should become hands-on, start learning and interacting, and ask for help when needed. The networks should be easy to use, but we cannot wait for a national handout. Sally Katzen stressed the goal of economic sustainable development. The government should not be solely responsible for the nation's information systems. The toxics release inventory is a model that has worked well. Ralph Nader, who still uses a manual Underwood typewriter, questioned what all this new technology will do about such problems as violence in the schools. Will it just put more people into the Office of Management and Budget and lead to mega-billion dollar overselling of unused software? While there needs to be a window on government databases, there is not reason for them to be overprivatized or overmonopolized. Educational efforts, like liberal arts-type courses, could motivate people to participate. Nadine Strossen argued that the common carriage model is important to ensure universal access--but security and privacy are equally important. We have to make certain that there are no censorial controls over content. All of us must lobby for privacy protection — and we must fight the clipper chip. Stanton McCandlish * email@example.com * Electronic Frontier Found. OnlineActivist "In a Time/CNN poll of 1,000 Americans conducted last week by Yankelovich Partners, two-thirds said it was more important to protect the privacy of phone calls than to preserve the ability of police to conduct wiretaps. When informed about the Clipper Chip, 80% said they opposed it." - Philip Elmer-Dewitt, "Who Should Keep the Keys", TIME, Mar. 14 1994
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