Operational notices for the US passenger rail service Amtrak are now being posted to rec.railroad, and I spotted this item in one of them: Termination of Train 352(19) at Detroit, MI 1045pm, ET train 352(19) diesel 359, CC 9649, 3 cars, arrived Detroit on time. Train was terminated due to no engineer was available to handle train to Toledo due to a Crew Management System failure. Regular man had called in at 245pm, ET, and advised was having automobile trouble and would not make train and marked off. Crew Management advised was having computer failure but engineer had marked off prior to the computer system outage. Investigation to be scheduled. Passengers were handled via alternate transportation to Toledo. Equipment was deadheaded to Toledo when relief engineer was called. Delay: 352(19) term. passengers delayed 1'05" Notations: MI = Michigan, ET = Eastern Time, 352(19) = train number 352 on the 19th of the month, engineer = driver, 1'05" = 1 hour 5 minutes. Mark Brader SoftQuad Inc., Toronto email@example.com [Presumably, the relief engineer was not a grateful deadhead. PGN]
A New Zealand newspaper, "Waikato Times", for Sept. 2, 1994, reports a coroner's court finding that a bank robber in Sydney (Australia) died after being trapped for more than 15 minutes by a 250-kg steel security screen, which rose to the ceiling and trapped him by the throat. The screen had been activated by staff in July 1991, whilst the robber was crawling across the counter. The robber, Steven Kovacs (age 37), died of asphyxiation. The risk? When designing control systems for steel bullet-proof security screens that actuate in less than half a second, consider what happens if someone is in the way! firstname.lastname@example.org (Paul Gillingwater) :: Home Office in Vienna, Austria [I suppose this would be more computer-related if it were triggered automagically, but it is still certainly RISKful. PGN]
> ... we have no such thing as 'human engineering classes', 'interface design > classes', or 'software management' classes. ... I hope you will be pleased to note that here at Carnegie Mellon I am teaching just such a course. It's called Dependable System Design, and it's mission is to teach students how to design/implement/evaluate dependable systems so that we see fewer problems of the kind recently described in RISKS. Excerpts from the course description follow: System dependability has been a major concern since the dawn of the electronic computer age. Dependability, taken in its broadest context, includes metrics such as reliability, availability, testability, maintainability, usability, mean time to failure, etc. ... The goal of dependable system design is to ensure that the system continues to deliver its specified service to the client even in the face of error on the part of the user, the system or the environment. ... User interfaces, while just as critical for dependability as reliable hardware and software, have received little attention from the dependability and fault-tolerance community. Because the philosophy of dependable system design crosses the boundaries of hardware, software and user interfaces, a major portion (but not all) of the course will focus on the most recently critical aspect of dependable systems: user interfaces and user-system communication. ... Upon completion of this course, the student should be able to: acquire system requirements, develop system specifications embodied in one or more dependability metrics; critique an initial design; identify weak portions of a design; suggest a variety of alternatives to improve dependability; use contemporary techniques to evaluate, compare and contrast alternative designs, conduct system-evaluation experiments, and produce balanced, cost-effective system designs. ... Topics include: Theory and practice of traditional dependability; robust benchmarks and fault injection; dependable user interfaces; experimental design; concepts of reliability and validity; system evaluation techniques; requirements acquisition; human error and reliability - causes, effects and mitigation; system monitoring, diagnosis and data analysis; task analysis. Dependability Motto: Anyone can build something that works when it works. But it's how it works when it doesn't work that counts. Roy Maxion Computer Science Dept. Carnegie Mellon University [And WHO'S counting? PGN]
Don's tale of woe reminded me of my colleague who was assigned the task of standardizing keyboards across IBM. And they wonder why we security people cannot decide on safe defaults. William Hugh Murray, New Canaan, Connecticut [DeFault is easy to assign. But don't Pin the Tale on the Don Quixote. BTW, Don Norman says he has NEVER had so many responses to any of his previous RISKS submissions as he had on the power-switch posting. He must have pushed a lot of your buttons. PGN]
>... electrocauterizer had apparently corrupted the software of her micro- >processor-controlled pacemaker ... I believe the risk here is pretty obvious. Yes, it is obvious that the woman might be in danger whenever she is near loud music. I hope they don't really use AUDIO tones. A less deadly risk is assuming that experienced RISKS readers can only find one risk. Scot E. Wilcoxon email@example.com +1 612-936-0118
A recent post described a TRW effort to use technical means of defeating cellphone fraud, and was described as voice print recognition. FYI, the actual method stores the electronic signature of the telephone instrument transmitter. A cloned phone will have a different transmitter signature and calls from that phone will be blocked. This system has been described in some detail in Communications Week, and several other trade journals (that's where *I* get my info :) Bill Hensley, TRW Oklahoma City Engineering Office firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com 405.732.3433 (v) 405.737.2043 (f)
>... Since "New Password" and "Re-Enter New Password" were both >empty (and thus matched each other), pressing OK set her password to the >null string without her realizing what had happened. This is extraordinarily stupid on Microsoft's part. I have only been programming for about 6 months now (and only with Visual Basic), but one of my fundamental rules is to NOT allow the user to leave a dialog box until he or she has supplied all required information (or, in the case of something ambiguous, like an empty password, at least ASK the person before moving on). If anyone finds the programmer responsible for that mistake, he should be taken out and shot (and then dug up and shot again).
In RISKS-16.48, V. Michael Bove Jr. writes about a post-office forwarding problem. We had a similar problem once. My wife once ran a small business called Engineering Services Group. When we moved, she forwarded mail to our new address. One of the mailing lists she was on was at Hewlett-Packard (HP). HP got the change of address notice, and (apparently) maniacally changed *every* occurrence of Engineering Services Group in their list to our new address. As you might imagine, several companies have an ESG as an internal group — something like this: H. Dilbert Gweep Graphic Doodler Engineering Services Group Habeas Corp. Anytown, OH, 00666 All 25 of these people suddenly stopped getting their 6-color HP spreads on 90-pound stock. All 25 copies suddenly started arriving in our mailbox with disconcerting regularity, each one with a different name. The hard part was getting HP to turn the bloody thing off. The 800 numbers printed on the literature were useless. I finally found a person named on the masthead of some "magazine", and called her directly. After several cross-country phone calls, she eventually managed to reach someone who could (and did) make it stop. The risks? Besides the danger of herniated homeowners and mail carriers, there are 25 people out there who are no longer on a mailing list they might have actually wanted to be on. I doubt HP kept their old addresses lying around. Imagine if her company had been named "Engineering Department", or worse yet, "Craig Shergold". Kent (For the urban-legend-impaired, Craig Shergold is the now-grown English boy who no longer wishes to receive a world-record number of postcards.) Kent Quirk 7 MacLeod Lane Acton, MA 01720 508-263-8344 firstname.lastname@example.org
}... If only we could get the story to be spread and repeated as well as the }Craig Shergold plea and the gold star tattoo urban legend! If you could, it might make a difference to the small business people, but might not make a difference to an individual. Back in the "good old days", hard drives were small enough that backup to floppies was feasible on a regular basis, and it was therefore cheap. Today, I have a 1GB external disk on my Mac that I use for all my work, including lots of transitory data that I don't care about, and I backup the things I do care about to my internal 230MB drive. If my computer is stolen, I will certainly lose everything. Am I naive? Stubborn? Stupid? Well, possibly. But my motivation in this case is cost. Unlike IBM-compatible PCs, sizeable removable media backup systems for Macintoshes are extremely costly. It is *much* cheaper to simply keep buying bigger and bigger hard drives, and use the older smaller one for backup and the newer larger (and faster) one for main use. I am choosing not to "pay for full coverage insurance" for cost reasons; I am protected if my main hard disk dies an untimely death, but not if all of my computer equipment is stolen. Consider it a RISK of one technology far outstripping another technology on which the first is dependent. Non-removable media cost per MB, speed, and even reliability have far out- paced that of removeable media. Curtis Jackson email@example.com
At what point is it worth a lawyer's time to spam the net? A certain size of audience must be reached, and easily. Public mailing lists risk presenting an easy way to spam. Many lists accept posts from non-subscribers. One need only know that the list exists and where to send contributions. It would be a simple task to poll ten thousand LISTSERVs for a list of lists. Having compiled such a listing, one could then send one's advertisement into several hundreds of thousands of mailboxes. A more pointless exercise, and one which would cause even greater havoc, is to set up a LISTSERV list on one's own system which would link every list to every other list. It takes no imagination at all to see how quickly this would create a logjam.
A few days ago, I was in the local Sears store (Cary, N.C.). I was purchasing a few items and decided to charge them against a Visa card. The clerk dutifully rang in the charges. While she was doing that, I noticed that a small digitizing tablet was attached to the register. I had a feeling I new what was coming next... She pulled the receipt out of the register, slid it under a hold-down on the tablet, and instructed me to sign within the little plastic guide. I refused, stating that I would gladly sign the receipt, but not on the tablet. Apparently, I was the first to refuse :-) She had to look up a magic phone number, ominously entitled "Loss Prevention", to determine what to do. The person on the other end OK'd my signing without having my signature digitized. Some might argue that my refusal was meaningless because Sears could always scan my signature from the receipt. Maybe so, but nothing says I have to make it easy for them. Small encroachments eventually lead to large losses. Steve Holzworth SAS/Macintosh Development Team SAS Institute Cary, N.C. firstname.lastname@example.org
The assertion has been made that perhaps calling number ID would be more acceptable if something other than numbers were sent. In fact, that is already part of the CNID spec (calling name delivery), though it is not implemented in all CNID systems. In most implementations I've seen *both* name and number are delivered--which rather kills the idea of delivering "who is calling" info rather than "where are they calling from" info. There isn't much enthusiasm among the commercial end-users for name-only delivery. The reason is obvious--you can't collect phone numbers for return sales calls when you're just handed a name. While the telcos have touted CNID as being for individuals, the real focus has always been on commercial use as the real money maker. At this point, the CNID controversy boils down to the seemingly simple question, "Since it is mandated that everyone must have per-call blocking available, why can't per-line blocking be made available?" Once again, I think the reason is obvious. Most people aren't on PBX systems that are easily programmed to dial the three digit blocking code on each call, nor will most people want to spend money for add-on gadgets to do this. So the hope of the telcos is that most people will forget or won't bother to use the per-call code most of the time. If per-line blocking were available (and surveys show most subscribers would want it--people want to know who's calling, but don't want other people to always know *their* number!) then CNID's commercial value would be significantly lowered. --Lauren--
Andrew Klossner objects to the proposal to assign each phone a second unique number solely for CNID; This would be accessible only through an 800 number. Klossner claims this would be impractical because "Almost all area codes in North America are more than half populated. In order to double the number of phone numbers, most area codes would have to be split." This does not present a major obstacle, however. The pseudo-number would not have to be a valid phone number. [This was also pointed out in a subsequent message by Scott Preece himself. PGN] Such a number could fit within the existing CNID transmission system if it utilized the same number of digits as a valid US number (10 digits), but there are no valid 10-digit numbers beginning with 0 or 1 (20% of the numberspace), no valid 10-digit numbers with 0 or 1 as the fourth digit (20% of the numberspace, overlooking overlap with the foregoing), no valid 10-digit numbers with 11 as the second and third digits (reserved for 911, 411, and other service codes) (1% of the numberspace), no valid numbers with 11 as the fifth and sixth digits (same reason) (1% of the numberspace), no valid numbers with 00 as the fifth and sixth digits (to avoid confusion with 800, 900, etc.) (1%), no valid numbers with 200, 300, 400, or 600 as the leading digits, etc. Over 40% of the numberspace is reserved, and the remaining 60% is far from fully occupied — only recently have a handful of area codes with 0 or 1 in the middle been assigned (20% of the numberspace remains relatively vacant), and likewise phone numbers with a 1 or 0 as the fifth digit (i.e., in the middle of the NXX "exchange" group) have been assigned only in major urban areas. It is very unlikely that anywhere near 50% of the numberspace is actually assigned — keep in mind that there are 10 billion unique numbers available in a ten digit numberspace. Clearly, then, it would be technically possible for the foreseeable future to assign each telephone number in the North American Numbering Plan a unique second number. This number would not be usable as a telephone number, but it would only work through an "800" number, which would decode it. Moreover, there is no reason why such a non-dialable number should be uniquely assigned to each number. The telephone companies could use the non-dialable subset of 10-digit numbers as a pool of codes for one-time use in each area code. The real dialable number is actually transmitted between central offices, but is not transmitted to the end user. If the "privacy" bit is toggled on, the central office could store the real number and transmit a non-dialable number from a one-time pad, and it would only be mapped to the real number for a limited time, such as 48 hours, if keyed into the "800" number associated with the same telephone company and dialed from the number that was called (i.e., from the phone that received the non-dialable number). There is no reason for a permanent association between the non-dialable number and the real number; in fact, that would defeat the purpose of CNID and unpublished numbers. Calling the pseudonumber, through the 800 gateway, would be a one-time deal. There's no major technical obstacle to that. Michael D. Sullivan | INTERNET E-MAIL TO: |also: email@example.com | Washington, D.C. | firstname.lastname@example.org | email@example.com | [Various astute messages from firstname.lastname@example.org (Paul T. Keener), "john (j.m.) clarke" <email@example.com>, George Swan <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and others tend to make similar observations, and are omitted. Please forgive me if I have oversimplified the points made by the omitted plethora of messages. I think you would all be overwhelmed if I included everything. PGN]
|> [Don Norman] suggests that other information should be sent instead of a |> telephone number. ... This is currently being tested by British Telecom in Edinburgh. Subscribers have been given the option of submitting their own identifying string (16 characters) instead of the default which is their name as it appears in the phone book. Tim Duncan, AI Applications Institute, Univ. of Edinburgh, 80 South Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1HN, Scotland, UK Tel: +44 31 650 2747 Email: email@example.com
We're about to get calling number ID in the UK, too - from British Telecommunication (BT) at least. It is being promoted on the benefits to the subscriber, e.g. "This service has already been available in North America for some time, where it has had a major impact on malicious and fraudulent calls.". The fact that lines for which information has been previously withheld (ex-directory numbers) will send information is hard to spot in the literature! The features listed in DIGEST 16.46 appear to have implemented, but not well publicised - I get the distinct feeling that the service will be of most benefit to companies who want to create lists of 'phone numbers! We will be getting - 1. Per-line blocking - FOC, just call and ask for it. 2. Per-line unblocking - the default unless you change it. 3. Per-call blocking - dial 141 before the number you want. 4. Per-call unblocking - dial 1470 before the number you want. 1. and 2. need a phone call but it costs nothing. 3. is advertised in the literature. BUT 4. took some discovering! I want to block outgoing ID by default and allow it only on certain calls (e.g. friends, certainly not businesses who will record it, sell the lists etc.) so per-line blocking with per-call unblocking is the answer. This option is not mentioned in the literature, I phoned the further information freefone number to be told that what I wanted is not possible. Rather than give up here, as I guess most people would, I asked them to record my requirement so that if enough other people also wanted it they might think about providing it. They said they'd get someone to call me back which they did the next day. A very pleasant call from Edinburgh from someone who knew rather more about the system (it had been on trial in Scotland before being introduced elsewhere). No problem, he said, we already have what you require, just have the line blocked and put 1470 in front of calls you want to unblock - I'll put the line block on for you. The next day we had confirmation, by mail, that it had been done. So, it looks as though we will be getting a decent service (it goes live on November 5th) - but only if you know what you want and work a little to get the information!
I see a big RISK in "ignore all phone numbers I don't recognize". At least once every 6 - 12 months, I get an emergency call at my house from a friend or family member. The call usually comes from a pay phone, but has originated at a business or a residential line as well. By blocking "unknown numbers", I would have missed calls with the following content in the past year. - "best friend severly injured in a vehicle accident, come immediately" - "we broke down coming back from a late nite concert, it's 0230 and we're stuck in the middle of a really bad section of town with no transportation. can you come get us?" - "my flight was canceled, so I caught one that arrives 3 hours earlier and at a different airport. come get me before I'm bored to death!" And, most importantly to *me*: - "Hi, I just got your resume from a friend of yours, and we'd like you to come in for an interview." I ended up getting a great job from that one... I don't see what is signifcantly gained by CNID that isn't gained by using an answering machine to screen calls. I do see what can be lost by ignoring calls from numbers one does not recognize, however. J. Eric Townsend firstname.lastname@example.org USA 415.335.7463 aka email@example.com work: firstname.lastname@example.org AT&T PersonaLink: A5803643645@attpls.net
British Telecom is starting a CNID (Caller Number Identification) in the UK. If you do nothing, your number will be sent out every time you make a call. But if you dial 1471 (I think — anyway, some 4 digit code) before dialling the number you want to call, then your number will not be sent out. Or you can ask for your number _never_ to be sent out. But in this case it is _not_ possible to dial, say, 1472 to have your number sent out occasionally. So if you don't particularly want to tell life insurance companies your phone number, and if you don't trust yourself not to forget to dial 1741 double-bucky, you are put in the situation where you can never send out your number, which will usually not matter, until the day that it does matter. I feel that BT are not serving the needs of their domestic customers here: CNID is great if someone you know is getting dirty phone calls, but otherwise its main function is to benefit commercial customers. But there is nothing we can do about it. Michael Jampel
It would not take the database miners of the world long to build a cross reference between user selected call number ids and the real phone numbers. To keep off the list, you would have to never let a company associate your real phone number with your id. This would be hard to do if you use credit cards, mail order outfits, etc. Also, given the penchant for phone companies to charge a few bucks for every trivial service change, like changing an id, the cross reference would tend to remain up to date. Although, I should add that if people conspire to choose the same id, like PRIVACY, we can give the marketers a real headache. — Mark
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