The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

Volume 2 Issue 14

Monday, 24 Feb 1986


o Automotive Problems Intensify
Peter G. Neumann
o A hard rain is gonna fall (around March 23)
Martin J. Moore
o Misdirected modems
Alan Silverstein
o Witch hunts, or Where does the buck stop?
M.L. Brown
o Spells and Spirits
Steve Berlin
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Automotive Problems Intensify

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@SRI-CSL.ARPA>
Mon 24 Feb 86 11:20:54-PST
The National Highway Trafic Safety Administration has expanded its
investigation into the sudden acceleration of automobiles to include
vehicles made by six manufacturers.  The expanded inquiry involves 1.4
milion mid-size and full-size cars made by Ford Motor Co (1984-85
model years), 100,000 Audit model 5000 cars (1984-85), 350,000 280Z and
380Z Nissan cars (1980-85), 400,000 Alliance and Encore cars made for
American Motors-Renault (1983-85), and 140,000 Toyota Cressida luxury
cars (1981-84).  [See today's NY Times, SF Chron, etc.]

We have reported here previously on effects of radio-frequency interference
on automobile microprocessors (e.g., RISK-1.23 and 24).  This sounds like
lots more of the same.  Is the same chip-set involved, or is this a new
kind of common-mode fault across different chip manufacturers?


A hard rain is gonna fall (around March 23)

"MARTIN J. MOORE" <mooremj@eglin-vax>
0 0 00:00:00 CDT
According to "Das Bild", a West German newspaper, a Soviet spy satellite has
lost its steering capability and will impact between March 21 and March 25.
Cosmos 1714, launched December 28, is presumably powered by an atomic power
plant.  The Soviets have not (as far as I know) commented on this yet.

misdirected modems

Mon, 24 Feb 86 11:12:54 pst
Twice recently, computers at our company (Hewlett-Packard) have been the
embarrassing causes of telephonic annoyance.  Phone numbers entered
incorrectly in uucp L.sys files, due to typos or misunderstandings, have
led to systems repeatedly calling private telephones in Fort Collins.
The recipients of such calls, understandably annoyed, have had to
backtrack through Mountain Bell to discover the cause.

I bet this happens a lot more than anyone realizes or admits.

Alan Silverstein, Hewlett-Packard Fort Collins Systems Division, Colorado
{ihnp4 | hplabs}!hpfcla!ajs, 303-226-3800 x3053, N 40 31'31" W 105 00'43"

Witch hunts, or Where does the buck stop?

Fri, 21 Feb 86 08:38:21 est
I note with interest that we have yet to hear from anyone who performed
system safety analyses on the solid rocket booster system.  Where are
the system safety engineers who analyzed this design?

Spells and Spirits

Fri 21 Feb 86 11:31:55-EST
The comment about spells and spirits in the RISKS 2.13 reminded me of a set
of papers from Princeton that readers of this forum might be interested in.

First, the references:

  "The Persistent Paradox of Psychic Phenomena: An Engineering Perspective"
    Robert G. Jahn, Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol 70, No. 2, Feb. 1982

  "Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research"
    R.G. Jahn, B.J. Dunne, and R.D. Nelson, technical note PEAR 84002

  "An REG Experiment with Large Data Base Capability, III: Operator
    Related Anamolies"
    R.D. Nelson, B.J. Dunne, R.G. Jahn, technical note PEAR 84003

All three papers describe experiments in which humans attempt to influence
the distribution of random events using 'psychic' means. According to the
authors, the results indicate that there ARE deviations that range in
likelihood from 10^-4 to 10^-7.  I will not attempt to summarize any
further, interested readers should contact the authors directly at:

    Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research
    School of Engineering/ Applied Science
    Princeton University
    Princeton, NJ  08544

I would like to type in the abstracts, however, the latter two papers
explicitly "withhold the right to reprint or quotation".

The abstract for the IEEE paper follows:

Although a variety of so-called psychic phenomena have attracted man's
attention throughout recorded history, organized scholarly effort to
comprehed such effects is just one century old, and systematic academic
research roughly half that age.  Over recent years, a sizeable spectrum of
evidence has been brought forth from reputable laboratories in several
disciplines to suggest that at times himan consciousness can acquire
information inaccessible by any known physical mechanism (ESP), and can
influence the behavior of physical systems or processes (PK), but even the
most rigorous and sophisticated of these studies display a characteristic
dilemma: The experimental results are rarely replicable in the strict
scientific sense, but the anomalous yields are well beyond chance
expectations and a number of common features thread through the broad range
of reported effects.  Various attempts at theoretical modeling have so far
shown little functional value in explicating experimental results, but have
served to stimulate fundamental re-examination of the role of consciousness
in the determination of physical reality.  Further careful study of this
formidable field seems justified, but only within the context of very well
conceived and technically impeccable experiments of large data-base
capability, with disciplined attention to the pertinent aesthetic factors,
and with more constructive involvement of the critical community.

Disclaimer:  I don't currently hold an opinion on the validity of the
experiments described in these papers.  I do, however, agree that there
are phenomena which 'modern science' has no satisfactory explanation.

                        -- Steve

    [I don't expect that RISKS will go lurching off in this direction.
     But, nevertheless, there is certainly a wide collection of issues
     related to risks to the public in the use of computer systems.
     An intriguing bit of science fiction along that line is the old novel
     by Ingo Swann, Star Fires.  PGN]

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