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 4 Issue 40

Wednesday, 14 January 1987


o Phone Cards
Brian Randell
o It's No Joke!! (Microwave oven bakes 3 yrs of PC data)
Lindsay Marshall
o Automation bottoms out
o Amtrak train crash with Conrail freight locomotive — more
o Re: Cellular risks
Robert Frankston
o Re: Ask not for whom the chimes tinkle
Tom Perrine via Kurt Sauer
o Re: Engineering ethics
o Repetitive Strain Injury and VDTs
Mark Jackson
o Safety Officers and "Oversight"
Henry Spencer
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Phone Cards

Brian Randell <>
Wed, 14 Jan 87 16:12:23 gmt

     At PGN's implied request, I have tracked down, and talked to the Sunday
Post reporter who wrote the original story on the phone card fraud.  These
notes of my telephone conversation with him are being sent to RISKS with his
explicit permission, though he asked that his name not be included.

     The Sunday Post was indeed asked by BT to publish a retraction, but
have refused to do, though they have published a letter from BT expressing
(BT's) full confidence in the phone card system.  Based on previous
experiences - "we often get complaints at our stories" - the reporter
regards the fact that BT did not push for a retraction, but instead merely
settled for publication of their letter, as tantamount to an acceptance of
the truth of the original story.

     He claims to be still sure that the fraud is possible, and to have seen
it being worked, at several different phones, by the soldiers, in the
presence of several other witnesses.  He does admit that he was himself later
unable to demonstrate the fraud successfully to some BT engineers who
travelled to Glasgow to meet him.  He however has since talked to one of the
soldiers, who assures him that the fraud is still working, but will not
reveal to the reporter, leave alone BT, where he (the reporter) went wrong
in trying to duplicate the method of fraud.  (The other soldier - who did not
want the original story published, because it would interfere with "free"
international calls - is now refusing to talk to the reporter.)  Moreover the
reporter claims to have received a phone call from a BT engineer at Watford,
confirming the practicability of the fraud.

Brian Randell - Computing Laboratory, University of Newcastle upon Tyne

  ARPA  :
  UUCP  : <UK>!ukc!cheviot!brian

It's No Joke!! (Microwave oven bakes 3 yrs of PC data)

"Lindsay F. Marshall" <>
Tue, 13 Jan 87 09:58:03 gmt
There was a report on the wireless this morning that a well-known comedian
lost 3 years worth of material stored on his home computer when his wife
turned on the microwave oven!! Sadly, I have no more information than this
as the papers have not arrived in Newcastle because of the weather......

     [Continued: Wed, 14 Jan 87 09:09:14 gmt]

The most detailed information about the incident I can find says that the 
comedian's son was playing with the machine in the kitchen when his mother 
turned on the microwave oven. The computer's "memory" was instantly wiped.  
The suggested reason is (of course) leakage from the microwave oven.  The 
wife's comment? "I told him he shouldn't use the computer in the kitchen..."

Automation bottoms out

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@CSL.SRI.COM>
Wed 14 Jan 87 10:27:58-PST
``As for the `partially shielded street urinals' of Paris ... they have
been superseded by sexually neutral, fully enclosed, fully automated,
coin-access two-stall elliptical masonry structures.... A few years
ago, a child was killed in one of them by the automated toilet seat.''

(Letter to the editor of the New York Times from Louis Marck, excerpted
[exactly as shown] in the SF Chron, 13 Jan 87, p. 10)

Amtrak train crash with Conrail freight locomotive — more

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@CSL.SRI.COM>
Wed 14 Jan 87 10:34:53-PST
Tests conducted (three times) indicated that the freight locomotive should
have been able to stop in time, and that equipment was all in working order.
Thus human error was the most likely cause of the accident that killed 15
(13 Jan 87, SF Chron, p. 8, from the Washington Post).  (Earlier reports
suggested that three separate safety mechanisms would have had to fail at 
the same time [for it to have been other than human error].)

Re: Cellular risks

Tue, 13 Jan 87 00:01 EST
I picked up a book entitled "Introducing cellular communications:  The New
Mobile Telephone System" from TAB Books.  The copyright is 1984.  From the
look of it, it seemed to be a lightweight book.  Skimming it, it seems
instead to go into details of message formats, setting up head ends and
other detailed stuff.  I presume it makes it much easier to figure out how
to hack the system.

      [This is an old hack.  As noted here before, the idea(l) is to
       make the system design strong enough that all the documentation
       (except maybe the vulnerability analyses) can be freely handed
       out.  Of course, the reality is far from that ideal.  PGN]

Re: Ask not for whom the chimes tinkle

Sat, 10 Jan 87 09:01:37 PST
In article <8701082340.AA17468@ucbvax.Berkeley.EDU> Perrine@LOGICON.ARPA
(Tom Perrine) wrote:


  Well the chimes sure tinkled for us!  On Thursday 8 Jan (1987 A.D.) at
  about 1400 PST we queried DCN1 as we booted our PWB UNIX system and
  received a 1986 date stamp!  (Gee Mr. Peabody, set the Wayback machine
  for 1987!)

  Further investigation shows that DCN6 and GW.UMICH.EDU are also stuck
  in a time warp.  UMD1 seems to be the only un-nostalgic clock.
  (FORD1 was not reachable.)

  For now, everyone better keep one eye on the Timex, and another on the
  packets, and another on the Seiko!

  Tom Perrine,   Logicon - OSD

Re: Engineering ethics

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@CSL.SRI.COM>
Wed 14 Jan 87 19:22:11-PST
Sorry.  It is time to blow the whistle on this rather narrowly
focussed discussion.  Sorry to those who thought they had more to say
on the subject.  (I tacked a comment on the Ford Pinto case onto Andy
Freeman's note in RISKS-3.65 — some of you will remember — on how
short-sighted dollar-values on lives can be.)  PGN

Repetitive Strain Injury and VDTs

14 Jan 87 10:49:09 EST (Wednesday)
The January/February issue of the /Columbia Journalism Review/ contains
an article entitled "A Newsroom Hazard Called RSI" about repetitive
strain injury associated with workstation use.  It is much too lengthy
to reproduce, but attached below are some excerpts.

"[San Diego /Tribune/ reporter John] Furey is a victim of repetitive
strain injury (RSI), a term that embraces a number of painful and often
disabling afflictions linked to continuous bending, twisting, and
flexing of the hands, arms, or shoulders.  Thousands of these injuries,
which include tendonitis, are found among meat-cutters, garment workers,
and other workers whose jobs require constant, repeated hand movements.
But repetitive strain injuries are also showing up among office workers,
who may strike a computer keyboard up to 45,000 times an hour.  And
automated newspaper offices are no exception:  to the dismay of all
involved, disabling cases of RSI have recently cropped up in newspapers
across the country."

. . . .

"Her doctor, John Adams, a Los Angeles orthopedist, compared her case of
tendonitis to 'four tennis elbows,' [/Los Angeles Times/ reporter
Penelope] McMillan recalls.  'He said he'd never seen anything like it.'
Returning to work after a two-and-a-half-month leave, McMillan found
that anti-inflammatory drugs had no effect on the recurrent 'wild' pain
in her arms."

. . . .

"Steven Sauter, a job-stress specialist with the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health, believes that VDT-related injuries are
relatively uncommon.  But, he warns, 'when these problems do occur, they
can be serious and require medical attention.'

"One problem, Sauter notes, is that many VDT jobs 'have little built-in
variety.'  In a job-health manual he wrote while teaching at the
University of Wisconsin, Sauter explained that VDT operators often make
thousands of keystrokes an hour, 'repeating nearly identical motions at
a high rate of speed.'  While typing, each stroke requires muscles to
contract and tendons to move, and the tendons can become irritated as
they slide around bones and against tissues.  In such cases, he warns,
the wear and tear can cause painful inflammation of the tendons, which
will not heal without rest."

. . . .

"Indeed, a question that puzzles many editors is why some employees who
had no problems when they used typewriters are developing hand and arm
injuries now that they are using VDTs.  One answer, say occupational
health specialists, is that, although some typists do develop such
injuries, VDT users may be at greater risk because they can make many
more hand movements per hour.  In addition, using a typewriter calls for
more varied hand movements and breaks in routine, such as inserting

"Another factor that may contribute to injuries is that some reporters
are simply using their VDTs /more/ than they used typewriters.  'At the
/Times/, we used to do anything to avoid using our clunky old manual
Olympics,' [/Los Angeles Times/ reporter Laurie] Becklund says.  'We'd
take notes by hand--anything.  When we got VDTs, we were thrilled.  They
were so convenient that we began using them for everything.'"

. . . .

"For Becklund, who receives physical therapy for her hands three times a
week, the worst is not knowing when her hands will be healed.  'It's
hard not to feel depressed, especially because the doctors won't tell
you that you're ever going to get over it.  They won't promise to fix
it.  Some articles I've read say that if your hands hurt when you aren't
doing an activity, then you've got it for life.'  She paused.  'I choose
not to believe that.'"


In a sidebar, the following tips to reduce the risk of RSI are
attributed to a fact-sheet published by the Australian Journalists'
Association and a handout distributed by the Australian Council of Trade

- Adjust the work station so you can assume a comfortable keying

- Try to use a soft touch when keying and avoid over-stretching the

- Avoid resting your wrists on the keyboard or edge of the desk when

- Don't bend your hands up at the wrists.

- Try to take frequent, short rest breaks, and every half hour or so,
  do some stretching.

- Don't use painkilling drugs in order to keep working.

- Immediately report symptoms of RSI (persistent pain, tenderness,
  tingling, or numbness) and seek medical advice.

Safety Officers and "Oversight"

Mon, 12 Jan 87 19:38:11 pst
In the February Analog (one of the science-fiction magazines), there is
an interesting and partially relevant non-fiction article by Harry Stine.
The relevant part is his discussion of certain shuttle safety issues.
He was one of the people saying all along that NASA had problems, and in
particular he wrote (under his penname "Lee Correy") the SF novel "Shuttle
Down", which exposed how utterly unprepared NASA was for an emergency
landing by a Vandenberg-launched shuttle.  (The only viable landing spot
is Easter Island, where landing would have been difficult and dangerous
and recovery of the orbiter would have been a monumental problem, since
no thought had been given to the issue.)  He notes:

  "There's talk of a 'safety oversight committee' to review each space
  shuttle mission before it's launched.  But isn't that exactly what NASA
  had when the Challenger blew up?

  "Safety committees don't work in the crunch.  One person finally has to
  decide go-no-go and accept the responsibility which cannot and must not
  be spread among a committee, where no single person is accountable if
  something goes wrong..."

He goes on to cite his credentials, including spending some years as Range
Safety Officer at White Sands, and being chairman of the group that wrote
the standard DoD range-safety rules for rocket ranges.

  "There have been some gut-wrenching occurrences.  One night I told a
  well known and politically powerful upper-air scientist [that winds were
  too high and] the unguided Aerobee would impact off the range.  Therefore,
  I told him he should cancel ... He said he was Project Scientist, he
  needed the data, the delay would result in a budget over-run, and
  therefore he was going to launch.  I replied that I would push the destruct
  button the instant the rocket cleared the launch tower.  He launched.  I
  pushed the button.  The commanding officer called me into his office the
  next morning and asked me what happened; I told him.  Nothing more was
  said because the Word of the Safety Officer is as the Word of God.  There
  is no tribunal that can over-rule or second-guess a Safety Officer.
  There can be no retribution against the Safety Officer.  He calls the
  shots.  If he calls too many unsafe ones, the range commander ... transfers
  him to some other position.

  "That decades-old policy works very well.  People can be easily trained
  to use it and be unafraid of invoking it when the need arises.  ...

  "A safety oversight committee cannot prevent another space shuttle
  accident.  It can either delay the program so badly that it won't make
  any difference in the long run, or it will mean that nothing gets launched.
  ... If the automotive industry had a government safety oversight committee
  riding herd on it, we'd all be walking."

The rest of the article discusses other issues, like how to get the space
program in general moving again.  One other point he does raise is that
NASA tends to be asked for its opinion on the viability and reliability
of private launch-vehicle schemes, and as you would expect, its assessments
of potential competitors tend to be rather negative...

                Henry Spencer @ U of Toronto Zoology

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