The RISKS Digest
Volume 7 Issue 60

Monday, 3rd October 1988

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

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

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o Diving Computers
Brian Randell
o The Perils of PCs in Public
Dave Horsfall
o A New Portal for the Offensive — FAX ATTACKS
Scott Rose
o Is Uncle Sam selling your name? — Maybe not.
Mark Brader
o Re: Is UMASS selling your name to mailing lists?
Andrew Klossner
o Write your credit card number on a business reply card?
David Sherman
o Killer terminals
Michael Fischbein
Bill Witts
both via Mark Brader from comp.misc
o This train didn't need a fireman
earl via Chuck Weinstock
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Diving Computers

Brian Randell <>
Sun, 2 Oct 88 13:42:13 +0100
Though there has I recall been discussion in RISKS before about diving
computers, I have not before seen any publicity about problems in the UK. Here
is an article from the Sunday Times for 2 October 1988, reprinted in its
entirety, without permission.

Brian Randell

         [See RISKS-6.51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 60, 63 for previous discussion!  PGN]

                          by Richard Ellis

Officials of Britain's biggest sub-acqua club are promoting computers for
divers that some experts have condemned as potentially dangerous, and which
could lead to divers getting compression sickness, or "the bends".

Two senior officials, including the chairman, of the 35,000 strong British
Sub-Acqua club have financial links with a company that distributes one brand
of the computers in Britain. Diving computers have been branded as potentially
unsafe by Royal Navy diving experts, who say that they may be contributing to a
rise in the number of divers suffering from the bends.

Sub-acqua club officials have been advised of the navy's concern, and of the
worries of one branch where two divers using computers suffered the beds, but
the officials have continued to advise members that the computers are safe,
without declaring their financial interests.

The wrist-strap computers are designed to tell divers how long they can stay
underwater and indicate how long they need to stop while ascending to avoid the
bends. The traditional method is for divers to use a printed table supplied by
the club.

The Institute for Naval Medecine, in Gosport, Hampshire, says that the cases
of decompression sickness it has dealt with have doubled in the past year,
during which time computers have become popular in Britain.

It says the computer software may be based on unsafe data, that it does not
take into account such factors as age, fitness, sex and exertion, and therefore
gives divers a false sense of security. Doctors at the institute last week
called for extensive safety trials.

Surgeon Captain Ramsay Pearson, the institute's head of undersea medicine,
said 34 of 80 cases of decompression sickness dealt with there this year
involved the use of computers. "People are relying absolutely on the computers,
and they are allowing people to do things we think to be unsafe," he said.

In August, the Brighton branch of the club wrote to senior club officials after
two of its members needed treatment for the bends. Both had been wearing an
Aladin dive computer, one of five brands available in Britain. The branch asked
why no warning about the potential dangers of computers had been issued by the
national headquarters.

The branch received a strongly worded six-page letter from Mike Holbrook,
chairman of the club, dismissing the complaint as "mischief-making". He claimed
there was no evidence of any problem with the Aladin, saying the data on which
it was based was "tried and tested".

What the letter did not reveal is that Holbrook's full-time job is as a diving
consultant for Spirotechnique (UK) Ltd, one of two importers and distributors
of the Swiss-made Aladin computer in Britain.

The managing director of Spirotechnique (UK), a subsidiary of a French firm,
is Mike Busuttili, another leading member of the club, who is its former
national diving officer and now a member of its decompression working party.

Around 5,000 of Britain's 50,000 divers now use computers. The Aladin, at a
relatively cheap (pounds)199, has been one of the most popular brands.

Holbrook last week denied that there was anything improper about his twin
roles. He said: "What's wrong? Can I not be objective? I think I can." He
claimed club figures showed there had not been a rise in the number of divers
getting the bends, and that investigations into cases of the bends where
computers had been blamed had established other factors were responsible.

But Mickey Miller, chairman of the Brighton branch, said many of the 230 divers
in his branch were worried, "Until this summer we had had just three cases of
decompression sickness since we were formed in 1953. Now we have doubled

One of the three recent cases was Miller himself, though he was not using a
computer. The two other Brighton men who got the bends - bubbles of gas that
form in the blood and can cause paralysis or death - were using the Aladin.

They suffered slight numbness and recovered quickly. But a scan later showed
two lesions on the brain of one of them, Peter van der Boon, a businessman.
They have not affected his health.

Van der Boon, 37, a diver for 18 years, blames the computer for his attack. "It
said I was in the clear, but it was not the case obviously. If there had been
the slightest whisper from the national office about any problems, then I would
not have got the bends. Now I only use the computer as a backup."

The Swiss firm Uwatec, which makes the Aladin, yesterday rejected allegations
the gadget may be unsafe.

Ernst Voellm, the development engineer who helped produce Aladin, said 50,000
computers had been sold worldwide since 1983, and just a "handful" of cases of
divers developing decompression sickness with them had come to their attention.

The Perils of PCs in Public

<Dave Horsfall <<>
Fri, 30 Sep 88 12:08:23 est
From the "Rumour Central" column in PC Week, Sep 15:

``...  On Thursday August 25, I was attempting to make a connection at
  Adelaide airport when a blackout occurred.  Emergency lighting only,
  no PA system, no Arrivals and Departure screens, no seat allocation
  computer, and so on.  When normality was finally restored, what should
  appear on the Australian Airlines monitor but a cute little picture of
  a hand holding a 3.5in disk with the familiar label 'Amiga KickStart'!
  Nobody did KickStart the thing for the next half-hour before I boarded
  the plane.  For all I know, the passengers are still seeing this ghostly
  hand instead of Arrivals and Departures.  It seems that Australian
  Airlines' mainframe is not up to the job of displaying a list of
  Arrivals and Departures details in pretty colours.''

Although the intent of the article was about how PCs are being used in
places where one expects to find a mainframe, I couldn't help but be
amused by the RISKs present - no backup supply for the display computer,
no auto-boot sequence, the possible harm to public relations when no-one
realised the Amiga needed to be booted, etc.

Dave Horsfall (VK2KFU),  Alcatel-STC Australia,,  ...munnari!!dave
    PCs haven't changed computing history - merely repeated it

A New Portal for the Offensive — FAX ATTACKS

Scott Rose <>
Fri, 30 Sep 88 20:15:05 -0500
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a hilarious (at least, at first...) 
front page article about the rapidly growing practice of sending advertisements
to FAX machines.  Besides being offensive, this technique is also reportedly
very effective, because people tend to read their FAX traffic very carefully.
So effective that an outfit in NYC is reported to be rewarding those who
provide a list of 100 new FAX numbers with a new Sony Walkperson.

As personal FAX machines start becoming commonplace, there will surely be an
epidemic of obscene transmissions.  Unfortunately, a picture can be worth ten
thousand words.

Is Uncle Sam selling your name? — Maybe not.

Mark Brader <>
Sun, 2 Oct 88 14:53:02 EDT
I forwarded from misc.consumers to Risks 7.59 an article reading in part:

> > For the last two weeks I've been swamped with pre-approved credit cards 
> > and loans, at least three offers every day from different banks. The 
> > strange part is the they are all addressed to my legal name which is only 
> > known by Uncle Sam and his red tape offices.

There have since been several follow-up postings recounting similar stories,
and several followup posting pointing out that information "only known by
Uncle Sam" is often a matter of public record if you know where to look.  So
while some data may be being distributed illicitly, in other cases, Freedom
of Information laws are responsible for junk mail.

Mark Brader, SoftQuad Inc., Toronto, utzoo!sq!msb,
    The lawgiver, of all beings, most owes the law allegiance.
    He of all men should behave as though the law compelled him.
    But it is the universal weakness of mankind that what we are
    given to administer we presently imagine we own.  — H.G. Wells

Re: Is UMASS selling your name to mailing lists?

Andrew Klossner <>
Mon, 3 Oct 88 12:19:10 PDT
    "They said the school did not sell mailing lists, and refused
    to believe there was any connection between the insurance
    mailing and the UMass database.  "Maybe someone went through
    the phone book," they suggested.  Sheesh."

Sheesh yourself.  My first summer job (as a teenager) was to do just
that — manually key the UCSB phone book into a junk mailing list.

  -=- Andrew Klossner   (decvax!tektronix!tekecs!andrew)       [UUCP]
                        (   [ARPA]
Organization: Tektronix, Wilsonville, Oregon

write your credit card number on a business reply card?

David Sherman <dave@lsuc.UUCP>
29 Sep 88 08:49:25 EDT (Thu)
The pre-registration card for the Canadian Computer Show, to be held in Toronto
in November, invites you to send in the card with a cheque, or simply fill in
your credit card number and expiry date and sign the card.  It's got a business
reply (no postage required) address on the back, so you just have to drop it in
the mail.


The computer angle is that it's for the country's largest COMPUTER SHOW! These
people should know better.

David Sherman, The Law Society of Upper Canada    attcan!lsuc!

Killer terminals

Mark Brader <>
Thu, 29 Sep 88 19:12:57 EDT
Michael Fischbein ( writes:  [in comp.misc]

  I worked designing microprocessor based fire and security
  alarm systems for skyscrapers, back when microprocessors were a
  brand new idea.  Well, we had development systems from two
  vendors and only one terminal.  I came up with a cable to hook
  the ASR-33 up to the other development system so we didn't have to wait
  for that vendor to get a terminal to us.  I carefully checked the
  connections, plugged the cable into the terminal and put a trusty VOM
  on the connections to make sure the signals were right.

  OK. Both off, connect the ASR-33 to the computer.  Turn on the
  computer.  Turn on the teletype. POP! Hissss... Yank both cords out
  of the power strip.  Notice blue smoke coming out of the computer.
  Go back and measure the signals on the data connector with
  an O-scope.  Gee, there's a 40 volt AC square wave superimposed on the
  TTL signal.....

  We tell the vendor of system 1 (that supplied the teletype) what's
  wrong with the teletype and ask for a replacement.  No, that's the way
  it is supposed to work.  Yep, sure it is.  That's OK, they'll install it
  on their development system.

  They plug the teletype to their machine when it arrives.  POP!
  Hisss...  They take it to their local distribution center, the
  service engineer checks it out thoroughly, ``repairs'' it, hooks it up
  to one of their systems.  POP! Hisss....  Two systems later, he admits
  mystification and ships the killer teletype back to the factory in
  California.  Last I heard, the teletype had vaporized three systems
  back at the factory and they couldn't figure out what was wrong.


  Michael Fischbein       
  These are my opinions and not necessarily official views of any

Killer terminals

Mark Brader <>
Thu, 29 Sep 88 19:12:57 EDT
Bill Witts ( writes:     [in comp.misc]

  I used Televideo 910 terminals as an undergrad, and when you logged off,
  the system cleared your screen. Once, I typed LOGOFF and then realised
  I needed the data currently on the screen, so I hit CTRL-S hard just
  as the first carriage returns came through to scroll the screen.  And
  the terminal just stopped - no logoff message, nothing - and nothing
  that I did made any difference.  It was definitely the terminal that
  went, as I tried plugging different terminals into the same socket,
  and power-off didn't help.  I couldn't believe this, so I replicated the
  situation and killed another terminal.

  Later on, I mentioned this to a friend who didn't believe it either, so
  he promptly killed one and demoed it to someone else.  Within an hour,
  half of the college terminals were extinct which was amazingly popular
  as it was the middle of the project season, and about a week later
  the dead terminals were taken away and were replaced after a further week.

            ... Bill

  Bill Witts, CS Dept.  UCL, London, Errrp

This train didn't need a fireman

Chuck Weinstock <weinstoc@SEI.CMU.EDU>
Wed, 28 Sep 88 10:27:40 EDT
The following was found on the rec.railroad netnews.  For background,
the Great Northern Railroad, now a part of the Burlington Northern,
has a long tunnel in northern Washington State (I forget how long, but
I seem to remember something like 8 miles.)  In the days of steam
engines this presented a breathing problem so the railroad electrified
its operations through the tunnel, and would exchange electric
locomotives for steam at each end of the electrified district.

Chuck Weinstock

> From: earl@phred.UUCP (choo choo earl)
> Subject: Re: WHAT IF the Great Northern ?
> Keywords: anecdote
> Date: 28 Sep 88 00:38:39 GMT
> Reply-To: earl@phred.UUCP (choo choo earl)
> Summary:It's Electric
> My dad related a story about the Great Northern electrification. He said that
> the Forest Service had its central office for the fire lookout telephones
> in Skykomish, the change point to electric. It seems that the ringers in the
> phones were 20Hz, and the trains were 25Hz. When a train pulled out headed
> for the tunnel, ALL of the phones in all of the fire lookouts would ring
> continuously until the train was over the hump.
> Just something I thought people might like
> earl

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