I have had several high-level inquiries lately concerning census database privacy/confidentiality/integrity, and integrity of the analysis used to govern redistricting -- as well as more on the confidentiality and integrity of computer systems used in elections. There are several risks worth noting here. * Early knowledge by one party of census data could be used to plan appropriate gerrymandering and campaign strategies. * Manipulation of census data (in gathering, computer data entry, and storage) could influence redistricting, at both state and federal levels. One of my recent visitors was ostensibly interested in protecting the redistricting process from tampering (through legislation, oversight, etc.), but I had a nagging feeling that there might also conceivably have been some interest in how that process could be subverted. 1992 is not too far away, so it seems appropriate to raise these problems now.
> NASA officials ... buried the computer several layers underneath other > equipment. Apparently that tradition has continued... NASA has a considerable tradition of implicitly assuming that the only failures that can happen are the ones in the book. For example, it was pure luck that the Apollo 13 astronauts survived, because that particular type of accident -- Service Module systems completely dead -- had been classed as unsurvivable and no preparations had been made for it. Using the Lunar Module's life-support systems for most of a mission required using Command Module lithium-hydroxide canisters in the LM... and the two were not mechanically compatible, and no adapter was provided (one was improvised). Using the LM computer to navigate home was possible only because one or two people at MIT had loudly insisted that the CM and LM computers should be identical. Nobody had ever thought about how to separate CM from LM without the SM maneuvering rockets, but improvisation saved the day again. All the emergency-planning emphasis had been on dealing with *foreseeable* problems; very little attention had been given to building versatility into the system so that *unforeseen* difficulties could be handled. One might speculate that this is a "characteristic error" of organizations that try hard to plan for all possible failures. Henry Spencer at U of Toronto Zoology
Yesterday, I received a check from my mother for a substantial amount of money. I took said check to the bank and deposited it, and then asked how long it would be held. I expected an answer of "five days," since the check was from another state. Much to my surprise, the teller said that there would be no hold at all on the check. You see, it was printed out by Mon's ImageWriter, and hence was a computer-generated check (courtesy of "Dollars and Sense" for the Mac SE, as I recall). The bank's policy was to not put a hold on *any* computer-generated checks. The RISKS of such a policy are mind-boggling. One who desires to commit larceny on a large scale need only acquire an ImageWriter, a Mac, some program that prints out checks, and a supply of checks that can be fed into the printer. Art Werschulz
First, as a followup to the article about the movie audio problem reported in Risks 8.68: My understanding of FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations) is that during landings and takeoffs, everything that could conceivably interfere with the safe, rapid evacuation of the A/C has to be stowed. It wasn't noted what sort of A/C the writer was flying in, but, unless it was one of the newer widebodies with ALL of the move screens embedded in the overhead or in some other fashion set up so as to NOT block ANY aisles, lights, etc, then the crew was almost certainly in violation of several FARs. In any case, I think the hazards presented by the continuation of the movie into the landing (people tied to thier seats with headsets, not paying attention to crew instructions, lighting not set full on, headsets preventing people from hearing crew instructions, etc) would FAR outweigh the potential anger from folks who wanted to watch the whole movie. I would suggest that the writer contact the airline, and investigate the possibility of reporting the violation to the FAA. Clay Jackson, Microsoft
I own a HeathKit ID5001 Weather Computer, which is essentially a set of basic weather instrumentation (Pressure, Temp, Humidity, Wind Speed/Dir) controlled by a Z80C. The Z80's programming resides in an EPROM in the unit. One of the "features" of this unit is that it is battery backed, and will continue to record data during a power outage. It also has memories, which contain things like High and Low Temps, Highest Wind Gust, and other goodies. Heath is pitching this unit very hard at Aviation users, and makes a very clear point of noting in their ads and documentation that the unit correctly computes average wind direction/velocity (in compliance with FARs) over a 1 minute interval. Since the unit will potentially be used to provide pilot briefings at small (uncontrolled) airports, I think it's important that the company be forthcoming with any "bug" fixes and/or corrections to their code. Unfortunately, that has not been my experience: A few weeks ago, I called Heath Technical Support (on a different matter) and asked "by the way, I also have a 5001, have their been any ROM changes since I bought the unit several years ago (I bought one of the first production units)?" The answer was an unqualified "No, there have been no changes since the unit went into production". Last week, I ordered and received the "Technical Manual" for the unit. On about page 5, taking up a whole page, was a listing of the 4 different RELEASED versions of the ROM, and the checksums (there was also a listing for a 5th ROM version, with the notation "Never Shipped"). On the next page was a listing of "Operational Characteristics", one of which was a note that read: "On battery backed units from the first production run, there was a problem such that after a power failure, the true high wind gust reading is replaced by a random value". It went on to note that this problem was corrected by a later release of the ROM. To their credit, when I called Heath and reported that I had the problem, they agreed to send my a ROM, at no charge. But, I could NOT get the person I spoke to to tell me what ELSE had changed. Clay Jackson, Microsoft
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