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 9 Issue 07

Wednesday 19 July 1989

Contents

o Re: Gordon Hester on Paul Brodeur (Radiation)
Jan Wolitzky
o Computers consume wine
Hugh Davies
o Mitnick sentence
Rodney Hoffman
o Re: DARPA contract: use AI to select targets during nuclear war
Lee Naish
o Reliance on technology
Jake Livni
o Summer slowdown for RISKS
PGN
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Re: Gordon Hester on Paul Brodeur

<wolit@mhuxd.att.com>
Wed, 19 Jul 89 09:42 EDT
I have some real problems with Gordon Hester's recent attack on Paul Brodeur's
series of articles in The New Yorker on the hazards of electromagnetic
radiation.

Hester writes:

    The use of the term "radiation" by Brodeur is a complete
    misnomer, by the way - he's talking about fields.

Anyone who's taken a high school physics course knows that this is bull --
electromagnetic radiation IS radiation, whether it's ELF 60 Hz radiation from
power lines, or X-rays from nuclear reactions.  The only difference is
wavelength (or frequency, or energy, which are different ways of expressing the
same thing).  Calling them "fields," and avoiding the term "radiation," is an
attempt to mislead the unwary, to put some good "spin" on the story.  Sure, you
can discuss the electric and magnetic fields separately, but it is NOT a
misnomer by any means to refer to the subject as radiation.

Hester's piece was the second I read today from CMU.  The first was a booklet
by M. Granger Morgan, also of the Dept. of Engineering & Public Policy,
entitled, "Electric and Magnetic Fields from 60 Hertz Electric Power:  What do
we know about possible health risks?"  The booklet was mentioned in the July
issue of the IEEE Spectrum, and is for sale by CMU for $3.

The booklet also goes to great pains never to use the word "radiation" in
connection with electric power lines, except to say that it's not like X-rays
or other forms of "ionizing radiation" (quotes in the original).  It also tries
to discount epidemiological data that establishes a correlation between ELF
radiation and cancers and birth defects, by saying that just because a rooster
crows in the morning when the temperature is rising doesn't mean that the
rooster CAUSED the temperature to rise.

There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of the Dept. of Engineering
and Public Policy at CMU to lobby the public that there's nothing to get
excited about here, that scientists don't all agree on the interpretation of
the data and that therefore we should follow a "prudent" course (they use that
word a lot), by which they mean no government regulation at all, just maybe you
should put your electric blanket back on the shelf in the closet.

To understand why an academic institution would go to such lengths to try to
dampen public interest in the health risks of ELF radiation, I had to read the
fine print in the front of the booklet, where I discovered that the research
was supported, and the production costs of the booklet paid for, by the
Electric Power Research Institute, a lobbying arm of the electric power
industry in this country.

Jan Wolitzky, AT&T Bell Labs, Murray Hill, NJ; 201 582-2998; mhuxd!wolit
(Affiliation given for identification purposes only)


Computers consume wine

<"hugh_davies.WGC1RX"@Xerox.COM>
19 Jul 89 00:24:07 PDT (Wednesday)
Quoted, from the 18th July editon of the London "Daily Telegraph".

            Customs 'lose' 35.6 million wine bottles

Customs officials admitted yesterday that their computers had "lost" 35,600,000
bottles of wine, destroying the reliability of figures on how much wine Britons
are drinking.  "We never dreamed the error by Customs could be so enormous,"
said Mr.  Alastair Eadie, chairman of the Wine and Spirit Association, which
queried returns dating back to the start of last year.

It emerges that the computers developed such a liking for wine that they kept
millions of bottles to themselves. Figures were entered correctly, but not
released when needed to compile statistics.  All wines, apart from small
quantities made at home by enthusiasts as a hobby, have to go into bonded
warehouses so duty can be charged on them before they are sold. That is why
records are kept on computer by the tax collectors.

At the start of last year, Customs and Excise updated its computer methods and
something went wrong. "All the information went in but not all of it came out
again," it was stated.  It did not mean that vast quantities of wine escaped
duty. That was correctly paid whenever supplies were drawn from bond. It meant
sales were grossly understated when official returns were issued at the end of
each month.  The trade relies on these figures for a nationwide picture of how
sales are going.

Wine merchants became suspicious as official figures showed sales declining
when shop returns suggested otherwise. And the monthly statistics started to
suffer delays, being issued later and later.  "What's gone wrong?" the
Association asked. Now they have the answer.

The correction means that wine drinking in Britain rose by more than 3% instead
of declining 1% as originally reported by Customs.  "This is splendid news,"
said Mr. Eadie. "And the provisional data for the first quarter of 1989 shows a
rise of nearly 5 and-a-half percent compared with the first quarter of last
year."  Sales of sparkling wines, which includes champagne, alone increased by
22% "Three months is scarcely enough to suggest a trend for 1989 as a whole but
they make a fine start." Mr. Eadie said. "Wine trade prospects have definitely
brightened considerably."


Mitnick sentence (See RISKS 9.6 for background.)

Rodney Hoffman <Hoffman.ElSegundo@Xerox.com>
19 Jul 89 07:36:37 PDT (Wednesday)
Confessed computer hacker Kevin Mitnick was sentenced Tuesday to 1 year in
prison, followed by three years of "supervised release," the first six months
of which will be spent in a residential psychological counseling program,
according to an article by Henry Weinstein in the ' Los Angeles Times' 19 July
1989.  The 7.5 months Mitnick has spent in custody while charges were pending
against him will be credited against his one-year prison sentence.

Prosecutor Asst. U.S. Attorney James R. Asperger said, " We think it's a very
fair sentence.  The sentence shows computer hacking is serious business that
can result in jail time."


Re: DARPA contract: use AI to select targets during nuclear war

Lee Naish <munnari!munmurra.mu.oz.au!lee@uunet.UU.NET>
Mon, 17 Jul 89 21:09:32 EST
>    o Enhanced deterrence through the ability to hit mobile targets.

Unless the Soviets have developed mobile cities this is not deterrence.  This
is "counterforce".  This is "first strike".  One of the RISKS of developing
such technology is that in a potential East-West conflict situation the
opposing forces might implement a "use them or lose them" strategy with respect
to their delivery vehicles (as they would say in the DoD).

    Lee Naish (lee@cs.mu.oz.au)


Reliance on technology

Jake Livni <JAKE%Irving@VX1.GBA.NYU.EDU>
Tue 18 Jul 89 17:52:12-EDT
There is a RISK in *BECOMING DEPENDENT* on technology, instead of
merely using it for efficiency and convenience.  (Imagine not having
ATMs anymore and having to run to the bank before it closes.)

From RISKS-DIGEST 9.4:
> Unspecified hardware problems caused 104 brief failures in a new ...
> An emergency technical crew was FLOWN IN [emphasis mine] from  New Jersey
> and worked all night Monday to correct the problem.

Wouldn't it have been funny if we REALLY NEEDED the TRACON working in order to
fly in to California?  Then the emergency crew might have had to take AMTRAK...

Jake Livni


Summer slowdown for RISKS

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@KL.SRI.COM>
Wed, 19 Jul 89 22:16:55 PDT
I will have very limited time and net access for the next 3.5 weeks (but only a
day or two of vacation).  If this is a period when mishaps and disasters cry
out for RISKS discussions, send in your contributions anyway and I'll get to
them whenever possible.  PGN

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