The RISKS Digest
Volume 9 Issue 37

Sunday, 29th October 1989

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

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

Please try the URL privacy information feature enabled by clicking the flashlight icon above. This will reveal two icons after each link the body of the digest. The shield takes you to a breakdown of Terms of Service for the site - however only a small number of sites are covered at the moment. The flashlight take you to an analysis of the various trackers etc. that the linked site delivers. Please let the website maintainer know if you find this useful or not. As a RISKS reader, you will probably not be surprised by what is revealed…


o Low-tech wins the day in airliner mishap
Glenn Story
o Hi-tech loses in cars
Alayne McGregor
o Re: Hardware failure mimics hackers
Sukumar Rathnam
o Re: Black Friday in Boston and manual systems
D. W. James
o Re: Human chess supremacy at risk?
Andrew Klossner
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Low-tech wins the day in airliner mishap

27 Oct 89 11:50:00 -0700
The following is copied from our internal "humor" distribution list, condensed
from Flight International:

A DC9 with 104 people aboard made an emergency landing in Colorado last week.
The aircraft, Northwest flight 109 from Minneapolis to Phoenix diverted to
Monte Vista municipal airport after losing both generators and the auxilary
power unit in mid-air.

The aircraft landed safely on the 1,830m runway, with no injuries, although it
overan the runway by about 300m. The airline says the captain was forced to use
an axe to open the forward cabin door, after the cabin began to fill with
smoke.  After evacuating the passengers, the captain then had to walk to the
terminal and use a payphone to summon help.

Glenn Story, Tandem Computers

Hi-tech loses in cars

Alayne McGregor <alayne@gandalf.UUCP>
Thu, 26 Oct 89 00:45:40 EDT
        Car gadgets overwhelm, expert says (by Mary Gooderham)
             (Toronto Globe and Mail, Sept. 14, 1989)

Car drivers are being overwhelmed with technology that could endanger lives, a
conference was told yesterday.  Car telephones, facsimile machines, computers
and navigation systems that can even allow drivers to check the menus of
restaurants are providing more information than people can handle, Alison
Smiley, an expert in the field of human factors, told the Vehicle Navigation
and Information Systems conference in Toronto.  "High technology hasn't added
anything to safety and efficiency, it's detracted from it," said Ms. Smiley,
head of Human Factors North Inc., a Toronto consulting firm.  "The potential
for providing people with information in the car is limitless," she said,
adding that the capability exists to give drivers tips on the closest Chinese
restaurant and its menu. "You don't want people to do some things while they're

Since the early 1980s, the automobile and the computer have become increasingly
integrated. Today, cars are being equipped with "head-up displays" (HUD) that
project speed readouts before a driver's eyes while he looks through the
windshield and video screens that display maps that tell drivers where they are
and help them get where they are going.

The navigation systems, which would eventually be linked to "smart" systems to
give drivers information about current road conditions, are already being
produced by a California company, Etak Inc.  Etak manufactures a device for
keeping track of car movements: a map is displayed on a video screen and
updated frequently as the car moves, showing the driver where he is and giving
him the ability to get information about approaching features.

Ms. Smiley said three areas of limitations must be considered when designing
such products: physical problems, a driver's perception of the instruments, and
cognitive problems relating to how the information is processed.  She said the
main problem with communication and information in the car and HUD readout is
that it distracts the driver.

One delegate told the conference that navigation displays require more, not
fewer skills than a traditional printed city map, especially if the driver is
unfamiliar with the area.

Acceptance of the systems may also be limited by its cost — $1,500 to
$3,000 (U.S.)

  [This reminds me of a) a recent accident report in which a woman was killed:
  she didn't see a turn because she was putting on mascara, and b) the fact that
  my father would not even have a radio in the family car because he felt it
  stole a driver's attention away from *driving*.
                                                         Alayne McGregor   ]

Re: Hardware failure mimics hackers (RISKS-9.35)

Sukumar Rathnam <>
Sun, 29 Oct 89 11:35:54 -0600
Continuing with the problems of the FPA on a VAX 11/750....  I once used a
machine which had a FPA attached. Unfortunately the building the machine was in
had an air-conditioner that was subject to FREQUENT breakdowns.

What used to happen was that if the temperature fell below a critical value the
FPA would shut itself off. The rest of the machine did not know that the FPA
was off. As a result any program that used the FPA would behave weirdly (in my
case a graphics program IGL/PLOT10) but programs which did not worked just fine.

This was discovered when programs known to be correct would arbitrarily crash
when the temperature was high but work fine when the ac was ok.

The last thing you expect is a temperature sensitive behavior for programs.
Have people encountered similar problems or has the bug been fixed?

Sukumar Rathnam, MSIS Dept., CBA 5.202, The University Of Texas, Austin TX 78712

Re: Black Friday in Boston and manual systems (RISKS-9.34)

D. W. James <>
25 Oct 89 20:36:58 GMT
    In RISKS Vol 9 Issue 34 reported that the
Boston Stock Exchange had little problem during the 10/13 stock crash, since
the exchange had the capability to return to (faster) manual transaction
handling.  For me, this is believable.

    I worked for several years in hotel work, auditing and front desk work
mainly.  At a couple of sites I worked with computerized desks and experienced
the advantages and disadvantages of them.  The biggest single disadvantage was
at checkin, where being forced to rely on the computer to find rooms slowed
check-in down to as little as one fifth the capacity I could handle manually.
Eventually the manual system was reinstalled as a backup, and fast check-in
speeds were again available...  At the cost of more work, as the check-in
infomation still had to be typed into the computer.

    So, while I can easily believe that the BSE could handle manually more
transactions than they could by computer, I'm also sure that there was also
some overtime that evening/night as the computers were brought up to date...


Re: Human chess supremacy at risk?

Andrew Klossner <>
Wed, 25 Oct 89 12:51:16 PDT
There's an excellent article on the Deep Thought - Kasparov chess match in the
24.Oct.89 issue of the Wall Street Journal (page A16).  It analyzes the
development of the two games and the strategies involved.  Apparently Kasparov
studied Deep Thought's games and developed strategies to blow the computer out
of the water, such as diverging early from established play patterns to get out
of the computer's "book".
                                            -=- Andrew Klossner

Please report problems with the web pages to the maintainer