In the Netherlands it is legal to exploit gambling machines if these are approved by a government-operated test institution. There is currently an approved machine in use that has a rather severe problem in its firmware. This fault can be exploited by malicious players. I will not reveal which machine type has the bug, there may even be several models that have it. The trick is as follows: Use the machine until you have won a substantial price (call this price 1). Pull the power plug BEFORE the machine has started to pay out. Re-insert the power plug. The machine will self-test and pay out the pending price 1. On the next price that you win (no matter how small) the machine pays the amount of price 1. The use of this trick can empty the coin buffer of the machine within one hour. It appears that a system that was designed to protect the players from financial losses in case of a power failure introduced a risk. Makes me wonder what measures are built in ATMs to protect customers in case of a power failure during a transaction... P. Knoppers - knop@dutesta.UUCP Delft Univ. of Technology, Faculty of Electrical Engineering, The Netherlands.
According to today's (Saturday, September 10, 1988) New York Times, the Soviets lost their Phobos I spacecraft after it tumbled in orbit and the solar cells lost power. The tumbling was caused when a ground controller gave it an improper command. This has to one of the most expensive system mistakes ever. Gary Kremen, Stanford Graduate School of Business [Several people reported on radio items that attributed the problem to a console operator's single keystroke in error, which it was speculated might have triggered the Mars probe's self-destruct signal. After the command was sent, contact with the probe was lost completely. PGN]
A recent contributor noted disinterest is a planned conference on disasters in Chicago. Another noted: > John Cullyer of the British Royal Signals and Radar Establishment ... said, > "Let's throw out the 10 ** -9" - and many of the audience responded with > enthusiastic applause. Someone asked if he would accept a failure > probability of only 10 ** -4 or 10 ** -5 for nuclear weapons safety. He > responded, "In the weapons area there should be no room for probability. If > something is unthinkable, don't let it happen. You either certify it or you > don't - one or zero." Three months ago I was set for a 2-hour interview/call-in program on the San Francisco CBS radio station. My topic was the probability of computer-related error causing accidental nuclear Armageddon, which even conservative authorities (e.g. Hudson Institute) estimate to have a probability of the order of 10**-3 per year. I reckon it's higher, and can argue the point. On arrival, I found my time reduced to one and a half hours because of a change in the computerized California lottery which provided for a bigger multi-million $ jackpot at even longer odds. This topic was inserted as a first interview/call-in feature, for half an hour before me. The odds of winning the jackpot per ticket must be of the order of 10**-8. Even buying a hundred tickets per year doesn't get the odds above 10**-6 per year. Maybe you can guess the rest. The station had a screen displaying the status of the five incoming phone lines. They were packed for the lottery call-in. For example, animated callers complained that South California got more prizes than the North, and the lottery official patiently responded that the prizes were in fair proportion to money spent. Etc. Clearly, the lowering of the odds of success (which the official never quantified) was of scant concern to callers agog at visions of the higher jackpot. The lottery debate was extended for a further half hour. I didn't mind: one hour is more than enough for my message. In the first 25 minutes of my call-in interview, there was not a single caller. There were only three in the entire hour.
Jonathan Jacky, University of Washington, asks: >The effect of these misconceptions is to discourage thorough investigations >of possible problems. I now doubt the frequently heard assertion that >the Vincennes actually did correctly identify the altitude and heading of >the Airbus... First off, my credentials on this subject: I worked on the Combat System of a Spruance Class Destroyer, a direct predecessor of the Vincennes (and other Ticonderoga Class Cruisers). Indeed, a "Tico" has the same hull as a Spruance. Add that nifty phased array radar (SPY-1), lots of missiles, and an enhanced Combat System (5 tactical data computer (AN-UYK7), versus 2 on a Spruance), and you get a Tico. The Combat System on the Tico is also known as AEGIS. The Combat System records, in real time and on magnetic tape, the symbology seen by the radar operators anytime the "program" is up. During training, it was common to "play back" a canned scenario to exercise the troops and equipment. So, when the Investigation Officer's report says, "AEGIS reported Iran Air 655 as ascending", the Investigation Team probably replayed the tapes of the incident, and saw a display reporting Iran Air 655's status *AS THE CREW SAW IT*. John Allred, BBN Systems and Technologies, Inc.
Pages 132-136 of the 9/3/88 issue of Flight International has a summary of the first six months of A320 service with British Airways (3 airplanes) and Air France (2 airplanes). Mulhouse-Habsheim crash not withstanding, both airlines claim a dispatch rate of approximately 97%. Some highlights from the article: 1. Problems with air conditioning packs, which have resulted in BA restricting fan output to 80% of suggested maximum. This is listed as a supplier problem. 2. The FADEC (full-authority digital engine control, a fancy term for a computer-controlled fuel metering system) has been reliable, although Air France claimed frequent replacements in the first few weeks of service. 3. The computer-controlled cabin public address and lighting system does not work very well. Both airlines are disgusted at the sloppyness of it. Again, it is listed as a supplier problem. 4. The toilets don't work very well (see excerpt below). 5. There was mention of in-flight failures of the primary guidance system, but the backup systems worked as advertised. 6. There have been software modifications of the "flight management and guidance computer, fuel quantity indications computer, cargo compartment ventilation computer, avionics equipment ventilation computer, window heat computer, and bleed monitoring computer." (One wonders when they will replace a simple on/off switch with a computer). The modifications were required when some computers shut down after the power sources for the mains was switched from the APU to the engine generators. 7. 95% of all system faults have occurred after engine startup, before the airplane got in the air. En route failures are rare. On the plus side, BA claims that the centralized fault display system, which is a CRT and possibly a printer, intended for use by maintenance personnel, has been quite successful in detecting faulty items and systems, improving maintenance time considerably. They have encountered the occasional unintelligible message, though. They look forward to incorporating the system with a communications package to let it automatically call maintenance bases to let maintenance personnel "get ready" for a quick repair job on the airplane when it arrives. The CFDS is based on the late 70's AIDS (Airborne Indicated Data System), tested with mixed results on the 747, and later on the 757/767. The device keeps track of data which is not normally of operational significance. The data can then be offloaded, catalogued, analyzed, etc. Apparently Airbus has incorporated an expert system to form the latest version. It should be observed that something Steve Philipson said, about the Airbus being very much an "experimental aircraft," holds weight, even though the concentration of problems has shifted. Airbus is said to be keeping a full staff of engineers on site at Air France and British Airways maintenance bases. In addition, each airplane is carrying a set of computer "spares" (spares for what, the article doesn't mention) in the event of failure. The article does not indicate how long this arrangement is going to last. Now, about the toilets... (excerpted without permission, but let's say it's for the purposes of review) "The main concern about the A320 has been that so many functions are 'computer-controlled,' and that this could lead to unforeseen problems. The use of the word 'computer' can be misleading, in fact, because many of the devices referred to as computers are little more than digitally controlled switches--like the window heat computer, whose software has now been spike-vaccinated. "The whole subject comes firmly down to earth in the Air France A320's, where the high-tech vacuum toilet system chosen by that airline (but not by BA) has suffered shutdown because of glitches caused by electrical transients. Aircraft have been grounded by this problem from time to time. You can get an aircraft airborne safely without working toilets, but it is unwise to try to get any passengers airborne under those conditions. "Air France chose the vacuum toilet system for its single-point drainage and the flexibility to move a toilet quickly for a short-notice cabin reconfiguration. However, its A320's have been subject to four different types of toilet system malvunction: toilet overflow, toilet shutdown, system shutodwn, and straightforward toilet drain blockage. The latter may be a matter of wastepipe diameter, though not everyone agrees on that. It has worked on other aircraft. "Airbus, in its produce support department's technical review of Air France's A320 toilets problem, devotes a page to the subject, with a chart designating specific problems followed by progress towards rectification. The toilet overflow was caused by a rinse-valve which was sticking open. The temporary remedy is a valve modification, but a redesigned valve is on the way. The individual toilet shutdown and the whole-system shutdown have been caused by electrical transients which affected the digital flush control units (FCU--the minicomputer activated by the button which the user pushes to flush the toilet) and the vacuum system controller (VSC--another microprocessor). The printed circuit boards for the FCU and VSC were under study for modification, and new software should have been supplied for them both by now. As for the drain blockage, Airbus and the system vendors were examining the suction unit in thorough system tests, and hoped to have a result by the end of August." It should be added that the A320's fuel efficiency is listed at 40% better than that of the 727. Overall efficiency has yet to be determined. The order book stands at either 428 aircraft ("Flight") or 350 aircraft ("Aviation Week"). The word "computer" and the term "high-tech" is very clearly selling the airplane. Flight lists eleven A320's currently in service. Robert Dorsett University of Texas at Austin Organization: Austin UNIX Users' Group, Austin, TX
It may be worthwhile to clear up some small misconceptions that have been appearing in the Automatic Number ID discussion. More than one correspondent has equated the 911 automatic identification with the calling-number identification just now becoming available to local subscribers. In fact, the two are entirely different features -- implemented differently and having nothing little more than their general behavior in common. In particular: 1) "Enhanced 911" (as it is properly called -- regular 911 is nothing more than an easy-to-remember and quick-to-dial number; it does not identify the caller) is implemented by essentially the same mechanism as ANI for toll calls. In both cases, the calling number is sent out over a trunk line, not over a local subscriber loop. As far as I know, this type of calling number identification has never been made available to businesses, as one correspondent suggested it might. 2) Calling-number-identification (there is a marketing name for this, but I forget it offhand) is a feature available only from the newest ESS and competing switches, and requires special equipment on the subscriber's premises as well as special hardware and software on the switch (and of course more money from the subscriber :-). As far as I know, each subscriber has the option of specifying -- permanently -- whether or not his number will be disclosed to others via this feature; the default value for this option would reflect the subscriber's current selection of a published or non-published number. In addition, as mentioned by some correspondents, on a given call a subscriber may choose -- via a dialed prefix -- whether or not to allow the display of his number on the called phone. Caveat: although I do work for a "phone company" my knowledge of the above is not necessarily 100% accurate or up-to-date, since I have not been directly involved with the gory details of these particular technologies. RISKS relevance? My concern is twofold: 1) Confusion between two apparently similar but in fact considerably different systems can result in the risks of the one being *assumed* to be identical to the risks of the other, when in fact this is not the case. In the example at hand, there is no assumption of a right of privacy when calling 911, but there is an assumption of such a right when calling everyone else. These assumptions are made by the respective systems, reflecting what is presumed to be the same assumptions made by the general public. Viewing one system as though it were the other changes the perceived risks. 2) Much of the discussion in RISKS on this topic (and others, of course) is based upon incomplete information and therefore incorrect assumptions about the technology involved. This is, I realize, a general problem, and perhaps unavoidable. However, when discussing the risks of technology, computer or otherwise, we need to take particular care to base the discussion upon the facts, so that we can discuss the risks of the system as it actually is implemented. Dave Robbins, GTE Laboratories Incorporated, 40 Sylvan Rd., Waltham, MA 02254
People are missing an important issue here: there is no one-to-one correlation between the number you are calling from and your identity. In particular, it is quite possible to have situations in which a call is not anonymous -- in the sense that the caller has no intent to hide his identity -- but does not want his location known. This is also the underlying problem behind having phone solicitors calling from uncallable numbers: what you want is identity and contact information, not just the number used to make the call. Henry Spencer at U of Toronto Zoology
Ed Nilges writes of the decline of the social and moral content of games. But he examines only a small number of games. Consider chess, that game which allows players to act the roles of strategists without teaching them either the misery of dying under a horse's hooves or the evils of a caste system. The tactics are beautiful; the content is vile. Clearly it is not technology encouraging any moral or social decline here. Perhaps parents should picket chess clubs. Nilges' examples are not representative of the games. The top character of Punch-Out is black. Metroid features a character in a suit of high-tech armor. If the player has done well enough at the end of the game, the character will take her helmet off. Many games take the form of a quest to defeat evil -- Ghosts 'N Goblins, Legend of Zelda, Solomon's Key, Super Mario Brothers. Popeye is supportive of the underdog. Games like Gauntlet or Mario Brothers reward teamwork. Penguin Land requires that one learn to take care with a fragile egg. There is a wide variety to be found in games, so one could find examples of many things by concentrating on only certain features. Computers have made games flashier, more fun, faster, and more visible, but they have not changed the social content. Eric Postpischil
>How many computer professionals have noticed the continual technical >improvement of video games in the past couple of years, and the >concomitant decline of their social and moral content? ... As has been pointed out in the past, this is silly. The social and moral content of chess or Monopoly is also deplorable, looked at from the same viewpoint. (Chess is a wargame; the objective of Monopoly is to drive your friends and relatives into bankruptcy.) Video games only make it a bit more obvious. Wargames, in particular, long predate video games. Is it less moral to strafe the bad guys in a video game than to condemn thousands of hypothetical troops to death by moving a counter on a board? Which is more depersonalizing? Henry Spencer at U of Toronto Zoology
I received one of those info-card packs (I forget from whom) as a result of having my name and address sold by Dr. Dobb's. I filled out a few of the cards and received a catalog from Public Brand Software, which is a shareware/ freeware clearing house based in Indianapolis, IN. Here are a few quotes on from the third page of their catalog entitled 'Topic: VIRUSES' 'It seems like a couple of national magazines first thought up the concept of MS-DOS viruses. Unfortunately, a lot of people read these magazines and believe everything that they read. But let's get a couple of definitions clear first. virus, n. 1. a purposely destructive computer program that can propagate itself by modifying other computer programs (such as COMMAND.COM) to make them destructive. 2. a destructive myth perpetrated to sell a product and/or fill editorial space.' The article goes on to claim that viruses are myths akin to friend-of-a-friend stories; popular magazines are perpetuating the myths to have something sensational to print; engineers are doing the same in order to sell vaccines. They claim that they've searched high and low and can find no such thing as a virus. 'Simply put, there is no such thing as a virus. There never has been. Period.' Sounds like a dangerous attitude to me. On a different note... For those interested in a book which follows a plot with a striking similarity to the Marconi incidents, try _The Chain of Chance_ by Stanislaw Lem.
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