(From the Easy Reader, a weekly newspaper in the South Bay section of L.A.) A Redondo Beach resident, Martin Lee Dement, spent almost two years in a Los Angeles County jail because of a botched use of the state's computerized fingerprint-matching system, ALPS (Automated Latent Print System). Arrested for robbing a Radio Shack, Dement was jailed, his girlfriend sold her condo to raise money for defense lawyers, and the experience may have contributed to his recidivism (he had been an habitual offender, and speculation is that the 21 months he spent incarcerated wiped out the progress he had been making since his last release). There was much thrashing by two consecutive public defenders and finally attorney Charles Maple (who defended Onion Field killer Gregory Powell) to get the D.A. or police departments involved to match prints lifted at the scene of the robbery with those of another suspect, Dennis Passon, also arrested about the same time, for a string of similar robberies (including a Radio Shack store). None of the law enforcement officials would make a direct comparison between the lifted prints and those of Passon, even though they had him in custody. Instead, the lifted prints were sent through ALPS --- and no match was produced. Finally, two weeks into Dement's trial, the prints were produced and the judge ordered a comparison to be made with those of Passon. A match was immediately obvious, and charges against Dement were dropped, after he had spent 21 months in jail. The D.A., Julie Sulman, blamed ALPS, which had just come online. Investigators had just assumed that since Passon had an extensive criminal record that his prints would be online, also. Sulman said, "I think we made an erroneous assumption that Passon wasn't the guy because he would have been in ALPS ... and we were wrong." Attorney Maple said recently that "ALPS is bull**** and it doesn't take care of anything." [Censorship **** is mine. This is a family newsgroup. PGN]
[From page R6 of the _Wall_Street_Journal_, Friday, 22 September 1989 comes yet another story of the perils of computerized translation of natural languages. The text below appeared in a sidebar to a story about the problems encountered in trying to resolve differences between European countries preparing for the 1992 amalgamation into the EC...] TOWERING BABBLE Automatic translation system proves that to err isn't just human Interpretation and translation gobble up a huge hunk of EC's central budget, so the Eurocrats have been trying to save money by using an automatic translation system. Systran is its name. Bloopers are its game. To the unconcealed delight of those whose jobs it first appeared to threaten, Systran, acquired from the U.S. Navy about 10 years ago, still has a bit to learn about French-English translation. A few howlers: * Commission President Jacques Delors asked in French whether he could address a certain committee. Systran had him asking whether he could "expose himself to the committee." * Crown Prince Jean of Luxembourg, invited to offer a royal page of prose to the computer, used the words _nous_avions_, which in context only meant "we had." Systran made it "us airplanes." * In one screed about farming, the writer used the phrase _les agriculteurs_ _vis_a_vis_de_la_politique_agricole_commune_, which means "farmers, in the light of common agricultural policy..." Systran, suffering either a blown microprocessor or an uncanny flash of insight, rendered it as "farmers live to screw the common agricultural policy." [The article goes on for another nine column inches discussing non-computer related problems of translation, which are significant. In the headquarters of the Council of Ministers there are about 2000 bureaucrats, half of whom are translators.]
A friend of mine regularly reads RISKS which I print out for him (He is not on a network.) He has asked me to pass on the following message which he typed in on his pc and downloaded onto our system. DISCLAIMER: I would like to point out that no members of this group have any connection with the author or his story, except as a friend. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Having read with interest the articles in RISKS 9.26 and 9.27 about loose wires, I thought I would readers might like to share my own story of a similar incidence. Some years ago, I was exploring in Africa hoping to trace a long-lost relative; when due to a peculiar set of events I found myself in a great deal of trouble. I was part of a team of explorers: all of us searching for our own and the other team-members relatives. We each had a portable radio and could be contacted by another team-member who was stationed at "base camp". Anyone who discovered anything interesting was supposed to radio the base camp, the news being relayed to the rest of the team when they contacted base camp. The radio I had was supposed to be what was then a very modern design incorporating a primitive computer which was supposed to switch in the full power when a signal was received, conserving energy while no information transfer was occurring. Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks, when the novelty of using the radio to call up for regular status reports had worn off, one of the wires on the radio worked itself loose and as a result, while I was capable of radioing base camp, they could not contact me as the power was not sufficient to raise me without the computer working properly. I did not call base camp for several days/weeks (I forget how long it was). Imagine my surprise when I did get to call, however, and discovered the following: While I had continued my search, the other members of the team had returned to camp, some successful, but in the main unsuccessful. I was the only one left searching and the team leader decided to call me back. Unfortunately, my radio did not respond and so, fearing the worst, the remainder of the team set out to find me. By the time I next called the camp, the whole team was searching for me, searching the many miles of land in which I could possibly be. During their search, one of the team members (a chap called Maurice [I don't remember the surname]) was bitten in his sleep by a sloth (he alone in the team thought he was safer sleeping in a tree) and had to spend several weeks in hospital on our return. Although we laughed about the whole affair afterwards, it did make us realize how dependent on the technology we were. Since then I have been understandably wary of computers (though I do now own a small wordprocessor) ... and have taken a keen interest in discussion groups which talk about the potential problems of computers. Desmond Andigo (Retired Businessman)
How can we study "real software" for verification, among other purposes? Can we read a listing in some programming language? Can we read a memory dump - if that is not a lost art? Can we monitor execution under control of an interpreting debugger? I submit that these and other forms of "studying software" amount to the study of an abstraction of what really counts; viz. the system. The software, without a processor to run it, is but an abstraction of what the programmer wants the system to do; the hardware, without the software to guide it, is but a potentially versatile idle tool. The system runs in real time; i.e., as fast as the processor and its input/output allow. When one slows that process down to the pace that a human can observe in detail, subtle timing problems behave differently. That is not to say that interesting subsets of a system cannot be isolated into time invariant forms, and then analyzed rather thoroughly. And that is very valuable; it has given us better compilers and math libraries, among other things. But systems that deal with things that directly affect human life, like hospital monitors, and flight controllers, run in real time. Yes, it is far better to build them insofar as possible with parts that are verified; but the whole remains an abstraction, until we develop other tools which may depend on our first developing other paradigms.
Since the reliability of the power system relates directly to the reliability of many computer systems, the following info is probably of interest. I spoke with a friend who used to be in charge of building large power projects for Southern California Edison (SCE). He said that, due to increasing competition and decreasing ROI, over the past ten years or so SCE has planned its power grid to "N-1" standards, whereas previously they planned to "N-2". "N-1" means they can lose only one major transmission line without a major system blackout. He added that even "N-1" is marginal in some cases. Of course, they DID learn a lot from the big (1964?) blackout in the Northeast, where the system wasn't smart enough to partion itself in the face of unexpected overloads, and so the whole system went black and huge generator bearings melted down and were out of commission for months because the power plants had no UPS's to pump lubricating oil. Still, my experience is that most blackouts are small, localized ones due to things like a car knocking down a transformer. We seem to suffer three or four per year here in El Segundo, CA. In summary: keep buying those UPS's for your data center. --Bruce 213/333-8075
A Goods and Services Tax has been in operation in New Zealand for several years now. The scale was recently lifted from 10% to 12.5%. Somehow this is supposed to be compatible with the Labour(!?) commitment to free markets and reduced government intervention. As near as I can figure out, if Farmer A trades a pig to Farmer B for Farmer B's cabbages, they both owe the government 10% (now 12.5%) of the monetary value of the deal. The bottom-line tax-payer just loses money, although personal income tax levels were reduced, so it more or less evened out. Everyone above that layer pays in paperwork. The theory is that each item should have GST paid on it once, so that GST on inputs can be claimed back from GST on outputs. > I somehow doubt if the visionary stupidity necessary to develop such a > proposal to the point of law could have existed unaided by computers. I don't know what's involved inside the Government, but charladies don't need spreadsheets to carry out _their_ paperwork. My objection to GST is that it hits the poor relatively harder than the rich, but this is apparently compatible with NZ Labour's ideals.
In RISKS-9.25, Alan Rosenthal says: > The trade-offs during practice and emergencies are different, and should be. > It's sad that this means that you can't really simulate emergencies fully. > Nevertheless, it's *true* that this means that you can't really simulate > emergencies fully. This is quite true. The whole point that makes this idea unworkable is that you are putting a multi-million dollar aircraft (and the lives of its passengers, if passengers are being carried — and I assume they would be, as the original proposal mentioned ``routine flight'') at risk, simply for training purposes. This is not acceptable. On the other hand, when they _are_ available, simulated emergencies can be a very effective tool for pilot training. I will certainly never forget the first time I was subjected to one: climbing out from the airport on perhaps my sixth or seventh flight as a beginning pilot, I reached the altitude at which I had been taught to conduct after-takeoff checks. These were quite simple: speaking aloud, they went: ``Flaps up (pointing at flap indicator), fuel pump off (turning it off), fuel pressure holding (pointing at fuel pressure gauge), engine instruments green (pointing at each in turn).'' About ten seconds later, my instructor said: ``Did you forget something?'' I knew I hadn't, but I also knew the right thing to do: start the checks again from the beginning. ``Flaps up, fuel pump off (reaching down and pushing the switch off, where it already was), fuel pressure...'' The fuel pressure gauge was reading zero. ``NO FUEL PRESSURE'', I shouted, practically breaking my hand turning the auxiliary (electric) fuel pump back on. I was all ready to push the nose down when the engine failed, and for a fraction of a second I took my eyes off the fuel pressure gauge, which wasn't coming up, to look at my instructor. He was gazing outside, cool as a cucumber. I couldn't understand it. After another fifteen seconds or so I began to catch on. The gauge still read zero, but there was no way the engine was still running with no fuel pressure. ``OK, Eric, what did you do?'' He pointed to the circuit-breaker panel, where one of them was sticking out. I checked that it was the right one and reset it. Then he said to me: ``When you check an instrument, don't just glance at it. Take a good look, five seconds at least. It's not just the instantaneous reading you want to see: there may be a visible rate of change, and if so, you want to know about it.'' It certainly drove the point home, and I always follow that practice. But you can't do that to the pilot of a B747 en route. John.
I would point to the vast abuses in the medical, legal, and teaching professions as reasons why some form of accreditation *should not* be created. The legal process has been codified to such a degree that the only way to challenge the legal profession is to convince a lawyer to blacklist another lawyer; the medical and teaching professions have both had vendettas with professionals who were not politically correct, while allowing *many* abuses to go unchecked. We come down to a very simple problem if we wish to teach ethics at all: Whose ethics do we teach? Meanwhile, of course, we are ignoring one very simple fact: Data Theft and industrial espionage and security are all higly lucrative fields... and they are becoming more so. With many of the wealthiest companies in this country resorting to highly illegal tactics on a regular basis, can we realistically think that we will stem the tide by saying "nice programmers don't do that?" Especially when these are *still* some of our most talented people! RichardT
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