Original URL: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/03/24/letters_2403/

Ethical hackers meet airbag-toting cyborgs

And you answer the eternal question: what does HP do?

By Lucy Sherriff

Posted in Bootnotes, 24th March 2005 15:50 GMT

Letters We ran an article this week about Harvard Business School's decision to reject applicants who had used a mini-hack to sneak a peek at the status of their applications. In it, writer Mark Rasch asked a lot of questions about the ethical position of the applicants, the university and the those responsible for the security of the software. He asked: "Is this inherently unethical behaviour, or a foolish mistake? After all, there is more than one moral ambiguity here."

One reader offered the following answers:

Responding to the "Security Focus" article concerning students "hacking" their way into a computer to check the status of their business school applications...

The author of this article is going through incredible mental gymnastics trying to create a gray area or define some kind of ambiguity that would justify allowing those who used a posted software hack to get into a part of website where they knew they weren't supposed to go to check on the status of their applications.

Using the so-called logic applied by the author's article, you could justify stealing somebody's car on the basis that they were in a hurry on some errand and left the keys in plain sight.


The decision of Harvard's business school to reject the applicants who did this makes perfect sense, is perfectly reasonable, and presents no true moral dilemma, at all. It's a basic and normal idea that when someone has done something behind your back that they knew they weren't supposed to do, you don't waste time, energy, effort or another moment's thought on any crazy idea that they are not really such bad people, they just fell victim to temptation.

It is this same strange ability of some people to somehow justify such actions as not being really that bad, or not really hurting anyone, or somehow being justifiable because of some notion of being entitled, that has lately resulted in an incredible number of scandals among those in positions of control in industry, government and other places. It is this kind of thinking that brought us Enron, Worldcom, mutual fund scandals, slanted stock appraisals by analysts, and on, and on, and on.

The idea of overlooking something like using some published flaw in a website to do something such as this, and allowing such people to be brought into business schools with the expectation that they will be in charge of something requiring the exercise of responsibility to others is utterly nuts! These people have acted in a way by which they have conveniently provided an indication of their true colours -- and it's only right to make use of the opportunity to filter them out so they cannot someday end up in a position where they may do real harm to others.

Why waste time scooping up bad apples from the bottom of the barrel of ethical thinking and try putting them through ethics classes to retrain them? It's surely better to pick only those who show some hope of having some concept as to what words like ethics, morals, right vs. wrong are all about, and then put them through the full course of training in an effort to strengthen an already present resolve to do the right thing.

What nonsense!


In Tuesday's letters bag, a reader complained about the price of broadband in the Seychelles. Another reader offered an alternative view:

Hang on a minute - this guy [Steve] lives and works in the Seychelles and he's complaining about the price of broadband access?!?! Talk about not knowing you're born! Come back to cold, wet, dreary Britain and see how much you have to complain about then sunshine.


We also had a couple of suggestions for how to deal with the Lizzard People's attempts to take over control of fleets of French automobiles. Switch the engine off, some readers cried. Now, at the risk of starting some kind of mechanics flame war, we would like to present the views of those who would not recommend such a course of action:

Dear Ed

Richard Young's letter fills me with dread, as I wonder who or what is on the road with evil plans for my life. When I was young, and I'm nearly an old age pensioner now, my motorcycles had BOWDEN cables to connect virtually every control to its final destination, including the brakes. now a little drop of oil kept everything running smoothly. I consider my neighbours with their modern chariots, and all they do is wash and polish them, no interest is taken in what goes on under that shiny skin.

But my greatest horror was that he should suggest switching off the ignition to slow the engine rev's down. In my car, that would activate the steering lock and reduce the vacuum supply to the brake servo, NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL A BAD IDEA !

Best regards

Mike Davidson

Hmm. Don't try it at home. I took the keys out of my car's ignition once to prove a point that the engine was on (and now wasn't). Then the steering wheel locked and i hit a lampost.


Also responding to the thoughts of Reg readers, we have this little gem about fires at petrol stations. It is astonishing that we, as a species, have managed to survive for as long as we have, really:

Spotted your rebuttal of the claim that mobile phones can ignite petrol, true. But more interesting, and funny, is what I heard on an "intrinsic safety" course, which deals with designing equipment for garage forecourts, oil rigs etc.

Do you know what the number 1 cause of forecourt fires is?

Carelessly discarded cigarettes? Mobile phones?

Nope. It's people whose cars are on fire, driving up to the pumps and gesticulating wildly for help from the cashier.


Researchers in the UK said their lives would be immeasurably improved by more money, better funding and better jobs. You said: Oh, really?

"Over eighty per cent of those surveyed said their working lives would be improved by better funding, better career progression and better pay."

Let me add, from my own "research", the following: "Precisely one hundred percent of everyone I've ever met said their working lives would be improved by better funding, better career progression and better pay."

It seems a bit silly that only 80% of boffins in the UK say so. Is it something wrong with them, or are they grossly overpaid already?


Re the research into researchers:

"Over eighty per cent of those surveyed said their working lives would be improved by better funding, better career progression and better pay."

...10% said their working lives would be improved with some kind of cybernetic implant thingy with lasers and the remainder said their working lives would be improved if you would all f*ck off and leave me alone, I'm busy. Stop asking such stupid questions.

(sorry, just sat through a review panel hosted by gibbons. Happy Easter)


Amazing what those cheeky monkeys are getting up to these days...

Next, we need to address the burning question of the last ten days, as posed by Computacenter's Mike Norris. What, exactly, does HP do?

...I'll tell you - amongst other things they have a contract to make guidance systems (software and hardware) for Cruise missiles. Can't imagine they'll be worrying about getting squeezed out of the middle of the PC market any time soon.



Boy is Norris an idiot. Everyone knows what HP does. They give away mediocre computers and printers so they can sell people $2 worth of ink for $29.


What does HP do?

Nothing at all, since Carly Fiorina gutted the company. HP used to be a research and development powerhouse. They were once a proud company with huge technical backup for all their products, with enormously ambitious development schemes and long term R&D that actually resulted in genuinely innovative products.

That was before Carly Fiorina decided that it was better to compete with Dell.

Even the influx of ex-DEC smarts that came with Compaq has been frittered away, downsized and beancounted into oblivion. What was once a brilliant company making products that no self-respecting furrytooth would be without is now a shell- the instrumentation span off, the R&D curtailed. PA RISC is gone, pretty much, and the really interesting development work on SANs and storage devices is all outsourced.

Now they only sell ink cartridges and badge PCs.

Well done, Carly. You killed the great H.-P. Thanks. Really thanks.


Ms. Fiorina might not have to shoulder all of the blame:

Mr. Oates,

Mike Norris is completely correct. While I was a consultant at the largest technology firm in the Chicago (IL, USA) area, in the early nineties, HP came by and gave us a talk about the "Future of HP". They wanted to get out of the O.S. design and maintenance business. They wanted to get out of the "CPU design and creation" business. They wanted to "Provide Solutions" to their customers. Intel, Windows, UNIX, Servers, Desktops, Workstations, it did not matter. They just wanted to provide the "best solution" to their customers.

So, surprisingly, the current position of HP in the market is NOT Carly's fault. It was decided a little over ten years ago. [Not that she was that good, either !]


It would be interesting to pose the question to ComputaCenter, "What do they do"?


The Computacenter boss has a good point.

What actually do any of the current crop of PC manufacturers do?


What does HP do? They invent, or at least that is what their commercials lead inexperienced computer people to believe. But for us that have been around for a long time I am wondering, aside from some old calculator way way back, what did they invent?

Not digital cameras, not inkjet printers, not laser printers, not PCs, etc. I think someone needs to explain to HP that if you print a picture from a digital camera that is a long way away from inventing something.

HP is really good at blowing hot air, maybe they invented the exhaust fan on PCs?


Hi John,

Sitting here in HP's factory in Erskine, Scotland I can tell you that HP do assemble PCs themselves.

OK so the desktop business that used to be this factory's bread and butter in the Compaq days was sent to the Czech Republic years ago but high value servers are assembled and tested here.

I can't tell you exactly what models because I'm just a part-time maintenance contractor but there's plenty of racks and cabinets on the shopfloor. Perhaps the guy at Computacenter should check his facts before slagging his main supplier.

Name withheld

We told you, this week, that speech recognition outfit iVoice has filed a patent for a personal airbag device. The airwaves were immediately filled with the sound of prior art:

re: iVoice files patent on bouncing grannies

It is indeed a silly idea and I wonder if a four-year old discussion of this very thing might be enough to invalidate the patent.

see here for the idea.

- Stef.

Perhaps the iVoice engineers have been reading Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash? They've patented the airbag system in the RadiKS Kourier uniform.


Prior art for bouncing grannies patent.

James Bond had a personal air bag that saved him from an avalanche in "The World is not enough".


Hi Lester,

Looks like those crazy Japanese got the drop on this first. Oh ho.


I have this image of Mr Simpson falling down that cliff, only this time once he's hit the ground instead of a skate board hitting his head little air bags inflate on his back.


Lastly, Captain Cyborg got what looked like a boost from MP Jane Griffiths, who congratulated Warwick for the "success of the Cybernetics course" at Reading University. But as we will see, a pat on the back from an MP in the run up to the general election is not always something to be cherished:

My God! It's the rise of the cyborgs! Politicians with implanted chips being controlled. "Invade Iraq... Invade Iraq... Congratulate Cars of Reading..." It's a diabolical plot I tell you!


Oh no! The Lizard Army is sneaking into government, clearly we'll have ancient parliament loos replaced by vengeful cyberloos that refuse to release MPs until they agree to swing votes, and meanwhile Lord Warwick of the Cyberflies is no doubt readying his election campaign and encouraging adoption of malleable Diebold machines throughout the EU... I daren't go on. Please don't print my mother's childhood pet's favourite colour as I use it for all my passwords.


Jane Griffiths is also a tireless cheerleader for other grand technocratic control projects, in particular ID cards--about which her main worry seems to be they'll be insufficiently intrusive and bullying. Here she is in her own press release of February 2002, while Blunkett was still promoting the scheme as fluffy, friendly 'entitlement cards':

"The Reading East MP welcomed this announcement. She said, "I have always supported the introduction of identity cards as a means of deterring and detecting benefit, electoral and other forms of fraud, preventing people working illegally and deterring and detecting illegal immigration.

"I have no truck with the civil liberties lobby's concerns about the introduction of identity cards - the innocent have nothing to fear. In fact I am concerned that the Government has already ruled out making the failure to carry an ID card an offence and I will be lobbying the Home Secretary for it to be treated at least the same way as a driving licence - people not carrying it when stopped are given some time to report to a Police station with the card."


Fabulous. Happy Easter everyone. May you all receive large amounts of your favourite chocolate, fashioned into the likeness of a dinosaur's egg. ®