Original URL: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/07/07/letters_0707/

Stinky databases for tech support tales?

Plus prior art on bullet passwords

By Lucy Sherriff

Posted in Bootnotes, 7th July 2006 09:08 GMT

Letters There are a few sure-fire ways to anger the average Register reader.

You could, for example, book him on a three day Microsoft certified basic Office 2003 training course. You could tell him he is being outsourced to Bangalore, or ask him for help accessing the millions of pounds of your Granfather's money left in his bank account when he sadly passed away.

But if you really want to wind him up? Stick him on a database as part of a government IT project.

I had to take my father into the local hospital for an outpatient appointment, a couple of weeks ago.

His records are still on paper, with the older stuff on microfilm somewhere.

Mine are likely the same, though when I broke my leg the x-rays were on the doctor's computer.

And there were problems finding my father's records. They tend to stick at the previously-visited outpatient clinic.

An NHS database would, if it worked, solve all these problems. Solving these problems at a local level, using a uniform data format, might be a much easier problem, and it would incidentally make it much easier to transfer records when needed.

The efforts to solve the problems of patient records look to be more about centralisation than about solving the problem.


Bugger the ID database, this NHS IT database is a lot further forward and the disclosures that could be made from it much more personal and embarressing than anything that an ID database could every hope to achieve.

I wonder if this breaches the Data Protection Act as I don't remember ever signing anything that said that anyone but those medical people actually involved directly with my medical health had a right to access this data...

And given that the thing is a complete shambles what are the chances of the security being anything other than an even greater shambles?

Wait, what am I saying... my bet is that there is _no_ security (other than _maybe_ IP address.

maybe I should start an insurance company... plenty of money to be made in health insurance I'm sure... especially when you can turn down clients claims because they didn't tell you their entire medical history and you just happen to have acquired a copy!

The government as representative of the people? Possibly and if it is it's the worst indictment I've seen of the state of society today.

Having worked on the NPfIT I know a few people who still work on the project. Recently, the teams working on the 'SPINE' (the central messaging system) got orders to remove a particular patient, their NHS number and all the relevent data from the system. From what I've heard its been no easy task with data hiding on just about every component a message travels through.

For example, if a message can't be delivered its retried a few times and then put in a undeliverable queue. Great, but nothing actually processes the undeliverable queue. This is what happens when developers design, build and run the infrastructure.


I spent 2 years working on a secure psychiatric unit for the NHS, reading the patients notes and seeing who had access to them. Given the haphazard way they were stored, a central database is an appalling idea. every man and his dog will be able to read them, and it will certainly lead to checks on peoples medical history (almost certainly without their knowledge) before they can apply for anything (loans, mortgages, jobs, etc).

Considering some of the people i looked after, their horrific histories (things done both to and by them), and how much progress some had made, a history like that would prevent them from doing pretty much anything.

If you have been committed, whether simply for evaluation or for an actual illness, you are already branded for life. This central database is only going to make things much, much worse.

one patient in particular, had episodes of severe mania and psychosis, usually lasting only a couple of weeks at a time, with a frequency of no more than once every 6 to 8 months. during these episodes they were a serious danger to themselves and their children, and i witnessed them nearly taking a finger off when attempting to make a cup of tea with a breadknife!

However, when well, there was absolutely nothing wrong with this person, and they held down a full-time management post, and took care of 2 children, as well as playing an active role within a large extended family.

in cases such as this, would this person be able to retain their employment if it became known the periodoc absences were not due to family issues or holidays, but in fact stays in a secure psych unit? i very much doubt it.

This database could easily ruin everything this person has acheived. and for what?

here is the email i sent (c)hewitt earlier....

Good morning,

I am emailing you as you are secretary of state for health. I have been reading recently about the proposed, and it would appear, under development, NHS database. There are several points I would like to raise about this database, and I would appreciate a frank and honest dialogue.

As far as I can tell, this database is, in fact, illegal, and a contravention of my human rights, as I have not been asked permission for my details to be added, I have not been consulted about this database, and I have not even been personally notified. In fact, I found out about this database from several news stories on the internet. My medical records are legally confidential between myself and my doctor, unless I give specific written permission for someone else to access them. I have not given the government permission, and again, I have not been asked or even notified that my records were to be added to a national register. Quite frankly I am disgusted at this blatant disregard for my rights, my privacy, and for your own laws.

I want written assurance that my details will not be included within the database, without my explicit written consent, which you do not, and will not have.

I look forward to your prompt reply.

Name withheld.

As do we.

From rights-stomping databases, to the future of policing

Quote: "Nice Systems call this "policing with a more human face"." I'm sure Himmler used the same terms once or twice... Davide

An interesting article about our future Robocops. Surely this information should be freely available under everybodies favourite act, the Freedom of Information Act? I think the public have a right to know who is lobbying their police force and what the precise nature of that lobbying entails. After all, in my best News of The World voice, "they spend our taxes".

If there's nothing wrong with this video what have they got to hide?

Kind regards, -ed

March has certain strengths versus NICE (and Verint) but they mainly have to do with reliability, searchability and compression algorithms.

March doesn't do voice, so the sort of 911 (or whatever the UK equivalent is) automated recognition of the word "gun" isn't part of their solution, whereas voice/audio is in fact about 2/3 of both NICE and Verint's revenue base, and they are quite good at integrating voice and video. Many applications don't care about audio - transport systems, ATMs, retail for instance.


Pop quiz: should everyone at home switch from a PC to a Mac to avoid malware, as suggested by a leading security firm? You say, er, NO!

Of course, this dire warning has nothing to do with the fact that they stand to lost a significant amount of business when M$ start pedling their own AV software, and by getting people to switch to macs they're increasing the potential size of their market when M$ won't penetrate.

Yours cynically,

Sandy Scott

Security firm Sophos has issued a call for home computer users to ditch the Windows operating system and switch to Macs for the sake of their safety online."

You'll no doubt be flooded with responses such as this, as vulture watchers are a bright bunch, but this plan of Sophos only works so long as people _don't_ take their advice. Should a significant portion of the market switch, thus creating a large enough slice of the pie to target, then it too will come under fire. Mac users are only safe so long as no notable number uses Macs. So let us hope that the minds Sophos can convince are actually few and far between, for the sake of the safe.

Sincerely, Arah

Speaking of safe, how about password protected bullets? As is often the case, you thought there might be some prior art:

Anybody who has wasted their childhood (and much of their adulthood) reading 2000AD will know this is an old idea. See item 4 here.

Now if his invention can select between Standard Execution, Hi Ex and Heat Seeker rounds, I think he has a seller.


It's even more interesting as this invention was published in a US gun magazine in the early 1980s. I think the magazine was 'Guns and Ammo' or 'American Rifleman' and think that the firm showing the idea was Smith and Wesson.

I also have a recollection of a similar item being shown in another handgun related magazine (US of course) in the late nineties.

Cheers - Virgil StJohn.

Isn't this basically like James Bond's signature gun? That only fired when being held by the authorised person. I'm sure Q could quote his work as prior art.


"Man Invents 'Password protected bullets", I can remember this exact idea on Tomorrows World about 15 years ago, the US police were trying it out as crims kept getting the guns off the police, then shooting them with them.


It won't be Windows-Based will it? The last thing you want as you're charged by a horde of Zulus/Al Quaeda/Cyborg-Lizards is "Windows has encountered a problem accessing "BULLET" and has to restart. Please click "OK" to reboot "GUN"


Your chappie with the password protected bullets is going to have fun trying to protect his patent; the science fiction writer A E Van Vogt wrote about similar weapons in the thirties and forties, in his Weapon Shop series.

Prior publication, surely?


I'm not sure if you are familiar with Tom Clancy's Netforce series of novels, but I am fairly sure that this 'inventor' has as this system features in those books, even down to placing the authentication device in a ring.

Seem to remember a failure in the mechanism lead to one of the protogonists being shot. Any chance we can convince Bush to play with them?


That was possibly the largest spread of prior art examples we've seen...

And to round the week off on a happy note, let's take a stroll through a few more of your favourite anecdotes, which for some no doubt deeply Freudian reason, I keep wanting to type as anecdontes.

At my last company, the helpdesk team had a visit from a South African girl who arrived in their office where the 4 guys were sitting talking, and asked: "Have any of you guys got a stiffy?"

Apparently, in South Africa a floppy disk is known as a stiffy - only the old 5.25" disks are called floppies. Needless to say, she didn't make that mistake again, but the incident still lives on in helpdesk lore ...


A co-worker of mine tells this story. She got a complaint of a user's keyboard spontaneously entering strings of repeating keystrokes. She tried all the appropriate things then went to visit the woman, who was very busty. So much so, in fact, that her boobs would occasionally rest on the keyboard, causing the mysterious keystroke entries. The fix was to move the keyboard back further from the edge of the desk.



Years ago, I was called by a secretary who had trouble with her new fax machine, the first one in the company.

Her complaint was: "It isn't working. The paper keeps coming back!"


I've had so many wonderful conversations with cell phone company's tech support but my all time favorite is this little gem I had with a Verizon rep.

Once I called Verizon about a problem which I'd had many times and so I knew what they needed to do however,.... after a long and useless conversation with tech support I was finally told the problem was the keypad on my phone was not working.

At this point I said, "Now let me make sure I understand what you are telling me. The key pad on the phone that I'm holding in my hand, talking to you with right now, the keypad that I just used to dial you, so that we could be having this conversation right now, that keypad is not working?"

"Yes sir."

"So that keypad, that I just used to dial your 800 hundred number, and then used to punch in a lot of numbers to navigate your phone system menu is not working at all?"

"Yes sir".

I actually went through several more iterations of this because I was so amazed anyone could be this dense but finally I gave up and said,

"Let me talk to your supervisor".

The supervisor claimed, in a masterful moment of understatement, that they had been having some turnover and training problems.


Enjoy the weekend. ®