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When Bad Software Can Kill 354

bhoman writes "A wrist computer that tracks and calculates safe diving times and limits for SCUBA divers had a dangerous software bug that may have been covered up by company executives. This SF Chronicle Article details the problem, product, company, and some of the lawsuits. According to the Chron article, company execs tried to cover up and deny the problem for years, but their official website makes it look like they did a voluntary recall."
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When Bad Software Can Kill

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:43PM (#6036578)
    And it has extensive safety measures built into it to prevent insulin over delivery. Obviously, when you put your life in the hands of a machine, you want to make sure it works, and that when it doesn't, you're notified. If a company is guilty of covering up a problem like this, I hope they get sued out of existence and the people guilty spend some time in jail.
    • by Altima(BoB) ( 602987 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:53PM (#6036627)
      On the issue of punishing companies for unsafe practices like this, sometimes it's 50/50. Depends how much sway they have. I'm not anti-capitalist über-left cynical jaded moron, but after reading Fast Food Nation recently, I don't have a whole lot of faith in the government's ability to control this kind of activity on a large scale. The government used to have a lot more power over companies since Theodore Roosevelt's time, but the book seems to point the finger at the Reagon era for the change.

      Anyway, it wouldn't have been bad PR to admit a mistake, hell it's only human to make mistakes, even when something is as serious as this. The problem shouldn't have been there at all, but it was caught before anyone was hurt, so they should have just apologised and fixed it. Cover-ups make me sick.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:55PM (#6036633)
        This is slashdot... you have to be an anti-capitalist über-left cynical jaded moron to be here.
      • by praksys ( 246544 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @06:45PM (#6037155)
        More government control doesn't necessarily help that much.

        Some of the most serious problems with defective products in recent history have occured when government was entirely in control. In some cases they screw up because, like business executives, they want to cut costs (providing HIV/AIDS infected blood for example []). Sometimes they wind up killing people because they are too cautious. Scandals usually occur when actions kill people, not so much when inaction kills people (delays in FDA approval for new treatments cost thousands of lives []).

        If you think this is a problem with Capitalism then you should take a look at the sorts of things that went on in Communist countries like the USSR [] and still go on in places like Communist China [].

        Cover-ups make me sick.

        I think that the only effective remedy for this sort of problem is greater transparency in both business and government. These kinds of problems thend to occur when the people involved think that they can get away with a cover-up.
      • On the issue of punishing companies for unsafe practices like this, sometimes it's 50/50. Depends how much sway they have. I'm not anti-capitalist über-left cynical jaded moron, but after reading Fast Food Nation recently, I don't have a whole lot of faith in the government's ability to control this kind of activity on a large scale. The government used to have a lot more power over companies since Theodore Roosevelt's time, but the book seems to point the finger at the Reagon era for the change.

        Is th

    • by fidget42 ( 538823 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:59PM (#6036656)
      I know some people will hate to hear this, but, like your insulin pump, maybe these types of devices should be considered medical devices. These things are not simple devides like a heart rate monitor, or bicycle trip computer. When you life is a product's hands you need someone like the FDA looking out for you.
      • When you life is a product's hands you need someone like the FDA looking out for you.

        The FDA should inspect my caribeaner? My car? My oven? Every electric appliance in my house requiring more than enough electricity to kill me?
        • The FDA should inspect any device that gives you a medical advise. Your car does not do that, and neither does your oven. But if you have a calculator that tells you what food is safe for you to eat (or else you die), you'd better be sure it works.
          • The FDA should inspect any device that gives you a medical advise

            It's a common misperception that the FDA inspects medical devices - in most cases, they do not. They merely inspect the paperwork that you provide them to prove that you did the device inspections yourself.
            It's actually a relatively rare occurance that the FDA performs an onsight inspection.

      • by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @08:17PM (#6037632)
        Yeah.. it's not like divers are taught that you use a computer to augment your diving, and that you should still fill out your dive tables or anything.

        It's not like you aren't supposed to fly on a plane within 24 hours of diving, or anything.

        It's not like every diver knows that the dive computers and dive tables are approximations, and that they can vary drastically for a number of reasons.

        Pushing the absolute limits of what your computer says you are allowed is dumb.

        I'm not saying the company is not responsible to a degree... they absolutely had an obligation to make their gear as safe as possible, and not informing the diving world that their gear had a flaw was totally unacceptable.

        There is a large element of recklessness involved in this situation.
        • by TFloore ( 27278 ) on Monday May 26, 2003 @02:49AM (#6039173)
          Yeah.. it's not like divers are taught that you use a computer to augment your diving, and that you should still fill out your dive tables or anything.

          I routinely do dive profiles that my dive tables say I should get bent on. My computer knows better, because it knows the actual depth profile I dive, and not just the max depth and total dive time.

          Almost any dive profile on a wall will do this. You start deep, and drift slowly more shallow as you go, and you can do a nice hour-long dive with a max depth of about 80ft, and an average noticably shallower than that.

          Yes, you can do this with a multi-level dive table, with a wheel or similar. I've done that. You know how much trouble that is? And how difficult it is to know, for a sloping wall dive, exactly how long you'll spend at any particular depth looking at coral? Yes, plan your dive, and dive your plan. But realize that you aren't a robot, and don't dive like one.

          Multilevel dive planning is for deco diving where your computer can't handle it, and, incidentally, you *have* to know deco times ahead of time so you can hang stage bottles at the right depth.

          But that dive profile above, for a normal set of dive tables, diving with a computer, will almost always end with your tables telling you that you went into deco. Because all it uses is max depth and total bottom time.

          It's not like every diver knows that the dive computers and dive tables are approximations, and that they can vary drastically for a number of reasons.

          Yeah, and the tables are approximations, too. Actually, they are statistical representations, and state that 98% of divers that stay within these guidelines will not get DCS, with some confidence bound. Yes, diving tables, you can still be that unlucky 2% that does everything right and gets bent anyway. Sometimes it's just not your day.

          Pushing the absolute limits of what your computer says you are allowed is dumb.

          No. You do research, you find out what algorithm your computer uses, how conservative or liberal it is, how it was modified from standard industry-published algorithms, and you pick a computer that works the way you want it to. And then you dive within the bounds the computer sets, so long as those bounds pass your internal bullshit detector. (You *do* have an internal bullshit detector, right?) But diving close to those bounds is not "dumb" it is simply using your equipment to the limits you are comfortable with.

          There is a large element of recklessness involved in this situation.

          Can't disagree with that at all. Finishing a dive at 10pm and flying at 6:30am the next morning is not safe.
          • by instarx ( 615765 ) on Monday May 26, 2003 @05:44AM (#6039568)
            But diving close to those bounds is not "dumb" it is simply using your equipment to the limits you are comfortable with.

            Being comfortable and being dumb are two very different things. Pushing the absolute limit set by your dive computer IS DUMB, and if you are comforatable with that then it is VERY dumb. You give the reasons not to push the limits yourself. 1)Every person is different, 2)the dive tables that the PC programming is based upon is an approximation, 3)as is the programming itself.

            You have a pretty fine-tuned bullshit detector if you can tell the difference safe and not safe when pushing the limits of a dive computer. One problem with this particular computer was that it gave the right results MOST of the time, but in certain situations it gave very wrong results (short, frequent dives). No one's bullshit meter would have detected the problem with these dive computers that gave reasonable results 99% of the time and then totally screwed you the other 1%. Neither is there any way you could have "researched" the algorithms in this particular computer to determine its accuracy because the error came from a hidden programmning error. So I think we return to the original idea - pushing the limits of any dive computer is very dumb.

            The bigger issue here for /.ers is that because of its digital readout too much importance was probably given to the dive computer's implied precision. I'm sure it said it something like it was safe to fly after 6 hours and 18 minutes. Digital readouts imply greater accuracy than is often actually present, whether it is regarding a safe number of minutes to fly displayed on a dive computer or milliseconds until your cake is ready on the microwave. Placing one's life on th eline using this implied but non-existent accuracy is very dumb. All that apparent accuracy is totally useless given your original parameters were wild-ass guesses and approximations to begin with.

    • by CatPieMan ( 460995 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:24PM (#6036775)
      However, your insulin pump probably has a warning (or the doctor who gave you the instruction on how to use it) that says if you do item A and item B, don't do item C.

      As a certified diver (of about a year and a half), I know that they specifically say that you should never go flying less than 12 hours before you take a plane ride (even a small cesna), and, if you do multiple dives you should wait at least 24 hours.

      This is not to say that the company was not at fault on this one, but, the divers themselves said that they finished the one dive at 10pm for a flight at 6:30am. I know that the absolute minimum is 4 hours (I did a flying after diving study with DAN), but, this is the limit of the dive tables and should NEVER be approached. All of the major certifying organizations will tell you this.

      • Also as a certified diver (1994) I know that tissue nitrogen saturation is highly dependent on the individual and a multitude of complex factors. There are tables for very general estimations, which have to be very conservative to be useful at all to a diverse group of individuals diving in a variety of circumstances.

        Dive computers allow the use of less conservative "tables" by applying the algorithms to sensor data. By applying actual depth/time/gas data to the algorithmic tables a diver can dive more agr
  • Man... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Azureflare ( 645778 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:49PM (#6036604)
    This kind of story makes you want to stick your head in the sand and not buy any critical applications from corporations...Unfortunately, for some "leaders of industry," protecting image is more important than the safety of the users. Users are expendable; image is not.

    Fortunately, there are still (I hope) some companies out there that are honest and worry about the safety of their users, particularly in life-critical applications.

    What a slimy guy though, to prevent any notice of the fault from getting out, and firing managers for trying to get the word out! Man. Makes me angry. *Fumes*

    • Re:Man... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @07:00PM (#6037223) Journal
      This kind of story makes you want to stick your head in the sand and not buy any critical applications from corporations...

      From whom would you buy your critical applications software (and hardware)? What if the guy down the street starts building them in his garage? Would you trust him? Would you trust your life with him?

      Let's say he's very responsive to customer issues. Whenever there's a serious incident, he tracks down the bug in the software, issues a patch, and moves on. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bugs, and a lot of deaths, because he couldn't do proper QA by himself in his garage...

      Well, you say, let him hire some QA people. Maybe a few marketing guys--he has to make a living, after all. Perhaps an engineer or two. Pretty soon, it starts to sound like he's running a *gasp* corporation.

      You're right--directors and executives of companies that suppress reports of safety concerns should be drawn and quartered. To suggest that all corporations are reckless, deceptive, and grossly irresponsible is unfair.

      Then there are some damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't cases. I'm familiar with the Therac-25 accidents [] in the mid-1980s, but I'm not going to ask the pharmacy for cobalt-60 so I can do home radiotherapy. I have to accept that there is a probability that somewhere, someone screwed up--and my life might be at risk because of it, and there is little (if anything) I can do about it.

    • by Kappelmeister ( 464986 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @07:46PM (#6037469)
      This kind of story makes you want to stick your head in the sand and not buy any critical applications from corporations...Unfortunately, for some "leaders of industry," protecting image is more important than the safety of the users. Users are expendable; image is not.

      So you're saying you're not going to ever drive a car [] again?

      Computer applications aren't the only life-critical products we depend on. You put your life in the hands of corporations every minute of the day. How are you going to make sure your house is structurally sound? Buy open-source lumber and build it yourself? Are you going to keep eating food which has been prepared by corporations?

      But as you, the Pinto history and others [] point out, corporations will only care about the lives of their consumers to the point at which it becomes economically favorable to do so. If it's cheaper to settle 10 probable death cases than issue a recall for the faulty product, they settle. The value of human life doesn't factor in. Today's cars only sell themselves on safety because it has become economical to do so, i.e., consumers value safety and demand it from their products.

      This is why we need government oversight. I'll tell you what makes me want to put my head in the sand: how we are not funding the oversight agencies [] enough to do their job. We just passed two tremendous tax cuts in three years; I don't know where the cuts are going, but I feel like people take safe food and transportation for granted around here. I hope at least the sand is clean.

  • Diving Computers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:51PM (#6036617)
    There are two major diving computer companies with "original" systems-- UWATEC and SUUNTO. Uwatec (named in the suit) has been known for less conservative systems; they let a diver stay down longer.

    This is attractive to people who do decompression diving, because it means that they don't have to hang out shivering at 5-10m with nothing to see as long at the end of the dive.

    Suunto takes a different approach, has a more conservative model, and makes it easier to force your computer to be more conservative still. Most divers don't use that function, because it is contrary to their desire to have maximum bottom time.

    Proper diving procedures recommend using two different computers, and always relying on the more conservative unit for your decompression limits. (Assuming that you are doing a computer-only dive and not a table dive.) When your life is at stake, you have to assume that equipment has problems, and act accordingly.
    • Re:Diving Computers (Score:5, Informative)

      by skroz ( 7870 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:01PM (#6036664) Homepage
      Agreed. Personally, (and according to PADI recommendations, I believe,) I don't trust computers at all. I have one, yes, but I still trust the tables a whole lot more. Someone recently showed me the wheel, which is apparently easier to screw up than the tables but far more accurate.

      Checks and balances. I use the computer to make sure I'm doing the manual calclations correctly, and the manual calculations to keep the computer honest.

      Then again, I'm strictly a recreational diver. Pros and semi-pros are a completely different story.
      • DANG! If this is what you do as a hobbyist, I hate to see what the pros do. :^)
        • Re:Diving Computers (Score:5, Interesting)

          by lgftsa ( 617184 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @06:08PM (#6036996)
          He forgot to mention that the divemaster manually checks everyone's calculations after each dive - and that's after each buddy pair checks each other's calculations first.

          You have to remember that it doesn't matter why you're diving - sport, recreation, pro sport, commercial/industrial - it's all happening in a hazardous environment which the human body has no defences against.

          What the dive tables[1] represent is a boundary to which most humans can push their bodies and not suffer a critical failure(embolism/bends/nitrogen narcosis[2]). Past that boundary, bad things happen. Some people don't reach that boundary before they happen. An identical stress applied to two people may not affect one person, but kill the other.

          [1] Originally created by trial and error(diving and bending) by the US Navy, then becoming more accurate and conservative over time.

          [2] NN is akin to getting high - and getting high is *NOT* a good idea when you're at 20m and breathing through a regulator! People who offer their regulators to passing fish, or loose track of time/depth die.
          • Narcosis, no` (Score:2, Informative)

            by mindstrm ( 20013 )
            Narcosis has nothing to do with dive tables... only with depth. The rough figure is 30 meters... I think narcosis at 20 meters is rare if not impossible. All you have to do if you experience narcosis is ascend to a depth where you realize that fish can breathe water, and you can't.

            When you learn to dive, you usualy do a deep dive to a) show you what depth you start to experience narcosis and b) learn what it feels like, so you can recognize it when you are diving.

        • As someone studying for a private pilot's license, I can understand where the divers are coming from. Basically, if you screw up once, your life is over. This might not be the case every single time, but one mistake at the wrong time could easily end your life and put whatever bits of you rescuers could find in a little pouch 10 feet underground.

          Thus, hobbyists and amateurs use methods very similar to those of the "pros"; both need to ensure the utmost level of safety. Most of the time that caution isn

      • Re:Diving Computers (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Tri ( 60119 )
        The wheel isn't that much more accurate, and it's a lot easier to stuff up. It's very easy to put it out of alignment, and once you've done that, the results it will give you will be wrong.

        The wheel isn't actually any more accurate than tables, it's just showing the same calculations in a different way.

        And PADI does not recommend that you do not use computers.

        And if you want to feel safe because you are using tables, use the US Navy Tables, and limit your ascent speed to 9 to 12 metres / minute, and you
      • I'm just a recreational diver as well, and I use my dive computer primarily as a record keeping device. It's an easy way to track my times and depths over two dives for later entry into my dive log. For dive time calculations, I use the tables. It's conservative, but I'd rather miss a few minutes of bottom time and be healthy than rely on the calculations in the computer.

        It sounds to me like the market for these computers was agressive divers...people who were trying to push the limits of safe dive times.

      • by fmaxwell ( 249001 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @09:34PM (#6038054) Homepage Journal
        Don't forget that, for years, the PADI dive tables were Navy Dive Tables. For a very good history of dive tables, click here []. Dive tables are based on the same theories and technology as dive computers. The biggest difference is that they are more prone to human error than are dive computers.

        It's great to say "plan your dive and dive your plan", but people are fallible. Your buddy may go a little deeper than he/she intended. You may, because of narcosis, get confused about the maximum time or depth. You or they might have problems that slightly delay your ascent. If you plan to go to 90 feet and you drop a video camera to the bottom at 110, unless you're Bill Gates, you're probably going to go get the camera and cut the dive short. So much for the plan. (I've been a diver for over fifteen years. I've seen everything from divers getting entangled in wrecks to outright equipment failures. Don't reply with some macho explanation of how you can foresee and prevent every error. You can't and if you believe that you can, then you need to stop diving until your ego and testosterone stop affecting your reasoning.)

        My buddy and I each bought dive computers at the same time. I made it a point to choose dive computers from different manufacturers so that a sofware flaw in one would not put us at undue risk. We stick close together and always use the more conservative of the two computer readings. Had one of us had a UWATEC computer, we would have noticed the problem immediately when comparing the two computers.
    • Proper diving procedures recommend using two different computers, and always relying on the more conservative unit for your decompression limits.

      Actually, for recreational, non-decompression diving(which represents the vast majority of recreational diving- technical diving is a whole other beast), PADI tells you to use the tables they give you on a waterproof card. You're supposed to plan your dive AHEAD OF TIME using the tables, and stick to the plan. You're not supposed to just grab a dive computer an

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:52PM (#6036621)
    I had a friend in the US who underwent LASIK surgery. He told me that his wife, who was computer-savvy, and was watching him being operated on, saw a Win95 box dedicated to controlling the laser and the mount's stepper motors, and that the operator was repeatedly hitting ENTER to make that recurring message box with a red X disappear. She got worried but the surgery was already under way, so she didn't say anything.

    Fortunately, his LASIK succeeded. Later on however, he went back to the hospital and asked about the operator's behaviour : the response was "well, we were worried at first, but that error message comes back every five minutes and the machine always works anyway".

    Scary ...
    • by Enonu ( 129798 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @06:01PM (#6036962)
      Thanks for your insightful post. As somebody who's constantly considering lasic, but fearing that I would be the screwed .5% who's vision would be completely destroyed, this gives me an extra security check that I can perform before I opt for the surgery. I'll be asking:

      * What software do you use?
      * How do I get a safety report on this software for as long as it's been used?
      * How many revisions/updates has it had in the past year?
      * What's the underlying hardware and OS platform it runs on?
      * What kind of training do the operators of this software have to go through.

      If I get ANY BLANK stares or anything less than definitive answers, I'll be going somewhere else. If it's the difference between a place that charges $500 an eye and one that charges $1000 an eye, so be it.
      • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @09:31PM (#6038042)
        Make sure you visit this site [] before ever laying down in that chair. A recent study (Feb. 2003, on the site) indicates between 10 and 20% of refractive surgery patients have complications, a number that is far above what the LASIK industry is touting as its failure rate.

        Of particular interest are the stories concerning doctors who have overridden software safeguards and have continued the procedure, resulting in broken blades in the eyes and some other not-so-pleasant outcomes. Not strictly in the "bugs killling people" dept., but it does make you think whether you trust your eyes to a software developer.
    • I've never understood the pretty laissez-faire attitude towards LASIK surgery in the states.

      I've read several articles when journalist X went to the mall on the corner and had both his eyes done in a snap! Any everything was all smiles and thumbs up.

      The normal procedure on this side of the pond is that after a thorough evaluation you get one eye done. After two followups to check that you everything went well and the eye is healing OK you zap the other eye.

      Or as we say: Don't look into laser with your r
  • Healthcare Software (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:55PM (#6036636)
    I have dealth with Healthcare Software for Pharmacy and Lab systems where a delay or missed processing of an order can be fatal to a patient. One thing I found before leaving that industry was that there was a massive migration of these systems from reliable-high uptime servers (VMS, Unix, Mainframe) to Windows client server enviroment. If you think that the Klez virus is bad in a regular office, try working in an enviroment where it brings down a server critical to patient care.
    • When a software bug can kill, you've got to test, test, test, test, test, test, test, ....

      Unfortunately my boss just want's it out the door! Lol, I guess when he's out of a job (me included), I can look back and say I told you so! (Not a good concilation prize by any stretch.)
  • Exposure. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:55PM (#6036640) Homepage
    Exposure is a good fictional title about a certain floating-point bug in a mainstream CPU by a popular fictional chip maker. Doesn't matter if the software is perfect if the hardware isn't.
  • Ethics Lectures (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Poofat ( 675020 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:58PM (#6036650)
    I've always wondered why the Engineers had to sit through the ethics lectures, and the Comp Sci people didn't. In this day and age, we are relying on automated systems and programs enough so that the people making them should be aware of the consequences of failure.
    • Do you really think that ethics can be taught in a lecture?

    • It was just your school. The University of Kansas (eg) required CS majors to sit through an ethics course.
    • In my experience, it is seldom the engineers who make the ethic calls. (Sure, about code reuse, etc...) In the engineers in this article actually did raise objections, but weren't listened to.

      The simple truth is that management will decide what type of product is shipped. Great engineers with shitty management still equals trouble,
  • by craenor ( 623901 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @04:58PM (#6036651) Homepage
    Until one of the software packages that controls the new-ish electronic traction, suspension and stabilization systems bugs out killing a family of 6 in their SUV.

    The sad part is that for an error like this, multiple people will have to die or risk death before anyone will clue into what the error could be.
  • Of course they died, because they were missing the single most important piece of dive safety equipment: A hyperintelligent dolphin with miraculous capabilities of interspecies communication.

    Flipper: Ennnhhhhhh! Ennnhhhhhh! (backs up)

    Diver: What's that Flipper? There's a software bug in my wrist diving computer that could lead to my grisly death?

    Flipper: Ennnhhhhhh! Ennnhhhhhh! (backs up)

    Diver: Well thank God you told me! Otherwise I never would have known!

    Flipper: Ennnhhhhhh! Ennnhhhhhh! (back up)

    Diver: What? There's a Russian sub off the coast?

    In short, never go diving without your near-omniscient dolphin.
  • by fdiskne1 ( 219834 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:04PM (#6036675)
    When I dive, I plan with a conservative dive table. Why risk your life just so you can stay underwater for another few minutes?

    Corporations, by their very nature, don't care about their customers. All they care about is profits. Granted, some people within coporations may care about customers, but they have to follow the corporate rules.

    Leeman and Ruchti (the founders of the company) ought to be thrown in jail for a long time and the company liquidated. All proceeds should be given to those harmed by their actions. I don't care that the current owners "didn't know" about the problems. It should serve as an incentive for future people/corporations that you will be held responsible for what your company does.
  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:10PM (#6036703)
    I would have to say that the above is the best argument I have ever seen for open source software. If your life is on the line, if you may be damaged by software, then that software sourcecode should be forced to be open source. At the very least it would prevent weasly scumbags from thinking they could cover up their misdeeds, at best it might insure that companies would try and get the product right when peoples lives are at stake.
  • by beyonddeath ( 592751 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:12PM (#6036711)
    ok, I work at a dive shop in Toronto Canada, I am a certified rescue diver. No diver should _EVER_ rely strictly upon a dive computer, they should always have a backup depth and pressure gauge. Not only that but they should plan their dive using Naui or padi (or similar) dive tables and follow their plan. If at that point their computer thinks they can stay longer.. thats good but follow your plan anyway, better safe than sorry! The point is, get trained properly, and use ur brain not a computer to do the thinking.
    • Exactly!

      I havent dived in 13 years, and when I was last active Dive computers were just coming into vogue for the well heeled diver. But it was drummed into us over and over again that computers can fail or give inaccurate results. So always plan using a table and stick to it.

      A computer might be a nice accesory, but if your life can count on precision, double check everything with a table!
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:13PM (#6036716) Homepage Journal
    Don't forget about these little modules, that *most* of us in society today bet our safety on, putting our very lives in the hands of the developers. So many people just dont even realize they are there, or what they are doing.. zero clue..

    Even if you drive an old vehicle that doesn't have these things, the guy next to you, or behind, in that huge SUV you probably does.

    Airplanes too, its bad for one to fall out of the sky due to bad code...

    • by phillymjs ( 234426 ) <.gro.ognats. .ta. .todhsals.> on Sunday May 25, 2003 @07:34PM (#6037391) Homepage Journal
      I actually had a little trouble with an ABS system a few years back, on a '94 Pontiac Grand Am. The system failed in such a way that once in a while when I would apply the brakes, the pedal would sink all the way to the floor without doing anything to slow the vehicle... the brakes were just plain not there. I would immediately let up on the pedal and reapply the brakes, and then they would work.

      Luckily, the first time this happened I was slowing from about 25mph to turn into a parking lot, with no other traffic around-- otherwise things might have been more, shall we say, interesting.

      I was stunned when the service people told me that the failure of the ABS could take out the brakes entirely. One can just imagine the kind of lawsuit that could have been unleashed, had my brakes gone out at a truly inopportune time-- like if a little kid ran out in front of my car, or I were unable to stop at an intersection and ended up getting t-boned by a speeding 18-wheeler as a result.

  • by 26199 ( 577806 ) * on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:19PM (#6036742) Homepage

    I imagine they teach all CS undergraduates about the THERAC-25 [], and how simple safety measures like hardware interlocks are much, much more reliable than software...

    In this case, couldn't you check dive times against a book or something to make sure you're not completely off the mark?... what about something to measure nitrogen levels? Anything so you're not relying purely on software... (or, as someone has already suggested, you could use two completely different pieces of software).

  • by zakezuke ( 229119 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:24PM (#6036776)
    I don't dive much, but I still have my padi dive table.

    "For flying up to 8,000 feet after diving: Less then one hour TBT (Total bottom time) , wait 4 hours; less then 4 hours TBT, wait 12 hours." *PADI tive tables (C) 1983

    [where TBT = RNT Residual nitrogen time) + Actual Bottom time ]

    I dont have my padi manual onhand to estimate how long the folks were down as my table doesn't cover flight, only covers up to 24hours reccomended desaturation time, and doesn't cover this Nitrox stuff. tm l

    My old PADI book wouldn't cover Nitrox either, so if I were to use it, I would have no choice but to accept their information as fact, or buy new tables.

    • They also by their own admitance did their deeper dive later. This also is quite contrary to all of the PADI stuff that I have been taught.

      For anyone who doesn't know-- taking the deeper dive second tends to help you get the bends faster (it is similar to the reasons you always start off the night drinking the drink with the highest alcohol content).

      There is also some recommendation about not doing more than 3 dives in one day without at least a 1 hour surface interval.

      I have been using a Suuanto Stinge
  • by sopuli ( 459663 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:34PM (#6036822)
    The story has been around for a while (core memory...), and I'm not sure whether it's an UL or not, but here goes:

    Six or seven years ago, I worked with a fellow with the very British
    name of Ken Appleby. He had a Spitfire, I had my '74 B, and we used
    to motor out to Pickwick's Pub and throw darts after work on occasion.

    Ken used to work for Lucas in the UK, specifically for a division
    of Lucas that did military electronics. My favorite of his stories
    was about the time he had been working on a computer-controlled
    torpedo. It used magnetic core memory to store the programs, which
    had the advantage of being very non-volatile as well as not susceptible
    to EMP discharge.

    So Ken got to ride on the boat for the first test of the torpedo that
    used the computer with his program in it. Somewhere out in the North
    Sea, on an R. N. cutter, Ken and his crew launched the first ever run
    of this new weapon, and Ken learned a new respect for debugging...

    The program was supposed to make the torpedo shoot off the boat, dive
    to a depth at which it couldn't be easily detected, then circle
    toward the target, climb to striking depth, and hit the target. There
    were on-board sensors to detect sea level, and the torpedo was supposed
    to travel at a preset distance below sea level, with constant feedback
    keeping it on track.

    Somehow, somewhere, Ken had multiplied one of the 3D coordinates by
    a negative number, and this error soon propagated through the
    transformation matrix (the mathematical construct that models 3D
    space), with predictable results.

    Within instants of hitting the water, the torpedo -- instead of
    sinking out of visible range -- blasted up and out from the water in
    a great silver fountain, then continued skipping across the surface of
    the blue like some sort of deranged wingless flying fish. Worse yet,
    instead of circling toward the target, it circled all right, but began
    to return to the ship that launched it. Fortunately it was not armed,
    but they still detonated the self-destruct on it rather than let it
    slice through their ship at 50 knots or whatever rate it travelled.
    Because of the non-volatile core memory, Ken was able to debug the
    program from what the Royal Navy frogmen could recover from it, and
    he fixed the problem for Rev 2.0.

    But I must admit that the image of the torpedo, splashing happily
    above the surface of the water like an aroused porpoise, is one that
    returns to me in idle moments such this. What else would a Lucas
    torpedo do but try to fly?

    • I remember a terrible bug with some microwaves from 'back in the day'. They had the usual 'convenience' panel with the usual numbers and the usual preset timers for different meals. However, this one upon selecting 'chicken', would not only set the timer for 65535 seconds, but wouldn't shut off if the door was opened. I know these units were recalled, but I always press 'cancel' before opening the door, just because of this story.
      • terrible bug with some microwaves . . . wouldn't shut off if the door was opened.

        It is to prevent exactly this sort of nonsense that every Microwave I've ever seen the inside of (nice to have the schematic glued inside the case) has either three or four (this more on commercial models) redundant 'interlock' switches that prevent the unit from generating radiation with the door open. The first 2/3 switches are 'normally open' but held closed by the spring that engages the door latch. The last switch i

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:41PM (#6036854)

    I had a scuba instructor for my first certification, Di Dieter, who had experience diving with Coustou (hope I spelled that right), he also dove the Andrea Doria on several occasions, and basically has been around. I'm sure he's had thousands of dives, perhaps approching or even exceeding the ten thousand mark, under his belt (close to forty years of diving, multiple daily dives, several hundred dives a year, including a grueling dive schedule with Coustou, and he's a dive instructor). He's a no-nonsense guy with a good dose of common sense, and has little patience with screwups.

    He did it right. He taught us to dive the navy dive tables, one up, one over, plus a safety margin. This was when the recreational tables had just come out. My friend and I dove for some years after that, and never had a problem. At that time, dive computers were out for a few years, and all the dive shops, through their "train with really expensive gear so you buy it" training programs had all their students diving with computers throughout their training.

    Di Dieter did it right. He trained us with the old fashioned, and RELIABLE mechanical guages, waterproof clocks/watches, and tables on waterproof material. No computers.

    While computers can extend dive times because you don't spend all your time at maximum depth, you also increase risk in doing so. Whether you decide to use the dive computers or not, you should ALSO have the mechanical pressure and depth guages, and manually calculate your dives.

    Solely relying on a computer for diving is sheer stupidity and absolutely reckless. The minimal increase in bottom time is not worth the risk of an embolism, or the bends, which can be a debilitating condition for the rest of your life, or even fatal.

    Do it right. Manually calculate your dive, and rely on your brain, not a computer, to stay safe and not risk your life. Bring that fancy computer with you if you want, but don't trust it over basic guages.

    And Di, if you're reading this, this is the dude with the 43 lbs of lead on his weight belt! Hope you're still diving. And enjoying life. Peace.

    • Current diving training STILL trains you to use tables, not computers. They specifically tell you that computers are a nice tool, and very useful, but that you MUST know how to do things the normal way. That means: Watch, pressure guage, and dive tables. Pencil & Slate.

      What these divers did was NOT indicative of how diving schools train nowadays by any means.. they pushed it, doing many things that dive schools make a BIG point of discouraging.

  • by ColaMan ( 37550 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:41PM (#6036857) Journal
    If you're interested in the hazards of software in the real world check out the risks forum.
    They take submissions from people about faults and errors in software (and related meatware) that put lives at risk.A weekly digest can be found here [].

    It's a good read, especially browsing through the archives. eg:

    "A woman drowned during a flood when the elevator she was riding in incorrectly sensed a fire alarm and went to the ground floor which was underwater."

    "Three people killed when a computer glitch caused a 16-inch pipeline to rupture, dumping 237,000 gallons of petrol."

    and so on. Makes you a little paranoid. Now I know why indemnity insurance is so high these days.
  • by minus_273 ( 174041 ) <> on Sunday May 25, 2003 @05:46PM (#6036883) Journal
    where the diver gets a blue screen on one of those :-p
  • Responsability (Score:2, Insightful)

    Even if they were pros, the injured divers made a rookie mistake.

    Diving is really, really wonderful and very safe if you follow proper security measures. But like in many other activities there are always some risks involved, and it is YOUR responsabiliy to do all you can to minimize this risks.

    You never trust your computer alone, you always doble check with the tables, and you memorize the tables, just in case. Ok, calculations with Nitrox are more difficult than with air, but anyway after a while you sh
  • When Software Attacks, Next On FOX!
  • Anybody who relies on a dive computer to avoid the bends is just asking for trouble. Dive computers are useful as an additional safety measure, but you should always calculate your dive profiles by hand. "Closely spaced dives" are particularly problematic and should either be avoided entirely, or you should include a big extra safety margin. Unless this guy did all that and kept meticulous dive logs, I think his lawsuit has no merit, even if the computer was completely broken.

    Dive tables and dive comput
  • How many people a beowulf cluster of these can kill!
  • Fight Club (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kefabi ( 178403 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @06:21PM (#6037052) Journal
    Companies are out to make money.

    Take the expected number of products that customers have that will fail and harm/kill someone, then multiply that by the average settlement. You end up with what your company can expect to pay from all the court cases from people dying with whatever product a company sells.

    If this is cheaper than doing a recall, the company won't do a recall. Even when the company knows people will die from their shitty products

    That's what Fight Club says, though I think most companies these days will do a recall anyway, in an effort to avoid bad PR as well.

    Ford/Firestone didn't do too well by not doing a recall for a long time. Yeah, they might have expected to lose less money by not doing a recall, but the massive amout of bad PR that came around (people started noticing they were more likely to die on the things) ended up doing a lot worse damage to the bottom line than a recall.
  • by unfortunateson ( 527551 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @06:25PM (#6037076) Journal
    I would love to find some attribution to this, I believe I remember reading it in Computerworld in the mid-'80s:

    A manufacturer of particle accelerators for treating cancers had a unit, that due to a software bug, would occasionally blow a fuse. It wasn't considered important enough to track down, since you could just reset the machine, and it'd be fine.

    Until they upgraded the equipment for a higher power unit, with the same software. The radiation dose killed a patient.

    This came up originally under the subject of software malpractice.
  • Anybody remember ther Therac 25? It was a medical radiation machine, and killed a handful of people, due to a firmware bug...

    Therac 25 Investigation []

  • Corporations covering up stuff like this?

    I guess this gives new meaning to the cliche "How low can they be?"
  • by Dolphinzilla ( 199489 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @07:46PM (#6037468) Journal
    In my experience as a diver for the last 15 years, I have seen many divers who rely on dive computer technology to get closer to the edge and get more bottom time, longer dives, deeper dives, etc. The original "paper" dive tables were based on the experience and testing by U.S Navy diver's and are VERY conservative. The advent of widespread use of dive tables for recreational diving resulted in diving being a lot safer. The advent of computerized tables has promoted a false sense of security to the diver (kind of like having a radar detector in car - you might avoid more tickets, but you may speed more also) - I myself have dove profiles I would never have attempted based on the dive tables but the computer "said" it was OK so we did it. Here is a story about a dive computer specifically designed to be used with mixed gas diving (nitrox) adding yet another element of risk over regular diving. I think that dive computers should come with a waiver that says "if you trust you life to this device you do so at your own risk". Based on what the story said I would never have gone flying so soon after diving using regular dive tables - they threw the dice and lost, and now they want to pretend that what they were doing was risk free and the dive computer caused all the problems - Its nice that the dive computer maker is recalling the units to make them more conservative. Too bad those divers didn't buy the "common sense" computer too.
  • Yes, it is bad that this computer has a bug that can result in over-saturation of Nitrogen. But anyone who relies on their dive computer ONLY, and doesn't do a hand table, when 'diving aggressivly' is being a fool. Would you drive straight into a building becuase your GPS says it should be a road and you are just too stubborn in your reliance on computers to believe your eyes?

    Dive computers are a convenience, but they shouldn't be a replacement for using your brain and planning safe dives.

    One person in
  • Yes companies should be responsible.

    But these divers were being stupid.

    I'm a novice diver, but the concepts are not hard to understand:

    You don't fucking dive within 24 hours of taking an airplane ride.

    You don't push the limits of your gear. Computers ESTIMATE the nitrogen in your blood; every person's metabolism is different, the exact same conditions can kill one person and have no effect on another.

    DIVE TABLES. Many divers still use dive tables.. sure, your computer is great.. but you USE your dive
  • I'm a scuba diver (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Daimaou ( 97573 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @08:48PM (#6037780)
    I'm an avid scuba diver, but I have never been keen on using the dive computer for this very reason; rather I go for the manual method even though you supposedly cut your dive time down.

    Having worked in software for many years, I have yet to see a perfect program, and I have never wanted to trust my life and/or health to the programming and testing skills of someone else.
  • by that _evil _gleek ( 598545 ) on Sunday May 25, 2003 @11:13PM (#6038434)
    As long corporations can figure out when it's cheaper to just go-ahead and let a few people die, some will. There needs to be a 3 strikes your company is dissolved law.
    No more company, all assets sold, stockholders get whats left over, after all debts payed (as usual). Corporate officers and board members prohibited from serving in either capacity in any corporation for a period of at least 2 years. Don't worry if they don't actually have enough cash to cover that, they can always get real jobs...

    At one point in our history, it actually required an act of Congress to incorporate, it isn't a right its more like a drivers license, the only thing Congress would need to do is care.
  • by Blademan007 ( 320541 ) on Monday May 26, 2003 @01:42AM (#6038969)
    At the bottom of their recall web page:

    "We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you."

    Now *that* is an understatement...

APL hackers do it in the quad.