Tuesday, January 26, 2010

DWD (Driving While Distracted)

Readers of this blog have heard us carp for some time about the dangers of distracted driving. Now, the federal government is doing something to stop this nuttiness. Effective immediately, drivers of commercial trucks and buses will no longer be allowed to text while driving. Under federal guidelines that U.S. Transportation Department announced today, drivers of big rigs and buses may be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.

Now, if the feds would apply a similar rule to the rest of the drivers on the road, we'd all be much safer.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Hack Me

Readers of Why We Make Mistakes already know why we pick computer passwords that are easily remembered -- and easily hacked (see pages 33-34). But if you have forgotten why or need more proof, check out the New York Times article on commonly-used passwords. Security researchers discovered a list of 32 million passwords that had been stolen from a website. And the number one password was...123456.(Number two was: 12345.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Full-Body Scanners and Error Rates

Ah, full-body scanners. They're supposed to make us safer. But will they?

My hunch is: not much. My guess is based not on the scanners themselves (which are intrusive and come with real risks, like additional radiation deaths), but on the people who do the scanning.

Undercover tests conducted at major airports show that the "miss rates" for baggage inspectors using conventional technology is between 60% and 75%. That's a lot.

Has the Transportation Security Administration (or anyone else) assured us that full-body scans will result in lower error rates? If so, I've seen no such assurance.

Ultimately, all scans must be interpreted by the people behind the scanners. And that's where the problem comes in. As work by researchers like Jeremy Wolfe has demonstrated, human beings have real-world limits on their ability to detect objects, especially ones that they rarely see, such as bombs and guns. That's why the current miss rate is so high -- and why it is unlikely to improve with full-body scanners.

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