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Heathrow Terminal 5: A Bit Shambolic

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The problems at BA's (British Airways) London Heathrow's new Terminal 5 continued into today. Trying to stem more problems for occurring, BA canceled 20% of its flights before the day began. It also encouraged passengers to fly only with hand luggage. I guess that is better than what happened yesterday when passengers on a number of flights got off at their destination and only then were told that their luggage hadn't been put on the plane.

The Guardian has a story about the breakdown that happened yesterday - it describes "a catalogue of errors led by serious problems with BA's new baggage sorting regime (that) caused the entire system to collapse within hours." It started with "a lack of staff spaces in a specially-designated car park" for baggage system operators, followed quickly by baggage system operators "unable to log on to the computer system, which caused three flights to 'cut and run' and fly off without bags - creating the first backlog of the day." It degenerated from there.

Other new Terminal 5 IT systems like the one that is supposed to help allocate staff resources to problem areas in an event of a crisis occurring, failed to work as expected as well.

Today, the problems continue, mostly BA said, caused by the "knock-on" effects of yesterday's fiasco. The head of strategy for BAA, the airport operator, claimed that, "We're very comfortable in the performance of the (baggage) system itself ..." but that it was the baggage system operators' fault for the problems that were being experienced. Maybe next time, BAA should create a baggage system that can operate completely without any human intervention. I know, get some robots!

More flights are going to be canceled over the weekend, in hopes of getting over the "teething problems."

BA chief executive Willie Walsh finally figured out that his "things are great" view of yesterday didn't sync with reality. So, Walsh did what all CEOs do, he accepted responsibility without really accepting responsibility. This is what Walsh told the Guardian:

" 'I am accepting responsibility that the buck stops with me. ... It was definitely not our finest hour. Maybe we set our expectations too high. We clearly made mistakes but I am absolutely determined to make this work.' "

When asked whether he would resign, he said, "No, I am not."

Maybe things will be better for passengers by next week, if they can get to the airport. London Underground staff are vowing to go on strike for three days next week which will close down the Tube, and make traveling in the London area a right shambolic mess.

More Peeking at Passports at State Department?

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It is now being reported that other celebrities and politicians have had their passport applications peaked at. For instance, the late Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith, apparently was viewed at least 20 times since January 2007.

However, it is unclear if all accesses were unauthorized.

As a side note, a CNN report in February, well before this passport flap occurred, looked at the practice of not only government employees digging through confidential information, but employees at utilities, telecommunications and accounting companies who snoop through customer data.

The story noted that at one utility, Wisconsin's WE Energies, employees were searching its databases for information on their friends, local celebs, and others. The databases, the story noted, "include credit and banking information, payment histories, Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and energy usage. n some cases, it even includes income and medical information."

The CNN story also noted that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) disciplined 219 employees last year for browsing through confidential taxpayer information; that was more than twice as many as in 2006.

Heathrow Baggage Meltdown Again - At New Terminal 5

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"It is all tried, tested and ready to go," or so said Tom Garside two weeks ago in reference to the new state of art baggage handling system at London Heathrow's new Terminal 5. Garside is the head of systems and integration for BAA, the airport operator, at Terminal 5.

For the last six months, both BAA and BA (British Airways) have been testing the baggage system and both have been supremely confident that it, the other Terminal 5 IT support systems, along with the staff were all up to speed ready to work on Terminal 5's opening day - today.

However, BAA and BA are blaming "technical glitches" and "staff familiarisation" issues for causing "teething problems" which have in turned created baggage delays of up to three hours and the cancellation of at least 34 flights by early this afternoon. In fact, except for the new digs, it sounds like a normal day over at BA's old Terminal 4.

In one reported case, a plane on its way to Los Angeles was still on the tarmac after more than three hours waiting for its luggage to be loaded. Unfortunately, it appears that the baggage system software indicated that the flight had already left. As a result, the bags which were ready to be loaded were returned instead to the terminal - I guess to be sent on other planes going to LA.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh was quoted today as saying "I'm absolutely delighted with the way things have gone so far. I think it's great."

If today was a great day, I really would hate to see what Walsh thinks is a bad day.

Update:

The wait time for luggage reached up to four hours late this afternoon.

In addition, the mounting problems with its baggage system has now forced BA to announce that check-in of all hold luggage would be suspended on Thursday evening. According to BA, "We are experiencing significant disruption to flights departing from Heathrow Terminal 5 due to problems associated with processing customersâ'' hold baggage. As a result, customers due to travel on flights departing Terminal 5 this evening will be able to travel with hand baggage only."

BA went on to say, "We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience this has caused our customers."

No news on whether BA chief executive Willie Walsh still thinks it has been a great opening day.

Those Pesky Medical Records Privacy Requirements

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Earlier this month, ComputerWeekly reported that it found out through a Freedom of Information Act request that the UK National Health Service (NHS) has allowed staff with no professional qualifications to access patient electronic medical records, even though NHS has given repeated official assurances that only specialists who were providing care would have such access.

Doctors, who have not been happy with the NPfIT ability to keep medical records secure, aren't surprised by the news.

All this is of no concern, apparently, to the MP Kevin Baron, chairman of the House Commons Health Committee who is reported as apparently believing that NHS patient confidentiality issues are overblown and are wasting time in creating the NPfIT summary care record database.

Baron also is reported as saying that it was "palpable nonsense" that the UK government will profit by selling millions of NHS patient health records to pharmaceutical and insurance companies and those claim otherwise like the British Medical Association are engaged in "scaremongering."

Baron may "speak" for the current government about whether or not it will "profit" from the NHS electronic medical records, but he sure doesn't speak for future ones. Just as patient confidentiality promises have been made less restrictive, expect this promise to be pitched overboard when it becomes "too restrictive" or "not in the best interests of the NHS" as well.

One merely has to read the UK Academy of Medical Sciences study published in February that describes the legal impediments involved in getting access to the NHS patient data, and the steps the government needs to follow to allow third party "researchers" to get at it.

That Didn't Take Long: Hannaford Sued Over Data Breach

Lawyers are suing Hannaford Brothers supermarket chain for the data breach announced last week that that exposed 4.2 million credit and debit card numbers, as well as led to at least 1,800 fraud cases.

In a story in ComputerWorld, Philadelphia law firm Berger & Montague PC and attorney Samuel Lanham Jr. in Maine (so far) have filed class-action against the supermarket which is based in Scarborough, Maine. The story says that,"The class-action suit charges the company with negligence and breach of implied contract and seeks to recover any damages that might be caused to consumers as a result of the breach."

Hannaford can also expect requests for payments from financial institutions who have also been affected by the data breach, for example, any which has had to reissue credit cards to their customers.

Manipulating the London Stock Market for Fun & Profit

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In the wake of the investment bank Bears Stearns' rapid meltdown, investors have been very worried about which bank may be next. This has created a perfect environment to play on those worries to cause havoc from which to profit by.

As you may recall, Bear Stearns denied rumors that there were any problems with its holdings and blamed its falling share price on unfounded speculation, all the way up until the day it was sold for a pittance.

So when rumors surfaced via e-mails to traders last Wednesday that HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland), Britain's largest mortgage lender, was in deep trouble, investors ran for the exits. At least one short seller supposedly made £100 million as HBOS stock fell 17%.

However, the rumor was deliberately planted, and now the authorities are trying to find out who started it. Few think they will be successful.

There is a detailed story in the London Telegraph about how at least one London-based hedge fund has been trying to manipulate the market in just this way. Undoubtedly, it isn't the only one, nor will this be the last time something like this occurs given the current market nervousness.

Possibly Coming to a Phone Near You

Nokia announced last week the winners of its annual, â''Mobile Rules!â'' competition, which gives awards to "innovative mobile business plans and cutting-edge applications, services and technologies from developers and entrepreneurs" from around the world.

The idea, as I understand it, is to encourage mainstream and entrepreneurial companies alike to come up with new applications for mobile phones. In Nokia's press release, Tom Libretto, Vice President, Forum Nokia is quoted as saying, â''Open platforms and the millions of smart phone devices available today are helping enable this new wave of entrepreneurs from around the globe to become drivers of the future global mobile marketplace through the innovative technologies, applications and business models they create today.â''

Distilling that marketing statement into something more understandable, what Nokia is saying is that: "Mobile phone customers are becoming smarter and more agile than we are in developing new applications and innovative uses of our phones. In fact, we have lost control of the direction of the market, so let's just sit back, help enable it and see where it takes us. If we provide smart phones with lots of capabilities, nice tools and open architectures for our customers to play with, our customers will create neat things that will likely make them (and others) buy our phones in the future."

The upside for Nokia for running the contest is to not only encourage this innovation, but to get a good look at what more innovative customers are doing with mobile phone technology. If what is created looks profitable, then Nokia is in a perfect position to enter collaborative deals with them.

There are some interesting ideas among the winners. Because of my interest in medical technology, I am a bit partial to the winner of the best business plan, MedApps, and the mobile wireless health monitoring system they are developing.

You can check out who all the winners are here.

UK Gov E-Crime Unit Too Expensive at $2 million

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A story in ComputerWeekly says that UK Home Office minister Vernon Coakertold has informed the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) that he did not have the £1.3 million to help kick-start the national e-crime unit.

According to the story, "ACPO has been pressing the government for £1.3m as seed capital for a 45-strong national e-crime unit, which would be funded jointly by the private sector. ACPO said it hoped the cash would give the private sector the confidence to contribute towards the £4.5m cost of the unit."

Last August, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee issued a report demanding that the government do more about e-crime. A Home Office spokesperson responded when the report was published that the government was examining the report and would respond shortly.

The answer is now in.

I supposed it is a matter of the cost/benefit assessment: at least £2.4 billion losses in e-crime per annum against £1.3 million to help start a crime unit to investigate them still doesn't make the government's priority investment cut.

Sen. Obama's Passport Data Improperly Accessed

According to the Washington Times, two State Department contract workers "used their authorized computer network access to look up files within the department's consular affairs section, which processes and stores passport information, and read Mr. Obama's passport application and other records." The two were fired, and a third disciplined. Why the third person was disciplined rather than fired is not said.

According to the story, "Computer-monitoring equipment detected the activities by the three employees on Jan. 9, Feb. 21 and March 14, triggering alarms in each case." No reason was given why it took so long after the first or second alarm to take action, given the tight restrictions placed on accessing passport information of political candidates.

The FBI is now investigating.

This also happened in 1992 when State Department officials looked into then presidential candidate Bill Clinton's passport records.

Update: The AP is now (noon) reporting that Sen. Hillary Clinton's passport file was breached last year as well.

Update 1: Now (1230) Reuters reports that Sen. John McCain's passport files were also looked at.

These breaches will undoubtedly stir up a political hornet's nest.

V-22 Osprey Tiltrotor Needs a New Pair of Shoes (err, Engines)

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Marine Col. M. D. Mulhern head of the V-22 Osprey program has said that the Rolls-Royce AE 1107C Liberty engines used to power the aircraft are wearing out faster than expected in a story that appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegraph. This means that the Osprey, which took 25 years and over $20 billion to develop, finally becoming operational in 2006 and deploying to Iraq last October, may now need a new set of engines.

In a story over on Air Force magazine's website, it says that, "Several engine components are not enduring as long as originally predicted. Engine compressors especially are eroding earlier than expected due to power demands that force the engines to run hotter, Mulhern noted. New additions to the aircraft, such as a directional infrared countermeasures systems and forward firing gun, will add weight, thereby placing even more demand on the engines, Mulhern said."

Rolls Royce, on the other hand claims that the engines have "met or exceeded all performance specifications."

Philip Coyle, former chief of the Pentagon's weapons testing division, in a recent CNN story focused on how the Osprey is finding redemption in Iraq was quoted as saying, "It seems like every time one problem is fixed another one comes along, and I just don't think the program will be able to get over that."

"The program is like a bad poker hand. They keep putting money into it when they should have spent it on a new helicopter system."

Well, it is likely just too late now. DoD will not kill the program. The only question is how much money its going to take to buy 900 or so new engines.

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Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

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Willie D. Jones
 
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