PraxIS January 2004                    ISSN 1649-2374

04-01 Contents: Benford's law, phone scams, OpenUp to e-business, downloadable presentations on testing, Excel bug, PowerPointlessness, European affairs

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Systems Modelling Ltd.: Managing reality in Information Systems - strategies for success


1) Risk management
   Benford's Law - detecting fraud in invented numeric amounts
   Phone Fraudsters exploit a developing country's dialing code 
2) Internet and e-business
    Enterprise Ireland OpenUp campaign to promote e-business
3) Software Quality
   Lee Copeland & David Parnas presentations now online
   Excel 2003 RAND() bug
   Powerpoint considered harmful to communication?
4) European affairs
   Ireland's presidency
   News sources on the Euro
5) On the lighter side
   A model view of life      
   Pictures from Mars Rover
25 Web links in this newsletter
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Patrick O'Beirne


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1) Risk management

Benford's Law - detecting fraud in invented numeric amounts
A phenomenological law also called the first digit law, first digit phenomenon, or leading digit phenomenon. Benford's law states that in listings, tables of statistics, etc., the digit 1 tends to occur with probability 30%, much greater than the expected 11.1% (i.e., one digit out of 9).

No. Probability
1   0.30103 
2   0.176091 
3   0.124939 
4   0.09691 
5   0.0791812     
6   0.0669468 
7   0.0579919 
8   0.0511525 
9   0.0457575 

So why is this important?

Here is an article that shows how auditors can make use of this property. Nigrini, M. "I've Got Your Number." J. Accountancy 187, pp. 79-83, May 1999.
"Benford's law provides a data analysis method that can help alert CPAs to possible errors, potential fraud, manipulative biases, costly processing inefficiencies or other irregularities."


Phone Fraudsters exploit a developing country's dialing code

I came across an intriguing piece of research by Brian King in Balancing Act's News Update 188 (21 Dec 2003) 

"In 1989 the Government of Guinea-Bissau cemented a strategic partnership with Marconi (now part of the Portugal Telecom group) All international traffic to and from Guinea-Bissau would run through Marconi in Portugal. Marconi was also given the right to open and maintain bank accounts abroad in the name of Guine Telecom.

Critics of the company say that management of the company became increasingly chaotic and untransparent. Around 1996 Portugal Telecom managers set up a bank of computers at the earth station to receive pornographic calls from abroad. The calls were received at Guine Telecom and were immediately transmitted back without entering the national network. The practice reportedly generated significant new traffic to Guinea-Bissau, and the added revenue funded new investments in infrastructure.

On June 7, 1998 a failed coup d¹etat tipped the country into civil war; key infrastructure (such as the earth station) was destroyed and in the midst of it the bank of audiotext (read 'phone sex') computers. After their departure in 1998 Portugal Telecom began withholding settlement payments for international calls terminating in Guinea-Bissau, and has continued to do so.

A journalist from the major Spanish newspaper El País confirmed a so-called 'epidemic' of calls to Guinea-Bissau from Spain, appearing on the bills of people who had no relationship with the country. In all these instances the Spanish operator Telefonica responded that the calls were genuine.  "

For the rest of this story, go to:


2) Internet

Enterprise Ireland OpenUp campaign to promote e-business

Tanaiste Mary Harney has launched a campaign to encourage Internet usage and e-business initiatives among Irish SMEs. The Enterprise Ireland-backed campaign, called OpenUp, will offer information and guidance to companies which want to take advantage of the benefits of e-business and IT, with a wide range of resources available on its website,  The take-up of e-business in this country is generally considered to be lagging behind our European neighbours.

It is somewhat ironic, then, that an Information Society initiative in the South-East of Ireland came to an end on the same date, December 2003. On the other hand, at least the South-East Regional Authority and the South East Business & Innovation Centre (SEBIC) are still going:

Further comment on the technical market scene in Ireland can be found on :

A national imperative "One of the reasons e-business has been slow to take off, it could be argued, is that it is a concept we find it difficult to grasp and put a tangible value on. The same woolliness could be said to apply to another well-worn term, broadband, which has long been portrayed as essential to Ireland's future economic prosperity. Part of the reason for our apparent ambivalence towards broadband is the failure so far to put a value on it. Until now. A report entitled Ireland's Broadband Future, published last month by the Information Society Commission (ISC), goes some way towards remedying this situation."


3) Software quality

Lee Copeland & David Parnas presentation notes

Now available at :
The Banana Principle For Testers: Knowing When To Stop Testing by Lee Copeland SQE
Documentation Based Software Testing by David Lorge Parnas SQRL. ____________________________________________________________


Excel 2003 RAND() bug

I reported this in my blog on 9 December.

More than two months ago, Don Peters posted a message on a Microsoft public newsgroup describing the problem. Microsoft didn’t do anything about it.
The random number function in Excel is relied upon by Monte Carlo simulation modellers (huge financial risk models) and office syndicate lottery number pickers. It is specified to create only positive numbers 0-1; now it occasionally produces negative numbers.
Woody Leonhard commented: "I can’t even begin to imagine the financial impact of this bug. "
"Microsoft replaced the RAND() function in Excel 2003. The company says that 'the new generator passes all standard tests of randomness...'"
It's not even random, as Don Peters shows in a nice scatter diagram. But to return negatives is going to break a lot of models!
The lesson for us is that regression testing applies to spreadsheet users too - you have to validate that your models still work correctly when you change versions of Excel.


Powerpoint considered harmful to communication?

Bernie Goldbach's blog  links a few articles on sloppy writing which casts doubts on the quality of the thinking :

Jeffrey McManus's article "Use of Powerpoint considered harmful" picks up on the style theme:
It has provoked satire sites like Peter Norvig's "PowerPoint Rendition of the Gettysburg Address" at
Tim Ward coined the term "PowerPointlessness" in the Guardian (UK) Education supplement:,9828,959242,00.html
John Naughton of the Observer Business section considers that  "PowerPoint panders to our weaker points",6903,872912,00.html
Clive Thompson in the New York Times concluded that "PowerPoint Makes You Dumb' from the report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA that criticised a confusing PowerPoint slide. (free registration required)

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4) European affairs

Quoted from the newsletter: 

'Europeans - Working Together' is the theme of Ireland's six-month presidency of the EU, which began on 1 January. Ireland's main task will be to preside over the expansion of the EU in May, when ten new members will boost the bloc's population to about 450 million.

"Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has vowed that Ireland will push ahead with work on the Union's first constitution, despite the failure of EU leaders to agree at last month's summit. Ireland is also committed to pursuing the Lisbon Strategy to make Europe the most competitive economy in the world, improving strained relations between the EU and the United States and moving African issues higher up the EU's agenda. "

The impact of the Parmalat scandal - "Italy's Enron" should also provoke some effort into the same kind of regulation here as Sarbanes-Oxley in the USA.


The Euro

Here are some recent headlines from

- Hungary's 2008 target for joining the eurozone may have to be delayed
- Belgium to fete Tintin with silver 10-euro coin
- Up to 200 people a day are still turning up at the Central Bank of Ireland headquarters carrying stockpiles of old notes and coins to change into the new currency.
- Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Italy's economy had suffered since the adoption of the euro single currency and indicated his government would have kept the country out of the 12-nation eurozone.
- The euro's record surge against the dollar and feared oil price rises threaten to pour cold water on a long-hoped for recovery in Europe even before it really gets underway.
- Swedish opposition to the European single currency has strengthened since voters in the Scandinavian country rejected the euro in a referendum two months ago.

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Simply send your comments to FEEDBACK (at) SYSMOD (dot) COM

Thank you! Patrick O'Beirne, Editor

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5) On the lighter side

A model view of life October 2000: Analyze This, by Brad C. Meyer in the Operations Research & Management Science Journal. "What happens when a modeling mindset takes over our everyday activities? Lifestyle management science." It reminds me of the "you might be an engineer if..." stories.


Pictures from Mars Rover

Unfortunately the Japanese Mars probe went off course and the European Space Administration's Beagle 2 did not survive its landing, but pictures are now becoming available from the successful landing of the NASA Mars Rover:
Here is a spectacular large (eight megabytes) image you can download if you have a fast connection: (8 MB)
If the NASA web site gets overloaded, they may remove these images. Let me know if you can't get it and I can put it on my server and give you the link .. until mine gets overloaded!


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