April Week 1, 1999
Stuff you need to know.
Published by Kevin G. Barkes | 1512 Annette Avenue | Library, PA 15129-9735-125
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org | www: http://www.kgbreport.com
Copyrightã 1999-2013 by Kevin G. Barkes
Written by Kevin G. Barkes
Why Not KGB Time?I just did a count of things in our house that either are clocks or have clocks in them, and we're going to have to reset a total of 49 devices to Daylight Savings Time. The cost to the nation must be in the billions. KGB Consulting's Deep and Murky Think Tank Ô has an innovative solution: turn all the clocks in the world ahead a half-hour just once and split the difference. It also has the advantage of giving us an extra half-hour to deal with Y2K problems. Or maybe we ought to get an algae eater for the ol' think tank.
Simple Fix. The KGBDMTT also has a solution to all government budgetary woes. How about listing unitedstatesofamerica.com on NASDAQ?
Like to know Bill Gates' Social Security Number? In an awe-inspiring breach of privacy, the Security and Exchange Commission makes this kind of sensitive information available through its EDGAR system at www.sec.gov. It says it can't remove the data without the approval of the individuals involved, who supplied the information in documents filed prior to July 1997. If you're an officer in a public company and want to have your SS number removed, you have to fax the SEC at (202) 942-9542 and include the EDGAR accession number of the offending documents. The SEC won't be getting any ads from IBM, which has announced it will yank its web ads from sites that fail to post privacy policies.
Some EDGAR bright spots : On the plus side, May is the target date for the availability of a version of the SEC's massive database in eXtensible Markup Language (XML), which should make highly-detailed searches of the online financial data available to all. XML is a subset of the arcane SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), which has been around for decades but requires enormous effort and discipline to implement. This could be the breakthrough application for XML, a practical demonstration of the language's power by permitting complex data access without proprietary interfaces. IBM is among the major firms releasing XML development kits, expecting XML to be "huge". Hopefully, the SEC will require the filing of documents in XML instead of its current plan to use brain-dead HTML, which is basically just a set of tags used for controlling document display.
There Is An Upside: While many feel the covert tracking information built into Word documents by Microsoft is a Bad Thing, it's been of great help in tracking down the author of the Melissa virus. It's not the tool, but how it's used...
PKZIP finally updated: After 6 years, PKWare has released a new command-line version of PKzip which is Y2K compliant, supports long file names and allows 16,000 files per archive.
Change Is Good. You Go First: Microsoft will release Office 2000 to its big customers shortly and the rest of us in June. The best advice is to take a pass. It has some nifty features, but nothing really worth the hassles of a 1.0 version of a Microsoft product.
VCRs-The Next Generation: It's being touted as the future of television, and it just may be. Personal video recorders are set-top computers that store TV shows to disk. This allows you, for example, to "pause" a live program, then pick up where you left off, with the PVCR handling the time shifting. It can also learn your preferences, so that it will automatically record any show containing certain actors, etc. The units will cost about $500-$1,000, plus a small monthly fee to the service companies that keep track of your interests and tell the PVCR what to record.
Look out for April 26: CIH 1.2 is a particularly nasty virus that is set to go off on April 26, erasing system bioses and wiping out hard drives. It hides in Windows95/98 .exe files and infects a machine when run. Simple fix... get and run antiviral software. Which also brings up the fact you should...
Update often: The CIH 1.2 and the Melissa worm/virus/macro infections bring up an interesting question... how often do you update your virus definitions? Do you have anti-virus software? Most systems come with a pre-installed "demo" version of virus software, and many get a false sense of security from the little anti-virus icon on their task bars. New viruses are introduced with depressing frequency. You should buy a full-featured anti-virus package and subscribe to the manufacturers' online update service. All the major players had an antivirus for Melissa available in less than a day. If you were a KGB Consulting client, you also received a phone call from us telling you about the problem.
Another Argument Against Software Bloat: Back in the old days, a word processor used to process words. Today's application programs now contain their own programming languages, providing all sorts of functionality that most people don't use. Microsoft Word's macro capabilities are enormous; you can write Word macros to do virtually anything you can do with a conventional programming language. Including creating a virus.
King of Spam? Network Solutions, Inc., the company that registers all .com, .org and .net domain names, created an uproar when it mailed unsolicited self-promotional messages (aka Spam) to lots of webmasters. Ain't no way to get off this list, pal... Network Solutions keeps the master database of everyone's domain addresses, and an email from them is one you ignore at your own peril. Also raising ire: the company folded its non-commercial internic web lookup page into its commercial web site.
IE5 Privacy Bugs: Microsoft acknowledges security holes in its new Internet Explorer 5.0 release. Yawn. The real news will be when a browser or mail agent is released without privacy/security faults. As Sun Microsystms CEO Scott McNealy said: "There is no privacy. Get over it."
amazon.com does auctions: The 800-pound online gorilla has added an auction service that offers a guarantee against online fraud and gives you a $10 gift certificate for trying it. It's also bought 50% of pets.com. Meanwhile, Yahoo! is buying broadcast.com., continuing the consolidation of Internet portals.
I'd Settle For 49.7 Minutes : Microsoft will release next quarter a fix to an obscure bug in Windows98 which causes the system to crash after 49.7 days of continuous operation. Which is sorta like telling a guy who's been married for more than 20 years that his naughty bits will fall off if he has sex with his wife on 49 consecutive days. Interesting trivia, but it's not gonna happen. The VMS-based VAXstation we use for our industrial-strength database publishing work has been up for 93 days; someone recently bragged on the Internet their VMS system had been up for over 650 days. This explains why persons who have worked with mini- and mainframe computer systems find Microsoft operating system uptimes rather pathetic.
Did anyone notice: The financial markets didn't crash when the Dow broke 10,000. Some doomsayers had predicted chaos when the index became a five-digit number. Of course, as is the case in the computer world, another unexpected problem may have cropped up last week, when one company's stock split resulted in its having over 4 billion outstanding shares. The problem? The value is too big to be represented in a four-byte computer number. The company involved? Microsoft (MSFT). Dave Winer of DaveNet said that many sites, including NASDAQ, were showing grossly incorrect numbers for the company on Tuesday, March 30.
Ration email access: Aside from surfing the web, one of the biggest time sinks around is reading email. Do you quit what you're doing everytime the new mail signal goes off and immediately read the new messages? Bad idea. Keep your email application shut down, and only check mail three or four times during the day: first thing in the morning, at lunch, and about an hour before the end of the workday. If you work at home, maybe take a look after dinner.
How To Read the Pile: When Sunday rolls around, do you find that you have a huge pile of unread newspapers? And that while you want to throw the stack out, you're afraid you may miss something of value? Here's what I do... read the papers in reverse chronological order. For example, start with the Friday Wall Street Journal, then go to Thursday, etc. You'll discover that you spend less time with each older paper, since you can skip old news covered in the more recent editions. What about the other stuff? Here's my system: interesting mail I didn't have time to review; daily papers; weekly publications; monthly publications. You still may not get through the entire stack, but you reduce the odds of missing something really important.
I Prefer "Kahuna": Since there are no state or federal licensing requirements for people in the computer industry, you find people giving themselves impressive but meaningless titles. "Software engineer" is particularly annoying. When I hear the term "engineer", I think of someone who's had lots of college training and has taken a tough certification test with daunting minimum standards. No such program exists for people in the computer industry. Sure, you can get "certification" from Microsoft, Novell, et al, but that could just mean somebody got lucky on a multiple-choice test. As the old saying goes, "if architects designed buildings the way programmers design programs, the first woodpecker would destroy civilization."
More impressive numbers: According to the Nielsen people, US households continue to leap onto the Internet with abandon. For the period from October to February, the rate was 550K per month, 18K per day, 760 per hour. In mid-March weekly web users hit almost 45 million, and CNN reported it had displayed almost 150 million pages in one week. A glassmaking company in Austria became the 4 millionth domain name registered by Network Solutions. In the meantime, problems persist with the automatic domain name registration system, with lots of folks having to wait until humans can review their applications.
Dead Pilot: I bought a PalmPilot PDA (personal digital assistant) when they first came out a few years ago, and instantly fell in love with it. I had gone through a series of Sharp Wizards and other itty-bitty computer thingies, but was never happy until I got the Pilot. Alas, the lil' sucker died on me last week. I could have sent it off for repair, but I can't function without it and went into instant withdrawal. So, I dashed out to Office Depot and bought a new Palm III. It's less sexy and has less connectivity stuff than the IIIx or V, but it does all that I need and is a lot cheaper, too. Another great thing about a PDA... it's a fairly reliable backup medium. I've wiped out the contents of my Day-Timer Organizer program several times through stupidity and experimentation. Instead of fighting with backup tapes, I just set HotSync so the Pilot overwrites the desktop, stick the Pilot in its cradle and hit the "sync" button. Blatant capitalism: One of KGB Consulting's small business services is helping you make the leap to computerization. A Palm Pilot makes it possible to carry just about every bit of info you need to know in your pocket, but it can be a real pain to get everything organized and into your computer, which you really need to do first. We'll do the nasty work for you... transfer all the data from your little black book, bill receipts, etc., into your computer, clean it up, categorize it, and make sure your software and your Pilot work together seamlessly. Give us a call at 412-835-7352. Sorry to sound like a religious zealot, but once you start using the Pilot and a good PIM (personal information manager), you'll be hooked.
Charge it: The Wall Street Journal says only about 3,900 people have paid their tax bills with plastic. No wonder. With interest rates being what they are, it's like rubbing salt in the wound. Technology is gaining ground elsewhere in the IRS, though; about 24 million returns were filed electronically through the end of March, including 19.3 million filed by computer. Another 4.7 million were received via the telephone-based TeleFile service. Still, tax filing isn't pleasant; the Journal quotes a survey rating only window washing as a more unpleasant activity. The surveyed folks obviously have never installed a software upgrade.
Cruisin' for a Bruisin': A 1996 survey by IBM Business Recovery disclosed only eight percent of businesses have comprehensive plans for dealing with computer disasters. Even experts get bitten... if you haven't seen our KGB Special Report on Backup Strategies, give us a call at 412-835-7352 and we'll mail you one. It's a real horror story, but with a happy ending... sort of.
14 Ways to Lose Your Customers: Boardwatch magazine published these "don'ts" from Internet service provider MindSpring, but they're applicable to just about every business: Give lousy service; rely on outside vendors who let you down; making things easy for yourself but hard for your customer; joke about how dumb the customers are; complain about others not doing their jobs; don't give immediate "live" help to your customers; have poor inter-departmental communication; show up unprepared; ignore the competition, since they're inferior; miss deadlines; make recruiting, hiring a training a low priority; look for the next job instead of focusing on the current one; gossip, spread rumors and politic; and rely on complaints to monitor customer service.
A Matter of Perspective: Your self-esteem shouldn't be tied to your checkbook balance. All companies have rough times, often due to matters beyond their control. This is especially true of small businesses. Don't let short-term failures wear you down. And make certain your medication's at a therapeutically beneficial level.
Hasta la vista : The last two Xerox Data Systems Sigma mainframe computers were shut down and scrapped last week. Xerox's story in the history of computing is rather sad. Despite revolutionary breakthroughs in the field (graphic interfaces, mice, etc.), the company consistently failed to successfully market its discoveries.
Another Jeopardy factoid: Not only does the 21st century begin in 2001, not 2000, but the second full moon this month doesn't really qualify as a blue moon. For that matter, the blue moon in January wasn't really one, either. The traditional definition, that the second full moon of the same month is a blue moon, is based on a 1940s article in Sky and Telescope magazine. But the author misinterpreted his source material, a Maine farmers' almanac. The magazine finally published a retraction this month. The actual definition of a blue moon is the third full moon of a season in which four full moons appear if a total of 13 full moons appear in a 12 month period. Which means 1999 has no blue moons, not two (January and March), and the next blue moon isn't until February 19, 2000. Bring this one up at the next party you attend, and you're sure to go home alone. Even if you're married. And what does this have to do with computers and small business? A sad example of the results of stress and spending too much time in front of a computer screen. Take a walk, why don't you?
Only In America : $466 billion in unaccountable assets including some office buildings, totally unreliable financial statements, and laughable accounting records. The Feds should nail 'em to the wall, right? Problem is, it is the Feds. The General Accounting Office's second audit of the federal government is, well, abysmal. The official spin? "Gee, it's better than last year!" Try that line on your friendly IRS revenue agent. And pack a toothbrush.
Just What We Need: Swiss scientists have announced findings that DNA, the genetic code which controls the structure of all living things, can be used as a semiconductor. This could lead to DNA-based computer chips. Do we really want Windows controlling DNA-based systems? Instead of systems that crash, systems that mutate uncontrollably and eat you?
In The News : KGB is quoted this week in the Pittsburgh Business Times in an article dealing with the opening of a Microsoft/Xerox testing lab in RIDC Park.
Trivia question : What broadcast network news show has its own official polka? Winner gets a KGB Consulting pop-up calendar.
Quote of the week: "We were profitable for a brief period in December 1995. It was a mistake."-amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos
Useless website of the week: www.skinema.com. A dermatologist discusses skin problems of the stars.
Y2K-A-Rama: (We've moved it to the bottom of the report so we don't scare off people who think all we talk about is Y2K).
A lot of things are going to break because of the millennium bug. The upside is, everything won't break at once. In fact, market research company Gartner Group says only about 10% of Y2K failures will actually occur in the two weeks around Y2Kday; 25% will happen in 1999.
Who to believe? Quoting internal memos from service provider giant Electronic Data Services, ComputerWorld magazine claimed EDS was told by Microsoft that Windows95 isn't Y2K compliant, and isn't guaranteeing it will be. Then PCWeek announced a downloadable Y2K patch for 95 will be made available, making 95 compliant "with issues". The 95 release reportedly will be similar to the Windows98 Y2K fix made available last year. ComputerWorld also claims Windows98 may not be entirely free of Y2K problems, either. It was touted as being compliant when originally released, but then the aforementioned patch had to be issued. The software giant says that people on Windows95 ought to skip Windows98 and consider migrating to NT Workstation, which most experts feel is a rather absurd suggestion. Oh, and Service Pack 4, which was supposed to fix NT? Service Pack 5 is on its way. Windows 2000 now has a very tentative release date of 10/6/99. So far, Microsoft has tested 2,088 of its products for Y2K compliance and has about 150 to go, and claims 93% are either compliant or compliant with minor issues. Important caveats: only the supported, latest-release versions of its products are being tested, and Microsoft isn't guaranteeing against unexpected interactions between its software. A minor point; the exercise is rather pointless if the basic operating system is whacked.
Think you're in good shape because your business is a franchise, and that the folks in the home office have taken care of things? Think again. A survey of the heads of 100 franchise operations says the Y2K issue is a major worry. In fact, most of the bosses said they had no formal Y2K policy. Aside from regulations in about a dozen states, if your franchise dies on Y2Kday, the only recourse you may have is under very broad Federal Trade Commission rules dealing with deceptive practices. If you own a franchise business and you haven't heard anything about Y2K from your franchiser, call them yesterday. And better have an attorney look at your contract.
Fiscal year 2000 began for Canada on April 1, and everyone is watching our neighbor to the north closely, expecting big government Y2K issues to surface there first. New York City's FY started on 4/1 as well, but Canadians are easier to talk to.
A recent ComputerWorld survey of information technology managers indicates 77% feel they'll have the bulk of their Y2K problems resolved in time. The figure is up from 71% last October. No figures on the number who believe in the Easter Bunny.
While not a Y2K issue specifically, April 9, 1999 could be a problem. It's the 99th day of the year, and some old-time programmers used 999 or 9999 as concealed exit codes for their programs. This is primarily of concern to people on ancient, pre-PC systems, so don't panic.
According to a recent issue of Fortune magazine, American businesses are spending $2 to $3 in Y2K litigation for every dollar actually spent fixing offending systems. All told, there's reportedly about a trillion dollars at stake. On the plus side, one US Senate proposal suggests limiting attorney fees on Y2K-related lawsuits to $1,000 an hour. There, doesn't that make you feel better?
In recent SEC filings, big banks admit they underestimated the cost of Y2K fixes. The nation's 15 largest banks estimate spending $3.6 billion, up from the $3.46 billion figure quoted last fall. Some expect an additional jump in spending as the date nears.
Software communications vendor WRQ is putting its money where its mouth is, guaranteeing its products will not break on Y2Kday. If the software breaks and can't be fixed online in two days, the company will send a tech to your site to fix things. Or, it'll give you your money back. With 3.5 million users, it's a rather daring move.
About 20% of companies are "freezing" their systems effective June 1, not permitting new software to be installed to prevent the introduction of new Y2K problems to fixed systems. This will have a definite economic effect on hardware, software and service vendors.
The FCC says it isn't worried about widespread phone system failures on Y2Kday, but it is recommending people limit their phone calls and use of computer networks. Why? Well, phone companies design their systems to handle normal, predicted loads. If everybody calls or logs in at midnight 1/1/2000 to see if things are working, there will be service failures. The Feds note that the top 20 phone companies handle 97% of the country's volume, and they seem to be in good shape. Smaller companies, with fewer resources to update their systems, may be at greater risk. So if you have someone other than Bell Atlantic as your provider, you may want to keep a cellular phone on hand just in case.
Meanwhile, the Feds say 92% of its 24 most critical systems are now Y2K compliant. It still worries about the private sector, though. Small businesses may wait for systems to fail before doing anything, which could cause problems due to anticipated hardware and software support shortages. The wise move is to start fixing things now.
Russia now says it isn't halting its American-assisted Y2K effort, although things may change based on the Yugoslavian situation. Not a good sign: NATO's web site is under attack from Belgrade-based crackers, who are bombarding NATO servers with thousands of "pings". Sites are generally pinged from time to time to determine their status. Lots of pings saturate network connections and deny access to legitimate users. They're also getting spammed, big time, and the unwanted email contains macro viruses.
Fans of the movie "Rain Main" are aware Australia-based Qantas is the only major airline to have never had a fatal accident. Which makes its announcement that it may curtail some flights on Y2Kday rather interesting. While aircraft suppliers all say their planes won't fall from the sky, Qantas isn't comfortable with some of the assurances (or lack thereof) it's getting from its critical service suppliers, such as airports, fuel suppliers, etc.
It may be difficult to schedule elective surgery during the Christmas holiday and early January. Some hospitals, wishing to limit potential problems, plan on keeping admissions to a minimum. Vacations are also being prohibited for the first two weeks of the year at some institutions. Health care providers have more problems than most with Y2K issues because of the array of high-tech equipment they use and their dependence on suppliers whose Y2K readiness is in question. The American Hospital Association said last week only 13% of hospital computers and 6% of medical devices are Y2K compliant at this point, but less than one percent of hospital CEOs are expecting problems. Maybe they've been spending too much time sampling their pharmacy inventory. Which may also be in short supply come fall, if consumers start hoarding their prescriptions in fear of shortages.
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KGB Consulting, Inc. specializes in home office/small office business and systems consulting, Year 2000 compliance auditing, and database publishing/ automated typesetting services and systems design. KGB Report subscription information can be obtained by calling 412-835-7352. Fax and email subscriptions are also available. The paid print edition contains additional material not available online. Advertising space available for all media.