BROUGHT BACK TO REALITY
When working in technical support it's not that often that you come across anyone really famous, but all that changed recently.
Admittedly, the fact that it was Friday 13 November made me initially sceptical and even Word's animated paperclip looked as though it was lying when it said: "This file is in use by Monica Lewinsky." It was only when both Dr Solomon's and Sophos Sweep said that the system was clean did I finally begin to believe that this was no joke Word macro virus.
Further checking on the open file locks showed that Monica Lewinsky did indeed have the file open but it was just unfortunate that the PC she was using was in Wales and I was stuck in Birmingham.
But then I glanced at the PC Week's letters pages and realised it was far more important to worry about the lack of training and the need to make PCs Y2K compliant than to bother with what Monica Lewinsky was up to!
Via the Net
FROM DRAMA TO FARCE
The whole Y2K issue runs the risk of burning itself out, in the same way that the millennium in general is running out of steam with the public.
Although the Y2K problem is extremely serious, the bureaucratic approaches adopted in many industries, the accompanying media frenzy and the allegedly informed commentary from experts and celebrities, is turning the whole affair into a farce.
As a contractor, I spent the earlier part of this year converting a bank's mission-critical application for Y2K compliance. The application in question had few Y2K issues and took little more than a couple of days to plan, implement and test modifications. But the documentation was a different story. Due to the regulation in the industry, the documentation was more lengthy and pointless than a Michael Crichton novel - and probably took significantly longer to write. So a project that potentially could have taken next to no time became a model bureaucratic exercise, despite the fact that the company's Y2K programme was significantly behind time and over budget.
Nobody has yet been smart enough to realise that the general public is the decisive variable in the possible impact of this problem. If the public gets hysterical and starts buying six months' supplies of candles and Fairy liquid, then we have a problem that anybody who went to Sainsbury's last New Year's Eve will appreciate. Worse still, it only takes approximately a quarter of the population to withdraw an extra #300 from cash machines as "emergency money" to bring down the entire banking system. So if public reaction has such a strong effect, it's unhelpful and misleading for the popular press to carry largely unfounded doom-and-gloom stories.
So let's blow some myths wide open:
1. Gwynneth Flower, managing director of Action 2000, said: "We don't yet know how big this problem is going to be, but potentially it could affect virtually every electrical item in the household." Nonsense. The only reason my toaster, washing machine, microwave or doorbell may not work on 1 January, 2000, will be personal incompetence brought on by a "millennium hangover".
2. The "domino effect" implied by many commentators will not happen.
Most interconnected systems check the integrity of shared data, so invalid date fields supplied by a non-compliant system will be trapped. Consequently, one system's failure does not lead to another's. As such, inconvenience will result, but not mass computer failure. In a typical banking day, many data feeds fail for one reason or another without global meltdown occurring.
3. Most small businesses do not have a Y2K issue. Many do not even use PCs and those that do will not go out of business as a result of inconvenient glitches.
The IT industry has made a huge profit out of this whole issue and many self-styled consultants are peddling all sorts of stories to justify their fees. But these approaches are small minded: people are becoming distrustful of computers once again, and the industry will suffer as a result. Some honesty is needed here if we are to win back the faith of our clients and the users. "I don't see why there's a problem with computers thinking it's the year 1900," said an anonymous source recently. "Computers weren't even invented in 1900." While this may not quite represent the honest approach I'm suggesting, it may be closer to the truth than the rumours we're selling.
Via the Net
So, your correspondent Ian Cargill (Letter of the Week, 24 November) wins a monitor for complaining that a Web page wouldn't print. He blames the page's designers and recommends they bear in mind his likely need to print copies of their pages in future. Next he'll be telling them to stop using graphics, tables and frames so that he can read their pages on his 286.
Mr Cargill puts in a plea for form to be related to function, and who can argue with that? It is a basic tenet of good design in any field, and I hate pages that display clever tricks to no good effect as much as anyone. But the function of Web pages is to convey information via a screen, and they should be optimised for that, not for printing. If the designer thinks you might need to print the information, he or she would do better to provide a link to a PDF (Acrobat) version rather than limit the page design as Mr Cargill suggests. If Mr Cargill wants to look at the information on a Web page again, he shouldn't print it, he should bookmark it. That way, he will always be looking at the current version.
Via the Net
I'm pleased to hear that Ken Baldry has his important data on Macs (PC Week ,24 November) - he obviously understands their superiority in this respect. But he does point out that we are all at the mercy of the utilities companies at the turn of the millennium. Are the electricity suppliers running on Macs - I don't think so?
However, I can be (a little bit) smug about this since my electricity supply is dodgy at best and I've therefore installed a UPS and independent generator to avoid the rather too frequent outages that we suffer. Little did I realise at the time the greater significance of this precaution.
I do see a correlation between the above and the whole Internet privacy issue. A lot of people are getting unnecessarily hot under the collar, whereas others care less than they should. In a perfect world we wouldn't need governmental control, but the human race has too high a proportion of undesirables to allow anarchy.
Governments must have a way to be able to check Emails just as they do for mail and telephones. But it must be controlled access just as with those existing technologies. Network communication is really no different to the older traditional kind and all the current rules can and should be applied. Why should an ISP be more responsible for child pornography transmitted via its wires than BT which owns most of the actual wires anyway, or the Royal Mail which carries (or used to) the majority of the world's pornography throughout the world.
This is not just about pornography, it's about controlled communication, where would pornographers and terrorists be without global telephone and mail communication? But, the Internet is new and therefore comes under greater scrutiny. Also, of course, there's a chance to make a fast buck if you can grab some of that control, so much of the "concern" about Internet standards and so on is far from altruistic.
I'm constantly reminded of the government official who many years ago at a demonstration of the recently invented telephone, commented: "A most interesting device. One day every town will have one."
Via the Net
BT CALLS BACK
I find it very surprising that a magazine of PC Week's stature could run a front page story based around an alleged #15 charge, based on a quote from James Irlam & Sons.
The internal customer satisfaction survey, referred to in the third paragraph, did not "force" BT into anything, but as BT is a company seeking to offer customer satisfaction to the best of its capabilities. Such a survey, combined with other methods, are surely positive ways of ensuring satisfaction among our customer base?
BT WebWorld is not changing because of a conversation with PC Week.
Finally, the BT spokesman's quote was taken out of context - he did not apologise to these customers because you would not inform BT who these customers were so that the relevant information could be obtained and a proper, informed reaction given. The spokesman did state that, on a general basis, if a valid complaint was made to BT, the company would apologise and do its utmost to remedy the situation.
BT INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA SERVICES
A 17IN MONITOR WEEKLY
Roll up for your chance to win a stunning 17in Taxan ErgoVision 730 TCO95 monitor every week! PC Week are giving you the chance to walk away with a 17in FST monitor, worth #349, and all you have to do is write a letter.
Each week we are giving away a monitor to the best, or most relevant, letter we receive. Letters should be about something that has been covered in PC Week and relating to some aspect of the industry that you feel strongly about. So next time you have an opinion on what's happening out there - serious or amusing - write to us and put yourself in with a chance to win. Send your Emails to [email protected], or your letters by post to: PC Week, Letters, VNU Business Publications, 32-34 Broadwick St, London WIA 2HG.
THE ERGOVISION 730 TCO95
The monitor has a horizontal dot pitch of 0.27mm and a top resolution of 1280 x 1024 with a refresh rate of up to 64Hz - it also runs at 1024 x 768 at up to 86Hz. The front control panel allows users to easily control features such as on-screen functions, colour, brightness, degauss, adjust and contrast among others. The monitor measures 411(w) x 424(h) x 462(d)mm and weighs in at 18Kg. The ErgoVision is also compliant with TCO95, CE Mark, TUV GS and Ergo, NUTEK and Energy Star.
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