Is IBM losing it? Close scrutiny of the company's newspaper advertising at the end of last year threw up what at first appeared to be a series of spooky coincidences. The contact named on an ad for the PC3000GL was one Gail Lindsey, readers were asked to call Tanya Proud or Trudy Peterson with enquiries about the ThinkPad, Natalie Farrell for NetFinity and Isabelle Sampson for IntelliStation - are you getting this yet?
No doubt this little bit of fun makes it easier to route calls to the appropriate department but it also suggests an endearing streak of mischief.
As IBM clearly enjoys a good joke perhaps it would appreciate it if customers were to get into the swing of things. Make a note to give the company a call today, pretend to be the IT director of a high street bank or an oil company, say you have a couple of million to spend on kit, and ask to be put through to, say, Natalie Farrell. When you reach someone other than Natalie, say that you won't be fobbed off with the office junior and that furthermore, you won't be spending so much as a penny of your enormous budget until Natalie comes to the phone in person. When the miserable salesperson confesses that Natalie is merely an invention of the marketing department, call them a filthy liar and inform them that you have spoken with Natalie on several occasions. Then watch the victim descend into utter confusion and panic. A little cruel, perhaps, but an amusing way to pass an idle minute or two.
As if to demonstrate that he has in no way lost his ability to sound ridiculous, and with his unfeasibly large ego reeling from the success of the Apple iMac, Steve Jobs has been sharing his thoughts about important technology trends of today. Introducing a new range of iMacs in different colours, Mr Jobs declared that "Colour is really a big deal for consumers.
We think the most important question this year is going to be: What is your favourite colour?" Indeed. Time for your medication, Mr Jobs.
It appears that Windows NT has failed some rather important security tests - something to do with weaknesses in the cryptographic processing department. Whatever the ins and outs, flunking Federal Information Processing Standard 140-1 puts NT at rather a disadvantage in certain types of government contract. This, after all, is the same administration that declared Furby a national security risk last week, so it can be expected to be quite demanding when it comes to more serious software. Personally speaking, Mole has always regarded Furby as a shifty looking fellow quite capable of treachery, and takes a quiet satisfaction in having his suspicions confirmed. Next on Mole's hit list is the odious Barney, who has all the hallmarks of a foreign spy and is probably a pederast into the bargain.
The incident reminds Mole of the last occasion on which Microsoft entered NT for a security check. A former Microsoft employee claimed to have been sacked after refusing to fiddle the test (a claim that was strenuously denied by Microsoft, needless to say). What made the story most amusing, though, was that the test was merely to accredit NT to level C2, the lowest standard of security going - which is a bit like failing an exam for spelling your own name incorrectly.
Questions have also been asked about whether or not NT is ready for the year 2000. Microsoft says it is, others say not. Mole has heard, for instance, that the Service Pack 4 is needed to guarantee compliance, and that Terminal Server introduces problems of its own. No doubt the usual clarification will be on its way from Microsoft.
Meanwhile, a curious glitch in the operating system was brought to Mole's attention just last week. A reader pointed out that the millennium clock on the SDX Business Systems Web site reckoned there were 719 days to go, which on the day in question was precisely 365 days wide of the mark.
Mole went to take a look but his machine gave a different and more accurate reading. The wrong answer was being produced, as it turned out, by NT 4 running on the reader's machine and it took a complete reinstall to put it right, though the cause of the problem remains a mystery. Is Microsoft following the fine example set by a certain kind of second-hand car dealer and winding back the clock? Mole can think of a few organisations that would like another year to ready themselves but this is not the way to do it.
Insurance companies are also doing their best to make sure that whatever disasters befall their customers next January won't be liable for any big compensation pay-outs. A woman employee at Nottinghamshire County Council, who has just renewed her house insurance with a well-known insurer, was not surprised to find every Y2K related domestic disaster - including the failure of the microwave oven and central heating - specifically excluded from her policy. She was, however, taken aback by the lengths the insurer was prepared to go to protect itself. The period covered by her policy is "31 January 1999 to 30 January 1900".
There is a potentially greater disaster just around the corner than anything the millennium can wreak: it is the so-called 100Gb problem. You may have noticed the electronic displays outside some McDonald's "restaurants" that boast of the number of burgers the company has dispensed. The total now stands at a stomach-turning 99 billion, but what will happen when it hits the 100 billion mark? The boards display only two digits, so are set to roll over to 00 billion soon. This can only undermine confidence in McDonald's, wiping billions off world stock markets and bringing down the entire US economy. Think about it next time someone offers you a Happy Meal.
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