FEDERAL BYTES

The Check's in the E-Mail

Mail has a way of getting lost at times, and when it does, people get angry. One citizen recently complained to the U.S. Postal Service when some important parcels intended for her daughter got shipped to the wrong address.

USPS responded via e-mail. Unfortunately, the response was sent to an FCW reporter whose Internet address is similar to that of the customer. Was this an attempt to prove that your mailman is more reliable than your your e-mail program?

Downside of the Micro Revolution

Dendy Young, the newest boss at Government Technology Services Inc., is respected for his vast experience in many areas of the computer industry. He recently claimed that his experience includes suffering the world's first computer theft.

As a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he used a Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-8 computer, which was one of the first modern compact computers that could fit on a table. But that compact size meant the machine could fit through the door on a hand truck, and it was stolen out of his professor's office.

Losing the Space Race

Star watchers' hopes have been dimmed for a while—at least during the government shutdown. Until the shutdown is over, astronomers won't be able to get a look at those impressive data sets sent back by the Galileo space probe.

Consequently, on-the-sly requests for information were seen on non-NASA Usenet groups. One message read like this: "JPL scientists are not at liberty to talk about the science data downloaded from the orbiter. Would anyone happen to have some information from an anonymous source?" Last we checked: no takers.

Who Needs a Computer Anyway?

Governments evidently wasted no time after the invention of computers to make dubious IT buying decisions.

Konrad Zuse, a German inventor who built one of the world's first computers, died last month. His memoirs included an account of his effort to get a two-year contract to build a computer that could assist anti-aircraft defenses during World War II. The German government, in rejecting the proposal, asked, "How long do you think it will take us to win this war?"

Zuse's Z3 computer, considered the first automatic and programmable computing machine, was destroyed by Allied bombing, and Zuse moved his Z4 computer to prevent its destruction.

When he arrived at the underground concentration camp where he was ordered to hide the Z4, Zuse found the working conditions there dismal and promptly left with the computer in a truck.

The German government continued to ignore Zuse, when, after a 26-year legal battle, a court ruled in 1967 that the Z3 was not a machine worthy of a patent.

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