Federal Bytes

Y2K PROTECTION. The Year 2000 problem certainly has attracted its share of deviants and kooks, and no one knows that better than the federal employees working on the issue. In fact, General Services Administration employees have begun taking measures to protect themselves from hundreds of prisoners and extremists who write and call them about Year 2000 preparedness.

"We have gotten a lot of goofy telephone calls," said Cynthia Warner, director of GSA's Year 2000 operation. "Someone may take out their Year 2000 problems on GSA. We're trying to be a little prudent."Warner said that letters from prisoners, although nonthreatening, provided an additional reason for government employees working on Year 2000 fixes to protect their privacy. Their names have been deleted from their e-mail addresses and replaced with a more general phrase, such as "Y2K mailbox."

"They want to know how would the Year 2000 affect their parole," she said. "They don't want to be locked in there forever. But our business is not to answer Year 2000 questions. We sent them brochures." We're betting that many of these inmates are more concerned about how the Year 2000 bug will affect the prisons' lock systems.

***

"DEAR FRUSTRATED." Evidently frustrated with the amount of Year 2000 misinformation floating around, two senators have taken their message to a new forum: the advice column of Ann Landers.

In a column last week, Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman and vice-chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, provided tips on preparing for Year 2000-related problems, including reminders to check with local utility companies and to obtain a bank statement before year's end.

The senators chose Ann Landers, they wrote in their letter, because she is "one of the nation's most widely read and straight-talking advice columnists." Given that ringing endorsement, we wouldn't be surprised to see Ann testifying before Congress in the near future. Her message? "Wake up and smell the coffee, America." That is, if your coffee maker still works.

***

FOR THE PROCRASTINATORS. In a repeat performance from last year, GSA plans to sponsor a Year 2000 pavilion at Comdex/Fall '99. GSA, working with the CIO Council and the IT industry, envisions the pavilion as a vehicle to disseminate information on off-the-shelf products that are Year 2000-compliant. The agency last month issued a notice asking vendors to participate in the endeavor.

However, the event takes place Nov. 15-19, only about a month and a half before the Year 2000 deadline. Anyone who hasn't begun installing their Year 2000 fixes by then will have brought new meaning to the word "procrastination." Which leads one to wonder what type of products GSA will be displaying in the pavilion. Compact generators and flashlights, perhaps?

***

FRENCH STYLE. When the U.S. Postal Service launched the new PC Postage program last week (see story, Page 18), the four vendors that developed solutions for downloading stamps from the Internet and printing them from a home PC were eager to show off the look of the new stamps. Each provided samples printed on envelopes addressed to Postmaster General William Henderson at his L'Enfant Plaza office.

But there was an ever-so-subtle difference among them. Three samples omitted the apostrophe so that "L'Enfant" appeared as "LENFANT." Looks odd to us humans, but USPS scanners actually prefer no punctuation in an address.

But if it were a style and spelling contest, the prize would go to the envelope printed by Neopost Inc., which printed "L'Enfant" just as it was spelled by Pierre L'Enfant, the Frenchman who designed the layout of Washington, D.C. Why the insistence on the correct spelling? We're not sure, but it seems no coincidence that Neopost's parent company is based in France.

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