Y2K: No laughing matter. Picture this: It's New Year's Eve. You're full of cocktail peanuts and champagne. You're a little giddy and getting giddier. The clock ticks over to midnight. Then the lights go out, and panic sets in. "Where's the flashlight? What did I do with the bottled water? To heck with the bottled water, where's my champagne glass?"

Calm yourself. Your midnight power outage may not be what you think it is, according to Bruce McConnell, director of the International Y2K Cooperation Center. McConnell, who spoke last week to the Washington, D.C., Year 2000 group, said a lot of Jan. 1 incidents we might blame on Year 2000 might result from other causes.

For example, McConnell said, one potentially popular New Year's Eve party prank might be to stand by a power switch and snuff out the lights when midnight hits. No computer programming will be needed to fix that problem. Simply turn the lights back on and call a cab for the prankster.

But don't try this one: McConnell said he's heard tales of revelers in Texas shooting at electric transformers to create celebratory sparks for bringing in the new year. The result: a local power outage. Again, the fix for that problem involves no computer programming.

On the other hand, it might create a whole new debate on gun control.

And now a word from our sponsor. We've often been baffled when we see networking companies advertising during "Larry King Live," as if the average King viewer will see the commercials and the next day make an impulse purchase of a Gigabit Ethernet switch. But we were truly shocked when during a recent broadcast, we saw an ad urging viewers to oppose cuts to NASA's Langley Research Center.

The ad, sponsored by the NASA Langley Community Support organization, paints the proposed cuts to the center's budget as a potential threat to the country's technological edge.

That may be true. But the ad certainly would have been stronger had they mentioned that four out of five doctors have benefited from NASA's work.

Silicon forest. Tired of your boring old gray or beige computer? Why not dress up your computer in cherry, maple, red oak or some exotic wood?

The folks at TechStyle Computers Inc. sell computer components designed in 15 different woods. Everything from towers and monitors to mice and keyboards can be purchased to look like the tree of your choice. The price? Well, a three-button mouse will set you back $99 - more if you opt for an exotic wood like "Andaman Padauk." Monitor prices range from $479 to $1,799 for nonexotic woods.

Not recommended for homes with termite problems.

A boar-ing topic. Once in a while, a government agency sends us a press release that has nothing to do with information technology. A recent release from the Agriculture Department falls into this category. The headline read, "Canada opens doors to U.S. hogs." Presumably, the issue is an important one for farmers, but the image suggested by the title is hard to ignore. It also brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "pork project."

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