The circuit

Passing the Bucks

Seems the newly designed $5 and $10 bills with oversize heads of Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton are having trouble being accepted in more ways than one. Without special software, many vending machines won't process the bills, which were introduced May 24 to thwart high-tech counterfeiters. Of the estimated 6 million food and beverage vending machines that accept $5 and $10 bills, only 1 million have been modified.

Brian Allen, spokesman for the National Automatic Merchandising Association, said it could cost the vending industry more than $20 million to retool the machines, but they are intent on keeping pace with the trend, which is a good thing. Although it had been 70 years since the last currency redesign, technology is moving so fast that the Bureau of Printing and Engraving is already working on the next generation of bills. They will begin circulating in 2003.

Secret and Secure

Business is booming, and the National Security Agency can't keep up with demand. Civilian and military agencies are taking advantage of the information security assessment reviews offered for free by NSA. The reviews, done only by request, help agencies determine how vulnerable their systems are and suggest ways agencies can address problems.

But limited resources have forced NSA to focus on military and critical infrastructure programs, said Wilbur Hildebrand Jr., chief of NSA's Vulnerability Assessment Services.

Not wanting to leave agencies out in the cold, NSA put together a list of contractors who perform Infosec assessments based on NSA standards. But don't expect to see the list any time soon. NSA lawyers have been holding up its release for undisclosed reasons. The agency just can't seem to shake old habits — once a secret organization, always a secret organization.

We Have a Problem

NASA is awfully fickle these days. The space agency has been having trouble deciding whether to send an orbiter to Mars with a powerful camera capable of imaging objects as small as two feet in diameter or to send a rover that would land on the surface, as in the successful 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission. A July 20 media advisory said NASA had made the final selection, said Edward Weiler, associate administrator for space science. But oops — a press release the next day said it was put on hold. Weiler said "the decision was much more complex and difficult than anticipated," and it would take another week or two to make the final decision. Nevertheless, the decision was made the very next day — July 21 — to go with the Mars rover. In an agency where precision is the operative word, indecision cannot be tolerated. Just rent "Apollo 13" to see for yourself.

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