The Circuit

Battle at Sea — IT Style

It's no secret that the head honchos at Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp., Bill Gates and Larry Ellison, aren't fond of each other. Ellison, in particular,has never hidden his disdain for Gates and industry titan Microsoft.

But next year the battle between the companies will head to some unfamiliar ground, or rather, uncharted waters. Come October 2002, Ellison and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen could be on competing boats at the next America's Cup race in Auckland, New Zealand. Allen recently donated $10 million, through his Vulcan Northwest Inc. investment company, to a yachting syndicate run by wireless-phone magnate Craig McCaw,according to Upside Today. And with Ellison already sponsoring another vessel,the Microsoft/Oracle tiff could head directly into the Perfect Storm. America's Cup yachts have 16-man crews, plus a 17th seat sometimes reserved for the owner or a substantial donor. If those seats are taken by Allen and Ellison, that could make for one heckuva splash fight.

Goodbye, Paul

It looks like Donna and Craig have ousted Paul from his job as voice of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's automated radio weather warning system. NOAA awarded a $633,615 contract recently to Siemens Information and Communication Networks Inc. to create a more natural, less mechanical voice using text-to-speech software from SpeechWorks International Inc. In its search to replace Paul, NOAA considered 19,000 public comments solicited via the Internet. Of the comments received, the male voice named Craig was rated No. 1 or No. 2 by 95 percent of the respondents. For the female voice named Donna, the percentage was 80 percent. NOAA weather radio users can expect to hear the new voices early next year.

It seems no one is safe from layoffs these days.

Fighting Fires

The wildfires blazing across the western United States last week were being fought on land, in the air and in cyber space. The departments of Interior and Agriculture recently launched a new interagency wildland fire Web site(www.fireplan.gov). The site serves as an information clearinghouse to provideup-to-date interagency information and other related details on the National fire Plan.Expensive Votes

Anyone trying to buy a vote in last year's infamous presidential election should have called the Defense Department for a loan. DOD conducted a $6.2 million experiment last year to enable some of the 6 million service personnel and other Americans living abroad to cast their ballots via the Internet.But the test yielded only 84 ballots. That's $73,809 per vote, as the math wizards at the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C., pointed out in a recent report.

But DOD officials say that's not the way to look at it. "This is a demonstration project that was to prove the concept as opposed to looking at it on a cost-per-vote basis," DOD spokeswoman Susan Hansen told the Washington Post. That's one expensive proof of concept.

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