Living in Denial
Now, admittedly, most of the 900 attendees had drifted off to golf course dreamland by the time Kurt Rosenthal, Cisco Systems product marketing manager, reached the full-on sales portion of his 7 a.m. presentation — "IP Services: The Path to Profitability" — at the U.S. Telecom Association Convention & Exhibition in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week. But most of us snapped back to attention when he started advocating Cisco Systems Capital vendor financing arrangements. "Weve never gotten in trouble with it," Rosenthal said. "So if youre building a new network, this is definitely an option you might want to consider." Judging from the rogues gallery of bankrupt companies with Cisco Capital on their balance sheets — lets start with Rhythms NetConnections ($75 million), ICG Communications ($180 million), Winstar Communications ($500 million) and Excite@Home (whos sure how much of the billion dollars in debt and bonds Cisco will be left holding the bag for) — I dont know if Kurts option is really worth considering. Fore!
"[The Code Red and Nimda worms] specifically directed themselves at Microsoft servers, but these types of worms pose a threat to all servers and they pose a threat to the Internet as a whole. . . . We realize that doing as well as our competitors or others in the industry just wasnt good enough. We needed to do better. . . . " — spokesman Jim Desler, describing the companys new Strategic Technology Partnership Program and explaining how Microsofts technology is not only as secure as other software platforms, but better. I had to reach for a hanky to wipe away the tears. They werent from crying.
Uncle Sam Wants You
At the American Society for Industrial Securitys annual meeting in San Antonio last week, information and infrastructure security took on heightened priority. With 140 separate seminars on security techniques and issues, a lot of discussion revolved around terrorism threats and the protection of corporate information systems and assets. But for security personnel who think their work on antiterrorism, industrial espionage and information protection for corporations is too "mundane," there were other opportunities offered — from recruiters for the Central Intelligence Agency. "They were even recruiting people in their 50s," one participant remarked. "The only problem was they were having trouble competing with industry salaries — at least for the better-qualified people. I think the top money was $56,000 a year." CIA recruiters were looking for polygraph experts in particular, and a range of other operative posts.
How are members of al-Qaida, the group blamed for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, communicating? Some news reports claim they are using steganography to send messages to each other, but others disagree. Steganography is a catch-all term referring to hidden information. Tattooing an important message on your scalp and letting your hair grow back to conceal the information is steganography. Writing a message in lemon juice and then revealing it with a flame is steganography. And embedding messages in Web sites, e-mails and MPEGs is steganography, and thats what members of al-Qaida are accused of doing — even hiding messages behind pornographic images. Who says so? Well, USA Today did earlier this year, and ABC News recently made the claim. But others arent so sure. One professor quoted in the ABC News story denounced the broadcast after it appeared, calling the whole thing a "lurid urban myth" and saying that the idea that they hide "secret messages in pornographic images on the Net appears to be too good for the tabloids to pass up."
A new handset company, comprising the phone divisions of Ericsson and Sony, launched with a whimper on Oct. 1. While some company names leave a lot to be desired — such as homophone Cingular or made-up word Verizon — the nascent companys marketing execs could have come up with something better than Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications. The new logo is this random round green thing, and those brave enough to journey to the companys Web site at www.sonyericssonmobile.com are sure to be overwhelmed by the fluorescent green color.
Old Mac Glory
In an Oct. 1 item, I made note that patriotic Windows users can download an American flag screen saver from Rhode Island Soft Systems at www.screensaver.com/wwnf.htm. Macintosh users, like myself, who feel left out can download the "Old Glory "screen saver at www.versiontracker.com/moreinfo.fcgi?id=11935&db=mac. Says my source: "Its a very, very cool OpenGL screen saver." One caveat: You need to be running Mac OS X.
As part of an effort to attract the notice of the 95 percent of computer users who dont use the Macintosh, Apple Computer plans to open 25 retail stores in high-traffic shopping areas by the end of the year. The Palo Alto, Calif., store, which opened Oct. 6 just a stones throw from Apple CEO Steve Jobs home, is the ninth outlet opened since mid-May and the first "street-front" outlet — the rest of Apples stores are located in big-name shopping centers such as the Mall of America in Minnesota. The 50-foot-by-80-foot stores all feature blond-wood floors; black shelves loaded with lots of Mac software; "solution bays," where the curious can play with Macs that are set up to showcase the computers digital photography, music handling and other features; and "Genius Bars," where customers can ask questions of Mac tech experts. I liked the staffs T-shirts. In a play on the companys "Think Different" ad campaign, the T-shirts read: "Shop Different." Are consumers doing so? Dont know — Apple isnt saying how much revenue the stores are adding to the bottom line.
Dell Rings His Own Bell
A few weeks ago, Michael Dell, founder, chairman and CEO of Dell Computer, bought 4.3 million shares of Dell stock. The move was heralded as a vote of confidence in the company. Ignore for the moment that Dell sold $1.1 billion worth of his stock last year. On an average day, nearly 37 million shares of Dell stock are traded on The Nasdaq Stock Market, so his buys werent enough to force a big move in the stock. But the companys Oct. 4 announcement that it would meet previous financial projections was a big deal for a sector plagued by warnings of earnings shortfalls. The resulting uptick in Dell Computers stock gave the 36-year-old entrepreneur paper profits of nearly $25 million on his recent purchases. Maybe he needs the money? Forbes recently estimated his worth at only $9.8 billion.
Knee Bones Connected to the . . .
Besides the food, the best thing about hanging around the U.S. Telecom Association show last week was the sad tale I overheard as one grizzled executive groused to another that he was perplexed by the involuntary evolution of his stock portfolio. A handful of years ago he bought stock in U S West, which wed with Continental Cablevision. The telecom company spun off the cable assets into MediaOne Group, which was acquired by Tele-Communications Inc., which was bought by AT&T, which split into wireless and telecom stocks around the time that U S West merged with Qwest Communications International. "I own stock I never bought," the exec lamented. Welcome to the old New Economy, buddy.