Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this first week of February:

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A rational approach to Y2K

It never hurts to get a rational perspective on Y2K. As part of our occasional look at the issue - how people are preparing for it and useful resources they're finding on the 'Net - this week we spoke with Steven Marks, chief information officer at New York-based law firm Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett. Steven has long been addressing the so-called "millennium bug" in the workplace, but we were more interested in his views on Y2K's potential impact on home life. He shared his own family's plans, then extrapolated:

"We have a house upstate in the country, and we're talking about putting in a generator, because nothing's worse than being without heat and water [his oil-fueled furnace has an electric starter and his well has an electric pump]. In general, we'll buy a couple cases of canned goods, including pasta, a couple cords of wood, a couple camp stoves. I'd rather be up in the country than in the city.

"It wouldn't hurt to have a couple extra weeks' worth of cash on hand, and I'd do that next November, rather than in December. I can't confirm it, but I believe the government is printing about $50 billion of additional money as a precaution. But I think ATMs are going to be fine. A lot of critical dates have already been survived by banks just fine, but it's well worth it having some money under the mattress. The bank won't lose track of all your savings, but it'll be good to have your November bank statement handy. Do I think anything's going to happen in that area? No…." But he did say, "I think there's a significant chance of disruption….

"The interesting thing in all this is that it doesn't cost much to make these preparations - we're just buying extra food we'll use anyway, extra wood, etc. There's very little real cost involved in doing it, so even if something happens, why not be prepared rather than surprised and caught short?"

We asked him if paychecks would be affected. "I don't think so. I think most of the financial systems will be fine. Corporations are well ahead of the government in preparing, and the government has been catching up. Where six months ago [the US government's Y2K preparation] was looking like a dire emergency, it no longer looks like that…. I do want to see more improvements, though, before I go to the positive side. I'm neutral, waiting to see what they do."

Are there any big misconceptions about Y2K he'd like to deflate? we asked. He suggested the emphasis should be more on inconvenience than on lack of personal safety or financial security. "Elevators aren't going to crash to the ground," he said. "But you may have to wait longer for one because they might suddenly go on a Sunday schedule rather than a weekday one. And why plan to travel during the first two weeks in January? You're just inviting unneeded stress. It's just unnecessary."

He said there's too much focus on the computer systems and not enough on the things that they control. "It's the embedded systems that are going to be the problem." His example was the computer chips embedded in the workings of our cars. Our cars won't just shut down, but we might have some warning lights turn on unexpectedly when the chips that have two-digit year dates go from 99 to 00 and get "confused."

We asked him if the stock market would be affected. "Overseas markets, yes. Ours has already gone through a couple rounds of testing." Perhaps our next Y2K interview should be with someone who can tell us how overseas financial markets will affect ours at Year 2000. If you have a favorite expert on the subject, please let us know.

Finally, we asked Steve if there are any Web sites he's found useful. His two picks are:

BTW, for a little levity on the subject (of turning Y2K into a publicity stunt), see a Wired News piece, "The Y2K (Real) Spam Sweepstakes". The contest is a ploy by EarthWeb, which sells books and tools for info-tech developers, to get customers to spend time in the site's new section, Y2KInfo. First prize is $10,000 in gold coins, second is a sixth-month supply of Spam. Yuck!

Are any of you taking Y2K precautions? What might they be? Please e-mail us.

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So is it time to get a cable modem yet?

We're all seeing more and more hype about broadband to the home - the fast connections that @Home, cable modems, and the phone companies' "ADSL" (asymmetrical digital subscriber line) service are even now bringing to some North American Web users. Many of the current Internet mega-mergers and IPOs have something to do with an industry readying itself for broadband to the home.

The question that occurs to many of us who are in "the home" is, if it comes to our neighborhood, should we rush to sign up? Well, the consummately unsatisfying answer is, "It depends." Right now, if people in your house are online virtually all day and evening, you have one phone line, and people also occasionally want to use the telephone (or friends and relatives occasionally want to reach you on the phone!), and if your cable/phone company is offering cable modems/ADSL in your neighborhood, then and only then broadband might be worth the $35-$55/mo., plus the $100-$200 installation fee, plus possible taxes and franchise fees. See? It's almost easier to stick with "It depends."

But one significant economic factor to keep in mind as you ponder the pluses and minuses is the fact that, whether it's a cable modem or ADSL, a fat pipe will allow both voice and data to go through at the same time. So you won't need to get a second phone line in order to surf and talk at the same time. If you have even one teenager in your house, this factor may exponentially increase broadband's attractiveness to you.

Nowhere have we found a clearer, more engaging explanation of 1) where broadband-to-the-home is right now or 2) why most of us aren't interested yet than in the current issue of online industry analyst Robert Seidman's newsletter, Online Insider. It includes excerpts from Robert's correspondence with a guy in Laguna Beach, CA, who recently got an @Home cable modem. Anecdotal evidence is good (and much more fun to read than statistics!). If your house has a fat connection to the Internet, e-mail us) and 1) tell us what kind it is, 2) how well it's working, and 3) if it's worth the money. It'd be fun to hear what you think!

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Web News Briefs

Catching up on COPA.
To deliver on our promise to keep you posted on COPA (the Child Online Protection Act): Federal Judge Lowell A. Reed Jr. blocked the law's enforcement indefinitely on Monday. According to USAToday, Judge Reed said that, while he sympathizes with parents and grandparents seeking help in protecting their children from pornography on the Internet, the Constitution must be upheld. He had blocked COPA temporarily last October, after President Clinton signed the legislation and opponents immediately took it to court. February 1 was Judge Reed's deadline for arguments to be heard. USAToday says his latest ruling means "the block will remain in effect; the government can either pursue a full trial in Reed's court or immediately appeal his ruling." As of this writing the Justice Department hadn't made a decision yet. Supporters of COPA say kids are "on their own" on the Internet now. Do you agree? Do e-mail us your opinion. (Here is our report and roundup of URLs on the subject last week.)

Senator Burns's "Digital Dozen."
A whole packet of new (and recycled) Internet-related legislation was introduced this week by Sen. Conrad Burns (R) of Montana, according to Senator Burns calls these legislative topics his "digital dozen." The package includes plans to support the "e-rate," a federal subsidy for schools and libraries to connect to the 'Net; protect online consumer privacy; promote digital signatures; regulate spam (unsolicited bulk e-mail); and pressure the FCC to get high-speed 'Net access out to rural areas. Parents and teachers may want to take special note of another item among "the dozen": Burns is working on getting the Congressional Research Service online. The service records the inner workings of Congress, including bills in process, which - among other things - would be an incredible teaching tool for US government classes! Here is the Association of Online Professionals's take on "the dozen," as well as Senator Burns's own press release. (BTW, on the e-rate the AOP says that, Burns's efforts notwithstanding, there are at least three bills in process that would either undermine or jettison this connectivity subsidy.)

Yahoo! too!
Yet another mega-deal has been announced: Yahoo! buys GeoCities, the huge "community site" that hosts (for free) about 3.5 million members' Web sites. CBS Market Watch has the story. And here is's piece on this latest manifestation of Internet "merger mania." For the Wall Street watchers among us, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan says there's "more than hype" to all this Internet activity: "You wouldn't get the hype working if there weren't something fundamentally potentially sound under it," he said in a Senate Budget Committee meeting (quoted in a piece at TechWeb). TechWeb writer Mary Mosquera added: "Greenspan has said that technology has dramatically changed how Americans live and work and its effect on the economy is significant but hard to measure by traditional methods."

Onliners more mainstream (+ the lowdown on credit-card security).
Here's a fresh snapshot of us Internet users, from the Pew Research Center. In its '99 study, released January 14, Pew found that we're going decidedly mainstream. Two years ago, only 23% of us were online, now 41% of US adults are. We've all heard that Americans get their news from TV more than newspapers, well so goes it with news on the 'Net: "The Web sites of national broadcast news organizations are more popular than newspaper sites." And, interestingly, 44% of users surveyed say they "think an accurate picture of what is going on in the world is more often found on the Internet than in daily newspapers or on network news broadcasts." As for e-commerce, we're taking our shopping online at a "skyrocketing" rate, Pew says. "Even before the Christmas rush, 32% of Internet users had bought something online, a leap from just 8% in 1995." The survey found that 61% of users who haven't made an online purchase cite credit card security reasons. In his newsletter, online analyst Robert Seidman says that's "mostly a marketing problem." He elaborates: "Almost all credit card companies only hold a user of a card accountable for the first $50 of fraud. Since many shopping sites on the Web will even pay THAT $50, if there is any kind of a breach the stakes really aren't all that high as far as risks go."

AOL in your family room (with refreshments!).
Adding to its full quiver of marketing techniques, AOL will soon be holding Tupperware-type parties. By bringing in new AOL subscribers and selling products and services that have partnerships with AOL, members will earn commissions on their own sales and those of people they recruit into their selling network. The story's at CNET's

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E-trading at a glance

If you're like most of us, you know it's getting easier and more convenient to buy and sell stocks any old time, all by ourselves - for example, at the Web sites of E*Trade, Charles Schwab, Ameritrade, and National Discount Brokers. You also feel a little tentative about using these sites because you know doing so would have serious impact on the family budget (negative or positive, and probably both, several times within the week if you're buying and selling Internet stocks!).

A great start for the conservative but curious online investor is a Tech Report by David Rynecki of USAToday: "Advice for buying stocks online". Among other things, he explains why online traders experience delays and how they protect themselves with techniques like "limit orders." And before you jump in, his report suggests, know the difference between trading and investing! The piece is a super jump-start even if you just want to troll for information.

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Of the digitally enhanced Gen Y

A new study by Saatchi & Saatchi advertising took a close look at the impact digital media are having on Generation Y (78 million Americans born between now and 1977). After spending about 500 hours talking with and observing 200 children aged 6-20 throughout North America, researchers reported that:

More on this can be found this week (the URL/link is perishable) at PR Newswire.

Do your teen-agers fit the study's descriptions of their generation? Do e-mail us your thoughts on and experiences with Gen Y and digital media.

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Thanks to the 'Net (a homeschooler writes)

"Dear Sage Family, as homeschoolers [in Japan], it's hard to find all sorts of fun and exciting things to do on our own. But using the Internet, our kids have access to just about anything. We find it especially helpful for science activities, since there is a wealth of information out there. NASA is one of our favorite sources and we've been and are involved in several NASA projects.

"This year we're involved in their "Wright Flyer On-line" project, which is following the wind tunnel testing of a life sized replica of Orville and Wilbur Wright's first plane, the Wright Flyer. As part of this, NASA QUEST is running a series of contests, and Danielle, my nine-year-old, a very competitive ADHDer [attention deficit hyperactive disorder], has entered and won two of them - the poster contest in November and the Poetry Contest in December! We are quite proud of her. This is the URL of the poster contest: The poetry winners aren't posted yet, but we got the box of goodies already!

We like having the Internet to give us access to this kind of activity and keep her up with her peers "at home." And having nice "concrete" rewards sure helps with an ADHD kid! For winning, she got some NASA CD-ROMs, a book about cross-sections of planes (which should come in handy for the glider project), two cool posters, a handful of NASA pencils, and some other aeronautics material.

[Editor's Note: Her mother pasted Danielle's winning concrete poem - which is supposed to look like what it says - in her e-mail to us, but the ascii "picture poem" didn't make it intact. As a poor substitute, here are the three couplets Danielle wrote:]

"Small Flyer In the Wright Flyer Wind Tunnel Replica Test Small Flyer We're gonna find out which design is the best Square button There's the on button, just give it a push Fan The fan will start moving, the air will go whoosh! Wind Flowing in Tunnel The air is a-pumping, the plane will now fly Larger Flyer being tested This same kind of plane once touched the sky!

"Needless to say, her picture of the Wright Flyer done in Picasso's style for the January contest is in the mail!

"Submitted by her proud mom,
Janet K. Cook
Happily homeschooling in Misawa, Japan"

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend.


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