BREAKING NEWS

The Veterans Affairs Department last month opened the doors of the VA Information
Resource Center to help researchers find information tucked away in the department’s
databases.


VIREC will help users access VA’s medical and research data sources, said Denise
Hynes, VIREC co-director at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Medical Center in Hines, Ill.


VIREC staff members will serve as liaisons between health researchers and VA systems.
The center eventually wants to offer information on other federal databases, including
those at the Health Care Financing Administration and the Census Bureau, Hynes said.


“Think of VIREC as an information conduit,” said Diane Cowpers, VIREC’s
other co-director.


For information about the center, call 708-216-2413.


The Defense Department will finish date code fixes for 95 percent of its
mission-critical systems by January, deputy Defense secretary John Hamre said last week.
He vowed that all of DOD’s 3,000 or so mission-critical systems will be ready by
2000.


“I am modestly optimistic that we will be able to keep year 2000 problems down to
nuisances, not crises,” Hamre said at a discussion with reporters.


Hamre in late August issued a memo holding the services, the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
unified commands and DOD agencies accountable if they do not finish specific year 2000
tasks by Nov. 1. The tasks include end-to-end tests of functions for areas such as
logistics, personnel, medicine, communications and intelligence.


Since August, “the technical guys have been working very hard, but it hasn’t
had central management’s attention. I think we have that now,” Hamre said.


The Army’s Communications-Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J., has awarded
Mitre Corp. of McLean, Va., a $1 billion follow-on contract to continue running a Defense
Department federally funded R&D center.


Mitre manages a similar FFRDC for the Federal Aviation Administration. The DOD center
does systems engineering and integration work for command, control, communications,
computers and intelligence systems throughout DOD.


Under the five-year, sole-source contract, Mitre will maintain the Washington Command,
Control and Communications Center. The center has a staff of more than 900 people in
offices in Reston, Va., Fort Monmouth and at 16 other sites. The center can assist DOD
agencies with software development, networking, signal processing, electronics and systems
architectures.


Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sequent Computer Systems Inc. of Beaverton, Ore., last week
revealed their plans for the 64-bit Intel Merced processor, which will follow on the heels
of Intel Corp.’s 450-MHz Xeon and Tanner CPUs and IBM Corp.’s Power3 RISC
processor.


Meanwhile, Amdahl Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., promised a December release for the
1-billion-instructions-per-second Millennium 800 CMOS processor for data centers.


Hewlett-Packard, which co-developed the Merced’s IA-64 instruction set with Intel,
plans to deliver its first Merced-powered NetServers in mid-2000. A 1-gigahertz IA-64
successor, code-named McKinley, will make its appearance a couple of years later. IA-64
relies on what the two companies term explicitly-parallel-instruction computing. The HP
NetServer will remain compatible with HP-UX and MPE/ix operating systems, according to
company statements.


Sequent plans to put the Merced into midrange and high-end servers. It also will build
IA-32 systems based on Intel’s 32-bit Foster and Willamette successors to the Pentium
II and Pentium Pro.


A bill that would have nearly doubled the number of available U.S. visas for foreign
information technology workers died in the Senate this month.


The bill’s demise comes at a time when there is an extreme shortage of IT workers
and the nation is struggling to repair date codes, the bill’s supporters said.


Although the House and Senate had passed versions of the bill, S 1723, and a compromise
on it had been worked out with the White House, a few senators voted to block the bill.


The United States now grants 65,000 work visas annually that allow IT professionals to
work in this country for up to six years. The bill would have increased the annual visas
allowed to 115,000 for the next two years and 107,500 for the year after that.


With free Agent 2.0 software downloaded from Microsoft Corp.’s Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/msagent,  users
can build their own agents, wizardlike assistants or avatars into software interfaces.


The included cartoonlike stock agents are called Genie, Merlin, Robby and Peedy. Each
has sound effects and can pop up and move on Hypertext Markup Language pages and in Visual
Basic or C++ applications. Animations, which include nodding, blinking, moving arms and
many other motions, can run up to 6 seconds each. Users can make their custom characters
speak via either .wav sound files or voice synthesis from programmed text.


The system requirements are Microsoft Windows 9x or Windows NT 4.0 or 5.0; Internet
Explorer 3.02 or later versions; a 100-MHz or faster Pentium processor; 16M or more of
RAM; and at least 1M of free storage for the software components, plus 3M for each
character installed.


To make characters talk, the user must have a sound card, microphone, speakers and 1.6M
of extra storage for TruVoice text-to-speech software from Lernout & Hauspie Speech
Products USA Inc. of Burlington, Mass., also downloadable from the Web site.


The Agriculture Department’s Graduate School has outsourced its Oracle database
training courses for federal, state and local government employees under a 15-month
contract with Paladin Data Systems Corp.


Under the contract, Paladin, an Oracle Corp. integrator in Poulsbo, Wash., will offer
300 classes at all levels to civilian agencies. The first class, an introduction to
Oracle, will begin Nov. 16 at the company’s facilities in Poulsbo.


Besides Paladin’s sites in Denver, Poulsbo, Seattle and Spokane, Wash., agencies
can schedule classes at 18 federal sites, including locations in Fresno, Calif.,
Philadelphia and Washington.


Contact USDA’s Graduate School at 202-314-3320.


OpenNT developer Softway Systems Inc. is in line to become the first vendor to receive
Unix branding for a Unix operating system that runs on top of Microsoft Windows NT,
Softway officials said.


The San Francisco company had delayed its bid for Unix branding from the Open Group
Ltd. of Cambridge, Mass., while it fleshed out the fledgling OpenNT operating system,
recently renamed Interix.


Interix lets Unix environments rehost their applications on NT. Softway is seeking Unix
branding for the current Interix 2.2, which has multiuser support, remote log-in and X
Window System functions. Softway officials expect to ship the first branded Interix
operating systems early next year.


Federal research laboratories account for nearly half of government purchases of
Interix to date, Softway officials said.


Contact Softway Systems at 415-896-0708.


—Frank Tiboni, Gregory Slabodkin,Susan M. Menke, Christopher J. Dorobek,
William Jackson and Florence Olsen.

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