SAN FRANCISCO -- When the five-minute warning beep pierced the still air at



presentation at the

Banc of America Securities Investment Conference

here Friday, CFO John Todd grabbed his heart. "That's my heart monitor," he joked. "


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preannounced again."

Wiping the smile off his face, and maintaining the sanctity of the quiet period ahead of Gateway's quarterly earnings report, Todd was frank about the PC business. While emphasizing that Gateway is "on track" to meet the Street's expectations, he conceded that "Europe is a tough market." Going down the list of PC segments, Todd thinks consumer demand is "OK, not great, but solid." The enterprise market is coming back, he said, "but it still is not going to be good." And government PC sales are "decent, not great."

Keep the defibrillator standing by.

Don't get those panties in a bunch just yet.

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Optical Internet President Don Smith gave a nuts-and-bolts presentation here on the optical business, audience members limped awkwardly up to B of A analyst Chris Crespi. Smith didn't address

recent jitters about spending levels for communications equipment and a few people were a little uncomfortable.

Crespi handed out chill pills and encouraged everyone to read his Sept. 19 report on capital equipment spending in the telecom arena. Crespi cautioned that September is a bad time to predict spending, because regional bell operating systems don't decide on their buying plans until December, or even February. Is he sure about that?

"You can't panic," Crespi insisted. (Banc of America hasn't done underwriting for Nortel.) "Capex is going to hell? There's a $1 billion increase."

Among the items you can get a wedgie about: On Crespi's list of worries you'll find delivery on the promise of smart bandwidth (that is, bandwidth on demand that allows customers to pay for what they use) and the continuing cash burn of companies such as

Williams Communications

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Level 3


. "Their stocks are going to have to react sooner or later." (His firm has done underwriting for both.)