Operator No. 9: January 15, 2001

There's something about having an almost mythological figure stand up and introduce a bunch of new stuff to remind you why being part of the technological revolution is cool.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Theres something about having an almost mythological figure stand up and introduce a bunch of new stuff to remind you why being part of the technological revolution is cool. I mean, Ive heard Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates go on about the "digital nervous system of the future," but it just doesnt inspire me. And though I dont think Apple Computer Chief Executive Steve Jobs has done the best job helping Apple pick up market share in the corporate marketplace — which is where the real money is — I gotta admit the guy knows how to get people fired up. Jobs delivered the keynote address at Macworld Expo last week in San Francisco, flanked by giant copies of Apples "Think Different" ads featuring Charlie Chaplin, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He had the audience rocking out to Love Shack by the B-52s as he demonstrated Apples new iTunes jukebox software. And he had the 5,000 people who showed up to hear him speak downright salivating over the new titanium-clad notebook that is so way beyond cool that the twenty-somethings sitting behind me called it "pure ice."


Al Gore isnt moving to the White House anytime soon, but he will live on in cyberspace — along with good ol Dick Cheney — as a resident of www.vicepresidents. com, a site dedicated to all things vice presidential. Who were the first two vice presidents to become presidents? Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, of course. Gripping! Did you know that wacky George Clinton served as vice president for two presidents: Jefferson and James Madison. Smashing! Why is Indiana referred to as the "Mother of Vice Presidents?" Because the state produced 10 vice presidents from 1868 to 1916. Splendid! Note to Cheney: You might want to avoid the fates of John Calhoun and Spiro Agnew. They were the only two vice presidents to resign from office.

Attention Shoppers

Not only do the employees run Kmarts BlueLight.com online retailing site, but they are also customers. San Francisco-based BlueLight requires employees to don Kmart-purchased clothes every Tuesday. They can choose something from the Jaclyn Smith, Kathy Ireland or Route 66 collection. Or they can put together their own creation, like a full-camouflage hunting ensemble. Wearing just a scarf is also acceptable — I asked. Employees have to buy their own clothes, though they are given a small discount for being Kmart employees. Im told that BlueLight also hosts fashion shows for its employees, in which employees get to guess which item of clothing came from Kmart. A perk or a pain? You decide.

Palms Up

Interactive Week subscriber Mark Galbraith took exception to the fact that I seemingly singled out Vice President Al Gore among political characters when I offered suggestions for celebrity versions of the Palm handheld organizer (Dec. 25, 2000). To recap: The Al Gore Edition recounts every contact entry, making sure each one counts. Galbraith came up with his own suggestions, and Im happy to share some of them.

• The Dubya Edition: Limited memory, slower central processing unit, displays scrambled words and syntax randomly. Only works with 10-year-old versions of applications — the ones your father used. Folksy look, but less than 50 percent of the U.S. is willing to buy.

• The Supreme Edition I: Makes you wait three days, then tells you its too late to use the app.

• The Supreme Edition II: Questions your right to use it in the first place.

• The Kathleen Harris Edition: Palm OS is secretly working for your competitor. Sends details of your most secret projects. Looks like a much older Palm, but with lots of new paint.

• The Hillary Clinton Edition: Fastest, most efficient model available, but is unable to detect obvious and fatal bugs in primary applications.

Half-Baked Couch Potatoes

Forget the Microsoft antitrust saga. The real Microsoft news last week was that its WebTV Networks division has teamed up with La-Z-Boy to devise an "e-cliner" for serious couch potatoes. From the chair, called Explorer, you can surf the Web, send and check e-mail and "interact" with your favorite TV show. The thing comes with an airline snack tray-like table that folds out of the left arm and holds a battery-powered, Sony WebTV keyboard that interacts with the WebTV Plus Internet Receiver via an infrared beam. No wires to trip over in case you ever want to get up and actually leave the room. The armrest also houses a 120-volt fused electrical outlet with surge protection, a high-speed Digital Subscriber Line port and a regular analog line, as well as an AC adapter for plugging in a laptop computer. The right arm contains a drink holder and storage space "ideal for holding a remote control and TV Guide." Beer — and WebTV service — is extra. If youre serious about getting one of these chairs, youll have to pony up $1,049 for the fabric-clad version, or $1,299 for leather/vinyl (www.lazyboy.com). I get as excited as the next person about cool new gadgetry, but reading this just further convinces me that our civilization is in decline.

"You and about a billion people."

— Apple Computer Chief Executive STEVE JOBS, in response to an audience member who shouted out "I want one!" after Jobs introduced the companys titanium-clad, 1-inch thick, PowerPC G4 notebook, which features a 15.2-inch active-matrix display, a slot-loading DVD-ROM drive and five-hour battery. It might sound like wishful thinking on Jobs part, but judging by the reaction of the many people who clamored around the titanium-clad beauty at Macworld Expo last week — including me — Apple might be onto something.

Tuning Your Bass

Did you get one of those singing fish plaques for Christmas? I bet you got a kick out of it for a while, but you may be now thinking about throwing it into a nearby lake. Well, hold onto that fish, because thanks to Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate Marsette Vona, it may still have lots of fun left in it. Vona has created a Web page that tells you how to hack into the Boogie Bass to make it sing or say what you want. Vona created the site after doing the hack to create a unique Christmas present for a friend. He made the Boogie Bass say "Pork," but youll have to read his site to find out why (www.ai.mit.edu/~vona/bass/bass.html).

Why Ask Why?

Wandering around Macworld Expo was only mildly depressing to an old-time Mac user like me. Apple Computers Macintosh still has the best interface and is still the easiest computer to use; Mac developers are as devoted as ever to making the coolest technology run on the machine; and Mac users remain as committed — in a good way — as they ever were. Still, its Windows PCs that run most of the world. I ran into an attendee who had signed up under an alias to get his exhibit pass. That alias: "William Gates III, precedent [sic] of Microfrost." Why? "You can sign up under any name as long as you pay for your pass," he noted, asking that I not mention his real name. "Its a conversation starter, and I get a lot of attention." Who can argue with that? After all, thats why I stopped him.