Operator No. 9: April 2, 2001

What do Larry Ellison and out-of-work dot-commers have in common? Housing problems.

Times are Tough All Over

What do Larry Ellison and out-of-work dot-commers have in common? Housing problems. A report released last week by the Rosen Consulting Group and Cushman & Wakefield, a New York real-estate services firm, predicts about 80 percent of the remaining dot-com companies in the Bay Area will implode in the next year. Thats expected to put 30,000 people out of work, many of whom no doubt will be wondering how they will make the rent. Making the rent is not a concern for Ellison, CEO of database maker Oracle. His housing worries have to do with making sure the Japanese-style imperial villa hes having built on 23 acres of primo real estate in Silicon Valleys Woodside, Calif., will turn out as expected. The villa, pegged at $40 million in 1996, is now expected to cost Ellison about $100 million. This at a time when Oracle is trimming jobs and has seen its stock value drop. Ellison has seen his own stake in Oracle fall from about $40 billion two months ago to a mere $20 billion today. Like I said, times are tough all over.

Oracle Villa-Ny

The San Francisco Chronicle had a field day reporting on the details of Larry Ellisons villa. There are 10 handcrafted buildings, gardens, a 2.7-acre main pond and half-acre upper pond, waterfalls, bridges and islands. It took 81,000 cubic yards of dirt —enough to raise a football field 45 feet high, the paper noted — to create the ponds, hills and islands. Builders also had to truck in 5,000 tons of boulders from the Yuba River, 3,750 tons of hand-chiseled Chinese granite and thousands of trees and shrubs. The main house will be just over 7,800 square feet. Among the on-site buildings: a moon pavilion (dont have a clue what that means), boathouse, barn and "Katsura House," a replica of a famous teahouse built in the royal compound in Kyoto, Japan, in the early 1600s. In case youre envious, note Ellison had to pay more than $411,000 in property taxes last year.

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The number of days — as of April 2 — that George W. Bush has been in office and without a technology adviser. "Hold on," you say. "What about Floyd Kvamme? A partner in venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers and member of TechNet, a network of high-tech execs, Kvamme signed on last week as co-chairman of the Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Sorry, dont think the volunteer position is the same as having a full-fledged tech adviser on the presidents staff.

The Best Is Yet to Come

What are smart thinkers thinking about? Babies! AliasWavefront and IBM last week announced the winners of their "Create Whats Next" design competition. Designers were asked to create a product enabled by technologies that will be available five to 10 years in the future. Industrial designer Aaron DeJules interactive mobile for babies won the $20,000 cash-and-computers prize. The mobile features "embedded intelligence," allowing it to adapt its appearance, sound and motion to the behavior of a baby. Images will supposedly be displayed on screen-like wings, "changing from black-and-white, still images to full-motion, color video as the baby develops." Graduate student Dong Min Lee took second place with "Lullu," a purse-shaped computer that contains computational jewelry and programmable beads. No idea how those will help you out on a date.

Napster Marches to Capitol Hill

Being a Napster user isnt just about getting free music; its a political statement. Or so Napster hopes. The beleaguered service is begging its dwindling fan base to come to Capitol Hill this week when the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes Tuesday to talk about digital music. To encourage attendance, the company is providing a teach-in Monday night with Napster creator Shawn Fanning and a concert with a surprise guest Tuesday evening. The first 1,000 people to RSVP get a free Napster T-shirt. Suggested slogan for shirt: "I used to download megabytes of free music. Now all I get is this lousy T-shirt!"

No Apology Necessary

Poor Dan Foley. The mouthpiece for up-and-coming switch maker Convergent Networks, was apologizing mightily for not having a PowerPoint presentation to tout a new manufacturing deal. Let me just state for the record that a lot of us live in the techno backwoods — like Silicon Valley — where the chances of getting a fat-pipe Net connection are about as good as winning PowerBall. As part of the disconnected masses, Im frankly thankful when well-meaning companies dont clog my e-mail box with fat product announcements. Im sympathetic to those, like Foley, who come from a different socio-Netconomic background. "I used to work at 3Com. There, we needed a PowerPoint presentation to say good morning at the coffee pot," he said.

Your Freudian Slip Is Showing

During a hearing last month before the House Judiciary Committees Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee, Louis Touton, general counsel for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, was asked to name the groups board of directors. The U.S. government picked ICANN to manage the Internets Domain Name System. In going through the 19 board members, Touton failed to list Karl Auerbach. Touton may secretly wish Auerbach was not a board member. Auerbach has been an outspoken critic of ICANN, blasting the group for being too secretive.

Flail to the Chief

Bruce Claflin, who became 3Coms CEO on Jan.1, notes hes been in his job only 19 days longer than President George W. Bush — and he says the slowing economy has afflicted both chief executives. While Bush is wrestling with plummeting stock markets and low consumer confidence, Claflin has seen 3Coms losses widen — the company posted a $246 million net loss for the most recent quarter. "Neither one of us got much of a honeymoon," Claflin says.

A Matter of Survival

CBS Television President and CEO Leslie Moonves recently boasted about his networks innovative convergence programming for the site associated with Survivor II, which has received more than 60 million page views since January. That irked a former NBCi.com employee, who said very few people remember NBC began the whole convergence idea in 1998 with elaborate original programming to complement shows like The Pretender. The Peacock network is still hip on convergence, but its spending less time and money on its promotional Web/television stunts. Last week, it asked viewers to log onto NBC Internet to pick an ending to Just Shoot Me. NBC is also offering four people each the chance to send a 30-second message to someone during Ed, every time the show runs in May. My suggestion: E-mail NBCi with ideas to help it figure out its future.

Whos Guarding the Chickens?

David Medine, one of the Federal Trade Commissions top Internet privacy officials, recently bid the government adieu to go to the Washington, D.C., law firm of Hogan & Hartson. There, he joins former FTC Commissioner Christine Varney on staff. Varney, you may recall, is head of the Online Privacy Alliance, corporate Americas chief lobbying group opposing privacy legislation. Maybe Medines new allegiance explains the FTCs rather tepid approach to cracking down on online privacy violators over the past few years.