Operator No. 9: September 24, 2001

For a few hours after the terrorist attacks, my e-mail box was uncharacteristically free of spam.

Root Out the Evil

For a few hours after the terrorist attacks, my e-mail box was uncharacteristically free of spam. Of course, it didnt last long. Even though I already count spammers among the lowest of the low, I was taken aback by how fast the scams directed against online users swept up in the tragic results of the attack hit the Web. The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE.org) said bogus donation requests and spams for porn sites — like the one I received labeled, "Are you doing your part to help?" from [email protected] — hit the Web within an hour of the World Trade Center attacks. Heres an idea: As part of their community service work, we get convicted hackers to use their programming prowess to take down the scammers sites.

On the Job

The many lives lost is the first thing one thinks about when pondering the collapse of the World Trade Center. But years worth of investment in technology infrastructure is also gone. Technicians at AT&T — working far away from the disaster scene — checked their systems and discovered that the local telephone circuit switches in the basement of one of the towers, amazingly, were still working. In fact, even after the power went out, the batteries kicked in and the switches continued to work. The only reason technicians shut them down was because the power was about to run out, and the customers that depended on them, namely the businesses in those buildings, wont need those switches any more.

Napster T-Shirt

Napster — wow, that almost sounds as dated as dimpled chads — is back, sort of. The Little Copyright-Infringing Startup That Could says its really, really close to launching the not-free version of its service this fall. In an e-mail newsletter to fans, Napster complains, "The negotiations [with the major record labels] are complex," so its taking longer than expected to get the service up and running. In the meantime, you can buy a Napster shirt for $15 to show your love — go to http://merch.napster.com. Faithful Op. 9 readers will remember that in January, Napster filed a lawsuit almost unbelievably alleging trademark infringement against Sports Service because it had launched a site called NapsterStore.com to peddle Napster-related merchandise. Irony alert!

A New Xperience

For those looking to the new version of Microsofts operating system to help lift sales in the personal computing industry, Microsoft says Windows XP will be formally introduced and ship, as planned, Oct. 25. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says the company hopes to unveil the OS at a major event in New York, and is talking with Mayor Rudy Guilianis staff to make sure the city can still accommodate Windows enthusiasts. And for those desperate to get their hands on the new OS, Compaq Computer, Gateway and Hewlett-Packard are taking preorders on Windows XP-equipped machines. Amazon.com, meanwhile, says it will ship the $99 OS free to users who preorder the system, but thats a limited-time offer. Since Im writing this column on a virus-free Titanium PowerBook from Apple Computer — the Nimda virus circulating last week seems to have targeted only Wintel systems — Ill just have to take the word of all you Windows users on whether the hoopla over the new OS is justified.

"Its like the perfect storm."

— Ed Zander, president and COO of Sun Microsystems, talking about the cumulative effect of three events — the ramp-up for Y2K, the Euro conversion that left companies with less money to spend and the dot-com debacle, which inflated growth rates — that led to the glut in IT equipment in the market and the current decline in IT spending. The downturn in the economy, Zander added in an exclusive Interactive Week interview last week, hasnt helped any either.

¡Ay Chihuahua!

More proof that truth is stranger than fiction. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has apparently figured out a way to boost — or more accurately, widen — Amazons bottom line: by doing commercials. Now, Ill admit Ive been a little dazed and confused lately. But when I saw Bezos pitching Taco Bells new Chicken Quesadilla (540 calories, 270 from fat) during Big Brother last week, I thought I was hallucinating. For those who havent had the pleasure, the ad is set up like a focus group, led by Bezos. Theres talk about the gooey goodness of the new "handheld" and then Bezos asks, "Can I get a demo?" A gorgeous young thing happily obliges, taking a big bite of a wedge of quesadilla studded with marinated chicken and then kind of moaning with pleasure. Maybe its time to bring back Gidget, the spokeschihauaha who was retired last year when Taco Bell switched ad agencies. Then again, Taco Bell might be saving Gidgets comeback for its promotion deal with Microsoft and the Xbox video game system. Which brings us back to Bezos. Funny, Ive lost my appetite.

Out of Tune

Among the e-mails making their way across my screen last week was one with a list of 150 songs that an executive at Clear Channel Communications had distributed to the radio powerhouses nationwide affiliates, suggesting that these songs not be played because of their "questionable content." While the list did not represent a "corporate mandate," a company spokeswoman did say Clear Channel was reviewing play lists in light of the terrorist attacks. Among the questionable tunes: REMs Its the End of the World as We Know It, Elton Johns Rocket Man and Peter, Paul and Marys version of Blowing in the Wind. These are sensitive times, but I would hope the radio DJs could figure out whats appropriate on their own, without someone having to blacklist songs. But maybe Im being too optimistic.

Charge It

Before heading off to the airport, better make sure the batteries in your cell phones, laptops and personal digital assistants are charged up. Travelers report that airport staff now regularly ask fliers to turn the equipment on to make sure its working — something they used to do quite regularly. If the battery is dead, the gear has to be checked. Understandable, given the circumstances, yet I cant help but wonder whether making sure a laptop can be turned on is an effective security screen. Couldnt a terrorist make a bomb and put it in a working laptop?

In Search of Enlightenment

Spam aside, I have to say most of the e-mail coming my way in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks has been positive. People are using the Web to vent their anger and frustration, share their thoughts and fears, and learn more about the evildoers. Popular search engine Google says that instead of searches on singer Aaliyah and Hank the Angry Dwarf — a regular guest on Howard Stern who passed away Sept. 4 — Web users searched out information on the World Trade Center, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and the American flag. The No. 1 requested search topic, though, was Nostradamus, proving — to me, at least — that not all searches for enlightenment on the Web are necessarily intelligent ones.