Operator No. 9: February 26, 2001

Here's a little factoid that wasn't included in all those press releases earlier this month about Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold resigning - former Silicon Graphics Chief Executive Rick Belluzzo, who's been at Microsoft for about 18 mo

Thats Rich

Heres a little factoid that wasnt included in all those press releases earlier this month about Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold resigning —former Silicon Graphics Chief Executive Rick Belluzzo, whos been at Microsoft for about 18 months, takes his place as COO and also picks up the title of president. Herbold, whos been at the software giant for six years, will not leave Microsoft a poor man. In 2000, Herbold sold 525,000 shares of Microsoft stock in four transactions, raking in $60.5 million. And on Feb. 5, he registered to sell another 450,000 with an estimated value of $27.5 million. Given that all Microsoft executives are multimillionaires, if not billionaires, youre probably saying — so what? Well, I still think that isnt a bad take for your last year on the job — given how the rest of the tech industry fared.

Theres Always the Ski Slopes

Who said technology isnt funny? Certainly not Nora Ephron, Steve Martin or Martin Short. In fact, theyll probably have a lot to say to the contrary at the "first ever" WorldCom Comedy Technology Summit in Aspen, Colo., next month. Ephron, Martin and Short are headliners at the summit, which coincides with the annual — and probably funnier — U.S. Comedy Arts Festival; an annual Aspen event, this years festival will honor Billy Crystal and Bob Newhart. But down the street — everything is within walking distance in Aspen, in case your Rolls Royce gets stuck in the snow — comedians will converge with chief executives, entertainment moguls and even a political analyst or two to talk about the Internet, human story telling and other popular diversions. A series of panels — for example, "Are we still thinking the Internet is television and how dumb is that?" — will feature the stars of stage and screen, along with Walter Isaacson, editorial director at Time Inc., Real Networks CEO Rob Glazer, Jim Barksdale of the Barksdale Group, Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks SKG, ABC News analyst George Stephanopolous, Norman Lear and others too eclectic to mention. The event is March 1 and 2. If the humor flags, at least it will still be prime time for skiing.

Looks Count

Primedias About.com has found two hot new ways to drive up traffic numbers: cheesecake and beefcake. A division of About.com last fall quietly launched RankPeople.com, a site that displays pictures of (mostly) comely guys or girls and lets you rate how attractive they are on a scale of one to 10. Of course, this isnt a new idea. RankPeople is basically a carbon copy of AmIHotOrNot.com, the original lookism site that has inspired numerous imitators. Dont ask me why, but these sites have become extremely popular. In fact, About.com helpfully provides a link to RankPeople.com — though it doesnt mention that its an About-affiliated site — from its list of AmIHotOrNot.com spoofs.

Accenture? Bullshient!

Telecom consultant David S. Isenberg doesnt like the trend among consulting firms to rename themselves with appellations that dont really mean anything. In particular, he detests Accenture, the new name that Andersen Consulting adopted at the first of the year. With that in mind, Isenberg has proposed some names for consulting firms that —mean something—: Arrogantrix, BillableHours, Bullshient, Embezzalon, MyopX, Outsorx2us, Stupiture and XpenZV. I presume hell keep "isen.com" as the name of his own consulting company.

Dont Touch That Dial

In a briefing on Napsters business plans in San Francisco last week, Thomas Middelhoff, chief executive of Bertelsmann, one of the worlds largest media companies and a Napster investor, showed that his sympathies arent entirely in line with many of his colleagues in the music business. When he claimed that Napster is a promotional tool much like radio, a reporter noted that compared with the proposed subscription service for Napster, consumers arent charged for listening to radio. "Yeah fine, and the music industry hates it," Middelhoff said. Well, the industry may hate radio, but I dont see online music sharing going away anytime soon, whatever happens to Napster.

A Family Affair

Since Half.coms launch in January 2000, founder Josh Kopelmans entire family has gotten into the used book, CD and video business on the site, which lets individuals sell their unwanted goods for half of their retail value. His father scours library sales to scoop up books for less than a dollar and then he places them on Half.com at a premium. He recently sold a coffee table picture book on corn for $25, Kopelman said. Thats right, corn. "This site proves that one persons trash truly is another persons treasure," Kopelman said.

What Do You Have to Say?

A source writes in to tell me that while Cingular Wireless is spending millions to promote its new logo, "Jack," to the public — its an animated version of the dotted "X" logo — employees are not allowed to use the new logo in e-mail messages. Apparently, it takes up too much space on the servers. Sort of puts a crimp in the companys new promotional campaign, which uses Jack as the centerpiece of its message — "What do you want to say?" I guess you can say what you want — as long as you dont say it with pictures.

"Theft is a great value proposition."

— Larry Cheng, associate at venture capital firm Battery Ventures, commenting on Napsters popularity — and its possible demise. Needless to say, Battery was not one of Napsters financial backers.

Uncle Sam Wants You

Hey, all you dot-com refugees looking for work, have we got the job for you. Its employment that provides both job security, so to speak, and challenging work. The National Security Agency, whose existence at one time was top secret, is looking for intelligent and imaginative candidates in computer science, computer engineering, encryption analysis and other fields, according to the agencys Web site at www.nsa.org. The NSA, which intercepts communications such as phone calls and e-mail from around the world, has been criticized in recent years for not keeping pace with new technologies. Like other technology-based organizations, its had trouble recruiting qualified talent. In addition to advertising on its own site, the agency had been running radio ads to promote its career fair, which was held last week. The ads promise interested listeners an exciting career, though only for those who are U.S. citizens.

No Can Do

Speaking of Microsoft millionaires . . . Did you hear how Bill Gates dad — William Gates II — came out publicly last week to say he is against President George W. Bushs plan to abolish the estate tax? Billionaire Warren Buffett is against it, too, which makes you wonder just what these rich guys are up to. Anyway, Gates Sr., who is co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, their charitable enterprise, even went so far as to start a petition campaign to give voice to others who oppose repealing the estate tax. You can read all about it at www.responsiblewealth.org. But dad couldnt convince Bill Jr. to sign on, saying in an interview with The New York Times that, though the chairman of Microsoft is "sympathetic," he wants to stay focused on "three things: his family, Microsoft and world health." Well thats a relief, because I always thought he was focused on making us all Windows users by whatever means necessary.