Operator No. 9: May 28, 2001

In the wake of tech industry layoffs and the stock market slump, the inventory of high-priced houses on the real estate market in Silicon Valley and the number of luxury foreign cars being repossessed out of Cisco Systems', Yahoo!'s and other tech compani

Avoiding the Repo Man

In the wake of tech industry layoffs and the stock market slump, the inventory of high-priced houses on the real estate market in Silicon Valley and the number of luxury foreign cars being repossessed out of Cisco Systems, Yahoo!s and other tech companies parking lots is on the rise, to put it mildly. But the true sign that the era of excess is over is the fact that you dont have to wait for a table at the many trendy sushi bars in the San Francisco Bay area. Im always charmed by signs of moderation, so when I dropped in for a visit at Tellme Networks in Mountain View, Calif., I paused to admire a Volkswagen Beetle adorned with "Tellme" vanity plates. It belongs to Hadi Partovi, one of Tellmes three co-founders and the companys vice president of production. In the land where Porsches and BMWs roam the range, the Bug makes a statement all its own. Im not sure, though, what the paint job says.

1 2 9

Number of days — as of May 28 — that President George W. Bush has been in office and without a technology adviser.

The PR Game

Cisco Systems investor relations department must be earning its keep. On a single day, reports circulated that three different brokerage firms had found good news to whisper about the fallen networking giant. One report, attributed to Salomon Smith Barney, was that Ciscos optical business is accelerating because of a new product cycle, and that strength in the optical segment would give Cisco greater visibility — whatever that means for the company that touts itself everywhere as the backbone of the Internet. Then, Credit Suisse First Boston was said to believe that one or more large contract wins in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars could start shipping this quarter, and that there are indications from Ciscos optical division that carriers are beginning to spend a little more. Another story was that BancBoston Robertson Stephens had made positive comments about Cisco because enterprises are starting to spend more on information technology, and that estimates on Ciscos financial results could be raised. Cisco stock, meanwhile, was at $22.60 per share in midweek trading — the highest the shares have been since early March.

Light Reading

Were all getting used to automakers issuing recalls, but heres a new one: Microsoft Press recalled three titles about Microsofts still-under-construction .Net architecture, published as part of its Microsoft Developer Network series. They are: The Microsoft.Net Framework, Web Applications in the Microsoft.Net Framework and Visual Studio.Net. What erroneous information and what changed plans so affected the .Net approach that Microsoft had to pull back the books? No reason was given, other than, "We are concerned that the page counts are too small for these titles, relative to the price. We are working to refine the series to ensure that we deliver a greater selection of superior content for the associated price." Microsoft concerned about users getting value for their money? Not hardly. Must be some serious problems with .Net.

The ABCs of Bulls and Bears

If you want your companys stock to stand out, the really chic thing to do is get a single-letter symbol. After all, only 26 companies can do that. Thats why the New York Stock Exchange, in its effort to lure away stalwarts of the Nasdaq exchange, such as Intel, Microsoft and Oracle, has coyly "reserved" the letters I, M and O for future use. But there can be alternative meanings that are not quite so appealing. Take, for example, the letter "Q," used by Qwest Communications International. "For the longest time," said William R. Johnston, president of the Big Board, "Q always denoted bankruptcy, here." Now, it no longer does. Joe Nacchio has seen to that. I think.

Wireless Data Saves Mans Life

Or maybe I should say, "What Do You Call the Opposite of a Killer Application?" A Reuters dispatch last week from London said that an injured climber trapped on a remote Welsh hillside was saved after rescuers sent him a text message on his mobile phone to find out his exact location. Seems he was crouched down behind a boulder and the rescue helicopter couldnt spot him.

Electronic Shredder

Knowing that promotional tchotchkes are rare these day, I was keen to offer tipsters a fabulous Operator No. 9 coffee mug in return for rumors and innuendo. But no sooner did I make my offer than my electronic dog decided to bite the e-mail man, bouncing your missives back into the ether. Oh, well. At least it means Ill have mugs left over for the next dot-bomb party. Ive got eFido on a short leash this week, so keep those cards and letters coming, and Ill send you a limited-edition Op. 9 mug in return. So far, the most amusing item comes from Michael J Walters, who offers me this tip: "Dont look into the sun!" I like the way you think, Michael.

I Prefer Rocky Road

"I had the pleasure (pain?) to listen to John L. Hall, senior vice president at Oracle University talk about his and Oracles vision for the future at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers on April 23," writes a reader from Seattle. In addition to the obvious distance and Internet education plans, Hall told the assembled that "businesses will change their practices to fit the software that companies like Oracle produce" and that "we" — as in, consumers of the technology — "will all stop creating customized databases. We will instead rely upon software companies like Oracle to design and rent space in databases that they create for us." My source laughed. "They dont realize their vanilla approach to large-systems — like financials, HR [human resources] — doesnt make businesses/institutions change their business practices as much as it makes them spend millions on consulting firms to customize it for them. Well, I guess thats why in the marketplace its survival of the fittest — Oracle may find the market a painful but all-too-willing teacher in what consumers will and wont do." What say you, Mr. Hall?

Hard Rock and a Place

For all you wannabe rock stars, loudEnergy.com is giving you a forum to speak out about the high price of gasoline and put some cold, hard cash in your pocket at the same time. The music Web site is calling on musicians to write, produce and record a song protesting the high gas prices. The act that offers "the best, most biting song about the crisis" will win $1,000 and a Fender guitar signed by music group Sugar Ray. The contest runs until July 21. LoudEnergy CEO Ruben R. Lozano II, says the company hopes the contest will "not only push this problem even more into the spotlight so that something will be done about it, but also serve to stimulate those creative juices inside the songwriters, musicians and performers out there." My submission, to the tune of Louie, Louie, would be, "I am going mental, cause I cant afford no petrol. Need that gasoline, to make it to my next scene. This energy crunch forced me to skip lunch. Can you spare a quarter, so I can drive my four-door?" And that explains why I stick to writing news stories.

"We Dont Follow Microsoft in Everything."

— George Vradenburg, AOL Time Warners executive vice president, responding to Rep. EDOLPHUS TOWNS, D-N.Y., during a hearing last week. Towns asked Vradenburg why AOL Time Warner has not signed up for the "safe harbor" agreement aimed at helping U.S. companies comply with a European Union privacy law, given that "MICROSOFT is on board." Microsoft announced earlier this month that it planned to sign on to the safe harbor. Vradenburg said AOL Time Warner is still weighing its options.