Operator No. 9: August 27, 2001

One of my favorite flicks is Sullivan's Travels, a 1941 Preston Sturges classic

Will Work for Money

One of my favorite flicks is Sullivans Travels, a 1941 Preston Sturges classic. In it, Joel McCrea plays a slapstick movie director named Sullivan who decides to leave Tinsel Town and journey out into the Depression Era countryside to research the real world. Needless to say, Sullivan finds it an eye-opening experience. If youve just been reading about the tech recession — or what I call the "trecession" — why not have an eye-opening experience yourself? Check out the descriptions offered by contract job seekers at Realrates.com (www.realrates.com/cgibin/benchrptd.cgi). At a time when the minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, it may be hard to feel sympathy for Web designers and programmers who were making upward of $70 per hour, but I did, because the list goes on and on and on.

Root Canal, Anyone?

Heres more proof theres no such thing as targeted spam. I got a missive with the subject line: "How can dental professionals benefit from focused financial planning?" This unsolicited e-mail message presumably found its way to millions of nondentists. Ive considered many alternative careers, but the worlds dentists wont ever have to worry about me joining their ranks.

"What Brought the First Renaissance to An End? . . . the Deepest Root Cause Was Fear."

— Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, to attendees at the Progress and Freedom Foundations Aspen Summit, explaining that the digital Renaissance is at a critical crossroad and could suffer the same fate as the Italian Renaissance if the industry lets fear take hold.

Timing Is Everything

Telecom nuclear winter must feel like a heavy hangover for NetRail executives, who are expected to announce the sale of the companys assets — hardware and network contracts, minus customers — to Aleron, a well-managed Northern Virginia startup, in the near future. Aleron is expected to pay $2 million for the company that reportedly was once offered $440 million by Allegiance Telecom, and then $51 million by 360Networks. At one time, Merrill Lynch & Co. estimated NetRails potential valuation at more than $3 billion. Both deals fell through — the first reportedly because of some executives greed, the second because of 360Networks bankruptcy. NetRails valuations were stunning, given that the companys network was built with $6 million in cash and $12 million in vendor financing furnished by Ascend. But not all NetRail executives are worried — in NetRails heyday, three of them got a franchise to run Sprint PCS service in the Carolinas, which is now a successful venture called PCSA. Reportedly, NetRail is selling out because the bank account ran dry, after checks for first-class airplane travel and lavish hotel accommodations for the executives were cashed.

License to Drive

Tom Siebel, CEO of enterprise application software company Siebel Systems, gave an upbeat prognosis of the tech economys future to about 200 business leaders, government officials and assorted other policy wonks at the Progress and Freedom Foundations seventh Aspen Summit last week. "Whats the probability this is not at its infancy? Its zero," he said. "Sanity is returning, and the world will be a better place." One big opportunity he sees is in the public sector, where citizens can communicate with government agencies however they want, and know they will be taken care of. People arent going to remain complacent with the current inefficiency, Siebel said, whipping out his California drivers license. Its a laminated copy, a remnant of a lost wallet two months ago. "I go to the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] and they say, Itll take three hours, " he said in reference to trying to get another official license. "I dont have three hours." Poor baby. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who had just addressed the crowd, quipped from the audience, "Youre safe here. But Im going to tell Gray Davis." In case you blocked it out, Davis is governor of California.

Mission Improbable

Oh, that wacky Bill Gates. The word last week was that Gates and Jim Allchin, Microsofts vice president, will hand off the master — or gold — version of Windows XP to PC makers via air mail of a sort. Reportedly, helicopters — decorated with the logo of the new operating system and the logos of the major PC makers — will swoop down onto Microsofts Redmond headquarters on Aug. 24. Gates and Allchin will then rush under the rotors and hand off the Windows XP code, which PC makers will then load onto their PCs. The stunt, I guess, is supposed to generate excitement over the new OS. Im sure there are people out there eager to get their hands on Windows XP. I just dont know any of them. Do you?

The Hostess With the Mostest Trouble

Three board members resigned last week from Exodus Communications 10-member board, giving critics more ammunition for their belief that the Web hosters management is crumbling. While rumors that CEO Ellen Hancock would resign have circulated for months, the precarious state of Exodus stock and its severely deflated market cap are fueling another round of gossip. The company lost some of Hancocks executive team, causing industry watchers to speculate that Hancock will resign by years end. The latest rumor about Exodus is that the former executive team of GlobalCenter has been approached by Exodus largest shareholder, Global Crossing, with this proposal: "What if we were to hire all of you back to run Exodus?" The team, I hear, declined. Exodus acquired GlobalCenter last year.

Can You Spare Some Severance?

Dont know about you, but Im getting pretty tired of reading about how "sorry" some of the ex-dot-com entrepreneurs are that their ventures didnt make it — especially when the ex-execs are speaking while on vacation or from extended sabbaticals at their vineyards in Napa Valley where they are trying to get their "head together and figure out the next big thing." Meanwhile, California state labor regulators are reporting a rise in the number of complaints from dot-com workers who were not paid their wages, and some of the more recently ejected say they were shown the door without a severance package of any kind. Sort of the perfect ending for the dot-com debacle, isnt it?