Operator No. 9: February 5, 2001

It's not just we Californians who are feeling the pain of living in a wired economy these days.

Opportunity Knocks -- Be Afraid!

Its not just we Californians who are feeling the pain of living in a wired economy these days. Nestled among Amazon.coms belt-tightening news that it will lay off 1,300 people was this detail: The company said workers at its soon-to-be-closed Georgia distribution center and Seattle customer service center will be offered the opportunity to relocate to Amazons service facilities in West Virginia and North Dakota. One little hitch: A spokesman said they might have to take a pay cut. Lets see: Get paid less for picking up and moving hundreds of miles away. Although I hear North Dakota is delightful in the summer -- and Amazon says it will cover relocation costs -- I wonder if there will be many takers.

Reunited and It Feels So Gut

Did you hear that former U.S. antitrust prosecutor Joel Klein -- part of the team that led the governments case against Microsoft -- was chosen to be chief executive of the U.S. operations of Bertelsmann, serving as a close adviser to Chief Executive Thomas Middelhoff Klein is expected to help with Bertelsmanns government relations strategy, which includes convincing European Union regulators to endorse Bertelsmanns stalled merger between its BMG music division and EMI. He is also supposed to give Middelhoff his take on Internet-based file sharing systems. That includes working on the deal with Napster and its plan to charge for online music files. Coincidentally, Napster is being defended in its copyright case by David Boies, lead attorney for the government in its suit against Microsoft.

"I would give them some of my mindshare if I didnt have to pay."

-- A comment about INSIDE.COM, a subscription-based news site, overheard at a panel discussion hosted by New York radio station WNYC on the effects of Internet media on mass culture. In case you missed it, subscription-based sites are not popular with Web travelers whove become accustomed to getting all the news they want free off the Net. Can you blame them?

Hitting a Sour Note

Leonardo Chiariglione, executive director at the Secure Digital Music Initiative, announced he was leaving SDMI to lead a new multimedia initiative at the Telecom Italia Lab, where hes worked for many years. While Chiariglione said he was leaving because of the new responsibilities hell assume, I cant help but wonder if the stress of the SDMI job was just getting to him. At the Future of Music Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., last month, Chiariglione started ranting and raving at the audience, complaining he was blamed for everything, and was getting death threats. Seriously, the guy went off. When I asked him last week if he would continue to work with SDMI, Chiariglione said, "Yes, of course. I am emotionally attached to SDMI. If you were at the Future of Music Conference, you wont doubt that." I dont doubt there was an emotional attachment; Im just not sure it was a healthy one.

Open Mouth: Insert Foot?

In other Bertelsmann-related news . . . Perhaps Chief Executive Thomas Middelhoff thought he was tossing off a casual, wishful remark when he said last week at the World Economic Forum that hes "convinced" Bertelsmann can launch a subscription version of Napster with digital rights management by June or July. But that tasty tidbit was picked up by media outlets the world over, hungry for any news on the status of the new Napster. Napster Chief Executive Hank Barry seemed to be humming a different tune, however, saying he was "surprised" by the announcement and that no time schedule has been set. Now Bertelsmann has issued a clarification saying that while it is optimistic the service can be launched by summer, the details arent final and it cant pin down a date.

Blackout Special Not So Special

Rackspace Managed Hosting is offering a "blackout special" to Californians: The San Antonio company says it will waive setup fees on all servers transferred from California to its Texas facility before March 1. Nice idea, but the gimmick ignores the fact that any Web hosting provider worth its salt -- located in California or elsewhere -- has backup power generators to keep servers humming in the event of an outage. At least, I hope they do.

The New Math

Despite large injections of reality, Internet math is alive and well. The latest outbreak of questionable optimism occurred as Ariba and Agile Software announced their $2.5 billion merger to tackle the "collaborative commerce" market. During a conference call with analysts, Agile Chief Executive Bryan Stolle was asked why his company agreed to be bought by Ariba, which has lately been struggling to live up to its promise. After its most recent quarterly earnings, Ariba was downgraded by several analysts and saw its stock drop almost 20 percent in value. "We truly believe that one plus one equals 10 here," Stolle said. At least one analyst didnt buy the new math and downgraded Ariba, whose stock fell $1.63 to $38.38 per share the day of the announcement. It later recovered -- but for how long?

Sign of the Times

I send and receive lots of jokes via e-mail. But it wasnt until I read the "clinchers" in the list below that I realized that what I thought was just a harmless pastime has become an addiction. Heres an abridged version of the list. For the rest, drop me a line and share some gossip. You know youre living in the 00s when:

2. You havent played solitaire with real cards in years.
3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.
4. You e-mail your buddy who works at the desk next to you.
8. Youve sat at the same desk for four years and worked for three different companies.
And the clinchers are . . .
23. As you read this list, you think about forwarding the list to your "friends."
24. It crosses your mind that your jokes group may have seen this list already, but you dont have time to check, so you forward it anyway.
25. You got this e-mail from a friend who never talks to you anymore, except to send you jokes from the Net.
26. This e-mail has 20 disclaimer notes at the bottom, telling you that the information is confidential, but you forward it anyway.

Taking Stock of The Bad News

As if the relocation deal werent bad enough, Jeff Bezos employees were also shown the door with a promise that the company is setting up a trust fund of $2.5 million worth of stock for laid-off employees. The only problem is the fund will hold the stock until mid-2003, when it will be sold and distributed to those who got the boot. Amazon.com didnt say how it will divvy up the proceeds, but company spokesman Bill Curry noted, "The individual payouts will vary based on how well the stock does. Its an opportunity for the 1,300 people affected to still share in the longer-term success of the company." Thats cold comfort to those who have to find a way to pay the rent in the short term -- and who find themselves with a handful of stock options that are underwater. And to think, Amazon employees were once considered the lucky ones.