Operator No. 9: January 22, 2001

You may have noticed that some of us out here in California are a little caught up in this whole "electricity crisis" thing.

Sun Spot

You may have noticed that some of us out here in California are a little caught up in this whole "electricity crisis" thing. Other than the hefty boost in my bill from Pacific Gas & Electric, I hadnt experienced any outages — that is, until I was listening in on Cobalt Networks coming-out party as a division of Sun Microsystems. Stephen DeWitt, Suns vice president and general manager at the appliances unit, was cut off in midsentence when the phones went dead during a five-minute power outage at the San Francisco hotel where the event was held last week. When the power was restored, DeWitt — something of a wit, it turns out — pointed out that Cobalt servers individually use less power than a lightbulb. Good one, Steve, but Id have been more impressed if Sun, which borrows its name from a rather powerful energy source, announced it was working on a solar energy system to power those puppies.

Amazon Wishes Dont Always Come True

Even billionaire Jeff Bezos, chairman and founder of Amazon.com, doesnt get everything he wants for Christmas or his birthday, which was Jan. 12. Like many of Amazons customers, Bezos posts an online "wish list" of items he would like someone to buy for him (Geez, Jeff, cant you pony up for them yourself?). Anyway, Bezos list contains 49 items, including $699.99 Night Owl Vision Goggles — perhaps to see through all of the fog out there in dot-com land these days. He was also hoping for the video, Sufferer: A Survivor Parody; Sinead OConnors CD Faith & Courage; and the video set Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief History of the Internet. Bezos also lists 117 people on his "favorite people" list, including Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Amazon backer John Doerr, along with "peepeehead," "chicken taco" and "Big Daddy." Peepeehead? Im not sure I want to know.

The New, New Watercooler

Shall we call it Harpers for the Net generation, or the Algonquin Round Table of the cyberset? Well, maybe its just the digital graffiti of bored and disaffected wits. Last week was the official launch of Plastic.com, brought to you by the self-styled smart asses who created early Webzines Feed and Suck. Plastic models itself after Slashdot.org — and in fact, uses the same code that runs Slashdot — comprising user-contributed news-bitey tidbits. Basically, its a pop-culture-oriented, communal blog — thats "Web log" to you Old Economy types. The site humbly bills itself as "a live collaboration between the Webs smartest readers and the Webs smartest editors."

Making a Spectacle of Themselves

Last year, organizers of Austin 360, the Texas citys annual high-tech meeting, passed out rose-colored glasses to attendees. This year, the specs were rubber aviator-style goggles. The goggles, organizer Peter Zandan explained, represent the "turbulent times" for tech companies. But perhaps theyre a year too late — Cliff Sharples at Garden.com and Donald Hackett at Drkoop.com, who jokingly donned the goggles as part of a panel titled True Confessions: Behind Dot-Com Closed Doors, have already seen their start-ups crater. Maybe gas masks next year?

"Consumers consume hamburgers; they dont consume songs. If someone consumes my song, theyve done something wrong with it."

John Perry Barlow, lyricist for the Grateful Dead and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil liberties group, objecting to the use of the word "consumer" to describe music listeners, while speaking at the Coalition for the Future of Music Policy Summit.

Offense, Defense, Nonsense

SuperBowl.com, which is powered by SportsLine.com, expects its advertising revenue to reach $5 million, according to a source close to the site. The Miller Brewing Co.s sponsorship will account for $1.5 million of the take. The Coca-Cola Co., which did not buy a TV spot on CBS during the game, is advertising on SuperBowl.com to promote its own game-related site at www.cokepartybowl.com. That site was created as a branding vehicle and is targeted not only at people who actually care about the game, but also those who enjoy the quintessential game-related bash. The sites tone is decidedly tongue-in-cheek — it lists a recipe for candied pigskins — and is meant to be fun, not overly commercial. Coca-Cola was mum on how much the site cost to create and run, but spokesman Scott Williamson puts it this way: "It cost more than a Coke and less than a sponsorship." With on-air slots going for roughly $2 million, maybe theres a new trend taking shape.

Are You Voice-Mail Worthy?

The European Union may be doing its best to ensure that Europe is not left behind in the digital revolution, but it can only go so far. Take voice-mail, for example. It is not unusual to phone an EU official in Brussels, Belgium, and get no answer. The reason? Only certain EU officials are entitled to voice-mail. Per Haugaard, spokesman for the European Commissions Information Society directorate, says voice-mail is primarily only available to those with frequent external contacts. Asked about the issue, Maeve Beirne, a spokeswoman for the EUs Washington, D.C., delegation, speculates the problem may be due in part to culture. Some Europeans are averse to talking to machines or may feel as if they are being blown off, she suggests. But Beirne says this attitude is changing. In fact, some EU employees have gone so far as to bring their own answering machines into the office, she says.

Moving for Health Reasons

Drkoop.com flew the coop from Austin, Texas, to Santa Monica, Calif. The beaten-down Internet start-up is letting about 45 employees go as it closes its Austin office. Some of the remaining employees will move to the West Coast, home to the venture capitalists who bailed out Drkoop.com. Others will move to Philadelphia, where the companys biggest partner is based. Drkoop, which creates online health information and is named for former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, hopes the move will help it become profitable faster, executives said last week. It could also make the company more attractive to prospective buyers.

Silicon Valley Unplugged

Pacific Gas & Electric hasnt endeared itself to its 4.5 million customers in California, particularly after the press reported the company had quietly won approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to restructure itself so that the parent companys profits are shielded from its money-losing utility subsidiary. But PG&E may not be the mercenary profiteer everyone makes it out to be. While walking around the Streaming Media West conference in San Jose last month, I happened upon the PG&E exhibit booth where reps were passing out a one-page flyer discussing the energy crisis and — key-chain flashlights. I got an orange one. Youre supposed to squeeze it to turn on the light. The thing is, it doesnt always work. Maybe I was wrong about the mercenary profiteer after all, but I cant explore that right now because rolling blackouts have just been announced and Im expecting my power to go out at any . . . .