Operator No. 9: July 23, 2001

At Macworld Expo in New York last week, Apple Computer's fearless leader took to the podium to introduce an update to the company's operating system, Mac OS X, and a slew of new iMacs in snow and indigo - but not the much-rumored flat-panel iMac.


At Macworld Expo in New York last week, Apple Computers fearless leader took to the podium to introduce an update to the companys operating system, Mac OS X, and a slew of new iMacs in snow and indigo — but not the much-rumored flat-panel iMac. Steve Jobs funniest quip came just after Frank Pearce, co-founder of game company Blizzard Entertainment, showed Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. The guy sitting next to me described the game as "normal, red-blooded American male blood, gore and carnage" and said it looked "pretty nifty" — which explains why women like me dont play many computer games. Anyway, Jobs said that the game looked like a simulation of the Microsoft-AOL battles coming next year.

Rock Bottom?

The earnings news of the past week — AOL and Intel offered a mixed bag of numbers — had some observers speculating that the tech economy had finally reached rock bottom. Im reminded of a saying that someone once told me in my youth: "Just when you think youve hit rock bottom, someone yells Dig! " Shovels, anyone?

Hell on Earth(Link)

How long is seven minutes? About two hours if youre an EarthLink DSL customer. A loyal MindSpring dial-up customer — who is a free-lancer for this publication — was converting to DSL, and wrote to tell me her tale of woe. Just three months after interviewing EarthLink President Mike McQuary, who made shining customer service promises, she waited 70 days for installation software to arrive. That was OK, she said. But when a bill showed up that included the $99 installation fee that the sell-up solicitation from EarthLink said would be waived, it was just too much. First, she tried — four times — to get the problem solved using the e-mail address at the bottom of her bill. But the messages all bounced back "address unknown." Then, she tried the customer service line, and was warned by an auto-attendant that the wait would be 44 minutes. She decided to try a backdoor approach through sales; of course, the call was picked up on the first ring and politely rejected. She tried the customer service line again, where she waited 25 minutes on hold for someone to tell her that department didnt handle DSL billing disputes. Happily, the operator kindly placed her into the DSL queue, where she promised the wait would be no more than seven minutes. Ninety minutes later, a voice on the other end of the line shook the cobwebs off the cordless phone. The billing problem was taken care of, but not without leaving the subscriber feeling snarky about a company that promises in its corporate mission statement "to become the leading ISP in the world, as measured by number of members, member satisfaction and profitability." What do you have to say to that, Mike?


When theyre not stealing passwords, the hackers at Def Con are resourceful enough to find other things to steal — such as the signs and lighting fixtures around the Alexis Park hotel in Las Vegas, where the annual hacker convention was held. Convention leaders repeatedly pleaded with attendees — most of whom were barely old enough to drive there — to return hotel property without fear of retribution. At last check, not much had been given back. Def Con has been kicked out of just about every other hotel on the Strip, and the Alexis Park was a last resort — pun intended. If the vandalism continues, future shows may have to be held in Mormon-rooted Utah, one Def Con leader warned. Theres a "black hat/white hat" joke in there somewhere, but its escaping me.


Reuters reports that the latest edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary includes a section on "shorthand" language, in acknowledgment of the fact that more than 1 million phone text messages are sent every hour in Britain alone, and not everyone types out everything. The appendix includes abbreviations that the dictionarys creators at Oxford University Press say have become an "integral part of English." They include HAND — have a nice day — and BBLR — be back later. Emoticons, the symbols used to represent emotions and facial expressions, are also included. Cya.

Billions and Billions?

The late astronomer Carl Sagan won the disdain of scientists when he said, "Billions and billions" in answer to the question, "How many stars are there?" The Hubble Space Telescope later proved him right. Now we have a May Web server survey by U.K. online surveyor Netcraft. It noted that archive site Attrition.org had a list of about 9,000 Web sites run by Microsofts Internet Information Server that had been compromised. The Netcraft report added: "Netcraft believes that it is more likely that the number of compromised Microsoft IIS sites is in the order of hundreds of thousands . . ." Unfortunately, theres no Internet Hubble to confirm that number — yet.

Austin Powers

Ah, Austin. Capital of Texas. Former home of President George W. Bush. Live Music Capital of the World. Home of Chuys, the restaurant of choice for the Bush girls. And of course, dot-com disaster zone. Los Angeles-based Cowan Alexander Equipment Group, the liquidator of choice for failed dot-coms, recently opened an Austin office in order to handle all the failed businesses. Austin, where thousands of high-tech workers have gotten pink slips in recent months, is awash in Aeron chairs and excess laptops. Last week, Cowan Alexander auctioned off the detritus of five different companies, including failed online legal information provider eLaw.com, and customer software company Agillion. Adam Alexander, co-founder of the auction firm, says that the decision to open an Austin office was easy. "Its a good high-tech community and it seems to be having its share of problems right now," he says. Even the vultures have fun in Austin.

Stamp of Approval

Who needs big profits when you can have your own postage stamp? It seems the people of Tuvalu want to thank those nice folks at The .tv Corp. for taking over their country-code top-level domain name, dot-tv, by issuing a set of commemorative stamps "to document the groundbreaking relationship it has formed" with the company. The company struck a deal with the South Pacific island nation in 1999 to license Tuvalus domain name and began marketing dot-tv as a global domain name, similar to dot-com or dot-net, in 2000. In exchange, the com-pany agreed to pay Tuvalu $50 million and give the country a stake in its operations. The .tv Corp. claims that Tuvaluans have "seen their lives change dramatically with the monies received," which have helped pave roads and bring electricity to some of the outer islands. The company, meanwhile, has registered 400,000 dot-tv names and reported a "positive cash flow" last month, but it is not yet turning a profit. CEO Lou Kerner summed up his business relationship with Tuvalu this way: "Rarely does any company get to have such a direct economic impact on a developing nation. These stamps are so special, as they are a testament to how the Internet can both bring prosperity and expose the countrys unique culture to the rest of the world." And could it possibly help a U.S. company make money, too?

Cool Down

Got numerous e-mails from Macolytes sharing their stories about Apple Computers hot Titanium PowerBook G4. Larry Rosenthal suggests the CoolPad at http:// roadtools.com. For $20, you get "two slices of plastic, connected by a pin at their locus which lets them swi-vel. Placed on your desk, theres a slight tilt, and the computer swivels. Placed on your lap, its protection from the heat, which wont build up quite so much anyway, as the plastic sheets have small bumps which raise the computer for proper circulation," says Rosenthal, who calls it "one of the great tools of the laptop era." I dont know about that — but I do know it seems a small price to pay to avoid barbecue thigh syndrome.