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Culture

Born under a baud sign

Jazz great sings the dot-com blues; Intel and Preview Systems dance.

    I had a morbid week, even more so than usual for the dead of February. Seized by thoughts of my own mortality, I was tempted to numb myself into a Scottish stupor, but on reflection decided another extended absence from work was not necessarily the best course of action in these uncertain times. So I locked myself in my study and sought solace in music.

    My elixir? Rushed to my door by the good remaining people at Amazon.com came the perfect tonic for riven souls from Redmond to the East River, the first release by jazz legend Jimmy Smith in five years, titled "Dot Com Blues." Smartly laid out in Macintosh windows and dialog boxes, the CD liner notes show the venerable Hammond B-3 organ virtuoso looking anything but blue. In fact, Smith smiles ear-to-ear in no fewer than 10 pictures.

    Currently on tour in Japan, the 72-year-old instrumentalist was unavailable to comment on his aptly timed and named disc--or on his contrarian good mood. But producer Ron Goldstein, president of the Verve Music Group in New York, said the CD had been in the works for a year-and-a-half, and its being released during the dot-com depression was sheer coincidence.

    "Originally Jimmy had written a song called 'Jimmysmith.com,'" Goldstein said. "We changed that to 'Dot Com Blues,' and that's where the album got its name."

    Releasing it during this winter's chilly tech climate "was not by design," he added. "It was an act of God."

    Right--God and Alan Greenspan. Or have they merged? Regardless, the Rumor Mill gives Smith's comeback CD numerous thumbs up, not only for the irrational exuberance of the organ playing but also for the strategic partnerships with jazz greats including Etta James and B.B. King.

    Speaking of music, rumors are swirling about Preview Systems, one of several companies that has struggled for years to convince the world that protecting songs against widespread copying is a good idea in the P2P era. Record companies are all for the proposal--bien sur!--but Napster fans have been curiously slow to embrace it, leaving Preview Systems and other anti-music-piracy software vendors, well, singing the blues.

    Enter Intel, ever eager to convince us all to buy faster computers with its chips inside them. In an attempt to promote bandwidth-hogging activities such as watching videos and listening to music online, Intel and other hardware companies have joined forces to develop antipiracy technology of their own, hoping this will assuage record labels' and movie studios' fear of Net pirates.

    Rumor has it that Intel has taken a hankering to the music division of Preview Systems and has approached the Sunnyvale start-up about acquiring it and letting the rest of the business get sold for parts. Both companies declined comment; consider this a preview of news to come.

    More trouble is rumored to be brewing at the Industry Standard, whose first round of layoffs were followed by a merry editorial retreat in Lake Tahoe last month. Rumor has it that the next round of cuts could hit editorial as well.

    At least one Silicon Valley company appears undaunted by these February rains: Oracle appears to be buying residential real estate on the Peninsula with an aggressive strategy. A Skinformant went door to door in Foster City, and no fewer than three homeowners said they'd put their rental properties up for sale, only to be contacted immediately by Oracle and offered $150K over the asking price--no questions asked.

    The speculation is that Oracle is buying executive residences, which means what? Tech execs these days are too good to couch surf chez Larry?

    Oracle was not available to weigh in on the question. Until technology comes up with a way to deal with this February problem, my mood is at your mercy. So send me your rumors.