Culture

Psst! Wanna buy a used car? How about an English butler?

Last night I woke with a start, convinced there were burglars in the house. It turned out to be my own Grandma DuBaud rifling through my garbage. But I'm more interested in the trash people are talking about a certain English butler with an answer for everything. Might he, like my grandmother, have a price?

Last night I woke with a start, convinced there were burglars in the house. Silently, I slipped on my gumshoes and tiptoed toward the sound of garbage cans rattling on the enclosed back porch. Sure enough, there was a hooded figure rifling through my trash.

"Freeze!" I cried, throwing on the lights and aiming my revolver at the suspect. "Hands in the air!"

It turned out to be my own Grandma DuBaud, in town on her annual two-week visit from her cranberry bog outside Quebec.

"Who paid you off?" I demanded, gun still trained squarely on my grandmother's wire-rimmed spectacles. "Was it Ellison? Fost? Tish?" Tricky Dick should have such an enemies list.

Grandma DuBaud claimed only to be searching for her dentures, which she said she'd accidentally thrown out. I pointed out that her mouth was already full of artificial pearly whites.

"Zeeze are my spares!" she countered with a spry, toothy smile.

My Skintuition said she was lying through her teeth--but I let it drop. I'm more interested in the trash people are talking about a certain English butler with an answer for everything. Might he, like my grandmother, have a price?

It's no secret that the search sector is about as stable as Grandma DuBaud's polygraph results, what with Yahoo throwing over Inktomi for Google, AltaVista gunning for Google and its techie search clientele, and Ask Jeeves' spiffy butler himself acquiring Direct Hit. Now Skintelligent speculation suggests that the butler, trading at about a tenth of his 52-week high, may be positioning his portly, suited self as an acquisition target.

Ask Jeeves didn't return the Rumor Mill's calls. But sources close to the butler, while declining to comment on rumors and speculation, wouldn't rule out the notion that Jeeves was being shopped around.

Would you buy a used car from Jeff Bezos? I might, especially if Amazon.com develops some choice vacant lots acquired in a recent domain name buying spree. These include "usedcarsamazon.com," "usedcarsamazon.org" and "usedcarsamazon.net."

"Usedcarsamazon.cc" is still available.

Amazon.PR didn't return the Rumor Mill's calls, so I tried a number suggested by another one of Amazon's recently registered domains: "1800555AMAZON.com." All I got was some computerized woman asking me for my username or phone number. Trouble is, I can't remember either one.

Close Skinspection reveals that the 800 number bears an uncanny resemblance to the one (1-800-555-TELLME) owned by Tellme, which, as we reported in the last column, is newly tight with Amazon. Coincidence? You tell me.

After about a week of Grandma DuBaud's stay, I decided I deserved a vacation from her vacation and hopped on a red-eye for the Big Apple, where I found the PC Expo a little lackluster. The Internet party is truly over when only handheld companies (Palm, Handspring) are willing to pony up enough cash to get a keynote address.

Dell and NEC were among those skipping the showroom floor altogether, with Skinsiders at each company complaining it costs half a mil to rent anything big enough to be worthwhile.

When are voice recognition software companies such as Lernout & Hauspie going to get convincing demos? Just as the demo barker was bragging about how impressed his chat room buddies were at what they thought was his typing speed, the software mistook the word "email" for "female." Sounds like the premise of a straight-to-video Tom Hanks flick.

When the Jacob Javitz Greenhouse and Convention Center's AC went on the blink, unleashing the collective stench of thousands of nerds, marketing managers and demo clowns, I began to grow wistful for my nosy grandmother back at home.

Back on the West Coast, some people are so addicted to climbing the corporate ladder that once they reach the top they want to start back at the bottom again. When former Excite@Home VP of content Joe Kraus announced to the company he was taking an "extended sabbatical" earlier this year, no one expected he'd return on the ground floor. But the Excite co-founder recently told a bewildered crowd that he would return to take on an "entry-level" position in business development.

"He mentioned 'entry-level,' and everyone's jaw dropped," said one Skinformer on the scene.

Excite said Kraus' future role at the company hasn't yet been decided. "If it was said, it was said in jest," explained a representative.

Perhaps the Stanford grad-turned Net pioneer is envious of the perks showered on interns in the ever-so-tight employment market. Or maybe it's just that @Home veteran Richard Gingras was tapped to run the content side of the business, leaving Kraus without other alternatives for gainful employment. Hey, I hear Larry Ellison is hiring people to take out his garbage...

We close this week with a tribute to a dear and departed colleague, Gary Brickman, who died in his sleep Sunday at the age of 38. Familiar to Net media types and tech event-goers alike as the gregarious, pertinacious guy in the wheelchair, Brickman charmed and razzed colleagues in old and new media alike, including those at Snap/NBCi, CMP Media and CBS.

Brickman, who suffered from a crippling bone disease, endeared himself especially to co-workers--often by hollering at them.

"He was difficult," recalled IDC analyst Malcolm Maclachlan, who reported for Brickman at CMP. "He was stubborn and opinionated, and we would yell at each other, but a lot of the time he was right. And there were never any hard feelings with Gary."

Maclachlan recalled fouling something up early in his tenure under Brickman. The boss in turn described making a similar mistake while working for Dan Rather at CBS. Rather had responded by giving Brickman a pep talk, which Brickman--who was cast as a drug dealer in the film "Dream with the Fishes"--proceeded to deliver to Maclachlan with a perfect Dan Rather imitation.

"He was a great actor and mimic," Maclachlan said. "He had such a huge personality." My grandmother also has a huge personality--and now she's got a huge income. Know who's paying her off? Clue me in.