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Christmas Gift Guide
Culture

The grinch that stole Comdex

My 12-year-old son Vermel's flirtation with the theater took a turn for the worse this week when, because of a scheduling conflict, his synchronized swimming musical extravaganza The Acquisition suffered a hostile takeover by the school holiday pageant.

My 12-year-old son Vermel's flirtation with the theater took a turn for the worse this week when, because of a scheduling conflict, his synchronized swimming musical extravaganza The Acquisition suffered a hostile takeover by the school holiday pageant.

"Vermel!" I shouted, banging on my son's bedroom door. "What have I told you about singing Christmas carols before Halloween?"

I shouldn't have snapped at the kid--in retrospect, I see that I was probably taking out my own frustration on him. I haven't broken the news to the little tyke yet, but due to market conditions, Christmas 1998 at the DuBaud household has been shelved.

Yes, that's right: no fresh-cut pine trimmed with RealAudio-synchronized laser beams glinting off discarded AOL CD-ROMs, no stockings stuffed with mouse pads and smart cards, no iMac under the tree (this last disappointment especially galling in light of the fact that Ken Starr dropped $37,915 on computers, not to mention $56,810 for a copier). Canceling Christmas is a bona fide debacle, bound to scar my son for life. But it isn't nearly as disappointing as the latest rumor to hit the Comdex machine....

Rumor has it that scheduled keynoter Michael Dell won't be speaking after all. The king of direct computer sales was slated to give his address on opening day. Organizers, however, started increasing the number of speakers, thereby diluting Dell's star power. The lineup for the show went from four to five to nine to ten.

Rather than be crowded in with the hoi polloi, everyone's favorite Dellionaire pulled out of the event. He will now be giving his speech at a private cocktail party--pray for invites!

Coal and sticks are the holiday lot of other ZD properties (remember when we had to call it ZD Comdex?). ZD staffers yesterday found their email stockings stuffed with this:

TO: All Employees
FROM: ERIC HIPPEAU
DATE: October 28, 1998
SUBJECT: Holiday Parties

Due to recent restructuring across the company and as part of our continuing cost-containment initiatives, we've decided to cancel the three formal holiday parties previously scheduled for December in New York City, Boston, and San Francisco. I encourage you to work with your group president or direct manager to organize smaller, less formal department celebrations....

Christmas canceled! Or was it just downsized? Perhaps they're just spinning it off into smaller units. It's all the heavier a blow when contrasted with the high times ZD enjoyed before the realities of public life set in. For last year's Christmas spectacular, par example, ZD rented out the entire Steinhart Aquarium and Natural History Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. There was dancing among the stuffed lions, and coats were flung over the T-Rex ribs--you get the picture.

Prudence began intruding on the ZD idyll when the company refused to fork over $50,000 to Webcast the Devo concert that doubled as a ZDTV launch party, but apparently that economy wasn't enough to save Christmas. What could possibly be worse? I suppose they could charge admission.

Times are tough all over, and standards are slipping, as anyone reading the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition already knows. One of Monday's front-page headlines read: "Existing Homes Fall, Softening Unexpectedly." The question remains, are standards falling in building materials? Or at copy desks?

Standards certainly aren't doing very well in fashion, either, the considerable efforts of some in the tech industry notwithstanding. Vermel's peppy paramour Ammonia Blossom wandered into a Microsoft press conference this week in San Francisco's ultra-fashionable Union Square shopping district. She was aghast to see Microsoft vice president of marketing (and "walking fashion victim," she sniped) Brad Chase, gaudily attired. The diminutive exec, who was in town to trumpet the triumphant arrival of the Windows 2000 family, née Windows NT, was sporting an 80's-esque black shirt with oversized, loudly colored geometric buttons. Perhaps the bold sartorial choice was an attempt to distract attention from the crucial question of whether Microsoft's announcement means that Windows NT 5.0 won't launch until the next millennium.

Speaking of stylish, how about the name for the latest x86 clone chip from IBM, "Performance Rated MMX-Enhanced Processor." It may not have the ring of, say, "Celeron," but then again IBM didn't have to turn to some fancy-pants design company to come up with it, either. In the seasonal spirit of frugality, they turned to their lawyers.

And in that same spirit, I'm inviting ZD, IBM, and other penny-pinchers to spend the holidays with me and mine. We'll make a nice toasty fire and feast on your rumors