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Geeks blinded by science

I'm laid up today folks, prone in bed with a compress around my neck while I dictate the column to my faithful secretary, Trixie Pixel.

I'm laid up today folks, prone in bed with a compress around my neck while I dictate the column to my faithful secretary, Trixie Pixel. I suffered a rubbernecking mishap last night but I did it for you, my readers, making sure I could report in detail the guest list at last night's Exploratorium benefit, quite frankly the most impressive assembly of brainiacs and technogazillionaires I've ever seen. If the earth had opened up and swallowed the Palace of Fine Arts last night (and this being San Francisco, it could have happened), the world would have been a much less wealthy, not to mention stupider, place.

As a first course (hearts of romaine with rich, smelly brie, walnuts, and vine-ripened cherry tomatoes) we had the geniuses: Nobel physics laureate Arno "Big Bang" Penzias, Nobel economics laureate Myron "Show Me the Money" Scholes, Nobel physics laureate #2 Donald "Pion-proton Scattering, Parity Violation in Non-leptonic Hyperon Decay" Glaser, and Exploratorium honoree and prolific science author and professor Steven Jay Gould, who regaled the assembled guests with oration so effusive and erudite that he managed to both throw his reading glasses across the stage and cause one high-tech CEO, not known for mental deficiency, to complain about the difficulty of the course.

The main dish (sea bass and prawns with a beurre blanc served over gourmet lentils, which bitterly disappointed SGI execs at first took to be caviar) consisted of money bags and technologists: @Home Network CEO Tom Jermoluk, SGI CEO Rick Belluzzo (who ate his lentils), Macromedia CEO Rob Burgess, Hambrecht & Quist CEO Dan Case, BancBoston RobertsonStephens namesake Sandy Robertson, VC poster child and Kleiner Perkins star John Doerr, CNET's own Halsey Minor, Healtheon CEO Mike Long, Apple ex-CEO Gil Amelio, and philanthropists Bernard and Barbro Osher.

For dessert, there were some token artists and scribes: MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellow and video artist Bill Viola, SFMOMA head David Ross, San Jose Merc technogossip Chris Nolan (with Springfield Project CEO Andrew Beebe in tow), and two more tech news hacks, John Heileman and Michael Lewis, doubtless comparing their recent seven-figure advances for their crummy books on the Valley. OK, so no one has optioned the life and times of Skinny DuBaud. I'm jealous, shoot me.

Topping off the celebrity guest list was another of the evening's honorees, Jim Clark, of SGI, Netscape, and Healtheon fame. The minutes flew like hours as Clark was feted with gushing speeches and a warm and fuzzy videobio replete with tales of his sailing and coptering adventures (Larry Ellison eat your heart out) and heartfelt testimonials from nearest and dearest pals Doerr, Jermoluk ("TJ" to his friends), and Marc Andreessen and Jim Barksdale of "Marc, Clark, and Bark" fame (this was a sitcom from the mid-'90s, never mind if you never saw it).

I got all choked up by the video and was almost too busy blowing my nose into my program (right into, as it turned out, yet another tribute to the great man) to hear the announcement that not only was Clark matching the million bucks raised by the assembled diners, and another million offered up by the Oshers, but the Exploratorium was naming its new Internet thing after him. Then Clark himself was up there to personally absorb all the gratitude and admiration, thanking those 85 percent of the people out there who provided the inspiration to make his 15 percent inspiration into a reality while he stood up there as (his words) "the hero."

Such selflessness was not lost on the hero's associates from ventures past, who remarked that their friend's performance demonstrated either a marked improvement in his personal modesty, or a profound mastery over his natural impulses.

Meanwhile, the Explo hijinks were not over. It's a great place, founded 30 years ago by Frank (brother to J. Robert "Da Bomb") Oppenheimer, and my 12-year-old son, Vermel, has wiled away many an hour there dissecting cow's eyes or tumbling through the Tactile Dome. Party favors included a pretty powerful plastic telescope and backstaffs for determining your geographical position by holding it up to your eye and squinting at the sun. This is the device that gave us pirates with patches over one eye. Good thing this wasn't a brunch reception, because with the unrestrained enthusiasm the guests showed over the backstaffs we'd have woken up today with a bunch of one-eyed CEOs, bankers, and Nobel laureates.

Also in attendance last night was San Francisco Chronicle fashion editor Trish Donnally, who was reportedly there to see whether geeks really don't know how to dress themselves. She was heard querying the titans of technology on just whom exactly they were wearing. Many a CEO was seen to be peering inside his jacket at the label, which his personal assistant undoubtedly had picked out. I mean, with the market so hot these days, who has time to shop?

Speaking of hot, the recent round of financing for upstart search engine Google.com caused such a ruckus among Valley venture capitalists that the winner had to settle for much less than the normal 20 percent investment--it was more like 12.5 percent--and at a nosebleed valuation. All this over a search engine where "Skinny DuBaud" only turns up 80 references? I'm still seeing stars from nearly poking my eye out with that backstaff last night. Meanwhile, if you've got any rumors, you know where to find me.