There we were, Vermel and I, standing in line at SFO as President Clinton, Hillary, and teen idol Chelsea landed en route to Stanford. Just as they appeared at the top of that big airplane ladder, it struck me that any doubts about the First Daughter's brilliance were surely eradicated by her decision to attend Stanford--a roomy 3,000 miles away from the 'rents. After all, who could endure the double surveillance whammy of both the Secret Service and Mom and Dad?
This is not to say that her dad is exactly expert at stealth activity. A hacker affiliated with HOPE--Hackers on Planet Earth--has made headlines recently by posting a series of unencrypted pager messages sent between Clinton and his entourage during a spring visit to Philadelphia. The missives offer a glimpse into the daily thoughts of the world's most powerful man: basketball scores, messages to call Hillary, calls from Chelsea (who was put on hold), staff romances, and these illuminating, word-for-word chits: "Eagle arrive Foster Stadium," "What is your location, first lady waiting," and my personal favorite, "Donde esta?; Mucho hungrey" [sic]. That last one is definitely presidential material.
HOPE organizer Pamela Finkel thinks this an "excellent example of why we need encryption to protect sensitive information." Tell it to the fools on the Hill, Ms. Finkel. Until yesterday, it looked like the House would turn the original pro-crypto SAFE bill into a pro-FBI bill that would give law enforcement "wiretap" access to all messages that use U.S.-made encryption software. Unless yesterday's good news marks a trend, Clinton's pager won't be able to use crypto unless the FBI has instant access, something that might make the president shiver in his shorts.
With his pager no doubt set on vibrate mode, Bill last weekend escorted Hillary to a swanky soiree at the home of Halsey Minor, CNET bossman and registered Democrat, to rub noses with some of the Bay Area's high-profile high-tech execs. Organizing this fete was the Technology Network, a bipartisan group of SiliValley executives dedicated to flexing their newfound political muscle. The aim, of course, is to influence policy to the benefit of tech companies and their employees. TechNet leader John Doerr says he got fired up by the winning campaign to defeat California's "frivolous lawsuit" Proposition 211. As for broader-minded "community" efforts, well, they say they want to help education in California, but until now all we've seen are signs saying, "It's the frivolous lawsuits, stupid!"
The president wasn't the only bigwig to suffer recently the slings and arrows of unknown surveillance: Intel CEO Andy Grove was similarly scorched at a Gartner Group conference in San Francisco last week. It started out innocently enough, with Grove bringing onstage two Intel employees sans neon space suits to demo an e-commerce application. We'll call them "Lucy" and "Desi" to protect the innocent. As "Lucy" launched into her part of the show, Grove walked to the other side of the stage, turned to "Desi," and said, "How long does this go? This Internet stuff is boring!" Andy, whose company's boring Internet investments in CNET have helped Halsey maintain his palatial digs (the IPO didn't hurt, either), was unaware that his microphone was on. As the capacity crowd smirked, one of my agents scribbled a suggestion for the company's new slogan: Intel (foot) Inside (mouth).
Being scoped out by humans is bad enough, but now you can be chatted up by
artificial life forms. Perhaps you've heard about the
proliferation of "spokesbots"--roaming advertising robots that will listen to what you "say" online and then
blurt out relevant ad copy based on key words. These little VRML beings
are the Fuller Brush Men of the 21st century, sticking their scripted feet
in any semantic door that sounds vaguely welcoming. I can just imagine some
of the scintillating exchanges:
YOU: God, I'm tired.
BOT: "Tires"? Buy Michelin!
YOU: What do you mean by that?
BOT: Feelin' "mean"? Try Metamucil!
It certainly wasn't a great time for bleary-eyed Windows developers braving the 8 a.m. keynote speeches this week at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in San Diego. To "warm up" the crowd, Microsoft ran an ongoing video series called "The Developers," an embarrassingly bad parody of The Beatles in A Hard Day's Night. Trying to be smarmy and ironic, the film bombed worse than early IE 4 code, leaving the developers--the real ones, who paid a cool grand or more to be there--shaking their heads. "I was insulted that they would think I would find this funny," one code warrior said to me as I lurked in the back. Ironically, the PA system also blared "What is Hip?" by Tower of Power, leaving all of us to supply the answer: Not Microsoft, no matter how hard they try. Don't be a "square": Email me your rumors, or I'll make you listen to the Clintonian anthem "Don't Stop" until you drop.