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Greatly insane on a Frisco train, while AOL squeezes New Jersey

When it comes to tips, email is great. But nobody, not even a barber, beats a cabbie when it comes to handing down the 411.

When it comes to tips, email is great. But nobody, not even a barber, beats a cabbie when it comes to handing down the 411. Anything you'd want to know can be found out by riding in a cab. The sleaziest bars, the finest restaurants, intrigue at City Hall, who's on strike--just ask a hack. But this week, I found myself giving instead of receiving, as the cabbie taking me to the Macworld Expo asked me for investment advice on Apple. "Buy now, sell later," I muttered and pulled my fedora down over my eyebrows.

Jeez, you tell a cabbie you're going to Moscone Center this week and you get a barrage of questions. Another wanted to know if he should wait for the new operating system or buy a Power Mac now. What's with this place? Another true story: Special Agent Objective C was taking notes on a San Francisco commuter train when the conductor announced, "Next stop, Civic Center. Get off here for the Macworld Expo. And yes, this train operator is a Mac user!" Come to think of it, the Montgomery or Powell stops would be a shorter walk to the show, but I digress.

If a Windows-loving train driver had said the same about his PC, the Macolytes would have gone greatly insane. Objective C looked around, but there were no apoplectic Windows users to be found.

Inside the Expo, TV personality Sinbad--Mac user since 1985--was checking out multiprocessor systems and going off the geek end at the Motorola booth. He runs a production company in Los Angeles and needs the latest hardware, he said. He also said "Kai's the bomb!" when handed a free copy of Kai's Power Goo, a software morphing tool. No one ducked.

Things aren't so cheery in New Jersey at the moment--but are they ever? Central Jerseyites in the 908 area code are griping not only about America Online but also about the local phone service. The phone company blames it on AOL, according to one reader who sent an email complaint to the telco. Local ISPs and AOL dial-ups share the same exchanges, and since it began offering unlimited, flat-fee access, AOL's traffic has chewed up capacity. The world's largest online service warned its customers back in November that the pricing switch would cause slowdowns, but it said it was "racing to put new systems in place to handle the increased demand." Perhaps racing is not allowed in Jersey.

Another reader found out the hard way that there's no such thing as a free copy of CorelCAD. Hell, Grandma DuBaud's been telling me that since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. According to the Canadian software maker's special offer, registered users of CorelDraw 6 who upgraded to Draw 7 by the new year were eligible for free CorelCAD design software.

Free is a relative term, of course. Users had to send the Draw 7 upgrade invoice plus $20 for shipping and handling. Still, compared to the product's regular $249 price tag, what's $20? A lot, if like my reader all you get in return is a 30-day trial copy with instructions for ordering the full release.

My column may be free, but it's not a trial copy. No upgrade necessary, no money down, just send me email with your juiciest rumors.