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@Home, Excite poised to slide

You can expect the Silicon Valley neighbors to slide any day now, no matter which way the Dow blows.

    Vermel came home every day last week and immediately switched on Moneyline with Lou Dobbs. When I asked if he'd been hypnotized by Lou's hair, he shushed me. "No time for jokes, Pop--the Dow is falling!" Turns out that Mrs. Ripple, the 8th grade history teacher, thought it appropriate to lecture the class about the crash of 1929. She dusted off a few grainy newsreels of stockbrokers throwing themselves out of windows and landing like eggplant parmigiana on the New York streets. Vermel has now become a Dobbs junkie, waiting breathlessly for each evening's financial report. I say if he wants to see precipitous drops, he should keep his eyes glued to Excite and @Home.

    You can expect the Silicon Valley neighbors to slide any day now, no matter which way the Dow blows. The search-guide gurus and cable-modem servicers have built HQs side-by-side in Redwood City, a drab suburb halfway between San Fran and San Jose with nary a redwood in sight. To persuade their employees that work can be fun, both companies have embraced the romper room theme, with plans for slides to let their digital slaves slip quickly from one floor to another. Excite was well on their way to achieving its playground paradigm when they were told to cease and desist by the Redwood City planners. My Skinformers tell me that the city is nervous after a local disaster earlier this summer, when dozens of high school seniors crammed a waterslide and sent it crashing to the ground, killing a girl and injuring more than 30.

    The Excite flume--ominously painted red--is still in pieces, waiting for the green light, while @Home is still getting its blueprints in shape.

    I'm not sure how to color the following odd item found on VeriSign's Web site. As you might know, VeriSign's bread-and-butter is digital certificates. When combined with encryption, digital IDs are considered to be a fundamental aspect of e-commerce, as they let the receiver of a message verify the identity of the sender. We need more trust on the Web if e-commerce is to flourish, say its proponents. But one criterion for receiving a VeriSign digital ID doesn't seem to add much to the trust model. On its site, the company says it will assign you an ID if you fax them one of several documents, including a "Fictitious Business License." Is this a technical term I'm unfamiliar with, or for further proof of legitimacy, will they want to see your title deed for Park Place and Boardwalk?

    Perhaps stranger than fiction is the name of a small New Jersey business that just beat Hewlett-Packard in a patent infringement suit. Repeat-O-Type makes a living by modifying and reselling H-P InkJet printer cartridges with its own ink inside. Apparently the practice sent HP's lawyers into a tizzy, but the resulting suit was just thrown out by a federal judge. Repeat-O-Type may have won the battle, but they're still having some problems with their corporate values.

    Attendees of the Ziff-Davis Walk Through were wondering about the value of roping PC Magazine columnist (and erstwhile CNET TV guest pundit) John Dvorak in as a guest speaker. According to one paying customer, the ubiquitous Dvorak made it known during his talk that he did not hold public-relations people--a substantial portion of the audience--in the highest esteem. When asked, in return, what he thought the flacks present thought of him, he responded that people hadn't come to see him, but rather to enjoy the "free lunch." Free lunch? Maybe he thought the $295 attendance fee was the valet parking fee. (For more on the ZD Walk Through, see the event organizer's response to my column in the latest Chewing the Fat.)

    Bowing to my presence as an eminence gris. this reader has asked me to settle a domestic dispute:

    "Skinny, I've wagered a nice steak dinner with my girlfriend about your name. She says, 'DuBaud? It's just a pen name!' I say, 'Hey, who would make up a name like DuBaud, it's got to be real. Maybe he's French, they like computers you know.' So what's the truth? Am I buying her dinner, or will she be doing my laundry for the next three months?--Signed, Medium Rare"

    MR, I have five words for your g-friend: "No starch on the undies." I'm sure this will be the first time in years your whites and darks will be washed separately. Or at all. Nonetheless, take her out to dinner--someplace nice--or your Uncle Skinny will do it for you. If you don't have anyone to scrub your skivvies, don't despair. You can always send me an email with all the latest dirty laundry.