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Newt-year predictions

There's good news and bad news about spending the winter holidays in Romania.

BUCHAREST--There's good news and bad news about spending the winter holidays in Romania. I'm hunkered down in front of a red-hot coal stove in the penthouse suite of the Hotel Ceaucescu after a long day of rumor hunting, and the damn phone lines have been busy all week. So the bad news is I can't dial in to check my email. The good news is Bucharest is a town full of la magique des Gitanes. Panicked for lack of rumors this week, I consult Krystyna, the hotel's fortune teller, to predict the top stories of 1997.

"I see big rumors, with man in big glasses. Something about PCNet...No, wait," Krystyna says as she bangs her crystal ball against the table. "It is NetPC." Perhaps Bill Gates, realizing that the NetPC isn't fooling anyone, will demand a name change for the half-hearted attempt at a lightweight network computer (or is that "Network Computer"?). Memos will leak from Redmond with some of Chief Gates's suggestions, including "MSNPC," "Die Larry Die," and "Really Not a PC, We Swear!"

Right around the same time, Samurai Larry Ellison will be spotted in Circuit City under a floppy hat and dark sunglasses, petting a shiny triple-processor SuperPentiumUltra and mumbling, "How could I have ever doubted you, my darling?"

Under pressure from all sides in Congress, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich will relaunch his campaign to appear warm, cuddly, and a friend of children. Using undistributed welfare funds, Gingrich will buy 20,000 eMates for the schoolkids of suburban Atlanta. "A clamshell Newton for every backpack in my district!" the speaker will say before aides have a chance to edit his speech.

Speaking of warm and cuddly, Krystyna thinks Apple Computer's attempt to recapture its glory days by luring back cofounder Steve Jobs will hit a brick wall when the brusque Jobs realizes that Apple is Ellen Hancock's company. After a brief power struggle during which Jobs and Hancock arm-wrestle over chimichangas in the company cafeteria, Jobs will go back to Pixar where his Buzz Lightyear screensaver will pop up every morning and say, "Good Morning, Boss--and I mean that!"

"I see many people running around like ants, looking for place to hide," says Krystyna. Ah, those must be local Internet service providers.

"I also see cookies in the future." Yes, yes, magic cookies, I say, next year's big privacy issue that have already--

"No, you fool!" she bellows. "Real cookies, with pieces of paper inside!"

We both squint into the depths of the see an image of Louis Rossetto, unveiling the latest arm of the Wired publishing empire: StirfriedWired. Rossetto will strike a distribution deal to have the hottest slogans of the digital revolution printed on day-glo strips of paper and stuffed inside Chinese fortune cookies. Release 1.0 includes such mantras as "You will be hip, rich, and free from the old media paradigm!" and "One day you too will have a successful IPO!"

I gaze out my window over the bleak rooftops of old Bucharest, wondering how much I should believe this mysterious woman shrouded in scarves. She taps me on the shoulder; I turn to face her in the fading light.

"In my country, Skinny, you are hero of the people. But you still owe me fifty bucks." I will leave Bucharest a poorer man, but richer in spirit. Even if you're not Romanian, you can lift my spirits, too, by emailing me your rumors.