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Scient out of luck; Nokia passes the buck

The Web consultancy's employees fear it may close most of its offices, while Nokia staffers scramble for new ways to plug an old hole.

    My Grandma DuBaud, an extremely old and tart-tongued Quebecoise cranberry farmer, arrived this week for her spring visit in an unusual getup. She was dressed from head to toe in black, with a pair of binoculars hanging from her neck.

    I was about to ask my grandmother, who has always worn her widowhood rather lightly, what was behind this odd spring fashion statement when my 12-year-old son Vermel emerged from his room sporting a similar ensemble.

    "Should I be hurt that I wasn't invited to the funeral?" I inquired. "Or is it a support group for bereaved birders?"

    "Get with it, sonny," snapped my grandmother. "We're off to the Scient deathwatch. Come on, Vermel."

    A deathwatch for the Web consultancy may be premature. But staffers at Scient's 11 offices from San Francisco to Tokyo are buzzing with the rumor that only the New York and London offices will survive the coming round of budget cuts.

    Rumors have wracked the company in the past few weeks not only about a potential buyer, but also about massive layoffs. Skinsiders say layoffs planned to be announced earlier this month were postponed, but not for long.

    They also say the latest buzz on Scient's white knight centers on an overseas concern.

    "It's all rumor, and we can't comment on rumor," said a Scient flack, who termed the talk of an overseas buyer "pure speculation."

    Meanwhile, for those in the market for a cut-rate Aeron chair, e-mails floating around in San Francisco are advertising Scient office furniture up for sale. The cost: $200, a savings of $499 off the sticker price!

    No stats, no sale
    With the start of baseball season, analyst firm Gartner was kind enough to send us some trading cards featuring its own lineup of All-Stars. Sniffing an eBay opportunity, Vermel pounced on the pack, complete with grainy pictures of analysts in mid-presentation authentically reproduced on cheap cardboard. But he soon turned away in disappointment, pointing out a couple of fatal flaws for the resale value--no flavorless pink gum and no detailed stats.

    "At the least, they could have included the percentage by which the analyst's forecasts were off, or the decline in Gartner's stock since the analyst's rookie year," he sniffed.

    Come to think of it, if Gartner follows Meta's layoffs, we may need a Traded set.

    Make it go away
    Would you buy trading cards from a Web analyst? I might. But software from a handset maker--that's a trickier proposition. Nokia, not exactly renowned for its software expertise, this week admitted that its U.S. handsets have a software glitch that prevents them from connecting to the high-speed networks under construction by Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless.

    There's nothing new about software glitches, but Nokia apparently devised a new way to fix this one. Reminiscent of Microsoft's fabled solution to replacing a light bulb (i.e., not wasting a new bulb and instead declaring darkness the standard), Nokia went to the CDMA Developers Group, which oversees the relevant 1xrtt standard, and said (the Rumor Mill paraphrases for convenience): Please change the standard that applies to the entire planet Earth because we screwed up.

    The standards group's response? Nokia should take its software glitch and shove it--or, barring that, fix it.

    Now the 40 or so affected carriers will have to install a Nokia software patch, leading some to grouse that the handset maker is expecting others to clean up after its mess.

    Nokia acknowledged the software glitch but wouldn't say whether it had asked for a change in the standard. "It's no big whoop," said a company representative.

    Just kidding
    A computer glitch was apparently the cause of some April Fools' high jinks at The New York Times, which ran the following gracefully worded correction:

    "A listing in the Television section on Sunday for the 1924 film 'The Sea Hawk' carried a fictitious plot summary and named two employees of the newspaper as the stars. The film, seen Sunday night at 12 on TCM, is actually an adaptation of Rafael Sabatini's 1915 novel about an English nobleman sold into slavery. It stars Milton Sills and Enid Bennett.

    "The mock listing came from a feature syndicate that maintains The Times' movie capsule database and assembles the daily and weekly listings. An investigation has found that the 'Sea Hawk' entry was one of three dummy listings written at The Times in December 1998 and transmitted to the syndicate to test the technology; they were not supposed to be stored. 'The Sea Hawk' had most recently been televised in November 1998 and was not again scheduled until last Sunday.

    "The Times regrets any inconvenience to readers. It is also, frankly, speechless at the coincidence of the April Fools' Day publication."

    Speechless also describes some readers of the Industry Standard after reading this correction published earlier this week:

    "In 'The Trials of a Comic Book Hero' (March 19), we made an error in stating, incorrectly, that Peter F. Paul had been convicted of the sale of heroin. In addition, we erred in stating Mr. Paul had a fourth wife when he has been married only three times, and that he had been 'disbarred' as an attorney when he has only been suspended. The Standard sincerely apologizes to Mr. Paul and to its readers for the errors." To err is human; to gossip, divine. Send me your rumors.