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Vanishing <i>creme de la creme</i>

NEW YORK--Just as my fedora finally started to dry out after the longest, soggiest San Francisco winter in anyone's memory (I blinked and missed spring altogether), it was time to head out to New York City, where the humidity promptly restored my treasured hat to the consistency of marinated cardboard. It's too hot and way too humid here for my French-Canadian-San-Franciscan blood. By the end of the first day of PC Expo, the Jacob Javitz Center smelled like a pack of wet greyhounds, and my face bore an unsightly patch of pimples.

NEW YORK--Just as my fedora finally started to dry out after the longest, soggiest San Francisco winter in anyone's memory (I blinked and missed spring altogether), it was time to head out to New York City, where the humidity promptly restored my treasured hat to the consistency of marinated cardboard. It's too hot and way too humid here for my French-Canadian-San-Franciscan blood. By the end of the first day of PC Expo, the Jacob Javitz Center smelled like a pack of wet greyhounds, and my face bore an unsightly patch of pimples.

You know what they say about zits--they're just there to tide you over until the wrinkles start. Now I'm at that awkward age when I've got my share of both deformities, and between the Retin-A, the benzoyl peroxide, and various other pharmaceuticals, I'm not traveling as light as I used to.

Clearasil has nothing on the Expo reps over at the Gateway booth, however, at least when it comes to vanishing acts. I had just gotten a glimpse of a spry new notebook from Gateway the other day, a prototype device that appeared to have a 10.4-inch display and looked like a shrunken Solo 5100. It would be the company's first mini-notebook, probably weighing in at no more than 4 pounds--if it ever sees the light of day, that is. As I was about to peek under the hood of this cute-as-a-bug machine--poof! The portable was whisked away by glowering South Dakotans.

Back on the West Coast, Upside Media's staff members are performing some vanishing acts of their own. In recent weeks, the online division of that sober and worthy publishing interest has been bleeding some of its best talent, including highly regarded industry journalist Karen Wickre, formerly of PC World, Macworld, PlanetOut, and until recently Upside's executive editor for the print mag and executive producer for the Web site. While you can count recent Upside defectors on the fingers of one hand, Skinside information has it that the hemorrhaging has only just begun.

At the root of Upside's personnel problems we find the self-proclaimed bad girl of the Net, Tish Williams. As previously noted, Mish Tish is part of Upside's grand plan to spice up Net journalism with an unhealthy dose of sensationalism and adolescent naughtiness. Typical Tish fare includes a probing analysis of Bill Gates's role as a sadomasochistic fetishist, the spine-tingling revelation that industry hype makes the columnist and editor "positively premenstrual," and the recent illustration of a story about Silicon Graphics with an animated graphic of a woman's cleavage being exposed. It just goes to show that you can't buy good taste.

Pushing the envelope of decorum is nothing new at a magazine whose favorite cover read "Has Silicon Valley Gone Pussy?" Williams, after all, was barely out of high school when that 1990 issue mired newsstands. But even if her sense of propriety fits in at the company, her presence has certainly put the squeeze on the well-liked Wickre and others.

In Wickre's case, according to Upside insiders, boss David Bunnell essentially forced her out by carving up her online bailiwick and handing an indeterminate portion of it to Williams on a platter. Reports differ on whether the platter was silver, but all agree it was worth a cool $70K per annum for the well-remunerated enfant terrible.

Even those most bent out of shape by the direction of Upside's online wing blame its woes at least as much on Bunnell as on Williams. "Tish is a nice, well-meaning young woman who needs some guidance," said one sympathetic soul. "The problem isn't her presence so much as David Bunnell wanting to make her a star, perhaps before she's ready. Tish is not the villain in this story--she was just dazzled by the fact that people wanted her for a lot of money."

Seventy grand is a lot of cigars, but what I find even more dazzling is the amount of mail I get these days on the topic of browser incompatibility. Just the day before I left for New York, Vermel's own femme fatale, Miss Ammonia Blossom (who has the most becoming smiles), fired off this miffed missive:

"I have tried repeatedly to access MSNBC's UnderWire female-centric content using Netscape 3.0. I know how lame 'UnderWire' sounds, but i was trying, in vain, to read Miss Manners, who is carried on that site. Every time i've ever tried to get to this portion of the MSNBC site in Netscape, my browser immediately shuts down. Every time.

"So today, after sending off a huffy letter to MSNBC Webmasters telling them where they could stuff their underwires (my tone probably would have been more polite, i noted, if i had been able to get my daily dose of Miss Manners), i opened up Microsoft's Internet Explorer, figuring that there is no way i would have trouble accessing Microsoft content this way. However, once i loaded the MSNBC page, a dialog box popped up that told me the MSNBC page i tried to load "contains active content that is not verifiably safe to display." Now granted, my browser security settings were on high, but if Microsoft cannot verify Microsoft content as safe, who can?"

Who indeed? I'll leave it to readers to answer Ammonia's perky query so we can update Chewin' the Fat one of these days. In the meantime, there is one more vanishing act left in this column, namely the temporary disappearance of Esther. Esther, for those of you behind on the gossip at San Francisco's City Hall, is Mayor Willie Brown's scheduling secretary who moonlights as Web siren, posing for her World Wide audience in clothing perhaps more appropriate for Upside covers than for civil service. During Esther's 15 minutes of fame, the aspiring entertainer's site was so jammed with fans that no one has been able to get in.

Now that Esthermania has faded a bit, like a Viagra headache, the site features the intriguing message: "WWW.ESTHER.COM is temporarily down. New pictures of Esther are being added so please check back in few days." Maybe in her reappearance she'll pose with some former Upside employees, or even a Gateway notebook. I have been accused of being a poseur, but I'd be just another pretty pimply face without your rumors.