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Harry Potter and the Sultan of Spam

Column deadlines may come and go unheeded, but when it comes to fatherhood I take my job very seriously. Over the years I've made sure my 12-year-old son Vermel had enough memory, the proper docking station, the latest warez. His DSL bill gets paid on time. But sometimes I like to do a little more, go that extra mile that raises fatherhood from mere animal instinct to the level of a quality-of-service initiative.

    Column deadlines may come and go unheeded, but when it comes to being a single father I take my position seriously. Over the years I've made sure my 12-year-old son Vermel has enough memory, the proper docking station, the latest warez. His DSL bill gets paid on time. But sometimes I like to do a little more, to make that extra effort that raises fatherhood from mere paternal instinct to the level of a quality-of-service initiative.

    This morning, those noble impulses led me to the hottest new literary site on the Web, BookHugs.com. There, by filling out a simple questionnaire on Vermel's vital stats, his whereabouts, and his family and playmates, I was able to craft a personalized tale just for him: "A Place for Everything (and Everything in its Place)." Modesty aside, I strongly recommend it to you. It's a page-turner with a moral message that would gladden any parent's heart: Clean your room.

    But when I emerged from my study, busting with pride for my literary creation, I was nearly trampled by a stampede of Vermel and his friends, heading out the door toting silver-spray-painted broomsticks.

    "A little late for spring cleaning," I observed.

    "Go scrub a tub, Pop," replied my saucy issue. "We're going to go play Quidditch in the middle of Market Street to protest the Harry Potter embargo."

    I must have looked puzzled and was subsequently accused of being "a clueless Muggle." Then Vermel and crew were out the door, straddling their broomsticks and waving signs that read "FREE J.K. ROWLING," "NO SEQUEL, NO PEACE," and "BEZOS IS A SLYTHERIN."

    I decided to channel my feelings of rejection creatively and sat down to fill out another BookHugs questionnaire. Imagine my surprise when, digging a little deeper into the site, I discovered that it is the brainchild of none other than the former King of Spam, Sanford Wallace! Sanford, f.k.a. "Spamford," ultimately abdicated his throne after enduring the steady lash of ISP lawyers and their allies in the U.S. courts.

    You know that feeling you get sometimes when you accidentally hit "send"? That's the kind of gut lurch I got after realizing I'd just handed Wallace not only my own email address but those of Vermel and all his friends--not to mention a sizable chunk of what privacy advocates like to call Vermel's personal information.

    Should BookHugs visitors be concerned?

    "They should feel extra safe because if anyone understands the issues concerning spam, you're looking at him right now," said the children's fiction purveyor. (To be strictly accurate, I was looking at a rather gruesome hangnail during our phone conversation.)

    "Everything I do is meticulously evaluated by anti-spam people," the Businessman Formerly Known as Spamford (BFKS) continued. "I am now an active member of the anti-spam community. I understand the issue better than anything else. Spam is the last thing I'm going to do, and it has nothing to do with what I'm doing today."

    OK, OK. Call me gullible, but I believed him. I enjoy talking with retired monarchs and congratulated this one on his deft maneuver into the sizzling world of children's literature. Then we chatted for a while about his adventures since his spamming days.

    Turns out children's lit is only the latest in a trio of post-spam projects. The first one, SmartBot.net, was a corporate email autoresponder that recently stopped taking new recruits. A victim of its own success, said the BFKS.

    "We got so many users that it became a technical problem," he said. "We had trouble dealing with volume of mail going through the system. It was a free service we offered with the intent to build a mailing list."

    Wait, a mailing list?

    "Yeah, a mailing list," said the BFKS. "You know me: mailing lists."

    It turns out that not only SmartBot and BookHugs but the BFKS's third project, Passthison.com, are compiling mailing lists. But the reformed Spam King assured me that the mailing lists would not be spammed. Everything was "opt in." No spam allowed. Strictly kosher.

    Meanwhile, visitors have been taking Passthison.com literally, propelling the "viral marketing" concept to new heights. The nascent site has gained 9 million new customers every month and has surpassed 25 million registered members so far. All, Wallace notes a bit incredulously, are just people interested in forwarding corny jokes and cool Web tricks to their friends.

    "This is about consumer-based entertainment fun," said the BFKS, adding that the site is already making money by selling ads in its opt-in email notifications and by force-feeding customers three successive pop-up screens when they try to leave the site.

    So exile hasn't been so bad for the Sultan of Spam.

    "MediaMetrix gave us the No. 24 spot for traffic in April," he said with evident satisfaction. "Our traffic has surpassed almost all the companies that had sued my former business. Just think, that a site with a few entertaining skits on it could become bigger than EarthLink!"

    Award of "Xcellence"
    Vermel's devoted playmate and fellow bookworm Ammonia Blossom has been putting together a new award for excellence to recognize the so far underappreciated literary efforts of the technology public relations industry. This week's recipient is Sequoia Software, which aced out the W3C by squeezing in no fewer than seven X's and the word "schema" into the first two sentences:

    "Sequoia, a leading provider and innovator of XML-powered e-business software, today announced a technology partnership with Extensibility, Inc., the leader in XML schema management solutions. Sequoia will integrate Extensibility's XML Authority(TM) into its XML Portal Server(TM) (XPS), allowing Sequoia customers to create or edit XML documents from within the XPS administrative environment, saving time and effort."

    Ammonia is raising funds for a "translation" award for anyone able to rewrite the paragraph in English or any officially recognized Romance language.

    MicroDesign keeps shrinking
    Chip enthusiasts are wondering whether MicroDesign Resources might be entering some choppy waters of its own. In 1999, technology publisher Cahners bought the consulting group, which puts out a well-respected semiconductor newsletter and hosts a two-day fall conference where some of the year's biggest semiconductor news breaks, such as last year's announcement of AMD's 64-bit "Sledgehammer" processor and Sony's preview of PlayStation2.

    Late last year, MicroDesign publisher and columnist Linley Gwennap took off to form the Linley Group. After that, founder Michael Slater left to form a start-up focused on digital photography. Both still write columns and make speeches in conjunction with the report, but this week's departure of senior editor Kevin Krewell, headed for a marketing post at a chip company, began raising eyebrows among the chip cognoscenti.

    Gary Brickman memorial
    For those of you who wrote in to inquire about memorial activities for the late Net journalist Gary Brickman, he now has his own site with pictures and info about his offline memorial July 15 at Garybrickman.com. I've now filed my column on time twice in a row. And what did it get me? How about your rumors?