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Rehab and high-tech gab

Futurist Paul Saffo ruminates on conspiracy theories; Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer whoops and bellows onstage.

As a regular patron of both the nation's finest rehabilitation facilities and its dreariest high-tech gab-fests, I was in full sympathy with LivePlanet founder Ben Affleck, who last week fled one of the latter for one of the former.

One moment the enterprising actor-writer-high-tech-executive-and-would-be-politician was seen schmoozing the host at Jim Barksdale's closing night festivities for Fortune's "The Smartest People We Know" gathering in Aspen, and the next he was off to more sober interactions at a Southern California drunk tank.

(All of which proved rather embarrassing for Sam Adams, a sponsor of Affleck's Project Greenlight; the brewery had to withdraw two Project Greenlight radio spots in which Affleck and sidekick Matt Damon are casually offered brewskies.)

But it turns out I was premature in assuming that one boring industry event too many had driven Affleck to drink. Others left Aspen raving about the event.

"I'm pretty jaded about executive meetings, and this one was really refreshing in lots of ways," futurist Paul Saffo told the Rumor Mill. "Imagine a conference where the only people there are the people you don't know but are dying to listen to. And they're not just onstage but in the audience. With anything that came up, you could find someone who was either a top expert in the field or a businessperson who could do something about it."

Then Saffo, whose job--as director of the Institute for the Future--is to worry about things, had a darker thought.

"There was a moment at this meeting where it dawned on me that if there's a new world order conspiracy, the conspirators are all in this room," Saffo recalled. "And it turns out that they're a bunch of people who are just as concerned and confused as the rest of us. There is not a dark conspiracy, and the maybe worse news is that we're all concerned and confused and nobody really has the answer."

But who needs answers when you're Steve Ballmer? Then it is sufficient merely to skip grotesquely around a stage, while screeching at the audience to "give it up for me!"

Microsoft did not return calls on this video clip (can you blame them?), so we are left to conjecture on its meaning and have concluded that the Microsoft CEO was either conducting an anger-management therapy session for frustrated CE programmers or volunteering at a Redmond-area jazzercize class for clinically depressed WebTV subscribers. Your theories are, as always, welcome.

And here we have another Microsoft mystery. A few columns back we wrote about Microsoft's peculiarly familiar logo for the .Net demo site IBuySpy.com, which showed a face mostly obscured by a downturned fedora.

Trouble was, it looked an awful lot like Red Hat's logo (which, I could not resist pointing out, looked an awful lot like me).

Microsoft at the time brushed off questions, calling it a "silly coincidence." But since Red Hat's trademark lawyers got on the case, Microsoft's logo has quietly transformed into something safely hatless and faceless.

Microsoft did not return calls on the logo fight, leaving the victor with the last word.

"I don't know when this was taken down," said a Red Hat representative. "Probably shortly after your column appeared--and after our legal team contacted them."

Rumors are circulating about unpleasant new cost-cutting measures at the Industry Standard, but according to the company, the grains of truth behind them are growing into some very tall tales.

Whispers swirling in media circles had the magazine making stealth staff cuts while forcing staffers to take a week's unpaid vacation next week, plus every other Friday off--also unpaid.

The truth of the matter, according to the magazine, is that the Standard will skip an issue and be taking the week of August 13-17 off, during which Standard-bearers will indeed be paid. Fridays will continue as normal after the break. As for the "stealth" staff cuts, a representative did allow that while no new formal layoffs had been announced, the magazine had been letting go a handful of people over the past few weeks, no more than four or five. Keep me out of rehab and the unemployment office. Send me your rumors.