I'm going to have an awful time getting into the swing of 2001, seeing as I've dropped out of polite society and have been following the monolith around Seattle all week. It seemed like the right thing to do— I mean, it's not like some damned flu has laid me low since New Year's. I got vaccinated for that a couple of months ago. . . . It couldn't be that.
Nope, I gave it all up and now daily make my pilgrimage to meditate upon the monolith and contemplate the new millennium. So you'll forgive me, won't you, if I don't give any of these stories the full treatment? You'd be surprised to hear it, but Palm.net reception really isn't so wonderful in proximity to a big steel slab. And my wet-wired Slashdot feed never works when I need it.
The 20th century just isn't going gentle into that good night.
Item 1: Microsoft and Starbucks hook up to do the cybercafe thing. Shades of 1995! Only this time there are no computers, no trendy little venues, and presumably no worse coffee than usual. These wireless-connectivity zones will be geared toward business patrons rather than the usual cybercafe hangout/gaming crowd—the airport Admirals Club, not Aurifice.
On first glance this was a story with a no-duh local angle, but by the end I was most taken with MobileStar, the doughty Texas company providing the wireless infrastructure and keeping its nose to the grindstone while 'bucks and Microsoft make with the press releases. While fulsomely praising their beanish partners ("I cannot tell you how wonderful [Starbucks] have been. . . . This is one of those things where you go 'this is a good match'"), MobileStar spokespersons were considerably chillier when asked about relations with the Redmond Menace. Hey, MobileStar, you guys have a policy of not announcing vaporware; what's it like dealing with people who announce software that's years in the offing? "We've had a little Microsoft culture clash, but that's not our deal. Our contract is with Starbucks." Stay gold, Ponyboy—as long as it's not Redmond calling the shots, we may actually see these wireless hookups in the promised 70 percent of US Starbucks in the not-so-distant future. Of course, Microsoft's got other problems this week. . . .
Item 2: Microsoft slapped with class-action suit charging racism in the ranks. Claimants allege that Microsoft's hiring percentage for African Americans is less than half that of the industry at large. Five billion dollars, hmm? And Judge Jackson, of MS-v.-DoJ fame, is hearing it? Well, it's probably easier to jack up Microsoft than to fix the real problem, which is that Seattle is the whitest metro area I've ever lived in. I see more color looking at this monolith, for Pete's sake. If I were young, geek-gifted, and black, I don't think I'd come here either.
Item 3: Layoffs-the-cuff. Network Commerce jettisoned a number of employees with no notice—cut off the mobile phones, disabled the key cards, the works. The company claims that it didn't want folks "working under stress," but it sounds to me like the way any large business fires the guys in charge of network administration: abruptly, giving them no chance to get into the system and wreak havoc. It's harsh, but if you're part of the industry, you know it's all in the game, especially considering what Network Commerce does: e-commerce and e-postcards, and there's that Speedy Psychics game. Wouldn't it be ironic if the folks in charge of that were among the fallen? And speaking of foresight . . .
Item 4: Y2K+1. More of us should have seen that coming. How many readers remember the date you saw when your DOS machine had to be reset? That's right: 1 January 1901. Not that we needed another round of end-of-year hysteria. Because now we've got . . .
Item 5: HTML virus spotted in wild. No major payoff at this writing for the recently identified PHP viral structure (or its two virii), but where there's a way there's a will. Expect bad cooties eventually, but be more worried about . . .
Item 6: 4C copy-"protection" coming soon to a device near you. Hollywood is so scared you might copy their crap that they prevailed on the IBM-led 4C consortium to add this "feature" to portable devices—and to make it feasible for inclusion on PC hard drives. Meanwhile, Hollywood's burping up the likes of AntiTrust, in which Tim Robbins plays the evil Bill G. avatar (they got the politics right, though not the looks). Forcing computer manufacturers to include unwanted stuff on PCs? Wasn't that one of the things that caused Judge Jackson to call Microsoft a trust in the first place? The 20th century may finally be over, but we're dragging sorry-ass irony right into the 21st.