Siliconites come up with strange monikers for VPs. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, for example, is called Flash Larry. But electronic commerce company Intershop takes the biscuit, the cake and even the Twinkie with its new VP of sales, Al Powell. It has nicknamed him Al 'Mr Channel' Powell. Oh dear. Powell owns the San Jose Cookie Company but worked on the Hewlett Packard's channel development programme for over 10 years. Surely calling him Al 'Tough Cookie' Powell would have given him some self-esteem. I reckon Mr Channel is a bit lame, so if you phone him, don't call him that.
If you phone him, call him Al.
El and high water
For months now I have delighted in giving my colleagues and friends in Blighty a ribbing about the weather here in Silicon Valley. It never gets boring to spend nine months of the year telling everyone about the sunshine and warm weather, especially when there is sleet in Britain. But during the winter, Silicon Valley is not much fun. It may not be as cold as home, but the whole area is hammered by El Nino, the abnormal warming of the Pacific that causes major climate shifts and is particularly nasty to Pacific coasts.
El Nino's storms hurt Silicon Valley businesses every few winters with relentless rain. The storms do not bring British-style drizzle, but instead chuck huge, fat, closely spaced drops of rain on Silicon Valley. California isn't used to rain and the whole area seems to grind to a halt in the same way as London does when it snows.
This year, Silicon Valley has already been hit by boulders being washed onto highways and the Guadalupe river threatening to burst its banks in Sunnyvale and San Jose. Even the sharks are not that keen on the water.
In 1995, the San Jose Sharks ice hockey team had to cancel a game because 66,800 gallons per second of the Guadalupe was flowing down the street outside the arena, and that was classed as a non-El Nino year. But the local authority, the water companies and local industries are not doing anything about the potential disaster - they are all arguing about the cost. Nobody seems willing to spend the estimated $300 million on protecting the area from the river's damage.
But this is stupid, I hear you cry, because dozens of technology companies could be wiped out this winter. Perhaps the apathy has something to do with the fact that Silicon Valley stands on the volatile Hayward earthquake fault and could be wiped out this week. Yikes. I want my Mummy.
Start me up
Stanford University has a reputation for spawning graduates that become entrepreneurs with Silicon Valley startups. The fascination with the get rich quick entrepreneurs is so intense that Stanford students on placement at these startups are now required to keep diaries. These are analysed to see how these companies work and what makes them successful.
I wonder what interest there will be in endless weekends of programming, surviving on Jolt Cola and pizza. Apart from the resulting stock options, of course.
Granville ... Texas ranger
Whenever Silicon Valley seems too weird, all I need is to remind myself that there are states like Texas which are stranger still. Texas is a bit like Yorkshire - it fought for its independence for many years, makes its own rules and is not going to change them, thank you very much. These maxims hold even today and, amazingly, Texas even decides on its own laws for the internet.
If you download software from a server within the State of Texas, the seller must collect sales tax on the software, but if Texans download software from a server outside Texas, they must submit a use tax. This has caused untold problems for Texan companies, but that's the law, 'pardner.' And by gum, they don't play cricket in Texas, either.
Walk on water
In case you haven't heard this one, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Sun CEO Scott McNealy were playing frisbee by the Pacific one day when Gates spun the frisbee over McNealy's head and out to sea. McNealy parted the water with a wave of his hand and retrieved the frisbee. The next day, the US newspapers reported: Gates' throw exceeds expectations, but Sun CEO unable to swim.
Valley of the dolls
Talk With Me Barbie has replaced the Tamagotchi as this year's most annoying Chritmas present. This is a doll with programmable PC software that allows little darlings to insert names and various facts into sentences - making Barbie a friend that knows all about them. Barbie's whining, candy-sweet voice says things like: 'I love you (child's name) and I really love that (clothing item) you are wearing.'
But Barbie's move into computers comes with a price. Barbie may be getting more politically correct with 'more realistic body shapes' - a smaller chest - but she isn't embracing the free speech ideal of the internet.
Many internet service providers pulled sites when Mattel, Barbie's manufacturer, threatened to sue all Websites using the Barbie name or image.
Barbie enthusiasts online are not happy and are putting up mirror sites to make it difficult for Mattel to find them all. Surely they could hack into Mattel's manufacturing and really do some damage by replacing the Talk With Me Barbie sentences with the orders in Talking Action Man, for example. 'I love that Uzi you are wearing, (child's name). Could you blow that commie (friend's name) away with it?'
James Harding is US Editor of VNU Newswire, based in San Francisco.
He can be reached at [email protected] or on 00 1 415 306 0879.
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