Notes From the Field: Randi Wants a Sheep Farm

Randi is back from her llama farm visit, full of the joys of nature. "Let's turn our backs on all this technology, Bobby, and buy a farm somewhere," she suggested. "You could rear sheep, and I could make sweaters out of the wool. We could be self-sufficient."

Rumble in Bellevue

Sony doesn't appear to feel threatened by Microsoft's entry into the games-console business with the Xbox -- and seems ready to challenge Microsoft on its own turf.

A reader tells me that Sony set up a trailer with multiple PlayStations in the parking lot of Fred Meyer in Bellevue, Wash., just down the block from Microsoft Research.

If you ask me, Nobuyuki Idei (chairman and CEO of Sony) should challenge Bill Gates to a game of Quake III, with the loser agreeing to gracefully exit the games market.

Cooking the books

Question: How do you guarantee zero percent dissatisfaction among your customers 100 percent of the time?

Answer: Don't sign up any customers., the U.K. arm of, proved this concept when it finally admitted last week -- after weeks of refusing to comment -- that it had not signed anyone up for its much-publicized unmetered Internet access service. Local calls are charged by the minute in the United Kingdom, making dial-up Internet access very expensive, which is why the AltaVista announcement garnered much attention. Although many observers were skeptical that AltaVista would ever make a profit from the service, the announcement did have the effect of prompting the company's many ISP rivals to make similar announcements, most of which have now been publicly abandoned as too unprofitable. Maybe that was AltaVista's idea all along.

I also heard last week from a reader who had a sorry tale to tell about Pacific Bell's inability to provide him with DSL service. The reader had already waited four months for Pacific Bell to increase the number of ports available in Scotts Valley, Calif.

After deciding that enough was enough, the reader went to EarthLink/Covad and was successful in getting service installed. But when the reader called Pacific Bell to cancel the original order, he was told that no record of it could be found. He quoted them the order number and tracking number he had been given, but to no avail. Perhaps this is Pacific Bell's own way of ensuring 100 percent customer satisfaction: deleting all orders from people who you think are not completely happy.

Finally, I heard last week from a reader whose Microsoft Outlook keeps crashing. The reader suspects that there is a "creeping interference" between Outlook and Windows Explorer -- he says he was told by Microsoft to reinstall Windows and then reinstall Outlook -- and wanted to know if anyone else has experienced this problem.

I EXPLAINED TO RANDI that the economics of the world mean that our sheep farm is unlikely to support us unless we also kill the animals and sell them for meat.

I had hoped that this might be the end of the matter, but she's now trying to sell me on the idea of a silkworm farm.

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