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Dotty in Dallas

National | A dot-com recluse emerges from his compound, Intel turns up the power, and other technology news

Issue: "Ashcroft: Under fire," Jan. 13, 2001

Dotcomstunt
The dot-com crash of 2000 left one unusual survivor: a Dallas man who decided to spend the year confined to his house with nothing but the Internet as a connection to the outside world. Mitch Maddox legally changed his name to DotComGuy as part of the stunt and now plans to restore his old name. A local TV station reported that he also plans to marry a woman he met in a chat room. The 27-year-old former computer systems manager entered an empty 2,000-square-foot loft apartment on New Year's Day of 2000 with nothing but a laptop and an Internet. The gimmick was supposed to show the usefulness of e-commerce. Maddox was to buy all necessities from food to furniture over the Internet. Video cameras streamed his life through cyberspace to a small crowd of voyeurs in Truman Show fashion. People could visit Mr. Maddox at his "DotCompound," but the DotComGuy couldn't go past his own backyard. By July he had the loft stocked with a workout room, postmodern furniture, pets (a "DotComDog"), and gourmet food. A few companies made sponsorship deals with him, giving him about $98,000 for the experience. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day 2001, the stunt was over. Mr. Maddox walked outside and drove away on a small motorized scooter. He said he was bored at times, but the experience passed quickly. The trouble with the DotComGuy experiment was that it was about three years too late. Since Maddox had easy access to online grocers, department stores, and other retailers, he didn't need to prove that a consumer could buy life's necessities online. The Internet's novelty stage was a lot of fun, but the period is gone. The serious business of using cyberspace profitably continues. More power to them
The trusty PC we know today will be radically different in just a few years. Intel boasts that it has invented the world's smallest and fastest transistor-and that it will eventually be used to create microprocessors that are 10 times more powerful than today's models. These transistors are tiny switches that regulate the flow of data on a microchip. While today's fastest chip, the Pentium 4, has a whopping 42 million transistors, its successors could break the 400 million mark. Intel says its new-generation transistors are only about three atoms thick; a pile of 100,000 of them would be only as thick as a sheet of paper. Intel is in a constant race with the rest of the industry, notably IBM and Advanced Micro Devices, to create smaller, faster chips. New developments mean more power for less money. Not only will desktops and laptops do greater things, but cell phones, video games, and other devices will become stronger. "As our researchers venture into uncharted areas beyond the previously expected limits of silicon scaling," Dr. Sunlin Chou, vice president and general manager of Intel's Technology and Manufacturing Group, said last month, "they find Moore's Law still intact." Moore's Law is a rule of thumb that microchips tend to double in processing power about every 18 months. Much of the new technology will go into areas that extend the power of computing into new fields. A current example of such broadening is Intel's jump into the MP3 market with a player called the Pocket Concert Audio Player. The device is about the size of a deck of cards and can carry up to four hours of downloaded music in its memory. The new transistors themselves probably won't be generally available for a few years, but these and other inventions will help pull computing through the next decade. Too small to smash
Don't want to surf the Web with a browser built by Netscape or Microsoft? A third-party candidate is making a comeback. Norway's Opera is billed as "the fastest browser on Earth." Now it has a new look that its creators hope will boost it beyond its 1 percent share of Internet users. Currently Opera has a cult following so strong that users are willing to pay for the program. The Norwegian state telephone company originally built the browser as an experiment in 1995 and then abandoned the project. Creators Jon von Tetzchner and Geir Ivarsoey adopted the orphan and spread word that it was faster than its competitors. Unlike the Big Two, Opera didn't need as much processor power to work, and people with older computers could surf with fewer hassles. Users didn't even need a mouse to surf the Web-and they could run several pages side-by-side in the same browser frame. There was one catch: Since Opera had no powerful corporate parents, users had to pay $39 for the program. An estimated 1.5 million users signed up over the years, which was impressive but hardly a scratch for Netscape and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Now a new Opera is available for free from Opera.com. Just put up with ads on your screen and you can surf away. Those who want to can make the banners disappear by paying the registration fee. San Diego-based Qualcomm's Eudora e-mail program, which competes with Microsoft's Outlook Express, already uses the ad-driven model. For those who like underdogs, Opera may be the ticket. The browser wars are a core element in the Microsoft anti-trust case, with the feds claiming that the software giant abused its Windows monopoly to destroy Netscape. Opera was evidently too small to smash.

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