TV-PGOctober 16, 2000: Michael Dell's Apple obsession spirals way out of control, as his company eerily recreates Apple's PowerBook 5300 fiasco. Meanwhile, Apple is looking for a few good sales shills to help boost its bottom line this holiday shopping season, and Bill Gates is maligned by a hacker who altered a newspaper's web site-- or is it the other way around?...
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Sicker By The Minute (10/16/00)

It's like the man never sleeps! Mike Dell is bucking for a spotlight case study in some scholarly psych journal or something, because his ongoing obsession with Apple continues unabated-- in fact, it's obviously getting worse by the minute. What started as Mike's seemingly harmless yet vaguely pathetic obsession with Steve Jobs turned into a full-time attempt to pattern his entire life after that of Apple's fearless leader. Longtime viewers already know the score: Dell's consumer-targeted WebPC, the Inspiron laptops in various colors, follow-the-leader investments in LCD manufacturers, the push for wireless networking, the adoption of FireWire, and even such sick, self-destructive moves as copycat earnings warnings. Clearly these are cries for help.

Unfortunately for Mike, we're not exactly climbing over each other just to help some sick billionaire Steve wannabe seek professional treatment. The man's filthy, stinking rich; surely he can hire his own team of psychiatrists to unlock whatever suppressed memories of childhood trauma led to his current sorry state. In the meantime, we find ourselves much more inclined just to sit back with a big bowl of popcorn and bask in the drama as he spirals ever further towards rock bottom.

Of course, it's Mike's latest act of Apple-emulation that reveals rock bottom to be rushing up at incredible speed. Faithful viewer Larry Villella was the first of literally dozens of people to inform us of the next chapter in Mr. Dell's tailspin into madness: according to CNET, Dell has just recalled 27,000 laptop batteries due to a serious defect. If you're at all familiar with Apple's product history and the pattern of Mike's psychosis, you shouldn't have much trouble guessing what that defect is. Think "PowerBook 5300." Yup, Dell's notebooks are apparently bursting into flame. Well, okay, maybe it's not that bad, but then again, neither was the 5300 situation, and now it's a permanent fixture in Apple lore. And while we're pretty sure that no incidents of 5300s igniting in the field were ever reported, it seems that at least one Dell laptop has started an honest-to-goodness fire.

While this is obviously an even more destructive progression in Mike's illness, it's notable for a very important reason beyond the simple emergence of pyromaniac tendencies; namely, the whole PowerBook 5300 fiasco occurred before Steve Jobs even returned to Apple. See what this means? Mike has gone far beyond an unhealthy obsession with Steve, and has now sunk so low as to be imitating Gil Amelio. Now that's sick. Maybe we should call the white-coats after all, before Mikey does any more damage. Then again, we haven't seen storylines this twisted since Dynasty went off the air. Darn these moral dilemmas...

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C'mon, Be A Shill For Steve (10/16/00)

It sure is bracing being thrust back into the "beleaguered" days again, isn't it? Sure, things aren't nearly as dire as they were in those heady days of '96 and '97, when rag-clad Apple employees were living in cardboard boxes and accosting passers-by with signs reading "WILL CRAFT HUMAN INTERFACE FOR FOOD." Still, Apple's last earnings warning definitely burst a bubble, and the company's stock is currently trading at less than a third of what it commanded back in March. Whether these hard times will abate sooner rather than later depends largely on what happens when Apple reveals its actual fourth quarter results this Wednesday after the markets close. (By the way, you did enter our Beat The Analysts contest, right? You've only got until Tuesday night to register your prediction...)

But regardless of how Apple's quarterly numbers turn out, what's got the traders spooked is the news that Mac sales are down. Cubes aren't selling quickly enough, schools are getting stingy with their Mac budgets, and customers all over the world just aren't snapping up Macs at the zippy pace to which Apple has gotten accustomed in this Golden Age of Translucency. Nothing Fred Anderson says on Wednesday will change that-- unless it's something like "Oops-- we goofed. Sales are stronger than ever! My bad." No, what Apple needs is something to juice the buying community. The Halloween decorations are up, and you know what that means: it's Christmas shopping time, and Apple needs a whopper of a holiday buying season to pull itself out of this perceived hole.

"But AtAT," we hear you asking, "what on earth can I do to alleviate Apple's pain?" Well, it's good of you to ask. Your heart's in the right place. What you need to do is buy Cubes for everyone on your Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/non-denominational secular gift-giving season list. You can swing that, right? And don't forget the iMac for your mail carrier-- and the Pro Mouse makes a festive stocking stuffer. Buy a dozen.

What's that? You don't have a $20,000 holiday spending budget? Hmmm... Well, instead, we suppose you could help by persuading other, less destitute consumers to spend their filthy lucre on mucho Macness to stick under their Christmas trees or non-denominational holiday shrubs or wherever their presents get stowed. See, Apple knows that a solid holiday season is crucial to its comeback, and as such, the Demo Days are being hauled out in full force. Apple may be crazy, but it's not stupid; it knows that actual Mac owners make the best salespeople. According to Mac OS Planet, there are still plenty of open slots, so if you're willing to kick in five hours on a Sunday to tout the Joys of Macdom to frenzied holiday shoppers, hurry up and get in on the action. It's a sure way to get on Santa's "good" list this year-- and the $75 won't hurt, either. (But MarketSource gets a lump of coal for lack of attention to detail; their site still boasts Apple's defunct rainbow logo instead of the new solid-color variety.)

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Bill The Hacker-- Or Not (10/16/00)

Here's a quickie to serve as food for thought. By now you may have heard how Bill Gates was the "victim" in a hacker's attack on the Orange County Register. As faithful viewer Ken Hall points out, a Reuters article discusses how some nefarious individual broke into the paper's web site and altered the content of three stories which were, appropriately enough, about hacking. One hacking article in particular was changed to report that Billy-boy himself was arrested for breaking into NASA's computers.

Yes, it seems that Mr. Gates's name was "substituted for [alleged hacker] Jason Diekman's" in the NASA hack article, leading to consternation, uproar, and rioting in the Orange County streets. Poor Bill... someone actually made it look like he broke federal electronic trespassing laws, when in fact his company has only been found guilty of breaking federal antitrust laws. Frankly, we're outraged.

Or, at least we would be, if we weren't wrestling with this intriguing possibility: how do we know that the Reuters article wasn't hacked to switch Gates's and Diekman's names? In other words, what if Bill did in fact get arrested for hacking into NASA, and some hacker altered the Orange County Register articles to make it look like Diekman did it instead? Worse yet, has AtAT been hacked to switch the names as well, meaning you can't trust what you just read? And most perplexing of all, last night we dreamed we were a butterfly... are we now a butterfly dreaming of being a 'net soap production team? Pardon us, but we need some more coffee.

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