Dog Bites

Soylent Green Is People!; Nightclub Jitters

Soylent Green Is People!

On day whatever of the power crisis, we still couldn't find an old copy of our electrical bill, so we weren't sure of our rotating outage block designation. But down at the supermarket, the aisles were oddly dim; staff had unscrewed half the fluorescent bulbs in order to save energy, which lent the place a sort of wartime-rationing air, as though at any moment we might have to start queuing for sugar.

Actually, the power crisis got us thinking that we'd noticed a little while ago there is a whole genre of speculative fiction that might be described as California Apocalypse -- subcategory Man-Made. We could cite a dozen or so titles if we really put some thought into it; Kim Stanley Robinson's The Wild Shore, Jean Hegland's Into the Forest, and, well, a bunch of others we've run across at random in the course of pursuing our extremely haphazard reading habits.

(N.B. If you think this means we're some kind of sci-fi geek and that you should start sending us chapters of your Star Trek fan fiction, we have two words: restraining order.)

More recently we enjoyed -- though that's not quite the right word, we think -- T.C. Boyle's A Friend of the Earth, a book that rendered Dog Bites unable to leave the apartment or even use the microwave for some days after we finished reading it, so flattened were we by our sense of being a braising-greens-and-balsamic-vinegar-consuming parasite on the crust of a dangerously beleaguered planet. Deforested hillsides crammed with cheap condos, people subsisting on tilapia and rotgut sake, mudslides, floods, windstorms -- yeah, that's California, all right, and it's all our fault.

But now that we're being urged to conserve electricity Dog Bites is feeling slightly contrarian and even somewhat disgruntled, especially after a report on the Channel 2 Ten O'Clock News the other night that showed a Silicon Valley server farm -- a building full of rows and rows of huge computers that host intranets and extranets, Web sites and e-mail, all kept cool enough to function by rows and rows of huge air conditioners -- that reportedly uses the daily equivalent of 1.2 million homes' normal electrical consumption.

One point two million? Yeah, wow, it's sure surprising there isn't enough power these days. C'mon, people: Ten years ago, in the Dark Ages before online shopping, there were only a few server farms in the entire Bay Area, probably at places like the Livermore Labs. Now there are -- well, it turns out, nobody knows. Phone call after phone call to various Silicon Valley business groups got us nowhere; finally, we tried the Association of Bay Area Governments, where librarian Julie Tunnell checked her database and found no figures at all on the number of such installations.

Now, hindsight is 20-20, but it strikes Dog Bites that it might have been a good idea for someone to keep some sort of track of the construction of facilities that suck vast quantities of electricity out of the statewide grid, instead of just blithely assuming there would always be more and more power to keep them running. Meanwhile, we'll huddle under a blankie instead of turning on the heater, trawl the cereal aisle in semigloom, and brush away a proud tear or two knowing we're doing our part to keep online and in possession of the capacity to bombard the unsuspecting public with wave after wave of junk e-mail.

After all, phalanxes of economic experts warn that if the power crisis continues to threaten Silicon Valley, California's economy will collapse, taking the rest of the country into recession with it; far be it from us to stand in the way of human progress and pop-up window engineering! The New Economy must and shall roll on unhindered, carrying us all toward a bright techno-utopia that runs on -- well, we'll figure that detail out later, but we especially like President Bush's suggestion that California should loosen a few of its environmental regulations if it needs more power.

In the long run, we're sure that will prove to be an enormous help.

Nightclub Jitters

Hilarious though it is, you can only use the Web Economy Bullshit Generator ( to create such compelling phrases as "mesh cross-media applications," "maximize vertical web-readiness," and "strategize cross-platform interfaces" so many times before the novelty wears off, and you just have to get out of the office.

But before we leave, let us first answer this marginally related question from reader Monica Foy, who writes, "Thanks for explaining that Fortune billboard near the Duboce exit. It had been perplexing me for weeks. Now can you tell me who's on that Earthlink billboard? One billboard in their "Get Linked' campaign features Galileo, another sports a rendering of Magellan, but the third is some bearded fat guy with glasses who looks a little like Jerry Garcia. Who the heck is it?"

Well, Monica, we passed your question along to Brian at Earthlink, who responds, "The man pictured on our billboard is Harry Knowles, who started the Web site In a nutshell, he represents the free expression of creativity the "Real Internet' makes possible."

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