Magazine

Death Valley Days


Back-to-school tip: If a gadget delivers information, sooner or later someone will try using it to cheat on a test. Take some naughty economics students at Holland's University of Maastricht. During exam bathroom breaks, they would hide in stalls and use their mobile phones to smuggle answers to classmates via on-screen text messages.

Searching students and jamming signals are illegal. So the school bought a Mobifinder, a device that beeps when phones are in use nearby. Officials bet that just telling potential miscreants about the gadget would do the trick. "It's good to have them think it's possible to be caught," says spokesman Marcel Schrijnemaekers.

This fall, the school is hoping for a repeat of the success it saw last semester. The Mobifinder didn't expose any cheaters, so officials think the problem is history. Still, Schrijnemaekers says with a sigh, "students are very inventive."

Wasn't Webvan stock worthless enough the first time? Shareholders got wiped out like yesterday's paper towels when the online grocer filed for bankruptcy in July. And were it not for a sharp-eyed seller, wannabe collectors of Webvan stock certificates would have gotten soaked for even more than Webvan's top price of $34 a share. Net auctioneer eBay had to shut down at least two bidding wars for the collectible shares--because the certificates advertised didn't exist.

There was at least one bona fide auction of a Webvan share. Gregg Freishtat, co-founder of software outfit VerticalOne, paid $500 to Oregon collector Jeffrey Smith. Freishtat says he'll hang it over his desk as a reminder not to take his investments for granted. Afterward, bids climbed to $305 apiece in two copycat auctions. But Smith sensed a problem: The picture of each certificate online had been copied from his electronic ad. The clue? "It had my name on it," Smith says.

EBay has taken no action against the would-be scammers other than cancelling their memberships. No word yet on whether the errant shares were recommended by any Wall Street analysts.

In good times, a favorite affectation in Silicon Valley is the license plate boasting of tech riches. Eric Wold knows: He had one, THXNTCS, a thank-you to NetCurrents, a small software company that in 1999 bought Infolocity, an even smaller outfit Wold helped found.

Now he's repenting--in a way. The San Francisco stock analyst-turned-software executive reregistered his BMW this spring with a mournful twist. The car's new plate: DLISTED. "I get a lot of positive comments," says Wold, 29, a finance exec at NightFire Software in Oakland. "Ninety-nine percent of the population has been laid off from a dot-com, and they've learned to laugh at it."

Maybe 99% is a tad high, but Wold's onto something: Other Californians have registered DOTGONE, DOTBOMB, and CHPTR11. So, how many of the companies Wold covered for Wells Fargo Van Kasper have been delisted? "Just one," Aspeon Software, a maker of point-of-sale systems, he says. Others, he notes with a gallows laugh, "are pretty close."


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