Network: Outraged? A brisk jog is just the ticket

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The Independent Culture
IF JOGGING on Silicon Valley's Sand Hill Road is inspirational, then I'm one inspired fella. My wife, Linda, Cassie the dog and I jog here six mornings a week, alternating among three routes to keep it interesting. Any long-time jogger knows about runner's reverie. This is a trance-like state that overtakes the head as the feet, on autopilot, follow a well-worn trail.

As we cross Sand Hill and turn on to a bikepath heading into the grounds of Stanford University, the sunrise-lit horizon blazes into view. Grey sky with dramatic pink and orange splashes catch my attention like the cover of Wired magazine before my thoughts drift to a scene the day before in an office in one of Silicon Valley's palatial HQ buildings.

Not every Silicon Valley company is a raw startup. Why, some are 10 and 15 years old. Some of these companies have, or had at some point in their trajectories, so much money that they decided to carve large and deluxe digs right into the heart of some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Apple Computer keeps its campus in the heart of Cupertino. Much of the 10 or so acres (in a county where quarter-acre lots can bring a million dollars) is given over to a grassy quadrangle and outdoor amphitheatre, complete with cafe. The whole open space is ringed with buildings featuring lots of corner offices, glass walls, and a four-story atrium replete with live trees and a coffee bar. Even that pales in comparison to some other hi-tech palaces, but back to the office conversation. John Santoro, an Apple executive, is recounting that his car needed unexpected repairs, and how he'd told the mechanic to go ahead without even thinking about the cost.

John has been a teacher and a wire service photographer in past lives. Neither metier is famous for its abundant remuneration. "Remember the panic when the mechanic would say you needed tires?" he asked. "I don't even think about those things anymore."

Once, in my impecunious youth, I'd been given a ticket by the Pasadena Police Department for having a bald tire on my '54 Chevy. Sudden financial needs qualified as a genuine emergency. The tidal wave of prosperity that's crashed on to Silicon Valley's shores has given "fiscal emergency" a new meaning.

For many here, a fiscal angst means deciding whether to sell stock options now, or waiting to see if the price will go up. People sit, eyes fixed on their online broker's Web page stock ticker, anxious finger poised above mouse. God knows how much productive time is lost to this exercise hereabouts.

But now we're rounding Stanford's Hoover Tower, just coming up on the Falun Gong people. This is a group who gather in the early morning to perform the slow, meditative exercises of the spiritual movement banned in China. This group has been gathering for the past year in a small garden in the shadow of the edifice named for the cross-dressing former head of the FBI. California has ever been a study in interesting cultural juxtapositions. Which, of course, causes the jogger's brain to jump to the "deep linking" controversy.

A US company, Ticketmaster, has been suing other companies, including Microsoft, for linking to pages in its Website. Normally, you'd expect a merchant to be delighted with traffic being sent their way. But Ticketmaster wants links only to its home page. They want people to have to fumble through their site, the better to get page view numbers up so they can command higher rates for advertising. This, of course, makes me livid.

The Web is a public place. If you put something there, lacking strong encryption, it's visible to anyone with a browser. Companies such as Ticketmaster are trying to use legions of lawyers to bully Web users into giving up a public place. Hey, Ticketmaster: if you don't want people linking to pages, don't put 'em up. The Web is based on something called hypertext, the whole point of which is to make it easy to jump to relevant pages. Every Web page lives on a single URL, and is therefore equal in the eyes of hyperlinks. The notion of "deep" pages is a fabrication of lawyers looking for billable hours.

It's as if you went to browse in a public library and some rent-a-cop jumped out and whacked your hand with a ruler if you dared open a certain book to any but the first page.

The deep-linking outrage has carried me almost back to my door. Time to sit down and write this column.