The Rat took his annual
masochistic jaunt to PC Expo in New York this month.

Having set his expectations low, the cyberrodent wasn’t too surprised to find
himself wandering across a crowded wasteland: 10 acres of nothing new on the banks of the
Hudson River.

As usual, though, there were plenty of pagan rituals to watch.

Compaq Computer Corp.’s booth sported a stage full of performers dressed as Cirque
du Soleil-style acrobats, all juggling

high-tech bean bags. One performer was costumed as the high priestess of trackballs.

But the real show was down in the well-concealed Web.X hall, where Internet product
exhibitors started a protest over the lack of foot traffic they were getting.

The Rat took advantage of the lack of anything significant to concentrate on and played
with his latest toy: a Minstrel Cellular Digital Packet Data modem from Novatel Wireless
of San Diego for his 3Com Corp. Palm-Pilot handheld computer.

Others shuffled aimlessly about the show floor while the Rat was dialing up his e-mail,
surfing the Web and booking an early train home. He even e-mailed Mrs. Rat to alert her to
his plans.

The cyberrodent didn’t even wonder whether she would get the message. His recent
addition of a network drop in the kitchen area has turned his spouse into a browser
addict. If the ratlings didn’t have their own frame relay line, they’d be
seriously on Mom’s case for bandwidth hogging.

It’s the Rat’s fault. He was the one who introduced her to Amazon.com.

"Now I have no reason to leave the house, except maybe for groceries," Mrs.
Rat told him.

The addiction hasn’t gone quite that far, but the furry one has some wire cutters
ready and an intervention group on standby.

A lot of other folks must suffer from the same addiction, based on the number of Web
commerce vendors the Rat saw. Even though most of them had been banished to the Web.X
ghetto in subterranean Hall E, there were signs of Internet commerce elsewhere, including
Compaq’s booth.

The company has hatched its own direct Web model for PC and server sales to compete
with Dell Computer Corp. and others. But based on the low traffic, the Rat guessed that
potential Web customers are far likelier to check out companies’ demos online than to
hang out at shows.

Based on recent PC Expo and Comdex events, the Rat figures that the computer trade show
is well on its way to extinction.

"What’s going to happen to good old mammalian interaction?" he mumbled
as he tapped his credit card number into Amtrak’s Web site using his PalmPilot and
reserved a train ticket.

That was when he realized that he might need some intervention himself.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets
in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].

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