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A new breed of billionaires

I attended a dot.com convention the other day. That's where all the geniuses on the Internet and in the computer profession meet to divvy up what's left of the Web sites in the world as well as Bulgaria.

It took me a few days to get the hang of the convention.I discovered the guys with holes in their black sweaters without undershirts were billionaires.

Those who wore shirts, ties and jackets were still trying to sell their companies to anybody.

And the ones of that bunch on cell phones were trying to explain to their landlords why they couldn't pay their rent until July.

A third group at the convention was the venture capitalists, who had money to burn on any new technology -- even from Bulgaria.

There was a Pac Man atmosphere at the convention.

The venture capitalists were chasing the nerds, the people wearing jackets and shirts were chasing the venture capitalists, and the billionaires were playing Ping-Pong in Bill Gates' Microsoft hospitality suite.

Everyone was hoping to come up with a faster way to send e-mail through a broadband or via a computer that plays Beethoven's Ninth Symphony while an airline puts you on hold.

I met one venture capitalist who said he had $100 million to invest in any new system as long as it could order James Joyce and sing the national anthem of Bulgaria.

Everyone was nice to everyone.

Yahoo was giving away free frankfurters in its suite, which attracted almost all of the telephone executives.

There was a question raised about whether royalties should be paid to writers for their property.

"That would be foolish," a hardware manufacturer said. "If we start compensating writers, it will set a precedent."

Someone from the audience asked, "Then how do you compensate writers for their work?"

A dot.com entrepreneur said, "Through good will."

By accident I was wearing a black moth-eaten sweater one day and was mistaken for a billionaire.

A venture capitalist was immediately on my trail.

He said, "Before you sell your interactive video game, talk to us. We have money to burn."

I realized I was taken for a very rich nerd.

"I am not for sale, and neither is Dungeons & Slimy Mud," I told him.

The venture capitalist said, "For heaven's sake, man, don't you want to go public?"

"But you don't even know me," I answered.

"You haven't shaved for three days, and that's good enough for me."

Los Angeles Times Syndicate