Business World

THE JOURNAL RECORD, February 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

Business World


Polly want a mouse

SAN JOSE, Calif. (NYT) -- A Silicon Valley company hopes to replace the mouse with the parrot. The bird in question is not a piece of hardware but an animated on-screen parrot that responds to voice commands.

The parrot, named Prody, is programmed to perform certain tasks like opening applications, notifying users when e-mail arrives and permitting them to browse the Web via voice commands. It also can remind users about forthcoming appointments, read news headlines from the Internet in a synthesized voice and give real-time stock quotes, so they can know when the portfolio has gone to the birds. The power behind Prody -- made by Mindmaker, a company based in San Jose -- is artificial intelligence and speech-recognition technology that enables it to accept voice commands and learn the user's preferences. In that regard, Prody is not flying solo: a handful of companies are working with both technologies to create on- screen digital assistants and, in some cases, digital pets. In the case of Prody, its makers contend the $100 multicolored African parrot is a breed apart because it integrates numerous of the functions into a single software beast. But lovers of the mouse need not fear its extinction. Even when parrot users are on the telephone, talking to friends or otherwise don't want their virtual parrot to be listening, they'll have to switch off the microphone used to direct Prody and turn to the mouse. Waiting for an arena MIAMI (Bloomberg) -- The University of Miami basketball team is ranked 16th in the country, enjoying its best season since 1960 and is in second place in one of the nation's top conferences. The Hurricanes still can't get anybody to watch them play. With average attendance of about 5,200, Miami is attracting crowds smaller than at least 100 other schools, the NCAA said. While the Hurricanes are 18-5 on the court, they can't compete at home against professional sports, warm weather, and a multi-ethnic population hardly rooted in college basketball. The Hurricanes play their home games at the Miami Arena, which has a capacity of 15,500. The school blames the arena for much of the attendance problem because it's about a 25-minute drive from campus and located in an area with a high-crime rate. "A lot of people just don't want to go there," said Patrick Nero, the school's assistant athletic director in charge of fund raising. "It's hard to blame them." The school is hoping the cure will be the $34 million Ryder Center, an on-campus 9,200-seat facility scheduled to open in 2001. It's funded in part by Ryder Systems, a Miami-based trucking and leasing company. Already, the school has sold all 25 of its luxury boxes at $300,000 apiece. That's a good start, but if Miami can't fill the rest of the seats, the basketball program could be in trouble, said ESPN college basketball commentator Dick Vitale. "What (former Oklahoma State coach) Leonard Hamilton and the team has done is amazing considering the lack of fan support," Vitale said. "But if they don't get people to come to the on-campus facility, then they've got a real problem." Microsoft's green acres SEATTLE (AP) -- A new venture -- and one of the planet's oldest -- has caught the eye of a handful of Microsoft millionaires: farming. A group banding together as Farmland Acquisition, Research and Management, or Farm LLC, is buying up land in the Sammamish Valley. The high-powered, high-tech investors have a low-key, low-tech dream: They hope to turn a profit in agriculture and save the scenic open space near their homes at the same time. In three months, they've raised nearly $1 million and bought their first acreage. By year's end, they expect to own about 80 acres, 7 percent of the farmland in the valley on the Seattle metropolitan area's northeast corner. `'We intend to demonstrate... the best and highest use of farmland is farming,'' said Roger Calhoon, the Farm general manager, who holds a doctorate in biophysics and retired early from a biotechnology career. …

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