Vanessa Hua

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Video Game Players Score Big Money in South Korea

San Francisco Chronicle

Choi Yeon-sung avoids going out most days, and when he’s on the street, he puts his head down — to dodge the whispers, the stares and the pleas for autographs.

Such are the hardships of a celebrity video game player in South Korea.

Choi has 90,000 members in his fan club. He pulls down $190,000 a year in salary and winnings combined, in a country where the average annual income is $16,291. At 23, the boyish-looking professional gamer has achieved a level of fame bestowed elsewhere on movie idols, soccer stars and Olympic champions.

Ideas for Sale or Rent

San Francisco Chronicle

Just weeks after Scout Electromedia launched a service that delivered local entertainment listings to a new wireless device, the company ran out of cash.

To pay its creditors, the failed South of Market startup auctioned off its top-of-the-line computers, chairs and cubicles for a pittance. What didn’t sell was the intellectual property — the very ideas that the company built itself around.

Determining the true worth of such assets is just as difficult now as it was at the height of the stock market bubble, but now speculation is driving prices down, property liquidators say.

“While you can sell stuff like chairs, we do not have a good mechanism for describing the intangible,” said Mark Radcliffe, partner at law firm Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich in Palo Alto

Chinese Web Users Have a Thirst for Scandal

San Francisco Chronicle

In the YouTube era, off-the-cuff remarks can haunt American politicians again and again. But that’s nothing compared to China, where scandals draw the scrutiny of thousands of Internet vigilantes.

With 253 million Internet users, China recently surpassed the United States with the world’s largest Web population. Many use online grassroots search engines known as renrou, or “human flesh,” to vent suspicions about alleged wrong-doers., a Chinese entertainment site, first conceived of a renrou search as a way to exchange information on restaurants, cosmetics and more. One person asks a question and others reply, much as on U.S. sites such as Yahoo Answers or Yelp, which rely on user-generated content.

But Chinese users soon found more excitement in exposing scandal.

Three in One

San Francisco Chronicle

A set of glass cases in Handspring’s headquarters shows off not its successes, but its rejects.
Along a corridor on the second floor, foam core and cardboard prototypes reveal the progression of its handheld devices — screens oriented vertically and horizontally, antennas hidden and stubby, different constellations of buttons, convex versus concave shapes, and other what might have beens.

Yet these dead ends speak to why Handspring is respected by its employees, consumers and industry analysts alike: What the Mountain View company values in design is refined — again and again.

The Company You Keep

San Francisco Chronicle

I am going to a Christmas party at the W hotel in San Francisco on the 17th of December. I don’t want to go with anyone I know — it’s work related. I am looking for someone who can act normal.

Like tykes sending their wish lists of toys to the North Pole, Bay Area professionals are posting Internet personals these days in the hopes of finding a date for their holiday office parties.

Primarily men seeking women, their personals are at turns heartfelt and pathetic, topped with wheedling details about “company limos picking us up,” “full course spread of food and a top shelf open bar” and “corporate 500 formal event at a major hotel.”

The ads betray the kind of anxiety that precedes a high school prom, especially since the perils of modern dating, coupled with workplace pressure, can make the right escort as hard to get as a Sony Aibo.

“It’s always better if someone else is with you. Everyone’s going to be there, dancing, holding each other’s hands,” said Alfred Appiah, 36, an engineer at a Sunnyvale networking firm who posted his request on Yahoo “I don’t want to stand there just looking at the DJ.”

These lonely hearts have reason to worry. Though ostensibly a celebration, office parties are all business, career experts say. A worker’s social savvy is as much a job skill as analyzing financial data or crunching programming code. And how and who you socialize with is all part of office politics.

Looking Offshore

San Francisco Chronicle

To snatch the offshoring crown from India, the king of the global outsourcing market, China is relying on expatriates like Raymond Tong.

Tong, a Hong Kong native, started his tech career in Silicon Valley in the early 1980s. The naturalized U.S. citizen has returned to run the China operations of Achievo, a software outsourcing startup headquartered in the East Bay city of Dublin.

Like their Indian counterparts, Chinese American entrepreneurs from the Bay Area are going back to their homeland with Silicon Valley know-how, connections and capital to help build a burgeoning software industry.

Blessed with cheap technical talent, Chinese firms have begun to undercut the bargain-rate companies in India.

Heading North As Economy Goes South

San Francisco Chronicle

Unemployed programmer Cai Gao believes he has found a place to live the American dream: Canada.

Although the native of China has never visited Canada, he applied for permanent residency north of the border. Pink-slipped by a Fremont Web technology firm in December, Gao, 30, fears that his wife could be next.

Without employment, she would lose her H-1B visa — the prized papers that brought hundreds of thousands of skilled foreigners into the United States during the tech boom to meet domestic labor shortages.
Gao worries they might not find an employer willing to sponsor a new visa at a time when U.S. citizens are competing for the same spots.

At the height of the technology bubble, Canadian firms tried to lure foreign workers away from Silicon Valley, without great success. Now, with the U.S. economy going south, some engineers are heading north.

Putting the Tech in Techno

San Francisco Chronicle

Just hours after getting off her desk job at a Web startup, Cary Creel is working the turntable.
Now under the identity “DJ Tektrix,” Creel mixes it up, her fingers fluid as a Japanese koto player’s as she twirls knobs on the turntable deck. Urgent electronic dance beats of hard house and techno throb in a cavernous room at the War Memorial Opera House. The music builds with the sounds of drums, pterodactyl crys and other synthesized confections.

And she’s just starting the lineup. Two co-workers are slated to spin this night at a party thrown by Topica, an online provider of newsletters and discussion groups. All three are part of a coterie of 20 DJs at the South of Market firm tuned into the Bay Area’s vibrant electronic music community. The relationship in force at Topica and other high-tech firms is clear: they help put the tech in techno.

Like nowhere else, elements of the local tech industry and the electronic scene have allowed each to flourish.