Excerpts from the blog A few times a year, I hear from someone asking if I know anything about Bill Gates handing out cash. Not through his charitable...

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Excerpts from the blog

A few times a year, I hear from someone asking if I know anything about Bill Gates handing out cash.

Not through his charitable foundation, but through a tantalizing e-mail the person has received about “Bill Gates sharing his fortune.”

The e-mail — bogus spam that has been around forever — says all you have to do is forward the message and “within two weeks, Microsoft will contact you for your address and then send you a check.”

“It’s all marketing expense to him,” it says in a version saved at the urban-legends archive Snopes.com.

For comparison, here are instructions from “cashback,” the new scheme Microsoft unveiled Wednesday to lure people to use its Live Search service:

“On your first time using Live Search cashback, we will ask you for an e-mail address so we can tell you how to quickly set up your free cashback account. … Keep saving money each time you use Live Search cashback. Every time you make a qualifying purchase, we’ll send you an e-mail to confirm your Live Search cashback savings. When your cashback account reaches a balance of at least $5, you can claim your cold, hard cash.”

It makes you wonder if desperate marketing executives in the Live group found inspiration in their inbox, in that old message about a Microsoft giveaway.

Either that, or they remembered the actual payout plan that Gates started talking up in 2005 in an interview he did with British tech magazine Computing:

“As search becomes competitive and people realize that other offerings are as good, or are even significantly better, there will be price competition,” Gates said. “You will get some free content or a check, or some incentive to use a different search engine.”

I guess every now and then, fairy tales do come true.

Big gaming deal

Redmond casual-gaming godfather Alex St. John made a big move to expand his territory Wednesday.

His WildTangent game network is taking over ad sales for Seattle’s PopCap Games, the country’s biggest casual-game developer.

WildTangent was already growing like crazy, reaching 26.5 million unique online visitors per month. The addition of 5 million more visitors from PopCap could make it the fourth largest online-game network, up from its current fifth place behind Spill Group, according to comScore rankings.

St. John said the exclusive deal expands on a good relationship between the companies. WildTangent has been selling PopCap games and it needed more space.

“We didn’t have enough inventory to carry all the deals we wanted,” St. John said.

In the release, PopCap co-founder John Vechey said the deal lets PopCap “keep our focus on developing great games while still reaping the benefits of the enormous amount of ad dollars marketers are spending in online games.”

The release included some eye-popping stats about PopCap’s hit franchise, “Bejeweled.” Since it was introduced in 2001, the puzzle game has been downloaded 250 million times by women and consumed an estimated 6 billion hours of leisure time.

Fit for the Wii

A few thoughts on the Wii Fit, after several days testing Nintendo’s summer blockbuster that went on sale Wednesday. The great:

1. It really does make exercise fun. It’s a million times more fun than working out in a gym, unless you go there to see and be seen.

2. It’s a great way to introduce fitness routines and goal-setting to kids. It automatically keeps track of how long individuals play and how they’re progressing. Results are visible in a calendar, charts and the physique of your “Mii” avatar.

3. The balance-board controller fulfills the Wii’s mission of getting players up off the couch.

4. You’re not stuck to the board the whole time. It’s sensitive enough to pick up motions in the vicinity, so in the running games you can run in place a few feet away from the controller and it can still tell what you’re doing. This is an incredible capability for game developers; imagine if you had to actually run and jump through the jungle in “Halo” or the city in “Grand Theft Auto.”

5. Wii Fit’s fun, simple and accessible interface will raise the bar for consumer health-monitoring products and services that will be built around the online health-record systems that Microsoft, Google and others are developing. Could it be the iPhone of online health systems?

What’s less-great:

1. I wish Wii Fit was a little more transparent about how it calculates your fitness. It considers your age, weight and balance capabilities to calculate your body mass index and your “Wii Fit Age.” In my house, the females all received Wii Fit Ages much older than their actual age. My “Wii Fit Age” was six years younger than my real age, even though the females are in better shape and I have the balance of a drunken giraffe.

2. Some of the games are a blast; others aren’t as exciting. That’s pretty subjective. I preferred ski jumping and tightrope walking to yoga, for instance.

3. The Wii Fit games that are great are too short and you don’t have extended-play options.

4. Although the balance board is amazing, it still has quirks, just as the Wii Remote does sometimes. On the tightrope-walking game, it seemed slow to make side-to-side adjustments but it may have some kind of speed limit on it to make it playable.

5. I’m not a privacy fanatic, but I wish there was a little more reassurance that Nintendo will be careful with the personal, physical information about players that it receives.

Despite the flaws, it seems like a must-have for Wii owners. For parents, it’s worth the price to introduce the fitness lessons to their kids and to have an easy lightweight gym on hand for them.

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley’s blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.