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Kuehl Tech Toys

December 28, 2000

Newly elected state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), 59, became well known during her three terms in the Assembly as an activist for women's issues, child-support reform, environmental protection and gay and lesbian rights. She was the first openly gay state legislator and the first woman named speaker pro tem of the Assembly.

But four decades ago, Kuehl achieved national fame far beyond that of any of her colleagues in the Legislature. In the 1959-63 hit TV comedy series "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," she played Zelda Gilroy, the fast-talking, brainy teenager who endlessly pined for Dobie.

Giving up acting--in part because she believed Hollywood would not accept a lesbian--Kuehl earned her law degree at Harvard and went on to become a professor at UCLA and Loyola Law School. She co-created the California Women's Law Center and, in 1994, entered politics.

COMPUTER: A Mac Powerbook, the 5300C. It's my only computer. It goes from home to the office to hotel room.

I bought the first Mac when it came out--its serial number was under 5,000--and I've had one ever since. In the offices in Sacramento and Los Angeles there are PCs, but I refuse to do computer work on them. I don't want to learn Windows; it's vastly inferior to the Mac.

I even bought Apple stock early and, over the years, have bought it and sold it--not quickly enough this time [the stock recently plummeted], but I'm going to keep it.

Q: Did you use your computer at your desk in the Assembly?

No. In the chambers they have small laptops we use to access bills that are being heard on that day and for voting. We can use them to e-mail each other on the floor only, not to our offices or to do any other work.

Q: You could use your own computer for that.

It's everything I can do to concentrate on the bill of the moment and the one they are going to call after that or the one I'm going to present. It's a fast-paced job. When I'm on the floor, I'm on the floor to vote.

Q: What do you primarily use your computer for?

I write using Microsoft Word and I have [America Online] for e-mail and instant messaging--I have lots of folks on my "buddy list" [which lets an AOL user know when a friend is online].

I keep a database that I started when I first got a computer to keep track of names, addresses, birthdays, phone numbers or whatever. And I work on it all the time. I really love it.

Every night I do my e-mail. Then I go to the database to put in the names or new data that I scribbled down on a hundred pieces of paper during the day.

Q: You enjoy that?

I really do. It's the way some people feel about stamp collections, I guess. I have a field for birthdays, and when I find one out, I jot it down and enter it. Then at the beginning of each month, I call up all the birthdays and send cards out. I recently sent one to a woman who was my roommate in college--and since I'm about to celebrate my 60th birthday, that was awhile back--and she sent me back an e-mail that began, "Wow!"

Q: That's good politics.

I was doing it long before that. I just know more people now.

HAND-HELD: No. I find that using something like that distracts me from the very intensive people-to-people work that I do. Maybe it's an eye-contact thing. It's easier for me to scribble something down on a piece of paper and put it in my pocket--I'm more comfortable with that.

And I don't know where I would put it. I don't carry a purse because I would never remember where it was. I don't keep track of things well unless they're in my pocket.

Q: Where do you keep your schedule?

I have a full-time scheduler in Sacramento because there are so many changes to keep track of. She faxes me a card that fits into my pocket with the appointments I have for the day.

BOOKMARKED WEB SITES: I rarely surf the Internet at all. I access news sometimes, but just on a link from AOL.

CELL PHONE: I love my cell phone because of the flexibility it gives me. It's an Audiovox with a voice-activated address book. To get my voicemail all I have to do is say "message" and it dials the number. It's not only convenient, it's safer because I hardly have to dial when I'm driving.

Q: You don't use a hands-free system in the car?

I've been driving the same car for 36 years--a 1964 Porsche 356 C Cabriolet convertible--and it has a six-volt instead of a 12-volt system. So there is no place to plug it in. And because I rarely put up the top, it would be difficult to use speakers.

Q: You aren't worried about using the cell phone while driving?

I should probably worry more about what it's doing to my brain.

Q: Do you know how many minutes a month you are on a cell phone?

I would say it's got to be at least 30 hours a month. My personal message system is that everyone calls my home number and leaves messages. Then every 15 minutes or so I sort through them and call back the people who need to be called back.

I generally don't take incoming calls on my cell phone, and I don't have call waiting, anywhere. It's very rude. It's like saying: "Let me see if there is someone I want to talk to more than you."

HOME AUDIO SYSTEM: Very ordinary. Fidelity is not my highest requirement. I have a turntable because I still have my original Beatles records. My dad had lots of wonderful big band records, and I have those now.

FAVORITE TECH TOY: My Mac. It has made my life so much more convenient, and it has enabled me to keep in contact with hundreds of people I care about.


--As told to DAVID COLKER

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