The Web Bridges a Wide Generation Gap

Working with older clients is certainly nothing new to computer expert Jacob Zacuto. He was, after all, a mere 10th-grader when he launched his own Internet network consulting company.

But nothing prepared Zacuto for what he found when he signed on to help create a Web site for doctors and hospitals.

The brain behind this dot-com is 85 years old.

Westchester physician Howard Gottschalk spent six decades leafing through old-fashioned catalogs and product information sheets for his office equipment. Now retired, he was determined to find a way to use the computer in comparison shopping for medical supplies.

Gottschalk was an old pro when it came to the workings of the ear, nose and throat--his medical specialty. But he was a neophyte about computer firewalls, servers and flash graphics.

"I had a computer that I used for billings when I left my practice five years ago," he said. "But that was it. I knew computers were capable of more than that."

Gottschalk discovered the Internet when he purchased a home computer. Envisioning a World Wide Web site that could be updated to list new medical equipment, he recruited friends and computer experts to help him set it up.

That's where Zacuto, now a 20-year-old UCLA sophomore economics student, came in.

Zacuto was 4 when he started playing simple games on his Tarzana family's early-model IBM XT--a slow, monochrome machine that his stepfather used for word processing.

"When I'd break it playing with it, I knew I had to get it going again before he got home from work," Zacuto said.

Dr. Howard Gottschalk, 85, and Jacob Zacuto, now 20, are an Internet team.

"By the time I was 12, I pretty much knew all there was to know about operating systems. I was 15 when I co-founded my own company. Because I was so young, the idea of working with older people was normal for me."

But doing computer work for someone who is three generations older took some adjustment.

"I could see my grandfather," said another of Gottschalk's recruits, Anthony Geoffron, 25, of Culver City, whose tastes run to hip, fresh-looking Web sites and to jazz and techno music at trendy clubs such as the Westside's Fais Do-Do. "I was thinking, he can't be doing something like a Web site."

Co-worker Nicolas Leclercq, 23, of Mar Vista also wondered whether the doctor "would even understand what we're talking about. But I decided to take a chance."

In time, half a dozen 20-something computer wizards were involved. At development meetings at a Sherman Oaks office, they were the scruffy ones in shorts and T-shirts. "Dr. G," as they called him, was the debonair one in a suit and tie.

During the two years it took to create what is now called, the youngsters were continually surprised by Gottschalk.

They learned that his brother, Robert Gottschalk, had created Panavision and its movie camera technology. They discovered that Howard Gottschalk had created a tool now used in emergency rooms around the world to control severe nasal hemorrhages. And that decades ago he invented a device for treatment of erectile dysfunction called "21Again."

Along the way, there was plenty of give and take over the look and feel of the Web site. In debates over screen tints and layout, Gottschalk came to understand the interaction of 24-bit colors, streaming media and HTML codes.

"These kids at the age of 5 probably knew more than I do today about computers," he admits. "But I've still learned plenty from them. I trust them with my ideas. I realize I'm somewhat conservative, but I rarely put the brakes on anything. The medical profession used to be staid. But it isn't rigid anymore."

Gottschalk's free Web site, which he hopes will be supported by advertising, will list more than 150,000 medical products when it is unveiled online in June. Last week, his friends and financial backers met his young design team at a reception at the Braemar Country Club in Tarzana.

Twenty-four-year-old multimedia engineer Lee Egstrom of Culver City looks so young that he was carded by the bartender when he asked for a glass of wine. While he was helping teach Gottschalk about on-screen graphics, Gottschalk was teaching him about life, Egstrom said.

"He's got that spark. I have the spark right now because I'm 24. Hopefully, I'll be able to hold onto it when I'm older. I want to be a productive part of society."

Some at the reception were surprised at the age of the designers. "They look 14," joked Gottschalk's daughter, Vicki Turner. "This looks like an eighth-grade reunion."

As for Gottschalk, he said he hasn't ruled out hiring even younger people if he needs their help in the future. Or older people, for that matter.

"I don't discriminate if they have a good idea," he said. "Even if they're 90."