by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VI, No. XL

This Week's Clue: Moore's Law for Energy

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This Week's Clue: Moore's Law for Energy
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
Politics Moves Online: TV May Notice After November
Latest Tricks for Content Owner Control
Truly Creative Destruction
Clued-in, Clueless
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For the Week of October 7, 2002

Since launching this letter over five years ago you've indulged my comments on many subjects. What began as A Clue...to Internet Commerce has since ranged over the technology landscape, stopping on such areas as the copyright wars, the telecomm glut, and finally stories of how Moore's Law influences how we live.

Along the way some readers have dropped me, arguing I've become too political. But the "First Internet Age" is dead. You can't have mass-market broadband, which everyone agrees we need for Internet content, commerce and advertising to grow, when broadband content remains illegal and monopoly carriers are allowed to strangle competitors on behalf of obsolete access technologies.

So the subject has changed, from commerce and growth to oil and war. But the dirty secret of the present struggle, whether you're talking about Iraq or Al Qaeda, is that it's irrelevant to our ultimate goals.

We have two great tasks for this century - to save human life here and find homes for our descendents on other planets. Fighting for the right to choke on hydrocarbon pollutants gets us nowhere. Take oil out of the equation and Osama Bin Laden has no brief against us. Without oil we had no need to give Saddam Hussein chemical weapons technology to fight Iran in the 1980s, no reason to install the Shah of Iran in the 1950s, and no cause to create Aramco and prop up the Saudi Bourbons in the 1930s.

Moore's Law can place intelligence, sensors and even motors anywhere, and millions of these angels might dance on the head of a pin a decade from now. But without energy to light us, to heat us and to move us all this is meaningless, and there's no Moore's Law for energy.

Or is there? Jeremy Rifkin (known to most, if at all, as an environmentalist crank ) is now on TV pushing a book called "The Hydrogen Economy" . But there are big problems with the vision.

We use hydrogen in fuel cells and to power rockets into orbit, combining it with oxygen to produce energy and water. But where does the hydrogen come from? How do you get the electricity to extract and compress the hydrogen without using hydrocarbons? Nuclear waste makes that too expensive, while off-grid sources of geothermal, water and solar power are limited. Today's fuel cell-powered cars all run on gasoline, extracting its hydrogen and emitting carbon dioxide - that's no better than burning the stuff.

None of this is a secret. The search for sustainable electric generation is the Holy Grail of many scientists. There was huge excitement over an idea called "cold fusion" in the 1990s - fusing hydrogen into helium as the Sun does, without the Sun's temperature. But that turned out to be phony , what the oil patch calls a "dry hole." We won't get fooled again.

So when a Romanian correspondent to my new blog pointed me to a New Jersey outfit that claimed it could extract energy by pushing the electrons in hydrogen into lower orbits, I was skeptical.

The man behind the New Jersey firm, BlackLight Power, is Randy Mills, who came up with his theories in college, and they remain controversial. While BlackLight has produced papers for peer review, it has yet to conduct a large-scale demonstration, producing a power plant that would create more energy than required to run it, and extracting that energy to create electricity. As Carl Sagan once said, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. As Bill Nye added, if you're going to claim you were kidnapped by aliens I want at minimum to see a salt shaker from the aliens' cafeteria.

In the BlackLight process, helium is ionized with microwaves, hydrogen is introduced, the claimed reaction begins, and the resulting deep ultraviolet waves heat the quartz tube in which the reaction takes place. It's this heat that could be used to generate electricity. Practical engineering problems remain before this theoretical process becomes an energy source, but a demonstration of its potential could be just months away.

This could be another "dry hole", just as cold fusion looks to be a dry hole. But in the last few weeks I've found an entire sub-culture of scientists and engineers, working like demons, trying to find new ways to produce electricity in a renewable process, breaking the ties that bind us to hydrocarbons.

So here's your Clue. The future of humanity depends, not on the work of our warriors, or politicians, or even our businessmen, but on that of our scientists and our engineers.

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SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Add Thom Reece's e-comprofits to the long, growing list of where my stories appear. I've got a story in his latest issue.

I've decided that Booklocker will handled the PDF version of "Moore's Lore." Watch for it there. Also, Corante has launched my "Moore's Lore" blog . Drop by and watch it grow. I'm still trying to arrange a "book promotion" tour for February or March in Australia.

My other books include "Boom, Bust & Beyond: The Best of Dana Blankenhorn," , "The Time Mirror," and "Living on the Internet" . I still write for Boardwatch , Boardroom and BtoB . I still produce I-Strategy for Adventive

I'd like more readers, so tell your friends, clients, partners, and Congressperson about a-clue.com. You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know .

Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

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Shameless Promotion

When the Flying Other Brothers launched, about five years ago, they looked and sounded like other Grateful Dead tribute bands. The twist was they didn't need the money. Fronted by venture capitalist Roger McNamee, they even had former members of the Dead sitting-in on their gigs.

Today they're a sound all their own. They've been playing clubs and festivals around the country, growing into something pretty good. Part Little Feat, part Austin Lounge Lizards, but still based on California blues-rock, their latest album "52-week High" has it all. (Amazon says those who buy the FOBs also like Bonnie Raitt - can't be bad.)

Tony Bove, once known as a computer publisher ("CP/M User's Guide" in the 1970s and "Desktop Publishing" in the 1980s), now rocks-on as "T Bone," a harmonica player with a lyrical sound and a fine voice on "Johnny B." Our teenage daughter loved "Serenity the Angel," while my wife adored "Clueless," which is not about this newsletter but about a fool whose wife has left him (with good reason, apparently).

Don't put this CD down after the last track plays. There's a hilarious, and very relevant, bonus selection you've got to hear. Buy it today . This may be the only 52-week high you see this fall, but your ears will profit.

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Takes on the News

Politics Moves Online: TV May Notice After November

The press and politicians may be in for a big surprise.

Two years ago I prematurely called the 2000 election for George W. Bush, fearing the result would be war, recession, and red ink for everyone. Today I'm calling for another surprise.

While polls and pols still expect a very close election for Congress a month from now I'm seeing increasing evidence that it won't be close at all. This off-year election looks a lot more like 1994, or 1974, than like 1998. It smells like a Democratic rout.

If that turns out to be true, the question isn't why. The question is why did the press miss it?

The correct answer to the correct question is the Internet. This intimate medium can fulfill a political junkie's deepest needs for validation and community. It can deliver the undecided voter all the raw data (and emotion) they need to make a choice. And it can organize. It can now bring not just money, but bodies to bear on a specific geographic point.

This fact is unknown even to print reporters, most of whom get their "news" from the same place everyone else (they think) does - from watching TV. Networks like CNN and Fox and CNBC are the dominant visual and audio features of most newsrooms, now that the typewriters have been replaced by PCs and carpets have come onto the floors. The TV networks see only what's done on or for TV, which means they see only what the politicians want them to see (or what the politicians create for their benefit). It has been obvious for years that this "show" is just that and some scant feet away from the "show" life goes on.

Everyone knows how to answer a pollster's question, and no one wants to appear too far out of the mainstream. It's only when everyone gets a chance to make their voice heard behind a closed curtain that honest answers are returned. In 2000 polls all showed a clear, wide lead for George W. Bush - between 5-10 points - yet Gore won by a full percentage point. No one questioned that. Instead they just "spun" it, claiming that some "late surge" went undetected.

What will they say if they're 5-10 points wrong this time, across the board, or more? My guess is they will be. The correct answer is that politics doesn't just take place on TV anymore. Who will get it right first? Your Clue is that I just did.

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Latest Tricks for Content Owner Control

The Clueless media industry has found lots of new ways to control where its stories go, albeit at the cost of growth for them and democracy for us.

Many more publications, from The Chicago Tribune to Business Week, have placed their sites behind firewalls, with either registration pages or cash boxes in front of them. This frustrates incoming links, as any user of Google's "news" feature now knows well. Most searches come up with stories you can't reach.

Another trick is to make the e-mailing of stories a feature of membership. "Business Week" has followed the "WSJ" pattern here. The HTML page is delivered (complete with ads) to a recipient, but with a phony URL (just the headline). I can't wait until some spammer spoofs this practice, copies the trade dress, and sends out some financial scam with it.

One result is that "news" must be downloaded within a "news cycle" or it disappears. Publishers are following the practice of Scientologists, forcing their stories out of searchable caches so researchers lose the ability to link and the Web loses its memory. This is in addition to suing aggregators who collect links and demanding illegal "link licenses" of critics.

It's the same kind of insanity practiced by the recording industry, which claims its hackers are good and that every download is pirating. Meanwhile "tape clubs," using analog technology to swap songs from new bands turns unknowns into big stars.

This is not about money. If publishers cared most about profit, they'd let anyone link, and encourage pass-along readership (as they do with their print publications). This is about control. Control of the media, control of the news, and control of your mind. It's not Clueless, rather it's diabolical. Your Clue here is that the same attitudes that are destroying the music industry have filtered into the print world.

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Truly Creative Destruction

Your best argument against business Cluelessness is simply to not support it with your dollars.

I've argued for years that the domain after-market business is Clueless. A domain name is a business license, not real estate. Now, thanks to the creation of tons of new domains (especially national domains like .us, and subsidiary domains under them) the speculators are being driven to the wall.

So Clued-in is the marketplace, which has finally forced Register.Com to close its after-market, Afternic . Recessions are good for something.

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Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is a recent MSNBC story about the porn trend of "niche personals" and the business model behind it. The Internet is all about finding and exploiting niches. Porn today is where Disney will be tomorrow.

Clueless is shortsighted criticism of the Intel Itanium chip . The chip does have a problem (it sucks electricity) but there are key advances being made, like a 64-bit address bus and parallel processing, which will doubtless survive any short-term problems. It's another argument against tech companies paying dividends. Retained earnings let you stay the course.

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