For the Week of November 25, 2002
Last week I went to my 25th college reunion.
There were parties in every price range. (Most who went to the expensive soirees avoided the freebies, but I didn't.) All the food was served off a buffet. We lost the football game. (Another proud Rice tradition.) Most of us agreed we could never get into the place now.
One of our number now runs a huge corporation. Another has been unemployed for two years. Some are college deans. A surprising number are computer programmers. Some brought sons or daughters they hope will get into Rice soon. There were the usual number of gray hairs, but no more than expected.
As I left, however, I had a surprising revelation. Not only did my life stack up well against those of my classmates (most of whom were far more gifted, and got better grades) but the classmates seemed most impressed by me. Despite my fears, my worries, and (sometimes) a distinct shortage of income, I learned, I'm a success.
What's the secret?
I wondered about that as I headed home. But I had one more stop to make, mid-way between home and the old school, in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
Thibodaux is the home of Nicholls State University . An exchange student from France wanted me to speak to his MBA class on ethics. I figured it would break-up the trip into parts (for safety) and let me write off the thing (for tax purposes). After riding my bike around the campus and town (it didn't take long) I faced an audience of about 25 young people, and their teacher, in a room usually used for focus group studies, complete with one-way mirrors.
I had a slow start. The students were respectful, but quiet, even sleepy. I became increasingly provocative, but nothing came back. The flop-sweat was starting when, suddenly one of their number (he works for BellSouth, I was later told) challenged me on copyright. Shouldn't artists have an unquestioned right to control what's done with their work, and to profit from it, he asked?
We were off to the races. I talked about how the new copyright laws take away our rights to loan, borrow and re-use material, how music and movie moguls want the control over their audience Microsoft has, and how the market is fighting back with the current recession. You can't make me buy, I stated. To this my interlocutor responded (as the industry does, I should note), you will eventually. We'll give you no alternative.
Then we were on to broadband policy, then onto financial privacy, and the time just flew by. I was still gabbling away happily as the class broke up. It took hours for me to get down from the high. I was, to say the least, jazzed by the experience.
As I headed east again I realized that there, in that classroom, lay my answer, and yours.
I'm committed to what I do. I'm committed to writing, to the issues I write about, and to my audience, to you. That commitment comes through in my work, it gives me a glow that people notice.
My wife, I realized, shares this success secret. She's committed to me (thankfully), but also to her job, to the people she works with, to our children, even to our cats. She likes being depended upon. She likes fulfilling the commitments she makes. She may not physically enjoy staying up half the night to make sure a computing job at work runs right, but she's proud of the result. She may not always enjoy our kids' troubles, or even my own, but she's there, every moment, and so she's happy.
Happiness is a choice. I learned that finally. But becoming committed to something, to someone, and to some career or goal makes that choice easier to make.
The best part of a recession, even of unemployment, is that it can move us toward reflection. We can ask ourselves basic questions, far from the pressure of deadlines. Am I committed to my life, and if so why not? Do I feel committed to my job, or would another, similar job draw the same reaction from me?
How do I become committed anyway? What's the secret behind the secret?
The answer to that one is inside you. I'm lucky. Writing isn't what I do. It's who I am. I've been committed to the process of fashioning and sharing words since I was a little child. And even when I was miserable (as all children and teenagers will be) I had something inside to be committed to, leading me on to where I needed to go - a typewriter, an electric, a computer, a printing press, the Web.
To get this secret for yourself, however, you have to look inside yourself. It is like the scene in Billy Crystal's movie "City Slickers" where Jack Palance holds up one finger and says, "One thing. Figure that out and the rest becomes easy." For Palance's character, an old cowboy nicknamed Curly, that one thing was life in the saddle. For Crystal, it was his wife and family. For me, it's writing.
What is it for you? I can't answer that. But when you answer that the rest will fall into place. Commit to a direction you can go toward joyfully, and go there. You'll learn to love yourself, you'll make yourself lovable and, if you're willing to commit to those you love, your life will be a grand, glorious adventure.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
You can pre-order my book, "The Blankenhorn Effect: How to Put Moore's Law to Work for You," from Trafford Publishing , simply by sending me an e-mail . I'll let you know as soon as it's available.
You can follow the continuing story on my "Moore's Lore" blog . My other books (which will also get new names soon) include "Boom, Bust & Beyond: The Best of Dana Blankenhorn," , "The Time Mirror," and "Living on the Internet" . I still write for Boardwatch , Boardroom , Marketing Profs Thom Reece's eComProfits and BtoB . I still produce I-Strategy for Adventive
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Takes on the News
Turning Linux Into Windows
Entrepreneurs have a big problem with GPL Linux . The General Public License reads that they can't sell their tweaks as software. They can't control the code they write under the GPL. They have to let others see it, use it free, and change it at will.
But GNU , which wrote the GPL "copyleft" contract, has a big problem with Linux. Linus Torvald's kernel doesn't specify copyleft. It can be put inside a similar OS and "protected" (read controlled). This means it's possible to turn Linux into a "real" operating system, like Windows.
How might this happen? It might happen by one outfit becoming dominant in Linux distribution, then inserting controls on the result. That's why Red Hat's success seems (to some) to endanger what Linux is about. Or it could all come a-cropper if various Linux distributions become incompatible. A standard is only a standard if it's standardized, as the four companies calling themselves "United Linux" are trying to do. Problems will occur as soon as an application runs on United but not on Red Hat, or vice versa.
Where's the Clue here? Linux is beset on all sides, threatened not so much by its enemies as its friends. IBM has proven you can make money on Linux from services and upgrades - you don't have to lock-up the product. The industry will only continue to nip away at Microsoft so long as it understands (and employs) this key Clue. Its friends must remain friendly.
Straw Dogs, Straw Men
Microsoft is leading a last-minute attack against cable and Bell re-monopolization, based on the hoary charge that, as "gatekeepers," these companies might sell Internet services but then deny access to specific (and legal) Internet sites that don't pay them for reaching their customers.
The cause is good, but the charge is the bunk. Anyone who restricts access to any Internet site for financial gain (or any other reason) is no longer selling Internet service, but a private network. The biggest threats come from this coalition's own members, including Microsoft itself, who sell non-standard software that turns their own sites into a "walled garden" users will think twice about leaving.
A Little Closer to (E-Book) Fine
I've said many times that, in order to work in the marketplace, e-book readers must be standardized, with a standard format for titles, and wireless Internet connectivity built-in.
The Comdex launches of new Pocket PCs from Dell and H-P show how close we're getting to fine.
The $199 Dell Axim X5 (a stupid name) comes with the same MMC memory slot into which Palm 125 e-books are plugged-in. The screen is small but highly readable, and wireless broadband under 802.11 can be enabled with a CompactFlash Type II card (although there's just one such slot, and lots of other stuff wants into it).
Hewlett-Packard had a $699 iPaq with 802.11b installed . That's a mistake right now because the standard is in a state of flux - Intel will ship 802.11 a-b units next spring, and they could become fairly standard by next fall. The price is also way-high.
What this means is there is still a long way to go. I need something cheap enough to bundle with the e-book, with an e-book memory standard that's truly a standard, into which I can plug any wireless broadband network. I would love to "sell" my PDF books bundled with the price of some hardware that my readers will get value from for many years.
We're at least two years away from that. The Palm-Microsoft wars will keep the "installed base" that e-book makers can write-to small for years to come. The basic cost of Microsoft monopoly software, crippled for use on a hand-held, will still remain a barrier to making this stuff cheap for years to come. But at least, in the case of Dell, we're moving in the right direction.
Clued-in is the effort by Overdrive and Fictionwise to enable the borrowing of e-books . But e-books still need a standard, Internet-connected platform, and we can't lose the rights we have on paper when we move to any digital format, or no format will go anywhere fast. Until then it's still for early adopters and gadget-freaks, stuck at the front-end of the "s" curve, unable to find the mass market.
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