by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VII, No. XIX

This Week's Clue: The Coming World of Always On

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This Week's Clue: The Coming World of Always On
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
The Internet Hits The Sports Page
Little Justice, Big Justice
Credit Card, Debit Card
Clued-in, Clueless
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For the Week of May 12, 2003

It's amazing, but true. Many people today make the same mistake approaching the Internet industry they made in 1995.

The Internet is publishing. No, it's broadcasting. No, it's e-mail. No, it's the Web. No, it's a store. No, it's a blog.

The truth is it's all these things, and none of them. The Internet is just an agreement, a protocol, for moving bits around. The Web, e-mail, blogging, transactions - they're all just software-defined services moving bits under this protocol.

To see this stubborn truth let's get back to basics. Look inside your PC, or just look at a processing chip. (I have an old Intel 80486 on my key ring.) You see storage and processing and input and output. Bits move between these functions.

Step back and look at your own network. Servers and clients handle storage and processing, but it's really the same structure. Now step back further and look at the Internet. Again, it's the same structure. The Internet makes the world one big chip.

The difference is that, between your client and the Internet backbone (the system bus) the "wires" are very thin. They don't really move data very quickly. Main storage and processing still has an advantage when it's near the core, at least within reach of fiber. But the key it your own PC. You are the main input and output. You tell the Internet computer what services you want, how you want them, when you want them. The computers near the core then find them, deliver them, and wait for new instructions.

Distributed computing systems like SET@Home should have given you the Clue by now. The whole Internet is like one big computer, doing literally billions of jobs at once. So stop thinking of it as just a medium. Stop worrying about the petty distinctions between narrowband and broadband. Most important, stop thinking of computing as existing on one machine, or on one chip, or as what happens between a TV, a typewriter and a tape recorder - these are just interfaces.

Instead think about how we can expand the computing universe, with network-connected chips processing our entertainment choices, or our eating choices, or our garden's eating choices, or our biorhythms, or our security. And think about how we're going to maintain control over all of this.

Intel's Centrino ads show clearly how foolish is our present conception of computing, and networking. The ads are filled with people in fields, at ballparks, or on top of buildings, tethered to desks with laptops. The theme is they're untethered - they can work anywhere - but the visuals paint a different picture. How can we liberate work and entertainment from the tyranny of the lap?

There are many options. Voice processing is my favorite right now. We think of this as "you talk, it types" and we worry about how poor processing algorithms will interpret so many different voices. But Moore's Law gives us the power to do this processing, at low cost. And the many different voices can in fact be an advantage. By training your systems to the sound of your voice, you add security. If your cellphone's computing systems activate only at the sound of your specific voice, saying some specific code word, then the person who steals it can't get into your computing environment.

There are other options. Pre-set commands can mediate between the input of chips acting as bar codes and your desires. The milk can "go off" four days after its sell-by date, and tell you "don't drink me" with a red diode. The pacemaker in your mom's chest can alert her to take her medicine at the first sign of arrhythmia, or it can alert the ambulance before her stroke actually begins.

These are just a few examples, and in all cases the important aspect of the network's capability isn't the speed of the network but the fact that it is Always On. Most of the chips that will live outside your door will only require the power of tiny solar panels. Set some inside solar-powered lamps or torches, put those torches alongside your sidewalk or drive, and you not only have enough power to keep your lawn green, your security up, and the lights on, but you have a simple way to install and service the system.

Automobiles already have literally dozens of computer chips inside them. What if these chips could communicate, what if they were networked? AAA and other emergency services could take advantage of that right away. Within 10 years we could have cars that drove themselves, at least when their drivers were disabled by a few pops at the local pub.

So we need to extend computing to our bodies, our homes, our cars, and our world. We need to extend networking there as well. Each application has specific benefits, and requires new software. Each is a great new opportunity to build great new companies, and new jobs. But the backbone for all of this is the same Internet Protocol that brought you this newsletter.

This is the World of Always On. This is where technology is taking us. Yes, there are some scary implications, just as there were scary implications for creating the Internet, and for building PCs, and for creating the first computers. Your job is to embrace the future, build the future, and also build in protections - against government, against your boss, against the bad guys.

It's a big, big job. Let's get to it.

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SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

I am no longer working at Mediapost . The work was great, I did it well, but I didn't like the bosses, and in the end the feeling was mutual.

The reviews (well, some of them) are in. "Dana, it is GOOD," raves Pete duPont, lawyer, futurist and once a candidate for President. "This is some really powerful 'stuff.' I think you've got a winner," says Drew Kaplan of DAK Catalog fame.

Find out what the excitement is about. Buy "The Blankenhorn Effect" at Amazon.Com , then go back and say nice things. You can use the ASIN number, 1553953673, and recommend it to readers of other, similar books. You can also save on shipping when you buy the book at Amazon, over the cost of buying it elsewhere.

If you can convince some more published reviewers to read "The Blankenhorn Effect" and recommend it to their readers, please send me a name and address. In exchange, you'll get the PDF version of my second book, "The Blankenhorn Effect: Boom, Bust & Beyond." This is a collection of columns from a-clue.com, organized chronologically and by subject, with additional commentary from yours truly.

I have written recently for BtoB Boardroom and Mobile Radio Technology . You can follow the continuing story of "The Blankenhorn Effect" on my "Moore's Lore" blog . I also contribute to NowEurope and GreaterDemocracy . (Get my old ClickZ columns here

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

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If you're serious about Internet Commerce, you need Whitehat Interactive . Get it today.

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Takes on the News

The Internet Hits The Sports Page

The falls of Mike Price and Larry Eustachy demonstrate, conclusively, how completely the Internet now drives the news.

For those outside the U.S., Price and Eustachy were college athletics coaches, at Alabama and Iowa State respectively. Both had multi-million dollar contracts and high public profiles. Price was the "Alex Ferguson" of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, while Eustachy had the same role in Ames, Iowa.

Long story short. Both did really stupid things involving sex and alcohol . Local or national media covered neither incident. Both stories were kept alive by the Internet, in chat rooms and (in the Eustachy case) on a Web site where the pictures in question were reportedly posted.

By the time the stories were made public everyone knew them. Yet for days papers still tiptoed around the events, until someone finally had the nerve to go with evidence that had been readily available for weeks or months online. Then the respective Athletic Directors pronounced themselves "shocked, shocked" at such goings-on.

This is precisely what happened previously on the political beat, on the business beat, and on the entertainment beat. The Internet says things the media cannot. The Internet keeps things alive when the media won't. The Internet forces the media to respond and thus moves the media agenda forward. Even among chucklehead sports fanatics.

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Little Justice, Big Justice

Virginia, the "Spaghetti Junction" of the Internet, where all major backbones meet, has passed the first law making common spammer tricks a criminal offense. Things like forging e-mail addresses, misleading headers, and fraud will now be felonies, and Virginia states attorneys have a habit of defining any messages passing through the state - 70% of the total - as in-state.

This is Little Justice, and this is fine. Those who steal bandwidth should go to jail. But there's another class of criminals who aren't going to jail soon, and are still very unlikely to be punished as they should be.

I'm talking here of corporate criminals, CEOs and those around them who phony the books and commit fraud against both shareholders and the market. Yes, after two years it seems the Justice Department is getting serious about Enron . But are these criminals going to lose their homes, their cars, and their college funds? Are they going to be sent into deep, deep holes for the rest of their natural lives, with big fat guys who think they got purty mouths, as they deserve?

Consider the number of victims from the Worldcom fraud, for instance. I'm not talking just about the jobs lost by employees, or the retirement savings lost. I'm also talking about the destruction of AT&T, which went through brutal contortions in order to keep up with phony "earnings momentum." Add it all up. Add up the premature deaths from lost careers and lost dreams. Add the economic costs of a distorted, untrustworthy market created by this fraud. I will guarantee that, if you add it up, you come up with far more than the equivalent of 3,000 dead...10 years here, 5 years there, premature deaths caused by fraud.

Anyone associated with the 3,000 dead at the World Trade Center is being hunted down and executed. The lives destroyed by the Worldcom fraud, the Enron fraud, the HealthSouth fraud, and the CSFB frauds deserve no less. That would be true Big Justice. When a victim of these frauds, like T.J. Rodgers, pretends that "nothing happened," they do themselves no favors. It's like a rape victim claiming she deserved it.

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Credit Card, Debit Card

If you take plastic on your Web site (and who doesn't) you are vaguely aware of the differences between credit cards and debit cards.

Credit cards are a mere promise to pay. They're a consumer loan. You get your money at settlement, within a week, but the consumer may not pay off for a month, without penalty. The promise is based on a signature, on a receipt, securing the loan. The biggest problem an online merchant faces is getting the digital equivalent of that signature. Using the three or four digits on back of the card, as a verifier, can help, and there are other programs as well. But it's still a loan.

Debit cards are something else. They may look like credit cards, but they're quite different. Money flows as soon as they are used. A four-digit PIN acts like those digits on the credit card, so the "discount" you pay for credit (usually 2.5%) isn't necessary. Without that PIN the rules are a bit different. If you use a debit card at a gas station as much as $75 will flow out of your checking account immediately, with a refund due at settlement.

The biggest scam is (or was) when signatures are used for debit cards, which look just like credit cards but are processed differently (and usually by different networks). Despite the higher security, merchants have been paying fees equivalent to the discount rate, for years. That scam is mercifully ended but the problems of defining money remain.

The real question is who will make the definition? Right now the banks do, or rather Visa, Master Card and (to a lesser extent) American Express and Discover do. These terms can be changed at a stroke, through a simple mailing sent to customers (or put online, demanding a click).

This is what needs to change. If we're to get the benefits of debit cards they need to be treated as what they are, cash (or very low cost checks). This goes for merchants as well as consumers. And that won't happen until the government demands it. If the government isn't demanding it, merchants need a new government, because government of the banks, by the banks, and for the banks is not working.

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Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in was the marketing roll-out of the Apple Music Store , including its management of the after-announcement "buzz." Yet the offering and terms were no better than other, mostly-failed experiments like eMusic . Yes, Steve Jobs screwed-up big-time in losing the PC standards battle to Microsoft. But he is still the best marketer of his generation.

Clueless was the spin of lawyers for four college students sued by the recording industry, who agreed to pay thousands of dollars for running on-campus file sharing networks. The kids lost, and anonymous FTP lost with them.

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