For the Week of July 7, 2003
There are many pessimists today in the technology business, and believe it or not Moore's Law itself is at the heart of some of the pessimism.
With 90 nanometer scale production gear now going into chip factories, chip designers will be able to make circuits with lines that are within a few dozen atoms of one another. The pessimists do the math and see a few dozen now, a dozen down the road, and (within a few generations) an unbreakable limit.
This is the Moore's Law Trap. The idea is that increases in computing power will be limited because we're reaching the atomic scale.
The trap is easy enough to get out of. One way is through what I call Moore's Law of Distribution.
It's based on parallel processing. Instead of buying faster computers, simply parse a task among many slower ones. This is the "distributed computing" concept of the SETI@Home project. This is why Google remains super-fast even as demand builds, without buying the latest servers. This kind of parallel processing is now entering the commercial space through IBM , with 600 servers available whenever you need them. It is also the idea behind PlanetLab , which can parse either problems or solutions among academic computers, so problems can be solved quickly and new services can be brought to the Internet quickly.
There is another way out. If Moore's Law is a game you can't win, change the game. For the sake of simplicity I'll call this Moore's Law of Chemistry, since Moore himself was trained in that area.
IBM is showing the way here. It has developed, along with scientists from Columbia University and the University of New Orleans, a way to combine two molecules in a solid crystal that are not supposed to be combined, in this case lead selenide and iron oxide. The former reacts to light, the latter to magnetism. .
This is a general method for combining any molecules, gaining the benefits of each and (through their combination) more. Rather than wait for nature to reveal itself (as Rice scientists did when they "discovered" the Buckyball) just imagine the molecule you want and build it. The result, of course, can be a computer, perhaps a massively-parallel computer, that is a single molecule in size.
And we haven't even talked about "organic computing" - using the life sciences, carbon compounds like those in your own head, to build molecular-sized processing systems.
The fact is we are far from approaching the kind of processing power you have in your own skull right now. We are slowly developing tools that will enable us, before the end of this century, to exceed it.
Your Clue is to never underestimate science, especially when it has the computing power of Moore's Law behind it. There are miracles around every corner. All we need to do is apply them.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
Big news. I have started work as a business analyst with Progressive Strategies , a New York research firm that has the ear of the world's top technology companies. If we can get some of 'em to actually follow some Clues, it would be a very good thing indeed.
We have a winner. "The Blankenhorn Effect" has won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards . The book was also reviewed (favorably) by Ray Troxel of The Web Server Times last week.
"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. One result is I have begun working on a follow-up book, describing the future direction of technology, to be called "The World Of Always On." Buy "The Blankenhorn Effect" at Amazon.Com , or at least 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.
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Takes on the News
Maynard Jackson. Dick Schwarzlose. Dave DeBusschere.
These are just three among the thousands of otherwise-healthy men who suddenly dropped dead of heart attacks in the last several months.
While in New York recently I sat next to a man who easily could have been among that number. He was walking through Penn Station a year ago, on his way home, when he felt a sharp pain and collapsed. Fortunately there was a nurse walking past the same spot, as well as security people trained in CPR. Technically, my friend was dead for several minutes, as a dozen people worked frantically to re-start his heart, stabilize him and get him to a hospital.
Most victims aren't that lucky. My friend said he was now leading a campaign to increase awareness of what to do when someone near you suffers a heart attack. He's a good man.
But most heart attacks are not really that sudden. There are subtle warning signs we are not consciously aware of. People are trained to be aware of such things as chest discomfort, pain radiating through the left arm, and sudden sweats or nausea. These are the outward signs of changes in things like blood pressure and heart rate. When victims reach the hospital, the inward signs are monitored closely, so care can be given before the next (possibly) fatal attack starts.
But what if you could be monitored in this way while walking down the street? What if a doctor could prescribe a patch, a chip, a tiny monitor with a radio, to any man (or woman) with signs of heart stress, based on things like age, hypertension, a stress test, an EKG, and serum cholesterol levels. The radio would be defined by software, pinging an IP address only when a measurement (taken once per minute, automatically, based on a chip's clock) exceeded a specified level. (Of course we have GPS installed, so you always know where this patient is located in physical space.) When the radio is unable to connect to any network, it might emit an audible pinging sound if there is trouble. The tests could be taken by something worn around one wrist, very discretely, which could also hold the radio.
Now, let's imagine that Maynard Jackson is going to Washington . His weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol level have moved his doctor to install one of these gizmos. It might pick up the warning signs before he gets on the plane, or the device might start pinging while he is in the air. Immediately, trained medical personnel could be alerted to come to the gate, saving his life before he even knows his life is in danger.
There is a huge, growing, aging market for this, a market with plenty of disposable income even if the health insurance isn't ready to kick-in yet.
And that's just one market. How about a chip with pins you wear on your wrist that would take your blood sugar level every half-hour? Any bodily condition that can be measured, whether it's a fluid level or a chemical change, can be measured through a biochip solution and results reported by a software-defined radio. Medical chips are being designed right now that can combine chemical tests and tiny radios capable of reaching a repeater on the wrist.
Ubiquitous broadband - actually always-on IP - is all that is required to make such an application available. The economic value of such a solution is enormous.
Best of all once you have a system of always-on, always-available IP (with software-defined radios finding the best, most cost-effective network solution at all times) you have a platform on which other, less immediately valuable applications can be built. You have a reason for millions of homeowners to build wireless home networks with broadband Internet links (and the surfing basically comes free).
What you have is economic growth, and a platform for tons of new growth. You have another PC revolution, based on always-on connectivity.
What any new market needs to really take off is a "killer app," a program that defines the solution and moves people to install it in huge numbers. For cable television TBS and HBO were the killer apps. In the PC era the spreadsheet was a killer app. For the Internet the World Wide Web was the killer app.
This one is a real killer, and it's an app we can create now.
Copyright Wars Come To A Head
Almost as soon as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was passed I was predicting it would be a disaster. I devoted an entire chapter of the first book produced here, "Living on the Internet," to the Copyright War. I predicted real people would be hurt, real casualties would be suffered, but that in the end technology and the market would triumph over simplicity and the slow pace of the law.
I was right. We are taking casualties. The first casualty has been the market. The fact is music sales have been slowing for two years now. The RIAA blames file sharers, but in fact there is a low level boycott of music underway around the world. When people are not offered prices, terms and conditions they find acceptable, they keep their wallets in their pocket. This is the ultimate power.
Some people are listening. The chairman of Sony, for instance, has called Apple's iTunes "a wake up call." The key to Apple's success (over 5 million songs sold to date) is the size of the catalog. Right now only one-tenth of the music that could be available is made available, due to limitations in the marketability of CDs. Open up the entire catalog, make it available from anywhere, and the tiniest niche market becomes profitable.
Unfortunately the RIAA is not listening. Its plan to find and sue anyone with music in an open directory is going to cost millions, it's going to create martyrs, and it is in the end self-defeating. That is not because people are going to defy the law. It is because they will not service a market that does not serve them.
In my own blog I have suggested making the current informal music boycott into a formal one. There is a program you can join right now that will look for RIAA ownership in CDs you're thinking of buying and warn you against it. These are fair uses of consumer power. But the most important way in which you can support this effort is to simply keep your hand on your wallet, and refuse to buy anything that has a price, a condition, or a legal requirement on it you don't like.
Starve 'em out.
Little Brother, Or The Nature of Science Fiction
The key word for the 21st century is "transparency." Transparency, in this case, means that the rules are clear, that the process is open. This is the key to democracy, it is the key to a growing economy. It is what the Internet delivers by its nature.
I have written here that what we most have to fear isn't "Big Brother" but "Little Brother." Big Brother is government finding out about us. Little Brother is us finding out about us, or us finding out about government.
Recently William Gibson elaborated on this theme in The New York Times. "In the age of the leak and the blog, of evidence extraction and link discovery, truths will either out or be outed, later if not sooner," he wrote. That's truths, as in facts that are true, as opposed to truth, the underlying reality.
Transparency can be a double-edged sword. Truths aren't always The Truth. But it is a sword anyone can wield. That is what makes it powerful, and that is what makes it far more fair than any medium that has come before.
If there are to be limits on the Internet's ability to make things transparent, those should be limits imposed only after fierce debate, through a complex process called democracy. And those limits should be designed to enhance the power of the people, not the powerful. Also, those limits must be changeable when the people want them changed. The 1964 "Sullivan vs. The Times" decision offers a good model. If you're a public figure you're fair game. If you're a private party the charge had better be true, or you should sue them.
"Theodore Roosevelt said it best, 'Every special interest is entitled to justice full, fair and complete....but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench or to representation in any public office.'" Yes, we have been here before...
Clued-in is Microsoft , which renamed the Pocket PC "Windows Mobile" and put Palm into a box. Keeping that from being a pine box requires that Palm find a deep-pocketed buyer, like Sony.
Clueless is Spamcop for failing to have a manual override that keeps legitimate people from being blocklisted based solely on a charge that could easily be coming from a spammer.
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