by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VIII, No. I

This Week's Clue: Always-On Promises

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This Week's Clue: Always-On Promises
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
The Consumer Electronics Paradigm
My Personal Spam War
Lemonade
Clued-in, Clueless
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For the Week of January 5, 2004

I was asked after our Christmas Party what my specialty was.

I was taken aback. I've never had a specialty. I pride myself on being a generalist, on "protecting my stupidity." By this I mean the ignorance most people bring to something new, which is important if you're really going to evaluate something as a consumer would and not "drink the Kool-Aid" of phony tech "it's simple" enthusiasts.

Of course I immediately mentioned "The World of Always-On." That's interesting, the questioner said. What else can I do?

I was stumped. I'm still stumped, but now after a week's thought I at least have a counter-argument.

The World of Always-On isn't a specific technology. It is a set of technologies that together represent a new application platform, a boom more powerful than the PC and Internet booms before it, because it's based on both.

The heart, in my opinion, must be 802.11 networks that are robust, modular and scalable. You can use dozens of embedded operating systems to build an access point, I know, systems that come from a consumer electronics world that most na´ve users understand how to navigate.

Even people who can't deal with the Internet can click a TV remote, and this is part of the problem. Most people prefer this simplicity to the wide-open world of the PC, where there are often multiple routes (and interfaces) to your destination. Developers have a bias toward the simple operating systems used in these devices. This is a market battle now taking place in the "embedded" world.

The irony is that Always-On applications will be, should be, and must be as simple to use as that TV remote. Yet underneath, they need to have the Internet "in the air," a robust operating system "in the air," a wide-path with which to share signals to a home server.

The analogy is to urban design. Build with two-lane roads and you can put up a house. But as the suburb fills up, the traffic jams there will be worse unless your initial design can hold freeways and wide feeder roads as well. A robust access point is the freeway. An embedded access point is the two-lane road.

But this is just one of the biases we need to fight on our way toward building The World Of Always-On. And there are just tons of ingredients to consider, beyond the access point. We need to add RFID, GPS, voice commands, all sorts of things. We need to drop the blinders of our current work in order to build the new one on top of it.

So do I want another "specialty?" No, but only because The World of Always-On isn't a specialty. It's the direction things are moving toward. Along the way we'll need bigger home servers (because these applications are CPU-hogs), we'll need to build home databases (to rationalize what we have in-the-background), we'll need enormous processing power and faster broadband connections. We'll need to do this with minimal electric power consumption. We'll need software-defined radios. We'll need a ton of new stuff, at prices consumers and businesses can afford.

But the first fight is a big key. We need the robust structure of the PC and Internet combined with the simplicity of consumer electronics ease-of-use in all applications. We've got to make this stuff simple, folks. Wear this and save your life. Slap on these tags and track your stuff. Put up these cameras the way you would Christmas lights and your home is safe. And then we can extend this into the world, linking the electronics in your car to cell networks so problems can be remotely diagnosed before your car breaks down.

Sound good? That's just for starters. A longer life, a more organized life, automatic repairs, these are just the early benefits. And at costs that keep decreasing thanks to Moore's Law - Moore's Law of storage, of radios, of bandwidth, of production - everything.

Specialty? Hah. This here is a new world we're building. The job of fitting this vision to the strategies of giant corporations is going to be enough of a job to build a huge practice. And I'm going to commit to it, now, in every way I can help. I'm going to help with marketing, I'm willing to go on sales calls, and I don't care much about how the money is distributed. I need a great CEO, great sales guys, marketing help, an editor. This is a big enough playing field to create lots and lots of stars.

Who's with me?

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Shameless Self-Promotion

I work as a business analyst with Progressive Strategies, a New York research firm that has the ear of the world's top technology companies.

My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .

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 Consumer Electronics Paradigm

One of the first battles we need to fight for the World of Always-On, as I said, is over what I call the "Consumer Electronics Paradigm."

As was explained to me by one software expert, it's fairly easy to create two devices that do exactly the same thing but seem completely different. You can pur a DVD-RW machine under your TV, and use it to "tape" movies. Or you can put it in your computer, and use it to "tape" your hard drive.

The difference is in the software. The device under your TV only lets you do a very small number of things. It is run off just a few buttons. Everything is pre-defined. With the device in your PC, it's entirely different. The software is completely under your control, but (and this is the big but) it can be pretty tough to use.

In the American Office (whether at home or in a great big building somewhere) we're so accustomed to the PC Paradigm we don't even think about it anymore. Most of us (me included) never use more than 10% of the commands on our word processors or spreadsheets. We get used to one way of doing things. I'm often shocked at the "keyboard short-cuts" my 12-year old son finds for doing things I've done with a mouse for years. You get 10 Word users together, you'll find 10 different work-styles.

What we have all done, I think, is whittle-down the wealth of possibilities in Word into something like a Consumer Electronics Paradigm, but we've all chosen our own path to the destination. This takes a lot of learning. There's a huge industry that just trains people to use their PCs.

This doesn't exist in the consumer electronics world. We're all used to that joke about the couple that can't get the clock on their VCR working, but the truth is they tape stuff, they play tapes, they get value from the device without the clock.

Now here's the tricky bit. The U.S. tech industry has been built on the PC Paradigm. The Japanese tech industry has been built on the Consumer Electronics Paradigm. And four out of five consumers surveyed prefer the Consumer Electronics Paradigm.

What I think we need to do is use the PC Paradigm for our infrastructure, for its power, but leave most of that manipulation to experts and people who like complexity. The solutions of the Always-On World will come from using the Consumer Electronics Paradigm.

That's a very important message to deliver for the New Year.

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My Personal Spam War

Unlike most folks I had been pretty happy with my anti-spam strategy. I use Mailwasher - even paid for a a copy. Not only does it let me dump hundreds of messages at once, but I can click-away legitimate messages I don't have time (or inclination) to look at, so my inbox isn't cluttered with stuff I won't read now (but might read next time). That's even better than an anti-spam solution.

I thought I was golden, until I took a winter holiday. I brought my laptop, but could only use the dial-up sporadically. Then I decided to give the laptop to the in-laws, after loading a few simple applications and unloading everything else. I worked many hours trying to turn my PC into something more like a consumer electronics appliance, mainly so they could control a "copier" which, it turned out, was actually a multi-function box. I'm fortunate in that both my wife's parents are educated, and have led exemplary lives. For their 62nd anniversary, they had their daughter patiently teach them the basics, then we rode out of sight, to all Merry Christmas and to all a goodnight.

I felt pretty good about myself when I got home. (I felt even better after a 12-hour "nap" - I'm getting too old for these 20-hour drives.) I felt good, that is, until I started trying to clean up my mailbox. What I found were over 2,300 "messages," of which about 25 were legitimate. I suspect that Mailwasher works by putting a lot of stuff into memory, because it constantly broke-down under the load. It took an hour for it to count the spam, and then it just couldn't process it.

My ultimate solution was to use my browser, to go to the Web-based interface for both e-mail accounts, and to manually delete enough spam so that Mailwasher could do its thing. I finally had things down to the 50 messages I'd actually look at, then Outlook Express froze. It froze because there were an estimated 10,000 spams in the "default" e-mail box for my domain, addressed to such non-existant addresses as clue@a-clue.com, a-clue@a-clue.com, etc. Outlook couldn't even collect the whole list of headers, let alone get to work downloading.

Again, a solution was available. I had a note from my Web host asking about the spam problem, and I finally got through to them that I wanted them to dump all the ill-addressed e-mail unread. So if you mistype my address in the future, friends, it's going to bounce, sorry. Then I removed that account check from Outlook Express, got my mail...and fell asleep. I'd spent the whole day on this.

My wish for the New Year is an upgrade to Mailwasher. I think everyone should have it, or something like it. Thanks to the new "legalize spam" law, every outfit you do business with is going to start "incentivizing" you to "grant" them your e-mail address, perhaps even demand it as a requirement for you to do business. And then there are the politicians who have specifically exempted themselves from the new law. If you want, as I do, for spam to remain in the eye of the beholder, subject to your definitions and no one else's, then you need a tool like Mailwasher.

Get it. Buy it. Better yet, buy the "pro" version . Make Nick Bolton rich and he'll make you happy.

Lemonade

Remember Pat Riley? He was the brilliant coach of the Lakers' "Showtime" teams of the 1980s, with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a rotating supporting cast. Well, he finally came to think it was him, not the players, and signed a big-money contract as coach and general manager for the Miami Heat, which didn't have the Lakers' talent. The Heat developed a habit of blowing first-round play-off series, and Riley was never heard from again.

All this reminds me of John Sculley. Sculley was the Pepsi executive Steve Jobs chose to succeed him in the 1980s, when it was decided Apple needed "adult supervision." Apple didn't fail under Sculley, but when he returned to the East Coast, he proved to have no better management chops than Pat Riley. Everything he has backed has turned to dust under his leadership, most recently an outfit called Techsmart.

The question of whether it was the talent or the manager is now about to be settled once and for all. Alert reader Larry Ferrell has picked up the pieces of TechSmart, which closed last November , and turned it into CopySmart USA. . If he can make any kind of lemonade out of this wreckage, it was definitely the players, and we should ask a very difficult question.

How is it we can make sure that bad managers end up poor, as they should, rather than rich beyond their wildest dreams, as they do now?

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Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in s the NY Times Link Generator for blogs. Done in conjunction with Userland, it gives blog readers steady links to Times content even after the headlines are no longer reachable.

Clueless is the new "bundling" mania among communication providers . (But you'll still know about it next week thanks to the NY Times Link Generator - by looking at the link above you have what we here at a-clue.com call a "double play.")

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