by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VIII, No. IV

This Week's Clue: Moore's Second Law

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This Week's Clue: Moore's Second Law
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
The Changing Nature of News
It's Been A Long Road, Getting From There To Here
Fast Data
Clued-in, Clueless
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For the Week of January 26, 2004

The greatest de-celerant to The World of Always-On is probably Moore's Second Law.

Moore's Second Law holds that, as chips get more complex, the cost to engineer them goes up exponentially.

This means that competition must decline over time, that chip companies must scale, and they must become more bureaucratic, with more layers of management.

Since companies like Intel knew about this from the beginning, they have put in lots of systems aimed at fighting this corporate arterosclerosis. Chief among these is its corporate culture, which puts engineers front-and-center. A rigorous meritocracy, derived from the Apollo program and (before that I suspect) Isaac Asimov's Robot stories , shoves aside stupidity.

But this is a stopgap, like my jogging to ward off age. It works imperfectly. I'm still getting older.

The same is inevitably true at chip companies. I say this without insight into Intel's inner workings. It's just mathematics in action. Every organization, as it grows and bureaucratizes, slows down little-by-little. Bureaucrats, whose careers are based on serving the inner organism rather than the outer world, are the cholesterol of organizational life, vital but deadly.

Call this Dana's corollary to Moore's Second Law, if you like.

Fortunately Intel and Texas Instruments stand atop a vast ecosystem, consisting of smaller firms dedicated to turning their stuff into products, applications, and solutions.

What I began to realize only recently is that these companies, too, are impacted by Moore's Second Law, and Dana's Corollary. I've said before that Always-On applications, like medical monitoring and security, will use a "consumer electronics paradigm" - defaults will be set, and complexity will be hidden from the user as much as possible. This is simply harder to engineer than a PC paradigm, where only the basics are set at the factory and users find how to make things work on their own. Decisions have to be made, for one thing.

Many Always-On applications involve important subjects under professional control, like your health and public safety. This adds more bureaucracy to the mix. Health applications must, at minimum, be vetted through hospital and insurance bureaucracies, perhaps the government itself. Public safety applications are all driven by the government.

What's needed, I think, is some application space that is, well, fairly innocuous. Something fun, something gear-heads can get their teeth into, something that gives them benefits when they get things working, but which won't damage public health or public safety if it breaks down. In this application space, standards may be derived, defaults may be created.

As with Linux, a million tiny laboratories are better than one big one, no matter how large and clean. (This is something Dr. Asimov himself never understood in his fiction, which centered the evolution of robotics on an IBM-like company which held a monopoly on the design.)

There are many potential hobbyist application spaces. And there seem to be gatekeepers in the way of many of them:

  • Home Electronics - This should be the most obvious space. Techies love their stereos like their dads loved their cars. But this is the most obvious home of the consumer electronics paradigm. Microsoft wants to control it, and won't share its source code. Neither will anyone else (that's a key part of the paradigm). Jan Johansen's well-publicized fights over Linux DVD players are all about this issue of control over the directions, and while he's still at large, the work he's done remains bottled-up.
  • Inventory - Many gadget-freaks, like yours truly, suffer from Attention Deficit Difference (ADD). We have a natural difficulty dealing with details, like where we put our keys, or what we have to do at 10:30. RFID offers a natural solution, but it's bottled up in fights over privacy. Finding a way to unlock an RFID chip's data for users would be a real shot-in-the-arm to this field.

Here's the bottom line. We need to find a way to get hobbyists into creating their own Always-On solutions.

I think kits that let people create their own GPS solutions could be the Heathkits of our time. You might start with active RFID tags, connected to GPS data stores, that let you keep track of your Boy Scout troop, or play Paintball more effectively, then go from there. But would government allow GPS to be used in this way?

There are lots of potential RFID-GPS-Home Networking games we can play, and I think games are the ultimate solution. For instance, I have a cat. How about a tag and program that lets me find out where the cat is with my wireless home network, so long as the cat is in range? If it's an active tag, I may be able to pick up the radio signal from within the network even if the cat itself has gone next door. I could track the cat's movements over time, mark out its territory. Sounds like fun.

Home RFID kits, with tags you fill-in through an inventory program, some active and some passive, would be a great way to start us on the road to the kinds of stuff we saw at the Homebrew Computer Club in the 1970s.

However it's done, we need a way to break through Moore's Second Law and give Always-On back to the hobbyists, who become the gadget freaks, the revolutionaries, and the next set of entrepreneurs. That's the process we need to jump-start right now.

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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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Takes on the News

The Changing Nature of News

Blogging has impacted every area of news, but most importantly the newspaper. Broadcasting pushed papers into a new role, that of defining, massaging, and giving meaning to events. As cable moved into this space, newspapers retreated into giving these insights within local markets, where they could put more boots on the ground than the local eye-witless news team.

The Internet began seizing this role for itself before blogging was even created. I was a part of that revolution with the Interactive Age Daily in 1994. Thus some smart ideologues moved to a 19th century model, selling belief rather than actual news. Fox News isn't a "news network," it's a church. The rest of the pack is left trying to put its context on celebrities, real (Michael Jackson) or created (Scott Pedersen) .

I think this explains some of the media antipathy toward Howard Dean . It's not just that he's the front-runner, it's not just that he's the Democrat, and it's not just that his rhetoric naturally afflicts the comfortable. It's these bloggers, these (gasp) amateurs . They're taking our role, they're eating our lunch. Whatever is to become of us if that happens?

I got a taste of all this myself last week. . An item I had written on Dean Nation was quoted, without correct attribution, without contacting me, by a Boston Globe reporter. . Joshua Glenn obviously figured he didn't need to try and make the kind of effort at contacting a source he would make on any other story - I'm just a blogger.

Just a blogger. And, Josh, you're just a kid, probably on a pretty low salary, with no experience of the world, little training, and no more authority than your editors give you.

I said this when we started a-clue.com, and I'm going to say it one more time. This medium gives everyone a level playing field. Everyone. You can't depend on your job title, or the fact that your bosses buy ink by the barrel, to protect you. If anyone wants credibility they must earn it.

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It's Been A Long Road, Getting >From There To Here

Space remains a frontier . It's far more inhospitable to man and his works than we imagined 30 years ago. Its economic value, as a source for raw materials or manufacturing space, is still unproven.

But space still has a hold on the imagination and when GW Bush made a big speech about spending $1 billion/year on getting to Mars, it had to be spiriting.

Big goals are good, although I strongly suspect the money won't be there until after a Chinese face is staring down at us from the Moon. You can accomplish many important little goals on the way to a big one, creating many opportunities both large and small.

The argument isn't about science. We can do a lot more science with things like the rover Spirit , quicker and for less, than we can with men or women in space.

The real issue, in the end, isn't addressed by Bush and it isn't addressed by Spirit. The real issue is making space pay. A Moon shot pays for the contractors who build the equipment, but if the mission itself doesn't pay its way it doesn't get us where we want to be.

It's a delicious irony, then, that Gene Roddenberry christened his fictional starship "Enterprise." It's enterprise, free enterprise, that is needed in space. And that can only come, I believe, by lowering the cost of raising kilograms out of the Earth's gravity well dramatically, Moore's Law dramatically.

And there's only one proposal on hand to do that. If Bush had put his money on a space elevator , I'd have been with him 100%. As it is, it's just another government boondoggle, the direct descendent of this , the canal boom of the 1830s, funded by government borrowing, which caused a six-year depression. The free market solution to opening the West, the solution that paid, was the railroad.

We don't need any space canals, to Mars or anywhere else. Mr. President, we need a railroad. And don't build it. Just find some investors.

Fast Data

There is a lot of excitement over "fast" cellular data networks, called EDGE networks, which claim speeds to 384 Kbps .

This is, at last, near-broadband speed, supported by networks whose coverage area could be fairly large. (It's still far from universal.) What's most exciting is the delivery of phones that might use this speed, that might make it pay.

But there remain problems. The biggest problem is one of imagination. People are still thinking in terms of the ordinary office applications, or conventional entertainment - audio and video. But if you could put heart patients on such a network, or people with diabetes, if you could measure how a kidney patient is doing in terms of their need for dialysis, you could give people real freedom.

Fast data, even in cellular, can "make its bones" only through Always-On applications.

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Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is CBS , because in not taking Moveon.org's money for the Super Bowl, they left that political advocacy group free to use the funds much more wisely.

Clueless is The Week magazine, for honoring a blogger, Joshua Micah Marshall, whose blog is one-way, refusing to take user input. (This remains a problem with my own blog, Mooreslore, which is why I post links to a-clue.com on every item.)

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