For the Week of March 8, 2004
Despite my advocacy of Always-On, I'm not crazy. It's vital that technology advocates be clear-eyed, and see the flaws in what they're pushing, so they can fix those flaws and make things really bulletproof.
So, some flaws in the present home networking environment follow, along with proposed solutions:
- PC operating systems aren't designed for networking, and networked Windows costs a ton of money. The software business model is to see networks as "business systems," for which they must charge big money because breakdowns are costly and demands on support are constant. Networked software must become as cheap and easy to use as client software for the World of Always-On to get going.
- Dead spots are everywhere. The most common complaint of Wi-Fi owners is "dead spots," places in the home behind walls or metal where signals can't reach. The solution is a mesh, like that of FireTide , so when you find a dead spot you just stick in another node. For home use, battery-operated access points will be needed because we just don't have that many plugs.
- PCs don't like being on all the time. Home PCs running Windows 98 just aren't designed to run 24-7. The solution is lower-power systems, taking the lessons learned in laptops and putting them into bigger boxes. Low-power runs cool and can run constantly.
- The backhaul bottleneck. Who needs 802.11a, g, or a+g when you've only got a 1.5 Mbps DSL line out (or worse, a slower DSL Lite connection)? This is actually an opportunity, because filling up that local bandwidth means creating a new class of applications contained withing the local network.
- Security, security, security. Security is not yet a standard feature, not robust security anyway. Who is going to work at home when anyone can walk by and steal your stuff? The first case of industrial espionage like this will kill teleworking, until we get security on every access point.
- CE operating systems on access points. Most access points today are built with consumer electronic operating systems like Nucleus and VXWorks. You can't build on them, they are just clients. New applications on these systems will all have to hit home PCs, and will quickly overload them. We need robust, scalable Linux and Windows kernels on those access points, so that home networks can develop their own server-and-client structure.
- Monopoly isn't just a game. Cable and Bell companies won't go away quietly. They will use courts and legislatures to try and keep prices artificially high, for backhaul, for voice services, for anything else they can imagine. Government will be their ally through the tax man. Taxing bits means fewer bits, but the future demands more bits.
- Where are the applications? This is the biggest problem on the list. We need real Always-On, wireless home network applications. We need applications that run on top of a modular, scalable robust home network and provide personal security, health security, greater control over your stuff, greater control over your life. Applications that pay for themselves in saved lives.
All of these hurdles can be overcome. Each one, which claims to be a "big problem," is in fact an opportunity for some entrepreneur (or intrapreneur) to make a fortune. There's just one link in the above section, to Firetide, meaning a lot of solution sets remain open. And Firetide could use some competition.
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 .
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Takes on the News
Bush Looks Good From Bangalore
Sun co-founder Vinod Khosla has returned to Bangalore as a partner in Kleiner Perkins, an Indian tech godfather. From where he sits George W. Bush looks very, very good.
Why shouldn't he? No President has ever done more for India. Bush has reversed the nation's brain drain and transferred millions of high-paying (by local standards) jobs to the subcontinent. Now Khosla wants India to defend its rights to outsourcing before the WTO, and to take the next step into building giant enterprises of its own.
It's amazing how little help government really needs to provide when you have an educated, hungry workforce. India's BJP government actually encouraged anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat to win an election there, it has moved ahead with bomb and missile programs, and it has ignored the needs of most people. But it has provided stability, it hasn't outspent the people's money, and it's heavily favored in coming elections.
The problem is the U.S. does not have a hungry, educated workforce. Our universities are atrophying as graduate positions go unfilled. Kids are treating math like it was academic spinach. It's cool to be stupid, whether you're upper-class (Paris Hilton), middle class (Bart Simpson) or lower class (bling-bling). This was fine when we had a steady stream of immigrants to fill the void. But not they have better things to do.
And our government is doing nothing about it. Good for Bangalore, bad for America.
The Grey Album
This could be the Internet's "Elvis Moment."
You'll remember (from history class) how, back in 1957, Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and wasn't shown below-the-waist (although his dancing was all done through his hips) . The "censorship" caused a sensation. The backlash opened up TV, it became a litmus test of parental acceptance and it made Elvis the biggest thing ever (until then he'd just been the biggest thing in rock and roll).
Well fast forward 47 years. (Yep, it's been that long.) There's a huge underground hit out there, something the media will neither play nor cover. It's called The Grey Album , by DJ DangerMouse , a mix of The Beatles' "White Album" and Jay-Z's "The Black Album."
EMI, which owns the Beatles' output, has banned the thing. It has tried to seize all 3,000 copies in circulation. And (like Sullivan) it has only succeeded in fanning the whirlwind.
While there has been some publicity over the release the mainstream press has, on the whole, been silent. The news hasn't been on TV, even cable. In fact, the only way for your kids to get this piece of culture is to break the law.
Many, many will. They will download it, they will put it on CDs for their friends, they will share it like a joint, and they will get high off it. The louder the protests from the mainstream media, the more this mix will be desired, just as Chinese prohibitions made Falun Gong seem delicious (when it was just a set of meditation exercises).
More than that, The Grey Album puts the present stupidity of our copyright laws into firm relief, and creates a political constituency that will demand relief from them. These kids are going to grow up, fast. It's the Internet Generation that will change these copyright laws. You're nowhere, daddy-o.
Serrendipity and Suffering
By chance I went to church yesterday and learned a great lesson.
My son was going to be part of a play during the service. I rushed through my workout so I could attend. When John, now 12, decided a year ago that he wanted to get serious about religion, my lovely bride was happy to accompany him on the journey, and in the fall both became members of the Oakhurst Baptist Church , around the corner from our home.
John's play was good, and he was funny. It was put on by the church's middle schoolers, who were a focus of the service.
But as John came to sit beside me after his play, I learned there was a second focus as well. I was surprised at first to see my neighbor, Mrs. Shanks, a few pews away. And a few moments later she was acknowledged, as part of a club that meets in the church each Thursday, and has met in the church for 36 years.
A bigger surprise was in store. In place of the sermon, a large impressive black woman, just a few years older than I, was given the pulpit. Her name was Barbara Cross. Her father, John, sat near Mrs. Shanks. He had helped found her club, and served the church through the 1970s, after coming here from Birmingham, Alabama.
Ms. Cross then testified to some real history. She was my son's age in 1963, at a church much like the one we sat in, the 16th Street Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama. She wanted to go to the bathroom with her best friend, to laugh and talk together instead of doing church work, but her teacher asked her to copy some things, and since she was the preacher's daughter she obeyed. She gave her wallet to her friend, and said she'd see her soon.
Moments later there was a terrible explosion. Everything went black. There was screaming. It was the Birmingham Church Bombing. The friend who held her wallet was Addie Mae Collins, and along with three other girls, she died in that bathroom. The man who bragged on the bombing, Robert Chambliss, did not meet justice until 2002, his own granddaughter testifying against him. The rest are still at large. Rev. Cross and his family, shaken by the events of that time (they had opened the church to Civil Rights meetings), moved here, found peace, became friends with (among others) Mrs. Shanks. We gave him a standing ovation.
I write about this because there is a myth abroad, especially among veterans of the Howard Dean campaign, that we have suffered, that we have been done dirty. There is a myth abroad, throughout America, that we have suffered grieviously from 9/11, and that everything we do now is justified by the needs of a "War On Terror."
But have we suffered? Deanistan lost a primary race. His voters retain their vote, their voices, and their lives. Unless you were in downtown Manhattan on 9/11, or very near to it, then 9/11 for you was a TV show, as it was for me.
Real people are being killed right now, in Iraq and in Israel. Most are innocent. Israelis have the advantage of at least knowing why they die, of having a cause. What is the Iraqis' cause? Freedom? Elections? America? Islam? I have no answer for that, but I strongly suspect it is our cause, and not their cause, they die for.
And they die in great double-handfuls . We don't even count them. We don't even think about them.
What does this mean? It means we haven't really suffered, we don't even know what suffering means. We have, instead, dealt suffering, in great double-handfuls. As a people we remain, on the whole, untouched. And when we are touched, it's like the long arc of an electric shock. Our pain becomes the world's pain. It is magnified, 10-fold, it's the only pain that counts.
Barbara Cross has turned her pain into something powerful, something moving, something that can teach people like my son that we must love one another. Her pain was far more searing than anything you have felt, unless you lived through the WTC attack directly. And even then, you're only even with her. Numbers don't really count when death and terrorism are the issue.
What counts is what you do with the fear. Do you seek justice and mercy? Or do you seek death? That's the yardstick by which you'll be measured. It's the yardstick by which we'll all be measured.
Clued-in is T-Mobile's tie-up of its U.S. and European hot-spots into a single cohesive network. Yes, it's mainly a PR coup, but in a competitive cellular world those are useful, too.
Clueless is RSA Security's "RFID Tag Blocker.".
It doesn't allay privacy concerns, and renders the tags useless to Always-On applications, a stupidity two-fer.
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