by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VIII, No. XLIV

This Week's Clue: Won't Get Fooled Again

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This Week's Clue: Won't Get Fooled Again
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Always-On Coming Perilously Close
The Bells' Mobile Strategy
Cute Technology That Kills
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of November 1, 2004

NOTE: If I'm wrong save this as a "Dewey Beats Truman" cover. But I'm afraid the joke may prove to be on you in that case.

Four years ago I was in a blue funk.

Regular readers of this letter will remember how I predicted George W. Bush would beat Al Gore, despite my endorsement of Gore, and of how depressed this made me. I went through the whole of October 2000 with a chip on my shoulder.

I haven't felt that way this year. I have a secret. John Kerry's going to win. I wrote this back in September and nothing has happened since to change my mind.

The Bush campaign this time just smells like a loser. The charges he's making, the attitudes he's taking, they look and feel just like his father did in October 1992. How then to explain the polls? Well, polls never show a challenger scoring a big win until the last minute, even though half the incumbents have lost in my lifetime. TV has a bias to protect the oligopoly it won under Bush, one that Kerry's liberal allies threaten. Newspapers don't have this bias (they already have as much monopoly as they want) and have turned decidedly in the challenger's favor over the last few weeks.

The word that sums up Bush for me comes from Matthew Yglesias. It is "Putinization." He's got the evidence, too -- the Sinclair incident, a threatening letter to Rock The Vote, a House officer charging criminal conduct against a financier of the political opposition, a 'terror alert' system that is a political prop, a 'torture memo' asserting the President is above the law, the exclusion of non-supporters from Bush's public appearances, and more. No wonder Putin likes Bush.

When a former KGB officer who is re-creating that system before your eyes says he likes your President, you had better think long and hard before agreeing with him.

So why are the polls wrong? Here are several reasons:

  • An incumbent who can't consistently poll over 50% loses. This is more meaningful than the margin in a horse race.
  • Likely voter screens are based on past patterns. They don't show how new voters will affect the result.
  • Intensity matters, especially intensity compared to the previous cycle.
  • Find a Kerry gaffe you can call "determinative," something that disqualifies him from consideration by the majority. Then ask, "What about Poland?"

The only way Bush can be re-elected is by stealing this election the way Robert Mugabe stole Zimbabwe. There's evidence some Republicans have tried that, but their efforts have really been minimal in the greater scheme of things. Worse, if they succeeded the result would be the immediate destruction of America as we know it, and a true Civil War. It won't happen.

So what can we expect instead? I'm not foolish enough to predict enormous success. John Kerry has many faults. I supported Howard Dean. But no President comes to office alone. He has a party behind him. And this party has a record, a deep bench, and a profound understanding that it can't govern alone, based solely on its own partisans.

The last President to enter office in this way was Richard Nixon, and there is much to recommend the comparison to conservatives. Because while Nixon may be the Ultimate Enemy to Oliver Stone, and the man who began the present conservative era, he was in many ways the apotheosis of liberalism. It was Nixon who created the CPSC, Nixon who created OSHA, Nixon who created the EPA, Nixon who opened up to China, Nixon who put Harry Blackmun on the Supreme Court. He used conservative rhetoric to govern in a liberal manner.

The unfinished work of American conservatism will be finished by John Kerry. He will not be a popular President. He will enter office without a mandate, with few friends in the town, and with high expectations he can't meet. Iraq is a quagmire, and the "mutual crusade" of Islam and Christianity begun by Bush will be difficult to defuse. The economy is a mess, with interest rates ready to skyrocket the moment China sneezes, taking the housing market with it.

The answers to most of our problems lie in classic conservatism. They lie in fiscal discipline, in less government, in more competition, in personal liberty.

This is especially true for the business I cover, technology. The next set of advances require compromises crafted on behalf of consumers, not vendors. The principle is simple, that the data you create belongs to you. Once the industry accepts it, we'll be able to create floods of data - from ourselves, from our stuff, from our environment - and use it to make our lives longer, easier, and more fulfilling.

The World of Always-On has not come about, yet, because consumers don't trust either business or government with the data they already have. We can't get to a future with yet-more data until we settle this question. And no government that's in the pocket of law enforcement or big business has a chance of solving it.

But hope is on the way.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout , a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.

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...


Takes on the News

Always-On Coming Perilously Close

Do you want Always-On applications in your underwear?

Philips and others have begun designing undergarments that include Always-On medical applications inside them.

The clothes monitor your heart and warn emergency services of a change in the heart rhythm. It can make this connection through a built-in GPS system with mobile phone. It's similar to the MyHeart project, which is putting the sensors in shirts.

It's the kind of medical application of Always-On I've been looking to see for some time. (And here's an even better one - a blood sugar monitor in a mobile phone . Still, I've got a few issues:

  • Uh, undershorts? Don't these people know what happens when people get scared to death, and there's nothing scarier than a heart attack.
  • Why not 802.11? This is the kind of application that dual-mode 802.11 and mobile set-ups are made for. You can take large collections of data when the wearer is at home, while saving it after you leave and sending only alarms on the mobile line.

Once the principal of monitoring via clothes and wireless networks is established the way is clear to monitor other conditions in the same way. The way is also clear toward getting the price of this stuff down to where insurance can afford it. Thus, the World of Always-On comes closer and closer.

Just as I was preparing this, word came to me about a Microsoft element that smells a lot like Always-On (for real).

At first glance Microsoft's latest "big idea," Windows Mobile, sounds a little like, well, Bob-like .

I mean, really. An underpowered PC in your Hummer, with Bluetooth and a GPS receiver? Peter Wengert of Microsoft told News.Com about applications like finding cheap gas, because the GPS receiver would have your location.

But if you just look under the hood here, you're going to find something really cool.

  • In the Windows car it's not the OS that's the platform. It's the Bluetooth network that's the platform.
  • The Windows Car is based on a spoken interface, not on the point-and-click of a mouse.
  • To work you have to authenticate the authorized users' voices (so the kids can't make the car stop).
  • You have to translate voice commands to text and then into PC commands.

What you have, in other words, is a mini-version of the Always-On environment.

The only difference between the Windows Car and what I've been talking about here as Always-On lies in the range of the network. If your platform is an 802.11 network that exists all over your property, your range of commands grows. So do your sources of data. So does the application space.

The Windows Car is so close to Always-On I can taste it. Can Microsoft?


The Bells' Mobile Strategy

SBC has a tidy little plan to dominate the coming wireless world, unlicensed frequencies be damned.

Along with T-Mobile, they continue to make happy talk about linking Wi-Fi to mobile. SBC thinks that, by grabbing commercial real estate for its paid Wi-Fi, dubbed FreedomLink, so it can negate the technology's big advantage. By claiming user benefits for it , the company may also pick up a bit of market share from Verizon Wireless along the way . Of course if you're just talking voice, the advantages of a Wi-Fi-mobile link are nonsense. And they're especially nonsensical for a phone company.

But that's just the top of the iceberg. The full strategy combines current efforts by SBC, AT&T Wireless and BellSouth's MMDS spectrum, which is close to the unlicensed 2.4 GHz 802.11 frequency range but was sold by the government in the 1990s, originally for wireless cable.

Here are the other elements:

  • AT&T Wireless, soon to be part of Cingular, has put its Chief Technology Officer on the board of Aperto Networks, a major supplier of Wi-Max technology.
  • SBC and Cingular have developed a "convergence roadmap" and plan to release dual-mode Wi-Fi and mobile phones, supporting Voice Over IP.
  • Cingular will use Wi-Max technology in BellSouth's MMDS spectrum to dramatically cut the cost of mobile and Wi-Fi backhaul.

SBC and BellSouth are creating exclusive, owned assets within an unlicensed technology space, and look to merge them into wider, lower-cost coverage map they can use to crush any competitors, even those who don't charge.

And whose money are they using for this? They say it's theirs. But every single phone line both SBC and BellSouth have ever installed has been the product of a regulated monopoly. Their conversion of the public interest into their private interest has been profoundly negative for American ratepayers, and the current moves are proof that those moves continue.

Cute Technology That Kills

Don't get me wrong. I love the idea behind TV-B-Gone, a tidy little invention that runs through hundreds of codes for shutting down sets remotely and, eventually, does just that.

The device fits on the end of a keychain and can be slipped back in the pocket after it's used.

God knows there have been many times when I've entered the locker room at my local YMCA, heard some unpleasant show blaring, and wished I had one.

But there is going to be trouble.

  • Someone is going to take this beast to a sports bar and maliciously turn all the TVs off, probably keeping the gizmo in their pocket so they can hit it again each time the workers fight to get things back on.
  • Some kid is going to turn off something everyone is watching and laugh a little too loudly at this. The kid is going to get beat senseless and then sue everyone.
  • Someone is going to use this in a bar or some other public place, in a state where the Second Amendment is highly prized and people walk around with guns in their pocket, and they're going to be killed.
  • A bereaved relative is going to sue the inventor of this device over the death, and win.

There are times when the cure ends up worse than the disease and I'm very much afraid this is going to be one of those times.


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in (finally) are news sites like those of the New York Times and BBC that are finally linking to outside content. Now that they've caught up with 1994, what's next?

Clueless are critics of outgoing Intel CEO Craig Barrett . The man's brilliant, passionate, and still has more to give. Can any of you do better?


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