For the Week of November 8, 2004
Over the last weekend I attended the Accelerating Change conference at Stanford, speaking of course on the subject of Always-On, and bringing with me (as my bonafides) copies of my book on Moore's Law.
As we have moved beyond mere circuits-on-silicon I have found that Moore's Law is accelerating in our time. By using different kinds of materials, and the powerful computer Moore's chips made possible, miracles in materials science are happening every day.
Colossal Storage , which is based across the bay from Stanford in Fremont, California, is at the center of much of this. They're working on CD-like drives that store up to 10 terabytes per disk, several orders of magnitude better than today's Blu-Ray DVDs, which might store 47 Gigabytes. And they've worked out a technology for displays,organic diodes on a silicon backplane, that not only gives you gigapixels but does it holographically, so you can see the image on both sides of the screen.
TI has announced a chip for mobile phones that lets those phones act as digital TVs , complete with tuners, picking up TV signals over-the-air. They call it Hollywood. This is a complement to the nVidia technology I saw last spring , processors that deliver workstation-quality graphics to mobile phone screens. The same company is shipping chips that support Gigabit Ethernet and two PCI slots per chip .
Notice a trend in the last two graphs? The walls separating communications and graphics are blurring. Breakthroughs in one area are quickly applied to others. The speeds and capabilities on both sides are becoming mind-boggling.
In my 2003 book I talked a lot about Moore's Law of Bandwidth, where improvements in fiber exceed the rate of Moore's original law, and Moore's Law of Radios, where similar improvements were happening. The latter area has continued to move forward, so now we're offered 802.11n, a standard for Wi-Fi that delivers speeds of over 100 Mbps (against the 10 Mbps of 802.11b that caused such a stir three years ago). And Intel is pushing 802.16 WiMax, which can push such signals cross-country and give even fiber a run for its money.
The point is, as they sang in "Flower Drum Song," that 100 million miracles are happening everyday. And they're not just the miracles of Earth, sea, sky, and life itself. Moore's Law was the technology equivalent of a Big Bang that has spread around the world, across the world of materials, and which feeds upon itself.
Scientists at CalTech this summer proved Einstein's theories on the twisting of space and time, thanks to powerful computers, and the news was reported in India the same day . Frame dragging was proven by tracking the paths of two satellites over 11 years, to within millimeters.
What this means is Always-On is coming on more rapidly than most people imagine. Microsoft is putting Windows inside cars , with an interface you can talk to. Philips has developed Always-On underwear that can monitor your heart and report problems via a mobile link.
I've written before how the biggest impediment to Always-On was the fact that wireless networks weren't being treated as a platform, with a modular, scalable robust operating system you could build on. Now Wind River, whose VxWorks operating system I called an obstacle to this a year ago, is rolling out PNE Linux Edition , which combines VxWorks on the data side with Linux on the control side, so such applications now become possible.
Technology is spreading into the furthest reaches of the globe. Mobile phones are showing up in the poorest African and Asian villages In the West, meanwhile, cameras are becoming standard equipment on mobile phones , with 159 million to be sold this year alone.
Yes, there remain Orwellian nightmares. Yes, government and business can use this power against us. But whenever and wherever governments have tried in the past to use technology as a prison, they have only imprisoned themselves, slowing growth, stifling innovation, falling behind. So long as true freedom reigns anywhere, the accelerating change of Moore's Law pushes it to reign everywhere.
I know Americans have had a tough time with one another in this last election. But with all this going on around us, how can we be anything but optimistic about the future, even a bit wild-eyed hopeful?
Think to yourself today. What a wonderful world. And it's getting better all the time. Have a song in your heart and a spring in your step, because every day, in every way, technology gets better and better.
In partnership with ZDNet, I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source . Watch for it.
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 . Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
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Takes on the News
FUD and The Penguin
As noted above I'm now covering open source issues for ZDNet. It's fun.
And one of the first stories I've discovered is that Linux is undergoing a full-on FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) attack. Let me give you some examples:
- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer leads things off with an e-mail to customers testing new arguments on why Linux is no-good. For anyone who takes this as gospel I've got a slightly-used curse from Boston to sell you. Best of all, Ballmer was accusing of spamming in this letter, because he sent it to all customers, not just to those in an opt-in list.
- Ballmer's newest spin is on the issue of "indemnification," the idea that lawyers should make your decision because other lawyers will get you. This is put most clearly by Edmund Walsch of Wolf, Greenfield, & Sack (but no Web site). Every other word from this gentleman seems to be "intellectual property," a term founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson considered akin to blasphemy.
- Finally we have a pro-Linux report from the UK that was apparently "sexed down," that is, toned down so as to minimize Linux' strengths and make its weaknesses seem more glaring.
I thought politics ended last week.
Controlling The Frame
One of the more interesting characters to emerge from this year's elections was George Lakoff. Lakoff, a UC Berkeley linguistics professor , argued that conservatives had used language to frame debates their way, and that liberals needed to retaliate to have any hope of long-term success.
But this is not just a political point. It's also vital to understanding many business issues. Corporate PR offices didn't need to hear about Lakoff, because they've been using language to frame issues on behalf of clients for decades.
Consider the term "intellectual property." You won't find it in the Constitution. Indeed, the idea of "monopolies" on ideas is addressed in terms of limits. An incentive should be granted those with ideas, in order to encourage them to come up with more. It was never seen by the Founders as a lifetime endowment, nevermind something that could be inherited down several generations, the way land or jewelry can.
Yet in the 1990s, facing Moore's Law and the potential that materials could by copied indefinitely, the debate over copyright was reframed. The term "intellectual property" has become its own area of the law. Copyrights now extend to life plus 75 years, and the rights of copyright holders extend to the absolute control over derivative works.
AMD and Intel have now begun fighting on this turf. Intel is trying to re-frame the debate over chips, moving away from mere speed to other measures because its fastest chips are overheating and failing. It's finding the market going difficult because the old debate frame still holds. Maybe it's time for Gordon Moore to write another magazine article.
You can apply this lesson to your own business. Your Clue is that language is power, that words do define issues. Don't argue on someone else's turf. Make them argue on your turf. That's the route to real business power.
The Myth of MMS Interoperability
Perhaps the most oft-repeated mobile telephony story of the past week was word that "MMS is becoming interoperable."
I wish it were true, because we need this to happen badly. MMS is the mobile technology that lets you string many short messages together and send them to another phone. While the original Short Message Service (SMS) could support just brief text notes, MMS can support music and picture files. Given the ubiquity of camera phones it's essential if such pictures are to be shared (with millions of added billing minutes at stake).
MMS interoperability is fairly easy in most countries, where GSM and Java are the lingua franca. In the U.S., which has several different network technologies, it's much tougher.
That's why news that this was even coming was big news.
But when you read the story it's just not true. The announcement is not of a solution. It's an announcement that says folks are going to work toward a solution.
Yet they trumpet it like it's peace in our time. That's how far behind the rest of the world the U.S. is in mobile telephony. And we're getting further behind all the time.
Clued-in is Jon Stewart, whose Clue is you can get away with more if you both know your stuff and pretend you are just trying to be funny. Don't show your intelligence until it's needed.
Clueless is all cable TV media for covering everything the way it did the O.J. Simpson trial. Get out of your studios, bozos.
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