by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VIII, No. XLVII

This Week's Clue: Art, Time, Money, Thanksgiving

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This Week's Clue: Art, Time, Money, Thanksgiving
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
How Carriers Plan To Capture Wi-Fi
Skype's Game
Those Clever Koreans
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of November 22, 2004

Here is what I have to be thankful for this week.

My family, both my wife and my children. We're all pretty healthy. The challenges of teenagers have their own gratification. I pity the fools who see their spouses aging alongside them and miss what's really the best part of any marriage.

My friends, by which I include all of you. I have always sought you out, since I was a small child on Long Island. I didn't know how many of you there were. I didn't know how I would reach you. I didn't know where you were. It turns out you're all over the world. Until this medium arrived there was no way for us to stay in touch easily. I'm honored and humbled by your continued support.

My work, of course. I have always been in love by the process of journalism, by which I meant the work of trying to make sense out of events, and present that sense to an audience. It turns out that's not what modern journalism does, which may be why I find no professional place in it. (The loathing there is apparently mutual .)

Modern journalism means presenting pictures and having advocates argue about their meaning. Most journalists, at the insistance of their employers, have abdicated their responsibility and left audiences to puzzle out the truth for themselves. Those who haven't are simply reflecting the ideological biases of their bosses - they're doing PR.

Better to do it as I want to than to worry about where the money is coming from.

Easy for me to say, of course. See the family mention above. I have been blessed in having a woman by my side who believes in me, without question, even when she doesn't understand what I'm on about. It's not just emotional support, but financial. You gotta eat! She works like a dog putting food on our table while I sit here typing at you.

Lately I've been doing more of that than ever before. I have been particularly taken with one project, "The Chinese Century." This is something I began immediately after the election results left me, frankly, distraught. It has since taken on a life of its own. Chapters, disguised as blog entries, seem to flow out of me as though I were live-blogging a news conference.

Maybe they're not good. It's hard to write the first draft of a novel and have the result, taken as a whole, make any sense. I'm not following the first law of story-telling, for starters, which is that you put your reader into the center of the action, on the first page.

Professional novelists will tell you this. (I learned from one of America's hidden gems in that regard .) They usually "write down the bones" of the story, then start the actual book about 50 pages in, after they've gone through explaining the character, their motivation, and the world they live in.

On to editing. Cut out that boring crap and cut to the chase, then fill in the "back story" after you've gotten the reader's attention. It's like a news story. You must make the sale quickly, get the commitment on the eye-line which is dotted, or your reader will go elsewhere. (Oh, look - TV!)

So maybe the early sections read like bad Asimov. ("I wonder what the Mule is doing? I don't know, what do you think he's doing? Well, here's what I think he's doing...") You play on the high wire, you're bound to fall off. Every writer who risks winds up looking, psychically, like Evel Knievel before they find their footing. Which is why successful novelists often end up plowing the same furrow year-after-year, book-after-book, to justify their name above the title. You expect a comedy from Stephen King, a vampire novel from Garrison Keillor? That's what pen names (and vacations) are for.

Most of my work hasn't suffered from this activity. I've turned off the news, don't even read the paper. I can get the fodder I need from the Web...enter the type of story you want at the Google search box, click news when the Web entries come out, and you never need know Bush was re-elected! A journalist living outside reality, yet working within it - now that's a novel!

"The Chinese Century" is a real contrast to my last novel, which I hope you've been enjoying. In that work I took some real people, some imaginary, then changed everyone's name (even the imaginary ones), and everything around me, so it's no more recognizable (hopefully) than Anne Rice's New Orleans. "Baptists are for Dunking" was a goof, a romp, a high camp "cozy" murder mystery, the kind my wife Jenni likes to read. The main character is a little like her, but, I'm sure she'll note, nothing like her at all.

This one is different. We've got real people, with real links to their real lives. Will they raise a fuss? I don't know - I've hardly criticized any of them yet. So far, in the book, most are busy acting heroically (with the exception of the President, who's just an arrogant prick, but I'm protected there by the Times vs. Sullivan decision).

The theme of the book, whose story starts (in real time) next Monday, is that the power of nations is economic, not military, not social. He who has the gold makes the rules. And in our time it's easier than ever for that gold to slip through your fingers, because it consists of creative minds. You can't lock them up as you would a kindly scientist, threatening their virginal daughters unless they create THE ANTIDOTE for you, because no one does great work when they're stressed like that.

America rose in the 20th century because it created the best atmosphere in the world for creative people, but since the Bush Junta took power in the 21st we've been busy tossing those advantages aside. Even now we see what was once a flood of foreign students anxious to breathe free slowing to a trickle, most of them going to school in Europe or Asia instead. That bites, literally. Given more discomfort, both political and economic, how many of us wouldn't dream of finding a better, more engaging intellectual and social climate?

Much science fiction in the last 30 years has involved efforts to find such climates in outer space. But this world is bigger than we imagine, and space more hazardous than we dreamt. New worlds can be built on this planet. We built one in Hong Kong, we built one in Singapore, and if Americans wish one there's money and talent a-plenty to build others in our own image, New Yorks in exile. Thus might the brain drain accelerate...

But here I am giving away the plot when I'm just one-third through the draft, or less. It's exciting work. I get excited just talking to you about it.

And it may mean, at some time down the road, that this newsletter will cease, or change radically in its nature. I will regret that, but I'm following the muse now, not the marketplace.

I'm more thankful for that than you can imagine...


Shameless Self-Promotion

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."

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

How Carriers Plan To Capture Wi-Fi

The problem with Wi-Fi is it exists in small islands. You can't depend on it. But if you could depend on it, would you be willing to pay for it?

Carriers think you will, or at least that a lot of people will. But in order to make you pay they know they need critical mass.

And, through alliances, that's what they're going for.

T-Mobile is leading the way here, through something called the Wireless Broadband Alliance. The alliance is mainly a Web site and a set of agreements that carriers can use to share paid hotspots.

Now BT Group, StarHub of Singapore, T-Mobile International, Australia's Telstra, and Telecom Italia all signed deal with the Alliance to recognize one anothers' 11,500 paid hotspots. Among the countries covered by the agreement are the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Italy, Czech Republic, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and the United States. This comes just weeks after a group of Asian telcos announced a roaming agreement of their own, linking Wi-Fi business models in more than half-a-dozen countries.

Is it working? It would seem so. T-Mobile now claims to have over 901,000 hotspot subscribers. Why should any real estate owner -- an airport, a hotel, a restaurant -- pay out money to set up free Wi-Fi when they can join this kind of network free?

That's the plan. A huge network of paid hotspots for the wealthy traveler, with revenue enough to control the real estate Wi-Fi depends upon, and, in time, you'll be forced into their Web.


Skype's Game

One point often missed in the rush to Voice Over IP is how it leaves us all at the mercy of software companies playing games with standards.

For instance. Most Voice Over IP products are fairly standard. The telephone industry's VoIP efforts will all be fairly interoperable.

The exception is Skype. And guess who dominates the market.

Right now this is no big deal. It's trivial to load two VoIP programs on a PC, and to use the one the person you're calling prefers.

But this is about to change.

Here's how. Siemens is embedding Skype into its cordless phones. This lets you use VoIP from a cordless, which sounds good.

The trouble is it's just Skype VoIP. And I don't think my cordless can handle two different VoIP programs.

This is why I've been banging the drum so hard for wireless networking as a true platform. If your LAN runs Linux or Windows, and if your access point has some expansion slots, you could easily support both VoIP "standards" on your cordless. Not to mention all the medical, inventory, and home automation stuff you could run on the same network.

Until we treat wireless networking as a true platform, this kind of problem is just going to escalate. Imagine, phones that can't talk to one another.

They're coming.

Those Clever Koreans

I have a soft spot in my heart for Korean people. I tell friends the Koreans are the Irish of the Orient. They're full of tragedy, blarney and (sometimes) alcohol. They know how to tell a story. They're fiercely independent. Since my mom's Irish, I figure this makes us kin.

So when I saw a few months ago that two Korean outfits -- Samsung and LG -- drew leading grades on customer satisfaction from J.D. Power (trailing only Sanyo), I took notice.

And my patience has been rewarded.

Samsung is going to launch a broadband mobile phone in the U.S. early next year. And take a look at EnGadget's shot of the i730 (via Movango). Pretty nifty, with a retractable keyboard. Windows Mobile, full QWERTY lay-out, a QVGA screen -- sweet.

All this combined with a reputation for high quality, Korean design. But wait, there's more.

My vision of Always-On has always been based on the idea that applications would live on the wireless network in your home. A Wi-Fi set-up has both the bandwidth and computing power needed to handle several such applications.

But early medical applications move with you. And thus they ride on the mobile network.

The Mobile-Technology Weblog has an example from...that's right, Korea. The story is that there's a Samsung SPH-E3330 mobile that can measure your body fat level.

LG seems even further ahead in this area. Its LG-KP8400 can measure blood-sugar levels, diet, and compliance with your prescriptions, even handle long-distance medical consultations. Separately, LG plans to release a "stress phone" that monitors your heart rate next year.

These are all Always-On medical applications, based on the phone and riding the mobile network. They can travel with you, and in a dual-mode Wi-Fi and mobile phone their signals could go out from your home or office.

The new home of the cutting edge in wireless technology is Korea.


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Sun COO Jonathan Schwartz , so long as his blog remains honest and transparent concerning his (and his company's) thinking.

Clueless are European mobile phone makers, who lost huge hunks of their market over the issue of branding .


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