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September 20, 2005

Who Will Audit the Red Cross?Email This EntryPrint This Article

redcrosslogo.jpgEveryone is on the Red Cross bandwagon these days.

But that was not the case before Katrina. The Red Cross was fiercely criticized for its reaction to 9-11. The criticism was bipartisan.

All was forgotten once Katrina hit. The only alternatives offered for giving wre overtly-religious organizations, ranging from the Salvation Army to Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing (number two on the Administration's hit parade).

Besides, you've got to figure, this was really more up the Red Cross' alley than 9-11, which in the end only took out the center of a well-insured central city, and completely displaced only a few tens of thousands. This was different, not just New Orleans but the parishes around it, and Mississippi all the way up to Jackson.

So how are they doing?

Continue reading "Who Will Audit the Red Cross?"

September 09, 2005

The New Normal: A View from AtlantaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

tucker parking lot.jpgYesterday, for the first day since Katrina, the city of Atlanta seemed to return to normal.

The traffic jams were back. The parking lots at the Tucker Wal-Mart (pictured) and Target were full. I even overheard customers chatting amiably about good things happening in their lives, and laughing.

But the New Normal is a mirage. It’s not real. It’s made possible by Governor Perdue’s short-term cancellation of the state’s gas tax, and by the Administration’s decision to go back to dirty gas and suspend EPA rules.

The gas tax is going back up, next week. And gas prices are headed higher, much higher.

Continue reading "The New Normal: A View from Atlanta"

September 05, 2005

The Spoils SystemEmail This EntryPrint This Article

garfield assassination.gifGeorge W. Bush's Bridge to the 19th Century has deposited us in 1881, in the era of the Spoils System.

The spoils system was instituted by Democratic President Andrew Jackson. "To the victor goes the spoils" meant that every government job belonged to the party in power. Postmasters, and port managers (big jobs in those days) were all political hacks.

The movement against the spoils system was led by a Republican named James A. Garfield. He was elected President in 1880 alongside a representative of that system, Chester Alan Arthur, former port commissioner for New York. He wasn't a perfect vessel for reform, but he moved in that direction.

The picture illustrates what happened next. Garfield was shot, killed, by Charles J. Guiteau, a "frustrated office seeker," in other words, a party hack who was upset that Garfield wanted to bring competence to government. (Guiteau, in fact had visions of becoming Ambassador to France.)

Continue reading "The Spoils System"

September 04, 2005

Sacrifice to Get 'R DoneEmail This EntryPrint This Article

new orleans helicopter.jpgI think nearly all Americans can now agree that the biggest mistake made after 9-11 was avoiding a call to sacrifice.
(Picture from the BBC.)

My generation has never been "in" to sacrifice. It was our parents' thing. They went hungry during the Depression, they risked their lives during World War II, and then they stayed together, working hard, so that their kids (us) would have "everything."

Which we do. Our lives are very comfortable. Most Americans have cars, and TVs, and air conditioning, and healthy food in our refrigerators whenever we want it. We can take vacations. We can get fat. Then we can pay to have the fat stripped away and get fat again.

Maybe that's the real Vietnam syndrome. Those of my generation who felt the call to sacrifice as young people died in rice paddies, or had their dreams shot away. Frankly it doesn't matter why anymore. No matter what side you took in that war, get over it. We're in a different era.

These days sacrifice must be forced on us. And for many this week it has been.

Continue reading "Sacrifice to Get 'R Done"

August 30, 2005

The Big OneEmail This EntryPrint This Article

NOTE: I have been, and will be, criticized for "politicizing" the naton's worst-ever natural disaster. But knowing how something happened, what made it worse, how it can be made better and how it might be prevented is the only way I know to make sense of things which are otherwise beyond comprehension. My prayers to all.
wtc009.jpgEveryone knows 9/11 was a turning point. (Picture from Tales from the Teapot.)

It changed attitudes irrevocably, in ways we're still trying to deal with four years on.

Hurricane Katrina is another turning point, a different turning point, and a much, much bigger event.

The terrorists destroyed two buildings, and the center of a city. Katrina destroyed multiple cities -- Slidell, Gulfport, Biloxi, New Orleans.

We knew after 9/11 it could happen again. Know this after Katrina. It WILL happen again, and again, and again.

The civilizing process of the 20th century, with its oil-driven economy, is now driving the global environment off a cliff. Most of the world knew this before Katrina. Now even Mississippi knows this.

And this will change us.

  • We can no longer pretend to independence. We are interdependent.
  • We can no longer pretend that the environmental damage of the oil economy can be borne. It cannot.
  • We can no longer remain dependent on the oil economy. It is failing, and will fail.

One of the most maddening aspects of the Katrina coverage, for me, has been MSNBC's continued emphasis on the Casinos as the engines of the Gulf Coast economy. We drive through that area every vacation, and I have taken to calling Mississippi "Pottersville," the town Bedford Falls became in the nighbmare sequence of "It's a Wonderful Life." And Louisiana has made itself into West Pottersville.

I'm not talking about sin here. I'm talking about depending on something that's artificial, fake, phony, as the basis of an economy. Pretending that you'll get rich off others' sin, that the residue won't touch you, and you can then say "screw you" to the needs of the poor, to education, to your fellow man, to the real world, that always fails in time.

It is time for an attitude adjustment.


Continue reading "The Big One"

August 25, 2005

Halfway Through the Decade of WirelessEmail This EntryPrint This Article

cut the wire.jpgEvery decade of computing technology can be summarized fairly simply. (That's an Apple ad to the right.)


  • The 1950s were the decade of the computer.
  • The 1960s were the decade of the mini-computer.
  • The 1970s were the decade of the PC.
  • The 1980s were the decade of the network.
  • The 1990s were the decade of the Internet.

The 2000s are the decade of wireless.

It's now clear that wireless technology defines this decade. Mobile phones are opening up Africa as never before. WiFi is making networking truly ubiquitous.

Walk or drive down any street, practically anywhere in the world, and you will find people obsessed by the use of wireless. Behaviors that in previous decades were shocking -- walking around chatting animatedly to the air for instance -- are now commonplace.

What's amazing, as we pass the halfway point, is how far this evolution has to go, and how easy it is to see where it can go:

  • WiMax to link islands of WiFi, and to make true broadband mobile.
  • Interlinks between cellular and WiFi networks.
  • Devices that truly take advantage of wireless broadband.
  • Applications that work automatically, with wireless as a platform.

Who do we have to thank for this?

Continue reading "Halfway Through the Decade of Wireless"

August 21, 2005

Dating the Next RecessionEmail This EntryPrint This Article

recession.gifThe next U.S. recession will start in earnest on October 17. (If it hasn't already.)

That's the day the new bankruptcy law kicks-in, and credit card banks get hit by a double-whammy of their own creation. (Illustration is from Howstuffworks.) Be careful of what you ask for, because you just might get it:

  1. Borrowers must begain paying back credit card loans based on a 10-year payback, doubling many minimum balances, and
  2. New rules force borrowers to repay those debts, even after filing bankruptcy.

How can this be bad for banks, who after all pushed for the legislation?

Continue reading "Dating the Next Recession"

August 16, 2005

The Emperor is Naked! The Empire is a Lie!Email This EntryPrint This Article

casey_sheehan_714.jpg Cindy Sheehan has been able to demonstrate just how naked the Emperor is, and thus demonstrate the lie of Empire.

No one else could, because everyone else was afraid. Howard Dean said "we broke it, we own it." John Kerry supported it and couldn't back away from it.

This is how Democrats felt forced to respond, because they'd been stuck into a political wilderness for a generation by Vietnam. They were afraid to equate Iraq with Vietnam, fearing that political wilderness, and its chains, which bound liberalism and the cause of human rights for a generation.

Well, Cindy Sheehan broke through that fear. She lost her son. It transformed her. (It didn't transform her husband , but everyone's journey is different.)

By putting that transformation in our face, and in the face of George W. Bush, Cindy Sheehan is also making a change in us. Damn the past, damn the present, our kids are dying. Scales fall from the eyes.

There is no way at this point for the Emperor to appear clothed again, and his supporters know it.

That's why they're acting as they are toward Sheehan. It's like the crowd in the story, at first. Of course the Emperor's New Clothes are beautiful. You're just a stupid little boy. You just can't see the big picture.

Stupid. Little. Boy.

Stupid Little Boy, says Cindy Sheehan? Look at him, look at the Little Boy. Look at Casey. You call him Stupid, you call me Stupid?

Maybe we were. We were stupid because we believed in you. And look at what it's gotten us. My son is dead! And this is no fairy tale.

Continue reading "The Emperor is Naked! The Empire is a Lie!"

August 01, 2005

What's a Brother Gotta Do (to get fired around here?)Email This EntryPrint This Article

armstrong-williams.jpgNews that Armstrong Williams is making a comeback, that he is back on the air (that he hardly ever left), leaves a nagging question in my mind.

What do you got to do to get fired around here?

The question is serious. Unless we have a way of getting rid of those who violate some ethical standard, why should anyone believe any of us? Why have any standards if we can't get rid of violators?

For those who don't know, Williams got caught in January taking bribes from the Bush Administration for touting its education policies. Yet the next month, WWRL in New York put him back on the air, in afternoon drive. Now he's got a book coming out, one which calls liberals like myself racists.

If being a racist means hating crooks who happen to be black, I'm a racist. (It doesn't mean that, so Armstrong, take your black skin outta my face.) Armstrong Williams is a crook, corrupt. He should be on an unemployment line alongside Jayson Blair and hundreds of others -- of every color -- who can't be trusted. Yet he's heard loud and clear while honest men (and women) aren't. Including honest black, male conservatives, many with great speaking voices and stories to tell. Just look around the blogosphere for five minutes if you don't believe me.

Williams tells The Hill that he's "changed," that he doesn't harrangue Democrats anymore.

But that wasn't the point of the scandal. It's like a bank robber telling me he doesn't beat his wife anymore. It's irrelevant.

Armstrong Williams put himself out as a journalist, as an independent voice, when in fact he was in the pay of the government. That was the scandal. That remains a scandal.

But there is no way to fire people who violate even such basic ethical precepts anymore. If nothing else, he could go out and blog -- make big bucks like Andrew Sullivan. Who'd know? Who'd care?

Continue reading "What's a Brother Gotta Do (to get fired around here?)"

July 31, 2005

The Lessons of Walton and FordEmail This EntryPrint This Article

sam walton.jpgSam Walton was devoted, first and foremost, to his employees. (That's the cover of his autobiography at right.)

He was famous for driving around the country, arriving unannounced at stores, leading employees in cheers. It was almost Japanese.

People forget today, but Wal-Mart salaries in its early days represented big raises for rural people who otherwise faced lives of poverty, absent the small luxuries city folk took for granted. Thanks to Sam Walton, Wal-Mart employees could afford to shop at Wal-Mart. He transformed America from a land of rich city-poor country to one of middle class uniformity, and if you once lived on the poorer side of that divide it made him a great man.

Henry Ford was the same way. His River Rouge plant didn't just turn out a low-cost car (the Model T) . It turned out well-paid workers who could buy those cars. Ford, too, revolutionized America, making this a nation on-the-move.

My point today is that, in both cases, there were side-effects, which demanded renewal and change. And the refusal to change just delayed these crises -- it didn't prevent them.

Continue reading "The Lessons of Walton and Ford"

July 28, 2005

Magic WordEmail This EntryPrint This Article

When someone gets really frustrated with me, and tries to dismiss me, there's a Magic Word that sums up their feelings, isolates me, and identifies me to the like-minded.

Works like a charm.

It's the "C-bomb."

Continue reading "Magic Word"

July 14, 2005

The Finnish ExampleEmail This EntryPrint This Article

finland.gifThere's a long, admiring story in today's Washington Post extolling Finland as a possible model for European development.

Finland has invested heavily in scientific research, especially since it backed a big winner during the early 1990s in Nokia. Nokia stock held by the government is one source of funds, but overall the country puts a whopping 3.6% of its income into research, well ahead of the U.S., and nearly twice as much as the European average.

The result is that, while Finland does have substantial unemployment, and the problems of an aging population threatening its ample social safety net, the 5.5 million people there are nearly as happy as those in the Monty Python song. (All together, Finnophiles!)

One respondent at the Dave Farber list expressed the view that the U.S. actually does better than the figures indicate, and that government is mostly out of the picture.

He's half-right.

Continue reading "The Finnish Example"

July 11, 2005

Living in the ForestEmail This EntryPrint This Article

trees.jpgWhen the tornado warning sounded near my home last night I found I couldn't get a view of what might come through the trees.

I have elm trees, oak trees, dogwood trees, sweet gum and a huge sugar magnolia, one of the few trees that has survived the age of the dinosaurs.

It's a 50 x 100 lot.

Continue reading "Living in the Forest"

June 30, 2005

Pressure on the Good GuysEmail This EntryPrint This Article

feingold.jpgPolitically I think Senator Russ Feingold is one of the Good Guys. So, to be perfectly bipartisan about it, is Senator John McCain. (You know what McCain looks like, so here's Feingold.)

This is especally true regarding campaign finance. Proponents of reform have been pushing uphill with scant success ever since the 1976 decision in Buckley v. Vallejo, which basically said money is speech, and those with more money can out-shout the rest of us.

McCain and Feingold tried to fit that decision inside their eponymous campaign finance act, and while on most counts the Supreme Court ruled they did, that act also covered the Internet, and both men have insisted to this day that's true.

Now that the blogosphere has pushed-back on this, pushed back hard, from both sides of the aisle, the good guys have not been heard from.

Continue reading "Pressure on the Good Guys"

June 27, 2005

The Hedy Lamarr of Early TVEmail This EntryPrint This Article

paul_winchell.jpgBy the time Paul Winchell died, last weekend at 82, the BBC was only able to point out that he had done the voice of Tigger for Disney.

He was so much more. Like Hedy Lamarr, who created the technology underlying WiFi, he led a double-life, as an intellectual in the fun house.

For starters he was the first TV star I remember, one of many models for what became The Simpsons' Krusty the Klown. He had a morning show with puppets, more entertaining (I thought) than Kaptain Kangaroo, with more brain and heart (I thought) than even Fred Rogers. The puppets, which he made himself, were called Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff (right).

What I didn't know at the time was he was also a polymath, with a wide range of interests and a photographic memory. One of his interests was medicine. As an entertainer he manuevered into the worlds of famous physicians, including Dr. Henry Heimlich (then Arthur Murray's prospective son-in-law), and with his help won the first U.S. patent on an artificial heart.

There was even more to his life than that. He sought early funding for the farm-raising of tilapia, He was a skilled painter. And, of course, he was a ventriloquist and a subversive humorist who emphasized the fun of the mind.

Taken directly from his own Web site (he was working on streaming video at the time of his death) is a list of his inventions (remember he was self-taught):

Continue reading "The Hedy Lamarr of Early TV"

June 21, 2005

The Chipfather is DeadEmail This EntryPrint This Article

kilby_jack.jpgIrregular readers of this blog may think Gordon Moore invented the microchip.

He didn't. Moore did have a major role. He was part of the Fairchild team, co-founder of Intel, and his Moore's Law article popularized the changes that chips would bring.

But Jack Kilby won the Nobel Prize for the microchip, in 2000. He died today.

The original invention, designing multiple devices on a single piece of substrate, was invented in two places at once. One team, which Kilby headed, worked at Texas Instruments. The other team, with Moore, Robert Noyce, and other key men, worked at Fairchild Semiconductor.

The resulting patent was shared, but it was Kilby's team that created the basic technology. The key contribution from the Noyce team involved manufacturing process.

More on Kilby after the break.

Continue reading "The Chipfather is Dead"

June 15, 2005

The Journalism CrisisEmail This EntryPrint This Article

mencken387x250.gifIt should surprise no one that "professional" journalists hate Wikis and blogs.

A little history lesson shows you why. Only this one's fun. As part of your summer reading get yourself a copy of H.L. Mencken's Newspaper Days. (That's Mencken to the left.) It's his memoir of Baltimore's newspaper business around the turn of the last century.

Newspapermen at that time were lower class, hard drinking, smoking, swearing, worthless ne'er do wells. You wouldn't bring one home to mother. They hid in saloons, spun lies, spied on people, made less than the corner grocer, and were generally shiftless, lazy bums. Despite this, they considered themselves a class apart.

This last is still the case. But today's newspaper writers are either middle-class bores or upper-class twits. Those who report on Washington, write columns or work on editorials are among the most twittish. Many make more than the people they cover, especially if their faces are on television.

Blogs, wikis and the whole Internet Business Model Crisis threaten these happy homes. (Although I've got news for them -- stock analysts treat newspaper stocks like tobacco stocks and their ranks are being thinned like turkey herds in September. They'd be a dieing breed even without the Net.)

What's most galling to "professional" journalists is not the loss of jobs, or money, but their continuing loss of prestige. On the upper rungs of the ladder they're being replaced by "players" -- sports stars, lawyers, politicians, former entertainers. On the lower rungs they're being driven into poverty -- we've talked before of the corrupted tech press. And in the middle rungs you've got these blogs, wikis and the continuing problems of being treated like a mushroom. (You're in the dark and they're throwing manure on you.)

Our times are, in many ways, a mirror image of the 1890s.

Continue reading "The Journalism Crisis"

Best. Commencement. Speech. Ever.Email This EntryPrint This Article

steve jobs at stanford commencement.jpgJohn F. McMullen today posted, to Dave Farber's list, what he says is a transcript of the commencement address Steve Jobs (a college dropout) gave at Stanford yesterday. (The picture is from Stanford.)

Press reports on the speech indicate this transcript is fairly accurate.

What they fail, utterly, to do is really give you a flavor for the wisdom Jobs imparted, so I have taken the liberty, starting below, of posting the entire transcript, as offered by McMullen.

Sit back and enjoy. Assuming again that the transcript is accurate, this may be the best commencement speech ever.


Thank you. I'm honored to be with you today for your commencement
from one of the finest universities in the world. Truth be told, I
never graduated from college and this is the closest I've ever gotten
to a college graduation.

Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No
big deal. Just three stories. The first story is about connecting the
dots.

Continue reading "Best. Commencement. Speech. Ever."

June 14, 2005

MacGates, or The Tragedy of the UncommonEmail This EntryPrint This Article

macbeth.jpgWriting about Microsoft earlier today got me thinking more deeply about the company. (The image is from the Pioneer Theater Co., at the University of Utah.)

A decade ago Microsoft reached a tipping point. Maybe this came with its release of Windows 95. It was obvious in its obsession over destroying Netscape.

Before 1995 Microsoft was about creating capabilities for others. Since then its mission has been embracing and extending, bringing the great ideas of others into its own operating system, destroying rather than creating niches.

It all sounds like a Jon Stewart set-up. "Aw, Bill, it used to be about the world domination." But in truth, at some point, people do come to dominate their worlds.

And then it all starts to go wrong.

Continue reading "MacGates, or The Tragedy of the Uncommon"

June 10, 2005

This Week's Clue: Destroying the VillageEmail This EntryPrint This Article

vietnam war.jpgI guess I felt a little down this week -- about the direction of technology, about the economy, about a lot of things.

So the readers of A-Clue.com got an earful. (You can get one too -- always free.)


There are times when history, like television, goes into re-runs.

We have literally turned Iraq into another Vietnam. But we've seen this movie before, so when Rumsfeld does his McNamara imitations, or Bush plays like LBJ's dumber brother, we change the channel.

Yet the fact is that when history repeats (unlike television) it does so in spades, in triplicate.

World War I was horrible. World War II was worse.

Iraq is not the only Vietnam repeat out there. We're doing the same thing with the Internet.

We're ignoring history. We know what would work to secure our computers, and the networks they run on. But we don't act. So we get this incremental escalation, this drip-drip-drip that leaves us, in the end, worse off than we would be had we taken decisive action at the start.

There are laws on the books that should deal with spam, with spyware, and with the problems of identity theft. They can be found under headings like fraud, theft, and fiduciary responsibility. Nothing is being done today that wasn't done before - only the means have changed.

Instead of moving against these problems together, as was attempted in the 1990s, we're leaving everyone on their own, and sometimes the cure winds up being worse than the disease.

Continue reading "This Week's Clue: Destroying the Village"

June 01, 2005

Stupid, Slathering Deep Throat InstapunditryEmail This EntryPrint This Article

mark felt.jpgNow that Woodward and Bernstein have confirmed Mark Felt was their source Deep Throat...

  1. Did you notice the white, wavy hair Felt had in the 1970s (pictured)?
  2. Did you know that when Hal Holbrook played Deep Throat in the movie, he wore wavy hair?
  3. Did you know Hal Holbrook wore white hair when he was playing Mark Twain, starting a few years before his appearance in the movie?

Coincidence?

Continue reading "Stupid, Slathering Deep Throat Instapunditry"

May 29, 2005

Von Neumann's Science LessonEmail This EntryPrint This Article

scientistsfdc_f.jpgThe Post Office is issuing four stamps honoring scientists.

One pictures John Von Neumann.

Von Neumann made major contributions to quantum mechanics, he practically invented game theory, but what got him on the stamp was his "invention" of "modern computer design."

It's now obsolete.

Von Neumann architecture required that a computer do one thing, then the next, and on through the program. It led to things like the Cray Supercomputer, a huge, very expensive machine that could do this very, very quickly.

The solution to really amazing speed was to break up the work into parts and run those parts in parallel. This was first done in the 1980s, it was applied to networks in the 1990s, and now it's being applied to chips as "dual-core."

Continue reading "Von Neumann's Science Lesson"

May 25, 2005

The Fog of BlogsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

nick kristof.jpgOften the very thing you criticize others for is your own blind spot.

This was never more true than in Nick Kristof's piece (that's him at the left) yesterday called Death by a Thousand Blogs. China's authorities can't keep up with the content produced by broadband, he says. Their legitimacy is drowning in the resulting revelations.

He could have added the impact of cellphones to that. The ideographic Chinese language lends itself to delivering great meaning, even in small files, as the country's cell phone novella make clear. With 90 million new phone users just last year, with every year's phones becoming more data-ready, there's no way the Great Firewall of China can stand.

But what's good for the goose is also sauce for the gander. Kristof's very point speaks to the bankruptcy of pulling his column, and those of others, behind a paid firewall. They are too easy to replace. Their financial value is minimal compared to their value to the discussion. Losing the latter to gain some of the former is truly cutting off your nose to spite your face.

This is not the only lesson.

Continue reading "The Fog of Blogs"

May 23, 2005

Whatever Happened To That Jobs Kid?Email This EntryPrint This Article

steve_jobs_young-thumb.gifYou may remember him. Long-haired weirdo. Crazy hair. Counter-cultural kind of guy.

Some 30 years ago he and another friend named Steve hung around with the losers at something called the Homebrew Computer Club.

They had this neat idea for a new kind of box, using a TV, tape recorder, and typewriter as interfaces for a self-contained computer. One of them (I think it was the other Steve) shopped the idea to Hewlett-Packard.

Which rejected it. Turned them down flat. Questioned whether it had "serious thought behind it."

Well, you do have to listen to your elders, after all. I'm sure that discouraged Steve. Probably discouraged everyone else around him. Their thing never saw the light of day, as I recall.

Whatever happened to that kid, anyway?

Continue reading "Whatever Happened To That Jobs Kid?"

May 20, 2005

Gateway to NowhereEmail This EntryPrint This Article

ted waitt.jpgDespite his ponytail and his sometimes counter-cultural language, despite being what I like to call a Truly Handsome Man (it's a brighter term for bald, people) Ted Waitt was always a follower, not a leader. (The picture is from a 2002 profile in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Argus-Leader.)

Waitt was Gimbel's to Michael Dell's Macy's. He wanted to be Pepsi to Dell's Coke.

But computing lacks the stability of the retailing or the soda business. So when Waitt announced his resignation today (at 42 it wouldn't sound right to call it a retirement) it wasn't big news.

Waitt and Gateway did well in the 1990s, following Dell into mass customization. He made his big mistake when he tried to out-think Dell, opening a chain of retail stores that caused $2.4 billion in losses, according to The New York Times.

But I personally think the mistake was more basic than that.

Continue reading "Gateway to Nowhere"

May 15, 2005

PARTI HeartyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

joi ito.jpgTwo decades ago I was part of new social movement called online conferencing.

People from all around the world used a Unix package called PARTIcipate to discuss issues and their lives with one another. I made some good friends then, among them Joi Ito. (That's him to the left.)

But we quickly learned the dark side of this text-based technology. Misunderstandings could happen. They could escalate. Without the visual cues we get in face-to-face conversation, flame wars could erupt. Moderation became essential.

Continue reading "PARTI Hearty"

May 05, 2005

New LeftEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Ann.bmpAfter 1964, history shows, American liberalism went off the rails.

It started slowly, but it eventually accelerated until liberalism, as an ideal, became anathema to the majority of a generation.

While most 1960s liberals remained wedded to the principles of the New Deal, and the system it created, other voices demanded more radical change. A continuing land war in Asia drained the moderates' legitimacy, inflation rose, and in frustration many leftists dropped out, demanding a revolution against legal authority.

In 2005 a lot of liberals are scared of right-wing extremism, the way their parents were scared of long hair back in the day. There are loonies trying to re-condition gays into playing straight. In Kansas the state government is trying to toss science in favor of miracles. In Washington there's a court-packing scheme reminescent of Roosevelt's own in 1937 (which is just as popular).

And, of course, there's Ann Coulter (above). I think of her as Grace Slick for the neo-Nazi crowd. Since she's anti-drug (and apparently anti-food) she has to talk mighty big trash to get her little followers hot-and-bothered. Why get mad? Why not just laugh?

Unfortunately most liberals are responding to this by wailing almost as loudly as Goldwater conservatives (like my dad) did in the mid-1960s. Liberals seem both apoplectic and incompetent in the face of opponents run riot.

Personally, I think liberals ought to keep their cool, preach values to Wall Street, and simply look sober.

Continue reading "New Left"

April 29, 2005

The Seventh CrisisEmail This EntryPrint This Article

AntiJeffersonCartoon.image.jpgLast week I took a dispassionate look at economic cycles. This week let's take an equally dispassionate look at political cycles.

Political cycles are generational in nature. (The cartoon is from 1800 and AmericanPresident.Org. ) They're set in a time of great crisis. They're re-set when a new crisis occurs that the old assumptions can't deal with.

But they also wear out. Ideologies are like roads. You set off in a direction but, at some point, go beyond your destination. Yet the road keeps leading you on. And the kids finally say, let's go a new way.

Continue reading "The Seventh Crisis"

April 25, 2005

Tear Down The Great Wall of SilenceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

mao zedong.jpg On the surface, the current upset between China and Japan seems ridiculous. (Illustration from Paulnoll.com. Mr. Noll was a corporal during the Korean conflict.)

That the heirs of Mao , that the Butchers of Beijing should lecture anyone about human rights seems absurd.

China puts more people to death each year than any country in the world. (Yes, even more than Texas.) China is a brutal dictatorship that oppresses its people as no other country, the most Totalitarian regime on Earth. My mentioning this may get Corante blocked to all of China, by the state's firewall system, the most extensive Internet censorship regime on the planet.

By contrast, Emperor Hirohito and the brutal system he led are dead. Japan acknowledged its sins in the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco and has since been a functioning democracy where politicians must accomodate the views of voters. Japan's Constitution forbids it to make war on its neighbors. Japan contributes more to good causes than any other national governnment.

This is power politics. China is pushing Japan out of the world power picture, letting Taiwan know that resistance is futile, and successfully challenging America's status as a Great Power. Just 12 years ago we were The Hyperpower. Now we're becoming second rate, losing our status to tyrants.

The reaction in the U.S. to all this has been silence. Deafening silence.

Few U.S. outlets have covered the story. The right-wing Cybercast "News" Service actually offered a balanced perspective. The New York Times offers only a fearful editorial on possible Chinese revaluation of the Yuan -- at another time this would be called appeasement.

The reason for this silence is not subject to dispute.

Continue reading "Tear Down The Great Wall of Silence"

April 19, 2005

Open Source TransparencyEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The key benefit of open source is transparency. (That's a transparent Mozambique garnet, from CLDJewelry in Tucson, Arizona. Transparency doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.)

The key benefit is not that the software is free. It's not that you can edit it. It has nothing to do with the obligations of the General Public License. It's inherent in every open source license out there.

The key advantage of open source is you can see the code. You can see how it works. You can take it apart. You can fix it. You can improve it. Most people do none of these things, but all benefit from this transparency.

The benefit became clear when I got responses to a ZDNet post called Is Linux Becoming Windows? The news hook was a Peter Galli story about how some folks were getting upset over the feature bloat now taking place in the Linux 2.6 kernel.

Those who responded said simply that the complainents, and I, had lost our minds. Kernel features aren't mandatory. Just because something is supported doesn't mean you have to do it. You can pick and choose among features, because you can see the whole code base -- it's transparent. You can look at the various builds out there and, if there's something you don't like, something you can do better, you can fork it, and maintain your own enhanced code base.

When Microsoft changes its software it makes things incompatible. When Linux software changes this doesn't happen, because the change is transparent. New builds are transparent, and if you come to a fork in your operating system road you can take it.

Transparency is the key term. And it doesn't just apply to software:

Continue reading "Open Source Transparency"

April 15, 2005

Your Weekend ReadingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

seth goldstein.jpgA friend introduced me to a blog I'm adding to the blog roll, one that is only marginally about technology.

Seth Goldstein runs Majestic Research, a New York outfit that produces very high-end (and I hope very expensive) reports on trends for hedge fund managers. Before that he ran Site Specific. He advises Del.Icio.Us. He's smart.

His blog consists of long essays, published at long (for me) intervals, on a wide range of subjects. Recent pieces include one relating client Del.icio.us to German essayist Walter Benjamin, whose Frankfurt School was overwhelmed by the horrors of the Hitler era, another calling APIs "the new HTML," and a third seeking a system of PeopleRanking, very similar to my own piece Finding the Good Stuff.

Continue reading "Your Weekend Reading"

April 01, 2005

The Issue of Our TimeEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The following appeared today in my free weekly e-mail newsletter, A-Clue.Com, now into its 9th year of publication.

You can get it free any time.


Science is the political issue of our time.

It will surprise many to hear it's controversial. But to those with an historical perspective it's no surprise at all.

Continue reading "The Issue of Our Time"

Venture Capitalists No Smarter Than Anyone ElseEmail This EntryPrint This Article

An IEEE study shows the excesses of venture capital in the late 1990s actually stifled innovation.

The image, taken from the IEEE Spectrum story, shows what a venture capitalist should be doing, looking for ideas. In fact, as the study indicated, most 1990s' VCs replaced that light bulb with a dollar sign.

It's something I strongly suspected at the time. It's one reason I called my newsletter a-clue.com, because I saw so many Clueless people drawing such fat checks and directing such big funds toward the cliff.

But it is nice to get some confirmation.

In the study by Bart Stuck & Michael Weingarten, over 1300 public offerings over 10 years were analyzed, and scored 1-5 for innovation, with 1 being very innovative and 5 being me-too.

The study's conclusion is poignant. "Based on our experience, we believe that VCs really aren't the risk takers they're often made out to be."

Here's what I think really happened.

Continue reading "Venture Capitalists No Smarter Than Anyone Else"

March 29, 2005

Google vs. News Inc.Email This EntryPrint This Article

hg otis.jpg
The real Hardball isn't the game show on MSNBC, where politicians lie and yap at one another.

It's something far more serious, played every day, by huge corporations that masquerade as guardians of the public interest, but are in fact as corrupt as the rest of us. (That's LA Times founder Harrison Gray Otis on the right. More about Harry Otis here, near the bottom of the page. I direct David Shaw's attention to the quote from Theodore Roosevelt.)

The prerogatives of these corporations and their hirelings, who call themselves journalists (then deny this status to you and me) is under threat on this medium as never before. They're scared, and they're playing Hardball.

Their right, earned by corporate might, to define what is and what isn't news, what is and what isn't fair comment, is under threat, right here, right now.

And they don't like it one bit.

The game is being played mainly on three search engines. On MSN note how these corporations are given, not dominance, but exclusivity. The same is true on Yahoo. Note the list of "resources" at the top-right of the Yahoo page. Note too the prominence given one outfit's stories, the newspaper co-op called AP.

In both cases what you see on your screen is the result of business negotiation. News value is determined by people, meeting in rooms, and (perhaps) money changes hands (we're not told).

Is this fair? It may well be. It's certainly business as usual. And -- here is the key point -- the process is completely opaque.

On the other hand, we have Google News. What you see here looks similar but it is, in fact, quite different. While the stories of the giants do get prominent play, so do other organizations, and other types of news coverage.

At 11:15 AM for instance I checked Google's "coverage" of Laura Bush's trip to Afghanistan, sorted by relevance. Position four was held by a right-wing group, the Conservative Voice. Position seven was held by a left-wing site, Counter Currents, posting a blog item from Counterpunch.

The results on all stories change moment-to-moment, and only a small part of what we call the blogosphere is represented, but the fact is that Google News is offering a far wider set of sources than its rivals. These include "official" outlets like Voice of America and Pravda. They include newspaper sites requiring registration. They also include many sites from outside the U.S.

In some cases, they even include blogs. Yes, even this one.

But that's not the full extent of Google's challenge to the news industry.

Continue reading "Google vs. News Inc."

March 28, 2005

Editorial LicensingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Photo-los-angeles-times-building-post-bombing.jpg

At the heart of the First Amendment is the idea that you don't need a license to do journalism. (Take a close look at the Wikipedia picture -- there will be a test later.)

Now, in the name of fighting competition from a new technology, some journalists are calling for just such a license.

The bleating is seen best in today's column by David Shaw of the LA Times. Shaw feels that privileges his industry worked hard to create will be threatened if bloggers can avail themselves of the same protections.

I hope I'm getting the best of his argument in the following quote:

Continue reading "Editorial Licensing"

March 25, 2005

How To Kill Your NewspaperEmail This EntryPrint This Article

newsboy.jpg

This weekend Slate offers a feature of Philip Anschutz, a conservative businessman (and big soccer fan) who has launched printed papers under the name the Examiner in Washington and San Francisco.

Jack Shafer syggests Anschutz needs to invest more in editorial and consider the Web in order to be taken seriously.

Correct and double correct.

I wrote about this several weeks ago, and what follows is that original copy. You can get it free
any time.


I have a love-hate relationship with newspapers. (This newsboy is advertising news of the Titanic's sinking.)

The business has been at the heart of my "profession" for a century. The whole idea of a journalist as a professional is also a product of this business. I took my graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism. Joseph Medill was the old reprobate who built the Chicago Tribune empire.

But as I've said many times here this whole idea of a "journalism profession" is a fraud. Professionals can make it on their own. Journalists can't. If you don't have a job you are not part of the fraternity. Even if you build a journalism company based on your vision of what the profession should be, you are always nothing more than a businessman.

The New York Times recently quoted a newspaper consultant as saying "For some publishers, it really sticks in the craw that they are giving away their content for free."

Here in one sentence we have the utter cluelessness of the industry. Here is an opportunity waiting for someone to exploit it.

Continue reading "How To Kill Your Newspaper"

Content's Forgotten Middle ClassEmail This EntryPrint This Article

discreet charm of the bourgeoisie.jpgIn all the arguments over copyright and patents the interests of the middle class creator are constantly invoked, then discarded.

The fact is that, while most western countries are middle class, the structure of their creative classes is pre-Marxist. That is there are a few writers, artists, musicians and actors who get rich from it, and a lot who get virtually nothing.

Unless you have business acumen, or constant success in your field, you're very likely to end up poor. And without a big hit, you're nearly certain to end up relatively poor from your work in the content industries.

At the same time, those who manage the industry, whether or not they have any talent, nearly all wind up rich.

Thus there's a difference between what we find in society as a whole and the content society.

Continue reading "Content's Forgotten Middle Class"

March 23, 2005

Bill Nye for PresidentEmail This EntryPrint This Article

bill nye.jpg Few people understand this yet, but there is a thread tieing together most public issues in our time.

That thread is science, the issue represented best by comedian Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Thus the headline.

This Administration, and its acolytes, oppose science. But science is our only hope for solving real problems. As a result America's competitiveness is disappearing.


  • In the Schiavo case, Bush is ignoring the science showing the death of the brain is the real death, not the beating of a heart.
  • In the case of Alaskan Oil, Bush is ignoring both the sciences of global warming and of hydrogen replacement.
  • This Administration favors the ignorance of "intelligent design" over the science of evolution.
  • The isolation of scientists from political decision-making guarantees ignorant decisions.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for this Administration's supporters to point to an issue, or a decision, or a controversy, where their side supports real science. Instead, science itself is increasingly politicized.

The idea that science is under direct attack remains inchoate in the American electorate. Despite repeated political calls by real scientists for more science education, and a greater use of science in decision-making, those involved in technology remain reluctant to brand George W. Bush their enemy.

Continue reading "Bill Nye for President"

March 21, 2005

Yahoo and Google Party Like It's 1999Email This EntryPrint This Article

prince.jpgWhen a currency becomes overvalued it gets tossed like confetti. This is what happened in the late 1990s, and it's happening again. (The allusion, of course, is to the hit song 1999 by the man at left, known again by his given name, Prince Rogers Nelson.)

Yahoo's P/E is at 54, Google's is 123. Their stocks are overvalued in a market where the average P/E is still said to be near historic highs.

It doesn't matter whether acquisitions are made with cash or stock. Cash acquisitions, after all, can easily be handled by the company selling stock. Yahoo has been especially active in this area.

Companies of all sorts want this currency, and thus we have both Yahoo and Google on an acquisition binge.

Continue reading "Yahoo and Google Party Like It's 1999"

March 18, 2005

The Oil CurseEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Spindletop.gifNote: The following was published today in my free weekly e-mail newsletter, A-Clue.Com, now in its 9th year. Join us -- always free.


The great financial Curse is to have money coming out of the ground.

I didn't believe this when I started in journalism. I started in Houston, whose economy was based entirely on the concept of money coming out of the ground - Black Gold, Texas Tea.

For most of history, money has mainly come out of the ground. Assets were what you could drill for, what you could mine, or what you could grow. The exceptions to this rule were those of trade. If you sat astride a trade route, if you had a deep water port, if the railroads decided that your location would work for a station, then your land had value.

Moore's Law has changed all that. The Internet has changed that for all time.

Continue reading "The Oil Curse"

So Now You Notice...Why?Email This EntryPrint This Article

jeff jarvis.jpg
Who is to blame for the vapid nonsense of celebrity journalism?

To some extent, you are.

When I write about things that are really important, about space or futurism or how our lives are changing with cellular, few notice. This is normal service.

When I step on the tail of Tina Brown, suddenly the blogosphere pays attention.

Partly as a result our most popular blogs are the cattiest, the most like the worst of the Main Stream Media attitude I criticized.

Is this an attack on Jeff Jarvis? (That's him on CNN.) No, it's not. He's responding to the market, to the audience, to you.

Continue reading "So Now You Notice...Why?"

March 17, 2005

Microsoft adCenter Ignores 90s' LessonsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

adcenter.jpgBack in the 1990s (not that there's anything wrong with that) a lot of companies drew a lot of venture capital promising to target ads based on who you were rather than what you were looking at.

The ploy failed. It turned out the cost of targeting exceeded the premium advertisers could charge for the space.

On the other hand context-based ads, targetting based on the content of a page or a search, continued to draw premium prices. It still works.

So Microsoft actually took a step backward this week when it launched adCenter, which targets based on users' use of Microsoft resources, plus Experian credit scores.

They also, once again, didn't do a complete trademark search. Finding this particular example, which I don't believe has any affiliation with Microsoft, took me all of 10 seconds. (On Google.)

Continue reading "Microsoft adCenter Ignores 90s' Lessons"

March 10, 2005

Moore WisdomEmail This EntryPrint This Article

As we approach the 40th anniversary of Gordon Moore's Electronics article, the man himself (Intel co-founder and namesake of this humble blog) has appeared to join the celebration.

While the headlines spoke of Moore's skepticism on materials that might replace silicon, I was more intrigued by his views on Intel, where his foundation still holds a considerable stake.

He's pretty happy. He likes the idea of pushing platforms over performance. It makes sense to him.

Moore also gave an irascible cur whom he quit a half-century ago credit for the creation of what's now Silicon Valley.

Continue reading "Moore Wisdom"

Gates Feeling Groovy, or a Microsoft OzFestEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Bill Gates has finally hired himself a new CTO.

It's Lotus Notes inventor Ray Ozzie. While Ray may think he sold a company to Microsoft, Groove Networks, in fact his world is about to get rocked like never before.

Groove does collaboration tools, and Microsoft (an early investor) is interested in those things. But I don't think Gates signed off on this deal to get Groove's technology, otherwise he never would have un-retired Nathan Myhrvold's title. (Microsoft currently has three people with the CTO title, meaning no one really has the power.)

The bottom line is that Gates needs Ray Ozzie, and he needs him bad.

Microsoft puts more dollars into new technology development than just about anyone else in the world, but it gets less bang for its buck than any outfit since Xerox PARC. Microsoft Research has a ton of high bandwidth people, they're doing all sorts of high bandwidth things, but when was the last time Microsoft introduced anything of real importance?

That's what Ray will be tasked with sorting out.

Continue reading "Gates Feeling Groovy, or a Microsoft OzFest"

Mutterings on Corporate PersonhoodEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The folks at ZDNet (of all places) are starting to hear mutterings against the concept of corporate personhood.

Companies are individuals under U.S. law. But they can't be killed or jailed as real people can. Their interests are immortal. (The illustration is from a group trying to change this.)

Corporations were made persons by the footnotes to an obscure 19th century Supreme Court decision involving the Southern Pacific Railroad. All those involved are long since dead but the railroal company's interests survive as part of the Union Pacific Corp.

Continue reading "Mutterings on Corporate Personhood"

February 28, 2005

A Giant FallsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Giants fall all the time. In an earlier item today I mentioned one such fallen giant, the playwright Arthur Miller.

Computing also has giants, and we're all diminished when one of them falls. As Jef Raskin has fallen.

Jef, who died of cancer recently at 61, will be remembered as the "father of the Macintosh." He gave the project its name, and he pushed it within Apple.

But he was much, much more.

Continue reading "A Giant Falls"

February 25, 2005

The Climax StateEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Note: The following was published today in my free weekly e-mail newsletter, A-Clue.Com, which celebrates its 8th birthday next week. Join us -- always free.


Karl Marx was one of the great moral philosophers of the 19th century. But his vision was perverted, in the 20th century, and made the center of a system that imprisoned billions of people, one that required decades of war to eradicate.

Ayn Rand, who was born 100 years ago, was one of the great moral philosophers of the 20th century. Her novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged , have become as important as Marx' Das Kapital was to Communists, in defining the ideology of modern Conservativism.

It's just as imprisoning.

Continue reading "The Climax State"

February 21, 2005

Would Franklin Blog, Would Jefferson FileshareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

While Susan Crawford was asking whether Ben Franklin would blog, (and Donna Wentworth was pointing the world to her piece) I was being asked a similar question "would Jefferson file share" at a VJOLT conference in Charlottesville.

The answer, in both cases, would depend on which Franklin or Jefferson you were talking about.

Franklin was desperate to publish as a young man, and the 1721 Franklin would doubtless have blogged. As a printer, Franklin routinely used copyrighted material without payment, and as a raconteur/diplomat he was far more often on the receiving end, so if he had blogged then he would have done it very carefully, judiciously, with an eye toward public opinion.

Jefferson was the first consumer, and doubtless would have used Grokster in his dorm at William & Mary. But later, as he became a public figure, he would have been far more conscious of the need for anonymity. As a politician, he would have no more admitted to copyright violation than George W. Bush would admit to smoking pot.

Both men, however, learned to live as though their private lives were public. Franklin used his fame to win an alliance with France, even letting himself be pictured in a beaver hat. Jefferson dealt with the Sally Hemings affair throughout the 1800 campaign, not to mention his lifelong reputation as a spendthrift, a wastral and, in the end, a bankrupt.

A better question might be this. Could you, or I, have done as well, then or now?

I doubt it. But we all should try.

February 17, 2005

The Value of ReputationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Perhaps the most vital asset to any technology company today is its reputation.

It's not money. It's not assets. It's certainly not patents.

It's what people think of you, your reputation.

Paul Robichaux recently wrote that he thinks Google is pulling a fast one, with a Toolbar feature called AutoLink that turns unlinked items on a page into linked ones, automatically.

When Microsoft tried extending its Smart Tags feature, which sounded awfully similar, into Internet Explorer, Robichaux wrote in Exchange Security, "the furor was incredible. Walt Mossberg, Dave Winer, Dan Gillmor, and a host of other influencers immediately started screaming that Microsoft was taking control over web content and generally acting like an 800-lb gorilla. The EFF even opined that the MS smart tag implementation might be illegal."

He's right. But does it matter?

Microsoft has used its power for a decade to extend its monopoly across desktop applications and into the Internet itself. As a result it has a very poor reputation.

Google, on the other hand, has offered optional services, in software, on top of its search service. It has a stellar reputation.

Google is now doing to Microsoft precisely what Microsoft did to IBM back in the day. Microsoft's price-earnings ratio today is 28. Google's is 137.

What happened?

Continue reading "The Value of Reputation"

February 07, 2005

Let's Do LunchEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Now that Star Trek is officially dead (no new shows or movies, even in production) the time has come for a new idea.

Here's one.

Stardate.

It's an anthology series, built around various scientific "principles" that define the Star Trek franchise.

Think of it as Science made into Drama.

Yes, it's an excuse to make science exciting. (Just think of the educational spin-offs we can produce!) And the production costs are low enough to put this on the SciFi channel (where Enterprise should have been all along). Or might I suggest a pitch to Discovery Networks, which has got proven talent in making science fun with shows like Mythbusters?

For host, might I recommend Stephen Hawking? Playing the role Alistair Cooke made famous, he opens each show by describing the science (and the Star Trek technology) on which the show will be based. (I might recommend getting several scientists for this role, perhaps one for each specialty. But Hawking is a name. He'll do great for starters.) Or, with confidence this show will last for decades, Lance Armstrong, who's already under contract to Discovery, who knows how to read a cue card, and who owes his life to science?

More after the break.

Continue reading "Let's Do Lunch"

February 03, 2005

The Legal Threat To GrowthEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I agree with President Bush on something.

Lawyers represent a major threat to our economy.

But I'm not worried about defense lawyers, or plaintiff's lawyers. I'm worried about the newer scourge of so-called "intellectual property" lawyers.

You won't find the phrase "intellectual property" in the Constitution. (It's often credited mainly to James Madison, left.) There, patents and copyrights are covered by a subsection of Article I, Section 8, whcih gives to the Congress power "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

For limited times. To promote progress.

Because economic power has shifted, in our time, from our hands to our heads, and because technology is now able to move the product of our minds around the world at the speed of thought, American lawyers have done just what their British counterparts did two centuries ago. They've tried to make our economic leadership permanent through the language of law.

Continue reading "The Legal Threat To Growth"

February 01, 2005

The Closeted GenerationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

There is much wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth going on concerning a poll showing U.S. high school students are indifferent to freedom. (The image, by the way, is from The Minhdonian National Gallery.)

There should be no surprise. This may be the most closeted generation of young people ever. How in the world do you expect them to value something none of them have ever been given?

Today's high schoolers have been told "no" in the loudest possible terms since they were babies. Say no to drugs. Say no to sex. Get your rock from the Disney Channel. Get your rebellion from Nickelodeon.

If they have newspapers in high school these are routinely censored. Even college papers are censored, and closed if they trouble authorities in any way. Kids are even punished for publishing diaries on the Web, even anonymously.

Kids live in a world of V-Chips and drug tests, of mass media with Cyber-Nanny software. It's a comfortable world, for most of them. They're driven from school to ball-field, from day care to proms, but constantly warned that one step over the line will kill them, literally kill them.

No wonder they don't care about freedom.

And I'm not saying this from a sense of moral superiority. I've got two teenagers of my own. They're as closeted as their peers. Although I love them dearly.

Continue reading "The Closeted Generation"

The Key to Growth is CompetitionEmail This EntryPrint This Article

It's not capitalism. Capitalism does not by itself guarantee competition. (Image from Clint Sprott at the University of Wisconsin. Go Badgers.)

That is does is the biggest lie told by political conservatives.

Capitalism, in fact, evolves toward monopoly, or to its cousins duopoly and oligopoly, just as ecosystems evolve toward a "climax" state that can only be re-set by catastrophe.

The only mechanism we have to protect competition against this natural tendency is government.

Only a government strong enough to stand up against the biggest enterprises can guarantee competition.

This is difficult to assure.

It's difficult to assure because money corrupts, and corporations -- not government -- are the source of money. It's your money, and unfortunately corporations are considered as people under U.S. law -- immortal people who can't be jailed.

Continue reading "The Key to Growth is Competition"

January 28, 2005

Lessons From SBC-AT&TEmail This EntryPrint This Article


Assuming SBC does swallow AT&T (no doubt for less than BellSouth was offering earlier) would provide important lessons. (The image is from FreeBSD developer Greg Lehey, and was originally produced in 2002.)

First and foremost, it would be the murder of a great company by the government. It was government that broke up AT&T in the 1980s, and it was government that made AT&T non-competitive in our time.

Second, of course, it means that business tributes to the U.S. government are even more important than previously imagined. If the government can murder the nation's largest company (albeit over time and in chunks) it means no company is safe from a rapacious government, regardless of party. (Is is coincidence that AT&T was forced to divest during the Reagan Administration, and killed under Bush II? Check the campaign contribution files for the answer to that one.)

But wait, there are more lessons.

Continue reading "Lessons From SBC-AT&T"

January 19, 2005

Moore's Inverse Law of LaborEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I have been singing the good news about Moore's Law for many years now. It spurs productivity, it spreads knowledge, it increases the rate of change across the board, etc. etc.

But there is a dark side to all this that most who write on technology don't talk about. (The image is from Youngstown State University in Ohio.)

That's what I call Moore's Inverse Law of Labor.

Simply put, Moore's Law makes large productivity gains absolutely necessary. To compete in a Moore's Law world, you have to continually replace people with technology, and move folks' time into more productive tasks, or they fall behind.

This is true for individuals, for business, for government, for nations. It has very profound implications for all of us.

Let's think about some of them:

Continue reading "Moore's Inverse Law of Labor"

January 16, 2005

Who's A Journalist, and the Tragedy of the Dean CampaignEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Some journalists are bloggers, but not all bloggers are journalists.

A blogger is a journalist if they act like a journalist. When anyone researches a story and broadcasts the results on a blog they are a journalist.

When a blogger doesn't identify their role, you should treat them as a journalist until they indicate otherwise. Don't tell them something you don't expect to see published. Give them all the information you would any other journalist.

Journalism, in other words, is a process. It's not defined by a paycheck. It's defined by what you do. UPDATE: A new Gallup poll shows that only 5% rate journalists "very high" in honesty. Would bloggers do worse?

All this is prelude to reporting a contretemps Slate reported about The Wall Street Journal. Apparently when Dean campaign chairman Joe Trippi and aide Zephyr Teachout first approached bloggers MyDD and DailyKos in 2003 it "was explicitly to buy their airtime" in the words of Ms. Teachout (right and above, the one without the hat).

The bloggers weren't told this. Markos Moulitas (Kos) and Jerome Armstrong (MyDD) thought they were being treated as consultants, and consulted. Neither wrote anything on their blogs to disqualify the work as journalism.

Click below to see the rest of the story.

Continue reading "Who's A Journalist, and the Tragedy of the Dean Campaign"

January 10, 2005

The Great RaceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

NOTE: The following was published in this week's edition of my free e-mail newsletter, A-Clue.Com. You can get on the list here.



The Great Race has always been between tyranny and freedom, with order as tyranny's worthy handmaiden, and crime as freedom's ugly stepsister.

The triumph of liberty in the 20th century was basically a technological triumph. It was Moore's Law that did it. Moore's Law, and all its antecedents, changed the rules of the economic game, of the power game, and the balance between rulers and the ruled.

Moore's Law, the idea that things get better-and-better faster-and-faster, means that trained minds are the key to economic growth. Willing hands, the key to economic growth in the industrial age, matter far less than they did. Chains may keep trained hands working. They don't do so well with trained minds.

In America the result, as Dr. Richard Florida (left) wrote, was the rise of a new "Creative Class" that could dominate societies and drive economic growth. These were people, accused of wealth and guilty of education, whose values were intellectual and meritocratic, and (perhaps most important) were capable of economic satiation. Creative people have, on the whole, risen through Maslow's "hierarchy of needs," and are in search of self-actualization, not food or even luxury.

Continue reading "The Great Race"

Roll Up Begin AgainEmail This EntryPrint This Article

A few years ago Jackson, Mississippi was the center of the telecom universe.

That's because it was the home of Canadian-born Bernard Ebbers . He married a Mississippi girl, Linda Pigott. On such chances does history turn.

Ebbers launched a long distance outfit called LDDS in the early 1980s and turned it into a classic "roll-up," buying other companies (usually for stock) and managing to the numbers.

Eventually he named his monstrosity Worldcom.

The result was the MCI scandal.

Roll-ups usually end this way.

Continue reading "Roll Up Begin Again"

December 29, 2004

Last Tech StandingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Imagine sunning yourself on a pristine oriental beach. Now imagine a wall of water 30 feet high barreling down on you at 500 miles per hour, on that same beach. Heaven turns to hell, the world turns upside down, and if you survive (a big if) the 21st century has become the 12th.

Or, perhaps at least, the 19th. Because some ham radio operators happened to be near the center of devastation, on India’s Andaman Islands. They quickly set up communications on the HF band, which can reach thousands of miles. ARRL.Org has the story.

Continue reading "Last Tech Standing"

December 15, 2004

Regulation GoodEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Charles Leadbetter, a freelance analyst who works with Demos of the UK and others (sort of like me but with better management), offered some great insights into the need for regulation recently that have been making the rounds of the blogosphere. (That's one of his books over there.)

How to Profit from Ignorance posits that regulation is needed to regulate ignorance. As life gets more complicated, we become more dependent on experts. Regulation becomes the experts' stamp of approval.

But there's another way of putting the same point -- transparency.

Continue reading "Regulation Good"

December 01, 2004

Read The Fine Print: Pennsylvania's ShameEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Philadelphians are celebrating an agreement with Verizon which, they say, allows them to offer a citywide Wi-Fi network despite a law, signed (shamefully) by Governor Ed Rendell yesterday, aimed at stopping the municipal WiFi movement.

But they need to read the fine print.

Wetmachine has the story:


HB 30 prohibits the state or any municipality (or any municipally owned or operated entity) from providing any sort of telecom or broadband service for any kind of remuneration. The bill grandfathers any existing systems, tho, so no one will get cut off.

Sound good? Read on:

Continue reading "Read The Fine Print: Pennsylvania's Shame"

September 27, 2004

Ireland's Second Cyber-WarEmail This EntryPrint This Article

That's right, kiddies. Ireland has gotten into its second major cyber-scrape, one big enough to use the word "war" in describing. (You will also notice that the ancestral home of my mom's people, the O'Donnells, is not shown on this Irish map from the Goingonvacation site.)

Ireland's first cyber-war came in the late 1990s, when an Irish entrepreneur, Connect-Ireland, won the contract to manage East Timor's registration service. East Timor at that time was trying to break away from Indonesia. So Indonesian hackers engaged in a cyber-war to try and take the Irish site down.

Its latest effort is more offensive-minded.

Continue reading "Ireland's Second Cyber-War"

September 20, 2004

SIPShare Shows Why Peer-to-Peer Can't Be StoppedEmail This EntryPrint This Article

In the end peer-to-peer has nothing to do with copyright. It's the way the Earth links.

For linking people and ideas, P2P is simply a better topology than client-server. It conforms to the way people are. Capitalism is a peer-to-peer economic system. Socialism is client-server. Democracy is a peer-to-peer political system. Autocracy is client-server.

The difference is just that stark.

The myth of the "Intellectual Property cult" is that the products of intellect are unique, complete, all-in-all. They are not. "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." That's Sir Isaac Newton.

This applies to all products of the intellect:

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September 09, 2004

In Defense Of Flip-FlopsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Lee Felsenstein doesn't just write computer history. He is computer history. (And for that he got his own playing card, from the Atari Archives)

Lee was the moderator of the famous Homebrew Computer Club in the 1970s. He created the pennywhistle modem, and designed the Osborne I. He was made a member of the Computing Hall of Fame in 1998. One of his fellow honorees that year was Bill Gates. Another was Charles Babbage. A third was Seymour Cray. A fourth was Andrew Kay. (You may have heard of them.)

In his latest piece on computer history (along with Lena Diethelm) he defends the flip-flop. I wish he posted it somewhere other than Dave Farber's list. The only way for you to get the full flavor is to read the whole thing.

Copyright infringements below the fold.

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August 15, 2004

Qwest and Winthrop: Casualties Of Moore's LawEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The media, the digirati, even some government figures are laughing today at the East Buchanan Telephone Co-op of Winthrop, Iowa.

They laugh because the co-op has threatened to cut-off cellular calls from Qwest on Monday, claiming it's not being paid for their termination.

The town bought a device that can distinguish between cellular calls and landline calls coming in over Qwest's long distance service. Qwest has won an injunction halting the shut-off for two weeks.

Most reaction has been that the town is crazy, that it doesn't stand a chance.

But they don't know the rest of the story.

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August 13, 2004

Cringely's MasterpieceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I have been rather unkind to Robert Cringely over the years. It was nothing personal. I just had some disagreements.

But the dude can write. He has sources. And today he has come up with a masterpiece. (Picture from the Bitwaste blog.)

The story is on the U.S. sentencing guidelines, and a study showing they wouldn't work which was performed, then buried in 1982. Had the results of this scientific study been accepted, rather than rejected for political reasons, he writes, hundreds of thousands of people might be out of prison, contributing to society, and crime might indeed be lower.

But read the piece yourself and make your own decision. As writing, I want to point to this snap ending:

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August 03, 2004

The Real Problem With MicrosoftEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I've been looking at Microsoft from the inside and outside, and I have finally figured out the company's big problem. (Photo from the BBC.)

It's a lack of entrepreneurs.

Microsoft hires smart people, who have good ideas. But Microsoft has just one entrepreneur. His name is Bill Gates. Everyone else is a manager.

This is why Microsoft is looking more and more like IBM. This is precisely what happened to IBM itself, as Tom Watson Jr. exhausted his Last Big Idea (the IBM 360), suffered some heart problems (he recovered), and left the company in 1971, aged 55.

IBM, in the 1970s, became bureaucratic, it became backward-looking, it devoted itself wholly to the interests of its big customers. It became vulnerable to the first kid to come along with a Clue.

How can Microsoft solve its mid-life crisis?

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July 26, 2004

INDUCE Job ExportsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on the so-called INDUCE Act, which would hold technology's creators liable for what's done with their creations, there are some who are calling this an attack on our rights, and an attack on technology.

It's worse than that.

It's an attack on America. What chairman Orrin Hatch (left, from Internet Weekly) and his colleagues are plotting is nothing less than a 9-11 attack on the American economy.

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July 09, 2004

My Mom's ClueEmail This EntryPrint This Article

My cruise last week gave me the chance to see my Mom, along with my late father's surviving siblings. It also gave me a preview of coming attractions in my own life. (If you're already thinking of your own Mom here, consider getting her something like this, from Stevens Glass Chalet.)

It was very cheering. Uncle John turned 80, but remains tall, elegant, cheerful, marvelous, despite having lost his bride of nearly 60 years a few months ago. Dorothy is still his baby sister, giving him a four-foot high copy of a picture taken of him, in his infantry uniform, in Switzerland, on leave, shortly after V-E day, young and joyful and heroic. As he is today.

Then there was my Mom, still a young girl in many ways. She came to the ship in a wheelchair, but appeared on her own two feet at the cruise's formal night, and regaled us with stories far into the evening, in a bar on the top of the ship.

Little did I realize, but I was seeing the secret of civilization.

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July 08, 2004

OgreEmail This EntryPrint This Article

My very first editor at Rice, Steve Jackson, took O'Reilly's Clue after graduating. Instead of finishing law school he went to his first love, board games, and started a company to make them.

His first hit was called Ogre. (This image is from Goingfaster.com, a gaming enthusiast and Jackson fan.) At a time when the big cost of producing games was making, and printing, all the cardboard game pieces, Steve cut costs in half by having one player take one piece, the Ogre.

In the real world, of course, the Ogre can't win.

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July 06, 2004

Tim O'Reilly's ClueEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Tim O'Reilly could have been a lot of things on the Internet. (The image is from the HollandSentinel.Com.)

He could have dominated it. A decade ago his Global Network Navigator was THE place to start every Internet session. Launched in 1993 it was the Web's first real home.

Of course, the Web outgrew it very quickly, and Tim had to decide where he wanted to fit into what would quickly become a whole new World. So he sold GNN to AOL, in 1995, and remained true to himself, as publisher of esoteric technology books with woodcuts of animals on their covers.

Since then, of course, O'Reilly & Associates has become an important brand for technical types who need a deep, honest understanding of a language, a protocol, or an Internet technology.

And O'Reilly himself has continued to speak out on things that interest him.

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June 23, 2004

Houston 1984Email This EntryPrint This Article


The Times has an article on how pathetic Silicon Valley feels.

I can't decide which is more pathetic, the mood or the article. (The image, however, is from the Cullen sculpture garden at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts.)

First, the mood. It is like Houston was in 1984, although conditions are very different. In the oil bust, whole neighborhoods were abandoned, the keys just left in mailboxes. Anyone with a job was just waiting to lose it, and in any case their salary was falling behind their bills. Billboards that weren't empty were filled with ads for preachers. The filth, the fear, and the despair were palpable. Everyone I know who lived through that time, in that place, was scarred by it.

Silicon Valley isn't that bad. Traffic is lighter, and hangers-on have moved on.

But in some ways, the situation is much worse.

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June 17, 2004

Lincoln Didn't Free The SlavesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

I had thought this was settled in Ken Burns' "The Civil War" but apparently it's still news.

America's black slaves weren't freed by Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. They freed themselves. I thought Burns had made this clear. The 1863 proclamation only "freed" people in places then in rebellion, that is, it gave them the right to seize their freedom.

What's now clear is that many did. (The picture to the right, from the Times' article, is of John Washington, whose memoir was recently found and is highly praised in the article for the quality of its writing.)

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