Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

[via Arun Katiyar] My favourites from the manifesto:

1. Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

2. Forget about good. Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good youll never have real growth.

4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

6. Capture accidents. The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.

11. Harvest ideas. Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.

33. Take field trips. The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphicsimulated environment.

DIY Telco

Robert Cringely on how “Linux is inadvertently poised to emake the telephone and internet markets”:

One of the cheapest Linux computers you can buy brand new (not at a garage sale) is the Linksys WRT54G, an 802.11g wireless access point and router that includes a four-port 10/100 Ethernet switch and can be bought for as little as $69.99 according to Froogle. That’s a heck of a deal for a little box that performs all those functions, but a look inside is even more amazing. There you’ll find a 200 MHz MIPS processor and either 16 or 32 megs of DRAM and four or eight megs of flash RAM — more computing power than I needed 10 years ago to run a local Internet Service Provider with several hundred customers. But since the operating system is Linux and since Linksys has respected the Linux GPL by publishing all the source code for anyone to download for free, the WRT54G is a lot more than just a wireless router. It is a disruptive technology.

A disruptive technology is any new gizmo that puts an end to the good life for technologies that preceded it. Personal computers were disruptive, toppling mainframes from their throne. Yes, mainframe computers are still being sold, but IBM today sells about $4 billion worth of them per year compared to more than three times that amount a decade ago. Take inflation into account, and mainframe sales look even worse. Cellular telephones are a disruptive technology, putting a serious hurt on the 125 year-old hard-wired phone system. For the first time in telephone history, the U.S. is each year using fewer telephone numbers than it did the year before as people scrap their fixed phones for mobile ones and give up their fax lines in favor of Internet file attachments. Ah yes, the Internet is itself a disruptive technology, and where we’ll see the WRT54G and its brethren shortly begin to have startling impact.

You see, it isn’t what the WRT54G does that matters, but what it CAN do when reprogrammed with a different version of Linux with different capabilities.

If you have a WRT54G, here’s what you can use it for after less than an hour’s work. You get all the original Linksys functions plus SSH, Wonder Shaper, L7 regexp iptables filtering, frottle, parprouted, the latest Busybox utilities, several custom modifications to DHCP and dnsmasq, a PPTP server, static DHCP address mapping, OSPF routing, external logging, as well as support for client, ad hoc, AP, and WDS wireless modes.

If that last paragraph meant nothing at all to you, look at it this way: the WRT54G with Sveasoft firmware is all you need to become your cul de sac’s wireless ISP. Going further, if a bunch of your friends in town had similarly configured WRT54Gs, they could seamlessly work together and put out of business your local telephone company.

There is an obvious business opportunity here, especially for VoIP providers like Vonage, Packet8 and their growing number of competitors. If I was running a VoIP company ,I’d find a way to sell my service through all these new Wireless ISPs. The typical neighborhood WISP doesn’t really want to DO anything beyond keeping the router plugged-in and the bills paid, so I as a VoIP vendor would offer a bundled phone-Internet service for, say, $30 per month. I handle the phone part, do all the billing and split the gross sales with the WISP based the traffic on his router or routers. If one of my users walks around with a WiFi cordless phone, roaming from router to router, it doesn’t matter since my IP-based accounting system will simply adjust the payments as needed.

The result is a system with economics with which a traditional local phone company simply can’t compete.

Broadcatching: RSS + BitTorrent = TiVo for PC

Portland Phoenixwrites:

Broadcatching in its currently proposed form marries the peer-to-peer file sharing program BitTorrent with the increasingly popular RSS (Really Simple Syndication) protocol. BitTorrent is often lumped in the same category as p2p programs like Kazaa, but it features a few fundamental differences that make it ideally suited to broadcatching.

First, BitTorrents algorithm is designed specifically for the transfer of very large files, such as games, movies, or episodes of TV shows. These bulky files are broken down into many small pieces, so users can simultaneously download a torrent of bits from multiple users, which the BT client reassembles into a cohesive whole for the end user to watch, play, or do with as he or she pleases.

Second, BT allows users to download these file packets from each other before the person being downloaded from has even finished their own download of the requested file, thus enabling even faster propagation of popular files through the network. The more people who have a file, the faster that file can be downloaded, which increases the number of people likely to have the file, etc.

BTs ability to rapidly distribute large, popular files means its the perfect venue for sharing timely content like television shows.

Now imagine if your favorite provider of torrent files also provided an RSS feed of those files, and your RSS aggregator had the ability to recognize a torrent file and launch BitTorrent automatically. You could subscribe to the RSS feed provided by that new indie-film producer you just heard about, the network that airs your favorite TV show, the brother-in-law who loves to shoot home movies. You could set this broadcatching system to check for and download new files while you sleep, and wake up to fresh content on your hard drive.

Here’s more.

eBay’s Business

Robert Scoble talkd to an eBay exeuctive on a flight and gathered this info:

  • $7 to $8 billion runs through the eBay platform (yes, he called eBay a “platform”) every quarter.

  • Every hour eBay registers 3000 to 4000 new users.

  • This year they are expecting somewhere around $3.5 billion in revenues. That’s above expectations.

  • Every day about a terabyte of data courses through eBay’s data centers (most of the machines running eBay are running Windows, he told me. The back end they use is running on Sun Microsystems computers).

  • eBay has a high degree of customer lockin. How? Well, for one, many of their customers are getting rich (he says he knows a few power sellers who have already retired). Second, the more you buy and sell on eBay, the better your ratings, and those aren’t transferable to other auction systems.

  • USA Today wrote recently on the eBay ecosystem.

    Bill Miller had an interesting perspective on eBay’s growth, comparing it with Microsoft at the same time in the latter’s history:

    The question on eBay is simple: how long will the growth continue, and at what rate? That will determine whether it is like Microsoft in 1990, a bargain, or like most companies with high expected growth rates, a dud. Part of the answer lies in the description.

    What is eBay’s business? If it is an auction site where individuals, mostly, sell unwanted items sort of like an Internet enabled flea market then it probably is fully priced. That is not how the company describes its business, though. Here is eBay’s description of what it does: “We make inefficient markets efficient.” For those who can size markets, that is all you need to know, if you believe it.

    I got Microsoft totally wrong in 1990. It was a great value, and no value investors owned it. It looked expensive; it wasn’t. EBay looks expensive too. Mulligan.

    He adds about the cryptic reference to Mulligan: “‘Mulligan’ in golf refers to a second shot you can take without penalty. Like a second chance to correct a
    mistake; a do-over.”

    Alexa shows Growing International Traffic

    Brian Dear looks at Alexa’s traffic on some popular sites and sees their Alexa rankings going down…and some other sites are seeing their traffic go up. About Alexa: “Alexa’s graphs capture how the rank, within Alexa’s own lists, of popular websites changes over time. The business goal, of course, for any web business is higher and higher traffic, month over month. That ought to translate into higher and higher rankings within Alexa, one would think.”

    An Alexa product manager commented: “We here at Alexa have been watching the same trend for the last several years: International sites moving up in the rankings and other very popular US sites slowly dropping…The growth in web usage among non-us nations, particularly Asian countries, is real.”

    Admittedly, Alexa isn’t the perfect way to decide the popularity of a website, but it is still an indicator.

    Creating a Generic Site-To-RSS Tool

    Roy Osherove writes: “I’ll show how to use regular expressions to parse a Web page’s HTML text into manageable chunks of data. That data will be converted and written as an RSS feed for the whole world to consume. Finally, I’ll show how to create a generic tool that enables you to automatically generate an RSS feed from any website, given a small group of parameters.”

    TECH TALK: Good Books: Investing: The Last Liberal Art

    Robert Hagstroms book Investing: The Last Liberal Art talks about the need for a latticework of mental models. It is inspired by Charlie Mungers thinking that one needs to have a framework of the best ideas across multiple disciplines. This may seem contrarian to what we are always told the need to specialise. While the title of the book may imply an emphasis on investing, that is not necessarily the case. The book is a great tutorial in thinking through challenges we face from multiple different angles. As Hagstrom suggests: Innovative thinking most often occurs when two or more mental models act in combination.

    From the book description: Investing: The Last Liberal Art offers a unique picture of investing within the larger world. It explains how investment management works by borrowing the big ideas from other complex disciplines: biology, economics, mathematics, philosophy, physics, and psychology. In the biology chapter, Hagstrom analyzes the central nervous system and the immune system as complex adaptive systems and then draws parallels with the behavior of the economy and the stock market. In the physics chapter, he explores a mathematical distribution and considers the advantages of scale in relation to the bigger is better models that define the business strategies of Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, and Home Depot. This interdisciplinary approach or model describes in which mechanisms the markets work and how to select and hold stocks.

    Chetan Parikh, who first recommended the book to me, writes in his review:

    This book is certainly the best book that I have read for a long time. It is a book on how to connect and unify many disciplines – physics, biology, social sciences, psychology, philosophy and literature – to investing and the markets. It also contains some serious advice on how to read a book – a boon to avid bookworms like me.

    Ideas just bubble from every page – the author warns in the preface: “Reading this book requires, then, both an intellectual curiosity and a significant measure of patience.” – I went through the book in just two sittings, impatient as I was for more. In a way, this book crystallises the thoughts of Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, who believes in a liberal arts understanding of investing and feels that building a latticework of mental models could greatly help people to improve their investment returns. Bill Miller, the investing superstar of Legg Mason, actually practices this by gaining insights from various disciplines to aid his investment thinking.

    To be an intellectual Christopher Columbus, an investor should acquire models or concepts from various branches of knowledge and then attempt to recognise patterns of similarity in them. Investment decisions have a higher probability of success when ideas from other disciplines also lead to the same conclusion. As Charlie Munger has stated – “You’ve got to have models in your head and you’ve got to array your experience – both vicarious and direct – on this latticework of models.” As Benjamin Franklin said it is forming “habits of mind” that seek to link together different disciplines. Intelligence is really a factor of how many connections or links one has learned. As Munger also stated: “You can reach out and grasp the model that better solves the overall problem. All you have to do is know it and develop the right mental habits. Worldly wisdom is mostly very, very simple. There are a relatively small number of disciplines and a relatively small number of truly big ideas. And it’s a lot of fun to figure it out. Even better, the fun never stops. Furthermore, there’s a lot of money in it, as I can testify from my own personal experience. What I’m urging on you is not that hard to do. And the rewards are awesome..It’ll help you in business. It’ll help you in law. It’ll help you in life. And it’ll help you in love..It makes you better able to serve others, it makes you better able to serve yourself, and it makes life more fun.”

    Robert Hagstrom writes in his book: Latticework is itself a metaphorIt is a but a very small stretch to envision a metaphorical lattice as the support structure for organizing a set of mental conceptsOne thing we understand about the human mind is the variability with which it receives and processes information. Any educator knows that the best way to teach a new idea to one student will have no effect whatsoever with another; the best educators, therefore carry with them a virtual key ring with many different keys for unlocking individual minds.

    Tomorrow: Investing: The Last Liberal Art (continued)

    Continue reading

    What Tomorrow Will Look Like

    Eric Savitz of Barron’s attended the Future in Review conference, which looks ahead to the world in 3-5 years. His report:

    Let’s just say that the future looks a lot like the present, only with more of everything — more broadband access, more wireless technologies, more data storage and more competition for the West from China, India and the rest of Asia. Here’s a sampler:

  • Connie Wong, president of Hutchison Whampoa Americas, predicted that in five years, all mobile-phone handsets will be made in China, Taiwan and South Korea, with Nokia “transformed into a service provider.” She also expects widespread use of handsets for watching video, and an explosion of consumer-created content.

  • Tim DiScipio, chairman of ePals, which provides “school-safe” e-mail systems, made the scary observation that, according to Department of Education data, the fastest-growing segment of Internet users is kids two to five years old.

  • Tom Standage, a reporter for the Economist, concluded Wi-Fi isn’t likely to be the way consumers connect to the Internet outside the home, noting that there are only 30,000 public hotspots, less than 0.1% of the world’s access points, and half of those are in South Korea. “To an engineer’s proximation,” he quipped, “there are roughly no hot spots in the world.”

  • Martin Tobias, a Microsoft alumnus who is a partner with the venture firm Ignition Partners, alarmingly predicted that his former employer won’t ship its new version of Windows, known as Longhorn, before 2009. He didn’t seem to be kidding.

  • Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes and CEO of Groove Networks, forecast that within five years, 3.5-inch disk drives — the kind in desktop PCs — would offer two to five terabytes of storage, while laptops, with 2.5-inch diameter drives, will have one-terabyte drives. How much is that? Well, George Zachary, a partner at Charles River Ventures, repeated a recent comment from Microsoft executive Rick Rashid that with a terabyte of storage, you could record and store every conversation you have for your entire life. And with two terabytes, you could capture and store 360-degree photos of every minute of your life. Ozzie also made the point that the real security issue for computing is that systems need to be “complacency-immune,” since people don’t do many simple things they could do to protect themselves. Said Ozzie: “People are the fundamental problem.” They usually are.

  • Bill Janeway, vice chairman of Warburg Pincus, a big proponent of software delivered as a service, forecast “the death of the applications software industry,” with SAP as “the last man standing.”

  • Beau Vrolyk, another Warburg Pincus partner, seemed unimpressed with grid computing — linking many computers to take advantage of otherwise unused computing “cycles.” Noting that the average user would be hard-pressed to use more than a few percentage points of a computer’s number-crunching ability, he said: “There are still problems that can be solved with more computing power, but they are interesting mostly to esoteric scientists.”

  • What India Needs

    Gurcharan Das writes in a letter to Manmohan Singh:

    Growth, you said, is the best anti-poverty programme, I hope you will repeat this to your colleagues when they try to pressure you into populist programmes that our deficit burdened treasury cannot afford. The best way to distribute the fruits of growth, as we both know, is through better schools and better primary health centres. This is the only way to give reforms a human face (and not leaky poverty programmes). However, the reform of education and health is not just about spending more money. It is about making teachers and nurses accountable, so that they will, at least, show up.

    Like it or not, India s general elections have become municipal elections. What matters to the rickshawala is that the cops not take away a sixth of his daily earnings. The farmer wants a clear title to his land without having to bribe the patwari. The sick villager wants the doctor to be there when she visits the primary health centre. The housewife doesnt want the water tap to go dry while she is washing. This is how government touches ordinary peoples lives, and in successful societies people take these things for granted. You might say that these are local subjects, but to ordinary citizens you are the face of the government and they expect this from you.

    Where does the illness of governance lie? Why dont employees of the central, state, and local governments do their jobs? In the Far East , for example, citizens get far better service. Is it because we protect labour excessively in India , to the point that they no longer feel accountable? This was my experience in the private sector, at least our labour laws have taken away accountability and diminished our companies competitiveness. Thus, you may have to tackle labour laws despite your partners.

    If you buy my argument about governance then your focus will shift from policy to implementation. Hold your finance minister accountable for the behaviour of income tax officers. Judge your home minister, for example, for eliminating harassment of honest NGOs who get foreign donations. Reward your economic ministers for eliminating red tape foreign investors repeatedly tell us that they prefer China over India because of our red tape.

    In the end, even if you make a small but perceivable difference, you will break the anti-incumbency factor, which is a code word for poor governance. If you do not, then you will be asking for the return of the BJP in 2009.

    McKinsey on Indian Industry

    McKinsey Quarterly discusses how other industries need to replicate the success of India’s outsourcing and automotive industries:

    India has clearly benefited from closer integration into the global economy in industries such as automotive, business-process outsourcing, and IT. To build on that success, the government must now lower trade and foreign-investment barriers still further.

    First, tariff levels should be cut to an average of 10 percent, matching those of Indias neighbors in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Although progress has been made on tariffs, the Indian government still prohibits imports of many goods and protects inefficient companies from foreign competition. To give those companies a chance to improve their operations, the government might first lower duties on capital goods and inputs. Then, over several years, it could reduce them on finished goods.

    Foreign-ownership restrictions should be lifted throughout the economy as well, except in strategic areas, notably defense. At present, foreign ownership is not only prohibited altogether in industries such as agriculture, real estate, and retailing but also limited to minority stakes in many others, such as banking, insurance, and telecommunications.

    Indias government should also reconsider the expensive but often ineffective incentives it offers foreign companies to attract foreign investment, for these resources would be put to better use improving the countrys roads, telecom infrastructure, power supply, and logistics. Whats more, MGI research found that the government often gives away substantial sums of money for investments that would have been made anyway.3 (To give one example, it has waived the 35 percent tax on corporate profits for foreign companies that move business-process operations to India, even though the country dominates the global industry.) Moreover, state governments often conduct unproductive bidding wars with one another and give away an assortment of tax holidays, import duty exemptions, and subsidized land and power. Yet MGI surveys show that foreign executives place relatively little value on these incentives and would rather see the government invest resources in the countrys poor infrastructure.

    Finally, interviews with foreign executives showed us that Indias labor laws deter foreign investment in some industries. It is no coincidence that software and business-outsourcing companies are exempt from many labor regulations, such as those regarding hours and overtime. Executives tell us that without these exemptions, it would be impossible to perform back-office operations in India. To attract foreign investment in labor-intensive industries, the government should therefore consider making labor laws more flexible.

    Some Indian policy makers might argue that the reforms proposed here would undermine long-held social objectives, such as creating employment. But the evidence shows that regulations on foreign investment, foreign trade, and labor have actually slowed economic growth and lowered the standard of living. A decade ago, Indias per capita income was nearly the same as Chinas; today, Chinas is almost twice as high.

    Indias economy has made real progress, but further liberalization will be needed to sustain its growth. The country now has 40 million people looking for work, and an additional 35 million will join the labor force over the next three years. Creating jobs for all these Indians will require more dynamic and competitive industries across the economy. Opening up to foreign competition, not hiding from it, is the answer.

    Wiki Ways

    Business Week [1 2] writes:

    When software developer Nicholas Pisarro Jr. saw his first wiki late last year, he knew it was unlike any Web site he had ever seen. On the site, a free online encyclopedia called Wikipedia, thousands of volunteers had written a breathtaking 500,000 articles in 50 languages since 2001 — all thanks to the defining feature of wikis. To contribute, all they had to do to was click on an “edit this page” button and start typing.

    Now, Pisarro has wikis transforming the way people work at the company he founded, software maker Aperture Technologies Inc. Two dozen of the Stamford (Conn.) company’s 100 employees use them to brainstorm, track projects, write and edit documentation, and coordinate marketing. That has eliminated countless meetings, conference calls, and back-and-forth e-mails. Says Pisarro: “Wikis allow this collaboration much better than anything else, so we get things done faster.”

    The amazing thing is that wikis work at all. Created in 1995 by Oregon programmer Ward Cunningham, who named them for the “Wiki-Wiki,” or “quick” shuttle buses at Honolulu Airport, wikis are special Web sites on which anyone can post material without knowing arcane programming languages. Likewise, anyone can edit them. This can lead to mischief: Jokers have posted images of male anatomy on Wikipedia. But graffiti is usually gone within minutes, because the previous version of a page can be restored with a click. In sensitive corporate situations, access can be controlled, too.

    Like open-source software, wikis may make their biggest mark less as a business than as a potent force for change — in this case, in the way people work.

    Nowhere is that potential more apparent than in today’s far-flung, time-pressed corporate teams. Aaron Burcell, director of marketing for e-mail software startup Stata Laboratories Inc., says working on a wiki has cut the daily phone calls he made on a raft of projects to one a week. It also has allowed Stata to outsource more work, such as engineering, to India. Says Burcell: “I could justify the cost of the wiki just from the lower teleconferencing bills.”

    Verizon’s Challenges

    I once worked at NYNEX, a Baby Bell, which evolved into Verizon, “which dominates the Northeast with 35 million local phone customers, $68 billion in annual sales and a market capitalization of nearly $100 billion.” So, reading about what’s happening in the US telecom industry is quite fascinating as competition comes in from multiple sides. WSJ writes about how cable and Internet players are targeting Verizon’s customers, and what Verizon is doing:

    The rapid spread of new technologies is upending the Bells’ dominion. Increasingly, the telecom market is turning into a Hobbesian war of all against all as every company tries to offer every type of service across the country. The Bells are even beginning to steal one another’s local customers, after two decades of generally respecting regional boundaries.

    That’s why New York-based Verizon is going after the business of law firms in Los Angeles, and San Antonio-based SBC Communications Inc. is dusting off a switching hub in Manhattan to serve Wall Street financial firms and other companies. At home, consumers are likely to hear pitches from cable-television companies, Internet telephone companies, long-distance providers and any other business that thinks it can grab a piece of the Bells’ pie.

    This week, cable giant Comcast Corp. said it plans to make phone service available to 40 million households in the U.S. by 2006 — a direct challenge to the Bells. Comcast’s service will use Internet technology to deliver the calls instead of the traditional circuit switches favored by the Bells.

    Verizon has cut more than 21,000 jobs through buyouts since December and is racing to automate processes that used to require fax machines and thick binders of documents. Verizon sold thousands of phone lines in Hawaii for $1.65 billion and has put others in upstate New York up for sale in an effort to cut its $44.5 billion debt and invest in new technologies. It’s also phasing out free weather-information lines and selling real estate vacated by laid-off employees.

    “What’s happening right now at Verizon is a total change that is bigger than all prior changes of the Bells’ past combined,” Paul Lacouture, the company’s president of network services, told workers [recently].

    This month, Verizon also announced a multibillion-dollar plan to bring high-speed fiber lines into millions of customers’ homes. The lines could eventually carry TV programs, turning Verizon into a direct competitor of cable companies such as Comcast.

    Verizon is also going after business customers. Traditionally, they gravitated to long-distance companies such as AT&T or Sprint Corp., which have nationwide networks of optical fiber to carry calls. Now Verizon is telling those customers that it, too, is a national player.

    Verizon has put 300 miles of fiber in the ground in Los Angeles, Seattle and Dallas, reaching into the territories of SBC and Qwest. It has built a national network that can accommodate the huge amounts of data that corporations send between points of their empires.

    The new investments are beginning to pay off. In the past 18 months, Verizon has persuaded hundreds of corporate customers who previously used only its local service to sign up for Verizon services in other Bells’ territories. The new services bring in $250 million a year, and Verizon hopes that will rise to $1 billion a year by 2007.

    Next-Generation CommPuting Devices

    Business Week reports on learnings from Cebit America:

    In a few years, the idea of the big desktop-computer flanked by a clunky keyboard, monitor, and printer may seem just as antiquated. That setup is being replaced by a new generation of wireless phones, handheld devices, and tiny digital sensors that will soon outnumber PCs by a margin to 10-to-1. “As these devices catch on,” says technology analyst Crawford Del Prete of researcher IDC, “they will redefine the very meaning of computing and change the way people work and live.”

    The range of new, hybrid computing devices is staggering. The trend began a few years ago with the appearance of Research In Motion’s BlackBerry, which allows users to send and receive e-mail, surf the Net, and manage their contacts with a pocket-size communicator. It continued last year with the appearance of PalmOne’s Treo 600, which added a mobile phone and a keyboard to a Palm organizer.

    The next step will be devices that combine these features with the power of a laptop. OQO, a San Francisco outfit created by veterans of Apple Computer and IBM, set out to build the world’s smallest laptop. Less than 5 inches wide and weighing only 14 ounces, the OQO is easy to drop into a briefcase or even a purse. But it has the power of a full laptop loaded with Windows XP, and it includes Wi-Fi for high-speed wireless Internet access. The device will be available in the second half of 2004.

    Indeed, mobility is redefining the world of tech. As small Wi-Fi enabled devices like the OQO hit the market, they’re becoming an increasingly viable alternative to regular phones. Simply plug a headset into the OQO within range of a Wi-Fi connection, and you can make free phone calls with Internet technology.

    Over the next 15 years, tiny wireless sensors will be embedded in almost every product, from light bulbs to tubes of toothpaste. These miniature transmitters are based on radio-frequency identification technology, which is familiar to many drivers who use windshield-mounted RFID tags so they can slip through highway tolls booths with a minimum of delay. A scanner at the booth reads the driver’s tag number and automatically bills a credit card.

    Big changes in the software sector are necessary, too. As the range of devices and data becomes ever larger, companies are consolidating the number of systems they use to manage the traffic. Holland-based outfit Exact Software is helping customers eliminate layers of incompatible software by rolling out a single product to handle a whole range of business functions, from sales and marketing to administration and human resources. That means customers will require fewer vendors or technology platforms. By using a bundle of software from a single supplier, customer can reduce costs and make it easier for employees and customers to communicate.

    As this new technology enters the market, people will have the ability to work from almost anywhere using tiny, powerful mobile devices. When that happens, who’ll need a big desktop PC?

    InfoWorld’s Innovators for 2004 and 2005

    InfoWorld salutes those who are creatively pushing the boundaries to accelerate the evolution of IT:

    E-mail encryption as easy as remembering who you are: Dan Boneh and Matt Franklin

    Lumeta chief scientist checks for network leaks with IP Sonar: Bill Cheswick

    Revolutionary protocol takes pain out of sharing large files: Bram Cohen

    Open source’s usability champion narrows the gap between Linux and Windows:
    Miguel de Icaza

    Shaping forms for an XML-based future: Micah Dubinko

    Security as an immune system: Dr. Steven Hofmeyr

    Spearheading advanced encryption: James Hughes

    CoreStreet targets massively scalable validation: Phil Libin

    Blue Titan orchestrates Web services: Frank Martinez

    Intel VP jump-starts mobility with a platform approach: David ‘Big Dadi’ Perlmutter

    RNA sniffs out network intrusions: Martin Roesch

    IBM’s go-to guy developed PowerPC 970FX processor: Norman Rohrer

    Another section looks ahead to 2005’s innovators. Among them:

    Dr. Paul Terry, CTO of Cray Canada, wants to bring high-performance computing to the masses, or at least midlevel enterprises, with the Cray XD1 high-performance computer.

    Suns HideyaKawahara [who is working on] Project Looking Glass, a 3-D desktop interface, primarily written in Java and intended for Linux and Solaris x86 PCs

    Mark Maiffretis, co-founder of eEye Digital and also the companys chief hacking officer, helped develop Retina Network Security Scanner, which scans each machine on a network, reports vulnerabilities and offers fixes.

    NiklaasZennstrm and JanusFriis, who created the file-sharing company Kazaa, believe Skype will change the nature of telephony.

    Pete Mancaand Ben Sprachman, senior vice presidents at Egenera, lead a group that created hardware and software that virtualizes datacenter infrastructure.

    Cellphones in Latin America

    NYTimes writes about the growing use:

    Subscribers jumped from fewer than 40 million in 1999 to 118 million today, turning one in five Latin Americans into a cellphone user and making this a $20.4 billion market, according to Pyramid Research in Cambridge, Mass. Economic powerhouses like Mexico and Brazil have the biggest number of subscribers, but competition is fierce here in Venezuela, where cellphones are both a status symbol and a necessity.

    Even after its economy contracted 8.9 percent in 2002 and 9.4 percent in 2003, Venezuela still has Latin America’s second-highest rate of cellphone use, after Chile.

    Driving the boom is an explosion in prepaid service that has made cellphones available to millions of low-income users, once excluded by monthly payments and credit checks. While in 1995 fewer than 2 percent of people in most Latin American countries had cellphones, the introduction of prepaid service has sent use skyrocketing, to 29 percent in Venezuela and 48 percent in Chile.

    “Given Latin America’s demographics, the cellular business couldn’t take off until prepaid service made it possible” for everyone, said Patrick Grenham, a telecommunications analyst with Citigroup Smith Barney in New York.

    Although the cost of prepaid service can be 10 times that of traditional service, it attracts clients whose incomes are frequently too erratic to make a monthly payment.

    Also driving cellular growth is a system that charges users only for outgoing calls, allowing them to receive unlimited calls free – and thus keep their phone active even when the budget is tight.

    With the right cost structures, providers can turn a profit within a year, even from users who make only a few calls. While Latin America’s cellular providers once depended on upper-class users, revenues come increasingly from millions of low-income clients.

    Fixed-line phones are found in close to 11 percent of Latin American households, according to figures from IDC, the research group. Many people simply do without fixed-line service to avoid large upfront payments, enormous delays and onerous monthly charges. To bring in users interested in having a home phone, providers in several countries now offer a home telephone that operates within a cellular network but at lower prepaid rates than mobiles.

    The business of prepaid services has considerable drawbacks, like declining use during hard times and the constant cycle of users whose service is cut off because of inactivity. Providers still rely largely on revenue from customers with credit cards, many of them now using a service that allows paying bills by phone and creating closed-circuit group conversations.

    Status seems to play a big part in Venezuelans’ use of cellphones. “Venezuelans have always needed a public way to show their status,” said the Venezuelan sociologist Leoncio Barrios. “Thirty years ago, people would buy the fanciest car on the lot. But since times are tougher now, the best alternative is to have the newest mobile phone clipped to your belt.”

    India’s IT Policy Plans

    Rediff writes about the 10-point plan of Dayanidhi Maran, India’s new Union Minister for Communications and IT, to boost IT in the country:

    1. Achieve convergence of information, communication and media technologies: He will expedite the convergence of technologies and prioritise PC penetration, thereby bringing cyber connectivity to every citizen.

    2. Bring about transparency in administration: Maran plans to make government functioning more citizen-centric. He will stress on e-governance and quick implementation of a National E-governance Plan.

    3. Broadband connectivity: Maran said he will look to providing broadband connectivity to all, at the most reasonable prices.

    4. Next generation mobile wireless technologies: “I plan to leapfrog from the current generation of mobile telephony to the next 4G. India is currently using the technology of GSM (2.5 G) and CDMA for mobile telephony. The 3G standard has been evolved, but has not proved cost-effective. I therefore plan to leapfrog this generation and develop 4G technology. We will also set up a National Center for Excellence in this area,” he said.

    5. National Internet Exchange and Indian Domain Name: He plans to connect all ISPs in India to a national Internet exchange in order to achieve efficient Internet traffic routing, cost reduction and improvement in the quality of service for the Internet users in India. His aim is to bring about improvement in Indian Internet Domain Name with a greater market focus to proliferate the Internet and will encourage multinational companies to host their mirror sites in India and encourage Indian enterprise to host sites to promote business and trade in India.

    6. Migrate to new Internet Protocol IPv6: Worldwide the new IPv6 is being implemented on the Internet to accommodate increased number of users and take care of security concerns. Maran plans to bring about migration to IPv6 in India by 2006.

    7. Security & Digital Signature: He will concentrate on Cyber Infrastructure Protection. All efforts shall be made to promote the use of digital signatures in the financial, judiciary and education sectors.

    8. Media Lab Asia: He plans to ensure that the programme of Media Lab Asia of the government focus on the following areas of importance to the large Indian populace:
    – Providing seamless communication connectivity to rural areas and promoting value-added services and micro enterprises to double the village GDP in a couple of years.
    – Extend quality healthcare services to remote areas using the technologies of telemedicine and Internet access.
    – Use information and communication technology tools to improve literacy through distance education.
    – Promote development and availability of low-cost PCs and communication access devices to increase internet penetration 10-fold in a few years.

    9. Language computing: Maran’s plan is to accelerate dialogue with state governments, linguists, R&D labs and industry for increased deployment of language computing solutions in government, industry and the society at large.

    10. Outsourcing skilled manpower and R&D thrust: He plans to make India the world’s hub for outsourcing skilled manpower in the IT sector.

    I think the government should play the role of an enabler – set the right, pro-competition policies. It needs to remove silly regulations (like the limits that are there on WiFi usage and VoIP), and create an unfettered environment in which innovation and entrepreneurship should thrive. I had earlier written a Letter to Arun Shourie about what needs to be done, but it equally well applies to what the new IT Minister should do.

    Windows and Linux for Supercomputers

    News.com writes about the looming battle as Windows tries to attack Linux in cluster computing:

    High-performance computing once required massive, expensive, exotic machines from companies such as Cray, but the field is being remade by the arrival of clusters of low-end machines. While the trend could be considered an opportunity for Microsoft, which has long been the leading operating-system company, Linux has actually become the favored software used on these clusters.

    In a recent interview, Bob Muglia, a Microsoft senior vice president who leads the development of Windows Server, said the company is interested in two particular areas: building high-performance computing clusters and harvesting the unused processing power of PCs.

    Linux, boosted by low-cost servers using processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, now is used on prestigious machines. Thunder, a machine at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with 512 Linux servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux, can perform more than 19 trillion calculations per second, second only to Japan’s Earth Simulator.

    Dozens of machines in a list of the 500 fastest supercomputers run Linux, including five of the top 10. Only two on the list are identified as Windows machines.

    One reason Windows has been slow to catch on is that Unix and Linux were bred to be administered remotely, a necessary feature for managing a cluster with dozens or hundreds of computers.

    In Windows, “the notion of remote computing is significantly more difficult than in Unix,” Papadopoulos said. “Because Windows was born out of the desktop, (it is) deeply ingrained in the Microsoft culture that you have somebody sitting in front of the machine to do work.”

    Ambidextrous Chip

    WSJ writes:

    Many semiconductors today are primarily one-trick ponies, specializing in particular tasks such as graphics or networking.

    But an experimental computer chip under development at the University of Texas instead could be likened to a chameleon, able to change its color — or in this case, function — according to the task at hand.

    “It can configure to [perform] very much like a specialized chip” for devices such as cell phones and digital music players, or it could serve as a powerful central processor in a desktop or other general-purpose computer, said Steve Keckler, a UT computer scientist and a leader of the design effort.

    Mr. Keckler hopes to have a prototype of the device, which currently exists primarily in software simulations, finished in about a year. He expects a completed chip to be ready for commercialization around 2010.

    If the chip works as planned, it will run at a top speed of 10 gigahertz and perform one trillion operations, meaning individual computing tasks, per second. In comparison, Intel Corp.’s current top-speed Pentium 4 processor runs at 3.4 gigahertz and delivers 6.8 billion operations per second. The anticipated performance has led Mr. Keckler and his design team — which includes collaboration with International Business Machines Corp. — to dub the device a “supercomputer on a chip.”

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency a Defense Department agency, is funding Mr. Keckler’s effort, as well as efforts under way at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Southern California that have similar goals but are taking different approaches.

    Darpa program manager Robert Graybill said he considers the preliminary work by Mr. Keckler’s group to be unique, even among the other efforts under way in the agency’s so-called polymorphous chip program.

    Mr. Keckler and his team have dubbed their design “Trips,” for Tera-Op Reliable Intelligently Adaptive Processing System. The term tera-op refers to the targeted one trillion operations per second.

    Simply put, the system would divide individual processing cores on the chip into tiny sections that could change automatically for several predetermined functions. The idea is that the processing cores would morph — taking graphics or memory configurations, for instance — as instructions flowed in.

    Each chip could contain many processing cores, as many as 16, enabling a single chip to perform multiple functions simultaneously while optimizing for each. Conventional chips generally do only one thing at a time.

    In addition, this distributed architecture of Mr. Keckler’s design would reduce what is known as clock delays because parts of the chip performing related functions would be in close proximity on a core. Clock delays, a limiting factor in the performance of conventional chips, refer to the decline in computing work done per chip clock cycle as chips are sped up.

    TECH TALK: Crucible Experiences: My Crucibles (Part 2)

    I returned from the US to India in May 1992, thinking of myself as Gods gift to the country. I had great dreams of building a software company that would be among the best in the world in 5 years. After all, I had great credentials an IIT and Columbia education, work experience at one of the foremost telecom companies in the world, and some wonderful ideas. All I had to do was conquer. Or so it seemed.

    Two years later, all the dreams lay in shambles as I experienced failure after failure in all that I tried. Nothing it seemed could go right. I withdrew into a shell. Each day, I had to force myself to wake up and go to work. All that I did seemed be only making matters worse. I had let down my staff and family. I wallowed in self-regret. I could not see a way out of the hole that I had dug. I was a failure as an entrepreneur and that was almost impossible for me to accept, as I thought of myself brighter, even superior, than everyone else I saw around me. Something had gone wrong big time, and I just couldnt figure out what. My pride prevented me from talking to others even my family. And yet, I began to realise in that summer 10 years ago, that the company I had wanted to build was all but dead. I would have to re-start.

    When one is in a difficult situation, it is very hard to think straight. One encounters, what I call, paralysis by analysis. Because one is smart (too smart for ones own good), there is a tendency to keep analysing the situation replaying events and getting lost in an infinite maze of what-if scenarios. The need of the hour is for tough decisions and surgical actions, but thats the last thing one makes, because of the belief that there has to be a logical way to remove the bugs one-by-one from the system. This inaction compounds the problem. I went through such a phase for many months. Outwardly, I had to act normal and optimistic because of the other people who looked up at me for direction and guidance. Inwardly, I was coming apart.

    It took me many months to act. I spent two months in the US at a friends place. It was only then that I started coming to terms with the reality and the monster that I had created. I came to grips with the situation, built out a business plan for a new venture (what later became IndiaWorld), returned to India, laid off most of the staff, decided to focus on a single business with the aim of making it profitable as quickly as I could, and got started with gusto. The crucible experience had made m even more determined. I had seen failure first-hand. There was little else to lose. There was a life to be lived. If I didnt conquer my own inner self, I would be a nervous wreck for time immemorial. I figured that it couldnt get more worse than what it was. From where I was, one could only make things better. As so it turned out.

    These three experiences in their own way shaped part of me. As I went through these experiences, it was very hard to imagine why God was making me go through it. But, as someone once told me, There is always some good which comes out of every experience. One does not know it then, and it may take a long time to see that good. At some stage, we will all be grateful for our crucible experiences for it is these that come together to make up Life.

    Continue reading

    Interview Qestions

    William Morin and James Cabrera write about how to prepare for a job interview. A list of 25 questions (useful for interviewers also):

    1. Tell me about yourself.
    2. What do you know about our organization?
    3. Why do you want to work for us?
    4. What can you do for us that someone else can’t?
    5. What do you find most attractive about this position? What seems least attractive about it?

    6. Why should we hire you?
    7. What do you look for in a job?
    8. Please give me your defintion of [the position for which you are being interviewed].
    9. How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to our firm?
    10. How long would you stay with us?

    11. Your resume suggests that you may be over-qualified or too experienced for this position. What’s Your opinion?
    12. What is your management style?
    13. Are you a good manager? Can you give me some examples? Do you feel that you have top managerial potential?
    14. What do you look for when You hire people?
    15. Have you ever had to fire people? What were the reasons, and how did you handle the situation?

    16. What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a manager or executive?
    17. What important trends do you see in our industry?
    18. Why are you leaving (did you leave) your present (last) job?
    19. How do you feel about leaving all your benefits to find a new job?
    20. In your current (last) position, what features do (did) you like the most? The least?

    21. What do you think of your boss?
    22. Why aren’t you earning more at your age?
    23. What do you feel this position should pay?
    24. What are your long-range goals?
    25. How successful do you you’ve been so far?

    The article has suggestions on how to tackle each of the questions.