Life is Random and Blink, Don’t Think

The New York Times writes about the two slogans from Steve Jobs and Malcom Gladwell:

Steven P. Jobs introduced: “Life is random.” It’s attached to the iPod Shuffle, Apple’s teeny new music player. The second comes from Malcolm Gladwell, a writer known for seeing revolutions in small things. The slogan is “Blink, don’t think,” and goes with his new book, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” which argues that our instant decisions can be better than those born of long contemplation.

These two marketing aphorisms – ad-phorisms, if you will – pull so insistently at the brain that they feel more like an affirmation than a pitch, and bear a slight tang of wisdom.

Both slogans speak to the feeling that there’s too much data and not enough knowledge, too many choices and not enough good ones, says Seth Godin, an author who focuses on marketing issues. “This desire to completely control the environment has started to unravel in the past five years,” he said.

The alternative offered by Mr. Jobs and Mr. Gladwell, is not quite, “Don’t worry, be happy,” but a slightly more nuanced: Relax. Yes, life is random. But you can enjoy the ride.

These two products come from different eras – the book from the prehistoric world before silicon, and the music player from five minutes ago – but both suggest to consumers that there is a way to remain thinking, feeling people in a world overgrown with data, options and demands, said David Bennahum, who writes about technology issues for the online magazine Slate and for Wired magazine.

3G Future

The New York Times writes:

As many consumers now understand, there are two major competing cellphone technologies: the global system for mobile, or GSM, and code division multiple access, or CDMA. Cingular (which recently acquired AT&T Wireless) and T-Mobile use GSM. Verizon Wireless and Sprint use CDMA. (Nextel uses what amounts to its own proprietary system, developed with Motorola.)

Each of the major standards, GSM and CDMA, has its own set of technical tiers that allows the network to transmit larger amounts of data. For GSM carriers, the current second-generation data service is known as Edge. The CDMA counterpart is known as 1xRTT.

Cingular, Sprint and Verizon cover most of the country with their second-generation networks, and T-Mobile is working to expand its own Edge system. These technologies, whether GSM- or CDMA-based, can deliver data roughly two or three times as fast as a standard 56-kilobit dial-up modem, and are what have allowed the carriers to offer the new services of the past few years, like downloadable ring tones, text and rudimentary picture messaging and downloadable games of middling quality.

“The introduction of broadband to the wireless consumer is no less important than the arrival of broadband in the wired Internet world; we will have hundreds of video updates available every single day,” John Stratton, Verizon Wireless’s chief marketing officer, said.John C. Burris, Sprint’s director for wireless data services, pointed out that in years past carriers and manufacturers focused on trying to shoehorn a PC into a phone, rather than developing applications that respect the hand-held device on its own merits. It is that shift in emphasis, Mr. Burris predicted, that will continue to drive the emergence of advanced wireless services.

“One of the things everyone was talking about a few years ago was, ‘Ooh, you’ll be able to browse the Web on your phone,’ ” he said. “But that scenario didn’t really work for a lot of people because you had to click and wait, and on the small screen it wasn’t really ideal.

“Instead of clicking and waiting and then reading a story about, say, the tsunami, now you can just click and you’re running a video clip from CNN with full-motion video. That’s the kind of approach that we think will really appeal to people and that will continue to evolve.”

Wi-Fi Networking News comments on the article:

As applications increasingly become bandwidth dependentpodcasting and video delivery being too leading-edge trendsthe user who now might be content to spend $80 per month for ubiquitous EVDO in many major cities and can stand to wait a few minutes longer to download his or her PowerPoint presentation, well, that same user signs up for Cingulars future UTMS network along with a FreedomLink unlimited Wi-Fi plan, and, by the way, uses VoIP at home and the on road to cap long distance expenses and be reachable.

If Verizon is really looking at EVDO as a single mode delivery mechanism over which they deliver a variety of services, theyre out of step with what SBC (and Cingular, as a majority-owned partner) is telling the industry is the future: integration across DSL, Wi-FI, and cellular, with applications layered across all three modes of delivery to their customers. Customers seek the right kind of bandwidth for the application rather than stapling the application on top of the bandwidth that the firm has available.

Among other trends, Verizon is missing the VoIP train and the increasing trend for bandwidth heavy and low latency services, and those applications could trump video on a tiny screen wherever you want it.

Developing Rural Areas or People?

Atanu Dey writes: “Is rural development the same as development of rural areas, or is it development of the people who live in rural areas? My contention first is that the two are not the same. The solution to rural underdevelopment (and consequently to the development of the entire economy) would depend on that distinction. Second, I contend that, under certain conditions which exist in India, development of the rural areas may not be feasible at all. I argue that we should be addressing ourselves to the development of rural people, and not rural areas. In fact, I submit that it is the misplaced emphasis on the development of rural areas which is posing an impediment to India’s economic growth.”

TV is not a PC

Phillip Swann writes: “Americans believe the TV is for entertainment and the PC is for work. New TV features that enhance the viewing experience, such as Digital Video Recorders, High-Definition TV, Video on Demand, Internet TV (the kind that streams Net-based video to the television, expanding programming choices) and some Interactive TV features (and, yes, just some), will succeed. Companies that focus on those features will also succeed. But the effort to force viewers to perform PC tasks on the TV will crash faster than a new edition of a buggy PC software.”

VeriSign’s Plans

Om Malik writes that VeriSign is trying to reshape itself into the middle man for the wireless and wireline networks and links to a comment by Mike: “Its core competence is managing those massive databases in the middle, that others have to go through to get anything done on the network. VeriSigns CEO, Stratton Sclavos, refers to this as the intelligent infrastructure . If that sounds sort of like the opposite to David Isenbergs stupid network you might get an idea where this is headed.”

TECH TALK: The Best of 2004: Art and Artists

6. Dan Bricklin on Software that lasts 200 years (July)

Dan Bricklins essay makes us think of software as critical infrastructure. We are building something to make it last. In a way, it also highlights the shift from the tangible to the intangible, and epitomizes the knowledge society we now live in.

We need to start thinking about software in a way more like how we think about building bridges, dams, and sewers.

The world is different now than it was even just a decade or two ago. In more and more cases, there are no paper records. People expect all information to be available at all times and for new uses, just as they expect to drive the latest vehicle over an old bridge, or fill a new high-tech water bottle from an old well’s pump. Applications need to have access to all of the records, not just summaries or the most recent. Computers are involved in, or even control, all aspects of the running society, business, and much of our lives. What were once only bricks, pipes, and wires, now include silicon chips, disk drives, and software. The recent acquisition and operating cost and other advantages of computer-controlled systems over the manual, mechanical, or electrical designs of the past century and millennia have caused this switch.

I will call this software that forms a basis on which society and individuals build and run their lives “Societal Infrastructure Software”. This is the software that keeps our societal records, controls and monitors our physical infrastructure (from traffic lights to generating plants), and directly provides necessary non-physical aspects of society such as connectivity.

What we build must last for generations without total rebuilding. This requires new thinking and new ways of organizing development. This is especially important for governments of all sizes as well as for established, ongoing businesses and institutions.

7. Paul Graham on Great Hackers (July)

Software programming is as much an art as it is a science. If there is one regret that I have as an entrepreneur, it is that I dont do programming any more. I still remember the few years that I spent programming (more than a decade ago) the mind would keep thinking of making things better. Reading this essay made me go back to an era in my past when I thought of myself as a great hacker!

A great programmer might be ten or a hundred times as productive as an ordinary one, but he’ll consider himself lucky to get paid three times as much. This is partly because great hackers don’t know how good they are. But it’s also because money is not the main thing they want.

What do hackers want? Like all craftsmen, hackers like good tools. In fact, that’s an understatement. Good hackers find it unbearable to use bad tools. They’ll simply refuse to work on projects with the wrong infrastructure.

The fact that good hackers prefer Python to Java should tell you something about the relative merits of those languages.

Great hackers also generally insist on using open source software. Not just because it’s better, but because it gives them more control. Good hackers insist on control. This is part of what makes them good hackers: when something’s broken, they need to fix it. You want them to feel this way about the software they’re writing for you. You shouldn’t be surprised when they feel the same way about the operating system.

Great hackers also generally insist on using open source software. Not just because it’s better, but because it gives them more control. Good hackers insist on control. This is part of what makes them good hackers: when something’s broken, they need to fix it. You want them to feel this way about the software they’re writing for you. You shouldn’t be surprised when they feel the same way about the operating system.

After software, the most important tool to a hacker is probably his office. Big companies think the function of office space is to express rank. But hackers use their offices for more than that: they use their office as a place to think in. And if you’re a technology company, their thoughts are your product. So making hackers work in a noisy, distracting environment is like having a paint factory where the air is full of soot.

Along with interesting problems, what good hackers like is other good hackers. Great hackers tend to clump together– sometimes spectacularly so, as at Xerox Parc. So you won’t attract good hackers in linear proportion to how good an environment you create for them. The tendency to clump means it’s more like the square of the environment. So it’s winner take all. At any given time, there are only about ten or twenty places where hackers most want to work, and if you aren’t one of them, you won’t just have fewer great hackers, you’ll have zero.

Tomorrow: Mobility and Memex

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