Monthly Archives: July 2005

It�s much better today, when

It�s much better today, when I can see the CEO pitches and learn what�s going on in Silicon Valley. I remember seeing Pluck when it was a new company presenting to Chris Shipley�s Demo conference, and now it is launching a second product: http://www.shadows.com, a place to collect your tags and share them, not unlike del.ici.o.us. Pluck must still be a small company, however, because I signed up for an account now that it�s available for Firefox, but I still don�t have the verification email for either my Pluck account or my Shadows account. Guess it�s not automated yet.

The consensus seems to be that there�s no breakthrough technology here, although collaboration and personalization of the web experience is big. The real geeks sense a creeping incrementalism, through which existing ideas become more and more refined, but nothing truly new emerges. I�m waiting for George Gilder to speak � if he doesn�t find something, no one will. He�s a �quantamentalist,� always looking for quantum shifts.

But George has been in his cave writing a book about Carver Mead and Richard Fineman, and said he had to catch up on technology. Now he has an opinion.

About Bernie Ebbers: �he�s been made the scapegoat for the telecom crash, �and for the appalling blunders of the regulators who thwarted the optical revolution.�

About Skype: VOIP is not a fundamental change.

About video on demand: Also seems boring. In his book �Life After Television,� Gilder predicted that TV would be dead by now, replaced by always on technologies. He still thinks that both TV and Hollywood are slowly dying. Now that there isn�t a scarcity of channels, we don�t need a technology of tyrants. No one can push anything on the user anymore, as the user becomes a producer. Amazon gets 50% of its revenues from books below its top ten. The user not only wants choice, he wants his FIRST choice.

Although TV sets are still emitting fumes in our living rooms, nobody is going to watch anything they don�t want to see. The blog culture will redeem America.

Wi-fi and WiMax: Inferior to EVDO technologies. They are the desperate response of the establishment trying to defend itself against the cell phone trying to become the dominant technology. Their chief promoters are the old guard, defending themselves against QualComm.

About costly security: Security moving to the edge. Platform modules will be on the motherboard and be on every teleputer. Trust will move to the edge.

About smart phones: Gilder refers to them as diddleware.

Nanotech: An extension of Moore�s Law. Things will get smaller throughout the century.

In the �Education of Henry Adams,� Adams propounded the law of the accretion of progress. We are now in a period similar to the end of the 19th century, when everyone thought all science had been discovered.

Fineman defined nanotech: the atom by atom construction of all machines. This reduces chemistry and biology to physics. This was known as Fineman�s mistake. It is impossible mathematically to reduce biology and chemistry to physics, as scientists have said since.

So�Gilder is just winding up; he seems like a bi-polar character on a high.

Silicon Valley can out-innovate scientists, however, because it can build. If you can build it, you can understand it. Carver Mead has built a silicon eye, and is now building new RFID chips in a company called Impinge. The chip is powered by the reader, which can be 45-50 feet away. Powered by incident radiation, combining analog and digital all on a grain of sand.

Real human eyes do more image processing than all the supercomputing power in existence today.

This is the kind of real innovation that can be unleashed by the effort to mimic biology.

The interplay of biology and physics is the major innovation that�s happening today. It�s a transition from an industry dominated by three abundances: power, silicon, and transistors to one dominated by scarcity of those resources. We are going from analog to digital and back to analog. Optics engineers are analog engineers, as are bioengineers. We are going to make body parts of silicon, he implied. Or I inferred.

And then he stopped: �thank you, we have fifteen minutes for questions.�

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What a disappointment. Here we

What a disappointment. Here we are at the Stanford Always On Innovation Summit, where Tony Perkins entertains 600 of his closest friends every July. His friends are the kind of people you wish were your friends: creative, intelligent, aware, innovative and sometimes even rich. You attend so you can hear about all the brilliant things they are doing with their new companies, re-combinations of successful entrepreneurial teams out to find the next disruption. They are change junkies, going from optical fiber to the Internet to search to collaboration to metatags. You follow them like you follow the characters in the �Sopranos.� What will these kings of the hill do next?

The whole thing is made more fun by the presence of bloggers like myself, who report in real time, and by people on live chat, whose comments (sometimes pretty banal) are displayed on two large screens in the auditorium. The chat people are having about six conversations at once, like IM on steroids.

But tonight something�s wrong. We�re all in the same room we were in last year, with the stage set for fireworks by Peter Hershberg and Michael Markman�s brief history of �The Giant Brain,� starting in 1947 with the Eniac and ending this year with the Treo 650, a device more powerful than 14 Eniacs. Or was it Sages? Those old newsreels of the early days of computing, before it became �personal,� sure seem funny now, even though I personally have lived through the entire computer era. I remember Univac and punch cards.

We�ve seen a brief ceremony introducing the Always On 100 � those cool small companies that make content management, security, or collaboration software, or devices. In the next few days, we will get to hear their CEO pitches.

We�re in a good mood, thinking about innovation, when all of a sudden Michael Medved, Jerry Brown and Sandy Berger, the keynoters, hit the stage, and the room literally heats up. It�s as though someone has turned off the air.

Tony Perkins starts it off by talking about Bush�s nominee for the Supremes, who happens to be a former law partner of Sandy Berger, who happened to be Clinton�s former National Security Advisor. And from there, it gets worse. The conversation takes a sharp left to Roe v. Wade, and to the larger issue of abortion. From there, it cannot help but explode into the war in Iraq, whether it was right to go in there and whether we can withdraw without shame.

By this time, the people on the interactive chat have lost patience. They are begging Tony to change the subject. They are asking him what all this has to do with innovation, and they are flaming each other like high school kids. The four guys up on the stage are chatting together like friends at a cocktail party, two or three sheets to the wind.

In the mean time, the air conditioning seems to be off, and people are beginning to sweat. The wine and cheese are outside. A few folks bail. The folks watching the web cast from home begin to go for the beer.

Michael Medved, who is very well-informed, begins to pontificate. Although the real-time polling shows the participants think he�s right, people leave in droves. They go outside, where they either continue the conversation about politics or go back to business, doing what they came here for.

I used to think it was a shame that the technology community was not more engaged. But the technology community is like Hollywood; when it engages, unless through visual representation in movies, it loses its core purpose. Hollywood should export the BEST parts of American culture, and stop running for political office. Technology should continue to raise the quality of life globally, and stop sitting around like CrossFire.

To me, we wasted the first evening of the Innovation Summit having a conversation any group of guys in a bowling alley could have had. Sure the panelists had more information than most. But to me the essence of Silicon Valley, and of innovation in general, is that it is color blind, nation blind, blind to everything except the merit of the idea.

The best way to win the war on terror is to continue to innovate in ways that bring the third world closer to the first. This morning I got an email from a friend in Pakistan who, after being educated in the US, went home in 2000 to start a business. He did it on purpose to change attitudes. I am going to try to visit him this year, to show people in Pakistan that Americans don�t have horns. If I have to wear a veil, or a burka, or feathers, I will do it � out of respect for someone else�s beliefs. After all, when I go into a Catholic church and everyone else kneels, I also kneel although I am not a Catholic.

The technology community can be a force for change. But it has to promote change within its core competencies: technology, job generation, and capital formation.

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I eat in at least

I eat in at least a dozen restaurants a week, between breakfast meetings, lunches and dinners. The only mass market place I frequent is Starbucks. Every other place I go is unique (no, I don’t eat fast food), much like the ventures I deal with every day in my “work” — if you can call what I do work. But typically I walk in, order my favorite item from the menu, and pay no attention unless the food or service is unusually bad. It’s difficult to impress me, because I eat out so much that the thrill is largely gone.

Yet every once in a while, I’m brought up short by the incredible amount of attention and effort it takes to run a good restaurant, something I take for granted the way most people take their mothers’ meals for granted.

Last night I went to a pizza place in my Phoenix neighborhood carrying my copy of InfoWorld, thinking I would eat alone at the “chef’s table,” a group table for people dining alone that’s not unlike eating at the bar in an ordinary place. When I sat down, the place was jumping, and just across the way table from me was a couple with four different pizzas, a bottle of wine, and a hamburger in front of them.

It appeared that someone was destined for a food coma until I took a closer look.

The man, Bob Linn, was one of the owners of the place — La Grande Orange in Phoenix, a place universally acknowledged to be one of the year’s biggest success stories. Linn, a former employee of Houston’s, is also a partner in another very successful place called Chelsea’s Kitchen.

What was he doing with all that food for two people on a Sunday evening? He was working. He was simultaneously entertaining a woman who could help him import a very special red wine, tasting all the different pizzas, and checking the quality of the hamburger.

He was also finding ways to motivate his executive chef and his line cooks at the pizza place by reinforcing their creativity. They had just introduced a new pizza, with figs, goat cheese, and arugula. After I introduced myself to him as a big fan of all his places, I got invited into the taste fest. He wanted to know how everything tasted.

He told me they grind the meat for a hamburger at the time it is ordered, a little tweak to the way it’s usually done in restaurants — but a big difference in the taste. He said this with enormous pride, and so I tasted the first hamburger I’d had in about twenty-five years. Excellent.

As the meal went on and we continued to talk, I found out that the amount of attention he paid to every ingredient, every aspect of the service, every detail of his employees’ lives, was extraordinary. It would make most of our health care industry look like malpractice defendants. It would make the engineering industry look imprecise.

Restaurants are a hell of a lot of work. And most of it takes place in the evenings and on weekends. Or rather, the visible part of it does. The invisible part takes place in the mornings, when things are prepared, purchased, and planned. It�s almost a 24×7 business.

I also have a client in the restaurant business. He owns Tom’s Tavern in downtown Phoenix, and he’s owned it through thick and thin for twenty years. He arrives at the restaurant early in the morning, and he leaves late at night. Yes, he has managers. But he is nearly always there, still trying to make things better. He holds meetings between meal times, and during lunch he stands at the entrance and greets all his regulars.

After twenty years, the City of Phoenix is putting in a light rail system, and construction will tear up the street around his restaurant. The next five years will not be fun for him. He soldiers on.

Me, I�m just the customer. At the end of the meal, I pay my check, leave a tip and move on. I don�t worry about when to grind the hamburger or whether they�re tearing up my street.

Bob Linn, however, was just getting started. He carefully boxed up the remainder of the pizzas. �The guys at Chelsea�s really love this stuff,� he explained. �So I�m bringing it back to them.� Compassionate, thoughtful, concerned, humane, and attentive, he left for his next shift at the other restaurant. A true entrepreneur.

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Boy, are we as a

Boy, are we as a nation having difficulty with the realities of the global world! As I work here in my home office, listening to the undercurrent of CNN, I conclude that we’re having a hell of a time coming up with a consistent position. At first, we embraced immigration, which we said made America strong, diverse, and vital. It was “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Then we embraced outsourcing, which we touted as both a gain in productivity and a way to manufacture things inexpensively.

Now we seem to be trying to reverse those positions, finding new ways to defend our borders against illegal immigrants and bemoaning the loss of high tech and manufacturing jobs to the countries whose citizens we no longer welcome. It’s all very confusing to me.

It’s about to get worse. On July 4th (this must be symbolic), China fired off a missive telling our government to keep out of the free market of economics and commerce. It doesn’t want us meddling as its government-run oil company tries a hostile takeover of Unocal. That’s hilarious position coming from a communist country whose government tries to censor the Internet and still tells people how many children they can have. The government should keep out of WHAT?

We, of course, have self-righteously responded that the Constitution gives Congress the right to regulate commerce with foreign nations. But that�s as we think nothing of acquiring companies in every corner of the world, and outsourcing to those we choose not to acquire.

The only trouble with our current stance is that 1) we have already allowed Daimler Benz to buy Chrysler, one of the big 3 automakers, because we needed a way to bail it out, and 2) we gladly allow the Wal-Marts of the country to outsource all their manufacturing to China so we can have cheap clothing and artificial Christmas trees. And we all try to find cheap (a euphemism for immigrant) labor.

I remember the early days of Wal-Mart. One of Sam Walton’s big slogans — and brand promises –was “buy America.” Wal-Mart was the store from the heartland, where patriotism and middle class values reigned supreme. Now Wal-Mart is a supply chain behemoth, affecting almost every country in the world as it tries to source things every more inexpensively. We are ruled not by a trade policy, but by �squeezing waste out of the supply chain.�

The next big argument will be over CAFTA, the Central American counterpart of NAFTA. Depending on whom you talk to, NAFTA is either a huge success or a terrible failure, sucking jobs out of America and bringing terrorists in. We do, however, need more immigrants for our landscaping businesses, chain restaurants, and janitorial services. Where will we find them? The mining industry has jobs going begging because Americans don�t want to work in coalmines. I bet immigrants will end up filling these jobs.

Looking at this from a systems point of view, it�s hard to ignore the fact that we lack a system for dealing with globalization. We piecemeal it from incident to incident, and to an outsider we must look like we’re on meth; our pronouncements don’t make any sense, and we �go off� unexpectedly, making paranoid accusations of those around us. We�re tweakers all right � we tweak our policy at the margins, instead of taking the time to think through an appropriate response to a global paradigm shift.

We desperately need a coherent globalization policy — a successor to trade policy, economic policy and immigration policy all rolled into one.

Right now, we�re talking out of both sides of our mouths. American business is madly doing business in China, selling it steel, lumber, anything else it needs. Buying stocks on the Hong Kong stock exhange, and opening Mickey D�s in Shanghai. Selling it cigarettes.

And taking China�s money to finance our national debt. Why shouldn�t China think it can tell us what to do? China and the US are like a couple living together in ignorance of the common law. After a certain number of years, we�re married, even if we never took the trip down the aisle.

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