SMART Letter #54a
April 9, 2001

!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*() ------------------------------------------------------------ SMART Letter #54a -- April 9, 2001 Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg -- "still underspecified after all these years" -- -- 1-888-isen-com ------------------------------------------------------------ !@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*() CONTENTS > Quote of Note: John Lennon & Paul McCartney > Trip Notes from a Shrinking Planet Los Angeles: uWink -- Internet for The Rest of Us New Zealand: United Networks Launches Metro Fiber > Conferences on my Calendar > Copyright Notice, Administrivia ------- QUOTE OF NOTE: "Because the world is round it turns me on." John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Because, _Abbey Road_, 1969. ------- TRIP NOTES FROM A SHRINKING PLANET By David S. Isenberg My trip around the world began on February 19 and lasted 16 days. I hit Los Angeles, New Zealand (Auckland and Wellington), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) and Israel. If it's Thursday, I must be changing planes in Vienna. Or is this Singapore? My trip began in Newark with a delay. The frequent(ly delayed) flyers in United's Red Carpet Club were fuming at club attendants. "Quit lying. When is the plane *really* leaving?" they growled through gritted teeth. History's baggage had arrived as damaged goods. Because Newark is a major Continental hub, I usually fly Continental. But an experience of surly service on a Continental flight from Newark to Tokyo last year, plus a very reasonable Star Alliance business/first class round-the-world fare from Rosenbluth Travel ( had tipped the balance towards United. As we boarded the late LA-bound flight, the United attendant silently handed out fifty-dollar I'm-sorry vouchers without making eye contact. Clearly United employees carry their own baggage. If *that's* employee ownership, give me feudalism. LOS ANGELES: UWINK -- INTERNET FOR THE REST OF US Fortunately the delay did not destroy my dinner plan with Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell invented Pong, the world's first coin-operated video game, and he founded Atari, the company that produced the first home video game platform. He has been in my hero's gallery since 1982 when I worked at Mattel on voice games for Intellivision. Today Nolan and I serve as tank-mates on the MetaMarkets Think Tank. In side correspondence Nolan and I pledged to have a beer together someday. One year later, we were finally gonna have that beer. Great people take great risks. Thomas Edison, for example, went from abject poverty to great wealth, and back to poverty again, several times in his colorful life. Nolan will tell his own story some day. I will only report that Nolan found poverty to be "surprisingly liberating" and that once again he has returned to his roots -- electronic, coin-operated video games. Bushnell's new company is called uWink. uWink's electronic games have the simplicity and captivation of Pong. In other words, ordinary people can play them. You don't need to be a testosterone-dosed giga-fingered teenage proto-male rocked by blood, bullets and imminent destruction. It does help if you're quick and clever -- the challenge begins at the level of card games and crossword puzzles. Flow, that delightful feeling of challenge, learning and near-mastery, comes early. Progressively harder screens and new twists to the game appear as expertise grows. "These games make you smarter. They make you grow new synapses," says Bushnell. In contrast, most software makes *me* feel dumber. I bet that uWink could teach the designers of Microsoft Office a coupla things. If uWink games were just clever, this would be a short story. But uWink has a secret weapon -- the Internet. The coin-op game biz, since Pong, has been marginal, seedy, suspect and cyclical. Arcades and bars generally don't attract customers with three home computers, a wireless LAN and a personal website. uWink has the makings of a chasm-crosser, a genuine disruptive technology, a way to bring Internet advantages to the great unwashed. uWink has the potential to turn the bar game, a formerly a solitary or pairwise pursuit, into a means of social communication. Perhaps more Americans are bowling alone these days, but soon they'll be playing uWink's Bloxx (and Zillionaire and dozens of other games) with other active people around the world. uWink isn't counting on fancy broadband connectivity -- dial- up connections are fine for Phase One, thank you. uWink's dial-up connection will verify credit cards and monitor how games and locations are doing; which ones are popular and which need help. New games will arrive regularly via Internet download, eliminating long provisioning intervals and expensive roving technicians. Nolan Bushnell is the proven master of the put-another- quarter-in-the-slot business model. uWink has some new revenue possibilities, too. Take advertising. Between frames of a game, with fingers twitching and eyes scanning for the first dropped Bloxx, it will be impossible to ignore a three- second vid of an attractive hunk or hunkette drinking a cold one, wearing a hot one or driving a fast one. More importantly, Internet connectivity will provide support for leagues and tournaments. It will enable membership in Club uWink, which will provide a voluntary, persistent identity for league participants and tournament players. It will allow chat and email boxes for social by-play and relationship forming among players. It will transform games from content to communication. It'll be a poor person's public portal to pay-per-page paradise. As a public portal, uWink might find other, more prosaic apps. We know that email wins. Maybe uWink users will want to email their mother or send sweetie a valentine from the friendly neighborhood uWink console at the friendly neighborhood pub. These apps will be stone simple -- uWink people typically can't figure out, can't afford, or otherwise don't have an Internet-connected computer. We're talking about crossing the chasm, about the other 67% of the population. We're talking about EZ-2-use appliances. We're talking about a new Internet revenue model called 'put the !#$&**! quarter (or bill) (or credit card) in the slot'. Technically, the uWink console is almost bulletproof. The physical chassis is a safe with a screen. The operating system is a stripped down Linux kernel. "Linux is bulletproof, it never crashes and it's free," Bushnell says. Soon the hardware's heart will house a Wave Systems security chip. I'm a friend of Wave Systems founders Peter and Steve Sprague, but I have never been a fan of hold-back-the-future security apps such as those advanced by Big Music. In contrast, the Wave chip seems perfect for uWink's application set. "You don't want somebody hacking the payment records or slowing down the system clock to artificially improve game scores," explains Bushnell. Suddenly my 50-something-year-old body got that after-midnight feeling. Nolan kindly drove me back to LAX where the United First Class concierge knew my name, brought me a club soda, and discreetly pointed out Barbara Walters giving pre-flight orders to her entourage. My flight to Auckland left LAX late, but I did not mind. I had Seat 2A, all by itself in the nose of a giant 747. It was the nicest seat I have ever had on an airplane, with a little padded dais for my feet and controls for almost every sensory need. As the plane went airborne, my semi-somnolent brain guided my fingers to the seat-flattening button. The next instant I awoke at 35,000 feet somewhere southwest of Hawaii. [Disclaimer: I liked uWink so much, I bought the company -- well, shares anyway. And we're working out other ways to do business too.] NEW ZEALAND: UNITED NETWORKS LAUNCHES METRO FIBER NETWORKS My host, David Norriss met me at Auckland Airport. Almost immediately, he handed me a cell phone for my use while in New Zealand. It was a gesture of mercy to a poor GSM-deprived U.S. citizen. In the United States, mobile communications resembles ethnic politics in the Balkans. That is, each valley has its own unwritten rules. Enemies live side-by-side without interference but without synergy either. The situation makes no sense to an outsider. And world standards seem very far away. Actually, for this trip, I *had* rented a Motorola tri-band GSM phone from VoiceStream (US$50/month). Nice phone, worldwide voice service (couldn't get it to do short-message service), but since airtime cost between US$1.90 and US$5.40/minute, it often felt more like a brick than a communications device. I was in New Zealand to help United Networks launch metropolitan fiber networks in Auckland and Wellington. The Launch Event was scheduled for the next day, February 22. Originally, United Networks owned electrical rights of way. Then, in acquiring a gas company, it was surprised to discover that it also bought miles of abandoned coal gas conduit under the central business districts of Auckland and Wellington. United Networks quickly saw the potential to awake this dormant asset. Planning the fiber network took a year, but once United started, the build (under both cities at once) took about 12 weeks. United Networks had installed 216-strand Ericsson cable for main artery traffic with 72-fiber feeder loops. Norriss compared the build to arthroscopic surgery. Almost all the laying of conduit and pulling of fiber was done through little holes in the road. There was very little trenching or traffic disruption. United Networks' timing was strong. Before 2000, New Zealand had only 560 megabits to the outside world. Last fall Southern Cross, New Zealand's 40 Gbit/s undersea fiber link to the world (with 120 Gbit/s potential), came on line. Now United Networks' had built the perfect nozzle for this pipe. Hawaii and California are now a flash away from the heart of Kiwi business. In the other direction, Australia is a flash across the Tasman Sea, and Asia is just beyond. This is the real "Death of Distance". New Zealand has only 3.5 million people. Southern Cross would let every Kiwi download 11.5 kbit every second of every day, or 1200 gigabits a month. [Compare. In our recent discussion of e-xpedient wireless service, we decided that a bit budget of 1 GigaBYTE a month was reasonable, given today's usage patterns. Now New Zealand has enough bandwidth for every Kiwi to download over 100 Gigabytes a month from international sites.] Wellington, New Zealand's capitol, already has CityNet, a fiber network strung on the same poles that carry electricity for the city's trolley system. This already provides significant fiber access. More importantly it gives United Networks competition. With two providers, Wellington is now one of the most connected cities in the world. (Telecom NZ also has metro fiber in New Zealand's cities, but it follows the telco model -- fiber is expensive, and customers buy high-priced, managed, vertically integrated services. ) RAISING NEW ZEALAND'S BQ -- For United Networks to succeed, Kiwis must use more bandwidth per capita than any other nation. United Networks' biggest job, raising New Zealand's BQ, is still ahead. To do this, United Networks will use the carrier's carrier model, an open-access wholesale strategy, selling to carriers, ISPs, enterprises, and anybody else who needs connectivity. This is the only workable strategy for the Internet era. Carriers can't expect extra value from vertically integrated services. The Internet commoditizes transport. The Internet Protocol's job is to ignore network-specific differences, even those that would create value in a non-Internetworked world. So fiber owners' must let their customers, and their customer's customers, provide the apps that drive the traffic. David Stone, UnitedNetworks Communications fiber net honcho, is remarkably clear about this. Stone says he's providing, "agnostic bandwidth". David Norriss drove me from the Airport to the downtown Auckland offices of Botica-Conroy, the public relations firm that was organizing the Launch Event. Allan Botica projected a professional, everything-under-control air, even as he told me that the Investors had suffered a serious case of cold feet just the day before. They had vetoed a new, edgy, heart- pounding name for the fiber network in favor of boring but functional, UnitedNetworks Communications. Botica's people had been up all night re-designing the website. Closer to home, the Investors didn't want me to call their network "stupid". I was OK with that. I re-did my talk, replacing "stupid" with end-to-end, empty inside, disruptive, and simplified. Hey, no problem. The morning Auckland Launch Event had one glitch. As I began my presentation, I could hear the disk thrashing on my IBM240 laptop. The machine was wedged. Powerpoint had corrupted. While it was rebooting, I pulled out my chunk of 864-fiber cable and helped people envision a fiber to every home. The afternoon event in Wellington was glitchless. Dan Warnock, United Networks' American CEO, was beaming. Several Members of Parliament and the Minister of Communications spoke at these events. One of the pols spoke about how New Zealand was looking forward to providing 9.6 kbit/s to every home. What??? 9.6??? ***KILO***bits? Maybe New Zealand has a longer way to go than I thought. A couple of SMART People, who I had only known via email, came to the Wellington presentation. I met Roger deSalis and Arnim Littek. Littek, it turns out, has a venture around a variable resistance wearable material, doing signal processing on the output to recover, e.g., heart rate and respiration. Wearable computing with a vengence! [Disclaimer: I took his case -- I am now helping him find strategic partners.] Following completion of our duties in Wellington, David Stone and David Norriss took me to the cricket game. New Zealand's All Blacks were playing Pakistan. David N and David S tried valiantly to explain wickets and overs to David I, but it is still a mystery to me. Our taxi driver said that Robin Williams described cricket as, "Baseball on valium." To me, cricket is more like a courtship ritual of ducks -- curious and intense, but it doesn't trigger in me the deeper emotions I witness in the participants and onlookers of the species. The next day, though, we went for a sail. Now, that's my language! We sailed NZ40, an America's Cup class boat that was never actually raced. An elegant machine, it hit 11.5 knots in a 15 knot breeze. The length of Auckland harbor was a reach. The mast just fit under the bridge. It was over too quickly. I had Saturday off. I took the half-hour ferry ride from downtown Auckland to Waiheke Island and rented a motorcycle for the day. Waiheke is like Martha's Vineyard, but with affordable real estate and without celebs. I had a cheese and olive plate at the Mud Brick Cafe. The Kiwis sure do know their wines. New Zealand sure does have some nice spots. The next day I caught the Air New Zealand flight to Singapore, transfer to Kuala Lumpur. I keep thinking that Australia and New Zealand are close to Southeast Asia. Wrong!!! The first leg took over 10 hours. The seat was uncomfortable and lumpy in business class. [To be continued in SMART Letter #54b] ------- CONFERENCES ON MY CALENDAR May 1-2, 2001, Richardson TX. Jeff Pulver's SIP Summit. I will put something together on "Why SIP is hip", scheduled for Monday 5/1, 4:30 to 5:30. Don't come to hear me, though. Come to understand why SIP is appropriate end-to-end Internet communications technology at the feet of experts like Henning Schulzrinne and Jonathan Rosenberg. Info and registration materials at May 16, 2001, New York City. I'll be speaking at about 6:00 PM at the Wharton Club of New York City. SMART People welcome! I think there might be a modest registration fee. Contact Jim Synk for more info -- July 1-2, 2001, London UK. World Technology Summit and Awards. I will be giving a keynote speech on the usual topic(s). Twenty-four awards will be made for technologic contributions in almost every human endeavo(u)r. Find out more at ------- COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Redistribution of this document, or any part of it, is permitted for non-commercial purposes, provided that the two lines below are reproduced with it: Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg -- -- 1-888-isen-com ------- [to subscribe to the SMART Letter, please send a brief, PERSONAL statement to (put "SMART" in the Subject field) saying who you are, what you do, maybe who you work for, maybe how you see your work connecting to mine, and why you are interested in joining the SMART List.] [to unsubscribe to the SMART List, send a brief unsubscribe message to] [for past SMART Letters, see] [Policy on reader contributions: Write to me. I won't quote you without your explicitly stated permission. If you're writing to me for inclusion in the SMART Letter, *please* say so. I'll probably edit your writing for brevity and clarity. If you ask for anonymity, you'll get it. ] ** David S. Isenberg, inc. 888-isen-com 908-654-0772 ** -- The brains behind the Stupid Network -- **