SMART Letter #54a
TRIP NOTES FROM A SHRINKING PLANET
April 9, 2001
SMART Letter #54a -- April 9, 2001
Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg
isen.com -- "still underspecified after all these years"
email@example.com -- http://isen.com/ -- 1-888-isen-com
> 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
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 (biztravel.com) 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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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 http://pulver.com/sip2001
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 -- Jim.Synk@icn.siemens.com
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 http://www.wtn.net/
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Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg
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