SMART Letter #86
Not Funny!
March 30, 2003

SMART Letter #86 -- March 30, 2003
Copyright 2003 by David S. Isenberg - "Project for the New Planetary Century" -- -- 1-888-isen-com

> If it's Funny, it must be True, by Scatt Oddams
> Quote of Note: Tim Bray boils it down to its essence
> Must Read: The Myth of Interference
> Quote of Note: Greg Blonder on how cable TV evolves
> Quote of Note: Dee Hock on Internet and Democracy
> Quote of Note: Mark Twain on War
> Conferences on my Calendar
> Copyright Notice, Administrivia

If it's Funny it must be True
by Scatt Oddams

Dave I. asked me to write the opening note. He's says he's
too upset about the invasion to write. I know where he's
comin from. There's not much funny these days. Not much
true either. Is democracy>>history/dev/null? Is humanity?
How many bombs will fall before intelligence at the edge
beats big iron?

Hey, did you hear the one about George W, Sadaam and the
Pope in a lifeboat . . . nah, not possible.

What's the difference between New York City on September
11, 2001 and Baghdad today? You know the punch line for
that one, right?

Like I said, not too much funny. But I'm sticking by Dave.
Check these out: Gotta go, the
O'Reilly Factor's on.

Quote of Note: Tim Bray

"'For the early adopter, fast and always on is great,'
said Michael Grasso, who is the executive director of
Internet marketing at SBC Communications , 'But the more
typical consumer will want more than a commodity service
. . . we need to go beyond just selling a fast pipe.'

"BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT! Wrong. We don' need no steeekin'
advanced features . . . Let's lay it out in maximally-
simple bullet-point form so anyone can understand it:
-- + Fast pipe.
-- + Always on.
-- + Get out of the way."

[Tim Bray in, March 17, 2003]

Must Read: The Myth of Interference

David Weinberger's article, The Myth of Interference, in
Salon (March 12, 2003, explains
David P. Reed's work, which shows that the capacity of
spectrum is not finite. That is, spectrum is infinite,
limited only by the rapidly advancing technologies of
transmission and reception. Then the article covers why
the FCC regulates spectrum as if it were an extremely
limited resource. Finally, it suggests some ways that
technology and regulation could co-evolve to get us out
of the current mess, to facilitate forms of wireless
communications that create more spare capacity even as
the number of users grows and the traffic increases.
It is a deeply illuminating article about a set of concepts
that show every sign of changing the world.

[The SMART Person will note that I don't recommend things
unless I really think they're great. I do this out of
respect for the SMART Person's limited time and attention.
I cannot recommend The Myth of Interference too strongly!
-- David I]

Quote of Note: Greg Blonder

[One SMART Person pointed out to me that he'd need a
subscription to WSJ-interactive to read Greg Blonder's
Barron's article, in which he says that technology
investments are in the zone when they promise 2x to 4x
improvement. Myself, I'm happy to pay. But the right-now
solution is fair use. So here are some key excerpts from
Blonder's article. -- David I]

"These are turbulent times for the cable industry. Long
undercapitalized and led by free-wheeling, iconoclastic
empire builders, the cable industry is struggling with
the end of an era of significant new subscriber growth.

"Many investors view cable as a mature business with the
potential for squeezing out only marginal returns.
Cable, however, has moved far more aggressively onto the
Internet than the big phone companies. . . <snip>

"In fact, most cable companies are dead on their feet.
Their grim fate will become obvious in five years and
that fate will be well on its way to reality in 10
years. Only the cable operators that perceive the trends
early enough and act in time have an opportunity to
survive and achieve some success. There is probably even
room for one great company to emerge out of the cable
industry -- as the foremost champion of wireless
broadband Ethernet to the home.

"To understand what is happening, observe the
trajectories of two long-term trends [see chart at]. <snip> Around 2004, . . .
sending TV-quality images directly to the home over
the Internet will be simple, and a historic business
barrier will fall.

"A few content providers then will say, "Cable systems
are a thing of the past. You consumers ought to dial in
and get your videos and your TV shows directly from us."
Others will follow more slowly.

"A decade after the lines intersect, virtually all
content providers will have found many ways around the
less-than-beloved cable middleman. <snip>

"Many businesses facing such long-term trends retreat to
a state of self-denial. In the early 1990s, AT&T
management argued internally that the steady upward
curve of Internet usage would somehow collapse. The idea
that it might actually overshadow traditional telephone
service, was simply unthinkable. But the trend could not
be stopped -- or even slowed -- by wishful thinking and
clever marketing. One by one, the props that held up the
long-distance business collapsed. <snip>

"In video compression and transmission speeds to the
home, we are dealing with classic cost-improvement
curves. Such curves represent the interactions between
market and scientific disciplines, and they are very
predictable. Experience shows that if new technologies
promise improvements by a factor more than four, they
tend not to get funded because they are seen as too

"And if they promise less than a factor of two, they tend
not to get funded because they offer too little economic
benefit. So each new generation of products -- be they
jet engines, software or chicken broilers -- brings
about a measured, highly predictable benefit.

"Thus the curves determining cable's future stretch out
for all to see. And as the modems cable companies are so
energetically promoting grow ever faster and ever
cheaper, the cable companies will find that they have
unintentionally cut themselves out of the content
delivery business. Customers will simply bypass the
cable operator's content -- and its layers of fees --
and go straight to the source.

"What cable companies must do is become transport
companies. A smart cable company would stop pouring
money into projects that conflict with the new reality
and have repeatedly failed to gain traction in past

"The hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in
set-top-box entertainment hubs would flow elsewhere. In
the coming era of direct contact between content-
providers and consumers, the set-top box will no longer
be required as a mediator for information. No amount of
additional set-top box features can change that fact.
Instead, the open standards of the Internet will
dominate -- and a range of network-attached devices will
be made and sold direct to the consumer by consumer-
electronics companies.

"A smart cable company would focus all available
investment dollars on finding new ways to becoming a
better pipe company -- facilitating the streaming of
video through the cable modem, for example, so that true
TV-quality on the computer screen becomes dependable.

"The present cost structure of the cable industry remains
way out of line for such a model. Yet as cost-efficient
pipe providers, cable companies would be well-positioned
to fight off the local phone companies, who will almost
certainly continue to suffer from lethargy and capital
inefficiency in defending their voice services.

"Even with a full-blown crisis for cable years away, it
is clear that only the most efficient users of capital
will win . . ."

Excerpted from "Creative Destruction," by Greg Blonder,
Barron's, November 11, 2002,

Quote of Note: Dee Hock

"Internet culture [has been] too enthralled by new toys
to pay attention to such mundane matters as governance.
It failed to 'Institutionalize its
deinstitutionalization.' That is, the architects of the
Internet failed utterly to see the need for a new form
of commercial and political organization that emulated
and capitalized on the principles inherent in its
technology, structure and capacity. It is, therefore,
completely unable to deal with its own excesses, to
enhance the quality of its communication or to resist
the onslaughts of commercialization. The evidence is
everywhere about. I gave up arguing such things with
Internet aficionados several years ago, for the vast
majority were so intoxicated by their new toys that they
defended its emergence and lack of governance with
zealotry bordering on religious. Do you think many have
sobered up enough to raise their heads from computer
screens and enlarge their perspective?

"The failure of democracy to scale is also not
complicated to understand. The founding fathers of this
country . . . could not have been expected to visualize
the growth of populations, radical evolution of science,
vast increases of technology and incredible increases in
mobility of information, money, goods, services and
people. . . . In the main, they did not foresee a need
for the right to self-organize -- to adjust scale and
degrees of separation as such increases occurred. At
every scale, organizations were vested with the power to
prevent smaller scales from forming and thus
distributing power. That which was properly within scale
for the time and technology rapidly became out of scale
as everything increased in size and complexity and our
power to interfere with nature mushroomed.

"[The founding fathers of the U.S.] could not imagine
that corporations, once a creature of nation states,
would so expand while ridding themselves of social
responsibility to the point they could hold virtually
any government to ransom for the privilege of their
presence. Today, nation states and elected politicians
are more creatures of corporations than corporations are
creatures of nation states. Unfortunately, while it was
democracy and liberty corporations needed to reach their
present dominance, in the main, their governance is the
antithesis of democratic, free and just. I do not think
it bodes well for the future of democracy."

Dee Hock, founder of Visa, excerpted from a letter to
Joichi Ito, March 8, 2003, see for
the complete letter.

Quote of Note: Mark Twain on War

"Look at you in war -- what mutton you are, and how
ridiculous! . . . There has never been a just one, never
an honorable one -- on the part of the instigator of the
war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will
never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The
loud little handful -- as usual -- will shout for the
war. The pulpit will -- warily and cautiously -- object
-- at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation
will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there
should be a war, and will say, earnestly and
indignantly, 'It is unjust and dishonorable, and there
is no necessity for it.' Then the handful will shout
louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and
reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first
will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not
last long; those others will outshout them, and
presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose
popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing:
the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech
strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret
hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers -- as
earlier -- but do not dare to say so. And now the whole
nation -- pulpit and all -- will take up the war-cry,
and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who
ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths
will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap
lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is
attacked, and every man will be glad of those
conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study
them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and
thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is
just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys
after this process of grotesque self-deception."

From _The Mysterious Stranger_, by Mark Twain, Harper &
Brothers, New York, 1916, Chapter 9. The full text is
available at


March 31 through April 3, 2003, San Jose CA. VON. I am
organizing a panel on April 1 (5:00 to 6:15 PM) with Tim
Horan of CIBC, Roxane "smarter-than-your-average-bear"
Googin, and Anders Comstedt, the fellow who built the
profitable, profitable, profitable, profitable, profitable,
dark fiber network in Stockholm. April 1 is one of my
favorite holidays. You will believe EVERYTHING my panel
presents --

April 22-25, 2003, Santa Clara CA. O'Reilly Emerging
Technology Conference. My presentation will be called
Operating Models for Stupid Networks, Friday, April 25 at
2:00 PM --

June 11-14, 2002, Philadelphia PA. TedMed3. Come if you
possibly can.

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 2003 by David S. Isenberg -- -- 1-888-isen-com

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-- The brains behind the Stupid Network --