SENSITIVE PRIVATE MORSELS
September 10, 1999
SMART Letter #26 - September 10,1999
Copyright 1999 by David S. Isenberg
At isen.com we accumulate intellectual capital
the old fashioned way -- we LEARN it.
firstname.lastname@example.org -- http://www.isen.com/ -- 1-888-isen-com
> Sensitive Private Morsels From Amazon.com
> "How AT&T Got the Internet." A Mercifully Brief Review
> Quote of Note: FCC Chairman William Kennard
> GPS Rollover Day: A Y2K Leading Indicator?
> Quote of Note: Robert X. Cringely
> Conferences on my Calendar, Copyright Notice, Administrivia
SENSITIVE PRIVATE MORSELS FROM AMAZON.COM:
Mining the data in Amazon.com's Purchasing Circle Lists
By David S. Isenberg
I jumped at the chance to violate somebody's privacy (and learn something
titillating and maybe even useful) when I saw the following NEWS ITEM:
"Amazon.com Modifies Purchase Circles" Seattle (AP)
"Concern over consumer privacy has prompted Internet
retailer Amazon.com . . . to allow employers to opt
out of the company specific listings."
The Record, Bergen NJ, August 27, 1999.
Heh, heh! It was COMPANIES who were concerned about their privacy, not
PEOPLE. (Amazon seems to protect PEOPLE'S privacy adequately.) I licked my
lips, imagining tender, sensitive, forbidden morsels of the corporate corps!
So, quick! -- before companies opt out -- let me climb up on my rickety soap
box and peep through the rear window that Amazon obligingly cracked . . .
[Snide aside #1: Once I was a scientist, but now I'm a
story teller. The methodology here is decidedly non-
scientific -- I should know! To wit, dig this dirt on
Purchasing Circles from the Amazon.com website:
"[We] group items ordered from particular zip
. . . codes and . . . domain names. We . . . apply
an algorithm that [identifies which items] are more
popular with each specific group than with the general
population . . . Purchase Circle Lists are based on
groups including at least 200 Amazon.com customers."
Not to mention (which Amazon diplomatically doesn't) that
different companies have different policies on use of the
Company Domain Name, the Company Internet, Company Time,
and the Corporate Credit Card.]
I began my unscientific survey by ogling AT&T's list. Then I espied MCI's
(no Worldcom!), and squinted for Sprint's (no Sprint!) (Did Worldcom and
Sprint opt out already? Maybe their employees don't like books.) I gawked
at Ameritech, BellSouth, PacTel and Bell Atlantic. (Neighborhood bully SBC
had no pulpit -- another opt-out?) I beheld BT but timed out on TCI and
TCG -- they're MIA (missing inside of AT&T). I contemplated Telcordia
(beheld as Bellcore). I browsed Netscape, leered at Lucent, eyed Ascend. I
naughtily noticed Nortel (but there was no Bay to watch). I tuned in on
Motorola and Nokia. I eyed IBM, and Intel. I saw Cisco, added Adobe, and
fell upon Apple. Finally, I lifted mine eyes unto Microsoft.
"The Results?" you might ask. The most important is that SMART People
authored the top two books!
"Harry Newton's Telecom Dictionary (15th ed.)" was the overall winner.
[Yes, I've forgiven Harry.] It appeared on eight of the 19 companies' Top
Ten lists (Ameritech, Ascend, AT&T, Bell Atlantic, Bellcore, Lucent, Nortel
and Pactel). Who (in any company) wants to go, "Huh?" when the boss is
slinging FLAs (four-letter acronyms)?
Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma," appeared on six Top Ten
lists (Ameritech, Bellcore, Intel, Motorola, Nokia, Nortel). I don't know if
these incumbents 'get it', or if the readers in their employ are preparing
to bail. Or maybe they've just had Professor Christensen in and the readers
are trying to find a flaw in his logic that would permit them to deny his
Two books appeared in five companies' Top Ten.
The first 'fiver' is Annabel Z. Dodd's "Essential Guide to
Telecommunications" (Ameritech, AT&T, BELL ATLANTIC, Bellcore, Nortel).
It'd better be good -- imagine if the top banks were reading somebody's
essential guide to banking, or if the U.S. Congress were reading "The
Essential McGuide to Federal Legislation."
The second 'fiver' is Tom Brokaw's, "The Greatest Generation" (Bell
Atlantic, BellSouth, Bellcore, MCI, PacTel). Four of these are RBOC-related
companies; remember the Great old days when Ma Bell ran the Greatest
circuit-switched, copper-wired, electro-mechanical operator-assisted
(Gratuitous comments like the above are the only scientific part of this
Two topical telecom books made it onto four Top Ten lists; "Delivering Voice
over IP Networks," by Minoli & Minoli (Bellcore, Lucent, Cisco, Nortel), and
"TCP/IP Illustrated," by W.R. Stevens (Ascend, AT&T, Lucent, Nortel).
[Snide aside #2: The Number 1 Best Seller on AT&T's
list was yet another picture book -- "Teach Yourself
Networking Visually," by Whitehead & Moran. (So here's
a get rich quick scheme -- write "The Comic Book Guide
to AT&T's Network." I can see it now . . .
Volume 1: As Easy to Use as a Telephone
Volume 2: Bundles for Fun and Profit
Volume 3: Selling DirecTV and Other Video Services
Volume 4: The Vertically Integrated Internet
Volume 5: How to Profit from the Coming Price War
Budding comic-strip artists can write to isen.com for
further details on this exciting opportunity!]
The following books made it onto three Top Ten lists: "Inside the Tornado,"
by Geoffery Moore, "Tuesdays with Morrie," and "Dr. Atkins' New Diet
"Tuesdays with Morrie" reminds me of a 'sensitive' version of a song I know:
"The Ballad of Carl Martin." The chorus goes, "It's a mighty short trip from
the cradle to the crypt, so you'd better get it while you can." It's a good
message for nerds of the telco-classic persuasion. Especially those
contemplating an early retirement package.
And it is noteworthy that all three Dr. Atkins' Diet companies were RBOCs --
Eight books are on two Top Ten Lists. A couple of these can be construed
(and why not?) to indicate head-to-head competition. For example, both
Microsoft and Netscape are reading "Competing on Internet Time," by Cusumano
& Yoffie. Both Nokia and Motorola are reading "Design Patterns: Elements of
Reusable Object-Oriented Software," by Gamma et al. (Nokia's Number One
Read is "Wideband CDMA for Third Generation Mobile Communications" and
Motorola's is "Mobile IP: The Internet Unplugged." Don't tell me there's no
espionage value here!)
Now let's look at the top tech topics, and who's reading up on them. Books
with IP and Internet in the titles appeared 22 times in the lists of Cisco
(8), Ascend (4), Lucent (3), Nortel(2), AT&T (1), Bellcore (1), Motorola
(1), Microsoft (1) and Netscape (1). Books with Java in the title appeared
11 times in the lists of AT&T (3), Bellcore (3), Netscape (2), Adobe (1),
IBM (1) and Motorola (1). Perl was the third most popular tech topic,
appearing 8 times in the lists of Motorola (3), Intel (2), Netscape (2) and
PacTel (1). SS7 tied Dr. Atkins' Diet with three appearances, and ISDN and
ATM each appeared once.
On a company-by-company basis, several comment-worthy nuggets panned out.
Cisco must be an "all-business, no-fun" place to work. Eight of their Top
Ten are tech books. The other two are by marketeer Geoffrey Moore
("Tornado" and "Gorilla"). Five of the eight tech books were Cisco
Certified Internetworking Engineer (CCIE) books. The other three were about
IP Routing, IP Switching and IP Voice. They know what their business is,
God bless 'em.
[Snide aside #3: Beware the Amazon "star" rating system
One of Cisco's CCIE books had an "average" reader rating
of three-and-a-half stars. But readers ripped it!
Most gave one star, and this only because Amazon
doesn't allow zero-stars. Several multi-star ratings
were generous, given the comments. The only five-star
rating I saw was blatantly sarcastic, awarded because the
book was excellent -- as a sleep-inducer.
Several lists show a turning inward, a certain introspective attitude, a
self-contemplative quality. In other words, they're blatantly narcissistic.
We could call it Narcisso-capitalism.
Once-great Apple's narcissism is shameless. Number One Read is "Apple
Confidential: The Real Story of Apple Computer, Inc.," and Number Two is
"Apple: The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders".
In the same vain (get it? get it?), Intel's list has "Inside Intel: Andrew
Grove and the Rise of the World's Most Powerful Chip Company," and "Creating
the Digital Future: The Secret of Consistent Innovation at Intel." And its
Number One Read is "Pentium Pro & Pentium II System Architecture."
Netscape (now part of AOL though 'netscape.com' still exists) has "AOL.com:
How Steve Case beat Bill Gates, Nailed the Netheads, and Made Millions in
the War for the Web," as well as "Netscape Time," by Jim Clark. (Since
company lists are based on domain names, the AOL list is meaningless --
well, it is a *bit* more meaningless than these others.)
Lucent's narcissism takes a technical turn. Number One is "The Practice of
Programming," by Lucent Bell-Labbers Kernighan & Pike. (The only-est
programming practice?) Number Two is "Signaling System 7," by Russell.
They're still reading about SS7 -- well, maybe its a little better than
reading about World War Two.
British Telecom's narcissism is -- pip, pip -- British. Number One Read is
"The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland," and Number Two
Read is "The Royals," by Kitty Kelly. The Number Three title is a hoot:
"The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do
About It." (I wonder why they're not raving about this book in Silicon
Valley?) It must be depressing when both your company *and* your empire are
circling the drain.
Microsoft's Numero Uno is (surprise!) "Business @ the Speed Thought," by
Chairman Bill. Also on the list: "The Microsoft File: The Secret Case
against Bill Gates." Like Cisco, Microsoft is heavy on tech books --
Microsoft tech, of course. To its credit, Microsoft's list includes Don
Norman's "The Invisible Computer" -- it's the only one of the 19 companies
to do so. (Pro-claimer: Don's a friend and a SMART Person -- buy his books!)
The RBOCs are beyond narcissism -- they've checked out completely! Bell
Atlantic's list includes five novels, an Oprah Book Club selection, and Dr.
Atkins' Diet. Ameritech had four novels and Dr. Atkins' Diet. And PacTel
has one novel, Tuesdays with Morrie, Dr. Atkins' Diet and "Eat Right for
I completed my "study" just in time! The next day I tried to revisit a
company-specific Purchasing Circle or two, but Amazon's site disingenuously
replied, "System Error: There was an internal error in our system. We
logged the problem and will investigate it later." Yeah, sure.
Oh, just one more thing: Amazon's List:
1. HTML 4 for the World Wide Web: Visual QuickStart
Guide, by Elizabeth Castro
2. Our Dumb Century: The Onion Presents 100 Years
of Headlines from America's Finest News Source,
by The Onion(Ed.), T. Herman Zweibel
3. Learning the Unix Operating System (Nutshell
Handbook), by Jerry D. Peek, et al
4. Unix in a Nutshell: System V, v2.0 by Daniel Gilly,
Mike Loukides (Eds.)
5. Learning Perl (2nd Ed.) by Randal L. Schwartz, et al
6. The Noodle Cook Book: Delicious Recipes for Crispy,
Stir-Fried, Boiled, Sweet, Spicy, Hot and Cold
Noodles, by Hayter Kunumi
7. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
8. Perl Cookbook, by Tom Christiansen et al
9. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
by James C. Collins, Jerry I. Porras
10. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, by Terry Brooks
Got it Barnes & Noble?
"HOW AT&T GOT THE INTERNET" A Brief Review (ha, ha, ha?)
by David S. Isenberg
The INDUSTRY STANDARD's hidden strength might be comedy. The cognoscenti
who read the article "How AT&T Got the Internet," by Jason K. Krause in the
August 9 issue are still giggling. The article describes the triumph of
GeoPlex (what?), the AT&T-built platform that will take the intelligence out
of the endpoints and put it back into the middle of the network.
AT&T's Hamid Ahmadi lays out how this will happen. Plus he explains why a
communications services company such as AT&T is building its own equipment,
saying, "There's a battle between us and the computer companies, and I
believe companies like AT&T could win this battle, because not every device
will be a computer. We'll build intelligence into the networks, and the
computers will just be dumb devices."
AT&T's chief technology officer David Nagel expands on this theme, saying,
"We've just now discovered the concept of open platforms, re-usable code,
and open standards and specifications." (Note: Interview done in 1999.)
The climax of the article comes as Nagel explains his grasp of the Internet
revolution. The article says, "Nagel thinks AT&T should pursue smaller
projects that generate little or no revenue."
I can't believe that The Standard would hang AT&T Labs West (or poor Jason
Krause) out to twist in the strange winds of change like this. So it has to
be comedy. Right?
QUOTE OF NOTE: William Kennard, on Equal Access for Cable:
"I continue to believe that the initiation by this
Commission of a formal proceeding [Notice of Inquiry]
focused exclusively on broadband access would undercut
our goal of accelerating the deployment of broadband
networks. A formal proceeding would chill investment
in cable modem service, which in turn would reduce the
competitive pressure on local phone companies and others
who are currently investing in alternative means of
providing consumers with access to broadband."
William Kennard, Chairman, FCC, in letter to the FCC's own Local and State
Government Advisory Committee (which requested the Notice of Inquiry), Aug.
[Gosh, Commissioner, those investments in broadband infrastructure must be
awful risky if a mere *inquiry* about them could freeze them solid. Should
we hold our breath and cross our fingers too? -- David I]
YEAR 2000 REFLECTION:GPS ROLLOVER DAY: A Y2K Leading Indicator?
By David S Isenberg
Back when memory was expensive, the designers of the satellite-based Global
Positioning System (GPS) allocated 10 bits to the GPS week counter. This
meant that the system would 'roll over' from 1111111111 to zero exactly 1024
weeks from the beginning of GPS time, at 7:59:47 PM EDT on Saturday, August
Not too many people were thinking about it 1025 weeks ago. Back them I was
navigating with a chart, an alarm clock and a compass. Mostly I got my
sailboat to where I wanted to get it. Now my Cessna covers a 24-hour wind
fresh and two points abaft the beam sail in about one hour. I have become
hooked on my Garmin GPS-90.
In mid-1998, I wrote to Garmin about the rollover. They assured me that my
model was entirely, completely compliant, that its software had been written
to behave correctly on the critical day. Cool. So I put it out of my mind.
The GPS worked fine on the way to Cape Cod on August 19. But on the way
back to New Jersey on August 22, the GPS took forever to compute where it
was. I reset it several times in flight. Finally I tried its auto-locate
mode, and finally after half a flight, its software arrived at the location
of the airplane. It almost worked fine, but for two displays, each
indicating which satellites it was receiving, that did not agree with each
On Monday August 23, I called Garmin customer service repeatedly. No way!
Busy, busy, busy. On Tuesday, I called again. And again. And again. And
again. Baa, baa, baa. On Wednesday, I called and called, and finally got
through -- to a recording that suggested that I call back on another day
when they were not bothered by the GPS rollover problem. But I hung on.
After some 20 minutes a customer support person answered.
Had I downloaded the latest software? No, I didn't have the special cable
for that. Had I read their web page, where it suggests that the GPS-90
boots faster if you hold down 'page' when you turn it on? No, I hadn't done
that either. I decided to send in the unit for an overhaul and software
update. I should probably do this once every five years anyway. The Garmin
guy said it would be in the shop 5 to 7 days. "Yeah, right," I thought.
But I was surprised. It came back last week on schedule. And it works fine
So will the Year 2000 problem be a big deal? I'm still looking at the
leading indicators. And so far I have not seen any compelling reasons to
worry a lot. Check this space again after the next leading indicator
date -- September 9, 1999.
QUOTE OF NOTE: Robert X. Cringely, on Microsoft's acquisition of Hotmail:
"'All we got was money,' said a Hotmail founder. 'There
was no recognition, no fun. Microsoft got more from the
deal than we did. They knew nothing about the Internet.
MSN was a failure. We had 10 million users, yet we got
no respect at all from Redmond. Bill Gates specifically
said, 'Don't screw-up Hotmail,' yet that's what they
did.' Here's what any company that wants to be bought
by Microsoft should know about the boys and girls from
Redmond. First, it is an adversarial culture that makes
progress only through constant infighting and bickering.
'During the technical due diligence, two Microsoft people
got in an argument that we thought might actually come to
blows,' said a Hotmail founder. 'They were fighting with
each other in front of us. It was our first hint of what
was to come. Politeness is ignored and bitches are
rewarded. Everything is about power.'
. . .
"What Hotmail learned is that at Microsoft almost anyone
can say "no," but hardly anyone can say 'yes.' The way
it specifically works at Microsoft is that everyone says
'no' to anyone below them on the organizational structure
or on the same level, and 'yes' to anyone above. Since the
vertical lines of authority are narrow this means people
tend to agree only with their bosses and their boss's boss
and try to kick and gouge everyone else. The only person
at Microsoft who hears 'yes' all the time is Bill Gates,
who must think he is in paradise."
"From Be Careful What You Wish For: Why Being Acquired by Microsoft Makes
Hardly Anyone Happy in the Long Run" by Robert X. Cringely, PBS Online,
August 26, 1999
[Remember the one about, "a company is like a tree full of monkeys"? --
CONFERENCES ON MY CALENDAR
September 27-29, 1999, Lake Tahoe CA. George Gilder's
TELECOSM! Sorry, SOLD OUT! I'm im-moderating a panel on
The Stupid Network that includes Bill St. Arnaud of CANARIE (the guy who
showed how you can get 10 gigabits to the home for the price of a cable
modem), Vab Goel of Qwest, Victor Parente of AOL, and the effervescent Nayel
Shafei of stealthco Enkido. (www.enkido.com? Sorry, nobody home.) For more
October 10-17, 1999, Geneva, Switzerland. TELECOM99,
the every-four-year ITU extravaganza that always seems
to surprise AT&T's leaders. I will be there 10/9 through 10/13 posing as a
wild-mannered columnist for America's Network.
October 27-29, 1999, New York City. The New Economy Conference, with John
Browning and Spencer Reiss. Plus an array of people who believe that
knowledge is wealth, that bigger ain't necessarily better, and that there
are more opportunities and fewer guarantees at the edge. I don't know what
I'll be doing there yet, but I suspect I'll be there. Watch
www.neweconomywatch.com for the emergent agenda.
November 4, 1999, New York City. Merrill Lynch Technology
Advisory Board Panel, quite possibly featuring Gordon Bell
(father of the VAX), Phil Neches (founder of database machine
company Teradata), Don Norman (who wrote "Turn Signals are
the Facial Expressions of Automobiles," and other worthwhile
reads), open source spokesman Eric Raymond (I hope! still unconfirmed) (who
wrote the must-read essay "The Cathedral
and the Bazaar"), and several others, no less
distinguished, whose work I don't know as well. I'll
participate too. Save the date. Stay tuned for details.
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Copyright 1999 by David S. Isenberg
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Date last modified: 10 September 99