SMART Letter #27
September 22, 1999



            SMART Letter #27 - September 22,1999

            Copyright 1999 by David S. Isenberg

      At we accumulate intellectual capital

           the old fashioned way -- we LEARN it. -- -- 1-888-isen-com




>  Quote of Note: Phil Agre

>  How a Generalist Makes a Living by David S. Isenberg

>  Quote of Note: Hugo de Garis

>  Tool with Two Edges by David S. Isenberg

>  Quote of Note: Peter Huber

>  Smart Remarks from SMART People: Matt Oristano, Anonymous

>  Miscellany: Sin of Omission, GPS Rollover, 

               Canada Orders Cable Data Service Resale, 

               Dado Vrsalovic Quits AT&T

>  Quote of Note: RCN's Mike Adams

>  Conferences on my Calendar, Copyright Notice, Administrivia



   "In a world where any meaningful shared symbol will turn 

    up in a sneaker ad next month, it becomes important to 

    fly beneath the radar of the surveillance machine of 

    commercial culture."

From "Find Your Voice: Writing for a Webzine," by Phil Agre,

in Red Rock Eater News Service, July 30, 1999,



"There are no jobs for generalists," said my undergraduate 

advisor as he twisted my arm to apply to graduate school. He 

was wrong -- I'm finally making a living as a generalist after 

a Ph.D., three post-doctoral years, and half a career at Bell 


In school, people who inspired me were "big picture" folks -- 

Arthur "Ghost in the Machine" Koestler, biologist Kurt 

Goldstein, neurologist Charles Sherrington, Plato, the 

Grateful Dead, Andre Citroen, and most of all, Buckminster 

Fuller.  I spent my grad school and post-doc time resisting 

pressure to become master of something.  

Bucky Fuller's observation that the power structure exalts 

specialists to keep smart people from challenging bigger 

"decision" issues was reified by what happened to me at AT&T 

when I wrote "Rise of the Stupid Network".

The success of "The Stupid Network" surprised me.  The thrust of 

Tom Petzinger's Wall Street Journal write-up gave it escape 

velocity.  My 15 minutes of fame -- whirlwind public speaking, 

reporters calling, fringies bugging with harebrained schemes 

-- lasted a year.

Now I've entered the second stage of 'the job I always 

wanted'. Leaving AT&T, my biggest fear was that I would lose 

my collegial community.  It proved unfounded.  The community 

of SMART People is bigger, more interactive, more powerful and 

more sustaining than I anticipated.  The SMART Letter -- still 

free, despite repeated advice from certain quarters that I 

make it a revenue producer -- is my way to give back to you, 

my SMART power base. THANK YOU!

Here's what I've been doing in stage two:

I have joined the advisory boards of three start-ups -- each 

in its own way is bidding to make the communications 

infrastructure faster, cheaper, more open, more accessible.  

I'll write more on this as soon as they're ready to come into 

the open.

In addition, I've joined the Think-Tank of the world's first 

on-line mutual fund, OpenFund (need I add .com? -- look it 

up!).  OpenFund displays its portfolio (and buy/sell activity) 

in real time.  It is the only mutual fund that lets you email 

its managers, "Why'd you buy that, you dunderheads?" and get 

an immediate response (dunderheaded or otherwise) revealing 

the thought behind the transaction.


The other OpenFund Think-Tankers are Peter Sprague (the 

founding CEO of National Semiconductor) and Nicholas "MIT-

Media-Lab" Negroponte.  Negroponte has challenged my "Stupid 

Network" idea on the OpenFund discussion board; suggesting 

that "agnostic network" might be more apt. In return, I 

suggest that deep in Negroponte's digital heart of hearts, I 

betcha he believes that the Stupid Network is a "one".

If a mutual fund is too stodgy for you, if you want more risk 

and more upside, I can introduce you to some opportunities 

like that too.  Email me.

And that's not all.  I hosted a month-long roundtable 

discussion on CMP's PlanetIT website.  The CMP folks report 

that it got "over 8,000 pageviews . . . by far the heaviest 

traffic we've ever received for a single Roundtable."  And I 

helped judge the World Communications Awards for Emap Media 

(the Communications Week International folks) to be presented 

at Telecom99 in Geneva in three weeks. And I seem to be on 

some kind of brain trust for the Ernst & Young Center for 

Business Innovation (according to their glossy literature); 

certainly, my friendship with E&Y's John Jordan and Chris 

Meyer endures.

And that's not all.  I continue to be invited to present the 

Stupid Network to top echelons of telco-classic incumbency.  

The paradigm-breaker these days seems to be wireless (wired = 

tired).  It's another case of what Bucky called 

"ephemeralization," which is the process of replacing stuff 

with ideas.  Instead of sunk costs, these float.

Bottom line: I'm doing a raft of things, and I'm still having 

fun squinting at big picture issues.  I'm making a living as a 



QUOTE OF NOTE:  Hugo de Garis

   "I've been reading about the people who built the 

    atomic bomb, because I profoundly identify with 

    them . . . They knew what they were doing and where 

    it would lead, and I worry about where this will lead."

Hugo de Garis, who is building a silicon "brain" at ATR, 

Kyoto, Japan, in New York Times Magazine, Aug. 1, 1999, p. 45.


TOOL WITH TWO EDGES: Let's stop a minute and reflect on what 

we're creating and what it means. 

By David S. Isenberg

I am ashamed to admit that I played a small part in creating 

the technology behind interactive voice response (IVR). I kick 

myself every time I find myself on hold, a prisoner of some 

idiot robot announcement.

At the same time, I delight as the Internet, using audio 

technology with the same signal-processing roots as IVR, 

shatters the star-maker machinery of the recording behemoths. 

I exult when my cable modem bypasses the ever more 

homogenized, monopolized, risk-averse broadcast media to pull 

in an MP3 by a jazz artist I've never heard before, or a .wav 

of a Grateful Dead concert from 1972 or a RealAudio stream of 

traditional Polynesian music from KKCR radio Kauai.

I am ashamed that my purchases make me complicit in 

this month's closing of not one, but two small bookstores in 

Westfield, N.J. And I share guilt for this year's loss of The 

Market Bookshop in Falmouth, Mass., which was a labor of love 

by its owners Bill and Caroline Banks that added much more 

value to my life than I ever paid them for.

At the same time, I think that embodies the promise 

the future, and that Jeff Bezos is a genius. Online shopping 

frees me from depersonalized megastores. It keeps me out of my 

car. It bespeaks a radical discontinuity in retail that 

promises to make expanded arrays of goods and services 

available to - and affordable by - more people.


Technology has always been a two-edged tool. We who have 

sweated to hack our way onto the early Internet, who now 

depend on it in our daily lives, find it a bit too easy to 

feel virtuous. Todays' incredible market valuations provide 

external vindication that makes it even easier.

We may not welcome the other edge of communications 

technology. We may even deny that it will cut. Nevertheless, 

it is swinging our way; the money-come-lately has arrived. 

Before our eyes, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF; 

only yesterday a functioning meritocracy) warps into a 

political forum where incumbents position and feint. The 

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN, 

conceived only last year as an open body dedicated to Internet 

self-governance) becomes a back room filled with today's 

equivalent of cigar smoke. And AT&T's unfettered foray into 

broadband monopoly (in the name of competition and 

deregulation) could strangle the next swarm of harebrained 

value creation in a silk web of economic justification.

We who have sweated to hack our way onto the early Internet, 

who now depend on it in our daily lives, find it easy to feel 


A reminder that technology is but a tool in the hand of 

humanity arrives in my e-inbox every few weeks. It is a five-

year old 'zine called Netfuture: Technology and Human 

Responsibility, [] edited 

and written (for the most part) by Stephen L. Talbott. 

Netfuture, distributed to about 4,500 readers, provides a 

consistent, moderate voice, reminding us, in Talbott's words, 

that "we need to move to a deeper level of analysis."


For example, in Netfuture #91 (June 23, 1999), Talbott 

queries, "[I]f you lived at the beginning of the 20th century 

and if, possessed of unusual foresight, you had grave 

misgivings about how the automobile was beginning to 

restructure society, what would your message to your 

contemporaries have been? ... How would the automobile itself 

contribute to overall patterns of injury and health? How would 

it play into our besetting tendencies to abandon community and 

flee ourselves? How would it help to fragment and ghetto-ize 

society?" Talbott continues, "you might find yourself [saying] 

'You know, the more we as a society rely on this machine with 

our current imbalances, the more we will, even with our good 

deeds, strengthen certain forces that bring pain and suffering 

to society.'"

As we rush to computerize our schools, Netfuture reminds us 

that learning is about more than "shovelable ... atomic facts" - 

that the deepest education comes from one human's faith in 

another. As we build new communications and applications, 

Netfuture affords a pause in the business buzz to reflect on 

the decontextualization that comes when the answer to "Where 

do you want to go today?" is whimsical, and technology 

transports us at will. And as prostheses for blindness gain 

efficacy, Netfuture points out that new ways of seeing, 

developed by an individual's willful conscious effort, need 

neither light nor retina to know aspects of our world that the 

sighted never see.

Broadly, I believe that technology in the hand of humanity is 

good, and especially that open systems will empower the 

disenfranchised and capitalize the undiscovered. But in these 

days of heady progress, it is worth remembering that we build 

on the ageless legacy of our environment, our biology and our 

psychology, which may not respond as we wish when we increase 

the density of transistors and the speed of bits.

The article above appeared in the September 1, 1999 issue of 

America's Network. Copyright 1999 Advanstar Communications.


QUOTE OF NOTE:  Peter Huber

   "[N]obody will ever put it all in one package, wire 

    and wireless, voice and Net, Brooklyn and Burundi. 

    Providers will keep promising single rates and simple 

    bills, but networks will keep multiplying faster than 

    any single provider can build and bundle."

Peter Huber, Forbes, Sept 6, 1999


Smart Remarks from SMART People:

From Matt Oristano, MMDS entrepreneur:

   "Up till now, I have successfully resisted the lure of 

    the prestige clubs and organizations, but after seeing

    your newsletter, I say, the hell with Phi Beta Kappa or

    MENSA, what I really want is to be a SMART person! . . .

From Anonymous, the famous author:

   "Re Amazon: [At] Adelphia (the cable company) [the] 

    number 1 book was about how to get rich as a day trader.

    [N]umber 3 was another day-trading "how-to" . . . and the

    number 2 book? . . . (drum roll) . . . the latest John

    Grisham novel.  Sounds like they're really working hard

    out there.  [Also] Morgan Stanley's #1 was an introduction

    to telecom. (Are they staffing up?  Does this mean more

    mergers to come?).  Merrill Lynch's is a history of 

    Goldman Sachs (envy, fear?)."



Sin of Omission:  In the last SMART Letter, I said that Don 

Norman's "The Invisible Computer" was on Microsoft's top ten 

book list. But it is not just *on* the list, it is 

*Number*Two* right after Ch@irm@n Bill's.  Sorry, Don.

More on GPS Rollover Day:  Two SMART People wrote to tell me 

about their post-Aug21 GPS problems.  Both owned Garmins, 

different models than mine.

Canada Orders Resale of Cable Data Service.  In Canada, 

federal regulators laid down the principle that Cable 

providers are common carriers, subject to the same regulatory 

philosophy as telcos, in 1996.  The CRTC ordered cable 

providers to unbundle their cable data service some months 

ago.  But SMART Person Francois Menard reports that cable 

operators dragged their feet, so on September 14, the CRTC 

punitively ordered cable operators to resell data service at a 

25% discount to any ISP who wants it.  Let's see if this slows 

down Canada's deployment of high-speed data services (as AT&T 

would claim) or if it speeds it up.  Watch for Menard's 

upcoming piece in The Cook Report on Internet

Dado Vrsalovic quits AT&T!  Vrsalovic is author of the only 

articulate (if not well-reasoned) rebuttal to "The Stupid 

Network" (ACM netWorker, v. 2.2, April/May 1998) and one of 

the architects of AT&T's vapor-enshrouded Geoplex. Reportedly, 

he is leaving "to pursue other exciting opportunities", which, 

come to think of it, is why he left Sun Microsystems several 

years ago to join AT&T.  Vrsalovic, who is fond of saying, 

"The hen has an interest in breakfast, but the pig is 

*involved* in it," has taken his bacon off the table once 



QUOTE OF NOTE:  Mike Adams

   "When all the dust settles, the guy with the ability to 

    deliver bits at the lowest cost is going to win." 

Mike Adams, technology president, RCN, quoted in

"Glass Houses", by Scott Woolley, Forbes, Sept 20, 1999



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. ( Sorry, nobody home.)  For more info,

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 



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 for the emergent agenda.

November 4, 1999, New York City.  "TechBrains Seminar" with 

Merrill Lynch Technology Advisory Board members.  Featuring 

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 (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.  Email me if you are seriously interested in 




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Copyright 1999 by David S. Isenberg -- -- 1-888-isen-com


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1-888-isen-com            1-908-654-0772


Date last modified: 23 September 99