Monday, April 30, 2007


Educause Policy Conference

Educause is the organization that runs the .edu top-level-domain, and they're throwing a shindig in Washington DC on May 16 and 17. The program looks surprisingly eclectic. It includes people like Bruce Lehman, the guy who wrote the DMCA (and apparently has been having second thoughts about it), John Muleta (a Kevin Martin FCC brain-drainer), a fellow from Microsoft discussing patent reform, a Cato Institute guy on identity, plus friends like Rick Whitt, John Windhausen and Chris Libertelli on Network Neutrality.

I wish I could go, but I have another commitment. If you go, please write to me about how cool it was . . .

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One more thought on the American Automobile Affair

Week before last, I was in Silicon Valley at rush hour. Me n my rentacar wuz stuck in the two-lane parking lot reserved for lonely drivers while the sociable, the scofflaws, the motorcyclists and the Prius drivers sped by in the third lane. On the radio, the story was about how California law granted a yellow sticker that allowed a certain number of Priuses and other cleaner cars into the "HOV" lane. All of a sudden, a car with a sticker was worth a kilobuck more on the used car lot. Of course! It'd do 60 when regular cars had to go 20.

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Will ride sharing work this time?

My friend Robin Chase, who founded ZipCar, is at it again. Her new idea is to re-invent ride sharing via an on-line service she's named It's a social networking site for the laterally mobile. If it works as intended, it saves money, shares the fossil fuel use and CO2 pollution and makes friends all at the same time.

As somebody who has not ever joined a commercial social networking service, I'm probably not in the target demographic. And as an old hippie hitchhiker with enough miles on my thumb for a free first-class ticket, I'd sooner stand by the side of the road looking into drivers' eyes than ichat with second-degree pay-pals that might be going my way at 9:45 Monday the week after next. Nevertheless, I wish GoLoco every success. And my hat is off to Robin for being so anti-hyperindividualistically-wasteful; here's to doing well by doing good! I hope ride sharing works in the GoLoco incarnation.

If you'd like to find out more about GoLoco, the Boston Globe wrote it up last week, and Steve Levy did a piece on it in Newsweek.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007


PON, the Architecture of Control

Somebody recently declared that in ancient Rome, bridge (pont) building was the highest form of technology, and the Pope wanted the bridge builders' glory to rub off on him, so he started calling himself "The Pontiff." I have no idea if this is true.

Martin Geddes wrote to me to point out a very good posting in the Fiberevolution blog that claims PON (Passive Optical Network) is 8% cheaper than Point-to-Point (aka Direct Fiber, aka what we in Baseball Land call Home Run). He asks whether Verizon's shareholders are upset that FIOS uses PON.

(Answer: No. Verizon's shareholders are upset that FIOS has such a slow payback. They should be delighted by PON, but they're not. They don't care that Verizon needs to go to the moon, instead they're happy with a higher tree.)

PON, by the way, is the architecture of control. Fiberevolution says that PON is ideally suited for broadcast, that it "mutualizes" the bandwidth, and that it is particularly unsuited for e.g., when some users use a LOT more bandwidth than others, because it makes congestion for the other users. In contrast, in Home Run architecture, you simply re-light strands with heavy use to run faster.

Actually, this is a strength in the view of the telcos and cablecos. As in, "Those nasty P2P users. We need to detect certain applications and discriminate. We need to prohibit certain kinds of traffic, oh did you want video entertainment? We have that over here." In other words, PON gives the facility operator good reasons to rejoin the content to the conduit, which reifies the old biz model that the "any app over any net" Internet took apart, which they love.

Another "strength." Suppose the tide changes at the FCC to make unbundling (i.e., sharing or wholesaling infrastructure to would-be competitors) an acceptable topic. Home Run is built for unbundling. PON isn't. Facility operators hate unbundling. If they build PON, they can reasonably say, "Unbundling is technically infeasible."

In contrast, in Home Run networks each fiber stands alone. I can have a fiber run by Company A lit at J Mbit/s and my neighbor can have another fiber run by Company B, lit at K Mbit/s. Home Run (or Point-to-Point, or Direct Fiber) provides a smooth upgrade path, serves users with different needs, and grows as our need for throughput changes. Home Run is the way to maximize the network's benefit if one expects the future will be uncertain or rapidly changing. But the facility builder (tellingly, "owner" and "operator" are not good words to use!) loses control of the asset.

So having the control PON architecture provides is VERY valuable to facility operators because it provides the unfair advantage to which telcos and cablecos have become accustomed. Even if PON were 8% **more**expensive** it might be the telco-cableco architecture of choice.

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Monday, April 23, 2007


Update on "FIOS gets s . . . l . . . o . . . w" and other Verizon follies

Here's the update on my recent Verizon/FIOS adventure:

[In last week's episode, Verizon's FIOS service had slowed to almost dial-up speed . . . ]

The Verizon technician came in the appointed four-hour window. On Sunday, believe it or not. He replaced two Ethernet plugs and cleaned the end of the fiber connection. We re-flashed the D-Link router that came with my initial FIOS service with updated firmware. The link got faster again. It tested about 14 Mbit/s upstream and 4-point-something Mbit/s downstream. The spec says I have 20 and 5, so not perfect, but not too bad. More importantly, it felt faster. I was happy.

Later that day, FIOS service died completely, Internet and dial tone too. That was the day those torrential rains hit the Northeast U.S. I called FIOS service, and the nice Verizon agent ran a test, advised there was a power problem, and advised me to reset the power unit. I did that. End of Problem #2.

All indications, except the co-occurrence of the Problem #1 fix and the onset of Problem #2 on the same day, indicate that these were two independent problems, each with a different root cause. I hope, for Verizon's sake and for the sake of the future of FTTH in the United States, that FIOS problems are less common than they are in my house.

Then I had a Whole W.E.E.K. without having to call Verizon.

My DSL Internet Connection Adventure:

In another house I use frequently, I returned from a social event last Saturday evening to find Verizon's DSL connection to the Internet was down. The DSL light on the Westell modem Verizon had supplied was green, the Internet light was red. I called Verizon. Somebody WAS there on Saturday night. But the nice Verizon man's advice, and the advice of the other guy he handed me to, was completely useless.

For over 2 and a half hours, we logged into the modem, we reset parameters, we held the reset button and counted to 59-mississippi-60, we rebooted my computer, we twirled the cat by the tail under the new moon and chanted mystical incantations. I asked more than once what might be the cause of a red Internet light; neither man seemed to have any idea. It was a local problem, they said. Can we fix it by doing this, I asked. Cutting through their sincere circumlocution, they seemed to be saying, "No, but it is the procedure in the manual." Cargo. Cargo.

Finally the nice Verizon man said he would escalate the problem to local service, and it would be fixed by Tuesday. He gave me the number of "local service" and it was actually Verizon teleconferencing service. Thanks.

I spent over two and a half hours of my Saturday night with the nice Verizon people. Party animals, not. Educational experience, not. Redeeming social value, unfortunately, severely limited.

I did learn that Verizon trouble tickets could be closed without the problem being fixed, and conversely, tickets could remain open even when the problem was resolved.

We gave up at 11:50PM. At 11:57, mysteriously, the Internet light winked green. And stayed green. I tried to access the Internet, and got a Verizon "establish my DSL account" page. I called Verizon again, and the nice lady undid all the resetting. Magically, I was on line again.

I suspect that somewhere a Verizon technician took a router off line to upgrade or maintain it, and didn't tell the DSL help people. I suspect that the maintenance was **scheduled** for somewhere between midnight and 6AM Sunday morning, but the supervisor couldn't convince anybody to actually do it then, and the next best thing was Saturday night. But the DSL Help Desk didn't know anything about it. I''m certain Ivan Seidenberg won't be able to tell me either. It's likely that nobody will learn anything from this incident.

I wasted three hours of my Saturday night, and so did Verizon at $100/hour or more loaded cost.

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Quote of Note: Karl Rove

"Don't touch me."

Karl Rove to singer Sheryl Crow at 2007 White House Correspondents Dinner, story here.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Mobile phones, bees and the future

UPDATE: Article in LA Times:

A fungus that caused widespread loss of bee colonies in Europe and Asia may be playing a crucial role in the mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder that is wiping out bees across the United States, UC San Francisco researchers said Wednesday . . . the results are "highly preliminary" . . . UCSF biochemist Joe DeRisi said. "We don't want to give anybody the impression that this thing has been solved." . . . entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University [said] . . . "We still haven't ruled out other factors, such as pesticides or inadequate food resources following a drought," she said. "There are lots of stresses that these bees are experiencing," and it may be a combination of factors that is responsible.
[Thanks for this update to Rob Berger via Dave Farber's IP List]


I'm wicked skeptical about reports of negative effects of mobile phones (brain cancer, etc.) when the public and the press can't seem to get worked up at all about way more direct, obvious problems like mobile phones and car crashes (and state legislatures pass stupid laws on same).

So now this report appears implicating mobile phones in the global collapse of bee populations, aka Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD, which, in turn, raises the possibility of crop failure since bee pollination is a critical-path link in many higher plant systems.

Now my very good friend Jim Baller, whose judgement I trust, writes on DewayneNet Technology List,
This sounds nutty, but I wouldn't dismiss it until we learn more. This article mentions a Dr. George Carlo, "who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties." I was legal counsel to George and the scientists who conducted that study. George is a really conscientious guy, and his group did extraordinarily good work -- the results of which the cellular industry really hated.
The report mentions an experiment where bees left hives when a cell phone had been left nearby. Did they do the obvious control experiment and leave a cell phone that had been turned off? Critical information has yet to be established. Are there fewer bee colonies near cell towers? Has the analysis of covariance been done to try to tease apart cell density from population density?

If the cell-CCD link is confirmed, this has the makings of a major wildcard incident. Imagine a world without mobile phones. Imagine a world without other mobile RF devices -- after all, who knows what the underlying mechanism might be? Alternatively, imagine a world that ignores what might turn out to be a valid scientific result, and the massive food crop failure (and other biotic effects) that might obtain.

As usual, Stephanie McMillan at "Minimum Security" is out in front of this issue.

Stephanie told me a long time ago that I could publish her toons with attribution. Thank you, Stephanie. [link to her blog]

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Saturday, April 14, 2007


FIOS gets s . . . l . . . o . . . w w w . . .

Wow, FIOS sure tested fast when I first got it. Now my download speed has fallen from 14 mbit/s in February to 2.2 mbit/s five minutes ago. My upload speed was 4.4 mbit/s in February but it is only 0.8 mbit/s today. Plus there seems to be a problem with DNS lookups -- I can spend a minute or two looking at on-line ad urls when I hit a site with advertising. I thought the problem might be "in my imagination" until my wife began complaining how slow it was, and I redid the speed tests.

I was in a hotel last week (Comfort Inn, no less) and the connection there seemed MUCH faster than this American version of Fiber to the Home.

I'm paying for 15 mbit down and 5 mbit up. Modulo Verizon's fine print. But hopefully they have a sense of shame, or at least a desire to keep up appearances in the blogosphere.

I've called in the problem. They promise a resolution by 2:00 PM on Monday. (Even after I told the attendant I'd be on an airplane Monday morning . . . ) Stay tuned to this breaking story.

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Friday, April 13, 2007


Quote of Note: Lee Iacoccca with Catherine Whitney

"We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, 'Stay the course.' Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!"

Lee Iacoccca with Catherine Whitney, excerpted from here.

Thanks Dewayne!

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Quote of Note: Lee Iacoccca with Catherine Whitney

"We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, 'Stay the course.' Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!"

Lee Iacoccca with Catherine Whitney, excerpted from here.

Thanks Dewayne!

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Thursday, April 12, 2007


Telling jokes

Often you can tell a lot by what somebody thinks is funny. As John Eggerton recounts [and continues] in Broadcasting & Cable, Chairman Martin's jokes at the FCC Bar's April 9 dinner told themselves. For example, when it's telcos versus cablecos, Martin's all telco. But Martin denied it, saying,
I just set up a private meeting of cable industry leaders with a very senior White House official. The hunting trip with the vice president is all arranged.
Then Martin joked about the new FCC answering machine.
Hi, you've reached the FCC. If this is AT&T, please press one for our merger approval hotline. If you're calling from a Vonage phone, please hang up and dial from a Verizon phone. If this is the cable industry and you're calling about a waiver, your call is very important to us [extended pause] goodbye.

Then Martin told one about Commissioner McDowell's son playing with his, but
At first it was unclear whether he wanted to play or not.
He concluded by saying the night had been
about as enjoyable as appearing before a congressional committee.

Don't miss Kommissar Martin's "Seven Ways the FCC is not like the KGB." (For example, 5. The KGB *can* monitor the NSA's activities.) [link]

Kevin, just between you and me, a little friendly advice: Too funny! Take it on the road. You're a natural born stand-up. On par with Bill Maher. Colbert beware. Really, Kevin, don't waste another minute at the Commission. The comedy circuit calls!!!

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Imus, Censorship, Marketplace and Infrastructure

Don Imus keeps people's attention when he talks, so he has a radio show. Recently, though, the Imus show sank to new lows in the art of discourse.

As a result, advertisers are canceling Imus ads. This puts a new twist on what I wrote yesterday about "intentional indifference." That article expounded on the theory that a venue owner's ad acceptance policy should be blind to the content of the ads. Should this also work in reverse? [Preview: No!]

That is, should advertisers be blind to the nature of their chosen advertising venue? Advertisers are not moral (to a first approximation). They simply want to attract buyers. So Skippys Peanut Butter would probably not advertise in a magazine for people who are allergic to peanuts. Nor would Northrup-Grumman advertise its wares at a peace rally. So, while the best policy for venues is to be blind to advertising content, the best policy for advertisers is to choose venues carefully.

I'd guess that 70 to 80% of the Don Imus radio audience is turned off by racist remarks. And a smaller, but significant, percentage has been victimized by a racist remark. Wise advertisers would (and should) take such information into account. Advertisers may not be moral, but ads aimed at moral individuals will be judged accordingly.

Should government intervene in the Imus affair? Or to prevent future Imus-type incidents? No! Like the operator of an advertising venue, government acceptance based on content confers an implicit endorsement. Today Imus, tomorrow Ahmadinejad or Gonzalez or Obama will be subject to government endorsed (or censored) speech. And, in this case, where the coupling between advertisers and the moral judgement of individuals is relatively tight, the marketplace solution works.

Both the government and the venue are infrastructures. Per hypothesis, the general rule is that infrastructure operators should not discriminate based on who uses them or for what purposes.

Purveyors of end user goods, on the other hand, may. And in some cases, they should.

[Tenuously related side issue: It could be argued that FCC licenses for radio stations are a form of government intervention, in that they choose (endorse) the license holder. Clearly the FCC endorses incumbents, most of which are large conservative conglomerates, because today technology allows for many, many more stations than there are licensees. In fact, hasn't Wi-Fi (and other Part 15 uses) taught us that vibrant communications markets can function amazingly well without station licenses at all? Meanwhile, the FCC has abandoned using its licensing authority to endorse content. It has found other ways, specifically threats of ad hoc fines for speech it refuses to define in advance. I wish the FCC would stop behaving as if it were the Federal Speech Suppression Commission, get out of the way and let the marketplace work.]

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I must be Web

I am probably the slowest guy in the blogosphere.

Mary Hodder, a good friend, chatted me up last night bursting with pride that her company Dabble has just blown through ten million videos. Way to go, Dabble!

So she asks me to Digg it. Until now, I have not seen any reason to use Digg. If I dig something, I can blog it. And tag it. And email all my friends. Or look it up on Google or Technorati. Or make an entry in Wikipedia. Or a comment in a friend's blog. There's lots of ways to show love on the Internet.

But now Mary wants me to Digg, and she's a true friend, so that's enough reason to try Digg.

But Digg wants me to register. I try. "Sorry, the username "d_isenberg" is not acceptable - user names must have 4-15 characters, and only alphanumeric characters." Oh yeah? What's so flamin' special about Digg logins that it won't accept the underscore character? What if my name were $%^&*?

So then I try "isen". Noooo. "Sorry, the username "isen" is taken." Yeah? By who?

Then I try "=isen", my Identiity Commons name, which Kaliya the Identity Woman says is starting to work with a lot of apps. No W.A.Y. -- "=" is one of those characters that Digg won't accept. Why? Because it won't. Period.

I must be a moron; I can't even register for an app that any twelve year old can use. Yet another app that make me feel stupid. I'd rather scrape dog poo off my shoes. Or be stuck in a traffic jam. Or get "specialed" at Airport Security. I take it back; I can maintain my dignity when I get "specialed".

With apologies to Allen Ginsberg (I'm sure he'd understand):
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I use an app and get what I need with my good looks?

I wish Dabble every success.
Thirty-six minutes later, I think I Dugg
Dabble's achievement, but I'm not sure.
And I'm not going back to find out.

Love from Web,

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Josh Marshall on "intentional indifference."

Joshua Micah Marshall did not mean to write about the layers model, but he winds up doing just that when he declares his site's policy for running ads. He says, basically, that while he could stop ads for stuff he doesn't like, he doesn't. He continues:

If we reject ads that we disagree with, every ad we accept becomes, to one degree or another, a de facto endorsement . . . Even worse a paid endorsement. And that threatens the integrity of what we do -- which is to report the facts we find and explain the opinions we have . . . our attitude toward who is advertising and what they are advocating is one of intentional indifference . . . So when you see an ad on our site you shouldn't draw any conclusion from its presence . . . It only means that the advertiser has purchased a product we sell.
Josh is not absolutist about this.

Do we ever reject ads? Yes, we do. In most cases they're ads for 'dating services' that look like they might run afoul of anti-solicitation laws . . . there were also some ads for anti-Bush goods that I rejected because I found them tasteless. We of course frequently reject ads that are too visually jarring and we're pretty strict on not having ads that have little creatures running across the site or stuff like that. I would reject an ad that contained what I considered hate speech or an ad which itself seemed intentionally demeaning to our audience.
Josh concludes:

. . . this policy -- one of intentional indifference to the political content of the advertising that appears on our sites -- is one I'm confident is the right one for us because it protects what is most important to us which is the integrity and credibility of the news and opinion we publish.
Intentional Indifference. To preserve integrity. What an idea. Maybe telcos and cablecos and other providers of Internet access will adopt Intentional Indifference to preserve their integrity too.

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Monday, April 09, 2007


TV4PC for the rest of us

Video over IP -- the Stupid Network version, not some captive cableco app, or some marketer's dream of pwning the customer -- comes of age! At the prodding of Dewayne Hendricks and, more recently, Bill St. Arnaud, I've finally downloaded Azureus 3.0, aka VUZE, a completely intuitive "consumer" Bigtorrent client. It just works. Full screen.

Sharing is totally intuitive. Don't want to share, great. No pro . . . b . . . . . l . . . . . . . .e . . . . . . . . . . m. But if you do happen to hit the share button for a few items, things happen lots faster.

Close on the heels of the GHz processor, TV4PC has come of age.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007


If ya wanna be a rock n roll star . . .

". . . and that's the reason 'the system' hates Dick Dale."

Or as another musical friend says, "Everybody I know who has done business with the Big Five has gotten screwed."

Thanks to Cory at BoingBoing for the pointer, and to former Berk-mate Derek Slater for the original find.

Extra: How the RIAA bungled the music biz in today's New York Times. "The Recording Industry Association of America wanted to kill Napster. Instead it killed the compact disc . . . " [Link]

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The most astounding CD I've heard this year

01 Byte 10 Cordas by Hamilton de Holanda. Like Brazilian? Like jazz? Like a player who has clearly mastered his instrument? Like lyrical, energetic music so complex it breaks boundaries and so simple it sticks in your head? You'll like it. Thanks to Mike Marshall for the pointer!

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What's with Infrastructure?

One of the most important articles in the news this week self-admits, "If there’s a less sexy story floating around, I can’t find it."

It is a story in today's NYT by Bob Herbert called, "Our Crumbling Foundation." Since it is behind the New York Times' paywall, and since it is so important, I'm reproducing the meat of it here.

. . . According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. infrastructure is in sad shape, and it would take more than a trillion and a half dollars over a five-year period to bring it back to a reasonably adequate condition.

. . . as we learned with New Orleans, there are consequences to neglecting the infrastructure. Just a little over a year ago, a dam in Hawaii gave way, unleashing a wave 70 feet high and 200 yards wide. It swept away virtually everything in its path, including cars, houses and trees. Seven people drowned.

On the day after Christmas in Portland, Ore., a sinkhole opened up like something from a science fiction movie and swallowed a 25-ton sewer- repair truck. Authorities blamed the sinkhole on the collapse of aging underground pipes.
But infrastructure is about more than dams and sewers. Think Internet. Think education. Think climate. And think of the ideology that keeps us from investing in building and maintaining such critical public resources.
. . . the American infrastructure is growing increasingly old and obsolete. In addition to being an invitation to tragedy, this is a problem that is putting Americans at a disadvantage in the ever more competitive global economy.

Felix Rohatyn, the investment banker who helped save New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s, has been prominent among those trying to sound the infrastructure alarm. Along with former Senator Warren Rudman, he has been criticizing the government’s unwillingness to invest adequately in public transportation systems, water projects, dams, schools, the electrical grid, and so on.

He recently told a House committee that Congress should begin a major effort to rebuild the American infrastructure “before it is too late.”

“Since the beginning of the republic,” he said, “transportation, infrastructure and education have played a central role in advancing the American economy, whether it was the canals in upstate New York, or the railroads that linked our heartland to our industrial centers; whether it was the opening of education to average Americans by land grant colleges and the G.I. bill, making education basic to American life; or whether it was the interstate highway system that ultimately connected all regions of the nation.

“This did not happen by chance, but was the result of major investments financed by the federal and state governments over the last century and a half. ... We need to make similar investments now.”

Politics and ideology are the main reasons that government has turned away from public investment over the past several years. Zealots marching under the banner of small government have been remarkably effective in thwarting efforts to raise taxes or borrow substantial sums for the kind of public investment that has always been essential to a dynamic economy.

That this is counterproductive in a post-20th-century world should be as obvious as the sun rising in the morning. There is a reason why countries like China and India are racing like mad to develop their infrastructure and educational capacity.

“A modern economy needs a modern platform, and that’s the infrastructure,” Mr. Rohatyn said in an interview. “It has been shown that the productivity of an economy is related to the quality of its infrastructure. For example, if you don’t have enough schools to teach your kids, or your kids are taught in schools that have holes in the ceilings, that are dilapidated, they’re not going to be as educated and as competitive in a world economy as they need to be.”

Mr. Rohatyn and Mr. Rudman are co-chairmen of the Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. They believe that failing to move quickly to address the nation’s infrastructure needs — through the establishment of a national trust fund, for example, or a federal capital budget — could lead to long-term disaster.

But words like trust fund and long-term and infrastructure find it very difficult to elbow their way into the nation’s consciousness . . .

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Identity Questions

by David S. Isenberg

[This article originally appeared in VON Magazine,
January 2007, p. 48 -- David I]

The package of military strategy monographs was addressed
to David Isenberg at my house, but I couldn't understand
why. Then when I Googled up "Isenberg" and "military," I
immediately found another David Isenberg, a Senior analyst
at BASIC, the British American Security Information
Council, a think tank on global security. I phoned BASIC
in Washington DC and reached my nominal doppelganger.
Clearly this David Isenberg was the intended recipient. We
exchanged addresses and pleasantries. I repacked the
papers and sent them off. Later, I dipped into his
military strategy writings. They were good! I felt proud to
be confused with him.

Here's another true story. Once at a conference, I was
surprised to find that I had already registered -- and
paid! No dental exams for this horse; I put on my badge
and went a-mingling. A friend pointed at my badge and
asked if I'd changed my middle initial. I looked down and
saw "David A. Isenberg." I wheeled and bulled to the front
of the registration line to report the mistake. I stood
next to a puzzled man facing a harried registration clerk.
"I can't find your badge," the clerk said. I put my badge
on the counter preparing to declare the mistake, when the
fellow exclaimed, "There's my badge!" And that's how David
S. Isenberg met David A. Isenberg, Senior Product Director
of Atlantic Broadband. Atlantic Broadband is a surviving
Cable TV competitor, in the top 20 with a strong triple-
play offering. I would not be embarrassed to be confused
with him either.

Fortunately my name is not Smith, Johnson, Williams, Jones
or Brown, which are the five most frequent family names in
the 1990 U.S. Census. Nobody but the TSA is apt to think
that John Smith is a unique identifier. On the other hand
a name like David Isenberg is unlikely enough that people
were confused, in fact, on at least two occasions. I
calculate, using name frequencies in the 1990 U.S. Census,
that there are about 150 David Isenbergs in the U.S. I
suspect I could find them all with a reasonable search

The Evil Isenberg

But woah! Suppose there were a David Isenberg that acted
so badly that he besmirched the reputation of all us other
David Isenbergs. The other 149 of us would be out of luck.
There'd be nothing we could do but endure the embarrassment
or change out names -- and no guarantees that a new name
would be immune from other bad actors with that name.

Here's another possibility. Suppose there were another
David Isenberg who was a telecom columnist! Very
confusing! Under trademark law, if I were there firstest
with the mostest, the bull goose columnist, if when you
said, "David Isenberg the telecom columnist," everybody
thought of me and nobody thought of the other guy, then I
could go to court to compel the imposter to write under a
different name.

In addition, I could go one step further. I could register
David Isenberg as a trademark with the U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office (PTO). I'd have to register it in a
particular class of business; for example, I could register
David Isenberg as an advertising business, but then I could
not stop somebody from selling groceries under the name of
David Isenberg, no matter how confusing or how embarrassing
it might be.

Here's the rub. Suppose I had been doing business as the
undisputed David Isenberg, telecom columnist, for many
years. Meanwhile suppose that somebody else had registered
David Isenberg with the PTO for the business of writing.
And suppose this David-Isenberg-come-lately asserted that I
must stop using my name for column writing. And, finally,
suppose it would cost years, and thousands of dollars, and
untold amounts of bad energy to fight back.

In such a situation there's a right thing and a very
different prudent thing. Before the Internet, two David
Isenbergs in similar businesses might never know of each
other. But today, as the Internet brings us together, it
collapses name space so we're all semantic neighbors. We
need new ways to deal with names and identities, not just
in business, but in every aspect of our lives. Where
should we start?

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