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April 23, 2010
My canonical paradigm

A Chinese American entrepreneur engineer named Henry Gao has written a Chinese book paralleling, enriching and affirming the more far reaching propositions in Telecosm.

His theme is that the history of communications networks has passed through three eras: 1) the telegraph (data with delay and buffering); 2) the public switched telephone network (PSTN for real-time two-way voice), and 3) now back to the telegraph (the data-rich Internet protocols and layers, with many asynch buffers and best efforts and lost bits).

Today under the stress of an interactive video exaflood, there is a new fork in the road. On the one hand, the industry wants to continue on its current path back to a new video best efforts telegraph--an ever more complex Internet patched and epicycled and upgraded for interactive video. This is the current choice.

Continue reading "My canonical paradigm" »

October 23, 2009
Untouchables and substitutables

Thomas L. Friedman has a particularly good editorial in today's New York Times.

While the subprime mortgage mess involved a huge ethical breakdown on Wall Street, it coincided with an education breakdown on Main Street -- precisely when technology and open borders were enabling so many more people to compete with Americans for middle-class jobs.
He cites Harvard University labor expert Lawrence Katz who explains:
If you think about the labor market today, the top half of the college market, those with the high-end analytical and problem-solving skills who can compete on the world market or game the financial system or deal with new government regulations, have done great. But the bottom half of the top, those engineers and programmers working on more routine tasks and not actively engaged in developing new ideas or recombining existing technologies or thinking about what new customers want, have done poorly. They've been much more exposed to global competitors that make them easily substitutable.
An untouchable is someone who can imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work. Untouchables are being retained, while substitutables are being laid off.

Friedman adds,

Bottom line: We're not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.

June 6, 2008
Telecosm recap

You should have been there! Telecosm was thrilling. I will list the ways, in chronological order in two or three posts over the next few days. (Below is Part 1.)

1) Lawrence Solomon, author of The Deniers, demonstrated, beyond cavil,
that nearly all the relevant scientists, outside of the government
echo-chambers, completely repudiate the climate panic. He concluded by
pointing to evidence for a cooling trend ahead.

2) After I presented the statistics showing that most of the global
economy is driven by innovation in the Telecosm--teleputers, datacenters,
optical fiber, fiberspeed electronics--Steve Forbes gave a magisterial
tour of the world economy. Relevant to the debates on the Gilder Telecosm
Forum subscriber message board was his assertion that the Fed had been too
loose in the face of a collapse in the demand for dollars caused by the
muddled cheap dollar leadership from the administration. Later in the
conference, in an incandescent speech mostly about the amazing expansion
of freedom and supply side economics in China, John Rutledge maintained
that the Fed had been too tight, measured by the flat monetary base. But
then, as far as I could grasp, Rutledge contradicted himself by showing a
dramatic surge of bank lending to small and midsized businesses. If it was
caused by the collapse of other lending sources, he did not give any

3) Nicholas Carr gave a suave and lucid presentation of the themes of his
The Big Switch book, comparing the emergence of cloud computing to the
rise of the centralized power grid. Raising an issue that recurred
throughout the conference, our regnant expert on the power grid, Carver
Mead, dismissed the analogy as simplistic, since one-way power delivery
and two-way information transfer are radically different processes. Bill
Tucker, author of the forthcoming Terrestrial Energy, pointed out in a
compelling speech that Moore's Law is about miniaturization of bits while
the energy industry is better described by a Law of More--more power and
more efficiency. He explained that all the energy in the atom is in the
nucleus and pointed to the immense heat caused by nuclear fission and
fusion within the earth. Then he impugned the venture capitalists'
compulsion to waste arable land and space twiddling with electrons and
photons and presented much evidence that solar energy in all its forms
would never provide adequate power for an ever growing economy. Physicist
Howard Hayden of Energy Advocate enthusiastically confirmed this view.

4) Andy Kessler followed with an uproarious investigation of Who Killed
Bear Stearns?. His answer pointed not to the usual culprits (though he did
politely finger front row auditors me and Bob Metcalfe) but to Bear
Stearns' itself. After preparing a feculent feast of sub-prime pork ("they
knew better than anyone else what was in it"), then packaging it all into
putatively succulent AAA delicacies, they totally lost it and ate their
own sausages.

5) The Exaflood Panel presented Andrew Odlyzko's dour but learned analysis
of Internet traffic, which concluded that the real danger is not too much
traffic but not enough to sustain all the businesses in the sector. Joe
Weinman, a brilliant strategist from ATT, however, confirmed the Exaflood
thesis, and Johna Till Johnson of Nemertes offered compelling evidence
that the best way to examine the issue is from the supply side. If you
don't build it, they definitely will not come. Traffic in the core is
dependent on access from the edge, which still lags in the US, as even
Odlyzko showed rates of usage in Korea and Hong Kong six times US usage
rates. Lane Patterson of Equinix confirmed aggressive estimates of traffic
growth and still more ambitious growth of Equinix datacenters, but said
that patterns of traffic confirm that the core is being starved by
inadequate access on the edge.

December 30, 2005
Good books of 2005

Of the many good books I read this year, here are a few of the standouts:

The Silicon Eye - by George Gilder
Our Discovery colleague tells the 40-year story of how four eclectic geniuses and two Silicon Valley legends combined to create a technology revolution in digital imaging and cameras.

The Bottomless Well - by Peter Huber and Mark Mills
A true genius of our time, Huber and his colleague Mills transcend the energy debate with lots of data, even more big thinking, and quick writing.

A Different Universe - by Robert Laughlin
A fun, contrarian, and courageous twist on conventional physics by the winner of the 1998 physics Nobel.

Mao: The Unknown Story - by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
A devastating new biography of last century's most ruthless and prolific murderer.

(I may extend this list, but I'm running out of the house...)

Some of the best magazine writing of the year was done in The New York Times Magazine by Michael Lewis of Liar's Poker and Moneyball fame. He wrote the single best story about post-Katrina New Orleans that I've read, and he recently penned a long but fun article on the unorthodox Texas Tech football team that shows how this one-time Solomon Brothers bond trader turned author has also now become America's best sports writer. Lewis expertly combines vivid portraits of people with abstract, structural analysis of the arena, whether that arena is baseball, a bond pit, or a flooded city, often overturning the conventional wisdom. He consistently does all this with humor, humanity, and a lively, quick pen.

Happy New Year. Best wishes for a great 2006,

-Bret Swanson

Dotted Divider Line

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