Scobleizer Weblog

Daily Permalink Sunday, December 28, 2003

Keith Hurwitz wrote me and said that MobileRSS is "freakishly cool."

mobileRSS is specifically designed for small PDA screens, works within your browser (thus requiring no software downloads or upgrades), and stores all your settings and feeds online (thus using no memory on your device).

TechUpdate's Daniel Berlind calls Visual Basic "evil" and Paul Vick owns up to being on the evil team.

We're all evil at Microsoft, Paul, just gotta get used to your dark powers!

Actually, blame it all on Alan Cooper. He's the root of all evil.

After all, his code-names "Tripod" and "Ruby" for the prototypes of the thing that became Visual Basic (now Visual Studio) show that he really was evil (the code-name for VB 1.0 was "Thunder" which shows that Microsoft's evilness just amplified Alan's original evil). I'm sure that if you look in the bible for the number "three" and "Ruby" you'll find some mention of evil within 50 pages. That must mean something, right? Heh.

Oh, they are adding edit-and-continue back into VB? I take it back, the VB team isn't THAT evil. :-)

Dave Winer, in this comment thread, says a venture capitalist told him recently "software is dead."

Well, if you think about it, Microsoft isn't in the software business -- it's in the problem solving business. I can tell you there's plenty of money in solving problems.

"WTF?" I'm sure many of you are thinking.

Well, last summer I had a problem. My son Patrick was bored while he stayed at my house in Bothell. So, I bought an Xbox. Problem solved.

In 1981 IBM had a problem it needed solving. It needed an operating system for its computer that would compete with the Apple II. Bill Gates and crew solved that problem (they initially tried to solve it by sending IBM down to Gary Kildall, but that didn't work out and IBM still had a problem).

The Cheesecake Factory had a problem. They needed to be able to turn over 300 seats every hour or so. In dozens of its restaurants. All with staff that gets paid only a few dollars per hour. And while providing a better experience than most restaurants provide. Microsoft helped solve that problem.

Are there problems still to solve? Yes. So, Dave, tell that guy he's absolutely right. There's no money in software. But there's BILLIONS in solving problems for people and businesses.

The Inquirer says that the IT industry is moving away from Microsoft and Cameron Reilly responds.

Oh, oh, I made it to "Web Pages that Suck's DailySucker."

Vincent Flanders, who writes that weblog, tries to say that Bangalore India is "a" Silicon Valley. I disagree. It isn't even close in importance to the world's geek economy. Yet.

When people from around the world move there to work there, I'll consider it.

But, it is an impressive region that is turning into a tech powerhouse. A few of my friends, like Anand M, work there. But, let me ask you, does that region have anywhere close to the religious and ethnic diversity of Silicon Valley? Not even close.

Does a median home cost $600,000 there? No? Then it hasn't come up to the standard of Silicon Valley. That doesn't mean it's not significant, by the way.

Offshoring will be one of 2004's biggest political issues.

Why do I say that? Because it's one of the most talked about things at parties I go to and I've gotten lots of requests to give my opinion on offshoring. Many of my friends' and family's jobs have been offshored, so this issue has hit home.

Working at a global tech company, I can tell you it's one of the most controversial things too. I don't want US jobs to go away, but I have tons of friends and customers all over the world (including in China and India), so can't take jubs a "USA all the way" point of view.

Also, I'm a capitalist and believe that the jobs should go to those who can do the work for the lowest price. If someone can do my job better than me for less money, then I deserve to lose my job if I don't add some value.

Here's a good resource on offshoring, if you are unfamilar with the term. Yeah, I found that by searching Google.

Tom Peters, in his book Re-Imagine! gets out in front of the issue. He says that 80% of white collar jobs will be shipped overseas in the next few years.

I've seen it first hand. A relative works at a ladder manufacturing company. They lost $150 million in business to China this year.

Fast Company wrote an interesting article about the changes going on in our economy (about how Wal-mart is forcing huge changes to old industries).

So, we should be scared, right? Implement tarrifs. Give incentives to companies to keep jobs on US shores, right?

Tom Peters (and many other business experts) say absolutely not. Here, read what he says on page 41 of his new book:

"Destroy and Rebuild" ... that has been the hallmark of (for example ... and it is a huge example) the Great American Jobs Miracle.

Consider the following analysis of the U.S. economy. Between 1980 and 1998, we managed to create an amazing 29,000,000 net new jobs. About two-thirds of those jobs were high paying, and most of them were in industries that didn't exist prior to 1980. (We're a long way from Lee Iacocca's noxious prediction in the early 1980s that all new jobs would come courtesy of the likes of Wendy's.) During the same period, the European Union, which is one-third larger than the U.S. in population terms, managed to add but 4,000,000 net new jobs.

What's the difference between +29,000,000 and +4,000,000--beyond the obvious "25,000,000"? Much of the answer can be seen in two simple equations (though the issue is anything but simple):

+29M = -44M + 73M

+4M = +4M - 0M

The Americans got to +29,000,000 by having the nerve ... often without grace ... to destroy 44,000,000 jobs. At General Motors. At Ford. At Sears. At Chrysler. At AT&T. At IBM. Then we offset those lost jobs with 73,000,000 new jobs. At Microsoft. At Dell. At CNN. At Genentech. At Amgen. At Fidelity. At Charles Schwab. The European Union got to the rather paltry sum of +4,000,000 by destroying nothing and created 4,000,000 new slots ... in the public sector. (Some interpretations are worse, suggesting that millions of private sector were eliminated in order to keep feeding the government sector's employees.) (Does Europe, heaven forbid, need Newt Gingrich?)

Message (BIG): If you don't have the nerve to destroy (jobs), then you will never create (jobs) on a large scale.

Which is one (big) reason ... I AM A DESTRUCTION FANATIC.

Tom hasn't discovered anything new. Silicon Valley has been shipping jobs overseas for decades. Hey, when I grew up there used to be Apricot and Cherry farmers here. Guess what, they aren't here anymore. Then, this place used to manufacture stuff. You know, processors. Apple computers. Hewlett Packard calculators. Guess what, the Valley doesn't do that anymore (well, there still is an Intel factory near where I'm writing this to you from).

Our jobs are constantly getting turned into commodities. Sent overseas.

Tom's book gives you some ideas on how to work on your career so it can't be shipped overseas.

But, we'll hear lots from politicians about this issue. When people's jobs are at stake, they get worried.

What do you think about offshoring? Should anything be done?

Yvonne Adams: Scoble's can of worms.

Yeah, I knew that religion will get people going. It never failed to in other communities.

I agree that the United States has become one of the most religious places on earth and that yeah, it's religion used for power over people that needs to be controlled. Good comments! Who said you can't have a conversation on weblogs?

Loren notes that the Smart Display has failed. Ahh, another Microsoft product joins "Bob" on the shelf of failed products.

Tom Peters notes that it's important to try and fail quickly. He notes Silicon Valley is paved with the failures of hundreds of companies and thousands of products.

Why did the Smart Display fail? Easy: its premise was based on something that didn't appear: low cost "light client" computers that would be dramatically cheaper than ones like Tablet PCs that have big hard drives, more RAM, and need more processor power.

When I was at NEC we decided not to import NEC's Smart Displays to the United States. Why? Because at $1000 we didn't see enough buyers.

Silicon Valley and other places have dreamed of a light-weight client machine for a long time. Sun Microsystems is still trying to sell its Java Desktop, which is really the same kind of idea.

What was a Smart Display? An LCD panel that would display images from a high-power server. Interesting idea, if the cost were, say, $300 each (instead of $1000). Imagine having a server in your closet with, say, a dozen panels, instead of a single Tablet PC. You could display pictures on one. Recipes on another. Have your son playing a video game on another. Your daughter doing homework on yet another. All hooked to a server via WiFi.

For a factory floor this is a compelling idea. Except that the cost couldn't be made low enough and wireless couldn't be made reliable enough. Here when the wireless goes down I can still work on my Tablet PC. If I had Smart Displays (which were really misnamed, since they were "Stupid" displays -- all the smarts were on the server) then my devices would be useless if wireless went down.

Translation: consumers didn't like the approach. Factory planners didn't see enough cost savings to go with this architecture.

Conclusion: come back and try again when there's a 10x difference in cost between a decent laptop/Tablet PC.

Kevin Shofield says that Silicon Valley happened because of its strong universities. Absolutely true. I note that Stanford has at its center a beautiful church.

But, there are plenty of other towns that have good universities. I've been to Shanghai. Shanghai is quickly becoming an economic powerhouse, but it is no Silicon Valley. Why? No one is moving there to live there. Compare that to Silicon Valley. The ethnic and belief makeup of the valley is amazing and unmatched anywhere else in the world. Zane tells me Amsterdam comes close, but Amsterdam doesn't have the other component -- bleeding edge business.

Interesting debates in my comment area. It's amazing how often people don't read and how often people spring up to defend their religion, when that really isn't called for. Everyone wants to be an evangelist, I guess.

My son got a Nintendo GameBoy Advanced SP. Cost $100 and $30 for each game. Pretty interesting little device. "The cool thing is it can play any GameBoy game," Patrick says. "The graphics are pretty cool for a little thing." He has the Lord of the Rings game. "Look how long it can go without charging." Oh, is my son a technology evangelist? Heh.

Don Box has a list of geek gadgets he wants in 2004. Me? I'm looking forward to getting a SmartPhone with a camera built in. I'm not much into music. I want a better camera, though, but I can't afford many new toys in 2004. Oh, and I want a Tablet PC that has a good video chip (translation with 64MB of memory). Why? Cause then I'll be able to play with Longhorn in all of its glory.

Probably will have to wait until 2005 for that, though. Hmmm, is that why Longhorn is gonna take so long?

I, like many people, are making New Year's resolutions to do things like exercise more. Phillip Torrone, though, goes the next step. He put a Tablet PC on his exercise machine. Now THAT'S motivation!

Here's another view.

I'm looking forward to the geek dinner tomorrow night. Tons of people are coming. You're invited! It's at 6 p.m. at the Cheesecake Factory on University Ave in Palo Alto, CA. A Silicon Valley geek dinner!

Over the past week I've been reading a ton of business books. Patrick and I go into the bookstore. He heads toward the Lord of the Rings books. I head to the business section.

Interestingly there aren't any books that tell you how to weblog while working for a multi-billion-dollar corporation. There aren't any that I've found that teach you how to lead your company into a more transparent age.

But there is Tom Peters.

I got his newest book "Re-imagine!" for Christmas from my brother Ben (I asked for it after checking out dozens of business books on the shelf at Borders in Palo Alto).

I look to business books to not only remind me of what I should be doing but to get my brain firing again. Tom does it. He starts out his first chapter by writing "I'm pissed off." And he wacks us all in an effort to get business people to better serve customers.

Tom's the guy who wrote the best-selling "In Search of Excellence."

Over the next few weeks you'll see hints of Tom's influence in my thinking.

One of the most important chapters for everyone to read is chapter 13 titled "Women Roar." He explains why companies are blowing big money by mistreating women. The stories he writes about are disheartening and kicked my thinking into a new place. I saw evidence of this in the camera store. I sold quite a bit of camera gear by simply being nice to everyone. One woman came in the store literally crying because of how she had been treated by a competitor. She ended up buying thousands of dollars of equipment from me.

One interesting quote: "A prediction: At least 80 percent of white-collar jobs, as we know them today, will either disappear or be reconfigured beyond recognition--in just the next 15 years." Does that scare the sh*t out of you? It does me. I wonder what I'll be doing in 15 years. How will we deal with the continued commoditization of our industries and our jobs? That's what this book is all about.

One thing I love about Tom too is that he figured out how to keep his book business from being commoditized. Really weblogs are threatening his business. So, what did he do? Made a book experience that's sorta like a weblog, but better. Lots of color. Lots of bullets. Lots of sidebars. Lots of pictures. Is it worth $30? Hell yes. Oh, plus he has a nice website with forums and everything (and the prerequisite free chapter).

Every book author should check it out. It'll influence how books will look in 2004. If I write a Longhorn book, it's how I want mine to look.

There's a site tracking .NET Jobs. Very cool. Wish there was a site for "get Maryam a job planning conferences." Heh.

Back to geek stuff. Loren asks "is doodle blogging the next big blog thing?"

Ahh, talking about religion brings out all the evangelists (the religious type) and the conversation has predictably degenerated into an argument of whether or not one religion is better than another. "Believe this." "Believe that." "Why you stop believing? That's sad."

I've been arguing religion for more than 20 years. On both "the believer's" side and other sides (I'm now an agnostic, which means I am not sure there's a God, and I'm not sure there isn't one either -- oh, and don't waste your time trying to convince me of your point of view, I've heard it all before). My immediate family is quite religiously diverse. Catholic. Agnostic. Atheist. Islam. Zoroastrian. My mom is in a wacko new age religion up in Montana (most people would call it a cult).

I've heard all the arguments. When I worked at Fawcette we opened up a free speech forum where people could talk about anything they wanted to. Religion was a constant thread there in the six years it was open.

Nothing ever gets resolved. Which, is why I'm not gonna go down the "this belief is better than that belief" path. You all are free to believe whatever wacky thing you want.

I could spend all afternoon telling you why I believe what I believe and it wouldn't really add much value to your life. There's a reason that religion and politics aren't supposed to be discussed in polite society.

It's because in both topics most humans don't approach from a "I-wanna-learn" angle, but rather a "I-have-already-done-my-homework-and-now-I'm-gonna-convince-you-why-I'm-right" angle.

But, this is why I took the angle I did yesterday. It's an economic argument. Is there any reason that Silicon Valley happened in California, and not, say, Kansas? Well, yes. Silicon Valley's politicial leaders setup a system where ideas were accepted. Even radical wacky crazy ideas.

Go back to the 1960s. Where was the pill invented? Silicon Valley. Where was LSD invented? Berkeley. Where did the hippie movement get started? San Francisco. Which community was among the first to open its arms to homosexuals? San Francisco.

Now, why didn't Silicon Valley happen in Kansas (or any of the "bible belt" states?) Well, mention any of these topics above in the bible belt and you'll get run out of town. If you're really unlucky you could end up dead.

But, geeks are folks who want to be allowed to solve problems for humans. Would the team that came up with the pill be allowed to do that in Kansas, or really, anywhere else?

It's interesting to read about Galileo and Copernicus and the struggle between geeks (translation: scientists) and religious folks. I find this quote from an article in Capitalism magazine quite interesting: "Although few would now declare the Earth the motionless center of the universe, it is not difficult to find those who claim it to be 6,000 years old and deny the long, slow evolution of its species. More alarming is that the same Dark Ages mentality that dragged Galileo before the Inquisition now seeks to prohibit entire fields of scientific research, such as therapeutic cloning. The war of religion against science has merely shifted to new battlegrounds, but it still rages on."

But, there are those who believe Christmas is a religious holiday. Hint, it no longer is. Get over it. A Christmas tree is allowable on government property. A nativity scene is not. There is a difference.

Update: turns out I was wrong. LSD was not invented in Berkeley. Here Will Cate corrects me: "Point of accuracy -- LSD was actually invented in the Sandoz labs of Basel, Switzerland, by Dr. Albert Hofmann in 1938. With the 25th variation of ergot-based lysergic acids he produced, or LSD-25, it wasn't until 5 years later (1943) when Hofmann accidentally dosed himself, and realized what he had discovered."

I answered back "I know more than a few tech titans have used Hofmann's drug, which might explain more about Silicon Valley than anything else I've written today."

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Robert Scoble works at Microsoft. Everything here, though, is his personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. No warranties or other guarantees will be offered as to the quality of the opinions or anything else offered here.

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© Copyright 2004 Robert Scoble Last updated: 1/3/2004; 3:31:14 AM.