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January 31, 2004

Prediction #2

Super Bowl XXXVIII: Carolina Panthers 20, New England Patriots 19.

New England is a great team that doesn't generally blow out its opponents. Carolina is a great team that has been better at winning close games this season than perhaps any team in history. If it's a close game in the fourth quarter, my money is on Carolina to come through and do what they've done all season: find a way to win.

Prediction #1

The 2004 Democratic Presidential ticket: John Kerry and John Edwards.

As Al Gore did in 2000, Kerry is capable of winning the Northeast, Illinois, the upper Midwest, and California. George W. Bush is assured of winning Texas and a large swath of the Midwest and Mountain states. The battleground will be the South. Who can help Kerry the most there? Not Howard Dean or Joe Lieberman. Wesley Clark has no natural constituency, no proven ability to win elections. Kerry needs Edwards. And a Kerry-Edwards ticket has a legitimate chance at winning it all.

January 30, 2004

Business Week on the Future of NASA

Last September, I wrote:

I myself have wondered what would happen if the X Prize were not for suborbital flight, but for true orbital launch capability, and if the prize were $500 million -- or even $1 billion -- instead of $10 million. Who would be competing? What would they build?

Another way to do this would be for the US government to announce that, beginning in, say, 2008, it is going to select vendors to contract out all future astronaut launches (probably beginning in 2009 or 2010). Make the announcement non-rescindable and set simple, easily measurable requirements: astronaut capacity, on-orbit mission length, compatibility with existing orbital docking systems, safety proven through a series of successful launches (with safety board review afterwards), and so on. Announce how many launches the government will contract for and on what schedule, and that the government will choose as few as one and as many as three of the most inexpensive vendors whose vehicles and systems meet all the requirements. Then sit back and let visionary entrepreneurs like Burt Rutan, John Carmack, and Jeff Bezos do their thing.

Now Business Week has weighed in on this issue:
Since man last set foot on the moon in 1972, NASA has enjoyed a monopoly on U.S. manned space missions, doling out contracts to its aerospace cronies. As a result, the cost of putting people into orbit is about the same now as 30 years ago -- roughly $10,000 per pound, although cheaper commercial launch vehicles are available.

To get more boost for everyone's buck, NASA should gracefully exit the space-ferry game and get back to the future of exploring new frontiers...

There's no telling what such newcomers could achieve if Washington were to encourage private enterprise. Already, the entrepreneurs have been showing up NASA and its heavyweight contractors, says James W. Benson, the ex-software entrepreneur who founded SpaceDev. NASA's attempts to come up with something better than the aging Space Shuttle "have been billion-dollar boondoggles," he notes.

I hope that momentum for this sort of idea continues to build. Set clear, measurable criteria, and then let the private sector work its magic. If the Federal government promised to pump tens of billions of dollars into private launch vehicles in the coming years, we'd see venture capital pouring into the private space launch community, and a flowering of approaches to the problem of getting people and equipment into space and back cheaply and safely.

January 29, 2004

A 3-D Imax Super Bowl

This is pretty cool. NFL Films and a production company called Cobalt Entertainment are going to be capturing Super Bowl XXXVIII in 3-D for viewing in Imax theaters next year:

NFL Films, a part of the National Football League, has been gathering awards for its cinematography since the 1960's. But in repeated discussions since the early 1990's about shooting in Imax format or with various 3-D systems, the company had always said no. Among other issues, the cameras were too bulky to get close to the field without possibly hurting a player, and without compromising the cinematic intimacy that has long been a hallmark of NFL Films.

"These sorts of projects have been pitched to us for 10 years, but the equipment was never there," Steve Sabol, the president of NFL Films, said in a telephone interview. "It was big and bulky and it was dangerous to put on the sidelines. It was cost-prohibitive, too."

"But the technology has gotten to the point now where we feel we can give this a shot, and it's exciting to do things that have never been done before," he added. " ...

The plan is to use the scenes shot [at the NFC Championship game in] Philadelphia and Houston to make a short trailer or preview...

NFL Films hopes that the league will use the trailer over the summer to interest corporate sponsors and mainstream film studios in the project, with an eye toward shooting a feature-length 3-D Imax film over the course of next season. Such a film could be released around the start of the 2005 season.

I'd like to be on the sidelines for an NFL game someday. Pending that, this sounds like the next best thing.

Also note that the Carolina Panthers will appear in all the shots in the trailer, since they played in the NFC Championship and moved on to the Super Bowl. That worked out nicely!

January 28, 2004

Adam Greenfield on Starbucks

Via boing boing comes a wonderful Adam Greenfield rant about anti-IKEA and anti-Starbucks attitudes among the would-be hip. After taking on the IKEA haters, Greenfield moves on to those who despise Starbucks:

There's an equally wrongheaded sibling rant, which is the eternal current of complaint lodged against Starbucks Coffee. Although there's probably more truth in the notion that Starbucks has made it difficult for independent local alternatives to survive -- mmmmmmmaybe -- most critiques directed at the chain strike me as being built on the same shaky armature of self-righteousness, spoiledness, and ahistoricity. Like the blistering Ikea-hatred, there's something wildly out of scale in the tone and tenor of the criticism directed at Starbucks.

To reiterate comments I made on Josh Ellis' site last month, in the wake of a perhaps representative rant of this type: I drink Starbucks coffee on a fairly regular basis and am generally quite satisfied. The chain provides a highly reliable, reasonably high-quality beverage -- high-octane drip coffee, in my case -- at a not-absurd price point. I am rarely more than a block or two away from one. I get much less attitude from the people behind the counter than I do at the one indie coffeehouse I frequent -- I mean, they'll actually say hi, remember me and my drink from yesterday, refrain from chatting with each other while I'm standing there waiting to order. And their bathrooms tend to the clean.

More importantly, I am also old enough to remember the swill that Americans drank and were pleased to call "coffee" before Howard Schultz swept down out of his damp PNW redoubt and clusterbombed us with franchises. It tasted like soggy cardboard, it was served in chipped diner porcelain that itself generally tasted of soap, and most importantly, with a very few exceptions, it was all you could get anywhere. There simply was no alternative, let alone an entire alternative venue that also provided comfortable seating. At sixty or seventy-five cents, too, this "coffee" was no bargain -- far better to my mind to pay twice that and get something consistently worth drinking.

Finally, for those of you who seem to be so incensed with the musical selections on offer at Starbucks: god forbid we should enjoy some Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra from time to time. You don't like it, bring an iPod.

Can you see that I'm really, really tired of people whining and complaining about the horrible, evil, monocultural, hegemonizing, bland, MOR grafted devil that is Starbucks? I mean, you try and find another place in Beijing, or on I-40 in the ass-end of nowhere, that rocks coffee this good.

(What's that? You can't? Or if you can, it is solely because Starbucks tutored the mass audience in what to demand of coffee? Yeah, I thought so.)

Now, as it happens, a dear friend of mine is a Starbucks hater (though I don't know if she'd describe herself that way). But her experience is borne out of her time living in San Francisco, where the perception among many is that good local indie coffeehouses existed prior to Starbucks' arrival, and that Starbucks has relentlessly targeted them for elimination. Is that true? I don't know. It could be. But for the vast majority of Starbucks locations, I would argue that good, high-end coffee was probably not to be found before their arrival.

January 27, 2004

Academy Award Nominations

The Academy Award nominees were announced earlier today.

I'm gratified to see that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is leading all movies with 11 nominations. I'm not a huge Tolkien fan -- I've never even made it through the first book of the trilogy -- but I certainly appreciate what Peter Jackson has achieved. It's hard to comprehend how large the bet on him was, and how much it paid off. What if the first movie had been a flop? What could have been done?

I'm also happy that Lost in Translation has done so well. I haven't seen all the performances nominated for Best Actor, but if it were up to me, I'd give the award to Bill Murray. His performance was wry and understated and brilliant.

On the other hand, I'm disappointed that the Academy has given so few nominations to The Last Samurai. It's hard to believe that Hans Zimmer's beautiful score wasn't nominated, and while watching it this weekend yet again, I thought to myself, this is the best cinematography I've seen in a long, long time -- yet no nomination.

January 22, 2004

Joi Ito Invests in 3Dsolve

A year and a half ago, I started this blog, sucked into blogging by Joi Ito. This entry will be my 996th, representing hundreds of hours spent writing, editing, commenting, wrestling with blogging tools, and engaged in other blogging-related activities.

At last, I've finally turned the tables on Joi -- he's now an investor in the company I co-founded, 3Dsolve. As noted before, I don't often write about 3Dsolve here, hoping to preserve as much as possible my ability to say whatever I want without affecting my company and co-workers. But I'll take this opportunity to talk a bit about us and what we're doing.

3Dsolve offers products and services to enable simulation learning -- using interactive simulations to enhance the e-learning process by making it possible for people to learn by doing. If a subject involves a complex physical facility, device, or process, then it's a candidate for simulation learning. We've announced our first win, and already have been named by Military Training Technology magazine as one of its Top 100, "the companies that have made a significant impact in the military training industry." We hope to announce more wins in the coming weeks and months -- all signs seem to be that 2004 is going to be a great year for us.

Of course, we're all tremendously grateful to Joi for his investment -- the money is nice, but even more important is the continuing ability to work together and to receive the benefit of his wisdom. And on a personal note, Joi, thanks for the vote of confidence in the team -- it means a lot to all of us, especially me.

January 21, 2004

Philosophy Question

Is it better to take an action that is [right | proper | harmless | honest | etc.] yet results in a bad outcome, or to take an action that is [wrong | improper | harmful | dishonest | etc.] yet results in a good outcome?

(To answer the obvious question, no, this entry is not reflective of any moral dilemma I face at the moment.)

January 18, 2004


My home team, the Carolina Panthers, are in Super Bowl XXXVIII, having defeated the Philadelphia Eagles tonight. Whatever happens in the Super Bowl, they've had an amazing season, and watching them progress has been a real privilege.

One thing that impressed me about the Panthers-Eagles game tonight was the sportsmanship on both sides of the ball. I saw players helping opposing players up, players patting opposing players on the back, players laughing with opposing players... it was a great display.

Now come the New England Patriots, a devastatingly efficient team. Panthers coach John Fox has come up with great game plans to win three playoff games, two of them on the road. He'll need his best game plan yet to stay competitive with the Patriots.

The opening line on the Super Bowl has the Panthers as 6.5 point underdogs. If I was the type of person to bet on sports games, I'd take the Panthers and the points. Will the Panthers win? It will be a real challenge for them. But will they keep it close? I have to believe that they will.

To the players and coaches of the Carolina Panthers, congratulations on your accomplishments to date, and good luck in the big game two weeks from today. And to the residents of the 48 states other than North and South Carolina, yes, the Panthers are for real.

An American (Coffee) in Paris

With inadvertently perfect timing, the same week that I wrote a blog entry on the US-driven homogenization of world culture, Starbucks opens its first store in Paris.


French students, loyal American customers and Japanese tourists flooded into the first Starbucks outlet in France, eager to get their first vanilla cafe latte or mocha Frappuccino on French soil.

"You know what? They opened a Starbucks on the avenue de l'Opera! I'm here with Mom," Sandy, a 22-year-old French student, said eagerly into her mobile phone to a friend as she waited patiently to order her hot chocolate.

"For those of us who have travelled in the United States, seen films or watched American television shows, we know the Starbucks brand," Sandy said, as she explained to her mother -- a first-time visitor -- what and how to order.

"I will definitely go out of my way to come here," the student added.

On the one hand, this is undeniably part of the trend of the US absorbing other cultures' practices, modifying them, and exporting them back to the rest of the world, tempered in the heat of our hyper-efficient, entrepreneurial economy. From Starbucks' own corporate timeline:

1982 Howard Schultz joins Starbucks as director of retail operations and marketing. Starbucks begins providing coffee to fine restaurants and espresso bars.

1983 Schultz travels to Italy, where he's impressed with the popularity of espresso bars in Milan. He sees the potential in Seattle to develop a similar coffee bar culture.

1984 Schultz convinces the founders of Starbucks to test the coffee bar concept in a new location in downtown Seattle. This successful experiment is the genesis for a company that Schultz founds in 1985...

1985 Schultz founds Il Giornale, offering brewed coffee and espresso beverages made from Starbucks coffee beans.

1987 With the backing of local investors, Il Giornale acquires Starbucks assets and changes its name to Starbucks Corporation.

In other words, a US entrepreneur visits Milan, sees the espresso bars there, modifies the concept for the US market, tests it, refines it, and another worldwide trend is started. If this isn't the Borg-like assimilation of world culture, I don't know what is.

On the other hand, speaking personally, would I visit Starbucks in Paris? Sure I would. I wouldn't only go there, or make a trip across town (well, except to pick up a Starbucks Paris mug), but if I were in the area, absolutely, I'd stop by. I like Parisian cafe culture, but on the other hand, I know that I can get skim milk with my Starbucks coffee. I know they'll be able to make almost any drink as a decaf. I know no one will be smoking in the cafe. So yes, I'd visit Starbucks in Paris.

I suppose this means I'm a Borg, but a self-conscious Borg.

By the way, "Sandy, a 22-year-old French student"? Pardon me? Sure, and my kids have friends at school here in North Carolina named Jean-Pierre and Mireille.

January 17, 2004

"The Dirty Little Secret" of Free Trade

Via boing boing comes an intriguing idea from the always -- well, intriguing -- Larry Lessig:

Now that [the US is] the world's leading exporter of intellectual property, we're also the most self-righteous about the importance of protecting it globally...

This push to protect intellectual property is defended as just one aspect of free trade -- the aspect that benefits Hollywood...

The dirty little secret, however, is that we don't respect the free trade rules that we impose on others. While the US sings the virtues of free trade to defend maximalist intellectual property regulation, we poison the free trade that developing nations care about most -- agriculture -- by subsidizing farming in the industrialized world to the tune of $300 billion annually. Rhetoric about family farmers aside, most of that money passes quickly to agribusiness...

A block of powerful developing nations should first take a page from the US Copyright Act of 1790 and enact national laws that explicitly protect their own rights only. It would not protect foreigners. Second, these nations should add a provision that would relax this exemption to the extent that developed nations really opened their borders. If we reduce, for example, the subsidy to agribusiness by 10 percent, then they would permit 10 percent of our copyrights to be enforced (say, copyrights from the period 1923 to 1931). Reduce the subsidy by another 10 percent, then another 10 percent could be enforced. And so on.

The mechanism is clumsy, but the message is clear: Both the subsidy of agribusiness and the subsidy of local culture and science violate the principles of free trade by ignoring American intellectual property laws.

Lessig could go even farther and point out that, while the piracy of copyrighted materials certainly harms content industries, agricultural subsidies kill. Literally. When the US and Europe (Europe is at least as bad as the US when it comes to subsidizing agriculture) drive Third World farmers out of business because they can't compete with subsidized First World crops, eventually, the absence of efficient indigenous farmers leads to food shortages and deaths.

I've made my living developing, marketing, and selling intellectual property. Even so, it's hard to feel much sympathy for American industry in the face of such blatant free trade hypocrisy.

For most US administrations, "free trade" means "free trade in the goods in which we're most competitive, and continued trade restrictions and subsidies in the goods in which we're least competitive." This has to stop somewhere. Sadly, I'm not aware of a single Presidential candidate who is saying this. In fact, the major candidates on both sides of the political spectrum seem to be falling over one another to promise more protections to more industries.

January 16, 2004

Endless Shrimp

Red Lobster is promoting its "Endless Shrimp" special, in which patrons can stuff themselves full of shrimp until their internal organs plead for mercy. Here's their Web ad:

"Seafood is good for you -- a lot of seafood is even better." Pardon me? Did the ad wizards at Red Lobster just attempt to confer health benefits on shrimp-gorging? I think they did.

The television commercials for this special have a disclaimer at the end:

Limited time offer. Offer not available in Canada.
I pointed this out to a friend, who asked me why the offer wouldn't be available to Canadians. It's just that, generally speaking, and especially where I lived (Vancouver), one doesn't see all-you-can-eat restaurants or offers in Canada. In fact, thinking back to my time there, I can't remember one. Good for them.

Anyway, I can't help but wonder if, when one can't possibly eat any more shrimp, does the waiter come by with a mint, saying, "It's only wah-fer thin?"

January 14, 2004

"You're a Traitor!"

On the way home this evening, I caught part of Terry Gross' interview on Fresh Air with Paul O'Neill (former Secretary of the Treasury) and the author of a new book on him, The Price of Loyalty, Ron Suskind.

O'Neill has been in the news lately for being quoted in the book as saying some fairly damning things about the Bush Administration. He didn't disavow any of his comments, but certainly spent a good chunk of the interview backpedaling from them and from his author's interpretations of them. I couldn't help but be reminded of an exchange from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "The Defector":

Admiral Jarok: I cannot betray my people.

Captain Picard: You've already betrayed your people! You've made your choices, sir! You're a traitor!

I'm no fan of the current Administration, but if you're going to betray a former ally, don't back down in the middle of it. O'Neill doesn't look principled so much as wishy-washy. It's a shame.

January 13, 2004

"Computer Age"


I've been redigitizing my music collection using iTunes (more on that later) and, listening to the nearly-forgotten Neil Young album Trans, I just want to go on record as saying that someday, someone is going to sample his song "Computer Age," and if they do a halfway decent job of it, they'll have a Number 1 hit on their hands. The riff from "Computer Age" is an outstanding example of rock and roll riffs at their very best.

Sadly, I can't find a sample online that shows off the riff properly, and the song isn't available through the iTunes Music Store. If you want to listen to it, you'll need to buy it via Amazon.

January 12, 2004

Heard on TV

Uttered by Dan Dierdorf during the game yesterday between the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs:

Peyton Manning is literally carving the Chiefs defense into shreds.
I'm not sure what's worse: using the word "literally" to denote a figurative expression (an all-too-common error) or linking the words "carving" and "shreds." Carving into slices? Sure. Carving into pieces? Fine. But carving into shreds? That doesn't work.

It's almost too easy with football color commentators...

January 10, 2004

Heard This Week

A snippet of a conversation with my friend and colleague David Smith, while driving to a meeting in Maryland:

David: We [the US] are the Borg of cultures. We assimilate other cultures into our own and they cease to exist as separate identities. That's why so many Muslims feel they're fighting for their very survival -- because they are. They see what we're doing to the rest of the world and don't want it to happen to them. But it's a lost cause.

Me: I'm not sure how happy I am about the prospect of living in a world of homogenized cultures.

David: It doesn't matter what we think. It doesn't matter whether our Borg culture is a good thing or bad thing. It's inevitable.

Me: See the world now.

January 03, 2004

Cringely's Predictions for 2004

Via Slashdot comes word of Robert X. Cringely's predictions for 2004 (my comments in italics):

1) It will happen late in the year, but Microsoft will make a bold run for video game leadership. Sony and Nintendo have both chosen IBM's Cell Processor for their next-generation game consoles. This is a processor that does not yet exist and for which nobody can fathom how to write games. While the two Japanese companies scratch their heads, Microsoft will be trying to make inroads with game developers and introduce its own next-generation machine. In the long run, though, Microsoft won't succeed in taking the gaming lead. The original Xbox was perhaps the best 1.0 product in Microsoft's history. They studied Sony and Nintendo and avoided their mistakes. Instead of memory cartridges, the Xbox comes with a built-in hard drive (which, once one gets used to, is hard to live without). Instead of making networking an add-on product, the Xbox builds it in. Instead of an alien API, the Xbox uses a variant of the same DirectX APIs that Windows developers already know. The only thing Microsoft got wrong with the Xbox was shipping it too late. By the time it came out, Sony was already well in front with the PlayStation 2. Microsoft won't repeat that mistake with the Xbox 2 versus the PlayStation 3. Whatever else one might say about Microsoft, it is a smart and relentless company. To bet against it in this space is a leap of faith.

2) We still won't see a big example of cyber-terrorism simply because nobody has figured out how to actually kill people that way. When it comes to terrorism, all that matters are body counts. We will, however, see dramatic growth in cyber-extortion and plain old theft. This seems like a gimme prediction. Sure.

3) Despite new anti-spam laws, we'll still be plagued with unsolicited commercial messages, especially using Internet Messaging protocols. Look for new and unenforceable laws in this area, too. As for old fashioned spam, it will continue to cram our inboxes, making a good business for third-party anti-spam products and services while making e-mail pretty much useless for reliable communication. Microsoft will see opportunity here and propose new protocols to replace SMTP and POP3. They may even offer those protocols as Open Source, but there will be a catch. With Microsoft there always is. I think Cringely's on target with this prediction, but doesn't get to the interesting part. Yes, Microsoft will propose new protocols to fight spam. But so will other vendors, and some of them will begin to be adopted. By the end of 2005, SMTP and POP3 could be breathing their last breaths. If solid, truly open protocols are proposed, and a few major ISPs adopt them, it could create a cascading effect.

4) Continuing the security theme, look for lots of software companies to abandon support for old products and platforms. From their perspective, they already have your money, so continuing support is just a cost center for them. And if they stop support, you just may replace that old computer or application with something new, generating additional software sales opportunities. This means Microsoft giving up support for old OS variants and hardware, but it also means the same from security companies like Network Associates and Symantec. More and more old machines will become vulnerable, and there may appear a new kind of attack using just antiquated personal computers. Never underestimate the power of a Pentium-90 with a grudge to settle. The sun rose yesterday and today. I think it's probably going to rise tomorrow, too.

5) The SCO debacle has created a crisis within the Linux community. They pretend that it hasn't, but it has. This will come to a head in 2004 with either the development of a new organizational structure for Linux or the start of its demise. Linux has to grow or die, and the direction it takes will be determined in 2004. I don't see the evidence of this "crisis." Indeed, what I see is the Linux community forming new ad hoc structures and response patterns to deal with such a malevolent threat.

6) As for SCO, they'll continue to make noise until the middle of the year, at which point the legal case will implode and the company will give up. By that time, the company executives, insiders, and major investors will have all sold their positions at a handsome profit. This was never more than a stock scam, pushing the price of SCO shares up by more than 15 times. The clever part is how they used a legal case to make public claims that would have caused serious regulatory problems in any other context. We'll see more of this ploy in the future. Absolutely right on target. I'll go further: I think some SCO people may be doing jail time by 2005.

7) 2004 will be a crucial year for streaming media. First, there is the Burst.com case against Microsoft. Burst will win unless Microsoft settles first, which I think will happen. If Microsoft buys Burst or takes an exclusive Burst license, it could mean the end for Real and Apple, both of which also are infringing Burst patents. Someone is going to come out of this a big winner. I just don't know who it is. I agree that the Burst case will be significant. I've heard conflicting reports on whether the judge in the case has been truly outraged by Microsoft's pre-trial behavior (as Cringely has alleged in the past) or not. Either way, something has to give here.

8) In the U.S., 2004 will see the start of the very digital convergence predicted by Al Gore back in 1996. Old Al was only eight years too early. What will drive this convergence is consolidation within industry segments and increased competition between industry segments. Comcast will continue to suck-up other companies, as will SBC and Verizon. Every cable TV company will move toward offering telephone service, and telephone companies will try to respond by offering greater broadband content, whatever that means. Clearly, the advantage here lies with the cable companies, but that is just for now. And don't forget the electric utilities, which will slowly start to roll out their own data offerings late in the year. This is really a 2005 story, but it will start in 2004. Cringely fails to mention that one of the key drivers for this is Voice Over IP (VOIP). I've just subscribed to Vonage myself, and though the service isn't up to traditional Baby Bell/AT&T standards, I can't imagine going back to paying for long-distance minutes on my landline. Now I want to figure out how to hook my cell phone into everything so that I never pay incrementally for another long-distance call again. It's true that cable operators have the advantage here: there's not much logic in using DSL for VOIP. As for electric utilities, watch ham radio operators and other spectrum users to fight them based on what appears to be very real evidence of interference from delivering IP over power lines.

9) The U.S. IT industry will see some real growth except for Hewlett-Packard and Sun, which will continue their declines. Dell will start to compete in new market segments and those might drive some of their low end products (MP3 players, especially, but also possibly TVs) into the retail channel. Dell service and support will suffer, but the company will still do well. I'm probably going to regret saying this, but it's hard to imagine Dell going into the retail channel and doing well. Their price advantage will evaporate and their legendary customer relations (which I, as a Dell user, don't think are all that great) will suffer horribly.

10) Cisco will not only maintain its leadership in networking, they'll make big inroads into managed storage against companies like EMC. Not my domain. If Cringely says so, sure.

11) WiFi will be bigger than ever, of course, but progress and service will both be spotty. What's needed is a new business model for WiFi aggregation. I will offer that model in this space next week. Some smart company might just take it up and kick butt. I agree that something needs to happen in the Wi-Fi aggregration business. As for Cringely's new model, I wonder if this will be like his wacky model for online music?

12) Wal-Mart's entry into the music download business changes everything, and will undoubtedly take the leadership away from Apple. This wouldn't bother Apple if Wal-Mart would support its file standards so Wal-Mart music can play on iPods, but that won't happen. In order to compete for what really counts (iPod sales, not music downloads), Apple MIGHT start to support other file formats. No guarantee on that. What IS guaranteed is that Apple will introduce a cheaper iPod using flash memory instead of a hard drive. Oh, and for next Christmas expect a video iPod, which is essentially a hard drive with a dedicated DV encoder/decoder and a FireWire interface. You'll be able to record video direct to the hard drive then edit from that same drive, completely eliminating tape. The logical follow-on from Apple would be a complete QuickTime video camera, but I don't see that until 2005. I don't buy the Wal-Mart argument at all, not one bit. First, we know that Apple only breaks even on its iTunes Music Store business, using it as a loss leader to drive iPod sales, which is where the money is. How will Wal-Mart make money on this? Second, who thinks that twentysomethings (who are driving online music sales) want to buy their music from Wal-Mart? Music is about attitude, about appearance, about being hip. No one with a shred of hipness buys anything from Wal-Mart that could ever be traced back to it. Apple has done an incredible job with the iTunes Music Store, and they're establishing iTunes and iPod as the branding for digital music. Meanwhile, Microsoft is attempting to pull a typically Microsoft maneuver, establishing a framework for delivering secure music and then presuming a mass of third-parties will outmuscle its one big competitor. Again, I don't buy it. Apple has the branding and the simplicity. The Microsoft-based online music stores are fragmented and confusing to consumers. Apple is winning. As for a video iPod, I'd love to see this, and I think Apple could take just as much leadership in this area as they have for audio.

13) No Apple G6 in 2004, and the company won't sell nearly as many G5s as it hopes. Why would they need a G6? They've already announced their G5s will be running at 3.0 GHz by this summer.

14) IT outsourcing, as covered ad nauseum in this column, will become a political issue in the 2004 U.S. Presidential campaign. Whichever candidate comes out in opposition to outsourcing will have the advantage. And they'll be correct, though the extent of real damage to the U.S. economy and IT industry won't be apparent to those bozos for several more years. As for the touchscreen voting scandal, nothing will be resolved or improved. Don't get me started. This is presuming that the average American cares far more than Cringely believes about what happens in high-tech. This issue is going to be way, way, way down the list.

15) Microsoft will open its wallet here and in Europe, settling a ton of lawsuits, paying billions of dollars, but though the money will flow, no lessons will be learned on any side. Nor will Bill Gates achieve this year his dream of winning a Nobel Peace Prize. I am not making this up.With regard to settling lawsuits, again, that sun just keeps rising. What's up with that, anyway? As for Bill Gates winning the Nobel Peace Price, if he keeps doing such good work in the Third World, he might just deserve it at some point. Did I say that with my outside voice?