Robert X. Cringely

The Decline and Fall of IBM

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Well my IBM eBook is finally available. Right now that’s just on Amazon.com for the Kindle (just click the link to the right) but by next week it will be on every eBook platform (iPad, Nook, etc.) and there will be a trade paperback as well as an audio edition. I’ll announce all of those here as they appear.

I feel I owe an explanation for the long delay in publishing this book. I finished it in early January, about a week after my mother died, only to learn that my old-school book publisher didn’t want to touch it. Or more properly they wanted me to be entirely devoted to the book they were paying me a ton of money to write and to wait on IBM even though the eBook had been in the works for two years and was completely ready-to-go.

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Apple’s iPad problem

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My three sons share an Apple iPad given to them by Mimi, their grandmother. When she bought it a couple years ago the iPad was top-of-the-line with 64 gigs and a Retina display. The boys run it hard on car trips where it functions as a hotspot and under covers in their bedrooms along with a couple iPhones, iPod Touches, various Kindles and some cheaper seven-inch Android tablets.

In all we have probably a dozen touchscreen devices in the house but most of the action takes place on iPhones or that one iPad. Great for Apple, right? Not really. Apple’s iPad sales are dropping you see and the reason nobody seems to talk about is they don’t wear out.

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Did the NSA help kill UWB?

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Revisionist history is looking back at past events in light of more recent information. What really happened? And no recent source of information has been more important when it comes to revising the history of digital communications than former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. Today I’m really curious about the impact of the NSA on the troubled history of Ultra Wide Band (UWB) communication.

I stumbled on this topic with the help of a reader who pointed me at a story and then a paper about advances in secure communication. Scientists at the University of Massachusetts came up with a method of optical communication that they could mathematically prove to be immune to snooping or even detection up to a certain bit rate. To an eavesdropper who didn’t know what to listen for or when to listen for it the communication just looks like noise.

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Level3 is without peer, now what to do?

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There’s a peering crisis apparently happening right now among American Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and backbone providers according to a blog post this week from backbone company Level3 that I am sure many of you have read. The gist of it is that six major ISPs of the 51 that peer with Level3 have maxed-out their interconnections and are refusing to do the hardware upgrades required to support the current level of traffic. The result is that packets are being dropped, porn videos are stuttering, and customers are being ill-served. I know exactly what’s going on here and also how to fix it, pronto.

The problem is real and Level3′s explanation is pretty much on target. It’s about money and American business, because this is a peculiarly American problem. Five of the six unnamed ISPs are American and -- given that Level3 also said they are the ones that typically get the lowest scores for customer service (no surprise there, eh?) we can guess at least some of the names. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s 2013 report (the latest available with a new one due any day now) the worst ISPs in America are -- from worst to less bad but still lousy -- Comcast, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, AT&T U-verse, Cox Communications, and Verizon FiOS. That’s seven companies and since Level3 says only five are creating this peering problem then two in there are off-the-hook but still not the best at what they do.

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When are economic sanctions not sanctions at all?

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I came across this news story today in which a Russian space official suggests the US consider using trampolines to get astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station. It’s all about economic sanctions applied to Russia over its annexation of Crimea and other meddling in Ukraine. The Russian space agency, you see, has been hard hit by the cancellation of at least five launches. Except according to my friends in the space biz Russia hasn’t been hurt at all.

Space customers pay in advance, way in advance. All five canceled NASA launches were paid for long ago and the same for a number of now-delayed private launches. They may go ahead or not, it’s hard to say. But nobody in Russia is losing sleep over the problem because the space agency will actually make more money keeping the launchers on their pads than by firing them.

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Avram Miller says Steve Jobs has one more Apple intro

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We all have friends (people we know) and friends (people we not only know but hang out with). Maybe the better contrast might be between friends and buddies. Well Avram Miller is one of my buddies. He lives down the road from me and my kids prefer his pool to ours because his is solar heated. The retired Intel VP of business development is quite a character, knows a lot of people who know people, and understands the business of technology at a level few people do. So when he wrote a post this morning predicting that Apple will clean Google’s clock in search, I sat up in my chair.

Avram’s thesis is that Steve Jobs felt betrayed by Google’s development of Android and decided years ago to go after the soft underbelly of the Googleplex by building a superior search product called Found that Apple would have no need to monetize -- the Switzerland of search. Please read Avram’s post and you’ll see he claims that Steve Jobs even pre-recorded his participation in the Found launch event scheduled for sometime next year. Which of course makes me wonder what else Steve may have prerecorded?

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Digital Me: Will the next Cringely be from Gmail?

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My last column discussed the intersection between Big Data and Artificial Intelligence and where things might be heading. The question for this column is can I (Bob Cringely) be replaced by a machine?

Look below the fold on most news sites and you’ll see ads that look like news stories but aren’t: "One Weird Trick to Grow Extra Toes!", or "The 53 Hottest Ukrainian Grandmothers!" I’m waiting for "One Weird Trick to Becoming a Hot Ukrainian Grandmother with Extra Toes!" Read the stories and they are total crap, that is unless you have a fetish for Ukrainian Grandmas… or toes. They are all about getting us to click through page after page and be exposed to ad after ad. Alas, in SEOWorld (the recently added 10th level of Hell) some people call this progress.

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Big Data is the new Artificial Intelligence

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This is the first of a couple columns about a growing trend in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it is likely to be integrated in our culture. Computerworld ran an interesting overview article on the subject yesterday that got me thinking not only about where this technology is going but how it is likely to affect us not just as a people. but as individuals. How is AI likely to affect me? The answer is scary.

Today we consider the general case and tomorrow the very specific.

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Some thoughts on the passing of Windows XP

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It may be hard to believe but there was a time when people looked forward to new versions of operating systems. Before Windows XP many PC operating systems were not very good. The developers of applications had to code around problems. Companies wanted their business applications to be more reliable. Over the years operating systems improved.

Before Windows XP Microsoft had two PC operating systems. One was the descendant of Windows 95 the other of Window NT. In the years that preceded Windows XP Microsoft incrementally improved the user interface on the Windows 95 side and the reliability and performance on the NT side. Windows XP was the convergence of the best of both. Before XP Microsoft released a new version of its operating system almost every year. It would be almost 6 years until a successor to XP -- Windows Vista -- hit the market (with a thud). Six years was an impressive accomplishment, but still XP lived on. Windows Vista was not the market success Microsoft expected. Vista introduced too many changes. The market chose to stay with XP. It would be another two years before a true successor to XP emerged in Windows 7.

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Facebook drones won’t work for aerial Internet

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Facebook, trying to be ever more like Google, announced last week that it was thinking of building a global ISP in the sky. Now this is something I’ve written about several times in the past and even predicted to some extent, so I’d like to look at what Facebook has said so far and predict what will and won’t work.

Longtime readers will know I’ve written twice before (here and here) about satellite Internet and twice about aerial Internet, too (here and here), so I’ve been thinking about this for over a decade and even ran some experiments back when I lived in Charleston. Oh, and of course I am building an electric airplane described here.

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Google Earth and Microsoft Word are now on Mainframe2

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Cisco Systems this week announced its $1 billion Intercloud that will link nine partner companies to offer an OpenStack-based, app-centric cloud system supposedly aimed at the Internet of Things. That’s a lot of buzzwords for one press release and what it means is Cisco doesn’t mean to be left behind or to be left out of the IT services business. But Cisco’s isn’t the big cloud announcement this week: the really big announcement comes today from little Mainframe2.

This morning at the big nVIDIA GPU Technical Conference in Silicon Valley Mainframe2 demonstrated two new PC applications -- Google Earth and Microsoft Word -- running on its graphical cloud. This is significant not only because it implies (there’s been no announcement) that Mainframe2 has two new customers, but both companies are cloud vendors in their own right, so we can guess that Mainframe2 will be supported at some point by both Google’s cloud platform and Microsoft Azure.

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So Pat McGovern comes into a bar…

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Pat McGovern died this week at 76 in Palo Alto, totally surprising me because I didn’t even know he had been ill. Uncle Pat, as we called him, was the founder of Computerworld back in 1967 and the year before that research firm International Data Corp., started in his suburban Boston kitchen. Pat helped turn the computer business into an industry and employed a lot of people along the way including me. He was an exceptional person and I’d like to tell you why.

Pat ran a company that published about 200 computer magazines all over the world. Each December he traveled the globe to give holiday bonuses to every employee he could find. The bonuses were a meaningful amount of crisp cash money in an envelope that Pat would hold in his hand until he’d finished his little speech about how much he appreciated your work. And here’s the amazing part: he knew what we did. He read the magazine, whichever one it was, and knew your contribution to it. You’d get a smile and a handshake and 3-4 sentences about something you had written or done and then would come the envelope and Pat would be on to the next cube.

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An impending black swan for electric cars

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A black swan is what we call an unexpected technical innovation that disrupts existing markets. Intrinsic to the whole black swan concept is that you can’t predict them: they come when they come. Only today I think I’ll predict a black swan, thank you, and explain exactly how the automobile business is about to be disrupted. I think we’re about two years away from a total disruption of the automobile business by electric cars.

One of the readers of this column is Robert Cumberford, design editor at Automobile Magazine. Nobody knows more about cars than Bob Cumberford, who has written about them for more than half a century. Here’s what he told me not long ago about the Tesla Model S:

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Bitcoin is down but not out

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Regular readers will know that I’ve had my doubts about Bitcoin. Recent events in the Bitcoin world, especially the failure of Mt. Gox, the biggest Bitcoin exchange, have caused further problems for the crypto currency. But I’m oddly cheered by these events and am beginning to think Bitcoin may actually have a chance of surviving as a currency.

Willy Sutton, who made his career robbing banks, once explained that he robbed them "because that’s where the money is". Well recent bad news in the world of Bitcoin follows a similar theme: yes there have been thefts, corruption, and a suicide, but all this is based not on Bitcoin’s failure but on its success. The wonder isn’t that Mt. Gox lost $460 million in Bitcoins but that it had $460 million in Bitcoins to lose.

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pCell is only as good as the Linux it runs on

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I’m still working-away on my IBM book and it is still a week from being finished (the well-known second 90 percent syndrome). The book, if I am allowed to sell it on Amazon, will cost a whopping $3.99 and will be worth the money. But I’m still a columnist of sorts so here are my thoughts on pCell, an impressive new technology for increasing performance of LTE mobile data networks. It was invented by WebTV founder Steve Perlman, introduced two weeks ago in New York (very impressive video here, but fast-forward to 5:30) and was the talk of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona the following week. pCell is amazing. It is also probably a security nightmare waiting to happen.

This is not me being a bad-ass or somehow wanting pCell to fail. I think it is great and I want it to wildly succeed, but there are a couple things about pCell that have been going over the heads of most reporters, security being one of them. I’ve read all the stories about pCell and the word security doesn’t appear in any of them, none.

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