SMART Letter #95
December 6, 2004

SMART Letter #95 – December 6, 2004
Some Rights Reserved by Creative Commons License - "Stupidity Czar" -- -- 1-888-isen-com
********* at *********


Gratitude, Continued
New SMART List Sub/Unsub/Change Procedure
WTF: The meeting that was named by acclaim
MAC: Switching from Windows
DSL: Switching from Cable
WAR: Failure of Empathy on Small Planet
Creative Commons License Notice, Administrivia


A couple of weeks ago my ankle hurt so bad that it
hobbled me. I was limping. I couldn't get my mind
off my pain. But perspective came like a slap up the
side of my face when we celebrated the Thanksgiving
feast with a friend who, some months ago, lost motor
control below his fifth vertebra due to a series of
cascading infirmities and an opportunistic spinal
staph infection. From the sternum up, though, he's
all there, and it is a miracle and an inspiration to
me that he hasn't descended into depressive bitterness
at his condition. Quite the contrary! He's a joy to
be with, the same as before. Despite the fact that
basic body maintenance and mobility are now consuming
chores instead of background activities, he's back at
the pursuit of his first love -- acoustical

Thankfulness doesn't mean passive acceptance. My
friend's attitude towards his own continued existence
has, if anything, become more aggressive. He's not
taking "can't" for an answer.

This is the first SMART Letter since March 28, 2004.
I am sorry I let time slip by. My biggest excuse was
that I was blogging – see .
Blogging is another way for me to write about the
things I care about. But blogging is another medium,
hence another message. Words of a blog are no more
fungible with email than words of a TV newscast are
with a telephone call.

I dasn't blame the blog. I was overwhelmed by
events. Below I recount a few. But first, this:


In the past, I wanted to get to know the readers of
The SMART Letter, so I asked for a personal statement
from each of you, and in return, I updated the SMART
List by hand. Along the way, I often engaged new
SMART People by email. But with over 2500 active
subscribers, I just can’t do moves, adds, drops and
changes by hand anymore.

Now you can admin your own SMART subscription at
list or
To join, push the “join” button and add your email.
IS SET TO 123456; you may change it at the site

If you’re a lurking free rider or a telco spy, I
won’t try to discourage you anymore, as if I could
in the first place. By the same token, if you’re
joining the SMART List for genuine interest (as
a friend, enemy or other interested party) I’d still
appreciate a personal note introducing yourself,
your interests, your passions.


WTF (April 2-4, 2004 Westchester, NY, see summary at ) was the meeting named by acclaim.
The winning name was, "Where's the Fiber?"
*** Spring 2005 meeting? Stay tuned! ***
I liked it because the question demands an answer;
because we're not getting any, why not? WTF attendees
of the wireless persuasion, such as Steve Stroh, Dave
Hughes and Patrick Leary, liked it for more rhetorical
reasons; it put us cableheads in our places. It was
an excellent event. George Gilder made a surprise
appearance; he regaled us with tales of South Korea's
success, and then he entitled his April 2004 Gilder
Technology Report, "The Orchestra on the Titanic" in
our honor. Indeed, if you listened to Eli Noam and
Roxane Googin you'd have gotten that impression.

In his Titanic report, Gilder fulminated about
doomsaying and (quoting Metcalfe) said, "The Internet
needs fewer beards and more suits." His single direct
criticism was this: that bandwidth is no commodity.
Instead, according to George, even though the
technology to deliver more bits per second is
advancing, it still fails to supply anything near what
people want at prices they *can* pay. It is not
undifferentiated, says George. Instead it is
differentiated by all kinds of service parameters
(mean and peak throughput, openness, jitter and
latency), by locality and mobility, by provisioning
speed, et cetera.

Gilder denied (in his April essay, as he does today)
the very reason we do not have unlimited bandwidth
even though people want it. That reason is the
Paradox of the Best Network that he rails against.
The truth is that the instant we get everything that
technology makes possible, the telcos and cablecos
have nothing to sell. The telcos and cablecos know
this, and they resist at every turn. So we careen
from crippled DSL to obsolete-as-built PON to
too-little-too-late wireless reform.

Gilder missed Terry McGarty's American revolutionary
message at WTF. I was hoping Gilder would take it to
heart. McGarty heads a little-heralded efforts to
take a small New England town here, a utility district
there, peering through chinks in stone walls from the
woods to scout for ranks of redcoats. If redcoats be
seen, fade into the woods. If not, fiber away, open
open the network and set the town a blazing.

The Gordon Cook, Dave Hughes show at WTF got a
standing O for a magnificent presentation of bringing
wireless to base camp in Everest (complete with live
Internet phone call to his sherpa buddy in Nepal), the
wilds of Alaska, to offshore Duck Island, Maine and
even to the untamed wilderness we call "American
Public Schools."

The big highlight of the conference -- surprising even
me -- had nothing to do with telecommunications. It
was Professor Kenneth Deffeyes' talk about the peak in
oil production that, for all purposes, is here now.
For all of history until now, oil supply has led
demand. Deffeyes talked about to change as global
supply levels off (over this year and next) and then
declines. What we have here is a sing-u-lar-i-ty.

You can read up on practically all the WTF details
thanks to the heroic conf-blogging of Heath Row
or who wrote, in part
and Martin Geddes

It is months later, but I want to thank everybody who
participated, especially Bruce Kushnick for the music
(not to mention Bruce's life mission to expose
telecom's trail of broken promises), Jerry Michalski
for moral support, Greg Elin for technical help of all
kinds, and the instant team of Jonathan Kowalski and
Anil Phull (who were responsible for the on-line audio
stream). It was also great to meet all the many SMART
People I've only met electronically, such as Saul "Dr.
Strangecode" Aguiar, Martin "Telepocalypse" Geddes,
and Stan "Network Mercenaries" Hanks. And it was
great to see all my old AT&T friends, including Phil
Neches, Steve Greenspan, Steve Crandall and Anders
Fernstedt. Thanks to David Cohn's initiative, IBM's
sponsorship kept WTF out of the red. I never properly
wrapped up the meeting for the rest of the SMART
People, but better late than never, and thanks to
the WTF attendees one and all!


In early August I started having problems with my IBM
Thinkpad running Windows98. Then one day in the
second week of August, it hard-crashed into blue
screened disk thrashing . . . and then silence.

I've been a loyal Microsoft user since Windows 3.1,
circa 1993. It was time for a change. I wanted to
test the notion that there were alternatives to
Microsoft. But I didn't like the idea, emphasis on
idea, of the vertical integration of OS and
hardware that the Apple Macintosh represented.

Intellectually I knew that All Hardware Fails.
Despite the fact that my Thinkpad had been stable and
reliable for a couple years, I anticipated the failure
months in advance.

The pure play was to go Linux. I thought Lindows was
a desktop Linux system that would serve my needs.
After all, I adminned a Unix system in the 80s. So I
found a Lindows consultant on the Lindows Web site.
He lived near me. I asked him to recommend a Lindows
machine, and he agreed to bring the system up,
configure it to my spec and hold my hand as I got
familiar. I bought exactly the Lindows system he
recommended from Linux Certified.

But there were problems. The computer arrived with
the wrong flavor of Linux. Then there was a power
supply problem. But we mis-diagnosed it as a disk
problem, and that took additional weeks. As these got
fixed the machine sat dark. I got used to ignoring
it; after all, I had my trusty W98 Thinkpad.
Occasionally I'd finger the Linux Certified system's
keyboard, but I'd forget the basics, like the root
password and where my documents folder was. The
combination of the new physical machine, the new,
somewhat quirky operating system and a set of new
applications -- none of which were tightly integrated
– made a difficult scene worse. Result: I never
became adept.

When my Thinkpad crashed, I pulled out the Linux
Certified machine but couldn't bring it up on my WiFi
network. I didn't have the phone number of my trusty
Lindows consultant, so I sent him email, but 24/7
wasn't part of our agreement. I had contracted a paid
24/7 help agreement with Lindows, but when I called, I
got an answering machine (and a call back about 24+7
hours later, which hit my own voice message system).
Not. Good.

So I drove down to my local Mac store and bought a PowerBook G4.
Best move I've ever made. What took me so long? The
folks at MacPC Sales were helpful, they sent me to
DriveSavers, who recovered my Thinkpad's hard disk (to
the extent possible). I'm back in business, and I'm a
proud Mac convert. It was easy. And the Mac does so
much more, and so much more simply, than my W98
Thinkpad ever did. (One exception: ACDsee, the photo
organizer, has no Mac equivalent.)

Ask me about my Macintosh!


I've been using cable modems for home connectivity for
longer than almost anybody. This is literally true.
In the mid-90s, Norm Schryer at Bell Labs convinced
Suburban Cable to do cable modem service as a research
project. I took home one of Norm's prototype cable
modems. There were more components than a Heathkit.
I laid them out on the floor of my study and wired
them together. It looked like somebody spilled the
spaghetti pot. The upstream channel was dial-up. It
took three days and a service call to the cableco (to
rewire my drop) to get it working. My wife demanded
to know why this was better than dial-up, and I had
no good answer beyond “research.”

So now I am on my third cable modem provider, Optimum
Online by Continental Cablevision. It's reliable, but
now they're making it intelligent.

Intelligent. I should spell that Int&*%$gent.

First I noticed that I couldn't put out the SMART
Letter. After 150 or so emails, the Optimum Online
SMTP server froze up. A few minutes later it'd work
fine, but it'd only take another few dozen. The
Customer Service droids didn't know nuthin. OK, I
figured, maybe Cablevision is trying to stop zombie

So I got another SMTP service,, and for
a while it worked fine. Then it didn't; it generated
error messages about unauthorized use of Port 25.

I called up Customer Service again. They said that
Optimum Online was blocking Port 25. For My Own Good.
But I could buy Business Service for $109 a month;
What does $109 buy me that my previous $40 doesn’t?
An unblocked Port 25. What else? "That's about it,"
was the response.

OK, so I can't use Optimum Online’s SMTP server for
my application. And I can't use anybody else's.
Four freedoms my ass, Chairman Powell!

Answer: Verizon DSL at $30 a month. Notably slower
than cable. Whole lotta caching goin' on. Occasional
DNS lookup failures. Customer Service people that
know even less than Cablevision's. But it doesn't
seem to be blocking any ports, and their Customer
Service people are trained to say that it won't.
Here's hoping that Verizon's Common Carrier ethic
holds, despite de jure departures. And here’s hoping
that the duopoly duo doesn't collude further.

[Answer #2: Along the way I discovered A-List Hosting . Steve and Valerie Crisp
deliver friendly and personal service. They’re always
there to answer a question, and it costs $10/month to
deliver up to 2 SMART Letters a month. Such a deal.]

Occasionally the cable's good for a big fat download.
So far, I have not dropped it, even though I should.
For now, I have two wireless networks in my house, for
much less than the cost of Continental's so-called
Business Service. (See “Buy as many 9s as you need.”)


[I invite those who feel that The SMART Letter should
limit itself to network stuff and not address politics
to stop reading now. I'll write what I want; you read
what you want. – David I]

The United States, my country, invaded Iraq and it is
trying to occupy it. The oil men who run my country
invaded a country that just happens to have the second
largest proven oil reserves on the planet in the very
same year that, per hypothesis, global oil production
peaks. The bogus reasons for this war given by our
government -- that Iraq was preparing to use weapons
of mass destruction against the United States, that
Saddam and Osama are allies, that Iraq was complicit
in the attacks of September 11, 2001, and that life in
Iraq would be better under U.S. occupation -- are
still believed by large numbers of U.S. Citizens.
This is a failure of the education of U.S. citizens.

When I was a teenager, I met a scientist who was a
Russian refugee. I had learned in school about
Russian propaganda so I asked him why they didn't have
news in Russia. I remember his answer. He said that
they did too have news, but the news was about the
weather, and car crashes, and heinous crimes and
sports. It was not about the bigger issues that
really affected their lives, and it was only
superficially about government policy. Hmmm. When
a vast number of U.S. citizens have an understanding
of a story that doesn't comport with the facts, we
must question the storyteller. In the current case,
in the U.S., is the storyteller incompetent, negligent
or deviously motivated? Sure there's the Internet,
but the official news is still mediated by the
official press; e.g., NYT, ABC and the like. We have
a failure of the U.S. press’s mission to bring
citizens the facts.

But worse, we have a failure of empathy. It is a
failure of our human ability to understand that when a
human being dies, their family feels loss just as
acutely whether they're Iraqi or New Yorkese. The
best scientific study claims that over 100,000
innocent civilian bystanders have been killed by the
U.S. war in Iraq. These people are just as innocent
as the people who died on September 11, 2001. Their
loss is just as tragic and much, much larger. Saddam
killed people too, to be sure, and I am saddened and
angered by that. And the anti-occupation fighters in
Iraq kill people too, and this is grievous too. But
these killers are not representing me when they do it,
in contrast to the current war, so the current war
bothers me more. I think every day about the human
side of death in Iraq. They have the Tigris and the
Euphrates; they don't need denial.

But here's the worst thing for me: torture. I know
that net-net, bombings and shootings cause more
personal suffering than the tortures inflicted in Abu
Ghraib, Guantanamo and dozens of other locations that
are secret even though we know they exist. Every
April 15, when I pay my taxes, part of that money is
used by my government to torture people. I pay for
some normal person ( see )
who has been told by his superior military officer
that Alberto Gonzalez and his Commander in Chief have
a written interpretation of international law that
makes it OK for them to inflict certain forms of
deliberate, measured, prolonged pain upon other human
beings. This is not OK. It makes me nauseous, so
most of the time I do not think about it. That is, I
need to be in denial about this wretched U.S. policy
so I can function. And when I think about it, I am
scared spitless that when Gonzalez is confirmed as
U.S. Attorney General, U.S. Citizens will legally
endure certain forms of deliberately inflicted pain.
I wonder whether senior U.S. officials can even
imagine enduring deliberately inflicted pain. I doubt
it. Do you think Dick Cheney or Karl Rove can imagine
himself naked in prison in a “stress position” for
hours at a time? I think the failure of empathy in
the United States is profound indeed.

And the mission, whatever it was to have been on May
2, 2003, is still not accomplished.

Redistribution or reuse of this document, or any part of it,
is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. To view a copy of this
license, visit or send a letter to
Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford,
California 94305, USA. Attribution must include the
following three lines:
Copyright 2004 by David S. Isenberg
Some Rights Reserved under Creative Commons License -- -- 1-888-isen-com


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[for past SMART Letters, see ]

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say so, but I’ll exercise my judgment in ascertaining
your intent. I'll probably edit your writing for brevity
and clarity. If you ask for anonymity you'll get it,
and I’ll protect my sources as vigorously as any reporter.]

David S. Isenberg          , LLC                         888-isen-com                      203-661-4798
-- The brains behind the Stupid Network --