Internet Ministry

Jun 02, 2003 10:50 AM EDT

Silicon Valley is a wonderful place to live. The weather is so delightful a friend of mine refers to it as “what weather?” The temperatures range in the sixties during much of the winter and the upper seventies during the summer. Average humidity year round is about 30 percent. For seven months out of the year it never rains a drop. Oranges grow on the front lawns. Palm trees abound in the downtown streets of San Jose. Surrounding the area are mountains that provide beautiful views from just about any location in the Valley. Grass remains green all year and has to be cut for 52 weeks. Location is a big deal in the real estate business. Consider being 20 minutes to a Pacific Ocean beach, an hour to Pebble Beach golfing, and just several hours to skiing at Lake Tahoe. The drive takes you through the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains, at a summit altitude of 11 thousand feet. On a really clear day, you can almost see Chicago. Let’s see – shall we beach, ski, or golf this weekend? This Valley has also been one of the most challenging and creative places to work in the entire world. It’s the home of all those electronic and computing goodies that have changed your world. It is from here that the technology of the information age originated.

Recently, we have been reading reports of the death of Silicon Valley (SV), due mostly to the economic downturn. Mark Twain, while still very much alive, pointed out that stories of his death were somewhat overblown. Ditto, reports you may be reading in the papers or hearing on the network news about SV. It seems we do get hit hard during a downturn but we’ve not stop thinking or creating, nor have we turned the lights off out here. Let me report to you the activities of the past week:

Intel - New WiFi Chips

Intel took over the streets of New York City for a day to announce the introduction of Centrino. No, it’s not a new car from Ford. The world’s largest and leading chip maker is spending $300 million to roll out a new WiFi brand positioned to be at the heart of the mobile computing universe. Intel is hoping that built-in wireless capability in new lighter, more efficient notebooks will provide a much-needed boost in laptop sales.

Centrino goes beyond just the chip but is a three-part package. It includes a new line of processors called the Pentium M, running at speeds of 900 MHz to 1.6 GHz. The good part is that it uses less power than other microprocessors so that battery life is extended. Part two is a new “chipset”. Think of this as an electronic supporting cast of chips that help the processor work more efficiently, a further aid to power management. The third component is built-in wireless networking using the 802.11b “standard”. Actually, the real standard is yet to emerge but this could make a difference.

Mike Langberg of the San Jose Mercury News ran a practical test instead of fancy lab benchmarking on power management. He calls it the real world test. He played a DVD of Monsters, Inc. on his Toshiba Tecra. It ran the full feature length of 3 hours 50 minutes. In his other notebook without Centrino, power lasted slightly over 90 minutes.

The second Centrino advantage is the built-in wireless capability. Yes, you can get that as a plug-in with current notebooks, by adding a WiFi slot card, but that costs extra. Then there is the tiny snub antenna that sticks about an inch beyond the edge of the computer case. The newer Centrino systems being built contain as large loop antenna in the cover of the case, providing a stronger and steadier wireless connection. It’s much like the difference between rabbit ears and a rooftop antenna for TV reception. By 2004 it is estimated that 90 percent of notebooks will be WiFi enabled. This is good news as Starbucks, McDonalds, hotels, air terminals and many others create hot zones.

Worldlink – A new link to the world

Worldlink, another local player, announced a TV network designed to bring us news broadcasts directly from the Arab world and Israel – in English – so that we can understand what others are saying and reporting about us. World-Link is a non-profit, actually designed that way as a 501 (c) (3). They take 16 foreign stations from the Middle East, add English voice-overs and repackage the program calling it “Mosaic”. Except for the English translation the program is left in its original form without editing, commentary or analysis. It delivers news from places like Syria, Egypt, Iran and Israel for those who do not speak Arabic or Hebrew. Worldlink points out that to understand the question “Why do they hate us so much?”, that answer will not come from watching American TV news. To understand why people react to us the way they do, you have to watch what is being reported about us on their TV news. In the US, we flip between channels, in the Middle East, the viewer flips between countries. It makes a big difference.

Yahoo – new webcasting

Do you Yahoo? Another Silicon Valley company, Yahoo just announced that as the basketball March madness sets in, it will be digital this year and Webcast for the first time. That means you can watch the national playoffs from your cube as they stream CBS Sports live coverage of the first three rounds of 56 games. Advises Jim Moloshok, a Yahoo Senior VP, “Just have a phony spreadsheet ready to go if the boss shows up.”

Science Research Institute of Berkeley – a symposium

Finally, there is always a good symposium going on somewhere in the Valley. In the midst of all the product announcements you can go to one of these and get some perspective on it all. Usually I come away feeling I’m not so dumb after all.

At just such an event, the featured speaker was Donald E. Knuth, professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University. Don is something of a legend in computer programming, no doubt having forgotten more about software than most of us will ever learn or use. In the hour-long interview and conversation he commented on how the use of computer tools have driven us to have more answers and make more contacts than ever before. It has sapped our free time. He is now expected to have much more information for lectures because sites like Google (another SV company) have made it possible to access data from across the world on any topic. He points out, “People today are trying to do two and three times as much, because the information is available.” Now here’s the part I love; When asked how he protects himself from this problem he explained, “I’ve been a happy man ever since I turned off my e-mail address in January of 1990. I used e-mail since 1975, before most other people, and it seems to me that 15 years of it is plenty for one lifetime.” So what did I learn? Even the people who invent this stuff feel overwhelmed.

Far from dead, it was just another week in Silicon Valley.

By Managing Editor, Technology